kottke.org posts about NFL

The 2013 NFL season in 160 secondsJan 28 2014

If you haven't been watching the NFL at all this season but are planning on tuning into the Super Bowl, this video by ESPN will prepare you by recapping the entire season in under three minutes.

If you want something more specific, try Wikipedia or SB Nation. (via devour)

More hilarious bad lip reading of NFL playersJan 24 2014

The first installment was a classic, but this second video of NFL players and coaches overdubbed with alternate dialogue is pretty great as well.

(via devour)

Bad British NFL commentaryJan 16 2014

From the clueless British announcer who brought you this bad baseball commentary ("No! Caught by the chap in the pajamas with the glove that makes everything easier. And they all scuttle off for a nap.") comes some hilariously misinformed NFL game commentary.

Alabama's fullback has a handkerchief in his back pocket. He must have a cold but he's pressing on regardless. That's stoicism for you.

On the intelligence of football playersJan 10 2014

Michael Lewis made the case in The Blind Side that football players are the smartest in sports because the game is complex and moves fast. For the New Yorker, Nicholas Dawidoff takes a look at what makes a football player smart.

The Redskins' London Fletcher is undersized and thirty-eight years old, but he's been able to play for so long because he is a defensive Peyton Manning: seeing the game so lucidly, yelling out the offensive play about to unfold, changing alignments before the snap, organizing the field in real time. Similarly, Lavonte David, who has been with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two years, is just two hundred and thirty-four pounds -- ten to fifteen pounds lighter than most at his position -- the Wonderlic scores out on the Internet for him are not especially high, and, like all players, he makes the occasional boneheaded play. But he possesses dedicated study habits and a football clairvoyance that, come Sunday, finds him ignoring the blocking flow only at the one moment during a game when the offense runs the ball away from it.

The Hall of Fame Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Alan Page weighed two hundred and forty-five pounds, the dimension of a modern fullback. Even so, Page was terrifying. His forty-yard-dash time wasn't anything special, either, but he says that he could run down faster opponents because he always had sense where he was in relation to the blur of bodies around him-he could "understand the situation." Page is now an Associate Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court. "Being a football player requires you to take your emotional self to places that most people shouldn't go," he said. "You wouldn't want to get to know the person who was in my head on a football field. I likely see some of these people in my current job -- those who can't control that person -- and they do not very nice things."

I asked him, "You could control that person on a field?"

"Most of the time," Page said.

The safety, standing at the rear of the defense, must compensate for the mistakes of others; football intelligence matters more at this position than any other on the defense. At five-eight, a hundred and eighty-eight pounds, the Bills safety Jim Leonhard, a nine-year veteran, is among the smallest and also the slowest starting defensive backs in the game. And yet, watching him on film, he appears to teleport to the ball. Leonhard's name seems to enter any conversation about football intelligence; he knows every teammate's responsibilities in every call, and understands the game as twenty-two intersecting vectors. "He'd walk off the bus and you'd think he was the equipment manager," Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "He's still in the league because he's the quarterback of the defense."

The best and worst NFL announcersDec 30 2013

Aaron Gordon of Sports on Earth watched 32 NFL games to determine the best and worst NFL announcers.

In general, there are three types of announcer comments: good, neutral and bad. Good statements offer some type of insight into the game. This is inherently subjective, since different people know different things. Neutral statements constitute the bulk of their utterances: neither offensive nor insightful. As a result, I decided to measure the bad statements.

I divided announcers' verbal infractions into six categories that are not simply pet peeves, but likely to be annoyances for a majority of NFL viewers.

Happy to see Chris Collinsworth near the top of the heap...he's my favorite and, while a bit goofy sometimes, offers the best post-Madden analysis in the game. Siragusa and Gruden are like nails on the chalkboard, surprised they didn't rank much worse.

More former NFL stars have head troublesNov 07 2013

Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett is among a growing group of former NFL players who have been diagnosed with diseases caused by years of head trauma and other injuries.

The former Cowboys running back, now 59, said that when he took his Oct. 21 flight from Dallas to Los Angeles for testing, he repeatedly struggled to remember why he was aboard the plane and where he was going. Such episodes, he said, are commonplace when he travels.

Dorsett said he also gets lost when he drives his two youngest daughters, ages 15 and 10, to their soccer and volleyball games.

"I've got to take them to places that I've been going to for many, many, many years, and then I don't know how to get there," he said.

The 1976 Heisman Trophy winner and eighth all-time leading NFL rusher said he has trouble controlling his emotions and is prone to outbursts at his wife and daughters.

"It's painful, man, for my daughters to say they're scared of me." After a long pause, he tearfully reiterated, "It's painful."

And I missed this last year, but former Bears QB Jim McMahon is suffering from early-stage dementia.

In an interview with Fox affiliate WFLD-TV, aired Wednesday, the 53-year-old McMahon says he knows where he's going when in an airport. But when he meets people, "I'm asking two minutes later, 'Who was that?'

"When my friends call and leave me a message ... I'll read it and delete it before I respond and then I forget who called and left me a message."

McMahon says he is not worried about his mind withering away. He says he still reads a lot and is doing other things to keep his mind active. However, he said he doesn't know whether he is getting worse.

These stories are just going to keep coming. Perhaps a true tipping point will come when one of the league's past megastars is dianosed with CTE...if Brett Favre or Dan Marino or John Elway or Troy Aikman or Ray Lewis or any of the other former players that appear regularly on NFL game broadcasts announces he has CTE or dementia, maybe then the league will take real action? Or not? (via df)

League of DenialOct 09 2013

League of Denial, the Frontline documentary on the NFL and concussions, is available online for anyone to watch for free.

NFL deliberately campaigned against science regarding head injuriesOct 02 2013

According to an upcoming book by ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, the NFL "conducted a two-decade campaign to deny a growing body of scientific research that showed a link between playing football and brain damage".

