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.
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
THE LESS CRAPPY REFERREES ARE BACK
On a beautiful fall weekend where the multicolored leaves were fluttering off the trees and it was just cold enough that everyone in the neighborhood kept their smelly babies indoors, I got a phone call. “Snakes!”—that’s my nickname—“We have to go to that place with all the babes and cheap cool food and then to the store with the secret deposit of deadstock 1940s sweatshirts, the ones with the four-inch cuffs that you’ve been faxing me about.” I really wanted to go and experience all those things, but I couldn’t because sports. A few hours later I got a call about the art zine fair in Long Island City, which I had to skip for sports, too. I really wanted to see those zines, but part of being an adult is not going to zine fairs. If you didn’t skip anything, that’s fine. I didn’t need to eat that pizza made by a 95-year-old guy who’s retiring tomorrow anyways, I really was happy watching that Alabama game and telling you about it.
- The real refs are back, duh, and kind of blew it Sunday, so things are back to normal. Since you know the refs are back, you know it’s because the replacement guys made a fuck-up for the ages on Monday and gave Seattle the win. I won’t mention that the president got involved and the Reagan-boner guy from Wisconsin sided with the unions because he loves his team so much. It was one of those insane sports items that crosses over into regular news, so, like I said, I won’t discuss it. But on the off-chance you didn’t read this column, by the LA Times’ Michael Hiltzik, on the subject, you should, because it’s pretty much all there.
- The Saints, who won the Super Bowl last year, are 0-4 after missing a last-minute field goal in Green Bay, and I’m told they’re not going to play the rest of the season out of pride. Of course, they didn’t actually win the Super Bowl last year, but it feels like they did, doesn’t it?
- It’s only September (as I write this), so it’s a little premature to say that the season is over for the Jets, who have an injury-depleted defense and not one competent player on offense. Wait, no, it’s midnight……. Now. The Jets’ season is over. Thanks for reading.
- Michael Vick just shut the press conference game down.
- I had this whole thing written about how going into Sunday night, no AL team has clinched a playoff spot, but then the Rangers beat the Angels and somehow clinched spots for themselves, the Orioles, and the Yankees. Still, not knowing what the playoffs will look like until the fourth-to-last day of the regular season feels like some sort of record. I’d look it up, but you probably don’t care. There are postseason implications in pretty much every series these next few days, which is awesome, but it’s also the last week with 15 games a night, which is a bummer.
I’m not going to stop watching football, but how do you excuse watching something as obviously evil as the NFL? Is it like eating processed meat or buying shoes made with slave labor—do you just not think about it? I guess that’s what you do. Shit.
Picking at Scabs - by David Roth
It happens in every NFL game: During a lull in the action, the cameras find the team owner’s private box. These boxes mostly look the same, and the owners—or what’s visible of them behind the light-washed glass that separates them from the rest of the people at the game—mostly look the same. White hair, white (or tanned) faces, the country club casual favored by a certain type of a certain generation of plutocrat, sometimes a fluffy nimbus of poshly soused nephews and in-laws distributed at a respectful difference from The Man Himself. If NBC’s Al Michaels or CBS’s Jim Nantz are doing the game, viewers are treated to a little thumbnail Forbes profile of the owner in question. This will be about the owner’s bravery in sticking with a coach or a GM, his Dedication To Winning, some sort of humanizing you-know-he-actually-flies-his-own-plane detail. If you want it to be, this casual, time-filling handjob artistry can be tacky, actually offensive, or emblematic of the NFL’s high-volume dedication to being as mainstream as possible. But mostly it’s just something that shows up on television when there’s not any actual football happening.
There have been a great many of these lulls in the action, even by the NFL’s usual grunt-and-pause standards, over the first three weeks of the NFL season. This is thanks to the familiar weekly Antietam of injuries, the squirming masses of turf-pounding players with their scrambled knees or steamrolled ankles—or, more frighteningly, the more serious injuries of the stock-still and backboard-loaded sort—which take us solemnly from silent stadiums to commercial breaks where Denis Leary sneers out truck-plaudits from J.D. Power and Associates and Sam Elliott slowly describes a beer that tastes like carbonated bathtub fart as if it was the liquid embodiment of American Exceptionalism.
That’s when football is working like it should. This season’s NFL games have not been up to par; they’ve dragged and slackened into something altogether more static and claustrophobic and chippy and shouty-shovey than most fans have ever seen. That responsibility falls, in the most immediate sense, on the scab officials NFL owners brought in after locking out the referees union over what appears now, in the wake of Monday’s calamitous/amazing “Let Them Eat Cake” game between the Packers and Seahawks, as an amusingly/depressingly small pension-related afterthought of an issue. That’s the game that caused the internet to rise as one and yell, “Are you kidding me?” as a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game resulted in one ref calling an interception and one calling a touchdown, both hip-deep in boos. The (non-scab) replay official ended up upholding the touchdown call as literally every single other person in the football world looked on in disbelief. TJ Lang, the Packers lineman, summed it up nicely in a statementthat got retweeted nearly 80,000 times: “Fuck it NFL. Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs.”
It’s unarguable, of course, that the scab refs lost the game for Green Bay. The agonizingly slow play and inevitability of suspect results, however, are just as much the fault of the men in those owners’ suites, and those have been occurring all over the league. The replacement refs have struggled bravely and futilely to peel opposing linemen off each other after seemingly every play. They’d throw flags and refrain from throwing flags seemingly at random; last week’s scariest injury—a sniper-shot of a helmet-to-helmet blindside tackle on Raiders wideout Darius Heyward-Bey that ended with the receiver giving the crowd a thumbs-up from a stretcher—was not flagged at all.