The Curse of the Bambino, Harry Frazee, and Ed Barrow

Until the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, many Red Sox fans talked about something called The Curse of the Bambino, as if it was a real thing. Cubs fans talk about a billy goat, and various other sports organizations’ fans develop other myths for why the guys on their team can’t defeat the guys on the other team. The Curse of the Bambino might be the one myth that has any merit, however, for at the point of sale the Red Sox won four World Series and the New York Yankees won zero. After the sale, and up until 2004, the Yankees won 26 World Series and the Red Sox won zero. This changing of the tide was engineered by one man, then Red Sox owner Harold Frazee, who then proceeded to sell nearly all of the World Series champion Red Sox team to the Yankees.

How many of us have made a mistake on par with selling Babe Ruth and the rest of a World Series championship team? How many of us have had a bout of insomnia over a silly mistake we’ve made? Have we ever stopped in the midst of obsessing over a mistake we’ve made, until we realize that it happened over three decades ago? Most people don’t. Most people are blessed and cursed with short-term memories. We’ve all made mistakes though. We’ve made errors in judgment based on uninformed choices, and dumb decisions that seemed so right at the time. Most of us are able to move on in life, even after making decisions that proved catastrophic at the time. Most of us have never made a decision, or series of decisions that proved so catastrophic that people will be talking them nearly one hundred years from now, characterizing our choices as some of the worst mistakes in human history. Other than those decisions made by those involved in the Black Sox Scandal, there might only be one person, in baseball, that continues to be mocked, ridiculed, and scorned over one hundred years after he made a series of historically poor decisions, Harry Herbert Frazee.

Ed Barrow, Babe Ruth, and Harry Frazee

Harry Herbert Frazee (June 29, 1880 – June 4, 1929) was an American theatrical agent, producer, and director, and he remained successful in this field until the day he died. He also happened to be a successful boxing promoter who once landed one of heavyweight champion Jack Johnson’s matches. Harry Frazee also bought the 1915 and 1916 World Series champion Boston Red Sox, who won the 1918 World Series for him. One of the players he sold was also on the 1912 World Series championship team. The error in judgment, uninformed choices, and dumb decisions that Frazee made were to sell, and sell/trade almost all of the best players on those teams. Yet, for all of the successes and failures of Harry’s life, many believe his tombstone should read, “Here lies Harry Herbert Frazee, the man who sold Babe Ruth.”

Most writers love to write provocative articles from an angle no one has ever considered before. We enjoy taking a well-known story and providing a non-traditional perspective that opens our readers eyes to “the other side”. The other side, of the story we now call The Curse of the Bambino involves a suggestion that the conditions surrounding Harry Frazee’s sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees were a lot more complicated than most people know. The author of such a provocative article is then obligated to back up his assessment with data that supports his thesis. This thesis becomes more provocative when the author can provide data that most people don’t know.

The Curse of the Bambino suggests that the sale of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the New York Yankees prevented the Red Sox from winning the World Series from the point of sale in 1920 to the publication date of the Dan Shaughnessy book in 1990 (the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004). Some of the authors, who attempted to write the other side of the sale of Babe Ruth and eight other players from the Red Sox to the Yankees, looked at the data from a baseball perspective, others chose a financial lens, and some had slide show presentations that suggest while history will never judge Harry Frazee kindly, the reactions to his sales and trades were evenly divided among fans and sportswriters at the time. Anytime we read an article that suggests a matter is far more complicated than we ever knew, our natural inclination is to weed through their narrative for the simple truths. One simple truth that permeates all of the articles written on this topic is that Harry Frazee made historical mistakes, and those mistakes led to the Yankee dynasty of the 1920’s and the early part of the 1930’s.

Another simple truth that is impossible to ignore is that the Red Sox won three World Series in four years before the sales and sale/trades, and they finished no higher than fifth in the thirteen years following the sales/trades. Other than a blip in 1925, the Yankees finished no lower than third in their league, and they won seven pennants and four World Series championships over the same thirteen-year period, following the trades. Another fact that’s impossible to ignore in all of the data is that among all the players involved, there were three people most responsible for this shift in the balance of power, Babe Ruth of course, Harry Frazee, and former Boston Red Sox manager-turned-New York Yankee business manager (general manager) Ed Barrow. 

Those of us who enjoy reading authors take those simple truths and attempt to provide another perspective on them, enjoyed the article written by Glenn Stout titled Harry Frazee. In this article, Stout writes that The Curse of the Bambino, and the subsequent demonization of Harry Frazee, was largely a myth created by writers to help Boston Red Sox fans explain their team’s disastrous loss to the Mets in the 1986 World Series. The thesis of the The Curse of the Bambino was there was no other way to describe that inexplicable loss. Stout writes that 1986 Red Sox fans were looking for someone to explain the inexplicable to them. They wanted a scapegoat, and they found one in Harry Frazee. His actions, over sixty years prior, allowed them to think there was more going on than some clutch hitting by the Mets, and an error in game six of the series that led to the Red Sox defeat that year. It was, of course, the ghost of Babe Ruth haunting them.

Stout also writes that Harry Frazee was not a greedy owner who wanted money more than a successful franchise. He writes that Frazee was independently wealthy from an early age, and he died that way. He also writes that Frazee was a wealthy and successful man before and after the trades that depleted the Red Sox and built the Yankees eventual dynasty. He writes that when Frazee died, a majority of the fan base, a majority of the sportswriters, and a majority in baseball didn’t hold him singularly responsible for the fall of the Red Sox. He states that while history might make Frazee appear incompetent, the reality of the situation that occurred during the 1920-1923 period was a lot more complicated than most people know.

To illustrate his point, Stout wrote a book with Richard A. Johnson called Red Sox Century, in which they provide a note Harry Frazee wrote to explain that the sale of Babe Ruth was based on Ruth’s contractual demands, and “[Ruth’s] disruptive influence on the team, and the fact that [Ruth] had “jumped the club” at the end of the 1919 season.” In the book, they also provide Frazee’s frustrations with The Bambino:

“While Ruth without question is the greatest hitter that the game has seen,” Frazee wrote in a 1,500-word statement, “he is likewise one of the most inconsiderate men that ever wore a baseball uniform.”

The Red Sox owner said Ruth had “no regard for anyone but himself” and was a “bad influence on other and still younger players on the team.”

He continued: “A team of players working harmoniously together is always to be preferred to that possessing one star who hugs the limelight to himself. And that is what I’m after.”

The sale of Ruth aside for a moment, Glenn Stout attempts to defend the fire sale of the other eight players by writing that the minor leaguers the Red Sox received in those subsequent trades didn’t pan out, as some of them suffered career-ending injuries.

Injuries are a part of the game, of course, and they can make owners and GM’s look bad when they make deals for players who were injured so early in their careers they appear anonymous to history. This attempt to defend Frazee is valid, until one asks the question how many minor league prospects reach their full potential? Whatever the actual answer is, it surely pales in comparison to the prospect of whether or not a player who has already won three World Series might succeed. Stout does not specifically address this particular idea in his defense of Frazee.

Stout also writes, “no one could know that Babe Ruth would become Babe Ruth”. Fair enough, but at the point of sale in 1919, Ruth played six seasons for the Red Sox, and in that brief span, he set the record for home runs in a season twice, and he led the league in eight different batting categories in 1919, the year before Frazee sold him. He was also a dominant pitcher early in his career, before he switched to hitting. 

As one of his peers, Rube Bressler said in his interview for the book The Glory of Their Times “[Ruth] played by instinct, sheer instinct. He wasn’t smart, he didn’t have any education, but he never made a wrong move on a baseball field. He was like a damn animal. He had that instinct. [Animals] know when when it’s going to rain, things like that. Nature, that was Ruth! 

Stout’s point that Frazee couldn’t know Ruth would be one of the top five players of all time is a valid one, as I point out, but it sounds like if he wanted to know the potential The Babe had to be great, all he had to do is ask around. Some of those who provide an alternative view of this story suggest that Frazee saw how undisciplined Ruth was, and how unintelligent he was, and he figured that Ruth’s 1919 season was a peak performance, and he wanted to receive peak value for his services.

Stout, and numerous others, state that the previous owner of the Red Sox was calling in Frazee’s loan, and that Frazee was in a tight spot financially. If Frazee didn’t pay the loan back that year, he might have lost the franchise. Yet, Stout and others assure us Frazee was never personally broke and none of the sales between the Yankees and Red Sox involved Frazee’s attempts to enrich himself personally. If that’s the case, and I appreciate the author’s attempt to dispel this simplistic notion, I cannot understand the deals Frazee made with the Yankees following the Ruth sale. If those latter deals involved Frazee’s continued efforts to save his franchise, one would think he might dip into his considerable personal finances and help the Red Sox over the temporary blip. I prefer to think, as Daniel R. Levitt, Mark Armour, and Matthew Levitt write, that Frazee somehow became addicted to making deals with the cash rich Yankees to help him resolve the Red Sox debts. 