Excerpts published Wednesday by ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated from the book, "League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth," report that the NFL used its power and resources to discredit independent scientists and their work; that the league cited research data that minimized the dangers of concussions while emphasizing the league's own flawed research; and that league executives employed an aggressive public relations strategy designed to keep the public unaware of what league executives really knew about the effects of playing the game.

Excerpts of the book are available from ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated. An episode of Frontline based in part on the book airs next week. Interestingly, ESPN was collaborating with Frontline on this program, but they pulled out of it in August.

How the NFL fleeces taxpayersSep 24 2013

It probably doesn't come as much of a surprise that the NFL is a highly profitable business. But it might come as a shock that the league enjoys nonprofit status. From Gregg Easterbrook: How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers.

Taxpayers fund the stadiums, antitrust law doesn't apply to broadcast deals, the league enjoys nonprofit status, and Commissioner Roger Goodell makes $30 million a year. It's time to stop the public giveaways to America's richest sports league -- and to the feudal lords who own its teams.

Easy NFL/Netflix/Hulu region unlock using DNSSep 16 2013

Lex Friedman details how to use DNS services (like AdFree Time) to route around region-specific content locks, so you can do things like watch all NFL games in HD from anywhere, change Netflix regions (for access to different content), etc.

Third-party services like AdFree Time offer up a DNS-based solution: Pay a monthly fee and use their DNS services, and the NFL's website treats you as if you're coming from Europe. You thus get to watch every NFL game streaming online in high definition, since the league offers that option to folks in Europe at no charge. Americans, usually, miss out. I could pay for DirecTV's insanely overpriced Sunday Ticket, but I think it's a ripoff when I'm only looking to watch about six to eight Eagles games that won't show here.

This beats hate-reading the NFL TV maps every weekend.

Super Bowl preview for non-football fansFeb 01 2013

If you don't know anything about football and yet are interested in (or being coerced into) watching the big game this weekend, here are some players' stories that might make it more interesting for you.

Whether actively experiencing the spectacle or not, there are a few reasons to like the Super Bowl in 2013, besides the fact that the Baltimore Ravens are the first major professional sports franchise, so far, to be named after a 19th century poem. For starters, in a sports year that's already brought us doping cyclists and fake dead girlfriends, the teams in this year's contest are welcome standouts. The San Francisco 49ers were the first NFL team to join the "It Gets Better" campaign, and their opponent, the Ravens, has a team captain who is the most outspoken advocate of LGBT rights in the NFL, and whose presence has evolved the once overtly homophobic locker-room culture of his entire team.

I loved this line in reference to Colin Kapernick's replacement of Alex Smith as the 49ers' starting QB:

The deliberate, steady bus was replaced by a flaming Apache helicopter flown by a nude Vladimir Putin.

Bonus: nothing about the Harbaugh brothers.

Junior Seau's family sues NFL over concussionsJan 23 2013

The deceased former NFL player's family joins more than 6000 people who have sued the NFL over head injuries in the past few years.

"We were saddened to learn that Junior, a loving father and teammate, suffered from CTE," the family said in a statement released to the AP. "While Junior always expected to have aches and pains from his playing days, none of us ever fathomed that he would suffer a debilitating brain disease that would cause him to leave us too soon.

"We know this lawsuit will not bring back Junior. But it will send a message that the NFL needs to care for its former players, acknowledge its decades of deception on the issue of head injuries and player safety, and make the game safer for future generations."

Plaintiffs are listed as Gina Seau, Junior's ex-wife; Junior's children Tyler, Sydney, Jake and Hunter, and Bette Hoffman, trustee of Seau's estate.

The lawsuit accuses the league of glorifying the violence in pro football, and creating the impression that delivering big hits "is a badge of courage which does not seriously threaten one's health."

It singles out NFL Films and some of its videos for promoting the brutality of the game.

Seau is a pretty boldfaced name...I wonder what effect this will have on public perception, etc.

Possible test for CTE in living patientsJan 22 2013

CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the degenerative brain disease that could dramatically change the way pro football is played in the future (if it's played at all), can't be identified in victims until after death. That makes it difficult to prove (or disprove) the connection between pro football, concussions, and death from CTE. But researchers have discovered a possible technique that could diagnose CTE in living patients.

Last year five retired N.F.L. players who were 45 years and older and suffered from mood swings, depression and cognitive problems were given PET, or positron emission tomography, scans. The authors of the study said those scans revealed tau protein deposits in their brains, a signature of C.T.E. While not definitive, the distribution of tau in the retired players was consistent with those found in the autopsies of players who had C.T.E.

If it's actually possible, this could be huge. Many more players, current and former, can be tested and diagnosed and if CTE was found regularly and consistently, you'd think that insurance companies would flee from the NFL like rats leaving a sinking ship and football would have to adapt (to be more like soccer? flag football?) or die.

The NFL, a theater of painJan 18 2013

Tom Junod's just-posted piece in Esquire is a good companion to the interview with former NFL star Jason Taylor. In it, Junod talks to several current NFL players about injuries and pain.

"The worst injury I've ever had on the field -- for my wife and kids, at least, and my mom and dad -- was an injury I got against the 49ers," says Matt Hasselbeck. "Patrick Willis hit me as I was diving for the goal line. He hit me, and twenty minutes later I'm in an ambulance on my way to Stanford Medical. I'd broken a rib on the left and I'd broken a rib on the right. The rib on the right was right next to my aorta, and it was really dangerous for my health. I couldn't breathe. It was like there was a weight on top of me. It's a scary thing, because it feels like you're drowning. I couldn't breathe at all, and I got up off the field because it was a two-minute situation - I didn't want the team to have to take a time-out. I tried to run off the field, and when the trainers met me they saw I was, like, purple in the face. And they immediately put me on the ground. Sometimes they'll put you on the ground to evaluate you and sometimes to give the backup quarterback a chance to get loose. They put me on the ground because I was purple."

