Monday, January 30, 2006
Updated: February 3, 12:43 PM ET
Take care, TCB!
By Chuck Klosterman
Editor's Note: Columnist Chuck Klosterman has landed in the Motor City, and he's revved up to update Page 2's Super Blog multiple times each day for the next week. Check back later today for his next installment.
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Tuesday, 6:06 p.m. ET
As I write this, Pittsburgh is a four-point favorite to win Super Bowl XL. As you might have heard, the Steeler players are nonetheless viewing this prediction as a sign of disrespect. And Hines Ward spent part of media day explaining how being favored is (covertly) a criticism of his franchise.
I will now attempt to illustrate his five-pronged logic, even though I remain semi-baffled by its abstract complexity; I have a feeling Hines read a lot of Jacques Derrida while attending the University of Georgia. But here goes ...
Premise 1: Earlier this season, the Steelers were not given much credence from the mainstream media. Moreover, they struggled when Ben Roethlisberger was injured.
Premise 2: Conversely, Seattle was exceptional all season. The Seahawks finished as the NFC's No. 1 seed.
Premise 3: By favoring Pittsburgh in this game, the oddsmakers are negating Seattle's success.
Premise 4: Since Seattle's greatness has been quietly negated, the media is premeditating a circumstance in which a Pittsburgh victory would be less impressive than raw evidence would normally suggest.
Premise 5: Ward believes the Steelers will win in a major upset that the world is not recognizing; as such, the Steelers have been disrespected in advance.
"We play this game for respect," Seahawks rookie LB Lofa Tatupu unknowingly responded two hours later. "And to win."
The order of these priorities does not seem uncommon. As far as I can tell, there is not one player on either of these teams (or in the totality of the NFL) who has received the correct amount of respect. Sometimes guys are underrated, and sometimes guys are overlooked -- but nobody has ever been respected accurately.
I keep hoping somebody like Antwaan Randle El will blow everybody's mind and say something along the lines of, "Well, we've had our ups and downs this season, but I sense that the rest of the league respects us an average amount. I feel comfortable with the level of our public esteem." Sadly, this never happens.
Earlier this week, someone told Jerome Bettis that certain Seattle players questioned whether he was truly 255 pounds. Bettis said, "They don't believe we are a good football team, either." Now, does Bettis truly perceive this as reality? I can't believe that he does. And I realize the conventional wisdom is that jocks use disrespect as motivation, but that can't be true, either; real people simply aren't stupid enough to trick themselves into insecurity every single week for five consecutive months.
I suspect athletes complain about disrespect for the same reason bank tellers tell you to have a nice day: It just kills time and sounds normal, mostly because no one is ever listening.
Tuesday, 2:50 p.m. ET
"People are expected to do X-Y-Z things," insists Seahawks wide receiver Darrell Jackson, "but I don't do X-Y-Z things. I'm Darrell Jackson, you know? I went to Florida. Nothing was ever given to me. I'm D-Jack."
I have decided that I could spend the next 25 years of my life listening to football press conferences. It all sounds like dialogue from a mid-period Robert Altman movie: you think it's connected thematically, but it's really just connected emotionally. D-Jack did not specify what constitutes "X-Y-Z" activities, but I enjoy imagining what those things might be -- yoga, eating pine cones, going to universities that are not located in Florida, not buying diamond jewelry, etc. Sometimes it's fun to be confused.
That said, I did not enjoy the Seahawks media session as much as I enjoyed the Steelers media session, probably because the Seahawks seemed a little too happy to be there. Many of them were carrying ultra-expensive camcorders in order to meta-communicatively videotape the same people who were videotaping them. Considering that they hail from the tech-obsessed city of Seattle, this preponderance of camcorders felt vaguely stereotypical; if this had been 1993, they probably would have worn flannel shirts and chucked dirty syringes. But that was the past and this is the future, and these "new-look" Seahawks have clearly inherited no archaic grunge influences. Air Force reservist Bryce Fisher said his iPod includes the music of "Tool, Godsmack and Young Jeezy." I guess these neo-Hawks are more inspired by prog-metal and enthusiastic drug dealers. Ah, modernity. I love football.
I spent most of the Seattle session hovering in the vicinity of my man D-Jack, primarily because it seemed like people kept asking him questions that were better suited for a job interview in retail. A woman from Fox Sports Net asked Jackson the following:
(1) "Are you a dog person or a cat person?"
(2) "Do you want children?"
(3) "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
In case you're curious, Jackson's answers were: "Dog person, totally," "Yes, I would like six of them," and "Probably fishing." His response to the third query prompted a different reporter to ask him if the fishing was better on the East Coast or the West Coast. I love football.
But you know what? Sometimes you can learn things at these pre-fab media fiascos. Matt Hasselbeck spent much of his time on the podium talking about God; he said the Seahawks have numerous hard-core Christians on the squad, and that provides a unique sense of unity. "There is scripture that says, 'In your weakness, you see God's strength,'" said the balding quarterback. "A lot of us are united through this. I remember playing with Trent Dilfer, and -- before a big game -- he would say, 'Tonight, let's play for an audience of one.' We always try to remember that."
