The New England Patriots were hoping to put their cheating scandals behind them, but a strange radio outage during their opening night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers has the rumor mill churning once again.
During the first half of the Thursday Night Football matchup, the Steelers coaches had an interruption in their headsets, with their normal communication blocked and instead replaced with the Patriots radio broadcast.
Strange But True: Steelers coaches are hearing the Patriots radio broadcast in their headsets. (via NBC)
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 11, 2015
During any other game or in any other stadium, the glitch would have seemed insignificant. After all, it’s the NFL that controls the headset frequencies, not the home team, and the league rules dictate that the Patriots headsets be turned off while the Steelers ones were malfunctioning.
But the interference just happened to occur in Foxboro and just two days after a story was released in which others around the league accused the New England Patriots of purposely messing with opponents’ radio signals during games.
The ESPN Outside the Lines story, by Pulitzer Prize winner Don Natta Jr., shed light on a number of alleged instances of cheating from the New England Patriots, including stealing opponents’ play sheets right out of the visiting locker room.
In one passage, an unnamed source accused the Patriots of the very chicanery that went down on Thursday night.
At Gillette Stadium, the scrambling and jamming of the opponents’ coach-to-quarterback radio line — “small s—” that many teams do, according to a former Pats assistant coach — occurred so often that one team asked a league official to sit in the coaches’ box during the game and wait for it to happen. Sure enough, on a key third down, the headset went out.
Stories of the New England Patriots allegedly cutting off opponents’ headsets have circulated for years. Back in 2007, Sports Illustrated detailed allegations from the Detroit Lions.
“At one point we had a good drive going against the Patriots,” said one Lion who doesn’t want his name involved in this mess, but was willing to talk about it. “Mike Martz really had ’em going. They were getting fouled up, lining up wrong, we were moving the ball. Then boom, the headset from the sidelines to the coaches’ booth goes out.
“Next possession we were moving the ball again and the same thing happened. You know it only takes two or three plays to mess up a drive.”
Matt Millen, the Lions’ GM, says he was talking to another team’s head coach at the league meetings. He started telling him the story.
“Yeah, I know,” the coach said. “Headset went out. It happened to me in Foxboro, too.”
Details of Thursday night’s incident are still light, and there is no hard evidence at all to imply that the New England Patriots purposely cut off the Steelers headsets, but that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from churning.
[Picture by Jim Rogash/Getty Images]