Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Patriots Derangement Syndrome

The decision by Robert Kraft not to continue fighting against the NFL over huge draft and monetary penalties imposed after the Ted Wells report on allegation of tampering with footballs won't lay to rest the hatred that has long existed toward his football team.   Kraft's reasoning not to continue fighting stems from fear of long-term damage to the game by pressing the issue, this even though objectively speaking Kraft is correct.   It is disappointing that Kraft has done this but understandable.

That it won't win him any support anywhere merely reinforces the reality of another wave of derangement that exists in the world - Patriots Derangement Syndrome.  

In the history of sports hated dynasties are fairly common, though in the NFL one struggles to recall national hatred of the Lombardi-era Packers or the Noll/Bradshaw-era Steelers or the Walsh/Siefert/Mariucci-era 49ers.   While the Oakland Raiders and their three Superbowls in the 1976-83 period earned a share of hatred due to dirty play on the field and dirty dealings by Al Davis off it, the long-standing poor play of the Raiders made them a joke rather than someone to genuinely hate.

The only two clubs to earn national hatred have been the Patriots of the Belichick era and the Dallas Cowboys.   Pronounced America's Team by NFL Films in their recap of Dallas' 1978 season, the Cowboys earned respect by twenty straight playoff seasons and the undisputed class of Roger Staubach and Tom Landry, but there was also a dislike of the team due to their national popularity.   When the Cowboys faltered after 1985 the hatred melted away, but returned with the surge to Superbowl success of Jimmy Johnson and the flamboyance of new owner Jerry Jones and players such as Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, Nate Newton, and Charles Haley.   The 1995 Superbowl season was especially contentious as drug addiction, sexual misconduct, and ever-escalating arrogance led to ever-escalating condemnation of the team - ironically illustrated when Deion Sanders called out the media over its criticism of Barry Switzer's 4th down attempt against the Eagles, a counterattack that rallied the team to its third Superbowl of the decade.   When the 1996 Cowboys collapsed to the Carolina Panthers in the playoffs,  the hostility showed when Nate Newton openly blamed the media for Dallas' loss, a reference to the accusation, soon proven false, of a gang rape by Irvin and several others.


But national derangement against the Patriots has gone beyond Cowboys hatred, beginning with New England's 2001 Superbowl surge; even today condemnation proceeds about New England's playoff win over the Raiders despite the objective reality of the correctness of an incomplete "tuck" call.   Complaints about the Patriots' physical play against the Rams began once Superbowl XXXVI was won, complaints that ignored that teams promptly used those same tactics to completely neutralize the Rams in 2002 to where Kurt Warner's career effectively ended by that October and the Rams deteriorated into irrelevance by the end of 2004.  

The hatred continued with constant mocking of Tom Brady's game.   "Dink and dunk" is the never-ending gripe; "he had to rely on his kicker" is also repeated against all evidence.   That Brady plays smart football - taking what the defense gives him and not trying to make something happen that cannot - wasn't "sexy" enough; that he played methodical football instead of trying to make it up as he goes - something other quarterbacks with more impressive volume stats tended to do - also aggravated a lot of fans.

The hatred extended to Bill Belichick, whose monotone press conferences have long grated reporters feeling themselves more important than they are and whose system has refused to rely on Name players or high draft picks but instead focuses on undrafted players, free agents, and depth, to where turnover of the roster is frequent and Brady has won Superbowls plus two additional AFC titles with what amounts to five different rosters.   Criticism of trading Deion Branch in 2006 is curiously still prevalent in some fan and media circles despite the fact his immediate replacement, Reche Caldwell, was a better player, staying on the field where Branch frequently got knocked out and posting the same numbers (60 yards per game) in non-Superbowl playoff games as Branch; Branch's lack of production in Seattle illustrated his overrated quality.

A curious case of refusing to understand Belichick's approach to roster construction is the 2009 draft where the Patriots have been criticized for refusing to draft Clay Matthews, who went to the Packers, instead trading down and collecting several players; they flipped one pick to get Julian Edelman in the seventh round that year, and it's proven a better investment than the overrated Matthews.

The media and the league office's misconduct about sideline videotaping in 2007 transmuted Patriot Derangement Syndrome into a genuine syndrome; the media and new commissioner Roger Goodell misread the league rulebook, thinking sideline taping of opposing coaches is a violation of NFL rules even though it wasn't. It began a pattern of Goodell's tenure as commissioner of always being unprepared, acting as a bully (which helps explain why Kraft decided not to continue the fight, as Goodell's stubbornness and his own derangement makes him get his pound of flesh even when he loses; Goodell's passive-aggressive backstabbing of Kraft in his presser the day after Kraft's illustrated this also), and always being caught by surprise, and it also continued the Mainstream Sports Media's pattern of inaccurate or grossly incomplete coverage of such issues (notably Ray Rice, with seemingly no one outside of the AP noticing Rice had told the truth to everyone about the fight that initially got him a two-game suspension).

