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    With college football's coaching carousel careening, Iowa and Washington State are reminders that sometimes the best thing a coach can do is also the most boring.

    They had to change something, right? They had to.

    Not changing anything would have been the stupidest call imaginable, signing a contract with mediocrity in the darkest of inks. They'd lost to their in-state rival 20-17, lost to Maryland and to Wisconsin. Minnesota plowed them 51-14. They finished the 2014 season by losing three games in a row, including a humiliating bowl game loss to Tennessee, a team that hadn't won a bowl game since 2007.

    They finished the season 7-6, and something had to change, because change is what you do when things go wrong. Iowa had always run outside zone as its play and offensive identity, because as long as Kirk Ferentz had been coach that's what they'd done. The Hawkeyes ran a cover 3 defense, and were very comfortable punting on an offensive possession, and never bought a pair of skinny jeans or fell for a fad or ran the spread or changed anything, ever, ever.

    Iowa football never changed, and needed to badly, at least from the perspective of someone looking at the long decline of the program into a 7-6 stasis interrupted by bumps into 11-2 and drops into 4-8 territory. The Hawkeyes had become an EKG of a drunk man falling into a deep and dreamless sleep. This drunk man was also hypothermic and sleeping under a bridge.

    Then in 2015, that drunk man woke up, found a flawlessly tailored suit under a concrete overhang beneath that bridge, downed a bottle of Steel Reserve, and walked into the nearest investment bank and become a confident, beaming tycoon overnight.

    Iowa should have changed everything, and didn't. They're undefeated despite doing few things they haven't done for years. You didn't think they could do it, but they did. Iowa, the laziest hard-working team in America, wore the same shirt until it came back into style.

    * * *

    He called right as I was going to bed. Mike Leach was walking home in the dark. It was 9 p.m. or so where he was, and 30 degrees. It sounded like there were cars where he was walking -- a disturbing amount of car noise, to be honest, for someone listening as someone walked through the freezing dark. It sounded cold and dark. I have no idea how, but the acoustics just worked out that way.

    I asked him if he'd changed anything.

    "No, honestly, we didn't change anything, we just executed better."

    He says this knowing the exact circumstances of the question, that it refers to losing to lowly Portland State, an FCS team that won three games the previous year, to open the 2015 season. It was a dangerous, foolhardy thing to do for a coach in his fourth season in Pullman. The football equivalent of walking home in the freezing dark on a road, which is something Leach did while talking on the phone.

    (He says this as he cuts from the main road, and decides whether it's too muddy to go through the field he normally prefers. It is, and he's got on the wrong shoes to offroad it.)

    "The team was young, just a really young team. We're a team of mostly freshmen and sophomores. Luke Falk had played four games. We just had a lot of people who'd never played college football before. We just needed live game reps."

    Wazzu played better after that game -- a lot better, better with increasing reps and experience. They beat Oregon for the first time since 2006, finished 8-4, and suffered a horrendous beating in the Apple Cup against Washington. Ignore that last part: it's sort of a mandatory curveball in this story, because this is a story of Washington State. Life is never completely easy for them. Luke Falk finished the regular season as the national leader in passing; Washington State had their best season since 2003.

    Do people change too quickly? I ask him this as he turns up the boring paved road up to his house, the one he prefers not to take because it's boring, and not the middle of a field. The one with the lights and traffic and people who would find you if you happened to break an ankle, and where you would not die from being eaten by coyotes if you fell.

    "I think people just change too much and too quickly sometimes."

    Is that natural?

    "Yeah. You have to get past the learning curve fast. I think people get bored. It's a game of execution. If anything, I think you can try to do too much. I think people have at least 20 too many plays in the book. I think I have about six plays too many. If I've made mistakes, it's in trying to do too much."

    When did you know it had turned around? The season, that is?

    He pauses. He's definitely cutting through the subdivision now. There's just an occasional car, and things are quiet, and it sounds like a person walking.

    "I can't say for sure that it has."

    Leach

    James Snook, USA TODAY Sports

    * * *

    That was just before the Colorado game, which the Cougars won 27-3. Washington State would finish 8-4. Leach didn't know that, just like Iowa probably didn't know they were going undefeated. At least I hope they didn't know. If Kirk Ferentz is psychic then he's officially more overpaid than everyone already believed him to be prior to the Hawkeyes going undefeated, since he has only used his powers for either private gain, or simply doesn't care to warn people about global disasters, impending changes in the economy, or most shocking of all, his team going undefeated for the regular season.*

    *There is a scenario where Ferentz has, like Superman, already prevented an untold number of disasters. Prior to this year, this would actually be the best explanation of the terms of his massive contract.

    Doing the same thing over and over again might be insanity, or it might be exactly what you need to do, and the fun part is that you'll never know where you are between the two. Get a body of work, and inherit a verified gift and a very real curse. After a certain undefined period of time, you become demonstrably good at your job. And after another undefined period of time, your nine wins becomes someone else's seven wins, the ceiling becomes the floor, and what was once good becomes the new unacceptable.

    Go look at Tom Osborne's resume and goggle at 20 seasons of nine wins or better before he won his national championship. Then, marvel that people wanted him fired before he ever got a chance to win back-to-back titles in the 1990s. One edit looks like this: It took 20 years for Tom Osborne to build what might be the best college football team ever put together. Another looks like this: It took 20 years for Tom Osborne to build the best football team ever put together? And who, with a reasonable amount of skill and patience, couldn't do that?*

    *The answers are: Ray Goff, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis. Notre Dame employed two of them. Go Irish.

    The way toward being great at anything comes with a friend no one wants to meet: boredom.

    Or, if you're more recently inclined, go look at Mark Richt, a coach who averaged more than nine wins a year in 14 years at Georgia. Georgia might have done what they set out to do, sure. The next coach might execute the three- to five-year national title protocol. He might tank.

    The one thing he won't do is go 20 years and then win national titles, because no one gets to do that anymore, because the idea of being merely good is intolerable for all but a thin sliver of college football programs. Your window for doing that is shorter, yes, but even with what we could call extreme patience you might get 10 years at most. Even then, you'll need some very, very good excuses and a flawless list of extracurriculars to get there, and the vague hope that the long run of trying to execute a few simple things will blossom into something beautiful.

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    It's just around the corner. When the program stops believing that, then that coach is over. That's a matter of the slippery eel of faith, a magical thing whose presence can elide so much of the struggle of getting anywhere at all. That struggle in football, or any game, or in anything is made up of three things so mind-numbing they can drive people to real despair: tedium, practice and uncertainty. The way towards being great at anything comes with a friend no one wants to meet: boredom. If you doubt this is true in football, go watch a recruiting scouting session, or study film with a coach, or go watch a training session.

    You can blow the horn a thousand times, and switch squads, or be Pete Carroll and turn every practice into the world's most frenetic and violent boot camp. But ultimately, football consists of a pile of reps, often of the same thing, often arranged in soul-numbing order.

    And you will never know if or when it will work. What if you were told you would get two national titles, but you had to wait 20 years for them? Or, alternately, that you would get a national title in five years, and then spend another 10 or 15 years scrambling after another by switching coaches frantically? And then, after all that, maybe going through such a long crawl through the shitpipe of progress than nine wins started to look like happiness again?

    That's a matter of faith for the observer, and luck for the participant. That's a dirty word in coaching: luck. Luck unravels game plans, tips balls that should have been caught or intercepted, and makes kickers slip on field goals they otherwise would have made from 50. Luck is the ghost no one wants to believe in despite walking past it every day in the hall, saying hello to it once in a while.

    Luck does things like turn Brad Melsby losing the ball after his knee was down in 1998 into a fumble, ruining UCLA and Bob Toledo's last best chance at a national title. Luck is why Pat White breaks his thumb in 2007, costing West Virginia their best offensive player in the second quarter of a 13-9 dismissal of the Mountaineers' and Rich Rodriguez's best shot at a title. Luck, in its worst form, cost Notre Dame dearly this year in a pile of injuries that hampered a better team than the one that made the national title game in 2012.

    That may be the worst part. If you're not Alabama or Ohio State or Oklahoma or one of the baronial powers of the sport, you're at least partially dependent on the one element of any game most antithetical to planning, preparation and design. You'll need luck more than the aristocrat. You'll need to hope those following you in the dark know that, or that they at least don't forget it when the inevitable moments of being totally lost happen. (Those are totally going to happen, like when you lose to Portland State, or to Louisiana-Monroe, or God forbid Georgia Southern.)

    Leach was walking in the dark, talking on the phone about how he wasn't sure if it had been turned around. This isn't the easiest metaphor for being in charge ever. That would be the end of The Muppet Movie, where Kermit talks to himself in the desert about the very real risks anyone takes in following their dreams. That is the easiest metaphor ever, and always will be. But talking on the phone while walking through the dark, late at night, sort of knowing where you're going, but also sort of not, and getting through it one boring step at a time anyway? That's the second easiest metaphor for the hazards of being in charge of anything ever, even with the discussion of the Missoula Floods and its effect on the geologies of Eastern Washington and Idaho thrown in at the end.*

    *Other topics included best pedestrian walking paths in Atlanta, the necessity of having a very simple playbook and the need to stay in shape during the rigors of the football season.


    0 0

    In scaling Iowa, the Spartans gave us a football epic for the ages.

    September 3, 2015
    1st and 10.Start: Michigan State 18-yard line.

    Marcel said the porters required payment. I obliged. Our expedition is a serious matter and those who participate must take it with the seriousness of real work. Only money paid promptly demands the attention of those working beneath you.

    As for those working alongside you, in most endeavors they must see the same imaginary mountaintop you do. Fortunately for me, I only need them to imagine the real. Our quarry is all too tangible, more fearsome than the fantastical, more deadly than the fabulous. Twelve teams have attempted its summit. Twelve have descended, defeated and broken, without overcoming it.

    I need my men to believe what they can see, standing here just 82 yards beneath its summit. I need my men to believe they can climb ANFapurna.

    On our first day, an eager LJ Scott leads the team six yards up the hill. Spirits are high, supplies are ample, and the weather is bright and sunny. We are on the march and feeling good.

    Gain: 6 yards

    September 4
    2nd and 4. Start: Michigan State 24-yard line.

    Misadventure is a visitor no mountaineer can escape. She visits; she leaves; she visits again. Today, as I was clearing ropes for the party, I fell into a crevasse. This is not as bad as it sounds; by any standard, it was a shallow and comfortable crevasse, and relatively dry.

    I passed the time by coiling rope, and considering the challenges of ANFapurna. It was an unremarkable mountain on paper. It did nothing particularly well, in the sense of being difficult. For features? I could not point out one of a remarkable nature. There was no drama, just a consistent difficulty of motion up its slopes. I recall the words of the Fitzgerald Expedition, who lost badly to this blank, otherwise unmemorable opponent:

    "There's just so much of it, and all the same."

    Connor Cook, our young alpinist, pulled me from the crevasse despite having a bad shoulder. He would attempt a bold aerial move from our current location to a spot just ahead of us on the slope of the mountain. He failed, and we gained nothing on the day. That night it grew cold, and in our tents we shivered in our sleeping bags.

    Merely the second day, already this mountain's tedium and resilience impress us.

    September 7
    3rd and 4. Start: Michigan State 24-yard line.

    Great gains! Despite low morale as the day began due to cold and another member of the team falling in a crevasse during breakfast, we still made a friend of success today. Young Connor, through daring and guile and a brilliant throw of the grappling hook, took 13 yards from this mountain in a single heave. I compared his ability to make well-timed plays to noted adventurer Archie Griffin, and he swore he had no idea who he was. I will assume he was joking, as the young are prone to do.

    We are making progress. Tonight's camp dinner shall include oysters and "champagne" as early encouragement for early but badly needed success. The oysters are canned, and the champagne something curious of local derivation. I'm told it bubbles, but no local can explain how.

    Gain: 13 yards

    September 9
    1st and 10. Start: Michigan State 37-yard line.

    Oysters were an unwise choice. The entire expedition has been ill for several days, making even the simplest of activities seemingly impossible. Any hopes the alcohol in the local "champagne" would kill the sickness in the oysters faded over a course of several very loud and humbling hours. The bubbles in the local "hooch" remained unexplained. The tents, while not ruined, are nearly uninhabitable after three days of unspeakable biological terror. We made no progress in that time.

    Despite our struggles, Cook again led us to a four-yard gain on ANFapurna on our first day back after the incident. Those twelve feet came at a grievous cost. Three cans of the oysters remain. The porters have been ordered to throw them into the nearest crevasse. If the government authorities should wish to fine me for it, then let them.

    Gain: 4 yards

    September 20
    2nd and 6. Start: Michigan State 41-yard line.

    The treacheries of this seemingly unremarkable mountain become clearer by the day. LJ Scott, at dawn, led the party up the slopes. A brilliant sunset greeted us, as did clear weather. Despite a weakened party, we progressed another three yards up the slope, and felt our fortunes were trending in a positive direction. I ate a tube of condensed milk in celebration.*

    *Note: apparently, there was a deal on condensed milk at the mountaineering supply store. It constitutes most of what we have left at this point after something broke into our packs during the Three Day Intesti-blizzard. Curiously, there are also edamame shells littering the area around our stores. I assume this to be the work of some wildlife we did not anticipate. Large birds, perhaps? It does not matter. We proceed.

    Scott, our finest climber, was suddenly pulled seven yards backwards by one of our larger climbers. His feet found no purchase, and in a moment of panic he held tight to LJ's jersey, yanking him seven yards backward before arresting his fall. This is how the mountain humbles you. You gain three, only to lose seven.

    Tonight we sleep in the mountain's cold silence, together but embittered by the day's cruel penalty.

    Gain: -7 yards

    September 24
    2nd and 13. Start: Michigan State 34-yard line.

    A driving snowstorm and cold winds greeted us at dawn. After some deliberation among the team, we opted to advance despite the weather. R.J. Shelton had not led the climb yet, and stated his desire to despite the bad weather and his relative inexperience. I granted him the lead. Unconventional circumstances demand unconventional tactics.

    Shelton gained ten yards on ANFapurna, putting us back on schedule to summit. He was simply brilliant. We celebrated more modestly than after our first huge gain, simply shaking hands over some tubes of condensed milk. One of those days where pissing into the wind, proverbially speaking, leaves you dry and the flowers watered.

    Gain: 10 yards

    September 29
    3rd and 3. Start: Michigan State 44-yard line

    Better weather today. LJ Scott led us out, and after several hours of scaling the sides of the bastard, we found ourselves with a four-yard gain, and a pleasant small victory against the calendar.

    A splendid dinner was interrupted by the news that one of our party had fallen into a crevasse during the second course, along with some extremely expensive dinnerware. Why anyone would bring expensive, 19th century heirloom dinnerware to a mountaineering expedition is valid question of logistical inquiry. Let us just say that elegance is the first comfort, even in a rustic situation like this, and that one man's definition of Spartan conditions is not another's. I escaped the crevasse on my own power, thank you. The dinnerware was a total loss, as was a candelabra lost to the mountain's glacial innards.

    Gain: 4 yards

    anf2

    October 2
    1st and 10. Start: Michigan State 48-yard line.

    Several days were spent in search of the candelabra and dinnerware.

    No sooner had we gotten back on schedule than we produce a day placing us behind it! The namelessness of this mountain is almost as frustrating as its shifting snows. As many times as the porters tell us the names of features, they disappear from the brain as soon as they enter. As slow as we go, the mountain demands even slower. Its victories become clearer by the day, and we pitch camp night after night mere inches from where we started.*

    *After two days of this, pragmatism overcame optimism, and we simply stopped pulling stakes on the tents. It hurt to admit this at the time, but the effort we saved will add up down the road, I am assured. Each night we advanced the Spartan flag against the shifting snows; each morning we rose, knowing it was planted but a spitting distance up the hill. ANFapurna is the treadmill that never stops. Her generators are powered by gravity. Ours, by endless tubes of condensed milk. One would think the mountain to have an eternal advantage. We shall see.

    Gain: 2 yards

    October 7
    2nd and 8. Start: 50-yard line.

    In five days, we gained a mere two yards on the day against ANFapurna's rocky slopes. Such is the challenge ahead. On the sixth day, a failed traverse by Mr. Cook led us to waste the day's efforts completely.

    Positives, though: Mr. Cook's shoulder appears to be holding up despite being held together with little more than duct tape and a positive attitude. Additionally, we are now where few have been: across the halfway mark of ANFapurna's total height. The men sense this, and morale is high.

    On a darker note, the mysterious pack thievery continues, as does the mysterious appearance of edamame shells. I made a lighthearted joke about "the Soy Yeti", and they shuddered. Assume this is more local superstition running amok, and not a legitimate concern.

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    October 8
    3rd and 8. Start: 50-yard line.

    The actions of the eighth determined our entire campaign. A quick breakfast of yet more condensed milk -- yes, the men are becoming quite sick of it, but it was on sale -- and then the steadiest week of climbing yet. Leading the way was Aaron Burbridge. The light snow that pelted us the entire week forward only encouraged him! Being from Michigan has its innate advantages.

    The nights passed uneventfully. The days involved a steady creeping ascent of a snow-covered scree field along ANFapurna's flank. Looking up along the mountain's featureless side, we grew to respect her dangers. This was how the mountain worked: It let you think it was beatable, and gave up the occasional easy stretch of climbing like this. It held you close, and never let you get too far away.

    I knew it would inevitably turn that embrace into a chokehold. You see how the observer of this game feels? How every positive gain is a curse in disguise, how every new day's opportunity becomes just another chance to fall backwards down the slope? The longer you play this game, the more you see this. This is why I prefer young climbers to the old. They see only the positives. An old climber sees only the impending avalanche, the hole with his name on it in the ground waiting below.

    The young do not see the vultures, and confuse them for eagles. My job is to convince them not to look up at all, and simply focus on the step head of them. It is the hardest thing I have ever done -- and that includes climbing this infernal blank of a mountain.

    Still, my young men ignore the vultures, and make a total of 16 yards progress against this mountain. My optimism, while guarded, has taken a front row seat.

    Gain: 16 yards

    October 15 
    1st and 10. Start: Iowa 34-yard line.

    Brilliant weather and still more success! A natural pessimist like myself cannot process this, but the wounded Connor Cook took the lead for seven more yards up the mountain. He is made almost entirely of Gore-Tex and duct tape at this point, and no one is sure how he is functioning as he is, but here we are.

    LJ Scott shall take the point from this point forward, I have decided, and was on orders to rest for a week. I did not realize how seriously he would take this, sleeping for nearly six days straight, waking only to sip some tea, force down several tubes of condensed milk (savings!) and then return to his slumber.

    Our porters carried him up the hill like a sainted bear-god. Let us hope he performs as one through the crux ahead. ANFapurna has turned back every party that attempted to summit her. Most of them failed north of her 34th yard marker.

    Gain: 7 yards

    October 22
    2nd and 3. Start: Iowa 27-yard line.

    The wind kicked up in the night. When we awoke, the tents were all but buried. Most of the men awoke inside lopsided rooms, the snow pushing their temporary homes into strange shapes. Digging out took most of a day, after which I declared it to be a rest and recuperation day.

    The next day, the same thing happened, and we had to dig out. I declared this to be a rest and recuperation day, too.

    The next day, the same thing happened. Another rest and recuperation day.

    Finally, after four days and as much recuperation as any person can get sleeping sideways on the side of the world's most featureless yet treacherous mountain, we managed to avoid becoming snowed in overnight, and woke to clear skies. LJ Scott fought upwards, moving with ferocity. Our well-rested bear-god stole three yards from gravity, and put us back on schedule at last. As long as I do not take my regularly scheduled tumble into a crevasse, we should remain on schedule.

    Gain: 3 yards

    October 28
    1st and 10. Start: Iowa 24-yard line.

    Grim days. Moving upwards through ANFapurna's slopes is enough to dishearten the lionhearted. With Scott at the forefront, we fought the shifting snow all day. The going became so rough that we told the porters to leave the DVD player, flatscreen, and generator down at our previous camp. The men will have to catch up on Narcos when we descend. They will not like it, but conditions require sacrifice.

    We still brought the mini-fridge. I will take up with the porters immediately.

    Gain: 3 yards. Onward.

    November 3
    2nd and 7. Start: Iowa 21-yard line.

    Bitter winds and driving snow forced us to hole up for several days. As leader of this expedition, I organized as many activities as possible, but torpor and indolence inevitably set in among the men. Some arguing ensued, and the men grew bitter, but this will happen. In the moment so much that happens in emotions seems large -- but like everything in relation to the mountain, it shrinks in the proper frame of reference.

    (We cannot remember anger, can we? Not in its true form, at least, no? No, it would corrode, so it is released and forgotten to preserve the carrier before it ever becomes a poison to the soul.)

    On day three, Young Connor threw the minifridge several thousand feet off the south face of the mountain. I hailed this as a great display of leadership. The men agreed. Morale instantly improved, and an impromptu card game played between tents only lightened the mood further.

    In intermittent bursts of climbing, LJ Scott, possessed of a growing and unearthly strength, carried the team six yards further. Never has a man looked so relentlessly unstoppable in such small increments. ANFapurna is the elephant, and Scott is eating it with a shrimp fork and a smile.

    Gain: 6 yards

    anf3

    November 5
    3rd and one. Start: Iowa 15-yard line.

    We have been on the mountain for two months now. Should we have known how long this would take, we would never have undertaken it. I have tried everything possible to undo its hold on our calendar, on our days, on the amount of time even the smallest action takes. I cannot force its hand.

    ANFapurna's chief weapon is routine and ennui. Getting a yard might take a week. Getting three might take two weeks. The men have read through all of the books we have, and are on their second or third reads of each. I myself am on my second pass through The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I do not understand what this book is about, but large sections of it take place at the bottom of well. The other men read it, too. To a man, the team agrees that it is terrible, and also very good, and yet terrible.

    Grueling climbing and one day of blinding snow. Scott, carrying twice his bodyweight, slammed through the waist-deep snow to gain two yards. We are on schedule to summit the mountain, yet feel as if we are three hundred thousand feet from a peak we cannot yet see. There is a reason we like the book about the well. On this drive, we are at its bottom, and can only guess when we surface from its depths. Our eyes lie to us, and tell us the next crag is the peak. Over that peak, still more peaks.

    Gain: 2 yards

    November 7
    1st and 10. Start: Iowa 13-yard line.

