Did The Dolphins Sign Ochocinco For Hard Knocks?

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HBO’s Hard Knocks wanted to have the New York Jets on for a second straight season but after the loud mouth of coach Rex Ryan and the lax—at best—discipline and profound lack of team unity contributed to the team’s late-season stumble, they decided against doing the show. Of course HBO would’ve wanted the Rex whose bluster far outweighs reality; would’ve wanted the Tim Tebow sideshow; would’ve wanted the Mark Sanchez reaction as he tries to get past the fan vitriol and the media and fan lust for his less polished but far more likable backup; would’ve wanted to see what Santonio Holmes is going to do to rehabilitate his image with the team after his display in the final game of the season when he was essentially tossed off the field by his teammates.

But it wasn’t to be.

For the good of the organization, if not for the good of the viewing public and Rex-baiting media, the Jets are going to do things a bit quieter. Or as quiet as possible with Ryan, Tebow and company doing their thing.

We’ll see what happens with the Jets on the field and not on HBO.

HBO instead selected the Miami Dolphins as the star of their show.

No one seemed to understand why when the selection was made.

The Dolphins aren’t the annual championship contender they were under Don Shula. There’s no Dan Marino, Mark Clayton, Mark Duper combination to pile up points with a laser show aerial display. The larger-than-life football men that replaced Shula in running the club—Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells—aren’t with the organization. Longtime Dolphin Ricky Williams had spent his final season with the Ravens, but he’s remembered as a Dolphin and his quirky personality and existential musings are gone into retirement.

They have some flashy players in Reggie Bush, but he might’ve been more of a magnet if he were still dating Kim Kardashian. There’s rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but the jury is still split on whether he’s a true prospect or was a product of a high-powered college offense; he’s raw and will take time to develop in the NFL. New coach Joe Philbin comes from the Green Bay Packers where he oversaw the development of Aaron Rodgers and endured an unspeakable tragedy when his son drowned right before the divisional playoff game against the Giants that the 15-1 Packers lost.

Owner Stephen Ross has been somewhat out there in the media eye in an embarrassing fashion. In January of 2011 he met with then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh about becoming the Dolphins’ head coach without bothering to dismiss his coach at the time, Tony Sparano.

Harbaugh went to the 49ers and Sparano was given a contract extension as a way of apologizing for embarrassing him, but his time as Dolphins’ coach was coming to an end and everyone knew it. Sparano was fired with the team’s record at 4-9.

Interestingly, he’s now the offensive coordinator for the Jets and has to find some avenue to incorporate Tebow into his hard-nosed offense. Sparano was only the Dolphins’ head coach because he was a favorite of Parcells; had worked for him with the Cowboys; and would implement the Parcells-preferred method of running an offense. Once Parcells was gone, Sparano’s time was running out.

Even with Ross, Bush, Philbin and the other “name” Dolphins, there’s not much juice there apart from the cheerleaders and that they’re in Miami. With Brandon Marshall traded to the Bears, there’s an absence of people to watch and wait to see what they’re going to do.

That changed when the Dolphins signed Chad Ochocinco to a contract. But the question is whether Ochocinco was signed as a threat on the field or a ratings booster for HBO when there are few personalities with the Dolphins upon whom the show can be promoted.

There’s a perception that Ochocinco is a lockerroom malcontent who causes problems wherever he goes, but that’s not the case. He’s not Terrell Owens nor is he Randy Moss. He has been a good player and a good guy. The attention he’s generated has been somewhat like that garnered by the misunderstood types whose reputations were sullied by media dislike but weren’t the problems they were made out to be. It wasn’t a failure to assimilate to the attitude preferred by Bill Belichick in New England as was exhibited by Albert Haynesworth. Ochocinco didn’t fit in because the Patriots offense was centered around their two tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez; and quarterback Tom Brady’s possession receiver Wes Welker and his deep threat Deion Branch.

The Dolphins aren’t paying him a lot of money and didn’t give up any draft picks to get him, so he’s a “why not?” player who’s worth a look and might thrive in a pass-happy offense implemented by Philbin and run by Tannehill.

He can still play at 34 if he’s in the right situation. But he’s more of a signing that the old Cowboys would’ve made in the vein of veterans like Mike Ditka and Lance Alworth who had once known greatness and could help a team on the precipice of a championship win their title with a catch here, a block there, experience and leadership. The Raiders used to do it; the 49ers used to do it; and the Patriots do it.

