Tuesday, September 30, 2014

In the Long Run, All Football Teams Are Dead, Too

There have been other horrible, humiliating losses for the New England Patriots in the 21st century, the 2003 Opening Day beatdown in Buffalo, a 2002 game against the Packers in which they flat out quit, the January 2011 playoff loss to the Jets, to name three. Each time, the franchise rebounded in short order.

So maybe last night's 41-14 defeat (no sportswriting synonym for getting beat like drubbing, thrashing, etc. is adequate to this occasion) to Kansas City will be a little-remembered L by December. Every season, every NFL team, even the Super Bowl champ, turns in one complete stinkeroo in which every player fails in an inexplicable defiance of the bell curve of probability. Maybe this was the Pats' bomb for 2014, like the overtime loss to the Jets was their 2013 turkey.

Or maybe not. It's possible those folks saying or thinking "the Pats will be fine," which is most people inside and outside the NFL, are placing their faith in facts from seasons past, not from season present. The "this was just a bad bump in the road" thesis rests on the plausible notion the Pats can't possibly be as bad again as they were last night. Trouble is, this wasn't their first bump of the year.

What was last night's misery but an extended play version of the second half of the opening game in Miami? Every single catastrophic flaw evident against the Chiefs was equally evident in the last 30 minutes against the Dolphins.

Inability to prevent the rush from getting to Brady? Check. Brady's subsequent inability to prevent said rush from causing him to commit turnovers and wasted plays? Check. Inability to run coupled with utter and complete inability of the defense to stop the enemy running game from impersonating the Oklahoma Wishbone attack of the 1970s? Check and checkmate.

One bad game can be a coincidence. Two is an issue. It is not alarmist to state that a season in which the Pats have played 16 quarters and been outscored 64-14 in six of them is a crisis. New England has played two games in which it didn't just lose, it was unable to compete.

The most glaring and disastrous of New England's problems has been the shocking decline of its offense, especially Brady's decline. But it's not a mysterious problem. When a team can't block very well, it won't move the ball very well. Should its quarterback be fortunate enough to escape disabling injury, he will wind up approaching every down in crisis mode to his own and everyone else's detriment.

The shocking Patriot problem is how twice this season its defense has been blown away by the opposing running game. This has always been a New England strength in the Bill Belichick era and especially in the Vince Wolfork era. Admittedly, Jamaal Charles is a superb back. His backup Knile Davis was Jim Brown last night. That's a defense getting blocked.

The inability to block and the inability to tackle are the most fundamental of football disasters. They spell loser on every coach's clipboard in the sport's history. They're also problems that rest more on the athletic abilities of the players involved than on a coaching staff's ability or inability to instruct them in the proper techniques, making them very hard to solve indeed.

Were I one of the many who cynically regard Belichick as the NFL's Machiavelli, I'd suspect him of replacing Brady with Jimmy Garoppolo in the fourth quarter to distract the QB-obsessed fans and media with the shiny object of a nonexistent controversy as he tries to address what he regards as his real priorities in what will seem to him as a very short week of practice indeed.

I am cynical enough to observe that in the offseason, the Pats had contract issues with two linemen. Coming off an injury, Wilfolk accepted a pay cut and stayed with the team. Logan Mankins refused one and was traded.

One fourth of the season in, the Pats can't block and have trouble stopping the run. Maybe they got that one backwards. Maybe the franchise's belief that all players except Brady are fungible has come to where all theories must travel -- the point where they stop working.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Briar Patch of Fame and Fortune

The sports writing of Bill Simmons leaves me cold. Simmons' career as an entrepreneur of sports commentary leaves me breathless with admiration, never more so than this morning.

Simmons managed to turn a podcast with a respectable audience in which he offered the very ordinary opinion that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is lying about the Ray Rice mess into a national news story by provoking ESPN into giving him a three week suspension for his words, specifically the words challenging his bosses to punish him for his opinion. This has transformed Simmons from one of thousands of sports talkers talking about the same thing into a martyr for the First Amendment, a pigskin John Peter Zenger calling 'em as he sees 'em.  Millions more Americans know that Bill Simmons disapproves of Goodell than did had ESPN ignored his little diatribe. Millions more Americans know who the hell Bill Simmons is than did yesterday and do so in a story in which he looks good -- at least compared to its other parties.

Don't misunderstand. I don't believe Simmons made his remarks with publicity aforethought. He spoke in the heat of his belief in his opinion. The ancillary benefits he will draw from expressing that opinion were the result of an unconscious gift for enterprising self-promotion, an instinct for his game that, as the cliche goes, can't be coached.

As in many stories, Simmons vs. ESPN has a much more interesting villain than hero. Why did Simmons' employer martyr him in the first place? Why generate an incident that even the dimmest boss's nephew intern could perceive as making the network look just awful?

The obvious possible motive, the one which does the most damage to ESPN's public image, is that the network punished Simmons to truckle under to the NFL for fear of offending the business partner whose games make ESPN a lot of money. Like many obvious suspicions, this one wilts a bit under closer scrutiny.

For one thing, ESPN itself is the source of the reporting that has most damaged the NFL's credibility in the Rice case, reporting that pretty much calls out an entire NFL franchise, the Ravens, as an institutional liar. No one thinks this has damaged its business relationship with the league, and they shouldn't.

ESPN broadcasts NFL games on Monday nights because it has paid well over a billion dollars for the rights to do so. The league has changed rightsholders more than once over the past decades, always for the same reason. Some other network made a higher bid. That and that alone could sever ESPN's ties with the NFL. Words will never hurt a multi-billion dollar business enterprise unless they're uttered by a federal judge.

Institutional groupthink causes far more organizational catastrophes than does venality, and it is my belief this is why Simmons is enjoying a theoretically unpaid vacation today. ESPN is, after all, a subsidiary of the most famously rigid and humorless corporation in the country, Walt Disney Co. No other business has as many rules for its employees. Authoritarianism is in Walt's frozen DNA.

I also think that having been dared by Simmons to suspend him, ESPN executives let their emotions rule and took the dare. They are probably ruing their action this morning. By lunchtime, they will see the silver lining.

Truth is, bad publicity will have about as much effect on ESPN as on the NFL, little verging on none. As long as ESPN's networks keep broadcasting live sports events, it will continue to win the blue ribbon as Disney's prize cash cow. It's not as if television executives have much of a public image to damage anyhow.

Let's consider where Bill Simmons fits in the ESPN empire. ESPN has its endless sports broadcasting empire, from NFL games to College Gameday, and a smaller but aggressive straight journalism operation based primarily on its Website and magazine. Bill straddles both of these operations, the primary reason for his uneasy relationship with his bosses. This was not his first suspension.

