Tuesday, December 3, 2013

4 comments Bill Simmons Really Thinks We Should Pay Attention to this Calvin Johnson Guy

Like an absent-minded grandfather who tells the same stories over and over, I have mentioned repeatedly that I think Bill Simmons is out of ideas and wants to quit writing his weekly column. He used to write 2-3 times per week and now he's done to 1 time per week. Unfortunately, Bill doesn't have the guts to alienate his readers and just stop writing. So what we get are half-assed columns where he clearly isn't trying. He wrote about Calvin Johnson in his Week 12 picks column and it basically consists of his typical "A is like B which is like something else and I hope you aren't paying attention anymore so you don't realize I haven't made a cogent point" writing and a recitation of statistics that is supposed to substitute for substance. He can do better, but he won't. So let's read why we should all pay attention to Calvin Johnson, because after all, if Bill hasn't paid enough attention to Johnson during hits NFL career then that means no one else has either.

Back in September, Nike launched an ad campaign for the one and only Calvin Johnson. It's impossible to screw up a Calvin Johnson commercial. He's either the LeBron of football or the Dominique of football (a.k.a. the Human Highlight Reel).

Being an electric and exciting athlete doesn't mean a commercial featuring said athlete will be exciting. Overall, Calvin Johnson comes off as not exciting off the field. This is a point Bill will bring up repeatedly in this column, yet he can't figure out why Nike had trouble launching an ad campaign for Johnson.

He's the second-best receiver I have ever seen.

Clearly Nike should have been told prior to shooting the commercial where Johnson ranked in Bill Simmons' hierarchy of receivers. I'm positive this would have enabled them to make a better commercial.

And on top of everything else, he has a cool nickname: Megatron. I don't know how you screw THAT up.

Considering there are probably legal and licensing issues with Nike using the term "Megatron" in a commercial, I can see how this nickname almost becomes an issue when attempting to market Johnson. Bill can't see past his own nose, so he clearly isn't thinking about these legal and licensing issues.

Spoiler alert: Bill does think of these licensing issues, but just glosses over why Nike couldn't use the "Megatron" nickname in a commercial. 

Nike screwed it up. It made a perfectly fine commercial that accentuates everything we already knew about Calvin Johnson: He's humble and soft-spoken, someone who only cares about winning games and making plays.

Alas, not someone who is good for an entertaining commercial. That's why Nike had to bring in P-Diddy or Puffy or whatever his name is, to liven Johnson's brand up. Johnson is awesome at football, but his recognition isn't so high because he doesn't self-promote.

And yet, Calvin Johnson has spent more time getting his name out there than you realize.

Please tell me more about the quantity of what I do or don't realize. It's not annoying at all.

There's Calvin walking to work, dressed in a suit and moving through a fancy building. He's telling himself that 1,964 (receiving) yards is waiting again, as long as he avoids annoying distractions like interviews, fans and demands. At that point, 50 reporters and photographers appear and start screaming, "Calvin! Calvin! Calvin! Calvin!" 

As if this commercial wasn't bad enough, Bill is now going to kill space by transcribing it for us. I get the feeling Bill is filibustering his writing career. He's just going to stop writing good quality stuff until his readers stop caring and move on from wanting him to continue writing. In the meantime, Bill is just going to keep writing crap.

At that point, Diddy (???) enters the commercial as Calvin's alter ego, "Johnson." He's there to help.

Again, it's not a good commercial visually or in writing.

I'm guessing they named him "Johnson" after furious negotiations to call him "Megatron" fell through right before they filmed the commercial.

So Bill does realize why Nike didn't call him "Megatron" in the commercial. I'm not marketing specialist, but I know enough about marketing to know that if you are marketing Calvin Johnson then you may want to market him by his actual name and not pay $500,000 (or more?) for the use of a nickname which will further confuse those who don't know who Megatron is and don't know what Calvin Johnson looks like. Again, from a marketing standpoint the nickname Megatron is great, but Nike is marketing Calvin Johnson, not his cool nickname.

