Thursday, September 13, 2007

Shades of the Darkness

So after all the fuss over whether or not the fans were cheering Chad Pennington's injury, the real scandal was underneath their scornful eyes the whole time. Belichikgate. What kind of fan would I be if I didn't feast on the slightly wounded, otherwise freakishly good killing machine that is the New England Patriots? In truth, the killing machine is only vaguely stunned. Nevertheless, I will muster some righteous, if not rambling indignation.

Bill Belichick, ladies and gentlemen. Schmuck. A graceless, paranoid, shabby little man. We all know that even without videotaping the defensive signals of "an opponent" (HELLO?! How come every article I read about this refers to the Jets as "an opponent?" Isn't J-E-T-S easier to spell??) the New England Patriots would still be able to beat most of the teams in the AFC. But the crucial question is whether or not Belichick feels the same way. It's his team, isn't it? Wherefore the confusion? If you have the best team in the NFL, then why the need to cheat?

The answer might be partially found in New England itself. My ex-friends who live there provide evidence of the strange and infectious mindset of the world the Puritans once called home. I still don't really think New Englanders (read: Bostonians) really know what to do with the Red Sox since they won the World Series. This is the area of America that had the greatest squad in any sports with the Boston Celtics of the 60's and 70's, yet it couldn't muster the decency to make Bill Russell - the greatest basketball player of the era - feel even slightly welcome. My own in-laws from Boston acted like my wife was too uppity when she accepted a scholarship to go Barnard rather do a co-op than Northeastern. This is an area of the world that subconsciously wants the ball to go through Bill Buckner's legs - a place that doesn't want success unless it's complicated by a simultaneous misery, like an annoying ringing in the ear that won't go away.

At last...a scandal worthy of the comparison to Watergate! OK, fine, but there is a little of Richard Nixon in Bill Belichick. Nixon didn't need to bug the Democratic Headquarters, just as Belichick didn't need to violate NFL policy and steal the Jets' signs. (I promise; I'm not just loving the analogy because the Jets are the underachieving McGovernites). The temptation to cheat probably became too intense when the ringing in Belichick's ear probably became too impossible for him to ignore. No level of greatness is enough; how could it be? There are enemies everywhere. Cheating's the only way to guarantee that they will consider him a real success.

There are several informal coaching schools throughout the game. There's the Walsh school, the Gibbs school, the Noll school. Belichick learned through Bill Parcells, and although cheating was probably beneath the Tuna's gargantuan ego, there is a well-known darkness about the old teacher that I'm sure he engendered in the pupil. I remember scenes of Parcells as Jets coach haranguing Belichick about his defensive coordinator calls right in the middle of the game. His insistent, nasty remarks at Belichick - even snippets of them - were insulting, really. I've never seen another head coach do that to his assistants with as much venom as Parcells did. Perhaps that insistent ringing in Belichick's ear is the lingering voice of Parcells himself - a man who insulted his first wife's intelligence on 60 Minutes while he was still married to her.

So no wonder Eric Mangini is a little weird. His characteristic secretiveness stems probably from a similarly regenerated darkness within Bill Belichick, the mentor who shook our coach's hand is if it were a slab of raw chicken. Let's hope the darkness doesn't catch up with Mangini, at least no more than is already evidenced by his obsessive silence with the normally curious press about his player's injuries.

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