Football Fan Beware: NFL Preseason Speak In Full Bloom

bruce arians

While the NFL’s Hall Of Fame Game last Sunday gave us a little taste of the preseason, it was yesterday that the real craziness began. Six preseason games on Thursday, six more today and four on Saturday. And for the next four weeks, that schedule basically repeats itself.

For the second straight year, I’d like to plead my case for watching all 65 preseason games (all of which can be viewed on the NFL Network, as their ads repeatedly tell us).

Only a lunatic would watch these 65 games in their entirety. What I’ve always said is that you should DVR the games and watch all of the first half while fast forwarding through any stoppage in action. That way you can see the starters and the second-stringers who are fighting for starting jobs in about 35-40 minutes.

In my opinion, it’s the only way to truly evaluate players and get a leg up on your fellow fantasy competitors. And there’s nothing more gratifying than “discovering” a player in the preseason that goes on to have a huge year. You feel like he’s your guy and you feel like a fucking genius for seeing the talent during preseason while everyone else was simply reading the same canned reports from the media (this is exactly how I figured out Jordan Cameron would be a great tight end selection in fantasy last season).

Let’s face it. You can’t learn much from coaches’ press conferences, player interviews or analysts’ reports during training camps. I’m pretty sure 100% of what they all say is bullshit. And you can’t blame them either. There is so much coverage that these people are forced to give us sound bytes and quotes every day for five weeks when most of the time there is nothing new to say. I’d fall back on the same tired cliches if I were in their shoes too.

So one more time, here’s my advice: Stop tuning into ESPN’s or the NFL Network’s nonstop football programs and spend that time watching the players with your own eyes. I promise you will discover something that either wins you a fantasy league or sends you on the path to gambling glory.

In that vein of ignoring all the noise out there, let’s run through the list of maddening terms and phrases that you’re likely to keep hearing for the next four weeks until the real season begins.

Regarding a player’s physical attributes…

  • “He’s in the best shape of his career.”
  • “He looks great. He added X lbs of muscle in the offseason.” (why does it always seem to be 15lbs, by the way?)

Interestingly enough, dozens of players fail their initial conditioning tests when training camp opens up. But we never hear quotes like “He’s in the worst shape of his career,” or, “He looks terrible. He added at least 25lbs of fat in the offseason.” Nope. Everyone just got jacked in the offseason, apparently.

Regarding a player’s commitment…

  • “He’s the first one in the building every morning and the last one to leave.”

In theory it should be impossible to say this about more than one person on any team, yet we hear it CONSTANTLY. The words “first” and “last” are singular things, yet all 53 starters on each team seem to be able to earn this rare status of commitment.

Regarding a player’s off the field demeanor…

  • [usually talking about a rookie] “He was the most polite guy. Everything was ‘yes sir, no sir’. He was just a pleasure to be around.”

Media people gotta be careful with this one. I specifically remember stories published about Aaron Hernandez that trumpeted this same level of politeness and respect.

Regarding plans for having the best offense in the NFL…

  • “The sky’s the limit for this offense.”
  • “They’ve installed an up-tempo offense to keep defenses on their heels.”
  • “They want to run X plays per game. They really think they can lead the NFL in that category.”

Every year we only get a handful of truly fast-working offenses (Denver, New England, New Orleans and Philly come to mind from 2013), yet you wouldn’t know it by sound bytes from each August.

Regarding a new QB/WR combination…

  • “They’re developing a great chemistry together that started way back in OTAs.”

Sure they are. When was the last time we heard that a new wideout wasn’t developing incredible chemistry with the star quarterback?

Regarding things getting heated on the practice field…

  • [after reporters ask about a fight that broke out during practice] “I don’t mind it one bit. It shows how passionate they are, how badly they’re all trying to make the team. As a matter of fact, some of the best teams I’ve ever been a part of have had fights like this during practice.”

Or, maybe you just have a bunch of assholes on your team….or maybe one player fucked another player’s wife. One way or another I’m sure it’s enhancing the team chemistry.

Regarding a team’s lofty expectations…

  • “It’s Super Bowl or bust.”

I hate to be the one to say this, but odds are it’s going to be bust.

And my favorite one…

  • “He’s hoping to avoid the classic sophomore slump.”
  • “He’s a prime second year breakout candidate.”

Ahh, yes, two sides of the second year player coin. Which is it? Is the slump a real thing? Is year two the usual breakout year? Depends on which media person is talking and what case he’s trying to make about that player.

