Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Derrida and the New England Patriots

I find it utterly pointless when teams (or the specific offense or defense) talk about finding their "identity." That's language Mike Tice used to use: the offense has to find its "identity." Frankly, nothing matters less to winning football games. If you're worried about finding identity, are you really focusing on scoring more points than a specific opponent and winning the game?

The proof of the pointlessness of team "identity" is the New England Patriots. They've won 3 Super Bowls with no distinct philosophical identity. They cater game plans around specific opponents. Look at their defense under Belichik. Usually they use a 3-4, but often it looks distinctly like a 4-3. Against teams that pass a lot certain linebackers play more; against teams that run a lot, other linebackers play more. Sometimes they blitz a lot in a game; sometimes they spend most of the game rushing three or four and dropping everybody else into coverage. They don't play defense to show a particular identity: they play whatever defense they think can defeat the other team. New England's offense has also lacked this identity. Are they a grind it out, ball control offense? Sometimes. ARe they a spread-'em-out and throw every down offense? Sometimes. They don't care. They don't care how you think of their identity, since they know their real identity is as a team that wins football games.

Here's where Jacques Derrida comes in. Derrida talks about a decentered universe, in which a structure no longer has a distinct center (roughly, a center is a main idea that gives a structure meaning). To quote Peter Barry on post-structuralism, "The event concerns the 'decentring' of our intellectual universe. Prior to this event the existence of a norm or centre in all things was taken for granted (...) In the twentieth century, however, these centres were destroyed or eroded (...) In the resulting universe there are no absolutes or fixed points, so that the universe we live in is 'decentred' or inherently relativistic" (66-67).

I would like to apply Barry's summation to the NFL to argue that THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS ARE THE ULTIMATE POST-MODERN FOOTBALL TEAM. They have no fixed identity--they adapt what they are to the situation. There's not unity, but disunity to their strategies. At the very least, their game planning and strategy is post-structuralist in that they don't rely on fixed points. Once could say they take Derrida's concept of "freeplay" to the football field.

However, most of us have a lot of anxiety about a decentred universe, and so we try to replace the center with something (this was Derrida's critique of Levi-Strauss). When there is no center, we create a center. In this case, we choose symbolic figures to represent the center so that we can make sense of the structure. For the most part, we've made Belichik (the deconstructive genius who creates this decentered form of football) and Tom Brady (the quarterback, and therefore symbol, or their succes) the representitive center of this structure. And maybe they are, in some ways, the center. But in style and strategy, they are a decentered football team.

Works Cited
Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

I've been to Vikingland and you know we've got a hell of a band

This preseason is teaching us something about living in a football-crazed region. The Vikings currently have a quarterback controversy. No, no sensible people are arguing that Brad Johnson shouldn't be the #1 Quarterback. However, we've still got a quarterback controversy that the local coverage is all over that national coverage, I'm sure, doesn't give squat about.

You see, in Minnesota we've got a QB Controversy over who should be the #2 QB.

All evidence suggests Tarvaris Jackson is vastly superior, immediately, to Mike McMahon. But this is probably the #1 topic for Viking fans to talk about right now (and I've yet to hear a single fan opinion arguing for McMahon to be #2). Even the coach is answering questions vaguely and refusing to commit to anything like this is a real live quarterback controversy.

This is what residents of Valhalla chatter about--who should be the backup QB on our football team.

As a Viking fan, I usually try to avoid the local columnists. Besides Patrick Reusse's insults of Viking fans (as documented below), it's pretty much a tossup who enjoys making fun of the Vikings more, Twin Cities columnists or Packer fans.

Currently, the fun thing to make fun of is the Viking offensive strategy. The Pioneer Press's Tom Powers is calling it the "Dink 'Em Dizzy" offense. The Strib's Patrick Reusse calls it the "revolutionary West Crawl offense."

