Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lord Almighty, There's Violence In Foobawl

Jay Cutler vs. J'Marcus Webb: A Recreation
Football, it must be noted, is a manly sport played by manly men (and also by kickers). It involves putting impossibly burly men in suits of space-aged armor and having them running into each other repeatedly with the impact of 30-MPH car accidents. (That time in high school when you accidentally crunched half your Saturn's front end into a pretzel by bumping into a telephone pole while standing on your brake? Yeah, imagine that hitting the guys on your favorite team every time they open the way for a three-yard draw play. ) We cheer on reports of fistfights in training camp, choosing to believe it means our favorite players are "feisty" or "leaders" or something. We are trained to cheer on guys who have "non-stop motors", who don't take plays off, who play for 60 minutes (as opposed to the actual 11 or so minutes of action that most football games actually comprise). In short, we demand our football heroes go hard, go hard nonstop, and then come back and ask for more.
Except, of course, when they do. Last week, two things happened. One, Chicago Bears quarterback and walking edge case Jay Cutler got frustrated with the play of his offensive line - justifiable, really, as they had managed to do a credible impression of a group of matadors in the face of the Green Bay rush - and shoved one of his linemen. Meanwhile, new Tampa Bay coach Greg "Rutgers Forever" Schiano sent his defense full bore after the New York Giants on a kneeldown play as time ran out, hoping to incite a fumble.
Both instances, naturally, evoked howls of outrage, not to mention a great deal of pearl-clutching and fainting couch-reclining on the part of the NFL's chattering class. You don't do that sort of thing, commentators said again and again. You don't put your hands on your teammate. You don't try on the last play if your opponent is in Victory formation. It simply isn't done!
All of which, of course, puts the lie to all the self-serving myths the NFL likes to serve up like bratwurst. Look, any Eagles fan can tell you there's plenty of reason to go after the Giants on the last play. You'd be amazed at how often it works. Yammering about how the Giants weren't prepared for it just means Giants coach Tom Coughlin should have been paying better attention; the notion that players were endangered conveniently overlooks the fact that these guys are in danger on every single play. Yes, it's not the usual response to Victory formation, but since the normal response is a guaranteed loss, you can't necessarily blame Schiano for trying something different. And really, it's the something different that's the issue. For all that the highlight reels love to praise innovation and talk up the game's cerebral strategy, the truth of the matter is that playcalling's barely evolved since Bill Walsh's day. By all means, be clever - just do it in a way that we feel comfortable with.
As for the Cutler nonsense, it's even sillier. Cutler's maybe half the size of the lineman he shoved. He did no lasting damage, he didn't hit him at speed, and he didn't, break his teammate's face the way beloved All-Star WR Steve Smith did. He shoved the guy, which maybe shows a little poor judgement, but that's about it. And yet, the way sports talk radio blew up, you'd think he'd gone full Tony Jaa.
Seriously. Let's look at it again. Cutler. Shoved. Him. That's it. And in a sport where the shovee is expected to slam into a couple of 350-pound meathemoths on every single play, a shove from Jay Cutler is about as noteworthy as a new Maroon 5 single. And yet the Mike Golics of the world went full "Ehrmegerd" on the story, chewing it over for days when other things - like, say, actual games - happened.
By season's end, nobody will remember either of these too well. The narrative of the Unlikable Jay Cutler was written long ago; he'll get sandbagged by the press for failing to walk on the waters of Lake Michigan.  This thing is likely to get added to the dubious evidence pile, but that's as far as it goes; anyone who'll dredge it up is someone who's already decided that Cutler's a weiner. The Tampa Bay thing will get hauled out every time Coughlin and Schiano meet again, which is to say, probably never. But for those who pay attention, the disconnect between what the league celebrates and how it reacts when those "virtues" actually hit the field is immense.
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