Jobs’ death again puts sports in perspective
Only in Oher’s case, he was really out of the loop.
Naturally, Oher sent that tweet from his iPhone.
Apparently, irony is not dead – and the “Blind Side” metaphor had more legs than we ever imagined. Thanks to the highly successful book and movie of that name, Oher is perhaps the most famous blocker in recent memory. Now we know he blocks out more than opposing defenders.
In fairness to Oher, he just happens to be the unlucky NFL player who enunciated the lack of societal awareness that so many others were undoubtedly experiencing – and no, this is not a pampered-athlete rant. After all, plenty of coaches and front-office workers are even more clueless when it comes to life outside of our self-contained, artificially intense, all-encompassing football universe, and many in my business have those tendencies, too.
It’s a privilege and a pleasure to cover America’s most popular sport for a living, and to do it at the highest level – especially for an Internet company – a 24/7 sensibility is required. So in many ways, I can relate to the people I cover, because to some extent we all compartmentalize our existences, spend far too much time in a tunnel of our adaptive choosing and delude ourselves into believing that a positive outcome excuses all sins and shortcomings.
Football, however, is just a game, and no amount of money, fan interest or pop-culture relevance can make it any more important than it actually is. We want it to be consequential, because that makes the battles seem more charged and the outcomes seem more lasting; we need it to be consuming, because that validates our fervent devotion. We rely on it for social context and connection with strangers and formation of identity and the illusion of ownership, yet the perspective that gets sacrificed in the process is a steep price to pay.
In glorifying coaches who sleep in their offices and are impervious to anything outside their competitive realms, not to mention players who fight through torn muscles, broken bones, shaken brains and punctured lungs, I don’t exactly qualify as a voice of reason.
I’m sucked up in the madness, too – I write all night on Sundays, shut out friends, worthy pursuits and wellness techniques for months on end and feed a competitive drive that insatiably craves victories real and imagined. I do this for many reasons, some of them quite defensible, and the preeminent one is that I want to make a mark in my insular, supercharged world.
The problem is, as most of the people I cover would tell you, it’s very hard to be successful in the football bubble (or any bubble, for that matter) without being at least somewhat deficient in a lot of other areas.
Why am I telling you this? Well, a couple of reasons. First, because I think it’s a state of mind to which many can relate – we all have our playing fields and scorekeeping mechanisms and quests for redemption and triumph.
Secondly, you should understand that you are not merely bystanders in this passion play. While I’m certainly cognizant (and grateful) that your interest and emotional investment in the NFL has helped me carve out a desirable professional existence, it also helps facilitate the Oheresque oblivion of which I speak.
So I hope you’ll join me in taking a beat, assessing the situation and acknowledging that all of us can probably do a better job of appreciating football’s diversionary and exhilarating pleasures while resisting the temptation to lose ourselves in the drama. My advice, for whatever it’s worth:
If you’re a grown man who wears another man’s jersey, role-play to your heart’s desire, but try to remember that while cheering isn’t everything, it’s the only thing you’ll be doing for the home team on Sunday.
If you have a fantasy team, you own players solely in the imaginary sense of the word, and if you win your league realize that there’s a decent chance luck and coincidence played as large a role as dedication or talent on your part.
If you can successfully predict the outcome of a game, or numerous games, you might be clairvoyant or smarter than the poor saps who got it wrong – or you may simply be someone whose instincts and sensibilities have been validated by the outcome, deserved or otherwise. If you can successfully predict winners against the spread, vaya con Dios – and Viva Las Vegas.
Now here’s the tricky part: If you love an NFL franchise the way that I give my heart to my beloved alma mater and all the teams that represent it, please don’t confuse turf wars between men in pads with any sort of fight on your part beyond the hopeful hunt for reasonably stated bragging rights.
That means that the refs are not out to screw your team (or, by extension, you), nor are the analysts who pick against you or the experts who fail to see your true potential, even in the face of evidence you believe to be overwhelming. If you’re seeking affirmation, join a cult – football, by definition, harbors too many potential dissenters.
[ Sources: NFL has concerns with proposed downtown L.A. stadium ]
And while winning is a drug and losing is a drag, understand that the respective outcomes prove nothing, save that one team was able to outscore another. For every exultant, trash-talking fan there’s a desultory, bile-spewing counterpart on the other side.
