Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Chorus Line

That the New York Jets' 2010 season would come to a spectacularly bad and embarrassing end was one of those predictions hardly worth making. Like saying back in 2008 you thought Miley Cyrus would jump off the rails and start doing drugs (2011: Internet sex pictures, book it), what was the sport in forecasting a sure thing?

I will admit, however, that the Jets deserve credit for originality. Any old NFL team can fall apart when it loses games down the stretch, its quarterback starts struggling and the offense and defense decide each other are their bitterest rivals in the league. It takes creativity to generate a scandal in which the entire organization makes complete fools of themselves attempting to cover up an activity that was a) pointless and b) legal -- until the biggest fool of all stuck his foot in it, or rather out onto it.

Class, here's a question. How many NFL games have been determined by a punting team's gunners illegally running out of bounds to avoid being blocked and coming back to make the play? You don't know? Me either. I do know that every action by every player in every game is so minutely scrutinized that the only logical conclusion is that if we haven't heard about it, it hasn't ever happened. I have always assumed the rule forbidding a man running out of bounds to come back and make a play was part of the league's successful policy of insuring that any kicking play in which something happens is negated by a penalty.

But someone in the Jets' organization decided this tactic was an intolerable affront, and ordered sideline personnel to stand at parade rest at the extreme limit of the bench area. I hope it was a volunteer mission. Speaking for myself, the possibility of absorbing full-speed contact from a nutbar NFL special teamer in full equipment while I'm in civvies does not appeal.

This decision had only two possible consequences. A special team gunner would collide with the line of Jets causing a pile-up worth a year's bonus for a lucky NFL Films cameraman, or, as actually happened, some idiot Jet would step over the line and interfere with the game in progress. Either way, the Jets' human wall was going to attract considerable attention from the media and the league office.

Which is why it so utterly Jetlike that the franchise was so completely unprepared for that attention. A variety of Jets coaches offered conflicting explanations, beginning with strength coach Sal Alosi's confession he was the lone get-the-gunman to a week's worth of statements from head coach Rex Ryan which can be boiled down to "humina-humina-humina" a la Ralph Kramden. What could have been explained as a simple, legal effort to draw attention to an uncalled penalty that went awry now seems like some sort of major scandal, because the Jets are acting like people involved in a major scandal.

They aren't, any more than "Spygate" was a major scandal for the New England Patriots. Each of these incidents was the kind of blunder people make when outthinking themselves, an occupational hazard for pro football coaches. But the different reactions of the two franchises to the consequences of their blunders is revealing. Bill Belichick admitted guilt to the authorities, and maintained public silence of a sort the Mafia can only dream of these days. The Jets fell all over themselves with the doom-ridden eagerness to partially explain last seen in the Nixon White House.

The consequences of the Jets' cover-up of nothing much will be severe, not in terms of penalties from Roger Goodell, either. The first sentence, which will be in all caps, of every upcoming opponent's scouting report on the Jets this season, next season, and for the foreseeable future will read "THIS GUYS CRACK UNDER PRESSURE." Believing that about a foe is worth about 3 /2 points for any NFL squad. That's a lot of points to give away week after week after week.


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