On the same day I saw my favorite sports movie in years (Rush), I was flipping channels and realized the greatest basketball movie ever (Hoosiers) was going head-to-head against the greatest football movie ever (The Longest Yard). I have seen these movies so many times that, with no exaggeration, I could stumble upon either and know instantly where we are in each movie. I ended up watching Yard because Paul Crewe had just fake-limped off the field in the climactic game against the guards. I knew every beat and line that was coming. It didn’t matter.
I never thought you’d sell us out.
Hey, Pop, the time you hit Hazen in the mouth, was it worth 30 years?
Did you hear about my touchdown?
We’ve come too far to stop now. For Nate, for Granny … for Caretaker.
Game … ball.
Stick this in your trophy case.
I can’t even remember life without Paul Crewe. The Longest Yard came out in 1974, nearly four full decades ago, going down as our first great “modern” sports movie. The complicated football scenes still hold up. So does Burt Reynolds’s charismatic performance as Crewe — to this day, there’s never been a more believable movie quarterback. It’s just a classic. Dated as hell, but a classic. (Someday, I will forgive Adam Sandler for trying to remake it. Just no time soon.) And it spawned a formula that worked for the next 30 years, in all shapes and forms, before finally burning itself out last decade. How many times could we watch a ragtag collection of underdogs, a flawed but likable hero, impossible odds, a climactic game, a big comeback, at least one chill scene, and a slightly implausible but undeniably lovable ending? Good luck unearthing an idea that (a) hasn’t been done yet, and (b) isn’t totally derivative of another sports movie.
For instance, a movie about crazed Little League parents would work … but the Bad News Bears shadow would linger over it. How would you make it different from Bears? And what if you don’t find the right child actors? Twenty minutes into the meeting, you’d talk yourself out of it … or even worse, someone would say, “Screw it, why don’t we just buy the rights to Bears and remake it?” And that’s how you end up with this steaming turd.
In recent years, Hollywood shied away from relying on old-school sports movies for that reason, but also because they sell only domestically. That turns them off. (Note: I covered that subtle shift in priorities in a 2010 piece about The Fighter, which struggled to find financing despite two A-listers being involved.) If you make a sports flick these days, you have to keep your budget under $25 million to $30 million, you probably can’t afford to hire more than one recognizable name, and you have to accept that your best-case scenario is a double off the wall. That’s a problem because, in the movie business right now, everyone steps up to the plate swinging like Chris Davis. That’s why we see so many superhero movies and lavish 3-D movies. Nobody wants to hit singles and doubles. Home run or bust.
So sports-movie buffs have been treated to a slew of singles and doubles, with the exception of 2008’s Sugar, a home run that barely anyone saw. Goon, Win Win and The Damned United never wanted to be anything other than quirky, lovable, well-done independent movies. (Mission accomplished.) Warrior launched the careers of Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy while grabbing that “Best MMA Movie” torch. 42 smacked a triple financially even if it popped out creatively. (That Spike Lee never made Jackie’s story remains a shame.) The Fighter and The Wrestler crossed into the mainstream, elicited some genuinely powerful performances and landed a few Oscar nominations (with Melissa Leo even winning). And Moneyball did a masterful job of promoting itself, building a quality cast around Brad Pitt and letting him do Brad Pitt things … even as it bastardized the facts.
You know what every one of those movies had in common? You didn’t have to see them in the theater. You could wait for their first pay-per-view/iTunes/Netflix/Blu-ray/HBO appearance, a phenomenon that took hold in the late-2000s and remains a bigger threat to sports movies than anything else. If people don’t need to leave their houses to see sports movies, and you’re not making money with them overseas, then why make them at all?
Also not helping: The golden age of documentaries, which assumed all shapes and sizes, lured scores of talented filmmakers, yielded the incomparable Senna (one of the greatest sports documentaries ever) and became something of a sports-movie placebo. People rewatch these things multiple times. It’s amazing. We (ESPN) never expected to launch a second round of 30 for 30, but at some point it became foolish NOT to do it. We loved making them. They rated every time we reran one. People asked us constantly, When are they coming back? So why not? Between 30 for 30, Nine for IX, SEC Storied and other ESPN Films projects we’ve aired, the ESPN family of channels will produce more than 100 sports documentaries in a six-year span from 2009 to 2014.
