On Boycotting The NFL

I try to be a good person.

I pay my taxes. I tip 20% at the very least. I vote. I don’t double park or litter. Occasionally, I even recycle.

I could be a better person. For many, the world is a broken place. Holding doors open for people and saying pleases and thank-yous might feel good in the moment, but kindness and courtesy alone don’t make me Gandhi.

While it may be right, it is demanding to ask people to sacrifice their comfort for the common good. People can also try to make an impact without disrupting their daily lives. Conscious consumption offers a way to back beliefs with the weight of our wallets. By spending or a few extra bucks, we can support more humane agricultural practices, better attitudes toward labor, or any number of other worthy causes.

We can also withhold money from organizations we do not support.

The NFL is run by detestable people. They underpay their athletes, reaping massive profits from a game designed to pulverize brains and bodies, then cast them aside. They turn a blind eye to domestic abusers and throw the book at potheads. This alone might keep some from following the sport, but despite myriad controversies, the NFL remains a ratings monster that dominates the national consciousness every Sunday.

When Colin Kaepernick’s protests during the National Anthem threatened to change that, the owners sprung into action. Despite Kaepernick’s obvious usefulness in a league desperate for good quarterback play, he will likely never play another NFL game. Eric Reid, a former Pro Bowler in the prime of his career, has yet to find a job after he followed in Kaep’s footsteps. Both quietly and peacefully voiced their discontent with a country that allows police to escape justice for terrorizing and murdering people of color. Because their protests took place during the NFL’s lip service to the military, people lost their shit.

Viewed most charitably, NFL owners are afraid of losing the portion of their profits that comes from fans who either missed Kaep’s message for his methods or who condone this pattern of violence. Viewed realistically, the owners are just as racist as the fans. Before the season, the NFL ruled that they would fine players who kneeled during the anthem, but would allow protesters to stay in the locker room. Rather than allowing their players to be a voice for change, they pushed the problem out of sight and out of mind in order to placate rabid conservatives. Kaepernick remains unemployed.

I don’t plan to watch an NFL game this year. I cheer for the Lions, so this isn’t a huge sacrifice. When I discussed this with a friend before the season began, he was perplexed. While he, too, sees Kaepernick as a hero, he brought to light several points I had not considered. By doing the same thing as the more publicized MAGA boycotters, was I unintentionally supporting their cause and pushing the NFL to further appease them? Would I be undercutting the platform an NFL career affords players to serve as role models and make differences in their communities? Would the players themselves endorse a fan boycott in solidarity with Kaepernick, or am I just assuming I know what’s best for them? Given the wide range of potential consequences (and the limited effect of removing a single viewer), was I just protesting for my own sense of moral superiority?

Furthermore, to what extent should I avoid the NFL? Is it enough to not watch games? I’m playing fantasy football this season because I recently moved to North Carolina, and it’s a way to stay in contact with old friends. I feel guilty about it; does this render my protest pointless? Should I avoid highlights, unfollow NFL-related Twitter accounts, and just avoid ESPN altogether?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. It feels right to avoid watching the NFL; I can construct answers to justify that decision. Conversely, those who still watch despite Kaep’s blackballing can latch onto any number of the aforementioned concerns to justify continuing to watch. I follow people far more socially conscious, more intimately connected than me to the injustice Colin Kaepernick fights; some boycott, some still watch. But what’s life if not a rudderless jaunt through a fog of moral vagueness?

On Legacy

I’ve never been a fan of the legacy talk that abounds in the postseason. Assigning permanent virtue or failure to players and coaches based on what often boils down to pure chance flies in the face of traditional notions of merit. While Jordan Poole will rightfully carry the glory of his heroism to his grave, I know that throughout the ages there have been forgotten players in similar situations who put in the thousands of practice reps Poole did only to see their shots draw iron.

Of course, Poole’s shot found twine. Miraculously, no matter how many times I watch the highlight, no matter how aggressively Corey Davis Jr. undercuts him as he rises and fires, it always ends with Wolverine victory and Cougar agony. While this memory may be tinged bittersweet by Monday’s shellacking at the hands of the Wildcats, it will remain the climax of one of the most enjoyable sports campaigns in recent memory.

The NCAA tournament is an imperfect evaluator. It is also impeccable in assessing John Beilein, who, since the last Tommy Amaker recruit left the program in 2011, has outperformed his seed more than any active coach not named John Calipari. His attention to detail and adaptability stand out even in an adapt-or-die profession. Michigan fans are privileged to enjoy the labor of a man who gets everything possible out of every team he has and, on top of it all, is a genuinely good dude. Playing with house money since a February beatdown at Breslin, he’s added two more banners to a now-unimpeachable résumé. After failing to MacGyver his way past one final foe, he has also once again fallen one game short of the banner that means most. While these next few iterations of Michigan basketball will be some of his best, at 65 years of age, every Michigan fan knows there’s a finite number of bullets left in the proverbial chamber. If Beilein never wins a title, the Trey Burke block-foul on Peyton Siva will still resonate painfully years from now. To me, however, his career will be defined by the men he helped mold on the way to those title tilts, not the results themselves. That may sound cliché, but the best part of John Beilein is that he truly embodies the clichés commonly used to paper over the cynical corruption of college sports.

As for the molded men: it would have made for a delicious cherry on top of the careers of Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Moritz Wagner (whom I would advise to leave, and would assume is gone), and Duncan Robinson to bring home a national championship. Much has already been made of their unheralded origins; taking down Nova would’ve been some fairy-tale stuff. In a world where grit and effort often fail fighting well-coiffed abundance, they have already broken through every conceivable chandelier-adorned glass ceiling.

Rahkman had already amassed commendable accolades as a supporting-cast starter on some very good teams. When Michigan needed an offensive identity after their February loss to Northwestern, the unassuming senior emerged from the periphery and, without any sacrifice in efficiency, somehow became The Guy on a team that wouldn’t lose for another two months.

