kottke.org posts about sports

Jeter swings, baby!Sep 15 2014

Powers Of Jeter

Love this New York Times visualization of how many times Derek Jeter has swung a bat during his career. This is like Powers of Ten, but with Derek Jeter bat swings.

Incredible no-look backheelSep 15 2014

This goal by AC Milan's Jeremy Menez against Parma over the weekend is just beyond:

No-look backheel. Jeebus.

I'm quitting football.Sep 09 2014

Life-long NFL football fan Steve Almond recently wrote a book called Against Football in which he details why he is no longer watching the game he loves. Ian Crouch talked with Almond for the New Yorker.

Any other year, Steve Almond would have seen the play. But, after forty years of fandom, he's quit the N.F.L. In his new book, "Against Football," Almond is plain about what he considers the various moral hazards of the game: "I happen to believe that our allegiance to football legitimizes and even fosters within us a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia."

This part resonated most with me:

Even a casual N.F.L. fan can recognize that this is a particularly opportune time for a Raiders fan to stop watching football. The team is terrible. I asked Almond about that. "If the Raiders were really good, I might not have written the book," he said. "How fucked up is that? It's true, I love them. I see those colors, and it's me." For Almond, his struggle to confront his own hypocrisy is exactly the point: proof of football's insidiousness, of its ominous power.

"Football somehow hits that Doritos bliss point," he told me. "It's got the intellectual allure of all these contingencies and all this strategy, but at the same time it is so powerfully connecting us to the intuitive joys of childhood, that elemental stuff: Can you make a miracle? Can you see the stuff that nobody else sees? And most of us can't, but we love to see it. And I don't blame people for wanting to see it. I love it, and I'm going to miss it."

I've been a steadfast fan of NFL football for the past 15 years. Most weekends I'd catch at least two or three games on TV. Professional football lays bare all of the human achievement + battle with self + physical intelligence + teamwork stuff I love thinking about in a particularly compelling way. But for a few years now, the cons have been piling up in my conscience: the response to head injuries, the league's nonprofit status, the homophobia, and turning a blind eye to the reliance on drugs (PEDs and otherwise). And the final straw: the awful terrible inhuman way the league treats violence against women.

It's overwhelming. Enough is enough. I dropped my cable subscription a few months ago and was considering getting it again to watch the NFL, but I won't be doing that. Pro football, I love you, but we can't see each other anymore. And it's definitely you, not me. Call me when you grow up.

Update: Chuck Klosterman recently tackled (*groan*) this issue in the NY Times Magazine: Is It Wrong to Watch Football?

My (admittedly unoriginal) suspicion is that the reason we keep having this discussion over the ethics of football is almost entirely a product of the sport's sheer popularity. The issue of concussions in football is debated exhaustively, despite the fact that boxing -- where the goal is to hit your opponent in the face as hard as possible -- still exists. But people care less about boxing, so they worry less about the ethics of boxing. Football is the most popular game in the United States and generates the most revenue, so we feel obligated to worry about what it means to love it. Well, here's what it means: We love something that's dangerous. And I can live with that.

Ta-Nehisi Coates quit watching back in 2012 after Junior Seau died.

I'm not here to dictate other people's morality. I'm certainly not here to call for banning of the risky activities of consenting adults. And my moral calculus is my own. Surely it is a man's right to endanger his body, and just as it is my right to decline to watch. The actions of everyone in between are not my consideration.

Same here. I don't feel any sense of judgment or righteousness about this. Just the personal loss of a hobby I *really* enjoyed. (via @campbellmiller & @Godzilla07)

Slow-mo skateboard tricksSep 03 2014

It turns out that this close-up video of slow motion skateboard tricks is all I've ever wanted out of life.

I had no idea that's what they were doing down there. It's a symphony of footwork!

Bad British NASCAR commentaryAug 27 2014

Anthony Richardson (previously, previouslyer, previouslyest) describes a NASCAR race from the British perspective.

Now for the bumper view! Wow, the easiest way to work out what on Earth is going on. Oh, the car's giving the one in front a little sniff. Ah, they're a bit like dogs, aren't they? Petrol dogs.

Michael Jordan vs Kobe BryantAug 06 2014

Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant played against each other in only eight NBA games, but none of the games took place with both players in their prime. Their first few meetings, dominated by Jordan, happened during Kobe's first and second NBA seasons, when he was an impulsive and unpolished teen. Their final meetings, dominated by Bryant, found an out-of-retirement Jordan on the hapless Washington Wizards, pushing 40 years old.

But more than any other two marquee players in NBA, Jordan and Kobe have played with very similar styles. Like almost identically similar, as this video clearly shows:

The first 15 seconds of the video is a fantastic piece of editing, stitching together similar moves made by each player into seamless single plays. And dang...even the tongue wagging thing is the same. How many hours of Jordan highlight reels did Kobe watch growing up? And practicing moves in the gym?

As an aside, and I can't believe I'm saying such a ridiculous thing in public, but I can do a pretty good MJ turnaround fadeaway. I mean, for a 6-foot-tall 40-year-old white guy who doesn't get a lot of exercise and has never had much of a vertical leap. I learned it from watching Jordan highlights on SportsCenter and practicing it for hundreds of hours in my driveway against my taller next-door neighbor. I played basketball twice in the past month for the first time in years. Any skills I may have once had are almost completely gone...so many airballs and I couldn't even make a free throw for crying out loud. Except for that turnaround. That muscle memory is still intact; the shots were falling and the whole thing felt really smooth and natural. I think I'll still be shooting that shot effectively into my 70s. (via devour)

I give this feature my full endorsementAug 01 2014

Erik Malinowski takes a baseball commercial that used to air late nights on ESPN in the '90s and '00s, and uses it to trace the effect of technology on sports.

"He was the first guy I ever knew who used video as a training device in baseball," says Shawn Pender, a former minor-league player who would appear in several of Emanski's instructional videos. "There just wasn't anyone else who was doing what he did."

It's also something of a detective story, since its subject Tom Emanski has virtually fallen off the face of the earth:

Fred McGriff is surely correct that nearly two decades of video sales -- first through TV and radio and now solely through the internet -- made Emanski a very wealthy man, but this perception has led to some rather outlandish internet rumors.

According to one, the Internal Revenue Service investigated Emanski in 2003 for unpaid taxes and, in doing so, somehow disclosed his estimated net worth at around $75 million. There's no public record of such an investigation ever having taken place or been disclosed, and an IRS spokesman for the Florida office would say only that the agency is "not permitted to discuss a particular or specific taxpayer's tax matter or their taxes based on federal disclosure regulations and federal law."

Tom Brady is the loneliest quarterback on the planetAug 01 2014

Yesterday, I was looking for a GIF of two people missing a high-five (as one does) and the top hits I got back were all of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

I thought, "the three-time Super Bowl winner and one of his wide receivers trying to high-five and missing each other's hands? That's pretty funny!" Oh no. What is funnier still is Brady trying to high-five one or more of his teammates and the other players totally ignoring him. What's even funnier than that? This has happened over and over again.

Against the Ravens:

Brady Whiff2

Against the Saints:

original

And against the Steelers. (These are all just from last season, and all Patriots wins, by the way):

Brady Whiff

Nobody likes a pity five.

NFL Films even made a "Give Brady a high-five" video, which led to this spoof PSA:

If Glenn Burke and the 1977 Dodgers show us the original spirit of the high-five, Tom Brady and the 2013 Patriots show us that the high-five evangelist's work is never done.

(via Boston.com and SB Nation)

A short history of the high fiveJul 24 2014

For the latest installment of Grantland's 30 for 30 short documentary series, a story on the genesis of the high five and what happened to one of its inventors. This video is chock full of amazing vintage footage of awkward high fives. [Weird aside: The sound on this video is only coming out of the left channel. Is that a subtle homage to the one-handed gesture or a sound mixing boner?]

LeBron James has a photographic memoryJul 23 2014

The evidence has mounted to such an extent that Brian Windhorst of ESPN has written an article about LeBron James' fantastic memory.

So what does it mean? What it seems to suggest -- at least the part of it that James will discuss -- is that if you give up the baseline to James on a drive in November 2011 and he's playing against you in March 2013, the Heat small forward will remember it. It means that if you tried to change your pick-and-roll coverage in the middle of the fourth quarter of the 2008 playoffs, he'll be ready for you to try it again in 2014, even if you're coaching a different team. It also means that if you had a good game the last time you played against Milwaukee because James got you a few good looks in the first quarter, the next time you play the Bucks you can count on James looking for you early in the game. Because, you know, the memory never forgets.

"I can usually remember plays in situations a couple of years back -- quite a few years back sometimes," James says. "I'm able to calibrate them throughout a game to the situation I'm in, to know who has it going on our team, what position to put him in.

"I'm lucky to have a photographic memory," he will add, "and to have learned how to work with it."

Which sounds great, right? Except that thinking's best friend is often overthinking.

Consider what you know of the 2011 NBA Finals. And now consider it, instead, like this: In what will likely be remembered as the low point of his career, James is miserable for several games against the Dallas Mavericks -- including a vitally important Game 4 collapse when he somehow scores just eight points in 46 minutes. At times during that game it appears as if James is in a trance.

"What is he thinking?" the basketball world wonders.

James -- with two titles and counting, and four straight trips to the Finals -- can admit today what he's thinking in 2011: He's thinking of everything. Everything good, and everything bad. In 2011, he isn't just playing against the Mavs; he's also battling the demons of a year earlier, when he failed in a series against the Boston Celtics as the pressure of the moment beat him down. It's Game 5 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, and it is, to this point, perhaps the most incomprehensible game of James' career. His performance is so lockjawed, so devoid of rhythm, the world crafts its own narrative, buying into unfounded and ridiculous rumors because they seem more plausible than his performance.

I've probably said this a million times, but my favorite aspect of sports is the mental game, each athlete's battle with her/himself: from Shaq's dreamful attraction to Allen Iverson's visualization in lieu of practice to better living through self deception to Roger Federer's conservation of concentration to free diver Natalia Molchanova's attention deconcentration to deliberate practice to relaxed concentration. James taming his tide of memories fits right in.

The World Cup is over. Now what?Jul 19 2014

If you enjoyed the World Cup but don't know how to proceed into the seemingly impenetrable world of soccer, with its overlapping leagues, cups, and tournaments, this guide from Grantland is for you.

Just because the World Cup is over doesn't mean soccer stops. Soccer never stops; that's one of its biggest appeals. There are so many different teams, leagues, club competitions, and international tournaments that, if you want to, you can always find someone to cheer for or some team to root against. It can also be a bit daunting to wade into without any experience. Luckily, you have me, your Russian Premier League-watching, tactics board-chalking, Opta Stats-devouring Gandalf, to help you tailor your soccer-watching habits. And now I will answer some completely made-up questions to guide you along your soccer path.

This was basically my situation after the 2010 World Cup, a soccer fan with nowhere to direct his fandom. What I did was:

1. Picked a player I enjoyed watching (Messi) and started following his club team (FC Barcelona) and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the league that team played in (La Liga). I know a lot more cities in Spain than I used to.

