I’m watching the Columbia vs. Greece game as I type this.  I think the big thing that prevents me from really enjoying it is that there seems to be no chance of a sudden score from anywhere on the field.  I mean, in American football (which I understand is called “gridiron” by the rest of the world–much better name for it.) you occasionally see 99-yard touchdowns.  It’s unusual, but still it could happen.

But I don’t think you ever see goals that go the length of the field in soccer.  It might even be against the rules, for all I know–never was clear on where you were allowed to score from, exactly.  Also–and this may well be a mistaken impression–but somehow a 2 goal lead in soccer, like Columbia currently enjoys, feels much bigger than a 14-point lead in a gridiron game. I don’t know if it is, but it feels like it.  I’d be interested to see the in-game win probability comparisons, though.

There was a good show on PBS last night about George Plimpton, of which the above video is an excerpt.  As I have said before, I love his most famous book, Paper Lion, about his time as the “last-string” quarterback for the Detroit Lions. I also enjoyed his book Open Net about playing goalie for the Boston Bruins.

That’s really only the tip of the Plimpton iceberg, though. It would probably be faster to list all the things he didn’t do in life, but just read the Wikipedia synopsis of his career. I don’t think he could ever be accused of not living life to the fullest.

The thing that gets forgotten in the talk of the guts Plimpton had to try (and fail) all these difficult activities, is the fact that he was also a truly great writer.  I recommend Paper Lion even to people who don’t care about football in the least, simply because it is so well-written.

A Disaster



The only thing worse than drafting a wide-receiver in the first round is trading up to do so. Buffalo mortgaged the future in order to get someone who won’t help them win now.  Then they picked a lineman from Alabama, and linemen from Alabama generally don’t work out in the pros. But at least they did pick some linemen–that is the one and only good thing to say about this draft.

Really, it all goes back to the fact that I am not sold on E.J. Manuel as the quarterback.  I don’t care how good Sammy Watkins is; it’s not going to matter if they can’t get him the ball.  They would have been so much better off drafting University of Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, but I guess they saw no value in having a hometown star who plays a key position on the team.

But ok; so they decided to go the “build the offense by getting good receivers” route. I have seen no evidence that this plan will work, (look at Arizona for the past decade to see the best outcome of this scheme) but apparently, that was their strategy.

So, if that really is their idea, why would they then go and trade the best (or second-best, if you buy the Watkins hype) receiver on the roster?  I mean, do they want to have a strong receiving corps or not?

And of course they failed to draft Michael Sam, which I really thought they should have.  That’s not a disaster, but it would have been smart.  (By the way, how is it that the Defensive Player of the Year in the best college conference falls to the late seventh-round, especially when the latest any previous recipient of that honor went was in the fifth round?)

To my mind, the clear winner of this draft was Cleveland. They strengthened their defense, got someone who has the potential to be the next Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton, and got Buffalo’s first-round pick next year (I expect it will be a very high one) to boot.

This is normally the time of year when I urge them to get Tebow.  But I’ve given up on that.  I think they should draft Sam for much the same reason I thought they should add Tebow: he gets attention. Well, that and he has an awesome football name. ‘Mike” traditionally designates middle linebacker, and “Sam” designates the strongside linebacker.

The press will be interested in the first season of the first openly gay NFL player.  It’s something novel to report on, and so probably his games will get more coverage.  This is exactly what Buffalo needs, as they generally are ignored except when they are playing [read: getting beaten by] New England.

Besides, I have a hunch that, in the wake of the Ritchie Incognito scandal, the league wants to prove its not a place filled by angry people who are intolerant of anyone who is different in any way.  So, again, they’ll want to give more attention and more favorable marketing to the team that drafts him.

Now, it still wouldn’t be worthwhile if he played some position like wide receiver or running back, where there’s a lot of cheap talent to be had.  But linebackers are valuable, and it can’t hurt to have depth at the position. Moreover, I suspect a lot of teams will miss out on him because they are worried he will be a “distraction”, meaning Buffalo may be able to get him for a lower draft pick than they otherwise would for a player of his talents.

