Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: NFL

Football and Torture

There have been two relatively high-profile rule changes in the NFL this year. The first rule is that there are no more “incidental” facemask grapping penalties, which used to be 5 yards; all facemask penalites are now 15-yard personal fouls. The second rule is that a player can no longer be judged to have been “forced out” of bounds when trying to get his feet in the playing field while making a catch. The refs could previously judge whether or not the player “would have” gotten his feet down if he is knocked out of bounds while in air, but the NFL removed that rule this year. The rules changes have one thing in common: it takes a subjective judgment out of the refs’ hands. The goal of the rules is to reduce the number of qualitative judgments that are necessary on the field in favor of the number of quantitative judgments. It is a good system.

I have been thinking about the NFL and its constant rules-tinkering as I’ve been reading about America’s torture laws, and how John Yoo and others won’t be face penalties for writing briefs that permitted the U.S. to torture people while George W. Bush was in office. While a panel found that Yoo used “poor judgment” in creating his briefs, it found that he did not act outside of the purview of the law; he had not, then, extended executive power beyond its actual borders. This is a load of horseshit, the equivalent of ignoring what was once a five-yard facemask penalty on Yoo and excusing the harsher penalty because the intent was not believed to be bad enough. There is no room for question of intent here. It is illegal to torture. A law was broken, and the penalty must be paid, the same way NFL coaches do not get to unilaterally decree that certain rules do not apply to them. When rules are broken, people must be held accountable, otherwise the rules were not really broken.

I am flabbergasted that a judgment of “poor judgment” itself can even be rendered here. While our President strives to overturn the binary nature of our politics, this is a situation where it actually exists for our own good. What has happened here is an epic failure of our legal system, and should shake our nation to its core.


Chuck Klosterman, Bill Simmons, David Foster Wallace, Footnotes and Football

I wouldn’t say I was a fan of David Foster Wallace so much as I simply read Infinite Jest, a feat about which I was prone to brag. It was the worst type of bragging, too, in that I was completely passive-aggressive about it (that should probably say “am” passive-aggressive about it.) Whenever something came up that necessitated the “reveal,” so to speak, I would hold my information for a beat and really treasure letting it out of the cage—the whole time pretending that it meant nothing to me. I wanted my reaction to be like “Yeah, so what, I read it!” and in doing so, I’m sure it came across as the exact opposite. I’m sure it was, and is, annoying. I would have been better off just taking my literary d*** out, so so speak and laying it on the table, or bragging about it, Rushmore-style. I read a giant book. What did you ever do?

But yeah: I read Infinite Jest. The defining feature of Infinite Jest is that there are more than 100 pages of endnotes, which most people call footnotes. Reading IJ required two bookmarks and a constant reference-book like tossing of the middle section back and forth to see what DFW had meant by “the” in the thirty-seventh chapter. Once you got used to it, it was all very entertaining.

I mention this because I just read Chuck Klosterman’s wonderful book excerpt on football and Bill Simmons’ book excerpt on basketball, and they both use some sort of notation system (Off the printed page, they’re formatted as endnotes. I don’t know how they’ll be in the book, but is anyone going to care anyway?). Simmons has, in the past, acknowledged his use of “footnotes” as a direct homage to Wallace, whom he admired. They work in Simmons’ prose for the same reason they worked for Wallace—they appeal to the helter-skelter mind of the reader and the writer, allowing quick (or in DFW’s case, not so quick) tangeants on whatthefuckever. DFW was Twitter before Twitter.

Klosterman’s thesis is that football is a progressive game in a conservative shell. For all the talk about football as being the man’s man, grounded-in-tradition sport, everything changes all the time. The forward pass, instant replay, challenges, the spread offense, the Wildcat: anything that’s new is at first rejected upon some sort of anti-traditionalism basis, then copied ad infinitum. Isn’t the same thing Klosterman and Simmons are doing with footnotes?

The correlation might not be perfect, but here’s a snippet from Michiko Kakutani’s review of IJ in the Times (emphasis mine):

The book seems to have been written and edited (or not edited) on the principle that bigger is better, more means more important, and this results in a big psychedelic jumble of characters, anecdotes, jokes, soliloquies, reminiscences and footnotes, uproarious and mind-boggling, but also arbitrary and self-indulgent.

