Scramble for the Ball: Examining the Bar
by Bill Barnwell
I hope you all enjoyed Doug Farrar's turn on Scramble last week, but I've returned to discuss a topic near and dear to my heart at the moment: The sports bar.
As I noted a couple of weeks ago, I recently moved to San Francisco after living in Boston for several years. While I'm searching for an apartment, I needed to find a sports bar on Sunday to catch the week's action. This Sunday, I set out to one of the local sports bars and it was, well, a disaster.
The free wi-fi that was promised was almost entirely nonfunctional. (Fortunately, I was able to sustain a IRC connection and maintain my role as king of the unofficial FO IRC channel for the week.) While the bar had Sunday Ticket, it wasn't much use with only three televisions, all in spots that only allowed viewers in one section of the bar to see that game. Good if you're playing Goldeneye... not so good if you're wanting to see multiple football games. Instead of the play-by-play of any of the three games, we got, strangely, talk radio over the TV. Finally, when the Redskins game was out of hand, was the game tuned to a closer game at 1:00 PDT? No. Suitably chastened, I left and went to my backup bar, which had already proven itself to be decisively mediocre but, well, had much stronger drinks.
My old bar was Allston's Sports Depot, which had the benefit of good wings and lots of televisions, but was inconsistent from week-to-week on how long they'd let you stay, what the drink minimums were, or what games would actually be shown. The Sports Depot was not great, but it was an altogether decent sports bar.
So, this got me to thinking -- what would make the ideal sports bar? I gathered some initial thoughts, polled some friends, and then asked the FO team. Our collective thoughts were, somewhat not surprisingly, varied and even contradictory at times.
Televisions can be an absolute deal-breaker. First off, this seems almost not necessary to mention at this point, but I actually passed by the San Francisco chapter of a popular chain restaurant revolving around cleavage and it had nary an HDTV. Not even one. You're not a sports bar if you're not trafficking in HD at this point.
Placement of the televisions is huge too. Having televisions in corners visible to just one table makes no sense. While putting all the televisions on one wall usually isn't a good idea, either, putting televisions on the sides and the tables in the middle where most people can see them makes the most sense. A good amount of people go to see one game, but if their game is boring or in commercial, they'll want something else to watch. They'll need to see more than one game.
Now, the first real debate came in discussing the content of what's on the televisions. Initially, I said that as long as there are enough televisions available, each TV should have a different game on, unless it's a local bar and there are barely enough TV's to cover all the games and still feature the local team. An FO staffer disagreed: "Anyone who sits surrounded by six games on six TVs and groans 'where is my Texans-Chiefs game?' gets tasered." Funny, I know that guy -- he leaves a comment in the Audibles discussion thread every week. But I digress. My point is that it's easier to alienate a fan by not having his team on at all than it is to alienate a fan whose team isn't on the best TV. If you're a Vikings fan and you walk into a bar in San Francisco and the bar isn't showing the Vikings game, well, you're going to find a bar that does. If it only shows it on a smaller TV, well, you're more likely to go back than you are to try and find another bar that shows the Vikings on a bigger one.
Everyone agreed that the bar needs a manager who knows what he/she is doing. This means that they need to know how to change the channel on a specific television without a ten-minute delay. Ideally, there should be 20 boxes behind the scenes that can be changed without someone having to fetch the right remote, walk over to the TV, fumble around trying to find the game, and turning it on two possessions later. This isn't that hard. Apparently, this is a huge problem on sports bars in college campuses, according to another FO staffer.
One of the positives about the second bar I went to on Sunday was how they handled the television setup. All their TVs were numbered, and when you walked into the bar, there was a card which listed all the games (including the two baseball games), when they would be turned on, and what number televisions the game would air on. A somewhat militant FO writer noted that TVs should be labeled for the 1:00 and 4:00 games by 11 AM, and if it was up to him, it would be posted by 7 PM on Saturday night for "advanced scouting purposes."
Changing the televisions is another issue up for debate. The following "Rule of 75" was proposed: Take the quarter and multiply by the score differential; if the product is greater than or equal to 75, the channel changes.
