Walkthrough: Sex and Death Skepticism

Walkthrough: Sex and Death Skepticism
Walkthrough: Sex and Death Skepticism
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Mike Tanier

The hookers are coming! The hookers are coming! Or maybe they aren't.

Last November, Dallas police sergeant Louis Felini announced that he anticipated between 50,000 and 100,000 prostitutes descending upon his city for the Super Bowl. According to the Dallas Women's Institute, 38,000 of those prostitutes would be underage. Dallas, like the host cities of past Super Bowls, braced for a Category 5 hooker storm.

The problem is that it is all nonsense. Peter Kotz of the Dallas Observer does such an incredible, hilarious job debunking the hooker myth that I don't dare steal one of his insights. OK, I will steal one: The Dallas Women's Institute calculated their underage prostitute estimate by looking at advertisements by back-page escort services and guessing the age of the ladies in the photos. It was well-intentioned but overwhelmingly distorted activism masquerading as data analysis.

The Super Bowl Hookers myth has been around for years. It spawned in the same nutrient-rich bunk propagation environment that made Super Bowl Sunday a "day of dread" for domestic violence attacks. That particular urban legend spread in 1993 and lingered for several years. Domestic violence and prostitution are serious social issues, but shoehorning them into the Super Bowl hype both trivializes them and focuses attention away from their real root causes and possible solutions.

Still, all it takes is one scientific-looking report with the words "Super Bowl" attached to it to grab national attention during hype week. Hand-wringing, uncritical recitals of the "underage prostitute" myth are appearing all over the media right now. A brief Google search should yield a few dozen, with one or two skeptical articles like Kotz's shouted down in between.

The Hundred Thousand Hookers headline was so crazy that it should have immediately raised doubts. Other Super Bowl-related stories are less sensational, but they still should be looked at more carefully. When an article about Super Bowl-related heart attack deaths started circulating this week, my skeptic senses started tingling. According to the study, cardiac events resulting in death increase 15 percent among men and 27 percent among women in the two weeks after the local team loses the Super Bowl. Most of the heart attacks occur among individuals over 65, according to the study, which reported an extra 2.6 deaths per 100,000 people each day for 14 days after a Super Bowl loss.

The heart attack study was published by Clinical Cardiology. A cursory look at their site suggests it is a legitimate, peer-reviewed journal. Still, the methods outlined by Dr. Robert Kloner do not sound very promising. Kloner and his colleagues counted heart-related deaths in the Los Angeles area during the two weeks after the Super Bowl XIV in 1980, when the Rams lost to the Steelers. For controls, he used Super Bowl XVIII, when the Los Angeles Raiders beat the Redskins in 1983, and seasonal averages for heart-related deaths in Los Angeles in non-Super Bowl years.

In other words, we are basing a national story on 30-year-old data from the mainframe era of data management, pertaining to one two-week period in one urban area. The 1983 Raiders data didn't stray much from the non-Super Bowl control group, according to abstracts, so all of the dramatic percentages reported are based on two weeks in Los Angeles in January of 1980.

Let's look at one major factor that was immediately overlooked. Pasadena hosted Super Bowl XIV, making it essentially a home game for the Rams and creating a unique situation for Los Angeles: It was both the host city and a participant. Without reading the full study, I don't know how Kloner adjusted for or acknowledged this unique situation. Right now, Dallas is choked with extra traffic (made worse by bad weather), people in service industries are working extra shifts, and thousands of travelers not used to the stresses of airline flights have descended on the city. Has anyone checked the heart attack data for a host city during the Super Bowl? The unique role played by Los Angeles in 1980 make it a bad choice for a study about Super Bowls and heart attacks.

The strange male-female split also raises doubts. "It may be the same emotional response as it is for men. Women root for their teams, too," Kloner told CNN Health. "Another possibility is that perhaps a mate's reaction adversely affects the female." That sounds a little like the Day of Dread myth, a convenient (and condescending) simplification of the husband-wife dynamic. John Stallworth scored a touchdown, Bob screamed at Hazel for the rest of the night, and Hazel keeled over from grief and sorrow. It sounds more like a morality play than a scientific explanation.

