Sunday, September 16, 2007

On the Couch, week two

My thoughts on the Viking game can be found at "Coming off the Ledge: Lions 20, Vikings 17 (OT)". "On the Couch" is a chance to explore the rest of a football season Sunday.

Dear Bill Belichick
Are you telling me that with about three minutes left and a 17 point lead, after Laurence Maroney has been dominant on the game sealing drive, you can't let Maroney get the touchdown? You have to send in Sammy Morris? If Sammy Morris were white, we'd accuse you of Bud Kilmer's shenanigans with Wendell Brown. Instead, we're not morally outraged, just regular outraged. In the future, could you let Laurence Maroney finish out some of these drives?

Millions of Fantasy Football Participants Pulling Out Hair Over Laurence Maroney.

Dear Randy Moss
I wish I knew how to quit you.

Millions of Viking fans

Dear Bill Simmons
In your Friday football column, you asked "everyone's talking about the other teams and implying they were the victims. What about Pats fans? How did we deserve this?" I have your answer. It's the same thing you did to deserve to root for the most dominant football team of this decade. It's the same thing fans of the Bills, Browns, Bengals, Jaguars, Texans, Titans, Chargers, Eagles, Vikings, Lions, Falcons, Saints, Panthers, Cardinals, and Seahawks did to root for a team that's never won a Super Bowl. Nothing. Nothing at all. And I'd say you've had it pretty good, wouldn't you? You wrote "All week, I almost felt like I did something wrong just because I rooted for these guys." How do you think Viking fans felt in 2005 when everybody in America treated our team like reprobates for their activities on a boat, and we Viking fans were forced to choose whether to remain loyal to our team or join in the moral outrage? And I know that until 2004, you already knew what it was like to root deeply in your soul for a team with a long, long championship drought. The Vikings were founded in 1961, have a tradition, a culture, a history, a devoted fanbase--and no championships. I wouldn't whine too much just because there's a scandal that's going to be a minor footnote on the Patriots' history.

non-Boston fans.

Dear Steve Smith, Chad Johnson, Joey Galloway, Joe Jurevicius, Andre Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzedah, Braylon Edwards, and Randy Moss
Wow, that's a lot of WRs scoring multiple TDs. Hope you had fun.

Dear Titans' secondary
It's not your fault. It's really not.

Often when you talk about a WR making a spectacular catch, you're talking about a WR adjusting to a poor throw by the quarterback. But Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, and Anthony Gonzalez were making what I'd call great catches, but they were still perfect throws from Peyton Manning. For the most part, you guys were covering those Colt WRs very well, but Manning put the ball right where it needed to be caught, and those WRs still caught the ball even with you defenders really tight on them.

Don't blame yourselves.


Dear Football Announcers,
When you talk about giving a particular player "a blow," or giving an entire defense "a blow," thousands of adolescent boys everywhere snicker. Just thought you ought to know.


Dear Pro Football Talk
Today you again complained about Emmitt Smith and his "struggle with verb conjugations and other basic aspects of the English language." And yet you make fun of Tiki Barber's vocabulary because you say he's trying to sound smart. Do you want every TV commentator to be middle-brow, appealing to a middle-brow audience, smart enough for you but not too smart for you? If Smith went too far in trying to sound smart, wouldn't you criticize him for that? And if Barber dumbed it down too much, wouldn't you criticize him for that?

I'm not going to accuse you of injecting racial stereotypes into your assessment (I know you've criticized people like Lou Holtz for poor commentary and praised people like Tom Jackson for good commentary). However, it might be worth examining race here. Barber may deliberately choose his diction because he knows black commentators face greater scrutiny over their use of language (I think you've made this suggestion yourself). And I've heard TV commentators and announcers like Bob Costas and Al Michaels use a rich vocabulary without really getting much scrutiny or criticism for it (Michaels referred to a Pyrrhic victory tonight, though I'm pretty sure he misused it--I'm guessing if Barber used the expression, you'd point out how uppity he's trying to sound).