And it’s not just us. HBO still churns out quality docs (most recently Glickman) and broke ground with Hard Knocks and its superb 24/7 series. (Do we really need to create an all-about-the-excess, polarizing, complicated, unbeatable fictional boxer when we already have Floyd Mayweather?) The NFL Network and NFL Films keep cranking out consistently good work: I love America’s Game and A Football Life. NBA Entertainment produced Once Brothers and The Announcement for ESPN and made enjoyable films about the Dream Team and Julius Erving for NBA TV. Showtime copied 24/7 with All Access (I enjoyed the Floyd/Canelo episodes) and recently premiered an insightful film about Lawrence Taylor’s life. And I’m sure NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports Zero Point One will be throwing their hats in the ring soon. Same for out-of-the-box brands like Netflix and Microsoft.
In 2013, everyone wants sports content. And everyone has come to the same realization: It’s easier and safer to make documentaries and reality shows than scripted sports movies. At ESPN Films, we spitball possible 30 for 30 topics all the time, wondering if they’d make for better shorts, one-hours or something bigger. I can’t remember the last time we said, “That story makes more sense as a fictional sports movie.” In the old days, Disney would have bought the rights to the Jim Valvano/Wolfpack story and turned it into a forgettable “based on a true story” movie starring Keanu Reeves as Jimmy V. In 2013, it’s smarter to give that concept to an accomplished filmmaker like Jon Hock and make the real Jimmy V its star. If you were running ESPN, wouldn’t you devote your film resources to dozens of documentaries every year over funding ONE sports movie that — best-case scenario — might become a double off the wall?1
To be fair, I wish we made dozens of documentaries AND two or three sports movies every year.
Which brings us to Rush. When I first heard about Ron Howard’s new movie, I thought Rush sounded like one of those vanity projects that famous directors make when they’ve succeeded for too long without anyone ever telling them no. He wasn’t a big Formula One fan but became obsessed with the story? He hired the dude from The Queen to write it? He struggled to get the thing funded? Oh boy … get the Razzies Committee ready. Besides, Hollywood already tackled the Formula One thing with the brilliant Senna. How are we topping that one? By making a “based on a true story” movie about two anonymous-in-America dudes from the 1970s, one of whom is being played by a freaking Hemsworth brother? Come on.
Even after someone I trusted told me, “It’s Howard’s best movie. You, more than anyone, will love it — you have to see it,” I shrugged them off. When a second trustworthy person told me the same thing? Hmmmmmm. I rolled the dice and gambled a date night on it, taking my wife to dinner and then Rush on Saturday night. We knew little about the plot. Please know that I won’t spoil the movie for you. I want you see it. But it’s terrific from the first minute — when we see the two rivals (Niki Lauda and James Hunt) staring each other down before a Formula One race in 1976, a bitter rivalry that’s slowly morphing into something else.
Are they going to try to murder each other? How far does their mutual hatred go? What’s happening here?
The opener pulls you in and keeps you there, even after Howard goes backward to explain how we arrived at that moment. It’s an exceptionally well-crafted film that hinges on two engaging performances. Chris Hemsworth (not the one who dated Miley) plays Hunt, a gregarious, hard-partying, supremely confident playboy who’s like a cross between Paul Crewe, Austin Powers and Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder. If the Hemsworths are the Australian Baldwins, then Chris just grabbed the Alec spot — he’s definitely a movie star, although it remains to be seen whether he’ll screw it up Colin Farrell–style over these next few years. It’s a juicy role and he nails it.
Daniel Brühl has a tougher challenge — he plays Niki Lauda, the not-as-handsome, not-as-magnetic, maniacally driven Austrian who forges his way into Formula One by using his brains and ingenuity.2 Hunt drives more intrepidly, but Lauda happens to be a genius with cars; he can shave seconds off his times not just by driving them, but by telling you exactly how to build their engines. But he doesn’t look like a famous driver, to the degree that one future girlfriend refuses to believe it’s his career until he starts driving their car like a maniac. Lauda envies Hunt’s charisma and resents his fearlessness, his utter refusal to accept the inherent risks in every race. In Lauda’s mind, every race brings an accompanying 20 percent risk of an accident, or maybe even death, and every driver must assess that risk and decide whether it’s worth it. Hunt doesn’t think that way — he knows his trademark audacity is the trait that makes him special, even if he pukes before every race to will himself to that point.
