Scramble for the Ball
Fantasy football, the Loser League, and general goofiness

Scramble for the Ball: Wherever I May Roam

Scramble for the Ball: Wherever I May Roam
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Riley and Vince Verhei

When the San Diego Chargers played the New Orleans Saints at Wembley Stadium in London last week, you have to wonder how many natives were confused by the third-to-last play of the game. In case you missed it, the Saints had the ball, up by seven with the ten seconds to play, when Drew Brees sprinted backwards down the field into his own end zone before chucking the ball into the stands for a safety. One can imagine the ensuing discussion among an American and British spectator going something like this:

Sir Nigel Puddingstone-on-Tenbury: "Hold on mate, why'd the scrumhalf -- sorry, quarterback -- just pitch the ball into the hedge-and-ditch?"

Johnny Cougar: "Well, you see, he didn't want to risk throwing an interception or a fumble, which would have given the Chargers the ball."

Nigel: "Right-o old chap, sounds smashing. So what happens now then?"

Johnny: "Well, the Chargers get two points. And the Saints kick the ball to Chargers."

Nigel [choking on bangers-and-mash]: "Hold on there old boy, you say they get the ball anyway? Sounds a bit dodgy, doesn't it?"

Johnny: "Yes, well, it is a bit difficult to explain, but this way Brees could run a few seconds off the clock."

Nigel: "But the clock's not moving, is it lad?"

Johnny: "Um…"

Nigel: "And I say, old bean, didn't you say during the first over that a throw like that is an 'incomplete pass?'"

Johnny: "Well, yes, unless it goes backwards, see, in which case it's what we call a 'live ball.'"

Nigel: "Live ball? I say, is Brees a goer? Does he 'go?' Know whatahmean, know whatahmean, nudge nudge, know whatahmean, say no more?"

Johnny: "Well, I suppose sometimes yes, if there's a pass rush and he's flushed out of the pocket, Brees will take his ball and 'go.'"

Nigel: "SAY NO MORE!"

This of course gives us this week's theme: With London calling the NFL to faraway towns, the Scramble team decided to take a look at other potential host cities for the future, including a few you might not expect.


City: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Advantages: Scientists believe that modern man originated in this area. It is only appropriate that mankind's greatest achievement -- pro football -- return.
Disadvantages: Ethiopia's most famous athletes are its long-distance runners, like Haile Gebreselassie, the current world-record holder in the marathon. As such, their fans may not appreciate a sport where men usually run about 15 feet or less before bonking into each other.

City: Cairo, Egypt
Advantages: The NFL has gone far too long without a team named the Sphinxes.
Disadvantages: Egyptian fans proud of their nation's most famous attractions may demand that human pyramids be allowed, thus ensuring that all kicks are blocked. (This is the worst joke in the history of this column.)

City: Tel Aviv, Israel
Advantages: On the City's promotional Web site, Mayor Ron Huldai states that "In the new site, can be found much, varied information on guided and independent tours of beauty spots in the city, film clips on important, recommended sites to visit, information on activities and even links to book a hotel room." Indeed, can be found much.
Disadvantages: Controversial halftime show with Bob Dylan singing his 1983 classic, "Neighborhood Bully," leads to World War III.


City: Beijing, China
Advantages: With $300 million spent on the Olympics' opening game ceremonies, the halftime show would be off the hook.
Disadvantages: Then again, a wardrobe malfunction would probably result in an execution.

City: Lahore, Pakistan
Advantages: Opportunity to attend riveting Basant kite flying festival.
Disadvantages: Possibility that the head coach of losing team will be strangled in a hotel room after the game. In a related story, roughly 76,897 Minnesota residents just e-mailed the NFL front office to request that the Vikings play their next game in Pakistan.

City: Moscow, Russia
Advantages: Potential for Al Michaels to announce game and ask John Madden, "Do you believe in miracles?" followed by Madden spending four minutes talking about the pierogi he just ate from the stadium concession stand and the bowel movement that ensued.
Disadvantages: Fusion of Commissioner Roger Goodell's disciplinary policy with "prime minister" Vladimir Putin's repressive regime could lead to a reign of terror not seen since Josef Stalin. Plus, you think staph infections are bad? Try being poisoned with polonium-210.

