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The Tom Brady White-Out: Sports and the Intelligentsia

The Tom Brady White-Out: Sports and the Intelligentsia

It’s a pretty common thing for people to watch sports when they get bored. Or to go outside and play sports when they get bored. Or to maybe read and write about sports. What isn’t quite as common is someone getting bored and randomly writing about sports when he doesn’t have the faintest clue of anything that happens in the sports world. Maybe you’re wondering what I’m talking about. Well, what happened was that upon the recent NFL deflated football scandal, some clueless intellectual in search of a way to spin a racial angle into the whole sad episode decided to make Tom Brady’s suspension the point of reference for a rant against white privilege. Not as a guy who hasn’t been the recipient of it, but as a person whose punishment for maybe deflating a few footballs has received it.

Now, I’m not trying to deny that white privilege exists. It does, and even though I’ve lost out on certain options in my lifetime because of my deformed arm and my atheism, I’m not trying to argue that I’ve never been the recipient of white privilege. If you’re a white American male, you have access to certain luxuries and opportunities which you will probably never be aware of, and as a white American male, I’ll never know what it’s like to be followed through a department store for no reason or pulled over for driving through a good neighborhood. I’m not even trying to argue that Tom Brady has never received white privilege. He came from a fairly well-off family in a California suburb, after all, and if anything, he’s probably received more of it than I ever will. But trying to convince a knowledgeable sports fan that Tom Brady’s white privilege is suddenly symbolized through a four-game suspension for tampering with footballs – or, in fact, not even tampering with footballs, but simply on the suspicion of ball-tampering because he refused to turn in some evidence in the league’s investigation – requires total, abject ignorance of context and a willingness to take everything about what happened at face value. And even if you’re capable of doing that, it requires stretching to the breaking point. Anyone who knows anything more than that about all matters NFL-related knows this suspension-as-privilege bullshit is incapable of holding cement, let alone water.

There is a surprising number of observers knowledgeable about the NFL who have been able to recognize Brady’s suspension for what it really is: Another stunt punishment meted down from Roger Goodell calculated to preserve his league’s bleeding image which is, if anything, a little heavy-handed. I’m not endorsing cheating and I hate Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots, but they just got their skulls cracked for a form of cheating so old that sports leagues are picking and choosing cases of it to come down on. Ball-tampering is not a highly-enforced rule. Just during November, the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers were both caught placing balls next to heaters during a game. When the NFL saw it during the broadcast, it basically wagged its finger. In 2012, the San Diego Chargers tried coating their towels in a sticky substance which would have made the ball easier to handle, and the incident was basically laughed off. Jerry Rice, the legendary wideout – who is black – confessed to using stickum during games just a couple of days before the deflation scandal broke, and no one removed him from the league’s all-time team. If you want to bring other sports into it, Gaylord Perry had to chutzpah to name his damned autobiography after the illegal pitch he spent his career using. In basketball, the New York Knicks dynasty of the early 70’s is praised for their smart passing, but not the underinflated balls which enabled their particular brand of small ball. In the 80’s, the Los Angeles Lakers’ legendary Showtime dynasty overinflated their balls to create a more lively and unpredictable ball which was suited to their up-tempo offense – and when the Chicago Bulls defeated the Lakers to win their first Championship, coach Phil Jackson had them carrying paper clips in their shorts to stick in the valve to deflate the ball whenever the refs weren’t looking!

Here’s a little context about Brady’s white privilege for the intelligentsia to lap up: Ray Rice, black, beat up his wife in an elevator and was suspended for two games. When public court demanded a stiffer punishment, Roger Goodell first tried hand-waving the case on account of there being a lack of evidence. He didn’t do much of anything about it until TMZ released the video of the actual assault and threw Goodell’s back against the wall. Adrian Peterson, also black, beat his kid and the NFL did jack shit – and the Vikings suspended him for a single game. Some 70 players were arrested in the last season and no one breathed a word. Brady, who didn’t do anything that endangered the welfare of another human, was suspended for more games than any of them, and his team was docked draft picks and fined a million dollars – which, by the way, is twice the stated maximum NFL fine. The deflation scandal was exactly the kind of thing Goodell was hoping and praying for – a nice distraction which the Commissioner could use to reassert his authority, come off like a zero-tolerance good guy, and use to make people forget about the year the NFL just had. You don’t get to pull the white privilege card in a case that would have gone away had the NFL handled it the way it normally handles ball-tampering cases; slap the offending team with a $25,000 fine immediately after the game, tell them not to do it again, and kick back while everyone forgets it.

This attempt to paint Brady as the new poster boy of white privilege is resulting in the most incredible avalanche of intellectual dishonesty I’ve ever seen from critical theorists. This isn’t social criticism. It’s crying for attention. It seems everyone doing it is aware of that on some level. In an attempt to paint Brady as some great villain who gets away with everything, some writers – like Dan O’Sullivan of Vice Sports – are even diving into his past and cherry-picking facts. O’Sullivan’s piece is a real howler for how much he either didn’t know or willingly omitted to push his narrative. He mentions, for example, that Brady had a mediocre high school career which resulted in a full scholarship from the University of Michigan anyway. Now, this may or may not be true, but what I know is that even if he was a bad athlete in high school, “mediocre” is a strictly relative term. Brady attended Junipero Serra High School, a nationally famous athlete factory which also produced Jim Fregosi, Lynn Swann, and Barry Bonds, and he played baseball and basketball as well as football there. Sucking at a place like Serra wouldn’t be the same as sucking at, say, Seneca Vocational. O’Sullivan says Brady was a bad college quarterback, which simply isn’t true. Brady once owned the single-season record for completions at Michigan. O’Sullivan does mention that Brady was inserted as the fourth-string quarterback after getting drafted, and that it was an unusual move. He’s half-right. Brady WAS originally the fourth-string guy. That’s kind of the par for a sixth round draft pick, especially when the team’s main guy is cannon-armed Drew Bledsoe, a multiple-time all-star with borderline Hall of Fame credentials. Brady worked his way up to second string, then was automatically given the starter job when Bledsoe was sidelined with a serious injury.

