To cheat or not to cheat, that is the question.
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots were the epitome of an athletic dynasty. They won title after title, and many people attribute it to Tom Brady’s incredible finesse, Rob Gronkowski’s insane strength, Julian Edelman’s talented hands, and Bill Belichick’s fantastic play-calling. In some ways that is true, the Patriots have had incredible players play for their team over the years. And, I do believe that Bill Belichick is the most brilliant head coach of all time, but there is a missing piece that doesn’t get brought up enough: cheating.
The New England Patriots have been busted on multiple occasions for bending the rules. Here is a brief history:
A member of the NFL competition committee said that there was a lot of discussion about the Patriots’ cheating from 2001-2006 — right around the time they started to win Super Bowls. This is genuinely interesting, but the evidence for any cheating during this time by the Patriots is inconclusive. They actually weren’t caught until the 2007 NFL Season.
In 2007, the Patriots sent videographers to games — who claimed to be employees of Pats owner Robert Kraft or Patriots TV. Whenever these videographers were questioned on what they were doing, they would come up with excuses like they were getting footage for a team show. That was most-definitely not the case.
What was really happening was that the Patriots were filming opponents’ offensive and defensive playing schemes. Once they had the footage, they would study their signs for plays and would be able to identify what plays their opponents would use, and would transfer the information to other players through headsets before the ball was even snapped. Despite being accused of stealing signals for a while, they still got a way with it. It wasn’t until September 9, 2007 that they got caught. In that game, Eric Mangini (Jets head coach and former Patriots coach) told security of the potential sign-stealing situation, and they were on high alert.
The NFL dealt with this situation in a very strict manner, and later on this was nicknamed “Spygate”. The league took away a first-round pick in the draft and were fined $250,000. Bill Belichick alone was fined $500,000, despite his claim to have just ‘misinterpreted’ the rules.
During the spy gate time, many members of New England’s staff admitted to stealing play sheets from their opponent’s locker room.
The Patriots didn’t face any NFL legal action until 2014, when they were caught bending the rules again.
Prior to the 2014-2015 AFC Championship, the Indianapolis Colts discovered that the Patriots’ footballs were below the PSI limit. The Patriots ended up winning the game 45-7. Afterwards, the Colts informed the NFL of what they had found, and the Patriots were taken to court — which lasted for a very long time. After further investigation, the NFL found incriminating texts between Patriots employees about the handling of the balls. The court asked to see Tom Brady’s phone as possible evidence, and Brady destroyed it.
Something that has been hard to comprehend is why did the Patriots cheat, even when they blew-out the Colts 45-7? Did deflating the balls really contribute that much?
The answer is most-likely no.
New England did face disciplinary action — being fined $1 Million, and also being stripped of a 1st and 4th round pick. Tom Brady was also handed a four-game suspension for his role in the process as well. But it didn’t stop them from winning Super Bowl XLIX that season.
In 2015, during the Patriots-Steelers season-opener, Mike Tomlin complained to the referees that the Steelers’ headsets were scrambled and tuned into a local radio station. NFL rules state that if one team’s headsets are malfunctioning, that the other team must forfeit their own. Suddenly after the Patriots were notified of this, the Steelers’ headsets were working again. Coincidence? I think not!
Then in 2017, the morning of the AFC Championship, the Steelers were awoken by a fire alarm going off in their hotel at 3am. After questioning the man who did it, it quickly became apparent that he had no ties with the Pats. He just happened to be at the right hotel, at the right time to wake people up so that they would be tired during the day, have the right team, and do it in the most-effective manner (fire alarm).
Then in Super Bowl LII, the Philadelphia Eagles were so superstitious about the Patriots cheating that they ran a fake walk-through, just in case the Pats had decided to film it. The Patriots were rumored to have done that in the 2001-2002 Super Bowl — where they upset the Rams 20-17. Ironically, New England lost to Philly in the game, 41-33.
There have been more rumors surrounding the Patriots cheating as well. Peyton Manning was so superstitious that he thought the locker rooms were bugged and would only talk to coaches outside the locker rooms.
What it really comes down to is did cheating really help the Patriots throughout their time as a dynasty? Can all of New England’s Super Bowl rings be attributed to them bending the rules? Those questions, deep-down, can probably only be answered by a few people: Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and maybe Robert Kraft.
Otherwise, we may never know.