Statements like that make me think the Seahawks might win on Sunday, even though Pittsburgh seems to have all the toughness and most of the intangibles. Perhaps the Seahawks simply have more hyper-religious employees. There is no question that religiosity is an athletic advantage -- I bet if those "Freakonomics" authors did a little research, they would find that the winning percentage of NFL teams is directly proportional to the number of born-again Christians on the active roster. I mean, how hard would you work if you thought you were working for God? In all likelihood, you do not associate your day-to-day job with Jesus; if you did, you probably wouldn't be sitting at your desk and reading this blog.
Tuesday, 11:54 a.m. ET
DETROIT -- Today is media day at the Super Bowl, which is every day, really; it's kind of like the way Phishheads look at Earth Day. But what media day technically means is that this is the opportunity for virtually anyone alive to interview a pro football player in public. This morning, every dude on the Steelers roster put on his uniform (including the ridiculous pants) and showed up at Ford Field for one hour; this afternoon, every dude on the Seahawks will do the same. This requirement has become an annual (and increasingly publicized) event, with most of the coverage focusing on how media day is "a circus." In fact, prior to arriving at Ford Field, about 14 different people told me I would enjoy media day because, they said, "It's such a circus." It turns out this is not accurate; if the circus was really like media day, it would be far less popular among school-age children, unless I am misjudging the degree to which children are entertained by members of the media demanding that large, rich people describe how they feel.
It is probably a cheap (and unoriginal) shot to ridicule journalists for asking idiotic questions, but I still find myself obsessed with the media's desire to understand what playing pro football feels like. A few minutes ago, Jerome Bettis was asked this question: "OK, Bus -- let's say the clock is ticking down and the Steelers are ahead. You are about to win the Super Bowl. Tears are running down your face, and the game is almost over. What is going through your mind?" Now, how is this a reasonable query? I'm mean, it's not that easy to describe how you feel when you're actually experiencing life in the present tense; how is Bettis supposed to describe the emotive sensation of a futuristic alternative reality? Does this guy think Bettis is Philip K. Dick? And how does he know Jerome is necessarily going to start weeping (and -- if he does -- wouldn't that suggest Jerome's mental state will be completely self-evident)?
In 1994, David Foster Wallace wrote an amusing essay about how reading Tracy Austin's co-written autobiography deeply disappointed him, partially because Austin was prone to expressing sentiments such as, "I had just won the U.S Open. It felt great." Obviously, we don't really need to read books to learn such things. But there continues to be this unkillable belief that the role of sports journalism is to help us understand how it feels to live an extraordinary athletic life, since that kind of life is beyond the average human's physical (or mental) comprehension. The problem, of course, is that this is an impossible quest, and not just because it's difficult to quantify any visceral experience; it's impossible because everyone perceives their own experiences as normative. For Jerome Bettis, winning a Super Bowl would probably feel less alien than having to operate a forklift for eight hours, which is probably why this was his response to the reporter's question: "Mission accomplished."
I do have to give the Steelers some credit, though; they were considerably weirder than I anticipated. Here are a few other statements made during my hour among them ...
(1) Troy Polamalu: "I do not have a split personality."
(2) Ike Taylor: "There will be a tomorrow." (Excellent!)
(3) Hines Ward: "Winning the Super Bowl would help me get solidified."
(4) Hines Ward again: "After losing Plaxico Burress, we proved a lot of naysayers wrong." (Take that, naysayers!)
(5) Ben Roethlisberger: Looking very My Morning Jacket-ed, Big Ben mentioned that we are fighting a war in Iraq. As soon as he said this, about 25 guys wrote it down. Roethlisberger also stated that Sunday's Super Bowl would be much bigger than any game he played at Miami of Ohio; about 30 guys wrote that down.
(6) James Farrior: "Go talk to Jerry Porter."
(7) Joey Porter: "The 3-4 is more complicated for opponents than the 4-3, because the 3-4 makes it harder to count the number of guys in the box. In the 4-3, you know there are four down linemen." (True.)
(8) Willie Parker: "Every day of your life, you need to do something to your body. You need to sit in a cold tub of water, or whatever." (I suspect this might have made more sense within proper context. However, Parker also admitted he elected to play football at the University of North Carolina because he loved Michael Jordan, which seems insane.)
(9) Punter Chris Gardocki was asked whether he thinks about having his punts blocked; this is because he's never had a punt blocked (in 221 career games). He says you can't think about having your punts blocked, because that will cause you to have more punts blocked.
(10) Joey Porter, back for more: "Football is the best way to heal any situation." This slightly contradicts the world view of Polamalu, who casually mentioned, "The nature of a man who has a competitive spirit will be to inevitably live a life which involves that man overcoming obstacles. But the sport of football is too physically and emotionally difficult to play simply for money or success. Personally, I have been inspired by God."
I think Polamalu should start a cult, because I would like to join it. And more important, Joey Porter supports his credibility. "When you see Troy," says J-Po, "that is Troy. That's what Troy is like." And this is probably true, since we already know that he doesn't have a split personality.
Chuck Klosterman is the author of "Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story" and is a senior writer for Spin magazine and columnist for Esquire.