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The Dreaded Math Has Made Sports More Entertaining

A young woman smiles as she poses at a desk in an office-like environment, one hand on a document and the other on the keys of a Clary adding machine, mid to late 1950s. (Photo by Tom Kelley/Getty Images)
Tom Kelley/Getty Images

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 cyborgs, hamburgers, famous crypto perverts, historically bad NFL coaches, and more.

Your letters:


Is football the only major sport where increased analytics makes it a more enjoyable product to watch? Baseball and basketball are less enjoyable to watch based the increased use of numbers; fewer hits, more strikeouts, more shooting, etc. Football gets more going for it on fourth down, more two-point plays, and going for the win vs. playing for overtime.

I don’t agree with you about basketball. I like watching players nail shots from the parking lot. Makes me feel alive. I rooted against the Warriors late in their run, but I know now that was fucking stupid because they were a blast to watch and I couldn’t be happier they’ve returned to form this year. I hated watching James Harden and Trae Young go boneless on every three so they could get a cheap foul, but as we’ve said here before, that was a problem with rules—or more accurately, their enforcement—and not with the underlying strategy. The NBA tightened that shit up good before this season, so already my yelling at clouds has gone down a sharp 52 percent.

Too often, people of all ages ascribe aesthetic problems in a sport to “analytics,” which is both ignorant and convenient. Analytics hasn’t ruined baseball either, and you fly awful close to Joe Morgan territory when you complain that teams are too invested in hitting home runs. They’re home runs, man. The whole reason I watch baseball is to see some big burly dude belt the fuck out of the ball and into the stands. And strikeouts have their own drama, particularly if you’re cheering for the guy on the mound. If you find baseball less enjoyable than before, it’s because—as Roth has pointed out many, many times—there’s a significant percentage of MLB owners who don’t want to field competitive teams. That’s far more detrimental to your viewing experience than if a team is over-reliant on WAR or still fills out lineups based on what a druid parchment from 1306 told them. And if you hate the infield shift, well so does MLB, and they’ll probably ban it in short order to soothe all aggrieved parties.

As for football, I am 1000 percent certain that analytics has made the NFL more entertaining. Here we have a perfect situation where the smart thing to do ALSO happens to be the coolest. It’s been agony watching NFL coaches fail to realize this for the first century of the sport’s existence, but now they’re smarter and going for it on fourth down more than at any time in history, and the result is a football game where I shit my pants, on average, three times more often than I have in years past. And that’s why you watch sports: to shit your pants. If the NFL isn’t the only sport improved by “the math,” it’s certainly the largest beneficiary of it. But in general, the math makes everything better.


With the hilarious disaster of Urban Meyer in the rearview, can we put him on the list of worst NFL coaches of all time? Who deserves to be in the top five? Guys who gave the locker room MRSA? Guys who drafted Tebow?

Urban Meyer is the worst NFL coach of my lifetime. And I lived through Rich Kotite, mind you. Rich Kotite took the Eagles to the playoffs. More importantly, he tried. It’s very rare to find a lazy head coach in the NFL, because NFL coaches are deranged workaholics who would rather sleep on a cot in the office than teach their kids to ride a fucking bike. But Urban was a special breed: a guy who thought all the work he had done in college was sufficient enough to make him a success. This was one lazy prick, uncommonly so for a guy who allegedly worked himself nearly to death on multiple occasions. Turns out that if you want Urban to really bust his ass, you have to find a dog for him to punch.

I’ve never seen an NFL coach fail so quickly, and so thoroughly, and with no excuses of any sort. He had one of the most coveted draft picks in years at quarterback and did NOTHING with him, and in fact may have already ruined him. Everyone remembers Bobby Petrino ghosting on the Falcons after 13 weeks, but you gotta also remember that his first year came in the immediate wake of Michael Vick going to jail for dogfighting. Petrino’s leading passer in 2007? Joey Harrington. I’m not making excuses for Petrino here. He was and is a true pile of shit, but when we’re dealing with the worst NFL coaches of all time, you gotta look really hard into what they did to give their respective teams that extra losing edge. So lemme go through the five head coaches in my lifetime who really gave it their none, and then add a few more:

