The Best Part Of Football Is Getting Ready For It
3:13 PM EDT on September 9, 2021
Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday at Defector during the NFL season. Got something you wanna contribute? Email the Roo. Pre-order Drew’s new book, The Night The Lights Went Out, through here.
Let’s start at Dick’s. I’m there with my youngest son, who had to be dragged into playing flag football a few months prior but came out the other side of his first season batshit for it. This is how it works with kids: They hate everything until the light goes on. There’s a new season coming up, right after the last one has ended. And my boy needs new gloves. And new cleats. Wants them both, really. Wants to try them on. Wants to see himself out on the field in some fine-ass equipment, making fine-ass plays.
The football equipment is on the second floor of this store. Downstairs is for jerseys, shoes, and workout apparel for grownups. Boring shit. Upstairs is where the action is: bikes, kayaks, golf clubs, heavy bags, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks, baseball bats, and fishing rods. They even used to sell guns on this floor. Then in 2018 the Parkland massacre happened and Dick’s started phasing gun sales out of hundreds of locations, this one included.
We ignore all of the other goodies and go right to the football gear. My son finds a pair of gloves that are too big. WAY too fucking big. When he tries them on, there’s an inch of empty space left at the end of each finger.
“They’re perfect!” he cries. Kids think everything fits.
“They’re pretty big, amigo,” I tell him. He doesn’t give a shit. He has the gloves on now. He has the power. I know that feeling all too well.
Let’s go back a couple decades. I’m a football player. Not flag. The mean kind of football. My mom takes me to the sporting goods store in Wayzata, Minn., and I gaze in awe at all the primo shit adorning the shelves. She has me try on cleats and I feel like a Pro Bowler when I clickety-clack around the store in them. She buys me a mouthguard and I take it home to dunk it in boiling water and shape it to my mouth. I love the way it feels when my teeth sink into the thermoplastic. I wear that molded guard around the house for hours afterward.
Then I go to school and get all the big-boy gear issued to me: practice jerseys, pants, belt, thigh pads, knee pads, hip pads, tail pad, a girdle, a helmet, and shoulder pads. Oh, shoulder pads. If you’ve never worn shoulder pads, I can’t recommend it enough. They make you feel like a god. I learn how to slip my thigh pads and knee pads into my pants. I learn how to thread the belt through the waistband of my football pants, a tedious affair that will haunt me later in life anytime the drawstring in my workout shorts decides to play hide and seek. I put the ensemble together, walk in front of the bathroom mirror, and then put my helmet on. I look like I always dreamed of looking. I look like a fucking football player.
Cut to college. I’ve been playing football for seven years now. I’m not a starter, but I don’t give a shit. I still like being a football player, and this is the first time I’ve ever been on a football team that has its own locker room. You’ve seen the fancy-ass locker rooms at Bama and other powerhouses. This is many steps down from that, but still luxe as far as D-III accommodations ago. There’s a stereo system. There are separate sides of the locker room for the offense and defense, although we all end up with commingling lockers anyway. Every guy gets his own wide-berth locker. Every Friday, you go to your locker and your ratty practice jersey and pants are gone, replaced by a freshly laundered game uni hanging from the hooks.
Some guys get to the locker room insanely early on game day. I usually come in the next wave after that, right around an hour before kickoff, as instructed by the coaches. Given that I’m third-string, and that I’m not even on the traveling team, there’s little hope of me seeing any important snaps (in the end, I think I played a grand total of three snaps in my entire college career). But the coaches always said to prepare like you’re gonna play, so I do. Besides, I wanna do all the cool locker-room shit. I wanna suit up. I wanna tape up my wrists and my ankles. I wanna put on my pants and then slip into a pair of cleats that are rock hard from practicing out in the rain. I wanna put on my shoulder pads, then take them off, then put them back on again, in an endless cycle or nervous anticipation. I wanna lie on the floor of the locker room in full pads, staring up at the ceiling while Soundgarden plays on the stereo system. I wanna get ready. I wanna look the part.
