UPDATE! Belichick a Sith!

These pictures were taken at the New England @ Seattle game in Week 6 of 2012:

(Photo credits, clockwise from top left: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images, Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images, AP Photo/John Froschauer, Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll is on the left, New England head coach Bill Belichick is on the right. The pictures evoke the old Gregg Easterbrook Cold Coach = Victory hypothesis, which states that in a game played outdoors in cold weather, the football gods shall see fit to bestow victory upon the team with the least warmly dressed head coach.

Easterbrook shouldn’t have been surprised, then, as the Seahawks defeated the Patriots 24-23. Not only does Belichick look cold, wet, and miserable, he totally looks like a Sith under that hoodie, does he not?

The corollary to Easterbrook’s Cold Coach theory is his Scantily Clad Cheerleader theory: the team whose cheerleaders are more scantily dressed, especially in cold weather, are to be granted victory. As of press time, there was no word on what outfits either team’s cheerleaders were wearing, nor was there any report on which team’s cheerleaders were more incompletely dressed. If you have any information on this matter, please contact The Warren Peace NFL Report in the comment section below. An comprehensive volume of photographs will be posted here for analysis as soon as they become available.

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No Pink!

Props to both the Niners and the Seahawks tonight, I haven’t seen a single player all game wearing any pink!

Actual football content, after the break: Continue reading

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Taking a Knee with 303: Aaron Schatz

In his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about a strange phenomenon. People tend to feel apprehension and uncertainty when they first encounter something wholly unfamiliar, something their past experience hasn’t prepared them for. People dislike that feeling, and quite often they mistake the dislike of the feeling of uncertainty for the dislike of the unfamiliar thing itself. It’s normal to resist the new and the different, at least at first. But when what’s new turns out to truly be better, it’s time to man-up and get with the program.

A story: halfway through the 2005 season, the Atlanta Falcons were 6-2 and in first place. They had the league’s top rushing offense, and were coming off a big Monday night victory over the Jets. Every major publication ranked them in the top five, at most ten, teams in the league. Except for Footballoutsiders.com, that is–FO, for short–where the Falcons were ranked a paltry 17th. Certain Atlanta fans got wind of this, and publicly urged their fellows to flood FO with comments deriding this perceived affront. They turned out in droves–frenzied Falcons fans, expressing their furor–accusing FO of being “Falcons h8ers” living in their parent’s basements, of having unwarranted malice toward Michael Vick, or simply of knowing nothing about football in general.

Most publications use power ranking “systems” based on writers’ subjective opinions, which in turn are usually based on win-loss records. Football Outsider’s rankings are the output from an objective mathematical formula¹, conceived and constructed by Aaron Schatz, that accounts for contextual factors, including relative strength of opposition, and what’s called “fumble luck.” Turnovers can be pivotal plays; a fumble recovery can turn a loss into a win, and vice-versa. Knocking the ball out of a ballcarrier’s hands is a skill. Holding on to the ball is also a skill. They can be improved with coaching and practice. But an egg-shaped football is uniquely wont to bounce in unpredictable directions. Recovering a fumble, as it ricochets erratically around the turf, is not a skill. FO’s research shows “the odds of recovery are based solely on the type of play involved [run, pass, sack, etc], not the teams or any of their players.”

Aaron Schatz

The 2005 Falcons had recovered 15 of 19 fumbles in their first eight games. But in their last eight, they recovered only 5 of 18. Even though they didn’t otherwise play significantly better or worse, they went 2-6 in those games. Reversed fumble luck, plus a tougher schedule, meant a third place finish and an 8-8 final record. The formerly effusive Falcons fans grew taciturn, and the predictive capability of FO’s statistical analysis was vividly demonstrated.

This week I spoke with Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders and lead writer, editor, and statistician on the annual Football Outsiders Almanac. His writing can be found in a number of publications, including The New Republic, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and Slate.com.

The New York Times Magazine called him the “Bill James of football.” Bill Simmons described him as a “statistical rock star.” But, as he told deadspin’s Will Leitch in 2009, he just wants to make NFL fans “feel like they are more knowledgeable and more entertained.” We talked about the evolution of his stats, NFL teams that may be reading his work, being a Pats fan, and the awful pizza in New England’s press box.

Thank you for taking time out of the middle of football season to talk with me. So how did you become a New England Patriots fan? What are your earliest memories watching the team

I started out as a Rams fan, since I lived in Orange County, California until I was 13. Eric Dickerson was my favorite player as a kid. I moved to the Boston suburbs in 1987, though, and I gradually lost interest in the Rams. First I left them, then they left L.A. Boston really wasn’t a football town though, not at all. Remember, the team almost moved to St. Louis in the early 90′s. It’s really hard to overstate what it meant when the Patriots hired Bill Parcells in 1993 and drafted Drew Bledsoe. That’s the beginning of the modern Patriots right there, the beginning of the huge current Patriots fanbase. So I remember watching some games in high school in 1990-1991, in the horrible Rod Rust/Dick McPherson era, but I really didn’t care much about the Pats until the Parcells years. Then especially when I went to Daytona Beach to work in radio in 1996, I used to go to a sports bar every week to watch the Pats; it’s how I kept connected with home.

What was it about the “run to win” myth² that motivated you to write The Establishment Clause, establish Football Outsiders, and help many of us to appreciate football on new levels? Why not be content to just complain to your friends/yell at the T.V. that “establishing the run” is fictitious, or that rankings based on raw yardage totals suck³, like the rest of us?

