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Put In That Mouthguard, Young Man!

INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 20: Los Angeles Chargers defensive back Deane Leonard (33) handles his mouthguard between downs in the first half of a preseason NFL football game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Tony Ding/Icon Sportswire)
Tony Ding/Icon Sportswire

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we're talking about marriage, the Coen brothers, diarrhea, and more.

HO HO HO … MERRY CHRISTMAS! This is your last Funbag of 2023, children. I’m on vacation all next week, so this slot will be vacant come Boxing Day. But I’ll be back right after New Year’s to shoot the shit with you again. You’ve been a lovely audience this year and I’ve greatly enjoyed writing for you. So cheers to you and yours, and now let’s dig into your letters:

Varun:

As a former collegiate football player, do you have any insight into this trend of skill players in football leaving their mouth guards dangling instead of in their mouths during plays? I am now a physician and have read the CTE data closely, and it makes me very uneasy every time I see this.

Dude, I used to get uneasy whenever Troy Aikman would come up to the line of scrimmage with his chinstrap unbuckled. I was like, “Is he just gonna leave it like that? That’s dangerous!” He could not hear me through the television, and more’s the pity because his brain is oatmeal now.

The point is that, for as long as I’ve been a football fan, NFL players (and college players, to a lesser extent) have made every effort to unburden themselves of various, secondary uniform mandates. Cornerbacks and wideouts would routinely ditch their knee and thigh pads to get added speed, to the point where Roger Goodell, in 2015, had to issue one of his trademark Stern Reminders that all players must wear their lowers or be subjected to fines. That reminder was enforced for … oh, let’s say two weeks. But if you tune into any game now, you’ll see that a lot of players, especially kickers, still go without them. You’ll also see dangling mouthguards and all other sorts of sartorial negligence. I’m sure a crackdown is coming two preseasons hence, and I’m sure it’ll be effective for exactly as long as the previous crackdown.

Personally, I don’t care about any of this. This is because I’m not a doctor, but also because I’ve long been used to football being dangerous. That’s why I watch it. And there’s fuck all I can do to prevent Zay Flowers running a go route with his mouthguard flapping around in the wind. It’s not like I can write to my Congressman about it and have that work. I can barely get my own kids to do what I say, and they live here. I accept my own powerlessness over the situation. Also, I don’t want my team’s DBs getting beaten deep just because they were wearing an extra 200 grams of padding.

Gan:

I was in New Orleans recently and saw someone with a banner that had the 3-28 game score graphic, complete with time on the clock and everything, hung up over their balcony railing. I'm not a follower of the NFL or football in general, and even I understood what this meant, but I wasn't sure whether this was loser behavior or righteously petty. What say you? Related: How would you feel if someone hung up a 3-1 Warriors banner?

I have to respect them for doing it. Falcons-Saints is the kind of rivalry I usually ignore, because I’m a dirty rotten Yankee. But there’s legit hatred there, and hatred is what makes sports so grand. Mean banners also look cool on TV. So I have no problem with fans going all out to humiliate the opposition, regardless of venue. Hang that shit from the ceiling of Commander’s Palace, if you’re so inclined.

Would I do any of this myself? No, because I’m lazy. I’m so lazy, in fact, that I’m shocked that anyone makes the effort to draw elaborate banners and sneak them into the stadium, or that anyone dresses up in full costume for an NFL game and stays in that costume for the entire time. So when I see a crowd shot of Darth Raider now, I’m not like, “Oh cool! Darth Raider!” I’m like, “Isn’t he hot? How does he keep that costume on all game long without it becoming torture?” I know they’re all drunk, but being drunk doesn’t help in those instances. I can barely wear SLACKS for an extended period of time, and yet there are people my age who go to football games wearing more shit than a Broadway lead. I’m in a strange kind of awe. I’m also happy they’re doing it so that normal people like me can just wear sweats like we always do.