A decade and a half later, Klosterman and Simmons, two pop culture writers, have brought the form to the mainstream. For Klosterman’s part, he realizes that the faux-anti-innovation processes he’s witnessed in football are present elsewhere:

I had played football and written about football and watched it exhaustively for twenty years, so I thought I knew certain inalienable truths about the game. And I was wrong. What I knew were the assumed truths, which are not the same thing. I had brainwashed myself. I was unwilling to admit that my traditional, conservative football values were imaginary and symbolic. They belonged to a game I wasn’t actually watching but was still trying to see.

Over time, I realized this had happened with almost every aspect of my life.

You can add one more to the list. As to the future of footnotes in pop writing, one need no look farther than Klosterman, again. If you like them, enjoy them while they last:

Twenty-five years ago, the read option didn’t exist. Coaches would have given a dozen reasons why it couldn’t be used. Ten years ago, it was a play of mild desperation, most often used by teams who couldn’t compete physically. But now almost everyone uses it. It’s the vortex of an offensive scheme that has become dominant. But ten years from now — or even less, probably — this play will have disappeared completely. In 2018, no one will run it, because every team will be running something else. It will have been replaced with new thinking.

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, 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?

Atlantic Antics

Yesterday was the Atlantic Antic street fair along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. I know because I live a block away from Atlantic Avenue, and took in the sights and sounds of the event, which stretched for a good mile and a half or so. The temperature was in the upper sixties, and the sky was cloudless. It was a perfect day for a stroll.

Barely had I gotten there when I was yelled at about America’s involvement in Afghanistan. “We need to spend money where it REALLY belongs—on health care!” a guy yelled while failing to hand out fliers. No one was engaging him, despite his best efforts and one presumes the crowd’s general agreement. It’s one thing to read Frank Rich, it’s another to engage the maniacal guy at Atlantic and Boerum. How very un-Rich like that would be.

It was at this point that I noticed I was walking behind supporters of Bill Thompson, the comptroller who is running for mayor. There were two of them holding placards aloft, yelling “Bill Thompson for mayor!” This being a big event in a part of the town that could skew anti-Bloomberg, I wondered whether the candidate was leading the group himself, but he wasn’t—it was just those two, who received almost the same response as Mr. Afghanistan until someone yelled in passing, “Bill Thompson! That’s my man right there!”

By the time I got to Court Street, I was thinking about where exactly I was going to watch the Giants game when I came across a makeshift stage, constructed by the Parks department. There, a group of people were playing Middle Eastern music, and about a hundred people stood watching. “Stay here!” the MC urged. “Our first dancer is coming up right now!” He referred to her by name, which I have forgotten but remember had a real-world double meaning. We’ll call her Joy. Two minutes later, Joy was on stage dancing to the music. She was dressed in a brightly-colored silk-and-mesh outfit and looked exactly like a transexual. The crowd ate it up. I turned to leave.

Along the sidewalk, a man was playing a flute to accompany the music, to and for himself, in a storefront. A woman sitting in front of him shimmied to the music from the Parks Department speakers as Joy continued to swirl onstage.

I realized I was getting hungry. What to eat? There were so many choices. Most of them were standard street fair fare, like Italian sausage, french fries, fried cheese in many different forms and shish kebabs. There were several French restaurants along the route, and they hawked oysters and shrimp. There was even a crepe stand. My stomach was mostly full from the night before with spicy lamb meat, so I wasn’t tempted by the heavier stuff, though I did inquire as to the price of a falafel sandwich. I was told it was eight dollars, and resisted the urge to ask if he meant American currency.

By this point, I was almost back at my house, but I stopped to look at the offerings from the antique stores I’m too embarassed to go in. I learned very quickly that I should be saving old stuff—chairs that would be thrown out at a Queens school were fetching $600. The highlight were some high-ticket 50’s-era tin robot sculptures, which were arranged around a sign adminishing passsers by to “Please Do Not Touch the Robots.” Life lesson, learned.

After all this, I still needed food, so in the middle of this cross-cultural event in the heart of blue-and-Green Card America, I went two American classics: corn on the cob slathered in butter and salt, and lemonade, which I took back to my apartment. It was time for football! I knew the day would be better spent at the street fair, but I was drawn to kickoff like a kid to cotton candy. Sitting in front of the TV on a beautiful Sunday, I felt like I was participating in an American ritual as colorful and important as the street fair. Maybe I was just making excuses, but doesn’t football bring America together—fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, generations and generations—just like the Atlantic Antic? The communists and the powerful? The sinner and the saints? The trannies and the… whoever?

