Shutdown Corner - NFL

Will Leitch writes for New York Magazine, is the former editor of Deadspin, and is one of the few longtime Arizona Cardinals fans in the world. He was nice enough to share his Super Bowl thoughts and experiences as a Cardinals fan with Shutdown Corner this week.

MJD: So how's it feel to be the most famous Cardinals fan on the planet? I sort of see you to the Cardinals as Drew Carey is to the Browns.

Will Leitch: Oh, wow. That has always been a goal. James Frey, by the way, author of "A Million Little Pieces," is a Browns fan. He's a little less popular.

There are other people out there. Senator John McCain, even if it's just for political reasons, is a Cardinals fan. I think maybe part of the problem is that the last thing he said the night before the election, he was talking to Chris Berman and said, "Hey, if there's hope for the Cardinals, there's hope for all of us." And I think it's a really terrifying sign. I think it might have a lot to do with the fact that he lost, frankly. And Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays general manager, and as I mentioned on the site, apparently, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme. So those are the three Arizona Cardinals fans.

MJD: I saw an ESPN thing that had Alice Cooper as a Cardinals fan, too.

Will Leitch: Oh, he just likes to play golf in Arizona, I'm sure. Seriously, Alice Cooper. Every time I turn on a celebrity golf thing, there's Alice Cooper. I don't think there was ever a time when Alice Cooper ever had a lot of "cred," so I guess that's okay.

A.J. [Daulerio, current editor of Deadspin] was telling me that he went to see Metallica the other day, and they kept taking breaks after every three songs. It's really depressing. We're all decaying. It's atrophy for all of us. Anyway.

MJD: Speaking of AJ.., when you won the bet, you got to hit him in the face with a cookie sheet. Right before you hit him, was there ever any thought -- I know he's your friend and you don't want to hurt him -- but there had to be a lot of Cardinals frustration built up inside. Was there ever any thought like, "I'm going to take this all out right now on A.J.'s face"?

Will Leitch: You know, it's funny, the most bewildering thing Daulerio and I found in the wake of that was that people didn't seem to care about that tattoo at all. The guy's getting a tattoo -- I guess the part of his body he's calling the "haunch," and I don't know what that is, but it sounds bad -- but nobody cared about this permanent table saw blade. They just like that a guy got hit in the head with something.

I definitely enjoyed the fact that pretty much everyone in my personal life was like, "Just to remind you, you and A.J. are grown men, okay? And this is actually what you're doing." I gave A.J. several opportunities, both before and after the bet, I was like, 'Listen man, you don't have to do this tattoo thing, you can back out, I'll tell people you did it,' and so on, and he was insistent. So I figured, if he's already got the tattoo, the least I can do is hit him hard. At that point, I wanted to get the pain off of his haunch. I think it looks worse than what it actually was. The beauty of video, I suppose.

MJD
: I thought it was an inspired idea for both of you, by the way, the cookie sheet to the face. I thought it worked out really well.

Will Leitch: Yeah, I was at the game in Glendale, and I was kind of texting with A.J. back and forth during the game, at least for the second half. For the first half, he wasn't really responding. And I kept thinking, one of the things we didn't tell a lot of people about this was that I had a choice before this bet between shaving my head or eating three live cockroaches. That was going to be my other side of the bet if I lost. I actually ran it by several people, and I figured they'd be like, 'Eat the cockroaches! They do it on Fear Factor all the time' -- I don't think Fear Factor's on the air anymore, but Joe Rogan rocks, dude -- but everyone was like, 'Oh, you've gotta shave your head, those things will lay eggs in your colon or something.'

I was starting to get worried -- and the Cardinals did play really well that game -- but I was pretty convinced they were going to lose after that De'Sean Jackson touchdown. It definitely had that general kind of feel. This was only the second time I've ever been to a Cardinals game, the first one being the Falcons game in the playoffs. I have to say, I was not 100 percent blown away by the awesomeness of the Cardinals fans. There were hardcore fans there, and I appreciated them, and they were great, and they take as much joy in this as I do. But the fans in that second half were making just a lot of 'Fan 101' mistakes. They were screaming when the Cardinals were on offense, they were taunting people at halftime ... they started doing the freaking wave, man. So I think this whole winning business, or being at the game, or being aware that the Arizona Cardinals are a team that plays in the city, I think that's all quite new to them. They weren't quite ready for all that.

