Sad that there hasn’t been an NFL football game in almost seven months? After reviewing the AFC yesterday, all of the credible, influential, and relevant news of the NFL offseason concludes today with the teams of the NFC. (Apologies to Jhumpa Lahiri, Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, James Baldwin, and James Tate.)
For decades, the Cowboys have had the chutzpah to declare themselves “America’s Team.” When they were actually good in the 1990s, this was merely annoying, but the last several years, it’s become deeply sad, like when you go out on a date with a 31-year old and the first thing he tells you is that his name’s in Who’s Who Among American High School Students. A much stronger case can be made for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have an immense and geographically diverse fan base, or the Packers, Patriots, and Giants, who are actually good.
Lately, the Cowboys aren’t even the best team in Texas; the Houston Texans have been a trendy Super Bowl pick for years, and have talented, likeable players like Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, and J.J. Watt.
WHAT PURPOSE DID I SERVE?
Dallas Quarterback Tony Romo dated Jessica Simpson from November 2007 to July 2009. During their relationship, he was slightly better (a win-loss record of 15-7) than he has been otherwise (40-31). Both Tony and Jessica are now married to other people.
For a long time, Tony still used that wine opener that he and Jessica once bought for a picnic, and whenever he did, he was like, “oh, this.” Then one day, when he’s out of town for a golf tournament, his new wife throws it away, and when he returns, he notices, but wisely leaves its absence unremarked. It no longer has a place in the new math being reckoned here in the present, Tony realizes, and tells himself, it wasn’t Jessica, it was that Pro Bowl offensive line I had.
New York Giants
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO:
Tavern On The Green? Just because a restaurant is bad and overpriced, does that mean it has to close?
Newt Gingrich’s wife? I met her at a hotel in Des Moines once. She reminded me of a cross between C3-PO and Amanda Bynes at age 50. Her hand feels like forks right out of a coffee cup in the sink.
Newt Gingrich? Her husband greeted everyone in the hotel bar except for me, so maybe I’m resorting to ad hominem attacks out of bitterness. Then again, he did get called a “fucking asshole” by a middle-aged man in full-on camo gear the day before, so maybe Newt took one look at my Western shirt and stocking cap and said, “oh please, not even.”
Jane Child? I liked that nose-to-ear chain earring she had. Actually, I didn’t like it at all, I found it kind of scary.
A GOOD STORY:
Mark Herzlich was a star player in college. Many projected him to be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft following his senior year. Then, in May of 2009, spring of his junior year, he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma. He underwent treatment, and most people told him he’d be leaving football behind forever.
Mark beat the disease; he was cancer free by fall of 2009. After a year off, he returned to his college team and played his final season of NCAA eligibility. Still, no NFL team picked the former top prospect in the Draft at all. They were afraid that cancer treatment took too much out of him. The New York Giants took a shot on Mark.
He’s their starting middle linebacker going into the 2013 season.
So who is going to make the Eagles’ dog-murdering quarterback Michael Vick into a winner, beloved by hundreds? Maybe Chip Kelly, their new head coach from the University of Oregon. He has a zippy playbook of fancy, speedy plays, untested at the NFL level.
Mr. Kelly’s wistful and intrepid pilgrimage is compelling; I can’t think of two American cities that are less alike than Eugene and Philadelphia. Upon arriving at the Eagles’ practice facility, Mr. Kelly realizes that he is not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and there are times where he is bewildered by each mile he has traveled, each meal he has eaten, each person he has known, and each room in which he slept, only to end up, debased by expectations, contriving ways to endure the failings of a criminal’s grotesque second act.
When Michael Vick’s first read isn’t open, and he tucks the ball and scrambles for a loss on the play, the breakdown and its tumbling consequences are on Mr. Kelly. As Eagles fans pelt him with curses and AA batteries, and he considers his options for a third-and-fifteen, he realizes that perhaps he made it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded, so he bites his lip, closes his eyes, and imagines that he’s back in Eugene, drinking the best soy latte that he’s ever had.
