Super Bowl Prep Talk, Part One-A

In this series, Dear Sports Fan will try to prepare non-sports fans and sports fans alike to converse knowledgeably during this Sunday’s Super Bowl parties. Super Bowl Sunday is probably the day when the most non-sports fans gather in front of televisions and mingle with their sport loving friends and family. In Part One-A of this series, we’ll cover some of the key story-lines and plot points around the game.

As is often the case with big sporting events, many fans will be following the Super Bowl for its dramatic, soap opera-esque stories. Although the game this year does not have any story half as inspiring as an athlete over-coming the twin deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend or half as bizarre as the revelation that that girlfriend never existed, this game has plenty of juicy stories orbiting it.


Ray Lewis is Everything

Ray Lewis is the starting middle linebacker of the Baltimore Ravens. He’s a very controversial figure. Some people love him, some people hate him, and some people will represent both sides of the issue while attacking the seven layer dip like a fiend. This playoff season has brought out the best, the worst, and the most dramatic elements of Lewis — let me tell you about some of it.

First, Lewis is undeniably great at his job. He’s been playing for the Baltimore Ravens since their inaugural season 17 years ago. He has been to 13 Pro Bowls, been the NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice, and was the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player in 2001 when the Ravens won last. Also… maybe he’s overrated.

We’re now done with the football side of Lewis. Before this year’s playoffs, he announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season. Boston area NESN wondered in early January (before the Ravens knocked the New England Patriots out of contention) whether or not this would inspire the Ravens to win the Super Bowl.

Lewis missed the final ten games of the regular season this year after he tore his triceps muscle. Now he’s back playing. Some say (and probably some at your super bowl party will say) that this has to be thanks to some serious performance enhancing drugs. Or even some kind of silly ones.

Lewis’ response to being asked about using deer antler spray shows another side of him — the religious crazy person side. He commented that the allegations were “the trick of the devil.” There is no question that if Lewis were not a football player, he might have been a charismatic preacher. He fires up his team before the game, cries dramatically during the national anthem, and answers post-game questions with mildly incoherent scripture.

Back in 2000, the year before Baltimore was last in the Super Bowl, Lewis was embroiled in a less goofy controversy. He was arrested for murder and aggravated assault in the stabbing death of two men outside a night club. Lewis cut a plea bargain where his charge was reduced to virtually nothing in return for testifying against his two friends. They were eventually acquitted.

Oh, and did I mention that he has a signature dance? It’s brilliant. Teach yourself it and impress your friends with an imitation. Like the mayor of Denver. Or Keenan Williams of SNL.

Good luck learning the dance! In the next two installments of this series, we’ll cover the two opposing head coaches being brothers and the complicated relationship of the host city, New Orleans, with the NFL.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra

Can You Help Me Understand the Playoff Beard?

Dear Sports Fan,

The guy I’m dating has started to grow a “playoff beard” to support his favorite hockey team. Can you tell me what he could possibly be thinking? And is there anything I can do to stop him?

Thanks,
Sonja


Dear Sonja,

The growing of a playoff beard in the context of a relationship can be a very delicate issue, particularly if you are not into your beau’s tonsorial experiment for stylistic reasons. We must deal with whether it’s okay to try to influence the beard, and if so, what the best methods are.

In most cases, I would argue that a partner’s appearance is out of bounds. Everyone influences their partner’s style by complimenting them on certain choices and staying silent on others. It’s even okay to say things like, “Honey, those neon teal capris are very flattering on you, but I think I prefer the way a simple pair of jeans allows your natural elegance to shine through.” It’s fine to express an opinion, but when it comes to actually asking, negotiating, or demanding a stylistic change… that crosses a line and becomes an infringement on your partner’s individuality and personal control.

Is a playoff beard really a choice of style though? I don’t think so. I think it’s an element of fandom divorced from[1] style. It’s more akin to painting your face on game day or wearing giant foam fingers[2] than cutting bangs into your hair. It’s very likely that he is doing this because somewhere deep down, he feels like his actions will affect the success of his team. This is as obviously insane as it is common.