By the way, I would NOT hang a 3-1 Warriors banner at a Warriors game, because Golden State avenged that Finals loss to Cleveland the following season … and the season after that. Kinda takes the sting out of that specific taunt. You can definitely unfurl a HEY DRAYMOND CHOKE THIS BANNER sign, though.

Mike:

Which restaurant chain has inspired the most stories about shitting one’s pants?

Chipotle, because of the e. coli breakouts that chain has had on multiple occasions (plus norovirus, too!). Symptoms of e. coli poisoning include stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. And the diarrhea is often bloody. That’s a hefty price to pay for a mid-range burrito. I could go to Qdoba for a similar lunch and NOT shit blood for days on end afterward. Pretty easy bit of mental calculus there.

By the way, the last two times I’ve gone to Chipotle, I’ve come away disappointed. First time I went, I got tacos made by a guy who may not have even known what a taco was. Second time I had a burrito the size of a hydrogen bomb that was weak on flavor. And I’m not a snob when it comes to this shit. You don’t grow up in suburban Minnesota and become an arbiter of what constitutes quality, authentic Mexican fare. I’ve liked Chipotle nearly every other time I’ve gone. Maybe all of those food poisoning scandals forced them to stop using recycled bacon fat in everything. Very sad.

Alex:

I recently learned that my partner had somehow never seen a single Coen Brothers movie. She's really into music, so we immediately watched O Brother Where Art Thou, because duh. But now I'm incredibly torn on where we should go next. Do we stick with comedy? Do we go for the dark crime flicks? I'm thinking:

2. The Big Lebowski

3. Fargo

4. No Country for Old Men

But you could stick Raising Arizona or Hudsucker Proxy in the #2 position and be a-ok.

If you wanna be a real Movie Knower dipshit, you’ll watch them in the order they were made. You start at Blood Simple, and then go all the way to Buster Scruggs. You could even give your journey a cutesy name, like Coenthon, to get her into it.

But let’s say you want to avoid the Coens’ worst movies, like Hail, Caesar! Can’t blame you for that. I’m the kind of Coen brothers fanboy who reveres their crime movies above the rest of their work. That’s means Simple, Miller’s Crossing (my favorite movie of theirs), Fargo, and No Country. Those movies, plus Lebowski, are the definitive Coen brothers movies for me. I don’t like it when they go screwball (Caesar, Hudsucker). I want blood, and a lot of it. Only exception here is Arizona, which is funny as shit and always a safe entry into their work.

By the way, I’ll say it here because saying it on Bluesky risks spoilers in my mentions, but Fargo season 5 has been legit. So, so fucking good. Consider this a PSA.

Tim:

Has Jeff Saturday, by dint of his single NFL victory, earned the right to be called Coach on TV?

No. He was a stunt coach who is no longer active on an NFL sideline. Also, he’s still known more widely as a player than a coach. You know how Magic Johnson was once the head coach of the Lakers, and was really bad at it? Who the fuck is gonna call Magic “Coach” these days? Cookie? If you’re mostly a coach, you get to be called coach. Otherwise, GTFO. I bet you wanna be called “Doctor” too because you got a PhD from Arizona State. Ich don’t think so, fella.

Steve:

I recently had my credit card number stolen, and the perpetrator rang up over $1,000 at Fanatics.com. Is there a worse place to have your stolen money spent? I was vastly more annoyed by the choice of vendor than by the actual crime itself!

Joke’s on that burglar. Most people still aren’t aware of how much Fanatics sucks, and won’t until they actually buy that garbage, as I did. Credit to Eagles fans online for highlighting the issue repeatedly, but their efforts still haven’t been enough. Until a presidential candidate comes out and says, “As your commander in chief, I will END the Fanatics cartel so that Americans won’t be subjected to overpriced jerseys made of used paper towels,” lack of awareness will remain a problem. It’s the same as some people in the media still being unable to understand that Barstool is a chapter of the KKK. To them, it’s just “controversial” or “provocative.” James Bennet would approve, but this is ignorant reporting at best and criminally negligent at worst. We need to get people the FACTS, including that spending your money with Fanatics is a bigger waste than buying a Cybertruck.

But do I expect my criminals to have good taste in merchandise? I don’t. If thieves ever lifted $1,000 off of me, I wouldn’t be like, “Well, I certainly hope they’ll spend it on a prix fixe dinner at Masa!” I would expect them to spend it on all of the dumbest shit: Fanatics merch, crypto, Wizards tickets, bad tattoos, Arby’s … all that shit.

Dan:

Few years ago I was with my family watching some terrible late-era Harrison Ford movie, something with hackers and Paul Bettany. About 2/3 of the way through the movie, my dad says, “Wait. Is this the actor from The Fugitive?!” Wondering what the sports equivalent is here. Best I’ve got so far is calling Gretzky, “That guy who played for the Rangers.”

OK that’s a pretty big whiff by your old man. I can’t watch TV with my own parents anymore, because they’ll ask “Who’s this guy?” at pretty much everyone who graces the screen: commercial actors, news anchors, fans in the crowd at a football game, Peyton Manning, you name it. But at least THEY could put a positive ID to Harrison Ford. It’s Harrison fucking Ford, not some random Guy. That’d be like not knowing who Barack Obama is. Even if you’re senile, you should still be able to recognize Han Solo at a glance. Otherwise I’m gonna demand you check into Sunset Acres.

Andy:

I've noticed in the last few years a sudden uptick in the amount of vomiting across the different series I watch. Have you noticed this as well? What do you think accounts for this increase of puking content on screen?

I have not noticed this, although I can’t say I spend my time searching for puke scenes and then logging them into my journal.

Also, puke scenes have no visceral effect on me. This is untrue of my daughter, who suffers from acute emetophobia. It’s also untrue of my wife, who merely finds puke scenes to be in bad taste. One time I refused to fast forward through the extended puke scene in Bridesmaids while we were watching it together. My argument was that all of those women barfing and shitting their brains out was the main comedic set piece of the film. Her argument was, “I’m pregnant right now and you’re being a fucking asshole.” She won the argument that night. I still feel deprived.

But if I’m watching a movie alone and a character pukes, I don’t care one way or the other. Now, if that same character shits blood? That’s a different story. That I’m gonna remember.

HALFTIME!

Chad:

I'm finally going to buy an authentic Bears jersey. Note: I was growing up in Chicago during the Bears ‘85 run. I'm an old, white, 6'1" 280-lb. man. Can I properly rock a Walter Payton jersey, or do I have to go all Dan Hampton on this? I don't want to be laughed at... Oh wait, I'm a Bears fan, nevermind.

I wouldn’t buy the jersey of ANY ’85 Bear, no matter how famous nor obscure. You don’t wanna lump yourself in with the mustaches that still worship that team as if they played yesterday. None of those people are cool. They’re all big fucking losers, and donning a Walter Payton jersey only reinforces it. If you don’t wanna get a Justin Fields jersey because you know his days as a starter are numbered, that’s fine. But you can find someone of newer vintage whose jersey will feel timeless to you: Peanut Tillman, etc. It’s not that big of a challenge.

Just don’t buy it from Fanatics. The Bears could trade for fucking Patrick Mahomes and you’d still hate the jersey you bought for it.

Kurt:

How has your first Aaron Rodgers-less football season been so far? Despite the fact that my wife and I are Bears fans, we found we are enjoying football more than we used to. 

I wrote about this over at SFGate when Rodgers got hurt, and I still feel pretty much the same way: it blows. I want to see Aaron Rodgers fail ON THE FIELD, not lose him on the first series of the first game and then endure a full season of him appearing on Best Damn Pat McAfee Show Period to talk about how magical his diseased ankle is. I could’ve gone LOL when he went down and been a replacement-level troll like everyone else. But look at what we’ve gotten as our long-term reward for Rodgers going down: a Jets season featuring Zach Wilson, Tim Boyle, Trevor Siemian, Zach Wilson again, and Trevor Siemian again. At least Rodgers would have made this enterprise watchable, even if he had returned from his injury before the season was over. It’s not that I love him—he’s a colossal asshole—but I’d rather watch good quarterbacking than bad.