It accelerated with the tail-chasing embarrassment that has been the investigation in allegation of football tampering, an investigation that produced ZERO evidence that any tampering ever happened yet smeared Tom Brady (via Goodell's predetermined verdict) and two ball attendants based on treating irrelevant text messaging - and assuming the refusal to turn over his cellphone to an investigation that couldn't control itself constituted some kind of crime by Brady - as something other than heresay.  

Suddenly attacking the Patriots had become a headline story on national news (though articles by notable writers such as Sally Jenkins, Dan le Betard, and Dan Wetzel suggest the Mainstream Sports Media is starting to get it about what really happened) and even in books such as the "untold" story of Spygate on the Amazon website, and countering with the facts has been drowned out by the rage for blood.    That people are tired of the same team winning every year is a natural reaction; as a league fan I've wanted teams that have struggled of recent to become winners again (notably the Titans, one of a handful of worthy opponents the Patriots have faced in Superbowl runs, as well as Houston - yes i catch myself calling them the Oilers - the Vikings, the Panthers - the best team that didn't win the Superbowl - the Lions, etc.), and it is curious that overlooked in the interregnum between Patriots Superbowl titles, seven other teams (the Steelers and NY Giants twice, the Colts, the Saints, the Packers, the Ravens, and the Seahawks) won the Superbowl.   That the condemnation maliciously ignores the facts is what is wrong.  

The Patriots revolutionized roster construction philosophy for the league and built a sustainable model for championship success; they've elevated the game to a level Lombardi, Bill Walsh, etc. could never reach.   And it is curious that the Seahawks have lately become the butt of online belittlement over their popularity, critics mocking it as somehow phony despite all evidence to the contrary.  

It may be the price of success.   Derangement, though, goes beyond reason.   The Patriots changed the game for the better; they defined it up - the critics need to stop defining it down.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Charlotte And NASCAR's Never-Ending Rules Dilemma

The NC 200 for the Trucks at Charlotte began as a thoroughly forgettable rout by Erik Jones, the latest young phenom out of Joe Gibbs Racing's orbit. Driving one of teammate Kyle Busch's Toyotas, Jones qualified second but started last (he missed the drivers meeting) with polesitter Kasey Kahne (sent back there for unapproved changes), in a Dale Junior Chevrolet. It took Jones all of 26 laps to make a mockery of the Truck Series' competitive depth and he led 79 laps, but a yellow in the final 30 laps set up the finest battle NASCAR has seen on a non-plate track in years, as Kahne sidedrafted to Jones and the two fought nose to nose for lap after lap, interrupted by two more yellows. The green-white-checker finish was the wildest finish in years as Jones and Kahne sidedrafted and both crossed up noticeably before Kahne got him by inches.

The best race in years comes amid the never-ending rules dilemma NASCAR faces as it prepares for 2016's rule package, a source of friction among drivers and seemingly everyone else as Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, and Tony Stewart have been vocally critical of NASCAR's 2015 package of reduced horsepower and reduced downforce, a package whose weaknesses were on display yet again in the subsequent All Star Race at Charlotte where there was almost nothing in the way of passing and Denny Hamlin stopped a rally by Kevin Harvick by making Harvick's Chevy run in his Toyota's dirty air, which in effect pushed back Harvick's car.

The Trucks make the discussion  more interesting because they also have less horsepower, more drag, and pretty much the same downforce, and the last few seasons they have seen some spirited battles for first on intermediate tracks, notably Kansas in 2013 and 2014 as well as recent years at Homestead and Atlanta.   "If you're wide open and not lifting, I don't know how you're going to get around that car in front of you," said Bowyer a few weeks ago, while NASCAR's Steve O'Donnell vowed not to "make change for the sake of change."

The whole idea that "Our sport is based on guys manhandling the cars" (Edwards) and "we've gone father and father away from that because of all the knowledge, engineering, and dependence on aero" would sound true except that people seem to continue ignoring that dependence on aero has never been a new concept - running wide open on intermediate tracks wasn't uncommon in the Petty-Pearson-Cale-Allison-Isaac era; there was controversy in 1976 when NASCAR went to smaller carbs six races into that season and drivers reported going flat out at Atlanta in the first race with them; as late as 1995-6 Charlotte famously saw racing in the All Star Race and the 600 where drivers were so surprised at how effective the draft had become again that it became a lengthy talking point on the telecasts.  

The Truck 200 at Charlotte again illustrates how all the talk can obscure that solutions are simpler than one might think.