One argument you could make is that the playoff beard isn’t really as much of a rule as people think it is. The playoff beard is a relatively recent tradition, having been started by the New York Islanders in the 1980s. It was immediately correlated with victory when the Islanders won four Stanley Cup championships in a row.[3] The NHL has been around since 1917, so the majority of its history has been spent sans beard. Even since 1980 there have been lulls and resurgences in the popularity of the playoff beard. For instance, in 2009 the Detroit Red Wings used the slogan “The Beard is Back” on their way to the finals. Unless your date is a Red Wings fan, he probably hates that team. Ask him if he really wants to be a part of something the Red Wings “brought back.”

If you prefer the indirect approach, here are a couple things you might want to try.

  • Wait until day four. This is probably the itchiest day in the history of the universe. Watch for a particularly agonized moment and mention how much more you enjoy kissing his neck when it’s smooth.
  • According to the rules of playoff beards, not being able to grow a beard does not excuse you. For example, Patrick Kane grew a playoff mullet a couple years back. Tell your boyfriend that you’re going to join him this playoff season as best you can. According to the rules, “Women are not exempt from playoff beards.  Some refuse to shave their legs…others get more…um…creative.  I’ll just leave it at that.”

Your third option is to embrace the playoff beard! You might be surprised at how much you grow to like the “fuzzy and furry facial accoutrement” growing on his face. The female bloggers over at Puck Daddy certainly do — they just wrote a “Guide to 2012 Stanley Cup scruff.” Encourage him to take part in the beard-based charity drive at Beard-A-Thon where hockey fans have raised over $100,000 so far!

Thanks for your question,
Ezra Fischer
Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. perhaps even intentionally oppositional to
  2. of course if he is growing a beard, he probably does those things too…
  3. Also point out that they have not won since… so it may be more of a curse than a boon

What Happened on the Last Giants Touchdown?

Dear Sports Fan,

What the hell happened on the play where Ahmad Bradshaw scored?

Thanks,
Mary


Dear Mary,

Welcome to a situation where real life and video games collide. Anyone who’s played Madden football has done what the Patriots did in that situation and knew immediately it was the right call. To recap:

Giants are down 17-15 with only a few minutes on the clock. Either a touchdown OR a field goal wins the game for them. This is important to note.

After Eli Manning completed his absurd pass to Mario Manningham, and executed a few more mundane plays, it became clear that the Giants were going to score. They were in field goal range, and rapidly approaching the range where basically you or I could successfully kick a field goal.

At a certain point the Patriots had to make a decision: when do we accept the reality that they’re going to score, and how do we get the ball back as quickly as possible and with as many timeouts as possible (this is important to note), so that we can try to counter? Keep in mind the Patriots only had two timeouts left because they had used one to challenge whether or not Mario Manningham caught Eli Manning’s absurd pass which, absurdly enough, he did. The clock also stops at the two minute warning,[1] giving the Patriots three opportunities to stop the clock.

If you’re the Giants, the plan is simple: run as many safe plays as you can for as long as you can to draw the clock down and force the Patriots to use all of their timeouts. Then, when you’ve eaten up as much time as you can – they could have taken the clock down to around 20 seconds in this case – you line up and kick the field goal, taking the lead and giving the Patriots very little time to get the ball back and score.

Here’s where Madden football comes in: in video game world, the ONLY sensible thing to do in this situation is to let the other team score a touchdown immediately. If the choice is trailing by five or six with around a minute to go and a time out, or trailing by three with 20 seconds to go and no timeouts, it’s pretty much a no-brainer. So in Madden world, you call the most permissive (promiscuous?) defense you have and, as soon as the play starts, take control of as many players as possible and dive to the ground to avoid making a tackle.

In the NFL, this rarely happens – primarily because coaches and players always like to think there’s a chance of stopping someone or forcing a turnover, and letting the opponent score reeks of surrender, which is something football players are conditioned to never do; and second, because the other team is presumably smarter than the artificial intelligence in the Madden game and will refuse to cooperate.

