Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will face off for the 16th time this Sunday in the marquee game of Week 9. I use the term “face off” metaphorically—Brady-Manning is the rare sports rivalry in which the rivals have never taken the field of play at the same time. Yet somehow this only heightens the myth when their teams meet. In the middle of a Manning drive, directors often cut to a quick glimpse of Brady watching helplessly from the bench (and vice versa). The impotent-QB sideline shot advances a subliminal narrative: The stage is only big enough for one of these titans at a time.
In the conceivable future, the stage will include neither of them. Brady (37 years old) and Manning (38) are considered old for football. I like that they’re old, and specifically, I like that they’re older than I am. Once they’re gone, that’s it. Any player worth a damn will be a relative youngster to me, which is disconcerting. I turn 33 next month (and, for the record, I’m not naive enough to think this is “old”). So I suppose I could become a big Drew Brees fan. I’d huff the fumes of his late-1970s birthdate, maintaining a delusion of youth for another season or two. But let’s be realistic. If I haven’t bought into the Brees legend by now, it’ll be too hard to convince myself in time for his farewell tour.
Besides, my distress over Brady and Manning’s twilight years isn’t rooted in a need to feel young. Not exactly. It’s about facing the bittersweet but inevitable maturation of fandom. Once you age past the players, you’re liable to stop seeing them as larger-than-life heroes, and they become human beings. It’s easier for me to see the uncertainty in the eyes of a 21-year-old rookie because now I’ve been an uncertain 21-year-old myself. Don’t get me wrong, I can and do admire young players. They just don’t have that older-sibling aura. In other words, I don’t get the irrational sense that they’re cool and wise in ways I can’t yet understand. Brady and Manning still have the aura, and for me, they’re the last two players who will.
I’m aware of how silly this is. On a logical level, I see that Peyton Manning is just a guy who throws a not-quite-round ball and hawks not-quite-good pizza, not the three-headed dragon-sensei of the forward pass that I perceive him to be. And when I hear Tom Brady tell the Thursday Night Football postgame crew, “I put a lot of energy into football, and I’m not sure I have a lot of other interests, outside of my family—I don’t read, or write, or play any instruments, or sing,” I know that the reasonable reaction would be to conclude that Brady and I have little in common. Instead, I conclude, “Maybe Tom Brady would play catch with me sometime, using the football he likes so much!”
This phenomenon isn’t limited to sports (although the inherent youth bias of athletics exaggerates the “I get older, they stay the same age” effect). As I was discussing this column with editor-in-chief Josh Modell, he said that since childhood, he unconsciously assumed that the bands he heard were much older than him, until the day he realized, wait, no they’re not. Physically, aging is a gradual process. Mentally, it comes in disorienting chunks, with epiphanies that instantly change the way you see yourself in relation to the world. One of those is the sudden understanding that your fandom is directed toward people who came after you more than those who came before.
It’s a healthy change. I view pro football players with more empathy and realism now, and the NFL world could use plenty of both. That said, I mourn the imminent end of the Brady-Manning aura. My idol worship of Tom Terrific and awestruck fear of Peyton Perfect may have led me to see both players as bigger than they actually are, but that doesn’t change the fact that the game will look irrevocably smaller without them.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, on the other hand, has been older than all of us since birth. But the man has a heart. Why, he even reached out to Block & Tackle to submit a fun Halloween riddle quiz for A.V. Club readers. The Block & Tackle “Belichick-O’-Lantern” prediction: New England 35, Denver 34.
1. If Hollywood made a movie about the Jamaican bobsled team, except the team was populated entirely by spooky demons, what would be the title of the film?
2. What do you call the semi-private federal agency that delivers mail to people in the afterlife?
3. What’s the name of the home-improvement show that Undead Tim Taylor hosts on the undead version of the TV sitcom Home Improvement?
4. What is the term for an otherworldly spirit that has been dipped in egg batter, fried, and served with powdered sugar and maple syrup, or perhaps jam?
5. Who did the grave robber take to the Halloween dance? (Hint: It was not his “girl”friend. Not exactly, at least.)
Answers are below!
