Losing a Super Bowl is painful for any coach.
Losing a Super Bowl by a mere three points causes a coach to ask a lot of “what if” questions.
Losing a Super Bowl by three points when you suspect the other team was cheating? That’s one you never get over.
That’s why Steve Spagnuolo is still a bit miffed when he looks back at Super Bowl XXXIX.
The Patriots defeated Philadelphia 24-21 in that game. Spagnuolo — who mostly recently was defensive coordinator for the Giants and was the team’s interim head coach for its final four games of the season — was a linebackers coach for Philadelphia in that Super Bowl loss.
New England was penalized by the NFL for its role in the “Spygate” controversy in 2007, but there had been rumors of the Patriots stealing other teams’ signals for several years prior to that. Spagnuolo believes Super Bowl XXXIX was one of the times the Pats had knowledge of what the Eagles were going to do.
“Here’s what I remember distinctly: At the time, I was up in the box, and [defensive coordinator] Jim [Johnson] was down on the field,” Spagnuolo said in an interview with Philadelphia-area radio station WPEN-FM. “And I remember through the course of the game, Jim saying, ‘They’re getting our signals. They know when we’re blitzing. They’re getting our signals. Try to hide it, etc. etc.’
“And I remember distinctly thinking, ‘Jim I don’t think that’s true.’ Now I’m not saying this to him, because I don’t want to upset him. I’m saying it to myself. ‘I don’t think so Jim, just concentrate on calling the game.'”
But watching tape of the game convinced Spagnuolo that Johnson was right.
“It was evident to us — and I’m not crying over spilled milk here — but we believed that [Patriots quarterback] Tom [Brady] knew when we were pressuring, because he certainly got the ball out pretty quick,” Spagnuolo said. “But, you know, you got to play the game, and they won that particular day.”
Spagnuolo didn’t say how he believes the Patriots obtained the information necessary to anticipate what the Eagles’ defense was going to do in the game, but a 2015 report from ESPN cited how the Eagles had been suspicious of the Patriots’ actions that day for several years.
“When Spygate broke, some of the Eagles now believed they had an answer for a question that had vexed them since they lost to the Patriots 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX: How did New England seem completely prepared for the rarely used dime defense the Eagles deployed in the second quarter, scoring touchdowns on three of four drives?” the report said. “The Eagles suspected that either practices were filmed or a playbook was stolen.”
Whatever the case, Spagnuolo used that experience to help him prepare for his next meeting with the Patriots when Spagnuolo was defensive coordinator for the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
“But there’s no question I wasn’t going to let that happen in the 2008 Super Bowl [with the Giants] after the 2007 season,” Spagnuolo said. “I’ll tell you, the biggest thing we learned was make sure you have two signal callers, not one signal caller, because they may have all your signals. We made sure we had two signal callers, and we were protecting against that.”
The Giants defeated New England in that game 17-14.
The NFL penalized the Patriots in 2007 after a Patriots employee was discovered illegally recording the signals being relayed from New York Jets coaches to players. A league investigation discovered the Patriots had been videotaping the signals of coaches as far back as 2000.
There had also been allegations by former coaches and players that the Patriots would scramble visiting teams’ headset communications between the press box and sidelines, and that team employees would go into visiting locker rooms during pregame warm-ups and steal play sheets.
The 2015 ESPN report said when NFL investigators went inside the Patriots’ stadium, they came across a room filled with tapes of various teams’ signals, notes matching the signals to plays the teams ran. The league imposed a $500,000 fine on Belichick, a $250,000 fine on the team and the loss of a first-round draft pick.
Spagnuolo certainly believes the Spygate scandal helped the Patriots win at least one Super Bowl.
He only wishes the NFL had cracked down on New England a few years earlier.
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