Friday, December 17th, 2010

The Price of Admission

It was obvious that Greg Gumbel was not happy. There was a palpable lowering of his voice, a brief decline into the robotic we-are-being-treated-well tones of a hostage video. With everything he had, The Humble Gumbel was signifying that this particular "60 Minutes" promo was being read under protest. "It says here," he sighed, "that Jerry Jones has got an ego the size of Texas," before continuing to plug that night's profile of the Cowboys owner. The CBS cameras cut to Jones, who had left his luxury box and was on the sidelines, his face that familiar taut botox rictus and his arms pumping out oilman handshakes to his players as they left the field.

The timing of it all was, admittedly, fairly awkward, and probably bought some poor switchboard hump at CBS an early evening of speed-dating phone calls with Cowboys fans who had both the cellphone minutes and misplaced priorities necessary to get on the horn and voice their displeasure with that self-evidently correct characterization. While NFL media types are remarkably loath to speak ill of the NFL's luxury box-bound gentry, it's not even clear that Gumbel's coerced promo was anything but an individual example of a broader truth about NFL owners. And anyway, given that Jones's cultivated grandiosity often seems the result of Gruden-ian marathons of film study in which episodes of "Falcon Crest" and "Dallas" stand in for game tape, the Cowboys owner might even accept it as a compliment. At any rate, the point is this: Jones may indeed be a nightmare of big-talking billionaire entitlement and petro-tackiness, but he makes sense as the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. I'm going to explain how this relates to Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder in a second, I promise.

Okay, so while civic pride no doubt factors into the equation to different degrees for different owners, it seems safe to say that no one buys a NFL team because they intend to make it a living, concussion-generating gift to a particular metropolitan area. Unlike most NBA owners and many Major League Baseball owners, the NFL's proprietor class actually turns a profit, and will continue to do so in something like perpetuity thanks to the twin assurances of a progressive and generous revenue-sharing system and a regressive, owner-friendly collective bargaining agreement which ensures that most player salaries feature nearly no guaranteed money. While the NFL won't open its books due to a looming labor confrontation, pigskin oligarchs have barely bothered with the usual we're-going-broke-for-love-of-the-fans softshoe that usually accompanies this sort of sports-y labor showdown—while some are more so than others, every NFL team is profitable, and pretty much everyone knows it. Some NFL owners are more civic-minded than others—and some, like Pittsburgh's Rooney family, really are Pillar of the Community types—but it's mostly true that NFL owners reflect their geographic region's distinctive plutocratic folkways more than they serve those regions in any particular fashion.

This is how we get the Ford family's generous and totally inevitable totaling of the Detroit Lions organization, or jumped-up trans-fat millionaire Jerry Richardson overseeing the distinctly Sun Belt-ian collapse of the Carolina Panthers, or the booming, blistering Texas crassness of Jones and his Cowboys. In Snyder, who has owned the Redskins since 1999, Washington has received both an owner whose excesses reflect that of the nation's capital and something more prosaic—a defective, self-important try-hard with a lobbyist's sense of moderation, the accountability of a multi-term Congressman representing a comfortably gerrymandered district, and the thermonuclear entitlement of the most feckless legacy Senator. That the Redskins have had just three winning seasons during Snyder's tenure in the owner's box matters less than how they've lost during that period, and how they continue to lose—that is, in an increasingly expensive, consistently sour fashion characterized by desperate reactivity from above and logy, enervated decay on the ground.

Which is sort of a grandiose way of saying that the Redskins stink, I know. But while Snyder's predecessor in Washington was no peach, either—that would be Jack Kent Cooke, a Canadian squillionaire who spent his golden years extricating himself from three-month marriages and trying to find ways to avoid paying taxes—there's something especially, heartrendingly appropriate and familiar about the way in which Snyder has failed Washington's fans. The Redskins' front office is bafflingly opaque and unaccountable, prone to throwing large sums of money at faulty weapons systems—disagreeable battleship-sized nose tackle Albert Haynesworth is the most recent and egregious in a long string of Pentagonian personnel missteps—and strangely, sadly willing to get behind any strongman with a solid PowerPoint and a multi-point plan.

