Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: new england patriots

Football and Family

I’m supposed to play football later today, but it’s pouring out, so that’s not going to happen. Too bad, because it was the first football I was set to play this year…

It’s really amazing how much football I’ve played in my life. Or “football,” the game involving sprinting (but not running plays), passing and, formerly, tackling. The tackling thing seemed to let up once I graduated college, mostly because I wasn’t playing with the boys from home anymore. Geez, I’m *that* guy now, aren’t I? That’s okay. It’s reading “that guys” like me when I was younger that made me want to play in the first place more than watching games on TV. Those sure didn’t hurt, though.

It’s amazing how much stock I put into the football games of my youth. And how much I wanted to be better than Bruce Gray at quarterback. The great thing is, he wanted to be better than me more than I wanted to beat him. And he still does! Bruce, if you read this, I’m coming for you the next time I’m on MV for the holidays. Sadly, that won’t be any time soon.

Bruce seems pretty hard up for these games, and I can sympathize. I can sympathize because I’m the exception that proves the rule. For the last seven years, I’ve been playing football pretty much every weekend in the fall. One of my best friends from college (ornery commenter MZA) is from and lives in Queens, and his group of friends decided, effectively, never to grow up. I used to lobby this as an accusation, but I mean it now as praise. Now that the games are largely over, with the driving force having moved to L.A., I know what I am missing. Overgrown children, all of us, it was probably about time. Even without tackling, the cold ground takes a toll on your body.

Okay, I’m getting self-indulgent. But the truth is, the act of even picking up a football is laden with meaning for me. I can’t hold one without thinking of it as the means—the only one that matters—of defeating my brothers in a way that they will recognize, respect, and feel in their soul. We all think we’re better than each other; take the Voltaggio brothers from Top Chef, add a third one, and you’ve pretty much got the idea (I mean, my name is Bryan and my brother’s middle name is Michael. Another Voltagii connection). Those brothers had to move 3,000 miles away from each other. Watching them in action, it’s clear that their competitive instincts are so paramount in their lives that they easily dominate them. One of my brothers lives in London, I live in New York, and the other lives in Phoenix. Draw your own conclusions. Until Top Chef shed light on it, I hadn’t fully realized that the need to beat them was so dominant in my life. Football is the only place where we agree to battle.

But: back to football. One of my brothers is the most exceptionally talented athlete who never played organized sports that I’ve ever known. By far. His skills translate so amazingly into football that it’s clear, abundantly so, to anyone who watches that he could have played at least in college. The high school coach used to ask him every day when he was joining the team. My brother simply had no interest. Why? Beating me was the only important thing. After that, there was nothing left to prove. The other is far younger, played lacrosse in college, and is in peak physical shape. This is a fact: I’m better than both of them. I know it in my heart because it is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to know. You could make a serious argument that it is the most important thing in my life. Every time I pick up a football, though, I get that glimmer of doubt. That, more than anything, is the reason why it’s probably time to hang them up.

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Booze, Baseball and True Love

You’re not going to believe this, but after yesterday’s blotto football-and-supermarket session, I’ve been in a lot of pain today (I’m writing this Monday night instead of Tuesday morning). I did however, interview a major league baseball player at work today, so I had that going, which is nice. Now I’m full of vegetable samosas that I apparently bought yesterday.

And now some words on the baseball playoffs, I guess.

The only thing I do not want to happen this year is for the Yankees to sweep through the ALCS and World Series without much competition, stomping to a 1998-2000-style championship. I obviously don’t mean “sweep” in the traditional sports sense here, but one win does not a series make for the Angels, or, far more importantly, for me.

In the National League, I avoided paying attention until about thirty minutes ago. I’ve followed the action until now but haven’t really watched it, for fear of gorging myself on meaningless baseball. It was just: if the Yankees were going to romp whomever they played, the NL playoffs were something of a Bataan Death March. Given that I’m increasingly interested in Game 4, I guess that the Yankees loss has at least given me hope. Audacious, I know.

