Thursday, November 30, 2006

Top Ten Reasons to Hate the South

Ha! I'm just kidding. I'm not here to fan the flames of hatred. Let me tell you, it's absolutely delightful to watch the peaceful norseman himself offending all southerners. You think he's biased here, get a little gin and tonic in him.

It's also great to see him continuing to defend Michael Irvin. PV, buddy, he retired like ten years ago, and he's way too big a jerk for the sportswriters to elect him to the Hall. Give it up already, you don't have to keep defending him. Just admit it: he always pushed off.

Check out tomorrow, when I'll give my game preview of the Vikings' trip to Tough-Guy Town.

"Sound and fury, signifying nothing"

I've realized now that the Michael Irvin's comments story is not a story in and of itself. It is a story-driven story.

Why do I say this?

Because it's about offensive comments that in truth offended nobody.

I want you to look sincerely into your mind and ask two questions:

1. Were you personally offended or insulted by Irvin's comments?
2. To what extent was your self-esteem damaged by Irvin's comments?

If you answered "yes" to the first question and anything significant to the second question, get ready to be offended again: you're an idiot. Seriously, I don't think a single person listening to Irvin's comments on Dan Patrick's show was personally offended or had his/her self-esteem damaged in any way. It's only a story to the extent that anybody is making it a story.

When Rush Limbaugh suggested that Donovan McNabb was overrated because he was black, he actually did offend people. He suggested a black player wasn't good enough on his own merit, and that the media was propping him up as better than he was because he was black. It is reasonable to be offended by such a statement. What he said could have hurt the self-esteem of aspiring black quarterbacks. Now, I'm a firm advocate of free speech--Limbaugh has every right to make those comments (though he doesn't have a "right" to make them on any particular network). But his comments did actually, sincerely, and personally offend people.

Irvin's did not. If you were personally offended by Irvin's comments, I don't know what to say to you. It probably means you are frequently offended for all sorts of meaningless things and you are a very unhappy person. What he said was not offensive enough to deserve outrage from anybody. He made a (bad) joke that used (widely held) stereotypes about athleticism and race. That's it.

Make no mistake about it--I think Irvin is a lousy commentator. But any outrage over his comments on race, athleticism, and Tony Romo is severely misplaced.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More dopes on Michael Irvin

You can read my initial thoughts on Micheal Irvin's bizaare commments here, and my follow-up comments here and here. You can also read some interesting takes at Leave the Man Alone here and here.

First of all, I want to emphasize a few points that I've noted before.

1. Explicit comments that make note of racial stereotypes and assumptions get attacked when implicit comments are more prevalent, more damaging, and largely ignored from discourse. Take note whenever a white wide receiver is referred to as "deceptively fast" or having "deceptive speed," and tell me there aren't all sorts of implicit assumptions about race and athleticism.

2. White people complaining about a "double standard" that benefits minorities is the height reactionary, ridiculous hypocricy. There is still all sorts of institutional and individual racism in America, but we're supposed to be uptight because members of minorities get away with saying things that members of the majority can't?

PFT has some new stuff on Irvin's comments, and as usual, there are some dopey comments. There are links to columns by Nancy Gay, Marc Narducci, and Scott Bordow about the incident.

Narducci is sort of stupid. He says, "Those who ever get in front of a microphone should be smart enough to stay away from racial stereotyping, even if something is said supposedly in jest."

OK, tell that to every standup comedian. Have you people seen The Aristocrats? How about Chappelle's Show? Sometimes joking about an issue is a good way to actually deal with an issue.

Narducci goes on, "Whether the person thinks he or she is being funny isn't the point. Race is a serious subject and no matter how lighthearted a remark, it is bound to offend a certain segment of viewers or listeners."

In America, we don't have the right to not be offended. I'm sure there are some racist southerners who are "offended" that a black man is even allowed to speak on TV. Do you care about offending such people? Me neither. If commentators are going to worry about offending "a certain segment of viewers or listeners," we're not left with much of anything.

Narducci says, "While anybody can make a mistake, this lapse of judgment would be serious enough to warrant at the least a suspension and at the most dismissal, especially in these politically correct times."

"Political correctness" is a stupid concept. It's lame, hypocritical, and rarely used for things that are truly regulated by political correctness (you want real political correctness? Try saying something bad about U.S. soldiers. It's "politically incorrect" to do so, but nobody refers to that as political correctness). There's some possible circular logic here, but possibly not, so I won't dissect that.

Bordow says that "The same standard should be used for the black commentator as the white commentator." Maybe. But when the same standards are used for judgment and treatment of black people in America as for white people, I'll start complaining that a black commentator gets less punishment for racially awkward comments than a white commentator gets.

My interest in this issue is the reaction. I'm interested in issues like use of language, free speech, and racial equality, and I've found this a story that features all of that.

I don't think Micheal Irvin's comments about Tony Romo are the equivalent of Rush Limbaugh's comments about Donovan McNabb. In the former case, a member of the minority made a joke using stereotypes of the majority and the minority. In the latter case, a member of the majority suggested that a member of the minority is overrated BECAUSE he's a member of the minority. That's not the same thing, even though some sportswriters are reacting as if it is.

Bear Week.

The Vikings go play at Soldier Field this Sunday, and there are a few things we can't forget.

First of all, Chicago is a Tough-Guy Town. Second of all, Chicago is a Tough-Guy Town.

When the Vikings and Bears play, it's a street fight. And if you're going to have a street fight, you better start getting ready now.

And finally, Chicago is a Tough-Guy Town.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Randomly looking it all over

Looking at the current NFL standings is almost enough to help us make predictions about what will happen the rest of the way.

Points Against
Who cares about yards? Points allowed is the key to a defense. Three teams are very similar in their defensive production: the Patriots (144), the Ravens (147), and the Bears (137). Given that these three teams are also doing competently on offense, and each is traditionally known to have effective special teams, I would say your Super Bowl favorites are right there.

9-7 should get you in the playoffs in the NFC
The Daily Norseman has a nice listing of the current rankings to supplement's current standings. As you can see, there are four division leaders, and 7 teams with 5-6 wins fighting for the last two playoff spots.

The Ragnorak has been charting this pretty well. A lot of these 5-6 win teams still have matchups with each other, so things are in the teams' control. This is good news for the Vikes: they have a chance to score an upset against the Bears this week, and their remaining four games (home for Rams and Jets, away for Lions and Packers) are winnable games. Or loseable.

But I don't see Dallas, Chicago, or Seattle losing their divisions. Carolina could knock of New Orleans (Panthers are a game behind, play the Saints one more time, and have already beaten them once).

Clearly, though, the NFC standings are a mess and one or two of these 5-6 win teams have to start playing their best football of the year starting in week 13. But some team that looks mediocre half-way through always ends up playing its best football late: Pittsburgh even rode their late run to a championship last year.

The AFC playoffs are going to be intensely fun
Currently the Patriots are 8-3, the Ravens are 9-2, the Colts are 10-1, and the Chargers are 9-2. Absolutely any matchups between any of these four teams in the playoffs should be spectacular fun to watch. Which of the four will get homefield advantage? If I were a betting man, and I am aware that I am not, I would pick Indianapolis and Baltimore.

The Jets, Bengals, and Jaguars each have 6 wins, and the Broncos and Chiefs each have 7 wins. Those teams are capable of making any of the games fun. I don't think any of them, though, are a match for the big four, but like in the NFC, one of these teams could start playing its best football from here on out.

The big matchups
Let's move over to the schedule and make a list of the games that are meaningfully good the rest of the way. Plenty of other interesting games are on the schedule, but these stand out.

Week 13
Baltimore at Cincinnati (Ravens are in control and can practically clinch the division with a victory. Cincinnati winning gives them a great shot at the Wild Card and a fair chance to catch the division title)
Minnesota at Chicago (the Bears would clinch with a victory; the Vikes would move to .500 and be done playing great opponents this year).
Dallas at New York (the Giants can stay alive; the Cowboys can continue their dominance. Good stuff).
Seattle at Denver (intra-conference games are fun, but at this stage of the year don't mean as much. Still, both teams need to keep winning. Absurdly, this will be Denver's SIXTH night game this year).

Week 14
Baltimore at Kansas City
Indianapolis at Jacksonville
N.Y. Giants at Carolina
Denver at San Diego
New Orleans at Dallas

Week 15
Kansas City at San Diego
Cincinnati at Indianapolis

Week 16
Minnesota at Green Bay (I love this--and I still don't know what local network is getting the broadast coverage from the NFL network).
New England at Jacksonville
New Orleans at N.Y. Giants (man, the Giants' season is falling apart, and in a four week period they play teams that are currently 7-4, 6-5, and 7-4).
Cincinnati at Denver
San Diego at Seattle

Week 17
Carolina at New Orleans (any bets this game decides the division?)
Jacksonville at Kansas City (and this game could determine a Wild Card)
St. Louis at Minnesota (so could this one)

Why Tiki Barber should buy Tom Coughlin flowers

IF Tiki Barber ever makes it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it will be Tom Coughlin that put him there.