Those of us who know history, cannot put blinders on. No matter how many alternative “time and place” perspectives various writers put before us, we know that Frazee sold Ruth for money, and no matter how much money he received from that sale, it paled in comparison to the money Ruth would’ve generated for Frazee in the coming years. Stout’s argument that, “no one could’ve known that Babe Ruth would’ve become Babe Ruth” is a decent one when we think about how many could’ve been should’ve beens dot baseball history, but Frazee received $100,000 and a loan of $300,000 from the Yankees for the services of Babe Ruth. We can speculate that this wasn’t the initial offer from the Yankees, and we can guess that Frazee and his people drove that initial offer up by detailing for the Yankees Babe Ruth’s current, 1920 market value. We can also guess that they had detailed forecasts on Ruth’s future, market prospects to drive that price up further. We can speculate that in those dark room negotiations, Frazee and his people displayed intimate knowledge of Ruth’s current and future market value to persuade the Yankees to pay more for Ruth than any major league franchise had ever paid for a single player before. One thing we do know is that many around the league considered the Yankees fools for paying that much money for one player.

Harry Frazee probably tried to feed into this with his explanation for selling Ruth, “With this money the Boston club can now go into the market and buy other players and have a stronger and better team in all respects than we would have had if Ruth had remained with us.” Sportswriters and fans believed this at the time, for they probably shared the sentiment that one man does not a team make. With the amount of money the Yankees were paying, many inside baseball thought Frazee got the better end of the deal, but no one knew how addicted Frazee would become to using the Yankees’ money to escape debt, no one, it seems, except Ed Barrow.


Ed Barrow

Authors Daniel R. Levitt, Mark Armour, and Matthew Levitt introduced this name Ed Barrow to us in an article titled Harry Frazee and the Boston Red Sox. Ed Barrow, they state, played a prominent role, perhaps the most prominent role, in the sales/trades the Red Sox made to the Yankees following the sale of Babe Ruth.

“[Glenn] Stout and [Richard A.] Johnson claim that Frazee made sound baseball deals with the Yankees and that he could not have foreseen what the trades would do for either club,” Daniel R. Levitt, Mark Armour, and Matthew Levitt write. “This argument does not hold up. Ed Barrow, manager of the Red Sox from 1918 through 1920, left the Red Sox and became general manager of the Yankees. Barrow knew the Red Sox players as well as anyone, and he spent the next few years grabbing all of the good players, like future Hall of Fame pitchers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock, catcher Wally Schang, shortstop Everett Scott, third baseman Joe Dugan, and pitchers Joe Bush and Sam Jones, among others. In fact[,] Barrow liked his former players enough that he got the Yankee owners to give Frazee $305,000, convincing evidence that both teams agreed that the talent was imbalanced. To argue that Frazee made good deals is to suggest both that Barrow and the Yankees somehow lucked into their dynasty and that the money was not the central piece of the deal for Frazee.”

In my opinion, the answer to the many questions we have regarding why Frazee sold so many players to the Yankees revolves around the question why did Ed Barrow quit his job as Red Sox manager to become the business manager (general manager) of the Yankees? The answer to those questions involves the insider information Barrow had about Harry Frazee, the debt the Red Sox were experiencing in those years, and how Frazee planned to resolve that debt.  

Before Ed Barrow left the Red Sox in 1921, we can assume that for most of his three year tenure, he was so satisfied to be the Red Sox manager, that if it were up to him he would retire from baseball as their manager. He led the Red Sox to the 1918 World Series championship after all. When Frazee sold The Babe, it probably came as a shock to Barrow, but we can guess that Frazee sat him down and explained to his manager why the sale was necessary. When Frazee sold four more players, we can guess that Barrow required a more detailed explanation, as Frazee opened the books for him to show the manager the debt Frazee incurred as owner of the Red Sox. This moment, right here, resulted in the changing of the tide in baseball more than anything else. Regardless what the books said, Barrow probably realized that his owner’s primary concern was making himself and the Red Sox financially profitable. Those who say that Frazee was already rich, and that he didn’t make these deals to enrich himself are probably spot on, but Frazee obviously fancied himself a wheel and dealer who could build a winner, as opposed to inheriting one. 

Ed Barrow also knew, as many did at the time, that due to the “Black Sox Scandal” and Frazee’s disputes with American League Bam Johnson and the other teams in the American League loyal to Bam, Harry Frazee was limited to dealing exclusively with the Yankees. (Note: There is a consensus among the writers of the various articles I read on this particular topic that these circumstances forced Frazee to deal exclusively with the Yankees for the reasons listed here. The idea that Frazee and the Red Sox could have dealt with a team in the National League is not mentioned in any article I’ve found, and there is no reason listed for why this wasn’t a possibility for them.) Whatever the case was with Frazee, we can also presume that in his meetings with with the man, Barrow saw the writing on the wall for the Red Sox franchise, and his owner’s willingness to sell his team down the river for large sums of cash.

As anyone who has experienced debt knows, if we find one way to resolve some of our debt, we are prone to follow that path wherever it leads to become debt-free. Barrow may have experienced some disgust when Frazee began selling his 1918 World Series Champions, but he was probably one of the few who knew the situation so well that when the previous Yankees general manager died in 1920, Barrow probably raced down to the Yankees front office to pitch them on how he, if hired him as their next general manager, could persuade Frazee to sell more players to the Yankees and help them build a dynasty.

At the point when Barrow decided to join the Yankees, the Red Sox won four World Series, and the Yankees won zero.

As the new business manager for the Yankees, Ed Sparrow helped the owners of the Yankees engineer four subsequent trades with Frazee and the Red Sox that involved 12 players and $305,000 “to help Frazee recover from his debt”. As the Levitts’ and Armour article suggests, the idea that Barrow convinced the Yankees to add $305,000 to the deal provides compelling evidence that both teams knew the Red Sox were getting the raw end of the deal. If we are to believe the writers who write from another perspective, it’s simplistic to say that Frazee made these maneuvers for the money, and “the reality of the situation was a lot more complicated than most people know”. If he didn’t need the money, as they write, and it was his goal in life to continue to own a profitable, winning major league baseball franchise, then he was either an incredibly poor business man, or someone who did not know baseball very well. Whatever the case was, Barrow knew who he was dealing with, and he knew how to convince Frazee to sell/trade twelve more players to the Yankees.  

When Barrow’s new team, the New York Yankees, won their first World Series two years later, in 1923, four of the eight starting position players were from the Red Sox, and four of the five starting pitchers on that championship roster were former Red Sox players. The Red Sox finished last in the American League that year, and “their skeletal remains would be the doormat of the league for many years”. With this team of former Red Sox players, Barrow would oversee the Yankees winning six more pennants, and three more World Series. During his tenure as general manager, the Yankees would win a total of fourteen pennants and ten World Series. This level of success, initiated by Barrow’s maneuvers with Frazee, would lead many to call Barrow an “empire-builder for the first quarter-century of the Yankees’ dynasty.” These sales/trades also landed Ed Barrow in the baseball hall of fame and Yankee Stadium placed a plaque of him in center field.

As Harry Hooper, the center fielder for the ‘15,’16, and ’18 World Series champion Red Sox, states in his interview for the book The Glory of Their Times, “The Yankee dynasty of the twenties was three-quarters the Red Sox [dynasty lineup] of a few years before. All Frazee wanted was money. He was short of cash and he sold the whole team down the river to keep his dirty nose above water. What a way to end a wonderful ball club.

“Sick to my stomach at the whole business,” Hooper followed Ruth’s hold out with a hold out of his own just to get out of Boston before it all came crumbing down, and Frazee sold Hooper to the Chicago White Sox.

It would be devastating to any franchise, of any sport, to sell one of the top players of his era, who would become one of the top five greatest players to ever play the game. Yet, even selling a once-in-a-generation talent like Babe Ruth is not enough to sink a franchise for eighty-four years, in a manner suggested in The Curse of the Bambino. It’s even difficult to believe that Ed Barrow taking advantage of Frazee to the point of selling/trading twelve other players over the course of three years can curse a franchise for that long, but as we all know winning breeds winning. In the course of those eighty-four years (1918-2004), the Red Sox did have some high quality, competitive teams. Various Red Sox teams won division titles, pennants, and they competed for the World Series in 1946, ’67, ’75 and ’86 only to fall short. The Yankees, of course, would win 26 World Series championships in the same time-frame, and they would appear in 39 World Series. Many of those Red Sox teams were unlucky, but unlucky is difficult to grasp when it occurs over the space of eighty-four years and the score with their cross town rivals was 26-0 when it came to World Series championships. Some people need an explanation, any explanation, to explain how some bizarre plays and unlucky events lead to a championship drought, and the 45% of the population who believe in ghosts thought they found the reason in Babe Ruth, Harry Frazee, and The Curse of the Bambino. Now that it’s over, and Boston Red Sox soaked the curse for all that it was, what do Red Sox fans talk about now that Boston has won the World Series four times including 2004?

So, you want to be a Kindergarten, Flag Football Coach

We should applaud anyone who volunteers to coach kindergarten football. It’s not easy, it’s a learn-as-you-go job, but it is rewarding and fun. In their own intangible ways, these kids appreciate what you’re doing for them. Most of them want to play football, and in some ways, they’re receptive to what we’re saying, because they want to learn the game beyond what they see on TV.