City: Pyongyang, North Korea
Advantages: Possibility that Mike Shanahan, Ultimate Leader of the Denver Broncos, would meet the original glorious leader Kim Jong Il.
Disadvantages: According to Wikitravel, here's a list of things to do, places to shop, and things to eat while in Pyongyang:

  • Guided tours of sites in and around Pyongyang are the only way to do things. It is very rare to be allowed to wander.
  • Shopping options are limited. A few department stores exist but have very few things of interest. Locals only shop from specialty stores selling groceries and other basic items.
  • There are hardly any regular restaurants where the average North Koreans go. Eating out is a pleasure reserved for foreigners and special people. You will normally eat dinner at your hotel.

(You know, sort of like Jacksonville.)


City: Auckland, New Zealand
Advantages: If it was good enough to play Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings, it's good enough for the NFL.
Disadvantages: When the NFL sees the All Blacks doing the Haka, they'll understand how stupid they are to ban dancing. Wait, how is this a disadvantage?


City: Athens, Greece
Advantages: Are you kidding? This is the home of sport! More violent than soccer, less violent than gladiatorial combat, the NFL is sure to find some fans.
Disadvantages: Baklava and ouzo make for a bad, bad diet.

City: Paris, France
Advantages: Although many people stereotype France as a nation full of Galois-smoking, beret-wearing, Derrida-reading surrender monkeys, the reality is that if you can pronounce "le football américain est le plus grand sport au monde" accurately, they will nod their heads knowingly and invite you to participate in a ménage a trois.
Disadvantages: Reread the advantages, and reconsider your prejudices.

City: Reykjavik, Iceland
Advantages: Despite its extreme northern location (about the same latitude as Fairbanks, Alaska), the weather here is moderate. High temperatures in October average about 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The city is also home to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, named in 2006 as the best hot dog stand in all of Europe by British newspaper The Guardian.
Disadvantages: Iceland is rife with danger, including several active volcanoes. Polar bears are starting to enter the nation, crossing over from Greenland. And you never know when the Vikings (non-Minnesota version) will return. Best to leave this place be.

South America

City: Bogota, Colombia
Advantages: Players would not have to adjust to major time swings; Bogota is virtually due south of New York City.
Disadvantages: Michael Irvin might demand a permanent transfer of ESPN's operations to the city. Bogota is also waaaaaaaaaaay up in the sky, nearly 3,500 feet higher than Denver. JaMarcus Russell could throw balls out of the stadium like Michael Vick in those old PowerAde commercials.

City: Rio de Janiero, Brazil
Advantages: More than 11.7 million potential ticket-buyers within the city. They've also got a prime facility: Estádio do Maracanã, an open-air, grass-field stadium that once hosted nearly 200,000 people for the World Cup final.
Disadvantages: There are two parts of Brazilian culture that could pose a problem for the NFL. The first is rodizio, a form of all-you-can-eat barbecue in which servers come to the table with swords loaded with steak, chicken, and sausage. The second is Carnival, in which impossibly attractive Latin women parade around practically nude. Between these two customs, any NFL team visiting the city is virtually guaranteed to lose several players who will refuse to ever return to, for example, Cleveland.

Keep Choppin' Wood

The KCW trophy was mailed to the East Bay this week and delivered to Johnnie Lee Higgins, the usually reliable return man for the Raiders. In a play that defies rational explanation, Higgins decided in the second quarter to field a kickoff at the Raiders 2-yard line. But instead of letting the ball slice out of bounds for a penalty (or bounce into the end zone for a touchback), Higgins decided to ... run straight out of bounds. After the game, Higgins said -- and with due respect to Dave Barry, we swear we are not making this up -- "I didn't realize where I was on the field." The late Admiral Stockdale would be proud.

