Sunday, September 13, 2009

Football On The Radio, The Importance Of Being Close To Canada, And a Quick Latin Lesson. (Nonsportsmanlike Conduct! 2)

You can now watch football on a giant HDTV that's roughly a half-mile long, and all it'll cost you is the price of a ticket into the cleverly-named Cowboys Stadium. Although I suppose I shouldn't complain about the name, since many stadia* (*you can check that out: It's the correct way to say "more than one stadium.**")(**and also the correct name for "a surveying method for determination of distances and differences of elevation by means of a telescopic instrument having two horizontal lines through which the marks on a graduated rod are observed"***)(***Now, you know.)... since many stadia are named after their sponsors, or more than one sponsor, which means that Cowboys Stadium could have ended up as either "Jerry Jones Field" (he financed $900,000,000 of the cost) or "City of Arlington Field" (Arlington taxpayers paid $300,000,000 towards the new stadium). If the name had been left up to me, I'd pick "How Can You Tell Me We Can't Finance Health Care When We Live In A Country Which Can Install a $40 Million Dollar Television Over A Football Field Stadium," but that'd be hard to fit on a t-shirt.

It would not be hard to fit that on the Cowboys' new HDTV, which is so large that it actually interferes with games and may have to be raised a little higher, at an additional cost of $2 million. So if you're keeping score at home it's:

Amount of money Americans are willing to spend on ensuring that little kids get kidney transplants:


Amount of money Americans are willing to spend on giant televisions on which they can watch Tony Romo choke away another season:


Maybe, before Timmy dies,
you could wheel him in and let
him look at what society values
more than his life.

That giant television is necessary, though, because most fans won't be able to actually see the game live, because they'll have terrible seats that will be a million miles away from the field and located in the end zone region. So they'll watch on TV even though they're there to see the game live, instead of on TV, and they'll pay a lot of money to watch a giant TV instead of the actual players on the actual field. Jerry Jones, the master fundraiser, didn't exactly finance the stadium himself; he financed it on the backs of Dallas Cowboy fans (there might still be 1 or 2 out there), who will now pay the highest prices in the league to watch their team win the first 10 games, then finish 11-5, then lose in the first round of the playoffs.

But they'll see it in glorious, giant HDTV!
Suck it, Timmy!

The cost of a family of four to attend a game at "How Can We Ever Afford Health Care Field?" $758.58. That'll get you four tickets, two small beers, four small soft-drinks, four "regular-size" hot dogs, parking, and two game programs. (Can't the kids share?) That's nearly double the NFL average (of $412.84) this year.

That $758.58 is roughly equivalent to an average week's take home pay for Americans (who earned, on average, $61,500 gross in 2008.) But if you can't justify spending an entire week's pay on an afternoon at "God Forbid They Raise My Taxes 1% Just To Save A Couple Lives Field," there's an alternative: you could pay $29 to stand in a crowded hallway and watch the game on TV.

That's not the poetic description given to that experience by Mark Yost, a sports reporter for the Wall Street Journal (Really? That's got to be the least cool sports reporting job ever) who writes this:

"[W]hile much of the media focus has been on the suites that carry a $150,000 one-time license fee, the Cowboys also offer a $29 standing-room-only ticket that wasn't a last-minute response to the current economic doldrums. The railings around the lower bowl have small countertops, and the extra-wide open stairways were designed for standing fans. They offer great views and, for the price, are not a bad place to watch the game. The night I was here, fans were stacked 10 deep at the railings."

Yes, Mark waxed poetic (while sucking up to a billionaire) about the opportunity to stand "10 deep" in a crowd for only $29.

Then again, Mark also was so overwhelmed by the stadium that upon first seeing it, he (and I quote): "sat in the parking lot for a full half hour, sipping [his] coffee, and just stared at it."

Now, that's reporting. Or laziness.

Why would people spend $29 to go stand in a crowd and look up at the TV, when they could sit at home on a couch and look straight ahead at their own TV? I don't know. Especially because it's the Cowboys, who I guarantee will have a 2-3 record after Thanksgiving. Then again, I don't know why anyone would go to a game in person rather than watch it on TV, since going to a game in person is not only expensive but guarantees that you'll have a terrible view of the game, probably be too cold, and definitely get beer spilled on you by a fat lady who smells like chewing tobacco. (That latter applies only a Camp Randall Stadium, where the Wisconsin Badgers lose half their games each year.)

These girls do not actually attend the games.

Dan Patrick noted the other day on his radio show that it's better watching games at home, and I agree. I've been to (counting quickly in head) seven... maybe eight... live football games in my life, including a playoff game and Reggie White's last game as a Packer, and they were mostly miserable experiences. When the weather was nice and not freezing, I couldn't see the game. One game (Wisconsin vs. Northern Illinois) a quarterback got injured early in the game. I found out about it when I read about the game the next day.

