Bill Cowher: ‘It’s Only Cheating if You Get Caught’

Bill Cowher and Bill Belichick

STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (L) and Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher (R) meet at midfield after the Patriots beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship game on January 27, 2002.

Earlier this week Bill Cowher’s new memoir, Heart and Steel, went on sale in bookstores nationwide. While there are countless new revelations in the book, there are some subjects that Cowher glosses over or doesn’t touch on at all. For example, there is less than a page devoted to the 2004 draft and the pivotal decision to select quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and just one paragraph devoted to Roethlisberger’s life-threatening motorcycle accident in 2006.

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Curiously, there is also no mention of Spygate, despite the fact that Cowher devotes considerable attention to discussing the team’s postseason games—wins and losses alike—including the home losses to the New England Patriots in the 2001 and 2004 AFC Championship games.


Spygate Re-Visited

However, Cowher did address the subject of cheating—and Spygate—in a new interview with Ed Bouchette of The Athletic. Notably, Cowher doesn’t say that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick didn’t cheat.

“It’s only cheating if you get caught,” Cowher told Bouchette. “I always thought we never lost the games to New England because of Spygate. If he got the calls because we didn’t do a very good job of making sure we signaled those in, that’s on us, it’s not on him. Because we’re always looking for competitive edges. I think as any coach whether it’s someone’s stance, someone’s split, someone’s formation (that tips off a play). You’re looking at someone’s eyes, how are they coming out of a huddle? You’re always looking for those little things that give you a competitive edge and that to me is what that was.”

Never mind that trying to gain a competitive edge by looking at formations or someone’s eyes is part of the game. Never mind that the Patriots have been caught illegally taping the signals of other teams and have a long history of cheating in the Belichick era. Heck, it’s an issue that continues to the present day, as the Patriots were stripped of a third-round pick in 2021 NFL Draft for illegally filming the Cincinnati Bengals sideline during a game between the Browns and Bengals in December 2019, just a week before the Patriots played at Cincinnati. But it seems that Cowher doesn’t want to come down on Belichick because he has a longstanding relationship with him that dates back to the 1980s.

In Heart and Steel, Cowher recalls the year in which both he and Belichick were defensive coordinators—for the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants, respectively—but also responsible for coaching a position group they had never coached before.

“I flew to New York in March 1989 and spent a long day with Belichick at Giants Stadium. In the morning, I taught him everything I’d learned about coaching defensive backs, and in the afternoon he taught me all he knew about coaching linebackers,” recalls Cowher in the book.

“We go back pretty far,” Cowher told Bouchette. “I have a lot of respect for him. He loves the game. We shared a lot of time together and time off the field….”

Moreover, “the two still see one another on Nantucket Island, where Belichick has a place and while Cowher visits a friend there,” notes Bouchette in his interview.

Of course, it’s perfectly understandable that Cowher would not want to jeopardize his personal friendship with Belichick after all this time. But he’s not doing himself any favors with Pittsburgh Steelers fans by effectively admitting that the Patriots cheated while also absolving Bill Belichick of blame.

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