The New England Patriots have played four times at Heinz Field. And the New England Patriots have won three of those games on the banks of the Three Rivers, including a pair of AFC championships.
In 2004, the Steelers slammed the brakes on an NFL-record 21-game winning streak, taking the Pats down during the regular season. But then came round two in the title game, and the Pats rolled.
When the Patriots were caught red-handed more than two years later taping defensive coaching signals as part of an effort to crack the code when the teams met again in the future, the relevance of Spygate to that 2004 rematch for all the marbles became obvious. If the Patriots videotaped the Steelers’ defensive coaching signals during the regular-season game, the Pats would have all they needed to figure out the defensive alignments the Steelers were calling in the postseason rematch.
(Some would say that the Steelers should have changed their signals before the rematch, especially since there’s no rule against watching the signals from the coaching box and taking notes as to the defense that ultimately is called. Still, videotaping the signals is far more reliable and efficient.)
With 15 veterans still playing for the Steelers six years later, it remains a sore point for team leaders like receiver Hines Ward. After telling Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Friday that the Steelers aren’t “going to make excuses,” Ward recognized the obvious benefit that the Steelers offense would derive from such tactics. “It would help us out tremendously, picking out tendencies and being one step ahead of them at all times,” Ward said.
Starkey also points out that, a couple of years ago, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau acknowledged (sort of) the value of that information. “I don’t see how it could hurt ’em,” LeBeau said. “But that’s not for me to decide.”
Whether the still-lingering fumes of Spygate will give the Steelers an extra kick in the butt on Sunday night when the Patriots return to town remains to be seen. But one thing is certain — those 15 veterans believe at some level that they were cheated out of a chance to face the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.
Fortunately for the Patriots, linebacker Joey Porter is no longer there to stir things up.