By Ron Borges
March Madness is upon us and so bracket fever has broken out across America. People with little or no interest in basketball in general or college basketball in particular are suddenly plunking down a few quid, dinero, euros, pesos, schillings or dollars and trying to figure out if Geroge Mason can do it again two years after stunningly reaching the Final four (they can’t and won’t) or if Clemson or Pitt is for real.
And then there’s Davidson but for how long?
The beauty of The Final Four is that to get there you have to have to win thre games in some brutal competition on nights where emotion, luck and an underrated opponent can wipe you out in less than an hour of basketball.
Same is true of your bracket. Lose a Final Four team in the first or second round and you might as well chuck the whole thing into the ash can. With that as background, here’s one guy’s view on who survives the weekend and makes the Sweet 16.
North Carolina – Two fairly easy wins over Mt. St. Mary’s and Indiana keeps the east’s no. 1 seed alive.
Washington State – Wazoo wallops Winthrop and squeezes by the Notre Dame-George Mason survivor, which is likely to be Notre Dame.
Louisville – Boise State has no chance at this level when not playing on a blue field and Rick Pitino’s team also figures to be too athletic for Oklahoma-St. Joe’s winner. I’m going with st. Joe’s for sentimental reasons but the Sooners could steamroll them.
Tennessee – No. 2 seeded Vols are too tough for American University but could be in a death struggle with sharp shooting Butler, who gets by S. Alabama first. Butler could be the upset special but Tennessee is probably too big for them.
Kansas – Portland State, Kent State or UNLV, what does it matter? Only way they don’t get to the Sweet 16 is if Jerry Tarkanian comes back and brings Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and Reggie Theus with him.
Vanderbilt – Vandy is good. Very good. So is Clemson,k which makes their second round showdown one of the best games of the first weekend. I’ll go with the Commodores but Clemson is a sleeper with enough talent to get to the Final Four with some luck.
USC – Best freshman in the country won’t get them to San Antonio for the national championship but it will get them to the Sweet 16 after beating Kansas State and exposing Wisconsin as a fraud. Maybe the Badgers are more than they appear to be but big 10 seems like a weak sister conference this season.
Georgetown – Tough defense is back in vogue and big man Roy Hibbard knows he needs a big BIG tournament to get his value back up after an inconsistent senior season cost him his position as a for-sure NBA lottery pick. Made a statement in the Big East and should be up for big games against University of Maryland-Baltimore and Davidson, which is another possible Cindefella team.
Memphis – At 33-1 they may be the best team in the country. It would help their chances if they played defense, which they seldom do. That will get them one of these days but not this weekend.
Pitt – Polar opposite of Memphis. These guys play hard-nosed basketball, attack the rack and hound you on defense. An eventual Pitt-Memphis showdown would be a great contrast in styles.
Stanford - It’s always dangerous to put too much faith in any team whose nickname is “Trees.’’ This is especially true of Stanfordites, who can disappear into the fog of higher learning at any moment. Having said that they’re one of the best teams on the West Coast and those twins they have can play. Tough second game against Marquette, which is a sixth seed with a chance to go a long way if Stanford doesn’t stop them.
Texas – Any reason they can’t make the Final Four? Maybe but no way they don’t survive this weekend and move on to Houston and the regional finals at least.
UCLA – They’re not the Bruins of Alcindor or Walton but this is a team that could bring another national title back to Westwood. Unless they get stage fright nothing this weekend should slow them down.
Drake – These guys are the kind of team that can upset somebody and make some noise. UConn will be the first victim but maybe not their last.
Xavier – Mid-major with attitude. They have to get by another Cinderfella team in Georgia in the first round but the bet here is they will. Then it’s the Purdue-Baylor winner. I don’t think it matters which one of them reach the Xavier game.
Duke – Still one of the top teams in the country despite a few slipups that left them 27-5. If they get hot and play steady they could go all the way. But they’ll have their hands full against Bobby Higgins’ scrappy West Virginia team. I’d like to pick the Mountaineers in that one but I fear Duke’s tournament experience will allow them to squeak into the Sweet Sixteen. NO shock if they don’t make it though.
There you have it. We’ll see how we do and lay out the Elite Eight and then the Final Four in next week’s posts. If you disagree, and I’m sure you will, send in your favorites.
By Ron Borges
On the matter of Spygate, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has changed his story more times than John Kerry changes his mind.
First, it was nothing. Now it’s quite something. First “we’’ discovered it, then the Jets discovered it. First the Patriots “admitted it.’’ Then he remembered the Jets had a videotape of it before anyone admitted it so that probably made denying it a little difficult, even for Bill Belichick.
First we want to talk with Matt Walsh. Then we want to accuse him of being a thief, a rogue and a generally unsavory character and so we send an ex-FBI agent to try and prove it. After which we tell him we really do just want to talk.
First, we never got a letter from Sen. Arlen Specter. Oops, then I guess we did. And on and on this has gone.
The latest on Spygate seems to once again involve interesting timing, as this matter has from the start. Just as word is leaked that the NFL and Walsh’s high-priced Washington attorney are close to finalizing a deal that would allow the former Patriot videographer to tell what, if anything, he knows about Patriotic espionage in Foxborough, the Boston Globe comes out with a lengthy, one-sided indictment of Walsh’s character. This included such shocking revelations as: he inflated his resume and once got mad enough at his college roommate for using his bed to entertain his girl friend that he put a blender blade in it to convince them to cease and desist whatever activities were going on above, or below, his sheets. Did they mention he used to throw the daily paper into the hedge instead of onto the front stoop on his paper route as well? And, less we forget, he allegedly got fired by the Patriots for surreptitiously audiotaping his boss, Scott Pioli, during a meeting in which Pioli was being critical of Walsh’s job performance in the scouting department.