    • Urban.
    • Petrino.
    • Marty Mornhinweg. He’s infamous for taking the wind in overtime, but even better was the time he got angry at Lions players in practice, cut the practice short, and then rode off on his Harley, presumably while blasting George Thorogood from the facility speakers. You know he thought he was a total badass for doing this. He finished with a career record of 5-27.
    • Steve Spurrier. I have no idea why ex-Florida coaches have a penchant for sloth, but Spurrier was not only the laziest NFL head coach of my lifetime, he made a point of it. He openly made fun of other NFL coaches working hard, and bragged to John Madden that he could just draw up plays on the fly and have it work. He never bothered trying to find a quarterback. I don’t think he watched a second of tape. When Dan Snyder fired Spurrier, it was on the phone while Spurrier was out golfing. He didn’t give a shit at all. As the kids say, that is king shit. Especially since Snyder was the one who got fucked by him.
    • Joe Judge. You can accuse me of recency bias, but I swear I’ve never seen a season with a greater number of embarrassing teams than this one, and the Giants were the most embarrassing one of the lot. Just like they did in Jim Fassel’s last season, the Giants mailed it in not just for one game or two at the end, but for the entire second half of the schedule. And Fassel won an NFC title in 2000, so at least he had something positive on his resume to balance out the failure. What the fuck does Joe Judge have? He was an unaccomplished gasbag who walked into Giants headquarters like he had personally led the attack at fucking Midway. An absolute fraud from the beginning. You gotta work hard to earn the title of Worst Pats Assistant To Get A Head Coaching Job, but my man did it. AND THEY DIDN’T FIRE HIM. HE’S STILL THERE. HOLY GOD.
    • Matt Patricia. Also a fucking embarrassment. I can think of head coaches who produced similarly unattractive records: Scott Linehan, Todd Haley, Adam Gase, Ray Handley, Marc Trestman, Cam Cameron, etc. But it’s the guys who add an ample portion of unearned tyranny to their losing efforts that stand out in my mind. With guys like Patricia and Judge, you need like a decade to fully recover after they’ve left.
    • Mike Ditka. Lazy AND authoritarian! A perfect storm of asshole. If 1985 Mike Ditka were coaching in the league right now, he’d lose 15 games a year, every year.
    • David Shula. He wasn’t even the good Shula kid. He was the other one.


Stopped for lunch at Burger King today and noticed they have a lot of burgers on their menu with no cheese. Are there are enough people out there who prefer no cheese on their burgers so that BK offers it as a menu item instead of automatically adding cheese and making the lactose intolerant ask for no cheese? Why would anyone order a burger with no cheese unless they are lactose intolerant? Especially a crappy fast food burger. This is making me as uncomfortable as the time I realized there are people out there who wipe standing up. 

That was me. For decades, I would only order a hamburger. Never any cheese on it. I was freaked out by orange cheese as a child and that phobia stuck with me throughout a large portion of my burger-eating career. That phobia eventually abated and then, sometime in my 30s I switched to cheeseburgers and never looked back. But I understand people who still don’t want any: dieters, the lactose intolerant, Spencer Hall, etc. I’ve been there, so you have my sympathies.

The real issue here is why Ben went to Burger King voluntarily. The only time I went to a Burger King was when I was stuck in one of LAX’s worst terminals one morning and no other breakfast spots were open. My breakfast there was exactly as lousy as you think it was. I walk into a Burger King, I expect COVID on a bun.


If scabs never healed and just remained scabs, how would this impact society as a whole? Would we become incredibly protective of children and, as we age, ourselves? Or would we normalize fully scabbed old people? Would remaining scab-free be a sign of privilege? For context, I'm a 41-year-old man who picked his first scab in a solid decade.

In a decade? You’re a lying liar, Nick. I hereby revoke your scab card. If you’re not gonna pick your scabs, what are you REALLY doing with your life? I picked my scabs after brain surgery. My wife was like, “Cut that out! Your brain will pop back out of your head if you do that!” but I didn’t give a shit. I was at home and unable to work, exercise, drive, drink alcohol, or even play with my kids. You’d pick brain scabs too if you had been as bored as I was.

To that end, if scabs never healed, everyone would die at age 26. Your skin needs to finish the process of regeneration to keep you alive and healthy. If it never fully healed, then every ding you ever took would become a constant source of pain, potential bleeding, and infection. That’s true even if you have Nick’s supposed scab discipline. Ever get a scab on a knuckle? That shit cracks open the SECOND you try to jerk off. We’ve all been there, amirite? No?


I could simply lived a blissfully stupid life as an independent or moderate Democrat. Now every morning I wake up and get angrier and angrier at the news and bleakness of the world around us. This certainly isn't helped by the fact that I am a resident physician who works 70 hours a week in the midst of a seemingly never-ending pandemic that is being prolonged by people who think that vaccines are bad because Trump said so. Anyway, what is the most overrated fruit? I say watermelon. 

How dare you impugn watermelon. This is a pro-watermelon column, sir. The worst thing a watermelon can be is disappointing. But overrated? Never. Now it is I who find the world impossibly bleak.

