The irrational exuberance of August football
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Aug 11, 2010
Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan might be best known for his clever little term of art, "irrational exuberance." It described the unbridled expectations, the speculative fervor, of investors in the stock market in the tech-boom days of the 1990s.
Irrational exuberance described the belief, based purely on emotion and not on reason, that there was nothing but happy days ahead and that the global stock markets would spit out rainbows, lollipops and unicorns until the end of time.
But you know what happened in the real world: the good times came to a screeching halt, as "irrational exuberance" ran smack dab into the Cold, Hard Economic Facts. These days, Greenspan's phrase is a part of the pop-culture lexicon.
You certainly know the feeling when irrational exuberance meets reality. For example, you might think you're going to get laid this weekend. But you're a Troll. You spend your days perusing the Cold, Hard Football Facts. Women recoil at the thought of being on the same planet as you, let alone in the same $29-a-night hotel room. So you're clearly suffering from irrational exuberance. But deep down in side, the rationalist within you knows the truth: there will be no nookie for you this weekend.
The same kind of irrational exuberance is found among football fans and the pigskin "punditry" each year during training camp and the exhibition season. We smacked down those unreasonable expectations for each team last week (the AFC here and the NFC here).
Today, with the first full week of the exhibition season about to kickoff, we turn our sights on the sports media, demonstrating how irrational exuberance infects their reporting this time each year, too. With few Cold, Hard Football Facts to report, and only the dull drone of training camp practice to keep them occupied, the logic and reason of the "punditry" wavers and waddles like a 320-pound offensive tackle in the 105-degree training camp heat.
As a result, we get reports in which every rookie looks great, every veteran is poised for a big year, every team is destined to make big improvements over last year, and every team has a shot at a confetti-filled February fiesta in Dallas. For example, at this time of year, some people think Green Bay back-up Matt Flynn is better than Dallas stat monster Tony Romo; some people think Ben Roethlisberger has already remade his battered image; and some people believe that 30-year-old journeyman linebacker Tully Banta-Cain is the key to New England's defensive resurgence.
But you and we know the truth: there's a 96.9 percent chance that you're in for a season of disappointing performances, unfulfilled expecatations and crushing, season-ending defeat.
Here's a look at some of the irrational exuberance found in 12 key media and pro football markets around the country.
Hell, you don't need to travel far to find the mentally debilitating pox of irrational exuberance in Atlanta. You simply need to look at the screaming headlines Wednesday on the front page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution web site.
"Matt Ryan has the offense ready for take off" screams the headline on D. Orlando Ledbetter's column yesterday. And because multiple repeated repetition is the sincerest form of flattery, the AJC put that version of his column right next to Ledbetter's same column, with a headline that reads "Ryan, Falcons' offense look ready."
As the great Men at Work once sang with irrational exuberance, "It's just overkill."
Perhaps this would be the best time to remind you that folks in Atlanta now expect that the "offense is ready for take off" based upon Matt Ryan's performance in a scrimmage this week against Jacksonville – you know, the team that finished 30th in the NFL last year in Defensive Passer Rating, ahead of only 1-15 St. Louis and 2-14 Detroit.
Of course, let's not forget Mark Bradley's cheerleading headline back on July 27: "ESPN has the Falcons 8th-best in the NFL."
Or that's what the headlind SHOULD have read. It should have ended right there.
But Bradley actually editorializes in the headline itself. It actually reads: "ESPN has the Falcons 8th-best in the NFL, which sounds low" (emphasis is ours).
We shit you not. That's what the headline says. A prime example of irrational exuberance. Writes Bradley: "ESPN's survey still doesn't quite reflect the feeling I have for this team."
Perhaps Atlanta's training camp site in Flowery Branch is named for the prose that pours out of the local "punditry" this time each year.
In Dallas, it's not irrational exuberance that precedes each season. Instead, fans there think of overblown, unreasonable expectations as a birth right.
Cowboys fans are so excited that nearly 22,000 of them came out to watch the team walk through some drills Monday night.
To put 22,000 fans into perspective, keep in mind that it's about the same number of fans in the Metroplex who were still tuned into the fourth quarter of the team's no-show offensive effort of a 34-3 divisional playoff loss to the Vikings in January.
If that defeat didn't temper the irrational exuberance in Dallas, if the team's pathetic postseason record of the post few years didn't temper the irrational exuberance in Dallas, we're not sure what will. But it seems memories of crushing defeat fade fast in the face of irrational exuberance.
Nothing screams "mailing it in" or "training camp puff piece" quite like calling on an old legend at the golf course to get his take on the new young stud in camp.
Naturally, Mike Klis of the Denver Post couldn't resist this tried and true meth of pigskin puffery. He and the Denver media descended on John Elway at a golf tournament in late July much like a pack of hungry locusts with an insatiable appetite to chew up newsprint and digital bits on the web.
Naturally, the old warhorse heaped endless praise upon his hopeful heir apparent Tim Tebow – making for a perfect piece of irrational exuberance that defines training camp reports. Writes Klis:
"Elway likes (Tebow). Likes him a lot. Elway even thinks Tebow's highly scrutinized throwing motion is an overblown concern."