2. Watched as many Champions League matches as I could every year, again more or less following Barcelona.

3. Got into UEFA European Championship, which is basically the World Cup but just for Europe. It's held every four years on a two-year stagger from the WC and the next one is in 2016 in France, which, I'm realizing just now, I should try to attend.

I also watched a few Premier League matches here and there...it's a great league with good competition. What I didn't do is follow any MLS or the USMNT, although after this WC, I might give the Gold Cup and Copa America tournaments some more attention. And qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup start in mid-2015...soccer never ends.

The hidden message in the old Milwaukee Brewers logoJul 07 2014

Somehow I lived in WI for the first 17 years of my life, was a Brewers fan for many of those years, and never realized the old Brewers logo contained the letters "m" and "b" hidden in the ball and glove.

Old Brewers logo

Wow. If your mind is blowing right now too, there's a Facebook group we can join together: Best Day of My Life: When I Realized the Brewers Logo Was a Ball and Glove AND the Letters M and B. (via kathryn yu)

ps. If you've somehow missed the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo, here you go. Best kind of natural high there is.

Lionel Messi is impossibleJul 03 2014

An open-and-shut case from FiveThirtyEight: Lionel Messi is far and away the best player in football. Ronaldo is the only player who is close and he's not even all that close.

By now I've studied nearly every aspect of Messi's game, down to a touch-by-touch level: his shooting and scoring production; where he shoots from; how often he sets up his own shots; what kind of kicks he uses to make those shots; his ability to take on defenders; how accurate his passes are; the kind of passes he makes; how often he creates scoring chances; how often those chances lead to goals; even how his defensive playmaking compares to other high-volume shooters.

And that's just the stuff that made it into this article. I arrived at a conclusion that I wasn't really expecting or prepared for: Lionel Messi is impossible.

It's not possible to shoot more efficiently from outside the penalty area than many players shoot inside it. It's not possible to lead the world in weak-kick goals and long-range goals. It's not possible to score on unassisted plays as well as the best players in the world score on assisted ones. It's not possible to lead the world's forwards both in taking on defenders and in dishing the ball to others. And it's certainly not possible to do most of these things by insanely wide margins.

But Messi does all of this and more.

The piece is chock-full of evidential graphs of how much of an outlier Messi is among his talented peers:

Messi Thru Ball Graph

One of my favorite things that I've written about sports is how Lionel Messi rarely dives, which allows him to keep the advantage he has over the defense.

Moneyball 2.0Jul 01 2014

After Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball in 2003 about the Oakland A's, their general manager Billy Beane, and his then-unorthodox and supposedly superior managerial strategy, a curious thing happened: the A's didn't do that well. They went to the playoffs only twice between 2003 and 2011 and finished under .500 four times. Teams like the Red Sox, who adopted Beane's strategies with the punch of a much larger payroll, did much better during those years.

But Beane hung in there and has figured out how to beat the big boys again, with two first place in 2012 & 2013 and the best record in the majors this year so far. Will Leitch explains how.

First, don't spend a lot on a little; spend a little on a lot.

The emotional through-line of Moneyball is Beane learning from his experience as a failed prospect and applying it to today's game. The idea: Scouts were wrong about him, and therefore they'll be wrong about tons of guys. Only trust the numbers.

That was an oversimplification, but distrusting the ability of human beings to predict the future has been the centerpiece of the A's current run. This time, though, the A's aren't just doubting the scouts; they're also skeptical that statistical analysis can reliably predict the future (or that their analysis could reliably predict it better than their competitors). Instead, Beane and his front office have bought in bulk: They've brought in as many guys as possible and seen who performed. They weren't looking for something that no one else saw: They amassed bodies, pitted them against one another, were open to anything, and just looked to see who emerged. Roger Ebert once wrote that the muse visits during the act of creation, rather than before. The A's have made it a philosophy to just try out as many people as possible -- cheap, interchangeable ones -- and pluck out the best.

Eleven great books about soccerJun 26 2014

There haven't been many good books written about soccer, but here are eleven of them worth your time. Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization looks especially interesting.

A groundbreaking work -- named one of the five most influential sports books of the decade by Sports Illustrated -- How Soccer Explains the World is a unique and brilliantly illuminating look at soccer, the world's most popular sport, as a lens through which to view the pressing issues of our age, from the clash of civilizations to the global economy.

Foer is one of the contributors, alongside authors Aleksandar Hemon and Karl Ove Knausgaard, to the New Republic's excellent World Cup coverage.

Soccer: 55 vs. 2Jun 25 2014

Watch as two players from the Japanese national soccer team try to score against 55 kids.

The kids had two opportunities to stop the pro players, once with 33 players and the second time with 55 players. This didn't turn out how I expected, given how a similar stunt involving fencing ended.

This was posted on Marginal Revolution a few days ago and garnered several interesting comments about how much better professional athletes are than us regular folk. Here are a few:

Rugby: I played against an international player once. Watching him play, I'd seen a chap who ran in straight lines, a strong tackler with a weak kick. Playing against him revealed him to be skillful, agile and possessed of a howitzer kick.

Back in the 1980s a friend was watching a pickup basketball game in Boston and reported what happened when a player from the Celtics showed up. He was so much faster, more athletic, and more agile than the other players that it seemed like he was playing a different sport. The player turned out to be Scott Wedman, who by that time was old and slow by NBA standards, and mainly hung around the 3-point line to shoot outside shots after the defense had collapsed on Bird, McHale, et al. But compared to non-NBA players, he was Michael Jordan (or LeBron James).

My U-19 team (we were very good by local standards) had a practice with the New Zealand All Blacks, who were on some sort of tour. It was like they were from a different planet. I stood no chance of containing, or conversely getting past, the smallest of them under almost any circumstance.

Back in the olden thymes I was a pretty good baseball player. Early in my high school career I got the chance to catch a AAA pitcher. I went into thinking I would have no trouble. The first pitch was on top of me so fast I was knocked off balance. It took a bunch of pass balls before I got used to how to handle his breaking stuff.

The result in the video might also shed some light on the question of choosing to fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses.

Extreme cavingJun 24 2014

Burkhard Bilger writes for the New Yorker about extreme cavers and their effort to explore what may be the deepest cave in the world.

When the call to base camp was over, Gala hiked to the edge of the pool with his partner, the British cave diver Phil Short, and they put on their scuba rebreathers, masks, and fins. They'd spent the past two days on a platform suspended above another sump, rebuilding their gear. Many of the parts had been cracked or contaminated on the way down, so the two men took their time, cleaning each piece and cannibalizing components from an extra kit, knowing that they'd soon have no time to spare. The water here was between fifty and sixty degrees -- cold enough to chill you within minutes -- and Gala had no idea where the pool would lead. It might offer swift passage to the next shaft or lead into an endless, mud-dimmed labyrinth.

The rebreathers were good for four hours underwater, longer in a pinch. They removed carbon dioxide from a diver's breath by passing it through cannisters of soda lime, then recirculating it back to the mouthpiece with a fresh puff of oxygen. Gala and Short were expert at managing dive time, but in the background another clock was always ticking. The team had arrived in February, three months before the rainy season. It was only mid-March now, but the weather wasn't always predictable. In 2009, a flash flood had trapped two of Gala's teammates in these tunnels for five days, unsure if the water would ever recede.

Gala had seen traces of its passage on the way down: old ropes shredded to fibre, phone lines stripped of insulation. When the heavy rain began to fall, it would flood this cave completely, trickling down from all over the mountain, gathering in ever-widening branches, dislodging boulders and carving new tunnels till it poured from the mountain into the Santo Domingo River. "You don't want to be there when that happens," Stone said. "There is no rescue, period." To climb straight back to the surface, without stopping to rig ropes and phone wire, would take them four days. It took three days to get back from the moon.

Bilger writes about this sort of thing so well...glad I didn't miss this one.

The view from the pelotonJun 23 2014

This is intense: video from one of the riders during the sprint finish of stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse.

I don't know how all of those riders are working that hard so close together without constantly crashing into each other. The number of "I've got my bike slightly in front of your bike now move the hell over" moves shown in the video reminded me of how NYC taxi drivers negotiate the streets of Manhattan. (via @polarben)

Football and PeaceJun 23 2014

For a Visa commercial, Errol Morris gathers a number of Nobel Peace Prize winners and nominees (including Lech Walesa) to talk about how important it is for their countries to beat the crap out of the other countries in the World Cup.

Two quotes in the video caught my ear:

Sport is a continuation of war by other means.

Look, football isn't life or death. It's much more important than that.

The first is a riff on Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz's aphorism "War is the continuation of Politik by other means". Clausewitz also devised the concept of "the fog of war", which Morris used for the title of a film. The second is a paraphrase of a quote by legendary football coach Bill Shankly:

Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.

World Cup balls, 1930-2014Jun 13 2014

The NY Times has an interactive look at the balls used in the World Cup from 1930 onward. Here's the ball from 1930:

1930 Football

Look at those laces! Just like the ol' American handegg.

Nasty dunk by sophomore Kwe'Shaun ParkerJun 09 2014

Kwe'Shaun Parker is a 6'2" high-school sophomore and recently threw down one of the sickest dunks of the year:

Dang! I mean, DANG! Here's Parker last year as a freshman doing some equally amazing stuff:

(via @cory_arcangel)

How to nerd out about soccerJun 09 2014

From Grantland's Mike Goodman, a guide to nerding out about soccer, using the language already spoken by American sports nerds.

What exactly is a good shot in soccer? The nascent field of soccer analytics is hard at work trying to figure that out. It won't surprise anybody to learn that closer is better, and using your feet is much, much better than using your head. So, much like getting into the lane is of paramount importance in basketball, getting the ball at your feet in front of the goal is just about the best thing you can do in soccer. Getting to the byline (baseline) in the corner of the penalty areas (like where Maicon was in the above video) is a hot destination. That's where you can cut the ball back for a teammate to have one of those coveted close shots. Hey, look at that - it's like basketball again: Get to the goal or get to the corners.

Bad British hockey commentaryJun 09 2014

Anthony Richardson is back, offering his British commentary on American sports. This time it's hockey:

Mary Poppins, look how small the goals are, the size of a matchbox guarded by an overzealous beekeeper.

See also Bad British NFL commentary and Bad British baseball commentary.

Sex and soccerJun 06 2014

For the World Cup, the managers of Mexico, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Spain, Germany, and Chile have all banned players from having sex for the duration of the tournament. France and Brazil's players have to slow down, too:

Usually normal sex is done in balanced way, but there are certain forms, certain ways and others who do acrobatics. We will put limits and survey the players.
-- Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari

Intriguing but creepy! (What does "survey" mean?)

Athletics and abstinence have gone together for seemingly forever, but scientific studies suggest that sex as such doesn't impair athletic performance.

The bigger worry might be the cultural connection between sex and sports, particularly soccer in Brazil: Adidas withdrew two purportedly World Cup-themed T-shirts with the slogans "Looking To Score" (with a woman in a bikini and a soccer ball for the O in "Score") and "I <3 Brazil" (with the heart drawn to resemble a woman's rear end in a bikini). That's not creepy, that's being a creep.