I’ve seen the idea raised that if it was Marshawn Lynch in Brady’s position, he would have been given a much worse punishment. And yeah, that’s true. But the problem with that narrative is that Brady has always been the pitch-perfect All-American Golden Boy. He’s never been in trouble or said anything controversial. Most importantly in the league’s eyes, he’s never done anything to endanger the bottom line or the clean, family image. Lynch has at least one illegal weapons charge under his belt, another hit and run charge, and was caught driving drunk during his time in Buffalo. Since his trade to Seattle, he appears to have mostly cleaned up his criminal side, but he also found a way to subvert the NFL’s ridiculous laws about media availability without actually breaking them. He shows up, uses subtle ways to show his contempt for the league for making him show up, never answers any questions, and leaves. Journalists are frustrated by him and several have called for the league to just fine him and suspend him anyway. The NFL already suspended him once for the weapons charge. That ran for three games. The fact that he hasn’t been suspended again either shows the league is being uncharacteristically lenient with him, or that he has a legal team comprised of wizards, Jedi, and Time Lords. I promise you Roger Goodell is looking for a reason to suspend him again, for the same reason he just suspended Brady – endangering the bottom line and the image. I also promise that if Lynch cheats and gives Goodell that reason, the ensuing suspension won’t have anything to do with cheating, and anyone who argues otherwise is a fucking idiot.

There are two reasons why using Tom Brady to symbolize white privilege is killing me. The first is because so many valid instances of white privilege are all over sports. Hell, if it was so imperative to attack the Patriots specifically, one needs to look no further than at Tom Brady’s favorite and most effective target, the adolescent-minded frat megadouchebro Rob Gronkowski. The picture the media paints of Gronk is appalling. Gronk is white, and he’s been spending most of his time engaging in the same vein of off-field hijinks this same media repeatedly slammed Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens for. Yet, rather than hover over him and call him an embarrassment to whatever code it’s peddling this week, the media continues to glorify Gronk as a lovable galoot having fun in the prime of his youth. And speaking of codes, there’s also enough material in baseball’s stodgy and suspiciously pale Code to attack the entire baseball establishment – players, owners, representatives, and even fans – for years. The players sometimes attack each other over antiquated ideas of respect which come from an idealistic past which was never real; or even if it was, would be rooted in a time period in which baseball was whites-only. The 7.8 percent of black ballplayers are stuck adhering to traditionalist values of the white majority, and any sign of personality or excitement gets them drilled on their next at-bat. Chris Rock just released an impressive seven-minute rant on the whole subject. For something that isn’t quite so far out of the intellectual comfort zone, attacks against team owners who demand to build new stadiums in places that would drive minority populations out of their homes hits a trifecta: It’s a civic issue, a race issue, and a sports issue. The intelligentsia knows race and infrastructure issues well, and sticking to them when attacking sports stadiums makes white privilege in sports a sort of default target.

The other reason is because there’s a veiled insult in it. Sports are a major social institution. The way sports influence and are influenced by society are subjects sociologists and psychologists study. There is even a full-fledged organization, The North American Society for the Sociology of Sport, which was created to observe the impact of sports on humanity. Murray State University Professor Daniel Wann basically created his entire name and reputation studying the psychology and sociology of sports, and dedicating multiple books to the subject. Yet, the average intellectual can’t seem to shed the mindset that sports are strictly a neanderthal endeavor. This is a crowd that is not only ignorant about all things related to sports, but thunderously trumpets that very ignorance from the mountaintops, making no effort to conceal its contempt or condescension. Now they’re trying to wedge themselves into the national conversation about this deflation scandal by trying to inject it with a racial angle that doesn’t exist, and they’ve apparently chosen the method “use a national scandal we’ve ignored but which the entire sports-following world could school us in and apply it to a white athlete we’ve heard of.” It’s the same form of ignorant punditry Fox News runs on.

I love sports, and I’m capable of expending many happy hours keeping up with them the same way I keep up with my bicycling, exercises, video games, writing, and various other interests. Sports mean a lot to me because they’re something that brings out my better qualities. I credit baseball’s New York Yankees in part for rescuing me from social oblivion. Sports helped inspire me to try for certification in physical therapy, and hopefully exercise science in a further future. I’ve been following hockey’s Buffalo Sabres for 30 years. I once wrote a blog dedicated to baseball literature – which I’m now looking to revive – that professional authors have noticed and sent me compliments for. One of my final projects for my sociology class this last semester was on the sociology of sports fandom. I put a ton of time and effort into learning about sports and their quirks and intricacies to make sure I have the most accurate angles possible on everything I say regarding them. The insult here is that I can pick up the very same grasp on the necessary nuance and context with no effort whatsoever. I can stick my head in the ground whenever the subject comes up, pull it out when I hear a muffled word from a 22nd-hand source, and already know everything about the situation that I need to in order to make an accurate sociological assessment of it.

The lure of sports is so strong that some experts have even likened them to religion, and favored teams become indistinguishable from the “totems” that legendary sociologist Emile Durkheim described when he referred to religion as a cultural symbol. Intellectuals seem to have trouble grasping that, and train themselves to not take sports seriously. And so when some of them do try to come out and treat sports in a serious context, we get glorified trolling like talk about how Tom Brady’s color is the only thing preventing the NFL from taking the Patriots’ latest title away. (It might interest an intellectual to know that, while they’re beating up Brady, Patriots owner Robert Kraft is trying to pull some actual privilege: He’s demanding an apology from Roger Goodell and the overturn of the suspension. In the meantime, Brady himself is making an appeal to the commissioner. If he gets his suspension reduced, THEN you can play the white privilege card.) I’m sick of seeing a legitimate social institution that I spend my free time studying get reduced to sound bites by proud ignoramuses. If the average intellectual wants to throw their social commentary into sports, they need to either start putting some time into learning about them or just back the hell off.