I find two things interesting. One, that columnists are making fun of the Vikings offensive strategy based on what they've seen in THREE PRESEASON GAMES (during which, evidently, all the good coaches show off their big plays in order to impress everybody during these exhibitions), and two, the assumption that a ball control offense is inherently bad, has nothing to do with helping the defense to be good (no, all the three and outs of the past several seasons had no effect whatsoever on our terrible defense), and cannot possible be involved in a championship team.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Why Viking fans hate Patrick Reusse

The columnists for the Minneapolis Star Tribune are an odd bunch. Sid Hartman is the crazy old man who long ago abandoned logic and clarity. Jim Souhan doesn't really seem to care about making insightful comments about sports--that would actually get in the way of his attempts to write unfunny predictable jokes.

But the worst columnist of all is Patrick Reusse. Reusse is your typical bitter arrogant sports writer, with one strange feature--he seems to love insulting fans. He seems particularly to delight in making fun of Viking fans. And I've scoured the Lexis-Nexis for Reusse's columns to find the evidence (all quotes are from the Star Tribune via Lexis-Nexis).

First of all, here are a few nouns Reusse has used to describe all or some Viking fans: "Purple fanatics," "Purple Faithful," "zealots," "MMWs (Monday Morning Whiners), "Purple loyalists," "goofballs," "ungrateful louts." That tells part of the story. But let's look at some of his statements about Viking fans in the past few years to get a clearer picture.

Reusse: "Followers of the Minnesota Vikings are a collection of ungrateful louts… Hoots and sarcasm. That's all you horn-heads had to offer for a noble veteran willing to risk torn muscles to serve as a pinch punter for a couple of weeks."

Reusse: "Amazing, isn't it? Minnesota football fans will salute a returning troublemaker, while the baseball fans will have only boos when A.J. Pierzynski, merely an agitator, comes to the Dome this weekend with the White Sox."

Yes, just above he described Viking fans as "ungrateful louts" for booing punter Darren Bennett. However, he is amazed that Viking fans would cheer for a player who scored 100 regular season and postseason touchdowns for us.

Reusse: "Once the full squad is assembled, there are 29 Mankato sessions planned between Monday morning and the evening of Aug. 17, allowing the Purple zealots to surround the plateau of fields and hoot with delight any time Troy Williamson doesn't drop a pass."

Reusse: "The sulking and whining you find around the office and on the job site following a Vikings loss was delayed by 24 hours this week, since the beloved Purple was making its return to "Monday Night Football" after a two-season absence. Beyond that change in their weekly schedule, the result could not have been more spectacular for the masses of Minnesotans who live to complain about the injustices and inadequacies that accompany a Vikings defeat."

Sometimes Reusse makes fun of Viking fans who are positive about the Vikings. And sometimes he likes to make fun of those who actually complain when their favorite team loses a game.

Reusse: "Admit it, MMWs. This was a splendidly gray Tuesday to serve as an initial gloomy Monday of the fall. You had the chance to bash the officials, the quarterback and the coach.
What more could you ask ... the whiners' hat trick?"

Reusse: "Frequent puzzlement was expressed by the Purple Faithful and in the local media as to why Vikings owner Red McCombs was not rushing to make a lucrative offer for an extension to his sideline boss, Mike Tice."

I don't recall too many members of the Purple Faithful expressing puzzlement over Tice not getting an extention--what I heard was puzzlement over why Tice was an NFL coach.

Reusse: "Oct. 30: Tice introduced George Bush at a Target Center rally and gave a Vikings' No. 1 jersey. He told the crowd that Bush's presence in the White House made him feel safer.

Reaction: "It was a privilege for Tice to introduce the president of the United States. He had every right to do so."

Oct. 31: The New York Giants came into the Metrodome and took a 34-0 lead, before putting it in a cruise for a 34-13 victory.

Reaction: "If Tice would have been motivating his team and not wasting his time at a political rally, we would have ended the Giants' jinx today, even with Randy limping around.""

Evidently Reusse here shows the fickleness of Viking fans. Of course, these quotes are just made up by him. Furthermore, the reaction to Tice introducing Bush was hardly what he said--a lot of Viking fans, and not just Democrats, thought Tice shouldn't have done that. Oh well, rather than assuming variety of opinion, these made-up quotes work to show how mush-minded Viking fans are.