Or am I just being corny?

The Myth of NFL Parity

American sports are supposed to be about balance. That’s the thinking, anyway. If every team doesn’t have a chance to win it all every five years or so, there must be something wrong with the system. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and a championship are things we believe to be human rights.

It’s galling, then, when your team is out of it from day one. Ask any Kansas City Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates fan how it feels, and they’ll tell you it’s downright un-American. They don’t have a snowball’s chance in August at beating the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, or Mets who toss around money without looking at the numbers on the bills.

To be fair, this works for baseball’s owners—the only people that the sport is set up to serve. Perhaps that’s why, despite record attendance and viewership, baseball can’t compete with football’s popularity. Or maybe it’s the nature of football that makes it so appealing: fast-paced and, with its once-per-week, short-season setup, well-suited to the short attention spans of the HD era. Finally, it could be the old saw that the NFL is the exemplar of “parity”—that American ideal that your team will, at some point soon, get a chance to win it all. What could be more compelling?

The problem is that the last part isn’t true: there’s no more parity in football than there is in baseball. And the problem might be even worse.

The difference is that while baseball fights over money, football teams stock up on brains. Managerially-speaking, baseball is an easy thing to master: get the best players, make sure they get along, and go. Football’s the opposite. There’s so much to know that’s exclusive to the sport that there are precious few people who have it down cold. There are rules on top of rules on top of rules for everything from the draft to the those the penalty mask penalty, and they change every year. Mastering it is a mix of game theory, attention to detail, and brute force. It’s like knowing the code for Deep Blue, or reading a map of Queens. It’s incredibly hard to do.

For all the talk of NFL parity,there have been more World Series winning teams (8) this decade than there have been Super Bowl winners (6). This year, while some new teams (like  the Vikings and Jets) have joined the traditional powerhouses (Colts, Patriots, and Steelers) amongst the league’s elite, there is a slew of teams that will be luck to win four games. The Chiefs, Browns, Raiders, Rams, Pathers and Lions are symbols of the futility of hope. What are they playing for? Not much. At least baseball’s fickle enough to give teams a glimmer of hope for a couple months. In football when it’s gone, it’s gone.

What’s the cause of this? The strength of organizations. The Steelers, Colts and Patriots understand how the game is run: they supplement star players with replaceable ones, and employ a buy-low, sell-high philosophy. It sounds easy, but it’s not, and it takes supreme know-how to pull it off at every level of your organization: CEO, GM, coaches, players. Everything is constantly in motion, and having everyone keep pace is what makes the great teams great. It’s anything but a numbers game.

That’s what makes it harder than baseball, and why football won’t even out anytime soon. In baseball, a good numbers man (or woman) can still exploit the gaps and give the little team a fighting chance. In football, it’s one giant gap to be exploited, and the people who do it at a championship-caliber level are far fewer in number than their baseball counterparts. Football’s not considered a thinking man’s game, but if you look beyond the line of scrimmage, it’s exactly that. It’s like 53-person chess. If you’re good, you’re good, and if you’re not, you’ve got a better chance hoping for a miracle at a Mets game.

NFL Week 1.5 Report



Games consumed: Steelers/Titans, Jets/Texans, Pats/Bills, Giants/Redskins (partial), Bears/Packers (partial)

1. HOUSTON STINKS There was more talk this year that the Texans would be a suprise team, but they looked listless in week one against the Jets. They couldn’t do a thing against the Jets, which has been attributed largely to the Jets’ defense. I wouldn’t be so quick to put all the credit there. It takes hard work for a team to look as bad as Houston did against the Jets — it wasn’t like they were missing opportunities, they just weren’t making any. And this was in week one, where they had months to prepare. If the coaching staff can’t find a way to get a single good drive going with what is supposed to be a talented offense at the outset of the season, here’s betting they can’t scheme up much for the rest of the year. You can forget about them. Texans: written off