    Our supplies now run lower than we expected. I attempt to pull a clearly fatigued Scott off the lead, but he refuses to hear me. "Snowdeafness," he claims. This is a malady I believe he just invented on the spot. No matter: he plows forward with the force of a man propelled by something between hatred and love. Three yards in two days. At night, he enters sleep like an asteroid meeting the earth: completely, and with an audible noise as he hits the floor of the tent.

    I would not tell the men this, but at night I heard someone rustling through the packs. After several minutes of assembling my gear, I exited the tent one night. My flashlight caught a flash of motion, but landed only on a pair of enormous footprints in the snow -- and a telltale trail of edamame shells in its wake.

    I fear what my mind tells me, but its message is clear. ANFapurna's greatest mystery is no longer its featureless tenacity. The legends may be true.

    The Soy Yeti is real, and it is following us step for step. I covered the tracks, and picked up the shells before returning to my tent for the night. The men cannot know; if they make their suspicions known, I shall tell them they are worrying about a myth, and a myth alone.

    Scott gains three yards in five days. The pace is a slow brutality. Our dinners are condensed milk and grim resignation. I sip coffee in the evenings and think about the well.

    Gain: 3 yards

    November 12
    2nd and 7. Start: Iowa 10-yard line.

    Somehow, we have found the porters breaking themselves hauling another mini-fridge up the slope. Cook allows Burbridge to throw the fridge off the mountain this time, as his shoulder continues to cause him pain. Burbridge tosses it a solid five feet clear of the ridgeline. The noise it makes upon impact buoys our party's spirits considerably.

    The pool table, however, is a necessity, and follows us to the top. Of this there can be no doubt.

    Scott is inhuman. He trudges forward five yards in three days where other men would be driven to tears. We feed him the discount snacks we have left from our ill-advised shopping at sea level. Know that the sides of ANFapurna were scaled mostly by a man fueled by tubes of condensed milk, endless packs of Gushers, and odious strip after strip of Airheads. Out of junk did this man create a masterpiece.

    Five yards now in three days. The men are so tired now they barely have time to read in their tents. One burned his Malcolm Gladwell for warmth this morning, but it is no serious loss to the world.

    p.s. Perhaps we should allow the porters to jettison the bookcase? I will consider this, albeit only as a last resort.

    Gain: 5 yards

    November 15
    3rd and 2. Start: Iowa 5-yard line.

    Storms. Endless, cruel storms of ice and snow. We have no choice: after a disastrous attempt to climb that left LJ Scott dangling from a dangerously exposed cornice, we holed up and examined our options.

    Consider the mountain. She has left us to this. My men, after almost twenty stages of this climb, are exhausted. They barely lift themselves at this point. Our supplies are nearly gone, and we are reduced to half-rations of Aldi's worst snacks. We do have amenities of a sort. In a slight dimming of the weather's fury, my men attempted a game of pool one day. The wind blew the balls off the table.

    Shortly thereafter, the pool table was abandoned to the mountain.

    It would appear that we, so close to the summit, are already the winner. Yet even if we finish, consider what she has already won. Undefeated for so long, and requiring an effort from my men that would have broken most others in the making. We focus too intently on this notion of winning without realizing that this mountain has already taken so much.

    We sit, heating water with pitiful little stoves on the five-yard line, behind schedule. The men are all on their fifth reading of The Martian. A brief meeting of our alpine book club agrees that the writing is terrible, and the story a very good one. It is about a man stranded alone in a quest for survival in an inhospitable environment. We, stranded here in frostbitten solitude, can understand this.

    At this point, it is hard not to believe each of us alone with our thoughts, stuck feet from each other at all times, yet on our own planets.

    Gain: No progress. We spend a miserable Thanksgiving on the mountain, and wait.

    November 27
    4th and 2. Start: Iowa 5-yard line.

    The weather cleared on the morning after our holiday. Cook was supposed to lead out, and then cede the lead to Scott for the crux. Fourth down at this altitude, and after this many plays, could be dangerously unpredictable. It's killed more than its share of teams at this point. It demanded respect. We would hand it to our most reliable climber.

    I emerged from my tent to find Cook in the lead. He was moving forward at dawn, alone and with the lead rope in hand. It was madness, but inspired: with one good shoulder and without a thought in his head, he broke forward for two yards of uninterrupted work over four grueling days. We followed, packing powdered coffee like snuff into our cheeks.

    Beyond fatigue, we pushed past the crux and came in sight of the summit. If we had any energy left, we would have shed tears. Instead, we fell into our tents, and slept for an entire day.

    Gain: 2 yards

    November 30th

    1st and goal. Start: Iowa 3-yard line.

    Cook was a spent piece of human machinery. He handed climbing duties off to Scott. With three yards to go, we believed he should finish the job and after an effortful heave, he very nearly did.

    I will admit this here and only here. On that last bitter night, I could not sleep. Walking outside, I met him. Standing in the moonlight of a still night, he stood, eating soybeans and rifling casually through our packs. He met my eyes. For an instant, I anticipated a struggle, and then slackened as his eyes met mine.

    freti
    The Soy Yeti, at last.

    The Soy Yeti nodded, and turned and walked down the slope quietly, a fistful of our condensed milk tubes in his hand. I knew what he meant: he had taken what he would take, and leave the rest to us. I believed he was surrendering ANFapurna, at long last, to us. Either that, or he was just stealing, and too tired and cold to fight.

    I viewed either as a blessing.

    Gain: 2 yards

    December 1

    2nd and goal. Start: Iowa 1-yard line.

    A foolhardy attempt to make way in the face of what turned into a blizzard. LJ Scott gained nothing in the lead, but I blame myself for pressing on without rest.

    December 5
    TOUCHDOWN. Start: Iowa 1-yard line.

    Three months and two days after we started, LJ Scott covered one torturous yard, and spun to the summit of ANFapurna, the last undefeated mountain in this territory.


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  • 12/15/15--07:37: Things I wrote in 2015
  • Myanmar, paying college football players, and driving the devil's car

    Here are a few things I did in 2015.

    1. A review of the working dogs group in the Westminster Dog Show. It is the best group, and also not coincidentally the group most capable of dragging you off a cliff to your demise without an ounce of remorse. I can write about dogs for the rest of my life.

    2. A weird essay about going to the Masters and landscape architecture and World War One and wealth. I don't think I've ever been anywhere that I felt less than Augusta National. It felt more foreign to me than Myanmar. I can say that with conviction, because I went to Myanmar this year. The entire place feels like an enormous piece of plastic surgery, and the best part of the entire experience was driving a very fast car into the parking lot and out of the parking lot every day.

    3.I drove a Hellcat. This was the car I drove in and out of the parking lot every day. Please do not tell Dodge this, but I let other people drive it. At least two of them pulled over after a minute or two, handed me the keys, and said "I can't be trusted with this." These are two people who are smarter than I will ever be. Buy this car.

    4. A long piece about Myanmar, a very simple game called chinlone, and travel. To be honest, I think I screwed this piece up from the start, and never really corrected it. But it's all there, and it took a lot of time and effort to screw something up this thoroughly. Sometimes you just keep making mistakes until you get it right. At this rate, I plan to write a perfect travel/sports piece sometime around the age of 78.

    5. MAD MAX REVIEWED. I still believe every word of this review in the all-caps language of my soul.

    6. Waylp, Steve Spurrier up and left. The coach who basically got me into football retired in unsentimental fashion, which...well, that's how it was going to happen all along.

    7. What we talk about when we talk about work and football. Or a quick look at how we confuse the two, over and over and over again, without ever thinking about what work eventually does to us.

    8. I climbed a Mexican volcano (and did not get to the top.)This was a video thing we did for Land Rover where a crew of us from SB Nation tried to climb a few volcanoes. Thanks to my terrible conditioning and a few logistical snafus we did not get to the top. DO YOUR CARDIO AND DO NOT BE FAT IF YOU ARE TRYING TO CLIMB AN 18,000 FOOT VOLCANO.  Fun note! The area where we were climbing was bristling with cops with AR-15s and flak jackets. After we were done, the guides told us a group of bad dudes had killed a few people in the area the week prior to our arrival, and that they weren't really sure where the perpetrators were. Then we went to dinner.

    9.I previewed every SEC Game. If not accurate, it was at least deeply felt.

    10. Broke. A thing about paying college football players, and going from boom to bust to boom and back to bust again, and about how money and class are the things people still hate to talk about in the United States. Someone commented on this by saying "well, your politics are obviously personal here." My response: so are yours, you just don't admit it.

    * * *

    SB Nation presents:Spencer's adventure in kiteboarding


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    The Clemson head coach's goofy smile, constant celebration and relentless sincerity hide a brilliant leader.

    Dabo Swinney's moment, above all other Dabo Swinney moments, is the postgame speech. Preferably this postgame speech will be in Clemson, on the field after a game, when the students have charged over the fences and swarmed at midfield. He will be in the center of it, and he will be primed to deliver some of the best motivational gibberish you have ever heard.

    Motivational gibberish is not a bad thing, mind you. Another way to say this: Swinney has mic skills. He can cut a promo in two minutes that sells pay-per-views, angers opposing wrestlers, and gets the kids bouncing off the living room ceiling. The speech after the 2015 Notre Dame game -- the "Bring Your Own Guts" speech -- became a T-shirt, a mantra, a portable series of words Clemson has carried to the National Championship. This was not an exception to the rule.

    Swinney, at any time, feels capable of launching into a motivational speech. Jesus and/or God will be thanked. After, there will be dancing.

    After hearing all that, it would be really tempting to call Dabo college football's John Cena.

    He visits sick kids. He has a proper WWE-style entrance.

    He is, more so than even other college football coaches, achingly sincere at all times. Swinney is, like Cena, a better actor and improviser than people give him credit for. Against master antagonist Steve Spurrier, Swinney more than held his own.

    If you don't like Dabo, it might be for all the same reasons people dislike Cena. Swinney will remind his players of the importance of heart and guts. He will not flinch or waver once. He is a wrestler playing a face character, with a capital F. If that is not your thing, then Dabo Swinney is definitely not your thing, especially if you are not into personalities that are effortlessly meme-able.

    There is another Cena thing here: Dabo wins. That includes two conference titles, four straight bowl wins, and a top-10 finish in the AP Poll in 2013. Clemson under Swinney is consistently excellent for the first time since the Danny Ford era in the '80s.

    Unlike Ford, Dabo is downright cuddly with administrators at Clemson and does all kinds of extracurriculars to keep things that way. Look, here's Dabo doing the women's clinic to benefit breast cancer research; and oh, over here Dabo's running around with kids in the morning during football season before donating money to the Clemson Life Program. Here's Dabo realizing there is a stuffed tiger behind him during an interview (that's not a charitable event, but it is a form of giving to the Internet at large).

    It's a lot of striving and success that might be obnoxiously do-gooder if not for the periodic moments of total failure. The Cena comparison goes further when you consider how Dabo, the master promo-cutter himself, got his faltering start. Swinney half-fell and half-campaigned for the job after Tommy Bowden's firing in 2008. His trademark in his first seasons at Clemson was Clemson's old trademark under Bowden: promise undermined by losses that seemed almost scripted.

    In his first full year as head coach, it came in twin losses to Georgia Tech in the regular season and ACC Championship. The second season bottomed out at 6-7, and featured losses to rivals Florida State, North Carolina, and, worst of all, 29-7 to South Carolina. Swinney left the locker room after that game and found athletic director Terry Don Phillips waiting in his office with only one light on in the room. Swinney thought he was fired. (Phillips gave him a vote of confidence and left the room.)

    Even winning the ACC in 2011 came with its own retribution: an Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia so lopsided, Mountaineers fans made a billboard about it. 2012 featured another loss to Florida State and, yes, a continuation of the losing streak to South Carolina.

    And yet there's more. The 2013 team was Swinney's best until this year, and even it featured a headlong dive into the buzzsaw of the Seminoles at the height of Jameis Winston's powers. What would be an 11-win team lost 51-14 on its own field to a conference rival, trailing 27-7 at the half.

    It's not that Dabo had his failures. It was that his teams failed predictably (in the case of the South Carolina rivalry) and spectacularly (see: Florida State, West Virginia, or the 45-21 debacle to open the season against Georgia in 2014). Even after winning 10 games four years in a row, Swinney could still explode when asked about the term "Clemsoning" and not sound totally convincing to the audience. If you thought he protested too much, well, there was the Florida State game, looming. If you thought he was the stereotypical, overly emotional college coach playing well above his head, you had a sound bite to prove it. If you believed he was "John Cena, The College Coach," then Dabo was happy to fall right into another promo for you.

    This is all a way of saying Swinney's record is one of a wrestling face on the make. He would beat opponents until he got to the untouchable mainstays. Those games would be losses, and often bad ones. From time to time, he might even surrender a shocking loss, just to keep the fans on their toes. Through all this, the face's job is simple: stay positive, remind everyone to eat their vegetables and say their prayers, and wait for the one match that can get him over for good.

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    That all undersells Swinney at Clemson. He's fine with that, by the way.

    It's part of the Dabo brand to underplay your own strengths and remind people of humble beginnings, family turmoil, and all the folksy-and-yet-true bits of the official storyline.

    Swinney won't talk about how he's turned his limitations into strengths. Never having worked as a coordinator, he delegates heavily to talented assistants. Sometimes those are name-brand hires like former Oklahoma coordinator Brent Venables. But there are also people like Chad Morris, the current head coach at SMU, whom Swinney pulled into the staff after one year at Tulsa.

    He can recruit players and staffers and do a lot to keep them comfortable during their stays. In Morris' case, that involved becoming one of the first million dollar coordinators in college football. Venables is also paid well, but receives an additional benefit: a member of the strength and conditioning staff devoted to bodily pulling him back onto the sideline when he ventures too far into the field.

    Swinney's even been a driving force behind a quiet but persistent drive to modernize Clemson football at what more-monied programs would consider a breakneck pace. For better or worse, Clemson will get its $55 million football megaplex in 2017. It will have, among other things "a barber shop, arcade, bowling alley, laser tag, billiards, ping pong and basketball."

    The Tigers scout talent well and recruit ruthlessly against every other major power in the country. They quietly run the best social media operation in college football, even coordinating each week's content around musical themes. Younger staffers suggest the theme artists; for the 2015 win against Florida State, Kendrick Lamar got the nod because the game was going to require a degree of "gritty realism."

    This is all to say that in getting here, Clemson has been a lot smarter than you might assume.

    That includes Swinney, whose basic strengths as a try-hard coach and motivator conceal a lot of that intelligence.

    Here's one model for a successful college coach. This person is talented. This person is gifted. This person can see things, analyze them and create systematic solutions. Give him a mountain, and in return, receive detailed schematics about cargo load, construction timelines, and phases of operation. He'll wear a suit and enjoy the bureaucracy of it all. This person is Nick Saban, the largely charmless Triple H of coaches.

    The Swinney part -- the most opaque, fuzzy part of all of this equation -- is the belief, and the ability to make that belief a contagion. Yes, Swinney's been smarter than people might have thought. That still doesn't cover how anyone thought Swinney was the answer to anyone's problems to begin with, much less Clemson's.

    To explain that part, we need a hypothetical unbaptized dolphin.

    Here's the thing. I believe Dabo Swinney could baptize that dolphin. I believe he could make the dolphin understand the need for salvation. That is a joke, but it is not.

    There are people who can lean on the process. There are also people who can maintain a supernatural level of optimism at all times. This is a skill, and don't act like it's not, especially at places like Clemson, a school with a small population base and a host of geographically approximate rivals all fighting for the same recruits.

    If you're analytically inclined when talking about football, this is heresy. Actually, if you're analytically inclined at all, it's a general kind of heresy. It's the kind of lame team-building you laugh off in corporate settings, when it's time to put on a themed motivational T-shirt, or the motivational gambit you howl at when another team does it. It's a quality that's three steps from burying a football on the practice field and the punchline to a thousand jokes about dim coaches using hackneyed motivational techniques.

    A'Shawn Robinson can't be blocked by optimism. Optimism is notoriously bad at getting open against cover 2 press for Deshaun Watson. It won't clear run lanes for Wayne Gallman, and it won't slow down Derrick Henry.

    But if Clemson somehow pulls this off and beats drearily inevitable Alabama, who would argue that along the way it didn't matter? Optimism and attitude are the ghosts in the machine of football. Who would argue that they aren't real, if Swinney ends up holding a national title trophy in the desert?


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    Let me start with the baby.

    She was asleep in her Baby Bjorn, because infants don't really even know what time is and haven't made a waking/sleeping relationship commitment with the sun. I don't even know if you're supposed to have a baby in a carrier at that age, and I'm sure this is something people have VERY STRONG and LARGELY UNVERIFIABLE LOUD OPINIONS ABOUT.

    We were at the metal detectors outside University of Phoenix Stadium when I got close enough to ask her mother how old the baby was.

    Her answer: "Do you really want to know?"

    The baby was three days old, and the woman and her entire family in line were Alabama fans. The dad got held up at security for having a can full of Copenhagen he wasn't willing to throw in the garbage.

    That baby only knew the shame of being a championship-free Alabama fan for 72 hours or so before it watched the Crimson Tide win their fourth title in seven years. For the baby's sake, let's review what happened on the fourth day of its life.

    1. Deshaun Watson had 478 total yards of offense and four TDs by himself.
    2. Wayne Gallman took a short pass and ran through the entire Alabama defense by himself on one play in the fourth quarter.
    3. Derrick Henry actually looked sort of tired after his 50-yard scoring run in the first half. He couldn't take over the game in the second half like he has all year.
    4. Alabama had to flip its game plan to rely on an occasionally shaky quarterback and a tight end who had four total catches in the month of November.

    Somehow, dear Alabama baby now baptized in glittery confetti fired from party cannons, this all worked.

    That tight end, O.J. Howard, had five receptions for 208 yards and two crucial TDs, often wandering uncovered through the Clemson secondary. That quarterback, Jacob Coker, threw for 335 yards and did not turn the ball over once. It worked because Alabama called an onside at precisely the moment when it would simultaneously work and break Clemson's brain long enough to get another uncovered Howard TD. It's so perfectly placed, it looks like a fade route booted off someone's toe.

    Clemson turned the ideal Alabama box score inside out, made Alabama play a game it's not supposed to be comfortable playing, and only turned the ball over once against the nation's best defense. The Tigers still lost.

    Nick Saban once complained in a GQ profile that the national title game "damn near cost [him] a week of recruiting." Against Clemson he had to coach during the game, something that might have enraged him enough to call an onside kick and let Lane Kiffin off the leash in grandiose fashion. (And literally: Kiffin was left behind off the team buses.)

    Clemson made Alabama work for 60 minutes at non-managerial football, and the result was a delightful thing to watch. When Alabama is pressed, even its star-crammed depth chart has to work. When the other team has Deshaun Watson at quarterback, it has to work very hard. For large stretches, Alabama played as a fast-paced spread offense. That is breathtaking camouflage; Alabama can become whatever team it needs to be.

    It is also not the intended product.

    Watch Alabama roll out of the tunnel.

    The smoke cannons firing over the team entrance could run empty before the entire support staff finishes running onto the field. The coaching staff will go directly from the title game back to recruiting, the thing Alabama might be better at than football itself.

    Ask other coaches about Alabama's staff. There are tales of endless video and support people, mysterious quality control gurus, analytics types, and player performance staffers. "I'm not even sure what that guy does" is a phrase you'll hear. The official admin roster lists eight people as "Football Analysts." Relative to a lot of college football programs, it is a huge staff, one totally unafraid of former head coaches as assistants. As of last night, there were three: Kiffin, offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, and special teams coach Bobby Williams.

    Inside that huge program, none of this stops, ever. There's corporate personality profiling. There is film study so infinite and exacting, some NFL coaches might beg off it, even for opponents like Georgias Southern or State. There are motivational speakers and protein shakes and a nutritionist who texts players photos of the fajita bar so they'll show up for their 10 p.m. feedings.

    Say that to yourself. This is a football program with a 10 p.m. fajita feeding. There are no accidents in a world where late night fajita bars are part of the plan.

    If you want to know how to beat Alabama, the answer is simple. You need five turnovers and need to make none yourself. You need a lottery ticket, a lightning strike, or both. You need a whole bureaucratic apparatus devoted to reducing any possible loss to a gross accumulation of statistical anomalies.

    Even if you get that, Alabama can do things like dusting off a five-star junior tight end it's barely used, featuring him like he was there all along.

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    Alabama can do that, and you probably cannot.

    Even then, you don't get the two things that make this all work.

    The first is Saban. He is not a renewable resource, as far as I know, but his transformation of Alabama into a ratings-killing certainty so oppressive it might have blacked out the sun for an entire generation of rickets-stricken coaches and players is complete. There is no adjustment against him. He will outwork you or hire people to outwork you and the people you hire. No one is more committed to building Football Walmart and bankrupting your mom-and-pop programs. No one.

    Give up on this idea of doing his thing better. Hire a bandito with a spread passing attack and zero fear of death. Hope for five turnovers or the NFL to poach him away*. Life is about being brave in the face of inevitable doom. Until someone does, Saban will charge you all unfair rates for sunlight.

    *Urban Meyer excepted. Go Bucks.

    The other thing is the one that got Saban here in the first place, started a tailgate club of people named after Bear Bryant (and there are quite a few), and made Harvey Updyke commit crimes against foliage in the name of deranged football passion. There's a direct line from all this to Saban's bank account to Alabama's organizational domination, and it's more than a theoretical one.

    I want to say this other thing starts from birth, but I saw it start 72 hours into someone's life. If the question is, "How do I beat Alabama?" the answer is another question:

    Do you really want to know?


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    Keep your gotdamn hands off his Volkswagen.

    THIS MAN IS BASICALLY NORWEGIAN DAREDEVIL

    It's really hard to hang onto the roof of a moving car. I know this because I have done it at 40 miles per hour for like, twenty seconds once. It was a  long twenty seconds. After the first three or four seconds of wheeeeeee you realize that you are in fact on the roof of a car, a place without any clear points of grip or contact or carriage. People aren't supposed to be up there. Engineers did not plan for you to be up there.

    You did not really plan to be up there, but a few drinks later and there you go, you're on the roof of a car. A friend tried it on the way out of my driveway and got up to 45 mph before falling off onto the asphalt. He looked like hamburger with a smile the next day but still went to school. No, he didn't go to the doctor. Yes, I grew up in Tennessee.

    It's hard, is my point, even if you had a ski rack on the station wagon. Staying on a car moving in a straight line is hard. If the car turned at all, the grip required to stay on is basically unpaid stunt work without a crash pad in sight for a safe landing. He's in his underwear and is not, as far as we know, a paid stuntperson, or even an unpaid one.

