On one hand, I'm in love with the beauty of the game: an indefensible pass, a perfectly-timed running play that opens a hole a mile wide, a return for a touchdown, and a drive-ending open-field tackle can all stop my heart and steal my breath like a kiss from the woman I love.
But more than those moments of instant gratification, I'm enamored with the way football has evolved into a form of high stakes chess. Offenses and defenses alike spend every moment of preparation figuring out how to come up with new ways to disguise their true intentions and to attack their opponents' weaknesses.
On offense, the best WRs run routes so precise and consistent, you can't tell where they are going until it's too late. Lineman work on their technique, positioning, and stance so that opposing defenses can't read run or pass before the snap. And QBs utilize play-action to create the tiniest bit of separation for their receivers.
On the other side of the ball, defenses have a multitude of tricks designed to confuse the offense. Pre-snap motion, used to hide where the rush is coming from, has become popular in recent years. 3-4 defenses load up on versatile LBs, allowing the pressure to come from a random point on any given play. And look at the Colts this year: fielding a defense with no true SS or FS, giving Antoine Bethea and LaRon Landry the ability to rotate from play-to-play, not allowing the defense to key in on one specific player.
And don't get me started on Advanced Stats! From FootballOutsiders.com, to PFF, to QBR, to Advanced NFL Stats (the win probability guy!), we are truly in a golden age of football stats and information.
But like every love-hate relationship, there is some hate to go with all of that love.
And so every time a coach, player, announcer or fan starts talking about "heart", "determination", "clutch", "the will to win", heck, let's throw "karma" in here, for good measure, I cringe and sigh.
I believe those words transform the beautiful sport of football to something else, something more. And something less. Each of those words – and the ones not listed, I'm sure I missed many – paint football as a romanticized picture, an epic struggle waged by two teams of superheroes.
In my mind, those phrases rob football of its true beauty by eliminating the existence of good and bad performances, of great plays and mistakes. Instead, every outcome is boiled down to "WHO WANTED IT MORE!" As an example: Peyton Manning only has one Super Bowl ring because he's not clutch, because he didn't want it enough, not because Raheem Moore made a mistake, or a coach called a bad timeout, or, heck, even because the opposing team did something amazing.
And so it was especially painful when one of my favorite players of all time, Robert Mathis, tweeted the following:
I know the old blowouts and style point wins were all the rage in Old Regime but wins are wins & we wont apologize for a hard fought "W".
This tweet hurts for a couple of reasons.
First, I was one of the people who criticized the Colts victory over the Oakland Raiders. At no point in my analysis – written, spoken, or thought – did the concept of style points enter my brain. Sure, I would have preferred a blowout, but so would Robert Mathis and every fan who retweeted him. And if they tell you otherwise, they are liars. Or Raiders fans. Or both.
And STYLE POINTS? I honestly don't know where the phrase "style points" originated in the NFL vernacular, but it seems like a phrase tossed about by those who romanticize the sport in an effort to discredit those who prefer to look beyond mere wins and losses.
And, for the record, that style of scoring a lot of points, of putting enormous pressure on the opposition, it made Robert Mathis a very very rich man, because it afforded him and his Partner in Sacks, Dwight Freeney, the opportunity to pin their ears back and rush the quarterback with impunity.
This isn't to take away from Robert Mathis – he's a great player. He was one of, if not the best players on last year's defense, and his veteran leadership is greatly needed on a team with so many rookies. And, as I mentioned, he's one my personal favorites.
They didn't win the right way. They didn't win with style points.They just won.