Patriots And Parity

We’re only a few days away from the Super Bowl, and I haven’t heard anyone talking about the game.  I had lunch a few days ago with four male friends, and literally not one word was spoken about Super Bowl LI.  Donald Trump and his antics were discussed ad nauseum, but football didn’t come up once.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England PatriotsIt’s not just because of Trump, of course.  It’s also because nobody is particularly excited about this Super Bowl match-up.  This has to be the least buzzworthy Super Bowl since — well, maybe ever.  Who cares about the Atlanta Falcons, and how many times can a person watch the New England Patriots, anyway?

But let’s pause for a moment to at least give a nod to the Patriots, their grumpy and rumpled head coach Bill Belichick, and their quarterback, Tom Brady.  Since Belichick has become the Patriots’ top dog in 2000, they’ve made the NFL playoffs in all but three years.  They haven’t missed the playoffs since the 2008 season.  And, even more impressive, the Patriots, Belichick, and Brady have made it to six Super Bowls during that run, winning four of them.  That’s why it seems like the Patriots are in every Super Bowl as a matter of federal law.

What’s remarkable about all of this is that the NFL is specifically designed to crush any possibility of the kind of dynasty the Patriots have become.  The NFL seeks parity above all else.  Regular-season schedules are set up so the strong play the strong and the weak play the weak, with the league hoping that everybody ends up with an 8-8 record and fans who are hoping for a playoff spot up until the very last game of the season.  And, of course, after every year players who have done well who have become free agents can go to other teams, and assistant coaches can be hired to be head coaches elsewhere, and the playing and coaching talent gets redistributed.

The Patriots, however, refuse to participate in the NFL’s regime of enforced mediocrity.  They lose players and coaches, but under Belichick and Brady they always fill the holes and just keep rolling along.  In a world where everything conspires against them — thereby feeding Belichick’s innate sense of paranoia — the Patriots somehow rise above and just keep winning.  Their run is as remarkable, in a positive way, as the Browns’ record of consistent and crushing futility is on the negative side.

So we’ve got to tip our cap to the New Englanders.  Of course, that doesn’t mean we have to actually watch them, again, in this Super Bowl.

Glutton For Punishment

This afternoon I’m going to watch the Cleveland Browns play the Cincinnati Bengals.

That’s right.  I’m going to voluntarily subject myself to more than three hours of bad football, bad karma, and general haplessness.  I’m going to watch a truly wretched 0-12 team play a horribly underperforming 4-7-1 team in a game that is utterly meaningless, even to their own beleaguered fans.

brownsWhy am I doing this?  Well, for one thing I’m a Cleveland Browns fan.  It’s tough duty generally, and an especially awful burden this year — but I’ve consciously avoided watching most of the games until now.  At this point, it’s so obvious that the Browns suck that I have no expectations whatsoever of success.  The Browns are likely to lose every game this year; the only question is whether they will find new ways to suffer a self-inflicted disaster.

So why watch this game, when I’ve avoided the others?  Because the Bengals have had, if anything, an even worse season than the Browns.  Sure, they’ve won games, but everyone expected them to be a Super Bowl contender, and instead they’ve laid a colossal egg.  If the Browns have any hope of winning a game this season, it’s going to be a game like this, where their opponent also reeks and a few lucky breaks might actually produce a W.  And if that were to happen — something I’m not counting on, mind you — it would be sweet that it would be the Bengals who bore the shame of being the only team to lose to the Browns this year.

I’m a glutton for punishment.

Provocative Junk Mail “Re” Lines

We have a “junk mail” filter at work.  Most of the time, the filter just moves what is obvious spam into a “junk mail” folder without me looking at the email or doing anything to it.

donald-trump-money-worth_2015-11-16_19-44-39Sometimes, though — for reasons not known to me — particular junk mail will make it through the filter and be brought to my attention under the heading “Incoming Message Quarantined by Web Reputation Monitor.”  I’m not sure whether the filter concludes that such emails are more likely to be legitimate, or because they come from more plausible email addresses, or some other reason.  In any case, I recently got one of those messages, checked to make sure that the email wasn’t sent by somebody I know, and then stopped dead when I saw the “re” line:  “Trump reveals groundbreaking secrets to triple your income.”

