The NFL is almost here, and after my first full summer spent covering sports, I'm more excited than ever. Covering NBA players golfing, Kurt Warner biopics, and Roger Clemens will make a man excited for ANYTHING.
And through it all, football's been the light at the end of this tunnel. The preview season has been in full swing for a few weeks now, and you can find some excellent coverage elsewhere on SBNation.com, as our team bloggers have been profiling their favorite teams from top to bottom. You can find the first half of the 2010 previews here.
But as the second half of previews roll out over the next few weeks, we figured it'd a good idea to take things in a little different direction. The NFL is way too awesome to limit our previews to team-by-team breakdowns and projected records.
We're talking about the biggest business in sports. A sport that enters our lives one or two days a week, but transfixes America for a solid six months. And with anything that broad, there's a wide range of people involved with shaping the product in ways both good and bad. We're talking heroes and villains. And over the next day two days, we'll break down the people that make this game great, and the people who just make us angry and annoyed.
First up! The villains. These are men that use their influence to torture us, be it with pedantic moralizing (DUNGY!) or inane commercials (Hey, Peyton Manning again!) or simply pissing us off just by existing. And by us, I mean me. This list is subjective, and if you disagree, feel free to create your own list in the comments. Anyway, without further ado...
10. Brett Favre-y Favre Favreman
Brett Favre, scourge on the soul of the American sports fan, got his SB Nation close-up a few weeks ago, when I wrote "He's just a nuisance, popping up year after year like some motif in a heavy-handed media commentary, destined to bludgeon us over and over again until we finally get the point. It'd sound crazy to anyone that's been in a coma for the past few years, but Brett Favre makes football less fun ... The league-leader in smiles produces mostly groans these days."
The amount of media coverage dedicated to Favre—which he absolutely covets—makes him a constant presence in our lives as fans, and that'd be fine. BUT HE'S NOT THAT EFFING GOOD.
Nobody can sit here and say he's outright terrible, and that makes this harder to explain, but he's not half as good as the reputation that precedes him. At this point in his career, he's like Jake Plummer on the Broncos a few years back. A veteran quarterback, good arm strength, team leader, and consistently sketchy decision making. Did we make commercials about Jake Plummer's HILARIOUS waffling between retirement and playing another year?
No, because Jake Plummer's not Brett Favre-y Favre Favreman. God we hate you, Brett:
The only reason he's not higher on the list is because, as Jon Bois' absurd (and superb) infographic highlights, the Brett Favre hate cycle has gotten so convoluted, it's impossible to accurately gauge where we are at any given moment. But he's definitely in the top 10 at all times.
9. LaDainian Tomlinson
Is he a well-spoken superstar with a heartwarming tale of success, a good family, and a long history of giving back to the community? Yes, but that's beside the point.
LaDainian continues to "matter" and that's infuriating. Can we all just admit that he's insanely washed up and should probably retire? And it wasn't even a badass, spectacular injury that brought an end to his dominance. He just sort of stopped being good, and started pulling up lame with a hamstring injury every other game. And for two years now, we've been doing this awkward dance with his legacy, where we talk about him among the most explosive players in the game, even though Darren Sproles (Darren Sproles!) is making him look obsolete.
That, and he's always been a little more obnoxious than he gets credit for. Whether it was whining about the Patriots after he got embarrassed on his homefield, refusing to take off his weird-ass helmet for interviews, or co-opting the LT nickname from one of the most badass humans that sports has ever seen. Tomlinson's always been secretly annoying, and a perfect ambassador for his feckless San Diego teams, destined to fall short of their outsized expectations, then whine about it after it happens.
"Hey, cool dance, LT! And awesome-looking visor! Will you play 10 games this year?"
8. Cris Collinsworth
Only because everyone insists on praising him at every turn. And yeah, he's a pretty good announcer. But for one thing, the dude is just smarmy. That's not a term that can bestowed lightly on anyone. But with his gelled hair, forced chuckles, and cocksure analysis of stuff that's mostly self-evident, Collinsworth fits the bill. Smarmy.
Does the "best analyst in football" have to act like it, constantly?
(And we can all agree: this version of Collinsworth would be a lot more entertaining.)
(UPDATE: He also spells his name "Cris" and not "Chris." SO MUCH SMARM.)
7. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning
Now, one of these guys is probably the best quarterback of my lifetime. Both are among the top ten of all time, and deserving of every single on-field accolade they've ever gotten. So that's on the record.
