A View from Calico Jack’s – 10/4/2006

I’d planned to write this column about Bills fans’ superstitions – but, apparently, I’m the only one out there who is superstitious, because no one responded to my request for input. Which must mean that all of the various physical contortions and sideways baseball caps I see on game day are 100% alcohol-driven.

There’s not much to say about the game: super exciting (especially at the end), and I thought JP showed continued improvement. The Bills have a maddening tendency to bring games down to the wire, even when they are dominating. But, better a win than a loss, of course. I’m almost perfect in predicting games this year – I’ve been wrong three weeks in a row. So, don’t ask for my help in your football pool unless you’re playing the “anti-Phil” strategy. Look to my fellow columnist instead.

All of which means I’m going to take a bit of a digression in this column (as if all of my other columns are anything but digressions).

Those of you who follow sports beyond football no doubt heard about the latest round of baseball steroid-use allegations. This time around, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Miguel Tejada were among those implicated. Pitchers are being accused as often as position players at this point, meaning – in my mind – that it’s now harder to begrudge offensive players their statistics. I mean, if a batter is (allegedly) on steroids, and the pitcher is, too (allegedly), who has the advantage?

How does this relate to football? Football gets away with all kinds of things baseball can’t. Actually, let me put it differently: it’s not open-season on football like it is on baseball.

Yes, football is run much better; they jumped on the steroid issue years ago. But, come on, you’re going to tell me that there aren’t tons (forgive the pun) of NFL’ers on something – either growth hormone or something else that’s otherwise undetectable?

Why aren’t football execs marched into Congress, along with star players like Brett Favre and Marvin Harrison? Why aren’t football statistics dissected for “proof” of artificial enhancement? Why doesn’t anyone say, boy, these guys sure seem a lot bigger than they did just a few years ago?

Sure, part of the reason is that football plays the politics game better, and supposedly “took care of this issue” years ago. And, because of baseball’s place in our history, it probably gets held to a higher standard.

But, ultimately, football truly has become – to steal a phrase I’ve heard elsewhere – the country’s secular religion. It’s a weekly EVENT, with tremendous economic implications. No one – not a congressman, and not even a journalist – wants to mess with it.

Nor should they, in my opinion. At least, not in the fashion that has happened to this point. Steroids in sports do bother me from an ethical perspective – I don’t like to see anyone take foolish health risks, or encourage the younger members of our society to do so. But, from a strict competitiveness point of view, I rank steroids along with superior equipment and training techniques as among the many things giving today’s athlete an edge over his or her ancestors.

I’d be happy if there were no steroids in sports. But, I’d rather see the emphasis on health-education – especially at the youth level – than on “these guys are evildoers and cheaters. Our precious records and statistics are imperiled. “The last thing I want to see is more grandstanding Congressional hearings.

So, the next time we see one of our favorite linemen steamroll an opponent, or see a skill-position player make a series of seemingly impossible news, let’s enjoy it. But, let’s also cross our fingers that, eventually, someone in a position of power doesn’t seek to extract all of the fun out of the sport we love by making it a political issue.

Actually, don’t cross your fingers. None of you is superstitious.