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Ex-GM on Pats: Culture of cheating

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The "Deflategate'' controversy in New England resurrected questions former Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney had about the Patriots after losing Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Hurney, now the host of a weekday radio talk show on Charlotte's ESPN 730 AM and an ESPN NFL Insider, shared those questions on Thursday regarding Carolina's 32-29 loss to the Patriots on Feb. 1, 2004.

"There isn't a day that goes by since [then] that I haven't questioned ... that there were some things done that might have been beyond the rules that may have given them a three-point advantage,'' Hurney said during his radio show.

"This isn't about deflating balls. ... It's an issue of if there is a culture of cheating at the organization that most people look at as the gold standard in this league. Is there a culture of cheating and breaking the rules?"

Marty Hurney, former GM of the Carolina Panthers

"And I can't prove anything, and that's why I'm very angry. And the anger has come back over the last couple of days that commissioner Roger Goodell decided to shred all of the evidence after 'Spygate,' because I think there were a lot of things in there that would bring closure to a lot of people.''

The NFL is investigating why 11 of 12 football used by the Patriots in Sunday's 45-7 win over Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game were underinflated significantly below the league requirements.

"To me this isn't about 'Deflategate', this isn't about anything having to do about any particular game last week,'' Hurney said. "And it certainly isn't fodder to get by the first week before the Super Bowl.

"This is about a culture. Is there a culture of cheating at probably what most people look at as the best franchise in the National Football League?''

It was revealed in 2007 that the New England Patriots were caught illegally taping sideline defensive signals from New York Jets coaches during the team's opening week game. The "Spygate" controversy led to accusations that such activity has been going on since 2000.

"There are people who swear to me that the Patriots taped our practice down in Houston during Super Bowl week," Hurney said. "I can't prove it. I don't know. And I hate talking like this because I feel like a bad loser, but it just gnaws at you and this latest incident brings it back up.

"You go to 'Spygate' after our Super Bowl and things came out about a rumor about a video guy, and he had tapes and he goes to Hawaii and kind of disappears. ... These are all rumors and I can't substantiate any of this. But it gnaws at you."

Hurney made it clear the Panthers weren't completely innocent of violating rules during their Super Bowl year. He brought up a report that came out after the season which said several Carolina players bought steroids from a South Carolina physician.

Among those cited in the report were three of the five starting offensive linemen.

"That was wrong," Hurney said. "The organization didn't know anything about it, and we took steps and we addressed that. We weren't going to put up with that. [Team owner] Jerry Richardson wasn't going to put up with that.

"To me, this isn't about deflating balls; it's about a continuing culture of alleged cheating, and to me, everybody's talking about [coach] Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. When is Robert Kraft going to come up and explain why, if they are found guilty of this, why do these things keep happening in this organization?"

Hurney said the current allegations against New England aggravate him because "it really pulls up some pretty big scabs.'' He admittedly kept track of New England's playoff record after "Spygate."

"They were 6-6 in the playoffs," he said. "Now they're getting to the Super Bowl and you're saying this is all behind them and this comes up. This isn't about deflating balls; this is about is there a culture of cheating that they'll do anything to get an edge.

"This is a bigger issue, and I think most people are missing the issue. It's an issue of if there is a culture of cheating at the organization that most people look at as the gold standard in this league. Is there a culture of cheating and breaking the rules?''

Hall of Famer Troy Aikman joined the fray in addressing Deflategate. In his weekly interview on SportsRadio 1310 AM and 96.7 FM in Dallas, Aikman said "it's obvious that Tom Brady had something to do with this."

"I know going back to when I played, they've loosened up the rules in terms of what each team is able to do with the footballs coming into the game. Used to, the home team provided all the balls. And now, each team brings their footballs the way they like them and break 'em in," Aikman said. "Used to you couldn't break them in. So for the balls to be deflated, that doesn't happen unless the quarterback wants that to happen, I can assure you of that. Now the question becomes did Bill Belichick know about it."

Hurney wasn't surprised that Belichick denied any knowledge of wrongdoing.

"What did you expect him to say?" he said. "I don't expect the league to come out and say anything before the Super Bowl. I hope they do, but I still go back to why were all the documents shredded after that investigation if there weren't highly damaging facts about what the Patriots did.

"... You go to people and teams, people that have played them and feel like I do that they might have had an unfair advantage. You're going to feel that way. But winning that Super Bowl, when you work in the National Football League, that completes your career and that's all you work for. And when there's a question about it, that's why I wanted to see the evidence, and that's why I'm so upset about the evidence being shredded.''

Hurney said the history of the Patriots under Belichick makes him wary of what the coach says.

"I know I don't trust anything that Bill Belichick says because of all the rumors that are out there,'' he said. "That's why I want to see the report. I want to see what they did or what they didn't do.

"I can't prove any of this. But where there's smoke, a lot of times there's fire.''