So yes, one group of players may be competitively superior to another, and the same goes for organizations over a number of years. Rooting for a team that wins, however, does not make you a more important human than someone whose favorite team has fallen on hard times. It merely makes you a more fortunate fan.
Finally – and this is the most important part – whatever feuds, slights or crusades the competitors in question summon among themselves in an effort to achieve maniacal motivation levels should not be personalized by the non-participants. It’s not healthy, and it can literally be dangerous, to hate a member of the opposing team because he makes bold public comments or seems too ornery or disrespectful for your tastes.
Those media-driven skirmishes you think are blood feuds? Here’s a secret: They’re not. I see players from opposing teams interact away from the field often enough to know there’s an underlying layer of mutual respect that gets lost in the translation. Though there are certainly exceptions, most of these guys really don’t want to kick each other’s asses once the game ends.
And even if they do, it still doesn’t concern you. If, say, Terrell Suggs(notes) and Hines Ward(notes) want a piece of each other at a Super Bowl party, Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers fans need not bother participating. You’re an athletic supporter, not a soldier or gang member.
If this sounds preachy, go ahead and call me names – but do yourselves a favor and think about football’s place in your psyche and how you process the NFL-related news you consume.
This week, for example, we learned that Chris Cooley(notes) took pleasure in Tony Romo’s(notes) struggles last Sunday – and his words were treated with a gravity that caught the Washington Redskins’ tight end off guard and compelled him to clarify his remarks. Reaction to Romo, in general, has been borderline hystercial, with alternating depictions of his heroism and inherent insufficiency to lead. We’re talking about a guy trying to throw an oblong ball to another dude in a similarly colored uniform, correct?
Then there is the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson(notes), whose coach, quarterback and teammates are on a crusade to vanquish anyone who dares underplay his greatness, from ESPN analyst and former All-Pro wideout Cris Carter to Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The horror.
Finally, and most sensationally, Brett Favre(notes) went on an Atlanta radio station and delivered some backhanded compliments to Aaron Rodgers(notes), his former backup in Green Bay, saying he was “really kind of surprised it took him so long” to win a Super Bowl.
This was treated as some sort of deplorable, dastardly deed – a slight to the Packers’ favorite son and Cheeseheads everywhere.
Rodgers shrugged it off publicly, but there was a general assumption that Favre’s comments burned him inside. And while he may in fact find a way to channel the perceived diss for his competitive interests, I know Rodgers well enough to draw some eye-rolling conclusions:
First, compared to the way Favre essentially iced him for three years – and tried to torpedo him after coming out of retirement the first time – this comment barely registers; second, he’s a lot more stressed about the prospect of John Abraham(notes) and Ray Edwards(notes) trying to rattle his ribcage at the Georgia Dome on Sunday night than he is about anything heard on the local airwaves this week; and third, if a guy’s best verbal shot is, “I can’t believe it took you so long to score that Super Bowl ring,” the operative words are Super Bowl ring, and life could be a lot worse.
I also think people should be a bit less surprised that Favre, he of “sticking it to Ted” and signing-with-the-rival-organization infamy, would display something less than unconditional love for Rodgers’ accomplishments.
Favre may make some petty comments, but he has also uttered some wise and illuminating words in his day, and there’s one statement he made nearly 14 years ago that still resonates with me. During an interview with Playboy, Favre talked about the rush of playing for a Super Bowl champion: “And now when Saturday rolls around and we all jump on the team plane, I feel like we could take on Iran or Russia and win. We’re the Green Bay Packers! Want to hear something weird? When I fly commercial by myself, I get scared. But I feel safe on the team plane. Like we could all rescue one another if the plane went down.”
And that, in one brilliant observation, sums up the awesomeness and utter irrationality of life in the bubble. I suspect Mike Heimerdinger experienced similar feelings when, as the Denver Broncos’ receivers coach, he was part of a Super Bowl XXXII victory over Favre’s Packers a few months after that Playboy interview was published.
A year ago Heimerdinger was the offensive coordinator for a Tennessee Titans team that would win five of its first seven games and harbor hopes of contending for a championship. By November he was undergoing chemotherapy for a rare form of cancer and coaching through it for a downward-spiraling team. He got fired in February after his boss, Jeff Fisher, was replaced by Mike Munchak.
