The New England Patriots*

The New England Patriots are a powerhouse franchise.  Their draft savvy is the envy of many teams, they’ve traded for the right players at the right time, and they’ve signed good free agents.  Their coaching staff seems to know the best way to use their players, and their ownership gives the team the financial backing it needs.  And oh yeah, they have exceptional video equipment. 


“SpyGate” started on September 11th of last year, when NFL officials caught Patriots cameramen videotaping the Jets’ sidelines.  And every time it seems the issue could die down, something else will surface and bring the controversy front and center again. 


Just last week, linebacker Joey Porter went on record as saying that the Patriots championships should now include an asterisk. 


“They [the Patriots] cheated, there should be an asterisk. They cheated and they got caught,” he said. 


He also called the fines placed on both the team and Coach Bill Belichick a “slap on the wrist.”  And despite the fact that the fine on Belichick was the largest of its kind, I’m inclined to agree.  Granted, they also lost a first round draft pick, but considering they still had one to spare it doesn’t seem like it had too drastic of an effect on them. 


But using an asterisk?  Is that too much?  The very mention of that word tends to generate a lot of conversation.  It’s become the scarlet letter of sports records and a term you don’t throw around lightly.  I expect that you would hear few arguments against slapping an asterisk on the Pats’ success. 


First, is the Roger Maris factor.


In Roger Maris’ historic 1961 season, the idea of an asterisk was mentioned because he accomplished the home run record in a baseball season in a 162 game season, as opposed to the 154 game season in which Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs.  The discussion hurt and discouraged Maris, who was already taking a great deal of criticism for chasing a record held by the iconic Ruth.  He later said in 1980, “They acted as though I was doing something wrong, poisoning the record books or something. Do you know what I have to show for 61 home runs? Nothing. Exactly nothing.”


Maris was treated terribly, and the abuse he took was and is a disgrace.  And I believe that because of the experience of Maris, many analysts and experts have been opposed to supporting the use of asterisks on records.  That’s understandable.  But they are comparing apples to oranges.  Questioning the records of those who undermine the rules of the game is a much different than the biased reporters in 1961 who belittled Maris simply because he wasn’t the Babe.


Another argument is Bill Belichick’s claim that he misunderstood the rule.  Well, the NFL “Game Operations Manual” says that “no video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches’ booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game.”  If Bill didn’t understand that, then perhaps he’s not the genius that we think he is.


The final, and most compelling argument, is that if we put a disclaimer on the Pats’ titles where does it all end?  If you go down that path it could uncover the multitude of sins that have been committed by teams and players over the years.  Putting an asterisk could start an investigation on the rest of the league that would be almost impossible to resolve.  And that is a legitimate concern.  However, I’m of the opinion that just because you can’t address everything doesn’t mean don’t address anything. 


In this case, we already know that Patriots broke a clear rule of the game for several seasons.  Think it didn’t give them an advantage? Then why did they keep doing it?  Yes, there are probably a number of other ways teams are knowingly cheating, but the clean up has to start somewhere.  The NFL earned $4.5 billion in revenue last year.  It’s at the point where hefty fines aren’t going to accomplish too much.  The checks may not be fun to write, but in the long run they don’t dent the bank accounts too much. 


Porter has it right.  The Patriots cheated, and I believe they should face the utmost consequences.  It’s a shame, because they have had exceptionally talented teams this decade.  But their actions have taken away from skill because we’ll never know when they won with talent or when they won with technology. 


And no matter what happens in the record books, that unanswerable question will cause many people to think of an asterisk when they think of the Patriots. 


3 Responses to “The New England Patriots*”

  1. In my opinion, there wasn’t much if any tangible benefit to filming the opposing sideline, and I think the whole thing has been a little overblown. A certain amount of rule-bending and gamesmanship has always been expected and tolerated in professional sports.

    What about the Colts pumping in crowd noise? I’d say that was equally against the rules, and also equally provided a relatively insignificant benefit to the offending team. There’s a difference in that Belicheck was likely behind the filming while Dungy probably was oblivious to it, and I think that’s why you see a HUGE fine and forfeiture of a draft pick from the Patriots, but nothing for the Colts. But are you going to give them an asterisk too?

    I think it’s also important to distinguish that Belicheck cheated, not “the patriots”, in the sense that the guys who were on that field busting their asses to win those championships weren’t the ones who broke the rules. In my opinion an asterisk is punishing far more than the guilty… it punishes the players and the fans who had nothing to do with the incident.

  2. twonateshow Says:

    They knew what defensive plays the other team was going to run. I imagine that gave them a pretty tangible benefit when they were deciding what play to run. I mentioned in the post that if it didn’t help there’s no way they keep investing the time and effort into it for all those years.

    As for the players, obviously we’ll never know how many of them knew what was going on. But one player testified to Sen. Arlen Specter that he was called into a meeting before a game in 2000 with Belichick and then offensive-coordinator Charlie Weis. He said he ws instructed to memorize the defensive signals from the previously recorded video tape, watch for them from the sidelines, and then relay them to Weis during the game. So clearly some of the players knew.

    You’re right, teams take part in all kinds of things to get an advantage. Some of them are minor, some probably aren’t. That’s why I said that admittedly it would open up a can of worms if the Patriots were subjected something like an asterisk.

    But there is still a big difference between trying to distract your opponent with more crowd noise and videotaping your openent so that you know exactly how you can get around their defense. If not, then teams would be fined when they flashed the “make some noise” on the scoreboard.

  3. Hmmmm. Steal the opponent’s signals? Or pipe in some crowd noise? Which, of those two, provides the most tangible benefit for a team?

    Knowing what the other team is doing and calling a play that completely exploits their alignment certainly can make a big difference. If the defense is bringing the weakside corner in on a blitz and the safety, who has admittedly lost a step or two on coverage, is left alone with your number two receiver, and you know this is coming, so you call a play to that side for that guy – that completely offsets the other teams supposed “scheme.” Granted the play still has to be executed well, but the odds of success increase drastically.

    Now, piping in some extra crowd noise in the hopes that the opposing team somehow cannot communicate effectively, and thereby have to burn a time out or possibly run a less effective play does provide some potential advantage. But nowhere near the same level as knowing what play is being called.

    Sort of like in “Bull Durham” – “Charlie,” Crash says to the batter, “here comes the deuce. And when you speak of me, speak well.”

    Makes a big difference to know what’s coming.

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