Tuesday, September 11, 2007

This Is Signal Tap

Bill Belichick and the Patriots are stealing signs?!?! My old buddy Leo Durocher and I are shocked and appalled. Amused, too.

It says it all about the paranoid, detail-obsessed trade of professional football coaching, and about its most gifted, detail-obsessed, and paranoid practicioner that Belichick couldn't even CHEAT without hours of film study beforehand. One thing about using videotape in the commission of a NFL crime. It's hard to argue it was a spur of the moment action.

So Roger Goodell will issue some sort of stern punishment to the Pats, and Belichick will become less publicly responsive than before. Hard to imagine, but true. Tomorrow's press conference at Gillette Stadium ought to be a doozy from the unintentional comedy standpoint. Think of Buster Keaton being grilled by Stephen Colbert.

My moral outrage muscle hasn't twitched at this one. There is cheating to win in all professional sports, and has been since forever. Did you know that back in the Roaring Twenties, coaching of any kind from the sideline to the team on the field was considered cheating? Cost a team 15-yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. No wonder it's called the Golden Age of Sports.

There are a few points about this major case that raise questions about Belichick's so-called "genius" and the overall intelligence of those cerebral leaders of men, NFL coaches, in general. First, Belichick allegedly tried to steal the signals of a team coached by Eric Mangini, the guy who used to steal signals for the Pats when he was an assistant coach. Didn't it occur to the hooded pigskin master spy his former apprentice might be on the lookout for the trick? That has only been the plot of about 2000 caper, spy, and suspense movies I can recall.

Two. Think of the major league manager you hate most. The one who you called every synonym for stupid Roget could discover. Grady Little, say, or that poor sod who managed the Orioles before he got fired this summer. I guarantee the following. That lump of inert matter may be dumb, but he knew enough to change his team's signals on a regular basis, even during games. Eric Mangini, football genius in training, did not.

Three. One has to be impressed by the sheer pointlessness of Belichick's crime. If there's one thing we can be sure of about the next Jets-Pats game this season, it's that NOTHING New York's defense did in that game will be tried again. The assistants who gave the signals may be fired by then. If NFL Security confiscated the Pats videotape, it probably shows closeups of the Jets' defense co-ordinator waving a white towel.

Finallly, why does the defense even need signals from the sideline? Aren't they going to change formation as soon as they see how the Pats are lining up. If the Jets' D had its head turned looking at the coaches' semaphoring, that would explain a lot about Sunday's game.

In an ideal world, coaching from the sideline would again be illegal. Alas, that won't happen. But the NFL COULD prevent sideline signal stealing in a nanosecond with one of its beloved high technology methods for complicating a perfectly satisfactory simple game.

The league put a radio in each quarterback's helmet so he could communicate with the coaches directly. Why not do the same for the player who calls the defense's signals?


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