Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
Earlier this week, Ed Werder, an ESPN person who has a mustache, reported that the NFL threatened Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch with a $500,000 fine if Lynch failed to show up for Super Bowl Media Day.
If you aren’t familiar with Media Day, it’s like a bigger version of a typical NFL press conference except occasionally something interesting happens—like Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman salsa dancing…
…or New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick telling the 4-year-old daughter of Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo, in bizarre detail, about a monkey puppet he likes:
Media Day exists so that members of the media can attend Media Day and then write stories about how stupid Media Day is, implicitly perpetuating a myth that the other 364 days of NFL coverage are less inane. (Is there a single head-coach press appearance in the last year that wouldn’t have been improved by Jerod Mayo’s daughter asking the coach about his favorite stuffed animals?) This face-saving ritual is so cherished by reporters that the league compels players to participate—even those, like Marshawn Lynch, who insist they have nothing to say.
But when he is forced to speak, Lynch gets the most out of his few words. “I’m just here so I won’t get fined,” the star running back replied (with slight variation) to every question he received on Media Day—29 times in all. When he first took the podium, Lynch had warned the assembled journalists in advance that this was the only answer he would give, and he kept his promise. Yet the questions continued to come. The ingenious beauty of the line lay in its honesty: Lynch’s mantra was the most forthright, bullshit-free response anyone would give that day.
All the other players, with their platitudes about focus and respect and preparation, dutifully practiced the art of saying nothing. Lynch’s pursuit of vacuity is more functional—a craft. Every time he opens his mouth for reporters, he moves with functional, Ron Swanson-like efficiency to shut the hell up again. Returning to the press scrum on Wednesday, he shaved his patter down even further: “You know why I’m here,” he said again and again. Then the alarm on Lynch’s iPhone went off, indicating that his league-mandated five minutes of availability were up. He stood and left. (His Thursday appearance was more varied but no less taciturn.)
Marshawn Lynch’s tired sphinx act masks the hard truth that without the media NFL players would be playing in a parking lot for $8 an hour
— Brian Murphy (@murphPPress) January 28, 2015
A number of NFL reporters predictably bristled at this glorified “no comment” routine. The most common argument employed by those who inveighed against Lynch is that he’s paid highly—his base salary this season was $6 million—so he should be more willing to engage with the media who help maintain the NFL’s lucrative popularity. Lynch is arguably the best running back in the league right now. That means that, at this moment, perhaps nobody on Earth is more skilled at carrying a large brown egg while 11 armored berserkers seek to grind his bone and sinew into a fleshy paste of misery. His skill is a rather specific one, but it is in high demand. Lynch’s extraordinary talent, and not the ability to blather “we’re practicing hard, taking it one day at a time,” is the reason that he is paid $6 million.
In fairness, the NFL does need to ensure that journalists have access to its players; the unspoken fear of tolerating Lynch’s desire for privacy is that too many other stars would choose to do the same, eroding the game’s national prominence. But professional athletes are not known for their shyness. It’s unlikely that letting Lynch off the hook would lead to an epidemic of media-dodgers (and if it did, that would be the proper time to crack down). This is why it’s so unseemly when the league (allegedly) threatens to strip half a million dollars from a grown man who prefers to let his conduct on the field speak for itself.
Lynch is no threat to pro football. Instead, he’s a refuge of sublime quiet amid a meaningless cacophony. Because the games only take place once a week, more or less, mainstream NFL media outlets have a lot of time to fill. The nation’s appetite for football news outstrips the sport’s capacity to provide it, and this imbalance is never more evident in the empty stretch leading up to the Super Bowl. Those 13 days of non-play create a vacuum that fills with unfathomable quantities of noise. Lynch provides the rare counterpoint by seeking silence.
The stultifying irony of Lynch’s plight is that by opting for quiet, he indirectly adds to the noise, as a Google News search for his name will show you. Admittedly, this article only adds to the problem. So I’ll now salute Marshawn Lynch for shutting up by shutting up about Marshawn Lynch.
Two weeks ago, Block & Tackle previewed the NFC Championship Game by assessing the soup-eating prowess of Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews…
…and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman:
I praised Sherman’s superior focus and composure, and indeed, Seattle went on to win the game. But my colleague Marah Eakin pointed out that if I’m going to make fun of these upstanding fellows for eating soup on the television, I ought to subject myself to the same Chunky Soups to fully understand the challenge they faced. So A.V. Club digital manager David Anthony and I secured a can of Campbell’s Chunky Beer-N-Cheese With Beef & Bacon (featured in the Sherman commercial) and a microwavable bowl of Campbells’ Chunky Hearty Cheeseburger (Matthews) to see how vile these drippy yellow concoctions really are. As it turns out, they are both quite vile! Here’s our Taste Test:
We conclude with this season’s final Ill-Informed Can’t-Miss Pick, in which I open a chat window and ask an A.V. Club staff member with limited knowledge of pro football to predict the final score of an upcoming contest. Joining me again to provide the IICMP is A.V. Club editor-in-chief Josh Modell. The chat transcript follows.