Watching games live is not my favorite way to experience football; it's a distant third, or maybe fourth, or possibly fifth. It's behind "watching the too-short-highlights on ESPN that night," it's behind "reading about the game in the paper the next day," it's behind "watch at home until the third quarter when the pizza nachos put me to sleep," and it's definitely behind the number one way to "watch" football, which is: listen to it on the radio.

Really? This is an elaborate joke, right?

On Thursday night, the NFL season opened with a game I didn't care much about, Steelers-Titans. I had to run some errands with the Babies!, though, so I listened to the game on the radio while I did so, and listening to the game on the radio, I got to hear the exciting set of plays in the final two minutes of the first half where first the Steelers, than the Titans, scored touchdowns on quick drives with long passes.

The radio guys described the plays, and I drove along and imagined what was happening, pictured Roethlisberger fading back, clearing his mind of the lawyers' advice that afternoon, finding an open receiver and then throwing the pass. I was aided by the announcers' descriptions of receivers being wide open and how beautiful the passes were and the catches and more.

Then, as it turned out, I got to see those plays, too. The Boy was taping the game and so I watched that set of downs on TV, our big-screen TV with a great picture, and found I was disappointed. The actual plays weren't as good as I'd imagined them being in my mind. The football game was more exciting, the players bigger and faster, the passes longer, the receivers more wide open, the lights brighter, in my mind.

I first started listening to football on the radio back when Sweetie and I began dating. She lived about 60 miles from me, and sometimes I'd go drive my Ford Festiva up to visit her on Sundays. We'd hang out, maybe watch the Packers, maybe eat dinner, and then I'd have to drive home, 60 miles in my tiny car that shook when semis drove by it. The sun sets quickly in the fall and not many radio stations came in on that drive. This was the era before iPods, so my options were cassette tapes or radio, and many times I wanted the company of a human voice. I would tune in to the NFL game, whichever game was being played, and listen to that, picturing the games in my mind as I drove, imagining the players and the plays, the field goals and touchdowns and fumbles. I'd get a sense of how big the play really was by the pitch of the announcer's voice.

Driving through the dark, winding roads, I'd listen to the sounds of men playing games far away. In my solitary little metal cubicle, I'd hear the roar of the crowd and sometimes even hear something on the field. As I drove past sleeping farms and dark houses with warm glows flowing out of their windows, I'd focus on the road as the announcer told me someone was back to pass, it's up, and I'd drive and wait for it's caught or dropped or picked off and he's heading the other way.

The invisible men playing football in my mind ("kicking off, my right to my left..." announcers would say, and I'd picture them on the dashboard of the car) have always been larger and stronger and more enjoyable than the life-sized men playing on the football fields in real life. As my life has moved on, I'm driving less and less on Sundays, and I've gone from a small TV to a larger TV to now our big-screen TV with a DVR to do my own replays. I watch games in person, here and there, and on TV when I can. But Jerry Jones and the fans can have their HDTV and their giant stadiums. Even with all the technology I have at my hands, I look forward, still, to those times when I have an excuse to be in the car during the game, any game, and I can turn on the AM radio and hear the announcers' voice with that peculiarly flat echo that they have setting the stage: Favre is under center... they'll say, and I'll turn left for no particular reason other than to keep driving and listening.

And then I will forget that Sweetie sent me to get milk, and I'll cut off a driver in the other lane. Ahh, nostalgia!

With that said, it's time for the NC! Incredibly Accurate (But Arbitrary) NFL Picks! Longtime readers (there must still be 1 or 2) will remember that a while back I stopped attempting, in any way, to think through who will win or lose the NFL games, because thinking through and predicting who will win or lose the games is a futile exercise. It's been tested: If you want to pick the winners of an NFL game, the best possible method is pick the team with the better record. Or, if both teams have the same record, pick the home team. Tuesday Morning Quarterback named this "The Isaacson-Tarbell Postulate" and it's right just a shade over 2/3 of the time.

This graph has nothing to do with the post. But it looks scientific.

However, just because picking winners of games is entirely dependent on luck doesn't stop there from being an entire industry of people out there whose jobs are entirely devoted to watching football and thinking about football and picking football winners... people who still don't really do much better than Isaacson-Tarbell, even though they are highly paid and their entire existence revolves around knowing about football.

To point out how ridiculous it is to think that the "Experts" (ESPN actually calls them a Brain Trust and I'm not sure they're being sarcastic about that) can pick football with any degree of accuracy, I opted last year to begin making my picks on completely arbitrary criteria, criteria which I select before I even look at the schedule. I then compare those Arbitrary (but still Incredibly Accurate!) picks to a weekly expert to see who does better, and by how much.