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Five: Blank Space

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Five: Blank Space

With a list like this, there are going to be a bunch of names that come up which are too good to be really worth complaining about, but not good enough to be worth raving about; names which are extraordinarily difficult to rank because you have no clue exactly where to put them. So in order to get them rankings that are at least somewhat safe, you write up the list from both ends until you have the blank space in the middle which is the only place they’ll fit. Again, none of these names are truly bad, and in this leg, we’re going to start seeing the good names crop up. It’s just that they didn’t go very far either here or there, so they come off as fillers.

53: Columbus Blue Jackets, NHL
Named after an old Civil War unit, this name isn’t so bad. The problem is that it’s so, well, innocuous. Old imagery tends to associated jackets with certain kinds of bees. Jackets is also a remnant of sports teams past which has definitely seen its day, and not only does it feel old, there’s no anger or intensity to be associated with the color blue. There have been many teams in many sports known as the Yellow Jackets and Red Jackets, and while those names project intensity, Blue Jackets projects calm and cool. Which could explain why the Columbus Blue Jackets don’t have a ton of success to their name just yet.

52: New England Patriots, NFL
Oh, goodie. Another pretentious name trying to enclose its entire geographical, multi-state region. Patriots is actually a fine name for the team – it was created to honor the original separatists who wanted the 13 Colonies to break free of England. Of course, one of the major focal points of the events leading to the American Revolution was Boston, in whose suburbs the Patriots play. And that’s precisely why the New England Patriots would be best off named with the name they came up with upon emerging in the AFL in 1960: The Boston Patriots! The branding doesn’t work, though, because generally a patriot is someone who loves his country, and I happen to think it’s kind of rude of the Boston (excuse me, New England) team to try to earn fans through this kind of exclusivity. Boston already has a nasty air of pretension, and their fans are already some of the most self-important people on Earth, and there’s really no need to fuel those feelings by enabling anyone to say either you cheer for their team or you hate America. Of course, it’s not like it would stop them from such self-congratulatory hubris anyway, but it doesn’t help matters.

51: Washington Capitals, NHL
Finally, a place where the word “capitol” is spelled in proper grammatical context. It’s spelled with an O at the end, meaning a place, instead of an A at the end, a way of denoting currency. Also, both words have three syllables, and the final syllable of each starts with a T, so there’s a good balance. The Capitols name works because Washington is the capitol of the United States, after all. Furthermore, since the Capitol is also the name of the building where Congress gathers, the name doubles as a recognition of the federal government. And since the Capitol is one of the most famous bits of architecture in the country, the name further triples as a celebration of great architecture in a city full of historic architecture. This name should be higher up, but it’s no one’s fault the name of the Capitol is so bland. (Edit: At least, that is what I would write had the Capitals been that smart, as I wrote this thinking they were. Apparently they’re not. So while the A in Capitals makes sense to the way the federal government is run, it does a huge disservice to the city. Fuck this name.)

50: Oakland Raiders, NFL
The coolest pirate name on the list. This name would be more of a failure if the Raiders were still in Los Angeles, but it holds a lot more meaning in Oakland. Oakland is a historical hotbed of political activism, and that activism is more often than not against the prevailing government policy, prevailing social norms, and frequently against the so-called knowledge and ideas of the common, white, insufferable coffeehouse intellectuals as well. Oakland’s political reputation has a real grassroots attitude, and you get the feeling that the people of Oakland are a hands-on bunch who try to enact change one place at a time with their bare hands. That makes the Raiders a true team for revolutionaries; or, as much of society would prefer to think of them, pirates. See, not every pirate image is bad, even when you are talking about one of the nastiest fanbases in the country. It’s also cool to say – two double-syllable words with hard beginnings and ends with easy middles.

49: Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL
People frequently gripe about proper grammar when it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They argue this is a shitty name just because it isn’t the grammatically proper Toronto Maple Leaves. This team, however, was named after a Canadian Army battalion called the Maple Leaf battalion. I don’t know why grammar rules work the way they do, but experts tend to argue that the name makes perfect sense since we’re not talking about actual leaves. The maple leaf, of course, is the dominant symbol of Canada, and once again we’re into trying to both nationalize and regionalize the fans at the same time. In this case, it works a lot better, because there’s no attempt at exclusivity in the Maple Leafs name. It’s just grabbing the symbol and latching on, subtly inviting people instead of saying “You’re either with us or you’re against us.” The name is also a lot more balanced than it looks – both Toronto and Maple Leafs are three-syllable terms. See folks, you can use national symbols for names, just as you can use generic animals, as long as you can do it the right way.

48: Arizona Coyotes, NHL
The newest name on this list, the former Phoenix Coyotes changed their official name to the Arizona Coyotes just days before I began. It really doesn’t change very much except the number of syllables. A coyote is a good animal to name the team after – it has nothing to do with fellow canine family member wolves, and it’s very much an Arizona animal. The name change makes the whole name of the team a little clunkier, but it doesn’t do any real damage.

47: Chicago Bears, NFL
Chicago is a burly city name. (Unlike the people who live there.) It has power and crunch. What to name the football team? An animal that has the same! Bears is another small word with big impact. It’s also a great parallel allusion to one of Chicago’s baseball teams, the Cubs, something that wasn’t lost on the owner when the team was named. The Bears once played in Wrigley Field, and in exchange for the lease, the original owner said he would name the football team after the baseball team. Since cubs are most often taken in the context of bear cubs, and this owner noticed football players on the whole were larger than baseball players, he named the football team the Chicago Bears.