Aaron doing an interview on Sirius’s Maxim station

The honest truth is that there were two guys who were contracted by the Baseball Prospectus folks to write a Pro Football Prospectus book starting in 2002. I was really excited about this, because I grew up as a huge Bill James fan and I also read Rob Neyer and BP and all the sabermetrics people that were around back 10 years ago. And I’m sorry for being blunt about this, but that Pro Football Prospectus book sucked. It was horrible. The writing was awful, and the stats weren’t really ground-breaking in any way. The authors kept talking about how they had a database of play-by-play, but they didn’t actually use it for anything. I read through the whole thing thinking “man, I could totally do better than this.” I just needed something to write about to get myself started, and the “establish the run” myth became my launch point because like many New England fans I was completely frustrated with Ron Borges of the Boston Globe and his bitter hatred for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The whole New England press corps split into dueling Brady and Bledsoe camps in 2001 and Borges was the worst of the Bledsoe people. So he was so happy when the Patriots missed the playoffs in 2002, and he wrote that it was because they couldn’t establish the run. And yet, this same guy Ron Borges was picking the Raiders to win the Super Bowl, and the Raiders ran less than any other team in the league. Since I had struck up a friendship with Bruce Allen, who ran the site Boston Sports Media Watch, I knew that I could try to do some research and write something up and somebody would run it. I had also written a couple of sports pieces for the Boston Phoenix, so that was a possibility too. So I started.

I was first convinced that FO’s numbers worked after the Great Atlanta Falcons Fracas of  ’05. When did you first realize that what you were doing was right? Did you have a “eureka!” moment? Or did you have an idea how successful FO would be when you started?

I never thought this would become a full-time job when I started, believe me. There wasn’t really a eureka moment, though. Basically, all the numbers I was playing with made sense, so we went forward and started a website. I think my goal was to do a better job than those original PFP guys but I never thought it would actually become a full-time job. And it’s not like we were super accurate in the first year, either; that was 2003, and the Panthers became the first of a number of teams to make our numbers look silly by going on a surprising postseason run after a mediocre regular season. And then after that, I didn’t have a chance to have a moment that convinced me that what I was doing was right, because in February 2004 it became the only thing I was doing. My eureka moment was when I was able to go off unemployment because I was making a living with FO!

Thanks to the predictions in the 2007 Football Outsiders Almanac, I drafted Tom Brady for my fantasy team that year and cashed in on his 50 touchdown passes. Did you also pick Brady that year? What other fantasy football conquests do you still remember and brag about?

I blew it in 2007 in one of the expert leagues I was in. Mike Tanier and I were drafting together and we had a choice come down to Tom Brady or Donovan McNabb. Remember, at that point McNabb would still get 200 rushing yards and a couple rushing TDs every year, so his value wasn’t much lower than Brady’s. And we decided that we didn’t want to have to listen to people complain about how Football Outsiders is biased in favor of the Patriots, so we took a running back, I don’t remember who, and then grabbed McNabb in the next round. Whoops.

I have a strange history of doing better in experts leagues than I do in my own league with my friends from college, where we’ve been doing auction every year since before FO existed. This year is a bit opposite, though. My friend Ian thought I had the worst team out of 14 in that league because I went big on wide receivers and waited until late to grab running backs or a quarterback, and instead I’m currently 5-1. Also, we do this thing called “Multileague” where we draft teams in three different sports and you combine all the points to determine the winner, and I finished second last year in my first year of doing it: first in football, third in basketball, and fourth in baseball. I was an “expansion team” as they went from eight guys to ten, and I grabbed Aaron Rodgers off another team’s keeper roster to start my team. Good timing on that one. I also drafted Rob Gronkowski late in the draft. That league is insane — we have one draft in August where you get to pick players from all three sports (in baseball, you are picking for the season that starts THE FOLLOWING APRIL) and then three separate drafts to finish off your roster for each sport. I traded Joey Votto for Kevin Love last year. Good times.

The “FO Basics¹” page introduces some surprising and often counter-intuitive concepts. Have those ideas changed the way you watch football? In other words, does an analytical understanding of football interfere with, or enhance, the emotional enjoyment of cheering your team on?

Schatz with former FO colleague Mike Tanier, also featured on Taking a Knee

They’ve changed the way I look at team strategy, sure. They’ve changed the way I look at fourth downs, at run/pass ratio, things like that. And I have a better knowledge of which players are particularly good or bad. However, I’ll say that it is really tough to watch football analytically when you watch it live. The game goes by so fast, and the camera angles are so concentrated on the quarterback, and your eye naturally goes to the ball and not, say, the line blocking. So I generally watch Patriots games like a fan, complete with screaming at the TV (except when I’m at Gillette — no cheering in the press box) and then wait until the next day to re-watch some things and put the analyst hat on.

You should have seen me in the final five minutes of the Seattle game. I was despondent. I didn’t think it could get any worse. Then I found out the next night it can get worse — if your favorite team happens to employ Norv Turner and Philip Rivers. Mine doesn’t.

What celebrities, NFL coaches, or professional players do you know of that follow FO, or publicly support FO’s methods?

For the most part, I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about which NFL teams I’ve worked with, but I’ve worked with a few. Jim Schwartz of the Lions has been very open about his appreciation for my work. As far as front offices, I can probably be open about the Jaguars, because Tony Khan (son of the new owner) was very open about his love for Football Outsiders on his Twitter feed before his father bought the team, and he’s heading up a new analytics department in their front office. There are some interesting famous comedians and actors following FO’s Twitter feeds, and we used to run a testimonial from Keith Olbermann about how he won his fantasy league using our KUBIAK projections. I honestly don’t know much about current players and whether they read FO at all; there are definitely some former players. It was cool one day when I was looking through sales on FOA and one of the names in our Paypal account was Adam Archuleta. And I’m guessing guys like Andrew Luck and Evan Moore know about us because one of their old teammates, Ben Muth, now writes for us as our offensive line analyst.

