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Funbag

How To Tell People When You’ll Be Free To Hang

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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 mouthguards, cream cheese, J.P. Losman, and more.

Your letters:

Andy:

When you are making plans with other people, what time do you tell them you are free? Let’s say you are busy until 3 pm. Do you say “I’m free at three” with the knowledge that you won’t be able to actually begin the plans right then (getting dressed, transportation, etc) but that’s literally the moment you no longer have other obligations? Or do you bake in the necessary grace period and say something more realistic?

I tell them I’m free at the exact time I’d like to see them. If I’m free all day, I don’t say that because A) It makes me sound like I don’t do anything, which is correct but not something I care to make public, B) I don’t wanna leave choosing the time of our get-together to THEM, and C) I don’t wanna have to do a whole back-and-forth over what exact time we’re gonna get coffee or whatever. I hate being given decisions to make, and so does every other parent. It’s why planning any trip on Expedia destroys my will to live. So now, I set things up so that no one has to decide anything. I’m free at 8 p.m. Take it or leave it.

If I’m on the road, that formula changes only slightly. I say I’ll be in town on X day, and that I’ll text you that morning. Then, when I text, you get the ACTUAL time I’m free, which is again not the only time I’m free, just the time I feel like doing something. Also, you pick the spot. There. Painless.

Josh:

Is grittiness a real sports quality? I just watched my 49ers win a game in which their only touchdown came courtesy of a blocked punt, and my immediate thought is to call them “gritty.” But am I really just saying that was an ugly way to win and we shouldn’t have won?

Oh, the 49ers should’ve won. Never apologize for winning, especially when said win makes Aaron Rodgers look like Matt Moore. Fakest GOAT in NFL history. Just another choker, and a complete bag of shit to boot. AND ANOTHER THING ABOUT THAT HORSE-PASTE EATING CROCODILE TURD…

Sorry. Sorry. We were talking about grittiness. My colleagues and I have goofed on that term since the very first time a color guy described Wes Welker as such. “Grit” is a code word at worst and empty rhetoric at best, and it’s an especially silly term to use for NFL players, the majority of whom spend every offseason flipping monster truck tires up mountains just to stay in professional shape. That Niners win looked “gritty” (or “gutty,” which is how I often describe it when I muddle my way to a tournament victory in Everybody’s Golf) because they played that game in -70° weather and had to rely on their special teams (or, more accurately, Green Bay’s special teams) to win. But they did win. Chalking that up to the mythical grittiness is something fans want to be true more than it actually is.

Because at the pro level, “grittiness” means nothing. It doesn’t account for the fact that NFL teams fluctuate between being flat and being inspired, sometimes within a single possession. Certain teams win even when they have long stretches of flatness (the Rams last week, for instance), and other teams lose even when they ball the fuck out (the Bills). Those ebbs and flows happen within individual players as well, and they aren’t necessarily the byproduct of sheer desire. Flatness is its own, ineffable mystery. I do think some players get distracted, or they loaf. But sometimes they play flat even when they’re trying REALLY fucking hard. That’s what happens when you have a league featuring 1,000 people who are the best in the world at a sport. Chaos theory abounds, and I don’t mean that in the Joker way.

I think about this a lot, far more than I ought to. Grittiness is stupid, and any team saying that it wants “character guys” is either lying or stupid. But what a team CAN do is create an atmosphere conducive to success. You hire coaches who know what the fuck they’re doing. You sign players who are both talented and reliable. And then you give everyone everything they need in terms of money, facilities, and research (that’s all analytics are: research) so that they can go fuck up the other team good. After that, it’s just luck. But at least, to steal the turn of phrase, you’ve put some good design into creating that luck. Grit has nothing to do with it. Professionalism is what you’re really after.

Phil:

Do you think that there has ever been a larger collection of awful people on the earth as there are RIGHT NOW? Or is this a case of there being more humans than ever, and also an internet? 