He may not be first-round pick material.  But he’s probably worth spending the second rounder on, if they are really worried some other team is trying to get him.  At the least, I would say they should draft him before they draft any receivers or running backs.

SEA: 23

SF: 22

Kaepernick is not quite as good as Wilson.

  NE: 29

                DEN: 26 (O.T.)

…however, ask me in another half hour, and I might say “Denver by 14” instead.  I went back and forth trying to figure this game out.  But it’s one of the most difficult matchups I can remember.

On the one hand, Denver is exactly the kind of powerful but wildly unbalanced offense that almost always collapses in the playoffs.  It’s not that Manning “chokes” as people always say; it’s just that his teams are usually one-dimensional passing attacks, and when they meet someone who can stop that, they lose.

New England, meanwhile, seems to have finally done what I’ve been saying they should do these past few seasons, and developed a running game.  This is good–for a time, they were the one-dimensional passing team that was always collapsing in the postseason.

The only difficulty is that almost all of their first-stringers on defense, and their top receiving weapon, are injured.  Soon or later, this seems bound to catch up to them.  Thanks to the salary cap, teams just can’t build up depth.  But then again, no one would’ve said they could get even this far with so many injuries, and yet here they are.  So why not take down one of the best offenses in NFL history while they’re at it?

Then, of course, there is the meeting earlier in the season between the two teams. Normally, that would give some indication of what to expect.  But somehow, I doubt New England will spot Denver a 24-point lead again by fumbling three times.  But if they do, I don’t think their offense, sans Gronkowski, can come back.

It could be a shootout.  It could be a defensive struggle.  It could be a blowout by either side.  All I know is it figures to be pretty entertaining.

So, no doubt even non-gamers have heard the fuss about the new gaming consoles coming out this month.  It’s the first new console generation when I have had no desire to buy any of the new consoles.  Here’s why:

Now, graphics aren’t all that matters, and if there were a good launch title–say, a Fallout 4, made by Obsidian–on these consoles, I would likely get one.  But there isn’t. All there is is Madden and Call of Duty: Ghosts.   (So named, I assume,  because everyone is a ghost after all the apocalyptic world wars depicted in previous Calls of Duty.)

I am not seeing any reason to upgrade.

Okay, this isn’t directly connected to learning about soccer, but it’s still soccer-related.  About a month ago, there was some kind of collegiate rugby tournament on television.  I watched some of it, and it was surprisingly enjoyable.

Rugby seemed to me to be almost exactly halfway between soccer and American football.  It’s like the missing link in the evolution from one to the other.  From an anthropological perspective, it was cool to see how it had changed.

It was kind of like the desperation, lateral plays that teams will sometimes use at the end of football games–the 1982 California vs. Stanford game being the most famous example.  (Aside: why don’t more teams use that in lieu of the “Hail Mary”?)  It was like a continuous lateral play.  For those who find the pace of football too slow, rugby might be more their speed, more soccer-like.

I’m surprised it isn’t more popular than it is in the U.S.  I suspect it’s because the players don’t look as impressive as football players, since they don’t wear helmets or pads.  I think a faster-paced version of football could really catch on.

(Part 1 is here.)  The big difference between soccer and football is the pace–with soccer, play just goes on and on, in a more or less continuous flow. With football, everybody sets up runs a play which takes usually not more than 20 seconds, and thenfootball stop and set up to run another play.

This is kind of weird, because if you think of sports as a substitute for war, football is more analogous to 19th-century European warfare, with units being moved carefully into position and then executing maneuvers.  Soccer is faster and more anarchic.  I wonder how this relates to the fact that soccer is popular in Europe and football is popular in America.soccer

On another note, I think football looks cooler than soccer, largely because of the helmets. (Some people I know think they look stupid, though.)  It looks like there are robots out there fighting, as opposed to just guys in shorts and polo shirts.

As I think I’ve mentioned before on here, I’ve never had much interest in soccer.  I prefer American football.  But lately, I’ve been trying to learn more about soccer.  It is the world’s most popular sport, after all.