Sort of like Favre, we can't deny their talent. Even moreso than Favre: When one of these guys goes down, it changes the entire landscape of the league. See Tom Brady in 2008, or even last season, when he played the second half of the year with broken ribs. In a sport where no individual is bigger than the team or the league at large, these two come closest to disproving that theory.
But GAWD they're annoying. In completely different ways, too. Manning markets himself as the everyman that can laugh at himself. The jovial companion that's really just a normal guy, playin' football but having fun along the way. And you know what? That couldn't be further from the truth. His approach to the game of football couldn't possibly be more joyless. He studies film at an inhuman rate, audibles to a gratuitous extent--literally, before every goddamn play, Manning will be snapping out adjustments like a schoolteacher rearranging a classroom--and generally, treats football like a science class instead of recess.
At the Super Bowl in 2007, he famously refused to allow families to visit the team hotel, because "I don't want any crying kids next to me while I'm trying to study." Just a normal guy! A normal guy with a pathological dedication to film study and anti-social tendency toward teammates and their families. HOW ENDEARING.
By contrast, Brady's the guy with his picture next "Blue Collar" in the NFL dictionary, a distinction that's become so ludicrous over the years, we almost don't even need to say anything. "Tom Brady, blue collar": that's the joke. Sure, he's playing for well below his market value this year in New England, but it's not like the guy is roughin' it up there in New England. Or out in Los Angeles, where he spends every offseason.
Yeah, that hair looks like he just rolled out of bed, doesn't it? But here's to betting it took a solid 120 minutes to "style" and it's being held together by a delicate combination of "firming" hair product and a publicist, standing by with a portable fan, constantly blowing it directly into Tom's perfect, blue eyes.
Brady is a lot of things, but blue collar isn't one of them. He's not everyman; he's every man's absolute best case scenario, bolstered by superb marketing, and sleeping with a super model. He's a constant reminder of our collective inadequacy, a problem compounded by the media, when they insist on making him out to be some sort of paragon of against-the-odds success and selflessness. So, yeah: He's pretty annoying.
6. Jay Cutler
Enough said. He's worse than any quarterback, ever. Good luck with that, Chicago.
5. Josh McDaniels, Eric Mangini, Todd Haley.
People like these three aren't just annoying in football, but they're generally insufferable in life. For more on what makes these guys so special, we consult Stefan Fatsis' excellent article in Sports Illustrated last year, as he writes, "Just when you thought NFL coaches couldn't get any less likable, a crop of young know-it-alls is taking the league by scowl."
In Denver, 33-year-old Josh McDaniels made rookies report to training camp at 5:30 a.m. to practice comedy skits. In Kansas City, Todd Haley, 42, started an argument with a Pro Bowl lineman who had flown in to introduce himself. Mangini, 38, made headlines after asking rookies to take a 10-hour bus ride to work at his summer football camp and, last month, fining a player $1,701 for failing to pay for a $3 bottle of water from a hotel minibar.
McDaniels: Reporting to camp at 5:30 to practice comedy skits? That's just pure evil. Asking anyone to be funny before 7 a.m. should be against the law--let alone some sadsack group of rookies.
Mangini: Have you ever paid $1,700 for a bottle of water? ... No? THEN YOU'RE CLEARLY NOT READY FOR THE NFL. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, KID? TOUGHEN UP.
Haley's as bad as the other two, of course. Bernard Pollard asked the Chiefs head coach to treat him like a grown man, and he was promptly cut. Pollard immediately resigned with the Texans, and had this to say about his tenure with Todd:
"With professional athletes, you’re dealing with grown men. You’re not dealing with boys. You’re not in a locker room with sophomores in high school. You’re dealing with grown men with families. I have a wife. I have a son. And I have a daughter on the way. I’m not going to sit there and let you curse me out when you feel like cursing me out or talk to me any way you want to talk to me, and you just want me to sit and take it and say, ‘Yes, coach.’"
And good for him. Fatsis dubbed these guys "tyrants" but that's not quite right; they're pissants. Insecure little dictators that have no means for leadership other than to berate their well-meaning players. All three missed the playoffs last season, and with any luck, each will be unemployed come next March.
4. Reggie Bush
I like Reggie more than most, but... He's basically a third-down running back/punt returner that's one of the ten most famous professional football players alive. Something about that just doesn't make sense. Like, why is Reggie Bush more famous than Chris Johnson?
Because he's the epitome of a 21st celebrity. He doesn't really do anything to warrant all his fame, so much as he's incredibly good at being famous. In effect, Reggie is famous for being famous. He's the Ashton Kucher of the NFL. Or, say, a Kardashian.
