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Tomlin, NFL address Steelers' headset problems in opener vs. Patriots

The Pittsburgh Steelers encountered problems with their headsets during the first half of Thursday night’s NFL season opener against the New England Patriots at Gillette Field.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers encountered problems with their headsets during the first half of Thursday night’s season opening loss against the New England Patriots at Gillette Field.

NBC’s Al Michaels reported on the broadcast that Steelers coaches were receiving the Patriots’ radio broadcast in their headsets.

“It was with the coach-to-coach headsets,” NBC’s Michele Tafoya added. “Word is that they were getting some kind of Patriots radio broadcast bleeding into those headsets. While that was going on, the Patriots’ coach-to-coach headsets were shut off so that things were leveled.”

Comcast SportsNet’s Tom E. Curran reported additional details, saying the problems were due to a “grounding issue” that caused the Patriots’ radio broadcast to bleed into the Steelers’ headsets. The issue did not cause communication to be lost, just “impaired,” Curran added.

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In the fourth quarter, Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole reported the proper functioning of the Steelers’ headsets was restored in the first quarter and that they worked properly for the remainder of the game. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game, however, that the radio issues lasted for the “majority of the first half" and indicated that it wasn't the first time it had happened in Foxborough. 

The NFL released the following statement regarding the issue: 

In the first quarter of tonight's game, the Pittsburgh coaches experienced interference in their headsets caused by a stadium power infrastructure issue, which was exacerbated by the inclement weather. The coaches' communications equipment, including the headsets, is provided by the NFL for both clubs' use on game day. Once the power issue was addressed, the equipment functioned properly with no additional issues.

Technical difficulties with headsets are not uncommon on gamedays, but Thursday night’s problems piqued interest considering the Patriots’ alleged reputation for having problems occur at Gillette Field. Tomlin also said after the game that it’s “always the case” that there are radio issues when the Steelers play the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bishop, Michael Rosenberg and Thayer Evans published a lengthy look into such problems and the Patriots perception among team and league officials.

Incidents that might be considered innocent snafus elsewhere are viewed more skeptically in Foxborough. Headset failures are not uncommon around the league—Sun Life Stadium in Miami, for instance, is notorious for frequency issues. But representatives from several teams told SI they have experienced problems with the coaches’ equipment at Gillette—echoing a complaint from the Jaguars after their 2006 playoff loss there, when coach Jack Del Rio said his team’s headsets “mysteriously malfunctioned” for most of the first half. In May, Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby told that his on-field headset stopped working when his Cardinals played the Patriots in 2008, and he does not think it was an accident: “They gonna do what they gotta do to win. It’s just how they operate.”

Home teams are supposed to provide certain communications equipment, but opponents often don’t trust the Patriots to do it. One team griped to SI that New England supplied a corroded battery pack. Another current head coach brings his own equipment because he doesn’t trust the Patriots to supply anything of quality. A representative of a third team says the Pats provided headset gear that looked “like it had been run over by a lawn mower. Frayed wires, the speaker is all chopped up. . . .” James says that it is league policy for all headset batteries to be changed 30 minutes before a game, and that the team has “always complied with that.” He adds, “We’ve never been cited by the league for doing anything wrong as it pertains to communication device violations.”

Another team executive says, “Anybody who has gone in there in the last five years will tell you some sort of problem or snag they never hit any other place. They are the worst hosts in football.”

Mike Fiammetta