I’m Afraid Of The Ball
1:45 PM EDT on September 10, 2020
Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday at Defector during the NFL season. Buy Drew’s new novel, “Point B,” here.
I was still recovering from a brain injury when my son lit into my nuts with a soccer ball. We were playing in the backyard. I was in the goal. The boy was practicing his free kicks from various distances. His leg had gotten stronger over the years. Back when he was seven, I wasn’t exactly intimidated by his boot. But now he was 11 and on the precipice of adolescence, with all the ensuing teen strength that entails. He could kick the shit out of the ball now, and one of those kicks hit right in the cherries jubilee. I screamed out a good and hearty FUCK! and the boy immediately apologized, even though he didn’t really do anything wrong. I still seethed. It was a nutshot, after all. But deep down, I was more angry that the boy unwittingly reminded me of something that’s long been true.
I am afraid of the ball.
I flinch when a ball comes at me fast, regardless of what KIND of ball is streaking my way. It could be a fucking Nerf ball and my flight instincts would still kick in. I was terrified of the batter’s box in little league. Did I close my eyes when I swung the bat? Buddy, my eyes were already shut by the time the ball was out of the pitcher’s hands. I see big leaguers shake off a HBP and my mind cannot comprehend it. I would like them to be more distressed about a HBP so that I don’t feel so alone. Shit, I’m afraid of a JUGGS machine. I went to a batting cage once in Milford, Conn. They had cages with varying speeds, from soft tosses to 70 mph. I picked the slowest speed cage and still didn’t trust the machine not to bean me. Then I watched pitches fly out of the 70mph machine a few cages over. I flinched at those, even though I wasn’t even IN the cage as they came rocketing out. Even though there was protective netting surrounding that cage to ensure that no passersby could get hit, I still recoiled like a goddamn baby.
I have a mental catalog of every time a ball has kicked my ass throughout my life. My dad accidentally beaned me in the eye with a baseball during a picnic once. He has no memory of this, and I don’t really blame him for it. We were just playing catch. You are taught by movies and TV—Field of Dreams can rot in hell—that playing catch is this wondrous, simple bonding exercise between father and son. You are not taught that, in reality, it’s often just a way to burn the clock. My old man sailed one to me at a moderate speed, I whiffed, and BOOM! Right in the fucking eye. Thus began my career in taking shots to the dome and to the nutsack. I took another ball to the nuts when I was playing youth soccer. I got a line drive to the skull during club softball. I took WAY more punishment in dodgeball than I ever dished out. Hell, the ball has hurt me even when I’ve CAUGHT it. If you grew up in the '80s and '90s, you know how mean a Hutch ball could be to your waiting palms. The sting lasts longer than a breakup.
I wish I weren’t afraid of the ball. I feel like a fucking coward when I blanch at an incoming heater. It makes me feel unmanly, and while I’m a screeching liberal who has written endless “guys are too into being macho” takes, I enjoy feeling like a man. When I install a ceiling fan in the house, I feel like fucking Noah. When I used to drink, I drank whiskey because I liked it but also because I liked being A Guy Who Drinks Whiskey. I think about fucking all the time and get irritated with myself if my mind ventures AWAY from fucking. And, of course, I like football. All of that falls under the purview of standard, Esquire-approved man pursuits. I am not a land of contrasts. I am an extremely basic creature.
And I’m still afraid of the ball. I’m convinced that this is a matter of blood. I was BORN afraid of the ball, in a way that some people clearly are not. I wish there was a way to shake off this fear, same as I shook off my fear of the dark when I was a kid. But no, no this fear has stuck around. And now I’m afraid I’ve given that fear to my kids. When my older son is playing youth soccer, I’ll often exhort him to go to the ball. I see him shying away from the scrum and I’m like GET IN THERE, BOY. Am I projecting my own inadequacies onto the boy? Of course I am. When I see him hesitant, I see myself hesitant. I’m desperate to reverse whatever instincts (or lack thereof) that I gifted him, while also terrified that such things can’t ever be undone. No wonder the boy hit me square in the ballbag that one day. I’d earned it.
