Haynesworth serves a purpose in NFL
If this is the end for Albert Haynesworth, who was released Tuesday by New England, we should all pause for a moment and consider not just the Patriots’ loss but our own as well.
It is easy to look at Haynesworth as an overweight, undisciplined, indolent and overpaid oaf who finally got what he deserved: a boot out the door after getting into a sideline spat with assistant coach Pepper Johnson.
But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And so rather than pile on Haynesworth — admittedly, a rather large pile — I prefer to praise him.
Where others see selfish, I see subversive.
When Haynesworth stomped on the face of Andre Gurode, opening up a gash that required 30 stitches, well, who hasn’t felt the urge to do that to a Cowboy? Too bad it wasn’t Terrell Owens, Michael Irvin or Deion Sanders, but you take your vicarious vitriol where you can get it.
Later, when Haynesworth was obliged to accept a $100 million contract offer from the Redskins, he nobly cemented Daniel Snyder’s reputation as the most foolish owner in the NFL. (Hopefully, Snyder doesn’t sue over that one.)
And then, most famously, we have Haynesworth to thank for shining a light a year ago on an anachronistic football ritual: the conditioning drill. He did so by refusing to do it.
Haynesworth, who had wanted a trade, was hurt. And then he was out of shape. And then he was tired. And then he was . . .
Soon, the nation was sucked into Haynesworth’s daily duels against the conditioning drill — and the hard yoke of the new Redskins coach, Mike Shanahan. A minor league baseball team offered a pair of season tickets to anyone who could pass the same test.
TV reporters were dispatched to run series of sprints, explaining to their viewers what it felt like to be Haynesworth (must . . . join . . . gym . . . now) and no doubt leaving them wondering what these sprints had to do with football. (Answer: nothing.)
It took Haynesworth more than a week to pass, and in that time he spurred a question that is rarely heard in the NFL, a culture that demands obedience.
“You always wonder: what’s the point or what’s going through their minds on why we have to do it, but you don’t want to buck the system,” Jay Alford, then a defensive tackle with the Giants told the New York Times. “I still don’t know to this day. I’ve been doing conditioning tests since high school. It never really made sense to me.”
Alas, Haynesworth has rarely been heard from on the football field since. He managed just eight games, none of them starts, for the Redskins last season before being traded to the Patriots for a fifth-round pick. He restructured his contract, willing to accept $1.5 million — with the ability more than triple that through incentives. He promised that he would take advantage of the opportunity.
And indeed he has.
There are few others who have so effectively poked a hole in the mystique of Bill Belichick.
The Patriots coach was roundly hailed this summer for acquiring Haynesworth and another unhappy former Pro Bowler, Chad Ochocinco.
It was a shrewd move, according to the consensus. Who would better squeeze their talent out than Belichick?
But Haynesworth, who was benched Sunday in the third quarter after filling the wrong gap and getting flattened on Brandon Jacobs’ 10-yard touchdown run, and Ochocinco became symbolic of a coach who is no longer looking like the smartest guy in the room.
The Patriots are flagging, sitting tied for first place with the Jets and Bills after back-to-back losses. They look as vulnerable as they have in more than a decade, with an awful secondary, an absent pass rush and no deep passing threat.
If this is Haynesworth’s closing act, there aren’t many more distinguished ways to add to your legacy than being the subject of a great miscalculation by Belichick.
But there is one that comes to mind.