This has been a fantastic year to give up the NFL. All year long, I've only heard whispers about what I assume are major NFL storylines -- some Ryan Shazier hit (or was he hit?), some quarterback (Tom Savage?) who went into convulsions at being crunched and was soon put back into the game, the continuing insistence that a warm English muffin could play quarterback better than Colin Kaepernick -- and I don't care. At all. There is so much else to care about. Giving up the NFL and all of its trappings and nonsense has been nothing less than wonderful.
Sunday, though, I briefly got caught back up in the NFL web. I didn't like it one bit.
First, as usual, I watched the Browns lose. This time they lost convincingly to Baltimore, and with a couple of minutes left in the game announcer Steve Beuerlein praised the Browns for not quitting (my favorite thing!), and rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer made another astonishingly terrible decision with the Browns in the red zone, and Browns coach Hue Jackson (now 1-29 as Cleveland coach) said afterward that he "told our guys we have to keep working." So it was a pretty typical week.
There was one only one real moment of Browns anti-Zen. At one point after Kizer made one of his patented "I am absolutely not an NFL quarterback" passes, the announcers couldn't stand it anymore. They had been praising him repeatedly all game for how much he has learned, and for how well he has handled an impossible situation and, improbably, for his confidence. Apparently, he confidently told the announcers all week that he intends to be the Browns quarterback for a long time and that nobody can beat him out when he's at his best, which may be true assuming we have not yet seen his best.
"It's just amazing how confident he is," one of them said, apparently misunderstanding the difference between the words "confident," and "delusionary."
But at some point, even the announcers could not hold back. Kizer missed an open receiver for like the 15th time, and one of them -- I think it was Beuerlein but it might have been Steve Tasker -- said something to the effect of: "Kizer has developed a sense of the game and gained valuable experience and now all he has to do is improve his accuracy." Oh, that's all? A few hours in the backyard throwing footballs through an old tire should do the job.
You know there's a word for quarterbacks who cannot, to use some technical terminology, "throw a football where they are aiming it."
That word is: "Stinky."
But, really, what else is there to say about the Browns? They're terrible beyond all adjectives including "putrid," and yet people keep talking and writing about them like they're a real NFL team. Last week, new Browns GM John Dorsey went on a Cleveland radio show and said the obvious: "
"You know what?" he said, "I'll come straight out with it. The guys who were here before, that system, they didn't get real players."
Well, um, OBVIOUSLY that's true. You don't go 1-29 with real players. That is the absolute minimum that Dorsey should say. And yet, because people want to insist the Browns are not this historic dumpster fire, he kind of had to walk it back. Some people were offended! Hey, there are some good players here John! Come on! Why so mean? And Dorsey DID kind of walk it back, saying that what he REALLY meant was that the Browns need MORE good players.
It's amazing. Hue Jackson is 1-29 and people talk about how he's done a good job. The Browns have traded out of spots where potential franchise quarterbacks were taken, and people say that it will play off in the end. People are still calling Corey Coleman a weapon, even though the guy has dropped more touchdown passes than he's caught and apparently can't get open.
The Browns have lost 32 of their last 33 games. No other team in NFL history has lost 32 of 33 games. They are the worst time in NFL history. Why are people saying ANYTHING nice about them?
Every time I hear someone talking about the Browns in measured terms, I think of that Seinfeld exchange.
Jerry: "You know, this is like that Twilight Zone where the guy wakes up, and he's the same and everybody else is different."
Kramer: "Which one?"
Jerry: "They were all like that."
Anyway, this was just the usual thought, a typical Sunday, but then I started getting pulled out of my very personal Browns bubble and into the Mad Max Thunderdome world that is the NFL. I'm still mad about it.
First, news came down about Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson being a pretty serious scumbag. I live in Charlotte so it was pretty hard to ignore the story. Let's just say that any story that involves a person who has employees wear jeans so he can check them out from behind AND has perfected something people call "the seatbelt move," is going to be pretty gross, and that's before you get to the racism. Whew, here I thought that Richardson's greatest crime against humanity was inflicting Hardee's on the world.
So OK, because of Richardson, the NFL is 11 percent worse than I even though.
