- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Ravens coach John Harbaugh surprisingly called out coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots on Tuesday, saying their three championships have to be questioned because the team broke NFL rules by taping opposing coaches' signals.
“In the end, everything is brought before the light of day, when it’s all said and done,” Harbaugh told 97.9 FM in Baltimore. “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."
Harbaugh was right in saying that the Patriots' championships will always be questioned because of Spygate. He was the wrong person to say it, though.
This shows a lack of loyalty on Harbaugh's part. Some people in the Ravens organization believe that Belichick played a key role in Harbaugh's becoming the Ravens' head coach. After the Ravens fired coach Brian Billick in 2008, owner Steve Bisciotti called Belichick to ask him about Harbaugh, who was considered the dark horse in the team's coaching search. Belichick spoke glowingly of Harbaugh, who share similar backgrounds. Belichick's coaching roots also started on special teams.
If someone gives you an important pat on the back, why would you punch him in the gut? The Patriots' championships could very well be "stained" for many people, but this quote stands out as a black eye for Harbaugh. He wasn't even asked about the Patriots in the interview. The question was about the New Orleans Saints and cheating in the NFL in general. Harbaugh then directed his answer at the Patriots. This is the sore spot in Belichick's coaching past. He was fined $500,000, and the Patriots were stripped of a first-round pick. The last person to bring this up should be Harbaugh.
A few hours after his radio interview, Harbaugh issued a statement through the team to clarify his comments.
"My reference was to the perception out there that came as the result of the league’s actions," Harbaugh said. “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."
Harbaugh said his comments have been distorted because he never mentioned Belichick by name. "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."
It doesn't matter whether Harbaugh never said Belichick's name. By saying the Patriots' championships are "stained," you're pointing a finger at everyone in the organization involved with that scandal, including Belichick, who was fined more than anyone else.
By all appearances, Harbaugh and Belichick are friendly, or as friendly as Belichick gets in coaching circles. Both say they talk to each other during the NFL owners meetings every year, and Harbaugh and Belichick were chatting on the sideline of the Johns Hopkins-Maryland lacrosse game last month.
But this isn't the first time that the Ravens have taken shots at the Patriots' cheating past.
In November 2010, linebacker Terrell Suggs called the Patriots' championships "fake" on a Ravens-produced television show. This year, two days after the Ravens lost at New England in the AFC Championship Game, kicking consultant Randy Brown mentioned the Patriots might have been involved in a scoreboard malfunction that showed the wrong down and ultimately rushed Billy Cundiff into missing what would have been the game-tying field goal at the end of the game.
After Brown's comments, Harbaugh was the first to squash any controversy, issuing a statement that read: "Any suggestion that the wrong down information was a deliberate effort to affect the outcome of the game is nonsense."
This time, however, Harbaugh is the one stirring up Belichick's past, and he's wrong to do so. There could be a very cold handshake exchange after the Ravens-Patriots game on Sept. 23.