It usually doesn’t pay to be much more than a casual fan of football or politics. I've experimented with being a die-hard in both categories, and it's often an infuriating waste of time to stake your mood or your hopes for the future on the efforts of men (and women) who will probably never know your name. It doesn’t pay to throw your dreams or enthusiasm too strongly behind professional heroes. The professional heroes are just regular men (and women) after all, and they will probably all disappoint you in the long run. Probably without even knowing it.
So watch the heroes for entertainment purposes only, and do it with family or friends and with an assortment of snacks and frosty beverages. That’s what I did last week.
Sunday afternoon was the much-hyped Packers/Panthers game, and Tuesday night was the GOP presidential debate. Both events were a great excuse to get together with my family for beer and laughter (sometimes). Both events were entertaining, but often for maddening reasons.
Here are a couple of observations. First, the Packers game.
Mike McCarthy isn’t going to win the “Bamboo Shoot Award" for flexible living anytime soon.
Have you ever heard the ancient Eastern proverb about the benefits of adapting to life and embracing change? There are several variations of this truism, but they all go something like, “The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.”
Yeah, Mike McCarthy is the oak. He resists. He likes conservative offense, and he’s not going to change his mind to something more aggressive, even if the game situation dictates the opposite.
McCarthy is a compulsive lover of conservative plays. He can’t help but sneak an up-the-gut run into an offensive series. He fantasizes about three-yard pass plays. Like a true addict, I think he has good intentions but relapses because of demonic urges.
After a failed run with Eddie Lacy—after it becomes obvious to everyone that the Pack needs to use Rodgers’ arm to chuck it downfield—I think McCarthy usually acknowledges to the players and to the other coaches that something needs to change. Then he smuggles another run into the mix.
“But I used Starks this time,” he says to everyone. “I don’t know what the big deal is. That’s just good football.”
If the Packers are down by twenty, they will run the ball. If the Packers are ahead by twenty, they will run the ball. If there is a lot of time left in the game, the Packers will run the ball to eat up the clock. If there isn’t much time left in the game, the Packers will run the ball to spite the clock.
So far this season, the Packers' pass/run ratio is about 55 percent pass to 45 percent run (source FFtoday.com). Through last week’s loss at Carolina, the Packers passed 54.78 percent of the time. Last year’s average for the whole season was 55.2 percent of plays passing. You just don’t get numbers that similar year-to-year if there isn’t a commitment going into each game to honor the sanctity of a predetermined pass-run ratio, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense—or lead to victory.
I believe that Mike McCarthy often thinks he’s the voice of reason on offense. When things are getting a little too good to be true with the passing game, he can always be counted on to bring the tempo back down to a dismal reality. He throws his big mitts up in the air and says “Whooah there boys. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves now.”
Yes, Mike McCarthy can always be counted on to get things back to a reasonable pace, one that is built on pursuing short yardage until the situation is 3rd-and-drastic. Then, and only then, a nice long pass might be justified.
Now, I’m exaggerating a bit. It’s not that the Packers don’t ever pass. They do, and last game, believe it or not, their number of passing attempts was above average. But with Aaron Rodgers (and with an explosive James Jones) they could do it even more. They could aim even deeper, and they could try more passing plays on first and second downs, even if they are winning and even if the game is young. There is no penalty for getting ahead too early or by too many points.
“But Mike McCarthy isn’t the offensive coordinator in Green Bay anymore,” some people might say. Yeah, right. And mafia bosses can’t actually run their crime families after being sent to jail.
I know that officially Mike McCarthy isn’t calling plays for the Packers anymore, but you can’t tell me that his penchant for two-yards-at-a-time football isn’t influencing the offensive decisions this year. His meaty paw prints are all over the too-conservative playbook that has been infuriating fans since that heartbreaking loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs last year.
Remember that Seahawks game last January? Do any of you remember being forced to watch as Mike McCarthy attempted to run out two quarters of football clock in order to protect a relatively small lead?
