The comic Patrice O'Neal died this week. I didn't know him, but I knew some of his material, from the two specials, to seeing him at the Comedy Cellar, to once or twice hearing him on morning radio here in the city. I'm not overly sad about his death, no more than the other rare comics who were excellent and now can't be due to their early and extended absences. But I want to talk about a bit he does because it's funny and because he died -- well, it's an excuse wearing Tribute's mask. It’s something like this: "I can't type. But I didn’t realize that would be important till right now! I fucked up all my good typing years calling people gay. What you going to be a secretary? … We used leave class and, uh, steal bread. We would steal bread and sandwich meat and make sandwiches and sell them to people in typing class … And now I can't type." In the same special, Elephant in the Room, which came out earlier this year he talked about being old at 40, because 40 for a black guy is like 177 for white people. He talked about being unhealthy, insignificant and phasing out. Then he died. He also talked about football briefly in the special: he called out a few guys in the crowd for being dorks because they don’t watch it; he talked how men have been gradually taught, generation by generation, to self-police, from men barking at seriously injured players on opposing teams in his day, to men using the word “inappropriate” in this day.
I started thinking about appropriateness in football, in light of the Penn State rapings and all the injured starting quarterbacks not playing this week. I think it is a brutal and archaic way to express physical talents. Basketball will be returning on Christmas. That is an appropriate way to show off our athletic skills. Baseball is changing its playoff system to attract more viewers. Maybe the rule changes will give players the much-deserved attention to their physical prowess and mental agility. Hockey has done well to limit their injuries through rule changes, and as everyone knows, there has never been a Canadian rapist. Why would there be? But I grew up playing football, watching football and loving football. Violence was good; health and injuries, they were decisions. I didn’t know all this concussion/CT scans/rape/dog killing/molestation/seizures/kicks in the head/shooting your own thigh would be important until right now! I used to call people gay who played soccer. And now I don’t have health insurance. That’s inappropriate.
Hopefully something a bit nicer now: a brief rundown of the 58-second opera Aaron Rodgers conducted this afternoon. After Eli Manning drove down the field late in the 4th quarter -- eating clock yet progressing -- for a touchdown, followed by a game-tying two-point conversion, the Giants kicked off to Randall Cobb. Randall Cobb is one of (if not The) leading kick returners in the NFL this season. Him getting a chance to show his skills with time winding down in a tie game, on the road, seemed an opportune moment for the Packers. Cobb is, like DeSean Jackson and Devin Hester, fast, able to change directions at full speed preternaturally, and ambitious. So Cobb’s decision to down the kick-off, just one yard deep in his own end zone was strange. It was also beautiful. I have never seen anything like it! Cobb (or the coaches, same-same) decided that they would rather waste no clock time, and get Rodgers onto the field with under a minute to play, 80 yards from the Giants end zone, than let their best athlete potentially steal a long return. That is the sort of managerial consideration usually exclusive to baseball. Anyway Rodgers skipped over to his own 20-yard line, gave God a quick glance (even the very best are very stupid intellectually), and then he said something in the huddle. Three plays and 56 seconds later, he was skipping off the field on the Giants 14-yard line! The field goal kicker came in – the kick, it’s up, and it’s good – Packers win. It was the best kind of poem: short, considerate, affective. Teams with fluid and transcendent quarterbacks, like the Packers, are the reason I still watch, knowing all the awful truths we do about the game. A tribute masking an excuse.