OK, OK, OK. I wasn’t even gonna bring this up, but I’ve been barraged by emails (barrage may be a wee bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea, right?) taunting me to say something about it. What? Am I the only opinionated Patriots fan in the blogosphere?
So, caving into all of you who have baited me into the obvious trap and throwing more fire starter on an already incendiary issue, here are my thoughts . . .
- Did the Patriots cheat? Bill Belichick broke the rules. Period. Is he the first one to break this particular rule, no. Is he the last, no. It’s an NFL rule that while good, is very general and hard to police. Everyone watches out for patterns in their opponents signals and play-calling. Everyone. Removing the camera from the field, does not remove the binoculars from the coaches in the sky box of the stadium or the eyes of the players and coaches on the sidelines. Let’s face it, the point here and its resultant penalty is not about cheating, it’s about doing something that the new NFL commissioner expressly told coaches not to do in writing before the beginning of the season. Doing so flies in the face of the commissioner’s authority and desire to exercise his new power. That makes what the Patriots did wrong and guilty as charged.
- Is the penalty reasonable? The money is steep, but for Belichick, Kraft (the owner of the Pats) and the Patriots, it’s not a killer by any means. If that level of financial penalty was put on some of the coaches and teams in the league, it could be a killer. The level fined will send a message to coach and team, alike, though. The bigger pain comes from the loss of a draft pick. Some say it doesn’t matter because the Pats can just go to the free-agent market to get the talent. I disagree. Bringing youth onto a team, especially an aging one like the Pats, is critical in the long term. Therefore, I think the loss of draft picks, especially a first-round pick, represents a real punishment. Additionally, taking away draft picks is taking away negotiating leverage too. Since draft picks can be traded, the specified penalty will remove that currency from the Patriot’s pocket. Of course, the biggest punishment is the tarnishing of the club’s image, which is recognized by most as being squeaky clean – the team that can civilize Rodney Harrison and Randy Moss, right? Getting that back and fighting off the man on the street’s belief that they may have won 3 Super Bowls because they cheated is a much bigger deal.
- Is the penalty fair with respect to other recent ones handed down by Roger Goodell? The new commissioner has been busy trying to straighten things out in the NFL and trying to clean up some of it’s seedy image. The decision against the Pats is just the latest in the punishments he has doled out. To compare this one with others handed to individual players facing felony or weapons charges or taking performance enhancing drugs is absurd, in my opinion. A comparison with the 5-game suspension handed down to Wade Wilson, quarterbacks coach for the Dallas Cowboys, however, seems like a reasonable one. In light of the Wilson punishment, one could argue that Belichick should have been suspended for some number of games. I’d argue that Wade Wilson (accused by the NFL of taking HGH) is 1. not a head coach and 2. unlike belichick, actually broke the law. I believe that Roger Goodell mentioned the second point when asked about this topic yesterday.
- Will this hurt Bill Belichick or this year’s team? Hard to say, but at the game last night (Patriots: 38, San Diego:14), Belichick got a standing ovation from the hometown crowd and the Pats totally destroyed one of the NFL’s elite teams. It’s hard to imagine after last night how the situation will hurt the team as the season moves forward and time brings other news to the forefront. I would think that football fans will always carry some of the memory of this moving forward and it will dog Belichick for a while. Time heals all wounds, though, and by the end of his career (geez, maybe by the end of this season), it will be mostly forgotten. There was also a rumor that Bob Kraft would fire Belichick for this but, in an example of truly great management moves (I mean this sincerely), Kraft extended Belichick’s contract through 2012 yesterday. Now that’s how to publicly demonstrate support for an employee.
As is probably obvious, I’ve got an unhealthy level of emotional involvement with my local football team. Hey, I’m from Boston, that’s what we do here. I was pretty depressed when this whole thing came down and I don’t think I’ll get over it for a while. Yeah, I know, I should get a life. In the mean time, the Pats look, to quote Sports Illustrated, “scary good.” I think winning is good therapy for me and I need about 14 more sessions to fully recover.