Why Sport Journalism Is Ailing (And How I Helped Make It Sick)

By Chris Warner

Before I prattle on about sports writing, please go online and buy Touching All The Bases, a collection of columns by the late, great Ray Fitzgerald. It’s four bucks. Go now.

Did you go? Good. Now, a few thoughts while my DVR plays back the last minute of the Super Bowl, again …

Sports are about the possible. Coaches, teammates, mentors, and (we hope) our own brains tell us, You can do this. You can make this happen. Rudy can get the sack. Team USA can beat the Soviet Union. New England can score 14 in the fourth quarter against the league’s best defense, then stop Seattle on the one-yard line.

You. Can. Do. This.

On the other hand, sports discussion is about the impossible: What if the 2007 Patriots played the 2003 Patriots? Could the winner of that game beat 2014’s team? Could Jimmy Foxx hit Pedro? What about Satchel Paige? Could a young Satchel Paige, drunk, shut down the 1975 Red Sox? 

What if the 2006 Patriots had paid Deion Branch?

See? Every single one: impossible to answer. When you have that kind of conflict: a medium of the possible described in terms of unattainable scenarios, you’re bound to get conflict. And conflict, as we know, sells.

(Speaking of conflict – and impossible to answer – what do you think the national reaction would have been if the Patriots had lost on a heartbreaking play and started a brawl in the final 20 seconds? Maybe some negativity there, one would think.)

But let’s back up a bit. Here are the main sticking points with journalism today, and my various levels of participation in them:

Be First

Back in November of 2009, I reported that NFL free agent quarterback Jeff Garcia was flying to Boston.  At the time, New England had only one backup QB on the roster (Brian Hoyer), and it made sense that they would try out a veteran.

Here’s the story behind that piece: A college friend of mine took a business flight to Boston and ended up next to Garcia. As I wrote in the story, Garcia said he was visiting friends. When my “source” (funny to call him that) asked Garcia if those friends were in Foxboro, he said “Yeah.” He didn’t elaborate, but the connection seemed obvious.

Within hours of posting that piece, two separate sources said the Patriots had not tried out – nor were they trying out – Garcia. The story got shot down before getting a chance to get any traction.

I still wonder what the heck happened. I could not have had a more believable source: I trust this friend with my life. Garcia implied he was headed to Foxboro. Was he messing with my buddy? Did the Pats get a whiff of the story that evening and put the kibosh on the tryout?

Maybe I should have waited, but then what? The Pats bring in Garcia for a tryout, and the next day I write something like, “I totally knew it!” Should I have written a coy piece instead, something about New England bringing in a veteran player for a look-see – details to come? I don’t know. I’d still like to find out what went on there.

Now, think about the consequences of posting greater gossip fodder. Commenting on a potential tryout pales in comparison to bringing up locker-room grumbling, or impending firings, or a league-wide investigation into whether or not rudimentary physics of air pressure apply to footballs.

That’s the trick of the Internet. Someone tells you something. You know you’re among the first to have the information. Do you wait for a second source, or do you go with it and, if you’re wrong, work out the details later? I hate to say it, but I understand the tendency for the latter. After all, if you’re info’s incorrect, you can move on to the next thing. A story can stop; the business of sports never does.

Besides, we all know we can’t believe everything we read on the Internet. Sometimes we who write count on that, because submitting stories online can resemble trying to paint a landscape on a Shrinky Dink: The final product often lacks the initial necessary detail.

Speaking of which…

Don’t Believe Everything You Read On The Internet. Unless You Want To

On the premiere of “The Colbert Report” several years ago, Stephen Colbert introduced us to the word “truthiness,” which he defined as “truth that comes from the gut, not books.” Since then, Mirriam-Webster has come to define truthiness (yup, it’s in the dictionary now) as “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.”

Did Bill Belichick order the deflation of footballs? Of course he did. Or, wait: no, he didn’t.

The correct answer? Even if we throw common sense aside, even if we want to believe the story, it seems highly implausible. Early reports on the topic used the terms “deflate” and/or “under-inflated,” both pointing to human activity and not weather effects on pressure. Also, 11 of 12 footballs were allegedly “as much as” two pounds under pressure. That term obfuscated specific numbers and downplayed a huge variance. Coffee can cost “as much as” 10 bucks in some fancy restaurants, but no one’s shelling out big clams for a medium hazelnut at DD.

That’s where the web becomes a light-speed version of telephone. Writers go with the “Be First” rule but can’t confirm; they send out teasers (tweets, posts, etc.) on upcoming reports in order to maintain their position at the “front” of the story while allowing time to suss it out. People believe what they want to believe. “As much as two pounds” becomes “two pounds each.” Our own Bruce Allen called out one tweeting nitwit who confused pounds per square inch (psi) with pounds (lbs). This Bumbling Bernoulli questioned the believability of Tom Brady being unable to tell if a football weighed two pounds under regulation, as if the air inside a ball actually had that much gravitational pull.

A well-put, insulting-yet-pointed piece on medium.com called “Deflategate And The Softness Of The American Mind” focuses on how the story got out of hand partly due to our ignorance regarding the science of air pressure. Worth a read. Combine a dearth of knowledge with a specific bias, and you get a rumor-based scandal. Easy.

The Patriots cheated? Pats fans (and science) say no; many others say yes. That has become an aspect of sports, or, better said, it has become the sports aspect. Most items of interest possess a sports aspect. Whether a defendant on trial should be found guilty or not, whether a singer in a contest should win or not: those are the conflicts. Those get attention.

As readers, we need to look for question marks, literally. If I’d posted “Garcia To New England?” then I would have gotten more hits. Seems like more people would’ve believed it more quickly. But as a journalist, why am I asking that question? Shouldn’t I confirm it and take the role as one telling you?

Last week I posted a piece on Bill Belichick, and I called him a cheater. Though I did so with a sense of admiration and even loyalty, I didn’t word it right, and my voice just melted in with the cacophony of those calling him out. I apologize for that. I have always admired Coach Belichick’s attention to detail, and much to my regret, I put football air pressure into the same category as scouting, personnel, and planning.

I believed initial reports. I believed what I wrote when I wrote it without waiting for more information. Bad call. But, these days, believing is not all that important.

You Don’t Have To Believe It To Write It

I have a hard time admitting this, but here goes: I used to write for Bleacher Report. This was before that site found its current format, when they’re going for legitimacy with experienced writers. This was when hits meant everything.

So here’s my most-read article. Ready?

Christ, this is embarrassing.

