Saturday, March 01, 2008


OK, time for a couple more answers. Now, when the football season ended, I was content to limit to a single, brief post my gloating over the massive THUD with which my most loathed sports team on the planet hit the ground in their supposed quest for perfection, but since this series is called Ask Me Anything!, I have to answer the questions, two of which dealt with the New England Patriots. So, any Pats fans in the audience, you might want to just skip this post entirely. (Ditto for people who don't give a rip about football, or for people who do give a rip about football but who don't like to read the ravings of lunatics like me.)

Will the loss by the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl have an effect on the sale of hoodies?

I haven't the faintest idea, but since I actually like hoodies (although I hate the word "hoodie"), I hope not. And to be quite honest, the thing about Bill Belichick that bothers me the least is the way he looks on the sideline. I find his hoodies preferable to the gaudily-colored golf shirts that most other coaches wear.

OK, there, I said something nice about Belichick. Now to rip him and his whole rotten disgusting vomitous retchworthy team to shreds!

Should we consider the Patriots as being 0-4 in Super Bowls for the decade? Given the revelation that the Patriots have been cheating since 2000, how happy/sad does this make you feel? Not yet. There just isn't enough evidence right now to make any definitive statements, one way or the other, and in any event, the Patriots' cheating was of the "gain an edge" variety -- meaning, it's not quite on the level of the Black Sox scandal. I don't think they won those Super Bowls because they cheated, although it may have helped a bit, if they were taping the other teams' practices. But really, their videotape shenanigans didn't make Mike Martz decide to pigheadedly stick to his gameplan of having Kurt Warner throw the ball all over the field and ignore the presence of the NFL's best running back (at that time), Marshall Faulk, on his own roster. (It's unforgivable that in a game that close, Faulk only had seventeen carries against a team that was very suspect against the run.) The Patriots' videotape shenanigans didn't make John Fox go for two-point conversions in bad situations, or the Panthers' kicker send a kickoff out of bounds just after they'd tied the game at 29-all. Their videotape shenanigans didn't make the Eagles play a fairly flat game or make Andy Reid lose sight of the most important element of any football game, the game clock.

I don't have any idea how the entire issue is going to play out, but I have few hopes that even if there was a program of significant videotaping in place in New England it will come out and the guilty parties disciplined. The NFL has already destroyed the pertinent evidence that it had at hand, and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of clamoring for this matter to be got to the bottom of. The main sentiment I've heard seems to be "It's in the past and it's settled now." Shockingly, everyone seems to be going for that. I contrast that attitude with that expressed when baseball's Mark MacGuire told Congress that he "wasn't there to discuss the past"; some cite that performance on Capitol Hill as the main reason MacGuire hasn't yet made the Hall of Fame.

I'm also highly disappointed in the media's approach to the whole Cheating scandal, as it illustrates anew the media's fixation these days with narrative as opposed to actual journalism. No one has really done any significant digging into the Cheating scandal. The entire story just vanished utterly after Roger Goodell basically said "Nothing to see here folks, and by the way, I destroyed the evidence the Patriots gave me. Let's move on." Instead, the focus turned, as it seemingly always does, to treating the Patriots with bizarre worshipful reverence, which is why I ended up seeing article after article after article from various sportwriters insisting that the Patriots should be loved by all football fans (case in point). I remember reading Buffalo News sportswriters on the News's blog section writing in one post that their job was to be objective and dispassionate regarding reporting on the Bills, but in another post openly admitting to rooting for the Patriots to pull off the undefeated season. And even when the Patriots had lost the Super Bowl, there was Jason Whitlock insisting that they should still be loved and revered, that they're still one of the greatest of all teams, and that the Giants were merely Super Bowl champions. Okay.

So what's going to happen? I suspect that the extent of the Patriots' cheating will never be known. It's too late, too much has been allowed to slip through the cracks, and no one seems terribly interested anyway. But the scandal, along with the Patriots' loss in Super Bowl XLII, has had one terribly beneficial effect: it's pretty much put to bed the notion that this is the greatest of all dynasties. Put it this way: the Steelers of the 1970s dominated the NFL with one of the greatest defenses of all time. The 49ers of the 1980s dominated with the greatest quarterback in history. The Cowboys of the 1990s dominated with the best running back in history. The Patriots of the 2000s dominated with...videotape.

Setting dynasties aside, here's an article by John Czarnecki listing the greatest single season teams ever. Maybe it's churlish of me, but as a Buffalo Bills fan, I have been told by other NFL fans ever since Super Bowl XXVIII ended that the Bills could not be considered one of the great teams because they didn't win the Super Bowl. Well, if that's the logic, then it also applies to the 2007 Patriots, shouldn't it?

