What It’s Like To Be A Benchwarmer

Drew Magary's Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday during the NFL season. Email Drew here.

I was a senior, and when you're a senior, you are given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to winning the starting job. Most high school football players are terrible, so seniority is usually the best way of sorting them out. I hoped and prayed that no other new senior would arrive at school that fall to take the left guard job, so I could essentially win the senior start slot by default. And I did. I went to the first practice and I lined up with the starting line without being asked. I just took the empty starting job and prayed no one would notice me.

It took roughly two games for someone to finally notice.

I was involved in organized football for 10 years, and those first two games of my senior year pretty much represent the entirety of the times when I played in games that mattered. Not jayvee games, which are shitty. Everyone knows why they're on the jayvee squad, and no one wants to be on it. I'm talking the first string, varsity shit. The kind of playing time you can brag about. I got two games of that. All I wanted was to keep the job. I'm not even sure I liked the actual playing of football. There are certain things my brain can process very well—profanity, for instance—and other things which have my brain hopelessly outmatched: stock derivatives, legal copy, and a football playbook. Even a high school playbook, which is often quite simple, was fucking calculus to me, no matter how much I loved the sport itself. I wanted to start because I wanted to be a starter.

After two games, the coaching staff had seen enough of me pulling too slowly and having the ballcarrier run into me, and defensive interior linemen running by me, and me taking one limp step forward and trying to block defenders who had suddenly disappeared. I was done. There was a shoddy meeting room under the stadium bleachers and our offensive line coach—an old Army colonel whose favorite part of coaching was leading team burpees—took me aside and told me I was being benched by a rotation of two guys. One of them was a foot shorter than me. The other was asked to change positions to cover up the glaring weakness I represented at that slot.

I started to cry in front of him. Never cry around an Army guy. I thought he would sympathize, maybe even hug me! I thought he'd melt on the spot because I was so SPECIAL. And then I realized—far too late—that I was making a complete fool of myself. He wasn't a sucker. He wasn't gonna just let my ass off the hook and give me a hug. I was bad, I hadn't done much to keep my job, and I had no right to complain. Sure, I had busted my ass over the summer. I had lifted weights and done that thing where you run sprints at a local park and hope people notice you training your balls off because you think you look so awesome doing it. I usually pretended I was in a Nike ad. But those workouts hardly ended up mattering. All that gritty scrappitude barely adds much to the set amount of talent that God gave you (or withheld from you). You are who you are, and all the wind sprints in the world cannot alter the base foundation of that. I could get better, but I would still be bad. I would be a better bad.

After that, it was back to the bench for me. They call you a benchwarmer but the bench isn't really for you. You may literally ride a bench in basketball and baseball, but in football, you are standing on the sidelines at all times and you are ready to me the NEXT MAN UP DURRRRR. And when the starters come off the field after a series, they are the ones who get the bench. That's their place to rest. You earn that bench. No second stringer is gonna just sit on the bench during a series. You'd get your ass kicked for that. You are up and ready and screaming and you creep ever closer to the sideline until the head coach turns around and tells you to get the fuck back because he has no room and the ref has already issued a warning about a sideline warning. And then you step back. And then, after a bit, you begin creeping close to the field again, because being closer to the field gives you the illusion of being ON it. It feels more like active participation, even though where you warm a bench from hardly matters.

You look for shit to do. You yell a lot because that makes you look involved. Sometimes you wear a helmet, which suggests you're ready for hard action, and sometimes you don't. Where are your hands? Are you doing anything with your hands? Better do something so that people think you're an important part of the team. Maybe put both hands over your shoulder pads and let them hang there for no reason. That's not a bad look! God, everyone can see you standing there, not playing. It's so goddamn embarrassing. My parents went to a handful of road games where I stood on the sidelines the entire time. I feel bad that they did this. I should have told them not to bother.

But being a benchwarmer means bullshitting yourself into believing that your shining moment is just around the corner. Coaches help with this. Coaches need benchwarmers to feel valued, even though they are a pain in the ass to deal with. So coach says, "You guys are JUST as important as the guys out there, especially when you help them prepare. And you never know when your turn will come!" And you buy it because you wanna buy it, because admitting that you're no good is just such a sad thing to do at age 17. Life is just starting. It feels weird to give anything up.

