In principle, there’s nothing wrong with the NFL pre-season.
At four games in length (five if you play in the Hall of Fame game) it’s maybe one game too long, but at lot better than six game march-to-boredom that existed back when there was just a 14 game regular season.
Pre-season games are necessary.
New players need some live reps. Rookies need to “flash” or “show something” to make the team. Coaches need a few dress rehearsals to get used to getting plays called on time, substitutions to be executed properly. The complex dance of a pro football game and it’s myriad of moving parts needs the oiled and exercised so that the regular season doesn’t start like a complete train wreck.
Yet, at the same time, pre-season games are meaningless.
This is true, despite attempts by us in the “chattering class” try to insist otherwise.
There’s only one thing that means anything in pre-season football: “Did any of your important players get hurt?”
No? Good. “Shower up boys, we’ll see you at practice after the off day.”
Necessary, but meaningless.
Prime example from Monday night’s Redskins-Browns game. I’m on the phone with a buddy as the Redskins smash Alfred Morris into the line of scrimmage FOUR straight times from the 1 yard line.
Goal line stand. My buddy says: “What kind of idiotic play calling was THAT?”
I said: “It was perfect. Why in the hell would we want to put any of our GOOD goal-line plays on tape for other teams to see in the PRE-SEASON.”
My buddy admitted: “good point.” Do you know how hard it is to get a “good point” admission from a friend when it comes to arguing about football?
Now, maybe Jay Gruden was NOT trying to “play it vanilla” in that case and IS IN FACT an idiot play-caller. I tend to doubt it. The point is, we DON’T KNOW what teams are doing in pre-season games. We don’t know how much of the playbook is actually active and prepared.
We know teams do not at all “game plan” in the pre-season. And that’s a huge part of preparing for your next opponent.
We know that the “tempo” of the game in August, is a VISUALLY noticeable notch below what it will look like in September and beyond.
We know that star players – especially the 4-5 guys who will directly influence the outcome of games when they matter – only play 1/2 to at most 1/2 of any game.
We know that 46% of NFL games are decided by 7 points or less. Which means it takes 60 minutes of action, involving some 120+ plays from scrimmage, plus special teams, penalties, and a big heaping of dumb turnover luck to decide the outcome of most games.
So only idiots would extrapolate any meaning from a pre-season game under the above mentioned restrictions and limitations.
Yet, we do.
I guess it’s still better than talking about baseball.
Hasn’t everyone heard their dad say: “It’s all fun and games until……”
And you can fill in the blank.
- Somebody loses an eye
- You crack your skull wide open
- Your finger gets cut in half
And so on, and so forth.
Dads were – and are – good at assessing and minimizing risk to their kids. And especially when it comes to NEEDLESS risk. Knowing that kids do things all the time – in the mere business of being, well, KIDS – that could result in grave bodily harm, dads look to take the auxilliary risk off the table entirely.
When it comes to sport, we are slowing waking up to the notion of taking needless risk out of the equation entirely. And given how risky auto racing is at face value, there was simply no need for what happened between Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward Jr. on that dark, dank dirt track last weekend.
The entire incident is more a reflection on our “what bad could happen to ME?” society. I read with bemused horror more and more stories of people dying taking selfies.
Yes. Dying. As in: “Children Watch Parents Tumble to Death Off Cliff Taking A Selfie”.
Our sense of danger as humans, was keenest thousands of years ago. Our ability to hear and process the sound of a single snapped twig in the forest was all that separated us from a bloody death.
Now, we are coddled in the warm embrace of technology, and advanced western civilization.
Our cell phones remind us. Our airbags protect us. And our media culture seems to trivilalize (or at least commoditize) danger, harm, and death.
I mean, anyone with brain enough to pilot a race car, has brain enough to know not to run out into traffic.
But that same brain in Ward also said: “Go out there and MAKE A SCENE.”
It’s what you see on TV every weekend in NASCAR. And of course, the ruling powers of the sport love it.
