Thursday, December 10, 2009

No Snow Angels at Foxboro This Week

This blogger's views on sports team interpersonal conflicts were formed in his youth, in 1973, the year he lived in Oakland, California in the middle of the A's dynasty of that period.

About once every three weeks, the A's would have some major beef. A screaming match between the manager and a player, or the manager and owner Charlie Finley, or a fistfight in the shower between members of the pitching staff or some other shenanigans that would keep Boston talk radio at Defcon-Five for a century would go down, and the public always reacted the same way.

Express buses would be chartered to take gamblers to Reno and Tahoe as fast as could be, because everyone knew another A's beef meant another A's winning tear on the order of 12 of their next 14 games. So I've always been a little skeptical of the idea that harmony is necessary for winning.

I've also always suspected that the percentage of professional athletes who can't abide their immediate supervisor, the coach/manager, is close to the number who feel the same way in regular businesses -- a significant one. So all in all, I've been hard pressed to get too upset to learn that Adalius Thomas and Bill Belichick won't be each other's Secret Santas at the Patriots' Christmas party.

Thomas was punished (only in football could a day off be considered punishment) for getting to work late because of yesterday's snowstorm. Since Belichick is not nuts, I have to assume that at some point this season, he told his team that weather would not be an excuse for tardiness.

That Thomas was angry at being punished is hardly surprising. It's a harsh rule. Most football teams have harsh rules. It's a harsh sport. It's an especially harsh sport when the team starts losing and no one from coach to star quarterback to punter appears to have a handle on what to do about it. Which is not at the root of Belichick and Thomas' mutual antipathy, but is surely why both men let this contretemps enter the public domain.

Thomas' choice was self-evident. He gave a bitter press availability on the matter today. Belichick's was only slightly more subtle in making the matter public. The normal punishment for such a violation would've been a fine. Fines can be kept in-house. A player not being at practice can't be. Belichick WANTED the world to know he was mad at the snowbound miscreants who missed his 8 a.m. meeting.

As Voltaire said in another context, the four players were publicly shamed "to encourage the others." It was the most efficient means Belichick could think of to convey the message that life has become grim and earnest in Patriotland to its other inhabitants. It also allowed him a rare indulgence in frustration-venting, which is probably good for his coaching going forward.

Thomas and Belichick will not go forward. They want a divorce. Like all estranged couples, they look at each other and see a mistake. Thomas sees a coach who sweet-talked him into signing as a free agent at a place where he would make sacks and win Super Bowls and neither has happened much. Belichick looks at Thomas and sees what Pats' fans see, that is, not much of anything this season. Then he sees a giant cartoon dollar sign where Thomas' face used to be. Having given Thomas over $20 million, Belichick regards Thomas as one might regard the stockbroker whose advice got you into Bear Stearns when it was at $165.

That last paragraph would have been true if Thomas had been on time yesterday. But it wouldn't have been an Issue, the sort of topic beaten into the ground by fans and commentators. Years of experience tell me that the Great Truancy Flap will have a distinctly measurable effect on the Pats the rest of the season. Zero is a measurement, too.

Antoine Saint-Exupery said it 70 years ago. Defeat divides. Tom Brady doesn't throw a horrible interception in the end zone last Sunday, and Commutegate doesn't happen. Bet on it. Now that it has happened, Thomas' teammates will consider it for about five seconds and then go back to worrying about themselves and the next game they'll play. Bet on that, too.

The one part of Thomas' rant today that made sense was his observation that if the Pats beat the Panthers Sunday, his lateness on Wednesday would be forgotten by everyone outside the organization and by most inside it, too. As a veteran, the slowly vanishing linebacker is familiar with the Iron Law of Football Commentary.

The Law reads: All teams always have problems. After defeats, commentary presents problems as crises. After victories, commentary denies problems exist.


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