Friday, October 8th, 2010

The Ulcer In The Blue Sweatshirt

belichickHave you ever looked at a Wikipedia page for a specific calendar year? Not only is it a very poor way to get a sense of what happened in a given year, but it's also depressing as hell – it's essentially a more-morbid-than-average local news broadcast for the entire world, only with the odd chance that some joker plugs "CHAD IS A FAG!!1!" in for a few minutes before it gets corrected. I found this out when I made the mistake of looking up the Wiki page for the year 2007 before writing this column. I did this because I wanted to see if there was a reason why I remember '07 as being a singularly shitty part of the low, dishonest and just-concluded decade. And it turns out, per Wikipedia, that 2007 was pretty freaking terrible – a succession of mine disasters and suicide bombings and cyclones, punctuated by puzzling, faintly bummerish mundanities like Vladimir Putin being named Time's Person of the Year (really) and the UN declaring "The International Year of Languages."

But looking at a few other years reveals that this is just the way Wikipedia's year-recaps work – I don't remember 1995 being especially terrible, as junior years of high school go, but yikes: from an avalanche in Iceland (January 15) to Taiwan's deadliest fire (a month later) and sadly onward, that year apparently super-sucked, too. I imagine any year, chosen at random, would yield a similar result. But those of us who lived through 2007, which would be the entirety of The Awl's non-toddler readership, remember that it was characterized by more than cyclones and rampant Putin-mania, and awful for reasons that were notably more diffuse. In reality, 2007 was probably in an eight-way tie for Shittiest of Bush Era honors, but that doesn't in any way diminish how bad it felt in the moment – awash in the acid entropy of Bush's last two lame-duck years; unfolding in the twilit gloom of an increasingly obese and sadistic popular culture (thankfully we've turned that one around); haunted by the first signs that the various rots accompanying the fake economic boom would require a gut renovation instead of another coat of paint. And while all this was happening, I was obsessed with something else.

Something ridiculous and sports-related, naturally. Something I was convinced – perhaps because I was writing about the NFL on a weekly basis for the first time, and perhaps because I am a goofball generally so-inclined – represented everything wrong with America circa-then. I remember 2007 as a bad year among bad years not because of the European heatwave – heatwaves happen, after all, cyclones happen – but because of the rise of the ulcerously, pitilessly and unstintingly loathsome 2007 New England Patriots. At the time, the Patriots seemed to me to be both symptomatic of and causal to everything that was wrong with the culture in 2007. In retrospect, they were just an unlikable but extraordinary football team en route to the NFL's only 16-0 regular season. At the time, though, they seemed indescribably worse, and their miserable, implacable dominance seemed somehow everyone's fault – something we should and could have prevented, but did not.

That the Patriots wrapped up 2007 by losing in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants diminished their record-book legacy somewhat, but it takes nothing away from that team's truest achievement – making unprecedented success look like the most unpleasant thing in the world. Presumably your more vicious Patriots fans (and certainly a large number of sports bettors) enjoyed the way in which the Pats brutalized the NFL during the first three-quarters of the regular season – they won their first eight games by an average of 25.5 points, and beat Buffalo by 46 points in Week 11 – but it wasn't much fun for the rest of us. That's because, as easy as it was to marvel at the brutal beauty of New England's play, it was clear that all that winning was no fun for them, and thus no fun to watch. Blowout after blowout, the Patriots unsmilingly went through their merciless motions, then peevishly delivered themselves of dead-eyed post-game quotes that suggested they couldn't believe anyone could be so ridiculous as to ask them about the game they'd just finished playing. It's not just that it wasn't fun to watch. In its button-down savagery and singularly pissy excellence, it was actually pretty Patrick Bateman-ish, and kind of chilling.