Look at Barber's numbers. Before Coughlin got to New York in 2004, Barber had surpassed 1,000 yards three times, with a high of 1,386. His numbers suggest a good running back and good receiver out of the backfield.

Then look what happened when Coughlin showed up and focused the offense on Barber. In 2004 and 2005, Barber LED THE LEAGUE IN YARDS FROM SCRIMMAGE. Previously he had only cracked the top 10 in this category twice: 8th in 2000 and 4th in 2002. Then Coughlin came and Barber led the league. In fact, in 2005 Barber had the second-most yards from scrimmage ever, just 39 yards short of Marshall Faulk's record.

Tiki Barber may or may not be a Hall of Fame running back, but he is at least being discussed as such. But make no mistake about it: before Tom Coughlin took over the Giants and focused the offense on Barber, he was merely an above-average running back (maybe you want to criticize Jim Fassel for not featuring Barber earlier). Under Coughlin, Barber became one of the most productive RBs in the league and had one near-historic season.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Nuggets of Wonderment, week 12

Skol Vikings! My mood is mellow because the Vikes got their first W in a month. I was pretty close to ripping my clothes off and going out in the yard to scream at passing cars, but luckily the Vikes held on.

Chester Taylor's 4th quarter fumbles are quite frankly threatening me with heart disease.
The Vikings should have been up 38-13 with about 10 minutes left in Sunday's game; instead, they had to prevent a desperation pass with no time left to preserve victory (tell me, Viking fans, you weren't flashing back to the last regular season game the Vikes and Cards played). As far as I can remember, Taylor has only four fumbles this season. All came in the fourth quarter, and all were recovered by the opposing team. Three of those fumbles are responsible for two Viking losses; the fourth was almost responsible for another. Instead of being ecstatic about a blowout, I'm simply relieved and mellow about a narrow victory.

Brad Johnson
Brad Johnson played well on Sunday, but make no mistake about it: the #1 factor holding back the Viking offense is Johnson's inability to complete passes downfield.

4th Down
The Vikings lead the league in 4th down attempts; only New England has more fourth down conversions. On Sunday, the Vikings scored on a run on 4th and goal, and they scored shorty after a conversion on 4th and 7. For all the criticism, Brad Childress has been remarkably aggressive about going for it on 4th down. Certainly it's not all in his control; situation has dictated the decision in several cases. But it still shows us something.

No, the Viking run defense is that good

It's become fashionable for some commentators to note that maybe the Viking run defense isn't as good as the numbers suggest, that the team is so easy to pass on that a lot of teams aren't even bothering to try run the ball. Well, it's true that the Vikings are easy to pass on, and it's true that a lot of teams are barely bothering to try run the ball.

However, while the 2006 Vikings are #1 against the run giving up 623 yards in 11 games, they are also #1 against the run giving up 2.78 yards per carry. They have given up more pass completions and attempts than any defense in the league, but the numbers show that when teams do try to run against the Vikings, they fail to do so.

Marcus Robinson
Robinson's health was a big reason for the Vikes' 4 game losing streak; he's not a great WR, but he's tall and reasonably consistent, which makes him the Vikings' best WR BY FAR. They need him in order to have offensive success.

That was a mean thing to do to a good looking 28 year old millionaire.
On CBS's pregame show, Charley Casserly discussed the OUTRAGE because in Detroit, the P.A. system specifically called out Joey Ha Ha to be made fun of, naming him and playing "Piano Man." Outrage? Because a good looking 28 year old millionaire got made fun of? I mean, is he alright? Should we send some people over to his very nice home and see if he's OK? Is he crying in the shower biting a washcloth or something?

Update: Peter King is OUTRAGED too.

Have you noticed the Ravens?
The Ravens are 9-2, have a dominating, smothering, scary defense, and might be the most balanced team in the AFC. They could easily win the Super Bowl this year, and this has sort of snuck up on me. The Ravens haven't been the story this season; teams like the Colts, Chargers, and Bears have gotten more attention. But in this freaky season, a defensive team with a veteran QB is the type of team that could win a very boring Super Bowl.

Remember this, fantasy football participants
Reggie Wayne is now the Colts' #1 WR. He is the first person Manning looks to on most plays (though this could be because opponents still cover Harrison with their best CB). His numbers are with Harrison in receptions, ahead in yards and TDs. Harrison is still the consistent reliable WR, and maybe he should even go ahead of Wayne in next year's fantasy draft. But Wayne is now the focus.

Michael Richards
This is a sports blog, and I've got other places I could write about this, but why not here? I'll even link to a football column to make it relevant.

Last week, Jason Whitlock wrote this about Michael Richards:

"I’m sure Jerry Seinfeld had Kramer appear on the Letterman Show because Jerry doesn’t want to be damaged by Kramer’s bigotry.

But Jerry should’ve used his muscle to get Kramer on Oprah or Montel Williams or on the Tom Joyner radio show. Going on Letterman was a business decision. “Seinfeld” is popular with white people. And going on Letterman is a sign that Jerry and Kramer want white people to be comfortable with Kramer.

Kramer doesn’t care what black people think about him. If he did, he would’ve apologized on stage the night it happened."

Since then, Richards has appeared on Jesse Jackson's radio show. I would say that Whitlock was wrong about this: Richards does seem to legitimately care about what black people think of him.

I'm convinced that two things worked together in Richards' tirade: first, he was trying an "over-the-top-push-the-envelope-revel-in-the-taboo" schtick, and secondly, in his anger, he lashed out in a mean-spirited, personal, hurtful way.

Oddly, in his apologies and commentaries, Richards has said some unique, unexpected things. He's not throwing out a canned apology--he seems to be speaking from the heart about the nature of hatred and anger.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Some more comments on Michael Irvin

The PFT Rumor Mill has some new news/comments up about Michael Irvin's odd comments. They link to a column by Chris Zelkovich of the Toronto Star. He has one great quote:

"Joke or not, by my count, that's offensive to blacks, whites, grandmothers and humanity in general."

There's one area in which I certainly disagree with Zelkovich though:

"There are lines that simply should not be crossed.

That doesn't mean there should be censorship, but all broadcasters should be told in no uncertain terms that there are certain areas that should be given a wide berth.

Race and ethnicity have to be at the top of that list."

Is Zelkovich suggesting that race and ethnicity should be ingored from the national dialogue on sports? If so, that is an absurd way to strive for racial equality; stopping discussion of issues is no way to actually deal with issues.

There's also a link to a column by Jay Posner of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Here I think Posner slips into an easy fallacy:

"Irvin was laughing while he was talking, but ask yourself this: What would the reaction have been if Steve Young had made those comments? Why is this any different?"

That's like asking if Borat's comedy about anti-semitism would be received differently if Sasha Baron Cohen weren't Jewish. If you are a member of a particular group, you have a lot more leeway when making pushing-the-envelope jokes or comments involving that group. That's been pretty widely accepted, and for the most part isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Michael Irvin was one of my favorite football players. I agree with most people on the internet that he is a horrible analyst. He yells, he doesn't express ideas clearly (though I'm an English teacher, I'm not an English snob; I don't demand that he use the Queen's English, but his use of language should be coherent), and he doesn't bring any real insight of interest. But I don't think he should be fired for making an odd comment about race. For one thing, allowing members of minority groups free expression to make odd commments about race is one of the best ways we have to advance goals of racial understanding and equality.

Dennis Green returns to Thunderdome

In truth, the Vikes were much better under Denny Green than they have been since he left. Under Green, there were 8 playoff appearances, 4 division titles, and two trips to the NFC Title game. But Denny was heavily involved in the Gary Anderson game. So screw Denny Green. Screw him hard.

Vikings 19, Cardinals 0.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

In praise of Tony Romo-erotic

The Cowboys are probably the second-best team in the NFC. One of Football Outsiders' precepts is, "Championship teams are generally defined by their ability to dominate inferior opponents, not their ability to win close games." This season, the Cowboys have a 27-10 victory over Washington, a 45-14 victory over Tennessee, a 34-6 victory over Houston, a 35-14 victory over Carolina, a 27-10 victory over Arizona, and now a 38-10 victory over Tampa Bay. They have the kind of offense that could go into Soldier Field in January and win (a mobile QB, a strong running game, athletic WRs).

