Cheating Accusations Against the Patriots Grow Pettier by the Day

The Jets reportedly ordered a sideline shakedown of three Pats employees during their most recent visit to Gillette.

Outside the corridors of I-495, it’s more apparent than ever that Bill Belichick’s coaching career isn’t defined by his four Super Bowl championships, but rather the events of September 9, 2007. On that day, Belichick committed the grave mistake of having one of his video assistants film Jets’ coaches from an unauthorized location. Then-Jets head coach and Belichick disciple Eric Mangini reported the infraction to the league, and the surly Belichick has been labeled a cheater ever since.

As the NFL’s futile Deflategate case languishes in a federal court of appeals, the most recent accusations brought against the Patriots have ranged from absurd to downright laughable. In September, Sports Illustrated detailed the rest of the league’s paranoia in a lengthy hatchet job, which includes suspicions of bugged locker rooms, stolen play sheets, and purposefully distributing—wait for it—warm Gatorade. The horror.

But the most recent allegations against the Patriots have reached a new level of pettiness. According to Jeff Howe of the Herald, the New York Jets ordered the NFL to interrogate three Patriots employees on the sidelines during their most recent visit to Gillette Stadium because they were concerned about the radio frequencies and stadium operations. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk obtained an email that details the incident, and it says Jets Security Director Robert Mastroddi was perturbed about two individuals who were wearing headsets and standing near the Patriots’ bench. Howe reports members of NFL Security proceeded to cross-examine three employees of Kraft Sports for 15 minutes, whose responsibilities include coordinating the in-stadium music and supplying fresh batteries for the referee’s microphone. The source tells the Herald the level of interrogation was “unprecedented,” as the NFL Security team took pictures of each man and demanded to check their cell phones. All three employees were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.

This story followed a report from Friday that the NFL swept the Jets’ locker room for recording devices prior to last Sunday’s game. CBS analyst Boomer Esiason says he heard the Jets asked the league to conduct the search, but an NFL spokesman denied that was the case and wouldn’t confirm whether the checkup occurred. Predictably, both the Patriots and Jets are mum on the issue.

The main takeaway here isn’t the details of these charges, but rather their existence. Belichick is in his opponents’ heads to such a degree that they scrutinize every aspect of the Patriots’ operation, even the guys who are responsible for such trivial tasks as maintaining the referees’ microphones.

The interminable Deflategate saga has ensured that the whispers about alleged Patriots subterfuge will only grow louder. After opening night, for example, the Pittsburgh Steelers complained about their headsets malfunctioning and the Patriots shifting their personnel on defense, both of which are common occurrences around the league.

The undefeated Patriots appear poised for yet another Super Bowl run. But if you thought it would be devoid of controversy, you better reconsider. Seemingly every other organization in the league thinks the Patriots cheat. And as we learned with Deflategate, the facts seldom matter.