NFL Predictions 2011: Why the New England Patriots Won’t Make The Playoffs. 

Hoo, boy. In my defense, my first two reasons are Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth, but after that it devolves into the hit-seeking missal it really is. Not sure if it still works the same, but BR made it easy for writers to set up slideshows. First, think up your headline (e.g., “Is Tom Brady Unhappy In New England?”). Next, pick out photos from their extensive library. Last, write a few sentences for each caption.

From the aforementioned article:

Sure, Haynesworth has shown flashes of greatness, but only flashes. The big man might do some good things, but if he fails to bring any consistency, the Patriots defense will fail to live up to expectations.

Ugh. Again, I apologize.

Now, compare that “effort” with one of my most difficult pieces, “NFL Draft Predictions 2011: One Prospect Each Team Should Target on Day 3.” For this, I had to come up with a potential late-round draft pick for all 32 teams. There I sat on Day Two, clacking away on the computer as the ESPN draft ticker rushed along the bottom of the TV, hoping my candidates wouldn’t get picked by some other team that night. It felt like trying to build a card table on a Lazy Susan: if one fell, many others would follow. The fun I’d had leisurely picking out photos for the previous slideshow had devolved into scrambling to find any likeness of the candidates that could accompany two or three relevant factoids.

And after all that effort? Fewer than half as many readers as the “Pats Won’t Make The Playoffs” bumblefart. Plus, the draft piece got zero comments, as opposed to 73 for the negative take.

So, if you had a choice between toiling away with fact-based, well-thought-out pieces or doubling your audience with a quick, irreverent, possibly offensive sportstake, what would you do?

You might appeal to a broader audience.

People Aren’t Dumb; They Just Don’t Pay Attention 

Let’s look at this game review I wrote after the Pats beat the Raiders back in 2008. Due to injuries, Bill Belichick had coaxed Junior Seau and Rosevelt Colvin out of retirement, prompting this comment from me:

This is hard to say, but someone must: the Patriots as currently constructed would have a hard time beating Boston University’s football team, much less a bunch of professionals. (For those of you who don’t know much about B. U. football, here’s some history. You see my point.)

The joke here is that Boston University had cancelled their football program over 10 years before. Get it? Hilarious. In any case, here are a couple of reader comments:

“…it is extreme hyperbole that has no bearing on reality.”

“It’s a lot more than Boston U could manage, (were) they to play in the NFL.”

Now, most of the readers got the gist of what I was saying, but it’s difficult to discount the two comments above. I use hyperbole to make a point; it’s just some ha-ha-jokey-fun to elucidate their lack of depth on defense. But the joke gets lost, people take offense, and you end up admitting (for lack of a better word) that, yeah, the Patriots could definitely beat a non-existent college football team.

People don’t pay attention, and they believe what they want to believe, evidence be damned. It’s a pick-and-choose Internet. Ignore that piece from the “established” media. I read the real story elsewhere!

Think of that mindset as the so-called news broke about flat footballs. Think of the leaps in the minds of millions of fans who dislike the Patriots.

Think of the temptation for reporters to get in on that action. That, as much as anything, is hurting journalism.

Reporting has been a business for a long time. Papers – the so-called established ones – used to get readers because they told the whole story, and quickly. Now, with speed-of-light exchanges of information, accuracy and clarity might not provide the catalysts for proper business models. Besides, it’s football: we’ve really only got so-called news once a week, summarized in one game story and a webpage of stats. With fans hungry for material, something has to get put out there.

I could write a column with the headline “The 2014 Patriots Are The Best Ever And Are Destined To Repeat,” or I could write “The 2014 Patriots: Overrated,” and have that lede read something like, “I don’t mean to deflate your mood right now.”

We all know which one would get more hits.

Chris Warner’s on Twitter: @cwarn89

With A Little Bit Of Luck (2015 Edition)

(Editor’s Note: In December of 2013, BSMW presented this column on the role of luck in the NFL, and how all championship teams need it at some point. We thought it timely enough to run it again, with some parenthetical updates in the intro and a nice little addendum at the end. By the way, was anyone else hoping for Bill Belichick to “squeeze” the football atop the Lombardi Trophy and say, “Yup. That feels about right.”? Would have been fun.) [Read more…]

College All-Stars From A Pats Perspective

We’ll have more on the media coverage of the Patriots a bit later, but for now, a quick detour onto some actual football talk.

By Chris Warner.

After checking out three college All-Star games over the past three weekends, we’re reviewing some players who may fit in at Foxboro. Because what else is there to write about this week?

Except basic physics, I mean. (Hat-tip to Matt Chatham – @chatham58 )

One reminder about our at-times-disheveled notes below: Kentucky pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith and Auburn tight end C. J. Uzomah both made the Senior Bowl, but they are written up below for their previous appearances.

[Read more…]

Understanding Belichick (Or Not, Really)

So, at what point did you start believing this deflated football controversy? Were you home from an early Monday morning walk, expecting an easy MLK Day full of NFL highlights and entertaining Internet memes featuring various Patriots beating dead horses in Colts uniforms? Did you see the telltale question mark on the sports ticker, something like, “Pats Under Investigation?” when you first felt the elation of their AFC conquest sag a bit?

Did you not want to believe it? Do you yet?

Coach Bill Belichick’s subsequent meeting with the press offered no reassurance. He bookended answers with “We’ll do whatever the league asks us to do,” giving two separate “The first I heard of it was this morning,” responses. Nary a straightforward denial among them.

He did it. Of course he did. Because Bill Belichick – like most NFL coaches, to an extreme – is different from you and me.

Some with only a cursory understanding of these topics would say that Belichick ignores the rules. On the contrary, he obsesses over them. Think about his most consistent teacher over the years, his father. The man played professional football in 1941. Can you imagine the stories he could tell? Can you imagine what was thought of as “legal” for the 1940s Detroit Lions? Back then, considering the lack of protection, “helmet-to-helmet” resembled a head butt. Water breaks were for the weak. Just a completely different mindset of what was considered fair.

The younger Belichick knows the rules so well that he ensured quarterback/living B.C. statue Doug Flutie’s final play was a history-making drop kick for an extra point back in January 2006. At the time, very few knew whether a drop kick was still legal. Hell, not a lot of people knew what a drop kick was. Flutie became the first player to score a point by that method since Scooter McLean kicked for the Bears’ championship win in – surprise – 1941. (A fact Belichick knew, by the way: just read his post-game interview here.)

