"You guys haven't won anything since Spygate! You only won because you cheated!"
While I've never believed Spygate aided the Patriots to the point that it was the primary reason they won three Super Bowls, there's no question that that era of Patriots' football will always be slightly stained.
In the end, everything is brought before the light of day, when it's all said and done. What happens, even the thing in New England, no matter whether those things had any impact on whether they won their championships or not, they got asterisks now. It's been stained.
I don't see anything wrong with what Harbaugh is saying here. It's important to note he's not explicitly saying Spygate was the reason they won the championships; he's saying the fact that they were labeled as cheaters stains the accomplishments regardless of whether or not Spygate actually gave them an advantage.
He's right. Once you've been caught cheating, your credibility will always be called into question. The Patriots may not have needed Spygate to win any championships, but they'll always be accused of cheating to gain an edge.
And to his credit, he clarified his comments after this story blew up on Tuesday morning (via Mike Reiss of ESPN):
While on the 98 Rock show this morning to talk about the run to honor O.J. Brigance and raise funds for ALS research, I answered a question about playing within the rules and referred to the perception that the Super Bowl championships won by the Patriots and Saints have a stain. My reference was to the perception out there that came as the result of the league’s actions.
I could have been more clear that I was referring to those viewpoints. I totally believe that the Patriot and Saint coaches and players earned those championships. Bill (Belichick) and Sean (Payton) both know that.
He went into more depth with Belichick:
I have so much respect for Coach Belichick and the job he does and has accomplished in his Hall of Fame career. I called him to remind him of my respect for him. I also reached out to Tedy Bruschi, who rightfully defended those Patriot players and coaches on ESPN, to tell him that I agree with him that the Patriots earned every victory.
Bruschi provided a restrained (though obviously emotional) rebuttal to Harbaugh's original comments. It's only fair to hear both sides of the story.
They didn't show it here, but when this aired live, an annoyed Bruschi walked off the set just before the cameras stopped rolling, as anchor Kevin Negandhi was transitioning SportsCenter to the next segment.
It happened quickly, but it was all the indication I needed that Harbaugh's comments infuriated Bruschi.
I understand his anger. He's probably sick of talking about Spygate. But Bruschi is missing the point here. He's not acknowledging what is obvious—that people have the right to be suspicious of the Patriots' accomplishments.
Fair or not, they invited that suspicion when they broke the rules. They may not get an asterisk in the record books, but they'll always have one next to their legacy.
And maybe that's worse.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets make moves like Bill Belichick.