Tony Romo is getting a lot of the credit, though to be fair, he's throwing to Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn, and Jason Witten, and handing off to Julius Jones and Marion Barber. He's got enough mobility to avoid a pass rush and enough arm strength and accuracy to get the ball downfield to WRs who are often very open. This might be a case where simply an average QB with some mobility can step in and benefit from the talent around him. But give him credit for thriving with the opportunity.

The Bears could cruise to a Super Bowl championship with an average victory margin in the playoffs of 20; they really could. They could also lose badly in any particular game in the playoffs if Sexy Rexy has one of his awful games and a versatile offense is able to move the ball against them. Dallas seems like the right team for the job.

Text and Subtext: Race in Sports

If you pay attention to announcers during sporting events, you will hear also sorts of racial assumptions in the subtext. When talking about black players, concepts like "athletic," "natural," "gifted," and "talent" are more likely to come up; when talking about white players, concepts like "hard work," "effort," "scrappy," "heart," or "intelligence" are likely to come up. Pay attention and see if you don't notice this.

So, I'm suggesting there are all sorts of racial assumptions going on in the language about sports. These assumptions are there in the subtext of much sports commentary.

Here's what Michael Irvin said, via PFT:

Said Irvin of Romo: "He doesn't look like he's that type of an athlete. But he is. He is, man. I don't know . . . some brother down in that line somewhere. . . . I don't know who saw what or where, his great-great-great-great-grandma ran over in the 'hood or something went down."

Recognizing the idiocy of Irvin's comments, Dan Patrick said, "Oh, that's the only way he can be a great athlete?"

"That's not the only way, but it's certainly one way," Irvin said. "If great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandma pulled one of them studs up out of the barn [and said], 'Come on in here for a second,' you know, and they go out and work in the yard. You know, back in the day."

Stupid? Yes. Utterly. Racially insensitive? Yes. Statements like this can only hurt the goal of eventual equality of races in America. But in many ways, Irvin is just making explicit assumptions about race and athleticism that all sorts of announcers, commentators, writers, and fans hold. We should be concerned about explicit, textual statements like this; but we should be just as concerned, perhaps more concerned, with the implicit, sub-textual statements about racial assumptions that occur all the time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Idea of a "Double Standard" and Sports

When I hear white people complain about a "double standard" by which black people (or members of any minority group) get away with saying things that white people would not get away with saying, I'm a little perplexed. It happens fairly frequently. Most recently, Pro Football Talk compared recent odd comments by Michael Irvin to Rush Limbaugh's comments on Donovan McNabb:

"But what of the African-American public figure who makes comments just as idiotic, and arguably as blatantly racist? Why is a pass granted in this regard?"

"Can someone please explain to us why Irvin hasn't been fired or suspended or even called out for his comments?"

Here's why it's silly to complain about a "double standard" that supposedly benefits black people. In America's history, there has always been a double standard, and that double standard has overwhelmingly been to the advantage of white people. If you even want to argue with this point, you have a terrible grasp of American history. What happened to the Native Americans? What was slavery? What happened after slavery was abolished? What was the experience of Asian Americans in America? How long ago was the Civil Rights movement? Who holds most of the positions of power and prestige in America? It's quite obvious that there has always been a double standard that has favored white people. And if that means that people like Charles Barkley and Michael Irvin can now say things that would get white people in trouble, so be it.

And by the way, I'm just sad about Michael Richards. Basically unable to even talk about it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Hopes for the Rest of this Nonsense

We've already seen ten freaking games from every team. But there's more to go, so let's look at my hopes for the rest of the season. These are hopes, not predictions, nor are they assessments of anything that has happened yet.

Teams I want to win the Super Bowl:
1. Minnesota
2. Indianapolis
29. Pittsburgh
30. New England
31. Baltimore
32. Green Bay

Quarterbacks I don't want to see starting for the Vikings anymore: Brad Johnson

Quarterbacks I do want to see starting for the Vikings: Tarvaris Jackson

What I hope happens to Brett Favre:
1. He doesn't break Dan Marino's touchdown record
2. His starts streak is broken
3. He breaks George Blanda's interception record
4. His team doesn't win another game

Overrated Chicago Bear that I hope sucks the rest of the way: Brian Urlacher

Who I hope wins MVP:
1. Peyton Manning
2. Ladainian Tomlinson
3. Steve Smith

Who I hope makes the Pro Bowl: Pat Williams

Who I hope doesn't directly cause me a nervous breakdown by dropping passes: Troy Williamson

Who I hope continues his assault on Brett Favre's reputation for interceptions: Ben Roethlisbergr (they don't spell his whole name on Madden, so why should I?)

So what do you want to happen?

Emmitt Smith: underrated running back

In my football watching days, I've seen 4 running backs that deserve legitimate consideration in discussions of "the greatest ever": Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Marshall Faulk, and Ladainian Tomlinson. I've also seen some that are spectacular, but that nobody would consider the greatest ever for various reasons (Terrell Davis, Thurman Thomas, Edgerrin James, Priest Holmes). I think the best one is Emmitt Smith.

First, go look at his numbers. In his prime from '91-'95, Smith rushed for 1484 yards or more 5 straight years, with peaks of 1713 and 1773. He set the single season touchdown record (25), won 4 rushing titles, led the league in yards from scrimmage twice, led the league in touchdowns 3 times, won an MVP, 3 Super Bowls, and a Super Bowl MVP. A legitimate argument could be made that this is the greatest 5 year performance of any player in the history of the league.

He was no slouch as a receiver, either. He caught 40 passes or more 7 straight years with a high of 62. Admittedly, as a pass-catching RB he's not in Tomlinson's or Faulk's league, but then he wasn't asked to be, either.

Later in his career, when he was older and more worn down and the Cowboys became mediocre, he was still very productive. From 1998-2000, when the Cowboys were 23-25, Smith rushed for 1,332 yards and 13 TDs (4.2 average), 1,397 yards and 11 TDs (4.2 average), and 1,203 yards and 9 TDs (4.1 average).

The fact is, I think Emmitt Smith deserves serious consideration as THE GREATEST FOOTBALL PLAYER OF ALL-TIME.

Many people hold it against Emmitt Smith because he played on the Cowboys, a great team that won three Super Bowls and had a good offensive line. The theory goes that any RB would be successful with that line, or at least any very good running back. This is, to me, hogwash. There’s also a possibility that Emmitt Smith made his offensive linemen look better than they were. It is also clear that Smith WAS A PRIMARY REASON THEY WON THREE SUPER BOWLS. To hold the fact that a player played on championship teams against him, when he was directly responsible for the fact that they were a championship team, is senseless. Nobody would hold championships against a quarterback; why would anybody hold championships against a running back?

I think there might be a general trend among Cowboy haters to give little credit to any of the big name skill position players that helped them win three championships. It's more palatable for the haters to credit the fairly anonymous and general "offensive line" that to credit Smith (said to be great because of his line), Troy Aikman (said to be great because of Smith and the line), or Michael Irvin (said to be great because of Smith, Aikman, and the line). This doesn't hold for me.

Here's an interesting study at the Pro Football Reference Blog suggesting Emmitt Smith had two very good careers.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Nuggets of Wonderment, week 11

Dostoevsky, Toothaches, and the Vikings
Here is an excerpt from Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground, in which the man from the underground describes the agony of a toothache:

"The groans are an expression, to begin with, of all the pointlessness, which the conscious mind finds so humiliating, of your pain; it's a law of nature, for which, of course, you feel the utmost contempt, but from which you nevertheless suffer, while she doesn't. They express your awareness of the fact that nobody has inflicted the pain on you and yet you feel it, your awareness that in spite of all the Wagenheims you are utterly at the mercy of your teeth; that if something wills it, they will stop aching, and if it doesn't, they will go on aching for another three months..."

That's why one groans from a toothache, according to the underground man. But why does the toothache sufferer continue to groan even when it annoys those around him? Why does he actually begin to take a certain pleasure in the pain of the toothache? The underground man continues:

"'I'm disturbing you,' he seems to say, 'I'm lacerating your feelings and preventing everybody in the house from sleeping. Well, don't sleep, then; you ought to be feeling my toothache all the time.'"

I will let Dostoevsky speak for me today, and this is all I will say about the Vikings after their loss to Miami now gives them four losses in a row.

True Stories With Jake Plummer
With 24 seconds left and down by 8 against the Chargers with no timeouts, the Broncos, through a combination of efficiency and luck, found themselves on the Charger 32 yard line. They had improbably positioned themselves for a chance at a win. I told Possible Flurries that an interception from Plummer was an inevitability. I asked what she'd like to bet that Jake Plummer throws another interception before the game was over. I told her that if Plummer throws an interception, she has to drive to my parents' house on Wednesday; if he doesn't, I'll drive. She agreed. On the very next play, Jake Plummer felt a pass rush and scrambled off to the sideline. He was then hit and fumbled; the ball rolled far back and was recovered by the Broncos in bounds, allowing the clock to run out. A horrible Plummer mistake cost Denver a chance to win the game. Alas, I bet he'd throw an interception, so while I certainly won the spirit of the wager, I lost in the letter. The moral is, don't get too specific in predicting exactly how Jake Plummer will blow a football game. True Story.

Watching football with newbies
My sister, Partly Cloudy and Pleasant, is fairly new to watching football all the time, but can be delightful to watch games with. Because she doesn't really know anything about football, she brings a fresh viewpoint to things we take for granted. For example, she thinks teams are so stupid to continually run up the middle. Why would you try run where everybody is? Why just run into a pile of people? It usually doesn't work; why wouldn't you try run where all the other people aren't? And to be honest, I haven't found a satisfactory way to justify the high number of runs up the middle for very little gain to her.

She also laughs like it's the funniest thing in the world when a running back tries to jump over the pile for a touchdown. This little bit of fancy is enought to amuse her, while A Bit More Humid and myself just sit calmly watching the TV.

Meyton Panning and Harvin Marrison
Though Reggie Wayne is certainly a very good WR, the best WR on the Colts is still Marvin Harrison, right? And Marvin Harrison, almost without exception, is always lined up on the right side of the formation (the Colts are unique in not moving their elite WR around the field in different formations). Yet the majority of the time Peyton Manning drops back, he doesn't even look to the right. Seriously (if Harrison is on your fantasy team, you will figure this out quickly).

My theory is that Manning is actually so used to reading defenses, so used to playing with Harrison, and so used to having Harrison on his right side, that Manning can know what is going on without even looking at Harrison. If Harrison is going to be covered, he'll know it and look the other way. If the coverage shows that Harrison can get open, he'll look right and probably throw it right.

(by the way, the subtitle is not a typo. I like to reverse the the letters of a person's first and last name and see if it would make a good "Star Wars" name. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. I'll let you evaluate Meyton Panning and Harvin Marrison for yourself).

Tadainian Lomlinson
Is Tomlinson already a Hall of Famer? Seriously, look at his numbers. Going into this season, he had never had less than 1,200 yards (over 1,600 twice), never had less than 50 receptions (high of 100), and never had less than 10 touchdowns (high of 20). Through ten games, of course, he already has 1,000 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 47 receptions. Yes, by trading draft picks in fantasy football I essentially traded Tomlinson for Clinton Portis and Steve Smith. And look at your fantasy league: does whoever is in first place (or at least has the most points) have Tomlinson? When he retires, he'll be on a short list of the all-time greats, and he's already in the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame.

Speaking of Tomlinson, it is absolutely delightful to watch NFL teams run plays that usually work successfully on Madden. On Tomlinson's TD reception, he was in the backfield and the Chargers were in the shotgun with WRs spread around the outside. Tomlinson quickly cut out of the backfield to the middle of the field. He was covered by a linebacker and easily breezed past him, and because of the spread formation, there were no other defenders around to tackle him as Tomlinson ran relatively easily to the endzone. This is absolutely a consistently effective video game play.

In many ways, I'm a weak man
Yes, the Packers' 35-0 loss against the Patriots at home dulled the blow of the Vikes' defeat. A Packer loss always does.

And just remember, as Fiyero sings in "Dancing Through Life" in "Wicked":

"Nothing matters but knowing nothing matters. It's just life."

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Meaning of Statistics

La di da, look at me, a Saturday night blog! I'm sitting here munching on bread at the Panera on White Bear taking advantage of free Wi Fi. If my shirt said "I'm blogging this" rather than "Pacifist Viking" (yep, it really does say that) I would order a latte and say, "La di da, look at me" out loud.

I love sports statistics. I enjoy studying them and I think they can help us to understand the events on the field.

However, last week I got into a debate at Football Outsiders because I expressed skepticism over the ability of a statistical system to comprehensively explain reality.

Here's the simplest way I can explain my position:

I accept math as a way to make sense of reality; I do not accept math as the inherent truth of reality.

My background is in literary theory, not mathematics. Studying literary theory has made me extremely open to different approaches to making sense of reality, while making me very skeptical of claims to exclusive method of perceiving reality correctly. In grad school, in a paper on Marxist literary theory, I wrote about why I find Marxist criticism limiting, while recognizing reasons I might think this way. My professor wrote a comment about this point that has stuck with me: "recognition that this is A POSITION and not THE TRUTH is an important act of intellectual honesty."

This also takes me back to a long debate I held with my freshman roommate about whether quality could be ranked in an objective "cosmic" sense (to determine, objectively, whether one girl is prettier than another, whether one song is "better" than another, etc.) as he argued, or whether such distinctions of quality have no objective criteria and that quality is determined almost solely on subjectivity and taste, as I argued. This has resonance of some old philosophical debates. The point is I've always had difficulty accepting claims that a single inherent truth has been found or revealed, always recognized the limitations of such claims, and always believed that multiple methods and perspectives are possible for making sense of reality.

I think nearly any position is tenable, AS LONG AS one recognizes it as a position and not THE truth. So I become skeptical when one claims that a particular statistical system can give us THE TRUTH about events in the NFL. If a statistical system is a tool to help us perceive reality, then I am all for it. If a statistical system attempts to define reality in a singular way, then I have little choice but to reject it.

Friday, November 17, 2006

National Friday League, week eleven

Hello Dolphin Fans
Thanks to the Dolphin fans at phinfeverforums and finheaven that linked here on message boards this week. I say this sincerely: you can tell something good about a fanbase when they get ready for a game against a non-conference opponent by going around the web to find what fans of that opponent are saying about their team. If it matters, Dan Marino was one of my two favorite players growing up (the other was Michael Irvin, so judge away).

But now I have to tell you some sad things. Right now, you can give yourself hope by convincing yourself that you haven't seen the real Daunte, that he came back before he was healthy, and that eventually he will be your franchise quarterback. I'm sorry to tell you that what you've seen so far is an enhanced-to-badness version of Daunte. He will repeatedly be breaking your heart. He gave us some good times in Minnesota, but repeatedly proved a disappointment.

And if you think that somehow Brad Childress or the Viking organization mistreated Culpepper on his way out of Minnesota, then you don't live in the Twin Cities. I won't rehash everything (the refusals to rehab with the team, the avoidance of the team, the demands for more money, the emails), but it's easier to argue that Daunte turned his back on the Vikings than that the Vikings turned their back on Daunte.

Not the reunion we expected
When first looking at the schedule, we all believed we would be seeing Daunte Culpepper facing the Vikings in a much-hyped reunion. We don't get to see Daunte this weekend, but we do get to renew another NFC North friendship with Joey Ha Ha. In truth, Joey Ha Ha had some of his best games against the Vikings; because while he was in Detroit the Viking pass defense was so atrociously awful, Joey Ha Ha put together a few impressive 300 yard games. However, Joey Ha Ha HAS NEVER BEATEN THE VIKINGS. The Vikes haven't lost to the Lions since before Joey Ha Ha got there. Fans in the upper midwest that watch a lot of football know as much what to expect from Joey Ha Ha as they do from Culpepper.

Viking Run Defense and winning

The Viking run defense is by far the best in the league, ranking #1 in rush yards allowed (599) and #1 in yards per attempt (2.92). Ronnie Brown won't be beating the Vikings. But the Dolphins will beat the Vikings if:
1. Their defense is able to exploit and shut down the retched Viking offense.
2. Their offensive line gives Joey Ha Ha time to scan the field
3. Our defense forces no turnovers.
The Dolphins have a good chance at achieving factor 1.; the only hope for the Viking offense is either Zach Thomas's slowness or some stupid cliche like "they're due." But we know Joey Ha Ha. I think the Dolphins are going to have trouble achieving either factor 2. or factor 3.

Jason Taylor
Taylor was a monster against the Bears, and he could be a monster against the Vikings. Remember week 2 when Julius Peppers was consistently destroying the Vikings, and the Vikes stubbornly left Marcus Johnson on his own to block him? If we see a repeat of that performance, we're in trouble deep.

Around the League: The Tony Romo Experience

Possible Flurries and I have both picked up Tony Romo for our fantasy leagues this week. It's funny how things change in time. If on fantasy football draft night, somebody said to me, "During week 11, you'll be starting Tony Romo and Travis Henry," I would have drank more wine and gin than I did.

But it's a good weekend of TV football. At 3:15 it's Indianapolis against Dallas, and at night it's San Diego and Denver.