Of course, I didn’t try to open that spammy email . . . but I have to admit I was sorely tempted.  Aren’t you curious about what income-tripling tips “Trump” might offer?  Tips like:  Be sure to inherit millions from your parents?  Become a reality TV show star?  Contribute to the political campaigns of every candidate for every office, regardless of their party affiliation, so you have ready access to the levers of power?  Make liberal use of the American bankruptcy laws?  Invest in “Man Tan” franchises?

Having seen the Trump income-tripling “re” line, I found myself thinking of other spam email “re” lines that would just be too tantalizing to pass up.  Here are a few that I came up with:

“Hillary Clinton’s Guide to Data Security and Personal Ethics”

“Rappers and Buddhism:  A Perfect Combination”

“Choosing A Soul Mate The Anthony Weiner Way”

“Personal Humility in the NFL”

I’m sure there are others.

Why Are NFL Ratings Down?

Here’s some surprising news:  NFL TV ratings are down.  So far down, in fact, that the NFL league offices have taken the unusual step of sending a memo to team owners, trying to reassure them that the NFL brand remains as strong as ever.

AMFOOT-SUPERBOWL-NFL-PRESS CONFERENCEThe NFL’s memo says that its data indicates that the perception of the NFL and its players is actually up in 2016.  But the TV ratings for NFL games during the first four weeks of the season are down 11 percent.  Not all of that drop can be attributed to Cleveland Browns fans recognizing that their 0-4 team isn’t going anywhere and deciding their are better ways to spend their Sundays, Monday nights, and Thursday nights.  So what gives?

The NFL says it’s a confluence of events and predicts ratings will bounce back.  Other people think the presidential election is causing the drop-off, as males — the core audience for NFL games — have become more interested in presidential politics than football.  Others say it’s the protests of some players during the National Anthem, the fact that some stars like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have retired or aren’t playing, and the NFL’s decision to move more content to digital platforms.

It seems hard to believe that an awful presidential campaign might have suddenly caused long-time NFL fans to switch off games.  I suspect that the real reason is simpler — people are just tired of the barrage of NFL glitz and hype, hype, hype that has seeped into every crack and crevice of the game.  People like football because they like the game.  The NFL has done so much to change a game into a product that the game itself is getting hard to recognize.  I think many people are just tired of it.  I know I am.

Standing For The Anthem

In our sports-obsessed culture, when a professional athlete declines to stand for the National Anthem and says it is because he is protesting race relations and police brutality, it’s news.  In this instance, Colin Kaepernick’s actions have provoked some fans to burn his San Francisco 49ers jersey and generated reactions from all points on the political spectrum.

tsjcI don’t get the jersey-burning.  Of course, under the First Amendment, Kaepernick has a right to protest and advocate for his position on important issues of the day, period.  We all do.  Although some people increasingly seem hell-bent on punishing and eventually criminalizing free speech, through speech codes and “safe zones” and other contrivances designed to protect our delicate sensibilities from unpopular views — and, of course, quash the expression of those views in the first place — every American still has a right to peacefully express their views on topics like racism.  Kaepernick’s actions aren’t unAmerican; they’re quintessentially American.

And anybody who thinks sports figures should just take their big salaries and keep their mouths shut is kidding himself, too.  Sports have been politicized for as long as I can remember, since at least the 1968 Olympics when John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists and bowed their heads during the playing of the National Anthem.  And the NFL itself has become increasingly involved in public issues, with events like breast cancer awareness weeks where the players wear garish pink towels and socks.  Breast cancer is a pretty safe public issue, but it’s a public issue nevertheless.  To the extent there ever was a line between sports and the real world, that line has long since been erased and crossed.

Kaepernick’s gesture shows the power of free speech — which is why the founding fathers were so interested in protecting it.  One player sits during the National Anthem, and it provokes a firestorm. Kaepernick obviously picked the National Anthem because he knows that every sports event starts with its playing and that it is a source of pride to Americans.  Showing disrespect for the Anthem is an effective way of drawing attention to your cause, just like burning a flag was during the campus protests in the 1960s.

Of course, we can wonder whether Kaepernick will just sit during the Anthem, or will go beyond exercising his free speech rights to actually do something to promote better race relations or address police actions.  The San Francisco police have invited him to come to the police academy to open lines of communication and learn about the challenges facing the thin blue line.  I hope he accepts that invitation, and uses the interest his one-man protest has generated to increase understanding and help improve things.  Sitting is one thing, taking meaningful action is quite another.