In my year-and-a-half of teaching kindergarten kids the game of football, I developed a few rules, based upon trial and error. Two quick notes before we continue: These are tidbits and observations, nothing more and nothing less. I will also use the term “tackle” to describe the act of pulling a flag, as this discussion focuses on flag football.  

  • Be a Coach with a Plan. Enter your season with a plan. Develop a few bullet points, or talking points, that you want your team to know by season’s end. These bullet points should focus on teaching the kids some of the fundamentals of playing football. Walk into your first meeting with the team thinking that if you can teach them a couple of things that will stick, your season will be a success. Accomplishing this, of course, requires repetition. My advice to the new coaches is to watch some YouTube videos on “coaching kindergarten flag football”. Some of these videos provide some very helpful drills a coach can run in practice, and they offer some simple plays to run. Some of these plays involve simple fakes, reverses, and some simple passes. This leads us to rule#2:
  • Keep it simple. If this is your first season with a fresh group of youngsters, you’ll witness more organized teams pull better fakes and more complicated plays. I don’t know if they practice more often, or if they stick together for years, but in my experience, it’s best to keep all plays as simple as possible. Again, the best thing you can do, as a kindergarten coach, is teach them the basics of the game.
  • We’re talking about practice. Some leagues require one mid-week practice. Anyone who has worked with kindergartners knows that coaches need to make their practices simple, active, and participatory. If you are a born leader with a commanding presence, and your team is largely comprised of good kids, they might behave 51% of the time, but those who enter into this with the idea that they can manage adults, and they have a well-behaved child, might be in for a shock when they try to corral 10-to-12 other peoples’ kids at the same time. They’re not bad kids, but they are kids, kindergarten aged kids. My advice is to try to diminish the chaos is try to develop drills and activities that don’t let the kids stand around idle. If there is some idle time for some of them, you might want to develop an activity until their turn arrives. (Some examples are jumping jacks and other forms of running in place. Whatever we do, we want to keep them moving.) If you’re lucky, another parent will volunteer to assist you. If that’s the case, divide the team into offense and defense for drills, then allow them to scrimmage. Drills are important, but they do create a line of kids with nothing to do until it’s their turn. Kids will also run around and pull each others’ flags off. A rule we incorporate is, if you pull someone’s flag, while playing around, you have to put it back on. 
  • No Juking. When game time rolls around, one of the most important rules we try to teach the kids is, “When you have the ball, don’t try to juke, shimmy, or shake your opponent.” Most kids want to flash the dreams they have of becoming an NFL running back, but at this level we need to teach them that the key to scoring more touchdowns is to run straightforward as much as possible. “How difficult it is for you to pull flags when someone is running past you?” we ask them. “You have one, quick chance right? The toughest flags to pull are those on someone who is running as fast as they can. When you run your fastest, it’s just as tough for the other team to tackle you.”
  • Two hands. Two eyes. “When you catch the ball, use two hands and two eyes. Look the ball in.” We institute this rule to try to prevent them from running before they catch the ball. (Once they secure the catch, we can tell them to run, but this happens so infrequently that we should be able to get away with only preaching those first two steps for at least half the season. 
  • On defense, we teach the principle of “side integrity”. It might sound like a complex concept for kindergartners, but that might be why they like it. Our advice to our outside defenders (linebackers or corners), “Don’t let the ball carrier run outside of you, because if they get past you, it’s probably a touchdown.” We line our outside defenders outside the furthest player on the other team, and we stress that they not let the runner outside of them, even if they don’t make the tackle. 4b) “When the other team tries to block you inside, watch the ball, and the minute it moves outside your blocker, use a spin move on the blocker to get outside of them. (Some of the kids love the idea of a spin move, as we can tell them NFL players use it to get past blockers. It also seems tricky and an advanced concept to the kids, and some of them use it quite well. They are also quite proud when they do it well, regardless if they make the tackle.) “Even if you don’t make the tackle,” we tell them, “you need to push the runner inside to the rest of your teammates.”
  • Safety. We established the position of Safety as the most important position on the defense. As a result, every kid on our team wanted to play Safety. (It might also have something to do with the idea that kids don’t like being blocked.) Based on the idea that this became the most prized position on defense, we developed a rule, whoever made the last “tackle” on the last play becomes the safety on the next play. Everyone wanted to be safety, so they strove to make the tackle. (This also ended the “Can I play safety?” yells that occurred after every play.)     
  • Back at Practice. When you’re done with the repetitious drills, in practice, let the kids have some flag football fueled fun. We call one of these games Sharks and Minnows. The shark(s) (two if you have over seven participants and one if you have less) start in the middle, and they try to pull the flags of all of the other players (the minnows). When a shark “tackles” a minnow that minnow then becomes a shark, and they join the shark(s) in trying to tackle the other minnows remaining, until there is only one minnow left. Other than teaching them how to pull flags, the game also teaches them the concept of boundaries, as we set up four-to-six cones to mark out of bounds.
  • First game. Your first game will probably be a disaster, if you’re a new coach starting out with a bunch of newbies. It’s important that we do two things here. First, during the game, we need to compliment the players for every good play they make on the spot. A casual high five with a “there you go Joey!” will do wonders to lift that morale and self-esteem. When the game is over, remain enthusiastic, regardless of the outcome. You will learn some things about your team, and the game itself, after your first game, and you will need to make some necessary adjustments, but try to stick to the tenets of your game plan. At this level, if you’re in it to win it, you’re probably in it for the wrong reason.
  • Plays. In this, my first season, I flirted with dropping the whole notion of plays, as they only invite more questions and different levels of chaos, but just handing the ball off on every play doesn’t teach kids the fundamentals of the game very well. On the subject of plays, I don’t think it will shock the potential volunteer to learn that if you plan to have a playbook, the goal should be to as simple as possible. I thought adding a simple reverse would fall under this heading, until I witnessed one in real time. (Picture a herd of wet cats attempting to run to the source and away from it at the same time.) I also added a pass play, in which the receiver runs a simple curl route. I thought this was a simple enough play, until I saw it play out live. (If the coach is lucky, they’ll have one player who can throw and one player who can catch. It’s the coach’s job to determine who can do this with some modicum of success.) The goal here is not necessarily to achieve a good play, a touchdown, or a win. We just want to put every player in a position to succeed, and if a player doesn’t throw or catch well, they might become demoralized. The coach should also prepare for the idea that most players won’t know what they’re supposed to do on any given play, so you’ll have to provide individual instructions to each player before the snap, and you’ll have to tell them where to stand. Again, the coach will have to accomplish this while trying to keep the referee happy by getting your players to the line and pulling off a play in time.
  • Repetition. The kindergarten coach should prepare to repeat their very specific instructions throughout the season, and answer all questions that follow. The most popular question a coach will have to answer in each huddle is, “When do I get to I score a touchdown?” My pat response is, “That team over there is not going to let you score a touchdown. You have to go get it, when it’s your turn.” The reason we must continually express the idea of turns is that once they score a touchdown, they want to do it on every play, and as many times as we express the idea, most kindergarten-age children don’t fully comprehend the idea of taking turns, or if they do, they don’t prefer it.
  • One voice in the huddle. “Coach! Coach! Coach!” is something every kindergarten, flag football coach will hear in a huddle, on just about every play. When the coach responds, they are likely to hear classic gems like, “I have a new shirt,” “I felt a raindrop,” or “I have a loose (or new) tooth.” Then there are the most common questions that follow every play, “When do I get the ball?” and “When do I get to score a touchdown?” The other comments I’ve heard are, “I don’t have a mouthpiece,” and “how come you’re not wearing sunglasses today?” Some of the kindergarten children repeat the shouts of “coach!” so often, while you’re attempting to tell the players involved in the next play how to run it that by the time we get to their question/comment, they forget what they wanted to ask/say. Once we complete that exercise, and get the kids to the line of scrimmage, ready to run the play in the time allotted by the referee, be prepared for them to forget everything you just said. Even when we keep it as simple as possible, by telling them to hand the ball off and run left, they often run right about 50% of the time. (Hint: point the direction of the play out to them. It’s okay to remind them at the line which way they should go, because chances are most of the kindergartners on the other side of the ball aren’t listening to you either.)  
  • “We can only have one voice in the huddle,” is something we say in the huddle. Some comply, but most forget these instructions when the next play rolls around. I’ve instructed them to keep all comments and questions related to football, but they’re kindergartners. One important note to add here is the patience and understanding a flag football coach must employ. Remind yourself, throughout the game, that they’re kindergarten kids. Most of them have the retention levels of a goldfish, and they can’t remember what we said five seconds ago.
  • Injuries. Anytime kids are involved in a game that involves running, they will inevitably run into one another. Most volunteer coaches have no experience in such matters. The simplest thing to do is address each injury on the spot. Depending on the severity of the injury, of course, our goal should be to diffuse the minor injuries that occur in a game. Ask the injured player if they are okay, where they are hurt, and what happened. Most kids need nothing more than a couple plays off, and a drink of water, and they are okay. We might also need to address the fact that the other kid didn’t injure them on purpose. It was just a part of the game. 
  • Displays of Anger. The coach will also have to deal with the emotional aftermath of a child having their flag pulled. To us, this is part of the play. Person A runs down the field, person B pulls their flag, and the play is over. To the kindergarten mind, this is a humiliating condemnation of their athletic ability. They might regard it as an unfair part of the game, or the coach’s fault. At times, they will express their anger. When we experienced such a display, we simply moved on and let his parents handle the matter. As a voice of authority, on the field, the inclination might be to correct that child’s behavior in some way, but we have to remember that these are other people’s kids. It might embarrass us to have one of our team members act this way, but we have to respect our boundary while trying to keep control of the individual players. The best advice I provide the disappointed kids who don’t succeed on a play is to have a short-term memory. “Try your hardest on every play, but if you don’t succeed, employ a ‘next play’ mentality.” Also, if they gained any yards, focus them on that. This mindset requires repetition. I developed this short-term mindset after years of playing recreational sports. It worked well for me, but it’s often too complex for the disappointed, kindergarten mind to comprehend.
  • Winning and Losing. We all have egos. All coaches want their game plan to work, and we want our coaching techniques to result in wins. A season and a half of kindergarten coaching have taught me to control what I can control. Let the players worry about winning and losing. We should also make sure we take turns giving the ball to each kid. Not only is that what they signed up for, but it maintains their focus. I try to compliment each player on their strength and ignore any weaknesses they might have. This keeps them happy, focused and interested. The most important ingredient is to try to keep it fun for the kids. Structure is vital, of course, but we need to institute a balance of fun and structure. 
  • Dealing with Kids. After dealing with these kids one hour a day, for six weeks, I now have profound respect for anyone who chooses a career that requires them to deal with kindergarten age children full-time. If, at one time, I considered my son’s teachers unreasonably strict, by instituting a level of structure to try to establish some level of order, I now empathize. “Could you take care of Johnny today? I can’t deal with Johnny today,” I heard one kindergarten teacher say to their assistant. I was shocked at the time, because I thought it meant the kindergarten teacher couldn’t control her class. I now have a couple of Johnnies that I only deal with for one hour a week, and if I could have one on-field assistant answer the questions, and tend to, just one of my Johnnies, I probably wouldn’t be writing this piece to voice my frustrations.

