Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Great team (of cheaters) ever

It was only September when the Patriots were accused of cheating. That's not all that long ago. Belichick paid a $500,000 fine! New England was docked a first round draft pick. Yet all anyone can talk about is how this Patriots team might be the greatest team ever.

I'm not trying to say the Pats don't have a talented team, but if you cheated the very first week of the season, what's to say they still haven't been doing something against the NFL rules. And even if they haven't been, who is to say they paid the price yet?

What they did I think is right up there with baseball players using steroids or even an NBA ref shaving points. They tainted the game. They tarnished the integrity of football. How does a team like that get a pass just because they won a lot.

OF COURSE THEY WON A LOT! They've probably been gathering film on other teams league-wide for years. So even though they got caught the first game of the season (which was not the first time the Pats got in trouble for doing something like this), Belichick may very well still have a full library of tapes on all other teams.

The Pats offense was prolific this year. No kidding! They had the defensive signals for other teams. If the offense knows the coverage the defense is in, it's not hard to expose them.

I'm under the belief that the Patriots did not need to cheat to win this season. In fact, they may have very well gone undefeated regardless. They have a very talented team. But maybe they've been just a little too good. Example: There's no way they would have lost to the Dolphins regardless of any spying or scandal or anything like that. But what about the Colts? What about the Chargers? What about the Eagles? Hell, what about the Eagles in the Super Bowl a few years ago???

And that's the key. The Patriots success and their cheating scandal are not mutually exclusive. They are instead very much intertwind. You can't separate them. So before you declare this the greatest team ever, make sure they aren't also the greatest cheaters ever too.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Raider unrest

I can't imagine why anyone would want to coach the Oakland Raiders while Al Davis is still in charge.  He is reportedly pushing for the resignation of head coach Lane Kiffin after going 4-12 in Kiffin's first season at the helm.  I understand that 4-12 is not something to be proud of, but after one season???

I can understand Cam Cameron being fired in Miami after going a dismal 1-15.  The biggest reason he was let go is the fact that Bill Parcells took over that franchise and wanted to bring in his own coach.  But Kiffin was brought in by Davis last season.  Kiffin isn't facing the front office going through changes like the Dolphins franchise down in Miami.  Kiffin still has the same boss that every Raider coach has had since the 1960s.

The biggest problem for anyone who coaches Oakland is that they must coach in the shadow of the man who hired them.  Al Davis went 10-4 in his first season as head coach of the Raiders, and now he expects that from every other coach he brings in.  Anything else will result in the immediate termination of the man in charge.

Just look at recent history.  After John Gruden left the Raiders to set sail on a pirate ship in Tampa, four men have captained this sinking vessel of a franchise: Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell and Lane Kiffin.

Callahan was fired after going from Super Bowl to Super-Bust.  One year after losing to Gruden and the Bucs in Super Bowl XXXVII, the Silver and Black went 4-12.  Callahan was relieved of his command.  Enter Norv Turner.  The Raiders went 5-11 and 4-12 the next two seasons.  Exit Norv Turner.  Raiders retread Art Shell assumed head coaching responsibilities only to guide this so-called Commitment to Excellence to an NFL-worst 2-14 record.  Davis made sure to let Shell know not to let the door hit him where the lord split him on his way out.

So now Kiffin faces the same problem as his predecessors.  And while I am not a huge Kiffin fan (I wish Reggie Bush had at least been on the field on 4th & 2 in the Rose Bowl against Texas), I respect his refusal to sign any letter of resignation.  A head coach in the NFL must be given some time to build a franchise.

What if Jimmy Johnson had been fired after going 1-15 in his first season?  What if Tom Landry had been fired after the Cowboys began 0-11-1.  What if Bill Belichick hadn't been brought in by the Patriots because of his track record in Cleveland?  What if Bill Parcells had been fired after going 3-12-1 in his first season with the Giants in 1983?  What if Bill Walsh had been fired after going 2-14 in his first season as 49ers head coach?

All of those are great coaches with multiple Super Bowl titles.  All of them were given time to build great teams.  It takes time to do.  Unfortunately that is the one thing Raiders owner Al Davis won't grant any of his head coaches.

Friday, January 04, 2008

COY: Cheater of the Year

This week, New England Patriot's head coach Bill Belichick was named NFL Coach of the Year.  The only appropriate word to describe this is disgusting.  Actually, it's an outright disgrace to the game.

Last season, I remember Miami Dolphin defensive end Jason Taylor saying that San Diego's Shawn Meriman shouldn't be eligible for NFL Defensive Player of the Year because he had been suspended four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.  Meriman was reportedly taking performance-enhancing drugs.  So he was cheating.

