The Hangover is a fevered attempt to collect thoughts on the NFL and anything else stuck in the craws of the brain the day after all football has burned out. All opinions belong solely to the author and all facts belong to that evil new war god of unfeeling thought.
We're through another four game slate of football that felt far longer than it needed to be. I'm pretty sure we all survived a small ice age by the time Broncos-Steelers concluded. Life's great. Let's talk about it.
Go for it
This is the second year in a row now that the Packers have suffered at the hands of the NFL's overtime rules in the postseason, the second time they've been handed defeat without a chance for their offense - more precisely, Aaron Rodgers - to answer for the ignominious humiliation of the defense. The second time they've taken a playoff game to overtime, a second coin toss lost, a second end to their season. It is a shame that they have no chance to answer, and it's led to the belief that the overtime rules need to change. If not to the college rules, then to something that will still allow a possession in order to respond.
But the overtime rules in the NFL were not meant to create a compelling and competitive overtime period. They're not meant to be perfectly fair. They were meant, quite simply, to end a football game. The savagery of a Sunday is such that it must be ended swiftly beyond the allotted time. To change the rules would have to go against the players, who would probably not want to subject their bodies to more toil, unless it was in this case, the postseason. Indeed, overtime in the regular season could be seen as a convenient way to avoid having to say that the teams tied, which seems to leave a sour taste of bile in the mouth of most American sports fans (the tie is still possible, but highly discouraged).
I would be fine with different rules that would expand overtime for the postseason and keep the same system in place for the regular season - after all, the NHL does not resolve playoff games with shootouts.
But perhaps, if the Packers had wanted to avoid risking overtime altogether, they could have just gone for two rather than settle for the knowledge that their season might ride on the fate of a coin toss. That's an option! It's in the rules right now! A fast, painless way to avoid this whole chicanery, and certainly open for consideration when the Packers scored with no regulation time remaining.
But no one wants to stake their reputation against the ravening hordes of the media should that conversion fail. Isn't playing the results wonderful?
Flirting with disaster
The Panthers put the dogs on Seattle. Every excuse came out of the woodworks. Body clocks. Terrible turf. The curse of Papa Legba and Petey Pablo.
But perhaps the greatest explanation can come in another dread curse laid on Russell Wilson by Future. I believe in it. I will continue to hold fast until someone can prove me different. A rapper's curse is not to be trifled with. I witnessed The Based God Lil' B lay waste to Kevin Durant and James Harden. Sure, Future hasn't said it's a curse, but when you drop a mixtape the night of the game and take aim, I won't believe for a second that the negative energies of the universe haven't converged over Wilson's gangling head.
It's not like the Panthers didn't know. Choice Future tracks played during warmup. Tre Boston Esco stepping on a sack. Athletes should just do better to avoid the wrath of rappers.
That's not to say that the Panthers didn't try to hand the game away at the end. Never believe an NFL coach who talks a good talk about not taking his foot off the gas, claiming he'll go hard regardless of the score. Ron Rivera thought the bird was dead and coyly toyed with it in the name of running out the clock and creating semi-decent television. Fox thanks him for his service.
I'm here to deliver a warning now.
Last week, fearless editor and fantasy writer Ryan Mathews (not to be confused with Ryan Mathews) had the brilliant idea to create a Pride Of Detroit fantasy war council to create a shared lineup on FanDuel (who is a great and loving sponsor do not doubt them) for the weekend's playoff games. At the time it seemed like a wonderful idea. It brought the staff closer together. It lifted spirits. We convinced ourselves we would all be rich.
What happened starting Saturday afternoon was a galling disaster.
Right from the beginning panic drenched the staff as we screamed at Tom Brady for filching a touchdown. We screamed when he overshot Gronkowski. But spirits were high. It was only the first game.
Then Randall Cobb left the Packers-Cardinals game and all bets were off. Fingers were being pointed. Alex Reno's insistence on Doug Baldwin in the lineup became a scapegoat for our collective sins. The first of many great rifts would form as the POD staff chat became filled with all-caps gibbering.
Anger grew. More yelling about Doug Baldwin. But we were still in the money! Like degenerate monkeys at Circus Circus we were howling and screaming but the chips could still land our way.
Then, Sunday evening. For all our rage at Alex Reno and his undying love for Doug Baldwin, the real back breaker would come from the decision of Jeremy Reisman, fearless leader, devoted to his beloved Wolverines and Fitzgerald Toussaint, to end this collective dream. See if you can guess what was going on at the time of this screenshot.
We did not end up within the money. Spoiler alert.
I hope I haven't lost everyone talking about fantasy football, but I want you to understand the ramifications. I don't know if Pride Of Detroit will be the same after this. We've learned too much about each other. We'll either be closer for it or we'll just despise each other's guts. And we're never making a lineup together again.
Let this not be a condemnation of Ryan Mathews, who is a wonderful human being. His idea was noble. Our failing is communal.
