The best meal of my year is the breakfast a chef friend has been cooking in his home on the first Sunday morning of NFL football for the past 14 seasons. The Football Breakfast is better than Thanksgiving, with tons of food, pigskin talk, and 20 guys calling bookies, in place of holiday family tensions. But this past Sunday when I arrived, nothing was cooking, and my culinary buddy was nowhere to be found. A couple boxes of Entenmann’s pastries and a bag of apples on the dining room were the only foods in sight. Two signs on the wall displayed this explanation:
The 15th Annual Football Breakfast has been cancelled in protest of the Commissioner’s decision to destroy evidence. How deep does it go? We’re not talking about a coach looking for an edge; we’re talking predetermined outcomes! Why else would he destroy the evidence? But feel free to help yourself to a pastry.
What you need to understand is that my chef buddy, whose business card simply reads Paul L’Heureux, Genius, is both a Baltimore Ravens fan and a conspiracy theorist. To him, last season’s Spygate scandal confirmed what he had long suspected: the NFL is rigged. So thanks a lot, Bill Belichick. Not only has Spygate cost the Pats their first-round pick in the last draft and the respect of countless fans; now it’s cost me the most enjoyable Sunday morning of the year.
Later that day, Paul insisted that I still didn’t get it. “It’s bigger than Spygate,” he said. “Spygate was the cover-up of the cover-up.” Why would Commissioner Roger Goodell destroy the evidence immediately after pronouncing the matter closed, he asked? Paul answered the question himself. “Because they’re obviously hiding something bigger than what they’re letting people on to,” he said. “The league is as fixed as a wrestling match.”
Does he really, truly believe that? “I really do,” he confirmed. “(Seattle head coach) Mike Holmgren, after losing the Super Bowl to the Steelers, said, ‘I didn’t know that we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts.’” I looked it up, and Holmgren did say that, but why must the Football Breakfast faithful be punished?
“In the great scheme of the business, with all the fans in Patriot country who obviously benefited from whatever happened at the top, this is the only outlet that lets me reach out and say that I paid attention,” Paul explained. In other words, he wanted us to feel his pain. Paul’s pain stems from having no confidence in the integrity of sports he once loved (Major League Baseball’s steroid issues, prepubescent Chinese gymnasts, and the NBA’s gambling referee problem helped out with that); after his protest, Paul’s friends shared that pain in the form of disappointment and hunger.
Luckily, Paul’s cynicism is not absolute. He allows that things might change. When asked if the Football Breakfast is done forever, Paul smiled and said, “I’m not saying it is. I’m not saying it isn’t. I like to think that I could get back to it next year, if the league returns to the straight and narrow.”
Losing the Football Breakfast was the day’s first crushing disappointment. Then Tom Brady’s season ended in the Patriots’ first quarter. It’s going to be a long friggin’ campaign, not the type of thing to start by missing the most important meal of the day. And, really, ask yourself, why would Goodell destroy the Spygate evidence? What possible reasons could there be? Those are great questions, aren’t they?
Rick Wormwood can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.