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Irrational Harbaugh aside, titles of Patriots, Saints aren't tainted

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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John Harbaugh was recommended to the Ravens by Bill Belichick. (US Presswire)  
John Harbaugh was recommended to the Ravens by Bill Belichick. (US Presswire)  

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh opened his mouth, stretched it wide, and inserted his foot -- if not both feet simultaneously. At the same time, he stabbed a friend in the back, and restarted a debate that doesn't seem to die even though it should.

Are the Super Bowls of the Saints and Patriots tainted?

"In the end, everything is brought before the light of day, when it's all said and done," Harbaugh told a Baltimore radio station. "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've got to figure out ways to use the rules to your advantage, you've got to figure out ways to make the most of everything. We've got 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."

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Oh, boy. Here we go again.

Who knows what Harbaugh was trying to do with these statements. He had to understand they were going to inflame, and it doesn't matter that he has since called Bill Belichick to clarify his words. Attempting to weasel out from under his comments is in some ways worse than the original words. The damage is done.

I'll give this a name: "Super Bowl Tainted Psychosis." Or SBTP. It's a brain disorder that causes otherwise rational people to mumble about conspiracies or even burned tapes. Patient Zero may have been Richard Nixon.

Harbaugh was so infected with SBTP that he still threw Belichick under the bus, which is ironic. Belichick once recommended Harbaugh to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, helping Harbaugh land his current job.

Please, once and for all, let's understand something. There is no tainted Patriots Super Bowl. There never has been. While we're at it, there is no tainted Saints Super Bowl. There never will be.

Even if you believe Sean Payton is an arrogant, heartless human being as I do, the Saints earned that championship. To believe the New Orleans Super Bowl victory is tainted because of the bounty system shows a complete lack of understanding of how an NFL team works.

A championship is won over a period of years and because of smart drafting, trades and game management. New Orleans captured the Super Bowl because they got Drew Brees, drafted well and Payton made one of the great calls in the history of the Super Bowl by pulling a game-changing onside kick.

The system Gregg Williams used was cruel and actionable. But there also remains great debate about how much it actually affects games. Consider that disgusting tape of Williams telling Saints players to target concussed and injured San Francisco 49ers personnel. Bounties were in full play.

And the Saints still lost.

Bounties have no place in the game and the NFL was correct in its punishment of the Saints. Bounties also are the NFL's version of a scud missile. The Saints may have targeted players utilizing this draconian tactic but it wasn't effective. If it were, wouldn't the Saints have captured more championships? Instead that big, bad defense had its butt kicked by Alex Smith.

In many ways Bountygate and Spygate are similar. The punishment was correctly harsh in both cases more because of Payton and Belichick ignoring league office edicts. Spygate did nothing to help New England win Super Bowls. Remember what Belichick is accused of having done. He taped the Jets' defensive signals.

Admittedly there's some value to be gained from doing this. If you tape a team's signals and that coaching staff is either too lazy or too dumb to change them over a longer period of time, a handful of plays can be stolen. But the biggest reasons the Patriots won was because they had perhaps the best coach in NFL history and one of the best quarterbacks to ever play. Belichick's brain and Tom Brady's accuracy are the reasons the Patriots have been so dominant.

Now comes the part where people say the Patriots haven't won a championship since Spygate. That's true. Also true, the Patriots have twice since reached Super Bowls -- both times losing to the Giants, who have an excellent quarterback, not to mention a head coach making a strong case for the Hall of Fame.

We've heard others call the Patriots' Super Bowl accomplishments tainted. Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs called their titles "fake." Don Shula questioned the Patriots as they attempted to go for an unbeaten season five years go.

"The Spygate thing has diminished what they've accomplished. You would hate to have that attached to your accomplishments. They've got it," Shula told the New York Daily News in 2007. "Belichick was fined $500,000, the team was fined $250,000 and they lost a first-round draft choice. That tells you the seriousness or significance of what they found.

"I guess you got the same thing as putting an asterisk by Barry Bonds' home run record. I guess it will be noted that the Patriots were fined and a No. 1 draft choice was taken away during that year of accomplishment. The sad thing is Tom Brady looks so good, it doesn't look like he needs any help."

Shula is an extremely intelligent man. But every part of the preceding quote is wrong except the last sentence. Brady didn't need any help and he got very little -- if any -- from Belichick's spying.

Yet somebody -- Harbaugh -- managed to reopen this discourse. But any rational person with even a moderate understanding of how football works knows that the Super Bowl victories in question were not tainted.

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