But then there’s high school football, where very young people make mistakes and older people sit in the stands and yell the worst things they can think of at other people’s children. Again, it’s your life and your thing, and if confessing in a scoutish, authoritative tone to a bleacher neighbor that some 15-year-old you’ll never meet “kind of fagged it up” on that play is what you need to do, then certainly good luck getting well. But if we’re going to draw a line, we might as well draw it here. Or maybe slightly further out, somewhere around the increasingly overstated and reliably depressing stretch that culminated earlier this week with college football’s National Signing Day.
Super Bowl Media Day… on Acid!
My first decision was whether to take the five-dose strip of LSD before or after I arrived at the Superdome. I settled on doing it after, which turned out to be the right choice. The line for media to get into the stadium was hundreds of people long and zigged and zagged through the bowels of the Superdome garage in a way that made it impossible to tell how long it was and what was around the next corner. It just so happened that the end of this line had some bomb-sniffing dogs and fully armed military personnel. As I told my editor later, if I had eaten the acid before getting in line, this story would’ve ended when I saw the bomb-sniffing dogs. I would’ve high-tailed it out of there—probably screaming—and been eaten by those vicious animals.
Despite having worked as a full-time sports journalist in a past life, this was my first time at a Super Bowl Media Day. I was surprised to find that there was no workstation set up for me to drop off my stuff and get my bearings before sneaking into a darkened corner to take my drugs. Nevertheless, I still managed to take those drugs in a darkened corner—I could tell from experience that the bitter taste and tingling on my tongue was a good sign. I checked my watch: 9:30. The San Francisco 49ers would be on the field in half an hour for their stint with the media.
The acid first started creeping in while I was standing next to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. I overheard someone ask Colin if he was a “steak and potatoes” kind of guy, and then I repeated “steak and potatoes” a few times into my iPod. I don’t think I attracted a great deal of attention, but I almost lost my shit when I noticed Kaepernick was getting beamed, God-like, onto the Superdome Jumbotron while I was standing mere feet away from him.
By this time, the trip was lapping against my mind in more consistent and powerful waves. I was very thankful that I had so many toys with me (my cameras, my iPod, and my smartphone) because fidgeting with my gear was a way to calm myself down. I’m not sure if this looked strange to anyone, but I’m also pretty sure I was staring at my camera without doing anything for what seemed like hours.
In reality, it couldn’t have been too long, because my next voice memo, recorded at 10:42, has me noting that the 49ers only had a few minutes left on the field and that I hadn’t asked any questions. Suddenly, I felt the urge to do something—everyone around me was moving with a purpose while I wandered around aimlessly and stared at the mysteriously pulsating artificial turf. I tried in vain to ask 49ers running back Frank Gore a question, but was beaten to the punch by a radio DJ who asked him if he’d ever had an imaginary girlfriend and some other guy who asked Gore, “If you had a Pegasus, what would you name it?” I made a voice memo wondering if I was imagining all of this.
Notes from a Hitter: High school football filled me with rage and damaged my brain
By the age of 18, I had undergone enough head trauma playing football to cause irrevocable damage to my brain. The three (documented) concussions I experienced resulted in a seizure disorder I will deal with for the rest of my life. I don’t discount my own role in the seizures I’ve had—some of them were partially due to poor decisions, lack of sleep, and excessive alcohol consumption—but according to my neurologist, my condition is undoubtedly caused by brain injuries suffered as a high school linebacker whose only goal at the time was to prove to his toughness to his teammates, coaches, and himself. That meant hitting people, and that meant harming my brain.
I consider myself lucky. Lifestyle changes and daily doses of an anticonvulsant have rendered my seizure disorder latent; its effect on my life is now minimal. More importantly, my mental faculties have remained intact enough to allow me to launch a (so far unsuccessful) writing career. Many NFL players aren’t nearly as fortunate—some have committed suicide, presumably due to the mental deterioration caused by their lengthy careers, including Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest rather than the head so his brain could be studied by neurologists after his death, and Junior Seau, whose family is suing the NFL. I hope that every player on the field during the Super Bowl lives a full, long life and doesn’t suffer any mental difficulties as a result of his career—but I know some probably will, and some will have much worse problems than I do.
The Ennui of Raiders-Chiefs
Dozens of men separate into two teams, muscled and angry and armored in pads and helmets and uniforms, gather inside an arena under an empty sky in Oakland. The groups stare at each other, stomping the ground and beating their chests, while tens of thousands of people who have come to the arena to watch roar in anticipation. Men in striped shirts bring the leaders of the teams to the center of the field. There is a pause, pregnant with violence, as the anticipation builds. Then…
“Why are we doing this?” one of the captains asks his counterpart.
