sports

Sports fandom

February 7th, 2011  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

Ilya Somin argues that sports fandom is no less ridiculous than vicarious identification with fictional characters, but that you should still probably hate the Yankees. This isn’t news to thoughtful sports fans, of course, but I’m often baffled why emotional responses to sports and other more-or-less lowbrow entertainments are often regarded as somehow unacceptable by the same people who find weeping over the specifics of literature, opera, art cinema, or other imaginary diversions completely praiseworthy. (Speaking of imaginary diversions, I’d argue that it’s much less ridiculous to care about the state of the Premier League table or the fate of Maurice Levy than it is to get all worked up over real-world election results.)

In a similar vein, I’ve recently realized that my permanent addresses throughout my entire life, when ordered by time, strictly increase in the noisomeness of the local pro sports fan base: St. Paul until toddlerhood; Alameda County, CA for the 1980s; the D.C. metro area in the early 1990s; the Philadelphia metro area for summers in college; and finally, southern Wisconsin. As you might imagine, I’m wholly unsettled by this pattern’s implications for my family’s future mobility. Although we love Madison and have no desire to leave, if we were to move again, we’d have to settle in Chicago, North Jersey, or perhaps next door to ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons.

Doping and cancer

May 14th, 2010  |  Tags: , , ,  |  Leave a comment

Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing will be suspended for four games at the beginning of this season for failing a drug test at the beginning of last season. This briefly scandalized some subset of football fans and journalists, since last season was Cushing’s first year, and he had been awarded the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Instead of stripping him of the award, the AP held a re-vote, and Cushing wound up keeping the honor. It’s a ridiculous story that reflects poorly on an individual athlete, on the AP, and on the NFL, but more people have written about this than I have.

The interesting part of this saga from my perspective is that Cushing was caught using human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG. I don’t follow baseball or the Olympics all that closely and am thus not an expert on the details of sports doping; I only know of the natural ways that this substance might occur in your body. Specifically, elevated hCG either means that you’re pregnant or that you have testicular cancer. Other tumor markers can be affected by other factors (physical stress, alcohol abuse, etc.), but hCG is very useful since abnormal hCG levels exclusively correlate with pregnancy or cancer. Cushing was not parking in the “expectant mothers” space outside of Reliant Stadium last September, so this suggests that the only natural explanation for his elevated hCG would be cancer.

There are unnatural ways that one might exhibit elevated hCG. As I’ve learned since this story came out, hCG is used to stimulate testosterone production after anabolic steroid use. It seems likely that Cushing may have come by his hCG this way, especially since he was recovering from a preseason knee injury when he failed the doping test (and since he hasn’t died of cancer or given birth in the last few months). Indeed, it is essentially impossible that his elevated test results could be explained without artificial hCG introduction.

The simple physiological facts make Cushing’s recent press conference, in which he denied doping, insinuated that his positive test results led him to believe that he had cancer, and pledged to find a natural explanation for his failed test, all the more ridiculous. Football teams keep millions of dollars worth of imaging devices in their practice facilities and stadiums, and professional athletes routinely receive expensive MRI scans after even trivial injuries, but we are expected to believe that the Texans’ medical staff were unwilling or unable to give Cushing an ultrasound or follow-on blood work? We’re supposed to believe that Cushing actually thought that he had a germ cell tumor — a hyper-aggressive disease that can kill a healthy young man in a matter of weeks if left alone — somewhere in his body but went on to play a season of football instead of seeking treatment?

I’m not sure whether this PR tactic reflects Cushing’s stupidity or his temerity.

Curse you, Favre

August 19th, 2009  |  Tags: , , ,  |  Leave a comment

I had been intending to order tickets to the Vikings’ home opener for about a week, and had been looking forward to taking my dad and my son to the game. (The team had been running a great package deal with free parking, etc., for the home opener, which made it an easy choice.) On the evening of August 17, I almost placed an order, but then I thought it would be better to wait until the morning: to make sure Dad was free and see whether or not Andrea thought it would be a good idea to take the lad.

Those of you who have had any exposure to the sporting media in the last day or so know what happened the next morning: as I tried to order tickets via the web browser on my phone1, I learned that my favorite football team had just crossed the Rubicon by signing the efficient cause of my second 2005 New Year’s resolution2, and that fans were mobbing the Vikings’ practice facility and purchasing tickets and memorabilia at staggering, tulip-bubble rates. As you might imagine, I was unable to secure tickets.

