Thursday, September 13, 2007

Your Cheatin' Heart

The Patriots cheated. We know this and Commissioner Goodell will soon be meting out some justice or punitive actions. How does this affect our perception of the New England dynasty and Bill Belichick? Does this revelation invalidate their three super bowls? No. Is there an asterisk of sorts next to their names? Time will tell. However, let's think about this, when would you be driven to cheat if you were a coach? Would you be driven to cheat when you've already won three Super Bowls and been anointed "Genius" and have your name mentioned in the same breath as Lombardi and Walsh? Or would you be more driven to cheat in the aftermath of a failed 5 year coaching job in Cleveland with doubters at every corner as you start a new coaching gig?

I recall that one of the things that has been constantly been said about the Patriots was that it was a team. There were no superstars, just team players. Players who weren't necessarily the most talented but always made the smart plays, the heads-up choices, the great reads, and were in the right place at the right time. The Patriots were characterized as very talented, but more importantly very smart and, savvy practitioners of the gridiron game. They were a reflection of their coach: disciplined and prepared. I think the fact that they've probably been cheating for a few years and have probably gotten familiar with the signals of their opponents (note the Patriots astonishing dominance of their intra-division rivals) goes a lot towards explaining why they were so good against those guys.
Please note that when they played NFC opponents, especially in the Super Bowls their performances were never dominant. It's probably why the Patriots have never really been considered en par with the 70s Steelers, 80s Niners or the 90s Cowboys. The routine dominance of the league was never there. These earlier dynasties are stacked with HOFers. I don't think NE is going to hit anywhere near the numbers of those dynasties with respect to HOF enshrinees (a pompous term btw).
Having said that, players make plays. You may know what's coming, but that doesn't mean you can stop it. Everybody knew the ball was going to Jim Brown, it didn't change things that much. Did the cheating give these guys an unfair advantage, sure, can we quantify in terms of Wins & Losses? Not really. The Pats made the plays, got a lot of lucky breaks, practiced gamesmanship that went too far and now will have to pay the price for that. The price is the eternal "they were great teams, but." Welcome to the world of Barry Bonds fans Pats followers. Your guys won three super bowls, flags fly forever. However, we can stop the debate about Belichick vs Walsh or Brady vs Montana. If there was ever a debate, it's stopped now.

In a bit.

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