We know what Don Shula thinks of the New England Patriots.
Let’s just say Bill “Belicheat” — er, Belichick — is not held in high regard in the Shula household.
But what about the Miami Dolphins’ current brain trust? Do they share Shula’s suspicions that the Patriots regularly skirt (if not break) the rules?
When the Dolphins visited New England in late October, they took extra precautions to guard against potential malfeasance, multiple sources tell the Miami Herald.
Most notably: the organization traveled to New England this year with more equipment staffers than they do for a usual road trip. It wasn’t a coincidence. It was a preventative measure.
The extra staffing ensured that no Patriots employee would have any reason to touch (and potentially tamper with) their gear ahead of or during the Thursday night game.
There will be no such concerns when the two teams meet again in Sunday’s season finale. The game is in Miami Gardens.
But history has shown, at least when it comes to the Patriots, that it’s not paranoia if they’re actually out to get you.
▪ The Patriots are less than a year removed from their ugly, drawnout ball deflation scandal. The NFL alleged that members of the Patriots franchise tampered with footballs before games to the benefit of quarterback Tom Brady in violation of the rules. The Patriots have stridently denied the accusations, and a federal judge ultimately reversed Brady’s four-game suspension. But the franchise did ultimately accept the league’s decision to strip New England of its 2016 first-round draft pick.
▪ Visiting teams have consistently complained about malfunctioning headsets at Gillette Stadium, making it all but impossible to communicate remotely during games. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was particularly heated in the season opener, when Pittsburgh’s coaches could only hear the Patriots’ radio broadcast for long stretches of the game. The NFL later said the malfunction was a result of a stadium power infrastructure issue, exacerbated by inclement weather.
▪ Four days before the Dolphins visited the Patriots in October, the NFL swept the visiting Jets’ locker room for bugs, per multiple published reports. There were conflicting reports about whether the sweep was done at the Jets’ behest or simply part of the league’s regular security protocol. But based on the two franchises’ history, many didn’t see it as a coincidence.
This all brings us to the one ugly episode that even the Patriots don’t deny: Spygate.
In 2007, then-Jets coach Eric Mangini, a former Patriots assistant, notified the league that his old team was illegally videotaping New York’s defensive coaches during games in an attempt to steal their signals. The NFL ultimately assessed fines of $500,000 to Belichick and $250,000 to the Patriots, and stripped the team of its first-round pick in 2008.
Mike Tannenbaum was the Jets’ general manager at that time. He is now the Dolphins’ executive vice president of football operations. So while the decision to travel heavier than normal was an organizational one, it’s no surprise that the Dolphins took those extra precautions during their first trip to Foxboro with Tannenbaum in charge.
When the schedule came out last spring, Tannenbaum thought this week’s rematch might be for the AFC East title. Instead, nothing is on the line for the Dolphins but draft positioning.
The Dolphins are expected to launch a wide search for a new head coach next week, and some believe Mangini could reunite with Tannenbaum in South Florida, either as a head coach or an assistant.
But for at least the next few days, the top job still belongs to Dan Campbell, who doesn’t mind playing spoiler this weekend. The Patriots would clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if they beat the Dolphins on Sunday.
“That may sound crazy, but, yeah, I want what they have and let’s see if we can challenge these guys. Let’s see if we can compete,” Campbell said Monday.