Bill Belichick and Tom Brady might be the best coach and quarterback in the long history of the NFL. But now we’ll never know for sure.
That’s because they cheated, or at least Belichick did and Brady reaped the benefits. If you’ve even remotely followed the recent story from ESPN the Magazine, you know that their team, the New England Patriots, illegally videotaped other team’s defensive signals and they might have done some other underhanded stuff, as well. That includes, of course, Deflategate, which in retrospect is a very minor thing even though it’s been in the headlines for months.
No, the real eye-opener of the ESPN report – and even if you don’t believe all of it, when there’s this much smoke there has to be some fire – was the further adventures of Spygate, which happened eight years ago and was a story the Patriots hoped was dead and buried. And it was until ESPN reporters Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham exhumed it.
According to their sources – the majority of whom were unnamed – the Patriots filmed other teams’ defensive hand signals at least 40 times, despite Belichick’s initial claim that signals were filmed just a handful of times (not surprisingly, Belichick was vague about details). And another one of Belichick’s initial claims – that he wasn’t clear about the rule and didn’t mean to cheat — was debunked when it was revealed that the Patriots employees who did the tapings sometimes covered up their team logos and/or wore jackets that identified them as regular television cameramen.
For me, that was the a-ha moment, when I knew without a doubt that Bill Belichick is a liar and a cheater. Belichick had to have known all about this, of course, and doubtlessly he was the genesis of it even if minions directed the operation.
And even though Brady may not have known about the filming, he certainly benefitted from it. The deflated footballs controversy is a relatively minor thing and Brady’s legacy is not diminished by it. But you have to wonder now how many of his last-minute miracles and championship rings were made possible because his coaches knew what the other team was going to do.
What’s particularly galling about this stuff is that the Patriots didn’t have to do it. They would have had great teams and won Super Bowls without the cheating. They may not have won as many, but they still would have been an elite team because they have an elite quarterback. You could almost forgive and even understand the Jacksonville Jaguars coaches breaking the rules in a desperate attempt to save their jobs, but Belichick has more job security than the pope.
I felt the same way about the steroids controversy in baseball. I could understand why a player scuffling in the minor leagues would do anything to make it to the big leagues and earn a few big paychecks. But when Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens do it – guys who would have been Hall-of-Famers, and very rich men, without cheating – then it’s just plain greed.
That has ruined their reputations and their legacies, just as it threatens to do with the Patriots. Barry Bonds’ statistics say he’s the best player in the history of the game, better than Ruth and Mays and Aaron and Williams. But that asterisk – which is in people’s minds even if it’s not in the record books – says that Bonds will never be considered the greatest because we’re not sure how many of those home runs and RBIs were a result of cheating.
Another common thread is their arrogance. Belichick assumed he was above the law, so to speak, just like Bonds and Rodriguez did. Everyone remembers Rodriguez staring into the television camera and emphatically stating that he did not use steroids, before he was slapped in the face with the proof and could no longer deny it. Those hollow denials made it even worse, and it’s just a fact that lying goes hand in hand with cheating.
Now, it will be interesting to see what steps the NFL takes, if any. The league certainly doesn’t want or need any more bad publicity and for years the Patriots have been held up as the league’s model franchise, the true “gold standard’’ to which the Eagles have always aspired. And Commissioner Roger Goodell has enough problems of his own, as his inept handling of recent controversies has put him firmly on the hot seat.
If more information comes out or the current information is confirmed, would the league actually strip New England of two or three of their Super Bowl titles? That, of course, could include their 24-21 victory – three stinking points! — over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.
No matter what happens officially, Bill Belichick’s reputation has been tarnished, and people who used to look at him and see a genius now just see a cheater.