The CNN article includes a dissenting opinion from Dr. David Frid, who points to other Super Bowl-related factors that could result in a heart attack besides excessive rooting -- fatty snacking, anticipation leading up to the game, and so on. Frid never mentions the regional stress of hosting a game, but I do not expect him to -- he is a medical expert, not a football expert, so he does not know how unique the 1980 Los Angeles situation was. I do expect experts like Frid to point out that 30-year-old health data is extremely out of date.

The American Heart Association reports that the coronary death rates decreased 34 percent from 1996 to 2006. So even if Kloner's death rate spikes are accurate for 1980, and are completely caused by the stress of watching the Super Bowl as a fan, the mortality figures would be closer to 18 percent for women and 10 percent for men today, if not far lower. Remember that most over-65 adults in 1980 were lifelong smokers, increasing both their heart attack and coronary-mortality risks. Comparing an average 65-year-old in 1980 to one in 2011 is medically specious.

What about World Series games and NBA Finals? A close Rose Bowl featuring USC? Even assuming Kloner only had access to Los Angeles medical data of the early 1980s (and I am not sure why that is all he could get), there were plenty of other sports-related events to control for or analyze, to say nothing about other stress-producing regional events like political conventions. He could have checked Super Bowl XI or XVII, both hosted by Pasadena, to control for any "host city" bias. Nope. These are the questions I ask before I even start to worry about any counting biases that could infect the data.

(Super Bowl XVII may have gotten into the study, as Kloner checked the "corresponding days in intervening years" between the Rams and Raiders appearances. Note that he checked the corresponding "days," though. Super Bowl XIV took place on January 20, Super Bowl XVII on January 30, Super Bowl XVIII on January 22. His control studies probably included one week of a host city leading up to a Super Bowl. The moral of the story: Ot would be great to have some non-80s, non-Los Angeles data.)

My take on this data is that if we adjust down the fatality percentages to account for the differences between 1980 and 2010, then do a little dead reckoning to assume that hosting the Super Bowl leads to some small spike in heart attack rates, then compare the Super Bowl with other championships, political conventions, or other events, we might discover that any emotionally charged civic event causes a minor increase in a variety of health-related issues. Yes, I am making a lot of assumptions, but at least I am not passing along three-decade old data as a major health breakthrough.

Heart health is a serious issue, and I can certainly imagine a diehard fan doubling over in stress-related agony in the fourth quarter of a close game. For that matter, I can see an angry fan taking a bad game out on his spouse, or some Super Bowl revelers picking up a streetwalker who bussed into town just for the employment opportunities.

My doubts come not just from the nature of the Clinical Cardiology data, but also from the credulity with which they are being disseminated. The CNN article comes with a picture of two chunky Packers fans screaming at the television. An NPR blog ends with the admonition "so think of that when you are watching the Super Bowl." Everyone, including me, is quoting the same facts from abstracts and press releases, a sign that the story is just being passed along non-critically.

This is not medical reporting, it's finger-pointing and gawking at those silly football fans, who stuff their faces while screaming at the game, then commit acts of violence and perversion before writhing in agony and dying. The Super Bowl has become a repository for our national fears and obsessions. It's a media Monster from the Id, a catalyst for sex and death, a deflowerer of young maidens, a destroyer of marriages, a scourge of the elderly. It's the funhouse mirror of American excess. Soon, we'll hear of chainsaw-wielding lunatics with hooks for hands prowling the Super Bowl parking lots. A special-interest group will release a specious survey, 300 media outlets will run with it, and a portion of America will believe it.

Making sure grandpa takes his medicine before he goes on a Sunday bratwurst binge is a good idea. Distorting football viewing into a deadly pastime, based on a 30-year-old study with dubious controls is a bad idea. So is vilifying football fans as a bunch of obsessive jerks who assault their wives then prowl for prostitutes. Fans are better than that. And journalists are too smart to keep sloshing this bunk around.

Let's get to some football.

Troy's Interceptions

Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu intercepted seven regular season passes. Some were great plays by Polamalu, others were great plays by other Steelers defenders, a couple were batted passes that just landed in the safety's hands. I decided to take a closer look at each interception, diagramming a few of them to see how the Steelers' blitz and coverage packages worked in concert to force turnovers. The following diagrams reveal a few things about Polamalu, but they reveal a lot more about how the Steelers approach pass coverage.

