Monday, September 23, 2013

5 comments Rick Reilly Drops Pop Culture References and Gets Meta

I tend to immediately be suspicious when Rick Reilly tries to do any type of real sports analysis or discuss sports in any real depth. He's the "I have friends who play sports" type sportswriter who has all the connections in the industry, but doesn't seem to care about sports more than just knowing the players and the teams while not caring to go deeper than that. Then I see Rick is criticizing ESPN's 100 Players list, which has to be bad based on the fact (a) ESPN is publishing the list and (b) ESPN "experts" make up the panel of 63 voters. I'm shocked Tim Tebow wasn't #1, followed by LeBron James. But then, I read the column and Rick drops forced pop culture references and somehow his comments about ESPN's Top 100 list actually makes the list seem logical and when the list isn't logical, Rick's criticisms are very Reilly-esque.

What Rick's column is representative of is ESPN's self-perpetuating news cycle. They create news by stating an opinion, then they get others within ESPN to comment on that opinion thereby creating some sense of authenticity for this opinion because someone else is talking about it, this opinion gets picked up by the media and now this opinion has become a full-fledged news story. In this situation, ESPN creates a list of the Top 100 NFL players, encourages people to debate the list on Twitter, then have their columnists given an opinion on what they think about the list and now we have a debate. Great success! It's a self-perpetuating news cycle that doesn't require actual news, but requires a simple opinion that the ESPN machine can then turn into a news story.

Until now, most of us here at ESPN were unaware of the dangerously high amount of hallucinogens being introduced into our cafeteria coffee.

So begins Rick Reilly's 300 word weekly column. It doesn't shock me those at ESPN weren't aware of the dangerously high amount of hallucinogens in the coffee, but the rest of the sports-loving world probably figured out the content of hallucinogens in the ESPN coffee was high based on "First Take" still being on the air and Skip Bayless still existing as a real person who gets a forum to share his opinion. Oh, and ESPN re-signed Rick so that's another sign there is something in the ESPN cafeteria coffee.

This is the only way to explain the way our 63-member panel of NFL experts voted in our poll of the top 100 offensive and defensive players in the NFL, which is complete today. At the risk of offending some very large people, were they groggy?

Not one to do research, Rick feels free to criticize the Top 100 but fails to realize the only way the list of voters would be large is if they are obese. Check out that list. There aren't a lot of ex-football players on the list. Most of them are journalists and those who cover sports. Why would Rick allow accuracy to get in the way of a cheap joke though?

I'm fine with Aaron Rodgers at No. 1.
And that's about where it ends.

It mostly ends there because Aaron Rodgers is the only name on the list that Rick recognizes. Well, he recognizes Peyton Manning and Tom Brady too, but since Rick spends most of his Sunday afternoons pretending to choke a celebrity in an effort to be as repetitious and cheesy as possible he doesn't have much time to watch football. And yet another "well," there are really two rankings that Rick agrees with, but it sounds so much more controversial to say he only agrees with one player's placement on the list.

Lions WR Calvin Johnson at No. 2 should be No. 6, with everybody moving up one.

Great opinion, but why? Why is Johnson better than Drew Brees, but not better than Peyton Manning and Tom Brady? Brees had a pretty damn good year last year for a Saints team that he seemed to singlehandedly carry for a large portion of the year.

No. 9 A.J. Green shouldn't be in the top 10 at all. That's a year or two too soon.

A.J. Green shouldn't be top 10 at all, that's too soon after playing in the NFL for two seasons, but in a minute Rick will complain Alfred Morris should be ranked in the 40's despite the fact he was only a rookie last year. Rick will also say Luke Kuechly is a Top 10 defender despite only having played on year in the NFL. Consistency is not Rick's thing. Rick's thing is writing very bad, short columns.

And Texans WR Andre Johnson shouldn't be No. 12. That's a year or two too late.

So a receiver who had 97 catches for 1350 yards and 11 touchdowns shouldn't be the 9th best offensive player because that's too high, but a receiver who had 112 catches for 1598 yards and 4 touchdowns shouldn't be the 12th best offensive player because that's too high for him? So what does it take to be the 9th or 12th best offensive player in the NFL? I would love to know how it's too soon or too late if the numbers back up the ranking. Rick should realize Andre Johnson broke his career high for receiving yards in 2012, so I'm not sure how the opinion he was a better receiver in 2010 or 2011 makes sense. I think, and this sounds crazy I know, that Rick is just making shit up right now.

