There were no choirs to sing the national anthem at our games. There was no color guard. No F-15 fighter jets flying overhead. There were no marching bands or celebrated R&B singers or even Madison Rising on hand to perform the song for our school. No fireworks exploding in a tasteful red, white, and blue pattern. No, in Division III college football, you turned to a nearby flagpole and got a canned anthem through a loudspeaker. It was a rote exercise…a custom I sat through brainlessly because the custom was there long before I was, and because I hadn’t considered the idea of a world where that custom doesn’t exist.
I was a benchwarmer, so I treated anthem time strictly as an exercise in presentation. For 90 seconds, I got to stand on the sideline with the rest of the team and look like I blended in. You wouldn’t know I was a benchwarmer until AFTER the anthem, when the starters would take the field and the scrubs would mill helplessly about on the sideline. Like many other horny teens, I prioritized looking good in front of a small crowd over patriotic duties. Are these pants too tight? How’s my hair? My shoulder pads look so badass right now, man. Can the girls in the stands tell how INTO singing along with the anthem I am? I was not the deepest kid.
Then the game would start and the anthem would be forgotten. I’m willing to wager that you, the great American sports consumer, have forgotten more renditions of the anthem than you remember. It’s unavoidable when the song is tacked onto every American sporting event, regardless of skill level or meaning. In fact, sports are partially the reason that the national anthem is our national anthem at all. They played “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the seventh-inning stretch of Game 1 of the 1918 World Series (the final year of World War I) and it became a growing baseball tradition afterwards. Then, in 1931, Herbert Hoover—one of the history’s worst presidents—signed that bill into law that made the official national anthem, thus giving your local sports team carte blanche to drive it into the ground.
I tell you all this as someone who likes the national anthem, mind you. I’ve sung it in front of crowds and gotten weepy hearing it during fragile moments in both the nation’s history and my own: the Whitney Houston anthem, the entire Garden crowd singing in unison after the Boston Marathon bombing, etc. At its best, hearing the national anthem is like going to church. It’s a unifier. It reminds you, in a comforting way, of things bigger than you. And it reminds you that you aren’t alone. The anthem should make you feel closer to a protestor like Colin Kaepernick, instead of wanting to brand him an enemy of the state. It’s not supposed to be a litmus test for who is with us and who is not. And it NOT meant to be a display of absolute fealty to the American military. In fact, our military exists (in theory) specifically so that no one ever makes such demands of you.
At its worst, the anthem is used as both an ideological cudgel and as a cynical marketing ploy. It’s a cheap, easy way for sports franchises to make themselves as unassailable as the song itself. You trot out some troops, you play the anthem, and PRESTO! You are an honorable all-American franchise with honorable all-American fans doing honorable all-American things, and anyone who dares question you is dishonorable by comparison. Who could argue with a team salutin’ the ol’ troops?
Ninety seconds isn’t nearly enough time to prove a citizen truly cares about their country, nor is it enough time for citizens to properly appreciate a returning veteran who needs more support than a round of courtesy applause. These teams are commodifying their patriotism while also trying to sanctify it.
So I’ll go ahead and confess here that I have disrespected the anthem. I have gone to piss during the anthem. I have whispered. I have purchased beer. I have not always removed my hat. I have almost certainly checked my phone while watching the anthem on TV. When I do pay attention, like before a critical playoff game, it’s usually so I can formulate a quick, Voice-esque judgment of the performer. Little long, little overwrought in places. Sometimes the anthem still hits me right in the FEELS, but those moments are few and far in between. There are moments when I need to step back and think very hard about my country and what it means to me, but those moments can’t be pre-programmed into the 10 minutes before kickoff of Week 9 of the NFL regular season.
Like the Yankees forcing “God Bless America” upon poor, unsuspecting stadium patrons during the 7th inning stretch, the ceremonial singing of the anthem was born out of warfare. It was a tender display of national unity that got put on repeat, to the point where I don’t really know why we keep doing it, especially for sporting events that are NOT international competition. They don’t play the anthem before you watch a fucking movie. They don’t make you stand for it at a restaurant before your entrée arrives. The national fabric would not be torn asunder if teams dropped it. In fact, if they ever did, maybe it would mean MORE to you. Maybe it wouldn’t be so easy to ignore the next time you hear it. And maybe the NFL wouldn’t so easily be able to camouflage all of its horseshit—all of its hubris, all of its bluster, all of its terrifying greed—deep in folds of the American flag.
