Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Tom and T.O. Show: A Contrast of Future Hall Of Famers

There are many ways in which the National Football League has been described using its iconic letters (Not For Long, No Fun League).  One of those could be "Not-all-honorable Football Legacies".

The highlight of every National Football League season is Super Bowl Week.  This is a time when the past legends of the Shield get together and welcome as many as 7 new entrants into their gridiron brotherhood, the Hall of Fame.  Of course, there are those who miss the cut for various reasons, reasons in which a select group of media opined, debated, and determined are either justifiable or simply a matter of the numbers - a group that has never been between the lines during a pro game.  Then there are players who are either retired or still currently playing in the league, yet are anointed through the media as "future Hall-of-Famers".  And sometime in the not-so-distant future, there is be one marquis name among this group who will cross the threshold of this hallowed Hall on the very first try: Tom Brady.

Yes, THAT Tom Brady.  The now 5-time Super Bowl winner, 4-time Super Bowl MVP, 12-time Pro Bowler, et cetera, et cetera...

And it was during Super Bowl Week, on February 5, 2017 - the same week when 7 new ecstatic, self-reflective, visibly emotional, and relieved former footballers gained entry and donned gold blazers - when Brady notched Super Bowl win #5.  As a result, the hubbub now is that he is the GOAT, the greatest NFL quarterback of all time (which I disagree with all that is in me) and a shoo-in for the Hall. (I know that some of you are tempted to post the words "hater" in the comment section below concerning my disagreement. I may deal with that issue in a future blog.)

But what I would like to address here is a double standard of sorts. You see, many New England Patriot fans - and maybe to some degree, Tom himself - will launch a defense when there is any attack or criticism directed towards him.  Reminds me of Benita Buttrell, the character from In Living Color who freaked out when someone said anything bad about Miss Jenkins. Regardless of whether the criticisms are documentable and validated or specious and murky (e.g., Deflategate, Spygate), Patriot compatriots like 19th-century hucksters will try to pull the okie-doke on the unsuspecting assembly on the periphery to get them to agree that Tom is squeaky-clean, take a pass on the Haterade, and imbibe the "miracle" tonic schlepped by the northeastern US contingent of NFL fandom.


But Tom is NOT squeaky-clean when the optics are so evident that a dark cloud will follow him, Bob Kraft (owner of the Patriots), and Bill Belichick (Patriots head coach) - likely future HOFers themselves - wherever they go. A dark cloud of mysterious happenings, thick-cut innuendo, evasive deflection and spin, and other purported hijinks have the power to frame his autobiographical episode of "A Football Life" in an arguably more authentic context than the one this triumvirate serves on a red, white, and blue platter.  Some obviously will dismiss these statements as mere conspiracy theories founded on sheer envy and jealousy. My argument is that, regardless of these being fact or fiction, there remains no squeaky-cleanness on their part.

I mean this: I've washed my share of dishes. Some may look clean until you rub your finger on the surface, only to discover that you feel a layer of grease still there. Here is some oily residue for you to consider:

And I can't leave this out either...

But for all of the hue and cry of the mass conglomeration of anti-Patriots, the attempts to besmirch Tom is a fait accompli because he most assuredly will be inducted into the HOF.  Despite the vitriol, many are giving him his props for the choke job by improbable comeback against the Atlanta Falcons. Never mind the fact that he is currently the most hated quarterback in the league (AND the 5th most hated player all time by, playing on the most hated NFL team. Patriots fans will chalk that up as mere "fake news", channeling Tom's association with Donald Trump. 

But there is a double standard that I see here, due to another figure looming stage right.  This former player was a finalist for the HOF the past 2 years, only to fall short of the requisite votes for enshrinement, perennial glory, and relative immortality. And this former NFL standout has his own dark cloud following him, but probably should not be as dark as some others because perception and reality are not mutually exclusive: Terrell Owens, aka "T.O.".

 Yes. THAT Terrell.

The Sharpie-sportin', pom-pom-shakin', popcorn-eatin', Cowboys-Stadium-midfield-star-jackin', "I-love-me-some-me"-lovin', situps-in-front-of-the-house-crunchin' get the picture.

This same Terrell also was able to pull off the following in his career:
- 1,078 receptions (8th all-time);
- 15,934 receiving yards (2nd all-time);
- 153 receiving touchdowns (3rd all-time);
- 156 career touchdowns (tied for 4th all-time);
- 72.8 yards/game (16th all-time);
- Led the NFL in receptions 3 times;
- 6-time Pro Bowler;
- 5-time first-team All-Pro;
- Holds or shares 9 NFL records

He also had 1 Super Bowl appearance in which his team lost.  However, he had a statistically monster game (9 catches, 122 yards).  Ironically enough, his team lost to...wait for it...the Patriots.  And he did all of this on a not-yet-fully-healed fibula that was fractured 7 weeks prior.

But no HOF for the second year in a row for TO. And those media members on the Selection Committee offered insight, albeit somewhat sheepishly, through a levying of "justifications":
1. He was disruptive - he tore teams apart to where all five teams for which he played found a way to get rid of him.
2. He was an off-the-field distraction with too many off-the-field issues.
3. He was too outspoken, often throwing teammates under the bus.
4. He was too flamboyant, self-promoting, and prima donnaish.
5. He dropped a lot of passes.
6. We just don't like him. (This wasn't said, but was clearly implied.)

How can you not love an athlete signing a football for a young fan? Oh yeah...he was still on the field...

