Football as its played in the NFL is the quickest shifting, fastest moving, most fickle of all of the major sports in America. It changes moment to moment, every moment, when the ball is moving. Careers end in the middle of “uneventful” plays, all the time. Championships are decided with no time at all remaining on the game clock at a shockingly high rate. The only thing that is guaranteed in that particular league, it seems, is abrupt, irrevocable change.
Which is what makes it even more surprising that some things have remained the same since around the turn of the millennium, an incredible amount of time in NFL terms, against staggering odds. Here are three of those unchanging trends:
1. The Patriots just win.
Since 2000, with Tom Brady as starting QB, the New England Patriots are 172-51. He wins 77% of the games he plays in the National Football League, and has for nearly 15 years. That alone – totally skipping the 4 Super Bowl wins in 6 appearances, 428 touchdowns, nearly 60,000 yards – makes Brady one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
What the Patriots do sans Brady is nothing to sneeze at, either. When Brady tore a ligament in his knee in the first game of the 2008 season, Matt Cassel stepped in and finished the season 11-5 (a near-69% winning percentage), only missing a playoff berth after losing two consecutive tie-breakers.
This season, Brady is suspended for the first four regular season games as a result of the investigation into the deflation of footballs during the 2015 AFC Championship game. With Cassel long gone from New England, a new untested starting QB stepped up to lead the Pats: Jimmy Garappolo
The Patriots schedule had them facing off against the formidable Arizona Cardinals, and as luck would have it, they’d not only be missing Brady, but the league-best tight end in Rob Gronkowski, who was sidelined with a hamstring injury. The game was considered a wash for the hobbled Patriots, who would be able to make up for the loss in future games against easier opponents, with more weapons at their disposal.
But, they won.
Brady withstood a blown knee, and a full year away from his team, replaced by a quarterback who won 11 of the 16 games he had to start in lieu of the future Canton-ite. Brady, who famously entered the game to take over for an injured Drew Bledsoe, and never looked back (or gave up the reins), won’t be Bledsoe’d by Garoppolo – this isn’t All About Eve , and nobody but nobody takes the ball from a healthy, eligible Tom Brady, no matter what year it is.
2. The NFL cannot, or will not, protect its stars.
The above didn’t matter a few years ago, but now we know what neurological damage is being done, as an audience, to the players who receive the brutal hits to the head we see every game.
The list of ex-players experiencing difficulty with daily-life, and who are diagnosed with the traumatic brain disorder CTE, is growing. The generation of stars who were present for the game’s explosion in popularity and subsequent domination of the sports world are beginning to enter the age-range that one can expect degenerative diseases to begin to make their presence known. Many of the players who have died as a result of game-sustained trauma were, tragically and callously, not “names” in the league, so their passing was not front page news. Recently, however, Hall of Famer Junior Seau took his own life with a gun, choosing to shoot himself in the chest, so as to preserve his brain for scientific study. That woke a lot of people up, and made the list of lost players common knowledge. That list may, sadly, soon resemble a book.
All of this, despite the NFL’s claims that it’s made great strides in player safety and concussion protocols. Something must be missing. And I think it was made quite evident in the very first game of this young season, wherein the Broncos and Panthers met for a rematch of the Super Bowl.
Then this happened, a lot, without the referees, or either team doing a thing to stop it until long after the damage had been done:
That’s reigning MVP Cam Newton, arguably the best player in pro-football, after receiving a dirty hit to the head. And he received, at minimum, five of these types of hits to the head throughout the contest. There was one flag thrown after the final hit, which also happened to be the most egregious.
He’s a super-star. He’s young, charismatic, popular with young fans, dominant, dynamic, the face of many brands, and he’s got tons of appearances in film and TV to spread his own brand. Also, he’s a person. And his employer and colleagues (the NFL, the referees, both teams’ coaches, and the defensive players of the Broncos) ignored all of that, and assaulted him on national television, for the game’s full run time.
If the NFL is going to try to sell the whole “We care, and we’re sorry about lying about what concussions do for decades” thing, they might want to start with their poster-child, before it’s too late.
3. Cleveland doesn’t have a single good quarterback
After all that head injury talk, let’s lighten it up before the end: the misery in uniform that is the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland’s QB situation is up in the air once more, after they wasted another off-season looking for a unicorn to lead them to the promised land.
They have, in 16 seasons, had 22 different people START a game for them. Not appear – START. That is so far ahead of any other team, it’s not even worth listing the runners-up. In that time, they’ve got one playoff appearance – a loss to the Steelers in 2002’s Wild Card game – and an overall record of 82-158 (a deplorable .341 win percentage). To start this season, they brought on notoriously injury-prone Robert Griffin III. They lost. And RGIII is out for the year.
Which means one thing is for certain – they will have to add yet another starting quarterback to the already jaw-dropping tally, lucky number 23. And, it’s only the first week of the season, so who knows just how high/low they can climb/fall!?
Think about that, while you take a gander at the best that Cleveland could come up with to take on the world’s best football players, and take back some of their dignity:
Just kidding, they’re going to be terrible again, like every year.
What else has gone on for a generation-or-so in the NFL, no matter what, that I missed? Let me know in the comments.