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    You don’t think your hometown can truly turn up about anything but you will be proven wrong.

    You were wrong about a few things. First: You were born here in Nashville, and it’s never exactly felt warm to you, has it? It’s not a warm place, emotionally speaking. It’s fine if you like church, country music, or ham, and you only like one of those. You can take ham home; the rest, you can live without, and that’s your relationship with Nashville, a place you were born but never really from, exactly.

    That part is still true. You’re not really for this place, and that’s fine for both of you. Nashville works really well at a low boil. That lukewarm feeling is sort of by design: It’s a hub for the healthcare industry and banking and a lot of other businesses that spend most of the day figuring out how to hedge bets against mortality. It is a city that makes most of its bank trying to be something like Las Vegas without the sin, and with a nice sideline on figuring out the optimal way to overcharge patients for IV bags. It’s a place that turned country music into an office job with regular hours. That’s about as Nashville as it gets, historically speaking.

    For instance, I parked at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts — paid for by a lot of that drudgery turned into profit— and then walked down Demonbreun Street to Bridgestone Arena to listen to Faith Hill sing the national anthem at an event. That all makes sense. You wouldn’t be surprised by that, or that eventually someone would figure out a way to take all those lovely brick buildings downtown and gentrify them into something profitable and shiny.

    You’ll be wrong and surprised about why. You’ll be surprised to hear that the anthem was happening for an NHL game, and that Nashville would mark out for it like it was an SEC tailgate. This is not a typo: A hockey game will be the biggest thing in town, and Nashville will show the hell out for it like nothing you’ve ever seen there.

    Oh, by the way, Nashville has a hockey team. Should have led with that. They do, and Atlanta doesn’t, and if you’ll give it a minute only one of these is really surprising to either of us.

    You’ll be surprised because Nashville doesn’t really mark out for much that isn’t country music. The Titans won’t really inspire much passion. They shouldn’t, because they are an NFL team, and NFL teams have an allergy to fun, anyway. There’s an SEC team in town, but for the most part that passion will be housed safely and securely several hours away. Most Nashvillians’ sporting embarrassments will be kept in Knoxville, Oxford, Athens, or in other nice sheds visited on fall weekends. You and the team can both fall on your face and say hateful, insane things — and on Monday, it will all be a distant, well-contained mess.

    You’ll be surprised that all those Michiganders and Ohioans who come down for the auto industry’s big move south are contagious. Nashville hasn’t ever exactly been deep, deep South — it’s landlocked, there’s a kind of Ohioan blah to the winters here, there’s a permacloud that never moves much in February. Boating under the influence arrests only happen on lakes here, and that feels like an important distinction from places with a coastal option like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. The superstation in Nashville for you isn’t TBS — it’s WGN out of Chicago. Listen to Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time” and you’ll remember that people from here have followed the auto industry back and forth. There’s a lot of country in Middle Tennessee, but squint when you’re downtown and you’ll see a little bit of Cincinnati, too.

    It will be Midwestern-compatible in another sense: For some reason, hockey catches fire here. This will happen long before the Predators make the Stanley Cup Finals, and pretty much on arrival in 1998 when they play their first season here. The backbone of the fan base will have a core of Detroit Red Wings fans. That’s good DNA to start with, you’ll note, a really useful cheat code to have when trying to anchor a winter sport on the northern fringe of the Sun Belt in a medium-sized market where football rules over all. All those kids you go to high school with who miss Michigan, and winter, and hockey? They adapt with a quickness, and start throwing catfish instead of octopi on the ice.

    You’ll see people in camp chairs posted up on Broadway on a humid, warm summer night and realize how ripe this place was for this. Along with Birmingham, Nashville is one of the two places in the South where people would watch two drops of rain race down a windowpane if you put it on television. You’ll also see how the Predators’ dedication to making everything as unserious as possible worked in a college sports town with a healthy respect for stagecraft. The mascot will jump from the rafters; The crowd will theatrically thank arena announcer Paul McCann when he notifies them that there is one minute left in each period. For the playoffs the big surprise will be running out a different country singer for each national anthem, saving the pocket ace of Faith Hill for the last home game of the year.

    You’ll note that, in its own very country music kind of way, that was a flex. Hell, they even just had an extra Luke Bryan hanging around, and put him on top of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge to play a pregame concert. You’ll probably think that took some intense planning, but it didn’t: The idea was hatched on Thursday by the Predators, approved on Friday by the city, and on Sunday night big ol’ doofy Luke Bryan was standing three stories over a packed Broadway and singing.

    By the way, a Luke Bryan is a country singer. It’s a confusing thing, but in 2017 most male country singers now look like scholarship golfers. The future is terrifying in many ways, and this is one of them.

    You’ll also have no idea what he was singing about, because this isn’t for you, and never has been. You’ll also pay zero attention because every Luke Bryan song is the same pop-country mad-lib about trucks, cold ones, that girl, etc. You’ll be OK with this, both because there are way more harmful things in this world than redneck fantasy music that really doesn’t hurt anyone, and also because you’ll have long since realized there are other places where you’re supposed to be. That’s how adulthood works. Pieces are sorted randomly and settle largely where they are supposed to be, and you’re a piece that sorted its way into a place you belong.

    You’ll also see all the pieces that are supposed to be here: Guys in realtree camo hats. Guys in bad fedoras. Guys in fishing shirts and Under Armour gear, and especially the guy in the shirt that says “I’ll have what the guy on the floor had” who bumps drunkenly into you sideways on Broadway, listing with a vape pen in his hand. (Vaping is just smoking with expensive accessories. People LOVE it.) You’ll see the guys in Predators shirts with twin hockey sticks and women in boots and Preds jerseys and flimsy rompers, and the dads in Dri-FIT shirts desperately trying to remember where their car is while holding the hands of overwhelmed kids who’ve never wandered through a crowd this big.

    You’ll see them throw the catfish, and think how it’s something beyond a joke. A catfish is a bottom-feeding trash fish, the countriest of all country-ass fishes. A catfish is the opposite of glamour, the accident you catch while fishing for other things. You’ll see them throw it and think about the Cumberland River, and how your grandfather would show you the sign he took off a building in downtown showing the high-water mark from a flood there. He kept it propped up against something in his garden, and it said the water got up to 34 feet over First Avenue. A catfish could have swam through the second floor of an office. You’ll like to think one did.

    You’ll see Nashville at full flood over a hockey team and think about how in all that not-belonging you’ll see a catfish and feel your own rush of belonging. It won’t last long, but it’ll be there, swimming through the undercurrent, an ugly, amiable fish with ancient DNA that can come through the window at any moment. You’ll see Nashville turn out 50,000 people on Broadway for a hockey team. Even if it isn’t for you, there won’t be anything lukewarm about it. You’d think otherwise, but you would be wrong about that, too.


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    Think of all the little moments that led us to this one.

    If previously unstoppable Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough didn’t miss most of the second half, or if Alabama’s offense hadn’t been handed to an entirely different coordinator a week before the national title game, after the previous coordinator wore out his welcome ...

    If Alabama had gotten more than a field goal out of a Clemson fumble in the third quarter, when Ryan Anderson was tackled by Tigers receiver Hunter Renfrow before yet another Alabama defensive touchdown found its way onto the stat sheet ...

    (Tackle is a strong word, actually: Renfrow threw himself into Anderson’s legs like a kid throwing a stick into the spokes of a bike.)

    If the Alabama offense hadn’t gained just 7 yards on the following three plays, and settled for a field goal to take a 17-7 lead when a touchdown could have gotten them a seemingly insurmountable 21-7 lead ...

    I’m not trying to torture you, Alabama. We just have to review these, because this is a process.

    You like Processes, with a capital P, like the vaunted system that got you four national titles under Nick Saban, arguably the greatest college football coach to ever live, much less coach the Crimson Tide. You have to go over all the ifs. It’s what champions do, even if they just blew a chance at a fifth title.

    If Alabama, a team more built for predictable outcomes than any in the history of college football, had drawn any other team than Clemson, then this could have been different for them. The Tigers, given a choice, take more plays, more opportunities. The clock, for Clemson, is a thing stopped by first downs, not bled by a run game for the purposes of making less football to worry about.

    Alabama, by design, wanted a shorter game, the kind of managed crushing operation Saban dreams about in the precisely six hours of sleep he requires a night. With a 17-7 lead, the plan — and for Alabama, with every gesture, there is always a plan — was the same as it had ever been. Fewer snaps. More hostile poundage lined up two-deep along the defensive line. More bludgeoning than Clemson could handle, followed by endless, resigned punting.

    Alabama tried that plan. Clemson receiver Mike Williams, already playing after being sidelined with a shot to the head in the first quarter, took vicious shots from the Alabama secondary. The Tiger defense rolled face-first into Scarbrough on the ground. After he exited with the injury, they gamely tried to contain QB Jalen Hurts. With one huge exception at the end of the game, they succeeded.

    No Clemson player tried to cover O.J. Howard, because Howard is invisible to all Clemson defenders and always will be. After torching Clemson last year, Howard got yet another completely uncovered touchdown, was open on almost every play, caught a pass on a trick play from ArDarius Stewart, and even inadvertently stole a screen pass from his running back. (Don’t laugh too hard. Even with the mistake, he had blockers in front of him.)

    The Tigers had a plan, too.

    They had a plan all along, and it wasn’t much different than the game plan last year, when Clemson freaked Alabama out so badly that the staid Crimson Tide collective resorted to an onside kick. Saban later grumbled about Clemson’s refusal to run up the middle in the first half of that matchup, when the Tigers were hoping less to score and more to get Alabama fatigued. Last year, Clemson wanted a second half run through a gassed series of defenders unaccustomed to four quarters of free-range football.

    This year, despite a dismal first half of offense, the Tigers got to a crucial number: 45 plays, mostly racked up in service of fumbles and punts but still taken out of the Alabama defense in short passes, perimeter runs, and read-option plays. To put that in perspective, consider that in 14 games, the Crimson Tide’s defense played an average of 63 plays a game total, many in garbage time, when second- and third-stringers took most of the reps.

    Clemson scored on its 60th play to make it 17-14 and break out of the patented Alabama sleeper hold. After that 60-play mark, in a quarter and a half of football against the standard of the era, Deshaun Watson’s offense had 262 of its 511 yards and 21 of its 35 points. The Crimson Tide defense were frogs; Alabama didn’t even know it was in the pot or that the water was boiling hotter with each play.

    And there come the ifs again: If officials, who played a loose hand all night for both teams, called pick plays a different way, well, we wouldn’t be here. Clemson scored two touchdowns off end zone “rub” plays, plays that run one way are legal, and run another are not. The line between the two can be subjective. Unless you are an Alabama fan, in which case, they represent further evidence the forward pass should be banned and that the world is out to keep the (four-time recent national champion) Tide from enjoying anything.

    There are other ifs, larger and more global moments of wondering. As in: How did this Clemson team even get here, in the cosmic sense?

    For instance: If Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow doesn’t decide to do a sort-of-insane thing and walk on as a 155-pound wide receiver at Clemson, instead taking the full scholarship offers he had elsewhere, then he’s not there to catch Watson’s biggest touchdown.

    Or if Rich Rodriguez doesn’t balk at the last second and accepts the Alabama job, instead of returning to West Virginia to ultimately take the Michigan job, then Alabama never gets Saban in 2007.

    What if Nick Saban had never gone to Bama?

    If that never happens? Then in 2008, Clemson doesn’t get hammered by Alabama in the Georgia Dome to open the season, which means no midseason resignation by Tommy Bowden. If Bowden never resigns, then an unknown wide receivers coach on the staff named Dabo Swinney never gets his audition for the job.

    And if former Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips fires Swinney after a disappointing, 6-7 2010, Swinney never hires offensive coordinator Chad Morris in 2011, and in 2012, Morris never recruits Watson to Clemson.

    The present is made of so many little moments.

    If Watson has Renfrow open, he’ll float an easy toss. If Renfrow catches it, Clemson will win its first national title in 35 years.

    After a thousand ifs gets you to this improbable moment, asking for one more doesn’t seem like much, not after you’ve run the official Best College Football Team In The Nation ragged over the last 20 minutes, broken its defense, pancaked its intractable linemen, and responded to its best shot by driving the length of the field to stand 2 yards away from a victory. It’s not much to ask, after all that.

    It’s Watson’s easiest throw of the night. Next, Alabama has one second left on the clock, facing a final kick that will end in defeat. If that sounds familiar, it should.


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    At 41 years old, ranked the 666th best golfer in the world, Tiger Woods is finding himself.

    Tiger Woods grew a line beard last year. A line beard, for those unclear on the concept, is the heavily constructed beard cut to the jawline and no further. It is sometimes known as the chinstrap beard, the jowl-quator, the R&B Lineup, or for Knicks fans, “The Dolan”. It is commonly used like a wire fence across territory lacking natural borders. Everything on one side is face; everything beneath it is surrendered to the body. Like most fences, it requires a lot of maintenance, or else it collapses within months.

    Unless you are one of the people currently wearing one, it is universally agreed that it is one of the worst facial hairstyles ever conceived of by mankind.

    Tiger Woods had one in 2016. He’s scaled down now to a goatee, which ranks higher than a line beard or Hitler-stache, but still dwells in the basement of facial hair moves. The goatee is THE middle-aged dad choice for men who want to signal that yes, they’re a little too independent to shave every day for The Man, but that they also still put in a little work with the razor.

    It, too, is hopelessly outdated for 2017. Even megachurch pastors have deserted the goatee for the Common Hipster Beard, leaving the goatee for “Emotional Noble Everyman Dads In Car Commercials” and “Tom Hanks Playing A Trump Voter.”

    It is the kind of decision one could only make if one had spent the better part of 20 years living in their own insanely monied universe, one where whatever you decided was what was decided, where you were handed your own clothes, your own shoes, your own golf clubs, your own look, all by people happy to help you create your own brand, your own very public you.

     Christian Petersen/Getty Images
    Tiger at the Hero World Challenge in December.

    It is the kind of decision you could only make if you were someone like Tiger Woods, who has been insanely rich since he burst onto the national scene as a teenager, and equally insanely isolated as a celebrity.

    Tiger is very, very far from being the 21-year-old who torched Augusta in a red shirt. He is 41 years old. He has been divorced in extremely public fashion. His last major win happened two Presidencies ago. His sole aim, per his own words this week, is “to play away from pain.” Seven days ago, he missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego. His namesake video game franchise in 2015 became Rory McIlroy’s namesake video game franchise—the golfer a Nike ad depicted as a child watching Tiger Woods as aspiration.

    He is, as of Feb. 1 2017, the 666th ranked golfer in the world.

    The fascinating thing is how liberating this all seems for him. Tiger Woods in his competitive prime was, at least on a personal level, a cipher. After giving Charlie Pierce way, way too much in the way of interesting information at the age of 21 in the classic GQ profile, “The Man, Amen,” Woods become a managed, sometimes featureless brand. He gave very little away, other than extremely detailed shop talk on golf, and a general admission to being driven beyond any other golfer on the planet. It was known that he didn’t like certain people, and had feuds with others. Other than a reputation for cheapness when it came time to tip service people, his video game avatar was as interesting as the public person.

    I know this because after playing a tour as Woods in Tiger Woods PGA Tour, I started to feel lonely. To fix this, I made my own golfer, a stick-legged, sack-gutted, weak-chinned redneck named Lee John. Lee John had lived through a few things, but his old man swing put the ball in the fairway like clockwork, even on nights when Lee John clearly spent most of the night boiling away his inner demons with the fires only found inside a bottle of Johnny Walker. OK, maybe not Johnny Walker, but like, Early Times.

    Anyway: the point is that a ramshackle, thrice-divorced imaginary golfer I made up on the spot was way, way more entertaining than booming 700-yard drives with the real virtual Tiger Woods, because Lee John had something Tiger didn’t: A story, with bumps and tragedies and losses that I had to make up because Tiger had none of that.

    Tiger has a few of those now, and maybe did all along. (For instance: Tiger might have screwed up his back running endless training sessions with Navy SEALS in order to emulate his dead father, which: Yeah, that’s a story.) Even if he’s still insanely rich and living in a world where he builds his own bars to hang out in, he’s a more relatable character, and not just because his most circulated highlight of the last couple years or so involves him blading chip shots at the driving range.

    Omega Dubai Desert Classic - PreviewsPhoto by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
    Tiger in Dubai this week as the 666th ranked player in the world.

    Tiger Woods, in the throes of early middle age, decided to try on the line beard. He does interviews about losing his hair. He buys new, sort of embarrassing sunglasses. He might be meditating using an app he’ll tell you about, or trying on whatever the tailor hands him because—well, because he should try new things, right? You have to keep trying new things, like maybe Instagramming yourself shirtless as “Mac Daddy Santa” and sharing it with the world. Because that’s social media, and Tiger does that now, because that’s something you’re definitely supposed to do in 2017.

    A video camera operator knocked out Woods’ front tooth in 2015, and Woods wore a bandana over his face to hide the gap in public. The bandana was branded with Woods’ favorite video game at the time, “Ghost Recon,” meaning Woods, the richest golfer in the world, was probably spending a large amount of time each week trying to shoot 14-year-olds in an online combat game.

    It’s watching someone make deliberate choices of taste for themselves for the first time in their life—someone with all the money they will ever need, sure, but still a somebody, someone on the downside of 40 with kids making questionable fashion decisions, playing video games, and trying to figure out what kind of pants to wear, because — well, because what kind of pants do you wear when you’re 41, trying to figure it out in public, and all you’re trying to do is swing away from the pain? That’s relatable. He’s like a baby millionaire fawn, finding his legs as a person while his body and his game crumble. That’s not a great script. It is, however, a much better story.


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    How to combat your tyrannical sports owner.

    James Dolan owns the New York Knicks and there is no telling how long he will own them. Lifelong Knick fans have already done this, but I’d like to tell you what that means in simple math. James Dolan is 61 years old, and unless he sells the Knicks to someone else he will on average live another 23.5 years.

    Let’s say this as a worst-case scenario: If Dolan lives as long as he is supposed to live, and doesn’t change much of who he is or what he does, he will own the Knicks until about the year 2040. A Knicks fan reading that probably just got the slack-shouldered, dead-eyed look men get when they receive long prison sentences. Their families in the gallery likely collapsed in each other’s arms, overwhelmed by reality.

    If you happen to be a fan of a franchise with a bad owner, looking at a mortality table isn’t morbid. It’s practicing self-care, because some day, maybe before you do, the inept, insanely wealthy person owning your team will die and possibly free you. I repeat: This isn’t being mean, it’s quoting actual sentiments actual Washington fans have asked Dan Snyder through media intermediaries.

    Knicks fans aren’t trying to be morbid when they think about these things. They’re simply coping with a world where sports tyranny is real and inescapable.

    Until 2040 or so, barring some kind of ownership change, Dolan will own the Knicks, and the Knicks will be a bad sports team as a result. The Knicks have won one playoff series since 2000 under Dolan's management.The league’s free agents flock to Miami, Los Angeles, and Cleveland over New York. Talent that leaves the Knicks inevitably flourishes once it leaves. Dolan’s reign may be best known for the tenure of Isiah Thomas, who was inexplicably allowed to coach and run a franchise into the ground, all while getting the company sued for sexual harassment. Dolan has somehow made Phil Jackson look mediocre, something Jackson has spent his entire post-playing career avoiding with great success.

    Knicks legend Charles Oakley was thrown out of Madison Square Garden last week. When Oakley asked why, he said he was told, “You have to leave because someone ordered you to leave.” Oakley then got into a fight with security, and was thrown out and banned from the building. In response, Dolan appeared on a local radio station and publicly accused Oakley of being an alcoholic. It got so bad that Michael Jordan and NBA commissioner Adam Silver had to step in to mediate between the two.

    This is the owner of the franchise, and a 61-year-old man with every advantage in the world in terms of money, class, privilege, and resources to help him get things right. This is as good at being an owner as Dolan will ever be.

    It is not a unique situation. For years Al Davis kept the Raiders swatting at imaginary flies. Snyder has tried to make Washington a good football team often to the detriment of the team, and with a business model that will one day charge fans for oxygen. Jed York, Jimmy Haslam, the DeVos family in Orlando ... they all exist, somehow, without dying of shame. Woody Johnson of the New York Jets may not even realize he owns the Jets. It’s the best explanation at this point.

    This all leads to the extremely relevant and practical question: How do you survive when your beloved team has been taken over by the country’s least-fireable, least vulnerable, and meritocracy-immune people?

    The Clippers eventually got rid of Donald Sterling, yes. That coup took three decades of humiliating franchise performance, public displays of racism towards his players, a TMZ leak, and the entire NBA working together to oust him. Even then, Sterling still got two billion dollars from the sale of the team.

    Professional sports owners are too rich to lose. They are wealthy. They will stay that way, because the way American society works in 2017 is to keep the wealthy at a minimum threshold of wealthy while gutting the middle of the country like a fresh deer carcass for profit.

    In the case of sports and probably much more, that carcass is you.

    There’s no reason to not gouge the owner on your shuffle off this mortal coil, however. As long as you know this isn’t about winning, and as long as you know that you have some options, you can choose a noble death in battle against your overlords. The choices aren’t great. They are choices besides a default kind of serfdom under tyrannical rule.

    I am Spartacus. You are Spartacus. We are Spartacus, and Spartacus is definitely not paying $16 for a large beer without some payback.

    Disengage completely

    It is an option, albeit a grim one. If you decide to abandon your team, know that it will be weird. Other hobbies will have to step up. Other sports may be an option, but know then that waiting around that corner could be another trap. Sure, I’ll just watch EPL soccer, surely their owners must be different! You should not think this, ever.

    If you go full deserter, you make a statement. You take money and views and clicks out of the owner’s bucket. Empty seats in an era of television contracts don’t hold the same weight they used to, but they’re still embarrassing. Being one for your team is absolutely free, and requires even less effort than continuing to be a fan without complaint.

    There’s also the dollars you don’t spend on jerseys, shirts, memorabilia, concessions, beer — oh man, all that beer money adds up, not just for you, but for owners, too. Margins matter, especially if you have the kind of owner who watches the margins like a hawk.

    Note: to make this kind of behavior really effective, you actually have to stop supporting the team. This is a note to Washington fans. Yes, it’s harder than you might have imagined, but you have to stop going to the games and buying overpriced gear to make this work. You have to stop, like, one thing you’re doing, and not hand Snyder your money. If you hate the way he manages your team, just stop handing him money. Stop. STOPPPPP.

    Make your fandom a protest

    The Baghead route. Again, not entirely effective, but if you’ve already bought the ticket, the paper bag mask is ready when you are. Don’t try to bring signs in protesting ownership: they tend to get confiscated. Chanting works, though you may be asked to leave. This may be the team doing you a favor and improving your quality of life, for which you owe them a quiet thank you.