He's freeing Calvin from all this crap. So a satisfied Calvin walks away from the crowd, nodding to himself, as Johnson's voice trails him: "There's only one thing you have to do." And that's when a big "UNLEASH SPEED" graphic comes flying at us. The end. 

Everything about this commercial seems cool … you know, until you actually think about it. What's the point of a sneaker ad?

Everything about this article seems fine until you actually think about it. What's the point of this article? Why did Bill just spend 250 words saying a commercial sucks? Why can't Bill just recite Calvin Johnson's statistics and not ramble about a bad commercial that he finds to be so terrible, yet he not only links the commercial in a YouTube clip but also gives us a written transcript of what happens in the commercial?

To make me like the endorser, to grab my attention, and to make me more likely to purchase the product. And not in that order. Well … why would I like Calvin Johnson MORE after that commercial?

Because it's a commercial and you associate Johnson as being all-business. I don't know.

Now I have to hear him complaining about distractions and outside forces?


Thanks Gregg Easterbrook. Does ESPN give a course at orientation on how to kill space in a column to make it seem like you are writing more original material than you really are?

And why make a commercial that says, "I don't have the personality, or the will, to pull off the ancillary parts of my life — I wish I could hire someone more dynamic, like Sean Diddy Combs, to do it." What???? Who would want this?

The commercial says, "I am focused on football. That's all I care about." No further analysis is required after this.

If you're selling Calvin Johnson without emphasizing his most important quality, then you've failed. I would have tackled it differently.

There's nothing Bill Simmons can't do better than someone else. He's the VP of Common Sense, a GM-in-waiting, and now smarter than Nike when it comes to marketing their athletes. It sounds like Johnson's most important quality is his focus on being the best wide receiver he can be, which the commercial does tackle.

Maybe we see an eclectic mix of fans preparing to watch a Lions game on Sunday morning. Really, they're getting ready to watch Calvin Johnson. They're getting ready to do this either because they love the Lions, they wagered on the Lions, they picked him for their fantasy team, or because watching Calvin Johnson catch footballs has nothing in common with absolutely ANYTHING right now. I'd want to see those fans getting ready, then I'd want to see Calvin, and then I'd want to see him do Megatron shit. There's your Calvin Johnson commercial.

This sounds like, and I'm not intentionally exaggerating here, one of the worst commercial ideas ever. So Bill thinks the commercial should be people getting ready to watch Calvin Johnson play football together? That's it. People getting ready to watch football and then Calvin Johnson does something cool? Don Draper is not impressed.

Quick tangent: I hate this football season.

The first 15% of this column was a review of a Nike commercial. I would say the entire column is a tangent to kill time prior to getting to Bill's picks for the week.

My picks have flagrantly sucked, my fantasy teams are relentlessly mediocre, I can't win a bet to save my life, the refs keep screwing over the Patriots,

Poor Bill. I hope he has time to cry into his 2013 Boston Red Sox World Series Champions t-shirt later tonight while reminiscing on how sad he is about the officials screwing over the Patriots ALL THE TIME.

So what's been fun about 2013? Start here: We get to watch Calvin Johnson in his prime. The following anecdote makes me sound like Chuckie driving to Will Hunting's house every morning, but I don't care. Every Sunday, when I'm setting up the televisions in my office so I can watch four games at once,

This is Bill's way of reminding us he can watch four televisions at one time. I watched 12 televisions at one time earlier this year at a sports bar, so I'm not impressed. But the important covert brag here is that Bill's office has four televisions.

I love watching that guy, and so do you,

Don't tell me what I do or don't like. Despite what your lemming followers tell you, you don't speak for the average sports fan and you don't know what everyone is thinking. It's a lazy writing tool that is used to prove or disprove a point you want to make. The whole "everyone thinks this" writing tool is the worst.

If you were watching football with a group of friends, and one of them blurted out, "Enough with that Calvin Johnson, I hate that guy," what would happen?

I would ask him why he doesn't like Calvin Johnson and then after he explains why find a way to move on with my life.

Would people recoil in slow motion? Would everyone gang up and start screaming at him? Would everyone start laughing, like it was simply impossible for anyone to hate Calvin Johnson — which meant this joker had to be kidding? I'm not even sure someone has uttered the words "I hate Calvin Johnson" in Milwaukee, Chicago or Minneapolis, much less anywhere else. He might be the only current professional athlete with a 100 percent approval rating.