Figure 1: Interception 1

Interception One: Figure 1 shows the Steelers facing the Falcons late in the fourth quarter of a tie game. The Falcons are in two-minute mode, and the Steelers are in their 2-4-5 personnel grouping. The pre-snap read suggests a Cover-4 defense, with the cornerbacks 8-to-10 yards deep and the safeties out of the television frame.

The Steelers aren't in Cover-4 on this play, but in Cover-3 Cloud, meaning the cornerbacks are covering the deep sideline thirds of the field while one safety covers the deep middle. Polamalu has the underneath sideline zone to the offensive right. The underneath zones are rolled in that direction, a reaction to the fact that the Falcons have three receivers to that side. Roddy White (84) is both a dangerous boundary receiver and the Falcons' go-to target in most critical situations, and it's clear at the snap (as seen from a different camera angle) that Polamalu is anticipating an out-route by White.

Switching from a Cover-4 shell to three-deep coverage is not particularly exotic -- every team does it. The Steelers excel at it, in part because their pass rush limits the quarterback's ability to adjust, in part because of Polamalu's exceptional open-field range. Not every NFL safety can start 15 yards deep but still make a play in front of a receiver along the sideline. Polamalu's mix of speed and preparation allow him to read this play and jump this route.

Interception Two: Polamalu picks off Vince Young in the end zone. The Steelers appear to be in man coverage with Ryan Clark deep. Polamalu peels off tight end Bo Scaife, running a seamer, and cuts in front of a pass to Nate Washington, running a deep in-route in the end zone. It's not an interesting play from a diagramming standpoint, so I didn't draw it up. Polamalu makes a great read in the middle of the field, but this is really a poor decision by Young, who chucks the ball into a crowd.

Figure 2: Interception 3

Interception Three: Now, let's get to some serious Steelers deviltry. Figure 2 shows the Steelers facing Bruce Gradkowski and the Raiders on third-and-10. As shown in red, Bryant McFadden (20) and William Gay (22) leave their receivers to blitz from the offensive right. James Harrison (92) and James Farrior (51) show blitz but drop into zones.

The Steelers do not work very hard to disguise this blitz. McFadden and Gay start shuffling toward Gradkowski about a second before the snap. Clark (25) has deep zone responsibility to that side of the field, but an alert quarterback might have hit Johnnie Lee Higgins (the split end to the right) for a short completion in front of Clark. Gradkowski attempts instead to hit Jacoby Ford up the seam, leading Polamalu with his eyes the whole time.

Farrior does an excellent job on this play, chasing Ford up the seam and forcing Gradkowski to throw into a tight window. Farrior appears to have underneath zone coverage, but as an experienced defender, he understands his role. Thanks to the blitz, no running back will threaten an underneath zone, so he gets deep to help Clark and Polamalu. The double-defensive back blitz is a great design. The Packers frequently use similar blitzes to this one, so you may see both teams use a tactic like this on Sunday.

We will get back to Polamalu after a brief interlude. By placing the next segment here, it spreads out the diagrams and makes them easier to read!


Reader Allyson writes:

I have one of those fingernails-on-the-chalkboard moments whenever I hear an announcer say, "That ball was fair-caught!" Am I correct that the term "fair catch" is a NOUN and there IS no past-tense verb form? This drives me absolutely crazy, and I hear it often from well-paid, highly educated broadcasters.

Also, there were three words/phrases that would have been great for a drinking game this past college football season: "finesse," "poise," and "in space." One would not be capable of driving or operating heavy equipment/machinery after about one quarter of these over-used words!

Without consulting my grammar expert friends, I would say that "fair catch" is a noun. It is rarely used as a verb, and it sounds awkward to say that Blair White fair-caught 58 percent of his punts this season, even though it is true. The problem is that "fair catch" is a technical term that is not as pliant as it needs to be. We have to use verbs like "signals" to make the term work. Writing about fair catches gets tedious because the word lacks a good verb form. White executed 14 fair catches? Attempted them? Saying he "signaled" them is misleading when talking about season statistics, because I really do not know how many times he actually signaled.