Hot Dog Gets Ketchup

The most exciting play of the 10/2/2016, fourth week of the NFL, for me, was a legal hit by Atlanta Falcons Linebacker Deion Jones on Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton, as Newton jogged to the end zone for a two-point conversion. The jog, for those not familiar with Cam Newton’s show-boating style of play, is a deliberate pace Newton will use to make the defense look even worse for their inability to stop him, than they may have looked had he completed the play at full speed. Jones’ hit was not only an attempt to punish Newton for a slow jog, that was intended to humiliate the Falcons defense, it was revenge for a previous play in which Newton got in Jones’ fan to celebrate a first down, a play in which Newton was flagged for excessive celebration. Deion Jones’ hit not only wobbled Jones, it sent Newton to the locker room with a concussion.


Although I’m not for players getting injured, I am all for “on the field” justice. As it stands right now, the NFL permits an offensive player a number of different celebrations, and the defensive player is not permitted to retaliate for the offensive player celebrating. The player from the offense is permitted to walk off the field of play without any form of retribution for that celebration. I realize that the NFL attempted to make all celebrations illegal, years ago, and that that attempt resulted in a public relations nightmare that led to fans and writers calling it the “No Fun League”, but if the NFL is going to allow “some” celebrations and some showboating, within strict guidelines, they should permit “some” retributions for those celebrations, within strict guidelines. If I were to write this “retributions” rule, it would follow some of the other rules the NFL has instituted for other plays. It would permit “one player from the defense one shot against a celebrant that is below the head and above the knees, and it has to occur in the midst of the offensive players’ theatrics, or in an acceptable time thereafter.” This addendum to the celebrations rule, would allow professional football players to clean up their own in a manner similar to the manner baseball players and hockey players are allowed to clean up their game.

Cam Newton may be an excellent teammate, and an all-around good guy off the field, but I, like most football fans, only care about his on the field activities. On the field, a Cam Newton is emblematic of the “me-first” athletes that are not afraid to humiliate their opponents, because there is no real retribution for doing so. Part of Cam’s alleged charm that he is willing to mock other players, and walk away with the knowledge that those players can’t do anything to him.

“If you don’t want me to celebrate, don’t let me score,” Cam Newton said to those that have suggested that his celebrations were over the top. I would have less of a complaint if football were more of a mano y mano game, in the manner say boxing, tennis, or golf are. Cam’s line of defense suggests that the defense is trying to stop him, and him alone, and that they cannot do it. Yet, Newton has an offensive line keeping the defense away from him, and a number of different threats on the field that the defense has to consider before attacking Cam Newton. If the NFL were to allow “some” retribution, and perhaps allow Cam Newton to retaliate against the retaliation, that would result in a limited hockey-like scrum that the officials would allow for a period of time before it got out of hand, and league rules would prohibit anyone but the celebrant and the defensive player from participating in this scrum, Cam Newton could say something along the lines of: “You’re allowed to retaliate, I challenge you to retaliate.” As it stands, Cam Newton is protected from most hits by players, and rules, and he is allowed to celebrate in a manner that the defensive players are forced to walk away from, until it builds such resentment in the defensive player that a legal hit, such as the 10/2/2016 Deion Jones hit, is a lot more volatile than it would have been otherwise.

The Other Side of Talent

“He has a talent,” one person said of another. “I don’t know what it is,” she furthered, “but he has a real knack for taking photos.” The subject of that compliment beamed in the afterglow. The compliment was vague, but she used the ‘T’ word, and very few can avoid the gush that follows having a ‘T’ word thrown at them.

It was a nice photo (not the one pictured here), but the ‘T’ word? The compliment suggested that this photo was but one of a long line of photos that you had to see to believe, but it was still just a photo.

Most of us reserve our use of the ‘T’ word for athletic and artistic accomplishments, but we know that many use it in broad terms. We know, for example, that an engineer can display a wide array of talents for his craft that others may not have, but we often say that that person is good at what he does, a master craftsman, or expertly skilled, but the use of the word talent is not often used in conjunction with most skills.

Some could say that a grown man’s ability to outdo his young peers in a game of hopscotch is a display of talent, but most fellow adults watching this man hop from square to square would suggest that he should consider finding a more constructive use of his abilities, if he wants others to consider him a talent.

Merriam-Webster defines talent as “a special ability that allows someone to do something well.”

Philosopher Ayn Rand steadfastly refused to recognize photography as art, but she did concede that it requires a skill, a technical skill, as opposed to a creative one.

We all know that definitions, such as these, can be broad, but most of us have personal definitions that fall on stricter lines. If the definition of talent is as broad as Merriam-Webster described, and photography requires some technical skill, then we should concede that taking a quality photograph does require some talent. One could also say that a talented photographer uses discretion and selectivity when he selects his shot, but could this ability to capture a moment be more of a right place, right time decision making process that this man has over even the broadest definition of talent?

If one takes a thousand photographs, for example, and only one of them is of an exceptional quality, is that a display of the photographer’s skill? Yes it is, in a broad sense of the term. If that’s the case, we could that if a man takes a thousand free throws, and he makes one, he has a talent for shooting free throws, if that one free throw is so perfect that it barely touches the net.

If a photographer purchases a top of the line camera, and he uses the best photo-enhancing software available to produce evidence of his prowess, and he lays that photo down on a table next to the photo another taken with a disposable Walmart camera, and no enhancements are permitted, does his superior photo reveal God-given talent on his part, or does it contribute to the lie that a skilled, talented photographer is artistic in any manner?

The Truly Talented

We’ve all witnessed the effect truly talented people can have on a room, and this effect often makes us a little sick. “He’s just a human being for God’s sakes!” is one of the snarky, coping mechanisms we’ve developed for dealing with “the gush” to adore the talented.

The adoration of talent varies with the skill required to accomplish the feat, of course, but if you’ve ever met truly gifted people, you know that most of them are not interested in being better today than they were yesterday. Most of them enjoy the potential they have to be better than they do the work involved in becoming better. “We’re talking about practice!”

Those that become obsessed with being better, and enjoy the benefits the rigors of practice can produce, often end up having their names etched into something by the time they’re finished. For these people, their talent is but a starting point and a gift that they end up honing to perfection, but even for these people talent can be a curse and a burden, and it can lead to acceptance, love, worship, and being scrutinized, ostracized, hated, and ridiculed. The idea of their talent, i.e. their potential, can also haunt them when they encounter its limitations.

