Friday, November 23, 2007

The Wheel Is Going to Turn

When you’re up by 10 runs, you don’t continue to steal bases. When the great Chicago Bulls teams were hammering opponents, Phil Jackson took Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen out of the game and sat them on the bench. Gratuitously showing up your opponent violates a basic rule of professional athletics. It’s poor sportsmanship. If you’ve taken your foot off the accelerator and your second team is *still* beating the snot out of the opponent, there isn’t a lot you can do. However, you are supposed to make that visible effort to cease the destruction, and you don’t rub your opponent’s nose in their ineptitude.

I must admit that even though I’m not a Patriots fan, I’m in sheer awe of what they are accomplishing this season. Tom Brady, Randy Moss, the entire defense, they are rewriting the record books. We’re witnessing what might be the best NFL team to ever take the field. Better than the Lombardi Packers, better than the Montana and Rice (or Young and Rice) Niners, better than the Payton and McMahon Bears, and perhaps even better than the great Dolphin team of Griese, Czonka, Warfield, and The Perfect Season. Four or five guys are going to have to suffer broken bones for these Pats to lose a game, and even then I’m not so sure. You have to admire the numbers that Tom Brady and the offense are putting up game after game after game, and the ease with which they're doing it. And you KNOW that no matter how soft-spoken they are, they know damn well what’s going on. This Patriots team is playing a whole other game, every week. So, when the New England Patriots are up by 4, 5, even 6 touchdowns and continue to go for it on 4th down (tossing a touchdown pass against the Bills on 4th and short, instead of kicking a field goal), the sentiment is becoming harder to escape: the Pats have no interest in unwritten rules such as “thou shalt not show up thy hapless, helpless opponent”. The Patriots are certainly winning, but without any class.

Now look, I’m neither stupid nor naïve. I realize that the object of the game is to win, and if winning weren’t important we wouldn’t be keeping score. And I similarly understand that the best way to keep the Pats from scoring over and over and over is to play better defense against them. Finally, it’s not the Patriots’ fault that they have created a machine that can’t help but annihilate anyone and everyone they face. I get all that, really I do. But you and I both know that the Pats are perfectly capable of calling off the dogs as the game drags on, but they’re making a conscious decision not to. Bill Simmons of ESPN has a term for it: he calls it the Fuck You Touchdowns. His theory is that Bill Belichick is punishing the league for denigrating him and his team after Spygate, and in every game he’s sending the same message: You think we were beating people only because we were cheating? Fuck you. We’ll score on you whenever we want. You want to tear down our greatness? Fuck you. We’ll score at will. And then we’ll do it again. Kick a field goal on 4th down? Fuck you. We’ll throw the ball into the corner of the endzone. How do you like that? You don’t? Fuck you. We’ll do it one more time.

And Simmons might be right. The Pats don’t have to stop playing, of course. They can be the vintage Nebraska Cornhuskers or Oklahoma Sooners and hang 60 and 70 points on the board every week. But in the NFL, you don’t get more style points for winning by 50, rather than 35. There’s going to be a price to pay for what some view as disrespecting the game and the guys on the other side of the ball. The wheel’s going to turn, and this scintillating run won’t last forever. While some teams may never achieve greatness (see the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions), every team eventually has to hit bottom sometime. Talk to the Oakland Raiders, the Miami Dolphins, or my beloved St. Louis Rams, who not so long ago were hailed as the Greatest Show on Turf. One of these days, no matter how good you were, you are going to suck. Pats fans should remember what it’s like, because it’s going to happen again. Maybe not next year, but it’s coming. And when that does happen to New England, as it someday will, teams aren’t just going to beat them, they are going to make it their mission to punch them in the face a few times for good measure. They’re going to humiliate New England, and have fun doing it. The Pats will get bitch slapped around the field. That unstoppable wide receiver on the Redskins isn’t going to come out of the game, and they’re going to throw to him over and over and over, just to make the point. The battering ram running back on the Jets is going to come back into the game in the 4th quarter just to score another touchdown and make sure he sets the record against the Patriots instead of waiting for the following week. The Steelers will fake taking a knee and toss another touchdown pass at the end of the half to put them up by six touchdowns instead of settling for five. Pats fans will at this point be counted on to whine and scream bloody murder that “you shouldn’t kick someone when they’re down, and we would never do that”.

I am going to be watching that game. And I will be laughing my ass off.

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