You say potato. I say, I’m sorry, I forgot to poke holes in it before baking it, and one side really got burned. How about we just get meat lover’s pan crust from Domino’s? We never get to have what I like.
Just when you think that we’ve come pretty far as an enlightened, just, fair and sympathetic society, you remember that there’s a professional sports franchise called the “Washington Redskins.”
OFFICE OF UNSPECIFIED SERVICES:
When I was eight years old, my family drove out to Washington D.C. to visit my uncle Butler, who worked at the White House as a driver for then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. On a day off, Butler drove my younger brother and I around the city and pointed at unremarkable office buildings.
“Do you know what happens in that building?” he’d ask us.
“What?” we’d ask back.
“I can’t tell you!” he’d say, and laugh, heartily.
He bought me my first book of U.S. presidents at the Lincoln Memorial gift shop, and you could say it sparked an immediate and passionate interest. I can tell you that I was the only fourth grader at Tilden Elementary School with a homemade Millard Fillmore pin on his jacket.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
HURRY UP WITH MY DAMN CROISSANTS:
Have you ever sat down in the shower and wondered why the potato salad at Publix (ten locations in the Tampa Bay area) is so much more dynamic and sensational than the potato salad at other grocery stores? Is it because the mustard/mayo ratio skews heavy on the mustard?
NORTH BY NORTH WEST:
What’s the best name for a baby: Cappy, Hecky, Mnemosyne, Learned Hand, or Spinks?
WAXHAWS AND I:
No one knows where Andrew Jackson was born. It was somewhere on the border of North and South Carolina, in an area called The Waxhaws. Every year, his birth state is decided by the result of a high school football game between teams from each side of the line.
As a child, Andrew Jackson would not likely have imagined this scenario. His young life was a jug band of woe. His father died before he was born, his two older brothers died during the Revolutionary War, and his mother died of cholera when he was 14. One of the last things she told her final remaining child was not to sue or take to court anyone who slandered him. “Settle them cases yourself,” she told him.
New Orleans Saints
THE SAINTS COME QUIETLY IN:
The Saints’ star wide receiver, Marques Colston, is an extremely soft-spoken, laid-back guy who listens to the O’Jays on the way to games, avoids the media, and is, overall, the antithesis of the modern prima donna wideout like Chad Ochocinco or Terrell Owens. “There’s no ‘throw me the ball’ from Marques,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees told ESPN. “Marques doesn’t talk around us,” defensive back Malcolm Jenkins adds. “The only time Marques talks is if he gets mad at himself. He’s a quiet guy. He just goes out and makes plays.”
Colston does have a Twitter account; he’s posted all of 10 tweets since he signed up this April 25th. In the only picture of himself he’s posted, he’s standing, looking at the ground, with his hand over his face. “It’s just me,” Colston says. “I’m comfortable being me.”
Button Gwinnett was the second person to sign the Declaration of Independence. It’s always nice to be the second person to sign something; you have more space, and you can write something clever like “Have a kick-ass summer!” before someone else thinks of it.
Less than a year after signing our country’s most famous piece of correspondence, Button’s political rival Lachlan McIntosh killed him in a duel. Because existing examples of his signature are so rare (only about 50 are known to exist) Button’s is one of the most valuable of any American in history, selling for up to $800,000.
The rest of Lachlan McIntosh’s life, when somebody like John Houstoun or Charles Pinckney were like, “What are you gonna do today, Lachlan?” he’d say, “Whatever I wanna do, gosh!” because hey, he shot a guy who signed the Declaration of Independence, and that’s a precipice of loneliness from which all ensuing habits are excused, and where old friends greet you like an early frost greets a Brandywine tomato.
