Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
I got a new hat this Christmas—the pom-pom cap that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wears on the sideline, with the old “Pat Patriot” logo on the front. I had put it on my wish list with the idea that wearing this hat might increase the likelihood that Brady would pass me on the street someday and say, “Hey, I have that same hat,” and then we’d get some Mario Kart going, and he’d teach me the art of the play-action fake, and when he parted he’d say, “Let’s hang out again sometime,” and he’d mean it. Okay, it’s a long shot, but you’ve got to put yourself out there.
I wore the hat when I went out on Saturday night after New England edged out a ferocious Baltimore Ravens team in the divisional round. I didn’t cross paths with Brady, but when I stepped into a crowded restaurant, I did come face to face with a guy wearing the same cap—except it was the Ravens version. He made eye contact, and his face fell like he just watched his grandma die.
I’m not a gloater, though, so I consoled him by saying the game was an instant classic no matter who won, and I reminded him that Baltimore had given the Patriots their share of heartbreak over the years, too. “Well, good luck—AFC represent,” he said, holding his hand up for a fist bump. “Damn straight,” I said, as our knuckles knocked. The Patriots and Ravens are indeed both members of the American Football Conference, but still, this exchange didn’t make sense, as no football fan gives a shit about upholding their conference’s reputation. Your conference is full of the teams you hate the most. Men say strange things, though, when they find themselves in the perilous spot of making an emotional connection. Instead of saying that we care, we find a way to puff our chests in mutual pride. AFC represent.
In that respect, I was actually glad for that moment that Brady’s Pats suffered those playoff losses to Baltimore over the years, because it meant I could be honest when I told my crestfallen friend that the Ravens had given as good as they got. It meant we had something to share. If the two of us had a similar chance meeting 10 years ago, when the Patriots appeared to be unbeatable Super Bowl-winning cyborgs, we would have struggled to find common cause. High-profile losses have humanized Bill Belichick & Co. (to a degree).
Winning is glorious, outlandishly superior to the alternative. That’s what makes it winning, after all. Yet losing makes a team and its fans more down-to-earth and relatable. There’s a community in defeat—31 teams will fail to win the Super Bowl this year, and only one lonely squad takes home the trophy. If my team gets bounced from the tournament this weekend, I can—eventually—take solace in the fact that I have plenty of company. To win is divine; to lose, human.
An important message about Block & Tackle’s “guaranteed correct” picks, Roger Goodell, and integrity
The playoffs are unpredictable, and you never know if soup-eating skills will play a factor in the outcome of the game. Fortunately, Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews is prepared. Campbell’s has been training the five-time Pro Bowler at its liquid nutrition facility, and the company showcases his soup-eating skills in a popular television commercial. Note Matthews’ strong, confident spoon technique. He doesn’t make the classic mistake of letting his wrists do all the work. The entire upper body gets involved. Alas, Matthews can’t help but recoil after the bite, miming a nonverbal “What did I just eat?” The answer: Campbells’ Chunky Hearty Cheeseburger, the soup for cheeseburger lovers who prefer not to eat cheeseburgers.
GOOD LORD IS THAT EVEN SOUP.
Seattle’s Richard Sherman shovels yellow substance into his mouth with more finesse, as befits a cornerback. And unlike his Green Bay counterpart, Sherman manages to convey enjoyment of his dish. Why wouldn’t he? It’s Campbell’s Chunky Beer-N-Cheese With Beef & Bacon, which packs more alternate renderings of the word “and” into every serving than any other soup on the market today. Soup-eating edge: Seattle.
Many of my officemates and I have noted that Onion Inc.’s IT manager, Dan Wilcox, pictured above right, looks somewhat like Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, pictured above left. I spoke with Dan in the hope that his experience would shed insight on the Packers’ MVP candidate in advance of Sunday’s game.
JT: Dan, when did you first become aware of your resemblance to Aaron Rodgers? At birth?
Dan Wilcox: It was not at birth. Once Aaron took the field—you know, it wasn’t even until probably a few years ago. Oddly enough, my sister had a crush on Aaron Rodgers, and she was deeply against—she was in denial that I looked like Aaron Rodgers.
JT: I would imagine. But you really do.
DW: People have told me that. People I don’t know have told me that, people on the street. People I do know have told me that. Actually, you know what? It was in college when I was playing flag football, intramural. A guy referred to me as—he only called me Aaron Rodgers. That became my nickname.
