Monday, September 17, 2007

Spy vs. Spy in the NFL

The most recent controversy in athletics is the accusation of cheating against the New England Patriots. According to the NFL, the New England Patriots used spies to video tape the New York Jets’ signals during their September 9th football game. The Pats used the tape to steal the Jets’ play-calls and thus provide an unfair advantage to themselves. Apparently, after years of complaints against the Pats, the NFL’s crack team of investigators pretty much caught the Patriots red-handed, took their tapes and confirmed that the illegal act occurred. Additionally, former foes have suggested that the Patriots may also have used non-NFL radio frequencies during the game, interfered with opponents’ radio transmissions, sent spies into opposing teams’ locker rooms to acquire information, and used other forms of technological espionage. And yes, I am still talking about football, not the overthrow of a small third world government.

So when did the NFL become a game of spy vs. spy? It may be true that, as George Orwell once said, athletics is simply warfare without the bullets and such activity is a logical extension of this axiom. This may be particularly true for football. As my other favorite George (Carlin) humorously reminds us, the lexicon of football is pretty warlike-- QBs are field generals who avoid the blitz by using a shotgun to pepper defenses and throw bombs, the whole game revolves around ground acquisition and is ultimately won in the trenches, occasionally ending in “sudden death”-- as opposed to “pastimes” like baseball where the object is simply to be “safe at home." Maybe I’m just getting old, but seems to have gotten worse in recent years. Part of it is the advance of technology, with computer printouts, immediate ability to crunch data, digital photography and film, plus the ability transmit this information quickly and accurately. It seems like more and more of the game strategy occurs away from the field than on it. The other reason is the “win at all costs” attitude which so prevalent in our society, which professional sports has come to epitomize. This perspective is so prevalent that the prospect of a “forfeit” for cheating was never seriously discussed, as presumably, to enforce a loss on a team for cheating in a game is too severe to be even considered. In other words, to punish a winner by making them a loser apparently sends the wrong message. The worst thing that the NFL considered was a suspension of Coach Belichik. In actuality, the NFL fined Belichick and the Patriots and deprived them of a yet to be determined number of draft picks. Only the latter of the sanctions will have any impact on the team, and that impact will be impossible to measure and won’t be felt, if at all, for years to come.

I have never considered myself a Luddite or put much stock in past “Golden Ages” but I have to admit that this controversy has waxing nostalgic for the halcyon days of old. Isn’t the best way to analyze the opponent’s defense by sending a 230lb fullback up the middle and see who has fortitude to stop him? What is wrong with communicating with players and other coaches the old fashioned way, by yelling at them? What happened to sending in plays with messenger guards or through ridiculous looking hand signals on the sideline? I don’t have a problem with pre-game preparation, studying the opposition for tendencies and formations, but once the game starts all that should go out the window and the game should be decided on the field. If it was good enough for Vince Lombardi, it should be good enough for “geniuses” like Bill Belichik.

Therefore I propose these 10 changes in the NFL rules—

1. All coaches must be on the designated sideline for their team for the duration of the game (no coaches “in the booth”)
2. The NFL (and only the NFL) will film all games and those films will be provided to teams upon request (and of course with the express written consent of the NFL) when preparing for a future game, but the film will digitally edited, removing sideline communications
3. No transmitters/radio receivers of any kind on the sideline or in a helmet
4. There will be special officials designated to police the above rules. If teams are caught cheating, they lose the game and all statistics from the cheating team for that game are zeroed

—and while I’m at it--

5. No games on Astroturf or in a dome
6. No more challenging bad calls—bad calls are a part of the game, get used to it
7. Superbowls rotate so every city gets a chance to host (yes, even if it snows and is thirty below)
8. Put everyone in leather helmets and leather pads (should actually reduce injuries as players won’t be able to use their head as a weapon)
9. Bring back the drop kick
10. Each team has to have a player named “Bronco,” “Night Train,” or “Crazy Legs”—this player must play both offense and defense

Are you ready for some football?

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