Live-Blogging A Meaningless NFL Exhibition Game

Tonight the Browns play an exhibition game.  I think it was Pete Rozelle who decided that they should be called “preseason” games, because “exhibition” sounds like the games are meaningless.  I say Pete Rozelle can stick it.  The games are meaningless.

So tonight I’ll watch the Browns play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — and I’ll record my thoughts from time to time.  Why not?  I’ve just had a fine meal with my lovely wife — now I’ll go to the opposite end of the spectrum and watch two crappy NFL teams.  Why not?

ETA:  Did Phil Sims just say Justin Gilbert was “good”?  What the hell?  Just because he broke up a pass while running behind the receiver?  NFL commentators have gone far downhill in the credibility department since the days of Al DeRogatis.

Update 2:  Browns gave up a field goal and got a field goal.  That’s not good.  If the Browns hope to do anything this year — and “hope” is precisely the right word –they desperately need to score TDs.  A field goal is not a good sign.

Update 3:  I expect the Browns D to suck this year.  There’s nothing about this game that causes me to change my view.

On the other hand, the brown jersey/white pants combo looks good.  I’ve always like the Browns unis.

Unfortunately, the guys who are wearing them don’t stack up.

Update 4: The current Bud Light commercials are OK, but I miss Spuds McKenzie.

On the other hand, the commercials are better than the Draft Kings spots.

Update 5:  The Browns punt coverage there looked like a junior high team.  Yeah, that’s about right.

Update 6:  I expected the Browns to suck, and they have met my expectations.  The O line is suspect, and the D is porous.  Every Bucs receiver is wide open.  It’s not a recipe for success.

Update 7:  Based on tonight’s performance, I expect RG III to last maybe 3 games, tops.

Update 8: When it comes to the Browns, no expectations can ever be too low.  They’re getting drubbed by a marginal team in the exhibition game that is supposed to give you a good idea of what the season will be like.  If that is true, the season will be like dental surgery without novocaine.

Update 9:  Omigod! The Buccaneers punted!  What the hell!

Update 10:  The nice thing about cable TV is that you can always find something entertaining to watch.  Tonight, it’s the Tribe.

Update 12:  I’m glad the coaches lifted RG III.  Why have him get hurt?  Officially, it’s scrub time.

Update 13:  Well, the Tribe is looking good so far, at least.

Update 14: That does it; I’m done.  No hope for the Browns this season.

Bad Number Ones

Last night, against my better judgment, I watched the Browns’ preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.  The Browns lost — of course! — 24-13, and looked pretty bad in the process.  I came away with two conclusions.

First, it’s going to be a very long season.  Some of the Browns’ better players didn’t play, but this team has so many holes it’s hard to see how they can be filled.  The offensive line is a patchwork, and the defense looks terrible.  The Browns got gashed on the run, and Atlanta routinely converted on third down.  In the last few years of crappiness, the Browns offense has been pedestrian at best, but the defense has been a porous disaster.  I think we’re in for more of the same.

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland BrownsThe second conclusion is that Justin Gilbert may be the worst number one pick the Browns have made since coming back into the NFL.  That’s saying something, because their record of number one picks is one of dismal failure after dismal failure.  After all, Johnny Manziel was a first-round pick, and so was Brady Quinn, and so was Brandon Weeden, and so was Gerard Warren, and so was Trent Richardson . . . and the list of head cases and utter busts goes on.  But at least these guys looked like they knew how to play football.  Gilbert doesn’t.  He seems completely clueless out there as he takes bad angles, whiffs on tackles, and gets burned repeatedly.  If the Browns’ defensive backfield talent is so bad that Gilbert actually starts, the Browns D will be historically awful.  I’m talking potential record-setting ineptitude.

I don’t mean to pick on one player, but Gilbert is an example of why the Browns are a failed franchise.  Other teams make number one picks that immediately have an impact, score touchdowns, rack up sacks, and make the All-Pro team.  The Browns somehow make number one picks of players who look like they’ve never seen a football before.  Is it any wonder that the team is such a frustrating mess?