Friday, December 30, 2011

Brady


Last month, I turned 26. I'm still young enough to do foolish things in foolish places with foolish people, but at the same time, I'm old enough to realize that I'm not really a child anymore, and the superficial things that were surprising and exciting and passion-inducing when I was 14 now get a raise of the eyebrows and a retweet.

I'm not writing this to grouse. One thing I don't miss about being younger is being negative for negativity's sake. When I was a teenager, I hated roller coasters because they went upside down, Iowans because they were bad drivers, soccer because nothing happened, and egg nog because who wants to drink eggs, really. The highs may be less frequent now, but so are the cesspools of negativity, sneering pockets of disdain aimed at whatever movie or team or restaurant seemed cool to hate. I wore my dislikes on my sleeve like pus-filled badges of honor. I'm never going to be all sunshine and daffodils (ask me about The Big Bang Theory or Buffalo Wild Wings), but I like not being that guy anymore.

That said, the passionate highs are something I miss. It's not a secret that I spend a lot of time watching sports. I follow 700 people on Twitter, probably 500 of whom talk mostly about Major League Baseball or college football. When you're young, sports have the ability to shock on a weekly basis, and you get locked into a lifetime of chasing that high again. Luis Gonzalez's base hit to win the 2001 World Series, a series in which my favorite team was not participating, made me jump out of a friend's chair and yelp with glee, and no upset will ever shock me the way Kansas State's 35-7 dismantling of undefeated Oklahoma in 2003 did. I watched it at a Latin Club party.

*****

Tom Brady was the 199th overall pick in the 2000 draft, a fact that crossed over into the mental compendium of the casual fan soon into the Patriots' run of three Super Bowl victories in four seasons.* It was seared into my mind as soon as the page loaded on ESPN SportsZone, having watched every game he had played the prior two seasons as quarterback of my Michigan Wolverines.

* - The third Super Bowl win came in Jacksonville. Someday when I open the Museum of WTF Sports Moments, there will be a bronze plaque that says "Jacksonville, Florida hosted the Super Bowl" hanging between 1996 Brady Anderson and the popularity of Jason Sehorn.

His finished his amateur career with a thrilling Orange Bowl win to cap 1999. It's a blast, knowing what we do, to watch the highlights on YouTube. Big Blue's opponent was an Alabama team that had another future NFL MVP at the height of his powers. Shaun Alexander ran for over 160 yards and three touchdowns, but it was Brady who brought his team back from a pair of 14-point deficits and put the team in position for a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation. The Tide blocked the Hayden Epstein kick before allowing Michigan to score on the first play of overtime. Alabama countered with a score of its own, only to lose in the most stomach-hollowing of manners: by watching their kicker miss an extra point. No block - just a straight push right, like a kid in the backyard who takes a full minute to get the ball to sit just right in the grass before letting it slide off the outside of his foot.

Tom was the first quarterback who was my quarterback. He had a strong arm, he made my team win, and, yeah, he was pretty handsome. He's the first athlete whose headshot I saw and thought, "I bet he doesn't have to do scholastic bowl to get girls to like him."* I searched the Boston Globe website every month after to find out where he would land on the depth chart behind the incumbent Drew Bledsoe, and every week in 2001 after a vicious Mo Lewis hit sheared open a blood vessel in Bledsoe's chest.

* - This strategy was less successful than envisioned

This isn't about then, though. Any sports fan who was bitten by the bug as early as I was reaches a point where the only thing that can bring back that raw excitement is seeing the athletes they loved at that age competing at a high level. Kerry Wood and Tiger Woods both feel that way to an extent for me, but in terms of the totality of a career and the monolithic odds facing him, Brady is the one.

He is now 34. In about six years, a guy whose career I've followed every fall weekend for the past 14 years will cede to the demands of time. He will make a decision to golf and sign autographs rather than play football, and that seems painfully soon.

So, until then, I'll keep watching him, and I'll keep pulling for him to be the winning quarterback in every Super Bowl that the Bears aren't in*, and I'll savor the joy that comes with watching one of your childhood heroes perform at the highest level imaginable. It feels fortunate, because this seems like something that easily could have only been realized as Brady stepped to the podium in Foxborough for that bleary-eyed press conference in February 2018.

- So, all of them.


So go do something you loved when you were 14. Listen to Barenaked Ladies, watch Titanic, eat Chef Boyardee straight out of the can. I can't begrudge you. I'll just be over here watching this video on loop in the dark.


Not crying, just allergic to something. Wood, maybe. Or typing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I had a job yesterday, and now I don't.

Hey Nick, how is your job going?

Well. I went to the office at 8:30 yesterday. A little after 9:00, I was called into an office with the head coach of the team (not exactly a normal thing), and told that my position was being terminated, effective immediately due to organizational reshuffling something something. Our team president and director of community relations, both of whom are close friends, were let go as well.

I went back to my office where a suited man, religiously opposed to small talk, fidgeted in the doorway while I packed what was in my desk. It felt like a white collar crime drama denouement, but without the flashing lights, string accompaniment, or eight figures in an offshore account. They're paying me through the end of the month though, so same difference.

Why do you think this happened?