So this year will, I suppose, be fairly similar to previous years. I will still be cheering when Brett Favre completes passes to Vikings players. However, I’m not sure which moral of this story is more troubling: the idea that everyone’s favorite Everyman can lie his way out of training camp, or the idea that I should be punished for delaying an impulse purchase.

1 Why is this so painful, Ticketmaster? It’s not like mobile Safari is a niche platform.
2 Namely: “Cease allowing televised sporting events to affect blood pressure, pulse, or frequency of profane/malicious utterances.”

One good reason to buy a baseball team

February 14th, 2007  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

From the “I’m clearly in the wrong field” file: apparently, Liberty Media is “buying” the Atlanta Braves from Time Warner as part of a stock swap. Because the Braves are an “operating asset,” their inclusion in the deal renders the transfer (that is, sale) of 60 million shares of Time Warner stock from Liberty to TW completely tax-free. The Braves are worth about $450 million (although you can’t really put a dollar value on a throng of racist, obnoxious fans), but their inclusion in the deal saves Liberty $700 million in tax liability.

I’m currently listening to Punkrocker (featuring Iggy Pop) from the album “Soft Machine” by Teddybears

“Information” density run amok

October 19th, 2006  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

Last Friday, ESPN devoted airtime on all of its approximately 18 broadcast networks to presenting the Auburn-Florida game in various ways. The most egregious was the “Full Circle” presentation on ESPN2, which featured six separate cameras, two columns of statistics (for the current drive and for the entire game), a scoreboard, the “regular” news crawl, and a banner advertising AT&T’s proud sponsorship of this multimedia abomination:

ESPN goes insane

Technological advances have been good for televised sports in some ways; the yellow (first-down) line and blue (scrimmage) lines make it possible to enjoy a football game without really paying attention; they also minimize the impact of incompetent camera work. Motion graphics technology is now good enough that the score and clock can be on-screen at all times (for a shocking contrast, check out broadcasts from even twenty years ago, when score, clock, and down-and-distance covered the whole screen and were thus shown sparingly).

However, technology is the golem. It’s not all good, contra the glib assertions of our friends at Pitchfork. It was bad enough when, for example, CNN TV started emulating CNN.com, presenting multiple columns of information and an omnipresent news ticker. (I think that live film takes up only about 1/3 of the screen on the Bloomberg network — the rest is all tickers, crawls, and live updates agogue.) This ESPN Full Circle mess is even worse — it’s like a myspace.com page stretched out to fit widescreen TV. (And I do mean “widescreen TV”, since “Full Circle” would be completely illegible in standard-def.)

As an aside, I am completely confused by myspace.com. I’ve never registered there, but apparently it can figure out who is “in my extended network.” (One example from my apparently vast “extended network” is this character, who I am fairly sure doesn’t really exist.) I suppose I will have to make a myspace page when I finally release a madcap ontic record, but I am thoroughly dreading it.

It does seem like the conventional media are interested in aping the worst and most tasteless aspects of innovations in bad design. Unfortunately, these are readily-spotted and almost instantly anachronistic. Imagine opening the Washington Post, say, in mid-1995 and seeing Tony Kornheiser’s column printed in white text over a repeating tiled background image, with arbitrary words blinking for emphasis. Then, consider that that’s how silly Full Circle looks now.

ESPN’s presentation, by densely packing unrelated animated graphics with indigestible, useless* statistics, provides a mix of the worst of social networking websites with a pathologically infelicitous application of PowerPoint’s “AutoContent Wizard.” Indeed, given his opinions on the latter, I’d be interested (and amused) to hear what Edward Tufte had to say about ESPN’s latest.

* These statistics aren’t strictly meaningless, but they are functionless as a fixture on the screen during a broadcast. It doesn’t enhance my enjoyment of a game, for example, to be able to look at a column of tiny numbers and notice that Florida has outrushed Auburn but is still losing the time-of-possession battle.

NFL player or Dune?

September 10th, 2006  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

Is that an NFL player or a character in Frank Herbert’s Dune?

Kirby Puckett

March 6th, 2006  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

I was saddened to read that Kirby Puckett passed away today. There’s not much I can easily say about Puckett, who was a hero to a generation of Minnesota sports fans (including me) for his hard work, talented play, humility, and decency.

After he retired from baseball, Puckett was the target of several allegations ranging from troubling to despicable. Many commentators, most notably Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated, piled on, claiming that such alleged behavior contradicted the polite, friendly man that Minnesota fans thought they knew; that Puckett was a fraud; or, at least, that he had fallen out of his former good behavior.