Stephen Colbert Award

We have two Colbert Award winners this week. (And when you think about it, there should be two.) Bill Belichick and Wade Phillips found themselves in remarkably similiar situations last Sunday: Inside the 10-yard line with six seconds to go before halftime. The safe play there is to take the gimme field goal, but Belichick and Phillips each chose to squeeze in one more try at a touchdown. Not only that, but each made the same play-call: A flag pattern to a wide receiver split left. Belichick saw a pass to Randy Moss tipped away, but was fortunate to have 0:01 remaining to take the field goal. Phillips saw Roy Williams pull in a crucial touchdown in an eventual 13-9 victory. Results aside, our hats are tipped your way, coaches Belichick and Phillips. Here's a pair who have got a pair.

Loser League

QB: We knew J.T. O'Sullivan was a loser when he was pulled for Shaun Hill. Now we have concrete evidence: O'Sullivan's 2 "led" all quarterbacks this week.

RB: Now here's a name you won't see in this section too often: Maurice Jones-Drew rushed 12 times for only 29 yards against Cleveland, with a long carry of just 5. Add in 19 yards receiving, and you get a 3.

WR: Lordy, lordy, look at all the 1s! Five in all, including two pairs of teammates: Johnnie Lee Higgins and Ronald Curry of Oakland, and Josh Reed and James Hardy of Buffalo. Plaxico Burress rounds out the One-Bunch.

WR: Jason Elam and Jeff Reed are technically the losers of the week -- each scored a 2 -- but that's an indictment of their offenses. Each of them kicked a pair of extra points, but never got to attempt a field goal.


48 comments, Last at 30 Mar 2013, 5:21pm

1 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

How about some KCW love to D'Angelo Hall for his "let's waste 75 percent of the remaining time on the clock" non-return return of the Pats final punt?

3 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

City: Pyongyang, North Korea
Advantages: Possibility that Mike Shanahan, Wikitravel, here's a list of things to do, places to shop, and things to eat while in Pyongyang:

Did this get truncated? It doesn't quite make sense. Are you referring to Mike Shanahan as Wikitravel?

And yes, even for Scramble, the human-pyramid joke was wretched. The rest of it made me laugh though, particularly the Childress bit.

4 Re: Geography

Tel Aviv is in Asia, not Africa. Moscow is in Europe, not Asia. Auckland is not a part of Australia. Most geographers use a term like Oceania to include both Australia and the Pacific Islands. It may be no big deal to some, but I have to do something with my BS in Geography. Oh, and Johnny Cougar now goes by John Mellencamp.

8 Re: Geography

In reply to by justanothersteve

If you can provide a concise and logical explanation for the fact that 'Asia' and 'Europe' are not considered the same continent, I'll consider your BS justified.

10 Re: Geography

In reply to by Tundrapat (not verified)

Physically there is no good reason for them to be considered separate continents. But if we look at it culturally and historically there's a good case to be made. Asia - China and India particularly, but pretty much everything east of the Urals - was virtually inaccessible for much of European history, and populated by peoples very racially and culturally different from Europeans, and became thought of by Europeans a different world or continent. Why does there need to be an ocean to define a continent? Can't centuries-long perception be enough?

32 Re: Geography

In reply to by El Nino Meon (not verified)

for what its worth, as a student of Russian History I would say that Russia has a history that is 90% Asian and 10% European. It is not irrational to consider Poland/Ukraine the cultural end of Europe.

13 Re: Geography

In reply to by Tundrapat (not verified)

I'm curious how justifying a difference between Europe and Asia affects the fact that, as currently drawn, Moscow and Tel Aviv are not considered on the continents in which they're categorized in this week's scramble.

14 Re: Geography

In reply to by SFC B (not verified)

It doesn't. I wasn't arguing that is does. You're right, Moscow is in Europe and Tel Aviv is in Asia.

I was simply answering a comment above, not defending the Geography of the article

22 Re: Geography

In reply to by Tundrapat (not verified)

Easy. One of them you can get into a land war in with some hope of ever getting out.

26 Re: Geography

In reply to by Tundrapat (not verified)

If you think it's "BS" to complain when the biggest city of New Zealand is said to be in Australia, I'd like to introduce you to a few rugby players who dress in black.

15 Re: Geography

In reply to by justanothersteve

You're kidding, a Bachelor's degree in Geography? Did your school have a "Shop" major, too?

