There’s Nothing The NFL Cannot Bear
2:41 PM EST on January 5, 2023
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. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, through here.
They kept telling me that football wasn’t important anymore. I watched Damar Hamlin collapse on the field in Cincinnati on Monday night, and then I sat there as ESPN went to commercial break after commercial break, where I learned far more about The Rookie crossover television event than I ever needed to know. In the spare moments where ABC/ESPN wasn’t using up its surprisingly exhaustible supply of network promo content, I was treated to a choked up Joe Buck telling me the game was of secondary concern in the wake of Hamlin’s injury, while an equally bereft Troy Aikman offered the usual “this really puts things in perspective” platitudes that, for one time only, he actually seemed to mean.
While Buck and Aikman waited patiently for sideline reporter Lisa Salters to unearth any intel on Hamlin’s condition that she could find—and Lord knows she did her best—they periodically threw it back to the studio, where a devastated Suzy Kolber reminded me that all that mattered right now was the health of Damar Hamlin. Football could wait, maybe forever if need be. A visibly devastated Booger McFarland told me the same thing, offering touching reminders that NFL players are human, and that the dangers they face are all too real. This wasn’t about the game anymore, Booger noted. This was life and death. All of Booger's words, and those of his colleagues, were appropriate. The right thing to say when nothing else could be said.
And then I heard from Adam Schefter.
Schefter, as you might know, is the most well-connected man in football. He’s a “reporter,” or at least he used to be one. But right now, he’s merely the NFL’s foremost sock puppet. In another universe, Schefter might have looked at his contact list and gotten useful information about Hamlin for me and the rest of the audience watching at home. It will not shock you to learn that Schefter neglected to perform this task, choosing instead to remind everyone that this situation was “unprecedented,” that an ambulance had never been driven out onto an NFL field (this was so untrue as to be comical; I can think of at least two others just from this season), and telling me, with as straight a face as he could muster, that football wasn’t what mattered.
And that’s when I knew that, for every beautiful sentiment expressed on TV that night, and for every thought and prayer uttered for Hamlin thereafter, that nothing would change in the aftermath of this.
No matter the extent of Hamlin's recovery, it won’t matter. Once Roger Goodell said that Week 18 was a go, and once every NFL team swapped in a commemorative “Get better, Damar!” avatar for their Twitter accounts, I knew that we were entering the end of the league’s reckoning for this injury, and not the beginning of it. Write every op-ed you like telling me that the brutality was laid bare, and that the NFL can’t hide from this. It’ll be wrong. I know that the NFL treats its problems as things to be endured rather than solved, and I know that it’s a strategy that has yet to fail it. In that way, Hamlin’s stilled heart was no different from Ray Rice knocking his wife out in an elevator, or Tom Brady deflating a football, or revelations that the league suppressed evidence of brain damage in former players. To Roger Goodell and his bosses, all of it is dirty laundry to shove into a nearby closet and then walk away from.
Given that fact, I already know where this is headed. Everyone will continue mourning, while keeping an eye on those who are not mourning quite enough. If Hamlin recovers, he will get his own A Football Life episode, plus a nice pregame ceremony before a Bills home game in 2023. He’ll be wedged into a comeback narrative that every victim of this sport is inevitably jammed into, and the games will continue until morale improves. None of it will be different from what you’ve seen before, because none of it has to be.
So don’t tell me that football isn’t important when I know that sentiment comes with an expiration date. If it weren't important, then tens of millions of people wouldn’t have been watching a man nearly die. If it weren't important, then the entire television industry wouldn’t be dependent upon it for survival. If it weren't important, then every last person who admirably expressed compassion over the airwaves this week would be out of work. And if it weren't important, you wouldn’t even know who Damar Hamlin was to begin with. I get to decide if this sport matters to me or not, and I have to make all of the moral compromises necessary to live with that decision. You don’t have to or get to tell me how to feel about that decision. I already know how I feel. Everyone does.
I’ve seen this game destroy men on the spot: Dennis Byrd, Mike Utley, Reggie Brown, Ryan Shazier. I’ve also seen it destroy other men more slowly, but certainly no less viciously. In every single case, there was a requisite We Care A Lot period—with vigils, or rearranged game schedules, or jersey patches; with somber broadcasters and generous charity donations—before everything went back to normal for both the NFL and for the people in its orbit, myself included. If Hamlin’s case scans as different from all those previous circumstances, it’ll be for only a distressingly brief moment. Roger Goodell secured his job for life after successfully staging an entire NFL season in the pre-vaccine phase of the COVID pandemic, so he knows exactly how to keep the infrastructure of football in place and keep his bosses prosperous, regardless of circumstance. He spends every crisis carefully gauging the appropriate amount of time for football not to matter, and then he makes certain that everyone is back on the field, and on the couch, for the following Sunday, and for every Sunday beyond. That's how important football is, and how important it will remain.
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Titans at Jaguars: The Titans and Jaguars heard all of your Thursday Night Football jokes and decided they’d had enough. Now they’re playing the most important game of the coming weekend, and who’s laughing now? Huh?!