OK, I'll take the bait and take apart each one of these "justifications":

1. Brett Favre (inducted into the HOF last year) retired from the Green Bay Packers, then wanted to come back to play for another team. When the Packers refused to release him or give him the starting quarterback slot, he brokered a trade to the New York Jets by throwing the team under the bus IN THE MEDIA plus accusing them of forcing him to decide on whether he should retire when he wasn't ready to decide.  Then came the unproven rumors about the Minnesota Vikings (one of the Packers' hated division rivals) tampering with him before the trade...only to find himself on said Vikings team after stating he was retiring while on the Jets. Tension was so bad because of his playing for an archrival and being personally motivated to teach the Packers a lesson to where Favre was the most hated player in the NFL in 2010...and this was a fan poll. You have to wonder how many Packers fans were part of that poll. Talk about a legendary team and fan base like the Packers being "to' up" by a future HOFer at that time. 

Terrell had his issues with his quarterbacks, most notably Donovan McNabb, but you can make the same argument that he did what he could to make his quarterback successful in helping the team win. He would irritate teammates to death, most intensely his quarterbacks, with his sideline antics and vocal posturing.  But what no one could never do is question his heart, his desire to win, and effort on the field. Look at his steel-cut physique and that should give you a clue. But Terrell is not the first nor would he be the last HOFer to cause dissension. Locker-room cancer? That is, of course, clearly debatable. Persistently vocal and hyperactive irritant? Definitely. And although teams found a way to get rid of him, other teams found a way to sign him soon after his release. Flies in the face of logic for a team to welcome a known cancer into their organization.

It wouldn't surprise me if Donovan had wanted to switch places with T.O. in this shot...

2. Terrell was never arrested or charged for any crime, did not have or hide a protracted substance abuse problem, never made news in a volatile domestic incident, or found himself on the wrong side of the NFL Commissioner to threaten him with a multi-game suspension.  Sure, he was fined or suspended by his team...yeah, he apparently OD'd on Hydrocodone...but for things that either could not be proven (e.g., spitting on an opponent) or would land him in the scathing hot waters of jurisprudence.  Can't say the same for some HOFers.  The clock may be ticking on Lawrence Taylor's next run-in with the law.  I'm hoping there won't be.  He has suffered enough.

3. Ray Lewis. Shannon Sharpe. Jim Brown. Joe Theismann. Cris Carter. Eric Dickerson. Joe Namath. Warren Sapp. And I'm naming only PLAYERS here.  All of these are HOFers except Lewis, who will likely be inducted next year.

4. You will be hard-pressed in most cases to find a top-flight wide receiver on any team who is not self-promoting, flamboyant, or prima donnaish.  Matter of fact, you don't have to be a wide receiver primarily to be that way (see Sanders, Deion...another HOFer).

5. Come that the BEST you can do?  Let's not bring up Jerry Rice's seminal 49er years. Do I really need to say here that Jerry is a HOFer?

6. That sounds closer to the truth.  Has a ring of Barry Bonds backlash in there.

Terrell is both controversial yet congenial, disturbingly annoying yet admirably passionate, unwisely outspoken yet unyieldingly overprotective, over-the-top flamboyant in his showmanship yet fanatically committed to his craft. But for the Selection Committee to offer a weak take on dropped footballs as to the reason why he was not inducted speaks to something more ominous. And I'm not talking about the race card, either.  I don't have to. I'm playing the perception card.

Some NFL media outlets have a way of whitewashing one figure while blackballing another (and I told you that I'm NOT playing the race card). The NFL Combine and NFL Draft are two perennial examples of this behavior. Tom and Terrell for all of their NFL adventures and misadventures have at least one thing in common besides each having a HOF resume: their respective clouds are black, and there is no need to try to reach for the color palette to determine if the black is charcoal or purple. The fact that Tom is a quarterback and Terrell is a wide receiver could play into the notion that Terrell, while "viewed" as a HOFer or having HOF credentials, had to "earn" his way into the HOF. And "earning" his way indirectly means that he needed (and still needs) to play by the rules of etiquette as defined by the media outlets who are coat-blocking his induction.  Not to mention subjective player code stipulations by former greats. (I'm talking about you, Dan Fouts.)

Tom has never been very forthcoming or transparent with the media because that is the Patriot Way (see Belichick; Deflategate). But his ability to play close to the vest is not seen as flagrant as Terrell putting his heart on his sleeve before the media, openly and unapologetically voicing his opinions, disappointments, or frustrations...often with a reserved yet confident defiance. But I thought that was what the media is supposed to want and love: players who can be candid, thoughtful, opinionated, fiery, and have a take that they can use to fill prime time on sports talk shows and cable sports networks. Shannon Sharpe got to co-host his own Fox Sports cable show on the strength of that approach. Unlike Shannon, Terrell is an anomaly stuck on the wrong end of the perception spectrum, victim to a vicious catch-22 that at the most climactic of times rewards the lubricious and penalizes the ostentatious. And the media is always packing enough oil to selectively help those who do enough to hide a multitude of press-conference sins while simultaneously leave their enemies with cracked skin from excessive exposure to the heat from their keyboards.

It appears that as long as Terrell keeps talking, his induction will be postdated and postponed. And no matter what Tom does that has an unseemly smell to it, it will not make him less of an HOF lock than he is now. Doesn't seem fair, but neither was Tom's 4-game suspension before the 2016 least that's what the Patriots would have you believe.

But there will be trouble on the horizon for the Hall and media representatives responsible for the voting. If Terrell standing behind the velvet rope did not pose enough of a challenge, next year could serve as a referendum on the obviously flawed, perfectly subjective, and deliciously biased HOF selection process. Come next year there will be another name standing in line behind Terrell who could pose some problems for the Committee...and I'm not talking about Ray Lewis.  It's the person with whom Terrell is tied for most career touchdowns:

Amen, Stephen A.

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