Television announcers have it far worse, because they are describing action on the fly, and sometimes words get repurposed in sloppy ways. I am more forgiving of television announcers than many writers, possibly because of 17 years of speaking in front of teenagers. "Fair caught" does not bother me in speech because the announcer is trying to describe a rather dull event as quickly as possible.

I got to talk about "finesse" with Ben Zimmer in Sunday's The New York Times. "In space" has become a tedious college football buzzword because of all the spread-option plays and screen passing. "Poise" is one of those storyline words that is used to turn a five-yard completion into a statement about a player's character. I probably would not survive any drinking game based on buzzwords like those. Maybe 20 years ago!

Back to Troy

Figure 3: Interception 4

Interception Four: The Bills empty the backfield on second-and-7 in Figure 3, and they send their tight end in motion to make the Steelers tip their coverage. The Steelers respond by sending everyone in motion. Pre-snap, Harrison, Timmons, and Farrior bunch up in the middle of the field, with LaMarr Woodley (56) over the tight end. When the tight end goes in motion, Woodley follows him but drops into coverage, while Harrison comes up to the line of scrimmage. Farrior, Timmons, and Harrison all blitz. Without knowing the Steelers playbook, I believe that they called a strong-side blitz and wanted two defenders attacking from the tight end side, one to eat up the tight end if he stayed in to block.

There is man coverage behind the blitz. Polamalu doesn't do much on this play except wait for the ball to bounce off Steve Johnson's hands and into his. Just like in the Raiders interception in Figure 2, the quarterback makes a bad read when faced with a Steelers blitz package, even when he isn't hurried by the pass rush.

Not shown in the already confusing diagram is the quick slant run by Donald Jones against Anthony Madison (37). Jones gets open, and considering the situation (second-and-7 at the 12-yard line in a close game), a five-yard completion would be useful. Ryan Fitzpatrick does not see Jones, and Gay does a fine job on Johnson.

Interception Five: Polamalu ran back a Carson Palmer pass intended for Terrell Owens for a touchdown in Week 14. The Steelers only rushed three defenders on the play, with man coverage and both Polamalu and Clark deep. The cornerbacks had outside technique on the receivers, meaning McFadden stays between Owens and the sideline and starts at a depth of eight yards.

Outside technique is common for a cornerback with safety help, but McFadden got caught flat-footed when Owens got up the field quickly on a post route. Polamalu undercut Owens and jumped in front of Palmer's pass. Most safeties don't make the interception on this play (which is not diagramed), but a good safety should be in position to at least break up the pass. The difference between a good safety and Polamalu was, in this case, the difference between a pass defensed and a touchdown.

Figure 4: Interception 6

Interception Six: Figure 4 also comes from the Bengals game in Week 15. It is late in the fourth quarter and the Steelers lead 23-7, but the Bengals are on the 17-yard line. Polamalu is not even visible on the television tape, even though the far corner of the end zone can be seen. The Steelers are playing Cover-1, with Polamalu in center field and Woodley lurking in the middle. Farrior and Timmons blitz from the linebacker position. What's great about the Steelers defense is that they can line up in exotic formations to confuse you, but they don't have to -- all four linebackers blitz very well, so they can give you a vanilla pre-snap look and still surprise you.

Carson Palmer appears to do a good job of not tipping his intentions on this throw. He looks left before turning to throw to the right, but a later replay shows that Polamalu only takes one step in the wrong direction before limping over (he got hurt on the previous interception) to jump the pass to Owens. Polamalu may have been reading route combinations and tendencies. When the slot receiver to the left pulled up for a short curl, he saw that he throw was more likely to go the other way. He may also have just been in a gambling mood, which is why he pitched the ball to McFadden after the interception instead of just going to the ground.

That play was an interception of circumstance. If you don't want to get picked off like that, make sure you aren't trailing by 16 points late in the fourth quarter.

