Is the NFL moving towards professional wrestling's Good Guy vs. Bad Guy strategy? Are handsome quarterbacks in clean red white and blue uniforms, just more heroic than bent-nosed guys in dirt-covered black and gold? How does Bill Belichick get Coach of the Year honors over Mike Tomlin? Or Mike McCarthy? Or even Rex Ryan and Lovie Smith?
They all took their teams farther this season. Ryan's New York Jets beat the New England Patriots twice this year. Lovie Smith and the Chicago Bears out performed everyone's expectations by miles and miles. Mike McCarthy took a sixth-seeded Green Bay Packers team to the Super Bowl, despite having an injury-depleted roster. And not one of them had a quarterback like Tom Brady...
And then there's Mike Tomlin. Mike Tomlin of the black hatted Pittsburgh Steelers. The Pittsburgh Steelers have become the NFL's equivalant of the James Gang. Hide your women and your wide receivers. The league has done everything but put their faces on 'Wanted' posters. But then Pittsburgh showed up the last place Roger Goodell and company wanted them; Super Bowl 45. Or at least that's the way it seems.
Commissioner Roger Goodell started the Steelers season with a handicap. He suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for four games, invoking a conduct clause to punish him for an incident with a co-ed that resulted in no charges being filed. The league conducted showy hearings, designed to appease potential self-appointed morality watchdogs.
Or should I say other self-appointed morality watchdogs.
The NFL has a very uneven history in the application of their conduct code. Just ask Jenn Sterger. Or Ray Lewis. Or Tank Johnson, Ricky Williams, and Randy Moss.
About the time that Roethlisberger returned to action for Pittsburgh, (They survived his suspension nicely, going 3-1) the league decided to crack down on hard hits. They started handing out fines for helmet-to-helmet contact with quarterbacks and unprotected receivers. Steelers linebacker James Harrison led all players with fines totaling $175,000. That number was decreased to $100,00, still a very big check to write. And he was far from the only Steelers defensive player being called out. Fines and personal fouls followed Pittsburgh like a storm cloud.
The NFL also has a very uneven history in the application of their policies on violence. Just ask Ben Roethlisberger. He was sucker-punched in the face by Richard Seymour of the Oakland Raiders, while play was interrupted. Seymour was fined $10,000, or one-tenth of what Harrison was fined for making plays on the field. Is there a single NFL fan who believes that Seymour would have received the same fine for belting Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers? Honestly?
A funny thing about that. The NFL started their Pavlovian practice of punishment, right around the time they were making public their desire to lengthen the regular season to 18 games. That also coincided with their very public new found interest in preventing concussions. An 18 game schedule is a highly coveted prize for the NFL and it's ownership. it would generate a lot more income. And almost every owner is on board, perfectly willing to lockout the players in 2011, if they don't get their way.
You know what owner doesn't think the extended season is a good idea? Can you guess?
It's Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney. Rooney has only recently come out publicly against the idea. I guess he didn't feel like he had anything left to lose, by speaking out.
Mike Tomlin brought the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Super Bowl, despite every suspension, flag, and fine the NFL could throw at his team. The league has spent the entirety of the 2010 season locked in combat with both the Steelers players and it's ownership. It's used every weapon in it's considerable arsenal, and applied them in a shockingly obvious manner.
But Tomlin rallied his team, against the league, against a sea of negative press, against all comers, on and off the field. It's no surprise the NFL didn't sanction it, but Mike Tomlin is clearly the NFL's true coach of the year.