46: Los Angeles Dodgers, MLB
The most famous move remnant of all time rolled a lot nicer with its original name, Brooklyn Dodgers, and that’s where the animosity toward Los Angeles Dodgers begins. Then again, I already mentioned a couple of posts ago that Brooklyn is such a great name that you can slap virtually any nickname onto a team there and have it come off halfway decent. The trouble is that since the name Dodgers comes from the original name Trolley Dodgers – people in Brooklyn who used to have to cross the streetcar tracks to get to the field – it makes at least as much regional sense in Los Angeles as it did in Brooklyn. Los Angeles does, after all, have a descendant of the old streetcar lines – a lightrail system. And when the team moved, they weren’t walking away from a string of lousy seasons – they had won the World Series just two years before moving, and had a run of Pennant years. And let’s face it, the name Dodgers is some of the best branding out there. There’s no mistaking it, even with the diehard Brooklynites who won’t shut up about the Dodgers still being Brooklyn’s team. Guys, they’re not going to return. If you hate the Yankees so much, buck up and turn to the Mets, okay?

45: Milwaukee Bucks, NBA
This is a strange name. A buck is a male deer, it has no balance, no connection to the Milwaukee area, and, well, I really can’t think of a whole lot to say about it. (Kinda like the team itself!) It stands out, so that much I can offer, but deer are common enough to still be legal to hunt, and I don’t think they drink beer. I’m giving this a nod largely on branding, just because deer are stronger, more dangerous animals than we give them credit for, so that avoids any complaints about it being generic. And really, it’s not such a bad name.

44: Miami Heat, NBA
This is easily the best name on this list that doesn’t invoke a plural. Heat may be an amorphous concept, but it’s an amorphous concept with a very specific definition. Heat can burn you, dehydrate you, make you vomit, and give you strokes and heart attacks. We go out of our way as human beings to avoid exposure to too much heat at the same time, and when we have no other choice, we carry a ton of water with us. So yeah, heat is very nasty business, and it also happens to be something the city of Miami has in abundance. Miami is famous for its heat. While heat can be found in many, many other places, the name also has a good rapport with the city name, and it comes off like an extra syllable, almost. This is a very rare case where I’m going to award bonus points for not making the name a plural. Since Heat feels like an extension of Miami, the T at the end gives the name a bit of heft and finality, which would make it look ridiculous if we tried to pluralize it. Miami Heats. It just doesn’t sound quite as right, does it? On the other hand, non-plural names are still old 90’s hubris.

43: San Jose Sharks, NHL
It’s strange that of all the generic natural critters people like to name sports teams after, the shark is so generic, and yet so underutilized. The name does have a connection to the Bay Area which makes it work out pretty well. The Pacific Ocean contains seven different kinds of shark, and the Bay Area is the location of an area of water called the Red Triangle which is home to a huge population of sharks. The name’s balance comes mostly from the fact that it’s a three-word name, with the syllable counts being one-two-one. That gives it a better, easier sound than it really has a right to have, and I wouldn’t be lauding it if the NHL didn’t take a chance on San Jose and decided instead to create the San Francisco Sharks – the four syllables in Francisco are just beasts. The branding of this team shouldn’t work, just because sharks comes off as another one of those generic 90’s affairs with animal ferocity, but the fact that marine naming is so uncommon makes it pleasant and quirky rather than bland and generic. We might criticize the NHL’s efforts at expanding during the 90’s, but this is an instance where it worked.

42: Phoenix Suns, NBA
I could write a lot of the same things about this name that I wrote about the Miami Heat: The nickname feels like a very natural extra syllable, the location is perfect since it celebrates something both regionalized and fierce, blah blah blah. The thing with the sun, though, is that it’s the generator of heat, which gives it an extra push. Think of it this way: Heat alone isn’t quite enough to melt your car in a hundredth of a second flat – you need a lot more than, say, a blowtorch. The sun is also the source of our ability to exist; it keeps the Earth in orbit. It has a major role in the operations of the solar system that mere heat alone doesn’t have. Also, it’s a plural, and since non-plural names are 90’s marketing hubris, it gets extra points.

41: Tampa Bay Rays, MLB
Here we have another sun-related name. Changed from the 90’s hubrisful Tampa Bay Devil Rays back in about 2007, the new names aspires to bring the Rays a new reputation as rays of light, as in a beacon of light to the baseball world, or as rays of sunlight. I’m giving this name a lot of credit for trying to be something so different, and it undoubtedly helps the branding – devil rays weren’t a real relatable creature to name a team after. Although the idea of a ray of light certainly holds weight in the Tampa Bay area, calling the team the Rays is taking a different approach than a lot of teams. It’s not aiming to create an image in ferocity or history or regionalization, but in inspiration. That makes it unique to any of the four major leagues, although I have my doubts that a lot of other people see it that way. The originality is stronger than most want to credit it with, but whether devil rays or rays, the branding doesn’t lend itself to wonderful imagery.

40: Miami Marlins, MLB
The most lovably dysfunctional team in baseball – yes, even more so than the Mets – gets its name from a popular gamefish. You have to give it credit – the Marlins were created in the 90’s, but instead of going with typical 90’s ferocity, they went with a less aggressive name. If you consider it, you have to eventually figure out that many of the truly great (or truly popular) names in sports aren’t aggressive at all. So in a way, Marlins is evoking many of the sports names of the olden days, concentrating on finding something the team’s fans can uniquely call their own instead of trying to appeal to a national fanbase of prepubescent boys they hope worship ferocious imagery. And coming up with a name of such a popular gamefish gives the name Miami Marlins a sort of Hemingway feel. Author Ernest Hemingway was a big time gamesman, after all, who lived in Florida for a long time and wrote a book called The Old Man and the Sea, which was about a fisherman trying to make a big catch.

Manning vs. Brady: The Ultimate Battle!

Manning vs. Brady: The Ultimate Battle!

Words like greatness and champion tend to conjure images of our greatest athletes soaring above and beyond the limits of our imaginations. Imaginations which you’ll have to use for the purposes of this article, because being saccharine when it comes to professional sports has never been a great specialty of mine.

