National Football League
Loudmouths now let thumbs do talking
National Football League

Loudmouths now let thumbs do talking

Published Feb. 1, 2011 12:00 a.m. ET

Hollywood Henderson opened wide and stuck his foot in it. Jim McMahon let his headbands (and, well, the other end of him, too) do the talking.

Joe Namath, as we all know, had the guarantee.

For this, they became legends. (Henderson a legend in how NOT to do it. But still. His name will live on as long as Lombardi Trophies are given out.)

It is a grand tradition to shoot one’s mouth off during Super Bowl week. Except that now it isn’t, not any more.


Each year we wait and hope and pray for the next great loudmouth to step up and accept the mantel. And yet, all we get is more vanilla talking points. Super Bowl trash talk has gone the way of the single-bar face mask and being able to watch a game without thinking of horrific brain injuries.

As with most things in life (up to and including the federal deficit), I blame Bill Belichick. The Patriots coach has won three Super Bowls, and thus, his “Say little … say less” philosophy has been adopted by every control freak in the league.

But this year, at last, there is a buck in the trend. Twitter.

Yes, talk to most any pro athlete in an interview setting and you’re likely to get name, rank, serial number, that’s it. They know the drill. They give up nothing. And that’s how guys like Belichick like it.

Then those athletes tiptoe off to twiddle their thumbs on their phones, and all heck breaks loose.

Twitter. Fear it, pro sports franchises. Fear it, would-be iron-fisted coaches. These guys apparently just can’t help themselves.

We saw it in the recent Packers team photo/Twitter debacle. Inactive Packers Nick Barnett and Jermichael Finley had their feelings hurt when they realized players on Injured Reserve wouldn’t be included in the team’s official Super Bowl picture. Understandable; that would sting.

But it happens. In every workplace in America, somebody’s grumbling about something. We vent. Life goes on.

Except, Barnett and Finley decided to air their grievances on Twitter. This is, of course, the exact OPPOSITE of locker room code. If asked about it by a reporter, for example, they likely might have pasted on a smile. But on Twitter?

Oh, it all comes out. Sans filter. Virally. Instantaneously. Worldwide. Did I mention sans filter?

(In what universe was this a good plan? I guess a universe in which “followers” are awaiting your every utterance.)

And, bingo. You’ve got your Super Bowl week controversy.

It’s only a matter of time before the next eruption. It’s bound to happen. Pro athletes are twittering like 14-year-old girls and congressmen.

“My NASCAR guys are twittering in the car just before they go out on the track,” Hendrick Motorsports team psychologist Dr. Jack Stark says.

But that’s NASCAR, where building a “personal” brand, connecting with fans, is almost as much a part of the job as turning left. Football preaches the collective. Football coaches think mimes are loose lipped. And football has done an incredible job with media training. As noted previously, it’s news when someone — an Ochocinco, a T.O. — strays from the company line.

So how is it guys who show such discipline when dealing with the media suddenly lose it with cell phone in hand? What is the psychology behind that?

“The research is clear,” Stark says.

As humans, this is how we’re wired: We’re apt to keep our guard up when we say it to someone’s face. We’ll loosen up and say a little more over the phone. And when we text or tweet? Release the Kraken.

We saw it with the recent feeding frenzy around Jay Cutler. Suddenly, a bunch of actual tough guys became Internet Tough Guys. The Thumbs That Roared.

Any prop bets this week on who else won’t be able to resist the itch before Sunday’s Super Bowl (FOX pregame at 2 p.m. ET, kickoff at 6:29 p.m. ET)? Already, Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley has tweeted that the Steelers would never be caught tweeting like that.

And here we go. These guys seemingly can’t help themselves. It remains the final frontier unaffected by media training, as much as teams try, try, try, try.

“We just haven’t caught up with the technology,” Stark says.

And, at least it’s something off script. Though there is something passive-aggressive about Twitter. Yeah, Hollywood Henderson will go down as the biggest dope in Super Bowl history. But at least he had to say those words to a person, out loud.

These days, anyone head down, typing, can go Hollywood. For the teams in North Texas, that’s a scary thought.


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