Almost two decades later, some members of the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers are still not over their AFC Championship loss to the New England Patriots. A new episode of Ben Roethlisberger’s Footbahlin podcast is the latest proof of that.
Roethlisberger and Jerome Bettis, who played quarterback and running back on that 2004 squad, respectively, believe they were cheated out of a trip to Super Bowl XXXIX. Why? Because they think the Patriots stole their signals to gain a crucial advantage.
Ben Roethlisberger and Jerome Bettis say the Patriots stole their signs and cheated in the 2004 AFC Championship Game.— Jarrett Bailey (@JBaileyNFL) September 25, 2023
: Footbahlin with Ben Roethlisberger pic.twitter.com/ng5JKhkEmF
“To be fair, the Patriots cheated,” Roethlisberger said.
“For sure they did. There’s not even a question mark. It’s not even a question in my mind,” replied Bettis.
As proof of the accusation, the running back pointed to a 4th-and-1 in the first quarter. Bettis was stopped on the play, fumbled, and New England recovered. One play later, Tom Brady hit Deion Branch for a 60-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a 10-0 lead.
“It was 4th-and-1, they call a timeout,” Bettis said. “Who goes to the sideline when it’s a timeout? The defensive captains. [Ted] Washington, the nose guard, they pulled him to the sideline. ... They stopped us on fourth down. That’s a critical play in the game. They had our signs and they called a timeout to get ready for that play because they knew it was coming.”
There are a few problems with Bettis’ claim, though.
For starters, deciphering an opponent’s signals was not and still is not illegal. The reason why the Patriots were stripped a first-round draft pick as part of the 2007 Spygate scandal was not them filming signals but rather doing so from a position previously outlawed by an NFL memo; they also never recorded any opposing practices as erroneously reported by the Boston Herald in 2008.
In addition, the Patriots did not call timeout before the fourth down. Instead, play was stopped because of an official measurement after the previous third down play.
Also, Ted Washington was not with the Patriots in 2004. Bettis was probably thinking of Keith Traylor.
The Patriots ended up winning the game 41-27. They beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl two weeks later.