    American fans don’t do this a lot in numbers because we’re too disorganized, for the most part.

    However, British soccer fans have a long history of doing this at multiple levels of the sport. The results are mixed at best: Manchester United weathered a fan protest against the ownership of the Glazers with ease, while Newcastle fans did sort of prod owner Mike Ashley into spending money on the club’s roster after skimping on transfers for a while. Lower-tier team protests seem to work much better, but still: Owners don’t tend to sell teams because you ask them to, even if you do it en masse wearing color-coordinated t-shirts with anti-ownership slogans on them.

    Make their life hell

    There is so little you can do to accomplish this, but if you’re fond of tiny victories, then take it.

    The choice for pissants determined to take just one chunk out of the dragon’s hide before getting smoked — making the owner’s life one degree more hellish than it is — requires discipline and stamina. You can’t just boo once: you have to boo, and boo, and keep on booing until the joke becomes a running joke becomes a tradition. You have to boo about your team at the games of other, totally different teams in different sports. You have to boo them on the street and, if necessary, at a urinal at a public restroom next to you.

    You have to commit to this. You can’t take anything away from the owner. The owner has more money than you will ever have, most likely. Barring some brave exception, they have built a bubble of highly paid sycophants, suckups, yes-men, consultants bland functionaries, and spineless running buddies. Their children don’t go to your schools, they don’t vacation at the same places, and they don’t do the basic functions of daily living that the rest of us do. You won’t be able to boo them at the grocery store. There is a very good chance they haven’t been to a grocery store in years. They don’t live in the same country you live in, and don’t want to, really.

    The only vulnerability someone as wealthy as a sports owner has is vanity. Formally adored by default in every other space in life, it’s important to deny them that. They won’t get it from the media, especially if they’re an NFL owner. (“Mister [owner]” from the NFL universe remains the most toadying, repellent address in sports.)

    You have to make them feel like a loser, in other words, because there is nowhere else they will see an exam, a test, or a challenge in their life. This is the only thing you can rob them of after they robbed you of the simple irrational diversion of fanhood. You can take the toy they bought, and turn it into a mewling, complaining chunk of expensive sorrow in their hands, one that might print money, but that will never, ever do it without spitting in their face. You can take any joy they might derive from being the boss out of their hands, and do it as often as possible.

    Few communities could carry this off. But if and when the time comes, I believe in you Philadelphia. We all do.

    Wait it out

    It’s an option. In fact, it’s the option that involves the fewest actual changes in your behavior. Change is hard! And hard things are bad. You could avoid them and simply let the noble rot of time and tide do the work for you.

    Waiting has a few natural advantages. Unlike a lot of other things in life where you might feel powerless, disenfranchised, and otherwise steamrolled by forces beyond your control, reality does catch up to bad teams. There is no rhetoric, no weird identity politics, no subverted prejudices wrapped in appeals to emotion capable of erasing basic facts about a team.

    You can’t duck wins and losses, or make up records, or scream “fake news!” when your team is 1-15, or loses by 40 points to a half-empty arena every night. The Browns are bad. There is film to prove it — so much film to prove it, actually. Outright lies people will accept in almost every other area of their life, they will reject in sports.

    Because dude: I don’t care what you said, we lost to Georgia Southern at home. AT HOME.

    Sometimes the badness becomes so obvious that even ownership takes notice, though that’s not a guaranteed outcome. There are free riders out there, owners content to skim off TV contracts while making the bare minimum effort to contribute. Even worse, there are a lot of owners out there who bought a team with their money like you might buy new exercise equipment: first as an enthusiastic lark, and later as a thing that gathers dust in the corner while slowly rusting.

    This can and does go on for decades, but let’s be cynically optimistic for a moment.

    Eventually, a team might descend so far into the abyss that something has to happen, if only for a brief, glorious moment. Teams need you on the hook, one way or another, and the spreadsheet will kick in where shame fails. If they have to pretend to compete to do that, they will, one way or another. Jeffrey Loria, regarded as one of the worst owners in sports, did preside over one tantalizing World Series championship in his first year with the Marlins before robbing the city of Miami at gunpoint for a stadium. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers under the Culverhouse family did, at one point, attempt to compete in football, and made the playoffs before a long dive into the trough. The Clippers under Sterling — yes, even the Clippers — built decent teams from time to time.

    There’s a bottom, and eventually your team will hit it so hard even ownership hears the thud and has to do something about it.

    And sometimes, just maybe, the sports fan living under the tyranny of the inept and wealthy benefits from the greatest disease of the aristocracy: Protracted familial cannibalism when the owner inevitably dies and disputes erupt over large estates. In the estate sale, the team is often nothing more than another ornate lamp or painting no one really wants for anything but cash. The next owner might care enough to make a good product, or failing that, at least want to sucker you in with a strong couple of seasons before falling back into the gutter of easy shared revenue and seat licenses.

    A good solid family law dispute over ownership of your team might solve itself when the bad team, finally receiving its well-earned level of zero support locally, moves to a new city. They might sell to an owner desperate to bilk Las Vegas, San Antonio, or Los Angeles for a new monorail of a stadium. They might be the Cincinnati Bengals, and improve to the tune of “horrible to mediocre, but you can’t say that’s not improvement.”

    Either way, the waiting fan’s outcomes are the easiest, emotionally speaking. The waiting fan is the sloth of the sports ecosystem. By not moving, the mold of indifference and pessimism grows on their fur. After a while, they begin to eat it, and maybe even get some natural camouflage and nutrition from it. They might even start to like it, after a while. When success comes, it probably tastes even better after all the fur-mold sandwiches.

    If Cubs fans lived off them for over a century, anyone under the thumb of inescapable mismanagement can, too.


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    Monster Jam was the last memorable event in a stadium that begged to be forgotten.

    Monster Jam fills up enough of the Georgia Dome — most of the bottom bowl, and a good chunk of the mezzanines and upper deck. There is competition in town — but there also probably isn’t a lot of Sunday night overlap between the monster truck crowd and the people across town at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium watching Atlanta United lose its first game ever to New York Red Bulls.

    There are mostly dads, myself included, towing kids there with the promise of monster trucks and multiple concession stand runs.

    One of these runs: for a $20 Monster Jam official Grave Digger sno-cone with commemorative Grave Digger cup with molded grinning skeleton face and flashing lights triggered via a button in its plastic forehead. I bought it; one $15 commemorative non-truck-specific Monster Jam sno-cone; a $15 pair of headphones/ear protectors, with rubber tires mounted around the ear cups for one child; a $20 pair of less-elaborate ear protection for the other kid, who could not be persuaded to get the cheaper ones because, “I need different daddy”; at least $30 worth of bribes in the form of food and drink to keep them in the stands for half the show; $0 in alcohol, somehow, because two children at a monster truck show keep you so busy and running that you cannot find the time to get drunk enough to deal with the children.

    While waiting, a towheaded 3-year-old behind us pointed to the beer man selling $12 oil cans of Busch Light.

    “Daddy, you could get a beer.”

    “You know Daddy only drinks crown.”

    The Omni
    The Omni

    The first thing I can remember about going to a live sports event involves DeBarge, and the memory is wrong. Wrong may not be the right word, actually. Better put, I misremembered because I was probably 6 years old, and 6-year-olds can’t be counted on to provide accurate testimony in a court of law or in a recollection involving the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers.

    My dad took me to a Hawks game at the Omni. The Omni was the least-lovable building ever constructed, a black cube with tented pyramids of black sheet metal jutting from the roof, weird angular corner windows, and the street presence of a giant, menacing blast furnace. I thought it looked cool because it reminded me of the doomed spaceship in Disney’s The Black Hole. Kids have bad memories and deplorable taste in architecture.

    The Omni was built to rust, to be an uncherished memory before it ever happened.

    The first claim there is literal. By rusting, the steel elements of the building would become even more fused to each other. In its later years, it started to look like an overturned running shoe or waffle iron left outside to the elements. The designers reportedly did not factor in Atlanta’s subtropical climate, and the Omni kept rusting and rusting until the entire building had an incurable form of architectural arthritis. Holes appeared in the building’s frame, holes big enough for people to pass through without tickets or permission. Rather than fix the gaping holes in the building designed to rust in one of the United States’ most humid places, management instead put up chain-link fences along them.

    The second claim, that the Omni was designed to be an uncherished memory, is a guess. The Hawks played there either way. My dad drove me down into the city with the radio on — never the rock station, but always the R&B station with Switch, Brick, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Gap Band, Roger and Zapp, or Kool and the Gang on. I knew the Hawks had a player named “Tree Rollins.” This was enough all by itself, but I would also get to go to Burger King for a kids meal, which, for a kid who was avowedly not into sports, was a low, low bribe bar to clear.

    Tree Rollins totally looked like someone named Tree. I remember the Omni very much looking like the inside of a doomed spaceship, and that everyone was very excited that someone called Dr. J was there, even though he was evidently some off-brand version of Dr. J not equal to a previous version. There were men there with giant Jheri curls and Magnum, P.I. sunglasses and mustaches indicating that they were serious, wealthy, and just dangerous enough to wear a mustache. I remember the hair across all races and genders being massive and more carefully constructed than the arena they were standing in; I remember being one of the few kids in the building, and thinking that maybe, sometimes, my dad might just be taking me to stuff he liked in order to get out of the house and have a few too many beers by himself.

    Atlanta skyline view from Turner FieldPhoto by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    On the way home, I remember passing the few super-distinct pieces of the Atlanta skyline: the Peachtree Westin that Dar Robinson jumped out of for a Burt Reynolds stunt, the UFO-shaped alien cake of Fulton County Stadium where the Braves played and where my dad would later take us to sit in empty seats and pick up fiendish sunburns, the Georgia Capital that always seemed completely out of place in all that retro-futurism and brutalist forestry around it. That’s the kind of place Atlanta was and still is — a place where the past is what seems unnecessary, not the future.

    The music had changed. My dad drove in silence and smoked Vantage cigarettes with the window cracked even though it was winter, I think, and cold enough to have the heat cranking. It was Quiet Storm time on the radio, and that meant Jeffrey Osborne, Marvin Gaye, Rita Coolidge, and Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Teddy Pendergrass. DeBarge’s “All This Love” came on and the nylon string guitar solo played and I looked up and thought how the streetlights were on but still looked so dark against the streets and the houses of what I now know was a decimated Techwood.

    I’m pretty sure since that song came out in 1982 that we’d already moved to Tennessee by then, but at a certain point emotional memories are immune to fact-checking. The fadeout and ride in the song is endless over the background singers going say you really love me baby/ say you really love me darling/for I really love you baby/sure enough love you darlin’

    At the Georgia Dome, there is some of exactly what you think should be at a Monster Jam show in the South.

    There was, for example, a terrifying man in the sleeveless Confederate flag shirt eight rows below our seats. I asked him if he knew where I could get ear protection before the race. He looked at me for about five seconds before responding because he:

    • comes from someplace where there is a daily quota on words for interpersonal communication
    • thought I was a godless bearded urbanite hitting on him
    • or was very drunk and hearing me talking on a built-in beer-induced tape delay.

    I hope he was drunk, and also that he thought I was hitting on him.

    The trucks have names ranging from the super-uninspiring and corporate — the FS1 Cleatus Truck! the Team Hot Wheels Firestorm! — to the classic and menacing (Bounty Hunter and El Toro Loco). There is a truck called Obsession and its unimaginatively named partner, Obsessed. One is called Ice Cream Man, easily the least-intimidating monster truck of all time because it comes out to tinkly ice cream van chimes, or the most unsettling because it plays a song synonymous with the sketchiest non-related regular cast member of most people’s childhoods — the neighborhood ice cream man who might have lived in the van he worked in.

    There is a Monster Energy truck with green neon lights built into the undercarriage. I am here to report against my will that it looks absolutely and positively sick. It is called “the Monster Energy Truck” because there are two good monster truck names in the universe, and both are taken. (Grave Digger and Bigfoot, to be specific.)

    The anthem is sung while a bald eagle flaps in slow motion on the end-zone video boards.

    The Georgia Dome was built in 1992, and it will be imploded in the summer of 2017. It will never see its 30th birthday, and it will not be missed because it, too, was built to be forgotten. The last event in the dome will be Monster Jam. If you are from outside of the state, you will think it is appropriate because LOL REDNECKS; if you are from here, you will probably also think it is appropriate because LOL REDNECKS, but will get mad when anyone else says it.

    For the record, the Dome didn’t even try to be interesting on the level of the Omni or Fulton County Stadium. It was fine but unmemorable as something you drove past, sat in, or saw in shots of the city skyline. Take a hotel bathtub, preferably one of the cheap ones, too shallow to do anything in but sit unhappily for five minutes before giving up and draining the water. Cover it with a large golf umbrella blown inside out by the wind. Solder the two together. Paint it first teal and maroon, because someone in 1991 thought putting the bedroom color scheme from a Florida vacation rental on the outside of a stadium in Atlanta was a good idea.

    When you remember the Atlanta Falcons play football there, paint it in a new scheme with red and black in it to remind everyone of their existence. Don’t do this until 16 years after you open the stadium, and only nine years before its eventual demolition.

    Fans reach for players near the exit after the Atlanta Falcons were defeated by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Georgia Dome on November 20, 2005.Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

    Monster Jam is the last event here. Other things happened before that. The Atlanta Falcons played mostly forgettable football here, unless you take out the Vick years, which you might want to given how they ended. If there were some way to keep the part where all the mostly African-American fans in the upper deck went bonkers the minute they started playing “Bring ’Em Out” for those teams, you should do that. That may be the most excited single concentration of minutes you could salvage from the team’s history at the Georgia Dome: Before the team played, but after they remembered they were going to watch the fastest player in the NFL touch the ball on every play. This is a happy memory. There aren’t a lot of those there.

    It hosted a lot of college football, including the annual SEC Championship game. Tim Tebow cried on the sideline there after Alabama clipped Florida’s undefeated streak short in 2009; Les Miles in 2007 used his backup quarterback to win an SEC title there, and then a national title LSU somehow got with two losses later in New Orleans. Before that game he hustled every reporter in reach to a press conference where he denied Kirk Herbstreit’s report that he was going to take the Michigan job, and then with his chest at full inflation demanded that the room “have a great day.” I was there for that and, yes, it was just as confusing in person as it was on television.

    LSU coach Les Miles leads fans in a cheer after defeating the University of Miami in the 2005 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia on December 30, 2005. LSU defeated Miami 40-3.Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
    LSU coach Les Miles after defeating the University of Miami, 40-3, in the 2005 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

    There was Wrestlemania in 2011, when the Rock returned and I nearly flipped my laptop off a table when the glass broke and Stone Cold Steve Austin ripped down the entry ramp on an ATV like the Pope of All Shitkicking Rednecks. In 1994, Deion Sanders and Andre Rison punched each other while wearing helmets in fight during a football game, an event that easily clears the hurdle to being one of the top 25 most memorable moments in Atlanta history, and was also incredibly dumb. Those two circles overlap a lot here.

    There were two Super Bowls in the Dome. The first was a forgettable one in 1994 where the Cowboys beat the Bills. This beating was different from the seven other Bills/Cowboys Super Bowls in the 1990s because the pregame show featured Kriss Kross, Charlie Daniels, the Georgia Satellites, and the Morehouse Marching Band doing a tribute to “Georgia Music Makers.” Charlie Daniels is from North Carolina but did a song about an unenforceable contract between the Devil and a mentally ill violin player, so by any standard he counted.

    The second is best remembered for an unseasonably brutal ice storm and Ray Lewis picking up two murder charges from the Fulton County District Attorney after a very bad night out on the town with his friends. The Tennessee Titans came up a yard short in Atlanta, but most Nashville things measured in Atlanta terms fail by much, much more than that. Feel better thinking about it in those terms, Nashville.

    There was also the time the tornado struck the Georgia Dome while I was inside it during the 2008 SEC basketball tournament, rippling the ceiling like water and throwing the scoreboard around like a weight on a fishing lure. That happened, too.

    Other than all that, there’s not much else. Monster Jam will close out the building’s life, if you like to anthropomorphize a stadium no one ever thought to give a personality or memory. The seats will be auctioned off or sold to high schools for repurposing. The innards will be sold in stages, right down to a yard sale of whatever’s left in the building getting gutted and gaveled out right on the sidewalk outside the Dome on Northside Drive.

    Sometime during the summer it will be imploded and become a parking lot for the new stadium. It’s a corporate-sponsored metallic oculus someone will probably remember as looking like a very old future. The Falcons and Atlanta United will call it home, and the Georgia Dome will be gone and not mourned. That’s fine, and I don’t want you to think for a second it isn’t. Some things are built to be forgotten, and the Georgia Dome is one of them.

    Fans of the Atlanta Falcons watch the game with bags on their heads against the New Orleans Saints on December 10, 2007 at the Georgia Dome.Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    The trucks spend the first half of the show racing by pairs in heats. They can sort of drift a corner — sort of, as much as a 10,000-pound truck can slide on dirt. The drivers don’t hammer the gas so much as they get up to speed, and then feather the throttle to keep the trucks moving with careful blasts of the engine. It’s like watching extremely short rallycross races run by farting whales in track shoes.

    Finishing fast is interesting. Finishing sideways doing something reckless and badass is better, but finishing first and flying sideways across the finish line is best. This is particularly true if you can roll the truck over, hit the throttle, catch one enormous tire in the dirt on the end of the roll, and flip the entire vehicle back onto all four tires for a save, a round of WOOOOS and applause, and a pass to the next round of racing.

    This happens twice in the racing segment of the show, which is two more times than anyone should be able to pull that off in the aforementioned 10,000-pound trucks. Grave Digger sacrificed itself for the crowd’s pleasure early — it hit a massive jump while trying to speed across the finish line, bouncing sideways, blowing out one enormous tire and a mess of important-looking metal stuff in the chassis on impact, and then rolling to stop on its ceiling while soaking up the applause. Grave Digger left the arena with three good wheels, one completely destroyed tire, and the limp of a champion who’d given their all. If I had been drinking, I might have teared up a little.

    The second half is the freestyle, the more entertaining part where Monster Jam ditches the entire concept of racing, and just lets drivers try to tear apart their cars for the crowd. The drivers have two minutes to run through their routine. The most popular runs don’t even make it that long, though. They end abruptly and satisfactorily when the driver rolls their truck onto its roof off an ill-advised but spectacular jump, breaks an axle or blows out a tire, or cripples the thing trying to land a backflip.

    The Monster Energy truck — the one with the absolutely sick neon — whipped itself around during the freestyle event with such force that its flimsy body panels sheared off in every direction. One truck just did donuts for the last 20 seconds of their routine. If a monster truck rips donuts on dirt, there is an involuntary response from the body. “WOOOOOOOO” leaps from the diaphragm. You can’t fight it, and wouldn’t want to if you could.

    The MCs yell out this or something like it repeatedly.

    “DOIN’ IT ONE LAST TIME FOR THE GEORGIA DOME.”

    It doesn’t have much effect, not even when a local DJ yells it out during a bike race between three audience members racing on children’s bikes. But then, the Georgia Dome is used to quiet echoing off its cavernous walls, or having fan noise piped in to ricochet between its empty seats. There is nothing more to give from this afternoon’s audience, for one: Being at Monster Jam is getting blasted in the face for three hours with engine noise, and then coated with a gentle drizzle of dirt floating down between runs. Maximum audience participation is clapping and yelling just loudly enough to be heard over engines that burn a gallon of fuel a minute. There is no 11, or giving it up any harder than one is already giving it up.

    Very few people seemed to realize this was the end, or at least attached any significance to it, or cared whether anyone would begin gutting the building the instant the last earth-mover carried out the dirt.

    We had to leave three trucks into the freestyle when both of their attention spans wore out, and were unrecoverable. We left before the Georgia Dome paid one last tribute to itself: A grease fire broke out in a concession stand, which was quickly put out only after filling a concourse with smoke and scaring the hell out of a few patrons. Remember that on the way out: that the building tried to save everyone the trouble of demolition by burning itself down.

    A tear in the ceiling of the Georgia Dome is visible after severe weather passed over the building during the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on March 14, 2008.Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
    A tear in the ceiling of the Georgia Dome is visible after severe weather passed over the building during the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on March 14, 2008.

    Walking out with my kids, they were about the same age I was when I left the Omni with my dad at the Omni in 1982, or 1983, or whenever it was in fuzzy kid-time. They saw the new stadium next door and thought it looked pretty much like a spaceship, or like someplace where Skylanders would live.

    That is exactly what the Omni and Fulton County Stadium looked like to me as a kid —so much so that later, when my dad and another dad would awkwardly hang out for the benefit of their sons’ juvenile need to socialize with other dudes, my friend Jim and I would sit in the backseat as they drove and point out the buildings we would own in the future. He’d take the Westin, and keep all his Legos there. I’d take Fulton County Stadium, and reserve it exclusively for my collection of helicopters. A city was a place to be had, a thing to be purchased for your convenience.

    Kids, weirdly enough, understand that a city is just something to be bought and sold.

    Later, weirder, less-tenable ideas creep into your head: That it could be home, that the buildings you can name mean something beyond the names, that there might be some kind of resonant harmony between you and this random system of properties and spaces. Sometime someone might superimpose a sports team into that imaginary relationship, making this city not just a place, but a place for you, and people like you, and that all of you can thrive here. It is special. You are special, and the team, its players, and all the spaces they pass through and live in are special and remarkable and unlike anything else in the world.

    There is a magic you can believe about a place as an adult that children do not even begin to believe or accept. A 7-year-old would laugh you out of the room, probably while telling you that the new place was much better, both because it looked like a place where Skylanders would live, and also because it was new. New things are better, and you should always take the new thing.

    A fan of the Atlanta Falcons supports her team against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on January 20, 2013.Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    That shouldn’t be hard to accept. Take the new thing, even if the nagging, haunting feeling of living somewhere boils down to a problem with you, with that thing where you’re looking for something in tangible space to consider a landmark, a guidepost. To consider something significant, if only so that you, in relation to it, can have a bit of that significance. The city I live in makes that hard to do, though there’s an honesty in that constant self-digestion and auto-demolition. Do not get attached. It, and everything in it, will eventually move, just like the teams and the people who call it home.

    That’s the rational, reasonable thing to think, yet even with an intentionally blank, mostly unmemorable empty space like the Georgia Dome I want something to be there, to definitively have happened there. There should be a definite something there, thinks some deeply schizophrenic part of my brain that doesn’t want so much as a garden shed to collapse around me without some memory attached to it. Otherwise it’s just a thing — and by extension, so is the city, and the very personally important me I’ve attached to it.

    I have a definite thing to attach myself to here. After all, I thought for a few seconds on March 14, 2008 that I was going to die on the floor of the Georgia Dome on press row at the SEC men’s basketball tournament.

