Spygate has never been a big deal to me.
Much ado about not a whole lot. In wake of half the world dissecting and writing about what "Omaha!" means, as if it means the same thing each time Peyton Manning barks it in his presnap festivities, his opponents having that same conversation on the sideline seems as vanilla as the Disney Channel.
What former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said recently to 93-7 The Fan summarized my general thoughts on the whole issue.
"We didn’t lose the game because of any Spygate, because of them having any additional things," Cowher said of New England's 41-27 win over the Steelers in the 2004 AFC Championship game. "I think if they’re guilty of anything, they’re guilty of arrogance, because they were told not to do something. But it was something that everybody does. The only thing they got caught [was] doing it with a camera. We had people that always tried to steal signals. Stealing someone’s signals was a part of the game, and everybody attempted to do that."
What's gotten lost here is the simple act of "stealing" signals isn't the illegal part of the Spygate affair. Using recording devices in order to capture those signals is what got the Patriots fined $500,000, coach Bill Belichick fined $250,000 and the team docked a first round draft pick.
What Cowher is saying is the idea the Patriots' drubbing of the Steelers in that game was not due to their standard operating procedure of filming sideline gyrations, but rather, they were the better team that day.
The Steelers were 15-1 heading into that game, winners of 15 consecutive games, including a narrow playoff escape over the New York Jets (kicker Doug Brien missed two field goals, one in overtime, before the Steelers finally pulled out the win). The Patriots got off to a slightly slower start that year, as every other team in the league did, but were playing outstanding football down the stretch.
There's a reason why the road Patriots were three-point favorites over the streaking Steelers. Is that because the Steelers coaching staff and players were so transparent with their on-field adjustments, it became a Tecmo Bowl-like challenge for the Patriots - giving them the chance to simply hit B and Down to predict the Steelers' next play?
Cowher's comments speak to the issue on that level.
There's a reason why recording signals in that manner is against the rules. There's a reason why the Patriots received the largest team penalty of the last 10 years for it. Presumably, teams no longer employ such tactics (to be fair, one would have thought each team would make sure their coaches do not stand on the field of play during plays, but we all know that's not the case). More than anything, the wanton display of arrogance from Belichick and his staff is what's upsetting about this whole issue.
Cowher himself admitted all teams were trying to do that to an extent. Fans and media types did it all last week when Manning single-handedly boosted the tourism rate of the city of Omaha (and that will likely continue until the final days of the NFL).
The Broncos didn't beat the Chargers last week because of whatever power Manning unlocked when he yelled Omaha. The Chargers didn't lose because they couldn't figure out what it meant. The Broncos won because they were the better team that day.
The Patriots paid for their lack of integrity, and valuable or worthless, they'll live with that reputation forever. But let's not get carried away with Cowher's statement that's suggesting even the Steelers had practices in place that condoned such behavior. Everyone was trying to accomplish the same end goal Belichick was; to gain an advantage through any means available.
That advantage was not responsible for putting 41 points on the board.