Then, I got a text from Michael Schur. I am entirely blaming Michael for this. He KNOWS that I don't watch the NFL, but he sent me a running series of angry texts ranting about how stupid the NFL is. I finally texted back saying that while I agree in the macro I had no idea what he was talking about.
He told me to watch highlights of the last minutes of the Patriots-Steelers game.
I shouldn't have done it. But I did -- and I saw the play that sent Mike over the cliff. Now, remember, Mike is a Patriots fan. He is a HUGE Patriots fan. He is the world's leading expert in that whole stupid Tom Brady footballs fiasco (earning his Ph.D in Deflategate late last year; congratulations!).
And yet the play that flipped him out WON THE GAME for the Patriots. On the play, Pittsburgh tight end Jesse James -- because, naturally, the NFL has a player named Jesse James -- caught the game-winning touchdown pass. I refuse to write "appeared to catch," or "seemed to catch," or anything like that. He caught the football. He got two feet down. He fell to one knee. He fell to a second knee. He leaned forward. He moved the ball over the goal line. The ball broke the plane of the end zone. That is as touchdown as touchdown gets.
When he fully fell to the ground, the ball moved around.
And because this is the NFL they studied the play for several hours on replay and concluded that it was an incomplete pass. Well, sure they did. I'm sure that many of you, perhaps even all of you, can quote the precise reason that was an incomplete pass. I'm sure you can cite the chapter and verse of the rule that shows James didn't complete the football move or didn't make a football move or something about football moves.
I don't care. I don't want to hear it. If that's not a catch then I don't want to watch football anymore.
And the good news is: I don't watch football anymore.
Shortly after that, news broke that Jerry Richardson will be selling the Panthers at the end of the year, which I think we all can agree is true justice ... that way the racist sexual harasser will get $2.3 billion for a team he bought for $200 million. A happy and just ending for us all.
Then, finally, later in the day, an NFL official measured for a first down using chains and a notecard. I wouldn't care about this story either except someone pointed out the interview with the referee afterward, and it is beyond priceless. I will try to sum it up here.
Question: Why did you use the index card?
Gene Steratore, referee: "Didn't use the card to make the final decision. The final decision was done visually. ... The card was used as nothing more than affirmation."
Question: How did the card reaffirm what you saw?
Steratore: "That was already finished. The ball was touching the pole. ... The decision was based on my visual from the top looking down and the ball touching the front of the pole."
Question: So why did you use the card?
Steratore: "It was just for reaffirmation."
Question: It reaffirmed, how?
Steratore: "The decision was based on my visual ... the card did nothiing more than reaffirm."
Question: HOW DID THE CARD REAFFIRM THE CALL?
Steratore: "My call was based on the visual."
You know what this is like? This is like me asking one of my daughters why she did something wrong -- had a school lunch entirely made up of Cheetos or forgot to turn in homework that she had already done or something like that. The conversation usually begin with a bunch of "I don't knows," but eventually she will latch on to some lame thing that sort of, kind of has something do with it ("I also had fruit!" or "We had a fire alarm the first 10 minutes of class!") and then she will just keep repeating that bit in the hope that it might all go away.
This guy used a stupid note card he had in his pocket to make sure a team got a first down -- as if haphazardly spotting the ball from across the field and then measuring with chain links is not imprecise enough -- and when asked why he would do something quite that stupid, he wanted to make clear that he didn't use the notecard to make the call. He used a visual. The note card was to reaffirm. He can't tell you how it reaffirmed because he used the visual, and also he used the visual, and don't forget he used the visual, and before you ask the next thing about the card remember, please, that he used the visual.
I guess the point is that the NFL is even worse than I thought before I checked out. The Browns, meanwhile, are exactly as bad as they have been for two years. They are now minus-25 in turnovers for the season, which gives them an outside chance of setting the NFL record for worst plus/minus of 30 set by the 1965 Steelers.
I wonder if someone will ask Hue Jackson how in the world he can escape the jaw-dropping blame for his team having a minus-25 turnover ratio -- seems to me that MIGHT reflect a little bit on coaching -- but I'm sure Hue will just talk about how "I told our guys we have to keep working," and someone else will point out how this team just doesn't quit. Anyway, there was no notecard. The thing was already decided by the visual.