Will Leitch, senior writer at Sports On Earth, contributing editor at New York magazine, film critic for Grierson & Leitch, contributor at Sports Illustrated, and founder of Deadspin, is doing his yearly fill-in for Drew Magary on today’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo. (Here is 2011’s version, and here’s 2012’s, and here’s 2013’s, and here’s 2014’s , and here’s 2015's, and here’s 2016's.) Leitch has written four books. Find more of his business at his Twitter feed and his official site. He also has a weekly newsletter he’d very much appreciate if you subscribed to.
It is, as it goes, a day like any other. A family of five rustles around the breakfast table, in a hurry, shoveling food while rushing to get to school, to the office, to the carpool lane. They live in the city of Hamelin, a fictional suburb roughly 90 miles from San Francisco, where the father in the family works. He kisses the kids, flirts and bickers with his wife and sprints out the door with a smiling wave. The five-year-old son spills milk across the table; the two older kids fight over the television. Carol, the mom, hustles the kids off to school, where she directs the student play — it’s about The Pied Piper this year. (The little mice are very cute.) Grandma and Grandpa are coming to visit from Chicago next Easter. The oldest son is getting better at riding his bike, even uphill. The neighbors down the road have a new baby. There’s a lot going on, because there is always a lot going on. The Wetherly family in the 1983 film Testament is like every other family, every other person, every regular schmuck just walking around. Their lives are unremarkable and ordinary. They are just trying to go about their day, like anybody else.
Later that night, Dad is stuck at the San Francisco office, so the family prepares dinner while the younger kids watch cartoons and squabble. The signal on the television starts to flicker and go grey; the oldest sister frowns and pounds it with her fist. Suddenly, a news anchor appears on the screen. “This is San Francisco,” he says. “We have lost our New York signal. Radar sources confirm the explosion of nuclear devices there, in New York, and up and down the East Coast. Ladies and gentlemen, this is real.” The phone rings. It’s Dad, but only for a second — there is a blinding flash outside the home, followed by air sirens. The line goes dead. The television shuts off. The five-year-old screams “Mom!” The family huddles behind the barcalounger, unsure where else to go. They just put their arms over their heads and hide.
The rest of Testament, the most brutal, pitiless, uncompromising movie I have ever seen, consists of everyone gradually dying off. Bombs have landed in every major American city, including San Francisco, and there is no power and no communication with the outside world. At first, the community comes together; there is some looting, but mostly Hamelin pools its resources and tries to help out the most immediately needy. (The Weatherly family takes in a neighbor child whose parents just never came home from San Francisco after he had spent several nights alone waiting for them.) Life attempts to go on in the usual habits, through the usual institutions. School begins again, piano lessons continue, church is still every Sunday morning. The kids’ play goes on, but the parents cannot pretend: They weep throughout as the children look on, puzzled, a little scared. But where else are you going to go? What else can you do but go on?
Then life starts to slowly fade away. Ham radios stop being able to pick up signals from outside the city. No one from San Francisco makes it home. And then the babies start getting sick. Then the elderly. The youngest son (played by a six-year-old Lukas Haas) gets out of a bath that he has filled with blood; the next scene is Carol tearing the house apart to find his beloved stuffed bear as his body is wrapped in a sheet outside their home, next to makeshift grave in the front yard. (The graveyards are all full.) Carol’s hair is beginning to fall out in clumps. Her daughter, just entering her teenage years, asks her,coughing and frail, what being in love is like, and what “making love” means. Her answer stops the film.
I was so ignorant as a girl. Worried about it. So full of fantasy. I thought some man would come along and sweep me off my feet. And your father, he wasn’t at all what I was looking for. Not the size or shape, or what he did exactly, I still don’t know. When you love someone, you want to be as close to them as you can get. You make love, and you feel almost like the same body. You have a space, and that person fills it up. We would fight. We wouldn’t listen to each other. We’d miss...thoughts. We’d miss goodbyes. But sometimes, most times, there was this feeling, and I couldn’t wait for him to be here with me. Everyone’s always alone. And yet ... there can be this gift. This making of miracles.