The NFL season opens tonight, and you’re about to watch a bunch of men who are decidedly UNAFRAID of the ball, among other things. They’re playing a lethal sport in the middle of a pandemic. Given the choice to opt out of the season and protect themselves, the vast majority of them elected not to. I can call them suckers for this, or I can plaster a Feel The Bern bumper sticker across my head and tell you this is how money warps people’s priorities. But I’d be full of shit. The truth is that if I didn’t fear a Patrick Mahomes fastball coming my way, and if I was strong and fast enough to make a fucking tiger back down, I’d be out there. I know fear well enough to know that if I had fearlessness, I’d use it every chance I got. I would be a caged bull. Not only would I go to the ball, I’d fucking take it and punch through your chest with it.
So I could tell you that I’m dreading this upcoming NFL season because of the pandemic, and because of the crowds, and because of the NFL’s inherent corruption. But that would be me shying away once more. The truth is that I don’t really give a shit. I’m ready for the fucking football. Give it to me fast and hard. Don’t let up. KICK MY FUCKING ASS WITH THAT BALL. Because this is motherfucking DEFECTOR, and this is your Thursday Afternoon Dick Joke Jamboroo. IT’S BALLING TIME. HIT THE MUSIC.
FUCK AND YES. Let’s get nasty.
2020 NFL Predictions
I do this before every season. I have never gotten it right, but it’s only a matter of time, children. Only a matter of time.
Green Bay 9-7
New Orleans 14-2
Tampa Bay 9-7*
NY Giants 6-10
San Francisco 9-7
LA Rams 6-10
Seattle over Green Bay
Carolina over Dallas
Arizona over Tampa Bay
Seattle over Arizona
New Orleans over Carolina
Seattle over New Orleans
New England 10-6
NY Jets 3-13
Kansas City 14-2
Las Vegas 5-11
L.A. Chargers 5-11
New England over Miami
Indianapolis over Cincinnati
Kansas City over Pittsburgh
Kansas City over New England
Baltimore over Indianapolis
Baltimore over Kansas City
Seahawks 30, Ravens 29
I hate picking chalk teams, especially in a season as inevitably deranged as this one will be. But whenever I stray too far from the chalk, the team I pick ends up going -4–328. So congrats to you, Seattle. You just got a fistful of mush.
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Texans at Chiefs: Absolutely no one on the Defector staff agrees with me and you won’t either, but I believe this NFL season will turn out, for all intents and purposes, normally. You’re gonna see a fraction of a crowd at Arrowhead tonight, and that’s gonna be extremely fucked up. Half those motherfuckers are gonna be tonguing a nacho tray and not wearing masks. But I got used to the ongoing apocalypse, and the abnormal sports viewing that comes with it, months ago. It’s why I’ve been able to watching the NBA playoffs, in September, staged entirely at fucking Disney World, without batting an eyelash. So I will gladly consume this outlet store of an NFL season, and the NFL will deliver it to me in full. Gimme all the blemished merchandise, Bill O’Brien’s chin included. I’m fucking READY. ONLY THE BEST PEOPLE AGREE WITH THIS TAKE.
Packers at Vikings: I know coaches like Mike Zimmer have already bitched about the supposed competitive disadvantage facing teams (like his) who won’t have any fans in attendance versus teams that will have SOME fans in attendance. But that’s all horseshit. Is it REALLY that much of an advantage for the home team to have 1/5th of a stadium cheering for them? What NFL player is gonna be thrown off by that shit? It’s like playing the Marlins in their house. I think I’d RATHER have no fans in my home stadium than a scattered collection of rona truthers roaming the aisles for other people to vomit on. I’m not gonna asterisk any of this shit. I say to the empty stadium teams: SACK UP. Also please don’t throw any footballs too hard at me.
