Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pitchforked! (Vol. 2): 5.8/10

Pitchfork is a website which primarily focuses on reviewing indie music. Generally speaking, I like the site a lot and admit that its writers are far better at writing than I ever will be. In fact, the site's reviewers introduced me to some of my favorite acts – including MGMT and Springsteen. Occasionally, though, their writing seems as though it's trying a little too hard to prove something. "Pitchforked" highlights these moments.

The practice of taking questionable writing and making fun of it was made popular by the blog Fire Joe Morgan. FJM is defunct, but the tradition continues on at Kissing Suzy Kolber (I also love KSK's usage of all-CAPS to make a joke funnier). I don't think I'm ripping them off; rather, I'm just expanding their idea from sports to music. Still, I'd feel sleazy if I didn't credit them with the idea.

One final note: Pitchfork is known to retroactively edit posts without warning its readers. This means that some of the quotes I feature here may no longer be part of what's posted as the "official" review. Believe me - I didn't make these quotes up.

From the review of the Crystal Stilts’ In Love With Oblivion

“What’s up with that guy’s singing, anyway?”

Hipster observational comedy is not very funny. “So what’s the deal with Moleskines? And do Polaroids really need to be shaken? I mean, am I right?”

“…in 2008, when Crystal Stilts emerged as one of the more interesting acts in the lo-fi Brooklyn jangle-pop pile.”

Jangle-pop piles are the natural result of years of wind and rain slowly wearing down rocks into fashionably alternative shapes. Geologists refer to it “gentrificerosion”.

“However, you didn't really need to know what he was saying (or, for that matter, what key it was supposed to be sung in) to dive deep into the lonely, dark, and difficult-to-inhabit world of Alight of Night.”

You didn’t really need to know what was being sung or how it sounded in order to enjoy it. I don’t even have a joke here; that’s literally what the guy just wrote. I guess it’s kind of like you don’t have to know what a Pitchfork writer is talking about or what language he’s using in order to enjoy mocking him.

“The murkiness continues to recede on the band's sophomore effort”

A receeding murkline occurs in nearly 70% of indie bands by their third album. There is no cure for male pattern murkiness.

“He can be funny, too-- like on "Invisible City", when he sings about crawling into a sarcophagus with a girl before repeating, like a too-clever suspect in the interrogation room, ‘We know what happened at death/ But I don't have to say why.’”

What? How is that funny in any way at all? Again, hipster comedy is pretty stupid. “Hey, have you heard the one about the girl, the sarcophagus, and the thinly veiled existentialist comment?”

From the review of Jeremy Jay’s Dream Diary

“Though overlong by about a third, the Bishop Allen-by-way-of-Modest Mouse bends of "In the Times", and the Belle and Sebastian-like breeze of "Shayla" boast some of Jay's finest lures yet.”

This was the second-to-last sentence in the whole review and I count three references in it. The over/under for references in this review was 3.5, so I feel like there was probably some reference-shaving that led to this sentence being written.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gone 'Til September

For the past several weeks, I’ve written these posts as a series of short thoughts instead of one coherent column. I admit that it’s a much lazier form of writing, but hopefully you’ve been entertained by it anyway.

1. I wrote a column last week making fun of Pitchfork’s writing style. I hope it wasn’t in bad taste or anything – I even added a disclaimer admitting that I know that Pitchfork’s writers are far better than I’ll ever be.

When I re-read it, I noticed a certain level of hypocrisy in the fact that I praised the hilarious blog Kissing Suzy Kolber even though in the past I’ve written that I’m firmly against the blogosphere’s hatred of Bill Simmons and Peter King. I feel as though some clarification is necessary.

KSK’s funniest writer is Drew Magary, and the way he skewers Simmons and King is so funny that I can’t help but laugh even though I like Simmons and King a lot. Magary’s writing style can best be described as highbrow vulgarity – his witty satire is wrapped in a thick layer of [expletive] jokes. In a way, his style is a lot like South Park’s. You’ll either love it or hate it. When South Park satirizes some aspect of society, they usually take some trivial flaw and create a caricaturized version that we can laugh at. I never got the feeling that anything South Park did was mean-spirited, and most of the time the show is brilliant (in fact, we’re approaching the point where The Simpsons vs. South Park could become a legitimate debate. I’d still go with The Simpsons, but South Park’s quality this decade comes close to how The Simpsons owned the ‘90s.)

Is it hypocritical to like Magary, Simmons and King? I don’t think so. I know that some of Magary’s edgier material can elicit a cringe (much like South Park), but he is in my view the funniest sportswriter working right now. He creates a caricature of Simmons and King and runs with it. I think that there are lesser talents that take gratuitous shots at Simmons and King and I’m not really a fan of that. THAT’S RIGHT, I’M VAGUELY CALLING OUT A STRAW MAN! RESPECT ME!

2 . 2. Rome is Burning is a damn good TV show and 30 for 30 is overrated. There, I said it.

It’s easy but misleading to lump Rome in with the rest of the sports media personalities who come off as bombastic without saying very much. Rome actually takes interesting, original angles on a lot of issues and his show is definitely worth watching on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about 30 for 30. Allen Iverson is one of my favorite basketball players ever and the Knicks-Pacers rivalry was a cornerstone of my childhood sports fandom. I assumed this meant that the documentaries about those two would be incredible. I found myself instead staring at the clock and waiting for them to end. They aren’t awful or anything, it’s just that they’re kind of boring. I watched another 30 for 30 about a subject which I thought seemed interesting but didn’t have a big role in my life in case I was biased by already knowing a good amount about Iverson and Pacers-Knicks. The documentary I picked (the one about the USFL) was pretty boring too. The movies are all well made and everything, but they feel kind of like someone reading a term paper out loud.