How? It’s pretty simple: you fall down before you get in the end zone. Falling down – we do it all the time. It’s the easiest thing to do in the world, unless you’re Ahmad Bradshaw and the only thought in your mind is scoring the winning touchdown in a Super Bowl, and the defense miraculously melts away in front of you and you have a clear path to the end zone and it’s not until you’re at the one-foot line that you realize – either because you hear someone yelling or you hear your coach’s voice in your head – that you’re dancing on the very thin line between being a Super Bowl Hero or being The Greatest Super Bowl Goat of All Time,[2] but it’s too late and your momentum slowly topples you into the unknown. (footnote 3: In this case, the obscene run on sentence is an attempt to capture the running back’s stream of consciousness. It’s neither laziness nor an indictment of the writer’s high school English teachers)

So as it does in Madden football, the strategy worked for the Pats – or worked as well as it could have under the circumstances. That they weren’t able to complete an absurd Hail Mary pass in the end zone to win the game in the end isn’t an indictment of their strategy – the mere fact that they were a foot away from a Super Bowl winning catch validates what every video football game player has known for years.

Thanks for the question,
Dean Russell Bell

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. The 2 minute warning is an institution that no one really challenges. It’s unquestioningly accepted as part of the game, like tight pants – except the tight pants actually serve a purpose. There are 53 players and dozens of coaches on the sideline and there are scoreboards all over the stadium – do they really need to be warned that there are only 2 minutes left?
  2. The GOAT goat?

What Channel is the Super Bowl on? Who are the Patriots?

Dear Sports Fan,

Who are the Patriots? Is the Super Bowl today? Tell me what channel to watch — I guess I really should join the rest of the human race if only for a little bit.

Thanks,
Jim


 

Dear Jim,

Ha! Yes, today is the super bowl!

It’s on NBC (probably channel 4) at 6:30. The New England Patriots play the New York Giants.
This is a rematch of a Super Bowl a few years ago. Back then the Patriots were going into the game undefeated and were seen as massive favorites to win and become the second team ever to go undefeated the entire season. The Giants upset the Patriots, thanks in part to this incredible play to keep them alive with about a minute left in the fourth quarter.
The Giants this year were only so-so for most of the year, but towards the end of the year they got on a roll and have been playing very, very good football since then. Their strengths are defensive line-men (Justin Tuck, Usi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul are probably three of the top ten defensive linemen in the league and they’re all on the Giants) and the chemistry between their quarterback, Eli Manning (a really great, really long article about him) and his three wide receivers Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham. Those last three might be particularly problematic for the Patriots since their weakness is definitely their defensive secondary (the guys who try to cover the wide receivers.) As commentators will probably remind us at least twenty times today, they are so weak at that position that Julian Edelman, who started the year as a wide receiver on offense, will be starting on defense. I think this is a little overstated. He’s actually pretty good on defense.
Starting an offensive player on defense is an incredibly unconventional idea… which is pretty much on par with the Patriot’s coach Bill Belichick. As Charles Pierce pointed out in this Grantland piece Belichick has been very successfully the NFL’s most anarchist coach for a long time. He’s one of the Patriots’ main (apparent at least) advantages. The other is definitely Tom Brady, their quarterback, who is playing in his fifth Super Bowl and has won three of four. The Patriots offense this year has been very heavy on short passes up the middle of the field to three targets — Wes Welker, a freakishly precise and quick 5’9″ slot receiver and two young tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Everything you need to know about Gronkowski you can learn from watching this play. He suffered a pretty brutal ankle sprain two weeks ago though and it’s unclear how much or how well he’ll be able to play today. My bet is that he’ll be fine.
Of course, the real star of the day is money. From betting on everything from the length of the national anthem to the color of the Gatorade dumped on the winning coach to covering the commercials as if they are their own sport money is front and center the whole time.
As for joining the rest of the human race, good luck! The NFL put together a fun infographic about what people will be doing today… let’s just say that 53.5 million pounds of avocado and 8 million pounds of popcorn are involved. 8 million pounds of popcorn!! What a great day.
Enjoy,
Ezra Fischer

Is it Fair to Mock Tim Tebow for his Religion?

Dear Sports Fan,

I saw that a couple of football players were making fun of Tim Tebow for praying. What’s up with that? Do you think it’s fair to mock Tim Tebow for his religion?

