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Taking the easy way out


I'm hearing the same thing from the New England mail baggers that I heard during the Nixon Watergate hearings:

• What's the big deal? In politics everybody does it.

• You bleeding-heart liberals are trying to bring down a great American.

• So what would they really find out anyway? What's the competitive advantage? You still have to go out and get elected.

Before I get into those cop-outs, I mean, those seriously expressed thoughts, let me mention something a bit more apropos. The Punishment. Also known as the Judgment, or The Sentence. Boy are the Patriots' wrists gonna hurt. That was some slap that Sheriff Goodell gave them. Our E-mailer of the Week, Robert Fargher of Burnaby, B.C., feels that the wrath of the league should be more clearly expressed. "Does the Commish have the power to take the win away from the Pats?" he asks, a shocking point of view that I was pondering myself, actually.

Sorry, Bob, or would you prefer Robert? In a rare case, I guess it could be done, but handing the Jets a victory like that would have too much effect on the other teams in the league. I guarantee the screams would first resonate in the league office on Park Ave., head north to 135th St., take a left turn to Broadway, right again and north, all the way to Yonkers, where they would still be audible.

But that supposed penalty? Gimme a break. A player is found guilty of using a performance-enhancing substance and he sits for four games, which could cost him more than the 750 Gs for which the Patriots got hit. But when a team, especially one whose owner, Bob Kraft, is such a strong figure in league affairs, is guilty of using performance enhancers, no one gets suspended for any time at all.

OK, now that I got that out of my system, I'm ready for all you Watergate Patriots e-mailers. Step right up.

Tom of Portsmouth, N.H. -- Why is what the Patriots did worse than using binoculars and a pen?

Because they aren't illegal. Video equipment is.

Jake of Pensacola -- With all you pundits (Bet you don't know the origin of that word? Collect your gold star if you said Hindi) taking both sides of the issue, I want to know the rule the Patriots supposedly broke. It was quoted on the NFL Network the other day. It's in the league's set of rules on videotaping, and it doesn't include the defensive coach.

Rob of Boston (very aptly named, in lieu of the situation) -- "The only arrogance is you and national media. The Patriots are smart to tape the defensive coaches, and the other teams are dumb if they're not doing the same thing."

We're not the only arrogant ones, just part of many. The other teams might be dumb, but they don't have to give up a No. 1 draft pick. I'll bet you suffered during the Watergate hearings.

Mike of Eau Claire, Pa. -- Does this keep Belichick out of the Hall of Fame? Hell of a question. There is going to be a really ferocious debate some day when his name comes up. Your faithful narrator, however, will not be there to report it to you. He'll be listening to the harps and trying to decide what to have with lunch, the '45 Margaux or the '47 Cheval Blanc.

Seth of Brooklyn, a Pats fan who is "sickened by the whole thing." -- Getting the signals is one thing, but the offense still has to execute, right?

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OK, I'll buy that, but it still gives a team a competitive advantage, which supposedly is a big no no in league matters.

Steve of Guadalajara -- Other teams do it. "This was Mangini's payback for Belichick's cold shoulder treatment."

Grow up. The Pats have been doing it for years.

Craig of Denver -- Why can't a defensive player communicate with the coaches, as a QB can? And do teams try to foul up each other's radio signals?

Defensive radio communication was voted down at the league meetings. The Jets voted for it, the Patriots against. It would, of course, make sideline signaling meaningless. And teams have been screwing up each other's radio signals for years. If the radio goes out, then the other team is supposed to disconnect its own setup. But sometimes, mysteriously, it only happens for a play or two.

Aaron of Auburn, Maine -- Would it have been as big a deal if, say a 2-14 team would have done it? No. An issue, but not as big an issue.

And that's the end of Patriot affairs for this installment of the weekly Advice to the Lonely and Disorganized. Softer landings ahead.

Alan of Sandusky, a no-nonsense town, asks a no-nonsense question about the NBC studio crew, which he calls, "a rambling mess." (sounds like the Georgia Tech fight song), and the question is what do I think of it? Not much. Costas, Collinsworth, Tiki. Yawn. Opinions and not much evidence of serious effort. My colleague Peter King stands out as a hard-working print journalist trying to bring news to an arena that's too cluttered with personality enhancement. Keith Olbermann is another matter, though.

This is like the corporate executive at the company picnic, trying to impress the work force with his perceived cleverness. You can hear the clank of heavy chains. Boardroom humor. Even worse, though, is the war he wages with facts. They are enemies to people such as this. He made a big point of pointing out that the Jets' trade of left guard Pete Kendall led to Chad Pennington's injury via sack. The problem was that it was left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson who gave up the sack to Jarvis Green. Others jumped on this supposed irony. The NY Daily News' radio and TV columnist, Bob Raissman, got all over the CBS announcing team of Phil Simms and Jim Nantz for not stressing this whole Kendall-Pennington thing, in other words, for not reporting wrong information because this Raissman character thought it was a good angle. Please God, save me from heehaws pretending to be journalists.

Good question from Chris of San Francisco. Kevin Everett's frightening injury in the Bills-Broncos game came when he ducked his head making a tackle on a kickoff. Everett is a tight end. Is it safe for offensive guys to be filling in as defensive part-timers, running downfield under kickoffs? I've often wondered that myself. Coaches will tell you that certain guys have an aptitude for it, no matter what their position -- or maybe that they played some defense in high school, college or the subway. I agree with you that an increase in roster size would help solve the problem, but the owners won't go for it because it would cost them money.

