Friday, January 27, 2012

Lighten up, Francis

Vernon Davis had just scored the second-biggest touchdown of his career. Sure, it was only the second quarter, but the San Francisco 49er tight end had just caught a 73-yard touchdown pass to put his team ahead with a spot in the Super Bowl going to the victor. After his dash down the sideline to the endzone, he leaped over a row of photographers and ran over to the television camera stand and jumped on it. He stayed there for four or five seconds at most before jumping down to celebrate with his teammates. For that, his team was penalized 15 yards on the ensuing* kickoff because the NFL officials find such actions to be excessively celebratory.

*The only time you ever hear the word “ensuing” is in conjunction with kickoff. I’m hoping my pastor concludes his sermon this week by saying “in our ensuing sermon next Sunday, we’ll be discussing” Jesus or peace or what New England has to do to contain the Giants front four during the Super Bowl.

Look, I get that the league doesn’t want a Peter Griffin inspired song and dance after every touchdown, but penalties for excessive celebration serves only one real purpose that I can find. It’s to reinforce to the fans and spectators that this contest is serious business and needs to be shown the utmost respect and dignity.

LEAGUE OFFICIALS: What? The players are having fun and showing emotion on the field? This can not be. We must stop this.

And, thus, the dumbest rule in sports: the excessive celebration rule.

On some level, I can understand league officials and even team owners wanting to portray the games as a serious battle between groups of gladiators meeting on the battlefield prepared to wage war (you didn’t blink twice at the war metaphor, did you?). By presenting the game as some larger than life event with ruins of biblical proportions to visit the vanquished while the victor will feast on the finest meats and cheeses in all the land, all brought to them by maidens is togas who will then fan the players with giant tree leaves, it gives the impression the game matters.

Even broadcasters, who work for media companies who have paid princely sums of money to the league for the right to broadcast the games, have a vested interest in portraying the games as life-or-death struggles. Ideally, they’d be able to show a little self-awareness and realize they’re talking about a game.

But the fans. Oh, the fans. I, too, was like many of you once. I wanted players to “act like they’ve been there before” and to “go about their business like professionals.” I hated the endless celebrating after every catch. I cringed at the touchdown dances. All if it was too much. I couldn’t take it.

Then, like Elwood Blues, I saw the light. It’s a game. And that’s it. It’s ONLY a game. The same game you play with your friends on Thanksgiving when you’re a little kid only without the television cameras, crowd, lights, announcers, huge contracts and your game gets cut short because you have to wash your hands before dinner. It’s supposed to be entertainment. So what if the guy gets a first down and then wants to spend the next 45 seconds dancing a jig reminiscent of Riverdance. Other than the five-yard penalty his team will get for delay of game, there’s no harm. I don’t get mad when a guitarist goes on an extended solo at a rock concert. I’m there to be entertained. Same when I’m watching a football game. I want to be entertained, and amusing celebrations are fun.

It may not be exactly what country singer Lee Ann Womack meant when she said “I hope you dance,” but NFL players, I hope you dance. Dance like millions of people are watching, because we are. I hope next season when Vernon Davis scores a touchdown, he runs to a camera, strikes a pose from the movie “Gladiator” and screams “Are you not entertained?”

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

This post remains untitled

A collection of thoughts too long for twitter (feel free to follow me @lukermartin, or if you feel financially obligated, I accept cash and checks) but too short for their own blog entry.

  • Lemonade is for right after you’ve finished mowing the lawn. Beer is for the ballgame. But when is Root Beer time. Not Root Beer Floats, but just root beer? When’s the last time you wanted a beverage and thought to yourself “you know, I could really go for a root beer right about now?” Never. No one says that. Yet Root Beer continues to be sold at what I can only assume is a profitable pace. Are there that many people drinking it that I’m not aware of or is there a massive Root Beer Float industry that I’ve totally missed?

  • Twitter makes live television infinitely better, especially sports. The sense of global community that takes place when everyone’s commenting on a game is unmatched. It’s the equivalent of a digital sports bar where the only things being said are either observations on the game or jokes made about the game or its participants (including broadcasters). It’s what you’d do with your friends if you were all in one place watching the game together. Only now you don’t have to be in the same place. Or, in the event your wife watches something like “The Bachelor,” you can make all the sarcastic comments about how terrible the show is and mock the contestants on Twitter while still spending quality time with your wife without her getting mad at you for making fun of the one show she really likes and she knows it’s trash tv but she likes to turn her mind off once a week and just enjoy the trash. Not that I’ve ever done that, mind you, but one could, if they were so inclined. While DVRs may have made television more convenient, Twitter has made it more enjoyable.

  • Arguing about sports is, for the most part, more enjoyable than watching the games themselves. Assuming you’re talking to someone who also gets that it’s just sports and is supposed to be fun, there’s nothing better* than arguing whether Babe Ruth would have been a great player in today’s game (he wouldn’t) or if Tim Tebow is a good quarterback (he isn’t) or if the blue team will beat the green team during halftime of a college football game when they let the local recreation league teams play for 10 minutes as a way of forcing the parents to buy tickets they wouldn’t otherwise have bought because who is going to tell their kid they can’t play on the same field as their local sports heroes when the rest of their team gets to play?  (the blue team always wins.)

*There are, in fact, a few things better. Actually, many, many things better.