That instinct - the instinct to run when you can't breathe in order to save your team a time-out - is not one often encountered in civilian life. Indeed, it is one encountered almost exclusively in war, in which people's lives, rather than simply their livelihoods, are at stake. Now, the NFL is replete with military symbolism, not to mention military pretensions. But the reality of injury is what makes it more than fantasy football, more than professional wrestling, more than an action movie, more than a video game played with moving parts who happen to be human. The reality of injury - and the phantasmagoric world of pain - is what makes it, legitimately, a blood sport. And it is what makes Dr. Yates, the Steelers' team doctor, define his job simply and bluntly: "My job is to protect players from themselves."

Junod adds, via Twitter:

Concussion: the global warming of the NFL. We feel bad about it. But what we really worry about is someone taking our football away.

Hilarious bad lip reading of NFL playersJan 15 2013

Take footage of NFL players, coaches, and officials talking, dub it poorly with alternate dialogue, and you get a bit of genius.

Let's not beat around the bush: this is the best thing ever. (via @gavinpurcell)

Pain is routine in the NFLJan 15 2013

Former NFL star Jason Taylor was so injured (and yet still playing every week) that for a period of two years, the 6'6" 240-pound linebacker couldn't lift his kids into bed. So how did he play? Shots to kill the pain and then more shots to kill the pain of the first shots. And so on. Until he almost had to have his leg amputated.

The trainer rushed to Taylor's house. Taylor thought he was overreacting. The trainer told him they were immediately going to the hospital. A test kit came out. Taylor's blood pressure was so high that the doctors thought the test kit was faulty. Another test. Same crazy numbers. Doctors demanded immediate surgery. Taylor said absolutely not, that he wanted to call his wife and his agent and the famed Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Andrews also recommended surgery, and fast. Taylor said, fine, he'd fly out in owner Daniel Snyder's private jet in the morning. Andrews said that was fine but that he'd have to cut off Taylor's leg upon arrival. Taylor thought he was joking. Andrews wasn't. Compartment syndrome. Muscle bleeds into the cavity, causing nerve damage. Two more hours, and Taylor would have had one fewer leg. Fans later sent him supportive notes about their own compartment syndrome, many of them in wheelchairs.

Taylor's reaction?

"I was mad because I had to sit out three weeks," he says. "I was hot."

He had seven to nine inches of nerve damage.

"The things we do," he explains. "Players play. It is who we are. We always think we can overcome."

At the New Yorker, Reeves Wiedeman reminds us that the NFL is unlikely to change because so much of what happens with injuries is hidden from view.

As we watch a game that we know is dangerous, we soothe ourselves with the idea that these men must be aware of the risks, too; that they are being well compensated to take on those risks; and that, at least when they're on the field, in front of the cameras, they are living the dream that we all craved as kids, and they're having fun.

But what we can take from this story, and from the fact that, on the surface, this weekend's games were filled with such excitement, is the fact that so much of football's barbarism takes place beyond our vision and behind closed doors.

(thx, meg)

Here is what happens when Troy Aikman does your NFL broadcastJan 11 2013

Troy Aikman moves around the field at Cowboys Stadium as if he owns the place, but in a previous-owner kind of way. He'll soon call a game here for Fox. People scream his name from the stands as he moves toward midfield to meet a head coach and a PR man. The sportcaster's partner, Joe Buck, sits up in the booth, preparing. The Cowboys. The Saints. Thanksgiving Day. Here's the behind-the-scenes look at how Fox's broadcast of the game happens.

If Aikman -- and Buck, too -- have any misconceptions about their comedic chops, it's because, for several months out of the year, they are surrounded by people who laugh too hard at their jokes or anything that even seems like a joke. The next day, Aikman makes the slightest quip about the size of the enormous screen that hovers above the field at Cowboys Stadium -- certainly strip-mined ground even a couple of months after the place opened. The reaction he receives would seem improbable even if Louis C.K. had delivered the line.

Pretty interesting. Aikman and Buck are among my favorite football announcers, but they're not as good as Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth or John Madden and Anyone At All.

Junior Seau had brain damageJan 10 2013

Recent analysis by specialists shows that Junior Seau, the former stand-out NFL linebacker who committed suicide last year, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at the time of his death. CTE is associated with repeated trauma to the head and has been found in many ex-NFL players, including a few that have committed suicide.

"I think it's important for everyone to know that Junior did indeed suffer from CTE," Gina Seau said. "It's important that we take steps to help these players. We certainly don't want to see anything like this happen again to any of our athletes."

She said the family was told that Seau's disease resulted from "a lot of head-to-head collisions over the course of 20 years of playing in the NFL. And that it gradually, you know, developed the deterioration of his brain and his ability to think logically."

Experts caution that correlation is not causation, but as these incidents mount, the NFL is going to come under increasing pressure to act, causation or no.

NFL TV maps 2012Sep 07 2012

Once again, here's the link to the maps that show which NFL games will be shown in which parts of the country.

NFL concussion lawsuitJun 09 2012

On Thursday, 80 lawsuits against the NFL related to brain injuries and concussions were combined into one complaint and filed in Philadelphia. The suit also names helmet maker Ridell, and if I'm reading the article correctly, 2100 former players are involved in the case.

Former running back Kevin Turner, now suffering from Lou Gehrig's Disease, said:

The NFL must open its eyes to the consequences of its actions. The NFL has the power not only to give former players the care they deserve, but also to ensure that future generations of football players do not suffer the way that many in my generation have. For the longest time, about the first 10 years after I retired in January 2000, I thought I had just turned into a loser overnight. I couldn't figure out what was wrong. It was a very scary proposition -- until I found out there were a lot more guys just like me. I find they had been through some of the same struggles. I realized this is no longer a coincidence.

