Pop Culture


If you haven’t been following your favorite NFL team since you saw them last winter, it’s time to catch you up on all of the relevant news of the offseason. I’ll begin with the teams of the AFC today and conclude tomorrow with the NFC. (Apologies to James Joyce, Alice Munro, Wislawa Szymborska, and Allen Ginsberg.)



Miami Dolphins


Chicago Bears fullback Evan Rodriguez was arrested for violent and disorderly conduct in Miami back in March. The Bears cut him, and he immediately signed with the Miami Dolphins. Hooray!


In Back To The Future 2, Marty McFly travels ahead in time to 2015, where he finds out that the Cubs are playing Miami in the World Series.

Why this is unlikely: Even though the Florida Marlins just changed their name this year to the Miami Marlins, both teams are in the National League, and cannot face each other in the World Series.

Margin of error: Miami has two years to switch to the American League, and in the meantime suddenly improve from being the worst team in baseball. The last time the Cubs were in the Series was 1908; everyone who saw it is now dead.


34-year old John Denney has been the Miami Dolphins long snapper for nine years. All he does is snap the ball to the punter or kicker. He never scores touchdowns, kicks the ball, gets tackled, or otherwise ever gets near the action. If he is seen carrying the football, something has gone horribly wrong. Sometimes he tackles people; this happens maybe four or five times a year. But pretty much all he does is snap the ball to some guys.

Maybe when he’s in a good mood he says, “Here guys, here you go, good luck with that!” and when he’s in a bad mood he says, “Here’s your goddamn ball, knock yourselves out!”

He gets paid around one million dollars a year. He can do this job until his early 40s and why not.


New York Jets


They no longer have backup quarterback Tim Tebow, so I can’t imagine what people talk about when discussing this team.


Jets offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson.


Mark Sanchez? He used to be like a tufted red leather booth at an Italian restaurant; the promise of a comfortable mediocrity, or at worst, an awkward date with someone your roommate hooked up with. Now he’s more like a salad bar at a strip club. You ask yourself, why am I here again, and then you see it, and you realize, not for this, and who am I fooling? Gazing up into the darkness, you see yourself as a creature driven and derided by vanity, and your eyes burn with anguish and anger.


New England Patriots


The Patriots, already blessed with a very handsome quarterback named Tom Brady, just signed an equally famous guy named Tim Tebow to be his backup last month.

Tebow is an outspoken Christian, the kind who leads prayer circles on the field and airs anti-abortion ads during the Super Bowl.

He is also, unquestionably, one of the NFL’s good guys off the field. His foundation is building a hospital in the Philippines, where he was born. He spends a substantial amount of time off the field with injured and seriously ill children. Every week of the season, he finds someone who’s suffering or dying and flies them and their families out for the game, hanging out with them, and paying for their meals, hotel, and everything. Tim was an excellent, exciting college quarterback for Florida, and in conjunction with his kind deeds, his passionate dogmatism, and his cheerful charisma, it was no surprise that he had the best selling jersey in the NFL before he even played a snap as a rookie.

Still, Tim’s record as a quarterback in the NFL is inconclusive and weird. He’s a sloppy passer capable of horrible games, like the time he lost 7-3 at home to the stupidly bad Chiefs. A week later, he led an amazing comeback win against the Steelers in the 2011 playoffs. On the New York Jets in 2012, he never started a game, only throwing eight passes all year. He still had the 8th-best selling jersey in the league despite hardly ever seeing the field. Tim’s fan base is so immense and rabid that most NFL teams didn’t want to sign him because he’s too popular, and they didn’t want the distraction of a media/hype cloud around a likely bench player.

Nobody has anybody idea what the Patriots will actually do with him; one rumor has been a position switch to tight end. New England’s depth chart at tight end is looking a little thin lately with Rob Gronkowski’s dance floor injury, and Aaron Hernandez a likely murder suspect in his friend’s death. Let’s go ahead and say Tebow will see the field more in 2013.


If you were alive in 1985, you might remember that the Chicago Bears created a music video called “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” Their opponent in the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots, made one as well, called “New England, The Patriots, and Me.” Watch it sometime if you want to feel like America is a mistake.


Buffalo Bills


The best grammatically correct sentence in the English language is “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo,” or “New York bison whom other New York bison bully, themselves bully New York bison.”

The Buffalo Bills are the R.E.M. of professional football. They were weird in 1980s, got a lot of mainstream media attention in the early 1990s, and consistently surprised people in the 2000s with the fact that they were still around. R.E.M. once opened for The Police in New York. Police in Buffalo open their eyes after R.E.M. sleep to find it was all a dream; they are still in New York.


Lately the Buffalo Bills have been playing one game a year in Canada, which makes them seem mysterious.


Former Bills placekicker Scott Norwood has inspired a song by Mercury Rev and two characters in major motion pictures. Former quarterback Frank Reich’s name means “France” in German.