After reading this “month-long investigation,’’ several thoughts came immediately to mind. First, they put more time and effort into looking into Walsh than they ever did looking into the questions he allegedly is going to raise. Second, reporter Bob Hohler could have written an equally unflattering indictment of Bill Belichick, raising similarly extraneous issues that might call his credibility into question. I believe an unnamed former colleague of Walsh’s termed him a “loose cannon.’’ Well, didn’t the former president of the New York Jets, Steve Gutman, question Belichick’s sanity eight years ago? So what?
One could find a host of present and former Jets’ front office employees who vehemently believe Bill Belichick stole $1 million from the late Leon Hess, Jets’ owner at the time, claiming Hess allegedly gave it to him as a ransom to remain an assistant under Bill Parcells and then take over when Parcells left coaching. When Parcells left the sidelines a year later, Belichick left for Foxborough…with the money. At least that’s what they’ll tell you. So if this is a credibility argument there’s plenty of fodder to heap on both sides it seems.
The Globe apparently forgot it also has “guidelines’’ about the use of anonymous quotes. One is that they never be used to slander someone because who knows what ax the anonymous fellow or lady might have to grind. So what was the name again on the first quote in the Walsh article about being “a loose cannon?’’ “Anonymous.’’ So much for guidelines.
The article also mentions for no apparent reason that after leaving pro football Walsh, at 26 as is pointed out, took a job as a bag boy at a golf course on Cape Cod. The article adds this is a job normally done by high school and college students. So what?
If that’s significant, what does that make a college grad like Eric Mangini, when he decided to use his college education from Wesleyan to serve as a ballboy for, of all people, Bill Belichick, in Cleveland? And what does that make another Wesleyan grad named Bill Belichick when, after graduating from one of the top schools in the country, he chooses to work for room and board and then $25 a week for the Colts as a driver and gofer for then head coach Ted Marchibroda?
What it makes all three of them is young guys who decided to accept as low a job as there is to get into a business they thought they might like. According to the evidence it worked well for all three. The first two became million-dollar NFL head coaches and less than five years after Walsh took that bag job he was the assistant golf pro at one of the most luxurious golf resorts on Maui. Maybe being a bag boy was worth it since it led him to what he wanted on an island many people would call paradise?
So what we now know from this month-long ‘’investigation” is that Matt Walsh claims to have pertinent information on Patriotic espionage and 13 years ago was involved in a college prank that WEEI Monday tried to make sound like a knife attack. If his apparently lascivious roommate and his girl friend stayed off Walsh’s bed they never would have known what was under the sheets in the first place, would they? Regardless, what does that prove about whether or not he knows something about the Patriots’ videotaping practices under Bill Belichick?
The larger question remains. What is the hold up in making a deal with Walsh that both sides can live with and that frees him from possible legal action from the Patriots, the NFL or some as yet unnamed person (Ernie Adams? Ernie Adams? Ernie Adams?)?Goodell has been all over the place with this thing, at one point indicating the whole matter was blown out of proportion and then last week asking for Draconian powers to sweep into any team’s locker room, coaches boxes, sidelines etc. to search for evidence of cheating. Which is it? No problem or big problem? Only Roger knows for sure.
Which brings us back to the questioning of Matt Walsh. If the NFL really believes it is important to talk to him (which it is, regardless of whether he has what he implies he has or not because either way it either clears the Patriots or cleans out a nasty stench more than a few opposing coaches have privately complained about for years in New England) then talk to him. Give him the Brian McNamee deal – no problems as long as you tell the truth - and make clear that someone from the Patriots simply saying, “Oh no we didn’t’’ doesn’t qualify as proof that Walsh is lying.
That done, let him speak and let the public decide, a full airing being the best disinfectant in this whole mess. As for Goodell, the more he talks the more you wonder how deeply this cheating scandal goes.
The Commissioner is now proposing that the league require club owners, general managers, and coaches to certify annually that their team does not cheat and hasn’t broken the NFL’s anti-espionage rules. He wants the power to level greater penalties for teams that circumvent those rules. So one minute he says it’s all been taken care of so let’s move on and the next he’s sending out a memo last Thursday to members of the Competition Committee which was immediately leaked to the Washington Post (must mean it wasn’t the New York Times’ turn to be fed by the league office or else someone on Park Avenue remembered Specter’s office just happens to be in Washington) asking for enhanced powers to pursue cheaters where ever they may reside.
That’s the same Competition Committee whose members said last month at the scouting combine in Indianapolis after being briefed by Goodell that Spygate was a dead issue. So which is it?
“As the commissioner and the Competition Committee, we must take every appropriate step to safeguard the integrity of the NFL,” Goodell wrote. “We have already taken some positive and significant actions this past season, but we must go further to ensure fair competition amongst our 32 teams and maintain public confidence in our game.”
Goodell went on to say he wanted the league to keep closer tabs on its teams’ cheating, including having the power to spot check unannounced locker rooms, press boxes, coaches’ booths, the coach-to-QB communication systems and any other in-stadium communication. Why all that if the Spygate matter was no big deal?
John Mara, co-owner of the Giants and a Competition Committee member, later told the Globe he didn’t think “everybody was cheating at all’’ but he did assume some teams other than the Patriots probably had in the past. He emphasized he did not think it was “rampant’’ however and added, “”We’re all satisfied that it was handled appropriately and the punishment was meted out. We don’t think it’s happening anymore. To keep dragging it up and talking about it is kind of ridiculous.’’
Then why is the Commissioner asking for an enhancement of rules against cheating and the authority to bust into any coaches booth or locker room without warning if there’s no reason on Earth to do so?
Of course, if you’d asked him a week before the revelations about the Patriots if anyone was cheating in the NFL or if he needed enhanced powers to prevent video and audio cheating around the league, Goodell would very likely have said “That’s ridiculous,’’ which is why the NFL looks more and more ridiculous with each new announcement.
