Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Modern Wide Receiver AKA The Most Dangerous Men in (and to) the NFL

Many (perhaps most) Americans list football as their sport of choice. In particular, the National Football League reclines in the seat of honor at the table of professional sports. Major League Baseball spent almost the entirety of our Nation's history in that hallowed chair, but—like so many things on this Inauguration Day—its reign is over.

Football is our sport and the NFL is its foremost ambassador.

However, my heart still lies with baseball and it always will. As a boy and then a teenager, I can remember two first loves more vividly than all the rest: that of baseball and that of a girl. It has been many years since the girl moved on and forced me to do the same. Fortunately, baseball will never knife me like that (or maybe it will).

Regardless, my enduring love for the game gives me an advantage when discussing the NFL. Since it does not rule my little sports universe, I don't see the League in soft focus. I see it in high-def, warts and all.

That comes in handy at a moment like this because, f you look closely, you can see the seeds of its demise taking root. Even now, as it summits the mountain of sports popularity, the League's future death rattle can be seen at one position.

Frailty, thy name is Wide Receiver.

Check out this list of offenders that spans the gamut; I can't even say with certainty it's complete:
  1. Michael Irvin—in 1996, pled no contest to cocaine possession after being busted during a snowy party celebrating his 30th birthday; in 1998, allegedly left a two-inch gash in a teammate's neck while giving haircuts; generally brash and arrogant (arrived to his '96 court appearance in a full-length white mink coat).
  2. Rae Carruth—in 1999, had his pregnant girlfriend gunned down near his home; participated in the shooting by blocking her car from escaping and then driving off without calling for help; woman was found to be carrying twins, but she and one twin died as a result of the shooting; the other was born prematurely and in distress, resulting in cerebral palsy; Carruth posted bail and then tried to flee, but was caught hiding in the trunk of a car.
  3. Randy Moss—in 1999, squirted a ref with a water bottle after a perceived blown-call; in 2002, bumped a meter-maid with his car and a small amount of marijuana was recovered in the subsequent arrest; in 2004, walked off the field before the game was over because he felt the game was decided; in 2005, got traded to the Oakland Raiders and proceeded to dog his was out of town; plagued by complaints of lack of effort due to dissatisfaction (though these've largely disappeared since taking his talents to the New England Patriots).
  4. Chris Henry—the offense's version of Pacman Jones; in 2005, arrested for marijuana possession, driving without a license, and driving without insurance after being pulled over for speeding; in January of 2006, arrested on multiple gun charges including concealment and aggravated assault with a firearm while wearing his own Cincinnati Bengals' jersey; in June of '06, arrested for drunk driving; in January of 2007, pled guilty to charges of providing alcohol to minors; in 2008, allegedly punched an 18-year old kid and threw a bottle through the window of the kid's car in a case of mistaken identity (Henry apparently thought this an appropriate method of reclaiming a debt owed him by another man).
  5. Terrell Owens—originated the theory that you could destroy a team without actually getting arrested and then put it into practice; blew up the San Francisco 49ers back when they were perennial playoff contenders; blew up the Philadelphia Eagles after almost delivering on all his bluster; now threatening to derail the Dallas Cowboys with the sheer momentum of his reputation; generally behaves as if he's a proven winner despite the ample evidence to the contrary.
  6. Chad Ocho Sinko—in truth, deserves to get co-authorship credit for Owens' theory since they both were developing it in concert; everyone's well aware of all the onfield nonsense and me-me-me antics; changed his name in a pathetically transparent attempt to drum up attention; threatened to sit out the entire 2008 season because of hurt feelings; publicly (though implicitly) campaigned for trades at various points during the season.
  7. Matt Jones—arrested at gunpoint and charged with felony cocaine possession; avoided felony charges by submitting to drug court.
  8. Steve Smith—in 2002, got in a fist-fight with a teammate that left said mate in the hospital for a couple days due to a broken nose; in 2008, virtually the exact same thing happened except the teammate avoided the hospital.
  9. Marvin Harrison—currently under investigation for his role in a shooting that left a man wounded near one of Harrison's businesses; police have confirmed it was his gun, but have yet to say who pulled the trigger.
  10. Plaxico Burress—this one happened in New York City so there's no need to do an extensive recap; shot himself in the leg while at a crowded nightclub in Manhattan; effectively torpedoed the New York Giants' season.
And that's just a list off the top of my head of the most egregious offenders (obviously I then researched the specific instances of misconduct).

Lesser idiots don't even come close to making the cut. Idiots like Freddie Mitchell, who tried to give himself a nickname harder than he ever worked on the field. Idiots like Limas Sweed, who dropped an easy touchdown on Sunday that could've put the game away, but later had no problem celebrating a comparatively meaningless first down like he just won the Super Bowl.

Of course, there's one guy I've saved until now because he's the most recent offender and he deserves his own section. I'm looking at you, Anquan Boldin.

Yeah, Anquan Boldin.

I know, I know. He showed great courage taking that brutal, knock-out hit and then returning to make virtually the same sort of catches. Wonderful. I gave him all the respect in the world for that sort of mental and intestinal fortitude.

And now I take it all back.

Though I didn't see it at the time, apparently Boldin was throwing a temper tantrum on the sidelines during the National Football Conference Championship game on Sunday. No big deal, except it was IN THE FOURTH QUARTER!


Is that a joke? I've got to assume this happened because that's the sort of false accusation that ends a reporter's career.

I don't care if it was competitive juices as Ken Whisenhunt tries to explain. There is simply no excuse for a player on any team to pull that kind of weak stunt at such a critical juncture in such a big game.

And this is the Arizona Cardinals we're talking about.

They've barely won a playoff game. Forget about going to the Super Bowl. The sports world has had several days to get accustomed to the idea and we still don't believe it.

I guess that sort of momentous possibility for a team, franchise, and city wasn't quite enough to quell Boldin's inner infant.

Not only that, Anquan was so ecstatic about the trip to Tampa with his teammates that he couldn't even take the excitement. That's right. He didn't participate in the onfield celebration.

Anquan Boldin rejoiced in the Cardinals' (and his) first trip to football's grandest stage by leaving the locker room early. So much for that warm, cuddly feeling of camaraderie after the biggest win in your organization's history. And many of those players' careers.

Here is a guy who started the year by demanding a trade, showed up to play, had a great season going, got annihilated, came back to play with his jaw wired shut without missing a beat, continued to play through the pain of a hurt hamstring, and then blew the whole thing up.

And that's the bigger problem. Guys like Ocho Sinko and TO hurt the NFL, but it's the escapades of dudes like Harrison and Boldin that are truly terrifying.

Because, if it can happen to seemingly stellar guys like Harrison and Boldin, that raises a strong presumption that it can happen to anyone. Left unchecked, anyone could easily become everyone.

And even the NFL couldn't survive that.

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