Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
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It’s time once again for the inaugural First Non-Annual Block & Tackle Midseason Awards, which recognize achievement in the field of making football more fun and/or dumb, usually both. In addition to prestige, winners will also receive a link to a Yahoo! Answers question about the 1980s sitcom Diff’rent Strokes (which they are free to keep or donate as they see fit). The honors will be awarded throughout the column, so let’s get the proceedings underway right now with our first winner.
The FNAB&TMA for most entertaining team: New York Jets
League executives are inching closer to a deal that would bring an NFL team to Los Angeles, and the city might end up with two teams (again) after 20 years of having none. If the two-team scenario comes to pass, we can only hope that Los Angeles will divide its football labor as well as New York. In the so-called “Large Apple,” the Giants and the Jets manage the awkwardness of sharing a city by taking on complementary roles. The Giants attempt to play respectable football and win Super Bowls from time to time. To help their New York brothers in that mission, the Jets provide an endless supply of farcical entertainment, both on and off the field. These high jinks distract the tenacious New York media and allow the Giants to conduct their business in relative peace.
We all get to enjoy the fruits of the Jets’ selfless efforts, but how do they keep their humor fresh after all these years? With a versatile comedic voice. Sometimes the Jets go for broad silliness, like the time they promoted an upcoming showdown against the hated division-rival Patriots by proclaiming it a “RIVARLY RENEWED”—a spelling mistake (“mistake”) that encapsulated the modern Jets-Patriots relationship with an economy of language that would make any Twitter comedian jealous.
It’s not pure buffoonery—the Jets use misdirection, too. New York went on to play competitive football in that Thursday night game against New England, for instance. It almost seemed as if New York had decided to play for real (a.k.a. Giants-style). But no, the comedy geniuses on the New York sideline were merely setting up their spectacular punchline: a potential game-winning field goal that was blocked as time expired, which is the funniest non-doink outcome of a place kick.
The Jets also generate laughs by playing against standard NFL narratives. The stock postgame line for any backup quarterback who takes the field is, “I’m ready to go any time the team needs me.” But after the Jets’ 31-0 implosion against the San Diego Chargers, New York backup Michael Vick told reporters, “I wasn’t prepared.” This statement allowed columnists at the Post and the Daily News to meet their garment-rending quota for the week, and it was made additionally hilarious by the fact that Vick was the backup for the incompetent Geno Smith. As Block & Tackle has previously noted, if any #2 QB in the league should have been brushing up on his playbook, it was Vick. But he didn’t, because the guy knows how to commit to a joke.
The height of Jets humor in 2014 came in last Sunday’s Kansas City tilt. We all remember the classic “Buttfumble,” a pinnacle of that marvelous era when Mark Sanchez was quarterback/host of the Jets team/variety hour. On Sunday, the Jets paid homage to the Buttfumble with one of their most innovative gags yet. Midway through the first quarter, the Chiefs were on the New York 2-yard line. The Chiefs’ Alex Smith attempted a pass, and it was immediately deflected by Jets linebacker Antwan Barnes into the hands of Kansas City tight end Anthony Fasano, who was sitting on his ass at the 1-yard line. A surprised but alert Fasano then simply rolled into the end zone for a touchdown, completing a play that should henceforth be known as the “Buttsix.”
Not only was the Buttsix a moving tribute to one of the Jets’ hallmark plays, it also somehow incorporated the opposing squad in its elaborate choreography. No team can match the Jets in their ability to generate football moments that have never been seen before. Sure, they may be bad at playing the game, but they are creatively bad, so as a pop-cultural product, the New York Jets are in a class of their own. They deserve this prize:
Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers — Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC
I’d be interested to hear how many people in the Block & Tackle commentariat regularly view games with headphones, a practice that I highly recommend if you happen to be watching a game alone. With a decent set of ’phones, you can perceive details that are practically inaudible on most speaker systems. Among those details:
Player chatter. The quarterback’s pre-snap cadences are usually pretty easy to hear, but with headphones you pick up more of the communication elsewhere on the field—offensive lineman identifying defenders, for instance, or defensive players making last-second adjustments. The networks’ microphones are so sensitive that sometimes you can even hear heavy breathing. The routine sounds of the players, more than anything else I hear when I have headphones on, heightens the sensation that I’m on the field.
