Last year around this time, thanks to a promotion for that "Pros Vs. Joes" show on Spike that no one we know watches, we strapped on a helmet and batted against John Rocker. That trip worked out so well for everybody that they asked us if we'd be interested in heading to Grand Central Station in New York City this morning and playing a little two-on-two against — of all people — Kordell Stewart and Andre Rison.
We find it difficult to resist the opportunity to publicly embarrass ourselves, so we called up Cultural Oddsmaker A.J. Daulerio to come with us and take the duo on. We had to wake up extremely early — the ball was hiked at 7 a.m. — but we, along with photographic correspondent Aileen Gallagher, were there. The story of our journey is after the jump.
The notion of Pros vs. Joes is a simple one: Retired — or "in between jobs" — athletes displaying their physical might over us mere mortals. We've never actually watched the show, but we're going to assume that the Joes usually lose. The show is mostly about headlines, look what Jose Canseco is reduced to now, so it's fitting that the makeshift "field" was set up in the Vanderbilt Room in Grand Central during rush hour. We find it amazing that people actually showed up and sat in the "bleachers." We assumed they were all friends of the "Joes," or perhaps the saddest groupies of all time.
Because this is Spike, there were of course cheerleaders. Unlike pretty much every other publicity "event" with cheerleaders we've "covered," this one allowed the cheerleaders to stay indoors. Honestly, some people will do anything to get their SAG card.
The public relations person in charge of setting this whole business up beckoned Daulerio and us over and informed us that not only were we up next, but that the show had actually put together jerseys for us with "Deadspin.com" on the back. We would have preferred just "Deadspin;" something about the dot-com stamps us as the pasty, wonkish assmunches that we are. That said, we did our best to get our games faces on; we respected that Daulerio grew a Wannstedt-esque mustache for the occasion. If we could grow facial hair, we might have done the same thing.
(Note: Daulerio says he's growing the mustache for his coverage of the Super Bowl in Miami next week. We do not know what that means.)
Before we realized what was happening, we were already on the "field." First off — and this should go without saying — football players are rather huge ... and these are a couple of the small ones. As we walked on the field, the PR guy reminded us "No tackling," as if this was possibly going to be an issue. We laughed it off, and then his face fell serious: "No, seriously; these guys both plan comebacks."
And that just made us sad all over. As we've mentioned before, few plights in athletics are more depressing than that of the retired athlete. (A sadness the show deftly exploits.) We sympathize; from birth, essentially, these men are groomed, prodded and flattered to do one thing, and one thing only: Play sports. But the athletic career ends prematurely, even for the great ones: Kordell Stewart is 33 years old. Can you imagine? Being that age and knowing that your best years are behind you, that no one wants you to do the one thing you've ever been able to do? It's little wonder they sign up for these shows. It's a reminder that they are different, that they are special, that life isn't over, not yet. Heck, we felt so bad for them, we figured we should just take it easy on them. Losing to us could have been psychologically devastating. We might be stupid and frivolous and just a bunch of soulless Internet naysayers ... but at least we have years left to turn it around. What does Kordell Stewart do now? Learn to type?
Oh, and before you ask: We still do not know if Kordell is gay or not. Here, we gave him our best come-hither face, right before he snapped the ball, and our doe eyes fell sadly short. We should have slipped him our number.
Anyway, it was time to rev this engine up. The rules were basic: Two-on-two flag football, four downs, if we stopped them or intercepted a Kordell pass — not an impossibility! — we won, and if they scored, they won. As Kordell, who didn't stop laughing the entire time, prepared to hike the ball, Daulerio decided to trash talk with Rison.
Daulerio: Hey, let's go.
Rison: Where you from?
Daulerio:: Philly, actually.
Rison: You're from Philly? Do you not like black people?
And then the ball was hiked.
It didn't take long. Kordell lofted one right over Daulerio's head, Rison caught it and the Pros had done it again. We were ready for our dejected walk of shame, until the ref, sensing the philosophical void in our souls, asked if we wanted to try again, this time with Daulerio "guarding" Kordell and us splitting our to take on Rison. We agreed, because we hadn't gotten up at 5:30 a.m. for something that lasted 10 seconds. So we switched spots.
You can't quite tell from this picture, but Rison decided to palm our head. We're not sure why. We ducked, because we don't know where that hand has been. We didn't make any jokes about burning his house down, because he is, as mentioned, rather large.
We had been watching Kordell and Rison play a few other Joes beforehand, and we noticed they had two plays: Go deep, and slant across the middle. (Both tended to end in touchdowns.) So we assumed Rison was going to slant. (Honestly, we're such defensive geniuses; we're like Buddy Ryan here.) So Rison cut across the middle, and we stuck with him ... and then Kordell overthrew him. And we had a stop!
This simply would not do; Kordell and Rison huddled up, and as we prepared for second down, we wondered if we had just earned a modicum of respect from Rison. After all, we — a lowly typist — had stopped him from doing the very thing he had devoted his life to doing. We wondered if he would nod at us, nice play kid, and we would nod back, that's just what we do, baby, and we would enter into battle again. After Kordell and Rison had figured out the new play they put together, Rison lined up across him again. We waited for the nod. "Bad pass," he said. "You're done this time." We didn't nod back. And the ball was hiked.
Rison cut across the middle, again, a little deeper downfield, surprising us. As we followed him, we turned and ...
We ran straight into one of the oversized pilons planted in the middle of the field. We have no idea why those freaking things were there. Rison — the only one of us standing anymore — caught the pass and scored.
Considering the rather obvious physical disadvantages we had, we found the need for trickery on Rison's part a bit, oh, underhanded. (In a joking, please-don't-hit-us way.) We went to tell him so, and we were reminded, once again, that athletes are trained to win, whatever ever the circumstances, whatever the cost. Sure, Rison could have beaten us straight-up ... but it's fun to win in different ways.
Kordell, for his part, was awfully fired up. We suppose the rush is always there, no matter what.
And then, in one of the more surreal experiences of our lifetime, Andre Rison gave us a huge, air-compressing hug and told us he loved us, great game, man, "love ya, totally." We totally understood what Left Eye saw in him.
Finally, we were shuffled off the field and patted on the back. We wondered if we had earned any respect in the eyes of Kordell and Rison, if we had proven ourselves somehow. If we could hold our heads a little higher. If we could stand with the big boys. If Kordell was gay or not. We wondered, and then we looked back, and there were already two other dorks in there with them, we were long forgotten, hugs and "love ya, totally"s and doe eyes all ineffectual, all just another couple of idiots.
And off we went, happy that our future is ahead of us, rather than behind us. Oh, and yes: A little humiliated too. There was that.