Monday, February 04, 2008

Further exploring the NFL-NASCAR similarities

NASCAR fans tend to hate it when you compare their favorite sport to stick-and-ball sports. So let’s switch that around.

All along, most everyone thought the New England Patriots were going to wind up being more like Jimmie Johnson’s Sprint Cup team. Come to find out, however, they’re Jeff Gordon’s team.

Following a tremendous season in Cup competition in 2007, a year in which he broke records with 30 top-10 finishes, Gordon came up short in NASCAR’s playoffs and did not win the championship.

You will notice I did not say that Gordon “lost” the championship to Jimmie Johnson, because Gordon raced like a champion throughout the 10-race playoff. He had an average finish of 5.1 in those pivotal races, which in a typical year would have been more than enough to carry him across the threshold of a championship.

Johnson, however, did an even better job in the playoff. Whereas Gordon won two Chase races, Johnson won four. Johnson and his team averaged a 5.0 finish in the Chase and that was enough to earn him and his team the title.

When it was over, the one thing Gordon kept saying over and over again was that he and his team accomplished everything they set out to do in 2007 except for one thing – winning the championship.

Surely that’s the only way to sum up what happened to the New England Patriots in the NFL season that concluded with Sunday’s Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants.

The Patriots set regular-season records for the most points scored. Quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Randy Moss set touchdown records. And, speaking of records, the Patriots’ record was unblemished at 16-0, an historic accomplishment that should never be regarded as anything other than remarkable.

But, with the championship on the line, another team outperformed them.

Let’s be clear. Even though the “news” is that New England’s quest for perfection was denied, the story was the New York Giants played a tremendous game when it mattered most. Give credit to the Patriots for all they accomplished, but the Giants won this one. They played tremendously and they are deserving champions.

They’re deserving because they won under the sport’s playoff system. Years ago, the NFL decided that excitement generated by postseason play was worthwhile and wanted more of that. They broadened the playoffs by adding wild-card teams, teams that qualified for the postseason without winning their division championships.

That brought more teams into the championship picture, and it was done to bring more attention, more revenue, more excitement and more television viewership to the league and the game it has stewardship over.

Which, of course, are precisely and exactly the same reasons NASCAR started the Chase for the Cup format for the 2004 season.

If the Patriots had completed a perfect 19-0 season by winning the Super Bowl, the comparisons to Johnson’s NASCAR team could have been extended.

One team is led by a “coach” or “crew chief" who is supremely confident – to the point that if you don’t like his team you might consider him smug. That confidence is so complete, in fact, there are times when that leader tends to substitute his opinions about what’s fair and just for what the rulebook actually says is fair and just.

The other team, of course, is led by Bill Belichick.


Anonymous said...

Here in lies the problem with playoffs/chase. Can anyone in their right mind argue that New England wasn't the best team in the 2007 football season? But their accomplishments will go down as a foot note because the Giants won the Super Bowl.

The Giants weren't the best team this season. New York wasn't even the best in their division. They were the best team this January.

Jimmie Johnson was the best in the 2007 season. He was the best over the last 10 races. Jeff Gordon was the best in 2007, but Johson was crowned champion. What's the point of even having a regular season/first 26?

As you point out, playoffs/chase create excitement, but I'd rather see the best team crowned for what it's achieved than something contrived for the sake of TV ratings or a good story.

Anonymous said...

Even though Knaus won his championship and Belichick lost his, they have the same interpretation of the rule books.

Unknown said...

Are you the ONLY person on the planet who didn't know Belichick was fined HEAVILY for - blatant, outright, "CHEATING " ?

Anonymous said...

The "point" of having a regular season is to give ample time for one or two teams to show they're the best.

The Chase/Playoffs is their opportunity to prove it.

Yeah, Gordon/The Patriots won the regular season handily, but if they truly were the BEST team, they would have taken all the way. They didn't. Period. Those are the rules. Some teams step up under the pressure, some teams stumble.

Monkeesfan said...

The NFL-NASCAR analogy fails because racing is not the team sport football is - racing is one versus 42.

That's why playoff formats don't work in racing - they try to make racing something it isn't. They don't create excitement, they create contrivance.

Monkeesfan said...

rschwalbe - Belichick didn't cheat.

Anonymous said...

Those who write paychecks for the Cup teams will certainly dispute that NASCAR is not a team sport.

Monkeesfan said...

anonymous - is it one team versus another team on the track, or one driver versus 42 other drivers?

