Iowa football is like an internet dating profile: if we were anything like our impression of ourselves, we'd find ourselves a lot busier on New Year's Eve.
Nurse Ratched game plans the offense, and all the tough guys are in after-school detention, not practice.
Did I mention? This is the year we make ex-Florida coaches who got fired look like geniuses.
This note offers a strained analogy, a good poem, and ironic praise for an ex-Florida head coach, whom we made look like a genius at Penn State yesterday.
I. Iowa is the Internet Dating Profile Team of the Week.
Yes, I am admitting to experience with this social phenomenon, internet dating. It's what you do when you work 100 hours a week, get divorced, and don't want to watch TV every night with a cat and a bottle of pinot blanc. They'll have dinner with you and maybe jump you in the car if you email them obsequiously about how good it's going to be.
Parse: I saw my first game in the actual flesh yesterday. We do not look anything like our pictures. We do not look like the description we post, of ourselves. We lack the attributes -- "spirited, lively ... athletic and toned ... creative and flexible ... light on my feet ... sharp-witted and surprising ... hot in tight pants" -- we use to lure the naive and inexperienced into a torrid internet correspondence leading to a very expensive, carefully choreographed, thrilling assignation.
No, we're like the chick I took to dinner once at Citronelle, who didn't order but brought out some tupperware containers filled with roughage, proceeded to eat that claiming medical necessity while telling me all about her former obesity, the fiance who was killed in the bar fight, did I like spinning (that's when you sit on your ass and spin your wheels and sweat to no end) and then nodded off from one too many Xanax when she finally made it out to the car. Asleep, she drooled.
But she looked great in her pictures.
Television, like the internet, is a big lie when it comes to watching football. On television, you don't see what's happening between plays, you don't see all 11 guys in motion, you don't see who the leaders on the field are, and you don't see clearly what the other teams' coaches are trying to do to you.
Our job yesterday was to pay for a big fancy dinner for 108,951 people (approximately 17 of whom appeared to be non-caucasian! whoa!), make them feel good about themselves for a few hours, allow them to make optimistic, self-deceiving phone calls to their moms about how great they are, and get back in our cars for the long quiet ride home, thinking, "What the fuck am I doing with my life?"
We looked flat, featureless, as interesting as lettuce, and clueless to the fact that this cycle we're repeating is NOT GOING TO MIRACULOUSLY TURN OUT WELL ONE DAY. We're the internet date from hell who posts 5 year-old pictures and recycles cliches from Sleepless in Seattle, because that's who we are in our hearts, not in reality. And in our hearts, other football teams are afraid of us. Oh boy. We are so fucked.
Ahh, jeez, I can't go into the technical football stuff now. Extrapolate, maybe? Besides, I don't want to criticize individual players by name. Summary technical analysis:
** Field is 53 yards wide. Other teams have figured this out. Also, they appear to remember that fact, series to series.
** Football rewards teams for getting the ball to their best players before 5 people pound them into the ground with arms like axe handles.
** When something works, in football, you keep doing it until it don't work. And vice-versa.
** 240 lb linebackers make very poor man-cover alternatives on shifty slots and wideouts. Then they get tired and they stop being able to do much of anything. Exception: that guy who plays for the Vikings now. Can we spell "outlier?"
** You're in the cover-2 and the other team jams 3 guys into a space occupied by two defenders. Question: is one open? (Lemme see: 2/3 = ...) (240 lb man running headlong across 30 yards of grass to help does not qualify as a defender.)
** The way to tackle someone, if you're playing SS, is to blow them up. Not clutch at them and squeeze them like stuffed animals until they fall down.
** Receivers who stop, mid-route, or run 3/4 speed, need to go to the principal's office and fill out permission slips (see below).
** A QB who can make those two throws to Stross is a QB I want to watch.
** Tell me again how it's helpful to put three receivers in pattern in a 10 yard space inside the hash marks? (Maybe that's why they stop running? Because the play is ... funny?)
** Coaches who trot out the same 8 plays for 9 years in a row better be coaching Southern Cal. No, wait. They lost, too.
** Teams that get three turnovers and 2 first downs (Iowa's totals going into the fourth quarter) have a) Nurse Ratched for an OC; or b) are trying to invent a new quantitative measure of coaching insanity. Someone needs to be lobotomized here, and it ain't the short guy on the field trying to organize the games.
II. A Great American Poem.
Autumn Begins In Martins Ferry, Ohio
by James Wright
In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.
All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.
They were all there, in the stands (except for the Negroes). (Now, I know there are African-Americans in Penna. There are African-Americans in the PSU two-deeps.) We validated their existence, yesterday. Then they all got drunk. (It took two hours for me to drive the first 15 miles out of town, most of which was uphill, and I thought I was going to fuse the clutch on the Targa. It was just a really fun day.)
We, however, lack anything approaching the suicidally beautiful, unless it's our QB agreeing to take another snap before meeting someone in blue before he even sets up to throw, or begging his coach for the Next Great Idea.
We're not playing the game of football, in other words. We're playing something else: the game of "execution". This is the difference between being the guy who laughs with his friends while running out the back door of the school for a smoke, the guy who had the cool Bonneville with the great tuck-and-rolled seat and the twin Amal carbs, which he rode in a t-shirt with no helmet, the guy the school administrators pretty much left alone because they wanted to have a 31" waist again and a smile that white, and be able to clock the shit out of anyone on the other team on Friday night. And being the other guy. The guy who worked in the principal's office checking in the late arrivals and signing little pieces of paper that admitted the truants to class, in order to get a smarmy recommendation to a private college Back East.
We're not the stud suicidally beautiful sorts. We're dully compliant in a control system from hell. We play football the way a lot of upper middle class doctors kids play tennis. We practice a lot, and there's no reason to watch, and all of the grown-ups are very, very supportive. Soon we'll leave town, never to come back, and be analysts at Goldman Sachs, dreaming of private equity riches. Those guys are all assholes, incidentally.
III. Another Genius Ex-Florida Coach.
This week saw me finding hope and promise in the example of the ex-Gator OBC -- and ended with Galen Hall making us look like rookies who don't know three things: a) the field is 53 yards wide; b) if you play cover 2 and the offense puts three receivers in the outside third of the field, the corner is gonna have to choose who gets left alone, because the OLB ain't gonna run 30 yards in time to stop the play; c) if you run misdirection, counters and reverses, on top of spreading the ball with the pass to the outside third of the field, there's no one left in the middle of the line to stop a second-string rb from looking like, well, Albert Young, back when Albert Young looked like his pictures.
It's a beautiful thing, football. You can usually see, in the first five minutes, how the other coach has decided to try to beat you. The Genius that is Galen Hall (!!!!!) toyed with Iowa, while the School Detention Hall Monitor Nurse Ratched who is our OC decided to prove, once again, that his nice boys who look good in the yearbook were going to play the game his way or not at all. Three turnovers -- two first downs, game 45 minutes old. Oh, and we're going to make our OLB pretend he's Greenway, or else run him to death trying.
So: Grimness. Morning-after-resolution to never look at internet/TV football again, and ever think it means anything. Sympathy for the Iowa guys, many of whom, defying some of their coaches (evidently), appeared to be playing to win.
Next up -- OH SHIT -- another ex-Florida coach. As the OBC said once, "Well, jeez. Here we go again."
Galen Hall -- genius. What does this make Zook? Richard Feynmann?