I've got nothing to remark of the dreary useless battle in Denver on Sunday other than it's fitting that the Steelers season was ostensibly ended on a sack on Ben Roethlisberger, as it always seemed ordained to be, and that we will once again and perhaps for the last time be witness to the Brady-Manning Bowl for right to go to Super Bowl 50. Even if the game will be a complete wash for the Patriots, even if this particular rematch has long worn out its welcome as Manning inexorably ages and ages and Brady leans more and more on backbreaking super weapons, it suits well the purposes of this road to a golden game.
I suppose I'm a heretic, for I've never seen the appeal of Brady and Manning going at it. I have no vivid memories of any time in recent history where this matchup provided us with compelling results or a inside glimpse at any tête-à-tête fire between these two quarterbacks. There's certainly been some good games produced, but nothing out of the ordinary for the NFL when two good teams with great quarterbacks meet. Whatever personal stakes there are between these two, whatever hatred or contention they might feel for one another, they are invisible to me.
But the media loves it, the fans love it and it feels fitting this is the AFC championship game given the arc of the last decade and change, so that's what matters.
Last Tuesday, in a smoke-filled private room in the belly of Vic & Anthony's steakhouse in Houston, Stan Kroenke was seeking permission by the Thirty-Two Families of La Lega Nostra to move his operations to the great untapped wellspring of Inglewood, with possibility that one of the families from San Diego or Oakland might join him in this new venture. Roger Goodell merely shrugged, but Kroenke got down on his knee and kissed his ring. In the back, the Clan of Davis, screwed by their hated foes, made plans to move to San Antonio just in case it all fell through.
It's another chapter of pain and grief paved over as opportunity and new media markets and charts of growth, all of which happens in the other realm of professional sports too, but this particular case was supercharged. The irony of the matter was of the three cities, St. Louis was prepared to sacrifice their economic future in the name of keeping the football team's fickle billionaire satisfied; for a second time, mind you, as they haven't even finished paying off the Edward Jones Dome yet. None of that mattered. Kroenke wanted out and that was that.
Relocation's been in the lifeblood of the National Football League from its days of inception. The origins of the great shield can be found in small industrial towns lost in the recesses of the vast empty hills of the Midwest and upstate New York, from Rochester to Rock Island and all spaces between. And unlike with baseball, there is no vast minor league that just so happens to preserve the traditions in these forgotten towns when the focus of the sport shifted to sprawling metropolitan coliseums. Teams simply moved or collapsed, and what was once a 22 team league spread across those small places in the 1920s shrunk to a meager ten teams by the eve of the Second World War - nine existing in great metropolitan areas, the lone exception the Green Bay Packers.
Now, however, relocation has become a spectacle in itself. Where there used to be the league's shame in the actions of Robert Irsay and Art Modell there is now a day-long special on the NFL Network, fanfare and pomp and Jim Nantz talking about how "regrettable" it is that this game might be this team's last home game, spoken in a tone that conveys that nothing can be done to avert these terrible tragedies.
The Rams belonged to Los Angeles for fifty years before they were a part of St. Louis, and those Rams fans still exist out on the coast. And in spite of what Kroenke's cohorts tell you, there's many football fans in St. Louis; they were created when the team came to town in the 90s and more came to being when that same team became the Greatest Show On Turf. And just as St. Louis is no stranger to football, it is no stranger to losing football teams, and each one whittles at the trust these fans have in the league to do right by them. My own father was a St. Louis Cardinals fan before they packed up things to move for Phoenix in '88. When they left town, his interest in being a fan of any other NFL team ended. The same thing was being repeated last week.
It takes a lot to forge a fan. It takes a vivid memory, often of victory and often of a given star player, and it takes a godawful amount of money spent in merchandise and memorabilia and tickets. It takes dedication, a certain strain of insanity to ignore negative outcomes and cherish positive moments. It takes an emotional investment that seems stupid and a tolerance to come back after those emotions cause mental anguish. Did I mention it takes a shit ton of money? Tickets really aren't cheap these days, and that's before you get to all the silly things a young fan might want as collectible memorabilia or clothing.
By comparison, eradicating that fandom can be excessively easy if you rip the team away from its given city. The team is no longer down the block, and the long distance relationship rarely works out. The breakup is never easy, and everyone leaves bitter and angry that a piece of their home is taken from them. The belief that a good portion of those fans will remain and simply watch the team on television or make long road treks to Los Angeles is, at best, a coke dream. The loyalty of many fans is to the team the city is in, not to some distant owner and his geography-free notion of "franchise."
But the Rams aren't the only fanbase facing this now. What will become of the Chargers fans, who would remain undyingly loyal to the team but might not tolerate that they once again are overshadowed by the sprawling neighbor to the north? What of the Raiders fans, remembering that there are fans in both southern and northern California and yet somehow both might be scorned should they pack up for Texas?
More importantly, the NFL shoulder consider this: will those seeds ever regrow? Could they ever hope to bring a new team into St. Louis or San Diego or the Bay and expect a warm reception after these three betrayals?
The conceit is that NFL fans will remain loyal no matter where the teams go. That's ridiculous, and the NFL is thrice damned if it thinks it can lean on this kind of New Age marketing "All Glory and Honor is Yours Almighty Brand Forever and Ever" crap while torching city after city, state after state and all the fans therein in the quest for new markets and new stadiums and taxpayer millions.