She smiles sadly for the love she has lost, and her eyes meet her daughter’s, who looks not moved, but angry. “For you, Mom,” she says. “But not for me.” In the next scene, Carol is sewing together a burial shroud for her. There is no wood left for coffins.
Not once is there a hint of rescue, or escape, or even hope. There is no resolution but the end of the world.
In the film’s final scene, the town is empty except for Carol, her oldest son and a neighbor boy with Down’s Syndrome they’ve brought into their home. They have made a decision. Carol closes the door to her garage. They sit in the car. She starts the engine. After a minute, she turns to her son.
“I can’t do it,” she says, and there is the failure of everyone in her voice. But there are no tears. There are none left. They go inside and light a candle on a graham cracker for birthdays that will never come. The neighbor boy has a present. He has found the lost teddy bear. Carol’s heart breaks. “You found it,” she says and smiles for the first time in the film. This is Testament’s happy ending. This is all it has left to give to you.
Testament hit theaters in 1983, two weeks before The Day After aired on ABC and terrified the poor Jennings family in The Americans. This was the height of Cold War nuclear paranoia, when President Reagan and various post-Brezhnev Russian leaders made the possible annihilation of the species the lead on every night’s newscast and of day’s every newspaper. This was a time in which any building that had a concrete basement put up FALLOUT SHELTER signs for the public to see, lest they need to locate one immediately. My grade school had them at the front and back entrances. The teachers used to smoke out there with some of the sixth graders, if memory serves. The signs were everywhere you wanted to look.
There was reason for this to be a daily part of everyone’s lives. Since U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had instituted American policy of Mutually Assured Destruction in the early ‘60s—the idea that the only way to combat a potential nuclear strike from the enemy (the USSR) was to stockpile enough weapons to let them know that if they attacked us, we’d have no choice but to blow up them, and thus the world, in response—the idea that human life could, theoretically, end any minute was not just a reality, but in fact an official American international strategic initiative. It was just a part of your life, and, inevitably, part of your popular culture, whether it was Rocky Balboa trying to persuade an audience of Russians that if I can change and you can change then everybody can change, or the truly insane 1988 love story Miracle Mile, which ends with Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham ending their first date by sinking into the La Brea Tar Pits while the bombs rain down all among them.
Once the Soviet Union fell and the Cold War ended, roughly six years after the release of Testament, the idea of mutually assured destruction almost immediately evaporated from public consciousness as anything other than a joke. It was a collective bullet dodged. The Cold War was over. The USSR had dissolved. There was no logical enemy remaining for the United States. There was no one to shoot a nuke at anymore; why would they shoot a nuke at us? The idea of a mushroom cloud became almost a figment of fun, a silly relic of a time when we were actually scared something like that could happen, a “Now That’s What I Call ‘80s!” time capsule along with Max Headroom, Atari 2600s and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure paperbacks.
You could still be affected by a movie like Testament — or The Day After or even Dr. Strangelove — but you couldn’t help but distance yourself from it. I saw Testament about 10 years ago, and while it was still powerful, it couldn’t help but feel a little overheated. It was serious and sober-minded and even terrifying, but it also played like a reaction to a threat that never came. Watching it felt like reading an article that warned you about the dangers of the Y2K virus, or, more to the point, watching one of those old newsreel nuclear propaganda films from the ‘50s.
For a long time, there was a remove when you looked at this era. It was all a bit funny, really, how worried we were back then. There was nothing to be worried about it. Everything was fine. Bullet dodged. You felt smug relief in the distance. You knew something those filmmakers didn’t. You know how this turned out.
I will tell you: It is a very different experience to watch Testament right now, in December 2017, with Donald Trump as President and every little failsafe eroding a little bit more every day. It is a lot fucking different.
