Sunday, August 7, 2022

Cleveland: Teams Will Always Bend, Break Rules for Advantage

First things first about the so-called Deflate-gate controversy: Can we please stop including the -gate ending for any and every scandal?

The Patriots already have been through Spy-gate. The Saints’ so-called Bounty-gate put me over the edge. Watergate happened 43 years ago last month. The use of -gate has become stale and trite. Let’s find something else.

The next thing I would say is that as long as athletic competition exists, athletes and teams always will bend and break the rules to gain an advantage.

Baseball players bulk up with steroids, so much so that the sport’s record books are now a mess. Apparently, some baseball pros use amphetamines to deal with 162-game schedules. Hitters cork their bats. Pitchers scuff or load the baseball and so on.

Makes you long for the day when Babe Ruth bulked up with hot dogs and beer, doesn’t it? Of course, the Babe had to deal with spitballs.

Golfers deal with high-dollar pressure by using beta blockers and valium. No wonder some look like they are about to fall asleep when they approach a $500,000 putt.

Football players, too, bulk up with steroids, so much so that they scarcely look human. And apparently they also take the air out of balls. The best defense they can use: Everybody does it.

Don’t know about that but I do know everybody is suspicious of everybody else. I am reminded of a 1977 Houston Oilers-Oakland Raiders game. Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, the great Oiler return man, came back to the sidelines and told Oilers coach Bum Phillips that the Raiders must be filling the footballs with helium instead of just plain air. Ray Guy, the Raiders punter and kickoff man, was booming both kickoffs and punts that seemed to hang in the air forever.

(People forget how far and high Guy used to kick off, and he did it the old-fashioned way, straight-on.)

Said Johnson, “I’ve never seen anybody hang kickoffs like Ray Guy did.”

Phillips had the balls confiscated and sent to Rice University for testing. The results came back: no helium.
At least they didn’t call it Guy-gate.

In college sports, boosters (and some coaches) cheat by paying players. Funny thing: Some within the NCAA believe that by legally paying players this kind of cheating will stop. Excuse me while I guffaw at the very thought. They’ll just pay more.

Count this writer among those that believe the NCAA will continue to deal with the cheaters by cracking down on the little guys. As Jerry Tarkanian put it, “The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky they’re going to give Cleveland State another year of probation.”

I find it interesting when college football coaches post guards to protect closed practices, in fear of spies from upcoming opposition. Are they worried about what others are doing because they know what they, themselves, are doing?
I don’t know, just asking.

And I chuckle every time I see football coaches covering their mouths with their clipboards or pitchers and catchers covering their mouths with their mitts. Do they really think the other team has lip-readers?

Come to think of it, Bill Belichick just might.

Perhaps most distressing is that cheating extends down to Little League, where 14-year-olds pose as 12-year-olds and coaches recruit players from outside their districts. No sportsmanship lessons, there.

But back to the Deflate-gate situation: Yeah, I feel fairly certain Tom Brady and Belichick knew the balls were tampered with. But I think the penalties were excessively harsh. And I think the NFL should find out: Does everybody really do it?

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com) is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

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