JT: Were you the quarterback on your flag football team?
DW: I was not. I was the running back.
JT: Really! I would have pictured you as a wide receiver. You’re so lanky.
DW: Yeah, I mean, I did—we took it very seriously. I had gloves. I had a mullet one game. For Halloween, I was a NASCAR fan, so I had the mullet and everything. A real mullet.
JT: I bet Aaron Rodgers had a mullet at some point.
DW: Oh, definitely.
JT: He seems like a mullet guy. Do you get a lot of women and/or men showing romantic interest in you because they mistake you for a Super Bowl-winning insurance commercial actor?
DW: No. I mean, do women show interest in me—? [Laughs.]
JT: Oh, I’m sure women show interest in you. I’m just wondering if they’re like, “Hey, Aaron Rodgers! Let’s go have sex at your pad. Your amazing pro football player pad.”
DW: Not yet. Well. [To himself.] What would Liz think about it…?
JT: Your girlfriend, Liz.
DW: Yeah. She’s not really a football fan, but, I mean, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind that I resemble a famous celebrity-type athlete.
JT: Okay. So it’s not the main attraction, but it’s a bonus.
JT: I like that Liz is open-minded. Would you say that you are the Aaron Rodgers of the Onion Inc. bowling team?
DW: I think so. Do you mean athletically or just visually?
JT: You can interpret it how you will.
DW: I like to get the troops going. I like to be very involved in the matches. I love the competition. I’m really excited about how we’re doing this year and looking forward to the playoffs.
JT: Tough loss against Pitchfork this week, though.
DW: Well, it was by four pins. But like I said at the time, it’s all part of the storyline. [Laughs.]
JT: [Laughs.] Yes! That’s what you and I always say. It just adds to the storyline. So, Aaron Rodgers is an NFL quarterback, and you are the office’s IT manager. How are the two jobs similar?
DW: Wow. I kind of quarterback the technology of the office.
DW: You know, if you need something—well, I guess I’m not really throwing it to you, but—
JT: Sometimes you do. Like, if I need a cable, sometimes you’ll grab it and you’ll toss it to me.
DW: Sure. Or… [Long pause.] I’m trying to think of something that happens to Aaron that also happens to me.
JT: Do people ever sack you in the office? I guess not, huh?
DW: I do get bombarded with requests from people.
DW: People just come up to me at my desk. It’s less violent, obviously.
JT: But the principle is the same. You’re being sacked with technical requests.
DW: Sure. Right.
JT: What else? Let’s figure out one more similarity.
DW: Hmm. Well, I don’t warm up. I don’t put my hands under another man’s squatting behind.
JT: [Laughs.] You rummage around in the server room, though. If one of the servers had a hoisted anus, you would slide your hands under there, right?
DW: Yes, if one of the drives went down in one of our servers, I would hot-swap it. That’s a tech term. The hot-swappable drive means you can slip out the drive on the fly with redundancy in your RAID system, so…
JT: Yes. Exactly. A hot RAID, just like a hot read. It’s like you’re going through your reads on the field, except with drives on a server.
DW: Yeah. You definitely have to read the environment because something unexpected could happen. So you definitely read the field, and you try to execute appropriately.
JT: What advice do you have for Aaron heading into this Sunday’s game against the Seahawks?
DW: I think he should stick to what he knows best.
DW: Football. You know, Aaron, football isn’t everything. Take care of that ankle. I know that you’re dealing with an injury right now.
JT: It’s the calf, but yes. Go on.
DW: Calf, right. Be conscious of that. And protect your face, I guess. It’s made you a lot of money.
JT: If Aaron Rodgers were here, what advice do you wish he would give you?
DW: Maybe different ways I could style my hair. Because he would know.
Seattle 23, Green Bay 20.
“Garrett, Jones achieve symbiosis,” ESPN Dallas/Forth Worth, January 14: Four mentions of toughness.
He saw their mental toughness,…
It takes the kind of mental toughness…
It takes the kind of toughness…
…and Emmitt Smith, who epitomized mental toughness…
“Bruschi’s Breakdown: Ravens-Pats,” ESPN Boston, January 9: Six mentions of toughness.
The Ravens are tough up front and also at linebacker.
After talking about the Ravens’ toughness all week, I would now like to re-emphasize how tough this Patriot team is. The constant injuries and lineup changes on both sides of the ball have made this Patriots team mentally and physically tough. One of the toughest in the NFL. They will lean on this toughness to beat the Baltimore Ravens.