Sportswriters and journalists are certainly quick to pen smears and diagnose hypocrisy, but I don’t buy any of these explanations. Rather, I believe that the apparent “hypocrisy” or “contradiction” merely points to the deepness of the stain of human sin and our need for redemption. Puckett was a Christian, so I suspect that he knew the need for (and source of) redemption as well as anyone.

Rest in peace, Mr. Puckett, and we’ll see you tomorrow night.

Image credit: KFAN.com
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More Olympics-related info

February 19th, 2006  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

survives, lives to talk about it

As opposed to, you know, those people who survive something but don’t live to talk about it.

Stranger than fiction

February 16th, 2006  |  Tags:  |  3 Comments

When I posted my tirade about “holding the Winter Olympics in a cold-weather city,” I was joking. I presented that piece as a satire of the ridiculous yearly sportswriter screeds against holding the Super Bowl in a cold-weather and/or “small-market” city. I expected the position that I jocularly expressed was so transparently ludicrous that any adult with firing synapses couldn’t possibly take it seriously.

This morning, malignant ESPN Radio personality Colin Cowherd continued to exceed my expectations by ranting about holding the Olympics in Turin. The substance, such as it was, of his raving was roughly identical to his frequent anti-Detroit rants from before the Super Bowl; his sentiments were chillingly in line with those of my parodic piece. Indeed, Cowherd even asserted without proof that Turin was “the Detroit of Europe” and that it was not “as exciting as Lillehammer.” I can’t argue with his claim about Turin being the Detroit of Europe, especially as I was listening to the soulful sounds of Il Jacsonni Cinque this afternoon. However, I would be willing to bet money that Cowherd wouldn’t recognize Lillehammer (which, for perspective, is roughly 1.5 times the population of Carroll, IA, or one-tenth that of Rockville, MD) if he were standing in front of a sign saying “Velkommen til Lillehammer.”

In other Olympics-related news, NBC is presently broadcasting something called “snowboard cross.” (It might be bicapitalized, like “SnowboardCross,” or it might have a cutesy abbreviation, like “SnoBrdX.” I don’t know.) At this point, I think that the only thing separating the Winter Olympics from the Winter X Games is the absence of the snowmobile-flipping competition and the frozen-lake Camaro race.

Collegiate nostalgia notes; football notes

October 4th, 2005  |  Tags:  |  2 Comments

Gregg Easterbrook featured my alma mater in his “bonus obscure college score of the week” last week. I think St. Olaf may have won five or six games in my entire undergraduate career; I’m pretty sure I only went to two games in my day. Nonetheless, their performance against Macalester (which once lost 49 games in a row) is unsurprising.

Easterbrook says it’s “not very saintly” to run up the score. Little, apparently, does he know that the rampant heterodoxy on Manitou Heights is not limited to poor sportsmanship.

In other news, apparently the only thing worse than being a Chicago, Detroit, or Minnesota fan is being a Green Bay fan. The dismal NFC North is currently a combined 3-11. However, Green Bay’s four losses have come at the hand of teams whose combined won-loss record, not considering games against Green Bay, is a sub-par .400.

On the other hand, I should really limit my schadenfreude, since Green Bay has not looked quite as abysmal as my preferred squad. (Long-term readers may be interested to know that I have done an excellent job of keeping 2005’s resolution #2.)

Bollinger

September 27th, 2005  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

There’s only one thing you need to know about former Wisconsin quarterback Brooks Bollinger starting for the Jets in the wake of Chad Pennington’s season-ending injury: Yesterday, on PTI, Ron Jaworski questioned the Jets’ decision to start “Bruce” Bollinger. If you’ve been in the league for a couple of years and some guy who’s paid to know your name doesn’t, then your team is probably in deep trouble.

Football notes

September 8th, 2005  |  Tags:  |  3 Comments

In perhaps the best news I’ve heard all week, ESPN fired Trev Alberts after he declined to show up for a live show on Sunday. One wonders where they’ll find a suitable replacement. A grating, obnoxious commentator who’s always tripping over himself to shill for the favored team is such a rarity in the world of sports media.

KFAN-AM (a sports-talk station in the Twin Cities) is podcasting the weekly Mike Tice show. Tice may not be a spectacular coach, but he is often entertaining, whether intentionally or otherwise.

Finally, don’t miss Gregg Easterbrook’s all-haiku NFL forecasts.

UPDATE: Here’s one more: Predictably, Hunter S. Thompson took the NFL a bit too seriously.

EA Trax, making up for lost time

August 14th, 2005  |  Tags: , ,  |  Leave a comment

Note to regular readers: I expect to dig myself out from under a mound of grading shortly, and regular blogging on non-mass-entertainment related topics will ensue. In the meantime, check out some crackpot comments — too few links to be spam, too little sense to be serious — here and here (scroll past legitimate comments).