In other words, he’s not a signing that the Dolphins would’ve made if they were looking for pure on-field use. Their planned appearance on Hard Knocks might’ve been the catalyst for the signing. Bringing in players for reasons other than what they can do on the field and how they can help is a mistake. Ochocinco won’t be dumped because he’s causing trouble or that he can’t play anymore; he’ll be dumped because the Dolphins are using him for HBO. Once the HBO-Dolphins marriage ends, so too will the marriage between the Dolphins and Ochocinco.

Hopefully, for his sake, Ochocinco is aware of this and prepared to look for work elsewhere if he wants to continue his career.

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Bounties vs Targets—the NFL and MLB

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The New Orleans Saints have been given harsh sentences for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams encouraging a culture of paying cash bonuses for his players on hard hits and knockouts of opposing players. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season; GM Mickey Loomis for the first eight games of the season; and Williams, who was hired as the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams in January, was suspended indefinitely—NY Times Story.

On Sunday afternoon Peter Gammons, filling in for Jerry Remy on the Red Sox TV broadcasts, was talking with broadcast partner Don Orsillo about the NFL bountygate. Gammons said it was inexcusable and that if anyone in baseball did it, Bud Selig had told him that those involved would be banned for life. Period.

If it was a player, I’m sure the MLBPA would have something to say about that penalty.

In what was a conveniently timed sequence of events, Phillies’ starter Cole Hamels hit Nationals’ rookie Bryce Harper in the back with a fastball in Sunday night’s Phillies-Nats game in Washington and then inexplicably announced that he’d done it intentionally in an “old-school” method of initiation for an arrogant, hot shot rookie.

Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo called Hamels a series of names including “gutless” and said he was “opposite of old-school”. Ken Rosenthal said it was an overreaction on the part of Rizzo for a legitimate play from years gone by. Other sportswriters like Jon Heyman, admired the “toughness” of Hamels.

This is on the heels of Mike Francesa’s suggestion two weeks ago that the Mets, rather than give Jose Reyes a small video tribute on his return to Citi Field as an opponent with the Marlins, throw the ball at his head.

He said this twice.

It’s very easy to encourage these types of things when not actually standing in the box and facing the prospect of getting hit with a 95-mph fastball that can end a career or seriously injure the recipient.

I don’t have a problem with Hamels popping Harper; I do have a problem with him announcing it as if he wants credit for it. It was obvious to any longtime observer of baseball that it was done intentionally, but did the pleased-with-himself Hamels need to say, “Look! See what I did?”

In essence, because Harper is a former number 1 overall pick and is widely expected to embark on a potential Hall of Fame career starting now, he had a bulls-eye on his back and Hamels hit that bulls-eye.

We can debate the propriety of the decision by Hamels to throw at Harper just like we can debate collisions at the plate; umpires having larger strike zones for rookies to test them; or any other rites of passage that occur as a common hazing ritual for newcomers.

But you don’t announce it.

This all fits in neatly with Gammons’s discussion of the bounty program used by the Saints.

What’s missed in many of the analysis and commentaries regarding the Saints is that it wasn’t the program itself that got them in trouble. It was that the NFL told them to stop it, they said they would and didn’t.

And they got caught.

The NFL—conservative as a whole and run by Roger Goodell, whose father was a Republican U.S. Senator—is image-conscious and serious about their perception and disciplinary programs. Punishing the Saints is a combination of punitive measures and a message to everyone else not to do this.

Transferring one sport’s rules and regulations to another can be done in theory but is difficult to do in practice. There’s an overt failure to account for the differences between baseball and football. I’m not talking about the classic George Carlin comedy routine in which he declares the superiority of football to baseball—YouTube link. I’m talking about the fundamental differences between the two sports on and off the field.

MLB players have guaranteed contracts and 100% medical coverage. NFL players don’t. Because NFL players’ contracts are not guaranteed, there’s more pressure for them to play in order to keep those game checks coming in. They can be cut at anytime and be completely out of work. The NFL, such as it is, is a close-knit community and if a player is judged as not being willing to take shots and medications to get out on the field and play when he’s hurt, the rest of the league is going to know about it. It spreads like wildfire and affects their careers negatively or ends them completely.

For every star like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning who have the power to command their organization to make certain maneuvers, there are the rank and file players who have to adhere to the culture or else. It’s a brutal version of survival of the fittest and most resilient, rewarding the player who can live through the war of attrition in exchange continued employment.

This doesn’t happen in baseball.

