Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football. There’s a little baseball this week, too.
The melodramatic twists of Game 7 will be the most indelible memories of the 2016 World Series, rightly so. Wednesday’s curse-ending, winner-take-all showdown compressed Chicago and Cleveland’s 176 combined years of anticipation into a few microcosmic innings. When Chicago’s Kris Bryant fielded the final out with a grin on his face, it was an unreal athletic catharsis.
Yet I also keep returning to the end of Game 5, the only home game the Cubs won in this series. After the final out, the speakers at Wrigley Field blasted “Go Cubs Go,” the Steve Goodman folk-rock earworm that serves as the team’s victory song. It’s a ritual after any Wrigley win, but on Sunday it was delivered with rare full throat. I’m not a Cubs fan—merely a happy observer of their historic run—but I was moved all the same. It was therapeutic to see a crowd like this. It was the kind of image we need.
The default image of crowds in 2016 is a picture of restless antipathy. Our national media has saturated its every orifice with Trump, powerless to look away as one packed arena after another erupts in ecstasy at freeform “crooked Hillary” invective—and Hillary boosters grow loudest for scripted attacks against Trump at her events. Now, I’m not equating the two campaigns’ messages. I read The New York Times, so I know that Trump’s campaign is deranged and hateful, while Email’s emails is emails.
Rather, my point is that, for countless months now, when we see huge masses of people, their defining feature tends to be their disgust for those other masses of people. The daily drumbeat of this free-floating resentment—on TV screens, on the internet, in all other informational crevices—has an insidious effect. Subconsciously, the madding crowds become a stand-in for the America we don’t see in the bubble of our daily lives. And no matter what side you’re on, the other America looks so angry. You can feel it, that alienation, suffusing our cultural psyche.
Sunday night provided an antidote: 41,000-plus people singing a silly song after a contest of balls and sticks. They drowned out the spittle-flecked fray of partisanship. The same goes for the mix of Chicago fans and Cleveland loyalists who gathered at Progressive Field for Game 7. They had opposite rooting interests, but they were joined less in hatred of each other than in their common passion for the game. With so much at stake—in baseball terms, at least—their effortless civility was remarkable. For the sake of the mental picture we have of our fellow Americans, it’s reassuring to see huge crowds united by something other than disdain.
Before we go too far, it needs to be said: Pro sports crowds aren’t exactly havens of mutual understanding and free love. People are surly. The occasional brawl breaks out. In this baseball postseason, an out-of-control Toronto Blue Jays booster threw a beer can at the visiting Baltimore Orioles, and rowdy fans nearby reportedly followed up with a chaser of racist invective. In the NFL, arrests for stadium violence are on the rise, according to a recent Washington Post study. The fact remains that in the stands, most people realize that the game’s sound and fury is all for play—as opposed to our political assemblies, where the rancor is heartfelt, and of the essence.
Regardless of whether you’re voting for Trump or Emails, aren’t we all at least a little tired of being so pissed off at each other all the time? Is our appetite for outrage deep enough that we’re willing to let the news media whip us into a perpetual froth? I vaguely remember the era when Donald Trump wasn’t running for president—the Before Times—and I hold out hope that there’s an end to the cultural civil war that has taken hold since then. I discover some of that hope every time I glimpse the stands of, say, a Sunday football game and see thousands of fellow human beings joined in something other than contempt. They’re noisy, they’re drunk, they’re sometimes obnoxious. Yet they still have the capacity to put their darker impulses aside and sing a goofy song. That’s the wisdom of sports crowds. Go Cubs go.
If the theme of this week’s Block & Tackle is civility, the Seattle Seahawks couldn’t be a better exemplar. That may be counterintuitive. This is a team, after all, whose fans take pride in shattering the eardrums of opposing teams. And the face of Seattle’s franchise, cornerback Richard Sherman, is an opinionated, rabble-rousing chatterbox—he once even had the temerity to argue that Campbell’s Chunky soup tastes good.
Dig below that contentious facade, though, and you find a team of boundless charity. During the Seahawks’ Week 6 contest against the Atlanta Falcons, for instance, the team’s kickoff unit staged a spontaneous show of affection for their mascot, Blitz, who was so overwhelmed that he collapsed in supine bewilderment.
Later, running back Christine Michael was more delicate with Seattle’s avian avatar, celebrating a touchdown with a prim handshake. Blitz was thankful for this gentle kindness—you could almost see a glimmer of gratitude flash across his unmoving visage of fetid, sweat-soaked fuzz.
During the same game, the aforementioned Sherman unleashed a tirade on the sidelines—seen above. His team handled the outburst as well as anybody could.
First, the defense staged a boisterous intervention to turn Sherman’s frown upside down.
Then, as the game drew to a close, head coach Pete Carroll gave his mercurial star a warm, open-mouth hug. With that, a nascent controversy was squelched before it could begin. Compare Seattle’s deft tantrum management to the New York Giants’ response after similar sideline conniptions from their marquee player, Odell Beckham Jr.—Giants head coach Ben McAdoo criticized Beckham at a press conference, giving rise to a weeks-long referendum in the football press on Beckham’s “distracting” behavior. Was that necessary? Maybe Odell just needed a hug!
