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Funbag

Allow Me To Explain Why Chocolate Soda Shouldn’t Exist

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Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s new book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about NFL theme music, grief, light nibbles, and more.

I haven’t partied with some of you in a very long time, due to pandemics and brain injuries and other assorted inconveniences. But all that changes on December 8, because I’m coming to New York to do a live episode of The Distraction with Roth, with all my rowdy Defector friends, and with … plot twist … YOU. You can buy tickets here and yes, there is a cash bar for you to enjoy. I expect much hooting and hollering to ensue.

Your letters:

Matt:

Why are chocolate gum and soda not produced? Chocolate soda is actually quite yummy. I worked at an ice cream shop in high school and occasionally I’d make myself a chocolate soda sans ice cream, which consisted of soda water, cream, and chocolate syrup. Why the hell hasn’t Hershey’s started mass producing this stuff?

Because it’s godawful. If people liked chocolate soda, don’t you think that our feedlot overlords would have capitalized on that by now? Chocolate pairs well with a lot of things, but effervescence is not one of them.

I know. When I was a kid living in Chicago, my mom once brought home a sixer of Canfield’s chocolate fudge soda. The “fudge” part of that name is really tough on the mind. Nevertheless, my brother and sister and I were all like FUCK YEAH, MOM! CHOCOLATE AND SODA, TOGETHER AT LAST! Then I cracked open a can and it tasted wrong. Like something that should not be. You’ve surely tasted enough off-brand soda in your lifetime, probably from Sam’s Club, to know it’s untrustworthy. Now imagine one of those brands boldly daring to make chocolate soda. It’s like ordering sushi at an Applebee’s. If you wanna make a homemade egg cream, that’s one thing. But chocolate flavored soda is fucking terrible.

Luckily for Matt here, a simple Google search says that you can still find cans of the diet version of that soda if you look around hard enough. I will make no such effort. As for chocolate gum, yes it exists and no I do not want it. When I’m in the mood for chocolate, I eat chocolate. Anything chocolate-flavored that has no actual chocolate in it is bound to turn out flawed. This is why we don’t have chocolate tortilla chips.

Ross:

At the beginning of the season, I made a Spotify playlist with the four main network NFL theme songs. Good for powering through workouts… but which one is the best: NBC, CBS, FOX, or ESPN?

It’s ESPN, but I’m gonna add some caveats here. First of all, “Heavy Action”—what a great name for it—was composed by a British dude for an old ABC novelty show called Superstars. Think the Pro Bowl skills competition, only somehow less essential. Then ABC used it for Monday Night Football and its legacy began to shape. So we’re talking about a piece of music that wasn’t even meant for football to begin with.

But that’s forgivable. Johann Strauss didn’t compose “The Blue Danube” just so that Stanley Kubrick could use it for 2001 over a century later, but I’m glad Kubrick used it all the same. What’s LESS forgivable is how much ESPN has beaten “Heavy Action” into the fucking ground. It’s a cudgel they use to incessantly remind you that Monday Night Football is important, even when everyone knows that Sunday Night Football has been the league’s showcase game every week for 15 years now. Doesn’t matter. ESPN forces its booth to spend every Monday night telecast being like, “Doy uh and with that carry Jerrick McKinnon becomes the first player EVER to rush for at least 50 yards and catch three passes in each of his first three-and-a-half Monday night appearances.”

No one gives a shit about the history of Monday Night Football more than ESPN, which is ironic because they’ve cheapened the game so much over the years that I can’t even get a semi from “Heavy Action” anymore. They killed it. That theme music doesn’t even feel right on ESPN. They have chocolate soda-ed it.

Anyway. let’s move onto the ranking the theme songs in order:

1. ESPN.

2. NBC. The John Williams theme is appropriately grandiose, plus it has the advantage of not being the Carrie Underwood song. That shit makes me wanna die.

3. Fox. I know I just took ESPN to task for overplaying the MNF theme song, but Fox is different because I expect them to be obnoxious and overly macho. They wouldn’t be Fox if they weren’t, which is why their NFL-ified “Sleigh Ride” cover, the main bars of which lasts just 15 seconds, appears everywhere. They even play it for all sports now, which is a shame because I actually liked their old baseball theme music. But anyway, I’ve heard the Fox jingle so many times now that it triggers the ready for football hormones inside my brain instantly. I have to respect it.

4. CBS. Absolute shit. Disgraceful. Like someone at that network said, “Let’s make every game feel like a shitty courtroom drama.” I’m old enough to know what other jingles CBS still has in its archives, so I’m doubly offended by this “opening credits to Bull” garbage.

In related news, I miss ABC’s old college football music. If you asked me what music they used for games now, I wouldn’t be able to hum it off the top of my head. And I watch college football every weekend. Unacceptable.

