Respect is overrated.

Rodney Dangerfield wouldn’t have been as funny if he’d ever gotten it. Aretha Franklin got it and ended up as big as a house.

The New England Patriots worry way too much about respect.

So do their fans, including me. If we worried instead about whether the people who deserve respect, like veterans, firemen, teachers and policemen, actually got it, we wouldn’t have time to complain about Phillip Rivers making the Pro Bowl over Tom Brady.

But in today’s culture, especially in sports, respect is paramount. The Patriots aren’t the only team to make it a rallying cry. They’ve just exposed to the world what a ridiculous motivational tool it can be.

Judging by some of the quotes from the players and some rumblings in the media this week, the Patriots will go into today’s game with the San Diego Chargers with that respect chip on their shoulder again. It’s hard to blame them since it’s served them so well over the last six years. But I hope some day, when they’re all showing their Super Bowl rings to their grandkids, they’ll look back and laugh at how silly it all was.

Bill Belichick, like most coaches, doesn’t discourage the “R” word from being a central theme of his team’s motivation.

In fact, the coach has been known to take the most innocuous comment and twist it into a slight, then rub his players. noses in it to work them up into a lather.

He has plenty of fodder for his players this week. Shawne Merriman went on CBS at halftime of last Sunday’s game and said something like “Looks like we’re going to be playing the Jets.” A few days later, Merriman was quoted saying the Chargers would only need one point to win this week. Apparently, someone told him between injections that the NFL has decided to implement the Canadian Football League’s obscure rouge rule in the middle of the playoffs.

Tom Brady reported this week that former Charger Reche Caldwell has relayed some alleged dissing of his current team by his former team from when he played from San Diego. I don’t doubt the veracity of Caldwell’s claim for a minute. I was standing next to the San Diego locker room with some other media last year when they left the field after they’d humiliated the Patriots, 41-17. A lot of the Chargers had some rather uncomplimentary things to say about the Pats as they filed into the locker room. If memory serves, Reche Caldwell was on of them. I don’t think he told Tom that, though.

Brady did say he was over the alleged slight Marty Schottenheimer had aimed at the Patriots after last year’s game. Schottenheimer had the temerity to suggest that injuries catch up with everybody, including the three-time Super Bowl champions. Brady told the Chargers’ coach to mind his own beeswax.

Perhaps even Brady realizes this ridiculous respect game has its limits. Many pro and college athletes don’t, and they often look foolish in the process. The thing that kills me is when they all talk about how they don’t read the papers or watch television or listen to talk radio, then reference said media’s attempts at handicapping the game and talk about nobody believing in them after the “shock the world” with a victory.

All but one of the so-called experts at has picked the Chargers, while four of the seven “experts” on CNN/ picked the Pats. It makes you wonder which printout made which locker room bulletin board, huh?

That’s right. The Chargers can play the respect card, too. They’re probably sick of hearing about Schottenheimer’s post-season record. They’re probably sick of everyone suggesting that Belichick’s scheme can rattle Rivers. If they win today, tomorrow’s paper will be littered with quotes about how they were disrespected.

Just once, I’d like someone to say after a loss, “We came into this game feeling disrespected. No one gave us a chance. Evidently, everybody was right.”

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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