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Monday, January 7
NFL should look into Strahan's 'sack'

By Len Pasquarelli

If celebrated funny man-turned-filmmaker Billy Crystal needs a new project and has no Vegas gigs to occupy his time or appearances planned on the late-night talk show circuit, we suggest he get cracking on his next reality-based sports flick.

We've even got the working title: Call it simply "22½*," the story of a defensive end seeking to establish a single-season NFL sack record and the admiring quarterback who helps him do it. It would be simply mah-velous, Billy Baby, and probably earn a cartload of Emmies, probably in the category of "least convincing actors in a melodrama."

Michael Strahan
Michael Strahan got the record with a fourth-quarter "sack" of Brett Favre.
Funny that a league that fines players for wearing their socks too low or their pants too high, that sanctions the overemotional and immature for taunting and that holds sacrosanct most of its high-profile accomplishments, offers no criticism on this incident. One day after Brett Favre conspired to ensure that New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan collect the one sack he needed to nudge Mark Gastineau from the record book, there was no call for an investigation.

But there should have been.

By in essence orchestrating Strahan's final sack of the season, the one that lifted his total to 22½ -- one-half more quarterback carcass than Gastineau claimed in 1984 -- Favre and anyone else who was in on the charade cheapened the feat itself. That is not a slap at Favre, one of the few veterans of galactic stature in the NFL who still actually has fun playing the game and remains the league's most sellable commodity, because he desperately wanted good buddy Strahan to have the record.

But does that mean that in '02, if Emmitt Smith is just shy of the all-time rushing mark, the entire opposition defense should perform a collective pratfall?

Not hardly.

Walter Payton, who earned every yard, would be twisting in his grave. And Smith would likely run backwards on the ensuing carry, purposely losing yards, negating the opposition largesse. Records are, indeed, made to be broken. But the trust that accompanies them isn't supposed to be shattered as well.

Favre basically took the sack record, wrapped it in a gift-box and tied a bow around it. That so few observers were fit to be tied when it occurred is inexplicable.

It is admirable that players such as Favre and Strahan -- guys from disparate backgrounds, on opposite sides of the ball, different races -- maintain such mutual admiration. They are men of similar integrity who, in one embarrassing moment Sunday afternoon, clearly flaunted the integrity of the game. And anyone who saw the play couldn't help but realize precisely what was going on, particularly when Favre sidled over to Strahan as their respective units came back onto the field and basically set up the sting.

All that was missing was a set of those little feet you lay out on the floor when you learn new dance steps: OK, Mike, I'm going to run a naked bootleg, you line up outside our tight end, come on upfield, and fall on me when I perform a swan dive.

All that was missing was a set of those little feet you lay out on the floor when you learn new dance steps: OK, Mike, I'm going to run a naked bootleg, you line up outside our tight end, come on upfield, and fall on me when I perform a swan dive. The only thing more transparent than the gambit itself was the prologue, in which Favre and Strahan and even Green Bay coach Mike Sherman (why would he allow his quarterback to audible to a pass play with a nine-point lead and less than three minutes remaining), feigned innocence.

It was hardly the first time such a charade has been used -- Denny McLain having grooved a fat fastball once to Mickey Mantle -- but that still doesn't make it palatable or acceptable. Because of his popularity, Favre could get away with the choreography, because the league big shots were not about to question his actions. For years, the term "integrity of the game" has been a hallmark of a great league and great players.

But the integrity of the game took an uppercut to the chin, at the very least a shiner, on Sunday.

And what of the talking heads who reacted with emotion to the feat? Cris Collinsworth called it a "magical" moment. How about tragical, Cris? Terry Bradshaw, we think lucidly, spoke of having "chills up and down his spine." Well, they must have come from a flashback of the time Cleveland defensive lineman Turkey Jones spiked Bradshaw head-first into the turf. It was a fraud, guys, and the only bigger crime perpetrated than the act itself was that so few took the time to criticize it.

Make no mistake about this: Having spoken to one Green Bay lineman on Monday, the team's blocking unit wasn't thrilled about being party to such folly. Right tackle Mark Tauscher, who suggested last week that he had no designs on being a foil, steadfastly held Strahan at bay all afternoon. On the record-breaking sack, it's notable that Strahan lined up well outside tight end Bubba Franks and didn't have to contend with Tauscher at all.

After the game, Favre, a guy we absolutely love, suggested with a straight face: "When I turned, he was right there. Call it what you will."

OK, we will: It was a set-up.

The league has no plans to focus the magnifying glass of scrutiny on the issue, which means the dubious sack will stand, and so will the record. But league officials, in their heart of hearts, all know what happened.

It's clear. Crystal clear, in fact. And so who better than the man who resurrected the most famous asterisk in sports history to add another credit to his movie-making résumé.

Get on it, huh, Billy, because it appears no one else is going to.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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