Other intriguing matchups abound. Chicago, capable of a stinker any given Sunday, goes against the Jets. The Falcons play the Ravens, and for some reasons the Falcons have played better this year against AFC opponents. New England comes to Green Bay, hopefully to wipe the smirk off Brett Favre's face. St. Louis against Carolina and the Giants against the Jaguars are also intriguing matchups.

Enjoy the weekend, everybody. Except Packer and Bear fans.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Brad Johnson is finished.

Brad Johnson's 5 TD passes do not even allow him to rank on's list of TD pass leaders. He has started 9 games and has less TD passes than Seneca Wallace, Joey Harrington, Bruce Gradkowski, J.P Losman...well, I could carry on, but let's just say there are a lot of lousy QBs and QBs who have only played around half the games or less that have more TD passes. TD passes don't tell the whole story of a quarterback--but you still have to score points to win.

Yards per attempt is a stat that has a strong correlation to winning; Johnson is currently 23rd in the league with 6.52 yards per attempt. Now, while yards per attempt has a strong correlation to winning, I don't think it actually tells us much about how a QB is actually performing. I believe yards per completion does. Johnson is currently averaging 10.37 yards per attempt. Bruce Gradkowski is the only QB of note I could find averaging lower than that (though Jake Delhomme, at 10.8, isn't much better). Most quarterbacks, even average quarterbacks, are averaging 11 yards per completion or better. Really good QBs average 12 yards per completion or better. Donovan McNabb actually averages 14.76 yards per completion (I wish I could give better numbers, but I can't find yards per completion rankings anywhere. I guess most people don't see it as I do, so I'm sitting here with a calculator tallying things).

Worried about turnovers if you send in a young QB like Brooks Bollinger or Tarvaris Jackson? Why? Johnson has 9 interceptions (tied for 7th in the league) and 8 fumbles, 4 of them lost.

What about the team? The Vikings are currently #25 in the league in points scored, but that has been helped by four defensive touchdowns and one special teams touchdown. In fact, in 9 games the Vikings have scored 10 offensive touchdowns, and that includes TD passes from Ryan Longwell on a fake field goal and Mewelde Moore on a halfback pass. If you include the game with Longwell's TD, there have been 3 games this year when the Vikings failed to score an offensive TD.

At this point, what can it hurt? The status quo of Johnson running basic pass plays isn't working. Why not try a change, when the quarterback position is so clearly giving you such little production.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Setting up the Barricades

In life, there are a great many factors we have no control over. This includes many things we are personally invested in: Hazard, like Death, has sway over all.

Nobody knows this better than sports fans. We get emotionally involved in things we have absolutely no control over. We can't do anything about it. Borrwing from the Ragnorak's language of the "Tarvaris Revolution," we can't just go down to Winter Park and set up barricades until Brad Childress benches Brad Johnson. The masses want it to happen, but NFL franchises are like royalty; sure, in the long run they have to have some concern for the people, but decisions are made autocratically and the people have no control. The masses all recognize that Brad Johnson is finished, but Louis XVI, er, Brad Childress doesn't care for the masses--he'll run the country any way he pleases. Well, I guess he should. But still, let's do our best.

Brad Johnson needs to be benched. I, personally, would like to see Brooks Bollinger as the intermediary to the Tarvaris Jackson revolution. Let's go in easy steps--the French Revolution led to the Terror and Napoleon, so we don't need to go storming the Bastille and immediately overthrowing everything. The Tarvaris Revolution is an inevitability, but we can ease the process with Brooks Bollinger's interregnum.

But Brad Johnson isn't the answer, and needs to face the metaphoric guillotine. All we can do to further this transition is to blog about it. So, Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite: Viking bloggers, unite! Let us never rest until Brad Johnson is safely on the bench, and either Brooks Bollinger or Tarvaris Jackson is leading the Purple offense.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Why shouldn't Brad Johnson be benched?

In Casablanca, when a woman asks Rick what kind of man the sleazy cop is, Rick replies, "He's like any man, only moreso." When it comes to calling for starting QBs to be benched, Viking fans are like any football fans, only moreso. But as Dick Vermeil would say, "They're right sometimes. More often than not, they're right."

In the last three weeks, the Vikings have gone 0-3 and scored 20 offensive points. Their quarterback has committed 8 turnovers in those three games.

Isn't that a serious problem in production?

The big defense of playing Brad Johnson is that he's a "smart veteran," that he "manages a game," that he "doesn't make stupid mistakes," that he "gives you a chance to win." But right now, Johnson isn't any of those things. He is an immobile quarterback without a strong arm, and he's committing turnovers. The offense is showing no creativity, and that's a problem too; however, Johnson just doesn't have the ability to make plays.

There's no reason to think of QB as a sacred position; benching a QB does not signal a cosmic shift. Players at other positions get benched, sometimes just for a few series. In the 40s, the Rams actually played two quarterbacks every game; future HOFer Bob Waterfield played the 1st and 3rd quarter, and future HOFer Norm VanBrocklin played the 2nd and 4th quarter. A quarterback can be benched, and when that quarterback is giving your team little production, lacks the skills to help your team, and is actually committing errors that hurt your team, he should be benched.

Whether you want to replace Brad Johnson with Brooks Bollinger or Tarvaris Jackson depends on your view of all sorts of things. But either would be better than Johnson right now.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Coming off the ledge and Nuggets of Wonderment: "Stick a fork in me, Jerry; I'm done" version

"When we are born we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools," sayeth King Lear. I would rather contemplate the absurdities and tragedies of existence than think about the Vikings, but of course, I am not allowed such cowardice. Rather than listen to sports radio this morning, I listened to NPR, but twice on my drive they gave the Packer-Viking score and summary. I grimaced each time. Literally, I grimaced; I frowned and squinted in the car by myself. Yes, the weekly existential crisis has been set on.

Waiting for Tarvaris
The Vikings have combined an unbeatable run defense with a ridiculously inconsistent and foolish pass defense. On Donald Driver's long TD, Schmoe Whittaker was covering him. On two of his long 3rd down catches, linebacker (and backup linebacker) Dontarrious Thomas was covering him. What is this, Madden? Is some sort of AI running the Viking defense?

The Viking offense has been disappointing in 2006 for four reasons.
1. No WRs have stepped up. Kornolio is gone, Troy Williamson has stonehands, Marcus Robinson keeps getting hurt, and Travis Taylor is...well, he's just Travis Taylor. Bethel Johnson is showing flashes, but that's the thing about Bethel Johnson: all his career he's shown flashes. Billy McMullen parlayed being uncovered and picking up a fumble right in front of him to a 2 TD game; that doesn't make him a legitimate WR.
2. The offensive line has not performed as well as their names and salaries suggest they should.
3. Brad Johnson has a limp arm.
4. The offense shows NO creativity. None. Basic run plays and basic dropback pass plays; that's the Vikings.

Favre Tally
2 TDs. Yay! At least during the broadcast we got mandatory mention of his games streak (at least later they mentioned Jim Marshall and Mick Tinglehoff), whether he'll retire or not, and how much fun he's having.

Since I've been a Viking fan, has the team brought me more joy than sadness? I think so, but I don't know.

The playoffs will be fun
I of course intend to eke out all the pleasure I can of the regular season. However, the playoffs should be fun. The Bears are the best NFC team, but nothing they've done has suggested to me they can't be beaten in the playoffs. The AFC will feature the usual suspects (Indy, Denver, and NE), as well as a few other teams that could make things interesting. It'll be fun.

Maybe more later.

Friday, November 10, 2006

National Friday League, week ten

Only eight more weeks of full-out football to go (and sadly, one of those gets lost, to me at least, because it is Christmas Eve). No more bye weeks; now it's everybody going full-tilt four eight straight weeks. Then 11 playoff games, and it's back to living an authentic life that doesn't revolve around looking forward to Sunday. Or you can cling in expectation, like a cat hanging on a screen door.

How I Know It's Football Season
I have a Viking credit card; it's purple with the team logo. For most of the year I use this card without thinking about it and usually without comment. Then, suddenly, I realize every time I'm using it, people start talking to me about the Vikings. This week at a post office they started talking about the Vikings; at a gas station last night the female attendent said "My dad would love you!" (Tell me, PLEASE, what is an even reasonable way to answer this exclamation!). People start talking to me about how the Vikes did the previous weekend, what games are coming up, and how they feel about the team. I usually don't get say anything of substance in return.

I work in Wisconsin. I've lived in Wisconsin. How this game turns out affects how I face the world the following day. I'm either on the edge of a breakdown or incapable of holding back a smile. I never know whether to be confident or terrified going into this game, and it never really matters. The teams split or sweep each other seemingly regardless of records. But so much depends on a red wheelbarrow, er, this game, regardless of the standings.