And so it was that unblinking orange martinet Mike Shanahan—whose first move as Redskins coach was to install his son Kyle as offensive coordinator, and whose second was to systematically alienate Haynesworth in the most public way possible—came to power. That Shanahan changed the defensive scheme to exclude Haynesworth (the team's best-paid defensive player) and spent much of the season undermining quarterback Donovan McNabb (the best-paid offensive player) wasn't so much a surprise, given Shanahan's track record. That Snyder has signed off on it is even less so. On Sunday, the Redskins will start Rex Grossman—a human punchline of a backup prone to unmotivated demonstrations of arm strength in no particular direction—over McNabb at quarterback, thereby announcing… well, not so much a capitulation to their opponent as the same thing that the team has continued to announce during Snyder's term in office. In short, that authority will be exercised. Arbitrarily, expensively, and in unaccountable panic and with implacable unreason and a desperate dedication to faulty ritual, but exercised all the same. This particular bit of nonsense makes almost too much sense.

COIN! I know that I do not really care about or understand individual football games that much, but that does not mean that I am happy to have slipped behind an item of foreign tender in the picks. It also does not mean I can really do that much about it—this week's games make a little more sense than last week's, and hopefully my habitual overthinkage will be a bit more useful this week than last. Last week, seven of Sunday's 13 games were decided by three or more scores. Do you know who would predict something like that? Not a human, I'll tell you that. Currency would predict that, and it did quite well doing so. At the very least, regardless of what happens going forward, I hold an inarguable advantage when it comes to emdash-usage. No coin, from any country, can take that away from me. But jeez, come on. (Once again, Thursday's result has been incorporated into the overall standings)

Week 14 (and overall): David Roth: 6-9 (103-99-9); Al Toonie The Lucky Canadian Two-Dollar Coin: 11-4 (104-97-9)

Sunday, December 19
• Washington at Dallas (-6), 1:00 pm – DR: Dallas; ATTLCTDC: Dallas
• Buffalo at Miami (-5.5), 1:00 pm – DR: Miami; ATTLCTDC: Buffalo
• New Orleans at Baltimore (-1), 1:00 pm – DR: New Orleans; ATTLCTDC: Baltimore
• Arizona at Carolina (-2.5), 1:00 pm – DR: Arizona; ATTLCTDC: Carolina
• Jacksonville at Indianapolis (-5), 1:00 pm – DR: Jacksonville; ATTLCTDC: Indianapolis
• Cleveland at Cincinnati (-1.5), 1:00 pm – DR: Cleveland; ATTLCTDC: Cleveland
• Houston at Tennessee (-1.5), 1:00 pm – DR: Houston; ATTLCTDC: Tennessee
• Detroit at Tampa Bay (NO LINE), 1:00 pm – DR: Tampa Bay; ATTLCTDC: Tampa Bay
• Philadelphia at New York Giants (-3), 1:00 pm – DR: New Jersey G; ATTLCTDC: Philadelphia
• Kansas City at St. Louis (NO LINE), 1:00 pm – DR: St. Louis; ATTLCTDC: St. Louis
• Atlanta (-6.5) at Seattle, 4:05 pm – DR: Atlanta; ATTLCTDC: Atlanta
• Denver at Oakland (-6.5), 4:15 pm – DR: Oakland; ATTLCTDC: Denver
• New York Jets at Pittsburgh (-6), 4:15 pm – DR: Pittsburgh; ATTLCTDC: New Jersey J
• Green Bay at New England (NO LINE), 8:20 pm – DR: New England; ATTLCTDC: New England

Monday, December 20
• Chicago at Minnesota (NO LINE), 8:30 pm – DR: Chicago; ATTLCTDC: Chicago

David Roth co-writes the Wall Street Journal's Daily Fix, contributes to the sports blog Can't Stop the Bleeding and has his own little website. And he tweets!

Photo by Brian J. McDermott, from Flickr.

11 Comments / Post A Comment

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

This has been floating around for a couple weeks. It's a must read. Dan Snyder is just a bad, bad dude.