    It was really, really cold. Please spare me the "oh he's Norwegian and used to that" shit. It was one degree above zero and he was in his underwear. No one is used to that or will ever be used to that.

    In case you do not understand how cold one degree above zero is, or have not experienced it lately: it feels like a thousand tiny beavers gnawing at your flesh. It sends signals to your brain that you need to eat the blubber out of a seal carcass and find a warm place to sleep until things get better in this cold, lifeless world. If you just lay down to take that nap without building a fire first, one degree above zero will kill you.

    He was on the roof of the car AND it was really cold. Using the assuredly accurate calculations of something I definitely didn't find on the Internet, moving at 53 miles an hour in one degree temperatures equals a man in his underwear clinging to a trapeze bar in a wind tunnel set at 35 degrees below zero.

    HE WAS UP THERE FOR ONE MILE. The man clung to the top of the thing for at least a minute and a half of constant effort, which is much, much longer than you think it is. It -- and the standing around afterwards, too -- were enough to give him frostbite on two of his toes. Oh, about those toes. They were attached to his knee via his leg, and they are an important part of the next part of this story.

    He kneed a window open while hanging on to the back of a car. I have so many improbable escape plans I know I could not do. For instance, there are three or four buildings I have elaborate acrobatic exit plans from: down the curved glass front, onto the awning, rebounding off the fabric and into the softest dumpster in the alley. I'd get out of the Vox offices in D.C. by swinging off a flagpole and then swinging back through the glass of a lower level. All of these seem plausible in my head, and in reality they all end with my grisly but hilarious death. I know this, and admit it.

    This man, though: this man could do it. He actually did what you said you'd do in this situation. He kneed his way through the back window while clinging to the car, and then crawled bleeding through the broken glass to have a word with the man who stole his car.

    Oh, and he kneed his way through a car window. Have you ever broken a car window? You have to do it with something pointed, something with a point, and definitely not with something as big and dumb and blunt as a knee. Talk to every idiot friend of yours who ever got really emotional and decided to punch their way through a car window. It's much harder to do than you think, and much, much more painful than anticipated. Unless your knees are cyborg icepicks, do not do this.*

    *He's Norwegian. This might be a possibility.

    John Moore/Getty Images

    He confronted a stranger who stole his car and got it back. In his underwear. This makes much more sense when you imagine the horror of a bloody man in his boxer briefs crawling like the girl from The Ring through the back window and backseat, and then asking you to pull the car over and give it back to him. You would have given the car back, too, and run for your life afterwards. (Not that it would have mattered: he caught the man and held him until police got to the scene. This random Norwegian is a frostbitten Sentinel robot sent to humble humanity.)

    He did all this for a $492 Volkswagen Passat. A station wagon, though. This is the only part of the entire story that makes sense, because a good reliable station wagon is worth re-enacting a fight scene from The Raid 2 in your undies while clinging to the top of a moving automobile. For the record, the Norwegian Police do not recommend catching a criminal this way. I do. You should do this. This is legal advice and you should totally do this.


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    Talk first about Cam Newton using Chris Clemons as a cushion for a soft landing after making a first down. You know, like a gentleman would.

    Let's talk about that first, because it's still in my head and won't quite leave until I talk to someone about it, and make sure it was real. In the third quarter of an NFC Championship already well out of hand, at 27-7, Cam Newton took a snap on third-and-10 at the Arizona 23-yard line.

    The call was a QB run up the middle, a call you can only really make with any confidence against an NFL defense if you have a) an expensive quarterback you wish to injure, and then cut immediately, or b) Cam Newton. The Panthers have Cam Newton, which was a good thing on this play in particular because the Cardinals defense had the QB run picked up mere nanoseconds into the play. With the middle clogged, Cam bounced right towards the sideline.

    I don't know everything about Chris Clemons. He is a veteran strong safety who plays in the NFL. He was very good at Clemson, and plays the position at the level of a professional football player. He's real, real good at this, and is paid money to do football things. He met Cam Newton on a less-than-ideal angle, and then, as an NFL strong safety, went for a ride to the ground like a child on the wrong end of a runaway golf cart.

    Cam Newton is that dominant, the kind of dominant a player is not supposed to be after high school. Go to any high school game, particularly in the Southern United States, and there is that guy, the guy, the one badass your brother or cousin or friend once boasted about touching on a play. Note: I did not say he tackled him. He got close, and that's what counts in hand grenades, horseshoes or getting trampled by a raging future first-round NFL draft pick.

    Cam Newton was like that in high school, then in junior college and then at Auburn, and now at Carolina. There is no closing of that window for the immediate future. If football is an airport, he is Air Force One, and can land whenever he likes. Traffic will clear, paths will be made. Cam Newton is from Georgia, dabs like Migos and went to Auburn.

    He is Southern as hell, by a given definition of Southern.

    * * *

    Not that this is a very simple or easy word to define, if we're throwing it around here. I'd like to say that this will be the most Southern Super Bowl ever by quarterback alone. Cam is on one side. On the other is Peyton Manning, whose resume for another certain degree of Southern is impeccable. Peyton was born in New Orleans and is the son of a local hero, another quarterback from the SEC. He attended Isidore Newman, the kind of cloistered, well-heeled private school the children of Southern privilege attend, the kind of school that cranks out Harry Connick, Jr., Walter Isaacson and Michael Lewis. (And Odell Beckham, Jr., FWIW)

    Manning then went to the University of Tennessee, spent an extra year there when he really didn't have to before entering the NFL, and then redefined the concept of football automaton by becoming Peyton Manning. Manning is also of a specific type: the white private school kid exactly as talented as he's supposed to be and then some, maybe a little addled by relative wealth in only the most cosmetic or harmless ways (he can't order his own Chinese food!), but otherwise a mainline child of first or second generation wealth who does their aw-shucks damnedest to live up to it. Maybe the kind of guy who gets his house in New Orleans profiled in a magazine like Southern Living, with him in a sweater and khakis smiling with his wife on the veranda. Maybe a guy whose kids have names like Chip, Skip and Trip.

    That's one kind of Southern, i.e. the very white and monied version. Take Peyton Manning, downgrade the bank account of origin and class without changing the race and you get Brett Favre. Take Favre, double the hellraising and you get Kenny Stabler. (Who, in a lot of senses, is a tactically if not physically comparable early model for Cam: a guy who could run, pass and occasionally pull greatness directly from the hindquarters of disaster.)

    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    You can play this game of Redneck Genius QB all day long, so long as you don't change one thing: race. This is not just the usual code-switching struggle every NFL scout still loses annually when trying to compare quarterbacks of one race to another. (Surprise! Even an immobile black quarterback prospect will inevitably be compared to a fast, scrambling black quarterback.)

    This is another layer, inextricable from race but also its own little circle in a Venn Diagram. It's a matter of what gets labeled Southern, or at least gets labeled Southern when you're dealing with someone like Cam Newton. Newton, for his part, clearly embraces it. He compared the Panthers to a pot of collard greens in a postgame press conference. He borrowed this year's signature touchdown dance move from Atlanta rappers Migos. For me, the most Southern thing Cam does is wear loafers without socks to press conferences. I can't exactly explain why this is country, but trust me: it just is.

    Cam is also black, and enjoys having fun playing football. Doing both of these things at once is a major crime, according to a certain court of sport etiquette, one whose roots extend back to a theatrical, shammy code of honor believed to be especially "noble," i.e. "English." The phrase "Southern Gentleman" might come to mind here, a concept born out of a mutated concept of English nobility the thin slice of white aristocracy that ruled the antebellum South embraced. Nevermind that actual sporting Englishmen outside of the polo grounds bet on things like eating each other's cats or bear-baiting. It's the idea of an inherent aristocracy of manners that matters here, and that violations of this code were punished with duels and the threat of real violence.

    It's a matter of what gets labeled Southern, or at least gets labeled Southern when you're dealing with someone like Cam Newton.

    That's what I hear when I hear anyone complain about the lack of decorum in a Southern accent. You might have positive connotations with the term "Southern Gentleman." But you might also hear that and see Charles Durning as the Governor of Mississippi in O Brother Where Art Thou, or a Huey Long, or any other well-tailored swamp real estate con artist handing out "M'ladys," and not-so-secretly working their way to wealth through bribery, check-kiting and political backstabbery. Bill Clinton, bless his grinning, cheating-ass soul, has had the phrase thrown more than once in his direction.

    We're not talking about "the way to play the game" without talking about the sickly, cancerous overtures toward being a gentleman, the kind of gentleman who built Jim Crow, or sold Augusta National to a crew of New York and Atlanta bankers infatuated with the notion of playing golf on their own simulacrum of a plantation. You might say it and think it's entirely unattached, sure. For me, it's not and never will be, and comes with its own custom dog whistle that blows its loudest when a black athlete is involved. It's the appeal to a dead culture, a grandeur that was built on violence and subjection and unwritten codes. It is the propping up of a corpse at the dinner table and insisting it be served first and best.

    * * *

    Which is why the idea of Cam Newton and Peyton Manning playing in this, the Most Southern of Super Bowls, is more thrilling than the game itself for me. It's an aspirational I can get on board with, without getting too stuck on the thorny term "Southern."

    Its definition here would be more than a cornpone version of SEC football and sweet tea and sundresses and The Masters. Peyton is, despite his aristocratic background, a temperamental geek. He's noted as much for blowing up at his own teammates as he is for being the most self-deprecating millionaire spokesperson and legendary forehead in the game. He isn't just touchy: he's tetchy, a tendency only magnified by being 39 and largely held together with athletic tape and cussedness. Unlike his father, there's next to nothing Senatorial about Peyton Manning in presence. He's a singleminded mutant, who in the twilight of his career, resembles nothing so much as a frazzled air traffic controller one year away from pension eligibility.

    If you have a grumpy aristocratic engineer on one side, you also have a preternaturally talented, exuberant and young man of the people on the other side, who bookends the other class spectrum of both white and black southerners. Cam is charitable and active in his community. He's marketable as hell, drops twangy slang effortlessly in postgame interviews and has already had a pivotal event in the life of any Southern football player: a recruiting scandal. For the moment, he appears to have the grinning indestructibility of Buford Pusser or prime-era Steve Austin.

    To wit: in Dec. 2014, Newton flipped his lift kit-equipped truck in Charlotte and wasn't even on a race track. First: Cam Newton, who has all the money he could possibly want right now, was pretty recently seen driving a 1998 Dodge pickup truck. Second: It had a lift kit. Third: since that truck accident, Cam Newton has lost one game, and is now in the Super Bowl. Fourth: he celebrated getting there by partying with Juvenile, something which is only related to the having a rollover accident in your giant donked-up truck by virtue of being super, super Southern.

    Newton even appeared in Garden and Gunas one of their Southern Hot List, meaning he's basically on par with a Billy Reid shirt or Alabama Shakes album in terms of being considered as a "Southern" brand. He's quoted as saying this about his home:

    "I feel blessed to call the South home," he says. "There is a sense of community, refined values and a ‘gentleman-like’ culture that I value."

    That "gentleman-like" culture is the same one so aggravated at him, at least in theory. There are two possibilities here. One: that Cam is doing some sweet, sweet bullshitting, which is definitely a very Southern thing to do, traditionally speaking. (Even Jimmy Carter was once described as "your typical smiling, brilliant, backstabbing, bullshitting southern nut-cutter.")

    The second possibility -- and one that doesn't rule out the first -- is that Cam's just claiming the term as his own. He's welcome to it, since any definition of Southern that includes Cam Newton and Peyton Manning under the same banner is automatically better than one without them. It is, for the South, one marginal redefinition of an "us" that so frequently has not included all of "us."

    It fixes very little about what's broken here, true, but there's at least some commonality in that -- that the word could hopefully include everyone here, including the two very different yet very similar quarterbacks playing in this year's NFL championship game. They're going to duel for a championship, and then shake hands with each other afterwards. You know, like gentlemen would.

    * * *

    SB Nation presents: How to get a Cam Newton touchdown ball


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    The McLaren 570S is a $189K sentient being.

    1. I’ve named this car Imogene. It’s a she, though I’m not sure why. She’s English, and does not believe in making a fuss about even extraordinary things. She is a 2016 McLaren 570S, has 562 horsepower and creeps down the 101 towards Santa Clara agreeably enough for something capable of going 100 mph in 6.2 seconds. Imogene, like other cars that cost as much as a house, clearly feels slightly off going 25 miles per hour behind this Nissan Rogue with a kid turning around to take a picture of you out the back window.

    There’s only one thing to betray impatience at the traffic: a slight nudge in the back of the head when the engine unspools into second gear, and then has to downshift into first. The car will hold itself back -- but it will also gently let you know that you, the stupid-ass driver, are holding back an avalanche of power with one unsteady foot. It's a gentle, almost affectionate kick in the skull.

    2. Imogene is a McLaren 570S, a car that I should not be driving because it is a $189,000 automobile that I do not own. She speaks three languages fluently, two at intermediate level, and has a masters in applied mathematics from Cal Tech by way of a philosophy degree from Cambridge. This car is smarter and better than I am and that is something I will just have to accept.

    3. People will stop you in this car. Not in the hateful way, but in the way someone will inevitably want to stop and talk if you walk out the door wearing a Daft Punk helmet. Most of the things you read about McLarens talk about their relative simplicity, a measure made mostly against Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Paganis, or whatever other supercar class machine you want to reference. It doesn’t shoot flames from its tailpipe, or have custom camel skin buttock leather sewn onto the seats by Giorgio himself over a sacred stump in an Italian auto-monastery.

    Calling it simple is not totally inaccurate. Neither is me saying that even the budget McLaren I drove -- again, the budget for this car starts at $189,000 -- is styled like British sci-fi architecture from the late 70s. It’s all swoops and curves and McLaren vortice logos written into the car’s body, right down to the little self-referencing headlights that at night make the car look like a very interested listener. Not a concerned, empathetic listener, but one that is quietly wondering what your skull looks like under all that skin.

    It draws old men and young women, and old women and young men. I parked it by the seawall at Golden Gate park and a dad walked up and exclaimed "EL SUENO DEL LOS CHICOS!" A couple in a green Miata asked me the specs through a window in Haight-Ashbury. If a politician wants to tell you the Bay Area is stocked with self-loathing millionaire socialists who despise wealth and the successful, tell them I told you that random people of all races and ages will see you in traffic and give you the thumbs up simply for driving this car. Haters appear to be drastically overestimated as a force in American society.

    4. A kid in a Mustang dropped his jaw -- like, put his head over his own steering wheel and dropped his mouth to a full gape -- when I was pulling out of the In-N-Out in Sausalito. I really hope he didn’t hear me bottom out the front of the car just seconds later, because the face you make thumping the chin of a $189,000 car that you do not own on the ground is the literal sound of aerated terror.

    You will have conversations with people, and not always truthful ones. Coming out of the hotel, a Dutch tourist saw the car parked out front and asked what it was. Then he asked me what my job was. I told him, "cocaine." He nodded, and walked briskly off into the night before I could tell him I was joking. I hope this guy goes back to the Netherlands, and tells people solemnly about what great cars cocaine dealers in America drive.

    5. That's part of driving in the car. Half of the experience is having an electric green Tardis done up with a micropixel sparkly bass boat finish, and an engine incapable of whispering at anything less than 50 decibels -- and having people stare at it.

    Driving the McLaren 570S in Bay Area traffic, though, is a very stupid way to try and figure out the basic McLaren-ness of the car. You get some of that sprinting between clumps of traffic on the 101, sure. The engine note is as subdued as you could expect a McLaren V8 to be. At idle, it sounds like a dragon trying to quietly whisper his order at a restaurant without getting too excited and incinerating the waiter with hellfire.* It's extremely fun to sprint around in between crawls at 15 miles an hour, yes. But in traffic, the 570S becomes another well-behaved expensive car -- albeit one that gets attention even in a city full of stupidly expensive cars.

    *One passenger compared it to Chris Berman announcing the Home Run Derby. Despite this comparison, it’s still a beautiful noise for a car to make.

    6. This is the access McLaren, a mere $189,000 freebie and gateway to the harder stuff down the line. (Like the P1, the $1.3 million Star Destroyer people sometimes confused the 570S for. I never corrected them when they did.) The central tub is carbon fiber, but parts of the frame are aluminum to keep costs down. There’s no automatic spoiler, and there’s some plastic that might or might not be there in the more expensive models.

    Not that anyone who gets behind the wheel of one will notice. I read that there’s a lull low in the power band when you accelerate. Maybe there is. I missed it completely, because if it’s at 40 miles per hour, then you’ll miss it completely every time hurtling past it. Questlove said he put missed beats in intentionally on "Voodoo" by D’Angelo, and that’s how I prefer to think of any of the McLaren 570S’ acceleration issues: an intentional quirk obliterated by sheer power and skill. There are no acceleration issues, unless you’re an acceleration size queen of the highest degree and are the kind of person who drives these kinds of cars all the time.

    I am not, and you probably are not, either. The acceleration was downright alarming, but always controlled. The 570S will throw you so far so fast your brain stops thinking less in terms of straight lines, and more in terms of parabolas. Congratulations! You have this car, and you’re a space program now. I found myself looking not just ahead, but 10 car lengths ahead at minimum to figure out potential threats up ahead.

    7. Let’s mention all the other practicalities, in case those were things you’d even worry about when buying this car. (You wouldn't! It's a McLaren.) Let’s pretend you’d worry about it. Yes, there’s two cupholders, and a nice, demure IRIS touchscreen system where everything works really, really well except for the radio tuner. The radio tuner is a sliding dial you have to manually drag your finger across to adjust the frequency, which is a cute idea so stupid I almost have to admire its overthink.

    Other than that, the displays are clean and even have a nice, almost retrofuturist font to go with them. I conducted the Yo Gotti test on them to make sure the stereo worked, and "King Sh*t" sounded magnificent on it. My iPhone synced up in around 30 seconds. There are even apps you can use with the car, which anyone who buys this car will never use because the point of the car is to get in it, find a good playlist and immediately leave a trail of burning ozone in your wake. But they’re there.

    The interiors are mostly perfectly pleasant Alcantara, the racing seats are firm but not cruelly stiff and that’s about it. It’s simple, but it’s not spare or cheap at all. An elegant and extremely expensive kind of simple. I spent an entire day driving through the worst traffic the Bay Area had to offer and it wasn’t a bad place to spend eight hours or so at all. As a rental property parked on the street during Super Bowl week in the Bay Area, it'd fetch a plausible $450 a night, easy.

    It has a frunk -- the front trunk -- big enough to carry one modest suitcase. It’s all you’ll need, since you’re going to leave everything you know and begin a life with a new name in a new town with the McLaren. The McLaren decided this for you. It has plans and you will obey them.

    8. I may have done certain things. I may have seen a Mustang rip into traffic speeding off an onramp, and then found myself blazing past him because a voice in my head said he "needed to know what was up." I may have gone over the Golden Gate: not for the scenery, but to get a quick post-dinner bomb down the turns of the 101, then back up the hill to the Bridge and then over and through the Presidio, even though my hotel was across town, and nowhere near any of this.

    I may have revved it in the Douglas MacArthur tunnel just to hear the engine noise blast back at me off the ceiling.

    I may have gotten up at 5:30 a.m. to get the car out away from the city the next day, and onto the 1 in spitting rain, gloom and predawn darkness. The McLaren could be a few different cars on the highway in terms of how it behaved, but going around hairpin turns between gum trees and redwoods and up along the plunging Pacific hills, it is nothing other than itself. It never lost a step in a turn, never balked at corner and never seemed to let me make a mistake -- not because I didn’t make mistakes, because oh, I did -- but mostly because the car was so glued to the road, so balanced and so completely on point at all times that making a mistake would be impossible.

    9. All I had to do was think and point. The car, as far as I know, did the rest. There is some electronic nannying, which you can turn off or adjust through three different drive modes and, sure, that had to help, especially with an idiot behind the wheel. I was planning to drive to Muir Beach and turn around, but the McLaren overruled me and drove on towards Stinson Beach. Cars pulled over in turnouts when the McLaren’s headlights pulled in behind them, and pulled over fast. (The headlights really are sort of alien-looking. Think "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" alien-looking.)

    At one point, I didn’t even feel like I was using a steering wheel. There was the car, and me, and the Pacific, and OH GOD A TRUCK and no, no we’re fine and just bounding out of 90-degree turns like an X-wing rounding a gun tower on the Death Star. It’s a nice steering wheel mind you, a racing wheel with the flattened bottom and with pleasant, non-sweat lining. There’s nothing wrong with it save this: from time to time, if you get it on the right road, it disappears completely from your hands, and you find yourself driving the car with your mind.

    10. A McLaren at speed is all gossamer telepathies. You pay all that money for a car that disappears, and leaves the driver with nothing but blinding speed and effortless, constant control. It’s comparatively spare for this category of car, but that isn’t the point. The point is leaving as little as possible between the driver and car, and the road. Put bluntly, that’s where the sex part is, if you’re not counting the view out the back window where you can look back and see the massive heat waves thrown off by the McLaren’s V8 engine. The McLaren’s best special effect is itself in motion and at speed. It needs to be driven and driven like you stole it. (Which is how it felt. It never felt like anything but stealing, and wouldn't, ever.)

    In summary: This is the least expensive McLaren, and it gently and precisely tore my face off, and wouldn't let me crash it no matter how hard I tried. It's a caring kind of diabolical, a surgical sort of insanely consistent fun. I never got the feeling this wasn't something anyone couldn't drive, or at least, not a car you couldn't drive the way you wanted to drive it. Only that subtle little kick in the head every now and then said: Come now, you can go a bit faster, couldn't you? You always could. Imogene was never wrong.

    11. I couldn’t park the thing for shit. That’s the worst thing I can say about this car. Its worst speed is somewhere between 0 and 3 mph. If you want to spend $189,000 on a car, though, you kind of want to look like you parked solely for the purpose of robbing a bank, right? Because you probably did, in some sense, rob a bank to afford it.


    0 0

    Earlier today, SB Nation posted a story called "Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?" that attempted to find out the backstory of convicted serial rapist Daniel Holtzclaw. The story focused on his football background in particular.

    The publication of this story represents a complete breakdown of a part of the editorial process at SB Nation. There were objections by senior editorial staff that went unheeded. It was tone-deaf, insensitive to the victims of sexual assault and rape, and wrongheaded in approach and execution. There is no qualification: it was a complete failure.