“Pete Carroll on Russell Wilson’s toughness: ‘That’s just the way he is,’” Seahawks.com, January 9: Nine mentions of toughness.
If only there was a stat to underline one of Wilson’s most impressive intangibles: Toughness.
Another indication of Wilson’s toughness is how he handles questions…
While the elevated level of Wilson’s toughness wasn’t readily apparent when he first arrived, it was there nonetheless.
“There were other issues that we were concerned about, but it certainly wasn’t his makeup and the toughness and all.”
And toughness is such an important, if underrated, aspect of a quarterback’s game.
Jackson’s toughness impressed his teammates…
“He’s a tough guy,” said Jackson…
And that would be a tough guy, which also has allowed Wilson to be such a productive guy.
“He’s just a tough, gritty, hardnosed competitor,” Carroll said. “That’s just the way he is.”
Those who want to take an aesthetic approach to their conference championship rooting interests may want to throw their weight behind the Indianapolis Colts, who have some of the best uniforms in the league. The other three teams are no laggards in the on-field apparel department, either, but the stubborn simplicity of Indianapolis stands out: two colors, a few tasteful stripes, and you’ve got a uniform. Of the teams that still maintain a classic look, only the 49ers look better.
The Colts will wear their road whites this Sunday, which is a plus. A few years ago, I would have said that the team’s home colors are even more beautiful, but ever since Nike took over the NFL uniform contract in 2012, there has been a problem with the blue look. Nike’s design incorporates different fabrics into the jerseys, as a 2012 Time article described:
Based on data derived from the Nike Sports Research Lab in Beaverton, Ore., uniform designers pinpoint the exact locations on the body that athletes need venting. Differing types of mesh ventilation form zones on the uniform, based on that research.
The trouble is that the mesh discolors more quickly from sweat than the rest of the uniform, so by the second half of a Colts home game, the Indianapolis players have unsightly patches of dark blue marring their shirts. Many other teams’ uniforms have the same issue. I’m baffled that Nike finds this shabbiness acceptable. It’s a standard-definition uniform for the high-definition era.
The Patriots have their own bit of praiseworthy visual branding in the form of their “Flying Elvis” logo. The mark itself is average, but it symbolizes a welcome rebellion against a major trend in sports logo design in the past couple decades: The Flying Elvis is less angry than the logo that preceded it.
The Seahawks’ current bird, for instance, is a more enraged version of the old, rather wise-looking hawk, which was used by the team through 2001.
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ original cat looked toothy but bored, so in 2013 team executives unveiled a redesigned logo that appears to be a feline version of Judge Judy hearing the testimony of a welfare moocher.
Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers even found a way to make a skull angrier, probably by hiring Lovie Smith.
The Patriots logo is the rare mark that has gotten friendlier over time. I’m not saying that the Flying Elvis (which debuted in 1993) is better than Pat Patriot; it isn’t. But the trend toward ever more blustering rage in sports icons has become tiresome enough that any exception from the rule stands out. All the angry animals and skulls are sucking the joy from teams’ looks, with testosterone winning out over grace. While the indifferent John Kerry in the current New England logo may not be a beauty contest champion, at least he’s not snarling, glaring, or baring his teeth. The idea is to have fun, after all. And I have one suggested tweak along those lines:
Turn that frown upside down, Flying Elvis. Because if you can’t look good, you can at least look happy.
New England 38, Indianapolis 21.
Block & Tackle Conference Championship Picks: Pocket Edition
We conclude with the return of the 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 fellow A.V. Club senior editor Sean O’Neal. The chat transcript follows.
John Teti: Sean, welcome back to the Ill-Informed Can’t-Miss Pick. This time, you’re predicting the outcome of the NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks. First off, for those who may not remember your past exploits in this feature, let’s gauge your expertise. If your football knowledge were a motor vehicle, what motor vehicle would it be?
Sean O’Neal: My football knowledge would be the 1985 Nissan Sentra that I drove throughout high school and my freshman year of college. Not always reliable, but amusing to some. And it smells oddly of pizza.
JT: Sorry about your Cowboys, by the way. Tough loss last week, and I know you’re still loyal to them from your sausage-slinging days. Is that what you used to sling? Sausage?
SO: Yes, I was in charge of grilling Italian sausages for a crowd of thousands, as any 15-year-old who really doesn’t want to be there should be.
