Thursday, August 13, 2015

Patriots In The Way Of Goodell Turning NFL Into WWE

Hope or hate.

Those are the only two reasons why anyone watches professional football. Sure, there are the perverts (like me) who watch for the grace of the athletes, the speed, the power and the sheer size combined into explosive packages that collide once every forty seconds - but the casual fan, the ones who combine to comprise 95% of the National Football League's total revenue, thrives on hope or hate.

In theory, parity promotes hope for the fans of all 32 franchises, in that there is always next week and, as we have seen, any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday. But that doesn't happen often enough to facilitate true hope, as the power structure in the NFL reads like the oligarchic chart in George Orwell's disturbing fiction novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four...

...with the top, or inner circle, of the power structure populated by a few consistently top-performing elite teams, followed by a middle class of teams that are almost always in the playoff hunt, though not as prevalent or likely to compete for a title, while the majority of the league consists of what Orwell called "proles", a lower class of teams that in any normal environment would struggle to compete in same class as the teams in the Inner and Outer parties.

For years, the National Football league has been trying to break the cycle of oligarchy on the field by implementing rules and collectively bargaining revenue streams to ensure that even the consistently terrible teams have the means to compete against the elite and the middle class, but regardless of what they have tried, the fact of the matter is that the league can't just throw a bunch of money at all of these teams and expect that parity will ensue.

Every offseason, the NFL draft sees the worst teams in the NFL select at the top of class of college athletes while the elite teams select at or near the bottom of each round - and each year the teams who finish with the best records the previous season play a tougher schedule than the weaker teams - yet this has not provided the competitive balance that the NFL craves, leaving many of the downtrodden to lose hope for their teams early in each season, leaving only disappointment and seeds of anger and hate.

Yet, professional football thrives, because of hope and hate.

But hope, as Morgan Freeman said in the classic film The Shawshank Redemption, is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. Hope can fill a man's heart with anticipation and anxiety and, for a time, it can fill stadium seats - but hope is fickle, because hope ends. When the clock strikes triple-zero and your team hasn't won, the anticipation wanes, the anxiety isn't as intense.

After a while of the same thing, hope fades into resignation and stadium seats lie empty, all except for the hard-core faithful who, after a while, are considered insane because their hope made them that way.

Hate, on the other hand, is the most powerful of all emotion. Hate puts people in prison, hate puts people in the ground. Hate controls human beings like no other entity. Hate puts people in stadium seats, and keeps bringing them back, even when all hope is lost. Hate sells, hate produces motivation, hate fuels rivalries.

Hope cannot be restored simply by throwing money at the problem, nor can it be instilled in the fan base allowing them to select the top college athletes in each year's draft. It cannot be restored through salary caps, nor through free agency of athletes switching teams when their contracts run out. In this respect, money has nothing to do with the quality of teams, as human frailty and error are major factors not considered by economics of the sport.

A full seventy percent of Super Bowls won in the past 20 years have been taken by just six teams, or eighteen percent of the teams in the National Football league, with New England topping the list with four championships, followed by Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Denver, Baltimore and the New York Giants with two each. Five other teams have one title each in the same time period.

What does this prove? Only that there is a 31 to 69 percent ratio of teams that have won Super Bowls in the past 20 years, a very solid baseline that proves that the NFL's system that was supposed to level the landscape and give every team hope coming into each season has been a miserable failure -and with the loss of hope comes the impetus of hate...

...and a side effect of that hate is that the NFL has taken other measures to help ensure parity, namely, used their ever-evolving discipline policies to punish teams in a manner that limits them both in the short- term and the long-run, but even this hasn't turned the tides for the meek and downtrodden because the New England Patriots are standing in the way.

That said, is Roger Goodell trying to level the playing field for the other 31 teams in the NFL by hammering the Patriots with a ridiculous set of penalties for what amounts to a minor equipment violation in what has become known as "Deflategate"?

For the past 14 years, the power structure of the NFL, and certainly the American Football Conference, has dictated that any team that wishes to instill hope in their fan base has had to run through Foxborough, Massachusetts to do so - and the results have been staggeringly miserable - as in that time frame, the Patriots have won 12 division titles, played in nine conference championship games, and played in six Super Bowls, winning four.

This dynastic run started with the ascension of Tom Brady as the quarterback of the team, winning three Super Bowls in a four year span to start his career, laying waste to the NFL's parity plans.

Enter Roger Goodell as commissioner of the National Football League in 2006, whose campaign platform consisted of parity, both in revenue and in leveling out the playing field in the league so that the fans of bottom feeding teams like those in Cleveland, Jacksonville and Buffalo would have reason to hope, filling the seats at the stadiums and purchasing official NFL gear.

But instead of leveling off and sliding back into the pack, the Patriots kept building, making deft usage of the rookie salary cap and bringing in versatile players through free agency - not to mention never varying from their philosophies - and found themselves in that season's conference championship game, though losing to the Indianapolis Colts after blowing a big halftime lead, but with no sign of deterioration on the horizon.

The loss to the Colts still stinging prior to the following season, the Patriots loaded up on offense, trading for receivers Randy Moss from Oakland and Wes Welker from Miami, then signing free agent Donte Stallworth - giving Brady the best set of receiving talent in the league. Shocked and shaken by the juggernaut assembled in Foxborough, the New York Jets accused the Patriots of illegally video taping their defensive coaches signals from their sideline... investigation ensued and less than a week later, Goodell fined Patriots head ball coach Bill Belichick a record $500,000, the team $250,000 and docked them their 2008 first round draft pick for what Goodell claimed was a "calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play" - the penalties induced upon the team prompting Jets' coach Eric Mangini to quip that he didn't think it gave them any significant advantage as he reported it to team security and didn't intend for the league to become involved.

