Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football. It appears every Friday during the NFL season, and sometimes on other days, too.
Aside from the occasional injury to a star player, preseason football is not supposed to generate storylines. The shaggy exhibition games are merely a public service for citizens, functioning as a self-administered test for football addiction: If you willingly watch more than 10 minutes of a preseason game, you have a problem. But despite the irrelevance of the NFL’s annual throat-clearing period, it somehow managed to generate a controversy this year—even if nobody noticed for a few weeks.
As you’ve likely heard, San Francisco 49ers second-string quarterback Colin Kaepernick remained seated for the national anthem before his team’s preseason matchup against the Green Bay Packers. Kaepernick explained after the game that he couldn’t “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” He had sat for “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the two prior games as well, but it didn’t get any attention. After all, the Olympics were on, and America was busy scolding gymnast Gabby Douglas, another black athlete who failed to meet cultural conservatives’ standards of anthem rectitude. (Douglas has won only three Olympic gold medals on our country’s behalf, so her contempt for the U.S.A. runs deep.)
The Douglas flap was much ado about nothing—a breach in imaginary protocol. Kaepernick’s ongoing anthem snub, though, has a stated purpose behind it. This distinction has been ignored by many of Kaepernick’s critics around the league, who have found a number of ways to express their pique.
There’s the “why, I oughtta!” camp, as represented by ex-49er and current Minnesota Vikings guard Alex Boone. Boone said that Kaepernick’s protest was “shameful” and that “we probably would have had a problem on the sideline” if Boone still played in San Francisco. I suppose it takes a big man to threaten another player on an NFL sideline; it takes a somewhat smaller man when that sideline is 1,500 miles away.
Boone’s response was the worst on record until NBC analyst Rodney Harrison opined, bafflingly, that Colin Kaepernick is not black. (Harrison soon apologized.) Mercifully, the “not black” camp remains a faction of one.
More populous is the “fine protest, wrong method” camp, which seeks to disqualify Kaepernick on a technicality. The line, essentially, is this: “Jolly good political dissent and all that, old fellow, but poor form! Poor form!” This mealy-mouthed tack, which allows critics to condemn Kaepernick without taking any responsibility for it, has been espoused by such luminaries as basketball guy Shaquille O’Neal…
I don’t really have a say on it but I would never do that. My father was a military man and he protected this country—uncles are in law enforcement, they go out and work hard every day. Just, you know, there are other ways to get your point across.
I think it’s important if [players] see things they want to change in society, and clearly we have things that can get better in society, and we should get better. But we have to choose respectful ways of doing that so that we can achieve the outcomes we ultimately want and do it with the values and ideals that make our country great.
(To Goodell’s credit, he did say without equivocation that it was Kaepernick’s “right” not to stand for the anthem.)
The methodological critique may seem like the most benign way to express opposition to Kaepernick’s stance, but that’s what makes it so insidious. And it has been around for longer than this present dustup. As writer Adam Johnson has pointed out—in response to comments from Saints passer Drew Brees—Martin Luther King Jr. came to dread hearing the “wrong methods” line from his lukewarm allies among the white populace. Regardless of history, the fundamental issue with the argument is that you can’t separate the method of a protest from its message. The transgressive act is what makes it a protest—otherwise, it’s merely a stance.
The flag does not inherently stand for the social justice that Kaepernick sees in it, or the military history that many of his detractors see. In absolute terms, it’s a piece of cloth. Some practical symbolism is baked into the design—50 stars for the 50 states, and 13 stripes for the original colonies—but beyond that, the flag is what we make of it.
Football is the same in that respect. There’s no real-world consequence to the spectacle of 22 men in fancy clothes smushing up against each other. Its only meaning comes from the interpretations we project on it, which is what makes the sports world so fascinating. One central premise of this column is that we can learn a lot about ourselves from the stories we choose to tell about the game. It’s a strange truth about culture: The most superficially “meaningless” subject matter can yield the most profound meaning.
That’s why I admire Kaepernick’s protest: He derived meaning from the meaningless. He sparked a conversation. The national anthem and the flag are a routine part of the NFL tableau, reflexively accompanied by an undercurrent of militaristic patriotism. The vast majority of us accept it without question—as mere spectacle, as background noise. Kaepernick didn’t. He looked at this pageantry and said, “It means something different to me.” And now we’re compelled to view it with fresh eyes, too.