Anonymous said...

Didn't they hand out Championship Banners for the Divisions?
And then Championship Banners for NFC & AFC?
And finally a Trophy and Championship for winning the Super Bowl?
At the end of the regular NFL season..if your record was not good went home till next year?
But I do see your point of "how" underdogs..can "make it" into the "finals" of the "chase".

Anonymous said...

Monkeesfan said...

rschwalbe - Belichick didn't cheat.

You've got to be kidding, Monkeesfan. There is a stated rule that you can't videotape an opponent to steal his signs. The Patriots did exactly that. Thus, Belichick cheated.

Anonymous said...

Belichick and Knaus - 2 peas in a pod!!

Anonymous said...

It is the cumlitive efforts of each team against each other. No doubt the driver plays the role of QB and the crew chief as coach, but just like Tom Brady needs an offensive line, trainers, scouts, equipment managers etc.....Johnson needs over the wall pit crew members, chassis builders, engine specialists etc. Any weak links will spell failure.

Monkeesfan said...

anonymous #10, the rule does not specifically ban archival videotaping and is confusing in any event - you are allowed to videotape from the endzones, from grandstand towers, and the grandstands, but not the sidelines?

Belichick never cheated. This all came about because Roger Goodell was under fire from other teams and he felt he had to hand out hard penalties; if you listened to his pre-Superbowl speech he was almost apologizing for doing that.

Marc - Belichick and Chad Kanus aren't quite in the same area.

anonymous #12, you can make that statement about football teams as well; they have "pit crews" - i.e. sideline personnel. It doesn't change that in the competition arena racing is one versus 42 and thus not a team sport like football.

Anonymous said...

Belichick didnt cheat????? Neither did Chad or Steve huh?>>>

Diane mc ,love the comment

Monkeesfan said...

Kurt2, there is a difference between altering racecar specifications and videotaping opposing coaches.

Anonymous said...

monkeesfan - there are different levels of cheating - BUT cheating is cheating.

Monkeesfan said...

Mac, with some frequency what is labeled "cheating" is not. If the rule in question is confusing or downright questionable, then one can have a legitimate discussion about whether it was violated or even should be there.

Anonymous said...

Do you really believe Belichick and the Pats didn't know that they were doing wrong?

Anonymous said...

Couple of points:

1. Every NFL team doesn't play every other NFL team every weekend.

2. The Chase was created to help TV ratings & add excitement. Has it worked?

Anonymous said...

monkeesfan - they just reported on ESPN TV that the NFL may suspend Belichick for 1 year. The Pat's spying is now being reported as widespread and is being seriously investigated. I hate for this to be true because a wonderful season could be tainted forever.

Monkeesfan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Monkeesfan said...

Mac, the first post didn't come out right - let me try again.

The Patriots read a confusing rule and found a loophole; what they did never warranted the punishment they got or anything close to it.

As for the story that Belichick faces a one-year suspension, that's based on the Matt Walsh story. ESPN and the NY Times both talked to Walsh and he requested indemnity from both of them and they refused - perhaps because they realized this guy is shady and of dubious believeability.

As shown here, Matt Walsh has credibility issues. And the notion that he or anyone else would videotape the Rams walkthrough and not get asked for his credentials by NFL security, Rams team security, or stadium security, and then ride out on the media bus, lacks any believeability.

Finally, the national media has developed a deranged hatred of Belichick to where they were openly cheering after the Superbowl. This is not the avenue for accurate reporting.

The Patriots denied it, the NFL denied it, and he Rams never claimed the Patriots ever taped their walkthroughs or practices. All you have is a shady ex-employee who had long claimed he quit the team but in fact was fired. Belichick will not get suspended because this story is bunk.

Anonymous said...

monkeesfan - following is a quote from the NFL:

"NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday at the Pro Bowl that the NFL is willing to give former Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh legal indemnification for any information and materials he would provide to the league regarding his work with the Patriots.
Goodell also said Wednesday he's willing to pursue any believable information in the Spygate case, but he simply doesn't know if any exists."

Nothing may come of this but it's a good possibility it will be investigated. I hope it's not true. But if it is, I want the NFL to take action.

Now I'm ready for some racing!

Anonymous said...

"The Patriots read a confusing rule and found a loophole; what they did never warranted the punishment they got or anything close to it"

Yeah thats the same thing Chad, Steve and Eury Jr claimed as well.. I guess we need remeidal reading courses?

Anonymous said...

Ok, I'm back from my state of mourning about the Patriots...

