Doink-O-Rama is John Teti’s column about pro football.
On Sunday night, midway through the first quarter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady was 28 yards away from breaking Drew Brees’ NFL record for career passing yards. When Brady connected with wide receiver Mike Evans for a big gain, it was clear history had been made. Maybe.
“And that should do it!” exclaimed Sunday Night Football announcer Al Michaels, before backpedaling under further review. “Over the middle for 27 yards. … Now they’re gonna call it 28 yards. … They actually moved it one yard to the 14 to, actually, tie the record.” Michaels spoke uncertainly, as the whims of the officiating crew caused him to vacillate between “Historic Moment!” voice and “pass complete, first down” voice.
“The drama builds,” Michaels sighed, because the drama wasn’t building. For a change. The drama had been building all week for quarterback Tom Brady’s return to the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium, his former home turf. You see, during his 20 seasons with the Patriots, Brady threw many footballs up in the air, and while some of those footballs landed on the ground, enough of them landed in another man’s hands that New Englanders like myself revere Brady above all others. Even Paul Revere, who we are also quite fond of.
Reverence has its limits, though, and Sunday brought a long-anticipated test of loyalty: Brady coming to Gillette by way of the visiting team plane. For the first time, Brady returned to the great Northeast not to fulfill the hopes of the citizenry but to dash them. Paul Revere never could have imagined a moment like this—someone arriving in Massachusetts by air.
The drama was too much before the game even began, and midway through the first quarter, the drama needed a break. I’m gonna go get high under the bleachers, so spell me for a while, the drama said. Now it was anticlimax’s time to shine, and Brady’s all-time passing record provided the perfect opportunity.
Few moments in sports attract anticlimax like a veteran player passing a long-haul statistical milestone such as the career yardage record. TV producers and on-air talent obsess over these stat-book moments in disproportion to the audience’s interest. The people in the production truck always seem to be anticipating a “Cal Ripken breaks Gehrig’s consecutive-games streak” type of pageant, where banners unfurl, flashbulbs pop, President Clinton is there, and time stands still as we reflect on what this achievement means to humankind.
Ripken’s big night was an exception. Most milestones pass in nondescript fashion. The athlete hits the record—scores their umpteenth point, makes their zillionth block, eats their thousandth blueberry pie—and it doesn’t feel that special because, by definition, it’s something they’ve done so very many times before. Tom Brady threw for 80,203 yards over the years, and then came that fateful play: 28 additional yards. (Or thereabouts, it was hard to tell.) The term “milestone” is fitting because these records are like seeing an odometer turn over to “100000.” You anticipate it, and then, there it is. A bigger number.
Brady’s record-breaking moment was like the odometer turned over, but you didn’t catch it until “100002.” After Brady “tied” Brees’ record, there was a timeout, and when Sunday Night Football came back on air, a chagrinned Michaels reported that the officials had decided to move the ball again—one more yard down the field, making Brady the yardage leader in dumbest possible fashion. It may be the first NFL record to be broken during a commercial break.
Michaels openly fantasized about what the moment would have been like if Brady had broken the yardage record in Tampa—a halt to the action, ceremonies, blueberry pie, the works—all of which sounded dreadful. Instead, Brady’s feat was advertised on the Gillette Stadium Jumbotron for all of 10 seconds, there was a moderate cheer from the stands, and then play resumed. “Not quite high drama,” Michaels complained. I savored the anticlimax, though—no Brady parties on this turf, thank you very much.
As a lifelong New England fan, I was happy to watch Brady tear up the rest of the league last year for Tampa Bay. I held no ill will against Brady for leaving New England, on account of he made sure to win six Super Bowls before he left. That’s what you call a graceful exit. I bet he’s a great Airbnb guest, too—probably washes the sheets.
But Sunday night was different. Now, Brady was going against the family. (Literally, in the case of the Belichicks.) It was an opportunity for me to join the rest of the nation in a pastime they had cherished, and I had spurned, for decades: rooting against Tom Brady. Judging by the sound of the Gillette faithful—who gave their erstwhile hero an exuberant welcome before the game, then turned vicious once the contest was afoot—I wasn’t the only one who sought to have it both ways. Many of us in the widely despised New England contingent really thought we could pull off this craven maneuver of fandom. After drinking Brady’s prodigal bounty for so long, we now crashed the party 20 years late, elbowing our way to the refreshment table so we might sample the rare nectar of a Brady defeat.