So, with that out of the way, I have a different anthem in mind for Week 1 of the 2016 season. I am not interested in patriotism or loyalty or any of those things at the moment. I am interested only in WAR, and BLOOD, and FUCKING BIG FAT HITS THAT WILL PROBABLY DRAW A FLAG BUT ARE STILL KINDA COOL ANYWAY. I need something that will make me wanna go out and steal lots of beer and smash lots of car windows. GIMME TORO GIMME SOME MORE, GIMME TORO GIMME SOME MORE!
AWWWWWWW FUCKING GODDAMN COCKSUCKING YEAH!!! The time has come. Football has returned to ruin us all. And not a moment too soon, people. I had to drag myself by my lips to summer’s finish line. By the end of August, the kids were all and hot and bored and miserable. And I swear to God, if I had to spend one more goddamn morning being like, “What should we do today, guys?” I would have gladly walked into a jet propeller. If it takes grown men killing each other on TV to get me out of my funk, so be it. Football is back and this is your Thursday Afternoon Dick Joke Jamboroo. HIT IT.
I do this every year, and every year I am wrong. Be sure to hold me accountable when this is all over. Print this out and soak it in molten lead and then throw it at my forehead when you see me in February.
Green Bay 12-4
Tampa Bay 7-9
New Orleans 7-9
NY Giants 10-6
San Francisco 4-12
Los Angeles 4-12
Chicago over Carolina
Arizona over NY Giants
Green Bay over Chicago
Arizona over Seattle
Green Bay over Arizona
New England 11-5
NY Jets 7-9
Kansas City 8-8
San Diego 5-11
Houston over Cincinnati
Jacksonville over Miami
New England over Houston
Oakland over Jacksonville
New England over Oakland
New England over Green Bay
Given that Teddy Bridgewater had his knee explode before this season even started, I fully expect all my NFL nightmares to come true this year. That means the Pats win a fifth ring at the expense of a Mike McCarthy coaching gaffe, and the President Donald Trump invites them to the White House in a toast to evil. Bill Simmons gets to tag along because he sucks.
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Patriots at Cardinals: No Tom Brady this week. Your quarterback is Janeane Garofalo. I was trying to think of the most desirable outcome for the Brady/Garofalo thing (outside of a meteor strike), and I think it’s this: Garofalo plays well; idiot fans start openly asking if he should start; Brady returns and sucks; Brady is benched and then released at the end of the season; and then Garofalo formally takes over and immediately starts to suck. Then Brady wins his fifth ring for somewhere else, preferably for my team.
Now that I think about it, the meteor strike has better odds of happening.
Steelers at Redskins: Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe wants to lure the Skins to Virginia. I knew Dan Snyder would find (read: bribe) some idiot to give him a stadium, and McAuliffe seems to be his dupe of choice. Listen to this reptile make his pitch:
Then, addressing Snyder directly, McAuliffe reeled off demographics that would appeal to the CEO of any business weighing a relocation, citing Virginia’s 8.5 million population and its 3.7 percent unemployment. Then, for good measure, he threw in the fact that Virginia was home to eight U.S. presidents, 281 wineries and boasts 28 miles of oceanfront and had dolphins frolicking in the surf rather than sharks. Turning to D.C. City Council member Jack Evans, McAuliffe said, “I’m sorry, Jack. You don’t have the oceanfront. I’m sorry.”
I want a petition to recall this man, and I don’t even live in Virginia. He’s gonna help Snyder loot your state and then all Skins games at the Papa John’s Moat Palace will still be overrun with Steelers fans anyway…
By the way, it’s a new MNF booth this year. Your new MNF team is Sean McDonough and Jon Gruden. If any team runs Spider 2 Y Banana, I fully expect Gruden to throw McDonough through the booth window in a fit of ragejoy.