Indianapolis Colts


Indianapolis is the second-largest state capital in the United States. A stretch of Interstate 65 that runs through Indianapolis is called the “Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds Highway.” Hence, Livability.com rates downtown Indianapolis as the best downtown in the country.


The Colts’ first-round choice in the 2013 NFL Draft was a German national named Bjoern Werner. Bjoern learned about the NFL from playing Madden. He has since married his tenth-grade girlfriend, Denise.


When Bjoern wants to feel free, and drive all night on the Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds Highway, he drops Denise off at home first. Bjoern hears the female voice calling after him, the loud, crude female voice, abusive and forlorn: “Thanks for the ride!”


Jacksonville Jaguars


My dad has two cassette tapes in his car. One of them is The Moody Blues In Search of the Lost Chord. That’s some trippy stuff to hear when you’re ten years old and driving though the dense woods of northern Minnesota. The other is Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits, which he somehow acquired when it came out in 1993. He’s listened to only one tape or another for about 20 years now.

One day when I’m in his car, I open his glove box, and I ask, “Which tape do you want to listen to? Tom Petty?” and he replied, “I don’t know why I have that one. I don’t like it very much.”

Which pretty much sums up America’s experience with the Jacksonville Jaguars, even in Jacksonville.


Tennessee Titans


I can’t help it. As someone who was a teenager in the 1990s, the word “Tennessee” always makes me think of Baba Oje, that old guy who sat onstage with Arrested Development. Who was he, what did he do? Nobody knows. There was a rumor that he died, but it turned out to be false.


Will Delanie Walker fill the tight end position vacated by Jared Cook? Can Marc Mariani return from a broken leg to continue his record-setting career as a kick and punt returner? Why do tomatoes taste better when stored at room temperature? Why is the Early Girl variety so popular? Do people know there’s an extremely similar heirloom variety called Moskvich that’s also an indeterminate growth early season tomato, with similarly uniform globes, and with a comparable yield and ripening schedule? The patent for Early Girl is owned by Monsanto, so you know.


Houston Texans


What kind of name is “Texans”? I remember there used to be the Houston Oilers. Now there was a name. Helmets with oil derricks on the side! You could make their logo at home with Lincoln Logs, or with contractors from Schlumberger, depending on your budget.


In the city of Dallas, it is illegal to own a “realistic-looking” dildo. In Houston, it is perfectly legal.


What Houston running back Arian Foster tweeted at Fantasy Football players, when he got injured in 2011: “Those sincerely concerned, I’m doing OK & plan to B back by opening day. 4 those worried abt your fantasy team, u ppl are sick.”



Baltimore Ravens


The Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl last year, have since lost six of their best players (Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Vonta Leach, Anquan Boldin, and special teams ace/LGBT rights activist Brendon Ayanbadejo) and yet, some are predicting them to make it to the Super Bowl again. I say, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. I bet more than 50% of the team doesn’t know what it’s going to have for dinner tonight.


If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have spaghetti Bolognese.


The Ravens drafted Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk (pronounced Juice-Check) in the fourth round, and cut their All-Pro veteran fullback Vonta Leach shortly afterwards. For reference, fullback is the position that Riggins plays in Friday Night Lights.

Kyle spent part of his NFL signing bonus on the purchase of a new bed. Vonta Leach prefers fried turkey on Thanksgiving to the regular kind. Neither Kyle or Vonta, as of yet, have Riggins’s damaged-goods intensity and air of mystery. We can wait; we’ve been waiting.


Cincinnati Bengals


I can’t help it. I can’t ever hear the word “Cincinnati” and not think about how Rutherford B. Hayes was the city solicitor there from 1858 to 1861. Hayes had a son named Webb Cook Hayes who was 21 when his dad became president in 1877. Among Webb’s duties was escorting single ladies at White House functions and shutting down parties that went on too long. What a job for a hot young piece like Webb. I wonder if he was good at ending parties, or if he was like “Hey guys, Dad says you gotta go! He means it this time! Hey guys!”

Webb went on to found a company that eventually became Union Carbide. Union Carbide’s activities killed untold thousands of people around the globe throughout the 20th century.


The Bengals are the featured team on HBO’s Hard Knocks series this year. One of the players trying to make the team out of camp is an Estonian man named Margus Hunt. Let’s go ahead and assume that the announcers will make constant Encino Man references when he plays. They have a running back named BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who his teammates call “The Law Firm.” They also have a player named John Conner, who will eventually will send his best friend back in time to have sex with his mom, so he can be born. So there’s that.


Cleveland Browns


Otis Redding, the singer who penned the soul classics “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay,” “Respect,” and “Hard To Handle,” died when his airplane crashed into Lake Monoma, Wisconsin, on December 10, 1967.

