The specter of the “Spygate” and “Deflategate” scandals still hovers about in some NFL circles when the New England Patriots are brought up.
But you won’t find former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher holding a grudge about it.
Cowher, now an analyst with CBS Sports, defended Belichick and the Patriots in an interview with The Athletic’s Ed Bouchette while discussing the ex-coach’s new book “Heart and Steel.”
“(Cowher) insists that New England knowing the Steelers’ defensive signals because of their previous illegal taping was not the reason the Patriots beat the Steelers in AFC Championship Games in the seasons of 2001 and 2004 at Heinz Field,” writes Bouchette.
Cowher and Belichick’s relationship reportedly dates back to their days as assistant coaches, and the two apparently see each other on Nantucket Island on occasion.
“I have a lot of respect for him,“ Cowher said to Bouchette.” He loves the game. We shared a lot of time together and time off the field, teaching each other about linebacker play and defensive backfield play. It came down to us being finalists for the 1991 Cleveland Browns job and he got the job and I didn’t. We went from friends to adversaries the next year because I found myself the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. As we competed against each other it was just a great competition.”
After Belichick took over as the Patriots’ head coach in 2000, the team reportedly taped 40 opponents between 2000 and 2007 in a manner NFL commissioner Roger Goodell deemed a violation of league rules. No formal accusation was made until 2007, however, when then-New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini publicly complained about the Patriots taping his team’s signals.
The story then became national news, drawing attention from then-U.S. Senator Arlen Specter. A report from last week even suggests former president Donald Trump tried to intervene to quash Specter’s investigation into the Patriots, who are owned by Trump’s friend Robert Kraft.
In the end, the NFL fined Belichick and the franchise and docked the team its 2008 first-round pick as punishment for the actions, and the incriminating tapes were destroyed.
One of the tapes submitted to the league for review came from New England’s matchup against the Steelers in the 2002 AFC Championship Game.
But Cowher still doesn’t believe his team was robbed by Belichick’s squad.
“It’s only cheating if you get caught,” he told me. “Like any player, if you’re going to hold him, don’t get caught. If you get caught you’re wrong, if you don’t you’re right. I always thought we never lost the games to New England because of Spygate. If he got the calls because we didn’t do a very good job of making sure we signaled those in, that’s on us, it’s not on him. Because we’re always looking for competitive edges. I think as any coach whether it’s someone’s stance, someone’s split, someone’s formation (that tips off a play). You’re looking at someone’s eyes, how are they coming out of a huddle? You’re always looking for those little things that give you a competitive edge and that to me is what that was.
“We didn’t lose the game because of that,” he added. “We lost the game because they executed better than we did.”
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