Sunday, November 01, 2009

Can your quarterback beat up an evil pinata? Let's see how good your QB really is! (Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!)

November 1, and the day football fans have been awaiting for months is finally here. That's right: Noah and the Whale's new album, The First Days of Spring, is coming out.

That's the only thing that's really exciting today. Forget the whole Brett vs. Packers game that takes place this afternoon. I mean, yeah, I'll watch it, and you should watch it, and everyone should watch it (Packer fans, I'm sure you can get someone to help you work your television sets) but it's not a big deal.

I mean, really, am I the only one who remembers Favre playing against the Packers a few weeks back? On a Monday night? Favre did awesome, remember? The Vikings manhandled the Packers, with the latter only making the game seem close at the end in garbage time? No? Really?

Maybe I dreamed that.

But I didn't dream that Noah and the Whale is releasing a new album, at just the perfect time, just as my Month of Not Listening To Music I've Heard Before is ending. Let's check it out:

That is great, isn't it? Some things are just so awesome, so perfect, that you never get tired of them.

Like Brett Favre.

See how I came around to that? Caught you by surprise, didn't I?

This week, even though the two already met up, and even though Favre pwned (as kids say, because kids are dumb) Rodgers, this week people have been talking on sports radio and in the newspapers and on TV, I'm sure, although I haven't watched much TV this week and the main thing I did watch was Pinata: Survival Island, a totally underrated horror movie starring Jaime Pressley as someone who is going to get killed by a pinata, I think. (Don't spoil it for me: I haven't finished the movie yet.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah: This week, people have been talking about who is better, Favre or Rodgers.

Now, first off, that's a stupid question. It's like asking: Which is better, the greatest person ever to do something, or someone who's pretty good at it? Or, which is better, pizza or a smack in the face with a cold, wet sock?

(Favre being pizza and Rodgers being a cold wet sock. Sorry, Aaron: Sometimes metaphors aren't pretty.)(And I'm not really sorry; Aaron Rodgers signed a contract last fall which guaranteed him $20 million. How much are you guaranteed to earn in your lifetime? Guaranteed. If every pass Aaron Rodgers throws from here on out is an interception, he'll make $20 million. The median household income in the US is about $50,000, so more than 1/2 the people in the US will, in the course of their lifetime, make at best 1/10 the money Rodgers is guaranteed over the next few years. So if I want to compare him to a cold wet sock, then I'm going to do that and not feel bad about it all. He can console himself with money.)

I need to calm down a little. Let's here some more Noah and The Whale:

That was even better! I might skip the anticlimactic Vikings-beatdown-of-the-Packers and go wait in line for the CD.

I might do that, not just because it's a rerun -- I've seen this game before, not long ago -- and not just because the outcome is as predetermined as what's going to happen on December 21, 2012 (The sea will turn purple, the ice caps will drift into space as gravity reverses itself, and the world will begin spinning backwards, reversing time and sending humanity back upon itself to the dawn of creation where it will all start all over again, the same only different...)

but also because in the Favre-vs.-Rodgers battle, Favre wins, hands down, as a better quarterback and as a more interesting quarterback, and that likely means Favre's team wins, hands down today, too.

How can I say that Favre is a hands-down better quarterback than Rodgers? Easy: I have access to the Patented Nonsportsmanlike Conduct! Test Of How Good Your Quarterback REALLY is (as measured by some football stuff and the Pinata: Survival Island standards).

This Test, which has been around since I made it up on the spot just now, is the test of how good your quarterback is, and it's got just three steps, making it easy and fun.

Now, keep in mind that when I invented this test, two paragraphs ago, I had not yet seen the entire movie of Pinata: Survival Island, so I'm forced to fill in a few gaps... as you might be, if you are one of the very few people in existence who have not yet enjoyed this movie. So to help you out, let me give you a quick plot recap:

In Pinata: Survival Island, an ancient indian tribe creates a clay pinata to capture the evil spirits that are destroying their village. Once they do so, they set the pinata adrift in a river, and the pinata-full-of-evil (available exclusively at Wal-Mart!) ends up on "Survival Island," an island run by what can only be described as the World's Worst University Research Department, as when it's not being used for "research," the island is used by sororities and fraternities in a contest to see who can gather up the most pairs of underwear.

I know what you're thinking: Man, that's pretty much the plot of every movie, ever. But you're wrong: It's just the plot of all the Academy Award-winning movies. Every movie that's ever won Best Picture has, in some way, borrowed from the plot of Pinata: Survival Island, even the ones that were made before Pinata. (And, yes, even the ones that starred Dame Judi Dench.)

Now that you're up to speed on the movie, let's run the Patented Nonsportsmanlike Conduct! Test Of How Good Your Quarterback REALLY is (as measured by some football stuff and the Pinata: Survival Island standards).

Test Number One: How many big games has your team won with this quarterback/do you have what it takes to build the perfect clay Pinata and capture evil spirits that are tormenting your village?

The only important thing for most sports teams is: making money by selling you junk. Don't kid yourself: Sports teams are about making money, not winning big games. Winning big games is what fans want. Making money is what sports teams want, and if they can make money without ever winning a big game (or a game, period) they'll do it. Just ask Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders. If sports teams can make money without ever even playing a big game, they'll do that, too -- just ask University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, who admitted this fall that UW schedules games against easy teams because they want to get to a bowl game and have their fans go there. You'll never compete for a national title, Wisconsin fans. Never.

But fans like big games, and winning big games is how fans measure how good their team is, and when fans like their team, they buy stuff from their team's pro shops. So winning big games is important to quarterbacks, too, and winning big games is the first measure of how good your quarterback is.

"Big games" are any game that the media, or fans, place importance on. For Packers fans and Vikings fans, today is a big game. Rivalries are big games. Playoff games are, of course, big games. Even the Superbowl sometimes counts as a big game. Monday Night Football used to be a big game before they moved it to basic cable where nobody watches it anymore. Note to NFL Executives: If your game isn't on every TV set in America, it's not a big game. And not everybody in America watches ESPN.

When big games roll around, the pressure gets increased on all the players, but none moreso than the one guy who's going to touch the ball on most of the plays, who calls the signals, who will likely be the one with the ball in his hand on the final snap as you wait for your team to complete the 4th-and-long Hail Mary, or blow it. The increased attention means increased pressure and increased emphasis. The other teams play better in big games, the other players around you expect more, and either you deliver, or you don't.

Just like the Village Shaman in Pinata: Survival Island, who knew that his village was dying around him but who kept working, undaunted, carefully crafting each and every element of the pinata, almost lovingly, making sure that every piece fit together perfectly. He understood that there's just one chance to get that evil spirit into the pinata, and if he failed, then... well, then, I suppose he could start again, the way most quarterbacks will get another chance at a big game and might win that one. But the analogy stands.

In the Favre-vs-Rodgers debate, the answer, as I've pointed out, is clear: Favre is better in big games. I can say that because Rodgers has played in only three big games in his career, and he lost two of them.

Most Packer fans were introduced to Rodgers when Favre left a big game against Dallas, and Rodgers came in to fill in for him, on national TV against a team that, like the Packers then, was unbeaten. Rodgers... lost. He played okay, I guess... but he lost. He came in, in a big game, taking over for a beloved Green Bay icon, and he ... lost.

Then, last year, after the Packers shoved Favre aside, Rodgers got his first start as the Packers Anointed One, a start he won (barely, but he won it). Then, this year, Rodgers played in the third big game of his career... and he lost.

Rodgers is 1-of-3 in big games. Favre, on the other hand, has won big game after big game. Since losing the first game in which he took over as Packers QB (people forget Favre came in against Tampa Bay, and lost), Favre has won big game after big game. Yes, he's lost some, too, but he's won more than he's lost, and will continue to win more big games than he loses.

Other quarterbacks who do well in big games include Ben Roethlisberger (who might be the greatest Superbowl quarterback ever), Peyton Manning (now that he's out of college), and Kurt Warner. Quarterbacks who aren't so good in big games -- who suck, in other words -- include Tony Roveratedmo, and Donovan McNabb. (Note: Because he cheated, Tom Brady is ineligible for this test.)

Test Number Two: How Does Your Quarterback Deal With Change/have you recently broken up with someone who is on this island and about to be handcuffed to you?

The second measure of how good your quarterback is how he handles things being different, whether he can weather adversity and take on new teammates or systems or conditions. Quarterbacks can fit systems perfectly, and play well in a system, but not be great quarterbacks. That's what everyone says about Tim Tebow, for example, and lots of college quarterbacks are great in college, where they're playing against inferior opponents, but not so great in the pros, where everyone has a similar talent level.

Nowhere is it more important to adapt to changing conditions than when you are on Survival Island, having recently broken up with your girlfriend, only to find that part of the game involves handcuffing one fraternity member to one sorority member and then sending them out into the jungle armed with plastic bags to gather up the more-than-25,000 pairs of underwear that have been scattered around the island for the big "Scavenger Hunt." In such adverse circumstances, many might struggle; they might even refuse to go out into the jungle at all... which ends up saving them from the Pinata, at least at first, but which, you know, isn't being a team player and all that.