MJD: I think that's more of a 2009 thing, as opposed to an Arizona thing, because I've seen the Steelers crowd, too, do some really dumb stuff. You'll see Ben Roethlisberger constantly have to quiet the crowd when the Steelers are on offense. You know, you never saw Terry Bradshaw have to do that.

Will Leitch: I wonder if it's just generally that the only people who can afford tickets have corporate boxes. That's why the Super Bowl is such a miserable game to actually attend, because nobody there is actually a fan of either team. As a general rule, I find that the higher your income bracket, the worse a fan you are. So I wonder if that has a little bit to do with it, too.

MJD: Yeah. Well, I guess you have other things in your life to pay attention to, if that's the case.

Will Leitch: Like all the baths in $100 bills, and whores. And all the wonderful ivory that you've got from your hunts and safaris, taking down elephants. I don't know. You might be able to tell from my discussion here that I have absolutely no idea what rich people do, but I assume it's stuff like that.

MJD: All I know is that, you know, I'm broke, and football is my life. So I assume it's the exact opposite for them.

Will Leitch: Exactly. Which is why you're a good fan. This is why you'll never ever attend a Super Bowl.

MJD: Are you in Tampa this week? Are you going to the game?

Will Leitch: No, I'm not. I saw you out there last year during Super Bowl week, and I don't know if you remember, but I think Super Bowl week is a pretty demoralizing experience. It's just not very much fun, and it's about so many things other than football. I remember I was watching that game with you and some other guys in a hotel room, with the $100 bills and the hookers in the bathroom. Those were the halcyon days of blogging, weren't they, when we were just tossing out $100 bills?

MJD: Oh yeah.

Will Leitch: I remember being so excited by the game, because by the time the game had started, everyone was just like, 'Ugh, when can we go home? This is such a terrible experience.' And the game was almost renewing. I was like, 'Oh yeah, that's right, football is awesome!' And the game was really good last year, but I didn't want to go through that this year, even with it being the Cardinals.

And it's funny, I was talking with A.J. about this today, you think about how the Super Bowl has progressed even just coverage-wise, if you look at the blogs in the last few years. Three years ago, A.J.'s running around, causing trouble, sneaking looks at Stuart Scott's text messages. Big chaos. We're just the plucky independent site causing trouble, and then last year, it's, 'Hey, look, everybody's here from all those different blogs!' Now, this year, it's 'Yeah, I think MDS from FanHouse is there, and Chris Mottram, but other than that, no one else could bear it.'

I think maybe the closer people got to the actual experience of the Super Bowl, the more people realized actually how miserable it is. And I remember last year, in the comments, I was writing daily columns for both the New York Times and the Sporting News during Super Bowl week, and I wrote one column saying, 'Seriously, this is a miserable place to be. This place is awful. Super Bowls suck,' and of course, as you'd expect, and as I probably deserved, 150 commenters are like, 'Oh, excuse me, Mr. At-The-Super-Bowl-Guy, sorry your life is so hard!' But until you've actually gone and realized just how truly awful it is, it's really hard to appreciate.

MJD: It really is just a week-long, huge advertising opportunity.

Will Leitch: I was seeing the NFL Network logo everywhere. In my dreams ... even in my fun, sexy dreams, Drew Barrymore's face was showing up as the NFL network logo. And Rich Eisen, I think that was actually even worse. But that might have been just some photos I was sent. It's a long story. But it really is, it's just so much that has absolutely nothing to do with football.

I wrote a piece that's going up for the New York magazine site on Friday, essentially saying that the thing about the Super Bowl that's always interesting to me is it's the battle between sports fans who want everything else to go away except the game, and everyone else that doesn't care about sports at all, but likes the event and experience. So I tracked the last 25 Super Bowls to see who won. What was the takeaway from the game? Was the takeaway a nipple slip, or was the takeaway Joe Montana going on the last drive? Sports fans pretty consistently lose. We pretty consistently lose, even in the last few years, when the games have been pretty good.

