The end of Week 9 officially marked the halfway point of the NFL season, a tidy mathematical truth that we shouldn’t take for granted. In 2021, the league expanded the season from 16 to 17 games, which, once you add in each team’s bye week, makes for an 18-week season. And 18 is a number that cleaves nicely in two.
It used to be, with the old 17-week season, you had to declare the NFL year half-over at the end of Week 8.5. This was cumbersome. Every year, on some cold November Wednesday, I assembled my coworkers on the roof of our office building. As high noon approached, I would shout, “The first half of the NFL season concludes… now!” upon which juncture I would fire a pistol into the air. BANG! After that, my colleagues would slowly make their way back inside to warm up, or to call the police. I write an email newsletter now.
Anyway, that was the past. The even-numbered-ness of the new NFL schedule makes it so easy to observe the halfway point of the season that ceremonial gunfire is almost unnecessary. KAPOW! And to achieve this pleasing symmetry, all we had to do was force the players to endure just one more terrifying game of football than before. As someone who is not a professional football player, that strikes me as a great deal. It’s merely 6.25 percent additional thrashing and maiming! That’s the price of one cup of coffee a day, presuming that cup of coffee beats the shit out of you.
To mark the official halfway point of the season KRAKOW! I’m presenting the Doink-O-Rama Half-Season Superlatives. You can call them the “Supeys” for short, but ask permission first.
Best worst view: Jordan Love’s mom and girlfriend
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told a slippery lie about his COVID vaccination at a press conference a couple of months ago, and he would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for that meddling COVID. But then, Rodgers got COVID, and we subsequently learned that when he told the press he was “immunized,” he didn’t mean that he was immunized against COVID; he meant that he was immunized against questions about COVID. It didn't help that, shortly after his positive test, Rodgers gave an aloof and largely remorseless interview about the matter on the popular podcast of Pat McAfee, a retired NFL punter and a pro wrestling commentator.
Rodgers’ defiance turned the scandal into an all-hands-on-deck event for NFL commentators, who rushed to inform the innocent, confused public that lying is wrong. The Rodgers pile-on strained an already fragile global supply chain—horse farms ran out of high ones, and textile manufacturers were shipping garments to the set of Fox NFL Sunday as fast as Terry Bradshaw could rend them.
So Week 9 was a rough stretch in the media for Rodgers, to be sure, but it could have been worse. Because with Rodgers sidelined by his positive COVID test, second-year backup Jordan Love started the Week 9 game, and a strong showing by Love could have paved the way for a post-Rodgers future in Green Bay. With a breakout performance, Love was poised to become the Lou Gehrig to Rodgers’ Wally Pipp, or, in a certain sense, the Aaron Rodgers to his Brett Favre.
Shortly before Love took the field for a first-quarter drive against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Fox sideline reporter Erin Andrews reported on her pre-game conversation with Love, in which he said, “I tell myself I’m a great player” and added, “My confidence is at an all-time high.” Fox was unable to find a font large enough to make those words sound convincing.
Despite his protestations, Love looked frightened and feckless as he led the Green Bay offense from one disjointed, cringe-inducing play to the next. When Fox cut to a close-up of Love, as they often did, the bewilderment in the young man’s eyes was painfully evident. He had the look of a person stuck in a nightmare, which, in fairness, he was—every quarterback who takes the field in the NFL steps into a nightmare. The trick is not to realize it. And for most of the game, Love was realizing it something fierce.
Love certainly was not helped by a Green Bay special teams unit that was barely functioning as a team, let alone a special one. After one bungled field goal attempt that resulted from a bad snap, Packers kicker Mason Crosby could briefly be seen scolding his long snapper, but mostly, Crosby just puttered around in a daze, squinting and scratching his head like Foghorn Leghorn trying to send a Snapchat.
It was difficult to watch—and that may have been the silver lining for Jordan Love’s mom and girlfriend, who the Fox cameras located in the crowd, watching the game from some of the very worst seats that Arrowhead Stadium has to offer. “Now, these are the away team’s appointed seats,” Andrews explained, whatever that was supposed to mean. In any case, from their vantage point, the Jordan Love rooting section would have been unable to discern his pained facial expressions. Hell, they would have been unable to discern what sport he was playing. For all they knew, Love had himself a big day, with 12 rebounds, three RBIs, and a late goal on a power play.
