Despite the fact the 2005 accusation was investigated and dismissed by the NFL and the public-address system enhancement allegedly occurred across the street from Lucas Oil Stadium at the RCA Dome, which has since been razed, Harbaugh mentioned it Monday as his team prepared for a Sunday game in Indianapolis.
“Rumor has it, they pipe crowd noise in there,” Harbaugh told Baltimore media. “So, we’ll see if that’s the case or not.”
When asked if doing this would be considered illegal, a smiling Harbaugh said, “Yes it is. Sorry, Chuck.”
The apology, which smacks of good-natured gamesmanship more than anything else, was to Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, a Ravens defensive assistant under Harbaugh from 2008 to 2011.
What’s all this buzz about? It began on Nov. 28, 2005, when the Pittsburgh Steelers were visiting the Colts for Monday Night Football. ESPN reporter Ed Werder was at the game and started the stir the next two days with accusations on radio shows.
“There is no question this occurs,” Werder told Dan Patrick on an ESPN Radio show. “Where exactly this emanated from and how it is created, I’m not sure. But it definitely exists.”
Then-Colts coach Tony Dungy vehemently denied the claim and called it, “an insult to our crowd.”
The initial allegation was also reported by Pittsburgh media, which cited a Steelers assistant coach who had noticed field-level microphones near the stands. The microphones were put there by the television crew, which isn't unusual. The Steelers lost the game 26-7.
Stadium director Mike Fox, who now runs Lucas Oil Stadium for the city's Capital Improvement Board, was amused at first by the accusation. But it became so loud, he inevitably resented it.
“The part that bugs me about that is, first of all, I’m not so sure I would have even known how to do it with my sound and lights guys,” Fox said in the “NoiseGate” chapter of the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. “And the part that bothers me about it more than anything is that it goes to integrity and my history as a referee and fairness. That just kind of got to me. I was mad.”
Fox has heard his share of loud sounds over the years. He was an Indiana University men’s basketball student assistant when Bob Knight was coach. And he’s been a high school and college basketball referee for more than three decades.
He’s repeatedly denied it happened, but that didn’t prevent other teams from keeping the controversy alive.
“It grew legs,” Fox said.
Former Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio always mentioned the supposed piped-in noise as a factor when the Jaguars were preparing to play at Indianapolis. And during a 2007 game, New England president Jonathan Kraft complained to the league about the noise issue.
The league had already investigated before and found no wrongdoing. After the 2007 game, which the Patriots won 24-20, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an issued statement: “CBS has informed us that the unusual audio moment heard heard by fans during the Patriots-Colts telecast was the result of tape feedback in the CBS production truck and was isolated to the CBS broadcast. It was in now way related to any sound within the stadium and could not be heard in the stadium.”
The uproar eventually quieted down. The Colts moved into Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008. Players and fans have said the newer venue, while more spacious and accommodating, is not as loud as the smaller RCA Dome. Lucas Oil Stadium also has a retractable roof and window that opens at the North end.
“Yes, it eventually died,” Fox said last year. “To accuse us of actually doing that was ridiculous.”
Fox theorized that those making such accusations are probably insecure about transgressions they commit themselves.
The Ravens have lost their two games at Lucas Oil Stadium by a combined score of 51-6. The arrive this time at 3-1 and on a three-game win streak while the Colts are 2-2 and have won two consecutive games.
“The challenge is you got to go play another team in their environment,” Harbaugh said. “That takes an incredible amount of discipline and poise. The more disciplined and poised we are, the more able we are to execute and tune out the noise.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.