There's a weird dehumanization that happens in sports and sports fandom. Athletes get reduced to their performance, which is usually understood in abstract terms: statistics, salaries, wins and losses. Everything around the game, from families to fans to the ordinary women and men whose lives intersect with the players, is measured in terms of how it affects competition. This in turn justifies all kinds of intrusions into people's lives, whether from coaches or fans or media, but never for its own sake.

It's almost as if when you start to think about sex as an act with ethical dimensions, it disrupts (in a good way) the shallow ways we usually consider people's bodies for the purposes of both work and commerce. When nobody is disposable, it throws the whole system off. That's a kind of acrobatics that sports just can't seem to handle.

("Normal Sex, No Acrobatics" via @webbmedia)

Landing her first 540May 28 2014

Nine-year old Sabre Norris started skating three years ago because she couldn't have a bike. Here she lands her first 540 after 74 straight failed attempts.

My favorite trick is a 540. I watched Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins do it on the internet, and I just had to do it. That was my 75th attempt of the day. Every time I tried one and didn't land it I put a rock on the table. It ended up being my 75th rock. I was frothing. I did some 720s too. Not proper. I called it 540 to revert to splat. I didn't cry though. My goal is to do 100 of them before this Saturday. I'm up to 75. I still can't ride a bike, but I can do a 540.

See also a nine-year-old's first big ski jump. (via @torrez)

Richard Sherman and the value of preparationMay 09 2014

Richard Sherman is a football player for the Seatt...hey, HEY!, you nerds that were about to wander off because I'm talking about sportsball, come on back here. Like I was saying, Sherman plays cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, who won the Super Bowl last year. The thing is, whatever it is you do, Richard Sherman is way better at his job than you are at yours. And he's able to explain how he does what he does, which, if you've ever been to a technology conference or read more than a thing or two linked from Hacker News, you know is even more rare.

Sherman is, by his own admission, not particularly athletically gifted in comparison to some others in the NFL, but he's one of the top 5 cornerbacks in the game because he studies and prepares like a mofo. In this video, he explains how he approaches preparing for games and shares some of the techniques he uses to gain an advantage over opposing quarterbacks and receivers.

Sherman is obviously really intelligent, but his experience demonstrates once again the value of preparation, hard work, and the diligent application of deliberate practice.

All for one and one for allMay 01 2014

A Japanese TV show took three expert fencers and pitted them against 50 amateurs.

I honestly didn't think this would be that interesting and expected the Musketeers to easily get taken out right away or, if they survived more than 30 seconds, to handily finish off the rest of the crowd...nothing in between. But it's fascinating what happens. The crowd, being a crowd, does not initially do what it should, which is rush the experts and take them out right away with little regard for individual survival. But pretty much every person fights for themselves. And instead of getting easier for the Musketeers near the end, it gets more difficult. The few remaining crowd members start working together more effectively. The survival of the fittest effect kicks in. The remaining experts get sloppy, tired, and perhaps a little overconfident. The ending was a genuine shock. (via digg)

Barry Sanders, GOATApr 28 2014

A nice appreciation of Barry Sanders by Andrew Sharp at Grantland.

"Barry Sanders is my new idol," Bo Jackson said after a Raiders-Lions game in 1990. "I love the way the guy runs. When I grow up, I want to be just like him."

The Raiders won that game, and the Lions were 4-9 at the time, but it didn't even matter.

All anyone could talk about afterward was the "little water bug" who "might rewrite history."

This wasn't necessarily a metaphor for Barry's entire Lions career -- he was on more playoff teams than people remember -- but it definitely covers about half the years he spent in Detroit. Even when the Lions were awful, Barry would still have a few plays every game that would keep people gawking afterward.

Bo Jackson had a similar effect on people, which is part of what makes that old quote so cool. The Bo Jackson combination of speed and power is something we'd never seen before and haven't seen since. He was a cult hero then, and the legend has only grown over the years.

I've always been an atypical sports fan. I grew up in Wisconsin rooting for the Packers & Brewers but switched to being a Vikings & Cubs fan sometime in high school. But despite following the Vikings at the time, my favorite player in the NFL was Barry Sanders. For my money, Sanders was pure symphonic excellence in motion, the best running back (and perhaps player) the NFL had ever seen and maybe will ever see. I wonder if one of the reasons why I like Lionel Messi so much is because he reminds me of Sanders; in stature, in strength, in quickness, in skill. Compare and contrast some of their finest runs:

Baseball fandom map of the United StatesApr 24 2014

From the NY Times' new site, The Upshot, a bunch of maps showing the borders of baseball team fandom, with close-ups of various dividing lines: the Munson-Nixon Line, The Molitor Line, The Reagan-Nixon Line, and the Morgan-Ripken Line.

Baseball Map

The NYC and Bay Area maps are so sad...the Mets and A's get no love. (via @atotalmonet)

GoPro, circa the 1960sApr 14 2014

Back in the olden days, you just tied your cameraman right to the car:

GoPro 1960s

Looks almost as goofy as Google Glass. Legendary F1 driver Jackie Stewart wore this stills-only proto-GoPro at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1966 (though not during the actual race):

Gopro 1960s Stewart

Stewart ended up winning that race. I believe Stewart is also the model for this contraption, which looks like a film camera counterbalanced with a battery pack?

Gopro 1960s Stewart

That couldn't have been comfortable. For some reason, neither of Stewart's helmet cams are recognized by Wikipedia as being the first documented helmet cam, which is instead attributed to a motorcycle race in 1986:

Motorcycle Helmet Cam

Update: Another early use of the helmet cam comes from the world of skydiving. Here's Bob Sinclair with a camera setup from 1961:

Gopro 1960s Parachute

(thx, david)

Update: Not even a bulky taped-up helmet camera can keep Steve McQueen from looking cool:

GoPro 1960s McQueen

Well, he just barely looks cool. McQueen wore the helmet during the filming of 1971's Le Mans. While researching this, I came across another film featuring McQueen that used helmet cams to get footage: 1971s On Any Sunday, a documentary about motorcycle racing. (via @jackshafer)

Mercedes is dominating F1 so far this yearApr 09 2014

Coming into this season, Formula One made a lot of rule changes: new engines, better turbo systems, two different power sources (fuel & electrical), fixed-ratio gearboxes, etc. The cars had to be redesigned from top to bottom. Whenever a situation like this occurs, there's an opportunity for technical innovation (rather than the gradual improvements that tend to occur when the environment remains mostly unchanged). This year, the Mercedes team built their engines to get more out of the new turbo system than the other teams.

What Mercedes' boffins have done, according to Sky Sports F1 technical guru Mark Hughes, is split the turbo in half, mounting the exhaust turbine at the rear of the engine and the intake turbine at the front. A shaft running through the V of the V6 engine connects the two halves, keeping the hot exhaust gases driving the turbo from heating the cool air it's drawing into the engine.

Aside from getting cooler air into the engine and extracting more power (maybe as much as 50 horsepower), this setup also allows Mercedes to keep drivetrain components closer to the center of the car. It also allowed the team to use a smaller intercooler, which cools off the heated air before going into the engine, compared to the rest of the cars.

And the result so far? Utter Mercedes domination. Out of the three races this year, the two drivers for the Mercedes team (Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg) have three first-place finishes and two second-place finishes (Hamilton had to retire with engine issues in the first race). Mercedes was certainly competitive last year, finishing second, but Red Bull-Renault easily beat them in the points race and one of their drivers finished 1st in 13 out of 19 races. More relevant to the discussion here is how easily these races are being won by Mercedes. In each of the three races, a member of the Mercedes team qualified in pole position, recorded the fastest lap, and beat the other teams' drivers by more than 24 seconds in each case. To put that last stat in perspective, last year the winning team beat the second place team by more than 20 seconds in only three races, with the margin typically in the 3-10 second range.

So yeah, Mercedes is killing it so far. And the other teams aren't happy about it. Shades of the situation over Speedo's LZR Racer swimming suit.

Update: I said earlier that one of the changes was "no refueling during races" which has been the case for a few years now (hence the 2-second pit stop). Also, this video is a great explanation of how Mercedes turbo is designed and how it helps make their car go faster:

(thx, @coreyh & @gazbeirne)

The scourge of coffeeMar 20 2014

Khoi Vinh tells us how he really feels about coffee.

In the West, and particularly in urban centers of the United States, we've turned coffee into not just a daily habit, but a totem of conspicuous consumption. They are "rituals of self-congratulation" (a choice phrase I believe I read from Sam Sifton, but which I can't seem to source) wherein we continually obsess over certain coffee purveyors or certain methods of brewing coffee - each new one more complex, more Rube Goldbergian and more comically self-involved than the previous brewing fad.

I don't drink coffee either (don't even like the smell), but as someone who regularly indulges in other addictions and "rituals of self-congratulation", I don't take issue with other people's enjoyment of coffee...as long as I'm out of earshot when the "perfect grinder for pulling a great shot" discussion starts.

Coffee, like almost everything else these days, is a sport. Everyone has a favorite team (or coffee making method or political affiliation or design style or TV drama or rapper or comic book), discusses techniques and relives great moments with other likeminded fans, and argues with fans of other teams. The proliferation and diversification of media over the past 35 years created thousands of new sports and billions of new teams. These people turned hard-to-find nail polish into a sport. These people support Apple in their battle against Microsoft and Samsung. This guy scouts fashion phenoms on city streets. Finding the best bowl of ramen in NYC is a sport. Design is a sport. Even hating sports is a sport; people compete for the funniest "what time is the sportsball match today? har har people who like sports are dumb jocks" joke on Twitter. Let people have their sports, I say. Liking coffee can't be any worse than liking the Yankees, can it?

The shoe masterMar 18 2014

Hitoshi Mimura

That is a bespoke running shoe made by a small company started by Hitoshi Mimura, who is considered one of the top shoe designers in the world. Mimura had great success at Asics, outfitting Olympic gold medal runners with shoes lighter, grippier, and more breathable than those worn by competitors, but now he has struck out on his own.

"I take 13 measurements of the foot, each foot has to be measured separately," explains the sensei of shoemaking. "I only trust hand-measuring. Currently, each shoe takes about three weeks to make, mainly due to determining which materials to use." Preparation is also key. "For a world championships or Olympics I check the course once or twice. I went to Beijing three times."

A NY Times feature on Mimura written before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing emphasized the designer's reliance on rice husks in the soles for grippiness. Mimura takes his job and his responsibility to the runners very seriously:

Surreptitiously, Mimura made soles of two slightly different thicknesses, to compensate for the fact that Takahashi's left leg was eight millimeters -- about a third of an inch -- longer than her right leg. She had tried a pair of the uneven soles before the Sydney Olympics, but felt uncomfortable.

Still, Mimura felt Takahashi needed such shoes to win and to avoid a recurrence of pain caused by the disparity in her legs. Without Takahashi's knowledge, Mimura gave her the uneven soles, then wrote a letter of resignation, in case she failed to win gold.

"I decided to take full responsibility because I made this pair against her wishes," Mimura said of the letter. "I didn't have to hand it over. It's still in my desk."

That is belief in yourself and in your craft. Many people believe in "giving people not what they want but what they need" but how many of them will put their livelihood on the line for it?

2014 Winter ParalympicsMar 10 2014

The 2014 Winter Paralympics opened in Sochi, Russia a few days ago. In Focus has some photos from the early competitions.