In the end we may never know the extent of what has gone on in Foxborough or elsewhere around the NFL but what we can assume is this much effort wouldn’t have been put into cover ups and character assassinations if there was nothing to the charges. Generally in professional sports, where there’s smoke there’s fire and where there’s frantic disassembling and reassembling of the “facts’’ it’s usually because the real facts aren’t too pretty.
Tags: Rants & Raves · Football
By Ron Borges
First it was stolen hand signals. Then it was destruction of evidence. Now it’s filming closed practice sessions and open denials. Where does it all stop? Maybe not where the NFL and the Patriots’ would like it to stop.
“Spygate II, The Encore’’ has not yet jumped the tracks on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick but it’s starting to careen out of their control and if that continues that is where the real problems could begin.
To this point, Goodell has unwisely treated this as the NFL treats most things – as a PR problem. He says he acted swiftly when the first charges were leveled at Belichick for cheating, although we now have learned he acted so swiftly that he fined him four days BEFORE the Patriots had produced the notes and tapes he was seeking. How do you mete out your punishment before you know what was done?
“Did they know the scope of the wrongdoing before the penalty was imposed?’’ asks Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter. “The answer is no.’’
Then, it turns out, Goodell had his minions, including an attorney who should have known better named Jeff Pash, destroy the evidence while they were still in Foxboro, a move Goodell still defends as “the right thing to do.’’ How is destroying evidence ever the right thing to do?
That action now calls into question the alleged “leaking’’ of a portion of one of those tapes to FOX-TV news maven Jay Glazer. At the time, Goodell was supposedly outraged at the leak. A witch hunt was launched netting no culprit. Yet now we learn the tapes were actually destroyed by Pash and NFL vice-president Ray Anderson while they were in Foxboro at the instruction of Goodell. What that means, if Goodell is now to be believed, is that either the Patriots leaked it to make themselves look foolish or Goodell’s associates did it because if they destroyed the tapes in Foxboro as he now says, no one else would have had access to them to leak them.
It seems a safe bet it wasn’t Belichick who leaked them to Glazer so who did? If Goodell is telling the truth it had to be either Pash, Anderson, the commissioner himself or one of his underlings because, according to Goodell’s story, no one else would have ever had their hands on them because they never got to New York.
Or did they?
No wonder Sen. Specter said of Goodell’s explanation last week, “The words absurd and ridiculous keep coming to my mind because he says it with a straight face.’’
What Goodell keeps saying are the kinds of things you say when you don’t have the high ground. He says, for example, that no one wants to talk with Matt Walsh, the Patriots’ former videographer who claims to have tapes and other information on the cheating scandal, more than he does yet he refuses to grant him the kind of immunity from a previously signed confidentiality agreement with the Patriots that would fully protect Walsh once Belichick said the simplest thing, like “He’s lying.’’
Having read both the league’s offer and the one proposed by Walsh’s attorney it is clear the NFL has no intention of providing Walsh with real immunity because as written all the Patriots have to do is what Belichick did in Monday’s Boston Globe and deny his allegations. After that the NFL’s “immunity’’ deal would not protect Walsh from the team suing him.
The simple, and larger, fact is this: if the league really wanted to talk with Walsh and the Patriots are so sure they have nothing to fear why not ask owner Robert Kraft to release Walsh from the non-disclosure agreement he was forced to sign when he was let go?
“Matt Walsh is an important guy and they have made it (the limited immunity deal) so conditional,’’ Specter told ESPN.com. “All they have to do is say, ‘We’re not going to sue you.’ It’s not a big deal.’’
If it is a big deal maybe Goodell should ask the Patriots why? While he’s at it, he might also ask why an employee so low on the organizational totem pole that Belichick told the Globe he couldn’t identify him in a lineup was forced to sign such an agreement in the first place? Eric Mangini didn’t have to and he quite obviously knew where at least one body was buried since he’s the guy who got this ball rolling in the first place.
When Specter asked the commissioner why a former FBI agent now working in league security named Dick Farley was allegedly investigating Walsh’s background at the same time the league claimed it wanted so desperately for him to come forward and cooperate, he admitted Farley worked for the NFL but, according to Specter, then told the Senator, “We didn’t know he was investigating him.’’
What is this the LAPD? You got employees destroying evidence in an investigation before you’ve seen it and a rogue investigator out digging into Walsh’s background without your permission and you, as high commissioner, don’t know anything about it?
Let us return to Sen. Specter’s point of view, “The words absurd and ridiculous keep coming to my mind because he says it with a straight face.’’
Rumors have been circulating of late that part of what the Patriots turned over was evidence of other team’s cheating ways as well as their own and that when Goodell heard about it he panicked and ordered all tapes and notes be destroyed. Why would he do that? Follow the money.
Perhaps because the league’s broadcasting contracts with its various television partners allegedly stipulate that the competition on the field must be real. If one team is illegally taping an opponent’s defensive signals or its practices to gain an unfair advantage over another, what does that say about the integrity of the competition? Goodell doesn’t know but he doesn’t want to be asked about it by lawyers for NBC, FOX or ESPN.
Belichick did come out Monday and emphatically deny ever having ordered or watched a tape of an opponent’s walkthrough, as Walsh allegedly claims he filmed the day before Super Bowl XXXVI, telling the Globe, “In my entire coaching career, I’ve never seen another team’s practice film prior to playing that team. I have never authorized, or heard of, or even seen in any way, shape, or form any other team’s walkthrough. We don’t even film our own. We don’t even want to see ourselves do anything, that’s the pace that it’s at. Regardless, I’ve never been a part of that.”
Later in that same article the rule in question was quoted and explained thusly: “The rule states: “Any use by any club at any time, from the start to the finish of any game in which such club is a participant, of any communications or information-gathering equipment, other than Polaroid-type cameras or field telephones, shall be prohibited, including without limitation videotape machines, telephone tapping, or bugging devices, or any other form of electronic devices that might aid a team during the playing of a game.”
