- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2007

In pro football, you’re free to knock the slobber out of your opponent if the spirit moves you. It’s a hard game played by hard men, which explains the helmets, the flak jackets and the guys in the striped shirts. But don’t even think about running up the score on somebody — unless, of course, you want to hurt his feelings.

Pretty silly, no?

Sunday it was the Redskins who were the “injured” party, battered by the Patriots physically and spiritually. The latter damage occurred in the final quarter, when the Pats twice went for it on fourth down — the first time leading 38-0, the second time leading 45-0. Obviously, Bill Belichick hasn’t finished reading “Emily Post’s Guide to Football Etiquette,” specifically the page that says, “The quality of mercy is never strained — though hamstrings, quads and groins are another matter.”

Many Redskins were angered by the Patriots’ affront. Indeed, had they been half as angry during the actual game, the final score might not have been 52-7. Casey Rabach used the word “crappy” to describe New England’s tactics, and Phillip Daniels said, “Hopefully, we’ll see them again.” Alas, the next meeting of the two teams won’t be until 2011 — unless, of course, they cross paths in the Super Bowl.

Belichick seemed unaware he had violated one of the Unwritten Rules. “What do you want us to do, kick a field goal?” he asked. “It’s 38-0. It’s fourth down. We’re just out there playing.”

And the Patriots sure are having a good time. They’re scoring at a record pace, averaging 41.4 points a game. (And let me just note, before we go any further, that there’s no nice way to average 41.4 points a game in the NFL.)

The motives behind Belichick’s actions — this isn’t his first such offense this year — have been much discussed. Some think he’s doing it out of spite after being slapped hard by the league for videotaping foes’ signals. But it may be, too, that he’s still mad about blowing a 21-3 lead against the Colts in the AFC title game last season and has vowed, “Never again. Until the clock hits zero, we’re going to put up as many points as we can.”

Another possibility: His offense is a veritable Lamborghini — what with Tom Brady throwing 30 touchdown passes in half a season and Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth making a mockery of defenses. When you’ve got yourself a Lamborghini, how can you not see how fast it will go? How can you not get out on the Autobahn and crank it up to 200 miles an hour?

Besides, there are far worse examples of a team “running it up.” One of my favorites came in a game between the Chargers and Jets in 1963. The Bolts scored on the last play to make it 51-7 and then — you’re gonna love this — went for the two-point conversion … and made it. (A few minutes earlier, four players — two on each side — had been ejected, which might have had something to do with it.)

Jets owner Sonny Werblin wasn’t the least bit amused by San Diego’s stunt. “In [Chargers coach] Sid Gillman,” he said, “the milk of human kindness has turned to yogurt.”

Then there was the time in ‘76 the Los Angeles Rams threw for an 80-yard TD in the fourth quarter against an Atlanta club that was already down 45-0. L.A. coach Chuck Knox blamed it at least partly on the league’s playoff tiebreakers, one of which was “best average point differential in conference games.” (The Rams were battling the Vikings and Cowboys for home-field advantage in the NFC.)

Pat Peppler, the Falcons’ interim coach, feigned indifference. “That’s their business if they want to run up the score,” he said. Then he delivered this zinger: “I’m just glad for them that none of their players got hurt when the game was prolonged by their passes.”

That might be the best thing about running up the score: It often elicits classic quotes from the vanquished. Heck, sometimes even the victors provide us with great sound bites — if they’re remorseless enough.

Bengals coach Sam Wyche, for instance. He certainly didn’t lose any sleep after drilling the Houston Oilers 61-7 in ‘89. Wyche hated the Oilers, thought they were a bunch of trash-talking cheap-shot artists — and wasn’t too fond of their leader, Jerry Glanville, either.

So when Cincinnati jumped out to a 31-0 halftime lead against Houston, Wyche kept pouring it on. The Bengals onside kicked after a touchdown in the second half and scored their final points on a field goal with 21 seconds left.

“Our only real regret,” said Wyche, “is that [we] missed that extra point [near the end]. I must say it can’t happen to a nicer team.”

Anything else you want to get off your chest, Sam?

“We don’t like this team. We don’t like their people. I wish today was a five-quarter game.”

That about do it, coach?

“You can only be so stupid. They have exceeded the limits.”

The Patriots’ embarrassing of the Redskins was tame by comparison. None of Joe Gibbs’ players got thrown out, and Gibbs began his post-mortem by saying, “You’ve gotta start out by giving [the Pats] all the credit …”

Maybe Coach Joe was recalling a November afternoon in 1991 — the year his Redskins, like the current Pats, took a run at a perfect season. Washington was annihilating Atlanta 42-17 that day with about 10 minutes to go when Mark Rypien dropped back and fired a 64-yard bomb to Gary Clark for yet another touchdown. It was Rypien’s sixth TD pass of the game, which tied the club record, but it wasn’t a particularly sporting gesture.

In fact, looking back, it was fortunate none of the Super Bowl-bound Redskins got hurt when — to borrow a line — the game was prolonged by their passes.

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