Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
Trick them with the pointy ends
In the fourth quarter of the Broncos’ win over the Cardinals on Sunday, Denver’s Brandon McManus kicked a field goal attempt that, according to Joe Buck’s call on Fox, “hit the left upright” and “caromed through”:
It figures that Buck, with his precise, patrician style, would phrase the action that way. Another word for what happened there—the ball bouncing off a goalpost—is “doink,” but Buck avoids it. Maybe he knows that it wouldn’t sound right coming from him. He’d couch it in irony, employing vocal quotation marks. If you get a rare opportunity to say “doink,” you have to embrace its silliness, like Buck’s Fox colleague Kevin Burkhardt did during a preseason game this year:
“Doink” has the air of an old comic-book word, the kind of thing that would explode onto the screen after Burt Ward broke a vase over the Penguin’s head. When The Simpsons needed a sound effect to accompany Man Getting Hit By Football, “doink” got the call.
A doink’s humor lies not just in the noise but also in the motion of the ball as it ricochets, spinning end-over-end in a panic. This spectacle is only possible because of a football’s shape; it’s the pointiest ball in sports. (“Aha, what about the javelin?” you say. The javelin is a legume, not a ball.) Thanks to their pointy ends, footballs are natural comedians. No other ball exudes as much drunken, gallivanting joy as a football does when it escapes the players’ grasp. Baseballs, basketballs, soccer balls—when they hit the turf, they just roll, boringly. Footballs leap and stumble. In cooperation with the laws of physics, they put on a little show.
The tapered shape of a modern football evolved as the forward pass took hold. The purpose of the pointy ends is to facilitate a tight spiral—in other words, to induce grace. It’s a happy accident that they also induce chaos, which is just as important in a league where so many innovations attempt to tame the game. Helmets have radio headsets that coaches use to transmit plays from an air-conditioned booth to the field. Officials are throwing more flags, bending defenses to the league’s will. And instant replay has grown from a novelty to a miniature legal system in its own right. These aren’t such bad changes, but cumulatively they do make the NFL product feel more serious and bureaucratic. So it’s reassuring to know that no matter how league executives try to enforce order, they’ll ultimately be thwarted by a trickster ball that refuses to take itself seriously. The built-in randomness of its pointy design ensures that the threat of farce lingers over every down. And that keeps would-be masters of the game from growing too confident, because they know that humility is always just a doink away.
San Francisco 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams — Monday, 8:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN
As part of an exclusive partnership with Bose, the NFL last week forbade players from wearing Beats headphones on camera, subject to a $10,000 fine. Colin Kaepernick flouted the ban in his post-game press conference on Sunday, but he was crafty about it. The Beats he slung around his neck were hot pink, the color that the league encouraged players to wear for its annual breast cancer awareness initiative. Kaepernick was challenging Roger Goodell’s enforcement goons to punish him for supporting the fight against breast cancer. The goons accepted the challenge, because of course the NFL is not fooled by its own pink propaganda. Kaep was fined $10,000 as promised.
Here’s the pathology of the NFL’s branding obsession on full display. In the screenshot above there are, oddly enough, 49 logos that are at least partially visible. The commissioner’s office got upset because of those 49, two tiny logos on Kaepernick’s headphones were incorrect. The best part is, thanks to the widely publicized ban, those two tiny logos were also the only ones that mattered. A couple weeks ago, not many people cared which headphones players like to wear, but the Bose crackdown made it a big deal. And as it happens, players like to wear Beats.
In effect, Beats only had to put up $10,000 for Kaep’s fine—or 0.00033 percent of the $3 billion that Apple recently paid for the company—to create the most publicized expression of an athlete’s headphone preference in American sports history. At press time, a search for “Colin Kaepernick Beats headphones” returns 5,450 results on Google News. I also searched for “Colin Kaepernick mayonnaise headphones” as a control for the experiment—this query returned zero results, an expected yet surprisingly disappointing outcome. (When asked if Beats was indeed reimbursing him, Kaepernick got coy, saying, “We’ll leave that unanswered.”)
But the people at Bose shouldn’t feel too bad. Sure, the NFL’s ham-fisted ban just gave their top competitor a rare, dirt-cheap marketing opportunity, but Bose still has that exclusive sponsorship deal. Every week, football fans across the country see the Bose logo adorning the skulls of such beloved figures as Kansas City’s Bob Sutton:
Bob Sutton has cultural cachet coming out his eyeballs (if indeed he does have eyeballs). Why, he’s practically the Colin Kaepernick of old, shiny-headed defensive coordinators! Bose is gonna be just fine. The Block & Tackle “best-in-class bass response” prediction: San Francisco 24, St. Louis 20.
Bill Belichick Sniffle Tracker
Touchdown Dance vs.
