Chuck Knox crossed the line. He crossed the boundary of fair play, of common decency, of good sport--not good sportsman ship , but good sport--with something he considered nothing more than creative coaching. It is an imaginary line, a barrier created by gentlemen's agreement, but, just the same, Chuck Knox not only stepped over the line, he stomped that sucker flat.
I don't care what they say about business being business, or about all's being fair in love and war. The coach of the Seattle Seahawks went too damned far Saturday in his deceptive, diabolical use of faked injuries to stop the clock in an American Football Conference playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Some will say Knox was merely being clever, merely using every legal weapon at his disposal in having players such as Joe Nash crumple into heaps with make-believe miseries. No charlatan, the coach was only acting in his team's best interests, his defenders will argue, reminding us that professional football is an industry, not a recreation, and that many dollars and jobs are at risk.
To me, this just means that Knox will stoop to any level to win a football game, that he is the kind of person who would pull his car into a handicapped-only parking space.
From now on, I suppose we should expect anything and everything from Chuck Knox, wherever he happens to be coaching. If Knox lists his starting quarterback as a "doubtful" starter because of injury or illness, do not be amazed when the man passes for 400 yards after discovering a miracle cure the morning of the game.
Perhaps we can count on Knox to hire clock-keepers with slow trigger-fingers, to send linebackers after the legs of weak-kneed running backs, to sneak into an opponent's stadium and hose down a grass field with water to congest their ground game, to ask sideline musicians at his home stadium to toot their tubas or bang their cymbals whenever a visiting player is about to take a snap, or catch a ball.
Had Knox been coaching Philadelphia in that oh-say-can-you-see fogball game Saturday in Chicago, he might have instructed one of his players to stuff the football inside his jersey and smuggle it into the end zone while the Bears were trying to figure out what happened to the ball.
It took a certain pathetic instinct on Knox's part to act on the knowledge that National Football League officials are helpless to second-guess injuries, that no referee in his right mind is going to accuse a moaning, groaning, prostrate football player of playing possum. If a guy collapses, no official can say, "Get up, wise guy." No official can turn Joe Nash into the nose tackle who cried wolf. "I'm hurt! I'm hurt!" "Sure you are!" It'll never happen.
I wonder how Nash felt when he looked into his shaving mirror this morning, knowing that his function in a nationally televised playoff game had been designated hoaxer. The guy took more dives than a $500 boxer. Four times the clock had to be stopped, interrupting Cincinnati hurry-up plays, because Nash fell into a heap. Nobody in that "bad" of shape belonged on the field in the first place, or at least no more than twice.
A welterweight called Kid McCoy, real name Norman Selby, who was world champion just before the turn of the century, once went a few rounds against a challenger who was deaf. Nobody told McCoy until the third round that his opponent couldn't hear. McCoy fought the round for a couple of minutes, then pointed to the other guy's corner to let him know, theoretically, that the bell had rung, ending the round. When the deaf fighter turned away, McCoy knocked him cold.
Chuck Knox should love this story.
Well, winning is the only thing, right? Right, Lombardiphiles? Do whatever's necessary. Do what you gotta do. Kick the ball forward an inch, toss dirt into another guy's eye, pick a fight with the best enemy player until he gets ejected. (Get out your note pad, Chuck. Be sure to get all this down.)
There once was a stadium worker out on a jail work-release program who drove a snowplow onto a field and cleared a path for a field goal kicker, without penalty to his favorite team. The winning coach was sorry only that he hadn't thought of it himself.
Mike Ditka, with the Bears leading after the first quarter Saturday, probably hired a small prop plane to dust the clouds until it rained on the freezing lake, creating fog, or however it is you create fog. Maybe William Perry's mom was in one of the concession stands, making chili.
Losers can be such babies. Norman Braman, owner of the Eagles, did what Mike McCaskey, president of the Bears, did not do Saturday: He cried that the game should have been called off. Imagine that, a football game called off because of weather. The only time a football game should be called off because of weather is if radioactive particles are involved.
Come rain, sleet, hail, fog, smog, bog, cats and dogs, killer bees or summer breeze, the show must go on. Why should snow, making it difficult to move, be tolerated, while fog, making it difficult to see, be grounds for suspending play? Because spectators can't see? Tough. You pay your money and take your chances. This ain't golf. Because officials can't see? Hey, try seeing the goal posts in a winter cloudburst, or a raging blizzard. Your eyelids are frozen shut. Your contact lenses turn into M&Ms.; Your pupils play hooky.
Chuck Knox should have been coaching Philadelphia. He could have faked a halftime locker-room fire, or asked the families of all 45 players to phone the stadium with home emergencies, necessitating that they leave the field. Anything that would have gotten the Eagles through the night.
Well, winners never cheat, and cheaters never win. A royalist once confided to British playwright Samuel Foote that he had been hurled out of a second-floor window after being caught cheating at cards. Foote's advice to him was: "Don't play so high."
Chuck Knox can hardly sink much lower.