The New England Patriots have a reputation for "spying" and shady dealings among certain NFL fans after previous scandals involving video cameras. According to one former member of the Denver Broncos, the fans were not alone in this opinion. Peyton Manning reportedly once held a walk-through practice in the forest to avoid prying eyes.
Orlando Franklin, an offensive lineman for the Broncos from 2011-2014, made the comment while at the team's training camp. He co-hosts a show with retired safety Steve Atwater, and the two were explaining why the cameras did not show a larger look at the field. They explained that this is part of an effort to limit footage available to opposing scouts. Franklin then told his story about Manning's forest practice.
"When Peyton was here, he was a stickler on that. [He] didn't want anybody to see any plays, so everything that we did was really top secret," Franklin said, per MSN. "I think it was about 2013 we were in New England. … We flew out there on Friday. When you fly out on a Friday, you typically do a walk-through on Saturday. We went and got on the buses and pulled up to like the forest.
"It was like a forest — pine trees all over the place. Got out of the buses and started walking, walked for about five minutes. I wondered, 'Are we going on a hike right now?' And then we get in the middle of this forest, and this opens up — there’s no trees — and that's where we did the walk-through."
The Patriots sparked criticism in December prior to a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. An advance team attended the prior week's matchup and filmed the Bengals' sidelines. The stated purpose of the filming was to capture footage for the "Do Your Job" series created by the Patriots, but the scouts faced questions from security about why they filmed the sidelines.
The NFL ultimately conducted an investigation into the alleged spying and handed out punishment in June. The league fined the club $1.1 million and took away a third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Patriots TV crews are also prohibited from filming games during the 2020 season. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was not involved in the punishment.
Between the alleged incident in December and the original "Spygate" in 2007, the Patriots have a less-than-ideal reputation. According to Franklin, the fans were not the only ones that viewed the NFL team in the same way. Manning was reportedly among those that didn't trust his AFC rivals.