Anatomy of a Conspiracy

Be alert, Seattle…once again, the NFL's sharks are circling. Your "Seahawks" were cute and all when they were a marginal threat to "make noise" in the postseason (so to speak), but your insistence in challenging the league's favored sons has the Goon Squad on another airplane, headed west. Let's look back at your offenses, and the inevitable consequences that must follow.

How It All Began: When the New York Giants visited Seattle’s Qwest Field last November 27th, the most lasting image of the game in the collective mind of the National Football League– more than Jay Feely’s three missed field goals, more than Jeremy Shockey’s gift touchdown and more than Eli Manning’s repeated floober throws under pressure – was the eleven false start penalties incurred by the Giants, due in large part to the difficulty the visiting team had in communicating the snap count from player to player in the face of a house full of rabid fans.

The Short-Term Fallout: The Seahawks beat the Giants, 24-21 in overtime, when Josh Brown kicked the field goal that Feely could not with 2:49 left in the fifth quarter. East Coast apologists for one of the NFL’s parent franchises rolled up their sleeves and cast mordant hissy fits with their laptops – calling, in some cases, for an abolition of home field advantage in their public forums. The league office, more concerned with putting the best officiating crews in the playoffs (which went off a cracker) and coming to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, put the horrific crime perpetrated against the G-Men on the back burner, foolishly believing that other things were more important. In the short term, that may have been true, but things were about to get much, much worse.

The New Season: When the 2006 NFL schedule was assembled, league officials were horrified to discover that not only were there no “natural disaster” provisions allowing the Giants an extra home game as there were in 2005 with the New Orleans Saints, but in addition, the wayward means of the automated schedule had placed the NFL’s darling Giants back in Seattle, that bastion of “new money” and unsanctioned aural intensity.

It was bad enough when these “Seahawks” dared to bollix their way into Dan Rooney’s February Coronation (for it was Rooney who told the new commissioner that the job was his, and helped broker the new CBA)…they now dared to endeavor to beat Ernie Accorsi’s team two years in a row. Worse yet, there was no way to “repair” the schedule.

Something else was going to have to be done.

The Nebulous Nimrods: On September 6th, at a press conference in the bowels of Giants Stadium (yes, really), new NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had this to say about the league’s revelation – that technology could possibly render this great potential unfairness moot.

”We just announced a deal with Motorola,” the Commish said with glee, “but one of the elements of that is an example is, how do we use technology in our game? Should we be using the technology that exists nowadays to make sure that our players can communicate with each other so that they can come in to a stadium, an opposing stadium, it may be loud and be able to play at the highest possible level. That's what our game is about, our athletes and coaches playing at the highest possible level and being able to execute their game plans.

”To some extent right now I think we are hindering that a little bit because they come into an opposing stadium and they are able to put the full offense in, they are not able to run plays, they are not able to change the plays at the line of scrimmage, and frankly, I'm not sure that's best for not only the quality of play but also the unnecessary stoppages that occur. We also had that happen with the Giants and Seattle last year.”

Goodell further explained how this could possibly benefit the teams for which he will play the pliant lackey every team in the league. “What (the Motorola agreement) will do is allow us to use some of the technology that they have developed for the Defense Department that they use in the field which allows their people to communicate. We'll be working with them. How can we use some of that technology for the game? And we'll put that through the competition committee, and see if that makes sense for our game.”

When asked if all players might have earpieces in their helmets, with some sort of “master communication system” leading the way, the NFL’s new head man was unsure. “It could potentially be that,” he said. “We've talked about that in the past with the competition committee, whether we start with everybody or just receivers or offensive linemen or should we have an equity rule where the defensive linemen are also wired. That's something we'll have to look at.”

In the end, the technology would not be ready in time – the Giants are coming to Seattle this Sunday, and short of a truly Herculean cloud-seeding party, there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. The league would have to fall back on that old chestnut – nebulous rules implemented by anonymous “monitors” with “unpredictable” consequences benefiting one…particular…team.

Not that we’ve ever seen that before.

Goodell announced that the league will indeed have a representative on hand to decide if the 12th Man is violating the NFL’s “Noise Rules”, which haven’t been enforced since Moses wore short pants. But like those wacky old laws we enjoy reading about from time to time (Examples for Washington state: “All lollipops are banned”, “It is illegal to paint polka dots on the American flag”, and “People may not buy a mattress on Sunday”), these noise ordinances could provide a valuable service to all football fans, no matter what race, color, creed, or location on the Eastern seaboard.

They could allow the Giants right team to win.

Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, who one would imagine is so far beyond fed up with the league’s favoritism in different directions that he’s almost orbited the entire issue, had this to say about the recent, and also anonymous, allegations that crowd noise is piped through the Qwest Field public address system: “I have absolutely no idea where that came from, but we don’t do that,” Holmgren said. “Our stadium is getting a reputation now for being a very loud place, and I think partly (it’s because) we’re playing the Giants and last year they struggled a little bit with procedural penalties when we played them out here. Honestly, our fans – it’s such an encouraging thing to me. They’re excited about football and the Seahawks, and they really believe they make a difference during the game. Everyone should have a home field advantage. We have a good one, because it is loud. For an open-air stadium, it’s very, very loud."

Clearly, Holmgren was missing the point again. After all, this was a man who made one public statement about the execrable officiating in Super Bowl XL, and was rightly raked over the coals as a “whiner”. So how could he possibly understand the potential benefits of a G-Men advantage? Why, with home field advantage in the playoffs, we might have another Manning Bowl in the Super Bowl!

Holmgren further prattled on about “silent counts” and “what visiting teams have to deal with”. Blah, blah, blah. “When I was on the Competition Committee, I always voted (helmet technology) out and if they asked me that, I would vote against (it),” he foolishly said. “I think we don’t want Star Wars and electronics taking over the game. I think every visiting team has to deal with that in one way or another, and I think most teams have done a nice job with silent counts and different things. Every week there are 16 teams that have to deal with it. I would be against putting any sort of doodads in anybody’s helmets from now on."

Wake up, Mike. That “all’s fair on the road” crap is for those times when the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans visit your town. Do you have any idea how many New York households have the NFL Network?

A Valuable Lesson Learned. In the end, I can already see Commissioner Goodell’s shining legacy. I can see a league in which septuagenarian officials, already burdened to the breaking point with arcane interpretations of incomprehensible rules, now have to pay attention to end zone celebrations and “taunting”. A wonderful, creative, future in which the NFL’s versions of the grumpy old “cat lady” next door who would call the cops if you cranked Soundgarden above a whisper will rattle off five-yard penalties in crucial situations as if they were auctioneers.

This legacy will have its precedent in sport – a sport whose popularity and fan loyalty has, at times, rivaled that of the NFL itself. A sport which has managed not only to televise scripted events, but has convinced millions of people to pay for the privilege of watching them in the comfort of their own homes.

Roger Goodell, meet Vince McMahon. Your karmic double. He may have bombed out with the XFL, but his wrestling empire appears to be everything that you – and your league - want.


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