2014 Winter Paralympics

The competition runs through March 16th. The best way to watch in the US is on NBC Sports Network...they're showing 52 hours of programming from the Games over the next two weeks.

Mini golf perfect gameMar 05 2014

Superb short documentary from Grantland about a perfect 18-hole game of mini golf:

(via @torrez)

No pain, possible gainMar 04 2014

Three years ago, Kayla Montgomery was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Faced with the prospect of being confined to a wheelchair someday, Montgomery, one of the slower runners on her high school cross country team, told her coach she was short on time and wanted to run faster. Now she's one of the fastest runners in the country and perhaps the MS has something to do with it.

Kayla Montgomery, 18, was found to have multiple sclerosis three years ago. Defying most logic, she has gone on to become one of the fastest young distance runners in the country -- one who cannot stay on her feet after crossing the finish line.

Because M.S. blocks nerve signals from Montgomery's legs to her brain, particularly as her body temperature increases, she can move at steady speeds that cause other runners pain she cannot sense, creating the peculiar circumstance in which the symptoms of a disease might confer an athletic advantage.

But intense exercise can also trigger weakness and instability; as Montgomery goes numb in races, she can continue moving forward as if on autopilot, but any disruption, like stopping, makes her lose control.

"When I finish, it feels like there's nothing underneath me," Montgomery said. "I start out feeling normal and then my legs gradually go numb. I've trained myself to think about other things while I race, to get through. But when I break the motion, I can't control them and I fall."

Montgomery's story reminds me of ultra-endurance racer Jure Robic, particularly this bit in a NY Times profile:

Researchers, however, have long noted a link between neurological disorders and athletic potential. In the late 1800's, the pioneering French doctor Philippe Tissie observed that phobias and epilepsy could be beneficial for athletic training. A few decades later, the German surgeon August Bier measured the spontaneous long jump of a mentally disturbed patient, noting that it compared favorably to the existing world record. These types of exertions seemed to defy the notion of built-in muscular limits and, Bier noted, were made possible by "powerful mental stimuli and the simultaneous elimination of inhibitions."

Questions about the muscle-centered model came up again in 1989 when Canadian researchers published the results of an experiment called Operation Everest II, in which athletes did heavy exercise in altitude chambers. The athletes reached exhaustion despite the fact that their lactic-acid concentrations remained comfortably low. Fatigue, it seemed, might be caused by something else.

In 1999, three physiologists from the University of Cape Town Medical School in South Africa took the next step. They worked a group of cyclists to exhaustion during a 62-mile laboratory ride and measured, via electrodes, the percentage of leg muscles they were using at the fatigue limit. If standard theories were true, they reasoned, the body should recruit more muscle fibers as it approached exhaustion -- a natural compensation for tired, weakening muscles.

Instead, the researchers observed the opposite result. As the riders approached complete fatigue, the percentage of active muscle fibers decreased, until they were using only about 30 percent. Even as the athletes felt they were giving their all, the reality was that more of their muscles were at rest. Was the brain purposely holding back the body?

"It was as if the brain was playing a trick on the body, to save it," says Timothy Noakes, head of the Cape Town group. "Which makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. In fatigue, it only feels like we're going to die. The actual physiological risks that fatigue represents are essentially trivial."

The way of the swordMar 03 2014

From The Avant/Garde Diaries comes a brief lesson in Japanese sword fighting from master kendo sensei Shozo Kato.

Western beauty is radiance, majesty, grandness and broadness. In comparison, eastern beauty is desolateness. Humility. Hidden beauty.

David Attenborough narrates curlingFeb 19 2014

BBC Radio 1 recorded David Attenborough doing nature-style commentary for curling, but the YouTube video isn't available in the US, but luckily there's a copy on LiveLeak:

For the curious, here are the rules of and other assorted information about curling.

Running from the knowledgeFeb 17 2014

Every year, a bunch of folks play a game called Last Man, in which the participants attempt to be the last person to find out the result of the Super Bowl. TLDR did an entertaining podcast on this year's contestants.

Sports Illustrated: "No girls allowed!"Feb 14 2014

Writer Mary Beth Williams tweeted the following this morning:

No actively competitive female sports figures on SI cover since Olympic gymnast team. July 2012.

Intrigued, I went back through Sports Illustrated's cover archive and counted the number of covers featuring active female athletes. I only needed one hand:

2013: 0
2012: 1 (US Women's Gymnastics Team)
2011: 1 (Hope Solo)
2010: 3! (Serena Williams, Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso & Vonn)
2009: 0

Pathetic. And ESPN the Magazine isn't any better...most of the female athletes on their covers over the past five years are naked. Well, except for this one of the incredibly talented skier Lindsey Vonn with her face photoshopped onto Sharon Stone's body in the leg uncrossing scene from Basic Instinct.

As Williams notes on Twitter, Sports Illustrated "could show women as more than bikinis. As athletes." and "I want my daughters to read sports magazines & see themselves represented, not Barbie." Seems like we need a Title IX for sports magazines.

Update: Vonn's face was not photoshopped onto Stone's body. Which is...better, I guess? Maybe?

NYC snowboardingFeb 14 2014

This is fucking great and crazy...when the snow hit NYC yesterday, Casey Neistat grabbed his snowboard and went snowboarding behind a Jeep in the East Village.

Vintage snowboarding footage from 1977Feb 13 2014

From 1977, a video of someone snowboarding on one of the first commercially made boards:

I'm not completely sure who the rider is (probably Dimitrije Milovich), but the board is a Winterstick. A company who owns the Winterstick trademark still makes a version of the split-tail board you see in the video.

Winterstick

From what I can tell, Winterstick was the first modern snowboard company but was quickly eclipsed by rivals Sims and Burton, with Burton emerging in the 1990s as the growing sport's 800 lb gorilla.

Photos of the first 12 Winter OlympicsFeb 13 2014

Andrea Mead Ski

1948 Pentathlon

Following the film footage of the 1932 Winter Olympics (ice skating on stilts! Keystone Cops ski jumping!), here's a collection of photos from In Focus of the first 12 Winter Games, from 1924 to 1976.

Footage from the 1932 Winter OlympicsFeb 12 2014

Here's a bit of film footage from the third-ever Winter Olympics, held in Lake Placid, NY in 1932. The ski jumping segment is amazing and terrifying.

Here's how those Games compare to the modern day Olympics.

F1 pit stop balletFeb 11 2014

Watch Ferrari's F1 pit crew do a pit stop in a bit over two seconds:

I wish this were in slow motion because I've watched this three times now and I still cannot understand how it's done. My favorite part is how calm they all are about it. Here's a longer video that shows the process over and over from several points of view, including from a GoPro mounted on the chest of the wheelgun man:

Watch for the guy on the front jack pirouetting out of the way. I would love to read a long piece on how F1 pit crews train and practice. There are tantalizing bits in shorter articles, like this one from Autosport.com:

With three people per wheel, two jack operators, and a handful of mechanics fulfilling other functions, each pit crew comprises nearly 20 people.

Each is trained for a specific role and teams take their preparation as seriously as drivers', managing crewmen's fitness and diet.

They are drilled incessantly at both the factory and during race weekends, with hundreds of pitstop practices until the process is instinctive.

Although problems such as faulty guns are rehearsed, everyone focuses on their own job -- in a two-second pitstop, there is no time to see what everyone else is doing. By the time an error has been alerted, the car has often already pulled away, as was the case at the Nurburgring.

And this one from the AP:

Teams now spend huge sums to design their own equipment and improve the fitness of their teams who also work as mechanics. McLaren is working with the English Institute of Sport to hone their 24-member team's technique while Williams has partnered with Olympic champion Michael Johnson's Performance Center to work on everything from diet to eye-hand coordination to core strength.

Training has also been ramped up. Most teams have rigs to practice on in the factory and pit stops are practiced as many as 70 times over a typical race weekend. Each stop is timed and videotaped for later review.

"When you had to go from 3.5 seconds down to a lower number, then you really need to be very specific and accurate on how you train because everything needs to be very synchronized to achieve that level of fast time and consistency," said Williams' chief race engineer Xevi Pujolar, whose team had its fastest pit stop this season in Spain after making changes to its crew but still is almost a second behind the top teams.

"There still a lot of room for improvement and we are working hard to catch up to these guys that do close to two seconds," Pujolar said. "If you look at video of pit crew and how they move during pit stop, everything is so well coordinated. To achieve this level of coordination on every pits stop requires a lot of training."

As well as this series about pit stops by Williams on YouTube. (via digg)

BMX riding as conceptual artFeb 07 2014

A few months ago, the site featured the BMX tricks of Tim Knoll, which were some of the most unusual tricks I'd seen. (That semi trailer limbo!) Tate Roskelley's tricks are even weirder, so much so that they seem more like an artistic statement on tricks than tricks themselves:

I think the "artist's statement" on YouTube is spot on:

Tate's got just about the most original perspective on BMX you can imagine. I think years ago when Jim C said "I just want to see what's possible", Tate took his words at face value. His riding is less about making a statement and more about asking questions. What is a bike trick? What is a street spot? The answers aren't always pretty (I'm sure he isn't going to start riding around with his stem bolts loose full time) but they're always interesting and Tate is always having fun.

Diego Maradona's Goal of the CenturyFeb 06 2014

For Howler Magazine, Sam Markham writes about Diego Maradona's second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal, aka Probably The Best Goal of All Time. Markham focuses on how a pair of radio commentators -- one English, the other from South America -- called the goal.

Morales's ecstatic commentary of Maradona's second goal is itself iconic in Argentina, and his lyrical expression "Barrilete cosmico!" (Cosmic kite!) is now shorthand in Argentina and much of South America for Maradona. His narration is a frenzied mix of poetry, yelling, and sobbing that ends with a prayer: "Thank you, God, for football, for Maradona, for these tears, for this-Argentina 2, England 0."

Even if you don't care about soccer, you should give this a listen...the dude absolutely loses his shit:

An alternate view of the spectacular goal has recently been found. Oh, and my favorite weird thing about this goal: Lionel Messi is considered by many to be Maradona's heir (both are small, Argentinian, and otherworldly talented) and in 2007, at the age of 19, he scored this goal against Getafe:

As you can see in the side-by-side comparison, it's extremely similar to Maradona's goal. Even the commentator loses it in a similar manner.

The Manhattan Winter OlympicsFeb 05 2014

I love this sort of thing: visualizations of Olympic venues plopped into Manhattan to provide a sense of scale. My favorite is the bobsled run in Times Square:

Times Square Bobsled

My son and I were just talking about this and when he asked me, I had no idea how big the track actually was. Can't wait to show him this when I get home tonight.

In other news, the news media has arrived in Sochi and the town doesn't seem to be ready for the Games. Oopsie!

Breaking MaddenJan 31 2014

Jon Bois attempted to create the most lopsided game ever in Madden NFL on his Xbox. He beefed up the players on one team (7'0", 440 lbs, good at everything) and put a bunch of scrubs on the other team (5'0", 160 lbs, bad at everything). He started playing and was on pace to score more than 1500 points when...