As a journalist, Simmons is the founder and guiding spirit of Grantland, the long form journalism subsite on ESPN.com which produces a goodly amount of excellent work. Grantland's reputation and audience can only be enhanced by Simmons' new status as National Sports Truth Teller.

Within the entertainment empire division of ESPN, Simmons' highest profile role is as one of the commentators on the network's NBA pregame and postgame shows. These shows suffer the same problem as pre- and postgame  shows for all sports. They're terrible television, being 90 percent talking heads either speculating about an event that's going to be over in a couple of hours, or commenting on an event the viewer just saw.

Ah, but what if the shows contain a talking head with a national reputation for confrontational honesty, who might upset the applecart at any moment in a blaze of apparently self-destructive righteous anger? Can't hurt those ratings. Confrontation is the essence of television entertainment.

Is it cynical to note that Simmons' suspension will end several weeks before the start of the NBA season? I prefer to think of it as recognizing ESPN's management can't possibly be as dumb as it appears to be here. Maybe they even know something about the history of their own business.

Long before mobile computing or the Internet, before cable television even, there was a sports commentator who straddled the divide between journalism and entertainment. He never held back an opinion, no matter who it offended, and never stopped boasting about that, either. He was by far the most famous sports commentator of his era, adored by million, and loathed by millions more who somehow couldn't stop watching or listening to him.

Just a guess. ESPN sees Bill Simmons as a possible Howard Cosell for the 21st century. If so, his suspension wasn't discipline. It was marketing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Hippocratic Quarterback

Tom Brady's passing statistics so far this season are bad, very bad. Except for one, which is perfect. The perfect one may well be one reason the others aren't up to below par.

Brady is 24th in the NFL in passing yards, despite having thrown more passes, 114, than all but five other QBs. He's thrown more times than Peyton Manning has. His average yards per attempt of 5.5 is lower than all other quarterbacks who've started all three games except Derek Carr and Ryan Tannehill. Brady's completion percentage of 58.8 is lower than all three game starters except Tannehill and Jake Locker.

Add it all up in the incomprehensible NFL way, and Brady's passer rating is 82.9. That's better than only the following three games or most of three starters: the Smiths, Geno and Alex, Tannehill, Carr and Locker. Those are not quarterbacks with whom other QBs should want to share a paragraph.

Now we come to the anomaly at the heart of New England's offensive issues this month. Brady would likely have the  lowest passer rating in the NFL were it not for his perfect exception to an otherwise dismal throwing effort. In those 114 pass attempts, Brady had yet to throw an interception. Only two other NFL starters are without a pick. One is Cam Newton. If you can guess the other without looking it up, maybe you should start your own football blog. It's Brian Hoyer of the Browns.

Brady's ability to avoid the worst play a quarterback can make is remarkable when one considers that his protection has been, well, let's say inconsistent to date. Putting the heat on the quarterback is the primary way defenses generate interceptions. It takes both nerve and skill for a slower-footed quarterback like Brady to throw balls away where they can't be touched and take the sacks rather than make questionable throws.

My long distance guess is this. After the Dolphins debacle, when Brady had the crap beaten out of him in the second half, not coincidentally losing two fumbles on sacks, and the New England passing attack vanished altogether, he, Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick made an adjustment, probably both consciously and unconsciously, that until the offensive line stabilized itself, the Patriots passing game would operate on a strict "first do no harm" game plan. Only the most reliable receivers would be targeted on what the coaches and quarterback regard as the most reliable patterns. When in doubt, remember incompletions aren't the end of the world, just one drive. Don't let  those offensive penalties drive you nuts out there, Tom.

If my guess is correct, it leads to two conclusions, both pretty obvious. First is that the downsized New England offense has been part of two consecutive wins, so as a strategy, it can't be called a failure. Teams without turnovers win much more often than they lose.

Unfortunately for the Pats, the second conclusion negates the first. Do no harm is a strategy with distinct limits. Avoid pain, avoid gain. The best teams built around error avoidance usually make the playoffs then get beat by teams capable of overcoming their errors with touchdowns. Let's not beat ourselves out there is not the war cry of champions.

The Pats' three foes in 2014 were quarterbacked by Tannehill, Carr and Matt Cassel. They're 2-1 because they're playing teams with worse quarterbacks than the limited 2014 Tom Brady edition.
Brady knows all this, which is why he's come out after the last two wins talking about how the offense needs improvements amounting to an overhaul. But until he and Belichick believe the offensive line can be trusted, the do no harm offense will remain in place, at least in the game plan.

That game plan will be discarded when the scoreboard makes risk-taking imperative. That will be when the 2014 Patriots season really gets started.

The perfect can be the enemy of the good. It won't seem like it when it comes, but the first interception Brady throws this year may be a most encouraging development.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Living Room Sport

Roger Goodell made it very clear very early in his press conference last Friday that he was going to say nothing of substance or note. In response, I began clicking the remote to fund something else to watch on TV. There wasn't anything else.

I lost count of the number of channels on my cable system broadcasting Goodell live when it went over a dozen. There were all of ESPN's channels and Fox Sports' two channels, of course. There were all four cable news channels. Then there were all of the local network station channels. There were NESN, NECS and NECN. Goodell's visage beamed forth from Bloomberg and CNBC right above the stock ticker.

I quit searching after those two. Absurdity is like anything else. It can't come in a higher sum than infinity. Was the Commissioner of the National Football League going to start opining on the Alibaba IPO?

No one would deny that Goodell's presser was news. The twin issues of domestic violence committed by pro football players and the NFL's institutionally inept and corrupt reaction to those crimes are a big story, nor just in sports, either. But that big? More channels on my cable system broadcast Goodell's words than broadcast the previous week's announcement by the President of the United States that the country was entering another war.

Pro football is the country's most popular sport. But the popularity of sports, while great, have limits. Roughly 15-20 million people watch an average NFL national Sunday broadcast. That means that roughly 290 to 295 million Americans are doing something else at the same time. Even the Super Bowl, the biggest TV show of all, gets a rating in the 40s, meaning more than half of all television sets in the U.S. aren't tuned into it.

Those otherwise occupied Americans, call them the More Fulfilled Lives Majority, were not thought of when CNBC, whose audience struggles to reach one million in the daytime, went live to Goodell on Friday afternoon. Oddly, neither were the 15-20 million dependable NFL viewers -- except as a revenue stream. No, the broadcast and cable networks treated Goodell as the biggest news in a big and busy world because what he had to say was of intense interest to the handful of mass media conglomerates that own them all. Pro football is more important to television the business than to television viewers and was treated accordingly.

