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Friday Out-Takes: Rush to Judgment

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Rush Limbaugh

The Audacity of Dopes

In the mid-80's, according to Hollywood scuttlebutt (Meth heads on A & E's *Intervention * are more reliable, true, but stay with us), one of the film industry's top grossers and brightest rising stars decided it was time for boldness. So he called together his representatives and ordered an agency-wide meeting - not just his principle point-people, but the entire agency, from the ARI GOLDs on down - to divine a strategy for taking him and his "brand" to the next level.

It was the kind of brash, self-fulfilling power-play that could, one supposes he supposed, lead showbiz folk to think, "This is out of left field and over-the-top! The sheer boldness of the act is itself a sure sign of strength!" And if the bright rising star had been, say, EDDIE MURPHY or BILL MURRAY, it may well have seemed strong - you know, ballsy and visionary, as opposed to pathetic and hilarious. We'll let you know who it was in a bit - no, not CHEVY CHASE, but good guess - for now, though, let's focus on football, by which we mean...

...teams that fired their offensive coordinators right before the season started. Since Buffalo, Kansas City & Tampa Bay gave the ballsier-than-thou heave-ho to TURK SCHONERT, CHAN GAILEY & JEFF JAGODZINSKI just days before Week One, they're averaging 15 points a game, with a combined win-loss record of 1-14. (The sole victory coming when one of them, Buffalo, beat another, Tampa.) The lesson here? Boldness works. But only sometimes. Just ask STEVE GUTTENBERG.

Rush to Judgment

Say what you will about RUSH LIMBAUGH, but the man sure knows how to get people talking! News broke this week that the controversial, conservative radio host had been part of a consortium bidding to purchase the ST. LOUIS RAMS. This begged three questions: "People are actually *bidding * to buy the Rams?" and "Do they know who their quarterback is?!" and "If so, can they let the rest of us in on it 'cause someone just said BULGER & BOLLER and that can't possibly be right." The Limbaugh rumors led to near immediate outcry from various corners (and QBs, linebackers...) that the DONOVAN MCNABB-slamming chubster not be let inside the NFL gates, assuming he could even fit, by league ownership, the players association and, we're guessing, anyone who holds even a mild grudge against doctor-shopping drug-abusers.

By Wednesday it became clear to St. Louis Blues owner DAVE CHECKETTS, the leader of the investment group, that Rush was a liability and would have to be dropped. This, of course, turned up the heat at America's water coolers, where an irritating civic misconception continued to take hold: "Hey, man, just 'cause the guy has said some controversial stuff, that shouldn't prohibit him from being an NFL owner! I mean, whatever happened to freedom of speech?!"

It is at this point that our heads explode. Because, while we're sure YOU know what Freedom of Speech means, apparently millions of Americans don't. So the next time you hear this claptrap, please feel free to press the point that Freedom of Speech is a civil liberty that has to do with prohibiting state-sanctioned censorship or limitation of expression. It does not mean, as many argue, you get to say whatever you want without consequence. Which leads us back to Rush...

There's no legal reason Limbaugh should be barred from owning an NFL team. Sure, he's said things that make some people's blood boil - the phrase "Take that bone out of your nose" leaps to mind - but the guy has a dedicated following, and there exists an undeniable overlap between Rush's "Ditto-heads" and America's football fans. He is reported to be a hugely knowledgeable sports fan (among other "hugely" things) and would no doubt have brought an interesting angle to a league that, frankly, seems to be warding off "interesting" at every turn.

But, as Giants defensive end MATHIAS KIWANUKA, Colts owner JIM IRSAY and NFLPA Head Honcho DEMAURICE SMITH showed in recent days, polarizing statements have consequences. They also have a funny way of, shall we say, coming home to roost, which is basically what they did. Irsay and Smith, along with the guy whose name we don't want to have to spell again, see no place in the NFL for Limbaugh's act, and many of the league's players feel the same way. Some even insisted they would've refused to play for the man, 'though lately Rush has taken to making the false claim that they were saying they wouldn't play in the league - at all - if his ownership group had been awarded the franchise. A silly, if unsurprising, misdirect.

It leaves us, though, with some fascinating, unanswered questions. Would the NFL have risked alienating a fan-base that goes far beyond the Gateway Arch by opening its doors to their fat, old, mean answer to the NBA's MARK CUBAN? Would Limbaugh have taken the opportunity to "expand the brand" by reinventing himself, Madonna-style, and offering up a kinder, gentler Rush? Doubtful, but stranger things have happened. (Like, say, CRISPIN GLOVER on *Letterman * and GARY BUSEY pretty much everywhere Gary Busey goes.)

One thing's for sure - Limbaugh will make plenty of hay out of the rejection, filling a good number of drive-time man-hours along the way. Just another multi-millionaire white guy brought down by The Man. In the meantime, it sure would be great if all sides - Ditto-heads, athletes, John Q. Watercooler and columnists alike - could take a breath and dial down the rhetoric. At the very least, would it be so wrong to brush up on the Bill of Rights?

Blooper Reel

~ Now that JEROD MAYO is back, Out-Takes's Unsung Hero Award goes to Patriots LB GARY GUYTON, who did a top-notch job in tough, on-the-fly circumstances, filling in for a star signal-caller who went out early in the first game of the season with a knee injury. We call this "pulling a Cassel."

~ In Sunday's game versus Buffalo, Browns QB DEREK ANDERSON completed as many passes as there are good *Godfather * films. The only thing more pathetic than his stat-line (2-17 for 23 yards and a pick) is the fact that his team actually came out on top. Wonder if BRADY QUINN thinks he could've done better...

~ A quick note to Monday Night Football disappointment-so-far JON GRUDEN and his opinion of Jets interior defensive lineman KRIS JENKINS: Get a room. Kevin Arnold's yearning for Winnie Cooper on *The Wonder Years * was less unabashedly heart-wrenching. (And less awkward.)

~ This weekend Out-Takes couldn't help but smile at rookie punt returner QUAN COSBY - of your 1st Place Cincinnati Bengals!! Last time Out-Takes checked in with the ex-Longhorn, whose parents wisely opted for "Quan," as opposed to "Show me the money" or "You Had Me at Hello" when deciding to name their son after a *Jerry Maguire * catch-phrase, it was draft weekend. That was when the Waco, Texas native sat excruciatingly beside BILL COSBY (no relation), waiting for his puddin' to be popped, so to speak. (By which we mean "waiting and waiting and waiting for his puddin' NOT to be popped, so to speak.") Fast forward several months and...

...among punt returners with 10 or more chances, the undrafted "Some players have the coin, but I have the Quan" Cosby finds himself second only to Cleveland's dred-locked, NFL über-legacy JOSH CRIBBS, featuring a robust 13-yard average. Almost makes all that time flop-sweating before the draft day cameras worth it. Keep it up, kid. (P.S. "You complete me.")

~ This week's "What are you, High?" Award for Players Just Back From Suspension After Failing a Drug Test goes to...CALVIN PACE, who had this to say following his team's Monday night loss to the dynamic offense (and just barely enough defense) of the Miami Dolphins: "I can't respect that stuff. All that Wildcat. We're in the NFL, man. If you're out there running that nonsense, it's crap...I guess you have to give them credit but the defense lost the game."

"I guess you have to give them credit but the defense lost the game???" Huh. Interesting. Apparently, when Calvin Pace says he guesses "you have to give them credit," he means it literally. YOU have to. 'Cause he sure as Hell won't.

~ This weekend we saw KYLE ORTON get hit late by TY WARREN. Then we watched him call for a roughing-the-passer flag and get it. That's fine, it was a late hit and players call for flags all the time. Still waiting for ESPN to do a story about it, though.

~ Lots of talk last week about the Patriots opening the season with a string of games against undefeated opponents. Less was said, however, about New England's evil twin, the Redskins. Washington has now faced the winless Giants (0-0 at the time, but Buffalo's 0-0 counts as one of New England's "undefeated opponents" so it's just as sketchy), an 0-1 team in St. Louis, the victory-free Lions (not so victory-free after JIM ZORN's soon-to-be-former team handed them their first win in more than a year) and the Tampa Bay Bucs, who went from 0-3 to 0-4, thanks to Washington's ability to overcome JASON CAMPBELL's four turnovers in eking out a three-point win. Next came the Carolina Panthers who, like the lowly folks in Motown, collected their first W thanks to Redskin running back CLINTON PORTIS and all those teammates he keeps offending.

Enter: The Kansas City Chiefs, who played "You take it! No YOU take it" with the Cowboys last week in a game positively crying out for "Indian-giver" jokes. (Letters should be addressed to: Mr. FRED KIRSCH, Gillette Stadium, 1 Patriot Place...) Yes, winless KC travels to hapless D.C. this weekend, where rumors abound that Zorn is hanging by a thread, which is obviously better than hanging by a noose, but still not so great. Apparently, JERRY JONES isn't the only NFC East owner with Shanny on speed-dial. Stay tuned.

And finally...

Sunday provided a bittersweet end to a tragic week for Cincinnati Defensive Coordinator MIKE ZIMMER, whose Bengals upset division rival BALTIMORE just three days after his wife Vikki died unexpectedly. It goes without saying that no win - in any game, anywhere, anytime - could ever make up for as profound a loss as Zimmer has suffered in the last ten days. The inspired play of his defense, the surprising win over one of the league's most productive offenses, the game ball he was awarded in the emotional locker room after the game...in the grand scheme of things, these don't even come close to being "silver linings."

But to have that moment to celebrate a woman who would bake cookies for the players because, as CHRIS CHASE of Yahoo! Sports put it, "she thought her husband yelled at them too much" - that was truly a gift. In that moment, Zimmer had this to say: "My wife loves all of you. Win or lose, she's proud of you. And I just appreciate all of your effort."

Add this story to the misfits that populate the Cincinnati roster - those kicked to the curb, the perennial bad boys, the Ochocincos and the head coach taking his last, best shot - and throw in Quan Cosby squirming before millions on draft day in the white-hot glare of a Fat Albert-flavored freefall, and all of a sudden it's very, very hard to root against this team.

The Mighty Bengals of Cincinnati. Sitting on top of the AFC North.

John Cockrell is a screenwriter, whose other work has run the gamut from "Sesame Street Parents Magazine" to Playboy TV's "The Weekend Flash." (He figures everything else is pretty much in-between.)

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