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Bill Was Due 

A coach's reputation takes a deserved hit

Few things make me happier than watching sacred cows get their comeuppance. And I'm not alone. Thanks to the holier-than-thou Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, football fans from Philadelphia to St. Louis, from Miami to New York, hated the Patriots for their hubris and petulance. We also hated them because they won a lot while Belichick smirked.

But like a character from Greek mythology, Belichick now serves as a cautionary tale of hubris and paranoia. Not to mention general assholery.

Before he was thought of as the greatest football mind ever, Belichick was simply the guy who had "Bill Cowher's Bitch" tattooed on his ass. As a coach in Cleveland, his record in five seasons was 36-44, with one playoff win and one loss (a lopsided one to Cowher).

After that testament to mediocrity, he retreated to coordinating defenses for a few years before being named head coach of the New York Jets. He resigned immediately thereafter, reading from a piece of loose-leaf paper as follows: "I resign as HC of the NYJ." You can't make this stuff up.

The Belichick mythology is that he doesn't have time for the decencies of civilized society, because he is focused entirely on winning football games, as evidenced by his famous toothpaste-stained hoodie. With the affect of a serial killer and the manners of a Nazi storm-trooper, Belichick has been given a mulligan for his disdain, rudeness and even allegations that he jeopardized at least one player's health -- all because he is single-minded in his pursuit of winning.

Now, it seems, that single-mindedness has resulted in the Patriots videotaping opposing sidelines during games, a bit of skullduggery that would allow Belichick to steal the other team's play calls.

Those who would assert that his cheating doesn't make a difference are shameless apologists. Belichick intended to cheat because he believed it was an advantage. Securing an unfair advantage through deception is cheating. No amount of spin will change that.

Is the videotape ploy an advantage? One would need only a handful of plays to turn a game. Sometimes, as we watched them dissect teams in the post-season, it certainly felt like the Pats were one step ahead.

What if, through ill-gotten information, quarterback Tom Brady knew exactly which defense the Colts were running, enabling him to throw the ball to the one spot where he knew Bob Sanders wouldn't be?

On Sept. 12, Little Lord Fauntleroy issued a terse statement wherein he confirmed that he spoke to commissioner Roger Goodell about their divergent "interpretations" of the league ban on videotaping the opposing sideline. Hey, Weslyan grad, Coach Brainiac: "Banned" means "it ain't allowed." And if you break that rule, it's called cheating.

That Belichick brazenly broke a rule that commissioner Goodell had stressed as recently as Sept. 6, is simply more evidence the Patriots coach considers himself above the rules. His actions impugn the integrity of the league, and that's what makes Goodell's punishment so woefully inadequate.

Docking the Pats a draft choice was a good start, and $500,000 is a lot of money to most of us. But considering that Belichick makes $4.2 million a year, it's a trifle. If Shawne Merriman was suspended for four games for cheating, why not the coach? The humiliation of missing a month of the season might have gotten through even to Belichick. But I guess Goodell comes down hard only on players.

Disappointing as the Steelers' playoff losses were in 2001 and 2004, I gave the Pats their due. They were a better team. And I believed the story that Belichick was smarter than every other coach -- so much so that he could tip the outcome just by his presence on the sideline. But what if the ability to jump pass routes was due not to hard work, but to cheating? Or what if the perfect play was called because of a stolen signal?

If the Patriots or their fans are upset about having the integrity of their record called into question, don't blame me, blame Coach Belicheat. But I'm sure none of this will keep him from sleeping soundly through the night.

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