In the third quarter of the Cleveland Browns’ 28-32 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield completed a 41-yard pass to star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. And the home crowd rejoiced. At last! The Browns unlocked the puzzle. Mayfield had solved football. From here on out, he would simply throw one 41-yard completion after another, simple as that. “What will we do with all those touchdowns?” said the football-loving citizens of Cleveland, a place that would soon be known as Touchdown City.
There was a hitch. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was chewing a fresh piece of Juicy Fruit, and he was feeling frisky. He threw his red flag on the ground. In the game of pro football, a red flag is a coach’s way of saying, “Hey, everybody, you listen to me, and everything needs to stop right now because I have a complaint, I mean it!” And indeed, the whole stadium just drops everything to wait while an angry coach shares his beef with a person in a striped shirt.
On this day, Carroll’s argument was that Beckham didn’t actually “catch” the ball, so let’s all pump the brakes on this Touchdown City business, Carroll protested to referee Adrian Hill. After listening closely, Hill was obliged to give Carroll’s beef a close visual inspection. The ref examined various angles and declared the play would stand—and furthermore, Pete Carroll would only be allowed to throw the red flag once more, on account of him wasting everybody’s time.
According to the Fox broadcast, the standard that Hill, the referee, applied in reviewing Beckham’s catch/not-catch was to seek “clear and obvious” evidence that Beckham failed to complete a catch. “Clear and obvious” became an NFL catchphrase this summer after the league established that phrase as its benchmark for the newly sanctioned reviews of pass interference calls. Although it isn’t new terminology—this was already an NFL standard for existing replay reviews—football announcers have embraced the three magic words with a special vigor in 2019. “Clear and obvious” is the new “indisputable visual evidence.” They mean the same thing, which is not much.
The principle behind “clear and obvious” is sensible. In the justice system of football, you need some easy-to-understand guideline that brings consistency to human judgment call. It’s the same role that “beyond a reasonable doubt” provides in criminal trials. But where reasonable doubt is a rich and complicated legal concept, “clear and obvious” is, in practice, more of a cudgel.
This much is evident in the syntax of “clear and obvious,” which manages to be redundant in the space of three words. Is it possible for the nature of a play to be obvious without being clear, or vice versa? I struggle to imagine how. The rulebook could simply say that replay evidence must be “clear” to overturn a ruling, but the trouble is, this construction seems to leave a little room for interpretation. That is unacceptable—too truthful. Replay review is inevitably a matter of the officials’ interpretation, but this human subjectivity is the very reality that the NFL seeks to obscure.
Thus we get “clear and obvious.” Unlike puny little “clear,” it is a phrase you can say while pounding your fist on the table. Its redundancy is so insistent, everyone can tell that it means business. It is, by design, a way to explain a call without explaining anything. How do we know that replay evidence is clear and obvious? Well, if NFL officials decide it was, then obviously it was. And if they don’t, then it wasn’t, clearly. So kindly shut up.
“Indisputable visual evidence” is a different version of the same verbal shell game. If you want to dispute a call that was made on the basis of indisputable visual evidence, you must first dispute the disputability of the evidence, which the officials have already deemed indisputable by implication, applying the transitive property of indisputability. The league’s trick is to preemptively shift the conversation about a blown call into a dizzying metaphysical realm, so you lose the will to fight back, and the argument is over before it starts. (Colonel Cathcart would approve.)
Fox’s commentators used this maneuver to full effect on Sunday as they considered Pete Carroll’s failed challenge of the Beckham catch, in which the initial call of a reception stood. Summoning the network’s officiating analyst, Mike Pereira, play-by-play announcer Chris Myers said, “Once it’s ruled one way, unless it’s over-the-top obvious, clear, and all that—right, Mike?—they’re not going to change it.” Here Myers was freelancing a bit, adding an “over the top” requirement to the standard. In Myers’ mind, for a call to be overturned, it must be so comically erroneous that it could serve as the premise for a Tim & Eric sketch.
When it was his turn, Pereira applied the “clear and obvious” principle with a defter touch. He said:
Yeah, you know, Chris, I’m thinking, we’re sitting here, “I think. I think. Somewhat, maybe.” All those words, by the way—usually, that stands after that. You’re right. Either way they would have called this, I think it would have stayed as called. Tough play, but certainly not clear and obvious that the call was wrong.
See, in order to assess a replay review in the NFL, all you have to do is examine the fundamental nature of your inner doubt. Easy! Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo the call on the field stands.