3. More mainstream sports media talk: the NFL Network’s analyst team is deeper than any other network’s. Deion Sanders is as good as Cris Collinsworth, and Michael Irvin, Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk are all just below those two. Even Warren Sapp and Steve Mariucci are pretty good.

I always liked Fox’s NFL broadcast better than CBS’s. My friends and I were talking about this and it turns out that if you’re an AFC fan, you prefer CBS and if you’re an NFC fan you prefer Fox. I assumed I’d be able to separate my love for the Cowboys from an objective appraisal of broadcast quality, but apparently not.

4. I 4. I watched the Super Bowl in a Steelers bar downtown. The whole trip was obviously more expensive than just staying home and watching, but the atmosphere when they played “Black and Yellow” during the commercial break right after Pittsburgh made it 28-25 was worth the price of admission.

5. 5. Football Outsiders had a great article about how Ben Roethlisberger is not as clutch as we think he is. As always, their logic is impeccable and the article is worth a read if you have the time.

I don’t think Roethlisberger’s stock should fall too far, however. At this stage in their respective careers, I believe that Manning, Brady, Brees, Rodgers and Roethlisberger are all more or less the same.

I’ve wrote about this before, but I think that there are too many good quarterbacks in the NFL now to say that there is one who is the best. Manning and Brady have the pedigree, but they no longer have the ability to buy time by getting away from a pass rush. Brees and Rodgers, at this point in their careers, are more explosive than Brady and Manning but each of them still makes too many dumb throws (Rodgers had three multi-INT games this year and Brees threw 22 picks). Roethlisberger has the athletic ability to make plays that the other four top quarterbacks simply can’t – the best example of which is the huge play in Baltimore when he escaped the Terrell Suggs sack. Roethlisberger is also more durable than the others in some respects. For example, a few big hits forced Rodgers into an awful game two weeks ago in Chicago (another multi-INT, no TD game for him). On the other hand, Roethlisberger seemed to play better as the slugfest versus Baltimore went on.

These five quarterbacks have different strengths and weaknesses and I’m indifferent between the five of them. It’s possible that Rodgers leaves everyone in the dust over the next few years, but I sincerely doubt it.

6 . 6. Finally, some basketball thoughts.

a. Kevin Garnett’s antics have made the Celtics more unlikable than everyone except the Heat. I used to like KG a lot (both in Minnesota and his first few seasons in Boston) but he’s so over the top with his fake tough guy routine that I can’t help but root against him at this point.

b. John Hollinger made a great case for why LeBron James should be MVP this year and I agree 100%. I don’t like what he did to Cleveland, and I was hoping we could give the award this year to Derrick Rose or Kevin Durant. Unfortunately, LeBron is having another monster season and, assuming the rest of the season plays out the way the first 50+ games did, he should get his third straight MVP.

c. Speaking of Rose and Durant, I couldn’t be happier that those two guys could be the face of the NBA for the next ten years. They are two of the top six players in the league and they carry themselves in a way that other superstars (KG, LeBron, Carmelo) do not.

d. I kind of like Kobe Bryant now. I’ve spent the last ten years rooting passionately against the guy but the unlikely emergence of Miami and Boston as villains has taken the edge off of my dislike of Kobe. Plus, he consistently provides some of the funniest quotes in the league. For example:

Reporter: Kobe, what do you think of the Andrew Bynum rumors?
Kobe: We discuss all kinds of rumors now. We were just talking about UFOs, actually.

It wouldn’t be all that funny if you were expecting him to make a joke OR if he said it with a phony smile in an attempt to endear himself to the media. Instead, he delivered it in a deadpan voice and with a glare that basically said “that’s a dumb [expletive] question.”

Kobe’s big problem used to be phoniness. He used to try so hard to be as universally loved as Jordan. I think he’s ditched that act, for the most part. If the Lakers make it past the Spurs and play the Celtics in the Finals, I’ll (grudgingly) pull for Boston just because I don’t want to give the morons who make the “Kobe > Jordan” argument any more ammunition.

e. For some reason, the Spurs remain completely underrated. Most basketball fans and ESPN analysts will still pick the Lakers over the Spurs to win the West even though San Antonio is running away with the conference right now. I feel like a Spurs-Celtics Finals is easily the most likely outcome at this point in the season.

f. I’ve been a Mavericks fan for nearly three years now (since my favorite player, Jason Kidd, got traded to them). The Nets are moving to Brooklyn soon and are probably going to change their uniforms and team name. I always thought I’d remain a fan of the new franchise, but I don’t really know if I want to anymore. New location, new name, new uniforms = no connection to the team I’ve spent the last 15 years rooting for.

I fully expect that within five years, the appeal of playing in a new arena in Brooklyn with Prokhorov and Jay-Z will draw some superstars to come play for the new team. Someday soon, they will be competitive and have a good fan base. Unfortunately, I won’t have any connection to that team. The Nets of my childhood will be dead and gone, and we won’t even be ironically cool like the Seattle Supersonics since nobody besides me and three of my friends ever cared about the Nets anyway. I can’t blame them for leaving, though I wish that they had tried moving to Newark as soon as that arena was built (the Meadowlands is an awful place to play sports since there’s no readily available public transportation there).