The Chicago Urlachers v. the New York Tikis
Flex scheduling is already working to our benefit. This should be a fun game. I've noted many times that I like Eli Manning and think he's a fun player to watch. He'll have to show us a lot to lead the Gigants to victory over the Bears.

One year ago
One year ago the Vikings were 3-5, were getting ready for their second game with BJ as starter, and were going to play the competent Giants on the road; the Vikes hadn't won a road game all year and had struggled on the road for...well, since as long as I've watched football, I guess. The Vikings somehow beat the Giants with an interception return for TD from Darren Sharper, a kickoff return for TD from Koren Robinson (he's been missed more than I thought he'd be this season), and a punt return for TD from Mewelde Moore. The Vikings were inexplicably 4-5 and were actually in the middle of a very enjoyable 7 game winning streak. Are the Vikings better off or worse off than they were a year ago?

Enjoy the weekend, everybody. Except Packer and Bear fans.

What was that bang? gets put on a leash

When I knew the peaceful norseman in grad school, here was a typical conversation with him: "Existentialism Extistentialism The Vikings Existentialism Randy Moss Randy Moss Existentialism The Vikings Existentialism Randy Moss."

So when he emailed me this week to suggest that I not do my prediction for this Viking game because I "seem to be jinxing the team," I said, "WTF, Mr. Superstitious? You don't believe in anything but hazard. Since when do you even use the word 'jinx'?" "Just to be safe," he says.

Fine. My nonviolent friend wants to hedge his bets ala Pascal. I won't do a prediction on your precious blog, lest the cosmos see it and destroy the Vikings. But your idols Mr. Sartre and Mr. Fowles would be very disappointed in you, if they weren't dead.

So no predicitions. Just this:

Fuck Vince Lombardi, Fuck Green Bay, Fuck Brett Favre, and Fuck the Packers.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

PV's chronicle of worn-out metaphors: Don Banks

In "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell's first rule of good English usage is “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” We now seek out writers who overuse such uncreative language.

It's time to dust off this old chesnut, er, let's just bring back the chronicle of worn-out cliches.

This time we'll look at Don Banks' latest column. He's using an awards/trophies motif throughout, so I won't count those types of metaphors; that's a deliberate use throughout an entire column, not necessarily a sign of poor or lazy writing.

To get a sense of the lack of creativity of these cliches, I will google search the phrase to see how many hits the phrase gets. That number is in parentheses after each quote. Using such rehashed phrases is a sign of writing without thinking. Some of these phrases get less hits than others because there are variations in tense or form, and are actually just as lousy and over-used as phrases that catch six-figure and seven-figure hits. When a name or other specific word is used, I adjust it for the search (for example, "give Manning his due" is searched as "give" "his due"--I'll put an asterisk every time I vary the phrase a bit). I did not search individual words used as metaphors because they are, after all, individual words. Some phrases are tired, worn phrases that I didn't even bother with ("counts for something," "getting it done"): these are VERY worn out phrases, and are similarly signs of unoriginal thinking and writing, but my goodness if I counted everything like this I would just be cut-and-pasting the entire column.

It would be unfair to take any writer and just start googling sentences; the English language features a lot of common phrases that serve a concise utilitarian purpose. I'm only picking on metaphors, cliches, and lazy turns of phrase.

"You know the drill" (711,000)
"Make the case" (1,760,000)
"carried huge burdens" (14)
"give Manning his due" (959,000*)
"tour de force" (2,890,000)
"neck and neck" (1,330,000)
"I've never bought the notion that" (30)
"shooting holes in" (31,400)
"couldn't get enough of" (313,000)
"he swallowed his huge cut in pay" (no, I WON'T google this)
"Mission accomplished" (1,860,000)
"chalk pick" (723)
"with his butt firmly on the line" (variation)
"Talk about your" (exaggerated total because it is a common utilitarian phrase, not just a cliche, though Banks is using it as one)
"Said it then, I'll say it now" (202*)
"You blew that call" (110)
"Somebody didn't do their homework" (38,600* I took out "Somebody" in the search, but wanted to leave it in for the grammatical problem)
"and it's not even close" (23,000)
"The third time around the league has most definitely not been the charm" (variation)
"Here's a hint" (511,000)
"play amateur psychologists" (41)
"as good as it gets" (2,030,000)
"I don't think I could pick Larry Coyer out of a police lineup" (673*)
"Wake me up when" (1,960,000)
"setting the world on fire" (42,900)
"south of .500." (couldn't accurately search)

"Best NFC coach -- Sean Payton, Saints: Can we just go ahead and make this unanimous? New Orleans (6-2) already owns twice as many wins as it had in the lost season of 2005, and Payton has his first-place Saints a game up in the NFL's toughest division. There are feel-good stories every year, and worst-to-first turnarounds have become commonplace. But the Saints, with their tale of Katrina-inspired woe, are something special."

This I just wanted to comment on. Payton should not be given so much credit for turning around the Saints, even if you discount the 2005 effects of the hurricane. Last year, Jim Haslett would watch Aaron Brooks fake a handoff to Aaron Stecker or Antowain Smith and then look to throw to Joe Horn or Donte Stallworth; this year, Sean Payton watches Drew Brees fake a handoff to Deuce McAllister, then look to throw to Reggie Bush, Joe Horn, or Marques Colston. There's a HUGE upgrade in skill position players over last season.

Bottom line, er, at the end of the day, er, my conclusion: Banks is another hack writer with little originality or insight, and it is covered by the use of worn-out phrases.

Let me tell you why this makes me sad. I don't think it's my childish innocence that remembers SI having the very best writers not too long ago. Even as a kid I could tell by the writing and the literary allusions that their writers were well-read, had probably been English majors, and had creativity to their prose. Did the internet crush good writing? Or is something else wrong? They still have Dr. Z, though, a truly original writer. I loved this passage from today's Dr. Z column:

"And if the Redhead were here now she would say, "Right, I call that an excuse for laziness ... to save yourself the trouble of organizing it." Not many people can argue with someone who doesn't even know she's in an argument. And besides that, she's right, or at least my alter-ego in her form is right."

This is the sort of thing that delights me. Dr. Z still has a self-awareness and an originality that makes him the king of sportswriters. He also has a devotion to actual study and research of the game; no conventional wisdom from Dr. Z. He's a welcome contrast to the likes of Banks.

Fantasy Football Title Run

The bye weeks are over; now we have eight weeks of teams going full-strength. Here's a look at the factors that will have major impacts on fantasy football championships.

Shaun Alexander
If you drafted Alexander with a top-3 pick and have been holding on to him this long, you're probably doomed. If, however, you bought low on Alexander, trading away players you could afford to lose to get him and count on him in the second half, you might be getting excited right about now.

The Colts' Record
If you have Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, or Reggie Wayne on your fantasy team, it's time to start rooting for the Colts to lose 52-50. You don't want fantasy studs sitting on the bench the last two weeks as the Colts have everything wrapped up again (though maybe Dungy would go with a different strategy than last year).

The Cold Weather
Maybe you've floated around the top of the standings so far with good quarterback and wide receiver play. But if you're going to run for the title in November and December, you better have running backs.

Quarterback Controversies
If you're depending on a QB involved in a QB controversy, you're already doomed. But you might have players dependent on the QB controversies. Tony Gonzalez has been doing well; would he maintain his excellence if Trent Green replaces Damon Huard? Would any Jacksonville WRS benefit from the return of Byron Leftwich...or would Jacksonville RBs benefit from David Garrard staying? Would Tarvaris Jackson give any Viking pass catchers a boost...or might he hurt Chester Taylor? We don't know the answers, but you might have to try guess at them as the season goes on.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Great and Miserable Moments in the Viking-Packer Rivalry

I only really became "involved" in the Viking-Packer rivalry in 1998, when I went to college in Wisconsin. Before that, I was really just a fan of football; I always rooted for the Vikings, of course, but I also always rooted for Dan Marino and often the Dallas Cowboys. Then I went to a school where nearly half the students are from Minnesota and around half are from Wisconsin. I have gradually evolved into a black-hearted Packer hater that abandons my attitudes of tolerance and peacefulness when it comes to the NFC North (and before that, the NFC Central).

So here are my most memorable games between the Vikes and Packers since--most since 1998. I remember all the games fairly well, actually; these are the ones that stand out for whatever reason.

1994: at Thunderdome, Vikings win
It was 16-13 in overtime; I watched it at my grandparents' house. I assume that's enough detail to make this a memorable one.

1998: at Lambeau, Vikings win
Get this: I was at play practice during this game. Play practice! We heard scores on the radio when we weren't in scenes, and when I got back to my dorm room it was already garbage time. This was the legendary coming out party for Randy Moss. I was mouthing the words to "O Pioneers!" The fact that for all four years of college and one year of grad school I had commitments Monday night has made it easier to adjust to not having ESPN for Monday Night Football this year.

