Friday, September 14, 2007

Your cheatin' heart

Well, I suppose it's going to be awkward when Roger Goodell has to hand over the Lombardi Trophy to Bill Belichick come February 3.

Seriously, what can you say? Goodell dropped the hammer tonight, and while a Patriots fan might have hoped that he'd be lenient, I think we all knew that wasn't going to happen given the commish's notorious iron fist and the supposed seriousness of the transgression. While it's a relief he chose not to suspend Belichick, there's no other way to say it: Losing that pick stinks. While the history of 32d picks isn't particularly impressive (Tyler Brayton, anyone?), the Belichick/Pioli Patriots have been remarkably adept at finding players at the back end of the first round. Today, the Patriots forfeited a player who would have been a meaningful part of their future. Here's hoping the Niners go 2-14.

Now, I realize I sound arrogant here, talking about a Super Bowl berth as a practical certainty and assuming they'll lose the No. 1 pick rather than the second -and third-rounders they'd give up if they miss they playoffs. Hey, I believe in this team, and you don't have to be Bill Walsh to recognize that they're loaded. The only way they miss the playoffs is if Tom Brady gets hurt or elopes at midseason with his beloved goat.

Besides, isn't arrogance the common thread in this whole sordid mess?

Consider: Belichick was astoundingly arrogant in thinking he could get away with this after having been warned about it previously - and he was flat-out stupid in thinking he could get away with it against Eric Mangini, the disowned, desperate former protege who simply must have been well aware of Belichick's tactics. I'm still stumped at what Belichick's thought process was in trying to do this, because it simply cannot be justified under the circumstances.

As for Mangini, he revealed his arrogance - not to mention his naivete - in thinking he can rat out Belichick without suffering any type of fallout down the road, particularly if he violated an unwritten rule among coaches. Either way, he is an ungrateful, manipulative [insert your favorite expletive], and I might hold it against him if it wasn't so obvious where he learned it.

And certain members of the media arrogantly reveled at the notion of Belichick getting his comeuppance for the dismissive and disrespectful way he's treated them through the years. Particularly among the national electronic press, it seemed the purpose wasn't to uncover and report the facts, but to bleat the loudest about the shame he's brought upon the franchise while speculating wildly and without merit about what his punishment might be. The contrived indignation couldn't have been more transparent; this was about payback. (Aside: If I hear one more ham-handed play on "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," I'm going to reach through my television screen and rip Ed Werder's mustache off.)

While the outcry seems so phony, the fallout is real. I hate that there is now talk about tainted Super Bowl victories and a tarnished dynasty, and I hate that every Hines Ward or Jack Del Rio who has gotten his pride handed to him by the Patriots through the years now has a ready-made excuse for their failure. We wuz cheated! In that sense, Belichick truly let his players down; for now and the foreseeable future, everything they accomplish will be questioned by the skeptics, cynics, and the 142 members of the Football Night in America studio crew. The Patriots are no longer associated with selflessness and teamwork, but with something more dubious: The Patriots? Oh, they're the cheaters.

Of course, in a warped sort of way, this is going to benefit them immensely on Sundays; now they can revert to their US Against Them/No Respect mentality, which served them so well during the Super Bowl seasons even it was patently ridiculous. They are going to be even more vicious and vengeful than usual, particularly when the Jets come to Foxboro Dec. 16. I fully expect that at some point Rodney Harrison will pummel Chad Pennington with one of his own severed limbs. Looking forward to it, actually. I expect Jets fans will cheer.

Still, there is one question that hasn't been answered to my satisfaction: How common is this tactic in the NFL? That jackbooted idiot Chris Mortensen - who is wrong about everything - can close his ESPN report by suggesting a man of Tony Dungy's integrity would never do such a thing, but dammit, tell me who might. You know there are others. You're telling me Mike Shanahan - who admitted to stealing signals years ago, was punished for manipulating the salary cap, and teaches his linemen to utilize the reprehensible chop block - hasn't tried this? What about Jeff Fisher? Mike Holmgren? Brian Billick? Tom Coughlin? Even Herm Edwards might attempt it, if only he could figure out how to get the danged lens cap off.

Hell, I'm still ticked that the Houston Oilers beat the Chargers in the '79 playoffs after somehow getting a copy of their playbook in the weeks before the game. You're telling me that's not more egregious than videotaping signals?

Yeah, Belichick cheated, and the price he's paying is much greater than $500,000. But his biggest mistake? Being so brazen as to think he'd never get caught.

* * *

Other famous final scenes:

First the requisite disclaimer. I still enjoy reading Bill Simmons, and I don't think he gets enough credit for creating his unique, high-profile, and lucrative niche in sports writing. But it's just . . . well, there are times I wonder if he forgot to bring his self-awareness with him when he moved from Boston to His Friend Jimmy's pool house, and today was one of those times. In a column about the sad news that immensely likable Blazers rookie Greg Oden needs microfracture surgery on his knee and will likely miss the season, LASG's main intention seemed to be to gloat about the fact that he's thought all along that Kevin Durant (who he seems to believe he discovered) should have been the No. 1 pick. It's my opinion that the only person who enjoys an I Told Ya So! column is the person writing it, and it's particularly unappealing when it's written in reaction to disappointing news. But I suppose if an NBA franchise ever decides it needs a Vice President of Self-Congratulations, he's the guy.

Think Danny Ainge is glad things worked out the way they did for the Celtics this offseason? Had they won the lottery and drafted Oden, only to endure this disaster, there'd be a line stretching from the Zakim to the New Garden tonight of Celtics fans waiting to jump. (And for the record, I'm more excited by Garnett-Allen-Pierce than I would have been by Oden-Jefferson-Third Wheel.)

Oh, yeah . . . Sox-Yankees tonight. Guess we now know what it takes for that little rivalry to get lost in the sporting shuffle around here. So how's it gonna be? I think Beckett needs to do his ace thing against Wang Saturday, because I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of Kyle Snyder or Julian Tavarez tonight than we will Dice-K, and Clemens/Schilling Sunday is a pick-'em, a no-longer-marquee matchup of massive egos and diminishing skills. But I will say this: Papi's walkoff homer Wednesday gave me more faith in this team's postseason chances than I've had in a long time. If Papi has his mojo in working order, there's always reason for hope.

Geez, and I thought I was taking this celebrity crush thing a little far. (That said, here's hoping the Official Muse of TATB, Non-Wife Division takes home the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy on Sunday. I think it will look just lovely on our mantel someday.)

I probably shouldn't point you this way since he writes about the same things I do, only way better, but my friend Dave D'Onofrio of the Concord Monitor recently launched an outstanding blog about Boston sports, and if you like what you read here, you're going to love his stuff. Check it out, but just promise me that after you get hooked on his insightful writing, you'll come back to visit here once in a while, just for old times' sake.

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Because sometimes, it really is random.

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