And then I wanna walk out to that stadium. That walk to the field is the best fucking feeling in the world. I don’t care if there are only 100 people in the stands. They’re still there, and I’m still rocking my shoulder pads and ready to party. When it’s time for pregame warm-ups, I fire off the line harder than I ever do in practice.
I still want all that. Yes, I’m a jersey guy. I have three of them that I keep on a rotation every season. If my team loses one week, I’ll try a different jersey the next week. I also bought a coaching windbreaker, the logical next step for any 44-year-old NFL daydreamer. When I go to bed at night—and this is true—I imagine I’m Mike Zimmer. I’m not actually him in these visions. There’s some me in there: the kind of vague melding that only your headspace can pull off seamlessly. I answer press conference questions about the news of the day. Sometimes I give the press boilerplate horseshit. Sometimes I tell the truth, as Zimmer will do with his characteristic tactlessness. But I rarely, if ever, go the full Pacino and start ranting and raving. ‘Cause I’ve seen coaches do that at the press conference and it never ends well for them. I’ve made fun of those coaches. “They are who we thought they were,” etc. My imagination is no dummy. It demands pragmatism.
Sometimes I daydream about how I’d coach the team itself. “Our goal is to win every game we play,” is my usual refrain at the opening of training camp. I tell the players that I, and the staff, are there to help them win, and not the other way around. Our doors are always open. I dream about my team winning the Super Bowl, of course. But then I dream that my reaction to it is a form of rugged satisfaction. Job well done, men. Job well done.
If those dreams strike you as boring, I’m not gonna argue with you. But I’ve been hammered with a spike by the NFL’s way of doing business for so long that my dreams now feature that way of doing business prominently. It feels realer that way, and it gets me closer to that college locker room, when I was taping up and checking myself out in the mirror and hoping that today was the day I’d get to be the football player I never ended up being.
There’s joy in getting ready. If there weren't, you wouldn’t watch these games. You wouldn’t buy the merch. You wouldn’t even tailgate. There are very good odds that your team isn’t gonna win the Super Bowl this year. Lord knows mine won’t. But the build-up is still worth it. I’d rather hope they do, because it’s more fun that way, even when it ends badly. I’m not gonna be a fucking lump, ignoring everything that could be because I’m so dead set on what will be. I’m gonna get ready, and I’m gonna enjoy the ritual of doing so every season until I die.
My son, trying on those Hamburger Helper gloves and form-fitting a mouthguard of his own, is just beginning to learn the rituals of football. He’s probably not gonna play in the NFL, but that’s not the point and it never was. Dreams don’t have to come true to be worth it. It’s one of the nicer lessons that football imparts on you, as long as you’re willing to learn it.
So let’s get ready again, shall we? Let’s put on our jerseys and order some wings and put on a game. And when we yell at the TV, let’s pretend they really can hear us on the other side of the LCD. Because this is football season, and this is your Thursday Afternoon Dick Joke Jamboroo. THE MUSIC.
Let’s get after it.
2021 NFL Predictions
I do this every year after I do all the Why Your Team Sucks previews. It makes for a fun bit of karma because I spend that series talking myself out of EVERY team. How am I supposed to believe, like, the Titans will be good? I saw their defense. It’s AWFUL. And yet someone has to win that shit-ass division now, don’t they?
Green Bay 12-5
Tampa Bay 15-2
New Orleans 6-11
NY Giants 7-10
L.A. Rams 12-5
San Francisco 6-11
Packers over WFT
Cardinals over Cowboys
Rams over Falcons
Bucs over Cardinals
Rams over Packers
Bucs over Rams
NY Jets 9-8
New England 9-8
Kansas City 12-5
LA Chargers 10-7*
Las Vegas 9-8*
Chiefs over Raiders
Bills over Titans
Chargers over Ravens
Browns over Chargers
Chiefs over Bills
Browns over Chiefs
Bucs 42, Browns 7
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Browns at Chiefs: My family went to a rental house this summer and this game was sitting around on the kitchen counter.
This is one of those olde-timey games that they sell at museum gift shops, and it remains awesome. We played this stupid game so many times that we bought one for our own house when we got back. I can now get to Pluto using just one hand. LET’S SEE ANDY REID DO THAT SHIT.
Cowboys at Bucs: I like how Tom Brady treated his COVID disclosure like he was casually admitting he owned six Ferraris. “Oh yeah, I got a positive test a long time ago. Have you not gotten it yet? I wasn’t really into it, if we’re being honest. Kinda bleh.”
Steelers at Bills: The Steelers have spent the bulk of their lifespan as a good team that makes for horrible television. So I pegged them at 9–8 for this season because Mike Tomlin never finishes a year in the red. But I promise you that it’ll be the most grueling 9-8 season you’ve ever had to endure. I’m irritated already by them.
Cardinals at Titans: I forgot to mention some of the new rule changes for the coming season. You probably know the bulk of them already, but here’s a rundown just in case you forgot:
- There are now 17 games. Yes I hate how the final records look, but at least no team gets to hide behind an 8-8 anymore. Except for the Cardinals, who’ll probably find a way to go 8-8-1.
- Defenders have been banned from doing another thing.
- This is the final year you’ll get to watch Thursday Night Football on Fox. After that, you’re gonna have to pay Amazon for it. Oh no, what if you can’t afford it. What if you can’t watch Thursday Night Football ever again. Oh no.
- Vaccinated players get a free pizza party every Tuesday night. Unvaccinated players cannot attend these parties and, in fact, will be forced to watch them from the other side of a one-sided mirror.
Bears at Rams: This week we get to see how long Matt Nagy can play Andy Dalton before he realizes his own job is in grave danger. The kicker is that he’s gonna be fired no matter what he does, which is what makes it AWESOME.
Ravens at Raiders: I have a new party trick. Whenever I take a dump, my thighs now stick to the seat and bring it UP with them when I stand back up. Not at all mortifying, nossir.
Seahawks at Colts
Chargers at WFT
Packers at Saints (in Jacksonville): This’ll be your first look at Jameis Winston as the Saints’ starting QB, and it’s gonna look a lot like all those times he started for the Bucs. Don’t let the frighteningly vast Jameis-Has-Arrived industrial complex convince you otherwise.
Dolphins at Patriots
Jaguars at Texans: Deshaun Watson is probably going to play again somewhere down the line. I know that time isn’t right now, because the Texans are attempting to spend this season as if he simply doesn’t exist. And I know there’s still the possibility that he’ll face criminal sexual assault charges. But I’ve watched prosecutors pass on charges like this before. And even if Watson is convicted, I’ve seen Michael Vick not only come back after going to prison for murdering dogs, but become beloved by MILLIONS after doing so. Shit, even I love Michael Vick now.
And I know, thanks to Jenny Vrentas’s reporting, that the NFL doesn’t have much interest in disciplining Watson, especially if he’s not charged with anything. Anytime I’ve heard “He’ll never play in this league again” about any player, it’s always been proven false. The only exception to that? Colin Kaepernick. The machine hated Colin Kaepernick. It’s much more fond of Watson, and it’s already making efforts to get him back onto the field. If not now, then a year from now, when trade rumors will kick up around him and the football chatter surrounding Watson will again eclipse the sexual-assault chatter around him. I just watched Antonio Brown win a fucking Super Bowl. I know how this shit goes.
49ers at Lions: Here’s what Dan Campbell looked like back when he played for the Lions. Now tell me why he cut off those flowing locks so that he could look like a discount Stone Cold Steve Austin instead. YOU CANNOT. We need more coaches with long hair. The only one we have right now is Rob Ryan, and that’s not good enough. It’s 2021, man. We don’t need buzzcut coaches anymore. Gimme some fucking ponytails and dreadlocks and mullets and frat boy wings gone mad. Let’s get some personality going on the sidelines. I don’t need every coach to be an angry hat.
Jets at Panthers: The other day I was watching the Oregon State game (no I don’t know why) and they ran a punt, because they’re Oregon State. But on this play, the punter took the snap and rolled out left, like he was about to throw the ball. And then he punted it. I have no idea if this was planned or not. BUT IT COULD BE. Why not run a fake fake punt? Or why not give your punter the option in certain situations to roll out, see if anyone is wide open, and then kick the ball if they aren’t? It could work!
