Paul at Nice Guys Finish Third and I have had an interesting discussion on baseball vs. football, the kind that seems to crop up perennially anywhere either sport is discussed.
On my morning whip around the internets, I found yet another reason that I really don’t like football, courtesy of Joey Porter:
They want to try to catch you off guard. They don’t want to play smash-mouth football, they want to trick you…they want to catch you substituting. Know what I mean? They don’t want to just call a play, get up there and run a play. They want to make you think. They want it to be a thinking game instead of a football game.”
Um, wow. There’s all sorts of critiques I could make of this statement, but I’ll leave it at this - apparently, according to Joey Porter, thinking is bad, mmmmkay? Because, apparently, the way to win in the anti-thinking NFL is to do everything exactly the same way as it’s always been done, to never innovate, and to never (gasp!) think about why you’re doing something.
Or maybe thinking’s just that bit beyond the capabilities of Mr. Porter, and he’s frustrated by his inability to catch up to the mean Colts when they think all over him. Diddums.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and make the argument that any league that has produced the likes of John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, John Rocker, and Bret Boone is a paragon of rigorous intellectual thought and action. Far from it. But never have I heard baseball or its players express a desire for their game to be stupider; never once have I heard a National League ballplayer condemn that mean old Tony “Brainbox” LaRussa for making a double switch - which involves (gasp!) thinking - after getting burned by one.
I wrote back that just as Paul would not like "his" league judged by John Rocker or John Kruk, he shouldn't base an entire judgement of a league he admitted he knows little about based on the comments of one particular athlete.
Paul and I went round and round about this for a while, and eventually I rested my case thusly: the shortcomings of athletes have nothing to do, in my experience, with what's good about a game and what there is to love about it.
Saying obtuse comments made by one football player support your contention that an entire league is "anti-thinking" is like going to see a play and concluding its author is a hack because a bad actor plays one of the roles.
Let's face it: baseball is no longer America's pastime. But does football provide an adequate successor, or is football's increasing popularity a sign of sickness in our culture, a kind of fall from grace?
My feeling is: no. No, no, and no again.
Not when there is a counter-trend, which Paul said he could see in the course of our discussion, toward football's own brand of intellectual as evidenced by new football analysis work being done in the fan community in places like Football Outsiders; as evidenced by a new breed of football player forming the foundation of a new kind of dynasty in New England; as evidenced by the rise to fame and power of Bill Belichick.
If you wish to grasp this phenomenon, The Education of a Coach is a must-read.
As we head into that terrible dead period of the gap between the football playoffs and baseball's spring training, part of my way of bridging the void will be excerpts from this excellent book, in the hopes of tempting a few more people who think like Paul in that post to consider football from another angle.