Later the article said, “Belichick felt the Patriots’ actions were in compliance with NFL rules saying, “My interpretation was that you can’t utilize anything to assist you during that game. What our camera guys do is clearly not allowed to be used during the game and has never been used during that game that it was shot.”
Belichick went on to say, “I respect the integrity of the game and always have and always will. I regret that any of this, or to whatever extent it has in any way brought that into question or discussion or debate. The decision was made by the commissioner, the practice was immediately stopped, and we’re not doing it.
“Just going back over the whole taping incident, if I contacted the league and asked them about the practice, I’m sure they would have told me - as they have done - that it is not permissible. Then I could have avoided all of this.’’
Only one problem, they did. How he and the Globe forgot that is anyone’s guess but let us look at two salient points.
First, the rules on game day videotaping also state that: “…all video for coaching purposes must be shot from locations “ENCLOSED ON ALL SIDES WITH A ROOF OVERHEAD.”
How could Belichick mistakenly have thought there was a roof over the head of the guy he had doing that taping on the sidelines? Perhaps if he was in a domed stadium he might have been able to “misinterpart” that part of the rule as well but he was not, unless something has changed at Giants Stadium that we are not aware of.
Belichick also says if he’d asked the league they would have told him what he was doing was illegal and he “could have avoided all of this.’’ Well, unfortunately for his argument, they did.
Or did he misremember the memo sent to all head coaches and general managers on Sept. 6 that re-emphasized the videotaping rules for the sole purpose of avoiding just such a denial.
In that memo, Anderson, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, wrote: “Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent’s offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited ON THE SIDELINES, in the coaches’ booth, in the locker room or at any other locations accessible to club staff members DURING THE GAME.”
What’s to misinterpret? Was he thinking, “We’re so much better than the Jets, I didn’t think it was really going to be much of a game?’’
If someone can read that memo from Anderson and the full rules on videotaping and still utter what Belichick is quoted saying in the Globe then one has to wonder about the veracity of the rest of his denial.
Belichick said if he’d called and asked the league they would have told him it wasn’t legal and he wouldn’t have done it. Fine, but the inconvenient fact is they wrote him a letter WITHOUT HIM CALLING TO ASK and told him it was illegal and he did it any way. Yet he’s still arguing on Monday that it was merely a misinterpretation.
Which brings us back to Sen. Specter’s quite prescient comment on most everything about the handling of this matter to date: “The words absurd and ridiculous keep coming to my mind because he says it with a straight face.’’
AP Photo/Eric Jamison
By Ron Borges
Jermain Taylor didn’t find a way to defeat Kelly Pavlik Saturday night but he did manage to defeat many of his critics…unless one believes winning is of paramount importance in a prize fight.
Taylor was widely praised in some corners of the boxing media after losing a close but unanimous decision to Pavlik at the MGM Grand Garden Arena for having righted many of the technical wrongs he’d so often exhibited in the past. Yet while it was true that he moved more, stayed off the ropes, used his jab effectively and far more often than usual and kept his left hand higher than he did five months ago when Pavlik knocked him cold in the seventh round to take the middleweight title from him, in the end he lost because he finally gave in to some of those very same mental and physical flaws.
After nine close rounds in which Taylor avoided the kind of technical flaws and laziness that got him in trouble the last time he met Pavlik, he began to back up more and more as he tired, which is fatal to his cause. That led him to finally end up with his back along the ropes for the first time late in the 10th round and he paid deeply for it. Pavlik ripped him with a body shot as he lay resting that caused Taylor to pitch off those ropes as if he’d been scalded.
He fell into Pavlik with both arms wide open grabbing him in an embrace of temporary surrender. The former champion held on until the bell ended the round and when Taylor came out for Round 11 he was not the same fighter. He was now backing up more and more and throwing less and less, opening himself up to the Pavlik jab that had by that point already begun to close his right eye and dominate the fight.
The three judges at ringside all saw Pavlik coming on strong, one giving him four of the final five rounds, the second five of the last six and the third seven of the final eight (which seems a bit of a reach, to be fair). Those judges scored the fight 117-111, 116-112 and 115-113. My view had Pavlik winning 115-113 as well and also pulling away over the final four rounds, of which he won three. So while it is fair to point out that Taylor did seem more controlled, made better use of his jab and less often retreated straight back to the ropes, as he had more and more often in his past few outings, in the end he faded when it counted most once again and lost the decision to a guy who, though a powerful puncher and a solidly consistent fighter, frankly isn’t all that special.
“Taylor was better tonight than in the first fight but I was better too,’’ the undefeated (33-0, 29 KO) Pavlik said after his hand was raised. Those hands, by the way, ended up being examined in a Las Vegas hospital because Pavlik thought he’d broken the right one in the seventh round. If true, it only shows how superior he is to Taylor, who now will move up to 168 pounds to contend for the super middleweight title while Pavlik returns to 160 to possibly face the challenge of a well shot Felix Trinidad or (more likely) the defensively challenged John Duddy in June.
After the fight the 29-year-old Taylor came to the post-fight press conference sporting dark glasses, which have become a regular part of his post-fight accoutrements in recent matches (Bernard Hopkins, Winky Wright and both Pavlik fights), as have been the doubts about his technical proficiency.
The good news for Taylor and his handlers is that he did show improvement for the first time since the first fight with Hopkins, which he was handed by very questionable split decision. Taylor could ill-afford a repeat of the kind of crushing defeat he suffered last September and he managed to avoid that by boxing more patiently and, frankly, with a bit less passion than in the past.
He threw fewer punches and was outworked nearly every round by Pavlik, who throws a high volume for a guy with the kind of heavy hands he carries with him. That allowed Taylor to be more defensive this time and thus avoid a repeat of the sad fate that befell him in their last meeting.
