New England Patriots accused of cheating in about every way imaginable in massive ESPN story

New England Patriots Helmet
(Image credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

In an enormous 11,500-word exposé, ESPN's Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham dove deep into the NFL vs. New England Patriots civil war better known as Deflategate. The story does more than discuss the details surrounding some mysteriously underinflated footballs, however: Van Natta Jr. and Wickersham trace New England's history of being called out for unusual and definitely-less-than-legal maneuvers all the way back to Spygate, the Patriots' first major cheating scandal:

Many former New England coaches and employees insist that the taping of signals wasn't even the most effective cheating method the Patriots deployed in that era. Several of them acknowledge that during pregame warm-ups, a low-level Patriots employee would sneak into the visiting locker room and steal the play sheet, listing the first 20 or so scripted calls for the opposing team's offense. (The practice became so notorious that some coaches put out fake play sheets for the Patriots to swipe.) Numerous former employees say the Patriots would have someone rummage through the visiting team hotel for playbooks or scouting reports [...] At Gillette Stadium, the scrambling and jamming of the opponents' coach-to-quarterback radio line — "small sh-t" 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. [ESPN]

ESPN also calls into question the effectiveness of the cheating — Pats head coach Bill Belichick reportedly admitted to owner Bob Kraft that taping opponents' offensive calls only helped the Patriots 1 percent of the time. But as one unnamed former executive wondered aloud, "Why would they go to such great lengths for so long to do it and hide it if it didn't work? It made no sense."

However, the Patriots maintain they never committed the cardinal sin of filming another team's walkthrough before a game, as the Rams believe they did before the Super Bowl in 2002. "It is disappointing that some choose to believe in myths, conjecture, and rumors rather than give credit to coach Belichick, his staff, and the players," the team said in an official statement.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.