Sack Punt Dance
The eternal quest to determine which is better—the touchdown dance or the sack dance—faces a new contender: the punt dance. And why not? Even if their appearance on the field means that their coach has submitted to the spirit-crushing demands of fourth down orthodoxy, punters deserve to celebrate their successes, too. Commenter Oh. That Knife. drew my attention to the terpsichorean talents of Indianapolis Colts’ Pat McAfee, who was so pleased with a punt against Baltimore this week that he composed an entire dance suite on the football field. After pinning the Ravens on their own 4-yard line, McAfee mimed a golf swing, segued into one-and-a-half celebratory leaps, and then pretended to be a robot running underwater. “That’s right, you can do whatever you want when you punt like that!” said CBS play-by-play commentator Kevin Harlan, simultaneously enthralled and baffled by this show of special-teams spirit.
But the touchdown dancers continue to take their craft to new interpretive heights. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce recently unveiled his “Hunting for the source of that smell… found it!” routine:
And the Steelers’ Antonio Brown shares Block & Tackle’s love for that pointy, wobbly football—so much so that he pretended to be one:
With sack dances on a bye, no winner is declared this time, and the overall tally remains Sack Dance 1, Touchdown Dance 1. If there’s an on-field display of joy that you’d like to see featured in Touchdown Dance vs. Sack Dance, tweet it to me at @johnteti. Should I decide to use the dance in a column, I’ll tweet you a recipe for seven-layer dip that I found on Yahoo! Answers. I am not responsible for any illness that results from the recipe.
Denver Broncos vs. New York Jets — Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS
The Jets fell to the Chargers 31-0 this week in a showdown that was less of a football game than an extended prank on the viewing public. Not only did the Jets fail to score, they didn’t reach San Diego territory until halfway through the second quarter—and even then, it took a penalty to get them there. It was enough of an embarrassment that New York quarterback Geno Smith, currently mired in a career-long slump, was benched after the first half in favor of backup Michael Vick.
Vick was equally ineffective, and a few days later he said that he wasn’t prepared to enter the game. That would be embarrassing under any circumstances, but Michael Vick is the backup to one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL. It’s not like he’s second runner-up in the Miss America pageant; there’s a good chance he will be called upon to serve. If Vick isn’t prepared for Geno Smith to play poorly, what else isn’t Michael Vick prepared for?
Other things Michael Vick isn’t prepared for:
- The commercial break before they reveal the results on Dancing With The Stars
- The price of that premium neck pillow at the airport Brookstone
- Pumpkin Spice Latte season at Starbucks
The Block & Tackle “always prepared” prediction: Denver 90, New York 6
Because of a sandstorm, the winners and losers in the following game predictions were erroneously transposed in last Friday’s column: Cleveland vs. Tennessee, Chicago vs. Carolina, Buffalo vs. Detroit, Baltimore vs. Indianapolis, and, shamefully, Cincinnati vs. New England. We regret the error and appreciate the opportunity to correct the record.
Tiny Announcer Hall Of Fame inductees: Tiny Pat Summerall and Tiny John Madden
In a broadcasting career that spanned four decades, Tiny Pat Summerall was famous for his signature call: “Aaaaaaaand that’s a field goal!” At least, he would have been famous for it, but nobody could hear him.
Tiny John Madden is afraid of airplanes, but if you sneak up on him, you can just flick him in the general direction of where he needs to go. It’s faster than trying to fit him into that tiny bus.
Here are Block & Tackle’s final score predictions for the rest of the Week 6 slate. All Block & Tackle predictions are guaranteed to be correct.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans (last night, 8:25 p.m., CBS/NFLN): Indianapolis 20, Houston 14. Hey, a Thursday game that wasn’t terrible. Neat!
Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., Fox): Detroit 19, Minnesota 10. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf proudly hung a “2” on the “__ WEEKS WITHOUT A HUMILIATING SCANDAL” outside team headquarters.
Green Bay Packers vs. Miami Dolphins (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., Fox): Green Bay 26, Miami 13. Aaron Rodgers’ mylar coating will make him difficult for Miami defenders to pop.
New England Patriots vs. Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., Fox): New England 24, Buffalo 17.
Carolina Panthers vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., Fox): Cincinnati 30, Carolina 20.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS): Tampa Bay 21, Baltimore 20. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Buccaneers are 6-8 against teams named after cats and 5-10 against teams named after birds.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS): Tennessee 12, Jacksonville 10.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS): Cleveland 26, Pittsburgh 23.
San Diego Chargers vs. Oakland Raiders (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS): San Diego 35, Oakland 13. Michael Vick is not prepared for the Raiders to lose.
Chicago Bears vs. Atlanta Falcons (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Atlanta 28, Chicago 26. This week on Instagram, the Bears paid tribute to Mike Singletary, the Chicago linebacker who could dazzle quarterbacks by projecting a semi-transparent ghost doppelganger of himself onto the field, a talent that earned him the nickname “Semi-Transparent-Ghost-Projectin’ Samurai Mike.” (This was later shortened.)
Dallas Cowboys vs. Seattle Seahawks (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Seattle 23, Dallas 20. Richard Sherman would also like to express his fondness for those particular headphones.
Washington vs. Arizona Cardinals (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Arizona 21, Washington 14.
New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC): New York 31, Philadelphia 22.
B&T prediction record last week: 15-0
B&T prediction record for 2014 season: 77-0
Vexing corrections made: 35
Block & Tackle Week 6 Picks: Pocket Edition