In the always uncertain world of show business, the regular habits of NFL television viewers are a comforting source of reliable profits. They are the last surviving remnant of the 20th century media universe, an old-fashioned audience that runes in to watch the program when it's scheduled and is even less likely to change channels during commercials.  They're also mostly guys, a good thing if one is selling beer, wealth management services or pickup trucks.

An overheated column in "The Wall Street Journal" when the Ray Rice debacle got rolling a few weeks ago posited that the very business model of television could collapse if that reliable NFL audience because as fickle as ordinary television viewers have become. This is nonsense. The pro football season is only five months long. Somehow Comcast's quarterly reports hold up during the pigskin free majority of the fiscal year.

There is no denying, however, that within the TV business, where paranoia is a certifiable skill, any threat to the reliable revenue provided pro football audiences is seen as an existential one. And it doesn't take paranoia, only common sense, to see that close association with an organization becoming notorious for toleration of domestic violence is problematic for television companies, who spend most of their programming time attempting to attract women viewers.

The "NFL In Crisis" story is a perfect closed feedback loop within the television industry, almost identical to how very bad weather in New York City is a bigger story than very bad weather anywhere else because that's where television news executives go to work. The league's miseries matter so much to TV decision makers they cannot imagine they might not matter that much to the public. If you get your news from TV, which I don't advise, be prepared to have a lot more Goodell crammed down your throat in the weeks to come.

To the public, what's happened in the NFL in the past month or so has been distressing. But even the most avid pro football fan knows their favorite pastime is in the end a sideshow.

To the audience, a sideshow is a diversion which can be taken or left alone as daily life permits. To the carnival barker, the sideshow is life itself.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Guilt Trips Usually Reach No Destination

Many Americans like to watch football. They are not responsible for Adrian Peterson beating his children, nor for Ray Rice and the other players who have slugged or will slug women. That's on the people who commit the crimes.

Neither are fans responsible for the NFL and NFL teams' blithering incompetence in coping when players become a danger to the outside world as well as to each other. Customers aren't what cause mismanagement. Complacency bred of decades of success is part of why the NFL has been so bereft of either good judgment or moral sense, but popularity doesn't generate complacency automatically. It takes greed, short-sightedness and arrogance, too. Fans didn't bring those to Roger Goodell's tailgate.

Dragging the fans into the blamefest related to Peterson and Rice, as some professional scolds have tried to do, is wrong. It also gives we fans too easy an out from a football issue for which our moral responsibility is enormous.

People who like to watch football are contributing directly to destroying the minds and bodies of the people they're watching. The medical evidence has become impossible to ignore without willful denial. That quandary should be addressed or at least recognized by every follower of the sport.

I think about the issue. I've written about it on this blog for years now. It doesn't mean I have stopped watching football, although I'm not watching as much as I used to. It doesn't mean I still don't love football. It's just not blind love. I don't want to be co-dependent on football. If the sport doesn't significantly improve player safety, which may not even be possible, my fan level will drop from avid to casual to what else is on.

Don't know how long that progression will take. I'd guess it would quite a while. Five seasons? Ten? For sure it'd be more than the right now yesterday demanded by those selfsame scolds.

In columns today running on parallel tracks of error, Dan Shaughnessy of the Globe and Michael Powell of the New York Times both expressed indignation/bemusement/cynical scorn that despite the debacles of the month, pro football remains popular. The subtext, of course, was "you people reading the sports section, you like football. Shame on you!"

Aside from the questionable business practice of ragging on the customers, the lack of perception expressed by Powell and Shaughnessy, whom I hasten to add have been far from the only commentators from the sports world and otherwise to say or write the same tripe, is dazzling. Are they aware of, oh, all of human history?

People can and do change every day. Change however, seldom comes quickly and almost never immediately. The rate of change in mass human behavior is slower still. To believe football fans should immediately lose interest in a pastime they've practiced for years because of the collateral damage of its violence is to hold them to a standard of moral behavior achieved by no society ever.

Coincidentally, this also gives fans a swell excuse to ignore said damage. Most folks are willing to accept only what they see as their fair share of responsibility.  Almost all know damn well they had nothing to do with Peterson or Rice's actions. It's an easy if incorrect rationalization to leap to thinking those brain-damaged former players have nothing to do with them either.

The demand for perfect behavior is the enemy of the reflection needed to generate gradual improvement. The NFL's popularity will never just drop off the table. If it ever declines, it will be through erosion, not implosion.

Fandom is a habit. Habits are hard to break. Habits shared by millions of people never end in an outbreak of mass cold turkey.

They can shrink, though The Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health was published on January 11, 2014.  Smoking was still really popular in February 1964. Fifty years later, it's an outcast habit shunned by most Americans and limited by society as a matter of law.

If football can't or won't change, will its human toll make it a broken habit in 50 years? Beats me. I have enough trouble figuring out how I should treat the game. Fans should know the score. After that, I refuse to advise them, let alone scold them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

First, Assume a Different Boston

The good citizens of Boston 2024 Partnership, the folks who wish to being the Summer Olympics to the city in that seemingly faraway year, think it's a wonderful thing Boston has a compact city core convenient for pedestrians and public transit. Their excitement over this geographic truth somehow became the lead story in this morning's Globe.

Here's the shorthand version of the lede. It MAY be that the International Olympic Committee is attracted to just a setting for its little get-together, so it MAY be the U.S. Olympic Committee will pick Boston as its nominee for 2024 host city over L.A., the Bay Area, and Washington, D.C. So the Partnership is very encouraged.

Good for them. No, honest, I mean it. There is no point in this group of influential businessmen and other movers and shakers to do any moving and shaking if there's not some evidence it isn't all in vain. It may not read like it, but  I'm on their side. I support bringing the Olympics to Boston, on the grounds I would enjoy it and so would others. I am even willing to help.

Free advice is my first bit of volunteer assistance to the Partnership. Gang, that story was no puff piece. It was a warning letter..

John Powers wrote the story. He knows as much or more about the Games, from its top-level politics to 2020 archery medal favorites, than anyone else on earth. And in between quotes from Partnership leaders Joe Fish and Bob O'Donnell, John sprinkled facts indicating that much of the Partnership's planning may still be in the Power Point stage.

Here's a couple of excerpts from Powers' nut paragraph. "It is not clear if the city is ready to commit to staging the Games." Also, "it is still investigating the feasibility and availability of sites in the vicinity."

Oh. Except for having secured the cooperation of necessary public and private institutions or having generated significant public support, Boston's Olympic bid is right on track. No wonder the bidders are optimistic.

