(Ed. Note: Mike Tanier wrote this in March of 2012 and it seems appropriate to repost at this time, especially since Brad Johnson has been nice enough to give us yet another "tainted" championship. Feel free to use the discussion thread below to let out all your primal screams about the current Patriots scandal -- and keep it out of threads that discuss the actual on-field Super Bowl matchup. Thanks. -- Aaron Schatz)
by Mike Tanier
For those of you keeping score at home...
It is now possible to claim that the Saints victory in Super Bowl XLIV was tainted. Not just possible, but fashionable: a few major football analysts have made off-the-cuff remarks to that effect in recent weeks.
It is also possible to use some combination of Spygate and the Tuck Rule to void any and all of the Patriots Super Bowl victories. The Tuck Rule is a non-starter among knowledgeable fans and writers; it was a poor rule that was poorly applied, but a rule is a rule, and the Patriots still had to tie the game and come back, blah, blah, blah. Spygate still lingers in the minds of many people who send me long e-mails, and the Giants' victory in Super Bowl XLVI provides ammunition to conspiracy theorists, who claim that the Patriots are 0-2 in the Super Bowl when they don’t have secret knowledge of the other team’s game plan, blah, blah, blah.
Super Bowl XL can also be nullified by those who think the officials nudged the Steelers to victory because they are a popular team with an international fan base, while the Seahawks are the Seahawks. Please, for the love of heaven please, do not rehash the particulars of this game in the discussion thread. I promise to not editorialize on my personal feelings about this or that call, or the specifics of Spygate or Bountygate for that matter, because the individual scandals are not quite the point here. I look forward to your thoughts on scandal-mindedness or the phenomenon of discounting championships, but if I see a frame-by-frame analysis of Darrell Jackson’s exact arm movements in the end zone seven years ago in the discussion thread, I will treat it like a penis enlargement advertisement.
That now potentially taints, nullifies, or otherwise disparages five of the last 11 Super Bowl winners. If you are conspiracy-minded, or scandal-minded, or you just like to be contrary and have a thing for dethroning champions, you now have the power to erase nearly half of recent NFL history and rewrite it the way you wish. And that is without digging too hard to find steroid scandals or blown late-season calls that affected the course of future events.
During editing, the guys reminded me that the Broncos were fined for circumventing the salary cap during their Super Bowl seasons. That makes seven of 15 championships! There have been debates on our message boards and elsewhere about whether CapGate was worse than SpyGate, where BountyGate belongs in the hierarchy, and so on. Usually, the rankings fall along strict fandom lines, with Seahawks fans abstaining and stomping their feet a lot. And of course, the whole -gate suffix phenomenon secretly makes me wish that Nixon tried to break into the Bandershit.
(Again, it turns out to be eight, not seven. Thanks, Brad Johnson.)
This is an alarming amount of nonsense fodder, and I fear it could cause an epidemic of the inane. It’s one thing to still have a handful of people treating Super Bowl III like it was the moon landing. It’s another thing to give an entire recent decade completely over to revisionists. All that’s at stake when we sprinkle winking little suspicions over championships is the credibility of the sport itself, plus the delicate joy of the fan experience.
Baseball fans appear to be okay with the fact that an entire generation of players, events, and championships has been briskly labeled "The Steroid Era," which basically turns many joyous memories of my early adulthood into a cesspool of homogenized filth. Baseball’s steroid scandal was a real, league-wide issue that was hijacked by bleating, ill-informed alarmists and sensationalists and flown directly to Crazyland. The NCAA does this sort of thing to our memories all the time, literally wiping teams and seasons out of the record book, but I think we all know that the first qualification for working for the NCAA is to read a lot of George Orwell, and the second qualification is to completely misunderstand it.
We are one big scandal away from allowing the same thing to happen in the NFL. What if we learn that Tom Coughlin has secret cameras, or the 2010 Packers had a bounty system, or the Manning brothers did something heretofore unimaginable but dangerous to opponents' health or competitive balance? Welcome to The Scandal Era. Or the Spygate-Bountygate-ManningVampireGate Era. The era when the team that won the Super Bowl didn’t deserve it, so that parade your father took you to might as well have been a tickertape parade for a serial killer.
Only cool heads can prevent such a thing.
So let us vow to be those cool heads. Repeat after me:
Bounties are bad. They are also probably much more common than most fans realize and nearly every NFL team has done something only slightly less sinister than the Saints did at some point. Whether or not bounties played a role in the Saints Super Bowl victory, championships are often won under unusual circumstances, and directly crediting "bounties" misleadingly oversimplifies a complex situation in the name of recklessly cheapening an accomplishment which brought excitement to millions of fans.
Videotaping opponents’ defensive signals was bad. It was also much more common than most fans realized at the time, and many NFL teams did something only slightly less sinister than the Patriots did in the Spygate scandal. Whether or not Spygate played a role in the Patriots Super Bowl victories, championships are often won under unusual circumstances, and directly crediting "Spygate" misleadingly oversimplifies a complex situation in the name of recklessly cheapening accomplishments which brought excitement to millions of fans.
Bad officiating is bad. It is also incredibly common, as most fans realize, and every NFL team benefits from dubious officiating at some point. Whether or not bad/biased officiating played a role in the Steelers’ Super Bowl victory, championships are often won under unusual circumstances, and directly crediting "officiating bias" misleadingly oversimplifies a complex situation in the name of recklessly cheapening an accomplishment which brought excitement to millions of fans.
Anything else? The Manning brothers are not vampires. Earl Morrall did not see Johnny Orr in the end zone. And since major league baseball did not ban steroids until much later, no one was cheating, because breaking the law is not cheating, nor is "violating the sacred sanctity of our green cathedrals blah blah pontifiblah."
Every champion gets lucky. Every team in history has leaned on a few rules, sometimes inadvertently. We all drive 70 miles per hour in 55-zones. None of us would dance to an IRS audit with a shoebox full of itemized receipts, whistling "I have nothing to hide," even if we are saintly accountants, because we know the tax code has dark corners where we can get lost, and that client dinner did not have to end at 3:45 a.m., inside a Tattletales.
Every champion earned its championship. We can conjure up acts of obvious cheating –- poisoning the opponent’s team breakfast, for example –- that could be cause to nullify a championship. But they haven’t happened, and probably won’t.
Let’s condemn bounties and praise the 2009 Saints. And let’s be angry about recent scandals for the most important reason: because we really, truly love football.