OK it’s still pretty funny but cut that out.
Lions at Packers
Giants at Eagles
Patriots at Bills: They won’t finish off that Bills-Bengals game. Ratto laid out the existential reasons for this, but also it’s such a logistical pain in the ass for the league that they’ll eat the revenue and say, “We’ve decided not to resume the game, because our focus is on Damar right now.” The only reason they haven’t officially voided the game already is so they can sound genuine when they tell you they’re focused on Damar right now. Once the smoke is clear enough, they’ll wipe it from the standings because by gosh, it was just the right thing to do. Then the Chiefs will beat the Bills in the playoffs at Arrowhead and the take factory will have an entire offseason to play with it.
Ravens at Bengals
Cardinals at Niners: They gave Kirk Herbstreit the fabled coach’s clicker for the CFP and I loved it. I never appreciated the coach’s clicker back in my early days. To me, it was just a chance for John Madden to mash some buttons while he was cavorting about the booth. Turns out you can actually LEARN shit from the clicker if you pay attention. And it only takes half a second! Beats all the film study I had to do back when I played in college.
Jets at Dolphins
Browns at Steelers
Chiefs at Raiders: Yes the Raiders blew yet another wild game, and yes Josh McDaniels is a fucking joke, and yes Derek Carr is about to enter the Late-Stage Andy Dalton phase of career … but look at this fucking catch from Davante Adams:
And look at THIS fucking catch from division rival Mike Williams!
This has been a brutal NFL season in so many ways. Teams have run through 78,000 starting quarterbacks. Every 1 p.m. slate has felt like a prison sentence. Interim coaches are getting hired via charity auction. The hottest team in the NFC is starting a clear-cut Guy at QB. Everyone is making fun of my team. And Tom Brady refuses to fuck off. But the catches? The catches have been MAGNIFICENT. I don’t care if these wideouts use stickum or not. As far as I’m concerned, we should give them even more stickum. Let them dunk their hands into a giant barrel of molasses before every down. I don’t care. These catches have been so good, I’m willing to forgive all the rest.
Vikings at Bears
Rams at Seahawks
Chargers at Broncos
Cowboys at Commanders
Bucs at Falcons: I spent Christmas week in Paris with my wife and kids, making up for lost time that the pandemic cruelly wrested from us three years ago. I’ll write about that trip somewhere down the line, because I can never help myself. But for the moment, I just want to focus on the steak tartare.
We arrived in Paris on Christmas morning and stumbled into a random bistro (which naturally turned out to be incredible) for our first dinner. I saw the tartare on the menu and didn’t hesitate for a second. This is shit they only offer at asshole steakhouses here in the States, but in Paris it’s as common and affordable an appetizer as onion soup. Mine arrived and I beheld it as if it were baby Jesus himself: an Olympian disc of perfectly chopped raw beef, topped with a raw egg for extra manliness. I mixed that egg into the beef, scooped it all up with some torn pieces of French bread, and was as happy as I’d ever been.
Until I saw my 16-year-old looking at me. She’s a vegetarian, which has never been an issue for either of us. But the sight of me eating raw beef was a bridge too far. She was DISGUSTED. So I had to shovel that tartare into my body as fast as I could to mitigate the discomfort. And now I have to plan a trip back to Paris on my own, specifically so that I can eat this tartare again away from prying eyes. I’m willing. That’s how fucking good steak tartare is. Four stars.
Also Paris itself is pretty good.
Texans at Colts
Panthers at Saints
Pregame Song That Makes Me Wanna Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall
“Sports,” by Viagra Boys, which has never made it into this column until now. Better late than never. Here’s reader Tony with a brief but delightful explainer:
I saw them not long before quarantine and the singer, who looks like a man that got pregnant, drank no fewer than three beers he snatched from the crowd. Would see again A++.
It’s always fun to see guys who are inked out like true punk stars but have dadbods that make me look like a fucking Adonis by comparison. Anyway, this is not the greatest song I’ve ever heard, but who can resist this video? It really makes me want some sports!
Great Moments In Poop History
Reader Kevin sends in this story I call AT-TAC OF THE CLUMPS:
The Steely Dan Fart story reminded me of a story I've never shared publicly, but recently my wife became aware of it at a high school friend's wedding, so here we are. I'm 36 years old. High school was a while ago and I met my wife as an adult, away from where I grew up. So it's a novelty for her to meet my high school friends and hear stories.
We're at a high school friend’s wedding and some kids that were in junior high when I was a senior approach my wife and me. One of them excitedly, but with a little reluctance in the presence of my wife, asks, "so is the TAC story true? Did you really..."
I look at my wife, who wouldn't be surprised if I was a drug mule in high school to win a dare, and I reply to the guy, "Yes, I shit on the field." My wife immediately looks at me with the "what the hell is wrong with you" face and they're all doing the "WOAH" thing so I proceed to tell her this story:
Our high school football team did summer conditioning called TAC (The Athletes Course). It was brutal, as it should be, and ended every year with a contest of who could run the 40 in under six seconds, turn around and back to the line in 15 seconds, then run another 40 in under six seconds. You repeated until you didn't make the 40 in under six seconds and were kicked out of the lineup. The goal was to make it to fifty 40 yard dashes, but then whoever was still standing would keep going until only one person was left standing. Often literally.