Naturally, for me, the first step in this process was to get a soccer video game and give it a try to make some attempt at getting a feel for the game.  This may not be a perfect method, but it’s how I started to learn about football.  I’ve also been watching highlights of real soccer games, but I can tell I’m going to need to know more background about the teams and so forth before these will be really interesting.

So far, from what I can tell, it seems to be a game largely based on angles–the best way to score that I can see is to take the ball and allow a bunch of defenders to follow you down one side of the field.  Then, you kick the ball to one of your players who will most probably be running open down the center or opposite side.  This is soften how goals get scored that I would almost think this was just a bit of video game-ness, except I’ve seen it happen a fair amount on the highlights, too.

On offense, the game is mostly about trying to exploit mismatches that you lure the defense into.  In this respect, it’s a lot like football, except that in football the mismatches are created before the snap with the deliberate placement of players and personnel groups, whereas in soccer they get set up on the fly, even in the wake of other plays.

I still have a lot to learn.  For instance, I understand that there are different formations in soccer, though I can’t yet tell what they are, or what the purpose of them is.  It still all looks like two disorganized groups running around to me.

I did something new yesterday.  I watched almost all of an episode of a “reality TV” show.  I’ve really never watched any in the past–save for a few minutes of a “Wipeout” course that looked kind of neat–because “reality TV” shows strike me as stupid, which is a little unfair to think given that I’ve never seen one, but I have seen commercials for them during football games and they don’t look very interesting.

But it transpired I had some time to waste, and there was nothing on PBS that I hadn’t seen, and so I flipped over to the show “Stars Earn Stripes” on NBC.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s a show in which various celebrities run missions “based on” military training exercises.  The only celebrity on it who I had heard of before was Sarah Palin’s husband, so I’m not sure they’re actually “stars”.

I think the words “based on” are highly significant here.  I have never served in the military, but I am highly skeptical of whether they would have a training exercise like the one on last night’s episode, where the contestants had to shoot (with a pistol) at stationary, dinner-plate sized targets on the ground from a parked humvee. Seems pointless, unless they are expecting to fight a ground war against an army of dinner plates. If any veterans read this and have seen the show, I’d love to hear from them about it.

Their was also some sort of “elimination round” between two of the contestants.  It seemed more realistic, in that it was some kind of competition to clear a confined area of targets.  It looked like shows I’ve seen on S.W.A.T. training where they practice fighting through a building that has been taken over by criminals.

A lot of people, including Nobel Peace Prize Winners, say the show glorifies war.  I guess it does, but it mostly glorifies training for war, which may or may not be the same thing.  It’s not as egregious about it as, for example, the super-popular Call of Duty games or many popular action movies,  but at the same time it definitely plays like a military recruiting commercial, especially with the awkward presence of General Wesley Clark as co-host.

Is that bad?  I don’t know; the military has been trying to figure out ways of recruiting more people through P.R. stunts ever since the draft ended.  Maybe it was because of my expectations, but it struck me as no different than those ads you see during football games for the various branches of the service.  And those, I feel, are about as likely to succeed as other commercials.

It’s the Act of Valor issue all over again: sure, it’s recruiting film, but that still doesn’t answer whether it’s a bad thing or a good thing.  Personally, I think it’s kind of weird to show the celebrities doing stuff “based on” military training.  Seeing them try to get through an exact re-creation of Army Ranger training would probably be more exciting viewing, but then, I don’t think many celebrities would sign on for that.  And I doubt many viewers would say “looks like fun.”

Like I said, I haven’t seen much reality TV, but I get the impression the big draw is seeing the emotional disputes and inter-personal drama between the contestants.  There was none of that here.  I’m guessing that NBC wanted an emotionally stable cast, since they are giving them access to real weapons and live ammunition.  (Shades of “You can’t fight in here, this is the war room!”)  It makes practical and ethical sense, but probably makes for worse TV.

Lastly, I did feel a little weird watching the show.  Maybe I am cynical but it–along with most reality shows and sporting events–remind me a little too much of the Ancient Roman Gladiator Games.  While it’s obviously much safer for the contestants, there’s still something a bit unsettling about it as a viewer.

“Pollice Verso” by Jean-Léon Gérôme. 1872 artist’s conception of gladiatorial games.