I went to college and was on a football team for two years and I think I saw one or two plays in a real game, at the tail end of a blowout (we were losing, not them). And after all these years, I still wonder why I bothered doing it. Why would anyone ride a bench? Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of talented guys who stand on the sideline who WILL start at some point, but I'm not talking about those guys. I'm not talking about the future starters. I'm talking about the scrubs. The dreck. The low-grade Ruttigers who have no shot at all. Why bother, man?

I think the reason I kept doing it was because it was football, and football was fucking big. Riding bench means you're an extra in the movie, but you still get to say I WAS IN THE MOVIE! There's that irrational attraction to something big that you have to be part of SOMEHOW, no matter how small or useless that part is. I can't help but wanna be there for the bigness: big plays and big coaches yelling and big stadiums and big fat fans painted in body paint and cheerleaders with big tits and all of it. Football is a giant flytrap of BIGNESS. People love events and football is masterful at making an event of itself, even when the game itself can be shitty and terrible.

I'm older now. I don't "play" for a high school or a college team. But I'm still a benchwarmer. I still stand up during the games. I still yell at the TV, as if I am a coach stepping out on the field. I still delude myself, time and time again, into thinking I am a bigger part of football than I am. It's no different from my high school days, really. I am "fan," but I'm really just a benchwarmer. Everyone watching is a benchwarmer. Everyone wants in on the bigness, because it makes you feel bigger than you really are.

And that is why, come tonight, I will be ready to do it all over again, to cast myself down into the strange limbo where I want to be IN the game but know I never can be. I'd rather be an insignificant part of something big than not be part of anything at all. I don't have a choice. Sometimes God assigns you to be an extra and you learn to live with it. You learn to take that tiny role and make it as big as you possibly can. Tonight I'm gonna be riding the bench, but I will feel like a player and a coach and a cheerleader and an announcer and a GM and an owner and a FOOTBALL GOD all in one. Because this is the NFL, and this is your Dick Joke Jamboroo. HIT THE FUCKING MUSIC:

And off we go.

The Games

All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.

What It’s Like To Be A Benchwarmer

Five Throwgasms

Green Bay at Seattle: Today's Jamboroo comes to you from bright and sunny Los Angeles. They can't do much here in L.A. They can't make good movies. They can't fix all the bad traffic. They can't even keep your power on. But man alive, these people can do malls. SO MANY PRETTY MALLS. I'm lucky if any mall in Maryland has a water fountain. You guys have ramen joints and soothing outdoor food courts and upscale movie theaters and everything. It's lovely, really. If I were a homeless person, I would be homeless in an L.A. mall.

On the way here, I was forced to check my carry-on bag because all the overhead bins on the airplane were full. That's right: EVERY WHITE PERSON'S WORST NIGHTMARE. I'll never get over it.

Keep in mind that, after tonight, all Thursday night games get simulcast over at CBS, with Phil Simms going "Whoa" and "Hey" and "Huh!" and "Jeeeem" for three straight hours. Should be fun.

Indianapolis at Denver: After Wes Welker got busted with molly, I heard some guy on ESPN Radio be like, "This tarnishes him forever in my mind!" Jesus, really? All that gritty grittiness and you're just gonna toss it out because Wes wanted to see some hats dance at a horsey race? People are fucking weird. If you get busted for drugs and you serve your suspension, that should be the end of it. You shouldn't get a cattle brand on your ass that says FAILED DRUG TEST for eternity. Even if you go into the suspension kicking and screaming and making up the usual garbage excuses like Welker did.

What It’s Like To Be A Benchwarmer

Four Throwgasms

Atlanta at New Orleans: I was in a couple of fantasy drafts this year. I do online drafts, which means you can never really be certain who else in the league is sitting at the computer and actively ready to draft, and which assholes let the clock run all the way down because they skipped out to do the dishes for a second. Consequently, you really don't know how much time you have between picks. I need some kind of OUT GARDENING sign posted by any fellow league member who went to get a cup of coffee and drained two minutes away from my life hoping for Kelvin Benjamin to fall my way (He did not).

