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COMMENTARY

Have they cheated our sensibilities?

September 14, 2007|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

BRIGHTON, England -- What a banner week for connoisseurs of sin and fraudulence, those time-honored underpinnings of sports.

Observe as hallowed reputations ebb from New England to England. Study as the esteemed Patriots and the esteemed McLaren racing team of Formula One take on a fresh coat of taint. Absorb the apparent importance of that underrated position player in sports, the spy.

Normally, to get this much sin in one sitting, you have to digest an entire hour of Southeastern Conference football.

Last Sunday in New Jersey, a New York Jets security officer eyeballed a New England Patriots employee crookedly videotaping Jets coaches giving signals to the defense, then confronted him and wound up giving a youngish nation an inkling as to just what might've made Bill Belichick's Patriots so vexing all these years. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday relieved Belichick of $500,000 and fined the team $250,000, plus the Patriots lose next year's first-round draft pick if they make the playoffs.

Earlier on Thursday, the FIA World Motor Sport Council spent hours meeting in Paris, reviewing the spying kerfuffle involving the English team McLaren and the Italian team Ferrari, and handing down a cartoonish $100-million fine to McLaren, plus removal from the team-championship competition, plus the mandatory scrutiny of its 2008 chassis, but not the ousting of the two star McLaren drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, who hold the Nos. 1 and 2 slots with four races left.

In the Patriots' case, spying duties went to 26-year-old cameraman Matt Estrella, whose conspicuousness may have cost him a shot at the first-team spy position for the AFC in the Pro Bowl.

In McLaren's case, the chronology dates back months, and involves a Ferrari technical dude, Nigel Stepney, who may have slipped a 780-page technical dossier to a McLaren technical dude, Mike Coughlan, seeing as how the authorities found the dossier in Coughlan's house. In yet another craven misdeed, Coughlan might have enlisted his wife to photocopy the colossus, an act that also entails cruelty.

Among other things, this could prove again that the English are the more avid readers. Each revelation loosed all manner of questions.

Regarding New England, Americans can spend the next few decades wondering about the 2001-06 Patriots. Members of the allegedly vanquished Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers already have wondered aloud.

Did we waste a collective 12 hours of our lives watching quarterback Tom Brady's three Super Bowl victories de-legitimized from subterfuge? Did we wrack our brains unnecessarily trying to deduce just what gave this Belichick that tiny edge over everybody else? Did any shenanigans help stall the mighty 2001 Rams? Is there a reason the Carolina Panthers went to Philadelphia and allowed only three points, then yielded 32 to New England in the Super Bowl?

And, did the alleged excellence of New England wind up subjecting us to one more Janet Jackson pasty than we could handle as a culture?

After those questions come ancillary questions, such as: Was that other guy who coached New England before Belichick really just as good as Belichick?

You know, that overmatched guy, Pete Carroll, who couldn't handle a pressurized coaching situation.

In some minds, Belichick has gone from a disheveled genius with a dismal personality to a. . . dismal personality. The diminished images of himself and Brady find their epitome in a song, a YouTube must, crafted by Ryan Parker of Flatwoods, Ky.

History has shown that Kentuckians can flat-out pen you a song, and this one refers to the mystery of how Belichick flopped in Cleveland while Brady served as Gatorade waiter to starter Brian Griese at Michigan, yet in Foxborough, suddenly, voila.

A sampling:

No more lucky play selection

Into proper blitz protection

For Shady Brady and Bill Belicheat. . .

A McLaren song might come with Italian lyrics. The questions bandied about Europe include why the council saw fit to levee such a dramatic fine and strip any team title for McLaren, yet allowed its top drivers, Hamilton and Alonso, to continue pursuing the individual title when the fine screams that nobody can trust those cars?

The answer might be that they're locked in a taut duel -- Hamilton 92 points, Alonso 89 -- and that since spring they've carried on a snit-fit in which they've behaved like envious prom queens. In other words, a glorious marketing scenario.

The melancholy comes from Hamilton's story itself, as the 22-year-old from England has evoked Tiger Woods with his pioneering early dominance and has refreshed his fellow citizens by engaging in a rare English habit: winning. For that to collapse hurriedly in a heap of woe would seem so very English.

McLaren chief Ron Dennis claimed McLaren used no intellectual property from Ferrari and said, "The most important thing is that we go racing this weekend, the rest of the season and next season."

No, it's not. The most important thing is that we sin-seekers get to sustain our wonder by hearing today the council's reasoning behind its penalties, hopefully replete with juicy newfound evidence. For we, the wizened viewers of sports, know that games don't really end at 0:00, nor races at checkered flags. Often, after revelations, the fine drama can resume weeks, months or years later.

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