You might remember Brühl from Inglourious Basterds — he plays one of the Nazis. They uglied him up for this movie, giving him a prosthetic overbite and (eventually) a burned head.
In the movie, they’re destined to despise each other. In real life? They were rivals but legitimate friends, even supposedly sharing a one-bedroom flat in London in 1974 (or so Wikipedia tells us).3 For that reason and a few others (all related to accuracy), Rush has been criticized by the movie police for lacking authenticity and hiding too conveniently behind the “based on a true story” tag. And believe me, I get it — that’s why I didn’t like Moneyball as much as others, because it could have been accurate and took the lazy way out for reasons that remain unclear. Few people ultimately cared because Moneyball was a Brad Pitt movie disguised as something else. He gets to be a movie star for two hours — surrounded by other movie stars, no less. Sometimes, that’s all we want. Throw in a clever marketing plan and Moneyball became one of the most successful sports movies of the last few years.
After you see the movie, read Patricia Lee’s “Deep Dive” about it — saves you the time of Googling info about these guys and looking for YouTube clips. They’re all in one place there.
Still, Moneyball would have been an even better documentary. You didn’t need to fictionalize that story — you could have told it in the smartest, most creative way possible.4 The Hunt-Lauda story lacked that luxury: Maybe their roller coaster race for the 1976 Formula One title (the heart of the movie) could become a decent documentary centered on Lauda’s famous crash, but it wouldn’t approach Senna or anything. Dramatizing their story and turning it into a rivalry movie — now THAT was an inspired move. Your main characters bonded by mutual animosity, surrounded by death every week, fighting the same fears and demons, unable to accept losing to the other, getting into each other’s heads by insulting each other’s marriages and making fortune cookie–like proclamations such as, “A wise man can learn more from his enemies than a fool will from his friends”? What else would you want from a sports movie?
That’s what Steven Soderbergh wanted to do when he was involved with the movie — his version was a fictionalized movie crossed with a documentary. Naturally, it fell through.
And unlike with any sports film in recent memory, you have to see Rush in the theater, for all the reasons you’d think: You want to see those gorgeous cars zooming around on that 50-foot screen, you want to get lost in those winding race tracks, and you want to be surrounded by the sound of engines revving and tires squealing. You’ll be surprised by how many times you flip sides — one minute you’re rooting for Hunt, then suddenly you find yourself rooting for Lauda. The signature crash is agonizing; Lauda’s painful recovery is something else. The film never stops moving. You won’t want to go to the bathroom because you won’t want to miss anything. It’s undeniably the greatest fictional racing movie ever — are there even any other candidates? — although I’m not prepared to answer the “Rush vs. Senna” question yet. That baby needs about 10 more years to breathe.
Just know that no sports movie tapped into the concept of a two-man rivalry better than this one; usually, they go overboard and end up with Clubber Lang inadvertently murdering Mickey (and let’s face it, he DID murder Mickey). Rush lets that Lauda-Hunt relationship simmer as a feud, fester as a rivalry, then eventually balloon into something else. But that’s not my favorite thing about the film. There’s a scene after Lauda finally gets married, when he’s relaxing on his honeymoon with his wife — for once. They swim, they get sun, they make love, and finally they fall asleep. Only Lauda can’t sleep. His new bride finds him staring at the ocean from their rented suite, watching the waves and worrying about his life. She knows something’s wrong, she just doesn’t know what. So she asks him.
“Happiness is the enemy,” Lauda tells her. “It weakens you. Suddenly you have something to lose.”
It’s a remarkable moment. And it’s so goddamned true. One of the worst things that can happen to successful people is just that: becoming successful. You lose your edge, you forget why you got there, and suddenly, you’re done. Lauda knew that, as a driver living with that 20 percent risk every day, getting comfortable was the single worst thing that could happen. This isn’t a new theme for a sports movie — shit, Rocky III went so far as to use “Eye of the Tiger” as its opening song. But it has never been banged home as poignantly as this.
Last thought: I couldn’t help but think of Ron Howard during that scene. He’s probably the most successful child actor ever; it’s either him or Justin Timberlake. He’s made plenty of movies and plenty of money. He even won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind. I’m sure he had plenty of “Happiness is the enemy” moments, maybe even looked around and noticed all the other washed-up directing talents who were weakened by their own triumphs. He’s at the point in his career — 31 years since he made the wildly underrated Night Shift, gave his buddy Henry Winkler’s career a second life, turned Michael Keaton and Shelley Long into stars and started shedding his own Opie Taylor/Richie Cunningham baggage — when there’s simply no way, at age 59, that he should have directed his best movie ever. But that’s what happened here. I loved Rush if only because it reminded me of how much I love sports movies. You should see it.
Speaking of car crashes, it’s time for my Week 4 picks.
Important note before we screw up the Week 4 picks: We’re commemorating Sunday’s phenomenal TV night by doing a special Grantland Live on our very own Grantland Channel. Starting at 8 p.m. ET, we will be live-streaming on our YouTube Channel with me, Dave Jacoby, Chris Ryan and Atlanta native Rembert Browne — we’ll be recapping Week 4 in the NFL, looking forward to the Falcons-Patriots game and getting ready for the series finale of Breaking Bad. Halfway through Breaking Bad (in the 9:35-9:40 p.m. range, whenever there’s a commercial around then), we’ll be popping back on the livestream to quickly break down the show to that point (almost like a halftime show). And after Breaking Bad ends at 10:15 p.m., we’ll jump back onto the livestream to rehash what just happened.
How long will we keep it going? I have no idea. How will I remain coherent when there’s also a Patriots game happening? Again, no clue. But here’s the link to Sunday’s livestream page, and here’s the @GrantlandLive Twitter link if you want to be updated whenever we’re going live. On to Week 4 …
(Home teams in caps)
RAMS (+3.5) over 49ers
Whoops. Grantland’s Andrew Sharp raised the right question on Twitter: “Four years in, I still can’t figure out whether Sam Bradford is bad or the Rams are ruining him.” You’re right, that wasn’t technically a question. But I figured out Bradford’s problem last night: He can’t make any of those “WOW!” plays that separate All-Pros from also-rans. He can’t throw a gorgeous deep ball like Flacco. He can’t pick you apart like Brady or Manning. He doesn’t keep plays alive in traffic like Roethlisberger does. He can’t take off for first downs like Kaepernick and Wilson, or even Locker and Ponder. His body language couldn’t be more bland and uninspiring — you’d never know he was the dude in charge of 10 other dudes.
So what’s the difference between him and, say, Brian Hoyer? I honestly can’t tell. Giving him a lousy running game, mediocre receivers and a dreadful playcaller (Brian Schottenheimer, who helped destroy Mark Sanchez’s career and now seems to be coming after Bradford) almost seems like a death sentence. The most incompetent quarterbacks of 2013 have been Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Weeden, Josh Freeman and Bradford in that order … unless you want to throw Eli Manning in there just to be a dick. (Thinking.) The most incompetent quarterbacks of 2013 have been Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Weeden, Josh Freeman, Bradford and Eli Manning, in that order. The first two guys can’t be salvaged. The last guy hasn’t had a chance behind that crummy offensive line. Freeman clearly needs a change of scenery. But Bradford keeps getting the benefit of the doubt, even if it remains unclear why anyone would want to build a football team around Sam Bradford.
By the way, I knew this four weeks ago and that didn’t stop me from picking them in Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4.
Which brings me to a crucial point: In football handicapping, sometimes it just isn’t your year. I can’t get a feel for the 2013 season. Every time I think I have a team figured out, it double-crosses me. Every time I need a break with a late-game cover, I don’t get it. It’s been a comedy of errors. In the past week alone, I picked the Bucs (lost by 20), Giants (lost by 38), Texans (lost by 21), 49ers (lost by 20), Cards (lost by 24) and the Rams twice (lost by 24 and 24, again). When you have the wrong side in big spreads, that’s when you know you’re floundering. I was overdue for an everything-goes-wrong season — it hasn’t happened in a few years, and when it’s happening, you always know it. Please, take advantage and go against me every week. I’m here to help YOU. Got it? Got it.
Steelers (-3) over Vikings
Has anyone made the “it’s like Crystal Palace and Norwich City playing a Premier League game in New York City” joke yet? If so, I’ll take it. Anyway, in Monday’s podcast with Cousin Sal, I suggested that the Steelers should blow it up and trade Ben Roethlisberger to Houston for Matt Schaub and a first-round pick. That was immediately followed by dozens of Steelers fans e-mailing me various ways to have sex with myself. Kudos to Pete in Wexford, Pennsylvania, for suggesting that I buy a Tom Brady bobblehead on eBay and see how far I can cram it up my ass while “filming it for your piece of shit YouTube Channel.” We might have to try that! From the producers of House Eats 3, it’s Tom Brady Bobblehead Ass Cram!
Well, what if Houston offered Schaub and TWO first-round picks? Would you consider it then? Would the Texans do it? (Cut to Houston fans nodding “yes” vigorously with tears in their eyes.) Where are you headed with a 32-year-old QB who has already taken a ton of hits and now finds himself stuck on a crummy team with a Swiss cheese offensive line? It’s worth a conversation, at least. I wouldn’t deal Big Ben — instead, I’d come up with a fake injury for him around Week 8 (to guarantee a top-five pick), then shelve him until 2014 so he didn’t keep getting shellacked. But this Sunday in London? I think he drives his trade value up against Minnesota’s violently awful pass defense.
Speaking of trades, Fox’s Jay Glazer reported that Leslie Frazier will have Christian Ponder on a “short leash” this weekend. I’m sure that will go well. Um … why haven’t the Vikes traded for Josh Freeman yet? I check Twitter every 20 minutes waiting for Schefter to tweet, “Vikings deal conditional third-rounder to Tampa for Josh Freeman.” Just call the trade in to Goodell already. Anytime you can pair up the poor man’s Daunte Culpepper with the poor man’s Randy Moss (Cordarrelle Patterson), you have to do it. Who’s up for some Year 2000 flashbacks?5
Here’s how bad it’s gotten for Vikings fans, courtesy of Shane in Brooten, MN: “As a lifelong Vikings fan, I just wanted to let you know not to worry about Tom Brady turning into Dan Marino. After he is completely washed up, I’m sure the Vikings management will trade away a high draft pick or two in order to acquire him for a couple seasons of mediocrity. I sincerely look forward to adding him to the long list of washed up QBs that rejuvenate their careers for one or more season for the Vikings: Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, Gus Frerotte, Brett Favre, and Donovan McNabb. The only thing that makes watching Christian Ponder somewhat bearable is knowing that in 3 years, I might be watching Brady on offense and Clowney on defense.”
BUCS (-2.5) over Cardinals
In the second half of last weekend’s loss in New England, Tampa’s collective body language was somewhere between “I just found out that a sports blog posted a picture of me drinking a cocktail out of a coconut” and “it’s 3 a.m., my car just broke down, my cell phone is dead and it’s pouring rain right now.” Anyone watching that game knew Greg Schiano would make Freeman the scapegoat over falling on the sword himself. Now they’re starting rookie Mike Glennon, and as Schiano told reporters this week, “I think Mike Glennon is Mike Glennon.” Feel the excitement!
Some Glennon facts for you: Backed up Russell Wilson for two years at NC State (+1) … he’s 6-foot-6 and not that mobile (-1) … threw for 7,000-plus yards and 62 TDs in two college seasons without any real help (+1) … after Tampa drafted him in Round 3, Mel Kiper wrote, “fans are way overstating it if they think Glennon can provide actual competition at this point. He needs some time” (-2) … earned a Masters in college with a 3.8 GPA (+1) … looks like Brad Lohaus (-1) … from ESPN.com’s draft profile of Glennon: “Does not show confidence and/or toughness to step into throws when pocket is muddied. … Is not a threat to take off running. Has below average balance and strength [to] ward off sacks.” (-1) … Even so, he can’t be worse than Josh Freeman those first three weeks (+1) … and if that’s not enough, Greg Schiano thinks Mike Glennon is Mike Glennon (+1).
My verdict: Too much, too soon for Mr. Glennon. Then again, he can’t look any worse than Freeman, who doesn’t turn 26 until January and clearly needs a change of scenery. Will we ever have an acceptable explanation for his bizarre demise in Tampa that doesn’t include words like “blackmail,” “cocaine” or “voodoo doll”? Barnwell covered this topic on Thursday and unearthed a chilling answer for the question, “Has any other NFL QB submitted such a quality season at age 22, then regressed as badly as Freeman did?”
(Hold on, I can’t type the answer’s name yet. Give me a couple seconds. I’m fighting off Nam-like flashbacks.)
That’s right, the one, the only …
Oh God …
I can’t …
I can’t type his name.
Regardless, we’ll never find out if Freeman could have kept his “consecutive games completing less than 50 percent of his passes” streak going (it’s frozen at three), or whether he could have become the sixth QB in NFL history to throw at least 450 passes without completing half of them.6 Would he have stayed under the immortal Trudeau Line for a QB rating (63.3)? Best-case scenario: Freeman rallies in a new city, puts together a decent career (on paper, anyway) and joins Kerry Collins as one of the least likely QBs to ever throw for 40,000 yards. Worst-case scenario: He becomes this generation’s … (I can’t type his name).
The others: Vinny Testeverde, Babe Parilli, Joe Ferguson, Doug Williams and Joe Namath.
CHIEFS (-5) over Giants7
Take it from someone who lost money on the Giants these past three weeks: They can’t block, they can’t run the ball, their front seven suddenly stinks, and Kevin Gilbride is like Unfrozen Caveman Offensive Coordinator. I don’t understand your new pass-friendly rules … I’m just a caveman! I’m used to pounding the ball like it’s 1986! I see a receiver running wide-open over the middle and think, “Did a spectator just run onto the field?” The thought of this specific Giants team going into Arrowhead — against a top-five defense and a beyond-fired-up-to-be-relevant-again Chiefs crowd — feels like a recipe for disaster. How is this line less than seven?
I love the Chiefs this week. A top-five defense and a deafening crowd against a team that can’t block and rolled over for good last week? And they’re giving less than a touchdown? What am I missing?
LIONS (-2.5) over Bears
I like both of these teams. Purely a home-field advantage pick. Since we’re here, our Sneaky-Good Watch for Week 4: the Saints’ defense; the guy in your draft who didn’t get into a bidding war for David Wilson or Stevan Ridley and settled for DeMarco Murray instead; Ryan Tannehill in crunch time; NaVorro Bowman stock; every Caleb Sturgis field goal; Ndamukong Suh as a franchise defensive lineman only; any CFL coaches turned NFL coaches; all seemingly impossible-to-catch throws to Julio Jones; how secretly fired-up Jets fans are right now about Geno Smith even if they’re afraid to bring this up in public yet.
Ravens (-3) over BILLS
Sunday was crazy. The banged-up Bills gave up 513 yards to Geno Smith’s offense and lost to a Jets team that committed 20 penalties. Tom Coughlin’s Giants got shut out in a “Nobody Believes In Us” game, lost by 38 points to Ron Rivera and officially became Vegas poison. Aaron Rodgers blew a 16-point lead to … (gulp) … Andy Dalton. The Colts became the first double-digit underdog to win a road game since Week 2 in 2012 (Cards-Pats), murdering every knockout pool and three-team teaser in the process. Jon Stewart lost the variety show Emmy for the first time in 10 years. Brian Hoyer won on the road, in the Metrodome, with help from the brother of Matt Leinart’s and Blake Griffin’s baby mama. Jeff Daniels beat Bryan Cranston for Best Actor in a Drama even though you will never meet a single person who thinks Jeff Daniels is better than Bryan Cranston. Sweet/kind/thoughtful Landry from Friday Night Lights officially turned into a psychopath. And Dexter submitted the worst series finale in the history of season finales.
Quick tangent: I bailed on Dexter three seasons ago, immediately after the incredible John Lithgow season, simply because I got a weird vibe from the first episode of Season 5. It felt jump-the-sharkish to me. The episodes started piling up on my DVR, I never caught up, and that was that. I never came back. I told my friend Hirschy (who stuck with Dexter to the bitter end) this story and he reacted like I had magically escaped from a burning building. “That’s unbelievable! That’s the greatest television viewing decision I’ve ever heard! You literally saved 33 hours of your life!”
Actually, 32 hours — I watched the last episode just because, by Monday night, it had assumed Tommy Wiseau/The Room–level respect on the Internet. It’s like a parody of a parody of a Dexter episode, featuring — SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! — Dexter stabbing this year’s villain (maybe the worst actor in cable history) in the neck with a pen as Miami police watch but never put two-and-two together even though Dexter has been involved peripherally with something like 127 deaths in the Miami area. Then, Dexter steals his dead sister’s body from the hospital in broad daylight during a soon-to-be hurricane, brings it on his boat (which is docked 30 feet outside the hospital’s main entrance because all hospitals are on multimillion-dollar oceanfront property), dumps it into the ocean the same way he dumped all his victims (you know, because everyone dies who crosses paths with Dexter, THIS IS HIS CURSE). Then, he stages his own death (the boat crashes during the hurricane), somehow swims to shore during a hurricane, and finally reinvents himself as a logger with a fake beard in some anonymous, wintry location. Does the Code of Harry involve rules for dealing with other loggers? My God. Dumping Dexter after Season 4 ranks right up there with sticking with The Seinfeld Chronicles as one of my two greatest achievements as a TV viewer.
BROWNS (+4.5) over Bengals
From the Desk of the Very Very Junior Ewing Theory Committee,
September 27, 2013
If the Browns beat the Bengals, they could be hosting the Bills on Thursday night with a good chance to improve to 3-0 since the Richardson trade. Let’s send a scout to Cleveland on Sunday to be safe.
Jimmy Kimmel (+4.5) over KANYE WEST
Just don’t let this end with Cousin Sal getting shot. I can’t lose Lombardi and Sal from the B.S. Report in the same season.
Panthers’ Bye Week (+7.5) over PACKERS’ BYE WEEK
My favorite moment of Week 3: Ron Rivera finally going for it on fourth-and-1 on the Giants’ 2-yard line, getting the first down AND scoring the game’s first touchdown. It was one of those “RON RIVERA IS ALL GROWNS UP AND HE’S ALL GROWNS UP AND HE’S ALL GROWNS UP!” moments … only after the game, we found out that Rivera kept his offense on the field only because he mistakenly believed that they had gotten a first down on the previous play. I love the Ron Riv era so much. More, please.
As for Green Bay, Scott Kacsmar wrote for ESPN Insider that Green Bay is 5-24 in games when Aaron Rodgers has the ball in his hands, in the fourth quarter, with the Packers trailing by eight points or fewer. Compared to Tom Brady (27-23) and Peyton Manning (38-44), that 5-24 looks pretty grisly — you never want to have more commercials than comeback wins. But wait, that’s not the worst thing that happened to Packers fans this season. Have you SEEN this commercial yet?
JAGUARS (+9.5) over Colts
My worst pick maybe ever. But did you know Blaine Gabbert is 3-1 lifetime against the Colts? Doesn’t this have all the makings of a Trap Game, especially with Indy just winning an emotional “Nobody Believes In Us!” game in San Francisco and preparing to host Seattle in Week 5? And what about Justin Blackmon and Maurice Jones-Drew-Please-Trade-Me coming back? Oh, and who isn’t throwing Indy into a three-team teaser and making them a knockout pool this week? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
(By the way, the fact that I picked an 0-3 team that’s averaging about nine points a game is just one of many reasons why you should be going against me this season.)
Seahawks (-3) over TEXANS
TITANS (-4) over Jets
In case you want to know how Houston’s Super Bowl chances are looking right now, a reader named Shyan in London recently sent me an inspired e-mail comparing Matt Schaub to Rudy Gay. Really solid analogy. Because of Schaub, I don’t know if Houston has an A-game — it’s more of a B-plus-at-best game. That’s not cutting it against the big bad Seahawks, especially with Andre Johnson Banged Up (his new nickname). As for the semi-rejuvenated Titans, this e-mail from Nashville reader Will Dossett sums up what the crowd has in store for Geno Smith on Sunday:
“I just read your new column. I was so excited that the Titans got a ‘wild-card dark horse’ shoutout I jumped off the couch and gorilla chest-pounded. In case you were wondering what being a Titans fan feels like.”
I think we get it. And if you want to know what being an Oilers fan feels like, here’s an e-mail from Jason Norris in Anchorage: “Can I interest you in a video of Christopher Cross singing ‘Sailing’ while playing a double-necked guitar and wearing an Earl Campbell Houston Oilers jersey?” YES YOU CAN.