Inflatable refs are better than replacement refs

What is your favorite place to watch football on a Sunday? If you’re at a sports bar with a TV for every game, how many can you follow at once?

My favorite setup for football on Sunday is when the Patriots are playing a 4pm home game, because I can hang out and watch the 1pm games with the rest of the press and get their takes on what’s going on around the league. Usually a 4pm game is a big one, so there will be some good national guys there for me to talk with; Week 5, for example, I ended up sitting with Sal Palantonio and Albert Breer for the last hour or so of those games, and those guys are far more plugged in to what’s going on in front offices and locker rooms than I am, so I learn from them. Then you get to see a game live at 4pm from the comfort of the press box. Then I sit and break down stats for an hour, hour and a half, and head home in time to start watching Sunday night’s game around the second quarter. The only thing bad about it is that the pizza they serve the writers at Gillette after games is horrible, the worst, nastiest pizza I’ve ever had in my life. I grew up in the town next door and I could tell them 20 better pizza places to order from that would make for much happier writers.

In a previous Taking a Knee, Star Wars author Drew Karpyshyn said that Bill Belichick is the NFLer most likely to follow the teachings of the Sith, if he lived in the Star Wars universe and had the Force. Would you agree?

Just to be clear, is he suggesting that Bill Belichick is most likely to draw his power from emotion and passion fueled by rage? Emotion and passion? Bill Belichick? Does he strike you as a particularly emotional or passionate guy? No, you want someone with emotion and passion fueled by rage. Buddy Ryan would be the greatest Sith in NFL history.

Aaron Schatz is the editor-in-chief of footballoutsiders.com and the lead writer, editor, and statistician for the annual Football Outsiders Almanac. He also writes for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. You can follow his twitter feed @FO_ASchatz. The 2012 Football Outsiders Almanac can be purchased in hard-copy or downloaded as a .pdf from http://www.footballoutsiders.com/store.

(ed. note–without contesting the validity of Aaron’s point about Buddy Ryan, it must be noted here that pictures from last week’s New England/Seattle game have surfaced in which Belichick totally looks exactly like a Sith!)

This interview was originally published at http://303magazine.com/2012/10/aaron_schatz/ on Oct. 18 2012.



¹-Schatz came up with a set of tenets–some of them unexpected–that correlate with winning or losing. From http://www.footballoutsiders.com/info/FO-basics: You run when you win, not win when you run. Teams with more offensive penalties generally lose more games, but there is no correlation between defensive penalties and losses. Recovery of a fumble, despite being the product of hard work, is almost entirely random. Injuries regress to the mean on the seasonal level, and teams that avoid injuries in a given season tend to win more games, which means a team built on depth is better than a team built on stars backed up by scrubs. Schatz built a regression analysis model including these principles, fed it official NFL play-by-play data, and after some tweaking, can sit back and watch as it spits out fascinating results.
²-The Establishment Clause (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/2003/07/14/ramblings/stat-analysis/3/) was the first article published at FO, correcting the confused correlation/causation in a statement hack sportswriters and announcers love repeating: “team X is 90-1 when running back Y gets 30 carries (or 100+ yards).” The running back got all those carries and yards because his team was winning and trying to run out the clock, the team wasn’t winning because they force-fed their back tons of carries early in the game. “You run when you win, not win when you run.”
³-The NFL uses raw yardage totals to rank players and teams. But that doesn’t answer the following question: “running back A runs for three yards. Running back B runs for three yards. Which run was better?” If A’s run came on a 3rd and 2, and B’s run came on a 3rd and 15, then A is obviously better. If A was playing against Kansas City, and B was playing against San Francisco, then B is probably better. It’s easier to gain yards against a bad defense; it sounds obvious, but the NFL rankings ignore this.
⁴-In 2010, then-President of the Indianapolis Colts Bill Polian criticized Schatz’s work at FO, saying “statistics are virtually meaningless in football… standalone statistics such as exist in baseball–sabermetrics, if you will–have no validity in the NFL.” However–and this is besides the fact that NFL head coaches Jim Schwartz and Sean Payton have been pretty successful using advanced FO-style statistical analysis–Schatz would be the first person to tell you that any numbers, however advanced, are only useful in the context of watching actual, old-fashioned game film. They are a tool that, applied correctly, can help to understand the game, but no one would pretend they’re an end in themselves.
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I <3 Football Youtube Special Part I: The Greatest 60 Seconds

I love the NFL because it makes every fall Sunday a madhouse! After playing seven simultaneous Sunday morning games (kicking off @11AM), they had four more afternoon ones (kicking off @2PM). Watch below, as three of Sunday’s afternoon games are decided, on one screen, at more or less the same exact moment in time:

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God Dammit It Must Be October

The only thing okay about this picture is Romo getting hit (Getty Images)

Ugly in so many ways

It’s confusing to see a girl wearing a blue sweatshirt that’s labeled “pink.” And it’s annoying to see professional football players wearing pink, regardless of whether it matches their team colors or not. If I wanted to see ugly colors clashing I’d watch the Seahawks.

Ostensibly it’s because October is breast cancer awareness month, and the NFL is innocently doing its part to help find a cure, and everybody seems to believe it. Thankfully, Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan pokes a giant hole in that notion. She points out “the total percentage of purchases of officially licensed gear that actually goes to FINDING A CURE is actually kind of pathetic — 5%” (emphasis hers). Breast cancer awareness month. Hah. Just about every individual is already aware of the issue of breast cancer. I’ve been to enough Halloween parties to know that we’re going to be aware of women’s breasts this month with or without cancer.

Not you too, Robert!

