Not because of Spygate. Not because he stole defensive signals from the Jets. Not because his insatiable ego and manic drive told him to keep cheating even after he had been warned by the league. Not because of the huge coin he lost, the draft picks he squandered or the irreparable damage he's done to his own legacy, the New England franchise, Tom Brady's children and, what the heck, every Patriots fan born in the next 500 years.
See, I'm not disappointed that Belichick cheated. Whatever. (I never bought into the whole genius thing anyway, since, when you think about it, the main ingredient to those three Lombardi Trophies is Brady, a guy Belichick basically guessed on in the sixth round.) No, it's more the way that he cheated. Video taping signs? That's what he got busted for? A mastermind like Bill Belichick? Quite frankly, the whole thing reminds me of Dr. Evil putting Austin Powers on a platform above a shark tank.
I don't know, I guess I just expected something a little more sophisticated. I mean, what else is Belichick wasting his time on? Surely not clothes shopping, the study of brain trauma recovery, hair styling, public relations or the art of the apology.
I'm no criminal mastermind. After all, I once hung a sign up on the roof of my high school that said: Seniors Welcome Your Virgin Daughters Back to School only to forget my mom's personalized staple gun at the scene of the crime. Cost me a month of picking up trash in the parking lot after school, but, to be honest, it was worth every last cigarette butt.
Yet despite my own failed foray into espionage, I'm still pretty sure I could come up with 10 better -- and much cooler -- ways to cheat in the NFL than the so-called evil genius. So here goes nothing. (DISCLAIMER: While the items you are about to read are based on actual observations and the inner workings of my own sick, twisted mind, they should in no way be construed as condoning, advocating or accusing anyone associated with the NFL of cheating. Seriously. Stop. Click the X and slowly back away from your computer.)
1. PRACTICE SPYING
In my "Family Circus" travels around to NFL practice facilities, I'm always amazed at just how easy it would be for an opposing team to set up shop and record every last second of its opponent's preparations. Just off the top of my head I believe the Giants, Bengals, Jags, Saints, Vikes, Falcons, Titans, Steelers and Panthers' outdoor practice fields are vulnerable to this. In Carolina, for example, the Panthers practice downtown, across from a school building and next to a row of condos that peer directly down onto their practice fields. This week's opponent, Atlanta, is four hours away by car. Let's just say somebody grabs an intern, gives him some cash and a digital camera and sends him to Charlotte where he rents a condo for six months. (I'd have him put a Panthers banner in the window to throw off suspicion.) Wednesdays are typically install days for each team's game plan. In 24 hours you could uncover enough inside info to dramatically change the outcome of a game. (Even with Joey Harrington as your quarterback.)
2. ALTER THE SCHED
They might make millions of dollars and hold the lives of 350-pound men in the palms of their hands but, trust me, when it comes to their pregame intineraries most NFL coaches make Monk look like Jeff Spicoli. Most teams have the hours leading up to kickoff choreographed down to the minute. (In Houston, Dom Capers used to include water and bathroom breaks in his daily team schedule. Four minutes for No. 1. Six minutes for No. 2. Naw. Just kidding.) It wouldn't take much -- a locked door, a blocked gate, a manure spreader jackknifed on the Santa Ana Freeway -- to throw this intricate schedule into total disarray and disrupt your opponent's entire pregame mojo.
3. WAIVER WIRE TAPPING
Wouldn't it be amazing if you could hire a player who used to play for your opponent, bring him in and have him tell you all its secrets? Actually, wait, the NFL has a top secret system in place for just this very thing -- it's called the waiver wire. In all seriousness, though, I don't think teams are tapping into this spying resource like they could. Most team change their codes and scheme names from week to week, I get it, but to have someone with intimate, inside knowledge of your opponent's tendencies could have huge upside. In the NFL, presnap recognition is like playing blackjack, you use all the information you can gather to narrow down the odds on what play is about to be run until the scales tip in your favor. So let's say the Falcons were smart enough to sign Byron Leftwich a week earlier and he could tell the Atlanta LBs what the Jags liked to do on third- and-long, goal line and in the red zone. They wouldn't have the exact plays but they'd have a two-step jump on the Jags and in a league were success or failure often comes down to inches and seconds.