I already have the Dallas connection going with the Cowboys and I could see myself adopting the Mavericks once my actual favorite team ceases to exist.

g. Did you notice that I formatted this article in the manner of a Peter King “10 Things I Think I Think”? I just went meta! (note: after posting this, it looks like the numbers are cut off because the synergy between Blogger and Microsoft Word sucks. A few words look like they are cut off as well, but it's usually just "I" or "the" or something easy to figure out. Sorry for the ugliness. Aesthetics is everything.)

I won’t be writing regularly during the NFL offseason except for the occasional post about hipsterdom. Thanks to everyone for reading, and I’ll see you in September. Unless Roger Goodell ruins everything.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pitchforked! (Vol. 1): 3.7/10

Pitchfork is a website which primarily focuses on reviewing indie music. Generally speaking, I like the site a lot and admit that its writers are far better at writing than I ever will be. In fact, the site's reviewers introduced me to some of my favorite acts – including MGMT and Springsteen. Occasionally, though, their writing seems as though it's trying a little too hard to prove something. "Pitchforked" highlights these moments.

The practice of taking questionable writing and making fun of it was made popular by the blog Fire Joe Morgan. FJM is defunct, but the tradition continues on at Kissing Suzy Kolber (I also love KSK's usage of all-CAPS to make a joke funnier). I don't think I'm ripping them off; rather, I'm just expanding their idea from sports to music. Still, I'd feel sleazy if I didn't credit them with the idea.

One final note: Pitchfork is known to retroactively edit posts without warning its readers. This means that some of the quotes I feature here may no longer be part of what's posted as the "official" review. Believe me - I didn't make these quotes up.

From the review of Talib Kweli's Gutter Rainbows:

"The beats on Gutter Rainbows are tight-enough neo-soul by committee-- 13 producers handle 14 tracks -- and most of it sounds like faintly modernized versions of Rawkus-circa-2002 boom-bap, with the occasional outlier in the form of a post-"Hello Brooklyn" old-school banger (Khrysis' "I'm on One") or atmospheric synthesizer dirge (Blaq Toven's "How You Love Me")."

Wait for it….wait for it…

"But isolating the beats from the rapper seems futile."

Bam! I feel like the ENTIRE previous sentence was all about isolating these beats. You just compared them to something called Rawkus-circa-2002 boom-bap (not to be confused with Rawkus-circa-2003 boom-bap, which was entirely different).

From the review of Destroyer's Kaput:

"Every era has a sound."

For example, the Victorian Era is known for a hilarious amount of fart sounds due to the 19th century invention of the whoopee cushion.

"But Bejar's essential complexity ultimately feels human. It seems absurd to look for genuine wisdom in music in 2011, when we're constantly gorging ourselves on the all-you-can-eat buffet of post-modern web culture."

I like how you started a sentence with 'but' – classic hipster proseslinging. But I don't know about "constantly gorging myself on the all-you-can-eat-buffet of post-modern web culture". Are you calling me fat? I tried to eat the internet ONE TIME. Gimme a break!

From the review of The 1900's Return of the Century:

"If the sentiments are tough, the music itself is tender, borrowing from Belle & Sebastian and Brill Building pop to create a sound that is both pastoral and urbane, straightforward yet sophisticated."

Pastoral, but urbane. Straightforward, but sophisticated. Esoteric, yet accessible. Light, but great-tasting. Mud-wrestly, yet classy.

From the review of The Jayhawks' Hollywood Town Hall/ Tomorrow the Green Grass:

"What the Jayhawks never drifted toward was success-- at least not the kind that they and their fans felt the music warranted. Even so, a full 25 years after forming, the Jayhawks don't come across as also-rans, which is itself a minor miracle."

Other minor miracles include: convincing people that Animal Collective is a good band; making Park Slope the new Williamsburg; Zooey Deschanel.

"Those tightly intertwined vocals are reset in a dusty, electrified setting, marking perhaps the Jayhawks' greatest innovation."

Sadly, the Jayhawks would lose to Creighton in the second round of March Irony.

"The five bonus tracks neither distract from nor add to the original, but they do reveal the tracklist as a model of economic editing and sequencing."

Neither distract nor add! Hipsters are not constrained by our math operators. Addition and subtraction are played out. Actually, Pitchfork would never say something is "played out" since the term itself is dated. They would say something like "…the once formidable duo Addition & Subtraction – an early-decade dancehall staple which rose to towering heights on the strength of its bubblegum synthesizers and devil-may-care baselines – ultimately descended into self-parody in mid-2005."

Damn that's actually pretty good. Maybe Pitchfork is hiring?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

No, Really, I Swear!

I couldn't really come up with one coherent column idea this week, so here's a bunch of thoughts I had while waiting for the best Sunday of the year:

One night in late August, my high school friends and I were hanging out with a few beers and talking about the upcoming NFL season. I should clarify that by "high school friends", I mean people that I was friends with growing up – I don't want to imply that I enjoy casual drinking with seventeen year olds. Anyway, one of my friends asked each of us to share our Super Bowl prediction.

I picked the Jets to play the Packers. I don't have this in writing, so I guess it doesn't count.

Two picks I DID get into writing? I said the Patriots would miss the playoffs and that the Redskins would make them. Again, I suck at picking NFL games and the fact that my Jets-Packers pick is still alive is basically a fluke. But like…I'm just sayin'.