There is nothing wrong with a corporation making a profit. But masking that profit in the guise of charity for the public good is a sham.

Take Miss Ryan’s advice: “Want to cure breast cancer? Give directly to an organization that cures breast cancer, or to an advocacy group that seeks actual cures, not marketing and corporate profits.” And the crux: “Besides, wearing those horrid pink NFL breast cancer rain boots actually causes cancer. Of the eyes.”

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Ryan Kerrigan Pick-6

I was slightly upset when the Redskins traded down in the 2011 draft, passing on J.J. Watt but drafting Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan has been a great player too, but Watt may be the best defender in the NFL. I will always compare the two in my mind, especially after Kerrigan did this today:

You may recall Watt making this similar play in the playoffs versus the Bengals last year:

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A Short History of Refereeing

The Washington Post has a good short history of the NFL and the very concept of refereeing, which I felt was worth re-posting:

“British rugby operated under an honor code. Team captains acted as the rule keepers, and “fair play” was so ingrained that when penalty kicks were instituted to punish fouls, some were outraged. Oriard quotes one British gentleman: “It is a standing insult to sportsmen to have to play under a rule which assumes that players intend to trip, hack and push their opponents and behave like cads of the most unscrupulous kind.”

But when the American cousins made their own football rules in 1876, the first thing they did was do institute referees, and the reason, according to Oriard, was their wish to redefine scruple so they could play in a more powerful and less chokingly traditional way. Our game was an inherently rule-breaking experience, a celebration of both American physical strength and invention. The constant bending of rules was an expression of Yankee ingenuity, what Oriard calls the “American genius” for circumventing old rules. Walter Camp wrote in 1894 that “the Rugby code was all right for Englishmen who had been brought up upon traditions,” but it tolerated “no innovation.” Which was no fun…

Referees were needed because games were interrupted by furious arguments that lasted for a half-hour, and every rule was treated as something to be outwitted and exploited. Linemen picked up handfuls of dirt and flung it in their opposite’s eyes. Punches and kicks were routine and so was biting. Star players were targeted for “crippling.” The mass-formation plays gave cover for all kinds of fouls that left men on the field with broken collarbones and cracked ribs. Pop Warner, who played at Penn, recalled that players “free lunched” on each other’s legs.

Every week that the NFL puts bungling, inept referees on the field, we will go further back in time. The failure of the owners to anticipate how teams would respond to weak officiating is telling. It tells us how ignorant of the game they really are, how insulated and above it, how spoiled by their skyboxes and bottles of Caymus Select. They planned for four years and built a war chest for last year’s lockout of the players. But they apparently were so haughty, they were blind to the repercussions of a ref lockout, to the fact that men who fight for a living would respond to blown calls with explosive rage.”

And now, here are some pictures of sexy babes dressed up like refs!

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Taking a Knee with 303: Drew Karpyshyn

Two of Drew’s book covers: Bane and Revan

“When I write, I don’t have any music playing. I like to write at night, when it’s dark out, in a room with dim lighting so I can imagine the outside world falling away. It helps me get lost in the world I’m creating.”
–Drew Karpyshyn

Re-post, from here to 303 Magazine! This week’s interview features New York Times Top-Ten Best Selling author Drew Karpyshyn! http://303magazine.com/2012/09/drew_karpyshyn/

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Roger Goodell and the Wacky Referee Lockout: A Tragic and Comical Story

Logophilia runs in my family. There’s no known cure, doctors say, but it seems to hurt less when the words flow both ways. Ingest a few chapters from a book in the morning, expel a blog post later that afternoon. If you can make a living eating and shitting–metaphorically speaking–wouldn’t you?

My brother and his wife Kristin started The Found Generation together, where they help write the words a business needs to interact and connect with consumers, and “content excellence” is the #1 product. Kristin also writes about business and marketing for Forbes and trustedadvisor.com, where yesterday she published a piece on football.

She looked at the NFL’s referee lockout from a financial and marketing perspective, and argued that the NFL is risking its credibility as a trustworthy, venerable institution–a reputation it spent decades building, she notes–in a dispute over 0.16% of its annual revenue. She concludes that the “season is still young; there’s time to resolve the issue and begin to rebuild the lost trust. If the NFL acts humbly, admits its mistakes and ends the lockout, all can be forgotten in a matter of weeks or even days.” The Warren Peace NFL Report agrees with her analysis wholeheartedly.

This is what businesspeople think play diagrams look like

ESPN analyst Jon Gruden called the replacement refs’ performance “tragic and comical.” It’s sad a high-profile oopsy is what it took to rouse the league from its complacency–as if it wasn’t inevitable–but thankfully for players and fans, the NFL reached an agreement with the referees’ union early this morning. The regulars will be back in time for the week 4 games, beginning tonight when the Browns play the Ravens. The three-game stretch that opened the year will be remembered only as a footnote, if it’s remembered at all.

When you look at it from a financial perspective, as Kristin showed, the lockout was shortsighted at best, laughably stupid at worst. How could a multi-billion dollar business be so monstrously mismanaged? A boss with a narcissistic ego leads to a dysfunctional ethos across the entire organization, which leads to counterproductive actions. The referees’ union asked for more than Roger Goodell decreed they deserve. This wasn’t business anymore, it was a personal affront to the commissioner’s authority. Punishing this subordination was now more important than putting the best possible product on the field. It’s all too consistent with Goodell’s NFL, one more example of the kind of embarrassing affair that define his time as commissioner.

(EDIT: We were right! As the WSJ posted, “according to one owner who has been briefed by league officials on the issue, the disagreement with the referees is more ideological than it is financial.” Duh.)

