Saturday, January 19, 2013

MANTI TE'O, CHARACTER, AND THE NFL


When I was covering the New England Patriots several years ago, I was discussing
the contents of character of NFL players with former linebacker Ted Johnson.
He said, "Paul, if Charles Manson could run the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds,
an NFL team would try to break him out of prison and sign him. Talent rules in
the NFL."

Talent rules in the NFL. I thought about that when the talking heads on
television were discussing Manti Teo's stock possibly dropping in the NFL draft
in April. I laughed to myself. The NFL could care less about the hoax the Notre
Dame linebacker is involved in, or the fact that his stories don't add up. They
don't care if he told a pack of lies, either. As long as he can run fast, shed blockers,
and be a cock sure tackler, the NFL won't run away from Te'o and this spectacular
case. As Johnson put it, talent rules in the NFL.


Need proof? Pac Man Jones has a rap sheet longer than Mike Tyson's, but he's
still employed by the Cincinnati Bengals because he can shut down receivers
with world-class speed. Donte Stallworth still finds work even though he spent
23 days in prison for killing a man with his car when he was drunk out of his
mind. He can run the 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds, which makes Stallworth
a hot commodity because he can beat defenders deep.

Michael Vick spent nearly two years in a federal penitentiary, but the Philadelphia
Eagles were there with a contract when he walked out of prison. Once he won the
starting job, they  sweetened his life by giving him a deal worth $100 million That's
because he had incredible talent that could help them win football games, or so they
thought. Vick was killing dogs and lying to authorities and Te'o did what? Exactly.


Sorry to say it, but not everybody in the NFL is squeaky clean like Tom Brady.
For every Steve Young, who grew up privileged in the tony town of Greenwich,
Ct, there are 1,000 players who were raised in broken homes and had to kick,
scratch, claw, and fight their way up the food chain. Some of them have even showed
up on the police blotter from time to time. Are all of them model citizens? No. The
NFL would like them to be, but that's never going to happen. They are mean, hardened
and tested Those are the type of players that NFL teams want. Show me a team full
of country club kids, and I'll show you a team that plays like the Kansas City Chiefs.

In 1996, Lawrence Phillips of Nebraska beat up his girlfriend badly and was arrested.
The All-American running back dragged her by the hair down a flight of stairs and
struck her several times. That didn't matter to the St. Louis Rams, who drafted Phillips
with the sixth overall pick in the draft. Phillips didn't change his stripes as he spent
23 days in jail during his first two years in the NFL. Oh, but that didn't stop the Miami
Dolphins from picking up Phillips after the Rams cut him.


Scouts and player personnel directors spend countless hours on the background of
a potential prospect. They can put them through all kind of physical and psychological
tests and talk to their parents, teachers, coaches, ex-girlfriends, and kindergartner
friends, but there is not a fool proof way to know if they are going to go off the rails
in the NFL. But as long as they have talent, there is a spot for them in the league.

The Kansas City Chiefs thought Javon Belcher was a good guy. His former coaches
said that he was a hard-working, sensible kid, with a good head on his shoulders. How'd
that turn out? You just never really know, do you?


However, coaches and GM's have jobs on the line so they construct a team that will
give them the best chance of winning to keep the owners happy and enhance their job
security. It's all about talent and it's all about winning. Don't ever mistake that. The
league is hardly filled with choir boys.

By April, this Manti Te'o situation will be a distant memory. It'll probably be rinsed
out of the news cycle next week, when another player fails a drug test, admits they
are an escort, or  Lance Armstrong lies again, and again, and again.

Will this bizarre episode affect the draft stock of Manti Te'o? Not one bit. Because
in the NFL, talent rules. If Te'o can play, he'll get drafted as if this hoax never
happened.


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