My senior year we're in the throes of this Sisyphean display and down to about five people, pushing around 75 reps. I'm a drooling robot at this point, losing control of every bodily function except for the hard wiring from my brain to my legs. I don't remember what exactly went through my head, but I do remember what happened.
I was in the middle of the 40 yard sprint and, toward the end of it, started to pull down my shorts. As I crossed the line, I squatted, pooped on the field, then pulled my shorts and started running the next 40 within the 15-second turnaround and made it to the finish line in under six seconds.
Now, keep in mind, everybody is either running or in a daze, so nobody actually says or does anything when this happens. Eventually, we finish the sprints and I just collapse on the field, utterly exhausted. Several minutes go by and eventually two of my teammates walk up while I'm lying on my back and ask me, "Did you take a shit on the field?"
Still reeling in pain, I exhale, "Yeah I did."
They look at each other, look over toward a group of my teammates, and yell back, "Yeah he shit on the field!"
To wrap this up, eventually all the coaches and a bunch of people at the school found out. My head coach, Brian Sipe (LRSG's, the old QB of the Browns), rightfully laid into us when we were losing at halftime to a worse team and used, "Simo shit on the field!" as part of his rally cry for us to work harder.
To this day, people far younger than me that are associated with our high school football program know me mythically as the guy that ran so hard in conditioning that I shit on the field and kept going.
Honestly, I’d move you to the top of my draft board if you ever did this at the combine.
Which Idiot GM Is This?
You know your team is in good hands when the man in charge of the roster is a professionally sweaty guy who MEANS BUSINESS. Which team does the man below hold in his meaty paws?
OOOOH who’s that smooth-lookin’ fella? Why, that’s the widely un-respected Martin Mayhew of the Commanders! Was Mayhew in charge of bringing Carson Wentz to D.C.? No. Will he be the one to decide if Ron Rivera stays or goes? No. Will the Commanders force Poor Mayhew to stand in front of a camera this offseason to defend Dan Snyder’s record of kidnapping migrant babies and roasting them in his backyard pizza oven? Perhaps. That’s usually Jason Wright’s job, but consider Mayhew a valuable backup chump for this colostomy bag of an organization.
Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week
Bootie Light! Sadly, Bootie Light has been discontinued. But let reader Trace pour one out for this lost treasure:
I believe they have now gone out of business, but this is one of my all-time favorite beers based simply on marketing. The company is called Bootie Beer. The motto is, "America's Entertainment Beer." If you look closely, you can see on the side of the can it reads, "Grabebootie." Very classy.
Would it shock you to learn that Bootie Light was made in Florida? Reader, I don’t think anything about Bootie Light would shock you. Certainly not these reviews from BeerAdvocate!
I had a friend who actually enjoyed Bootie Lager, and I bought a single bottle of this Lite for the specific purpose of a review (and it was only a buck). A clearish, water yellow came out of the bottle with some soda-like carbonated head that died quickly. A weak smell of grain husk greets the nose, and the same bland adjunct-filled feeling from the smell greeted my tonge. Not medicinal or sour, but just horribly slick and watery as it passes over the tongue with no real feeling. There are plenty of other light beers you can buy before this crap.
Well now I can’t buy it at all, and more’s the pity for it. I can’t believe I never encountered Bootie Light back in my drinking years. You better goddamn believe that it would have been MY entertainment beer. I would have drank it while wearing a g-string and clear stiletto heels, with three stray dollar bills hanging out of my asscrack. What a time it would have been.
Gameday Movie Of The Week For Colts Fans
Confess, Fletch, which I saw on an airplane on New Year’s Eve. You won’t find a better airplane movie. Will I be quoting this Fletch 38 years from now, like I do the original? No, but that would have been a lot to ask. I’ll gladly settle for a breezy 90 minutes of Fletch (played by Jon Hamm this time around) casually bedding Italian women, firing off one-liners, getting cursed out by John Slattery, and finding himself once again as the seemingly ideal man to frame for murder. I swear I don’t mean this as an insult, but you could make the Jon Hamm Fletch a TV show on USA and I’d watch it. I’m a guy who watched Monk back in the day, so I’m not afraid of good disposable entertainment.
Also, it includes a shoutout to my prep school alma mater, Exeter. The school is portrayed in the film as an incubator for rich assholes who own boats, but I’ll have the producers of this movie know that they have it all wrong. I don’t even OWN a boat. How dare you people.
Gratuitous Simpsons Quote
“And this proposed expressway will bring increased commerce to our local merchants.”
“What's in it for us?”
“Yeah, give us something we like or we'll ride you out of town on a rail!”
“Well, uh, what do you people like?”
“Sexy dames, and plenty of 'em.”
Enjoy the games as best you can, everyone.