David Roth (#4,429)

Dave McKenna is so, so good. I really rushed this column, which was totally my fault, and I wish I'd given myself more time to read up on this. I'm half-inclined to just write the 600 or so extra words I didn't leave myself time to write, just to get it down (and to mention that crazy AEI study bashing the 'Skins — even the American Enterprise Institute hates them!). Look for it in the deluxe hardback edition of all these columns. (Note: you will have to look for a long time, because that edition is probably never happening)

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

There's no way to say this without coming off dickish, so I'm just going to say it: I just feel bad for the Redskins. I hate the Cowboys and the Eagles with almost unrivaled passion, but I just can't muster it for the Skins. Part of that hatred is based in fear; the Eagles are always a threat, and for as crummy as they've been for most of the past decade or so and for as much joy as I derive from that crumminess, I know the Giants are capable of losing to the Cowboys at any time. It's impossible for me to say the same about the Redskins. How can they hope to be good, when they've got a clown at the very top of the organization who insists on imposing his clownishness on every aspect of the franchise? I honestly wish there were a recourse for Washington fans. Besides rooting for Baltimore.

Bittersweet (#765)

Dan Snyder is the lone reason I gave up on my beloved 'Skins after 30-odd years. You can tough it out with a dickhead coach or some nasty, mediocre players, but as David points out above, Snyder ain't going anywhere.

This has been the first season the Redskins have made me actively dislike football. I could feel it coming in the offseason, with all the overblown coverage of Haynesworth and the hype of McNabb + Shanahan + the ousting of Vinny Cerato. I don't think it has anything to do with specific changes from last year to this, but rather the accumulation of years of terribility (that is, "the ability to be terrible consistently") combined with a more apparent disdain for fans.

I just don't care anymore. I don't know if it will come back! I thought I'd get hooked in as the games went on but I haven't. I think I'm now just a fan of the game, enjoying picking out good match-ups, watching exceptional individual and team efforts.

Sorry for this rambling mess of a comment. Thank god for your columns or who knows what hobby I'd pick up.

jfruh (#713)

If we're linking owners to their metropolitan area, why not mention the Bills' Ralph Wilson, by all accounts a decent, formerly quasi-competent guy who will die someday, and soon? He's sitting on top of a billion-dollar asset that I assume is reasonably profitable for him in the sense that it makes a living for him and his family and hell, he bought the thing in 1960 for what, $20,000 or something, so he's done pretty well for himself on the deal, why rock to boat? Reportedly the only one of his children who had any interest in owning a football team was his daughter, who recently died of cancer, so presumably when Ralph goes his remaining kids will put this fucking valuable thing on the block in short order and it will head off to LA or maybe Toronto. And the WNY mass suicide starts.

David Roth (#4,429)

I don't know if I'll be around to write a Week 17 column — like around online, not around on earth — but I'd actually thought about writing about the Bills and Wilson. I kind of love that franchise and the amount of Yakkin' space devoted to him should prove how I feel about Ryan Fitzpatrick, and their doomed-ness seems especially sad to me. The NFL is better with the Bills in it, and lord knows what Western New York would be like without them. Have you ever seen "The Road?" I'm imagining that.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Not around for Week 17? Thanks for ruining Christmas.

David Roth (#4,429)

I'll be ruining New Year's in Week 17. I'll have a column up around Christmastime. Spoiler alert: you're all getting adjectives and gratuitous food metaphors as gifts.

jfruh (#713)

Have you ever seen "The Road?" I'm imagining that.

Yes, the living will almost certainly envy the dead. As a Buffalo native, nothing brings home the region's trapped-in-amber feel (as in, every time I go there it seems exactly like it did in 1992, only with fewer people) than the fact that people are still singing the fucking "BIlls make me wanna SHOUT!" fight song that debuted the year Jim Kelly and the no-huddle offense brought the team to a shocking 12-4 for the first time. I assume that when the team leaves half a million people will wake up feeling like they lost a leg, but will still try walking on it for weeks. Did you know that some guys spent some hard-earned money buying an enormous "FIRE [whoever the last hump coach was, I forget now -- DIck Juaron? let's say that]" billboard on the Thruway by the stadium? This seems like a good idea of things to spend money on, in Buffalo. And then they did fire him! The system works!

Matthew Abrams (#7,754)

So I guess Atom and His Package was right.

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