I have my doubts about institutional support. As a former Cantabridgian shooed off of Harvard's unused athletic fields in summers past, I wonder if the school would just say, "Fine, let us donate our football stadium and anything else you need." But the Partnership is composed of influential people. If it believes that influence will bring civic institutions to their cause, it's in a better position to judge.

What I have no doubt about whatsoever is that the Partnership has yet to demonstrate any kind of outside game. If it is making efforts to convince the public of Greater Boston to get behind the Games, those efforts have not reached my attention.  And when its leaders have tried to rally public support, they've hit exactly the wrong note.

The "legacy" of the 2024 for the public is supposed to be a better subway system and a new soccer stadium. I suppose it's inevitable that a group led by a construction industry guy (Fish) would regard built structures as the apex of any community, but this is pretty weak tea to justify what would be in the best case a mass disruption of normal life for four million people for three weeks.

It's also selling the Games under a premise so mistaken as to constitute false advertising. The "legacy" of an Olympics is never stuff. The stuff winds up being downsized at best and abandoned ruins at worst before the next Games. The Games are sports. Sports are about getting away from normal life to make life more fun.

Holding a successful Games requires a huge level of civic cooperation. Even holding a clusterfuck Games like Atlanta in 1996 required it. There can't be any civic cooperation without cooperative citizens. As far as I can tell, the Partnership has yet to try and rally such citizens, or even to identify them.

Greater Boston is an area where an annoying large percentage of the public will tell strangers until they're stupified that "this is the greatest sports town in America (or Earth)." Yet the Partnership hasn't stressed the most obvious thing about the Games, to wit, they really are the greatest sports EVENT on earth. Great sports town should host great sports events seems like a pretty simple and effective PR message to me.

It's only effective, however, if its addressed to sports fans. The Partnership needs to be moving past the Globe to where the fans are. forums like the city's two regional cable sports networks and its two sports talk radio stations. Yes, they'll be treated badly by sneering skeptics. This is inescapable. After all, we're talking about media that currently are bitching about Tom Brady because the Patriots only won their last game by 23 points. Whining in the face of the prosperity is the most unattractive characteristic of the Boston fan base.

But if the skeptics can be fought to a draw, the larger body of neutrals can be turned into Games fans. This is or ought to be the Partnership's first priority. If sports fans decide the Games are for them, the group has a shot at its longshot dream. If that doesn't happen, there won't be a Boston Olympics, no matter how many powerful institutions sign on for the ride. There won't be enough civic cooperation by the general public to let those institutions get their way.

I have been blessed to have attended four Olympic Games, three Summer, one Winter. Whether or not they wound up benefiting the economies and infrastructure of Barcelona, Lillehammer, Norway, Atlanta and Sydney I neither know nor care. I know every spectator, volunteer and person in the street I saw  at each Games  appeared to be having a marvelous time. I know I left each one with memories that will remain vivid and cherished my whole life long.

Putting on the Games is expensive and doesn't pay for itself. That's a truth that needs no apology. So is putting on a big fancy wedding for one's daughter. Those happen every week in every culture, because parents love their children. The Games can and do take place because people love sports.

Putting on a party for the whole world isn't a sensible thing to do. It's a love thing to do. If the Partnership wants to get this burg on its side, it had best abandon its edifice complex and tell the whole and corny truth.

Promise Boston what you can deliver, memories to be cherished for a lifetime. That's what a "legacy" is, not another damn station on the Green Line.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Must Find Something Else to Do TV

Let me be clear about one point right up front. Nobody but the Minnesota Vikings is to blame for how yesterday's Patriots game lacked a sense of urgency, or sense of dramatic tension, or any other appeal to the senses. The team that provides the only side of a one-sided contest is not responsible for its tedium.

Still, my daughter is a stalwart Pats fan, and she came over to her parent's house to see the game on high definition, and by the late second quarter, we were clicking to other sports in which she has less than no interest, such as golf and NASCAR. Our sports conversations were 1), where did golfer Billy Horschel get the first pair of Madras pants seen in public since the Carter administration? and 2), what will Tom Brady do when he retires?

We got that last figured out. By the time Tom hangs it up, Hollywood will be ready for yet another Batman.

I don't think we were the only ones unable to focus on the blowout. Brady himself looked less than fully engaged on the sidelines in the second half. Winning is always enjoyable, but in truth, by the second half, the Pats were in practice mode. Playing well was to maintain the habits needed for future games, not to win the game at hand. Few if any athletes in any sport find practice as fulfilling as competition.

No, when I come to think of it, there's only one person who watched the Pats-Vikings game who should've found it three hours of enjoyable entertainment. That would be Teddy Bridgewater. Minnesota's rookie backup QB gained at least a month on the moment when he can throw his baseball cap and clipboard away for keeps.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Today's Big Game, Fans vs. Facts

When the Patriots-Vikings game comes on TV today, take a moment and check the opposing sidelines.

Scan the Minnesota sideline. Adrian Peterson probably won't be there. He's inactive due to being a monster. One of pro football's biggest stars, the darling of all fantasy leagues, was charged last week with beating one of his children in the name of "discipline."

Ray Rice cold-cocked his future wife in an act of alcohol-fueled rage. That's horrible. Peterson's case is worse. He beat a child as a deliberate decision. That's not the act of a normal, let alone decent person.

Now look at the Patriots sideline. Doing so during the National Anthem would be perfect. Gaze at the 45 Pats lined up in order. Try to guess which 15 of these young, strong, vibrant athletes will be half-human wrecks tottering to premature death by my age of 65 or younger, much younger, maybe by 50, their brains permanently injured and diseased due to the game that's just about to start.

According to an actuarial survey conducted for the former players suing the NFL, a survey not disputed by the league as a matter of fact, roughly one-third of all players will develop some form of brain trauma related medical issue in their lives. Go pick your particular Patriots hero and imagine them with Parkinson's disease, or unable to recognize their own grandchildren in 2040. Now have some more chips and dip and root, root, root for the home team.

Some say that the increasing evidence that many NFL players are a danger to others as well as to themselves poses a threat to pro football's ludicrous level of popularity. I wish this were so, but I have my doubts. People are as attracted to monsters as they are frightened by them, and their safe display has long been a very profitable racket. Ask the Discovery Channel and Chatham, Massachusetts about the great white shark's contribution to their bottom lines.

Most players aren't monsters, after all. Most leave their gift for violence in the locker room next to their shoulder pads, go home and lead lives appropriate to reckless rich young men, no more of a menace to society than Justin Bieber. Many lead humdrum suburban young married with children lives. It is quite possible for any fan to rationalize that a few bad apples don't spoil his or her barrel of NFL fun.