2000: at Lambeau, Vikings lose
I was an RA and I scheduled a big hall event to watch this game; this was before my third, second, or even first conversion to vegetarianism, and I even secured funding to make hot dogs for everybody. This is also the game when Favre threw a deep pass that bounced off somebody's leg and into the hands of Antonio Freeman, who carried it in for a game-winning touchdown. Fluke play but a real loss.

2003: at Lambeau, Vikings win
You know how too many fans use the "nobody was picking us" routine? Well, this was the first game of the year, the Packers were coming off a 12-4 season, the Vikings off a 6-10 season, and it was at Lambeau, so I feel confident saying that nobody was picking the Vikings to win. They did, of course, behind 4 Brett Favre interceptions and 9 catches, 150 yards, and 1 TD from Randy the Magnificent.

2004: at Lambeau, Vikings lose

There were so many things that made me angry in this game, I can't help remember this.

2004: at Thunderdome, Vikings lose
It was two Green Bay WRs, I believe Javon Walker and Donald Driver (I can't be sure; it was Christmas Eve and I was catching it at a relative's house) turned to the crowd and bowed. You better believe my soul turned to stone at that moment

2005 (after 2004 season): at Lambeau, Vikings win playoff game
My favorite day as a Viking fan, so far. Brett Favre threw 4 INTs, which always delights me. Daunte Culpepper had the best game of his career. Randy Moss, decked out in the afro, had his last meaningful game as a Viking (2 great TDs). Both of these facts now just make me a little sad.

2005: at Thunderdome, Vikings win
Shut out at halftime; Vikes came back and won on a 56 yard field goal with no time left. I ran around my apartment jumping and screaming.

2005: at Lambeau, Vikings win
For the brief period it was open, Carl Eller's Purple People Eatery in Woodbury was my favorite restaurant. I watched this game there, a three point Viking win full of drama and excitement.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I really detest the Packers

I loathe the Packers with every fiber of my fan being.

I hate their fans and their holier-than-thou-art attitude. Packer fans really believe they are superior to fans of any other team. Their grandfathers cheered for the Packers, so they must be more moral than me. Their team plays in Lambeau Field and my team plays indoors, so I must be an inferior fan. Their team has championships and my team has never won a Super Bowl, so I personally must be a loser while they must be saintly fans. I hate that their fans think they are personally superior to Viking fans for things that are quite obviously out of Viking fans' control: Lambeau mystique, city ownership, long tradition, and championships.

I hate Brett Favre. I hate that nobody calls him on it for walking off the field early. I hate that he's considered to be the greatest quarterback ever despite the interceptions. I hate that announcers just go crazy for him. I hate that he beats the Vikings. I hate that he will break Dan Marino's touchdown record. I hate that people pretend that most consecutive starts at quarterback is the only consecutive games record that matters in the NFL. I hope he throws 5 interceptions every game, that every one of them is thrown in his opponent's endzone, and that every one of them gets taken back for a touchdown. I want to see him fail miserably.

I hope the Packers go 0-16 every year for the rest of my life. I want to scream into the abyss of the cosmos every time the Packers beat the Vikings. I dance around like a child every time the Vikings beat the Packers.

I hate their uniforms. I hate their name. I hate their city. I hate the music they play at their stadium. I hate the Lambeau Leap. I hate that the Super Bowl trophy is named after their old coach.

I pure, straight loathe everything about the Green Bay Packers.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Coming off the ledge: 49ers 9, Vikings 3 (and other nuggets of wonderment)

Waiting for Tarvaris
The Viking offense is struggling for many reasons right now. They are being hurt by the new NFL rule which forbids offensive linemen from blocking linebackers. This means the Viking offensive linemen were only allowed to block the opposing defensive linemen, leaving opposing linebackers free to...

What? That's not an NFL rule? Oh. I guess the Vikings were not blocking the 49er linebackers for some other reason.

Another reason the Vikes are struggling offensively is because they used the #7 pick in the 2005 draft on a football player that cannot catch the ball; unfortunately, this player is also listed as a wide receiver. If the Vikings don't begin converting Troy Williamson to a cornerback soon, they may never get anything out of him (of course, as Dr. Farthing once said, "hindsight is 20/20." But what if the Vikings had used that #7 pick on one of the talented defensive players like Derrick Johnson, Shawne Merriman, or DeMarcus Ware, and then at #19 taken Mark Clayton or Matt Jones? Troy Williamson is beginning to look like the fastest waste of a draft pick ever; if your WR's biggest weakness is actually catching the ball, you might be in trouble).

I hate dropped passes more than anything else in sports. This stems from playing Super Tecmo Bowl as a kid; late in the season, the computer doesn't let everything go your way anymore, and sometimes you call a great play, execute it well, get receivers open, then throw the ball to a pixel man standing all by himself, only to see the ball sort of bounce right through him. Brad Johnson is in the bottom half of the league's quarterbacks right now (despite some commentators' claims that he needs a raise), but all he can do is try hit the WRs in the hands.

Another problem is that when the Vikings seem to be working toward points, they come up with penalties and turnovers. A 65 yard TD completion to Chester Taylor was negated by a block in the back by Travis Taylor. When the Vikes were down 3 and in field goal range, Johnson was sacked and fumbled. The Viking offense has the slimmest margin of error if they expect to score any points; when they do make those sorts of mistakes, they have no chance.

Viking-Packer Week
This one just sort of snuck up on me; next week, the Vikes and Packers meet in Thunderdome. I love and hate Packer week. As a Minnesotan who went to college and now works in Wisconsin, this week means something special and detestable to me. It doesn't have as much hype or magnitude as more famous rivalries, but the Packer-Viking rivalry is everything to me that something like Red Sox-Yankees, Ohio State-Michigan State, or Duke-North Carolina is. It's intense, fun, and heartbreaking. The joyful moments have been indescribably blissful; the losses have filled me with a hatred that constanty threatens to turn by heart black and make me hate sports. For some reason, I take these games personally--when the Vikings lose, I feel like I have been personally destroyed, and when they win...well, I don't feel any real personal pride. But do you feel a vague sense of pride that the U.S. was able to land on the moon, even though you had nothing to do with it? That's how I feel when the Vikes beat the Packers. But though the victories give me a sense of pure personal bliss (my wife can attest to a lot of running and jumping around), the losses fill me with as equally strong a sense of agony and futility. So while we're at it...

Favre Tally
Brett Favre threw 1 TD and 2 INTs in leading the Packers to a 10-24 loss against the Buffalo Bills. Lest we think these interceptions were superfluous to the outcome of a 14 point game, let us examine them. One of them was returned for a Buffalo touchdown. The other occurred in the Buffalo endzone when down by 7.

The most insightful moment of a TV production's coverage of a game is when there is a penalty, and the camera zooms in and focuses on the yellow flag laying on the ground. It always allows you a deeper, inside understanding of how football works.

But in all seriousness, and I say this without any sarcasm, John Madden was on the top of his game Sunday night. He was everything that a colorman should be: he was providing real analysis and inside knowledge of the game of football. He was pointing out trap plays, talking about how the weak spots in a Cover-2 work, and criticquing game plans. He is still the best commentator to guide a viewer through a game in employment by the networks.

Patriot fans booing Adam Vinatieri
I get it, but I don't get it. This guy is one of the reasons Patriot fans watched their team win three Super Bowls; they have championships directly because of Vinatieri's actions. If there's a player who somehow leads the Vikings to a Super Bowl championship, I would NEVER boo him just because he left to another team. Seriously, if there was a guy that was directly responsible for the Vikings winning the Super Bowl, what would he have to do for me to boo him? If in his last game, he went to mid-field, urinated on the Viking logo, took the microphone and started saying all sorts of bad things about Minnesota and Minnesotans, I'd think, "Yeah, but he did bring a Lombardi Trophy here." But if he had a swastika tattooed onto his forehead, then I would definitely boo him.

Anyway, all I'm saying is that if fans are going to immediately abandon their appreciation for a player who led them to a championship (as Boston fans did with Johnny Damon, too), why cheer for a team at all? There's an extremely high chance that the players who brought you such bliss won't finish on the team, or will end up old and bad on the team, or may have a very ugly exit. If you're going to let what a player does later taint the appreciation you have for the championship the player helped bring, then why bother at all? As a fan who keeps waiting and waiting for either of the two teams I really care about to win a championship (the Vikings and Timberwolves: the Twins' titles were nice, but I was too young to fully appreciate them, and I don't follow baseball anymore and wouldn't take any joy from another World Series Title, and my love for UCLA basketball and football is still growing, but doesn't personally invest me as the Vikes and Wolves do), I can't understand the attitudes of fans who have seen their favorite teams win titles.

