Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
CBS squeezed some fun out of an otherwise dull Bengals-Saints matchup this week by investigating The Case Of The Purloined Pigskin. The network’s cameras caught a grumpy-looking Saints fan as he rather violently intercepted a ball that Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham was trying to give to a Cincinnati fan. (Gresham had just scored.) Given that the Saints forgot they had a football game on Sunday, CBS had some time to fill in this stinker, so it dispatched sideline reporter Evan Washburn to get the scoop on why the grouchy old grouch in the front row was such a grouch.
“In some of my most important reporting of the day, I actually spoke with that Saints fan,” Washburn remarked facetiously, as he is more accustomed to delivering hard-hitting bulletins like “Ken Whisenhunt says his team simply needs to execute better in the second half.” The aggrieved fan, Tony Williams, told Washburn that he had “zero remorse,” although Williams later softened his stance when he told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he had grabbed the ball for his 8-year-old grandson, who was seated in another section. Yes, the old “grandson in another section” yarn, football’s equivalent of the Canadian girlfriend. Because every child brims with excitement when Grampa says, “Hey, Billy, you wanna go to the Saints game this weekend? Okay, here’s your ticket, and I’ll meet you on Concourse C when it’s over.”
Tony Williams’ amusing petulance is just one of the voyeuristic treats available to an observant football viewer. I love people-watching during crowd shots. Sometimes I pause the action and look around the screen for curiosities, like I’m browsing an antique shop, one that’s full of shouting drunks. The snippet above from the Week 10 St. Louis-Arizona matchup, for instance, offers many points of interest. First you notice the women competing to see who can perform the most aloof hand-jive. And there are not one but two Cardinals fans yawning (in the second quarter of a tight game). A single yawner is common, but a double is worth putting in the scrapbook—or, if you own a computer, the computer scrapbook.
The highlight in the above Cardinals crowd is the wax figure in the lower-left. “THANK YOU VETRANS I salute you every day,” he writes, and judging by his dutiful gloom, I take that to mean that he comes to the stadium every day, finds his seat, and holds up the sign. Sometimes there’s a football game going on, and sometimes not. It’s all the same to VETRANS guy. This is his life now. At first I thought the sad part of his sign was the misspelling, but on further examination, it’s definitely the stars, each one more heartbreaking than the last.
Here’s another screencap from the same Cardinals game. Fox employs the crowd shot more heavily than other networks, in keeping with its overall schmaltzier approach to sports. The upside is that Fox’s broadcast crews have, through practice, become especially good at photographing the spectators. A lesser camera operator might have pushed in for the closeup on this shy fellow. By sticking with the medium shot and positioning him amid a crowd of similarly red-clad regular folk, Fox lends our masked hero a tongue-in-cheek mystique, as if he’s a demigod camouflaged among the hoi polloi. This work of funny, effective visual storytelling was on the air for less than two seconds. It’s an ephemeral art.
Micro-tragedies can play out in a momentary glimpse at the stands. My A.V. Club colleague David Anthony (who knows a thing or two about fandom) spotted this lonesome Steelers fan, for instance. Like a modern-day gridiron Tantalus, she’s doomed to wave at this sea of hands, her team spirit perpetually unaffirmed.
In general, I find anonymous, camera-oblivious spectators more compelling than costumed superfans, but in a candid moment, the wacky types have their appeal. You might catch, say, the Joker repositioning her bra strap, which is something I never would have asked to see, but I’m somehow glad I saw it. I wouldn’t mind attending a game with the woman on the left, who leaves no doubt about her regard for the Joker’s antics.
Sometimes the audience showoffs are too talented to ignore. Sure, this ursine Chicago fan may seem more mincing than menacing, but in fact he’s doing an excellent impersonation of a bear. This is exactly how a bear would act if a vision-obstructing bear helmet were placed on its head. Uncanny.
NFL Network panned across the Oakland crowd after the Raiders secured their victory against Kansas City last night. It was fun to watch the team escape the humiliation of a winless year. In this wide shot, you can almost see the sense of relief in the shaggy bustle of the crowd. Some fans lumber toward the exits, some pump their fists, and others stare at the field, struck by the unfamiliar feeling of victory.
