December 7, 2016

Bill of Goods

logoby Dan Snapp
[email protected]

We’re eight years along, and people still don’t have the first clue about Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.

Monday, Browns guard Eric Steinbach called Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel “classless” for hitting QB Derek Anderson at the knee on a spike play in the final seconds:

“It was a classless act, and you can quote me on that. The play was already dead. It was long after that. You can say it was only one guy, but that reflects on the team. Everyone’s trying to emulate the New England Patriots, and everyone looks up to them in the NFL like they’re the team that does everything right.”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. And if you’re a Patriots fan, you’ve heard it and know what’s likely coming next. Somebody says “Classless” and “Patriots” together in the same sentence, and it’s only a matter of time before LaDainian Tomlinson is in front of a camera.

So when was it again that Belichick decreed the Patriots to be the league’s moral compass? That they were all squeaky-clean Boy Scouts who loved their mamas, ate their vegetables, said their prayers and asleep by nine?

Sure, the players contend there’s a “Patriot Way”, but every team has their version of that. No doubt Bob Kraft and his PR department eats this stuff up, too (“Today, we’re all Patriots!”), but you’ll never hear such language coming from Belichick.

Listen to his press conferences. He repeats such tedious truisms (“There’s plenty of room for improvement”, “I’m just concentrating on the next opponent”, “It is what it is”), they become football mantras, soon after repeated by the players. The themes remain constant: respect for the opponent; humility; and always the plan to work harder.

Bill Belichick is a Horatio Alger story for the 21st century: achieving success through hard work, discipline and determination, and then cultivating those same principles in his team. He coached his players to place accountability, sacrifice and team above all other virtues, and then thrived because of it.

Yet somehow his national perception is the opposite: cheater, ogre, bully, lout, and famously, “arrogant, megalomaniacal, duplicitous pond scum.” You name it, he’s been called it. Obviously, “Spygate” added fuel to the fire, but the perception was there long before that.

The media rewards those who help them do their jobs, and punishes those who don’t. Belichick is being punished. Long after the league tried to shut the door on the issue, folks like Peter King, Gregg Easterbrook and Mike Florio keep trying to wedge it open. King wrote Monday:

I think what makes me not want to forget the Patriots’ Spygate story are conversations like the one I had with a club official the other day, a man I respect a lot. “From what I hear, it’s best for everyone in the league if this story just goes away,” he said.

Maybe. Or maybe it’s best for the 130 million Americans who watch some part of the Super Bowl every year to hear an explanation from Bill Belichick or the league about what was found — and whether there was something in the tapes that was a tangible benefit to a team winning any of three Super Bowls by three points apiece. I still think we’re owed an explanation that’s never been offered.

So typical. The club official gives King the wink-wink tidbit (“best for everyone in the league”, and really, what else could that mean?) and King blows it off, instead escalating the Pats’ speculation to start questioning the Super Bowls. Oh, and here’s a good rule of thumb: whenever a writer says he’s speaking for the fans, he’s not speaking for the fans.

Moments after Steinbach’s dust-up with Vrabel Sunday, Belichick made his way across the field to greet his former defensive coordinator, Browns coach Romeo Crennel. Unlike Belichick’s relationship with Jets coach Eric Mangini, he and Crennel remain close, so you can imagine how CBS treated the moment.

Exactly. They didn’t show it.

If Belichick hugs a guy in the forest but the network doesn’t tape it, does it make a sound?

Instead, we were treated to Tom Brady rushing down the sidelines, looking pissed about his afternoon. Most likely, he was caught on the MossCam, always on the lookout for Randy yelling at a quarterback, squirting a ref, or rushing to the locker room before the game was over. Since it was Brady rushing to the locker room, well, nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

We’ll see how the same network treats the Patriots/Jets rematch in December. I’m sure they won’t show that handshake.

This is why the prospect of going undefeated is so compelling. Nobody expects or demands it, but it would be the ultimate defiant gesture to every self-entitled media member looking to extract their pound of flesh, to every delusional playoff opponent questioning the nature of their losses, and to the tough-guy commish, who would rather play Gary Cooper than squelch the whole affair when he had the chance.

The beauty of it is you can be certain nobody’s talking about it in Foxboro. Adalius Thomas will print up the “16-0 is a four-letter word” tee shirts, and Belichick will say, “Does anybody have any questions about Washington?”

So the media will go on billing Belichick as the evil ogre, opponents will go on telling what the Patriots are supposed to represent, and the team will block out both and just concentrate on the task at hand.

It is what it is.

Comments

  1. David Clemeno says:

    Dan,

    Home run. Please write a book.