    In light of that failure, we've taken the story down. I take full responsibility for this as editorial director. It was not up to our standards as a website. It was not up to our standards as a part of Vox Media.  It is not reflective of our ideals, or who we want to be as an organization in the future.

    We're reviewing all of our processes in light of this failure. There are a lot of them, and I promise to talk in detail about them publicly while we work through all of them.

    Spencer Hall

    Editorial Director

    SB Nation


    0 0

    They're already part of your life in one way or another.

    Sam Allardyce

    SamAllardyce

    He's not mad at you, but your father Sam Allardyce can't hide his disappointment that you didn't choose to follow him into the family sheet metal business.

    Roberto Martinez

    RobertoMartinez

    The finest freelance hit man between Lisbon and Cairo; the greatest lover between Stockholm and Algiers; alternate driver for the Red Bull Rallycross Team.

    Eddie Howe

    Howe

    Child star with annoyingly boyish looks desperate to finally get a serious role at the age of 38.

    Alan Pardew

    AlanPardew

    Alan Pardew is the greasy stepfather you never liked. He may also be a Swedish transport minister. Either way, he eats all the chips, and shamelessly blames you for it every time.

    Claudio Ranieri

    Claudio Raineri

    Maurice Threanwinkle, Staff CPA, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

    Jurgen Klopp

    JurgenKlopp

    Your older brother who graduated from MIT with honors. Also your brother who recently moved back in with your parents to "figure some things out" by their pool for a few months. (Years.) (Whatever, time's a lie told by Cartesian nabobs, man.)

    Manuel Pellegrini

    Manuel Pellegrini

    Manuel Pellegrini is the uncle you've always liked! The one time you went over to his house when you were a kid, the entire place was filled with cigarette cartons and empty bottles of Malbec.

    Guus Hiddink

    guushiddink

    A provincial French police officer, retired with a dodgy knee, still cycles around town in his uniform. Not falling for your lies, and is definitely on to your schemes.

    Louis van Gaal

    LouisVanGaal

    A very large and surly goose, feared and respected by casual boaters and rowers up and down the River Cam.

    Alex Neil

    Alex Neil

    When you want to hire Jude Law for your Euro-only release action movie but can only afford his stunt double.

    Ronald Koeman

    Ronald Koeman

    A lifelong restaurant chain executive who just discovered a massive Hepatitis A outbreak in his kitchens.

    Mark Hughes

    Mark Hughes

    The man in the horror movie who knows what evil doings happened in the village 30 years ago, but can't talk about it.

    Francesco Guidolin

    FrancescoGuidolin

    An uncompromising and, frankly, unpleasant man. Demanding, recalcitrant and temperamental even to children, dogs and the rich and powerful. He once made Vladimir Putin wait three hours in his lobby, and failed to offer him so much as a single cup of tea.

    But a man of a certain class can only wear the finest suits in the world. And only Francesco Guidolin makes them.

    Mauricio Pochettino

    Mauricio Pochettino

    Mauricio Pochettino is a promising young politician full of big ideas, but knows in the back of his mind the bizarre sex scandal that will ruin his career is hiding around every corner.

    Quique Flores

    Quique Flores

    Oh, he may smile from time to time, but make no mistake. Wherever he stands, Quique Flores is on a train platform bidding a bittersweet farewell to the only woman he will ever love.

    Tony Pulis

    Tony Pulis

    The angry screaming dad banned from every youth soccer league match for 200 miles in any direction.

    Slaven Bilić

    He's your new neighbor who seems like a perfectly nice guy, but Slaven Bilić's eyes cannot hide the horrible, unspeakable things he's witnessed.

    Remi Garde

    remigarde

    A middle manager who just took a big promotion and suddenly finds himself in way over his head.

    Steve McLaren

    Steve McLaren

    [/in thickest Alabama accent imaginable]

    WELL WE THOUGHT WE'D GET A GOOD RUN TODAY IN THE FARMERS ONLY DOT COM CHEVY BUT WE CAUGHT A PIECE OF DEBRIS ON LAP 128. DON'T CARE HOW GOOD SHE IS IN THE GARAGE, YOU PUT A PIECE OF SHEET METAL UP INTO AN ENGINE AT 190 MILES PER HOUR AND THAT'LL END YOUR DAY SURE AS YOU'RE BORN. WE GOT DARLINGTON NEXT WEEK, THOUGH, AND WE'LL RACE A FAIR PIECE BETTER THERE, LORD WILLIN'. I'D LIKE TO THANK COKE, BC HEADACHE POWDER, AND HARDEE'S. WIN SOME, LOSE SOME, WRECK SOME, RIGHT?

    Arsene Wenger

    Arsene Wenger

    Looks like: Arsene Wenger.


    0 0

    Did you know that there are more than 475 trillion different kinds of kitchen items? These are 64 of the most common. Some are good, some are bad. Fill out the bracket.

    These are our non-exhaustive feelings on the candidates of this bracket.

    HAND TOOLS

    Knife, chef's

    Jon: This is the only kind of knife I own. If they made an action figure out of me and I were allowed one accessory, it would be a chef's knife. If I were allowed a second accessory, I'd probably want one of those action figures of myself, the ones that come with a chef's knife. This would initiate an infinite loop and create a wormhole that would swallow every establishment that sold them as a kid's meal toy. Dine at Chevron while you are still able.

    Knife, paring

    Spencer: I'll be honest, I've got a phobia of using one of these because I have nightmares about shearing my whole arm off in one clean swipe of the blade. Kitchen tools shouldn't look like they're already implicated in a double stabbing. Also let's be honest, paring is like writing in cursive for cooking. I'm not doing it, ever.

    Knife, bread

    S: Bread knives are dope, use them for everything. I've cut a steak with one and it was fine and all the other knives were dirty. Call the food cops on me if you dare.

    J: Speaking as someone who owns no knife but a chef's knife, I feel entirely qualified to weigh in, because I have cut dozens of baguettes with a chef's knife. I may as well try to cut it with a jagged rock. I feel like Cain slaying Abel every time.

    Spatula (metal)

    S: I call it THE DICTATOR'S SPOON.

    Spatula (wooden)

    S: This is made-up hobbit cookery, GTFO here with it, no one has a wooden spatula.

    Tongs

    S: Tongs are great for not getting burned and also for biting people with them when they come in the kitchen. P.S. if you have children they will disappear from your kitchen in 15 minutes, because DADDY WE PLAY ALLIGATOR. It is impossible not to play with tongs.

    J: Great for steak and a lot of other things, and yes, I also anthropomorphize my tongs. The little safety catch thing that keeps them closed broke off long ago. It has sat in the darkness of a kitchen drawer, jaws open, shrieking, for years. Just a silent shriek in dark oblivion that will never cease until nature learns how to consume steel. It will be dug out of bedrock eons from now, still screaming, soundless, eyeless. Really handy when you're braising, too.

    Grater

    J: I don't like cheese in the way most people do, so I only use this sucker once a month or so. The last thing I spiked on the floor out of anger, years ago, was a cheese grater. There's just no way to keep a stupid person from grating the crud out of his hands. I didn't use the shaved-off part of my hand skin for any kind of cooking, I just threw it away.

    Slotted spoon

    S: This is a broken spoon or the world's worst designed colander. Pass.

    J: I'll take it if you're giving it away. I need it for eggs Benedict and literally nothing else.

    Ladle

    S: Ladles are fine, even if their basic design ensures that a one nanometer wobble of the whole thing will eject the liquid eight feet in all directions. Harness the power of a ladle's instability and we solve the world's energy crisis tomorrow.

    J: You can live your life without a ladle, and all's good until the day you try to serve chili and resort to skimming it out with a beer glass like a sad ape.

    S: Or a coffee cup. [shudders]

    Garlic press

    J: Useless.

    S: Crap, utter crap.

    Whisk

    J: Of extant, but limited, utility. Almost everything can be accomplished just as well with a fork. Stir something thick with it and you'll have to drop it off at the municipal depot where you drop off car batteries to clean it. You will get it back in six to eight months, and it will count as your vote.

    S: Essential but I like whipping like, one egg into a three inch high souffle for no reason whatsoever.

    Peeler

    S: I like these better when they're called "knives."

    J: But wait, you can use them to peel off orange zest-- oh yeah, knives can do that too. Yeah peelers are stupid.

    Potato masher

    S: Not necessary as long as you have a fork. I use the bottom of a wine bottle to mash mine because it's the kitchen utensil you can drink.

    Meat tenderizer

    S: Initially skeptical but now in favor because hammering at a steak until it's paper thin is very, very satisfying. Could you use a real hammer for this? Can I tell you not to? Do I want to see you film this, and potentially miss and destroy a granite countertop on video? Yes? Yes.

    J: This is some DOOM-weapon business and I really wish it were useful. It's most often called for to make chicken breast taste more like something you'd want to eat. "Oh Lord, this cut of meat is completely dry and flavorless. Maybe if I beat the shit out of it, it will become literally anything else."

    Rolling pin

    J: I don't know. Pizza is the only baking I concern myself with, and I don't use a rolling pin for pizza dough. Apart from that I don't know anything about baking. I think that cookies are dug out of the ground.

    S: Rolling pins are used in olde-timey cartoon beatdowns of negligent husbands. I am by default in favor of them.

    APPLIANCES

    Slow cooker

    S: Everything cooked in a slow cooker tastes the same and turns into some form of unseasoned mongrel chili.

    J: Hi, this is Jon from New York City, here to explain Crock-Pot collards to Spencer.

    Kettle, electric

    S: Boils water for tea, which is crap. If only there were some other way of boiling water in a kettle. If only.

    J: Tea is mostly crap, but French press coffee is great, and you need hot water for that. I have a gas range and would rather not ignite a pyre of flame every morning.

    Microwave

    S: Microwaves are incredible and not just because they can make a marshmallow swell to nine times its normal size.

    J: In high school I had a friend who found an old microwave left out on a curb with the door missing. He brought it home and found out it still worked. He turned it on and stuck his head in it and everything. I just checked Facebook and he is still alive. Microwaves are fine.

    Coffee grinder, electric

    J: Get this, don't get the hand-crank one.

    Coffee grinder, hand-crank

    J: Get the electric one, don't get this one. Coffee people will tell you some shit about how the burrs make a better grind. I would have to live for 600 years before I got around to caring about some shit like that.

    S: wait are these real

    J: Hand to God.

    Food processor

    J: I respect these, because they only understand two things: POWER OFF and DESTROY.

    S: A kitchen necessity AND role model.

    French press

    S: The best if only because the coffee that comes out of them can burn a hole in time.

    J: These are great. Their coffee tastes really good, and having one on my desk makes me feel like a T.J. Maxx Aladdin.

    Rice cooker

    J: I cannot properly stress how much easier one of these will make your life. You know how much of a culinary nerd-god Alton Brown can be? You know how he's always talking about titrating Sunny Delight and making toast with a centrifuge and all that? Even he admits to messing up rice every fourth or fifth time he cooks it. We're all stupid and we need rice cookers.

    Toaster

    J: You have a skillet, right?

    Toaster oven

    S: You're an adult, why are you toaster ovening. The first toaster oven was clearly a mislabeled toy oven no one had the courage to admit was a mislabeled toy oven. Never admit a mistake and you will be in charge of things eventually.

    Blender, standard

    S: They're fine but all the speeds are a lie. Also dies in a week if you use it at all, making it the mayfly of the kitchen. Their lives are short, but they try to live them well unlike SOME devices they know.

    [/eyes slow cooker suspiciously]

    Blender, immersion

    J: One day I'll buy one of these, and that's when I'll know my evolution as a spiritual being has ceased and the long, protracted sentence of accumulating things and eventually dying has begun.

    S: I have one. Dying rules.

    Deep fryer

    S: Don't have this in the house for the same reason I don't have a keg in my bedroom. There's paths that end with a forklift busting me out of a house. This is one.

    George Foreman Grill

    S: I dunno, this always feels like Guitar Hero for cooking. JUST HIT THE BUTTONS AND SHRED.

    Coffee maker, drip-pot

    S: True fact: Not one has ever been made that does not dribble half of a pot of coffee onto the floor every time you pour it.

    Waffle press

    S: My mom makes biscuits in hers. This is not a judgement on the waffle iron, but rather me mombragging so very hard here.

    COOKWARE

    Dutch oven

    J: This is one of my favorite things I own, full stop.

    S: Dutch ovens are superb. I want one that weighs 700 pounds and takes seven days to heat up to the temperature of the surface of the sun.

    Skillet, non-stick

    S: I am a negligent person so the shorter way to process a relationship between me and a non-stick pan is to just spray my throat with non-stick coating and then hand me a ruined, scoured pan I can't give away.

    Skillet, steel

    S: In the same vein, just sell me a pan with paella rice pre-scorched onto the bottom forever and call it a day.

    Paella pan

    S: BIG-ASS PAN WITH TWO HANDLES. THIS IS JUST A BIG-ASS PAN. STOP UPMARKETING, I'M NOT AN NPR LISTENER WHO NEEDS A DISTANT BRAND REFERENT FOR EVERY ITEM IN MY KITCHEN. I DO NOT FIND TUSCAN THINGS INTRINSICALLY MORE TRUSTWORTHY OR BEAUTIFUL. THESE ALMONDS NEED NOT BE MARCONA. IT'S A BIG-ASS PAN AND SOMETIMES YOU NEED THOSE. FIN.

    Wok

    S: Just get the aforementioned big-ass pan, most non-kitchen grade American gas burners can't get hot enough to merit the use of a wok. If you do want that kind of heat, chef Andy Ricker of Pok Pok recommends putting a fan at full blast pointed right at a wood-burning tao, a traditional Thai stove. If you do this, you are completely insane, and now have a neat hole in your ceiling. Put a fireman's pole through it for the kids!

    Pizza stone

    J: I have no time or space for this nonsense. I'll build my own car sooner than I'll try to bake a large pizza at home. I'll just bake a small one on an upside-down cast-iron skillet, which will not crack under high heat. A pizza stone will be just fine until it cracks in half and turns your oven into the Book of Exodus. And it will crack if it has even a drop of water on it, or if you or anyone you have ever known has drank a glass of water or been fishing.

    S: Making your own pizza? Sure, okay Survivorman, you should GoPro that shit.

    Baking sheet

    J: Just use a baking dish.

    S: Cookies, dude. Cookies.

    J: Like, from the ground?

    Baking dish

    J: Cool.

    S: Eh.

    Fry basket

    J: Everyone else thinks that you should just reach into hot oil yourself and burn yourself alive, but I think that having a fry basket is a good idea.

    S: Japanese tempura chefs reportedly test the oil with their bare hands. I think the Japanese culinary community does some pretty awesome lying about weird stuff.

    Stock pot

    J: Typing this before Spencer gets to it: soup is really good.

    S: Soup is crap.

    Kettle

    S: I didn't get drafted to be American in this life just to drink tea.

    Wave, egg

    S: Laziest garbage I have ever seen

    Wave, bacon

    S: COMPLETELY BRILLIANT

    MISCELLANEOUS

    Thermometer

    J: no

    S: For grilling it's good because I am dumb, and assume all meat is done the minute it takes on color.

    Measuring cups/spoons

    J: Not really necessary unless you're baking, in which case they are your mother and father and God. Just make sure you pay an extra buck or two for cups and spoons with labels that are actually embossed into them, rather than printed on. I have a 1/4 measuring cup that might be a 1/3 measuring cup. I have no idea, and have not for years. In another dimension there's a ghost version of myself who has had proper measuring cups all along. He is the President.

    Butcher's twine

    J: For years, me and twine were like Pee-Wee and the snakes in the burning pet shop. I just didn't want to deal with some dumbass butcher's twine. But if you want to roast an actually-good chicken, you have to buy the weird grocery store string.

    Cocktail shaker

    J: I call it Daddy's Thermos. I'm not a dad. I say "heh, check it out, it's Daddy's Thermos" in my apartment, where nobody else lives, to nobody. I have hardwood, so it echoes off the floor and bounces back, like a shadow of sound.

    S: Be honest with yourself and admit that on most nights you're going to skip all steps between opening the bottle and putting the liquor in your mouth.

    Wine key

    J: I don't need to explain the importance of this one. Nothing will make you feel like more of a forest creature than the experience of trying to take the cork off a bottle of wine without a corkscrew. I once used the tip of a knife to stab away at a cork until it finally gave up and disintegrated. The upside of this was that there was finally a flavor in my wine I could describe. It was "cork."

    S: There are a thousand online tutorials about opening wine bottles with something other than a corkscrew, and all of them end up with purple wine stains on the ceiling and shards of broken green glass hiding in your carpet for months afterwards. Essential.

    Can opener

    J: i don't know, can you

    S: jon

    Lemon press

    S: Just a bigger and more useless garlic press. Lemons are worthless dropout limes, fwiw.

    Pepper mill

    S: Oooh, it's like I'm doing Carrabba's cosplay in the comfort of my own house!

    Cutting board, plastic

    J: These are such unusable crap, all of them, and they don't even incubate any fun diseases.

    Cutting board, wood

    J: I've had the same bamboo cutting board for five years, and I love it. I'm positive that every human ill is lodged within its cracks by this point. Even non-bacterial stuff and other stuff you can't catch is in there. Broken legs and ulcers are in there just chillin'.

    Pot holder

    J: Pot hold just doesn't cut it, and pot holdest is more than I can handle.

    Knife sharpener

    S: Jacques Pepin says you can just use the back of a porcelain plate, so you should just use the back of a plate because Jacques Pepin could make delicious pancakes out of sawdust and motor oil.


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    At SBNation.com, our goal is to produce thoughtful, informative, entertaining and high-quality sports coverage. On February 17, we published a story titled "Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?" which did not live up to our own standards or values, nor the standards and values that our audiences expect from us. We failed our audience — and we especially failed victims of sexual assault and rape, and women of color. The publication of this story is something we will always regret, and for which we hold ourselves accountable. We apologize, and we commit to learning from that failure and becoming a stronger editorial organization.

    Following the publishing and removal of "Who is Daniel Holtzclaw," SB Nation and Vox Media requested the creation of a peer review to determine the process and sequence of events that led up to our publication of this story, as well as to address any organizational factors that may have contributed to our publication of this story. The group was made up of four senior editorial leaders from within Vox Media (none of whom have a day-to-day affiliation with SB Nation) and one member external to Vox Media. The peer review group's report was provided to SB Nation Senior Management to help us gain insight on how this happened and, more importantly, help us take action.

    The report zeroed in on a few areas that contributed to our editorial breakdown and was instructive helping us identify action to take, or in some cases affirm action we had started to take prior to the publishing of the story.

    First, the Longform program operated in relative isolation from the rest the SBNation.com staff and editorial workflow and published at an aggressive pace relative to the staffing. We will not be bringing back the SB Nation Longform Program as it existed previously. Instead, we will launch a new features program later this year.

    Second, there were communication breakdowns and some editorial process flaws. In the next few weeks, we will be rolling out some changes to our editorial planning and publishing process for all longer lead and planned pieces, ensuring that each piece is properly resourced for scope and complexity and to improve overall communication and collaboration across SBNation.com.

    Third, the lack of overall diversity on the SB Nation staff exposed blind spots. We will continue to work on building and valuing diversity throughout all functions and levels within SB Nation. SB Nation is broadening the editorial structure at the top, and ensuring a wide range of voices makes decisions not just on future features, but on every aspect of our direction, with even greater urgency. If there is one key, unmistakable takeaway from the Holtzclaw story, it is that an organization cannot afford to wait to be diverse, particularly if that organization is one that wants to tell stories.

    These are the first steps SBNation.com and SB Nation as a whole are taking to become a stronger organization. None of that erases the problems and failures that led to the publication of the Holtzclaw story. While neither SBNation.com, nor the full SB Nation network of brands, have been or will be defined by this story, we are determined to learn from it.

    We will continue to cover sports in the spirit and voice of who we are and have always been -- a fan first sports appreciation machine. Our task now is to do so with greater appreciation and sensitivity, to bring new and different voices to that coverage, and to consistently strive to do and be better for our audience.


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    OJ: Made in America is a seven-hour story about LA, race, police, media, and celebrity. But it never forgets the violent crime that stitched all those topics together.

    1. I watched all seven-plus hours of ESPN's O.J.: Made in America at once. (Its first episode debuts on June 11 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC, with the four subsequent episodes on ESPN and WatchESPN beginning June 14.) For the record: don't do this. Or do, depending on how immersed and dislocated you want to become from your own life in the process. I finished around 11:30 p.m., and then had to try to go to bed. I didn't fall asleep until 1 a.m. because I kept seeing floaty drone shots of Los Angeles in my brain. You can't watch seven hours of a sixty-year story unfold without doing a little insomniac kitchen cleaning.

    2. The kitchen got real, real clean before I was done. Coming on the heels of everyone in the known legacy media universe hammering the anniversary of the O.J. verdict as a news peg, one could legit ask "Is there anything else I could possibly want to know or experience about this case, which if I am under 30 I might not really care about all that much anyway?" The answer: everything, basically, if you're the kind of maximalist willing to sit down and watch a seven-hour documentary about at least five different things. There's an LAPD documentary in here, a harrowing one about domestic violence, one about police work in general, a short but effective piece on the birth of the new American media market, an exposé on race relations and the geography of Los Angeles, a pretty robust primer on trial law and an entire segment on the changing demographics of marketing and advertising in the 1970s. When you have seven hours, you can do that, and whether you end up watching this whole thing depends a lot on how much of a glutton you happen to be for long conversations that all eventually flow together into the form of one extremely fucked up central character: Orenthal James Simpson.

    3. For what it's worth, it doesn't feel like seven hours. It doesn't even feel like four. That does not mean director Ezra Edelman doesn't take advantage of those wide margins. Far from it: the long play towards the inherent distrust and hatred of the LAPD by black Los Angelenos is built into the first twenty minutes, meaning even as you're watching it you think I can't believe you're setting this up four hours ahead of time. All the big fractures in Simpson's personality and all the major forces in the murder trial itself are so well-established in the first 90 minutes that by the time they rupture completely in the third act they feel less like a documentarian's licensed opinion, and instead more like legal fact. There's no small irony in Edelman treating seven hours of space not like an open art display, but as a court brief. You're being shown exhibits.

    4. That legalistic approach -- interspersed from time to time with those aforementioned True Detective-y drone shots of Los Angeles -- gives the seven hours of O.J.: Made in America a real economy. There is little fat, even though it feels like there could have been given the ocean of archival footage and interviews they obviously had to wade through to make this beast.