Richard of Huntsville, Ala., asks the same question people have been asking since the Nesser Brothers lined up for the Columbus Panhandles ... wouldn't the Browns be better off, since they're struggling anyway, to bring in Brady Quinn right now? These questions are always asked at point of crisis and answered coolly, definitively, a few years down the road. Sorry for the cop-out, but some guys are ready to play and some aren't. It's as simple as that. Joe Montana sat on the bench for one year and part of a second, behind Steve DeBerg, on a lousy 49ers team. Do you think Bill Walsh knew what he was doing?

To Drew of Roswell, N.M. -- Thank you very much for wishing me luck on my book, as well as your promise to buy a copy. Luck is what I'll need. I wish I could answer your question about what I thought of the Broncos' Jay Cutler Sunday but, unfortunately, that was not one of the games I taped.

Another thank you, this time for general commentary, to Craig of Seattle, followed by another apology, this time for ranking the Seahawks lower than what he would have preferred. I went on what happened in Week 1, and I didn't think the Hawks showed much against the Bucs. For almost three quarters the Burleson punt return was basically what they had going for them. But cheer up. Week 1 rankings are a mirage, ball of fluff, shifting sands in the desert. Chances are, and I hope I'm not being too rash, things will look different by Week 17.

Hey, I've got one. Another insomniac who watched the Cards-Niners until the very end. His name is Sleepy, and hi-ho, he's off to work with Dopey, Grumpy, Bashful and Doc. OK, his real name is ... and I'm going to list first and last, because it's got a real aristocratic ring to it ... Derek Dupuis, from Alexandria, Va. He wonders whether the secondaries were that great or the offenses that bad. Not only secondaries, Monsieur Dupuis, but both defenses played well. And both QBs were, uh, not so good.

Kenny of Gainesville, Texas, wonders why cornerbacks don't jam receivers at the line the way they used to in the old jam session days. They're scared to, because if they miss, then it's oh-oh time. And the coaches are scared, too. And the receivers are getting too big and too skillful at beating the jam. Now kindly line up these cop-outs , one, two, three, and throw them in the river because it's simply madness, to my way of thinking, to give receivers such as Moss and Owens a clean release. Used to drive me crazy the way DBs played Jerry Rice as well. For God's sake, I'd say, make him earn his money.

Mike of East Lansing, Mich., wants to know how the center makes the line calls. I'm trying to think back about 80 years to how we did it in my youthful days. Just phrases, I believe. Catchwords, keyed to their own code. Not as complicated and well disguised as quarterbacks' audibles, but they don't have to be.

From Chuck of Monterey, Calif. -- The difference, please, between Jimmy Johnson's Dallas defense and the Tampa-2? The Tampa-2 relies more on range and coverage from the middle linebacker. Second part of the question -- does anyone still use Johnson's concepts? Speed and the ability of everyone to flow to the ball marked his defense, and if a team has those kinds of players, sure, it'll use it.

Chris of Baton Rouge, noting the rise of the Spread Option in college, with the running quarterback, wonders if this might be on its way to the NFL. It's funny, I had a talk with Bill Parcells the other day and he brought up the same thing. He said it's definitely on the way. Not only that, according to the coach, but you're seeing things that seem to take in the old single-wing principles.

Mike of Dunedin, Fla., wants to know why the AFC is so much better than the NFC. You already know what I'm going to say. It's cyclical. Everything in life is cyclical. Bicyclical, motorcyclical, psycholical. Going way up to top level, AFC teams have won eight of the last 10 Super Bowls. But before that, the NFC had won 13 straight, and old AFL diehards, such as myself, were turning in despair to quoits, beanbag and spin the bottle. Hang with it. Things will change some day.

Chase of Ceske Budejovice in the Czech Republic, taking advantage of the fact that Paul F. does not yet know there's a limit to how many questions, answers, comments, etc., you can put into one Mailbag item, has what he describes as "to questions and a comment." Chase, would you mind awfully if I lump them into one big pirogi? I thought you wouldn't. Your comment is that there's a future for American football in Europe, at the schoolboy level. I don't doubt it, since it's fun to run around hitting people. But a participant sport does not translate to a spectator sport, as NFL Europa found out. You want to know if the Titans win was a fluke? No, they always play the Jaguars tough. Is Chris Brown that good. No. No one is. An average of 175 yards a game would break all the records. Why don't I like fantasy football? How's that again?

"It doesn't make much sense, especially in a fantasy league with the likes of your SI cronies. Does The Flaming Redhead play at least? Are you trying to get a rise out of me. And here we are getting along so well.

Let me be tactful. I hate the damn thing. Some guys on the magazine called me up and said they were looking for someone to take charge of their fantasy ... he didn't even get the football part out when I slammed the phone down so hard that Little Jake, our tabby, gave a yowl and jumped off the table where she was sleeping.

In my hunt for a publisher to try to take a chance on my memoir, I was steered to an outfit called Rugged Land Press, which supposedly did football books. I spoke to the boss there. I laid out my story -- interesting and unusual facets of my life. He thought it over and said, "You know fantasy football is very big now. You ought to consider it." Right. Consider a book a father would buy for his 14-year-old when he can't think about anything else. Now you've done it. You've gotten me started on this damn fantasy toy and ruined my happy mood and the next batch of e-mailers is going to suffer.

Darrell of Fort Lauderdale has a mean-spirited comment about Reggie Bush being ranked in Peter King's top 20 and then getting stuffed against the Colts. Hey, buddy, lay off Peter. He works his job. The Bears shut down LaDainian Tomlinson, too, so he can't play either, right?

Ah, here's a finale that puts things right in the world again. From Kelly Reimer of Winnipeg: "The Rubaiyat in a football article. Nice." In the world's system of checks and balances, this gets us even, after that fantasy football junk. As the Flaming Redhead said when I opened a bottle of Charles Heidsieck Brut for our anniversary, "Thank you for noticing."