Doug is our owner. Doug is a millionaire who lives in Colorado. He made a lot of money working for Dell Computers, and he has, in total, owned 12 arena football teams, one of which still exists. When Doug fired Cory, our team president, he also let go the two employees whose hires Cory had most directly influenced. One of those was me.

Will you miss the job?

I don't have aspirations of working in PR or Arena Football. The league is run by people who threaten fines for noncompliance rather than asking nicely. On a team level, there's a lack of distrust of employees on the part of ownership that means many creative, engaging ideas get buzzsawed before they reach the marketplace. All of this led to a good friend who was not fired to submit his letter of resignation before the day was out. 


So not a great deal, no.

C'mon. It has to be a little bit of a bummer, right?

OK. A little bit. It's not a huge blow to the ego because I never thought myself a PR wizard, and the evidence (and a lack of reprimands) suggests this didn't have much to do with me. That said, no one likes to be fired. I like steady income, and that's something I'll have to get by without for a little while, but it also gives me a bit of freedom to do some reading, some writing, some exercising, and some time for stoic contemplation while staring off into a wooded glen.

So what's next?

The goal is to stay in Atlanta. I've made great friends, I love the city, I'm infatuated with the Braves, and the opportunities far outpace those back home. Having been here les than six months, I'm not ready to leave . Obviously, I'm jumping into the deep end here a bit, but I've got a few connections and no small amount of faith that great opportunities for me exist. Of course, it's still not Chicago and if you have a line on a semi-stable, entry level position there, that's something we should discuss.

So that's what's up. I appreciate the concern and kind words I've received from friends so far, but as Eva Peron said, "Don't cry for me, people who've heard of Argentina." I'm sure I'll soon be telling you about an incredible job I stumbled on while visiting Margaret Mitchell's grave.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. If you're taking the time to read all this, know that I miss you, and don't ever be afraid to call. Thanks.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sluggish and blogger both have double g's

Some writer (90% sure it was Stephen King, but Will Leitch is possible, and every other writer ever probably, too) said that when someone asks them what they do, and they say, "I'm a writer," there's a response they get more often than not.

"Oh, I've always wanted to be a writer!"

They smile or laugh it off in the moment. Their next thought, invariably: No, you haven't. Or else you'd be a writer.  

I'm not a writer, and I wouldn't say I've always wanted to be one, because that would be a lie for the sake of solipsism and this isn't a Xanga. I do, however, have a planet full of respect for the guys and gals who are and more than a little bit of envy. In my wildest dreams, I'd be able to write feature-length stories with the verbal acuity of Esquire's Chris Jones. I'd pen pieces that whipsaw between emotional resonance and self-effacing humor like the great Joe Posnanski, a man for whom the title sportswriter does a deep disservice.

But I don't do anything that approaches that level and, outside of one college course with a professor whose first and last names rhymed, really haven't ever tried.

The only way to get good at writing is to write, and there's not a day that gets torn from your Jeopardy! Clue-A-Day desktop calendar that doesn't contain something worth writing a sentence or paragraph or quatrain about. I haven't been able to write a daily blog. I made a bid in college, but it was more marketing vehicle than concise thinking.

I'm in a new city, though. It's a virtual guarantee that for quite sometime, I'll be seeing something (or multiple somethings) that I've never seen before. 

So this seems as good a time as any to try. Though don't be shocked if nothing pops up for a couple months.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sexual assault: just about the worst thing in the world.

Bears repeating for reasons that'll become clear enough.

Joe Posnanski, the best sportswriter in the galaxy, linked to a story on Twitter with the headline, "Cheerleader must compensate school that told her to clap 'rapist'." In the piece, we learn the story of  "HS," a Texas high school student who claimed she was raped by a basketball player at a house party when she was 16. The assailant pled guilty to a misdemeanor, which left him free to rejoin the basketball team. A miscarriage of justice? Maybe. One teen's word against another. We can't know.

HS joined the cheerleading squad, but was removed after refusing to cheer her assailant while he was shooting a free throw. The school superintendent then pulled her aside and told her if she wasn't willing to cheer for every player, she'd have to leave the team. She did so, sued the school, lost, and was ordered to pay $45,000 in compensation to the school.

The facts paint the young girl, as a sympathetic figure, but they're seldom the whole story. We don't have a grasp on the tone of the incident, which is the key to how you see the thing. Did she gracefully bow out of the spotlight, or was she brazen in her defiance? And if that's the case, how do you tolerate a member of the cheer squad turning into a sandwich board on a nightly basis? 

Then you make the case that the player should have been off the team. Fair. At that point, though, you have to make a rule and apply it to everyone, or it's vigilante justice. Do you remove everyone who commits a crime from math club, band, scholastic bowl, et al.? And hope they won't cause more trouble in their newfound free time?

Sexual assault is an awful thing, but it's not the biggest part of this story. Too often we see a headline and become blind to any lapse in judgment on the part of the victim. Apart from Osama's death and the 12 different kinds of jelly beans I got for Easter, America is awesome because our grievances can be heard. But nobody forced HS to file litigation, and nobody prevented her from knowing what the outcome might be if she lost.