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From spies to snowplows: Patriots scandals through the years

Patriots being investigated over deflated balls 01:09

Here we go again.

The New England Patriots had barely finished dancing in the rain after clinching the AFC Championship when the team was sacked by another accusation of cheating. The Pats alleged transgression this time? Deflating footballs.

Like any NFL team, the Patriots are no stranger to off-the-field scandals. For example, a Boston Globe article revealed at least half a dozen players on the 1985 Super Bowl team had "serious drug problems." And, more recently in 2013, tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder in the killing of a semiprofessional football player.

But the Patriots have carved out their own rap sheet of alleged on-the-field shenanigans -- with critics over the past decades pointing to nefarious uses of everything from sideline video to snowplows. Here's a look at some of the more memorable controversies surrounding the Patriots.


patriots colts
Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots makes a catch against LaRon Landry #30 of the Indianapolis Colts in the third quarter of the 2015 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2015, in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Al Bello/Getty Images

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy says the league is looking into into whether the Patriots deflated game balls before their rout of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship.

The news, first reported by WTHR-TV in Indiana, is likely to be a hot topic heading into the media storm that surrounds the league in the two-week run-up to the Super Bowl on Feb. 1 in Arizona, when the Patriots will take on NFC Champions Seattle Seahawks.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady laughed off the report. "I think I've heard it all at this point," Brady said during his Monday morning appearance on WEEI-FM. "That's the last of my worries. I don't even respond to stuff like this."


Head coaces Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens shake hands following the 2015 AFC Divisional Playoffs game at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Jim Rogash, Getty Images

Following the Ravens' 35-31 playoff loss to the Patriots earlier this month, Baltimore coach Jim Harbaugh accused New England of using an "illegal type" of formation. As reported, Harbaugh said that his defense wasn't given enough time to figure out who the eligible and ineligible players were after New England's players reported into the game.

"Because what they were doing was they would announce the eligible player and Tom [Brady] would take it to the line right away and snap the ball before [we] even figured out who was lined up where," Harbaugh said. "And that was the deception part of it. It was clearly deception."

While the formation was within the rules, some questioned whether it was within the spirit of the rules and fair competition. Either way, the NFL deemed the play legal.

When asked about it, Brady said: "Maybe those guys gotta study the rule book and figure it out."


Former New England Patriots video operator Matthew Walsh (C) leaves NFL headquarters with his counsel Michael N. Levy (L) following a meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on May 13, 2008 in New York City. Walsh was there to discuss videotaping practices used by the Patriots in the Spygate controversy. Getty Images, Chris Trotman

New England was building a dynasty in the 2000s when the team was suddenly accused of building an espionage program. The Pats were caught videotaping signals at the New York Jets' home opener in 2007 (a game New England won 38-14). The league eventually determined that the team illegally videotaped opponents from 2002 to 2007.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fined the team $250,000 for that incident, and stripped New England of a first-round draft choice. Coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, the largest financial penalty against a coach ever.

When asked about the scandal by CBS News in 2008, the famously curt Belichick had this assessment: "There was no deception."


New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) loses the ball after being brought down by Oakland Raiders' Charles Woodson, right, while Greg Biekert (54) moves to recover the ball in the fourth quarter of their AFC Division Playoff game in Foxboro, Mass. Saturday night, Jan. 19, 2002. The play was appealed, and the Patriots retained possession. The Patriots went on to win, 16-13, in overtime. AP Photo/Elise Amendola

It was a game that would lead to the Patriots' first Super Bowl win. It was also a game that critics say the team never should have won.

The Pats were trailing the Oakland Raiders in the 4th quarter of a snowy AFC divisional playoff game on Jan. 19, 2002, when Raiders' cornerback Charles Woodson sacked Tom Brady, who fumbled the ball. The Raiders recovered and appeared poised to run out the clock and win the game. But wait -- the officials huddled and invoked the obscure "tuck rule," which determined that Brady's arm was moving forward thus making the apparent fumble an incomplete pass. The Patriots would go on to tie the game and win in overtime. They went on to win Super Bowl XXXVI.

Even though the rulebook was on the Patriots' side, public sentiment was decidedly less so. How much does the "tuck rule" game still resonate? Earlier this month, former Raven star and current NFL commentator Ray Lewis had this to say: "The only reason we know who Tom Brady is, is because of a tuck rule."


In this Dec. 12, 1982, file photo, Mark Henderson clears snow as referee Bob Frederic watches during the third quarter of an NFL football game between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins at Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. AP Photo/Mike Kullen

December 12, 1982. It's a cold, snowy day in Foxboro, Mass. The Patriots are playing the divisional rival Miami Dolphins. With the snow falling, points are hard to come by. In fact, neither team can score in the first three quarters.

Enter Mark Henderson, the stadium snowplow operator (and a convicted burglar). He conveniently clears a spot on the field for Pats' kicker Josh Smith, who boots the game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter. According to USA Today, Dolphins coach Don Shula later called the incident the "most unfair act" ever in the history of the NFL.

It's worth noting that Shula, now 85, earlier this month was asked by the South-Florida Sun-Sentinel about current Patriots coach Bill Belichik. His response to the reporter: "Beli-cheat?

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