I think we can all agree that random talk radio doesn't work. The Sports Depot had a lone table that had an audio hookup that would play the audio from the TV closest to it out of a small speaker; it was obnoxious, to be honest, since I wasn't watching that game and was sitting next to that table, but I'm sure the people in that booth who were watching the game actually enjoyed it. An FO writer noted, "I was at a bar in Pittsburgh once, and I have this memory of having Dick Stockton babble aimlessly with periodic interjections from Tony Siragusa while I was trying to follow action of another game." Dick Stockton babbling aimlessly, actually, was the talk radio show I was listening to earlier. I'm pretty sure some trust fund hipster got Stockton to narrate a numbers station. I'm inclined to think that the bar playing the audio of the most important game of the week (e.g. the one on the most/biggest TVs) is the best solution, but I'm also open to other solutions.
An FO staffer (by which I mean "Mike Tanier") said: "Nothing should be labeled a Philly Cheesesteak unless it is really a Philly Cheesesteak that was prepared in Philadelphia, or by someone who can give directions from 17th and Shunk to the Italian Market without reading a map, or was blessed by Ed Rendell. South of Elkton, Maryland, north of New Brunswick, New Jersey, and west of about Altoona, it should be called a "crappy imitation steak sandwich." If "crappy imitation steak sandwich" was on the menu, though, I would not be able to stop myself from ordering one, so it's a conundrum.
My general problem with food at sports bars on Sunday is that it's usually a standard menu, and that's not really what I'm looking for if I'm staying for six or seven hours. If I get food early in the first game, I'm probably going to be hungry at some point during the second game, and it's a little difficult to justify ordering a second meal and end up spending $30 on food on top of drinks. It should be less like a standard menu and more like, well, tapas. If restaurants served smaller portions of bar food at cheaper prices, they'd get orders throughout the game as opposed to the one big order. In the same vein, a buffet would work, with the focus being on having as much food and staffing ready for halftime of the 1:00 game and at 4:30.
FO West Coast, of course, noted that its bars had things like omelettes, but decried the lack of availability of pancakes at said bars. As someone who has seen drunken people try to prepare pancakes on St. Patrick's Day on a griddle more than once unsuccessfully, I have to caution the rest of FO West Coast against this. FO East Coast got jealous of the omelette situation and dreamed the wonderful dream of omelettes across America on Sundays.
An FO staffer asked, "Are we being realistic or fantastic here? Because in the PERFECT sports bar, every customer would get their own sofa and/or Lazyboy..."
This led to some epic ideas. "I like the recliner idea, but there need to be barstools too for those of us who like barstools. Maybe a traditional bar area with stools and one of those cool copper ceilings; then, more of a lounge area with lots of TVs but also a hearth." Think December, Saturday day game, two fingers of good whiskey, game on, Christmas decorations up, roaring fire, waitress who looks like the hot daughter of a PBS quasi-celebrity, peppers-and-egg sandwich. Yeah."
That led to the biggest debate of all.
Many a good friendship has been torn asunder by the charms of a lady, especially one in a football jersey. One FO staffer suggested that the wait staff should be the kind of girls TMQ linked to, but another disagreed. "As for the girls, this being a sports bar, there should be a median level of hotness. If they are too hot they will distract from the sports experience. The girl at my local place is perfect: she looks like the 22-year old daughter of Dr. Elyse Luray of History Detectives. Perfect for staring at during commercials, but you can tear yourself away during the 2-minute drill." A third FO staffer stepped in. "I disagree on the level of hotness. The hotter the better. You know, with those half-sized football jerseys with Â¼ sleeves, and at least a cursory knowledge of the game." The two squared off in a Paint debate of Bar 1 vs. Bar 2. I personally pick the latter.
While I noted that video games and beer often don't mesh together -- especially if the Wii is involved -- it seemed harmless enough to take a TV away from the action and hook Madden up to it so that people could play the mini-game modes. Another writer suggested a game room with a couple of low-end TVs, but with NFL Blitz, Golden Tee, and maybe foosball/pool/bubble hockey. I, of course, also advocate Mutant League Football at all times.
I had a couple of stranger ideas, too, to get people into the bar. The top one was to have a rivalry game each week -- take Eagles-Giants, for example. If you showed up at the bar in an Eagles or Giants jersey, whichever team won the game between the two that week would see its jersey-wearing fans enjoy half-price beers for the hour following the game. Tanier, however, noted that "if you offer half-price drinks after an Eagles-Cowboys game, someone will end up dead."