Andrea’s cousins Tim and Luke introduced me to NCAA Football 06 last week. I didn’t play it, but I saw them play enough to note the licensed soundtrack, which includes “Debaser” by the Pixies, some track from the Pietasters’ “post-good” period (but still! The Pietasters! I saw them at the old 9:30 Club twice in 1994 alone!), Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, The Clash, and Guided By Voices.

Where was this selection of “EA Trax” when they were setting the playlist for Madden NFL 2005? Every down that I had to endure an aural crapfest of “Hoobastank” or “Franz Ferdinand” now stings all the more.

The moral of the story? If you’re old enough so that you probably should have outgrown ephemeral commercial music, you might fondly remember some of the songs in this game. Whether or not this is a good marketing move for EA remains to be seen — SI.com’s Stewart Mandel doesn’t think so.

Baseball notes

June 29th, 2005  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

Madison has a minor-league baseball team in the Northwoods League, which includes teams from (among other locales) Brainerd, MN; Thunder Bay, ON; Waterloo, IA; and La Crosse, WI. I just noticed that the La Crosse team is called the “La Crosse Loggers.” One doesn’t, I suppose, think of La Crosse as being a logging town, until one gets the joke.

I might be an adult, but I’m a minor at heart

June 29th, 2005  |  Tags: ,  |  11 Comments

I grew up just outside of D.C. and spent several of my adolescent years listening to ear-perforating punk rock, so I have a soft spot for the following ridiculous story.

Nike Skateboarding has angered D.C. area independent record label Dischord Records, according to the Washington Post. Their crime? Advertising their “Major Threat” skateboarding tour with a parody of (or homage to) the cover art for legendary D.C. punk rock act Minor Threat’s 1981 self-titled album.

How bad is it? You be the judge:

Minor Threat album cover

Nike "Major threat" poster

Note especially the shoes and the Nike logo on the fellow’s knee. (The Nike poster also features other not-particularly-subtle allusions that D.C. counterculture trainspotters can identify for bonus points.)

Of course, the fact that Nike — a company that generally appears to punk-rock types as wearing a bullseye — replicated such an iconic image with their branding conspicuously inserted is offensive to some people. Personally, I have a difficult time sharing in the umbrage of iconoclasts whose own icons are being profaned, so I’ll simply point out the following issues raised by this story that I found amusing:

  1. Nike has a skateboarding division? How’s that working out?
  2. What percentage of the people in the target audience for this skateboarding tour were actually alive when Minor Threat were still actively recording?
  3. The spokesman for Dischord is named Alex Bourgeois — an unfortunate name indeed in the anarchosyndicalist world of the punk-rock business. (One wonders if M. Bourgeois has something to lose in addition to his chains.)
  4. Minor Threat bassist Brian Baker is actually wearing Nikes in this famous photo. With no photoshopping required, couldn’t Nike just have licensed that picture?

By the way: the bald fellow in the Minor Threat photos is Ian MacKaye, who is currently half of The Evens. (Click the link for my brief thoughts on their self-titled album.)

Briefly noted

April 27th, 2005  |  Tags: , ,  |  5 Comments

Kenny G vs. Machaut

Because I usually find the opinions about early music expressed by “Pliable” at On An Overgrown Path to be fairly agreeable, I was shocked to see what appeared to be an endorsement of the Hilliard Ensemble’s work with saxophonist Jan Garbarek. The Hilliard Ensemble is one of the finest early music vocal ensembles in the world; their work with Garbarek, however, is worthy of anathema. (The Hilliard/Garbarek CD Officium has the overall affect of Kenny G getting in a fight with Guillaume de Machaut.)

I was so curious by what seemed to me to be an inexplicable lapse in taste that I read Pliable’s review of Officium, which clarifies the issue somewhat by presenting the Garbarek disc as a means to an end:

Although it is sacrilege to say it 75 minutes of continuous medieval polyphony can be too bland a dish for some tastes. Garbareck’s saxophone adds the spice to the Hilliard’s main course. And yes, I would say I sometimes wish the sax took more of a back seat, but that only sharpened my appetite for polyphony without the spice, and there is a lot of that on my shelves.

Listening to “lite hits” radio while getting a haircut sharpens my appetite for nearly anything else (up to and including Gaussian noise), but I’m not going out and buying Celine Dion CDs just so that I can more fully appreciate the rest of my collection. Indeed, Pliable’s Officium verdict seems to be akin to “Cancer is great, because now we have all of these really smart oncologists.”