I can't draft like this much longer. One day, I'm gonna draft right and take one of those dipshit Vegas trips where me and my CRAZY BUDDIES talk smack to one another and draft all night! I'm sure it isn't depressing at all by round 15.

Cincinnati at Baltimore: The biggest story from the preseason was the insane number of flags. This doesn't affect me much, because I root for a team that already employs Phil Loadholt, but people were going apeshit over all the delays. But this is what the NFL does. Every other sport stays consistent from year to year. The NFL, meanwhile, makes sweeping rule changes every year and then gives itself a preseason and a few extra weeks of the regular season to let everyone figure it out. I've had operating systems that are updated less often. The NFL is an open-platform sports league. Someone needs to hack into it and add five-point field goals already. And dong shots.

What It’s Like To Be A Benchwarmer

Three Throwgasms

San Diego at Arizona: I bought a new TV for this season and mounted that shit myself because I am the heartbeat of America. Anyway, if you plan on mounting a TV yourself, count on it taking roughly 17 hours. It's a whole day affair, really. "Just mount it on the studs!" they say. Turns out your studs are located 80 inches apart and are made of Nilla Wafers. That shit takes time.

Also, never let your kids help. It sounds like a really cool idea at first. LET'S ALL PITCH IN SO WE CAN MOUNT THIS FUCKER AND THEN IGNORE EACH OTHER. But no. They are actively in the way at all times. You can't drill a pilot hole with two kids shining a flashlight in your eyes.

By the way, if you buy a new TV, you will notice that sports look great and movies look like absolute shit. They look like they were filmed live with Carrie Underwood playing a Von Trapp. This is because new TVs have an anti-blurring technology (Samsung's is called Auto Motion) that produces what is known as the "soap opera effect." The mouthbreathers at Best Buy thinks this looks awesome. It doesn't. Turn it off and movies look like movies again.

Dallas at San Francisco: I took my kids to a water park this summer. Ain't no trash like water-park trash. They are amusement-park trash, but with 80 percent less clothing. I was waiting in line for a ticket and this one dad was in front of me, and he screamed at his kid GIT OVER HERE. I mean, really screamed it. I visibly recoiled, it was so fucking loud. He saw me and apologized, but he was also an Army guy. I bet he thought I was a complete pussy. IN 'MERICA IF YER KID DON'T GIT YOU TELL 'EM TO GIT.

Washington at Houston: Remember when Jevon Kearse had that insane rookie season that helped get the Titans to the playoffs? That's what I think Jadeveon Clowney's gonna do. He and Watt'll just sack the team into the playoffs. It can be done.

Carolina at Tampa Bay: It's Lovie Smith versus Ron Rivera. First one to use all their timeouts gets a gift certificate to Chili's.

What It’s Like To Be A Benchwarmer

Two Throwgasms

Oakland at New York Jets: There was some dog shit in my yard this week and it had been there for a few hours, so I went to pick it up, all the while swearing to murder whoever let their asshole dog befoul my lawn. Anyway, when dog poop sits out for a few hours, it gets brown on the outside. And then, when you go to scoop it, that outer shell breaks and the poop activates, so to speak, and that is the worst fucking smell on Earth. I try to pick up dogshit intact so that I never activate it, but when I fail … OH GOD I'M GONNA DIE.

Speaking of which, this game looks awful.

Buffalo at Chicago: I stayed at a beach house a couple months ago and the bedroom got hot as shit, so I ended up ditching the blanket and sleeping under just a sheet. This is awful. I know some people who are perfectly happy sleeping under a sheet, but they're fucking insane. The sheet does nothing. I feel like I'm covered in Saran Wrap. Jacking up the air con and sleeping under a giant featherbed is the way to go. Sheets are garbage. That is my hot sheet take.

New York Giants at Detroit: I was walking around in neighborhood here and my friend pointed out a house nearby where a dude had killed his whole family on Christmas morning. In L.A., you are always a stone's throw away from the scene of a horrific murder. Murder and malls, man. Last night I slept with the window open. And I wondered if Charles Manson and the Night Stalker were gonna sneak into the window and butcher me to pieces, so I closed it.

