Isaiah Webster

Category: SPORTS

Dreading Super Bowl LI

It’s happening. We’re just a few short weeks away from the Super Bowl match-up that most NFL fans are dreading: Dallas v. New England. If the Cowboys and Patriots meet in Super Bowl LI on February 5, it would be their first meeting in the championship game. However, they have 9 Super Bowl titles between them, and two of the most loyal (and obnoxious) fan bases in all of the NFL.

Entering the final week of the regular season, both teams are projected to be the #1 seed in their respective conferences — that means first-round playoff byes and home-field advantage. Dallas is already a lock for the top seed in the NFC, while New England needs a win, a tie or an Oakland loss to lock up the top seed in the AFC.

Looking forward to the playoffs, Dallas will have the toughest road to the Super Bowl. The New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers look like serious threats. In fact, the Giants swept their season series with the Cowboys. It’s a very open question as to whether Dallas’s young team could beat both the Giants and the Packers in the same postseason — even if they have the home-field advantage. As for the New England Patriots, they are truly without peer in the AFC. The Raiders looked like a threat right up until starting quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg in Week 16. Now the Patriots will be favored to beat any of the remaining AFC playoff teams. And in many cases, their opponents might struggle to keep the games from becoming routs.

Though the NFL has struggled with TV ratings at points throughout this season, recent games have drawn record audiences. In fact, last week’s Monday Night Football telecast saw its highest rating in two years. If Dallas and New England were to meet in a Super Bowl, it could draw an audience of epic proportions. Very few NFL teams have the world-wide following and championship success that the Cowboys and Patriots enjoy. In terms of Super Bowl glory, only the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers would even be in the conversation. (The Cowboys, Patriots, Steelers and Niners have won 20 of the 50 previous Super Bowls. The other 30 are divided among the NFL’s remaining 28 teams.)

As far as the NFL is concerned, a Dallas-New England match-up would be a gold mine.

As far as football fans who root for a team other than Dallas or New England, it would be Hell. Generally when your team is not competing in the Super Bowl, you simply root for a team based on other aspects of the game. Such as Peyton Manning’s last ride or Luke Kuechly’s improbable, yet magical season. For the most part, the game’s participants don’t make you want to claw your own eyes out with hot forks.

And yet, it looks increasingly likely that the football gods won’t spare us from a Dallas-New England Super Bowl. The list of aggravation is long: Stars on helmets; Jerry Jones; Tom Brady; Bob Kraft’s smug face; Michael Irvin on TV; Zeke Elliott’s belly; Cowboys fans; Pats fans; clueless wannabe fans jumping on the winner’s bandwagon. These teams aren’t just annoying because they have a history of dominance, they are additionally annoying in that almost everything about them pisses off other teams’ fans. The Patriots have been caught cheating multiple times; the Cowboys project an arrogance so grand that words can’t fully capture it. AT&T Stadium has been called “Jerry Jones’s palace” — and they say this with a straight face!

This year, we won’t even have Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski as a funny, sexy aside to it all. He’s on Injured Reserve, and won’t play again until next season. It’s just all a shallow shit-show that we can see coming, yet are powerless to prevent.

If the Universe wants to atone for a horrible 2016, beginning 2017 with a Chiefs-Falcons Super Bowl would be a great start. Why the hell not?

Tom Brady’s misguided pout-fest

BRADYFor more than a year, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been locked in an epic pissing contest with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The commissioner says that Brady lied about what he knew regarding the deflating of footballs during the 2015 AFC Championship Game. Brady denied any wrongdoing, but destroyed his cellphone anyway just as the NFL asked to see it to confirm his story. Whatever.

Eventually, Goodell handed down a four-game suspension against Brady, along with harsh penalties against the entire team. The Patriots had to surrender their first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and pay a fine of $1 Million. After his punishment was handed down, Brady refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing whatsoever — an admission that would have probably cut his suspension down to two games. Again, his choice — so whatever.

Brady took the NFL to federal court last year and won, meaning his suspension was voided and he was allowed to play in every game of the 2015 season. But the NFL promptly filed an appeal with the Second Circuit Court, which today reinstated Brady’s four game suspension.

In a nutshell, the appeals court concluded that the entire matter is a labor dispute, and that the collective bargaining agreement is clear that Goodell was within his rights to suspend Brady, for… whatever:

“Here, the parties contracted in the CBA to specifically allow the Commissioner to sit as the arbitrator. They did so knowing full well that the Commissioner had the sole power of determining what constitutes ‘conduct detrimental,’ and thus knowing that the Commissioner would have a stake both in the underlying discipline and in every arbitration [falling within his jurisdiction]. Had the parties wished to restrict the Commissioner’s authority, they could have fashioned a different agreement.”

It was Brady’s decision to take this matter to federal court in the first place, and that was an epic mistake. It was a foolish decision because it removed any incentive for the commissioner to cave on the four-game suspension. It is noteworthy that Patriots owner Robert Kraft accepted what he deemed an unfair penalty against the team, rather than sue the NFL in court. Kraft knew then, what Brady is learning now — Roger Goodell is eventually going to win this dispute.

Tom Brady should have just swallowed his pride and accepted some responsibility. His claims of total innocence aren’t believable — even if you throw out the flawed Wells Report. The bottom line is that Brady has been pouting for more than a year; pouting because, in this one instance, he didn’t get his way. Golden boys hate it when their halos get dinged, but Brady truly brought this on himself. Had he simply agreed to meet the commissioner — one-on-one — and admit what he knew, he probably could have gotten off with a 1 or 2-game suspension. But that course of action would have forced him to admit some small degree of fault — a deal-breaker for Perfect Tom.