Sure, we could have bickered all day over whether Odell Beckham Jr. truly caught the ball (a “catch” being an amorphous concept whose defining qualities, as specified in the NFL rulebook, are their own philosophical puzzle). But Mike Pereira cut off any such squabbling. To him, the only meaningful truth is that the play was certainly not obviously not a catch, and therefore justice was served. The Browns’ 41-yard gain remained intact.
Later in the drive, Mayfield ended Cleveland’s drive by throwing an interception, and Beckham’s spectacular catch went for naught. It was as if none of this had ever happened. That was for the best, clearly, obviously.
Ad Man X is an award-winning creative executive at a major national agency in Chicago. He has overseen TV ad campaigns, including Super Bowl commercials, for a variety of the major global brands that cheerfully control what we consume and think. He has agreed to share his expertise by commenting, under cover of anonymity, on ads that are in heavy rotation during NFL football broadcasts. (Ad Man X will not comment on any TV commercials in which he is professionally involved—all participation in Block & Tackle is completely unprofessional.)
For this edition of Ad Man X, I asked our expert to consider an antisocial Michelob Ultra spot and the astonishingly long-lived Bud Light “Dilly Dilly” universe. Plus, we check in on Baker Mayfield’s shapely buttocks.
Four men who are moderately attractive, and therefore just like you and me, take turns hitting a golf ball through the thoroughfares and back alleys of a densely populated urban area. At least, it would seem to be a densely populated urban area if it weren’t for the unsettling absence of people. After the foursome whacks the ball around for a while, it disappears down a sewer grate. Having successfully polluted the watershed with their sporting detritus, the men reward themselves with glasses of Michelob Ultra. A disembodied voice of Michelob implores us to follow the golfers’ example and “do it for the cheers.”
Block & Tackle: It’s convenient that the rest of the city is uninhabited for this little scene because these guys are doing something extremely hazardous. Please do not play golf in an urban area. “Play your course!” “We’re having such fun!” No, stop it. People could die.
Ad Man X: These four doofuses—imagine the calamity that would happen if I went on the roof of my building and fired a golf ball? I mean, the police have every right to just mow down this group because it’s so horrifying what they’re doing. [Laughs.] They must have cut out the scene where the ball struck a baby carriage on the street.
This is a brand of advertising that just tickles me because nobody will ever do this kind of advertising as well as Mentos did in the ’90s—where it’s just a bland little story and people are being slightly cheeky. When I saw this, the “doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo, oo-AHHH!” song started playing in my head.
From the insider’s view—Michelob tried to branch out and do some fairly interesting advertising last year. They were in the Super Bowl last year. Do you remember that Zoë Kravitz ASMR ad? That was this brand.
Love it or hate it, at least they tried to do something different in the Super Bowl. But then this [“Play Your Course” ad] just looks like a complete 180 from that. “Let’s try to do the most inoffensive, innocuous, bland-vertising in the world.” I’m so curious what led to this decision. Did sales plummet after Zoë? Or did the new brand manager just say, “Nope, nope, nope, let’s get back to the go-go ’90s”?
B&T: On a personal level, this commercial is a real roller coaster for me. Because I see these guys as representing the finance bros who are destroying American media. That’s who I project onto these characters, not that it’s such a big leap. These bros don’t care about anyone in the world but themselves, and so we see the world as they do—basically empty except for their golf buddies. Nobody else really matters.
AMX: Oh! I love that.
B&T: So I spend the first 20 seconds of the ad just fucking hating these guys. But then, at the end, they get their punishment because they have to drink this Michelob Ultra piss beer. So I feel like, okay, they get theirs in the end. In hell, this will be the only beverage they can drink. I can take solace from that.
AMX: Yes. I love it.
B&T: What do you make of the tagline “Do it for the cheers”?
AMX: I have no idea what that means. It looks like they threw a bunch of marketing words into a Boggle cup, and they poured it out. And this is what they got.
B&T: It’s almost a play on words, because they’re toasting each other when the line appears on screen, and I think it’s also supposed to be “cheers” as in “rah rah,” right? But there’s nobody around to cheer. Everybody has been slaughtered by their reign of golf terror.
AMX: Maybe these guys survived the zombie apocalypse, and yeah, there’s no one left. One guy’s like, “We’ve already driven all the sports cars and looted all the mansions. What do you guys want to do?”