Back in February, we linked to a Grantland piece by economists Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier about head injuries leading to the end of the NFL. In their version, injuries to high school and college students result in lawsuits making the sport prohibitively expensive to offer to their students (along with a perception that it's too dangerous for kids to play).

Is this case the beginning of that timeline? Depending on what comes out in the lawsuit, one (unjust) popular opinion will be that the players should have known they were playing a dangerous game and they were handsomely rewarded to boot. It's not really a fair opinion, but people love their football. (You can see evidence of this in the comments to the ESPN article linked at the top.) A best case scenario, I would think, would be for the NFL to settle with some sort of acknowledgement of the issue. Not lip-service, but actual changes to current policies and future support for former players.

In happier NFL news, Trick Shot Quarterback, Alex Tanney was signed yesterday by the KC Chiefs. Regardless of setting the NCAA Division III record for passing with 14,249 yards, the NCAA record for touchdowns with 157, and only throwing 30 interceptions in college, Tanney had gone undrafted.

How professional football might end (sooner than you think)Feb 13 2012

Writing for Grantland, economists Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier imagine how the NFL might end due to the increasing visibility of head injuries.

This slow death march could easily take 10 to 15 years. Imagine the timeline. A couple more college players -- or worse, high schoolers -- commit suicide with autopsies showing CTE. A jury makes a huge award of $20 million to a family. A class-action suit shapes up with real legs, the NFL keeps changing its rules, but it turns out that less than concussion levels of constant head contact still produce CTE. Technological solutions (new helmets, pads) are tried and they fail to solve the problem. Soon high schools decide it isn't worth it. The Ivy League quits football, then California shuts down its participation, busting up the Pac-12. Then the Big Ten calls it quits, followed by the East Coast schools. Now it's mainly a regional sport in the southeast and Texas/Oklahoma. The socioeconomic picture of a football player becomes more homogeneous: poor, weak home life, poorly educated. Ford and Chevy pull their advertising, as does IBM and eventually the beer companies.

Is this how soccer finally conquers America? Not that soccer doesn't have its own concussion-related problems.

What the NFL won't show youDec 02 2011

The NFL regards the "All-22" footage of their games -- the zoomed-out view of the game that includes the movements of all 22 players on the field -- as proprietary and releases it to very few people. But it's difficult to fully understand the game without it.

For decades, NFL TV broadcasts have relied most heavily on one view: the shot from a sideline camera that follows the progress of the ball. Anyone who wants to analyze the game, however, prefers to see the pulled-back camera angle known as the "All 22."

While this shot makes the players look like stick figures, it allows students of the game to see things that are invisible to TV watchers: like what routes the receivers ran, how the defense aligned itself and who made blocks past the line of scrimmage.

By distributing this footage only to NFL teams, and rationing it out carefully to its TV partners and on its web site, the NFL has created a paradox. The most-watched sport in the U.S. is also arguably the least understood. "I don't think you can get a full understanding without watching the entirety of the game," says former head coach Bill Parcells. The zoomed-in footage on TV broadcasts, he says, only shows a "fragment" of what happens on the field.

Update: The NFL is making the All-22 footage from next season's games available on its website for $70. (thx, stef)

The life and death of Dave DuersonMay 03 2011

Dave Duerson.jpg

Jason wrote about the suicide of Dave Duerson in February. Duerson was an all-pro NFL safety, most notably with the Chicago Bears, who shot himself in the chest.

He left several suicide notes and text messages asking for his brain to be examined post-mortem for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- a disease caused by repeated untreated concussions now thought to be common among professional football players and other athletes -- which he thought may have led to his depression. An autopsy later revealed that Duerson was right.

Gus Garcia-Roberts has a magnificent story on Duerson -- his childhood, football career, post-NFL life as an entrepreneur, and his dip into bankruptcy and mental illness, both of which he tried desperately to cover until the day he died.

To its black residents, Muncie -- nicknamed "Little Chicago" because it was divisively and forever segregated -- felt like a village. And by his high school graduation in 1978, Dave was the golden child. He was a member of the National Honor Society, had traveled through Europe playing the sousaphone as part of the Musical Ambassadors All-American Band, and in his senior year was voted Indiana Mr. Football. He could run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds and throw a fastball at 95 mph. "I thought he might go on to be a senator," Kizer says, "or anything he wanted."

The Los Angeles Dodgers offered Dave a signing bonus to pitch for them. But when the Dodgers' scouts told his father there was "no time for college," Dave later recounted to HistoryMakers, "that was a very short conversation."

He enrolled in his home state's University of Notre Dame on a football and baseball scholarship. Once there, football dominated his schedule, and his baseball prospects faded away.

Dave would later say that, for the career longevity, he wished he had chosen baseball. Decades down the road -- after the undiagnosed concussions, headaches, mood swings, memory loss, erratic behavior, and, finally, the suicide -- his family would agree.

Read it. (Via the excellent new sportswriting aggregator SportsFeat.)

How footballs are madeJan 03 2011

The manufacturing process for the official NFL football made by Wilson.

It's fascinating that every football used in the NFL for the past 20-30 years has been made by Deb, Loretta, Peg, Glen, Emmitt, Tina, Etta Mae, Pam, and Michelle. Also, they call the pre-laced, pre-inflated ball a carcass! (thx, peter)

NFL TV maps for 2010 seasonOct 08 2010

I'm a little late this year, but the 2010 NFL maps site has been up and humming for four weeks now. The site displays what games are going to be on TV in different parts of the country.

