WHY NO TEAM WILL RESPECT THIS COLUMN

It is just about time for the Super Bowl, where two football teams will travel to a warm weather city, and one will inevitably complain that it is not receiving enough of what it truly deserves, that being, of course, strip clubs.

No, wait. That’s a different column. Respect. That’s what I meant to say. Respect. They’re not getting enough respect. Sure, the players wouldn’t mind strip clubs. As long as the strippers treated them with respect.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Find out how cliched it can be.

And brace yourself for the inevitable. Media members in Houston this week will be scolded every day by thick-necked men saying, “Nobody expected us to be here.” And “Nobody expects us to win.” And, the classic, “Nobody showed us respect.”

It is as tired a sports phrase as “We’re gonna give it 110 percent.” And equally silly. For just as you can’t really give 110 percent, neither can you predict a Super Bowl for every team that wants one. And they all want one.

This year, the Carolina Panthers are the team most likely to sing the no-respect blues. Already, certain players have hoisted the perceived slight as a chip on their shoulders. They are, after all, the underdogs.

But just once, when one of their players bellows out, “Nobody expected us to be here,” I would like a sportswriter to pipe up and say, “Why should we?”

From chumps to champs

After all, the Panthers were 7-9 last year. They didn’t even make the playoffs. The year before that they were 1-15. It’s hard to get much worse.

Why should fans or the media be ridiculed because they didn’t forecast a losing team going all the way to the Super Bowl? What does that have to do with respect? People don’t get mad when their stockbrokers fail to predict a 100-point drop — and those guys are educated!

Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the Super Bowl for the first time in their history. They spent the week complaining that “nobody thought we’d be here” and “nobody showed us respect.”

They then went out and WON the Super Bowl, and spent much of the following weeks carping on the same subject.

So this year, before the season started, many pundits changed their ways. They predicted Tampa Bay would return to the Super Bowl. And what happened? The team didn’t even make the playoffs. The Bucs stunk.

Where’s the apology? If the media are supposed to mea culpa for failing to predict a winner, shouldn’t the team that failed expectations conduct a similar self-flogging?

Why didn’t the Buccaneers hold a news conference and say, “You guys gave us too much respect. We didn’t deserve it.”

Yeah. Right.

Panthers vs. Patriots

I’m not sure where this whole respect thing started. But it is all over sports now. A common catchphrase is “give me my props” as in “propers” as in “proper respect.” This, apparently, can be uttered the moment a kid laces up his first sneakers.

(I suddenly have a vision of our old schoolyard kickball games; a kid at home base sneering at the pitcher who rolls the ball to him, and yelling that the roll “didn’t show me respect.” Then the bell rings and we go in for nap time.)

Anyhow, wherever it started, it rages on. The Carolina Panthers will invoke it this week, and who knows? Maybe it serves to motivate them.

But while the media deserve some of their licks, on this one, they are innocent. It is not a sportswriter’s job to believe in a pro team the way a mother believes in her child during the school play.

Besides, the Panthers should remember one important fact: They are not playing the media. They are playing the New England Patriots.

And psst. Panthers. Here’s a flash:

They didn’t expect you to be here, either.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR.

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