Packers at Jaguars: William Henderson was very angry about this year’s Packers preview, because I listed him as an old-time Packer I hated (FACT: William Henderson was John Kuhn before John Kuhn was John Kuhn). He said I was just a bitter Vikings fan (accurate). You listen to me, William Henderson. I will gladly come to Wisconsin and say all that to your FACE… and then meekly apologize and try to change the subject. HOLD ME BACK, BRO.
Dolphins at Seahawks: Skip Bayless’ new show debuted this week. It’s two and a half hours long, which is insane because Skip Bayless only has five takes:
- Let’s talk some Cowboys!
- LeBron sucks!
- Here’s what Johnny Manziel needs to do to clean up his act:
- Obviously I’m not a black man, but…
That’s it. Those are his takes. As much as I goof on other sportspeople being homers, Bayless talks about the fucking Cowboys nonstop. The only reason they let him drone on about them on First Take is because that show is perpetually on mute in airport bars. No one is actually paying attention. It’s not gonna work over on Fox because no one uses FS1 as ambient wallpaper. It’s not a default channel. Actually listening to Bayless rehash these takes will give you throat cancer.
Panthers at Broncos: I can’t think of a lamer Super Bowl rematch in my lifetime. The Broncos aren’t even favored at home in this game because Trevor Siemian has never thrown an NFL pass. They may as well be starting a fourth grader out there. I want my money back.
Giants at Cowboys: My boss at GQ, Devin Gordon, interviewed Odell Beckham this summer, and Odell bitched about the rest of the Giants quitting during the Carolina game. Here’s the money part:
Six months later, in fact, Beckham’s ire seems equally split between Norman and a few unnamed teammates who, in his opinion, quit on him that day… “There weren’t a lot of people who, so to say, had my back during that game, that’s for sure,” he claims. “In my opinion.”
I feel like you lose the right to complain about that sort of thing when you spear Josh Norman in the brain stem. Call me nutty.
Vikings at Titans: It’s just like the Vikings to not only be terrible, but to also force fans to root for people they would never otherwise root for on their way to being terrible. I’ve spent years and years standing behind my “Sam Bradford is shitty” take, and now I gotta root for that bag of Dollar Store Tinker Toys.
It must be nice to be a former No. 1 overall QB and cruise through your career on that reputation alone. Sam Bradford hasn’t started a playoff game in his entire career, and yet coaches and GMs are still enamored with him because of his draft status, and because he looks the part (very tall), and because he’s a hard-working and congenial sort of fellow. “Oh, he’s such a nice guy, he’d NEVER throw an interception!” I can’t think of another average player who’s gotten as much slack. It’s baffling.
And now I gotta CHEER for him. Christ. I gotta convince myself that there’s still some deeply hidden reservoir on potential in that man that only Pat Shumur—Pat Shurmur!—can unlock. I gotta pretend this wasn’t a naked ploy to keep up appearances for a new stadium, with the price of a first rounder actually ASSISTING the team in selling Bradford to the legion of oblivious Jello salad moms that populate the state of Minnesota. And then I gotta get my hopes up the second Bradford does something mildly competent out there, only to have Odin come down from a cloud and throw a spear through his kneecap just when things seem to be improving. God dammit.
Bucs at Falcons: I know Roberto Aguayo kicked well after his little preseason yips panic, but this article about the situation killed me. Look at what Dirk Koetter said about it:
Asked if the Bucs would bring in another kicker in preseason, Koetter suggested it was a better question for general manager Jason Licht, who has ultimate control over the roster. “I don’t know what’s wrong with Roberto right now,” he said. “It is the preseason. It’s the time to work it out, but I’m not the guy that can help him. I’m not that guy.”
Does that man sound happy that his GM decided to trade up and draft a kicker in the second round? I want a full-on Pagano/Grigson blood feud between these two by October.
Bengals at Jets: I know I’m an old man now because I think everything will make a great photograph. I saw my wife cut a big tomato in half the other day, and I was like, “WHOA! Look at the inside of that tomato! It’s like a STILL LIFE!” Only an old man would give a shit about immortalizing half a tomato. You can see what a lack of football does to me.