Whether you agree with him or not, Colin Kaepernick made us assess old symbols anew. That’s how a culture moves forward. Kaepernick might not see significant game action for the rest of the year (for non-political reasons), but he’s one of the few players who ever managed to make the NFL preseason mean something.
Los Angeles Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers — Monday, 10:20 p.m. Eastern, ESPN
As Colin Kaepernick protested in the name of social justice, his teammate Bruce Miller pursued a personal crusade for sandwich justice—specifically, the injustice of sandwiches not being in Bruce Miller’s mouth. Monday night, Miller ducked into Tommy’s Joynt, a San Francisco eatery, where he staged a one-man sit-in. (It’s possible that Miller had imbibed a few drinks prior to undertaking this activism.) SFGate interviewed the Tommy’s Joynt manager, who shared details from this latest bout of 49er civil disobedience:
Miller stared at the buffet line for about 20 minutes, then approached the queue and started arguing with guests over a sandwich, Martin said. No one was hurt, and staff quickly escorted Miller out.
“I believe he wanted their sandwiches,” said [Tommy’s Joynt manager and amateur sleuth Eddie] Martin, who guessed Miller wanted their popular brisket sandwich. “The guests were great. They were very calm and amused by the situation.”
Calm and amused! As we all would be if a hungry NFL tight end accosted us to demand we hand over our meal. By the way, a tip of the cap to Eddie Martin, the Amazing Kreskin of restaurant managers, for divining the specific variety of sandwich that the drunken football golem supposedly desired.
Alas, as with so many civil rights crusades, the story has an unhappy ending. Miller allegedly concluded his evening by viciously attacking a 70-year-old man and his son as he tried to enter the wrong hotel room. He has since been charged with multiple felonies and cut by the 49ers.
Meanwhile, the newly rechristened Los Angeles Rams will begin their new era on the road, because the NFL wanted to make L.A. wait just that much longer to have football again. The Block & Tackle prediction: San Francisco 24, Los Angeles 18.
Official Official Of The Week: Gene Steratore
Block & Tackle’s official Official Of The Week is referee Gene Steratore. Gene refereed a professional football game last night despite having a case of the sniffles. In addition, NBC announcer Al Michaels complimented Gene’s physique on the air, conjecturing that Gene had worked hard in the gym over the summer. Cris Collinsworth laughed nervously. “I thought I was the only one who looked at the referees that way,” Collinsworth mused, I assume.
An honorable mention goes to umpire Bill Schuster. Bill wears #129, and according to the 2016 Roster Of NFL Officials—don’t everyone click that link at once—he is a “swing official,” which means that he is not assigned to a single crew for the season. Instead, he lives a vagabond existence, drifting between crews wherever his penalty-marking skills are needed. A ronin of the gridiron. Anyway, Bill was so excited to get out of Cam Newton’s way last night that he did a little hippety-hop as the ball was spiked (center left of GIF above). He’s the jumping ump! And for such, he has been honorably mentioned.
They had a national anthem protest and a football game broke out
For the season premiere of the hit NBC television show Guys Fight Over A Brown Ball!, love was in the air. Announcers Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth gazed into each other’s eyes. The Patriots guy and the Cardinals cardinal did the same. Would they kiss? Yes.
Hard-working statisticians delighted viewers with insight. Denver’s Trevor Siemian became the first quarterback who had never before thrown a pass in a professional game to start a season opener for a defending-champion team in which the defending champion won after trailing by eight or more points in the fourth quarter on a Thursday. That will be an expensive trophy to engrave.
A undignified quarterback comparison appeared. A giant panther and bronco hovered over the prostrate corpse of the NBC peacock. Broadcasters, please stop putting giant graphics on the field.
This plea for graphic sanity was brought to you in part by loyal A.V. Club commenter Shrike T. Avatar.
This is a video, you can click on it. The play button is practically invisible. I don’t know why.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was hit in the head many times (occasionally so hard that officials threw a flag, if you can imagine). But after the game, Newton talked about an orange he ate during halftime, and the reporters in the press room could tell that Newton definitely wasn’t concussed. The system works.
Team doctors permitted Carolina head coach Ron Rivera to remain on the field despite an acute case of headset hair. Maybe Ron should try some of those Apple AirPods everyone has been talking about.
