Remember when the Seahawks paid a pretty penny for Matt Flynn, then a charismatic rookie quarterback/messiah/cult leader/56th U.S. President named Russell Wilson won their hearts and left them no choice BUT to start him? That's what my readers did this week. I had a more ambitious plan for my Round 2 playoff column, but my readers sent along so many quality mailbag questions that I didn't have a choice.
Quick background on mailbags: I have been cranking them out since my old website launched in 1997, just a few scant years after Gore Vidal created the Internet. At the time, anyone who wrote about sports for an Internet site wrote exactly how people wrote in newspapers. Shorter, cleaner, more traditional stuff. Pieces weren't supposed to stretch long because online readers allegedly didn't have attention spans to sit in front of their computers and read stuff. (Ha.) Before my site launched, I sketched out a few running gimmicks that, in my opinion, could definitely work for a frequent online column. One idea was a straight rip-off of one of my favorite David Letterman gimmicks: "Viewer Mail." I loved that segment and spent most of the 1980s trying to get a letter answered on Letterman's show. Never happened. Why couldn't it work as an online column? Instead of letters, couldn't readers send in e-mails that I'd have fun answering, and somehow there would be enough for a whole column?
When my AOL-only page launched on Digital City Boston in May of '97, I was especially excited for three ideas: I wanted to write a running diary of watching the NBA draft at my dad's house, I wanted to write about the 30 Worst Sports Movies of all time, and I wanted to write a "Viewer Mail" column. But I needed enough decent e-mails to pull it off. I posted my first four columns and stuck my AOL e-mail underneath every one of them, hoping I'd get enough e-mails for an entire "Viewer Mail." But in 1997 the Internet was a bizarre cross between the Wild Wild West and a maximum-security prison. There were no rules, no accountability, and more incoherent, typo-infested, all-caps e-mails than you can possibly imagine. I remember being shocked by how vicious people were. One time, I called Karl Malone "The Mail Fraud" in a column and someone from Utah (who somehow found the piece) sent me a legitimate death threat while also describing various ways I could have coitus with myself. Knives and axes were included. Not just knives — knives AND axes. So that was interesting.
That didn't stop me from wanting to write an all-reader column. I thought about calling the first one "Reader Mail" (as a Letterman homage) before ultimately settling on the totally forgettable moniker "Feedback." I zipped through every decent reader e-mail I had saved in an AOL document — by the way, don't think this process has changed for me 16 years later; it's EXACTLY the same — before realizing I didn't have quite enough. I was one decent e-mail short. I had to use one from my Uncle Mark,1 who had sent me a teasing e-mail after I made fun of Tiger in a previous column. Just for unintentional comedy's sake, here was the e-mail (and my response):
MZAMIARA WRITES: You've got it out for the Tiger. Let's see you make that kind of money on your sticky candy-coated couch potato Sega joy stick. Do you get nervous when that pizza man is about to bang on your door when you go to make that 12 foot putt?
SG: Hah! When I'm playing Sega Genesis, I can tune out just about everything — Charlestown parents screaming at their children ("Bow-bby, Maaaaak, Jenni-fah, come he-ahhh!"), the sweltering heat of my 4th floor apartment, the cackling sounds of my roommate as he watches Howard Stern's "E! Television" show, girlfriends leaving nasty messages on my answering machine ("Bill, I think we need to talk I don't like how you make me wear Larry Bird's jersey to bed every night "). Let me tell you, the pizza man ringing the doorbell doesn't even faze me. I welcome the distraction.
For God's sake, read that thing again! Did I even write that? Who was that guy? I was living in Charlestown (Massachusetts) with a roommate. Larry Bird, Howard Stern, ex-girlfriends, young Tiger Woods, Sega Genesis take a big whiff and you'll smell the pungent odor of 1997. A year when, by the way, Grantland's own Rembert Browne and Robert Mays were 9 years old. I will now light myself on fire. (No, really, I'm doing it this time.)