[watches an NFL punter get both his legs broken attempting a similar play]
OK but still…
Eagles at Falcons: We have a fruit fly infestation in our house. This ranks dead last among infestations you should fear, but lemme tell you: Fruit flies are REALLY fucking annoying. In our case, they bred in the garbage disposal. I had to buy a pipe cleaner—an actual one, not the kind you use for arts and crafts—and root around the pipes with it. When I pulled it back out of the disposal, it was covered in slimy grey fruit fly eggs. You listen to me, fruit flies: I’m gonna fuck you up. You think I’m gonna spend the rest of my life putting bananas in the fridge to shield them from you? Think again. I will find all of you and torch you with a fucking flamethrower. No more nanners for you, my pretties.
Vikings at Bengals: For the uninitiated, I don’t write capsules for every single game every week. Some of them I ignore. This one, for instance. I’ll watch this game because I’m a Vikings fan. But you, fair reader, are under no such obligation.
Broncos at Giants: Same thing goes here.
Pregame Song That Makes Me Wanna Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall
“Die Today,” by Off With Their Heads! From reader Barry!
If you can get past the cry-for-help last verse, it's pure, fast, and aggressive punk rock about skipping work and having a decent day for a change.
Not the best week for me to get past that particular verse, but the good news is that I never pay attention to song lyrics anyway. All I hear is the riffage, people.
Bad Local Commercial Of The Week!
United Auto Sales! From Chris:
Here's one from my hometown of Columbia, South Carolina. This is United Auto Sales, a place I'll always hold dear in my heart. This is just one of their commercials. There's an entire YouTube rabbit hole to go down as you get a feel for these guys' marketing prowess.
For me the M&M's jacket is what makes this one sing.
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 2021 chopping block:
(* - potential midseason firing)
Right now there’s a vicious competition between the Broncos and Texans for who can be the saddest team from wire to wire. I know the Eagles are a fucking train wreck, but at least Jalen Hurts will do some fun shit for them on the way to the basement. The other two, meanwhile, are already operating as if it’s November and they’re 2-9. Just thinking about those teams makes me wanna take a sad bath.
SHAMELESS BOOK PLUG
I have a new book coming out October 5. It’s called The Night The Lights Went Out and the birth of this fair website actually plays a considerable role in it. If you pre-order the book now and fill out this form, you’ll be invited to a highly exclusive VIP Twitch party for Lions-Packers on the 20th. With ME. Wow. I probably should have picked a different MNF game for this party, but that’s brain damage for you.
Great Moments In Poop History
Reader James sends in this story I call BUTTER CHAOS:
I grew up working on an old family farm in New Hampshire. This upbringing blessed me with a very intimate relationship will all things disgusting and offensive. I have been pelted with rotten eggs, had a three-foot long tapeworm pulled from a sheep intestine and wrapped around my neck, and been hit in the face with a severed boar testicle. One event, however, stands out.
Butterscotch was a Scottish Highlander – think the cute fuzzy orange cows with big horns and soft eyes. This old gal was a veteran mother, but for this particular blessed event her labor was not going well. This is not an uncommon event and usually caused by the calf not being in the correct position to slide out. Hence the art of ‘birthing a calf’ – reaching into the birth canal and manipulating the calf into the correct position and if necessary pulling gently out.
So yes, I am not ashamed to say that I have been shoulder deep in cow vagina. And there I was at about 5AM in June, drawn outside by the sad and pained lowing of Butterscotch. I washed up, lubed up, and dove in so to speak. A quick pinch to the calf assured that it was alive but facing the wrong way. A few squishy minutes later however, I had the head turned facing me, forelegs up and in the correct position and making progress towards the light. Keeping my hands on the calf’s head, I slowly assisted in the complete birth, holding the dripping and slimy little animal as I sink to my knees
Picture the moment – I am kneeling in the dewy grass behind Butterscotch with a new life in my arms. The sun is rising over the green hills and spilling a golden light through the misty pasture. The birds are singing. Thanks to my skilled and compassionate intervention, both calf and cow are alive and healthy. I look up to Butterscotch, smiling beatifically, sure to meet her gentle eyes filled with gratitude and love
And receive a face, eye, mouth and ear full of liquefied cow shit. What missed my face splashed onto the calf and the puddle of birthing fluid, further splattering me with blood and natal fluid. My shocked gasp caused me to inhale this devil’s concoction into my lungs. The assault on my senses shattered my iron constitution and I vomited all over the calf. More choking ensued and in the end I had a lung and stomach full of cow shit, natal fluid, and my own vomit. I am blinded and deafened and completely consumed in a pained hell, wracked with convulsions.