The Red Sox lost eight days ago, and during game two of the Yankees/Angels series—the so-called “classic” that lasted 13 innings—I turned it off after 11, realizing that I knew the outcome ahead of time, and that I hated both teams. But that realization was also a result of a day of booziness, and I realize that when I’ve had a couple and watch the Yankees, I’m immediately transported back to their glory years, expecting the worst. It’s a terrible way to live. In the light of day, it’s not so bad. My liver is excited for more of these “days” of not pounding back whatever’s put in front of me, as is my brain, my stomach, and everyone but my readers, really. You guys love some drunk posts, don’t you?

While we’re talking NL playoffs, a quick note on these Phillies. I’ve never seen a fanbase so dead-set on a repeat title that they have basically disowned their championship. I mean, they haven’t really, but they’re not using it as a hammer. They want this. For all the deserved teasing of Philly sports fans, there isn’t a much healthier attitude to have than to seize the moment. The only Boston team of the decade that inspired this attitude was last year’s Celtics, who were derailed by Kevin Garnett’s injury from what now appears to have been a very winnable title. Even when the Patriots did win back-to-back Super Bowls, they seemed inevitable, and the Sox’ 2007 campaign fell flat… but the Yankees won the playoffs. We don’t even need to discuss the hangover from 2004.

Like Celtics fans last year, Phillies fans are embracing the idea that the windows to win titles are small, especially in a sport as fickle as baseball. It’s one thing to put together good players, and it’s another to have championship teams. The alchemy between the two is mysterious and possibly apocryphal, but Philadelphians know they’ve got something good. Hell, they’ve waited long enough, they ought to know it when they see it. It’s kind of like true love, I guess.

UPDATE: Jimmy Rollins.

Football Sunday: An Odyssey

For the first time this year, I headed out to the bar to watch the Patriots. And oh, what a decision!

From the friendly confines of O’Keefe’s on Court Street in Brooklyn, fivethirtyeight.com and I watched the late-afternoon games over Jamesons, alternatively splashed and on the rocks. There were also beers, but not until overtime of the Jets/Bills game. Which was later. These things take time.

For the first time this season, yr. author skipped the 1 p.m. games at home. After a long day on Smith Street enjoying the college football action—and arguing the merits of our public education system—I was football’d out by the time Vikings/Ravens rolled around. I was even man enough to head over the lady’s house for some Trader Joe’s Indian food and some HGTV. DO YOU REALIZE THE TYPE OF HOUSE YOU CAN GET IN CHICAGO FOR $600,000? I bet you didn’t, because you were sucked in by Giants/Saints.

(That is not an altogether bad thing.)

I came home in the “Feels like 36 degrees” weather only to head back out to the bar at 4:15, as Joe Flacco was setting his team up to miss a game-winning field goal. Nevermore, bitches! There was no place to sit at O’Keefe’s due to the preponderance of Eagles fans. One World Series isn’t enough, their demeanor said. It’s hard not to respect that. Then the Eagles lost to the Raiders. Then the situation changed.

John Doe has the upper hand. Or maybe JaMarcus Russell.

I was throwing back whiskey-and-waters as I watched the Eagles choke, and the Patriots exert their dominance over the hapless Titans. 59-0? That’s the biggest Patriot win in history. Tom Brady threw 5 touchdowns in the second quarter alone. That’s also a team record. Also: an NFL record. My favorite part was everything. But something ringed in the back of my head. A question.

Isn’t football bad?

It’s true: after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s article on the consequences of football hits, it’s hard to retain the same enthusiasm for the game that I did before. There’s basically a concussion on every play. We may not be long from a maximum age of 30.  That the NFL is underwriting studies that may torpedo the league is the height of irony, but it was inevitable. The game is simply too violent to continue unabated. I think. But I digress, because Pats/Titans didn’t involve a lot of hitting, unless the football hitting the endzone after being spiked counts. Take that, “No Fun League!”