Figure 5: Interception 7

Interception Seven: We have seen cool blitzes and crazy pre-snap motion. Let's finish with some funky hybrid coverage. Figure 5 shows the Browns in an empty backfield formation on first-and-10 at the beginning of the game. The Steelers appear to respond with man coverage, with Polamalu aligned over a slot receiver (tight end Robert Royal). But this is not man coverage, and Polamalu is not covering Royal. It's a three-deep zone, with some man coverage mixed in underneath.

Defenses typically assign numbers to the eligible receivers on offense, working from the quarterback out on each side of the formation. The inside-most eligible receiver to either side is No. 1, the next one out to that side is No. 2, and so on. Backs directly behind the quarterback (as in an I-formation) might both be declared No. 1, with assignments based on how they release. The numbering system allows the defense to account for multiple formations.

In this empty backfield set, Ben Watson (82) is No. 1 on the right side, while the slot receiver is No. 1 on the left. Farrior and Harrison are responsible for those two players in man coverage. Had the Browns lined up in a split backfield, Farrior and Harrison would be covering running backs. In any event, they are playing man coverage over the middle of the field, which allows the Steelers to fan their cornerbacks along the sidelines and place Polamalu and Timmons in the curl zones, roughly 10 yards down the field and outside the hash marks.

This coverage scheme would be hard for a veteran quarterback to read, and Colt McCoy does not see that Royal sprints right past Polamalu and straight up the seam, with Clark in poor position to stop him. (McCoy may have just known that it's Royal and decided not to bother.) McCoy does find an open receiver, as Watson shakes off Farrior with a little scat route. Unfortunately, the ball bounces right off Watson's hands and into Polamalu's. Polamalu has a habit of being in the right place at the right time on these tip-drills. There is some luck involved, but there is also some skill, both on Polamalu's part (he has good hands and gets close to the play) and on his teammates' (quarterbacks are often under duress, passing windows are tight).

The seven interceptions provide a glimpse of all the things the Steelers can do on defense, and we should see all of these things on Sunday. Does Polamalu deserve Defensive Player of the Year honors? I would have voted for Clay Matthews, but I am not picketing or anything. Great players, great defenses, great teams. Let's just watch them and not quibble about who won which individual award.

Fifth Down Takeover in Full Force

Looking for Walkthrough-style humor? Check out the Fifth Down blog at the The New York Times website. They have me chained to the desk all week, churning out crazy observations from the football realm. So far, I have written about Nick Barnett's decision to leave the Twitter realm, an abomination known as the Pittsburgh Cheese Steak, the Eminem iced tea commercial, Packers Media Day, a possible Media Day mode for Madden, and of course, hype itself. More is coming. It's probably more like Walkthrough than this article was this week, so head on over, then come on back for more fun here at FO!


48 comments, Last at 16 Feb 2011, 10:15am

#1 by Anonymous37 (not verified) // Feb 03, 2011 - 10:18am

While I completely agree with Tanier's premise, I found it amusing when he tossed in - completely unsupported - his own generalization that "most over-65 adults in 1980 were lifelong smokers, increasing both their heart attack and coronary-mortality risks." I would really like to know where that "most" came from...

Points: 0

#2 by armchair journ… // Feb 03, 2011 - 11:25am

well, if you consider that the over 65 adults of 1980 were the prime of the population in 1950, the peak of US smoking, it might be a slight exaggeration but not a huge stretch. i think the smoking rate was hovering around 50% then, so perhaps he should say half rather than most...


scroll down just a bit and you'll see that in 1950 average cigarette consumption was 10 cigarettes PER CAPITA. crazy.

armchair journeyman quarterback

Points: 0

#8 by Andy Watkins (not verified) // Feb 03, 2011 - 1:06pm


Born in <1915, so they were forty or so by the time this chart kicks in, with a good twenty years of smoking at nearly fifty percent rates. I'll gladly admit that "most" is an exaggeration, but it's not for men--if you take "lifelong" to be "thirty straight years or so"--and it's close for women.

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#16 by AT (not verified) // Feb 03, 2011 - 3:52pm

Wait--is it even possible for a smoker to live past 65? I thought smoking was much, much deadlier than drinking and that's why NYC bans cigarettes but not booze?

