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Modes of Loyalty

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Ah, the Patriots:

So close to the Super Bowl, yet so far.

Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood has been cut by the Patriots less than 24 hours before the big game — bad news for him, of course, but a move that increases the likelihood Chad Ochocinco will be active against the Giants on Sunday.

Which makes me think of this:

Stengel [didn’t make an emotional commitment to his players.] With Stengel, you were only as good as your last start. And that was a large part of why he was able to stay on top, year after year, in a way few other managers ever have. It’s not that he wasn’t “loyal” to his players, but his idea of loyalty wasn’t “Joe helped me win the pennant last year, so I owe it to him to let him work through his problems.” It was “these boys are trying to win. I owe it to them to do everything possible to help them win.”

–Bill James, The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers (170)

I suspect the conclusion many people will draw from the first story is “yikes, is Bellichick ever an asshole.” Which isn’t exactly wrong. But on this, I’m on the Bellichick/Stengel side. A coach’s job is to be loyal to the team and the team’s fans by doing what they feel is necessary to win, not to express loyalty to individual players per se. It’s not an accident that a coach willing to cut a guy the week before a Super Bowl already has five rings.

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  • ploeg

    The coin has two sides. How loyal will fans be to Belichick if he doesn’t put the strongest possible team on the field?

    Granting that this move could easily backfire on Belichick if Ochocinco drops key passes during the game, Belichick is paid to make precisely these sorts of decisions.

    • mark f

      Underwood only played in 5 games and caught 3 passes for 30 yards. Ochocinco’s 2011 looks like vintage Marvin Harrison* in comparison to that. The only reason anyone even remembers that Underwood was on the team is his House Party-style flattop.

      *I been who I am!

      • Right. If the Pats lose and Ochocinco does nothing, the reaction will be “why didn’t the Pats sign a real deep threat,” not “why did the Pats bench a guy who can’t get past Matthew Slater on the depth chart?”

        • ploeg

          That’s a fair point. It would seem that the question “why didn’t the Pats sign a real deep threat” might come up even if Belichick didn’t bench Underwood.

  • The Shaggy DA

    Why would this be a surprise to anyone familiar with Bill Bellichick? I was surprised when he got rid of Lawyer Milloy. I was less surprised when he did it to Ty Law. After that, it was MO.
    No player is bigger than the machine, not even the kicker that was a big part of winning three Super Bowls.

  • Jim Lynch

    Bill Walsh typically counseled players to retire earlier than they might have otherwise, and a surprising number took his advice. But he was cut from the same cloth as Belichik-Stengel in managing personnel. It was no fluke that the Niners had Steve Young in the wings, for example, even while Joe Montana was still in his prime. And when it was [arguably] time for a change, the Niners cut him loose as though he was a 3rd string tackle with two bad knees.

  • Holden Pattern

    This is PRO-FESS-ION-AL Football. It’s a business which is mostly in the business of brand marketing — and successful professional sports teams are are the models that everyone should aspire to when it comes to brand marketing.

    You don’t see people wrapping up their lifelong identity in whether they like Coke or Pepsi, but they’ll identify themselves as Raiders fans or Bulls fans or whatever for their whole life, based on what? Nothing more than an accident that they grew up in a town or region that had an ever-shifting band of mercenaries that identified themselves with a particular set of trademarks. I mean, that’s impressive.

    Aside from that, Belichick is paid to win, and that’s what he sets out to do. This bizarre notion that any professional sports team should be “loyal” to any given employee any more than any other massive corporation is loyal to their employees is nuts, and stems from the same astonishing success in marketing pro teams as something more than a brand under which a set of mercenaries compete with other differently-branded sets of mercenaries. Everyone in that organization is paid to be there and to perform their function, period, just like everyone at Coca-Cola is paid for the same thing.

    • Walt

      But this is so universal that it doesn’t have much to do with the NFL. Europeans will identify with whatever third-division soccer team that they watched as little kids.

      • Holden Pattern

        Oh, absolutely — this is endemic to pro sports everywhere. We’re just talking about football today.

  • Fighting Words

    I’m sure that this happens all the time in the NFL – especially during the Super Bowl and the playoffs. The only reason this is an issue now and is getting any type of attention is that the NFL hype machine has been hyping Tiquan Underwood and his high-top fade/Patriots logo shaved into the back of his head for the past two weeks.

    And he was cut to make room for a defensive end, not to give Ochocinco more playing time.

    Still, I feel bad for the guy. I felt bad for Barry Zito when he got cut from the SF Giants 2010 World Series team. I’m just a big ol’ liberal softie.

  • Belichick lost the Cleveland fans and local sportswriters when he cut Bernie Kosar and they have never forgiven him for being right about that.

    • RhZ

      Damn straight. Still don’t.

      And he didn’t win for shit in CLE either. He cut Kosar and had no one to replace him with. Paul McDonald anyone??

  • Uh, guys, Underwood still gets paid for the SB, even if he’s not playing.

    And he wasn’t dropped for Chad ne Johnson, he was dropped for a DT. Have to suspect Gronowski being healthy had more to do with this than anything else.

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