B&T: You’re right. It’s like that Will Forte show from a couple years back, The Last Man On Earth.
AMX: I was thinking that Charlton Heston movie, The Omega Man. Four Omega Men. I kind of feel sad for them.
B&T: Don’t ask me to feel sorry for them. I will not. But I do feel bad for one character in our next ad.
A king admires himself in the mirror. An armored swordsman, Bud Knight, inquires whether the king is planning to go out for the evening. The king maintains that he is not, but Bud Knight senses that the king is bearing false witness. The king rushes outside to greet Bud Knight Platinum, who has a glowing sword, and they prepare to party (just as regular Bud Knight had suspected). Bud Knight makes plain that he is wise to the king’s deception. The king, however, makes no further effort to feign concern for the wounded feelings of his loyal charge.
AMX: My overall thought here is summed up with a Simpsons quote: “Stop, stop! He’s already dead!” These Bud Light commercials are created by, without a doubt, the greatest advertising agency working today. This is Wieden+Kennedy. This is the agency of “Just do it.” It’s the agency of—as close to art as you can get in advertising. Since we’re on the theme of feeling bad for people, I kind of feel bad for the people at the agency. Because [Wieden+Kennedy] is the top of the heap when it comes to advertising, and I just imagine the poor saps who have to do this stuff. Someone came up with the Bud Knight or whatever, a couple years ago, and they just keep pounding it into the ground.
B&T: Well, if you remember, it started with “Dilly Dilly.” But “Dilly Dilly” is gone now. They don’t say that anymore. Yet we remain in this world, this “What if Game Of Thrones, but beer?” world.
AMX: I will give them some credit. This is some of the best beer-holding I’ve seen in advertising. [Laughs.] I’ve done a beer commercial or two in my day. There’s someone [on the shoot] whose entire job it is to place the bottle correctly in these actor’s hands and then spritz the bottles with water—making the beer look great. Someone gets paid to do this. I know you have to show the bottle, but it’s the most awkward position for people. If they actually brought it to their lips, it would slip out of their hand and fly across the floor. It’s so precariously perched.
B&T: Now that you mention it, the wizard looks as if he’s holding a live bird. He couldn’t be holding it more delicately.
AMX: Yeah! It’s just not how human beings hold things. But I understand more than anyone that it’s just part of beer-land. And they’re nailing it. Every single one of them is holding it an eighth of the way up, with the logo pointing toward us.
You feel bad for the Bud Knight?
B&T: I don’t see why the Bud Knight can’t come along too. Why is he so roundly rejected? But I have to say—I know we’re shitting on this ad a little bit, but I have to tip my hat to the guy who plays the king in these ads, an actor named John Hoogenakker. I think he’s good.
AMX: Oh, I do, too. I do, too. My snarkiness aside, he plays this part pretty well, and he has continued to play this part well. He’s one of the funnier parts of this campaign. They did a nice job finding him, casting him. He wrings the comedy out of it with his delivery.
B&T: I also sent you a link to another ad in this series called “Roofed-Top Bar.” Now, watching football, I’ve seen this commercial a dozen times by now. But I never detected, until I saw the title of the video on YouTube, that the king says, “Ohhh, it’s the wrong roofed top.” Not “rooftop.” If you listen, he does enunciate those two words. I think it’s supposed to be a joke, but I don’t get it at all. I’m totally baffled as to what’s going on here.
AMX: I didn’t notice that. Hold on, let me look at it. [Watches the video again.] Oh, yeah! “Roofed top”! You’re right, he enunciates so clearly. And he’s such a good actor, it can’t be mispronunciation…
B&T: Clearly they directed him to say it that way. It’s so unnatural. But it’s just—there’s no joke there.
AMX: Have I gone this long in my life thinking that there are “rooftop bars,” when in reality they’re actually “roofed-top bars”?
B&T: If it were a roofed top, wouldn’t there be a roof over it? I think this is just a plain old rooftop.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield says goodbye to a series of guests as they depart the Cleveland Browns’ stadium, which we are to construe as Mayfield’s actual home if we are willing to accept the strained premise of this advertisement. It is understood that a raucous party has just concluded, and the guests have left Mayfield’s home (note: actually a football stadium, this is the entire gag) in a state of disarray. Mayfield tends to the mess with a Dustbuster, which is woefully inadequate for the task, but Mayfield does not understand this. He bends over as he uses the miniature vacuum. He looks at a sock. End of commercial.