“What do you mean?” the other captain replies.
“Why is football happening?”
“It always happens this way. Every week. Again and again and again. You know this.”
“But today…” He is confused. “Today there is no reason for football. We have no playoffs to strive for. Our fans expect no victories from either of us. We are the Chiefs and the Raiders—strong-sounding names which we do not deserve, for our teams together have more than a score of defeats and only a handful a triumphs. We shame our ancestors every time we attempt to play. No one is watching us on television. No one, save the hopelessly addicted, is wagering on this outcome. For what do we risk life and limb on this field?”
There is a pause as the men on the field consider this. The crowd goes silent. What’s happening? they wonder.Is there going to be football after all?
Happy 10th birthday to the Chinatown Soccer Club! Watch the documentary we made about them earlier this year.
People talk a lot about NFL parity—“How about parity in the NFL?” a man says to another man as they sit on a park bench and watch the traffic in the distance. “Yes, parity,” the second man says. How can he put the love he feels for his friend into words? How can such emotion be expressed? It’s beyond him. So he talks instead about how every team in the AFC East is 3-3, the mediocrity of the division reflected in the mediocrity of this conversation, this life.
Hot Young Stud Quarterbacks
It’s always questionable to draw broad trends from just a few weeks of early-season action, but fuck that—we’re looking at the best crop of young quarterbacks we’ve ever seen. Or at least if you’ve been watching football regularly for the past half-decade or so, it feels that way. Rookie playcallers like Andrew Luck and the concussed Robert Griffin III are legitimate good ball-throwing guys, of course, but there are plenty of good second-year QBs as well, like Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, and Cam Newton (assuming Cam gets his groove back at some point). If you expand the definition of “young” to include “drafted in the past five years,” you can include Sam Bradford, Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco on the list of young QBs who don’t seem too bad at the moment.
It’s a little bit hard to take in. Six years ago, Jon Kitna, a forgettable at best game manager for an abhorrent Lions team (he’s now a high school math teacher in Tacoma) was near the top half of the league in QB rating, and Damon Huard, about whom the less is said the better, was second. If you want to go deeper than QB rating, which is a lousy stat, you can look at FootballOutsiders’ QB ranks from that year. Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are at the top, but then you’ve got dudes like Tony Romo, Marc Bulger, and Chad fucking Pennington in the top ten. Rex Grossman was a Super Bowl quarterback back then. Being an NFL quarterback seemed to be like managing the Yankees in the 80s—too hard for anyone to do.
Then things changed. Stricter rules on quarterback hits (or, if you prefer, castrating the pass rush) helped protect the precious pigskin heavers and spread offenses began to proliferate, especially after the ‘07 Patriots had a perfect regular season while ignoring boring garbage like running and defense. Last year, there were three guys who passed for more than 5,000 yards—before then, there were only two, and before 2008, there was only one. And now that there are a bunch of young guns who can play the position, there’ll be a lot more in the future. Which is good. Ignore the purists who bitch about change—remember when football was just 22 guys punching each other in the mud?
Pittsburgh (-6) at Tennessee
Speaking of a bunch of guys punching each other in the mud, that would be more entertaining than this game, which features a dirty team led by a rape bro matched against the Titans, who, if you exclude their miracle victory against the Lions, have lost four games by an average of 24 points. Yikes.
PICK: Pittsburgh, but I hope they lose
Cincinnati (-1.5) at Cleveland
Look, I know the Browns haven’t won a game, but they’re actually not bad—they’ve played everyone pretty close, and Brandon Weeden isn’t terrible. Check out this throw:
The Browns are like that friend you have who was really smart in college, but keeps getting fired from shit jobs. You said you wanted to write screenplays, Kyle, so just do it. Stop wasting your time getting high with those messed-up kids. Can’t wait until he and the Browns get it together.
Indianapolis (+3.5) at New York Jets
Going with my heart on this one, not my head. I really, really want Andrew Luck to outplay Mark Sanchez so badly that all those big Jersey dudes who root for the Jets literally barf with rage.
Kansas City (+4) at Tampa Bay
Haha, just kidding, this game isn’t happening! Can you imagine how depressing this matchup would be? I mean, Matt Cassel is hurt, so Brady Quinn would play. It would be horrible to watch.
PICK: Tampa Bay