As I understand it, Roger Goodell’s job is to do what’s best for the NFL as a whole. His understanding of his job is quite different. His actions suggest that he thinks his job is primarily to enforce discipline, interpreting the league’s rules through decisions based on an arbitrary and constantly changing definition of the “integrity of the game.” Consumed by self-important despotism, his myriad punishments for rule breaking are often more harmful to the league than whatever the initial infraction was. He doesn’t care if he’s chiefly punishing the fans, whether the transgressor was actually affiliated with the NFL or not when the offense occurred, or even if any rules were actually broken. In Goodell’s NFL you can be punished severely–to the tune of $36 million, in the case of the Redskins–for obeying the rules, but in a manner he didn’t approve of.

I think it’s hilarious that Goodell gets booed every year at the draft in New York. Football fans love football; Goodell loves only himself. It must hurt him inside, the booing, and make his black heart even more shriveled and bitter. But instead of developing the warmth and compassion that would make fans show him the love that he needs, and every year he loses a little more humanity. He stuffs haughty, hateful pride where happiness and affection for others should be, and every year the vicious cycle spins faster. Last year he took out his hostility on the players’ union, this year the referees’ union, and next year, who knows? Only the millionaire owners are safe from his loathing, for only their hearts are as black and dead as his.

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Taking a Knee with 303: Victor Wooten

I’ve noticed that I think about football a little differently since I moved my interview series over to 303 Magazine, and started doing one per week instead of doing one whenever. For example, I don’t think I would have seen this video the way I did before I really started seeing the ways that football is something we all have in common.

There are only two times in my life that I don’t have music playing in my head. One of those times is when I’m skiing, and the other is when I’m watching football. I think it’s because both activities have a strong rhythm of their own. Although most of my friends like to listen to music inside their helmets, I ski better when I allow the rhythm of the mountain to tell me when to make my turns. And on Sundays during football season, I gladly let myself get caught up in the play-huddle-play rhythm of the game.

Victor Wooten (photo: victorwooten.com)

That’s not to say that music and football don’t have anything in common. On Sunday afternoons, after the late games have ended, I look forward to playing music again on my drive home from the sports bar. It helps me contemplate everything I saw happen that day, and music is the only thing that cheers me up when my favorite team loses. Hank Williams Jr. might be the musician most people associate with the NFL, but he’s not the only great artist tuning in to the games on Sunday.

This week I spoke with bass player Victor Wooten. I know him best from his work with Béla Fleck, as one of the Flecktones. He also plays in the band SMV and has a successful solo career. He is a five-time Grammy winner, has been named bass player of the year three years running, hosts a music camp in the woods outside of Nashville, Tennessee, and authored the book The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music. He is currently working on a sequel.

Between his music camps (he hosts six to eight of them per year), writing books, and touring all over the world, it’s amazing that he can find the time to catch a game here and there. I feel lucky to have been able to ask him a few questions. We spoke about some of the things music and football have in common, and the role football has played in his life.

What’s your favorite football team? How did you first come to root for them?

I don’t really have a favorite team anymore. When I was young, I was a Dallas Cowboys fan – way back in the Tom Landrey, Tony Dorsett days. That was because my brothers rooted for them. I guess, living in Nashville now, I get excited when the Titans win.

Victor, playing at a live gig (photo: Steven Parke, victorwooten.com)

Did you play football, or any other sport as a kid or in high school?

I never played organized football, but I was a good soccer player. I followed my brother Joseph into that sport. We were both really good at it. I also played little league baseball. That was much fun. I would play any sport that was going on in the streets around my house: two-hand touch football, basketball, dodgeball, freeze tag, gymnastics, etc.

You won the Bass Player of the Year award from Bass Player magazine three years in a row. Brett Favre won the NFL MVP award three years in a row. Do you think you and Brett have anything in common that helped you both achieve success in your fields?

We both have an “R” in our first name. No, seriously now. I don’t know Brett personally, but I’m sure we both have a powerful drive to be the best we can be. The difference is, in my world, I don’t have to compete against anyone else. My awards are based on what other people think.

A quarterback and his best receiver are said to have chemistry when they’re on the same page, both during scripted plays, and in moments of improvisation. Football players build that relationship by practicing, repeating a play over and over together. How do you build that kind of relationship with your band mates?

I think that if you were to ask a quarterback that question, he would say that he needs to have that kind of chemistry with ALL of his players, not just his receiver. I agree. It’s no different with a band. All my band mates are just as important. That kind of chemistry comes from knowing and accepting each other on and off the stage/field. I want that chemistry with my audience also.

(photo: Scott Stewart, victorwooten.com)

You’ve been described as the “Michael Jordan of the bass.” Who would you say is the Victor Wooten of football?

Anyone that honestly loves what he/she is doing.

On a typical fall Sunday, what are you doing, and is there a football game on a TV nearby?

If I’m home on a Sunday, the kids usually rule the television. I have to find another room to keep a game on. Then, I can check the score every now and then. During playoff season, the kids have to find another room.

In the year 2020, will there be more commercially successful bass-oriented bands, or fullbacks in the NFL?

Probably fullbacks. But, bass-playing fullbacks. ;-)

Victor Wooten is one of the best bassists on the planet. His website is http://www.victorwooten.com/, where you can hear about new releases, tour dates, and more. If my opinion is worth anything to the producers at NBC, and it’s not, one day we may get to see a Wooten/Flecktones intro for Sunday Night Football, at least before games hosted by Tennessee.

This interview was originally published at http://303magazine.com/2012/09/victor_wooten/ on Sept. 20 2012.

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As Legal as it was Violent

You may already have seen this Golden Tate vs. Sean Lee block of the year candidate. The Warren Peace NFL Report does not condone dirty play, but is confident that this hit was 100% legal.