I did not crave Al Michaels’ “high drama” or fireworks of any sort. I wished for this Patriots team to do what so many others have done under head coach/necromancer Bill Belichick, which is to methodically grind down the opposing quarterback, draining him of his wits and his will. For a while it even seemed to be going that way. An apparently frustrated Brady was sailing passes over his receivers. Heavy downpours came and went throughout the night, making the ball hard to handle for both teams. And New England’s rookie quarterback, Michael McCorkle “Macintosh” Jones, was playing the best game of his fledgling NFL career, albeit with few points to show for it.
The game was a close-fought and exciting affair, gripping enough that it was easy to lose track of the clock. Suddenly, there was a minute left in the fourth quarter, the Patriots were trailing by two with the ball, and their drive had stalled near Tampa’s 40-yard line. It was fourth-and-3, and Belichick sent out kicker Nick Folk to attempt a 56-yard field goal—which would equal Folk’s longest-ever successful kick—in torrents of rain. With dismay, I sensed the shift. Anticlimax had vacated the premises. The drama was calling the shots again, and oh, by the way, it was high as a kite.
Something crazy was about to happen. And nothing could be crazier, I hoped, than an aging kicker making this field goal as sheets of water pounded the field. “Go! Go!” I shouted as the ball left Folk’s foot, but then my throat caught. The ball had enough height and distance. Yet it was curving, its trajectory bending into the nether region, the no man’s land of maybe-good-maybe-not. I know the creature that prowls this terrain. Not that, I pleaded silently. Anything but that.
“A doink is the most humorous possible outcome of a kick,” I wrote a couple weeks ago, “because it emphasizes the truth, applicable beyond the football field, that big things can be decided by small things.” On further consideration, I don’t see what’s funny or profound about doinks at all. This business of the doink as a cosmic joke meting out the justice of the fates? That’s hooey—as the events of Sunday night proved. If there is supposed to be some cosmic justice in the story of greedy, hubristic New England fans turning on their hero and suffering retribution for their vain betrayal, I fail to see it.
No, there is no moral to this story. The only possible takeaway is this: Bucs-Patriots was a mostly good football contest marred by a note of tawdry caprice at the end. And it all came crashing down in such a fashion that I was essentially obligated to write about it this week. There. Now I have. Enough about doinks already.
Which computer-animated L.A. quarterback is living the best California life?
Before computers, when television producers wanted to dramatize the life of an NFL quarterback, they would resort to puppetry, or semaphore—you haven’t really experienced Johnny Unitas until you’ve seen his achievements expressed through the medium of flags. But now that technology exists, a talented programmer can graft statistical representations of a quarterback’s face onto the soulless 3D husks who inhabit the bowels of a typical graphics workstation. Through this method an amusing cartoon can be produced, for purposes of infotainment.
ESPN’s Monday Night Football has been a trendsetter on the cartoon front, one of the few redeeming qualities of late-era MNF production. The cable network’s graphic designers have a good sense of humor, both about the game and about their own work, and they continue to top themselves with the silly, elaborate vignettes they create to dramatize the storylines of a given game. Over time, other networks, particularly Fox—whose producers don’t like to be outflanked when it comes to visual panache—have drawn inspiration from ESPN. (And I would guess that ESPN’s original inspirations included those news videos from Taiwan’s Next Animation Studio that used to go viral all the time.)
The past couple weeks of TV football have featured digital-husk animations that depict the imagined life of two California quarterbacks. Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford and Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert starred in mini-cartoons on Fox and ESPN, respectively. The common theme was the California lifestyle. Which animated QB is living life largest on the West Coast?
California Quarterback Adventure No. 1: Matthew Stafford
A Week 3 Fox graphic retraced the journey of Stafford, the former Detroit Lions star. We begin as Stafford leaves his longtime home in Detroit and boards a plane for Los Angeles.
Stafford glances one last time at a bleak gray stripe of neglect and ruin, the artist’s concept of Michigan.
The seat-back screen in front of Stafford lights up with a personalized accounting of his failures. These Detroit fans really know how to run a guy out of town on a rail. I mean, hitting him with a parting shot on the seat-back screen? That’s commitment.