An edition of 30 for 30 called Of Miracles and Men portrayed the other side of talent. It depicted the other side of the Miracle on Ice story that we all know of a ragtag group of American amateurs defeating the most talented Russian hockey team ever assembled. Some would argue that this Russian team might have been the greatest assemblage of hockey players ever to tie skates on their feet. This team had already won four Olympic gold medals in hockey, by the time they took to the ice against this American team, and some of them would go onto win a fifth after the 1980 defeat. To hear this group of talented men speak of their careers, the 1980 loss to a group of American amateurs, in a medal round, sits in their system like a kidney stone that will never pass. This Russian team beat an assemblage of Canada’s best that included probably the greatest hockey player that ever lived Wayne Gretzky. They also beat the 1980 American team in a match that preceded the 1980 medal round upset, and those two matches were not even close. This team was so dominant that they could not be beat, until they were.

Some would think that such an historic upset might serve to highlight the Russian team’s greatness, if one could say that one defeat in the midst of a record of total annihilation is a blip in the overall dominance this team displayed over the hockey world for two decades. Listening to these men speak, however, the listener gets a taste for the other side of talent when the only story anyone wants to hear from them involves the one time they didn’t succeed, and how that has haunted them since.

The point one could take from this 30 for 30 episode is that these men spent an excruciating amount of hours of their young lives in cold, dank gyms honing their God-given gifts, trying to improve on the smallest details of the game, only to fall to a bunch of ragtag Americans that may not have spent one-fifths the amount of time honing their gifts. Even with five gold medals (including the 1984 Olympics), the only thing we want to talk to them about is that one match they failed to win thirty-five years ago.

If you’re acknowledged as the most talented person anyone you know has ever met, and the only thing anyone wants to discuss is the one time you failed, why would you want to raise their expectations? Why would you want to endure the marathon practice sessions that focused on the minutiae your coach informed was going to be vital when you encountered the wall of your God-given abilities? Why would you want to invest more of your life becoming better at something other people hate you for being so good at? We’re talking about desire here.

We’re talking about the desire to be better today, than you were yesterday. “We’re talking about practice!” We’re talking about preparing for that day, that every talented person experiences, when they meet their personal wall.

The wall, for those that have never read about it, involves going up against other people that were the most talented people anyone they know had ever met. It involves seeing what the gifted person is made of when they encounter the another person loaded with so much talent that talent is afterthought.

To read the former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner’s examination of the natural talents that fail to succeed on the NFL level, it’s about having a coach, or mentor, early on that recognizes the person’s talent level, and challenges them in a brutal, heartless manner, to reach within themselves to find various other methods of succeeding beyond the talent level they’ve always known. This heartless mentor also helps the talented person in question determine if they have the desire to succeed on a level they may not have even considered to that point.

The Less Than Talented

“My talent has always been, and will always be, and it should be written with a capital ‘P’!” –Your potential

What if your talent has never taken you the places you thought it would, but you’ve always known you had the potential you had to succeed. What if your talent lays somewhere between being as talented as anyone that you’ve ever met, and perhaps more, but that untapped potential to be more has always remained at a frustrating distance?

We spoke of ‘the wall’ that every recognized talent experiences, but there is another wall that can be more formidable: the wall of self-imposed expectations. The talented might encounter this wall in moments considered inconsequential to other participants, and observers, but to the person that has lived with the idea that they’ve always had the potential to succeed it is but another example of their ineptitude. Most of them do not know that this is the source of their frustration, or if they do, they won’t acknowledge it.

As the Kurt Warner story informs us, the primary difference between those that will succeed and those that won’t occurs soon after an example of they experience ineptitude. Moments of adversity can be large and small, but they all reveal whom we are, and who we are going to be.

A young Kurt Warner may have dealt with moments of adversity throughout his largely undocumented young life, but we can guess that none of them would compare to the adversity that the adult Kurt Warner would experience in his adult life. The most talented person in his area received so few scholarship offers that he ended up playing quarterback for the University of Northern Iowa. The NFL draft did not draft him, following that college career, and the only team that gave him a try-out, cut him before the season even started. He ended up stocking shelves for a supermarket chain. He then played quarterback in the Arena Football League, and he had a stint in NFL Europe before an injury to a starter allowed him to lead a NFL team to a Super Bowl victory. He was MVP of that Super Bowl and MVP for the season. That Super Bowl team cut him a couple seasons later, and he went onto play for another NFL team for a couple of unproductive seasons, and he ended up with a team that he, again, guided to the Super Bowl. After Kurt Warner’s career was concluded, he was considered to be the best undrafted free agent to ever play the game.

Kurt Warner’s story is one of not living up to his self-imposed expectations. It’s a story of what he did after failing to succeed on many levels. It’s a story that should be held out as an example to talented people, but for most of those that are more talented than anyone they’ve ever met, talent and work have always been a zero-sum game: The more talent one has, the less work they think they should have to do.

Warner states that most coaches and mentors coach to the talent, and they let the talent do what they do well in a manner that the coach hopes will reflect the coach’s ability to harness talent. They coach for the next game. They coach to keep the talent happy.

If we’re talking about practice, however, one of a coach’s duties should be to put talented people in uncomfortable positions to reveal to them what they must do when talent alone may not be enough get them out of scrapes.

It also allows those talented people –that have always used their talent as a picket sign to avoid the rigors of practice– to learn how to finesse the minutiae of their abilities and hone their desire.

As anyone that has displayed an ability to do anything knows, there is always a ceiling, and when one hits their head on that ceiling it can be quite humiliating. Some of the times, it’s more rewarding to hide in a cloud of potential. Those of us considered lesser-thans don’t understand what it must feel like to have so many consider us a true talent, and we never will, and that can provide the talented a comfortable space between the reality of their talent and the potential we believe they might have.

If you’ve ever witnessed a display of YouTube-worthy temper tantrum in a bowling alley, on a miniature golf course, or at a softball field, and you’ve wondered why a person would attempt to gouge their own eye out for missing a two-foot putt, I can tell you –as a former wild temper tantrum thrower– that there’s something more to it than the fact that the ball won’t go where we want it to go. We thought we spotted something at a very young age, we thought we were going to be a somebody, a contender, and the obnoxious five-pin that will not fall no matter what we do is not just a configuration of rock maple wood to us, it is the eye of fate staring at us, mocking us for what we’ve become.

These eye-catching temper tantrums are borne of an inability to deal with even the most inconsequential moments of adversity, because we never had a heartless mentor in our lives that cared enough not to care that we were tired, that our feelings were hurt by something they said, or that we wanted to quit the game because “it’s just not fun anymore”. One could read this post, and think it’s all about sports, until they witness a guy that has no capacity for dealing with the obnoxious five-pins of life, and in the moment that captures his frustration in life for all to see, he does something to the ball return that causes parents to shield their kids’ eyes. For an overwhelming majority of those that would have their names etched into something by the time their career is over, their mentors would spend countless hours teaching them how to deal with such adversity, how to overcome walls –self-imposed and otherwise– and how to become successful people, and yes, talented photographers, I guess.

Football 101: Stratagies

“Why do they continue run the ball into the middle of the pile?” a friend of mine once asked after watching a running back crash into the line for a two-yard loss.  “If they are going to run, why don’t they run around the pile?”

As with any sports-related questions, the answer involves a number of variables, and specifics regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the respective players on the offense, from the abilities of the Running Back, to the ability of those on the offensive line to block for him.  The offense also has to gauge the speed and ability of the defenders to beat them to the corner. Long story short, the offense would love to run around the corner.  It would also love to gain a ton of yards up the middle.  Even if it doesn’t, however, a run up the middle serves a purpose.

350px-Linemen.svgIt may also sound elementary to suggest that the offense wants to have every single defensive player confused, but that is the purpose of the run up the middle.  For those that love chess, even an unsuccessful run up the middle can be the equivalent to sacrificing a pawn to get the opponent to move themselves into a weak position.

If the offense attempts to run up the middle often enough, it hopes to create enough confusion in the minds of the defensive backfield that they make an erroneous first step up and in to stop that run.  One erroneous step may be all that’s needed for the timing of the offense’s passing game.  Creating confusion in the minds of the all of the defense is important, of course, but it is crucial to the success of the offense that those players that are positioned in what is called the defensive backfield –the linebackers (LBs), the free safety (FS), and the Strong Safety (SS) in the diagram above– be confused.

The players in the defensive backfield are unblocked on the line of scrimmage and they have free reign as to how they are going to approach the next play.  If they are confused and they make an incorrect guess, holes in the defensive backfield will open up for the offense to exploit in the passing game.

The timing of most offenses require a successful running game, but even a less than successful running game can open up holes for a Quarterback to pass in, if the members of the defensive backfield are required to step up and in to assist the front four defenders (the defensive line) in their attempts to stop the run.  So, the next time your team continues to make futile attempts to run the ball into the middle of the pile, wait for the next play before you kick that hole in the wall.  If that Quarterback fakes the ball to the Running Back, (a play-action fake is what it’s called) and the Linebackers take a step up and in to stop that play, you’ll realize that the Offensive Coordinator (the coach that decides which plays the offense will run) made that previous call to set up this pass.  For when that Linebacker steps up and in to stop that running play from going into the middle again, he opens up a *hole behind him that the Quarterback will pass the ball in.  (*This hole is also called a lane and/or a window.)