Tennessee at Kansas City: I assume buyer's remorse on Alex Smith happens sometime around the second quarter here.

New England at Miami: If you're new here, I don't write capsules for every game. Like this one, because it's shitty.

What It’s Like To Be A Benchwarmer

One Throwgasm

Minnesota at St. Louis: Every time I draft a fantasy team, I do my best to draft at least one player from my favorite team, but I never want to be the sap who overpays for that one player, which means I end up with someone like Greg Jennings on all of my rosters. I don't even know why I bothered.

Jacksonville at Philadelphia: By the way, from now on, I'm drafting only fantasy players from winning teams. I never win my league anyway, so I may as well draft players who are on teams that are enjoyable to watch as a whole. I mean, imagine drafting Toby Gerhart. You just doomed yourself to taking occasional interest in a Jags game. That's awful. It's not worth it.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh: This is one of those games where everyone gets jazzed for kickoff, and then five minutes pass and 50 flags have been thrown and then you remember that life is miserable. The honeymoon ends so, so quickly.

2014 NFL predictions

I do this every year, and every year I am wrong. Be sure to throw this back in my face at the end of the year when your team has won it all and my team has died in a bus crash. Asterisks denote wild-card team.

NFC North: Chicago 10-6; Minnesota 9-7* (I know, I know); Green Bay 8-8; Detroit 4-12

NFC South: New Orleans 12-4; Tampa Bay 9-7*; Atlanta 8-8; Carolina 6-10

NFC East: Philadelphia 11-5 Washington 6-10 NY Giants 6-10 Dallas 5-11

NFC West: Seattle 14-2; San Francisco 9-7; Arizona 8-8; St. Louis 4-12

Wild Card: Bears over Bucs; Eagles over Vikings

Divisional: Saints over Bears; Seahawks over Eagles

Champ: Saints over Seahawks

AFC North: Baltimore 12-4; Cincinnati 9-7; Cleveland 7-9; Pittsburgh 5-11

AFC South: Indianapolis 12-4; Houston 10-6*; Jacksonville 6-10; Tennessee 3-13

AFC East: New England 12-4; Buffalo 7-9; N.Y. Jets 7-9; Miami 4-12

AFC West: Denver 11-5; San Diego 10-6*; Kansas City 8-8; Oakland 2-14

Wild Card: Broncos over Chargers; Texans over Colts

Divisional: Pats over Texans; Broncos over Ravens

Champ: Broncos over Pats

Super Bowl: Saints 40, Broncos 10

Frankly, I'm picking New Orleans only because picking Seattle is boring as hell. I think I picked the Saints last year, too. I don't excel at this.

Pregame Song That Makes Me Want To Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall

"Wings of Feather and Wax" by Killer Be Killed. Is that a camouflage guitar? You know it is. THEY'LL NEVER SEE THAT KILLER SOLO COMING. I would like to be a guerilla heavy-metal soldier, leaping out of the bushes and killing terrorists with monster riffs.

Suicide Pick Of The Week

Every week, I pick three teams for your suicide pool and one thing that makes you want to commit suicide. These will not be good suicide-pool picks, but it doesn't matter because you have no chance of winning that fucking thing anyway. This week's picks are the Jets, Texans, Pats, and chocolate snobs. Chocolate snobbery is blowing up all over the joint. Select your beans! Choose from spicy Oaxacan or a soothing Madagascar blend with notes of honeyed cum. No. Stop that. Just offer me milk or dark, or just dark because milk chocolate is awful. I have enough choices in my life already. Make the decision for me.

Gregg Easterbrook Is A Haughty Dipshit

What It’s Like To Be A Benchwarmer

Every year I vow to stop goofing on Gregggggg Easterbrook because that shit gets old after a while, and then I go back to doing it because Gregg is just that awful. Last week Greggggg created his own stupid metric for ranking college teams, and then, this week, he threw in this bullet point regarding positive changes in the football culture:

ESPN put its weight and brand behind adding graduation rates to the ranking of college teams.

