Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday morning he thought the New England Patriots' three championships won under Bill Belichick "got asterisks now" and have been "stained" by the Spygate scandal that rocked the team in 2007.
Harbaugh made the comments in an interview on a Baltimore radio station. He was asked about the New Orleans Saints' recent bounty scandal and whether it was worth bending the rules if he thought he could get away with it, and Harbaugh brought up the Patriots' videotaping controversy in his response.
"In the end, everything is brought before the light of day, when it's all said and done," Harbaugh said on "98 Rock" 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.
"To me, it's never worth it. You have to figure out ways to use the rules to your advantage; you have to figure out ways to make the most of everything. We have new work rules here as far as what we can do and what we can't do with our players, and we're going to make the most of it. What we're finding is, 'Man, maybe we can do some things even better than we did before, because these rules make us focus more on some things that we didn't focus on before.' You just have to make them work for you. That's what success is in the world. You have to find a way to do things better than somebody else. But if you're cheating, in the end, you're going to get discredited. It's not worth it."
Harbaugh clarified his comments in a statement released by the Ravens on Tuesday afternoon.
"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," Harbaugh said in the statement.
"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."
On Sept. 9, 2007, a Patriots cameraman was caught illegally videotaping the New York Jets' sideline during a game at Giants Stadium. It mushroomed into a controversy that hovered over the Patriots during their historic 16-0 season in 2007. Ultimately, the league handed down severe sanctions, with Belichick receiving a $500,000 fine. The Patriots were fined $250,000 and were stripped of a first-round draft pick.
ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi, who was a linebacker on all three of the Patriots' title teams in the early 2000s and was with the Patriots in 2007 when the Spygate scandal broke, said he was perplexed by Harbaugh's comments.
"You want to take a shot, go ahead and say it," Bruschi said on Tuesday's "SportsCenter." "When I look down at my hand and I see championship rings, I know how much work had to be put in to win those championships. I'm very set and secure with all of the victories that we had, the work we put in."
Bruschi also reminded Harbaugh that, in some ways, he has Belichick to thank for landing the head coaching job with the Ravens in 2007. According to reports, the Ravens did not have Harbaugh on their coaching radar until Belichick called the team and recommended they talk to Harbaugh, who was then a Philadelphia Eagles assistant.
"The shot at Coach Belichick I don't understand," Bruschi said. "When Coach Harbaugh was interviewing for the job in Baltimore, it was Coach Belichick that vouched for him. There's a little bit of loyalty that Coach Harbaugh needs to learn."
Harbaugh said in the statement released by the Ravens that he called Belichick and Bruschi on Tuesday after his comments started to make headlines.
"I have so much respect for Coach Belichick and the job he does and has accomplished in his Hall of Fame career," he said. "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."
Until his Tuesday radio interview, Harbaugh has had nothing but respectful things to say about Belichick and the Patriots. He even came to the defense of the team earlier this year after his kicking consultant insinuated the Patriots might have been involved in a scoreboard malfunction that may or may not have contributed to the Ravens losing the 2011 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium.
Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff said he was rushed before hooking a 32-yard field goal, which would have tied the game with 11 seconds left in regulation, because he thought it was third down by looking at the scoreboard. It was actually fourth down.
"I don't think you can rule anything out in New England, can you?" the consultant, Randy Brown, said.
Soon after, Harbaugh squashed what could have been a blossoming controversy.
"We knew what the down and distance were on our last series," Harbaugh said. "The scoreboard was not a factor for us. Any suggestion the wrong down information was a deliberate effort to affect the outcome of the game is nonsense."
The Patriots face the Ravens in Baltimore in Week 3 of the upcoming NFL season.