The D.C. Daceys (-3.5) over RAIDERS
The Alfred Morris Fantasy Breakout Game. It’s coming. You don’t want to watch this game, much less read about it. I can’t think of a better place to run an unexpected rant from my wife — she e-mailed it to me with the subject heading, “PUT THIS IN YOUR COLUMN.” I read the e-mail and wrote back, “Are you sure?” She e-mailed back, “Yes, it’s important.” Here it is …
“I am addicted to skinny jeans that are built to stretch. They are as comfortable as sweatpants, yet you can wear them anywhere including a fancy dinner. The problem is that you can’t tell if you’re putting on weight when you wear them! I don’t like to weigh myself because I don’t trust scales. They are always a little off and they are too abrupt. I don’t want to find out immediately that I might be becoming a fat-ass, it’s too painful. I would rather slowly figure this out by trying on ten pairs of jeans. It used to be I could go into my closet and trust different pairs of jeans to tell me how I looked. I had certain jeans that, if I was skinny and in shape, I know they’d fit and that would be enough. Today, all jeans want to deceive you into feeling like you’re skinny. I could be 12 pounds overweight right now and have no idea. But I can’t stop wearing skinny jeans either. That’s why I am going on a cleanse next week, and the cleanse is going to include skinny jeans!”
(Look, I don’t know why that happened, either. Let’s just move on.)
CHARGERS (+2.5) over Cowboys
It’s the Somebody’s Blowing This Game In The Most Agonizing Way Possible Bowl! Did you know the AFC is 11-3 this season against the NFC? Please add that to the long list of things I was dead wrong about heading into this season: The NFC is much better than the AFC. Speaking of shaky, here’s our Shaky Watch for Week 4:
Minnesota’s pass defense; any offensive coordinator with the same last name as a famous head coach; everyone who splurged on Robert Griffin III rookie cards; anyone who listened to me and picked up Kenny Stills; every fantasy team built around CJ Spiller and Tom Brady; Ben Roethlisberger’s chance to play 16 games; the Matt Schaub era; Seattle’s offensive line; any fantasy team or real-life team that picked Danny Amendola over Wes Welker; all Steve Weatherford punts; Jacksonville taking a Round 3 punter five spots before Russell Wilson; Miami’s defense without Cameron Wake; Tavon Austin’s “Ted Ginn Jr. in Miami” potential; anything involving the word “Giants.”
FALCONS (-2.5) over Patriots
SAINTS (-7) over Dolphins
Can’t get past the “It’s always terrifying to pick against explosive dome teams in night games” thing. Can’t get past the “too many people on the Miami bandwagon” thing. Can’t get past the “thought of Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins repeatedly running into each other because they can’t hear a suddenly furious Tom Brady” thing. Can’t get past the “Cameron Wake is out for three weeks and took Miami’s pass rush with him” thing. Can’t get past the “Neither the Pats nor Dolphins REALLY need this game, but the Saints and Falcons need it” thing.
BRONCOS (-11.5) over Eagles
A few readers have been pushing the concept of Evil Manning — that four neck surgeries, two Super Bowls for his brother, and last January’s devastating loss to Baltimore pushed him over the edge, flipped him beyond Eff You Mode and made him “evil.” As the theory goes, now he’s gunning for a 666 season — 600 points, 6,000 yards and 60 touchdowns. And what’s funny is MULTIPLE readers, independently of one another, suggested this theory using Evil Manning Face (his 2013 head shot for televised games) as their final piece of evidence. A Boulder reader named Mark Westhoff even went so far as to find an Evil Manning Face picture and send it to me.
Anyone notice how PFM’s tv headshot this year looks a little… malevolent? Haha pic.twitter.com/4D5rW8HXAw
— Mark Westhoff (@westhoff0407) September 23, 2013
I like it … EVIL MANNING FACE! Peyton Manning has gone to the dark side! The whole thing reminded me of an e-mail from last spring that I never used, courtesy of Los Angeles reader Tim Savage:
“I can’t tell you how excited I was to see you reference Garthe Knight in your latest 30 questions NBA column. I will let it slide that you dropped the ‘e’ in his first name (common mistake), but for future reference you’ll definitely want to remember that if you want any respect whatsoever from Knight Rider elitists. What does it take to be a Knight Rider elitist, you wonder? I’ll tell you. I spent almost three decades dedicating my life to looking the way Garthe Knight did at the same age David Hasselhoff played him on Knight Rider. You can see the proof of that in the video I made documenting my success:
“It takes a lot of passion and work to succeed on the level I have, but it has all been worth it just to blow the minds of all 206 people that attended this year’s Knight Rider convention in Simi Valley, California.
“Your friend, Tim Savage”
(Yup, these are my readers.)
This Week: 0-1
Last Week: 6-8-2