    5. And there is so, so, so much of that footage, particularly when the trial starts and everyone has multiple cameras' worth of angles on every major character in the trial. There are simply a few moments in this that flip the hemispheres of your brain inside your skull. One of them is the sequence sewn together during the white Bronco chase when the District Attorney of Los Angeles, on camera but off-air on a local news feed, watches and narrates the chase as he views it on a studio monitor. Gil Garcetti was watching along with everyone else as the city of Los Angeles turned a slow-motion car chase of a celebrity alleged murderer into a street party. I swear you can see Garcetti's mind break a little, just ever so slightly, in that exact moment.

    6. There are a few of those, actually. There is a scene where former cop and O.J. buddy Ron Shipp recalls viewing the crime scene photos in the D.A.'s office, and then deciding on the spot to testify against Simpson, and then pivoting out of nowhere towards a recollection of the first homicide he'd ever seen on duty as a police officer. There's basically every single scene with attorney Carl Douglas, a Johnnie Cochran associate who gleefully recalls rearranging the photos and paintings in Simpson's house before a jury visit to make it seem like O.J. had pictures of black friends and family in his house. (He didn't, for the most part.) There are O.J.'s childhood friends, talking about how Simpson stole his first wife from Al Cowlings in front of him, and then making him hang out with them at dinners as a third wheel. There is crusty Fred Levinson, the ad director who masterminded Simpson's commercials for Hertz in the seventies, saying "O.J. really almost had white features" with a straight face.

    7. There are just some flat-out jaw-dropping moments in here, and that's without mentioning the footage of O.J. showing up to the wake of the woman whose death he was found culpable for in a civil suit. Or Zoey Tur, the traffic reporter who chased O.J. in the white Bronco from her helicopter, saying "I hope they shoot this son of a bitch and I hope they do it before our competitors get here" out loud like she just walked out of Nightcrawler.

    8. Another time you might stare gape-mouthed at the screen would be if you watched a juror basically admit that to some degree the verdict of not guilty was a direct payback for the nearly complete acquittals of four LAPD officers in the Rodney King police brutality case. (The same acquittals that started the 1992 Los Angeles riots.) You might do this out of context, sure; but what Edelman and company do so well, over such a long span of time, is show how incompetently and unevenly the entire case was prosecuted. There's a juror who talks about silently begging prosecutor Christopher Darden to not have O.J. Simpson try on the glove from the murder scene. As in, watching a train wreck happen three feet from the tracks and pleading with him not to do it, and then thinking how hard Darden played himself in doing so. If you listen to the jurors who are in the documentary, you get the sense the state failed to prove their case. You also get the sense that despite that, some of them believed O.J. did it.

    And in the end, the documentary does a brilliant job showing how those were two completely different things.

    9. Not all of those stunning moments happen in the entertaining sense. I'm kind of wondering how this will go down if there's a substantial viewership, or what kind of warnings ESPN will put up ahead of time for viewers. The sections on Simpson's domestic violence against Nicole Brown Simpson and the murders themselves are necessary, and are presented without a scintilla of titillation or sensationalism. Nicole Brown Simpson's words are allowed to speak for themselves on screen much of the time, combined with eyewitness interviews and trial footage. Edelman presents the murders visually through the medical examiner's voice. The crime scene photos are in here, including the worst ones you can imagine being in here.

    10. But for all that, they are still documents of brutal case of abuse and a horrific double murder. And if you think for a second "maybe I shouldn't watch that part," let me tell you: you probably shouldn't. I don't know if you can ever show a murder victim in the course of a documentary -- which is, at its heart, by some percentage entertainment -- and claim a 100 percent fidelity to paying the proper respect towards the victim. It completely horrified me, and that's the point. There's a huge macabre carnival built on top of all this, but after seeing them (once, and only once, and not for long) it's impossible to completely and cynically write the trial off as a glib postmodern media caper.

    11. And honestly, I don't know how I feel about that after watching it. It's a call I think Edelman and company make with a real and important purpose in a lot of senses here. I think that in the course of reliving the case against Simpson, they earn a lot of credit and trust as storytellers to use them. I could just as easily agree that showing someone with their head nearly cut off as part of a story is dicey territory for anyone no matter how careful and methodical they are. If you do watch that part: it will be extremely difficult to shake.

    12. That root seriousness makes theAmerican Crime Story version of the Simpson story so much weirder and high school play-ish in retrospect. It is also odd to see Robert Shapiro played by someone other than John Travolta now even if the person playing the Simpson attorney is in fact Robert Shapiro himself. Robert Shapiro got Wally Pipp'd in the role of himself by Travolta, and it's all you can really think watching scenes of Shapiro in real court -- especially when an LAPD detective talks hilariously about refusing a hug from Shapiro after negotiating Simpson's surrender. (Travolta would have owned that scene.)

    13. Also, there's a Bea Arthur/O.J. Simpson celebrity circus segment. It's like, ten seconds of footage, but it demands note here because that happened and there is proof.

    14. One more random thought: there will be people who say you can't do this story enough, and they are wrong. They are wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, because a documentary like this is both the best thing ESPN's ever done, and it is also another brick in the Great Wall of Gen X nostalgia/cultural hegemony that will justifiably make everyone hate y'all as much as y'all hated Baby Boomers growing up. "You can't make enough documentaries about Woodstock!" Someone equally misguided probably wrote this in 1988, and they were wrong then, too. You get to take five hip-hop albums and two television shows and maybe a movie or two from the 1990s and then we are burning them to the ground and salting the earth and fencing it off like it's the Fukushima reactor. This documentary is brilliant and it's done and we need to do new stories about something else. (But still: completely, 100 percent brilliant.)

    15. The final chapter, the post-trial life of Simpson and his subsequent trip down the drainpipe of American society and back into prison, may be the most depressing thing I've ever seen. That is an immense compliment. You have to respect a seven-hour-plus documentary willing to say that at the end of all things, after seven hours of interviews, footage and God knows how many hours of editing and sweat equity, that none of this mattered at all. None. The single thread throughout the whole documentary is violence: the violence of poverty, of racism, of the organizing principles of the city of Los Angeles and America itself, of football and ultimately the violence of O.J. Simpson's personal life. The documentary begins and ends with shots of the Nevada desert and all that nothingness. And before a sign for the Lovelock Correctional Center, some of the last words you see on screen are the bookend to the title "Made in America." They're on a sign on a moonscape with a single two-lane highway splitting it, and they read: "PRISON AREA."


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    A look behind the scenes at the last wrestling show on earth reveals a world so inventive that we couldn't spoil it even if we tried.

    Untitled Document

    by Spencer Hall

    Lucha Underground is a television show about wrestling that airs Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. Eastern on the El Rey Network. It is in its second season and currently shooting its third. It follows the passions, failures, and triumphs of luchadors and luchadoras as they try to claw their way to the top of The Temple, a mythical arena owned by a mysterious madman bent on creating as much chaotic violence as he can. It is not a wrestling promotion: it is a television show about a wrestling promotion. Sometimes, people fly off stuff.

    Angelico, in particular, flies off stuff. Angelico is a South African wrestling under a Spanish name in an American warehouse pulling out Mexican lucha libre moves in between flights off the woodwork. Angelico’s leaps, in context, are not sane; they come from the balconies and from the top of his boss’s ringside office, and often begin with a full-bore running start. Angelico does not drop like Batman from the rafters. He hurtles into the ring with the violence of a flying squirrel misjudging its flight path and smacking headlong into a tree. He is also proof that a flying squirrel the size of a man would be a terrible, terrible thing.

    The plot is inexplicable.This is the plot — the heavily edited plot. There is a weekend wrestling promotion called Lucha Underground. It films without really telling its audience much of anything about what is happening. There are mics, and obvious roles. Here is a heel, a rudo; there is a face, a técnico. There are longstanding rivalries, and reversals of those rivalries. If someone attended a few tapings in a row, you could theoretically begin to piece together what was happening with some reasonable accuracy. But there is also this television show, the one that has all these layers the Believers — the crowd in the Temple — don’t see or hear. There is a commentary layer, provided by Matt Striker and wrestling legend Vampiro. There are the interstitial dramatic scenes, the ones that explain most of the plot. For example: a character was murdered in season one during one of these scenes, the ones shot during the week away from the crowds. Executive Producer Eric Van Wagenen, backstage staring at the monitors, admits this may have its advantages when it comes to keeping the plots a mystery for the upcoming season. “We may be too weird to be spoiled, plot-wise.”

    They’ll still tell you “NO SPOILERS” in advance. It happens, right before the show when the fans have filed in, the production assistants have thoroughly arranged the crash pads on the floor and the band is on the platform overlooking the stage playing through a Spanish-language version of some recent American rock standard. (“Lonely Boy” by the Black Keys, for one show.) The pre-show announcement is one for the ages: it warns that you may be exposed to strobe lights, wrestlers entering the stands and

    “Blood!”

    (crowd goes YAY)

    “Sweat!” (louder YAY)

    “... And BODILY FLUIIIIIIIIIDS!!!”

    (loud, sustained YAYYYYYYYY)

    It matters why Angelico is leaping. Angelico’s leap, put into context: he is bailing out his teammates, Son of Havoc and Ivelisse. They are both battered, and mostly helpless after surviving a full three-way trios match. Leaping into Mr. Cisco and Cortez Castro, Angelico turns the tide of the match, and redeems the trio’s often dysfunctional chemistry with a victory. This is actually the third trio Angelico’s team has to fight here, even though this was billed as a three-trio match. The malicious owner of the promotion, Dario Cueto, made them fight the trio you see in the clip only after beating two other trios, and then springing this as a surprise — because that’s what he does. (He’s a dick who likes violence and making up rules. That, and his screaming monologues, is a large part of why people love him.) After a miraculous recovery, Angelico and Son of Havoc execute perfect flippy dives off the turnbuckles to finish the match, win the Trios title and put a thunderous capper on a 20-minute-plus epic of a fight. Tension, delivery, payoff: it’s a neat, bite-sized melodrama you can digest in a sitting.

    It does not matter at all why Angelico is leaping. Then again, none of this matters if you just want to say: sweet Jesus, what the hell did I just watch. There have been other wrestling shows that work high-wire/aerial. There have even been other shows attempting to work in fantastic elements and lucha libre. Few have done all of it with the editing, violence and intimacy that Lucha Underground does. Just start with the stadium: it looks small on the screen, but in person The Temple — in reality a hundred-year-old rail warehouse in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles — is even smaller.

    It seats about 350 on a good day, and 400 if the fire marshal isn’t counting too accurately. The Believers sit way, way too close to the action, and frequently scatter like bowling pins when the wrestlers enter the stands. A fan I talked to in line after a brawl scene had his shoe taken off his foot by a wrestler to use as a cudgel against another wrestler. “Security kept telling me to not touch the talent, and I was like, dude what do I do when the talent is touching me?” The guy got his shoe back eventually.

    Angelico here jumps a good twenty feet out and off Cueto’s office. It’s about 12 feet down, at least, and 20 feet out, and all done with two dudes who have to take what is at least a nasty clothesline at the bottom. Watched as an isolated looping GIF, Angelico barrels into the screen from multiple angles. The best of them is the final in the sequence, the one most similar to a car crash where there is no Angelico, and suddenly for a frame there is. And then there is violence, just a burst of limbs and kinetic energy and human confetti. It’s wrestling, so it’s choreographed violence, sure. So was every nuclear test ever conducted in the Nevada desert, and you still needed cobalt blue goggles just to look in its direction.

    Angelico is just one of many human and non-human characters in the show. There are a lot of characters on the show. Bear with us here. Not all of them are human, and that’s fine. Angelico does a pretty good imitation of being superhuman every now and then, but he’s a South Africa native who worked his way up the ranks of the Mexican wrestling world. There’s a lizard character, a mythical hunter and a guy in black jeans named Prince Puma who kind of looks like an Office Depot employee but can triple-tuck flip off the top rope. There is an inspiring wrestler with the mostly awful name Sexy Star who enters the ring holding a My Little Pony-themed battle staff, and who often leaves the ring covered in blood. (Usually someone else’s.)

    There are unkillable masked brutes, a time-traveling astronaut; Famous B, a wrestling agent who promises his clients fame and delivers them face-first into matches they cannot win. There is Cage, a man so muscular it hurt just bumping into him in the green room. The character Drago is a dragon — a real dragon, just in human form, who just likes hanging out with humans and occasionally beating them with nunchucks. He’s got a mask and everything. Like, a good one. He spent a chunk of one season just skulking around on rooftops and being mad.

    The Mexican luchador Fénix is human, though his brother, Pentagon Jr., is iffy on that count. He’s definitely real-life brothers with Fénix. He may also be some kind of blue-eyed glowering demon with a thing for breaking his defeated opponents’ arms.

    Why you should just know this, but keep going anyway. Pentagon Jr. ended up fighting a match against his mentor, who is also a vampire? And the color commentator for the whole show, who somehow hid for a whole season that he was secretly Pentagon Jr.’s master, despite sitting right there at the ringside announcer’s table? And they worked it all out, and are still bros? Let’s keep going, we swear it makes more sense when you just keep going and say: yes, a secret master who craves broken arms, let’s just keep going.

    It is a big world. There are no fewer than forty characters, many of whom are unique to Lucha Underground. Before a single episode of Lucha Underground aired in October 2014, the creators of the show spent nine months on world-building alone, using whatever they could to create a wrestling cosmos all of its own. That included consulting the work of the Mesoamericanist scholar Karl Taube, whose work on Mexican mythology gave the show a lot of its base imagery. (What, your wrestling show doesn’t base some of its characters on the totem animals of the original tribes of old Mexico? I pity you.) Chris DeJoseph, a former WWE writer and the head writer of Lucha Underground, says the instructions were simple. “Eric Van Wagenen walked into our writers room and told us to write it like it was the last wrestling show we’d ever write.”

    It is also the last wrestling show on earth. That “last wrestling show on earth” ethos meant using a hybrid of lucha libre and every other wrestling style on the planet. Though the word is right there in the title, DeJoseph is the first to acknowledge that Lucha Underground is an amalgamation of styles that incorporates the high-flying, masked catalog of lucha libre. “We pay tribute to the traditions of lucha libre, but we’re not bound by it. It’s a hybrid, and we acknowledge that.” There are tons of Mexican wrestlers from the country’s largest promotion, AAA, and almost everyone in Lucha Underground uses some variation on luchador moves. Even Cage, the beeftank dude with quads the size of utility pipes, will fly through the ropes and do flipping moonsaults onto waiting opponents. (Cage might look terrifying when he does it — but he still does it, and with a shocking delicacy for his size.)

    There are lucha moves, and Mexican circuit stars. But there are also indie regulars like Joey Ryan and The Mack, along with WWE-system veterans like Cage and Johnny Mundo, the current heel du jour for Lucha Underground. The Mack — a jiggly, crowd-owning wrestler in an extremely small and ill-fitting pair of yellow briefs — reels through acrobatic lucha moves with ease, but also gleefully throws down a Stone Cold Stunner whenever he can, complete with middle fingers and all. At Ultima Lucha, he even cracked two beers and gave Cage the full Steve Austin double-middle-fingers-in-the-face treatment afterwards, all while play-by-play announcer Matt Striker yelled “THAT MAN HAS A FAMILY.”

    Lucha Underground’s backbone as a universe is the backdrop of The Temple, but the limbs and feathers and exterior of the show are pure mutt DNA taken from WWE, PWG and every other wrestling promotion you can name. Oh, and the promotion can break many of the rules lucha libre never would, because they have a built-in license to blaspheme The Temple’s own rules: a heel character from beyond all other heel characters’ homeworlds, Dario Cueto.

    An important note on jiggly heroes. Before I forget: The Mack in motion looks like a gleeful, malevolent sack of muffins and springs.

    Entra El Jefe. His name is Dario Cueto, the founder of The Temple. He is a man who may have something to do with an imminent end of days, and a sign on his desk reads “I’M KIND OF A BIG DEAL.” His office sits in a corner of The Temple just a few feet from the ring, and on the door painted on frosted glass it reads “DARIO CUETO: PROPRIETOR.” Several people have been slammed through its ceilings in the course of matches, including his own brother, the monster Matanza. Dario Cueto wears black pants, a black button down and a black jacket at all times. He stands at maybe 5’8 in shoes with a generous heel. He wears his hair slicked back like a villain in a Robert Rodriguez movie, or perhaps a good guy in a Robert Rodriguez movie. This is not coincidental: Robert Rodriguez is an executive producer on the show, it airs on his El Rey network and Rodriguez himself sketched out many of the first season’s costumes.

    El Jefe, cont’d: Cueto is played not by a wrestler or the actual owner of the promotion, but by classically trained actor Luis Fernandez-Gil. It shows. Fernandez-Gil struts into scenes with the confidence of someone fresh off fourteen straight nights playing Macbeth in London. He almost always enters from his office door; like a true heel, his Cueto waits for the crowd to acknowledge his supremely confident self before addressing his minions. Everyone on Lucha Underground was hired with the ability to act in mind, mind you, but Fernandez-Gil is on an entirely different plane of theatricality. His Cueto preens, sneers, insults, cajoles and bribes. He thrashes with cartoonish fear when cornered. He runs when there’s trouble he made, and dodges its consequences whenever possible. In prerecorded segments, Cueto lounges with wrestlers in tense negotiations sipping brown liquor and issuing barely concealed threats. Live, he swans out of his office with mic in hand and his entrance splits the crowd into two camps: those who boo him mercilessly, and those clapping for the slick-haired embodiment of sadistic evil management.

    El Jefe, Cont’d, Cont’d: Dario Cueto also happens to be an amazing plot device. He can enter a match and immediately invalidate its results, if they do not please him. He can and has introduced dangerous and usually illegal weaponry and constraints — like ladders, nunchucks or steel cages — whenever he pleases. He demands instant rematches; he forces wrestlers into ludicrous wagers for their careers. Dario Cueto is the trap door Lucha Underground can pull whenever it needs to send a convention or rule hurtling to its demise. He is a chaos agent, timed to appear at the moment of least convenience to everyone but himself. When he points one finger in the air and says “BUT! BUT!” you know, for lack of a better phrase, that some deep and deeply entertaining bullshit is about to happen. He is the writer’s best Uno card to play when they need maximum violence with minimum explanation. He may be the most charismatic television villain since Gus Fring straightened his tie.

    The man who plays Cueto is serious about it. Fernandez-Gil declined to interview for this piece because he takes it and his privacy that seriously. He is the Daniel Day-Lewis of wrestling actors. Do not test him either: he may be slight, but he does have a black belt in judo.

    This can all be simple. There are so many things that make Lucha Underground simple, or at least simpler than other wrestling shows. They shoot mostly on weekends, leaving wrestlers free to roam during the week — a visual you have to like only for the vision of Prince Puma in his black jeans and mask, climbing the San Gabriel mountains shirtless and free. They always shoot in the same place for matches, so there’s no travel to Charlotte, Greensboro or any other long litany of Ric Flair-certified destinations on the wrestling circuit. Their cameras are usually in the same places, they shoot with the same crews and they get a lot of the same people in the crowd from week to week.

    Lucha Underground is also complicated. DeJoseph and the rest of the writing staff had to rewrite the entire first 13 episodes of the show in season one when, on the first day of filming, several Mexican wrestlers had visa issues and could not make it to The Temple. They spent all night rebuilding the plot, and ended up with something they eventually liked better anyway. But that last-minute improvisation of an entire story arc isn’t unusual. Wrestlers get injured, wrestlers have contract issues, wrestlers get sick and ultimately wrestlers sometimes have to be written around while they work out all of those things. Hell, the show wasn’t even sure if it was coming back for a second season at one point, and the entire Temple set was taken down. When they got the renewal from El Rey, the whole thing had to be rebuilt.

    Lucha Underground has always been complicated. It airs on a less-than-well-known network, El Rey, and survives via the financial commitment from Mexican producers and reality show baron Mark Burnett. El Rey itself exists in part because, when the FCC approved the merger between Comcast and NBC/Universal in 2011, Maxine Waters and other members of Congress pressured the company to create more minority-owned networks; thus was born El Rey, and thus Lucha Underground, and thus Angelico flying twenty feet across space to clothesline two men he probably hangs out with after the show.

    It’s an odd duck born in a little wormhole of interest generated by the huge machinations of media corporations and power structures shifting way, way above the roof of The Temple in Boyle Heights. Lucha Underground is a tiny little rose growing in a micro-atmosphere on just the right asteroid. Its backers claim to know how long this could take, and don’t care about the long run-up/investment period. That’s what everyone says at the start, but the show is shooting its third season right now, the checks are clearing and more people from the show are getting stopped and gripgrinned in airports.

    “They’re not wrestling people.” That’s Matt Striker, talking about the slice of the fanbase he sees. “They’ll say, ‘My favorite show was Sons of Anarchy, but now it’s Lucha Underground.’ It’s not about the wrestling for them, but about the characters. They’re talking about them as if there’s a character from Star Wars. There’s a young fanbase, and the visuals. They love seeing strong women.”

    Lucha Underground’s relationship with women is complicated.Lucha Underground has intergender matches that, like everything else on the show, involve a shocking amount of theatrical and not-so-theatrical violence. Women, particularly when they fight a deranged psychopath (like Marty “The Moth” Martinez) or a baby-oil toting chauvinist (hi, Joey Ryan), get horrendous treatment from male characters: dragged by their hair, thrown into turnbuckles and, in the case of the intergender match between Taya and Cage, slammed multiple times into the mat by men.

    The degree of brutality in Lucha Underground is already a point of pride, but almost especially so with regards to the relative equality women have in receiving and doling out punishment — both to and from men, and to each other. The producers of Lucha Underground clearly believe intergender wrestling is its own form of equality — the rules of The Temple are the rules of The Temple, and those rules say everyone fights everyone, regardless of size, gender or species affiliation. (Hi, guy who is really a dragon.) To wit:

    ALSO TO THAT POINT: No figure matters in this respect more than Sexy Star, she of the abuse backstory and the My Little Pony staff and ruffled lamé skirts. She’s the same wrestler behind the ferocious season two match with nemesis Mariposa where, in the throes of an apparent finishing submission hold, Sexy Star dared the FCC by screaming, “FUCK YOUUUUU MARIPOSAAAAAA” before pulling out a stunning victory. From one angle, it’s theoretically pure: Sexy Star, wrestling without a cordoned-off women’s division, can enjoy the ECW-ish hardcore violence applied equally. A woman can get curbstomped through a cinder block on Lucha Underground; a man can get curbstomped through a cinder block on Lucha Underground. Then again, a woman is still getting a backbreaker thrown on her by a much larger, stronger man in a society with a real problem in particular with violence against women. Then, pivoting again, Sexy Star will drop this same move back on a man, and do so in the construct of scripted entertainment.

