History will judge Bill Belichick more harshly than it judges the Patriots. A shame, really, because it will taint the legacy of one of the great coaches of all time. Walsh said something interesting on HBO that I thought was of value. "Just saying that the rules were misinterpreted isn't enough of an apology or reasoning for what was done,'' he told Andrea Kremer. "We live, you know, in a very forgiving nation. If you come out and you admit a mistake you made or something you did that you shouldn't have done, people are usually very forgiving of that.''
I just don't think most people outside of Patriot Nation buy what Belichick is selling. Now, I've talked to eight opposing players and coaches in the last few days about the story, and most say the Patriots deserve everything they've earned on the field. Said Chargers defensive lineman Luis Castillo: "I'd never, not for one second, put an asterisk next to what they've accomplished. This game can't be planned or orchestrated just because you might know what our defense is going to do on a particular play. Would it help? Of course. But it takes a lot more than that to win any games, and to win a Super Bowl.''
Said Denver quarterback Jay Cutler: "People are going to doubt them, but they're no fluke. Not at all.''
Said Dilfer: "I don't take one thing away from them. Not at all. I'd have zero bitterness toward them as an opposing player. The Patriots have been the best-coached, most-talented team of this era, and they deserve to be thought of that way.''
The only tinge of negativity came from Ronde Barber. "They're still a great football team,'' he told me, "but they're a lot better with an ace up their sleeve.''
The football world -- and certainly, its fans -- would have been far more sympathetic to Belichick had he come clean immediately after the story broke last fall.
Belichick, in all likelihood, will still be a Hall of Fame coach in my eyes. I'm not sure if I'll still be a voter in 2016, or 2020, or whenever it is that Belichick comes up for discussion, and I never totally pre-judge a player or coach until it's his time for discussion in the room. But I can say this: Knowing what I know now, assuming no other skeletons are on the horizon and assuming Belichick's teams don't have a losing record over the next six or eight years, I'd probably vote for Belichick on the first ballot.
What it comes down to, for me, is that Belichick didn't do something so heinous that it counterbalances the great accomplishments he's made on the field. The Patriots videotaped defensive signals so they would have clarity and be able to study them over and over and to see all the nuances of the signaler.
For years teams have had backup quarterbacks trying to decipher opposing signals, and teams have sent scouts to sit in press boxes and watch defensive coaches signal in to the players, trying to steal the defensive call. One veteran player told me this weekend he thought there were five teams who stole signals just as well as the Patriots did, without using videotape.
Whatever, my point is that Belichick erred tremendously; but I believe if he tried to decode defensive signals without the aid of videotape, he could have sent front-office spymaster Ernie Adams to games and learned much of what he figured out with the video. That's not to excuse, obviously, the years of video help the Patriots got in spite of clear NFL rules. But the gain wasn't like walking to an opposing coach's office and stealing a game plan.
To me, it's Belichick's honor that has been forever blackened. As Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan wrote Sunday, "What we have here is a football version of Watergate ... Watergate was overkill ... Belichick was, and is, a great football coach. Why did he not trust his own genius to win games honestly?''
Someone asked me the other day about Belichick's Hall chances, and it got me to thinking about my 43 peers in the Hall of Fame room. Time has a way of softening hard feelings. I'm trying to project my feelings a decade from now, which is difficult, because you don't know what the future holds for the Patriots on the field or for Belichick's record, whether he stays with the Patriots the rest of his career or not. But I would think a lot of Hall voters -- 13? 18? 20? -- would be opposed to Belichick today. Ten years from now, it'll be interesting to see if those feelings change.
The Patriots are a tired football team, and the season hasn't even started. How can they not be tired, even if they haven't gotten the brunt of it the way the coaches, personnel people and ownership have. First, there's the Super Bowl-loser hangover. Check out my chart (below) of the first seven seasons of this decade; teams that lose the Super Bowl are way under .500 the following season. You don't believe such a hangover exists? The evidence is pretty convincing.
Then there's the schedule. Last year, New England played 15-of-16 games in the Eastern Time Zone and never traveled west of Dallas until the Super Bowl. This year, the Patriots have a September bye, then play 13 straight weeks, including three trips to California, one to Seattle and one to Indianapolis. They play four night games -- it's likely at least one more will be moved to accommodate NBC's flex schedule -- and a short-week Thursday game against their old friends from Long Island. The Patriots showed great poise on the field under duress last year. It'll be even tougher to do this year.
I don't know about you, but I'm ready to read about some football.