I generally picked a guy named Jerry Greene, from the Orlando Sentinel, who is my arch-nemesis in that I didn't like his predictions or his jokes. Jerry was (is?) a good sport about it and got in contact with me last year shortly before I folded my old sports blog, and I was then surprised to see in the paper this morning that Jerry is retired. That led me to wonder: who am I going to pick on this year?, something I wondered only for a few minutes, because Jerry's not retired! He's still picking games and making terrible jokes and writing a blog, and he's still working the biz, now for a site called "The Beat of Sports," where you can enter a contest each week to Beat Jerry (but not literally.) So I've created an account there and I've made my picks, which I'll now publicize, and which I'll compare this week to Jerry's Picks. (Sniff! It's just like old times...)

Without further ado, then, here are The NC! Incredibly Accurate (But Arbitrary) NFL Picks! For Week 1. I'll give you some quick expert commentary, and then my arbitrary pick. My arbitrary criteria this week? Proximity to Canada. I am going to pick the team that is closer to Canada to beat the team that's further from Canada. Jerry, meanwhile, will be using all his sports acumen to determine who's going to win. Let's go!

Dolphins @ Falcons: I realized as I typed this that I don't know who coaches the Dolphins. Can someone email that to me? I feel like if I'm going to write about sports, I should know something about them. Then again, that never stopped Jerry. (Ba dum bum!) I'm here all week. Falcons.

Chiefs @ Ravens: I had to look up on a map which city was closer to Canada, but the map I chose, "America's Major Cities" map, didn't have Baltimore on it. Sorry, Baltimore: some cartographer thinks you're not a major city. Since most of Maryland is north of Kansas City, though, I'll go with Ravens.

Eagles @ Panthers: Does it help Michael Vick that Tony "Nicest Guy In Football" Dungy is on his side? Yeah, a little. Eagles.

Broncos @ Bengals: Demetri Martin said he likes to picture the actual namesakes fighting. That's funny. And in this case, would be good. (So would the last game, for that matter.) Bengals.

Vikings @ Browns: Favre-ever. Or something like that. It's been tougher and tougher coming up with Favre puns as his career extends. Vikings.

Jets @ Texans: One of these weeks, I'll remind everyone of the Immutable Laws of Football. Texans fans already know them. Jets.

Jaguars @ Colts: I was once almost in trouble for (allegedly) taking pictures of an armored car company in Indianapolis. We were actually trying to take pictures of the old Colts field. Colts.

Lions @ Saints: Speaking of Demetri Martin jokes, I believe this game was first played in the Colisseum circa 30 A.D. What, too soon? Detroit.

It's because I make jokes like this that I'm not welcome at many football parties.

Cowboys at Buccaneers: Dallas fans: for only twenty-eight bucks, I'll let you stand in my driveway and I'll holler out the window what's going on, while Mark Yost stares moonily at my garage door. Cowboys.

49ers @ Cardinals: Sweetie asked this morning: When's Kurt Warner going to retire? I think she's hoping to have a chance to put Matt Leinart in as Hunk of the Week. 49ers.

Sweetie's interest is solely in
improving the Cardinals'
passing game.

Redskins @ Giants: The Giants will pay Eli Manning a guaranteed $35 million over the next few years. NFL teams are set to pay just 8 quarterbacks a total of $268,450,000 -- that's $268 million -- in guaranteed money. One of those quarterbacks, Matt Stafford, has yet to take a snap in a real game and he's already been guaranteed $41.7 million, making him the highest paid quarterback on that list. Think about that when you pay your $29 to stand in a hallway at "What The Heck Is Wrong With This Country Field." Giants.

You heard me: Suck it, Timmy!

Rams @ Seahawks: One of the QBs on that list of guaranteed money guys is Marc Bulger of St. Louis. Marc is guaranteed $27 million dollars. Guaranteed. Is your pay guaranteed? The only way Marc Bulger doesn't get paid is if the St. Louis Rams cease doing business entirely and all their assets are snapped up by other creditors before Marc. Marc is 87-87 in his career as an NFL quarterback. In the NFL, mediocrity gets you $27 million, or $310,000 per win. Seahawks.

Bears @ Packers: This morning, we were discussing who's the best QB in the NFC North. When I said the Packers' Aaron Rodgers is the third best, Sweetie blurted in with: "3rd Best Looking." As The Boy and I stared at her, she clarified: "In the NFL." Packers.

Bills at Patriots* The Patriots* will keep that asterisk until Belicheat resigns. And, because Buffalo is just across the river from Canada, I get to go with my heart. Bills!

Chargers @ Oakland: Did you know Oakland Coach Tom Cable tried to kill an assistant in the offseason? Bodes well for that team, doesn't it? But the Arbitrary Picks say: Raiders.

Note: Jerry's Picks were not available as of when I wrote this. He's probably waiting for me to post mine so he can copy.

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