The melodrama surrounding handshakes has gotten a little ridiculous.
In my recent memory, all of this hullabaloo started six years ago yesterday, when Bill Belichick’s Patriots toppled Eric Mangini’s Jets at the Meadowlands in the first game of the rivalry under Mangini’s tenure. The fourth quarter ended and the two sidelines engaged in the dry tradition of hugging the men they just spent three hours trying to hurt when Mangini and Belichick made their way over to each other, climaxing with an eye-contactless deadfish grip that only succeeded in making everyone watching at home feel a little more awkward.
Since then, I’m sure you can remember the many more handshake headlines that unfolded around the league. The headline going into the Jets-Patriots 2007 playoff game was a handshake, Jim Harbaugh handed Jim Schwartz a strangely intense pat on the back leading to a strangely intense chasedown, and just this Sunday, Tom Coughlin ignored any sense of pleasantries and simply ripped Greg Schiano apart for his defensive line’s hit on Eli Manning during the final kneel-down of the game. It was after the latest chapter that I really started to think about the absurdity of the postgame handshake and why the mandatory nature of the tradition needs to die.
Let's look at how a few other sports do it.
First up is basketball. If coaches want to keep exchanging pleasantries after games, that's fine with me, mostly because it would be harder to ignore the other coach and walk away, then walk the seven feet down the line to shake his hand. It's like dealing with the ex-girlfriend you're forced to sit next to in class: it's best to just address the elephant in the room, say good game, and move on. But with the same analogy applied to football, if you're standing across a football field from someone you have ill will with (see Mangini and Belichick), it's probably best to just ride the elephant all the way home.
Next up is baseball, which in my opinion does it right. Not that I’m completely against manners, but if I were a manager, I wouldn’t want to have to climb out of the dugout and across the infield just to spank the man that just beat me. Baseball realized this is silly, and you know what the best part about all of it is? There are no subsequent baseball storylines about handshakes.
There is a lot of good to be said about the history of NFL coaches with good manners. Men have gotten their butts kicked and looked the opposing coach in the eyes and said, "nice job." Coaches destroyed opponents and respectfully wished their counterparts better luck next time. People enjoyed seeing it and it was good for the game, but pettiness isn't good for anyone. If Jim Schwartz is tired of getting beat by San Francisco, then he should just write Harbaugh an e-mail next week when he's cooled off. If Belichick wants to punch the nearest Jet in the face after a loss, then he should probably save it for his punching bag. Nobody should be forced to show good manners. And if a new tradition starts, where head coaches aren't shellacked for just walking off the field after a loss, then hopefully, people won't mind. Because I'd honestly rather watch someone ignore their ex-girlfriend, than awkwardly stand by to see them shake hands, ignore eye contact and walk away (see Mangini and Belichick).
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