Player Drafted At Linebacker To Start At RealtorApr 30 2010

Big NFL draft news:

The Raiders organization welcomed sixth-round draft choice Travis Goethel Wednesday and said the Arizona State linebacker would more than likely be asked to start as a Bay-area Realtor by the beginning of next season.

40 yard dash: average dude vs pro athleteApr 05 2010

Video from the NFL Combine showing just how fast prospective NFL players can run compared to normal people.

It is almost unbelievable how quickly Jacoby Ford (the top performer in the 40 this year) covers that distance.

New NFL playoff overtime ruleMar 25 2010

The NFL has approved a new overtime rule for the playoffs. Each team will now get at least one overtime possession unless the team winning the coin flip scores a touchdown on the opening drive.

In 1994, the spot of the kickoff was moved to the 30-yard line from the 35, allowing for longer returns that put the receiving team into field-goal range with just a few plays or a long penalty. Since then, the team that won the toss won 59.8 percent of the time, because even if it did not win on the first possession, it often controlled field position. The team that lost the toss won just 38.4 percent of the time. And before the kickoff was moved, teams won with a field goal on the opening possession just 17.9 percent of the time. After the kickoff moved, it rose to 26.8 percent of the time.

I'm pretty happy about this. Like I said after the Saints/Vikings game in January:

Congrats to the Saints, but the coin-toss sudden death OT thing has to be the worst rule in sports.

Gridiron timeJan 26 2010

Actual football played in a 60-min NFL game: about 11 minutes.

So what do the networks do with the other 174 minutes in a typical broadcast? Not surprisingly, commercials take up about an hour. As many as 75 minutes, or about 60% of the total air time, excluding commercials, is spent on shots of players huddling, standing at the line of scrimmage or just generally milling about between snaps.

The dark side of Marvin HarrisonJan 15 2010

Did former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison shoot a North Philly drug dealer and later have him murdered?

The cops also thought it was wrong to drop the case just because a piece-of-shit famous person might be guilty of shooting a piece-of-shit unfamous person in a piece-of-shit part of the city. If prosecutors required every witness to have a pristine record, one detective says, "most of the cases in the city wouldn't be solved." None of the cops doubted for a second that if Harrison was a plumber or a UPS driver instead of a famous athlete, he'd have long since been arrested.

The rise of the punterJan 08 2010

Are NFL punters the most valuable defensive players on their teams? Punters think so...and so do an increasing number of coaches and teams.

Steve Spagnuolo, who was the Giants' defensive coordinator before becoming head coach of the Rams last January, was one coach who appreciated what [Giants punter Jeff] Feagles could do. "I used to tell Jeff he was our most valuable player on defense," Spagnuolo says. "He didn't worry about his yardage or net punt average. All he worried about was putting our defense in the best position. He's a tremendous directional punter. He was always trying to back the offense inside the 10, and nobody did it better."

And of course I love this quote by Feagles:

The punter's mind is a lot more powerful than his leg.

Rating the pundits: 2009 NFL preseason predictionsJan 07 2010

How accurate are all those preseason predictions about how the coming NFL season will unfold?

ESPN Ranking OffsetsIn an effort to find out, I collected a number of preseason "team power rankings" two days before the 2009 NFL regular season started in September. These ranking lists are compiled by columnists and pundits from media outlets like Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, The Sporting News, and ESPN. In addition, I collected a fan-voted ranking from Yahoo Sports and the preseason Vegas odds to win the Super Bowl. As a baseline of sorts, I've also included the ranking for how the teams finished in the 2008 season.

Each team ranking from each list was compared to the final 2009 regular season standings (taken from this tentative 2010 draft order) by calculating the offset between the estimated rank to the team's actual finish. For instance, ESPN put the Steelers in the #1 slot but they actually finished 15th in the league...so ESPN's offset for the Steelers is 14. For each list, the offsets for all 32 teams were added up and divided by 32 to get the average number of places that the list was off by. See ESPN's list at right for example; you can see that each team ranking in the list was off by an average of about 6.3 places.

Here are the offset averages for each list (from best to worst):

Media outletOffset ave. (# of places)
CBS Sports5.6
The Sporting News5.6
USA Today5.6
Vegas odds5.8
Yahoo Sports5.9
Sports Illustrated5.9
ESPN6.3
Fox Sports6.4
2008 finish7.3

The good news is that all of the pundits beat the baseline ranking of last season's final standings. But they didn't beat it by that much...only 1.7 places in the best case. A few other observations:

- All the lists were pretty much the same. Last place Fox Sports and first place CBS Sports differ by less than one place in their rankings. The Steelers and Patriots were one and two on every list and the bottom five were pretty consistent as well. All the pundits said basically the same thing; no one had an edge or angle the others didn't.

- Nearly everyone was very wrong about the Steelers, Giants, Titans, Jets, Bengals, and Saints...and to a lesser extent, the Redskins, Bears, Vikings, and Packers. CBS Sports made the fewest big mistakes; their offset for the Bengals was only 4 places. The biggest mistakes were Fox Sports' choice and the Vegas ranking of the Bengals to finish 28th (offset: 19).

- Among the top teams, the Colts, Eagles, and Patriots more or less fulfilled the hopes of the pundits; only Fox Sports and Sports Illustrated missed the mark on one of these teams (the Colts by 9 places).

- The two "wisdom of the crowds" lists, Yahoo Sports and the Vegas list, ended up in the middle, better than some but not as good as some others. I suspect that there was not enough independent information out there for the crowd to make a good collective choice; those two lists looked pretty much like the pundits' lists.

- The teams who turned out to be bad were easier to pick than the good teams. The bottom five picks on each list were typically off by 3-5 places while the top five were off by more like 8-12 places (esp the Steelers and the Giants). Not sure why this is. Perhaps badness is easier to see than goodness. Or it's easier for a good-looking team to go bad than it is for bad-looking team to do better.

For the curious, here's the full Google Docs spreadsheet of numbers for all of the lists.

Methodology and notes: 1) I made an assumption about all these power ranking lists: that what the pundits were really picking is the final regular season ranking. That isn't precisely true but close enough for our purposes. 2) I have no idea what the statistical error is here. 3) The 2010 draft order list isn't a perfect ranking of how the teams finished, but it is close enough. 4) Using the final regular season records as the determining factor of rank is problematic because of the playoffs. By the end of the season, some teams aren't trying to win every game because they've either made the playoffs or haven't. So some teams might be a little bit better or worse than their records indicate. 5) The Vegas odds list was a rankng of the odds of each team making the Super Bowl, not the odds for the teams' final records. But close enough. 6) The Sports Illustrated list was from before the 2009 pre-season started; I couldn't find an SI list from right before the regular season. Still, it looked a lot like the other lists and did middlingly well.

Dogfighting vs. football in moral calculusOct 12 2009

Using Michael Vick as a pivot, Malcolm Gladwell compares professional football with dogfighting and asks if the former is just as morally unacceptable as the latter. This is former NFL offensive lineman Kyle Turley:

I remember, every season, multiple occasions where I'd hit someone so hard that my eyes went cross-eyed, and they wouldn't come uncrossed for a full series of plays. You are just out there, trying to hit the guy in the middle, because there are three of them. You don't remember much. There are the cases where you hit a guy and you'd get into a collision where everything goes off. You're dazed. And there are the others where you are involved in a big, long drive. You start on your own five-yard line, and drive all the way down the field-fifteen, eighteen plays in a row sometimes. Every play: collision, collision, collision. By the time you get to the other end of the field, you're seeing spots. You feel like you are going to black out. Literally, these white explosions-boom, boom, boom-lights getting dimmer and brighter, dimmer and brighter.

Perhaps this is what Gladwell will be talking about at the upcoming New Yorker Festival?

Update: From Stephen Fatsis, a list of improvements for the NFL players union to consider to protect the health of the players.

N.F.L. players often get excellent medical treatment, but the primary goal is to return them to the field as quickly as possible. Players are often complicit in playing down the extent of their injuries. Fearful of losing their jobs -- there are no guaranteed contracts in the N.F.L. -- they return to the huddle still hurt.

And from GQ comes a profile of Bennet Omalu, one of the few doctors investigating the fate of these NFL players.

Let's say you run a multibillion-dollar football league. And let's say the scientific community -- starting with one young pathologist in Pittsburgh and growing into a chorus of neuroscientists across the country -- comes to you and says concussions are making your players crazy, crazy enough to kill themselves, and here, in these slices of brain tissue, is the proof. Do you join these scientists and try to solve the problem, or do you use your power to discredit them?

Update: Commissioner Roger Goodell defended the NFL's handling of head trauma in a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee today.

Goodell faced his harshest criticism from Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, who called for Congress to revoke the league's antitrust exemption because of its failure to care adequately for injured former players. "I believe you are an $8 billion organization that has failed in your responsibility to the players," Waters said. "We all know it's a dangerous sport. Players are always going to get injured. The only question is, are you going to pay for it? I know that you dearly want to hold on to your profits. I think it's the responsibility of Congress to look at your antitrust exemption and take it away."

Update: The NFL will soon require players with head injuries to receive advice from independent neurologists.

2009 NFL TV mapsSep 11 2009

If you want to know what football games are going to be on TV in your part of the country on Sunday, check out these maps every week.

Michael Oher draftedApr 27 2009

Michael Oher, the subject of Michael Lewis' The Blind Side, got drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Oher was chosen 23rd.

Update: Lewis comments on the draft here and here. (via unlikely words)

John Madden retiresApr 16 2009

I was up waaay too early this morning watching some trending topics on Twitter Search and John Madden's name suddenly appeared. When you see a boldface name pop up on Twitter Search like that, it usually means they've died. I'm glad Madden's not dead but I'm sad that he's retiring from calling football games. I know he wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but I loved listening to him.

Redesigning the Super Bowl logoJan 28 2009

Some designers take a crack at redesigning the most recent Super Bowl logo. Most are completely impractical, but I thought Aaron Draplin's had a nice throwback style.

Wide left, no, wide right!Dec 29 2008

Highlights of yesterday's Patriots/Bills game, aka The Wind Bowl. We must have rewound that Buffalo field goal attempt at least five times...I still can't believe it hooked that much in two different directions.

How do we find good teachers and QBs?Dec 18 2008

This is more than a week old but I just finished reading it, so stick it. Malcolm Gladwell says that the problem of finding good teachers is the same sort of problem encountered by scouts attempting to find good NFL quarterbacks.

The problem with picking quarterbacks is that [college QB] Chase Daniel's performance can't be predicted. The job he's being groomed for is so particular and specialized that there is no way to know who will succeed at it and who won't. In fact, Berri and Simmons found no connection between where a quarterback was taken in the draft -- that is, how highly he was rated on the basis of his college performance -- and how well he played in the pros.

A group of researchers -- Thomas J. Kane, an economist at Harvard's school of education; Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth; and Robert Gordon, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress--have investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master's degree. Both are expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the classroom. Test scores, graduate degrees, and certifications -- as much as they appear related to teaching prowess -- turn out to be about as useful in predicting success as having a quarterback throw footballs into a bunch of garbage cans.

The upshot is that NFL quarterbacking and teaching are both jobs that need to be performed in order to find out if a certain person is good at them or not. For more, check out a follow-up post on Gladwell's blog.