Midway through his junior year, hampered by an ankle injury, it seemed as though Wagner would never consistently capture the form that put the nation on notice against Louisville. He then burned down Breslin, submitted the strongest defensive performance of his career against a Florida State team that would have previously bullied him out of the game, then single-handedly kicked Cinderella to the curb. When he erupted at the start of the Nova game, he damn near had me convinced he could drop 50. Wagner has always leaned into the persona of the sneering, domineering German, but his work to complement his offensive versatility as a rebounder and rim protector on a top 5 defense lent terrifying substance to the charade.

I will admit, I said some things about Duncan Robinson in November that I would like to take back. The dude was a defensive sieve who had seemingly lost his shooting stroke, with little else to offer. As a guy who started his career playing at Williams, it was impressive he even made it to Michigan. He lost his spot to a freshman in Isaiah Livers, playing a season-low 8 minutes in a 92-88 loss to Purdue that immediately preceded the inflection point of the season in Evanston. When Livers turned his ankle, Robinson was forced back into action and, with strategic help from Luke Yaklich, suddenly became a stopper in the post. Lineups with Robinson were now not only viable, but active positives. His scoring served to stabilize the team, and his steady hand at the charity stripe probably prevented an untold number of cardiac events, but his highlight rejections were a chapter in his story that no one saw coming.

The small sample size of March often serves to validate or repudiate lifetimes of work. Narratives naturally build toward one shining moment in a crucible that posits philosophical conflict diluted through the physical efforts of tall teenagers. It’s terrifying, euphoric, and devastating all at once. It’s also a woefully incomplete summary. In a thousand years, the only remnants of these basketball seasons will be those that make the record books. But sports, and life, are so much more than that. I think John Beilein, perhaps more than any other college basketball coach, understands that the joy of life is in the filler, that the richest narratives are the ones in which the author agonizes over every last sentence. The stories that define us, the ones that will hopefully get told at our funerals, talk about all the stuff in between the exposition and the climax, a collage of seemingly insignificant moments that, when assembled, reveals something profound.

The Sum Of Its Parts

One of my favorite fables my grandmother used to tell me was that of a man who hit himself repeatedly in the head with a hammer. When asked why he did this, he replied “because it feels so good when I stop!” To this day, I don’t know the moral of that story, or whether it even has one, but I feel like it perfectly encapsulates the experience of following this Michigan team’s road to the final four. At one point during Florida State’s failed comeback, I repeatedly bashed my own head against the wall of a booth at Good Time Charley’s. I felt pretty damn good about 10 minutes later.

With the exception of a sweet 16 explosion against Texas A&M, Michigan’s wins have been two and a half hours of tension and misery interrupted by frequent commercial breaks. I’ve watched every win from Michigan’s 2013 run at least five times. I’ll probably watch the Poole shot another thousand times, but aside from that, I don’t think I’ll ever want to relive any aspect of this tournament. The 2013 squad at its best was poetry in motion, a dizzying barrage of 3s, dunks, and ball movement that seemed alien to college basketball. The 2018 team is basically Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin with way more swagger.

A brash, diminutive point guard with no shooting stroke, an unassuming two-star from Pennsylvania, a D-III transfer, a Kentucky castoff nicknamed “turnover,” and a German center who once struggled to rebound, defend, or stay on the court form the core of a team on the precipice of greatness in an era dominated by one-and-dones. On its face, it seems farcical to describe any team from the University of Michigan in the cliché-ridden language we use to define a scrappy underdog. But, as they say, if the slipper fits, wear it. These Wolverines defend every possession like it’s their last. The bench is stocked with role players who have proven themselves invaluable in Michigan’s biggest wins of the season. The Achilles’ heel that would doom the team, a lack of a prototypical go-to scorer, has instead turned into its greatest strength, with five guys ready and willing to assume the mantle on any given night. With the help of a dedicated, visionary coaching staff and a humility rarely found in 65-year-old basketball lifers, John Beilein has cobbled together a team in the truest sense of the word, one in which everyone can maximize his individual potential while contributing to something far greater than the sum of its parts.

Like anyone immersed in Michigan fanhood, my mind can’t help but wander and wonder wistful what-could-have-beens about John Beilein’s many missed recruiting targets starring across the basketball universe. Like anyone well-versed in Michigan basketball, I should have known better than to wait-til-next-year a John Beilein team in November (or December, or January, or February). Amidst all our flights of fancy, Beilein has anchored the team he has with his usual down-to-earth, methodical approach. The on-court product hasn’t always been pretty, but the results sure are beautiful: two new banners in the Crisler rafters, with a chance to tack on the most hallowed of them all.

Shot vs. Shot

These two minutes of video hold in them two of the three greatest moments of my life so far (the third being when my little league team won a championship on a triple play back in ’06. But that deserves its own article.). Both were moments of impossible heroism by guys for whom I would have taken a bullet even before they cemented their places in Michigan lore. But in 2018, it’s not enough to merely appreciate great things for being great. We’re in the ranking business here at joshbobdotcom.com. So, in preparation for future parenthood, I’ll use the rest of this space to compare, contrast, and pick a favorite between the two things I love most.