2. MARK SANCHEZ IS GOING TO BE GOOD My lack of love for the Texans doesn’t cast any shadow on Mark Sanchez’ performance as Jets’ QB. As has been noted elsewhere, Sanchez’ footwork already puts him far ahead of most NFL quarterbacks in that department and at near-peak Brady levels (the best I’ve ever seen, and the one skill category in which Brady is, I think, unquestionably dominant). He didn’t get a chance to read defenses yet, or deal with pocket pressure, but it appears he’s got all the tools to succeed. Sanchez’ development marks something of a barometer for the NFL-readiness of USC QBs after the Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart experiments. It’s my contention that he’s NFL-ready, but others don’t think so, as baby-buddy-of-blog “Cleveland Frowns” disagrees, and we duked it out in the comments. Will the experiment look as good in week two against a banged-up—but still Belichick-schemed—unit? Highly, highly doubtful. But we’re looking long-term and buying.

3. EITHER THE PATRIOTS LINE STINKS, BUFFALO’S D-LINE IS GREAT, OR BOTH Tom Brady got the least amount of time to throw the ball against Buffalo since, well, the last full game he played (the one were Osi Umenyiora lined up in his ass). The Bills got an amazing amount of push and shut down the Pats’ running game completely. Does this mean we’re going to see a full-fledged Brady-slinging game against the Jets? Maybe not. But maybe. We’re working toward that point, and when the offense went ballistic at the end of the game, the Bills had no answer. Ben Watson’s winning catch was bananas, by the way.

4. THE QBS? FINE Trent Edwards looked pretty damn good in the fast offense; we’ll see how much of it was Pats-D related when the Bills (blech) take on the Bucs (BLECH) this week (kill me). Brady’s a little tentative, and might never hit 2007 form again, but if he’s at 80 percent of that it’s plenty good enough. Actual exchange after the fumble with fashion-language-understanding and unhelmeted-Brady-loving girlfriend.

Her: Is that good?

Me: Yes, they’re going to get a touchdown now and win.

Her: How do you know that?

Me: It’s why Tom Brady is married to Gisele.

Verdict: Brady is a good man

5. THE GIANTS AND THE REDSKINS BLAH One of the dedicated readers of this blog is a Giants season ticket holder. I applaud his enthusiasm. Maybe I’ll share it some day. It’s unlikely. The Giants sure seem to rough teams up, but without Plaxico, it seems like they have that oh so little weakness of Eli’s habit of not quite throwing it to the right place. Osi is scary, good, though: I said after Super Bowl XLII that it might look like less of an upset once Osi and Strahan were both in the HOF, the same way the Rams/Pats Super Bowl result looks completely in retrospect. Not enough attention is paid, btw, to the similarities to those two seasons, down to the earlier, fingernail-close meeting in the season, the 14-point spread, and the miracle last drive. Verdict: I don’t want to talk about this any more, but before I go, the Redskins could compete if they had an offense. Still better than the Texans.

6. I THOUGHT THESE TEAMS WERE GOOD Watching Bears/Packers was like getting hit in the face by errant footballs. I thought these teams were supposed to be good, and maybe they are, just well-matched. But that game was shit. And I could give a crap about the “rivalry,” just like everyone in Chicago. Trust me, they don’t give a lick about beating the Packers more than any other team. They just want to win the Super Bowl. That’s no crime. But to force some East Coast-style rivalry on it just isn’t going to work. Verdict: we’ll know more after this week

7. OOPS I ALMOST FORGOT Steelers/Titans and Chargers/Raiders. That happened. I had four Simpler Times lagers. There was a lot of hitting. I was bored, but I know these teams are good. They’re annoying too.

Teams as-yet unconsumed: Dolphins, Ravens, Bengals, Browns, Colts, Jaguars, Broncos, Chargers, Raiders, Chiefs, Cowboys, Eagles, Vikings, Lions, Falcons, Saints, Panthers, Buccaneers, 49ers, Cardinals, Seahawks, Rams.

Teams written off: Texans (Week 1)

Picks for this week: Each week, I submit to you my picks in the Cheddar Bay Invitational Picking tournament on Cleveland Frowns. Must pick six games vs. the spread, at least one of which is an NCAA game, and have a 100 word essay accompanying a pick. Here’s this week’s entry.

I had a tough time last week. I went 0-6. But look at it this way: the only way to go is up!