THOSE ARE YOUR RANKINGS! You created them out of your ass, and then you treated it like some kind of remarkable scientific breakthrough! Holy shit, Gregggggg is the worst. He is the worst Gregg.

Anyway, from now on, I'm not gonna do a full fisking of Gregg every week because I need more hope in my life. You're gonna get some mini-fisking here and there and that's it. I'm glad Deadspin has put its weight and brand behind this reduced effort.

Emmitt Smith's Lock Of The Week!

What It’s Like To Be A Benchwarmer

"This week I like the Vikings (+4) to go into St. Louis and PILLOW the Rams! We're talking real RATE AND PLUNGERING. Such a shame to see Sam Bradford's career leopardized by yet another torn antelope crucial ornament. I have had teammates suffer from a torn ACELA and you can see how disappointed they are when it happens. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enema!

"But I still believe in Sam Bradford. I believe he will rehabituate that torn ornament and come back rejuveniled. WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU MAKES YOU DONGER! That's what I say."

This Week In Terrifying Animal News

A bunch of Suzuki cars are being attacked by gas-huffing spiders that are also "mildly venomous." I dispute that term. No venom is mild. All venom scares me, especially if it's coming from a junkie spider. This is what you get for buying a Suzuki, I guess.

Fantasy Player Who Deserves to Die A Slow, Painful Death

Bishop Sankey. I drafted Bishop Sankey without really knowing anything about him, but now that he is mine, he will suck. All running backs suck. There are more good receivers out there than backs, and those wideouts are more dependable. Backs are almost all shitty, and you're left trying to choose between also-rans and new guys like Sankey who could end up being horrific. I would like the position of running back eliminated from football entirely.

Fire This Asshole!

Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we'll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year's end or sooner. And now, your potential 2013 chopping block:

Rex Ryan

Mike Smith

Marvin Lewis

Mike Pettine

Ron Rivera

Jim Caldwell

Mike McCarthy

Jason Garrett

Tom Coughlin

Jeff Fisher

Dennis Allen

Joe Philbin

Doug Marrone

Gus Bradley

Really banking on that Dennis Allen firing. I feel like it could come at any time. Even today. Today, the Raiders could be like, "Well, this isn't working out."

Great Moments In Poop History

Reader Brad sends in this story I call THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE POOPER:

In summer 2012 I ran my first ever half-marathon. I followed the classic pre-race strategies like eat pasta for dinner the night before for carbs, eat bread in the morning for more carbs, and take a pre-race dump. My pre-race dump was the last thing I did before I left the house, but I had made the critical mistake of eating whole grain pasta for dinner (that's all I keep at home), so my pooping had only just begun.

I arrived at the event feeling great, ready to accomplish this goal I had been working toward. I was set to run the race with my (now) fiancé and two of her friends from work, both female, who I had just met a half hour before the race. So the gun went off and I was feeling strong in first mile but my stomach was rumbling a bit. I chalked it up to nerves and stopped thinking about it, and sure enough the feelings subsided. Shortly into the second mile I saw one of those blue port-o-potties and said to my fiancé, "great there's a bathroom in mile 2, they must be spread out throughout the course." This assumption was my second critical mistake. With the stomach rumblings behind me and a belief that I would have plenty of bathrooms available if needed, I picked up the pace and left behind the three ladies.

Around the mile 4 marker the rumbling in my stomach returned, only this time it was joined by pain and cramping. I tried to be tough and push through the pain, believing it would subside. But it got worse and worse until I could barely breathe. Running turned into walking. The pain wasn't going away and I finally confessed to myself that I was going to have to poop. It was at that point I realized I hadn't seen a port-o-potty since the one back at mile 2, but I was confident I would get to one soon.

About a mile later just beyond the start of mile 5 the cramping eased up. Still no sign of a bathroom and I still had to poop, but I was able to breathe and lightly jog without a full blown clench. I picked up the pace and was on my way. All things considered, I got through miles 6 & 7 without too much difficulty. I was starting to get nervous though since there was still no sign of a bathroom, and as it would turn out, I was nervous for good reason. I was about to begin mile 8.

