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Former head coach Cowher: Steelers tried stealing signals, too

Philip G. Pavely - Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher during a game in 2004.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely</em></div>Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher during a game in 2004.
Getty Images - Patriots coach Bill Belichick gets a congratulatory pat on the back from Steelers coach Bill Cowher after the Steelers won 23-20 on Sept. 25, 2005, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>Patriots coach Bill Belichick gets a congratulatory pat on the back from Steelers coach Bill Cowher after the Steelers won 23-20 on Sept. 25, 2005, at Heinz Field.

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By Alan Robinson
Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 4:12 p.m.

The New England Patriots weren't the only team trying to steal signals during the time of the Spygate scandal. The Steelers were, too, former coach Bill Cowher said Wednesday.

Cowher, during a segment on 93.7 FM, said the Patriots' spying didn't beat the Steelers during the 2004 season's AFC championship game. A better Patriots team beat them, he said.

Cowher was asked why he didn't question Patriots coach Bill Belichick about Spygate during Cowher's interview with Belichick that ran Sunday on “The NFL Today” pregame show on CBS.

“We didn't lose the game because of any Spygate, because of them having any additional things,” Cowher said, referring to the 41-27 loss to New England that ended the Steelers' season following a 15-1 regular season. “I think if they're guilty of anything, they're guilty of arrogance because they were told not to do something. But it was something that everybody does.”

The Spygate scandal didn't break until almost three years later, after the Patriots were caught taping the New York Jets coaches' defensive signals during a September 2007 game. The NFL fined Belichick $500,000 — the largest fine given a coach — and the Patriots $250,000 and took away New England's first-round pick in the 2008 draft.

Former Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh later provided the league with eight tapes of opposing teams' defensive signals during the 2000-02 seasons, but the league did not discipline the Patriots further.

“The only thing they got caught (was) doing it with a camera,” Cowher told the radio station. “We had people that always tried to steal signals. Stealing someone's signals was a part of the game, and everyone attempted to do that.”

Cowher said “part of the things we had (were) wristbands that we were using to do it,” attempting to identify opposing teams' verbal signals that were being yelled to the players on the field.

Cowher said signal stealing “isn't even an element anymore because of the communications that take place on the field to the quarterback, to the linebacker. So it's an element of the game that doesn't exist and, really, what happened when we lost that game is they outplayed us, and it had nothing to do with stealing signals or cheating or anything else. They were a better football team on that day.”

Former Steelers receiver Hines Ward contended while still playing that the Patriots knew the Steelers' signals, not just during the 2004 AFC title game but also the 2001 AFC championship game that New England won 24-17 at Heinz Field.

Ward said that when the Steelers audibled to different plays, the Patriots defense shifted almost as quickly as the Steelers offense.

“Oh, they knew,” Ward said before retiring. “They were calling our stuff out. They knew, especially that first championship game here at Heinz Field. They knew a lot of our calls. There's no question some of their players were calling out some of our stuff.”

However, Cowher thinks Belichick will be remembered as the greatest coach of all time, scandal or not.

“It's been pretty amazing what he's done there, with all the different, moving pieces,” Cowher said.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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