The plain and simple translation of what Taylor was saying: If you cheat, you shouldn't be able to win these coveted awards.

So much for that.  Belichick, the 2007 Coach of the Year, is the same man who received the largest individual fine in NFL history ($500,000) while getting his franchise fined a quarter-million dollars and losing their first-round draft pick.  Just look at how much those fines are.  And taking away a pick?  That never happens.  

The gravity of these punishments tell you just how detrimental the acts were.  Stealing defensive signals compromises the integrity of the game.  I think those penalties are much harsher than a four-game suspension for one player.  

And it's not like there weren't other coaches who had success this season.  Green Bay's Mike McCarthy.  Cleveland's Romeo Crennell.  Dallas's Wade Phillips.  Heck, even Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville had a great year.

I realize that the Patriots did the unthinkable and ran the table for the perfect 16-0 regular season, but don't think that it isn't tainted by the Spygate scandal.  And as a result, Belichick should not have won the COY award.  By Belichick winning, it's the NFL that loses.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

High-step hijinx

Perhaps I've fallen ill to the "good ol' days" syndrome, and I'm representing a sec of unsportsmanlike sore losers and bad winners.  Or maybe - just maybe - college football is getting a little too sensitive.

I sure think so.

In the first quarter of tonight's FedEx Orange Bowl, a Kansas defensive back intercepted a Virginia Tech pass and had nothing in front of him but yards of open field and end zone.

The DB took off, crossed midfield, started to pull away from the nearest Hokie, and as he got within the 10 yard line kicked his legs up a la Deion Sanders.  He high stepped in for six points.  Touchdown Kansas!

I guess that is disrespectful to Virginia Tech to high-step into the end zone, but I can't see that being such a flagrant display of poor sportsmanship that it merits a 15-yard penalty - which ended up being the result.  The same thing happened on a more flamboyant play in the Rose Bowl when USC's Desmond Reed flipped into the end zone.

I don't think the flip should have been a 15 yard penalty, but I can see how if perhaps a player flipping around got hit in midair, or perhaps missed the landing an twisted an ankle, it could be a problem.  But to that I would say, "Dont showboat into the end zone if someone is close enough to you where you might not score!"

But if you're got nothing but wide open spaces between you and the nearest defender and want to high-step into the end zone, there's no reason that merits a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

If anyone should be penalized, it should be the Virginia Tech QB who threw a ball that was destined for nothing but six Jayhawk points.  I think the "powers that be" of college football are getting too sensitive to these sort of things.

In the NFL, if a player spikes a ball after a non-scoring play, I understand a penalty in that situation because that does in fact slow down the game because someone must then go retrieve the ball before the next play is run.  But we are talking about a scoring play!

What's next?  Will referees be required to determine if players are in fact running full speed the entire time they have the ball en route to the end zone.  If a player slows up and jogs into the end zone after a long kick return or reception with no opposing player in sight, perhaps he deserves a 15-yard penalty.  Although, then officials must determine if he slowed down while approaching the end zone because he was tired or because he wanted to showboat.

What if a player dunks the football over the uprights?  Now he's not only mocking the football players but also basketball players!  EGREGIOUS! OUTRAGEOUS!    Or maybe it's just fun.

So why not let the players play.  Let them enjoy their highlight reel moments.  Even let them *gasp* high-step into the end zone.  In looking at the biggest problems in sports these days (referees gambling, performance-enhancing drugs, accepting money from boosters or agents, or even spying on other teams), high-stepping into the end zone shouldn't be the biggest problem.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Flutie not head-over-heels for flips

During the Rose Bowl halftime show, ABC/ESPN analyst Doug Flutie made a comment that perplexed me (not that that's a tough thing to do, but nevertheless--).

He said - and I'm paraphrasing - that Desmond Reed's flip into the end zone after a perfectly executed wide receiver pass was completely and totally uncalled for and that, if he were the USC coach, he'd sit Reed down for the rest of the game to teach him a lesson.

Hey, Doug, ease up man. Seriously, this is not an egregiously vicious helmet to helmet hit on a quarterback. Reed didn't take the ball and perform an elaborate two-minute skit a la the Bengal's Chad Johnson. He flipped into the end zone. Something that plenty of college football players have been doing all season.

Was it a little much? Eh, I don't think so. It's the Rose Bowl. As a player, you're fired up and when you get a chance to score a touchdown you should embrace it. Reed what excited to score. He was head-over-heels as we all saw. But to claim that Reed should be benched in the second half is ridiculous.

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