That’s true every season, and this particular season has only made my preference stronger. Tom Brady is officially retired, and Joe Burrow, Anthony Richardson, Kirk Cousins, Deshaun Watson, Justin Herbert, and Daniel Jones are all lost for the season. There have been a few nice stories to come out of the resulting backup parade, like Drew Lock’s miracle drive last night. But in general, these injuries make for shittier football. I still love watching this sport, because I’m hopelessly addicted. But I know what I’m missing, especially when I see Wilson lose the ball up his own ass.

Michael:

I wash the cooking grates on my outdoor grill with actual soap maybe once a year in the spring, and otherwise I'm content to scrape off the old burnt stuff with a brush and get to cookin'. Is this acceptably clean? And if so, why am I spending 20 minutes scrubbing so I can see my reflection in the indoor pots and pans?

I bought a new gas grill many years ago and only cleaned it, for the first time, back in July. Before that, I’d go to check on my steak and see that the thermometer on the lid had blown past 700. Then I’d open the lid, be greeted with a grease fire the size of Chicago, and say to myself, “Well shit, I guess I have to buy a new grill.”

But then, in a fit of inspiration, I took out the grates, the heat plates, and the grease tray, and then I hosed all of that shit down. Then I reassembled the grill and HEY PRESTO! It worked like new. Turns out that you really should clean your grill from time to time. I haven’t cleaned it since then, and new grease fires are starting to pop up. This means everything is due for another hosing. Call it April.

Otherwise, my rule for grills is that if the flames are easy to control, the grill is clean enough. The fire will burn off whatever bacteria are lingering on the grate, and your trusty grill brush will get rid of whatever other naughtiness lurks within. It’s not the same as washing kitchen pots and pans because those are used for multiple things, and because you are not subjecting them to temperatures normally only encountered on Mercury’s surface. Cast-iron bros will tell you that you can treat a cast-iron pan the same as you treat an outdoor grill (“just wipe it down!”), but I’ve found that to be a hideous lie. As far as I’m concerned, cast iron pans are still bullshit.

Eric:

The whole point of any GOAT discourse in any sport is to see how much of a homer everyone is, and also maybe to flush out the sleeper-cell racists in any given bar, right? Feels more like we need a Greatest Of [Insert Decade/Era here] if we're being honest and not just looking for a cheap argument (which, let's face it, is all most people are looking for anyway).

Yeah, no one’s really interested in being honest when they’re arguing over GOATS. They want to pick a guy—usually one they watched play, because we all love the idea that we’ve personally witnessed greatness that will forever go unmatched—and then fight for the sake of fighting. I still believe that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player I ever saw, but I’m not gonna spend my time trying to prove it. I can’t prove it, just as I can’t prove that any player/director/writer/President is the greatest. You’re trying to create objectivity in a place where subjectivity reigns.

That’s the fun of any stupid GOAT argument, because you can invent criteria out of whole cloth (rings, stats, versatility, influence) and then match wits with another drunk person who has done likewise. These are not arguments that can ever be resolved in a definitive manner, which is why First Take never runs out of airtime. If you ever find yourself agreeing with another person about one person being the GOAT, then you won’t have anything to talk about after that. Unless both of you play fantasy.

Jeff:

While walking my dog, I'll occasionally field a compliment about how cute she is. My initial reaction is to say, "Thanks," but that sounds strange to me since the compliment is about my dog, not me. And I can take no responsibility at all for my dog's appearance. We just got lucky. I'll usually just say, "Yeah, she's a keeper" or something like that. How should someone respond in this situation?

