Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
I’ve been a loyal DirecTV subscriber for most of my adult life. At least, this is what I tell the DirecTV customer service people when I call them to ask for discounts. My supposed “loyalty” is a lie, as I don’t have any viable options. No other TV provider has the NFL Sunday Ticket package, which lets its users watch every game free of regional restrictions. I’m not about to give that up. DirecTV has me hostage, and the people on the other end of the line know it. As a result, my calls to the company go like this:
Me: Hi, I got a promotion in the mail today offering a pretty sweet deal to new subscribers. The thing is, I’ve already been a loyal customer for a decade now. So I’m calling to see if I can get something closer to a new-customer rate for my channels—my Game Show Network and whatnot.
Customer service person on telephone: Okay, Mr. Teddy, let me take a look at your account and see what we can do. [Brief pause.] All right, Mr. Tee-Tie, I see that you’re a Sunday Ticket subscriber! We appreciate your business. I can offer you two free months of HBO Latino.
Given that DirecTV just signed a $12 billion deal to keep its Sunday Ticket exclusivity for another eight years, I’ll be having more conversations like this. That’s fine. I’m happy with the service, and I only need two months to catch up on Sexo Urbano anyway. Plus, there is one aspect of the DirecTV yoke that really does inspire my loyalty, and that’s the Red Zone Channel, an ingenious station whose video feed jumps from game to game in an effort to always show you the most exciting action happening that moment.
There’s also the more widely available NFL RedZone, a carbon copy of the Red Zone Channel that operates as an offshoot of NFL Network. I’m partial to Andrew Siciliano, though, the big-eared Paul Ryan lookalike who hosts DirecTV’s coverage. Siciliano is an appealing mix of nerdy fan and professional broadcaster. Not only does he keep viewers oriented as Red Zone Channel jumps from one game to another, but he also peppers in a few sarcastic remarks and engages in good-natured sparring with people who hector him on Twitter. Siciliano gets excited about silly coincidences like two field goals being kicked at the same time via split-screen, and I get excited about those things, too.
But why should the talents of Andrew Siciliano—and all the other quick-thinking would-be Sicilianos out there—be restricted to the NFL? Sure, the channel-flipping concept is well-suited to sports. (For instance, ESPN has similar offerings for college football, basketball, and baseball.) There’s more potential here, though. I want a Red Zone Everything channel. Stick Siciliano in a nerve center where his producers are monitoring every goddamn channel that DirecTV can access with its magical computers in the sky. Then switch the feed whenever and wherever something good comes on, bridging the transitions with Siciliano’s silky, dorky patter.
I described this concept to A.V. Club editor-in-chief Josh Modell, who replied, “What you’re describing sounds terrible to me.” And admittedly there are problems with the idea, even beyond the practical difficulty of a production crew monitoring hundreds of channels at once (and the legal impossibility of sorting out the broadcast rights). For one, there’s no accounting for taste: While the definition of “good” NFL action is more or less universal, the definition of “good” TV varies widely.
To solve that, introduce a range of channels. Sneering Asshole Red Zone features garbage that you can deride and mock. Lunatic Fringe Red Zone switches between the weird shopping channels and religious crap that occupy swaths of the satellite lineup. Cute Animal Red Zone finds cute animals. As we argued about this idea in the office, Sean O’Neal suggested my favorite Red Zone of all: Seen It Before Red Zone, which would flip between familiar fare like Seinfeld, Goodfellas, Friends—stuff that you don’t mind jumping into halfway through.
Maybe Josh doesn’t spend as much time as I do browsing Netflix aimlessly or paging through the on-screen channel guide. But I’m lazy enough that I’d be happy to have an alternative to the browsing, a channel where someone else does the flipping for me. It’s not like you’d watch Red Zone Everything all night. I often choose to keep watching a particular game after the real Red Zone Channel flips away. (In fact, Siciliano recites the channel numbers for each matchup so you can do just that.) The same discriminatingly slothful approach would apply to Red Zone Everything. You’d watch until you saw something to stick with—something so compelling that you might drunkenly jab a couple of buttons on your remote to continue viewing it.
In any case, there’s a market for this idea—a market of at least one; two if you count Sean. We have the technology. All we need is the will, the money, and a smooth-talking nerd who can guide us through the televisual wilderness.
The Wall Street Journal football blog The Count—not to be confused with “One, two, three! Ah-ah-ah!” The Count—published a clever bit of media research this week. Watching two games for each of the NFL’s 32 teams, The Count tallied the number of times each head coach and quarterback was shown on the sidelines. There was a wide range of results. The splotchy visage of Giants coach Tom Coughlin was shown an average of 39 times per game, as burst capillaries are pure visual drama. But only 14 times per game did the director cut to Detroit’s Jim Caldwell, a man whose only facial expression is “Oh my God, I think I’m on the wrong airplane.”
