Obviously the latest flap over the Patriots’ alleged rampant duplicity was a crock of ragtime, or whatever you will. These guys may be many things, not all of them loveable. But they are not stupid. If you are one of their countless bitter adversaries, you decline to recognize that at your decided peril.
Already being dubbed (in a risible offense to the language) “Communicate-gate,” the perceived indiscretion has something to do with the apparent jamming of the Steelers’ two-way transmissions to and from the sidelines whereby when attempting to exchange pleasantries with his troops, Steelers’ boss Mike Tomlin got to hear the game’s radio broadcast in his headset, or was it some old Jack Benny show that had bounced off the planet Mars having reverberated in outer space for the last 60 years.
ActualIy, it matters little what precisely spoiled Tomlin’s chats with his spotters, only that he was unable to converse with them at what he deemed crucial moments, and being a veteran observer of the uncanny irregularities that seemingly abound in Foxborough, the ordinarily even-tempered and rational Pittsburgh head-coach immediately assumed the worst. And who can blame him. Still, however many chains the incident rattled, it was manifestly silly.
Engaging in anything remotely mischievous would have been supremely dumb of the Patriots and their Machiavellian Geppeto, Bill Belichick. Given the circus maximus over the last eight months of thrashing out infernal “Deflategate,” including the last-minute reprieve of the fair-haired quarterback, let alone the extraordinary revelations only days earlier strongly suggesting that “Spygate” – the nefarious scandal that first sullied the Patriots’ escutcheon – may have been a whole lot more reprehensible than long believed, Belichick would have been insane to countenance anything so ridiculous. Moreover, he had no need of any such help to beat these Steelers, who are clearly adept at beating themselves.
But this is what you are in for, dear Patriots Nation, and it will last well into February if you’re lucky. Your team is doubted. Your team is not trusted. Your team will not get the benefit of doubt nor the routine assumption of being innocent until proven otherwise. And such admiration as your team may command – and it ought be a lot – will be grudgingly given and oft bitterly so.
West of Worcester and south of Hartford, media critics are having a field day. USA Today labels these Patriots “the new Raiders,” a cutting rebuke considering their long ugly relationship with those West Coast brigands. Even the local media, when not chortling over their triumphs, freely concede their lousy image. In its annual football preview the feisty tabloid Boston Herald headlines them as “Villains” and declares their “evil reputation” to be reaching “new heights.” Does this bring you comfort?
It’s the price they pay. And the price you pay, too. In their historic achievements the Patriots’ glory has been diminished – no matter how much they deny it – and so has your satisfaction – no matter how much you pretend otherwise.
Of course, it’s cool to avow that all of that only adds to the incentive, making the 2015 team more lethal than ever. angry enough to run roughshod over all comers all the way to a fifth crown. Fighting words, always colorful! But anger cuts both ways. If they intend to bring more hostility to bear week after week, they should as well expect to encounter more, the result being greater pressure on this team than ever has been borne by it or maybe any other NFL team. Good luck, says I.
In the meantime, it should otherwise be a long, grueling, punishing, and merry National Football League season, one rife with sufficient controversy to keep us fussing all the way unto February.
Among the festering issues is the de facto down-grading of the commissioner and the power vacuum left at the top while the owners try to re-configure his policing powers which a federal judge – in his wisdom – has effectively diminished. What if notably foul problems rear up this season demanding heavy disciplinary responses as was the case in all the turmoil last season? Does the lately humbled Roger Goodell roll up in a fetal position and ask Judge Berman what he should do?
Bear in mind, it’s not just your favorite quarterback, Sir Galahad, who has recently been rescued by the federal judiciary. Also slipping off the hook to varying degrees have been more clear-cut and indisputable violators of basic law and order, including social-drug offenders, PED offenders, domestic abuse offenders.
Critics, outraged at what they deem Goodell’s frisky brandishing of authority, apparently believe the civil court system – from the highest reaches of the federal bench all the way down – would do it better. Argued to its possible extreme, this premise could have a devastating effect on the conduct and regulation of all sports because any radical precedent in football will surely impact other games. Bear in mind, too, the rules of the games are not only different from those of the real world, but they are also, by and large, stricter.
Also seething on the burner is the health issue – more precisely the extraordinary obsession with head injuries. The concussion issue begins to challenge the game’s very existence.
The NFL’s pre-season opened with a strapping young star linebacker for the 49ers abruptly walking out on a huge, multi-year contract due to fear of injury. Who knew linebackers were capable of fear? The pre-season ended with a promising young and talented Packers wide receiver abruptly retiring after his neurologist suggested one more hit on his head could kill him. In between, the daughter of Junior Seau stole the show at Canton’s football Hall of Fame festivities delivering –over the protests of NFL poohbahs – a tender tribute to her dead dad, only one of the game’s more spectacular victims of the raw violence players endure and the desperate choices they make to deal with it.
Meanwhile, the compensation fund for meeting the injury claims of NFL alumni grows of necessity, as dozens more file claims. With its potential impact on the fabled profit margin of the owners fast rising along with the damage to the game’s image, the great concussion calamity is the most complex issue the NFL faces, however reluctantly.
Clearly, the game could benefit from an alteration of its nasty edge, a toning down of its militaristic zealotry, less emphasis on a blood and guts mindset, the preaching of a less strident message overall. Bear in mind, Vince Lombardi has been gone near a half century. The NFL doesn’t need any more of its former stars declaring that all things considered they’d prefer their sons and grandsons play soccer.
And there are vague signs some in the game are getting it, or at least prepared to consider concessions. In Seattle, where the Seahawks are still nursing their Super Bowl grievances, Pete Carroll has been getting much attention for his so-called “new age, soft touch” approach to coaching. So impressed was the New York Times they gave his improbable act a front-page plug, a rare tribute to atypical sports stuff.
Heretical though it may seem to old-school football divines, Carroll advocates more “open-mindedness, free thinking, free expression,” a more upbeat less punitive approach that draws on principles of psychology, even Zen and Yoga. He’s urging players to seek “self-discovery,” no less. He says he wants his staff to be “more supportive and nurturing” – heaven help us – and he discourages badgering by his coaches, and even frowns on profanity. That distant faint rumble you detect likely emanates from Vince’s graveyard.
Californian to the core, Carroll is no stranger to out-of- the box thinking nor is he averse to the attention such marching to his distant drummer excites. But if his desire to bring more humanity to his discipline is genuine, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Of course, in the end, approval of such brave new thinking will waver entirely on how much he wins and how little he loses. And in that regard, his Seahawks –widely favored to return to the Soupey – suffered Week One’s most shocking upset, to those perennial doormats, the St. Louis Rams, which greatly deepens the indignity.
I give Pete Carroll’s New-Age flirtations maybe three more losses; four, at the most!