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We Can’t Just Stick to Football

Matthew Stafford, quarterback of the Detroit Lions, wrote the piece about racism and Black Lives Matter that I wish that I’d written. He’s saying, “It’s time for us to stop talking, start listening, and start empathizing.”

We Can’t Just Stick to Football

As most everyone knows, I haven’t exactly embraced social media over the years. It’s just not me. But I feel like it’s right to take the time to say what’s on my heart as we begin this new season together as a team. And what’s on my heart is that we all need to come together as a country and admit what we know is real. Deep down inside, no matter what political party we support, or what we do for a living, we know what’s real.

Police brutality, white privilege, racism — it’s all real.

It’s time we stop pretending, or defending, or just closing our eyes to what’s right in front of us. We have to listen, and we have to keep having these hard conversations.

And it’s not like this is just our history. This is right now.

These are not political problems. These are human problems. It should not be seen as a political statement to discuss this stuff honestly.

Later, he shares what he heard from a Black teammate.

But the one story that stuck with me so much was when Trey Flowers talked about how he copes with the anxiety of dealing with the police. Trey was explaining that if he were to ever get pulled over in his car — something that I have experienced many times without even thinking twice about it — he would roll down his window, put both hands on the wheel, and ask the officer if he would like him to step out of the car so he can handcuff him.

Just so that he is not seen as a threat.

Just so the officer can’t say, “Oh, he was reaching here, he was reaching there.…”

Just so he makes it back home.

If you’re a white person, all I’m asking you to do is to really think _about that. Imagine _that being your first instinct when you see police lights in your rearview mirror.

No one in America should have to feel this way.

Listen, I’m not some perfect person. I’m not trying to lecture anybody. I’ve made a million mistakes. I grew up in Highland Park, Texas, which is probably one of the most privileged places in the country. It’s a place that I still love very much, but it’s a bubble. That’s just a fact. I was not exposed to a lot of diversity or different ideas growing up. I was not educated on these issues, and I probably said a bunch of stupid things when I was young that I regret. But a big part of life is about looking inside yourself and trying to evolve as a person.

And when you hear your teammates telling these stories — and getting so emotional that they’re breaking down crying — you can’t just sit there and be silent.

And Matthew Stafford’s conclusion.

And if you grew up the way I did, and you still happen to live in one of those bubbles where you don’t have to worry about these things, maybe you’re tired of hearing about all this. Maybe you want to pretend it doesn’t exist, because you don’t see it with your own eyes. Maybe you just want us to “shut up and play football.”

That’s your right. I probably can’t change your mind.

All I can ask you to do, as we continue through this NFL season, is to close your eyes and really put yourself in other people’s shoes. Try for a minute to put all the social media and the politics and the arguing aside, and look within yourself.

Ask yourself hard questions.

But more than anything, listen.

It’s time.

This entry was tagged. NFL Racism Black Lives Matter

Scott Feschuk's guide to Super Bowl Sunday

Scott Feschuk's guide to Super Bowl Sunday →

I didn't see this until after the game had started, but it was too good not to post.

I’m not saying a roll of Mentos could provide better analysis than Phil Simms of CBS. I’m not saying it—however, I am typing it in a magazine and placing it on a long banner pulled by a biplane. Listen for yourself: When someone makes a great play, Simms will say: “Whoa, that’s a great play!” He is the perfect analyst for football viewers who can’t figure out how to face their television screen. (To be fair, that does account for roughly 40 per cent of Cleveland Browns fans.)

The play-by-play duties will be handled by Jim Nantz, whose affection for Manning is so firmly established that, well, prepare yourself for this: “And here’s The Sheriff once again not accidentally coming out to play in his street clothes. PEYTON MANNING: WHAT A PRO!”

Yep. That about sums the experience of listening to Phil Simms.

Carolina’s Cam Newton is impossibly athletic and congenitally jubilant. He is known for celebratory dancing and for presenting the football to an adorable child after each touchdown. Naturally, sports pundits hate his guts. They bellyache about his “showboating” ways. This is yet another reason for Sportsnet executives to green-light my proposed reality show: Let’s Lock Some Sports Pundits in a Basement!

“Naturally, sports pundits hate his guts.” Naturally. I've never understood the Cam Newton hate. I love him and his enthusiasm for the game. Ask any kid playing backyard football, backyard baseball, or blacktop basketball—the showboating is an integral element of exuberant play.

This entry was tagged. NFL

The Baseball Commissioner Who Made Bush President

The Baseball Commissioner Who Made Bush President →

I, myself, am often reminded of life's little ironies.