Reusse: "The Purple Faithful was grousing for two consecutive weeks…"

Reusse: "The Purple Faithful did the drinking for them."

Reusse: "I got caught in the crowd filing into the Metrodome 15 minutes before the kickoff. Now I'm going to be required to call my AA sponsor and inquire as to whether breathing air with an alcohol content of .25 constitutes a slip from sobriety."

Reusse: "Sodom. Gomorrah. And now comes the Metrodome on Christmas Eve as another memorable blight for Christianity."

I'm a bit confused about why Sodom and Gomorrah are a blight for Christianity. I guess it depends what he means by "for." But fair enough, let's add drunk fans at the Metrodome to Sodom and Gomorrah for all they represent. Evil fans.

Reusse: ""How are the Vikings going to replace the greatness of Moss?" the Purple Faithful moaned."

You see, the Purple Faithful "moan" and "grouse." Good word choices for people you don't like.

Reusse: "These Vikings have been immensely overrated in the alcohol-addled minds of their fans since the athletes reported to Mankato."

Now it makes sense! All Viking fans who thought the team might be good were drunk!

Reusse: "Fans unfairly give Johnson free pass; Quarterbacking futility doesn't come with the same background noise in the Metrodome.

The boos that echoed so rudely in Daunte Culpepper's ears have turned to stony silence for his replacement.

…the partisans as they screamed with bug-eyed venom at the leader of the offense.

…but the Purple zealots chose to observe the haplessness of the quarterback and his offense mostly in silence.

That serves to reaffirm that many Vikings fans are phonies at best, and overly fond of the idea of having a white quarterback at worst."

This is when Reusse wanted the fans to boo Brad Johnson (who came into 2005 as a backup with no expectations and had just won 6 straight games) for one bad game, the same way they booed Daunte Culpepper (the starting QB, darling of the national media, with huge expectations) who frequently struggled.

Reusse: "He's white, too, which certainly guarantees more tolerance among that segment of Vikings fans that wears Purple to cover red necks. This isn't a theory, but a fact demonstrated by the muted response to Brad Johnson's stink-a-thons against Pittsburgh and Baltimore at season's end."

That's the thing: evidently all Viking fans who didn't like Daunte Culpepper were racists. Forget that Daunte was 2-5 as a starter and threw twice as many picks as TDs in 2005 and that Brad Johnson quarterbacked the Vikings to six straight wins and finished the year with twice as many TDs as INTs; if we thought Johnson did a better job and didn't boo one or two bad games, we must be racist. And Reusse is completely mistaken to say "this isn't a theory, but a fact." A muted response from fans doesn't prove that they are in fact racist: that is merely Reusse's theory to explain the muted response. Of course, if you've been a columnist long enough, you start to believe your theories are facts.

Patrick Reusse is not content to make fun of the Vikings; he also wants to make fun of Viking fans. And that, faithful readers, is why Viking fans hate Patrick Reusse.

Short passes got, short passes got, no reason to live.

Though I detest pre-season, I wouldn't be a quasi-insane fan of the Vikings without checking out parts of their preseason games. I could write all sorts of observations, insights, and predictions based on what I've watched, but I firmly believe the preseason tells you next to nothing about the quality of your team.

Still, the thing I am most hopeful about this season is the passing game. Brad Johnson may or may not be a weak-armed ninny, but with this short passing game, it really doesn't matter (until they decide Super Bowl champions by finding out which team's QB can throw the ball the farthest, I will continue to undervalue arm strength). It's been pleasant to see the short slant pattern a vital part of a Viking game plan--when it works, it seems like such an easy, unstoppable play. And with or without Koren Robinson, the Vikes have a deep and talented group of players to catch the ball. For big bodies with good hands, throw to Marcus Robinson or Jermaine Wiggins. For speed and quickness, throw to Troy Williamson. For solid ability especially from the slot, look for Travis Taylor. And out of the backfield are plenty of RBs capable of catching the ball (the best is Mewelde Moore, who is, alas, third string right now, and injured. When healthy, he's a dynamic football player--the trouble is, that's rare). I am happy with the short passing game, and Johnson has the savvy, experience, and intelligence to make smart decisions and give the Vikings a chance to win. A short passing game means less 3 and outs and more long drives, which also helps the defense. I'm confindent in the passing game.