It must be tiring to talk in circles and never actually have an intention to get to your point. Actually, it's probably not tiring because Bill has the Simmonsites propping him up telling him how great he is through their emails to him.

There has to be SOME way to pick them apart, to throw a wet towel on them, to make everyone else feel worse about them. When Breaking Bad avoided that massive sinkhole and cranked out its treasured final season, one that pleased the hell out of just about everybody, it went down as a greater accomplishment than the show itself. Gaining universal respect and approval in 2013? Incredible. Who pulls that off anymore?

This is typical Bill Simmons writing. Calvin Johnson has universal respect and approval because Bill Simmons perceives Calvin Johnson as having universal respect and approval. It's true because it is what Bill believes and reinforces the point he wants to prove. The world revolves around Bill and his beliefs. If any other sportswriter has "Only Child Syndrome" more than Bill Simmons, I've never met that person.

And you wonder why Kanye keeps flying off the handle. He's not a lunatic, just someone driven to achieve that same universal respect. Kanye truly believes that he's a musical genius, that he has a higher calling of sorts, that he's repeatedly creating art that stands alone. 

See? A is like B which is like something else. At last, through his rambling Bill believes he has proven his point. Calvin Johnson may have universal respect, but I guarantee there are some people that hate him.

Calvin Johnson plays it the other way. He complains by humbly pointing out in a Nike commercial, "Distractions are a little annoying; I wish I could just play football." That's actually how receivers used to carry themselves — 

Back in Bill's day when there weren't so many uppity minorities playing the wide receiver position.

We're accustomed to elite receivers "performing" now — it's part of that position, for better and worse.

This using "we" to describe what a group of people think is a writing crutch Bill has worn out over the past couple of years. I wonder if he used it prior to 2011 or I just started noticing at that time? It's pretty obnoxious either way.

You would never call Calvin Johnson a "performer," but again, you can't call him a recluse. Google him and you'll stumble across a surprising number of commercials, TV appearances, NFL Films "Wired for Sound" clips and mildly awkward behind-the-scenes-at-the-shoot videos. I watched a crapload of them this week trying to understand him better. Didn't work. Calvin Johnson seems like a really nice guy. That's it.

Which circles me back to my original point...if Calvin Johnson isn't a performer and is just a really nice guy, then how it is impossible to screw up a commercial for him? He's not overly-exciting, so a commercial featuring him that makes him seem exciting could be a difficult thing to do.

Even his "controversial" moments never seemed even remotely controversial because he's so damned nice.

If Bill cared one bit about the content of his writing then he would notice this statement explains why this statement,

It's impossible to screw up a Calvin Johnson commercial.

isn't true at all. If Bill Simmons takes a week to try and understand Calvin Johnson better but only walks away with the thought that Calvin Johnson is only a really nice guy, then how will a 30 second commercial convey another attribute of Johnson better without just making one up?

In fantasy football, Calvin Johnson always goes four picks too late or $12 too cheap, and by Week 3, you're always kicking yourself that it wasn't you

Oh, is this what I am always doing? Thanks for telling me what I do, since you know me better than I know myself all-knowing master of everything who knows what everyone is thinking at all times or at least pretends to in order to lean on this assumption as a crutch when writing.

But it's the in-the-moment stuff that makes him special. I'm 40 NFL seasons in at this point. During that time, only five non-quarterbacks made me feel like their games never had a ceiling: Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders, Lawrence Taylor, Adrian Peterson (2012 only) and Megatron.

If Peterson only made Bill feel this way for one season, should he be on this list?

I came up with that list during last Sunday's Pittsburgh game, at halftime, when it seemed entirely possible that Calvin Johnson might finish with 400 receiving yards in one game. FOUR HUNDRED RECEIVING YARDS?????? This was possible?

That led to this moment: Wait a second … what the hell am I watching right now? Is this the greatest receiver who's ever lived and I'm the last person who realizes it?