The Stakes:

Both shots saved Michigan’s respective seasons, but how much were those seasons actually worth? We now know 2013 to be the best and most talented team John Beilein has ever assembled, but the legend of the ’13 team is as much derived from what the team and its players did after Burke’s shot went down as it is from what they did in the season leading up to the Sweet 16. In the regular season, Michigan scuffled a bit against its rivals, lost the Big Ten title on its home court to a loaded Indiana squad on the final day of the season, and bowed out in the second round of the Big Ten Tourney. On the other hand, everyone still knew the team was loaded. Trey Burke’s defining moment up until that point was picking Keith Appling’s pocket at halfcourt, but it would’ve seemed a waste of his talents to lose him to the pros without ever making it past the Sweet 16. A win against Kansas added substance to John Beilein’s stylish program and injected a team-of-destiny confidence that carried into the championship against [redacted]. If Burke’s shot rattled out, the Wolverines’ run would have belied the hype and No. 1 ranking they earned early on; after staggered departures sent half the roster to the NBA, fans would be left to wonder what could have been for years to come. Hell, some fans might’ve even tried to get the guy fired a few years down the road.

This year’s team has already more than earned its stripes, boasting a convincing 3-1 record against the Buckeyes and Spartans and a Big Ten Tournament championship in what was initially seen to be a holding year before the cavalry arrived in the 2018 recruiting class. Mo Wagner, MAAR, and Duncan Robinson are poised to depart, but their legacies are already full of career-defining triumphs, and the Wolverines’ top 5 defense(!) should be even better next year. It would have stung to lose to the underrated Cougars as a 3-seed, especially given how the bracket has opened up in the aftermath. Poole’s miracle also made it waaaaaaay easier to shit-talk Michigan State fans after yet another March failure. Also, Poole’s shot was for the win, while Burke’s left work to do in overtime. But, and maybe this is because I took in Burke’s shot as a hopeful freshman in the north campus dorms while I saw Poole’s as a jaded twenty-something in a motel in Liberty, Indiana, to me it felt like Burke’s shot marked a cosmic shift in the fate of the basketball program. Poole’s took this season from a 10 to an 11, serving as a refreshing reminder that we, too, can have nice things, no matter how bleak the rest of Michigan athletics may seem. The edge here goes to Trey.

The Context:

Michigan-Kansas was a far more aesthetically pleasing game than Michigan-Houston. Both huge Michigan shots followed failure from their foes at the free throw line, but that’s where the similarities end. The Kansas game wasn’t marred by horrific officiating or ugly shooting. It followed the form of a typical 1-4 matchup, with the better team slowly pulling away in the second half as Trey Burke had an off night. Down 10 with 2:25 to go, Michigan faced near-impossible odds. Then: Glen Robinson III jumped a passing lane for a dunk. Trey Burke single-handedly forced Elijah Johnson into a 10-second violation. Burke drove and found Mitch McGary, having a career game, for a layup to cut it to 6. Burke finally connected on a step-back 3 to cut it to 5 after a pair of Travis Releford free throws. After a stop, Hardaway missed a transition 3, but Jordan Morgan dove to the floor amidst 3 Jayhawks, forcing a loose ball that fell to GRIII, who hit an acrobatic reverse layup. Burke drove and finished past the mighty ent Jeff Withey after 2 Kansas free throws, making it 76-73. Y’all know what happened next. Michigan’s comeback was a furious, desperate display of team execution against an excellent and experienced Kansas squad. The gradual crescendo to the climax and aftermath was downright cinematic. If only one domino fell out of place during the Wolverines’ charge, the cascade of joy that followed would have been but a figment of our imaginations.

I’ve been told that Michigan-Houston was a fun game to watch from a neutral point of view, but it all seemed pretty miserable in the moment to me. Michigan air balled open 3 after open 3, a dwarf in a man bun channeled the spirit of Allen Iverson crossed with Steph Curry, the refs over-officiated, and Michigan’s offense was stagnant. Through some lucky bounces, clutch free throw shooting, and the lock-down defense of Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske, Michigan stayed close and even took a lead in the final minute. But after the only two guys who got to the rim all night saw bunnies roll off the rim, I was resigned to defeat. I had already sent out the customary good-job-good-effort texts and tweets as John Beilein iced poor damn Devin Davis with a maximally useful timeout. Burke’s shot felt like destiny. Poole’s was a jolt of joy out of the blue, stealing a game Michigan had no business winning and yanking the Wolverines straight from despondency to delirium. It seemed unfathomable that that game could convey the kind of euphoria that left me cackling at random moments throughout the next day. I went into this blog expecting to give this section and the overall win to Trey Burke. Call it recency bias, call it an irrational man-crush on Jordan Poole, but I’ve swayed myself to make this one a push.

The play:

The appeal of Trey Burke’s shot derives from two main aspects. The first, obviously, is the shot itself: everyone in the building knew he was looking for a 3 for the tie, and he still rattled home a rainbow in Kevin Young’s craw from 30 feet out. The second is the crushing screen Mitch McGary set that took both him and Elijah Johnson to the floor. Bodies fell at the feet of the shortest guy on the court as the best player in the country rose to the biggest occasion of his life.

For Poole, there were more moving parts and a defensive urgency borne of time pressure. Michigan’s movement was not frenzied, but rather flawless as Houston ignored the inbounding Livers and failed to pressure MAAR on the catch. In a play the Wolverines have honed down to an art form, Poole caught, rose, and fired over a perfect closeout as a stadium watched and prayed. Thanks to the positioning of the camera, TV viewers knew the line on the shot was pure as soon as it left his hands. Two seasons would depend on the calibration of the most gifted, erratic, and confident player on the court, a freshman whose overdose of swag was only tragic for the Cougars.

As I alluded to earlier, I initially wrote this as a response to young Michigan fans who instantly vaulted this to the top of their lists of great moments in sports fanhood and in life. Influenced by nostalgia, I was incredulous that anything could approach the unassailable moment that was the Burke shot. But I wanted to be sure to do Poole’s shot justice. In doing so, rather than proving my point, I’ve come to doubt my initial position. I had fun watching each shot a few more times, and now I appreciate why parents usually answer with a cop-out when you ask them to pick a favorite. Sorry if you were hoping for something more definitive after 1,400 words, but you’ll have to answer this one for yourself.

