I love Tom Brady – his passing, his play calling, his fiendishly aggressive approach to football.
I appreciate what they do, and I’ll pay to see them do it. I don’t know either of them personally, and I don’t particularly care to. That might dim their halos, extinguish their auras. I’ll watch them – from a distance.
Well, okay, I admit. I would love to take Bette Midler to lunch at Rossetti’s, and then to walk for a while along Winthrop Beach with her. “Beaches” was a wonderful movie with great songs, particularly “Wind Beneath My Wings.” I’d like to know if Bette, in person, is really the way she was portrayed in that movie. I’d risk dimming her halo to find out. But I digress.
Bette’s song “From a Distance” is one of my favorites. It came on while I was driving the other day, and I started humming along with her. Just before that, I’d heard yet another breathless, indignant-sounding dispatch on what’s become known as “deflategate.” Enough, already!
The song and the “scandal” are more closely related than one might think.
If anyone feels even a touch of disappointment at the mere possibility that Tom Brady might have been behind the needless altering of pigskin air pressures, here’s why. We’re no longer viewing his football heroics from a distance. Instead, we’re seeing – or we might be seeing, though I personally doubt it – one gritty little detail about what it takes to win at big-time professional sports. We don’t like it at all.
We are witnessing a reality show. We want fantasy fiction.
We want to watch the unerring spiral passes, the leaping balletic catches, the split-second artful deflections, the bursts of pure sprinter-speed, the mighty tests of strength. They’re beautiful manifestations of skill in Tom’s game, and they’re real. Just like the majestic eagle of whom Bette sings.
We don’t want to see the thumbs in the eyes, the ankle twists beneath the pileups, the forearm shots, the cleated stomps on unprotected joints. They’re ugly manifestations of brutality in Tom’s game, and they’re real too. Just the agonized last minutes of life of the fish, seized from the river by that eagle, run through by saberlike talons and pecked to death in the aerie.
Those things are obscene, in the original sense of the word. They have to take place away from the stage, as when Macduff and Macbeth exit, dueling, and Macduff returns with Macbeth’s severed head. We know that the killing and beheading happen, but we must be spared the discomfort of watching.
There’s something else about those unsavory tactics in pro football. Every player who’s good enough to make it to that level expects them. Dirty play is a reality that not everybody practices. But they all accept it and deal with it. We shouldn’t cheer it or like it. But we shouldn’t be shocked – shocked – that it takes place.
This is not to say we ought not to be angry and disgusted with some parts of the game. We should even hate some things about it.
I hate the Oakland Raiders. I was in Foxboro in 1978, watching from the press box when Jack Tatum paralyzed Darryl Stingley with a vicious, open-field hit.
I hate West Virginia University. I was at Boston College in 1974, watching from the press box when a hoodlum defensive player deliberately injured BC star Mike Esposito. The guy jumped onto Mike’s shoulder and upper arm, after a tackle and out of bounds.
West Virginia – different coach, same dirty tactics – did it to BC again in 1983. This time it was to Troy Stradford. They threw him to the ground and piled on his arm after a kickoff return.
All of those cretinous thugs should have been banned from the game. I will always root against the teams that spawned them. I don’t care how long ago it was. I don’t care if they recruit rosters full of altar boys. I hope that they always lose – badly.
That is the serious stuff. Deflategate is not. And it probably never happened anyway. How silly and risky would it be for Tom Brady to order an assistant ball boy to suck more air out of the footballs after they’d passed inspection?
Even if deflategate did happen that way, it’s nowhere near the realm of the aforementioned unsavory football tactics. Rather, it would be an example of going a hair’s breadth too far with something that every successful team does: find ways to gain that little edge, that slight advantage that can befuddle opponents and lead to victory. Sometimes they’re within the boundaries of the rules, sometimes they’re not.
We’d rather watch from our distance and not hear about this stuff either. But our beloved Celtics coach Red Auerbach was famous for it. So too was 1980 Olympic hockey coach Herbie Brooks, when he coached at the University of Minnesota. Tarnished halos, anyone?
The world will never be as Bette Midler sings: “no one is in need…no guns, no bombs, and no disease, and no hungry mouths to feed.” But that doesn’t mean we should not love our own corners of the world and do our best to make those corners better.
Professional sport will never be as we long for it to be: contests in which every participant plays fairly, honestly, and in rigid adherence to both the letter and the spirit of the rules. But that doesn’t mean we should not watch them, root for our favorites, and admire the talent and hard work of the athletes.
Let’s not spoil it for ourselves. Let’s put an end to obsession about manufactured ills like deflategate.
And as Forrest Gump would tell you, “That’s all I have to say about that.”