As if the opening game needed any more drama, what with all the commotion over player suspensions and the subsequent overturning of Tom Brady’s discipline handed down by the NFL, a pair of new reports surfaced yesterday that reopened some old wounds in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rivalry with the New England Patriots.
ESPN published a report citing new findings regarding the extent to which there existed a library of illegally obtained notes and videos of opposing teams’ signals, subsequently citing accusations of a number of other misdeeds, including but not limited to tampering with the head sets of visiting teams and the theft of game-opening play scripts from opposing teams’ locker rooms.
In a corresponding piece published by Sports Illustrated, an image was painted of a Patriots organization that was held in deep suspicion by the majority of its peers, citing a full 19 teams that have over the past several years taken precautions that they have only taken while facing New England as opposed to any other team.
Several teams have swept hotels and locker rooms for possible surveillance equipment, at times resorting to outside professionals to perform the task. Others have physically barred Patriots staff entry to the visiting locker room by stacking trunks up against the door, placing a lock on the door—a fire hazard—or demanding that the locker room supervisor clear out of his office.
Several former—and some current—Steelers players and coaches harbor their own suspicions regarding the outcomes of a few of their own contests with the Patriots in the early part of the millennium, which included a pair of AFC Championship game defeats.
Linebacker James Harrison has never been one to shy away from speaking his mind, and you can count him as among those who are convinced of wrongdoing on the Patriots’ part. The same could be said of former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, though he declined to comment on the article for ESPN.
The timing of the release of these articles is not likely serendipity, nor coincidence. The defending Super Bowl champions are coming off a tumultuous offseason that primarily consisted of vociferously defending itself against accusations of cheating once again, for which they were heavily disciplined, as far as league standards go.
While a federal judge overturned Brady’s four-game suspension, he did not lift the other disciplines that the league placed on the organization, nor did he exonerate Brady of any wrongdoing.
That is the background, the table being set, in preparation for tomorrow night’s game, although this narrative will assuredly carry more weight off the field with those observing on their television screens rather than those living the game on the field. After all, they do have more immediate concerns.
No doubt, however, it will be on the minds of many of those who regard themselves as fans of either team in the contest, and you can count on it being a primary point of discussion during the broadcast.