I also noticed that the Sports Depot had a week where the bar was, for some reason, covered with about 40 copies of the latest issue of Playboy. I still wasn't sure whether this was a good idea or a bad idea until an FO writer pointed out, "Bad idea. Always go with Penthouse, like Tim Whatley's waiting room."
My favorite idea, though, came from discussing possibilities for fantasy updates. I suggested that one TV each week should be devoted to the NFL Red Zone channel and/or connected to a computer with live stat updates so that people could stop by and check the stats for their fantasy team at a glance.
I was topped, though, when it was suggested that "One waitress should be assigned to just sitting on NFL.com and looking up fantasy info, and all fantasy guys will have to go to her for questions." No one, really, could compete with Fantasy Waitress. I don't know whether she'd sit at a table in the front and guys could come up to her like it was a kissing both, I don't know whether she'd walk around the room with a big calculator sticking out of her top, or I don't know whether she'd be a different waitress every 20 minutes and it would be like a mystery shopper kinda deal, but all of these possibilities excite me in the way a good sports bar should.
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In order to properly shame myself, I need to note that I selected Sebastian Janikowski in last week's internal week-by-week Loser League. The problem with picking Janikowski? Well, while he's been a great Loser this year, he was on a bye last week. Not my best showing.
QB: Jon Kitna did not blame God for his 2 this week, but at least he didn't get concussed. Joey Harrington, on the other hand, has no one to blame or bless beyond himself and his own confusion. If he's about to be supplanted by Byron Leftwich, well, they've said it was Joey's last chance before, and he managed to bleed six more starts out of a stone. Let's at least give him credit for that.
RB: Certain Pennsylvania players, coaches, and beat writers might not believe in the "Curse of 370", but, well, Larry Johnson sure seems to. Through five games, Johnson's yards per carry has dropped a full yard and he hasn't scored a single touchdown. He's not even on pace to hit 900 yards, and if he keeps putting up numbers like the 12 rushing yard, 3 passing yard day he mustered in Week 5 (good for a 1 in Loser League), well, he'll be a data point. Leon Washington did his best Johnson impression, rushing for 13 yards and an impressive -1 receiving yards. He also had a single. Speaking of 370, Shaun Alexander followed them with two points, as did Ladell Betts.
WR: I salute men with zeroes at wideout, so I was delighted to see two this week. Congratulations go out to Darrell Jackson and Joe Horn, who couldn't even combine for 10 receiving yards. The former receiving tandem of Chris Chambers and Wes Welker had one point each, as did Shaun McDonald, the now-injured Deion Branch, and the always-inexplicable Reggie Williams.
K: The only negative score of the week was the Losingest Loser of the Week, 49ers kicker Joe Nedney. He kicked an extra point, but missed a field goal. It was from 52, but Loser League does not care about such frivolities. Josh Brown's only excitement about being shutout was, as a result, spoiled. Thanks Joe.
Keep Choppin' Wood Award
KCW this week goes to Miami coach Cam Cameron. When your 37-year-old starting quarterback missed last year with a concussion, you want to protect him, even if it means protecting him from himself. That means making the rules very clear to said quarterback: Don't throw a chop block on the back side of a play with your head. Cameron's carelessness cost the Dolphins their starting quarterback, the latest guy who was supposed to solidify the Dolphins behind center but failed to perform before getting hurt. Sometimes, even I feel bad for Chris Chambers.
Doug Farrar was 0-3 last week, 5-6-1 overall
Hey, it could have been worse. Bill Simmons went 3-11 last week.
Philadelphia (-3) over NEW YORK JETS
I just don't see the Jets being able to do anything about the Eagles passing offense outside of begging for mercy. You can press the Eagles and throw their timing off, but the Jets don't have the corners for it. It'll be a big day for Donovan McNabb.
SAN DIEGO (-10) over Oakland
Oakland's rushing defense is the worst in football this year according to DVOA. LaDainian Tomlinson is really good. He had two 100+ yard games against good Oakland defenses last year, so I think he can do even better against a worse version.
St. Louis (+10) over BALTIMORE
I have no idea what St. Louis is going to do on offense with Gus Frerotte and Brian Leonard versus the Baltimore defense, but hey, Baltimore's still going to have to outscore them by 11 points, and I don't think Baltimore's O is good enough to do that. What? Ian? Is that you?