Tony Dungy doesn't refute Deion Sanders' claim that Colts stole signals

The Patriots pulled off a historic comeback to win Super Bowl LI 34-28 against the Falcons, and now it's time for the football world to break down what it means in terms of legacy for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

Spoiler alert: They're both the greatest of all time. But there will still be criticisms, especially because the Patriots have, for years, been accused of doing things in less than upfront ways.

During an NFL Network segment, former Chargers running back LaDainain Tomlinson -- part of the 2017 Hall of Fame class that was announced last week -- tried to put an asterisk next to the Patriots because he claimed they stole signals.

In response, NFL Network's Deion Sanders said, via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, that it's a thing the Indianapolis Colts did for years and nobody said a word.

"Those same critics, did they say anything about the wins that the Indianapolis Colts had? You want to talk about that too? Because they were getting everybody's signals," Sanders said. "Come on, you don't walk up to the line and look over here and the man on the sideline giving you the defense that they've stolen the plays of. We all knew. L.T. knew.

"Everybody in the NFL knew. We just didn't let the fans know. That was real and that was happening in Indy."

Those would be pretty serious allegations if the Colts disagree with them, but former Colts coach and current NBC analyst Tony Dungy, appearing on PFT Live, not only didn't deny the charges, but he basically confirmed that the Colts stole signals.

Dungy justified the hypothetical moves by pointing out that people have been stealing signals in sports for literally hundreds of years.

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Tony Dungy doesn't dispute that the Colts studied opponents' signals. USATSI

"I think we have to go back to what is cheating," Dungy said. "People accusing us of cheating? I don't think that's the case. Stealing signals? You can go back to the 1800s in baseball, you can go anywhere there were signals done, and people were looking and watching and trying to get signals. Back in the early days of football the quarterbacks called the plays and the middle linebackers called the defenses and there was no signaling. When coaches decided they wanted to call plays you had to find ways to get the information in and there were people watching.

"My coach, Chuck Noll, was a messenger guard for Paul Brown in the '50s because Paul Brown didn't want to have to signal because people are going to watch them. So that's what happens and it's been done legally for years."

Dungy gave two specific examples of how sign stealing works in the NFL. He claims that a Bears player misread a Colts defensive player's wristband during Super Bowl XLI, with the result being a blown coverage and a Peyton Manning touchdown to Reggie Wayne. On the flip side, Manning once knew Bruce Arians (who used to coach in Indianapolis but then later moved to the Steelers) would guess on the Colts' hand signals, so the quarterback incorporated a fake during a game between the two teams and got Marvin Harrison wide open for a touchdown on a blown coverage by Ike Taylor when the corner bit on the fake run signal.

That's just fun strategy and part of the complex chess game of football. Dungy finished by pointing out that everything the Colts did was legal in terms of stealing signals.

"That's all part of the game, but doing it legally and illegally, that's the difference," Dungy said. "I hope Deion is not saying we did something illegally. Of course we got signals when we had an opportunity to do that, and so did Deion."

Dungy isn't wrong here, either. Sign stealing is, was and will be part of sports as long as the sport is being played. There's a reason why head coaches, plus offensive and defensive coordinators, cover their mouths when they are calling plays.

The difference between what's being alleged of the Colts and what the Patriots allegedly did in Spygate? Electronic equipment, and where it was deployed.

"It wasn't getting signals, it was the process of videotaping and using electronic equipment during the game," Dungy said.

So basically what we need to find out from Sanders here is what specifically he's alleging about the Colts. Does he believe the Colts were doing what Dungy says they did? Or does he believe there was something more at play? NFL teams constantly search for ways to gain an advantage, even a small one, over opponents. There's a fine line between what's legal and what's not and there's certainly some clarification needed here.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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