By Jason Keidel
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Just to show you the power of Tebow’s persona, his almost atomic nimbus that mushroomed over all news, both national and trivial, consider the stories we stopped covering while a backup quarterback landed at Morristown Airport.
First of all, who even knew there was an airport in Morristown?
As if his aura were some electromagnetic mist that short-circuits our synapses, we missed yearly monoliths like March Madness, spring training, and presidential primaries. On a smaller scale we missed the Knicks’ new surge under new coach Mike Woodson, Magic Johnson buying the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the death of Bon Vivant – iconic boxing historian Bert Randolph Sugar. (Although we were hardly pals, I met Bert several times, and he was as nice as he was knowledgeable, quick to smile, shake hands and share stories, appropriately told in his gravelly, cigar-smeared baritone.)
And we even forgot why Tebow just bit the Big Apple in the first place – Peyton Manning’s departure from the franchise he made relevant, Baltimore’s illegitimate children who left the land of Unitas in the supreme act of sporting betrayal. As if to burn that legacy into their logo, the Colts jettisoned the best player they will ever have and didn’t lose a minute of sleep over it. If you ever need a reminder that the “L” in NFL isn’t for Loyalty, just read Jim Irsay’s tweets over the final weeks leading up to Manning’s departure from Indiana.
Finally, word of Tebow taking his act to Broadway diverted our eyes from the biggest NFL story/scandal of this young century, if not longer.
The New Orleans Saints flouted the NFL, its rules, its commissioner, and an implicit bond among players since they fastened facemasks onto helmets, by going Barry Goldwater on their opponents, eclipsing the Nixonian deception of SpyGate, and making Bill Belichick blush by contrast with their brazen disregard for nearly every line in the rulebook.
You don’t need me to parse the particulars; everyone from Sports Illustrated to the Seattle Times has that covered. Essentially, the Saints – a most ironic moniker considering their crimes – paid their players to send their foes to the infirmary. And as if that malfeasance weren’t bad enough, they lied to Roger Goodell’s face about doing it in the first place and then continued doing the very thing they said they weren’t doing.
And thus Goodell went John Rambo on Saints management, rolling his ruling like a hand grenade under Sean Payton’s door. When it exploded, Payton was gone for the season, and his boss, GM Mickey Loomis, was suspended for eight games. The shrapnel spread all the way to St. Louis, where former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was banned indefinitely.
While the Gulf Coast has gotten an unfair share of punishment, from the sky and the sea, the Saints aren’t exempt from the rules. The biggest problem, really, was lying about it. We can accept an excess of violence on occasion, but not a pathology, which the Saints displayed in spades.
Part of us wants to deny that we watch football for its barbarism, and I have no idea why. For the last 40 years, we’ve rejoiced in “Jacked-Up” segments run by ESPN, among many replays of bone-rattling hits over the years. I was reared on the Frontier Town football of Chris Hanburger, Jack Lambert, Jack Tatum, George Atkinson, and Mike Curtis. Most football aficionados agree that the 1970s was the golden age of the NFL, and also its most violent.
As a Steelers fan, I saw Lynn Swann stagger to the sideline after a forearm to his forehead from those infamous Raiders. Then I recall him scoring touchdowns in the next game – the Super Bowl – after the Cowboys’ Cliff Harris threatened that more of the same was in store from the Doomsday Defense.
Perhaps those kinds of assaults had to be legislated out of football to keep players lucid, if not alive. And when we’re more QB obsessed than ever, we know that the tall skinny dude throwing the pigskin needs protection from James Harrison. But I don’t buy that our culture – so bored with boxing that you now need two men in a cage kicking each other in the face – has gone pacifist.
This Saints story, with more legs than the Rockettes, sprouted yet another limb. Sean Payton and his bosses, minions, and millions from owner Tom Benson, are courting legendary coach Bill Parcells. One issue that hasn’t been publicly pondered is whether Parcells cares about being second banana. Clearly, it’s Payton’s team, and if Parcells decides he likes the gig, he still must leave.
But Parcells, a flight risk even when he’s happy, may find this the perfect job. We can strip this deal clean of pretense. He can blow the dust off his last few introductory speeches, saying he’s sick of apologizing for being what he is – a football lifer – and then leave the team and town before they become lethally sick of each other. Before that happens, however, he could make the Saints very dangerous. He’s certainly got the street cred with two rings and his place as the coaching father of the man he’s replacing (Payton).
And because of his allergy to commitment, this would be the best gig Parcells ever got. The Saints came within a whisker of the Super Bowl – we all know the Giants don’t reach the Super Bowl through the Superdome – and assuming half their defense doesn’t get suspended, there will be a large chip on the team’s shoulder pads entering the season. The “us against the world” battle cry is normally silly and specious, but it should resonate among a ticked-off team that will be slapped with more suspensions than the 1918 Black Sox. They will be an ornery club with a cantankerous head coach.
If all that weren’t enough there’s still one more question while getting through the moral membrane of Payton’s replacement: Do the Saints have the right to pluck Parcells out of retirement?
The answer here is yes. First, Goodell, a lawyer long before he became commissioner, added no provisions regarding Payton’s replacement. Second, it makes for great ratings to have a legendary coach accepting an interim position on a club very close to winning it all. And it serves as a case study in coaching. Indeed, while basketball and baseball are more player-driven, football is still seen as a coach and quarterback’s game. Can you simply insert one fine coach over another, despite the disparity in their personalities?
Besides, how would the league tell the Saints whom to pick? Since the goal is to win, why wouldn’t they pick the best coach available? If the NFL’s brass forbids Parcells, then what about Jon Gruden? Or Tony Dungy? Or Brian Billick? You can’t tell the Saints to choose someone already in their employ since you’d be picking from a pool the league has already deemed corrupt.
And what did Saints fans do to deserve a bad season? The team and town are allowed to prosper, just not with those who cheated. San Francisco knows something about this, winning a World Series after Barry Bonds retired. Maybe the difference between winning and losing isn’t as vivid as we think. Karma is, well, you know.
Speaking of which, Parcells is so superstitious he once ordered the cleaning staff at Giants Stadium to mop around a penny on the floor. Fitting, since flipping a coin is as good a way as any to predict what Parcells will do.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.firstname.lastname@example.org
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