Then Bill remembered that everything starts and ends with him, so if he just realized Calvin Johnson may be the greatest receiver that ever lived then no one else has noticed this either. He better write an entire rambling column about this topic very soon.

Also notice how Bill is watching football on Sunday, makes up a half-assed list on the spot and there you have his next Friday column. Not that Bill is out of creative writing ideas of course. 

Unlike with 2,000 rushing yards, 60 homers or 50 touchdown passes, we don't have the proper benchmarks for receiving seasons to put them in perspective. Only seven receivers finished an NFL season with more than 1,600 receiving yards, 100 catches and 10 touchdowns while also averaging 100+ yards per game and 13+ yards per catch. Sadly, the 1600-100-10-100-13 Club isn't the catchiest name.

But it is an semi-arbitrarily chosen set of categories (specifically the 13+ yards per catch) and whether it is a catchy name is completely irrelevant.

All right, so let's simplify it a little. You want 100 yards and a touchdown from your best receiver every game, right? Those are the benchmarks that ultimately matter.

I'd also prefer he catch 95% of the passes that go his way and doesn't lead the league in drops, but I guess I'm just being picky. Yes Bill, you are right. All I want from my best receiver is 1600 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season. It doesn't seem like that much to ask.

Then Bill recites some statistics that say Calvin Johnson is a really good receiver. I would include these statistics in this post since I am sure no one else but Bill Simmons is aware of Calvin Johnson's greatness, but I am too lazy to do so.

Jerry Rice must watch these 2013 games and think, Man, I could have averaged 2,000 yards and 20 TDs a season with these rules. And he wouldn't necessarily be exaggerating. With NFL defenders struggling to adjust to belated safety concerns and so many rules working against them, the passing/receiving numbers from Johnson's era could mirror baseball's power surge from the Bonds/McGwire/Sosa era.

And as a jaded individual, I am guessing the whole "PED use" portion of the passing/receiving numbers from this era also mirrors the Bonds/McGwire/Sosa era.

We might pass an invisible point where it becomes impossible to compare receiving eras against each other.

I think we are already there. Wait, that's right. We aren't there until Bill tells us we are there. Nothing exists until Bill Simmons has acknowledged that thing's existence. So we must continue to wait until Bill officially states that it is impossible to compare receiving eras against each other.

At the same time, I can't remember any receiver other than Calvin Johnson pulling down more bombs while wearing three guys. I can't remember defensive backs bouncing off another receiver like it's a Pop Warner game.

Which is why a commercial idea for Nike where a bunch of people get together to watch Calvin Johnson is the best possible Nike commercial involving Calvin Johnson. Nothing says excitement more than watching someone else watch something exciting.

I also can't remember feeling more wishy-washy about a quarterback than I do about Matthew Stafford right now. Is Matthew Stafford good? Is he really good? Is he potentially great? Is he wildly overrated? Did he win the quarterback lottery?

I think Matthew Stafford is slightly overrated, he did win the quarterback lottery, is potentially great and would be somewhat lost without having Calvin Johnson to throw the football to. Of course, the same goes for Joe Montana relying on Jerry Rice.

Or how much of Stafford's success can be directly attributed to the part where, you know, HE GETS TO THROW FOOTBALLS TO A FREAK OF NATURE? What would Stafford's numbers look like if we removed the 20 catches every season that no other human could make?

Perhaps the same way Wes Welker's numbers would look if he had quarterbacks other than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning throwing him the football. The same way Jerry Rice's numbers would look if he didn't play in Bill Walsh's West Coast offense with Joe Montana running the show. In football, a player's statistics are often dependent on a teammate doing his job well also.

I think I've written this story before, but we went on a family vacation in the late-1980s and brought my buddy Geoff with us. Geoff and I were watching a Niners playoff game in some Caribbean bar one Sunday, throwing back tropical drinks and pretending to be 21. One rowdy drunk who wagered heavily on the Niners kept screaming for Jerry Rice to come through. He wasn't angry at Rice; it was more that he was beckoning him, imploring him, as if Rice were a spirit who could be summoned on command. Every time Montana went back to pass, the guy would scream, "JERRY RICE!" and then celebrate after every Rice catch.