As it happens, two camera-friendly league stars face off in the Sunday Night game this week. The 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh topped The Count’s chart of head-coach sideline shots, and Denver’s Peyton Manning was first among quarterbacks. And it’s easy to see why the crew in the broadcast truck is so eager to set aside screen time for these two.
They’re both media-savvy men who know how to use the camera to their advantage, guided by one simple rule: Sex sells.
The TV comes alive when the broadcast catches Manning or Harbaugh roaming the sidelines. As the pixels light up on your high-definition plasma set, you can’t help but think, “The transmission of these images justifies the invention of electric wire.”
For comparison, look at how an amateur like Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon—dead last among quarterbacks with 5.5 shots per game—handles himself on screen. Mike, I hope that Marcus Arroyo is teaching you some basics of stage blocking. The camera does not have X-ray vision, sir. Could you at least try to play to your audience?
And here’s Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy, the least-televised head coach for obvious reasons. I don’t even know where to begin with this idiot. The Block & Tackle “seal it in a time capsule with the note ‘This is all you need to know’ and bury it for 500 years” prediction: Denver 28, San Francisco 27.
Poor Jim Nantz. If only he had more time! Specifically, if only he had more time than the two weeks he had after Jim Nance left a message for him.
With Titans first-string quarterback Jake Locker on the mend from a thumb injury, this could be the last week we see backup Charlie Whitehurst as the Titans’ starter. (In fact, there’s a chance that Locker will be well enough to reclaim his job this Sunday). Whitehurst has played in three games this season, starting two and winning just one: last week’s narrow victory over Jacksonville. Throughout it all, Whitehurst has maintained a bittersweet fatalism about his return to regular action. He clearly enjoys being back on the field, but in every interview he also betrays an Old Yeller neurosis, bracing himself for the inevitable moment when Tennessee takes him out behind the barn. As he huffs the trace fumes of his playing career, let’s reflect on the melancholy wisdom that Charlie Whitehurst has shared over the last few weeks.
- “It’s been a while since I’ve been in a meaningful game for sure.” —Charlie Whitehurst.
- “There’s 53 guys out here and only so many starters, but that’s what you play the game for, to go out there and play. A long time ago, I did it a lot.” —Charlie Whitehurst.
- “I don’t think I played well enough to win the game.” —Charlie Whitehurst, speculating after a 44-17 loss.
- “I have enjoyed getting to play … I don’t know how long it will last, but every opportunity I get I appreciate and will do the best I can when I get out there.” —Charlie Whitehurst.
- “It’s the ultimate team sport … But there are little things that you take. And it feels really good to be part of it, more so than standing over there and watching and just staying ready. It feels good.” —Charlie Whitehurst.
- “I try to simplify the football, the life, all that stuff. If I practice, I practice. If I play, I play. I’ll prepare the same way.” —Charlie Whitehurst.
- “I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I’ll approach it the way I did last week … I’ll be ready to play. I’ll be ready to practice on Wednesday.” —Charlie Whitehurst.
- “I wash it about twice a week. You don’t have bed-head. You put it in a ponytail and you go. So it’s virtually no maintenance, which is what people would not expect.” —Charlie Whitehurst.
The Block & Tackle “put it in your refrigerator to deodorize your baking soda” prediction: Washington 20, Tennessee 12.
Although he’s known primarily as a football announcer, Tiny Al Michaels’ career spans the world of miniature sports. His most memorable call came when the U.S. men’s hockey team upset a Soviet powerhouse at the 1980 Winter Olympics, prompting an emotional Tiny Michaels to cry, “Do you believe in miracles? If so, stay tuned for this important message from your local Chevrolet dealer.”
Tiny Cris Collinsworth has that dream where his teeth fall out, every night.
Due to mutiny, the following game predictions were misprinted in last Friday’s column: Baltimore vs. Tampa Bay, Carolina vs. Cincinnati, Chicago vs. Atlanta, Dallas vs. Seattle, and New York vs. Philadelphia. We regret the errors and appreciate the opportunity to correct the record.
Here are Block & Tackle’s final score predictions for the rest of the Week 7 slate. All Block & Tackle predictions are guaranteed to be correct.
New York Jets vs. New England Patriots (last night, 8:30 p.m., CBS/NFLN): New England 24, New York 13. Yup, just another boring Thursday night blowout.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Indianapolis Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Indianapolis 27, Cincinnati 17.
Seattle Seahawks vs. St. Louis Rams (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Seattle 19, St. Louis 10. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could live in Joelworld?
Carolina Panthers vs. Green Bay Packers (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Green Bay 27, Carolina 24.