The Fix Was In

At its highest level, college basketball rivalry is a battle of great basketball minds and some of the best young athletes in the country. As tensions run high, fans see games less as a basketball contest and more as a clash of ideologies. The winners gains the ultimate triumph, while the losers submit with a grudging respect for the victors and a chance to reflect on the flaws that were their undoing.

But not on the Red Cedar Message Board.

Without further ado, let’s see how the best and brightest of the Spartans community took in their showdown with the Wolverines on Saturday.

(Link to the full game thread here)

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“We’re better against the field.” Bears out. They did barely beat Northwestern on the road. I feel guilty about winning now that I know Michigan’s modern offense only carved up MSU’s D due to “finesse.”

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Over two thousand posts, and this guy’s already ready to give it all up after a 13-4 Michigan run to start the game. I don’t respect the weird sex metaphor but I do respect the defiance.

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The Red Cedar Message Board holds a reverence for Matt “Pidgy” McQuaid that I can only begin to understand when I realize that all of these posters are white dudes. I’m sure he’s alright and all but I straight up guffawed every time that guy got the ball or saw the floor at Breslin.

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msufan98 will turn out to be a voice of reason down the road, but he is not off to a strong start.

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I’m sure the Spartans have many inventive insults for Michigan players, Wagner especially, but “Mo the ho” takes the cake.

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Matt McQuaid is the Spartans’ X-factor and we are now Wisconsin on defense. I like the way things are going.

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It’s a bit unfair that the refs, announcers, fans, MSU players and coaches did everything they could to tilt the game in Michigan’s favor.

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We’ve got another prophet on our hands, folks.

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It’s fans like this that give me the strength to keep making fun of the other fans.

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The Eagle has finally blown the Big Ten’s cover. Clearly, MSU doesn’t get ticky-tack foul calls as payback for winning games by playing in a manner that is conducive to success when ticky-tack fouls aren’t called.

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Complaints about the refs might be more compelling if they were valid or consistent

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This is not the last “outcoached” you’ll see in this post.

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Michigan basketball is Michigan State football with Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin defense. I’ll take it.

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If we were making more shots than they were, we would be winning. We’re not playing bad, we’re just being forced into awful shots and missing them.

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Go watch golf, dude.

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A fantastic trio of posts in sequence.

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According to the RCMB:

Good: Matt McQuaid, Mo Wagner, Cassius Winston

Bad: Miles Bridges, Charles Matthews, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (whose name this board misspelled in about 80 different ways).

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Also good: Zavier Simpson, whose name was spelled with an X every time he was mentioned on this board.

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They’re sick of the floor slaps! Shoot it straight into my veins!

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Straight into my veins!

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Fucking potatoes! Xavier Simpson! Every facet of the game! I need more!

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Is baby shit notably softer than normal shit? Also, what is a team, but a collection of individuals, WesternSpartan?

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It’s not Izzo’s fault his players are mentally and physically weaker than the other team despite having two lottery picks in the starting lineup. Beilein’s just a dirty coach who uses tactics that are just philosophically inaccessible to a morally upstanding fella like Izzo.

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To be fair to the board, I would’ve freaked out at Nick Ward’s missed bunny too.

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It’s not the refs, or the coaching, it’s the ink!

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Outcoached again!

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Moritz “Mo the ho” “Vahgner” Wagner

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God, yes.

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Credit msuspartan4eva and msudabest for being able to see truth through all the bias.

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Sand in the vajayjay.

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I’m beginning to think “finesse” might just be a compliment of the highest order.

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Move along folks, nothing to see here. Also, god save Matt McQuaid.

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Straight. Into. My. Veins.

 

 

 

 

 

5 More Years Of Mediocrity

The Blake Griffin trade was fucking depressing.

Everything about this stupid franchise is depressing. Their hot start this season was a mirage. They haven’t hit on a draft pick since KCP, and they’ve missed out on some gems in the process. And now they’ve traded every appealing asset they had for a guy who will be getting paid $35+ million for several years on the wrong side of 30 in what reads as a misguided hail mary to save Stan Van Gundy’s job.

Before I tear into a coach I like and respect as a person, I should mention the positives of this trade. Detroit was clearly going nowhere fast. Tobias Harris’ value was never going to be higher. Avery Bradley wasn’t going to re-sign here, because who would? Anyway, the numbers guys unanimously agree that he’s one of the most overrated defenders in the league, and if I’ve learned one thing from being a sports fan, it’s to always blindly trust the numbers guys. I love Boban, but he’s a relic of a bygone age in which centers never had to switch onto guards. And Blake Griffin, when healthy, was a bona fide stud. Before injuries hit and Chris Paul left, he almost singlehandedly dismantled the Rockets in what would have been a conference finals run had Paul’s demons not weighed the Clippers down. He was delightful to watch: a 6’10” dude with a tight handle, fantastic vision, an evolving midrange game and the capacity to break the game with earth-shattering dunks.

You’ll notice I used the past tense. That’s because injuries have taken their toll on Blake Griffin. He’s paid like an MVP but the guy isn’t even an all-star this year. With his explosiveness sapped, in a league full of young unicorns in the frontcourt, his time might be up for good. He’s walking into a gutted roster- at least it’s familiar territory after playing under Doc Rivers.

The worst thing about this all is that I no longer have any idea what the long-term plan is for the Pistons. Before the trade, they sucked, but they had plenty of young assets and flexibility going forward. At least they had a shot at one of the most stacked drafts in recent memory. I really do think they were one Donovan Mitchell-sized hit in the draft away from being able to mold the future around a face of the franchise. And I’m not a fan of tanking outright; I think it’s possible to zig when others zag, to build a winner without 5 years of bottom-dwelling via smart free agency signings, trades, and mid-1st-round draft picks. There needs to be a clear vision in place, though, and I would not trust Stan Van Gundy to implement that vision. Rather than fade away into unemployment, he opted to saddle the Pistons with an albatross of a contract that will delay any hopes of contention until we are all in our 30s. The ceiling for a team with no depth and $70 million devoted to Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond is still a first-round exit, and after a few years we will only begin to plumb the depths of the floor.

