HOUSE OF PAIN: Nit-picking the NFL

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Randy Hill

Veteran columnist Randy Hill is a frequent contributor to
I ridicule because I care. So think of this column as an intervention. Also think of this column as a resurrection of¿s ¿House of Pain¿ series. And, despite its contribution to our new ¿Funhouse¿ neighborhood, only my barber has encountered more heartache than this house. Thanks to House of Pain restoration, I now have a subtle method for asking the following question: ¿What the hell were you thinking?¿ The first friend and/or loved one I¿m circling the wagons to aggressively heckle is the National Football League. If the NFL didn¿t have such an encouraging stranglehold on our sporting nation, some of its recent transgressions would slide past me without a peep. But I expect better efforts from this league and its otherwise wise commissioner, Paul ¿Laser¿ Tagliabue. For the record, Tagliabue¿s approval rating is far superior to that of baseball leader Bud Selig. The NFL commish has even escaped journalistic wrath despite being in charge when Los Angeles was contracted. However, his current house may be rocked by a few circumstances that seem to be within his control. Let¿s start with ¿Hi-Tops-gate,¿ an embarrassing crisis that occurred when Indianapolis quarterback asked for permission to honor the late Johnny Unitas. I think Peyton should have asked for permission to throw into double coverage first, but his proposed shoe-related tribute was a terrific idea. Unitas, who is credited with defining the position (if not the league) while working as a Colt in Baltimore, was the valedictorian of old school. When hippies were being invented and football shoes became more streamlined, Unitas continued to suit up with a flat-top haircut and black hi-top kicks. Watching Johnny U in those signature clodhoppers provided fans with comfort and me with evidence that Frankenstein has been forced to navigate Baltimore in his socks. But the NFL, leaning on its strict policy of uniform uniformity, denied Manning permission to wear Unitas-honoring, black hi-tops during last Sunday¿s defeat against Miami. It even promised a $25,000 fine if Peyton broke aesthetic rank. Baltimore QB , who had become close to Unitas, was defiant enough to wear a sort-of black, ankle-boot-styled football shoe last Sunday without asking for league clearance. He¿s expected to be fined, but the tab probably won¿t be 25K. It¿s interesting to consider that, along with that uniformity doctrine, the NFL typically generates all kinds of clothing-related tributes. Foremost among those is the ¿throwback¿ uniform, a premise now being redefined by the Seattle . But last week¿s hi-tops overreaction feeds a hackneyed dogma perpetuated by critics who crow that ¿NFL¿ refers to ¿No Fun League.¿ Truthfully, the NFL permits loads of fun. Ask any receiver whose first-down catch is tastefully dressed up with the international sign of the first down. However, NFL watchdogs overlook such latitude when the threat of a large fine is rendered. Manning could have rallied with a covert-style rebellion that used to serve Jim McMahon. I¿m assuming the name ¿Tagliabue¿ would fit when written across a headband. My next NFL candidate for deserved pain is the league¿s officiating policy. The on-field arbiters of NFL law still work part-time. And I¿m still bothered by that. If the league really isn¿t making the loot that I believe it¿s making, then accept my sarcastic apology. But if the NFL remains miles from destitute, it should invest in full-time hiring. In addition to conditioning (see the NBA) issues, recent competition suggests the existence of several situations these officials can prepare for. For example, when a fight between fans is downgraded by a law-enforcement-dictated outbreak of pepper spray, the kingpin ref shouldn¿t announce that a ¿foreign substance¿ is on the loose. That¿s what occurred near the end of Philly¿s Monday-night rout of the in D.C. I¿m convinced no Hog-ettes were involved in this particular skirmish, because fights involving these dedicated fans generally are brought under control by the introduction of apple sauce. Anyway, the only substance at work that truly seemed ¿foreign¿ was gray matter. Too bad nobody was packin¿ pepper spray when went cuckoo on a few years back. The best decision made during this Monday yawn can be traced to coach Andy Reid, who refused to accuse coach Steve Spurrier of intentionally running up Philly¿s score. I will admit slight sadness at the temporary failure of Spurrier¿s scoring machine. With talent upgrades, I believe the Funhouse ¿N¿ Gunhouse offense will be murder to deal with. Spurrier¿s commitment to having the ball winged a long way down the field also figures to be a lot more interesting than the NFL¿s prevailing plague of ¿West Coast Offense.¿ OK, so plague may a bit harsh ¿ and a bit inaccurate. After two weeks, league scoring is wild, and several teams are married to this WCO. I just feel disillusioned when several coaches abandon their short running game, accomplishing this baby-steps mission via the pass. It¿s a brutal tease. In the old days, a quarterback retreating into the pocket stirred the promise of a home-run heave or gruesome sack. With an embracing of the two-yard route, offensive coordinators are providing the gridiron equivalent of traveling to France and living on Big Macs. Yeah, it¿s probably working for your team. My annoyance defers to past, championship-caliber success carved out by WCO professor Bill Walsh and his roll call of disciples. I also am aware that these short-passing tactics often are the proper response to sophisticated defensive schemes. Even Oakland king Al Davis, who use to think his ¿Vertical Passing Game¿ would work as freeway-driving strategy, employs a coach who ordered 65 passing plays last Sunday. But chew on this: Such passes are referred to as ¿dinks.¿ ¿Dink¿ utterances should be reserved for citizens who are two years old. And thirsty. Randy Hill can be reached at his e-mail address:
Tagged: Bengals, Colts, Raiders, Eagles, Redskins, Ravens, Peyton Manning, Stephen Davis, Chris Redman

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