Football and Me Part X

This is the tenth post in a series in which I will document this football season. It will broadly be about the Badgers and Packers but will more specifically be about myself in it. Football season does not just happen on the field. It is about great friends, foods, drinks, and merriment. My hope is that it will be interesting for readers but at the very least it will serve as a journal to look back on. I wish I had done this last year.

Once again in running diary format…times are approximate

Friday

9:30 PM – Alas, no road trip this week but, luckily, eating deliciously doesn’t take a weekend off just because I’m not traveling. On Friday night, I went to my friend Emily’s birthday dinner at Coast, a BYOB sushi restaurant in Bucktown. Everyone at the table ordered 1-2 sets of rolls and shared them family style. My favorite was the White Dragon (front left in picture below), which consists of shrimp tempura, wasabi tobiko, cream cheese avocado, scallion spicy sauce, wasabi dressing, eel sauce, and tempura crumb. Right now, my parents are shocked reading this and wondering who the person who enjoyed this concoction really is. They would be correct in surmising that he is somebody who ate the roll before reading the description of its contents.

Sushi at Coast

Saturday

2:30 PM – Wisconsin plays Purdue. I watch the first half on the elliptical at the gym. The Badgers go up 35-10 with 2:59 left in the second quarter and I decide that on the 1-in-1000 chance they blow this game I want do be doing anything else in the world other than watching it transpire. The final score ends up being 62-17 so, while I didn’t miss an epic collapse, I also didn’t miss too much excitement. Montee Ball rushed for 223 yards and three touchdowns–he is now just three shy of breaking the Big Ten record, which I guess is pretty good.

5:00 – I head out to Wrigleyville to watch LSU-Alabama and make the obligatory stop at Ian’s Pizza. I ask very nicely for them to put bacon and pepperoni on my slice of Mac and Cheese pizza and spend the next 10 minutes absolutely loving life.

Mac and Cheese Pizza with Bacon and Pepperoni at Ian's

7:30 – I was originally planning to watch Bama-LSU at Houndstooth Saloon, an Alabama bar, but opted instead for space, comfort, and service at John Barleycorn a few blocks up Clark Street. I am watching the game with my friend Brent and his friends from high school Ben, Billy, Jason, Jon and Andrew. After the Alabama kicker misses his first field goal from 40 yards, Ben is certain that he could make 40-yard field goals with regularity. Myself and a few others are convinced that he is unequivocally incorrect. There is a reason why one of the best college football programs in the nation struggled with its kicking game on Saturday–I have never actually tried it but by the very nature that there are not more good kickers in the world, kicking field goals has to be A LOT harder than it looks. There is just no way that common citizens would be able to achieve the distance and accuracy necessary to consistently make these kicks without a lot of effort. Exorbitant figures were being thrown around for potential bets but none were consummated.

Sunday

12:00 PM – Feeling fresh from my extra hour of sleep, I head to Will’s Northwoods Inn to grab a table and watch football. Because there are no vantages in Will’s where you can watch more than three screens at once, I bring my laptop and stream the Red Zone Channel to supplement the early afternoon action. I had to answer a lot of questions about why I would bring my laptop to the bar but it’s a lot harder to go 11-1 against the spread on Sunday without watching all the games (#veryunhumblebrag).

3:00 – None of the seven early games are even close to being close. The Packers game needs to start at least an hour ago. Whenever the Packers don’t play at noon, the 45 minute before kickoff move at an intolerably glacial pace. I feel like Cartman waiting for Nintendo Wii:

Unrelatedly, I went to Will’s by myself expecting to run into a bunch of my friends. When I got there, though, the main room was filled with unfamiliar faces and many of the regulars were out of town or had other plans. However, I still knew a few people (my friends Nicole, Will, Marvin, and Pat amongst a few others) and Will’s is a place where not knowing people really isn’t an issue. It is specifically designed to embody the unique brand of friendliness innate to Wisconsin culture–its slogan, “A Little Bit of God’s Country in the Heart of South Lakeview,” is more than fulfilled. I am eventually joined at my table by four girls I had never previously met–Micah (named for the prophet, not the rock), Hannah, Abby, and Kim. Three of the four are like me and grew up out-of-state but had a parent originally from Wisconsin that passed Packer fanhood down to his/her kids. The fourth is a Colts fan in exile but wearing an Aaron Rodgers jersey.

3:15 – And we’re off! The Packers win the toss and elect to defer. The Chargers elect to receive so the Packers start on defense. I am always happy when this happens because it allows for the potential to have two straight possessions at the end of the 2nd quarter and beginning of the 3rd. At some point I am going to run a regression to figure out if this actually has any correlation to winning games. Phase 3: Profit:

3:20 – Ugh. Philip “Marmalard” Rivers leads an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in less than five minutes. 7-0 Chargers. Packers need to respond here.

3:30 – With the Packers lined up at 1st-and-goal on the Chargers 5-yard line, I see Jermichael Finley out wide in single coverage and yell, “JERMICHAEL FINLEY ON THE OUTSIDE.” Aaron Rodgers, who has strikingly beautiful eyes, hears me* and hits Jermike for a touchdown. Not yet realizing how often I call out for this play to happen, the girls at my table think I can tell the future. When Finley is single covered in the red zone, they should run this play approximately 100% of the time because he is too big to be covered by cornerbacks and too fast for linebackers.

*I may or may not truly believe that I have super psychic powers to control the outcome of Packers games. Other fans have these superstitions too, right? If you don’t suspend belief to think you have the ability to affect the outcome, what is the point of watching sports?