    I thought Kentucky fans were stomping their feet in unison on the bleachers at first, but the noise swelled, and swelled more, and grew so loud and limitless all at once. It felt limitless in the sense of being infinitely powerful with no range or end to the noise, so loud and yet so obviously just getting started on the way to a theoretical full volume. What do you think a tornado at pace is? It’s actually just clearing its throat and warming up, volume-wise. It’s whispering, holding back. You just hear it as a roar.

    There wasn’t even a shudder from impact. There was just the sensation that the entire building was next to an immense floor buffer, spinning and vibrating at thousands of RPM. When that vibration turned into waves the roof flapped like a subwoofer, the air vents started spitting out pieces of insulating foam, and for one second I weighed the options of dying standing up and being crushed by the falling roof and lighting, or taking my chances ducking under a table, only to be crushed by all that plus one flimsy plywood table. The lights swayed 10 to 15 feet in either direction. The waves got stronger, and the entire overturned bathtub of the stadium was now being thumped by a very pissed off janitor pushing that giant floor buffer into the side of the Georgia Dome.

    I was sitting next to Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery. That would have been memorable for me, at least, getting crushed next to a legendary announcer, in the few seconds I had to have a last memory. If I’d heard Verne say “oh my” as it collapsed, it would have been my last tweet, and the RTs and favs would be infinite.

    Instead of bearing down at full speed and colliding with the Dome, though, the tornado drunkenly staggered into the Georgia Congress Center next door, then down Marietta Street and into Cabbagetown before dissipating into the night. Not knowing what else to do, I walked out and took pictures of holes in the walls of the Congress Center, and thought about how great I felt about not dying in the Georgia Dome that night.

    Leaving the last event at a building that was designed to be forgotten, I didn’t even really think about the one thing I should remember and attach to the spot.

    Instead I thought about the only song I think about when I think about the irrational need for a place to give me something only a human can — especially this place, the first place I did so many things, like leaning my head against the window listening to DeBarge after a Hawks game. That need will never make sense, no matter how many games you watch there, or how many moments you spend there. It won’t make sense, not even after years of silently asking a place to just talk back to you once after you spend years monologuing to it. To look at a place that eats its own every day, and buries its stadiums and buildings and places under like daisies beneath a plow, and ask it, as if you were some exception to the rule, to sing the outro to you:

    say you really love me baby

    say you really love me darling

    for I really love you baby

    sure enough love you darlin’


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  • 04/30/17--23:24: The Future of Football
  • Football as we know it is done, because the lawyers are here. When the lawyers arrive, things as you know them are over. After making an initial beachhead with concussion lawsuits in the NFL, The Lawyers (capital letters necessary) are pushing inland and making great, great gains. There are lawsuits against helmet manufacturers, against the NFL, the NCAA … anyone with a finger on the game at this point, in the year 2017, will be liable for the game’s excesses, violences, and lasting damage.

    Do not for one second read that as “blame The Lawyers.” You can if you like. It’s fun, and no one wants to stand in the way of fun as long as you don’t actually mean blame The Lawyers. Like foot soldiers in a war, lawyers are merely rubber ducks on a great tidal swell of football-related backlash, doing what they are told, and being pushed by currents sweeping back from a century of American football’s flailing about with no regard for itself or fellow swimmers.

    Football is not under attack from anything other than football. Football declared war on itself long ago, and advanced the campaign in a thousand small steps. In 1905 it outlawed the Flying Wedge and legalized the forward pass, but stopped short of further liberating linemen and backs from constant impact by loosening the rules on eligible linemen. In the 1970s player size followed the national obesity curve upward, increasing the m in F=ma to unprecedented and increasingly dangerous levels, making the F (force) involved in the game greater than ever.

    When the 2000s rolled around and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) emerged as a real correlation with the game of football, the NFL and others followed the noble example of tobacco companies by falsifying research, denying all charges, and focusing on selling the product to children.

    That is what sent the lawyers to football’s shores in the first place, and now deep into its heartland and beyond. Not a sense of aggrieved offense by coastal elites at the uncompromising game of the American interior. Not the allure of potential settlement money hitting the nostrils of the American legal community.

    What sent them was the slow realization by parents that Pop Warner football could be the gateway drug that leads their promising, unblemished child to an adulthood with a degenerative brain condition. What sent them was the understanding that over time, American schools from middle school up had institutionalized and venerated a game capable of seriously harming those who played it — and even protected it in law and beyond in the form of societal and cultural protections no court order could budge from good standing.

    Football asked for this to happen. It asked for liability insurance to become so expensive it might price out substantial numbers of high school teams from even having programs. It encouraged its own violence and actively discouraged research on that violence’s long-term effects. At the highest levels of the game in particular — the NFL — those in charge encouraged a game of head-first violence, and made that violence an inseparable and often explicit part of their brand.

    [RECIRC]

    Yes, other sports have concussion problems — hockey, most notably, followed by soccer and wrestling. But The Lawyers aren’t here to talk to you about them. They are here to talk about football. And if The Lawyers are here, then football as we know it is already dead, or at the very least obsolete.

    The Lawyers are not the people you want to rebuild or evolve the game. Neither are the corporate overlords of the NFL, who will only embrace innovation and a real honesty about the game’s potential long-term consequences at what may be non-figurative gunpoint. They cannot and should not be relied on because they are too invested in the current system to have any incentive to change.

    Players, coaches, stakeholders, fans, and other invested parties cannot rely on the NFL for other reasons.

    One is simple math: To make the biggest impact possible on the game, those who want football to survive must target the largest slice of the game. Football remains the number one participation sport in the country in high schools, with over a million players in 2015-16. For most of the people who play football in the United States, their exposure to the game in a serious and organized fashion begins and ends there. Football is not owned by anyone. If it were, though, the largest shareholders would be the ones playing on Friday nights.

    Another reason to not wait for the NFL or college football to change first: The game of football can’t afford to wait, and needs to thrive where it lives, not where it is most monetized and commodified. Interventions suggested to improve the game at the highest levels tend to rely on expensive equipment, increasingly elaborate rulebooks, and advanced medical technology.

    Using those as a stopgap to patch over the glaring issues in football’s foundations is only that: a stopgap, and an expensive one that won’t work for the game as a whole over time. Your high school, unlike St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, cannot afford a squad of robot tackling dummies at $8,295 a pop. A rural high school in Utah will not have the mythical handheld medical equipment needed to diagnose a concussion instantly, nor have officials with the resources and support needed to parse out the complexities of the latest targeting rules.

    In this future, the game of the American people — its most popular sport — will become something only available to those who can afford the resources to play it, much less watch it.

    The game needs to change. It has changed once before, when football was a smaller pastime largely limited to colleges and universities. It still took a standing president of the United States’ intervention to temper the violence of the sport — and only then, after actual deaths occurred on the field. The game wasn’t the heavily leveraged, culturally embedded, and highly lucrative billion-dollar industry it is today. The odds of significant change happening now without legal intervention, given what the sport is and who profits most from it, are very, very long.

    If — and it is a huge if — football will survive, then its revamp should start simple. Those who want football to continue in one form or another should think of the basic building blocks of football itself as changeable, updatable programming. They should start at the grassroots of the sport to affect the largest number of possible teams and games and leagues playing the sport. They should think about the nature of the game itself, and how to keep as much of it as possible without leaning into the excesses of football as it is currently played.

    It should start now. Football 3.0 is coming, and this is what it will look like if it wants to survive.

    F=MA

    The chief variable affecting any and all discussions of football and its risks is force: Force applied through hitting, tackling, and the random collisions of any game. Force causes concussions; Concussions are strongly correlated with degenerative brain diseases like CTE; CTE and other associated long-term neurological disasters are the chief reason youth participation in football has been down or flat recently, and also the thing driving the current wave of lawsuits and legal drama surrounding the NFL and other leagues.

    Force is at the core of football, and it is also what could kill football. Curbing the game’s plague of force-related issues — without creating an entirely new sport and burying the old one completely — means dealing with force as a necessary evil at worst, and as a prohibited but inevitable ghost in the machine at best.

    The future of football will be about reducing force wherever possible, redirecting it, or eliminating it altogether.

    The bad news is that the equation can’t change: F=MA, and always will. If it’s assumed that football will be a game of reduced force, then it’s also assumed there will still be some degree of force via the basic identity of football as a contact sport. Bringing the ball carrier to ground, blocking another player, moving through living, breathing traffic — these are all basic elements of the game. Without them, football is handball without nets.

    The lone good part about this equation: There are variables to work with here, and they are flexible. Acceleration (at least to the point of attack) can be redirected or eliminated in some cases. Mass can be lowered by either rule or game design, and the product of force itself can be redirected or dispersed through rules, further tweaks to game design, and playing technique.

    There are two other variables here that matter. The first is space, both in terms of football’s standard playing field, and in terms of how the players are allowed to line up and function within it. The second variable is time, and within it the number of repeated exposures to/opportunities for impact.

    SPACE

    If reducing the impact in football while keeping as much of the essential contact of the game is a goal, then there is another way to change the game for the better: cut unnecessary impacts as much as possible.

    Schemers have already found one way to do this and it has been a part of football for the better part of 40 years: Spread players out and create a game of players in space, rather than a clustered mass of beef in cleats pounding away in close quarters.

    Spacing out offensive players created a greater chance for a ballcarrier to find open grass. As a (largely unintentional)* side effect, players also had less traffic to deal with, and more of a chance of avoiding repeated hits fighting through blocks and clustered tacklers.

    *I talked to Mike Leach via a phone interview. He doesn’t believe the game has much to improve on in terms of new rules. “We really don’t need to change the game, I think.” Most coaches echoed the same sentiments: that football was inherently risky, and that was something accepted by all players. At the same time, many were surprisingly open to changes in the game when you suggested them — right down to extreme ideas like removing helmets and changing the number of players on the field. Coaches are single-minded, but shockingly open-minded provided the idea did not get in the way of winning.

    Washington State coach Mike Leach, and his fellow Air Raid guru Hal Mumme, also experimented with spacing along the offensive line. Rather than lining up in close quarters in three-point stances with a hand on the ground, Air Raid linemen began each play basically standing up, ready to pass block.

    They did something else new and different, too: they stood farther apart than any other linemen, sometimes six feet apart. What looked like madness turned out to have a lot of method behind it. Not only did quarterbacks have wider passing lanes between and over their linemen, but running backs suddenly had wider run lanes.

    That’s relevant for two reasons. One: Those sub-concussive, continuous blows defensive and offensive linemen take on every play are repetitive, brutal force — particularly in the run game, where a literal butting of heads happens on every play. That violence doesn’t serve anyone well in terms of entertainment value, or in terms of long-term safety for linemen. Spacing it out, and turning every block into a one-on-one situation with carefully enforced rules about contact to the head, eliminated some of the lowest value and highest cost spectacle on the field.

    Two: back to traffic management. Many of the biggest, most frequent collisions at or past the line of scrimmage happen in the run game between linebackers and running backs. In standard or tight offensive line setups — where linemen are shoulder to shoulder — the running lanes created can be narrow at best.

    That clumping of mass moving at high speed in the middle of the field often sets up brutal collisions between running backs and linebackers. Think of Ray Lewis and Eddie George in their prime, hitting each other head-first forever in a narrow hallway: That’s the running back vs. linebacker matchup in the conventional run game, and that’s the series of constant face-to-face impacts that likely reduced lions of the midfield like Junior Seau to CTE cases.*

    *That setup is so fundamental to the core of football’s identity that it is literally a fundamental: the Oklahoma drill, whose variants all involved a.) compressed space and b.) at least two players pitted head-to-head in a potential high-impact situation.

    Note the clarifier there: a potential high-impact situation. There is the possibility the ballcarrier makes the tackler miss. That possibility of escape and avoiding contact goes down by large percentages when the space is constricted. If wide splits were not just the norm, but required by rule and enforced, would that theoretically give ballcarriers coming out of the backfield more of a chance of escape, and thus shave off a substantial margin of bone-rattling hits?

    In addition to what looks like horizontal spacing to the overhead/TV cam viewer, consider lateral spacing. Defensive linemen and offensive linemen in the Canadian Football League start a full yard apart from each other. In comparison, linemen at the snap in the NFL start just eleven inches, or the width of the ball, apart from each other.

    Because there are no easy solutions in life, the benefits of starting three feet from your opponent on the line come with some definite disadvantages. The main one should be obvious to anyone who’s taken even a joking three-point stance in a backyard football game: Both linemen have space to take at least one step, upping the acceleration they can get, and thus increasing the total amount of force in the equation.*

    *There was one suggestion that went too far: starting linemen in a clinch, thus eliminating the instant impact that happens at each snap of the ball. Bob Stitt, the football coach at the University of Montana, objected: “Now you just eliminate scheme in the run game.”

    All this tweaking at the line of scrimmage and spacing raises the question: If football is going to be safer, and survive, is the battle in the trenches the first thing to go?

    After all, flag football removes almost all contact along the line, leaving offensive linemen to serve as little more than juking traffic cones. In some versions of flag football, there’s no offensive line at all — just like several variations of seven-on-seven football camp play, a pass-dominated version of the game used primarily to develop quarterbacks and wide receivers.

    Arena Football League only requires that offenses have four players at the line of scrimmage, and defenses have three. In almost every variation of the game created since Teddy Roosevelt led the charge to modernize the game in 1905, the first thing to go in terms of numbers and importance has been the lineman. (Unless you’re Stanford football, but they’re an anomaly in an otherwise slimming trend, schematically speaking.)

    The 300-pound leviathan may also become a relic of the game for other reasons.

    MASS

    The other variable in football from a safety perspective is the “m” in F=ma — mass.

    The progressive bloat of the American populace and the corresponding rise in the size of football players is well-worn territory now. Almost any comparison will do, because they all show the same familiar trend, presented with extremity and consistency.

    For instance: The 1955 Oklahoma Sooners went undefeated and won the national title with a roster where the heaviest player — left tackle Steve Champlin — tipped the scales at a whopping 225 pounds. The 2017 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, by contrast, had 15 players over 300 pounds, and defensive backs like 220-pound Nate Ebner, who weigh more than the Sooners starting linemen on both sides of the ball.

    Or take the individual case. There’s former Baylor tight end LaQuan McGowan, who played at 405 pounds. Jared Lorenzen of the New York Giants played quarterback at 300 pounds; Levon Kirkland of the Pittsburgh Steelers played linebacker at 275 pounds, give or take whatever he ate pregame. Even cornerbacks and punters have gotten heavier.

    Everyone, at every position in the NFL, has gotten larger over time.

    More importantly, not even the switch to a spread-out game has stopped the race to put as much poundage at every position as possible. With all that mass and ass on the field at once, there is more potential energy on the field than ever before — and it all moves as fast or faster as it ever did.

    So if football’s evolution involves mitigating the massive forces exerted on players, there is another simple variable: require players to bring less mass to the party.

    One option is instituting weight limits for players — something that already happens at the Pop Warner levels and in Sprint Football, a variation of the game where players must weigh no more than 178 pounds. (They must also have more than 5 percent body fat, in order to prevent players starving themselves too much to make weight.) The most unique suggestion: Allow football teams to have as many people on the field as they like, but limit the total amount of weight to a flat 2400 pounds, aka the “one horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses” system of football weight management.

    [SIDEBAR]

    Setting weight limits could cause a whole different range of problems: players going to unhealthy limits to make weight; the difficulty of weighing every single member of a football team like cattle before every game; the many, varied, and creative lengths teams and players might go to in order to cheat the system. Imagine the horror of a weight cut — a deeply unpleasant, miserable experience any high school wrestler or MMA enthusiast is all too familiar with — and you’re with us. Faced with one type of enforced and encouraged type of disordered eating, football players would simply be trading it for another.

    Weight classes and limits also only serve one purpose: to reduce force. There is another option, one relying less on overt regulation, and more on changing the demands of the game on athletes while opening the game up even further: make the field bigger, both longer and wider, and open up the offensive game by making players run more.

    This is sort of like buying a mansion to help you lose weight (“the two-mile walk from the kitchen to the bedroom really put a dent in my caloric deficit”) but it might be worth considering.

    Football teams in the era of spread offenses and nickel defenses have already moved further and further away from traditional crowded run schemes. Stretching the field along either axis creates more space, making room for missed tackles, more open field running, and requires a leaner, fitter athlete.

    Specifically, building a deeper end zone avoids much of the constriction and heavy traffic impacts seen in the red zone. It also has the non-safety related side effect of opening up the end zones for offensive play-callers. The CFL’s field is longer and wider, and features a 20-yard deep end zone. There aren’t a whole lot of stats on CFL red zone concussions versus NFL red zone concussions, true, but the dynamics of the game are quantifiably different re: scoring. As of 2014, CFL teams scored about three more points per game, passed for more yardage, and ran the ball fewer times per game than the NFL.

    The safety difference between the two games may be marginal. However, football is a game of margins, and margins matter when talking about not one, but many different little things to help make the game safer.

    ACCELERATION

    Acceleration is less easy to control than mass. The emphasis on speed in football has coincided with a gradual but real increase in overall player speed — particularly speed gained in a short amount of space. The 40-yard dash has become the standard for measuring straight line speed because football players rarely run further than 40 yards. In automotive terms, top speed matters much less than a player’s 0-60 time.

    No one wants a slower game. However, there is one simple edit eliminating a lot of opportunities for the kind of long, high-speed runs taken at targets that also happen to be running a long way at high speed: Cutting the kickoff and punt return from the game completely.

    This isn’t even a controversial suggestion, or one that isn’t by some measure already happening. The NFL has already toyed with reducing returns, moving kickoffs to the 35-yard line in 2011, and then in 2016 testing a rule moving all touchbacks to the 25-yard line instead of the 20.* Greg Schiano, former head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and current defensive coordinator of the Ohio State Buckeyes, has advocated for the complete abandonment of the kickoff altogether.

    Pop Warner football has already eliminated the kickoff, removing the play from all games in ten-and-under play. If the kickoff is already out of the largest youth football league in the nation, it won’t be long for the rest of the game, either. Add in eliminating punt returns, and football cuts the two greatest consistent opportunities for acceleration at the highest speed out of its force-heavy system.

    *Ironically, the 2016 rule change backfired and produced more returns and fewer touchbacks, a warning to anyone who believes more rules will change the game in predictable ways. Returners, given deeper kicks to return, simply kept running them out of the end zone. Returners, under any rules, are going to try to return kicks.

    TIME

    The repeated application of force in football involves another variable not represented in the equation: Time.

    Maybe we shouldn’t think of it as “time playing football,” but as two things: “number of interactions in a period of time” seems bulky and overly academic. It’s way easier to say snaps or plays — opportunities for impact and all the nasty things that come with that repeated impact.

    That number, at least in the NFL, has been pretty consistent over time. College football games, however, have gotten progressively longer, both because of the college clock rules and the advent of hurry-up, no-huddle offenses. Those offenses run more plays; those plays usually pick up more first downs. First downs stop the clock in college football, and games creep closer and closer to the 3-1/2 hour mark.*

    *The 2016-17 National Title game, for instance, started at 8:17 p.m. Eastern time, and ended at 12:25 a.m., taking a total of 4 hours and 8 minutes to complete. Clemson ripped off 99 plays against Alabama — an obscene number of plays in the NFL, but not unusual for modern college football.

    The hurry-up has its own issues outside of safety — it requires vigilant officiating, for one, and a small but dedicated crew of coaches despise it — but few want it to disappear in the name of shortening games. The hurry-up is entertaining, creates more offense and more scoring, and often allows overmatched teams to stay in games longer against superior competition. It is one way to play the game of many, and part of football’s basic DNA is the freedom to scheme, plan, and move players and the tempo of play around as you like.

    Rather than dictating a specific speed of play, the easiest fix is enforcing what’s already there: the prescribed length of the game itself. First downs in the college game should not stop the clock. Let it run. The clock is the clock, and barring injury timeouts, teams may work as slowly or as quickly within 60 minutes as they please.

    The other issue solved by changing clock rules: Game length from a spectator’s perspective, both in the stadium and watching on a screen.

    The in-game experience of watching a football game is painfully constipated by ad breaks and the dreaded man in the red cap who walks onto the field for stoppages. The test for this among football fans is that a lot of them even know who the man in the red hat — the link between the studio and the game — is. At home the experience is seamless, but in the stands you can see every wire.*

    *This is meant quite literally now, thanks to the overhead cam rigs at every major game. The watershed moment for a college fan realizing that every game is recorded inside a poorly constructed, non-climate-controlled studio is Marvin McNutt of Iowa nearly getting blindsided by a falling Skycam in the 2011 Insight Bowl. At modern football’s most extreme, the football players can be an inconvenience to equipment designed to record them playing.

    The on-screen experience, too, is an inflated, overlong commitment for many fans. The “100 commercials, 11 minutes of action” rule remains in effect in the NFL, where the league’s championship game features just 12 minutes of actual action spread out across four to five hours of pregame and postgame broadcast time.

    That is a quality of life issue for fans — especially potential younger fans who have never lived in a world where they can’t watch exactly what they want when they want at their own pace. Live sports broadcasts, more than ever, can’t be any longer than they have to be. This goes double for football, which in 2016 experienced either flat or declining viewership at all levels.

    The most valuable franchise in sports is the Dallas Cowboys, but three of the top five are soccer teams: Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Manchester United. The world’s most valuable sports franchises function and thrive on games broadcast without commercial interruption, and sponsored in large part by on-field advertising, subscription fees, and team sponsorships.

    It’s not the preference of the NFL, sure. But it has been done, and done well, and done by successful sports franchises. The future of American football probably involves embracing things currently considered heretical to the NFL and its airtight branding. There will be sponsors on uniforms, and in-game advertising on the stands, and whatever else the leagues and their television partners can plaster onto a TV screen — if only because the attention spans of the audience will only get shorter, and their patience for enduring even the biggest and most coveted live sports broadcasts more scarce.

    Safety has been at best an intermittent concern for football management, but money? Money always gets their attention. If there’s a way to neatly avoid broadcast overruns and make game length more predictable, then yes:, teams and leagues and conferences will suddenly be interested in safety and game length.

    BEHAVIOR

    The last variable is the one mentioned first by coaches and players: Technique.

    That is unusual in one sense: Technique is the most human, varied, and inconsistent part of football’s basic dynamics and gameplay. If it could be perfected, there would be no helmet-to-helmet hits, no fumbles, and no jobs for coaches to teach technique for longer than a week or so at a time.

    Technique is the part players and coaches can work on, perfect, and dictate as policy and practice. That technique, in a future where football has to express less force as a game, must change. Some in the NFL already know that, and are at least incrementally working towards it by stealing wholesale from rugby.

    There is a saying rugby coaches and players are fond of saying, usually when they’re around football players and coaches: “Rugby is a tackling sport, while football is a collision sport.”*

    *The saying is a variation on a quote from Michigan State football coach Duffy Daugherty. His original line: “Football isn’t a contact sport, it’s a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport.”