Later, Stafford opens his window again. Wow! His surroundings have become California. It's a place where people have the wisdom to say, you know what, let’s have some buildings and trees instead of all that gray.
Stafford is greeted by Sean McVay, who doesn’t quite understand the airport-pickup system and has written his own name on the card. McVay wants Stafford to take a ride in his blue car.
Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald and wide receiver Cooper Kupp are there, too. “Try to look sexy when Stafford gets here, so he’ll get in the blue car,” McVay had told them earlier. Donald and Cooper comply.
Later, in the blue car: McVay wonders when everyone will notice his Lombardi Trophy hood ornament. He installed it to remind players that they get a trophy if they win the Super Bowl—or so he understands, as McVay has not won one himself. But he is certainly the champion of hoods! Nobody makes eye contact for the entire ride.
California Quarterback Adventure No. 2: Justin Herbert
During the Chargers’ Monday night victory against the Raiders, ESPN showed an animated tribute to Los Angeles' other starting quarterback, Justin Herbert. This flight of fancy takes place at M-N-F Burger, a cute stand-in for L.A. mainstay In-N-Out Burger. If you’re not familiar, In-N-Out is a Southern California burger chain that is known for its delicious burger and fries. It is known for those things even though the burger is only good for the first two minutes after it comes off the griddle, and the fries are unlovable starch rods.
On this day, the M-N-F Burger has been taken over by NFL quarterbacks who recorded more than 5,000 yards in their first 18 starts—a statistical benchmark of dubious significance, but sometimes you need a reason to party. We come upon two quarterbacks as they marinate in a debauched Caligula-scape of beef, buns, and spurting condiments. These men are Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes and former Rams great Kurt Warner. According to ESPN, they were the first two members of the 5,000-In-18 Club (again, a statistical contrivance invented for the sake of a restaurant cartoon).
No one eats. Mahomes, to pass time while he airs out his lower body, squeezes an unending stream of ketchup on his meal. This is a reference to an old Amazon commercial that featured Mahomes. For further assistance interpreting the image of Patrick Mahomes’ spread-legged forever-spurt, consult your local psychoanalyst.
Warner, trying to ignore all the spurting, conducts a conversation with the air in front of Mahomes’ face. In what might be my favorite detail, Warner has arranged his ketchup and salt packets in a neat grid, a sort of silent protest against the sprawling mess on Mahomes’ side of the table. (Actually, my favorite details are the high-end cars that cycle through the drive-thru lane in the background—L.A. status symbols that put Sean McVay’s Eisenhower-mobile to shame.)
Anyway, Herbert finally arrives at the party, but he turns away, refusing to acknowledge the other members of the 5,000 In 18 Club until they acknowledge him. From the looks of it, he’ll be waiting a while. Welcome to California: Nobody makes eye contact, but at least it’s not Michigan.
Nate Burleson: wily master of the quickie highlight
In the Green Bay Packers’ Week 4 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw his 420th career touchdown to wide receiver Randall Cobb, thereby tying Dan Marino at sixth on the all-time passing touchdown list. (Rodgers is expected to have the sixth spot all to himself before long—Marino simply can’t keep pace.)
As is customary for big plays, CBS cut in to games around the country to show the highlight, and for viewers of the Baltimore-Denver game, at least, CBS studio analyst Nate Burleson narrated the replay in these words:
This pass to Randall Cobb that tied Dan Marino [on the] all-time touchdown pass list. Number 420—and he’s smokin’ the Steelers’ defense right now! [Emphasis original.]
It’s the kind of joke that’s perfect for the 10-second window of a quickie highlight, because by the time you realize what Nate said, he’s already gone, in a puff of smoke, one presumes. A tip of the cap to Burleson for the subversive wordplay, but I’m personally offended by the implication that anyone would ever sully the experience of televised pro football by falling under the influence of the devil’s lettuce. (Confidential to Nate Burleson: Meet me under the Gillette Stadium bleachers later.)
You guaranteed-correct Week 5 picks, as computed by DORPFASTCALC
The football picks featured in Doink-O-Rama are guaranteed to be correct, as they are calculated by the Doink-O-Rama Pro Football Anticipation Satellite and Tip Calculator, or DORPFASTCALC. The vacuum tubes within DORPFASTCALC can assess meal tax for all 48 continental United States, including multiple tax rates on a single bill, for multi-state restaurant tabs.
