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Posts Tagged ‘NFL’

The Sportsman’s Code of Chivalry

February 2, 2014 | by

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Two Sundays ago, I watched the AFC Conference game with some friends. Picture a Venn Diagram; label one circle “Fans of the New England Patriots” and the other “People Who Have Studied Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The person who exists at the intersection of those two circles was sitting on a couch across from me, anxiously eating chips and guacamole. As the Patriots slipped further and further behind the Broncos, talk turned to Arthurian legend, and to knightliness at large.

Peyton Manning, our group quickly agreed, was the Lancelot of quarterbacks. Like Lancelot, he’s unquestionably the most talented of his cadre—a fact confirmed when he was, to no one’s surprise, named this year’s league MVP. He’s also, like Lancelot, doltish and unbeautiful: in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, Lancelot is, to quote King Arthur, “the ugliest man I have ever seen”; Peyton can’t claim that honor, but he does have a grotesquely large forehead, scarred by the Riddell helmet he is forced to squeeze over it. And both Lancelot and Peyton are doomed to be surpassed by a dim younger relative—in the former’s case, it’s the unbearably pure Galahad, Lancelot’s son, the only knight allowed to glimpse the Holy Grail; in Peyton’s case, it’s his younger brother, Eli, whose childishly transparent expressions of disappointment have been turned into exemplars of gif art, and who already has two Super Bowl rings to Peyton’s one. Which made Tom Brady his Tristan: not quite as skilled, but achingly handsome.

Metaphors aside, there is a sort of gallantry we expect from our athletes. NFL players do not, of course, swear their troth to a code of chivalry; nevertheless there are rules, largely unspoken, to which professional athletes are expected to adhere. Off the field, if not on, while speaking to the press, if not while concussing one another, we want our athletes, like our knights, “to refrain from the wanton giving of offense”; “to eschew unfairness, meanness, and deceit”; and “to live by honor and for glory.” Read More »

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Literary NFL, and Other News

February 5, 2013 | by

Literary_Football

  • “The Ravens’ lack of interest thus far in supporting the city’s literary legacy is a travesty.” The Super Bowl doesn’t help Poe!
  • “Ladies and gentlemen, your Literary National Football League.” (And more!)
  • Speaking of (sort of) fictional characters inspired by real people... 
  • Doodling and Neuroscience 101. Half of this sounds doable.
  • “Anthony Trollope, before he set off for his job at the GPO every day, would write three thousand words between 5:30 and 8:30 A. M.. He kept his watch in front of him so he could achieve two hundred fifty words each quarter-hour. If he finished one novel before 8:30, he would instantly start the next one.” Don’t worry: not all writers’ word-counts are this demoralizing inspiring. 
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    Time Out

    July 10, 2012 | by

    Late in the third quarter of a blowout loss at North Torrance High School my junior year I woke up in a blurry huddle. Grids of stadium lighting were smeared on the South Bay night sky as if they’d been moved before they dried. My teammates stood around me in their away whites, the sateen jerseys looking smudged and shabby in the dark. I shouldn’t have been surprised if a star suddenly dilated just to wink at me, such was my loopy state of mind—and my self-regard as a high school quarterback.

    A timeout had been called, apparently. There was no apparent rush to get back to the line of scrimmage, run another play. And our coach was in the huddle with us. Oh, thank god, I thought, Coach is playing. I’d never seen him in uniform before, but didn’t think to question it—we needed all the help we could get. Though, standing next to the star receiver with whom he’d traded outfits, he did look a lot taller than normal.

    Reassuring counsel was given by someone, maybe me, as we gathered ourselves to go back on.

    We settled on a simple play: everyone run as far as you can as fast as you can, and I’ll throw the ball to one of you, ready, break. I stepped under center in a kind of euphoria, took the snap, dropped back and threw our coach—or, rather, the receiver onto whom I’d transposed Coach’s face—a forty-two-yard touchdown, and walked off the field, vindicated and giggling.

    A blink and it was two hours later. Read More »

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    The Saddest Man in Professional Football

    September 27, 2010 | by

    Photograph by Cliff.

    My love for Brett Favre—it was always Favre, and only incidentally his team, that I loved—made me something of an oddity in Northern California. “What a bum,” my grandfather, a 49ers fan, would grumble, examining my first serious crush. “The man can’t even shave for Monday Night Football.” This was true. Favre’s manly scruff was a trait I found charming as a child, seductive as a teenager, and slightly depressing as a young adult.

    It’s also the key to his allure. Brett Favre can play perfectly without being perfect. He has—still—one of the best arms the NFL has ever seen, but he isn’t a Tom Brady touchdown-making machine. He’s not a robot from the Manning factory. He’s just a guy, trying to do his job, who often forgets to shave in the morning. He’s played hurt, he’s played sad, he’s played bearded, and yes, he’s played terribly.

    In fact, how terribly he sometimes plays is part of the magic. In the early days, with the Packers, he would throw four interceptions in the first half, come back in the third quarter with a few well-placed passes to put the Pack within six, and then, with thirty-five seconds left on the clock in the fourth, he would go into the no-huddle offense, calling audibles just before the snap, sneaking forty-yard completions into double coverage, emerging breathless, victorious, arms raised. Even then, his heart was more powerful than his body.

    But after a heartbreaking NFC Championship loss to the Giants in the winter of 2007, a game essentially ended by an interception (last-minute interceptions had, by that point, replaced his Hail Mary completions), even I knew it was time for him to retire. I also knew that he wouldn’t be able to until he had made it back to the Super Bowl. Favre has one Super Bowl ring, which he won in 1996, as a shaggy-haired twenty-seven-year-old. He took the Packers back the following year, but they lost. He spent the next decade trying to prove that victory wasn’t a fluke, but with close of the 2007 game, he had squandered his last chance.

    We both cried when he announced his retirement. And when he changed his mind, it was tempting, given my emotional investment, to feel betrayed. It seemed like a classically cocky move from an aging athlete who didn’t know when to quit. But it wasn’t.

    Most people know when it’s time to retire. At thirty-eight, Brett Favre had just given up the one thing he had likely been perfecting since he was an impressionable eight-year-old. He was a confused middle-aged man doing one of the most pathetic, desperate, moving things a human being can do. He was a guy begging for a second chance. He was the saddest man in professional football.

    When Favre pleaded with the Packers to take him back, detractors focused on Aaron Rodgers, Favre’s backup, who was ready to be QB1. But Rodgers is young—only twenty-six. He has seasons to prove himself; Favre doesn't. And though more than a decade older, Favre is still the better quarterback, still better than most quarterbacks. Last year he led the Vikings to the NFC conference game. He threw an interception in the last seconds of the fourth quarter, and his team lost. I cried because, at this point, watching Brett Favre play football may be the only thing sadder than being Brett Favre. Every loss is proof that desire gets you less than ten yards. Every completion, every victory reminds me of his tearful pleas, even as he makes good on their inherent promises. He is asking for just one more season, one more game, one more chance. And because he’s still good enough, because his heart aches for redemption so badly it (almost) trumps logic, physics, and modern medicine, I am still saying yes.

    Editor’s note: This post originally stated that Brett Favre threw an interception in overtime in the 2009 NFC Championship game. We regret the error.

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