I remember when I first started doing Deadspin, and people in the media would tell me, 'Oh, you've gotta get to the Super Bowl, man, it's this ultimate networking thing, it's where you meet all your sources and your contacts, and everyone just parties.' I don't think that's true anymore, and part of me wonders if it ever was.

MJD: Yeah. I've kinda gotten over it recently, but that used to bother me so much. You know, all the other peripheral people who suddenly take an interest in football this week. It used to bother me so much that I actually boycotted one Super Bowl. I actually did not watch the Raiders/Bucs Super Bowl.

Will Leitch: Well, if you had to skip one. The Ravens/Giants game was one of the worst football games, Super Bowl aside, that I've ever seen, but I can understand that. Have you come around?

MJD: I've sort of just grown to accept it, you know? I mean, what am I going to do, boycott every Super Bowl?

Will Leitch: Yeah, it sort of proves once again that if you care about something deeply, whether it's sports or movies or crack or whatever, whenever someone just comes in and dabbles in it, and isn't as serious about it as you are, you hate that person and everything they stand for. If there were a Super Bowl of crack, I guarantee you there'd be many crack addicts like, 'Oh, look at me! I just discovered crack! Oh, aren't you great! I was into crack for years, man!' So yeah, I'm so tired of those bandwagon crack jumpers.

MJD: So, have you--

Will Leitch: I may have gone off on a tangent there. Sorry.

MJD: Oh, that's what we're all about here. Have you experienced any Steelers arrogance this week in particular? You've gotta know some Steelers fans.

Will Leitch: You know, actually, my general theory about Steelers fans -- and anyone who cheers for the Seattle Seahawks tends to violently disagree with me on this, or the Browns for that matter -- but generally I find that the Steelers are kind of like the big monolithic successful NFL team, but people don't hate them as much as the Cowboys or the Giants. I think it's because, particularly this year, the coach is really likable, there's no Terrell Owens, there's no Tom Brady to have this life of envy about, and also, everyone in Pittsburgh is so horrifically economically depressed that it's hard for anyone to get too cocky about anything.

But I did enjoy a piece that went around this week by Charles Pierce -- who's a pretty good writer, actually -- wrote a piece for Slate about how it's just a travesty that the Arizona Cardinals are in the Super Bowl. And first off, no Arizona Cardinal fan can possibly be -- I enjoy when Arizona Cardinals fans get mad, they're like, 'WE'RE BEING DISRESPECTED!' and I'm like, 'Come on, we're the Arizona Cardinals. We certainly deserve it probably a lot worse than we're getting.' The fact that an Arizona Cardinals fan would be like, 'No one's ever giving us any respect!' well, we've been horrible for 60 years. It'll happen. So I can understand the notion that it feels like the Arizona Cardinals are intruding on some sacred ground, except for the fact that Rex Grossman was the quarterback in the Super Bowl two years ago. So I think the Cardinals are probably the least of the Super Bowl's historic concerns.

MJD: Before this Cardinals run, before this year, what was the highlight of your life as a Cardinals fan? "Jerry Maguire", maybe?

Will Leitch: The thing I always found amusing about "Jerry Maguire" was that I knew people who saw that movie who weren't sports fans who were like, "Don't you hate it when a movie can't get the rights, when the NFL won't give them the rights, so they have to use some fake team? That's the worst.' 'Oh, that's actually a real team, that's my team.'

My personal highlight was probably in 1998 when Chris Jackie hit the field goal over the Chargers to send them into the playoffs. I was working at the Sporting News then, pretending to be a real sports journalist, and everyone's all working in the office and doing their thing, and I just immediately jump up and run around the office and start high-fiving people, which I guess was frowned upon. Who knew?

