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An Unholy Matrimony

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Guest Post

By Peter Richmond

Phish meets the NFL?

Dogs and cats, living together.

The end of the world as I know it. And I don’t feel fine. How could I? What if you had two overriding passions that eclipsed everything else in your life, including your family (as they’d surely attest), and each passion (or, to be frank, religion) represented the two totally opposite sides of your bipolar psyche, and somehow balanced it into sanity…and, surreally, they then decided to collaborate?

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How could this be a good thing? Look at it this way: If your beloved old family physician let drop that he was dating Lady Gaga would it make you feel warm and fuzzy? So: When your favorite Pentagonian/George Patton-inspired sporting corporation, whose 32 franchises are largely symbolized by drunks who take off their shirts in blizzards and then beat people up in the parking lot because they’re wearing apostatic jerseys, enlists, in a marketing moment, your favorite anarchic jam and, which is largely symbolized by a few million stoners who believe in nothing except the axiom “Rules Are Irrelevant”…what else could this mean other than that the universe has collapsed into itself? That The End f Days was upon us?

The specifics: On New Year’s Eve morning, and the following afternoon, ESPN2 will air an NFL Films segment about how Seattle Seahawk fans have adopted a Phish song. Which said event tears a hole in the universe.

Background to this unholy miscegenation: In the Eighties, Phish’s insanely creative and eminently likeable guitarist Trey Anastasio, before formally forming the band, wrote a musical thesis as a senior at Goddard College — a legendarily leftie institution in rural Vermont — called “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday.” His work featured a song called Wilson, which has not only endured, for we Phishfanatics, but has taken a rightful place in the band’s pantheon of Pure Phish Songs.

(Full disclosure: A few years ago, when I had to drive to Buffalo to interview a quarterback on assignment — seven hours by way of the New York State Thruway — I structured the trip around the day when I knew that the Jam On channel on Sirius satellite radio would be playing the top 50 Phish songs, from 50 to one. I wanted to hear them all. In order. Wilson cracked the top 10. No, it’s not their best, by any means. It’s no Fluffhead, or Possum, or Chalk Dust Torture, I’ll grant you that. But it’s a pretty cool song.

Well, okay, it’s not a “song,” exactly. Lots of the time, Phish plays “songs” in the manner of a team which might play a game of “baseball,” only in their game, everyone stands wherever they want to after they take the field, facing in whatever direction they prefer, while making up their own rules as the game goes along. And then adopting new rules the next time they play a game.

So anyway. the “song” Wilson includes a refrain wherein, for the last two decades, every Phishfreak in whatever sold-out arena they’re playing sings, in a delightful call-and-response to the band’s cues: “WILLLL-sonnnnn”. If you listen to it, it goes from e-flat to C, I think.

Yes, that arena, from Delaware to Oregon and everywhere in between, will be sold out; the band grossed more than $18 million on this summer’s tour. The last four years’ total: $120 million in ticket sales).

So you can see where this is going, right? Last spring at a solo concert in Seattle, and later at another featuring the whole band at a venue in George, Wa. (Yep; that’s a Phish venue if there ever was one), Trey urged the crowd to start chanting “Wilson” at Seahawk games, in honor of Russell, this year’s quarterback flavor of the season — and, perhaps, for many a season to come.

The ritual caught fire, and now the sound of “WIL-son” can be heard waterfalling out of the stands at CenturyLink Field several times a game: when Wilson takes the huddle for the first time in the game, and again at the beginning of the third, and, throughout the game, interspersed with bits of the song on video board.

So who could blame NFL Films from filming a Phish concert, and filming the CenturyLink chant-ritual, and getting it aired on ESPN 2? Where’s the rub? Why am I Grinching this joyous collaboration?

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Two reasons.

No. 1: Every man has two sides: The roid-rage/road-rage madman who needs to see athletes try to kill each other legally every Sunday for six months a year, vicariously experiencing what it used to be like to get up in the morning and say to your buddies, “What do you say we attack that tribe over the hill and kill them all? I mean, after we eat raw antelope for breakfast”…

….and the gentle soul who wants to step back, cool out, find his Metroman side and try his damnedest to be a court jester in a land that takes itself way too seriously…and, not incidentally, do so in a place where he might be surrounded by, um, you know, stoned girls.