Joe Montana won, I think, 33 consecutive Superbowls, but he did that on one team where nothing ever changed, ever. The snacks in the vending machine at Candlestick Park were the exact same, in 1992, as they were when Joe Montana was drafted, in the then-37th round of the NFL draft, just behind (as legend has it), a wombat. Compare that to Ben Roethlisberger, who's won two already, under two different coaches. Or to Favre, who has been to the playoffs under 3 different coaches.

Matt Cassel was good last year in New England, and sucks this year in Kansas City. Rob Johnson -- Mr. Glass-- was inexplicably good in Jacksonville, explicably bad in Buffalo, and nonexistent in Tampa Bay. (Still, he has a Superbowl ring.) They're bad quarterbacks. Drew Brees was good in San Diego, and great in New Orleans. He's a good quarterback. Doug Flutie was great everywhere he went. He's a great quarterback. The lesson for quarterbacks is: When life handcuffs you to your ex-girlfriend, you've got go get out into that jungle anyway, and beat up that Pinata.

Test Number 3: Is your quarterback/movie about people on an island fighting a haunted pinata fun to watch?

This is a dual-purpose test. First, as I tell people over and over, sports is entertainment. That means your game should be entertaining. If it's not fun to watch, why are you watching?

But there's more to this test than that. If your quarterback is entertaining, that means that he's making big plays, taking chances, running and throwing and trying. That's the mark of a good...even great quarterback.

Coaches, players, sportscasters, always say: He's got to play smart. Take the sack. Throw it out of the back of the end zone. Establish the run. But quarterbacks don't have to do that. They have to try, and they have to make big plays. They're not the focal points of the offense just because they're paid $20,000,000, guaranteed over a few years; they're the focal points of the offense because they call the plays, read the defenses, run the show, and they have the ability to make things happen.

In sports, when things happen, teams win. (Or lose, sure, but mostly win.) A quarterback who's safe, who's not fun to watch, will hand off the ball, will, when hit, go down and take the safe sack, will toss the ball out of bounds on third-and-long... and will mostly lose. Especially when they need to make things happen, at the end of games or when down by 20 points. If your whole life is based on playing it safe, what are you going to do when you suddenly need to take a risk? If everytime you're in trouble, you throw the ball away, what about when you're in trouble and it's 4th down and you're down a touchdown and need a score on this final play?

You won't know how to react, that's what. You'll be safe, and you'll lose, because you can't think big, movement, exciting, make-stuff-happen thoughts.

Quarterbacks who are fun to watch will scramble around all the time, will try to make plays happen, will helicopter themselves across the goal line in the Superbowl, will shovel-pass to a guy out of the pocket, will audible on the first pass play of the Superbowl, will toss crazy, falling down backwards, cover-your-eyes Hail Marys... and sure, some of them will fail, and sometimes a guy will fumble and Pittsburgh will pick it up and run it in for a score that didn't really matter, anyway, but sometimes, that guy will throw a pass to the back of the endzone, throwing it perfectly even though two 49ers are draped across him and he's about to go down, and your team will win.

Sometimes, things that are cover-your-eyes awful are a lot of fun to watch. Sometimes, you'll turn on the TV and think What are these kids doing on this island, anyway, and who fills pinatas with tequila? But then you'll realize that it's not only more fun to watch than you expected, but you're actually getting into it, and you want them to escape that pinata and get back to their fun and games.

Okay, that won't happen. You'll continue to mock the movie Pinata: Survival Island, but you'll watch it and enjoy it, and you'll find a way to relate it to quarterbacks who are so great, so competitive, that they never want to give up on a play, and in their indomitable efforts, they'll make more big plays than they blow, and set themselves up as great, scrambling to throw a cross-body pass 50 yards against Seattle in the Superbowl. And that greatness, that unwillingness to give up, is necessary in great quarterbacks, because if they just gave up and played smart, nobody would ever come back from down 38-3 in the 3rd quarter to improbably win in overtime and get back to the Superbowl, nobody would ever lead a game-winning drive against the Bengals to win a Superbowl, nobody would ever break out of a pack of tacklers to heave-ho a toss to David Tyree that would keep a drive alive...

Great quarterbacks keep trying, and that makes them fun to watch. You don't have to be great to be fun to watch -- Pinata: Survival Island proves that-- but if you're fun to watch, the odds are you're great.

Now: Play us out, "Noah and the Whale:"

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