James Harrison joins list of Steelers legends to accuse Patriots of cheating

James Harrison is apparently following the blueprint of being a former Steelers legend. Briefly vilified after ending his career with the Patriots, Harrison has now joined the list of Steelers icons who have accused New England of cheating during his time in Pittsburgh.

Harrison actually cut current Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward off when Heyward asked him if he thought the Patriots cheated in the 2004 AFC Championship game.

“Hell yeah, they was cheating,” Harrison said on Heyward’s podcast. “They only missed one blitz, man, where previously, when we beat New England and Philly, they couldn’t see the broad side of a barn.”

Harrison was alluding to Pittsburgh’s two-game stretch during the 2004 season when they defeated the Patriots and Eagles (the two teams that would ultimately play in that year’s Super Bowl) by a combined score of 61-23. The first of those two wins was a 34-20 triumph over a Patriots team that came to Pittsburgh with an NFL record 21-game winning streak.

It was a different story when the Steelers and Patriots met up again months later for the right to go to the Super Bowl. The game was never close, as the Patriots jumped out to a big lead early before coasting to a 41-27 win over a Steelers team that had lost just once during the regular season.

Several notable former Steelers felt the Patriots had an unfair advantage in that game. Last fall, former Steelers Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis said the Patriots cheated before stopping him on a pivotal fourth-and-short play early in the first half.

“They had our signs, and they called a timeout to get them ready for that play because they knew it was coming,” Bettis said on former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s podcast. “No question in my mind.”

Roethlisberger also accused the Patriots of cheating in that game during his conversation with Bettis, echoing previous sentiments made by former teammates Hines Ward and Joey Porter. Porter actually accused New England of cheating during both of its AFC title game wins over Pittsburgh during the 2000s.

“They’ve been videotaping for years, man,” Porter told ESPN back in 2008. “Two times we could have blown them people out easily. They say, ‘Oh, [Bill Belichick is] so smart. This is the best brainstorming coach.’ Yeah, because he’s cheating. He got caught.

“If it wasn’t so bad, why did you destroy the tape so fast? We want to see the tapes. When you get rid of evidence like that, there was something in it they didn’t want everybody to see.”

Porter was alluding to the Patriots’ video-taped signals of opponents (that allegedly included a copy of the 2001 Steelers’ defensive signals) that the NFL destroyed during its internal investigation that will be forever known as Spygate. The NFL ultimately fined Bill Belichick and the Patriots organization a combined $750,000 and also took away New England’s 2008 first-round pick.

Clearly, the Patriots had some type of advantage, but how big of a role did it play in New England winning those games? The only people who may have the answer to that question are Bill Belichick and former New England research director Ernie Adams. Belichick has put Spygate in his rearview mirror, and Adams said on Apple TV’s documentary on the Patriots that he will take his information regarding Spygate “to the grave.”

Spygate likely played some role in those games. However, it’s important to note that the Patriots received an epic performance from Drew Bledsoe after he replaced an injured Brady during New England’s 2001 AFC title game win in Pittsburgh. Bledsoe outplayed Steelers starting quarterback Kordell Stewart, who threw three interceptions in Pittsburgh’s 24-17 loss.

Three years later, running back Corey Dillon and receiver Deion Branch — who were injured and didn’t play in New England’s loss to Pittsburgh during the 2004 regular season — were back and played significant roles in the Patriots’ second AFC title game win over the Steelers.

While many of his former players feel that they cheated, former Steelers coach and 2020 Hall of Fame inductee Bill Cowher does not use Spygate as an excuse for his team coming up short in those games.

“It’s only cheating if you get caught,” Cowher said in a 2021 interview¬†with The Athletic. “Like any player, if you’re going to hold him, don’t get caught. If you get caught, you’re wrong, if you don’t, you’re right. I always thought we never lost the games to New England because of Spygate.

“If [Belichick] 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.”

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