But what if the barrel itself is killing people, shortening the lives of football players in the most terrible way imaginable? Even the dimmest fan knows that the entire massive structure of the NFL rests upon their willingness to pay for tickets and sit in front of the tube for hours on end watching the collisions that are causing those brain injuries. The dimmer the fan, the more likely they are to tell you loudly they are the sport's bedrock.

When I was a child and teenage NFL fan, it was accepted knowledge that former players had permanent health issues and the risk of premature death. But it was thought the risks were joint issues and the possibility of cardiac arrest. Former players had limps. Former players needed to lose weight. These were not problems to disturb the fan's role in the game.

Now well into the 21st century, we know better. Football the sport contains the certainty, not the risk, of a casualty level among players that'd be deemed unacceptable by any military planner in the world. One third of them will be lost or crippled by the time they hit normal retirement age, in a country with a significantly increasing percentage of people in that age group.

Dangerous sports can improve player safety. Auto racing has. But those changes were to machines, not human beings. They were also conducted by sports organizations who actually believed some risks were unacceptable, that danger was bad for business.

If there's one thing we've learned about pro football in 2014, it's that the men who run the NFL don't think anything can ever be bad for their business. Make that two things. We've also learned they don't care about anything in their business but the rapacious search for more profits. The league SAYS it's deeply concerned about player safety. It says it doesn't like domestic violence, either. The survey I cited only took place because the NFL was sued, not because of its well wishes for its former employees.

The most disquieting thought I want fans to have this afternoon is that maybe the NFL couldn't make its sport safer even if it did want to. Perhaps no rule or equipment improvements can alter the fact that repeated collisions between strong, fast, insanely motivated young men are going to permanently damage one of every three brains involved.

If so, then every fan must look at complicity. Their enjoyment, and pro football offers plenty, is being purchased at the price of someone else's cognition. Fans are the bedrock of football. Therefore, it is our obligation to know just what the hell we are supporting.

Rationalization being one of humanity's supreme skills, most fans will deny or ignore what the NFL's human damage this afternoon except for knee injuries suffered by their fantasy teams. 2040 is a long way off, after all. Medical science will save the heroes of 2014 by then.

Some won't. The ones who won't are the real risk to the NFL, a risk it ignores at its peril, and a risk of course it will ignore.

Boxing's dangers to the human brain have been known for centuries. It's still popular enough. Floyd Mayweather, another beautiful person, remains quite rich.

But boxing is nowhere as popular as it was for the first two-thirds of the 20th century. If you chart its decline in the U.S. alongside the NFL's growth the two lines are almost exactly parallel. America found a violent sport it found more acceptable because it seemed safer. The athletes wore helmets and pads!

The knowledge that football violence is just as if not more dangerous to long-term human health as boxing ought to be hard to rationalize. Some fans, the best of us in many ways, will renounce pro ball forever and watch the Premier League or something else instead. Others won't drop out, they'll just consume less of the sport than they used to. They'll watch the Pats or whatever team they follow and find three hours of moral dilemma a week is enough for them.

I am not an optimist about mankind, but neither do I think humans are incapable of change for the better. While I know the vast majority of fans will continue to consume the NFL's product with gusto, I believe most of them will at least feel the occasional qualm about it, and that the numbers of dropouts and use-lesses will grow as the facts about football brain damage grow.

I  believe this because that while most people like watching monsters from a safe distance, few like to think maybe they're the monster.

Friday, September 12, 2014

One Nation, Under the Covers in Hiding

.The American people saw something on TV that scared them, so in his ritual presidential role as Mythic Daddy, Barack Obama had to go on TV and promise he'd drop bombs on the scary thing until it went away. It won't go away in reality, but that's not important, really. The bombs are for creating videos of dead non-Americans that'll make the bad dreams stop until the next scary thing comes along in a month or two. For sure it will. Fear Junkie Nation never has a problem finding a fix.

The Islamic State of Not Easily Translatable Arabic Word is an organization of very bad and people, murderous lunatics to be precise. They should scare people, people like Iraqis, Syrians, Turks, Iranians, you know, their neighbors. We are not their neighbors, no matter what cable "news" or panicky legislators say. Oh, they'd love to kill Americans in bulk, but IS has its hands full killing its neighbors in bulk right now.

The murder of two American journalists in Syria was a monstrous crime. Americans ought to be angry, and they are. But not they're not mad angry, they're afraid angry, an irrational response to horror that does us no credit as a society. It also does nothing to address the object of all that fear.

The U.S. is no more nor less vulnerable to mass terror attacks this afternoon than it was before its two citizens were murdered in a foreign country one third of the globe away. Having dropped the ball so horribly on September 11, 2001, our government has triple-locked its barn doors and the security measures, many ridiculous on their own, have worked as a group. Terrorist incidents here, like the Marathon bombing, have been one-offs by loners, the sort of crime most difficult to prevent no matter what its motive.

Yet polls show more Americans are convinced they in danger of imminent attack than at any time since 9/11. That's a dispiriting comment on the national moxie level. We saw other Americans murdered by foul criminals and said not "how awful," or "what can we do to stop this?" but "I'm gonna be next!"

Sad to say, the reaction to IS was only the second most dispiriting comment on the national moxie level this summer. The large numbers of Americans living hundreds and thousands of miles to the north who regarded a large influx of destitute, frightened children at out southern border as an existential threat took the grand prize in the Poltroon Sweepstakes.

Come to think of it, in my 65 years as a citizen, the U.S. has always been frightened of something or other. Some of the fears, like nuclear holocaust, have been utterly rational, others, like fear of the effect on our children of knowing the President had oral sex, somewhat less so. There's hardly been a month, let alone year, where the national mood was as self-confident as it was in the depths of the Depression. It's a short walk from habituation to addiction.

Addicts need pushers. There's a fear peddler on every U.S. corner. Fear sells, Fear gets great ratings. Fear wins elections. Fear makes people easy to fool.

Islamic State of Whatever should be a worry, not a fear. It is indeed a threat to the considerable national interests of the U.S. in the Middle East. Providing explosions on behalf of the useless government of Iraq to prevent its complete collapse is a legitimate if debatable policy which might well achieve that very limited goal. If Obama had just said just that the other night, he'd have spared himself a lot of trouble in the long run.

In the short run, of course, it would've been nothing but trouble for him. A vow of total victory is a mandatory element of every Presidential statement involving military action, no matter how impossible such victory may be. Despite several recent lost wars begun on the total victory principle, we remain an all or nothing people -- as long as nobody calls us on our call for triumph.

Imagine for a moment that Obama had gone whole hog all-in against IS Wednesday night. Suppose he had described the group as a grave danger to U.S. national security requiring a maximum and immediate military response in a conflict that would of necessity take years and would require both tax increases to pay for it and a partial reinstatement of the draft to complete that mission.