We posted the "Feedback" column and boom! Coherent e-mails started trickling in! The next "Feedback" was significantly meatier. From there, we were off and running. To be clear — I'm not taking credit for creating mailbags or anything. It couldn't have been a more obvious gimmick for an online column. (Especially for anyone old enough to remember "Dear Abby.") If anything, NOT doing them would have been weird. But there was no model to point to in 1997, either. How long should these be? How long should my answers be? Could I make fun of readers within the column, or would they take it personally? Could I use the same person twice in the same column, or would it seem like I was desperate for e-mails? If a reader wrote something offensive, could I still run that e-mail and make fun of it, or was I condoning that e-mail by running it? Did I include their real e-mails? Their real names? How did this work?
I spent the next three years figuring out answers to those questions while blowing out "Feedback" into a much longer column. It was always my favorite one to write. Always. The format hasn't changed, and it hasn't really needed to change. I have never made up an e-mail simply because I never needed to make one up. Readers were always funny and interesting and smart and goofy and — especially — just plain bizarre. "Feedback" could veer in any direction at any time, and when you think about it, that's the biggest asset of the Internet, right?
During my last year with my old site, I started writing a spin-off "Sports Guy Mailbag" that featured longer answers; when I finally arrived at ESPN.com in 2001, I ended up merging the feedback and mailbag ideas together into the current format. (Here's the first one.) It remains my single favorite column gimmick even after all these years. They are my weakness. I genuinely love writing them. And actually, I always write them long and end up cutting backward — there's usually 1,000 or so words that get chopped every time. I know, it's ridiculous. It's a freaking mailbag. Everyone has a mailbag at this point. But every time I write one, I think back to the day when I was one e-mail short and had to hit up Uncle Mark.2
This week? We were about 10 e-mails too long. So fuck yeah, we're doing a two-part mailbag before Round Two picks. Thanks as always for writing in. As always, these are actual e-mails from actual readers.
Q: Why isn't it a bigger deal that Aaron Rodgers is going up against the team that passed on him with their first pick in the 2005 NFL Draft?
—Mike, Oregon, WI
Q: I think you are forgetting something with the Packers-Niners game this week. This is the ultimate Aaron Rodgers "FU" game dating back to the 2005 Draft. He finally gets to show the Niners how they screwed up not picking him as the local kid to lead the franchise. What could be better? Alex Smith on the roster, but benched. Check. Already has a Super Bowl victory. Check. In front of his hometown crowd in a playoff game. Check plus. I think Rodgers is about to play out of his mind.
—Jim Petersen, Taylorville, IL
SG: All right, I'm starting to get roped in. One or two more e-mails could push this over the edge.
Q: You know that little idiom that you use? The one where you tell yourself to never bet against Aaron Rodgers? The one based on the idea that Rodgers tells every media member he can that he holds grudges? The one that 60 Minutes spent an entire segment chronicling how sensitive Rodgers is to perceived slights as little as coming off as short in person? Yeah, that one! Well this week it's at DEFCON 12.3 Not only is Aaron Rodgers returning home to NorCal to play football for the first time since 2008, but he's doing it against his childhood team. The team that passed him up with their first pick in the NFL Draft, which created this clip.
Are you telling me Aaron Rodgers hasn't gone to bed every night since April 23, 2005 waiting for a moment like this give the 49ers a huge F-U? This has the potential to be the biggest revenge story since Arnold in Commando.
— Matt Gullickson, Laguna Niguel
SG: Whoa, video evidence plus a forced reference to a 1980s movie? You know the key to my heart, Matt Gullickson. What a fascinating clip. How can anyone pick the Niners after seeing that clip? Let's quickly zip through Rodgers's potential for an Eff You game.
Motivation: Through the roof. He's been waiting for eight solid years to play this specific game. And it's do-or-die to boot.
Talent: He's one of the three most talented QBs in football by any calculation. It's Brady, Manning and Rodgers in some order.
Playoff Chops: Won the Super Bowl two years ago. I think we're fine here.
Danger of Him Being Adrian Balboa'ed: (a.k.a. domesticated by a new wife or girlfriend who is either giving him phenomenal, mind-altering sex or saying things to him like "You have to stop blaming the Niners, it's juvenile, you're better than that" or "Your offensive line can't block, you're playing on the road YOU CAN'T WIN!!!!!!"). Google tells us that Rodgers might be engaged to girlfriend Destiny Newton, but I really think we're fine here.4
Eff You History: He's been complaining about the 2005 draft for years; only Tom Brady has been the subject of more "How getting slighted in the draft gave Quarterback X the motivation to become great" features. Even recently, you might remember Rodgers annihilating Houston in a Sunday-night game; early in the first quarter of that game, Cris Collinsworth did the chuckling, We talked to Aaron last night and he couldn't believe people were counting the Packers out, you just got the sense from him that there was no way Green Bay was losing tonight routine, followed by everyone who gambles on football saying, "Hey, Cris, you couldn't have told us that 15 minutes before the game?"
