Honestly, when will the persecution stop?
It's one thing to win a Super Bowl for a 4th time in 15 years, and I suppose it's impressive to claim an 8th AFC championship in 12 appearances playing for the Lamar Hunt trophy.
What about six straight AFC East division titles, 11 of the last 12 and 17 overall? That could be considered unprecedented dominance, sure, but is it any reason to pick on the Patriots?
Of course it is. You know the old adage – "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em?" Within the NFL, now that saying really means "If you can't beat the Patriots, change the rules."
That's exactly what will happen this week as the National Football League holds its annual league meetings in Phoenix, Arizona, not far away from where the New England Patriots pulled off their stunning finish to the 2014 season by picking off the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. Usually, league meetings are for assessment, evaluation, review and new ideas going forward – all in an effort to better the product on the field for the upcoming year(s).
I don't get that feeling for this year, however. No, my impression is that this might be a year for the NFL to provide a little payback to the New England dominance of the last 15 years or so...and tweak things just to make it harder for the Patriots to have so much success.
Naturally, this is hogwash. But what the NFL might try to do is make it more difficult for Bill Belichick to be the forward-thinking, always-planning, scheming, cautiously conniving coach that he's become. He's been a veritable Mad Doctor of Football Science. Yes, they'll change some rules going forward, indirectly aimed at Patriot moves of the recent past. Remember the eligible-ineligible receivers against Baltimore? Or the 5-yard illegal contact rule against defensive backs that came into play after the 2003 AFC title game with Indianapolis? Go ahead – throw a road block in there to make life more difficult and ostensibly even the playing field for those teams not fortunate enough to employ a house genius.
What the owners, general managers and coaches don't realize is that this will only make Belichick-the-mad-football-scientist mad. Change the rules? Bah, humbug. BB the MD will take this as a personal challenge – an affront – to his Doctorate in Football-ology, and delve into his laboratory to research another way to confuse, confound and completely outclass the competition. No one knows the rule book better than Bill Belichick (am I right, John Harbaugh? Bill Polian?) and it will be a rare day when an opposing coach pulls a fast one on the Patriots.
This is the edge New England has over every other team in the league. There are some very good coaches out there. There are some pretty smart general managers out there. There are some owners who actually know what they're doing out there, too, and they are intelligent enough to know to stay out of the way (mostly) and let their football people do their jobs. In New England, Robert Kraft knows what he has in Bill Belichick, and he's smart enough to turn him loose on the rest of the NFL.
So go ahead and change your rules, fellas, if it makes you feel any better. Step right up and turn, twist and tangle the rulebook even more than you've managed in years' past. BB the MD will figure it all out, untwist and untangle the rules to his advantage...so much so that someone, somewhere will say "you cheated."
Hardly. It's not cheating when you're always one step ahead of the opponent. It's outsmarting them. When people know they've been outwitted, out-thought, out-worked...all they have left is "you cheated."
Please, stop the persecution. Get to work, yourselves. BB the MD is surely already at work, concocting schemes to beat you. Again.
1st Veterans' Combine brings mixed results
Having a Veterans' Combine sounds like a good idea, doesn't it?
Just like the Combine for rookies held in Indianapolis, the idea for giving veteran players another shot in front of NFL execs – for guys who might have fallen off the radar – actually seems to be a pretty smart business decision. Teams usually bring players into their own facilities to gauge interest and ability for workouts on a semi-regular basis throughout the year, in an effort to have a ready-made list of available players based on need.
Getting veteran players together who might have been released for one reason or another, and giving them a shot to show what they have left, helps teams with scouting...and helps players looking for another opportunity.
It can also help close the door on a players' career, and show them the way towards life after football, perhaps. Running back Michael Bush clocked in at a rather pedestrian 4.91 seconds in the 40-yard dash, to which Bush replied "You gotta be (expletive) me. 4.91? There you go, there goes my career."
One door closes, maybe another one opens up.
Brasilia is hot, hot, hot
Is there any country on the planet hotter than Brazil right now?
Not really literally, even though the Amazon country can be one of the steamier spots on the globe. But with soccer's World Cup having completed its South American journey last summer and the 2016 Summer Olympics right around the corner, Brasilia may now be catching the attention of the NFL.
No, the Jacksonville Jaguars aren't (yet) moving to Rio. But the annual NFL all-star game – the Pro Bowl – might be. Fox Sports reported this week Brazil is under consideration to host the game, which would make it the first non-U.S. site to host the Pro Bowl.
For a league that is actively engaged in expanding its brand globally, don't rule out the possibility of such a move. The Pro Bowl returns to Hawaii in 2016 and several cities are under consideration for 2017 and beyond. Exotic locales as a reward for the players could also increase interest in the game from within – never mind the TV execs. Ratings for the Pro Bowl this year were the lowest since 2007.
The issue of Pro Bowl cities and potential sites is up for discussion at the league meetings.
Saying Goodbye to Concrete Charlie
If you're a child of the 1960's – or older – then you certainly know about Chuck Bednarik and "the hit."
When Bednarik cold-cocked the New York Giants' Frank Gifford in a 1960 game played at Yankee Stadium, the photo of the erstwhile Philadelphia Eagle tackle began its journey into football immortality. And as such, so did Bednarik.
As a young kid completely enamored with football growing up in the sixties, one of the earliest memories I've managed to retain was that of the photo of Bednarik standing over a laid-out Gifford, puncturing the air in exultation over the emotion of the moment following his perfectly timed hit. The tackle forced a fumble, recovered by the Eagles to preserve a win...and forced Gifford out of pro football for the next year. Fair or not, the photo personified the era in pro football, and also of Chuck Bednarik and his tougher-than-life play on the field.
Bednarik passed away this past week at the age of 89, and through the years I've come to learn he was more – much more – than just the vicious hit he laid upon Gifford. Sure, he was one of the last great two-way players, lining up on offense as well as defense, blocking as well as tackling. But Bednarik was also a hero...serving as a gunner on a B-24 bomber during World War II and flying more than 30 missions over Germany.
His heroism on the football field began at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a two-time all-American and the 2nd runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1948. His toughness and durability were what led to a college football award being named for him beginning in 1995 – the Chuck Bednarik Award – annually presented to the top defensive player in college football each year. In 14 seasons of pro football, Bednarik missed only three games playing both center on offense, and tackle on defense.
At the age of 35, he made the tackle on Green Bay's Jim Taylor after playing 58 of 60 minutes, on the final play of the game that gave the Eagles their last NFL championship in 1960. And, last but certainly not least, Chuck Bednarik was also a father to five girls.
Now that's toughness.
*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and has been the Patriots' stadium voice for 22 years. Currently serving in several media capacities – which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio – Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball for the past 26 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *
Follow him on Twitter - @JRbroadcaster