Imagine an SAT-type test involving NFL rules. Some multiple choice, some true/false, a couple of essays (haven’t taken the SAT in about 30 years, so apologies if it’s completely different now). He’d come out doing pretty well, right? Now imagine Roger Goodell taking the same test. Unless there’s a section on what cocktails to serve while sitting at the club waiting for the staff to service an owner’s yacht, hard to say ol’ Rog nails it.

That’s Belichick. He knows more than you. He knows he knows more than you. It seems he wants people to just leave him alone and let him do what he has been groomed to do since he watched game film with his dad as boy: to try to understand and prepare that much better than his opponent. And, in a sense, the rules makers and enforcers have become his opponents, too.

I mean, press conferences must feel like agony for this guy. The same questions, over and over, to people who don’t understand or have failed to put in the work to understand the game on the same level. At times, especially with the out-of-town media who show up week-to-week, it’s got to seem like he’s trying to explain Memento to someone who started watching near the end. It’s why, when he gets a question with specific historical context, he puts on his metaphorical suspenders and lectures about the history of the great game of football. It’s why, except at outdoor practices, he rarely sees sunlight during the season.

He wouldn’t have it any other way. His work is his fun. He’s not like you and me.

Make no mistake; these don’t qualify as excuses, just potential reasons. Belichick cheated. He knew the proper inflation for footballs, and – after watching his team put the ball on the ground three times the week before – he decided to soften the spheroids to make them easier to hold during a driving rainstorm.

“But you don’t know that,” you are saying. “You weren’t there. Maybe he knew nothing about it.” Do you actually believe Bill Belichick knew nothing about 11 footballs inflated two pounds less than required? Come on. You have to give him more credit than that.

So now fans must either turn a blind eye or, as WEEI.com’s Jerry Thornton does well in this piece regarding Eli Manning’s ball ritual (yup, sticking with that phrase), start playing the “everyone does it” card. It’s a strong card to play here: more and more examples have arisen of doctoring footballs, including a jocular on-air exchange between announcers Phil Simms and Jim Nantz regarding Aaron Rodgers’ preference for overinflated footballs and a piece on Super Bowl winner Brad Johnson having footballs doctored before the big game vs. Oakland.

(On that last one: Raiders fans get all up in arms over the Tuck Rule – an actual, albeit silly, rule – but they don’t go totally bat-guano over this? Pick your battles, Oakland fans!)

I can’t argue against the accusations of rampant hypocrisy in the NFL. Linebacker Ray Lewis used a banned substance to help him recover from a triceps injury during Baltimore’s championship run. The Seahawks had several players suspended due to PED use leading up to last year’s Super Bowl season. Were they cheating? Sure seems like it. Do we care? Not much, apparently.

Why should we? Goodell didn’t seem to care about taping defensive signals until he heard numerous complaints. He didn’t seem to care about brain injuries until it became a money issue via lawsuit. He didn’t seem to care about domestic abuse until video of a violent assault made its way onto the Internet for all to see. He made up punishments as he went along. Now he’ll have to do the same.

I’ll skip the joke about inflating the balls of NFL owners and head straight for the obvious: this was not an issue Goodell expected to deal with this week. That’s part of what gets Belichick into trouble: his understanding of the rules and his efforts at circumventing them make Goodell and the league higher-ups look bad. After all, what is the punishment? There’s mention of a minimum $25,000 fine. Goodell will increase that, because he’ll want to send a message. But by how much, and why? More work for him. More to hammer out and nail down before the Super holiday.

In any case, it doesn’t seem like Belichick will get the message Goodell wants to send. The coach will go back to the rule book, studying, deconstructing, looking for language that could potentially give him an advantage. The coach does this as well as anyone else in the league. It’s a fan’s choice whether to embrace this line of thinking or not. We know he didn’t need to tinker with air pressure to beat the Colts. We know he preps his players for on-field situations with awesome meticulousness. We can’t ignore his greatness. We can’t ignore his faults, either.

We know this about Bill Belichick: he has cheated; he will probably figure out a way to cheat again.

And, Heaven help me, I’ll be rooting for him.

Is There A Tipping Point To Sports Media Trolling?

Tom Brady and Pedro Martinez have brought New England sports fans some of their greatest moments over the last 17 years or so. Pedro was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, and Brady is already a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame whenever it is that he decides to hang it up.

In the span of four hours this week, the achievements, integrity and character of both stars was openly brought into question by the top rated show on local sports radio.

The accusations are veiled under the disingenuous the guise of “Hey I’m just asking the question,” but in reality there is no attempt here to “speak the truth”, as some lackeys of the show would claim. There is no claim of actual knowledge by the hosts – that would take actual work and effort – and they are even too cowardly to make an direct accusation.  The one and only object is to lob innuendo-loaded bombs over the fan base to rile them up, and then sit back and laugh and collect a paycheck.

It was suggested – though in reality portrayed as fact – that both Martinez and Brady benefited from from performance-enhancing drugs. In addition, Brady was called a “prima donna” and the image of Martinez is that of a punk.

The show continues to gather huge ratings. My question is why?

Is this enjoyable? To whom?

At what juncture do we reach a tipping point, where the trolling and negativity just becomes weary? We clearly haven’t reached that point yet, and I’m not sure we’re even close.

It may actually take a few years of all of these teams actually being as bad as they are portrayed to be for this to wind down. If the Patriots are actually 4-12, week after week of saying how much they suck might be as grating to the same people who currently make that claim about week after week of saying that a 12-4 team is good. (Which in reality isn’t happening now, despite claims that it is.)

It used to be fun to listen to sports radio during the week-long buildup to big games. Now it is something to be avoided at all costs by the true fan.

At this point, there are really only 2 1/2 local shows that I would recommend listening to with any regularity. Dennis and Callahan and Minihane can be very good when the topic is actual sports, not hotsportztakes. The best thing Kirk Minihane has done has made me like Gerry Callahan again. Minihane has taken over the full-time contrarian role, allowing Callahan to just be the guy who actually likes sports and the local teams.

Gresh and Zo are the best program on the air locally for Patriots and NFL talk. They are definitely worth a listen. Dale and Holley is the other show that I recommend. People tend to hate on Dale, which I don’t fully understand. They can be critical of the local team without purposefully dumping on them just for attention. They work well together, and add Jerry Thornton to this show was the best fit for him.

Inevitably, I’ll get the “Oooooh, you just want the media to be positive all the time about the teams, Bruce.” comments, tweets and emails from the select few who send me that same crap all the time.

That notion is ridiculous. I have no issue with legitimate criticism of the local teams. There is certainly enough of it to go around, despite all the winning that has taken place around here.