3:40 –  On the Chargers’ second play on their next drive, Charlie Peprah intercepts a Marmalard pass and runs it back for a touchdown. Always liked him. In all seriousness, though, this play is a metaphor for why the Packers are so great right now and built for sustained success. Peprah, originally a 5th-round pick of the Giants in 2006, played primarily on special teams for his first three seasons, appeared in just two games for the Falcons in 2009, stepped in last season at strong safety for an injured Morgan Burnett, started 11 games including two in the playoffs, and led the Packers with 10 tackles in the Super Bowl.

This season, he replaced injured pro bowler Nick Collins at free safety  and was initially a liability Week 3 versus the Bears. Now, however, he has picked up his new position (can someone who played football pretty please write the difference between free safety and strong safety  and why transitioning from one to the other might be difficult in the comments?) and is making huge plays on the road. Yes, the Packers are inordinately blessed to have Aaron Rodgers but Rodgers is blessed to lead a deep roster that is assembled by a general manager and coaching staff who have a track record in replacing injured starters with back-ups drafted in later rounds or acquired inexpensively. Every other team in the NFL could have had Charlie Peprah for the past five years. 14-7 Packers.

4:00 – Marmalard throws another pick-six, this time to Tramon Williams. I don’t wanna work, I just want to bang on the drums all day!!!  Interestingly, Williams has a similar story to Peprah: he was originally undrafted, signed by the Texans in 2006, got released, and worked his way up from the Packers practice squad to become one of the best cornerbacks in the league. 21-7 Packers.

6:45 – Fast forwarding to the fourth quarter, the Packers are up 45-24 after two meticulous touchdown drives sandwiched by a Chargers three-and-out. The Chargers, though refuse to go quietly. They execute a 7-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, recover the onside kick, and score again on their third play. 45-38 Packers and Will’s has gone from jubilant to mildly tense. Better to be up seven than down seven, though, and the Packers have been through these situations enough times in the last year that I am confident, albeit still nervous, that they will prevail.

7:00 – The Packers go three-and-out and the Chargers have the ball back on their own 48 with 4:48 left to play. I lead my table in the handholding ritual that worked for Habib, myself, and various others for Wisconsin-Iowa and countless Packers games over the past year but failed this season in Wisconsin-Michigan State and Wisconsin-Ohio State. So far, it remains undefeated with the Packers (I hope this isn’t like talking about a no-hitter…). It is only used on defense when the Packers are up one score or less and needs a stop with less than five minutes to play. We also adopt a new ritual of shaking hands for business-like stops on D. After the whole table shakes each other’s hands, Abby and Micah shake last and cross their arms to further convey a job well done. I have no idea how well or interestingly this translates into writing but I can assure you that it helps ease the tension of close games and may or may not impact what happens on the field.

7:05 – Two plays after a Charles Woodson pass interference penalty on 4th-and-2 gives the Chargers a new set of downs, Philip Rivers loses 10 yards via intentional grounding to make it 3rd-and-17 and throws an incompletion on the next play. The Packers get the ball back with 2:59 remaining. Handshakes.

7:15 – After a Packers punt, the Chargers get the ball back on their own 31 with 1:05 left to play and no timeouts. They pick up two first downs, reaching the Packers 41 before a Rivers incompletion and subsequent interception, his second errant pass on the afternoon to be caught by Charlie Peprah. Holding hands prevails. Handshakes all around. Packers win another game that was a little too close for comfort but are still in a tier by themselves at 8-0.

A couple quick takeaways from the game:

  • While the Packers may not be on par with other “historically dominant teams of recent memory,” Aaron Rodgers continues to be historically brilliant. Yesterday, he went 21-26 for 247 yards and four touchdowns, completing passes to seven different receivers. These passes are not just dinks and dunks; if the season ended today, Rodgers would have achieved the greatest completion percentage for a season in NFL history while also throwing deep and on the run quite often. He is the best quarterback in the NFL by a greater margin than the Packers are the best team. Packers fans are extremely lucky to have the opportunity to root for this man and this team week in and week out.
  • The Packers pass defense continued to struggle a little bit yardage wise, giving up 375 yards in the air yesterday. However, I am not that concerned about these stats because I think it is by design. With an offense that is so explosive, the Packers have the luxury of being able to take risks to try to force turnovers on defense. Net in net, those risks paid off yesterday as the Packers had three interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. The Chargers offense scored more points than the Packers offense yesterday but still lost. So far, obviously, this strategy has not cost the Packers any games and I trust that the coaching staff knows what it is doing.
  • I don’t want to jinx Mason Crosby–in this 14-game Packers win streak he has not had to make any kicks with the game on the line–but he deserves a lot of credit for making all 14 of his field goals so far this season. Anecdotally, I feel like he still would have made 100% of his field goals thus far if the goal posts were three feet closer on both sides–every one of his kicks seems to go straight through the middle. As I mentioned earlier, by the simple nature that there are not more professionally qualified kickers, kicking must be inordinately more difficult than we imagine. Mason Crosby is making it look straight up simple so far this year. Also, he tackles better than any kicker I’ve ever seen which counts for something.
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3 Responses to Football and Me Part X

  1. Ajit Iyer says:

    There isn’t a HUGE difference between FS and SS… the SS lines up on the ‘strong side’ of the field and is sometimes used to help stop the run while the FS is mainly a cover guy who roams around down field and is usually the deepest man.

  2. Ajit Iyer says:

    it could be tough to move from one spot to another because of the mental differences. I never played safety, but i can imagine it takes a conscious effort to move from being a run stopper to being the deepest man/last defense, like it would if a LB was moved from the inside to the outside.

  3. Claire says:

    “*I may or may not truly believe that I have super psychic powers to control the outcome of Packers games. Other fans have these superstitions too, right? If you don’t suspend belief to think you have the ability to affect the outcome, what is the point of watching sports?”

    I really like that, one of my favorite things you’ve ever written.

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