Cleveland Browns vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Cleveland 20, Jacksonville 10. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Browns are 5-8 against teams named after cats and 2-11 against teams named after birds.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Baltimore 23, Atlanta 20. Say what you will about Joe Flacco.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Buffalo 14, Minnesota 7. The Bills have a new owner, and we all have to pretend to care about that for a while. I’ll let you know when it’s okay to stop pretending. The new owner’s name is Terry okay we can stop now.
Miami Dolphins vs. Chicago Bears (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Chicago 17, Miami 9. The Dolphins just haven’t been the same since they were written out of the script for Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.
New Orleans Saints vs. Detroit Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): New Orleans 30, Detroit 21.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Diego Chargers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS): San Diego 20, Kansas City 16. Philip Rivers has tweeted 73 times.
New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Dallas 31, New York 13. Don’t eat the Italian sausage.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Oakland Raiders (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Arizona 21, Oakland 10.
Houston Texans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN): Pittsburgh 26, Houston 18.
B&T prediction record last week: 15-0
B&T prediction record for 2014 season: 90-0
Disappointing corrections made: 40
Block & Tackle Week 7 Picks: Pocket Edition
We close out this week’s Block & Tackle with the return of the Ill-Informed Can’t-Miss Pick, in which I open a chat window and ask an A.V. Club/Onion staffer with little to no NFL knowledge to predict the outcome of a game. The staffer is allowed to ask me three questions about the game before making their call. Joining me this week is fellow A.V. Club senior editor Sean O’Neal. The chat transcript follows.
John Teti: Hi, Sean. For those who missed your previous Can’t-Miss Pick, could you approximate your level of NFL football knowledge?
Sean O’Neal: Most of my football knowledge is gleaned from the 1991 film Necessary Roughness. Most of my knowledge of NFL players comes from the occasional ad for headphones or satellite television packages.
Also, unfortunate incidents reported in TMZ. But let’s not talk about those things, John.
JT: Agreed. So this week you’re picking the Giants-Cowboys game, a meeting between two NFC East rivals. You get to ask three questions about the game, and then you’ll predict the final score.
SO: That’s great. I grew up in Arlington, Texas, so I have an intimate knowledge of the general neighborhood where Cowboys Stadium is. I also used to work Cowboys games in high school. I sold Italian sausage.
JT: Is that true??
SO: It is true. It was how I raised money for marching band trips.
JT: Okay, ask away.
SO: 1) Does Tony Romo still date Jessica Simpson? They always seemed so happy together.
JT: They did, but at some point the NFL punditry only half-jokingly decided that Jessica Simpson was making Romo play worse. You know, dames. The writing was on the wall at that point.
Since then the NFL punditry has realized that Tony Romo can fuck up all by himself; he doesn’t need the help of a bland pop star.
SO: That’s too bad. My wife’s late aunt once told me I looked like Tony Romo, which was a total lie. But it led me to believe that one day I, too, could date a bland pop star.
JT: Well, your aunt’s dead now. I guess you put her in her place.
SO: It was my wife’s aunt, but yes, thank you.
JT: Maybe I shouldn’t be joking about your wife’s dead aunt, who for all I know could have been very close to you and/or your wife.
SO: She was a wonderful woman. Not the greatest eyesight.
JT: Let’s have another question so I can mock more of your deceased extended family.
SO: 2) Did you ever see that Jimmy Johnson commercial for Extenze boner pills?
SO: I’m pretty sure that the Dallas Cowboys should have been ejected from the league based on that alone. Frankly, I’m surprised this game is being allowed to take place.
JT: Worse than Spygate.
The Cowboys hate Jimmy Johnson now. And by the Cowboys I mean Jerry Jones.
SO: I always get Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones confused. I know they’re both old men that some of my uncles are mad at sometimes.
JT: It is confusing. Jerry Jones only hires coaches with two Js as initials. Just ask the Cowboys’ current coach, Jason Jarrett.
I thought that name was going to be funnier when I changed it to Js, but it just looks like a regular name.
They can’t all be home runs, Sean.
SO: You could actually tell me it was Jason Jarrett, and I would believe you. I left home a long time ago.
JT: Jason Jarrett was preceded by Jade Jhillips. There. Next question.
SO: 3) Who’s tending the Italian sausage stand? Do they know to make sure it has an internal temp of 150 degrees?
Because a lot of people could get sick, John. A lot of people.
JT: 150 degrees doesn’t sound like enough degrees for stadium Italian sausage. I bet there’s still a little salmonella in there.
SO: I made a lot of people sick, John. Like I said, I left home a long time ago.
JT: Now it’s time for the vomit-inducing final score prediction, brought to you by Extenze boner pills.
SO: Giants 150 sausages, Cowboys 0 boners.