Ouch, right? Lee himself didn’t take issue with the hit. It didn’t draw a flag, and he said it’s part of the game.

But this is the Cowboys we’re talking about, so of course shit gets fucked up: Jerry Jones demanded that the NFL fine Tate for the hit. Roger Goodell then did exactly what Jones wanted him to do, because doing exactly what the owners want is what Goodell does. Golden Tate now has to pay an absurd $21,000 fine because an extremely wealthy white asshole was unhappy with him.

A commenter at PFT said “Not that we needed more evidence, but this is why Sean Lee is everything that is right with football and why Jerry Jones is everything that is wrong with football.” Jerry Jones is 75% plastic. They can change his skin, too bad they can’t change his brain.

Jones thought Tate led with his helmet–he hit Lee at chest level. Goodell thought he “launched” himself–he was running in the same direction as Lee! Did he launch himself backwards?

I’d like to ask Jones and Goodell which was worse: the hit, or the fact that the Cowboys put Lee back in a game they had already lost only a few plays later? They claim to have checked him out for a concussion, and maybe he didn’t have one. No football game is worth the risk of making it worse. The Warren Peace NFL Report does hope Lee is okay, because he is a great football player who makes the Dallas defense more fun to watch.

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The Beautiful Game

When I was growing up in the 90s, it seemed like a revolutionary idea that the guy deejaying a rave wasn’t supposed to be hyped up like a rock star. He was an interesting person at a party full of interesting people. It’s a cool attitude that’s spread from the underground rave scene to everyday life in America.

Now, being an NFL fan is more than just being a fan of the players on the field. We are also fans of the fans. Fans of guys like this guy, who make being a football fan more fun.

“Dez Bryant, if you don’t get your shit straight, you’re gonna find your ass in Cleveland

You can’t deny the honesty and intensity of this man’s emotions, emotions we’ve all felt before. With this video he helped me to stop seeing a Cowboys fan, and to start seeing a football fan. It doesn’t matter what team you root for, only that you root for them.

Football season is awesome.

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Taking a Knee with 303: Joel Gratz

There is more to football than the NFL, though I admit I try to forget about college football on weekends when both Colorado and Colorado State lose. Sometimes I even think about heading down to my old high school to catch a Friday night game, but then I’m worried that somebody will call the police if they thought I was just there to check out the cheerleaders.

Joel Gratz

This week I spoke with Joel Gratz, avid skier, meteorologist, and founder of Open Snow (http://www.opensnow.com/), where for every winter storm, he predicts where and when Colorado’s powder is going to fall, and how much will be on the ground when the lifts start running. Joel is also a college football fan, and we talked about his love for the Colorado outdoors and the Penn State football team.

I’ve been reading your weather reports for years now. As a skier looking first for deep powder, and second for clear roads for a safe drive up and back, I find your forecasts to be consistently more useful than anything else out there. Where did the idea to focus your predictions on powder come from? Did your ardor for outdoor sports influence your decision to study meteorology in the first place?

When I was in elementary school near Philadelphia, I loved two things: Skiing and weather. It sounds odd that a little kid would love the weather, but it’s a common theme among meteorologists – most realize their love for meteorology at an early age. While I’m intrigued by most types of weather (tornadoes, thunderstorms, lenticular clouds, etc), my favorite weather is snow. There’s no comparison. A big snowstorm is a natural form of 5-hour energy for me. After spending a few years in Colorado, I realized that there were no weather forecasts I could trust to lead me to the deepest snow. It took me a few years to learn the microclimates that dump lots of snow on one mountain while a neighboring peak receives almost nothing. And after learning these local effects, I decided to share my predictions with a few friends. Four years later, I now share my powder predictions with hundreds of thousands of people, and it’s my full-time job. I couldn’t be more thrilled to make a living doing the things I’ve loved to do since I was a little kid: skiing and weather.

How long have you been a college football fan?

I started my freshman year at Penn State in 1999, but was never much of a college football fan before this time. However, my high school football team won the Pennsylvania State AAAA championships during my junior and senior year, and I was a big fan and supporter of that team (at 140 pounds and standing 5 feet 8 inches, I wouldn’t have been much of a football player). So I went to college with an affinity for football, but it wasn’t until my first few games with 100,000 jovial and enthusiastic fans at Penn State that I became hooked on college football.

Do you have favorite football weather?

I think it’s more like “favorite tailgate weather”. Football games can be exciting, or they can be somewhat lackluster. Sometimes my team wins, and sometimes they lose. But tailgating is always exciting, and it’s (almost) always the most enjoyable part of the gameday experience. In central Pennsylvania, it always seemed to rain for the biggest games, so I have fond memories of some wet and muddy tailgates. But perhaps the best weather is a 75 degree, cloudless fall day leading up to a 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. kickoff. Spending a full day outside in the company of friends and family can’t be beat.

Joel Gratz, not watching football

Sometimes, on a notably warm and sunny fall Sunday, I have trouble making myself stay indoors to watch football, even though I love watching football, because I feel an equally strong pull to go out hiking in the mountains to look at the trees changing color. Does this ever happen to you on really nice Saturdays? What do you end up doing?

Thanks to DVRs, this is less of a problem. I usually go outside and enjoy a hike, run, or ride and then come back and watch the recording of the game (all while trying to shield myself from accidentally finding out the score). On days when I had an opportunity to attend the game in person, I’d usually try to get out for a shorter run or ride early in the morning to allow plenty of time for pre-game tailgating. Why choose one or the other (go outside or watch the game) when you can do both?!

Your alma mater Penn State is playing Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, on the same day Vail has eleven inches of powder before the lifts open. What do you do then?