With just under two minutes left in the first quarter, I was winning 366 to zero. I realized that I was on pace to score 1,500 points in a single game. I had never conceived of such a high score. I'd never even heard anyone talk idly about such a thing. There was absolutely nothing the Broncos could do to slow down my pace. I could score just as surely as someone can point and click. It was great. I wanted to ruin Madden in a way I never had before, and I was doing it.

And then it happened. Before I tell you what happened next, I want to lay out a couple of things: first, I made no actual hacks to this game. I didn't have some special jailbroken Xbox, nor a special copy of Madden, nor anything like that. I bought my Xbox at Target and bought my copy of Madden off Amazon, and that's that. Second, I stake whatever journalistic integrity I have upon the statement that I didn't Photoshop any of this, and that it happened just as I say it did.

This is LOL funny in several places...particularly the GIFs. (via @delfuego)

The decline of snowboardingJan 29 2014

I wasn't aware of this: snowboarding numbers are down across the board...revenue from snowboarders is down, snowboard visits to resorts are down, sales of gear is down, the number of first-timers under 14 years-old is down, etc.

Each February I experience the unrestrained joy of attending the ski and snowboard trade show in Denver. Here's what I see when I walk the snowboard section: Underage snowboarders puking in the corridors after one too many keg stands-at 10 a.m. And overseeing all this fabricated youthfulness? Fifty-year-old white dudes in flat-brim caps, tight jeans, and designer flannel. Chuckleheads. Leveraging snowboarding's rebel cred, they modeled its image on skateboarding and aimed it almost entirely at teenagers.

That worked great for a while. Then snowboarding went mainstream-the X Games, Mountain Dew ads, Shaun White-and, inevitably, it lost a bit of its mojo. The first generation of riders got real jobs and started having kids, and snowboarding's image never matured to accommodate them.

As snowboarding went narrow, skiing went big. Today's skiers can choose to carve turns, launch off the slopestyle jumps, hammer bumps, navigate steeps, tour the backcountry, rip bottomless pow, race in a beer league, or just go skiing like a vacationer from Chicago or Boca Friggin' Raton. It's cool; there's a place for you and a group of likeminded folks who would love to have you. Cooler still if you're a lifelong enthusiast? Dabble in all the above. Skiing isn't golf; there's always some new adventure waiting for you.

But industrialized snowboarding hates diversity.

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)

Skate or nap!Jan 28 2014

Kahlei Stone-Kelly is two. He's still in diapers. And he's a way better skateboarder than you are:

Oh, and barefoot! YouTube is very emasculating sometimes. (via @DavidGrann)

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)

Hoop Dreams is 20 years oldJan 15 2014

Hoop Dreams is a tremendous documentary that will be re-screened at Sundance this year, two decades after its initial release. Here's an oral history of the making of the film.

Basketball fanatics Steve James, Frederick Marx, and Peter Gilbert originally set out to make Hoop Dreams as a half-hour doc for PBS that would focus on the culture surrounding streetball. But as quickly as they got on the blacktop, they left it. The dreams of their subjects, Arthur Agee and William Gates, were too grand for just the playground, and instantly, the filmmakers were immersed in the young men's lives, showcasing both the good and bad.

Twenty years after the film premiered at Sundance and was awarded the festival's Audience Award, it's grown into an iconic work. Its snub in the Best Documentary category at the 67th Academy Awards in 1995 led to changes in the voting process. NBA players treat the movie as their own life story. It's been added to the Library Of Congress' National Film Registry. And when looking back on the film's 15th anniversary, Roger Ebert declared it "the great American documentary."

The green Flying TomatoJan 14 2014

Video of Shaun White snowboarding at age 10:

A view from a ski jumpJan 13 2014

Ride along with Anders Jacobsen as he takes flight off the end of a ski jump in Lillehammer, Norway.

Very nice, but this fourth grader's first time on a bigger ramp is by far my favorite ski jump video of all time.

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.

The case for Dennis RodmanDec 19 2013

At Skeptical Sports, Benjamin Morris (who was just hired at FiveThirtyEight) has an extensive series of posts about Dennis Rodman. The conclusion he arrives at after many graphs and a dozen different posts is that Dennis Rodman was probably way better at whatever it was that Dennis Rodman did than any other NBA player was at what they did over the past 25 years.

While there may be room for reasonable disagreement about his character, his sportsmanship, or how and whether to honor his accomplishments, my research and analysis has led me to believe -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- that Rodman is one of the most undervalued players in NBA history.

I admit to not reading the whole series, but the ramifications of Rodman being "the best 3rd-best player" in the history of the NBA by a wide margin laid out in the finale was fascinating:

"Well, it's not like he's as valuable as Michael Jordan, but he's the best 3rd-best player by a wider margin than Jordan was the best 1st-best player."

"So you're saying he was better than Michael Jordan."

"No, I'm not saying that. Michael Jordan was clearly better."

"OK, take a team with Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman on it. Which would hurt them more, replacing Michael Jordan with the next-best primary scoring option in NBA history, or replacing Rodman with the next-best defender/rebounder in NBA history?"

"I'm not sure, but probably Rodman."

"So you're saying a team should dump Michael Jordan before it should dump Dennis Rodman?"

"Well, I don't know for sure, I'm not sure exactly how valuable other defender-rebounders are, but regardless, it would be weird to base the whole argument on who happens to be the 2nd-best player. I mean, what if there were two Michael Jordan's, would that make him the least valuable starter on an All-Time team?"

"Well OK, how common are primary scoring options that are in Jordan's league value-wise?"

"There are none, I'm pretty sure he has the most value."

"BALLPARK."

"I dunno, there are probably between 0 and 2 in the league at any given time."

"And how common are defender/rebounder/dirty workers that are in Rodman's league value-wise?"

"There are none."

"BALLPARK."

"There are none. Ballpark."

"So, basically, if a team had Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman on it, and they could replace either with some random player 'in the ballpark' of the next-best player for their role, they should dump Jordan before they dump Rodman?"

"Maybe. Um. Yeah, probably."

"And I assume that this holds for anyone other than Jordan?"

"I guess."

"So say you're head-to-head with me and we're drafting NBA All-Time teams, you win the toss, you have first pick, who do you take?"

"I don't know, good question."

"No, it's an easy question. The answer is: YOU TAKE RODMAN. You just said so."

"Wait, I didn't say that."

"O.K., fine, I get the first pick. I'll take Rodman. . . Because YOU JUST TOLD ME TO."

"I don't know, I'd have to think about it. It's possible."

"So there you go, Dennis Rodman is the single most valuable player in NBA History. There's your argument."

I loved watching Rodman play when he was on the Bulls. (One of my early web efforts was The Dennis Rodman Hair Page, which used JavaScript to change Rodman's hair color.) The guy had such a weird role that he often seemed to be doing either the wrong thing or nothing. But the sheer number of rebounds and his defensive effort were hard to deny.

The discussion of Rodman's worth reminds me a bit of Rickey Henderson, another unconventional player and a favorite of my pal David, who is always saying Henderson doesn't get the credit he deserves as one of the best players of all time. (via @pieratt)

Trench run in a wingsuitDec 18 2013

As if wingsuit flying wasn't insane enough, here's a guy in a wingsuit flying down a trench in Chamonix, like he's Luke trying to blow up the Death Star.

I don't even. (via devour)

The best bike trick of 2013Dec 18 2013

Ethen Godfrey Roberts pulled off a trick called a Superman double backflip the other day and it is a thing to behold:

Sploid says the trick "seems to murder the laws of physics" but if you can close your mouth long enough to stop drooling (this took me several views, BTW), the law of conservation of angular momentum is responsible for the optical illusion that makes the trick look so cool. The trick begins with a tight backwards flip, which happens quickly because all of the weight (human + bike) is distributed close to the center of gravity. By opening his body up in the middle part of the flip, Roberts slows down the rotation, just like a figure skater, diver, or ballerina would by throwing out their arms or legs. And then he gathers himself back onto the bike, which spins quickly again because the weight is all back close to the center. Boom, physics.

The best golf shot of 2013Dec 18 2013

Backed up against a fence with no room to swing in a recent tournament, Matt Wheatcroft hit a shot straight out of Happy Gilmore, more miniature golf than golf.

(via devour)

What the puck didDec 13 2013

Goalies in the NHL didn't used to wear masks...they didn't become common until the 60s. For an article in 1966, Life magazine had a professional make-up artist recreate the injuries and more than 400 stitches that goalie Terry Sawchuk accumulated during his 16-year NHL career.

Terry Sawchuk

Sawchuk has sustained other injuries not shown here: a slashed eyeball requiring three stitches, a 70% loss of function in his right arm because 60 bone chips were removed from his elbow, and a permanent "sway-back" caused by continual bent-over posture.

Competitive teeter-totteringDec 09 2013

The teeterboard is an acrobatic apparatus that looks like a seesaw. This is a pair of acrobats training on a Korean-style teeterboard, where instead of getting catapulted off the board, the participants land back on the board after each jump:

Magnus Carlsen's "nettlesomeness"Nov 21 2013

The Chess World Championship is currently underway in Chennai, India. Through nine games, challenger and world #1 Magnus Carlsen is leading reigning world champ and world #8 Viswanathan Anand by the score of 6-3. It seems as though Carlsen's nettlesomeness is contributing to his good fortunes.

Second, Carlsen is demonstrating one of his most feared qualities, namely his "nettlesomeness," to use a term coined for this purpose by Ken Regan. Using computer analysis, you can measure which players do the most to cause their opponents to make mistakes. Carlsen has the highest nettlesomeness score by this metric, because his creative moves pressure the other player and open up a lot of room for mistakes. In contrast, a player such as Kramnik plays a high percentage of very accurate moves, and of course he is very strong, but those moves are in some way calmer and they are less likely to induce mistakes in response.

Or perhaps Carlsen's just inspired by the lovely chess set they're using? Either way, he needs just one draw in the remaining three games to win the Championship. Or putting it another way, Anand has to win all three of the remaining games to retain the title.

The non-World Cup all-starsNov 20 2013

The teams for the 2014 World Cup are almost all set (one qualifying game remains) and there are a lot of world-class players who won't be playing in the tournament. ESPN FC has compiled a team of the best players who will miss out:

ESPN World Cup Missing All Stars

Bale, Lewandowski, and Ibrahimovic. That's an amazing front line. If not for his hat trick yesterday, Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps the best player in the world right now, would have made the roster in Ibrahimovic's stead.

Football as FootballNov 14 2013

Football as Football is a collection of American football team logos in the style of European football club badges. Here are badges for the Detroit Lions (in the Italian style) and New England Patriots (in the Spanish style).

 
Football As Football 01

 
Football As Football 02

The coach who never puntsNov 14 2013

Kevin Kelley is the head football coach at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas. In games, he instructs his team to never punt, to never receive punts, and almost always onside kick.

The numbers Kelley cites are that eye-popping. And he isn't cooking the books: Cal professor David Romer concluded that teams should not punt when facing fourth-and-4 or less; NFL stats analyst Brian Burke has detailed the need to rethink fourth-down decision-making; Football Outsiders has conflated punts with turnovers. You've even read about it on this site. Most fans and analysts who are willing to accept that change is a fundamental part of life have embraced the idea that automatically punting on fourth down doesn't make sense.

Since Kelley took over, Pulaski is 124-22 and has won three state titles.