After that loss to the Seahawks, I was so bothered by Mike McCarthy’s stubborn adherence to slowing things down that I decided to write about it … sort of. I actually wrote a short story about the pitfalls of being inflexible, and I decided to use that game as the backdrop.
In that story, Superfan’s Broken Script (part of my in-progress short fiction manuscript), a Wisconsin man by the name of Fred Carson is having trouble dealing with life’s changes. Fred is well into his fifties—at a point where life should be on autopilot, he figures—and he seems to be losing control of things. Life just refuses to follow his strategies.
Fred’s son doesn’t want to go to college like they (Dad) planned, his daughter doesn’t want to marry the boyfriend who got her pregnant (Dad’s preference), and his wife, Janice, still isn’t ready to go back to work after suffering a nervous breakdown years ago (even though Fred thinks that the routine of work would be best for her recovery).
And Fred’s retirement plans aren’t following a tidy outline, either. He is about to get fired from his job of twenty-plus years for suspected embezzlement.
Luckily, Fred has the weekly opiate of Green Bay Packers football to count on. He’s a superfan, and he’s convinced that the Packers’ success will lift his family’s collective spirits and provide them all with the perfect atmosphere in which to talk about family plans (i.e., his plans for everyone).
The Packers are one win away from a Super Bowl appearance. After Green Bay beats Seattle, Fred will have two weeks of blissful Big Game prep to use as bonding material. While preparing an epic Super Bowl party, Fred is sure he can talk to Billy about college while beverage shopping. He and Janice can talk about her return to work while they shop for the food spread together—nothing like a green-and-gold grocery store in playoff season to lubricate those tough conversations in a marriage.
But then the Packers lose to Seattle, and Fred’s last hope for a reasonable world disappears.
Superfan’s Broken Script is told in the first person narration of Fred Carson. Here’s an excerpt from his narration directly following the Packers 22-28 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on that fateful January day:
I never really considered that we might lose today. Just as quickly as overtime started, the Seahawks scored a touchdown and it was over. No more chances to tie. I feel like I just got my heart broken by a movie that slaughters the hero in the final seconds without justice or explanation—cut to black, roll the credits. Nothing makes sense.
As I walk through the house picking up plates smeared with remnants of the Samkon Gado Salsa I invented in 2005, the ground beneath me seems to tilt back and forth like a fun-house floor. Visions of dejected Packers walking off the field in Seattle haunt me, but the return of my own ghosts is even scarier.
The Packers’ players and coaches will be okay; they’ll probably take private jets to places like Hawaii to ease the sting of today. And tomorrow, they will all have their big contracts and fairy-tale lives to return to. But people like me—the fans, the men fighting just to keep average dreams afloat—are left with nothing but the tomorrows we were putting on hold. We have nothing but the reality of a million real-world problems we were trying to forget. The season is over, and there’s nothing left to distract us.
That night, Fred finally starts to realize that he might be counting on professional football games to do a little too much for his life. Fortunately, with the help of his son, he starts to realize that joy comes from within. Fred realizes that he has to be a little more adaptable to life's variations, too—more like the bamboo than the oak. Before bed that night, Fred thinks:
I wish Mike McCarthy hadn’t been Mike McCarthy today, but now—sitting on the end of my bed, watching silent ESPN highlights of today’s loss—I realize that it’s more important that I’m not Mike McCarthy. I’m done trying to fit the world into my plans. I’m done writing scripts for my family; it seems like we all do better without them.
Yes, none of us can really fit the world into our plans. But Mike McCarthy will probably keep trying, even if the games call for something different. And that is why Packers fans like you and me should just enjoy the games for the sake of getting together with family to eat pulled pork and cheese curds. It doesn’t pay to think in terms of “Super Bowl or Nothing.” Enjoy the entertainment. Enjoy the excuse to not think about work and bills. Life is too short for getting overly worked up about the results of contests played by high-paid strangers.