I draw the line at local hosts impugning the character and achievements of Hall of Fame athletes simply to rile people up and draw attention to themselves. It’s shameful.

But it’s not going away anytime soon.

Wayback Machine: Felger and Mazz Talk the ’86 Celtics

(Thanks to long-time BSMW member Div for capturing this.)

Set the wayback machine to December, 1985….

….they have locations at Downtown Crossing and the Meadow Glen Mall. So, when you’re looking to put fashion first, go to Tello’s. You’ll look the part.

MF: OK, we’re back Tony, and it’s time to get to last night’s debacle.

TM:I couldn’t believe my eyes Mike.

MF: If you’ve been living in a cave, YOUR Boston Celtics last night took the gaspipe on the parquet to the Portland Trailblazers….yeah, you’re hearing me right….a mediocre Portland team walked into the Boston Garden and annihilated them.

TM: It is very concerning Mike.

MF: And all of you pom-pom wavers can’t blame this one on Larry Bird’s back…he played most of the game…at least until it was clear they had been blown out.

TM: They just sucked Mike.

MF: Really bad night for the confetti mafia…let’s go to the phones. Steve from Fall River..what do you got?

Yeah, thanks Felgie. Coupla points. You know, they drafted this kid Sam Vincent. I saw a game last year when he was on Michigan where he scored 31 points. He was unstoppable. Why don’t they put him in as the starter when you can tell DJ doesn’t have it. I mean, with DJ, you know right away when he’s on and he just wasn’t on last night. Of course, KC Jones would rather be playing piano than coaching the team. Why can’t we see what this kid Vincent has got?

MF: Thanksforthecall Steve. Well, I think that’s obvious Tony. First of all, you and I both know that DJ wouldn’t like that.

TM: Oh no, Mike…that’s for sure.

MF: We keep hearing about how Dennis is a changed man, Dennis is a good teammate…but if they tried anything like that, we’d see “West Coast Dennis” faster than Clyde Drexler running down the parquet last night.

TM: We all know that’s what would happen but Celtics’ fans think that the Green grows on trees Mike.

MF: And as far as Sam Vincent goes Tony, he was a GREAT college player.

TM: I never saw him play Mike.

MF: Me neither Tony, but he averaged over 20 points last year. This year he’s averaging 2!

TM: They can’t develop young players Mike. Greg Kite, Darren Tillis, Michael Young.  A bunch of no-name stiffs Mike.

MF: They’re the worst team in the NBA at drafting and developing players and it isn’t even close Tony. How are YOU going to keep up with the Lakers if they find a key player in the draft every year while YOU brick every pick YOU make?

TM: They’ve lost ground Mike. It’s OK to admit it.

MF: John in Wakefield –what do you have for us?

Hi Felgie – love the show. Boy, that loss last night was pathetic. They looked old and slow. Parish especially…how many years to think he has left? I’m just concerned with Walton’s injury history and Parish’s age that they’re going to get rolled over by Kareem in the finals.

MF: John – thanksforthecall. There’s another guy Tony. Robert Parish. I mean, he clearly doesn’t want to be here.

TM:The next time he smiles will be the first time all season Mike.

MF: What you need to understand about Robert Parish is that he is a mercenary. He plays basketball as a career, but he’s not someone that truly loves the game. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was his last year Tony. He’s not a guy that will be playing into his 40’s.

TM:You’re absolutely right Mike. And then you have a crippled Bill Walton and Greg Kite as your center, and Greg Kite sucks!

MF: 90SecondsAndASportsFlash….Beetle?

Thanks Mike. The Red Sox finally dumped Mark Clear today in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers for backup journeyman shortstop Ed Romero. Steve Kasper will be out for 7-10 days with an injured knee. The surprising 10-4 New England Patriots are getting ready for their biggest game in decades against the Miami Dolphins on Monday night in Miami. I’m Beetle Bertrand, and that’s a flash.

TM:The Patriots, oh please. They’re going to get killed.

MF: They haven’t won in Miami in what – a quarter century Tony?

TM:And it’s a Monday night game! They never win on Monday night! Heck, they’re lucky to be playing on Monday night. That game will be a reality check against a real team with a real coach Mike.

MF: I agree. Let’s go to Greg in Natick – Greg, what’s happening?

Nothing Mike…just wanted to talk a little bit more about the Celtics. They got exposed last night by a team full of ath-a-letes. They don’t have any athletes on the team. As the season goes on, this inevitably is going to happen more as this young, athletic teams run circles around them. This kid Jordan on Chicago seems like the kind of guy they could use; any chance Chicago would take Wedman and Sichting for him?

MF: Thanskforthecall Greg. Tony – have you seen this kid Jordan play?

TM: No Mike – I’ve never heard of him. Is he new?

MF: Yes, Chicago drafted him a few years ago and he’s really coming into his own. He had 41 points a few nights ago against Indiana, and if the season ended today, we’d be playing Chicago in a 5 game series.

TM: Anything can happen in a 5 game series Mike.

MF: Don’t tell that to the parade planning, decked in green, footie pajama wearing Celtic fans Tony. They think they’re unstoppable. They’re going to pretend like last night didn’t happen.

TM:They didn’t get the right guys in the offseason Mike. I mean, Wedman, Sichting, Walton – they look like us!

MF: Tony, I had a guy confuse you and Sichting a few days ago. No offense, but when you can’t tell the difference between a professional basketball player and you, that can’t be good.

TM: You’re absolutely right Mike.

MF: We’llberightbackafterthiswordfromSomervilleLumber.

Patriots 2014 Five-Eighths Season Review

Wanted to wait until after the Colts game to file a report, and my, oh, my. This season has taken a pleasant little turn since the last time we talked, hasn’t it?

In our First Quarter Review, we showed concern (“panicked” might be a better description) after New England’s horrific outing at Kansas City. The best way to summarize that column is through the final line, where I wondered what ailed them: “But in Buffalo in two weeks – after a presumed loss to Cincinnati and a 2-3 record – they’d better figure it out.”

Yeah. Good call, me. After keelhauling the Bengals, 43-17, New England took care of the Bills (37-22), Jets (27-25), Bears (51-23), Broncos (43-21), and Colts (42-20).

That makes seven weeks, six games, and six wins later. The Pats and their fans are basking in the glow of the franchise’s latest dismantling of Indy that puts the Patriots at 8-2. During their run, the team has shown an affinity for adaptation normally reserved for generations of Galapagos finches. Oh, you like to stop the rush, Denver? Well, we’ll mix in the run for play-action, and pass for 332 yards. Ah, Indy, you want to hold down our air attack? We’ll just keep it on the ground to the tune of 244 yards.

Actually, the latter wasn’t much of a surprise, considering the Colts have a reputation for softness that makes me want to add them to my laundry’s rinse cycle. But the way New England did it – and the way they have done it these past several weeks – I didn’t see it coming.

So, my mea culpa tour, if you will…

Pride Goeth Before LaFell: Ah, yes. Brandon LaFell. You mean the guy discussed in our wide receivers review this past spring with less enthusiasm than Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins? Is this the same guy who a) converted a third down on a back-shoulder pass that looked more like a front-knee pass with a defender draped all over him? The guy who snatches footballs out of the air like a frog catching flies, to the point where we say about half the time, “Did he just catch that?”

Sure, I had doubts. Panthers fans lamented his lack of consistency snaring the ball. Some of us got a little wary of the Belichick Opponent Syndrome, where the coach obsesses over players who do well vs. New England (Wes Welker signing = good; Ochocinco = mal.) Through 10 games, LaFell has 39 reception for 536 yards (14.8 avg) and five touchdowns. And by the way, did you realize he caught 11 passes against Chicago for 124 yards? I didn’t.

Probably because, like opposing defenses, I was focused on –

I Wanna Gronk And Roll All Night (Y Fiesta Todos Los Dias): The next time I or anyone else complains about Bill Belichick’s second-round picks, just say the name Rob Gronkowski. Gronk – a risk at the time, considering he’d missed his final year at Arizona with neck issues – has helped shaped the offense into the amorphous monster it has become. You want a receiver? In 10 games, Gronk’s got 53 catches for 734 yards and nine TDs, a solid season for most tight ends. You want a blocker? Look what he did to Colts safety Sergio Brown on Jonas Gray’s fourth and final touchdown.

Just ridiculous. This year, with the benefit of solid health, he has returned as the player Patriots fans missed. And he has elevated Tom Brady’s play alongside his own.

The Price Was Wright: Yes, good, another miss by me. I was not a fan of the Logan Mankins/Tim Wright deal, just because the O-line seemed to be in a state of flux where Mankins could have helped maintain some stability. Was Dan Connolly going to stick around, or Ryan Wendell?

Yes, and yes. Along with rookie center Bryan Stork, the middle of the line has solidified, giving Brady a hell of a lot more time than he had early in the season. Wright, meanwhile, has 18 receptions and four touchdowns, adding another wrinkle for defensive coordinators to worry about.

Everything Turns Gray: I remember looking over potential late-round/undrafted rookies in 2012 and coming across Jonas Gray, a 5-10, 225-pound senior who’d missed his final season at Notre Dame due to a terrible knee injury. His only event at his pro day? The bench press: 31 reps of 225 pounds. Figured New England could take a flyer on him as a backup to Stevan Ridley.

Well, after stops in Miami and Baltimore, fans are glad that plan eventually came together. Sunday night, Gray broke out like a teenager on a chocolate binge, compiling 199 yards on 38 carries (5.2 avg) and four touchdowns at Indianapolis. He had shown signs of productivity vs. Chicago two weeks prior (17 for 86, 5.1 avg) and did enough against Denver (12 for 33, 2.8) to make play-action viable. Certainly can’t expect the same numbers when Detroit shows up, but important that the loss of Ridley for the season won’t become the giant setback some of us feared.

Holy crap: I haven’t even talked about the defense yet.

This Is My Brother Darrelle And My Other Brother Darrelle: What? Nope. Wait a minute…

The D-Backs Of Arizona: With Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and Devin McCourty in New England’s defensive backfield, a surprisingly proficient effort from Patrick Chung and contributions from nickelback Kyle Arrington and undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler, this may prove to be the deepest, most talented backfield in Belichick’s tenure. Talk of a trip to Arizona for the Super Bowl surrounds the group. Why not? Browner can cover big receivers or tight ends. Arrington can take the slot consistently. Revis covers everyone so well, a camping gear company has started calling their one-man tents Revises (This is not true.)

It’s different. And exciting. Even when they give up yardage, they carry with them the expectation of stopping the opposition before the end zone. That’s refreshing.

Dont’a, Forget About Me: What did you think when Jerod Mayo went down? Tough, right? Difficult for the Patriots to recover/replace? So, kudos to Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins for stepping up and battening down the linebacker spots. Praise also to Belichick and Co. for going out and getting outside linebacker Akeem Ayers (two sacks, 10 tackles in three games for New England) and coverage linebacker/special teamer Jonathan Casillas (five tackles in two games for NE).

Collins’ athleticism was never in question – take a gander at his combine results if you feel like your chin needs to touch the floor (how’s a 41.5-inch vertical sound?). Now in his second year, Collins has gotten into a rhythm of how and when to react, and it’s a joy to watch. Especially alongside Hightower, whose heavier build and long-term savvy complements Collins so well.

Oh, man, I just remembered…

Behind Every Cloud There’s A Sealver Lineman: New England has two defensive linemen due to come back, run-stopper Sealver Siliga and pass-rusher Chandler Jones. As Siliga waited out his time on the injury/designated to return list, the Patriots brought in Alan Branch, a 325-pound veteran (Cards, Seahawks, Bills) who was cut by Buffalo this past August. Branch got three tackles at Indianapolis, helping shut down the Colts running game for a piddling 19 yards (four from the running backs).

Let’s reflect on that for a second. Trent Richardson, former first-round pick, carried the ball seven times for a total of zero yards. Did you watch the game on your couch? Did you move from your couch at any point during the game? If so, you gained more ground than Richardson.

Now, with the possibility of Siliga and Jones returning (4.5 sacks in the first seven games), this defense has the potential to improve. From a fan’s view, that’s amazing.

You know what else is amazing? The fact that we’ve barely mentioned Brady, or Julian Edelman, or Shane Vereen. We haven’t even discussed Rob Ninkovich (five sacks, one INT).

The Patriots are 8-2, atop the AFC. Sure, they might lose a game or two. Aaron Rodgers always plays tough in Green Bay. Hell, even the Jets could play rude hosts if Rex Ryan has his squad drinking the Nothing-To-Lose-Kool-Aid (Rex-Aid?). But, with reasonable health, we have a hard time thinking this team can’t go far in early 2015.

But don’t ask me. I have no idea what I’m talking about.

You can email your agreements with Chris Warner at [email protected] or tweet him pumpkin pie recipes at @cwarn89 

Can Pro Football Focus Stats Be Blindly Trusted?

