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Belichick needs win to forget Spygate
Sunday will mark Bill Belichick's fifth Super Bowl as a head coach — but make no mistake, it is by far the most important for his legacy.
BUILDUP TO INDY
- Super Bowl XLVI: 6:30 p.m. ET, Sunday
- Manning family vs. Brady
- Super Bowl Cheat Sheet
- Patriots' Kraft still hurting
- Belichick needs to secure legacy
- Billick's matchups and storylines
- Jacobs savors another Super Bowl
- Eli's leap could come in Peyton's place
- Super Bowl odds a mix of science, art
- Giants linebacker a true inspiration
- Ochocinco has 86'd 'me' attitude
- Reason for Giants' turnaround
- Giants' Coughlin forging a legacy
- High price of the Super Bowl
- Not about Boston vs. New York
- Picks, predictions
Because while a Patriots win would produce the Hoodie's fourth title, it also would help cleanse the perceived stain, in some corners, of his other three — just as a loss would keep his legacy smudged with the dirt of Spygate.
In other words, what's also at stake Sunday is the legitimacy of everything Belichick has done as an NFL coach.
In 2007, the Spygate taping controversy cost Belichick $500,000, the Patriots the secret they were tape recording other teams against NFL rules and the NFL much of its own credibility after it destroyed evidence gathered in its investigation. It exposed what appeared to many to be fundamental cheating, and raised questions about what else, perhaps, the Patriots got away with.
This is what has happened since:
First, that very season, Belichick and the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl only to lose in dramatic fashion to the New York Giants.
Following that Super Bowl loss — sans the ability to tape other teams' signals during a game — the Patriots went on to win exactly this many playoff games: Zero.
The dynasty that could not be stopped, that won it all in 2001, 2003 and 2004, then nearly won again with a perfect record in 2008, became much, much more beatable.
Asked Thursday by a reporter with some guts whether those Super Bowl championships had been tarnished by the scandal, Belichick answered thusly: "We moved on from everything in the past. We are focused on this game. That's it."
Which, if my translation here is accurate, roughly means: "We got caught. I don't want to talk about it. Don't ask again."
But the question had to be asked.
This is about validation, whether Belichick thinks his resume needs it or not.
It's about redemption, regardless of whether you want to pretend those violations were significant or not.
It's not so much about quieting the critics — though that's part of it — as it is about finding out if the Patriots will win another one post-Spygate.
This arguably is one of the worst teams Belichick has coached in New England. His defense is shoddy, his recent personnel decisions have garnered more and more criticism and even Tom Brady has struggled since the scandal in big closeout games.
Lose Sunday and it is fair to wonder — as I will — how much Spygate and its tentacles of cheating made the Patriots faux greats.
We live in a time of cheaters, a time when the words of champions and "great men" continue to disappoint.
Baseball has steroids, Wall Street its destructive acts of greed and deceit, politics the expectation that leaders will disappoint.
We have renowned football coaches covering up for alleged child molesters. We have cheating in our sports and our society — in our marriages, at our work, in our financial system, everywhere. So, it is no easy thing to give Bill Belichick the benefit of the doubt.
It will be, the way America is now, no easy thing to look back and crown him with the historical greatness his resume and accomplishments seem to deserve if he doesn't do something to say Spygate was not what made him great in the first place.
Fair? Depends on your faith in humanity and whether you're a Patriots fan. But it is true.
Many people today — many who pass themselves off as winners and truth tellers and holders of moral vision — are liars. They are everywhere. This is the world Holden Caulfield recoiled from: Full of gosh-darned phonies.
Which means a win Sunday — with this somewhat rickety team, this somewhat vulnerable defense, this not-as-sure-a-thing quarterback — puts the mind to rest when it inevitably wonders whether Belichick cheated his way to the top.
We talk so often about redemption in sports. Sunday's shot at it is the real deal.
This isn't about an athlete showing he could do it after all (Alex Smith, say) or come back (still waiting on you, Tiger). This is about a sports figure trying to prove the thick smoke of doubt around him is not from an actual fire.
A win Sunday says Belichick just pulled off one of his greatest coaching seasons ever, and in doing so showed his genius is genuine.
It says to let go of Spygate in your assessment of the man.
Just as it says, if the Pats lose, that maybe you shouldn't let it go at all.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org