The rhetoric surrounding this Dolphins-Jets rivalry has always been fun. The players bark back and forth the week before the game. The fans get drunk on game day, fight each other and go to work the next day with fewer teeth. The players knock heads on the field and then go home and brag about it.
It's always been a visceral clash of division rivals and their fans. And it's always been relatively harmless.
But this year the rivalry has climbed to new heights and Thursday, to a place no professional sports rivalry should ever go. Whenever you have players from each team talking about hurting a player on the other team, someone needs to stop and ask if the rivalry has crossed the line of good taste and fun and is now residing in thuggery territory.
Now, the players and some fans that read this will dismiss it as a geeky sports writer getting involved in something he knows nothing about -- competition and emotion and answering a physical challenge. That's crap.
I appreciate a physical battle between finely tuned athletes as much as anyone. I experience the full range of emotion like everyone else in the world. And I'm as competitive a person as they come. Trust me on that last one.
But I'm also a fan of the NFL. And the NFL is many things, but threats about hurting another team's players, or even joking about another team's players being injured and out for the year -- as New York coach Rex Ryan did recently at Will Allen's expense -- is wrong and should be out of bounds.
And yet, here we are discussing how New York's Bart Scott this week told a handful of New York writers that he wanted to hurt Miami QB Chad Henne and knock him out of Sunday's game.
"I hope to get him out of there," Scott told the New York writers.
Asked by New York Daily News writer Rich Cimini how he plans to do that and if that included hurting Henne, Scott replied: "I want to hit him and get him out of there. That's for anybody who touches the football, period. It's that type of game. Write it down however you want to write it down. You don't have to do something dirty to get somebody out of there."
No, but you have to be someone dirty to be thinking that way. Henne is a professional. He makes his living playing football. And Bart Scott wants to hurt him and knock him out of his job? He wants to somehow assault another player to the point that guy can no longer compete against him?
So the old saying, 'To be the best you have to beat the best,' now has changed in Scott's warped mind to, "To be the best you have to injure the best?' Scott wants to hurt Henne and thereby hurt the Dolphins and thereby hurt the NFL.
Yes, Scott succeeding on his stated intentions would hurt the NFL because the league is diminished when its best players get hurt or knocked from the action.
Now, before you get all aflutter with righteous indignation that the Jets have crossed a sacred line, I must tell you the Dolphins are not innocents here.
Just as one New York linebacker acted a fool by talking about hurting a fellow NFL player, one Dolphins linebacker acted a fool and talked about hurting a fellow NFL player, too.
Disgusting as it is, Joey Porter this week basically echoed Scott's thoughts about knocking out a QB -- except Porter was talking about knocking out Jets QB Mark Sanchez.
During his weekly interview with the NFL Network, Porter was asked about Sanchez eating a hot dog on the sideline of last week's game between Oakland and the Jets.
"I'm not worried about him eating a hot dog on the sideline," Porter responded. "I'm trying to worry about how I can get him on the sideline, maybe with an ice pack on him, so the hot dog doesn't bother me."
Amazingly, the NFL Network interviewer heard Porter make public his desire to knock the opposing QB from the game and instantly followed up by asking Porter if he uses twitter. (Yes, journalism in America is dead.) Anyway, the link to Porter's interview is right here.
I can tell you this pregame banter is not funny to the NFL. The league takes its money and reputation very seriously and when you have players threatening to hurt other players, that affects the NFL's reputation. And if you have players make good on their stated intentions, that affects the NFL's ability to make money.
So be aware that the NFL is monitoring Bart Scott and Joey Porter. And don't be surprised that even if they don't carry out their veiled threats to injure the opposing quarterbacks, both could nonetheless be fined for saying such things.
Because such talk doesn't belong in professional sports.