Kicked Off
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. [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

10

Thanksgiving In Detroit

There's never really a moment in which this particular bit of behavior could be in context, obviously, but the robot mascot of Fox's NFL broadcasts plays guitar sometimes. Really works out on it, in fact—Steve Vai-style runs up the fretboard, dropping to its steely knees so as to enhance the rocking out, the whole deal. Is the robot playing along with the edgeless guitar-rock gallop of the Fox NFL theme song? I don't think so, if only because the robot—which once was restricted to participating in animated football-related activities—now just kind of does whatever. Whatever being, among other things, an awkward, dancingbaby.gif-quality rendition of Ray Lewis's pre-game berserker choreography, [...]

10

Terrell Owens, Alien

It is saying something, and not something good, that the best programming on VH1 generally features the poreless, marzipan-faced vanity doctor Dr. Drew Pinsky. Pinsky's creepy self-assurance is unpleasant everywhere it appears, but there's a rawness and bleak exhaustion to VH1's Pinskyfied televised celebrity rehab franchise that's occasionally bracing. I write this knowing that the words "televised celebrity rehab franchise" are about as unpleasant as the language gets, and in the understanding that some people's reaction to watching a scabby, furtive Tom Sizemore sweat out the shoulder of a decade-long meth high might be less generous than mine.

18

The Cowboys Really Are America's Team

In the almost unbearable breadth of its offerings on the subjects of napping puppies, curious baby sloths and farting iguanas, YouTube is something more than a miracle—the vast triviality of all those acres of lush, stunning webshit is too wicked, too beautiful to have originated upstairs. There's a kind of freaky groupthink to the YouTube-memes that boil up, tornado-like, from YouTube's flat and desolate interior, but there's something great about those, too, and compromises are to be expected when you're talking about something that functions as an illustrated psychic septic system for the entire Internet. The comments section—home to the most dead-certain and dread-inducing almost-humans ever [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

22

Rich People Things

The impression you get is that Robert Kraft just lost track of time. Another long day is closing at the New England Patriots owner's vast tumbled Redwood of a desk, the daylight lowering and — uh oh, Kraft has just remembered that it is almost time for Thursday Night Football. Thursday Night Football which is like Monday Night Football, only without the benefit of Jon Gruden's manic clairvoyance or the non-benefit of Chris Berman's baffle-shrieked halftime highlights, and which no one watches because it's on the NFL Network. Anyway, so Kraft is up and out of the office and onto his waiting golf cart (I know), which he pilots [...]

20

Are You Ready For Some Thursday Night Football?

Have you seen those commercials for Thursday Night Football in which the NFL tries to make it seem like Thursday Night Football is a thing? There's up-tempo sorta-rock music and ordinary dudes looking excited and Patriots owner Robert Kraft driving a golf cart to an expensive-seeming outdoor restaurant/yacht club (really), where they presumably all settle in for a rollicking evening of football on a network no one gets. Anyway, so that starts tonight. The Falcons are favored by one point at home against the Ravens. Both David Roth and Al Toonie The Lucky Canadian Two-Dollar Coin are picking Baltimore. You know, for the record.

31

Unscrambling An Egg

Of all the things that can be traced back to World Wrestling Entertainment steakface-in-chief Vince McMahon, the short-lived mega-bust that was the Xtreme Football League was probably the worst idea. Not the most offensive or exploitive or ugly, since McMahon's many accomplishments in those areas speak—scream, really, scream their own ignorant red-faced bafflement in an endless spittle-rich promo—for themselves. But worst-conceived and worst-executed? Consider this: the idea behind the XFL, which existed for one season in 2001, was to give fans an all-access experience of a dumber, faker, more violent NFL that would be played without all the rules that make the NFL so embarrassingly soft.

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" [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

12

Bears/Dolphins: Feel The Whateverness

There are only 10 or so more hours until Thursday Night Football kicks off, which means I had better get to writing that letter to my cable company, thanking them for not carrying the NFL Network. It's not much of a cable company, to be honest: I get very few channels and a few too many public access channels (but not New York One), including one that only shows 30-year-old claymation learn-to-read programming dubbed into Spanish. I also get The Pentagon Channel and this one home-shopping channel that is just Kathy Ireland selling juicers for 20 hours per day, and then sleeping on air for the other four. I [...]

19

Football Is Socialism

Where there was once a manic parade of high-fiving bald eagles and beer-drinking pickup trucks and panty-raiding Founding Fathers in the commercials that fill out most NFL broadcasts, there are now two more boring types of ads. You've got the ones predicated on grim, recession-appropriate anxiety-comedy—the foxy bartender makes fun of you for not properly appreciating Miller Lite's futuristic new bottles and then your friends also make fun of you. And then you've got the increasingly baroque paeans to increasingly unconvincing rugged individualisms, of the build-your-own-boat-and-sail-it-to-the-top-of-a-mountain variety. The ultra-traditionalist and progress-averse language of the average on-air commentator—toughness, grit, more toughness—has been uncomfortably and incompletely but also undeniably modernized.

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