Bonus Section –  Five “NOs” every football fan should be looking for out of his team during training camp:

  1. NO injury news beyond a tight hammy or strained oblique (and then we better see that player back on the field within a couple days)
  2. NO off field issues, stories, distractions (aka “The opposite of everything going on in the AFC North”)
  3. NO unexpected position competitions for a starting spot (because that means the expected starter probably isn’t good enough, he’s out of shape or he’s suddenly old)
  4. NO ongoing concerns on offensive line (this one always seems to be the immediate season killer, isn’t that right, Pittsburgh fans?)
  5. NO installing a new offensive scheme (the close relative of “[Insert QB’s Name] is going on his third offensive coordinator in four years”)

What do you all think? Did I miss any obvious cliches? Feel free to add your own.

I’ll be back next week with the beginning of division-by-division analysis.

Summertime TV Blues: Sifting Through the Junk That You’ll be Seeing on TV Over the Next Three Months

Do you hate the summer TV schedule as much as I do?  Are you confused by why the best TV shows all take their hiatus from June – September?  I actually tried to research why all the TV stations give their best shows the summer off, but I couldn’t find any legit info.  My best guess is that back in the times before DVRs, TiVo and On Demand, these networks realized that summer is when families take vacations and spend a lot of time outside…meaning that’s when people are least likely to be sitting in front of their TVs every night.  But now with so many different options to tape your favorite shows, doesn’t it make sense that the schedule would adjust and there would actually be decent shows on during the summer months?  Apparently not.

I took the trouble of monitoring Entertainment Weekly’s “What to Watch” section for three weeks in May to see what new summer shows they were promoting.  Sadly, here they are:

United Stats of America – Twin comics make statistics about the USA interesting (doubt it) – History Channel, Tuesdays

The Devils Ride – Inside look at the conflicts and drama of a motorcycle club in San Diego (there was already a show like this that I didn’t bother to watch, wasn’t there?  Sons of Anarchy?) – Discovery Channel, Tuesdays

Around the World in 80 Plates – Competing chefs travel the world and learn about international cuisines, then try to cook the local flavors (sounds like every other cooking show) -Bravo, Wednesdays

Common Law – Cop partners have a problem—with each other.  So their captain sends them to couples’ therapy (what an incredible twist on the typical cop show!   Two men that have to go to couples’ therapy!  Groundbreaking stuff!). – USA, Fridays

Mom Caves – An attempt to show the world that moms need their private spaces for relaxation just like men need their man caves (every woman I know relaxes by watching trashy TV and reading gossip magazines.  So this show is about a room with one TV and a bunch of magazines?  Boom, show over) – HGTV, Saturdays

Pregnant in Heels – A “pregnancy guru” helps expecting moms through the joys and perils of having a baby (I’m not sure I even have a comment here.  This woman apparently helps pregnant women deal with major dilemmas…like how to go on a date when you’re eight months pregnant.  Sounds awesome) – Bravo, Tuesdays

Duets – A play on those other singing competition shows…only this time the judges actually sing with the contestants (I don’t listen to Kelly Clarkson or John Legend sing regularly, and I don’t even know who Jennifer Nettles or Robin Thicke are.  So it’s doubtful I wanna hear them sing with wannabe singers) – ABC, Thursdays

I Cloned My Pet – This might have been just a one-episode show, but basically it follows people who had an obsession with their pets, and those pets died, and now they’re trying to clone the dead pet, or something.

Hip Hop Squares – A hip hop take on the old Hollywood Squares show (seems like it’s geared towards a specific viewer, and it’s not me) – MTV, almost every day

Men At Work  – Four men navigate work, friendship and women (I’ve actually watched a couple episodes of this show as it’s the only sitcom on this list.  It’s pretty terrible…recycled jokes about one of the guy’s girlfriends wanting to have sex too often…there’s the stereotypical ladies’ man, the nerd, the guy who just got dumped and is depressed, and the normal guy.  Don’t waste your time) – TBS, Thursdays

It’s a sad list of shows.  But do me a favor and let me know if there are any shows on this summer that are actually worth watching.  And do yourself a favor and go see some movies instead of watching Pregnant in Heels.  Specifically go see The Avengers in 3D.  You won’t be sorry.

Watching Sports on Tape Delay: a Stressful and Chaotic Practice

Being able to listen to the Red Sox radio broadcast on WEEI through my iPhone is one of my favorite things about modern technology.  With the subscription, I can actually watch the Red Sox games on any of my devices, or if I happen to be in a situation where I can’t look at a screen, like when I’m driving, I can still listen to the game live.  So even though I was faced with the daunting task of driving the six hours back to San Francisco from LA by myself on Tuesday afternoon, I was excited that three of those hours would be spent listening to the Sox/Royals game. With the converter I use that plays audio from my iPhone over the car’s speakers, I was set.  A 16oz Red Bull, some beef jerky, a full sleeve of Sour Cream -n- Onion Pringles and the Red Sox game on my car radio… where’s the downside?

