Ancient antics

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports


We apologize for any embarrassment that the Sept. 13, 2007 Yahoo!

Sports story "Ancient Antics" has caused for Mike Shanahan.

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Yahoo! has retracted the segment of the story that asserted that Mike Shanahan was involved in cheating as the Denver Broncos coach.

Yahoo! has stringent editorial standards in place to prevent this type of error, and we regret the lapse in our protocol that allowed this to happen.

Editors' note: We have eliminated a paragraph in this story that, upon review, does not meet the editorial standards of Yahoo! Sports. We took immediate action to eliminate the content from our site as soon as we became aware of this matter.

Hall of Fame center Jim Langer couldn't help but laugh when asked about the videotape cheating scandal involving the New England Patriots.

"That's like the week before we played Washington in the Super Bowl," Langer said, recalling a moment from the Miami Dolphins' undefeated season in 1972. "We were chasing the spies (Redskins coach) George Allen sent out of the bushes all week."

While it's hard not to take the crime and punishment of Patriots coach Bill Belichick seriously – NFL Commissioner Roger " Kenesaw" Goodell docked Belichick $500,000, the Patriots another $250,000 and either a first-round pick (if the team makes the playoffs) or a second- and third-rounder (if they don't) – the history of cheating in the NFL is long.

Some of the stories are downright funny. In the 1960s, Oakland Raiders coach-and-later-general managing partner Al Davis once pretended to be a reporter after a game and interviewed a player from the opposing team about the plays his team had used successfully against the Raiders.

Davis was involved in another odd story in the 1970s. The Dolphins consistently had problems against the Raiders at the time. It got to the point one time during a halftime session when the coaches were going over the adjustments that Dolphins coach Don Shula screamed at one of the air conditioning vents: "Al, I know you have bugs in here."

Langer laughed at that memory, too.

"With (Davis), you could believe anything might happen," said Langer, who played with the Dolphins from 1970-79.

Then there are the other rumors, such as the one for years that the New York teams open the stadium tunnel door on exceptionally windy days to either help or hurt potential field goals and kickoffs depending on the situation. There's a similar urban legend about the air conditioning being turned on or off at different times in Minnesota. None of that has ever been proved.

In 1997, New England was at the heart of a delicious bit of espionage. The Patriots had signed fullback Keith Byars that season after he'd been cut by the Dolphins. New England then played Miami in the final game of the season, setting up a rematch in the first-round of the playoffs the following weekend.

Byars taught the Patriots defense all of the Dolphins' audibles. During the game, linebacker Ted Johnson intercepted Dan Marino's slant pass and returned it for a touchdown as part of a 17-3 victory. Beyond that, the Patriots defense even communicated to each other using the Dolphins offensive signals as cues.

"They were using our signals all game," former Dolphins running back Bernie Parmalee said at the time.

So that gets us to the matter of Belichick and his videotaping. In short, it's wrong and Belichick was warned about it before. Do he and the Patriots deserve the punishment? Yes, he blatantly violated the league rules.

Belichick also deserves to be punished for doing it unnecessarily. In other words, he was stupid and that's something rarely ever said or written about Belichick. Right now, the Patriots are better than the Jets, by a good margin. You save this type of cheating for moments when it really matters. Moreover, video technology is good enough these days that the Patriots could have taped the signals in a far less obvious way, including from owner Bob Kraft's luxury box.

That said, what Belichick did is classic gamesmanship. No matter the sport, someone's always looking for the extra edge. It's no different than in baseball when coaches try to steal signs or when batters wipe out the backline of the batter's box so they can set up a couple of inches deeper against hard throwers.

It's no different than putting in a slick football for a critical moment at the end of a game when a team is threatening to score a field goal, but the holder has the ball slip through his fingers.

Not that such a thing has ever happened.

It's no different than a lot of what goes on to gain an advantage in sports. So for all of the high-minded people who are making a big deal about whether this impacts Belichick's credentials to one day go to the Hall of Fame or if it has some residual effect on people who have coached for him, such as Eric Mangini of the Jets or Charlie Weis of Notre Dame, the answer is no.

It's just part of the game.

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