Documentaries, replays and reliving great moments from the past are really all we have in the professional sports world these days.
Sure, ESPN’s 10-part “The Last Dance” chronicling Michael Jordan’s 1998 Bulls is solid entertainment that would be worth a watch at any time, but in this coronavirus-controlled, sports-free world it’s must-see TV and social media fuel.
Last Sunday night many New England sports fans probably spent three hours, as I did, watching documentaries, between the NHL Network’s “The 1970 Bruins: Big, Bad & Bobby” as well as “The Last Dance.”
It was three hours detailing portions of the careers of arguably the greatest basketball player of all time in Jordan and the greatest hockey player to ever lace up skates in Bruins legend Bobby Orr.
If there is one common theme from those two worthwhile documentaries, as well as some recent Red Sox games aired on NESN, it’s this – in one specific way sports were better 15 years ago, 20 years ago and 50 years ago.
Whether it was Orr and the Bruins taking on the Canadians, Jordan willing his Bulls past the Pistons or Jason Varitek getting in the hate-worthy face of Yankees mercenary Alex Rodriquez, the pursuit of titles used to resonate as real-world hate between the competitors.
Those late 60s and early 70s Bruins hated and were hated.
Same for the Pistons and the Celtics.
And for a time the Red Sox and Yankees represented the best rivalry in sports on and off the field.
Back then, it seemed the athletes and coaches competing cared more than the passionate fans, or at least as much.
Today, the same may not be true.
Now it’s a world of NBA stars using timeouts to talk of future free agent alliances on superteams.
MLB is similar, guys sharing agents and trainers creating bonds outside their own clubhouse that sometimes trump ties to teammates they go to battle with 162-plus times a year.
Clearly money, marketing, free-agent freedom and other factors have created a world where championships and the nightly drive to beat the opponent aren’t what they once were. I get it. But I don’t have to like it. Because I don’t.
Jordan would do anything, as we’ve seen in “The Last Dance,” to win. And didn’t really have any patience for those who didn’t share his drive and passion.
Maybe it’s cabin fever combined with coronavirus depression, but I find myself wanting sports to return … please, God, tell me they’re going to return sometime soon? … not as they’ve been of late, but the way they were 10, 20 or 50 years ago. More passion. More hate for opponents and opposing teams.
More drive to win at all costs.
Bring back the passion of sports more than the business of sports.
Bring back the hate.
Oh, and get off my lawn!
It was certainly notable last week that Tom Brady has the second-most popular jersey purchased by Patriots fans this offseason, trailing only second-round draft pick Kyle Dugger.
While some fan bases burn jerseys when their superstar player leaves town via free agency, New England fans are apparently still using cash in a plummeting economy to snatch up those No. 12s.
Certainly there is no shame in wanting to have the jersey of the G.O.A.T., even if he turned his back on the Patriots and Patriot Nation. He brought so much success and fun to Foxborough, fans are right to want to memorialize that in their attire.
But, there might be another factor at play with the interesting stats of Patriots jersey sales. The reality is that there aren’t a lot of prime options of star players or rising young talents to warrant ploppiong down $75 or more on a new jersey.
Julian Edelman? If you want it, you probably already have the stud slot receiver’s shirt.
Reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore? Maybe, but he’s probably already had his best season in New England, wasn’t a career Patriot and is set to hit 30 this summer and isn’t exactly the most sexy of stars with his quiet personality.
Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty are options, but they’re very much on the back nine of their impressive careers and probably as likely to wow with their leadership moving forward as they are their playmaking.
Recent first-round picks who should be jersey purchase options such as running back Sony Michel and wide receiver N’Keal Harry have as many questions or more about their future success at this point as they have potential.
So what’s a young, hip Patriots fan to do?
Based on the numbers, it’s either take a shot on a developmental safety out of Division II Lenoir-Rhyne or go retro and old-school with Brady.
Not your average Joe
Franchise tagged left guard Joe Thuney currently has the second-highest cap number on the Patriots for 2020, just behind Stephon Gilmore and sadly, barely ahead of the dead money tied to Tom Brady’s past payments.
Thuney is on the books for a one-year, $14.781 million deal that’s fully guaranteed.
That’s a massive amount of money for the guard, especially for a New England team that has cap space that currently is about the same as the cost of a starter home in the greater Boston area.