My eye drifted to the guy in the gray sweatshirt, slightly above the “KC 20” graphic. He gives one buddy a hug and then crosses the aisle for another. Sure, they’re bro hugs, the kind with clutched fists between the men to prevent any incidental frottage, but the affection is endearing nonetheless. And just to the right of Gray Sweatshirt Guy, Black Tanktop Guy pulls in his friend for a full embrace. The whole image is a Where’s Waldo tableau of giddy release.
TV’s pictures of the stands are filled with treasures if you look for them. Rewatch the clip of the New Orleans ball heist that’s up top, and pay attention when CBS shows the replay of the larceny. This time, ignore the thief and the victim. Look at the victim’s friend instead, who dropped her smartphone over the railing. Just before CBS cuts away, somebody reaches up to give the phone back. So at the same moment one guy’s throwing elbows to steal a football, an anonymous Samaritan unwittingly compensates with an act of kindness. In the course of a five-second crowd shot, the cosmos balances itself.
That’s right, it’s Monday night on CBS, not Sunday. Because of the astonishing snowfall in Buffalo—up to seven feet in some areas, with more snow and rain in the forecast—the league moved this game to Detroit and pushed it back to Monday night so the Bills have time to practice. The upshot is that CBS gets another primetime game, albeit one that will air only in the New York City and Buffalo areas. (As of this writing, the NFL hasn’t said whether Sunday Ticket customers will be able to watch.)
The Bills weren’t eager to make the move. As late as Wednesday, the team was offering cash and free tickets to citizens who might come by to help shovel out Ralph Wilson Stadium. (The team said the crowdsourced snow-clearing work wouldn’t begin until the local driving ban was lifted, so fans would not have to break the law for the privilege of performing hard labor at $10 an hour.) It wasn’t great PR for the Bills to cry for help with their city paralyzed by a winter disaster. Even worse, it’s an especially bad idea to offer financial incentives for snow-shoveling right now because, as the Buffalo News reports, “Most of the deaths related to the storm have been caused by cardiac issues when victims attempted [to] shovel snow or push vehicles.”
Being a Bills fan has long been considered a fate worse than death, and the franchise apparently intended to put that theory to the test. On Thursday, however, a team executive essentially scrapped the cash-for-shovelers plan. Instead, the Bills will torture the city of Buffalo the usual way, by failing to make the playoffs. The Block & Tackle “officially endorsed by the ghost of Ralph Wilson” prediction: Buffalo 23, New York 12.
The eternal quest to determine which is better—the touchdown dance or the sack dance—continued in Week 11 and has already spilled into the early hours of Week 12. First, let’s assess today’s touchdown dance competitor, who showcased his talents during Sunday night’s Patriots-Colts game:
Colts offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo reported as an eligible receiver for a goal-line play early in the third quarter, and Andrew Luck sent the ball his way for a touchdown that gave Indianapolis life. Castonzo was ready for the spotlight. His crab-walking, arm-swinging display of otherworldly kineticism may have come in a losing effort, but he won the hearts of athlete-dance enthusiasts everywhere.
The Block & Tackle commenters often fill me in when I don’t recognize the origins of a particular on-the-field dance move, but I don’t need any help this time. Castonzo’s celebration was a faithful rendition of Dhalsim’s victory dance from Street Fighter II:
Dhalsim actually has two post-win routines in Street Fighter II. As Castonzo noted after the game, “his other celebration is when he floats in midair, but I wasn’t prepared to do that one.” Classic video game references and a sense of humor after a tough loss? Castonzo is really gunning to win Block & Tackle Player Of The Year, an award that does not exist, which only makes his dedication more admirable.
On the sack dance side, we have the Oakland Raiders, who failed to sustain their losing streak—but not for lack of trying. With the Chiefs driving for a last-minute comeback touchdown, linebacker Sio Moore sacked Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith. He then let loose with a sack dance that, like a clumsy porn star, was less remarkable for its moves than for its length:
As Moore frolicked around the field, he failed to realize that the Chiefs still had a fourth-down play to run, and were eager to do so. This produced the surreal sight of an offense lining up to snap the ball while two members of the defense played pattycake 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Had they not called a hasty timeout, the Raiders could have become the first team to be flagged for encroachment and excessive celebration on the same play.
Not a tough call this time: The win this week goes to the touchdown dance, bringing the overall tally to Sack Dance 3, Touchdown Dance 2.
