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James Harrison Blasts Patriots for Cheating in 2004 AFC Championship Game



Steelers OLB James Harrison

Former Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison is the latest former Steeler to claim that the New England Patriots cheated in the 2001 and 2004 AFC Championship Games. Harrison joins Ben Roethlisberger, Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward, Joey Porter Sr., Kordell Stewart and several others to make such claims.

The topic was brought up on Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward’s Not Just Football podcast, as the 13-year vet asked Harrison if New England cheated in the 2004 AFC Championship Game. Harrison actually cut Heyward off before he could finish the sentence.

“Hell yeah, they was cheating,” Harrison said. “They only missed one blitz, man, where previously, when we beat New England and Philly, they couldn’t see the broad side of a barn.”

The Steelers took down New England, 34-20, and beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-3, in back-t0-back weeks in 2004. New England and Philadelphia ended up meeting that year’s Super Bowl, which the Patriots won 24-21.

It was later unearthed with the Spygate scandal that the Patriots had two tapes of Pittsburgh from their 2002 meeting in the AFC Championship Game. The 2004 AFC Championship has never been confirmed through investigations as information was tampered with.

Many former Steelers feel like they were robbed from a Super Bowl ring in 2001 and 2004.

“For some reason, they knew every single thing we were doing,” Stewart told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2017. “They had the perfect defense from a blitz standpoint, everything we were trying to do.”

Steelers QB Kordell Stewart

27 Jan 2002: Kordell Stewart of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the Steelers 24-17 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA.
Mandatory Credit: John Iacono/SI/Icon SMI

This past September, former Steelers greats Ben Roethlisberger and Jerome Bettis stated that they both believe the Patriots cheated in the 2004 AFC Championship. Bettis explained how he knew some keys were off from the Patriots.

“Who normally goes to the sideline on timeouts? The defensive captains, right? They told the nose guard, I mean they pulled him to the sideline,” Bettis said on Roethlisberger’s Footbahlin Podcast. “Big 400-pound guy, he don’t want to go to the sideline and come all the way back,” Betts said. “What he want to go to the sideline for? They yelling, made him go to the sideline and I always thought ‘What he going…’ He went all the way to the sideline and back.”

Bettis ended his statement that there is “no question” to him that the Patriots cheated. Multiple Patriots on that team caught wind of the statements and responded. Barrett Brooks, a tackle for the Steelers in 2004, noted earlier this offseason he thought the Patriots cheated, too.

But one player responded in video format, and that would be former Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel. Samuel joined the Patriots in 2003 after being drafted by the team. In a video, Samuel slammed Roethlisberger and Bettis, simply stating they were sore losers.

“Steeler Nation, what’s going on with your legends and Hall of Famers Ben Roethlisberger and Jerome Bettis? 19 years later, you guys decide to be sore losers and say we cheated the 2004 AFC Championship,” Samuel said.

For reference, Brooks in July said that he could hear the Patriots calling out the Steelers’ cues and plays right away. He accused Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi, specifically, of having inside intel that made their job much easier.

“But I remember in that game, they knew the plays before we did,” Brooks said. ”I could hear all of those guys, Rodney Harrison, would yell ‘draw, draw, draw’, and Ben comes to the line and calls a draw play….Tedy Bruschi knowing the play, ‘they’re gonna sprint to the right’ and then shift the whole defense over. Because they knew our plays before it happened.”

Longtime close friend of Bill Belichick and former Patriots football researcher Ernie Adams discussed the game plan for the Patriots’ win over the Steelers in the 2001 AFC Championship Game on the Games with Names podcast with Julian Edelman last month.

“We had gone in to play the Steelers. That was Jerome Bettis, Kordell Stewart, a totally different game-planned team,” Adams said in reference to the pass-heavy Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams. “We go in and play the Steelers. It’s Cover 3, we’re going to bring the strong safety, we’re going to stop their running game. Make them beat us throwing.”

That plan certainly was well-executed as Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart threw three interceptions, including two in the game’s final minutes.

The Steelers were 10-point favorites against the Patriots, but four turnovers and two special teams touchdowns were enough for New England to upset Pittsburgh.

“Tom got hurt and Drew (Bledsoe), being a team guy, threw a big touchdown pass and we won the game,” Adams said. “If Drew doesn’t come in and play well against the Steelers, Pittsburgh’s going to the Super Bowl.”

Drew Bledsoe threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Dave Patten right before halftime to give the Patriots a 14-3 lead. Tom Brady was knocked out of the game after taking a hit to the knee from safety Lee Flowers.

Former Steelers head coach and Hall of Famer Bill Cowher strongly disagrees with the notion that Pittsburgh lost the two AFC Championship Games due to Spygate. Cowher is close friends with Bill Belichick, so that could play a part in that.

“It’s only cheating if you get caught,” Cowher said in a 2021 interview with The Athletic. “Like any player, if you’re going to hold him, don’t get caught. If you get caught, you’re wrong, if you don’t, you’re right. I always thought we never lost the games to New England because of Spygate.

“If [Belichick] got the calls because we didn’t do a very good job of making sure we signaled those in, that’s on us, it’s not on him. Because we’re always looking for competitive edges.”