As pointed out Tuesday, the NFL is having a terrible time with officiating this season. Or, anyway, the NFL seems to be having a terrible time with officiating this season. Are we just more aware of it? Who can say. NFL football, in fact, only exist in the abstract, and must be articulated to fans entirely by referees. And that’s a lot of pressure!
Whether because of a pathological need to control even the tiniest details of their product, or as the inevitable endpoint of the formalization of any activity as fast and complex as NFL football (or both), the NFL has constructed a rulebook that is infamously impenetrable. This byzantine (and ever-expanding) description of football endeavors, for example, to redefine stuff like what a catch is. Catching a football is no longer a good, simple thing that is observed and understood in real time—it is a data flow component, a variable in an open equation, an if/then scenario in a choose-your-own-adventure story.
Every NFL play, from the mundane to the spectacular, is this way. A catch: If player X performed function Y then result Z, where function Y is a complex equation of its own: if player X put L number of hands on the ball with M feet on the ground or made football move N or touched O knees or P hands or Q elbows to the ground, etc. Football move N is, itself, also a complex equation: if ball B is moved into position C and player X turns his head D degrees upfield or takes E steps in any direction or maintains possession for F seconds, and so on. The NFL’s impossible best-case scenario involves a referee understanding all of these things at once, in realtime, in a sport that moves with the speed and intensity of debris in a hurricane.
But only a referee can say whether result Z is real, and so the referees are given the option of watching function Y in slow motion, under a hood, to observe each variable in what was a split-second of action. Did player X fully move ball B into position C with M feet or O knees or P hands or Q elbows on the ground, before player X was hit and ball B was jostled? Better rewind it and look again. Virtually everything that happens in an NFL football game is subject to this kind of parsing, such that nothing that happens can be said to have really happened at all until or unless it is certified via these kinds of equations. It’s no wonder NFL fans are drunken lunatics—the sport itself will drive a person mad. Did the thing I just witnessed truly happen? The man in the white hat will tell me.
So, instead of a quarterback dropping back and throwing a fade route and the receiver reaching up and making a spectacular grab over a close defender, and everyone knowing in their gut and with their eyes what happened, and going apeshit in either euphoria or despair, the whole thing has to be certified against a close application of the rulebook. Hold your applause, please, while we determine whether the thing you just saw happen with your own eyes actually happened at all. In fact, the smallest part of a catch in an NFL game is whether the ball was, you know, caught—the rest of it is attending to all the other variables, which is why receivers sometimes hold the ball up and away from their bodies as they go to the ground. Yes, I have caught this ball, but now I must prove that I have secured it according to Subsection 34-19C.2098712 of Provision F of the 2013 Omnibus Decree on the Physical and Spiritual Mechanics of Catching a Football in the National Football League.
In baseball, a person throws a ball and another person swings a bat at the ball. If the ball is hit and clears the outfield wall, the hit was a home run. Everyone sees it with their eyes, knows what happened, and celebrates accordingly. In basketball, a person leaps into the air and violently throws the ball through the hoop, and everyone sees it with their eyes, knows what happened, and celebrates accordingly. These sports fuck things up, too, but they are 2 + 2 compared to the sprawling interpretive lunacy required to certify the simplest damn things in football. Did the football man catch the football?
Every single play involves lines of men crashing into each other, and every single play can be negated—totally negated and transformed into something else, even its opposite!—if a referee says one man crashing into another man “held” the other man more than usual. Imagine that equation! Every time a football thing is allowed to exist, it is because some fallible dingus in a striped shirt either ran all those discrete events through his internal microprocessors and certified everything as real, or his microprocessors failed and the football thing exists but isn’t real, and we are henceforth living in unreality. One way or another, the game is contained utterly inside the overlapping area of a Venn diagram of the NFL’s House of Leaves rulebook and the unknowable thoughts and reasons and observations and biases of part-time employees in striped shirts. The action goes into Rustin Cohle’s locked room—who the hell knows what comes out. Every football caught in an NFL game is Schrödinger’s football. And, amazingly, this is how the NFL wants it.
What is a catch? What is this world? What is the meaning of existence? TIME IS A FLAT CIRCLE.
NFL football is false. Here are some other things you can watch, instead.
Noon — beIN Sports Connect — Serie A Soccer: Empoli vs Lazio
These two sides are separated by quite a few points, but are fairly close in terms of goals scored and allowed. This could be a close match, but it will not be an important one. Break in case of emergency. Also, a reminder: Connect is beIN Sports’ streaming site.
12:15 p.m. — beIN Sports Español — La Liga Soccer: Rayo Vallecano vs Athletic Bilbao
Bilbao actually aren’t all that bad. This match won’t matter much for either side.
