Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Go Cougars: NFL Week Three Punditry Roundup

NBC's Sunday Night Football pregame show, Football Night in America, is a study in contrasts. On one side, you have the recaps and wit of Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, whose "little big show" nicely recalls their work on "The Big Show," which made ESPN must-see TV. You also have the football knowledge of former coach Tony Dungy, who deftly breaks down complex schemes in a digestible and entertaining way. Rounding them out is retired safety Rodney Harrison, who's the least essential of this group but who has entertainingly little restraint on his willingness to bust on current players.

Meanwhile, on the other side, you have doughy pundit Peter King, who stands way off to one end of the studio, alone, and seems to be reporting from the Transporter Room. King has a lot of inside knowledge of football because he knows a lot of famous people in football and can call them on his cell phone. It's pretty easy to learn this, because Peter King is constitutionally incapable of relating any item of news without saying, "Right after the game, I called [Player's Name] and caught him on his cell phone, because I have his cell phone number, because I am Peter King." The news would be remarkable if he didn't relate it verbatim the next day in his Monday Morning QB column, which is instantly more tolerable because you can read it twice as fast as he can speak and do so without having to hear him, but which also seems to have bloated in size as a compensatory gesture for King's magically no longer looking like a man-sized wad of sourdough starter.

As if King weren't superfluous punishment enough, fully a third of all broadcasts are taken up by Sanctimonious Sports Midget Bob Costas' wearisome attempts at free verse poetry — weighing in on the majesty and poetry of things like the new stadium or people who hit other people really fucking hard — and his dimly-lit-room touchy-feely player/coach interviews, which manage to combine the hard-hitting investigation of Oprah or The View with the tender human touch you expect from Mike Wallace or the corpse of Harry Reasoner. Costas succeeds in revealing content he wants to talk about, exchanging soft-pedal inquiries with ones written like an editorial ending in a question mark.

As you might expect, half of the show is the best football-related programming on television, and the other half is a gross discharge of namedropping starfuckery and saccharine contrived mythmaking and "humanizing." And it was no surprise at all that something genuinely awesome happened on the show this Sunday, and it had nothing to do with King or Costas:
DAN PATRICK: (voiceover) As for TO, he was thrown to five times. The O in TO stands for "no catches," as his streak of consecutive games with at least one reception: over at 185.... Afterwards, it was TO Time in the interview room.

(Cut to TO wearing purple sunglasses, matching a button-down shirt, and a porkpie hat that looks like it was stolen from the corpse of some old Jewish man who fished off a bridge in Miami every day.)

TERRELL OWENS: It's over. [The streak.]
REPORTER: How about the offense itself? [Muffled] did not run well today [muffled].
OWENS: Didn't execute.
REPORTER: In what ways?
OWENS: Didn't you just watch the game? What did you think? (jump cut) I'm just going with the plays that are called.
REPORTER: Do you like the plays that are called?
OWENS: Whether I like them or don't, I'm just going with the plays that are called.

(Back to the NBC Football Night in America studio.)

PATRICK: How would you feel if that's your wide receiver going to a press conference?
TONY DUNGY: Boy, you really don't want that. But I think you know, that's what you get with Terrell Owens. When things aren't going well, you're gonna get stuff like that. That's hard to coach.
RODNEY HARRISON: He's just a clown, a straight-up clown, more concerned about his individual stats, as opposed to the team's success. Just a clown.
Pretty much everything said here was right on.

Sure, people can bring up the fact that TO rushed back from injury to play in a Super Bowl, but, hey, that's the fucking Super Bowl. Even the most intensely narcissistic player is likely to make a sacrifice to win that game, if for no other reason than that his sacrifice happens on one of the biggest stages in the world and immediately nets him a great deal of dramatic acclaim and attention. Making a sacrifice when it stands to benefit you tremendously is hardly a sacrifice, and those who've tried to pardon Owens via his conduct in that Super Bowl don't seem to realize that his stepping up to join his team and his being a self-serving dickhead aren't mutually exclusive in that case. Besides, it ignores all the other stuff about Owens, which I wrote about here:
Terrell Owens is probably the only person other than Rush Limbaugh of whom it's safe to say that a great many Americans wish he had successfully overdosed on hydrocodone. The "controversy" section of his wikipedia entry is as long as every other part of the entry combined and makes for an interesting case study in how arguably the second or third best athlete ever to play wide receiver could make himself so unbearable that some fans of the sport prefer to pretend he never existed.

In addition to all his coaches, Owens has thrown every quarterback he played with under the bus, most famously Jeff Garcia, who he ludicrously accused of being gay. Not that it's ludicrous that Garcia could be gay. It's irrelevant that he might be gay — well, except maybe to his wife. No, what's ludicrous is the idea that it fucking mattered at all. What was Garcia supposed to do because of being a "gay" quarterback? Drop back and ignore Owens all alone in the end zone and fire the ball into triple coverage because he hoped a grateful safety with three interceptions on the game would let him give him a handjob? Take sack after sack because he found the idea of the defense getting penetration up the middle deeply arousing? Owens' whole assertion was so staggeringly meaningless that the only thing shining through from it was his contemptible bigotry.
So here, then, is TO in a press conference again acting like a petulant child because he didn't have a good day, issuing terse boilerplate replies about the team because the team is largely an unwanted secondary concern. This year he has 5 receptions for 98 yards and 1 TD. This injustice cannot stand. And Rodney Harrison called him on it.