When a player signs a $100 million contract in football, his stature as a talent predicates a large signing bonus which he gets to keep, but the rest of the deal isn’t guaranteed; therefore it’s not really $100 million even though that’s what the news reports say without full context of the disposability of the contract. We see situations where teams can’t cut a player they’d dearly love to be rid of (Santonio Holmes of the Jets for example), but can’t because of salary cap ramifications. But that’s due to overzealousness and a myriad of other factors such as arrogantly thinking “we’ll be able to handle this guy”. Historically when one team can’t “handle” a guy and gets rid of him based on that and that alone, no one—not the Jets; not the Al Davis Raiders of the 1970s and 80s—will be able to handle him for any amount of money. That’s a foundational error.

Contracts in baseball are such that when Albert Pujols signed a $240 million contract with the Angels last winter, it was guaranteed that he’d collect $240 million if he never plays another game.

How many MLB players do you read about committing suicide after their careers are over? Winding up in serious trouble with the law? Have debilitating injuries?

Just last week Junior Seau committed suicide and it was forgotten the next day because the “tragedy” of the day became Mariano Rivera tearing his ACL and being lost for the season.

Which is the true tragedy?

Both are future Hall of Famers in their respective sports; both were well-liked; but Rivera will collect his $15 million salary for 2012 and receive a similar contract for 2013; Seau was rumored to be having financial troubles and domestic squabbles and was entirely unable to adjust to the freedom, emptiness and depression of not having a season or game to prepare for to go along with the wear-and-tear of a 13-year NFL career.

You can call baseball a “contact” sport, but considering the uproar when a collision at home plate occurs and knocks out the catcher, it—clean or not—becomes the impetus for calls to outlaw the home plate collision entirely. It degenerates into a pseudo-contact sport. In football, the mandate is to hit hard—it’s inherent; in baseball, a hard hit is a rare, incidental and predominately unintentional byproduct.

In football, they’ve taken steps to reduce the injuries and number of hard hits because of the bottom line need for offensive production and the stars being on the field to keep the fans engaged and happy, but they’re still very large, well-conditioned men running into one another at full speed. People get hurt. If you can’t or won’t play through pain and the backup will, then your job and career are in jeopardy without any outlet for the aggression that led to an NFL career in the first place, nor the opportunity to make the kind of money they’re making once their careers are over.

Players don’t know what to do with themselves once their regimented lives as football players are done. The simultaneous addictions to the attention, painkillers, money, pain and the compulsive need to keep going in spite of the threat of long-term damage already in place is being exacerbated; irrationality and rudderless post-career lives are too often rife with financial missteps, legal entanglements, after-effects and early deaths.

Coaches and managers are not exempt from the urgency of their professions.

MLB managers and coaches are not working the hours that NFL coaches are. Rank and file MLB assistants are comparatively well-paid and their jobs are many times as a result of patronage, friendship, loyalty or payback. In reality, apart from the pitching coach, not many MLB coaches influence the team to any grand degree.

Not so with the NFL on any count.

NFL assistants work ridiculous hours and, apart from star coordinators, aren’t paid all that well and, like the players, if they don’t have friends in the league or a good reputation, they won’t have another job when they’re let go.

John Madden left coaching because of his ulcer and didn’t return because he replaced it by carving out a Hall of Fame broadcasting career. Jim Brown retired at the top of his game to go to Hollywood. Barry Sanders and Tiki Barber both retired while they still had a few years left in them, but also had their health.

How many other football players can say that?

Mostly they play until they’re dragged off the field knowing what awaits them in the aftermath.

The sporting ideal of competitiveness, honor and fair play doesn’t truly exist. Baseball players subsist in the bubble of individual achievement within a team concept. It’s one man against another when a pitcher and hitter square off. It’s not that way in football where no one player can function without the other ten men. Football players are warriors who know their time is short and every play could be their last with nothing to fall back on aside from a lifetime of pain and mounting bills for medical and family expenses. Baseball players are covered. Football players can’t just turn off that intensity and otherworldliness that allows them to ignore aches and pains that would hospitalize a normal man.

Baseball is languid; football is full-speed and frantic.

Comparing baseball and football is apples and oranges. They’re different. A bounty program wouldn’t specifically exist in baseball because how would it be enacted? A bounty program in football is easy because, in general, a player contract in the NFL is a bounty, but it’s a bounty the player places on himself. He knows when he signs it that one day, he’ll have to pay up with his physical and emotional well being.

Sometimes he pays with his life in quality and permanence.

They know that going in and, invariably, it gets them in the end.

The bounty a player puts on his own head is carried out by football itself.

And football is tantamount to the monolithic hit man that never, ever fails in its objective.

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