Michael:

In football coaches are limited to three timeouts per half. Some coaches mismanage using these timeouts at a comical level, or an infuriating level if it is the coach of your favorite team. Would baseball be better or worse if they limited pitching changes the same way? Say a manager gets five per game and actually has to strategize around that limit. He could burn through all of them in two innings or lose a close game with pitching changes leftover. 

Baseball actually tried to do a version of this during the past two seasons with the three-batter rule, in which a pitcher has to face at least three batters or pitch to the end of a half-inning before he can get the hook. It did nothing to shorten games (they’re longer than ever), and Baseball Prospectus did a whole thing on how the rule didn’t change much of anything in the grand scheme of things. There were still 800,000 pitching changes during the postseason, and you could have binge-watched all of Yellowstone in between each of them.

If you really wanna tighten baseball up and force a manager to earn their salary, you institute a pitch clock, get rid of the DH entirely (MLB is poised to do the precise opposite), and station the bullpen directly underneath the pitcher’s mound. That way, when the manager needs a different arm, a reliever can shoot up through the mound and get right to work. No need for the manager to even walk out there, which is good because the manager takes FOREVER. Just some dumpy old guy ambling out to the mound to say “you all good?” to a pitcher who will never, ever say no. Cut some the needless fat out of the broadcast and leave the rest alone.

Thomas:

Does “nibble” refer to the size of the bite or the total amount of food consumed (or both)? To me, nibbling has always meant a small bite of a larger thing, but (1) that is a really inefficient way to eat, and (2) once I bite part of something, I am going to eat the whole rest of the thing. Who are these nibblers and don’t they care about food waste?

Yeah, a nibble is always a lie. It’s the measurement equivalent of “a light snack.” When I tell you I want a nibble of your dessert, that means I want half of it. When I say I wanna go out for a little nibble, that means I’m buying a 12-inch sub with double meat. I never technically nibble anything, because I’m not a fucking mouse. If I ever spot someone taking just a nibble of food—and spiritually, I do think of a nibble as just a small bite—I automatically think they’re having a nervous breakdown. No one eats like that. No one should eat like that. Your mouth isn’t the size of a pinhole. Use it properly. I want all nibbles banned.

John:

One of my closest friends over the last 30 years died in a bike accident this week. Like lots of guys, I have friends, but I don’t have a ton of close friends like that. I’m pretty sure that nothing will help, but do you have advice? Also, for fuck’s sake, people in East Texas need to be more careful when they drive around bikes.

There’s no real advice I can give you, maybe outside of suggesting a grief counselor, that’ll make it better. You loved your friend and they died both suddenly and needlessly. When that happens, the grief sticks. It becomes your companion. It may soften over time, to the point where you find yourself glad for the time you had together and not heartbroken over all the time you’ve lost. But the pain still lingers, it flares up in hard moments. That’s how love works. I don’t know many people, if any, who are so frightened by that potential endgame that they choose to never love anyone. You can’t live a full life without loss. I’ve lost friends and family, and I’ll lose more. But that hasn’t scared me away from love altogether. It can’t. Why should I keep on going if I’m not gonna love anyone? I’d just be a miserable hermit, and I already don’t get out enough as is.

Life is mean, because it keeps going even after you’ve been traumatized. You want everything to stop, right then and there, but the world refuses. It keeps moving forward. Eternally. Relentlessly. That’s hard when you’re in a dark place, but it’s also a strange blessing. If life keeps going, that means YOU can keep going. And I don’t mean that in the hackneyed “it’s what your friend would have wanted” horseshit. It’s what you, the bereaved, need. You need to be reminded that there’s still so much life out there for you to see and hear and interact with. More shit to do. More people to love. And you can carry your friend with you all through your remaining life, introducing others to their favorite beer, or taking your kids on a bike trail they loved going on, etc. That’s your friend living on through you, and it’s only possible because nothing in this world ever stops. It’s tough love but it’s effective. It forces you to fill a void you would otherwise leave untended.

I was away on business two months ago and sleeping on my side of the hotel bed, because that’s what I do even when my wife isn’t around. At one point during the night, I woke up and forgot I wasn’t home, and I thought my wife was next to me. So I reached out to touch her and she wasn’t there. Now, this is slightly amusing, and maybe it would sound a little heartbreaking if my wife had died (she’s alive and well), but in the moment it was nice. It was nice to feel here there even when she wasn’t. Made me feel less alone and not more alone. So I was happy for that. The people you love always stay with you.

And then I got up to go piss and didn’t bother to close the door.

HALFTIME!

Brian:

Life on earth began 3.5 billion years ago. Given that incredibly long timeframe, I would like to declare that, aside from manmade structures like museum lobbies, every single square inch on the planet’s surface has been peed or pooped on, at least one time. We’re surrounded in excrement. Fight me.

