Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Weed of Crime, Like Most Weeds, Bears No Fruit at All

The Denver Broncos have been fined $50,000 for the actions of former employee Steve Scarnecchia, who apparently videotaped the walkthrough practice of the San Francisco 49ers the day before the two teams played in London, England last month.

The sum of the fine was one-tenth of what Pats' coach Bill Belichick was socked for in 2007 for the same crime. This is because after a rigorous investigation by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, channeling his inner Warren Commission, the league chose to believe the claim by Bronco coach Josh McDaniels that he refused to view the illicit tapes. The NFL's "forensic computer team" (coming soon, CSI:NFL, with Mark Wahlberg as Goodell) determined the Broncos' computers had no trace of the tapes).

Class, do you think an NFL team trying to win a game might go out and purchase a laptop with cash, use it, then drop it into the Thames? Me, too.

But NFL justice, such as it is, is not what interests me about this matter. What's more relevant is the game's result. The 49ers won. Advance knowledge of San Francisco's plays didn't help the Broncos, because by and large they suck as a team at some rather important elements of football, such as running and tackling. Breaking rules on scouting can't make up for that. Only breaking the rule limiting you to 11 players at a time can.

The truth is, pro football teams suffer from the same probklems vis a vis the collection and use of intelligence as do governments. They are obsessed by the information they collect, collect far, far more of it than they can use, and tend to ignore the most useful bits of information because it gets lost in the clutter. The New England Patriots have been throwing red-zone TD passes to utterly uncovered tight ends for a decade now, and NFL defenses STILL haven't caught on.

Most of all, obsession with intelligence/scouting breeds the paranoia that makes spies and football teams equally nuts. The little item Peter King had last week about the Colts thinking the Pats might have bugged their locker room at Gillette Stadium spoke volumes as to the fine line Peyton Manning's psyche walks between workaholic genius and complete bughouse case. It spoke longer volumes about how the Colts, for all their success, think of themselves as starting every game against New England two down at the turn.

When a team finds a means of scouting how effectively its opponent will block and tackle the following Sunday, the NFL will have a form of espionage on its hands worth making rules to outlaw. Until then, franchises could have video and audio tapes of every action and word of their opponent's practices and meetings, and it won't help them very much, if at all.


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