Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hey, You Kids! Get Off of the Queen's Lawn!!!

All three of my former colleagues who inspired this post are younger than I am. Two of them are much younger. That makes it especially distressing to note that the Patriots' game in London has turned Tony Massarotti, Michael Felger, and Dan Shaughnessy into narrow, crabby, provincial old farts.

Tony and Michael spent a considerable amount of time this week fretting that the Pats' road trip to London was somehow a "distraction" and that deviation from the sacred "routine" would affect the team's chances of beating the mighty Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This idea was so absurd I listened more carefully than is my wont, hoping to detect the telltale signs of talk show shtick. But no, my old teammates appeared to be sincere, Felger especially so. To hear him tell it, the Pats were sailing to the game across the Atlantic in a replica of the Mayflower crewed by themselves. Sadly, this leaves me no choice but to mock them.

Leave aside for the moment the fact that the only way the Pats could lose against the Bucs would be if they HAD flown to Tampa for the game by mistake. Let's focus on the differences between playing an NFL road game in that city or playing one in London.

Difference the first: Travel. Pats plane left Thursday night and arrived Friday am London time rather than leaving Saturday afternoon to allow time to adjust for jet lag. Plane flight was four hours longer.

Difference the second: Pats practiced at a British cricket grounds Friday and had a press conference that was well-attended by British media. Ordinarily, they would have practiced at Gillette yesterday, and the fewest reporters of the week would have been there. That's why Friday is the very best day to talk to an NFL player or coach if you're a journalist. Real difference: nil, as the Brits say.

Difference the third: Scenery is different looking out the windows of the buses that transport the team from airport to commercial chain American hotel to practices and the stadium.

That's it. To worry that the Pats' preparations were hampered this week is to ignore just how regimented and overmanaged any NFL road trip is, be it to Buffalo or Bangalore. It is a seamless web of meetings in windowless rooms and carefully preordered meals in other windowless rooms. It is, except for the thrilling chaos of the game itself, a cosmically boring experience. NFL players are instructed to cherish routine. But they'd be less than human if a little change of pace in their work schedule didn't seem at least a little refreshing.

Not to be outdone in the "time has passed them by" sweepstakes, Dan Shaughnessy's column in this morning's Globe was a straightforward attack on the very idea of playing a pro football game outside the boundaries of the U.S.A. The whole experience struck Dan as, well, wrong somehow, cheating American football fans of some ineffable part of the television watching experience. British sports teams would never play games in the U.S.

(Of course, they do. British big-time soccer teams like Manchester United play sellout exhibition tours in the U.S. almost every summer. The World Cup sold out Foxboro Stadium. Doesn't Dan remember? 1994 isn't so long ago.)

Shaughnessy did not find any British sports fans or media on whom to test his hypothesis. The quotes in his story were from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, taken from a press conference Goodell gave at his (doubtless more expensive) hotel. Given one of the world's great cities to explore, he stuck to routine with the zealous devotion of a special teams coach.

Back home in my family room, the sports roundup broadcast of British cable network Sky Sports, a rough equivalent to ESPN, was being shown on Fox Soccer Channel. It gave a slightly different perspective. First, while the Liverpool-Man U game Sunday was Topic A, the Pats-Bucs game was a strong Topic B. In the professional news judgment of that organization, there is considerable British public interest in the NFL. Maybe it's just novelty interest, but over centuries of show business history, novelty acts have made a great deal of money -- a point Goodell failed to drive home to Shaughnessy.

More interestingly, there were extensive sound bites from Patriots players. A number of them had said they thought the trip was a chore -- before they left home. On the grounds of the Oval, guys like Tom Brady and Jarod Mayo were cheerfully making the most of the experience. Mayo even went so far as to discuss the Liverpool-ManU game with a reporter.

In other words, if ordered to have a unique career experience, here were Patriots' players sensibly concluding that they might as well experience it for all it's worth. That is how grown-ups, as opposed to old farts, deal with life's vicissitudes.

I should also point out that Shaughnessy's attitude is box-office poison for his employer, an organization that's not in the best of health. Many Globe readers have never been and maybe never will get to London. To them, there is an element of vicarious adventure in the Pats' road trip that a business-minded journalists, make that any journalist with a lick of sense, ought to have run with.

The proper attitude of a reporter on a free trip to a foreign locale ought to be, "Hey, readers (viewers, listeners), let me do my best to make you feel you're sharing this experience with me." People follow the news, in part, to get a feel for the parts of the world they may never see first-hand. It is a privilege and a responsibility to be their vicarious representative. Griping about the duty is unseemly. Griping in public is abhorrent.

I could go on, but why bother? I mean, really, what is there to say about people who appear to prefer a trip to Tampa than one to London? That's just hopeless.

Dr. Samuel Johnson said more than three centuries ago that "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life." We've got some very, very tired sports commentators in this town. They were tired of London before they got there. Some were tired of London without even going.


At 6:46 AM, Anonymous Cape Cod Scott said...

While I like Felger a lot, and Mazz most of the time, Shaughnessy is so sour and downright insulting to the people (I almost wrote "fans", but I didn't want CHB to visualize some non- human "yahoo") who enjoy following local teams, that I can't believe his employer allows him to continue to cover them. His obvious disdain for regular people is just pathetic.

At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. I was very interested to get a sense of the whole experience, and the columnists really disappointed.


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