Brady may very well continue to press his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it’s unlikely the court will waste its time on this nonsense. This entire saga has been blown out of proportion, and now it’s just plain silly. Brady should stop pouting, and just serve the suspension and move on.

Goodell outsmarts critics with a classic bait-and-switch

GOODELLFormer FBI Director Robert Mueller has concluded that there is no evidence that the NFL lied when it said it did not see the infamous Ray Rice video prior to its public release by TMZ. In fact, Mueller didn’t even find evidence that such a tape was ever received by the NFL at all. Though some in the public may be dismayed, this report completely clears NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell; though to be fair, his job was never in any real jeopardy.

The only people surprised by today’s report are folks who don’t follow the NFL closely. This investigation has never about getting to the bottom of anything; it was about managing a public relations crisis — and giving it ample time to blow over. Mission accomplished.

But we’ve also witnessed something even more amazing: The NFL just gave a master class on how to pull a bait-and-switch to its own advantage in a moment of deep crisis. All season long, and even now, we’ve all been arguing about the wrong things. The public, along with its many media critics, wanted blood from the NFL for knowing about (and subsequently viewing) a tape that showed Ray Rice punching out his wife in a casino elevator. Despite all the other issues swirling about the entire scandal, the public willfully allowed the NFL to transform the crisis into one about who saw the tape and when. Even though the public had the league cornered on the merits, that shiny sensationalistic tape was all that people cared about. That was a product the NFL was happy to have folks chasing. Once it became all about a tape — the NFL won. Case closed.

The bottom line is that we were never going to get to the complete truth about the tape. The layers of bureaucracy surrounding any chief executive is expressly designed to prevent damaging things from reaching the CEO’s desk. Such a set up allows Goodell plausible deniability in any public relations scandal. He was never going to take the fall for the existence of some random videotape that was supposedly confirmed as received by a secretary who answers the phone. I mean, let’s be serious!

But here’s the best part — the video in question is completely irrelevant to all of this. Once we saw Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of that elevator, we all knew what happened. That should have been the end of it. And all the people who wanted Goodell’s scalp should have pressed that point. Instead, Goodell played them all like a fiddle and agreed to commission the search for a tape that he knew would never be found. Genius! It’s a classic bait-and-switch: Focus attention on the sideshow, so that folks completely miss the main event — even though it’s unfolding right in front of them.

Roger Goodell gets points and props for being far more crafty than his critics.

Michael Sam was cut because he isn’t good enough to be in the NFL

SAM

Those who were surprised that the St. Louis Rams decided to waive Michael Sam are not football fans. Because those who follow the NFL carefully, weren’t surprised at all. The only occurrence this week that could be classified as a mild surprise is that the Rams decided to pass on adding Sam to its practice squad. (Sam was not claimed by any NFL team, and is now a free agent.)

Even though Michael Sam was an accomplished college player, he never struck me as a serious NFL talent. As a defensive end who plays exclusively in the 4-3 scheme, his options were already limited to the 15 NFL teams that deploy that defensive style. He’s undersized as a defensive end, but too big (and too slow) to be a linebacker. He also doesn’t play special teams well — which is vital for players such as Sam.

When Michael Sam was drafted in the 7th round this past May, many speculated that he would have been drafted higher had he not come out as gay. I disagree. In retrospect, I believe that Sam’s coming out helped his draft positioning. Being that be played his college ball at Missouri, it is no coincidence that St. Louis decided to give the state favorite a legitimate chance to make an NFL team. After enduring all the buzz and attention after drafting Sam, the team certainly would have given him every opportunity to make the team and cement history. The fact that the team would not even retain him for its practice squad tells you everything you need to know — he’s a good football player, but not good enough or versatile enough to play in the NFL.

Good college players strike out in the NFL all the time. Remember Tim Tebow?

I don’t believe that Michael Sam is out of the NFL because he is gay. If he were an outstanding player, he’d be on a team, because winning is everything. And if someone can help your team win, it doesn’t matter if they direct dog fights or beat their wives unconscious. Just ask Michael Vick and Ray Rice.

Michael Sam is still a pioneer having achieved something that no one else did before him — he was drafted as an openly gay man. That’s not nothing. In fact, that’s a huge achievement. The next Michael Sam will journey down a much easier path.

UPDATE 9/2/14: The Dallas Cowboys will sign Sam to its practice squad, pending his passing a physical.

‘Big Sascha’ profiled in The New York Times

BAJIN

In the lead up to the U.S. Open, The New York Times ran a short feature on Sascha Bajin, Serena Williams’ hitting partner. The piece was nice, but quite brief by NYT standards. Perhaps it was just an excuse to run a shirtless picture of the man known as “Big Sascha.” BAJIN

The relationship between Williams and Bajin is probably without precedent. A German-born Serb, Bajin was a promising junior player in the late ’90s. But when he was 15, his father (who was also his coach) died in a car accident, and Bajin lost his motivation. In 2007, he was working as a coach in Munich when he received a call to serve as a hitting partner for Williams, and he has been by her side ever since.

Serena has yet to win a Grand Slam tournament this year, but she is favored at the U.S. Open, and has a favorable draw. The tournament begins Monday.