Raiders at Saints: I’m tired of predicting that the Saints will be good again. It’s over. They’re never getting 2009 back. Frankly, I think Brees and Payton should just say FUCK IT and shoot for 6,000 passing yards. You know they want it.
Bills at Ravens: The great Kevin Clark wrote this article at the Ringer about how NFL players are getting younger on average, which is why the quality of play has slipped in recent years. And the hilarious thing is that John Harbaugh blames this on the fact that players can’t practice year-round, and bitched to De Smith at a player’s FUNERAL about it:
Harbaugh approached the head of the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice Smith. “I said the rules have to be adjusted for first-, second-, third-year guys,” Harbaugh said.
More from Harbaugh:
“If you want to be a great football player, it’s ‘Oh, we aren’t allowed to play football for three months,’ and I don’t even mean play football, I mean we can’t do a drill. It doesn’t make sense.”
I’m floored by this. Here we have teams cutting veteran talent because they only want to pay for cheaper, younger guys, and then suffering as a result from a lack of experienced players on the roster. Gee, I wonder if paying players MORE would help teams keep vets and alleviate the problem. But no. No, Harbs thinks it’s because he can’t run 7-on-7 drills in fucking April. What an asshole.
Bears at Texans: I should want there to be as many good quarterbacks as possible in the sport. And yet, Brock Osweiler is on an enormous list of QBs that I really want to see fail. Jay Cutler, shockingly, is NOT on that list.
Lions at Colts: I did a fantasy league on ESPN.com this week. On default settings, ESPN has very strict roster allocations. You have to always carry two kickers and two defenses, which is enraging. I tried drafting Dak Prescott late in the draft, but ESPN told me I couldn’t because I had exceeded my roster capacity at the QB position (there was a typo in the notice). I nearly threw my computer through a wall. Now Dak will rush for a thousand yards and throw 28 TD passes because I wasn’t able to get him. I will get you for this, ESPN. I will stalk you outside a nightclub and then jump you. How dare you implement roster limits that were almost certainly easy to change had I taken a moment to do so prior to drafting? ANSWER FOR YOUR CRIMES.
Also, this was a 10-team league. I like being in a 10-team league because pretty much every team is loaded. Derek Carr is a lowly backup on my team and I feel like a God.
Browns at Eagles: Here’s a tweet:
Yeah, okay kiddo. DURRRRR AIN’T NOTHIN’ TO CELEBRATE IF I AIN’T SHOT NUTHIN’. I hate Carson Wentz already. He’s a living Chevy ad. It was bad enough when Peter King used to hold candlelight vigils outside of Brett Favre’s deer stand. At least Favre had already done stuff.
Chargers at Chiefs: If you’re new to this column, I usually don’t talk about every single game on the schedule, because some of them are boring. Like this one. So this seems like the perfect game capsule to leave blank or—even better—to plug my new book instead. I have a book. People forget this.
Rams at Niners: This is probably going to be Chris Berman’s final time as bingo hall emcee of the opening weekend MNF nightcap. I will not miss him. I look forward to being dead asleep by the time he starts speaking in Flintstone tongues over old footage of Merlin Olsen.
By the way, here’s a story from the L.A. Times about a demented Orange County power couple that set out to ruin a PTA head because they thought she had insulted their son. And the craziest part of this story is that, when the PTA head found drugs that had planted in her car, she went to the police and not only did they believe her, but they seemingly exhausted every last resource to help her:
They had worked quietly for weeks, watching the Easters, learning their habits, and now the detectives were prepared to move. Early on the morning of March 4, 2011, a small army of Irvine police — nearly two dozen — gathered at the station to rehearse the plan. They would serve search warrants simultaneously at Kent Easter’s Newport Beach office and at the couple’s home.
I fully support busting this couple, but holy shit. Tupac’s killer is still out there, man. This kind of effort strikes me as the kind of effort I HOPE police would make, only to have them laugh in my face when I tell them of my plight. If anyone ever plants drugs on me (don’t do this), I hope they do it in Irvine.
