R-E-S-Please Go AwayYours truly has the utmost respect for professional football players. I'd have even more than that if they'd just shut the fuck up about their delicate egos. NFL athletes are big, strong, tough, and apparently more sensitive than the average Project Runway contestant.
There's strange behavior, and then there's the twisted kind. Spending the better part of three hours in ultra-violent hand to hand combat with another team, only to get upset because they did a dance at the end falls squarely into the latter area. For that matter, so does doing the dance in the first place. Hey, Ellis Hobbs! You just knocked the Chargers out of the playoffs! Trust me, your Shawn Merriman impersonation won't make them worse about that.
This sort of mutual idiocy has become de rigeur NFL behavior. That's no excuse. Digging a little deeper into the psychic pit taunting and showboating represent, we find what Dr. Amos Alonzo Freud called "projection."
LaDainian Tomlinson usually stands aloof from "hey ma, lookit me!" shenanigans. It wasn't too difficult to guess why the Charger star got involved in a hooley at the final gun, or why he bitterly denounced Bill Belichick. Tomlinson was filled with rage on the topic of Shawn Merriman, but he knew he couldn't express his true feelings-his loudmouthed teammate had come up totally empty, and that's one reason San Diego lost. It may have sounded as if Tomlinson was defending Merriman, but what he meant was "hey, I know he sucked, OK? Don't rub it in on me."
The same translation works for Tomlinson's rip of Belichick. LT was furious with an NFL coach, all right, just not the one he talked about. Tomlinson had to vent, but maintained enough self-control not to scream, "will somebody get Marty the January Jonah off our sideline while I'm still capable of leading a Super Bowl winner. Please, I'm begging here!"
I have no problem with the Pats taunting Merriman. By their code, he deserved it. Had Merriman played well, or if Tomlinson was San Diego's resident egomaniac, the Pats wouldn't have said a word.
Rest assured his professional peers like Terrell Owens no better than do the rest of us. Less, actually. Players have a better understanding of how Owens' behavior wrecks the professional lives of his teammates.
In Super Bowl XXXIX, MVP Deion Branch mimicked Owens' Eagle-flap dance after scoring a touchdown. This fell into the category of spontaneous overacting, and bothered no one, not even Owens.
When the game ended, and the Pats REALLY had a chance to taunt Owens, their reaction was the exact opposite. Branch, Rodney Harrison, Belichick, and the rest were unanimous in praising Owens' performance to the skies. He'd played on a bum leg and had a tremendous game, doing all he could and more to try and help the Eagles win a title. Compared to that, the Pats felt, the warts on Owens' character meant nothing.
That's a harsh but fair value system for a very harsh sport. Seeing it in action enhanced both my understanding of and appreciation for the remarkable team New England was and is.
But fellas, I have to say this. If you guys are pulling out the "no respect" chestnut for the 2006 playoffs, you're either delusional or think the rest of the world is pretty stupid. Moreover, if the Pats think they NEED that tired crutch to maintain an edge, the Colts' chances of reaching the Super Bowl are better than I first thought.
Were I still working, and one of the men in the Gillette Stadium locker room gave me that line, I'd laugh, shut my notebook, and walk away. Wouldn't matter how much I admired the player. It could be Harrison, Tedi Bruschi, Tom Brady, anybody. Don't play me for a fool and expect respect in return.
No respect? Do the Pats not read sports news, or do they think nobody else does? They watch game films with no sound, but most folks watch games on TV and listen to announcers. The Prophet Mohammed does not get better notices in Riyadh than the Pats do from Phil Simms, John Madden, and all other national broadcasters. New England is a dynasty and all commentators treat it as such. There are indeed a large percentage of neutral fans and journalists who'd prefer to see the Pats get knocked off this Sunday. Thanks to human nature, that's what happens to all sports dynasties. It isn't a lack of respect-it's the ultimate manifestation of respect. Fans only hate teams they truly fear.
All Tomlinson, Hobbs, and the ensuing frothy brouhaha did was taint my pleasure in a rousing high-stakes football game. No, they also reminded me of my old high school football coach.
Bob DeGroat coached a candy-assed little prep country day school and won much more often than he lost in the 50s and 60s. The coach didn't say much. Didn't have to. He was tough in ways Merriman will never know. DeGroat got shot down over Germany in WWII, and spent 18 months in POW camp with a half-dozen bullets in his leg.
The only element of game demeanor our coach insisted upon was SHOW NO EMOTION WHATSOEVER! We warmed up in silence. We barely shook the hand of a teammate after he scored a touchdown.
"It's the best way to demoralize an opponent," DeGroat said. "Act like professionals."
Coach DeGroat died some years back. Wherever his spirit is these days, I sure hope he's not watching the NFL.