One person who does not need a hug, apparently, is side judge Alex Kemp. Moments after Seahawks safety Earl Thomas returned a fumble for a touchdown in Seattle’s Week 8 game against New Orleans, Thomas was so overcome with the spirit of fraternity that he gave a warm, closed-mouth hug to the nearest human being. That human happened to be Kemp, who—despite being unable to hold back a smile—flagged Thomas with a 15-yard penalty for “unsportsmanlike conduct.” Who says hugging is unsportsmanlike? Maybe Alex Kemp just hangs out with the wrong sportsmen.
In essence, the Seahawks were punished for being too nice. Seattle’s Week 9 opponent, the brash Buffalo Bills, won’t have that problem. Still, don’t let it be said that there’s no kindness to be found in Buffalo. During Sunday’s home game against their hated rival New England Patriots, for example, Bills fans offered Patriots quarterback Tom Brady a thoughtful gift: a smiling dildo with “Brady’s Dildo” written on it, which was tossed with care to the field from the stands. It’s not clear if the fans were presenting Brady with a brand-new dildo or simply returning a phallus that he misplaced during a previous erotic adventure in the greater Buffalo area. Whatever the case, their sex-positive show of goodwill is noted for the record.
The Block & Tackle “never wrong” prediction: Seattle 20, Buffalo 16.
Which coach exhibits the superior gape as he watches a field goal attempt sail toward the uprights? Is it Dallas head coach Jason Garrett with his “GAHHHH!” gape?
Or Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan with his “bhuuu…” gape?
Feel free to debate this matter in the comments below. The correct answer is Jason Garrett.
An item in last week’s column re-examined a vintage McDonald’s hamburger commercial that staged a completely fake field goal trick shot contest between two NFL kickers. Block & Tackle reader Jacob M. responded, via the internet, with a link to some authentic trick-kicking as performed by Norway’s own “Kickalicious.” (He’s also known as Håvard Rugland, because that’s his actual name.) Kickalicious apparently traveled the Norwegian countryside to film novelty football kicks while promoting diet soda, as one does. The tricks are pretty good—I like when he kicks the one ball into another ball to teach both balls a lesson. But the real moral of the story is that Norway’s freaking gorgeous. Thanks, Jacob!
The Rams moved back to L.A. this year, but their new “City Of Champions Stadium” won’t open until 2019. For now, L.A. plays home games at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a venue that was built for the 1932 Olympics. Even if you’re not interested in the Rams—perhaps that qualifier is unnecessary—their home games are still a pleasure to watch if only because the old Coliseum is such a striking venue for an NFL game.
This is where the USC Trojans play, so their fans are accustomed to architectural features like the stadium’s low, sweeping bowl shape and its majestic torch. But such elegance is novel in the modern NFL, where beefy steel canyons are the norm.
The shallow incline of the Coliseum stands lets the California sun drench the field with light even into the late afternoon, when the players’ shadows grow long. The setting feels like it’s truly outdoors and not a patch of grass ensconced in a looming megastructure. This plain, bright aesthetic harks back to an earlier era of the league, when it was less bloated and overbuilt. Before long, the Rams will relocate to the world’s most expensive sports stadium, so enjoy these glimpses of more humble NFL architecture while you can.
The Block & Tackle “never wrong” prediction: Carolina 30, Los Angeles 22.
TV ratings for the NFL have taken a dive this season, and the internet is buzzing with theories as to why. Some people think that the ratings machines are broken, while others think that fewer people are watching football. Whatever the problem, CBS knows the solution: Give viewers more of the Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian they crave.
Here are Block & Tackle’s “never wrong” final score predictions for the rest of the Week 9 slate. The predictions must not be doubted. They are truth. They are the only truth. If a game differs from the prediction listed here, it is simply being untruthful—shamefully so.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (last night, 8:25 p.m., NFL Network): Atlanta 35, Tampa Bay 19.
New York Jets vs. Miami Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Miami 21, New York 15. Few people know this, but the person inside the dolphin costume each week is non-deceased Miami Dolphins legend Larry Csonka.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Kansas City 31, Jacksonville 17.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Baltimore 23, Pittsburgh 20.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Giants (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Philadelphia 4, New York 2.
Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Detroit 20, Minnesota 17. The Vikings are 83-42 all-time against teams named after cats, and 50-43 against teams named after birds—the rare two-animal threat.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Cleveland Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Dallas 28, Cleveland 10. GAHHHH!
New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Fox): New Orleans 25, San Francisco 13.
Tennessee Titans vs. San Diego Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS): San Diego 31, Tennessee 13.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Green Bay Packers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS): Green Bay 33, Indianapolis 20.
Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC): Denver 28, Oakland 26.
Block & Tackle prediction record for 2016 season: 120-0
Untruthful games last week: 6
Overall truth-untruth ratio in 2016: 70-50