Thursday, March 24, 2011

5 Reasons I'll be okay with an NFL lock out

Read as we examine elementary school, pooping contests, and oh yeah, there's some sports chatter in there as well

The NFL owners and the NFL Players’ Association have been butting heads over a myriad of issues in recent labor agreements in their turn of "Millionaires vs. Billionaires: NFL Edition". We've been through it with baseball, and hockey, who both ultimately cancelled a season's championship. The NBA also briefly flirted with the cancellation of a season, but ended up playing a shortened schedule in 1999. I don’t know enough about the whole thing to comment on the state of the negotiations or the bargaining discussions, but I do know that some of the items on the agenda are the prospect of playing 2 additional regular season games (which the players oppose for various health reasons), a rookie pay scale, and adjustment of the players’ retirement pension and healthcare. Those things, however, are not what I’m talking about.

I couldn’t care less about the respective gripes of each party (except for the 18 game schedule, I don’t need to watch two more Bengals losses per season). What I do care about is how this story has been covered like it’s an asteroid about to hit the earth. Not even a cool asteroid either; it's more like a Deep Impact asteroid and less like an Armageddon asteroid. The gloom and doom coverage, the “what will I do without football?” crowd, and the “what am I going to talk about now” attitude of ESPN, are all groups of people who need to take a step back. I went through it in 2004-2005 when the NHL cancelled their season. Life goes on.

As for me, I won’t care either way, but if D-day does come and the season is cancelled, here are five reasons why I'll be just fine. 

5. The Cincinnati Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals suck and they’ve sucked for as long as I can remember. Even when they were good, they sucked. Even when they've accidentally made the playoffs, they got to the wild-card round and sucked. By now, I should know to not get emotionally involved, but they always bait me. Being a Bengals fan is the opposite of fun. I can’t remember it ever being fun and there’s no reason to believe it’ll be fun this season. Sports are supposed to be fun, but being a Bengals fan is miserable, hopeless torture. I’d change allegiances, but I’d feel a tremendous amount of guilt. Plus, I have thousands of dollars sunk into worthless Bengals merchandise and apparel not easily replaced by worthless merchandise and apparel of some other team.

Right now, the Bengals’ future is bleak. The not-even-that-good franchise quarterback has declared that he’d rather forgo millions of dollars than ever set foot in Paul Brown Stadium again. The team is coming off a 4-12 season that included a 10 game losing streak, and head coach Marvin Lewis was rewarded with a new contract. Lastly, Mike Brown, the Owner/President/General Manager/Paul Brown’s son/world's largest infant, is staunchly opposed to making any sort of move that would positively benefit the franchise and is still the man in charge. The future is non-existent and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better anytime soon.
Sincerely, he looks like a giant infant.
What does this all this mean? It means that a cancelled season would spell relief from having to suffer through 16 (or worse, 18) Cincinnati Bengals games in 2011. Also, it would guarantee that the Pittsburgh Steelers wouldn’t win the Super Bowl for at least another year. Though, I wouldn’t put it past the NFL to award them the Lombardi trophy by virtue of simply being the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's been done before (Super Bowl XL).

4. College Football
Football is one of the few sports where the feeder system is as good, and many would argue better, than the professional level. I've always straddled the line between the two and always kept them separated. Saturdays have alway been for Ohio State, Sundays for the Bengals. Unlike so many, I never felt the need to pick one over the other. 

