[Note: I meant to post this Monday, but only got internet access today.]
I want to kiss LaDainian Tomlinson. (And for all you non-football fans out there, that's a man. And no, my hiatus is not because I've just come back from a month in Fire Island.) I've always admired his style of play and his humble, workmanlike style. He has been arguably the best player in the NFL over the last 5 seasons, and clearly the best running back.
Imagine this: imagine a soft-spoken, polite NFL player, with hardly ever a bad word to say about anyone. He is unusually humble -- which must be hard given how incredibly gifted he is -- and tends to have a smile on his boyish face.
If it sounds like I have a slight hetero man-crush, it's because I think I do.
Now imagine that this mild-mannered Superman actually decided, completely against his character, to voice his opinion about an opposing team. Well he did, and he did it about a team that sports media perpetually assures us is one of the "classiest" organizations in sports.
Here's what happened: After the game was over, and New England had beaten (or rather escaped) the mistake-prone and unprepared San Diego Chargers by three points, many of the Patriots' players went to the middle of the field and began doing a mockery of the Chargers? Shawne "Lights-Out" Merriman by imitating his "electrocution dance" that he performs after recording a big tackle. Tomlinson saw this and tried to go to the middle of the field to address some of the Patriots' players. He was clearly angry. This is what L.T. had to say after the game.
"I would never react in that way. I was very upset," Tomlinson said. "When you go to the middle of our field and start doing the dance Shawne Merriman is known for, that is disrespectful. They showed no class and maybe that comes from the head coach."
That's your MVP speaking, folks. I love the fact that L.T. spoke up.
First of all, the guy never says a bad word -- or any word for that matter. So you know that when he says something, it's well thought out. It's not like this is Terrell Owens or Joey Porter or Warren Sapp or some other loudmouthed bag of douche crying "disrespect wolf!" after the game. This is one of the players who is as known for his class and integrity as he is for his touchdowns. So hopefully, this will give L.T.'s observation the merit it deserves.
I will admit that I think most celebration dances -- such as Merriman's, the Giants' "jump-shot" and that Dog Crawling on the Ground thing the Bears do -- are idiotic, especially when performed after a non-touchdown. And Merriman himself has proven to be a man of questionable character, getting busted for 'roids and mailing a remote and popcorn to the Dolphins' Jason Taylor, telling him to enjoy watching him in the playoffs. But for a team that was so very lucky to come out on top (anyone who watched the game knows that the Pats got completely outplayed, but just got the benefit of about a dozen Charger f-ckups), to start showing up the other team by gathering around and cackling while shaking their bodies in spasmodic glee.
The Patriots have long been an organization whose class has been severely overestimated. Everyone in the sports media has labeled them with the "classy" tag. This makes no sense to me. Bill Belichick has long been known as a bad person who cheats. (I will never forget him ordering Giants LB Harry Reasons to kick the ball that had been spotted in Super Bowl XXV while the Bills were driving. I have it on tape.) He is known for alienating numerous former allies (Bill Parcells, Lawyer Milloy, Eric Mangini), and being a crybaby to criticism, like the time he told Tom
Jackson to "go f-ck [him]self" when he tried to shake his hand after criticizing him.
Here is a list of things that the Patriots have done during Belichick's tenure:
- Bill Belichick's behavior toward other coaches (Parcells, Mangini)
- Belichick's comments about (the admittedly loud-mouthed) Freddy
Mitchell after the Pats-Eagles Super Bowl
- The Patriots waving Terrible Towels after beating Pittsburgh in the AFC
title game in 2004
- Mike Vrabel doing the Eagles' arm-flap in that Super Bowl after scoring
- Tom Brady calling out Marty Schottenheimer (incorrectly) after the last
Chargers/Patriots game, with no recourse
- Yesterday's antics at midfield of the Chargers game, which New England
was lucky to win
Yes, the mark of a champion. A smug, assholish champion.
Yet for some reason, the sports media, from Peter King to Phil "Brady's Fluffer" Simms to Dick Vitale, consider the Patriots to be completely above reproach. That somehow, everything they do is justified "because they win." How come the same praise has never been afforded to the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons, or the White-House-era Dallas Cowboys, or the Miami Hurricanes of the 1990s? Is it because they keep their disdain for other teams covert, while the others are more brash and outspoken? Because they praise the teams they are about to play the week before a game, but then trash them
the week after? I find it interesting that former Dolphins/current Alabama coach Nick Saban was trashed for his lack of character in his deal to go to the Crimson Tide, yet not once was it mentioned ? as it had been so many times before ? that he is part of the Belichick "Coaching Tree." Hmmmm...
This has extended to Beantown fans as well. The Patriots (and other Boston fans) had long garned the sympathy of otherwise neutral sports fans due to their suffering and self-deprecation. I personally rooted for the Red Sox when they played the Yankees in 2004, because I felt that Yankees fans had (and still have) a sense of entitlement. That somehow they are above reproach. But interestingly, many Boston/New England fans have taken all the goodwill that had been afforded them and squandered it, choosing not to win with grace, but with all the arrogance of the worst Yankee fan.
Yes, Red Sox Nation, you are just as bad as Yankee fans. And I never thought it was possible. You always wore humility so much better.
Here's hoping that LaDainian Tomlinson's observation does not fall on deaf ears, and that sports fans will finally realize that the emperor has no clothes. Or at least that the Emperor himself dresses like a homeless guy.