Ravens coach John Harbaugh clarified comments he made on a local radio station Tuesday in which he said that Super Bowl championships won by the New England Patriots were "stained" and have "asterisks" because of the Spygate scandal in 2007.
Those comments were made on the 98 Rock morning show in response to a question about the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal and cheating in the NFL in general.
"In the end, everything is brought before the light of day, when it's all said and done," said Harbaugh in response to the question about the Saints. "What happens, even the thing in New England, no matter whether those things had any impact on whether they won their championships or not, they got asterisks now. It's been stained.
"To me, it's never worth it. You've got to figure out ways to use the rules to your advantage, you've got to figure out ways to make the most of everything. We've got new work rules here as far as what we can do and what we can't do with our players, and we're going to make the most of it. What we're finding is, 'Man, maybe we can do some things even better than we did before,' because these rules make us focus more on some things that we didn't focus on before. You just have to make them work for you. That's what success is in the world. You have to find a way to do things better than somebody else. But if you're cheating, in the end, you're going to get discredited. It's not worth it."
By Tuesday afternoon, Harbaugh released a statement via the Ravens clarifying his comments.
"I answered a question about playing within the rules and referred to the perception that the Super Bowl championships won by the Patriots and Saints have a stain. My reference was to the perception out there that came as a result of the league's actions," Harbaugh said .
"I could have been more clear that I was referring to those viewpoints. I totally believe that the Patriot and Saint coaches and players earned those championships. [Patriots coach Bill Belichick] and [Saints coach Sean Payton] both know that."
Harbaugh also acknowledged that he reached out to both Belichick, who he is friendly with and spent time on the sidelines with before a Johns Hopkins-Maryland men's lacrosse game last month, and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who was on New England's three Super Bowl-winning teams in 2002, 2004 and 2005, to explain his comments.
Now an analyst for ESPN, Bruschi questioned Harbaugh's loyalty to Belichick who called Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti back in January 2008, and suggested that he give Harbaugh, then a special teams coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, a look for the team's coaching vacancy. Harbaugh was ultimately hired to replace Brian Billick.
"There has been some distortion about what I said. The original tweet indicated I pointed the finger at Bill Belichick and mentioned Bill's name. I did not," Harbaugh said in the statement. "I have so much respect for Coach Belichick and the job he does and has accomplished in his Hall of Fame career. I called him to remind him of my respect for him. I also reached out to Tedy Bruschi, who rightfully defended those Patriot players and coaches on ESPN, to tell him that I agree with him that the Patriots earned every victory."
Harbaugh is certainly not the first person in the NFL to reference the Spygate scandal and how that affects the Patriots' legacy. In September 2007, the Patriots were caught illegally videotaping the New York Jets' coaching sideline during a game. They were subsequently fined and docked a first-round draft pick.
If nothing else, Harbaugh's comments are certain to put even more attention on the Ravens' prime-time Week Three matchup against the Patriots on Sept. 23 at M&T Bank Stadium. There already figured to be plenty of hype heading into the game after the Patriots knocked off the Ravens, 23-20, in the AFC championship game in January.
The two organizations have been extremely respectful and complimentary of one another over the years. In the days before the AFC championship game, Harbaugh called Belichick "the greatest coach in our league right now" and the Patriots coach returned the favor by expressing his admiration for the job that Harbaugh has done, calling him a "great guy [who] does a good job with his football team."
Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Bisciotti also have been highly complimentary of each other. However, the relationship between the two organizations will certainly be tested as a member of the Ravens' coaching staff has now referenced — either directly or indirectly — the Spygate scandal for the second time in a little more than four months.