No brainer. Wake up around 5 a.m. Publish the day’s forecast. Get in the lift line well before it opens. Giggle like a little kid while floating through a foot of fluff. Then head to the bar and cheer for Penn State. The earliest bowl games won’t start before 10 a.m. mountain daylight time, so there’s plenty of opportunity to get first tracks and enjoy some football.

Are many of your colleagues in the Atmospheric & Meteorological Sciences, or the sciences in general, sports fans as well?

Yes and no (how’s that for a weatherman answer?!). Some of the most intelligent sports fans I know are fellow scientists and meteorologists. Apparently their skills in data and analysis work outside of weather. On the flip side, some scientists I know could care less about most sports. To each their own.

What’s harder to predict: 1) the weather, or 2) NCAA Division I football games against the spread?

Football games. The weather obeys laws of physics. With increases in computer power will come more accurate weather forecasts. Football games aren’t entirely based on physics equations, so I think they are harder to predict…at least in the long run.

joel gratz opensnow.com

Joel Gratz, enjoying the fruits of his labor. He probably predicted that snow would be there!

Who’s going to have the better season: Penn State’s football team, or Colorado’s ski resorts?

I wish I could say “both”, but I think it’s Colorado’s ski resorts. Penn State’s football team will have lots of ups and downs this year. Eventually they’ll be a high-level team, but it might not be this season with some of the top players transferring due to the NCAA sanctions. And on the note of Penn State, the entire Jerry Sandusky affair made me sad. Sad for the victims, sad that more people didn’t realize what was going on and try to stop it (though hindsight is always 20/20), and sad that a university and town which is comprised of 99.99999 percent excellent people was tarnished by the actions (and inaction) of a few. I am glad that Jerry Sandusky was punished for his terrible actions, I hope that lessons are learned within Penn State and across the country, and I’m looking forward to cheering on the accomplishments (both academic and athletic) of my school now and forever.

This may be a stupid question, but have you ever heard of a defense applying such high pressure that they actually create a cold front?

Ha! Well I don’t know about that. But on October 27, 2001, Penn State was losing badly to Ohio State in the third quarter. I remember being at the game when a snow squall hit the stadium. It didn’t snow much or for very long, but that snow squall seemed to change the momentum of the game and Penn State executed a huge comeback and won the game by two points. I’ll give partial credit for the win to the snow squall!

Joel is founder of Open Snow (http://www.opensnow.com/) and Chance of Weather (http://chanceofweather.com/), where he can give you a forecast for any outdoor activity in Colorado, Summer, Winter, Spring, or Fall.

This interview was originally published at http://303magazine.com/2012/09/joel_gratz/ on Sept. 13, 2012.

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Taking a Knee with 303: Mike Tanier

(Ed. note–this was the first interview I published at 303 Magazine, my home for the first half of the 2012 NFL season, and the introduction herebest explains what I’m aiming for with the whole series.)

Hunter S. Thompson was a passionate football fan. But so was his arch-nemesis, Richard Nixon.  Jack Kerouac played college ball at Columbia before getting injured and becoming a writer. You will overhear discussions about football at the Republican National Convention as well as at Burning Man. Girls like it and boys like it. I can imagine somebody in the NRA sitting on the bar stool next to a PETA member and having a good time watching a game, not knowing or caring that they could disagree so violently on other issues. In football I see the potential to bring people together.

For this column, Taking a Knee with 303, I wanted to reach out to people you may have heard of from non-athletic fields, and ask them a few questions about football, and other sports as well, because you can make a friend at Coors Field just as easily as you can at the Pepsi Center.

This week I spoke with Mike Tanier, an ex-high school math teacher, co-author of Pro Football Prospectus from 2005-08 and the Football Outsiders Almanac from 2009-12. He is currently a staff writer at Sports on Earth (http://www.sportsonearth.com/). A lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan, he is also the author of “The Philly Fan’s Code,” a countdown of 50 of the greatest athletes Philly spots fans love to hate.

Mike Tanier

Thanks again for speaking with me. You had a career teaching high school math before you started writing about football. What would a high school math teacher from New Jersey enjoy about the NFL? What made you want to write about it?

Football was an obsession of mine going back to early childhood. I started watching the NFL intently when I was six or seven years old, and I would watch college football all day Saturday if my parents or grandparents didn’t kick me outside to play football with my buddies.

Football writing and teaching were always separate entities. Teaching has its rewards, but it’s not really a form of self-expression. (If it is, you are doing it very wrong). I always thought of football writing as a conversation with adults about things I found interesting. Teaching was a conversation with teenagers about factoring.

What it boils down to is that “blogging” became a hobby about a decade ago, and a few hundred thousand people like me decided to become sports bloggers. That’s when the cliché spawned about the dude in his basement in his pajamas, when really it should have been a dude (or woman) with a professional job who is dying for a chance to be a little creative and invest his mind and heart into a pastime. That’s who most of the bloggers who went pro were. That’s who I was.

Your writing is known for humor as well as actual football content. Could you tell me about the funniest story you’ve covered?

The funniest events are the ones which are unintentionally funny. The NFL Players Association scheduled a “meet the rookies” event the day after the 2011 draft, during the NFL lockout. Well, the lockout was lifted hours before the event, so all the rookies rushed to their team headquarters after the draft, because they wanted their playbooks and (probably) wanted to distance themselves from the NFLPA at that moment. All the beat writers went to the mattresses too, so that left about a dozen of us sitting in a hotel conference room as the event organizers desperately searched for people willing to take the podium.

Brad Wolff, the teenaged wunderkind blogger, sat next to me rattling off updates from Twitter: “This rookie says he is at the airport. That one said he is leaving New York on the next train.” Meanwhile, we listened to Muzak and stared at an empty podium. The best part is: the lockout was re-imposed a few hours later, so the whole exercise was moot.

