GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: Belichick's penalty reflects Goodell's discipline Print
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Friday, 14 September 2007 10:21
NFL Headline News

 NEW YORK (AP) -Bill Belichick now finds himself alongside the likes of Michael Vick and Adam ``Pacman'' Jones in the rogue's gallery created during Roger Goodell's first year as NFL commissioner.
That doesn't mean Goodell won't be cordial if he ends up presenting the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Belichick and owner Robert Kraft after the Super Bowl in February.
But it does mean that even if Belichick does win his fourth Super Bowl - tying Chuck Noll for the most by any coach - there will always be questions about whether he earned them honestly.
Even before Goodell fined Belichick $500,000 and took away what likely will be the Patriots' first-round draft pick, Pittsburgh's Hines Ward suggested that the New England defense seemed to know exactly what was coming in the 2002 AFC title game just before the Patriots won their first Super Bowl.
And the post-punishment reaction was harsh.
A Boston-based football blog headlined: ``Belichick's reputation sleeps with the fishes.'' Another much-read internet blogger suggested that maybe Tom Brady wouldn't be the quarterback he is if he hadn't known in advance what opposing defenses were running.
That latter comment is silly. Brady still has to execute; Brady still has to audible when the defense changes; Brady still performs better than other quarterbacks who ever played for Belichick - Drew Bledsoe, Vinny Testaverde, whomever.
But it's not silly to wonder if Belichick's ``genius'' wasn't enhanced by tapes that gave him an edge on one or two plays in critical games that eventually won him titles. Some members of the Philadelphia Eagles recalled on Thursday that every time they blitzed in the 2005 Super Bowl, Brady was prepared and dumped the ball off.
``Something's not right about that,'' recalled cornerback Sheldon Brown, who acknowledged that at the time he wrote it off to sharp playcalling.
That's the problem when you think about Belichick's legacy.
No question he's a brilliant coach. Although perhaps not as brilliant as we've been led to believe. And maybe other ``geniuses'' cheated in some way, too - we'll never know.
But he's the only one who got caught, and when his name comes up for the Hall of Fame, that will be the first thing a lot of the voters will consider.
On to the punishment, a $500,000 fine for the coach, $250,000 for the team and forfeiture of a first-round pick if the Pats make the playoffs and second- and third-rounders if they don't.
Was it too light? The Patriots still have San Francisco's first-round pick, which is likely to be higher than theirs, which makes it easier to give up their own.
And should there have been a suspension to go with the fine, the maximum for a coach and the heaviest ever levied? Maybe, but what good would it have done? Like a baseball manager ejected from a game, Belichick certainly would have figured out a way to ``offer advice'' from afar.
In fact, the most critical part of the punishment may have been the $250,000 fine on the Patriots.
Yes, the team certainly can afford it - it's estimated value is well over $1 billion.
But it's yet another crack in the relationship between Belichick and the Kraft family, which may be becoming less enamored of its coach each day.
Goodell went out of his way to say that he didn't think Kraft was aware that Belichick was violating league rules by videotaping the opposing sideline from the field. Kraft is very much an insider, one of the NFL's most powerful owners. He was close to Paul Tagliabue, he is close to Goodell and both commissioners rely on him for help and advice.
He also is an owner whose philosophy is one that most often leads to success on the field - hire the best football people you can find and get out of the way. The problem in this case is when ``the best football people'' start damaging your image, which may be more important than costing you cash.
Then there's Goodell's image - enhanced again by quick action, this time against a cheating coach rather than wayward players.
``That's the way things are going in the league. The commissioner is going to be strong with every issue,'' Dallas coach Wade Phillips said Friday.
In fact, Goodell's crackdown on wayward players overshadowed a couple of his actions last season against non-players: fines against Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher and Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney for criticizing officiating. Those were significant because both men are league stalwarts - Fisher is co-chairman of the competition committee and Rooney is probably the NFL's most influential owner and was one of Goodell's strongest supporters before he was elected.
What the commissioner is hoping now is that everyone can get on to football.
So maybe Belichick's response Friday morning was not a stonewall - all he would say to repeated questions about the punishment was that it was time to concentrate on Sunday night's game with San Diego.
``San Diego. San Diego. Fine football team,'' he kept saying. ``Move on. San Diego. OK. Thank you.''
Thank YOU, Bill.
If for nothing else, changing peoples' view of the Patriots' history and your ``genius.''

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