As promised, here's the lengthy "Point-Counterpoint: Belichick's a Jerk"
discussion. If any further discussion follows I'll update this post with it. Picks follow.LF:
It's funny - I was going to start this week's picks with a diatribe on the Patriots. Specifically, about how for many years I never minded them even as they won their championships, swayed by the media portrayal of them as scrappy overachievers and the lionization of Brady and Belichick. In this space, I was going to write about how it was becoming increasingly clear that the team in New England was in fact a really unlikable group.
I was planning on doing this before the sign-stealing scandal broke.
Certainly, it seems like the argument is no longer necessary. Now that everyone hates the Patriots, it's safe to say, mission accomplished.
To me, the most amazing thing about the Pats scandal is the number of players from other teams across the entire NFL coming out to tell stories about the patriots having their number. If this was really a situation where everyone was doing at least some form of sign-stealing, I don't think you would see this.CH:
I was planning on writing about something other than football to introduce my picks this week, but then the whole Patriots sign-stealing scandal blew up so I guess I must offer my opinion on that. I'll let Lucas yuk it up over there and pretend to be horribly outraged like the rest of the mainstream media, but I will attempt to be fair and even-handed unlike most everyone else.
First of all, I am embarrassed for my team, not because they stole signs, which I'll get to in a moment, but because of how they did it. A guy in a Patriots shirt, who had previously been caught at least once with a video camera on the opposing sidelines violating a rule that had been emphasized 12 months ago. In the immortal words of the Simpsons: "Sometimes I think you *want* to fail!"
But that said, I think that the whole competitive-advantage thing is overblown for 2 reasons:
1) I would cite my source on this, but I read so much about it all this week that I have no recollection which online columnist wrote it. Basically, in response to everyone claiming that that Patriots should have to forfeit games or Super Bowl rings because of the sign-stealing incident, a columnist pointed out that the signs in question are performed by a man standing on the sidelines of a football game witnessed by 60,000+ people. This is not a secret! Even if a team doesn't have a cameraman on the sidelines, they could have a cameraman in the stands zooming in on the coaches across the field just as easily. Even if they have no cameras, a trained observer could most likely pick up the defensive signals just by watching the game in person, assuming a team blitzes enough to be able to see that sign repeated. It's just like in baseball, where the 3rd base coach stands in the field and tells the batter whether to bunt or the runner whether to steal. If a team stole enough bases during the game where you could get a look at the steal signal enough, you could pick it up easily. The reason most teams can't is that stolen bases and bunts are rare enough that the sample size is too small to make correlations (especially in the American League, where you're more likely to see a triple play than a bunt).
2) As Lucas pointed out, we are all of a sudden subjected to the collective whinings of players beaten by the Patriots in the past. I find the Packers reference particularly funny, since the Pats won that game 35-0. Even if you assume that they scored all 35 points because they were able to pick up blitzes (which, as everyone admits, is really the only advantage you get from stealing defensive signals), that still makes the score 0-0. The Packers still don't win the game. But at least in that case it was a defensive player complaining. I've also read a number of stories about offensive players complaining about the sign-stealing. I'm not sure how the Patriots defense would have an advantage by knowing the opposing team's defensive signs, but by all means now you have an excuse for why you got sick in the huddle during the Super Bowl, Donovan McNabb.
The most absurd thing I read this week was that the sign stealing is worse for the sport than HGH/steroid use. One of these 2 things is a federal crime and potentially causes bodily damage to yourself and others (see: Benoit, Chris). The other may or may not even provide a competitive advantage at all, as the stats bear out (in multiple ways). But by all means, lets all knee-jerk overreact so we have something to write about all week.LF:
Ok, Chris, I figured you would take the apologist route, and that's just fine - it's your right as a normal, illogical NFL fan. But the one thing I can't take lying down is being lumped in with the rest of the media. So if you're looking for a rebuttal, here it is:
1) I never made any statement about the punishment being too lenient. Of course asking them to forfeit games is ridiculous.
2) I never made any statement about competitive balance being significantly altered, or any statement that the outcome 35-0 game would have been significantly different (nor did the article in question).
3) I never expressed anything close to "outrage". Pure amusement at their hubris, nothing more.
Out of the two articles you cited, the first is written by a Patriots fan (don't think I don't read Bill Simmons too - I agreed with most of Bill's points in his column, particularly the Nixon parallel, but Mr. Aaron Schatz came off looking like a complete homer), and the second is entirely based on the theory that "If the Patriots have been exploiting signal stealing regularly in past years, we would expect them to have an advantage against teams they play more than once in a season", which is shaky at best.
