In Soviet Russia, Football Watches You!

The New England Patriots have been caught videotaping the New York Jets’ coaches giving defensive signals, and, as expected, we have the the flurry of questions about whether or not the Pats’ victories over the last 6 years have been on the level. A little level-headedness is needed here to separate the emotional responses, like former running back Terrell Davis suggesting that the Patriots be banned from the playoffs for two years, from those of the people who have permanent residence in Bill Belichick’s reality distortion field. It’s hard for myself to maintain level-headedness because I’m a fan of the Patriots and have been since I was 4.

While there’s no evidence that the Patriots have successfully recorded and deciphered every team’s defensive signals, it’s probably helped them a learn a little about teams’ preferences and various coaches’ tendencies. However, I don’t see how it helps you during a game. The only time one can look at the tape and decode everything is at half time. You have to load up the tape and sync it with your photos and videos of the opponents defense. You have to come up with some sort of pattern involved, notify your staff of what it is and then execute: all that in the span of a 20 minute half time. Plus, all of that effort goes to naught if the opposing team switches up the signals at half time. It doesn’t make sense logistically, and seems to be more of a distraction rather than studying photos and making normal adjustments.

Looking at a video tape of a team’s signs to later prepare for a rematch is of little value if the team changes the signs or formations. It’s not a guarantee of success, and it may be a hinderance if you, as an offensive coach, see the signals, put out a play to maximize potential yardage, and the resulting defense isn’t what you expected. I think that all football teams do too much practice and preparation for videotaped signals to be the deciding factor on what play to run or what strategy to take. Plus, all the strategies and preparation and knowledge in the world won’t do a darn thing if your team doesn’t execute. The best thing to do is have a guy with a photographic memory and a knack for stealing signals in the press box watch the other team with a pair of binoculars and quickly devise some way of decoding what the other team is doing.

Videotaping your opponents is akin to corking a bat in baseball. It doesn’t give you any real advantage, but it’s against the rules. It is because they blatantly broke the rules, that I think the punishment of the loss of a 1st round draft pick and a fines totalling $750,000 (half a million for Bellichick, 250K for the team) is fair. Don’t let’s jump to the inane conclusion that all of the Patriots’ wins over the last 6 years aren’t the result of a good football team armed with smart veterans who study and execute well. I don’t want to come across as a stupid homer Patriots fan, but if you’re going to call me that so be it.

Although, I have to ask: Why is that considered cheating? There’s video of every play. The coaches are mic’ed up, and there are shotgun microphones all over the field. There are assistant coaches and staff in the press boxes with cameras, taking pictures of formations and faxing them down to the quarterback. The cameras at the top of the stadium record everything. There are players on the field and on the side lines watching everything and trying to interpret the other team’s signs. There are 70,000+ people in every stadium, watching everything, and possibly recording this.

Because there are all of these cameras around and all of these eyes on them, teams take precautions to mitigate the risk of their signs being stolen. Coaches and coordinators hold play cards up to their mouths and are surrounded by taller people. Making taping against the rules when it’s already being watched, photographed and filmed is kind of silly. Teams are already expecting this kind of “psychological warfare,” and they are preparing for it.

Notice that you’re not hearing too many coaches and team officials publicly comment on this. To whit, King Kauffman at Salon writes “…it’s worth noting that this accusation came from the league, not the Jets, and that the Jets don’t seem to be using it as an excuse for having their hats handed to them on Sunday. I don’t think the Jets have a signal, after all, for ‘let Ellis Hobbs run a kickoff back 108 yards.'” It’s because that everyone has a group of guys on their team that do exactly what the Patriots were doing. Only they’re smart and less obvious about it.

Taping the other team in plain view doesn’t make you a cheater. It makes you an arrogant S.O.B., which doesn’t surprise me when Bill Belichick is involved.

6 Responses to “In Soviet Russia, Football Watches You!”

  1. Alcibiades McZombie says:

    I don’t know much about football, but I thought radios-in-helmets could be used for communication.

    I don’t think taping is cheating either. There are lots of better ways to cheat. For instance, you could blind opponents with lasers.

  2. Brad says:

    Only the quarterback has an audio receiver in his helmet. Players on defense don’t because of the number of personnel changes, etc. Defenses might get into situations where they have 4 people with audio receivers on the field, and then zero people on the field. The league would like it if there was only 1 player on each side with the equipment.

    There was a vote by the owners in this most recent offseason to allow audio equipment in the helmets of defensive players, but it didn’t pass. I expect them to revisit this in the offseason. This will eliminate the use of signals alltogether.

  3. straightarrow says:

    I just don’t see the problem. Stealing signals is no different than deciphering intent based on formation or tendency or overhearing the defensive captain say blitz.

    If it were not part of the game nobody would use signals. Ergo, it is safe to assume that every team will make every effort to divine intent, and they fully expect that others will too. Barring bribery, theft of actual material such as playbooks, etc. I just don’t see the problem.

    Interception of a defensive signal is no different than interception of a forward pass.

    That is why baseball managers have a complete “feel-up” with a signal buried somewhere within. They expect the other team to try to divine their intent.

    I hate the Pats, but I just don’t see the problem with this.

  4. AughtSix says:

    I think the problem is there’s a rule against what they’re doing… taping the other team’s signals. If I understood an article (can’t remember which one) correctly, that’s the issue. Stealing signals is part of the game. Heck, in college the back up quarterbacks and I would spend the entire game swiping signals. We were darn good, for all the good it did us. (2nd and 5 at the other teams 20 yard line… signal means lead to the twins side, we yell it out, play comes as called… 80 yard touchdown run. doh!)

    That isn’t cheating. But even in college there were rules about what could be taped. For example, you couldn’t send a coach to another game to tape it. You could only use the “official” tapes for scouting.

  5. Michael says:

    I’m not a sports fan in any capacity, except when the wife watched Green Bay Packers. The reason is their behavior, such as this, has turned me off from watching. Athletes at one time were idolized and made into heroes for ourselves and children.

  6. Any way you look at it, I refer back to my good friend, Sun Tzu who wrote the Art of War. The Pats played it smart, don’t think you can call that cheating. Anyhow, let them decide what’s proper, but this is football!