But nature never intended the two sides to meet. Hence the term “yin/yang” — or, in moderndayspeak, “bipolarism.” Once they overlap, they both lose their power to entrance.

But No. 2 is way more important. In “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday,” Trey’s man Wilson is not a man to be admired. In fact, in Anastasio’s college script, the original Wilson is the arch-villain of all time: a greedy, powerlusting fascist who enslaves the peace-loving Communist lizards of a land called Gamehendge, changes the name of their land to Prussia, and steals the book of goodness given to them by their god Icculus. Wilson destroys their forest, builds a castle where he keeps the book, and executes a rebel by hanging. One of the lyrics from the song’s chorus? “Wilson, king of Prussia, I lay this hate on you.”

Basically, young Trey was writing about a monstrous entity spoiling everyone’s fun. But now, as ESPN and NFL Films will have it — with Trey’s worrisome consent — Wilson is an anthem celebrating a football player who, according to the Goodell/Boys Life Magazine metric for what a young man should be, scores off the charts: Russell Wilson is the great-great grandson of a slave, the grandson of a former university president, the son of a Dartmouth graduate, part Native-American, endorses Levis, Nike and Alaska Airlines — and posts bible verses daily on his Twitter account. (As I write, watching him slice and dice the Giants: “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:13″) No argument there, Russ. Anyway, you’re just a pawn in this game.

Okay, yes, I have a soft spot for Wilson. But who, given my memories, wouldn’t? The first time I heard Wilson played live was at The Clifford Ball in 1996, Phish’s first multi-day festival, held at the decommissioned Plattsburgh (NY) Air Force Base. I was backstage, doing a story for a slick magazine about the band that had lured me in because they seemed to sell out Madison Square Garden every New Year’s Eve — without ever actually, like, advertising. People kept passing me joints. So Wilson sounded very good that day — as, did, well, everything they played. From AC/DC Bag to Reba to Weekapaug Groove. Even 2001.

Much later that night, lying in my tent, surrounded by 60,000 overly polite Phishkids (although the philosophy major from Oberlin vehemently and almost aggressively disagreed with my assertion that the pan-European Rationalists had it way over the stupid All-Anglo-Empiricists), I couldn’t get the refrain out of my head — until the next morning, when the young woman in the adjacent tent stepped outside into the morning sun wearing nothing but blue jeans, and smiled “Hi,” and went off toward the showers.

That day unfolded as the day before had, in Shangri-La fashion: plentiful hugs, plentiful nugs.

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Behind the stage at a picnic table that afternoon, during an interview with the band, the drummer, John Fishman, who wears dresses on stage, told me that this was the only job he had never been fired from. His last job had been cutting out patterns for women’s bathing suits. Then Trey told me he’d briefly considered seeding the festival crowd with ladies of the night imported from New York, but had quickly discarded the idea. After they all left to go back to their trailers, I finished writing in my notebook, then noticed the large roach on the table, and considered leaving it be, in case one of them had left it by mistake. But I quickly discarded the idea.

But you just have to know that ESPN and NFL Films are patting each other on the backs after a few brews, despite their home library of “Eagles” CDs” “What is hip? We are!”

I don’t know if they’ll show the whole song in the TV show, with its true lyrics. I do know that I won’t be watching. Because if this is the beginning of a friendship, it won’t be beautiful to me.

I’d sure hate to have to turn to professional golf and the String Cheese Incident to find new religions. But I sure as hell won’t sit around watching my life’s passions go up in smoke.

League of Shadows

Dallas Cowboys v Pittsburgh Steelers

You can watch “League of Denial,” the PBS Frontline documentary about concussions and the NFL here.

JetSkeeve

Guest Post

By Peter Richmond

Not that Mark Sanchez dancing with Alana (a former “bottle service girl” at the San Diego club Voyeur) and Janna (a “socialite,”) wasn’t the best sports-video clip of a really slow day last week, although I was disappointed at the glaring absence of Katie, Jessika, Jenna, Nikki, Emi, Danielle, Krista, Gina, Ashley and the rest of the Jets Flight Crew 2013 swimsuit wall calendar gang. What brought me down was the flashback.

