Did Belichick & Co. Skirt The Rules Back In Super Bowl XXXIX? Expect Question After Question Leading Up To Sunday

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Between illegal filming of practices and “Deflategate,” the Patriots have been blamed for just about everything imaginable short of global warming.

So is it any wonder that former Giants defensive coordinator and interim coach Steve Spagnuolo should allege on a Philadelphia radio station that the Pats swiped the Eagles’ defensive signals the last time they met in the Super Bowl?

Of course not. It’s Super Bowl Week and the Pats are front and center once again. And that means deep discussions — or at least attempted discussions — on Bill Belichick’s somewhat dubious views on how to level off a playing field.

MORESpagnuolo Convinced Patriots Knew Eagles’ Defensive Signals In Super Bowl

This time it’s Spagnuolo, who coached linebackers under famed Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson in 2004, the year the Eagles faced the Pats in Super Bowl XXXIX.

Brady and Belichick

Patriots coach Bill Belichick talks with quarterback Tom Brady during the fourth quarter of a game against the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 29, 2017, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

That, remember, was three years before Belichick’s lackeys got caught illicitly filming a Jets practice in 2007, a transgression that would later be dubbed “Spygate.” It cost the Pats a first-round pick and $250,000, and took $500,000 out of Belichick’s personal wallet.

MOREEx-Jets Coach Eric Mangini: I Have ‘A Lot Of Regrets’ Over Spygate

Then, of course, came Deflategate and all the pseudo-science that went into determining how a couple of missing pounds per square inch in the football allowed Tom Brady to abuse the Colts 45-7 in the 2014 AFC Championship game.

Given the ensuing track record, it’s not outlandish that Spagnuolo would have had suspicions that Belichick had some knowledge of what the Eagles were up to. But actually proof was wanting. Apparently, no smoking video of an Eagles practice exists, which places the allegation right there with the latter-day assertion that Leo Durocher knew exactly what Ralph Branca was serving up in 1951 when Bobby Thomson hit his “Shot Heard ‘Round The World.”

Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t.

But it sure makes for a fun debate.

Same with the Patriots. When it comes to controversy, no team has enjoyed the role of cheating villain more than Belichick. Whether he’s actually breaking rules or not, he gets into other coaches’ heads like Gaylord Perry used to torment hitters.

Was he or wasn’t he slicking up the baseball as he went through all those gesticulations on the mound?

It didn’t matter. He just gave his opponents another thing to think about, as if hitting a round ball with a round bat wasn’t enough. And that helped him get 314 wins, more than 3,500 strikeouts, and a Hall of Fame plaque in 1991.

Spagnuolo said Belichick burrowed far enough into Johnson’s head that the defensive boss told the staff to try to disguise his Super Bowl signs on the fly. Brady knew when Johnson dialed up a blitz and got the ball out fast.

Did the Pats cheat? Possibly. But considering that Johnson was known for blitzing from all over the field, in all different circumstances, it’s not unreasonable to think that some copious film work revealed certain tendencies.

Whatever happened, Spagnuolo remembered. And his scheme as the Giants’ defensive coordinator in 2007 had the 18-0 Pats guessing. The offense had scored a then-record 589 points in the regular season, but Giants pressure held Brady to 14.

They sacked him five times, with Jay Alford applying the finishing touches on a bull rush at the Pats’ 16 with 19 seconds left.

As history proved, Spagnuolo would have been right to implement some additional sideline measures to ensure safe signaling. And it probably wouldn’t hurt Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to do the same.

One never knows if Belichick will pull out one of his shadowy tricks.

But the threat is always there.

Being Super Bowl Week, people will talk about it.

And that’s just the way “The Hoodie” likes it.

Please follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino

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