9 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

Unfortunately, I can't get into the site from work to fix the North Korea blurb, but the corrected passage should read:

Advantages: Possibility that Mike Shanahan, Ultimate Leader of the Denver Broncos, will meet the original glorious leader, Kim Jong Il.
Disadvantages: According to Wikitravel, here's a list of things to do, places to shop, and things to eat while in Pyongyang:

12 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

The division between Europe and Asia is generally considered the Ural mountains which makes Moscow in Europe but Siberia in Asia. Although I believe the term "Asia" originated from the Romans who called the part of Turkey, east of Istanbul, Asia and Asia Minor. When and why the change took place I am unsure.

11 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

1) Excellent Monty Python Reference. This feature turns more and more into a post-modern masterpiece every week. Whatever that means.

2) What is the e-mail address to which we send screenshots of objectionable ads that appear on the site? I got one for "HookupArea: Meet Naughty Women in your Area (18+)"

16 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

"Old bean"? "Old chap"? Have Ben or Vince ever actually talked to a real live English person?

I would guess the most commonly used phrase by English people attending the Saints-Chargers game rhymes with "cupid stucking funt"!

34 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

Only the stereotype of the educated American who sincerely believes, nonetheless, that Tel Aviv is in Africa and passes off a lot of lazy, centuries-old national stereotypes as 'humor'.

I guess if you live in a place where Geography is regarded as a "joke" university subject, the rest of the world must seem pretty risible. (Although I'm relieved to see that particular comment getting some bad karma.)

Oh and has Gil Thorp been kidnapped by a marauding band of turban-wearing, ululating, bearded, camel-riding thugs from Tibet or Chechnya or somewhere in that direction?

20 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

This article, while funny, is lacking content. Where's the cartoon? How about any mention of fantasy football? This is the fantasy column for FO, right? And what ever happened to the "Best Bets" section?

40 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

We should have announced this news in this week's column, but our cartoonist's wife just had a baby. Congratulations, Jason!

As for Best Bets, we've moved that to FO Premium, and trust me when I tell you that it's doing a far better job predicting results than we ever could hope to.

You are right, however, that Scramble this year has moved away a little from fantasy football-specific content and more into the "general goofiness" category (see subheading above). Partly that's because Bill Barnwell answers fantasy-specific questions as part of FO premium, but it also reflects each writer's unique tastes and interests. Don't get me wrong: I love fantasy football (and my team is 8-0!), but there's already a glut of weekly "stock watch" columns, and so we're trying to do something a little different.

21 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

Surely you know New Zealand is not in Australia and we don't particularly like each other to begin with. Its like writing "Toronto Canada - USA". The pommy stuff was funny though.

24 Ricky Williams - 24 points!?!?!?

Why is Ricky Williams listed as scoring 24 points for my loser league team?

He had 7 carries for 16 yards, a TD and a fumble, and 2 receptions for 43 yard and a fumble.

Shouldn't that be 7 points?

28 Re: Ricky Williams - 24 points!?!?!?

Really? I guess I was forgetting how many carries you needed to avoid the penalty. I thought it was 6 for some reason. But why in the world should you get double penalized? That's not logical. Well, I guess it doesn't matter for me then. My other two back (willie parker and Chris perry) both have 15s anyways.

31 Re: Ricky Williams - 24 points!?!?!?

"Really? I guess I was forgetting how many carries you needed to avoid the penalty. I thought it was 6 for some reason. But why in the world should you get double penalized? That's not logical. Well, I guess it doesn't matter for me then. My other two back (willie parker and Chris perry) both have 15s anyways."

What "double penalty" are you talking about? Let's go through the math again:

* 1 point for 16 rush yards
* 6 points for 1 rush TD
* -2 points for 1 fumble
* 4 points for 43 receiving yards
* 15 points for the penalty of getting fewer than 8 carries

1 + 6 - 2 + 4 + 15 = 24.

37 Re: Ricky Williams - 24 points!?!?!?

I'm saying the 15 points should be the sole penalty. It shouldn't FURTHER penalize a player who actually goes out and does stuff, but not quite enough to escape the penalty, while a player who doesn't see the field, thus logically a WORSE loser league choice, scores fewer points.