I will admit: I partook of everything that was advertised during the NFL game. “Tailgate tested? Tailgate approved!” Really, Miller Lite? THEN BRING IT ON! It’s the best way to enjoy the Pats, according to the people on TV. Saving that money to enjoy it at home, or just kicking back with an-ice cold soda? Humbug!

In the end, I schlepped my drunk ass after the game to Trader Joe’s, where I was too glassy-eyed to find Indian food, but I managed to buy $20 worth of pizza, burritos and french onion soup. It is, I am told, good value. Enough to offset the nearly $30 I spent on booze at the bar? Probably! Let’s face it: I’m going to drink either way, so I might as well make money on the back end. The Pats’s 59 points don’t carry over, but I can make sure my buzz translates into savings. I can apply that savings to things that really matter, like real estate. Don’t you know what kind of house you can get for $600,000?

The Sox, Pats and the Moon

I’m not sure this column makes any sense.

In last night’s episode of Man Men, hotel impresario Conrad Hilton tells ad genius Don Draper that he wants a campaign so grand it would put a Hilton Hotel on the moon. When Draper returns with a clever, modern pitch that emphasizes Hilton comfort in all corners of the globe—Rio, Toyko, Paris—Hilton admonishes him. “I wanted the moon,” he said. He leaves in a snit, and it’s unclear who’s at fault: Hilton, for making such a grand request, or Draper, for failing to take it seriously.

A handful of hours earlier, the Patriots lost the Broncos in overtime in their once-and-present house of horrors in Denver. A few hours before that, the Red Sox lost in tremendous fashion to the Los Angeles Angels, giving up a two-run lead with only one strike to go in game three of their best-of-five series. The Sox are done for the year, a year in which they won 95 games and almost by acclimation just “didn’t have it” this year.

That’s quite a luxury as a sports fan, but it’s wholly understandable. Red Sox fans never asked for the moon. We just wanted them to win a World Series in our lifetime, and they did it. I’m not sure what we want from here on out, other than to have a great team that plays with passion. The adjustment from title-starved to dignified in defeat has been difficult, but I think it’s finally been achieved. We’re finally okay with losing. Insofar as things like passion, heart, and hunger actually exist for a baseball team, it always seemed like this team didn’t have it. A good team gave it a good try and came up short.

Can the same be said for the Patriots? Maybe, but it feels different. With the Patriots, we’ve asked for the moon. Any loss is unacceptable, a result of the Pats’ lapses more than their opponents’ greatness. Two years ago, a large subset of the Pats fan population would have been crushed by a regular-season loss, and Bill Belichick plunged his team into the space race. He would go for the moon. When the ship crash-landed on the surface, it was made to feel like the problem was one or two plays that could have gone either way, not that the Giants were simply the better team. The fact is, it doesn’t matter what the reason was. They lost. The lesson should have been learned.

Pats fans weren’t always this way. The first Super Bowl season, it was good enough just to make the playoffs. Then beating the Raiders was pride-inducing, and beating the Steelers was divine. By the time the Super Bowl came around, the Pats could see the Rams and their NASA-inspired gameplan, and they licked their chops. The brought the pass-happy Rams back to Earth, and won in dramatic fashion. Does anyone doubt now that the Pats were the better team? And if we don’t, what does that tell us about the 2007 Giants?

I put these pieces together, and yesterday didn’t crush me the way it would have 10 years ago. Part of it is growing up, and part of it is seeing my teams succeed, but most of it is knowing that sports can’t bring you the moon. I wish the Sox won, but if they can’t close out a game like that, they’re not champions anyway. It’s still early for the Pats, and I’m confident they’ll do well, even as Tom Brady enters his golden years. The oughts are finally starting to pass us by, and, like a traveler in a foreign country at the end of his trip, I’m only now starting to get used to them.