That said, I've always found the NFL to be cold, sterile, and corporate. Collegiate football is (perceptively) innocent, more traditional, and evocative of things like green hedge bushes, brick stadiums on picturesque campuses, and autumn leaves. The romance of college football that exists because of things like Knute Rockne, Michigan's winged helmets, and the Heisman Trophy can't be found anywhere in the NFL. College football is less calculated, and feels more like an athletic competition than the neatly scripted three hour television show that is an NFL broadcast. 
See? Hedges.
For the hardened NFL fan, it'll sort of be like when a hot celebrity actress marries one of the Lakers, and he's then immediately traded to Milwaukee or Oklahoma City (I resisted the urge to put Cleveland there). You're still married to an athlete, but it's just not the same. College football won't replace the NFL for the diehards, but it will make it easier than say, when hockey cancelled their season and I had to watch the AHL instead. Even with OSU about to face the wrath of the NCAA in response to "tattoo-gate", college ball will deliver more than enough thrilling football action to get me by for the season, and who knows, maybe my alma-mater (OU Bobcats) will get to play on a couple of Sunday nights. 

3. Other Sports
Here's something weird, I'm not that big a fan of football. I should be, right? I'm from America, and more specifically, central Ohio. I'm supposed to worship the game and the gods who play it. I like football, I like Ohio State football, and for some reason, I love the Cincinnati Bengals, but I love baseball and I really love ice hockey. I just don't find myself as enamored with football as everyone else seems to be. It's treated as if it's the "ultimate" sport, but to me that's ice hockey. If I could pick one team to win one trophy, it'd be the Blue Jackets and it'd be the Stanley Cup. I love that something so cool even exists. I like hockey so much, I don't understand how people don't like it.

The goal that clinched the 7th seed in the playoffs that they were ultimately swept from. Sadly, my favorite Blue Jackets memory.  
When compared to football as a sport, I prefer the idiosyncratic and "human board game" nature of baseball, and the physicality combined with the incredible athleticism and creativity involved with hockey. Football has too many rules and too many players, too many injuries, and too many games end in outcomes outside of the control of the best players. 

Here's the other thing, baseball starts in early April and my guys are actually poised to make another playoff run. The Reds will likely be involved in a pennant race in August and September. That takes me to October when the Columbus Blue Jackets season starts and by the time their season is over, baseball's back. I could get by if the NFL never came back.

I need more of this, however.
2. The NFL could stand to come down a few pegs
When I was in the fourth grade there was this girl, who shall remain nameless, who thought very highly of herself. She was like a lot of fourth grade girls. She was snotty, judgmental, and needlessly mean. She was as close to being a bitch as a ten year old girl can be, and as we grew up she became the real deal. For this story, we'll refer to her as "future bitch" or "FB" for short. One day at recess my friend, Chris, kicked a soccer ball that accidentally drilled Future Bitch right between the eyes. The force of the ball hitting FB in the face caused her to fly backwards where she landed in mud that ruined whatever outfit she had spent that morning obsessing over. It was embarrassing for her, funny for the rest of us. The thing was, it was a big bowl of well-deserved karma. Had it been anyone else, the rest of the class would've felt sympathetic. Instead, everyone just thought it was hilarious and for about a week, we didn't have to deal with her crap. 
She grew up to be this girl. She did always love the mud. 
The NFL is Future Bitch. They're the big dog and the bully. No league treats their season ticket holders as poorly or is as demanding. Ticket prices are exorbitant and many season ticket holders are expected to shell out thousands just for the license to their seat before they ever purchase the tickets. If a season is cancelled the NFL will feel what baseball felt in 1995 and what the NHL has felt since 2005. Fans don't like when you jerk them around, and the idea that billionaires want more money will keep many members of the NFL's hardworking fanbase from ever coming back. It would be a sizable enough group that the league would notice the pinch. If their hubris is large enough to think that they won't be affected, then the league office is more arrogant than previously believed. The NFL could stand to come back down from its perch to relearn what it's like to treat your customers properly, and when that happens, we all win. 