Points: 0

#22 by Whatev // Feb 03, 2011 - 6:51pm

Well, smoking's more likely to kill you, but drinking's more likely to kill someone else.

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#3 by galactic_dev // Feb 03, 2011 - 11:25am

Great article, Mike!

As for the fair catch grammar, it works fine as a noun, but once you use catch as a verb, then fair needs to go from an adjective to an adverb, fairly. So you could say "That ball was fairly caught by Hester!" and at least then it would be grammatically correct.

Points: 0

#6 by Keith (1) (not verified) // Feb 03, 2011 - 12:21pm

I was thinking it should actually be a similar form. Perhaps it should be "Hester caught the ball fair on that punt." The idea is that he signaled a fair catch. The catch, as is described, is fair; he caught it, and therefore it was fair.

Points: 0

#10 by drobviousso // Feb 03, 2011 - 1:54pm

I work in a tech sector law firm (IANAL!) We have issues with adj-noun -> adv-verb transitions all the time, and this is indeed how I deal with it. Foo bar becomes bar fooly.

"Blair White caught the ball fair at the 35," is how I would phrase it.

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#17 by Aaron Brooks' … (not verified) // Feb 03, 2011 - 5:27pm

Legal English has little relevance to practical language, with its fondness for odd grammatical constructs, meaningless and redundant propositional phrases, and attempts to shoehorn excessive amounts of Latin into a Germanic language. In Spain, Forensic Spanish is its own language. Forensic English might as well be, too.

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#31 by drobviousso // Feb 04, 2011 - 3:41pm

I don't write (many) legal documents, I only meant that I do a lot of writing that is supervised by gramatically keen editors. I write documents that are supposed to be readable by technical practitioners.

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#12 by Thomas_beardown // Feb 03, 2011 - 2:02pm

The solution to this is to just start hyphenating fair-catch. Then you can have fair-caught it.

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#28 by matt w (not verified) // Feb 04, 2011 - 3:31pm

If you say "fair caught" people will understand you, if you say any of that other stuff they won't. That makes "fair caught" correct in my book.

Now according to Pinker's hypothesis we ought to be saying "fair catched." In related news, Pinker's hypothesis is wrong.

Points: 0

#29 by matt w (not verified) // Feb 04, 2011 - 3:38pm

Some actual language mavens seem to have weighed in this here. Unfortunately Google Books cuts off the context, but their project seems completely misguided to me -- the question isn't what rules some "mini-usage" panel comes up with for how to form the past tense of "high-sticking," it's what the people who actually speak English say. I mean, they suggest "he was penalized for high-sticking the Bruins' center" as another way of putting "he high-sticked the Bruins' center," which is ridiculously ugly and also raises the question* of how you're supposed to say "He high-sticked the Bruins' center and got away with it." Maybe they operate under the NHL announcers' rules under which that's a conceptual impossibility.

So yeah, they suggest "made a fair catch." Feh.

*Not "begs the question." I have some standards.

Points: 0

#4 by Dave Bernreuther // Feb 03, 2011 - 11:51am

First diagram: Calling that one Cloud contradicts the description in the strategy minicamp, and, from my understanding, everywhere else.

I blame the hookers.

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#7 by Jimmy // Feb 03, 2011 - 12:38pm

Sky, Cloud and Buzz indicate who has outside run contain (which is another way of saying it tells you where the safety lines up). As the diagram is it is impossible to tell whether it was cloud coverage or very sugary sky.

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#13 by Thomas_beardown // Feb 03, 2011 - 2:05pm

I see my Madden learnings have let me down here. Madden differentiates the same as that strategy mini-camp. 2 safeties and a corner taking deep zones = cloud, 2 corners and a safety = plain cover 3.

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#14 by Jimmy // Feb 03, 2011 - 2:22pm

The problem is that there isn't a standard football nomenclature. For instance I asked Matt Bowen how defenses designate receivers and he said that you count in from the outside, so the outermost eligible reciever is No1, the slot is 2 etc. I find that on Madden you have to check each player's responsibilties quite carefully. Having said that it is usually fairly clear if the plays deviate from the standard calls.