That’s only true if you believe that microbes poop. This planet is covered in microbes, and always has been. Those microbes definitely leave stuff behind, although whether or not those excretions are “poop” is in the (pink) eye of the beholder. Same goes for plants, which “poop” out the oxygen that gives us life. If you think bacteria and plants poop, then yeah, there’s poop on every inch of the Earth’s surface. If you don’t, then you have to rely on bugs, which undeniably poop, for all that historical coverage.

Antarctica is the sticking point here. According to the US Antarctic Program, only three species of insect can be found on Antarctica, and only one of those three—the Antarctica midge, shown here looking like one of those weird bugs that shows up on the outside of your house and you stare at it an extra second before you kill it—is native to the continent. But of course, Antarctica wasn’t always so inhospitable to life. It used to be located closer to where Australia is now, which means it was once home to prisoners, vegetable extract enthusiasts, and some of our finest actors. All of those people poop, and so do the bugs hanging around them. So that means that yes, the world’s landmass is entirely covered in old poop. But if a volcano erupts today and a new Hawaiian island forms instantly, well then you and I have some shittin’ to do.

Richard:

I was at the grocery store and decided I wanted to make some sandwiches. I head to the deli counter for some fresh cut meats (none of that pre-sliced crap for me). I asked for 1/2-lb. of turkey, and the counter worker started slicing and slapped down the meat on the scale. 0.63 lbs. They ask if that’s “okay” that they went over. I am a generally easygoing guy, and I just nod. Am I getting beat by Big Meat here? Should I have not accepted this overzealous slicing?

If I were on a tight budget, sure. I’ve asked them to take some of the meat off the scale. I don’t get, like, mad about it. I tell them it’s too much and then they say OK and take some off, and then we go our separate ways.

That said, when it comes to deli meats, I have never been budget-conscious and never will be. I WANT them to go over. I used to always buy myself a pound and a half of Dietz and Watson black forest turkey. The lady at the deli counter would say, “half a pound?” and I’d have to correct her because half a pound wasn’t NEARLY enough. She’d end up with a stack of turkey on the scale that was thicker than a suitcase, and I was ALWAYS happy if the scale read 1.6 or even 1.7 pounds. I never told her to take any of that off. I wasn’t making much money at the time, but I allotted myself plenty of breathing room for cold cut expenditures. Then I’d take my bag of turkey home and house all of that shit within two days.

And that’s turkey, which can be pricey at the deli counter. Other cold cuts I love—namely salami and liverwurst—cost NOTHING. I think Genoa salami is five cents a pound. The only reason I ever ask the deli lady to take a little off the top anymore is if my aorta is like You should probably cut back on the nitrates a little. That’s the only thing stopping me. Otherwise, I am Big Meat’s pawn and I love it that way.

Brendan:

I was watching post-World Series coverage and a talking head said “only in baseball!” can the team with the worst record going into the postseason win the whole thing. Got me thinking: what if a trash 7-10 Giants or Jets (or whichever) team snuck in the playoffs and then, through sheer luck or sticktoitiveness or coachiness or whatever, wins the Super Bowl. Would we all just be like, “That’s fine”…? Or would the NFL actually do something?

That already happened in 2011, when a 9-7 Giants team that had lost five of their final eight games, including four in a row at one point, won the NFC East and then beat Tom Brady a second time in the Super Bowl. The 2008 Arizona Cardinals also went 9-7 and lost four of their last six, but still ended up a Santonio Holmes toe drag away from winning everything. I remember certain football people at the time musing—usually via a Bill Simmons podcast—that the “best” teams weren’t necessarily winning and that the NFL postseason was in danger of being cheapened.

But no one else gave a shit, and they still don’t. This is because the top seeds own the NFL playoffs. Last year’s Bucs were the first wild-card team to even make a Super Bowl since 2013. Otherwise, if you don’t have a bye or a home game, you’re fucked. Those Bucs were an anomaly in that Tom Brady was their quarterback, and in that all of their road games in last year’s playoffs took place in empty stadiums. Otherwise, the NFL extols its supposed parity while you get a playoff field more top-heavy than Morganna the Kissing Bandit.

If a more underwhelming team comes around this year and pulls off a miracle run against hostile crowds, no one will demand there be an asterisk affixed to their title. Even if they have a losing record, as the 7-seed in the NFC this season is almost certain to have. When Marshawn did the Beastquake run, that was for a 7-9 team. Do you care? Of course you don’t. That play was still the shit. The whole reason to watch the playoffs games is to see if a weaker team can rise to the occasion, or if a stronger team can validate its regular season. Most of the time, the latter scenario is what plays out. But sometimes a team that shouldn’t be there gets there, and it’s fucking thrilling. If any of you beg for a playoff format change just because the chalk picks didn’t win out, I will punch you in the liver.