Eff You History, Part 2: After that Houston game, this happened.
Supporting Media Evidence: You mean, like a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel piece headlined, "Rodgers ready for fun — and a little revenge"? Is that what you were thinking?
Intangibles: San Francisco kicked Green Bay's asses in Week 1 Mike McCarthy was San Francisco's offensive coordinator in 2005, when they passed on Rodgers, leaving the door open for Rodgers to sarcastically hug McCarthy after a five-TD game while whispering, "Don't think some of that wasn't for you, too" Niners star Justin Smith is either missing the game or playing hurt (huge blow to their pass rush) Green Bay's receiving crew is the healthiest it's been all year Rodgers is going against a first-year starter, so really, you'd be taking A FIRST-YEAR STARTER AGAINST AARON F-ING RODGERS oh, and he's playing in the Bay Area against his hometown team, which didn't take him in the draft, in case you forgot.
Final Eff You Potential Verdict: Through the roof.
Q: Heard you talking on your podcast about potentially taking the 49ers on Saturday night. Just a quick reminder: the number one shoulder chip QB going against his childhood team — the team that PASSED on him in 2005. Watch this quick clip and bet against Rodgers at your own risk.
—Ryan McCormick, Phoenix
SG: Did you watch that clip again? Good lord. I'm taking the Packers +3. It's done.
Q: Can we get a Levels of Losing ruling for the Redskins-Seahawks game: Watching the amazing athlete who saved your team shred his ligaments bit by bit, knowing he has no chance of pulling it out, yet the defense holds you in there until the end, realizing it was a wonderful season but now, with the bad snap everyone saw coming for three quarters, it may never happen again, confirming your fears that this was just too good to be true. The game doesn't matter. If only RGIII had made it out OK, I'd be alright.
SG: After Tom Brady blew out his knee eight minutes into the 2008 season, I created a new Level of Losing called "The Left at the Altar Loss", which I described at the time as "When you're waiting for months and months for the season to start (like planning a wedding), then you have your fantasy drafts (the bachelor party), then you have the rehearsal dinner the night before (making your starting fantasy lineups, making your bets, figuring out which games you'll watch Sunday), then you go to the church for the actual wedding (getting in front of the TV for the 1 p.m. ET games) and as you're standing on the altar, you find out your bride either changed her mind or got run over by the limo driver. That was me and every other Patriots fan that Sunday — we had our tuxedos on, we were ready to go, and suddenly we were sitting in a waiting room in a hot tuxedo waiting for medical updates on our comatose fiancée and halfheartedly trying to talk ourselves into one of the bridesmaids." Griffin's knee injury was a combination "Left at the Altar Loss" and a "Guillotine" (because you were fearing that it might happen for three and a half quarters), so as far as I can tell, it's the first-ever "Guillotined at the Altar" loss.
Q: Was watching the Seahawks-Redskins game with a couple friends. As it was coming to an end, we were trying to figure out who the Hawks were going to play next. We easily named off SF and GB, but we couldn't remember who the other NFC playoff team was. It took us all about two minutes to finally say, "oh yeah, the Falcons!!!" Nobody believes in them. I can't be the only one who finds this hilarious. They could have finished 16-0 and still only Rembert would believe in them.
SG: (Suddenly nervous about the Seahawks +2.5.)
Q: I'm a big BC fan and I just have to say don't bet on Matt Ryan. I love the guy but he has never shown up for a big game ever. He was awful in two ACC title games. Nothing in big bowl games, lots of regulation comebacks but no big games. And the trend followed right on to the Falcons, 0-3 playoffs. Stay away.
SG: (Feeling better.)
Q: So I was preparing for my first sexual experience this weekend and I encountered something more nerve-wracking than the experience itself
buying the condom. How does one go about it? Do you go to a convenience store far away so no one recognizes you? Do you buy other things with it so it looks like you haven't been dreading this moment all day? Do you look the cashier in the eye like "Yeah
you know what's up." No sports question here, just an important life question.