That so many earth-shattering—literally!—events are happening on a daily basis that no person could possibly keep up with all of them has become such a commonplace observation that merely stating it makes you sound like the last guy to know the Roll Safe meme. (Which I’m pretty sure I was.) A guy shoots 600 people from his Vegas hotel room, only the deadliest mass shooting in American history, and three months later not only have we all moved on from it, we don’t even know (or seem to care anymore) why he did it. We appear to have definitive proof that there are aliens and that they have technology that the United States is “incapable of defending itself” against, and I haven’t heard a single person in my life bring this up in conversation in even a passing fashion. It is a tumultuous time. How could it not be? The entire corporate world—which is to say, the entire world—is being rocked daily by stories of predatory, horrific men who have been abusing their leadership positions for decades. The leader of the free world is a unrepentant, almost cheerful racist who seems to have trouble keeping his hands from shaking and saying basic words. The earth itself is the early stages of actively trying to get rid of us. There’s a lot to keep up with. Giancarlo Stanton is on the Yankees now. No reasonable person could possibly keep track of it all, even if they wanted to.
But, with all proper respect to these massive, important stories that are changing the foundation of the world we all live in ... I sort of can’t help but think that maybe we’re not paying quite enough attention to the increasingly real possibility that we all going to die in a nuclear holocaust very soon. Maybe not quite enough?
Here are four undeniable facts from this specific moment in history:
- The President of the United States, a man whose father suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and whose public speaking ability has degraded so dramatically over the last 20 years that watching him say stupid things in 1999 actually makes you nostalgic for that guy, told his top security officials that he wanted “tens of thousands of new nuclear weapons,” which inspired his Chief of Staff to call him a “moron.”
- The President of the United States has more power at this moment than at essentially any other time in American history and, if he wanted, could launch a nuclear attack entirely on his own and no one could stop him. “If President Trump were to decide that it’s time to put Kim Jong Un in his place once and for all, he would choose a plan that already exists,” a “former nuclear missile launch officer” told USA Today. “And it would be almost impossible in my view to override a decision to implement that option.”
- Fellow lawmakers and high-level cabinet members are so concerned about Trump’s instability they have been actively trying to come up with some sort of Fail/Safe backup plan to Trump launching nuclear weapons, and their attempts have been thwarted at every turn. A sitting United States Senator actually said, on record, “We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic that he might order a nuclear weapons strike.” (This insane, flabbergasting statement was made just more than a month ago, so you’ve surely forgotten about it.)
- North Korea, the foreign government most likely to pique the President’s nuclear launch trigger finger, successfully pulled off a test less than a month ago that showed they could hit a U.S. mainline target with little difficulty. Secretary of Defense James Mattis responded to the news warning that North Korea could now strike anywhere in the world. The President responded by calling the leader of North Korea short and fat.
During the Cold War, leaders of wealthy, stable, established nations were hinting at nuclear standoffs, and talking about missile defense systems, and testing thermonuclear weapons, and it led to three decades of apocalyptic popular fiction, fallout shelters being installed all across the country and schoolchildren being taught how to shield themselves from debris and radiation in case of a nuclear attack. It was the central organizing principle of most of the second half of the 20th century. It, singularly, affected every aspect of American life.
And there were so many more protections then than there are now. Now there are non-state actors who would give any amount of money or human capital to get a hold of a nuclear weapon, of which, from the old Soviet Union, there are thousands of unaccounted for. There is an escalating threat from a desperate nation led by a madman whose only reference point for American life is Dennis Rodman. And there is the doddering cable news addict in the Oval Office who only seems to understand what Brian Kilmeade tells him. And remember: This is Brian Kilmeade.
It is difficult to concentrate on this because, well, Christ, look around. But once you start thinking about it, it’s kind of impossible to stop. I am concerned about everything that has been happening on this planet, and the systematic injustice, and the inherent cruelty, and the growing sense that the world is getting a little bit worse every single day. Everything can seem like it is coming apart at the seams. But I hope you will forgive me when I try to aim the focus a little bit on the larger, more existential threat that seems higher than ever. You might think I am being overly dramatic or alarmist about this. You may be right. I very much hope you are right! But, again: Look around.
