And We Can’t Stop Watching!
It all starts tonight in New England, where the Patriots — with a straight face, no less — will smile and pose for the TV cameras as the NFL campaign kicks off with the defending champs hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers. We here in Baltimore are in a virtual no-lose situation with this one tonight in Foxborough. If New England wins, the Steelers start the season 0-1. If the Patriots lose, Tommy Boy and his snarky coach suffer the embarrassment of losing on Guaranteed Win Night in front of a national audience.
Despite the off-the-field wreckage of the last year in the NFL (Ray Rice, multiple cases of domestic violence, DeflateGate and, most recently, CheatGate), we’re all going to be watching tonight. And again on Sunday. And next Monday. And for the rest of the calendar year, in fact, we’ll be glued to the TV or making our way into the stadium to watch it all unfold in person. We’ll be engaged with the NFL because, frankly, what else WOULD we do?
I think it’s safe to say we’re all sick of the tabloid stuff that has dominated the NFL landscape over the last couple of years. Court cases, lawsuits, concussions, cheating scandals, wife beatings — it’s more of a mess than the 2004 Friends TV show spin-off “Joey” that starred Matthew LeBlanc.
In Baltimore, we had to confront the Ray Rice saga head on, our loyalties tested in a way that most fans would much rather avoid. When it’s the other team, they’re thugs, rapists and cold-blooded killers. When it’s your team, “he made a big mistake and he’s paying the price for it…but he’s not a bad guy.”
One of the teams in the spotlight tonight is an outright band of cheating misfits. We’re quick to crush the Patriots because, let’s face it, they’re football’s version of the professional wrestler who hides a roll of quarters in his sock and knocks out his opponent with them when the referee is distracted.
He gets away with it, smirks into the camera, and leaves the ring a hero.
That’s Tom Brady.
And Bill Belichick.
Might as well just put razor blades in their shoes. They’re not the only ones cheating, of that I’m certain. Plenty of teams around the league wish they were sophisticated enough to create those formations the Patriots came up with in last January’s playoff win over the Ravens. Some teams, without question, spend plenty of time trying to come up with ways to get an edge every Sunday. We’d probably all shudder a little bit if we knew how much rules-breaking goes on in in the NFL on a weekly basis.
In the end, though, the Patriots wear the scarlet letter because they’ve won four Super Bowls in roughly 15 years and each of them has some darkness surrounding it. The “tuck rule”, SpyGate, DeflateGate — I’m not here to say they won BECAUSE they cheated — after all, Brady picked apart the Seattle defense last February with “legal” footballs — but getting an edge and circumventing the rules has been a staple of the New England organization since Belichick and Brady partnered up.
So, then, why do we watch?
Don’t tell me you don’t, because you know you do. Why, though? Do we not care at all about the integrity of the game or have we become so consumed with gambling, NFL betting lines and our fantasy line-up that winning and losing doesn’t really matter all that much anymore?
That’s MY guess, by the way, on why we’re watching MORE football than ever before while the nightly sportscasts are filled with corruption, criminal allegations and legal angles. We don’t care that much who wins or loses, as long as we had the Falcons at +5.5 and they lost 20-17. If our fantasy team piled up 144 points to improve to 5-1 on the year, we’re happy no matter the scores and the results of the games. We’ve replaced the actual on-field competition — one that we can’t control and benefit from — with a couple of other pieces of competition that we have our fingerprints all over…gambling and fantasy football.
As you’ll see in today’s edition of Drew’s Morning Dish, I’m picking another team to win the Super Bowl this year. I’m doing that simply because I can’t fathom the idea of New England repeating. If you want me to apply football-talk to it, I don’t think they can run the ball well enough to open up the passing game for Mr. Wonderful — and their secondary is the pits. If they win the title with this group of underachievers, they deserve all the accolades they can get.
All that said, I’m sitting here today, September 9 (I wrote this on Wednesday night) picking someone else other than New England to win the Super Bowl, yet fully expecting — much to my chagrin — that the Patriots will figure out a way yet again to capture the prize. I just don’t have the heart to write it. I hope I’m wrong. They don’t deserve to win. But they probably will.
Pass the roll of quarters over here and let’s get started with the season.
Drew Forrester will contribute his weekly piece — Confessions of a Sports Nut — every Tuesday here at Russell Street Report during the 2015 NFL season. You can check out his daily sports blog at www.drewsmorningdish.com