    Rugby may seem like a strange or even ill-advised place to look for solutions to football’s problems. It has its own problems — serious, serious injury problems, including concussion problems of its own on top of a paralysis risk due to the scrum.* It, too, is a contact sport that can’t begin to disavow its basic violence. Embracing rugby’s techniques, at first glance, might seem like insanity.

    *Rugby is itself in the midst of its own internal debate over player size, safety, and the rulebook. The line-out is ridiculously dangerous even by American football’s standards. Still, one college rugby coach I interviewed said the degree of violence in the basic interaction of tackling has no comparison. “We go to football practice and watch football players make routine tackles that would get you thrown out of a game. Our jaws drop.”

    [SIDEBAR]

    The saying is accurate, though. Tackling is formalized in rugby; the process, by rule, involves bringing the ballcarrier to ground. Football tackles are more freeform. A player can tackle a ballcarrier by bringing them to the ground shoulder-first. They may also drive through the player with the shoulder, making no attempt to bring them to the ground. Both are completely legal — provided no contact to the head is made.*

    *Reminder of how recent the cultural reform regarding helmet-to-helmet hits is: The opening logo of the NFL’s Monday Night Football used the image of two helmets smashing together until 2006.

    The Seattle Seahawks in particular have preached the virtues of the “rugby tackle,” i.e. form tackling designed to bring people to ground. It has, in limited use, made for better football. The Seahawks consistently finish near the top of the league in defense, particularly in tackling and yards allowed after catch. But more importantly for the purposes of creating a game that can survive long-term, the Seahawks finish towards the bottom of the league in reported concussions annually.*

    *Reported concussions vs. unreported concussions is a thorny, difficult issue here given the number of concussions that aren’t diagnosed properly by sideline officials, or that are unreported by players not wanting to lose a single snap of play to injury. The data is imperfect, but it is also a start.

    Yet there’s some logic in looking to football’s direct ancestor for answers. Rugby also features the kind of impact football tackling has, but contains much, much more of it. The average American football game has about 79 tackles, while a rugby game contains around 221 different collisions between players. Rugby is statistically about as dangerous as football in terms of total numbers of concussions — but mostly because rugby produces so many more opportunities for contact.*

    *The NFL plays just 16 games per season. Rugby manages to produce a similar amount of reported head trauma with almost three times the amount of collisions per game, and with many, many more games. The NRL regular season, the Australian Premier League of rugby, is 23 games long all by itself. That doesn’t include preseason matches, international obligations for players, the finals series (their playoffs), and other exhibition matches. Invert that comparison, and think about the horrors of football’s physics. In many fewer games, football manages to do as much or more damage than rugby.

    Let’s not limit rugby’s influence to just tackling. For football in particular, there is an inextricable link between technique and equipment. All of those rugby collisions happen without a helmet. People have considered the helmetless player in trying to pull football, and the NFL in particular, back from the brink.

    It is not as insane as it sounds. Players, most notably Hines Ward in 2012, have suggested it. The helmet, introduced as little more than leather skullcap with flaps to prevent ears from being torn off, is not what it started as. It has evolved into full-on armor, less a method of protection at this point, and more a weapon, a point of attack driven into the opponent.

    There is some data supporting this. (Some.) A University of New Hampshire study tried it for just five minutes during a few practices a week, fitting players with a head-impact sensor to measure any possible reduction in head hits. Even that marginal reduction in helmet use lowered the overall number of head impacts by 28 percent — a startling drop in any context, but even more so before you consider that just a small slice of the overall total of practice time was used.

    That is just one study, but it’s intriguing enough to back up what football players alone will tell you anecdotally. The helmet is as much a weapon as it is protection. Whether it means eliminating the facemask, introducing lighter alternative headgear, or getting rid of it altogether.*

    * “The helmet definitely gives you that feeling of being invincible.” That’s former NFL lineman George Foster when I ask him if removing helmets makes any sense. “I don’t know what the overall effect would be, but yes, if you take that facemask or that helmet off, they’ll get their head out of the situation real quick.”

    The final factor in improving technique will be reforming and simplifying the system of rewards, punishments, and rules governing player conduct on the field. In other words, make the rules plain so that football can spend less time and energy litigating itself as an event, and more time in play.

    To wit: The NFL has an 88-page rulebook. The National Federation of State High School Association’s rulebook stands at 116 pages. The NCAA’s massive rulebook is 218 pages in total, and has a separate casebook for officials to study specific situations. There are numerous websites designed to keep officials fluent and fluid in their understanding of the rules.*

    *For fun, take just one of those quizzes. Afterwards, marvel at how little you know about the game you thought you understood.

    Reading through any of those rulebooks is only recommended if you want to understand what a technical, overwrought, and overwritten piece of pseudo-criminal code the rules of American football are. Any future where the rules of football are not made clearer and simpler is one where the rulebook continues to bloat. More rules make slower officials; slower officials make slower games; slower games make for bad football, an unwatchable product for a game competing with shorter attention spans.

    The vagaries of the rulebook also make for more hesitant play. Somewhat counter-intuitively, hesitating on the field of play can get a player injured just as quickly as blindly blowing through a situation without thinking. This is especially true for defenders, who under current contact rules often have no idea how fast or slow they’re supposed to go in a tackling situation — and who could be ejected by rule for helmet-to-helmet contact even if they do everything correctly. Those are interactions, mind you, which often take place in half-seconds of action.

    The overall sense from talking to players and coaches is that contact rules often give little discretion to the referees in how they enforce them. Subjectivity is a dangerous thing to bring to officiating, but over-prescription is, too. The rulebook already has a series of flagrant vs. inadvertent distinctions, but these should be simplified to the point where a referee, working by a generously worded rulebook, has enough discretion in a game to make those calls in a quick and decisive manner.

    A lot of the future of football simply involves stealing good things from other sports, and officiating is no different. Red cards and yellow cards for fouls may be subjective, but they also allow officials to control physical games with obvious, clear signals.

    Rugby uses them, soccer uses them, and in a full-pitch game like American football, their arrival is overdue, if only for one reason: A personal foul is a judgment, like many other legal-ish football penalties. A yellow or red card, though — that’s a stimulus, a signal, a clear indication the player in question has done something personally distasteful to the game.*

    *Are we suggesting that the tedious cycle of awarding yardage to the other team for personal foul penalties by the other team, instead of putting the burden on the player, is a boring thing to watch? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. If there were some way of slimming down the rulebook to eliminate false start/offsides penalties, endless procedural penalties, and substitution and eligibility infractions, we would. Mike Pereira is great at his job, and explains and interprets the rules of football as well as anyone on television. Counterpoint: a game should not require Mike Pereira to explain the vagaries of its rules to you.

    They work well, and are a more economical way of controlling game flow and player conduct than stopping the entire game every three minutes and addressing the public at length with a list of charges and subsequent punishments. Ed Hochuli’s biceps aside, officials and officiating are not an attraction of the game. They shouldn’t be treated like one, or forced by design to be one.

    CODA: THE PEOPLE’S GAME

    All of this re-engineering comes with a warning, and then a statement of purpose.

    That warning is that football, even 20 years from now, will never, ever be completely safe. No sport really is — not golf, a sport where 54,000 people every year end up in the emergency room when they are hit by errant drives and golf carts; not recreational cycling, not skiing or swimming or any other activity where humans take the not-insignificant risk of leaving their house and putting their bodies in motion.

    Football does hold the unique identity and accompanying risk of being a sport encouraging repeated, enthusiastic, and yes, violent contact. Any future involving something recognizable as football has to include at least an element of that, and should. Part of the innate appeal of the sport, even if only played in a backyard or recreationally, is the violence, the speed, the chase, and yes: the understanding that getting caught or beat might mean contact with another player.

    That is the crucial difference football needs to embrace and understand. A sport that is watched and not played is a bloodsport, a spectacle. It has no investment from those watching, no claim held, no understanding of the cost, the experience, the time, the stress, or the reality of the thing being observed. The slow reaction to the issue of head trauma at every level is a perfect demonstration of this effect: Without actual stakes, and divorced from their own reality, fans and observers can’t really even being to grasp a splinter of the violence they see.

    Football might not need more stakeholders in order to survive as a product. A sport that was once internationally beloved can continue profitably for years without widespread participation. (See: Boxing.)

    Football does need more stakeholders to survive as a game, though. The people who need to save what may be left of the game so that it can survive are the stakeholders themselves: coaches, players, and the people who understand how to make games and then play them. They have to act now, or risk losing the game to its worst tendencies encouraged by its worst landlords.

    The sum parts of the game of football should be made to be as close to free as possible. Someone will have to own the rest, including its future. It may as well be the people who want it to survive as a game, not as a business. The game of football has to belong to those who play it and love it. That starts the way the first version of the game started: in a field on open grass, running.


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    The climber rewrote what humans are capable of and made it seem totally logical and normal.

    It’s easy enough to read it: On June 3, 2017, Alex Honnold rewrote what is humanly possible by climbing the nearly 3,000-foot-tall face of Yosemite’s El Capitan without a rope.

    It’s harder to understand how or why, but let’s try.

    Start with the feat, and the feat alone: Alex Honnold, a 31-year-old universally acclaimed climbing genius, scaled El Capitan without a rope, aid, or any help whatsoever. That is yes, almost 3,000 feet of climbing and focus applied to the almost sheer, vertical surface most consider to be the heart of the rock climbing universe, done without so much as a BASE jumping chute for a sliver of the illusion of safety.

    In 1958, the first three climbers to make it all the way up El Capitan did it only after 18 months of planning and 47 days of actual climbing. They used ropes and drove pitons into the rock itself to secure their progress, and established a series of base camps along the way on a long siege of the climb. Even skilled climbers working today typically take four days to summit the most commonly climbed route, the standard called The Nose.

    The route Honnold chose, Freerider, requires a similar commitment of time and resources. There are climbers sleeping on the rock as we write this, very fit, very experienced climbers who will need the better part of a week to knock off. They will sleep there, haul gear from station to station, and even defecate into PVC pipes and carry it with them for disposal later in order to finish the climb. I know this because Alex Honnold said in an interview just after the climb that he woke a few of them up on his way up the rock, passing them without a rope as they slept in Bivy platforms attached to the wall.

    That route — my god, I almost don’t want to tell you what’s involved because it makes my hands start sweating just thinking about it. The rock is nearly vertical or past vertical. It heats up in the sun and messes with grip, and starts out cold enough to tear off callouses, leaving a climber’s hands bloody and useless. There are cracks small enough to get hands and feet stuck in, requiring expensive and embarrassing rescue; there are “off-width” cracks, big enough to require delicate use of the entire body as a kind of safety plug, a sometimes nightmarish move for a climber even with protection.

    The entirety of Freerider grades out at a 5.12d on a scale that only goes up to 5.15. The crux of the route — i.e. the hardest part — is something called “The Teflon Corner,” a move working across holds no bigger than 1/8th of an inch requiring “a karate kick.” When Honnold was sizing up possible free solo routes on El Cap in 2009, even he doubted tackling Freerider because of the crux: "I've never even looked at the Teflon Corner, but it doesn't sound like something you'd want to solo.”

    Eight years later, Honnold blew through the Teflon Corner with ease.* He finished a route most people do in four days in three hours and 56 minutes. He was wearing only a red shirt, cutoff nylon climbing pants, and a pair of climbing shoes when he did it, and carried only a bag of chalk. He was done by 9:28 a.m. PT.

    *Correction: Honnold blew through the crux at “The Boulder Problem,” which is a 5.13a rock climbing move, not the Teflon Corner. This is a photo of Pete Whittaker working his way through that section. No, we can’t see what he’s holding onto, either, or how anyone would attempt this with a rope, much less without one.

    There is also the matter of how he did this: Free soloing, i.e. climbing without a rope or any aid of any sort. There is no bigger level of commitment to your own skill as an athlete than free soloing a climb. There is no backup past your ability, no preservation from chance or the random disaster, no option B to select on the menu. If a free soloist makes a mistake on an ascent past a certain height, then that free soloist dies, often in violent and spectacular fashion.

    Pedantry about free soloing being a glorified suicide helps me make this point: For Alex Honnold, the most unreal aspect of his ascent of Freerider is that it might not even be within the range of unreal for him.

    Honnold didn’t use siege tactics and pitons to climb El Cap, but his preparation was no less rigorous. Honnold studied and worked the route — often alongside pioneering free soloist Peter Croft — for years. He free soloed other faces to get a feel for long climbs without protection done at scales that would melt other climbers’ brains. For comparison, take a look at Moonlight Buttress, and feel the fear tingling in your knees and neck just looking at it, and then consider how Honnold did this free solo almost nine years ago, when he was just getting started two years after dropping out of UC-Berkeley to live in his van and climb.

    Consider how Honnold’s brain processes fear differently than the average human brain, and how his ability to stay calm and focused despite dangling by his fingertips a thousand feet off the ground comes from his amygdala barely firing under circumstances that would set most other people’s emotional centers on fire. Read about his fingerboard workouts, which he does in an L-sit position to keep his feet off the ground because he has to do them hanging from the frame of his home. Consider that his home is a van he lives in so he can devote his entire life to climbing, and that he rolled out of that same van to climb up the full height and length of Freerider, and that he spent the night before what will likely be the greatest achievement of his or any other rock climber’s career in that van, watching “the last Hobbit movie” and “vegging.”

    Also think about there being nothing past this, at least not on Earth. There are larger sheer rock faces on the planet, but almost all of them involve some degree of alpine-style climbing just to get there, and are located in places where the climate and geography are almost as much of an obstacle as the wall itself. Free soloing Trango Towers or Mount Thor would be legitimate suicide attempts made into the teeth of freezing weather and unstable rock conditions. Honnold’s risk in the end was no less absolute, but was also wagered at the very edge of the limit of the possible. What might lie beyond Yosemite is a degree of madness — even for the visibly mad free soloing community, where competitors race only themselves, each other’s records, and ultimately Death.

    Finally: Consider how sensible all this madness looks, now that it’s all laid out there. Honnold, who was training to be an engineer before dropping out of university, chose the least unreal and controllable venue for the insanity of the world’s biggest free solo attempt. He prepared for it ruthlessly, devoted his whole life to it, and tracked the entire route until some of the holds felt like “old friends.” Honnold did that for the better part of eight years, then waxed it like it was a practice lap at the peak physical performance age of 31, and with a mental edge so pronounced it became the focus of official scientific inquiry.

    Think about that on the day before the climb, Honnold bouldered just to stay loose, and that on the day of, after he finished, he was planning to work out because he’d only had “four hours of light exercise,” but definitely needed lunch first. The most shocking thing about Honnold’s free solo of El Cap isn’t just that it rewrote what humans are capable of, but that the human who accomplished it made it seem so logical and normal in the first place.

    The feat is extraordinary without the athlete; the athlete regards it as logical and normal; by extension, the athlete is simply doing what they are there to do, and anyone watching now realizes that they are in the company of a legitimate mutant, someone whose achievements are only made normal by comparison with the extranormal person producing them. I’m out of ways to say this: Alex Honnold is human, and so are you, and that the definition includes both is proof that words are shoddy signifiers for the reality they are supposed to represent, because Alex Honnold climbed Freerider without a rope and it didn’t even seem like an unsafe, unwise thing for him to do.

    If all that isn’t enough: Consider that about halfway up, Honnold was planning his next climb, a sport climb at the absurd grade of 9A. That wasn’t being presumptuous: In his mind, the climb was finished the minute he left the ground. The rest — all of the nearly 3,000 feet of it — was just light exercise.


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    The Bill Parcells quote is: “You are what your record says you are.” Bob Stoops retired yesterday after achieving real, genuine football greatness at Oklahoma. His record in 17 seasons was 190-48, with a national title and 10 Big 12 titles to his name. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest football coaches of his generation.

    Also, while he was at Oklahoma, Bob Stoops botched multiple cases involving violence against women involving players at the University of Oklahoma, and set an awful example by doing so for the university and the sport as a whole.

    In spring of 2014, Stoops recruited transfer Dorial Green-Beckham, a wide receiver dismissed from Missouri a week after allegedly pushing a woman down stairs in a domestic violence and burglary incident. Police ultimately closed the case, “citing reluctant witnesses fearing retaliation.” Green-Beckhan went on to lose his appeal for an immediate year of eligibility, and opted to enter the 2015 NFL draft instead. Still, the offer alone was enough to draw fire, most notably from a standing United States Senator.

    Stoops also welcomed back linebacker Frank Shannon in 2015, despite Shannon having been found to have committed sexual misconduct in January 2014 by Oklahoma’s own Title IX investigation. Shannon was suspended from team activities in April of 2014 after news of the investigation broke. No criminal charges were ever pressed against Shannon. However, in August of 2014, after Oklahoma’s Title IX investigation recommended expulsion for Shannon, the school’s administration settled on a year's suspension after hearing Shannon’s appeal in the case. On Shannon’s return, Stoops let him back on the team to play in 12 games in 2015.

    These two incidents could be considered coincidental. However, they escalate up to the biggest failure for Stoops at OU: The case of Joe Mixon. Stoops played a huge role in ensuring that Mixon, who was arrested after punching a woman in the face in July of 2014, remained on the team after a year’s suspension. Stoops made this decision despite there being no doubt Mixon was guilty thanks to a brutal video of the incident that he, university president David Boren, and athletic director Joe Castiglione watched on Aug. 18, 2014. (After a long legal struggle, the video was finally made public in December of 2016.) Mixon eventually plead out in the case, and returned after suspension to play with the team in 2015 and 2016.

    In summary: Stoops handled a player accused of domestic violence, a player the school found responsible for sexual misconduct, and a player who punched a woman on tape the same way — they were all allowed to remain or invited onto the roster at Oklahoma. In Green-Beckham’s case, Oklahoma supported a failed appeal to make him eligible to play immediately on transfer. In both the Shannon and Mixon cases, a year’s suspension was deemed sufficient punishment.

    In all three cases, Stoops engaged in a pattern of behavior—one that could have suggested to a neutral observer that no incident involving violence against women would result in permanent removal from the team.

    A young, inexperienced coach did not make these decisions. By the time Mixon punched Amelia Monitor in 2014, Stoops had been the head coach at Oklahoma for over 15 years. He was not feeling out a discipline process, or making a rookie mistake, or unfamiliar with the processes surrounding player arrests. He knew how it all worked.

    In all three cases, Stoops chose the player. Even after the Mixon incident, Stoops and Oklahoma still offered JUCO wide receiver Dede Westbrook a scholarship in November of 2014. In December 2016, Westbrook was found by the Tulsa World to have two misdemeanor arrests for domestic violence predating his arrival in Norman. When asked about the arrests, Stoops said he was not aware of them even after a standard background check was run on Westbrook during the recruiting process.

    There will be many glowing, heartwarming capstones placed on Stoops’ career. They are not totally inaccurate: Bob Stoops walked with his players during anti-racism protests in 2015, and he did and still does charity work in his community above and beyond what most football coaches would consider necessary. His assistants always praised his insistence on his coaches having a family life, something many coaches struggle to even conceptualize, much less work into the schedule as a priority.

    Stoops is also known for being a good quote when he wants to be. Much of the time, he can be brutally honest with reporters and his players. Not cruel, or unfair, or even brusque, but honest.

    Anyone properly summing up his career should return the favor. When writing the full account of his long tenure as the head coach at Oklahoma, note that Stoops failed. Like Tom Osborne at Nebraska before him, Stoops failed badly when confronted with violence against women.

    That should always be part of his story. Writing it through in the name of tribute would not just be dishonesty, but a disservice to the victims of those incidents, and to everyone working to change cultures and institutions within college athletics that often make heinously negligent allowances for athletes committing violence against women. Stoops was a failure as a leader at OU when it came to the issue of violence against women. His record is what it says it is, and even Stoops has sort of admitted to regretting that.

    It’s also necessary to remind people of it because it will try to disappear — something people in the media and college athletics will be more than happy to help along. The memory hole for coaches’ failures off the field is real, especially for someone as successful and generally beloved in his community as Bob Stoops. It’s not just that people will forget; they will sometimes not even attempt to write things as they actually happened in the first place.

    For example: There are two words that do not appear anywhere in Bob Stoops’ 2,100 word Wikipedia entry, or in his nearly 3,500 word bio on the Oklahoma Sooners website, or in any of the statements from coaches, friends, and other colleagues that rolled out in the wake of his retirement yesterday. Those two words are “Joe” and “Mixon.”


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    You don’t think your hometown can truly turn up about anything but you will be proven wrong.

    You were wrong about a few things. First: You were born here in Nashville, and it’s never exactly felt warm to you, has it? It’s not a warm place, emotionally speaking. It’s fine if you like church, country music, or ham, and you only like one of those. You can take ham home; the rest, you can live without, and that’s your relationship with Nashville, a place you were born but never really from, exactly.

    That part is still true. You’re not really for this place, and that’s fine for both of you. Nashville works really well at a low boil. That lukewarm feeling is sort of by design: It’s a hub for the healthcare industry and banking and a lot of other businesses that spend most of the day figuring out how to hedge bets against mortality. It is a city that makes most of its bank trying to be something like Las Vegas without the sin, and with a nice sideline on figuring out the optimal way to overcharge patients for IV bags. It’s a place that turned country music into an office job with regular hours. That’s about as Nashville as it gets, historically speaking.

    For instance, I parked at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts — paid for by a lot of that drudgery turned into profit— and then walked down Demonbreun Street to Bridgestone Arena to listen to Faith Hill sing the national anthem at an event. That all makes sense. You wouldn’t be surprised by that, or that eventually someone would figure out a way to take all those lovely brick buildings downtown and gentrify them into something profitable and shiny.

    You’ll be wrong and surprised about why. You’ll be surprised to hear that the anthem was happening for an NHL game, and that Nashville would mark out for it like it was an SEC tailgate. This is not a typo: A hockey game will be the biggest thing in town, and Nashville will show the hell out for it like nothing you’ve ever seen there.

    Oh, by the way, Nashville has a hockey team. Should have led with that. They do, and Atlanta doesn’t, and if you’ll give it a minute only one of these is really surprising to either of us.

    You’ll be surprised because Nashville doesn’t really mark out for much that isn’t country music. The Titans won’t really inspire much passion. They shouldn’t, because they are an NFL team, and NFL teams have an allergy to fun, anyway. There’s an SEC team in town, but for the most part that passion will be housed safely and securely several hours away. Most Nashvillians’ sporting embarrassments will be kept in Knoxville, Oxford, Athens, or in other nice sheds visited on fall weekends. You and the team can both fall on your face and say hateful, insane things — and on Monday, it will all be a distant, well-contained mess.