How did TO reply? Via Twitter, about nine different times:

What's funny about this — apart from the fact that someone who "could less" about Rodney Harrison would probably tweet about him nine fewer times — is that if TO had thought about this at all, he could have humiliated him. Instead, he validated Harrison's point. He goes after Harrison for using Human Growth Hormone (HGH) to allegedly accelerate his healing time to return from injury sooner. This is a really stupid target, because Harrison is blasting him for not being a team player, and TO is targeting him on the basis of trying to return to his team faster. It's kind of like getting called out for cheating on your taxes and then shooting back at someone who doesn't by saying, "You know what? I bet he also tithes." Granted, had Harrison not done HGH, he would not have been suspended, which doubtless hurt his team, but this shortsightedness cuts two ways as well. After all, had TO come back from injury to participate in that Super Bowl and only worsened his own injury, taking himself out for the next season, maybe we'd view his rush back as selfish.

But the biggest, easiest, juiciest point TO ignored is that Rodney Harrison was a cheapshot artist. Legendarily so. Football coaches and his fellow football players voted him the Dirtiest Player in the Game on multiple occasions. As much as those extra hits of his might have knocked out opposing players, they also put his teammates in danger. Because Rodney was out there, essentially tacitly saying that the New England Patriots (and before that, the San Diego Chargers) were going to hurt the other team, the other team had more license to not restrain themselves when hitting the guys on his team. All TO had to do was point out that hammering him for wanting to be on the highlight reel was stupid when Harrison himself was hitting other players unnecessarily hard to make the highlight reel himself. Instead, he put on his Prima Donna hat and acted the role that Harrison assigned to him. The best way of countering the argument that It's All About You is to try to think of a response outside the lens of Its Being All About You. But TO didn't think of that because the man is completely incapable of self-evaluation, as evident from his bizarre gear-switching and tweeting this:

What the fuck does that even mean? It's totally bizarre. What kind of mental gearing went into someone's personal engineering that allows him to go on the attack against someone and then suddenly call upon religion to steady his judgment despite not expressing a shred of regret for his previous judgment? Apparently someone who isn't religious — viz.:

The lesson, if there is one, is that what we suspected all along is true: Terrell Owens is uniquely gifted at being an asshole. The man is a marvel.

The second gem from Week 3 comes from the aforementioned corpulent writing of Peter King. This week's column stretches to a totally unnecessary six pages, most of which is culled from exactly what he said on the air, down to identical wording. But it isn't until page 5, just a few paragraphs before we get his weekly vital updates about his opinion on Starbuck's coffee, that we get this gem:
c. Courtney Cox must bury her head in her hands when she realizes how her career is being dragged through the mud by this idiotic show about picking up younger men.
Now, the hacky Bold Proper Noun is standard operating procedure for Sports Illustrated, which apparently thinks its readership leers at the page in slackjawed bewilderment until "a folk what's name they 'reccanize' come on the typewriter-TV," so we can't really blame that on King. But otherwise this is ludicrously wrong and just points up how inane it is for most sports writers — excepting the excellent Joe Posnanski — to talk about anything beyond sports. It's not necessary; it's not what the readers are there for; and, embarrassingly, it's unmistakable that these people rarely do much "film" work outside of watching sports footage over and over again.

This sort of thing takes only a really quick look at to figure out. First, Courtney Cox is an executive producer of this show, which suggests that either she has confidence in it, or she's willing to risk taking something on the back-end of her pride now for the chance to take tens of millions on the back-end on syndication deals later. Second, her career has been stalled out since Friends went off the air five years ago. Her best work was as a guest star on the Emmy-nominated and Peabody Award-winning series Scrubs. Coincidentally, Bill Lawrence created Scrubs and is the creator of Cox's new series, Cougar Town (which airs Wednesday nights). Admittedly, the name is horrendous, something noted by most critics. But what they also have noted is that the series' pilot is actually really good. In fact, a recurring refrain is that the name is the worst thing about it.

But what makes King's offhand comment obviously completely ignorant is that simply watching the show dispels the air of crass indignity around it. The point isn't about how her character is bedding younger men. The point is the unfair double standard that middle-aged divorcées face. It's totally acceptable for older men to bed women who could be their daughters: if anything, their fellow men celebrate it and congratulate them lustily. It's just seen as an inevitable result of fearing aging and loneliness. Women, meanwhile, are almost expected to immediately remarry a man their age or to slide into loneliness and then senescence and death with quiet dignity.

Yet at the same time, few men their age are interested: they're either gay or already married/paired off, or they're busy pursuing young ladies because they can. Older women who thus try to enjoy being single are seen as ugly aberrancies — selfish women who betray their friendships with their married girlfriends to go seek male attention, a mortification for their children who must watch them date again, a pathetic spectacle for male contemporaries who aren't even interested. This, then, is the sensitive heart of a show that has a lot more emotional neediness going for it than the title gives away.

And in case this sort of moral is too nebulous for people to grasp, Courtney Cox spells it out in two extended, wounded monologues at the beginning and end of the fucking episode.

The lesson here, as always, is that outside of talking about which famous football players are in his rolodex, Peter King is a moron.