Hey, at least we agree with Elway in this case: as we stated months ago in a tremendous fact-filled opus that changed the way Tebow was perceived by many around the country, his throwing motion WAS an overblown concern.
Regardless, nothing inspires irrational exuberance in a fandom and accurately predicts a great career ahead quite like the old Hall of Famer tossing out a few sound bites in between a six-pack frosties on the 19th hole.
Packers fans have legit reasons for exuberance this year, even if it's not the irrational kind. Their quarterback has proven a quite capable passer, they were a statistically solid team in all phases of the game in 2009 and they're just as much a contender these days as they were in the BrettFavre Days of 1998-2007.
In fact, if anything, they're an even better contender now, without the anchor of BrettFavre's patented postseason meltdowns over that period hanging around their necks.
With that said, reporters still need to dig deep into the bag of clichés during the preseason, and Packers "pundits" are no different than the rest.
Note this patented mail-it-in preseason cliché of a report from Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the old "the back-up quarterback is looking good" story. This one is about second-year man Matt Flynn
The headline announces, "Packers confident Flynn has what it takes." (The word "confident" in a headline, by the way, is always a tip off that a waste of newsprint is about to follow; you'll get only puffery, and no Cold, Hard Football Facts.)
McGinn even finds an NFL executive to gush: "I think (Flynn) is the best back-up in the league."
Naturally, the executive is unnamed. Nobody in their right mind, not even under the influence of irrational exuberance, would be caught dead on the record announcing that Flynn might be "every bit as good as Tony Romo. Maybe better."
We can't make this stuff up, folks. But we do wish they could bottle irrational exuberance for the average CHFF Troll. "I'm smart. I'm skinny. I'm good looking. And gosh darn-it, chicks dig me!"
Nobody puts a happy face on a sh*t sandwich quite like delusional Colts fans, who have made an art form out of irrational exuberance for their quarterback in the wake of one crushing defeat after another.
Even its small-town, cheerleading media waves the pom-poms from time to time. Note Bob Kravitz's embarrassingly saccharine-sweet early August column, "These Colts aren't your typical Super Bowl losers." (Key word: losers.)
He admits there is "something to be said for the existence of a Super Bowl Loser Hangover." He even lists all the evidence, and there is plenty. Super Bowl losers of recent vintage rarely return to the playoffs, let alone compete for another title.
But the hallmark of irrational exuberance is that you never let the Cold, Hard Football Facts get in the way of a good story.
So Kravitz dismisses the evidence and offers a long and jubilantly optimistic assessment of the 2010 defending Super Bowl-loser Colts, ranging from the fact that "they have remained at the bell curve for a decade now" to his belief that they boast "the best veteran leadership in the league."
Gee, Bob. Isn't this the same "best veteran leadership in the league" that has made the Colts the worst big-game team in pro football history? Ahh, but in the pre-season, reality is not reality. Only optimism is reality.
Well, it's hard to find anything to be excited about in Kansas City these days. But victory has not eluded the lowly Chiefs. We learned this week that the "Chiefs beat hot weather with Monday evening practice."
Hey, winning is a habit, folks. And maybe it begins by wussing out in the face of Mother Nature.
The Boston Herald's Karen Guregian offered a super-rosy multi-part assessment of why the Patriots are destined for great things.
Her report ranges from the empty and hollow observation (Tom Brady is "into it, folks" and "so fired up") to the comical (rookie DB Darius Butler and journeyman linebacker Tully Banta-Cain will inspire a defensive renaissance) to the magical (Wes Welker's "miracle in the making").
Wow. Reporters in Boston are touting the following as the keys to success in 2010: Banta-Cain, an eighth-year journeyman with 25 starts under his belt and now in his second stint with the Patriots, and a rookie draft pick at DB drafted by a coach who can't draft DBs. It must be even worse than we thought in New England.
But then again, irrational exuberance is the salve that makes everything feel better in August.
As we noted last week, nothing short of some good drugs inspires irrational exuberance quite like winning a Super Bowl. So the Times-Picayune is one place where you can get your fix pretty quickly these days.
We learned this week alone that the Saints have – yup, you know it's coming, folks – they have "swagger."
Nothing makes us vomit more quickly than reading about a team's swagger. We wrote about this several times over the years. Apparently, fans, "pundits" and even players are under the impression that swagger wins games. We think they're watching too many Old Spice commercials.
We knew – we just absolutely KNEW – before turning to NOLA.com, that we'd find a headline referencing the team's swagger. Reporter Kevin Spain and his editors did not disappoint.
If that's not enough, we also learned this week that the Saints "are still rock stars of the NFL" – you know, STILL big stars. As if it's been years since they last tasted success.
Swagger is the sign of mailing it in by a reporter, something they discuss when there's really no meat on the bones that day. When you see somebody reporting on a team's "swagger," immediately close the browser or put the paper in the bird cage. Reports of "swagger" tell us that irrational exuberance has consumed the minds of both teams and the reporters who cover them.