    You’ll be surprised that all those Michiganders and Ohioans who come down for the auto industry’s big move south are contagious. Nashville hasn’t ever exactly been deep, deep South — it’s landlocked, there’s a kind of Ohioan blah to the winters here, there’s a permacloud that never moves much in February. Boating under the influence arrests only happen on lakes here, and that feels like an important distinction from places with a coastal option like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. The superstation in Nashville for you isn’t TBS — it’s WGN out of Chicago. Listen to Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time” and you’ll remember that people from here have followed the auto industry back and forth. There’s a lot of country in Middle Tennessee, but squint when you’re downtown and you’ll see a little bit of Cincinnati, too.

    It will be Midwestern-compatible in another sense: For some reason, hockey catches fire here. This will happen long before the Predators make the Stanley Cup Finals, and pretty much on arrival in 1998 when they play their first season here. The backbone of the fan base will have a core of Detroit Red Wings fans. That’s good DNA to start with, you’ll note, a really useful cheat code to have when trying to anchor a winter sport on the northern fringe of the Sun Belt in a medium-sized market where football rules over all. All those kids you go to high school with who miss Michigan, and winter, and hockey? They adapt with a quickness, and start throwing catfish instead of octopi on the ice.

    You’ll see people in camp chairs posted up on Broadway on a humid, warm summer night and realize how ripe this place was for this. Along with Birmingham, Nashville is one of the two places in the South where people would watch two drops of rain race down a windowpane if you put it on television. You’ll also see how the Predators’ dedication to making everything as unserious as possible worked in a college sports town with a healthy respect for stagecraft. The mascot will jump from the rafters; The crowd will theatrically thank arena announcer Paul McCann when he notifies them that there is one minute left in each period. For the playoffs the big surprise will be running out a different country singer for each national anthem, saving the pocket ace of Faith Hill for the last home game of the year.

    You’ll note that, in its own very country music kind of way, that was a flex. Hell, they even just had an extra Luke Bryan hanging around, and put him on top of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge to play a pregame concert. You’ll probably think that took some intense planning, but it didn’t: The idea was hatched on Thursday by the Predators, approved on Friday by the city, and on Sunday night big ol’ doofy Luke Bryan was standing three stories over a packed Broadway and singing.

    By the way, a Luke Bryan is a country singer. It’s a confusing thing, but in 2017 most male country singers now look like scholarship golfers. The future is terrifying in many ways, and this is one of them.

    You’ll also have no idea what he was singing about, because this isn’t for you, and never has been. You’ll also pay zero attention because every Luke Bryan song is the same pop-country mad-lib about trucks, cold ones, that girl, etc. You’ll be OK with this, both because there are way more harmful things in this world than redneck fantasy music that really doesn’t hurt anyone, and also because you’ll have long since realized there are other places where you’re supposed to be. That’s how adulthood works. Pieces are sorted randomly and settle largely where they are supposed to be, and you’re a piece that sorted its way into a place you belong.

    You’ll also see all the pieces that are supposed to be here: Guys in realtree camo hats. Guys in bad fedoras. Guys in fishing shirts and Under Armour gear, and especially the guy in the shirt that says “I’ll have what the guy on the floor had” who bumps drunkenly into you sideways on Broadway, listing with a vape pen in his hand. (Vaping is just smoking with expensive accessories. People LOVE it.) You’ll see the guys in Predators shirts with twin hockey sticks and women in boots and Preds jerseys and flimsy rompers, and the dads in Dri-FIT shirts desperately trying to remember where their car is while holding the hands of overwhelmed kids who’ve never wandered through a crowd this big.

    You’ll see them throw the catfish, and think how it’s something beyond a joke. A catfish is a bottom-feeding trash fish, the countriest of all country-ass fishes. A catfish is the opposite of glamour, the accident you catch while fishing for other things. You’ll see them throw it and think about the Cumberland River, and how your grandfather would show you the sign he took off a building in downtown showing the high-water mark from a flood there. He kept it propped up against something in his garden, and it said the water got up to 34 feet over First Avenue. A catfish could have swam through the second floor of an office. You’ll like to think one did.

    You’ll see Nashville at full flood over a hockey team and think about how in all that not-belonging you’ll see a catfish and feel your own rush of belonging. It won’t last long, but it’ll be there, swimming through the undercurrent, an ugly, amiable fish with ancient DNA that can come through the window at any moment. You’ll see Nashville turn out 50,000 people on Broadway for a hockey team. Even if it isn’t for you, there won’t be anything lukewarm about it. You’d think otherwise, but you would be wrong about that, too.


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    Buddy, you got hit by a bale of hay. That bale of hay is rolling somewhere in Wales, which is where this was shot. I know that because I looked it up, something you do in 2017 because you have to know a few things about a viral internet video before finding it funny.

    This wasn’t always true: On a dial-up line in 2001, you could watch Saudi drifters fly straight into telephone poles in big body Benzes, share it with all your friends, and no one found it problematic or bad. This is not because it was better. It is because you were a horrible person, laughing at poor Grape Lady choking when she fell out of her bucket and made terrible and not-at-all funny noises. We are all definitely not horrible people for laughing at people getting hurt, ever, and none of us ever visited Rotten dot com or Stileproject.

    So to get this out of the way: This man, as far as I know, is not dead. He is Harry Connell, according to his Instagram bio. His interests appear to include posing shirtless on Instagram and getting obliterated by farm supplies. This is fine: If I had his body fat percentage, my interests would also include posing shirtless on the internet. I’d do it in front of various local Popeyes for added irony, and also as a tribute to Popeyes and the hardworking people who make them great every day.

    Why Harry decided to jump a hay bale isn’t clear. A cursory bit of research reveals that hay bales are nothing to mess with at all, ever.

    They’re huge. They are shaped like cylinders, meaning they can roll off things like trailers and barn racks, and onto things like farmers and children. The CDC has actually surveyed hay bale fatalities as a workplace risk, and they should have: From 1981 to 1990, 41 people in the United States died from hay bales crushing them. From 1992 to 1996, they killed another 46 people. (The first term of the Clinton administration made hay bales more homicidal than usual for some reason.)

    In 2010, a hay bale killed cellist Mike Edwards, a member of the band Electric Light Orchestra, when it rolled down a hill and onto his van. Hay bales do not respect celebrities, or cellists, and obviously have no respect for human life.

    The threat is not only real, but it’s vaguely defined: No one can agree how big they’re supposed to be, or how much they’re supposed to weigh above a vaguely defined limit of “really heavy.” So if we’re being curious—and we are being curious here, because JESUS look at the hit our boy Harry takes—we can all assume that hay bale weighs anywhere from 500 to 1200 pounds. That variance in weight is a sore spot for farmers and hay dealers looking to do business.

    BEHOLD: MEN EXPERIENCING TRUST ISSUES AND HURT FEELINGS OVER HAY BALES:

    Of course, it is rare that the seller will have a scale of sufficient size to the weigh the bales. In fact, many sellers will be offended if the buyer doesn’t take the sellers’ word for it and insists on weighing the bales prior to the purchase.

    The real risk of death already hooked me, but now it’s the roiling passions and microdramas of mistrust and betrayal in the hay industry that have me ready to write a 10-episode Netflix series about this—that, and this photo from that University of Georgia report on hay bale weights where a farmer is clearly hurt you would ever say that about Andy, his favorite hay bale.

    “He’s a good ol’ bale, can’t believe you’d say that about him. You hurt me, Steve. You hurt me and Andy with that one comment.”

    Hay bales are such a scourge of the heartland that they earned the ultimate tribute: An entire legal sub-specialty devoted to hay bale-related accidents, which is not entirely a joke due to the other ways hay bales can kill people. They blow off trucks and into traffic, causing serious and even sometimes fatal accidents. Harry Connell isn’t the only one to document his brush with death: YouTube is filled with near-death experiences with hay bales, part of an entire genre of deeply undervalued content best described as “FARMING GONE WRONG.”

    Related: The best type of YouTube content is officially now “FARMING GONE WRONG”. All other genres are a distant second.

    The adorable pastoral roadside scene of hay bales rolled up in the field you pass and quietly appreciate on the way to an outlet mall? It’s secretly plotting to kill you and your loved ones, either by rolling over on you, bouncing on top of your car and crushing you, or possibly by thundering downhill towards your prone, terrified body. Hay bales aren’t cute.

    They’re agriculture’s Tawny Hitman, and you should treat them with the fear and reverence they demand.

    That Harry survived at all is a miracle. He’ll probably have to live out his days knowing that they’re out there, slowing rolling towards him, peeking their wheaten huge heads over the windowsill while he sleeps. Waiting. Hay bales can wait forever, Harry. They’re hay bales. The weight may vary. Their vengeance never does.


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    The fighter’s bizarre training might not be a joke — but it won't matter

    Every Rocky has his side of beef. Athletes always let you know they train, and sometimes that they do things that are not just hard, but a different kind of hard, a kind of hard that makes them different not just in the ring, but globally different. Training for the relentlessly competitive athlete can’t just be intense—it has to have, in the end, something exotic, something no one else has, some rare sorcery that differentiates them from the rest of their competition.

    For instance, Novak Djokovic would happily remind the public of his commitment to a gluten-free diet, and how climbing into pressure chambers increased his aerobic capacity, and how an intense stretching and recovery regimen turned him into a tennis cyborg incapable of human error. Walter Payton discarded conventional wisdom and refused to run anything farther than 50 or 100 yards because “that’s as far as I’m ever gonna need to run.” Tom Brady’s entire bizarre/novel/possibly quack routine, right down to the infrared pajamas and endless avocados, has become its own “Goop for Bros” lifestyle brand.

    James Harrison. That’s the whole routine, just: “James Harrison.”

    This might go double for combat athletes. Part of that is a matter of scarcity: The amount of time an MMA fighter or boxer actually works in the public ring is a tiny sliver of time relative to the rest of their schedule. Training, by necessity, becomes a part of the story, whether it’s by opening workouts to the press or doing exclusive features on how they prepare for fights. Sometimes those get turned into Men’s Fitness articles, and that explains why that guy at the gym once sparred alone in the corner for two weeks wearing a full sweatsuit in August before he gave up and just went back to what everyone else is doing.

    A fighter’s training has its own value from a news perspective; a fighter’s ability to make news will increase their visibility; a fighter’s visibility translates directly into PPV money, endorsements, and future earnings. Being good in the ring is one thing; being good and different is another, more profitable thing altogether.

    Related: Here’s Conor McGregor, who will step into a ring with the best professional boxer of his generation on Aug. 26, punching cards out of the air.

    It might have been five or six years ago when the word “movement” started creeping into everyone’s vocabulary as a capital-T Thing. Part of that comes from the work of Erwan Le Corre, a French parkourist and founder of MovNat, a fitness program focusing on natural movement featured in books like Natural Born Heroes and in videos of Le Corre himself—long haired, shirtless, and running barefoot through the wilderness like some ripped version of Adam—on MovNat’s Youtube channel. (Yes: There’s voiceovers and a tribal drum soundtrack involved.) Le Corre advertises MovNat as “the workout that time forgot”, and based on his Twitter feed also has some very, very strong opinions about socialism.

    The other figure behind the creep of “movement” into the fitness vernacular is Ido Portal. He is the man throwing cards at Conor McGregor in that video. He is also the man slowly swinging at McGregor with a stick, or kicking over a ducking McGregor, or pulling capoeira flips while McGregor and a sparring partner tap hands and feet in something between light-sparring and pattycake in a public park.

    Like all movement coaches seem to do, Portal wears a ponytail and hates shirts and says things in a provocative, visionary way, like he’s speaking in Papyrus font. Samples include:

    • “People are not made of sugar. Also, one does not scare a hooker with a cock”
    • “One should meditate on one’s death daily”
    • “Space and time. That's the name of any game you will ever play.”
    • “I have a carb up meal once/twice a week based on tubers and rice. I will have some dark 85% chocolate and will avoid dairy and gluten fully. The next day I wake up even more ripped.”*

    *I just included that last one because I like grown men on the internet arguing about how they wake up even more ripped than they previously were the night before, but I LOVE a personal fitness guru doing it to complete strangers even more .

    Ido Portal and Erwan Le Corre and other proponents of Movement argue a lot of similar things. In Le Corre’s case, he refers to current, modern-living people as “zoo humans” who have forgotten the “natural” way to move through their environment. Portal echoes a lot of that, bemoaning specialization in fitness and the abandonment of the environment humans evolved to work in and move through.

    “We never touch the floor” is a Portal saying that fits here, both because it a) represents the kind of assumption of a natural state of being at the heart of the movement-movement and b.) because it’s the kind of visionary, sweeping thing Portal, as a longhaired, capoeira-kicking visionary fitness guru, is supposed to say.

    It’s an approach that assumes there is a natural way for the body to function in space, and that humanity has long abandoned that ancient wisdom for machines, treadmills, and hours and hours of sedentary living.

    Here’s Conor McGregor getting hit with some kind of foam baton by Portal in his training for his upcoming boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

    It all looks weird, and barely connected to the central thing McGregor will have to do in less than two weeks, i.e. walk into a ring with Floyd Mayweather Jr., professional boxer and generational talent, and not get knocked out or seriously injured.

    That is not an exaggeration. Conor McGregor, a gifted athlete and MMA champion, has to face Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a boxing match. Mayweather was born into a family of boxers, his father and his uncles were boxers, and he has been boxing since he was a child. Mayweather is widely regarded as the best fighter of his generation. He has a 49-0 record as a professional fighter, is nearly impossible for skilled boxers to hit flush with any punch, and even at 40 is in superb shape with a boxing IQ unequaled in depth or in pedigree. Mayweather is not just good—he is circumstantially as good as a boxer could be by design.

    It’s best to not even think of this as a fight. That leaves only one conclusion, and that would be that the entire thing is a fraud — one built on the idea that anyone might watch a fight — but everyone on the planet will turn out to watch a guaranteed train crash.

    That’s probably also the case here for Mayweather. Everyone I spoke with — trainers, reporters, coaches from MMA and boxing — everyone agrees that Mayweather could walk into the ring and pretty much do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Most think Mayweather will tire McGregor out for show, then finish him off sometime after the sixth or eighth round — around the time when an MMA fighter’s established conditioning for an MMA-length fight would wear off and start failing.

    That’s the expected outcome by any sane, even charitable observer here: a respectable showing for McGregor, and a display of breezy supremacy by Mayweather, a fighter so comfortable in the ring he likely will spend a round or two simply observing McGregor without much attempt to attack him. (Which is insane, unless you’ve seen Mayweather do it, repeatedly, with different fighters.)

    That’s what should happen, because this is a spectacle, not a fight, with an MMA savant entering the ring with a master-level boxing talent in a mismatch of training, expertise, experience, and sport-specific talent.

    Here is Conor McGregor batting at tennis balls thrown by Ido Portal.

    It would also be advisable to be just the right amount of skeptical about Movement training. Nate Diaz was. Before his fight with Conor McGregor in March of 2016, Diaz called movement training “playing touchbutt with that dork in the park”, referring to Portal, whom he called “the guy with the ponytail.” Diaz—covered in his own blood and waving McGregor forward after getting punched— then submitted McGregor by rear naked choke in the second round.

    There are also reasons not to be skeptical. Most of the people I talked to about McGregor’s “touchbutt” work with Ido Portal were...positive? They were shockingly positive about it, and for a lot of reasons. McGregor — an unconventional fighter in a lot of ways in the MMA sphere — really does seem to benefit from whatever he was doing with Portal. The most striking thing about McGregor in the ring is his way of moving, his flexibility, his tendency to shift and flow to find angles other fighters can’t match or see coming.

    Movement training, as silly as it looks, undeniably helps McGregor hone that snaky, flexible, and in Portal’s words, “chaotic” flow. But mystical Aztec warrior flowing motion myths aside, there is also another very practical reason for McGregor to work in movement training: It tapers down the stress and strain of training as McGregor gets closer to the fight.

    "It probably helped Conor most when he was fighting at 145 and needed to make weight. He could train without putting a lot of stress on his body — especially toward the end of his camp."

    That’s MMA Fighting’s Luke Thomas when I asked him exactly how all that noodling, jumping, crawling, and extremely meme-able movement training worked for McGregor. The timing works. In training camp, Portal comes in later for his work, not at the start. In the postfight press conference after his lighting knockout of Jose Aldo, McGregor described movement training as what he did immediately before the fight to stay loose, tuned into his body, and injury-free.

    Maybe most importantly, the advantage McGregor has in using movement training in MMA fights is a psychological one — both for his own psyche and to use against his opponent. Fighters all train, but not all of them have a good handle on tuning their psychological wiring to the exact right frequency before a fight. Some rely on superstition, some rely on habit and routine, but all of them — at least those who aren’t complete head cases in the ring — have something they lean on to tolerate the absurd pressure of what is an inherently absurd situation.

    And that, more than anything, is what trainers seem to think the value of movement training is for McGregor. Phil Daru, strength coach for American Top Team and a former MMA fighter himself, thinks as much.

    “Definitely, I think it helps. So much of what a fighter does is mental. What he does with Ido, that might help him stay fresh before a fight, sure, but the real advantage would be psychological. If that works for a fighter, then he’s got to take that edge.”

    Tony Ricci, strength and conditioning coach for MMA fighters like Chris Weidman and boxers like Chris Algieri, agreed when I asked him if movement training’s effect on McGregor was real or imagined.

    “I think it’s both. The old saying is: the placebo effect is an effect. If Conor believes there’s a positive element to it, then there is.”

    None of this is new, mind you. The concepts of movement training are embedded in a lot of what fighters from many disciplines have worked into their training for centuries. They’re not even particularly new to MMA. Georges St. Pierre went at least halfway down this road when he changed his non-sparring training to a regimen of gymnastic work and Olympic lifting; Alvaro Romano’s “ginastica natural” routines, espoused by MMA royalty like Rickson Gracie, predates movement theory by three decades. The packaging may be new, but the contents are old, reliable, and pop up again and again.

    They’re about to walk into a brightly lit space in their underwear to try and beat the hell out of another person in front of a crowd. If it doesn’t hurt them, they can take whatever they need — especially if that fighter is Conor McGregor, walking into a matchup so theoretically lopsided it transcends even the normal levels of boxing absurdity.


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    I used to work at the American casual dining chain Bennigan’s, and it’s really helped me think about the impending shitshow that is the Mayweather-McGregor fight.

    This was in the death spiral days of their lifespan as a business, meaning no one had come up with a new idea at Bennigan’s for at least ten years, maybe longer. Instead, every “new” idea at Bennigan’s consisted of combinations of old ideas mashed together. This explains why, at some point, it is likely that the “onion ring-loaded tater skin” existed on the menu.

    I’m not sure of that, though. I tried to block the whole experience from my brain because it happened at a very bad time in my life, when I was playing The Sims too much, didn’t know what I wanted to do, and lived off tips from sunburned Floridian office park drones biding their time between work hours and their inevitable and expensive semi-monthly DUI arrests.

    What I do remember: The kitchen staff grumbling as they were told to stack the same ingredients in a thousand different ways, usually with gigantic hangovers, and often while having loud arguments with their girlfriends on flip phones and listening to Korn and DMX on an ancient boom box. They knew it was horseshit, and they pulled it hot out of the fryer and threw it on the plates because it was their job.

    It was when I realized that to a very depressed person, Baudrillard might be right: Our culture might be a corpse, and everything you see in it and confuse for life might just be the nails and hair of the corpse still expanding after death. That’s a weird conclusion to come to while watching someone plate up a Monte Cristo and an order of the same chicken tenders the restaurant had served for twenty years plopped on top of a bucket of soggy penne noodles and recycled cajun sauce from a recently cancelled menu addition—IT’S BAYOU CHICKEN PASTALAYA Y’ALL—but it’s where I went.

    I think about this moment in my life a lot. I also think about how people reacted when I told them how bad something was, that it was inedible, that it was actually the same things crammed together in increasingly ghastly and baroque combinations. I didn’t do this on purpose at first—it was an accident, a moment of complete frustration when someone ordered something terrible and I finally lost all hope when someone spotted a new Frankendish and asked, with a moment of deranged excitement, “is that...good?” I’d tell them the truth: It was crap, and I wouldn’t spoon it into a pig’s mouth with a stable boy’s filthiest shovel.

    It almost never failed. With a confident nod, usually, and a gleam of conviction in their eye, the customer would sit a little straighter in their chair and declare: “I think I’ll try that, then.”

    This may be where we’re at. I’ll limit it to sports, though you can feel free to take that dynamic and sprint as far as you want with it. The NFL is bad, so bad that even its own fans will declare it a blight on their own lives. Baseball is boring, college football is increasingly regarded as a tax dodge and festive violation of every labor law ever written, and NASCAR and the NHL have entered the “maybe I’ll just apply for a real estate license and see what happens” stage of late adult wage-earning. Horse racing is working as a greeter at Wal-Mart; Soccer continues to get promising jobs at startups that flame out after six months. (But there’s still so much potential, they say.)

    The NBA is cool. We’ll just leave the NBA as being completely cool, and the lone, shining exception to the hellscape of modern American sports. I know it has problems, and I also know I would like one pocket of blissful ignorance to hide in while the rest of the world happens.

    Boxing is American sports’ prized zombie. When it shows up, everyone freaks the hell out and pays attention. It’s horrifying, arresting, contagious, and probably a bad thing for anyone concerned with human life. Hang out around it too much, and it will eventually eat you. Boxing, as a major sport, isn’t exactly alive—but it’s certainly not dead, and when there’s an outbreak people can’t pay attention to anything else.

    It’s also one of those sports that can easily break quarantine as a discipline. They can crash all the way over into something else entirely. That something ends up being less like a sport, and more like pure, horrific, and inevitably absurd spectacle.

    Floyd Mayweather Jr. v Conor McGregor - News ConferencePhoto by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Spectacles are an American tradition—not always a smart one, or a safe one, or even a sane one, but a tradition nonetheless. My personal favorite is the Crash at Crush, where an otherwise unremarkable railway agent in Texas decided that colliding two steam engines at full speed would make a great event. The boilers on both locomotives exploded shortly after impact, and killed two or three people sitting too close to the action, but otherwise he was completely right.

    It says something real about the year 1896 that a.) a “fun” event killed some of its spectators, and b.) no one’s exactly sure whether it was “two or three” dead.

    A spectacle—at least for me—crosses the line from sport when it gets out of being a carefully regulated matchup with set rules and disciplines, and breaks into being something that people will watch simply to see it done, rules and form be damned. The 1970s, with the birth of cable television and expansion of pay-per-view programming, were great for them in particular.

    For instance: In 1976, Muhammad Ali fought Antonio Inoki, a Japanese professional wrestler, in Tokyo. The results were confusing for everyone involved, the crowd chanted “MONEY BACK” at the conclusion of the fight, and judges declared the fight a draw. Later, the wrestler Bret Hart, who worked for Inoki at the time, would claim the Black Muslims threatened Inoki with serious bodily harm if he so much as tried to touch Ali—which, in retrospect, is probably why Inoki spent most of the time half-heartedly kicking Ali in the legs.

