A lot has been said this week about the “special treatment” received by Tom Brady and the Patriots after the phantom calls we saw against the Ravens last Sunday — especially the Terrell Suggs penalty for supposedly going low on the Pats QB.
And unfortunately, I don’t expect that to change.
Our own Aaron Wilson has been following the story, including the comments by Ray Lewis — which were justified — and the tapes that were sent to the league office by Ravens head coach Jim Harbaugh, which Mike Pereira, the VP of league officiating, politely defended.
But where does that leave us, and what message does it send to defensive players, especially the ones rushing the quarterback?
How about: Don’t you dare take out one of our superstars.
Pereira responded to criticism by saying, “We want players in the game.” Well, the players he’s talking about are the Bradys, the Mannings and the Roethlisbergers of the league. The leading actors in the script that has become the National Football League.
As a player, I would have never believed it, but as a player turned analyst, isn’t it obvious what’s going on here? Yes, the Patriots suffered last season without Brady after he took a low blow to the knee (which I still think was a clean hit), but the league suffered more.
They lost their leading man, and when a season is forced to carry on without its stars, it just doesn’t have the same drama, the same intrigue and the same reality TV feel it used to.
Think about it. Would you still watch the games — with the same interest — if Brady, Peyton and Big Ben were gone? On the sidelines in street clothes after a hit had knocked them out for the season? Sure, we can all say we would, but how does a Colts-Steelers playoff matchup sound with Jim Sorgi taking on Charlie Batch?
Probably the same as going to go see “Weekend at Bernie’s, Part 2” over a Tom Hanks or Will Smith movie. You just wouldn’t do it — I hope.
This league is still a business, and in any business you want your best assets out in the open. Think of the NBA, a league that lives and dies with its superstars. No helmets, no pads, they are on display for the entire sport world. Would you, or anyone you know, watch a Lakers-Cavs game without Kobe Bryant and LeBron James on the floor?
I wouldn’t, that’s for sure. And the NFL isn’t much different, because for as many anti-Patriots fans there are, losing Brady and losing New England as a playoff team hurt the league last season. Just as losing the New York Yankees to the MLB postseason would kill TV ratings.
And defenses will just have to live with that, because the players the league is protecting aren’t the guys covering kicks or the guys getting chop-blocked at the line of scrimmage or any of the players involved in the violence on any play during four quarters of the game.
They are the quarterbacks, the jersey sellers. Do we think the league would have felt sorry for Suggs if he were the victim of a Hines Ward crack-back block? No, because it’s a “legal play,” just as hitting the quarterback should be a legal play.
And Brady and the upper echelon of the league’s players know it. They will look for that flag because it will give them a competitive advantage on the field. Why else would Brady immediately turn to the refs on Sunday after Suggs grazed his leg? He knew he could get the call, and he knew it was a free 15 yards. Smart quarterback, smart move.
Call it politics or call it special treatment, but it’s the law of the land in the NFL. We can complain, and players like Lewis can voice their own opinions, but at the end of the day the league looks a lot better when Peyton Manning is taking on Ben Roethlisberger instead of a career backup.
Am I off base here? What do you think?
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