If there’s an on-field display of joy that you’d like to see featured in Touchdown Dance vs. Sack Dance, tweet it to me at @johnteti. If I use the dance in a column, I’ll tweet you a recipe for seven-layer dip that I found on Yahoo! Answers, Block & Tackle’s official source of research and prizes. I do not vouch for the quality of the recipe.
A couple times this season, A.V. Club associate editor Marah Eakin has graced this column to share her perspective as a Cleveland Browns fan. Today, Marah’s husband, Andrew Morgan, explains how reality TV has made the Browns tough to watch:
As I watch the suddenly relevant Cleveland Browns play this season with my Cleveland-born wife and brother-in-law, I notice a lot of changes. The renewed energy of the Dawg Pound. The recent infrequency of condescending Browns comments coming from the TV commentators. The thing I notice most, however, is that new head coach Mike Pettine looks exactly like Jarrod from Storage Wars. As a huge fan of both televised sports and Storage Wars, this crossover is a mindfuck. Still, let’s complete the exchange and let football seep into Storage Wars. I want to see Johnny Manziel leaning casually against a closed locker, giving his awful “money sign” hand motion, only to have the gate rise and send him tumbling backwards into an open plastic tub of old pants.
The Block & Tackle “seeing double” prediction: Cleveland 48, Atlanta 46.
Because somebody forgot to wear a scarf, the following game predictions were misprinted in last Friday’s column: San Francisco vs. New York Giants, Denver vs. St. Louis, Tampa Bay vs. Washington, Seattle vs. Kansas City, Cincinnati vs. New Orleans, and Houston vs. Cleveland. Wear a scarf next time.
Tiny Curt Menefee is the master of the mid-game highlight, as his little fingers enable him to squeeze an update into the tightest of intermissions. One time at the Annual Football Broadcasters Luncheon, an inebriated Tiny Menefee climbed onto a table and loudly demanded credit for coining the phrase “back to you.” His favorite players are J.J. Watt and Peyton Manning or, as he refers to them, Enormous J.J. Watt and Fricking Huge Peyton Manning.
In this shot, Fox’s Tony Siragusa is telestrating the correct way to position the ball for kickoff (really). As any special teams coach can tell you, proper technique is to apply the ball directly to a Kansas City Chief’s ass.
Here are Block & Tackle’s final score predictions for the rest of the Week 12 slate. All Block & Tackle predictions are guaranteed to be correct.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders (last night, 8:25 p.m., NFL Network): Kansas City 28, Oakland 14.
Tennessee Titans vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Philadelphia 27, Tennessee 16. Here’s what Mark Sanchez’s pants look like.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Indianapolis 42, Jacksonville 15. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Colts are 8-7 against teams named after cats and 2-6 against teams named after birds.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Cincinnati 21, Houston 17. It’s “Who Dey” vs. the Texans as the Bengals face the Texans.
Detroit Lions vs. New England Patriots (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): New England 35, Detroit 24.
Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Green Bay 31, Minnesota 20. The Packers employ an equipment manager whose only job is to tie a washer onto Aaron Rodgers’ string before every game so he doesn’t float away.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Chicago Bears (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Chicago 26, Tampa Bay 17.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Fox): Seattle 28, Arizona 26. Seattle punter Jon Ryan has seen his mascot’s phallus, and he doesn’t care for it one bit.
St. Louis Rams vs. San Diego Chargers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Fox): San Diego 26, St. Louis 21. Saint Louis IX died of dysentery, and San Diego De Alcalá died of an abscess. So there’s a blueprint on how to beat both of these teams.
Miami Dolphins vs. Denver Broncos (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS): Denver 38, Miami 23.
Washington vs. San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox): San Francisco 21, Washington 14. Personal rooting interests aside, it would be fun to see San Francisco win the Super Bowl this year so we could find out whether 49ers executives would still fire head coach Jim Harbaugh even after he won them a championship. I think they might; they seem to hate him that much.
Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC): Dallas 30, New York 23.
Baltimore Ravens vs. New Orleans Saints (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN): New Orleans 21, Baltimore 20.
B&T prediction record last week: 14-0
B&T prediction record for 2014 season: 160-0
Calamitous corrections made: 60
Block & Tackle Week 12 Picks: Pocket Edition
Block & Tackle will take next week off; there won’t be a column next Friday. Enjoy your Thanksgiving football!