I never expected to write a weekly football column for Fundamentally Soundd, but they're way too much fun to write. I don't even know what I'm going to writing about once the Super Bowl is done. Nobody writes a weekly basketball column, and I don't really like baseball or college basketball enough to write about them. Daggers all around.

I'll take the Jets by seven and Packers by 21.


Championship Sunday is my favorite day of the season. The matchups and storylines are great every year, and each year almost always gives us at least one classic game. Last year's Minnesota-New Orleans game was fantastic, as were both '08 games (ARZ-PHI and PIT-BAL), '07 NFC (NYG-GB) and '06 AFC (NE-IND). Championship Sunday feels a lot like the few minutes riiiight after school got out on Friday before a three day weekend. In those few minutes, you knew you had the maximum amount of freedom with three full days separating you from class again. Similarly, today we get to indulge in two potentially awesome football games with the knowledge that we still get the Super Bowl to look forward to. There's literally nothing to do but sit back, watch Pokemon cartoons and ask mom to make a snack.


I've said this before, but the NFL Network is awesome. Deion Sanders and Michael Irvin are great, Marshall Faulk and Steve Mariucci are pretty good, and Rich Eisen is the best studio host on television. I'd even take Eisen over TNT's Ernie Johnson, which is saying a lot. Anyway, Irvin told a great story this morning before bringing up an excellent point.

Essentially, he said that when he first came into the league he was interviewed by the man who at the time held all the Cowboys receiving records, Drew Pearson. The young Irvin felt overwhelmed by the man's stats and thought he'd never catch him (he did). He did, however, set a realistic goal of topping Pearson's Super Bowl ring total. After telling this story this morning, Irvin pointed out that in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers will never break Brett Favre's records for passing yards or touchdowns. But since Favre only won one ring, Rodgers could actually eclipse Favre in Packers history by bringing home the Lombardi trophy and eventually retiring as a Packer.

Speaking of Favre, I remained a fan of watching him play football until he retired. Hate to pull a John Madden here, but big games undoubtedly felt bigger with Favre in them. Two of the best five football games of my college career (MIN-NO and GB-NYG) featured Favre. I know it's become chic to hate on the guy, but I never really jumped on that bandwagon for the same reason I don't hate Tim Tebow. You can't hate someone just because the media fawns over them, even if it is excessive.

Even though I never hated Favre, I don't have it in me to really defend him either. As much as I liked watching him play, he was obnoxious – but never criminal - in the way he treated women during his time with the Jets and Vikings. Plus, every post-game interview this season he kept praising himself for his toughness and how brilliant his career was. It would be a nice story if, like Emmitt Smith did with Dallas, Favre signed a meaningless contract to retire as a Packer. I don't think it's going to happen though. From what I can tell based on his arrogance during those post-game interviews and press conferences, Favre doesn't think of himself as "Brett Favre, Green Bay Packer." He thinks of himself as "Brett Favre, Inc."


Finally , on-campus recruiting (OCR) is going on right now and all my friends who are juniors are freaking out. OCR is a big deal at Wharton because it's when all the big investment banks and consultancies come to campus to look for interns. Strong performance during an internship with a premier company after your junior year usually results in a full-time job offer for you, which takes all the stress out of senior year.

My friend Steve told me that he wished that NFL teams came to campus during OCR and that we could apply to have coaching internships with them. We wouldn't be doing grunt work like splicing film or getting Gatorade for people. Instead, the internship would be ten weeks of learning how to break down film and come up with a game plan. Maybe we could even learn how to tank for a better draft pick or engage in a bitter power struggle with management.

The classic Whartonite status obsession would obviously carry over to NFL OCR. Undergraduates studying finance are the only people in the world who think $15,000 for ten weeks' work is disappointing if it comes from one of the "less prestigious" banks. To be fair, I'd look down on anyone who only got an offer from the Panthers. That's so weak. At that point I'd probably just go to grad school.

My first choice would be the Cowboys. Since they hired Rob Ryan (Rex's brother) as the defensive coordinator, I figure that would be the ideal place to learn a lot about scheming while working for my favorite team. My nightmare scenario would be if I only got offers from Philadelphia and Washington.

People going into financial services often think about exit opportunities. Most investment banking analyst classes last two years, and many analysts move on to private equity or a hedge fund once the two years are finished. Consulting has a similar structure. NFL opportunities would be all about the coaching tree. You would THINK that you'd want to work for Bill Belichick, but his coaching tree's track record is pretty bad. If I was going to pick based solely on exit opportunities – defined here as which coaching tree you would want to be a part of – I'd pick Sean Payton and hope some of the Parcells magic is transferred to me.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cute Kittens

Google's Blogger service provides surprisingly powerful analytic tools to see how much traffic your blog gets. To be clear, I write this thing as a hobby and don't particularly care about my page views – I never make it my Facebook status or promote it in any way. I tweet links to all my columns, but this is the equivalent of when I would pretend I was Michael Jordan as a little kid. "Simmons and Whitlock tweet column links too! I'M JUST LIKE THEM!!!!".

I dove into Fundamentally Soundd's traffic stats last week and found something that was absolutely hilarious. Most of the time, I give my columns snarky titles (like last week's " Seattle Home Game Bowl"). One week, I titled my column "America's Game of the Week". That week's column is the most viewed Fundamentally Soundd article by a factor of ten. Why? Because when you Google "America's Game of the Week", my article is the number four result! Even though I still don't care about traffic and will continue not promoting the site, I couldn't resist giving this column a truly horrific title in the hope that I'll see a hilarious spike in traffic.