Bucs at Saints: The NFL is gonna give a cursory nod to Black Lives Matter all season long. Why, you might even see flagrant anthem kneeling go unpunished!
But the basic presentation of the games is still gonna be exactly the way it was before. For example, if there’s a kickass player out there who comes from poverty, all of that shit is still gonna be framed as uplifting. They’re gonna be like CAN YOU BELIEVE THE ADVERSITY THIS YOUNG MAN OVERCAME TO MAKE IT TO THE NFL AFTER GROWING UP IN A CITY SEWER?! They won’t pivot at all to questioning WHY Ricky Hardscrabble Jr. had to grow up that way. You’re gonna get the same Olympics-style whitewashing of inequality that you got before… [Bernie voice] BECOSS… That is what the top one puhcent OF the top one puhcent… have decided… is the PRIORITY… of Joe Buck’s commentary.
Seahawks at Falcons: Fuddruckers is being liquidated. That’s not exactly earth-shattering news but lemme tell you, going to Ruddfuckers when I was a kid growing up in Minneapolis was a fucking EVENT. My mom would take us and we would get in the line where you passed by a counter of raw patties, each column of them marked by weight. As a fat kid, seeing a one-pound patty in the literal flesh was the height of my existence. Flash forward 30 years and I would rather buy a granola bar at the Hudson News than eat at an airport Fudds. IS THERE NOTHING CAPITALISM CAN’T RUIN?!
Cowboys at Rams: I’m almost at the point where I prefer the NBA’s Zoom board of fans to the real thing. The Zoom board has evolved as the playoffs have gone on. They’ll switch to monster panels of fans during key moments. The TV cameras will even zoom in (no pun intended) ON the panels, as if they’re zooming in on live fans. Again, I’ve completely adjusted to all of this. When I have to see actual fans at a game—like whatever Toyota-sized feedbags the Cowboys let into Jerryworld next week—I’m gonna feel let down.
Cardinals at Niners: Personally speaking, Zoom calls have completely warped my ability to communicate. During quarantine, I’ve had to use Zoom for meetings, parent-teacher conferences, virtual cocktails, appointments with my therapist, and podcasting. I have no internal barometer in order to keep these things separate. I could be on a video call with my folks and scream out WE’RE BACK like I’m doing a show, or I could be in a meeting and suddenly start yapping about using the THINK method to manage my anger. The lines are ALL blurred and I lack the equipment necessary to unblur them. Also, if I have more than two Zoom things a day, I am fucking exhausted. I would make a poor Zoom NBA fan. They’d put me up on the board and somehow I’d think it was time for a colonoscopy.
Titans at Broncos: If you’re new here (aren’t we all?), you should know that I don’t write up every single game every week. Some of them I leave blank. Like this one, for instance. I don’t give a shit that the Titans nearly went to the Super Bowl months ago. They’re back to being anonymous members of the Thursday Night Football division, as far as I’m concerned. They mean nothing to me.
Chargers at Bengals: I think my new son Joe Burrow will be a fucking stud right out of the gate. I know the gut take is that the Bengals will manage to Bengals his sorry ass, but I’ve been around long enough to watch good players completely change the image of a historically awful team. The Saints are a powerhouse now. The fucking Saints. Wild shit happens, man. My son can pull this off. If he doesn’t, I’m banning him from the comment section.
Dolphins at Patriots
Steelers at Giants: I’d rather scalp my own armpits than watch the Steelers play football this year. Fuck them with a train.
Browns at Ravens: I made the Serious Eats recipe for counterfeit Chick-fil-A sandwiches this past weekend and you should know that the recipe works. It really does taste like the real thing. It’s also an INCREDIBLE fucking pain in the ass to make. I love fried food. I hate frying food. And right now you’re like BRO GET AN AIR FRYER BRO. Fuck your air fryer. NO BUT FOR REAL BRO. No I said fuck your air fryer and fuck it good. I’mma just let other people fry my shit from here on out. That’s better for the economy.
