Bye to All ThatAcute Boston sports fans have noted, then complained about, the dearth of news and/or insightful, witty or at least diverting commentary from sports journalism on the New England Patriots this week. Leaving aside the merits or demerits of individual journalists and commentators, let me gently tell said fans the following: Lighten upon my former peers. It's the bye week of the playoffs. There IS no news. There ISN'T anything much worth saying. What you're reading, hearing and watching is first degree filler, created out of duty, not to mention desperation. You'd have done the journalists you're ripping a major favor if you ignored their work during a bye week. I assure you they're not polishing it up for awards season.
The playoff bye, while a welcome and significant reward for the teams that get it, is hell on the news business. Original angles on the home team are scarce, considering it's been covered every day for five months now. There aren't any angles on the visiting team at all, because its identity has yet to be determined. And efforts to create the Big Picture angle are doomed, since everybody knows what it is anyway.
Here's the Big Picture painted by your 2012 New England Patriots. They're a very good team. The only thing standing between them and the Super Bowl title is the fact the other 11 playoff teams range from pretty good to very good themselves. We'll just have to wait and see what happens, which is the ultimate truth of all pregame, pretournament, preanyevent stories in sports, and one which gets you fired if you write or broadcast it too often.
Hell, the Patriots themselves don't have any insights on bye week. The playoffs are when NFL teams, as they should, become more inner-directed and insular than ever. "I love this time of year," Tom Brady said once, "because all there is in it is football." Consider the rest of Brady's life and go back to that statement. Logic and the slightest degree of empathy tell us that zealously competitive men entering the peak experience their profession offers are not going to be too interested in sharing that experience with outsiders. Given the insane emotional demands of that profession, they probably couldn't even if they wanted to.
So what readers, viewers and listeners got this week was boilerplate news -- evergreens on the order of rental truck gets stuck on Storrow Drive on Labor Day weekend, marathoners eating spaghetti the Sunday before Patriots' Day or the damn truck leaving Fenway for spring training. It is one of the eternal mysteries of the news racket that while no customer ever says they LIKE evergreens, many of them bitch like hell if they don't get them as scheduled. I think it's a rhythm of life thing.
No journalist likes doing evergreens. The root word of news is "new." Evergreens are "olds." But work is work. In sports, the danger of doing them is pressing. Making up angles is very dangerous work. The risk-reward ratio between creating an insight and creating something ridiculous is about that of going for it on fourth and seven from one's own 11 yard line.
So cut my former colleagues some slack. If they rang their usual bells, well, that's all they had. I covered four Pats' playoff bye weeks in my career, and I was sure glad when all of them were over. And you can bet that if I were still in the business, I'd be rooting like hell for the Texans this evening. If they win, there's an extra day of pregame angles in play.