Toledo +20.5
Pats -3.5
Seahawks +1.5
Broncos -3
Giants +3
Colts -3

Essay: I’m not confident the Patriots are going to cover against the Jets. But this one seems a bit easy, no? The Pats are 1-9 in their last 10 games ATS, came off a miracle win (and not even near cover) against the Bills at home, and the Jets convincingly thumped the Texans, a popular pick to improve this year. As a result, the Pats/Jets line is dropping downward, but should it? I think it’s more likely that the pundits were wrong about the Texans, and the Jets exploited a bad team, than the opposite, given the results. And I think talk about the Pats’ defense’s demise, while certainly noteworthy, may not be as relevant in this game. Mark Sanchez is going to see things on Sunday he’s never seen in his life, and I think it’s more likely than not that the Pats will pull out a typical AFC East slog victory over Gang Green, but by at least six points.

That’s it for now. See you in the 2.5.

State of the Patriots

patpatriottattooI have a renewed interest in the NFL this year. I’m not playing fantasy football, and we’re two years removed from the Patriots/Giants debacle — the debacle not just of the game itself, or the whole season.

That’s right, I’m calling an 18-1 season a debacle. From the moment Spygate hit until Tom Brady’s final heave to Randy Moss hit the turf in Glendale, it was a miserable season. That’s what happens when you lose sight of what sports are supposed to mean. Pats fans were already excited at the prospect of an undefeated season before Spygate hit, and in its aftermath, saw a perfect record as a road to validation. The push was on, and Bill Belichick appeared to take the bait as well. Through the first nine weeks of the year, the Patriots trounced everyone they played, and the talk of an undefeated season was on.

It’s not bad that Patriots fans were excited, but it’s important to remember that winning is just as much a part of the game as losing. The Patriots have had too many great wins to count over the last decade, and in 2007 Pats fans were acting like wins were a birthright, and alienating the entire country in the process. I wanted none of it. I wanted them to win the Super Bowl, but not at the expense of their fans dignity. If the Pats had won the Super Bowl, we would have never — ever — heard the end of it. So when they lost, I wasn’t even devastated; I was just worried I would be implicated in the mourning process. It was, however, just a game.

That’s why last season’s knee injury to Tom Brady was, in some way, a refreshing way to reset expectations. After the white-hot 2007 campaign, where every game was too important, the 2008 season was the opposite: it wasn’t really taken seriously. Wins were great, and losses were okay too. That’s the healthy way to watch sports, and I was happy for it.

The Patriots aren’t the only team that needed a re-adjusting of attitudes; in fact, their conquerors needed one as well. After the Super Bowl win over the Pats, some Giants fans were devastated at last year’s boucning from the playoffs by the Eagles, including this fine fellow:

Giants fan and friend of the blog Big Dood has responded on Shea Hey! with the rare well-reasoned, mature take on sports on the Internet:

To a good many Giants fans, the ending to last season was doubtlessly a bitter disappointment. Fair enough, I suppose, but I’m here to send a wakeup call to everyone who cried themselves to sleep after a one and done ouster at the hands of the Eagles: It’s all disappointment from here on out. This truth should have risen from the ashes as the dust settled in the aftermath of Super Bowl XXZXXZXZSEQR (did I get those Roman Numerals Right?). To quote Christopher Walken’s character in True Romance “that’s as good as it’s gonna get. And won’t ever get that good again.”

By all rights, the New York Giants should never win anything else again. In the interest of balance, they ought to have tumbled into the bowels of the earth and been left to stumble over and upon one another (for at least a few seasons) in abject misery.

Or better yet, they should’ve simply ceased to be, disappearing in streaks of light and vapor behind falling sheets of confetti in the canyon of heroes.

By this standard, the Patriots should have shut down shop a few years ago, but there they are, on my TV every weekend. Two seasons removed from the nightmare, I’m determined not to relive it. Football’s too great for that, and I’ve seen too much great football recently for it to hurt too much. Maybe I’m not a “real fan,” or maybe I never was until now. I love the sport more than ever, and that’s why one loss isn’t going to get me down. It gives me something to do every Sunday for 5 months; the rest is just details. Details that I’ll scream and piss and moan about for those 5 months, but less than I would have before. Nothing is guaranteed, and I’m not going to pretend like it is or that I deserve it.

All that said, GO FREAKING PATS. Jets game is big this weekend.

I’m done.