And of course, tried and true Purple fans are in an uproar of excitement about what we've seen out of Tarvaris Jackson. When it is time for him to take over the reins of the position, the team will be in good hands.

More on K-Rob and Greenway

Koren Robinson
I firmly believe K-Rob was directly responsible for 3-5 wins last season (at the very least, he had a kick return for a TD in a 3 pt. win, an 80 yard TD reception in a 5 pt. win, and a long return to set up a quick drive for a game winning field goal in a 3 pt. win).

HOWEVER, he must immediately cease being referred to as the #1 receiver. There are currently 6 Vikings on the 2006 roster who had as many or more receptions for the Vikes than Robinson had in 2005. He was only called the #1 WR because Childress called him that, and it was based on what he'd do in 2006. Now he's not going to be there in 2006. He has never actually been the Vikings' #1 WR, and now he never will be. Are people still going to call him the #1 receiver (as the local media continues to do) in week 12? C'mon!

I would worry about his loss as a return man, but the Vikes were already trying to replace him there anyway.

Chad Greenway
Everybody had high hopes for Greenway this season. However, he's a rookie. You can't actually count on a contribution from him; since there is no NFL work with which to judge him, you could just as easily have gotten a non-contribution from him this season even if he dressed. Yeah, it sucks--but it just means there is one less unproven linebacker the Vikings are hoping to depend on in 2006.

But in all seriousness, I'm the eternally optimistic Viking fan, so don't put too much stock into my hopefulness--I'm still dreaming of the Vikes somehow winning the Super Bowl this year and naming my child after whoever starts at Quarterback.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

This is not the Eve of Destruction

To listen to the local media reaction, Koren Robinson is actually Don Hutson, and the only WRs left on the roster are 5 Dez Whites. But this simply isn't the case. Koren Robinson had all of 22 receptions in 2005--less than half the amount caught by Travis Taylor. Plus the Vikes still have Marcus Robinson, a solid WR, and Troy Williamson, a first-round pick just a year ago who struggled in 2005 because he was a raw athlete who played in a run-dominated offense in college. Koren Robinson's WR skills were not going to make or break the 2006 Vikings; he was a better return man, but Childress was already trying to find other people to take that duty anyway. Losing Koren Robinson is hardly a season-destroying disaster.

Losing Chad Greenway is bad news--no team wants to play a season without its first-round draft pick, especially when that player plays your team's most questionable position. This means that instead of hoping that youngish veterans like Napoleon Harris, EJ Henderson, Dontarrius Thomas, and Ben Leber step up, the Vikings now need them to play well--and they need to get production out of a few other relative no-name linebackers. Bad news--but also not season-destroying.

I don't know what the Vikings are going to do this season, and this has been a hard week, but I don't know that anything that happened this week cost the team a single win in 2006.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Football Nuggets

--Preseason football is a lose-lose situation. If your team does poorly, you've got anxiety about how bad it is. If you team does well, you've got the sadness of knowing it doesn't count and you don't know if the team will be able to duplicate that when it counts. I've spent many hours watching the Chiefs practice (PRACTICE! WE'RE TALKING PRACTICE!), but I still don't want to watch preseason football.

--My prediction for Fantasy Football Player of the Year: Clinton Portis. Alexander is following an all-time great season and can never measure up, Larry Johnson is somehow the consensus #1 even though he lost both starting tackles and his fullback, LT will be LT, but Portis is the guy with a high ceiling and a high floor. In his four seasons playing, his floor is 1300 yards and 7 TDs, but he's had 1500 yards and double-digit TDs in the 3 other seasons. Now he's got Al Saunders, the guy who helped Priest Holmes into the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame. At the beginning of next year, Clinton Portis will be the consensus #1 pick.