He's actually a better player than anyone gives him credit for; considered "overrated" for so long, he's now "underrated". But "Ashton Kutcher of the NFL" is pretty damning, no? He's famous for dating a Kardashian, having a Twitter account, and palling around with celebrities. He and Mark Sanchez should just get it overwith and release a sex tape.
3. Roger Goodell
We won't delve too far into Goodell and why he represents the worst elements of American power, corporate interests, and conservative thinking, because that would be depressing and it might land me on some list somewhere. Instead, suffice it to say that since assuming office a few years ago, Goodell has existed to constrict individuality, doing everything in his power to make football less fun and spontaneous.
Maybe that's good for the overall well-being of the league, but from where I sit, it creates a landscape where the most exciting and captivating performers--the ones that sell his billion dollar business--are constantly chafing against the Ginger Forces of the league office. There's something perverse about that dynamic. Is Roger Goodell cleaning up America's game? Or is he robbing it of any humanity?
I'm afraid to say anything more, so let's look at the other side of the coin.
2. Wide Receivers
They make the list for "Coolest" and "Most Annoying," so we'll talk about why they're great tomorrow. For now, if we're going to criticize the petulant ginger in the league office, we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room—an elephant loudly demanding the ball, explaining (in the third person) how elephants like him are perpetually disrespected, then prancing around like a drunk elephant once he finally has everyone's attention.
Ochocinco is cool in small doses, but can you imagine having to root for him every single weekend? Think of the Bengals fans that have had to endure his schtick for a solid five years now. After a while, it's okay to just celebrate after big touchdowns. People know exactly who you are and what you're known for, and it's okay to underwhelm them sometimes. We won't take offense.
But because criticizing these guys--who do make things more fun--feels unnatural, we'll move on to the most annoying human in the National Football League.
1. Tony Dungy
"Yeah, um, Tony? It's not entirely clear what it is you 'do' here."
Really. Other than NBC commentator, what is Dungy's relationship to the NFL? Where does he get off advising Roger Goodell on Rex Ryan's language? Surely there's some authority that we don't know about. Is he the NFL's...
- A. Secretary of Moral Rectitude?
- B. Associate God-Fearer to the Commissioner's Office?
- C. General Manager of Misfit Humans?
- D. Professional Press-Conference Giver?
If it's not some secret position created by Roger Goodell, then what exactly makes Tony Dungy the guardian of the NFL's conscience? He's mild-mannered, he believes in God, and by all accounts, he seems like a pretty great guy. But since when does that qualify him to weigh in with an opinion on Rex Ryan? Who cares what Tony Dungy thinks?
There was a great profile of his role last year, by Brian Curtis:
...as a head coach with Tampa Bay, and then the Indianapolis Colts, Dungy also cut a chaste figure. "Because of my Christian witness, I don’t lash out or make a scene with the officials," he has written. He didn’t use profanity in practice. Even after summiting the NFL in 2006—he was the first African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl—Dungy was apt to write, "Football is a vocation and an opportunity for ministry."
Should football really be an opportunity for ministry? And why does the NFL insist on giving him a pulpit to preach from, even after he retired. It's one thing to lead by example, it's something else to inject yourself into someone else's life just to prove your piety.
Of Ryan's profanity, Dungy said he hoped Roger Goodell might step in, because "I just don’t think the league needs that. I don’t think our young people need to hear that that’s what’s done to be successful ... It doesn’t have to be that way."
As for Dungy's piety, it's beside the point to delve deep into his character, but it's worth mentioning that his own family story is far from idyllic, making his testimonies even more hollow. Rex Ryan is about as much of a player's coach as you'll find anywhere in the NFL; if he wants to use profanity as a way to relate to his players, all of whom are adults, then let him do it!
Dungy's problem is that without his soaring rhetoric about morality and "doing things the right way," his opinion really doesn't matter that much. He was a successful NFL coach that won a Super Bowl; he also lost as a favorite in a slew of playoff games with the Bucs and Colts, and his success pales in comparison with that of, say, notorious-philanderer Bill Belichick, or everyone's favorite world-class lush, Jimmy Johnson.
The lesson? Different people can be successful different ways, and it's nobody's place to step forward and tell anyone else how to live. The NFL does that all too often with its uniform policies, celebration penalties, draconian punishments, etc. But nobody personifies that attitude quite like Tony Dungy up there. How about we just live and let live, ya know?
People are different, and that's a good thing. Life's more interesting that way. And if you don't believe, just pretend Tony Dungy said it. For some reason, everyone seems to trust his opinion.