Right now? This instant? No. I don’t care for these new Nazis, but it’s fair to say that the original Nazis were worse. They certainly weren’t BETTER than the current incarnation. It only feels like this is rock bottom for humanity because you’re living through it and yes, because you can read the tweets OF these world-class dickheads now.

In reality, every generation thinks they’re living through the end times, especially every Evangelical generation. There’s a reason doomsday cults, large and small, have both existed and persisted. It’s an easy way to root your own life in significance. You will be there when The Rapture happened. You will be one of the final witnesses. This is why apocalypse movies do big business. They’re morbid fantasies. Everyone wants to see how this’ll all end and, to a certain degree, they have faith it will. This is why I wake up every day expecting to see giant alien ships hovering in the sky just outside my window. The aliens still haven’t made their presence fully known just yet, but give it time my friend. IT WON’T BE LONG I PROMISE.

This goes for liberals and conservatives, and all of them are egged on by a news media that’s only happy to stoke their worst fears and people on social media who turn around and echo all the doomsaying they just consumed. There have always been monsters among us hellbent on destroying the world. The original Nazis are but one easy example. Go back to the secessionists, and then the colonists, and then the monarchists, and then the Stone Ages. Not a winning batch of humanity no matter where you land. But the monsters you live with now seem worse because you have to live among them, and because everyone around you is never shy about reminding you of their existence, often handing the mic to said monsters directly.

I deleted Twitter off my phone a month ago and haven’t re-downloaded it since. I still tweet, and I still check my replies to make sure I am sufficiently adored, but I barely read through my feed anymore. I read the news sites for work, but never for my own sake. I remember being on Twitter—addicted, really—and thinking, instinctively, that I couldn’t live without it. I had to be there for everything. This was incorrect. I don’t need Twitter and never have. I’m still plenty informed without it. I know about all the bad shit and all the bad people, I assure you. But my brain works better now that it’s not so closely tethered to the world at large. That’s rather important, and something I probably should have realized before turning 45.

Teenage me understood how to go about things. That guy read the purple and red parts of USA Today on Sunday at the dining hall and then spent the rest of his waking hours scheming up ways to get drunk and laid. That was the right move. I’m just here to party naked.

Patrick:

It is my belief that college football and college basketball coaches are the worst kind of coaches/shitbags. After that, what are the worst coaches? Rank ’em.

Well, wait a minute, you lumped two different kinds of coaches together and assumed I’d be fine with them not only being together, but at the top. You are wrong. I get to do my own full rankings, so lemme get right to it:

  1. Youth hockey coaches. Anytime I hear about a youth hockey coach, it’s because they did something evil. They either molested a player, let someone ELSE molest a player, or taped a player to the ice. I never read a story that’s like, “This youth hockey coach bought his team all the insulin they’ll ever need!” That would make his players soft.
  2. College football coaches. One thing Urban Meyer’s tenure in Jacksonville did was illuminate just how unhelpful college football coaches are. I knew they were abusive. I knew they covered up crimes as part of the job description. But so many of them are also LAZY. You said you’d take care of my boy, Pat Fitzgerald! Turns out you just spend all of practice beating him with a kendo stick!
  3. Tennis coaches. Again, I’ve never heard a nice thing about a tennis coach. Even when the coach is good, their player will be like, “Dad can be demanding at times, and he forces me to eat styrofoam when I double fault. But that’s only made me a better player.”
  4. Gymnastics coaches. I wouldn’t let my daughter within 2,000 feet of Bela Karolyi. This photo will never not haunt me. Yes I know Kerri Strug has a busted ankle in that photo. Still creepy as shit.
  5. College basketball coaches. This is Coach K’s final year at the helm, which means I’ll automatically think better of his profession 12 months from now. Thankfully, college basketball coaches have evolved since the Bob Knight years, when they were all violent assholes. Now you’re much more liable to find teams led by a Scott Drew type, who’s relatively nice to players and watches tape right there on the gym floor, underneath the stanchion. But there are still a few psychopaths and car salesmen out there. Kim Mulkey, for instance.
  6. Little League coaches. They should probably be higher but I’m too tired to cut and paste. Also, I’ve noticed in my career as a youth sports parent that the coaches tend to be perfectly acceptable, while the other parents are the real problem. Dealing with shithead parents now represents the bulk of youth coaching duties.
  7. NHL coaches. No idea. They talk pretty funny.
  8. NFL coaches. They’re all batshit insane, but at least they get fired after two years on the job. This is where the NFL’s fetish for humbling people comes in handy.
  9. Boxing trainers. My trainer Gus was like a father to me. More than my actual Pawpaw, really. He’d meet me at the gym at 5 a.m., put a garbage bag over my head for an eight-mile warmup sprint, and then have me punching solid rocks all morning until my hands were bleeding and infected. When he died, I wished that God had taken me instead. I loved that man.
  10. NBA coaches. They seem chill. Except for Tom Thibodeau. The best NBA coaches are the ones who let their assistants do all the coaching.
  11. Soccer coaches. They’re all so fun and vibrant! Even the bastard soccer managers in Europe have their own sleazy charm. Jose Mourinho just glowering from the sideline all game long, smoking a Marlboro using a cigarette holder, and saying to no one in particular, “My players … they are shit.” These are all delightful coaches. Four stars, except for NWSL coaches. Move them up to top five.