The eternal quest to determine which is better—the touchdown dance or the sack dance—continues this week as the sack dance once again proves that it is the most perilous celebration in all of sports. First, two delightful touchdown dances. One comes from a defensive player, Miami safety Louis Delmas, who notched a pick-six against Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles and launched into an elegant series of swim strokes. The commenters will probably tell me what this dance is referencing (if anything); you guys always seem to know. Regardless of its origins, I salute the dance on its own graceful merits:
And Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant (great name) reminded the world that sometimes you just have to stand back and let the ball do the dancing. This is a basic ball spin, sure, but it’s executed to perfection. You have to appreciate the small things:
Meanwhile, on the sack dance front, Chicago defensive end Lamarr Houston is, bizarrely, the second NFL player to tear his ACL while performing a post-sack rendition of Aaron Rodgers’ “Discount Double Check” dance:
State Farm, the insurance company that has successfully branded the dance in its annoying commercials, issued a statement to The Wall Street Journal on the mini-trend, saying, “It’s very unfortunate that these players injured themselves while celebrating, but it is our belief that the Discount Double Check is not inherently dangerous. In fact, it can be used to help you save money on insurance when performed correctly.” And here I thought I couldn’t dislike this State Farm campaign any more than I already did.
This week’s winner is the sack dance, because I’m afraid of the sack dance. It destroys lives. That brings the overall tally to Sack Dance 2, Touchdown Dance 1.
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. Should I decide to use the dance in a column, I’ll tweet you a recipe for seven-layer dip that I found on Yahoo! Answers. I do not vouch for the quality of the recipe.
The Steelers remain undefeated this season when they wear their “bumblebee” throwback uniforms, with an average of 51 points per game. You could argue that the sample size is too small—one game, last week against the Colts—but I’d counter that those numbers are just too stunning to ignore. If you were the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and your team just dropped a 51-spot, wouldn’t you at least be tempted to break out the bee unis again? Maybe they dazzle opponents. Maybe they make receivers more vivid in Ben Roethlisberger’s peripheral vision. In any case, Pittsburgh ought to at least play out the streak until the apian magic wears off.
But even uniforms operate on a set schedule, so the Steelers will return to their boring black jerseys for the Sunday night game against Baltimore. Too bad—I love the striped look. You never see exuberant weirdness like this on an NFL field; the Jaguars’ two-tone, half-matte helmets (which I also like) are about as strange as it gets. I also think the bumblebee set is funny because the NFL punditry would sputter with indignation if a team tried to introduce it as a new design. It would be viewed as an Affront to the Sanctity of the game! But because the look is inspired by history, it is therefore acceptable. After all, the 1934 NFL Pittsburgh Pirates, who originally donned the yellow-and-black ensemble, never did anything to disrespect the game of football, aside from being quite bad at it. The Block & Tackle “buzzer-beater” pick: Baltimore 24, Pittsburgh 17.
Is it just me, or are there are more games decided by field goals lately? I suppose this could be a good thing—teams are more evenly matched, kickers are getting better, etc.—but it’s always such a letdown, especially when the last two minutes of the game are a torturous exercise in which team is better at being a total jerk about clock management. Last week’s Lions-Falcons game in London was the exception to the rule, since the Lions managed to come back from an absolutely abysmal first half and win it right at the end, but a number of other games recently have felt like an epic 45- to 50-minute struggle, with one team just falling apart for the last 10 minutes and letting some lesser opponent chip one in from about 34 yards out. Ugh.
Granted, kickers are athletic dudes who can do something the vast majority of the rest of the world can’t, and there’s a reason they’re in the NFL. But they’re so boring. They stand around on the sidelines by themselves, repeatedly setting up the ball on that little tee, kicking, and doing it again. And again. And again. Sometimes they have someone hold the ball for them, but that seems like a dick move. The networks try to make us care about a kicker’s prep, as if it’s not just about keeping his hips flexed, and then the announcers really build up whatever fluke 64-yard kick the guy made that one time in August in no wind, like he could ever do it again. Be realistic. I’m over the kicker. Six points or GTFO.
Because of a sustained hacking assault by the Chinese government, the following game predictions were misprinted in last Friday’s column: Minnesota vs. Tampa Bay, Buffalo vs. New York, Indianapolis vs. Pittsburgh, and Washington vs. Dallas. We regret the errors and appreciate the opportunity to correct the record.
1. I don’t know.
2. I call it whatever I think gives us the best chance to win.
3. You’d have to ask him. I’m really more concerned about where our team is. I can’t do anything about anything else.
4. [Obscene snorting noise.]
5. We’re on to Thanksgiving.
Here are Block & Tackle’s final score predictions for the rest of the Week 9 slate. All Block & Tackle predictions are guaranteed to be correct.