“Legend of the SpaceBorne Killer,” by Crobot! From Richard:
I don’t know a lot about these guys but apparently they’re on Wind Up Records, home of Creed. But instead of writing songs about being taken higher and Jesus, they make songs about Alien killers and necromancers. So that’s kind of great.
That it is. Also, I’m strongly in favor of singers that have muttonchops. Not enough singers have muttonchops. I’d like the government to commission a study to determine how best to address this problem.
Last season, Gregggggggg Easterbrook was brought in by the New York Times to regale all the little people with his Brookings-approved blend of confusing team nicknames, extended breakdowns of The Last Ship, and compelling stories about all the times Gregg Easterbrook was right about stuff. But lo! One look over at the Upshot reveals no TMQ for Week 1 of this season. Every winter Gregggggg gets buried deeper in the earth, and every autumn it takes him a little longer to crawl back out.
Anyway, in his honor, let’s check out Phil Mushnick’s now-legendary column on Colin Kaepernick:
Dear Colin Kaepernick,
Did I mention I hate open letters? I hate open letters. You wanna write a letter? Write a letter. Open letters are for uppity shitbags. “I’m writing you a letter, good sir. But it is of such import that the WORLD must also know my grievances.”
Anyway, this open letter is a doozy because Mushnick starts off so warmly…
For what it’s worth, I agree with you. I’m also convinced blacks are America’s most oppressed race. And I’m pleased you’re the latest pro athlete to exploit his or her status to take a stand, yours by sitting during the national anthem.
See? It’s almost like he agrees with Kaepernick. But this is Phil Mushnick. There has to be a turn. And oh… oh, does he turn…
But we disagree on who the oppressors are…I believe that the greatest oppressors of black Americans are…
KABOOM KAPOW SHIT EXPLODING. God, that was great. He starts off slow before building up to the big loud racialist riff. This man knows all about structure. Dear Phil, you’ve outdone yourself, you wild asshole.
Why, Colin, is American black culture still synonymous — from the abuse of women, to violent crime, to absentee parents, to gangs substituting for families, to “Black Power” politicians who steal from the black poor and pocket it (and often are then re-elected) — with sustaining self-oppression?
Yeah, Colin! If black culture is so great, EXPLAIN MY STEREOTYPE OF THEM. You can’t!
Anyway, if you see takes to fisk this season, send them my way. You’re gonna have a hard time finding anyone who matches Mushnick and his demented fervor to rid the world of imaginary chain-wearing inner-city proto-zombies. But do your best.
Schilling 2016 record: 0-0
I drafted Mike Evans this week despite knowing that he drops 15 passes a game. I’m ready for you, Evans. I’m ready to scream myself hoarse watching you get five yards of separation and then dropping an easy lob. I have already scheduled night classes and stress balls to deal with my anger.
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 2016 chopping block:
Over the past six years, the league has averaged over seven firings a year, enough to turn the whole league over and then some. We’re due for an uneventful firing season. Rex and Caldwell are dead meat on a hook, but that’s about it. We’re gonna need some explosive shit to happen over the course of the season if we want bigger dominoes to fall. Personally, I’m hoping for at least two more ill-advised punt fakes.
I told my kid I had to take a shit the other day, which was a mistake because whenever I have to take a shit, he realizes that HE has to take a shit. This led to us fighting over the closest toilet.
HIM: I have to go, too!
ME: Well, that’s nice. Now let me in there.
HIM: Wait! (holds up hand) We’ll do Rock Paper Scissors for the toilet!
ME: I don’t have time for that. This baby is coming.
HIM: Wait, what if we…
ME: Oh, god dammit.
So I ran upstairs and left the nearest toilet to him. Barely made it. Never bargain with a child when you have to take a dump.
Anyway, here’s reader Sam with a story I call DAYS OF POOP AND ROSES:
By my sophomore year of college, I was well-accustomed to the practice of underage binge drinking but I mostly focused on cheap light beer. Well, one night, I was introduced to wine. I liked it. I proceeded to down the better part of two bottles of some cheap red, then grabbed my fake ID and headed out to my college town’s notably lax bars. I don’t remember much from the rest of the night, but when I woke up, I had a Nalgene bottle full of vomit as a bedmate and a raging hangover.
