John Harbaugh’s Spygate Reference Proves How Quickly Topic Can Elevate Toward a Dominant Storyline

John Harbaugh's Spygate Reference Proves How Quickly Topic Can Elevate Toward a Dominant StorylineFOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick can't be overly happy with one of his good friends.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh brought up Spygate on Tuesday morning, causing several hours of rabid criticism. Even though the intention of Harbaugh's comments were initially misconstrued, the mere mention of the Patriots' scandal continues to keep it in the news.

That's not the most appealing way to repay a favor. Belichick, after all, vouched for Harbaugh while he was applying for the Baltimore job in 2008, and the belief is Belichick's recommendation went a long way toward Harbaugh's hiring.

And before the Ravens knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs in January 2010, NFL Films caught an on-field conversation between Belichick and Harbaugh. Belichick said if it couldn't be the Patriots to win the whole thing, he wanted it to be Harbaugh. Clearly, the two are close.

Harbaugh was asked Tuesday about the Saints' bounty scandal, and he immediately compared it to Spygate. There's no harm in that at all, but the comment that caused a tizzy was when Harbaugh said the Patriots' Super Bowls were "stained" and adjoined by an asterisk.

Later, Harbaugh clarified the intention of his comments, saying the Patriots "earned" their world championships, though the public perception is that they're stained. Harbaugh wasn't backtracking as much as ensuring his message was portrayed accurately.

The problem for the Patriots, though, is every mention of Spygate vaults the episode back into the news cycle and stirs up passionate debates from each side. Harbaugh's comments were harsh on the surface but relatively light on meaning upon further review.

It turned out to be a case study in how quickly Spygate can reemerge — if only for a few hours or a single day — as one of the most dominant storylines in the NFL, even if it was never intended to be that way.

Have a question for Jeff Howe? Send it to him via Twitter at @jeffphowe or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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