Would America have heard the clarion call and metaphorically and actually rushed to the recruiting stations? Would Congress have exploded in unanimous patriotic support? We all know the answers. Obama would've been impeached yesterday and on track for conviction next week. America is scared all right, but it's not THAT scared, not scared enough to personally make sacrifices to conquer fear. The rush of fright is preferable. We subcontract the real work to a small minority of brave citizens.

Fear Junkie Nation. Like many addicts, we'll tell you we can quit anytime we want.

We don't want to.

Remote Poses Remote Danger to the NFL

Didn't watch the Ravens and Bengals on CBS last night. This wasn't a protest by a good and concerned citizen, a boycott to show my outrage at the NFL's inhumane corruption made evident by the Ray Rice case. If immorality and corruption REALLY bothered fans, there wouldn't be any professional sports on earth. I just wasn't that interested.

Aside from the franchise's ethical failure with Rice, what about the Ravens should interest people outside of greater Baltimore? The Steelers don't even have scandal going for them. It has been clear since the first day of training camp that the probability is over 95 percent that each team will muddle along in the middle of the parity pack all season, the Ravens having a decent chance at making the playoffs and losing in the first round and the Steelers an excellent chance of going 7-9 or worse. Clicking on the game to see the score was 10-3 at the half, my prior lack of interest was vindicated and I went to bed a smug and happy man.

Did I find some rewarding cultural or family activity to replace football? Does 10 minutes of reading Patricia Welles' latest food and restaurant guide to Paris and daydreaming of being rich and living there count? No? OK, then, the rest of the time I let my philistine bad self roll and watched TV.

What did I watch instead of the game? Well, like most bored American males my age, I sampled the video buffet by dial-twitching. I caught a few innings of Andy Cobb's no-hit bid for the Rays against the Yanks, missing one hell of a comeback by signing off when Cobb gave up his first hit. I watched the Stonecutters episode of  "The Simpsons" on FXX. In what should give Les Moonves pause, I even tuned in to a "The Big Bang Theory" rerun, the program CBS has shifted to Monday nights to make room for the stylings of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. All in all, a pretty normal night for the tube.

There's the rub for the NFL right there, the word normal. I am a devout and lifelong pro football fan. Check this blog, which in seven years has a majority, a significant one, of NFL-related posts. On a normal night of TV, said fan found a normal early season game between two normal (in football terms) teams something he could easily miss because there were other programs providing better diversion. The teams I follow (the Eagles as a fan, the Patriots through semi-professional interest) weren't playing. No big stars to monitor. I don't play fantasy football, but I hope and pray those who do weren't so silly as to have too many Ravens and Steelers on their rosters. What CBS has spent all summer touting as the ultimate in Event viewing was just another show.

And as with most shows in the 5000 channel, 500 platform media universe, if you miss it, you can always catch it later. It's not as if I still don't have the opportunity to gorge myself on the NFL and football in general until my eyeballs bleed in Week Two of the pro season. There will be 10 hours of NFL games on Sunday, three on Monday night, and roughly 14 hours of college games shown Saturday. I will watch the Pats and Eagles games for sure, and likely sample other NFL and college fare in the other broadcast windows -- unless there's something better on.

That's part of the theoretic rub I posed for the NFL as well.. Last night my name was Overexposure. I was the embodiment of the  catastrophe Mark Cuban has forecast for the league, a threat to its entire business model.

In a column in the Globe years ago, Leigh Montvillle gave the best description of how the NFL works I have ever read or heard. Paraphrasing from memory, Leigh said that the NFL became and stays rich because it has somehow convinced customers that all its games were equally important, or at least equally interesting. It thrives because Patriots fans can and do tune in to see the Packers play the Panthers too, as opposed to baseball, where even in the playoffs fans watch the home team and nobody else.

Last night this football fan treated Steelers-Bengals as if it were, gasp, a baseball game. My teams weren't involved, I found no other reason (what's the equivalent of a no-hitter?) to care, so I didn't. There will be other games to watch, lots of them. Too many maybe.

Watching the NFL on Sundays is a habit I'll never break. Watching the NFL on Monday nights is no longer a habit. Watching the NFL on Thursdays is a habit I have yet to take up, and I already declined the first free hit offered by my network pusher.

Anecdotes are not data. Without a hint of evidence, I'll bet the ratings for Bengals-Steelers were all CBS and the NFL desired and more, much more due to the Scandal Factor. I'm hardly in the demographic each is seeking anyway, being too old to waste my remaining time on earth drinking light beer or eating franchise pizza.

In a nation of 310 million people, however if one person thinks, feels or does something, other people thought, felt or did the same thing. I was in a minority of football fans last night, probably a tiny one, but I wasn't alone.

 Watching the NFL on Sundays is a habit I'll never break. Watching the NFL on Monday nights is no longer a habit. Watching the NFL on Thursdays is a habit I have yet to take up, and I already declined the first free hit offered by my network pusher.

Next Thursday night's game is the Bucs at the Falcons. I give the "Simpsons" a better than even money shot at offering up a more engrossing rerun.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Oxymorons in Action

The "independent investigation" is the next to last refuge of scoundrels. Naturally the National Football League has just commissioned one.

I put the phrase independent investigation in quotes because it always should be. An investigation which the organization being investigated pays for by definition cannot be independent. It's what organizations turn to when neck deep in scandal with no idea of how to get to dry ground. Such investigations are always and forever to serve purposes other than the discovery of facts.

In the NFL's case, it's Plan B, since the stonewall coverup Plan A died a grisly death yesterday at the hands of the Associated Press. It reported  that an unnamed official in New Jersey law enforcement said he had too sent the video tape of Ray Rice slugging Janay Palmer to league headquarters in April, a claim thoughtfully documented by said official replaying an NFL voice mail acknowledging its receipt. This leaves Commissioner Roger Goodell, who earlier denied such a thing on national television in a CBS News interview, with one of two possible identities in the case -- Big Fat Liar or Worse and Dimmer Manager Than the Pointy-Haired Boss in Dilbert.

The NFL still denies all, but sensing the ambivalence of that stance, hired former FBI director Robert Mueller to lead the investigation that'll find the truth once and for all. Well, maybe not exactly to lead. The manhunt will be "overseen" by NFL owners John Mara of the Giants and Art Rooney of the Steelers. BTW, the Washington law firm where Mueller's a partner numbers Redskins owner Dan Snyder as a client. Sure sounds like Mueller will be independent and free of conflicts of interest to me!