Taylor’s decision, with the help of trainer Ozell Nelson, to move more, keep his left higher and avoid retreating until he found himself trapped on the ropes were all wise and the fact that he carried them out fairly well should not be underestimated. He did not do enough to win the fight but what he did do was enough to revive what had become a flagging career.
Now done with Pavlik, at least for the moment, Taylor can move to super middleweight and probably win some form of a world title quickly as long as he can manage to avoid getting in with the far more skilled Joe Calzaghe. It is a division really with only two fighters of note, Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler. The others to contend with are the likes of Anthony Mundine, Lucien Bute, Librado Andrade, Allen Green and the very flawed and perhaps shot Jeff lacy. That does not seem to be a lineup of guys Taylor will have to fear so look for a Lacy-Taylor type fight by fall.
The problem for him in that weight class is that if Calzaghe defeats Bernard Hopkins in April, he and Kessler will really be the only names at 168 pounds worth talking about. A Kessler-Taylor fight would be interesting because both have their flaws but Kessler is by far the more powerful puncher. It would be that power against Taylor’s superior athleticism, a situation not unlike what he faced – and could not face down – against Pavlik.
As for the undefeated champion, Pavlik now has many opportunities in front of him with no terribly dangerous challenger on the horizon unless you believe undefeated German Arthur Abraham (25-0, 20 KO) or the fading Wright (51-4-1, 25 KO) will offer him a test. What he does have is growing popularity, HBO’s support, the pigmentation that, frankly, still sells and opponents like Duddy and Trinidad who will allow him to do what is the aim of prize fighting – make maximum income with minimal risk.
Tags: Fight Predictions & Analysis · Boxing
Photo by AP
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.
Tags: Game Predictions & Analysis · Football · General
February 7th, 2008 · 5 Comments
By Ron Borges
For several days now New England Patriots’ cornerback Ellis Hobbs has taken a pounding in the local media and on talk radio for his supposedly poor coverage of Plaxico Burress on the game-winning touchdown pass from Eli Manning in Super Bowl XLII. Hobbs was quoted by one reporter after the game as saying the writer didn’t understand his assignment on that play and the writer’s response seemed to question the truthfulness of Hobbs’ statement.
Well, Ellis Hobbs’ first duty on that play was to do just what he did, which was prevent the slant. The reason for that is the Patriots went to a full blitz, which included safety James Sanders on Hobbs’ side of the field. If he did not prevent the slant Burress bursts into wide open territory in the middle of the field for an easy touchdown not unlike the one Randy Moss had just scored on the other end of the field to give New England the lead..
Hobbs’ next assignment was to get some kind of contact on Burress if he broke to the corner. That Hobbs was unable to do but the fact of matter is with the coverage and blitz scheme that was run if the Patriots failed to get to Manning quickly, Ellis Hobbs was toast.
Tennessee Titans’ assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, the former Cardinals’ head coach and Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator (as well as linebacker coach on the Super Bowl winning team that destroyed the Patriots in 1985), was asked the day after the game about the play and his thoughts certainly exonerated Hobbs.
“He did his job,’’ McGinnis said of Hobbs. “When you blitz inside on the goal line the corner has to take the inside away from the receiver. The only chance he had after that was to get his hands on him and he missed him but it’s hard to get your hands on him in that position.
“If he played the fade, they run the slant and it’s an easy touchdown. With all the contact rules they have today, and with a 6-5 receiver against a 5-7 corner in that defense, there’s an 80 per cent chance of a touchdown if he gets the ball off. That’s against a normal receiver. It’s damn near impossible with an elite receiver like Burress for the corner to stop that play if they don’t get to the quarterback in a hurry. They didn’t.
You want to blame somebody there’s a lot of other guys they could blame. Blame (safety Rodney) Harrison for not making that play on David Tyree. You have GOT to knock that ball loose. How about the three guys with their hands on Eli and they don’t bring him down? You want to blame somebody blame those the guys. How does he escape?
“If you’re carving up the blame pie for that loss Ellis Hobbs gets a pretty small slice. There’s a lot of other guys deserve bigger slices for that last drive.
“Hobbs did his job. Randy Moss did the same thing the other way when they took the lead. The corner was trying to protect against the fade and he ran a little slant, the corner slips and it’s an easy touchdown. Everybody wants to blame the last guy on the last play. It wasn’t Hobbs fault in my opinion. It was the defense they were in. Why were they blitzing in that situation? I have no idea.’’
Tags: Game Predictions & Analysis · Football
By Ron Borges
GLENDALE, AZ. – Nobody’s perfect, except the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
That is the sad reality the New England Patriots woke up to this morning, hours after being upset by the far from perfect New York Giants, 17-14, in Super Bowl XLII. The Perfect Patriots had been beaten. Hold up that parade. Cancel that book the Boston Globe had already begun to produce for profit about perfection in pads.
For perhaps the first time since the reign of the Patriots began, everyone had gotten ahead of themselves. That included beleaguered head coach Bill Belichick, who wandered out onto the field at University of Phoenix Stadium one second too soon to exchange handshakes with his old friend, Tom Coughlin.
The game was over but one second remained on the clock. The rule states that if there is time left a final play must be run, even if it is meaningless. Bill Belichick ignored the rules, both the written and the unwritten, which is apparently not a first for him.
When he realized what he had done, as the game officials tried to restore order and get the team’s lined up for what everyone knew would simply be a kneel down by Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning, Belichick turned and stalked off the field. Maybe the officials hadn’t heard but the rules don’t apply to him and, apparently, neither do the traditions of a game he professes to love. A coach does not abandon his team before the final gun. But he did.