Thanks,
Cody

— — —

Hey Cody,

It’s a close call, but I do think it’s okay to mock Tim Tebow’s religiosity. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, here’s a little background. Tim Tebow is a Quarterback, currently playing for the Denver Broncos in the NFL, who won two National Championships in college with the University of Florida football team. In college he became incredibly famous, mostly for his football playing prowess, but also for his religious beliefs which he was unabashedly public about. In 2009 a reporter asked him if he was a virgin and he said he was. He also showed some humor, saying, “I think you’re stunned right now,” Tebow joked with reporters after revealing his virginity. “You can’t even ask a question. … I was ready for that question, but I don’t think ya’ll were.” In 2010, Tebow publicized his beliefs further by participating in a Super Bowl commercial for Focus On the Family which (between the lines, as it were) promoted an anti-abortion message by celebrating Tebow’s mom’s decision to continue her pregnancy despite being advised by a doctor not to. As Brian Phillips writes in his well-worth reading article on Tebow on Grantland, “A trillion words have been written about this already, but suffice it to say that if you see him as the avatar of muscular Christianity in football, you know that in his bland, smiling, placidly self-confident way, he sees himself that way, too.”

These days, Tebow has somehow become even more polarizing as he has emerged in mid-season as the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Two weekends ago he started his first game this season against the Miami Dolphins. The Broncos were down 15-0 at half-time but ended up coming back to win the game in overtime. When they won, cameras caught Tebow kneeling in prayer as his teammates celebrated around him. This act has become a meme over the last week, leading to a website selling shirts… and to any number of photos and videos of people performing their own acts of “Tebowing.”

This past Sunday’s game did not go quite so well for the Broncos or for Tebow. The Broncos lost 45 to 10 to the Detroit Lions and Tebow played badly, throwing one interception and fumbling three times. The Lions were not satisfied just by winning, they also picked a couple choice moments to mock Tebow by adopting his now famous praying pose after sacking him or scoring a touchdown.

To your question — which was also asked in this way in the New York Times’ football blog today:

Is it all in good fun?  Tebow invites scrutiny with the very public nature of his religious beliefs, his evangelistic side. But let’s imagine that a player displayed a Muslim religious ritual or one based on Hinduism? Would it be fair to mock those displays as well? If not, why is it fair game for Tebow?

I say yes, it is fair to mock Tebow for his religious displays because Tebow, through his actions has made them part of the public domain. It’s one thing to claim that dropping to his knees in passionate prayer is not a public act even if it is on a playing field with 20+ cameras, but it’s another to claim that someone who used to list bible verses on his eye-black and who has publicly endorsed religious/cultural lobbies it treating his own religious as a private matter. Frankly, I don’t think the players on the Lions were mocking Tim Tebow for his religion, I think they were mocking a sophomore player, who they think is not very good at his craft, for what they consider a self-aggrandizing and maybe just a little prematurely self-congratulatory celebration.

What do you think?
Ezra Fischer

 

What's Up with Realignment in College Sports?

Dear Sports Fan,

What’s up with realignment in college sports? That seems to be all anyone is talking about these days.

Thanks,
Ken


 

Dear Ken,

If you’ve ever wondered why national borders are so messed up — why they break cultural groups in half, ignore obvious geographic boundaries like rivers and mountains, and  geometric conventions like straight lines — then this is the perfect non-violent real life lesson. Over the past couple weeks (and years,) several schools have committed to moving from one conference to another. The borders are shifting.

There’s no need to get into the specifics[1] but suffice it to say that many of them involve relatively impractical moves like Pittsburgh (366 miles from the ocean) into the Atlantic Coast Conference and Texas A&M (Southern, but not particularly Eastern) into the South-Eastern Conference. It’s not all geography — the Big Ten conference now has 12 teams.[2]

The sport that’s driving all of this is football. There’s an enormous amount of money made on college football. According to this CNN article, in 2010 the average school with a football team in one of the major conferences made over a million dollars a game. The important phrase in that sentence is not “over a million,” it’s “major conferences.” Right now the major conferences are the SEC, the Big 10, the Big 12, the Pac 12, the ACC, and the Big East. As these conferences threaten to break up, the member schools are wriggling around in their chairs, trying not to be the last one standing when the music stops. This creates MORE instability, which creates more nervousness, which creates more movement, which creates more instability… I could keep this up all night if it didn’t wear out my suspenders.

