Analyzing How the Seattle Seahawks Cheat
And very successfully too! Of course, they are not the only NFL team that violates the rules – they all do, with the tacit endorsement of the league. At the end of the day it comes down to money, but we’ll leave that for later.
There has been a lot of hoo-hah the past week after the coach of the San Francisco 49er’s ran his mouth to the media, repeatedly making the point that Seattle’s defensive backs hold eligible receivers on almost every play, and are penalized nowhere nearly enough for it by the referees.
The fact that he is correct was lost on most, and I don’t really think he cared. What he did was focus media eyes on the Seattle defensive backs, and to force the referee crew to pay attention. If you watched the game, it was apparent early on that Seattle’s pass defense is less “man to man” and more “extended tackle,” Sure enough, the referees, their attention focused on this by his comments, threw a lot of flags, and the enraged Seattle fans and some players chose to blame the San Francisco coach for the loss.
But… the San Francisco players also did a lot of holding. In fact, if you watch the game tapes of virtually any NFL game without allowing your bias for your favorites to be in play you will see that many penalties are being committed by players on both sides of the ball on virtually every play. The teams are now of such parity, by league design, that teams must go for any possible edge they can find. There are 22 players on the field. How many penalties is an individual referee going to see clearly in the melee of 22 oversized athletes moving at great speed?
I imagine the Seahawk’s man defense is built on this concept. On any given play, there are three to five pass receivers. A penalty flag is going to be thrown only if a player is seen to be holding one of those receivers. If all of them are being held, the play is a pass play only 50% of the time. They play a zone defense some of the time as well, where holding is less of a tool. If the play is a pass, it will be completed only 50% of the time, so the odds of being caught for holding a particular player on a particular play are slim. The referees might see holding of a player not directly involved in the play, but the odds favor the sinner.
Things are even drearier in line play. Offensive and defensive players are holding all the time, and much worse, confident that their sins will not be seen. Have you noticed that when linemen are called for a penalty they very rarely look upset or even mildly surprised? It’s part of the day’s work.
What is the philosophy behind having referees? When I played (ducking and weaving through the dinosaurs) I think the referees were there primarily to catch mistakes that might give an advantage. You were offside, but not intentionally. Players knew the rules and played by them. I never committed a foul deliberately, and I don’t think most others did. For the most part. I can remember being appalled when a senior who was always going on about what a “Christian” he was lectured the younger players on how to grab a tuft of grass and dirt and throw it into the opponent’s face mask when the ball was snapped. But we were playing a game.
The NFL, like all major pro sports, is no longer a game. It is a business. Imagine a football game where fans of the opposing team are allowed to stand in your huddle and scream obscenities to distract your team from focusing on, or even hearing, the play called. And yet we now have stadiums designed with that in mind. The Seahawks “12th man” promotion, which is about the most clever marketing device I have ever seen (invented at Texas A&M but MARKETED by the Seahawks) has become quite literal. By designing a stadium where fan noise in channeled toward the field, and by educating the “12th man” fans on when to make a lot of noise, the Seahawks have made their fans a 12th man literally. The fans have an enormous impact on the game, as shown on the Monday Night game a few weeks ago. Delay of game penalties on teams that cannot communicate, blown offensive plays, and on and on… the fans are literally in the game and affecting its outcome.
Long term – this cannot be good, The Guinness Book of Records for loudest crowd noise has been broken several times recently, twice in Seattle. When stadiums are designed to enhance noise and the fans ability to disrupt play becomes an asset you move further and further away from the game of football and more and more to a Thunder Dome display of spectacular things where the only rule is to never get behind in breaking all the rules. The trouble with marketing the spectacular is that you have to continually top yourself. Eventually we may see “snuff football” where opposing players are literally killed – to roars of approval. That sounds far fetched, until you look at the current head in the sand approach to the debilitating effects of more and more concussions on the players due to larger and larger athletes colliding at greater and greater speeds.
Could this be fixed? Sure, and quite easily. But first you would have to figure out – who wants to have it fixed? Every time the Seahawk fans (or any other group of fans) disrupt a game, the sale of licensed NFL jerseys goes up. The players are currently trading their physical well-being and quality of life over time assets for astounding sums of money. The only people making more money for less risk are the owners and league officials. Why would they want change?
If you follow car racing you can trace a similar arc with NASCAR “stock” car racing. In the beginning, about six decades ago, you had young men careening around an oval carved out of a pasture in hopped-up 1940’s cars that might roll over driven solo, not to mention in packs of 5 to 20. As the years passed, the cars got much faster, left any concept of “stock” in the museums, and drew larger and larger crowds. All this time “cheating” was rife, and sort of celebrated. When NASCAR became big time and the money took over, the cheating was chased with authority and everything became very sophisticated. The cars were no longer referred to by brand, as underneath the bodies they were all essentially the same, but were referred to by their sponsoring company. “The Tide car is in the pits, while the Skoal Bandit takes the lead…” and so forth. Eventually, the prices got out of control and the cars became too much alike. We have passed the crest of popularity for NASCAR. They are still hauling in farm wagons of cash, but the revenue stream is shrinking and they know it. A campaign to make the racing more exciting and the vehicles more representative of car brands is under way.
If someone wanted to “fix” football, here are a couple of easy ideas.
Fan noise: a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty any time a sound meter picks up a decibel level deemed harmful to the game, and to hearing. 110 should do.
Player involvement: make the players in the game stay in the game more. Many of today’s players, particularly the linemen, can really only stay in the game a few plays at a time. Their closest parallel in sports in the sumo wrestler, Impressive spectacle, but you would not expect a sumo wrestler, on an NFL lineman, to run a 100 yard sprint. Or 15 plays in a row. Fortunately for them, the game now features “packages” on offense and defense, so most players are not in the game all that much. Yes, the QB will be there for all of the offensive plays, as well the half back and maybe the fullback, although they are often shuttled in an out as well.
An NFL game has 60 minutes of clock time and takes four hours to complete. Nobody plays both offense and defense, so you are on the field, at most, for two hours. Of those two hours, 75% of the time a play is not in motion, so your considerable athletic talent is used for less than 20 minutes. This creates monster human beings or amazing height, weight, and power – but little stamina.
To bring more of a game back into play, install a rule that when one team has the ball, both teams are limited to a total of 10 substitutions for the entire time of possession. Imagine the strategy now! Do you leave your defensive linemen in the game for 12 plays in a row while you change backfield personnel depending on down and distance? You can only make 10 substitutions and you do not know for how many plays. OK, I’ll offer free subbing for a punter or field goal kicker.
Imagine the horror. And yet not all that long ago it was common for the starting team to play both offense and defense for the entire game. That required people who could maintain high metabolic rates over time – which to me made them better athletes and the game better.
But again, is it still a game? If it is a business, how much money are fans willing to invest for the emotional lift of seeing “our” team succeed?
Is cheating really cheating if it helps our team? Of course it is. Do we care? The evidence suggests not.
David Preston Copyright 2013