David Garrard = Steve Walsh

I'll never forget the mythical 1994 season: Erik Kramer always appeared to be the Bears' best QB, but whenever Walsh played, the gameplan got ultra-conservative and the Bears won. Garrard is the new Walsh.

Peyton Manning
He is the best player in the league. I feel the need to say this every week. I enjoy watching the Colts play because it allows me to reminisce about the time the Vikings had a good offense. Two years ago, they would have lost at San Francisco 30-24; it would have still been a loss, but it would have been a little bit fun. I hope for the best for the Colts; they are #2 on my list of teams I'd like to see win the Super Bowl this year (the Packers remain #32).

Saving the weekend
The Vikings were depressing, but Borat was all that it could be and more. And I think the Timberwolves might be better than anybody really expected.

Friday, November 03, 2006

National Friday League, week nine

Subjectivity and the Fan
In today's Friday NFL column, Bill Simmons seems to imply that we should just ignore the Colts when they have regular season success. He implies that everybody just praises Manning to no end and ignores his playoff failures (odd for an internet writer to fail to notice that Manning is constantly criticized, especially for his playoff performances), and he seems to imply that Tom Brady is this underrated, underappreciated, never-been-on-the-cover-of-a-magazine quarterback (he's clearly not).

I think that fans of a particular team lose all sense of reason and objectivity when thinking about their team. They start to believe the disrespect/"nobody believed in us" business. It is the irrational subjectivity of fans that makes fans of a champion say things like "everybody loves to rip us" or "nobody really respects us" (what, you wanted your team to win a championship and then just have all the rest of the NFL's fans love you? You didn't realize people would dislike the champ?). We lose all sense of objectivity and reason once we start rooting (just read anything written here by "What was that bang?"). This is why we start clamoring for lousy backup QBs to start when the starting QB has a lousy game. This is why I've attached my identity with the Vikings as close-but-no-cigar heartbreaking losers.

I still dislike the Bears
Every week as the Bears are scheduled against another lousy team, I somehow think that the lousy team has a shot. I really do; some part of me believes Miami can beat Chicago this weekend. I don't know what is wrong with me.

And now I fear the Packers
The Packers are now one game behind the Vikings, are showing signs of a running and passing game, and seem to be fielding a semi-competent passing defense. Plus they still play each other twice. I spent the first half of the season too complacent; after 2005, I thought there was nothing to fear from the Packers and there was no reason to watch them every Sunday with loathing detestation rooting for them to lose. Now I realize that they're still in competition with the Vikes and are as detestable as ever. I hate to keep paying attention and booing.

Weekend Goodness
If you're not excited to find out that large portions of red wine could help fat people live long healthy lives... then friend, you ain't me. Grapes and red wine will now be staples of my household.

Enjoy the weekend everybody. Except Bear and Packer fans.

Viking-49er Preview

Oh, how I wish we still had a WR like Anthony Carter around to torment the Niners. But A.C. won't be necessary to lay a spanking on these bums. If the Vikings just plow Chester Taylor behind Steve Hutchinson every play of the game, I'll rely on the Viking defense and Mewelde Moore returning punts to outscore the Niners without any offense. But there's no reason to do that--this is the chance to get that offense into some rhythm.

Chester Taylor will run all over the Niners. Brad Johnson will complete some passes downfield; even if he underthrows WRs as bad as he did on Monday, the Niner secondary is so lousy it won't take Randy Moss to come back and adjust. What's the magic number for sacks by the defense? 5? 7? They'll also force 3-4 turnovers. This is going to be a party.

Vikes win, 33-0.

Why the 49ers should give you hope about the Patriots

Do you ever despair that the Patriots are now just going to be good forevever? Does it seem like as long as Pioli, Belichik, and Brady are there, they're going to be Super Bowl favorites every year, and you really aren't going to enjoy the next decade of football?

Well, they may indeed dominate for a long period of time. But it can't last forever; professional sports, in general reflect the ebb and flow of life. Just look to the San Francisco 49ers.

From 1981 to 1998, the 49ers made it to the playoffs 16 times. That means over 18 years, they missed the playoffs TWICE. They won 10 or more games 17 times. They won 13 or more games 8 times. They played in 10 NFC Championship games, and they won 5 Super Bowls.

Since then, the 49ers have had two playoff years, and have suffered through 4, 6, 7, 2 and 4 win seasons. They had the most successful long-term dynasty ever (I would argue this: the longevity and consistency outdoes the Steelers of the 70s and is not quite matched by the Browns of the 50s), and are now one of the league's worst teams. These things cycle around. I'm sure some Ram of Falcon fan in the 80s or 90s thought that they'd have to watch the 49ers dominate forever, and now they get to watch the 49ers get trounced week in and week out.

So cheer up, everybody. Maybe in 10 years, the Patriots will have a losing season, and maybe it will come sooner than that.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Chauvinist Language in Sports (and the revelations of reversal)

As you can read at The Big Lead, Awful Announcing, and Sports Media Review, ESPN's Mike Greenberg used the expression "manned up," on the radio, and invented the opposite, "womanned down." Some people are, reasonably, upset about this.

It's funny: it takes somebody using the opposite form of the "man up" cliche for more people to realize that the sort of language we use to describe sports is often macho and chauvinistic. The expression "man up" already implies that men are supposed to be "tough," that an athlete should "act like a man," which is indirectly contrasted against acting like a "girl." The expression "man up" means "don't act like a girl," and it implies that acting like a girl is inferior to acting like a man. As Jonathan Weiler writes on the above linked Sports Media Review:

"there is no way to interpret what Greenberg said other than in the following terms: that to be a “man” is to tell the truth and to be a woman is to prevaricate, lie and dodge responsibility.... And, at the least, Greenberg’s remarks this morning are the reduction ad absurdum of this “man-up” business. If Greenberg wants to make fun of his own manhood, however he defines that, that’s one thing. But to insult every woman in the process strikes me as quite another."

Gender roles and perceptions have a huge impact on our language and culture. For a fun experiment sometime, try reversing the gender roles in commercials you see and decide whether the results are in any way appropriate. For example, look at this ad for TAG body spray that shows a guy getting tackled by eight evidently horny women. The TAG body spray is so powerful, they evidently can't control themselves. Now, reverse the gender roles; imagine that's a girl getting attacked by eight men. Think about the perception of the image: eight men desire sex with a woman, so they violently, forcefully attack her to pull her down. Clearly, that's an inappropriate and sickening image.

When you reverse the gender roles of our language, culture, and imagery, you realize how inappropriate they can be, as well as how demeaning they can be.

(picture from here)

Checking in on our rookies.

Not long ago, we here at PV (yes, it's "we" now) selected four NBA rookies to follow and root for. After one or two games for each, let's check in on them.

Thabo Sefolosha
Sefolosha's goal is to become the greatest Swiss basketball player of all time. That, and getting his rookie card in the first pack of b-ball cards I bought this year, made him a player I wanted to follow.

Through two games, he may already be the greatest Swiss basketballer of all time. In game one he was 4-4 with 11 points, and in game two he was 5-7 with 13 points.

Adam Morrison
To Adam Morrison, the bench; from Adam Morrison, 14 points in his debut.

Jordan Farmar
While this former Bruin is too good to allow his photo to appear on ESPN's player profile, he is also good enough to be getting 19.5 minutes per game through two weeks. He's already on the court for crucial minutes; he will be the Lakers' best PG by the time April comes along (he already is their best point guard, but everybody will know it by then).

Randy Foye
Kevin McHale clearly has complete contempt for first round picks. He will either trade them away for squat, lose them as punishment for cheating, draft lousy players, or draft players that the T-Wolves will then not play. Foye's debut? 6 minutes, 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 0 turnovers. Of course, the guy the Wolves drafted and traded for Foye debuted with 20 points. Of course.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Willy Loman had a dream

Greetings, true believers. I bet you think that after I watched Monday night's waxing from start to finish, you think I'm ready to curb my enthusiasm on the Purple.

Guess again, buckos. Let me rose-tint your world and keep you safe from the trouble and pain.

Remember the 1994 49ers? Might be the greatest team ever. Well look down the list of their wins and losses and tell me if you see anything strange. What's that? You figure there's a mistake there? The eventual Super Bowl champions lost, at home 40-8 against a team that ended up 7-9? That's got to be a mistake. Somebody must have been out with injury.

Guess again. The 13-3 49ers, eventual Super Bowl champion, dominant offensively and defensively, got PASTED, at home, 40-8.

The Super Bowl dream is alive, my friends. Alive and well.