So anyway, the battle lines have long been drawn in the NFL fandom. You’re either a Peyton Manning man or a Tom Brady man; one of these two is going to go down in history as the greatest quarterback of all time, and the other is going to be remembered as 1a. It’s the closest thing the NFL has to a good against evil rivalry right now, although the roles have managed to invert themselves: The gifted, strong-armed man who was the son of a quarterback and the brother of another quarterback and was raised almost purely to epitomize everything a proper pocket passer should be is the good guy in this case, while the scrappy underdog who was inconspicuously raised in California, had to prove himself at the University of Michigan, was drafted in the fifth round, and whose big break was one of Drew Bledsoe’s bones is considered the bad guy. While so-called analysts were debating stat and MVP King Manning against Super Bowl Champion Brady for years, both Rob and I were devoted Manning men. Then something funny happened: Brady started putting up video game numbers himself, and the debate between Manning and Brady was suddenly a real debate. Rob stuck with Manning through and through, but I began questioning who was the true superior of the two. Lately, it seems like everything between them has been a one-upsmanship contest which the rest of the NFL just got stuck in. Just when I think Brady proved himself the inarguable superior by throwing for over 500 yards in a single game, Manning will heave seven touchdown passes in a single game. Forget the hype; the NFL is a battlefield between Manning and Brady, and every other team is just caught in the middle. So who is actually better? Well, it’s time to throw my own five cents into this bloodletting. So let’s do this! Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. One day, I’ll learn.

Coaching
Peyton Manning played for a bunch of coaches – Jim Mora, Tony Dungy, and Jim Caldwell with the Indianapolis Colts. Upon his move to the Denver Broncos, Manning switched to coach John Fox. Non-fans might not notice this at first glance, but that’s not a particularly impressive spate of coaches. Dungy is the only coach of that bunch who could give fans any bragging rights – he’s the team’s all-time winningest coach, at least in Indy – and even he struggled to fix a defense which constantly played like a screen door on a submarine. So it was left on Manning’s head to lead all of those coaches to 13-win years at one point or another. Consider that: Four different head coaches, four new systems to learn, and one of them came with a move to a city where there’s no atmosphere and athletes have to be told to remember to breathe. Tom Brady has had only one single coach throughout the entirety of his NFL career. Not just any coach either, but Darth freaking Vader…. I mean, Bill freaking Belichick, a man who specialized in defense when he began his tenure with the New England Patriots and, when his guys got old, pulled a switcheroo and morphed into Air Belichick. That’s not only stability, it’s stability with a coach who can teach you rocket science.
Edge
Peyton Manning. For everything we know about what a natural athlete he is, Peyton Manning clearly put in extra credit to learn every new system thrown at him. He’s done that so often that any discussion over the league MVP revolves around who will be second to Manning. Tom Brady knows only his one guy. I’d like to see how he does without a wizard calling his shots before coming back to review this decision.

Beginning Situation
Quarterback is a difficult position to really get ahold of in the NFL. It’s why so few teams come up with even one serviceable QB they can safely call their franchise guy, so it’s safe to factor in just what they did when they were first thrown to the wolves. Manning won all of three games in his rookie season with the Colts. In his first real season as a starter, Brady didn’t do very much better. He only took the New England Patriots to, uh, their first ever Super Bowl victory. However, what should be be remembered here is that Tom Brady was drafted in 2000 and spent his first season sitting on his ass watching and learning from Drew Bledsoe, a 40,000-yard clubber himself who took the Patriots to a nigh-unwinnable Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers a few years earlier. In practices, he was learning the system of Bill Belichick. What does it all mean? That by the time Tom Brady won his promotion, he knew all the ropes, an advantage Peyton Manning didn’t have. I won’t factor in what Manning did during his first year in Denver, because by the time he got there, the Broncos were such an awesome team that Tim Tebow was able to get them into the playoffs.
Edge
Peyton Manning. Tom Brady never had to deal with a team that was a disorganized mess even before Marshall Faulk left.

Clutch Reputations
Peyton Manning has 38 fourth-quarter comebacks. Tom Brady has 27. Now, this can easily be nullified by pointing out the fact that if the quarterbacks are any good, they don’t find themselves playing from behind very often, and with Brady there’s certainly a case in that. Brady’s top year for comebacks was seven in 2003, when the Patriots weren’t leaking like drunks on defense. He seems to be playing from behind less and less. Manning has more comebacks to his name despite his reputation as a choker, and three times in his career he managed to lead his team to seven comebacks in a single season. Blame his defense. The dirty little secret of the New England Patriots is that, in spite of his fearless leader reputation, Tom Brady’s props as the clutch man in the Super Bowl are overblown. He’s played in the Big Game five times. The first two times, he merely brought his team to ties. In both final drives – which cemented his reputation, I might add – he wasn’t imitating Joe Montana or Eli Manning. All he did was lead the Patriots down the field, into…. Field goal position! Where his uber-clutch kicker broke tie games in the closing seconds! Kind of removes the sense of urgency, doesn’t it? In the third Super Bowl, the Philadelphia Eagles had a real shot at winning. Brady had no control over the end drives, but reeled in the Lombardi Trophy anyway because Philly’s coach couldn’t remember the time. Fourth Super Bowl against the New York Giants? That was a big one. Truly down by three points, Brady really needed a touchdown. There was a real sense of urgency because even if the Patriots kicked a field goal, that meant time would run out and the Giants would get another shot in overtime. And Tom Terrific couldn’t even get his team into field goal range. In his fifth Super Bowl, again against the Giants, Brady led the Pats on the final drive again, and this time his team was down by four so no touchdown, no ring, game, set, and match. Not only did Brady blow it, he didn’t even get within a reach of the endzone which was safe enough for New England to try anything other than a hail mary. I’m taking pleasure in Brady-bashing because while no one points this out, everyone loves to mock Manning’s one big comeback failure in the Super Bowl: The interception to Tracy Porter against the New Orleans Saints.
Edge
Take your chance. On the one hand, Peyton Manning comes back more often, but he’s more prone to mistakes. On the other, there’s Tom Brady, who looks lost when he’s truly behind in the Super Bowl under assault because he isn’t used to having to come back, but at least he doesn’t throw game-sealing interceptions.

