It’s fitting that, in a year when the NFL had so many of its worst qualities on full display, that we were given a final game like the one America endured last night, a game that was on the verge of becoming the absolute shittiest Super Bowl of all time before the 49ers woke up and turned it into a prolonged cocktease. Ravens/Niners was a microcosm of everything that went wrong with the NFL this season, including:
1. Horrible officiating. There’s something dispiriting about a game whose outcome turns on whether the ref decides to throw a flag. Niners wideout Michael Crabtree was clearly held by Ravens corner Jimmy Smith on San Francisco’s doomed fourth down attempt at the end of the game. You could see Smith holding onto Crabtree’s jersey. Outside of Baltimore, I don’t think anyone would have bitched about a flag being thrown on that play (especially since it would have probably led to a far more exciting final minute of regulation). Just like during the replacement ref debacle in the season’s first three weeks, you got the sense that the outcome last night was more or less arbitrary: that the NFL is still frantically trying to alter the fundamental nature of football on the fly, and the game itself is losing any sense of structure because of it. But again, I’m just bitching because that ending was a real letdown, man.
2. Violence. Think the NFL is a barbaric sport that sends unwitting players to an early demise? Well then, you had a great chance to put on your angry pants during the first-half scuffle in which Ravens corner Cary Williams got stepped on by an opposing player and then went absolutely batshit, pushing a ref but somehow managing to avoid being tossed from the game. Of course, it was easy to overlook this whole fracas because CBS barely bothered to replay it, which brings us to…
3. Miserable, awful, terrible broadcasting. That CBS failed to go back and show Williams getting stepped on was a bizarre oversight, but it was hardly surprising on a night when the network acted as if it were broadcasting a live football game for the first time. When Crabtree got held at the end of the game, I swear to you that analyst Phil Simms said it was a good no-call because it was so late in the game. A human being actually thought this was a logical thing to say, that it’s somehow wise of an official to completely ignore infractions depending upon what time of day it is. Why is this person allowed to speak during the game?
Some of his friends and teammates remember Anthony Wayne Smith as a strange and volatile guy, prone to paranoia and outrageous lies. Others recall a gentle giant who gave to charity and mentored kids. None would have predicted that he’d retire from football to a life of arson, torture, and murder—but that’s exactly what prosecutors allege. As the former defensive end (57 1/2 career sacks) waits trial for four killings over a nine-year span, Kathy Dobie unravels a life that made his violence on the field seem like child’s play:
On a cool, drizzly February night in 2003, at one thirty or so in the morning, a police officer cruising down Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica spotted flames shooting horizontally out a window of the Simply Sofas furniture showroom. From overhead he could hear popping sounds as the fire leapt up to eat at the power lines in the street outside. Inside, the blaze spread quickly, engulfing upholstery and wood, roaring up through the roof and melting the metal skin right off the loading dock door.
The fire was almost immediately deemed suspicious. Firefighters reported the strong smell of gasoline, and when investigators were able to get inside the building the next day, they found three “firebombs”—five-gallon plastic water jugs cut off at the neck, stuffed with paper and filled with gasoline. The evidence was gathered and sent to the lab.
Five months later, Sergeant Robert Almada, the police investigator for Santa Monica’s Arson Squad Task Force, walked into the interview room at the police station on Main Street with every reason to believe things were going his way. He had motive—revenge—and he had the kind of physical evidence almost never left behind in a fire: thirty pieces of gasoline-soaked mail, each addressed to the suspect or his wife. (In the heat of the blaze, the firebombs had caved in on themselves, preserving the magazines and catalogs and envelopes inside.) That suspect, one Anthony Smith, six feet four inches and over 320 pounds, a 36-year-old former defensive end for the L.A./Oakland Raiders, dwarfed the little table in the room.
Jenny Johnson has learned a few things from her fellow football fans. Here’s her guide on how to be a REAL fan:
If you follow me on Twitter, it will come as no surprise to you that I’m a huge fan of the Houston Texans. I frequently show my support for the Texans by going to their practices, games, tweeting my support, texting well-wishes to my Houston Texan friends on game day and posting Texans pics on my Instagram. I started observing other sports fans while at games, while watching the team play from my local neighborhood pub and reading people’s @ replies to me following one of my supportive Texans tweets. Then it occurred to me that I’ve been doing it all wrong. When the Texans lost the playoff game to the New England Patriots, I congratulated the Patriots on my Twitter page like some kind of idiot, I should’ve been talking shit! Well I won’t make that mistake twice. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my fellow football fans on how to be a REAL fan.
- Always call the opposing teams quarterback something homophobic. “Stupid faggot” or “Cocksucker” seem to be popular names for whoever is taking snaps against the team you love. Also say things like, “I hope that cocksucker [insert player’s name] is ready to be raped by my [insert team name].” It really proves your undying love for a group of muscular, sweaty men who have no idea who you are.
- A great move when at a game is to simply roll your game program up into a tube and shout plays at the coach from your nose bleed seat. Who cares if the coach can’t hear you? You want him to get his head out of his ass, and by god, you are gonna let him know. The people seated around you will love to hear your knowledge of football screamed through a $15 magazine of players’ names and stats.
- Get drunk, then begin explaining the rules of football to whomever is next you.
Late last year, we at GQ compiled a list of the eighteen dumbest decisions in sports and, if we had to do it all over again, Drew Magary is betting that Redskins head tanner Mike Shanahan’s decision to leave a handicapped Robert Griffin III in a playoff game just long enough to have his knee blown apart would rank pretty high on the list.
When you expand the playoffs, you’re letting in more dreck, simultaneously making both regular season games and playoff games mean less. The problem is that the NFL doesn’t really give a shit. They already know you’re locked in. After all, you’ve come this far, haven’t you?
This year’s surprise hothouse of social liberalism: the NFL. It began in August when Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (above, right) donated a pair of tickets to a gay-marriage fund-raiser—and got blasted for it by Maryland politico Emmett C. Burns, who told Ayanbadejo to shut his yap and stick to football. Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe roared to his fellow NFLer’s defense, sending a scathing, hilariously profane letter to the sports website Deadspin in which he called Burns, among other gems, “a narcissistic fromunda stain.” (For those wondering, “fromunda” is basically, well, groin stank.) We called up Ayanbadejo and Kluwe for a joint GQ interview.