Anyway, you want overrated fruits? Fine, here are two: blackberries and oranges. Blackberries are never sweet enough and the seeds stay in your teeth for a thousand years. Meanwhile, I love a top-notch orange. You know how often I encounter one? Once a decade. And orange juice, while often tasty, is just a recipe for canker sores.



I have a weird relationship with alcohol and would appreciate your thoughts. I know my attitude toward alcohol is irregular if not unhealthy. Drink is often a carrot in my mind, and I often envision a day leading to when I can have my first. I rarely get drunk, but I drink alone, in secret while cooking dinner for my family. On weekends I don't touch alcohol, I feel like I've achieved something truly special. And all of this happens in private, I've never articulated this stuff to anyone. What am I to do, if anything? I'm good at my job, husbanding, parenting. I've yet to make an ass out of myself due to alcohol. But I know, to some extent, alcohol is my boss rather than the other way around, and I have rodent like behaviour when it comes to drinking and hiding it.

In general, if you think you have a problem, then you have a problem. Then again, what you’re outlining to me doesn’t sound like an enormous crisis. You rarely get drunk. You can hold your mud and you never embarrass yourself. You’re a good husband and parent. And you look forward to having a drink at the end of the day, like millions, maybe billions, of other people do. I don’t wanna downplay it, because alcohol problems—as well as alcoholism itself—come in many different forms. But you strike me as having a fairly normal drinking habit.

The only question is why you hide it. I used to drink on the sly without anyone looking, but that was in addition to all the OPEN binge drinking I did. A quick swig right from a Tito’s bottle was my little bonus drinking, because I was in love with booze and would sneak in a rendezvous with it anytime I could. That was one of many signs that I drank too much.

In your case, it would appear to be the only sign. But it’s bothering you enough to write to someone about it, so I’m gonna suggest two options. One: Stop drinking and see if you’re happier without the angst than you were with the booze. Or two: Stop hiding it. Make your drinking more normal. Unless there’s some sort of personal reason you can’t drink out in the open—your religion, a disapproving family, you work for Mitt Romney, etc.—crack a beer in front of everyone and see if your drinking life and your regular life can peacefully coexist.


It seems like every celebrity is either shilling for crypto or online sports betting. While I understand that being disappointed in a famous person for trying to make more money is a fool's errand, which of the two is more of a bummer to see a celebrity that you like to sell out to?

Neither. They’re celebrities. I expect them to sell out. I expect everyone to sell out. This isn’t 1981. I can’t yell at Ben Affleck for starring in an online sports book ad and be like WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU MAN YOU USED TO BE A TRUE PUNK! Famous people are dumb, and they always need money.

Especially musicians who get fucked by record labels, Spotify, and their managers in equal measure. I remember James Mercer of The Shins got shit for letting McDonald’s use “New Slang” in an ad, and he defended it by saying, “It’s like, come on, we grew up on Froot Loops just like you did! Shut up!” These people don’t exist in a magical brand vacuum. They’re consumers, too. And again, they need money. Mercer would later go on to say he regretted the McDonald’s deal, but your average famous person isn’t gonna feel likewise, and they’re not gonna get chided by the masses when everyone with a modicum of online clout is begging to have a brand give them a quick $1,000 to slap a shitty hashtag into every caption. Brands are now embedded in everyday living, just as they’d been planning all along. Diabolical.

So if you’ve got a problem with selling out, you can’t really train your ire on just ONE person who’s doing the selling out. Your real beef is with an economy that all but mandates selling out if you wanna earn a good living, with a culture that doesn’t complain when Bob Saget’s death turns out to be a hoax to advertise AFV becoming available on Disney Plus, and with shit like NFTs that are fads or scams poorly disguised as innovation. That last point is the reason why I’m always more amused than pissy when a famous person starts shilling for Nü Flooz:

Your average star gets into this shit either because their agents were like, “It would be good for your brand to get you into this space,” or because they got stoned to infinity and NFTs sounded SUPER intense to them. Or because one company paid Matt Damon legit millions to appear in every other ad break during an NFL telecast. None of that is disappointing. All of it is hilariously predictable. The stupid flows like water out of a burst dam. It gets everywhere.


Would your trade Trump winning in 2024, and all that comes with that, to return the climate to pre-industrial levels and have it stay that way?

Do they stay that way just by magic? Like I can still drive my car and use plastic and all that shit? Then yes. Otherwise, no. I prize comfort.


Like a lot of families, we buy disposable masks in large packs. We have teens. They tend to use a mask once and leave it wherever. Then they take a new one when they need it. As a Dad proud in my thriftiness, I end up using masks my teens have used before me, as long as they appear to be clean (free of dried snot). This is normal Dad behavior, right? 