This is such a great story. In fact, THIS should be the Nike commercial for Calvin Johnson. Just have a drunk guy at the bar screaming for Calvin Johnson to catch the football. Commercial gold. This commercial would definitely win an Addy.

And he kept doing it. And he kept doing it. We thought it was annoying at first, then funny, then legitimately funny.

Not just funny, but legitimately funny. Of course something being legitimately funny is a matter of opinion, but in Bill's case his opinion is fact (at least in his own mind).

In four decades of watching football, three receivers stand out for me over everyone else: Rice, Megatron and Moss. I'd take Rice for any important game, Moss for any deep ball, and Megatron for any "sitting at home on a lazy October afternoon expecting to see someone kick ass for three hours" situation. I will remember watching all three. Even if it's too early to wonder if Megatron can leapfrog those other two, he has launched the conversation.

Has Calvin Johnson legitimately started the conversation though? That's when the conversation is really starting.

That should be the most fascinating subplot of the Calvin Johnson era, but it's actually this one: I don't know if we'll ever see anything like this again. And by "this," I mean "a 6-foot-5 freak receiver wreaking havoc on a football field every week."

I think we will probably see another receiver like Calvin Johnson. Football players are getting more athletic and I don't see why another receiver who is as tall as Johnson couldn't come along in 30 years to be unstoppable on the football field. Quit with the drama.

Think about what we know in 2013 that we didn't know 10 years ago. If you were a ridiculously talented, perfect specimen of an athlete who could make millions playing any sport, why pick football? Why assume the risks? Why worry about concussions, wear and tear and collateral damage? Why not gravitate toward basketball, baseball or soccer and be done with it?

It's possible football will become safer and give parents relief that their son isn't going to end up with brain trauma from having played the sport. An athlete might decide to play football because that's the sport he loves. Not every athlete makes a conscious decision about what sport to play based on his long-term health interests. Plus, receivers are becoming more and more well-protected by the NFL, so it's still pretty attractive for a great athlete who loves football to play the sport. 

Maybe Nike should dump that Diddy commercial, press the RESET button and make a new one called "Calvin Johnson, the Last of the Freak Receivers." Show him doing Megatron things for 58 seconds, then close with the tagline "YOU WILL NEVER SEE THIS AGAIN."

So show highlights of Calvin Johnson's career and then end it with "YOU WILL NEVER SEE IT AGAIN"? Bill believes himself to be smarter than everyone else, so of course this commercial will be a great success. It might confuse casual NFL fans and not help with Johnson's name recognition to sell shoes, but commercials aren't intended to sell a product anyway, right? 

Because it might be true.

So okay guys, pay attention to this Calvin Johnson guy. Even if you never heard of him until Bill alerted you of his existence, watch Johnson's games because no one hates him and he has such a boring personality it is impossible to not make a great commercial featuring him. Do you want Bill to transcribe the commercial that he linked in a YouTube clip again, thereby negating the need for you to watch the clip at all?


Crazee said...

Sports writers usually write pieces like this to talk about some up and coming star that is better than "you" realize, and the use of "you" is at least justified in the sense that the large majority of people who watch football might not realize their greatness.

If this was about Alshon Jeffery or Jordan Cameron, I'd understand it. Who the hell just now finds out Calvin Johnson is awesome?

Side Note: Bill would have been wiser to make his column about how Stafford is overvalued because of Calvin and Fantasy Football, but Bill defines everything by Fantasy so he probably thinks Stafford IS a top five QB.

Bengoodfella said...

Crazee, it is possible he is talking to the casual fan. But then, like you said, the casual fan doesn't know how good Calvin Johnson is? I doubt it.

I'm surprised Bill didn't make this entire column about fantasy sports. Seems like something he would do.

Anonymous said...

His next column will be a fantasy football mailbag where he includes fantasy advice he's given throughout the year. Not surprisingly, it will all be correct but "we" just didn't know it.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I wouldn't be surprised if his next column is just a mailbag where he answers questions about his fantasy team and shares stories about his league's fantasy draft...because we all care and stuff.