This, it seems, is what crew chiefs have been calling the 'gray area' of the rule book. Is/was it cheating? I suppose it depends on the sideline you are standing on. If you are Monkeesfan, it’s not cheating. Of course if it were the Jets doing the same thing, who knows... If you are a fan of a Rousch driver, then what Chad et al did was cheating, if you are a HMS fan, then it was the 'gray area'.

One thing nobody can argue though is this: Chad Knaus and Bill Belichick are the best at what they do, and they didn’t get there by following the 'spirit' of the rules. They are so far ahead of their counterparts for their ability to look at their respective sport from every angle which gives them a leg up. These guys will always generate controversy, but you can bet they will also always be in the hunt for a championship. Hate them as much as you want, but if you had to be honest with yourself, you would love them if they were 'your' crew chief/coach.

Did they cheat? Well, the sanctioning bodies of their respective sports said they did and dished out pretty severe punishments, so regardless of what your opinion happens to be, they cheated. History will reflect that, be it fair or unfair.

The irony of it all is that neither team had to cheat, and their punishments in no way hampered their ability to continue to win.

What amazes me the most is that the Patriots lost not only because they were out played, but because they were also out coached. Congratulations to the Giants... in a best of 7, they would have been screwed; but for a 4 hour time period, they were the best team in football.

I will (for now) refrain from mocking Monkeesfan on his opinions that racing is not a team sport; I do have enough of a heart to realize that he (like me) is still in a state of mourning.

Now let’s get on to some racing!

Monkeesfan said...

Mac, I saw that quote - I also saw Goodell's quote that they have found no evidence that the Patriots videotaped Rams walkthrough and in fact have found evidence to the contrary. In addition, radio host/author Michael Holley, quoting several sources, said the same thing a day before Goodell's quote. Finally, there was the item, reported in the NY Times during SB week that the NFL discovered someone with a telescope monitoring Patriots pregame practices during SB 36 week. Combine this with the shadiness of Matt Walsh and the inherent implausibility that anyone could videotape a team walkthrough without being spotted by NFL, Rams team, or stadium security, and Matt Walsh's "case" shriveles away.

kurt2, what Knaus and company did was not finding loopholes - a better analogy is Roger Penske's "stock block" Mercedes race engines at Indianapolis in 1994.

And yes, I'm ready for racing right now.

Anonymous said...

nh_nascarfan - No way would I take Belichick over Tony Dungy. Integrity means more to me than the win at all costs attitude.

monkeesfan - I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens with Belichick. If the spying is found to be true, I will feel bad for the NE players because, as I said before, their great season will be tainted.

Anonymous said...

MAC said... 'nh_nascarfan - No way would I take Belichick over Tony Dungy. Integrity means more to me than the win at all costs attitude.'

Kudos to you then... but comparing Tony Dungy and Bill Belichick is easy, as they are both fantastic coaches, and if you had the opportunity for either, the integrity issue (if there is one) may be a deciding factor. But what if the choice was Belichick versus Cam Cameron? And to further up the ante, you own a franchise and are faced with more losses, more empty seats, declining TV ratings and sponsorship losses, all due to poor on field performance. Look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself again if you wouldn’t take Bill Belichick. And if you were a struggling, underachieving NASCAR team, you wouldn’t jump all over Chad Knaus as well? Something tells me that just a guy like Knaus on the Morgan-Mclure pit box would have made the difference in finding sponsorship this year.

Anonymous said...

nh_nascarfan - darn I hate to admit it, but you make a good point. Under the circumstances you mention, I probably would have to pick Belichick. But I don't think I would pick Knaus under any circumstances.

Monkeesfan said...

With NASCAR and NFL comparisons being made, an interesting comparison of number of champion teams over a period -

NUMBER OF DIFFERENT SUPERBOWL WINNERS 1996-2007 SEASONS - Nine (Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos x2, St. Louis Rams, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots x3, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, NY Giants)

NUMBER OF DIFFERENT WINSTON CUP CHAMPION TEAMS 1996-2007 - Four (Hendrick Motorsports x6, Robert Yates Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing x3, Roush Performance x2)

Monkeesfan said...

mac, the only thing that will be tainted is Matt Walsh and the Hatriot fans, because the Patriots did not cheat.

BTW, Tony Dungy is not the font of integrity you think he is. And the fact remains he is far more timid a coach in crunch time than Belichick.

Monkeesfan said...

BTW, check this analysis out.

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