B&T: I know we did a lot of Baker Mayfield last time. But I wanted to come back because this campaign has continued, and may continue for eternity. They certainly got a lot of material out of this one shooting day.
AMX: I do not want you to denigrate the greatest commercial actor working today, Baker Mayfield. He is our Marlon Brando. [Laughs.]
B&T: Yes, exactly. He’s not phoning it in. He’s phoning it in to another telephone, which is then phoning it in on his behalf.
AMX: They may have recreated him digitally. [Adopts robot voice.] “I am hu-man now.”
B&T: But then the way it ends—here’s young, handsome, strapping, fit athlete Baker Mayfield. And they decide to make him bend over, and then bend over some more. He can’t act, so they are going to exploit his other assets, so to speak. I feel confident that the agency people know exactly what they’re doing here, but does Baker Mayfield know what they’re doing?
AMX: You know what, I think that he must fancy himself a comedian. Because they are praising him up and down, telling him how funny he is. The crew is howling every time he squeaks out one of these lines. So then they’re like, “Baker, Baker, Baker. You know what would be funny? You know what would really kill this? If you bent over in front of the camera.” And he’s like, “Done. That’s funny. I’m going to put that on my comedy reel.”
B&T: Yeah. He doesn’t know he’s being exploited a little bit.
AMX: At the beginning of this [shoot], he barely even knew what he was up to that day. His agent was like, “Baker, they’ll fly in, take you out to a nice dinner, and tomorrow you’ll shoot this little thing.” He probably had seen the script a long time ago and said, “Yup, whatever. What’s the money?”
And now he’s sitting here, and he’s three steps behind the entire day. They’re setting up and saying, “Okay, Baker, you’re going to sit here and deliver this line.” He’s like, “Uh-huh, uh-huh.” I guarantee he’s on his phone the entire time. And then they say, “Okay, Baker, we’re ready!” He says, “What’s my line?” They deliver it to him, he reads it five times, and then he’s racing out of there to go to his next thing.
B&T: We do get a glimpse of what Baker’s day was like in an outtakes reel, which—I don’t know why this video exists. Nothing happens in it. This is the definition of scraping for material.
AMX: When a television show does outtakes—the great outtake videos assume one thing, that the actual content itself is watchable. That you’re someone who enjoys the actual show so much, you need to see more. I think the people who created this may have missed that little tidbit.
B&T: Yeah, outtakes’ whole raison d’etre has been overlooked by the creative team here. I especially object to the fact that on YouTube, the preview image for this video has the word “OUTTAKES!” with an exclamation point. Never was a piece of footage less deserving of an exclamation point than these shots of Baker sitting with his wife and sometimes putting trash in a bag. That’s about all he does.
AMX: This smacks of a social media jerk who convinced the client to do something stupid. We walk into these meetings, and you get a social media person who’s like, “There can never be enough content. Content, content, content.” You know this as much as anyone: You can never fill the giant maw of social media with enough content. They said, “We’ll just edit together a bunch of outtakes and throw it up, and people will love it.”
Think of the cost to finish this outtakes video. To color correct it, to edit it, do sound—the man-hours—it has to be into the tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say it’s less than $100,000. I just checked on YouTube, and there’s like 4,000 people who have watched it.
B&T: I noticed the same thing. There’s 4,800 views, and some 4,700 of those are me preparing for this interview.
AMX: So I’m not sure about that investment.
One of the most deceptive pieces of camerawork in pro football is the shot that usually follows a punt kicked way out of bounds. When a punt goes out of bounds before hitting the ground, the rules call for the ball to be spotted where the ball crossed the boundary in midair. What we typically see on TV in this situation—like in the above example from last night’s Chiefs-Broncos game—is an official walking up the sideline until they suddenly stop and decree that this, here, is where the ball crossed into the nether region.
To the home viewer, it certainly appears that the official blithely strides up to their best guess of the ball’s path. And it would have to be a pretty rough guess. With the ball coming toward them at an angle, the sideline official would be relying on depth perception and some dodgy mental trigonometry to determine the spot. It does not come across as a well-considered system.
But the visual story is misleading. The thing to understand is that sideline officials don’t track the football at all on a punt. Rather, that is the job of the referee—who is positioned behind the punting team and has a better vantage point as a result. The referee watches the ball and then, once the play is over, aligns his gaze with the path the ball took out of bounds, with his arm extended upward. At the same time, the nearest sideline official starts walking along the boundary. When he crosses into the referee’s line of sight, the ref drops his arm, and the sideline official knows to stop. In seconds, they have teamed up to accurately locate the point where the ball intersected the plane of the boundary.