Playing Style
Neither of these guys can be called a bad runner, but they’re both traditional pocket passers, which makes both of them relics in the new, mobile NFL. Of course, that doesn’t mean a whole lot because even in their career twilights, both are still capable of killing you. They just have different ways of going about it. Manning has always been more of a big play quarterback. Watching him, one gets the sense that he’s going for broke on each and every pass he throws. It’s high risk, high reward for Manning, a man who never heard of such a thing as game management until late in his career. He is a regular scrimmage line maestro who frequently calls his own plays and changes them at will if his gut is telling him the other defense is going to pull something. Tom Brady clearly knew the concept of game management from the moment he took over the starting job from Bledsoe in New England. Hell, it’s the reason he’s been so successful. Brady is more willing to spread the ball out, change receivers, and throw short-yardage passes for small gains to hack away at a defense if his team is on the ropes. It’s not the most exciting way to get the job done, but it works, and the risks aren’t as great. This shows in the interception numbers for both players – Manning has thrown considerably more career interceptions (209 to Brady’s 123) and his single-season interception high of 28 is twice that of Brady’s 14.
Edge
Tom Brady. If I have to protect a small lead, I need to know the ball is going to actually be safe.

Personnel
The common perception is that Peyton Manning lifted the NFL version of The Mighty Ducks while Tom Brady coasted by on the cream of the crop. When it comes to defense, Manning has always been shafted, while Brady only started getting screwed over around 2006. Manning had the career entirety of receiver Marvin Harrison for the bulk of both their careers, and Harrison is a guy who ranks in the Jerry Rice suites in several receiving categories, including career receptions – he’s one of only four to reel in 1000 balls, and he ranks first in average receptions per season. Manning also enjoyed the sustained ground support of Edgerrin James for an enormous chunk of time, and James was no half-ass runner – he holds five career rushing records for the Colts. Over his career, Manning also got the considerable services of other Pro Bowlers like center Jeff Saturday, wide receiver Reggie Wayne lining up opposite Harrison, running back Joseph Addai, and tight end Ken Dilger. Now, do you know who Antowain Smith is? He was the running back for the Patriots in New England’s first two Super Bowl victories, and a reject from the Buffalo Bills who really didn’t have much to offer beyond his willingness to take a few hits. It’s true that like Manning, Tom Brady enjoyed the protection of an all-world offensive line, an all-time great receiver (Randy Moss) and an all-time great running back (Corey Dillon). However, Moss and Dillon came years apart and played for the Patriots for less than three years! Dillon retired soon after helping the Patriots to their third Super Bowl, and Moss was shipped. New England is infamously unsentimental when it comes to keeping its guys, and Brady has had to get used to seeing his running backs and receivers get knocked down the depth chart and ditched entirely. Receiver Troy Brown had a Pro Bowl in an otherwise inconspicuous career, and he needed Brady to get it. Deion Branch was a Super Bowl MVP, an honor which probably topped his otherwise ordinary career. Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski are the closest things Brady ever had to favorite targets, but Welker is catching Peyton’s bombs in Denver now, and Gronk hasn’t been around for very long yet. Of course, the reverse arguments came when both players were injured; when Brady went down for the 2008 season, Matt Cassel won eleven games in his absence. When Manning was hurt in 2011, the Colts won two games.
Edge
Tom Brady. Manning has had the kind of stability with his players that Brady has had only with his coach. Yes, Manning-less Indianapolis won just two games, but that wasn’t a particularly good personnel year for them from any standpoint. You couldn’t say that about the 2008 Patriots.

Opposition
Yeah, I know, what the hell kind of a category is this? It isn’t like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are facing the 1983 quarterback draft class twice every season. Brady plies his trade in the AFC East against the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets. During his career, the Jets have had a few nice runs, but they didn’t come off as a wake-up call to the Patriots even at their best. The Bills and Dolphins have been in some of the weirdest messes in league history – Buffalo’s playoff drought is the league’s longest, and Miami once had a potential all-time great running back quit to go find himself before returning a couple of years later. Not that Manning spent his career in any less of a comfy situation – the league’s divisional layout was rearranged in 2002 to create the AFC South for the expansion Houston Texans, who just happen to share their division with the Colts. Manning also got to pick on the perpetually hapless Jacksonville Jaguars. The only team which was enough to threaten Indy was the Tennessee Titans, but even they were a spotty, frustrating team which could win twelve games one season then five the next. And when Manning went to Denver, his quality of opposition somehow managed to get even worse. The Kansas City Chiefs have fans pausing for thought with new coach Andy Reid and new quarterback Alex Smith, but that might well turn out to be a tease. The days of the San Diego Chargers being an offensive dynamo are gone and their window is firmly nailed shut for now, while the Oakland Raiders might be the worst team in the league.
Edge
Tom Brady. First of all, no player has ever tormented a single team the way Brady has beat on the Buffalo Bills. Yes, it’s the bizarro version of the Bills, but even so, a 23-2 record against a divisional rival is something to behold. Also, for all my complaining about his clutch Super Bowl performances not being all that clutch, Brady won his first Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams, still in their Greatest Show on Turf years. He won one of the most exciting shootouts in Super Bowl history against the Carolina Panthers, and the next year he played outstanding football against a Philadelphia Eagles team which many onlookers believe lost to itself more than it lost to the Patriots. Manning’s first Super Bowl opponent was the Chicago Bears, who won 13 games, but only because they hit their apex and had a weak schedule during a stretch when the NFC had a serious power void.. Manning’s second Super Bowl was against the visibly superior New Orleans Saints, and fuck the gambling line because the oddsmakers aren’t football fans anyway.