The future of sports television?Nov 03 2008

The NFL is showing their Sunday night game on NBC (traditional play-by-play broadcast) and online (traditional broadcast plus four other camera angles). Slate declares that the experiment may be the future of sports television.

The "Star" cam isolates on one player from each team-or, in the case of the Tampa-Seattle game, five different players. Other "stars" have included Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward and safety Troy Polamalu, Jacksonville QB David Gerrard, and Cleveland wideout Braylon Edwards. For quarterbacks, this feature is a bit redundant-the camera's always on the guy with the ball-but it's fantastic for the other positions. Watching Polamalu fly around the field at full speed on every play is fantastic, and not just because his jouncing hair is hypnotic. Few athletes play with Polamalu's reckless abandon, and it's thrilling to try to forecast collisions by watching him bounce around the iso cam.

The Star cam works even better for receivers. After watching Ward and Edwards for three straight hours, I now understand why so many wide receivers are narcissistic-their job is to run one wind sprint after another with only the occasional ball thrown their way to break up the track workout.

TBS did this for the baseball playoffs too, except that they omitted the actual broadcast online and provided only extra footage/angles. Adding to Slate's complaints of no replays (it's streaming video only, no pausing, etc.) and no stats info on the other angles, I'd add that based on my experience watching the game online last night, they need something other than a test pattern and piercing tone to indicate that the video player is lagging and buffering. Perhaps a silent "please wait, buffering..." message instead?

The (football) OfficeNov 03 2008

Tucked away in this profile of Brett Favre is a description of the contemporary NFL quarterback as a cog in complex coaching systems:

...regional distribution managers in a coach's yardage-acquisition scheme.

At the end of the day, if the QB hits the ground running, is on the same page as the coach, gives 110%, and has all his ducks in a row, that's all that matters.

2008 NFL TV mapsSep 03 2008

New for the 2008 NFL season: the NFL TV distribution maps that tell you which football games are going to be broadcast is which parts of the country. They're using zoomable Google Maps this year...here's what a typical coverage map looks like:

NFL TV Maps

During football season in a TV market like NYC, which is dominated by coverage of two local teams (Giants and Jets), this is an essential tool for determining if you're actually gonna get to watch the game you want to on Sunday.

Update: There's an interview on Yahoo with the guy that runs the site, J.P. Kirby.

Brett Favre retires.Mar 04 2008

Brett Favre retires.

Gelf Magazine enlisted the help of ZEUS,Feb 15 2008

Gelf Magazine enlisted the help of ZEUS, a football game analyzing computer, to see which NFL coaches called the worst plays at critical times during the 2007 season.

On average, suboptimal play-calling decisions cost each team .85 wins over the course of the season.

In particular, the world champion Giants should have won another game had they called the right plays at the right times. ZEUS also analyzed play calling in "hyper-critical" situations (those fourth-down decisions with five or fewer yards needed for the first down) and found that on average, teams made the wrong calls more than 50% of the time. Here's an interview on the results with the guys behind ZEUS.

The NFL has caved and is goingDec 27 2007

The NFL has caved and is going to simulcast the Patriots/Giants game on NBC and CBS instead of just showing it on NFL Network, a channel available to fewer than 40% of US households.

Seeking Patriots game in NYCDec 09 2007

The NFL, in their infinitesimal wisdom and utilizing their stupid scheduling/blackout policy, has ensured that the best game of the weekend (Steelers vs. Patriots) will not be shown on TV in the New York City area. We get the hapless Jets instead...a team that not even Jets fans care about at this point in their 3-9 season. Our cable provider doesn't carry any NFL stations and we don't really want to trek out to a sports bar with the kiddo. Are there any other options? An illicit online broadcast? Anything?

Update: We ended up watching the game online -- poor quality, dropped frames, and all. Better than braving the rain and sports bar. (thx to everyone who wrote in, especially kunal)

Michael Lewis on the unique role thatNov 26 2007

Michael Lewis on the unique role that kickers occupy in professional sports.

There is still some faint resistance to the notion that a kicker could ever really do anything great. Brett Favre can throw 10 more game-ending interceptions and fans will still cherish his moments of glory. Reggie Bush may fumble away a championship and still end up being known for the best things he ever does. Even offensive linemen whose names no one remembers are permitted to end their days basking in the reflected glory of having been on the field. Kickers alone are required to make their own cases.

Maybe soccer goalies can identify with NFL kickers?

A must-see for football fans: NFL TVSep 09 2007

A must-see for football fans: NFL TV distribution maps. Check out what football games will be on in which parts of the country.

Due to problems off the field, defensiveApr 25 2007

Due to problems off the field, defensive tackle Walter Thomas hasn't played a lot of college ball. But his stats -- 6-foot-5, 370 pounds, XXXXXXL jersey, runs the 40 in 4.9, can do backflips and handsprings, benches 475 pounds -- guarantee that he'll be drafted into the NFL this weekend. Shades of Michael Oher, Michael Lewis' subject in The Blind Side. Also, this may be the first NY Times article to use the phrase "dadgum Russian gymnast".

Long audio interview with Michael Lewis byJan 26 2007

Long audio interview with Michael Lewis by economist Russ Roberts on "the hidden economics of baseball and football". "Michael Lewis talks about the economics of sports -- the financial and decision-making side of baseball and football -- using the insights from his bestselling books on baseball and football: Moneyball and The Blind Side. Along the way he discusses the implications of Moneyball for the movie business and other industries, the peculiar ways that Moneyball influenced the strategies of baseball teams, the corruption of college football, and the challenge and tragedy of kids who live on the streets with little education or prospects for success."

Chicago Bears vs. Prince rematch at Super Bowl XLIJan 26 2007

When the Chicago Bears take the field against the Indianapolis Colts in early February for Super Bowl XLI, a former foe of the Bears will be close at hand. A kottke.org reader writes:

The "Super Bowl Shuffle" earned The Chicago Bears a [1987] Grammy nomination for best Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance - Duo or Group. They lost to Prince and the Revolution's "Kiss".

