With the Patriots preparing to embark on their fourth Super Bowl victory parade, a pending investigation eventually could dump plenty of after-the-fact rain on it. As former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said Monday on PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, the outcome of the #DeflateGate investigation could result in the placement of an asterisk on the latest Lombardi Trophy.
But at a time when anyone who doesn’t like the Patriots is quick to point out that, between Spygate, #DeflateGate, and the lingering fumes of the retracted Boston Herald report regarding the videotaping of the St. Louis walk-through before Super Bowl XXXVI, all four trophies are tainted, let’s be fair to the Patriots. If what they do is cheating, plenty of teams have cheated over the years.
In the 1990s, the Broncos won Super Bowl trophies in 1997 and 1998 with the assistance of salary-cap violations from 1996 through 1998. Denver eventually lost a third-round pick, paid a whopping $950,000 fine, and a still-unnamed agent and a player donated $100,000 to charity. Does anyone ever say those two Lombardis are tarnished?
Per a league source, the NFL currently is investigating four total cases of game-integrity violations. Three are known: #DeflateGate, the Browns’ sideline-texting scandal, and the Falcons’ crowd-noise controversy.
Others have occurred in recent years. In 2012, the Chargers were fined $20,000 in connection with the use of a towel that may or may not have carried a prohibited substance on it. (The team eventually claimed it was fined not for using the towel but for not surrendering the evidence quickly enough.)
In 2010, the Broncos self-reported that an employee had videotaped a portion of the San Francisco walk-through practice before a game between the two teams in London. The Broncos were fined $50,000 for the violation; former head coach Josh McDaniels was fined $50,000 for not reporting the violation.
Also in 2010, the Jets were fined $100,000 for the wall of humanity former strength coach Sal Alosi placed along the sideline during a punt play to impede former Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll. Few believed Alosi was acting on his own or without the knowledge of former special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff or former head coach Rex Ryan.
And these are simply the things the public knows about. Who knows how many investigations and sanctions ultimately have been hidden over the years?
Then there’s the rampant violation of the injury-reporting rules by NFL teams. Rarely, the NFL fines a team that has been caught with both hands flat on the bottom of the cookie jar. Even then, punishment happens reluctantly; more than five years ago, the league imposed $125,000 in fines only after Brett Favre continued to talk (and talk . . . and talk) about the late-season biceps injury that the Jets had consistently failed to disclose the prior year.
Then there’s tampering. It’s rampant. It’s laughable. It’s so bad that the NFL eventually created a three-day legal tampering period. And it will continue to occur long before that annual three-day window opens.
Indeed, this year one of the biggest victims of the rampant tampering in the NFL will be (you guessed it) the Patriots. With cornerback Darrelle Revis under contract for 2015 and due $20 million fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster at the outset of the new league year in March, it would be foolish to assume that the assessment of New England’s best offer on a long-term contract won’t include information of the amounts other teams would pay if Revis doesn’t return to the Patriots.
It’ll be Lawyer Milloy all over again, with the player having full knowledge about what other teams will pay before making a final decision on whether to stay with the Patriots.
So in some way or another, everyone cheats. It’s not an excuse for the Pats, it’s the reality of the NFL. And it’s unfair to wag a finger only at the Patriots. In one way or another, fingers should be wagged at most if not all of the 32 NFL franchises.
UPDATE 4:06 p.m. ET: The Chargers ultimately prevailed on appeal, avoiding the $20,000 fine.