    More to the point: When Evel Knievel tried to jump the Snake River Canyon riding a glorified bottle rocket, he signed up investors to broadcast the attempt on closed-circuit TV. He enlisted, among others, boxing promoter Bob Arum and the WWE’s own Vince McMahon. The story had a heartwarming conclusion: Knievel’s chute partially opened on launch, he then drifted off course and landed short of the canyon rim, survived with minimal injury, and everyone involved lost money.

    These may seem like dispatches from a crueler, weirder, older nation you can laugh at from a safe distance. Reader, you may not, because in 2004 there was a televised hot-dog-eating competition between Kobayashi and a grizzly bear standing in front of an American flag.

    The announcer Michael Buffer—again, boxing pops up here—made what might have been one of the greatest pieces of live sports commentary ever here when he beheld the bear taking a break after demolishing well over half his plate and said: “He doesn’t know it’s a competition.” This competition also featured forty-four dwarves pulling an airliner in a race against an elephant who was also pulling an airliner. This program made no bones about being anything other than a series of actualized problematic bar bets. Why yes, it was put together by Fox. Why did you ask?

    There can’t be too much spectacle at once, if you’re into selling it for a living. Ask a WWE fan about how hard it is for anyone to measure that out properly. You’ll probably get a long, well-supported argument about “exactly what is wrong with Raw,” and detailed thoughts on how the WWE has mismanaged their biggest prospects, but it all centers around how spectacle—the thing the WWE in particular depends so much on—needs to be managed very, very carefully. Too much, too fast, and the audience can overdose and tune out with a quickness.

    Mayweather-McGregor is clearly something beyond a fight. Categorically, it’s a spectacle, something between a dare and a show. Like all spectacles people will watch—not for the competition, but for the fact that it’s happening at all. Like a lot of spectacles, it seems to always involve someone from the boxing world, one of the last places in American sport happy to openly write checks for outright bloodsport* and eye-grabbing horror.

    *Football at all levels, for legal purposes and brand management reasons, still likes to pretend it doesn’t do this.

    The question for me is this: Is this something new, and ultimately depressing and calculated on a whole new level, or is it just another drunken wager made real? Netflix makes money leaning on data to produce things it knows its customers want—i.e., the now famous story about them producing House of Cards because the numbers already showed that it might work. People who liked Kevin Spacey also liked political thrillers; people who liked political thrillers also liked David Fincher; people who liked all of those things would probably like a political thriller franchise starring Kevin Spacey, and produced by David Fincher.

    Netflix—or anyone else with the numbers—can do this all day. So can the people who make sports for you, and they very well might. With ratings falling for the NFL and a general panic setting in about the viability of large, bulky sports contracts, there’s no reason to think Mayweather-McGregor isn’t just a one-off spectacle, but the beginning of what is at least a steady sideline revenue stream based exclusively off the combination of existing ingredients.

    Floyd Mayweather Jr. v Conor McGregor World Press Tour - New YorkPhoto by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

    This isn’t saying that LeBron James will finally provide a real, visible answer to the question “Could Malcolm Gladwell beat you in a footrace” in a pay-per-view. Or it might be, and I’m completely wrong about what a sport is or isn’t, and how much pure, nihilist spectacle people might want in their lives at any given moment. Maybe the 2016 election changed that for me on a personal level. Maybe that goes back to watching people get told how bad something was, and watching them defiantly order it out of spite, contrarianism, and an unbending need to assert their unvalidated judgment at all times—even when doing that made no sense whatsoever, and in the end benefitted the worst people imaginable.

    Maybe, at the very least, someone can make money off of it. It’s entirely possible that that’s the only real result or lingering after-effect here. After all, even if there’s not the actual possibility of something new and real in the fight, it’s another tried and true American business model at work: The chicken finger pastalaya, the combination KFC/Taco Bell, the Expendables franchise, the man-versus-bear fight you never knew you wanted, but watched anyway.

    What that thing is probably depends on the observer’s mood. Mayweather-McGregor could be read as a kind of crowdsourced event, the start of something new made real, the beginning of something that ends with a sumo wrestler at last playing meaningful snaps at defensive tackle in an NFL preseason game because...well, because enough people wanted it to happen, and they showed up to watch it. It could also be one of the oldest tricks in the book: A guaranteed, for-pay disaster, built by cynicism and greed, and validated on the viewer’s part only by a desperation for something like novelty and a persistent morbid curiosity.

    It could be the future of all sports, or none. I can’t decide which. That’s the problem right now with sports. Correction: That’s the problem with almost anything at any moment at all, really. It’s so hard to decide what’s alive, and what’s dead. What might be simply shambling forward through momentum alone.


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    It’s time to rank only the exact number of teams you feel like ranking.

    1. Alabama. America’s unfunniest program did have one funny moment in an otherwise dismal, anti-climactic, sludge-slow, 24-7 processing of Florida State. At one point during the broadcast, the production switched to the standard in-booth shot of “the Alabama offensive braintrust,” the coaches watching from the booth upstairs. It looked like your standard group of tense men wearing dry-fit golf shirts, chewing stuff, wearing headsets, and looking down at the field like someone they loved was about to die. Standard coaches, really.

    The funny part: The next shot was of the adjacent box, stacked full of Alabama’s bank of “analysts,” including Chris Weinke, the former Florida State quarterback and Heisman winner, and Dan Werner, the quarterbacks coach for Miami’s NFL farms of the early 2000s. It looked like an entire other coaching staff, all with heads down, taking notes and watching intently.

    At no point did they show Alabama’s actual offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll. He’s down on the sidelines, and maybe hard to find in all the traffic (at a glance, you could spot him by saying “the dude who looks like Hodor’s younger brother”). He might not matter; it’s really hard to tell who does what at Alabama, so it’s hard to blame him for the offense. Daboll might be a paid actor meant to hide Alabama’s real offensive coordinator behind a character called “Brian Daboll.” Nick Saban is a step ahead at all times, so don’t rule it out.

    The point is that Alabama’s vast, corporate, overfed, overstaffed, organizationally bloated, overfunded, hopelessly paranoid, and utterly successful football company only gained 269 yards against Florida State, struggled to move the ball for long stretches of the game, and had to rely on special teams to generate field position and points. I’m sure Saban will get it fixed, probably by calling in at least three different consultancies to evaluate weaknesses over the next couple of weeks. The Rand Corporation ain’t cheap, but when you need to figure out why your blocking schemes ain’t working, it takes a village to put together that PowerPoint. (A very expensive village.)

    The defense is basically perfect already, so much so that it made me feel bad for Florida State. Do you know, in this day and age, how bad that had to be to make anyone feel bad for Florida State? Deondre Francois didn’t deserve anything that happened to him Saturday night, and the FSU defense played really well, and they still lost by 17 points.

    That’s a land speed record. It’s Week 1, and I’m already tired of Alabama.

    2. Ohio State. Who knew J.T. Barrett would ever throw for 300 yards against a Power 5 opponent again? Turns out that if you throw short passes to fast people, those fast people run past slower people for touchdowns, as Parris Campbell did against Indiana, a team with a solid defense and enough offense to keep Ohio State engaged for the better part of three quarters.

    A 49-21 win over the Hoosiers does sort of leave out that Ohio State got off to a crap start and let Indiana lead. Still: Of all the teams in the first week and a half, Ohio State seems to have come the furthest in terms of what it needed to fix, i.e., an offense that scored exactly zero points against Clemson in the Playoff, looked sluggish all season, and struggled to put players in a position to succeed.

    It helps to have a massive war chest of talent, like freshman J.K. Dobbins at running back and an offensive line that looks alive for the first time in a year.

    The secondary might be an issue, since Indiana tallied 410 yards through the air, but you’re an adult, and it’s time we told you the truth: Indiana’s offense might be good when it lets Richard Lagow pass 65 times.

    There’s another truth here you’re big enough to handle. The Buckeyes aren’t done improving, have at least two game-breaking pieces for Barrett to get the ball to, and finally have an offensive coordinator who knows how to do that. They’re officially scary again and fun to watch, and we could all be forgiven for plotting out just what this team vs. Alabama for the title could look like in January, both because these might be the two best teams in college football already, and because there are really only like eight or 10 teams capable of winning the title anyway.

    Oh, and this, which was called back because it was not a fumble, but was breathtaking in more than one sense of the word.

    Robert “B.B.” Landers, that glory counts in our hearts, if not on the scoreboard.

    3. USC. Beat Western Michigan, 49-31, and didn’t really lock the game up until late.

    Ways in which this is good: Western Michigan is the reigning MAC champion, and unlike some teams, USC actually scheduled a real team in Week 1. If you’re gonna throw up a clanker, let it be in Week 1.

    Ways in which this is bad: You struggled against Western Michigan and need to work on your rush defense, which allowed 263 yards on the ground to a non-option MAC team.

    Ways in which this is about Ronald Jones II being a violent, awesome runner: Ronald Jones II is a violent, awesome runner, somehow underrated despite being a running back at USC.

    P.S. Should be below Michigan, were it not for Michigan playing a team with no offense.

    4. Michigan. Honestly, the only thing Michigan earns a demerit for after a dominant, 33-17 defeat of Florida is that it played Florida’s offense. The results might be misleading, given the Gators having one of the worst offenses in college football

    Handing Florida two pick-sixes was only sportsmanlike, really. Without them, this is a 41-3 game or so, a complete wash, an elimination. Michigan’s chief concerns coming into the year were finding playmakers down the field. Tarik Black and Nick Eubanks did that serviceably enough, particularly so when you consider that Wilton Speight didn’t really have a great game and that the run game took a minute to lock in a stranglehold.

    In sum, this Michigan team has great bones, is a handful along the defensive line, has two running backs capable of following a mean offensive line down the field, and has a quarterback who needs help from all that. But really, who doesn’t need a team? And who, among Michgan fans, will ever question the team? The team, the team, the team?

    P.S. Should be above USC, but played a team with no offense.

    5. LSU. Beat down a punchless BYU, 27-0. BYU’s offense might be Florida bad, but give LSU ample credit for holding it to under 100 yards of offense, being efficient on offense itself, and running the clock so that the audience had to watch as little of BYU’s offense as possible. Coach O is a giver like that.

    Ooh! Bonus points for this completely unnecessary dickery on the part of offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

    That’s exactly what we like offenses to do: Aggravate and confuse for no reason whatsoever, then run the hell out of the ball until you cry.

    6. Clemson. Taking down Kent State, 56-3, doesn’t mean much, but the Tigers did it as emphatically as possible, and that’s all you can do when you have Kent State on the schedule. See “next week against Auburn” for better data, particularly on new starter Kelly Bryant at quarterback.

    Fun fact! You had exactly one less passing yard than Kent State did on Saturday, even if you didn’t play a down of football.

    7. Wisconsin. Struggled early against Utah State in a 59-10 win, but Wisconsin is the fat man of college football, and talented fat men don’t wake up quickly. When they do, it’s over, because they are hungry and prone to rampages.

    It’s so reassuring to watch this Badgers team. They will start slow. They will, when cornered, begin headbutting out of anger. They will, at the end of all that headbutting, do something like score 59 unanswered points and go destroy three plates of food afterward before settling in for a 16-hour nap.

    8. Oklahoma State. Tulsa’s no joke, so putting them away in a 59-24 blowout is solid, if not particularly revealing. Cowboys QB Mason Rudolph had a nearly perfect day, throwing for 303 yards, completing 20 of 24 passes, and accounting for three TDs through the air.

    Rudolph had the advantage in almost every way over Tulsa’s QB, save one: His name is not “Chad President.”

     Screencap from University of Tulsa Athletics
    nothing but respect for my chad president

    9. Oklahoma. It’s no insult to UTEP to say that a 56-7 win by Oklahoma felt like a scrimmage. Baker Mayfield went 19 of 20 and appeared to be throwing against air, and the Sooners had 35 first downs, and yeah, this was a glorified scrimmage. Still: Blowout scheduled, blowout delivered, and all in time to face Ohio State this coming week in Columbus.

    10. Penn State. 52-0 over Akron. See category of “blowout scheduled, blowout delivered.” Saquon Barkley had 172 yards and two TDs on just 14 carries. This is a bold statement, but it has to be said, if Barkley continues to average over 10 yards a carry, that might be a problem for opposing defenses. This is expert analysis, provided for free.

    11. Auburn. See “Clemson, but with a different team to blow out as effectively as possible.” In a 41-7 win over Georgia Southern, the Tigers only allowed 78 yards and handed Georgia Southern its only points via a fumble returned for a TD. Bad opponent or not, something good is happening when the only chance the opponent has is the one you literally hand them.

    12. Stanford. Didn’t even play this week, which is good, because they’re all still probably sleeping off a 14-hour plane flight to Australia in Week 0. Burly, smart, and popped out of the gate ready to fight, even if they’ve only beat Rice so far.

    ALSO RECEIVING CONSIDERATION, BUT WITH SOME TERRIFYING WARNINGS ATTACHED

    • Washington. Pro: Won 30-14 over Rutgers. Con: Could not block Rutgers, which is a horrifying thing.
    • Georgia. Lost longhaired QB Jacob Eason in a 31-10 win over Appalachian State and replaced him with a shorthaired guy named Jake Fromm. We don’t know if this win has any analytical value other than giving us an opportunity to float the conspiracy theory that Georgia is trying to mess with opposing defenses by sending in its old quarterback with a fake name and a new haircut.
    • Louisville. Purdue might be a lot better, but when Purdue takes the Cardinals to the wire in a 35-28 nailbiter, Louisville fans have to have some concerns about the defense and life as a whole.
    • Virginia Tech. Who knows what beating West Virginia 31-24 is, considering no one’s exactly sure what’s up with the Mountaineers. Hokies QB Josh Jackson is going to be a PROBLEM for the rest of the ACC, though.
    • Maryland. Just kidding ahahahaa they only beat Texas.
    • Trash can. Very iffy on Tennessee. Very bullish on the Trash Can, though.


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    A weekly ranking of only the teams that must be ranked, and not a single team more. (If you’re looking for the top 25 polls, they’re over here.)

    1. Oklahoma

    The entire point of the Top Whatever is to only talk about the teams you want to talk about, based on what they did this week. So it’s time to talk about Oklahoma and how you do not ever want to piss off Baker Mayfield in a revenge or underdog game scenario, ever, because he will beat you 31-16 at home, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

    On the road, without a game-breaking receiver or running back to lean on, and playing against a defense stocked with nothing but four- and five-star talent, Mayfield singlehandedly beat the Ohio State Buckeyes. That’s a dramatic conclusion for a game played as a team sport, but it’s the only place to end up after watching.

    There are numbers, if you want them. His run game didn’t average three yards a carry; his offensive line did their best, but still allowed pressure in the pocket from Sam Hubbard and the rest of the Buckeyes’ front seven; his leading receiver was Dimitri Flowers, an H-back/fullback hybrid who, 30 years ago, would have been cracking heads with a linebacker on I-formation run plays. The Sooners won, and their leading receiver was a fullback.

    That happened in part because Lincoln Riley, the first year head coach and former offensive coordinator, coached circles around whatever the Ohio State defense was trying to do. When the fullback hits you for receiver yardage, tight ends keep popping up uncovered down field, and motions and fakes free receivers gliding down the seams, you’re being outschemed. Ohio State has a serious problem in its secondary, true — Indiana putting up big yardage proved that — but it takes real creativity to allow 386 passing yards to a team without dominant receiving threats. The Sooners coaching staff deserves some credit there.

    It also happened because Mayfield was not only insanely accurate, but insanely confident. He kept plays alive with his feet, often by staying within the pocket, playing hopscotch with rushers until someone broke free. Mayfield did little on the ground in terms of numbers, finishing with minus five yards himself, but that wasn’t the point. His ability to escape pressure showed up in receiving yards down the field.

    On the drive to put OU up 17-13 in the third, Mayfield rolled out, evaded a defensive end, and laced a pass to receiver Mykel Jones over and through coverage he a.) created by rolling right, drawing the defense just a few precious feet forward and b.) beat with a perfect pass he ripped off on the run.

    He was flawless, and it should have been so much worse. It really should have been so much worse, Ohio State. The Sooners fumbled twice in the first half, killing early scoring opportunities. The Sooners outgained Ohio State by 140 yards.

    The Buckeyes’ offense reverted to 2016 form, with an inability to generate anything like a vertical passing game. A quick review of the tape reveals no one was open, but that’s not really an excuse, is it? After all, Oklahoma tore y’all up with a fullback. To be fair: he looked just as surprised as you were, which is just one of the things that made this game so much fun to watch.

    Oklahoma’s No. 1 this week; possibly better teams who bore me aren’t.

    2. Alabama

    Beat Fresno State 41-10, still basically scrimmaging for the next two weeks until they play Vanderbilt, then Ole Miss. Maybe Alabama is scrimmaging for the next month, actually, now that I wrote it all down like that.

    3. Lamar Jackson

    A 47-35 win over UNC might be Lamar Jackson’s most impressive game yet: controlled in the pocket, measured with his scrambles, distributing the ball well, and yet still capable of breathtaking athleticism. The real terror is that Jackson had over 500 yards of offense by himself, accounted for six TDs, but still seems like he’s rising up the ladder of his potential.

    The only quibble might be noting that UNC’s defense is so bad, it lost to Cal at home, and at this point seems more like an accomplice than something designed to stop anyone. Still: Any ranking should list Lamar Jackson. Louisville is along for the ride, and he’s steering.

    4. Clemson

    A 14-6 win over Auburn straight from bowels of bad, dark, 1980s SEC games. Let’s not talk about it any more than is absolutely necessary. Clemson QB Kelly Bryant played reasonably well against a vicious Auburn defense, the Clemson run game needs serious work, and Clemson’s talented and coming along. That’s about what everyone should expect of a retooling national champion, and everyone should remain really reasonable about this, as long as they’re facing offenses as bad as Auburn’s.

    Auburn’s offense has caught some kind of wasting disease. It had 117 total yards, 23 of them on a single play. Every single play from this game on official Auburn game footage should be erased. Jarrett Stidham should assume a new identity. Everyone should start their lives over. You never watched this game, and neither did I.

    5. USC

    Get up here, Trojans. It’s possible to imagine USC outgunning Stanford in a shootout, but the shocking thing about a 42-24 win over the Cardinal in the Coliseum? USC ran all over, had two rushers go for over 100 yards each, and effectively ended the game by mashing out Stanford in the fourth quarter. The Trojan defense did so well, Stanford ended up passing 28 times and running just 26 times, which is antithetical to pretty much everything modern Stanford football considers holy.

    Sam Darnold threw for four TDs and bounced back from a mediocre game against Western Michigan; Ronald Jones II runs like he hates you, and that is why you should love him.

    6. Michigan

    Not sweating an often frustrating, 36-14 win over Cincinnati because a.) Cincy’s defense is going to frustrate a lot of people this year, b.) Michigan’s offense was going to be a work in progress this season, and c.) Cincy did cut the lead to 17-14 in the third quarter, but the Wolverines took control and pulled away nicely.

    They’re not perfect; it’s just that playing Florida’s offense can make you look that way. Michigan is learning on the job, and that means mistakes, and if you’re going to make them, you want to make them against Cincinnati, and not, yanno, an increasingly dangerous Purdue in two weeks. Yes, I typed “increasingly dangerous Purdue.” That’s a thing now, and we’ll all have to get used to it.

    7. Penn State

    It’s so hard to decide what to take away from beating a team like Pitt, 33-14. Penn State let Pitt dominate time of possession, but also allowed only 14 points. They got turnovers off Pitt, but judging from Max Browne’s armpunts on Saturday, that isn’t too hard? They won easily and didn’t get Saquon Barkley hurt, and that counts for a rousing success in a potentially tricky non-conference game in Week 2.

    Also, they blew up a Pitt screen for a safety. That’s just our way of saying Pitt ran a screen in their own end zone and that no one should ever stop laughing about it.

    8. Virginia Tech

    A learning experience for young QB Josh Jackson in a 27-0 win over the Blue Hens of Delaware. The learning is that scoring more than 30 points against even Delaware is really, really hard if you can’t run the ball. Eighty-one team rushing yards against an FCS team is NOT confidence-inspiring — but it’s definitely learning.

    9. Oklahoma State

    Nothing to note from a situationally strange — who goes to South Alabama? — but otherwise breezy, 44-7 blowout of the USA Jaguars. The Pokes haven’t played a bit of bad football through two games against inferior competition, and they also really haven’t played anyone. Oklahoma State plays Pitt in Week 3 and TCU in Week 4, so ... yeah, you’ll have to wait on how they look against TCU for a real look at their potential.

    Note: Pitt held the ball for almost 40 minutes against Penn State, picked up 24 first downs, and only scored 14 points. Pitt is running the Terrence Malick offense right now: it might not have a lot of points, but it will take forever to get to them.

    10. Wisconsin

    Twenty-nine first downs and a procedural, 31-14 crushing of FAU. How do you get 29 first downs and only score 31 points? SHOW US THE SEX.

     ESPN
    DON’T RUSH TO THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE, YOU MIGHT BREAK A SWEAT

    AHHHHHHH, that’s the sex. Wisconsin also turned the ball over twice, killing two scoring opportunities, but for the most part, the Badgers just lined up and power cleaned FAU’s defense for three hours. Wisconsin doesn’t believe in doing cardio, and results to this point more than back up that belief.

    11. Georgia?

    The question mark is for “what is beating Notre Dame worth?” in a sloppy 20-19 game that was less gunfight, and more two people with guns taking turns shooting themselves in the feet in front of an audience. Still a win, and the impressive parts were holding Notre Dame to under 300 yards and eking out enough on offense with backup quarterback Jake Fromm starting on the road.

    12. LSU

    45-10 over UT-Chattanooga. In the absence of any useful information from this game, here is an Etch-A-Sketch portrait of Ed Orgeron.

    13. Washington

    Beat FCS Montana, 63-7.

    Still shook from watching the Huskies get dominated along the line by Rutgers, which just gave Eastern Michigan its first-ever win against a Power 5 team. EMU QB Brogan Roback has a transitive respectable showing against the Huskies now, and I’m not comfortable with that at all.

    ANYONE ELSE?

    No, and being undefeated isn’t enough to get mentioned, because 2-0 is undefeated right now. Washington State is undefeated. If you watched whatever that triple OT game against Boise State at 2:30 a.m. ET on Sunday was, then you understand exactly what I mean by this.


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    Ranking only the teams that really deserve to be ranked right now. If you’re looking for the polls, those are over here.