David:

For the last three years, my wife and I have transported a precooked and ready to go Thanksgiving meal over four hours away to my parents’ house. An actual moveable feast. The reason is quite simple: left to their own devices, my parents – who are older, incredibly cheap, and decent and upstanding people with an unfortunate proclivity for martyrdom – would come to the cold calculation that eating a frozen Thanksgiving meal is easier, cheaper, and less time-consuming than trying to cook for just the two of them. While we plan on staging this production again this year, I really, really want to try smoking the turkey. However, my parents definitely don’t have a smoker or appropriate grill technology, and transporting my smoker is not an option. The only feasible option is smoking that bad boy just before we leave the day of or the night before and reheating it there, but I’m really worried about losing that hard-earned juiciness. Do you have any suggestions on how to pull this off?

I’d smoke it the morning of, cover it in foil, and then make the drive with it still warm in the car. When you get to your folks, they can either eat the turkey right on the spot or put it in the oven at a low temperature like 300° for an hour to get it hot again. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The average Thanksgiving turkey has been sitting out for hours before anyone gets to eat it anyway. This is because grandma gets up at 5:00 a.m. to start cooking it and then takes it out of the oven at 9:00 a.m. because turkeys don’t take all that long to cook. The most reliable way to serve your turkey warm is to have a shitload of piping hot gravy on hand. Then you’re all good no matter what’s going on with the meat itself. And if it’s not perfect, well then that’s your folks’ problem for being too lazy to cook their own. THEY’RE LUCKY TO NOT BE EATING DIRT FOR THANKSGIVING, I SAY.

You could also just roast them a shitty Butterball and then save the smoked one for yourself. I’m smoking mine this year because we’re at home and because, despite the fact that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, I never put any decent effort into menu planning. Every year I stumble across recipes for fancy side dish ideas and alternative desserts and I’m like oooooooh pumpkin bread pudding! Then, when I sit down and PLAN the meal, all of those funky ideas go right down the toilet in favor of the basics: turkey, gravy, cranberry, potatoes, stuffing, white trash green bean casserole, pie. Any extra effort I take on is always in service of fussing over the turkey. I don’t have time for anything new, and my kids won’t eat any of this shit anyway. I love to cook, but I have my limits.

I do have my eye on this pumpkin cake for next week, though. Let’s see how long I think about making it before I bail.

Ethan:

You played college sports. When coaches/other players are yelling to players constantly throughout a game, how much of that is useful advice and how much is just wanting to hype themselves up/trying to appear to be doing something?

If it’s the head coach, the yelling was worthless unless the head coach noticed me doing something good. The yelling was only important when it was my position coach and he was barking actual instructions at me, which I always followed without questioning. I wanted to win but, more vital, I didn’t want to make any of the coaches mad. Otherwise I would get bad yelling. Good yelling was the objective.

Email of the week!

Mike:

My Grandpa Paul was born and raised farm boy who lived his whole life in Nebraska, worked in corn fields picking corn by hand when he was young, then milked cows, raised hogs and farmed until his retirement. More than once, I had to help him and my dad castrate cattle. He’d toss the calf testicles he severed with his pocket knife over the fence to the waiting dogs, then put the knife back in his pocket with a simple wipe of the blade on his overalls. 

Ever since I could remember, he loved to pull shit like lighting firecrackers and tossing them under people’s tables when they weren’t looking, encouraging the young cousins to wrestle/fight for his amusement, or giving whatever kid was sitting on his lap a sip of his beer, then laughing maniacally when they did. Around Christmas time, he loved to have the youngest grandkids help him open his presents, and when that was done, try to sneak open a part of an older kid’s gift, tearing the paper ever so slightly and slowly until they noticed and protested.

A devoted Catholic, he went to church every Sunday, or sometimes Saturday night, but refused to let his youngest daughter, my aunt, become a nun because the nuns at the old-time Catholic school of his youth were so mean, “no daughter of mine will ever be a damn nun,” in his words.

Grandpa Paul always had a great sense of humor and loved to joke around, but never swore much outside of shit and his unique pronunciation of “son of a bitch” as “son of a bit.” At his 80th birthday party, he told me he got a speeding ticket the other day. Surprised, I asked him “really, how fast were you going?” He added, “I was also naked, and the patrolman said he was fining me $1,200, $100 for every inch.” I didn’t realize I was being set up for a joke.

At his 60th anniversary party, I said to him, “Imagine the party they’ll throw for your 70th anniversary.” His reply: “Shiiiiit, I won’t be around for that.” A little over a week later he was good for his prediction, when he died after a blood clot that had formed in his leg after he hurt himself working in his barn/shop busted loose.

RIP to the man, Mike.