Once in a while, you’ll see a punt so short that the entire operation can be glimpsed within the TV frame, provided you know what to look for. Above is one such example from Sunday’s aforementioned Seahawks-Browns contest. In the upper-left corner of the frame, watch referee Adrian Hill after the play. (This week’s column is the most media attention Adrian Hill has ever gotten in his life.) Hill is in the white hat—tiny but just barely discernible, so I have enhanced the crucial moment in the clip with cutting-edge “make this part of picture big” technology. Hill gets in position, and then, when field judge Land Clark intersects his line of vision, Hill gives an authoritative “stop right there” motion.
Geometry: It works!
Football officials: They’re not as dumb as you imagine!
Block & Tackle is the exclusive home of the QuantumPick Apparatus, the only football prediction system that evaluates every possible permutation of a given NFL week to arrive at the true victor in each contest. Put simply, Block & Tackle picks are guaranteed to be correct. When a game’s outcome varies from this column’s prediction, the game is wrong.
In Week 6 NFL action, seven games corresponded with the QuantumPicks, and seven games were incorrect. Seen above is a partial screenshot of the readout from ESPN’s “Pigskin Pick’em,” the interface through which the Apparatus makes its divinations known to me. (The Apparatus used to employ the superior pick-’em machine at NFL.com, but the league dismantled it this year—probably because it wasn’t clear and obvious enough.) As you can see, the weekend was an ongoing tug-of-war between the correct, rational harmony of reality and the disorienting forces of unreality. O frabjous football! All mimsy were the Broncos, and the home teams outgrabe. (Overall season record: 53-39.)
Teams determined to be victorious by the QuantumPick Apparatus are indicated in SHOUTING LETTERS.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS vs. Denver Broncos (Fox) (timestamped pick): Some games can be summed up in a single GIF. This was one of those games.
Los Angeles Rams vs. ATLANTA FALCONS (Fox)
Arizona Cardinals vs. NEW YORK GIANTS (Fox)
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS vs. Washington (Fox): The 49ers’ internet web series 1-on-1 is a show in which San Francisco players ride around in a car with a bubbly host for the purpose of selling a Toyota sponsorship. In one recent webisode, Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner shed light on the inner world of the 49ers’ linebacker corps, a unit that is nicknamed the “Hot Boyzz” and includes members nicknamed “German Terminator,” “Silent Killer,” “Young Buck,” and “Flan The Man.” Alexander’s nicknaming prowess—he seems to coin many of these aliases on the fly during his 1-on-1 interview—is one edge San Francisco will enjoy this Sunday. Another edge: Washington is quite awful.
Minnesota Vikings vs. DETROIT LIONS (Fox)
Miami Dolphins vs. BUFFALO BILLS (CBS): The QuantumPick Apparatus foretells a final score of 4-2 in this contest.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS vs. Cincinnati Bengals (CBS)
Oakland Raiders vs. GREEN BAY PACKERS (CBS): The Green Bay Packers fan forum at packerforum.com has a subforum dedicated exclusively to discussion of former Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who last played a down for the Packers when George W. Bush was president. As of this writing, the two most recent topics in the Brett Favre subforum were a thread wishing Favre a happy birthday and a thread asking what is the point of having a Brett Favre subforum.
Houston Texans vs. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (CBS)
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS vs. Tennessee Titans (CBS)
New Orleans Saints vs. CHICAGO BEARS (Fox)
Baltimore Ravens vs. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (Fox): There are not enough fire emoji in the world to fittingly caption the pregame fashions of Seattle Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin and his twin brother, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin. Who was more fabulous on this particular gameday? Impossible to say: We cannot see Shaquem’s shoes, and it would be irresponsible to speculate on the extent of their fabulousness.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES vs. Dallas Cowboys (NBC)
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS vs. New York Jets (ESPN)
The Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will not play football this week, because they rented a condo for their annual windsurfing trip, and they are not about to give up their deposit. They will automatically forfeit, and their transgression will be reported to the commissioner’s office.
If you’d like to contact me with an item for Block & Tackle, or just to say hello, you can email me: my first name, at symbol, my full name, dot com. You can also reach me via Twitter. Thank you for reading, and for the funny and smart comments. Until next time, keep on long snappin’.