There’s nothing I hate more than people who simply argue that everything that once was was better than anything that will be. This is mindless nostalgia, the subject of a recent brilliant essay by Chuck Klosterman,[3] and I will try to avoid it. However, it seems to me that letting the profit from a single sport drive who everyone other athlete in those schools play (and how far they have to travel to do it) is too bad. It’s another sign that the big money college sports, football and basketball, need to be more fully divorced from track and field, swimming, soccer, field hockey, etc. We can have semi-pro football and basketball teams affiliated with universities that do not drag everyone else through this mud and that are not as inherently hypocritical as the “amateur” leagues are now but that still are profitable enough to fund the non-money sports.

Not sure if I answered your question or just added to your list of people who are talking about realignment but thank you for your question.

Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Because it’s pretty boring, even to crazy college football fans. This website does a ridiculously compendious job of covering it.
  2. They compounded this mistake by dividing the league into two six team divisions, one named “Legends” and one named “Leaders.” Both divisions are made up of teams of college kids.
  3. Although I must say… his writing used to be way better in the early aughts…”

The Return Heard Round the World — Djokovic Beats Federer

Dear Sports Fan,

What’s up with yous? No posts for more than two weeks?? What are we, chopped liver?

Dear Sports Fan Fan


 

Dear Dear Sports Fan Fan,

Apologies for the long interregnum between posts. We will be trying to ramp back up to close to a post a day in the coming week or two!

Today I’m going to repost an article that Brian Phillips wrote for Grantland.

In it he recaps the amazing tennis match from Saturday in the U.S. Open semifinals between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. In it he describes how Djokovic survived two Federer match points and came back to win the match. He wonders about the meaning of this:

We want athletes to be able to explain sports. Sport, at its most basic, is about physically realizing intentions — calculating the angle, plotting the spin, executing the shot. So surely the people who have the intentions, the people whose inner lives sport is expressing in some complicated way, are in the best position to tell us what really happens on the court. And to a certain extent that’s true. But one of the reasons it’s so scary to imagine going into the postmatch press conference as a loser is that it’s not entirely true. What happens during a match may concern you to an emotionally devastating degree, but what happens can also turn on tiny fluctuations of chance so complicated that they are astoundingly difficult to articulate — minute physical differences that fall within any conceivable margin of error, emotional swings that could have gone either way and went against you, who knows why. These sorts of breaks are often monstrously unfair. And as with The Shot and The Confrontation, they tend to take on outsize importance in matches that are otherwise very close. Meaning that the greatest contests, the ones whose outcomes are most exalting for the winners and most devastating for the losers, are the ones most likely to be decided by infinitesimal turns of luck.

I have to say that I think he’s taking a little away from the greatness of the match and the greatness of that moment. Let’s watch it:

What I see in Djokovic’s face before the shot is someone who is resigned to his situation as he sees it. He knows that he has only a small chance of winning and he knows exactly what that chance is. He knows that his only hope is to take a low-percentage chance. He’s going to guess — to over-commit to where Federer might serve. If he’s right he’ll be able to win the point decisively. If not, Federer gets an ace and the match is over. Here’s where the greatness comes in — by this point they have been playing for over four hours. Djokovic has seen 162 Federer first serves. They’ve played 22 other times before Saturday. Without a coach talking in his ear, or a catcher flashing signs at him, Djokovic has to decide what gamble to make. Does he commit outside or inside? How many steps behind the base-line should he be? Should he return cross-court? Facing defeat in front of thousands of people, exhausted by four hours of tennis in the hot sun, annoyed at a crowd which has supported his opponent all day, Djokovic makes up his mind… and he’s right.

Sure it was lucky — but it was lucky like Larry Bird was lucky when he stole Isiah Thomas’ inbound pass, like Muhammed Ali was lucky not to get knocked out while he was rope-a-doping George Foreman.

