Thursday, November 29th, 2012
3

My Books Of Sad Jews

As National Novel Writing Month enters its final days, the next in our series about the novels that we started writing but, for whatever reason, never finished.

There's a novel I didn't write, and another novel that I did. I'll tell you about the second one first. It's finished—or notionally finished and objectively un-sold, although my agent tells me it received several posi-polite notes of no-thanks—and still here with me. It's in my head, and at least virtually is right there on this laptop's desktop, where it is both ostensibly complete and current through my last idle tinkerings with it, which I made on a slow and stop-full [...]

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1

The First Video That Meant Something To Me: Wu-Tang Clan's "Protect Ya Neck"

Part of a series for the new Awl Music app.

The longish story shorter about how I came to lose cable around the time I entered high school is that I was screwing up. Not in any sort of way that would alter my permanent record, or was anything but suburban and toothless and play-acty. I was tanking my classes and baiting my teachers, refining my basketball skills—without much improving my NBA draft stock, in retrospect—to the exclusion of any other kind of self-improvement and shoplifting stupid eighth-grader things like baseball hats and basketball cards and used CD's. There was disapproval from across the dinner table, strange threats [...]

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8

They Play To Win The Game

Last week, Animal Planet announced the rosters for Puppy Bowl VIII, the annual canine celebration of unmotivated running in circles and dead serious butt-sniffery that represents the best and most successful bit of Super Bowl counter-programming on record. While the VIII'th iteration of the Puppy Bowl will stick to the format fans came to know through the first VII—smallish dogs with their tongues hanging out, tear-assing around a small field aimlessly and excitedly—Animal Planet also added some new elements this year, including a new human referee. This week saw the public announcement of another new twist: the addition of veteran NFL coaches to the mix. We were there [...]

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17

Better Ingredients, Better Country: Inside Papa John's Top-Secret Presidential Campaign

There are many reasons why I shouldn't have the information I have about Papa John Schnatter, and only one reason that I do. The reasons why not are plentiful. I am not, for instance, a fan of his pizza, and have been critical of it in the past—I have said, on the record and in many instances to people who didn't even ask what I thought of Papa John's, that I think Papa John's pizza "tastes like being in an airport feels" and "is basically an industrial accident covered with seven pounds of shredded cheese."

These critiques, I am aware, are not necessarily unique. What put me on Schnatter's [...]

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26

Snacking About Baseball: Foodstuffs Of The Major League Parks

David Raposa is off this week, but Yakkin' About Baseball will return in its usual format next Friday. In the meantime, I’m offering an exclusive (if admittedly a bit self-promoting) look at a pet project of mine that's snowballed into something of an obsession. For the past seven years, I've been working on a still-untitled book project that has entailed visiting—and eating at—every Major League ballpark. The idea was to provide an overview of the concessions (culinary, ethical, otherwise) of Our American Pastime, but it has become something else entirely.

What was originally intended as a mass-market coffee table book has become something much more ambitious—a cross between a [...]

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14

LeBron James Can't Hear You

Haters, am I right? Just waiting for you to fail, pulling for it with all the sad vigor in their mean, withered selves—it's like they take all the things that are wrong with their lives and put them on you, blame you for what's wrong with them and expect you to take the punishment for them. Am I right, though? It's not a rhetorical question.

I honestly do not know if I'm right, because haters just are not a thing in my life or probably in yours, or really in the lives of anyone with a reasonable self-image. You will see a teenager on mass transit in a hater-baiting [...]

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22

The NFL Negotiates The Apocalypse

Eyes either narrow or widen, depending, and voices come up a tense octave. There's a certain palpable raising of the drawbridge from the man responding: the question or statement is contemptible, and it is very clearly being held in contempt, and this discussion is going to end just as soon as it can be ended. The reason it doesn't end right then, right after the word gets said, is that these are professionals, professional football players and smooth spokesmen both. And so the proper responses—"no, not at all"; "that's most definitely not how we see ourselves"—make their way out and into the microphones and notebooks and early-week assessment pieces. [...]

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31

This Is What You Get

Even before his disgrace, Isiah Thomas was a strange and complicated case. A product of Chicago's most blighted and Candyman-afflicted ruins, Thomas became a star at a Catholic high school in the suburbs. He survived two years of bellowing abasement at the hands of noxious windbreaker aficionado and total psychopath Bobby Knight at Indiana University, graduating to the NBA with a dazzling and idiosyncratic game, then went on to make a dozen All-Star teams and win a pair of NBA Championships with the Detroit Pistons. All of which is actually a pretty conventional, if obviously rarified, narrative. What made Thomas weird, then, was around the edges—the too-fulsome smile beaming [...]

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5

How Much Super Bowl Is Too Much Super Bowl?

On Thursday morning, I went to the Paley Center for Media—which used to be the Museum of Television and Radio, and still kind of is, although it's now called the Paley Center for Media—and was brought down into a basement dubbing room, where I watched something that was long thought not to exist. It's a tape of the CBS broadcast of Super Bowl I, which was played in front of roughly 61,000 spectators and 30,000-plus empty seats at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, on January 15, 1967. Since then, the game has been famously unseen and unseeable, outside of some sideline footage shot by NFL Films.

Neither CBS nor [...]

