I haven’t been blessed with the ability to read mental waves, and then decipher the meaning behind words and the true intentions of a speaker. Like you, I can only hear or read words, and then use deductive reasoning to determine the crux of the statement, argument, or rebuttal.

Unfortunately, the land of sports fandom isn’t a place where reason often resides, especially on the Internet, where impulse easily trumps sober second thought. This is how trolling was conceived, and earlier this morning Ravens head coach John Harbaugh did a classic troll job on Patriots fans.

During an interview with some local FM jokesters on 98 Rock in Baltimore who later asked him what he had for breakfast today, Harbaugh was inevitably asked to give his thoughts on the Saints bounty scandal, and the resulting penalties. He likely regrets saying the words below due to the vicious storm of mouth breathing reaction he quickly created, but he said what many of us have been thinking for a long, long time.

From ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss:

“In the end, everything is brought before the light of day, when it’s all said and done,” Harbaugh responded. “What happens, even the thing in New England, no matter whether those things had any impact on whether they won their championships or not, they got asterisks now. It’s been stained.

“To me, it’s never worth it. You have to figure out ways to use the rules to your advantage, you have to figure out ways to make the most of everything. We have new work rules here as far as what we can do and what we can’t do with our players, and we’re going to make the most of it. What we’re finding is, ‘Man, maybe we can do some things even better than we did before, because these rules make us focus more on some things that we didn’t focus on before. You just have to make them work for you. That’s what success is in the world. You have to find a way to do things better than somebody else. But if you’re cheating, in the end, you’re going to get discredited. It’s not worth it.”

Patriots fans have been instinctively defensive, wondering why Harbaugh would go out of his way to drag their team into a discussion focused on the Saints. He did it because on a surface level Spygate has been compared to Bountygate since nearly the very moment the Saints’ reward system was announced.

And on that surface exists one simple, rudimentary connection that Harbaugh is making. Regardless of the truth, and whether or not a real advantage was gained through either Spygate or Bountygate, in the eyes of many passionate conspiracy theorists there will always be a perception of an advantage gained through cheating which discredits any success.

That’s true, and anyone denying it lives a sheltered life in a home reinforced with steel walls, and multiple pass codes to access rooms. It’s now been half a decade since Spygate, and it still won’t die. The moment the Patriots lost the Super Bowl this past February, Spygate was referenced by pundits and keyboard warriors alike who wanted us all to know New England hasn’t won a championship since Bill Belichick’s video taping habit was discovered. The fact that the Patriots have only lost 16 regular-season games over those five seasons (one of which was played without Tom Brady) is conveniently disregarded.

I’m not among those tin hat wearing folk regarding either the Patriots or the Saints. What Gregg Williams organized was slimy, and the Saints have rightly been given a stiff punishment. But Bountygate didn’t directly result in a championship, just as the lack of video taping hasn’t directly resulting in no championship(s).

But it doesn’t matter what I think; by its very definition the public dictates public perception. There are far too many stubborn believers out there who are still holding on to Spygate, and they’ll do the same with Bountygate, two unfortunately-named illegal acts that we’ll likely still hear about in a decade.

That’s the reality Harbaugh is referencing. Whether the stain of cheating actually exists or not is irrelevant, and the lingering perception of a stain is often far more damaging.

He was also asked if he’s had anyone cheat against him by maybe knowing what plays were being called.

“Yeah, I have, but if I say who then ProFootballTalk is going to blow up and go crazy, and I’m going to get accused of accusing somebody.”

Too late, John.

Comments (3)

  1. I agree with your analysis of what Harbaugh was trying to say, and to some extent, I agree with Harbaugh. That is to say, I believe Belichick was correct that “Spygate” was not a violation of the NFL rules, but the problem is, BB decided to disregard what the Commissioner said about the rules and the Commissioner took BB to the woodshed for it. So even though BB was right and the Commissioner was wrong, it doesn’t matter, the Commissioner won the battle and fined the Patriots. The net result is that people believe the Patriots cheated. As a Patriot fan, I sometimes wish Belichick had more clearly articulated his case in public, but he chose not to, so as Belichick himself says, “It is what it is”. And unfortunately, what it is is the public believes the Patriots cheated and that the our Superbowl wins are “stained”. That’s what I believe Harbaugh was referring to: the public perception.

    With that said however, by Harbaugh’s own logic, it doesn’t matter what Harbaugh was trying to say, it matters how the public perceives it. So the Patriots’ fans are right: Harbaugh was way out of line! ;-)

  2. The Ravens have just released a statement from John Harbaugh regarding comments he made during a radio interview Tuesday about the New England Patriots’ championships being ‘stained.’

    The full statement is at http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/ravens/ravens-insider/bal-john-harbaugh-releases-statement-on-patriots-comments-20120501,0,6807086.story

    • Yep, pretty much exactly what I wrote (*takes hand, pats self on back*).

      We’re now into Day 3 of the real football offseason following the draft, and Harbaugh should know better than to speak his mind when millions of fans with nothing to read are sitting on their hands, I guess.

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