Running it up
Apparently, now it's personal. The consensus among commentators, whether they are NFL players, former players or the people who write and talk about them, is that if other players or teams don't like the Patriots running up the score on them, and they don't do something about it (like maim a couple of them every chance they get), then they're a bunch of wimps.
Furthermore -- and this is where it gets personal -- any non-player who doesn't like what the Patriots are doing is a wimp, too.
This column in this morning's Washington Post isn't the only place where this has been proclaimed, just the latest, and the fact that it's proclaimed by one of the best in this business, Sally Jenkins, only tells you how ingrained this idea is.
I don't like to think I'm soft. I don't think I have to prove I'm not by detailing my appreciation for NFL players getting busted in the mouth. But hell no, I'm not buying this idea that this garbage the Patriots are pulling is something admirable, that should be glorified and stands as a testament to the greatness and superiority of Bill Belichick.
It's selfish. It's juvenile. It places the Patriots and their pompous coach above the rest of the game, as it stands now and as it has been played for its entire existence. It disrespects all the players and coaches who have come before, who are here now and who will come after them.
It's extremely phony, because it presents the false premise that the team that rolls up the biggest margin of victory is the team that really is the best ever. It's ugly to watch and impossible to appreciate. It takes the beauty that otherwise would be inherent in dominance, and blows it completely out of proportion and destroys perspective.
It's the height of cynicism, watching a supposedly respected coach try to "take it out'' on opponents because he was caught flagrantly violating one of the most basic of NFL competition rules. And having his players, otherwise decent people, widely admired for their professionalism and lack of ego and pretension throughout their run of Super Bowls, buy into the misplaced vindictiveness, and become the same obnoxious boors they once were the antidote to. This, again, we're supposed to admire, and if we don't, we're punks, or haters, or hypocrites because everybody in the NFL cheats, or because you'd love it if your team could do it, but they can't, because they're punks. That's a depressing way to live, think and root.
Worst of all, it's stirred up blood lust in other players and in observers, whose desire to see Tom Brady have a helmet driven into his chest grows with every gratuitous fourth-quarter touchdown and resulting wild, overexuberant celebration in a 45-0 game. Is that what we really want -- players rejecting their own internal codes and destroying fellow players' careers, only because those players rejected the code and went out of their way to rub a loss in the faces of them, their organization and their fans? That's supposed to be fun? More fun that the NFL has provided in the previous 87 years? That NFL wasn't good enough for us, so this is what we need?
There are standards that have been set by NFL teams before, by men like Lombardi and Shula and Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh and, yes, Joe Gibbs, whom Belichick saw fit to treat like a bum last week. If those teams didn't shame and humiliate every opponent throughout their years of dominance, it was because they felt they didn't have to, not because they weren't able to. They didn't think they stood above and apart from the rest of the sport, even though they had egos and smugness and enemies. But they also had respect for the sport and those who gave their lives to it.
If you were losing 31-0 in the fourth quarter, and all the starters were on the sideline with their pads off and were laughing, and the backups were either running it up the middle or taking a knee -- guess what? You knew you had been whupped. You were suitably embarrassed. Making it 51-0 with the starters still bombing and blitzing away meant that the other team's goal had risen beyond just winning and excelling, and there literally would be nothing good on either side that could come of it. It wouldn't leave the impression that the team beating you was that much better than the one that "only'' won 31-0, that's for sure.
The idea that somehow those legendary teams are inferior to this Patriots team (which still has played only half a season) because they didn't bludgeon teams by 45 points and leave their starters in deep in the fourth quarter and keep throwing deep downfield and go for it on fourth downs with five-touchdown leads and scream and yell and pump their fists and spike the ball and beat their chests after every extra layer of humiliation and dare the other team to go outside the rules of the game and basic decency to cripple their star players -- well, that idea is not only ridiculous, but insulting to them.
That's what the Patriots and Belichick are. They're an insult. They're not inventing anything new and fresh for the NFL by doing this, they're introducing something ugly and pointless. The game is not better because the Patriots are doing this, it's worse, and it'll only get worse the more they do it.
They're treating a sport, its history and its reality like their locker-room urinal, all because they got busted red-handed. You can bet if they get the chance Sunday, they'll treat the Colts that way, too, which means they'll treat Tony Dungy that way, and a man like Tony Dungy doesn't deserve to be treated that way by a lowlife like Bill Belichick, no matter how much of a football genius Belichick is.
Go ahead, Patriots, win another Super Bowl, go undefeated, make history. But don't act like you're above the game and beyond its rules and codes and history. Not any more than you already have, that is.
But, you know, I'm the one who's soft. I've got these stupid standards and scruples. I hate it.