Cris Collinsworth is not high on my list of sportscasters, and other observations on the week that was...
So how about that game, huh?
I think Kristen put it best in an email to me Monday morning: "Was that or was that not among the most satisfying Patriots victories ever?" And there were many, many highly satisfying moments on both sides of the ball, such as Tom Brady and his wide receiving corps romping all over the Chargers defense. Not to be outdone, the Pats' own defense stood firm against America's favorite sore sport LaDainian Tomlinson, who carried 18 times for 43 yards.
But this particular Sunday, it was Bill Belichick in the spotlight, more so than he ever has been before.
There were times, especially late in the game, that the NBC cameras were focused on him pacing the sidelines rather than showing the action on the field. And so for a few moments we got to see more emotions flashing across Belichick's face than we've seen in nearly a decade of twice-weekly press conferences. I was shocked at the strange, wicked grin that began to play around his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth as his defense went cannibalistic in the fourth quarter, not only holding the line against a completely overmatched San Diego offensive unit but actually pounding the other team backwards 30 yards in four quick, eviscerating plays. Belichick seemed to be fighting to suppress his mirth, but his eyes were alight in a way that was amazing to see after hour upon hour of deadpan interview footage.
While this week has taught me some putrid new things about Belichick, it has also reaffirmed two of the positive-to-neutral qualities I'd already observed: a mind both brilliant and cold as ice in its literal, utterly emotionless interpretation of and behavior in response to events, and an utterly intractable stubbornness. I'd already seen these things back before Belichick's Boy Scout image got cracked right down the middle. Now that I've seen just how dead serious he is about shrugging off the fallout as soon as possible, I've got a newfound, if less worshipful, awe for those aspects of the man.
Look, he's paid the stiffest penalty ever levied against any head coach in the history of the league, the team as a whole has lost a draft pick next year, and he's been publicly torn limb from limb already by the league's statements on the matter, even as it's become clear it's probably something every team does. Does that make it right? No. That's why he's paid the fine. And that should be the end of it.
And it would be, but there has developed a disproportionate, borderline hysterical desire for further pounds of flesh from Belichick and the Patriots organization that I just can't believe comes from any rational thought process. Cris Collinsworth's rash, spotlight-seeking statements on Belichick over the weekend were the prime example of the utter, unwarranted insanity that the national broadcasting machine is applying to these events.
"I think Commissioner Roger Goodell blew this one. Bill Belichick should have been suspended without question. The violation of the league rules occurred in this football season and yet the punishment hit only their wallets and future draft choices. There is nothing that impacted this season. He should have been suspended for at least the Jets game because that's where the violation occurred and, in my opinion, a playoff game. This was a great opportunity for the Commissioner to lay down the law like he's done with the players and he didn't do it." (via)
Come on, Cris. Seriously? Maybe we should be discussing lethal injection here. Might a plea bargain for 25 to life be on the table?
Give me a break. If an unprecedented penalty isn't enough for you, then you've got your own set of issues that have nothing to do with football.
I mean, to cite another ridiculous op-ed I read about Camera-gate, does Bill Belichick really warrant the same judgment as someone who's been implicated in a near-fatal shooting at a strip club? Does not shaking Mangini's hand and the post-defeat allegations of LaDainian Tomlinson last year really amount to a "long history of poor sportsmanship"?
As the initial furor died down and the justified resentment turned to ugly animosity during the countdown to kickoff, I felt compelled to draw a line between not making excuses for a particular set of decisions and being put on the defensive for being a fan of the team in general. Reading shrill editorials comparing a head football coach to Richard Nixon tends to do that to a person.
And so by Sunday, I found myself identifying more with Tedy Bruschi and Tom Brady, who seized their coach with genuine, fierce emotion on the sideline as the final seconds ticked down on the game clock and the final score turned out to be fittingly, eerily, exactly the same as last week. I found myself smiling as Belichick waved to the fans who lingered at Gillette on his way back to the tunnel and the locker room.
No question, Bill Belichick screwed up. But I refuse to accept his newly minted image as the ultimate football Antichrist. And I don't think his team should, either.