4. CREATURE COMFORTS
Comfort leads to confidence and confidence leads to victories. Under this philosophy just a couple of small, subtle changes might be enough to change the outcome of a game. Cold showers. Extra hot locker rooms. Flooded toilets. Sound crazy? Immature? Sophomoric? When Lambeau was being refurbished a few years ago and visiting teams had to dress in temporary trailers, I've never heard more complaining in all my life.
5. TURN AN INTERN
Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is famous for creating an army of interns he likes to call the 20/20 Club: guys in their 20s working for 20 grand a year doing the grunt work no one else wants to do. Like, for instance, photocopying all the playbooks, practice schedules, scheme charts and injury reports. Most industries have some form of the 20/20 Club. (For me, it was called the Pulse-Journal, a weekly newspaper in Mason, Ohio where I went from student intern to editor-in-chief in, like, six months.) Anyone who's ever been in a 20/20 Club would have to admit that for an extra grand or two and the actual promise of a full-paying job the next season, yeah, I gotta say, I'd be happy to make a few extra copies of the playbook.
6. BABY MONITOR
In the spy biz these are called long-range, parabolic, pinhole, 2.4GHZ wireless, high frequency sound amplifying microphones. But I prefer baby monitors. Hide them in plain sight in the locker room, on the bench and in the coaches booth. The less sophisticated the better, I say. Draws less attention and increases deniability should you get caught. "The Raiders found a baby monitor in their locker room in Denver? A baby monitor? Eeeew. That's big time right there. How do you know it doesn't belong to Travis Henry?"
7. FREE AGENT TAMPERING
Actually, I suspect this already goes on quite a bit but on a much smaller scale. My advice would be for desperate teams looking for a quick turn around to start leaving subtle hints (like, say, an orange and brown Lamborghini) in the driveways of players who are up for free agency in 2008.
8. HOME FIELD DISADVANTAGE
Lets say the Colts have to play at Heinz Field in the AFC Championship Game this winter. Indy is probably three steps faster than the Stillers at almost every position, right? Except quarterback where both Ben and Peyton move at a speed just a tad slower than biofuel research. Anyway, if poor field conditions favor the slower Steelers, who is to prevent the Rooneys from scheduling an international calf wrestling tournament on their field during the week leading up to the game?
9. COMPUTER BLUES
Teams are all hi-tech now. Laptops for the players. Game film breakdowns on DVDs. Scouting reports, game plans, depth charts, notes, injury reports -- all of it's stored on computers that, I'm guessing, are vulnerable to hackers, sabotage or a perfectly choreographed series of coffee spills.
Saltpeter in the Gatorade. ... Hookers delivered to the team hotel. ... Tim Krumrie stashed on the team bus. ... Most corners, wideouts and quarterbacks use the yardage numbers as landmarks for their routes and coverages. What would happen if you moved 'em in by six inches? ... I'd say, on average, an NFL team makes 20,000 copies a week while preparing its game plan and playbooks. Cripple the copier. Cripple the Cardinals. That's all I'm saying. ... Or, how about this: It totally drives me nuts when someone messes with the adjustments on my office chair or the driver's side seat in my car. I can get everything back to the same exact settings but I never feel quite comfortable, ya know? Why not do the same with the visiting bench? Nothing big. Just lower it by three inches the night before the game and watch the sweet carnage of my true evil genius unfold. Of course, with my luck, I'd probably leave my monogrammed hack saw sitting out on the bench.
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and the author of the memoir "Noah's Rainbow." His next book, "Breaker Boys: The NFL's Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship," will be published October 9 by ESPN Books and has been optioned as a movie by Fortress Features. The Flem File will run each Thursday during the NFL season.