IT’S WHAT’S FOR DINNER:
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones has eliminated beef and pork from his diet, and switched to an all-organic menu. His teammate, Tony Gonzalez, was a vegan for a time before switching to vegetarianism a few years ago. “Just look at my stats over the past five years,” Gonzalez, 37, told Men’s Health. “I have more energy, better focus, and more endurance. I hardly ever come out of the game.”
“The guy who’s eating the steak is sluggish in the fourth quarter,” he adds. “I want to be 100 percent.”
A GUIDE TO MOTORING IN GEORGIA:
There’s a town halfway between Athens and Atlanta called Between. In Peachtree City, it’s legal to drive golf carts on the public roads. Maxey’s is the only town in Georgia with an apostrophe in the name. Sandersville is home to the annual Kaolin Festival and is the birthplace of former Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. Snellville’s slogan is “Everybody’s Somebody in Snellville.” In the town of Social Circle, it is illegal to purchase alcohol on Election Day.
None of this is going to matter a darn after 2029 when we’re hit by asteroid 99942 Apophis.
St. Louis Rams
WHO ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE?
Wow, this is sure a different team than last year. Get your stuff: Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola, Craig Dahl, Brandon Gibson, Bradley Fletcher. And hello there: Jared Cook, Jake Long, Tavon Austin, Alec Ogletree, T.J. McDonald.
Of course, when you’re watching them on a bar TV from twenty feet away, while grown men in football jerseys yell, and unhappy servers in low-cut tops groan as they’re forced to close out 40 tabs simultaneously, all of these players will look pretty much the same, so it doesn’t matter, in spite of the strides of physical culture, the practice of sports such as tennis, football, running, cycling, swimming, flying, floating, riding, gliding, conating, camogie, skating, tennis of all kinds, dying, flying, sports of all sorts.
RED STATE CALISTHENICS:
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians doesn’t believe in any warm-up stretching before practice. Bruce’s rationale is, “if a guy starts chasing you with a gun, you’re not going to stretch first.”
WHAT IS THIS?
“Arizona, take off your rainbow shades /Arizona, have another look at the world
Arizona, cut off your Indian braids / Arizona, hey won’tcha go my way”
— Mark Lindsay, “Arizona,” from the album Arizona.
Is this the worst song ever about a place that’s not MacArthur Park? OK, so some believe it’s about a woman named Arizona, which is merely dumb and sad, but either way: “cut off your Indian braids”? I say, wha?
It didn’t have to be like this. Mark, you lived with Terry Melcher on Cielo Drive when Melcher was having a tryst with Candice Bergen and the Manson murders happened. You were in the superior vena cava of culture during an unprecedented arrhythmia of tragedy and insane bloodlust. You bring things to the saddest of all points, to the point where there is something to lose. Then, all at once, through all the music, through all the sensible sounds of men building, attempting, comes the Dies Irae. And what is it? What does the trumpet sound? “Arizona.”
WAITING FOR THE MAN:
The Seattle team is, to many, a trendy pick for a Super Bowl berth this year. One amazing problem: The “Seadderall Seahawks” have had more suspensions for Performance Enhancing Drugs, often Adderall, than any other team in the NFL since 2010. The latest suspension came this May, when starting defensive end Bruce Irvin flunked a random test and will be held out the first four games of the upcoming season.
Last season, after Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, along with teammate Brandon Browner, were issued suspensions for Adderall abuse, ESPN The Magazine asked Sherman if the team has a problem with PEDs. “It does seem that way,” he replied.
SEATTLE’S BEST HUMOR:
From one NFL general manager:
Q: How do you stop a Seahawk?
A: Take away his doctor’s prescription pad.
I didn’t make this up; this is an actual joke.
The tragedy of this situation is that I’m shocked this team feels they need the PEDs; the Seahawks are, unquestionably, one of the teams to beat in the NFL this season. They have a strong core of young, talented and exciting players, and plentiful depth, even excess, at key positions. We are powerful, they seem to know, and we are rich. But our power makes us uncomfortable and we handle it very ineptly. The principal effect of our material well being has been to set the children’s teeth on edge.