The story begins in the early 1990s, around the time Selig led a coup against Vincent, whom the owners deemed insufficiently devoted to their interests. Selig used the popular and gregarious Bush—the public face of the Texas Rangers, though he was just a minority owner—to whip the requisite votes in favor of removing the incumbent commissioner. The two small-market owners had a quiet understanding between them: Upon ousting Vincent, Selig would serve as interim commissioner, then, once the battlefield dust cleared, yield the throne to Bush.

Though Bush was a friend and longtime supporter of Vincent, he agreed to rally the troops to support the vote of "no confidence" in the commissioner, based largely on the promise that Selig "would support his dream to become baseball's next Commissioner." It didn't work out that way. Selig would spend the next 22 years in Bush's dream job. He would preside over a players' strike that culminated in the only cancelled World Series in baseball history—something the Great Depression and two world wars couldn't accomplish—but then help engineer a renaissance, thanks to the boom in attendance at new retro-designed family-friendly ballparks (which replaced many cold and ugly '60s and '70s mixed-use behemoths), a surge in colorful international talent from places like Japan and the Dominican Republic, and, yes, the steroid-infused home run craze of the late '90s and early '00s. Selig was the proud steward of baseball's rebirth, but once the steroid jig was up, he would become the flustered face of indignation.

The commissioner's old ally in Texas, stuck with nothing else to do after Selig left him twisting in the wind for more than a year, never officially telling him that he had no intentions of abdicating, would be pushed by Karl Rove into running for governor. Bush unseated the incumbent in 1994, he launched a bid for the White House five years after that, and the rest is history.

You'll remember that President Bush's Cabinet included Condoleeza Rice, who wants to be the NFL's commissioner. It'd be an interesting turn of events if those two ever end up in their true dream jobs.

This entry was tagged. NFL Baseball

On Super Bowl Parties

There are two kinds of Super Bowl parties: Super Bowl parties and Super Bowl parties. A Super Bowl party is about getting together to watch the Super Bowl. This is not the commercials. This is the action on the field. It's the heroics (or blunders) of 11 players on offense, 11 players on defense, 11 players on special teams. It's the decisions made by two head coaches, six coordinators, multiple position coaches, ball boys, and water boys. The Super Bowl party is about watching the football game, either while acting as an armchair quarterback or while taking the opportunity to learn more about America's most popular sport.

A Super Bowl party is just a social event. The game's on TV, but it's probably a smaller TV or else the volume is turned down. People pay attention to the TV, but only during breaks in the action, when the commericals are on. The host sets out some snacks and invites some people over. They spend the evening talking, hanging out, and only occasionally watching the TV. The Super Bowl party takes place on Super Bowl Sunday, but it actually has very little to do with the Super Bowl.

I go to Super Bowl parties and I host Super Bowl parties. I'm a football fan and I watch (what should be) the best game of the year. I like to watch with others who are interested in the game and who are interested in critiquing the game or learning about the sport.

Want to come over to watch the Super Bowl?

This entry was tagged. NFL

How the Packers Lost the NFC Championship Game

Last night's NFC Championship Game, between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, was very disappointing. It was a game that could have turned around the defensive playoff disappointments of the past few years and proven that the Packers are finally able to beat the NFC's toughest teams.

The Packers scored 16 points points in the first quarter and made the Seahawks offense look powerless. After the lead held up through 3 quarters, I began to think that the Packers actually would win in Seattle. Then, over a 7 minute period, it all fell apart. A 19–7 lead turned into a 28–22 loss.

After it was over, I was tempted to blame the defense for the loss. After all, the Seahawks scored 28 points. After some reflection, I've decided that I mostly blame the offense and the special teams. The defense really has gotten better and everyone should acknowledge that.

I'll quickly discuss the special teams. Mason Cosby kicked five field goals and scored 15 points. The kickoff coverage team recovered a fumble. But that's offset by the field goal coverage team giving up a touchdown and the onside kick "hands team" failing to recover the onside kick. Directly and indirectly, special teams gave up 14 points, more than enough to sink the team.

I reviewed each of Green Bay's 13 offensive possessions. I saw a lot of missed opportunities. The Green Bay defense forced 4 turnovers, and forced the Seahawks into four 3-and-out punts. Six different drives started with a field of 57 yards or less. In spite of these gifts, the offense only managed one touchdown and 5 field goals.

The numbers are stark.