The Doomsday Clock, instituted in 1947 in direct response to the nuclear age, stood at 17 minutes to midnight in 1991. Days after President Trump’s inauguration, they moved it to 2 1/2 minutes to midnight, and you got the sense from the announcement that they only made it 2 1/2 because it has never been closer than two minutes to midnight, and they wanted to be hopeful. There are thousands of problems in this world that need to be solved. But we are not going to be able to solve them if we are all dead. We can look back at the Cold War and think that maybe they were a little bit too scared back then. After all: No nuclear bombs went off! But I think that they were right, and we were wrong; I think we simply got bored and distracted and we forgot. I think that we are not scared enough.
I was eight years old when Testament hit cinemas, just a little bit older than Lukas Haas in the film. I didn’t see it in the theater: It wasn’t until a decade later, on Roger Ebert’s recommendation, that I finally watched it. I wouldn’t have been able to understand it when I was eight. I would just been upset E.T wasn’t in it. But I wonder if my parents watched it.
Until I watched it last week, for the first time in many years, I couldn’t have fathomed how my parents — who had an eight-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter, two people whom they loved very much and wanted to see grow up and become adult humans with lives and children of their own — could have handled it. These children they loved so much, they ones they protected with an almost feral passion, how could they not think about them when they watched the Wetherly family wilt away and die? When my mother watched Carol’s increased panic when she looked for that bear, did she look at me, still with my favorite blanket, and wonder if she’d someday have to bury it with me? How did my dad feel when he went away on work trips, after watching this movie when one day, randomly, out of nowhere, the world exploded and he wasn’t there with his family? To live in that time and feel like it all going away was a real, vivid possibility ... how did they bear it?
I’m legitimately asking. Because unlike every other time I had watched Testament, I am a father now, of two beautiful little boys who are obnoxious and gassy and loud and just about the most incredible things I’ve ever seen in my life. Every day my wife and I look at them and see the boys they are becoming, the men they will someday be, and we are thrilled, we are elated, we are driven near to tears to see them growing up, to learn more every day what they have to offer this planet. I find myself envious of everyone who hasn’t met them yet. You are going to love them, world. I think of what they might be, what they might do, the mistakes they are going to make, the times they get their hearts broken, the hearts they break, the goodness that radiates off them, and I think that maybe they might be the only worthwhile thing I’ve done with my whole stupid life. I can’t wait to see who they become.
But Testament warns: Don’t assume the future. It can all be taken away, forever, from everybody. Just because it hasn’t happened before doesn’t mean it can’t happen now. That it hasn’t happened before actually makes it more likely it will happen now. It is a threat, to you, to me, to everybody you love, to everybody I love. There are so many threats, so much danger in the world. But this is the biggest one. It makes you want to run through the streets screaming. It makes you wonder why not everyone is.
Toward the end of Testament, the school puts on the Pied Piper play. The bombs have fallen. People have already started dying. There is no word from the outside. There are no longer any illusions as to what is happening. But the play goes on anyway. What else can you do? The youngest son comes out, as the Pied Piper, and gives his closing speech as the Piper. “Your children are not gone,” he says. “They are just waiting for a world that deserves them.” Every parent in the audience sobs. They know what world they’ve given their children, and what it means for all of them. The question is: Do we?
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Panthers at Falcons: So, OK! Let’s talk about some football!!!! As always, I’m Will Leitch, I founded this place, I fill in for Drew once a year in this here space. I’m, uh, usually a little lighter than I was up there. Anyway, here’s a fun factoid: I left Deadspin 10 years ago this June. If you remember back when I ran Deadspin, congratulations: You are officially too old to still be reading a sports blog. Anyway, this is the biggest game of the weekend, which is to say, it’s not particularly interesting. When was the last truly great Week 17 moment? Is it still this?
Yes, that’s there just to thank Drew for having me again this year. It’s a gift that never goes out of style.
Bengals at Ravens: I wrote a piece for New York magazine recently about the NFL’s struggles on and off the field this year. This, of course, got the headline “Is This the End of the NFL?” which made me look like someone who is about to give a TED Talk. (To be fair: I do kind of look like I’m going to give a TED Talk.) To the larger point, though: Every year has an uninspired team sneaking into the No. 6 seed — Detroit was the epitome of this last year — but this particular Ravens team becoming that team this years seems fitting in every possible way. Also: I still haven’t quite shaken off this Tweet.