2 p.m. — NBA League Pass — NBA Basketball: Bucks @ Hornets
The Hornets are good, you guys. There always seemed to be some strange dissonance to the way basketblogger types talked about the Hornets headed into this season. What made them bad was an anemic offense with no outside shooting. What made them respectable was Steve Clifford’s defense. They lost Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to an injury, which would obviously hurt their defense but would pretty much by definition help their offense. And instead of sliding some bench bum into MKG’s role, they’ve got Nic Batum! Who is a terrific player! Of course the Hornets were going to be good this season. When MKG returns, they will be even better.
2:30 p.m. — beIN Sports Español — La Liga Soccer: Sevilla vs Valencia
So, in the early spring, the town of Valencia has this celebration called Las Fallas. The central characteristic of Las Fallas is the making of truly massive monuments made of paper, wax, wood, and foam—these things can be five stories tall—and then torching them to the ground in little tightly packed town squares. There is also a bitchin’ parade. The week leading up to that night, though, is nuts: you’ll be sitting in some cafe in the afternoon and some kid will walk by and drop a couple firecrackers at your feet, and everyone just sips their coffee and ignores it, as if the whole ritual is designed to expose the marks who leap and scream when a giant explosion happens under their cafe table.
Anyway, Las Fallas is cool. Valencia is cool.
2:45 p.m. — beIN Sports — Serie A Soccer: Palermo vs Juventus
Meh. Juventus should clean up.
5 p.m. — ESPN — MLS Soccer Eastern Conference Finals Second Leg: FC Dallas vs Portland Timbers
The Timbers are up 3-1 in the aggregate.
6 p.m. — NBA League Pass — NBA Basketball: Celtics @ Magic
The Celtics are so good to watch. They don’t have any one player who’s all that great, but they play so fast and put so much pressure on their opponents. And the Magic are young and athletic. They’ve got a tough decision to make, going forward: can Victor Oladipo be a starter on a team that has a pass-first point guard? Because, right now, he and Elfrid Payton just make no sense playing alongside each other.
7:30 p.m. — NBA League Pass — NBA Basketball: Rockets @ Knicks
Amazingly, it’s not the Rockets who make this a game worth watching. It’s the Zinger! The Zinger is good to watch, and the Knicks deserve credit for putting him into positions where he can contribute and succeed. Go Zinger! Go Yung Lurch!
7:30 p.m. — FOX Sports 1 — MLS Soccer Western Conference Finals Second Leg: Columbus Crew SC vs New York Red Bulls
Columbus blanked the Red Bulls last weekend and are up 2 goals in the aggregate.
1 p.m. — AMC — The Walking Dead
An all-day marathon! Woo hoo!
1 p.m. — We TV — Roseanne
As per usual.
3 p.m. — FXM — The Simpsons
Episodes today include “Lisa the Greek,” and nothing else. 75 percent (or more) of all Simpsons episodes are bad. It’s hard to remember the time when this was the best, smartest sitcom on television.
12:19 p.m. — Comedy Central — Trading Places
The other day I was watching Law & Order and the infamous AIDS panic episode came on. It’s a typical episode, except that it is so obviously from a time when too little was understood about HIV and AIDS—the characters use the terms interchangeably, at one point explicitly saying that the “carrier” is knowingly transmitting AIDS to his partners. A friend joked that they should air this episode with a big fat disclaimer: “This dumb episode was made in 1998 and is a dumb relic that should not be taken seriously.” The same sort of disclaimer should go on Trading Places. It’s funny as hell, but a lot of the humor is shockingly out of place in 2015.
Also, you can catch it at 5:15 p.m. on Comedy Central if you miss it here.
1 p.m. — Syfy — The Fifth Element
Still racking up the appearances this football season. It’s a solid counterprogramming choice. Imaginative, funny, a couple good performances, not too much to cut from a TV broadcast.
1:12 p.m. — VH-1 — Dirty Dancing
2 p.m. — BBC America — Ghostbusters
It’s possible I’ve seen this movie as many as 20 times. Also, catch it at 7 p.m. on BBC America if you miss it at 2 p.m.
2:30 p.m. — TNT — Catch Me if You Can
Meh. It doesn’t make great use of any of its performers. Just kind of a forgettable flick.
3:30 p.m. — Syfy — The Bourne Ultimatum
This is a smart movie with lots of cool action, but, man, it has none of the charm of The Bourne Identity. None. If you watched the three movies in this series in reverse order, you’d be shocked at how comparatively fun and light the first one is.
4 p.m. — Spike — The Dark Knight
Did anyone else notice how Christian Bale’s Batman voice gets more growly between Batman Begins and this movie? He can barely utter more than three consecutive words without needing a big breath. It’s funny—Tim Burton was just willing to roll with suspension of disbelief when it came to Michael Keaton’s Batman having the exact same fairly distinct voice as Bruce Wayne. Christopher Nolan should have gone the same route, I think.
4 p.m. — IFC — Saving Private Ryan
If war porn masquerading as something other than war porn is your thing, go for it.
4:30 p.m. — BBC America — Ghostbusters II
As good a reason as there is for you to read this crazy true story: