A decade ago, while waiting for a permanent home, the then-Tennessee Oilers were using a temporary practice field next to a mall. The week before their season opener against Oakland, someone noticed a cherry picker with workers driving around a parking lot, supposedly changing light bulbs.
Light bulbs? Pretty fishy the week before a game against a team run by Al Davis.
So two team employees were told to monitor the bulb changers through binoculars to make sure they weren't spies.
Was that because they KNEW the Raiders were trying to spy on them? Or were they acting because paranoia and secrecy are required personality traits for all NFL coaches?
What is clear is that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots aren't the first coach and team to try to get a leg up through espionage. They're just either:
-The most successful team - Pittsburgh's Hines Ward went so far this week to suggest that their three Super Bowl victories in four seasons between 2001-04 were due in part to stealing opponents' signals;
-Or the first to get caught in a league where everyone does it.
Belichick and the Patriots paid for the coach's action - in money and draft choices. Belichick was fined $500,000 by commissioner Roger Goodell for trying to videotape another team's signals; New England was fined $250,000 and will either forfeit its first-round draft choice next season in the likely event it makes the playoffs or second- and third-rounders if it doesn't.
But that discipline is not going to stop coaches from believing that the other guys will try to spy on them.
``There's no one more paranoid than a head coach in a game in a visiting stadium, that's for sure,'' Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said this week, echoing all his colleagues. None of them, of course, acknowledged doing it themselves. But all suggested they think it's done on a regular basis.
Here's another suggestion.
Look to a team that thinks another team is spying on it. Maybe that's because they do it themselves.
Or maybe everyone just thinks the other guys do it. And that everyone has been doing it for decades. More than 30 years ago, George Allen would send aides into the woods surrounding the Redskins' facility to check for spies.
``We had a guy called Double-O,'' recalled Bubba Tyer, the Redskins' trainer. ``He was a retired policeman, and the whole time the team was on the field he would walk the woods around old Redskin Park. There was a warehouse across the street from us and we'd see him out there on the hood of a tractor-trailer trying to get a guy's license plate to see if he was from Philadelphia or New York. He was everywhere.''
Holmgren, one of the many NFL coaches who holds a card in front of his mouth to prevent lip readers from watching him call plays, was the offensive coordinator for San Francisco under George Seifert in 1990.
That was when Seifert discovered that Harry Carson, who had retired a couple of years earlier from the New York Giants, was at his team's headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., to report for a New York television station on a big game between the Giants and 49ers. Suddenly, practice was closed to out-of-town reporters on the assumption that they (read that as Carson) would call Bill Parcells and tell them just what Seifert was planning.
A couple of months later, when the 49ers were preparing to play the Giants in the NFC championship game, not only were out-of-town writers banned, but Seifert tried to get fans watching practice tossed off an overpass about 300 yards from the practice field and helicopters banned from flying near the field.
Whatever the case, Parcells' Giants beat the 49ers 15-13 for the NFC title and went on to win the Super Bowl the following week.
Take that a step further.
Parcells' defensive coordinator that season was Belichick. His defensive line coach was Romeo Crennel.
During the Giants' bye week in the playoffs, Belichick was on the road at the two NFC wild-card games. In the press box. Charting offenses. Charting defenses. Trying to pick up whatever he could.
Crennel, who later was defensive coordinator for Belichick in New England, is now the head coach in Cleveland. He was as candid as any coach asked this week about what NFL teams do to get an edge.
``Sure, you have guys looking across the sideline trying to figure out what the signal is going to be,'' he said. ``... Everybody looks across the field to see if they can determine what the signals are. But that doesn't necessarily help you. Your guys still have to go play and they still have to make the plays themselves.''
Still, there are unwritten rules.
What Crennel describes is similar to baseball coaches sitting in dugouts trying to steal the signs of opponents. That's accepted, just as it's accepted that a runner on second base can try to interpret the catchers' signals. But it's verboten for a hitter to turn around to figure out if the catcher is sitting outside or inside.
What Belichick presumably apologized for is specifically forbidden in the NFL - taping the opponent's sidelines, then deciphering the signals. Breaking down the tapes over a period of time theoretically gives offensive coaches time to let the quarterback know the defense that's coming up.
On the other hand, it's OK to scout thoroughly, as Belichick did back with the Giants. And how does anyone know if a team has cheated or just done a great scouting job?
Ward, the Pittsburgh wide receiver and former college quarterback who's one of the NFL's savviest players, thinks there was more than just good scouting to New England's 24-17 upset win over the Steelers in the AFC championship game played in Pittsburgh in January 2002.
``Oh, they knew,'' Ward said this week. ``They were calling our stuff out. They knew a lot of our calls. There's no question some of their players were calling out some of our stuff.''
But not everyone wins Super Bowls by cheating.
If the 31 other coaches are searching for any edge they can get, the coach of the incumbent champions is one whose hands are almost certainly clean.
``You kind of feel like there's a code of honor, a code of ethics in the league,'' the Colts Tony Dungy says. ``You want to win. You want to do things the right way.''
Code of honor?
Believe it with Dungy. Some of the other guys?
DIRTY DOZEN: The top six and bottom six teams in the NFL based on current level of play:
1. New England (1-0) Signal-stealing aside, these guys are a lot more talented than they were last season.
2. Indianapolis (1-0) Peyton and the offense will always put up points. Shutting down the Saints offense is more impressive.
3. San Diego (1-0) What's disappointing about beating the Bears?
4. Chicago (0-1) No, Grossman is not Manning or Brady. But holding the Chargers to 14 points on the road is pretty impressive. NFC's best by a wide margin.
5. Pittsburgh (1-0). It was only Cleveland, but Big Ben looks as if he's back.
6. Carolina (1-0) Impressive start in a weak NFC.

27. Arizona (0-1) Same as always until proven otherwise. Smashmouth doesn't work with no OL.
28. Oakland (0-1) The 21 points tied the high from last season. But where did the defense go?
29. Tampa Bay (0-1) Garcia does well with protection. The Bucs don't give him much.
30. Kansas City (0-1) Think of who's not there anymore.
31. Atlanta (0-1) Vick's absence is only part of it.
32. Cleveland (0-1) What says more than trading your QB after a week?
AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn.; Tom Withers in Cleveland; Gregg Bell in Seattle; Alan Robinson in Pittsburgh; Joseph White in Washington and many others contributed to this report.

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