Official chatter. Have you ever wondered why it sometimes takes a while for an official to signal a touchdown? He might need to have a little conversation first. After Arizona Cardinals running back Marion Grice appeared to reach the end zone in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against Dallas, side judge Jeff Lamberth ran over to the pile and shouted, “Does #23 have the ball?” (#23 is Grice’s number.) Another official answered, “Yeah!” And Lamberth put his arms up to signal the TD. You’ll also often hear an official frantically shouting something like “It’s over! It’s over!” to settle players down after a play has been whistled dead. Tidbits like that give you a better feel for the moment-to-moment mechanics of officiating an NFL game.
Profanity. Players swear a lot, which is understandable—I would, too, if my skeletal structure were being rearranged every 30 seconds. Belligerent fans can also add a few spicy F-bombs to a game’s aural stew, especially if they happen to be seated near the broadcast booth.
Cheerleader cheers. I don’t know why it amuses me to hear what the cheerleaders are saying, but it does.
And other minor noise. This week, for instance, I noticed that when a sound guy sets up near the photographer pool, you can hear a flurry of camera shutters snapping when a quarterback brings his arm back to pass. The click-click-click punctuates a play with an added note of drama.
All of the networks have very good sound; I’ve found NBC’s Sunday Night broadcasts to have the most consistently lively and clear mix. So consider giving it a try for the Bears-Packers game this weekend. If you’d like equipment recommendations, I use a pair of Sennheiser RS 170 wireless headphones when I’m watching on my TV, and I like the Shure SRH440 or the Sennheiser HD280 Pro for wired viewing on a computer. But any decent over-the-ear headphones will give you an immersive feel, opening up a world of grunts, shouts, and F-bombs than you ever knew existed. The Block & Tackle “in full stereo” prediction: Green Bay Packers 38, Green Bay Packers 38, Chicago 21, Chicago 21.
The FNAB&TMA for best hair: Charlie Whitehurst
You may be tired of Block & Tackle indulging a ferocious man-crush on the Titans’ now-benched backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Not to worry: Today’s award ceremony marks the last time this column will give inordinate attention to the journeyman passer. (Note: The previous sentence is a lie.) While he wasn’t always so great at directing footballs to their intended receivers, Whitehurst’s follicular achievements more than make up for his erratic throws. There’s a reason the guy acquired the nickname of Clipboard Jesus—and, for a while, the less catchy moniker Guy Who Actually Sees The Field Jesus. And there’s a reason that, when you do a Google image search, three of the first five keyword suggestions are “hair,” “Jesus,” and “ponytail.” The reason is because he has great hair, by the way, but you probably gathered as much.
Whitehurst tucked his hair into a tight ponytail for most games, which is a travesty. His coiffure deserves better than that, as Nashville Lifestyle knows, having named Whitehurst one of its 25 Most Beautiful People. The national media, alas, has yet to catch up to the trend-setting Nashville Lifestyle. Why does Troy Polamalu, for instance, still get all the shampoo-commercial jobs instead of Whitey? Just because Polamalu is a better, more famous, more beloved, more accomplished player? I’ll never understand sports media.
The FNAB&TMA for best Sunday Night Football full-motion player headshot: Tony Romo
NBC producer: Okay, Tony, we’re rolling, so for the next 10 seconds, could you avoid harvesting snot from your nasal passage and gulping it down so vigorously that your visage contorts from the sheer force of suction?
Tony Romo: I can’t make any guarantees.
Because Tony Romo is not on Twitter, his prize is awarded to the Dallas Cowboys on his behalf.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Jacksonville Jaguars — Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox
Speaking of Romo, he might not play against the Jaguars this weekend. His backup, Brandon Weeden, is seen above, with the same facial expression that Cowboys fans wore whenever he looked to pass on Sunday. Romo’s potential absence is one of two factors that threaten to make this a more exciting game than the words “vs. Jacksonville Jaguars” might suggests. The other factor is that the game is being played in London, where weird things happen because everybody’s a little bit jet-lagged.
I hesitate to admit this, as I was raised to hate all things Cowboys, but I’ve found myself rooting for Dallas when I watch the team play this season. When Romo is healthy and running back DeMarco Murray is making the most of a potent offensive line, the Cowboys are one of the most entertaining teams in the league, in a real way and not in the Jets’ screwball-comedy way.
So I like them. Yes, Jerry Jones is an egotistical monster, but that’s the thing. Most of the Dallas Cowboys are not Jerry Jones, which makes me like them more, and most of the Dallas Cowboys have to work for Jerry Jones, which makes me feel sorry for them. If there were a way for the Cowboys to win while Jerry Jones lost, I could root them on with more vigor. As it is, I split the difference, quietly cheering their success while a voice in my head says, “What you are doing is wrong.” The Block & Tackle “you should be ashamed” prediction: Dallas 21, Jacksonville 20.
