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September 15, 2007
Sunday’s Buzzword Is Cheating, Not Revenge
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

There is so much to worry about Sunday night, but none of it seems football related.

Bill Belichick tried in vain all week long to steer all those mockeries of press conferences towards the San Diego Chargers, who invade Gillette Stadium Sunday night to play the team that ousted them from the playoffs eight months ago in their crib. Belichick tried all he could to deadpan his way from one non-answer to another, but precious few, if any, questions dealt with the Chargers, what they bring to the table, how bent on revenge they might be, and how well will this new-fangled Patriot offense be able to handle the lightning-quick Charger defense which is at its weakest in the secondary.

Instead, all it's been about this week is Spygate. Belichick has been exposed by the league as a cheater. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell lowered the boom on Belichick and the team this week, fining Belichick $500,000, the team $250,000. The Patriots also stand to forfeit a first-round draft pick if they make the playoffs and a second and third-rounder if they don't. Meanwhile, reaction from around the league has been predictably adverse, going as far as Eagle players wondering if the Patriots cheated their way to a win in Super Bowl XXXIX.

It's like LaDainian Tomlinson and Shawne Merriman are complete footnotes, if even that much. Does anyone care as to whether or not Tomlinson will carry a huge chip on his shoulder, following his outburst at the end of the playoff game in January? Tomlinson, if you recall, took great umbrage to the Patriot players, mostly Ellis Hobbs, for mocking Merriman's sack dance on the field at game's end. Tomlinson spoke after the game about that celebration, saying that it "probably starts with the head coach".

The incident left a little tarnish on what had been a squeaky clean image of the best running back in all of football. If you thought that was a tarnish, what must everyone think of Belichick right now? Total and complete overhaul?

If people are going to be angry at Belichick, it needs to be for the right reasons.

First of all, forget all this press conference brouhaha. Belichick has never been one to say anything of substance at press conferences, even those which have no chance of being substantive in any way. Belichick read his statements and then simply wanted to talk football. Yet reporters continually tried to pry statement after statement out of him, and he laconically deflected every one of them right off. Belichick can say as little as he wants at press conferences. The less he wants to divulge to the opponent should be fine and dandy with everyone out there.

In other words, to borrow a quote from Al Davis, Belichick should "just win" and not tell us how he plans to do it.

That said, here is what Belichick should be brought to bear on.

He really should say something directed at the fans. Even if Berj Najarian (his personal assistant) writes the script, he should really make some sort of effort to seek appeasement from the very people who buy the tickets to see his team play. Patriot Nation can say what it will about the importance of the team's image versus the team's won-loss record. But there are a lot of people out there who have worn that image like a badge of honor during this run of great prosperity for the Patriots. The mere thought of anything possibly tainting this run is a little tough to swallow. Belichick owes it to the fans to make some sort of amends for his role in this scandal, and to make some conciliation as well.

Even if you the fan do forgive Belichick completely and give him the absolution he needs, one question will always be asked privately of Belichick, probably for eternity.

Why did Belichick feel he needed to cheat in the first place?

Right now, the good people of Cleveland must be laughing themselves silly. So, this is how Belichick won all those Super Bowls, they are perhaps thinking. He couldn't win fairly here in Cleveland, so he becomes a cheater in New England. They then retreat to their stadium and watch their team get killed at home by a division rival, coached by a branch of the Belichick coaching tree all the while. But Browns fans are probably dancing in the streets with every new report about Belichick that hits the newsstands.

Why? Why would Belichick go to such extremes to win a game when in fact he really didn't need to?

The games in question, in addition to last week's Jet game, are games last year against Detroit and Green Bay. The Patriots went up to Lambeau Field last year and throttled the Pack, 35-0, then later on took on Detroit at home and barely escaped with a 28-21 win. In each game, video assistant Matt Estrella was caught videotaping the opponent's defensive signals. Yet only Eric Mangini had the temerity to report Belichick to the league office. Mangini has now come off as looking like a rat, but the rest of the league would perhaps all love to buy the former Patriot defensive coordinator a beer right now.

Cut and dry, Belichick never needed to stoop to these tactics. Belichick may be the smartest head coach in league history. He has proven so many times over the years that he can outthink anyone. He has defensive game plans in the Hall of Fame. In each of the games mentioned, the Patriots had the opponent a mile on paper. And adding more irony to it all, even the NFL admitted that the filming on Sunday's Jet game had no bearing on the outcome, and the Patriots still won by 24 points at a division rival.

It is amazing that Belichick finds that he needs to do this to gain even more of a competitive edge over his opponent. Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh will often say "Half my brain tied behind my back just to make it fair!", but in the case with Belichick versus the rest of the league, this actually makes sense. With the possible exception of Denver's Mike Shanahan, Belichick has been able to outwit, outsmart and outplay all of his coaching opponents, and quite handily at that. He has been able to take second tier players and transform them into a monster team, players who under any other head coach and any other system would not be nearly as effective.

So now, you have this big game Sunday night. San Diego comes in wanting blood. It's on NBC, and the Patriots went 0-2 last year in front of Al Michaels and John Madden. In a series dominated by the Patriots for some 20 years, the Chargers have won two of the last three games. If the Patriots can stop LT and force Philip Rivers to win the game by himself, the Patriots might be okay.

Wow. One paragraph on the game. Sorry, coach, but when you cheat, it's hard to not stand up and take notice.


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