    1. Clemson

    Destroyed Louisville, 47-21. Let’s go through some comparisons that might or might not work here and see where it goes. The 2017 Clemson Tigers just walloped Louisville by a much larger margin than the national title-winning 2016 team did, and did it on the road. That’s impressive, especially when you consider how well Clemson was able to run the ball on Louisville (297 yards on the night!), and how consistently the Tigers’ mean-ass defensive line harassed Lamar Jackson.

    Then again — just to tamp down too much optimism here — Louisville’s weaknesses are pretty consistent, too, and might have gotten worse for 2017. The defense is porous, the offensive line incapable of standing up to pressure, and if you can limit Jackson even a little, the Cardinals have few other options.

    Clemson is really good, and in two straight games, has been bad for this particular Louisville team. Cautious optimism is fine, Clemson; I’m just preparing you for the inevitable “How is this team struggling against Wake Forest when we demolished Louisville” moment in October, because something stupid like that inevitably happens. (And yeah, usually involving Wake Forest.)

    2. Oklahoma

    Light work on the elliptical and some stretching in a 56-14 recovery-day win over Tulane. Maybe listened to a podcast and thought about what to buy at the grocery store for the week during the game, too. I dunno, just keeping it chill and easy.

    3. Alabama

    Sort of loitered through a 41-23 win over Colorado State, a Mountain West opponent who nearly put up 400 yards of offense on the Tide defense in Tuscaloosa. This gives something Nick Saban can be THEATRICALLY AGGRIEVED AT, which will drive A TOUGH WEEK OF PRACTICE, which will give Alabama SOMETHING TO SHOW THE HATERS NEXT SATURDAY.

    It’s almost like Colorado State had the game pla—

    —oh my god, Nick Saban really did this, knowing Colorado State could only be so competitive, even if it knew what was coming, thus convincing Alabama that it needed to improve after a sloppy performance.

    There are master motivators, and then there is Nick Saban.

    4. USC

    The Trojans nearly suffered a transitive loss to Maryland after letting Texas take them to overtime, but stripped the ball from Longhorns freshman QB Sam Ehlinger in the second OT to win, 27-24.

    According to anyone who watched this game on Twitter, USC quarterback Sam Darnold sucks until he doesn’t, at which point he becomes somewhere from very good to incredible. I was in the Coliseum; Sam Darnold looked like a very good quarterback playing without much support from his run game, working against an inspired defense that ran out of gas somewhere in the start of the fourth quarter. The last drive in regulation to set up a field goal was surgical, as were the throws he made in OT to put USC on top. If that’s when your quarterback is really brilliant, you’ll generally be just fine.

    In summary: Stop NFL Draft Expert-ing in real time. Just stop. It’s not my job or your job, probably, and it demeans the whole story of how well Texas played and how brilliantly USC responded late to win. While we’re at it, leave poor Josh Allen alone. He plays in a state that has more elk than people in it. You go try finding a left tackle in that state who won’t get you killed against Oregon.

    5. Oklahoma State

    Could have scored a hundred on Pitt, but pulled up and decided to keep the rout to a respectable 59-21. That part about Louisville being a great matchup for Clemson, and Clemson being a really bad matchup for Louisville? Pitt’s defense is a great matchup for anyone right now, because the Pitt defense is every video of every fireworks factory explosion ever featured on Destroyed in Seconds. Oklahoma State really did just decide to stop scoring and take Mason Rudolph out in the third quarter.

    Oklahoma State had four different receivers go over 100 yards on the day. Do not look at them without blast goggles, or put a cornerback without three years starting experience and a taser on wide receiver James Washington. That cornerback will die.

    6. Mississippi State

    Just blindsided LSU, 37-7, dominated every phase of the game, and yeah, we’re here. It’s Week 3, and Dan Mullen’s 20-year plan to conquer the SEC has passed the “frequently capable of thumping LSU” stage of things. The most shocking element: How Miss State’s defense made the new-look LSU offense look a lot like a bad, old, Les Miles offense on paper.

    7. Wisconsin

    Fat Kid sat on BYU in a 40-6 controlled demolition in Provo. Let’s check the Pizza of Time to see if Wisconsin did the Wisconsin thing.

    YOU GOTTA EAT YOUR SLICES FASTER, BYU

    Oh, BYU. You let Fat Kid eat most of the pizza, and that’s one strong indicator that Wisconsin got to do Wisconsin-type offensive things against you.

    P.S. BYU’s offense in 2017, metaphorically speaking, is the guy in a competitive eating contest who eats two hot dogs and projectile vomits in every direction for an hour afterwards.

    8. Michigan

    Eh, nothing too new in a 29-13 win over Air Force at home. QB Wilton Speight and the rest of the offense is sort of struggling to finish drives, the defense is nasty and had its hands full with a super-disciplined triple-option team, and the Wolverines are a work in progress that is an undefeated work in progress. Please pardon their mess.

    9. Oregon

    49-13 flattening of poor Wyoming in Laramie. The usual, predictable deluge of points and yardage against a hopelessly overmatched opponent, but! Oregon plays Arizona State next week, so it’ll be worse next time! Arizona State’s defense just gave up 615 yards to Texas Tech and is a rolling debacle in 11 sets of color-coordinated cleats.

    10. Penn State

    Beat down Georgia State, 56-0. James Franklin continued his Revenge 2017 Tour by icing Georgia State’s kicker in order to line up his special teamers when Penn State was, yes, up by 56 points. James Franklin is 2017’s Coach Most Likely To Have A Simmering But Somehow Non-Fatal Case of Rabies.

    11. Georgia

    Shuffled FCS Samford through a 42-14 processing in Athens. 2017 Georgia’s really making hay off beating overpriced private schools, aren’t they?

    OTHER UNDEFEATED TEAMS WE HAVE TO CONSIDER BUT WHO HAVE VERY TERRIFYING THINGS ABOUT THEM WE CANNOT SHAKE, EACH LISTED WITH THAT THING

    • Washington. Embarrassed a struggling Fresno State, 48-16, but [still shuddering thinking about how Rutgers beat UW up on the line of scrimmage].
    • TCU. Won the Iron Skillet in a raucous, 56-36 win over SMU, but again: unclear if beating Arkansas or SMU means a whole lot of anything in 2017. THANK GOD FOR HUGE BUYOUTS, BRET BIELEMA.
    • Washington State. Beat hapless Oregon State, 52-23, but is Washington State.
    • Virginia Tech. Hammered East Carolina, 64-17, but did that against East Carolina, a team whose defense is so bad, it’s already fired its defensive coordinator.
    • Vanderbilt. Slugged out a 14-7 win over Kansas State, but is Vanderbilt.
    • San Diego State. Upset Stanford 20-17, but the Cardinal might be a Southern Hemisphere-only team this year.
    • Cal. what—
    • Kentucky. You see the problem here with Week 3 rankings, right?

    TEAMS WITH ONE LOSS YOU SHOULD CONSIDER

    • None, it’s Week 3, go chill and think about what you did for a while. (Hi, Ohio State.)


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    This is a very boring, simple explanation as to why the NFL’s ratings are declining. It is not an opportunity for you to shoehorn in your feelings about Colin Kaepernick protesting the game. No one really cares about your feelings about Colin Kaepernick’s protest, because if you are the kind of person who gets really offended by Colin Kaepernick’s protest, then your feelings in 2017 are the most boring and predictable thing about you, and telling on you in a deeply unflattering light.

    The simpler and also boring systemic problem with the NFL that might actually explain something is its success, and how that success made the ownership class in the NFL fat, lazy, and locked into a business model they have no real reason or incentive to change, even with falling TV ratings.

    The absence of real risk of failure is a start. Stakeholders in the NFL cannot lose—at least not under the league’s current structure. Owners split money from the league’s massive TV deals and other media revenue streams. That stream is so dependable, so huge, and so guaranteed that it’s done what large, intractable pools of cash have done since the invention of markets. It has altered and distorted the very thing that created it, and broken the basic exchange between consumer and seller that made the NFL successful in the first place.

    It’s a form of laziness, and a special kind different from the standard laziness in the NFL. Laziness bred from prosperity isn’t a new problem for NFL ownership and management. For every old-school Rooney or Mara or Hunt family intent on making at least an honest show of competing, producing a good product, and paying at least paltry attention to the demands of the consumer, there has been a Culverhouse or a Smith, owners who ran their franchises with the least possible effort and expenditure. The slumlords of the NFL took their rent, often without providing anything close to a finished building.

    Note: This may be literally true of the 1970s and 1980s Buccaneers, whose stadium sort of looked like concrete that never set exactly right, so they just went with it and said, “yeah, it’s supposed to be shaped like a melted frisbee.” What you call a mistake, the 1970s called architecture.

    That approach towards maximizing your dollar with the bare minimum of effort became more sophisticated over time. As the league’s revenues boomed, they became something less like points of civic pride run as passion projects by the locally wealthy, and something more like attractive investment properties with a promising rate of return for billionaires — particularly those billionaires who entered the NFL as strangers to the league, but as intimate familiars of a corporate culture dependent on squeezing every profitable dollar, and trimming every wasteful one from the budget.

    For instance: The legend of Dan Snyder tells a story of someone who was “passionate” about the Washington franchise on a personal level. It sometimes leaves out his ruthless economizing of the franchise, a focus on the bottom line interrupted periodically by splashing free agent signings to keep fans semi-interested in the team. That he keeps them in the worst stadium in the league, charges for everything short of oxygen, and rolls out a consistently mediocre product doesn’t matter: His great gift as an NFL owner, after nearly 20 years, has turned out to be a deep understanding of knowing exactly how little actual quality he could slip into the product without breaking the customer’s dependence completely.*

    *Side note: Dan Snyder would be an amazing MDMA dealer.

    Washington Redskins Introduce Jay GrudenPhoto by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    That level of sophisticated coasting in the name of profitability became a laudable thing for owners. Jerry Jones, in particular, emphasized profitability and value for the league, leaning hard on new television contracts, stadium deals, corporate tie-ins, and whatever else he could grab in order to boost the value of the Cowboys to its limit. The momentum for moving the Raiders — one of the league’s oldest recognizable brands, with one of its most insanely loyal fanbases — from Oakland to Las Vegas came largely from Jones, and mostly for the holy grail of profitability. Jones is the crowning example of the NFL’s gargantuan gains in the financial weight room: Since buying the Cowboys for $140 million in 1989, Jones has grown the value of the franchise to $4.2 billion. The team makes a publicly declared $227 million a year.

    The NFL was able to do this because, at a certain point, wealth outstrips the power of the assets that created it. In 2017, the league split over $7.8 billion between teams. The money and the success the league enjoyed became so huge that they attained their own gravity, and became separate from the main product that built the league in the first place: professional football.

    That separation of the product from the wealth it creates should be familiar to any American consumer. A large company takes control of an entire economy, becomes so large it cannot fail, and thus has no real incentive to do anything but seek rent on that endless, belching pipeline of cash. The product produced generally does not improve, and often without the pressure of competition doesn’t have to improve at all. It might even get worse, or at least watch things like customer service and satisfaction take nosedives.

    It’s not exactly a monopoly, but it’s also not-not exactly a monopoly, either.

    The value in that kind of behavior doesn’t come from the product. That flatlined in terms of utility a long, long time ago. (The Patriots remain unusual for not only trying, but trying intelligently to produce a good product.) An NFL owner no longer needs that to continue to boost the value of the franchise using anything that happens on the field. Value comes from getting a new stadium someone else paid for, moving the franchise to a more valuable piece of real estate and doubling the value of the franchise overnight. Value comes from leveraging and re-leveraging your existing assets, not by creating anything new.

    If you see an NFL franchise as just another asset to be maximized and squeezed for every dime, being good at football — i.e. producing a good product — doesn’t matter. It’s not even rational to put effort towards anything but “value creation,” i.e. shuffling around pieces of the franchise until they sit in the most profitable positions. The Rams doubled their value overnight by leaving St. Louis and moving to L.A. They are a miserable football team run by a despised owner playing in an empty stadium, but the Rams could care less. The fourth most valuable team in the NFL sucks by design, and shines bright enough on the balance sheet to eliminate any real concerns about how bad the product is on the field.

    Washington Redskins vs Los Angeles RamsPhoto by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The Rams, the 49ers, and the Washington team are all in the top 10 most valuable NFL franchises. There are other reasons for that besides their efficient disinterest in making a good on-field product — the real estate and cost of doing business in expensive places like L.A., the Bay Area, and D.C. being a huge one — but the lesson for anyone acquiring an NFL team as an asset is pretty clear. Strip the place to the frame, gorge on TV money, and only do the bare minimum to keep people interested.

    That distancing of the product — and its overall quality as an experience — from revenue makes for a dysfunctional exchange between the consumer and the producer.

    What does that mean, exactly? It means that because the Rams don’t have to worry about quality, they can slog into the Coliseum, wait for a new stadium to be built, and bill themselves as a content company while playing in front of hundreds of bored fans. It means that being good, for a lot of teams, is an accident, or a periodic spasm to regain fan interest spaced between long troughs of minimal effort.

    *The NFL is you at work! Congrats, you too could be America’s most successful sports enterprise.

    This explains why the NFL now functions less like an open market business, and more like a cartel. (Not a cartel exactly, economics pedants, but cartel-ish.)

    A cartel really doesn’t care what you want. It knows what you need, and has it. All behaviors from that point forward only protect the cartel and its control of supply and delivery. There will be no innovation, no new ideas not in service of that maintenance of revenue streams, and no serious competition between cartel members. In fact, they’ll all cut the quality of the product wherever possible to take home the most possible cash.

    The NFL isn’t alone in this in sports, and not even in football, either. The disease of guaranteed revenue has bitten college football, too. Texas, the most profitable athletic program in the nation, is a prime example of the strange incentives huge profits can create within a sports franchise. The more money the program makes, the less consistent or important the quality of the product has been to the priorities of those at the top running the cash machine.

    But as the most popular sport in America — and one that pools profits — it is the most visible, and most visibly prone to this leveling by the demands of the spreadsheet. Even a distancing by slight degrees, like turning your basic exchange from one of fans opting into an experience into one of a television product given to captive subscribers, is enough to change how ownership behaves.

    There is a structural reason live audiences aren’t even necessary anymore: Ticket sales make up such a shrinking percentage of team revenue that the Rams and 49ers might as well play on sound stages, if you think they don’t already. The distance between the sport and the mammoth business it built will only grow, and in that space will be those who loved the NFL, but now watch the condensed version of the NFL on RedZone, and those who make it begrudgingly while looking to the next successful investment opportunity.

    That next something might be something like eSports, which the owner of the Patriots just dropped $20 million on via investment in an Overwatch league. When will we know eSports made it? When there are commercial breaks after load screens, fights over gaming arenas being paid for with public money, and a class of owner looking for nothing more than the next grandiose and guaranteed font of cash. eSports is lucky, for the moment: Kraft seems to enjoy making a quality product. It’s when the Haslams and Stan Kroenke* show up that gamers should panic.

    *Okay, go ahead and panic, gamers. Stan Kroenke is already there.


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    It’s this week’s updated ranking of only the teams that really need to be ranked right now.

    1. TCU.

    There are more delicate ways of saying this, but football is not a delicate sport: the Horned Frogs are number one this week because they beat some ass.

    How much ass? Piles of it. Railcars full of it. Market distortions happened because of the amount of ass TCU beat in its 44-31 win over Oklahoma State. Shipments of ass had to be rerouted from other supply lines of ass in order to be rerouted to Stillwater, where Gary Patterson and his team beat it. Cowboys booster T. Boone Pickens probably made a killing by buying shares of ass in the first quarter, and moving them around the market. He’s a Pokes fan, yes, but he’s an investor first, and he’s not going to turn down a profit when he sees one.

    But TCU gave up 31 points.

    Run your conversion charts. In a Big 12 game, 31 points is like 22 points in an ACC game and 10 in a Neanderthal SEC game. That’s Oklahoma State. They’re going to get points, including at least one TD off a perfectly thrown deep ball you can do nothing about. The impressive part comes in granting those points, destroying any sense of balance by stuffing the run game, and responding by running the ball with Darius Anderson, controlling the pace, then waiting on Oklahoma State to press and hand over some turnovers.

    It’s an old-school approach to facing a high-powered offense, retrofitted with new school trappings, all installed by a defensive coach who understands the realities of winning in the Big 12. For this week, while the ass markets slowly recover, TCU will be No. 1.

    2. Georgia.

    Flattened Mississippi State, 31-3, and gets the MVP for eliminating any need to watch their game at all on a busy Saturday night. That’s how to courteously save time for the busy viewer: leap out to a lead, extinguish all hope of the opponent moving the ball, and wrap it up in about 20 minutes of actual time.

    The offense looked fine, but the Georgia defense looked horrifying against a very good offense, dominating point-to-point along the line of scrimmage.

    This is to say that even if the Georgia offense doesn’t get to throw a flea-flicker for a TD on its first play of a game, the defense can keep them in any game, no matter how low the score.

    Now that I’ve said nice things about them and given them a prime ranking for one week, watch them lose to Tennessee this coming weekend.

    3. Alabama.

    Don’t look at what they did to Vanderbilt in a 59-0 win. Only know that they ran 66 times for six TDs, and that Satan still wouldn’t have anything to do with this atrocity. STOP SAYING YOU WANT BAMA. THEY DON’T GET THAT IT’S A JOKE AND NEVER WILL.

    4. Penn State.

    Survived Kinnick Stadium at night in a 21-19 thriller. The achievement of beating Iowa at night when they score a prime number is never to be underestimated. Iowa thrives on a few things: weird scores, stifling defense, staying in games despite getting doubled up in yardage categories, and causing well-timed special teams disasters. The Hawkeyes got most of those things and still didn’t win, marking this as a serious achievement and a reminder that playing in Kinnick after fans have had a whole day’s worth of tailgating will terrify even the most hardened team.

    P.S. — Saquon Barkley is a god.

    not the god but a god

    5. Clemson.

    Beat Boston College, 34-7.

    Yes, this was a 7-7 game going into the fourth quarter, but that’s not surprising to anyone who watches Boston College play football. BC’s strategy is to slow the game down to a glacial crawl, punt as many times as possible, and mostly hope something good happens. (It rarely does, but that’s still the plan for some reason.) In a game like that, Clemson will eventually break contain and make the expected blowout look like the expected blowout.

    Are we concerned about Kelly Bryant having a bad day passing? Sure, and we can’t exactly decide how concerned to be, given that Clemson could probably keep up this single wing running thing for most of the year and win by three scores against the bulk of their schedule. But still, it’s noted. A team that can stop the run will give them fits, particularly if that team can respond with anything like a little offense.

    6. Don La Greca.

    I’m just glad that New York City continues to set the pace for intellectual discourse in sports talk. I’VE BEEN WATCHING FOOTBALL FOR 40 YEARS. FORTY YEARS.

    7. Oklahoma.

    Eked out a victory over Baylor, 49-41, which is less than you want to do against Baylor, and way less than you want to do when you tell Baylor that Daddy’s home and you’re going to spank them.

    Chalk it up to a road game against an opponent learning how to play under new management. (By the way, that was inevitable, because Baylor under Matt Rhule was not going to be laughingly bad all year.)

    8. USC.

    A 30-20 win over Cal. That USC looked frustrated sort of confirms a lot of what people already think about USC.

    • They’re talented, but will misfire and let teams hang around.
    • Sam Darnold, who threw another interception and has seven on the year, is still pressing a little and figuring out who his receivers really are.
    • They will, after struggling, win most of the games they play.

    The question is whether they will sharpen up, which they did over the course of 2016. Bonus mitigating detail in a sort of underwhelming game from the Trojans: Cal’s beyond improved under Justin Wilcox.

    9. Navy.

    Did something to Cincinnati in a 42-32 win. That something is hard to define, but it bears mentioning and praise here because all of the following things happened:

    • Navy ran 72 times for 569 yards in a regulation football game.
    • Navy had five players with more than a single carry each average over 10 yards a carry.
    • Navy had 31 first downs despite being designed to play at a pace slightly faster than a brisk walk between downs.
    • Navy did that offensive line thing all flexbone teams do, where they try to cut block defensive linemen, which makes defensive linemen move a lot like someone trying to escape the snapping jaws of an onrushing Rottweiler.
    • Navy only passed three times.

    That’s triple-option cruelty at its finest. Applaud it, or risk getting your knees taken out in line at Starbucks by a hard-charging wingback out of nowhere. Ask Cincy: they’re literally everywhere.

    10. Michigan.

    A 28-10 game against Purdue, a defensive performance we’ll all look back on a lot more approvingly, when the season’s done and everyone realizes how vastly improved the Boilermakers were.

    The Michigan offense still has some kind of disorder involving the redzone and third downs; the defense still might be good enough for that not to matter much.

    11. MOooooooopolllol.

    My ooffice and the

    In conclusion:

    MOooooooopolllol.

    12. San Diego State.

    They’re going to score like 28 points and get Rashaad Penny all the carries. What you do in return is negotiable, but it’ll probably end up something like a 28-24 loss, like Air Force suffered, because that is what this Aztecs team is designed to do.

    13. Washington.

    The Huskies played a way more competitive game than you might think in beating Colorado, 37-10, but even games become lopsided ones when the other quarterback throws three INTs. Washington hasn’t been explosive, but they’ve been efficient, and if you’re sort of wondering how that will look against long-bombing attacks like Arizona State or Oregon, well, we’re more than curious about that, too.

    14. Washington State.

    Pounded Nevada, 45-7. Washington State plays USC this Friday. [THUNDEROUS, OMINOUS MUSIC PLAYS FOR FIVE MINUTES STRAIGHT.]

    P.S. Nevada is a baaaaaaaad team right now.

    15. Virginia Tech.

    38-0 over Old Dominion. The Hokies only allowed seven first downs, and more importantly, beat another one of the 392 other universities you didn’t know were in the state of Virginia.

    16. Utah.

    Fine, Utah, you beat Arizona, 30-24, you’re 4-0 and doing that scrappy, ugly-but-undefeated thing you’ll do for a while, so you get a ranking. The next four games — Stanford, USC, Arizona State, and Oregon — are pure hell, so save some of that scrappiness for the next month. You’ll need it.

    17. USF.

    Beat Temple, 43-7, maybe is really good, and might still scare us because of some bad offensive stretches in between points binges.

    TEAMS I REALLY WANT TO RANK BUT WHO LET SOUTHERN ILLINOIS HANG AROUND WAY, WAY TOO LONG

    Memphis. Three and oh, tho.

    TEAMS THAT HAVE CONFUSED US FOREVER AND ARE NOW ESPECIALLY CONFUSING BECAUSE THEY ARE UNDEFEATED, ALBEIT AGAINST BAD TEAMS BUT STILL

    Wake Forest and Duke. I dunno, this year’s weird already, y’all.

    THAT’S A MIRAGE, RIGHT?