Prince is headlining the halftime show at the Super Bowl this year. Will there be a battle of the bands at halftime between Prince and the '86 Bears? Come on, The Fridge needs the work! In the meantime, here's the Super Bowl Shuffle music video:

Oh, the humanity. Kiss has held up much better. (thx, m)

A pair of fine sports-related headlines fromJan 25 2007

A pair of fine sports-related headlines from The Onion: Confused Bill Simmons Picks The Departed To Win Super Bowl and Bears Lead Rex Grossman To Super Bowl. "All season long, the Bears have shown that they can win, even in the presence of Rex Grossman."

I've been asked to eat crow inJan 22 2007

I've been asked to eat crow in public on this one: "Rex Grossman, 6/19, 34 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs; or why the Chicago Bears, despite their current 10-2 record and weak NFC, aren't getting anywhere near the Super Bowl this year." Mmmm, that's good crow. Still, the Bears are the worst team ever picked to go 16-0.

Kids who grew up playing Madden NFLDec 05 2006

Kids who grew up playing Madden NFL know the intricacies of the game better than many fans (and coaches) of the game "because of attention to arcane details that has demystified the complexities of football to a population that never before understood them". (via tmn)

Rex Grossman, 6/19, 34 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs; orDec 04 2006

Rex Grossman, 6/19, 34 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs; or why the Chicago Bears, despite their current 10-2 record and weak NFC, aren't getting anywhere near the Super Bowl this year.

NFL TV distribution maps: where in theNov 15 2006

NFL TV distribution maps: where in the US certain football games are broadcast...a visual representation of why you'll almost never see a Vikings game in Maine. (via fakeisthenewreal)

The Blind SideOct 10 2006

The Blind Side

In addition to the race and class aspect that interests me about the book, The Blind Side is, oh, by the way, also about the sport of football, specifically the left tackle position. In the 1980s, the quarterback became increasingly important in the offensive scheme and rushing linebackers, specifically Lawrence Taylor, became a bigger part of the defensive scheme. This created a problem for the offensive line: protect the valuable & fragile quarterback from the huge, fast likes of Lawrence Taylor, whose Joe Theismann-leg-snapping exploits you've seen replayed on a thousand SportsCenters. The solution to this problem was to hire giant-handed men the size of houses who move like ballerinas to protect the blind side of the quarterback. Thus has the left tackle position become the second-highest paid position in the league behind the quarterbacks themselves.

When I read Lewis' profile of Michael Oher in the New York Times, I had a crazy thought: why not cut to the chase and make the men fit to play the left tackle position into quarterbacks instead? Lewis covers this briefly near the end of the book in relating the story of Jonathan Ogden, left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens:

Now the highest paid player on the field, Ogden was doing his job so well and so effortlessly that he had time to wonder how hard it would be for him to do some of the other less highly paid jobs. At the end of that 2000 season, en route to their Super Bowl victory, the Ravens played in the AFC Championship game. Ogden watched the Ravens' tight end, Shannon Sharpe, catch a pass and run 96 yards for a touchdown. Ravens center Jeff Mitchell told The Sporting News that as Sharpe raced into the end zone, Ogden had turned to him and said, "I could have made that play. If they had thrown that ball to me, I would have done the same thing."

Having sized up the star receivers, Ogden looked around and noticed that the quarterbacks he was protecting were...rather ordinary. Here he was, leaving them all the time in the world to throw the ball, and they still weren't doing it very well. They kept getting fired! Even after they'd won the Super Bowl, the Ravens got rid of their quarterback, Trent Dilfer, and gone looking for a better one. What was wrong with these people? Ogden didn't go so far as to suggest that he should play quarterback, but he came as close as any lineman ever had to the heretical thought.

Many of the left tackles that Lewis talks about in the book can run faster than most quarterbacks, they can throw the ball just as far or farther (as a high school sophomore, Michael Oher could stand at the fifty-yard line and toss footballs through the goalposts), possess great athletic touch and finesse, have the intellect to run an offense, move better than most QBs, know the offense and defense as well as the QB, are taller than the average QB (and therefore has better field vision over the line), and presumably, at 320-360 pounds, are harder to tackle and intimidate than a normal QB. Sounds like a good idea to me.

The Ballad of Big Mike, the mostSep 23 2006

The Ballad of Big Mike, the most intriguing story of a future NFL left tackle you're likely to read. The piece is adapted from Michael Lewis' upcoming book on football, The Blind Side. Lewis previously wrote Moneyball.

Update: Gladwell has read The Blind Side and loved it. "The Blind Side is as insightful and moving a meditation on class inequality in America as I have ever read."

Nice little history of Warren Moon, theAug 03 2006

Nice little history of Warren Moon, the NFL's first prominent black quarterback, on the occasion of his induction into the NFL Hall of Fame. (via a.whole)

An update on how many players fromJun 09 2006

An update on how many players from Tecmo Bowl, Tecmo Super Bowl, and RBI Baseball are still active. The Mets Julio Franco is still playing at 47 years old.

I can't believe that paying the NFL $330Feb 01 2006

I can't believe that paying the NFL $330 million for being able to use trademarked terms like "Super Bowl" and "Pittsburgh Steelers" in advertising is worth it, particularly when you can use euphemisms like "The Big Game" for absolutely free.

In an era when players are soJan 03 2006

In an era when players are so much bigger, stronger, faster, and richer than the rest of us, it's getting harder for fans to really connect with pro sports teams.

A business book on teamwork called TheDec 01 2005

A business book on teamwork called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (excerpt) has gained a following among pro football coaches and players.

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