Seattle was more overrated than Daft Punk in this thing.

That's right. Rick is making a reference to Daft Punk. He couldn't name a Daft Punk song if his life depended on it. But hey, pop culture references work for Bill Simmons so why not continuing trying them out for himself?

CB Richard Sherman at 8? He's not even the best DB on that team (Earl Thomas at 17).

Based on what though? Fine, disagree with the rankings, but how is Richard Sherman not as good as Earl Thomas? First off, just saying they both are DB's is misleading since Sherman has much different responsibilities as a cornerback than Thomas has as a safety. They are both great, but it looks like Sherman had a better year on paper last year.

Please: 49ers TE Vernon Davis? At 18? Really? In what world is Vernon Davis better than Falcons QB Matt Ryan (22)? Please tell me, oh Senile 63, because I want to go there and see if they rank Kate Moss over Kate Upton.

In terms of career earnings and becoming an icon within the industry then I think Kate Moss would be ranked over Kate Upton. But yes, this was another pop culture reference for Rick and they are feeling more and more forced as the column goes on.

Plus: In nobody's imagination is Jason Witten the 21st-best player in the league, including, possibly, Witten's.

Tony Gonzalez was ranked #20 on the list (he was tied with Witten and given the #20 spot and Witten was put at #21) and Rick has no issue with that? Andre Johnson has one of the best years of his career and Rick criticizes his selection at #12 by saying "that's a year or two late" while Gonzalez is 37 years old and is outperformed by the tight end who is #21 on the list, so naturally Rick has a problem with the tight end ranked #21 being too high and no issues with Gonzalez's ranking. Witten had more catches and more receiving yards than Gonzalez yet he and Gonzalez tied on the list. Plus, Gonzalez is ranked above his quarterback, Matt Ryan, which is ridiculous and Rick just stated it was ridiculous by saying Ryan should be ranked better than #22. Rick has no issue with Tony Romo being ranked 62nd, so he admits Ryan is the better quarterback. Witten is tied with Gonzalez despite having the worse quarterback and better statistics in 2012. But yeah, it's Witten's ranking that's off.

(Speaking of the Cowboys, the $108 million man, Tony Romo, was 62nd. Seems about right.)

Two things:

1. See, even Rick agrees that Gonzalez has the better quarterback which has to positively affect Gonzalez's statistics, right? So if anyone deserves it is #21 on the list it is Jason Witten and not Tony Gonzalez. I know this is a straw-man argument, but I don't care.

2. Rick claims he only agrees with one person's placement on this list (Aaron Rodgers), but it seems he actually agrees with two. The fact Rick only agrees with one selection is in the title of the article,  yet Rick states he agrees with two selections. Just saying, I'm not a fan of cutesy bullshit over accuracy when discussing the accuracy of a list.

Explain to me how the 13-3 Denver Broncos have only seven players in the top 100, the same as the Kansas City Chiefs, who went 2-14.

Because it is a list ranking individual players on a team and not a list ranking the players based on the strength of the overall team. This seems kind of obvious, no?

The other thing I don't like about the poll is how lumpy it is, which is to say lumpier than Johnny Knoxville's skull.

If this were 2005 I would still make fun of this pop culture reference.

For instance, The Senile 63 took a look at the 49ers' two terrific DEs -- Aldon Smith and Justin Smith -- and decided they were the 10th- and 11th-best defensive players, respectively.

Ahh, who has time to tell the difference? Stick them together. I'm double-parked.

This is a cumulative list, so it's not like one person just lumped these two together. These rankings could be recognition that Aldon Smith and Justin Smith work well together and probably don't work as well apart from each other. Justin Smith is very good at holding up blockers which allows Aldon Smith to successfully blitz and Aldon Smith helps Justin Smith get attention for getting Aldon Smith sacks. It goes deeper than that, but I can see where these two players would have such a symbiotic relationship are ranked next to each other. Of course, I also watch the NFL and know the symbiotic relationship between these two, which isn't something I am confident enough to say for sure about Rick.