New England Patriots vs. Arizona Cardinals — Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC
The Patriots begin their year on Sunday night without handsome hero quarterback Tom Brady, who’s serving a four-game suspension related to the fraudulent ball-deflation scandal, Deflerrrfgnurt. In Brady’s place, New England will start understudy passer Jimmy Garoppolo. But not to worry, Pats fans. Garoppolo already has the makings of a superstar, at least according to Arizona head coach Bruce Arians, who compared Brady’s backup to (injured) Dallas quarterback Tony Romo:
“The skill set,” Arians explained. “I think they both were similar sizes, arm strength, very accurate. Both moved around good.”
Arians referenced Garoppolo’s accuracy and high-end athleticism several times, adding, “You have to defend his legs as much as his arm.”
I’ll defend Garoppolo’s legs. They’re strong, they’re shapely, and they never hurt anyone. Leave Jimmy Garoppolo’s legs alone.
It was a very nice thing for Bruce Arians to say. But coaches have different approaches to compliments. Bill Belichick, the New England head Snoke, had a similar opportunity to flatter his opponent in advance of Sunday’s game. A reporter invited Belichick to consider the parallels between Cardinals running back David Johnson and Hall-Of-Famer Marshall Faulk. The Patriots coach patiently broke down the Xs and Os:
“Well, when the Colts first had Faulk, they actually used him some as a receiver,” Belichick said. “They didn’t substitute a lot, so when they went to a three-receiver set, they just split him out as the third receiver along with the other two receivers and the tight end, so they were in some 11-personnel-looking formations but he was the third receiver. I don’t know if that’s quite David Johnson’s skill set. Again, I don’t know that there are many players in the league that could do what Marshall Faulk did. He was a pretty special and unique player.”
There’s more to come in Belichick’s new book, Why David Johnson Could Not Even Shine Marshall Faulk’s Cleats, For Christ’s Sake, a three-volume set due out this fall. The Block & Tackle prediction: New England 21, Arizona 20.
Get these garbage “emoji” out of here
No news development has lit up the Block & Tackle tip line like the bulletin this week that the NFL and Twitter had collaborated to create a set of team-specific emoji. The so-called emoji, as many of you noted, were retreading ground that this column has already covered for two years now in the weekly “pocket edition” picks. Your sense of umbrage on my behalf was quite moving.
But I’m not threatened by the NFL-Twitter venture. Look, the word “emoji” gets tossed around a lot, but these aren’t really emoji; they’re just some horseshit icons that appear when you use particular hashtags on Twitter. True emoji are a standard set of characters that work across all apps, and you don’t have to type any magic incantations to use them. If you want to tell a fellow Block & Tackle reader that you’re watching the Bills game, you can simply text them—regardless of platform—a message with a pair of eyes, the flying-dollar-bills emoji, and the TV set. Yes, that will take longer than just typing “I’m watching the Bills game,” but it will be much cuter. What is football without cuteness? Not my kind of football.
By the way, what a weird set of hashtags that is. It ranges from the bizarre—#FeedDaBears, a thing I have never heard anyone in Chicago say—to the apathetic— #Chiefs. Forget that noise and adopt the globally compatible Block & Tackle NFL team emoji system. Here’s the key. Note: The Cardinals emoji has changed since that key was published (it’s the credit card now), and this season I changed the Washington emoji to a building that would not be out of place in D.C.
Here are Block & Tackle’s final score predictions for the rest of the Week 1 slate. The predictions must not be doubted. They are truth. They are the only truth.
Carolina Panthers vs. Denver Broncos (last night, 8:30 p.m., NBC): Carolina 24, Denver 13. The Super Bowl rematch to open the season is such a dumb idea. Here are the two teams you got sick of hearing about in the run-up to last year’s championship, and you have to watch yet more of them before anybody else gets to play. (It was a good game, though.)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Tampa Bay 23, Atlanta 22.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Tennessee Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Minnesota 14, Tennessee 12. If you’re a professional football player and you mistakenly show up to some kids’ baseball practice, just pass it off as a goodwill visit.
Oakland Raiders vs. New Orleans Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): New Orleans 31, Oakland 23.
Chicago Bears vs. Houston Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Houston 18, Chicago 15.
