New England Patriots in Super Bowl: is Bill Belichick a cheater?

The New England Patriots are one heavily favored contest away from heading back to the Super Bowl, but once again, the most successful head coach of his era is being accused of cheating. Bill Belichick, who has taken his Pats to five Super Bowls and won three of them, was tabbed as a cheater this week after he used a bizarre four-lineman offensive formation which left the referees unable to communicate which receivers were eligible. Ravens head coach likened it to cheating, even though the league has since stated that it was technically legal. Still, he joins the growing chorus of voices who have made the accusation.

Earlier this month Don Shula, one of the most respected NFL head coaches of all time, referred to Belichick as “Belicheat” in an interview with the Sun-Sentinel newspaper. Shula was the coach (and is still a Vice Chairman) of the Miami Dolphins, a longtime divisional rival of the New England Patriots, so the remark may be taken in a competitive context. But the nickname harkens back to the “Spygate” scandal in which the Patriots coaching staff was caught filming the walkthroughs of competing teams (including a Super Bowl opponent). Belichick and the team were fined significant money but no one was suspended. Critics have pointed out that, whether by causation or happenstance, his team hasn’t won another Super Bowl since the videotaping stopped.

Still, if the New England Patriots can win another Super Bowl here, and all the have to do is get past the underdog Colts to get there, it will at least mean that Bill Belichick has won a title more recently than he got caught cheating – and football fans do tend to favor recency. Then again, as Shula proved, those who feel the Patriots dominance has been tainted can end up having quite a long memory.