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April's Fools

US-based British sports-writer Simon Veness reports on a week in the NFL that left quite a few feeling fairly foolish

View from America Posted 3rd April 2009 view comments

I know what day it was this week, but did we really have to have a series of stories that made you go 'Huh?' Yes it is the close season - the silly season, if you prefer - yet that's no reason to ensure every report seemed to have a touch of All Fools Day about it.

But then much of the news emanating from the NFL this week - and the American media's coverage of it - is likely to leave you shaking your head in astonishment, sadness or depression. Or all three at the same time.

Moats: Controversy

Moats: Controversy

It was almost like a parade of the bizarre as we had a cavalcade of gridiron hubris and debris, starting with Ryan Moats, continuing with Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress, then concluding with Cutler and, most head-shakingly of all, Donte Stallworth.

First there was Houston running back Moats and his wife being detained at gunpoint by a super-officious police officer in a hospital car park while his wife's mother lay dying inside the hospital.

This was one the media could REALLY get their teeth into and it quickly became a major circus, with the Moats family maintaining a dignified stance while the news folks whipped themselves into a state of near hysteria over the officer responsible.

Appetiser

Sad, unfortunate and very avoidable. But that was just the appetiser for what we had in the next several days as the newshounds scented more heavyweight fare.

The long-running case of Vick re-surfaced with reports that the disgraced Atlanta quarterback has agreed to repay some $6.5million of bonus money on the understanding the Falcons will be happy to cut their ties with their former franchise star.

Happy? Delirious would be more like it. While Vick will be hoping another team is desperate enough to take a chance on the Georgia jailbird. Many are still trying to get their heads around the fact the ex-Virginia Tech passer is a declared bankrupt and yet still appears to have millions squirreled away somewhere in order to try to buy his way back into the league.

But that head-scratcher almost paled into insignificance compared with the latest word on New York Giants receiver Burress, still facing two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, who managed to get his case adjourned until June while he fights to get $1million back from his team.

The Giants refused to pay the final instalment on his $4.5m bonus due in December, reasoning that the fact Burress had shot himself in the leg and earned a four-game ban, not to mention a date in front of a New York judge, was conduct liable to bring the terms of his contract into dispute.

Law school

This one is also going to 'overtime' at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia (not a happy hunting ground for the Giants, you would think), with another delayed decision at the behest of the NFL Players Association.

Possibly the most curious note, though, was that struck by the New York Times, who reported Burress' lawyer Benjamin Brafman was "trying to resolve the gun possession charges against his client." And there we were thinking that was the court's job.

Brafman, apparently, is hoping for a plea agreement that would help Burress avoid the 3½-year minimum sentence which the charges carry. Good luck with that in the land of Mayor Michael 'No guns in MY city' Bloomberg, by the way. Which all leaves Giants head coach Tom Coughlin looking on in complete mystification. No wonder he said this week: "You have to have thought it out." Which he clearly has. And isn't touching that one with a 10-foot barge pole just now.

Then came the latest fracas involving Denver's wantaway quarterback. Having thrown all his toys out of the pram and sulked in the corner for 10 days (the length of time, apparently, over which he refused to return phone calls from Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and coach Josh McDaniels), Cutler has officially outstayed his welcome with the team that finished last season so miserably.

Bowlen's pronouncement on Wednesday that "Jay no longer has any desire to play for the Denver Broncos" was that of a frustrated, irritated multi-millionaire who doesn't understand a 25-year-old star's "me first" mindset in today's team-ethic NFL. Now both parties have concluded a bitter, rancorous divorce which suits neither and will hurt both of them in the season to come. Many media sources see Chicago's position as seriously upgraded at quarterback, but Cutler won't have the same level of offensive weapons to work with, which will certainly make his life more difficult.

Maturity

The ex-Vanderbilt signal caller clearly is a major talent, but the lack of maturity in much of his posturing (not to mention the little matter of 18 interceptions last season) suggests he still has a lot to learn, and he is going to have to shake off the effects of a major 'Jay Is A Jerk' bandwagon currently revving up in Colorado if he is to prosper anywhere else.

The final item on this week's NFL agenda is one of pure tragedy. For the league, for the Cleveland Browns, for oft-injured wide receiver Stallworth - and especially for 59-year-old construction worker Mario Reyes.

Reyes was the pedestrian killed by Stallworth's car in Miami last week and there is nothing odd or funny to report about what has unfolded since, with the player himself clearly traumatised by the events, which have now become a manslaughter case with the news he was well over the Florida alcohol limit (a reading of .126 compared to the legal requirement of no more than .08).

The charges carry a 15-year sentence and the wideout who has started just seven games since signing a 7-year, $35m contract with the Browns in March last year will become the new, sad poster child for the 'don't drink and drive' campaign in south Florida.

We started the week with the foolish and ended up with the catastrophic. We can only hope it gets better from here but, with more, surely, to come from the likes of Vick, Burress and Cutler, you do sometimes wonder if commissioner Roger Goodell has the impossible task of keeping the lid on such silly-season shenanigans.

Is it September yet?

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