Take the fucking credit! Did that dog groom itself? No, YOU paid to have someone do it. Does anyone else own a cuter dog? No, YOU own the cutest dog in the world, because you have good taste in dogs. Does the dog feed itself? No, YOU feed her and care for her every day. Therefore, everyone else should thank you for having such a cute dog, and for taking that dog out into public where the unwashed masses can gaze upon her and, if they’re lucky, even get to pet her. That’s all you, amigo. Don’t be shy about taking credit. We already have an epidemic of false modesty in polite society; you don’t need to add to it.

Also, and more important, no one will give a shit how you respond because they’re too busy looking at the cute doggie.

Phil:

What are the limitations on size upside in football? The biggest dudes on the field are always the most boring, especially wack receivers like Quentin Johnston and Laviska Shenault. Every draft TEs and QBs get hyped because they’re tall and then disappear. Brock Bowers is awesome and I’m already dreading him not doing shit in the NFL. Meanwhile look at Ivan Pace.

You’re wrong on Brock Bowers. He’s gonna be insane in the NFL. He’s gonna be everything that people said Kyle Pitts would be, and more! I’d bet my life on it (WARNING: Offer not valid).

More important, NFL scouting departments already know the limits of upside. You don’t see a lot of Dan McGwires drafted high anymore. Tall QBs who get drafted now almost always have the arm and running ability to match (like Anthony Richardson). Every team has an analytics department that can tell them how many guys at X position with X size have gone on to become Pro Bowlers, and how many haven’t. To use Ivan Pace as an example, the Vikings linebacker went undrafted based on his size (5-foot-10), because the historic track record of linebackers that size is beyond poor. Pace is an outlier, but you will never know who’s an outlier and who isn’t until you see them play on Sundays. That’s why the draft remains a gamble, and that’s why only an idiot GM—Dave Gettleman, come on down!—thinks he can identify the outliers using his magical gut instincts.

Adam:

I am getting married Saturday and would like to ask you some advice if you have any. In particular, I’m hoping there is some non-obvious advice (i.e. "Enjoy every moment!” or whatever). My fiancée and I feel rock solid as a couple. So I am mostly wondering if there's something you'd go back and say to Drew on the night of his wedding that took you a bit to learn? 

All of it. All of it took forever and a day to learn. I know you think you’re all good with your fiancée right now. I’ve heard it from every other newlywed, and I’ve said it myself: “Well, we already lived together before this, so everything is pretty much the same now that we’re official.” But it won’t stay the same. You still have decades ahead of you, and those years will likely include children, job woes, money woes, relocation, hospitalizations, political strife, rote sex, and lots of other crazy shit. You’re not as ready for that as you might think you are, because you have to live through it to understand it fully.

I thought I was a super husband when I first got married, mostly because I didn’t cheat on my wife. That was my base criteria. I am a much, much better husband now, 21 years later. Still haven’t cheated, but now I do lots of other good husband stuff. That’s because I needed to learn how to be a good spouse, and that’s a process that never ends. If you’re in a true marriage of equals, you’ll help each other through that process. You’ll keep an open line of communication so that small arguments that don’t turn into huge ones. You’ll do chores without needing to be asked. You’ll trust each other even when everything is shitty. That’s how you make it.

But you’ll fuck up plenty as you go, so be ready to acknowledge that.

Email of the week!

Adrian:

Drew, we’re the same age, and I’ve been reading you for a long time. I have a daughter who is about to leave for university, and two younger sons. Every time you write about life milestones, or the gradual decline to decrepitude, I feel like I’m right there with you. So I’m wondering if you’ve ever experienced this one: I just went to sit down on the can with the bathroom light off. Unbeknownst to me, the toilet seat cover was down. I was expecting to just sit on the bowl with my old sagging balls dangling. Because I wasn’t prepared for sitting on a flat surface, I didn’t shift properly and I ended up with my balls out on the cover and crushing them with my inner thighs. Bad times. It really highlighted how much those bad boys are dangling now. Just another humiliating L in the slow march to death.

I have not experienced that one, but now there’s a clock ticking in my head.

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