San Francisco 49ers
“San Francisco, San Francisco. You’re a muttering bum in a brown beat suit. Can’t make a woman on a rainy corner.” – Jack Kerouac
“San Francisco. I was born there.” – Sulu
“I woke up full of hate and fear the day before the most recent peace march in San Francisco.” – Anne Lamott
“San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality.” – Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane
COUNTRY AND RAP:
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick recently presented at the American Country Music Awards (for Top Vocal Duo; it went to Thompson Square) but usually listens to Trinidad James before NFL games to “get his mind right.”
When I was four years old, my favorite song of all time was “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover,” by Paul Simon, because of the rhymes and the recognizable nouns. My second favorite was the elegiac waltz “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” by Gordon Lightfoot. “In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed / at the Maritime Sailor’s Cathedral / the church bell chimed ‘til it rang 29 times / for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
But what really hit home for me at age four was the concept of having to skip meals because of inclement weather: “The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait when the Gales of November came slashin’,” and later: “When suppertime came the old cook came on deck sayin’. ‘Fellas, it’s too rough t’feed ya.’” I already knew I didn’t want that job, even if they all lived.
ONLY A MOTION AWAY:
Paul Simon once ordered a chicken and egg dish called “The Mother & Child Reunion” at a Chinese restaurant, and it inspired him to write a song that would be heinously misconstrued. True story; blows my mind.
Green Bay Packers
Back in March, I went camping in Arizona with my high school friend Nathan and his brother Evan, two people I’ve known since my childhood in Minnesota. Evan was on his way to Green Bay, where he got a job working for the chaplain of the Green Bay Packers, in addition to full-time duties as a Family Life pastor at a local church. Evan’s an extremely friendly and laid-back guy, and has already befriended a number of Packers players. None of this surprises me, starting with the fact that NFL teams have chaplains.
To the casual observer, Packers fans appear to boo their team more often than any NFL fans west of Philadelphia, but most of what sounds like booing is actually the fans saying “Kuuuuuuuhn,” in support of fullback John Kuhn. Packers fans await this moment; they will yell “Kuuuuuuuhn!” whenever John Kuhn gets a carry or reception, regardless of the outcome. Sometimes they yell “Kuuuuuuuhn!” simply when he enters the game. At the Super Bowl in 2011, the Packers fans in attendance audibly yelled “Kuuuuuuuhn!” when backup fullback Korey Hall caught a two-yard pass. Whoops.
Korey Hall left the team shortly thereafter, moving not just far away from Kuhn and his ridiculous fans, but from the tyranny of Wisconsin, that state united by the grim belief that mustard yellow and pine green are an acceptable color combination for adult clothing.
CUTTY COME BACK:
It may be hard to believe, but current Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is the second-best quarterback in Bears history. That’s right, you have to go back to Sid Luckman (1939-1950) before you can find a former Bears QB that can match up to Jay’s performance. It should be noted that Jay has achieved this status while playing behind some of the worst offensive lines the Bears have ever had, and further handicaps his success by being famously grim and moody; his face at rest looks like a triage nurse after a 16-hour shift in a Somalian children’s hospital.
If Jay throws an interception while his team is behind, it will probably lead to another, which will probably lead to him going internally and externally batshit, yelling at his teammates, shoving his crappy linemen, dissing his offensive coordinator, and hurling the ball at the ground. “I care about this,” Cutler says. “I’m not doing this for my health.”
Viva The Second Greatest, always attending his own funeral, the air a jail of music and cool yellow fire.
Best-named joints in Chicagoland where you can drag your red hots through the garden: Hot Doug’s Encased Meat Emporium, Weiner’s Circle, Weiner And Still Champion, Franks For The Memories, Mustard’s Last Stand, Relish The Thought.
52 years of it.
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.