And speaking of high-paid strangers, did you see the Republican candidates debate each other on Tuesday night? I did, and I realized, for the hundredth time, that no major political candidate seems to deserve the hard-earned emotional or paper currency of Americans like me and you (assuming readers of this post aren't in the one percent of wealthiest citizens). These people seem to be more cartoon than flesh and blood. Some of the candidates even seem to display a sociopathic lack of emotion, understanding, and emptathy. At best these major runners in the ballot race are out of touch or naïve, and at worst they are ill-intentioned and pathological. But they are entertaining. We should all just use debates as we should football games: as excuses to set out a food-and-drink spread and get together with friends and family to be entertained.
I got together with some family for beers and debate viewing on Tuesday, and here is a rough transcript of what I saw.
Weary Fox Business Moderator Number One: “What do you candidates think about raising the minimum wage to a reasonable $15 per hour?"
Ben Carson: “Well, if employers pay too much, then they can’t have as many employees. So, if Employer A pays $15 an hour, he can only have half as many employees as Employer B who pays $7.50 an hour. Now that’s half as many opportunities for people. Lower wages equal more opportunities. I got my opportunities as a young man because employees didn’t pay me much. Does this make sense?”
Marco Rubio (foaming at the lips, obviously under the influence of amphetamines, cocaine, and too much espresso): “Great point, Ben. I know a thing or two about modest beginnings. My parents were immigrants. My dad didn’t make much. He made, like, a quarter an hour … every other hour. And when he got too old and tired to perform the manual labor of bartending, his employers actually welded metal skis to my his shins and palms and used him as a sled for shipping mixed nuts and other bar supplies in the winter. That’s why I love employers. They’re innovative, and they care. And that is why this country is so great. It’s the greatest country in the world. Or it was. It will be again. I love this country so much. I love America so much, it’s hard to get enough words out per minute to express that love.”
As Marco’s heart pounds furiously beneath his American-flag lapel pin, Donald Trump puts on his duckface and nods. Jeb Bush nods, too, trying not to draw attention to himself. Neither Trump nor Bush wants to get asked about modest beginnings.
Weary Fox Business Moderator Number Two: Gentleman, and lady, what do you think about immigration reform?
Donald Trump (winking to supporters as he gets ready to cream this softball out of the park): “A wall. A big, thick, gigantic wall. Probably the biggest, thickest wall in the history of anyone and anything. Ever. It would be huge. Gigantic. That’s the solution.”
When Trump finishes, the crowd doesn’t immediately applaud as thunderously as he had anticipated, so he expounds further on his immigration solution.
Donald Trump: “And a bus. A big bus. A huge bus. Probably the biggest, hugest bus any of us has ever seen. Ever. I will round up all the illegals and put ‘em on a bus to Tijuana.”
When the crowd doesn’t applaud as enthusiastically as Trump expected, he gives them more.
Donald Trump: “Okay, we send ‘em even farther down. To Bolivia.”
The applause still isn’t as grand as Trump had expected.
Donald Trump. “Okay, farther down. I’ll send ‘em down to Argentina. And I’ll blindfold ‘em before they get on the bus, and then I’ll spin ‘em around and around before they get off of the bus. It will take ‘em weeks to figure out where they are. And then we’ll smack ‘em around a bit, just to teach ‘em a lesson. That’s just being fair. Cutting in the immigration line isn’t fair. A smack is fair. That’s being just. And that’s what America is about, fairness and justice.
Now people applaud, but Trump still thinks he can do better. This is his go-to issue for getting an angry crowd riled up, and he needs to extract everything he can from it.
Donald Trump: “Or, maybe we send ‘em to Russia. Let Putin deal with ‘em. I actually met Putin on 60 Minutes. He’s actually—"
Carly Fiorina: “Well, not to name drop, but I’ve actually met with Putin, too. And not in the greenroom of some liberal TV rag, but in a location that is so diplomatic and so serious that I can’t disclose it here tonight. Let’s just say that I think I have Mr. Putin right where I want him."
Donald Trump: “Shut up, Carly. Are you really gonna interrupt people all night? Why don’t you give the American people what they really want and stop talking? Nobody wants to hear a woman blather on and on here tonight. We all get enough of that at home. Am I right? Am I right?”
