The League

Michael Oriard
Author

Michael Oriard

An English professor at Oregon State University and the author of several books on football, including Brand NFL Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport and The End of Autumn Reflections on My Life in Football

Players are pros

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Hate or respect as the basis of a great rivalry? If it's the fans we're talking about, I would guess that hate is a more powerful feeling. More is at stake. Victory is sweeter, loss more devastating, revenge more intensely anticipated.

If it's the players we're talking about, I don't really understand the question.

When I joined the Kansas City Chiefs as a rookie offensive lineman in 1970, the Chiefs' bitterest rival was the Oakland Raiders. For the past several years the Chiefs and Raiders had had a private war each season for the conference championship, and this war continued for the four years I was with the team. That the Chiefs and the Raiders "hated" each other was as well known in the football world then as the hatred of the Yankees and Red Sox in baseball today.

My veteran teammates on the offensive line were more discriminating, however. They talked about one Raider defensive lineman who was an overrated cheap-shot artist, another who was underrated and a good guy besides. What was true then is presumably true now: no one respects a dirty player; no one "hates" a clean one, and everyone respects him if he is also good.

Each player gets mentally ready for the game--for the upcoming 60 minutes of violent collisions--in his own way. I have read the comments of players who say that they work up "hate" in order to do what they have to do on the field. I used fear. In college, I imagined that the guy opposite me would be either overpoweringly big and strong or impossibly quick. When I handled him on the first couple of plays, I felt a surge of confidence that could carry me through the game. Hate or fear or meditation or whatever, players use what works for them.

I never thought about the guy I would be facing as a person. I always knew his name, of course, but he was an abstraction to me--an opponent, an adversary. Playing football, particularly in the line, is intensely personal, nearly as intimate as boxing. To make it impersonal is therefore essential (at least it was for me). "Hate" and "respect" as we typically use those terms are personal feelings. I would guess that the "hatred" worked up by some players as motivation is as impersonal as my "fear" was.

Maybe baseball is different. Maybe the Yankees and Red Sox truly hate each other in an uncomplicated way. Because the basic nature of football makes it more deeply personal, it becomes necessary not to acknowledge that reality. Because it's violent, personal hatred could have consequences that would be hard to live with.

I never started for the Chiefs, but I understood that my veteran teammates felt professional respect for most of the opposing linemen whom they faced season after season--for conference rivals Denver and San Diego as well as Oakland--and I assume that it was mutual. Most professional athletes are "professionals." They "hate" dirty players, if for no other reason than that their lack of professionalism threatens other players' livelihood. Respect is more common, despite whatever the emotions they have to work up in order to play the game.

So, the Patriots and the Colts "respect" rather than "hate" each other? For their organizations, their coaches, their quarterbacks, their conduct on the field? Players on both teams might share these general feelings, but each one will approach the game in his own way, with whatever works for him. "Hate" or "respect" as the basis for a football rivalry is a matter for fans and the media.

By Michael Oriard  |  November 13, 2009; 9:46 AM ET  | Category:  Indianapolis Colts , Kansas City Chiefs , New England Patriots , Oakland Raiders , Peyton Manning , Tom Brady Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Great QBs, not a rivalry | Next: Hate is good

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I don't know, there's enough lore about the Redskins and Cowboys in the '70s that makes me wonder. I'm sure much of it was hot air, but there were enough incidents, such as Harvey Martin tossing the funeral wreath into the Redskins locker room in 1979, that doesn't sound like professionals merely having a good laugh.

Posted by: acoberst1 | November 13, 2009 5:41 PM

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