I’m sure I missed some genre of coach in there, so by all means illuminate my omissions below in the comments.

HALFTIME!

Luis:

How many quarterbacks would need to be taken out by COVID before a team would be forced to start J.P. Losman? My guess would be around 137.

Well the NFL just threw away its COVID protocols, so you don’t have to worry about anyone testing positive anytime soon. But let’s say the NFL really did still care. Spotrac’s list of available free agent QBs runs only 35 deep, with the immortal Chris Streveler at the bottom. If you tack 100 more Guys onto that list, there’s a chance that J.P. Losman’s name might show up. True, he hasn’t played in a decade. But he’s a youthful 40 years old and just ran the fucking Ironman triathlon. Losman actually looks quite happy where he is now; I’d hate to ruin his contentedness by forcing him to lose the AFC title game 67-0. But sure, I think he’d get a call if 137 other quarterbacks all died and Colin Kaepernick STILL couldn’t get a tryout.

By the way, the top unrestricted free agent QB available in 2022? You guessed it: Ben Roethlisberger. So now you know why he hasn’t formally hung it up yet. He’ll be a Texan or a Viking in no time.

Jack:

My wife and I recently took my son to NYC for his first time as a celebration of his 16th birthday. We had a great trip and ate a ton of ridiculously good food. But I was a little freaked out by the outrageous amount of cream cheese/schmear that is delivered with the otherwise excellent New York bagels. At home, a light covering of each side of the toasted bagel is totally sufficient, but it seems like the bagel joints have determined they need to slather a three inch thick schmear on there, which totally overwhelms the bagel itself. I know you are generally a lover of MORE when it comes to food, but what is the deal here?

The deal is they’re giving you your money’s worth. I want my NYC bagel joint to give me a schmear big enough to feed a fucking family. In fact, I had a system for surplus cream cheese back when I lived in Manhattan. I got my morning bagel with its requisite three inches of cream cheese stuffed inside, and then I bought a second, unadorned bagel. Using a plastic knife, I could easily transfer enough cream cheese from the schmeared bagel to the second. Sometimes I even asked for a little plastic container and put the extra cream cheese in there instead. I got a shitload of cream cheese on my fingers in that transferring process, but that’s the New York Experience for you. If you can eat a bagel there you can eat one ANYWHERE.

David:

My company is requiring vaccinations and my coworker/friend told me in confidence that she is not getting vaccinated and has a fake card. What should I do?

The process will go like this:

1. You try to convince the friend to get vaxxed.

2. You fail because none of these people ever budge.

3. You resolve to rat her out to management, because anti-vaxxers deserve that.

4. You can’t bring yourself to do it, and find yourself right back where you started.

Which brings me to your only solution, which is to gossip about her. You drop a hint to other friends and/or co-workers in various moments, word spreads, and then people know. Maybe the bosses find out and fire her. Or maybe she gets quietly ostracized. Either way, you took the most cowardly route to address the crisis and kept your hands clean in the process. That’s the Minnesota Way, and that’s how you get her.