Fastest bow in the westNov 11 2013

Archer Lars Andersen can shoot 10 arrows in less than 5 seconds, without sacrificing power or accuracy. Andersen learned his technique by studying ancient archery practices...the key is holding the extra arrows in the hand and instinctive shooting.

(via @psillin)

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)

What if baseball moved to a 16-game season?Nov 04 2013

Joe Posnanski thinks about how baseball would change if MLB moved to a 16-game schedule like the the NFL. I love stuff like this.

4. Baseball would become dramatically more violent.

I'm not 100% certain of this, of course. But I am probably 75% certain. Right now, we don't tend to think of baseball as a contact sport. There IS contact -- plays at the plate, double-play meetings at second base, the occasional hit-by pitch and ensuing bench-clear -- but it's mostly tangential to the game. Football, meanwhile, is violent at its core. Or anyway, that's what we think now.

Except -- baseball was extremely violent in its early days. And I think that if the game was played just once a week, if you faced each team only once or twice a season, if every game was critical, there would be a lot more violence in baseball. Collisions at the plate would be intensified. Nobody would concede the double play without really taking out the fielder. Pitchers would be much more likely to send message pitches. And I think you would probably find violence where there is none right now.

(via mr)

MLB player quits baseball for creative writingOct 31 2013

Adrian Cárdenas, formerly a player for the Chicago Cubs, quit baseball to pursue an education in creative writing and philosophy.

I wish I had looked up more often, even at the cost some of my success. The American dream didn't tell me that an experience only matters if I acknowledge it, that losing yourself in the game is a good way to lose what makes life meaningful. When you're standing at the plate and you hit a sharp foul ball to the backstop, the spot on the bat that made contact gets hot; the American dream forgot to tell me to step back and enjoy the smell of burnt wood.

Cheerleader does 44 backflips in 34 secondsOct 24 2013

This video of Atlanta cheerleader Mikayla Clark breaking the world backflip record is mesmerizing. I did not know there was a world backflip record, but here is someone breaking it last year, too.

Yes, it is gymnastics day on kottke.org, what of it?

Amazing robot gymnastOct 24 2013

I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this video of a robotic gymnast doing a routine on the high bar, but holy cow! I audibly gasped at the 33-second mark and again at 57 seconds.

Looks like a home-built, just some guy in his garage. The robot has learned some new tricks since that video was made. Here's a quintuple backflip landing:

A double twist that it didn't quite land:

And it does floor exercises as well...here's a double back handspring:

(via @moth)

Mike Tyson's life as a young thugOct 21 2013

In New York Magazine this week, Mike Tyson writes about growing up in Brooklyn and his discovery of boxing as a way out and up.

Having to wear glasses in the first grade was a real turning point in my life. My mother had me tested, and it turned out I was nearsighted, so she made me get glasses. They were so bad. One day I was leaving school at lunchtime to go home and I had some meatballs from the cafeteria wrapped up in aluminum to keep them hot. This guy came up to me and said, "Hey, you got any money?" I said, "No." He started picking my pockets and searching me, and he tried to take my fucking meatballs. I was resisting, going, "No, no, no!" I would let the bullies take my money, but I never let them take my food. I was hunched over like a human shield, protecting my meatballs. So he started hitting me in the head and then took my glasses and put them down the gas tank of a truck. I ran home, but he didn't get my meatballs. I still feel like a coward to this day because of that bullying. That's a wild feeling, being that helpless. You never ever forget that feeling. That was the last day I went to school. I was 7 years old, and I just never went back to class.

The piece is adapted from Tyson's upcoming memoir, Undisputed Truth. Tyson wrote the book with Larry Sloman, author of Reefer Madness who has also ghostwritten for Howard Stern, Anthony Kiedis, and KISS's Peter Criss.

Update: Spike Lee directed a documentary version of Undisputed Truth; it'll air on HBO on November 16. Here's the trailer:

20 minutes at Rucker ParkOct 18 2013

Flinder Boyd follows streetballer TJ Webster on a cross-country bus trip for an opportunity to play his way onto a team in the prestigious EBC tournament at storied Rucker Park.

Despite his small size and light frame, he carries, like a weapon stashed under a vest, a 38" vertical jump. Along with his self-proclaimed "great" outside jump shot, he knows that during this 20-minute open tryout he'll have to do enough to impress one of the handful of coaches glaring at him from the stands. They represent teams in the upcoming Entertainer's Basketball Classic, an eight-week long tournament and the jewel of New York's basketball summer circuit.

Just two days ago, TJ stepped off a cross-country bus with every penny to his name wedged into the bottom of his bag for a chance to change his life. It's a long shot; he understands that, and so do the other nine players on the court. There are only two ways to make an EBC team, either by reputation or by being selected after your performance in the open run.

Each year, one, maybe two players, at most will be good enough to be granted a jersey and, in essence, a pass inside the halls of the cathedral of street basketball; a chance to feel the nearly religious power of Rucker Park - the same court that has hosted some of the greatest players to ever play the game.

Sometimes dreams are best kept that way.

The most difficult hole of golf in the worldOct 17 2013

630 yards. Par 3. Tee is accessible only by helicopter. $1,000,000 for a hole-in-one. Meet the world's most difficult hole of golf:

(via quora)

Wingsuit flyer lands safely on waterOct 15 2013

(Just so I don't bury the lede too much here: THIS IS INSANE.) Wingsuit flyers keep upping the ante. For awhile, it was enough to glide at 100 mph a foot or two off the ground. Then they started flying through gaps between skyscrapers. And then through holes in mountains. Last year, Gary Connery landed safely in a pile of cardboard boxes without the use of a parachute. And now, watch as Raphael Dumont, straps on his wingsuit, climbs an Italian mountain, and LANDS SAFELY ON A LAKE WITHOUT A PARACHUTE.

Raphael Dumont, human seaplane. That shit cray.

Update: Rumblings on Twitter are indicating that this is fake. I WANT TO BELIEVE. (But that footage of the landing is shot on the world's shakiest camera for no reason so...)

NHL goal of the year?Oct 09 2013

The NHL season is only a few days old, but Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl may have already scored the goal of the year. This is crazy:

Also, that was his fourth goal of the game. (via grantland)

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.

Kayaking down a drainage ditchOct 04 2013

Watch as several kayakers rocket down a drainage ditch in BC at speeds approaching 35 mph.

That looks like a lot of fun. See also what fast looks like. (via devour)

Michael Jordan returning to the NBA for one game?Oct 03 2013

In talking to Bill Simmons for a Grantland NBA preview show, former NBA star Jalen Rose predicts that Michael Jordan will play one game for the Charlotte Bobcats this season.

Per Betteridge's law of headlines, Jordan will not play in the NBA this season, but it's an intriguing possibility. Jordan's 50 years old but he owns the team so you never know.

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.

Meet the players in the East/West College BowlOct 01 2013

Saw this awhile ago and was reminded of it b/c of a clip on Monday Night Football last night: comedy duo Key & Peele poke fun at the increasingly creative names and alma maters of football players in this sketch.

Nyquillus Dillwad, D'Pez Poopsie, Fartrell Cluggins, Ladennifer Jadaniston, and Benedict Cumberbatch are all on my fantasy team this year. See also last year's video. (Davoin Shower-Handel!)

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.

The Shaq baby boomSep 17 2013

When Shaquille O'Neal entered the NBA in 1992 after starring at LSU, people had already begun naming their children after him. 20-something years later, some of those kids are starting to play college basketball themselves. Ken Pomeroy is tracking the Shaq babies as they show up in their schools' line-ups and offers a look at the future of children named after NBA stars.

We can never know those reasons for sure, but we can say that since 1997, Kobe has been the name of choice for parents opting to name their children after basketball players. (Lebron has yet to crack the top 1000.) From this we can be confident we'll see the first-ever college basketball player named Kobe sometime in the 2016 to 2018 seasons. And while the supply of Shaqs will peter out right quick, Kobe's name will be appearing on college basketball rosters well into the 2030's. Kobe Bryant may have skipped college, but Kobe will be playing college basketball for many, many, many years to come.

(via http://marginalrevolution.com/)

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.

Wonderful animated soccer vignettesSep 12 2013

Richard Swarbrick makes these great impressionist animations of sports events, mostly soccer but also cricket and basketball. Here's one to get you started...the 5-0 drubbing FC Barcelona handed to Real Madrid during a 2010 Clasico:

It's amazing how much Swarbrick's illustrations communicate with so few strokes...Mourinho's face is my favorite. Here's the actual match for comparison purposes. And here's Maradona's sublime goal against England in the 1986 World Cup (original video):

You can find many other examples of Swarbrick's work on his web site and on his YouTube channel. (via @dunstan)

When legends gatherSep 11 2013

Barber Valentine Terry

I watched a lot of pro wrestling when I was a kid and this photo of Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, and fashion photographer Terry Richardson is just too much for me. If nostalgia truly is death, someone better make some arrangements for me.

(If you're not with me on this whole reminiscing about 1980s professional wrestlers thing, Richardson also recently took a photo of Miley Cyrus eating a salad, so you're basically all caught up on current events and you're welcome.)

Citi Bike tricksSep 11 2013

BMX rider Tyrone Williams checks out a Citi Bike and puts it though its paces, first with a wheelie or two and eventually on a dirt track.

(via animal & @claytoncubitt)

NFL TV maps for 2013Sep 08 2013

It's NFL season again and it's time to tune into the NFL TV maps site to find out when your favorite team isn't on TV because the network is contractually obligated to show the pathetic Jets.

Teahupo'o: Inside the MonsterSep 04 2013

Inside the Monster is a 25-minute documentary (in French w/ English subtitles) on Teahupo'o, a Tahitian locale known for its spectacular waves.

Crazy the way those waves rise out of almost nowhere. My favorite photo of Teahupo'o is this one (view larger):

Teahupoo

All that water hanging out 14 feet higher than it should be....it ain't natural!

How cranberries are harvestedSep 03 2013

This video seems like it was made specifically for kottke.org. In the first half of it, you learn how cranberries are harvested. In the second half, there's gorgeous HD slo-mo footage of wakeskating through a cranberry bog.

And with a Tycho soundtrack no less...it's all too perfect. (via ★interesting)

Standing between harm and othersAug 29 2013

I played football in high school, specifically offensive line, defensive line, and linebacker. So did my older and younger brothers, and my older brother coaches linemen and defense at a high school in Michigan. I started out first in middle school and high school as a defensive specialist, which makes sense given John Madden's theory of linemen.

Madden used to say that offensive linemen were overwhelmingly big kids who grew up to be big men, who'd always been told not to pick on but to protect kids smaller than them. Defensive linemen, on the other hand, were little kids who grew up fighting with other little kids (and often bigger kids) but who grew up to be big men. That's what I was: a skinny kid who became a fat adolescent who became a big, strong teenager. (Now I'm a strong, fat writer, so that's how that turned out.)

Madden said the problem is that offensive linemen still need to be as tough and aggressive as defensive linemen, but they always hold something back. Some of this is part of the rules of football: offensive linemen literally can't do everything a defensive lineman can do to them. So what Madden would do is take a tackling dummy and let his offensive linemen beat the hell out of it. Punch it, tear it, throw it across the room, it doesn't matter. Help them get to a point where they're no longer worried about being over-aggressive.

