Wednesday, May 09, 2007

If you are a BC fan, you might want to watch Jeopardy at least once before the end of the week. I do not offer the suggestion because of any particular contestant, but because it's the College Tournament and it's being held at USC's Galen Hall. The producers have arranged for the school's marching band to play its fight song at the beginning of each show. In the wake of a recent announcement, I think that BC fans might want to accustom themselves to hearing that song. Come 2011, they'll be hearing it all too often.

In case you haven't heard, Boston College has grown tired of playing in the Who Gives A Damn Bowl evey year. Apparently they have reached the conclusion that a non-conference schedule replete with MAC also-rans and New England's finest 1-AA schools isn't going to get them the into big money games. So now BC is planning to venture from it's cushy lair and play a real, honest-to-goodness, no-foolin' powerhouse, the Trojans of the University of Southern Cal.

BC must be desperate to make a move like this. Leaving the Big East hasn't exactly panned out the way they'd hoped. Rutgers, Louisville and West Virginia have all garnered more national attention playing in the conference where Eagles no longer dare than BC has received in the new ACC. Stuck up on their island in New England, BC's football program is facing a crossroads.

The school they wish to consider their big rival, Notre Dame, doesn't feel compelled to play BC. And it has nothing to do with the fact that BC has beaten Notre Dame in the last four meetings. Notre Dame has huge rivalries with USC, Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue. The Irish have played these teams year in and year out for decades. Even the longstanding series with the Naval Academy has roots in the fact that the US Navy used Notre Dame as a satellite officer training facility, enabling the then all-male school to stay open during World War II.

BC has yet to build a rivalry with any school because they have a mediocre program in a region not known for producing great high school football players. And the best high school player the region turned out in the last 30 years, Mark Bavaro, played at Notre Dame. I am aware of the midget QB who drop-kicked conversions in the autumn of his years. But Bavaro's run while dragging the 49ers defense including the great Ronnie Lott is still more impressive than one long pass, all the Grey Cups in Canada and the cereal war with Jimmy Johnson.

And yet that is not the only football related story on my mind these days. I wonder sometimes why Crystal Pepsi is hardly ever remembered these days while New Coke is a comedy staple for every tool who thinks he's ten times funnier than he is. I realize that New Coke was a worse idea implemented on a much bigger scale, but can we get a moratorium on New Coke references? They tell me variety is the spice of life, people. So can we have at least one other soft drink included in the common store of bad jokes?

I say that to point out that one NFL team has placed the franchise tag on an important piece of its defense and been killed in the media for that decision. Meanwhile, another organization which has long been deemed the benchmark of excellence in sports has also franchised a malcontent from its defense. Both players are threatening to hold out this season, but only the first team is being pilloried.

On the remote chance that I have been too subtle to this point, the first player is Lance Briggs of the Chicago Bears (sort of). The second player isn't Justin Smith who needed to step up his game to earn a franchise tag, but since he's yet to be arrested, he was incredibly valuable to the Bengals. It's Asante Samuel, whose ten interceptions would have tied him with Champ Bailey for the league lead if three of Samuel's picks hadn't come against Rex Grossman so they can't be counted. Now Asante has been tagged as the Patriots franchise player, and he's not happy about it.

I think part of the vast surplus of attention paid to Lance Briggs is due to the Drew Rosenhaus factor. Who of us can forget the fake phone call with Willis McGahee from the 2003 draft? Or the memorable afternoon where he fielded questions while TO did callisthenics in his driveway? Or any other situation where Rosehaus used his client's situation to get himself on TV?

At this point, I'm not sure what value Drew Rosenhaus brings to the table. He gets his clients lots of money, but I am not convinced that he gets the best possible deal for his clients. I think that any competent agent could have gotten TO a truckload of guaranteed money, even after the McNabb situation in Philly. Rosenhaus and the circus atmosphere after the Eagles deactivated TO hurt his client's image more than it helped. If TO had been even slightly less talented, that could have been an eight figure mistake.

But back to Lance Briggs. The Bears have an All-Pro middle linebacker at the moment, and Hunter Hillenmeyer is as good a strong-side OLB as there is in the game, even if you may not have heard much about him. They have a great secondary, even if it did take a step back when they picked up Adam Archuletta. Their defensive line is very good at the moment, and it could be great even if Tank Johnson doesn't get his head out of his ass, provided Tommy Harris (the best defensive lineman in the league) stays healthy and Dusty Dvorcek proves them right for letting Ian Scott get away. The Bears can survive without Briggs, probably better than he will going to a team with fewer players for more guaranteed money.

The Patriots aren't so fortunate, even though they have the best offense that any one has seen for many years on paper. Ellis Hobbs just isn't that good, and he's the best player in the secondary at the moment. Brandon Merriweather needs to demonstrate that he can do more than kick a man when he's down (bullies, particularly of the gutless variety, are a better fit for the local baseball team). Rodney Harrison is one injury away from losing a limb or being featured in an NBC documentary entitled A Nation's Strong Safety.

The rest of their defense consists of a very good defensive line, a high-priced group of outside linebackers and a group of inside backers who are decrepit, on a good day. I don't mean to be unduly harsh, but can you really tell me that if this were one of those Animal Planet shows, the wolf pack wouldn't be eyeing Teddy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel? They'd last about ten minutes on the Serengeti. The Patriots need Samuel more than the Bears need Briggs.

I think the final part of the puzzle to explain why the Bears have taken more heat than the Pats for their respective potential holdouts is the media itself. The Bears play in a big market with an independent and aggressive media. The Patriots play in a big market with a complicated media environment, those who aren't wholly owned subsidiaries of the franchises are lazy and unimaginative. The small amount of effort and thought I put into this post might kill a guy like the CHB. He confined his critiques of the Patriots to the Tom Brady-knocked up ex situation and Randy Moss, bad guy material.

But remember this, New England, the Patriots will live to regret the Samuel situation more than the Branch situation if they let it get out of control. They will also live to regret the Samuel hold out more than the Bears will regret the Lance Briggs mess. When it happens, I'll be there to say I told you so. I may not be here for the beatings USC will apply to BC since that's three years away at the earliest, but we can spare an I told you so for the Eagles too.

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