In this age of sports analysis and analytics, it can be fascinating to see how the media picks and chooses what analysis to run with and which to mock and ignore.

One fascination that I don’t get is the lock-step acceptance of everything that comes out of the company known as Pro Football Focus.

They’re cited endlessly and their stats are treated as the end-all. Football writers seem to love their stats, using them in their articles as ironclad proof.

I did an interview with the founder of Pro Football Focus back in 2011. Even then I was a bit leery of their methods and tried to express that in the “subjective angle” question.

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last couple of days, Pro Football Focus was on your radar as one of their writers, in an ESPN Insider piece wrote the following:

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. The elite quarterback Mount Rushmore has been in place for a few years now, a comforting constant in an NFL of consistent turnover and change. But it might be time to wipe one of those four faces off our mountain of elite play. The Tom Brady of 2014 no longer belongs on that monument.

and in his concluding section, he writes:

but there is little doubt at this point that we are witnessing his decline in action. Brady is no longer an elite quarterback. He remains very good, but if the decline continues at the same rate, it won’t be long before that is no longer true.

This story took the sports media by storm, and has been easily the number one topic on sports radio, television, and on the internet. Everyone is talking about it.

The writer, Sam Monson, has made the media rounds talking about his opinion, so it’s a win-win for him, ESPN,  Pro Football Focus and the football media at large. An NFL discussion in the first week of June!

It almost – almost – feels like this piece was a response to the Peter King MMQB piece a week earlier which talked about Brady and his performance before and after the 2008 knee injury and how, in Brady’s words, “You know, you don’t have to suck when you get older.”

The point of this post however, is not to debate whether Tom Brady is on a swift decline or not. (I think that has been addressed by the likes of Tom E. Curran, Ron Borges, and Christopher Price.) It is to explore the dangers of blindly relying on data and conclusions that we have no idea if they are actually accurate and pertinent or not.

What Pro Football Focus Is (And What They Aren’t)

It is important to note what Pro Football Focus is. Actually, first we’ll define what they are NOT.  They are not taking raw numbers and data and crunching them into new and exotic formulas to provide a different sort of insight into player performance. This is not sabermetrics for football.

No, their methods are different. They are a UK-based company, who obtain games through NFL Rewind and sit and watch and grade each player on each play. Their dedication to this is admirable, as I can’t imagine sitting down and doing this kind of deep grading for every play, every game week after week.

I suppose there is some value in this data, in a big-picture sort of way. Stats on items like dropped passes, QB hits, things like that are likely extremely accurate. In my interview linked above, founder Neil Hornsby said that PFF’s value is this:

  • Who was on the field – in 2010 this was 99.83% accurate but we didn’t double hand most games then – this year we do so I’m predicting well in excess of 99.9%
  • What position they played (at a level which allows us to provide formation as well as package information)
  • What they generically did (block, pass route, cover, pass rush etc.)
  • A measure of how well they achieved what they attempted to do (obviously we don’t know their assignments so this is what we use)

The last part is the gotcha and this is where it is dangerous to put too much stock in the Pro Football Focus stats.

The Dangers In The PFF Method

Last August, Bill Belichick talked about the dangers of watching film and making conclusions based on it.

It might even look to us like somebody made a mistake but then we look at it more closely maybe somebody besides him made a mistake and he was trying to compensate. I think we need a little closer analysis a lot of times. Sometimes the play calls or what was called on the line of scrimmage might be something that we’re not aware of. That could happen in any game. You think a player did something that he shouldn’t have done but maybe he got a call, a line call or a call from a linebacker or he thought the quarterback said something so he did what he thought was the right thing or maybe it was the right thing but that call shouldn’t have been made or should have been on the other side. But yeah, I think we need to be careful about what we’re evaluating.

So sometimes even the team itself doesn’t know exactly where things broke down and who did what wrong. Belichick then went on to talk about watching opposing team’s game films and the impossibilities of knowing what happened:

But believe me, I’ve watched plenty of preseason games this time of year and you’re looking at all the other teams in the league and you try to evaluate players and you’re watching the teams that we’re going to play early in the season and there are plenty of plays where I have no idea what went wrong. Something’s wrong but I don’t…these two guys made a mistake but I don’t know which guy it was or if it was both of them. You just don’t know that. I don’t know how you can know that unless you’re really part of the team and know exactly what was supposed to happen on that play. I know there are a lot of experts out there that have it all figured out but I definitely don’t. This time of year, sometimes it’s hard to figure that out, exactly what they’re trying to do. When somebody makes a mistake, whose mistake is it?

Bill Belichick doesn’t have it figured out. But Pro Football Focus does? They can provide a grade on every play?

Another problem is that the NFL just recently added the coaches film to Game Rewind, so before that, the PFF graders could not even see the entire field. I don’t know if they currently even utilize the overhead game film, or just rely on the standard HD game telecasts. If it is the latter, they cannot see every player on the field for every play…so how can they grade what they can’t see? (And actually, the All-22 film doesn’t come out until mid-week, which is after PFF has posted their initial grades- so they’re not using it, at least in their first gradings.)

There HAS to be a subjective element in the grading process. They have to be making conclusions based on conjecture and assumption or what they “think” the player was attempting to do or was assigned to do on any given play.

On their own grading page, they explain their “rules” for making their grades:

• DON’T GUESS — If you’re not 95 percent sure what’s gone on then don’t grade the player for that play. The grades must stand up to scrutiny and criticism, and it’s far better to say you’re not sure than be wrong.

It is, however, crucial that this is not seen as an excuse to shy away from making a judgement. What we definitely do not do is raise or lower the grading because we’re not sure. Giving a grade of -0.5 rather than -1.5 for a player on an individual play because you’re unsure is the wrong grade to give. If the grader is 95 percent sure of the severe fault on the play, the grade is -1.5. If, however, the grader is unsure of his judgment, the correct grade is 0.

A couple things I don’t like here. How does the grader know whether they are 95% certain or just 90%? How many plays per game are going ungraded because a determination cannot be made?

Later, in the section which asks How subjective is the Grading?

Just like with the more mainstream statistics, there are occasions when the choice is difficult. But the difference on our site is this: If a guy is going to be upgraded or downgraded on a judgment call, we let it ride. We simply make the comment and then put in a 0.

Again, how often is this happening? It seems like it wouldn’t take many “0” grades to skew the data.