The downside was that I basically had to keep my hand on the radio’s volume knob for three hours in case WEEI wanted to interrupt the broadcast to update its listeners on the Celtics playoff game.  Over the course of the baseball game, I think WEEI did this four times.  Luckily I was ready each time and avoided hearing the score of the Celtics by immediately turning the volume down.  Other than almost hearing the score accidentally a few times, the other problem was that I had to dedicate one of my hands to the volume the whole time.  I was already one hand short because I kept getting my entire right arm stuck inside the Pringles container.  So I was basically driving up the 101 at 80 miles per hour steering with my knee.

The reason I had to censor the score updates is because I had the Celtics game taping on my DVR back at home.  Knowing I’d be in the car at the same time the C’s were trying to close out Atlanta, I wanted to avoid any exposure to the score so I could watch it later Tuesday night.  On top of the radio situation, I also had to avoid all text messages, phone calls and the urge to scroll through Twitter while driving.

While this was far from my first time doing the tape delay of a live sporting event, it really got me thinking.  Is it worth it to temporarily cut yourself off from the entire outside world because you want to watch a previously-played game as if it’s happening live?  Are some games acceptable to do this for while others are not?  Are you allowed to strangle someone if they happen to mention the score of the exact game you’re trying to avoid hearing about?  It’s a dangerous game we play when we try to create an alternate reality where a sporting event is “live” only when we’re ready for it to be live.

Like I said, I’ve been dealing with this conundrum for years.  Living in California makes it even more relevant because during the week, most games played by my Boston teams begin by 4 or 4:30, and unfortunately getting out of work early isn’t always an option.  So you do the whole song and dance of taping the game and telling all your coworkers that if they check on the score and happen to mention it to you, they’ll never see their families again.  And generally that works because people don’t want their loved ones to die, and because it’s just one hour or so that you have to avoid all spoilers for.

But what about those weekend days when a game starts at 1pm, but there’s just no way you can watch it until 7 or 8 that night?  How hard is it to avoid a spoiler in that situation?  On that kind of day, it’s not like you can sit in a dark cave shut off from the rest of the world until you’re ready to watch the game.  If that was the case, you’d be watching the game live.  No, on that weekend day you’re inevitably in a situation where you have to go for a hike with your girlfriend; or go apartment hunting because you decided on a whim to move 400 miles away.  So you’re out in the real world where all sorts of idiots can screw up the game for you. You somehow have to avoid the game being ruined by people who are around you as well as accidentally seeing the score on TV or hearing it on the radio.  It’s stressful to the point where you’re not even remotely enjoying whatever that other activity is that you got sucked into.  And then the person that made you participate in it gets pissed off because you’re ruining everyone’s day…and suddenly she wishes you had just stayed home and watched the game live.  (Hint: ruin enough of her Sunday hikes and brunches and she’ll never ask you to miss a game again)

There’s one other problem with this practice of taping the games.  This past Tuesday night I was taping the Celtics game to watch it by myself when I got home, but many times a group of us will decide to avoid seeing the score of a game, and we’ll all get together later in the night and watch the taped version.  So in theory you have three or four people who are all on the same page, having shut themselves off from all communication about the result of this game.  But then you start watching, and suddenly one of the guys is on his iPad screwing around. You warn him that if he sees the final score online, he better not say anything.  He doesn’t say anything, but the next thing you know the Celtics are down by seven points with three minutes left, and this guy is putting his shoes on and getting ready to leave.  Gee, I wonder if maybe you already know the Celtics’ comeback fell short if you’re walking out the door in silence as the game is still happening on my TV?  If you have that friend who really can’t commit to avoiding the result, just stop inviting him over for these delayed viewings because his body language will ruin the outcome for you every time.  It’s similar to when you tell your friend not to mention the score because you have it taped at home, and then he says, “ahh, I’ll save you some time, they got crushed tonight.”  He thinks he’s doing you a favor, but what he doesn’t know is that now you’re planning to get back at him by ruining something he really cares about, like his upcoming wedding.

My final take is that you cannot do the tape delay thing for the biggest games…The Super Bowl, The NCAA football and basketball championships, any championship games really.  These games are important enough that you should be watching live.  And you can’t do it everyday for regular season baseball, basketball or hockey games.  That’s just obnoxious to be avoiding the outcome of a game every single day. And you can’t do it for football on Sundays because then you miss the RedZone Channel and following your fantasy team live as the games are happening.  So really, the only appropriate time to watch games on tape delay is for early-round playoff games in all of the major sports.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go setup Game 6 of the Celtics/Hawks series to tape later tonight.