This weekend of all weekends, I appreciate a good hatred between rivals. Ohio State-Michigan. Alabama-Auburn. Georgia-Georgia Tech. Just to name a few. Maybe it's the Irishman in me talking, but I've always believed that genuine, heartfelt hatred is one of the pure joys of life. That unless you can truly despise someone, it's almost impossible to learn to love someone else.
And yet there are times when it's right and appropriate to step back, take a low Earth orbit satellite view, one that goes beyond lines on a map and territorial boundaries and appreciate the shared experience of the Big Picture. To be grateful for that very thing we care so much about. All of us.
Such is the NFL Network series "NFL 100," that's counting down the best players and coaches in pro football history. I'm as biased as they come. And back in June when the network announced the shows would be hosted by Rich Eisen, Cris Collinsworth and Bill Belichick, I assumed Belichick would save television in a post-"Game of Thrones" world and win an Emmy:
I said that mainly because he's my Spirit Animal. And because I try to live a sin-free existence because I believe in an afterlife where I'll get to sit in God's own pub and have him explain all he knows about blocking assignments and Seam-Curl-Flat reads. And because he saved my football team. And because when I handed him a copy of my first book (cha-CHING!) he left to go to a press conference he was running late for and still came back two minutes later and asked me to sign it for him. So yeah, I don't pretend to be neutral on the subject of Bill Belichick. But trying to look at these shows through an unbiased eye, just as someone who sincerely loves the sport of tackle football, they don't deserve an Emmy. They deserve the Nobel Prize in Television.
You watch these former players - some old, some just barely ringing the doorbell camera of 40-years-old - looking back on their careers and their games with some of the very people they competed against and it's a whole new level of appreciation for the sport itself. Regardless of which team you're emotionally attached to.
Take, for instance, Ray Lewis. Belichick talking about how he traded for the pick at Cleveland in 1995 that Ozzie Newsome turned into Lewis with the Ravens first pick for Baltimore in '96. Saying how much he hated playing against him. Lewis and Tom Brady jawing in the middle of the game, two Alphas barking at each other as they lead their packs. If nothing else, skip to that 4:15 mark where he and Ed Reed are talking about their reads:
… and he mentions a game against the Chargers when Antonio Gates running a Y (tight end) Shake Route:
… and Belichick immediately knew where he was going with the story? That's football porn, no matter your opinion of either guy. With the money shot of Belichick saying he told Brady that if he threw that against Lewis he'd cut him on the spot and Brady said if he threw that, he deserved to get cut.
Listening to these guys swap stories, I can't help but think of my late father-in-law, who was great friends with a former German soldier. That would be a soldier in the same German army that put him in a field hospital twice and earned him two Purple Hearts. And the two would sit around sharing tales of their shared experiences on both sides of the war til the day he died. As only two guys who lived it ever could.
Then there's this segment with the best running back of my lifetime - period - Barry Sanders, while he's sitting on the panel with Emmitt Smith and the best running back I never got to see, Jim Brown. Again, skip to the 4:15 mark and see Sanders' father introduce him at the Hall of Fame while talking about how Brown was better than his own son:
Or this quick hit about Brown where you realize the elder Sanders has a point:
Or even watch Belichick get expansive about a 1930s player I have to plead total ignorance about, Dutch Clark:
I could probably do a separate blog for each of the 100 profiles they're going to end up doing, but I won't overdo it like some mediocre "SNL" recurring character that they beat to death. Instead I'll just recommend you join me in appreciating how lucky we are to have this game, this show and these men.