EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- So it wasn't an epic. The Patriots preseason finalecould be the most forgettable, unwatchable game I've covered since being fortunate enough to get a job covering the NFL in 1997. So we'll stay off the game-specific stuff for the most part as we tidy up and look ahead. Yes, the replacement referees are embarrassingly bad. And I don't feel sympathywhen they look silly. They put themselves in a position to look dumb by climbing in bed with a partner -- the NFL -- who is going to ride them hard and put them away when this impasse is done. There may be some individual dynamics at play but it doesn't seem a leap to presume the replacement refs are doing it for the money and to advance their careers. So they can take the chants of "We want Hochuli!" and "Scab!" -- which they were showered with Wednesday night as they left the field -- and realize they signed up for it. But the locked-out officials -- to the surprise of many, I'm sure -- deserve a lot of blame for the present situation. I know the NFL's a cutthroat, monolith that greedily sucks up every penny it can find to add to the stack of billions it already generates. But the officials are turning their noses up to an offer that raises the average official's salary from 149,000 currently (!) to 189,000 by 2018. The average starting salary will go from a modest 78,000 in 2011 up to 165K in 2018. The officials don't want their benefits from the part-time job converted into 401K. And they don't like the idea of the league expanding its bench, so to speak, by hiring officials that could be summoned to replace a guy who sucks. Right now, the real refs are winning because the issue manifests itself to fans and most of the media as replacements screwing up the game. And that typhoon of outrage may force the NFL to just say, "Whatever..." and pay them. But don't be misled by the fact the NFL usually wears the black hat in negotiations. In this one, the refs are the ones trying to carry out a stickup. (Great post by Florio on this right here.) I lampooned the speech of the head referee, Don King, on Twitter. Kind of a low-rent move in hindsight. Wish I had foresight to edit that stupidity. It was a cheap, immature way to try and get alaugh and I feelbadly about it. One last thing, as he was leaving the field Wednesday night, Scott Zolak predicted that, against the Titans, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels will try to take advantage of the officials by going extreme up-tempo. Hadn't thought that far ahead myself. He's exactly right. But here's where it gets interesting. The officials will stand over the ball until they are ready for it to be snapped. In 2010, we saw the issues that arose when the league moved the umpire from the linebacker level to 12 yards off the line of scrimmage in the offensive backfield. The umpire has to get the ball after each play, spot it correctly and get the hell out of the way. When the head linesman signals, the ball can be snapped. The real refs struggled to keep up.The new guys? Seriously? And that's where the replacement referees will start to impact game plans. If the Patriots are stymied from going no-huddlehurryup by the incompetence of the replacement referees, Bill Belichick will blow a gasket. And,gasket blown, he may not choose to to defer to Mike Pereira's comments on the replacement refs but offer some of his own. Which courts incurring the Wrath of Kraft since coaches are under orders to keep their lips shut on the matter. This is a perfect example of NFL and owner business infringing on the vocation the coaches and players hold sacred. And that's where this will get interesting.
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski attended the Dayton 500 in true Gronkowski form.
He appeared to be there promoting Monster Energy drink, and was therefore hanging with the Monster Girls, who were also promoting the drink. Gronkowski's herniated disc injury, which required surgery in December 2016, does not seem to be slowing him down as he gets warmed up for the Summer of Gronk.
During the race coverage on FOX Sports, Gronk delivered a speed limit joke, which is sure to make the 13-year-old in you chuckle. (You can watch it here.)
Catching up with Rob Gronkowski, who is at his first Daytona 500, and is, of course, hanging with the Monster Girls. pic.twitter.com/KtcfIMLr1n— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) February 26, 2017
I think it’s time. Time to let the Deflategate wound scab over. Time to exit the active, raging, teeth-gnashing, petition-signing, lawsuit-filing portion of the program and let the hate follow its natural course into a slow-boil loathing.
If you are of Irish descent, you know how it works. Clear a big-ass space on the grudge shelf. Put Roger Goodell, Jeff Pash, Mike Kensil, Troy Vincent, Ryan Grigson, Jim Irsay, every shiv-wielding owner, all the cluck-clucking media and the legion of retired players and exiled GMs from Marshall Faulk to Joey Porter through Marty Hurney and into Bill Polian up there. Turn off light. Leave room.
When you need to piss yourself off -- in traffic, mowing the lawn, waiting for your coffee -- fetch ‘em down, blow the dust off and when you’re in a sufficiently foul mood, return grudge to shelf.
You rode the roller coaster. You’ve been there, done that and have all the T-shirts.
I came to this conclusion a few days ago, when ESPN’s Cari Champion interviewed Rob Gronkowski and asked about Goodell visiting Gillette. It was like playing “Get the Stick!” with a big goofy Lab. Champion threw the leading question, Gronk fetched -- tail-wagging -- and returned with a slobbery response that was completely implausible but still designed to dominate a four-hour news cycle.
"The fans are nuts, they’re wild, and they have the Patriots’ back no matter what,” said Gronkowski. “They have [Tom Brady’s] back. I’m telling you, he won’t get through the highway if the fans saw him. I don’t even think he can even land in the airport in Boston because Patriot fans are the best fans, they’re the most loyal fans. I’m telling you, they might just carry out Roger themselves. They couldn’t even get to the stadium in Foxboro if he landed in Boston."
Gronk’s just doing what he thinks he’s supposed to do. And Champion is, too. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
Watch these mooks up in New England get all pissed off: “Hey, hey, Chowderhead . . . Roger Goodell . . . . ”
“F*** that guy, he better never show his face in Foxboro! But I want him to come to Foxboro so I can boo the ever-living s*** out of him and maybe barricade Route 1 like Gronk said we would!”
See? Works every time.
The irony is that the person mainly responsible for turning up the burner on this is Robert Kraft.
In May 2015, Kraft said at the owners meetings in San Francisco, “I don’t want to continue the rhetoric that’s gone on for the last four months. I’m going to accept, reluctantly, what he has given to us, and not continue this dialogue and rhetoric, and we won’t appeal.
“Now, I know that a lot of Patriots fans are going to be disappointed in that decision, but I hope they trust my judgment and know that I really feel at this point in time that taking this off the agenda, this is the best thing for the New England Patriots, our fans, and the NFL, and I hope you all can respect that.”
Well, that blew up like an ACME bomb. And -- from that moment on -- Kraft has tried to recoup the fanbase that believed he sold them out by issuing a succession of calls-to-arms that the region has dutifully responded to.
The most recent was throwing down the gauntlet to Goodell by expressly inviting him to the 2017 season opener. I mean, it would have been a conversation point anyway, but now it’s metastasized into something that will be discussed throughout the offseason, ratcheting up in early September and hitting a crescendo on opening night.
There is appeal to seeing Goodell squirm while knowing the Maras, Rooneys and Irsays will be sipping highballs and lamenting the caddish treatment of Poor Roger. But I still like the football better.
Conversation about the historic import of SB51, the legacy of Brady and Belichick, prospects for the league in 2017? I’ll take those rather than an ESPN “personality” who spent a weekend in Newburyport at a friend’s wedding telling everyone what the mindset of the New England sports fan is.
But that’s not what we’re going to get. There will instead be ever-escalating predictions of the terrors Goodell will be subjected to fueled by interviews with tatted-up kids from the mean streets of Marshfield who wanted “Hoodie” fired when he let Revis sign with the Jets.
Unless . . . unless the region en masse decides to let its loathing mature. Mature to the point that when the carrot gets dangled in its collective face it doesn’t leap at it with teeth bared but instead says, “No thanks. Already full.”
Yeah. I don’t think it’s gonna happen either.