Mike:

I’ve noticed a lot of football players lately who don’t put their mouthguard in their mouth; they just leave it dangling from their face masks. Granted it’s been years since I ran with a mouthguard in and I know breathing kind of sucks with them. But wouldn’t the flopping around as you sprint down the field be way more annoying? 

I used to get all fired up whenever I saw an NFL player with their chinstrap unbuckled during live action. I swear Troy Aikman did this all the time, which explains why Troy Aikman talks the way he talks now. I was like, “My coach would fucking KILL me if I didn’t buckle my chin strap! The refs would take me out of the game! Where does this guy think he gets off flouting the rules like this?!” I also used to quibble with NFL players who didn’t wear pads in their pants.

I got over all that. But even now, if I see a dude not wearing a mouthguard before lining up, the little benchwarmer inside me goes, “He should really put that in.” Then the center snaps the ball and my concern dissipates. Really though, these guys SHOULD be wearing their mouthguards. They protect your teeth and your brain! It’s not even that hard to wear a mouthguard! I liked having one to chew on while I was getting beat by defensive ends.

TJ:

If I cook a box (16 oz) of, say, penne, I get a normal amount of noodles that can feed four or five hungry-ish people. If I cook a box (16 oz.) of angel hair, I get an amount of noodles that can feed those same 4-5 people for weeks on end. Have you experienced the same and/or what the hell?

I have. Every box of pasta says it contains eight servings. That number is a lie. Could be 19 servings. Could be two. I alone can eat six metric tons of pasta in a single sitting. Meanwhile, I have two boys who, at any given dinner, will either eat everything in sight or nothing at all. I have no way of predicting this, nor any way to mitigate it. So trying to divine the EXACT right amount of pasta I need—and I don’t want to make too much, because leftover pasta sucks—is impossible. The box is never any help and I resent it. Let’s go fuck up Big Pasta, TJ.

Jack:

When Rick Barry retired he had the highest FT% of all time at 90.0%. (Now fourth best ever.) Of course he famously shot them underhanded. And having gone to the Rick Barry Basketball Camp twice in the very early 80’s I can tell you that he not only taught us all how to shoot them this way, we had to actually spend time practicing it. It really was instructional, and I actually did get pretty good at it (which made for a really good HORSE shot to give my opponent a letter), but I was already a really good foul shooter and I didn’t feel like I was actually better this way. And it looked stupid. But Barry has been adamant about how this is by far the best way to shoot since the 60’s! He tried his best to get Shaq to shoot them this way, but Shaq would have nothing to do with it simply because it looked stupid, even if it may have (and probably would have) improved his accuracy. I remember there was a college player who shot them this way in the last two or three years, but otherwise I haven’t seen anyone do it. Will we ever seen anyone in the NBA shoot free throws underhanded ever again?

Never. I grew up with Shaq struggling at the line and Rick Reilly writing like 50 different columns begging him to shoot them underhanded like ol’ Rick did. Shaq told everyone to fuck off about it, and I don’t blame him. Even if shooting that way helps, it still makes you look like you still need training wheels when you ride your bike. You’re allowed SOME pride if you happen to be a world-class athlete, and I don’t like it when fans and/or sportswriters think otherwise. It’s a real short distance between demanding Giannis shoot grandma free throws to complaining about him dunking with too much gusto. There are KIDS watching, sir. Do you really want them to emulate that sort of behavior? This is the NBA. You get to shoot how you want.

Joe:

Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin and Sean Payton have all been head coaches for a long time but at one point they were coordinators/position coaches. How successful do you think they would be if they went back to being coordinators, but on the opposite side of where they had originally specialized? I think Offensive Coordinator Belichick or Defensive Coordinator Payton would be better than a lot of NFL assistants who currently hold those titles. 