The same with clumping all four Young Guns -- QBs Andrew Luck (41) of the Colts, Colin Kaepernick (42) of the 49ers, Robert Griffin III of the Redskins (46) and Russell Wilson (47) of the Seahawks  -- into some one-size-fits-all sock.
Crap! Forgot about all the great new QBs! Let's cram them all into the 40s and hope nobody notices.

Rick clearly has trouble understanding how statistics work. These are the spots in which each of these quarterbacks were voted based on how 63 people voted. These QB's were crammed into the 40's, but not by one person, but these rankings are a reflection that all four QB's are considered to be equally as good right now by a group of 63 people.

They all had Schwab's drug store seasons. But Luck had the best one. He took a team that has only three players in the top 200 (third-worst overall) to an 11-5 record and the playoffs. Without any kind of running back. Or defense. As a rookie. In a locker room that had been cleaned out of everything but the chinstraps by the wacky owner.

I'm not sure how Rick can consider the Colts locker room to have been cleaned out when there was still two Hall of Famers on the team last year, but that's beside the point. In 2009 this Colts team went to the Super Bowl and until the 2011 season had made the playoffs eight straight seasons. The Colts didn't have much of a running game, but the team wasn't completely cleaned out.

You didn't ask, so I'll tell you. I would've had them: Luck (29), Griffin (32), Kaepernick (42) and Wilson (59).

I can play this game. Kaepernick took over a team that made the NFC Championship Game the prior season, while Russell Wilson took over a 7-9 Seahawks team that lacked offensive weapons. Rick would have ranked Andrew Luck #29 after one {let's be honest, he was good, but not great...he only completed 54.5% of his passes, committed 23 turnovers (fumbles lost plus interceptions...only Mark Sanchez committed more...if you want to count fumbles overall plus interceptions Luck had 28 turnovers which was the third most behind Philip Rivers and Sanchez), and had a 76.5 rating} rookie season in the NFL, but he's outraged that A.J. Green is #9 after two great seasons. So I presume if Andrew Luck actually managed to put up good numbers in 2013 it would be too soon to rank him in the Top 10, right?

Joe Flacco was rated 40th. Fortieth! The guy who just won the Super Bowl. The guy who has won at least one playoff game in five straight seasons. The guy who was just given a contract worth the Gross National Product of Chile. The QB with more wins (63, including playoffs) than any other QB since 2008.

So I wonder where Flacco should be then? Should he be better than Luck at #29? Better than Griffin at #32? He won a Super Bowl and that's fantastic, but his contract should have absolutely nothing to do with where he is ranked as an individual player.

It gets worse: Flacco is 40th and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger is 24th. Who the …? What the …? Are you mad?

Well, using your own criteria that involves Super Bowl rings, Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl rings to Flacco's one Super Bowl ring. So using that criteria Roethlisberger should be ranked above Flacco.

You say, "Well, Roethlisberger has been hurt the past two years." I say: Hurt is part of this! Get un-hurt! It's in the game!

That's a very simplistic way of looking at it. As ESPN's own statistics point out, Roethlisberger has been sacked 30 times for seven straight seasons. It's not easy to "get un-hurt" when you are getting sacked constantly, but again, Rick doesn't care to delve that deeply when second-guessing Roethlisberger's ranking. He wants to crack wise with a few quips he thinks are funny and call it a day.

Taking a look at Roethlisberger's statistics, it's not hard to see how he got ranked above Flacco, but I like how two Super Bowl rings all of a sudden mean nothing to Rick simply because Flacco won a Super Bowl last year. The media loves the use of immediacy to evaluate a player over the long-term.

And then there was this: Perhaps out of fear of never getting any more interviews, The Senile 63 threw a wheelbarrow of QBs in at the last second, like a chef who panics and suddenly throws in two cups of oregano at the end. Detroit's Matthew Stafford was 94th. Panic. Chicago's Jay Cutler was 97th. Panic. Carolina's Cam Newton 100th. Panic. Was there a sale?

Again, this is a cumulative ranking and I doubt every voter put each quarterback in these respective spots because they didn't know where else to put them. These rankings are a cumulative score based on 63 different opinions, so the end result can't be easily packaged into one certain line of thought as to why a player was ranked where he was.

And yet Matt Schaub, who has been better than all of them, was 108th. (They let us see the entire list.)