Nobody, but nobody practices irrational exuberance quite like the media in the town that inspired the phrase. You can expect that feeling to ratchet up a few notches any time the team has a good season – as the Jets did last year by reaching the AFC title game.
Hey, the coach has even got in on the act, already predicting a Super Bowl victory, as if championships inevitably follow a 9-7 season.
Sure, the Darrelle Revis holdout has tempered some of the excitement, but not much. Fans and media in New York still treat the Jets as something of a combination of the 1947 Fighting Irish, 1973 Dolphins and 1995 Cornhuskers – dominated teams in one year destined for dominance again.
The promising young rookie of last year grabbing the leadership mantle this year is your typical clichéd training story. The N.Y. Post does not disappoint with this gem: "Jets' Sanchez grabbing the leadership mantle."
But at least Steve Serby has fun with the piece. In fact, his language is so over the top that we can only assume that he's mocking the irrational exuberance that defines training camp reporting. It seems Serby's tongue is firmly implanted in his cheek when he writes:
"This was the watershed moment when Mark Sanchez became the leader of the Jets. When The Kid became The General. It happened Thursday night" and "Rex Ryan said he notices an entirely different energy level on the field the minute Sanchez, with his infectious joie de vivre, shows up. He envisions a glorious 10-year run with him."
Of course, it wouldn't be a Super Bowl piece if it didn't reference the ubiquitous "swagger" with which contenders carry themselves and with which reporters and players without a thesaurus describe such contenders. In this case, the swagger comes in a quote attributed to Sanchez:
"A lot of the guys were like, 'OK. . . . All right!' " Sanchez said. "Damien Woody's like, 'All right, swagger, OK.' Woody'll say that anytime you assume command, you take charge."
Ahh, swagger. Assuming command. Taking charge. What would training camp be without a pile of sporting cliches to throw around.
The post-Donovan McNabb Era begins in Philly, so that's obviously the big storyline this year. It's hard to paint a rosy picture when you part ways with the team's best quarterback of the past 50 years and look to replace him with an unknown quantity – in this case, Kevin Kolb, he of the two career starts Kolbs.
But Philly reporter Paul Domowitch searched far and wide for that all-important rosy outlook here in the halcyonic days of irrational exuberance. He found it in an unlikely place: in the front office of the hated Cowboys.
Jerry Jones, it turns out, and as the Philly.com blog headlines reads, believes the Eagles "will be more consistent without McNabb."
Yup, nothing inspires confidence in the future like a rival executive offering faint praise for your untested quarterback. We can see fired-up Eagles fans chanting now: "We're more consistent! We're more consistent!"
The Post-Gazette has done a fairly decent job of sober reporting – something you might expect in what's arguably the most knowledgeable football market in the country. There are plenty of questions this year about Pittsburgh's generally poor special teams and its porous offensive line, which has struggled for two straight seasons in the wake of the Alan Faneca departure.
But it wouldn't be training camp without at least one questionable report coming out of a training camp, and the curious story in Pittsburgh is the rehabilitation of Ben Roethlisberger's reputation that will naturally require the aid of the local paper of record.
Oh, and look what we found here last week! That's right, heaps of praise for Big Ben's off-season/off-the-field activities from reporter Ray Fittipaldo.
Hell, even the Gridiron Godfather himself, the guy who put Roethlisberger on double-secret probation for four games, is suddenly Ben's best buddy. Reads the headline: "Goodell raves about Steelers' Roethlisberger" – you know, AFTER issuing him a four-game suspension for nothing more egregious than just being a young, rich dickhead.
We find out in the piece that Roethlisberger aids everybody in his spare time except the orphans of Calcutta – 'cause, you know, the new Big Ben probably doesn't want to compete with Mother Theresa's brand.
The quarterback situation in San Francisco is a disaster, as the club curiously put its hopes in arguably the two most disappointing draft picks of the past decade, David Carr (overall No. 1 in 2002) and Alex Smith (overall No. 1 in 2005).
But reporter Kevin Lynch tried his best last weekend to magically whip up some tasty ballpark garlic fries out of this can of quarterbacking Spam.
"Their balls came out quick and with accuracy. Carr consistently pushes the ball downfield deeper than Smith; he's more of a risk-taker. Carr also is more mobile than I expected."
The best part, though, is that even fans see through the irrational exuberance and the bullshit. Check out this comment by reader Flyingv68 right under Lynch's post:
"Kevin, I must say you do a fine job keeping the propaganda machine moving forward when you know damn well this football team is leaderless and has useless players taking up valuable spots on the team. You and everyone with a functioning brain knows you can't win in the NFL with a real Head Coach, OC and Quarterback yet you have these blind sheep buying into this same tired nonsense year after year without a peep of negativity."
Let's offer a cap tip to that 49ers fan. We guess when your team enjoyed rational exuberance for so many preseasons past, you don't quite fall for the irrational kind quite so easily.
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