It is on my end. I’ll wear any family mask hanging around, so long as I see no visible blood stains on it. We used to have cloth masks, so I would use “my” mask because it was the only blue one. That’s how I knew it was mine. But now we use the primo KN95 shit, and all of those masks look exactly the same. Only way I could tell mine is mine is if I wrote my name on it, and I ain’t walking into the Giant with DREW scrawled across my face like I don’t know who I am. I just grab any clean, loose mask in the bin next to the door and then sally forth. If it turns out one of my kids has COVID, well, look, I was probably gonna get it one way or another. I’m so sick of this pandemic now that if you offered me a COVID-laced taco—from Burger King, naturally—I’d probably eat it. Let’s just get this over with. Rona me up, taco.


A friend of mine was eating a Popeye’s Chicken meal that came with a medium-size soda. He finished all of his food first before touching the drink and that’s what he does for all his meals. What is the worldwide common way to have a drink with one’s meal: drink it while eating, or wait until you finish every food item?

The former. The only exception for me is if I’m eating a burger, because I don’t wanna put my burger down to deal with the cup. I need both hands on deck for a burger. I need to keep it in my iron grip until it’s finished. God, I really want a burger now. You people need to stop asking me burger questions.

I do know people who won’t drink anything during any meal and will save their Diet Coke or whatever for the end, like it’s a dessert. I’m less appalled by this than I am baffled. Don’t you motherfuckers get thirsty when you’re eating? I get thirsty eating my burger, but that only takes four seconds. I’m not gonna eat a full steak dinner without touching a glass. My throat would turn to sawdust.


Would you like to have your consciousness uploaded to a robot if you had the chance?

Yes. I don’t fear death anymore, but that doesn’t mean I no longer possess survival instincts. If you told me I could keep on going in a sexy android body, I’d be game. We may as well get to The Singularity right now, because the meatbag form of human is already fucking and pissing and shitting the planet into oblivion. Much safer for the world to upload our brains into Terminator endoskeletons and live off of sulfur bars.

And if being part-man/part-machine freaks you out, calm down. I have a robot ear and it doesn’t whisper to me that I should kill everyone. I’m still me. Also, I read the big profile of Dr. Peter Scott-Morgan earlier this week. Scott-Morgan has advanced ALS and has had many elective, dangerous surgeries to automate parts of his body before they failed. He also designed an avatar of his face that he “wears” on his chest, and had a computerized model of his speaking voice engineered before getting his voice box voluntarily removed. He’s a “cyborg,” but not in the Jean-Claude Van Damme sense. He’s just, on a much larger scale than me, using whatever technology is available to him to improve his quality of life. Here’s the money quote from that profile:

“Cyborg is just a fancy word for part-human, part-machine. Contrary to the torturous scare stories about how it feels to be trapped in your own living corpse, the brain moves on. It grieves a bit, and then, if you give it a chance, most of the time, it forgets. Days pass when I never once remember that I could walk, move, or absurdly, even that I could talk in the past.”

He’s right. The brain moves on, perhaps one day to another home entirely.

Email of the week!


One day my Uncle Dan called me and said "Come over, we gotta roof the back house." So I headed over and spent the day shoveling old shingles off the roof and picking them up, then running supplies up to Uncle Dan as we re-papered and re-shingled the roof. So we got near the end of the day, and Uncle Dan is running his shingle pattern and we are just slinging right-ass along. You know you're cooking when you hear the hammer going tap-POP tap-POP tap-POP like a metronome. The tap is setting the nail, the pop is driving that sumbitch home in one smooth shot.

I'd backed up the truck with the pallet of shingles near the front entry of the house, then put the ladder right next to the walkway to the front door so I could shoot down the ladder, grab a pack of shingles, and scamper my ass back up. I had to book it to keep from hearing "NEED MORE DAMN SHINGLES HERE!"

So on one circuit I half slid down the ladder, grabbed two packs of shingles (this kinda fun was why I was a strapping young lad), hugged them to my chest and headed up. My eyes were too big for my balance this time though, because with two packs, I got to the top of the ladder and had to lean out a little too far to throw them on the roof and truck them to Uncle Dan.

I swung around the top of the ladder and it slowly leaned away from the roof. Gravity grabbed my ass and down I went. I managed to kinda flatten out and land on my back, and fortunately my top half hit the grass and only the bottom half hit the concrete walkway or I'd probably been done for right there. Then those two goddamn packs of shingles landed WHOMP!, right across my chest.

So I'm lying there, pretty dazed, and I see something coming at me pretty fast. It's that ladder. It tipped after me and was following me right down. At the last second I thrust a foot up and managed to deflect the ladder to the side, so at least I avoided that.

Uncle Dan's head stuck out over the roof edge. He looked down at me and said "Well, did you hurt my ladder!?!"

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