Remember, Ray Lewis actually said that above tweet was part of the reason the Ravens never signed Colin Kaepernick. On Inside the NFL. It is so exhausting to follow sports sometimes.
Raiders at Chargers: I’m in the middle of a long piece about the Vegas hockey team, and I don’t want to give away too much of it here, but I’ll say this: It is truly surprising how into that hockey team Vegas fans are. It’s not just a bunch of tourists wandering in from the Monte Carlo. They love that team, and have even coalesced a little as a community around them. I couldn’t believe it: The Vegas game I went to (one they lost, even) had as roaring and dedicated a home crowd as any hockey game I’ve seen in years. I highly recommend checking it out. I dunno if it’s going to work like that for the Raiders — there are many reasons to be skeptical — but pro sports in Vegas is much different than I thought it would be. Major downside: Carrot Top does the “welcome to the arena, here are our rules and regulations” video before every game. I know the threshold for entertainment is a little lower in Las Vegas, but ... sheesh .
Bills at Dolphins: The Bills are unlikely to make the playoffs now, which is a shame: It would be the most Bills thing ever to end their playoff drought with this lousy irritating team that most of its fans don’t even like. Also:
Cardinals at Seahawks: I’m not sure I’ve ever shared this picture before, but this is the last moment my beloved Arizona Cardinals were truly relevant, captured the exact second that my Super Bowl viewing party watched Santonio Holmes’s catch to win Super Bowl XLIII.
That photo features every Arizona Cardinals fan to ever step foot in any of the five New York City boroughs. They haven’t let any of us back in since.
Bears at Vikings: How are the Vikings going to implode this year? They’ve done the missed field goal. They’ve done the monster interception. They’ve done the hail mary thing. I assume this time, Teddy Bridgewater is going to have to come into the NFC Championship Game, and they’re going to be down 21-17 with one second left, and he’s going to run a naked bootleg for a clear path to the endzone, and then his knee is going to buckle again and he’s going to fall short at the one yard line. That would be fun. Would it be worse than this?
Say what you will about the NFL, but when was the last time the league made you scream in anguish like that? (Don’t answer that, Falcons fans.)
Jets at Patriots: This is a good point, actually. The thing about the NFL is that even its most brutal, painful seasons have often been salvaged by fantastic Super Bowl games. Does the season feel like it’s headed that way this year? Who’s the hero America is behind when they’re trying to beat Tom Brady? Is it Case Keenum? Jared Goff? Here’s to an argument that the only way this season is truly made Worth It is if Drew Brees and the Saints leave Tom Brady crying on the sidelines. Everything else just won’t quite measure up. (Though I find the idea of an Eagles championship compelling. But the idea of the Eagles falling short in crude, brutish fashion even more compelling.)
Cowboys at Eagles: Speaking of which. I will confess, with my team not reaching the playoffs, I am cheering for the Eagles. I have many friends from Philadelphia who have suffered with that stupid team for far too long. I’d love to see it happen. Here’s to you, Daulerio. I always think of what Daulerio wrote on this site back in January 2009, right before my Cardinals beat his Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, when we did our “Mayor’ Bet.” He believed in Donovan McNabb back then, that that was the Eagles team they were all waiting for. In retrospect ... Eagles fans have to feel happy that it turned out McNabb wasn’t the guy, right? (It has certainly made this past month less awkward for them. Now they can just disown the guy.) We all need a fill-in playoff team. I’m going with the Eagles. I apologize in advance.
Browns at Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger has to retire after this year. Right? How in the world is a guy like that, with his history, going to try push one more year in the public spotlight in the #MeToo era? It is amazing he has skated and remained reasonably popular up to this point. I know it’s football, but seriously. This shit’s gonna end up catching up to Jameis Winston at some point too, you watch. For that matter: It’s sort of amazing that Michael Strahan is on every channel these days, isn’t it?
Jaguars at Titans: Here is the point when I save you the trouble of trying to pretend I care about the Jaguars — even the good Jaguars — and instead just promote my movie podcast. It is here. Subscribe to it. Our Dorkfest 2017 show is this week. Can you believe we reviewed movies for Deadspin for nearly four years? I have no idea how any of you put up with us so long. Anyway: We’re still plugging away like schmucks at it.