1. ESPN could stand to come down a few pegs
Here's another anecdote to round-a-boutly set up a point: my senior year of high school our baseball team traveled to Orlando for a week of spring training. We got off the plane, got to our hotel, and then I left a massive steamer in my room's toilet. It was, for sure, a lifetime top fiver. It wasn't at a Bono level of Courics, but it was at least on "The Edge" level. I had to show my roommate, I had no choice. He then subsequently showed everyone else on the baseball team. One guy, one of the most competitive people I've ever met, said, "I can poop bigger than that". Without warning, I found myself entered into a pooping contest. We then got on a bus and went to freaking Disneyworld of all places. He didn't use the bathroom all day, ate three chili-cheese dogs and one of those giant turkey legs. Mind you, this is all while strolling around MGM Studios and riding the Tower of Terror and Rockin' Rollercoaster. I'll be honest, his dump was pretty big, bigger than the average everyday poop, but it wasn't even close to mine, and it split in half. I think he went wrong by not choosing more fiber loaded options.
It wasn't as big as this, but...
So how could that possibly have anything to do with ESPN? Are you ready? Their entire NFL coverage is one big pooping contest. Watching their lead-up show on Sunday mornings is a game of watching which one of the "experts" can take the biggest dump, metaphorically speaking of course.

I know very little about the X's and O's of football, but I turn on their show and I hear Mike Ditka say things like, "the Texans are 2-2, they don't want to lose this game to go to 2-3". Really, Mike? Dynamite drop-in.

Chris Berman's shtick has been tired since at least 1985 and as far as I'm concerned, Cris Carter and Keyshawn Johnson are the exact same person. They're both possession receivers from the same era who played at major college programs. How different could their perspective possibly be? I really don't need to hear what a wide receiver thinks, and I definitely don't need it twice on a five person panel.

The only tolerable analyst in the group is Tom Jackson, but in recent years he's fallen into the habit of inserting passionate opinions that should have no place in what is supposed to be an unbiased center of journalism. 

Without the NFL to cover, ESPN will have to relearn how to cover other sports. Perhaps that means that Sportscenter goes back to showing every highlight from every game from every sport from the night before?

Above all that though, the most comforting thing about not having the NFL next year is the idea that we'll see less of John Clayton

But don't worry, diehards, the season is still months away, and they still have plenty of time to agree on something. I have very little worry that the season will be cancelled, but if it is, you'll survive. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My 20 Most Hated Sports Uniforms Ever

It's been awhile folks. I was so overjoyed at the prospect of the Steelers losing the Super Bowl and so depressed about the Blue Jackets urinating their season away that it created this vortex tornado of sadness and glee that threw me out of the writing-my-sports-feelings-zone. But here I am, back to discuss an issue very near and dear to my heart, sports uniforms.

You see boys and girls, I am a sports uniform aesthete. When others were watching the game, I was watching the game and obsessing over number fonts, color differences, stripe widths, whether the names were vertically or radially arched. I worry about things like which baseball teams use the standard gray road uniforms and which teams use the slightly more greenish gray uniforms, tiny microscopic differences in block fonts, and which NFL teams use a metallic flake for their helmets. It literally extends to anything and being this observant is a curse more than a gift. I go to games and the multitude of ebay fouls, counterfeit jerseys, and blatantly incorrect personalization jobs are enough to make me scream. Ask my loved ones, especially the GF, and they'll tell you about the burden I've placed on them.

I have a list of my personal favorite sports uniforms. It's very exclusive and very difficult to crack (the Hartford Whalers 1992-1997 are #1). That would however, make for a boring discussion. This is a list of my 20 least favorite sports uniforms that have ever been worn, starting with number 20 through 11.

First, some parameters need to be set:
1. I'm only doing the 4 major sports of North America (NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA). It seems that it's a prerequisite for Soccer, minor leagues (google Tucson Toros), or the WNBA teams to have purposely ugly uniforms. No college, no foreign leagues, and certainly no high schools. We're talking about the professional ranks here.

2. I'm not going back farther than 1970. That's when the age of uniform design became really important in terms of branding and presenting a franchise to the masses. With the widespread use of color television and shortly after, the sale of replica jerseys, outfitting a team in an ugly uniform in this era is far more dangerous than it would have been in say, the 40's.