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#5 by Aaron Brooks' … (not verified) // Feb 03, 2011 - 12:12pm

Fair caught isn't incorrect usage, it just exploits the English language's flexibility (or schizophrenia) regarding noun/verb forms. Just because verbing weirds language doesn't mean that construct isn't allowed. ("F*ck the f*cking f*cker" uses the same word in three different forms, and is still a coherent statement)

He caught the ball. (verb)
He made a catch. (object noun)

You can make a fair catch. (adjective; object noun)
You can fair catch the ball. (adverb; verb)

Thus, while Devin Hester may have fair caught (adverb; verb) that ball in 2009 by signaling fair catch (noun phrase), he was much better in 2010 in reducing his fair catches (adjective; noun).

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#9 by BaronFoobarstein // Feb 03, 2011 - 1:40pm

"Fair" as an adverb has all-but-disappeared from English. It's still correct, but the form "fairly" is much more common. "Devin Hester fairly caught the ball" would work well.

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#18 by Aaron Brooks' … (not verified) // Feb 03, 2011 - 5:30pm

English will stray from default grammar for purposes of clarity.

"Devin Hester fairly caught the ball" is am ambiguous phrase. Offensive pass interference is unfairly catching the ball, which is a wholly different concept from a fair catch.

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#46 by RickD // Feb 09, 2011 - 7:26pm


A person making a fair catch is not catching a ball fairly.

I would treat "fair catch" as a two word verb. That is, if I treated it as a verb at all. It's not clear to me that "fair catch" is a verb. It might only be a noun.

Points: 0

#44 by The Hypno-Toad // Feb 08, 2011 - 2:59pm

"verbing weirds language"
I was hoping someone would use this line in this discussion.

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#11 by drobviousso // Feb 03, 2011 - 2:02pm

Random thoughts:

Snow shoveling is the real cardiac killer, not post season football. Keep an eye on your elderly neighbors. Buy a snow thrower.

My grandfather was in the ICU for weeks before Superbowl XL, and he hung onto life just to see the game. He died shortly after it ended of multiple organ failure including heart failure. It's a data point that actually points toward Superbowl causes heart failure, but that's not really how it worked out for us. I no longer feel guilty for how much time, energy, and money my family and I expend on football.

Weeks earlier, Bettis almost kills a dude. "Man's heart stops after Bettis fumble"

When games are close, my wife - nearly autonamically - digs her fingernails in my arm. Does that count as spousal abuse?

How did they not do that study on the year of the Kardiac Kids?

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#25 by Mr Shush // Feb 03, 2011 - 9:27pm

One extreme case of the dangerous consequences of sports fandom: a passionate (and, let's be clear here, already seriously depressed) Liverpool fan committed suicide at half time of the 2005 Champions League final, when his team were 3-0 down to AC Milan. They came back to win on penalties . . .

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#39 by MurphyZero // Feb 05, 2011 - 7:03pm

Which is why I and many other Pennsylvania citizens moved on to sunnier states (well that and jobs). When I have to go to the sports bars here in Florida I have met many other Pennsylvanians--no shoveling necessary.

The man who works in the next cubicle to me went to Penn State as well and is of course another Steeler fan. Another coworker is from PA and his wife has relatives in my home town. Truthfully it's not that Steeler fans travel well, it's that there are already many Steeler fans transplanted into every major region that supports football and that one away game may be their only chance to see them live that year and possibly not again for 8 years (if in an NFC city) That's key about Steeler fans. They have remained faithful when they leave PA. Of course, Steelers have remained relatively successful ever since the 70s and that helps. And the kids are raised up Steeler fans.

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#15 by trill // Feb 03, 2011 - 2:59pm

I've always seen receiver numbering by the defense (usually associated with pattern-matching) work in the opposite direction, with outside-most receiver as #1, inside guys as #2, #3, etc. http://brophyfootball.blogspot.com/2009/08/boo-yah-route-reading-pattern-match.html

Either way, great article.

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#20 by Raiderjoe // Feb 03, 2011 - 6:05pm

"Fair caught" = okay. Not bastaridzaiton of english. Well, maybe. But it strill okay. There are exceptions to engl,.ish language and maybe this one of them. do not think ever heard someone say another opelrson fairly caught a ball. but many times did hear that guy fair caught the ball.