(In any case, the Norwich and Norfolk festivals, which Pliable describes in the first linked article, sound great. I wish I could attend!)

On Wisconsin!

An Appleton, WI woman was convicted of embezzling $3000 from her labor union. She requested leniency, citing financial hardship, so the judge presented her with an option of Solomonic proportions: either serve 90 days in jail or donate her Green Bay Packers tickets to charity. If I were her, I’d take the jail time — she might be able to get autographs from Packers players Ahman Green and Al Harris. Green was arrested last night on his fourth domestic violence charge since 1999, and Harris has been accused of assaulting a stripper.

Productivity notes

Merlin Mann points to a thoughtful 43Folders mailing list post, which advises to “park on a downhill slope”:

Each day, when I wrap up whatever I’m doing, I jot down (on paper when I remember, otherwise I do it mentally with lesser effect) exactly where I need to start. And that is usually a question I’m still pondering/researching…

As long as I’m mentioning 43Folders, I should note that Joe Carter has adopted the Hipster PDA, Mann’s lo-fi index-card-based organizer for the cool kids. If you have a near-prurient interest in personal productivity aids, you should check out the set of HPDA-related photos on Flickr.com. Some are quite clever.

I’m currently listening to Suite No. 1 in G Major – Menuets I & II from the album “Cello Suites BWV 1007-1012” by Lynn Harrell

Briefly noted

April 6th, 2005  |  Tags: , , ,  |  Leave a comment

Newly monitored

I noticed Gillian Russell’s blog logicandlanguage.net because she linked to a post of mine on various applications of modal logic for computer science. Her site is interesting and well-written, and several of her interests align with the subfields of philosophy that I follow. As icing on the cake, Prof. Russell established her site on the 5th of March — an auspicious date for the genesis of any creative endeavor.

Re-reading that modal logic post reminded me that there has been very little computer science content here lately. I do have a few pieces that I’m working on in my spare time about CS pedagogy; the overall level of CS and PL content should increase in coming weeks.

Embalming

I was part of a collaborative composition with other members of the idm-making list recently. The project was organized as an “exquisite corpse,” which is best described as a parlor-game cousin to Baroque continuous variation forms. You can hear the results at Michael Upton’s site; my section, sadly, is the one that doesn’t fit in all that well.

A little burn in the pocket

Last year Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick denied internet rumors about his sexuality by calling in to a radio show and saying “I’m not even going to feed in to that. Everybody who knows me, knows how I get down.” Unfortunately for Vick, now the state court of Gwinnett County, GA knows how he gets down, too.

I’m currently listening to Op 59 Nr.1 in F Rasumovsky I Allegro from the album “Beethoven – Complete String Quartets” by Alban Berg Quartett

What does the Randy Moss trade mean…

March 11th, 2005  |  Tags:  |  2 Comments

…for the benighted West Coast hip-hop scene? Here’s Bill Simmons on the merchandising implications of the Moss trade, in response to a questioner who asks if the Randy Moss Raiders jersey could be “the most important jersey in rap history?”

I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but that was my first reaction when I heard about the trade – “Wow, he’s going to shatter the record for jerseys sold.” […] This is going to be the jersey version of that year when Malcolm X came out and Spike Lee started wearing those “X” hats.

Read the whole thing.

Steroids: fake but accurate?

February 17th, 2005  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

The controversy surrounding Jose Canseco’s steroid allegations has not died down, as I had assumed it might. For those of you who’ve missed this, Canseco has a book out in which he asserts that everyone — from Honus Wagner all the way down to that Dominican teenager that lied about his age to play Little League — worked together to create a baseball drug culture of Studio 54 proportions. If you’ve ever watched baseball, this is unsurprising. Indeed, what could be surprising about a sport in which borderline-criminal, whiny jerks who barely graduated from high school get paid millions of dollars to scratch their crotches and hoist midgets in the air?

What is (sort of) surprising is that a perennial louse and generally shady figure like Canseco has been given a large chunk of daily news media coverage as a soapbox to make his blanket assertions, including two whole interviews on 60 Minutes. Of course, I’m sure that 60 Minutes has unimpeachable supporting evidence.

60 Minutes evidence for Canseco's claims

That’s the ticket. I’m positive that CBS News would never produce a story grounded solely in the baseless allegations of a bitter crank. (Even if the allegations are “fake but accurate,” as may be the case from time to time.) It also seems likely that the Oakland Athletics’ mid-80’s AL domination stemmed not only from the juiced-up nature of their players but also from some apparent technological advantages in the office-automation-software arena.

Sporting statistic of the weekend

February 7th, 2005  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

Professional loudmouth Freddie Mitchell of the Philadelphia Eagles had half as many receptions from Donovan McNabb as Rodney Harrison. Unfortunately for Mitchell, Harrison is a safety for the New England Patriots. (Mitchell famously called out the Patriots’ secondary two weeks ago, singling out Harrison as someone he “had something for.” Perhaps he meant “a football, twice.”)

Mitchell, who has coined several nicknames for himself (including “Fred Ex” and “The People’s Champ”) had an entourage of hangers-on follow him around after the NFC championship game, carrying a wrestling championship belt. His coach forbade him from talking to the media for 24 hours after an outburst in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. However, in a display of sporting karma that would make Gregg Easterbrook grin, Mitchell was shut out for most of the Super Bowl and had only one inconsequential reception.

The sports world tolerates big talkers, as long as they produce, and perhaps the “People’s Champ” was just letting off some well-deserved steam. (Never mind that it seems unlikely that he had a month worth of steam to let off leading up to the Super Bowl.) Whether or not his outbursts are justifiable, then, could depend to some degree on how well he compares to elite wide receivers (many of which have also tangled with the media).

In his first four seasons in the NFL, Randy Moss had 53 touchdown catches. Terrell Owens had 30, Cris Carter had 21, and Michael Irvin had 20. By comparison, Mitchell has 5. In the crowded field of media-whore, talent-free NFL buffoons, “Fred Ex” makes Jeremy Shockey look underrated.

Football schadenfreude watch

February 2nd, 2005  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

Madison locals may recognize some of the principals involved in this blogspot site; it is certain to bring joy and mirth to fans of approximately 97% of NFL franchises. It’s easy to hate the Patriots and the masturbatory prose spilled daily in their general direction. When the Patriots are the subject of NFL commentary — and, let’s be honest, when are they not? — words like “dynasty” and “genius” get thrown around like they were red-tagged at the Noun Outlet.

However, this Super Bowl presents a serious quandary for most football fans: do you root against the overhyped AFC team, or do you root against the overhyped NFC team? The Eagles may have a higher media-jocking loudmouth quotient than any other team in professional sports (even if you consider last year’s Heimlich-inducing, borderline criminal LA Lakers). Furthermore, one can’t overestimate the schadenfreude potential of seeing endless SportsCenter footage of Philadelphia’s classless, overweight, and brutish fans despairing at a loss. (These are the same fans who inspired the construction of a courthouse and jail in the old Vet.)

I’m hoping this one gets decided by a safety in overtime. Lots of interceptions, lots of blown routes, ubiquitous missed tackles, and perhaps not a few minor but unpleasant injuries. As far as I care, it could go either way, as long as the game is bad enough to preclude either “dynasty” or “destiny” from appearing in any postgame commentary.

End of an era

January 19th, 2005  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

It looks like the Scott Linehan (the Vikings’ offensive coordinator) is leaving Minnesota for Miami. Even given his penchant for calling gadget plays a bit too regularly, Linehan deserves thanks for putting together three years of explosive offensive game plans and inspiring the Vikes to execute them with highlight-reel performances. I wish the best of luck to him and his family in Miami. An interesting bit of Linehan trivia: actor Jim Caviezel is his brother-in-law, as detailed in this borderline-tasteless Pioneer Press article.

Twirling redux; pop culture observation

January 12th, 2005  |  Tags: ,  |  1 Comment

An emailer asserts that my earlier comments on baton-twirling were unfair:

Baton twirlers-always a bad rap. They take baton, dance and gymnastics for years, all they want to do is compete, perform and eventually twirl for a college and everyone makes fun of them. Only a couple in the country get scholarships for what they do and most pay for their own costumes. They work hard at what they do. Are they doing any harm?

I can’t deny that baton-twirling in a halftime show requires an uncommon constellation of finely-honed talents, but the genesis of this tradition is still baffling to me. That’s all.


Sony Pictures is releasing a PG-rated children’s movie starring Ice Cube. Yeah, that’s not a totally stupid idea. I’ve always thought that Next Friday would be great as an after-school special.

Last Moss post for a while

January 10th, 2005  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

I promise this is my last post on the waxing gibbous of Randy Moss, barring some serious new development. Peter King wasn’t the only person who didn’t know what Moss’ motivation was, but apparently he was paying the Lambeau fans back for an established tradition. So claims Indy coach Tony Dungy:

I thought it was kind of humorous.

It’s not the kind of thing you want to see on national TV, but I understand what it was all about.