One of his star players, Randy Moss, was pilloried a couple of years ago from coast to coast for stalking off the field in the same fashion with seconds left on the clock rather than stay and watch a meaningless attempt at an on-side kick fail. He was ripped for being a bad teammate and a poor sport. Wonder what those same sportswriters and commentators will say about his coach, who did the same thing Sunday night.
Character, or lack of same, is often revealed most clearly by how one reacts to defeat. For the most part Bill Belichick’s players reacted as you would have expected. They showed that they were the same people they’d always been. So was their coach.
Certainly this was a bitter defeat, the depths of which cannot really be understood by anyone but the team that experienced it Sunday night. Weeks ago their owner, speaking like the fan he used to be sitting in section 120, said if they did not win the Super Bowl the year would have been a failure. If it’s a failure to go 18-1 and lose the Super Bowl in the final seconds then the word needs to be re-defined.
This season was no failure. Nor should it be considered a disappointment. It did not end as the team and its fans had hoped but what happened Sunday night was that one gallant team was beaten, barely, by another. The Giants did what Belichick had so often said his team had done in victory. They made a few more plays. Not many but enough.
As for the Patriots, all that happened to them was that they lost the last game. They didn’t lose the “ultimate game,’’ as some call the Super Bowl every year, because if they had there would be no more Super Bowls and I can assure you the bean counters and the suits who run the NFL want no part of that.
All that happened was, in stirring fashion, one of the greatest teams eve assembled had been nipped at the wire. Sure they lost the biggest game of the season but so what? They had struggled and fought and given their fans no end of thrills and excitement all year. They did it right to the end. They were not perfect but who is? Maybe, in some ways, that is a reminder we all could use. Perfect? Who is?
The young Giants (and some of the old Giants as well) played like a young Patriot team had seven years earlier, when this all began. Every role had been reversed from the time when the Patriots were the underdogs and the St. Louis Rams came into the Super Bowl with the greatest offense ever assembled. Now the Giants were the Patriots and the Patriots were the Rams.
That night in New Orleans seven years ago New England’s defense, perhaps with an assist from Kodak, derailed the finest offense ever built, wining on the final play when Adam Vinatieri kicked a field goal that made them world champions for the first time.
These many years later, the Patriots were the team with the unstoppable offense. The Giants were the little defense that could, and so we all were reminded again that one of the things we love about sports is that we never know the outcome. Pundits can make bold predictions and fans can be cocksure that their team is unbeatable but no one is. Except those ’72 Dolphins, who remain the only NFL team to go through an entire Super Bowl season undefeated.
Excuses will be made for what happened by apologists and toddies. Blame will be laid here and there. Some will try to argue it was a Senator from Pennsylvania or a fired former employee who used to stand behind a video camera who caused the Patriots to become unglued. None of it will be true.
The Patriots lost because the Giants played better than they did. Not a lot better. Just good enough. That’s all that happened. It doesn’t mean New England doesn’t have a team to be proud of because it does. Give ‘em a parade any way because 18-1 is something to celebrate too. Or at least it should be.
Just because you don’t win the last game doesn’t mean all the games you did win are meaningless. It doesn’t mean your season is a failure or you are because someone else made a few critical plays. People who come to that kind of conclusion need help and not from a football team.
If you were proud of the Patriots at 6 p.m. Sunday night, as you should have been, you should have been just as proud of them at 11 p.m. They lost a game by then but they never lost heart. They lost a game by then but they didn’t defeat themselves. They lost a game by then but they came from behind and took the lead with time running out, forcing the Giants to beat them if they were going to be world champions.
The Giants did, so hats off to them. They did it because a guy caught a ball despite perfect coverage by Rodney Harrison and another guy bulled his way forward for a first down when both teams were near exhaustion and because a wide receiver who’d been shutdown all night made a play in the final seconds that answered another receiver who’d been shut down all day who had just made one himself.
So the Patriots lost the game. The Big Game, if you will. That doesn’t make them losers. It just makes them unlucky. This time, for the first time, they couldn’t quite get it done. Despite all they accomplished this season, some people will say that one defeat made their 18-0 season meaningless. They didn’t leave with the trophy so they didn’t accomplish anything in the eyes of the few who have lost sight of what athletics are supposed to be about.
Because you don’t win the last game doesn’t make you a loser. All it means is you didn’t win this particular big game.
To that, I say, so what?
The Buffalo Bills lost four straight Super Bowls once. It was one of the greatest achievements in football history. To go back again and again and again in the face of all that disappointment said much about them and everything it said was good.
Would they have rather won one Super Bowl then get to four? Sure, but that team was a great team. It didn’t need a Lombardi Trophy to prove that.
So is the 2007 New England Patriots. They didn’t have to win the last game to prove that.
Would they have rather been 17-2 and world champions? Sure, but that’s not what happened. What happened was on one Sunday in February somebody played a little better than they did.
Tags: Game Predictions & Analysis · Football
January 31st, 2008 · 6 Comments
By Ron Borges
GLENDALE, AZ. – On Sunday Steve and Zak DeOssie will join an exclusive club within an exclusive club. They will be among the small percentage of NFL players ever to have reached the Super bowl but they will be something far rarer than that.
They will be one of nine father-and-son teams to have reached the NFL’s annual “ultimate’’ game. This fact has left the 46-year-old elder DeOssie in a tight spot. He is an unabashed fan of both the New England Patriots and their head coach, Bill Belichick yet he finds himself rooting against them. Not that anyone with any sense could blame him for blood, even if shed on the football field, remains thicker than water.
“I’ve gotten some very friendly ribbing from Belichik, Robert Kraft and some callers (on WEEI, where he is a regular co-host on afternoon drive radio) but I was actually surprised,’’ DeOssie said of his public confession that he will be rooting not only for his son but also for their team, the New York Giants, in Super Bowl XLII. “I thought I might get some flak but everyone understands a father roots for his son.’’
