Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Angle Shooters of the NFL

Am I ready for some football? Yessir.

Will be right there with everyone else tonight to see the New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers. I have picked the Pats tonight, the first of 256 picks I’ll be making in the Pigskin Pick’em pool.

Why the Pats? Two reasons. One, I saw the Steelers look only so-so in their last preseason game versus the Panthers. And secondly, I always pick the Pats.

Was today reading ESPN’s big investigative feature from a earlier this week, “Spygate to Deflategate: Inside what split the NFL and Patriots apart,” which does a fairly substantial number on New England’s frequent skirting the edges of what’s allowed when it comes to competitive fairness over the last decade-plus.

I’ve mentioned my current American Studies course, “Tricky Dick: Richard Nixon, Poker, and Politics.” Just this week we were starting to get into Nixon’s image and reputation, and how everything is necessarily colored by the lens of Watergate and the resignation. All of the many episodes from Nixon’s life and presidency -- including his poker playing -- is practically impossible to think about without thinking about his terrible judgment, abuse of power, and the disgrace caused by his spectacular fall from power.

In making that point, we of course had to observe how the “-gate” suffix is now readily employed to create abbreviated terms standing for any scandal. It’s a way of communicating something complicated and difficult to explain in a single, made-up word -- handy, but usually obfustactory and often full of prejudice, making it seem as though guilt or innocence is as easily applied to the figures involved.

That ESPN’s headline contains not one but two examples of such usage is impressive. I’m referring not to the headline writer (who didn’t coin either term) but that the Patriots have managed to be at the center of two such scandals. Heck, there’s a lot else in the story that recalls Watergate, in particular the systemic nature of the Pats’ shenanigans which reminds me a little of the various “operations” in effect (with varying degrees of commitment and/or effectiveness) during the Nixon administration.

But my takeaway is hardly to say the Patriots are cheaters, even with all of the unsavory evidence compiled to suggest as much. I was writing earlier in the week about poker terminology turning up in non-poker contexts. Here’s a place where I think a poker analogy would be especially appropriate to employ -- that is, to refer to New England as “angle shooters” rather than cheaters.

Like Nixon, they’ve employed “dirty tricks” that some would readily describe as unethical, others unsportsmanlike, and still others outright illegal and thus deserving of punishment. But to me all of it falls under the heading of the angle shot, which in poker sometimes can be regarded as unethical, sometimes unsportsmanlike, and sometimes against the rules (if the floor is called over and decides in that direction).

I like our friend Robert Woolley’s pair of articles over in the PokerNews strategy section outlining various examples of sort of angle shooting, “Seven Dirty Poker Tricks (and How to Fight Back)” and “Still More Angle Shooters, and How to Defeat Them.”

The actions described in those articles are the analogues to what the Patriots have done over the years. And what others could have tried to do, too, if they wished to play the game that way.

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