Lastly, I hesitate to bring this part up, but part of me wonders the qualifications for doing this work. It feels like me taking a job to to play-by-play film breakdown on the Premier League.  What are the football coaching or scouting backgrounds for these UK analysts making these grades? Is there anyone on staff with an NFL background?

Why Such Devotion?

From all of this, the national media are using PFF stats as gospel? Why? Are the simple +1.2, -0.7 ratings so damn attractive that they are accepted without question? Is it just an easy way for the media to rate players without doing a lot of work themselves?

Honestly, I don’t know. As mentioned above, I do feel there is some merit and value to the work that Pro Football Focus is putting in. I just don’t get the slavish devotion to their grades that I see when I read many NFL articles.

Again, this is not taking actual numbers and using them to come up with new stats to use in analytics. This is not taking passes complete and passes attempted and breaking it down into the various lengths of throws and spots on the field. This is sitting down in front of the monitor, forming an opinion and making up their own stats and advanced formulas based on stats garnered from what they think is happening on each play.

I believe the NFL media as a whole needs to be a little more judicious in how they use these stats instead of blindly accepting what comes out of the PFF factory.


 

Some worthwhile sites with NFL stats and analytics include:

Advanced Football Analytics

TeamRankings.com

Football Outsiders

Patriots Receivers Trying To Catch On In 2014

We figured you might need a handy guide to New England’s pass-catching corps during camp. Here, according to the crack team over at Patriots.com, is a list of receivers currently on the roster (with uniform numbers), along with our take on their chances of fitting it at Foxboro. Plus: Fun Facts!

VETERANS

[Read more…]

The Minihane Reminder – The Boston Media Is Not Very Tough (skinned)

Only in Boston could we have a ceremony celebrating the 10-year anniversary of a Championship that broke an 86-year drought and then spend the next day listening to the media bitch endlessly about it.

Then we have Kirk Minihane’s column today. (The Manny Ramirez reminder: Boston is not a tough sports town)

Holy crap.

I understand the points he’s trying to make. I really do. I’m going to try my best not to be a total fraud on this one.

First, I’m on the anti-Manny side of this. A serial steroid abuser, a guy who quit on his team, skipping Jimmy Fund after Jimmy Fund event, blowing off Walter Reed, beating up old guys and his own wife — we all know the greatest hits. He’s personified everything that’s been wrong with baseball the last 15 years, and the Red Sox decide to give him above-the-title billing for the 10th anniversary celebration of the 2004 World Series champions Wednesday? A stunningly tone-deaf move by the Red Sox, basically endorsing all the many transgressions of Ramirez.

I think we’re all well aware of Manny’s history. I also think appreciating what he did on the field does not signify condoning what he did off of it, nor does it mean that the Red Sox are complicit in his acts by giving him the role they did the other night.

That would be like saying Kirk Minihane, by showing up for work every day endorses the acts that got his co-hosts suspended for racist remarks. That when they skipped the Jimmy Fund event themselves because they were in a contract dispute, that it was OK. Their own interests were more important. That sending out numerous bullying voicemails and Tweets that would get others in hot water is just fine and dandy, thank you. We all know the greatest hits of D&C. By working there, Kirk endorses all the many transgressions of John Dennis and Gerry Callahan.

Some would say that Dennis and Callahan (and Minihane) personify everything that’s been wrong with sports media for the last 15 years.

I wasn’t surprised the Red Sox elected to have Ramirez announced last and throw out the first pitch — this is an ownership group that hungers to be liked by players, turning into 12-year-olds around these guys. That’s OK, I guess, it’s their money and they’ve been extraordinarily successful. No, what surprised me was this idea that there was ever a chance the fans would react negatively toward Ramirez. That was never going to happen.

I wasn’t surprised that Kirk and his co-workers as well as just about every other on-air personality in town elected to spend yesterday howling at the moon on his topic. This is a group that hungers to have the edgiest hot sportz take, and to attempt to make following sports miserable. That’s OK, I guess. They’ve been extraordinarily successful. Well, some more than others, anyway. What surprised me was this idea that there was ever a chance that the media would actually just let fans enjoy something that meant a lot to many of them instead of trying to ruin it with their own misery. That was never going to happen.

Again, cheer or boo — it’s your buck — but can we all get together and drop the notion that Boston is a tough town? That’s over, it’s been over for years. Who, exactly, is having a tough time in Boston these days? What athlete? Ramirez treated fans, media and his own organization like a six-pound turd for the better part of a decade and all is forgiven … why? Because he’s been gone for a while? Because he’s using the ultimate mulligan, the Jesus card, to kick off an image rehabilitation tour?

That’s right, Clay Buchholz is NOT being called a giant pussy a dozen times an hour all day on sports radio. Rajon Rondo is NOT being deemed a punk and an arrogant s.o.b. who isn’t a leader whenever the subject of the Celtics comes up. Dont’a Hightower is NOT being called the biggest draft bust in the Bill Belichick era and having his every miscue in coverage screamed about. Brad Marchand is NOT catching any heat for his playoff antics and lack of performance. Danny Amendola is NOT being mocked at every turn for being a fragile as Wedgwood china. David Ortiz is NOT being called greedy and having his every achievement asterisked. Bill Belichick, despite having the best record in the NFL since 2001 does NOT have his every move, draft pick and decision picked apart, criticized and questioned.

These things are NOT happening. It’s a piece of cake to be an athlete in Boston.

Please tell me why it is necessary for athletes to have “a tough time” in Boston. Some in the media seem to think if they’re not being “tough” they’re not doing their jobs. They’re the only ones who think this. Eight championships in twelve years tells me that things are going pretty well.

Is the Jesus card the ultimate mulligan, or is using kids with cancer a better way to rehabilitate an image? As long as it is publicized, I guess. If you’re putting your name and image to a cause like that, you can get away with pretty much anything. And if someone dares question your motivation in doing this, you can just scream at how your accuser hates kids with cancer, and your lackeys will rush to your defense and smother the dissenter. John Dennis, when the whole METCO thing happened said that people did not know what was in his heart.

Apparently, though, Manny is just “using” the Jesus card, because Kirk and everyone else can actually see into his heart and know that this is fraudulent, just an act to try and con people into thinking he’s changed.

You know who is having a tough time in Boston these days? The D&C Show, for one. Damn those ratings.

Here’s the truth: You don’t care if Ramirez is a different person or not. Down deep, you’re thinking what I’m thinking — once a jerk, always a jerk. That doesn’t change. But he helped you win two World Series and was a great (though juiced off the charts) hitter. And that’s what matters. He could get arrested six times over the next 10 years and tear Boston to shreds in interviews, and guess what would happen in 2024? He’d get a standing ovation at the 20th reunion.