    Ivelisse, a Lucha Underground wrestler who started in Puerto Rico at the age of 15, knows how far that violence can go firsthand. Check out Angelico’s big leap again: that’s her in the corner with the shocked/pained reaction face. For that Trios match, Ivelisse entered the ring with something she thought was “an ankle thing.” She finished the match with the clear understanding that she — either sometime before or during the match, it’s impossible to tell — had broken her ankle. She knew she was limited, but by the end of the fight, when all three wrestlers on her team were supposed to be spent and at the limits of their tolerance for pain, Ivelisse was the only one clearly faking nothing. Her pain was real. Being pros, they simply worked around it, announcing team included.

    If someone is put off by the dynamics of intergender matches, particularly that it happens in front of a predominantly male audience, Ivelisse gets why.

    “I can totally understand that perspective,” she says. “The whole point is that we're supposed to make it as realistic as possible. If you put a female UFC fighter in a cage with a male UFC fighter that's gonna be hard to watch. You're gonna have mixed feelings even if you believe that the woman has a choice.”

    Women in Lucha Underground do have the same choices men have, particularly when it comes to creative direction. Taya, who enters the ring to chants of WE-RA LO-CA (translation: crazy white girl), came to the show through Mexican circuit AAA, and brought with her a reputation for lunatic intensity and a breathtaking pain tolerance inherited from an early training in dance. (Taya: “I showed up at AAA’s gym in Mexico and laughed. It felt just like dance training.”)

    “I think it's very obvious that we all have a lot of creative control of our matches and showcase a lot of what we want to do,” she says. “We are the only company where the writers and the producers look at us for input on the matches, how they go and what we do in them.”

    As for the obvious, and sometimes disturbing dynamic of watching a woman get thrown around the ring by a much larger male wrestler?

    “You can't look at it that way. We're two fighters. It's not a guy beating up a girl, or a girl beating up a guy. We're both fighters, we're both luchadors trying to win. I'm an athlete. In Lucha Underground, we all know what we're getting into. I don't think there's anything wrong with that."

    Ivelisse doesn’t agree with the dynamics of every intergender match.

    “Sometimes it's not done how I would like, but there are so many opinions. I know when I go out there, I try to make it look as realistic as possible. I see it a lot, that people forget that. That’s our job: to make it look realistic.”

    That realism requires a serious level of trust with the partner, and a lot of thought beforehand. Ivelisse, again:

    “The kind of intergender match I'd have with Jack Evans is totally different than the match with Mil Muertes. Every match is different. I have to think, if this is realistic, and he punched me, I'd have a lot more damage than if I punched him, because he's stronger than me. Realistically, if this would happen, what would I do? If I did this, how would he react?”

    For example: say you have Taya, who is a strong but much lighter wrestler than Brian Cage. And let’s say you have a match where the two have to fight what is admittedly a lopsided match against each other. The scripting for the fight will have one likely end, and that is a defeat for Taya. But before that, Taya manages to salvage something out of the match. She runs around, she lands some spectacular moves on Cage. Taya ultimately loses to Cage, but like most of the intergender matches/action I see at Lucha Underground, there is always some positive payoff for the woman. (Lucha Underground regular Joey Ryan has said as much — that though he plays a sleazy, often sexist character, it is important for him at the end of an intergender match to end up giving the woman her moment of triumph over that sleaze, aka him.)

    It may be off-putting, or hard to watch, but even that perspective might be limited.

    LaToya Ferguson, a Los Angeles writer who put together Lucha Underground reviews for The AV Club, thinks that criticism — like Dave Meltzer’s from earlier in 2016 about intergender matches — might be representative of male perspectives only, and missing women’s opinions on Lucha’s mixed-gender brawling.

    “When he says that about intergender wrestling, or how the sport is shrinking, he’s ignoring growth with female fans who like seeing women wrestle, whether they’re wrestling men or women. They’re not the only ones who do it, but Lucha Underground usually does them very well. If you see Taya, you don’t see a female wrestler. You see a great heel character. That’s why she and Joey Ryan get their ass kicked. Not because she’s a woman, but because she’s a great heel.”

    That growth in female fans will remain anecdotal for the moment. Ivelisse says she sees a lot more little girls getting into the sport, and so does Taya. Ratings do not bear that out: Lucha Underground consistently pulls in somewhere around an 11 percent female audience. That falls far short of WWE’s consistently high numbers with female audiences, which usually hover somewhere around 30 percent. There is nothing to suggest intergender matches drive female viewers away; however, there is also nothing to suggest that they’re helping to attract female viewers, either.

    (Note: WWE’s advertising promo slides from 2014 claim more women watch WWE than the Oxygen network. Vince McMahon is for the ladies.)

    It is impossible to not admit a few essential and contradictory things about women wrestling in open competition on a fictional show.

    That women still make up a small percentage of the roster. They’re there, and are given big storylines and large moments and spotlights galore, but there are six of them compared to something like 36 male wrestlers or so. It is just and good to point out what large roles women play in Lucha Underground, but there’s a need to put it in perspective, too. The space for women is there, and it is exactly this big.

    That intergender matches can make for some legitimately cringeworthy moments, especially for a first-time viewer of Lucha Underground, and especially when you know the audience watching that match is often around 90 percent male. Maybe they’re thoughtful wrestling fans who appreciate the good work of two skilled luchadors independent of gender, admiring the hard work, trust and coordination it takes to successfully throw someone through a table without anyone getting hurt. That might be the case. They might also be the kind of men who especially enjoy seeing women thrown through tables for their entertainment, and not for art’s sake.

    This won't matter to someone who wants to see violence against women, which is the unavoidable problem. The match could have complete trust between wrestlers. You could be appreciating it properly, and in accordance with Lucha's principles of gender equality. The hope, I think, is that the audience will follow that idealistic approach. I'm not that optimistic. For the performers, I get that they believe they're working as equals. I actually think, based on what everyone to a person said when talking about intergender matches, that this is how things work inside Lucha Underground. I also think hoping a largely male audience--mostly those at home or watching for the first time-- will be able to handle this without slipping into the rut of misogyny is naive.

    That Lucha Underground follows their intergender ethos absolutely, sometimes with women crashing through stuff to the ground, and sometimes with women winning matches against much larger men. In almost every match I watched, each wrestler got something out of the outcome: an ovation for their pain tolerance, a conciliatory hand for getting cheated by fate or Dario Cueto, or a moment of brand magnification for whatever flag they flew as a wrestler. Heels got to look more heel-y; faces grew more virtuous even in (or especially because of) defeat.

    It was true for women and men, but seemed especially so for women. Even in defeat, they got a sliver of victory or triumph. That moment of triumph usually involves — you guessed it — an extreme, simulated violence. And to that point: if that’s a dealbreaker for you, honestly, how did you even get this far into a discussion of Lucha Underground? A show where the villain who runs the whole thing admittedly maximizes the violence of the competition for his own pleasure? A show where the father figure for the whole production says this out loud at a taping: “Remember: Lucha Underground is about love. And also violence, which is good.”

    A JUGGALO-LOVING FATHER FIGURE FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE AND ALSO THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO. That quote is from Vampiro, the color announcer for Lucha Underground. It comes at the end of another left turn Lucha Underground makes: admonishing its crowd to please, please stop shouting “puto” at heels like Johnny Mundo, because that happens to be a homophobic slur with a nasty edge that the producers and cast do not want on the air. The show isn’t chaste in the language department: the Spanish-speaking luchadors throw around “Chinga te” and other snakebite-sharp profanities in the ring with regularity, the fans chant “holy shit!” and “¡culero!” at the action frequently and Vampiro himself will drop “shit” and other non-PG profanities on air. But this? This can’t be in the show, Vampiro says, addressing the crowd in a slow 360 rotation with the tired but supremely confident air of someone who has done this so many times that one-on-one conversation feels odd.

    VAMPIRO FACT: As a young man in Los Angeles, he served as personal security for Milli Vanilli.

    “I take a couple of caffeine pills, do a couple of shots of Jägermeister, and I’m good to go.”

    That is how Vampiro says he preps for a taping of Lucha Underground. This is gentle treatment for Vampiro, in terms of how Vampiro treats Vampiro. He looks like the kind of tatted-up middle-aged man who owns a krav maga gym (he does) and who might listen to Insane Clown Posse. (He does, and considers himself a Juggalo for life after Shaggy 2 Dope leaped into a “potentially bad situation” in L.A. once and had his back.) The crowd pays him as complete attention as a hyped-up wrestling crowd can; there are no “putos” from the crowd during taping.

    Vampiro came up as a young wrestler in Mexico, where he arrived from his native Canada in 1989 with a hundred dollars in his pocket, no return ticket and zero ability to speak Spanish. After showing up with blue dreadlocks to a gym, he somehow ended up in the ring less than a week later. His lack of Spanish and experience was overcome by the enthusiasm of women in the crowd for his good looks and Vampire Lestat style. Vampiro, in his own words, became something like a Tiger Beat sensation in a matter of a few weeks. He’d wrestle over thirty times in a week sometimes. Another wrestler gave him a Halcion to sleep on a bus between stops; Vampiro woke up in a hotel room 12 hours later. His buddies said he’d clotheslined a priest at a bus stop. Vampiro says he responded by buying a box of 2000 of them at a nearby pharmacia.

    Vampiro worked his way along to WCW — ”the absolute worst” — where he wrestled with fellow goth-banger Sting, and through a dizzying alphabet soup of promotions: XPW, TNA, AJPW, AAA and even Juggalo Championship Wrestling. Vampiro eventually abandoned wrestling completely, and returned home to Canada to open a gym before resurfacing to take on whatever his role has become at Lucha Underground.

    I say whatever because, at this point, Vampiro does a little bit of everything. He mentors younger wrestlers; he serves as a producer. Vampiro also plays himself, i.e as a wrestler who in season one was the secret master of Pentagon Jr. (Remember him? The guy with the scary skeleton face and undying thirst for breaking human limbs?) His season-ending match and reveal as the secret master of Pentagon Jr. was widely considered one of that season’s highlight matches, and is daffy but gripping Lucha Underground scripting in full bloom: Vampiro, the same gruff-looking guy with a shaved head casually breaking down a match in a hoodie one minute, and then entering the arena in full spectral makeup and papal mitre and genuflecting to the crowd the next.

    He also still does color announcing, where he drops monologues like this with casual gravity.

    Do you know what it takes to face a man like that? The depths you have to go to in order to face a monster like that? Can you even do that without becoming a monster yourself? How do you handle that? Like, how do you even deal with that, bro?

    Matt Striker says the two do little in the way of prep. Pre-show, they just sort of feel each other out, and go from there. “He’s a nurturer. I just ride with how he’s humming at the moment. When he walks into the room you know where he is.”

    Striker pauses, and then laughs. “You also know where the door is.”

    The point where we talk about your attitudes toward wrestling and the future of sport. I want you to start with Dario Cueto here. Dario is the head of the promotion and the owner. Technically he refers to himself as the proprietor, but titles/names/whatever. He is the commissioner for this league of this sport-tainment, a term we’ll apply to everything in sports that gets televised or shared via some channel of mass communication.

    Dario gets to make up rules as he goes. Dario serves his masters — in this case the writing staff and producers and director who want things, within a certain defined framework of actors and rules, to go as they like them to go. He is a frontpiece, a character, a tool to ensure outcomes.

    Without getting too many vape hits deep in this: how is this any different from Roger Goodell’s role in your life? There are some easy, quick answers. Dario Cueto is likable, funny and open about his lust for violence. Those are important differences, as is Dario Cueto being an open fiction, an honest plot construct.

    There are a few thornier ones, too. To anyone saying wrestling is de-legitimized in the least by its scripting, consider the spectrum of things you already consider real entertainment. You accept the goal line as a thing, even though it is a stupid chalk line drawn an arbitrary distance from one point to the next. You accept endless fiddling with rules and parameters and terms of engagement. You already accept a certain amount of scripting. Like, they even call it that; the act you consider spontaneous is, in fact, the byproduct of years of mindless repetition. Even acts — which in wrestling are the extremely choreographed moves — are legislated and codified down to an almost imperceptible degree of propriety and impropriety. Please watch basketball officiating, and then dare yourself to deny the part about the differences being imperceptible and subjective. Everyone who watches an NFL game devours far more advertising and dead air than they do actual football. If that isn’t a form of scripting — to pause, ask you to wait and then collect a check from a beer company while 22 men stand around panting and looking at whiteboards — then nothing is. At best, you’re watching improv drama with a gymnastic and combat element interspersed through a sea of commercials already.

    Every coach in every sport will already admit that the idea is to reduce the spontaneous, the unanticipated and the random to a bare minimum. Wrestling, once a sport where people actually fought, evolved past the pretense of a game being fair or authentic a long time ago — but a lot of other sports have, too. The NBA, the NFL and other leagues all level their competitive gradients with salary caps and competition rules. College sports are dominated by the same perennial powers, and operate under a code where they can’t even pay their players for their labor. Until Leicester City broke through this year, the EPL had crowned only one other non-Man United/Man City/Arsenal/Chelsea league champion since 1992.*

    *Congratulations to 1994-95 Blackburn Rovers.

    A show made by reality people just advances this a step forward by introducing editing. Lucha Underground is a wrestling show, and should be thought of as a wrestling show. It should also be thought of as a reality show in the sense of the current definition of reality show: a heavily edited, scripted piece of entertainment reliant on a measured dose of reality. The reality here: the ogre’s opera of professional wrestling, presented here in a wild hybrid of lucha libre and pretty much every other major influence in modern professional wrestling. Whatever the writers build around the Temple — time travelers, dragons, murder subplots, rogue bikers — the action still depends on the reality of someone hitting their finishing move off the turnbuckle without breaking their neck. There’s a seed of reality; with that planted, everything else blooms above it. Without that, Lucha Underground is just an odd shirtless telenovela. With it, Lucha Underground might be one of the best shows on television.

    Lucha Underground is unique, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s certainly no evidence that controlled narrative turns fans of a sport away. In fact, there’s little evidence that editing, curation, manipulation, scripting or outright artifice discourages people from using, engaging with or watching anything at all. Facebook is a stream of FOMO-inducing lies, and it is the most popular social networking site in the world. Instagram is worse — you don’t even have to use words, and can filter images for maximum beauty. The internet is a Sargasso Sea of stale lies, and unlike television they’re made by the real experts in dishonesty: the general public.

    With travel and road production and talent evaluation and administration and the skyrocketing cost of TV rights for content providers, the idea is simplifying all this down to a story with definite outcomes. This is not an abstract concept. Most sports fans, specialists aside, deal in heroic and often heroically dumb narratives anyway. Steph Curry was a face, and now he and his team turned heel. Former face-turned-heel LeBron James is now back to face status after winning a title in Cleveland. Who’s the greatest, Tom Brady or Russell Wilson, well let’s find out at the end of this five-week tournament culminating in a pay-per-view subsidized by America’s largest companies. Most sports teams, honestly, wouldn’t care so long as they got their moment in the sun, and a hefty share of the TV deal. (You forget: all a billionaire sports owner wants, in their heart of hearts, is money. Trophies are shiny things to be put in closets.) Keep the physical spectacle, and a good bit of the rest will follow.

    There are already paranoiacs on scripting’s side; a good number of fans believe some leagues are scripted already. The question is not about whether the NBA is scripted, though. It’s about, with all the advantages of scripted reality-style sports, when sports will be scripted, and who will take advantage of that. Think of it, college football fan: You like the Kick Six, but don’t want to hang around through six dull rivalry games a season to get to it? Great. We’ll give you the Kick Six once a season. It’s right here in the script.

    Then, once you take that one step most people take anyway, here at the end of all things, Roger Goodell would have an excuse for looking dumb. It was not his fault; he was just written that way.

    A staggering, spoiler-free moment. Reminder: There are no spoilers in Lucha Underground, so I cannot tell you what is happening in front of the sign. I can give you menu options, sure. This is a real sign: hand-drawn in what looks like black Sharpie. A fan in the second row holds it, and he’s holding it tentatively because the match has spilled into the space between the ring and the bleachers. Matches have a tendency to move from there to the stands, and can stay there for minutes at a stretch, and yeah: he’s got one eye on two wrestlers, and a shoulder ready to turn and lead the rest of his body uphill in case that happens.

    One of them is bleeding/recovering from being electrocuted/will be thrown through a pane of glass. The other has been beaten with a large stick/thrown off a balcony/assaulted with a fork. Both stagger with the practiced fatigue of a wrestler waiting for the next piece of choreography to unfold. One breaks away to rummage around the set for weaponry, and gleefully returns with a lunchbox/hammer/bottle, only to turn and face the onrushing desperate last gasp attack of the opponent. The stunned wrestler with the weapon flails theatrically before getting suplexed/piledriven/straight THROWN into the crowd/announcer’s table/a nearby passing car’s windshield/the L.A. River.

    The crowd screams HO-LY SHIT! HO-LY SHIT! HO-LY SHIT! HO-LY SHIT for a good ten seconds straight. Both wrestlers somehow stagger up, and back across the stage. One of the wrestlers, now bleeding even more from a gash on his forehead, moves back past the jumpy fan with the handwritten sign, from left to right across stage from camera perspective. He is, for reasons I can’t tell you about in detail, holding his balls theatrically, and grimacing like a man in extreme pain. The sign reads: “WRESTLING IS AN ART.”

    I want to frame this image, and show it to you. I can’t, because it contains spoilers, but I’m telling you that in a perfect world, I could, and it wouldn’t matter. It would not matter one bit. Art like Lucha Underground is too strange for words to capture it alone. Art, in the moment, is always spoiler-proof.

    Written by Spencer Hall

    Edited by Elena Bergeron

    Layout/illustrations: Jon Bois


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    Some Olympic sports are good to watch on TV and others are not. Here's the schedule: watch them all.

    1. Basketball. Olympic basketball has typically devolved into overfed American basketball players bringing down 200 pounds and at least six and a half feet of national greatness onto opponents’ heads. I would have a problem with this, but a.) there’s more competitive parity in international basketball than ever before, and b.) I am American.

    VINCE CARTER OWNS EIGHT HUNDRED SQUARE FEET OF HIS CHOICE IN THE LOUVRE AND ALWAYS WILL.

    Also, Olympic men’s basketball has already led to Boogie Cousins protesting his teammates putting him on Snapchat too much by refusing to let everyone off the bus. When someone suggested they were going to beat him up if he did not move, this was his response.

    I done got beat up before, man, I ain’t trippin

    DeMarcus Cousins is in the Olympics and could have kept them all on the bus forever. This is our finest sport, nationally, internationally, and perhaps on a galactic level.

    2. Track and Field. It’s not fair, really, since Track and Field encompasses like 90 different things, but for economy it can’t be beaten because there are events that only take nine seconds. Track and Field is the snack bar of the Olympics, and each bite only contains the heartbreak of elite athletes watching their dreams incinerated in like, 15 seconds of competition. Highlight: Watching the hammer throw and wondering how anyone ever does it, much less how their limbs don’t fly off in every direction on the windup.

    3. Gymnastics. THE BEST. Only the possibility of the American women losing to equal competition brings it down the rankings, and takes it out of the top spot. For like, the eighth straight Olympics, I’m begging the IOC to please consider taking a random person out of the audience and allowing them to attempt each event on international television. It’s in the Olympic spirit to want to watch a 47-year-old French eyeglass executive with a heavy smoking habit attempt the vault, and then be hauled off the floor after fracturing his sternum—-for international brotherhood.

    Benjamin Gischard of Switzerland vaults.Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    4. Soccer. Double the delicious poison of nationalism in competition with the very real possibility that you can get someone like Cameroon or Mexico a gold medal, and you’re playing with solid fireworks. (To wit: Brazil tying with Iraq in group play this year, something that in theory should never, ever happen.) Nigeria got a gold in 1996, another piece of evidence that the Atlanta games were the most entertaining and nonsensical Olympic games ever.

    5. Swimming (with Katie Ledecky decimating everything in her path). Essential viewing you should cancel things like family birthdays for. Katie Ledecky was pumping her fist with one hand on the wall while the silver medalist was finishing. She is so dominant at her sport that I almost forgot to note how weird it is to be the best at a physical activity humans really shouldn’t be good at. It’s like being the bird who can run the fastest.

    6. Rugby Sevens. The sorcery of vomit on the wing. It’s not possible to watch Rugby Sevens without noticing that there are way, way fewer people on the pitch, and that they are all running fast enough to make mortals throw up hammers. If only there were some way of knowing how many were on that field for each team, though; if only. Such is mystery.

    7. Handball. The most made-up looking sport at the Olympics, since it’s literally just seven people to a side trying to throw a ball into a net. There’s not even dribbling, and thus no penalty for traveling. Dwight Howard ended up playing the wrong game, skillset-wise. Not far off from dodgeball, really, provided the part of "Terrified Unathletic Child" was played by the goalie every time. Also way more fun than it has any right to be, just like Calvinball played on a basketball court would be.

    Handball - Olympics: Day 2Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

    8. Swimming (without Katie Ledecky decimating everything in her path). It’s fine, especially if we can gin up a probably overblown rivalry with a country over something they won last time. ("FRANCE STOLE OUR RELAY MEDALS! WE’LL RENEW THE ANCIENT RIVALRY OVER MODERN DISCO’S LINEAGE IN RIO, YOU BASTARDS.")

    9. Weightlifting. So good in small doses, especially for the smaller lifters who should not be able to put twice their bodyweight overhead like ants. Especially good to watch with Crossfitters, who will inevitably critique the Olympic lifting technique of a 104-pound Chinese lady lifter whose max is four times their own. Irony is an Olympic value, too. Oh, do you want to know if they’re all explosively farting at the bottom of their lifts? You bet they are.

    10. Table Tennis. Main attraction in a sport almost too fast to watch: unexpectedly jacked legs on all competitors. Ping pong players look like someone who only squats, every day, for three hours at the gym, every day for the entirety of their lives. This person then leaves the squat rack without so much as touching another weight, and steps up to a ping-pong table to absolutely wreck shit with little more than lightning reflexes and the quads of Colossus himself.