Mile 8 changed my life. Embarrassment would be redefined for me in mile 8, but hey, I got a good story out of it. Anyway, mile 8 was the third and final round in my bout with pain and cramping. This time I knew the end (of me being able to hold this poop in) was near. I was forced to walk again. My fiancé caught up to me before long. Right as I turned the bend of a long road she pulled up next to me, and she was alone. She said she was feeling good and left her friends behind. I told her if I didn't see a port-o-potty in the next hundred yards I was running up the small hill to my right (about 4 feet up) into the woods and letting loose. She asked if I was alright and I said I was fine and told her to go ahead. I didn't want her to see this.

Wouldn't you know it, no bathroom in 100 yards. I could see another bend up ahead so I sucked it up and kept walking. Got around the bend... no bathroom. I decided to try and make it to mile 9, but Mother Nature had other plans. I took about ten more steps and had to stop cold. The time had come. If I didn't go into the woods now I was going to shit right there in the road. I turned and darted up the small hill (it was amazing I didn't shit right then). I got about five feet into the woods and realized that was end of the wooded area. I was in someone's backyard. I didn't care. I turned my back to the house and dropped my shorts, squatted down and unleashed the biggest poop of my life. Right at that moment I finally lifted my head up in relief, only to see that there was barely any cover from the trees where I was. Everyone running could see me. Right as I had that realization I made eye contact with one of the runners on the road, my fiancé's friend.

I looked away in shame and she kept running. Then it hit me, I didn't have anything to wipe with. I decided to use my underwear, but it wasn't enough. I finished the job with my left sock and got back on the road, jogging the last five miles, chaffing my balls off with a blister on my left heel the size of a grapefruit.

Gametime Snack Of The Week

What It’s Like To Be A Benchwarmer

Funeral sandwiches, which are ham and cheese sandwiches doused in butter and then baked golden brown. They are alarmingly good. I can't wait for someone to die so I can eat them again. Ever eat so much of something that you become terrified of your eating capacity AS you're chowing down? These have that effect. I salute the South for making any occasion a chance to get fat.

Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week

What It’s Like To Be A Benchwarmer

American Patriot! From Chris:

I saw this the other day at Grocery Outlet in Berkeley, California, and had to seize the moment. What could be more patriotic than American Patriot beer costing $5 for a twelve pack? Nothing says 'Murica! better than this. (However, I am too big of a pussy to try it).

I'd try that. It's not just American. It's not just patriotic. It's AMERICAN PATRIOTIC, BITCH. I can taste the freedom.

Robert Evans's MVP Watch!

What It’s Like To Be A Benchwarmer

Time to start thinking about this season's candidates for the NFL's MVP award. Every week, legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans will join us to give us his assessment. Take it away, Mr. Evans.

"Baby, my favorite for MVP is Drew Brees of the Saints! Oh, what a fine time we had at Woodland this offseason. Naked trampoline skeet shooting? YOU BET! Champagne flutes filled with amniotic fluid? IT'S A NEW THING.

"Of course, my lovely summer was tempered with the tragic news of my dear friend Robin Williams passing away. One of a kind. The funniest man in the world when cocaine was around! One time I had a party here on the grounds. Elephants, kites, slave hookers, you name it! And as the festivities wound down, I swore I could hear what sounded like Bugs Bunny doing a Ronald Reagan impression. Well, I searched around and looked behind a nearby tree … and all I could make out was a mound of fur humping something furiously. Turns out Robin was fucking one of the pool noodles! And he was doing a routine for it! He was always on, that one."

Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Browns Fans

Prisoners. I think I'm gonna stop watching movies where kids are abducted and/or murdered. I don't see the upside, really. Even if the movie is good—and this movie's all right—I end up checking the kids every ten minutes to make sure no one threw them into a gravel pit. It's not worth it. I'm only gonna watch movies where everything is fine and there's lots of hot sex.

Gratuitous Simpsons Quote

"I feel sorry for everyone who's cooped up inside watching the seventh game of the World Series."

Enjoy the games, everyone. Football is back.


Drew Magary writes for Deadspin. He's also a correspondent for GQ. Follow him on Twitter @drewmagary and email him at drew@deadspin.com. You can also buy Drew's book, Someone Could Get Hurt, through his homepage.