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33

Our Men In The Field

Even before the Wall Street Journal put a stopwatch on it earlier this year, fans knew it. There's just no way to watch a football game, let alone follow the NFL's shouty, certainty-intensive news cycle—if "news cycle" is the right term for something that reaches its analytical apex frequently during Herm Edwards' livelier televised free associations—without noticing that the greater part of the NFL experience is about space and time and waiting and talking. That there are roughly 11 minutes of actual football in a given game is a neat tidbit, but not a surprise. The director cuts between things and Dan Dierdorf says "I'll tell you what" [...]

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13

Brief Interviews With Hideous Football Players

Pro Bowl week. Concussion-recovery week. There is not a lot of football to talk this week, so Jeff and I will not be talking football in our usual fashion. That said, I'm still thinking about it, and the success of Yakkin' About Football has afforded us unparalleled and unprecedented access to some of the NFL's elite. And so, mostly because I could, I did a few short interviews with some Yakkin' About Football favorites about how they will spend the offseason, and deal with the possible work stoppage.

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16

War Is Heck

Before it became America's most wholesome and family-oriented violence-delivery medium and a decade or so after it ceased to be a simple sport, the NFL was, briefly, war. This wasn't so very long ago—then as now, the United States was intimately-unto-inextricably involved in two wars of the actual-going-on-thing variety. And of course the NFL wasn't so much war as it was a violent professional sport on television, but it's easy to see how the NFL's marketing people—who cut together a series of TV promos featuring Edwin Starr's "War (What Is It Good For?)" that left in the funky-dramatic music but removed every lyric except for the word "war"—could get [...]

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26

Love Lost

In the part of his Fox News show not devoted to perfectly enunciated emo-libertarian word salad served over stock footage of Nazi rallies, Glenn Beck occasionally gets emotional about old commercials. Which, like just about everything else having to do with him, is something I'd be perfectly content to leave a secret between him and his horrorshow fan base of gout-afflicted exurban Chamber of Commerce types and seething elderlies. If they want to get together and be dewy over the ad in which a little kid gives his bottle of Coke to Mean Joe Greene, they should absolutely do that. They should do that just as surely as [...]

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9

The Kid Fades From The Picture

My childhood bedroom is a mess. I haven't slept in there in years, which is fine because I am an adult and married and no longer need to sleep in a bed with Mets sheets on it. Which, that last thing, is actually good, because I couldn't get to the bed anyway. It and everything else in that room are buried beneath the soft cloth drifts and slumping linen moraines of what will allegedly—and increasingly implausibly—be a truly massive parental campaign to donate the decades of clothing that currently tumble all over my room. Vast khaki dunes and misshapen Clinton-era denim and pill-clotted sweaters and seemingly every big, stupid [...]

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11

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 [...]

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10

The Thursday Night Preview

It wasn't so long ago that the Chargers were coached by Marty Schottenheimer, a man who looked like an extra from a control tower scene in Top Gun and probably slept in aviator shades and who barked into his headset with such ferocity that you could actually watch it melt over the course of a game. When Schottenheimer was fired because He Couldn't Win The Big One, he was replaced by Norv Turner, who was at the time almost a joke—a thwarted, dad-faced would-be offensive guru who kept coaching teams with crummy offenses. At the time, I wrote about him as a tragic figure of sorts—a fraudulent genius who [...]

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11

On The Correct Use Of Haters

While they are disproportionately a problem for tweenagers, social-networking narcissists, rappers, and people doing it real big up in the club, Haters are a problem that affects us all. Which makes it that much more surprising how few of us were even aware of the risk presented by haters, doubters and naysayers until just a few years ago. Many of us, indeed, went about our daily lives secure in the belief that people not intimately involved in our daily lives probably didn't spare even a moment's thought on our respective existences. Which, granted, is somewhat unconvincing if you think about it—I mean the idea that other people, between their [...]

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11

Remember The Titans?

Thursday night? I have a standing date with my friends to watch football tonight on a network that spends four or five programming hours per day running reruns of Pros Vs. Joes and Matt Millen's cooking show. It's called "Batter In My Mustache," and in it Millen makes sugar cookies every week, and he makes them very angrily. I'm pretty sure they shoot it in his actual kitchen, because there's meat everywhere and the sink is horrifying. Anyway but once a week, this network—it's the NFL Network, and you don't get it on your cable system—interrupts all that and runs a football game. That's why Thursday nights are my [...]

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16

The Emperor's New Headset

Between my crippling fear of seeing Tony Siragusa in person, the unflattering work clothes, and the likelihood of traumatic brain injury, it's safe to say that I really do not want to play in the NFL. That makes it somewhat easier to bear that I haven't had a serious contract offer from a NFL team in months, but it doesn't quite explain the fact that, still, some adolescent brain node periodically beams strange fantasies into my mind. I'm executing shifty cut-backs and running for daylight on a crowded stretch of a crosstown street in Manhattan, and suddenly—and briefly, and embarrassedly—I'm Barry Sanders. Times Square is, briefly, Soldier Field or [...]

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25

Tom Brady Talks About Uggs

It's Thursday, and the NFL's ambitious attempt to rebrand one of everyone's favorite days continues apace. Time to hop on the golf cart with Robert Kraft and take in a middling-but-undeniably-early-in-the-week football game. Or not, if you'd prefer not—there are always books and any number of other things that don't involve having to listen to the NFL Network's Matt Millen doing his Sergeant Slaughter imitation. But the game: the game is between the Philadelphia Eagles and the heartrendingly snakebit Houston Texans. The Eagles have come back to earth somewhat, and the Texans have an odd ability to lose any game in any way, regardless of how well they'd [...]

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