Perhaps more germanely, the device also predicts the winners of football games. In fact, only DORPFASTCALC can foretell upcoming NFL matchups to a degree of absolute scientific certainty, barring aberrations.
“How can it be so correct, all the time?” you may ask. That’s the question everyone has always asked, which is why DORPFASTCALC’s creator—the Honeydew Underarm Razor & Totalizator Co.—included this little jingle in their radio commercials:
Is it magical prestidigations?
Psychological mind manipulations?
No, it’s accurate football calculations
(Parenthetical: barring aberrations)
By that marvelous DORPFASTCAAAAALC!
In its Week 4 picks, true to its ironclad guarantee, DORPFASTCALC correctly predicted the outcome of seven football contests.
Also in Week 4, there were eight aberrations. Due to malformed entries in its football-positioning database, DORPFASTCALC computed the results of some games as if they were taking place on the surface of the sun. Since weather conditions are a crucial part of any football handicappers’ dataset—including space-robot handicappers—these erroneous solar data points skewed the analysis.
Last week: 7-8. Science is a process.
Season to date: 23-22. Science works!
SUNDAY — EARLY GAMES
New York Jets vs. Atlanta Falcons (NFL Network): Atlanta 2, New York 0. The Jets and Falcons visit Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London for their Week 5 contest. When Londoners go to see a “football” match, they do not expect a high-scoring contest. I believe the Jets and Falcons have the potential to meet the crowd’s expectations.
Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings (Fox): Minnesota 28, Detroit 20.
New Orleans Saints vs. Washington Football Team (CBS): Washington 24, New Orleans 23. If you want to track all the action during the frenzy of the Sunday early-afternoon time slot, consider bookmarking Plain Text Sports, a spartan scoreboard website that aims to keep you updated with a minimum of distraction. The front page displays all the current scores, but click on a game’s score while it’s in progress and you’ll get a surprising wealth of play-by-play data, team stats, and even a chart of the offense’s current drive. All of it is presented in a smartphone-friendly 45-character-wide column of plain text that loads instantly. I’m charmed by the attention to detail throughout the site, and I’ll have a tab open to Plain Text Sports in the Doink-O-Rama Nerve Center this Sunday.
New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans (CBS): New England 21, Houston 19.
Miami Dolphins vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (CBS): Tampa Bay 31, Miami 21.
Green Bay Packers vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Fox): Green Bay 27, Cincinnati 21. Although he spent much of the offseason being grumpy about his contract, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been in a better mood—chipper, even downright flirty—during the Packers’ early-season winning streak. In the second quarter of the Packers’ Week 4 defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers, noticing some confusion on the Pittsburgh side of the ball, Rodgers rushed up to the line to snap the ball and catch the Steelers in a too-many-men-on-the-field penalty. But Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, wise to this favorite tactic of Rodgers, called timeout before Rodgers could steal a free five yards. With characteristically excellent camerawork and directing, CBS’ production crew captured the steamy exchange of glances between Rodgers and Tomlin, filming the men in closeup as if it were the meet-cute scene in a romantic comedy. The Coach and The QB: They're down for love—but is the distance too great? In theaters and on-demand this fall.
Denver Broncos vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Fox): Denver 26, Pittsburgh 24.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Carolina Panthers (Fox): Carolina 30, Philadelphia 17.
SUNDAY — LATE GAMES
Chicago Bears vs. Las Vegas Raiders (CBS): Las Vegas 17, Chicago 14. Las Vegas wide receiver Henry Ruggs III believes he has discovered a way to get that extra burst of speed on the field.
Cleveland Browns vs. Los Angeles Chargers (CBS): Los Angeles 31, Cleveland 28.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Arizona Cardinals (Fox): San Francisco 35, Arizona 33.
New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys (Fox): Dallas 21, New York 10.
SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs (NBC): Kansas City 35, Buffalo 28.
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Indianapolis Colts vs. Baltimore Ravens (ESPN): Baltimore 27, Indianapolis 21.
Keep on long snappin'
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Thank you for reading. Until next week: Keep on long snappin’.