By Ron Borges
The chickens came home to roost for Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick and their players paid the price for it Sunday in Honolulu.
For the first time anyone could remember, six members of the Pro Bowl were booed when they were introduced to the normally laid-back crowd at Aloha Stadium. Why? Not for the rationalizations they used to try and explain it away.
Sheepish left tackle Matt Light said after the game, “I’m not sure this is the kind of place for boos,’’ and he’s right. Yet down they rained on him, Vince Wilfork, Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins, Mike Vrabel and Asante Samuel. Predictably, Vrabel blamed the media because in his mind it’s always the media’s fault, except for those times when he’s using the media to get out his message or cash a check. Cheating coach? Nothing to do with it. Running up the score or your opponents? Just playing the game. Cheap shots on the upswing? We just play harder than everybody else. Booed? It’s because we always win…even after we didn’t.
To Wilfork it was something else all together. Typically his first reaction was confusion similar to what he showed each of the four times he was fined this season for dirty play. Then there was the by now predictable mocking tone of “We thought it was kind of funny’’ followed by the oldest saw there is – “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.’’
For all of them it wasn’t pleasant to go through yet the reasons why it happened have less to do with them (except for the increasingly dirty play of Wilfork and a few of his teammates) than with the way their superiors acted this season and, apparently, in the past.
When this all began eight years ago they were the loveable Patriots, symbols of team play and selflessness. Their successes, based often on doing more with less, were wildly and widely applauded. But this season a tone of arrogance and conceit began to surface. When it was coupled with the sins of their head coach - now twice accused of cheating in an ever escalating scenario where “they all do it’’ is beginning to wear a bit thin - it turned the team America admired into the team America is sick of.
The Patriots were always the ones who let their play do the talking yet after Giants’ wide receiver Plaxico Burress predicted his team would win the Super Bowl, 23-17, which was the combination of the uniform numbers he has worn, quarterback Tom Brady responded in a way he may now regret.
First he said “That’s all he thinks we’re going to score, 14 points?’’ A reasonable response considering that Brady directed the highest scoring team in NFL history. But then he couldn’t help himself. He had to add, with a swarmy smile, “Is Plax playing defense?’’
No, as it turned out he was playing offense and he was wrong about the score. Brady’s Patriots couldn’t mange even those 17 points against the Giants while Burress, who didn’t play defense, scored the winning touchdown on offense.
Small transgression by Brady to be sure, but unlike the kind of responses that he and his teammates used to be known for back in the day when no one in that Pro Bowl crowd would have booed their appearance.
But one remark does not lead an otherwise neutral crowd to boo some of your best players at an All-Star game. So what does?
Local fans can make excuses for cheating and lying about it but those further away from the scene of the crime have a harder time doing it.
Local fans can make excuses for running up the score and then not having the guts to admit you’re doing it but those further from the scene of the embarrassments have a harder time excusing it.
Local fans can say storming off the field like a petulant child because for once your team is on the wrong end of the score was a case of mistaken clock reading by Belichick, Brady and others even though the guys reading the clock were supposed to be the most detail oriented guys in the game but others further from the scene of such a petty act have a harder time ignoring it.
Did Brady go to the center of the field and shake the hand of young Eli Manning the way Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning shook his after swallowing equally bitter defeats? No he didn’t, he scurried to the tunnel along with many of his offensive teammates. Sure he was disappointed but so were the Rams and the Panthers and the Eagles after they were beaten by Brady and the Patriots. Warner, Jake Delhomme and Donovan McNabb all walked up to Brady then and shook his hand. He couldn’t do the same? Or has it come to the point where some of the Patriots feel it’s their right to win and their opponent’s right only to be their victims?
I wonder what Patriot fans would have said had Tony Dungy walked off the field before the end of one of those losses to the Patriots or if Joe Gibbs had left the sidelines in a huff with time on the clock after Belichick humiliated him and his team this season by running the score up? I doubt it would have been that they misread the clock.
But, for the sake of this discussion, let’s say Belichick did misread the clock. Did defeat also make him go deaf?
Clearly referee Mike Carey stopped him and asked both him and Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin to return to the sidelines and get their players there as well after the two exchanged sporting handshakes. Coughlin did. Belichick abandoned his team and ignored the referee’s pleadings even though the rule is the clock stops on a change of possession and a final play must be run if there is any time left, which there was. He’s a master of the rule book as well as the playbook so how did Bill Belichick miss that one?
What was his explanation a day later?
“There wasn’t much else to do,’’ he said.
How about doing what every other coach does, which is stay to the end of the game. That’s with the exception of Dennis Green, who did the same thing on his last game with the Arizona Cardinals? If I were Bill Belichick I’d rather be in league with guys like Dungy, Gibbs, Bill Cowher, Don Shula and so many others who stood their ground in defeat than joined with Dennis Green. Then again, as Green once put it so eloquently, “They were who we thought they were.’’ So was Bill Belichick.
Now, of course, we also have the latest charge that the Patriots allegedly filmed the St. Louis Rams’ walk-through the day before New England’s upset of one of the highest scoring offenses in football history in Super Bowl XXXVI. The Patriots deny it and their apologists say, in the words of the schoolyard, “So what if we did?’’ Huh?
Kraft was quoted during Super Bowl week comparing his head coach’s sometimes inexplicable behavior as somehow analogous to that of a great musician who sees things others do not. Does that include an opponent’s practices before the game?
Kraft is the first to claim, as he has every time there’s been a new allegation of cheating, dirty play or running up the score, that these charges are the product of his team’s success. Then why didn’t it happen after their second Super Bowl victory? Or their third, after which they were still spoken of in reverential tones as the franchise everyone hoped to be?
What changed now, after three straight years of NOT winning the Super Bowl?
Maybe they did. Or maybe the need for 40-point winning margins and Kodak moments finally became too much and six guys who deserved applause got booed instead.
Either way it was a sad end to a successful season.