Last time I spoke to EK was when we were passing each other in the hallway at school in June 2008. She was a ninth-grader. I was her brother’s English teacher. She said, “Hi, Mr. Richmond,” and I said, “Hi.” That was the usual exchange between us. Nice kid. Good student. A few days later, she graduated from our private middle school and went on to high school, and I resigned after deciding that my day gig should no longer involve having to call out ninth-grade girls for violating the dress code by wearing Uggs in my classroom.

The next time I saw the girl was on the web in February of 2011. This was a few days after her cell-phone photographs of Mark Sanchez’ bedroom had hit the web after Deadspin broke the tale. I recognized the girl immediately, despite the noticeable increase in layers in makeup, because she didn’t look much older than she had three years earlier in ninth grade. At least to me, she didn’t. Apparently, though, glimpsed through the giddily romantic New Year’s Eve atmospherics of Lavo (“an Ultralounge!” raved New York), she was only seventeen.

At that point, according to the girl’s account, Sanchez was gentlemanly enough to respond that he couldn’t see her until she was 18. Mark clearly had the schoolgirl’s best interests at heart — at least, until she corrected him: in New York, she told him, to be seventeen years of age was to be (Yes! The initial ruling at the table is overturned!) of legal age. This news apparently cleared the way for the girl’s subsequent photographs of Sanchez’ bedroom in his place on a Jersey golf course.

The last time I saw a picture of the girl was in a paparazzi-tabloid shot taken in her Connecticut hometown a week after it all broke, wherein, caught outdoors in her village, in a parka, her expression vibed panic, on the verge of teenaged tears. This was the ninth-grader I used to see at the salad bar.

That summer, six months after his quarterback’s alleged tryst, alleged New York Jet coach Rex Ryan, alleged star of one of the great foot-fetish role-playing videos of all time (wherein he allegedly plays the cop drawn to the woman’s bare feet sticking out a car door; his alleged wife allegedly plays the woman), named Mark Sanchez his captain.

Talk of Sanchez’ schoolgirl dalliance quickly and mysteriously muted, and then mutated: In a GQ profile that allegedly appeared in September of 2011, allegedly eight months after the alleged liaison, the alleged affair is referred to thusly in a brief aside near the end of the piece: “A 17-year-old high-school student…told a gossipy sports site…they went on a date.” Indeed they allegedly did; the writer of the story identified an object in Sanchez’ bedroom that the girl had photographed with her phone.

(In a highlight in the annals of profile hilarity, the piece led with an anecdote in which then-linebacker Bart Scott chides Vladimir Ducasse about leaving a party the night before, despite their being so many “hos” at poolside. Ducasse complains that they were too old. Scott asks Sanchez, “Were those ho’s too old?”
(“Define old,” says Mark.)

As a lover of freakazoid behavior in the National Football Lockstep, a league sport that thinks it’s a branch of the Pentagon, I’m all for aberrance, as long as it stops short of a 24-year-old quarterback texting a high-school girl at 2 a.m. asking if she wants to go out that night, and she has to answer from her bedroom in her parents’ suburban Connecticut home, “I have school tomorrow,” and his head coach names him captain. Doesn’t a captain of a football team have to exhibit something approximating leadership qualities?

If teaching larval teenaged girls for three years taught me anything about larval teenaged girls, it’s that lots of them like to dress up and make-up to look more mature than they are, but have less idea of what they actually look like to older men as goldfish who want to look good to other goldfish in the tank in the dentist’s office know what they look like to people awaiting root canals.

I have no doubt that the girl wanted to look alluring at the ultralounge. I also have no doubt that to any rational adult in that club that night, which Mark Sanchez allegedly was, she looked exactly like what she was: someone beneath accepted legal age.

In 2011, the Jets went 8-8. They were 8-5 before losing their last three by a combined scored of 93-50. Mark completed 56 percent of his passes and threw only 18 interceptions.

In March of 2012, the Jets extended Mark’s contract, which guaranteed him $20 million. “It gives the team,” Mark said, “just a reminder that I’m the leader of this team.”

By that fall, Mark had put aside such childish things as the teenager I’d known. By the start of training camp, he was going out with Eva Longoria, the thespian known for, among other things, playing a detective in the wildly underrated Senorita Justice. Eva was 12 ½ years his senior. She’d already had an ugly breakup with Tony Parker. I figured her worldliness and experience would help the Jets’ leader grow up.

