Labriola On

Labriola on Deflategate, Hornung, Rozelle

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • In the recent past, Steelers President Art Rooney II used this sit-down to point out that keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright had to become a priority, and then on a later occasion he mentioned the need for the offense to be able to run the ball more efficiently. Yesterday, he pointed to the secondary as an area in need of fortification this offseason by whatever means available.
  • His exact words: "I think our defensive line is young, but certainly capable of doing the job. I think obviously on the back end we need to add some players."
  • During a three-season span from 1984-86, the Steelers allowed 59 touchdowns through the air, with opponents completing close to 60 percent in an era when the average completion percentage was 55.5. In other words, below the line. In the 1987 NFL Draft, the Steelers picked CB Rod Woodson on the first round, CB Delton Hall on the second round, and FS Thomas Everett on the fourth round.
  • The Woodson-Hall-Everett haul came with the Steelers drafting from the No. 10 spot, with Everett being the final piece at 94th overall. Such a plan of attack certainly would be more difficult to execute from 22nd overall, which is their reality in the upcoming draft.
  • With the participating teams due to leave for the site of Super Bowl XLIX in about 48 hours, the sport's biggest story involves inflated/deflated footballs. And this at the end of a postseason where the major storylines had been the officiating and the rule book.
  • The NFL cannot be happy that instead of talking about the events within the games, the focus of the attention has been trained on the integrity of the games.
  • There's no way that any doctoring of the footballs was responsible for the Colts getting brutalized by the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Indianapolis was dominated throughout, but that should have nothing to do with the punishment NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell must mete out.
  • There has to be punishment to the Patriots, because even though the principles – Bill Belichick, Tom Brady – have plausible deniability, this points to what the NCAA would term "lack of institutional control." Not that the NCAA is any institution to be copied, or admired, but the phrase strikes at the heart of the issue with the Patriots, and by extension, with the entire NFL.
  • Spygate happened, and the Patriots were found guilty. Tried and convicted. Sentenced, too lightly for my tastes, but sentenced nonetheless. This deflating of the football is a second offense in the same category of tampering with the integrity of the athletic contest. And it's the second offense by the same franchise, under the same ownership, that's being investigated for another violation of what can be categorized as "fair play" rules.
  • Lose that, lose the public's trust in the games being on the up-and-up, and it's over for the NFL. Over. There is nothing that would kill the sport faster than losing the public's trust in the games being on the up-and-up. Lose that, and professional football is on the road to professional wrestling.
  • And for those who try to make the case this whole issue is no big deal, understand that the three major television networks – ABC, CBS, NBC – all began their Jan. 22 nightly news broadcasts with the saga of the New England Patriots and the under-inflated footballs. As NBC anchor Brian Williams said, "If baseball is our national pastime, football is something closer to an obsession."
  • Roger Goodell also has a perception problem, one that was pointed out by Troy Aikman, himself a Hall of Fame quarterback with three Super Bowl rings and whose most recent assignment as the color commentator on FOX's No. 1 broadcast team was the NFC Championship Game. Aikman brought up Goodell's "ignorance is no excuse" stance when he suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for a full year for Bountygate and applied it to the I-know-nothings Bill Belichick repeated over and over in answering questions about the under-inflated footballs.
  • Is ignorance still no excuse? Or not?
  • Back in 1963, the NFL Commissioner was Pete Rozelle, and he faced a situation in which the highest-profile player on a two-time defending championship team coached by the legendary Vince Lombardi was suspected of betting on his own club and said to be associating with "known hoodlums." Paul Hornung said he bet on his Green Bay Packers with "friends" for $100 or $200. Rozelle said the bets actually were for as much as $500 with the implication that Hornung's "friends" were ne'er-do-wells.
  • A classic case of he-said, he-said, but Rozelle still suspended Hornung, who had set an NFL record with 176 points in 1960 and been the league's MVP in 1961, for the entire 1963 season. The entire 1963 season.
  • After winning championships in 1961 and 1962, the Hornung-less Packers "fell" to 11-2-1 in 1963 to finish second in the Western Conference to the 11-1-2 Chicago Bears, who then went on to defeat the New York Giants for the NFL Championship. Lombardi's hopes of a historic three-peat were dashed, but the NFL emerged on the other side of the suspension with its integrity intact.
  • As Robert Kraft's New England Patriots await the decision of the NFL Commissioner on any possible punishment for this second violation of "fair play" rules, they should be very thankful the man sitting in judgment is not Pete Rozelle.
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