3. No alternate uniforms. Alternate uniforms are occasionally worn to give the fans a new look, but the real motive is to give the team a third jersey to sell to said fans. Teams often take risks with their third jersey that they wouldn't normally take and this can sometimes spell disaster (Check back in later, for more on alternate uniform disasters). For a uniform to make this list, it had to have been worn for at least one year as the team's primary uniform option.

4. Don't mistake what I'm saying for ugly. Often times the uniform wasn't ugly, but a harbinger of bad design that encouraged future generations of uniform design to make unattractive or misguided design choices, or it jumped on bad design trends far after said trends had passed. These are my 20 least favorite uniforms in sports. These aren't what everyone else should agree is the 20 ugliest uniforms in sports. Totally different things. 

Let's get started

20. Denver Broncos “Swooshed out”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the Broncos’ uniforms from 1997 and by today’s design standards they appear somewhat tame, but back then the bold orange side panel, custom number font, and tapered stripe were considered wild and cutting edge. These uniforms are still around and though I think there are uniforms out there that are far uglier and more egregious violators of my person uniform policies, this one makes the list for its far-reaching effect on the game of football. This particular template ushered in a new era in uniform design in a previously fashion conservative NFL that paved the way for modern-design atrocities such as the Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings, the soon to be extinct uniforms (and making an appearance later) of the Buffalo Bills, and even my own Cincinnati Bengals. Even worse, this template launched a million terrible high school football uniforms that still exist today.

19. St. Louis Blues 1995-1998

In uniforms more befitting of a fast food employee, the garish colors didn’t help the St. Louis Blues in their mid 1990’s atrocities. This uniform is the poster-child for 1990’s “over-design”. In the 90’s you had to have more than two colors (white not included) and if you didn’t have more than two you had to add one (which was usually black). The Blues adopted red as part of their color schema in the mid-80’s, but it was used minimally until moving to these uni’s in 1995. Another major trend of the 90’s evident here is the team took their theme and crammed it onto every part of the uniform. This uniform then took it a step further by over-striping the jersey and socks with lines meant to resemble what I can only assume is a musical staff. This would all be bad enough without mentioning that the numbers are slanted to accommodate the insane number of stripes so legibility was also an issue. I can’t look at them without thinking of a warm, moist kid’s meal burger with too much ketchup.  
oh yeah, they made THE GREAT ONE wear these for 18 games.

18. Utah Jazz "So Blue"

There’s nothing horrible about these either, but they’re just so unoriginal and bland and arrived at a time when it seemed that every team in the NBA was using some variation of dark blue and light blue. The wordmark is nothing to write home about and it’s in such a blah typeface it might as well say “Generic Basketball team”. Nothing about these was unique or appropriate for Utah and for the first time in team history the Jazz weren’t wearing purple. They look like a standard uniform you’d order for your Tuesday night league out of Eastbay. This season they were replaced with a navy blue, green, and gold number that is more evocative of Utah Jazz history and is at least unique to the NBA. Still, the perfect Jazz uniform to me is anything John Stockton wore, shorts included.

17. New Jersey Nets

The home version of this uniform wasn’t particularly terrible, but call it the era of acid-washed jeans or the after-math of day-glo, but the road uniforms were, for whatever reason, tie-dye.

16. Anaheim Angels Disney Uniforms

In 1997, Disney Corporation, already owners of the NHL’s Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, purchased the California Angels and what ensued was only the worst baseball uniform of the 90’s. Disney renamed the team the “Anaheim Angels” and took to the sharp and elegant navy and red kit with a pair of scissors and the classic Disney charm. The cutesy logo, cutesy number font, pinstripes at home and road (a baseball no-no), unnecessary addition of freaking “periwinkle”, and vested uniforms that weren’t actual vests (the blue sleeves were sewn on) all created a baseball uniform more suited for an independent league than the Major Leagues.

