One of the more analyzed matchups last weekend was the highly promoted battle between Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant at Ford Field. A media creation to begin with – players at the same position going up against very different defenses – the so-called Clash of the Titans was a one-sided beatdown. Bryant caught three passes. Megatron caught 329 yards worth of passes.
What kicked the storyline into high gear was when sideline cameras caught Bryant very animated in expressing opinions that looked from outside appearances as though he was berated quarterback Tony Romo, quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson and head coach Jason Garrett. In the standard media rush to judgment, Bryant was tried and convicted as being a spoiled diva on the order of Terrell Owens, who was no stranger to publicly and privately berating his quarterback.
From the conclusion of that game until Tuesday afternoon, Bryant was blasted by the media at every turn for being a "me-first" player and a sideline distraction. But, when audio of one of the exchanges was "leaked" by the NFL's own film production company, it turned out that Bryant wasn't being a petulant brat. He was being a passionate team player looking to help his offense. The situation at the end of the game, where veterans DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten were up in Bryant's face concerning his sideline histrionics, is still subject to debate, but it seemed clear that Bryant wasn't being a me-first type that he was almost universally projected as in the 48 hours following the Dallas loss at Detroit.
Jared Allen is no stranger to the emotions that take place and occasionally bubble to the surface on the sidelines. He admitted that he's had plenty of sideline outbursts himself and that they happen all the time. They only become news when the cameras catch them. Such was the case in 2001, when Cris Carter went off on the sidelines at Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss, Denny Green and just about anyone else within earshot. It has happened with Randy Moss venting frustration. It happened with T.O. far too often in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas. As Allen pointed out, it's not an isolated thing. When a team is frustrated, players let off steam on the sidelines.
So, how far is too far? When is an emotional outburst crossing the line?
"The line is depending on how far your coaches are willing to let you go," Allen said with a laugh. "I think when they released the audio, all of a sudden everybody's got a different report. That's why sometimes, no offense to our media guys, but things get blown up way more than they need to be. It's a passionate game. It's a violent game. Guys want to win. And sometimes guys need to vent and they need to express things."
Allen admitted that he is one of the worst offenders in that regard, going so far as to say he and head coach Leslie Frazier have had near knockdown, drag-out fights on the sidelines in the heat of the moment, but that it has nothing to do with their feelings for each other. It has to do with frustration and players being committed to winning and doing what they can to win games, and it doesn't have any lingering carryover because it isn't personal. It's about business and getting the job done.
"Heck, me and Frazier have been nose-to-nose on the sideline, pointing each other in the chest," Allen said. "It doesn't mean I disrespect him. It doesn't mean I don't love him. I was pissed off at a situation. I'm venting my frustration about what I think needs to be done to win that game. Ninety-nine percent of the time it's never about the individual. It's usually about a situation. You heard the audio from Dez. It was. ‘We need to do this. We need to do that' and everybody's opinion changed."
Frazier said sometimes the player who is doing the talking makes all the difference. Established, veteran players get more leeway, the head coach indicated.
"Who is that guy? Is it the quarterback? Is it a defensive linemen? Who is the person? Is he your star player? Some of it depends on who is that person, and every situation is different when it comes up," Frazier said. "Depending on who it is, some of the teammates could care less about what that guy is saying or how he's reacting. Other guys, depending on who it is, it makes a difference, depending on who that guy is – what he says, how he's doing it. It could affect the ballgame, it could affect your team."
Is there a line that needs to be drawn? When it involves a group of players, it's a different story. We haven't heard the sideline audio of the exchange between team leader Witten and Bryant that resulted in the injured Ware grabbing Bryant by the pads and emphatically making his point that he needed to calm down. But, as Allen pointed out, such outbursts aren't that uncommon on NFL sidelines and, in Allen's view, it's better than players who get droopy and isolate themselves when things go wrong.
"If other players have to break you up, I guess that can be a distraction," Allen said. "I don't know. It happens. I've seen guys dang near try to choke each other on the sideline and it never gets caught on tape. It's a passionate game, and honestly, not that I like seeing it all the time, but when you see that kind of heat and that energy, you know that person's invested. That's better than the guy that's just moping on the sideline by himself with his helmet off."
Allen didn't have a problem with Bryant's outburst before the exonerating audio was "leaked" and has less of a problem with it now. Admittedly, he isn't to cast judgment on such a situation because he has been in the same boat many times himself. He appreciates the competitive fire he saw out of Bryant and those are the types of players that can set a tone – like Carl Eller punching a blackboard into shards at halftime of a lackluster playoff performance.
"I've thrown my helmet plenty of times," Allen said. "I've been nose to nose with coaches plenty of times and with other players. It happens, you know? That's a sign of someone that's invested. I have a bigger problem with people that are detached – that are counting butterflies on the side when you're trying to get a win. Maybe you shouldn't go on all the time, but I saw the clips. I didn't think it was that big. Now, all of a sudden, the audio comes out and everybody's like, ‘Oh, he's so passionate.'"
In the end, Allen believes the Bryant story was overblown and overplayed. It's nothing that doesn't happen at some point on the sidelines during any NFL game. Emotional players who play with a fire will get to the edge of deportment with coaches and teammates, but it is part and parcel to how the NFL game is played. Bryant shouldn't be vilified for the moment, according to Allen. It's done. It's over. No big deal.
"Give the kid a break," Allen said. "He was hot, for a minute. It's just like family. You're around each other every day, all the time, sometimes you need a vent session. Sometimes you need to just L.I.G. – Let It Go. Move on."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Allen knows sidelines can get heated
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