Coincidentally, the elder DeOssie has ties with both the Giants and the Patriots, having finished his 12-year NFL career as a linebacker and long snapper in New England but having had his greatest moments in New York with the Bill Parcells-coached team that won Super Bowl XXV.
Unlike his son, who is a 23-year-old rookie with no real understanding yet of how rare a thing this experience is, DeOssie had already played seven seasons in the NFL before he reached Suepr Bowl XXV in Tampa. That year there was no two-week break between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl so DeOssie and his teammates flew through the night from San Francisco after beating the 49ers to Tampa, landing at around 5 am. When the plane touched down, DeOssie knew where he was headed.
“I had called ahead for a car so when we landed Everson Walls and I drove right over to the stadium and just sat in the parking lot at 5 a.m. and looked at it,’’ DeOssie recalled. “We’d been teammates for a long time in Dallas (five years). We just sat there and talked about being in that game. It seemed surreal until the game started.’’
That was the game the Giants won by grinding the clock down for 40 minutes and then holding on by about a coat of paint on the goal post as Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard kick that insured the Giants would upset the Buffalo Bills and their powerful offense, 20-19. That afternoon DeOssie, a linebacker and special teams standout, didn’t sweat a thing. He will not be so lucky this Sunday as he sits – or doesn’t sit – at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“I can’t remember once being nervous on a football field until I started watching my son play,’’ DeOssie recalled. “Not in Pop Warner. Not in the NFL. Not in the Super Bowl game. Now I’m a wreck every game. I end up pacing around the concourse or the press box.
“I know how brutal it can be in the NFL. It’s not that I’m afraid Zak will get hurt. He can take care of himself. When he was in college (at Brown University) he was dominating so I didn’t really feel it but the NFL is different. So many things are going on out there. I thought I’d be OK but I’m a nervous wreck. I won’t be fun to sit around on Sunday.’’
What has been fun is sharing this week with his son, Zak’s mother Dianna and their daughters but what may seem remarkable is that Steve DeOssie looks at his son’s Super Bowl far differently than he recalls his own.
“The one Zak is in is far more important to me than the one I played in,’’ the father said. “Watching Zak play is the best thing I’ve ever done in football. Not just here at the Super Bowl but in high school and college and now the NFL, too.
“Maybe I took the game for granted when I was playing. I don’t know but I do know this is infinitely more fun and more important to me than what I did.
“As a parent, your entire life is wrapped up in being sure your kids are successful and happy and healthy. That’s your true goal in life. Playing in the Super Bowl is great but it’s not a goal in life. Seeing your kids accomplish their dreams is.’’
Sunday afternoon Zak DeOssie will have reached his third dream in less than a year. He will have graduated with an Ivy League education, been drafted by an NFL team and reached the Super Bowl.
Sitting quietly on the sidelines taking it all in will be a proud father. At least he’ll be there until he starts pacing under the stands, fretting about a boy who has become a man to be proud of, a player to root for and a son to worry about.
“Zak seems to be the same Zak to me,’’ his father said. “The only advice I gave him was to take a little time to step back from the moment and take it all in. Don’t let it go by without realizing how big this is and how unusual it is to be a part of it.
“But he’s also got his perspective straight. This is a game. It’s not the be all and end all to anything. He’ll do all he can to win but the next day, whatever happened, his Mom, Dad and sisters will still love him and he will have had a rare experience.’’
So will his father, who is one of the few to have been part of a Super Bowl team and one of the rare Fraternity of Nine fathers to ever have shared that experienced with their son.
Tags: Rants & Raves · Football
January 30th, 2008 · 3 Comments
By Ron Borges
The formula for beating the unbeatable Patriots is a lot easier to come by than to execute. You play to win or you prepare to lose.
Those are the simple options facing Tom Coughlin and his New York Giants Sunday night when they try to upset the unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. If they do it, it will be one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. Doing it will not be easy but figuring out what has to be done is.
Unlike the Jacksonville Jaguars, who blitzed only eight times against New England in their playoff loss to them, the G-Men have to sellout to get to Tom Brady. That does not mean they have to blitz in every passing situation but it means they have to find ways to be painfully disruptive to Brady. They have to squeeze the pocket from the wings and, most importantly, they have to get pressure in his face so he is not free to step forward or slip one step to the side, two things he’s so adept at to buy another second of time.
If the Giants can do that with their four-man rush that is, of course, the best route since it will leave them with seven men in coverage with a minimum of only five receivers to defend. But if they cannot get there with their front four alone – as well they may not – Giants’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo must take the risk of sending more bodies after Brady because there is no other way to beat him.
Drop five into coverage, make it a seven-on-seven drill if you’d like, and it won’t matter. Brady has destroyed teams that have opted to limit their rush and maximize their men in coverage week after week, month after month, year after year. Why should it be any different at University of Pheonix Stadium on Sunday?
It won’t be. Sure the Giants have to closely monitor the movements of Randy Moss, as they learned in their Dec. 29 loss when Brady found him wide open behind their blown coverage two plays in a row to a fatal ending for the Giants. But beyond that, their first order of business has to be to get to Brady enough to make him feel the need to unload the ball a little quicker than he’d like. That is what San Diego did and has done in the past, which is part of the reason he has had less than stellar games against them.
Having said that, the Chargers had the advantage of better and more reliable cornerbacks than the Giants have so Spagnuolo has a difficult situation to deal with if his front four can’t get to Brady enough on their own but he has to gamble that he can survive with five or six men in coverage at times if pass rushing problems develop for his front four.
They very likely will develop because, if you recall, on Dec. 29 the entire right side of the Patriots offensive line plus tight end Kyle Brady were all on the sidelines with various aches and pains. That’s no knock on Russ Hochstein and Ryan O’Callahan, who replaced Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur ably enough, but the fact is any team that has 40 per cent of its starting offensive line on the bench plus their best pass blocking tight end against the kind of pass rush the Giants can muster is at a disadvantage of some significance.