Ezra Fischer

The Unwritten Rules of Sports

Dear Sports Fan, 

In relation to the inquiry “Why aren’t the Rules the Rules?“, what is your take on the series of conduct breaches in the recent Angels/Tigers skirmish? Everyone seems to be making a big stink about baseball’s “code of unwritten rules” and how a number of them were violated (and enforced) in the game: lingering at plate after hitting a home run; trash talking; spoiling a no-hitter with a bunt; intentionally pitching a fast ball at the batter’s head (okay that may be a real violation for which the pitcher was suspended). If this is unsportsmanlike conduct, then why aren’t there written rules to prevent such behavior? Why has the Angels/Tigers’ pissing match of retribution been defended by the players and coaches and justified by some MLB commentators after the fact? And if a pitcher is an inning away from a no-hitter, is the opposing team really supposed to just hand him the game?

Thanks,

Andrew Young


 

Dear Andrew,

This is a bit dated now because the game you mention was several weeks ago, but the question, at least in baseball, is always timely. Baseball fans and writers love talking and writing about the unwritten rules of their sport. That’s true for hockey too – both of them have a tradition of self-enforcement of an unwritten “code” which, as Geoffrey Rush would say, are more like “guidelines” anyway. There aren’t written rules about these things because they’re too subjective – ie, how can you tell whether a pitcher definitely threw at a hitter, how can you tell that  a player bunted for a base hit to break up a no-hitter and not just because it was the only way his team could get on base?

That’s where the code comes in.

The code, in both baseball and hockey, has to do with two things: respect for your opponent and, therefore, the game, and policing dangerous play. In the game you reference, the two went hand in hand.

But, as in all things, context matters. You generally shouldn’t bunt to break up a no-hitter, but only if it’s blatant that you’re doing it to break up a no-hitter – ie, if you’re losing by enough that you’d enforce a mercy rule if it were little league, or you haven’t bunted since the first Bush Administration.  If you’re down by three and known as a speedy guy who sometimes actually bunts to get on base, you can usually get away with it.

It’s acceptable to throw at a hitter if the opposing team’s pitcher did the same to one of your teammates – but it’s never ok to throw at the head.

The code is pretty clear that you finish your home run trot in a timely fashion and don’t stand there admiring it, but who’s to say what’s timely? Staring down the pitcher after you hit a home run – as happened in this case – is a clear no-no.

When all of these self-enforcement mechanisms fail, baseball resorts to the ultimate in phony tough guy moments: the bench-clearing brawl. Baseball is different than hockey cause when hockey players brawl, you can tell it’s a brawl. For instance, they actually make physical contact with people. When baseball players brawl, it’s like a swarm of electrons meeting at midfield. They get really really close but 99 percent of the time they move away before there’s any actual contact. If someone actually lands a punch, it’s news – if a 70 year old bench coach is tossed on his ass by a 35 year old athlete it’s a clip that will be replayed for decades.

So while there are some legitimate reasons for these rules to exist – namely, helping people protect their teammates – these unwritten rules are really just another way for athletes, the reporters who cover them and the commentators who commentate on them (who are frequently former athletes) to make clear that they’re a part of a unique  group of people who have their own special rules that other people just can’t understand.

Thanks,
Dean Russell Bell

Why is Everyone Still Focused on Tiger Woods?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why is everyone still focused on Tiger Woods when it’s clear he’s washed up, past his prime and old news all at once?

Thanks,
Darren


 

Dear Darren,

When I was in college the model UN club sneakily threw the best parties. They had the biggest budget of all the clubs and somehow, when their conferences were done, they always had enough money left over to buy a ridiculous amount of booze. When you’re a freshman or sophomore, that’s all you need.

The problem was the stigma of going to a model UN party. Even if they have the best booze, everyone thinks the model UN is populated by nerds and misfits and no one who’s NOT in model UN would ever want it getting around that they were seen at one of their parties. Unless, that is, model UN has one girl in it who is so incredibly attractive that she gives you a reason – a reason your buddies will buy – to go to their parties.

The PGA tour is the model UN party, without the booze. Unless you’re a die-hard golfer watching your ordinary, run-of-the-mill PGA tournament is a lot like standing around three college students arguing about the impact of a European-based missile shield on Russia’s nuclear deterrent capability: painful. PGA tour golfers were a pretty sleepy, uniform lot. Even the exciting ones were still nerds, and you can count on one hand the number of golfers who have more charisma than your average accountant. In fact, that’s a fun game for trivia night: print off pictures of PGA tour golfers, print off pictures from some accounting firm’s website and play “Professional Golfer or Professional accountant?” If anyone in your group does better than 50-50, they’re watching too much golf, and you and your friends will probably ridicule them for it.