Last Friday, Heimerdinger died at the age of 58. The games went on, as they always do, and Heimerdinger’s friends, colleagues and former players put their heads down and kept grinding, as he’d have surely expected.
The games go on; time waits for no one; death awaits us all.
We know all of this, yet we push ourselves to gain yards, break stories and scream our lungs out with abandon, and we revel in the pursuit of grandeur. This makes us feel alive, but it also saps us of our collective ability to acknowledge and appreciate life outside the bubble. And when unexpected messiness from the real world – or mortality – invades our cocoons, it only stands to reason that we, too, are jostled by impact.
Steve Jobs died Wednesday at the age of 56, having left a mark on his world to which few others could ever relate. He was driven and innovative and passionate, and his victories were resounding and plentiful.
Surely a man like him was hell-bent on beating cancer, but the best medical science at his disposal couldn’t make that victory a reality.
Nothing can be done to help Jobs now, or Heimerdinger, or any of those lesser-known but wholly valuable individuals who’ve left this earth while so many of us soldiered on.
We can, however, help Michael Oher – and so many others, ourselves included – to get out of that three-point stance, break out of that trance and remember that football is only a slice of life, and not life itself.
Otherwise, when reality bull-rushes its way into the bubble, we’ll all continue to be blindsided.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
The Eagles will begin a season-saving turnaround – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it – by gutting out a victory over the Bills in Buffalo. … Now that Matt Hasselbeck(notes) and the Titans have my attention, they’ll go into Heinz Field and perpetuate the Steelers’ misery in a breakout game for Chris Johnson. … Three words to describe the Lions’ Monday night mastery of the Bears at Ford Field: Detroit Rock City.
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PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
San Francisco, for an intriguing battle between 3-1 teams and – sad as this is to admit – my first live look at Josh Freeman(notes) on the football field. The last time I saw the Niners and Bucs go at it, things were much different. And yes, this will mark the third consecutive weekend I’ve avoided air travel while enjoying early autumn in Northern California. No complaints.
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. Shortly after being excommunicated by ESPN for his controversial comments likening President Obama to Hitler, Hank Williams Jr. received a call from an IRS agent inquiring, “Are you ready for some auditing?” /
2. After Kevin Burnett(notes) challenged a reporter in a postgame interview by yelling, “Put on some pads, homeboy,” the ghost of Will McDonough descended upon Qualcomm Stadium, cold-cocked the Dolphins linebacker and knocked him into a laundry cart.
3. In response to the NFL’s plan to allow fans paid access to Super Bowl Media Day, nfl.com columnist Jeff Darlington and I will sell tickets entitling purchasers to observe us consuming massive amounts of calories at the downtown Indianapolis Steak and Shake at 4:30 a.m. for seven consecutive nights
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WORLD’S SIMPLEST POOL
Is it really going to be this easy every week? Following the Packers’ 49-23 thrashing of the Broncos last Sunday, on the heels of blowout victories by the Ravens, Steelers and Texans, I’m rolling into Week 5 with a 144-37 points differential, not that it means anything. As always, I’m one bad pick away from extinction. The good news is that I’m fairly confident it won’t happen this week, because I really, really like the Giants to beat up on the Seahawks at home.
Remember, you can find all of my picks here – 54 wins, 10 losses, zero humility – and receive the analysis behind them by registering for the Silver Insider at ridewithsilver.com. My Locks of the Week are self-evident.
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Kyle Turley rocks. The former NFL lineman is a musician now who has opened for the likes of Hank Williams III (and, incidentally, been ordered off of Hank Williams, Jr.’s ranch by the angry proprietor because Turley’s friends were a bit too rowdy). After the blessed removal of the tired “Are You Ready For Some Football?” opener, how cool would it be if MNF turned to Turley – a man who understands the intensity of gridiron competition like few other musicians in history – for an updated opener? Before you dismiss the idea, I urge you to go to iTunes and/or Turley’s website and listen to some of the songs (I’d start with “Fortune and Pain” and proceed to “Death, Drugs & the DoubleCross”) and judge for yourself.
