For the NFL, this is the week of The Game.
It’s Super Bowl time.
But for the NFL, unfortunately, it is much more.
Unsettling developments have arisen, ranging from the never-ending challenge of hiring minority head coaches, to the alarming accusation of an owner offering to pay a head coach to lose games in order to gain the top pick in the draft.
Brian Flores, the deposed head coach of the Miami Dolphins brought suits against the Dolphins, the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos alleging a pattern of racist hiring by the league and racial discrimination during the interview process in Denver and New York, as well as during his time with the Dolphins.
Flores was fired following a season in which his team started the year 1-7, then won 8 of its last 9 games.
He accomplished a winning record in 2020 as well, but owner Stephen Ross cited communication problems under Flores’ watch as a key in his release.
Flores responded with the lawsuits, along with the startling allegation that Ross offered him $100,000 for each game the Dolphins lost in 2019.
In sports parlance, it’s called “tanking”.
In achieving the worst record in the league, Miami would be able to draft a much-needed quarterback, namely Joe Burrow, who ironically has led the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams.
But the Dolphins won five games, including their last two, according to Flores, draw the ire of Ross.
This charge, by the former head coach, is just about the worst accusation that can be made in sports.
Purposely losing can lead to federal charges involving bribery and the fixing of games.
There is nothing more serious.
Combined with the charges of overt discrimination in hiring practices, Flores’ allegations represented a one-two punch to the NFL.
At first, the league’s immediate reaction was that there was no merit to the charges.
But Commissioner Roger Goodell has since changed course, admitting that the league has done an “unacceptable” job in its diversity of head coaches, and promised an independent panel to examine any issue relating to the integrity of NFL games.
There are more elements to the story, but what I’ve set up here is the gist of the hectic happenings of the past week.
As far as the hiring of minorities is concerned, it is difficult to discern whether teams are sincere in giving minorities the opportunity to become head coaches.
There is the Rooney Rule, named after the late owner Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, requiring every team in search of a head coach, to interview at least two minority candidates in their process.
But it is virtually impossible to know whether teams are merely going through the motions in following the rule.
Flores alleges that teams are doing just that.
Frankly I have no idea how to tell owners who they should hire as head coaches.
On the subject of losing games on purpose, how absurd is it for any owner to demand coaches to lose games.
How does the coach go about this?
How does he tell his team at the beginning of the week’s practice that the idea in the next game is to lose?
Players work all week to try to win the next game.
They do not care at all about the draft.
Their performances are recorded on tape for everyone in the league to see.
What player wants anything else, but for all to see his best?
Their jobs are constantly on the line.
Stephen Ross, along with the other clubs involved in the lawsuit vehemently denied the accusations of Brian Flores on every level, even intimating defamation of character charges against Flores.
You have to think about proof, witnesses, and evidence in the accusations by a man I got to know a bit, and to me, is a solid individual.
Brian Flores has undoubtedly, at age 40, with success as a head coach, is apparently sacrificing his career with all that has transpired.
We’ll see how this all plays out.
But it has been an ugly week for the NFL at the worst possible time.
Super Bowl week, when it should be all about celebrating the game.
Ah, yes, the game.
The term Cinderella is often overused in discussing sports matchups.
But this year’s Super Bowl is a legitimate example of a Cinderella entry.
The Cincinnati Bengals were a lowly laughing-stock in the league as recently as two seasons ago.
They had the first draft choice after going 2-14.
They chose Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, the LSU quarterback who had transferred from Ohio State.
So, the Bengals had, what they hoped, would be their franchise quarterback moving forward.
But what about the rest of the team?
Without running down each position, the Bengals began their rebuild.
Burrow himself, suffered a serious knee injury in his rookie season, and there was concern that he wouldn’t be ready to start this year after considerable rehabilitation.
Burrow not only started, he amazingly led the Bengals to a championship in one of the toughest divisions in the league.
The, Cincinnati won three playoff games, two of them on the road against the Titans, who were the top-seed in the AFC, and the Chiefs who were seeking a third consecutive trip to the Super Bowl.
The Bengals last two victories have come on the final play in regulation or in overtime on field goals by a rookie, Evan McPherson.
This is a team that defies all logical analysis.
Just when you think they’ve gone as far as they could go, they respond as if they’ve been title contenders for years.
They are underdogs again against the Los Angeles Rams, not nowhere near the heavy underdogs the Patriots were when they beat the then St.Louis Rams to win Tom Brady’s first Super Bowl in 2002.
The Rams, who will be playing on their home turf, got to the Big One a different way.
They sacrificed future draft picks by acquiring veterans at key positions.
First, it was QB Matthew Stafford, who spent 16 unfulfilled seasons with the Lions.
Stafford has delivered in major fashion at the most important position to get the Rams back in the Super Bowl for the first time since a severe shellacking at the hands of the Patriots two years ago.
The additions of wide receiver Odell Beckham, and linebacker Von Miller have been a huge plus.
The talented Beckham, who has been a problem child until now, and Miller who has been on a Super Bowl-winning club have taken full advantage of their new lease on life.
It is folly to breakdown the strengths and weaknesses going in, since they become irrelevant in the unpredictable flow of every game.
Who knows where and when the key plays will happen?
Who knows when and where a critical turnover will occur?
Let’s just say, this is a matchup featuring a team no one ever figured would appear.
It is easy to say, Rams.
Don’t they look like the stronger, more experienced club?
But I’ll be pulling for the underdog Bengals.
It’s my nature.
One thing I know. Joe Burrow won’t be intimated.
He’s played and won many championship games on several levels.
I also believe the AFC is the stronger conference.
I always preach that past games are little if no indication of what’s to follow.
But in the back of my mind I think the Bengals confidence, which has been sky high, rose even more after beating Mahomes and the Chiefs on the road.
Maybe that one, was their toughest battle of the season.
Many of you will have read this after the game is played.
You might be laughing.
Or nodding your head.
Tom Brady retired. He will go down as the greatest NFL quarterback, maybe the greatest player of all-time.
He was an incredible winner.
I think he knew he would step down, but that news leaked prematurely.
Brady didn’t want his retirement to overshadow the conference championship games last week.
But it did to some extent.
He held off, then made it official after the weekend.
Perhaps, he knew in his heart, another Super Bowl try with Tampa Bay was not going to happen considering the Bucs’ roster issues.
And he wasn’t going to a new team.
It wasn’t a tough decision.
On a personal note, several years ago I wrote about a golf coach I found on the internet and eventually got to know.
His name is Brian Sparks and in my own golfing frustration, I reached out to the Easiest Swing on U-tube.
He was working at a course in Kent, outside London and after several FaceTime meeting, Jamie and I visited him for a clinic, and lunch by the sea.
Brian Sparks passed away last week after a decades-long battle with cancer. He was 70.
He was a marvelous coach, but a better man.
He was an upbeat soul who helped both us immensely and countless others, allowing all he touched to appreciate the game every time we played.
He was truly one-of-a-kind and will be sorely missed.