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SPORTS: Sadly, loyalists come to the aid of a Patriot cheater

September 24, 2007

Undoubtedly, he was caught up in his "Win-One-For-The-Gipper" moment when New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said of Bill Belichick, "We play for probably the best coach in the history of the NFL."

We'll set aside for a moment whether Belichick can be placed above the likes of Vince Lombardi, George Halas, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs or Don Shula, just to name several. And we'll forget that Belichick wasn't so great a coach in Cleveland, where he was 36-44 over five seasons, never made the playoffs, and was run out of town long before he ended up in New England.

But the whole truth is that Tom Brady plays for a disgraced cheater who happens also to be a great coach. What still is to be determined-if ever we'll know for certain-is how much his cheating has to do with his coaching.

Brady's statement came in the moments after New England's convincing victory over San Diego, which came after several days of intense scrutiny and criticism following the revelation and penalties related to the Patriots' videotaping and stealing of signs a week earlier in a game against the New York Jets.

To the Gillette Stadium sellout crowd, which gave Belichick a standing ovation, and to the Patriots players, who did everything but lift their coach up on their shoulders and carry him off the field, that victory over the Chargers was some kind of vindication for Belichick and an in-your-face for those who questioned his ethics.

Certainly, if you talk to Patriot fans, they likely will tell you that if Belichick is indeed guilty as charged-and tough guy commissioner Roger Goodell left no doubt, calling it a "deliberate and calculated" attempt to circumvent the rules-his only sin was to get caught doing something that every team in the NFL does ... to some degree.

My guess is that this wasn't Belichick's first time, only the first time he has been caught. In the days following the news on Patriotgate, one opponent after another cited the suspicion, if not the hard evidence, of wrongdoing.

In many ways, this is far worse than Michael Vick and the dog-fighting scandal. That's because Vick's actions spoke of his own integrity, or lack thereof. Belichick's misdeeds go to the integrity of the game. Just as NBA teams are looking back at games gambler/referee Tim Donaghy was involved in, it's more than reasonable for Patriots opponents over the years-including the Colts, whose president Bill Polian always has exercised a level of paranoia-to think about past games with the Pats.

Belichick's cheating is cowardly. This is not the coach of a woeful franchise that needs to go outside the rules to even the playing field. This is the coach of the team that is supposed to be the dynasty of the new millennium, with three Super Bowl titles in four years ... although none since 2004. Maybe that's what drove him over the edge.

As this is being written, it's possible there could be even more shocking revelations to come. Goodell has demanded the league have access to Belichick's file drawers and film vault. Meanwhile, the Internet is rife with rumors and reports of other possible instances of misconduct.

What's interesting is that Patriots owner Bob Kraft's standards apparently aren't so high, either. It would seem the last thing you would do is reward with a raise and a contract extension an employee who has brought shame and ridicule to your company and caused it to endure a $250,000 fine. Apparently, however, that is Kraft's intent.

A couple of weeks ago in this space, I reminded readers of some of the positive things that are occurring in sports, citing several examples of integrity, sportsmanship, class and strict adherence to the rules. They haven't gone away. But the world wants to send a different message, and that message is, if you don't cheat, if you don't seek any and every available edge, you will fall short.

The transgressions of a Bill Belichick cast a long shadow and taint both the franchise and the league.

How smug and arrogant of the man beneath the hooded sweatshirt. Yes, the Patriots and their fans can treat him as a hero, and a martyr. But he has smeared his organization's reputation and rubbed some of the shine off those Super Bowl trophies.

His New England apologists want to cast this as a silly, so-what's-the-big-deal misdemeanor.

Sorry. Probably the greatest coach in NFL history is definitely a cheater. He and his followers should be ashamed. It says volumes about them that they're not.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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