Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Elephant in the Stadium the Patriots Face the Giants This Evening. but They Also Face the Cloud of Innuendo That Has Dogged Them since 2007's Infamous Spygate. Super Bowl Xlvi: New York Giants vs. New England Patriots

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Elephant in the Stadium the Patriots Face the Giants This Evening. but They Also Face the Cloud of Innuendo That Has Dogged Them since 2007's Infamous Spygate. Super Bowl Xlvi: New York Giants vs. New England Patriots

Article excerpt

INDIANAPOLIS

Mike Tomlin calls it the sticky Lombardi because of all the handprints that stick to the trophy after the NFL commissioner awards it to the new Super Bowl champions.

Many believe the three Lombardi Trophies previously won by the New England Patriots remain sticky for other reasons and that perhaps Roger Goodell should have dusted them for fingerprints rather than destroy the evidence of wrongdoing that helped produce that cache.

Spygate, they called it. Coach Bill Belichick's Patriots were caught redhanded in 2007 secretly taping opponents' coaches' hand signals and, presumably, matching them with video cutups of plays in order for New England's defense to know which offensive play was coming.

That violated NFL policy, and Goodell fined Belichick the maximum of $500,000, fined the Patriots $250,000 and docked them a first- round draft choice in 2008. Then the commissioner destroyed the evidence, the tapes that prompted him to levy the punishment. One theory is that those tapes may have provided such clear evidence of cheating that to be made public would be to forever call in question New England's three Super Bowl victories. So Goodell pulled his Rosemary Woods and erased them.

"This episode represents a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field," Goodell wrote in a letter to the Patriots explaining his disciplinary action.

The Patriots shrugged that off in 2007 and became the first team to go 16-0 and won two more in the playoffs but were upset by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

Both teams have returned here for a rematch in XLVI. It's a chance for the Patriots to cleanse themselves, to put a clean Lombardi next to the sticky ones in their trophy case.

The stigma of possibly winning those first three under a cloud of cheating remains. Belichick declined to answer questions about it here, but others have no problem doing so.

"They definitely cheated," said Hines Ward, who will be part of NBC's five-hour pregame show today.

Ward's opinions, like those of most Steelers involved in the 2001 and 2004 AFC championship games, are much stronger because they are convinced the Patriots won both of those games in Heinz Field because they cheated.

They are not the lone voices on the matter, though.

Amani Toomer, a longtime Giants receiver now retired, helped beat the Patriots four years ago in this game. He said this week he would place an asterisk next to the Patriots' three Super Bowl victories.

"I would, I definitely would without question," Toomer said on the "Jim Rome Show." "If you know what their adjustments are and what their signals are and you practice those signals, it's cheating.

"I feel very strongly about it because this game is as much about the level playing field of the NFL, and the league has built up so much goodwill to let everybody know that what you're watching is the real deal. …

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