Many have proclaimed that something MUST be done with Thuney’s contract situation. He NEEDS to either be traded to free up the total sum of the deal on the cap or sign an extension to give the Patriots significant cap relief on a longer-term deal.
While both may be options as part of the team’s master plan, what exactly would New England do with if it suddenly created $15 million in cap room?
Unless some Hall of Fame talent – think Antonio Brown late last summer – suddenly comes available, the Thuney created cap space would be little more than an oversized slush fund of emergency finances.
Sure the team must find a bit more cap room to sign second-round pick Kyle Dugger and to maneuver through the various expenses of a regular season, but that can be created through lesser accounting measures.
Might the Patriots WANT to do something with Thuney’s contract with an eye on the future? Sure.
But unless New England is going to just go hand out starting money to a guy like Cam Newton, it doesn’t NEED to do anything with Thuney, regardless of what many of us in the outside world think of having a combined salary cap figure for its two guards – Shaq Mason’s cap number for 2020 is just under $9 million -- of nearly $24 million.
Something Fisch-y with the Patriots offense
Certainly the Patriots offense will have a new look in 2020 with someone other than Tom Brady under center.
The New England attack will no longer have the luxury of TB12’s experience, decision making and quick throws guiding weekly game plans.
There has been plenty of speculation this offseason about how Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels might adjust things both in terms of scheme and personnel moving forward.
But a wild card in the evolution of the Patriots’ offense in 2020 might just be presumed quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch.
Fisch brings an interesting, diverse resume with him to his new role in Foxborough. Most recently he spent two years in Sean McVay’s system with the Rams. Before that he had two stops in the college game at Michigan and UCLA. He’s seen and schemed a lot of offensive football in both the college and professional ranks over the last decade.
Fisch could certainly bring new ideas to the McDaniels-coached scheme that basically dates back to Charlie Weis and the beginning of the dynasty in New England, even if it has been tweaked over the years of Brady’s guidance.
Remember, second-year former fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham was once one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks to come out of high school. He certainly has the ability to run college-type offenses with more RPO or read-option looks. It wouldn’t be crazy to put his youthful legs to use in New England.
Much of the football world is talking about WHO will be running the Patriots offense in 2020 in the first year post-Brady, but it might be more interesting HOW the New England offense will be run this fall.
And Fisch could be a behind-the-scenes contributor to whatever is cooked up in the offensive offices at Gillette Stadium.
MLB and its tone-deaf players at a major crossroads
Between MLBPA leader Tony Clarke and Rays ace pitcher Blake Snell, baseball players have come off sounding and looking really bad as Major League Baseball begins to try to find a way to return to the field, possibly by 4th of July weekend.
Both the union head and Tampa star stated that players would not agree to lesser compensation if baseball games return without fans in the stands, which seems almost a certainty at this point.
Clark called what he perceives as a second pay reduction over a previous agreement to prorate salaries based on games played as a potential salary cap and “non-starter.”
Snell said returning to play at a reduced salary and risking his health in regards to coronavirus is “not worth it.”
Both reactions are incredibly tone deaf, unbelievably lacking in PR sense in times when so much of the country is struggling and, simply, elitist.
Clark and Snell can both essentially threaten for players to refuse to play because they know the players, especially stars like Snell, have the money and stability to do so. It’s a luxury that most of the world around them, most of their fans, simply don’t have.
In real world of forced pay reduction, furloughs and layoffs, MLB – yes, billionaire owners negotiating with millionaire players – from afar certainly seems to be trying to hammer out a fair split of revenues to bring baseball back to the masses, even if just on TV and radio.
Baseball has been struggling with its popularity and aging fan base for years. It has a chance to possibly be the first major sport to come out the other side of the coronavirus lockdown we’re in and capitalize on a sports world that’s starved for fresh grilled meat of competition.
Would anything be more fitting than baseball returning on 4th of July weekend, another step toward post-coronavirus hope that so many of us need? It could be boost to the country, a boost to baseball’s popularity and a boost to the game’s long-term financial stability, which whether the current spoiled players want to admit it or not, is indeed in question.
But, if Clark and Snell represent the bulk of the players, then baseball’s return could be DOA – Dead on arrival.
And if that’s the case, then baseball as we know it, might just be dead, too.
While Gordon Gekko may have told us all in “Wall Street” that greed is good, in this case greed looks really, really bad.