Well, Schaub got hurt in 2011 and as you say Rick, he needs to "get un-hurt." So I'm sure that affected Schaub's ranking and I'm not sure how Rick can argue against injuries being factored into the ranking since Rick uses injuries to lower Roethlisberger from #24 on the list. Stay healthy, get ranked higher, right?

I'm not a big Matthew Stafford fan, but I would definitely rank him over Matt Schaub.

Washington RB Alfred Morris, the second leading rusher in the league last year, is only 75th?

How about Morris makes it in a year or two? You know, like you said should be done for A.J. Green. Running backs are devalued in the NFL right now and I think this ranking reflects that.

Like One Direction, the kid should be in the top 40, easy. 

My God, please stop writing shit like this and stop dropping terrible pop culture references.

So Morris needs to be in the Top 40 easily, huh? Alfred Morris should be ranked above Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Vincent Jackson, Matt Forte, and Maurice Jones-Drew? So Alfred Morris is better than Forte and Jones-Drew after playing one year in the NFL? LeSean McCoy is #38 and Frank Gore is #37. I would love to know how Mr. "One or two years too early" Reilly thinks Morris should be ranked compared to these two running backs. This is the problem when randomly second-guessing these rankings and moving a player like Morris up so far after one year. Morris moves up after one great year and all of a sudden being a consistently great running back like Jones-Drew or Forte means less.

You don't say about running backs, "Let's see how the youngster develops." Running backs come out of the womb with cleats on. He's a star. Get over it.

Fine, but moving Morris up into the Top 40 means you think he is better than star running backs like Matt Forte and Maurice Jones-Drew. Of course Jones-Drew was injured last year, so I guess he can go "get un-hurt."

Panthers LB Luke Kuechly clear down at 22? That's a crime and should be punishable by every member of The Senile 63 getting cable. The kid is a monster. He plays like he's triplets. He's a top-10 defensive player or the poll should be dissembled, boxed up and dropped into Lake Erie.

The contradictions never end. Kuechly has played one season in the NFL and already Rick Reilly has him as a Top 10 defensive player, which is insane. Back to A.J. Green, how does Green need to prove himself more after two great seasons in the NFL, but Luke Kuechly is all of a sudden a Top 10 defensive player after one season? It makes not of sense. At least show some consistency.

It's fascinating, like your first ant farm.

Your pop culture references make a Bill Simmons column read like he is Ernest Hemingway.

Michael Vick, who was once the fastest thing this side of Rob Gronkowski's contact list, was ranked 169th. You can't start him, right? Except his backup, Nick Foles, was 249th, so you better.

It's ridiculous to say you can't start Mike Vick because he doesn't appear on this Top 100 list. I'm not sure Joe Flacco would have been in the Top 80 if the list had been completed at the end of the 2011 season.

Jets QB Mark Sanchez finished 247th. If you're Rex Ryan, there's no way you start the 247th-ranked offensive player in the league, right? Except Geno Smith was 250th.

Which means it's going to be another long season for Rex Ryan. He's definitely going to need some of our coffee.

I'm not sure which is more awful, the fact ESPN ranked the Top 100 NFL players and Rick thinks the ratings are indicative of one consistent line of thought from 63 people or that Rick Reilly wrote a column second-guessing the ESPN's Top 100 NFL players and this was the end result. I've decided, they are both awful. 


Crazee said...

I still hate how Reilly is prominently featured on MNF. His segments is always about something that happened last year or something everyone has already discussed thousands of times. Great analysis, Rick.

Bengoodfella said...

Crazee, ESPN is working really hard to justify the fact Reilly is still on their roster. I was really surprised they gave him another contract. There's not a whole lot he does well and I'm not sure he adds anything other than being Rick Reilly.

I'm guessing his columns still get pretty good numbers, but they shoehorn him into MNF because he seems to think he has a diverse skill set. He is wrong.

Snarf said...

As weird as this is for me to say/type, I actually think Rick Reilly's column and ensuing publishing of many emails he received on the subject was actually pretty good, mature analysis of an issue. Maybe there is some remnant of a decent writer left in the ugly husk of a sportswriter that is RR.

Snarf said...

And as I say this I go back to his previous posts and find this Peter King-esque nugget:

Bengoodfella said...

Snarf, I actually just finished a post about the response to Rick's column. I think he's backtracking a bit and trying to change the intent of his original piece.