The purpose of this "investigation" is so obvious even Phil Simms ought to get it, although for business purposes he won't. The NFL is seeking to buy what investigations take -- time. It needs time for the natural desire of football fans to follow the sport of football to submerge any revulsion at the moral void at the center of pro football governance, time for the next big media freakout to come along (videos of bombed Syrians would be most welcome at 345 Park Avenue), and most of all, time for the next knucklehead player to strike a woman so Goodell can provide lynch law. Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy are likely to be home for Sunday chores this fall.

All this to protect Goodell? That's the wonder of the story, just as Rice's violence is the horror. Thirty-two unbelievably wealthy and successful businessmen are going out on a limb for a guy who's proven to be a distinct business liability. Since Pete Rozelle left, the owners have gradually stripped the commissioner's office of authority. Player discipline and marketing were what Goodell had left in the way of powers. He's just blown both to an extent that astonishes me. I don't think even Sepp Blatter of FIFA could've done a worse job.

The owners may want to stand by Goodell now, but this insane tolerance must have limits. It is the nature of scandals that the bigger they get, the bigger the scapegoat an organization needs to douse its flames. The world, not to mention TMZ, is not going to stand by and wait for Mueller.

Somewhere in the Chicago offices of Wilson Sporting Goods this morning, there's an executive pondering whether it might be wise to put a stop order on the machine that brands Goodell's signature into NFL footballs. Just in case.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

We Won't Know Until You See The Films

There are only three possible scenarios and it's impossible to say which is more disgraceful for the National Football League.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Baltimore Ravens could be lying about how much they knew about the nature of Ray Rice's criminal assault on Janay Palmer prior to Rice's two-game suspension. In that case, the NFL is a den of scoundrels.

Or it could be some league personnel knew of the video tape showing the dreadful nature of Rice's sucker punch of his fiancee and chose to shortstop that knowledge with the passive collaboration of Goodell and the Ravens. Better to let the powers that be operate on the premises of plausible deniability. Better to make it a he said, she said affair than seek out an easily verifiable truth in the interests of business as usual. In that case, the NFL is a den of foolish,.cowardly scoundrels.

Finally, the league and Ravens could be telling the truth. They had no idea of just how violent Rice's attack was until they saw the video unearthed by TMZ and were appropriately shocked and appalled, which is why Rice is now both suspended and unemployed. That's that the NFL would like us to believe, although I don't know why. In some ways, that's the most depressing scenario of the three. Cluelessness causes far more evil in this world than does evil intent.

Goodell, the Ravens and the entire league would prefer us to think that they were blissfully unaware of what happens when a professional football player hits someone until they saw it with their own eyes. If so, what the hell do they think they've been selling all these years? Every week of every season, last week being no exception, other enormously strong and fit pro players wearing pounds of protective equipment suffer serious injuries when their peers hit them. Do the men who run our most violent sport lack the imagination to envision what happened when a player strikes a woman protected only by a cocktail dress? Do they think claiming to be so blinkered makes the league look better?

Sadly, they do. Covering the NFL, I met few if any outright scoundrels and an infinite number of people wearing blinkers. They put them on so as not to be distracted by the sight of any part of the world outside the NFL.  The blinkers work well. They've helped make the NFL ridiculously rich. They've also led to the league's constant surprise at the changes constantly taking place in society at large.

Take drug use as an issue. NFL policies are based on attitudes formed by old people in the 1970s. Josh Gordon was suspended for a year for repeated marijuana use, a drug Broncos fans were taking openly and quite legally in the parking lot of Mile High Stadium before Sunday night's game with the Colts.

Read the following bitter joke on the Internet yesterday.
"Mr. Commissioner, there's tape of Wes Welker popping Molly."
"Suspend him two games, that's awful."
"Molly's a drug, not a person."
"Make it four games."

It's not that the NFL doesn't think violence against women is bad. It's that violence against women is an outside world problem. Drug use can affect (sometimes) the on-field product. Barring a player's arrest, conviction and jail time, all too rare in all domestic violence cases, the violent crime doesn't.

The blinkers kept the league from noting that much and probably most of America has come to see violence against women as a much, much worse crime than recreational drug use. The blinkers kept the NFL from seeing that most people think Jim Irsay's driving under the influence beef was a more serious issue than Welker Gone Wild at the Kentucky Derby. The blinkers keep the league from realizing that its amazing ability to control information about its own activities stops dead when it hits activities of its personnel in the 21st century outside world of social media and omnipresent video recording.

I am sure that everyone in the NFL and its media-industrial complex of broadcast partners will swear on a stack of autographed pictures of Vince Lombardi that when it comes to domestic violence, their eyes are now open wide with full peripheral vision. They'll mean it, too. Meaning to change comes a lot easier than change itself.  I'm not so optimistic about real change, because I remember Blenda Gay.

Blenda Gay was a pretty fair defensive lineman for the Eagles back in the day. One night his wife Roxanne slit his throat as he slept, and her defense on the murder charge was it came in response to repeated violence at the hands of her husband. Ms. Gay was found legally insane, and there was conflicting evidence about whether or not she was a victim of her husband,, but one would've thought that the actual murder of a player would have put the NFL on red alert about the issue of domestic violence as an institutional threat.

Gay was murdered on December 23, 1976. The whole horrible story of how the league dealt with Rice's documented case of violent and possibly fatal assault on a woman indicates how little it has changed in almost 40 years. The one reason Rice's crime was treated as a Big Deal by the NFL yesterday was because of us, not it. Society at large as represented, God help us, by TMZ, stood right in front of the league and made it do so. That's the only way the NFL ever changes.

As any trainer will tell you, the trick with blinkers is that the horse stops realizing it's wearing them.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Statistical Anomaly for Paranoid Football Fans

It irks both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning that when the subject is NFL quarterbacking, they always get placed in the same sentence. If they want to do something about it, they ought to stop turning in eerily comparable performances on the same day.

Here's Brady's bifurcated stat lines from New England's 33-20 loss to the Dolphins.

First half: 19 completions in 29 attempts for 190 yards and a touchdown. Pats score 20 points.
Second half: 10 of 27 completions for 59 yards. Two fumbles lost on sacks. Pats score 0 points.

Here's Manning's.

First half: 16 completions in 22 attempts for 199 yards and three touchdowns. Broncos score 24 points.
Second half: 6 completions in 14 attempts for 70 yards. One sack. Broncos score 7 points.

Brady's second half from hell is easily explicable. No quarterback does well when forced to dig the turf out of his helmet on every third play. Manning faced much less duress from the Colts defense, yet was almost equally ineffective. Had Denver been on the road as New England was, there's no doubt in my mind it also would have lost. Visiting teams almost never have successful goal line stands.