Colts at Jaguars: In case you were stuck in the DEEPEST of quarantines, I self-published a novel called Point B this offseason. You can buy it here. The audiobook drops on the 29th. I do NOT narrate the audiobook. Anna Huff is a 17-year-old girl and any attempt I would make to sound like that would sound like something cut from a Benny Hill sketch.
Bears at Lions: This slate suddenly looks pretty fucking dire. I hate this sport.
Raiders at Panthers
Eagles at Washington
Jets at Bills
Pregame Song That Makes Me Want To Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall
“Patronizer,” by Iron Reagan! From Keith:
One mishap with an ice cream cone and mayhem ensues. This is what I imagine watching a Buffalo Bills game - in Buffalo - would be like if Rex Ryan and Richie Incognito were in town for a reunion.
Keith, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as cool as this video. ALL music videos should feature people beating each other to death and nothing else.
Gregg Easterbrook Memorial Haughty Dipshit Of The Week
Let’s start things off easy and see what Phil Mushnick has been up to lately, shall we?
MLB fans’ reaction to Jacob Blake boycotts says it all
I think we all know what hill we’re about to go rolling down. Do we not?
Thursday’s game-time walkout in protest of police brutality may have been a sincere group action or largely based in peer pressure…
THAR HE BLOWS.
judging from the response of readers, none much cared.
Whoa wait are you telling me that readers of the New York Post, preferred newspaper of every Staten Island precinct, didn’t care about a cop protest? YOU TALK ABOUT SHOTS FIRED!
None were outraged or even disappointed that there wasn’t going to be a game to watch.
Hard to believe people would be uninterested in a obscenely bastardized game of baseball while trying to crawl back above the poverty line without dying of lungpox. This is clearly the fault of all the wokeistanians in baseball. Frankie From Syosset says getting got by the cops is A BIG FAT NUTTINBOIGUH.
Magic Johnson’s Lock Of The Week: Seahawks (-1.5) at Falcons
“I believe this game will come down to the position of quarterback, which is one of the most important positions in the sport of football! Cookie and I just got back from an incredible week in Brazil! Had a sumptuous lobster dinner with Carao Deforestation Services CEO Pablo Loscan and his gorgeous family, then watched as the kids played a spirited game of Twister! You simply HAVE to get down there! What a time!”
Fantasy Player Who Deserves To Die A Slow, Painful Death
Given that a player may ACTUALLY die a slow and painful COVID-related death this season, it only seems wise to shelve this part of the Jamboroo for a while. But who said I was ever wise? I’m calling it right now: Carson Wentz will be really fucking annoying this year and you will wish awful things upon him.
Bad Local Commercial Of The Week!
T.C. Lando’s! From Ryan:
This one is a decade old classic that is still quoted by my group of friends. It's got it all. Trashy Boston fans, fishnet stockings, and the classic between the legs camera shot. The pizza actually isn't terrible.
That it’s only a decade old is an enormous upset. This is a local version of the old Bud Light ads where a girl is like I’M READY TO FUCK! and some t-shirt is like WHATEVER YOU HORNY GIRLS ARE SO NEEDY and then she whips out a shitty six-pack and he’s like WHOA HEY! So very much like real life.
Fire This Asshole!
Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we’ll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year’s end or sooner. And now, your potential 2020 chopping block:
(* - potential midseason firing)
Given that a college football coach has ALREADY been fired, and a lot of NBA coaches to boot, I’m relieved to know that the pandemic hasn’t softened coaches’ employers at all. Quite the contrary. If anything, more coaches are gonna get fired this year. The Johnson family expects Adam Gase’s Jets to bring a ravaged New York a welcome distraction in these difficult times. Imagine their coming disappointment.