SG: Two tips: Always buy a few other things and ALWAYS make eye contact. And make the eye contact with one of those "That's right, I'm getting laid tonight" looks on your face. Don't look like this:
Q: Is Robert Griffin's injury the first example of a player/coach/team being criticized for letting an injured player continue to play following all of Goodell's changes to player safety? If this injury happened 3-5 years ago Griffin would be lauded for playing through the pain. Philip Rivers played the 2008 AFC Championship game with a torn ACL and was praised for it. Though Griffin does use his legs a lot more than Rivers does, the situations are similar. Is the era of the play-through-pain tough guy gone?
—John B., Bloomington, IN
SG: The short answer: No way. I think people just love Griffin. They didn't want to see his career risked or endangered in any way. If you think of him like an action movie hero, it makes more sense. He's reckless, he's exciting, he keeps finding danger, he keeps you on your toes there's just something about the way Griffin plays that makes you feel like you're a nervous parent watching your ninth-grade son playing a high school game against bigger kids. I watched Redskins games for four solid months without any real interest other than, "It's especially fun to watch Robert Griffin. I hope he doesn't get hurt." And every time he scrambled — even if you picked against the Redskins in your picks pool, even if you wagered against him, even if you were going against him in fantasy — as soon as he started getting a little too ambitious and thinking to himself, I know that big safety is coming at me, but maybe I can get by him, you were thinking to yourself, NO, RG3! GO DOWN! JUST GO DOWN! while secretly hoping he didn't go down and tried to deke the guy.
In general, 2012 turned into the Season of Player Safety — we thought about it constantly, we felt guilty about it (most recently, upon hearing the profoundly discouraging news of Junior Seau's CTE diagnosis), we fretted that we weren't doing enough, we spread blame around, we wondered why nobody who ran the league truly started caring about this stuff until the last couple of years. But I don't think that affected how people reacted to Griffin on Sunday. Phil Rivers earned our respect in 2008 — I think that still happens five years later. Ben Roethlisberger practically played with a broken rib jutting through his torso — we didn't expect anything less because he's Big Ben, tough dude, plays through anything. Peyton Manning decided to keep playing football after four neck surgeries, which sure seems dangerous — and yet, I can't remember anyone vehemently protesting. Meanwhile, Jay Cutler left a 2010 playoff game with a knee injury even though he could have limped around and kept playing. Remember what happened? He got raked over the coals by just about everyone. So it depends on the guy.
In Griffin's case, he wanted to keep playing. His team didn't trail for the first 50 minutes of the game, and his coach believed just having a hobbled Griffin out there gave the Redskins the best chance to keep that lead. Oh, and the Redskins were paying the best knee expert on the planet to stand on their sideline and help them with this ongoing decision. (Note: Andrews claims they didn't ultimately listen to him. Who knows?) I watched every play of that game with Mays and Jacoby from Grantland; we didn't even have the "Should they pull Griffin for Cousins?" conversation until Seattle went up by seven. (They said no. I said yes, but only because I thought Cousins had proven himself in a similar situation.) But I was waaaaaaaaaay more nervous than usual, and really, it's because I love watching Griffin play football. It's the same reason there was a disproportionate amount of venom toward Mike Shanahan (for keeping him out there) and the Redskins (for being the umpeteenth NFL team that was too cheap to have a respectable field for a playoff game). They jeopardized someone we liked watching.
Q: How can anyone take your playoff picks seriously after what happened in Week 17? You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders — maybe it's not as famous as "never get involved in a land war in Asia," but "Never bet on Tony Romo, when the playoffs are on the line!" has to be right up there, right?
SG: Should we change Romo's nickname from "The Romocoaster" to "The Asian Land War?" I'm on the fence.
Q: You must feel great right now, because facing the Texans is a blessing. Matt Schaub is just horrible, and you might be right about him being hurt. You can only throw so many passes into the flat before one is going to be jumped and picked off. However, New England is screwed in the AFC Championship. Because they will either be going to Denver and lose to the Magical Comeback Season of Peyton Manning, or else they will face the Ravens at home again, in the We Want Revenge For Last Year And We Have Added Emotion Because We Hate You And We Want To Win For Ray game. It's going to be like there are 11 Bernard Karmell Pollards on the field every play. So enjoy this win because it's going to be your last this season.
