One of the great things about this game is that it’s never predictable. Looking down the fixtures for Week Two, I thought I would struggle to find an introduction without resorting to the slightly tired ruse of explaining the game by reference to rugby. And then the Patriots got caught spying.
I alluded to this last week, but really didn’t think anything much would come of it, what with the Kevin Everett injury and it being the start of the season. How wrong I was.
Bizarre though it may seem, the NFL actually does have rules on spying on your opponents - unlike most other sports, where it is fair game if you can get away with it. Even for a game so highly tactical, this is slightly surprising, because it has always been a sport which depends as much upon second guessing what your opponent will do as what you do yourself. You would think that any little advantage would be allowed to be taken. Clearly not. From the reaction in the States, you would think that Pat’s coach Bill Belichick hadn’t so much found the Holy Grail as taken a dump in it.
To understand why people are getting so upset, you need to understand about the playbook. This is - to carry the Biblical analogy a little further - the bible of any team. In it is every play the team could conceivably run that season. Some teams have very simple playbooks, some have ones which make War and Peace look like a slimline paperback. Basically, if you want to know how to beat a team, get a hold of their playbook. It is so valuable that some sides don’t allow them to be taken home, even by players like quarterbacks, who need to know everything in there.
This explains why, when you see them during a match, the coaches all talk with their mouths covered. They don’t want anyone lipreading them, because most of the time they are talking to the quarterback, calling the next play. Similarly, quarterbacks almost never talk to their players on the pitch, other than when they are in a tight huddle. Instead they use hand signals. When you see Peyton Manning waving his arms around like an epileptic seagull, he’s actually ‘talking’ to his team members. It was these signals that the Patriots were recording and trying to decipher.
In my book, all of this would be fair game, were it not for the fact that the NFL has specifically outlawed it. Which has given Roger Goodall another excuse to flex his muscles, which he has done in quite a creative way. The Patriots were fined $750,000, of which $500,000 has to be paid by Belichick (don’t cry for him, he gets paid in excess of $4m per annum) and has docked them a pick in next season’s draft, precisely which one depending upon how well they do this season. As he himself said, this is far more of a long term punishment than simply suspending Belichick, because it affects the Pats’ plans for the future - and they are a side notorious for planning their draft picks very carefully.
It wasn’t all bad news for the Patriots, though. On the field they humbled the Chargers 38-14, notching up a 24-0 half time lead along the way. Tom Brady threw for almost 300 yards, Randy Moss ran in two more touchdowns and new boy Adalius Thomas returned a fumble for another score.
In other news:
· Eli Manning surprises everybody by playing for the Giants against the Packers, but is horribly upstaged by Grandad Brett, who not leads the Packers to a 35-13 win but wins his 149th match, an NFL record;
· The Colts regress horribly from their opening day spanking of the Saints and only just hold on to beat a fairly average Titans side 22-20;
· The Saints, however, are still over someone’s knee with their pants down and this time it is the Buccaneers wielding the paddle as they go down 31-14. The Saints look threatening on offense but seem to have forgotten to pack a defense;
· The Bills wore ‘Everett 85’ t-shirts under their game shirts and will auction them for charity, but were outclassed by the Steelers and lost 26-3. Everett himself is making good progress, is breathing unaided and has some slight movement in all limbs. There is talk of him being transferred to a specialist rehab unit very soon;
· The Bears continued their one team campaign to rid me of hair, performing smoothly and efficiently in the first half and woefully in the second to end up with a less than comfortable 20-10 win over the Chiefs. Their two scores came from reserve left tackle John St Clair and a punt return from Devin Hester. The only consolation was that St Clair’s score was a copy of a play the Bears used to run with William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry twenty years ago. Which might be an omen;
· Over in Cleveland, it was hard to tell whether it was a game of two brilliant offenses or two woeful defenses. Bengals QB Carson Palmer contrived to throw six, yes six, touchdowns and still end up on the losing side as Derek Anderson showed that the Browns were right to trade Charlie Frye after Week One and led the Browns to a 51-45 victory;
· The Browns were not the only team to bounce back from shocking starts to the season. Oakland almost stole the game from under the Broncos’ noses, losing to an overtime field goal;
· Detroit QB Jon Kitna has hailed his recovery from concussion during Sunday’s game as ‘a miracle’ - and judging from his subsequent blatherings about God he either really means it or hasn’t recovered at all;
· The Bills’ resident orthopaedic surgeon - and the man credited with saving Kevin Everett’s life - is called Andrew Cappuccino. Wonder how he likes his coffee?
· Atlanta have signed Byron Leftwich and Morten Andersen in an effort to get their season started. That’s right, the solution to the problems left by Michael Vick is a banged up QB with more dodgy parts than a Trabant and a kicker who, at 47, makes Brett Favre look positively juvenile;
· The Eagles are comprehensively outplayed by the Redskins and lose 20-12. Afterwards, Donovan McNabb excuses his own performance by complaining that black quarterbacks are criticised more than white ones - which would work as an excuse, except that Rex Grossman isn’t black;
· Tank Johnson signs a two year deal with the Cowboys, despite the fact that he’s suspended until after Week Eight. Will they still want him when they find out his real name is Terrence?