Whew. The start of the 2016 NFL season sure brought the total package—a shrieking onslaught of the NFL’s signature blend of chaos, cranked up to the NFL’s signature ear-splitting decibel level: impenetrable rules; confused officiating; jarring and improperly handled brain injuries; fan-level buffoonery; coach-level buffoonery; executive-level buffoonery; pundit-level buffoonery; completely incomprehensible tight-assedness; and so on.
What it also had was something basically every professional sport deals with: questions about the readiness of young players, and a reckoning with the consequences of decisions made on this basis. Animated Tom Selleck mustache Jeff Fisher is navigating this turf with his dependable frowning conservatism, electing to keep prized rookie Jared Goff on the shelf until adequate readiness has been achieved. The Broncos took the opposite approach with sophomore QB Trevor Siemian, throwing him into the mix on day one, with encouraging results.
The scrutinization of NFL readiness, as a player characteristic, grows in proportion to a given player’s position-distance from the trenches, where “the trenches” can be understood to mean “where there is the most violence.” A top draft pick who is an offensive or defensive lineman is virtually always expected to play from day one, because the player is being drafted for his physicality, and in the trenches physicality wins the day. A top running back is never more valuable than when his raw athleticism hasn’t yet been mashed and bruised and otherwise ruined by years of professional abuse.
Wide receivers might need seasoning, to learn the route tree, to master the subtleties of identifying and beating different defenses, to develop chemistry and trust with a quarterback. Quarterbacks, of course, play the NFL position most subject to concerns over readiness. Promising young quarterbacks with all the physical tools for the job can still be rattled, scattershot, team-torpedoing disasters if they aren’t in the right situation, and aren’t sufficiently comfortable playing such a complex position at terrifying full speed. The insane requirements of the position, and its absolute importance, and the high rate of failure, are, after all, why good quarterbacks eventually become great and mythical Papa John’s spokespeople.
Those are also the reasons why running quarterbacks are, for the most part, fucking doomed. The characteristics that make an athletic, running quarterback ready—that he can shred a defense in multiple ways, by forcing the defense to prepare for contingencies not presented by your typical pocket statue—correspond with youth, and, most importantly, health. And the very threat he poses to defenses requires the premature sacrifice of his youth and health. And this sucks.
Robert Griffin is the handy example. By any fair, performance-based standard, RGIII was ready from day one. His rookie season was extraordinary: he finished third in the NFL in passer rating, led the league in yards per attempt, had the lowest interception rate, and rushed for 815 yards. That’s what you want: a guy who can manipulate the defense into exposing deadly vulnerabilities, and exploit those vulnerabilities no matter what specific shape they take. A good and sane spectator sport doesn’t just have room for a guy like that. A good and sane spectator sport exists in order to produce and celebrate guys like that.
Football—a dumb and bad spectator sport, propped up by gambling, pandering, and cold-weather desperation—says “yeah, those characteristics are pretty cool, but let’s see if you can stand getting hit by a speeding truck a dozen times every Sunday.” The result? Griffin’s body is basically ruined. That seems like an unwise way to handle a good thing! Hey, Cam Newton’s an incredible athlete, we should punish that by turning him into a crash test dummy every Sunday. A running quarterback ought to be the coolest thing in football. Instead, each running quarterback exists as a cautionary tale for the next one. Griffin and Newton should have played something else.
Maybe this is part of the charm of football? That it chews up its competitors like no other sport on earth? That this is ultimately an especially brutal test of an athlete’s mettle?
Hey, here’s some other stuff you can watch today:
Noon — beIN Sports — Serie A Soccer: Inter Milan vs. Juventus
Probably the best European soccer match to overlap with football today.
12:30 p.m. — beIN Sports Español — La Liga Soccer: Villareal vs. Real Sociedad
For now, just a couple of mid-table sides.
1 p.m. — TBS — Baseball: Tigers @ Indians
The Tigers are eight games back of the Indians in the AL Central, but are just three games back of the AL Wild Card. These ones matter!
2 p.m. — FOX — MLS Soccer: Sporting KC vs. LA Galaxy
These sides have drawn twice this season.
2:45 p.m. — beIN Sports — La Liga Soccer: Espanyol vs. Real Madrid
Maybe this will be an entertaining bloodbath. It’s for sure going to be a bloodbath.
2:45 p.m. — beIN Sports Connect — Serie A Soccer: Fiorentina vs. Roma
Just a reminder: Connect is an online streaming service.
3 p.m. — NBC — Rio Paralympics
The games are, as usual, shown on delay.
3 p.m. — ESPN — 2016 World Cup of Hockey
It’s Team Russia against Team Sweden. Hockey types will be thrilled to watch Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Lundqvist, and, um, others.
3 p.m. — Golf Network — PGA Tour Golf
From Hillcrest Country Club in Boise, Idaho.
