Sunday, September 30, 2012

I Think We've Seen This Before

Cincinnati 27, Virginia Tech 24, in what was essentially a home game for Tech.

In other news, the ACC Commissioner's office is preparing a statement reasserting the superiority of the ACC as a football league, along with a membership invitation for Cincy.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Roger Goodell, Hero


Roger Goodell, relaxing at home after a hard day at work

The funniest thing to come out of the replacement ref fiasco has not been any of the on-field stuff, hilarious as that has been. It has not been the overblown bloviating by the chattering classes, nor the hysterical overreactions on Twitter (some of which veered off into deeply ugly, hateful bullshit). No, it’s been those noted labor economists at places like ESPN trying to spin this thing so that Roger Goodell comes out of it as some kind of hero, or, failing that, a victim.
Look, anyone who thinks the lockout was about anything other than Goodell trying to punish the refs for standing up to him is delusional. The money involved is, in the grand scheme of things, minimal. Dan Snyder pisses away more than that trying to bully Washington free papers in a given weekend. No, this was about power and control, and nobody in the NFL has more of either than Roger Goodell. The guy is Sauron, the all-seeing eye dispatching Nazgul to swoop down and fine players unexpectedly for inappropriate towel lengths. You’re going to tell me that in the face of a labor dispute that threatens to undermine both the product the NFL puts on the field and, more importantly, its relationship with Vegas (anyone who doesn’t think the rise of the NFL isn’t directly attributable to a combo of gambling and fantasy sports is delusional), Roger Goodell was suddenly impotent, waiting on the command of those same owners he bullies and fines to cut a deal equivalent to a single game’s concessions take?
Please.
It was a power play. And for once, Goodell lost. Everything else is just spin.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Referee-related observations

Inspired by my esteemed colleague's post below...
I
Have you noticed how the post-whistle scrums have gotten longer, as players realize that the refs don't really control the game?  They can keep shoving and jawing for a few extra seconds and nobody's going to do anything.  What happens if, this weekend, when the Broncos and Raiders play, Richard Seymour shoves Orlando Franklin into Peyton Manning after a play ends?
The NFL's owners should be protecting their investments, not arguing over pocket change.
II
Stop watching.  Seriously.
American football is a lot of fun. It's a great sport. It's fun to play. High school football is enormous fun to watch. But the apparatus around collegiate and professional football has become absurd. 11 minutes of action packed into 3.5 hours of beer commercials.
They're going to keep doing the same shit so long as we all keep watching. We keep watching, and Coors pays NBC to pay the NFL to keep doing the same shit. Imagine what a few percent drop in viewership will do to everyone involved.
III
The NFL still has an antitrust exemption. One might ask one's representatives to ask the league's owners why they are jeopardizing the health and safety of their employees so flagrantly.

Really, all this complaining about the NFL proves only that they continue to have a hold on our collective attention and imagination.  We could do worse things than to walk away.

No More Foobaw For...Someone

Pertinent fact 1: This whole dispute with the NFL refs  could be solved for roughly half of what Tarvaris Jackson is making to back up a guy from Harvard.
Pertinent opinion 1: The fact that it has not is due solely to the fact that Roger Goodell wants to show the miserable peasants who's boss. Saying that the refs suddenly don't get the pension plan they'd been promised for years because he doesn't get one only works as an argument if all of those refs were also making north of $10M a year. I'll give you a hint. They're not.
Pertinent fact 2: Refereeing NFL games is really hard to do well.
Pertinent opinion 2: For all of the mythology about the simple elegance of football, the NFL rulebook is a horrific mishmash of weird rules, special cases, and just plain strangeness about the thickness of an L. Ron Hubbard novel. Mastering its contents as part of a part-time job would be extremely difficult. Trying to then use that knowledge while having to pursue world-class athletes (and nose tackles) up and down the field whilst being screamed at and intimidated by dictatorial nutbar headcoaches and two small armies of human goliaths (and kickers), all of whom literally have millions riding on the outcome of the season and who are used to having their every whim catered to, is nigh impossible. There was no way they could ever have slid in flawlessly to replace teams of professionals who have been doing this for years, who have the league's backing, and who have earned the respect of the guys they'd be refereeing. The replacement refs, on the other hand, have been thrown into the deep end by a league that will clearly abandon them as soon as they're no longer needed, and the players and coaches know it. To be blunt, it's a miracle there haven't been more catastrophes, and I challenge any of the armchair Ed Hochulis out there to do any better under these insane circumstances. Here's a hint - you won't.
Pertinent fact 3: The NFL thinks they can run sub-standard product out there and you'll watch anyway BECAUSE IT'S FOOBAW.
Pertinent opinion 3: Available evidence suggests they're right. Remember how, during the lockout of the players, everyone was all "Oh, this will destroy trust in the game" and "the fans will take years to come back" and "Tony Romo sucks"? The second the lockout ended, bam, butts were in seats, fantasy leagues were full, and you were hooked again. Never mind that it did affect the product on the field - ask any Eagles fan about trying to break in new schemes and coordinators without benefit of a real offseason or training camp - for the worse. It Was Foobaw. And so, when this thing wraps up, when Goodell extracts some token concession from the refs and pays them their promised pension, all the folks who have sworn up and down that they're tired of the league showing contempt for them, that they're tired of getting substandard product, that they've had it and they're not coming back....they'll be back. Instantly.
Pertinent fact 4: The racist chuckleheads tweeting horrific things in Golden Tate's direction because of that last play need to go get bent.
Pertinent opinion 4: Immediately.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Speaking of Cardinals...

The World's Dumbest Bird, aka "Rex Hudler", is still at it. Five months later and he's still slamming his face against every window in our house...and our shed...and our live-in-nephew's car...he can, apparently to defeat the magical cardinal who lives inside his reflection.

Quoth the wife: "How does that bird not have brain damage?"
Quoth me: "How do we know he doesn't?"

Why I'm Rooting For the Cardinals (Sort Of)

I am of two minds on the second NL Wild Card spot.

On one hand, I'm a Phillies fan, and I'd love to see them steal it. A season that's largely been pissed away due to injuries, curious playing time decisions (Hey, whaddaya know? If you leave John Mayberry alone, he hits!), bullpen meltdowns, and too many inexplicable meltdowns against the Houston Astros could still provide a happy ending. And, with this year's cockamamie playoff system, any time you can run a Cole Hamels and a Cliff Lee out there, you've got a puncher's chance.
And yet, on the other side, there's the Cardinals. Lord knows, I should be rooting fervently against them. the luckiest WS champions of recent years - seriously, who did Tony LaRussa sacrifice to Thor to get those fortuitously timed rainouts last year - they angered my formerly-Cardinals-loving wife by not hiring Jose Oquendo as their new manager. (Seriously. They announced the Matheny hiring and she announced they were dead to her. Hope of Jose was all that kept her going through the LaRussa years.)
But at the same time, part of me wants them to win. Why? Not for any love of Lances Berkman or Lynn. Not because I think "the best baseball fans in America" deserve more affirmation. No, it's for one simple reason: For years, LaRussa wallowed in the "genius" label, for certain values of "genius" that include "having one of the greatest players in history anchor your lineup and several gazillions sunk into your pitching staff". If a first year manager...with no prior managerial experience...can win with that same roster MINUS Albert Pujols, well, maybe that takes a little bit of that self-applied shine off that genius label.
It's petty, I know. But with the Phillies 4 games back with 10 to go, it's about all I've got.

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.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lessons From College Football, Week 2

Dear Missouri:

If you look around the conference and you don't see Kansas, you are Kansas.
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