The Patriots bye week left me with no rooting interest, but ample time to reflect on the general mediocrity of a large number of NFL teams. Fully 18 of the league’s 32 teams languish at .500 or below. In the NFC, the Cardinals and Rams are barely hanging on; Cam Newton and RG3 are the only saving graces for the Panthers and Redskins respectively; while the Eagles, Saints and Cowboys hold our fascination much like a multi-car pile-up on the highway. Meanwhile, over in the AFC, the J-E-T-S, Bills, Bengals and Raiders are largely irrelevant, except of course for the New York tabloids’ fascination with Sanchbow and Rex’s proclivity for braggadocio. Meanwhile the Jaguars, Titans, and Chiefs are all irredeemably inept, lost causes with no hope of redemption, and Cleveland is doing its level best to edge itself into that conversation. We should feel fortunate. We haven’t had to settle for mediocrity for quite some time around these parts; we have all come to expect success.
In Dallas, Jerry Jones, the owner, would fire Jerry Jones, the GM, while Jason Garrett, the head coach with the mediocre 16-16 record, twists in the wind, his future increasingly uncertain amid talk of Sean Payton riding into Big D. Jerry Jones is a relic of another time and place when Dallas truly was America’s Team. More and more, he seems to occupy the void left by the passing of Renegade Al Davis. He is rapidly assuming cartoonish proportions, devolving before our eyes into a freakish curiosity for an entire generation with no historical memory of a time when the Cowboys were great. One wonders if he truly recognizes how far his once-feared Cowboys have fallen. Does he sit in his office in the larger-than-life stadium he built - his personal Xanadu – thumbing through the dog-eared pages of the scrapbook of the former glories even as the memories fade? Does he fan the dying embers of a vision of an eternally vital Cowboy mythology populated by such legends as Staubach, Dorsett, Aikman, White, Lily, Irvin, Smith? Or is he simply destined to become an old man mumbling unanswered prayers? Somehow, I don’t see Jerry as the religious sort, unless of course there’s a rube to be conned or a buck to be turned.
In New York, Giants’ fans are growing restive. The offense has been singularly MIA these past 2 weeks. Eli is once more languishing in the long shadow Peyton is now casting in Denver. In the last 2 games Eli’s passing numbers have remained stubbornly mundane: a combined 25/53 for 317 yards, with no TDs and 2 interceptions, while in the same time period Big Brother has thrown for 49/65. 596 yards, 6 TDs and 2 interceptions. Still, there’s half a season to play out, and one expects the usual suspects to emerge before all is said and done. The Giants will right the ship and be there at the finish, the Patriots’ looming nemesis, along with the rest of the NFL elite: the Patriots of course, as well as the Steelers, Texans, Ravens, 49ers. Falcons, Bears, and for good measure the aforementioned Broncos. As for the rest? Well, despite the extraordinary play of Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, I suspect they are already vying for slots on self-styled draft expert Mel Kiper’s Big Board.
I’m uncertain what to make of the Patriots’ latest roster move to trade for Aqib Talib. Given his tendency to assault teammates and other sundry, well documented “issues”, one might plausibly argue it’s a move that smacks of desperation. He certainly has talent, and if he drinks the Kool-Aid of the Patriot Way (so long as it’s not a banned substance) and behaves himself, there can be little doubt he will improve the leaky secondary. But those who conveniently overlook the “character flaws” simply because he can play corner back are likely to be disappointed. I mean if Charles Manson could play corner, would we, in the immortal words of Warren Zevon, excuse him as “just an excitable boy?” Or if Jeffrey Dahmer could play press coverage would his gross barbarity simply be explained away as an eating disorder? We are a nation of second, even third, chances, but for every feel-good story, there are many more which sink amid a welter of if only, what if, and what might have been. But hey, perhaps Talib has simply been misunderstood. As Mother used to say: “ We all live in the big fat middle except for those we don’t understand.” And we do have a SuperBowl to win, so I’m in!