—Taylor, Patchogue, NY
SG: I don't like your tone, Mister. But you just made the best possible case for the Patriots — a case that somehow doesn't involve their finally healthy offense, Bill Belichick or Tom Brady. Here's the problem for Houston: Matt Schaub doesn't look right and hasn't since the last time he played in New England. Can't throw the ball downfield at all. Rushes his throws when he thinks he's getting hit. Everything is 15 yards and in. If Andy Dalton hit a wide-open A.J. Green on either of those deep balls, the Texans would have had to score 21 points or more to win and I'm not sure they could have done it. And that was indoors! I don't think you can win outdoors in New England without throwing the ball — especially against a team that can drop 30-40 points on any Sunday. I just don't see it. There's a reason Vegas jacked the spread two points higher than it should be. Nobody wants to take Schaub on the road.
Q: After watching Eddie Money's Geico commercial, I couldn't help but think "he's still alive?" Did he win the "He's Still Alive???" award in 2012? You know, someone who showed up out of nowhere and forced you to Google them to make sure that they were indeed, alive? The other candidate was Mike D'Antoni, but upon further review, watching him coach the Lakers
nope, he's dead.
—Justin G, Wilkes Barre
SG: Too soon! My 2012 "He's Still Alive???" award goes to the Iron Sheik, who reinvented himself as a celebrity Twitter troller extraordinaire and passed 200,000 followers recently. Throw in a never-ending supply of warm camel semen and he's never been happier. That's right, you drink camel semen, Iron Sheik! AMERICA NUMBER ONE! IRAN, HAK-PTEW! It's too early to declare a 2013 winner, as much as I want to give it to Gary Bruce Bettman. Speaking of Bettman
Q: This should have been an easy victory for the NHL. The season will happen, hockey is back, Hallelujah Amen. BOOM! Instead they picked the worst possible time/manner to announce the deal. First, they made the announcement on 6 am on a Sunday. I don't know about you, but I'm almost always guaranteed to be passed out at that point. By the time I'm awake/not hungover it's football time. Why would the NHL announce the deal on a day that some major playoff games were happening? Are they shortsighted when it comes to EVERYTHING? I need ANSWERS!
—James Cutler, Philly
SG: That e-mail was Reason No. 193 why Gary Bruce Bettman is the NHL's serial killer. Reason No. 194: Instead of "leaking" a tentative schedule for that first weekend of games (January 19 and 20) before the players ratified the new CBA, the league smartly decided not to leak anything — now we're eight days away from the start of the season, and no NHL season-ticket holder can make plans that weekend or effectively answer questions like, "Should we make dinner reservations for that Saturday night or do you have a hockey game?" or "Are we still going camping this weekend or do we have to stick around?" And god forbid you have kids with scheduled playdates, birthday parties, soccer games or whatever — you're at the whim of Gary Bruce Bettman, the most incompetent sports commissioner who ever lived.
True story: My father is visiting next weekend to see his grandkids and possibly watch the Broncos-Patriots game if the Patriots can get past Houston this weekend. (See what I did there? Hold on, I'll knock on a little more wood to be safe.) The Sports Gal and I ended up having this exchange.
Her: "What are we doing that Saturday with your dad?"
Me: "Not sure yet — there might be a Kings game. They might raise the banner that afternoon."
Her: "What time?"
Me: "It's unclear, they haven't announced the schedule yet."
Me: "Because the players need to sign the new labor deal."
Her: "They can't just tell you what games are the first weekend?"
Her (agitated): "Doesn't hockey realize that people make plans ahead of time for weekends?"
Me: "I I don't know."
Her: "So we can't plan anything on Saturday until we find out if there's a hockey game."
Her: "Even thought it's basically a week from now?"
Me: "Right. And even though they've been holding my season-ticket money since last April."
Her: "SERIOUSLY, WHY IS HOCKEY SO STUPID?????"
(Congratulations to my wife for being the 100 millionth North American to ask this question.)