  2. Well done, Dan. It really is funny how the national (and some local) media are the ones most guilty of calling the Patriots ‘virtuous’, yet, when they do something wrong, they are scolded for being hypocritical. As you say, where is the quote that shows Belichick saying they are the angels of the NFL?
    Finally, this notion of the league sweeping the spygate crap under the rug and therefore there must be other things done wrong that we will never know about, kills me. I honestly understand why media, and fans, might be skeptical of the NFL sending a out a brief statement saying the tapes and notes have been destroyed. But then I read Peter King and that idiot Easterbrook say something to the effect of: ‘now we will never know what else might have been on those tapes and we should now question everything that goes on… blah, blah,blah’. That’s when this question popped into my mind: What else could there be on there? Seriously, other than the defensive signals, and a quick shot to the time and down-distance (which we know were on there) what else could there be? Offensive signals? No, there are none. Honestly, what else could there be?
    Now, according to John Clayton, Belichick (pro football’s first science fiction headcoach) could have been putting mic’s in the players uniforms and sent unmanned drones into the stadium to tweak opposing player’s hamstrings, but I doubt any of that would have been on the tapes. So really, what else could there have been on there? How about asking THAT before spoouting assumptions that there is more.
    Ok, I’m done.

  3. You nailed it. This article should be published on espn.com and si.com and fedexed to the disingenous King, the intellectually dishonest Easterbrook, the vengeful Tom Jackson, and the SF legacy protecting Steve Young

  4. Box Score says:

    A nice footnote to this piece, Dan, is Belichick’s response to Steinbach (courtesy of Reiss):

    “The only reason Mike was even in the vicinity of anyone’s legs or knees is because he was pushed down,” Belichick said. “Then they hit him late. It looked to me that the players were off balance probably because the offense, knowing it was a spike, slowed down and Mike just did what any defensive player should do — play hard to the whistle and take nothing for granted. I wouldn’t tell Mike to do anything differently.”

  5. jamesgarnerisgod says:

    Is it just my imagination, or wasn’t Vrabel actually diving for the ball that Anderson spiked, perhaps in response to a lack of a whistle. Before I heard anything about this diving-at-the-knee nonsense, I thought the Browns went after him b/c they thought going for a fumble recovery in the final seconds was simply piling on. That’s debatable, but if there’s no whistle, the play’s not dead, and a football player who’s not going after a loose ball isn’t doing his job.

    I know I’ll come off as a homer, given my insistence that the Wilfork play vs. LOSEman was unintentional, but come on: The Patriots already established their dominance over the Browns — do we really believe Vrabel was trying to neutralize the all-powerful Derek Anderson once the Pats’ victory was a fait accompli? As Kanye West would say, “get down, girl, g’head get down.”

    When exactly was the rest of the league — and not just the Colts’ GM ranks — replaced by pussies and crybabies?

  6. I like when the mediots say stupid things, it makes my list of articles to read shorter. King, Easterbrook, Prisco, Farinella, MacMullan, almost everyone at ESPN all get skipped.

  7. Check out the ESPN Ombudsman’s take on the Easterbrook crap: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=schreiber_leanne&id=3050882

    He has been served.

  8. Regarding the ESPN Ombudsman:

    That’s fantastic! Like a lot of you probably did, I wrote to Schreiber after I read Easterbrook’s column (which was the last Easterbrook column I’ll ever read), and I said, basically, that I didn’t know if Ombudspeople deal with this sort of thing, but that his article was so inflammatory and such rumor mongoring, on a website that employs an ombudsman (and therefore at least acts like it takes journalistic efforst seriously), that I thought she should look into it but that I wasn’t reading his stuff anymore. Some assistant of hers named Scott wrote me back and said “they were looking into it” but I didn’t believe him. I never dreamed she actually would publish something on it. She must have gotten a hundred or a thousand emails like mine. That’s incredibly gratifying to see Easterbrook have to take one on the chin for his incendiary rumor mongering.

  9. Great find, Tom, thanks.

  10. The Patriots organization has noted this post, and appreciates it. That’s about all I can say.

  11. jamesgarnerisgod says:

    That ombudsman piece was, indeed, excellent. The state of journalistic ethics and best practices is so laughable these days; at a publication I work for, a sports editor asked me if I thought it would be OK for them to allude to rumors about the suspension of a high school athlete, b/c they had quotes saying she definitely wasn’t suspended. Problem is, they had no quotes from anyone saying she had been suspended, just denials to the question only the sportswriter — prompted by rumblings and off-the-record speculation — was asking. Of course I said no, unless we want to pay her way through college via a libel judgment. But the fact that the question came up at all was just today’s example of the shoddiness practiced in the craft.

    Anyway, good on ESPN for at least employing a couple of bona fide journalists.

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