That won’t be the case this time so Spagnuolo must either find ways for his front four to reach Brady on its own or bring reinforcements because he will not beat Brady in a game of seven-on-seven. He might for a while but not for long enough.
Offensively, the Giants face the opposite situation. They cannot put too much pressure on quarterback Eli Manning to win the game. What Coughlin and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride need to do – and what Bill Belichick surely knows – is to shorten the game in the same way their mentor, Bill Parcells, did in Super Bowl XXV.
Facing the high-octane Buffalo Bills K-Gun offense, which was often operating out of the no huddle, Parcells knew ball control was paramount. He pounded his running game at the Bills, holding the ball for 40 of the game’s 60 minutes and holding on for a 20-19 victory. This Giant team doesn’t seem likely to be that dominate at the line of scrimmage but it has to try with bruising Brandon Jacobs slamming away at New England’s sometimes vulnerable run defense. Engage in a shootout and you’re committing football suicide.
Yet even if they can do that they must do more and that is what will be most difficult. They must be conservative most of the game but bold when their moments come. That is what the Chargers’ Norv Turner failed to do and therein lay the reason behind San Diego’s demise in the AFC title game.
The Chargers blew whatever opportunity they thought they had at victory in less than 12 minutes of the second half, beginning when they got stuffed on third-and-1 at the Patriot 4 for a two-yard loss and opted to kick a 24-yard field goal to cut New England’s lead to 14-12 with 8:31 to play in the third quarter rather than gamble on fourth-and-3 at the 6 by going for the first down.
Had they done so and failed to score the touchdown, New England would have been pinned deep in its own territory with limited options. Had San Diego then held, its offense would have gotten the ball in good field position for a second run at the Patriots defense still trailing only 14-9.
What happened instead? They cut the lead to 14-12 but then allowed Brady to move the Patriots to their two-yard line before throwing an interception in the end zone. They then compounded their lack of boldness earlier by being too bold this time when Antonio Cromartie tried to run that interception out of the end zone and was tackled at his own four. Instead of first-and-10 at the 20 it’s first-and-10 at their own four, with San Diego’s offense now facing limited options because it was in the situation it could have left the Patriots’ in minutes earlier if it didn’t get the first down it needed at the other end of the field.
Five plays later San Diego had to punt, New England got the ball at its 33 and drove the field for a touchdown and a 21-12 lead with barely 12 minutes to play. Game over.
Why? Many reasons, including the Patriots’ superiority when they needed to be but mostly because the Chargers refused to be bold when it was imperative they do so - on fourth-and-3 at the Patriot 6 - and being foolishly bold when they needed not to be - after Cromartie’s interception in the end zone.
The Giants would be wise to look at that 12-minute scenario and remember it on Sunday for the only way they can win is to be bold when their moments arrive and cautious the rest of the time.
Attack Tom Brady. Attack the Patriot defense in the red zone. Otherwise play smart. Play like guerrilla warriors. Win by controlled aggression and patient resolve.
Attack, in other words, the Patriots the way they did the Rams a few years back when they were the heavy underdogs and The Greatest Show on Turf was the unbeatable force in front of them at the Super Bowl.
Those Patriots won because they were bold and aggressive when it was right to be but wise and risk averse when that was the proper approach. The New York Giants can win with no other formula than that one.
Tags: Game Predictions & Analysis · Football
By Ron Borges
Up until last week the fans voting in the Herald’s bracketed competition to name the greatest Patriot of all-time (did we have any doubt who that would be?) were pretty much on the money.
For example, they kept linebacker Mike Vrabel going farther than his No. 10 seeding would have seemed possible and they were right about that. They also eliminated some stars of the moment in favor of bigger but more faded stars of the past.
In the end, it came down to Tom Brady vs. Hall of Fame guard John Hannah and hall of Fame finalist (twice) Andre Tippett vs. Super Bowl hero kicker Adam Vinatieri. This is where the fans got derailed by a moment in time over a career.
While it’s always hard to argue that a player in the Hall of Fame is not superior to an active player, it wasn’t in the case of Brady vs. Hannah. Great as Hannah was, he was still only a guard. Brady is the consummate quarterback and the genius behind all of the Patriots’ recent success.
It was, in reality, a battle between two sure-fire Hall of Famers, one already in and the other biding his time until he’s eligible. Quite rightly, the fans opted for Brady, as befit the importance of his position and the skill with which he plays it.
Which brings us to Tippett vs. a kicker. Now admittedly, Adam Vinatieri is really THE KICKER, after having won two Super Bowls with last second field goals as well as winning the final game ever played at Foxboro Stadium with an overtime kick after he’d first forced overtime with a knuckleball 42-yarder in a blizzard kick that tied the game against the Oakland Raiders and gave New England its first playoff win in what would be a magical run to their first Super Bowl championship.
Having said that, the fact is there is only one pure kicker in the Hall of Fame. That’s Jan Stenerud. Some argue there should be more but the voters have consistently limited pure kickers, apparently believing they are something less than football players.
Suffice it to say this, Adam Vinatieri was one of the most important role players in Patriot history and his roles were mostly dramatic ones. But Tippett was not only the greatest defensive in team history but widely seen as second only to Lawrence Taylor among outside linebackers of his era.
Tippett was a member of the All-Decade team of 1980s along with Taylor, chosen by the Hall of Fame voters, and was recently named along with Taylor by a panel of 50 former players and coaches (22 of them Hall of Famers) to the all-time 3-4 front.
Adam Vinatieri could kick but he didn’t have the kick of an Andre Tippett, who should have gone on to the finals, where he, instead of Vinatieri, would lose to Brady in this week’s vote.
But the voters have spoken and the finalists are Brady vs. Vinatieri. Anybody voting for the kicker?