FANTASY ANNOYANCE OF THE WEEK
Against all logic, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath eked out a victory last week to improve to 2-2 – and now my buddy Malibu has a serious bounce in his step as he heads into this week’s matchup with 4-0 Balls Deep (Matt Ryan(notes), Matt Forte(notes), Marshawn Lynch(notes), Hakeem Nicks(notes), Stevie Johnson(notes), Denarius Moore(notes)). “I’m projected to win!” Malibu exclaimed. I told him I didn’t have a whole lot of faith in projections, especially given that he’s not in a Yahoo! league, and advised him to sign Texans wideout Kevin Walter, who should see more action with Andre Johnson’s(notes) injury. Malibu complied but decided not to start Walter, instead going with three running backs (Cedric Benson(notes), Darren Sproles(notes), Mike Tolbert(notes)), two receivers DeSean Jackson(notes), Julio Jones(notes)) and two tight ends (Vernon Davis(notes), Brandon Pettigrew(notes)). His reasoning? “Pettigrew’s projected to get 17 points! Those things always seem to come true, like the point spread.” Sure they do.
Meanwhile, Cal women’s hoops coach Lindsay Gottlieb is recovering from the sting of a three-point defeat to previously winless The Placekicker, which benefitted from some Hasselbeck magic. Gottlieb’s Bringin’ It Back (2-2), conversely, is buckling under the weight of its Jets-heavy roster (Shonn Greene(notes), Santonio Holmes(notes), Plaxico Burress(notes)), so adjustments are in order. This week Gottlieb faces another winless team, Any Given Sunday (0-4), owned by Cal assistant Charmin Smith. To counter Sunday’s lineup (Drew Brees(notes), Roddy White(notes) and not a whole lot to brag about; it’s an off year for the typically potent Smith), Gottlieb is going with three backs for the first time this season – Greene (If Rex Ryan says, “How about we give Shonn Greene a chance?” who are we to argue?), Adrian Peterson and Willis McGahee(notes). At receiver she’s playing Julio Jones and Holmes, on a hunch, with Burress and Reggie Wayne(notes) heading to the bench. “Thank heaven we have Jimmy Graham(notes),” Gottlieb said of the Saints tight end. “He’s The Franchise at this point.”
THIS WEEK’S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
Since we’re reminding ourselves that competitive sports are not necessarily the most momentous occurrences in our world, let’s give it up this week for Saul Perlmutter, who joined two other scientists in receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering that the universe is expanding at an accelerating speed. He’s the 22nd UC Berkeley faculty member to receive a Nobel Prize, with nine of those coming in physics, and he’s only 52, so hopefully he’ll be teaching there for a long, long time. Hey, it’s his expanding universe – the rest of us are just living in it.
As for Thursday night’s football game at Oregon, that was an impressive first half for the Polar Bears. I turned off the TV at intermission with the Cal up 15-14 so I could get this column done. How did the rest of the game go, anyway?
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LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
The Dream Team was my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl, and I’ve been moved by that whole Michael Vick-Andy Reid redemptive/revival thing for more than a year now. However, with the Eagles off to a 1-3 start and in serious danger of slipping into lost-season mode, Vick is doing his best to extinguish expectations, declaring earlier this week that “the dream team thing is over.” Then Vick (hypothetically, at least) popped in his Earbuds, cued up one of John Lennon’s more brilliant songs and roamed the halls of the NovaCare Training Complex belting out an updated version of “.”God.”
Losing’s a concept
By which we measure
I’ll say it again
Losing’s a concept
By which we measure
Our pain, yeah …
I don’t believe in Maclin
I don’t believe in Dungy
I don’t believe in playbook
I don’t believe in Celek
I don’t believe in Roger
I don’t believe in Quanis
I don’t believe in Mornhinweg
I don’t believe in Mora
I don’t believe in Kafka
I don’t believe in PETA
I don’t believe in Nike
I don’t believe in refs
I don’t believe in Shady
I don’t believe in Herremans
I don’t believe in Eagles
I just believe in me
Andy and me
The dream is over
What can I say?
The dream is over
Let’s just play
I was your jailbird
But now I’ve reformed
I was Mexico
But now I’m Ron
And so haters
You’ll just have to run along
The dream is over
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