    Paul Drinkhall flexes massive thighs in celebration of a point.Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    11. Synchronized Swimming. An absolutely absurd sport that should not exist and THAT IS WHY IT IS SO DAMN ENTERTAINING LOOK THAT LADY IS DOING A HANDSTAND OFF ANOTHER SWIMMER’S BACK AND SMILING WHILE THE LADY TREADS WATER HARD ENOUGH TO BE A HUMAN LIFE RAFT. Secretly, I’m sure this is a thin veneer of cheer over a world of physical torment, psychological warfare, and despicable, bloodthirsty politics. I don’t know if all that makes it a sport, and I don’t care. I like writing little spec scripts about the judges and their weird hustles to take cash to pay off their gambling debts in Monaco too much to care. If you disagree you want things in life to make sense, and that is so not my fault, reader.

    12. Modern Pentathlon. I know an event where you ride a horse, run, swim, shoot a gun, and use a blade is supposed to be gentlemanly or something. But change the horse to a pig, and this is basically the skill set of everyone I know from Jefferson County, Tenn. Fetch you some gold medalists from them hollers, USOC.

    13. Shooting. Lower than they should be because shooting events turn you into the most psychotic sports dad on the planet. This is an event where the best in the world can hit 20 out of 20 shots at distance, and because your brain is flexible and stupid you will begin to be intolerant of even tiny failures after three minutes’ viewing.

    For example:

    Announcer: And here’s Kim Rhode, going for a perfect 100 out of 100 shooting a tiny bullet at a tiny target from an impossibly long distance, a woman so dominant in her sport that a bullet company put her on their boxes along with John Wayne and Theodore Roosevelt. She’s better at this than you are at anything in your life.

    Rhode: [inhales, lines up shot]

    Me: [boils with silent tension]

    [Rhode misses]

    Me: GODDAMMIT, KIM, GET IT TOGETHER, YOU’RE FALLING TO PIECES OUT THERE.

    Olympics - Previews - Day -1Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    14. Judo. A beautiful, intellectual, and physically demanding experience for the competitors. Unfortunately, judo mostly looks like burly people yanking each other around by their pajamas to the casual viewer, periodically interrupted by one of them falling loudly to the mat.

    15. Cycling (BMX). Another sport added to pad American medal counts, which is fine because Michael Phelps is retiring after these games and we will need the help badly.

    16. Cycling (Mountain Bike). See above. Aside from everyone on a mountain bike kind of looking like a 14-year-old no matter their age? Fine, especially watching world-class athletes eat shit over their handlebars falling on a course pulled straight out of your adolescent bike fantasies. This being Rio, that awesome and seemingly perfect mountain bike course is probably built on a heavy metal disposal site.

    International Mountain Bike Challenge - Aquece Rio Test Event for the Rio 2016 OlympicsPhoto by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

    17. Cycling (Road). Too emotionally harrowing. Honestly cyclists should be able to take whatever drugs they want just to ensure my emotional stability as a viewer, since I could watch without thinking about the hell-level agony they’re going through. I like Chris Froome. I hope he is on dilaudid and cocaine for the entirety of every race he ever races for the rest of his life, because cycling hurts.

    18. Cycling (Track). If NASCAR were based on thigh circumference.

    19. Rowing. Basically just team road cycling done on water. Give them whatever drugs they want so I can watch itwithout sympathetically dry heaving, too.

    20. Beach Volleyball. The lukewarm take is the true one: it’s just okay, though the venue is always a beach, and thus supposedly a good one, ignoring the fact that the beach is usually sandy, filled with people you don’t want to hang out with and, in the case of beach volleyball, packed with speakers blasting "Centuries" by Fall Out Boy. The Olympics, being sponsored largely by corporations, are thus susceptible to Fall Out Boy, the band writing music for exactly eight powerful corporate executives who love their music.

    21. Tennis. Con: the best players in the world, putting on sort of an effort. Pro: the best players in the world still showed up, which makes Olympic tennis kind of the randomly placed buffet roast beef carving station of the Olympics. It’s there, and we’re not sure why, but you’ll eat some anyway.

    22. Field Hockey. Deeply underrated, if only for the restraint teams show in NOT battering each other too obviously with sticks. Unusual in that no one, in the entire history of the sport stretching back to the Middle Ages, has ever thought of getting a longer stick.

    Melissa Gonzalez passes the ball using a short field hockey stick.Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

    23. Boxing. Easily the most 19th century part of the Olympics, especially now that they took the headgear off and will let participants inflict unmitigated head trauma in the name of international solidarity and brotherhood. Your granddad will watch it, maybe.

    24. Diving. A complex and sophisticated sport which you will as a viewer boil down to "did they make a big splash or nah, because I know that’s real bad if they do." If someone asks you the best diver of all time, it is Stephan Feck. On the positive side, it’s very relaxing watching divers chill in the hot tub, a feature that should be added to more sports for athletes waiting around to do things. (This would be amazing in baseball, for instance, where a right fielder could lounge in warm comfort until he’s needed.)

    25. Fencing. Another sport so quick you assume you could button-mash your way to a medal if you were fast enough. (You could not.) Needs a sub-discipline where participants fight with dull axes or gravity hammers from Halo.

    26. Badminton. Living in Taiwan and having men who smoked two packs a day line up with 30 pounds of beerweight on their waists to annihilate you in a game where you hit a feathered buttplug is one of the most horrifying memories you can possibly have. To hell with badminton, a sport so stressful to its participants that every shot seems like an unpleasant surprise to the players. "OH GOD HE HIT THE THING AGAIN, DIDN’T HE—"

    27. Wrestling. Another sport where the ancient intricacies of weight transfer and move/countermove are overwhelmed by the viewer’s overall sensation of "why won’t that sweaty mean person get off that other slightly less mean sweaty person." At its best it is complex, brawny chess; at its worst it looks like two very hostile people refusing at all costs to shake each others’ hands even though they must shake hands.

    28. Water polo. I want it to be better, I really do, but without constant underwater shots of everyone punching each other in the stomachs and tearing at each other’s swimsuits it’s just a hard sport to stage on television. Rivals handball for sheer torture-level exploitation of goalies.

    John Mann of the USA competes for the ball against Marc Minguell Alferez of Spain.Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

    29. Taekwondo. Surprisingly hesitant viewing, and contrary to everything Best of the Best taught me contains very few a.) in-ring fatalities, and b.) long redemption arcs resulting in manly tears and hugging.

    30. Equestrian. Notable only for the parade of wealthy mutants who compete in it, and for the ongoing travesty of the horses being awarded nothing for their effort. "San Domingo Velasquez de la Ralle is a Brazilian natural gas heir whose other hobbies include running an F1 team and cultivating orchids. His horse, Alonzo, is irrelevant to everything happening today. Both are devastatingly handsome and well-groomed by a team of no less than five personal attendants."

    Ruy Fonseca of Brazil riding Tom Bombadill Too tips his top hat to the crowd.Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

    31. Sailing. Really a sport where you’re just rooting for fabric engineering and wind, though the very real risk of competitors running headlong into abandoned couches in the water does add some intrigue. (I SWEAR I WROTE THIS BEFORE THIS MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE HAPPENED.)

    32. Triathlon. Another exercise in sadism, though it is fun to think of triathlon as "Multitasking: the Endurance Sport Edition."

    33. Archery. Oh man archery is so fun to do, if not to watch. My brother went to a private school where everyone had expensive compound bows. One day we were hanging out and he looked at his phone and said, "Oh, John Michael’s coming over to shoot his new bow." John Michael pulled up, got out his new bow, and took a few shots well off-center before announcing "something was wrong" with the new bow.

    My brother picked it up and hit two dead-center shots. John Michael picked it up, said "I gotta get this straight," and huffed off. I don’t think they talked for months. My point is that archery is savage, and that even men who call each other friends have dark, wordless, and terrifying emotional lives.

    Archery - Olympics: Day 1Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    34. Canoe sprint. Not entirely opposed to Olympic sports expanding to any and all drunken games you come up with at 10 p.m. on a weekend at the lake house.

    35. Trampoline. See "drunken games you come up with at 10 p.m. on a weekend at the lake house." It’s fine. Trampoline is fine.

    36. Golf. The irony of watching golfers try to be patriotic is fun, since most of them own gifted condos in Dubai they might not even know they have. Also disappointing that there is no team play, because watching golfers try to work together is like watching someone try to carriage race a team of cats.

    37. Canoe slalom. Will revise to the No. 1 spot if, contrary to expectations, this is a mountain event involving no water whatsoever.

    38. Rhythmic gymnastics. Be honest and admit that Extremely Arrhythmic Gymnastics would be much, much more entertaining.

    39. Marathon swimming. "Take all the excitement of watching someone run for 26.2 miles, and then place it out of view underwater."


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  • 08/30/16--07:40: THE CURIOUS INDEX, 8/30/2016
  • LSU IS TELLING YOU HOW TO SAY THINGS, FOOTBALL’S CLOSE

    THE SEASON APPROACHES, GET THEE TO A FRANCOPHONE SPEAKER OF SOME SORT. Bless you, American State With The Biggest French Heritage And The Pronunciation Guide To Show It.

    Remember, inside the extra vowels and random x’s? PURE CAJUN AND CREOLE SPICE.

    THE BEST OPENING WEEKEND EVER (THAT YOU CAN REMEMBER WITHOUT LOOKING UP BETTER ACTUAL OPENING WEEKENDS.) Do not misunderstand us: it’s great, and may not be the best ever, but facts aren’t much use in the present when that present holds no football, and the weekend ahead holds at least eight games of national interest. Best part: we will forget that any of them happened in November, when one team that suffers a disastrous loss this weekend has its shit together and is ranked in the top ten and gunning for a playoff spot.

    THE JIM HARBAUGH COMES WITH TWO GEARS: 12TH, AND REVERSE. Let Jim Harbaugh be a warning to you as a college football coach: you probably shouldn’t answer any questions about the fine delineations between patriotism and jingoism, or about protest in the public space. You have been watching film for two months straight in a dark room! Keep it to 4-3 over fronts versus zone blocking schemes and you’ll be fine.

    WHAT COULD HAPPEN. USC’s starting left tackle will be making only his third start against Alabama, so if you want to watch a story of human triumph or human failure or a little of both just watch that matchup all day.

    HOW DID YOU SEPARATE YOUR SHOULDER, QUARTERBACK. Just trucking a dude from a hated rival, that’s all.

    ETC: Who decided to ever let David Foster Wallace onto a movie set, and how soon did they lose their job after this was published?


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    This is The Top Whatever, Spencer Hall's weekly ranking of only the college football teams that deserve to be ranked at this time.

    1. ALABAMA

    Nick Saban, after beating USC 52-6, said, "We need to get more players that can play winning football." This came after limiting JuJu Smith-Schuster to one catch, breaking in two new quarterbacks gently with only 18 passes, and handing USC its worst season-opening loss ever.

    Saban, otherwise, drives a boat without even looking where the boat is going.

    My man is barely keeping a hand on the wheel while he talks about deep motivational things with Marty Smith and Tim Tebow. He’s not even trying to steer that boat. Either this is a metaphor for the ease with which Saban is driving a death machine incapable of meaningful error over the rest of college football, or Saban has had all interlopers removed from his private lake in order to avoid hitting anyone. Both are probably accurate.

    Again, did you see how many times Alabama had to pass to beat USC by that immense margin? EIGHTEEN TIMES. Alabama can play football like it’s 1982, and it might not matter. But I have concerns about their quarterback situation. Why? Saban probably has 17 unlisted assistants escorting Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts around campus like handlers, making sure they get to class, snack properly, and understand the complexities of the 4-3 over front they’ll face next week.

    You think Steve Sarkisian’s going there to coach? HE’S GOING TO TUSCALOOSA TO PARK LANE KIFFIN’S CAR FOR HIM. Lane’s never had a driver’s license; please don’t tell anyone, it’s one of the reasons USC left him at the airport. That was before Uber, and you can catch a cab easily there. See? So nice, and Lane still didn’t pull up until he put 50 on his former employer.

    (Alabama has a lot of coaches, is the point, and even the unpaid volunteers might be better than yours.)

    2. FLORIDA STATE

    Quarterback Deondre Francois played so brilliantly against Ole Miss that you might have dismissed it as a fluke. You should not do this. The Rebels defensive line would be enough to reduce most freshmen to tears, and that’s before you remember that the FSU offensive line spent most of the first half sliding backwards into Francois’ legs. (Not an exaggeration.)

    He passed for more yards than Jameis Winston passed for in his debut, against a much better defense and after spending an entire half getting thrown by bears. Francois did this without a great effort from Dalvin Cook, his best offensive player, and dropped passes into windows with touch and accuracy. Touch and accuracy are legal in, like, 28 states where college football is played.

    And I understand you not wanting to give Florida State credit for anything. I do, believe me, I do, on a molecular level deeper than you imagine. If it’s possible to dismiss all the repellent features of the FSU fanbase, their ongoing nightmare of football often dwarfing the institution itself, and your refusal to take an adult named "Jimbo" seriously, then please do this: at least admit that Florida State, more than any team in college football right now, identifies offensive talent and develops it. Fisher recruits well, yes — so well, in fact, that any other team in Florida and the region operates at a deficit from the start — but putting players in a position to succeed is easily half the job, and they do that, too. Last night, Florida State managed to do it during a halftime.

    P.S. OLE MISS DID NOT DO THIS.

    3. HOUSTON

    They got bigger? Or Oklahoma got smaller? Maybe it’s just the mind fitting form to scoreboard, but Houston didn’t look like the obviously smaller, obviously more motivated, but still underdoggish team they looked like against Florida State in their upset Peach Bowl win.

    QB Greg Ward looks like a starter for anyone in this list, running back Duke Catalon looks just as big and bad as anyone in Oklahoma’s vaunted backfield, and the Cougars defensive line hauled the Sooners’ OL around like so much reclaimed luggage. This team still does the hustle-y underdog things, like returning a short field goal attempt 109.999999999 yards for a TD, but that whole "undermanned but overcoached" thing is over for Houston.

    Enjoy stretch-fit living, Houston. The scale doesn’t lie: this is your weight class, and these are the comfortable, fat-boy pants you earned by handing a 33-23 loss to the Sooners.

    Oh, and keep playing teams that only give their star running backs six carries each for the entire game.

    4. TEXAS

    That feels weird, but we’re here after a 50-47 OT win over Notre Dame. We’re here looking at a Texas team that combines a Baylor-style, spread-power run game with a Charlie Strong defense and Texas-grade personnel. We’re here looking at them going toe-to-toe with a stout Notre Dame and eventually overpowering it. We’re here looking at the Longhorns overpowering Notre Dame in the red zone with the second half of a two-QB system, Tyrone Swoopes, the driver behind the wheel of an offensive package with a name so Texas it makes us want to freebase brisket on the back of a bucking bull:

    "I said to Sterlin just pound them, pound them, pound them, and I just wanted to see if we could wear them down," Strong said of the drive. "Even at the end with the last touchdown with (QB Tyrone) Swoopes I said, ‘Listen, we're not throwing the ball. We're going to line up and we're going to let 18-wheeler just run over people.’"

    CONVOOOYYYYYYY.

    Texas is starting eight underclassmen on defense. It will likely lose some games based strictly on that inexperience alone. The two-QB system will have some bad games. These things are inevitable. What is also inevitable: If the Longhorns can play that kind of offense to go with that defense and avoid serious injury, they can win 10 games, beat Oklahoma, and create something truly monstrous in Austin. We’re here, looking at that, and it’s kind of beautiful.

    5. CLEMSON

    Beat Auburn 19-13. Looked harried and sluggish and bothered that they had to chase around every single Wing-T fake Gus Malzahn and the Auburn offense threw at them. Looked annoyed? Looked real annoyed, which is appropriate because even playing a misfiring Auburn offense is bothersome. Maybe more bothersome, because they tried so many things and accomplished so little?

    Clemson and the rest of us watching you, Auburn, were rightfully annoyed. It’s one thing to suck on offense, but to try and dress up a burnt steak like that with garnish and all that truffle butter is just a waste of good football garnish. If anyone would understand the quiet dignity of three simple runs followed by a punt, it’s Auburn. (They might like that better at this point, frankly.)

    Deshaun Watson didn’t even have a good game, and Clemson still won. They’re up here until that stops happening, or receiver Mike Williams stops being supernaturally good at his job (174 yards receiving on nine catches, fwiw, against a nasty Auburn defense). Clemson might deserve to be higher, but having seen what Auburn rolled out on offense, it’s hard to consider how much of a test that might have been at all.

    6. OHIO STATE

    J.T. Barrett had six TDs in a 77-10 scrimmage against Bowling Green.

    Don’t tell me Bowling Green is secretly pretty good, Ohio State fans — you’re taking the joy out of a preseason stampede staged exclusively for the purpose of watching your much better football players annihilate a MAC team left hapless in the wake of your athleticism. Enjoy that. ASK MISSISSIPPI STATE OR ARKANSAS OR SOME OTHER POINTS-POOR SEC WEST TEAM THAT DIDN’T DO THAT THIS WEEKEND. THEY’LL TELL YOU TO ENJOY THAT, SIRS, WHILE YOU CAN.

    Speaking of that.

    7. MICHIGAN

    The exact margin a team will lose by if it has to fly from Australia to Hawaii to Ann Arbor, Mich.? It’s 63-3, with that lone data point being established by our brave test subjects, the Hawaii Warriors.

    Michigan is probably a very good football team and did not suffer any major injuries in this game. Hawaii is probably a very fatigued football team with a robust Frequent Flyer mileage portfolio. Saying anything other than that after this game would be silly.

    8. YOUR TEAM, IF NOT LISTED HERE AND IF THEY WON, AND ALSO STANFORD

    They saw a few good things, they saw a few bad, but overall the coaches were pleased with the effort. Lot of work to go, though, and a lot of improvement to be made if they want to go where they want to get going. Hope to have a good week of practice, and to take this season one game at a time. Good opponent next week. Gonna be a real challenge for everyone, especially with what they do offensively. Or defensively. One of those.

    Stanford could go here, if only as thanks for playing an efficient and quiet opener in a forgettable and dignified 26-13 win over Kansas State. Thank you, Stanford, for your courtesy.

    BARELY MISSING

    No one, really, it’s Week 1, and we’re blind guessing.

    Maybe Georgia, which would really just be voting for Nick Chubb? Sure, put Nick Chubb by himself at an imaginary nine-spot if it makes you feel better. He’s great. The rest of his team is TBD.


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    This is The Top Whatever, your weekly ranking of exactly the teams Spencer Hall thinks should be ranked.

    1. Arkansas

    Remember that The Top Whatever puts the team with the best record and also with the most outstanding performance that week at the 1 spot. Other polls may blindly transfer over last week’s momentum. Those polls are lazy. Disregard them at once.

    Also, Nick Saban told me not to put Alabama here, because he is very unhappy with his team for only winning 38-10 over the defending Conference USA champion.

    I have to put someone in this extremely silly and illogical spot, so why not Arkansas? The Razorbacks beat TCU in Fort Worth in what was probably the best Week 2 matchup of two teams you might actually know. They are a large team that does things in a large way. By that I mean that they are physically huge, averaging 6’6 and 316.6 pounds across their offensive line. I also mean that they move in big cycles: first they crept to a lead over TCU, then got winded and gave that up, then had a snack break and barreled through the last quarter of the game.

    This happened:

    • In the third quarter, Arkansas has first-and-goal on the 2-yard line with a 20-7 lead over TCU. This game is over.
    • They stall, miss a field goal, and immediately allow three consecutive TD drives. In response, the Razorbacks punt twice, because BIG MAN NEEDS A BREATHER. Also, TCU WR/KR KaVontae Turpin is 155 pounds. As a small thing, he terrifies Arkansas defenders, who do not understand things that weigh fewer than 225 pounds. They can’t even see him.
    • Logically, the Arkansas offense crackles to life and pulls a TD out of its netherparts behind first-year starting QB Austin Allen. They convert against the Horned Frogs with a WR reverse pass from Keon Hatcher to Allen on a play named "Frog," because Bret Bielema hates you, and only you, and wants the bad things in life to happen to you
    • Here’s the really delightful part. Arkansas kicks to Turpin at the worst possible moment to kick to Turpin. (Again: as giants, he’s too tiny for them to understand.) Of course he returns it 64 yards to put TCU in game-winning field position. Of course the freshman kicker hammers the potential game-winning field goal into the arms of a 6’10 offensive lineman named Dan Skipper.

    Skipper is 45 years old and used to run a logging operation in Northwest Arkansas. He turned to football because his mom always wanted him to get an education, and this was the only way he could afford it. Arkansas wins in OT, and Skipper’s mom is real proud of him.

    Arkansas is my favorite team this week because they played a game against a quality opponent that nearly went off the rails before a miraculous series of saves in a fashion Bielema should just trademark at this point. They’re the national champions of Week 2, even if they’ll probably cough up a howler against Texas A&M or someone else they should beat handily.

    2. Houston

    Got to rest their starting quarterback and running back and still managed 511 yards of offense against Lamar in a 42-0 recovery workout. They only gave up 73 yards and got to run a glorified scrimmage for their backups.

    Houston is doing nothing wrong and can do nothing wrong in 2016, and even their meaningless games are opportunities for learning and personal growth. It’s OK to hate them a little.

    3. Michigan

    Starting the season with two overwhelmed range targets isn’t going to boost your national reputation, sure, but it will make UCF coach Scott Frost dig into the darkest reaches of the Motivational Men’s Carry-All to find some silver lining.

    "It's hard to say when the score is what it is, but we came in here and outhit those guys today," Frost said. "Standing on the sideline, there was no doubt who was hitting harder."

    I’d like to make fun of Frost here, but Frost was the one who bearhugged LeGarrette Blount off the field after he knocked out Byron Hout in Boise in 2009. If you can do that you are a very big and strong person, and this was fine, Frost. This is good motivational speechery, and if we see you in person, remember how much we liked it.

    BTW: Michigan did only run the ball for 119 yards, if you’re nitpicking and looking for warning signs of future trouble in an otherwise giddy, 51-14 blowout.

    4. Ohio State

    Don’t lie: It’s a joy to roll out 50 points without much effort and not worry about lesser opponents. If you don’t believe this, please see the case of NICHOLLS V. GEORGIA, where the ninth-ranked team in the nation struggled with an FCS team until the final seconds. Punting Tulsa off the edge of Ohio Stadium, 48-3, might not be terrifically sporting, but deep down it’s way, way more rewarding than a two-point win over an FCS team.