The offense must keep the defense guessing whether the offense is going to run or pass.  You may hear a broadcaster refer to this as “keeping pressure on the defense” or “keeping the defense on their heels.”  They may also refer to the defense stepping up and in as “the defense cheating” or the defense “creeping”, and that the offense must have a better mix of run and pass to prevent that.

As a result, if an offense has a decent mix of running yards gained and passing yards gained, that team wins more often than not.  Some offenses don’t need a perfect mixture, but most of them need just enough to establish a threat of something different to keep the defense guessing.  Most of them will acknowledge that they are not going to achieve a perfect mix of yards gained, based on the defenses’ proficiency, or their own deficiencies, but they know that they will be required to have a number of attempts in one of these two strategies to establish the necessary threat.  It is for this reason, that you often see networks provide graphics that suggest when a Running Back attempts to run the ball a certain number of times (regardless the amount of yards he gains) the percentage of victory for that team is high.

The chess match of play calling, and alignment, will often bear fruit in those seconds that occur just before, and immediately after, the snap.  This is where you’ll hear the term “cheating” used most often.  If members of the defensive backfield step back in the moments before a ball is snapped, or immediately after the snap, they are cheating back, believing that a pass will occur.  The more common use of “cheating”, however, occurs when the members of the defensive backfield creep up and into the line of scrimmage, believing that a run will occur.

Therefore, when an offense continues to “waste” a play by running the ball up into the middle of the line, for a futile two-yard gain, and they continue to do it without much success, you can be sure that they are attempting to prevent the LB’s, the FS, and the SS from sliding back into the holes that the Quarterback wants to throw the ball into.  To further this deception, a Quarterback may fake a hand-off to that Running Back to get a crucial one-to-two step creep, or cheat, up and in from the members of the defensive backfield.

“When are ‘we’ going to just admit that we can’t run the ball?” a novice fan may scream at the television.

Long story short, few teams can afford to just give up on the run.  Most offenses are not so loaded with talent that they can succeed with a play that the defense knows is coming.  Some are, of course, but what works for one team, will not work for the other, and vice-versa.  It’s a chess match.

Football 201: Prevent Defense Prevents Victory

“The only thing the prevent defense prevents is victory,” one fan said, quoting color commentator John Madden’s oft used condemnation of this defensive alignment.  

In week five of the 2015 season, the Atlanta Falcons allowed the Washington Redskins to march down the field, about forty-five yards in twenty-five seconds, to score a game-tying field goal.  The prevent defense failed once again.

The message boards on various Atlanta Falcons’ sites blew up with people screaming at the Atlanta Falcons Defensive Coordinator Richard Smith for allowing this to happen by employing the “disastrous” prevent defense in the closing moments of regulation.

“Why do they keep trying this?” Another fan asked.

That question goes to the heart of the answer: It works … most of the times.

“If you’re winning a game,” John Madden once said to add to his complaint, “You’re winning, because of your defensive strategy.  Why would you change that successful formula up in the closing moments of a game?”

John Madden was well known for speaking the language of the common man, and the common man has asked this question so often that it has earned an answer from a common man that has answered this question so often in his head that it’s percolated to a boil.

The Redskins had twenty-five seconds to get a field goal.  They completed three passes to get their field goal kicker in place for a fifty-two-yard field goal.  He made it.  Game tied.  The prevent defense failed, and Atlanta had to resort to an interception in overtime to defeat the Redskins.

It didn’t have to be that way, according to the common man, fan’s complaints on various Atlanta Falcons’ sites.  If the Falcons had had the courage to stick with the defense that had bottled up the Redskin passing game for much of the game, they wouldn’t have had to cross their fingers with hope that something miraculous would happen in OT.

On any given play, in a game of evenly matched opponents, one long pass can change the dynamic of a game.  Due to the nature of most offenses, they limit their attempts at such a pass to four-to-five times a game.  The risk of attempting this pass is such one that most offenses prefer to stick with the package of plays they have designed for short yardage gains, as most offenses don’t operate well in the desperation of third and long.

When an offense takes the field, down three points and twenty-five seconds left, they enter the “nothing to lose” chapter of their playbook.  We have nothing to lose now, so why don’t we try to throw the ball forty yards on every play.  Why wouldn’t we take the risk, since the rewards of our normal package are gone now?  We just need one of these plays to succeed.  If this were a game of Russian roulette, and success was defined as shooting yourself, wouldn’t you increase the number of bullets in that gun if given the choice?  You would have nothing to lose by doing so.

The Defensive Coordinator’s job at this point is to limit the chances of this one play succeeding.  He’s willing to concede that the offense will succeed with a couple of passes over the middle, but he needs to do everything he can to prevent the possibilities of that one huge play succeeding.  The answer to that is a prevent defense.

“I know all this, and everything you’ve just written is obvious,” some would say, “What’s also obvious is that the prevent defense never works.”

“If it never works, why do defensive coordinators around the country, and at all levels, keep using it?”  Answer, it is successful … most of the times.  A Defensive Coordinator would not put his job on the line, by placing his defense in a prevent alignment just ‘cuz, or just because others do it, or because it’s some sort of tradition.  The difference between you, the fan, and a John Madden calling a coach out when it doesn’t work, is that the Defensive Coordinator knows his flow charts and algorithms, and he knows that the statistical probabilities suggest that in this situation the unpopular prevent defense is the right call.

The prevent defense may give up some passes over the middle, and that may have cause your heart to flutter, as your defense surrenders thirty yards, and the other team gets a little too close for comfort, but they need forty-five.  They came up fifteen yards short, they lost.  Your team won, and they do, more often than not, by employing the prevent defense in the closing moments of a game.  That didn’t happen in the Atlanta vs. Washington game, but it does … most of the times.

If it had succeeded, as it often does, no one would’ve said a word, because the idea that a defense should be able to stop an offense from going forty-five yards in twenty-five seconds is not remarkable enough for commentary.

It’s not complicated. It’s football.

Sports reporters, sports broadcasters, and the sports media, in general, are up in arms. They don’t understand how you, the common NFL fan, can avoid caring about all these stories they’ve created to open your eyes to the true nature of the NFL. After all of the hard work they’ve put in to characterize your favorite players, your favorite team, the commissioner of the league, and the institutional culture surrounding them, you keep watching with your eyes wide shut. You don’t care. It’s the strangest thing.

This may be based on the fact that we don’t care about the NFL. We love the game, we love the games, and the teams and individuals who play those games, but we have disassociated them from the NFL, the league, and the daily soap opera that surrounds it. Perhaps that’s a small price that the NFL has paid for being so huge that some of us can do all of that and love the game, and not feel like we’re contradicting ourselves.

Atlanta Falcons fans wave “Rise Up” flags during an NFL Divisional Playoff game against the Green Bay Packers on January 15, 2011.

Those who have watched, read, and listened to the sports media over the last couple of years have been inundated with NFL stories that will “officially, and unquestionably, begin the ending our enjoyment of the NFL.” When those stories come out, and we don’t abandon the game, the sports media moved onto that next story “that will tick the general public off so much that I don’t see how the NFL survives this without lasting damage to their product.” Even after the members of the media make that proclamation, and the next one, the numbers don’t decrease in the least. We stubborn, fans keep watching the game in record numbers.

The NFL is still the king of all sports. It’s so far ahead of the other professional sports, still, that the competition might need a James Webb Space telescope just to read their corporate strategies, and this is in the wake of three-to-four years of almost nonstop, negative media coverage. What is going on, these sports reporters keep asking. The answer is that the NFL is big, and huge, but not so huge that it affects the daily lives of people watching the sport to the point that they care.

To illustrate this, we need only look at the contrasting conditions that exist in the socially conscious world. In the socially conscious world, socially conscious consumers care. Socially conscious consumers now have websites, blogs, apps, and podcasts devoted to informing them of the latest socially conscious gossip. The socially conscious pay attention, they scour various information resources before making financial decisions, and they punish those who don’t fall in lock step. It’s become a huge business for those “who care” about what they care about, a business that much to the surprise of the socially conscious in the sports media, the common NFL fan takes no part in.

In the socially conscious world, the media are king makers. They can make or break a corporation, or an individual, with a couple lines here and there. With the right story, or an accumulation of stories, the media can drive a corporation out of business. The corporation may try to adjust their practices to fit in with the prevailing winds of our culture, but in the socially conscious world once the damage is done, it’s done.

When socially conscious stories encroach upon the stature of the NFL, it attempts to adjust to the prevailing winds of our culture accordingly, as any other corporation worried about the prospects of their product will. They sit players for infractions large and small, they fine them, and then they blast their socially conscious reactions out into the worldwide media for contrition. Few NFL fans care one way or another. Few of them care about the transgressions in the report. Few care about the contrition. And the confusing simplicity of this is, few care about the NFL. They just want to watch football.

Most common, NFL fans are not socially conscious consumers, and I write that in the most complimentary manner possible. They are mostly male, between the ages of 35-54, making less than 100k a year. They are hard-working people who pay little attention to politics, world affairs, or social issues in general. Opponents may charge that they are head-in-the-sand ostriches, and that may be true in a larger sense, but in a more revealing scope, I think we can surmise that they don’t pick and choose the social issues to care about. They don’t care about any of them. They are one of our most consistent demographics in our country. They tend to their backyards, and they expect you to do the same, whether you are their neighbor or the NFL. They may think a little less of you when you don’t weed and water properly, but that doesn’t mean that the next time you lean over the fence, they’re going to avoid you.

