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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Wait just a minute, folks -- Harbaugh's right, Pats' titles ARE tainted


The Pats won 75 games and three Super Bowls under Bill Belichick before the team was caught. (Getty Images)  
The Pats won 75 games and three Super Bowls under Bill Belichick before the team was caught. (Getty Images)  

Of course the Patriots' Super Bowl titles are tainted. We're not really having this discussion, are we? I mean, this isn't a point worthy of debate.

Is it?

The astronomical home run totals of Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire are tainted. Roger Clemens' late-career heroics are tainted. Brian Cushing's sack totals? Tainted. When you cheat, your accomplishments are tainted. As far as facts go, that one's right up there with the sun rising in the east.

Did you know water freezes at 32 degrees? It does. That's a fact. And when one football team secretly tapes the signals of other football teams, and then wins games -- more games than anyone else in football, including three Super Bowl titles in four years -- those wins are tainted. That's another fact.

Now then, the Patriots' Super Bowl titles happened. Nobody's trying to erase those titles from the record book. The guy running the NFL remains Roger Goodell, not Mark Emmert, and the NFL isn't resorting to NCAA-style silliness by vacating the Patriots' Super Bowl titles. They happened, and we all saw it. They count. The rings on your fingers, New England Patriots? You can keep those rings.

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But save the outrage, Tedy Bruschi.

A kid gets caught copying another kid's homework, he cheated. That's a fact. The Patriots were looking at other teams' homework, and they got caught. They cheated. That kid can't come back later and argue, "I'm so smart, I would have aced the homework anyway." He can't say that -- well, he can't say that and be taken seriously -- because we don't know. Maybe he would have aced it. Maybe not.

Maybe he should have tried to do it without cheating. Then we wouldn't be having this discussion.

It's common sense, and it's fair, and it's reality. And John Harbaugh of the Ravens didn't say anything that most folks didn't already think. This isn't the time to pile on Harbaugh for saying something that's true. Hell, rather than piling on Harbaugh, let's congratulate him for having the nerve to speak out against his boys club of coaches, especially against a coach as famous as Bill Belichick. The fact that Belichick recommended Harbaugh for the Ravens' job? Even better. Harbaugh put integrity above all else when he used the Patriots as an example to underscore his larger point: "If you're cheating, in the end, you're going to get discredited."

Patriots fans are attacking Harbaugh as jealous and traitorous, because that's what you do when the facts aren't in your favor. You start spewing smoke, hoping to obscure the truth. It happens everywhere, every time. The Saints get punished for their bounty system, and Saints fans tell you that it was happening everywhere. Oregon pays a scout $25,000 for his best recruit, and Oregon fans call you a fan of some other school or league. A school like Florida in a league like the SEC, where Florida fans defended their football team's arrest record by bringing up the spate of arrests at Tennessee.

When the truth hurts, ignore it. Point fingers. Blurt unprovable opinions as if they're facts, as Bruschi did when he said the Patriots were so good, they would have won all those games whether his team had secretly taped opponents or not.

Maybe. Hell, probably. But we'll never know. Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire would have hit a lot of home runs had they added strength the legal way. Roger Clemens would have won a lot of games. Brian Cushing would have had a lot of sacks. Would they have had as many home runs, as many wins, as many sacks, without cheating?

We'll never know. So we apply the asterisk, or we say those marks are tainted, and we move on.

But then someone like John Harbaugh says what he says, and we're dragged back into it. We shouldn't be.

Honestly, I wasn't going to be. The Harbaugh story broke on Tuesday, and my interest was piqued. Here, I thought, was a potential column idea for Wednesday. So I read as much as I could read on it, then read Harbaugh's clarification of his comments, and decided not to write on it. Nothing here, I thought, because Harbaugh was right. The Patriots did cheat. Their Super Bowls are tainted. And Harbaugh had no malice when he said it, wasn't trying to undermine the Patriots so much as he was trying to amplify his own desire to remain above reproach. Nothing there, I thought, so I wrote about Michael Jordan instead.

But this morning, the Harbaugh story is everywhere. It's the talk of the country, but only because Patriots fans want to dispute its truth. They want to argue that Harbaugh's wrong, or he's a backstabber, or the sun rises in the west or water boils at 32 degrees. And Bruschi wants to play revisionist history and tell us what would have happened had the Patriots not cheated, as if he honestly knows.

You don't, Tedy.

The Patriots cheated. They got caught. Their accomplishments are tainted. This is so factual, I can't believe it needs to be said.

What are Bruschi and Patriots fans going to argue about next? The theory of gravity? Don't bother, people. It's real.

Things go up. Things come down.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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