  • After 5 turnovers (one from special teams, four from defense), the offense had a chance to score 15–35 points. They only managed to score 6 points and move the ball a combined total of 71 yards.
  • The offense put together 3 drives of 48 yards or more. They only scored a combined 6 points off of these drives.
  • Off of the four quick defensive stops (forcing the Seattle offense into 3-and-outs), the Green Bay offense had a chance to score 12–28 points. They only moved the ball a total of 133 yards and only scored a combined 13 points.

Throughout the second half of the season, the offense showed a disturbing tendency to stall out. They often had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. That sunk the team yesterday as the team got inside the Seattle 30-yard line 5 times, but only scored one touchdown.

The Packers offense could have scored an additional 44 points. Those points could have put the game out of reach and made the Seattle offense completely one dimensional. Instead, those missed opportunities allowed Seattle to stay within striking distance. Russell Wilson, one of the game's best comeback quarterbacks, finally struck—ending Green Bay's season.

This entry was tagged. Green Bay Packers NFL

Bakhtiari takes job as Rodgers' bodyguard seriously

Bakhtiari takes job as Rodgers' bodyguard seriously →

Tyler Dunne, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, recently profiled Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari.

As a kid, Bakhtiari said energy was always “spewing” out of him. He was the class clown. Rambunctious. His parents called him the “Tasmanian Devil.” And his older brother, Eric Bakhtiari, remembers one freakout in particular when David stood up in a resource class at school and screamed “Ahhh!,” weaved around the desks and left the room.

... As a player, Bakhtiari is a visual learner.

When the Packers’ offensive linemen first met in the classroom last season, Bakhtiari would stammer through empty answers. He couldn’t articulate a blocking assignment. He said left guard Josh Sitton — the player pivoted to his right every play — thought he was “a complete idiot” in the classroom.

“Then we go out on the field,” Bakhtiari said, “and I don’t (expletive) up once. It just makes sense to me out there. But if you ask me to verbalize what we’re doing I’d just say, ‘Dude, I don’t know.’ Let’s just go out on the field and I’ll show you.’”

When he takes notes on specific plays, Bakhtiari doesn’t use words. His notepad is a constellation of X’s and O’s and arrows.

It's a good reminder that intelligence comes in different forms. Football players are frequently derided as neanderthals who's only outlet is violence. And, yet, I'm fairly certain that I couldn't breakdown football plays in real time the way that Bakhtiari can.

This entry was tagged. Green Bay Packers NFL

The Art of the Snap Count

The Art of the Snap Count →

I'm always interested when I learn more about the hidden complexities of playing football at the NFL's elite level.

Most of the time, the Packers will meander along snapping the ball on Rodgers' command of "Ready, ready," or the first, second, third or even fourth "Hut."

But with the Packers generally operating from a muddle huddle this season, Rodgers usually has plenty of time to engage in verbal high jinks at the line if he chooses.

"It's not just going on a double count," said Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga. "There's more than just what you hear on the microphone.

"There's some where he'll start in completely different on a cadence. It messes with guys."

Many defensive coaching staffs study TV tapes of previous games in an attempt to find audio patterns of a quarterback's call.

"But if you're playing Aaron Rodgers you can't do that or you're going to jump offsides," [Mike] Trgovac, the Packers' defensive line coach said. "Aaron knows the right situation to use it (hard count)."

There are times during games when the offensive linemen will tell Rodgers the defense is timing his cadence and request a hard count.

"He knows it helps us up front," said Bulaga. "He does a great job mixing it up so those guys can't just tee off."

This entry was tagged. NFL Green Bay Packers

Putting Rumors to Rest

If Condoleezza Rice truly doesn't want to be President, she could take another job:

Condoleezza Rice, a bona fide football fan, is not applying for the newly opened post of NFL commissioner -- not now, anyhow, her spokesman said carefully on Monday.

"At the moment, the secretary is enjoying being secretary of state," said McCormack of his boss, an avid Cleveland Browns fan.

The wiggle-room in his response after NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced he would retire resonated off frequent only half-joking statements by Rice that as a lifelong football fan she aspires to run the league one day.

I'd support her for commish. (Also, it's not every day that I get to file a post as both "Sports" AND "National Politics".)

This entry was tagged. NFL

Super Bowl Pick

I'll take Jerome Bettis on his home turf and the unstoppable Ben Roethlisburger. Steelers by 14.

UPDATE: It was actually Steelers by 11. You can read a recap of the game courtesy of Captain Ed. Patrick of Badger Blogger live-blogged the Super Bowl commercials. If you missed the game, but are curious about the commercials, that's your stop.

This entry was tagged. NFL