The FNAB&TMA for best compliment you can pay a football player: “You are a football player”
This award comes with the imprimatur of none other than Dan Fouts. Because the phrase “You are a football player” doesn’t have a Twitter presence, and neither does Fouts, the award goes to the Dolphins’ rookie receiver Jarvis Landry, who is by all accounts a football player.
The FNAB&TMA for cutest reading of a promo: Phil Simms
Every week, I’m a guest on a WGN radio show here in Chicago, Pretty Late With Patti Vasquez. When we’re coming back from a newsbreak, Patti often has to do “live reads”—advertisements that the on-air talent read themselves (as opposed to pre-recorded ads). A couple months ago, I asked Patti if I could do some live reads, because it’s amusing to put on my sultriest “broadcaster voice” and talk about some local muffler repair shop. The first time I read a promo, though, I realized that it’s tougher than it looks because you have to follow the script exactly, and whoever wrote the copy didn’t have your vocal rhythms in mind—they just wanted to sell some mufflers.
So I was delighted when CBS’ Phil Simms relieved booth partner Jim Nantz of his promo duties for a minute on Sunday, because I got to see how Simms would fare under the same pressure. (Nantz cajoled Simms into doing it after Simms accidentally interrupted one of Nantz’s plugs earlier in the game.) Simms didn’t do a great job. He apparently missed his first cue—I can picture Nantz frantically jabbing his finger at the script to get Simms’ attention—and he only managed to utter the “C” in “CBS” before he started bragging about his performance. But it was adorable. Granted, if you love Phil Simms less than I do, it might not be as cute.
Since Simms isn’t on Twitter either, his prize goes to the official CBS Sports account.
The FNAB&TMA for best NFL player who, if he were a Girls character, would be Marnie: DeMarcus Ware
Because if Denver Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware were a Girls character, the Girls character that he would be is Marnie.
Due to tidal forces, the following game predictions were misprinted in last Friday’s column: San Diego vs. Miami, Arizona vs. Dallas, San Francisco vs. St. Louis, and Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh. 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 10 slate. All Block & Tackle predictions are guaranteed to be correct.
Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals (last night, 8:25 p.m., NFL Network): Cincinnati 27, Cleveland 21. By the time you read this, the Browns-Bengals game will be over. It’s as if I’m speaking to you from the past! What’s it like for you in the future? Is there a new iPod?
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Buffalo 19, Kansas City 17. The American Buffalo gold bullion coin depicts a Native American chief on one side and a buffalo on the other side. So if the referees used one of these for the opening coin toss, nobody would even have to call heads or tails.
Miami Dolphins vs. Detroit Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Detroit 23, Miami 20.
Tennessee Titans vs. Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Baltimore 26, Tennessee 16. There’s no Ill-Informed Can’t-Miss Pick this week, but A.V. Club editor-in-chief Josh Modell and I did have an argument over whether a titan or a raven would win in a fight. I said that the raven would win because it would be too agile and small for the titan to catch. Josh argued that a titan is basically a demigod, and no measly bird would stand a chance. Fair enough. In real life, Tennessee will probably lose.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New York Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Pittsburgh 35, New York 17.
San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): New Orleans 31, San Francisco 23. The story of the 49ers right now is that the organization is fed up with head coach Jim Harbaugh because he’s an arrogant, intense control freak. It should be interesting to see what happens when San Francisco tries to find an NFL head coach candidate who doesn’t fit that description.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Tampa Bay 24, Atlanta 21.
Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS): Denver 70 powerful points of Peyton paroxysm, Oakland 3 pitiful points of pure pathos. Peyton Manning’s Broncos suffered a blowout loss to New England in Week 9. Many people might release their anger and frustration by, say, punching a pillow. Manning has something better: the Oakland Raiders, nature’s pillow.
St. Louis Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Arizona 28, St. Louis 14. If you love false starts, there’s only one team for you, apparently.
New York Giants vs. Seattle Seahawks (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Seattle 20, New York 10.
Carolina Panthers vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN): Philadelphia Eagles 17, Carolina 14. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Giants are 5-3 against teams named after cats and 7-12 against teams named after birds.
B&T prediction record last week: 13-0
B&T prediction record for 2014 season: 133-0
Entirely avoidable and downright unacceptable corrections made: 49
Block & Tackle Week 10 Picks: Pocket Edition
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