Accomplishments
This one can keep us up for awhile. Both have done an impressive number of things. Peyton Manning broke the record for touchdowns thrown in a single season in 2006, then Brady broke Manning’s record the following year. Peyton Manning threw seven touchdowns in his last game, something which hasn’t happened since 1944. Brady threw for 500 yards in a single game a couple of years ago. Brady also has a still-rare 5000-yard season under his belt now, and is second on the list for consecutive games with one touchdown pass with 49. Manning won four league MVP awards, Brady two. Manning was the fastest player to ever reach several large career milestones, including 50,000 passing yards and 400 touchdown passes. Both have been Super Bowl MVPs, and both are all-time leaders for their teams in several categories.
Edge
Tom Brady. This came down to what bragging rights these guys give the fans, and a 3-2 record in the Super Bowl trumps everything. Yes, Manning may be statistically better in a lot of categories, but I guarantee you no one in Indianapolis is walking around in a T-shirt touting Manning’s MVP years.

Biases
Peyton Manning played in a fellow Rust Belt city. Tom Brady is an All-American Golden Boy who became a celebrity being a fucking Patriot.
Edge
Peyton Manning. Even New England’s most diehard fans accept the fact that they’d probably hate Brady’s guts if he wasn’t playing on their team.

Have all my bases been covered? I love Peyton Manning. I love Tom Brady, at least the extent to which a non-Patriots fan can love Tom Brady. But in a heartbeat, my money is on Brady. At least in real life because his team-first philosophy is costing me fantasy points. Next year I’m taking Manning in fantasy football. But overall, Brady is better. Watch Rob limply attempt to debate this in our next book, Nick and Rob Explode the NFL.

The Long-Lost Pilot Episode of CSI: Buffalo

The Long-Lost Pilot Episode of CSI: Buffalo

I once caught a want ad in the local newspaper saying that if I wanted a CSI franchise in my city, I had to call 1-800-CSI-5555. Wanting some decent publicity for my hometown, I made the phone call and was immediately made the executive producer. They sent a screenwriter to help me bang out a pilot that was supposed to be sent in in a week. Everything was all set – we managed to draw the attention of a crew of acting and music A-listers to star! Unfortunately, due to New York State and City of Buffalo government regulations, the pilot episode failed to ever get off the ground. Regulations and moral questions prevented us from, you know, doing much of anything without first giving the Mayor’s office and Common Council all our money for film taxes and bribes. So here’s the long-lost script for CSI: Buffalo. You’ll just have to use your imaginations. Enjoy!

Setting: Ralph Wilson Stadium
A group of crime scene investigators is walking down the stairs in the 100 level of Ralph Wilson Stadium. They include McCoy, the well-worn Captain; Beukelski, the person who does the autopsies; Rammenhuigul, a decorated by-the-book officer; and Bonnelli, an eager rookie. They are being led down the stairs by one of the stadium cleaners.

McCoy: What seems to have happened here?

Cleaner:There’s a dead body right at row 26. You can’t miss him. You’re standing on him!

McCoy: (Quickly steps off body) Oh! I thought that platform felt suspiciously soft and squishy!

Beukelski leans down and removes the body’s jacket. It’s wearing a New England Patriots jersey with Tom Brady’s number.

Beukelski: The man is wearing a Patriots jersey. A Tom Brady jersey, no less. (Leans down to take a closer look again) Well, I can tell you he didn’t accidentally fall down the stairs.

Bonnelli: At least he had good seats.

Rammenhuigul: Don’t make fun. I’ll put it in the paperwork.

Bonnelli: You and your paperwork.

Beukelski: Yeah, looks like he took a hell of a beating. There is no consistent pattern which would indicate a fall down the stairs, and he appears to have a lot of splotchy bruises on his torso. He has shoulder pads on for some reason, which nullified some of the damage. What I find odd, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of blood around for someone who got beat up and died that way.

Rammenhuigul: There goes my faith in humanity. Who the hell would ever do a thing like this?

McCoy: You say that so much its lost all meaning. It’s Buffalo. It’s a Bills game! People get hurt! They die! Anyone who gets caught just gets fined $50 these days.

Rammenhuigul: Yeah, but it’s usually not so brutal. You! Person with the broom! Did you happen to get any sight of just what happened to this poor guy?

Cleaner: Yes, but there was no sign of him being seriously hurt. We just cleaned up the little bit of blood and all the teeth that spilled and figured he would get up and walk it off. You know Boston people. They keep telling everyone how tough they are, so I figured he’d be fine.

Bonnelli: Dude, I went to the academy in Boston. The guys there talk tough, but they’re all a buncha worthless mouth breathers. Punch me!

Cleaner punches Bonnelli several times in the face and stomach.

Cleaner: Okay, what’s your point?

Bonnelli: Boston guys can’t stand up to that kinda punishment. They’ll fall over if you flick their ears. Tough in big cities ain’t like TOUGH.

The body begins stirring

Bonnelli: (Shocked) Maybe I spoke too soon.

Beukelski: Don’t look now, but our corpse decided it’s not a corpse after all.

The body slowly gets up as the crew watches in amazement.

“Dead” Body: Oh, the cops! Boy, am I glad you guys showed up! A bunch of hooligans beat me up after the game! Luckily I was wearing shoulder pads, but I think I hit my head on as I fell.

Beukelski: Oh! Well, that explains everything!

Rammenhuigul: Not everything. Why are you wearing a Tom Brady jersey?!

“Dead” Body: Because. I’m Tom Brady.

McCoy: Oh. You look so different without your teeth!

Tom Brady: Yeah, I know. Lucky me, right? Except without my teeth, I won’t be able to blind opposing defenses anymore.

McCoy: Yeah, uh, good – lucky you, I think.

Rammenhuigul: Well, I guess I’m saved a little paperwork, but not much….

Bonnelli: Anyone else thinking what I’m thinking?

McCoy: Way ahead of ya!

