Thursday, December 16, 2004

A View from Purgatory


In my previous post I mentioned that the apocalypse must be upon us if I'm being mentioned as a Steelers expert. Well, you should be doubly worried because in addition to me being a Pittsburgh sensei, there are people out there who hold beliefs about the Steelers that are so ludicrous, you'd be excused for believing they were due an exorcism. I know, you're thinking, "what the hell is he talking about?" Well, let me explain (just so you know, this post is longer and more convoluted than usual, so brace yourself).

Last week I linked to a story by Michael David Smith of Football Outsiders that took at the Steelers - Jaguars game. I linked to it because I thought it was good -- especially when you consider that Mike made observations that the local Pittsburgh media often overlook. Anyway, the article got a bunch of comments on the FO website -- mostly from readers who agreed (or at least civally disagreed) with what Mike wrote. But there's one (or two) in every crowd and it was this observation (comment #72) from one reader (let's call him Jack Torrance) in particular that got the ball rolling:

How could anyone in their right mind possibly employ you to write about sports??? Your lack of knowledge is more than astounding, it’s unprofessional at best. At worst it's outright libel.

...Your idiotic assessment that Foote is as good at stopping the run as anyone you have seen this year clearly illustrates your utter ineptitude at your profession. Fred Taylor broke 4 of Foote's tackles on Sunday night. It was the first time all year I have been embarrassed to be a Steeler fan. He is nowhere NEAR Kendrell Bell and to even THINK he is in the same league as Farrior is asinine.

...Alan Faneca is widely regard as the BEST OFFENSIVE LINEMAN IN FOOTBALL YOU JACKASS.

The steelers win because they have talented players at nearly every position and may just have 6 players in Honolulu come February. Deal with it a-hole.
So what was this doofus so upset about? If you want to read the whole article you can find it here, but I can give you the short version in two sentences. One, the article described the Steelers as unsung; 45 guys who play really well together in the absence of a bonafide superstar like Peyton Manning or Ray Lewis. Also, the article described Larry Foote's game against the Jags thusly: "against the run he’s as good an inside linebacker as I’ve seen this year." That was it. Those two sentiments were enough to send Jack Torrance off the deep end.

But it gets better. When some commenters questioned why Jack Torrance was (a) certifiably insane, and (b) so anti-Foote, here's how he responded to the latter charge:

I can compare Foote to Bell because Bell has played 3 games. Hell I WENT to the Philly game and even in the nose bleed seats you can see the difference!!

Foote is slower and is weak. It was obvious sunday night.
But while Jack was lobbying for "Insane Steelers Fan of the Year Award," he got some competition from some numnut I'll call Patrick Bateman.
How are the steelers unsung? They’re 11-1, nimrod! I'll take 11-1 and unsung over 4-8 and constantly hyped, like the Chiefs, anyday.

"Michael David Smith" writes that the Polamalu and Townsend are slow. Can you beat them in a footrace? If not, keep your mouth shut. You write that the Steelers don't miss Bell and Hampton. Could you block those guys one-on-one? If not, keep your mouth shut. You don't think Faneca gets any acoolades? Well, guess what, he doesn’t need your accolades. If you ever strapped on a helmet and shoulder pads I think Faneca would knock you right on your accolades!

This is a perfect example of why no one respects sportswriters. All they want to do is rip the athletes because their jealous that they can't carry their jocks.
It's comments like these that gives me hope for our country's future. Can you imagine the conversation Patrick Bateman must've had with himself when he thought it a good idea to type, "You write that the Steelers don’t miss Bell and Hampton. Could you block those guys one-on-one? If not, keep your mouth shut." I love this kind of logic because it is so ridiculously inane, it makes you wonder how this guy makes it through the day without killing people. There are only two circumstances I can think of off the top of my head where this kind of reasoning works. One, if you're Hulk Hogan and you're doing an interview with Mean Gene Okerlund and you're trying to incite the crowd (crowd demographics: 75% ages 25-40, 99% male, 100% still believe wrestling is real); or two, if you're from Mars. And the thing is, all Mike wrote was that the Steelers don't miss Bell or Hampton; guys like Larry Foote and Chris Hoke have done what no one expected them to do -- namely step up and play so well that people don't immediately miss the two guys they replaced.

Well, I made the mistake of trying to outfox the fox (Jack Torrance, in this case). He posted the following comment:

A blurb from the post-gazette about “slow” corner Deshea Townsend…

God your article is atrocious

Cornerback Deshea Townsend deserves to be in the Pro Bowl. He has a team-high four interceptions, four sacks and 12 passes defensed. He is fifth on the team with 53 tackles.
To which I wrote the following:

As long as you're citing the Post-Gazette, here are a couple of stories you overlooked:

Friday, Oct. 8:
"After four games of replacing the injured Bell at inside linebacker, [Foote] is second on the team in tackles (31), behind only Troy Polamalu…In last week’s victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, he had a team-high 11 tackles, a big number for a linebacker not named Zach Thomas."

Friday, Nov 5:
"Sure, Larry Foote has done a respectable job while Bell has been out. He has played well enough to merit being a starter, with the Steelers or another NFL team. But he is not Kendrell Bell, who is bigger, faster, more explosive."

Hmmm. Apparently your source for refuting the claim that Townsend's slow, also refutes your claim that Foote is the weak link. And while no one would argue that Foote is better than Bell, he’s certainly done a solid job as his replacement.

And concerning your argument that Farrior's gotten a lot better this season, consider his numbers:

4.3 tackles per game
1.6 assists per game

6.0 tackles per game
2.8 assists per game

3.9 tackles per game
1.9 assists per game

Again, no one would question whether Farrior is having a Pro Bowl type season (3 INTs, 3 sacks), but if Foote wasn't doing his job, wouldn’t Farrior's tackle/assist numbers be a lot higher? Remember, stats are your friend.
Well, that sent Jack Torrance into Mike Tyson mode. He went to his shock and awe campaign (and trust me, when you read his arguments you'll be shocked and awed too; shocked at the incoherence and awed that he actually believes what he writes). Anyway, here's the slice of humble pie I got served:

1. Tackles are not an official NFL stat. They are NOT kept by the NFL, rather they are recorded by teams and they are highly subjective.

2. There is a hell of lot more going on in a football game besides stats, genius.

a. Farrior destroys fullbacks and offensive linemen and blows up running plays before they even get going. This affects the game MUCH more than making a tackle.

b. Teams run away from Farrior because of his presence.

Tackling stats in football have to be the most meaningless stats in any sport and if you honestly believe that they somehow determine the value of a player, you simply do not know football.

Thanks James Farrior for picking off yet another pass...Gee, it wasn't a tackle. He's only MAYBE a pro bowler...


"When he played on the Jets and his first year on the Steelers I'd have said no way would be in the pro bowl. But now...He's played as well as any linebacker in the NFL." - Phil Simms

Oh yeah...You're right… His tackle stats are lower and so he MUST not be improving each year.


If there's one thing I love, it's guys who write in all caps to emphasize that they mean business (I also appreciate that Jack recognizes me as a "genius"; that now makes two of us). I have this visual of Jack yelling incredulously at his computer screen, and shaking his head at the stupidity he has to deal with on a daily basis. Still, he forges ahead, realizing that his lot in life is educating all those know-nothing Steelers fans before they all believe that Farrior is garbage.

Here's the problem with Jack's argument above (well, the most glaring problem): I never said that "Farrior is getting worse." In fact, I think I said (and you can check me on this), "no one would question whether Farrior is having a Pro Bowl type season...but if Foote wasn’t doing his job, wouldn’t Farrior’s tackle/assist numbers be a lot higher?" But hey, I guess that's what I get for bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I posted this rebuttal:

This is from Cowher’s press conference:

"Q: How much better is Larry Foote since the preseason?

COWHER: Larry has played very well, he has played very solid. He has had a lot of playing time. Unfortunately since Kendrell (Bell) has gone down, he has kind of stepped in with James (Farrior) from the second preseason game on. They have played together a lot. You never want to lose a player, but if it is going to happen, you like to have it in the preseason so you can have groups start to work with one another, because you still have to develop that continuity. It is like the offensive line and the secondary. You have to have guys that start to work and start talking together. That is the truth throughout your football team. It was good from that standpoint that he was able to work a lot with James. I think he has played very, very well. He has been very solid. He has made plays for us. He has been a good football player for us. He has been very productive."
Which prompted this response from Jack:

Your lame [press conference] has Cowher saying Foote is "productive" and "solid".

What is he going to do? Say Foote sucks? Of course not.

Read between the lines. If Foote were having anywhere NEAR the year that [Mike]claims (none better against the run) Cowher would be singing his praises...He's not. He's posturing and it's as transparent as your facade of football knowledge.

I love how you don't even comment on how I shredded your useless tackles stats argument.

That’s what the cowards do. They run away.
Check and mate. The best part of this last comment is that Jack calls me on the carpet for not addressing his shredding of my previous tackles argument. As he noted, I did the cowardly thing and ran. Honestly, I didn't respond because it seemed useless. You know, like peeing in the wind.

Still, others had the patience to respond (or derived sadistic pleasure from it, I'm not sure). Here's one comment that I found particularly funny:

[Jack Torrance], part of the reason Ryan didn't address your shredding of his tackle argument is that you didn't even address his tackle argument.

His argument: Farrior is great, but is getting less tackles, so somebody must be picking up the slack. Foote is as good a candidate as any.


See how the argument you 'shredded' is completely different from the one he put forth? If not, please explain how a line like "no one would question whether Farrior is having a Pro Bowl type season" gets changed in your mind to "FARRIOR IS GETTING WORSE AND ISN'T THE BEST LB IN FOOTBALL". I would love to hear the logical progression from blatant praise to horrible insult, for scientific purposes.
Which was followed by another commenter pointing out a flaw in Jack's tackle argument:

[Jack]you should really join a debate society. Your arguments are top-notch. I think my favorite is the way you used the number of Townsend's tackles to bolster your argument that Townsend is a good player (which I don't dispute, as anyone who read this carefully would know), and then you came back a bit later to write, "Tackling stats in football have to be the most meaningless stats in any sport and if you honestly believe that they somehow determine the value of a player, you simply do not know football." Please keep it up; your amusing comments are giving me a nice break from my day.
And that was that. As might be expected, my keen insight had no effect on Jack and in fact probably made him angrier. It took the humor and logic of the last two commenters to drive Jack away (that, or he took a break from yelling at his computer to go out and commit a few violent crimes).

Honestly, the real reason for this post was to point out how some fans become so consumed in "their team" that they lose sight of all things rational (and to make fun of Jack -- that was the other reason for this post). The guys who actually play in these games don't take themselves this seriously (unless your name is Ron Artest).

Anyway, I got a good laugh out of Jack's rants -- especially when he "sent me running." I just hope he can bring himself to watch the Steelers over the next few weeks without the urge to kill someone. But hey, whatever happens, remember this nugget of wisdom: If you can't outrun or out-block the person you're talking about, then keep your trap shut!

Truer words have never been spoken.