4 p.m. — ESPN 2 — WNBA Basketball: Dallas Wings @ Indiana Fever
I understand this will be Tamika Catchings’s last regular season game with the Indiana Fever, who are still battling for playoff position.
4 p.m. — MLB Network — Baseball: Cardinals @ Giants OR Dodgers @ Diamondbacks
Will the Cardinals lose their 72nd game of the season? Will the Dodgers steamroll the sad-sack Diamondbacks?
6 p.m. — Golf Network — PGA Tour Golf
From Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California.
7 p.m. — NBA TV — WNBA Basketball: Chicago Sky @ Seattle Storm
Both teams have clinched playoff berths.
7:30 p.m. — FOX Sports 1 — Women’s Soccer Friendly: USWNT vs. Netherlands
Hard to get pumped to watch friendlies.
8 p.m. — ESPN — Baseball: Yankees @ Red Sox
The Yankees are four back of the AL Wild Card and have lost six of ten and four straight. Go away, Yankees.
8 p.m. — ESPN 2 — 2016 World Cup of Hockey
It’s North America against Finland.
12:30 p.m. — Esquire — American Ninja Warrior
Is this sports? It is, for sure, a marathon of reruns, running all the way until 8 p.m. tonight.
12:40 p.m. — Comedy Central — South Park
Comedy Central takes a break from showing Joe Dirt sequels today for a day-long South Park marathon. This is still mailing it in, I think.
1 p.m. — USA — Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
All day, every Sunday, like clockwork. Overwrought, heavy-handed, slightly crosseyed clockwork.
1 p.m. — TV Land — Golden Girls
As per usual, a few hours of good reruns to cover up the early afternoon games.
4 p.m. — FXX — The Simpsons
Episodes today include “Selma’s Choice,” “Last Exit to Springfield,” and a bunch of later-season garbage. In truth, none of today’s episodes are worth a damn.
7 p.m. — TBS — The Big Bang Theory
I have never watched a single episode of this show. TBS is running a couple hours of episodes tonight, if you’re looking for something to cover you for the primetime game.
8 p.m. — Comet — Mystery Science Theater 3000
Back-to-back episodes will get you all the way through tonight’s game.
1 p.m. — FXX — Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Seems like this ought to be a Sunday counterprogramming staple.
1:30 p.m. — CMT — Mrs. Doubtfire
For some reason, I was certain Harvey Fierstein died recently. I was wrong! He lives!
2:30 p.m. — Syfy — Deep Impact
Improbably, this is the vastly better of the two large-celestial-body-crashing-into-earth blockbusters of 1998.
2:30 p.m. — Freeform — Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
I have never noticed this channel before, but they’re showing the 1938 animated classic, and that gets them a nod. You could do a lot worse.
3 p.m. — AMC — A History of Violence
For me, this was the less interesting of David Cronenberg’s two mid-aughts Viggo Mortensen flicks. Also, hard to know how this will hold up on network television.
3 p.m. — IFC — Carrie
A full horror lineup on IFC today. Also, correcting last week: IFC does not edit movies for content or length. Which makes it a thousand times cooler than Sundance.
4:30 p.m. — CMT — Liar, Liar
This is mostly a bad movie, but it has its moments. I do think it’s interesting how Country Music Television beats a lot of non-country-music networks at the counterprogramming game. Week after week, while TNT and A&E just fold up shop, CMT runs out a Sunday lineup of totally watchable 90s movies.
5 p.m. — Syfy — Skyfall
I dunno. For me, the more 007 movies are about the inner torment of James Bond, the less interesting they get.
5 p.m. — FX — Star Trek Into Darkness
Feels like the dramatic sacrifice scene would have been more interesting if they hadn’t just reversed the Spock/Kirk roles from Wrath of Khan. Maybe it was a missed opportunity to go with Kirk/Scotty, or Kirk/Bones, or Kirk/Uhura, or Kirk/Chekov.
5:30 p.m. — Ovation — The Terminator
Ah, this is a great counterprogramming choice. I have an impossible time turning away from this movie, especially if I catch it anywhere close to the police station sequence.
8 p.m. — Ovation — The Abyss
If you can tolerate Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio for a couple hours, the actual abyss itself is nothing. Hell, Ed Harris literally chooses death in the abyss over spending another minute confined to her same work space.
8 p.m. — MLB Network — The Natural
Weirdly, this is also showing at 2:30 p.m. on Ovation.
8 p.m. — Sundance — Alien
Also, the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards are on ABC at 8 p.m. If that’s your bag, possibly you will also want to watch the red carpet show, on E! starting at 4:30 p.m.
September is still cranking out the beautiful weather. Go outside! Grill something, while you still can!
Correction (11:35 a.m.): The original version of this article referred to Trevor Siemian as a rookie. He is in his second season. The error has been corrected.