Culture of Hoops

Sonny Says … The New England Patriots Aren’t Going Anywhere


Sonny – “Hold on a second, you didn’t even mention Monday Night Raw when you answered the question last month about the five pieces of memorabilia you’d want from TV shows you’ve watched. You’ve spent more time watching Raw than any of those other shows and you love professional wrestling even though you’re not 14 years old anymore. How did you manage to completely overlook the longest running weekly episodic television show in U.S. history? How!?”  

I don’t know what to say. I committed a horrible misstep a few weeks ago and I felt obligated to amend it today. Shit, I mentioned Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune but forgot about the only three-hour block of television I’ve been watching weekly since I was eight years old. Shameful. But since this was billed as a mailbag that would be focusing on the New England Patriots, I’ll keep this brief. Below are five videos, presented without further explanation, that highlight the five pieces of 21st century Monday Night Raw memorabilia I would be most eager to get my hands on.

The Microphone from CM Punk’s Pipe Bomb Promo  

A Milk Carton from Kurt Angle’s Milk-O-Mania Invasion 

 The List of Jericho 

The Spirits of St. Louis Jersey from John Cena’s Raw Debut 

Daniel Bryan’s Wyatt Family Attire 

Michelle – “Tony Soprano or Jack Pearson?” 

I’ll be honest, I’ve been staring at this question for a month now, and I’m still not sure how to interpret it. This was all I got. So since there is some open-endedness to this question — and because when I asked Michelle if there were any criteria I should follow, she replied, “I don’t care, whatever you want lol” — I’ll just run through a handful of possible Tony vs. Jack scenarios.

Who is better equipped to be the Don of a mafia family, Tony Soprano or Jack Pearson?

The only encounter we’ve seen between Jack and the mob was in the Season 1 This Is Us finale when he won a ton of money in a poker game and was subsequently beaten up and robbed by those very same mobsters who were clearly sore losers. Now I’m not saying this indicates that Jack wasn’t cut out to be a mobster, but it does suggest he has plenty of work to do. Tony always had much better control of his poker games.

Winner: Tony Soprano

Who is more Romantic, Tony Soprano or Jack Pearson? 

Jack Pearson has proven to be the master of both grand and subtle romantic gestures. He gives Rebecca a moon necklace that represents the song Rebecca was singing the night they met. Later in their marriage, Jack surprises Rebecca by taking her to their first apartment, which he had decorated in lights and candles, and at the end of the night he brings out their wedding vows so they can renew them in private. Tony Soprano once promised his wife Carmela that he made his Russian gumar get tested for HIV. I mean, this seems like a no brainer guys.

Winner: Jack Pearson

Who has displayed a better grasp of the concept of fidelity within their marriage, Tony Soprano or Jack Pearson? 

Irina, Gloria, Valentina, Svetlana, Sonya, various strippers from the Bada Bing … shall I go on?

Winner: Jack Pearson

Who killed more people, Tony Soprano or Jack Pearson? 

At first glance this would appear to be an easy category to give to Tony, but we’re still not sure what happened with Jack while he was serving in the military during the Vietnam War. We know for certain that Tony has killed at least eight people (Willie Overall, Fabian Petrulio, Chucky Signore, Matthew Bevilaqua, Pussy Bonpensiero, Ralph Cifaretto, Tony Blundetto, and Christopher Moltisanti). He’s ordered the murders of many others, and surely there were some people that he killed between 1982 (when he made his bones killing Willie Overall) and 1999 (when he killed Fabian Petrulio while on a college visit with his daughter Meadow, the first murder we saw Tony commit on the show). For now, we’ll say that Tony’s number is eight and wait to see if Jack’s Vietnam experience is covered in detail during season three of This Is Us. 

Winner (Or loser, depending on your view on killing people): To be determined.

Who is more likely to go to hell when they die, Tony Soprano or Jack Pearson? 

I mean, if Tony’s own wife is convinced he is going to go to hell, I don’t see why I should try to overrule her. It must be because of all the killing and cheating Tony does.

Winner (Or loser, depending on your view of hell): Tony Soprano

Who is better at doing push-ups with their son on their back, Tony Soprano or Jack Pearson? 

In Tony’s defense, it was rare that we saw him doing any exercise other than when he was having sex. So technically, we don’t know that he and AJ never did this:

Winner: Jack Pearson

Who had the rougher childhood, Tony Soprano or Jack Soprano? 

We’ve seen only bits and pieces from each of their childhoods, but neither of the two appeared to enjoy a fairy tale upbringing. We know that Jack’s father was an alcoholic who didn’t think twice about leaving his two sons in the car while he was getting drunk at a bar. We know that Tony Soprano watched his father cut a man’s finger off for not paying a debt, and he also had to deal with Livia Soprano as a mother and Janice Soprano as a sister. This is a tight, and very depressing race.

Winner: Too Close to Call.

Gabriella – “Do you think the NFL is rigged?”  

To put it simply, no. I’ve never once felt like the NFL was, or could be rigged. But it does bring another sport to mind…

One of the notable meta-storylines of the 2017-18 NBA season has been the increased tension between the players and the referees. It’s certainly not a big enough issue to derail the progress that the league has made over the last decade or so in terms of viewership and overall quality of play, but as someone who is watching about 50 hours of NBA a week, I feel like I’m qualified to say that it’s becoming a mild annoyance. Fortunately, I came up with a surefire solution to this problem about a week ago.

What we need to do is get all 500 or so NBA players and all of the coaches in the league together in a theater. Serve them food and drinks, let them mingle for a little while … it’s nice and loose. Then after they all get settled in, we’re going to dim the lights, ask everyone to silence their cell phones, and we’ll proceed to show a 90 minute video of the worst calls that refs made in the NCAA Tournament. Now I’m sure you’re thinking, “Does it really need to be an hour and a half long?” and the answer to that question is “Yes it does.” We could’ve stretched this thing to three hours if we included every time these bozo referees were huddled around a small screen to watch a replay for six minutes, only to blow the abundantly obvious call anyway.

This NCAA Tournament has been spectacular — a bunch of fantastic games, down to the wire finishes, Sister Jean, a motherfucking 16 over 1 upset — but there has been at least one dubious call in every single game I’ve watched that’s made me belly-laugh because it was so terrible. There is no consistency with the block/charge calls, and they still haven’t figured out how quickly they should call a jump ball. They’re overmatched when it comes to figuring out which team should have possession of the ball on replay reviews of out of bounds calls, and the amount of contact they’ll allow between defenders and ball-handlers changes on a possession to possession basis. So far I haven’t seen a game where the calls were suspiciously skewed in one teams favor, but the bar has been lowered soooooo much that it would be difficult to tell if any refs were fixing games even if a few one-sided games popped up on our radar every once in a while.

And think about this: In the regular season, most games aren’t even televised nationally. It would be really easy (or so I think) for an official, or even an entire officiating crew, who regularly refs games in, I don’t know, the Big Sky Conference, to make a few questionable calls that swing the game by a few points in the favor of one team. I’m not crazy, right? The stakes are low in comparison to games played in the ACC or Big East or Big Ten, and the body of work by their colleagues is so bad that nobody would make a huge fuss if the calls went one teams way every so often. Watch out for this in the next five years.

Mary – “Rumors are that Rob Gronkowski may retire due to his battered head and body.  What is your opinion? On that note, is this the end of the Patriots dynasty?” 

So I received this question a couple of days after Super Bowl LII, and there haven’t been any new developments on the Gronk retirement front since then. Other than recently crashing a St. Patrick’s Day Bachelor Party while dressed as a Leprechaun (you read that correctly), it’s been a quiet off-season thus far for the Patriots star Tight End. Because of the lack of any new information, and because it’s impossible to imagine what may be going on in Rob Gronkowski’s head, we can only speculate how this might play out.

Here’s what we know for sure: if (a big if) Rob Gronkowski does decide to hang up his cleats because of a very long list of injuries he’s dealt with throughout his career — two forearm fractures that required four surgeries, two herniated discs and a vertebral fracture that required three surgeries, two diagnosed concussions (and surely there have been plenty that were undiagnosed), a bruised sternum and perforated lung, a high ankle sprain that required arthroscopic surgery, and a torn MCL and ACL in his right knee — he won’t lack opportunities to remain a celebrity or stay in the spotlight or just stay busy. If Gronk were interested, he could have a very successful/lucrative post-playing career as an actor, an NFL studio analyst, a WWE superstar, or as a spokesman for any number of products who would love to have him starring in their commercials. Shit, with the money Gronk has made during his playing career, he could choose not to work and end up becoming an all-time legendary partyer. None of these options would put his well-being in as much jeopardy as an extended career as a football player would … though if Gronk could party hard for twelve months a year, his Liver would be in for one hell of a fight.

There isn’t much else Gronkowski needs to accomplish in his playing career. He’s made nearly $45 million on his NFL contracts alone, he owns two Super Bowl rings, and has been named an All-Pro Tight End five times. He’s been as important to the greatest football dynasty as any individual not named “Brady” or “Belichick” has, and he’s by far the most likable New England Patriot of the last fifteen years (I don’t at all understand the Brady hate, but Gronk is almost universally appreciated). He’s one of the five best Tight Ends in NFL history, and still, fans will always wonder how much better he could’ve been if he had a clean bill of health throughout his career. When you take all of these things into account, it makes perfect sense that Rob Gronkowski, or anyone in a similar position, would walk away.

But here’s the one thing normal people often forget about while they’re evaluating the career choices that athletes make: we underestimate how much these guys love what they do. We can’t look past the fact that in order to achieve a high level of success in professional sports, you can’t just like playing your sport. It can’t be a hobby. You need to love it. You need to be consumed by the entire process of it. You’re basically required to be a psychopath. And although Gronk’s wild off-season antics and silly press conference sound-bytes may suggest he doesn’t take this all that seriously, I can guarantee you that he’s wired like this. Because of that, I’m sure that between the nights of tequila shots this is decision that this big goofball is having a really hard time with.

My guess is that Gronk will come back. I don’t think he can walk away from everything that easily … from his life-long passion, from the highest level of competition, from the $19 million that would be left on the table if he retired this off-season — though he’d probably make a lot of that back by starring in The Expendables 8, 9 and 10 — or from the chance to step on the field along with the greatest Head Coach/Quarterback duo in NFL history. And to answer your second question, the Patriots dynasty only ends when one of those two men, not Rob Gronkowski, decide to call it a career.

Joe – “Is Tom Brady better because of Bill Belichick or is Belichick better because of Brady? How would the Patriots be without one of the two?” 

Before we continue, let’s establish four things to keep in mind as we work towards figuring out whether Brady or Belichick has been more valuable to the New England Patriots.

1. Let’s agree that had Brady and Belichick not crossed paths, neither of the two would have achieved the same level of success that they did together in New England. If Bill Belichick kept the job as the Head Coach of the New York Jets in 1999 instead of resigning 24 hours after accepting the job, he wouldn’t have enough Super Bowl rings to make sure no finger on his right hand was lonely. If Tom Brady were drafted by any of the 30 teams that passed on him multiple times in the 2000 NFL Draft, he too wouldn’t have been able to pose for a picture like this:

2. With no dispute, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are the best Quarterback/Head Coach combination in NFL history. I mentioned this just moments ago, but felt that it was necessary to state the obvious one more time since there isn’t any relevant statistical measure or anecdotal nugget that disputes this. Surely there will be people out there who disagree with this suggestion, and everyone is indeed entitled to their opinion. If you do encounter a person who doesn’t agree, just know that their opinion is wrong.

3. Neither Brady nor Belichick, judged as individuals, should receive less credit historically because they came across each other in 2000. The same kind of person who would argue this point would also be the type to argue for another QB/Coach combo over Brady and Belichick because “They’re a bunch of cheaters! They have the refs in their pockets too!” or because “They lost three Super Bowls!” Please guys, don’t forget that this opinion is a stupid one.

4. Though each of these two deserve immense amounts of credit for their contributions to the most impressive professional football dynasty in the history of the sport, it would be silly to suggest that they deserve an equal amount of credit. A perfect 50/50 split of the credit … come on now, that’s very unrealistic and way too neat to be the way it works out.

Rather than try to build the suspense — because I’m sure you’re just dying to hear my take — I’ll just come right out and say that to me it’s quite clear that Tom Brady is more valuable to the New England Patriots than Bill Belichick. That’s no disrespect to Belichick, the best, brightest, and most successful (and least fashionable) Head Coach in NFL head history. But I only need to work through one quick thought experiment to figure out that Brady is more valuable:

If Bill Belichick held a press conference tomorrow and grumpily announced that he was retiring, the New England Patriots would still enter the 2018 NFL season as the Vegas favorites to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIII.

If Tom Brady announced tomorrow that he was retiring, I’m not sure that the Patriots would have better AFC Title odds than the Steelers, Texans, Jaguars, or maybe even the Raiders or Chargers.

And let’s face it, that would be fair. Belichick should be lauded for his team building skills and culture creation. There is no “Patriot Way” without Belichick, but Belichick likely doesn’t last nearly 20 years in New England without Tom Brady. The culture has been established in New England and it could still maintain if Belichick bowed out tomorrow. The whole ship sinks without Brady.

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