Green Bay Packers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Green Bay 30, Jacksonville 21. For 50 bucks, Green Bay Packers punter Jake Schum will let you film him punting balls shirtless. I’ve heard.
Cleveland Browns vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Philadelphia 29, Cleveland 19. Many fans think that the Cleveland Browns are named for the color that appears on their helmet and jerseys. But actually, “Cleveland” is just the name of the city where they play.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. New York Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): New York 17, Cincinnati 14.
San Diego Chargers vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Kansas City 28, San Diego 6. With a move to Los Angeles on the horizon, the San Diego Chargers will celebrate their second consecutive goodbye season in 2016, in preparation for next year’s farewell season.
Buffalo Bills vs. Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Baltimore 20, Buffalo 17.
Miami Dolphins vs. Seattle Seahawks (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS): Seattle 23, Miami 14.
New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Dallas 31, New York 30. The ghost of Tom Coughlin will haunt at least four and up to five New York Giants contests this year. Will this be one of them? Tune into the Fox network to find out.
Detroit Lions vs. Indianapolis Colts (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): Indianapolis 4, Detroit 2.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Washington (Monday, 7:10 p.m., ESPN): Pittsburgh 30, Washington 20. Washington safety Duke Ihenacho is a man of many appetites.
Record Of Truth
Block & Tackle prediction record for 2016 season: 1-0
Untruthful games so far this week: 1
Untruthful games overall in 2016: 1
Block & Tackle Week 1 Picks: Pocket Edition
A personal note
This is as good a time and place as any to let you know that I’m not editor-in-chief of The A.V. Club anymore. I’m still involved with the site—my title is “editor-at-large” now, so I barely even need to get new business cards printed up. I stepped down from the top job a few weeks ago so that I could pursue some other projects under the Onion, Inc. umbrella (read: I’m still working for the same folks). It was a decision that had been in the works for a bit.
Leaving the job was painful, especially since it felt like I was just getting started. I resisted for a while. But it became clear it was time to take a leap and move on, because I couldn’t pass up the opportunities that have come my way. I hope to share those with you soon, provided I can bring them to fruition. I’m working on it.
I love The A.V. Club, and I love collaborating with its fantastic staff. My affection for the readers is well-documented. This is a special place. I think I did some good things as editor-in-chief, and I didn’t manage to accomplish all of the things I had hoped to. So it goes in all pursuits. I promise I worked very hard for you. I admit I did miss having more time to write, and to create videos and whatnot.
I’ll update you on some of the things that readers ask me about a lot. Block & Tackle will continue, obviously—you’re reading it right now and have somehow made it to the end, no less. Polite Fight is on hold for the time being, as my buddy Gus is busy with editing gigs that have taken him out of town. (We were going to do Halt And Catch Fire, but that fell through.) I record a Mom On Pop podcast when I can—our next episode will have Mom reviewing Stranger Things, maybe you’ve heard of it. And I do intend to finish my Six Feet Under reviews—it was hard to set aside time for them in recent months because there was always something more pressing. I appreciate all the nice messages you have sent me asking me to review the final season already, for pete’s sake, jeez.
I don’t mean this to sound like a goodbye. It is, however, a transition moment, and an emotional one for me. Please indulge me as I offer a few stray observations, so to speak.
I was walking back from a doctor’s appointment one afternoon in 2008 when I got an email from the then-editor of The A.V. Club saying that he liked my clips, and yes, I could write some game reviews for the site. As I read the email over and over, my whole being seemed to hover with excitement. I realized where the expression “walking on air” came from. (The staff has heard me tell that little story a million times; they’re quite tired of it. But it does capture my feelings for the site.)
A while later, I volunteered on a lark to review Project Runway for TV Club. The response from the readers gave me such confidence to express myself. Thank you for that.
The community that formed around The Gameological Society made me see all over again how the internet could truly be a force for good. Thank you for that, too.
The Block & Tackle readership is likewise close to my heart. Football coverage on The A.V. Club was not exactly a “slam dunk” or “hole-in-one” proposition when I debuted the column. You gave it a chance and then brought your own passions to it. I devour the conversations among the regulars in the comment threads. And I always enjoy getting your emails and “Teti, did you see this???” tweets. I’m grateful for all of it. You guys have no idea how much a kind word can provide a lift on the occasional crummy day.
I foresee few crummy days in my future, however. Life is good.
Okay, see you next week.