Thursday, May 7, 2015

Same New England, Always Cheating


The great irony of New England sports of the last few years is that the Boston Celtics are the one team in the region that I can't prove cheated its way to a title.

In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the Celtics won 13 NBA Championships. They employed some of the dirtiest tactics in the NBA. Think of the 1989-90 Detroit Pistons' "Motor City Bad Boys," but, with the era's pathetic TV coverage of the league (and no social media), it was hardly ever seen, and so was the referees' letting them get away with it. So whenever anybody called them on it, it was insufficiently believed.

In the 1980s, they won 3 more titles. It could have been more, but the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers showed that they weren't going to get pushed around. The Sixers were tougher, and the Lakers, unlike in their 6 NBA Finals losses to the Celtics in the 1960s, frequently proved too fast for them. So the Celtics tried something else: Knowing that the Finals were being playing in late May and early June, they turned off the air conditioning in the visitors' locker room at the Boston Garden. This was most memorably shown by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar taking in oxygen late in Game 5 of the 1984 Finals (not Game 7, as everybody thinks they remember). But the Lakers beat the Celtics in 2 out of 3 Finals in the '80s, including clinching on the parquet floor in Game 6 in '85 and winning a key Game 4 there in '87.

The Celtics didn't win another title until 2008. While they did bring in 3 superstars in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Gary Payton, no one's been able to prove they tweaked the salary cap rules to do it, and no one's been able to prove that they broke any other rules, or did anything else that might be within the rules, but not quite fair (like the air conditioning trick).

But every other New England team? Cheating bastards:

* The Boston Red Sox have ridden steroids to 3 World Series wins. David Ortiz was caught, denied it, exposed as having been caught and lying about it, and still lies about it. Manny Ramirez, only there for the 1st 2, was also caught. And the national media goes on as if that never happened. Meanwhile, Red Sox fans still chant "STER-oiiiids!" at any opposing player even suspected (not just Alex Rodriguez).

* The Boston Bruins let the ice melt a bit before Game 6 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, slowing down the fast-break attack of the Vancouver Canucks, and allowing themselves to force a Game 7 in Vancouver, thus getting into the Canucks' heads, and winning the Cup.

* The University of Connecticut men's basketball team was revealed in 2010 to have committed recruiting violations, with the NCAA report confirming it conveniently coming out after their 2011 National Championship. Since Jim Calhoun previously coached them to National Championships in 1999 and 2004, this puts those titles into question as well. Calhoun had to "retire."

Kevin Ollie coached them the the National Championship in 2014, but, having both played for and assisted Calhoun, can we really be sure he's any cleaner than Calhoun was? Let's not forget that Calhoun is a major Red Sox fan, and seems to be okay with their cheating.

As far as I know, the women's program under Geno Auriemma has never been seriously accused of wrongdoing, but their level of success should at least be raising the question. Auriemma is also a big Sox fan. Connecticut straddles the border between the New York and Boston markets -- both the New York Tri-State Area and New England claim it -- but UConn's Gampel Pavilion is closer to Fenway Park, 82 miles, compared to 131 miles to Yankee Stadium.

* Even the New England Revolution are shameless. They are the dirtiest tacklers in Major League Soccer, and they dive like a Spanish team. Incredibly, the Revs have never won an MLS Cup: They are 0-for-5 in Cup Finals, including last year's, although they cheated their way past the Red Bulls in the Semifinal to get there.

* And, of course, the New England Patriots. Until this past February, it could be safely said that they hadn't won a Super Bowl since they got outed as cheaters in the "Spygate" scandal. Then came "Deflategate," but they won Super Bowl XLIX anyway.

I have to give Bill Belichick a little bit of credit: As arrogant as it was, he did admit that he cheated in Spygate. But he still acts as though all 3 of his titles to that point were legit.

The 4th title, on the other hand, has a serious cloud over it. Yes, the Pats beat the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 to get into the Super Bowl. It doesn't sound like a few deflated footballs made much of a difference.

But that just makes it worse. Whether you're Alex Rodriguez or Barry Bonds, Cristiano Ronaldo or Eden Hazard, Jim Calhoun or Tom Brady, if you're good enough to excel without cheating, you shouldn't cheat. It makes it far, far worse that is for someone who's not good enough to excel without cheating to do it (such as Sammy Sosa or Wayne Rooney).

There's no question that Brady is intelligent. He went to the University of Michigan. In spite of jokes about President Gerald Ford (who was a great lineman there in the 1930s and was considered smart enough to be offered a place in Yale Law School, which he took and set himself on a path to politics instead of accepting an offer to play in the fledgling NFL), they don't let dummies in, not even if they can play football. It's also the alma mater of such smart athletes as Mickey Cochrane, Red Berenson, Dan Dierdorf and, yes, Derek Jeter (although he never played sports there because he turned pro right after high school).

Speaking of school, it's worth noting that Brady is also a graduate of Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California, which is also the alma mater of Barry Bonds. (Serra, 1713-1784, is essentially the founding father of California, and is expected to be canonized, declared a saint, by Pope Francis this fall. Somehow, I don't think a future Pope will ever canonize Brady or Bonds.)

Anyway, back to Brady's intelligence. There are 32 teams in the NFL. They carry 3 quarterbacks apiece on their active roster. That's 96. There's usually a change or two over the course of a season. So it is reasonable to assume that, right now, there are 100 men on this planet who are capable of playing quarterback in the National Football League.

If you told me that 5 out of those 100 were intelligent enough and instinctive enough to be capable of determining that a football was not properly inflated -- or could be deflated to a certain point that was to his liking -- I'd believe that Brady was 1 of those 5 out of 100.

