A Walk on the Wild Side: NFL and FBS Politicking

This is where politics and public relations can go horribly wrong.

The following post is the transcript of an on-air editorial I presented on The Audible Roundtable during Week 11 of the 2010 football season. The opinions herein do not reflect those of my Audible co-hosts Cecil Lammey and Sigmund Bloom our our sponsor Footballguys.com. The Terry Tate Office Linebacker Undergoes Sensitivity Training segment was not broadcast in the original segment (but you know you want to see it again).

[Author’s Note]: Two days after this segment, the University of Illinois and Northwestern came to their senses after enormous media exposure in the days preceding  game at Wrigley Field to implement a stopgap safety measure that should have never been needed. Read below.

Roger Goodell visited Atlanta last Thursday to meet with Governor-elect Nathan “Shady” Deal and Atlanta Mayor – Yaphet Kotto lookalike – Kasim Reed. Apparently Goodell came to dangle the carrot of a Super Bowl in return for the promise of hundreds of millions of tax dollars to build an outdoor stadium for Arthur Blank.

The Georgia Dome, the Falcons’ current home, is the host to the annual ACC/SEC kick off game, the SEC championship, the Chick fil-A Bowl, and a regional leg of the NCAA basketball tourney. None of these organizations are calling for a new stadium when this one is just 19 years old. Plus our city and state still owe $214 million on the bonds used to finance its construction.

But I guess the promise of a Super Bowl that will benefit businesses far more than the state itself overrides an economic slump that has forced the legislature to cut the budget by more than $3 billion during the past three years with another $1 billion going the way of the dodo.

Right now Georgia can’t pay for its congested highways, its bottom feeding public schools, or vacant positions in its state patrol. And in 18 months we won’t be allowed to use a major source of our water supply. [Author’s note: the courts have ruled in Georgia’s favor since, but I believe there is another appeal coming.] But these politicians will gladly bend us over for corporate gain like we’re a couple of cheap tricks after a steak and shrimp dinner at the Sizzler and a Hershey bar. No wonder AMC’s The Walking Dead is set in Atlanta.

It ticks me off, but we know none of them really care about us. And at least the NFL is trying to give more than lip service about caring for their players’ health and safety. It’s the largest pro football league in the country disguised as institutions of higher education that leave me wondering if they’re about to join the worst of our priests and day care providers as ultimate hypocrites. Because for the first time in 40 years, the venerable Wrigley Field is hosting a football game when the University of Illinois and Northwestern face off within these famed confines.

Well, barely. Because the stadium can barely contain the field.

Its ivy-covered brick wall zig-zags so dangerously close to the back of the east end zone that at its shortest point in the middle there is no more than one-yard from the end line. It’s so tight of a fit the goal post has to be bolted to the top of its brick wall. There will be no red zone post patterns on this side of the field, only ambulance routes.

ESPN First Takes' Dana Jacobson's interview with Northwestern's head coach Pat Fitzgerald needed to be heavier on the journalism and lighter on the PR. Photo by Jeff Kern

ESPN First Take’s Dana Jacobson asked Northwestern Head coach Pat Fitzgerald how concerned he was for the safety of his players. And his response was so full of crap I have to share it with you. Here’s what he said:

Well, you know Dana when we looked at this last off season, the number-one priority was the health, safety and well-being of the players. Both coaching staffs and both athletic administrations approved playing down in Wrigley, but then it took the safety engineers and the civil engineers and both universities going down with the Cubs organization to take a look at the field and make sure that the health, safety and well-being of the players is in accordance for what it should be for a game. So I feel great about it because they are a lot smarter than I am and I’m just going to go coach the football team. But you don’t play all of the game at the one yard-line so with that being said it looks like its going to be an incredible atmosphere and a bowl game like atmosphere here in Chicago.

My take of what Fitzgerald was really thinking:

We knew there was a safety issue almost a year ago and we had to figure out a way to keep you guys from crawling up our John Brown hind parts. But it wasn’t really my call to play a game on field where my players have less space from the end line to the wall than most warning tracks in baseball games. When someone gets seriously injured, don’t interview me, either. Talk to my bosses and the engineers that rubber-stamped this deal, because the AD and the university president didn’t listen to me.

When I told them that getting your players to run through a brick wall for you is only supposed to be a metaphor for motivation, they told me to take my metaphor and do something anatomically painful with my whistle. So despite the fact that I was a helluva a linebacker that knows that the phrase “hitting like a ton of bricks is a figurative expression,” they told me that I was just a stupid coach of a 7-3 team that’s 3-3 in the Big Ten and make sure that I repeat the phrase health, safety and well-being over and over to the media, because this is probably as close to a bowl game as we’re gonna get.

Hell, we’ll be lucky to get to the one yard-line anyway. And if a wide receiver has to sacrifice his career and the ability to feel anything from the waist down, then at least the AD will probably be pumped about outsourcing an alum’s sweatshop to make some inspirational jersey patches with that player’s number on it that he thinks will inspire us to eek a couple more wins out and maybe then we’ll have a shot at the Poulan Weedeater Bowl.

And to answer your other question about how I game plan for this wall that we all known is a safety hazard, I didn’t tell them a damn thing. With the money we’re making from this game, the AD promised me two Cam Newtons and an All-State Texas linebacker if I kept my mouth shut. The one thing I wish I told the AD is that better stop calling me Patty before I lose my composure and pull a Terry Tate office linebacker on his ass.

Despite the fact you thought it was cool for the wall being so close to the action, ESPN’s Dana Jacobson, brick doesn’t give the same way as plexiglass or padded plastic. It’s fitting that Allstate has its logo emblazoned across a hazard that should have been deemed unfit for a ball game. It would at least be nice that this game’s sponsor could provide a special policy for all of the players involved.

Somehow I imagine that even if these players were in good hands, the NCAA would find some way labeling it a rules violation unless of course, these players opted to forfeit their weekly meal stipend. It’s just another example why I’m so hopping mad about college football these days. Because when it comes to screwing people over, at least politicians and the NFL are willing to take us to dinner first.

3 responses to “A Walk on the Wild Side: NFL and FBS Politicking”

  1. Thanks for all your hard work, Matt. I just purchased the RSP and decided to take on the FBG subscription too just for the additional entertainment. Love your blog and other writings. Please keep up the great work.

    Fine points on the whores in congress and the ncaa. I actually stopped watching college football a few years ago, which is very disadvantageous for fantasy prospecting, but its too far gone for me. Not having a playoff is ridiculous and this latest example certainly does little to dissuade me in my decision. The root of the problem is fiat money, but you probably knew that already.

    • Much appreciated. I think you’ll find the RSP useful and I’m glad you’re finding the blog worthwhile. I’m not a fan of college sports, either. I watch college games to learn about future NFL players. Otherwise, I can leave it for the reasons you described. Love the idea and concept of the school traditions and history, but professional minor league football cloaked in cap and gown doesn’t do it for me.

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