New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers (last night, 8:25 p.m., NFL Network): New Orleans 30, Carolina 19.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Dallas Cowboys (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Dallas 31, Arizona 24. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Cowboys are 3-3 against teams named after cats and 6-9 against teams named after birds.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Houston Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Philadelphia 27, Houston 17.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Cleveland Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Cleveland 17, Tampa Bay 14. The Bud Light Photo Of The Game for Cleveland’s win against Oakland was a picture of a dog smelling Andrew Hawkins’ hand.
Washington vs. Minnesota Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox): Minnesota 20, Washington 16. Minneapolis is planning quite a welcome for the D.C. team with the ugly name.
New York Jets vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Kansas City 33, New York 10. Michael Vick has been named the starter for this game, so he figured he might as well bite the bullet and learn a few of the Jets’ plays.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): Cincinnati 27, Jacksonville 13.
San Diego Chargers vs. Miami Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS): San Diego 23, Miami 21. It’s a grudge match to determine, once and for all, which of these cities enjoys more pleasant winter weather. Miami maintains that it is the pleasantest, while San Diego argues that no, San Diego is pleasanter, and therefore Miami can’t be pleasantest. Should be a close one.
St. Louis Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Fox): San Francisco 28, St. Louis 20.
Oakland Raiders vs. Seattle Seahawks (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS): Seattle 20, Oakland 10.
I think we all agree the the French aren’t good at much.. But boy, they did the damn thing with that toast of theirs
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) October 28, 2014
Indianapolis Colts vs. New York Giants (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN): Indianapolis 35, New York 27. Colts kicker Pat McAfee hates the French, period. Period.
B&T prediction record last week: 15-0
B&T prediction record for 2014 season: 120-0
Exasperating corrections made: 49
Block & Tackle Week 9 Picks: Pocket Edition
We close out this week’s Block & Tackle with the Ill-Informed Can’t-Miss Pick, in which I open a chat window and ask an A.V. Club/Onion staffer with little to no NFL knowledge to predict the outcome of a game. The staffer is allowed to ask me three questions about the game before making their call. Joining me this time is A.V. Club editor-in-chief Josh Modell. The chat transcript follows.
John Teti: If your football expertise were a U.S. president, which U.S. president would it be?
Josh Modell: Hmmm, who’s a mostly shitty president that people don’t remember very well but who basically did the job? Polk?
JT: Martin Van Buren? Polk is a good one. How about Chester A. Arthur?
JM: He’s super shitty, though, right? I know a lot about how the game is played, but nothing about the players.
Ulysses S. Grant, because he’s on the $50 bill and I’m worth at least $50?
JT: Okay, Grant. Your football knowledge is Grant. Today, you’ll be predicting the winner and final score of the Jacksonville-Cincinnati game. You get three questions before you make your pick.
JM: Who’s the favorite?
No, who’s the favorite, and by how much? Is that two questions?
JT: I’ll count it as one question, although you did ask it twice. You’re wise to ask about this. I was hoping to dupe you with this matchup, but you were shrewd. Vegas has Cincinnati favored by 11 points right now.
JM: Wow. What’s tougher in the wild, a Bengal tiger or a Jaguar?
Those are the teams, right?
Is that my third question? Fuck. I wish for three more wishes.
JT: I’ll allow it—those are indeed the teams, and this is another excellent question. Who do you think would win? I’ll take the tiger. Tigers get bigger.
JM: Jaguars are more badass looking. Especially at night. Is it a night game?
JT: There’s an incredibly involved Yahoo! Answers page about this—Yahoo! Answers, the trusted source for all B&T research. Is “Is it a night game?” your final third question?
JM: Yes. Do I get to know what Yahoo! Answers said about tigers versus jaguars though?
JT: Oh, yeah. Yahoo! Answers said if the cats are equal weight, jaguar. If the tiger’s bigger, tiger.
JM: I KNEW IT.
JT: As for whether it’s a night game, no, it is not. This football game will be played during the day. Nobody wants to watch this shit in primetime.
JM: Okay, so since it’s a day game and they’re roughly the same size, it could go either way. But I’m gonna go with my gut and say the Jaguars will pull an upset, fueled by their skills of intimidation.
JM: Jaguars by 2. Final score: 20-18.
JT: So a lot of field goals.
JM: No. [Long pause.]
JT: Uh-oh. You always get into trouble when you try to do the scoring math.
JM: 20 = three touchdowns, one missed extra point.
18 = three touchdowns, three missed extra points.
BIG CATS CAN’T KICK FOR SHIT.