On Saturday night, Alan Saunders of Pittsburgh Sports Now, Pirates Prospects, and the Beaver County Times among other places mentioned on Twitter that he has an NFL column bouncing around in his head, but he doesn't write about the NFL or have his own column. I replied that he was welcome to share his thoughts here. Amazingly, he said yes. So here's Alan:
We don’t root for injuries in football.
It’s an interesting thing, that piece of football fandom, and it tells us a lot about the way we tick as football fans. Of the major American team sports, football is by far the most violent. Men of over 300 pounds collide with one another at the force of a minor automobile accident dozens of times a game.
Injuries are a part of football. The league has a policy that each team must release a list of which players are injured and how injured they are each and every week. It’s not the exception, it’s the rule. Players are going to get hurt. It’s often said that it’s not the best team that wins the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season, but the healthiest one.
But we don’t root for injuries, even against a foe as despised as Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, whose level of revulsion by the fans of the league’s other 31 teams is only rivaled by their own level of success. The Patriots, who now await the winner of the Pittsburgh - Kansas City game, escaped their Divisional Round game against Houston without any serious injuries, whether they were rooted for or not.
The fact that we don’t root for injuries is a lesson I learned in 1989. That was the year I first became a sports fan, and at the impressionable age of six, there are some things that have stuck with me. The Steelers had played the Cleveland Browns early that year and got trounced, 51-0, in one of the most lopsided defeats in team history. Six weeks later, the Steelers would have to go to Cleveland to avoid being swept by their (at that point) fierce rival.
I don’t recall the identity of the Browns player that laid, sprawled out on the field on the muddy grass of Cleveland Municipal Stadium long after a play. I’m sure it was one of their more-explosive offensive players, perhaps Eric Metcalf, Ozzie Newsome or Webster Slaughter. As the Browns trainers rushed onto the field to tend to their injured star, 6-year-old me leapt off the couch. The loss of a big offensive weapon would for the Browns would be a huge boon for the Steelers’ chances of winning.
The Steelers ended up winning the game, but six-year-old me’s father was unimpressed with my behavior and I got something of a talking to. That’s when I learned that we don’t root for injuries in football.
There’s a reason.
Now, I haven’t been around long enough to know the intentions of the men that molded the game of rugby into what we now call American football, but whether it was intentional from the start or acquired along the way, there is a gladiatorial spirit to the game.
The goal is of course to win, but that spirit demands that a victory be celebrated less if it is a hollow one. The goal of every team is not just to win, but to face — and defeat — the best each opponent has to throw at them.
That is why we hate the New England Patriots. The Patriots, for all of the success of their four Super Bowls and 14 division titles over the last 15 years, don’t succumb to the will of that gladiatorial spirit. They beat teams, not by overpowering them, not by being more athletic, or stronger, or tougher, but by outsmarting them.
Everything they do, from exotic formations and schemes to the things on the fringes of the rulebook (or over, some would say), is designed to give the team an advantage. In 2015, the Patriots flummoxed the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs with a little-used but technically legal formation that confused the Baltimore defense. That was the same game in which it was initially revealed that the Patriots were using under-inflated footballs. The team had also been cited for illegal recording the practices of opposing teams and has been accused of tampering with visit radio equipment for years.
The reason we hate the Patriots is the same reason we don’t root for injuries. We’re not supposed to want an ill-gotten advantage. We’re supposed to want to face and beat the opponent’s best in a fair fight. The Patriots are healthy, so someone is going to get their wish.
Sean's Note: I think we also hate the Patriots because of Bill Belichick. He thinks he's smarter than everyone, and though he's probably right, he's a jerk about it. It also doesn't help that despite being so smart, he still had to cheat with Spygate. Tom Brady is also unlikeable. It's acknowledged that he's one of the best quarterbacks ever to play, but he's robotic. Besides appearing in Ted 2, has he every showed a personality?
Thanks again to Alan for his willingness to share his writing here. Please make sure you follow Alan on Twitter.