But Love did not have a big day, and this must have pleased Rodgers. Love had been looming in Rodgers’ shadow ever since the Packers selected the young prospect in the 2020 draft—to Rodgers’ consternation. But now that Rodgers' COVID hijinks have given Love the opportunity to make clear he’s not ready to lead an NFL team, Rodgers seems more crucial to Green Bay’s success than ever. That’s quite a feat for Jordan Love, to make the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player seem even more valuable. I’m just glad that Love’s mom and girlfriend didn’t have to see it.
Best Ed Hochuli replacement: Ron Torbert
Of all the referees who have passed through the NFL ranks, few have built themselves a myth on the scale of an Ed Hochuli. A lawyer by trade, Hochuli brought a sense of judicial authority to the field, often meting out penalties with meticulous, verbose explanations over the PA. Here, for instance, is how Hochuli once explained a basically meaningless foul that took place in the closing seconds of a 2004 Eagles-Bears game:
There was an illegal motion by the offense. Number 80 never got set before the snap. That foul, when under a minute, causes the ball to be blown dead before the snap. Therefore, the offside of the defense did not occur. The foul was before the snap. The clock should be reset to 0:24. That’s what it was at the time of the snap. The illegal motion, inside one minute, requires a 10-second runoff. Therefore, the clock goes to 0:24, and then reset the clock to 0:14. And it’s third down.
But the lore of Ed Hochuli is incomplete if we merely note his fastidious attention to detail, for the man was defined equally, if not more so, by his attention to personal fitness. To say Ed Hochuli had biceps like tree trunks is naive understatement; he had biceps that sent trees rushing to the nearest GNC to stock up on weight-gain powder. Tales of Hochuli's mighty strength have been shared among NFL fans for years—shared in whispers, because to repeat these gridiron miracles out loud is to risk being thought a fool.
During one Carolina Panthers home game, Hochuli indicated a first down so forcefully that every team on the Eastern Seaboard was granted a new set of downs. (This is what I have heard.) Confounding meteorologists, the vortices created by Hochuli’s false-start motion could influence local weather patterns for weeks. (So they say.) Hochuli threw a flag in the 2016 NFC Championship that still hasn’t hit the ground. (If you believe such things.)
Hochuli retired after the 2017 season, and his absence created a void—an opportunity for a new titan to rise among the keepers of the whistle.
The obvious successor to Hochuli is Son-of-Hochuli, better known as Shawn Hochuli, who became an NFL referee in 2018, thus assuring a seamless Hochuli transition. This is fortunate, for if an NFL season were to commence without the blood of Hochuli, all the fields in the league would turn to dust, and no football would grow there ever again. (Or maybe that’s just an old story.)
Shawn Hochuli’s style is adorably similar to his father’s—the way he enunciates, the way he uses his hands when he talks, and most of all, his willingness to speak in paragraphs as he navigates the subsections and codicils of the NFL bylaws. The clip above shows Son-of-Hochuli during a Patriots-Jets game this season. He was amending the enforcement of an intentional grounding foul to properly adjudicate an obscure confluence of events, and his words have a familiar ring:
Number 75 on the offense was injured on the play. By rule, this requires a timeout by New England. This timeout avoids the potential for a 10-second runoff. However, the intentional grounding is still enforced 10 yards from the previous spot and a loss of down. The game clock should read 0:17 and will start on the snap. Thank you.
As for the muscle side of the Hochuli legacy—there it gets more complicated. To be sure, nobody can accuse Shawn Hochuli of being a 90-pound weakling. Nobody can accuse him of anything, really, since you can hardly get a word in edgewise. He's certainly fit and trim, though. In a different year, Son-of-Hochuli might very well be the champ of the beefcake referees.
But friends, have you seen Ron Torbert lately?
I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the line, Ron Torbert got ripped. “He’s been hittin’ the weight room pretty well, hasn’t he?” remarked CBS analyst Charles Davis as the cameras tracked Torbert across the field during the Week 8 Patriots-Chargers game. “Yeah, looking good,” agreed announcer Ian Eagle. This is as steamy as it gets in an NFL broadcast booth. While Davis and Eagle patted sweat from their brow, Torbert made his characteristically straightforward call down on the field. “Personal foul, unnecessary roughness,” he announced, chopping his taut, bulging arms against each other in such a manner that onlookers found themselves willing and eager to let Ron Torbert decide exactly what sort of roughness is necessary. (At least, that’s what I’m told.)