(A brief aside: it always shocks me when I read articles like this, and I see that the single best team that I have ever seen since I started paying attention to football, the 1991 Redskins, again forgotten. Why does that team get so little love? That team scored 485 points and only gave up 224, which is a staggering differential; both their offense and their defense were in the top five that year; they went 14-2, with their losses coming to rivals within their division, then the toughest division in football, and those losses by a combined five points; their offensive line gave up nine sacks all year (compare to this year's Pats, almost universally cited as the contemporary Gold Standard of O-line play, who gave up twenty-one sacks). The 1991 Redskins were just amazing, and I say that as a Bills fan who had to watch them get blown out in the Super Bowl. I suspect that one reason the 1991 'Skins aren't often remembered is because of their quarterback. Mark Rypien had a career year in 1991, but within two years he was gone from Washington and spent the rest of his career as a journeyman. If Rypien had had a Hall of Fame career, instead of being really good for a couple of years and then fading, I'll bet the '91 Redskins would be remembered a lot better than they are.)

Also, we can set aside the notion, voiced constantly over the course of 2007, that we were seeing the greatest quarterback in history at the peak of his career. Sorry, but Tom Brady is still not the equal of Joe Montana in my mind. Montana never lost on the biggest stage. When Montana twice went into a Super Bowl against a clearly inferior opponent, he blew them out (including the biggest blowout in Super Bowl history, 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV), and those two inferior teams were themselves quarterbacked by future Hall of Famers (Dan Marino and John Elway). When Montana came into the final moments of a Super Bowl facing a three-point deficit, meaning he had to either score at least a field goal or go home the loser, he didn't just get the field goal; he got the touchdown to win the game. True, he had more time in his score-or-die scenario (two minutes versus fifty-some seconds), but he also had more ground to cover (he took the field with his team at its own eight-yard line). Brady's got rings, but rings don't create football myth. Situations create football myth, and Brady's situations simply don't compare to Montana's.

(But let's be clear: Brady's a clear Hall of Famer and one of the best of all time. I'm not presenting an argument that he sucks; just that he's overrated.)

Another odd notion that seems to be falling aside a bit is the canard that the Patriots are somehow special, that they rise above the fray and that they are just a bunch of humble guys who have set aside their egos to form this astonishing team. Well, having watched these guys for years, I'm not sure where the humility idea comes from. This year I saw Junior Seau dancing around obnoxiously after every play he made, no matter how pedestrian. I saw Vince Wilfork get fined multiple times for dirty plays, including his hit of JP Losman on the knee. (No, I don't for one second believe that he wasn't going for Losman's knee. There's no reason at all for his arm to be extended in that way if he wasn't.) I've seen Rodney Harrison make dirty hits for years. When Richard Seymour was called out for trash-talking at the Super Bowl, when the Patriots were still up 14-10 in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, does anyone seriously believe that such un-humble behavior was really out of character for this team? And then there's Randy Moss, who somehow gets credit this year for being on his best behavior, which is his history as a player, when he is winning. If Moss resigns with New England, and he's still with them in two or three years, let's see how happy he's acting if the team is 10-6 and making an early exit in the playoffs. I have a strong feeling that we haven't seen the last of the "I don't play hard all the time" Randy Moss.

Finally, what does the future hold for the Patriots? Lots of people think that as long as Brady's around, they'll be a juggernaut. Brady himself recently said that he'd like to play as long as Vinny Testaverde did. I think that's unrealistic, and it's more likely that Brady's longevity will be a victim of his success. The problem for him there is the amount of playoff action he's seen. Brady has started all seventeen of the Patriots' playoff games over the last seven years. Since an entire football season is only sixteen games, that means that Brady has literally played the equivalent of eight seasons of football in seven years. That takes a toll, and in football terms, it takes its toll fairly quickly. Brady's still pretty robust, and he's probably good for another four or five years, but there's no way he plays into his forties. (And I'm not just ripping on Brady here, either. The same can be said of Peyton Manning, who has fourteen playoff games under his belt.) Playoff football is just as physical as regular football, and guys who make a lot of deep playoff runs in a short period of time tend to fade quickly when they do. And even the guys like John Elway and Dan Marino, who are poster children for longevity in the NFL, had to pay the same piper. With one more playoff game, which is probably a dead certainty barring injury, Brady will equal the number that Marino had for his entire career. He's got only five more to tie Elway, and six to catch Montana. But those guys didn't pack their playoff appearances into so short a period as Brady has, either; better comparisons might be Jim Kelly (17 career playoff games in nine years), Troy Aikman (16 career playoff games in nine years), and Steve Young (14 career playoff games in seven years, although he also appeared in six playoff games before that in relief of Joe Montana, all of those in late-game, mop-up situations). Basically, I doubt very much if the Tom Brady era has more than four or five seasons left in it, and the more deep playoff runs he makes, the shorter it'll be.

OK, so that should put all of that to bed. There, that didn't hurt so much, did it?

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