To be fair, I already knew of the practice of giving things misleading names in order to get more traffic. In 9th grade, my friend used to post videos on YouTube with very raunchy titles that would end up just being something like 45 seconds of footage of him playing video games. They all had over 5,000 views because people are gross. "Cute Kittens" is the first and last time I will do something like this.


Last week, I wrote a lot about how people attribute things in sports to luck far too frequently. My position is the exact opposite of what my friend Angelo believes, and I asked him if he would be interested in writing a retort to my rant. Here's what he came up with (it's very good):

The idea that the best team always prevails in sporting events is Fundamentally Flawedd. Empirically, the notion that there is no luck involved in sporting contests is simply not true. Football Outsiders (a website known for its application and creation of unique football statistics) have proven that recovering fumbles is luck. Forcing fumbles is a skill, but recovering them is luck. When the ball hits the ground, each team has a 50/50 shot at recovering it. In the Giants-Patriots Super Bowl, there were 3 fumbles…all recovered by the Giants. The probability of such good fortune for the Giants is a mere .125. When something that both heavily impacts the game (turnovers in football are game-changers) and is statistically proven to be random chance favors one team to a relatively high degree of unlikelihood, how can it be said that there was no luck involved?

Another instance of luck in sports is one-run baseball games. Despite pundits creating storylines about teams being "clutch" and "finding a way to win," Bill James and other baseball analysts have pretty much done away with the notion. The only conclusive thing that can be said about one-run games (and to a lesser extent two-run games) is that there is a huge amount of luck involved in the outcomes. If winning one-run games was a skill, we would expect the teams with better overall records to generally have more success in one-run games. But no such correlation exists. For instance, just last year the 89-win Red Sox (.458) and 85-win Blue Jays (.461) had worse Winning Percentages in 1-run games than the 67-win Kansas City Royals (.473).

Let's look at the 1960 World Series between the Yankees and Pirates. The Yankees won games by scores of 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0. The Pirates won games by scores of 6-4, 3-2, 5-2, and 10-9. The conventional argument is that the Pirates were more clutch and that the Yankees couldn't handle close games. Besides being facially untrue (the 1960 Yankees featured many future all of famers and players with multiple championship rings such as Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra), Bill James and others have shown that there is an element of luck at play in all 4 of the Pirates victories.

Even if one chooses to ignore Bill James and blindly cling to the falsehood that winning one-run games is a skill, let's take a closer look at Game 7 of that World Series. The Yankees lead 7-4 with Pittsburgh batting in the bottom of the eighth. The leadoff batter singled. The next better, Bill Virdon, hit a routine double play ball to shortstop Tony Kubek. As Kubek was about to field the ball, it struck a pebble and smashed into Kubek's throat. Kubek was badly injured, had to leave the game, and Virdon was credited with a single. Instead of two outs and no one on, there were two men on and no outs. A single, sacrifice bunt, fly-ball out, an infield single, and a 3 run home run followed, and the Pirates had a 9-7 lead. While someone can argue that the Yankees should have done a better job at mitigating damages, and that the Pirates deserve credit for taking full advantage of the situation, the simple fact remains that neither team would have been in that situation had it not been for pure, dumb luck. No rational person could argue that "If Tony Kubek were a better shortstop he would have known the exact location of a specific pebble in the infield and would have accounted for that when attempting to field the ball." Nor can one argue that Bill Virdon displayed superior skill to hit the ball with just the right direction and velocity so as to strike the pebble and injure Kubek. Both arguments are absurd.

I could go on and discuss the half-court heave in basketball, the field goal blown astray by a sudden, unexpected gust of wind, or many other things, but I've already exceeded my word limit. Game 7 of the 1960 World Series is the perfect embodiment of the metaphorical "way the ball bounces." As much as we'd like to rationalize sports and believe in the feel-good notion that on every given day the better team won, this is simply not true…and it is because of this that we love sports so much. On any given day the best team in the world can lose to the worst, no matter how statistically unlikely it may be. Let's just not confuse this notion with the idea that they were necessarily the better team on that day.

I thought Angelo made a lot of great points. I'm a big fan of Football Outsiders and I have a ton of respect for the research they do. I think my main point is that we too frequently say that an upset occurred because of luck instead of attributing it to the solid execution of a good game plan.


Adam and I are betting one beer per football game this week. I fully expect to owe him four beers by Sunday night. Home teams in bold, wish me luck:

Pittsburgh (-3) over Baltimore

I was going to pick Baltimore until I read the Football Outsiders preview of the game. It turns out that the Steelers are easily the second best team in the league, and that by some metrics they are actually more consistent than the Patriots.

For most of the decade, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were so much better than everyone that every conversation about the best QB started and ended with them. Last year, people added Drew Brees to the conversation. I think that our brains are wired to keeping these debates as small as possible (Bird/Magic, Ali/Frazier, Kobe/LeBron, etc.) just to keep the arguments neat and compartmentalized. The problem is that the level of quarterbacking in the NFL has become so good that what used to be a tidy two person debate is now far messier.

This year, we all agree that Brady was by far the best quarterback. But I think that Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers have elevated their respective games to the level of Manning and Brees. Manning and Brees are far better historically, obviously, but the 2010 versions of these four are basically indistinguishable. I once wrote that the glut of awesome QBs is similar to the point guard boom in the NBA. The conversation used to just be Chris Paul vs. Derron Williams but had to be expanded because Rondo, Rose and others are so good that the differences between any of them are negligible.

