Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On Colts, Saints and the Impossibility of Perfection

In 1972, the average NFL salary was $35,000. Adjusted for inflation, that's approximately $180,000, which isn't an unhealthy hunk of change ... unless you compare to it 2009's average NFL salary, which is exactly ten times that amount, and unless you compare it to 2009's league minimum, which is $295,000. Now, I'm not going to launch into the tired old argument that money changes everything (or that girls just wanna have fun, or that it is safe to dream while driving), but ... money changes everything.

Don't get me wrong. The influence is not necessarily direct. Years ago, when I interviewed Larry Csonka at a farmhouse in rural Ohio, in the shadow of a giant taxidermied deer, he tried to convince me that the '72 Dolphins went undefeated because they possessed more self-discipline than any team in NFL history; I've interviewed other NFL legends who insist they were more driven because they sold insurance in the offseason. I don't believe this to be true. I'm sure Peyton Manning and Drew Brees regiment their existences at least as seriously as Earl Morrall ever did. I'm guessing that Wes Welker and Randy Moss might live more disciplined (and less blatantly drunken) existences than Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick ever did. But the reason NFL salaries have skyrocketed in the thirty-seven years is not because the players abandoned self-discipline; in fact, it has nothing to do with the players themselves. The reason salaries are so high is because there is now more attention paid to the game than ever before. TV, radio, the internet...every time I turn on my television, Trey Wingo and Ron Jaworski are discussing the Eagles' zone blitz.

And that's the reason it may simply be impossible to go undefeated in the modern NFL. There's too much attention being paid to everything; as soon as a team approaches perfection, it becomes an omnipresent topic of discussion. And as hard as they try--as much as they may insist that they are paying attention to nothing except themselves--no team can exist in a vacuum. Peyton Manning is not the Buddha. This is the moral of the 2007 Patriots; in an era of media overkill, perfection is impossible. At this point in our existence, it is almost impossible to even conceive perfection. Axl Rose spent a decade, and didn't come close. James Cameron spent $400 million, and gave us an aquamarine Sigourney Weaver. And the 2007 Patriots went eighteen games and then, weighed down by outside expectations, lost control of the narrative at the worst possible moment. If perfection can never be achieved, why bother trying? Wouldn't it be better to simply ease the burden by acknowledging the inherent creative flaws of any collaborative endeavor? Wouldn't it be better simply to show yourself as imperfect?

In my book*, I write about the 1985 Bears, who lost their only game of the season in Miami; the next day, they filmed a video assuring America that they would win the Super Bowl. Losing set them free. And if I were the Colts, or the Saints, each careening toward the playoffs with an unblemished record, I would consider doing the same, by any means necessary. In this era, imperfection may be the only route to perfection.

*Available for pre-order!

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