Here’s a handful of random thoughts and snippy asides to chew on as you await Soupey Sunday’s annual larger than life incarnation:
Does anyone else find it marvelously ironic that while Pete Carroll scales the heights inching to the top, Bill Belichick sits at home and sulks. Mark Twain said it best: “It’s a long, long road that has no turning.” For Carroll, who was never taken seriously in New England, it took 15 long years to reach the bend. But for a week at least it may seem worth it.
As for Squire Belichick, he remains the most difficult of reads. So we have no way of knowing how the embarrassment of his supreme folly in mindlessly making an issue of Wes Welker after the disaster in Denver now sits with him. As you well know by now, Belichick went ballistic over a block by Welker that waylaid a Patriot cornerback. Most found it solid, hard-nosed football that’s acceptable. But not the Boss. His reactions, ranging from the irrational to the absurd, have stamped him once again as the sorest of losers. It’s his dumbest ploy since ‘Spygate’ and nastiest since he assaulted a Globe photographer who was simply trying to do his job after yet another bitter Pats’ loss. For this latest indiscretion, he’s properly getting hammered everywhere west of Worcester.
An element of this man’s acknowledged genius is his remarkable gift for making himself look not just bad, but also lousy. As the Globe’s estimable Bob Ryan has observed, the sadness of it remains that it needlessly detracts from so much he does well. It’s hard to excuse, however, especially from one who can be notably unforgiving of others.
As the Herald’s Ron Borges, long a shrewd skeptic of Belichick and his antics, further notes, he unloaded on ex-Pat Welker because he wanted to change the subject, which would have otherwise been his own oddly shoddy coaching performance against the Broncos. It’s a tough verdict, but hard to dispute. Belichick snippily declared he’d demand that the NFL rule on Welker’s hit, obviously seeking punishment for the kid who had for so long performed brilliantly for him. Wisely, league officials are ignoring him, making the coach look still more ridiculous.
Bill Belichick remains a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. But none of this, however foolish, ultimately alters his Hall of Fame resume as a bona-fide lord of the gridiron. He’s not the first great coach who has been willfully inscrutable. Nor will he be the last. Moreover, it’s unlikely he ever yearned to be regarded as “beloved.”
Elsewhere on the sporting scene:
While on the subject of zany conduct in the coaching ranks, there’s the equally curious case of John Tortorella, another sporting skipper with an odd talent for making a fool of himself.
“Torts” surely knows Hockey and possesses the requisite passion. He could name his price if he could only control his Vesuviusan rages. His colorful, if often scary, tantrums cost him the prestigious Rangers’ job, bringing about his exile to Vancouver, which passes for Elba in the NHL. The island of St. Helena may be his next stop after his recent nutty meltdown in a Canucks-Flames tilt that seemingly was snared straight from the out-takes of “Slapshot” (i.e., the scenes they couldn’t get past the censors). He’s currently serving the stiffest suspension ever slapped on an NHL coach.
We won’t get into whether it’s for the better or worse here and now, but the game has changed. Madcap frolics and merry free-for-alls on or off the ice that were deemed hilarious a generation ago are outlawed in the brave, new, and straight-laced NHL, which aches to be prime-time all over the world and believes it must polish its image to get there.
Poor “Torts”! He’s a throwback, lost in time. A local boy, he apparently grew up adoring the “Big Bad Bruins.” What he fails to appreciate is if his apparent role model, my dear old pal, Don Cherry, were still coaching today, he’d get run off too if he insisted on climbing dashers, excoriating officials, and inciting riots in the seats as he was able to get away with in the good old days. The difference is that the still immensely colorful “Grapes” – who’s always been crazy like a fox –would have the good sense to revise his act, whereas “Torts” just can’t seem to do that.
What a character! My favorite Tortorella anecdote has to do with one of his early wig-outs back when he was climbing the coaching ranks as an assistant for the Sabres, as I recall, nearly 20 years ago. One night on the road he got into a major league uproar with an enemy fan which, though it fell short of sheer mayhem, still earned him a three-game suspension, which was a lot in those days. Turns out the fan was the local assistant district attorney.
As characters go, “Torts” is the real deal. They make too few of them nowadays.
Some more intriguing football notes to ponder as we await the annual brush with Armageddon:
• We have learned, thanks to recently revealed NFL tax filings, that Commissioner Roger Goodell, who didn’t have to spend a single day on the disabled list, earned a salary of $29,419,000 last year and will presumably get a further raise – a COLA, or some such – this year. He’s the highest paid of all the hideously over-paid czars of our four major games.
The next time Mr. Football Commissioner rants about escalating costs, or hard-balls the players in labor negotiations, or laments the high cost of indemnifying maimed and angry alumni seeking to have their medical bills covered, please keep that little factoid in mind.
• Dr. Tom Coburn, a Republican senator from Oklahoma who is ever hawkish on fiscal issues, is filing a bill that would strip the National Football League of its cherished tax-free status as a so-called “non-profit trade association.” If it comes as a surprise to you that anything connected with the fabulously wealthy NFL that churns out billions of bucks in profits every year deserves any manner of tax relief on whatever pretext, then join the club. The NBA also enjoys this privilege but Major League Baseball does not.
The bad news is that Senator Coburn intends to retire at the end of the current session and with him, no doubt, will be retired this impertinent notion, given that a vast majority of the Congressional gang will not wish to imperil their breezy and free-be access to the Redskins, let alone their home team. Still, the fact the senator, in a parting gesture, is rattling their cage is doubtless making Mr. Commissioner squirm, his obscene salary notwithstanding.
Thank you, Senator Coburn!
• No surprise, given that the floodgates on this matter have been opened but a record 98 college football undergraduates are filing for the NFL draft, which means they’ll leave school well before completing four years of what is for many an alleged education, with the best leaving after only a year. Surprisingly, a fair number are from academically prestigious schools – three from Notre Dame, two from Stanford, two from Cal-Berkley, one (a promising D-back) from Boston College, et al. All of this reinforces the poppycock of big-time college football having anything to do with genuine education.
Anyway, here’s an idea. Make the pro teams that sign these kids reimburse the schools they come from for as many years as they spent as pseudo-students, even if it was only a pretense. In fact, double or triple the fee as a reasonable penalty. It would be a trifle for NFL teams, mere pennies.
But it would have the important and dramatic effect of making the NFL acknowledge that it has been gleefully using the American higher educational network as its bloody farm system, free of charge, for 80 years. That would be simply terrific.
On such cheerful notes, we pronounce ourselves ready for the Big Game. Pitchers and catchers report to camp in just a couple of weeks.