Why Are You Still Watching This Team?

If you’re looking for a detailed, analytical preview of a 180 minute advertisement for what I can assume is the most authentic Australian cuisine you can find stateside in the guise of an exhibition football game, you’ve come to the wrong place. I recommend MGoBlog for that. Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Outback Steakhouse. I’ve only ever seen it in those commercials with the dude who’s made a career out of a fake Australian accent. I’ve been to Chili’s and Applebee’s, though, so I think I get the gist. These places offer the façade of being a cut above fast food. If you order a few beers and squint at the menu, you may convince yourself that spending twice as much to gorge on reheated appetizers is worth the added money and time. If done right, this can make for harmless fun. Usually, it ends with you feeling bloated, regretful, and unfulfilled. You probably should have just snacked on some of the fruit you had lying around and waited for dinner.

Michigan and South Carolina is a showdown commensurate with this brand. There will be a lot of good football played on New Year’s day. It will not take place in this game. However, if you’re reading this preview, you’re likely either a personal friend of mine or Dalton’s or a Michigan football junkie. As such, you may find yourself unable to avoid being in a room where the game’s on. The remainder of this preview will be dedicated to helping you decide whether you should tune in or temporarily blind and deafen yourself until you can change channels to the Peach Bowl.

Why you should watch:

  • Brandon Peters will get the starting nod. While the game itself means little for Michigan this season, an impressive performance against the Gamecocks would provide Peters a boost in the inevitable quarterback duel with incoming Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson. South Carolina is Not Good, but they don’t give up a lot of points either, and Peters will have work to do behind an offensive line that probably hasn’t learned to pass protect in the last month.
  • The Michigan defense is going to wreck some fools. The fake USC put up 13 points against Kentucky this year. Mo Hurst avenging the Jadeveon Clowney hit from 5 years ago would be cathartic, and would almost make his decision to jeopardize his livelihood worth it.
  • Because life is in the journey, not the destination. By framing sports in terms of championship-or-bust, we often lose sight of the poetry of individual moments. Don’t get caught up in rankings or records. Stop and appreciate the impossible synchronization of a well-blocked draw. Imagine the countless repetitions, the hours of late night film study, the endless honing of the human form that coheres into one burst of power and precision to tip away a pass on 3rd and 8. Each game serves as theatre after a lifetime of rehearsal for some of the most gifted and dedicated among us.

Why you shouldn’t watch:

  • The offensive line will still be painfully bad, and this game probably won’t offer any insight into how it will look next year.
  • Michigan might lose. The played-out jibes about Harbaugh leaving for the NFL lead to shots fired at idiotic takes, which lead to stupid jokes about the whole fiasco, which lead to glib meta-analysis in a blog viewed by 14 people. Each Michigan loss just adds another shovel to this shit heap. Seeing it happen and knowing what’s coming makes for an agonizing experience.
  • We yearn for something football will never provide. Sports fandom, for most, is an endless cavalcade of misery interrupted by brief spurts of false hope. This game will not bring absolution. Even the championship at the end of the tunnel will be a transient achievement of people most of us have never met that will one day be forgotten. The only reason we care about our particular team is because we’ve been suckered into tribal loyalty by an organization that lines its pockets at the expense of generations of exploited laborers. An improbable victory will not impart any purpose or significance on our objectively meaningless existence.

 

Author’s note: yes, I watch Rick and Morty

The Sky Is Falling On Little Caesars Arena

After a road win over the lowly Atlanta Hawks that broke a 7-game losing streak, the Detroit Pistons now sit at 15-13, good for 6th place in the Eastern Conference, half a game away from exiting the playoff picture altogether. Only a third of the way through the season, the Pistons have already run the gamut from a team entrenched in purgatory, to a team poised to threaten the conference elite, then back to purgatory. While it remains easy to get caught up in the ups and downs of each game, parsing through the myopia to accurately appraise this Pistons team may prove more difficult.

I initially intended to write this as a middle finger to the Chicken Littles who would write Detroit off in the aftermath of their disappointing skid. This was to be a defiant point toward the Pistons’ schedule, 4th toughest in the league, as a devastating blow to the haters and doubters who should have seen this downturn coming. Losing tight games against the NBA elite is not damning; each individual loss was not concerning in and of itself. I would argue that consistently competing in hostile environments is an encouraging trend that should outweigh the cumulative sting of a string of losses in the hearts and minds of Pistons fans. With a far more favorable slate on the horizon, we should expect a team that has taken a legitimate step forward to right the ship.

What gives me pause in positive prognostication is the paucity of data we have to support the Pistons’ supposed ascendance. In the midst of Detroit’s scorching start to the season, I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Last year, a very similar roster recorded 82 games of mediocrity. Andre Drummond’s impossible improvement from the free throw line, Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley’s hot shooting, and a resurgent bench sparked the Pistons’ surge, but these trends seemed unsustainable. After a decade of purgatory, were we really supposed to believe that Langston Galloway, swapping Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for Avery Bradley, and roster continuity would somehow catapult this team into relevance?

My tentative answer to this question that determines Stan Van Gundy’s fate is still “yes.” Twenty-eight games are insufficient to determine a player or team’s true level. However, with the majority of the roster younger than 28 years old, there is still plenty of room for players to make sustainable improvements. Even during the Pistons’ recent rough stretch, Drummond has still thrived within his new role as a passer, and his free throw numbers remain acceptable. Tobias Harris continues to rain fiery death from behind the long line, defying a career of reluctant, ineffective shooting. Avery Bradley has been in a funk, but his shooting will likely regress to career norms, and he continues to be the linchpin of the defense. Reggie Jackson, despite a dud at home against Boston, is looking more like the version of himself that earned a $16 million/year deal. Van Gundy also has yet to unleash a fully armed and operational Boban Marjanovic onto the NBA landscape.

