Let the Reggie Bush sweepstakes begin

It’s a question of ethics.

The season has been a disaster of Giglian proportions. All hope is lost. The fans are wearing paper bags over their heads in a desperate attempt to make the 11 p.m. “SportsCenter.” (Stuart Scott will spit ill rhymes about this during his Sunday night Poetry Jam…no, I’m not kidding.) But the point is, the whole team is in shambles. So what do you do? Do you take part in one of a thousand different clichs-“leave it all on the field,” “give 110 percent,” “play for pride” or “refuse to lie down and die”-or do you clandestinely try to tank it for the rest of the year, knowing that Reggie Bush is waiting at the other end of the rainbow?

Like I said-a question of ethics.

Now, I wouldn’t dare suggest that a professional sports franchise would try to lose for the purpose of securing a high draft pick…and I would never accuse passionate, die-hard fans of secretly rooting for their team to lose so they can get that once-in-a-lifetime pick that comes along every year…OK, perhaps that’s exactly what I’m suggesting. In fact, it may be the most entertaining subplot of the second half of the NFL season. Herm Edwards is no fool-ever since Chad Pennington went down, sure, the Jets have stunk-but Edwards’ job performance has been flat-out genius.

He knows how to play his cards; even Fireman Ed wants the Jets to lose. I mean, in Pennington’s absence, Edwards has used Brooks Bollinger-which might sound like a real name if this were a 1980s teen flick starring Emilio Estevez-and Vinny Testaverde at quarterback. If that’s not an unconditional surrender, I don’t know what is.

Of course, the toughest part of Edwards’ job is the fact that other teams are pulling the same shtick. Just look at what happened two weeks ago when the Jets took on the Saints-you’re telling me both teams wouldn’t have killed to squeeze out with a loss and get one step closer to that top pick? The proof is in the ESPN survey in which Edwards, despite the 2-10 record, has a 61 percent approval rate. Jets fans know what time it is. (Did that make me sound as hip and fresh as Stuart Scott? No?)

But neither the Jets nor the Saints, with just five wins and half a quarterback between them, has the inside track on the best prospect since LaDainian Tomlinson. No, for the first time all season, it seems the Houston Texans are in the driver’s seat. All they have to do is just keep on losing. It’s that easy.

In fact, a No. 1 pick and the addition of Reggie Bush might even save Dom Capers’ job. Once they’ve clinched the pick, Capers can just shrug and confess, “Yeah, uh, I was trying to lose the whole time…that’s called savvy.”

Can you imagine the feelings of panic and desperation in the Texans’ locker room two weeks ago when they realized they had a 24-3 lead over the Rams at the half? Do you think Charlie Casserly stormed into the locker room and asked them what in the hell they thought they were doing? I mean, how obvious could they get? They gave up a 43-yard touchdown pass from the 15-year-old Punt, Pass and Kick champion, conveniently let the Rams recover the onside kick and tie the game with a field goal, then did Jane Fonda’s patented running-in-place calisthenics in overtime while Kevin Curtis ran 56 yards for the game-winner. The Texans didn’t even try-it was all a little too blatant, if you ask me.

This week, they were back to their old ways, dropping a one-point decision to Baltimore. Now that takes talent. Unfortunately for Capers and Co., things don’t get any easier for them during the final month, as they have to face off against another pair of teams with No. 1 pick aspirations, San Francisco and Tennessee.

You think Steve McNair wouldn’t love to let someone else take the punishment next year? You think the Niners wouldn’t love to pair Bush with his high-school teammate, Alex Smith, and set up the best young foundation in the league? And so it’s down, effectively, to five teams-the aforementioned four, and those poor Green Bay Packers. (See? Favre threw all those interceptions with a purpose.)

This isn’t exclusive just to football. It happens all over-remember the year David Robinson got “injured” for the “entire season” and coincidentally the Spurs snagged Tim Duncan, who is only the best thing that ever happened to the franchise? Yeah, that was an accident. I’ve talked to fans of teams in situations like this, fans who have chided their coaches for being “too dumb to keep losing and get the first pick.” And these are lifers-die-hards.

But they believe in the greater good. Apparently sports fans can see the big picture after all.

As Reggie Bush looms in the distance, let the games-and the conspiracy theories-begin.

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