Most of the more memorable experiences as a Cardinals fan, of course, are negative, and I pointed out some of them in my piece last week. I still think the best one was when the Chargers had the game against the Dolphins, with the fire going on in San Diego, so they had to move it to Arizona for the Monday night game. And literally, Arizona Cardinals fans, first of all, it was a sell-out, which was the first one in like six years. And then there's Cardinals fans -- er, Cardinals fans, excuse me, Arizonans -- up in the stands with signs that say, 'ABC: Anyone But the Cardinals! Go NFL!' And it's been that kind of thing for a long time.

Kelly Stouffer, I've always kind of felt, stands for something awful about the Cardinals. The fact that he was drafted by the Cardinals, then decided that he didn't want to play for Arizona, so he was willing to sit out a year. We actually got a John Elway/Eli Manning played on us by Kelly freaking Stouffer. I think that's a very good way to describe what it's been like to be an Arizona Cardinals fan.

MJD: The only team I've ever liked that won a championship was the Pistons, and along the way, I sort of developed emotional attachments to weird guys on the roster. Like, I was oddly fond of Lindsey Hunter that year. Have you developed any of that for any particular Cardinals this year?

Will Leitch: The easy answer is someone like Adrian Wilson, who's been so great for so long, and no one's ever really noticed. He was in danger of becoming the next Aeneus Williams, just this great player that nobody ever noticed until he went to another team and went to the Super Bowl, which is why I think it's so meaningful when they interviewed him after the game and he was crying.

My personal favorite of all the Cardinals, I have a sentimental attachment to Neil Rackers and Nathan Hodel, because they went to Illinois, and they went to Arizona, and I have a Neil Rackers bobblehead, which I'm sure not even Neil Rackers has.

A guy that I love out of proportion is, I actually, I love Leonard Pope. And I have no idea why. He's not good. He was supposed to be the hot tight end coming out of the draft. The problem is, he's big, he's fast, he's got good hands, and he is as dumb as a box of rocks, man. It's so funny to watch. He'll have false start penalties on plays he's not even in on. If you remember, he had one great moment in the NFC Championship game, when Fitzgerald scores that first touchdown, and spins and he got the ball over the goal line, and finally, Leonard Pope just tackles him. It's just the perfect Leonard Pope moment. Good old Leonard Pope. He's like Manny Ramirez, if Manny Ramirez wasn't actually very good. And I love him. I absolutely love Leonard Pope. If anyone's going to have a Leon Lett moment, it's going to be Leonard Pope, except it wouldn't be so obvious. It wouldn't be like a brain freeze, it would be lining up on the wrong side of the ball, or showing up in the wrong jersey, or having it on backwards. When they announce Kurt Warner, Pope will probably run out on the field out of confusion. So I have a soft spot for Leonard Pope. If he ends up scoring the game-winning touchdown, I think I'd appreciate that more than anyone else would.

MJD: Kurt Warner probably loves him because his last name's Pope.

Will Leitch: It's true. My favorite moment of Warner's this year, and Warner is pretty beloved, and I'm glad that he's finally wising up a little bit, like when they asked him after the game what he thought, and he was like, 'Alright, I know everybody's getting sick of hearing this, but come on, I'm still really into God, and people would be really mad at me if I don't say something.' I kind of appreciate that about him.

I still think my favorite Warner moment of the season is that last play of the Monday night game, when the 49ers were driving for that last touchdown, and they ended up not getting it. And they asked Warner what he was thinking on the last play of the game, and he said, 'How awesome God is." Isn't that kind of perfect? I sort of imagine him doing that when he's pumping gas, or pouring milk for his kids. It's just constant, like the way a dog is always thinking about food. You know, no matter what you're doing, the dog's thinking about food. No matter what he's doing, Warner, he's just thinking about God.

Another thing, too, I find it kind of sad how little play Brenda Warner has gotten in the postseason. I think it's kind of a PR move, I think they decided they want her to keep a little bit of a lower profile. But it's a shame, because Brenda Warner is awesome, man. She's a marine. She's a marine, she's raised all these kids, and people forget that they were married, and that's when Warner found God. Warner did not find God before he married Brenda. So she had to deal with that, too. Everybody gives Brenda Warner so much crap, but we should all be half as tough as Brenda Warner. And yes, she does look a little better now, I think we can all confess that. But that really didn't require too much work.