When his lawyers struck his estate, they came across a locked cabinet behind a closet wall. Inside the cabinet were 67 identical hand-bound books, which Redding had apparently made himself. Each book was exactly the same. They were perfectly alike in height, width, and weight; each book measured 5.25 inches by 7 inches and was 2 inches thick. The books ranged from 45 pages to over 500, but he used different thicknesses of paper to achieve the identical dimensions.

Inside each book were pages and pages of pasted word collages. People since have described the content as similar to the bien collé style of Cubism in such paintings as Braque’s “Fox” and Picasso’s “Still Life With Bottle,” but nobody knows for sure. The books were sold off and separated at an estate sale, and no one has seen them since.


This June 4th marked the 39th anniversary of 10-cent beer night at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. This is why Cleveland can’t have nice things.


Pittsburgh Steelers


Where are the Steelers we knew in our youth? Mike Wallace (fast), Casey Hampton (wide), James Harrison (mean), Hines Ward (smiley), Rashard Mendenhall (far leftist politics), and Aaron Smith (always injured) are gone. Jerome “The Bus” Bettis (likes public transportation) is long gone. Troy Polamalu (hair), Brett Keisel (beard), and Heath Miller (jersey sales) will be gone shortly. At least they still have Ben Roethslisberger (multiple sexual assault accusations).

QUESTION: The Steelers play in Three Rivers Stadium. Can I name all three rivers?

ANSWER: The Allegheny. And those other ones. So, no.


I think there should be a blues-rock bar band called “AA Bottom,” and their big gimmick is, no one in the band has a beard. Except the drummer, Frank Moustache, who doesn’t have a moustache.



San Diego Chargers


“A smile from San Diego / He is still a boy / Two ends to every rainbow / And a train from Mexico” – PJ Harvey, “Beautiful Feeling” from Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea

“On those rare occasions where Popeye finds himself between ships, he, contrary to public opinion, does not live in a garbage can. Usually he finds work as a dogcatcher in San Diego.” – Jim Ruland, “The Previous Adventures of Popeye the Sailor,” from Big Lonesome


San Diego running back Danny Woodhead, is, for a football player, a small and anonymous-looking guy. While on the New England Patriots, he spent a day working at a Dick’s Sporting Goods as a joke, and attempted to sell his jersey to customers. He went on to score a touchdown in Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants. Maybe some people recognized him then.


Oakland Raiders


“Raider Nation,” wrote Hunter S. Thompson, “is beyond doubt the sleaziest and rudest and most sinister mob of thugs and whackos ever assembled in such numbers under a single ‘roof,’ so to speak, anywhere in the English-speaking world.” As Megan Greenwell pointed out in her excellent article in The Classical, it was intended as a compliment; he became a fan himself.

Considering God’s and/or Al Davis’s absence from the product that the Raiders front office has lately inflicted these fans with, such loyalty is frightening, even beautiful. Sell me your soul, there are no other takers, there is no other devil anymore.


Kansas City Chiefs


Long ago, in another lifetime, I went to a wedding in Kansas City, a wedding between two delightful people who I dearly loved. The wedding took place at one of Kansas City’s few synagogues, a building the groom referred to as “Battlestar Judaica.”

The day before the wedding, the Saturday, a group of us wandered around the grounds of a local art museum, and I found myself under the canopy of Louise Bourgeois’s astonishing sculpture Spider (1997). The museum positioned it to be out of reach of her baby spider, which is attached to the museum’s façade, far away.

I gave the best extemporaneous speech of my life at that wedding. The couple has since divorced, and each person, encased in their new lives, is as resolute and distant as two spiders that were, by all appearances, only ever connected in a memory.


There is a “56th and Wabash (not “Wabasha,” just “Wabash”) in Kansas City. It seems like a fine, if unspectacular, place to meet Bob Dylan anytime before noon. From there, you could definitely be in Kansas by the time the snow begins to thaw, unless there’s only a very small amount of snow and there’s a sudden and extreme heat wave, perhaps caused by the impact of the asteroid 99942 Apophis.


Denver Broncos


Last January, in a bar in Los Feliz with a few other writers, I watched the fourth-longest football game in NFL history, a Denver Broncos loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game.

One has to believe that even with the loss of their starting center J. D. Walton (to an ankle injury) and defensive end Elvis Dumervil (to a mistake with a fax machine) that new additions Wes Welker, Montee Ball, Sylvester Williams, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will help amend for last year’s shortcomings, and one more time, Peyton Manning, sick of America’s insane demands, will experience mystical visions and cosmic vibrations, and put his queer shoulder to the wheel.

J. Ryan Stradal's writing has also appeared in Hobart, The Rattling Wall, The Rumpus, Midwestern Gothic, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and The Nervous Breakdown, among other places. He also volunteers with students at 826LA, helps create products and materials for the Echo Park and Mar Vista Time Travel Marts, works in TV, and co-produces the literary/culinary series Hot Dish. His name has appeared one time in the credits of a feature film.