Chan Ho Park really hated them 

 15. Detroit Pistons Teal? Teal!?

The Detroit Pistons won back to back titles in 1989 and 1990 playing in basic non-descript uniforms. They were emblematic of the team and the city they played in. They weren’t flashy, but they were solid and they let you know who you were going up against. In 1995 they abandoned their red and blue history for the trendy color at the time, teal. Detroit has about as much to do with teal, a color normally associated with tropical water, as Alaska does with orange. The uniform featured 5 different colors, a large intricately logoed wordmark, and a chintzy hot-rod inspired number font. The team would return to their normal look in 2001 and almost immediately reemerged as an NBA power with a championship in 2004 and 7 straight appearances in the Eastern Conference finals. Coincidence? Probably, though the team did hold a bonfire where they destroyed any teal Detroit Pistons gear. If that doesn’t speak to the feelings towards this uniform, I don’t know what does.

14. Tennessee Titans

This is a case of a team taking something that was good, making a slight alteration, and falling into the pit of terrible. When the Oilers moved to the Titans moniker in 1999 they rebranded with unique and modern uniforms that weren’t over the top. They stuck within the basic NFL aesthetic while also delivering a new color scheme that had not been seen anywhere in pro sports in decades (and then the NBA and later the NHL jumped all over it). So what’s wrong here? Well the switch to the Columbia blue jersey for some reason means that the team must wear the navy blue pants rather than the white pants. This results in a look that features navy blue pants with navy blue socks creating a blue leotard effect. A bright Columbia blue jersey on top of the navy blue pants with a white helmet plopped on top of that and you're left with a bottom heavy look that makes the players appear slow. It’s completely unbalanced and it could all be saved by wearing the white pants with the Columbia blue jersey or by just going back to the Eddie George era duds.

 13. Toronto Black Jays

When you put a color in your nickname (or colour, in Canadian) then you pretty much resign yourself to using that as your primary color forever. That is, unless you want to be like the Toronto Blue Jays who in 2004 began using “graphite” and black (with small hints of blue). At the time adding black to your uniform was already a trend that had become tired. The Reds, Mets, and Royals had all tried it and the results were shaky at best. Jumping on that bad idea bandwagon would’ve been misguided enough to put the Blue Jays on my list, but the uniforms get worse. They chose to use a beveled curly script that simply reads “Jays”. I guess if you’re not using the color blue anymore then there’s no reason to spell it out on your jerseys. Team nickname abbreviations on official team jerseys get my irk, but it’s nothing compared to the hats. They inexplicably used graphite hats for the first two seasons, which made the players look like they were once wearing black hats, but then stood in the sun for too long. In year 3 they made a lateral move to black hats, but the only thing that’ll make these even remotely palatable, is if they go back to wearing blue.

 12. Houston Rockets PJ party

In 1996 the Houston Rockets celebrated back-to-back World Championships by signing Charles Barkley and outfitting their players in slumber party costumes. The pinstripes were so fat, how fat were they? They were so fat, if they were any fatter, they legally would not be allowed to be called pinstripes. The logo was a crazy over-drawn mess topped off by a toothed rocket. Yes, teeth. And the beveled number font and monogram alternate logo (found on the shorts) were in queue with the rest of the over-designed uniform. The area, however, that thrusts this uniform onto my 20 most hated list, is the use of gradients. The “pinstripes” are gradiented to make room for the logo and numbers. Even the stripe on the shorts uses a gradient. 

11. 1980-1984 San Diego Padres

Their colors were brown, orange, and mustard yellow!

stay tuned for numbers 10 through 1 and make sure to keep an eye out for future SHM articles. We'll put our own spin on the upcoming Baseball season and take a look back at the long strange trip that's been the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2010-2011 campaign. 

There you have it. If you agree, disagree, or have thoughts of your own. Share them with me at OR follow us on twitter at!/SeanofUnionBlue