Dirty tricks not new to NFL teams seeking winning edge

Los Angeles (AFP) - A damning report on Tom Brady's likely role in deflating footballs rubbed some shine off the NFL Golden Boy's reputation, but in truth the league has long embraced the old sports adage "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'."

From the shocking findings of the New Orleans Saints "Bountygate" scandal to such simple tricks as using products to make hands more sticky and jerseys more slippery, the history of the National Football League is rife with examples of players and coaches pushing the envelope in search of a competitive edge.

This week an independent investigation concluded that New England quarterback Brady -- a future Hall-of-Famer who led the Patriots to a fourth Super Bowl title in February -- was probably "at least generally aware" that low-level locker room staffers tampered with game balls in an American Football Conference title game that the Pats won 45-7.

Theoretically, the under-inflated balls could have given Brady a better grip in the chilly, rainy weather conditions of January -- although it's up for debate just how much of an advantage he might have gained over the Indianapolis Colts.

Colts linebacker Erik Walden called it "gross" that Brady, unquestionably one of the game's greats, would resort to cheating, but said he didn't think fully inflated footballs would have made a difference in a game that sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl.

- Still the champs -

"They whupped us," Walden told celebrity website TMZ.com.

"Deflategate" questions dogged the Patriots in the frenzied build-up to the championship game in Phoenix, but New England emerged from the fray with a 28-24 triumph over the Seattle Seahawks.

"It's unfortunate that they did this, but they're still the champs," Walden said. "You've got to give them credit, they did it, and they got away with it, and they won the Super Bowl."

NFL teams have been trying to get away with it for decades and it is not the first time that New England has been in trouble.

The Pats were at the center of the notorious "Spygate" videotaping controversy in 2007, disciplined by the league for videotaping the New York Jets defensive coaches' signals during a game, in contravention of league rules.

That infraction earned Patriots coach Bill Belichick a $500,000 fine -- the largest imposed on a coach in the league's history.

The league also came down hard on New Orleans coach Sean Payton, suspending him for an entire season after concluding he knew -- and tried to cover up -- that the Saints had implemented a "bounty" program that offered monetary rewards to players for attempting to knock opposing players out of games.

- 'Snowplow Game' -

Team officials and coaches have long sought creative ways to turn tough playing conditions to their advantage.

In the "Snowplow Game" of 1982, the pre-Belichick Patriots hosted NFC East Division rivals Miami in snowy Foxboro.

Neither team could score on the slippery artificial turf, that is until stadium snowplow operator Mark Henderson conveniently cleared a spot on the field for Patriots kicker Josh Smith, who hit the game-winning field goal in a 3-0 win.

Miami coach Don Shula later called it the "most unfair act" in the history of the NFL.

Compared to that, the use of "stickum" by receivers to improve their ability to hang onto balls -- or the spraying of silicone on jerseys to make it harder for tacklers to grab them -- pales.

Teams that play in domed stadiums have also found ways to boost their home field advantage, with the Colts and Vikings both accused of piping in fake crowd noise to make it harder for visiting teams to hear their quarterbacks' signals.

New York Jets and Giants opponents swore those teams opened the old Meadowlands stadium's tunnel doors to worsen wind-gusts on the field at strategic times.

In the face of such accusations, standard practice is to deny.

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he was merely distracted watching the Jumbotron scoreboard when he stepped in front of Baltimore's Jacoby Jones during a kickoff return -- slowing Jones on what had looked like becoming a touchdown run.

While plenty of pundits are urging the NFL to throw the book at Brady, not everyone is all worked up.

"That's last year," Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe told reporters when the subject came up at a media availability on Wednesday.

"This is a new year. If they want to deflate balls, let them deflate balls."