I think you need to re-read my post, because the only point I was making is that the Patriots have turned in to an unlikeable organization, and deserve to be disliked by opposing teams, players, and fans - basically anyone who isn't a Patriots backer. If you're really trying to dispute me, you're going to have to show me that Belichick is actually a nice guy who doesn't deserve to be loathed, so have fun with that.CH:
OK, I'll admit I took out my anger at the media in general (Tuesday Morning Quarterback this week, what the hell?) on you, but you bring up an important point in your comment. What does Belichick's personality have to do with whether or not a team deserves to be liked or disliked? Belichick's job is to win as many games as possible.
All of the things he does with regards to the media further that goal, be it purposefully misrepresenting his team's injury situation (this I think is worse than the sign-stealing in terms of competitive advantage and it seems like this year in changing the rules about reporting injuries the NFL is at least attempting to regulate it), parroting the same boring messages every week at press conferences (in order for the team to keep an even keel and remain only focused on the next game, he needs to set the example himself), and not allowing himself or his players to trash talk to the media (Tomlinson may have gotten upset about the situation at the end of the Chargers playoff game last year, but that was an isolated incident). As a person, is he likable? No one really knows. Reporters who do talk football with him during the offseason have reported that when discussing game strategy he is friendly and engaging. In reality you can't really judge a person by how the media portrays them (Britney Spears excluded).
As for the team itself, like any team they have likable and unlikable players. I would argue that Tedy Bruschi is extremely likable, Rodney Harrison not so much (although he is an excellent veteran leader). Even the Bengals, with all of their criminal problems, have likable players (Chad Johnson, although occasionally crazy).
In closing, I heard the funniest condemnation this week (not of the Patriots, but Tank Johnson) come from Troy Aikman on PTI, who referred to his Cowboys Super Bowl teams as being a team full of high character guys. Let's see, Leon Lett, Nate Newton, Michael Irvin...LF:
Wow, Troy Aikman actually said that? That's the stupidest football-related quote I've heard in a long time, and I hear a lot of stupid football-related quotes. Don't forget Deon Sanders on your list of infamy.
Anyway, I'd like to first mention you made a good point when you questioned whether Belichick's personality should have anything to do with whether a team deserves to be liked or disliked. I would agree to a point - for you, as a Patriots fan, no it shouldn't. For someone who isn't a Patriots fan, either the fan of a rival or a neutral NFL watcher, it's a perfectly good reason to be disliked.
I could have ended on that note, but then, despite your previous statement, you proceeded to make a set of arguments defending his personality anyway, so I'm obliged to reply to those.
Now, I can't make judgments personally, and what the media has put out from anonymous sources about other Belichick misdoings are (at this point) just that - rumors, but the other side of the coin is that you have to dismiss positive media accounts, too. Those are from situations where Belichick is dictating the terms, not the writer. Actual actions, like the videotaping, or my favorite, the waiver claim shenanigans, are the closest thing to evidence that regular fans like you or I can go on. When you 1) try to tell other teams to not sign players you've released despite the fact that you already have the most talented roster in the league, and 2) retaliate when someone dares to disobey you and claimed a player that they had every right to acquire, by revenge-claiming one of their players out of spite, that's pretty strong evidence that you are acting, in the technical sense, "like a jerk". Yes, Brad Childress is a dope who routinely mentions personal stuff to the media when most coaches (justifiably) would keep it "in house", but the side effect of his loose lips is that he gives one of the most unfiltered pictures of Belichick that we have to go on, and it's not pretty. (Side note: If the NFL was a mafia movie, Childress would be the first guy to get whacked)
In closing, I think you're slowly drawing asymptotically closer to the argument that "I don't care if he's a jerk, because he helps the Patriots win games", which is different (and entirely more defensible) than your "he's not a jerk, because he helps the Patriots win games" line of responses. The funniest part of this whole situation to me is how Patriots fans, like you and your buddy Bill Simmons, somehow believe that rationality is on their side, and that it's everyone else on earth who alters the facts, because they're out to get you. Well, the part about us being out to get you is true, but the rest isn't, as far as I can tell. Heaven save us from a world where fans actually admit their irrational love for a particular team. I wanted to again stress that I'd have no argument with you taking the irrational approach. You could go disputing what everyone outside of New England sees as a forgone conclusion and I wouldn't be able to say anything contrary. Heck, I don't think you'd be a good Patriots fan if you didn't.