But one month into the season, she broke up with him. According to TMZ, in a break-up message, she called him “moody” and “inconsistent.” She did not elaborate on the latter adjective. She did say, “We’ll always have the season opener in Buffalo.” He’d completed 19 of 27, with three TD passes, in a rout, before the Jets lost ten of their next 15 games and finished 6-10. The team, perhaps sensing by now that Jesus was weeping, hired Tim Tebow.

Today, of course, the most viral video of Mark Sanchez remains the game last year when, scrambling, he runs into the butt of one of his lineman, and fumbles. But I am reassured that he is finally dancing on videos with age-appropriate women.

And since he might still possess football talent, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt: that when he escapes the skeeviness of his current employee (see Favre, masseuses hired as rewards for good games; Ryan Footwear) and gets the start in whatever city the Jaguars are in two years from now, he might win more games than he loses. Being an NFL quarterback is a whole lot more difficult than being a bottle girl.

So how to compute Sanchez’ true Skeeve Quotient? Maybe, emotionally and developmentally, Sanchez is a 17-year-old himself. As Los Angeles’ (“City of Illusion”) former star Trojan, maybe no one ever asked him to grow up. If he’s psychologically stunted, then in his own head he did no wrong, right? When Sanchez allegedly called the girl I knew on an alleged Sunday night after allegedly losing to the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the playoffs, and she allegedly declined to meet him that night, wouldn’t that like, so indicate the melding of two teen minds? The girl saying, “I can’t! I didn’t do any homework all weekend!”

And the guy saying, “So what? Come on! I’m rich!”

Completely understandable adolescent behavior.

But for the sake of any other former ninth-graders I might know who might cross his ultrapath in the future, I would ask Mark to heed the wisdom Joe Namath offered him in the GQ piece. When the writer asks if Joe has any dating advice for his successor in the Lavo limelight, Joe answers: “To really do his homework.”

[Photo Credit: AP; Bert Stern; GQ]

Thug Life

Over at Grantland, Charlie Pierce takes on the NFL:

Think of all the illusions about the National Football League that the revelations of a bounty program in New Orleans shatter. Think of all the silly pretensions those revelations deflate. The preposterous prayer circles at midfield. The weepy tinpot patriotism of the flyovers and the martial music. The dime-store Americanism that’s draped on anything that moves. The suffocating corporate miasma that attends everything the league does — from the groaning buffet tables at the Super Bowl to the Queegish fascination with headbands and sock lengths while teams are paying “bounties” to tee up the stars of your game so they don’t get to play anymore. What we have here now is the face of organized savagery, plain and simple, and no amount of commercials showing happy kids cavorting with your dinged-up superstars can ameliorate any of that.

Which is why Roger Goodell is going to land on the Saints, and on their coaches, as hard as he possibly can. It’s not so much that they allegedly paid players to injure other players. That’s just the public-relations side of the punishment to come. Goodell can see the day when one of these idiotic bounty programs gets somebody horribly maimed or even killed, and he can see even more clearly the limitless vista of lawsuits that would proceed from such an event. But what the Saints will truly be punished for is the unpardonable crime of ripping aside the veil. For years, sensitive people in and out of my business drew a bright moral line between boxing and football. Boxing, they said, gently stroking their personal ethical code as if they were petting a cat, is a sport where the athletes are deliberately trying to injure each other. On the other hand, football is a violent sport wherein crippling injuries are merely an inevitable byproduct of the game. I always admired their ability to make so measured — and so cosmetic — a moral judgment. This was how those sensitive people justified condemning boxing while celebrating football, and, I suspect, how many of them managed to sleep at night after doing so.

Fine column.

[Photo via Painting Canvas]

Slaves … TO the Game or FOR the Game?

Mr. Greene, my 8th Grade Social Studies teacher, posted a message on the blackboard on the first day of classes:

If you don’t know the answer to a question, bluff by speaking the word, “economics.” More often than not, you’ll be right.

Heady stuff to tell a bunch of 12-14-year-old kids who had little idea how the world works. I mention Mr. Greene’s message because it was written in the context of the first unit that year: The Civil War, and the major causes of it. Slavery, the major cause of the War that began 150 years ago this year, is certainly a cultural issue. At its core, however, it is — and was — an economic issue.