The applause is loud now, finally reaching the decibel levels that The Donald has come to expect from these debate appearances.
Rand Paul (calmly): “I have a tax plan.”
Fox Business Moderator who looks like Patrick Stewart: “Gentleman, and lady, what do you consider the biggest threat to the daily wellbeing and happiness of most Americans?"
All candidates together: “Radical Fundamentalist Islamic Jihadists.”
Donald Trump (addressing the Fox Business Moderator who looks like Patrick Stewart): “I’ll tell you, sir, that Islam is just weird. Foreigners give me the creepy crawlies all around, I’d say. Except my lovely wife, of course. By the way, sir, you were great in Gandhi. Top notch. I can’t always understand you Brits with your accents, but at least you aren’t Mexicans. They’re REEAAALLY hard to understand. Am I right?”
Modest Applause from the audience.
Donald Trump: “And I hate the Chinese.”
Louder and more enthusiastic applause from the audience.
John Kasich (squirming and rocking back and forth while hugging himself): “Excuse me. I’d like to say something.”
Jeb Bush: “Doggonit. For crying out loud. Shucks. Heck.”
Donald Trump: “You’re a weak man, Jeb. You’re not your father. This country is weak.”
Rand Paul (still calm, sounding a little like Kevin Spacey’s character in the movie Seven): “None of you understands foreign policy.”
Weary Fox Business Moderator Number Two: “Mr. Kasich, you look extremely uncomfortable. Are you okay? Would you like to say something?”
John Kasich: “I’ve been waiting to speak for so long that I can’t remember what I was going to say anymore.”
Rand Paul: “How about foreign policy?”
Jon Kasich: “I can do foreign policy. I’ve been places, man. I’m a governor. I’ve been in Congress. I was on committees. I’ve been everywhere, man. Let me take you on a trip around the world with me. (Here Kasich starts humming until he finds the right note, then he starts singing as follows.) I’vvve beeen to Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota, Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma, Tampa, Panama, Mattawa, La Paloma, Bangor, Baltimore, El Salvador, Amarillo, Tocopilla—”
Rand Paul: “It might be worth mentioning that we weren’t talking about Tocopilla.”
The stage suddenly grows pitch black except for a bright spotlight that flips on above Ted Cruz. An eerie fog begins to swirl around his podium.
Ted Cruz: “Calamity and heartache will descend like locusts on America if you people don’t listen to me. We have to get back to being great. And I can take us there. I can be trusted. Believe me. My mother is in the audience. I don’t push old people over cliffs, at least not when mom is watching. Nobody is taking money away from current elderly voters, we’re just taking it away from young people who have already given up on the idea of voting. Listen to what I say, America.”
Ben Carson (giggling): “What happened to the lights in here?”
The lights slowly go back up, thanks to Jon Kasich, who is futzing with a circuit breaker in the corner.
Jon Kasich: “I am a governor. I was in Congress. I know a thing or two about electricity.”
Donald Trump: “Ted Cruz can be trusted? Are you kidding me? He can be trusted? Are you kidding me? He looks like the guy that did my grandma’s funeral. He looks like he’s going to try to suck our blood while we sleep. I’d sooner trust a Chinaman, and I think the Chinese are the biggest crooks out there.”
Massive applause from the audience.
Ben Carson: “I’m scared of the dark sometimes.”
Weary Fox Debate Moderator Number One: “Okay. I know that you have all signed a pledge to say that you will support Israel at least once during this debate. I will now give you each twenty seconds to fulfill that obligation.”
And that’s the debate as I remember it. It was nothing to stress over, just great entertainment. Just like the Packers loss, it was a great excuse for a family gathering. My family had fun eating, drinking, and laughing together. We had fun playing armchair quarterbacks and armchair presidents. I hope your and your family had fun with it, too.
No matter the outcome of this election cycle or of this football season, just remember to have fun watching the "games," because ultimately life is about the people in the room with you, not about the ones on TV.