College football reporter Spencer Hall writes:

You should know this about offensive line coaches: they are large, demanding men with Falstaffian appetites, jutting jaws, and no governors on their speech engines. They eat titanic portions. They cram their lips full of dip in film study like they are loading a mortar. They drink bottled water like parched camels, and in their leisure time would consider a suitcase of beer to be a personal carry-on item for them, and them alone. They are terrifyingly disciplined in the moment, and nap like large breed dogs when allowed.

Now, even if Madden's amateur psychobiography of linemen were true when he was coaching, it's not true any more. In the 1990s, coaches got really good at taking tall but relatively slender athletes from every position, bulking them up, and sticking them at offensive line.

In high school, we played this guy named Jon Jansen, who ended up becoming a star offensive tackle for the Washington Redskins, then coming home to Detroit and playing one year for the Lions before becoming an announcer. In high school, he weighed almost 100 pounds less than he did as a pro. He was listed then at 6'8", 230 lbs, and played tight end and middle linebacker. He was FAST. They moved him all over the field, catching touchdowns and uprooting people. It was chaos.

He went to Michigan, they redshirted him for his freshman year, and came back weighing 300 lbs and playing offensive line. Jansen told Bob Costas that he thought between 15 to 20 percent of NFL players were using illegal performance enhancing drugs, noting that the NFL didn't then test for human growth hormone. I remember when I was still in high school reading a long profile of the University of Nebraska's offensive linemen that attributed their huge gains in mass and strength to weightlifting and creatine. Draw your own conclusions about what was happening in pro and college football at the time.

This is all to say that what offensive linemen do in football is not well understood. When the NFL finally started to act on widespread concussions and the resultant uptick in chronic traumatic encephalopathy — if you never have, please read about the life and death of Dave Duerson — they focused on open-field helmet-to-helmet hits and defensive players targeting quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers (so-called "skill positions"). They ignored the constant battering that offensive linemen take, how repeated brain injury poses the greatest risk for long-term problems, how linemen are rewarded for staying on the field and playing through pain, and the ways in which they're encouraged to both be more aggressive and prioritize someone else's safety over their own.

Kurt Vonnegut said that his chief objection to life in general was that it was "too easy, when alive, to make horrible mistakes." This is what offensive line coaches live with: the notion that for every five simple circles drawn on a board, there are a nearly infinite number of possible threats looming out in the theoretical white space. Offensive plays give skill players arrows. Those arrows point down the field toward an endzone, a stopping point, a celebration. Those five simple circles stay on the board in the same place, and are on duty forever.

They are rough men in the business of protection.

Today, Hall has one of the most beautiful, thoughtful, human pieces on offensive linemen I've ever read, and which I've been quoting here throughout. It's called "The Business Of Protection," and subtitled "It Is Never, Ever About You." It's a story about Vanderbilt University's offensive line coach Herb Hand, who suffered a sudden and life-threatening brain hemorrhage waiting in line at a hotel breakfast bar on a recruiting trip. But Hand's story manages to become equally about football, fatherhood, the brain, the heart, how we defend ourselves from what's horrible in the things we love, and how we defend the people closest to us from ourselves.

When Hand had to have the impossible conversation — the one where you, with cellphone, stuck in a hospital far away from home, might have to say the last words you ever say to your children — he did what he was trained to do. He told them that he loved them, and that everything would be okay. The second part of that might not have been true at the time. The emergency room doctor certainly didn't think so, and neither did Hand. But standing between harm and others is what linemen do, even if there's little hope to be had in the face of numbers, size, and speed. There is a dot on the board, and a shield held against whatever slings and arrows lurk in the ether. It stands against harm until it cannot any longer.

Update: While I was writing this post, the NFL and 4500 former players (about one-third of the 12000 still living) reached a mediation agreement to settle a number of lawsuits over concussions for $765 million.

This figure includes legal fees, medical exams, the cost of noticing former players, and $10 million for research and education on the long-term effect of brain injuries, leaving $675 million to compensate former players who've suffered cognitive injuries (or, if dead, their families). The settlement applies only to players who've retired by the time court approves its terms. Current players will need a separate agreement to be compensated for existing and future injuries, and the NFL admits no liability.

As Buzzfeed sportswriter Erik Malinowski notes on Twitter: "Holy crap, what a bargain... ESPN pays $1.9 billion *every year* for Monday Night Football. 4,500 ex-players will get 40% of that (once) for decades of head trauma."

Yo-yo tricks through the agesAug 22 2013

Here's a video of the 2013 World Yo-Yo Contest winner, Janos Karancz. His motion is so delicate and intricate, it's almost like he's doing needlepoint or something:

Contrast that with the winner of the 2000 World Yo-Yo Contest, Yu Kawada. Much simpler tricks, more showmanship, like it's a dance:

Here's some footage from a 1989 yo-yo contest. Lots of throwing tricks and fewer spinning tricks. Contestants competed in blazers!

And finally, a Duncan yo-yo commercial from 1976. Super simple tricks and more blazers!

Rowing across the oceanAug 09 2013

The team is rowing in a wild nighttime sea when a rogue wave the size of a small house hoists their boat, tosses it into a valley and crashes over it. The force of the water snaps one of the oars in Kreek's hand.

What happens when four guys try to cross the Atlantic...in a rowboat.

Bob Burnquist does amazing things on a MegaRampJul 31 2013

I dunno, this may be the most bonkers skate video you've ever seen. It starts a bit slow but stick with it: Bob Burnquist shows us what he can do on his backyard MegaRamp.

This video is also a fantastic demonstration of the principle of Chekhov's helicopter, which states that if you see a helicopter sitting next to a MegaRamp in the first two minutes of a skate video, a skater must absolutely drop in to the MegaRamp from the helicopter in the last part of the video. (thx, dusty)

A video for Danny MacAskillJul 24 2013

Five-year-old Jack is trials rider Danny MacAskill's biggest fan. (Don't know who MacAskill is? Start here.) Inspired by his hero, Jack made a video of himself riding his bike around and doing some tricks.

Oh man, there's water coming out of my face now. #cryingatwork (thx, meg)

Golf Ball Innards or Bowl of Gelato?Jul 19 2013

Today's fun game is: Golf Ball Innards or Bowl of Gelato? Let's get started. Is this a creamy bowl of lemon-lime pistachio gelato or the inside of a golf ball?

Golf Ball Innards

Ok, that was an easy one. How about this one...is this half of a crazy-ass golf ball or a delicious bowl of watermelon bubble gum gelato?

Golf Ball Innards

It's gotta be gelato, right? Ok, last one: gelato or cross section of a golf ball from a project called Interior Designs by photographer James Friedman?

Golf Ball Innards

Yum, I can almost taste the blueberries through the screen. Well, that's all the time we have today, folks. You've been a great group of contestants, and we hope to see you next week on Golf Ball Innards or Bowl of Gelato? (via edible geography)

Feeding the Tour de France ridersJul 17 2013

Hannah Grant, a chef who used to work for highly influential Noma (among other places), is now the chef for the Saxo-Tinkoff cycling team currently competing in the Tour de France. She cooks for the entire team out of a food truck.

First of all, I set the menu. I mean, they can request stuff, the riders, if they want. I'll note it and I'll do it if it's possible. But, obviously, then there's rules to how to assemble the menu. Today's a rest day, so we do a low-carb lunch for them. They're not going so far, they just want to keep their legs going, so we don't want to fill them up too much. And we don't want to go too hard on the carbs so they don't gain weight.

Then we have a philosophy of using lots of vegetables, proteins, and cold-pressed fats, and then we use a lot of gluten-free alternatives. So we try to encourage the riders to try other things than just pasta and bread. I do gluten-free breads as well.

It's all to minimize all the little things that can stop you from performing 100 percent, that promote injuries, stomach problems, all those things. So that's a big difference (from cooking in a restaurant), because I have to follow all those rules. I can't just cook whatever I think is amazing. It has to be within those guidelines.

Then I take it as my personal job to take these guidelines and then make an incredible product from it, so they don't feel like they're missing out on things. It shouldn't be a punishment to travel with a kitchen truck and a chef who cooks you food that's good for you.

Grant's cooking seems to be paying off for the team...Saxo-Tinkoff currently has two riders in the top five and is in second place overall in the team classification. (via @sampotts)

How to bike limboJul 03 2013

Last month, we posted a video of Tim Knoll doing ridiculous and panic-inducing circus style tricks on his bike. In the video below, he explains how he does the bike limbo, riding under several semi trucks in a row. Just because he tells you how to do it, does not mean you should try it. In fact, it is the expressed opinion of this blog you should not try it. However, if you do try it and you do feel yourself falling -- which you will, because let's be honest -- don't try to lift your head up. Just fall, because as Knoll says, "scrapes are better than stitches."

(via ls)

Duct tape surfingJun 25 2013

Pascale Honore enjoyed watching her sons surf but couldn't participate because she's been a paraplegic for the past 18 years. But then Tyron Swan, a friend of her sons, duct taped her to his back and took her out on his board.

Man, that smile is incredible. What a great video. Pascal and Tyron are trying to raise funds to take their show on the road. Backed. (via ★interesting)

Bad British baseball commentaryJun 17 2013

Ok, it's no NFL bad lip reading but this fake commentary by a British broadcaster of a baseball game is still pretty hilarious.

He runs in to bowl...Mork and Mindy, that's going for six! No! Caught by the chap in the pajamas with the glove that makes everything easier. And they all scuttle off for a nap.

The awful truth about joggingJun 11 2013

Tired of all the lies, Allison Robicelli finally discovers the awful truth about jogging.

I despise everything about running. I hate the New York City Marathon, which bisects my neighborhood every year, making my commute to work or any theoretical trips to the emergency room completely impossible. I hate people who are constantly posting about running over on Facebook, casually humblebragging about how they fit in a "quickie 5K" between picking up the dry cleaning and the children. I hate 5Ks, even though, where I live, they usually conclude with free beer and six-foot-long heroes (Bay Ridge, Brooklyn: Turning Everything into an Excuse for Day-Drinking Since 1853). I hate "fun runs" because, seriously, fuck you.

The last of the 16-bit heroesJun 07 2013

When Grant Hill and Jason Kidd retired from the NBA this week, they were the last players who appeared in the NBA Jam video game from 1994. There are still three active NHL players who appeared in the classic NHL '94: Teemu Selanne, Roman Hamrlik, and Jaromir Jagr. Kotaku's Owen Good takes a look at which athletes were the last men standing from 8-bit and 16-bit sports video games.

Landeta, whose last game was in 2005, is the last man on the Tecmo Bowl roster to appear in an NFL game, beating out the Raiders' Tim Brown, the 49ers' Jerry Rice and Minnesota's Rich Gannon, all of whom retired in 2004.

The Big FundamentalJun 03 2013

Lovely piece by Joe Posnanski about Tim Duncan, who at the age of 37 and in his 16th NBA season, finds himself in the Finals again seeking his fifth NBA championship.