Q: I am beyond excited about the NHLs impending return. What am I not excited about? Bettman. My math teacher was talking to me and came up with a great idea to really stick it to Bettman. With ten minutes and three seconds left in every period, fans would begin a three second countdown, "three, two, one, Bettman sucks" It would be awesome. Imagine hearing that at the halfway mark of every period. The only problem is that everyone would have to know. Could this idea spread through social media? It would be the perfect way to stick it to the man who has screwed NHL fans over and over again. Tweet it, write about it, you're the Sports Guy, you can make this happen.
—Kent, Hartford, CT
Q: Since Nate Silver is predicting a Pats-Seahawks Superbowl (and seeing that he has been 100% right lately) what are you going to do if that happens?
—Dave, So. Florida
SG: On behalf of all Patriots fans, it's great to have The Witch on our side — and if Politico passive-aggressively criticizes Nate's pick over the next few weeks as it slowly comes true, even better. We couldn't be happier. What a double treat. And if it ends up being Pats-Seahawks, I need you to understand something. There's only one thing worse than losing a Super Bowl to anyone named "Manning" and that's losing a Super Bowl to Pete Carroll. If the Seahawks are standing in the way of our fourth Bowl, I will turn on Russell Wilson faster than Magic Johnson turned on the Mike D'Antoni hiring.
Q: Did you see the Rex Ryan tattoo of his wife wearing a Sanchez jersey? Is Rex in the Tyson Zone yet?
—Jake Bryant, Weymouth, MA
SG: Rex's marriage is in the Tyson Zone. You name it, I'm prepared for it. A leaked swingers video with the Ryans, Phil Jackson and Jeannie Buss? I'm prepared. A stolen text phone photo of Rex dressed like Bella from Twilight and his wife dressed like Edward? I'm prepared. A holiday card of Rex dressed like Tarzan and swinging from Brett Favre's dong into the arms of his Jane wife? I'm prepared.
Q: What if the Patriots lost to Denver, then let Welker leave and he signed with the Broncos?
—Brandon, Winston Salem
SG: (Unable to speak.)
Q: Where would that rank on the Betrayal Scale?
—Brandon, Winston Salem
SG: (Slowly turning bright red.)
Q: Is there even a betrayal scale? You should make one.
—Brandon, Winston Salem
SG: GET THE HELL OUT OF MY MAILBAG! GET OUT! AND DON'T EVER COME BACK!!!!!
Q: If the Vikings' loss wasn't bad enough, I now have to deal with the Joe Webb rookie card I bought on eBay earlier today when I found out he was starting. I think I am going to take the hit on my feedback rating over paying for the card. What would you do?
—Ken, St. Paul, MN
SG: Pay for the card, have fun with it. You'll get some comedy out of the card. Your friends will laugh, you can make fun of it — you can't lose. And from a karma standpoint, you don't want to assume "I didn't pay off an eBay bid" karma when you already have "I root for the Vikings" karma. By the way, the big winner of that Vikings-Packers game was Christian Ponder — he would have almost definitely stunk in that game, followed by a spring and summer of "Are the Vikings wasting Peterson's prime with Ponder?" questions. Instead, Vikings fans are saying things like, "I can't believe how much we missed Ponder!"
Q: Remember that classic SNL sketch about the all-drugs Olympics? How about an all sports Hall of Fame for PED users? How about an initial class of Ben Johnson, Lance Armstrong, Lyle Alzado, Barry Bonds and the East German Womens Swimming Team trainer (special contributor)?
—Ben Saunders, NY, NY
SG: These two guys would like to have a word with you.
Q: It's finally here, the moment I've been waiting for all season; the chance to bet a road underdog against the Falcons in the Playoffs. But now I'm second guessing myself. Thinking this is the year Matt Ryan finally breaks through because they are the "Nobody believes in us" 13-3 #1 seed. I hate this.
—AJ, Peabody, MA
SG: Stick to your guns, AJ. Remember what got us here — hard work, extraordinary patience, an unwavering belief in yourself, and the knowledge that everything would pay off in Round 2 when we could wager on a quality road team in Atlanta. Keep your eyes on the prize. Don't get suckered in by the whole "West Coast team playing a 1 p.m. East Coast game" thing, Chris Clemons's knee injury, or even the fact that it's the most important game Matt Ryan has ever played (and he knows it). And don't worry about the "Nobody Believes In Us" thing. The Giants murdered that theory this season. Everyone's onto it now. Can't work if everyone has their guards up. Take the Seahawks, take the points. They are better.