I think a fun debate would be the following: If you had one game to win, would you pick Manning or Roethlisberger to be your quarterback? What if it was a playoff game? Remember, during his 2006 title run, Manning threw three touchdowns and seven interceptions over four games en route to a Super Bowl win. That pretty much cancels out Roethlisberger's awful play during the Steelers' 2005 championship run.

Green Bay over Atlanta (-2.5)

The Falcons remind me of the 2001 Chicago Bears – won a lot of close games, finished 13-3 with a bye, and got destroyed at home by a much better Eagles team.

New England (-8.5) over New York

The problem for New York is that the Patriots have 52 good football players whereas the Jets have 51 good football players and Mark Sanchez.

Chicago (-10) over Seattle

My coach of the year pick would be Bill Belichick, followed closely by Raheem Morris and Todd Haley. Spags is close, but Haley's team had more success.

I dislike Pete Carroll's antics more than anything else in the NFL. All that ridiculous fist-pumping and whatnot even though he beat the Saints 2nd string secondary and 12h string running back in an undeserved home game. I remain a huge fan of the city of Seattle due to Microsoft, Frasier and Shawn Kemp.

Last Week: 1-3
Playoff Record: 1-3
Regular Season Record: 113-143

Friday, January 7, 2011 Seattle Home Game Bowl

Four small columns synthesized into one to make up for not writing anything last week:


Finishing 113-143 against the spread and last in my picks league sucked. My friend Angelo, with whom I tied for the picks title last year, won the coveted Double Crown. Angelo again tied for the lead in our picks league AND crushed everyone in our fantasy football league. Congrats to him. Angelo and I have an ongoing debate about what I will begrudgingly call "sports game efficiency" (YOU KNOW LIKE THE EFFICIENT MARKET HYPOTHESIS!??!? LOOK HOW EDUCATED I AM!!!!!!!!)

Even though the EMH is stupid, I believe in sports game efficiency. The idea is that no team is lucky – the 2007 Giants, the 2002 Buckeyes and others won by outperforming their opponents and that no other outcome should be surprising after the "more talented" team has revealed its flaws. My belief is that real life is not like a Madden simulation in which the team with higher ratings should always win.

Let's take the Giants-Patriots Super Bowl as an example. Did the Giants get lucky? No. If Asante Samuel was a better corner, he would have caught the game-sealing interception. If Rodney Harrison was a better safety, he would have knocked the ball away from David Tyree. And for the record – Tyree's catch is so frequently mistaken for luck that it deserves its own defense.

The catch was not the result of a random sequence of numbers awarding him possession. A highly-trained athlete jumped, secured the football against a defender and maintained possession as he was thrown to the ground. The entire play was entirely in his control – which is pretty much the exact opposite of luck. Furthermore, the Giants were not the beneficiary of help from the referees since there was no holding on the play nor was Eli Manning held up long enough to warrant whistling the play dead. The play was all skill.

On the other hand, I might be doing what Nassim Taleb calls "affirming the consequent". Angelo's belief, which is more or less articulated in Taleb's book Fooled by Randomness, is that if you were to simulate Super Bowl 42 100,000 times the Patriots would win the vast majority of those games. Each of the 100,000 games would have a score, the median result would be a comfortable Patriots win, and the observed result in February 2008 was a lucky fluke which is several standard deviations away from this median result. It is a very convincing argument, and Taleb is a very smart guy (even though he's the most condescending writer of all time).

I disagree because I think the assumptions of the simulations, to continue the analogy, are wrong. The "model" would have the Patriots with an unstoppable offense, a playmaking defense and a coach who is never wrong. A more accurate model would have an offense which Steve Spagnuolo figured out and a coach who took too long to adapt. With this model, I believe the median result would more or less resemble Giants 17, Patriots 14. Admittedly, the assumptions of this truer model are only revealed after the fact. But that doesn't mean the Giants' win was luck – it just means we didn't have enough information before the game to know the Patriots were flawed. We should be able to recognize these flaws after the game and realize the game played out as it should have. Taleb's beliefs make sense in the context of financial markets and a lot of military history, but I do not believe they can be extrapolated to sports.

A few final points on luck. First, I agree that it is possible in certain instances to be lucky. The best example is a Chargers-Broncos game in which the Chargers would have certainly won if not for Ed Hochuli's error. Instances of human error in which the fundamental rules of the game are altered are the main cases where I would concede that the winning team got lucky. Second, injuries can be a source of luck depending on the circumstances. Kevin Garnett getting hurt in 2009 is not unlucky (he's still great, but now old and fragile), but Kendrick Perkins getting hurt in 2010 was unlucky (young, no major injury history).

As the great Rasheed Wallace once put it: "Ball don't lie."

Complaining about ESPN is so played out that I can only do it ironically at this point. Plus, the easiest punching bag on the network is Around the Horn. Since I hate to be jumping on the hate-bandwagorn, I will say two nice things about the show before complaining:

  1. I understand that the point of the show is to be provocative, which is the primary explanation for why people occasionally say outlandish things. They are under constant pressure to be original and entertaining, which is difficult.
  2. I have nothing personally against anyone on the show, and I actually like Tim Cowlishaw and J.A. Adande.