Despite some recent negative results, I still see plenty of reasons to project the Pistons to pick up where they left off and trend upward toward a 4th or 5th seed in the East. Players and teams will go through surges and slumps within the span of games or months, with their true ability lying somewhere in the middle. It will take time before we can sift through what we see and determine what is real and what is mere statistical noise. In the meantime, I advise fans to give this Pistons team a benefit of the doubt that they have not yet earned. Good basketball is a precious, tenuous commodity that most fan bases do not get to enjoy. Its presence in Detroit may yet prove to be a mirage. But if jilted fans turn on the team now, they may miss out on a hell of a ride.

Jim Harbaugh Doesn’t Win Big Games

Through a philosophy degree, conversations with nerds, and recreational drug use, I have come to know the universe to be nothing more, or less, than math. We are all living, breathing bundles of probability with far too many inputs to comprehend. To process our existence as anything other than uncertainty, we construct narratives that constitute our best effort to assign concrete characteristics like responsibility and value. Too often, these narratives assume the role of truth in and of themselves, eroding objective, comprehensive understanding.

The dissonance between narrative and understanding is evident all around us, but is especially apparent in the world of sports, where legacies are shaped and destroyed with the fickle bounce of a ball. In a field with a well-documented shift toward data-based analysis, people still earn six figure salaries to parse through what it all means, and arithmophobic voices usually overwhelm the rest.

For all the differences between Jose Altuve and Andrew Romine, the difference between the two amounts to about one hit every two games. A Steph Curry 3-point try draws rapturous gasps while Stanley Johnson’s induce groans, but Steph only makes about one more every ten tries. Of course, Curry and Altuve also add value in less perceptible ways that we are just beginning to measure. Over the course of an entire season or career, these percentage points add up to tangible wins. But on a game-by-game basis they are relatively insignificant.

On a football field, because there are 22 individual moving parts with an essential role in every play, a clear disparity between teams will usually lead to a lopsided game. The multiplicative nature of probability means that, over 70 plays in any given game, teams with massive, freakishly skilled linemen, roving terrors for linebackers, and a preponderance of talent at skill positions will be mostly immune to consequences from individual mistakes against overmatched foes. With some notable exceptions, these teams are also led by some of the sharpest minds in sports, who put their players in positions to win more battles than not.

Of course, a coach earns no plaudits when his gameplan adds 10 points to a blowout win, just as players don’t win Heismans against non-conference cupcakes. Athletes and coaches are rightfully judged on their ability to execute against their peers, when their supporting casts cannot easily paper over individual errors. The cruel irony of it all is that even teams that win the majority of their individual battles and have superior strategies do not always come out on top. Football games are finite equations that you do not get to run until everything regresses to the mean. Sometimes, your quarterback has the worst game of his life while everyone else plays over their heads, costing a chance for a season-vindicating upset. Sometimes, you get boned by the one of the most ridiculously arbitrary judgments in sports. Sometimes, your punter has trouble with the snap. Sometimes, improbable shit happens, and when it happens repeatedly in the situations with the highest possible leverage, you end up where Michigan stands today: the butt of Buckeye and Spartan jokes.

The odds certainly seem to be in favor of a Michigan resurgence next season. They’re a young team brimming with talent and, hey, Don Brown’s still around. While nothing is guaranteed, it is likely that offensive line and QB play will improve because, well, how could it not? But even if Michigan entered South Bend, East Lansing, and Columbus with a 60% chance to win each game (odds any Michigan fan would gladly accept), there would still be a chance they’d lose all three. I hope that Michigan can take steps to minimize fortune’s role in their record, but it is entirely possible that Michigan will continue to be an unlucky football team under Jim Harbaugh, through no fault of his own. It is possible, albeit unlikely, that a well-oiled machine might conk out at the worst possible moments, again. Many have come to expect it. With years of matchups against Mark Dantonio, James Franklin, Urban Meyer, and Brian Kelly ahead, all we have as fans is the hope that Harbaugh’s proverbial coin quits coming up tails. And I have no clue whether it will.

Confirmation and Condemnation

If last year’s loss to the Buckeyes was a flying boot to the nads, this year has been a continued series of scrotum taps that prevent recovery. Yesterday, Michigan outplayed the 5th-ranked team in the country, on their home turf, for the first 40 minutes of the game. Mo Hurst and his D-line cohorts submitted another snuff film for NFL scouts. Thanks to an offense that probably shot off the last bits of its foot weeks ago, this only manifested a 3-point lead. Like every other good thing that happens to Michigan, it was swiftly ripped away and rendered a distant memory, and I felt guilty for ever believing things could go differently.

The problems with the Wolverines are well-documented at this point. The safeties are liabilities, especially in coverage, with little depth. The receivers don’t make plays. After a hot start, special teams has ranged anywhere from mediocre to bad. Quarterback was a sore spot even before Speight broke his back. The offensive line cannot pass protect: unblocked rushers have now pulverized the top two QBs on the depth chart, decapitating whatever meager hopes Michigan had against elite foes. It would amount to an Achilles’ heel but for Michigan’s many other flaws. Even the coaching has been far from unimpeachable: uninspired playcalling and a lack of discipline have at times exacerbated these issues.