Duncan almost certainly would have been the first pick in the draft after his sophomore year, but he came back to Wake Forest. He would have been the first pick in the draft after his junior year, for sure -- and just about everyone thought he would go out -- but once more he went back to Wake Forest to complete his senior year. Odom says that they were in the car after Duncan's junior year and heading to the airport for the Wooden Award ceremony (Duncan did not win it until his senior year). He told Duncan, "You will get a lot of questions there about why you're coming back to Wake Forest."

Duncan, typically, looked out the window and did not say anything.

"No, Tim, this is important," Odom said. "Let's pretend I'm one of those reporters? Was it a hard decision to come back to Wake Forest?"

Duncan kept looking out the window, but he said: "No. It wasn't hard."

Odom: "It wasn't? You didn't agonize over leaving millions of dollars on the table?"

Duncan said: "I didn't agonize. I just thought, why should I try to do today what I will be better prepared to do a year from now."

Odom looked over at the best player he would ever coach, and he wondered: "What kind of college junior thinks like that? Who has that sort of confidence, that sort of patience, that sort of inner peace? And then Duncan said the words that Odom thinks about almost every day."

He said: "You know something coach? The NBA can do a lot for me. It really can. But there's one thing it can't do. The NBA can never make me 20 years old again."

In 2003, Duncan was 27 years old and the MVP of the NBA and the Spurs won their second championship. Ten years later, at 37, his statistics (per 36 minutes) are remarkably similar:

2002-2003: 21.3 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.7 blocks, 0.6 steals.
2012-2013: 21.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 3.2 blocks, 0.9 steals.

Soccer's knuckleballMay 30 2013

"Bend it like Beckham" has given way to "knuckle it like Ronaldo" in European football. During free kicks, players like Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Tottenham's Gareth Bale put little or no spin on the ball, which tends to give it the unpredictable movement of a knuckleball in baseball. Bale recently explained his technique:

So where does the 'knuckling' effect come in?

Well, as we've said, if the ball is struck without spin, it is more susceptible to movement as it flies through the air.

If there are imperfections on the ball, such as specks of mud or grass, then random movement is more likely. Bale would be well served to rub the ball around in the grass as he places it.

Even the seams of the ball's panels can generate a degree of unpredictable movement.

Bale is not the first exponent of 'knuckleball' in the game, of course. Ronaldo has a subtle variation that has wowed fans the world over, while the former Lyon player Juninho Pernambucano did much to perfect the style in the noughties.

YouTube is crap for finding good soccer highlights in HD (FIFA, the European leagues, and their broadcast partners are fanatic about yanking footage) so there's not a great view of Bale's technique, but you can kind of see it in this video of his two goals against Lyon earlier this year. The knuckler is also in evidence in this Ronaldo compilation, particularly with goals #7 and #3. Especially #7...Ronaldo hits it right at the keeper, who looks completely baffled by the speed and movement of the ball.

The WTF pitchMay 29 2013

Angels pitcher Robert Coello's unique pitch has knuckleball movement but is thrown with a fastball grip & pitching motion and has a bit more speed on it than a typical knuckleball. His catchers and opposing hitters call it the WTF pitch.

Physicist Alan Nathan, a professor at the University of Illinois who studies baseball and has a particular interest in the knuckleball, hadn't ever seen a pitch like Coello's. His preliminary theory on the pitch: His thumb on the underside of the ball exerts backspin, counteracting the tumbling effect his top fingers put on the ball and balancing the torque so perfectly that the pitch has a knuckleball effect with superior speed (around 80 mph).

Be sure to wait for the slow motion at the end of the video.

Kenyan high jumpersMay 29 2013

This is a video of a pair of Kenyan high schoolers competing in a high jump contest, skillfully using a throwback technique rarely seen these days.

Cool, right? They're using a scissors-jump technique that was popular in international competitions prior to the early 1900s, when landing areas were sand pits rather than the huge foam pads you typically see today. Various techniques followed the scissors-jump, with each making higher jumps possible until Dick Fosbury invented his Flop in 1968. All international competitors use the Flop today.

Interestingly though, the Fosbury Flop is not the instantly disruptive innovation I'd always thought it was. Fosbury started sailing over the bar backwards as a senior in high school in the mid-1960s. He refined his invention for years until his gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics attracted the attention of other jumpers, who recognized the potential of the technique. But if you look at the progression of high jump world records, there was no huge jump (sorry) in record heights because of the Flop. Ten years after the Flop's big-stage debut at the Mexico City Games, the world record holder Vladimir Yashchenko still used the straddle technique. And in the 1980 Olympics, three high jump finalists didn't use the Flop. Like most new promising technologies, the Flop took time to catch on, even though 45 years on, it's the clearly superior technique. (via @dunstan)

Miguel Cabrera's fantastic plate coverageMay 28 2013

Earlier this spring, Drew Sheppard created a layered animated GIF of Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish's pitching delivery. This type of GIF has become something of a meme on baseball sites. The latest to get the layered GIF treatment is Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera hit for the Triple Crown last year (led the league in batting average, RBIs, and home runs) and is trying to do it again this year. Sheppard put together this GIF to show "Cabrera's impressive all fields hitting and ability to cover the full strike zone with power":

As the image plainly shows, Cabrera can launch home runs from anywhere...even a pitch that's almost a foot off the plate. Are they showing this stuff on SportsCenter yet? Can only be a matter of time. (thx, david)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 20 things I wish I'd knownMay 03 2013

Basketball Hall of Famer and "secret nerd" Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shares a list of 20 things he wish he'd know when he was 30 years old.

18. Watch more TV. Yeah, you heard right, Little Kareem. It's great that you always have your nose in history books. That's made you more knowledgeable about your past and it has put the present in context. But pop culture is history in the making and watching some of the popular shows of each era reveals a lot about the average person, while history books often dwell on the powerful people.

NBA player comes out of the closetApr 29 2013

NBA player Jason Collins is the first active player in a major US sport to come out of the closet. He explains why in a piece for Sports Illustrated.

Loyalty to my team is the real reason I didn't come out sooner. When I signed a free-agent contract with Boston last July, I decided to commit myself to the Celtics and not let my personal life become a distraction. When I was traded to the Wizards, the political significance of coming out sunk in. I was ready to open up to the press, but I had to wait until the season was over.

A college classmate tried to persuade me to come out then and there. But I couldn't yet. My one small gesture of solidarity was to wear jersey number 98 with the Celtics and then the Wizards. The number has great significance to the gay community. One of the most notorious antigay hate crimes occurred in 1998. Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was kidnapped, tortured and lashed to a prairie fence. He died five days after he was finally found. That same year the Trevor Project was founded. This amazing organization provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to kids struggling with their sexual identity. Trust me, I know that struggle. I've struggled with some insane logic. When I put on my jersey I was making a statement to myself, my family and my friends.

The strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable in March, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Less then three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard, and I couldn't say a thing. I didn't want to answer questions and draw attention to myself. Not while I was still playing.

GIF of Yu Darvish's consistent deliveryApr 25 2013

One of the most formidable tools in a pro baseball pitcher's arsenal is the consistency of pitching motion when throwing different kinds of pitches. If your delivery looks the same to an opposing batter when throwing a 95-mph fastball, a 80-mph curve, and a 85-mph change-up, well, you've really got something there. Texas pitcher Yu Darvish is ripping up the AL this year with a 4-1 record, 1.65 ERA, and 49 strikeouts, which prompted Drew Sheppard to layer five of Darvish's pitches on top of one another in an animated GIF:

Yu Darvish

All the Darvishes use the same delivery but the five balls end up crossing the plate at very different times and locations. A perfect use of time merge media to illustrate just how difficult it must be stand in there against the controlled athleticism of a pitcher at the top of his game. "The Mona Lisa of GIFs" indeed. (via @djacobs)

Update: Here's a video demonstrating similar consistency in Roger Federer's serve:

I remember NBC using this technique at various points during the last couple of Olympics as well. (via @agonde)

Free thrownApr 24 2013

Buried in this column about the 2013 NBA playoffs is an astounding statistic:

Dwight Howard missed more free throws this season (366) than Lakers teammate Steve Nash has missed in his 17-year NBA career (322). Howard: 355 for 721 this season, 49.2 percent; Nash: 3,038 for 3,360 from 1996-97 through 2012-13, 90.4 percent.

Now, Howard takes more than double (and sometimes triple) the amount of free throws than Nash does, partially because center/forwards get fouled more than point guards. But Howard also gets intentionally fouled because he's such a bad free throw shooter whereas a reach-in foul on Nash is almost as good as a basket and so players almost never do it, unless they want to find their asses on the bench.

Which of these two displays of athletic quickness is more incredible?Apr 18 2013

The first features TAKASKE, a Dance Dance Revolution player with ballerina-quick feet. Here he plays all eight footpads at ludicrous speed.

Then there's Cara Black, a higly-ranked women's doubles tennis player with a killer net game. Here she's practicing volleys off the wall at close range.

She reels off 115 volleys in 43 seconds, beating the performance of her 16-year-old self.

Combat jugglingApr 18 2013

Major League Combat is a sport that combines juggling, rugby, Capture the Flag, and maybe Quidditch? I can't make out how you score, but keeping your juggle from end-to-end seems important.

Weird sport or the weirdest sport? It's definitely up there with chessboxing. (thx, benjamin)

Insane wingsuit flight through a hole in a mountainApr 17 2013

Watch as wingsuit pilot Alexander Polli flies through a hole in a mountain. And it's not that big of a hole either.

Watching this, I kept seeing an image of Wile E. Coyote wearing an Acme-brand wingsuit smacking into the side of the mountain. (via stellar)

Dealer admits doctoring rare Honus Wagner cardApr 12 2013

A former baseball card dealer now admits he cut the edges of the world's most expensive baseball card to make it appear in better condition. The card in question is the T206 Honus Wagner card once owned by Wayne Gretzky; this video is a great overview of the card's history.

One question I always had about the card was: why did Gretzky ever sell it? The Wagner might just have been an investment for him, but if you're rich and a huge sports guy and you own the most pristine copy of the world's rarest and most valuable sports card, why would you ever sell it? One possible answer: you suspected (or discovered) that the card had been doctored and got rid of the damn thing before the truth came out. That Gretzky, always skating to where the puck is going to be.

One Real Madrid fan's magical adventureApr 11 2013

Abel Rodríguez waxes floors for a living in Los Angeles and takes two weeks of vacation a year to work gratis for Real Madrid when the European football club trains in Los Angeles every summer. He had always dreamed of seeing Real Madrid playing their Spanish rivals Barcelona in Madrid, so his family persuaded him to go. He went. With no hotel or ticket to the game, he sat outside the club's training complex for hours until manager José Mourinho spotted him as he was leaving..."Stop! It's the guy from Los Angeles." Thus began Abel Rodríguez's magical journey.

You never know when karma will come back and reward you for something. For seven summers Rodriguez worked for free for Real Madrid, even when the club was willing to pay him for his efforts in Los Angeles. Now he was about to experience the thrill of a lifetime.

Oh man, I've got something in my eye.

How baseballs are madeApr 10 2013

I remember tearing baseballs apart as a kid and seeing the rubber core, but I guess I had forgotten that a baseball is mostly a leather-covered yarn ball. See also how footballs are made and homemade soccer balls. (via @marklamster)

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