Brady apparently tried to let the equipment men take the fall for him, and they refused. This is different from Bonds: He had someone who was willing to go to federal prison for him, rather than spill his guts. Bonds had someone who refused to toss him overboard. (That's what we used to say, before you kids came up with "throw him under the bus.") The guys Brady was counting on to protect his ass? (And I don't mean his offensive line.) They've given him up.

And Brady can't simply blame this on known cheater Belichick: The findings suggest that the coach didn't know about it beforehand. So much for Brady trying the defense made famous at the Nuremberg war crimes trials: "I vas only following orders!"

This isn't quite the NFL's answer to Pete Rose getting caught betting on games, in terms of a beloved figure having a massive fall. It is, however, the end of any idea that Brady, 4 Super Bowl wins or no, is the greatest quarterback of all time.

Now, how is Commissioner Roger Goodell going to handle this? Based on his history, I suspect he's going to call a press conference, demand that Brady appear alongside him, and wag his finger at Brady, and say, "Bad boy! Bad! What did you do? What did you do?" And then he'll suspend him for all the Pats' exhibition games -- at least 2 of which, Brady might not have played in anyway -- and for the 1st 2 regular-season games, with the possibility (translation: certainty) that he'd be reinstated for those 2 games if he kept his nose clean in the meantime.

Then, if and when the video footage comes out, showing Brady ordering the deflation, Goodell will face another Ray Rice situation, where he's now seen the issue in question. And, this time, it will actually be a football-game situation. He'd have to suspend Brady for the entire season.

But he won't vacate the Patriots' last title. Much less their previous 3.

So Brady will lose... what? A season? Money, a sum that would be a fortune to most of us but not much to him?

He might lose more than that. Hopefully, he'll lose his reputation, and his shot at ever being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Who knows, he might even lose Gisele Bundchen.

Cheating doth never prosper.
Unless there's no bleating.
For, for it to prosper
none dare call it "cheating."

As they would say in English soccer, to the tune of the Winchester Chimes (you know, Big Ben)...

Same New England, always cheating!

*

With my new job significantly cutting down on my free time, I made a conscious decision not to do the baseball trip guides for this season. But I do still want to do the countdowns.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 3, this Sunday night at 7:00, at Red Bull Arena, in the 1st-ever meeting between the Red Bulls and New York City FC -- a.k.a. Man City NYC.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": See the previous answer. The next game against the Philadelphia Union will be on Sunday afternoon, May 24, at PPL Park in Chester. The next game against the New England Revolution will be on Saturday night, July 11, at Red Bull Arena. The next game against D.C. United will be on Sunday night, August 30, at Red Bull Arena.

Days until Arsenal play again: 4, this Monday night (3:00 in the afternoon our time), home to Welsh club Swansea City. Although the despicable West London club Chelsea clinched the League title this past Sunday, Arsenal's win over Hull City the following day vastly increased their chances of finishing at least 2nd, and insured that they absolutely would finish ahead of North London rivals Tottenham, making it St. Totteringham's Day. Arsenal have also advanced to the FA Cup Final.

Days until the FA Cup Final: 23, between Arsenal and Birmingham club Aston Villa, at 12:30 PM New York time, at the new Wembley Stadium in London.

Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 29, on Friday afternoon, 2:30 our time (8:30 local), away to the Netherlands at the Amsterdam ArenA. (Yes, the last A is officially capitalized.) Just under a month, or just over 4 weeks. This European roadtrip, meant to be a warmup for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which we will host, won't get any easier, as, 5 days later, we have to play World Cup holders Germany in Cologne. 

Days until the 1st-ever meeting between the Red Bulls and New York City FC at Yankee Stadium: 52, on Sunday night, June 28. A little over 7 weeks.

Days until the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup begins on U.S. soil: 105, on Tuesday night, July 7. Just 2 months.
Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 108, on Friday, July 10, at 7:00 PM, at Fenway Park.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: Unknown. The next Premier League season starts on Saturday, August 15, but derbies are not usually scheduled for the opening week. So, at least 100 days.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 119, on Thursday night (why?), September 3, away to Woodbridge. Under 4 months.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 121, on Saturday afternoon, September 5, home to Norfolk State.

Days until the Devils play again: Unknown, as the 2015-16 NHL schedule won't be released until June 22. But an NHL regular season usually begins on the 1st Friday in October, which would be October 2, 2015. That's 148 days. That's a little under 5 months.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: Also unknown until June 22.

Days until the Islanders' first home game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn: Also unknown until June 22, but it's at least 148 days. Or, to put it another way, "148 Sleeps Till Brooklyn." Until then, despite having definitively played their last competitive game in the Nassau Coliseum, even with their 4 straight long-ago Stanley Cups, they're just a Small Club In Hempstead.

Days until the next East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 203, 
on Thursday morning, November 26, at 10:00 AM, at EB. A little under 7 months.

Days until the Copa América Centenario begins on U.S. soil: 393, on June 3, 2016. A little over a year. The tournament will be between teams from the North American, Central American and Caribbean region (CONCACAF) and South America (CONMEBOL, which is celebrating its 100th Anniversary). Although it's a member of CONCACAF rather than CONMEBOL, the U.S. is the host nation, and thus qualifies automatically, as it does for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Days until Euro 2016 begins in France: 400, on Friday, June 10.


Days until the next Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 456, on Friday, August 5, 2016. Just under 15 months.

Days until Alex Rodriguez's Yankee contract runs out: Officially, at the end of the 2017 season. Game 7 of that year's World Series could turn out to be on Halloween, so, for the sake of this entry, let's say October 31, 2017, which would be 1,273 -- about 2 1/2 years. Of course, the Yankees could release him before then, but I don't think the House of Steinbrenner wants to take the financial hit from buying him out.

Days until the next World Cup begins in Russia: 1,493, on Friday June 8, 2018. A little over 3 years.

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