Hey, it's worth considering anyway.

I appreciate your work. Cheers.

Dear Steve Smith
You are a fantasy football delight.

Thanks for all the enjoyment you've given me.

Dear Journeyman
I've already talked about how excited I am for you: it looks like you could be a 2007 quality Quantum Leap. So please, please, please, don't suck. Be good. I really need this. The Vikings don't look too good right now. Give me something.

Good luck,
Sometimes Sci Fi Rube.

Dear Fyodor Dostoevsky
In Notes from the Underground, you wrote specifically about the impossibility of calculating and categorizing man's "own best interests," suggesting that the desire for free will blows the whole project up (I know you were big on free will. Me too). The further theme is that human behavior is not governed by reason alone, or even reason primarily, but that we have other irrational desires that drive us. That's all big stuff, and your explorations of the spiritual needs of humankind are definitely an inspiration. But I hope when you write something like "can man's interests be correctly calculated? Are there not some which not only have not been classified, but are incapable of classification? After all, gentlemen, as far as I know you deduce the whole range of human satisfactions as averages from statistical figures and scientifico-economic formulas," and you criticize a system in which "All human actions, of course, will then have to be worked out by those laws, mathematically, like a table of logarithms" (well, you didn't write this precisely: this is Jessie Coulson's translation), I hope you don't mind if I appropriate the idea for something less significant.

For me, as I've said many times, your work serves as a reminder for how to approach statistics in sports. Statistics illuminate truth in sports, reveal truth in sports, explain truth in sports, even help us make reasonable predictions about sports. But the statistics themselves are not the sports, and certainly not the whole truth of sports. There's something else that goes on in sports, something that gets at the psychological, irrational, or better, human, in reality. Oh, I trust statistics. I really do believe we can make better sense out of sports with good, rigid statistical analysis, and that rigid analysis is reliable in understanding what has happened and making some predictions about what will happen. But we have to remember that the numbers that show up are not truth itself: the numbers merely tell us about truth.

Anyway, Fyodor, you've had a pretty big influence on me. It makes sense the impact would extend to how I view sports. I hope I'm not cheapening your ideas too terribly.


Some other entities wish to include some letters.

Dear Bengals and Browns
I'm tired. Just so tired. I don't want to do this anymore. Just...let me be. I'll just...tired.

The Scoreboard

Dear Dan Marino
You're still better than Favre.


Dear Fantasy Football Participants
Bwhooo-ha-ha-ha-ha! Bwhoooo-ha-ha-ha! OOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

The Spirit of Fantasy Football

Dear Vikings and Lions
We had fun with you this weekend. Maybe we can hang out again sometime.

Turnovers and Penalties

Dear Viking fans
I hate you.

The Universe.


  1. Anonymous12:23 AM

    Watching the Pats-Chargers game I saw at least saw two Pats fans cracking jokes about their teams cheating.

    One sign said "Smile LT your on hidden camera" another fan had a camera as a hat and it had some funny slogan about cheating.

    When I see Pats fans flaunting around joking about their teams cheating, I have absolutely no compassion for them. Arrogant pricks.

  2. It was LT and the Pats that had that run-in last year, right? When they did the "Lights-out" dance? I feel sorry for Bill Simmons. He has a terrible life. The gambling, the drinking, having to keep up with pop culture, watching sports with friends and family all the time, cheering for Boston sports, living in LA and having Clippers season tickets. ESPN couldn't possibly come up with the money to make me do that.

    Anyways, entertaining blog, very clever.

  3. Anonymous6:55 AM

    i think it's common knowledge amongst all pats players and fans that something far more sinister than spying is going on. but we're so corrupted out here that we can only laugh and mock the rest of the world with our superiority.


  4. Anonymous8:29 AM

    by the way free will is a delusion. or an illusion. both. it's both. Karamazov proves this point i believe. characters move under the semblance of their own wills and constant authorial intrusion gives the impression that he is simply relating incidents he saw 'in our little town.' in truth not only are the characters pawns of their own strange passions but frequent sight into characters thoughts and suggestions he will write other books about those characters seem to be D's unconscious admission that each of us are subject to forces beyond our reckoning or control.