MJD: If the Cardinals were to win on Sunday, where would that rank in your life among moments of happiness?

Will Leitch: We'll go with sports happiness, because outside of sports, there has never been any happiness. So we'll go with sports. I would say it would probably go behind the St. Louis Cardinals World Series in 2006. I'm the only person in my family that's an Arizona Cardinals fan, because I'm the only person in my family that's an idiot. Any sane person would've stopped rooting for the Cardinals a long time ago. The St. Louis Cardinals World Series was something I was able to share with my family, and this is just something I'll be sharing with the four or five other Cardinals fans I've met in my life.

It would have to be up there, though. The thing about it is that when the Cardinals won the World Series, it felt like we'd been working for it for so long. I know Red Sox fans had it a lot worse, and Cubs fans -- ha ha! -- still have it a lot worse, but it's something that we'd been fighting for and worked our way up towards, and finally broke through while we had the chance.

But this is so out of nowhere, and so unfathomable that I haven't really had a chance to process it yet. I could never even get the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in Madden. And to have it actually happen now -- I was just excited to have them playing in a playoff game. The fact that there was a Cardinals game that was going to be nationally televised and not blacked out, I was excited. So to have this happen is kind of beyond any comprehension. I don't think any of it's going to sink in until it's over. And obviously, I hope they win, and I'll be cheering for them like crazy, but no matter what, the hard part of the battle is over. Like, no matter what, we'll always have a season where we went to the Super Bowl. People will remember that we're in the NFL. And so even if they lose, there's something kind of lacking about it. It won't have the feel if the Giants would've made the Super Bowl and lost, or the way it felt for the Patriots last year, or the Seahawks, I guess, when they lost to the Steelers. No matter what happens, we made a Super Bowl. We are now an actual football team. An actual team. It's proof. When you go to the ledgers 100 years from now, there will be proof that the Arizona Cardinals did, in fact, exist, because they made the Super Bowl. Other than that, there would have been no proof. We're like "A.I." Not Allen Iverson, the movie with Haley Joel Osment. We're now like a real, live boy.

MJD: Do you have a prediction? I'll understand if you're uncomfortable and don't want to give a prediction, because I don't think I would if I was in your shoes. But do you have one?

Will Leitch: Someone made me do one, so I feel like I should repeat it, and in a lot of situations, I'd feel like I were jinxing them if I were to pick them to win, but there's actually nothing I could do that would be worse than what's happened to the Arizona Cardinals historically, anyway.

You know, I think they're going to win. I'm not going to lie to you, I do think they're going to win. The way I see it is, I don't think the Cardinals are going to score 30 points. But I'm pretty certain the Steelers aren't going to score 30 points. And I think that there's a certain kind of upside for the Cardinals that maybe isn't there for the Steelers. We'll know real quick. That tends to be the motif of the Cardinals, with the exception of the Carolina game, which is still, of all the playoff games, the one that makes the least sense.

I could see them beating the Falcons, I saw the Eagles game, but the Panthers, that seems to be the most bizarre. To see the Arizona Cardinals actually be dominant like that, it was weird. Other than that game, the Cardinals do tend to need to score first. And it's just kind of been that way all season. Frankly, even having watched them for years and years start the season 0-2 because it was too hot in Arizona to give them any home games, I know that feeling of, when they're behind, things tend to go wrong. So I think if they could score first and keep it from getting out of hand, I like them in the fourth quarter maybe a little bit more than I like the Steelers. So I'm going with the Cardinals, 23-21, and now please delete this tape.

MJD: Alright man, I appreciate it. Thanks a bunch.

Will Leitch: Of course. Thanks for having me, enjoy the game. And for God's sake, I would like everyone to e-mail me or something during the game, reminding me that the Arizona Cardinals are, in fact, in the Super Bowl, and I'm not having some some of fevered LSD dream.

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