As Tom Brady pulls out a mirror to check his boyish mop-top head, the four officers all take a step back at the same time, pull out their guns, and shoot him until they’re out of ammunition.

Beukelski: Well, I can say without any reservation now that Tom Brady is dead.

McCoy: To South Buffalo! To the bars!

Rammenhuigul: Drink to a good day’s work, well done!

The four officers turn to walk out of the stadium as the cleaner leaves to get the mop. Bonnelli lags a little in back to talk with the cleaner.

Bonnelli: You sure you got this mess, dude?

Cleaner: You should see some of the things I’m forced to clean up on gameday! This is no problem!

Bonnelli suddenly turns and quickly moves back down to Tom Brady’s body. He gives it a kick.

Bonnelli: And that’s for the hotel comment!

Tom Brady and the Hotel Fiasco

I don’t want any of the contents of this post to confuse people, so let me clear the air right now: I hate Tom Brady’s guts. I’ve often accused him of perpetuating an image of the All-American Golden Boy, and I’ve accused him of reaching his stature despite having never paid a single due in his life. But those are, of course, my critical theorist observations which I yanked from the air to try to explain why society in general hates Tom Brady. I use those as excuses to mask the fact that there’s no real good, obvious reason to hate Brady and that my need to kick him to a curbside is completely irrational outside of football. I look for excuses, because Brady himself sucks at providing excuses to hate him. I hate him more for that.

Tom Brady has taken the Patriots to their fifth Super Bowl during his tenure as their starting quarterback, and he’ll be staring down his Super Bowl opponents from 2007: The New York Giants. Brady is the star player for an archrival of the Buffalo Bills, which gives me reason enough to want to see his smug prettyboy head get clanged and dented a few times. I don’t need another reason to hate Tom Brady. But I’ll be parting ways with the Bills soon. Its been a wonderful run with them, but I find a lot of their current practices inexcusable and I officially began the process of detaching myself from them a couple of years ago. Once they leave, the team most likely to fill the void will be the New York Giants, so it isn’t like I need another reason to cheer for them. It’s an almost perfect love/hate matchup for me. If only the Bears had been Brady’s antagonists this year.

People in Buffalo hate Tom Brady because he carves up the Bills like a pumpkin twice every football season. And considering how much I hate him personally, it’s saying something that today, I’m writing to defend him. As I mentioned, Brady is actually a really good guy in person, and between his All-American sheen and the secrecy of the Patriots, the media spin machine has to invent every excuse it uses to rile sports fans into a healthy, frothing anti-Brady rage. The media has done this job well over the last week and taken two harmless comments Brady made and spin them out of control.

The first was a comment Brady made at a pep rally in New England. Addressing the crowd, Brady said “I wish I could take all you guys to Indy with us. We’re going down there, and we’re going down there for one reason. We’re going to give it our best, and hopefully we have a lot more people at our party next weekend.” That final clause is actually pretty harmless. Brady is not the kind of guy who runs around talking shit about his opponents, bragging about how much better he is. That clause is more a statement of hope for Brady, who lost several games to the Giants in the past; in the 2007 Super Bowl, it was the Giants who wrecked New England’s dream of the only perfect season in the 16-game era. During that game, Brady was physically abused and beat up in ways most quarterbacks aren’t used to, and mentally terrorized in a way I’ve never seen any quarterback endure in 15 years of watching football. If anything, that sentence was a humble tip of the hat to an opponent Brady knows is fully capable of slamming him to the turf again. But the New York City media wasn’t concentrating on the fact that Brady, at best, was hoping for a win. Instead, they took the part about a lot more people showing up at next weekend’s party and whirled up some bullshit about him making a guarantee.

A few days later, Brady talked with glowing admiration about how his parents supported him and flew out to see him wherever he played. Of his father, Tom Brady Sr., Brady said, “Even when I started my pro career, (Tom Sr.) traveled to Buffalo. I don’t know if you guys have ever been to the hotels in Buffalo – they’re not the nicest places in the world – but he would still travel to those.” That whole comment would have been instantly forgotten the instant he said it – in 99 percent of the country, it in fact probably was – had he not tossed in the backhanded reference to Buffalo.

When Brady made that remark, I shrugged it off like a lake effect snowflake. This is Buffalo, after all, a city in such dire shape that a onetime starting quarterback for the Bills, Rob Johnson, slammed the place in a nasty tirade on how boring Buffalo is. When his interviewer asked if it was really that bad, Johnson replied “Ever been there?” The Bills fielded a Hall of Fame quarterback in the 80’s and 90’s, Jim Kelly, who – while never a top-tenner – frequently shows up in the top percentage of quarterbacking greats. While Kelly is long retired and now keeps house in Buffalo, at the time of his draft in 1983 he was so pissed off about being exiled to Buffalo that he walked out of the NFL and played his first two years of professional football with the Houston Gamblers, a team in an unproven upstart league. He came crawling back to the Bills only because there were no other options. Both incidents are long forgotten.

That’s why Buffalo’s reaction at Brady’s offhand remark was so difficult to fathom. This is Buffalo, a city that prides itself on toughness. With our image, it takes toughness to live here. But when Brady commented on the sorry state of our hotel industry, the city jumped down his throat with an indignant hatred I would have earlier only ascribed to Chicagoans bitching about how Chicago will never be as awesome as New York City. The reaction was insane, topped out by a local radio station holding a ceremonial burning of Tom Brady shirts. All over a comment on hotels which Buffalo natives probably don’t stay in very often.

Let’s not kid ourselves. That petulant overreaction happened because Buffalo hates Tom Brady. We’ve heard much worse, and had Brady still been a third-stringer, we would have shrugged it off like it came from Curtis Painter. I’m ashamed to say that Buffalo lost enough of its composure to necessitate an apology by Brady. No, Tom. If anything, I’m sorry this proud beacon to roughneck-tumble character threw a hissy fit over something so mundane. Even OJ Simpson – another former Bill, by the way – never endured our wrath like that.