  5. The idea that we don't have free will is a delusion. Of course we're subject to an environment and even psychological urges beyond our control. We can, however, assert our wills even so. The whole of literature teaches us it's so. Think on Sarty in "Barn Burning." Think on Conchis' choice in the harrowing execution scene in "The Magus." Dostoevsky explored the passions/ideas that drive individuals, but he never denied them the human dignity of their own free wills.

  6. For Dostoevsky, I believe, it is these strange passions that are the evidence of free will. Our desires and behaviors cannot be categorized or tabulated, and they do not fit what we'd call reason. Our urges themselves resist reason and society's definition of our "own best interests," asserting instead the power to act and feel according to no rational standard.

  7. Anonymous9:06 AM

    our passions are a reflection of imperfect chemical balances. every action we think is a struggle to assert our will is actually fulfilling a predetermined route. the assertion of will after all is the assertion of thought and other chemical and electrical impulses. handling all this from above of course is the creator who runs the show.

    dostoevsky of course wanted to believe in free will because he couldn't believe in god. what is life without god and without free will?


  8. I'm fully aware of the influence of chemical balances and imbalances on our desires and behavior. And yet, it seems to me belief that there is nothing other than biochemistry guiding our behavior requires just such a metaphysical leap of faith as believing we can assert some will. And even if it doesn't, nuts to that. This is just what D asserts in "Notes from the Underground": that even if you can explain the scientific reasons behind human behavior (i.e., the biochemistry), even if science completely categorizes all the reasons for why people behave as they do, they'll still bust up the system by asserting their free will (even if it means deliberately going insane). As he writes:

    "for what is man without desires, without will, without volition, but a sprig on teh cylinder of a barrel -organ?"

    "the whole business of humanity consists solely in this--that a man should constantly prove to himself that he is a man and not a sprig in a barrel-organ!"

    Now, I know the current trend is to see biology as determining our entire reality (I think the trend Stephen Jay Gould pointed out a decade ago is still on), and so there is a general belief that man is nothing more than a sprig in a barrel-organ. And now you too, RK? You too believe we are nothing more than sprigs on a barrel-organ? It may be so. It may be so. But it also may not be so.

  9. Anonymous11:21 AM

    Holy crap...cant you talk about Dostoevsky over at your Costanza blog or I thought 8 comments...sweet 7 more comments about those crappy patriots or the depression that is the Vikings...but no...5 comments about free will and dostoevsky.

  10. Anonymous11:43 AM

    i like dostoevsky because for all his suffering he's somewhat sentimental. the whore is good at heart. man is not a sprig in a barrel organ. (i'll have to google barrel organ to make certain i disagree-- i keep picturing an organ monkey). he relates to saul bellow on the counts of ideas, sentimentality, and suffering and those are reasons why i like bellow. but i know we don't give my cat any credit for anything he does. now you'll say 'your cat doesn't have free will' or whatever. that's just mystical now. now we're debating about god and souls. so is it intelligence we're debating? is it people who are of a certain intelligence have free will?


  11. Anonymous11:53 AM

    Hey guys, how about those Vikes? Tjack sure loo.. oh wait.. I must have come to this blog by mistake, I thought this was a sports blog that I frequent.

  12. Dear PV,

    This blog is fantastic.



  13. Anonymous2:16 PM

    "Dear Dan Marino
    You're still better than Favre.


    Dear Bret Favre,
    You have Dan Marino's ring and soon his records.


    - Viking Fan who would choose Favre over Marino 9 times out of 10.

  14. Teams win championships, not individuals. The '96 Packers had the #1 defense in the league, and Desmond Howard on Special Teams, to support Brett Favre's #1 offense. Marino never had that sort of help.

    You can think Favre is better than Marino: it's a reasonable stance, and you could make a good argument. But it's silly to hold a lack of a "ring" against Marino.