My complaint is that two people on the show (I can't remember which two, I watched the episode five days ago) were vehemently defending Seattle's right to host a playoff game. It made me angry enough to turn off the TV since it is exactly the type of mind-blowing ignorance that led some people to think that C.C. Sabathia deserved a Cy Young more than Felix Hernandez.

I don't understand people who defend the sanctity of the division system. I think it's great for scheduling purposes, but that's about it. Four divisions (AFC East, AFC West, NFC East, NFC North) are awesome because any intra-division matchup is a great rivalry with tons of history. The other four divisions are more or less made up of teams who weren't cool enough to get bids to the good divisions.

From what I understand of the Champions League, the crappier country leagues send one team to the tournament and the more prestigious leagues send more. Automatic bids in that case makes sense – each country is at least partially represented and the end result is a richer tournament. Divisions aren't sovereign entities with unique histories and cultures. We would be better off if Tampa Bay or New York were allowed to take Seattle's place. Nine wins should be a pre-requisite for a division winner to make the playoffs, and division winners shouldn't be guaranteed a home game.


My fantasy basketball team is second in overall points scored but fifth in the standings and under-.500. This isn't particularly uncommon. In our fantasy football league, the regular season points leader finished in ninth and missed the playoffs. I feel stupid saying this on the heels of my anti-luck rant, but how unlucky is that? Fantasy games fit my definition of luck since the scoring system is not reflective of actual football. For example, turnovers don't mean nearly as much in fantasy as they do in real football and key statistics like third-down conversions and time of possession don't even exist.

Anyway, I know that head-to-head matchups are fun and everything, but that necessarily means we don't crown the best fantasy football team champion. I think it should be based strictly on scoring. People who disagree with me are correct in saying that it makes the game less fun, but at least an overall points system is more accurate. Our current head-to-head system is essentially an extension of Seattle getting a home playoff game.


Finally, my picks. Home teams in bold, wish me luck:

Saints (-10.5) over Seahawks

This is not just a pick for the Saints. It's a pick for The Enlightenment, or at least for indoor plumbing. I really hate the fact that the Seahawks are here.

(-2.5) over Jets

I'll be rooting for the Jets, but I just feel like this Jets team can be beat through the air. It's not shameful to lose to Tom Brady, but it is shameful to lose to Tom Brady by 42 when you pride yourself on defense. It's also pretty weak to give up 38 points to Chicago when it's snowing (shouldn't cold, wintery weather be Jets conditions? I guess not.). I really believe the Colts will beat the Jets and Steelers and make the AFC Championship Game. I also finished 30 games under .500 in picks, so keep in mind that I suck.

Ravens (-3) over Chiefs

Haloti for days.

Eagles (-2.5) over Packers

Nobody's picking the Eagles – a team that eviscerated the entire Giants season in a span of 7.5 minutes and has had two weeks to study Green Bay. Andy Reid remains an underrated coach, at least from a Cowboys fan's perspective. I really like the Eagles' chances of winning the NFC since all of the Saints' running backs got hurt. Fingers crossed it doesn't happen.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Second Annual Gunslinger of the Year

Last year my friend Mike won the first annual Gunslinger of the Year award for his spontaneous decision to drive with his girlfriend to Disney World from Philadelphia for one night. He didn't even tell his girlfriend where they were going until they were out of Delaware.

I missed the NFL Network's Top Ten episode where they chronicled the ten slingiest gunslingers in the history of the league. Brett Favre obviously won, but I've been told that the clip the show aired to describe Slingin' Sammy Baugh was hilarious since it was just Baugh running drills in practice with a cigarette in his mouth and a beer in his non-throwing hand.

I don't miss that era, but I do like the romanticized version I've seen in movies. I finally saw It's a Wonderful Life and I loved it. I wish greasy hair and hats would make a comeback. At the very least, NFL coaches need to stop wearing team apparel and go back to wearing suits and hats on the sideline. I remember Jack Del Rio and Mike Nolan each tried to start doing that but the NFL told them to stop. Roger Goodell ruins everything.

I didn't do too much slinging this year. If slingin' were a crop and I was a fifth-generation slingfarmer, then right now you'd sympathize with me. Luckily, the government subsidizes me to the extent that I actually get paid to overproduce sling. Here is a list of my top three personal slings of the year:

3. I picked the Patriots to miss the playoffs and said the Redskins would make them. I am very, very stupid.

2. I am writing this instead of studying for finals. Finals season is a time when eating is gluttonous and hygiene is optional. It's also a time to read Pitchfork's "Best of" music lists, find the three artists I've heard of and act smugly superior to all friends. I read through p4k's archives one time and found one year in which an album which was given a rating of 10.0 was lower on a Best Albums list than an album they rated a 9.5. I don't believe in math unless it's non-Euclidean or at least ironic but that's ridiculous. The most ironic situation of the year was when I turned out to be "the other guy" with a girl with whom the first time hanging out was seeing Up in the Air. That's not as bad as 9th grade when a girl broke up with me by throwing me into a volcano though.

1. I stopped using my laptop and phone while watching important NFL and NBA games. I highly recommend you do the same. You can't get the same emotional investment in a game if you're constantly distracting yourself with other forms of entertainment. Doing other things and looking at the screen only when the shot is in the air corrupts the entire experience of watching sports. Every Cowboys game and every marquee matchup (PIT-BAL, NE-NYJ, etc.) now gets my undivided attention. The recent Celtics-Knicks game was amazing and I'm happy I was able to catch all the little details by not immersing myself in web 7.0.1, which I think consists entirely of group discounts and Jeff Bridges.