--The Pioneer Press has been saying good things about EJ Henderson's camp (I know, everybody praises everybody's camp, but they actually cite specific plays from practice, so it's not the typical slurp-job). Can a disappointing linebacker step up in his fourth season to be a Pro Bowl caliber player? Clearly he's got talent, but the buzz for three years has been his lack of off-the-field learning about on-the-field situations. He could be showing off his athletic ability in practice (PRACTICE! WE'RE TALKING ABOUT PRACTICE), but then will show his befuddlement against other teams. But in his fourth year, you'd think experience would help him bring his talent to fuller potential. Once again the Viking linebacker corp seems full of young talented guys--who really haven't done much in the NFL.

--LenDale White continues to live as a sparkling gem of dignity, humility, and humanity. I've always heard that the best way for a rookie to endear himself to teammates was to spit at them. Lord knows every time I've been spit at, my thought has been, "Man, I sure don't like you for spitting on me...but goddamnit, I respect you."

--Here's the highlight of the day I watched the Kansas City Chief's practice. In a 7 on 7 drill, Trent Green threw a pass a bit high to Larry Johnson. The pass bounced off LJ's hands and into the hands of a linebacker. On the first day of training camp, in a 7 on 7 drill, rather than letting it go, LJ sticks with the ball and knocks it out of the defender's hands before he can get possession of the interception. The ball hit the ground, and then LJ threw his helmet to the ground in frustration. I think this is a pretty good sign of LJ's desire and intensity.

--My pick for the 2007 NFL Draft #1 pick has been, remains, and will remain, the Buffalo Bills.

--As Polonius says, "To thine own self be true." So I couldn't manage to finish our 2006 fantasy draft without Mewelde Moore, Troy Williamson, Jermaine Wiggins, and the Viking Defense on my roster. The debate continues: in fantasy football, do you act as a mercenary going strictly for the wins, or do you follow your heart and select the players you love, or the players on the team you love?

Monday, August 07, 2006

George Costanza and the Vikings

Remember when George's new religion became "The Opposite," and he acted against every instinct he had? Good times for everybody. And an important parallel to the sports world.

When a coach is fired and another coach is hired to replace him, often the new coach is hired because he displays the exact opposite characteristics of his predecessor. So far, Brad Childress is looking to be the precice opposite of Mike Tice: serious, professional, detail-oriented, experienced, expecting a hard-working, business-line attitude from the players--but also lacking clear personality, wit, or charisma. The Vikings underachieved under Tice--with Daunte and Randy, Tice could never win more than 9 games. Now Daunte and Randy are gone, and Childress will have to (and be expected to) overachieve. Some players will appreciate this change (Antoine Winfield in particular, I think); others won't. Most fans are going to appreciate this change: all we care about is winning. Most members of the local media are probably going to be tougher on Childress than they were on Tice. Tice gave them personality, access, quotes, insight, and stories. Childress doesn't seem likely to give them any of that. If Tice hadn't been such a likeable guy, the local media would have been crushing him for years (the evidence is that some people were claiming Tice deserved another year with the team after 4 years, no division titles, and one off-the-field debacle after another).

We'll see how this goes. The players who can't handle taking football seriously will be weeded out and replaced by guys who buy into Childress's system. Still, it all depends on Brad Johnson staying healthy and the team getting success out of the linebackers.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Dwight Smith and Dez White

The Vikes signed two new players that have little to no emotional effect on me.

Dwight Smith
This is a good move--it's always a good idea to add depth to the secondary if you can. The secondary is now probably the Vikings' strongest unit--CBs Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot, safeties Darren Sharper and Tank Williams, nickel backs like Dwight Smith, Willie Offord, and Cedric Griffin. But my biggest worries about the Vikes this season are, in order, 1. Brad Johnson's health, 2. Linebacker Play, 3. the ability of skill position players to make big plays. So Dwight Smith is sort of ho hum to me.

Dez White
Let's say sometime this season, Mike McMahon attempts a pass to Dez White in a meaningful moment of a regular season game. Should I still watch the games? I admit that I couldn't stomach many of the Spergeon Wynn games and didn't watch. When I did, it was too heartbreaking watching Randy Moss and Cris Carter run around without anybody who could throw to them. So I'd probably still watch the games if Mike McMahon is throwing to Dez White. But still...