Their reputation tarnished, the Patriots responded with frightening intensity, putting together a historic perfect regular season and running up the score on every opponent, gaining yet another appearance in an AFC Championship game and yet another Super Bowl.

Brady was injured in the first game of the next season and was placed on the Injured reserve list for the year. Despite an 11-5 record led by backup quarterback Matt Cassell, the Patriots missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons - and with attrition catching up with them, the Patriots exited the playoffs early in the ensuing two seasons, many claiming that the Patriots' dynasty was officially dead, with parity being the watchword.

But this was just a brief respite, as the Patriots returned to the AFC Championship game in 2011 as Belichick molded his roster on the fly with such beasts as tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Shane Vereen and defenders such as Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo, Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower, loading up for what has turned into a four year run of consecutive conference title game appearances and winning this past February;s Super Bowl.

The Patriots' string of success prompted the reemergence of their dynastic ways, as New England has assembled what appears to be an even better team than the ones that have dominated the AFC for the last four seasons - and in response, for what Goodell has deemed and Integrity of the League issue rather than a simple equipment violation that carries a minor fine, the commissioner instead handed down the most damaging penalties on the Patriots in the history of sports.

For what an investigation found to believe that Brady had "General awareness" of team equipment managers deflating footballs below the standard set by NFL rules, Goodell fined the Patriots a cool million, stripped them of their 2016 first round draft pick and suspended Brady for the first four games of the 2015 season - outrageous, considering that the NFL rules call for a fine that amounts to chump change for the team, stating nothing about penalties for an athlete...

...the League's punishment czar Troy Vincent justifying in his discipline letter to the team and to Brady that the penalties were so severe because the Patriots were repeat offenders under the League's integrity mandate.

Of course, the entire debacle is now in federal court where it appears that the NFL is about to lose yet another case involving harsh discipline, but one has to wonder if these two incidents deemed to be in violation of integrity of the league bylaws are nothing more than a clandestine attempt by the commissioner to acknowledge his duty, as he sees it, to promote parity in the NFL and thereby giving the owners, players and fan bases of the other 31 NFL franchises a fighting chance.

Could this be why Goodell and his cronies in the NFL hierarchy structured the Patriots penalties to bring about the most severe restrictions possible. even over-reaching? Could this be why the league hired an attorney from a lawfirm that also represents the league in other matters to conduct what they called an independent investigation? Could this be why the league has been so relentless and stubborn in maintaining Brady's guilt, even though their independent investigation has been exposed as a fraud?

The damage to the Patriots is obvious, as they would lose Brady for a quarter of the season, not to mention that upon his return he will be rusty and need a couple of games to get back into the swing of things. If things go badly for the Patriots during that time, it could certainly spell the end of their dominance in the division and in the conference, and the loss of the first round draft pick could also hinder their team building process going forward.

If parity is not what is behind this, then what is it?

The Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens organizations are bitter rivals with the Patriots, the latter having lost two of their last three post-season meetings while the former hasn't beaten them at all since that 2006 conference title game, and both have been implicated as the fire-starters in the ball deflation controversy, and both organizations have petitioned the league's competition committee to change rules that they felt gave the Patriots a competitive advantage.

Did these organizations actually start the entire fiasco before us now, or did they, just like Mangini claimed in the "Spygate" controversy, just want the Patriots to stop whatever it was they were doing and not mean for "Deflategate" to become the albatross that it has become? If so, the savage manner in which the NFL has punished the Patriots for both instances smack of the league wanting to destroy another Patriots' dynasty before it ever gets going again.

That is, after all, what Goodell is commissioner for, to bring parity to the league.

But parity rubs against the spirit of competition at its fundamental roots. There is no room in football for parity. If there was, everyone would get a participation trophy and be happy with that.

There wouldn't be any incentive to be any better than anyone else, there wouldn't be any reasons to dig deep, to rise above, to give every last ounce of energy, nor to willfully give up blood, sweat and occasional tears.

With Parity, what one gets is the football version of professional wrestling, a choreographed parade of marionettes with Goodell pulling strings of the 32 owners in unison, each taking turns at holding the coveted Lombardi trophy until the commissioner decides that it's someone elses turn, teams also taking turns being the "face" of the league while teams like the Patriots are relegated to being "heels".

And while every other team limits their hopes due to human error and lack of integrity, the Patriots continue to strive toward perfection, undeterred by accusations and chants of being cheaters - if the owners, players and fans of other teams want parity in the NFL, perhaps they should try beating the Patriots instead of incessantly whining about them being cheaters.

Because when you have teams beating up on each other, and the axiom any given Sunday is invoked, what it brings about is a league full of mediocrity, and whether a fan base wants to have hope or would rather succumb to hate, either of those things are better than watching a product diluted by parity, no matter how it comes about.

1 comment:

  1. I am not sure how I missed this article. It is clearly, beyond any doubt, the BEST article (in my opinion) that I've read of yours so far. Are you kidding me? Hope/Hate Parity/Mediocrity Integrity/Collusion Discipline/Heavy Handed all of which added together, explain Deflategate to its very essence!! Bravo Michael, I honestly cannot see how this article doesn't win some type of journalistic award!!!!