Monday, January 17, 2005

Guest column: American idiots

Steve Mistler, a freelance writer based in Maine and a loyal Corona-and-Madden cohort of mine following some long days and late nights at the Concord Monitor, put together this piece before the Patriots turned Peyton and his Phony Ponies into glue yesterday. I'm posting it here because, while it was written with the intent of previewing the game, it is remarkably pointed and relevant in the aftermath of yesterday's wonderful bleep-you to all the big-mouthed, small-minded pundits who cannot comprehend how the Patriots win and win and win again despite "lacking" a Manning, a Moss, a Ray Lewis or a T.O. (Yeah, we mean you, Shannon Sharpe.) It is no exaggeration to say that is the best-articulated analysis I have read anywhere regarding the national media's perception of this delightful team. If you enjoy this article as much as I did, drop him an email to tell him so ( And if it's not too much to ask, mention that you heard he's a horse-bleep Madden player, too. The dude is brutal, the Scott Secules to my Tom Brady. He deserves your abuse.

By Steve Mistler

When it comes to the television media’s handling of sports, especially professional football, it doesn’t take much to stoke my fires of indignation. At the same time little in the Technicolor world of pre-game, half-game, post-game and three-days-prior-to-game bombast shocks me anymore. The result is a toxic concoction of apathy and anger that renders me paralyzed and mumbling on the couch, which I suppose, is precisely what the producers at Fox, ESPN and CBS have in mind when they air segments featuring “analysts” like Michael Irvin on the front end of a Coors Light commercial.

But every now and again, one of these screaming heads blathers something that springs me from the seat of discontent and scrambling for the keyboard of justice. It happened a few weeks ago (the keyboard of justice takes some time to get warmed up), when Mr. Irvin, self-portayed as the quintessential teammate on the once-great and always-humble Dallas Cowboys, offered his opinions during an ESPN segment addressing the so-called marketing genius of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens. During his impassioned diatribe Irvin explained the public’s appetite for Owens with its need for star power, character and excitement. The NFL, he said, had too little of these qualities, including the defending world champions, your New England Patriots. Actually, I believe the word he used to describe them was “boring."

Usually Irvin doesn’t bother me. After all, the words of a man who wears a silver suit bright enough to rival the sheen of a freshly minted quarter should never be taken too seriously. And his comments on this day wouldn’t have had an impact, if not for two reasons: 1. I suspect that a lot of people, particularly the pundits who cover the league, long for a sexier champion. 2. I suffer from a serious case of provincialism.

As the Patriots prepare to defend their title against the Indianapolis Colts this week I can’t help but think New Englanders are the only ones lucky enough to appreciate what the organization has built over the last few years. I’m not even sure I fully appreciate it. I’m not talking about the possibility of winning three Super Bowls in four seasons, something that hasn’t been done since Irvin’s Cowboys in the early 1990s. Nor am I talking about a dynasty, the overused and rarely fulfilled tag of greatness assigned to far lesser teams with far shorter periods of continued success. I’m talking about the amazing phenomenon, sustained by the Patriots for the better part of four years, of highly compensated professional athletes forsaking personal glory and stardom for team goals.

Understand that no pundit, play-by-play or color man has failed to mention such a theory since that first amazing championship in 2001. Stop me if you've heard these lines before:

"The Patriots are the consummate team, a squad of role players pointed in the right direction by their genius head coach, Bill Belichick."

"In the age of selfish athletes, the Patriots are an unselfish team."

"There no superstars on the Patriots."

Blah-blah, blah-blah, blah.

Okay, so the Patriots are the quintessential team. But answer me this: Are they really valued as such?

To hear Irvin and others to tell it, the answer is a resounding no. Too boring. Not enough creativity in the end zone. We need more color, more controversy to spice things up. More Sharpies. More faux moonings. Because, you know, who cares about the character of Patriots rookie defensive back Randall Gay when you have a self-promoter like Owens questioning everything from the number of passes thrown his way, to the sexual orientation of a former teammate. I mean, really, what story do you want to hear about? Randy Moss leaving a game early, or Tedy Bruschi staying at practice late?

Answer those questions honestly, ou too will understand the cynical machinations of the national media and the servicing of NFL fans across the country. If it doesn’t anger, disgust or shock, its been decided that you don’t need to hear about it. I understand this. A pacified audience isn’t likely to stay tuned for the Chrysler-Dodge Halftime Show unless Ricky Williams is invited to tell us about the best campgrounds for partying in Southeast Asia.

I have no problem with Williams, Owens, or even Irvin. It’s good to know those guys are out there, reminding everyone of the total disconnect between the dysfunctional millionaires playing sports and the average fan, because frankly, there aren’t enough Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers games on the NBA schedule.

It’s the hypocrisy that infuriates me. If we received a nickel for every sanctimonious "SportsCenter" segment on selfish athletes, or the lack of role models for our children, we could simultaneously finance Ricky’s exotic tastes in travel, dope and the college funds for all future generations of his progeny.

Meanwhile, the quintessential team, made up of athletes who have to work to be good at their craft – much like many their fans – will carry out its business, week after week, in relative obscurity, a cute little sidebar to biggest story of the day:

"Moss abandons teammates – again."

Chad's last word: Despite my respect for the vintage 'fro, I'd take one Troy Brown over three of this fraud. As would Mistler, and everyone else in New England, I believe.