“Have at it boys! Throw those helmets at passing cars. Get into pushing matches on the track apron! Anything for us to get bumped a few notches higher on the SportsCenter rundown.”
Until something like this happens. And then everyone gets all quiet and reflective and says: “Oh. Uh… yeah. Well…”
Maybe we should start enforcing stricter standards about on-track confrontations.
Yeah. Ya think?
Everybody wants to put a scorecard down on blame. Mine would be 70-30, with Stewart taking the lighter end.
Yeah, I know. He appeared to “light the tires” to scare/intimidate/embarrass Ward. The added torque of these dirt track cars led to a momentary spin out, that caught Ward in the wheels, cartwheeling himself to his own death.
But in the end, this incident needs to be a stark reminder that the real world is not some reality show. It has consequences that last forever. You don’t get to return in a future episode to carry on your petty little “feud” for the sake of the TV cameras.
This is real life.
Time for everyone to start acting like it.
First, let’s remember where this year started for Rory.
Hard to imagine, but yes, a mere gentleman-amatuer by the name of Jeff Knox clipped Rory by a stroke on Saturday at The Masters.
That was back when his fiancee had pink hair, and was lovingly toting his forged blades around the Par-3 contest.
Events and life have since mashed the “turbo” button for the – new, and foreseeable future - World’s Number One.
In the middle of a Cat-5 hurricane of flower arrangements, guest lists, and rehearsal dinner menu choices, Rory had a genuine “what the fuck am I doing?” moment.
Since then…. ka-boom.
And it started with a window-rattling, come-from-behind, final round 66 at the BMW PGA at Wentworth to hoist his first single-man-again trophy. Amazing enough in a normal week, but even more so because he began that Wednesday with the most brutally stand-up presser a modern athlete could possibly give.
He faced the imaginary sad music in front of the press corps, question by question. And handled it with class and decency.
No wonder now, he’s dominating the game of golf like few have done in history. The kid just knows how to “handle things.” Life is teaching, and he’s taking excellent notes.
‘I think what happened has been for the better in terms of my golf,’ he revealed.
‘I’ve put a bit more time into it and it has refocused me. I mean, what else do I have to do now?
‘I go to the golf course, I go to the gym and it’s just my life at the minute.
‘I worked pretty hard before but the past couple of months I’ve really just buried myself in my game. It obviously works pretty well, so I am going to keep doing it.’
McIlroy is playing so well, he’s changing all the questions.
What was once: “Will Tiger catch Jack?”
Has now become: “Will Rory pass Tiger?”
Nicklaus has already sounded the claxon, though sometimes I wonder if Jack’s statements about his record, Tiger, and any other pursuers isn’t just the old man’s way of trolling folks.
McIlroy is truly something amazing to watch. Forget any and all measurables, just use the “eye test.” Does he look like the rest of them out there right now?
Not often in sports do you see something so amazing, that you have to ask yourself over and over: “Did that just really happen?”
McIlroy’s driver-9-iron-to-2-feet on #16 on Saturday did that to me. Are you kidding me? And he make it look effortless.
Which brings me, to the Tiger in the room.
After watching that farce play out more predictably than an episode of Three’s Company, I am trying to figure out just who Tiger Woods is trying to con?
Himself? Or us?
What does one make of somebody who chirpily and cheerily declares himself fit and “good to go” on Wednesday, and then on his way out of town Friday night says in essence: “Well, I couldn’t make a backswing, so I pretty much had no chance?” What do you think about a guy who has a 50-yard two-way-miss off the tee, yet insists better days are just a few thousand stomach crunches and glute-busters ahead?
How do you even play that ball?
As my buddy Cowboy Mike said to me: “He’s either a liar or a fool. Likely, both.”
Great athletes con themselves all the time about their ability to “gut it out.” And they also love to play the media for dupes whenever possible. But usually, even the best touch bottom on the limits of their own bullshit.
I guess Tiger is still feeling around for that bottom.
Most laughable to me, was how Tiger insisted on Wednesday – fresh after lacing up his spikes on his bumper – that “you could see, I had my speed back” out there on his 9-hole practice “round.”