The common NFL fan may know a few of the players’ names. Some of them may know the high draft pick at left tackle, the weak side linebacker that can cover as well as he can tackle, and the 4.2, 40 star cornerback, and everyone knows the quarterback, but for the most part NFL games are won and lost by players whose names they will never know. They’re not as attached to these players as the media believes, in other words. Their kids might be, but they have created enough distance from the players that no one player can ruin the game with their off the field activities. The love of the game is not as in-depth for fans, as it is for reporters. For fans, it’s just football, and it really isn’t all that complicated.

Those in the sports media make the mistake of assigning their own “age of enlightenment” social conscious worldview to their audience. They believe that socially conscious consumers are indicative of the evolved, new earthling, or at the very least that this idea of a socially conscious consumer has made its way to the NFL fan. They’re “wrong”, as Greg Cote says. “All of it.” We love the game of football. We appreciate watching talent at its highest level, but we don’t care about the NFL in a manner that if they don’t handle their controversies better, we’re going to abandon them. We’re not going to boo them when they take the field, depending on the charge, and we’re not going to applaud them when they come back … unless the collective they manage to violate one of our core tenets. 

We tune out when the NFL pregame shows start their broadcast with the latest “weight of the world” drama that has the whole NFL shook up. We don’t want to hear the perspective of this story from all four on-air personalities, and the sideline reporters’ latest quotes from the team’s equipment manager. We also don’t care about the human interest stories that follow these negative stories to inform us that not all NFL players are not as bad as inmate number 6843107347. We don’t care about the good, the bad, or the ugly. We want to watch a game of football, unless the collective they show display some sort of ingratitude for the fan that he or she can feel.

For the devout fans’ desire to learn X’s and O’s analysis, injury reports, and the occasional trash talk, we now have to turn to the internet. We turn to the place that allows us just the facts, or if they don’t, we have the option of only clicking on stories that provide just the facts and figures we want to know more about.

If I were a network programmer, I would experiment with a novel idea, a show called “Just Football!” It would be a jam-packed half hour (22 minutes with commercials) that contained two to three experts talking exclusively about the game. If a player was out, due to some drama, the anchor would say, “(That player) is out for the week!” He would say this with no more drama, and no more depth, than he would with a player that is injured for the week.

“No emotion,” would be the intro to my show’s commercial promo, “No political proselytizing, no jocularity between hosts, and no human interest stories!”

“Just football!” another, more charismatic voice would say to outro.

Word would get those two words out in the common NFL fan community, and the ratings would go through the roof.

We watch the NFL to escape the social studies of our culture. We don’t care if “our guy” is a good guy or a bad guy. We just want to know if he has the talent, and the physical or mental prowess, to get across a line, or to stop the other guy from getting across a line. If he committed a transgression, he should be punished accordingly, but we don’t care about the story, the intricacies of the story, or the social pressure that needs to be exerted to get these people to change. We just want football. It’s not complicated.

We’re not going to stop watching the game because someone did something bad, in other words, and we’re not going to start watching a game because a guy did something good. We’re not socially conscious viewers. If that were the case, we would’ve stopped watching this game long ago, because some of these players use excessive force when they hit one another.

Greg Cote, of the Miami Herald reports about this with some surprise:

“Voraciously, sports reporters and broadcasters keep sounding the first notes of the death knell of professional football. Forebodingly, they warn of the sport’s eroding credibility. Ominously, they say that player wrongdoing and Commissioner Roger Goodell’s missteps and mismanagement have served to fracture the public trust.

“Wrong, all of it.

“It turns out the public hardly cares.”

Greg Cote goes onto report, with an undercurrent of some surprise that NFL fans care about football.

The fan of the game didn’t care about concussion gate. All of the former NFL players –that now have on air personality jobs– preened themselves of the guilt of playing a contact sport by saying that they wouldn’t allow their children to play this violent game. This is now called virtue-signaling, and the anchors saying this were big time stars in their day. Those saying these things were the faces of the game … Pffft! didn’t make a dent.

We didn’t get mad at these former players, however, as we knew that their “look at me” editorials were simply attempts to establish their bona fides as a broadcaster that would help them transition away from being identified solely as a former-player. Those who lasted through the sermon, without flipping the channel, probably didn’t hold it against the former players. They likely didn’t care one way or another.

It also turns out, much to Mr. Cote’s surprise, that:

“Fans don’t need to trust (NFL commissioner Roger) Goodell to love football any more than most Americans need to adore a sitting president to love their country.”

Due to Goddell’s actions over the last couple of years, you would be hard-pressed to find too many common fans who haven’t heard of Roger Goddell, but you would also be just as hard-pressed to find many fans who care about him. I don’t pay attention to such things, but I’m guessing that if you polled NFL fans about the latest press release from the commissioner’s office, you would see figures like .04% see it as a positive for the league, .96% see it as a negative, 4% haven’t heard of it, and 95% don’t care.

Socially conscious consumers care about CEOs. They scour the position papers of these CEOs, and they read the analysis provided by socially conscious writers they trust. They focus a great deal of their attention on the CEO’s gender, race, and flossing habits. Most NFL fans don’t even know Roger’s middle name (Stokoe), because they don’t care. He’s not on the field, he’s not designing a defense, or an offense. He’s not the fan’s friend, or the fan’s enemy. He’s the commissioner of the NFL, equivalent to that fire hydrant on the end of their block. We know it’s there, and we know what it does, but we probably haven’t spent more than one accumulative minute of our lives thinking about it.

Some fans may have a love/hate relationship with Goddell, based on the players he and his commission decides to take off the field, but they’re not going to allow him to influence their enjoyment of the game. When the commissioner does step on the field to do a coin-flip, or whatever a commissioner does during the pregame, we might hear some cheers and some boos, but listen carefully to those boos. Those boos build, as the fans wake out of their pregame slumber. Every pregame ceremony involves three to four names, and 90% of the fans don’t hear the names being mentioned. They only look to the countdown clock that informs them when the game begins. When the booing begins, son turns to dad, dad turns to other fan, until heads around the stadium turn to the scoreboard to try and figure out why everyone’s booing. They join in, they laugh, and it’s fun. He’s an authority figure, and it’s fun to boo authority figures, but no fan of the game cares about him, unless he were to take part in violating the core tenets of the NFL’s core fan. My guess is if the more involved fans didn’t start the booing, the viewing audience at home would hear nothing as this lawyer/bureaucrat walks on the field. 

Greg Cote describes the bad seeds that have littered the headlines as “weeds in the garden, things to be uprooted”. I would go one step further. I would say that they’re checkers. Checkers, as opposed to chess, in that no individual pieces in the game of checkers are irreplaceable. The quarterback could be said to be irreplaceable for a game, or even for a year, but when that quarterback does go down, and his career is deemed over, the devout NFL fan’s focus shifts to the prospect of getting a great prospect in the next draft. That fan may visit that former player’s car dealership, or car wash, in the years that follow. He may even shake that man’s hand and thank him for providing the area’s fans so much joy over the years. For the most part, however, that fan will have already moved on to the next guy, and no member of the media, no commissioner, and “surprisingly” no player can taint that relationship they have with the game. Most of them know this. Most of the players, coaches, and fans know it’s not about them. The only ones confused by the conundrum of why the NFL remains so popular, regardless what they do, are those in the media, and they’re apparently up in arms about it.

[Editorial Update:] We still believe many of the tenets of this article, written on 8/15/2015, but recent evidence suggests this piece requires an asterisk. A complete rewrite is not necessary, in my humble opinion, as we still believe that no player, no matter how moral or immoral, can break the bond the NFL fan has with professional football, but we now add the asterisk that states, “Unless said player, or players, shows a level of ingratitude that the average fan considers a violation of said fan’s core tenets.”  

Most NFL stars have been stars for most of their lives, and they know a level of adoration most sports’ stars never will. These stars might assume that that love is unconditional, and for the most part it is, but as recent evidence suggests there are some principles that NFL fans consider such a staple that even their favorite star cannot violate it.

The average adult fan now knows that NFL stars are never going to be grateful to them for being a fan. The NFL star might pay symbolic homage to the fan, but we know that they take us for granted. We’ve come to accept this as the nature of the beast. As witnesses now know, it is possible to fray the bonds that seal this relationship. This article contains a note that suggests that no player, or players, can damage the bond NFL fans have with the league, but we now know that is not true.  

The media can try to make a dent, and the NFL commissioner can attempt to resolve that issue, and most NFL fans won’t care either way, but if the player shows an unprecedented level of ingratitude, most fans will leave, and some may never come back. We’ve all witnessed those TV’s permanently turned into the “off” position, on Sunday afternoons for a couple years now, even at Thanksgiving, and I don’t know when, or if, they will ever be turned back on. Congratulations, NFL players, you’ve proven me wrong. There is a way to do what I thought couldn’t be done. The otherwise ambivalent and apathetic fan base is now awoke, and they care more than I thought they would about a social issue.    