Fast forward about 20 minutes: I’m still in bed, trying to hold my head together. From the bathroom nearest to my room, I hear screaming that can only mean that the apocalypse is nigh. Through the fog, I could only make out snippets of what was being said, but the gist was that there was shit all over the bathroom - very little of it in the toilet. I lived in a fraternity house and we had a dog, so that was the most likely culprit. I’ll admit; I had suspicions that I might have been involved, but as I previously mentioned, I had no recollection of the evening or shitting, let alone on the bathroom floor. That afternoon, I was heading off-campus for the weekend, and realized that I’d need to do some laundry before leaving. I headed down to the laundry room, shaking my head at that darn misbehaving dog.
As I was loading my clothes in to the washer, I noticed a tightly-balled t-shirt. I began to unwrap it when I was hit with an unholy smell, one that I had experienced just minutes before in the shit-upon bathroom. I had to make a quick decision: reveal this unpleasant discovery, marking me as a floor-shitter for the rest of college, or attempt to hide the incriminating evidence. I went with the latter. Unfortunately, a buddy saw me shoving this shit-shirt in to the trash and decided to make a scene. He grabbed the shirt, realized what was going on, and proceeded to shake it until poo fell out on to the floor with a terrifying “plop”. Well, the cat was out of the bag, the dog’s reputation was cleared, and I got to have my friends tell prospective hookups about that time that I shat the floor many, many times throughout the remainder of my undergraduate years. Still haven’t lived it down. Still not exactly sure how my night ended with a floor poop.
Oh, I think you know exactly how.
Kind bars! The $4 granola bar! Kind bars are proof that you can take a Quaker granola bar and get people to buy it simply by tripling the price and putting it in nice packaging. Even I fall for it. I’m like, “Wow, that’s one tasteful granola bar wrapper!” Six bars later, I’m still fat.
XAAAM XAP Gold! I think! From the desert wastes of Mongolia comes this golden piss lager. Reader Scott:
Here is ?????! I honestly have no fucking idea how to say, or pronounce this beer which was given to me by my wife from her trip to Mongolia. It had a 5% symbol on it and I figured that must be the alcohol content. I had no idea what it was, only the assurance from my wife that it was beer. She informed me she picked it up from the local post-Soviet era 7-Eleven, and was assured by the proprietor that it was beer. A gift is a gift and fuck it, it was cold. I cracked it open and released the aroma of hops, bitterness, and Soviet oppression with just a hint of formaldehyde. It poured like a golden urine sample, and the frosty foamy head strangely disappeared after ten seconds. The taste was what really set itself away from the smell, it tasted like burnt oranges mixed with beer flavor fun dip. After drinking half of it I worried I would be pissing out of my ass later, and this beer did not disappoint me.
Honestly, that beer looks pretty refreshing. At least there’s no debris in it. I MUST HAVE IT!
“Okay, so this thing with the National Anthem? That song’s all code. Sacramento Joe told me this ages ago when we were roasting some ferrets. The ‘rockets?’ Those are Russian. You can tell because their glare is ‘red’. And ‘dawn’s early light?’ Well, where do you think dawn is the earliest? That’s right: SIBERIA. See, this stuff is all out there in the open. You just gotta look for it. Whenever you sing that song, it alerts a Russkie satellite up in the air. That’s why I coat my baseball cap in tinfoil. Can’t get me that way. Also, I put green dye in my corn soup. That circulates in the blood. Russkies can’t trace you that way. AND NEVER EVER SEE A DENTIST. They’re sleeper agents.
“Oh man, that was a rough one.”
The Nice Guys. This movie didn’t fare well at the box office, which is a shame because we need more high-quality movies with guns and BEWBS and shameless wisecracks. These days, you have to go to the Straight-To-On Demand dustbin for that shit. There should be more than one John Wick or Nice Guys a year. WHEN WILL THE FILM INDUSTRY FINALLY START CATERING TO MEN?!
“Jesus, I open my mouth, the whole world turns smart.”
Enjoy the games, everyone. Football is BACK.