Chilling because, as rough as it was playing against the Patriots that year – New England scored seven more touchdowns than Buffalo in that Week 11 win – it somehow seemed even more unpleasant to be playing for them. The players fumed relentlessly at strictly notional haters with a blinkered, raging vanity that could coax a reproachful "Dude, relax" from Kanye West. Quarterback Tom Brady, in the middle of one of the greatest seasons a quarterback has ever had, answered perfectly reasonable post-game questions with a prickly, plu-peevish condescension that was only otherwise available, at that time, from members of the Bush White House's press team. But the source of all this, the great melting bile-glacier that fed this pure joylessness, was head coach and now-GM Bill Belichick.

Which I know is a pretty standard way of looking at a football team, and one I generally reject – the idea that a team's personality comes from its coach, as if the grown-ass adult millionaires under that coach's command were somehow also infants awaiting behavioral imprinting. Some of that storyline's persistence obviously owes to the perspective and biases of those covering the sport – NFL coaches tend to be closer in age, appearance and background to those covering and watching NFL games than are, say, punt returners – but much of it seems a function of no one really knowing exactly what it is that NFL coaches actually do besides make speeches, wear headsets and model team-logo windbreakers on Sundays.

This isn't to say that coaches can't or don't actually do things to improve the players in their charge, or make choices that win or lose games, but it's easy to see how the importance of a coach – that one unfashionable middle-aged white dude who makes all those implausibly powerful young athletes into winners – might appeal a bit too easily to people in that coach's broader cohort, be they in the press box or on some suburban couch. But even bearing that in mind, those 2007 Patriots – and every Patriots team during his tenure there, before or since – has mirrored Belichick's unique state of perpetual aggrievement. Which is also to say that they have also reflected the similarly sour approach of Belichick's coaching mentor and modern football's ur-jerk, Bill Parcells. Which is in turn all kind of a long way of saying that Belichick's decision to trade Randy Moss – New England's best receiver and a future Hall of Famer – to the Minnesota Vikings this week was not at all out of character.

A third-round pick is not a bad return in the NFL, especially for a 33-year-old receiver grumbling about his contract situation. But the basic strangeness of trading a team's best receiver during the season – and leaving a receiving corps comprised solely of smurfy, underrated-from-day-one types to sustain a team that, if the last month means anything, will need to score 35 points per game to win – is mitigated by the fact that this sort of thing is a familiar move for Belichick and the other Parcells-ites. Belichick – like both his mentor and his own NFL acolytes, from Denver's Josh McDaniels to Kansas City's Todd Haley to the currently and inexplicably employed Browns coach Eric Mangini – seems peculiarly intent on the assertion and performance of his own dominance.

It doesn't matter, finally, whether it's strategic insight, gnawing first-day-in-prison insecurity – Parcells was drafted by a NFL team out of college, but Belichick and the rest are small-college grinds whose intelligence and pathological appetite for late-night film sessions have erased negligible football bona fides – or plain dickishness that leads these guys to pick fights with their star players, cavalierly fire special teams personnel or trade a sure-thing Hall of Famer because he wants a team of good listeners or whatever. The point is that they all do it, and do it with variations on the same snarl on their faces and shades of the same disdain in their voices. That all that nastiness has resulted in enhanced reputations and not-even-grudging praise for these Tough-Minded Strategists – if years of negging and relentless cocksure cockery can somehow get a Donald Rumsfeld leadership manual into print, it should also buy a three-time Super Bowl winner some slack on a baffling trade.

So it's not hard to see what's so 2007 – and so uniquely loathsome – about all this. In the same way that Donald Rumsfeld always seemed faintly annoyed at having to lie into open mics, Belichick and the other neo-Parcellsians mouth their bullying dishonesties, needless secrecies and what-the-hell obfuscations – Belichick is famous for listing all his players as "probable" in New England's weekly injury reports – in a way that suggests the general public should really work on better appreciating all of the above. If one had never seen Belichick's affect, or didn't know about his heroic grudge-carrying abilities, all this could almost seem kind of punk – a too-smart Wesleyan grad fucking with football's myriad brain-dead traditions for the sake of the fucking-with.