JT: So the game kicks off in Seattle at 3:05 Eastern time. The weather is expected to be mild/cool with scattered showers. I’m ready for your questions, as long as they are not about weather or time, because I just answered those myself for some reason.
SO: Okay. 1) Does it ever rain in Seatt—oh, wait.
JT: I was afraid of that. My fault, my fault.
SO: It’s fine. Let’s see. 1) Are the Seattle Seahawks still using Verve songs as their soundtrack like at last year’s Super Bowl, or have they discovered that a few musicians actually came from Seattle?
JT: I don’t even know who Verve is. Does that make me dumb(er than the Seattle Seahawks)?
SO: I’ll admit that I picked this question specifically to highlight that your music knowledge is its own 1985 Nissan Sentra. THE TABLES HAVE TURNED, TETI. Anyway, The Verve is a band from England. It’s also mild and rainy there.
JT: Oddly enough, Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez said last month that Richard Sherman’s play provides its own soundtrack for game film of Seattle. I’m not exactly sure how that works. Mark Sanchez might not know what a soundtrack is. “The film doesn’t have any sound, but that guy almost puts a soundtrack to the film. You see him just completely sell out. Against the run. Against the pass. You always see his excitement.”
SO: Yeah, I’m also not sure he knows the definition of “completely sells out.”
JT: Maybe Sherman was taping a Chunky Soup commercial during the play. Anyway, regarding Seattle area musicians, Macklemore was hanging out a lot during the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run last year, but he’s not around as much this year. What has Macklemore been up to? I miss him.
SO: I think he’s been looking for more social injustices he can overcome with the power of semi-rap. He was also just on Sesame Street.
JT: Remember when he sang that song about buying old clothes? That was great. Although I thought it was rude when he made the piss joke in the middle. I’m ready for your next question whenever you are.
SO: Are you sure you don’t want to just talk about Macklemore some Macklemore?
JT: Well, I do. Tell me what you know about Macklemore. What makes him tick????? He’s so mysterious.
SO: Well, you know what they say: Mackleless is Macklemore.
JT: You win. I can’t top that.
SO: Okay, next question. 2) Do the Packers like Macklemore? No, just kidding. 2) Have the Green Bay Packers completely turned into sentient hairballs yet? Those are some hirsute motherfuckers. The long, flowing locks. After watching that Cowboys/Packers game, I imagined all the linebackers heading back to the locker room to brush each other.
JT: That’s hot. I Googled “hairy Green Bay Packers” and I arrived at this article, “Fans getting hairy in Green Bay.” You have to subscribe to read the whole thing. You think it’s worth it?
SO: Well, it does promise “This is a great article.” I watched an NFL game with my uncle-in-law over Thanksgiving and I asked him what he thought of all the football players these days with long hair. He just shook his head sadly, like I’d asked him whether he thought there was any hope for mankind.
JT: He’s a regular Abe Simpson.
SO: “Johnny Unitas. Now there’s a haircut you could set your watch to!”
JT: Does Clay Matthews do those Head & Shoulders commercials? Maybe his teammates are trying to get in on some of that sweet shampoo scratch.
SO: [Shakes head sadly.]
JT: No, I’m wrong, it was Suave.
SO: Suave, the shampoo for people who may as well take hygiene tips from a Green Bay Packer. Next question. 3) Has the NFL figured out what a fucking catch is yet?
JT: I see you’re still angry about last Sunday. I take it you thought that was a catch by Dez Bryant.
SO: I thought a guy taking a thing out of mid-air and then putting it in his hands was a catch, yes. But as we discussed last Sunday, there are other, deeper philosophical questions as to a player’s intent and what a catch really *means* that must be considered.
JT: Yeah, you texted me after the game and, if I recall, said this is why you can’t watch football. The problem is that it’s called a “catch,” which is a word people understand, but it’s not actually a catch. It’s a football transaction regulated by a baroque set of barely comprehensible rules. We need a different word for it, really.
SO: How about “grab-wozzle”?
JT: That’s good, but the league would want to sell the naming rights. So it would be the GMC Trucks Grab-Wozzle.
SO: That would sound kickass if it were shouted at you by Denis Leary.
JT: As everything does. Final score prediction?
SO: Green Bay 26 to Seattle 17. But after a replay challenge: Green Bay 1,007 to Seattle has to go to a Macklemore concert.