Michigan will lose to Ohio State. They might even lose their bowl game and go 8-5. The team has undershot expectations, wasting time and talent despite Don Brown’s best efforts. Of course, the misery of rooting for a disappointing football team has been magnified tenfold by the fucking fans. Characterized by a bizarre mixture of entitlement and outrage unique to Michigan, a segment of the fanbase seems to be competing to see who can be the loudest cynic. It’s as if these people derive glee from myopic condemnation of everyone they purportedly support. I, too, am depressed over MSU and OSU eating our lunch for the past 10 years. I understand the frustration that Michigan has not met the astronomical expectations rightfully placed on Harbaugh’s shoulders. But it was apparent that this was a rebuilding year even before Wilton Speight went down in West Lafayette. What I don’t understand is the compulsive need to pile on as this gets repeatedly confirmed. Even if some inherent trait of Jim Harbaugh or his staff renders his team pathologically unable to ever win a big game, there is zero glory in being right. For the sanity of the rest of us, please keep these takes to yourself.

Local Man Yells At Tom Gores

I didn’t care much about a football game against Maryland. Thus, there will be no Michigan Football recap this week. However, Dalton continues to hold my family hostage, and mailed me what I believe to be my brother’s pinkie toe after I requested a week off, so you’re still getting an article.

Last Wednesday, I went to a Pistons game at the new Little Caesars Arena. I paid $20 to sit in the nosebleeds of a half-empty venue and watch the Stones down the Pacers in the midst of a 5-game homestand sweep that elevated them to second place in the Eastern Conference. Detroit’s exciting start has them poised to re-emerge into national relevance for the first time since the infamous Chauncey trade. But as their on-court product has garnered attention, so, too, have the vacant seats.

I came into my basketball fandom near the middle of the purgatory period from which they’ll only truly escape once Josh Smith’s deal is off the books. Through a mutual love of basketball and the Pistons, I bonded with my future college roommate on our middle school’s B-team. A shared pastime of obsession with the NBA draft helped keep us close when he moved to Tennessee in high school. Our armchair general managing spawned a litany of scalding takes that, thankfully, came before the advent of Twitter; you may find some poring through the archives of the Detroit Pistons Forum. (we loved Knight and Drummond, but were despondent at missing out on Jan Vesely). The halcyon days of the Goin’ to Work Pistons are but a distant memory; my fanhood has been defined by the dreary inertia of mediocrity. Detroit’s hot start offers a glimmer of hope that has been rarely seen over the past decade. With the Tigers and Red Wings rebuilding and the Lions being the Lions, fans should be dying to embrace this young and likable team. Combined with the appeal of a new and more local arena, the Pistons’ trajectory should have eager fans from a city with such a storied basketball history flocking to continued sellouts.

Little Caesars, to me, seemed like a typical modern stadium. Its steep façade of red seats offers an easy view from any spot surrounding the court, and should provide an imposing atmosphere for visitors with bigger crowds. And like any typical modern live sports experience, once the price of parking and concessions is factored in, it costs about $15 more than it’s worth. Obviously, some myopic, suit-and-tie prick with a calculator and a business degree has decreed that the current state of affairs will maximize profits. I’ve never understood the widespread embrace of an approach that produces lukewarm crowds and magnifies the allure of my couch. Local media luminaries seem to think that sustained on-court success will suffice to solve attendance woes. They may be right. But as long beers cost $arm and dinner costs $leg, I won’t often join the milquetoast mob of millionaires and suburbanites who will fill LCA in the meantime.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s easy to imagine the snowball effects of affordable tickets. A crowd filled with passionate locals would inject energy into the players. Rivalries would be reignited; Pistons-Pacers would recall at least some of the frenzy that sparked the Malice, rather than being relegated to a sparsely-attended mid-week throwaway. Little Caesars could evolve into a local Mecca. Building enthusiasm around the Pistons might spark something resembling the vision of municipal uplift peddled by the owners who bilk taxpayers in stadium deals. The NBA is thriving. If owners invest in good-faith relationships with fans, it will be easier to sustain success through any potential hiccups down the road, to the benefit of everyone involved. For now, however, Tom Gores has chosen to gamble ticket sales on Andre Drummond’s repaired septum sparking a surge to superstardom. I hope it pans out.

 

Note: Dalton is not actually holding my family hostage. I’m pretty sure he just sent me a random toe.

Glorious Doom

There were at least a half-dozen plays that encapsulated last night’s game in a microcosm. My favorite came near the end of the third quarter when Khaleke Hudson, playing the game of his life, careened unabated around a Gopher tight end en route to one of his 2 sacks and 6.5 TFLs.  Hudson closed in on Demry Croft from behind in what, for Croft, was a case of unfortunate information asymmetry. Croft, rolling to his left and scanning, held on to a shred of hope that a receiver would break open, a running would might appear, and Minnesota might approach a more respectable scoreline. Meanwhile, a drenched crowd and a giddy TV audience felt a crescendo of glee knowing Hudson’s arc meant nothing but inevitable, glorious doom.

Michigan pummeled Minnesota from start to finish. Don Brown spotted them the first half touchdown drive he gifts every foe. The speck of resolve this instilled in the Gophers proved to be about as elusive as Chris Evans and Karan Higdon. The Wolverines’ ground game was punishing and relentless, producing stats so obscene I would not feel safe publishing them on this family-friendly website. Jim Harbaugh and Tim Drevno’s offensive gameplan was perfectly tailored for the inclement weather, which makes me wonder WHERE THE HELL WAS THIS AGAINST MICHIGAN STATE-sorry, that just slipped out, won’t happen again. Our Lord And Savior Brandon Peters was mostly superfluous, converting a few easy throws and getting plastered by an unblocked lineman in what was easily the scariest moment of the game. The accountable party, Cesar Ruiz, was benched, but until Michigan shores up their persistent problems in pass protection, it will be tough to thoroughly evaluate Peters, and expectations for the team will remain limited.