Artickle about hookers and fair catches but no mention of formmer Browns WR Fair Hooker?

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#23 by Pass to Set Up… // Feb 03, 2011 - 6:55pm

So, does this mean Ross Perot wasn't prophesying this very Hooker Storm during the 1992 presidential debates?

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#26 by Michael LaRocca (not verified) // Feb 03, 2011 - 11:05pm

Pittsburgh Cheese Steak and Purple Drank. It's how Panther fans survive the Super Bowl.

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#27 by Mike_Tanier // Feb 04, 2011 - 9:20am

That Pittsburgh Cheesesteak-like sandwich looked pretty tasty. It just should not be called a cheesesteak. If you cannot drink the meat, it is not a cheesesteak.

Points: 0

#32 by drobviousso // Feb 04, 2011 - 3:48pm

I think they must have been confusing cheese steak with steak salad and Primanti brothers. I know of exactly 1 place to get a good cheese steak in western PA - Philly Originals in Beaver (yes, it's a real city). The owner said he had a successful place near Philly but moved out west when his grandbaby was born.

He identified us as eastern PA transplants because I ordered a "pizza steak" instead of a "cheese steak with sauce", and we all ate them horizonallty. Apparently watching new customers eat their first one vertically is high enterainment there.

Points: 0

#33 by Dean // Feb 04, 2011 - 4:48pm


I didn't even make it through the video. Someone needs to have their ass whooped for even suggesting such an atrocity as a Pittsburgh Cheesesteak.

FWIW, I have my sister ship Amoroso Rolls to me and I trained my butcher how to slice the ribeye properly for me so that when I need my fix, I can take care of myself. The idea of even attempting to find a legitimate Cheesesteak at a place that's not within a 30 mile radius of Center City just makes my skin crawl.

Points: 0

#43 by Dean // Feb 07, 2011 - 9:37am

I set it at 30 because I know a couple spots out in the suburbs. One still does a squared away steak. The other is under new management and I've been advised against it, which is a shame because it's where I used to go hang out if I was skipping high school.

Points: 0

#35 by Danish Denver-Fan // Feb 05, 2011 - 5:50am

From a playcalling standpoint; when is it ever a good idea to go empty against the best defense in the league on first-and-10 early in the game?

The steelers er so good, that they dont care about your run-game?

Points: 0

#36 by Mike_Tanier // Feb 05, 2011 - 7:16am

I think teams try to go empty to force the linebackers into coverage underneath, looking for mismatches. Because Farrior and Timmons cover well, and Harrison is OK in coverage, I don't think it works that well.

Points: 0

#37 by asp_j // Feb 05, 2011 - 10:21am

"By implication, the NFL's wealthiest and most connected fans [...] will be plotting a week of sexual rampage not seen since the Vikings sailed on Scotland"

I cannot be the only one who first thought: "Scotland? I thought they were on lake Minnetonka..."

Points: 0

#38 by Mr Shush // Feb 05, 2011 - 3:22pm

Actually, I was mostly thinking that I don't remember Normandy being that much of a hotbed of skanks, sex fiends, freaks and paedophiles, with or without plastic surgery. Mostly sleepy country villages where the bar-tabac chucks out at 7.30 and that's it for the local nightlife. Then again, this being France, maybe the skanks et al. are fermé le lundi like everything else, and I was just out on the wrong night . . .

Points: 0

#42 by Kevin from Philly // Feb 07, 2011 - 9:10am

Just goes to show how depraved those old time vikings were - who'd go to Scotland for a good time?

Points: 0

#45 by Luis (not verified) // Feb 09, 2011 - 1:21pm

I'm a Big Fan Mike but this was your weakest column ever.
Did you notice an event called "superbowl". I was waiting your take on the SB and found... this? Oh well....

Points: 0

#48 by armchair journ… // Feb 16, 2011 - 10:15am

did you notice that this was written "before" the superbowl? Oh well...

Points: 0

#47 by nflalternative.com // Feb 11, 2011 - 6:37am

foxliesfair cattched? Fair Hookered?

Points: 0

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