Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Every year in every sport, a prominent star gets injured and if that player is injured in a team sport, his or her mates have to find the best means to replace the missing production. Yet, for better or worse, it’s different when a future Hall-of-Famer (first ballot in this case, but that’s up for debate if desired) goes down.

So while New England Patriots fans are finding ways to remain upbeat in the aftermath of Tom Brady’s season-ending ACL tear, the organization moves forward despite that its greatest nightmare has come to life. Though a game has not been played just yet, the immediate reactions have been intriguing to say the least.

There are fans that are level-headed and subscribe to the ‘no one’s above the game’ theory of sports. Beyond the good looks and famous girlfriend, Brady is a football player first and one of the few players that can garner a national audience no matter who is the opponent. However, just as he was an unheralded Michigan quarterback who seemingly fell into stardom seven years ago when he replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe, these fans are always looking for the next out-of-nowhere star to emerge. Brady is arguably the very best quarterback of this generation, but these fans do not stop watching football because he won’t play under center this season.

There are the fans that do feel bad that Brady was hurt, but look at how his injury actually improves the chance for other teams to shine. Some Jets, Bills and even Dolphins (they looked halfway decent on Sunday, you have to admit) fans are excited about the possibilities now that Brady won’t try to break more records against their defenses. It’s still far too early to count New England out of the playoff hunt as there is enough offensive talent and faith in the Patriot Way to keep them in the conversation. With that said, there should be even more pressure on the remainder of the AFC East to stop the Patriots’ seven-year dominance over the division.

There are the ‘fans’ that are popping corks about Brady’s injury in the most morbid of fashions. These are the people who admittedly celebrated as the replay showed Bernard Pollard’s attempt to tackle Brady go awry. These are the people who proudly hail their hatred for everything Patriots based on their success in the 2000s, the Spygate allegations that ensued one year ago and their location; the current center of the American sporting universe that is the Boston metropolitan area.

There are the advertisers and network executives who are prognosticating ratings dips without New England’s leading man. Bill Gorman of TV by the Numbers analyzed the potential freak-out surrounding the four remaining nationally-televised games that feature the Pats this season. Just as ESPN and the broadcast networks are accused of star-hunting for Nielsen numbers, advertisers push that agenda because they want to be attached to the most ‘it’ celebrity, athlete or trend of the moment. Will advertisers suddenly try to pull out of their deals with the nets – or better yet, the NFL, itself – because of Brady’s injury? That is not only highly unlikely, but any credence given to that idea is phenomenally short-sighted and beyond stupid. After all, there are too few opportunities to be a sponsor or advertiser in NFL-affiliate content as is.

Of course, the Patriots players, coaches and management, notably the ‘HC’ Bill Belichick, have a completely different set of emotions and thoughts to deal with. Brady is far more than a guy wearing #12 and far more than last year’s MVP. The franchise may have revitalized itself with him as their quarterback, but it’s the system that will be tested in the coming weeks. Belichick and company, with owner Robert Kraft’s blessing, re-imaged the organization to be one that can survive any shock to the system. All-Pro defenders such as Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison who were seemingly past their prime were brought into New England to execute in a system that demands more of the mental than physical prowess. The offense may have added the deep threat in Randy Moss and the underneath killer in Wes Welker last season, but it’s all about adjusting to the defensive scheme in front of them rather than overwhelming the opponent with sheer talent.

As much as some fans, media and advertisers want it to be, the story of the 2008 season does not center on the new Jets’ quarterback nor will it feature how these Patriots try to rebound from the historic disappointments of last winter. By year’s end, we’ll understand more if it’s the players or the system that made the Patriots the team of the decade.

Matt Cassel, the stage is to your left.


discipline_is_wisdom said...

I guess I'd fall into the 'level headed' category. I really do feel that the NFL has done a pretty good job of taking the celebrity worship tendencies out of it's sport, to a fair degree. I'm not saying they'd soon require jerseys with no names on the back, but when you talk to fans of the game, they are usually fairly knowledgeable about the league as a whole. They have their 'team' they favor, but usually know what's going on in the league.

To a point you made about the next up-and-comer, I'd have to say that I'm looking forward to seeing what Aaron Rogers has within him. I've had an argument with several people about the Pack's new starting QB.
I've felt, ever since he took over for Favre last year in that November game against the Cowboys, that he has a future in the league.
No one seems to agree with me, though. We shall see.

Jason Clinkscales said...

The comment is much, much appreciated.

Passion is one thing and as much as I enjoy sports, to wish ill or to cheer an injury is one of the most disgusting acts any fan can partake in. Sure, it's hard to not enjoy a good hit or to not react when an athlete gets knocked around a bit, but I always want to see a player get back up and go back on the field.

I'm in the same boat when it comes to Rodgers. I think he can be a heck of a QB, provided that Packers management doesn't try to make him into Favre or any other QB. I wrote about his situation earlier this summer and I see his scenario more like Philip Rivers: a talented signal caller that has to catch up to the rest of the talent on the roster.

Because they have a very good O-line, decent receiver depth, a run game and arguably the most complete defense in the NFL, Rodgers will be afforded to make a few mistakes here and there, but the team will have his back knowing that he hustled his butt off to get behind center.

Yet, we'll see what he does for a full year.