Still, it was hard to watch this game and not recall the fully realized Harbaughffense that made Michigan a playoff contender. With a full offseason and plenty of returning contributors, a challenge for next year’s Big Ten title seems realistic, despite an imposing schedule. After a chaotic Saturday within the conference, fans were investigating tiebreaker scenarios for 2017 (it’s not gonna happen) (but lol what if it actually happened…). All caveats about opponent quality apply, but in light of Ohio State and Penn State’s implosions, it felt alright to be a Wolverine.

Without further ado, 5 tweets:

https://twitter.com/marion_ohio/status/926931075670118400

This article’s title refers to Minnesota, but Ohio State’s demise was no less enjoyable. While I agree that Iowa shouldn’t have been punting on 4th and short in OSU territory, the football gods hold no sway in Kinnick. All the talent and righteous anger in the world could not rescue the Buckeyes from getting freakin’ pasted.

Bonus points for referencing a Simpsons episode I watched for the first time this week. Over- and under-rated are terms thrown around with reckless abandon nowadays. As such, I hesitate to use them. But, if it’s even possible after decades of near-universal praise and accolades, I think that show might be underrated.

NSFW. Also, what would this section be without stupid complaints in a blowout win?

Amen.

If this is true, I need to revise my first paragraph.

Sea Change

After four straight tumultuous performances in which John O’Korn singlehandedly submarined Michigan’s offense, the dawn of the Brandon Peters era was only a matter of time. What better time to debut than at the start of a three-game stretch against the dregs of the conference? When O’Korn sputtered through a scoreless first quarter, the rabid hordes of armchair coaches across Michigan finally got their wish. Peters did not disappoint, keeping afloat three straight touchdown drives led largely by road-grading run blocking and some impressive running by Ty Isaac and Karan Higdon. Shaky start aside, Michigan dispatched Rutgers as expected.

From what I saw, reactions to the game were split into two camps. A small, desperately deluded delegation of the fanbase instantly heralded Peters as the next coming of Drew Henson, charting Big Ten title scenarios and shoveling coal into the hype train for next year’s playoff push. The majority reacted with cautious optimism. Peters hit some tight windows and demonstrated a rudimentary understanding of how to navigate a pocket. To my untrained eye, he never had to make any complex reads. He shouldn’t need to for another two weeks, after which Michigan will face an acid test at Camp Randall and then another one at home against the Buckeyes. With the revelation that was John O’Korn in Purdue still fresh in my mind, it would be irresponsible to make any sweeping declarations about the fate of the program after a win over Rutgers.

The best part of Michigan’s victory was that it started at 12pm, giving football fans the freedom to enjoy the chaos that was the 3:30 slate. A couple guys got dinged up, the d-line mauled some guys, and that was about it. Without further ado, here’s low-effort filler-I mean here’s 5 tweets I enjoyed yesterday.

Full disclosure: I didn’t watch most of the first quarter. I didn’t miss much.

A two-part before-and-after summarizing Peters’ impact on the offense.

There’s always something to complain about. Even if you have to invent problems that don’t exist. Fans find a way.

Nothing to do with the game, I just really liked this tweet.

 

Hitting A Wall

At the time, when envisioning the recap I’d write the following morning, I was hopeful that Michigan’s goal-line series near the end of the second half would serve as a guiding theme for the rest of the game and the season. After three stalemates in the trenches, Karan Higdon finally sprung loose to the pylon and brought Michigan to within 1 point following a 14-0 start from the Nittany Lions that might have felled a team with less mettle. However, buoyed by a resurgent defense sparked by David Long’s near pick-six, the Wolverines offense seemed to have turned a corner and upgraded to mediocre. Rather than continuing to run Higdon into a brick wall, Michigan found their athletes in space, with John O’Korn looking at least playable as a scrambler-cum-QB. Poised to receive the ball to start the second half, Michigan had begun to scheme around their obvious weaknesses, and looked ready to at least mount a challenge to the #2-ranked Nittany Lions on their home turf.

It was all a mirage. The brick wall bounced back and obliterated the Wolverines with a 52-second, 7-play, 75-yard drive that set the tone for the rest of the game. The offense reverted to anemic. Joe Moorhead and Trace McSorely picked apart a defense that can no longer be seriously considered among the nation’s elite, constantly isolating Saquon Barkley and DaeSean Hamilton against overmatched linebackers and safeties. Whatever bright spots emerged in the first half were smothered by the onslaught that followed. The icing on this urinal cake of a game: O’Korn probably didn’t even play poorly enough to merit getting benched next week against Rutgers.

Penn State, much like Michigan at this time last year, is a playoff contender rife with talent and experience rounding into full form. A borderline top 25 team heading into the Lions’ den at night should get eviscerated. But as a fan who lives and dies with this team every Saturday, it’s impossible to just accept such detached analysis. Don Brown, the talisman to which Michigan’s hopes of present respectability and future dominance cling, was tarnished by James Franklin and co., yet again lowering expectations beneath the bedrock. Performative pessimism and outrage have been en vogue among the locals since Iowa last year and will remain so until Michigan beats the Buckeyes by 40 and wins a national title. I try to resist getting caught up in the myopic ebb and flow of football fanaticism, but man, everything sucks right now, and I didn’t ever expect to feel this way with Jim Harbaugh in charge.

 

In lieu of humor and whimsy in the body of the actual blog, here’s 5 tweets I liked during the game.

 

If you’re gonna go down early…

As things devolved, Michigan fans clung to flags as a saving grace. The men in stripes couldn’t wrest the rags from their grip, evidently, as Penn State was never penalized on offense or defense.

Mike McCray covering Saquon Barkley in space was always going to end in doom. Good thing Michigan took every possible precaution to avoid this matchup… until it happened like half a dozen times. Whoops.

https://twitter.com/MoMoneyMoFabbri/status/921926626824327168

What’s the point of doing this if I can’t shamelessly plug my Twitter?

I’ve got a couple door frames to paint too. Might do so next Saturday around noon.