John Teti: Josh, welcome back to the Ill-Informed Can’t Miss Pick. As you know, you can ask three questions about the Super Bowl being played on Sunday, and then you will be asked to make a final score prediction. First, for the readers’ edification, if your level of football expertise were a forgotten ’90s-era search engine, which ’90s-era search engine would it be?
Josh Modell: Is Ask Jeeves ’90s-era? (That doesn’t count as one of my questions.) I’m going with Ask Jeeves. Because he’s a guy that you’d ask, and he’d probably know the answer, but if he didn’t, he’d tell you.
JT: Right. You promise more than you can deliver, but you do so with charm.
JM: And dressed as a butler, always.
JT: Of course.
JM: What a dumb idea. Internet butler.
JT: Everything was a butler back then. People hoped that the Internet would finally usher in a utopian society of butlers. Instead, we got Twitter.
JM: Which is like a whole bunch of people who need butlers, yelling. Okay, first question. What’s the line, as they say?
JT: The line is New England -1.
JM: This is question 1a. That means New England is favored by 1?
JM: Just double-checking. My grandpa worked for a bookie, did I ever tell you that?
JT: No! What did he do? Break thumbs?
JM: In Orange, New Jersey. No, he just took bets on the phone, and he “collected” insofar as people dropped money off to him. When I was about 10, he handed me a lunch bag and said, “Guess what’s in there.” I had no idea. “Open it up,” he says. I look. “That’s 31 grand!” (I didn’t get to keep it, no.)
JT: Holy shit. My uncle used to work for NFL Films. He’d get an allotment of Super Bowl tickets, and he’d scalp a bunch of them in New York. He, too, would end up with a paper bag full of cash. I guess that’s the preferred mode of transport for ill-gotten football gains.
JM: There’s an elegance to it. Anyway, question number two: Are the Seattle Seahawks in any way considered scandalous? Cheaters? Or are they like white knights of scandal-free football?
JT: In the past few years, a handful of Seahawks have been suspended for performance-enhancing drugs—supposedly Adderall, but the league doesn’t disclose the drug that led to a suspension in PED cases, so players always say it was Adderall, because that’s the most benign possibility. Seattle was also fined and otherwise disciplined during the offseason for holding full-contact practices when they weren’t supposed to. Nobody gives a shit about either of these scandals, just as nobody is liable to care much about Deflate-ghazi in a year or two.
JM: Ooh, so they got in trouble for studying too hard and doing extra credit? (That doesn’t count as a question, either.)
JT: Yes, exactly. They were TOO dedicated to becoming good at football.
JM: Okay, final question: Where is this contest being held, and what does the forecast look like there?
JT: The Super Bowl is in Glendale, Arizona, this year, at University Of Phoenix Stadium, the nation’s finest sporting facility named after a pretend college. The forecast calls for pleasant weather with a high of 68°. It will probably be in the low 60s by kickoff at 4:30 local time. How does this affect your prediction, if I may ask? Which team do you think will benefit from a clear, sunny day?
JM: I don’t know, I was thinking I could make some ball-deflating comment if it were really warm.
JT: I see. Well, maybe it will be 100° in the shade on Sunday. Meteorologists have been wrong before, as Bill Belichick can tell you.
JM: It’s a tough call. Seattle is wet, and Arizona is dry.
JT: A match made in heaven.
JM: The Patriots are patriotic, and there’s a weird brand of patriotism that exists in both Washington State and Arizona. But here’s my final prediction. I know that you, John Teti, believe that the New England Patriots will prevail. I also know that you, John Teti, are smarter than famed science man Neil DeGrasse Tyson, because you proved him wrong on social media. Ergo if you are smarter than a very smart man, and you think the Patriots are going to win, then it will be the Patriots. By a minimum of 19 points. Pats 14, Seahawks -5.
JT: That is a superb prediction; I’ll go so far as to break with tradition and make it the official Block & Tackle “guaranteed correct” pick for the game. Good work. I’ll get you your paper bag full of… thank-you notes tomorrow morning.
JM: I accept cash or any type of cookie.