    Texas Tech. Continued to play ... ”defense” in a 27-24 win over Houston? Three wins and the nation’s second best turnover margin aren’t a lie, but let’s keep them overnight for observation anyway.

    HAS ONLY PLAYED TWO FOOTBALL GAMES THUS FAR DUE TO HURRICANES

    The Hurricanes of Miami, who beat Toledo, 52-30. Shut up, Toledo’s pretty good.

    WISELY AVOIDED PLAYING FOOTBALL THIS WEEK

    Undefeateds Minnesota and Wisconsin. Goldy got his reps in anyway.


    0 0

    It’s time for the weekly ranking of only the teams that really need to be ranked. If you’re looking for the polls, those can be found here.

    1. Washington State

    Yeah. What. Fight me. They beat USC 30-27 in Pullman, and maybe you need some context on how rare and marvelous a thing that is.

    To wit: How are your eclipse glasses? Still holding onto them in case you decide to learn how to weld? Cool, let me just remind everyone who bought those that you’ll never use those again, and that over the entire course of the Washington State-USC rivalry — a 72-game stretch extending back to 1921 — the Cougars had only defeated the Trojans nine times.

    Note: Had. Watching an eclipse is hard. Since 1921 there have been something like 15 total solar eclipses visible from some point in the United States. Most people have to drive several hours just to see one. All you had to do to see something much rarer than a total solar eclipse this past weekend was sit on your couch and stay awake until 2:30 a.m. ET.

    The Cougs are undefeated, Luke Falk is still upright, and their defense put pressure on Sam Darnold all game long, even after Darnold pulled out his usual fourth quarter rally form. That’s impressive, even if USC obviously has got issues for days and lost a third of its offensive depth chart in a single game to injury. That last part isn’t Washington State’s fault, but for once, the only thing you can blame on the Cougs right now are other teams’ problems, and not their own.

    They’re No. 1 this week because they had the biggest win — and also because when the hell else are we ever going to be able to say that, ever?

    2. Georgia

    41-0 over Tennessee in Neyland, a game that’s best classified as a virus that will eventually kill Butch Jones’ tenure in Knoxville. It might not get him today or tomorrow or even at the end of the year, but it weakened the immune system defending the idea of him being coach. That’s how well Georgia’s playing right now, indistinguishable from a bad disease.

    Jake Fromm rushed for two touchdowns on Tennessee. Tennessee needs a nap and possibly a medically induced coma.

    3. Clemson

    The problem with beating Virginia Tech 31-17 in Blacksburg: stomping the Hokies so thoroughly that the final margin represents less the competition throughout the game, more Virginia Tech throwing stuff against a wall until it stuck late in a one-sided contest.

    First-year starting QB Kelly Bryant will have a bad game against a good team eventually. This was not that week. Clemson’s defensive line will ... OK, to be frank, I don’t think it’s going to have a bad week. It’s like your grandparents’ old furniture: You can’t move it, you’ll probably need a team to even try, and if you run into it without looking, you’ll wake up on the floor. Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence is the massive teak cabinet your grandma brought back from a trip to Malaysia, and if he falls on you, it will hurt.

    4. Alabama

    Did whatever that was to Ole Miss in a 66-3 win over a team that just two short years ago beat the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. Let’s just write as little about them as possible until the SEC Championship Game, maybe even then not until the Playoff, because the key to happiness for the non-Alabama fan in 2017 is to ignore the Tide until the last minute, then accept whatever judgment they may lay on you at the end when you finally have to confront them. They’re death. Put them off for as long as you can.

    5. Penn State

    45-14 over Indiana, America’s most daring team because it decided to kick to Saquon Barkley, who opened the game by returning said kick for a touchdown.

    Barkley also threw a touchdown.

    The remainder of Penn State’s season will be finding newer and more outlandish ways to get Barkley involved. This means Barkley converting a drop kick against Ohio State, then working the omelet station for the postgame buffet. The kick will be perfect; the eggs DELIGHTFUL. (Yes, the drop kick is still sort of legal in college football.)

    6. Wisconsin

    A sort of confusing, 33-24 win over Northwestern. The Wildcats had more first downs and fewer turnovers and still lost to a team that sleepwalked through most of the game. Alex Hornibrook threw a pick that looked like one you’d throw in a backyard football game, but still won, which we think is the definition of “gamer” (i.e. a quarterback who can do some really heinous things but still win).

    7. Washington

    42-7 over an overmatched Oregon State, still very much beating the daylights out of bad teams. Which is all they can do, given their schedule! Which gets much tougher down the stretch in the Pac-12! Exclamation points indicating future praise to come, barring serious error on Washington’s part!

    8. Miami

    A 31-6 game over a feisty Duke that, while being unable to beat Miami, was happy to make it work for the win deep into the fourth quarter.

    Running back Mark Walton, injured in the win over the Blue Devils, should be good to go against Florida State, a team coming off a triumph in its first win of the season, at Wake Forest. That’s a serious statement: Beating Wake Forest when it’s weirdscoring and hitting totals like 19 is damn near impossible.

    9. UCF

    Beat the wheels off Memphis, 40-13. This being a Memphis football team, one of those wheels was probably duct-taped on anyway, but this is still a feat for a team that might be playing the best football of any team in the state of Florida right now.

    10. San Diego State

    Not impressive on paper in beating Northern Illinois 34-28, but all San Diego State games are basically one-score games by design. BLUE COLLAR FOOTBALL NEEDS NO HUGE PROFIT MARGINS.

    11. Navy

    Still undefeated after a 31-21 win over our President — Chad President.

    There is one point of concern for the Midshipmen: Navy threw the ball four times. NAVY IS OUT OF CONTROL WITH THIS WILLY-NILLY PASSING.

    12. USF

    A 61-31 win over East Carolina goes into the pile with USF’s other extremely low-value wins over Illinois, Stony Brook, Temple, and UConn, giving them what might be the worst portfolio of any undefeated team in America. That said, a flawless resume is a flawless resume, even if under “jobs listed” it includes nothing outside your rich dad’s company.

    WISELY AVOIDED PLAYING FOOTBALL THIS WEEK

    • Michigan. Probably still had to kick a field goal against the bye week.
    • Oklahoma. Baker Mayfield plants enormous OU flag in roommate’s floor after beating him in Madden.
    • TCU. Gary Patterson fuming about ... well he’s probably just fuming. He’s Gary Patterson, a tiny volcano.
    • Utah. Walking around, accosting strangers, and yelling, “DID YOU KNOW WE’RE IN A POWER FIVE CONFERENCE?”


    0 0

    This is the weekly ranking of only the teams that really must be ranked on this exact day. If you’re looking for the polls, those will be over there.

    1. Stacey.

    She’s number one this week.

    This is just, like, CLASSIC Stace here. I don’t know if her name is Stacey, actually, but this ... this feels like a Stacey move. This was also lucky. The only team in the game that had someone run out on the field to celebrate won, 71-68, after seven overtimes in the new highest-scoring game ever. You did it, Stace. YOU DID IT.

    2. Clemson.

    A deceptive 28-14 win over Wake Forest, for a lot of reasons, and in a lot of directions.

    In the positive sense for Clemson: The score is closer than the game actually played. Clemson leaped out to a early lead and slowed down a bit, Wake Forest has been pretty stout defensively, and the Tigers turned the ball over twice. Add all that up, and the Tigers can feel better about a game they controlled despite a lackluster scoreboard result.

    In the negative sense, Clemson starting QB Kelly Bryant hobbled around in a walking boot with a sprained ankle.

    P.S. Wake Forest is cruising to a lead in the “Most Respectable Losses” column for the year. Also leading in the “Most Outrageously Wide Field Goal Attempts” category.

    If you’re gonna miss, miss big

    3. Miami.

    Beat Florida State, 24-20. Remember that the Top Whatever basically ranks the teams with the best possible records based on how they did this week and this week alone. That’s how we find an excuse to put the Canes way up here. Not only are they undefeated, but they found a way to beat their most bitter rival in their own stadium in the most bitter fashion imaginable.

    Imagine, a WIDE receiver on the RIGHT spelling doom for Florida State

    We should all thank Mark Richt for going for the win when other coaches might have just squatted on field position, waited on a field goal to tie, and taken their chances at overtime. You know what a good way to not lose in overtime on the road is? TO NOT HAVE AN OVERTIME AND WIN IN REGULATION AND JUST BREAK SOME HEARTS AND MINDS WHILE YOU’RE AT IT.

    Miami might not be one of the best football programs in the nation, but it is definitely one of the best this week, and that and Miami fans showing off all that hard offseason work in the gym AND the tattoo parlor is more than enough for us.

    4. Alabama.

    Oooh, look, A&M made Alabama bleed their own blood. The final was 27-19, but the thing everyone needs to know coming out of this genuine fight at Kyle Field is this: Alabama was up 24-3 at one point, futzed around, got real resistance, and didn’t finish the way Nick Saban likes teams to finish. (They even messed up multiple punts. PUNTS, DAMMIT.)

    When Alabama doesn’t finish the way Nick Saban likes teams to finish, Nick Saban starts hissing about “poison” in postgame press conferences. He also makes a face like this.

    POISON!

    Oh, it’s going to be a bad week for the Golden Flake Kicking Dog at the Alabama facilities this week, especially because loading the box and daring Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts to pass worked, for the most part. (Doubt that there is an official, sponsored, and specially bred dog for Saban to kick in times of crisis at your own peril.)

    P.S. Saban, in that postgame press conference, says “We’re not gonna win every game 66-3.” Alabama plays Arkansas next week, a team that just lost by 26 points to South Carolina. Alabama will probably win 66-3 next week. Saban will be infuriated by the field goal.

    5. TCU.

    A 31-24 victory over West Virginia. All TCU does is confuse the hell out of opposing offenses, get timely production, and somehow turn opposing strengths into weaknesses.

    If this sounds cracked, consider that TCU has already:

    • Won a shootout against SMU, a team that prides itself on tempo.
    • Beaten Oklahoma State, an offensive powerhouse, with offense.
    • Outlasted a West Virginia team that outgained the Horned Frogs by a hundred yards (508 to 406) and had 12 more first downs (28 to 16) on the day.

    When asked about TCU’s defense after the game, West Virginia quarterback Will Grier said: "They didn't do anything that we thought they were going to do.” That’s TCU right now, the most deliberately confusing good team in America.

    6. Washington State.

    A 33-10 road win over Oregon, which was good because Wazzu played well on the road and also weird because Wazzu kicked four field goals? It also relied heavily on defense, and that’s all fine, because somehow we’re here talking about a 6-0 Washington State in early October.

    Oregon did have the coolest strip/punch-out you will see all year, and for a team missing its starting quarterback due to injury, that will have to do.

    Oregon defense 2017: ONLY THE MOST CASUAL TURNOVERS.

    7. Penn State.

    A mostly forgettable, 31-7 win over Northwestern. That’s not Penn State’s fault. No one should remember anything about this Northwestern team. The moment when Saquon Barkley decided to stop pretending he was mortal was pretty cool, though.

    8. Georgia.

    Destroyed Vanderbilt, 45-14. Georgia let Vandy do nothing while rushing for 423 yards of offense, making Vandy look like vintage Vandy.

    I know, as Americans we enjoy making our emotions into facts and creating our own realities. I’m not immune: For at least 14 minutes in 2015, I believed Jim McElwain was going to turn Florida around. That said, we might have to all take a deep breath and be honest about all of the following things:

    • This Georgia team is very good, easily the second best team in the SEC.
    • The Florida team that would’ve otherwise been due for ruining UGA’s season just got a transitive loss to Troy.
    • A Saban assistant was hired in the SEC East and did ... well?
    • The only game left on the schedule with any real menace is Auburn.

    Given the history of the Auburn-Georgia rivalry, the only definite outcomes are pain, confusion, and a few arrests the family lawyer will have to help plea out in court the week after the game. Say it with me: “Your honor, Thad Livingston Maisewell is sorry about stealing that boat, and since he was emotional from the football game, and because it is his first offense—-”

    9. Washington.

    An efficient 38-7 win over Cal. Efficient is a word you use to describe a game in which the Huskies defense only allowed 93 yards, and in which Jake Browning ran an option keeper in for a TD on fourth-and-2 because he could, probably while laughing. The schedule still sucks, which isn’t their fault, but it does kick in one entertaining possibility: a Huskies team that has to pull for Washington State to get to the Apple Cup undefeated.

    10. Wisconsin.

    Defeated Nebraska, 38-17. A confession: I swear Wisconsin lost a game already. It hasn’t, but if Wisconsin misses out on the Playoff, let’s go ahead and blame it on The Mandela Effect and a loss to TCU in Week 2 that never happened.

    11. San Diego State.

    Won 41-10 over UNLV. Well, let’s just see how this went and —

    — yes, yes, it went just fine.

    12. UCF.

    51-23 over Cincinnati in just three quarters. You might want to stay the hell away from UCF right now.

    13. Navy.

    A 48-45 win over Air Force in which Navy rushed for only 471 yards. ONLY.

    WISELY AVOIDED PLAYING FOOTBALL THIS WEEK

    USF.

    LOST TO MICHIGAN STATE, COACHED BY MARK DANTONIO, THE MAN WHO ON THE HAPPIEST NIGHT OF A MICHIGAN FAN’S LIFE WILL BE WAITING, WAITING PATIENTLY, THERE IN THE RAIN AND THE DARK AND THE COLD, HOLDING A LEAD PIPE AND WAITING FOR YOU TO FORGET THAT ALL HAPPINESS IS FLEETING AND THAT ONLY VENGEANCE IS A CONSTANT; HE’S SMILING BECAUSE HE KNOWS THAT YOU WILL SLIP FOR A MOMENT, AND IN THAT MOMENT FALL INTO THE DARK, BITTER SUNSHINE OF HIS VENGEANCE!!!

    Um, yeah. Michigan.

    LOST TO IOWA STATE AT HOME BECAUSE [FILE NOT FOUND, STILL PROCESSING]

    Oklahoma.

    ANY ONE-LOSS TEAMS TO CONSIDER YET?

    There are still two undefeated teams in the state of Washington alone. In other words: It’s still too damn early for that.


    0 0

    The Top Whatever is a weekly ranking of only the college football teams that really need to be ranked at the moment. If you’re looking for the polls, those will be over here.

    1. Alabama.

    A boring, crushing, pleasantly consistent, 41-9 win over Arkansas.

    Tell everyone who tried to find a different No. 1 team: welcome back. We tried to find others. How’d that work out? Did the Tide not process everyone like so much meat falling into the grinder? Did they not render almost every game a tedious scrimmage after the first 15 minutes?

    Did that OTHER TEAM — maybe one you chose instead of Alabama as the nation’s best team — do something really stupid, like lose to Syracuse? On a Friday, no less? Did that OTHER TEAM go to Tempe and make a few late-night mistakes? (To be fair: Tempe is made for mistakes.) Did that OTHER TEAM, which seemed so much shinier and more interesting, score three points in a blowout at Cal? Did the diamond in the rough do something drastic, like losing to an underachieving Boise State?

    They probably did. Everyone learned a few old lessons in Week 7.

    1. Alabama remains the least entertaining and steadiest bet because of its bottomless depth chart and its ability to run the ball, pass just enough to win, and reduce whatever the opposing team is attempting to do to ashes by the second quarter.
    2. Coming off a disappointing performance against Texas A&M, the Tide were the surest bet in the college football universe to win a blowout. This is mostly because Nick Saban undoubtedly made life for everyone around him a living hell this week, right down to his 8,827 coach-strong consultancy watching film until their eyes bled.
    3. It’s cute to consider other teams, even if Alabama might — might — be beatable with a perfect storm. The offense remains largely one-dimensional and dependent on the run. The defense, like all defenses, can be broken down by a mobile quarterback having an insanely good game. The Tide fumbled two punts against Arkansas, something Saban mentioned in his postgame presser, because of course Saban mentioned that in his postgame presser.

    They’re beatable, but they won’t do things to embarrass you. They won’t call you from jail in Syracuse, talking about how they lost a bar fight with a giant orange. They won’t have a crazy story about losing your debit card in a bar in Arizona. (Those charges afterward are going to be weird.) They won’t lose to Cal. Alabama might do a lot of things in 2017, but dammit, we swear this: it won’t embarrass you by losing to Cal.

    2. Georgia.

    Won a rollicking, 53-28 matchup with Mizzou. That may look like a lot of points to give up to Missouri, but remember that playing the Tigers in 2017 is a lot like facing a button-masher in a fighting video game. They don’t know what they’re doing, everything good that happens is an accident, and after an initial flurry, they will collapse.

    At 7-0, there are few mysteries about Georgia. It plays brilliant defense. Its finesse/speed back, Sony Michel, hit poor DeMarkus Acy so hard, his feelings should have been hurt. When your speed back is doing things like that, you are in a rare, rare space as a football team.

    When Georgia’s gone 7-0 before, it meant SEC titles at least, and in one modern case — the hallowed 1980 season — it meant a national championship. There is no snide joke about inevitably losing to Florida or Alabama here. I’ve been preparing my soul for the real possibility of consistently good Georgia football for several months now. For your own protection, I suggest you do the same.

    3. TCU.

    A 26-7 win over Kansas State. The Frogs continue to be whatever they have to be. Kansas State wanted to dominate possession, so TCU shut down the K-State run game, especially in short-yardage situations K-State has long dominated. From there, it was a matter of Kenny Hill being efficient, the Horned Frogs’ defense putting pressure on a backup quarterback, and the defense carrying the team.

    And if the circumstances are reversed next week against Kansas — indulge the fantasy for a moment, OK — then TCU can probably still win, because it remains one of the few real complete teams. The offense can be efficient or explosive as needed, and the defense can apply pressure or fall back in coverage.

    TCU is not the most talented team in the nation, and that might not matter at all because it is the most flexible. Flexible is hard to beat: Just when you think you have one thing covered, TCU reaches an inch farther than you can and creates a whole new problem just out of your reach. (Also: Kenny Hill, efficient quarterback! 2017 is stranger than we could have predicted.)

    4. Miami.

    A 25-24 thriller over Georgia Tech. Miami may or may not be a very good team overall, but I feel confident saying this:

    Also, the Canes beat a mean-ass Georgia Tech team custom-built for the letdown game Miami was supposed to have after beating Florida State. That’s no small accomplishment, especially since Miami politely handed Tech a touchdown on a failed surprise onside kick attempt.

    This ended up being completely worth it since it broke commentator/perpetually terrified risk-phobe Rod Gilmore’s brain for the remainder of the game. If Rod Gilmore called the X Games, he would die screaming sometime in the second hour. “WHY WOULD YOU GO UPSIDE DOWN, EVER? WHY? IT’S TOO DANGEROUSSSSSSS—”

    5. Wisconsin.

    Beat Purdue, 17-9, a victory that is worth more than it used to be, via Purdue being interesting and good now. Wisconsin will probably win the West. Then, it will clean out the remainder of its schedule and step bravely into the ring in Indianapolis to take a 30-point loss from whatever monster roars in from the Big Ten East.

    And that’s fine, because remember: Wisconsin will probably finish with a lovely, fat bowl junket to enjoy, and its former coach, Gary Andersen, just gave up $12 million so he could leave Corvallis, Oregon. Context is everything.

    6. USF.

    Defeated Cincinnati 33-3. The Department of Zero Sum Thinking would like to point out that, given the sludge remaining on the schedule, the Bulls should launch a PR campaign to pump up the reputation of the UCF Knights. UCF is the only remaining team of quality on the Bulls’ schedule, and USF needs to do everything it can to make that look like a Playoff play-in game.

    We recommend targeting gullible voters and influencers with fake articles on Facebook in order to boost the reputation of the American Athletic Conference. Please click to share “TULSA BEATS BAMA 56-0” and “NAVY SINKS OHIO STATE 45-2 AT HOME” with all of your online friends. It’s worked before.

    7. UCF.

    Torched a hapless ECU team, 63-21. Like USF, there’s not much left on the schedule. However, whatever is left will be burned to the foundation, because UCF had 33 first downs yesterday, will probably have 30 first downs in every game moving forward, has a top-five yardage offense, and is hoarding the allotment of offensive touchdowns granted to the entire state of Florida. A terrifying team to face right now, and one that will probably blow up someone up in a major bowl game.

    WISELY AVOIDED PLAYING FOOTBALL THIS WEEK

    Penn State. Please remember that the Top Whatever ranks only the teams that played this week. The Nittany Lions are a Playoff-quality team at this point and can hammer that point home against a punchless Michigan squad that destroyed them in their last meeting. Will someone email me about this, failing to read all the way down or understand the concept? YOU BET THEY WILL, READER.

    SOME OF THE ONE-LOSS TEAMS I’LL PROBABLY START PEPPERING IN NEXT WEEK, WHEN AND IF I FEEL LIKE IT, PRESENTED IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER

    • Ohio State. J.T. Barrett threw five TDs in a single game against Nebraska. Yes, that’s legal now.
    • Oklahoma. Baker Mayfield flew off the field after a win over Texas wearing a golden cowboy hat and riding an invisible horse. This sentence is literal, and we are making nothing up.
    • NC State. We’re just as shocked as you are, OK?
    • Clemson. Injuries piling up really shouldn’t relegate it to the B-pile just yet. Also, and we say this with all sincerity: Syracuse was due to kneecap someone, and Clemson walked in at exactly the wrong moment.
    • Michigan State. [gestures at undefeated record in Big Ten, waves hands, shrugs, walks away from chalkboard dotted with inscrutable equations, shaking head]
    • Michigan. Starting to think over-leveraging a team’s futures on the market based mostly on a blowout of an impotent Florida might have been a bad idea.
    • Notre Dame. Starting to think shorting a team’s futures on the market based mostly on a narrow loss to a really good Georgia might have been a bad idea.
    • USC. Sam Darnold didn’t throw an interception against Utah despite throwing the ball 50 times. Darnold threw 9 INTs for the entire 2016 season; he’s thrown nine in 2017. This is what an optimist would take away from this: Apparently Darnold just gets nine INTs in a season, can budget them however he likes, and got them all out of the way early this year. He did fumble twice and lose another off a teammate’s facemask, however.
    • Washington. It will be so hard to justify putting the Huskies in a Playoff, given the weakness of that schedule, and their losing in the exact, excruciating way they lost to Arizona State. Plus their rivalry game got a lot less lustrous rankings-wise, thanks to Wazzu completely befouling its bed at Cal. WASHINGTON STATE TRANSITIVELY RUINING YOUR SEASON, HUSKIES! Even their losses spite you.
    • Kentucky. If you got this far down in the column, congratulations on paying attention and realizing that Kentucky is 5-1, and would be 6-0 if it had decided to cover two Florida receivers. We’re probably not going to rank the Wildcats just yet, but thank you for reading this far. The best easter eggs are the ones you don’t have to make up.


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