Speed my ass. Tiger has a strained, muscle clenching lash these days. And that’s even before the back went out.
The new breed on Tour has speed that is whisper quiet, and perfectly in balance. Rory. Ricky. Adam. Jason. Every time you see a slow mo of Tiger coming through impact, you can see his cheeks bellow out like Louis Armstrong from all of the effort.
Tiger will never have driver-9-iron power on 505 yard par-4′s anymore. Never. And it sure as shit won’t be as straight either. So he’s going to have to find other ways to win, and fixing his putting might be a good start.
I can’t be the only one to notice that he’s now missing 8 footers with “wrong-way” reads that end up moving away from the hole, can I? Hell, that shit pisses ME off when I see it coming off my putter blade – and I suck! Everybody who thinks Tiger could have made the necessary bushel of 5-footers to stay “in it” like Fowler did all day, raise your hand.
Now the fun begins. Ryder Cup? Fall series? New coach? Another surgery?
More importantly, is the con, still on?
A quick last word on the PGA Championship’s hurried finish. On the one hand, it was great fun to see the game treated like game should always be treated: boyish fun, until the daylight is gone.
On the other hand, you would think an association of professionals who BRAG about RUNNING TOURNAMENTS at their home clubs all year long, could…. wait for it… wait…. RUN ONE GODDAMN MAJOR TOURNAMENT A YEAR CORRECTLY!
Move up tee times on Sunday because it is almost certain to rain for a 4th straight day? Pffft! Nah, why do that?
Wait until the course is ACTUALLY playable, not just THEORETICALLY playable by the proper rules of golf? Screw that!
More importantly, how about you know a train wreck waiting to happen when you see it, Professional Golfers of America? The haphazard way they rushed the final groups up 18 was practically begging for a more clusterfucked finish than when Dustin Johnson played out of a “bunker” that had been raped by 50,000 fans for a week.
Tactically speaking the rushed finish HURT McIlroy the most. Not only did he not benefit from knowing what both Phil and Ricky would have posted on 18 in front of him to help guide his own strategy, but hello, it was almost dark!
Do you think Rory could PAR 18 after a good night’s rest, a large bucket of range balls, and a dry course in broad daylight?
Yeah, so do I. Like 101 times out of 100.
A bladed sand shot by Rory in the gloaming – he admitted the depth perception in the bunker was extremely challenging – and the finish might have been marred forever. And before you say “boo hoo Rory, it’s your fault for deciding to finish out” remember that it would have asterisked Phil’s amazing comeback victory as less than pure.
A lose-lose both ways.
All I know is this: When you see tournament officials taking a PILE of white laundry towels and dopping up water on a tee-box just minutes before blowing the horn to resume…. the course IS NOT PLAYABLE.
Most of the time, The Golf Channel’s “Live From…” shows at majors are a mostly tepid un-spooling of popular golf cliches and hearty praise for whomever is playing well that week.
But sometimes…. THIS HAPPENS.
For once, I really enjoyed a heated debate about something that does matter in golf: what the F is wrong with Tiger Woods!?
Chamblee, whether you hate him or
love him tolerate him, actually had a pretty logical, forceful take, backed up by visual observation and some empirical evidence.
Nobilo – whom I can’t figure out why he seems to be a Tiger apologist, but whatever… – just fell back on the whole “he’s injured” drumbeat, with a dollop of Kiwi-accented non-sequitors.
As for Notah? I mean, c’mon. What would you expect from Tiger’s college BFF.
Kudos to the excellent Rich Lerner, who asked Nobs a good question about whether Tiger has essentially the mental yips, since he was admittedly “striping it” on the range, but then sucked on the course.
Nobilo simply snapped back: “Have YOU ever had a back injury” which looked petty and completely missed the point.
Argue on, gents. We at home want more of this!
And people were getting their panties up in a wad about Johnny Manziel?
Jerrah, call your office. And by the way, you’ll be on the couch for a while.