Great Moments In Grandpa History
Reader Philip sends in this story he calls "The 60-Year Grudge":
My Grandfather's family moved from Italy to Uruguay right after WWI because his dad was an anarchist that deserted the army. His dad's older brother died, so as was the custom back then his dad married his late brother's widow. So my grandfather grew up with his half-brother/cousin.
He spent his whole life in Sao Paulo, Brazil. And as long as anyone could remember, he ran a pawn shop out of his house, buying gold, coins, stamps, and trinkets from people and selling them. He also ate a lunch of a horribly bitter type of eggplant once a week and drank nothing but red wine, and coca cola cut 50% with water. He lived to be 94.
As for his brother, neither my mom nor any of her siblings ever spent any time with his family. The story was that my grandfather, his father, and his brother had come up with this brilliant invention, and that the nefarious brother had stolen it and become filthy rich. Thus the families were estranged for six decades. And all the kids and grandkids were made to believe that these geniuses had been robbed of fortune by the cruel and conniving brother.
Couple years ago my cousin connected with the other side through social media and looked into the story: the invention was a type of latch for a car door for one specific model of car. The brother ended up selling the idea for about a thousand bucks. He ended up living five blocks away for decades.
Never let a good grudge go cheaply.
Ah but the cheapness is what ADDS to the grudge, my friend. Love to shoot myself in the dick over principles.
Gametime Snack Of The Week
OYSTERS. Fucking oysters. We have gone out to eat one time in the middle of the pandemic, and only because we were on the road and had no other option. It was, easily, the least relaxing meal I’ve ever had, even if the food was decent and everyone at the restaurant (outside dining only) was far apart and doing masks and shit. All I wanted to do was get up and fucking leave. During quarantine, I’ve been able to make whatever food I want, and get decent takeout. But there are really certain foods that ONLY work at a restaurant. Burgers are one, because I suck at making them and because burgers, like fries, suffer during the takeout process. Oysters are another. I desperately want some fucking oysters. If you pay our site exclusively in fresh oyster crates, I won’t complain.
Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week
Borg Garún Icelandic stout! From Kevin:
Now cheap beer and Iceland really don't go together, but a six pack of nearly anything will go for 2000 krona so pick the beer with the best bang for your buck. That my friends is Borg's Icelandic stout punching you in the mouth with 11.5% ABV. After getting over the alcohol taste in the first sip or two, it actually goes down pretty smooth with some chocolate and coffee flavors. Drink three of these and you're feeling like Thor, or maybe Loki, and ready to hit the town until 4 am with the locals on a Friday night.
Honestly, I’m shocked that Icelanders even drink beer. I figured they drank some kind of fermented urine from a forest nymph that makes you see purple. But no! No, it turns out they’re all just lonely alcoholics. Good looking beer.
Jim Tomsula’s Lifehack Of The Week!
“You can survive a bear attack, okay? My friend Lackawanna Bob showed me how. If a bear is headed your way, it’s looking for food: honey, squirrels, dried berries, what have you. So what Bob told me is, you find all of that bear food on the ground and you make a nice big pile. Then you crawl under the pile. What happens? Okay, the bear eats through all that, and then it moves on. It doesn’t want to eat you now that it’s had the good stuff. You taste like, uh, like bad clams by comparison! Classic trick of the bear mind.”
Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Jets Fans
Locke. Locke is the movie where you watch Tom Hardy driving in a car for over an hour and a half. I always joke that I’d watch actors as good as Hardy read the phone book, and here we have a movie that actually tests that theory. And you know what? It SUCCEEDS. Every call Hardy takes on his Bluetooth during the ride is more tense than the last. I never wanna drive again.
Gratuitous Simpsons Quote
“GIVE THAT MAN THE $10,000! THE BALL! HIS GROIN! IT WORKS ON SO MANY LEVELS!”
Enjoy the games, everyone. Nice to be back, isn’t it?