Five Takeaways from The Super Bowl

Before I begin, let me take this opportunity to talk about “my process”.  I am in love with my process, like many in the media, and I thought now would be the perfect time to tell you what an uncommon genius I am.  The five stories I have chosen were not randomly chosen, they were chosen randomly, and if you are one of those that are fortunate enough to have a DVR, or you have some fast forward minutes on your live TV function, you’ll want to scroll down twelve paragraphs, and seven commercial breaks, to get to the actual list.

(Edited for time constraints.)

5) Delfategate— Now that we have the final chapter of this story completed, a chapter titled 37-50, for 328 yards, 4 TD’s, and a 140.7 quarterback rating, we now know the plot of this story involved the media giving cat nip to the crazies that hate the Patriots.  To those of us that don’t hate, or love, the Patriots, it was a non-story.

Tom Brady Bill Belichick 2For those that comprise the “hate Tom Brady” contingent –the Brady smile, the Brady confidence, the beautiful wife, and the wonderful life— the story was erotica.  For the networks that willing to feed into this “Let’s put a taint in Tom” narrative, the ratings were a boon.  We couldn’t get enough of it.  For those that don’t have an irrational hatred for Tom, Coach Bill Belichick filled that void for them.  Belichick is arrogant and mean to the press (i.e. he doesn’t give away the game plan); he doesn’t smile enough, and he doesn’t equivocate enough for those that prefer equivocators.  OH, and he has a boat called Five Rings (a boat he’ll now have to rename six rings).  If you have no emotional investment in either of these two, you probably have a general hatred for the Patriots because they’re there every year, and you believe in the word deserve, as in someone else deserves a turn; or you’re just a person that roots for the underdog, and everyone likes everyone that roots for the underdog.  Whatever the case is, the success of the Patriots has garnered a whole lot of hatred out there, and this Deflategate story came about at just the right time, right before another Super Bowl appearance.  The cat nip the media gave Patriot haters amounted to a two-week, pleasure cruise aboard the boat “Cheaters!” It allowed them to chant “Cheaters!” when the subject of all of those Super Bowl appearances came up.  It allowed them to nullify all of those rings, and it allowed them to think (for two glorious weeks!) that the wife, and the life, were all based on a lie.  The story was, in essence, a digestive aide for all those years of indigestion.

When Brady threw his first interception –a throw that went to a defender that stood about five years away from the nearest offensive player— one could almost hear eyebrows being raised around the nation.  Is it the grip?  Is the ball not the way the all-American heartthrob likes it?  They were giddy.  It provided a seismic move in the culture, until Brady went on to complete a Super Bowl record thirty-seven passes.  He eventually gave up another interception –thanks to a brilliantly deceptive move by a linebacker— but other than that Brady turned in a 37-50, for 328 yards, 4 TD’s, and a 140.7 quarterback rating performance.  With each completion, and Touchdown, one could almost hear those eyebrows lowering, until all but the most passionately disgruntled Patriot hater realized that this whole Deflategate story was nothing more than a ruse that the media had sprinkled around the pre-game entrance for the rubes to nibble on.

4) Marshawn Lynch— In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the press began throwing an hysterical hissyfit over the fact that the running back from the Seattle Seahawks continued his boycott of the media.  He showed up for his contractually obligated press conferences on Super Bowl media day, but he did not provide answers that the reporters could take to the bank.  Some have stated that his non-answer answers were a thumb to the eye of every fan, as the “press is a vital conduit to the fans”.  Others have said that it undermines the republic, and the idea of a free press.  “Reporters, with a soul, are as repulsed by this whole mess as you are,” Seattle Times Columnist Larry Stone writes.  “And it could lead to a backlash,” he writes, predicting that players of all sports could begin to avoid answering the important questions that reporters might ask of them, and thus lead to the fall of what Abraham Lincoln once called this “Great Experiment” called America.  The question I would have, if Lynch’s antics led to a larger backlash is: “Who cares?”  Certain players enjoy speaking with the media, others don’t.  Interview those that enjoy it. Remember, Mr. Stone, these are athletes, not federal bureaucrats that should be required to answer the people’s questions for their actions.  The answers athletes provide are as meaningless, to most of us, as the questions reporters ask.  We understand that you want to make a living in this profession, and we have no problem with that, but telling us we are “as repulsed by this whole mess as you are,” doesn’t make it so.  We also understand that Marshawn Lynch’s antics insult your profession, and it threatens to undermine the future of it, if it results in this larger backlash, but most of us do not see the imminent danger of your prophesy.  We also think you may be overstating the role of sports journalist in our culture, and perhaps that’s the source of your hysteria.

Some have flirted with the notion that Lynch’s antic were a result of a calculated business decision to ink an endorsement deal for his “Beast Mode” products.  Former NFL players, on NFL talk show panels, could also be seen nightly providing high-minded ideals to Marshawn’s stance, and some of these explanations were so fawning that one would have to think that they will become a point of ridicule for decades to come.  The question I have for all these people attempting to explain Lynch’s attempts to undermine of the Republic by avoiding Super Bowl media day questions like, “What’s your favorite color?” is “Have you heard this man speak?”  He does not speak well.  I don’t know how intelligent he is, and I know that communication skills are not a comprehensive barometer of one’s intelligence, but is it possible that his reluctance to speak to the media might be a result of Marshawn Lynch not liking how Marshawn Lynch sounds in Q & A press conferences?

3) Human Interest Stories— I could go through a laundry list of examples here, but I won’t.  Suffice it to say that of those questions reporters ask of players in Super Bowl Q & A press conferences –those deemed vital to the Republic— about 50% of them involve human interests that no I know cares about.

2) The Media— Due to the fact that my teams have not been in contention for national championships, or Super Bowls, for about fifteen years, I now (largely!) cheer against a team more than I cheer for one.  The reason: media fawning.  I know, I know, the media fawns over Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, the Patriots, and Bill Belichick, and I don’t hate them.  I know it’s hypocritical, but I guess I’ve reached some sort of acceptance with them.  I’ve been beat over the head for so long, over a decade, with non-stop discussions about their brilliance, that I guess I’ve been hypnotized into acquiescence.  The fawning makes me ill, regardless of the direction, and ESPN has appeared so infrequently on my television that when I do have it on, it almost feels nostalgic, but I loathe nothing more than the flavor of the month club in the media.  The flavor of the month club involves a team (hopefully from a highly populated state, i.e., New York) that is on the rise, and has the greatest (fill in the blank) to ever (fill in the blank), and they tell us it enough times to hopefully make it true in our minds too.  You can try and try to pound that nail in my brain, I mentally tell them, until it reaches a layer of conscious thought, but I’m not going to accept it as truth, until it is.  I may take this a bit further than most, as a result of age and countless hours of rebelling against their indoctrination, but I actively cheer against the flavor of the month.

1) “That’s Football”— is a quote that you’ll likely only hear from players, after a reporter has jammed a microphone in their face, in a sensitive moment, after a crushing defeat.  For the reporter, and the recipients of their largesse, the events that shape a football game are equivalent to life and death, and they mock and ridicule any player that says anything to the contrary.  For them, these moments are about championship or choke; legacy or failure; and the greatest to ever play the game versus the guy that will be haunted by an asterisk on his deathbed.  It’s football.  It’s the way the ball bounces.  Some receiver that hasn’t caught a ball all year will make a catch, because he’s taller than the guy that’s covering him; some guy will fumble, because human beings drop things; one will throw an interception, even though he’s never done it all year, based on percentages.  It’s football.  There are twenty-two professionally trained athletes on the field at any given time, and if they’re in the Super Bowl, they’re likely to be some of the best athletes on the planet.  These people are obsessively trained to make things happen, and at least one of them does on every play.  “That’s football.”

Obsessed fans walk away from such a quote believing that it means that the player was somehow less focused on winning?  If this is your take, you can go ahead and assume you’re wrong.  You can go ahead and assume that that game meant more to them than it could ever possibly mean to you.  If an NFL player is lucky enough to play in a Super Bowl, it’s possible that they may have just endured 19 games to get there, and this doesn’t account for all that they had to endure before that season even started.  If the player is in the NHL, or the NBA, they could play over 100 games; and the players in the MLB could play in over 180.  How many momentum swings do professional athletes have to endure in those games, or in that season, to reach the pinnacle of their sport?  How many lucky plays –that shouldn’t have happened— have gotten them to this point?   How many injuries has each player had to endure to get to that point where they made a crucial mistake that cost their team a championship game?  Most players would not ask the conduit of the people (the reporter) for sympathy, but they’re probably shocked to learn that the invested (see obsessed) fan is crushed with this “That’s just the way the ball bounces” answer.

It’s possible that a player may be saying something like this out of pure exhaustion, or it may have something to do with the fact that after going from pee wee football to the greatest stage the game has to offer, they know that no matter how much blood, sweat, and tears you cast, the ball simply bounces the other way some of the times.  It may also have something to do with the fact that if they dropped to their knees, weeping in utter despair –like you do— they would have more people than you will, considering them an absolute laughing stock.