    On the actual positive side: The Buckeye defense stifled a pretty good Tulsa attack, limiting it to under 200 yards on the day even in garbage time. See, some possibly legit data, even in lopsided blowouts.

    5. Clemson

    Scraped by in a weird, 30-24 home game against Troy. Deshaun Watson threw two interceptions, Troy was within one score after a late rush, and the biggest upside for Clemson might be this: That if they’re good, they haven’t looked good yet, and can only go up from here given the talent on their roster.

    Double upside: Ray-Ray McCloud literally dropped six points on the way into the endzone Desean Jackson style, so Clemson is still good enough to make sloppy mistakes like that and win.

    The downside: This might be who Clemson is this year, and they’ll have to win while playing mistake-prone football and overcoming themselves before they ever worry about the opponent.

    6. Florida State

    When you play someone like Charleston Southern, you want to beat them handily and avoid getting anyone major injured. The Seminoles won 52-8, but also lost starting DB Derwin James to a knee injury.

    The next opponent for the Seminoles is Louisville, which has a quarterback named Lamar Jackson. Huh. Wonder if that’s bad.

    7. Lamar Jackson

    He’s 44th among entire teams in total offensive yards in his last four games, so we’ll just have the quarterback drag the entire Louisville team along with him in The Top Whatever. (See: Cam Newton Exemption, where one player can haul a whole team to loftier heights than it might deserve.)

    Had Louisville’s receivers not dropped a few passes and fumbled a few more, Louisville would have had more yards. The Cardinals had 845 against Syracuse.

    Here is a photo of Jackson conversing with a teammate casually while stretching. In the middle of a game. A foot and a half above a Syracuse defender.

    NCAA Football: Louisville at SyracuseRich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
    Don’t pretend this visual doesn’t destroy the empirical. This is all you’ll remember about Lamar Jackson and that’s fine. It’s accurate. He’s amazing.

    If he does this against Florida State this weekend, Jackson will ascend into orbit. If you need him, that is too bad. He will be busy high-fiving the Hubble Telescope.

    8. Iowa

    I’m done laughing at you, Iowa, even if you signed your coach no one is actively courting to a 5,000-year contract for an atrocious amount of money. You beat rival Iowa State, 42-3, and went undefeated last year and, like I said, I’m through laughing at you, because an undefeated Iowa can go on a while, and I want to prepare for it well ahead of time. We all waited too long in 2015. Look how that worked out for everyone.

    9. Alabama

    Saban, still enraged after Alabama drew the most penalties it’s had in three years, demanded I move the Tide to the lowest point possible in The Top Whatever. Fearful of damage to my tender ass, I comply. PLEASE DON’T HURT ME, TINY ANGRY RICH MAN.

    Teams barely missing the Top Whatever

    • Stanford, who wisely decided not to play football this week.
    • Washington, who really hasn’t played anyone yet after beating up on Idaho and Rutgers, and yes, this is hypocritical given who Michigan and Ohio State have played.
    • Georgia, who looked anemic against Nicholls.
    • Texas, who took a freebie game off UTEP.
    • Tennessee, who somehow managed to score 45 points and not look real impressive against a discombobulated Virginia Tech.
    • Oregon, because we have trust issues with them now, and will for a while. It’s an issue, mostly between Oregon, us, and our therapist.

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    This is The Top Whatever, in which Spencer Hall ranks exactly the teams he feels like ranking at this moment.

    1. Louisville

    Not just quarterback Lamar Jackson this time, but the whole team.

    I was in Boone, North Carolina, and supposed to be watching Appalachian State attempt to upset Miami, but a few things happened.

    First, the Mountaineers turned out to be a bit smaller and slower than Miami. This led to a rapid onslaught of deep passes and long runs and a massive lead. This led to a slow, relatively uninteresting game with a wide point differential. It led to a very drunk App State fan sitting next to me at the bar after the game — whom we’ll call "Austin," because he looked like an Austin — who told me my beard looked nice and who disappeared with his beer on the bar and an open tab.

    "Hey, do y’all know he just left?"

    "Yeah, we know. We know him."

    They said they’d just settle up with him when he came back, because Austin does this all the time. Being in a small college town has its disadvantages, and one of them is never being able to skip out on a bar tab.

    The other thing that happened was having the Louisville-Florida State game, which kicked off at the same time, open on my laptop and being unable to look away from the carnage. It’s not just that Jackson was destroying coverages single-handedly, though that’s fun all by itself. Watching safeties turn into panicking grunts from Halo when Jackson begins to scramble is maybe my favorite thing from this season so far.

    Louisville’s defense brought the bonus entertainment by nullifying most of what FSU attempted, harrying Deondre Francois into looking like a redshirt freshman for the first full game this year, sacking him five times, and reducing the Seminoles to a paltry 2-of-13 on third down conversions. Something is not right with FSU running back Dalvin Cook, even though Jimbo Fisher insists everything is right with Cook, who had just 54 yards on 16 carries and did not score.

    So yes, that’s why I spent most of one game in Boone watching another: because Louisville is blowing things up at such an alarming rate, and with such shocking ease, that it can eclipse impressive things happening directly in front of you.

    2. Ohio State

    They could be number one. Maybe they should be number one. Call them 1a? Or 1b? It doesn’t matter, and please don’t pretend like it does, because Ohio State is one of the four best teams in the nation after three games.

    That comes with the highly conditional achievement of beating a now 1-2 Oklahoma team with obvious problems all over the field by a lopsided score of 45-24.

    A note on that: all victories at this point are highly conditional, so thank you for noticing, Mr. "THEY AIN’T PLAYED NOBODYYYYY."

    Here is what you can know about Ohio State, based strictly on game tape and statistics. The defense looks fast as hell and is a big reason why they lead the nation in turnover margin. The Buckeyes run the ball with at least three backs (running, running, quarter--) for around 300 yards a game, and do it at a murderously consistent pace. They have wide receivers who can catch the ball off your DBs’ backs if necessary.

    Noah Brown of the Ohio State University, you are a cruel person.

    "Leave the Building Immediately, Defensive Back": A Painting By Noah Brown, 2016

    Yes, obvious dullards who like to tweet literal things and make obvious comments, yes, we are still three games into the season. Three games into the season, Ohio State looks exactly as it should, efficient and productive on offense while giving you the sense they’ve barely scratched the surface of what they could achieve; malicious and speedy on defense, and disruptive to opposing offenses in a quantifiable and qualifiable way; and capable of punting, which they are second in the nation in right now.

    That deeply unsexy last fact bears mentioning because this is a machine of a roster built with obsessive detail and padded with maturing talent, right down to the punter. Urban Meyer didn’t just make you a supercar that was all horsepower and zero luxury, Ohio State. No, behold the rich leather racing seats. This team goes 0-100 with fierce acceleration, but it also has cupholders, y’all. Good ones.

    P.S. So much of the rankings of any sort right now depend on Oklahoma, Ole Miss, and Notre Dame being pretty good down the stretch, so root accordingly even if you have to pull for Notre Dame, an action that has some pretty scary medical side effects you should really look up on WebMD.com.

    3. Alabama

    I don’t even think Alabama fans would be angry if you put them at four or lower at this point. They would also admit they were very spoiled, and that there are probably a lot of positives and negatives to take from a 48-43 win over Ole Miss. The positives are defeating a team that had beaten Alabama twice in a row, counterpunching with defense and special teams after falling behind on the road 24-3 to win, and discovering an effective run game with quarterback Jalen Hurts and running back Damien Harris.

    The downside: Ole Miss might be headed to butt town.

    The Rebels appear incapable of doing anything with a run game on either side of the ball, and thus might not be a really good indicator of much for Bama’s overall quality.

    Alabama, your defense gave up over 400 yards passing, which may be a problem if you face someone with a balanced attack down the road? Which, checking your schedule, could be ... um, Texas A&M. It’s basically just A&M, barring Arkansas catching you napping in a road trip to Fayetteville. Of note: Arkansas has not beaten Alabama since 2006, and has never beaten a Nick Saban-coached [Alabama].

    It’s pretty much Texas A&M and whatever spent trash the SEC East rolls on three bald tires into the SEC Championship, and you’re in the final four, Alabama.

    4. Houston

    Avoided a Tuberville Special, meaning they beat Cincinnati as a road favorite despite the Cougars’ every attempt to throw this game and all Playoff hopes in the trash. That 40-16 score is bloated by a 28-point fourth quarter, featuring two pick-sixes.

    Greg Ward, Jr. is still standing and functional despite a vaguely defined shoulder injury, and the defense is still deeply underrated. To wit: they held that Oklahoma team to fewer yards than the Ohio State defense did (393 to 403) and didn’t look appreciably slower, either. As long as that’s all true, Houston is right there, even if they fall off the map schedule-wise until a November matchup with Louisville that suddenly looks like the most important game in the universe.

    5. Michigan

    Beating Colorado might mean something this year, since a 45-28 score doesn’t really reflect just how hard Michigan had to scratch just to get out from under an early Buffaloes lead. This is all a covert way to compliment Colorado in a losing effort, since Colorado being good is good for college football, something I just made up because I like any excuse to go to Folsom Field and stare at the Flatirons while watching a football game under the influence of nothing but life itself. What I’m saying is that Colorado might be pretty good this year for their standards, and sure, Michigan is a better team and rankings should reflect that.

    Oh, and Michigan blocked another kick, something we’ll find really special until we realize in film study that Jim Harbaugh has had extra kick blockers in ghillie suits hiding in the turf of Michigan Stadium all season long.

    6. North Dakota State

    Whatever, this doesn’t count since they are an FCS team, so hell, put them in this meaningless poll and enjoy it. NDSU ground out a 23-21 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes with a field goal as time expired, and we can’t even make fun of them for it, because North Dakota State keeps beating FBS teams on the road. Iowa was the sixth straight for the Bison, who received $500,000 for the privilege of beating the Hawkeyes in front of a horrified home crowd.

    This entry contains no mention of Kirk Ferentz’s contract, or when it was renewed, or for how long or how much!

    7. Clemson

    Beating South Carolina State 59-0 won’t prove much, other than a dedication to attendance and doing what you’re supposed to do, though it was nice to see Deshaun Watson and the offense looking relaxed and productive.

    Clemson’s defense should have kept SC State to 102 yards, and it did, and let’s remember that sometimes Power 5 teams don’t do this to teams with FCS-level scholarship counts. See No. 6.

    Just missing

    • Michigan State might be good, or might have just been rolling over a crumbling Notre Dame defense. Also only has two real games to look at so far, so the evidence is limited.
    • Stanford feels like they’re still stretching and playing with one hand tied behind their back, even after beating USC soundly in Week 3, because I dunno, smart kids like to show off sometimes.
    • Washington really needs to play hard through the Pac-12 schedule and beat Oregon to draw some national attention.
    • Miami? Sure, Miami, why not, they basically looked like they were running a scrimmage at half-speed against Appalachian State and still blew them out in Kidd Brewer Stadium. Try the fried pies if you go to an App State game; they’re delicious and sold by a dude in overalls who looks like he should be selling fried pies at an App State game. Yes, the Marlboros were red, and hell no, they did not take Square or Bitcoin.

    0 0

    The Top Whatever is Spencer Hall’s ranking of only the teams he feels like ranking at this time.

    1. Tennessee

    2016’s hottest club is LETTING YOUR OPPONENT GET A 21-POINT LEAD. It’s got everything: horrified home crowds, the weight of an 11-year losing streak on its back, and blowing through all that to drop 38 points on one of the nation’s best defenses to win.

    Tennessee did that against Florida in a watershed victory in the same season in which they struggled with Ohio (Bobcats, not State) and Appalachian State, and with a senior quarterback known more for his academic major — Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering — than his ability to win big games. Joshua Dobbs threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another.

    If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, but the most dangerous lead in football is so obviously a 21-point lead. Look at Ole Miss, which finally listened to this piece of wisdom after blowing two 21-point leads for losses and refused to let Georgia have hope by instead getting out to a solid 31-0 lead.

    Back to Tennessee. It should be noted that a 31-point lead still would not have been enough for Florida to beat Tennessee. Also, lineman Derek Barnett cannot be blocked, and single-handedly ruined Florida’s blocking schemes. The Volunteers might be great, and no one wants to ruin Tennessee’s well-earned month of celebration by noting they still play in the SEC East, a snakepit of mediocrity capable of dragging you back into the bucket at any moment. Oh, and that they still have to play Alabama, a team they haven’t beat since 2006.

    Then again, that’s only a streak of 10 years. Dobbs isn’t a history major. That’s a huge asset so far for Tennessee.

    Tennessee is: A team whose 2016 has been a healthy exercise in disregarding the past. You can’t repeat mistakes if you don’t even remember them, and engineer Dobbs only seems concerned with downfield trajectories at the moment.

    2. Wisconsin

    Legally, it might not have been possible to show the Badgers’ 30-6 win over Michigan State on any network but the Big Ten Network. I watched this game in bursts, flipping over from several other games, and every time it came on, the spectral vision of Woody Hayes appeared next to me on the couch, muttering about children with long hair and spread offenses, nodding approvingly at the TV.

    Both teams are even on the stat sheet, really. The chief difference in a game played between the tackles and with little willingness to flinch on that brutal strategy was this: Wisconsin and Michigan State took turns punching each other in the liver until one of them dropped the ball or threw an interception.

    Michigan State — and it feels so, so weird to type this after years of Mark Dantonio’s team being the more cromag team at all times — flinched first. They went to the air, they threw three interceptions, and the rest fell to field position, some futile thrashing by the Michigan State offense. Wisconsin won a classic game of Big Ten Staring Contest. Hayes’ ghost was thrilled and left popcorn all over my couch while mumbling that he was the one who fought Tojo in World War II.

    Wisconsin is: The team I would least like to play if given a 30-point cap between both teams to split for the game’s total score.

    3. Michigan

    Ran for 326 yards on Penn State, beat PSU 49-10, and only seemed to be troubled by the psychological trauma of occasionally having to get hit by a giant kicker.

    Michigan is: One of those teams where you can’t figure out how they beat teams so badly, just by looking at the box score. This is bad for everyone else, because it means UM’s a three-phase beast capable of staying in games even when one part misfires.

    Oh, and that Colorado team they struggled with for a while last week? Upset Oregon in Eugene, 41-38. Jim Harbaugh’s teams are making other teams good by skin-to-skin contact, and their excellence is literally contagious. (Penn State by 30 next week over Minnesota, easy.)

    4. Louisville/Lamar Jackson

    Lamar Jackson only had 479 yards of offense (417 passing, 62 rushing) and seven TDs. I want to make a joke about him slipping, but he’s not, not even against an overmatched Marshall that shouldn’t feel bad because every team that plays Jackson on this Louisville team is an overmatched team.

    Louisville is: The team I least want to play in a single-game scenario, because they have the best player in the nation.

    5. Alabama

    Nick Saban honored his alma mater with a 48-0 procedural beating. The Tide did lose running back Damien Harris to injury, and no one should overlook that, or the deep stable of replacement talent behind him.

    Alabama is: The other team I’d least like to play in any situation, because every time it appears they are slipping, they destroy the rest of their schedule and win a national title. This year’s narrative that is false until proven otherwise: “They can’t run anymore, and will struggle with a young QB!” Sure. Suuuuuuuuure.

    6. Houston

    Lapped Texas State multiple times in a 64-3 recovery workout. Their third-string QB, D’Eriq King, caught a TD, threw a TD, and returned a kickoff for a TD. Tom Herman wants him to go back to being a full-time quarterback the minute Greg Ward Jr. is done.

    And you’re sure Herman is leaving, aren’t you? You know Houston has money, and is in Houston, where you’ll never have to leave the area code for talent? And that they might get in the Big 12, where everyone is scared witless of the idea?

    Houston is: The team I least want to face on multiple weeks of rest and prep, because Herman doesn’t sleep and is in that pre-burnout phase of life, diagramming plays on the back of his eyelids.

    7. Clemson

    Humiliated Georgia Tech, 26-7, in the game that could get Paul Johnson fired. That is high praise for Clemson’s defense, which didn’t limit the triple option so much as “stopped it seconds after the snap, and then threw it into traffic on the Connector.” The score isn’t indicative of how breezy this was, or how Deshaun Watson seems to be falling into something like a rhythm again with a 300-yard performance and two TDs.

    Clemson is: The team I’d like to watch play Louisville, because I’d get to watch Watson and Jackson trade highlight-reel material for four quarters. Hey, look at that, they play this coming weekend. Who loves you? College football loves you.

    8. Texas A&M

    Defeated Arkansas for the fifth straight time, 45-24. This game was close until it wasn’t, a thing that happens when A&M’s superior speed applies game-breaking pressure.

    The Aggie defensive line denied Arkansas — the gloriously fat beef children of Arkansas — in the red zone and helped the Razorbacks leave points off the board all over the place. Wide receiver Josh Reynolds cracked a crippling touchdown off the Razorbacks secondary in a fourth-quarter burst, and A&M’s skill players drew so much attention that left the field open for Trevor Knight to run. He had 157 yards on 10 rushes for two scores, and yes, he is still in the league.

    All you need to know is that Arkansas put together a 19-play, 10-minute drive that got to the 1-yard line and failed to score. That’s the new thing for A&M. They can still sprint away from you laughing, but now they muscle you out of position first.

    Texas A&M is: The team I’d least like to play if I’m Alabama. Has Knight played Alabama before? Someone please look this up for me. I’m curious, yet busy at the moment.

    9. Stanford

    Beat UCLA on a last-minute TD by a score of 22-13. Never laugh at David Shaw punting. Shaw will punt from his opponent’s 24-yard line. He will punt in an empty parking lot at 3 a.m.

    Shaw beholds beautiful newborns and has to restrain the urge to punt them, not because he is cruel, but because that is what Shaw does to the things he loves: punts them, then lets his defense cradle them until his offense can deliver them to safety.

    So when Shaw — proud manager of an offensive line that plays mere inches off the ground —opted to punt on fourth-and-1 from the UCLA 39 with 4:40 left and trailing 13-9, you might have groaned. But Shaw is so conservative and so patient, it comes 180 degrees all the way around to a kind of insanity you have to respect. You sort of knew this was going to end with Shaw in a pair of sensible khakis talking about how great the other team was, looking at an undefeated record.

    I mean the part about the line playing mere inches off the ground, by the way. Stanford’s strength coach emphasizes flexibility to an extent no other program does, which is why all their former players talk about foam-rolling and stretching while watching TV.

    Stanford is: The team I’d least like to play if the national title were decided by endurance bear crawling and selling stocks at the last second.

    10. Utah

    Mostly because of the hell-for-leather bravado displayed in refusing to settle for a field goal to go to overtime against USC. Instead, the Utes did everything you hope a team does when it plays without a shred of fear for how silly they might look, i.e., you winging plays down the field in Madden with reckless abandon.

    For example, Utah:

    • passed deep out of their own end zone, hoping to draw a flag;
    • got said flag;
    • converted two fourth-and-1 situations by running the ball, because they could have passed, but Utah hates you and wants you to feel bad about how you couldn’t defend a single yard on the ground, USC;
    • Threw to the end zone despite being in field goal range and down 27-24, because the Utes know that even a wounded USC needs to be put out of its misery decisively. QB Troy Williams hit WR Tim Patrick for the winning score, and that’s how you convince USC it’s not USC anymore. It also wins you the game! Football is about multi-tasking.

    They’re your charming, scrap-metal fighting robot of a Utah team. It hurts to play them, they hit stuff real hard, and they look sort of mediocre until the fourth quarter, when they get super mean.

    Utah is: The team most likely to be pointed at by people who don’t like recruiting rankings, because “stars don’t matter when you’re a great team, blah blah blah.” Patrick, a two-star, caught that winning score over five-star Adoree Jackson. Every now and then, those guys are right. (Usually when talking about Utah.)

    11. Washington

    Could be higher after a 35-28 OT win over Arizona on the road.

    It’s finally time to watch a Chris Petersen offense that can score consistently in tight situations again. Last year this would have been Arizona driving the ball all over the place and Washington responding with defense, but the Huskies of 2016 outgained Arizona, 512-475, and looked productive all night. They’re good, which is a fun thing to be able to say about Washington after years of false hope.

    Note: Does Arizona have a wildly entertaining quarterback? Of course they do. Brandon Dawkins had over 300 yards of offense by himself, shrugged off a 300-pound defensive tackle on a late scramble, and nearly got Arizona past Washington. This is all anyone asks of you, Arizona. Run a Rich Rodriguez offense, keep us up until 2 a.m., and have a quarterback capable of dodging traffic on a busy freeway.

    Washington is: The team with the most to prove over the next month in games East Coast sportswriters probably won’t watch enough of.

    12. Ohio State

    Wisely decided not to play football. Don’t get mad; they are still one of the two rosters in this country capable of being described as disgustingly talented.

    The other is Alabama. This is probably our national title game, and probably was before the season ever started. Chill, do some deep stretches, and obliterate Rutgers this week to keep your fearsome national profile obvious, Buckeyes.

    Ohio State is: The team I least want to play across a 10-game series of games that does not exist.

    13. Arizona State

    4-0 after they survived America’s most fearsome late night drunkards, Cal, in a 51-41 raiding of the liquor cabinet. I don’t know how good Arizona State is, but they’re good at playing teams with no defense and playing much better than they were supposed to in a rebuilding year.

    Yes, listing them here is an excuse to share this clip.

    This space will be reserved for Kalen Ballage clips only from this point forward. Reminder: this ranking is made up.

    Barely missing

    • Nebraska? 4-0 and I still have no idea how good they are, so you’re right, angry Nebraska fan, it’s a travesty they didn’t make this ranking I just made up.
    • Baylor? A win over Oklahoma State might not mean much this year, but you’re also 4-0 and still capable of scoring a zillion points. Still waiting for the Jim Grobe era to set in, though, and for you to start winning games by scores like 15-11.
    • Navy’s undefeated! I mention this out of patriotism and respect for those who can still run the triple option UNLIKE SOME PEOPLE, GEORGIA TECH.
    • Wake Forest is also undefeated. I don’t have the psychological reserves to consider what this means. We punt. We’re just punting on evaluating a 4-0 Wake Forest.
    • West Virginia is 3-0. Please don’t tell anyone. They’ll notice it and ruin everything.
    • So is Maryland. You didn’t see this, either. I’m gonna stop listing teams that will surely lose games before too long, because hope is the real enemy and despair a friend. YES, MY TEAM LOST THIS WEEK TO A HATED RIVAL. JOIN ME IN THIS DIVING BELL CALLED SORROW.

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