The slavery analogy has been made to describe the economic, racial and cultural divide in professional sports since the late 19th Century and the immediate aftermath of Jim Crow and Plessy v. Ferguson. Adrian Peterson’s use of the word, uttered in an interview to Yahoo! Sports, is news because, as Dave Zirin wrote, “he went there.” A black athlete making a slavery analogy, in a sport with white owners, is drawing heavy criticism from mostly white media media members. We’re still having this discussion? The cast is different but the colors are the same? The NFLPA, led by a dynamic black man in DeMaurice Smith, has hinted at exactly what Peterson said. He just didn’t use the word.

The three lead plaintiffs in the class-action suit against the NFL — Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning — may agree with the slavery analogy, but by virtue of their pigmentation, couldn’t dare use it. What level of criticism would they receive?

In my Sport Sociology studies in college, racism, along with gender equity, were the two most frequent issues discussed. The seminar my senior year was devoted to the topic, specifically in the sport of boxing.

I’m not of the mindset that someone making millions of dollars has no right to use the term “slave.” I am of the mindset that the rampant criticism for his word choice is undeserved. Peterson, like Brady, Brees and Manning is one of the most visible players in the NFL. Maybe not necessarily in that order, Peterson, Brady, Brees and Manning are the top four picks in most Fantasy drafts. Why shouldn’t he present his viewpoint?

Zirin’s full article can be found here. If you’re interested in sport history and culture, it’s a good read. His mentions of Curt Flood, whose struggles against the Reserve Clause were profiled by Alex Belth profiled in a 2006 biography, Stepping Up, are poignant and insightful.

As for the discussion of slavery, it still exists in this country; just not in the form that it once did. Context rules. Do you believe Peterson’s comment was taken out of context? Is the comment more socioeconomic or sociocultural?

One thing is certain: the debate is not going to end any time soon.

[Photo Credit: Zimbio.com]

Fear and Loathing, Where Have Ye Gone?

Congrats to the Pack, in what turned out to be a close game.

But man, watching the Super Bowl tonight in all its crass glory made me pine for ol’ Hunter S. Thompson. Rolling Stone has an excerpt from a piece Thompson once wrote about the big game (the cover is from another Thompson story):

There was a time, about ten years ago, when I could write like Grantland Rice. Not necessarily because I believed all that sporty bullshit, but because sportswriting was the only thing I could do that anybody was willing to pay for. And none of the people I wrote about seemed to give a hoot in hell what kind of lunatic gibberish I wrote about them, just as long as it moved. They wanted Action, Color, Speed, Violence…. At one point, in Florida, I was writing variations on the same demented themes for three competing papers at the same time, under three different names. I was a sports columnist for one paper in the morning, sports editor for another in the afternoon, and at night I worked for a pro wrestling promoter, writing incredibly twisted “press releases” that I would plant, the next day, in both papers.

It was a wonderful gig, in retrospect, and at times I wish I could go back to it — just punch a big hatpin through my frontal lobes and maybe regain that happy lost innocence that enabled me to write, without the slightest twinge of conscience, things like: “The entire Fort Walton Beach police force is gripped in a state of fear this week; all leaves have been canceled and Chief Bloor is said to be drilling his men for an Emergency Alert situation on Friday and Saturday nights — because those are the nights when ‘Kazika, The Mad Jap,’ a 440-pound sadist from the vile slums of Hiroshima, is scheduled to make his first — and no doubt his last — appearance in Fish-head Auditorium. Local wrestling impressario Lionel Olay is known to have spoken privately with Chief Bloor, urging him to have ‘every available officer’ on duty at ringside this weekend, because of the Mad Jap’s legendary temper and his invariably savage reaction to racial insults. Last week, in Detroit, Kazika ran amok and tore the spleens out of three ringside spectators, one of whom allegedly called him a ‘yellow devil.’”

What's Cookin?

I’m going to make spaghetti and meatballs. Not traditional Super Bowl fare but it’ll do the trick.

In the meantime, here’s the theme of the day:

[Photo Credit: The Kitchn]

Super Duper

Here’s a cool Super Bowl primer from the SI Vault–game recaps for every Super Bowl every played.

Pack it Up, Pack it In/Let Me Begin…

Game One: The Great Rivalry Continues…Nagurski, Nitschke, Butkus, Bears, Brats, Brews…You gotta love it.

Chow Down:

Word to Pete Rock:


[Photo Credit: How Cook Like a Wolf]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver