Archive | September 2013

NFL Considers adding extra playoff teams

Admittedly, I’m the type of person who would – given the opportunity – watch a football game or more from Thursday to Monday.  I’d start with the Thursday night game, followed by a high school game right down the street on Friday night.  On Saturday morning, I could watch GameDay on ESPN and settle in for an afternoon or evening of collegiate action.  Sunday afternoon, I’d watch the Patriots play then casually watch the Sunday Night Football broadcast.  I’d cap it off Monday with Monday Night Football.

This doesn’t happen anymore (my wife simply wouldn’t allow it).  However, many weeks of my life have mirrored this exact circumstance.  And, my wife is considerate – despite her growing up the middle of two sisters, who’d never have a weekend like the aforementioned – of my passion for watching sports.  So playoffs are always a different story and I’ll be able to watch football an entire weekend.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

With the NFL’s rumor mill spouting off the idea of expanding the playoffs by adding one team to each conference, we’re guaranteed more football.  On the surface, this looks great to people like me, who’ll gladly accept more football in their lives.

However, I have to admit to being lukewarm to ice cold on this idea.  Meaning, I’d have to be talked into it.  And I’m going to be pretty hard to sway, if only because I sense a little nefariousness in the entire transaction.

Yes, I’m all for high level athletics.  I’m also in favor of cutting the superfluous preseason from the NFL.  Two games, tops.  These are aspects of the deal that I could get behind, kind of.

The NFL is the most popular league in professional sports in America.  It’s a billion dollar industry with millions of fans all over the world.  I wonder, though, how much they’re not telling us regarding the lawsuits and the safety issues in the league.  We know, in the most reductive sense, that a brain smashing into a skull is a bad thing.  We know, also, that this happens repeatedly in practice and games, and we know that players subject themselves to this happening many, many times over the course of long careers.  We know the fates of players like Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, and we know the cause of their demises.

I’m not going to moralize and say how much we don’t need one more game, x amount of hits, etc.  I’m wondering if the league is proposing this change because adding one more game to the NFL playoff schedule is not only going to replace the dropped preseason game revenue, but exceed it.  If, perhaps, the league officials know that they could be living on borrowed time and are looking to make as much money as they can before the league devolves into a product we no longer recognize.

That, I understand, could be an egregious claim.  To assert, essentially, that league officials would eschew player safety for monetary gains is irresponsible and, in a way, defamatory.  But I don’t think it’s unreasonable – as a business model – to try to make as many fiscal gains in a business that may not look the same in twenty years.

Let’s face it.  In twenty years, we may not be watching the same brand of football.  Think twenty years ago.  Is it the same sport now than it was in 1993?  No way.  Defensive ends can’t mangle quarterbacks the way they used to, horse-collar tackles are no longer allowed, face mask penalties are different, “launching” penalties, and so on.  It was, in a very major way, a more violent league despite the players being much smaller and slower than they are now.

bighit

Malcolm Gladwell, author and outspoken champion of football reform, has said that in 30 years no one will be playing football anymore.  I don’t know if he’s softened that stance, but his recent remarks suggest that he’s changed them a bit.  He claimed the sport was going to be “ghettoized,” and “essentially dare people to play.”

His thesis came under a bit of fire by people who take exception to the world “ghettoize,” but his insight is poignant.  If the risks of head injuries are known, football is going to be left to the people for whom risks are acceptable.  Much like, Gladwell asserts, the Army currently does.

Sean Pamphilon, director of the film United States of Football, from where these Gladwell remarks were published, hypothesizes that, “Suburban white kids or their parents are going to opt out.  More affluent people are going to decide they don’t want to put their kids in that position.

“In places where football isn’t the only thing to do, fans are going to opt out first.  Certain colleges are going to follow and there will be a steady decline in the participation of the game.”

It’s a reasonable prediction.  And so I don’t think it’s egregious to wonder if the league feels the same way and is trying to make their business more money by adding more revenue through another postseason game.  The cold, snowy (and sold out) January games would add millions more to the revenue stream through attendance, advertisements, retail sales than their counterparts in humid August preseason games attended by few, watched by fewer.  It seems to me there aren’t many people who support adding a game besides the billionaires sitting behind mahogany desks, lighting cigars with $100 bills (that’s at least how I picture them).

And perhaps I’m a bit hypocritical, if not entirely so.  If the postseason does expand, I will watch the extra game.  I’ll bet on the extra game because, of course, we run the risk of putting a #2 seed against a 7-9 team that has no business in postseason play.  I’ll enjoy the excitement of Wild Card Weekend a little bit more than I do otherwise.

I just can’t help but wonder if there is something a little deeper, darker, or more sinister behind these motives aside from just giving me and millions of other fans another reason to sit my ass on the couch on a cold January weekend, have a beer and gamble.  It is, to use an overused cliche, enough to make me pause.

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Brasserie Dupont La Biere de Beloeil

The following article was written for Review Brews, an posted today, 9/26.

In the most reductive sense, writing about beer is a great way to live.  I get to meet people constantly, all of whom have similar interests to my own; I get sent beer fairly often; I’ve had enough beer to stop sometimes, taste something, and think, “Wow, this is one of the better beers I’ve ever had.”

This happened to me on Tuesday night.

Now, before you pause and think, “Well, Tuesday night drinking is an aggressive behavioral tactic, Matt,” I must preface this by telling you why I was drinking on a Tuesday night.

Clay, my college roommate, Review Brews partner, overall great guy and one of my best friends was visiting from San Diego for his sister-in-laws wedding.  So we played golf on Tuesday afternoon, had some Cisco Brewing Co. cans on the course and shared a Heady Topper on the back, too.  Not a bad afternoon.

Great beer is best when shared.

Great beer is best when shared.

It also gave me the opportunity to break out a beer I’d been putting aside for an opportunity like this one.  So, I kept the beer cellared and chilled it, then poured it into two chalices: The Brasserie Dupont La Biere de Beloeil.

The Dupont Saison is one of the better saisons in the entire world, in my opinion, but I think I’d err to say I liked this beer a lot better.  At 8.5%, this is an aggressive offering, but the beer doesn’t taste that strong, opting to do down very smoothly for an ABV that high.

Five different malts were used in brewing this beer, but the star – as usual – is the Dupont Yeast.  Beer writer Michael Jackson once said, “A brewer with the Dupont yeast is touched by God.”  He’s not kidding.  This beer, the last of my four beers from the Rare Beer Club, was fantastic.  We paired the beer with homemade smoked pulled pork, rice, and sugar and butter corn on the cob.  A meal fit for kings.

I should mention something that’ll only be a further testament to the Biere de Beloeil (inasmuch as I chose to write about the former): We ended the night with a vertical tasting of the Stone Vertical Epic series years 09-12.  A good time had by all.  And, it should be added, that this is the main reason why there were no updates and a complete lack of productivity yesterday.

Find this beer, buy two, drink one now, put one away for a friend to share with you.  Seriously.

Celtics Life submission #2

The following article was written as submissions to the Boston Celtics siteCeltics Life, who are accepting open applications for a position on their writing staff.  I figured I’d give it a shot.  I started out writing about sports once upon a time.  I’d love to get back into writing about sports.  Cross your fingers for me.  And, since I’ve always been a terrible headline writer, hook me up with a headline, too.  Thanks for reading, cheers.

The Brad Stevens era is set to begin in Boston.

The Brad Stevens era is set to begin in Boston.

For the past six years, being a Boston Celtics fan has been pretty easy.  Good coaching, good teams.  The Celtics were a team of veterans who played well together and did all the cliche things: made extra passes, sacrificed scoring averages.  With the exception of the stories we hear now about our point guard not getting along with the coaches or his teammates or even the general manager, Boston basketball was relevant again for the right reasons.

But I have to admit something:  I’m more excited about the upcoming 2013-2014 season than I have been for any season since 2007-2008 when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joined Paul Pierce in green and white.

This may sound odd.  Before I go further, it hurts me that Pierce left.  I wish I could have watched him play his entire career in the gym on Causeway Street.  It’ll be a sad homecoming when he plays in the Garden after having gotten dressed in the visitors locker room, but expect a standing ovation not just from the crowd, but in barrooms and living rooms across New England.

That being said, I’m ready for the Bradley Stevens-era to begin.  I’ve long thought that collegiate basketball is a more authentic version of the game, a better brand of basketball.  But, I do understand that there’s something special about watching the very best at anything whether it’s a point guard conducting an offense or a conductor leading an orchestra.  Hopefully, Stevens can bring the enthusiasm and like-ability of the college game to Boston.

(Quick side note: every year, a friend and I choose a mid-major conference to follow.  Our reason is simple.  We want to bet on their conference tournaments.  So we hunker down and follow teams whose nicknames we don’t know.  In 2009-2010, I happened to follow the Horizon League, where the Butler Bulldogs reigned supreme.  They came within inches of beating the Duke Blue Devils in the title game.

Their coach, Brad Stevens, impressed me.  Young, calm, and composed, their head coach brought them back to the title game for a second time the next year.  Even as I went on to follow other mid-major conferences, I kept an eye on Bradley and the Bulldogs.  As a long time college sports atheist, I now had a rooting interest.)

And now we, Celtics fans, have a reason to be excited for the future, not this year or even next year, but going forward.  We’ve come to expect instantaneous turnaround as sports fans.  We can’t expect that here.  We can, though, have high expectations.  I’m thrilled by the hiring of Stevens.

There are two other reasons why I’m anticipating this season more than any other recent seasons.  First, we knew what to expect the last few seasons.  We had an aging team that couldn’t really compete with Miami or Indiana or Chicago or even the Knicks.  We could maybe win a series, or at least scare another teams locker room.  We got through the regular season on veteran panache, the postseason on reputation.  But, realistically, we knew what we had.  We were a second-round ceiling team which is like being ranked third in your graduating class: you’ll earn respect, but you still won’t be speaking at graduation.  There are a lot of us who loved that core of players, that coach.  However, loyalties and love can only take a fan so far.  Eventually, we want the microphone, too.

Celtics fans hope Rajon Rondo can turn into a leader this season.

Celtics fans hope Rajon Rondo can turn into a leader this season.

Secondly, there’s something special about watching a young team grow, bond and learn success.  We have a good example of that right across town on Lansdowne Street.  A lot depends on Rajon Rondo, who’ll need to quell his perpetual petulance and take over as a leader.  I know he has the skills as a player, and I’m optimistic he has the intangibles as a leader.  As a fan, I hope this team can gel in a way that’ll lead to eventual success under their young coach.

As Celtic fans know well, college success doesn’t always equate to pro success.  But if we have a group of players who buy into the system, embrace the squad for what it is and it’s actual, unalloyed potential, we’ll be just fine.  If we have a front office and a fan base that shows patience and an unadulterated loyalty and let this Brad Stevens hire evolve, there could be some exciting times on the horizon.

Celtics Life submission #1

The following article was written as submissions to the Boston Celtics site Celtics Life, who are accepting open applications for a position on their writing staff.  I figured I’d give it a shot.  I started out writing about sports once upon a time.  I’d love to get back into writing about sports.  Cross your fingers for me.  And, since I’ve always been a terrible headline writer, hook me up with a headline, too.  Thanks for reading, cheers.

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I cried when ReggieLewis died.  I was 11.

Rick Pitino came and we were excited about the new regime.  All we got was one of the best sound bites in Celtics history.

We watched Antoine Walker try to be Rade from the movie Hoosiers before he learned the four-pass before every shot move.  “Chuck it from the cheap seats,” Shooter would have called the strategy.

I recall an apathetic San Diego bar while a friend and I agonized over our young team getting bounced  – once again – by the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs.

The crushing blow of seeing the Celtics lottery ball come up on pick #5 in 2007.

I’m one of the members of the Boston Celtics fandom that missed out on Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and the glory days of the 1980’s.  Growing up, we caught the end of Larry’s tenure, and, even though we watched some fleeting greatness, the good times of the past were exactly that, the past.

We missed those years.  We never saw – at an age where we could have appreciated and processed these skills to a deeper degree – the up-and-unders, the no-look passes, the champagne toasts, the wins.  ’81, ’84, ’86.  A victim of the ages.  We never lamented Len Bias.  Then Reggie died.

And we got Heinsohn and Mike Gorman calling games on Sports Channel New England.  Chris Ford led guys like Sherman Douglas, Eric Montross, John Bagley, Dino Radja, Dee Brown, Rick Fox, Pervis Ellison.  I can’t believe I did that from memory.

But Celtics fandom didn’t escape us.  We watched most games and yearned for a past we didn’t experience.  We went to the Garden, which became the FleetCenter, but we went to watch guys on other teams because they were, well, stars.  We didn’t have stars, so we went to watch Barkley, Malone, Stockton, and, obviously, Jordan.

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The Pitino Era in Boston proved to be a bust.

We got optimistic every autumn.  Each addition to the team would bring us back to the greatness my father and his father knew as Celtics fans.  It did start to get better.  Walker came to Causeway Street and became an All-Star (which, however, could have been a product of the putrid era of NBA basketball) then came Paul Pierce.  We were contenders in a very marginal way, never an authentic threat to the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but a team that might steal a playoff round victory, maybe frighten a team in a seven-game series.

Then we stunk again.  Our young team – looking back now – on paper was stacked: Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Al Jefferson, Tony Allen.  But we were young and we got beat.  A lot that year.

In the parody that is professional sports, league titles are cyclical.  Teams succeed, get old and rebuild.  On the other end, teams stink, draft well then grow as contenders.  In basketball, this trend had been false.  In the formidable years of my NBA fandom (1992-2003), just four franchises won titles.

Then the Big Three happened.  A title, finally.  Everyone in Boston was a fan again.  Success breeds fans.  It was probably easy for the adults in the world to look at all the Celtics apparel (which was barely sold in stores outside the pro shop at the arena) and shake their heads, call us bandwagon fans.  In many situations, it was probably true.

But for people like me, we have the scars of frustration, of regret, of sadness of those years of 15 wins, 19 wins, 24 wins.  Of Reggie dying.  Of M.L. Carr.  Of a product of basketball we weren’t exactly proud to call Celtics Basketball on the court.

Being a fan isn’t supposed to be easy.  It’s supposed to come with tough losses, bad coaches; with a guarded optimism and healthy pessimism; With objective criticism and unwavering loyalty.  If we look at the professional sports in Boston for the past decade, our younger fans don’t know anything but success.

The confetti has been cleared off Causeway Street.  Ray Allen is in South Beach.  Pierce and Kevin Garnett are in Brooklyn and Doc went Hollywood on us.  It will be interesting to find out who the fans are now.

  • Ubuntu (truthoncauseway.com)

Long stories, short attention spans

Just about 20 minutes ago, I finished reading Tom Junod’s short – but fascinating and fantastic – article “The Dominance of Loooooong in the Age of Short” in this month’s Esquire.  The persistence of long-form journalism in an age of instant gratification and prolonged storytelling in a society that values pace is a subject that has long dominated my thinking.  It is an article, in short, that I wish I had written.

Junod writes, “our attention spans have become shorter because there are more and more claims upon them – more information, more complexity; more stories, more stuff; more.”  We are an increasingly smaller world.  I’ve argued that, while newspaper readership and the numbers of people who call themselves “readers” is down, media consumption is soaring.  And that’s because we consume information – mostly – 140 character at a time.  However, and Junod agrees, many of those are links to articles of greater length.  Again, that conundrum: a lot of information associated with just a few words.

The deeper meaning, though, is that even in the shorter content, the context connects us all to something larger, the greater picture that we sense lurking behind every snippet of information we consume on a daily basis.  Junod calls this, “evidence that humans, as a race, are at last learning how to take our own complexity into account.”  He goes on to mention shows like Breaking Bad and Homeland to illustrate how television storytelling had evolved to do what movies stopped doing: teaching us a bit about ourselves.

And, I think, that might be the handle in all of this.  Long-form narratives on television, in books, in journalism inform us about the world we inhabit, but also our role within those boundaries.  The flattening of the world feeds us more information, but also promotes the ideal that these stories all matter to us because we all belong to a larger piece of the proverbial puzzle.  Shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, et al., are successful for many reasons, but perhaps the greatest reason is that the characters of these stories are so flawed, so human.  Even the protagonists are committing crimes and adultery.  In a world as complex as ours, we identify with these characters because we see within them the complexity within ourselves.

“…The human preference for story is aligned with the human tendency for error; and that only through dislocations of scale – the scale of sample size and of time – will truth emerge,” Junod writes.  We tell stories, said Joan Didion, in order to live, but I think we listen to stories to identify with a collective whole.  The subject of a story hardly matters, so long as we can see ourselves as part of something larger within these stories.  This is how storytelling succeeds.

It is true that there are different demands for our time in our society, the height of information elevating each hour.  But, still, we find time to listen to stories, whether they’re on TV or in our minds as we read from left to right, top to bottom of a book or an article.  The availability longer, more elastic stories (both in word count and multimedia supplements) have given us more freedom to consume at a higher rate, but also at our own convenience, which is why we binge-watch shows on Netflix or read entire magazines, some three months old, on cross-country flights.

Recently, I read a Vanity Fair article called “From Coast to Toast,” on a flight, one of the pieces of long-form journalism that I read from time-to-time that makes me think, “Shit, I remember why I loved journalism so much.”  The point I’m making is that it wasn’t about the erosion on the coasts of Malibu and Nantucket (though the story itself was heart-wrenching, alarming, and gripping) as much as the process of reading – and my reaction to – the story.  I don’t mean that in a solipsistic way, either.  We live in a world where everything seems to boil down to ourselves – how we feel, our thoughts – but good storytelling does something poignant: it involves us, it makes us think individually and as part of a collective dynamic.

“We will never run out of stories,” Junod ends his editorial.  The entirety of the statement aside, what I found most important is the pronoun that he used: We.

Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy (a response)

Huffington Post is, as I claim, the only website I visit daily.  This is more or less true, but mainly so because I read it on the weekends, where my other favorite sites tends to drop off.  That being said, I came across an article titled, “Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy.” (note: I linked the website of Wait But Why because they are the original authors and, thus, I feel the need to support their website even if I disagree with their thesis).

Before their thesis, Generation Y are designated as people born roughly between the late 1970’s and mid-1990’s.  I fall at the beginning of this spectrum, having been born in 1982.  Essentially, this article argues that GYPSY’s (Generation Y Protagonists and Special Yuppies) are unhappy because our expectations do not match with our realities.  In short, what are expected to get is less than what we are actually receiving (sounds like a horrible Christmas story).

The Baby Boomer generation, our parents, worked hard to establish secure careers in order to get us that “green grass,” that expanse of lawn in a safe neighborhood, traveling together to family vacations we can afford because we’ve worked so gosh darn hard to get these luxuries.  And, in a very strong way, I agree with these statements.  However, back in those days, mom could stay home.  Living was affordable, weddings and child rearing were not the big money industries they are today.  There were no student loans to pay (and workplaces gave jobs – meaningful ones, too, where people used their brains and stuff – to people without college degrees), no credit cards, no cell phone bills, no internet bills, no DVR, and no cable.  Erase all these bills from my generation and we’re doing really well.  Also, at the risk of sounding whiney, let’s not forget who put us in the situation.

To secure their thesis, Wait But Why offers three facts about GYPSY’s like me.

#1: We’re wildly ambitious: The key word here, I suppose, is “wildly,” meaning something along the lines of “unrealistically.”  We don’t want the American Dream, we “want our own personal American Dream.”  We eschew using terms like “secure career,” in favor of “fulfilling career.”  We have the audacity to want to like our job.  We want to make statements like, “I don’t make a lot of money, but I am really happy with what I’m doing,” rather than, “I hate my job but at least I can afford Disney World every spring.”

I don’t think this qualifies us as wildly anything, other than wishing for a life more, well, fulfilling than the previous generation had.

#2: GYPSY’s are delusional:  Here is where I’m going to begin to agree with the writer at some points.  My generation has been told, over and over, how special we are.  We’re given trophies for everything.  I do believe this will come back to bite us in the ass.  A good effort ribbon will get you very little in life, and just trying something to the best of your ability doesn’t mean anything.  That being said, the frustration the writer outlines at not reaching our expectations is a product not just of our high expectations (set forth by the preceding generation aka the generation of whomever wrote this article).  It’s a frustration that moving up in the world is a product of furthering our education (with little help from our employers) which pushes us further into debt.  Multi-national corporations send their work overseas, so the work my dad did, in person, is a job that no longer exists here in the states.  Who runs those multi-national corporations?  Not a GYPSY.

#3 GYPSY’s are taunted: Another point I agree with here.  Social media is a projection.  People post only their best pictures, deleting the unflattering ones.  Very few people post their miseries.  They post their successes (professionally and personally) and this taunts people who aren’t doing so well.

One thing about Generation Y is that we’ve been encouraged to look within, to explore our feelings, to delve into a deeper understanding of events.  And so while this article raises some interesting discussion topics, I feel the need to mention that maybe the writer of this article should take a cue from us, look their self in the mirror, and self-assess rather than project their unhappiness (to borrow their term) on us.

What’s on deck?

I recently sold a story to The Guide magazine, which was about the first “Out and Proud LGBT Brewery,” the Hillcrest Brewing Co. in the Hillcrest neighborhood in San Diego, CA.  When it is officially published (I’ve sent in the copy), I’ll post it here and comment further.  Regardless, I’m proud of this piece and to whom I sold it because I do believe that the craft beer community is a community that thrives on experimentation, creativity, and artfully-crafted products.  Moreover, I also think there’s a crossover appeal.  Which brings me to my next article, which I’m currently shopping around.

Like most Americans (statistically), I spend at least three hours – usually more – of my Sunday afternoons watching football.  We’re inundated with commercials for what I’ll call “crap beer.”  I can’t imagine anyone getting offended with that statement because it’s like eating a hamburger at a fast food chain: no one is going to claim it’s of any real quality.  That being said, I’m fascinated with craft beer’s growing involvement in sports.  Many stadiums now house taplines solely for local craft beer, from Sam Adams in Boston to Bell’s in Michigan.

I’m finding this fascinating for two reasons: (1) I find the beer crowds, of which I am a part in my role as a blogger on Review Brews, to be different than sports crowds.  More artsy than sports.  And (2) Beer and it’s consumers dominate the market in sports.  I have numerous examples of this.  We rarely head into a football game drinking White Zinfandel.  However, the athletes themselves don’t appear in any advertisements.

And I’ve been wondering about these things.  Any ideas?

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Detroit’s Ford Field has multiple craft beer options for football fans.