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Don't bother with the cloak and dagger game

Photo courtesy of

Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots.

By Mark Vasto

Whenever you're dealing with closed ranks, a conspiracy of silence speaks louder than words. Just try getting a police officer to comment about a scandal down at the station involving another officer. Or, try getting a NFL head coach to come out and condemn Bill Belichick's sideline spying last month.

While New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini insists he's not a rat ("I feel very comfortable with the situation," Mangini, conjuring up images of Henry Hill, said at the time), when Belichick received a $500,000 fine the NFL's largest ever and the largest fine possible according to league rules you didn't hear a peep from the coaching ranks.

Bill Parcells, the coach Belichick still can't seem to shake the shadow of, offered a meek "everyone does it" type of defense, and Mike Holmgren commented that no one is "more paranoid than a head coach in a game in a visiting stadium," but neither comment was an offer of support. Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick (who accused the Jets of cheating in the following week's game) laughed when asked about it, saying that all of the NFL coaches "basically do the same thing" in terms of running their offense and defense.

As we are reminded on a near daily basis from reading our front pages, there are no rules in war. But there are rules in sports, and just what crosses the line in a sporting event when it comes to scouting your opposition? The lines have always been a bit blurred.

In baseball, stealing signals is done with a wry, knowing smile. For some of the older players and managers, it's almost a point of pride. The baseball season is long and so are the games. Who's to begrudge watching the opposing dugout every once in a while to see what the other manager is up to? How can you blame a runner on second base for looking at a catcher's signals in an attempt to give his teammate the edge with a tip on the next pitch?

But what if the team was using a telescope in the center field clubhouse to steal catcher signs, as the 1951 "Shot heard 'round the world" New York Giants supposedly did at the old Polo Grounds? That's a little different, right?

Online sports message boards buzzed with a decidedly anti-Belichick sentiment. Come to think of it, those Super Bowls were pretty close, weren't they? They could be, say, decided by stealing a signal or two, right? What did Belichick know and when did he know it?

Maybe Belichick wasn't the genius that so many insist he is. And that's the thing about spies ... you just never know.

Mark Vasto is a veteran sportswriter and publisher of The Parkville (Mo.) Luminary.

(c) 2007 King Features Synd., Inc.