Anyone who has played in the NFC Central knows what that’s about. The fans in Green Bay have a tradition in the parking lot after the game where they moon the visiting team’s bus. It’s kind of a unique send-off.

Dungy is certainly qualified to make that statement: as a head coach in the NFC Central (of Tampa Bay) and as a defensive coordinator for Minnesota, he’s had a chance to see a lot of dairy-padded Wisconsin asses. Furthermore, he’s a family man and no libertine: the absurd Nicolette Sheridan/Terrell Owens episode drew his ire.

What do I mean by “serious new development” at the beginning of this post? Glad you asked. The local news here sponsored a poll: How should the NFL discipline Randy Moss? The choices were:

  1. nothing
  2. a hefty fine
  3. a one game suspension
  4. banishment from the league

Well, if 35 percent of Madison residents get their way, Moss is out of the NFL. (Personally, I won’t be happy with his reparations until Moss applies a hanky to every wet eye in Wisconsin.)

Seriously, if Jake Plummer can skate off with a $5k fine for extending his middle finger to a fan — actually an “obscene” act, by any definition — and game-ending cheap-shot tackles don’t draw suspensions, then there’s no way that Moss’ harmless antics should result in any lost playing time. The NFL’s stupidity, though, is boundless. We’ll see.

Favre, King, and Moss; football video game monoculture

January 10th, 2005  |  Tags: ,  |  6 Comments

I came across Robert Weintraub’s Slate polemic against Brett Favre worship. Reading about sports in Slate is sort of like listening to Michele “Mee-Shell” Norris from NPR’s All Things Considered doing color commentary at a rodeo, but I read it anyway.

Favre is certainly a great football player and I have no reason to believe he is any worse of a human being than any other professional athlete with a history of womanizing and performance-enhancing drug abuse. However, I agree with Weintraub that there is no excuse for the continual petitions directed his way from sportswriters and commentators. (I’m not as sure as Weintraub is about the reasons for the genuflection.) An extraterrestrial whose only exposure to Earth was through the NFL might assume that “Favre” was a mighty dragon-slaying hero of old, or perhaps the household god of a large group of blaze-orange-clad snowmobile operators. Indeed, commentators talk about Favre in a manner usually reserved for the recently-deceased.

The Slate article was a bit vitriolic in places, but it was most on the mark in its skewering of sycophantic, unctuous Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King, who Weintraub calls “Favre’s Boswell.”

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading King’s column, you don’t know that it is perennially peppered with

  1. self-consciously “insider” nonsense,
  2. “coffee nerd” advice, consisting primarily of thoughts on which coffee-flavored milkshake is best at Starbucks this week*,
  3. pointless anecdotes about his daughters’ flagging high-school and college athletic careers,
  4. pathetic commentary on the state of popular music, and
  5. King’s uncompelling political opinions.

Even worse, Peter King arbitrarily bolds the names of celebrities, making his column read like Parade magazine or the Onion’s Jackie Harvey. Finally, at least twice a month, King slips into a style reminiscent of a teenage girl’s diary, rhapsodizing about his latest encounter with Favre as would a shy girl after getting passed a note from the most popular guy in school.

* Man, I don’t even drink coffee, but I know that Starbucks is to actual coffee nerds what T.G.I. Friday’s is to legitimate food snobs, or what commercial classical radio (“Vivaldi and opera overtures, all the time!”) is to legitimate music snobs. Sure, it’s better than McDonald’s, but no “coffee connoisseur” patronizes Starbucks exclusively.

Randy Moss, as pictured pantomiming a moon to the Lambeau crowd in my previous post, provides the perfect knot to tie together the threads of media Favre-worship and Peter King’s slobbering gibberish. In King’s 1/10 column, he demonizes Moss in order to lick the wounds of his hero Favre:

Moss will be fined by the NFL. I guarantee it. I don’t know the amount. Maybe $10,000. But this was classless. Simulation-mooning Lambeau is like mooning the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Nonsensical. After the game, no one could figure out why he’d done it.

"It wasn’t mean,” he told me and a few other reporters at his locker. "I was having fun. It was more a fun thing than a hatred thing. My teammates loved it. I’m probably gonna catch hell, but the Green Bay Packers fans know: I don’t forget [shit].”

Evidently he was upset about things Green Bay fans had said to him on previous trips to Lambeau, though he didn’t elaborate. Whatever his motivation was, it wasn’t cool.

