Winning is still everything in the NFL   

Updated: September 20, 2007, 4:16 PM ET

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What follows is not meant to be a defense of Bill Belichick. A little bit of an explanation, maybe, or a rumination seeking contextual relevance, but not a defense.

First, look at the attention received by the NFL. Look at the furrowed-brow importance placed on every game -- countless hours of television analysis, radio analysis, newspaper and Internet analysis. Every tiny, insignificant detail of every insignificant practice is infused with false importance.

It's an escape, of course, a harmless diversion. But damn, are we ever serious about it.

And now, into this world toss a guy whose single-minded focus and weird-guy intensity is universally applauded as the benchmark for those who lead these overanalyzed men into these overanalyzed play battles. And then, tell me, are you going to be surprised when this man becomes completely overcome with self-importance?

Are you going to stare in openmouthed shock when this man -- this man whose entire life is devoted to obtaining the slightest competitive advantage -- does something that strays outside the margins?

The system created Belichick. The way we view and treat the sport demands the kind of intensity and focus Belichick shows. Every fan wants his coach to be the same way, and every owner searches for the guy who can obliterate everything else in his life to pursue the goal of strategic supremacy.

To expect anything more from these guys is ridiculous. Sportsmanship and adherence to the rules aren't valued. It's like expecting a tennis prodigy to stand victorious at center court in Wimbledon and be witty and engaging and philanthropic and vivacious even though he's been groomed to do one thing -- and one thing only -- since he was old enough to hold a racket.

Belichick knows the rules: Winning supersedes everything, and it hides whatever personality issues might help coaches along the way. It explains them, even.

So Belichick can be a boor to everyone he meets, with the probable exception of his bosses, and he can mutter "We're focused on this week's game" 14 more times this season in answer to whatever question he's asked.

Doesn't matter. The cheating issue will fade. He'll willfully ignore it and everybody will get tired of asking about it and his team will continue to win. Within a few weeks, the whole VideoGate issue will be working to his advantage. See, enough people will say, he doesn't need to do that stuff to win.

And so he'll go back to his storehouse of questionable videos, searching for an edge. Nothing ever changes.

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The question asked of the Blazers -- did they know about Greg Oden's injury before they drafted him? -- raises another question: What would they gain by drafting a guy they knew might be facing an injury that could cost him an entire season?

OK, fine, but did you ever consider that God took the Lions, gave the points and didn't feel comfortable with J.T. O'Sullivan?: Lions quarterback Jon Kitna said he felt "the hand of God" after the effects of a first-half concussion miraculously disappeared in the second half.

At this point, you start looking for a cartoon black cloud: The Raiders.

From watching him overthrow his cutoff man in an attempt to throw runners out at the plate, there's only one possible conclusion: Johnny Damon is the only guy who doesn't understand how terrible his arm really is.

If you look at it objectively, if you lose three games by a combined score of 21-4 and then win six by a combined score of 12-6, you're still playing .667 ball: If the Diamondbacks win the National League West, then someday and somewhere, someone is going to answer the only pertinent question -- how the hell did that happen?

In the offseason, he teaches linguistics at NYU: Isiah Thomas, in a videotaped deposition played Monday at the trial for the $10 million sexual-harassment suit against him, said he thinks it's out of line for a white man to call a black woman "bitch," but thinks it's OK for a black man to do the same.

The only sure thing about that trial: Nobody's getting out with any dignity intact.

And somewhere Barry Bonds is thinking, "If only I'd been a linebacker": Shawne Merriman, star of a nationwide Nike commercial.

Here's a reality show I'd pay to watch: The Bears' Devin Hester (Chicago) and the Bears' DeSean Jackson (California), each with a football, and 22 guys trying to tackle one or both of them.

Weirdest thing about the current O.J. deal?: Dude's 60 years old, and he's still taking matters into his own hands (allegedly).

And finally, a few months after I was married I spent $25 on a life-size cardboard stand-up of Joe Paterno to democratize the debate over what constitutes living-room furniture: Fashion designer Mark Ecko wrote on his Web site that he spent more than $750,000 on Barry Bonds' 756th home run ball "to democratize the debate over what to do with it."

Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Sound off to Tim here.


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