Worst camera operator: Jerry Rice
In the fourth quarter of the Cardinals’ Week 9 shellacking of the San Francisco 49ers, Fox killed time with some cute footage of all-time great 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice trying to work one of Fox’s TV cameras before the game. This was one of the most astonishing sights I’ve seen on a football broadcast this season, not because Rice was a good cinematographer—like most of us, he had no idea what to do with all the gidgets and gadgets that stick out of a professional TV camera. No, the crazy part was that Rice was allowed to put his hands on the camera at all.
A brief flashback: It’s spring 2001. I am a pimple-faced 19-year-old on my first day as an intern at CNN’s New York bureau. The next six months will be an exhausting, unforgettable education in the machinery of live TV production. But for now, my first assignment is simply to bring guests to the makeup chair when they arrive at the studio for an interview, and then bring them to the set when their appearance has been deemed acceptable for broadcast.
The latter part of this task involves escorting the guest to the edge of a tiny set and waiting, at a spot mere feet away from an anchor desk that is being televised live nationwide. The producer showing me the ropes that day notices the Jordan Love-esque expression of terror on my face and shrugs it off. It’s nothing, you’ll be fine, she reassures me. But—don’t touch anything. And especially don’t touch the cameras. As I arrive at my mark with the guest by my side, the lone camera operator on the set notices a new face. He introduces himself, gives a terse welcome, and says, “Don’t touch these cameras. Ever. Got it?” Welcome to show business.
This excess of caution was not merely a warning to a wide-eyed young greenhorn stumbling into a real-life TV studio for the first time. No matter who you are, from the lowliest PA to the star of the show, the cameras are off-limits. Only the designated operators may handle the equipment, because of (eminently reasonable) union regulations. Even if it’s just for fun, even if the camera op gives you permission, it’s verboten, because it will mean paperwork and headaches for all involved. Anyone with a shred of experience working on a major TV or film production knows this.
So to watch Jerry Rice cavalierly grab the Fox camera and take it for a spin on Sunday was, to my eyes, like seeing him put on the pope’s hat and crack jokes from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. “How is he doing this? How is this happening? What about the paperwork???” I don’t have the answers to these questions, and it’s going to keep me up nights.
Stretchiest missed tackle: Los Angeles Chargers safety Nasir Adderley
Pro football apparel has come a long way since the early days when players took the field in makeshift uniforms fashioned from burlap sacks and chicken feathers. Today’s athletes wear uniforms made from space-age materials that offer comfort, coolness, and—as witnessed in the Week 9 Chargers-Eagles game—stretchability. On a second-down play in the third quarter, Philadelphia tight end Dallas Goedert caught a pass and turned to run down the sideline. As the tight end made his move, Los Angeles safety Nasir Adderley grabbed ahold of Goedert’s exposed undershirt. “Got you! This will teach you not to tuck in your shirt,” Adderley must have thought.
But instead of teaching his opponent a lesson about the importance of personal grooming, Adderley had to watch helplessly as Goedert continued to run, the synthetic threads of his shirttail extending down the field with him. Adderley kept pulling, to no avail. Frame-by-frame analysis indicates that the threads of the shirt extended a good two yards before finally snapping. Goedert may not have even realized he was being “tackled” from behind at all.
In the burlap days, that would have been a great play by Adderley. Some people were just born in the wrong era.
Floofiest hair: the offensive line of the Tennessee Titans
Pro football does not provide a great showcase for players’ hairstyles, on account of the helmets and, when the helmets are removed, the helmet hair. But the video introductions on Sunday Night Football, in which members of each team’s starting lineup recite their name and alma mater, provides a rare opportunity to behold the follicular splendors of NFL athletes without interference from their protective equipment. It is on this stage that viewers of the Titans-Rams contest this week got to enjoy the full majesty of Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan’s floofy hair. Lewan’s ample pompadour is the sort typically reserved for men in seersucker suits who twirl a bamboo cane and invite you into a tent to see the two-headed chicken. “Surely this is the floofiest coif in all the football land!” I mused upon seeing this mighty ’do.