Chiefs at Broncos: 2017 has been just as hard, if not harder than 2016, so to keep you sane, I give you once again the video that has provided the most empty and absolutely vital endorphin rush to my brain, just like I did last year. We’re all just trying to make it through however we can, people.
49ers at Rams: I’ve noticed, after seven years of fill-in, that no one ever notices anything that’s below the opening essay. Look, to prove it, here is a picture of me looking like a psychopath.
Everyone who is not an Illinois sports fan is looking at that picture thinking, “Jesus Christ, why in the world am I wasting my valuable holiday time looking at this dumbass website? I should go outside.” But every Illini fan is saying, “Jeeezus, how did Leitch get one of those Vitale shirts?” Think I bought one of those at the Mattoon IGA back in 1989.
Saints at Buccaneers: Here is an incomplete list of the important NFL figures who attended (or coached at) Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois:
- Jimmy Garoppolo
- Sean Payton
- Tony Romo
- Mike Shanahan
Also, Syracuse fans, Dino Babers coached there too. See? Central Illinois isn’t a region that has been left behind by the American promise!
Packers at Lions:I feel like long before we talked about “normalization,” we got used to the star ratings having little sperms chasing a football in this Jamboroo pretty quickly.
Texans at Colts: Did anyone ask if it were OK to be alone in a room with Mike Pence’s wife yet? It’s not a situation I anticipate coming up but I want to be prepared just in case.
Washington at Giants: I swear, I have heard more about this boring terrible Giants team this year than I have a winning Bengals, Ravens, Texans, Chiefs, Lions or Falcons team ever. The best thing about leaving New York was not having to care about anything New York related if I didn’t want to, ever again. You know how often I’ve had to think about Phil Mushnick in the last four years? Not once! It’s great! It’s pretty wonderful.
“Scentless Apprentice (Live and Loud 1993),” Nirvana.
Egads. I’m an old dad now, so I can’t pretend I’m not still listening to the same shit I did 20 years ago. But good lord, just out of curiosity, I just googled “Best Rock Songs of 2017.” Here is what came up:
There is only one good song there. Maybe two. But probably one. Only old white guys like me and Drew care about rock music anymore, and that’s a good argument for us hurrying up and dying just to get it all over with already.
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals. Because for the first time in the 20-year history of the fantasy league I have run since I worked at The Sporting News Online in St. Louis, I got the first overall pick this year. I chose my favorite player on my favorite team who just happened to be the consensus overall No. 1 pick. None of those things will ever happen again. And the guy went down Week One. This whole thing is stupid.
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 2017 chopping block:
Marvin Lewis-PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES!
Jerry Richardson-FORCED OUT!
Jack Del Rio
Oh, look Bruce Arians is pulling out the Fake News shit.
He’s going to retire, and we all know it, and when he does it, he’ll say he knew all along but just wanted to keep it private and absolutely no one will call him on it. I honestly am embarrassed I used to like Bruce Arians so much. I really think being on the Amazon show broke his brain; it made him feel like such a celebrity he forgot to, you know, actually coach.
Pimento cheese! When I inevitably give up and finally quit fighting that my body and genealogy desperately want me to be a fat guy, pimento cheese will be the reason why. Since moving to Georgia, I’ve started putting pimento cheese on everything. Why do people think the Midwest has a monopoly on good fatty cheese? This shit is going to kill me. We all gotta go someday, and somehow.
Just a little love for Creature Comforts here in Athens. I still drink shitty American light beer, but if I had any taste or class, this is what I would drink.
Wormwood. Disturbing, challenging, punishing and nearly four hours long. It’s like this movie was made specifically for me.
Thanks as always to Drew for having me, to Marchman for not deleting this whole thing, to whoever takes over for him next year for hopefully letting me come back and to you for putting up with all this. And seriously, subscribe to that newsletter, I spend way too much time on it. Be safe out there this New Years. May 2018 be better than 2017. (It won’t be.)