Here’s the truth: I’m over it. Is Manny Ramirez the only athlete in history to be a jerk? Was he the only player juicing it up? So, none of the competition were doing these things? There were no jerks or juicers prior to Manny?  The Yankees had many more players be exposed over the years as having used substances. Is there any effort by the local media to diminish their accomplishments? No. Only with the locals. Does it bother me that Manny did these? Yeah. It does. But I’m over it. Why is it such a horrible thing that someone cares mostly about just what happens on the field? When did this change? Athletes in the past did horrible things, but no one heard about it. Should older fans now look back at teams of their childhood and renounce them now knowing what we know about some of them? It’s a slippery slope. We need to hold all grudges against Manny forever, but what about when we find out about things others have done?

Just like Kirk is apparently over his co-worker’s antics. Kirk is open about the troubles in his own personal life in the past. Should we also hold them against him? Once a jerk always a jerk?

I’m over it. The 2004 World Series was a historic moment in local sports. The efforts to make us miserable over it are just pathetic.

Right or wrong, the fanboys have won. The cynics have been pushed aside, they are now very much a minority in the fan base and the media. If you introduce a negative opinion, or a suggestion an athlete should be traded or not re-signed, or if the athlete or coach isn’t as great as the current perception, you are either miserable or just a troll looking for page views. Maybe you think that’s a good thing. Maybe you’re right. But I’m not comfortable with it. I don’t like beat writers as PR guys or radio talk show hosts as cheerleaders, and I don’t want adults with some influence pushing for players to be on the cover of video games. I see all this — just go on Twitter during games and tell me some beat guys aren’t rooting for teams — and wonder what’s next, where exactly does it end? Will John Henry own everything and everyone will just shrug and move on?

Ah yes. The fanboys. There are no lower forms of life than the fanboy.

There are no cynics anymore. I just wish that the likes of John Dennis, Gerry Callahan, Kirk Minihane, Lou Merloni, Andy Gresh, Michael Felger, Tony Massarotti, Adam Jones, Dan Shaughnessy, Ron Borges, Kevin Paul Dupont, Gary Tanguay, Eric Wilbur, Adam Kaufman, Jim Donaldson, Hector Longo, Steve Buckley…I just wish these poor, repressed souls had SOME outlet or platform to express their anti-fanboy views. To set us all straight. It’s too bad, really. There just are no cynics anymore.

I have never once looked on Twitter during a game and gotten the impression that the beat writers were rooting for the local teams. Ever. Where does this come from? Radio talk show hosts as cheerleaders? Who is he talking about here? Dale Arnold on the Bruins? Scott Zolak on the Patriots? It sure seems to me like those guys are the minority.

Beat writers are cheerleaders? Who? I don’t see it. Is it because they’re not cynical and negative? Does everyone involved in covering sports have to be cynical and negative or they’re not up to the standards that Kirk is demanding? Where does the line come down?

One thing we know for sure – unlike these fan boys, athletes and team management, the sports media embraces criticism of themselves and uses it to better themselves and their product. That’s without question. They would never insult someone who is critical of them and their work.

In the minds of the media, do you know what a fanboy really is? It’s someone who pushes back against them. Email Dan Shaughnessy sometime and knock his latest column. You’ll be called a fanboy. Push back on Twitter against someone in the media. They’ll call you a fanboy.

Fans are always going to be suckers, I suppose, weak in the knees for a 4.3 40-yard time or a .440 OBP. I get it, I really do. I don’t agree with it, but I even understand why they cheered for Ramirez. They don’t care about the bad stuff, it’s irrelevant. They want to win and they want to treat the people who actually win like they are more than the rest of us. If Aaron Hernandez were somehow released from prison today, and signed by the Patriots tomorrow (clearly impossible, of course), most fans would be thrilled. And if he caught three touchdown passes against the Broncos, virtually all would be forgotten. Now, would some people give up their season tickets or stop watching? Sure. But those tickets would be snatched in three seconds and the TV ratings wouldn’t move an inch.

If you’re a fan of sports, you’re also a sucker. Remember that.

Also remember that when a guy keeps telling you repeatedly that he gets it, he really does – he doesn’t. Not at all.

Let’s run through Kirk’s hypothetical strawman scenario involving Hernandez.

If Aaron Hernandez were somehow released from prison today – The only way that could somehow happen would be if the charges were dropped, probably following the confession of another, so Hernandez would be innocent.

and signed by the Patriots tomorrow (clearly impossible, of course), most fans would be thrilled. – Yes, given that he was innocent of all charges in this strawman argument, then I would hope fans would welcome the resigning of a quality player who was wrongfully charged.

And if he caught three touchdown passes against the Broncos, virtually all would be forgotten. – Well, hopefully it wouldn’t be forgotten, people shouldn’t let the state brush those false charges under the rug so easily.

Wait, what was the point again?

Cheer or boo, do whatever you want. But let’s stop with the charade that Boston is a tough sports town. It’s a pushover, a place for athletes to be protected, coddled and worshipped by fans and media. This is San Diego, Kansas City, fill in whichever former punchline city you’d use. Boston is no different, most of the media and fans just want to believe it is to feel different about themselves, to build up some false credibility. It’s a fanboy haven now, for better or worse.

Oh right. The whole point of this column is that the Boston media (and fans) aren’t TOUGH. Or tough enough anyway. In order to have credibility, apparently Boston fans and media need to be TOUGH on players and teams.

This paragraph (well, the whole column actually) makes no sense to me whatsoever. Questions I need answered:

Who is portraying the “charade” that Boston is a tough sports town?

Why is it important whether it is true or not?

Why would Boston fans and media need to make something up to feel different from other cities?

What credibility is needed beyond eight championships in twelve years?

When did being a fanboy become such an awful thing?

I like Kirk Minihane. I enjoy many of his columns, he oftentimes takes a stand that runs against what much of the media groupthink seems to be. I’m disappointed that with this one, he seems to be in lockstep with his colleagues at WEEI, as well as the likes of Felger and Mazz and Dan Shaughnessy.

When all the biggest voices in town are the cynics, how can it be said that the “fanboys” have won?  I’ve actually had a column started and it’s been sitting in my drafts folder about how “Felger Has Won.” I believe it is a more accurate representation of what the current fan/media climate is here in Boston at the moment. The “fanboys” get mocked, shouted down and hung up on, while the cynics get all the space and airtime they want.

If you listened to the radio at all yesterday, you know I’m right.