  • What Jon Stewart does on The Daily Show is absolutely amazing. The ability to take serious issues and mock them in such a way that you’re both laughing and thinking is astounding. It also makes me realize just how very bad the traditional news media is at informing the public. Then I just remind myself that news organizations are in the business of making money and are simply catering to their customers who just want their preconceived notions reinforced by the pretty lady on the TeeVee. Watching CNN, FOX News or MSNBC because you want to be informed is like drinking root beer because you want to get drunk. No matter how hard you try, it’s not going to happen.

Monday, January 9, 2012

I do other things

In one Seinfeld episode, Jerry wanted to get his parents an electronic organizer as a gift, but due to their cost, gets the knock-off Willard instead of the Wizard. Of course, Jerry’s parents don’t realize this for a while because they only want to use it as a tip calculator. That’s all they use it for, despite Jerry’s continued annoyance that it “does other things!”

This came to mind recently as I’ve been back in Georgia trying to find a job. When you’re unemployed, it seems like all anyone wants to talk to you about is why you don’t have a job and what they think you should be doing to find a job. It comes from a place of genuine concern and a desire to help and it’s certainly not fair to those people for wanting to try to help, but at some point I want to tell them that I do other things. I have other interests and every once in a while, I might even like to talk about those.

For example, just a few topics I wouldn’t mind talking about:
  •      The NFL Playoffs (yes, even Tebow at this point)
  •          Why it took me so long to start watching “The Wire”
  •          Your kid
  •          My kid
  •          Someone else’s kid
  •          The state of the Republican Party primary
  •          My sudden disdain for Tostitos following their bizarre ‘talking bag’ commercials
  •          Your favorite sports team, television show, flavor of ice cream
  •          The fact that Community is on an indefinite hiatus while Whitney remains on the air
You may also have your own topics you’d like to discuss. I’m more than willing to talk about them as well. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the concern. I do, greatly. And I would love a job to talk about. But I do other things.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Unstupiding

 This is the first of an irregular installment that hopes to clear up misconceptions about whatever topic strikes me at the moment.

I spent the better part of this past Friday through Monday watching football. Sure, Sunday was filled with the brand that openly pays players, but the majority of that time was spent watching college bowl games.  Sure, I may have neglected my dog, wife, kid, hygiene, diet and mental and physical health, but I did get to watch a lot of football, so it seems like a fair trade.

But as with most popular things (and despite vast sections of the stadium filled with fans dressed as empty seats, make no mistake, bowl games are popular), there are notions about them that are harder to break than an addiction to something highly addictive. 

Questions abound about the bowl system. Why aren’t there better matchups? Why are there so many games? Who really cares who would win a game between a 6-6 Illinois team and a 6-7 UCLA team? What did ESPN show before it got the rights to virtually every bowl game in existence? Why are you using the writing crutch of asking questions you intend to answer/ (Ok, so that’s not specific to bowl games, but you were wondering). I’ll answer these and many (i.e. maybe one) more below.

Why are there so many games?

The short answer is “Cash.” The longer answer is “Money.” For a slightly longer answer, we turn to noted sports commentator and part time head case Randy Moss who said “straight cash homie.” You get the idea. As with most things in sports, money is the driving motivation. But who gets that money? Well, it turns out the answer is “it depends.” In some cases, the games are part of a larger event for a *cough* non-profit *cough* that donates the revenues to charity. Of course, those events require large amounts of administration and those administrators aren’t independently wealthy, so they take a nice paycheck. The schools or their conferences get some of the money, most of which is spent paying to get the team and band to and from the game. In fact, a lot of schools actually lose money going to bowl games. 

The other reason for all the games is because we keep watching. Yes, I watched the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl and the Little Ceasers Bowl. ESPN is kind enough to put them on during the holidays so we can turn them on to avoid actually interacting with our families except to say “did you see that catch?” or “come here and watch this catch,” or “come here and watch this catch, but while you’re up can you get me a beer?” I know the games are glorified exhibitions, but it beats whatever rerun of CSI: Omaha that’s on the other channels.

Why aren’t there better matchups?

This one’s easy.  Outside of the BCS National Championship Game, the Bowls don’t care about the matchups. After the top two teams (I’ll leave the debate about how they’re selected to someone else), the Bowls have a pre-determined order in selecting teams, often from conferences they have pre-arranged agreements with. So the obvious follow up question is “why am I still reading?” After that, you’d ask yourself “what criteria do the bowls use to select their teams? We again return to the answer to the first question, “cash.”

Bowl games are nothing more than events to draw tourists to a locale. As such, the game’s primary importance is not television ratings or appeal to a national audience. The primary factor for picking teams is “do they travel well” as in “will they buy a lot of tickets and book a lot of hotel rooms and eat in our city’s fine restaurants?” That’s why a team like Boise State (ranked #7) gets sent to Las Vegas to play in a pre-Christmas Bowl while Virginia Tech (ranked #11) gets to go to New Orleans for one of the Big Four bowl games.      

How do they cram all that graham?

I don’t know.

Why does ESPN show virtually every bowl game?

They’re a 24-hour sports network trying to fill inventory in December to people are randomly off in the middle of the day, they don’t care about NBA or College Basketball until after the Super Bowl is over and the need a sports fix.  What, you’d rather they were on HGTV?

What do the games actually mean?

They’re both meaningless exhibitions (to any rational sports fan) and the determining factor of whether a team had a successful season or not (to everyone else.)  Of course, placing such emphasis on one game to define how successful a season was is ludicrous. Even teams who lose in a playoff format will tell you that while they were disappointed, perhaps devastated, to not win the title, they still had a successful season.

Check back next time when The Unstupiding tackles (obligatory unnecessary football phrase) another pressing issue that, in reality, has very little to do with anything.