Monday, September 17, 2007

Firing up the Pats

While I don’t consider myself a rabid football fan, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to some interest in the recent success of the Patriots. In an era when players have run roughshod over head coaches, Bill Belichick commands a certain respect from his players that today is the exception, rather than the norm. The control he exerts over his players is almost Lombardi-esque. Say what you want about fanatical coaches resembling autocratic dictators, anyone who once laced them up for an old-school coach can relate to what I’m talking about.

The world of professional sports has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. The obscene amounts of money being thrown at the players have upped the ante on performance. While the elite players of any era—Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Mantle in baseball and Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown in football—these players commanded premium salaries and drove Cadillacs. Journeymen players, however, worked at the local sporting goods store, dug ditches, or stocked grocery shelves and drove Ford Fairlanes. Today, however, even back up catchers are millionaires and have the lifestyles of the rich and famous. With the level of cash ratcheted up and the stakes that much higher, is it any wonder that players shoot themselves full of performance enhancing substances? Granted, there are a handful that don’t, but I’d be willing to wager that a good percentage do. Just look at some of the classic Sox games broadcast on NESN and compare how scrawny Yaz looked, or even Mike Greenwell and the Sox players of the 80s, compared to today’s bulked up ballplayers. We ain’t talking healthy living and antioxidants, my friend.

Which brings me to the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick. If I had my druthers, I would rather that the dirt on one of the all-time great head coaches in NFL history remained tucked conveniently under the carpet, rather than shouted from every sports desk across the country. What us New Englanders sometimes forget, who have suffered long, quaffing the bitters that come with epochs seasoned with losing, in both baseball and football, is now that we’ve feasted on the spoils that come with a few championships, many others have come to despise our newfound success. While we loathe the Yankees and have grown to despise Manning and Co., our own teams, particularly the Patriots, have become the hated. Hence, it’s with a great deal of gloating and finger-pointing that Belichick’s revelation that he has feet of clay, or better, can be tempted to gain the upper hand by taping other team’s signals (which I’m sure is happening all over the league), is being seized upon by fans from the other 31 cities. Many biased fans, in fact are saying that the Pats success stems directly from cheating. Those that say that know very little about the complexities of the game—than again, I did weigh in on the intelligence of the average sports fan, didn’t I?

If Sunday’s rout of San Diego is any indication, the Pats would have been better off, being left alone to grow complacent. Hitting at their pride might be a dangerous thing, particularly when veteran players like Teddy Bruschi are fired up about the accusations that their prior success might be tainted.

"This might be the most satisfying win of all," said an emotional Tedy Bruschi. "I've never been in a situation where people were doubting us, our integrity. I care about that logo, as much as anyone in here. And I care about how we're perceived. What we do is win football games. What we did tonight speaks volumes about who we are."

Bruschi later on said, "Yeah, that's probably what bothered me the most," he said. "Something like this happens, and all of a sudden, what, we're less of a team? What did you see out there tonight? That's who we are."

It appears that the hornet’s nest has been upset and the hornets are ready to do some buzzing.

For more on the players taking up for their coach, here's an article by Tom Pedulla, in USA Today.

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