Chris Perry had 0 carries and as a result a 15 point penalty.

Ricky Williams goes out and does stuff, but falls one carry short, and that is deemed 9 points worse.

This is not logical.

I am not disputing the math, I'm disputing the premise behind the math.

44 Re: Ricky Williams - 24 points!?!?!?

Well, you need a penalty there, otherwise everyone would just pick third-stringers and there would be massive ties all about. You can argue that the baseline should be 4 carries or 6 carries or 10 carries, but the idea is to pick players who ARE playing, just not doing very well.

45 Re: Ricky Williams - 24 points!?!?!?

Yes, and the 15 points is the penalty! I am not arguing against the penalty.

I'm saying 15 points is THE penalty, and a person shouldn't be FURTHER penalized by tacking on whatever points the player did happen to score. That's what I'm talking about when I say "double penalty"

Ricky Williams, a player who DID play, just not quite enough, produces a much harsher overall penalty that someone nailed to the bench.

This makes no sense at all.

To make myself clear, my point is that both Ricky Williams and Chris Perry should have scored a 15 last week.

If a player does not reach the minimum for carries, receptions, or passes, their score should be 15, period. NOT 15 + whatever points the player happens to score.

46 Re: Ricky Williams - 24 points!?!?!?

"Ricky Williams, a player who DID play, just not quite enough, produces a much harsher overall penalty that someone nailed to the bench.

This makes no sense at all.

To make myself clear, my point is that both Ricky Williams and Chris Perry should have scored a 15 last week. "

OK, that's a reasonable viewpoint. Perhaps we can change the scoring next year. I would guess that when the system was originally designed, it was intended to scare players away from part-timers like Williams and toward more full-time, truly horrible players like Chris Perry.

25 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

Am I the only person who thought that the Bob Woolmer joke was in slightly bad taste? And while he was the Pakistan coach, he was killed at the World Cup in Jamaica (I think).

29 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

I should have expected to be picked apart by the geography police. That's what I get for not seeing this subject in school for nearly 20 years.

On Moscow: I thought all of Russia was in Asia. I see that I was wrong.

On Tel Aviv: I thought everything up to Syria and Iraq was part of Africa. I'm looking at a globe as I type this, and I do not feel bad about getting this wrong. Three continents collide in this region, and unless you're looking at tectonic plates, it's hard to tell what ends where. (I would like to know how Moscow can be in Europe and Tel Aviv can be in Asia, even though Moscow is EAST of Tel Aviv.)

On Auckland: I was taught that there are seven continents: Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, North America, South America, and Antarctica. Of these, which should I have listed New Zealand under? "Oceania" sounds like something only Orwell would use.

30 Losingest Loser

No mention of Taylor Mehlhaff? Not only did he score a 2 this week, he was cut after the game for missing an extra point.

33 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

To the Kiwis complaining that New Zealand's largest city is not in fact part of Australia, rest assured we Aussies arent thrilled about this development either.

41 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

For those who are wondering, it's "luh foo-tuh ball ah mare ee can a luh ploo gran spore tow moan-duh".

I think. I'm not sure if the t in sport stays silent when followed by a vowel. It's been 10 years since high-school french anyway. That should get you close, but it might not be menage-a-trois worthy.

42 Re: Scramble For The Ball: Wherever I May Roam

Ah, an inane Jacksonville joke. Thank goodness FO is finally mining the vein Tony Kornheiser exhausted 15 years ago (although you missed the standard references to Hooters and Waffle House).

This makes FO look like it wanders between the neighborhoods of mimickry and ignorance. No better way to welcome those in pursuit of higher analytical standards then with parched cracks about a small-market city that has inexplicably become the target of a branch of analysts who seem offended at its presence in the NFL. If this were the first piece I read on FO it'd appear that you have nothing more original to offer than any other analyst who relies on lazy, repetitive hack comedy. Not to mention that it feeds off the media meme of recent years that only big-market cities or star-heavy teams "matter" and all else must be marginalized.

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