Brady and Manning are the reasons the Broncos and Patriots are overwhelming favorites in the AFC. Yesterday, that reason was only 50 percent valid. Almost surely their mutual second half slide was only a weird coincidence.

But it does bring the word "entropy" to mind.

Moan Over Miami

Bill Belichick wore his NFL Hall of Fame frowny face and went into his renowned post-loss press conference mumble. Name, rank, serial number and about five phrases for "we sucked" repeated until the torturing inquisitors go away.

Belichick's chagrin at the Patriots' loss to the Dolphins yesterday could be measured by his willingness to take the same questions over and over at a ritual he despises win or lose. Usually, the coach is so disgusted/distressed/astounded by defeat he breaks off the conference after about four questions. Prolonging the press conference agony must've been a self-punishment drill, Belichick's equivalent of making himself run the stadium steps.

Amid his customary "we all have to do better" statements, Belichick went out of his way to stress one specific point. "We played everybody," he said, as well as "everybody played in this game."

This was a euphemism. What Belichick meant, and what Tom Brady more or less did say later, was "We tried everything, and nothing worked."

Just so. New England's disappearance in the second half was a total team effort. Being outscored 23-0 in 30 minutes cannot be anything else. Pick a Patriot, and he was getting whipped out there. Efforts to select one particular reason for such a loss are futile, the result of the journalistic convention that every story must have one angle and one alone. Such is the strength of that tradition that fans fall into the error as readily as journalists.

Did the absence of Logan Mankins contribute to the inability of the offensive line to prevent Brady from suffering grievous bodily harm? Somewhat, no doubt. Offensive line play is all about cohesion, and making a major personnel change less than two weeks before Opening Day can't help that.

But there's no reason why the loss of a guard would make a tackle unable to block his guy. Miami was able to rush Brady from the edge, the middle, and maybe from behind. If all the offensive linemen played, and they did, that meant none were working out too well. Mankins wouldn't have changed that much. He didn't last year when New England lost in Miami.

Nor does Mankins play defense. The Patriot front seven was worse than the offensive line in the second half, continuing its dedicated campaign to send Knowshon Moreno (358 yards rushing in his last two games against New England) to Canton. The allegedly discombobulated Dolphins O-line kicked ass with ferocious verve.

So are the Pats just not as good as everybody thought? Unlikely. But if they had to play Miami in Sun Life Stadium every week, they'd never make the playoffs.

My own likely faulty meta-analysis of the Patriots miseries is based on latitude. For reasons that defy explanation other than Just One of Those Things, when the Dolphins play New England in South Florida, they're about two touchdowns better than when they meet in Foxboro.

This was true at the Orange Bowl, and it's true at Sun Life Stadium. It was true when the Dolphins were very good and the Pats very bad, true when both teams were roughly equal, and true in the Belichick-Brady era when the Pats have been perennial title contenders and the Dolphins mediocre at their best. Yesterday's game left New England with a 15-35 record overall in Miami. It made Brady's personal record 7-6.

It is one of the glories of sports that there are phenomena which cannot explained yet remain very real. New England's woes on the road against the Dolphins are one of 'em. Had yesterday's game NOT been the opener, we'd have heard more about an ineffable jinx and less about Mankins. Nothing on earth gets more partially learned overanalysis than NFL Week One.

The latitude in Minneapolis is a much higher number than that for the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale border. So it's reasonable to expect a higher level of Patriots performance, too. The alternative explanation for New England's first opening game defeat in a decade offers a vision of a dark and grim autumn indeed.

It sucks for a team to have a jinx, but a jinx is only a weird problem. Consistent inability to block and tackle is doom.

Friday, September 05, 2014

A Thousand, Hell, A Hundred Words Are Sometimes Worth More Than Any Picture

Bill Belichick spoiled my late breakfast this morning, but it wasn't his fault. He was a victim, too.

Belichick's face appeared on my TV courtesy of Channel 7 under the dread local news heading "LIVE."  My dismay was instantaneous. The station had decided to cover the coach's Friday morning press conference as "BREAKING NEWS." There was no news, of course, and thanks to the mindless craving for live shots, there would be and will be less information about the New England Patriots then there might've been this season.

Channel 7 was live in Foxboro because on Thursday, Tom Brady wasn't. The Pats' quarterback missed practice with what was laconically described as a "calf" in the mandatory injury report. In a journalism ritual I remember all too well, action became the substitute for thought. Send the crew down there! Make Belichick come clean about this crisis! Forget everything we've learned about his M.O. in the last 15 years!

The decision worked as well as could be expected. As I wistfully rooted for the coach to give Channel 7 the spoofing it deserved and say something like "The CDC asked us not to put Ebola on the injury report,"  Belichick swatted away Brady related questions with the ease of Novak Djokovic belting an overhead smash. The TV showed the terse, secretive Belichick of stereotype, because the press conference was business, the business of making sure nobody can mind the Pats' business but themselves.

That's a pity for Patriots fans, because Friday sessions with Belichick are sometimes more than just business. It is when he is most likely to raise his curtain and let you look inside.

I don't want to exaggerate here.  In the less-than-I-should have attended Friday meets with Belichick, no secrets were spilled. No specific nonsecrets about the Pats were spilled. But in the normal order of things, the Friday morning media availability is when Belichick, as is true for most coaches, is at the apogee of his game week comfort level. Most of his work is done. It's on Fridays when Belichick is most likely to be chatty, even discursive, on elements of football theory and history that catch his fancy.

Not coincidentally, Fridays were and I assume still are the days the fewest reporters show up at Gillette Stadium. Diligence being a trait the coach admires, it's not surprising he'd be a little more open with familiar faces.

As a result, attendees learn stuff about football. And as diligent reporters, they are able to take said stuff  and translate it into stuff their audiences can learn about football and Belichick's football team.
As I have posted on this blog before, deductive reasoning is about the only way to penetrate Belichick's  cone of bland silence. Take what he has said on the record about football theory, apply it to a specific Patriots' issue, consider precedent, of which there's quite a lot after 15 years, and run with the result. Doesn't always work, but it works better than trying to think up new ways to ask "So Bill, is Tom dead or what?"

If Fridays are going to become the new Wednesdays of Patriots game week, with first one, then all, local TV crews there and live tweeting and all the rest of the information instead of knowledge clutter of 21st century journalism, then Belichick will clam up at those conferences as efficiently as he does on the other days of the week. And the world, particularly that part of the world which follows the New England Patriots, will be deprived of some insights by and into one of the more remarkable minds in pro football history.

That's quite a loss in return for nothing, which was exactly how much Channel 7 got out of its live shot this morning. What's the matter, gang? Didn't anybody post a cute animal video on YouTube for you pass off as news?