Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy and quarterback Peyton Manning were incredibly successful as a duo and were highly respected by players, fans and the media - but following Super Bowl LI, NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders called out Dungy and his former team, alleging that they cheated by stealing signals from other teams. Sanders said on the NFL Network that "everyone in the NFL knew, we just didn’t let the fans know."
On Thursday's episode of Undisputed, Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe debated whether stealing signs in the NFL should be considered cheating.
Tony Dungy: Stealing signals is not cheating
“I think we have to go back to ‘what is cheating?’ If he’s accusing us of cheating, I don’t think that’s the case. Stealing signals, you can go back to 1800s in baseball, you can go back anywhere there were signals done and people are looking and watching and trying to get signals.”
Skip: It was an open secret that Dungy's Colts were the biggest sign stealers in the NFL
"During the heyday of the Dungy-Peyton alliance in Indianapolis, that’s seven seasons in which they averaged going 12-4 through those seasons, and they did win a Super Bowl together. During that stretch, I often heard from the people I know and trust around the league, GMs and coaches, that the biggest sign stealers in all of football were the Colts of Dungy and Peyton.
I couldn’t report it because there’s no way I could validate that, until finally Deion blurted that out on NFL Network after the Super Bowl and Tony Dungy confirmed it. ‘Yes, we stole signs, but it’s not cheating.'"
Kirby LeeKirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Skip: It's jarring that Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy would stoop to that level
"The reaction I got during that heyday from lots of GMs and several coaches was ‘can you believe Tony Dungy, a good Christian man, would stoop to stealing signs? Because they considered those guys the masters of it. And at that point, Peyton was on such a pedestal as the most revered player in the National Football League. Now, again, we know a year or so ago some scandalous detailsabout his misbehavior in college emerged, but at that point we did not know that.
And at that point, Peyton was considered just about the best role model in the NFL. So how could Peyton Manning stoop to stealing signs? Because they were so good already, on offense, you really need to steal the signs? It seemed, to all of their competitors, that should be beneath Tony Dungy’s dignity. Now I have nothing but respect for Tony, and I believe as a Christian man he does walk his talk, but in this case it bothered me that Tony would resort to that because I would think he would be one football coach who would say ‘we don’t need to stoop to that. Let’s do it the right way. Let’s do it straight-up.’
I don’t know how you define cheating. The old saying is ‘if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.’ I do, in the end, consider it a form of cheating. It’s not illegal cheating, but to me, it’s cheating that was beneath the dignity of a Peyton and a Dungy at this point in their careers."
Shannon: Stealing signs is a basic part of football
"I disagree. No, it’s not cheating. And if you notice, he was careful [to] never use the word ‘tape.’
In the mid-90s, I was with the Broncos. There were a lot of teams that ran the West Coast offense. When I saw them do this [put a fist to their cheek], you don’t think I’d yell out on the field ‘watch the slant and go?’
So what are you doing? That’s the signals, I’m stealing it. Change it up. It’s not my fault you’re too lazy, you didn’t want to change your signals up. Or your players are not smart enough to pick up new signs in a week."
Thomas J. RussoThomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
Shannon: It's on the opposing team to change their signs
"So what am I supposed to do? If I see a team coming out there [with a signal], they’re going heavy personnel. I see them do that, they’re going jumbo personnel. If you’re on the defense, and you see them hold up one finger, what am I supposed to do when I know what that call is?
There’s a reason why they cover their mouths now. Because what were they doing, they were getting the TV copy and trying to decipher. The longer the wording is, the more likely it’s a pass.
That’s not cheating. Everybody does that. I’m looking over at the sideline to see what kind of defense is coming on the field. Are they taking a cornerback off and brining a big on for short yardage? That’s not cheating. Everybody does that!"