The NFL tries so hard to be hyper-professional now that lots of ironic, awkward comedy seeps out the edges: coaches who fine players for saying anything, innocent remarks blown into scandals, and so on. When the whole sports media is in a serious tizzy about what some Jets cornerback said, it’s my job to show how much funnier the tizzy is than the statement.

What about the most interesting, from a more serious football perspective?

I once got to sit with Ron Jaworski, Greg Cosell, and Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders as former Redskins and Texans general manager Charley Casserly broke down the responsibilities of a GM on a day-to-day and almost hour-to-hour basis. I am fascinated by the divide between the fan’s perception of what a team executive does (sits with a cigar, his feet on the desk, shouting “starting quarterback for two #1 picks” into a headset) and what executives actually do (process scouting reports, coordinate meetings between coaches and scouts, conduct workouts and interviews for players to fill out the practice squad). That may not be as interesting as the Wildcat offense or a quarterback throwing for 500 yards in a game, but I find it fascinatingly mundane, and it informs my opinions on how teams build and prepare for a season.

Fig.1 Mike proudly lists 2005 on his resume as the year he got play diagramming software. In this play, Tim Tebow (still with the Broncos) takes a shotgun snap and gets one (or more) blocks from Willis McGahee (27) before scrambling on an implausibly circuitous route through the backfield, before throwing the ball presumably to one of his receivers.

DeSean Jackson fields a punt on his own goal line and runs up field at 15 mph. Giants punter Steve Weatherford is running down field toward him at 7.5 mph from his own 38. Where does Jackson get tackled?

Trick question: Rutherford knows better than to punt to DeSean Jackson.

Michael and LeSean rushed for 240 yards between them. LeSean rushed for 100 more yards than Michael. Who should you have started on your fantasy team?

Well, Michael rushed for 70 yards, LeSean 170. Let me establish that I have not forgotten how to solve this problem, to myself if no one else. (x + 100 + x = 240). Anyway, if LeSean McCoy rushes for 170 yards, it means that Andy Reid no longer has any control over the Eagles offense. So we are in the future, when Rob Chudzinski is the Eagles head coach. Coach Chud learned how to make scrambling quarterbacks great by coaching Cam Newton, and he likes to call quarterback keepers at the goal line. So Michael had two rushing touchdowns to LeSean’s one, plus a bomb for a touchdown, so he had the better fantasy performance. Also, the Eagles lost.

Do you spend your fall Sundays at a sports bar with a TV for every game, or do you prefer to watch at home? How many games can you really pay attention to at once?

Nothing beats the sports bar for Sunday early games, because unless I am on assignment for one specific team, I need to see several story lines play out for what I do. I can focus on three games simultaneously and have a very confident handle on exactly what happened in those games. Any other games, I can only keep track of highlights, injuries, and other key events. It took a few years to figure this out: years ago, I tried to keep track of six or seven games at once and ended up knowing less than I would have if I had just watched the “game breaks.”

When there are only one or two games on, I prefer to be at home with taping and rewinding capability. I prefer that even to the press box, really.

Who are the Eagles more prepared to face: Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne, or Redskins QB Robert Griffin?

Rex Grossman.

Seriously, though… they are more prepared to face Claiborne, a rookie cornerback who has had almost no training camp. Their strategy consists of having DeSean run past him. They had better start preparing for Griffin, though.

What do you like to read, when you’re reading about football? What writers or books have contributed the most to your love or understanding of the game?

I read Peter King. I read the Football Outsiders guys, past and future: Andy Benoit and Ben Muth and others at FO, Doug Farrar and others who are now at Yahoo or other outlets. When it comes to books, I like to read histories, like The Big Scrum by John J. Miller.

I only skim the major blogs to make sure I don’t miss any stories. I honestly don’t care about the spin that’s applied by most of the successful bloggers; I can almost hear them laboring to form a provocative opinion during the 20 minutes they have to write their posts as I read them. I have to steer clear of most other people who do sports humor because I don’t want to steal a gag. There really isn’t a lot of interesting pleasure reading on the NFL, so I try to fill that niche.

Who’s going to win the NFC East this year?

Not the Redskins.

It’s always a tortoise-and-hares race among the Giants (tortoise), Cowboys and Eagles. I think the Eagles pull it out this year, then have one of their team-wide blue screen crashes as soon as the playoffs arrive.

Mike Tanier is a staff writer at Sports on Earth. You can find his articles at http://www.sportsonearth.com/writer/mike_tanier and follow him on twitter @MikeTanier

This interview was originally published at http://303magazine.com/2012/09/mike_tanier/ on Sept. 7 2012.

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What’s in a Funny Name?

funny football names dingle berry moore goode dick

I’m watching the Detroit-Baltimore pre-season game on TV, and the Ravens just put Tyrod Taylor in at QB. I’ve always thought NFL moms come up with the best names. Tyrod? Is he a QB or part of your car’s steering mechanism? Does he throw passes to the tie rod end? The NFL also boasts great names like Flozell, LaDanian, Craphonso, Kabeer, Taco, D’Brickashaw, Jermichael, Captain, Mister, Frostee, Gosder, Syd’Quan, Beanie, Atari, Zoltan, and on and on and on. Insert your own jokes as necessary.

But the greatest name in sports isn’t even in the NFL. It’s an Olympian, and I don’t mean Destinee Hooker. It’s Chinese gymnast Dong Dong.

best funny name winner

Chinese Olympic gymnast Dong Dong. He won a gold medal on the trampoline in London in 2012, and he wins a lifetime achievement gold medal from the WPNFLR for the greatest name in sports.

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