Tiger Woods was the hot girl who showed up to the PGA Tour party and made it ok for sports fans – and non-fans – to watch golf.[1] For one thing, he looked like an athlete: he clearly worked out, you know, like athletes do. For another, he had charisma. World class charisma? Maybe not – but remember, we’re putting him next to 300 guys  with the charisma of people who do taxes for a living. He carried himself with what white people learned was called swagger, and we all ate up the fist pumps and the screams, and him running after his putt to make sure it knew where it was supposed to go. He had the showmanship thing down.

And, maybe most importantly, he was appointment-viewing. You never knew what Tiger was going to do, but chances are if you watched him long enough in his prime he’d do something incredible. Even if he didn’t, he had that aura about him that made you want to keep watching. And he won over and over and over, with the kind of single-minded determination we all admire in people who climb to the top of their professions.[2] At his peak he intimidated everyone around him and even the mere whisper of his name on Sunday would make other golfers fall apart.

Turns out, that kind of domination by an exciting, compelling figure – unlike, say Roger Federer, who dominated tennis in a similar way but never quite matched Tiger on the charisma scale – was great for golf. More people watched on TV, which meant the PGA tour made more money, which meant purses were bigger, which attracted more talent.

The problem is, at some point the hot girl leaves the model UN party,[3] and then it’s just a bunch of unpopular kids who may have good booze. That’s the future the PGA is staring in the face: declining viewership, a wealth of talented but boring players and no clear number one. One only has to watch the current crop of players awkwardly emulate Tiger’s fist pumps to realize showmanship doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

That’s why – no matter his sins – virtually everyone knows that a Tiger resurgence would be the best thing for the game, and why you’ll hear people talking about it for a long time to come.

Dean Russell Bell

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Actually he slept with the hot girl(s) but that’s a different story.
  2. The same kind of determination we say will inspire us to do better and achieve more, until we go to work the next day and remember that our jobs are boring and that we don’t have some great emptiness inside us that can only be filled up by unparalleled greatness and achievement. And sleeping with lots of women.
  3. She’s tired of Tiger hitting on her. And here, the analogous worlds collide and the entire analogy starts to crumble.

Will There Be Football This Fall?

Dear Sports Fan

Will the NFL and the players reach an agreement before fall?  what happens to Sunday if there is no NFL?

Thanks,
Pat


 

Dear Pat,

An agreement is looking more and more likely. Why just last night the league and the owners were all over TV talking about how they voted to ratify a ten-year agreement that would save the season, divide the billions of revenue in a mutually beneficial way, address some of the players’ labor concerns AND cost us only one preseason game and…excuse me? Oh the players haven’t approved it? Oh…that’s right BOTH sides have to approve a labor agreement. No wonder this is taking so long.

Still, it seems like they’re moving closer and closer to a deal, with an agreement in principle likely in the next few days, followed by a slightly longer process to vote, ratify, sign, etc.

So no fear – you won’t have to take up reading, or discover religion (assuming you haven’t already) just to get yourself through miserable, football-less Sundays this fall.

As soon as the agreement’s final and the lockout’s over, the real fun begins: an abbreviated, headlong rush through offseason activities that normally take place over a series of six-eight months and will now be completed in just a few. Meaning, free agency (signing players who are not under contract to any other team), training camps (where players lose the twenty pounds they’ve put on during the offseason) and preseason games (where the NFL charges regular season ticket prices for games that feature, at best, one quarter of something resembling professional football).

Like most things in the NFL, the smart franchises already know exactly what they need to accomplish in all these areas in the next couple months, and they have an advantage over the dumb franchises,[1] who will do the usual dumb things they do every offseason, just in a shorter time-frame.

Thanks for the question,
Dean Russell Bell

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Best example is the Washington Redskins, a once great team who’ve plummeted since a new owner bought them and decided the shortcut to success was spending hundreds of millions of dollars on famous free agents in the offseason –  with no regard for whether they fit in with their system, were still good anymore, or had any desire to play football.