Oh, definitely. The three guys you mentioned have all not only been head coaches for over a decade, but they’ve evolved into “total head coaches” (phrase lifted from Seth Wickersham’s new book) who pay close attention to all three phases of the game. I think of Belichick, in particular, as Tom Brady’s QB guru more than I think of any of Brady’s career offensive coordinators in the same way. So yes, I’d trust handing a random offense over to that guy. He’s got the resume for it. On the flip side, I think Andy Reid would be a fucking horrible DC. He’s always outsourced that shit.

Tim:

Would the Jaguars be worse if they were owned by Donald Trump instead of Shahid Khan?

Sure, but honestly: What’s the difference between 3-14 and 1-16? A bad owner is a bad owner. Some are just louder than others. Shad Khan doesn’t really give a shit about that team. At least Trump would care. Maybe he’d put gold-painted crown molding on their uniforms.

Email of the week!

Tom:

Meat Loaf died and I have wanted to write this up and share it with someone and now seems the time.

If you are old enough, you might remember that Bob Costas as the creator of the show Later, which ran after Late Night. In one interview, Larry King stated that his ideal talk show would be not knowing who the guest was before they walked out, and Larry would interview them cold. Costas said, “I could do that”. Larry would have none of that, so, they organized a contest: Each would invite a guest the other would interview cold for seven minutes.

Costas was up first. Larry, unimaginative and blinded by star power (or he thinks is a star) invited former governor Mario Cuomo. When the show came back from commercial, Costas simply introduced his guest: Meat Loaf.

It was clear Larry had no idea who this was, but at the same time his brain was filled with a few random bits of information as Meat Loaf was in the popular discourse again. Now, I cannot remember the exact order of questions–you’d have to go to the Museum of Radio and Television to look up the clip (or possibly YouTube), but the basics are legend in my own mind.

Larry asks Meat Loaf his real name. I’m not sure if this is a gambit to buy time or if Larry has nothing else to go on, but it is clear Meat Loaf has no interest in answering it. But Larry is aggressive. It was tense, but in a way that instantly made the viewer hate Larry (if they didn’t already). After a minute of Larry’s badgering, and saying eight different ways he would not answer the question, Meat Loaf told a meandering story about being in the desert and his friend, just before dying, opening his eyes and saying “Meat Loaf”. At that moment, Larry got it was a joke and was annoyed. Meat Loaf then told him, again, he wasn’t going to answer the question.

Moving on, Larry asked “You’ve been gone, now you’re back. Where have you been?”. Meat Loaf looked around at anyone else in the room, clearly insulted, and said, “Where have I been?” He ticked off his Broadway appearances, his world stadium tours, and even doing Shakespeare in the Park with Raul Julia. Even Larry was impressed and said, in surprise, “You did Shakespeare in the Park with Raul Julia?” Clearly, he could not picture Meat Loaf and Raul Julia in the same sentence, much less play.

Larry put his own nail in the coffin by then asking “You’d do anything for love, but you won’t do that. What is that?” It at least showed that Larry could connect him to something. Meat Loaf laughed in contempt and said, “You’ve now asked both the first and second asked questions I get.” I think it was during the second question that Larry threw in the towel. But the clock was still running. Meat Loaf looked like he wanted to punch Larry and Larry kept defacing himself in hopes someone would end it. 

Finally, Larry’s seven minutes was over. Honestly, it is hard, looking back, to believe all of that was in only seven minutes.

The show ended with local New York talk show legend Joe Franklin as the judge, and everyone agreed Costas won. Costas, the host, asked Franklin what he would have asked Meat Loaf. Joe replied, earnestly, that he’d ask him what it was like to have the number two selling album ever in the world with Bat Out of Hell. Larry was taken aback and said, “He has the number two album ever?”

Larry pointed to Costas as said, “You knew that?” Then, he pointed to Franklin and said, “And you knew that?” Finally, he said, “I didn’t know that.”

Costas said, “Well, Larry, two out of three ain’t bad.”

Franklin starts to laugh. Larry is baffled and spits out, “What?” 

Franklin tells him, “Larry, it’s the title of a Meat Loaf song.”