Moss “didn’t elaborate?” Did he need to? Perhaps King ignored the insults, obscenities, and signs hurled at Moss by drunken oafs wearing wild game on their heads. Perhaps King forgets November 14, 2004, when the University of Wisconsin tuba section — in a stadium-sanctioned display at Lambeau — marched across the field and mocked a sidelined Randy Moss? (That’s what I’d call “bush league,” and “classless,” Pete.) I don’t see how an individual player doing something goofy and perhaps vulgar (but not indecent) is any worse than having the official third-quarter entertainment taunt an injured player. Furthermore, as this web site points out, Moss’ “mooning” display is tame compared to most of FOX’s prime-time fare.

What’s really unclear is what precisely King was trying to say with his comparison between Lambeau Field and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Was he saying that both were extremely important to a fairly small percentage of the US population? That both were filled with people who were easily offended by cheeky gestures? That neither had ever known the slightest impropriety until a dastardly, fully-clothed athlete turned and bent at the waist and knees? I’m sorry, Mr. King, but once you elevate Lambeau Field to the level of any religious institution, you’ve lost any shred of credibility or perspective.

Moss is not rightly in trouble with the media because he is a malicious pre-felon or an iconoclast who has nothing better to do than tear down the “sacred” traditions of Lambeau Field. Moss is neither of these things — rather, he is a gifted, emotional player who works hard and has some stupid (but harmless, at least since 2002) outbursts when he is frustrated. Rather, Moss is in trouble with the media because he has called them out for their onanistic focus on his more-or-less inconsequential antics, telling them that they’ve blown things out of proportion.

I’ve watched a lot of Vikings games, and last Sunday was the first time I’ve seen Moss celebrate a touchdown. He usually opts to toss the ball to a referee or to a fan in the stands. Less-talented, endzone-dancing loudmouths like Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson get a pass from sportswriters. However, Randy Moss — perhaps the best wide receiver ever to play the game — strikes a pose to cap Minnesota’s near-flawless win over the heavily-favored Packers, and suddenly he’s a terrible, terrible person. The perpetual fawning of Favre-worshipping knobs like King sets up a chain of dominoes, and the media’s inability to admit that they vastly underestimated the Vikes knocks them down. We’ll hear about little else this week in the sports press.

Other football news: in a move that recalls a rich man stealing sheep from the poor, EA Sports decided that owning the exclusive rights to the NFL wasn’t enough and that they needed exclusive video-game rights to the Arena Football League, too. The AFL commissioner claims that EA will help to “grow the AFL” and add value to the brand. Nonsense. There is no positive reason for EA to develop a game for a league that most Americans don’t realize exists; rather, this move is solely intended to extinguish an avenue of competition for Sega, 909, and Microsoft. If “AFL 2006” is really any good, I will recant, but I’m not holding my breath.

Vindication

January 9th, 2005  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

Well, the moon rises early in “Titletown.” If this is what 1-2 looks like, I guess I’ll take 1-2.

Three early Christmas presents

December 19th, 2004  |  Tags: , ,  |  Leave a comment

Most notably, Andrea gave me a Lapinator. This device is even better than the hyped-up web page would lead one to believe. I endorse it heartily.

At this time of year, though, the little gifts — sometimes from strangers — can mean a lot, too. I’d like to thank Don Muhlbach for “bouncing” a little present my way. To put icing on the cake, Brett Favre selflessly gave the ball away four times tonight, leaving the NFC North all tied up with the Vikings hosting Green Bay on Christmas Eve.

Football and baton-twirling

November 6th, 2004  |  Tags:  |  59 Comments

Andrea and I were in Iowa City today, where we got to watch the Hawkeyes continue what the Badgers started, viz., Purdue’s slide. (To our delight — which drew intoxicated glares and was perhaps unparalleled within Kinnick upon hearing this news — Wisconsin won big today, staying undefeated.)

Both teams had impressive moments and put up nearly identical numbers. Tate and Kirsch are smart, young quarterbacks that will both be forces in the Big Ten for the next couple of years. Unfortunately for Purdue, Iowa simply made fewer critical mistakes.

I have not attended that many Division I college football games, so I’m always impressed by the live experience vis-a-vis the televised product. In the stadium, one gets a lot of little artistic and sociological touches that don’t affect the outcome of the game but have an observable impact on the crowd.

One such feature of live college ball is the baton-twirling girl. I must confess that I find her role and actions completely baffling. There is only one of her, and she seems formally independent from any other team-spirit-inducing activities. Such a lack of symmetry and coordination is disturbing when juxtaposed against the backdrop of precision play execution and lockstep marching band routines. Even more troubling is the constellation of thoughts one has upon considering the origins of the baton-twirling girl convention. In particular: Whose idea was it to dress some poor young woman up like a saloon hooker and force her to toss a stick in the air, anyway?