But that thought perished moments later, when Titans center Ben Jones appeared on the screen to offer his own outrageous bounty of floof. It’s more of a full-on bedhead look than Lewan’s bedraggled carnival barker, but it’s just as dense. If you fell into Ben Jones’ hair, you might never be able to find your way out again, nor would you want to. By this point, I was finding the Titans offensive line downright obnoxious. Every time I go the barber, we have to come up with ever-more-elaborate schemes to accommodate the weird patch of hair that tenaciously remains on duty at the top edge of my forehead as the surrounding follicles turn in their employee badges and retire. Meanwhile, here’s Ben Jones, with enough of a hair workforce to fully staff two, even three heads. A request to NBC producers: The next time you shoot these video headshots, make the players wear helmets.
Your guaranteed-correct Week 10 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. Ensconced in the gravitational stability of the solar system’s L2 LaGrange Point, DORPFASTCALC’s predictions are insulated from the vicissitudes of day-to-day life—the machine has the superhuman ability, for instance, to not particularly care that Aaron Rodgers said some daffy stuff about COVID on a retired punter’s podcast.
In its Week 9 picks, true to its ironclad guarantee, DORPFASTCALC correctly predicted the outcome of five football contests.
Also in Week 9, there were eight aberrations. According to the engineers on the DORPFASTCALC operations team, the errors occurred because Aaron Rodgers said some daffy stuff about COVID on a retired punter’s podcast, which—guys, you can’t just keep blaming every problem on Aaron Rodgers.
In any case, perhaps more insight can be gleaned from this week’s recording of the weekly DORPFASTCALC-to-Earth communication:
Last week: 5-8. Science is a process.
Season to date: 60-54. Science works!
SUNDAY — EARLY GAMES
Atlanta Falcons vs. Dallas Cowboys (Fox): Dallas 27, Atlanta 21.
New Orleans Saints vs. Tennessee Titans (CBS): Tennessee 30, New Orleans 26.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts (CBS): Indianapolis 20, Jacksonville 16. During Jacksonville’s upset defeat of the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Jaguars defensive end Josh Allen not only took over the game but also achieved the curious feat of sacking a quarterback with the same name as him—Buffalo’s Josh Allen. According to people on television who claim to have looked it up, this is the first time that has ever happened. Although it should be noted that a near-miss occurred in Week 1 of the 1956 NFL season, when legendary Chicago Cardinals cornerback Dick “Night Train” Lane tackled Cleveland Browns quarterback Penis “Evening Bus” Passageway behind the line of scrimmage. Poor old Penis Passageway, he never was the same after that.
Cleveland Browns vs. New England Patriots (CBS): New England 24, Cleveland 21.
Buffalo Bills vs. New York Jets (CBS): Buffalo 4, New York 2.
Detroit Lions vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Fox): Pittsburgh 19, Detroit 13.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Washington Football Team (Fox): Tampa Bay 25, Washington 17. The referee assigned to this game is Brad Rogers, who—speaking of hair—you may have noticed sporting a different look lately. Traditionally, the league has frowned on referees wearing beards, on the theory that beards are the facial hair of choice for knaves and scoundrels, and the NFL wants referees to seem authoritative, not scurrilous. But for the second year running, a handful of refs—Rogers among them—have been permitted to let their scruff grow in observance of “Movember,” the men’s health awareness campaign. Does Rogers’ temporary Commander Riker visage make him appear less trustworthy? If anything, I think Rogers looks dignified, or as dignified as one can look with a bright yellow knot and a blue beanbag sticking out of your waistband.
SUNDAY — LATE GAMES
Carolina Panthers vs. Arizona Cardinals (Fox): Arizona 34, Carolina 20.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Los Angeles Chargers (Fox): Minnesota 21, Los Angeles 20.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Denver Broncos (CBS): Denver 20, Philadelphia 17.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers (CBS): Green Bay 30, Seattle 14.
SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Las Vegas Raiders (NBC): Las Vegas 28, Kansas City 21.
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Los Angeles Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers (ESPN): Los Angeles 35, San Francisco 20.
Keep on long snappin'
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