Another thing I started doing which has made life a lot more enjoyable is that I stopped reading the comments sections of the web sites I visit. I never read YouTube comments because those are awful, but I used to read the comments at most other sites because I am a man of the people. But the comments threads are usually just people trying to one-up each other with how cool they are. For example, a blog will post a Simpsons clip and the easiest way to gain credibility in the comments thread, seemingly, is to say "Is The Simpsons still cool? I stopped watching 11 years ago." Look pal, The Simpsons is an American institution and a cultural export on par with blue jeans and capitalism. Everyone knows that the show isn't as good as it was in the mid-'90s but you need to show some respect. When I visited the Louvre with my parents, I was struck by the fact that even if I was given the rest of my life to replicate one of the paintings, I couldn't do it. Maybe it's a dumb point, but still. I definitely couldn't replicate the writing of the earlier Simpsons episodes either.

In fact, I wish saying the following things were banned from comment threads:

  1. Anything vaguely political or pro/anti-religion when it's not related to the topic of the column.
  2. Anything vaguely political or pro/anti-religion when it is related to the topic of the column.
  3. Anything anti-Simpsons, ever (see above).

There has been a lot of solid gunslinging recently. Brett Favre shook off another injury to bravely turn the ball over repeatedly. Orlando Magic general manager Otis Smith blew up his roster to build a team that is definitely a contender as long as LeBron James, Derrick Rose and at least four Boston Celtics die before April 2011. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke slinged a second round of quantitative easing, and Jim Mora slinged his support for it with a memorable rant about layoffs and whether we were kidding him. The Harry Potter producers decided it was a good idea to split the seventh movie into two parts even though J.K. Rowling's source material was literally 85% camping (of which 75% was just descriptions of the various types of foliage they encountered). I'm not sure what they were thinking with that one.

Michael Vick's emergence doesn't count as gunslinging, but it is remarkable. He transformed himself into a humble nerd who does nothing but study football and thank others for his success. Historically, I've hated the Eagles more than I've hated any rival of Dallas's due to Philadelphia's decade-long run of dominance. But I like Vick's redemption story so much that he's taking the edge of my hatred. I know what Vick did was truly awful, but I think he paid his debt to society and I'm happy to see him rebuild his life.

Athletes are embroiled in scandal all the time, and each time one of them does something stupid/illegal the sports media spends some time writing loudly about how we don't REALLY know any of them. So, with the admittedly large caveat that I still know nothing about Vick beyond the seemingly contrite version I see in interviews, I want to say that I'm happy he's having some success.

J.A. Adande had a brilliant tweet right before LeBron returned to Cleveland that was something like "Sad but true: If LeBron had a DUI but still played for the Cavs, he'd have 20k+ fans cheering him right now." It's an excellent point, and brings up the following question: Donovan McNabb handled a decade of ingratitude from Philadelphia fans and the entire T.O. situation with class and dignity, yet it takes a convicted felon to get me to hate the Eagles a little less?

I can't deny that it's true, except that (like most sports fans) my "hatred" of the Eagles was never personal. I always respected and liked how guys like McNabb and Andy Reid (and Brian Westbrook, and Jim Johnson…) carried themselves. As a fan of a division rival, however, I wanted them to lose so that my team would succeed. I'm still rooting for the Eagles to lose each week, and I know its indefensible to have hated the franchise more when McNabb quarterbacked it. The best explanation I can give is that Vick's redemption story transcends sports and that the warm reaction most of us have to a person bettering himself is what's causing me to hate the Eagles a little less.

And finally, the award: The top candidates are Brett Favre, LeBron James and my friend Dan. Favre started the year with a masterful performance against Dallas in the divisional round and an awful sling against the Saints to once again win the game for the other team. He then got Vikings owner Zygi Wilf to give him $20 million and was mired in scandal for most of the season. LeBron started the year as one of the most beloved athletes in the country and ended up winning his second straight MVP award. He also passively accepted defeat against Boston, ditched a franchise on national television and responded to the backlash with a captivating Nike ad which was a perfect mix of introspection and defiance.

On the other hand, Dan invited like forty people to fondue in his obsessively clean roommate's room in an apartment which already had a roach problem. I think that the overall slinginess of a) the roommate not being home at the time but reminding Dan not to eat in the room b) Dan deciding to eat in there anyway c) and inviting most of northeast Philadelphia to d) fondue with him merits recognition. In Dan's defense, the roommate has a really nice TV (which is why Dan & Co. were in there to begin with). Dan's performance as a roommate in 2010 also included breaking someone's mattress and getting hustled out of $100 in a table-tennis bet which he ended up paying entirely in Campbell's Soup. In 2010, if there was a poor decision to be made, Dan was there to make it. He is the 2010 Gunslinger of the Year.

And to my three readers: thanks for reading. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

My picks: Pittsburgh (-13.5), Dallas (-6.5), Buffalo (+8.5), New York Jets (+1.5), Baltimore (-3.5), St. Louis (-2.5), Detroit (-3.5), Jacksonville (-6.5), Kansas City (-5.5), Indianapolis (-3.5), Houston (-2.5), San Diego (-7.5), Tampa Bay (-6.5), Green Bay (-2.5), Philadelphia (-13.5), New Orleans (-2.5).
Last Week: 8-8
Season: 97-127