When I finally regain my motor skills, I observe Butterscotch calmly eating her own placenta with its condiments of feces and vomit (that is just what cows do, usually sans vomit and feces of course). I never did get the gratitude I deserved, but I did get a good poop story out of it.
You sure did.
Gametime Snack Of The Week
Chocolate croissants, because nothing says FOOTBALL like French breakfast pastries. The best chocolate on earth is the chocolate inside any chocolate croissant, regard of where that croissant came from. I have no idea why this is the case, but it’s a fact.
Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week
OLD MILWAUKEE … N.A.?! I’m not gonna feature near beers here as a matter of routine, but when reader Nathan sent in this bad boy, I was forced to ask myself if it was a miracle or an abomination. He writes in:
Like you I'm off the sauce, but for different reasons. Does that mean we should be relegated to La Croix (which I love) and milk like a bunch of babies? HELL NO. I've been exploring the world of NA beers, and I gotta tell you, I wish I had discovered these years sooner. It's like a life hack, and it's time the Jambaroo shows 'em some love amongst all the Eastern European horrors people have been sending in. You can pound these all afternoon and then go about your day after yet another humiliating and infuriating Bears loss. You can drink six and then put together a meal or some shitty furniture from Ikea. You can shotgun - AND I DO - beer bong, cook, and rip gnarly belches with them just the same as you did before. Fucking great. Cannot beat that. Can is sexy AF too.
I haven’t had any near beer since I quit drinking because I frankly don’t trust myself with it. Also, it would make me fat. Meanwhile, other people I know who have quit drinking swear by near beer, so I don’t roll my eyes at it the way I used to back when I was boozing. I have a grudging respect for near beer in all forms.
Well, almost all of them. I dunno why I’d drink a sixer of Old Milwaukee if it’s not gonna fuck me up. Old Milwaukee was one of those beers where I was like, “This is gonna suck but it’ll be worth it.” So you understand my trepidation here.
Dan Campbell’s Clump Dog Of The Week: Devin White
“You know me. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m gonna tell you what I’m really thinking, because that’s what’s real. So when I met Devin White for the first time before we played them last year, I said to him, ‘Listen man, I want your body.” I didn’t mean that in the sex way. I’m saying I wanted to OCCUPY his body. See through his eyeballs. Flex his muscles. Use his legs to get low and thrust myself INTO opposing backs. Snap their arms over my knee like twigs. That’s the highest compliment I could ever give a guy. To say to him, ‘I wanna tear your skin off and try it out on myself.’ Devin White has that kinda frame. I’d wear him like a pair of good jeans.”
Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Eagles Fans
It’s Blow Out, which is Brian De Palma’s scummiest movie and therefore one of his best. Are there grandiose overhead shots scattered throughout this movie? I think you know the answer.
I’ve been gorging on a lot of classic movies since quarantine began, largely because I’m too lazy to commit to whole TV shows. Most of these classics don’t feel all that dated. This is also true of Blow Out, with the exception of the music (lotta '80s sax wailing) and the fact that De Palma doesn’t give Nancy Allen enough good shit to do. But otherwise, this movie is good and fucking tight. It also features John Travolta smoking inside in a hospital—as a patient!—and no one around him caring. That’s the kind of period detail I look for in a movie. Also the ending is flawless.
Gratuitous Simpsons Quote
“Are you on your third beer of the evening?”
“Does whiskey count as beer?”
Enjoy the games, everyone. We’re back.