And maybe it is, although Belichick's well-known love for Bon Jovi – apart from a long-running affair with a married New Jersey woman, it's one of the few public bits of knowledge about this very famous person – suggests that "punk" is the wrong word here. And anyway there is no joy of performance, let alone whimsy, in Belichick's brilliance. Belichick's NFL resume ranks among the NFL's all-time greats, but when I think of his New England tenure I just see acres of middle fingers, hedgerow to poisonous hedgerow. All those handshakes refused, all those needless margin of victory-widening touchdowns punched in by various "high-character" Caucasian human victory cigars (my favorite being this prince), the barely restrained fuck-you of Belichick's every public utterance – even for Belichick, who wins all the time and gets what he wants even when he chooses to build a roster seemingly designed to prove that he can go 12-4 with any old humps, there doesn't seem to be any life in it.

In 2007, when the world seemed to belong to feckless neocon incompetents, spooky-eyed true believers and churlish bankers, the bleak dominance of the Patriots was plainly depressing. In 2010, with the Potemkin empire those goofs made in ruins around us, the fact that Belichick is still pissily proving the same points about his own blazing brilliance – and engaging in the scowling dissimilation and territorial pissing and strategic shanking of the scariest dudes in the commissary – might be more depressing still.

You know how good Belichick is at coaching games and pissing me off? Well, that's how bad I am at picking winners against the spread. I continue to trail the coin – which, at least, kind of came back to earth last week – and continue to feel pretty shitty about it. This may or may not be the week things turn around for me. They may or may not ever turn around, honestly. But the fact remains that I know a great many more ways to call Bill Belichick a dickhole than this silly Canadian coin does. That's something, right? Wait, it's not? You're sure? (As always, the coin flips are courtesy of Garey G. Ris, and the betting lines are from

Week 4 (and overall): David Roth: 5-9 (23-36-3); Al Toonie The Lucky Canadian Two-Dollar Coin: 6-8 (35-24-3)

Sunday, October 9
• Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens (-7), 1pm – DR: Baltimore ; ATTLCTDC: Denver
• Jacksonville Jaguars (-1) at Buffalo Bills, 1pm – DR: Jacksonville; ATTLCTDC: Jacksonville
• Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts (-8.5), 1pm – DR: Kansas City ; ATTLCTDC: Indianapolis
• St. Louis Rams at Detroit Lions (-3), 1pm – DR: St. Louis; ATTLCTDC: St. Louis
• Atlanta Falcons (-3) at Cleveland Browns, 1pm – DR: Atlanta; ATTLCTDC: Cleveland
• Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5), 1pm – DR: Tampa Bay; ATTLCTDC: Cincinnati
• Chicago Bears (-3) at Carolina Panthers, 1pm – DR: Carolina; ATTLCTDC: Carolina
• Green Bay Packers (-2.5) at Washington Redskins, 1pm – DR: Green Bay; ATTLCTDC: Green Bay
• New York Giants at Houston Texans (-3), 1pm – DR: Houston; ATTLCTDC: New Jersey G
• New Orleans Saints (-7) at Arizona Cardinals, 4:05pm – DR: New Orleans; ATTLCTDC: Arizona
• San Diego Chargers (-6.5) at Oakland Raiders, 4:15pm – DR: San Diego; ATTLCTDC: San Diego
• Tennessee Titans at Dallas Cowboys (-6.5), 4:15pm – DR: Tennessee; ATTLCTDC: Dallas
• Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco 49ers (-3.5), 8:20pm – DR: Philadelphia; ATTLCTDC: Philadelphia

Monday, October 10
• Minnesota Vikings at New York Jets (-4), 8:30pm – DR: Minnesota; ATTLCTDC: Minnesota

David Roth is a writer from New Jersey who lives in New York. He co-writes the Wall Street Journal's Daily Fix, contributes to the sports blog Can't Stop the Bleeding and has his own little website. His favorite Van Halen song is "Hot For Teacher."

Photo by Steve Glass, from Flickr.

21 Comments / Post A Comment

petejayhawk (#1,249)

The only thing I remember about 2007 is college football season. That's kind of sad, and is what I get for spending the year working in a soul-sucking corporate environment. Never again!

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Fortunately, 2007 was an excellent college football season.

keisertroll (#1,117)

If you followed Division I-AA, perhaps.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

This is excellent. Not sure if this oversight was intentional or not, but that 2007 season started with the Patriots videotaping the Jets' signals, which elevated the general disdain of the Pats by pretty much everyone in the non-New England football watching world. All those eff-you score-runups had to, at least in part, have happened as a result of the "us against the world" attitude the Pats harbored because the rest of us thought they were slimeballs for, you know, cheating.

David Roth (#4,429)

I probably should've mentioned that — I go into kind of a fog of war mode when it comes to Belichick, and I focused (as I generally do) on his real or imagined Essential Dickishness. But that bit of context is important, and while it doesn't take away from that Essential Dickishness, it does at least inform it in regards to '07. What a jerk Mangini was for busting him cheating, though, right?

Just one example of you shaping the facts to fit your argument, or simply ignoring them when inconvenient:

"But the basic strangeness of trading a team's best receiver during the season – and leaving a receiving corps comprised solely of smurfy, underrated-from-day-one types"

I hate to break it to you, but they still have a 6' starting WR (Tate) and two massive TEs (Gronkowski, 6'4, and Hernandez, 6'2). All played for programs in major conferences (UNC, Arizona, Florida). None of them underrated from day 1, but clearly underrated by you today.

Belichick has what few coaches in the NFL have: job security. That means he can make trades that might hurt the team in the short run and help in the long run. That means that he has the balls to go for it on 4th down instead of punting away. Personally, I think these are admirable attributes, even if the guy possessing them is an asshole.

I understand why his press conferences are so irksome to you, but funnily enough he seems all right when interviewed by local radio guys who he trusts.

You make plenty of valid points, but your unified theory of Belichick has a lot of holes in it too. I think you're just taking this shit way, way too seriously. He seems "intent on the assertion and performance of his own dominance"? What the fuck does that even mean — that he wants to win on his own terms? Yeah, that's why a longtime defensive mastermind turned his team into a shotgun juggernaut that needed offense to win. He's just that stubborn.

tomme (#4,473)

Belichick knows what people think about him and has been known to make some pretty good jokes about it in press conferences, too. Super dry, understated jokes, which makes them all the funnier, because half the reporters there don't even pick up on it.

Sweetie (#519)

When times are rough I tend to get crazily obsessed with sports. Accordingly, I'm awfully cozy with the '10-'11 EPL season.

Ronit (#1,557)

Thanks for putting the case against the New England Patriots so well.

This is quickly becoming my favorite football column.

Rex Manning Day (#6,873)

The media uproar over the Moss trade is getting out of hand. It truly baffles me that anybody could seriously put this trade forth as evidence of Belichick's "loathsomeness". If anything, this entire scenario has been uncharacteristically diplomatic.

Moss wanted to get paid a lot of money next year, and it's been clear for a while that he wasn't going to get the from NE (and if you're complaining about that: seriously? with all the bitching about athlete salaries, it's amazing that people backtrack and criticize the Patriots for *not* paying out). So he was gone after this year, anyway. Is it really that loathsome to trade a guy and get a draft pick instead of just letting him go at the end of the year?

Moss hasn't been a clubhouse problem for the Patriots, but his reputation hangs with him. Is it really that loathsome to trade a guy who is not only publicly unsatisfied with his position in the team, but is notorious for becoming a problem?

It's one thing to disagree with the short-term strategy of losing Moss, but it's ridiculous to fold this into some grand theory of Patriots douchiness. Moss isn't even some home-grown local hero that's being sent out to pasture (and the Pats have dumped those in the past, to much less fanfare).

Also, lest we go too far in the "Belichick is torpedoing his team's chances just because", let's remember:

In 2001, the Pats' top receiver was Troy Brown, with 1157 yards. He went on to a career average of 454 yards per year. Nobody on the team caught double-digit touchdowns that year.

In 2003, the Pats' top receiver was Deion Branch, with 803 yards. He went on to a career average of 565 yards per year. Nobody on the team caught double-digit touchdowns that year.

In 2004, the Pats' top receiver was David Givens, with 874 yards. He went on to a career average of 463 yards per year. Nobody on the team caught double-digit touchdowns that year.

The team won the Super Bowl all three years, with a collective 39-9 record.

So let's not get carried away with the "NE can't win without Randy Moss, and Belichick screwed them for his own glory" thing. Brady's done just fine with so-so receivers in the past, and has a habit of giving them career years. Will NE be able to win the same way they could win with Moss? No. But they'll get by.

David Roth (#4,429)

"It truly baffles me that anybody could seriously put this trade forth as evidence of Belichick's 'loathsomeness'."

I should point out here that I don't think the trade is evidence of Belichick's loathsomeness. His loathsomeness is its own magnificent thing separate from this, although this move does fit within his pattern of behavior. And while I don't honestly care as much, I should also say that I think the Pats will do fine offensively even with Welker and a rookie with 11 NFL receptions as the starters — Belichick's a great coach, and he's got a great quarterback.

I'm not worried about them winning, really. I'm worried about Belichick's stomach lining, and don't like his personality. I could probably have saved everyone some time if I just wrote that, but I had that link to Rumsfeld's leadership manual and, you know, the rest just happened.

I do like that you mentioned David Givens, though.

Rex Manning Day (#6,873)

Fair enough!

My rantiness was probably more a reaction to the entirety of the response to this trade this week than to you in particular. It just seems like everyone really wants to paint either Moss or Belichick as a terrible villain, when really it just seemed like a pretty decent business move for both.

"I do like that you mentioned David Givens, though."

Right? I'll never turn down a chance at a good David Givens reference.

David Roth (#4,429)

Perspective and proportionality is obviously not my specialty, but I think the serous NFL media is actually worse, and the way in which the Moss trade got covered kind of indicated that, but I agree it was a reasonable move on both sides. I don't totally get it from NE's perspective inasmuch as it seems to make their offense worse right now, but if they flip Minnesota's pick and Logan Mankins for Vincent Jackson all of a sudden it makes a lot of sense. And Moss, much as I like him, does seem like someone who needs his scenery changed every couple seasons. If he really was phoning it in against the Jets in Week 2, as Revis and Cromartie both claimed, then this deal presumably was Belichick selling high.

Overall, I was honestly just looking for a way in to addressing Belichick's weird nastiness. Honestly, if he seemed like he was having any fun — or at least wasn't so pissed off at everyone and everything — I'd probably like the way he thumbs his nose at NFL convention (and makes goofs like Givens or Jabar Gaffney look like real NFL receivers). But he's just so freaking sour and pissed off that I can't bring myself to do it.

LondonLee (#922)

I don't get this "running up the score" complaint, especially from an American who might also complain that soccer/football is boring because it's low scoring. Don't you want your team to score a shitload? I'd have thought this a problem for the other team, not The Pats.

Personally I was very happy when Chelsea banged 7 goals past three teams last season.

Drew Habits (#6,193)

Also, given how frequently insane comebacks and upsets occur in the NFL, it makes sense to put as many points between your team and the other guys as possible, just in case.

Coming at somebody with everything you've got, at the professional level, is a lot more sporting and dignified than backing off and letting them have a few pity yards, anyway.

Bittersweet (#765)

Given the level of vitriol reserved for Belichick and the Pats by a number of sports writers, Drew, they would've gotten eloquently written invective had they done the 'gentlemanly' thing in those games.

And I'll take Belichick's dry, understated sourness over Rex Ryan or Wade Phillips' posturing any day.

rj77 (#210)

I fucking hate the fucking Patriots.

Microtony (#249)

"although Belichick's well-known love for Bon Jovi" Who are you, Carl Paladino?

David Roth (#4,429)

I'm just saying, the guy's prowess is legendary.

fchasw (#5,740)

Why is the wiki communitysuppressing this information about Chad?

Abe Sauer (#148)

The Belichick Era is bearable by looking forward to the Patriot fan rebellion against their own team when it becomes the next decade's 49s.

Post a Comment