What the Ancient Greeks knew about Brett Favre

January 26, 2010

Is "Viking" the Scandanavian word for "hubris"?

My favorite football commentator, Gregg Easterbrook (author and general smart guy) in his guise as ESPN.com’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback shows us not one but two lessons of Ancient Greece in his analysis of the Vikings / Saints game on Sunday.

The first example is of hubris in the posting of the picture attached above on the Vikings’ website during the fourth quarter of the game.  Aristotle and his boys would have loved that.  Considered the greatest crime of the ancient Greek world, the hero performs some act  out of  great pride that leads to his/her death or downfall.  Well done, Vikings front office!

TMQ provides the second lesson:

Hamartia. The “tragic flaw” described by Aristotle: A leader cannot control his own inner shortcoming, which causes him to achieve the reverse of what he desired. In “Antigone,” the king, Creon, tells himself he is acting in the interest of the city, when actually he is acting to glorify his own ego — this hamartia destroys him. Brett Favre comes up a bit short of a character in ancient Thebes, but on Sunday he was brought low by hamartia all the same. It was not enough for Favre’s team to reach the Super Bowl — he had to get the credit. Game tied with 19 seconds remaining, Favre scrambled at about the New Orleans 40-yard line, with open field ahead of him. All he needed to do was run a few yards, hook-slide, call timeout, and the Vikings’ strong-legged kicker, Ryan Longwell, had a solid chance to win the NFC championship. But the credit had to go to Favre; he had to throw a spectacular pass at the end, so television announcers would swoon. So he heave-hoed a dramatic across-the-field pass. It was intercepted, and the Saints won in overtime.

Perhaps you are thinking, “It was just a dumb mistake, and the whole thing happened in a couple of seconds.” No. Two years of Favre’s life built up to that moment. For two years, Favre has insisted that entire NFL franchises, the Jets and the Vikings, become thralls to his celebrity. He has used his stature to demand, demand, demand — the crux of the demands are always attention and publicity for himself. Now he is brought low. In two of the past three seasons, Favre has lost in the NFC Championship Game. Each time, his team seemed poised to win at the end; each time, Favre’s final play was a disastrous interception. And each of those title losses eventually came in overtime — to punish Favre for his hamartia, twice the football gods allowed him to come so close, so close, then denied him. Favre has been brought so low, he is now being laughed at in Wisconsin, and he has only himself to blame. Aristotle would not be surprised by the ending of the Favre saga. If, of course, it was the ending.

Hit the guy in the right flat that’s standing 5 yards from any other opponent and he steps out of bounds and you win.  But no.  And now it’s vacation time down on the bayou for ol’ Brett, and time for another round of “will he or won’t he”.  Can’t wait for that.

Words of wisdom for Notre Dame football fans

November 17, 2009

Don't let the bastards get you down

This from the Tuesday Morning Quarterback column on ESPN.com’s Page 2.  I am in complete agreement.  Winning college football games isn’t everything.  Conducting yourself with class and pride counts for much more over the long run–something that Nick Saban either never learned or forgot.  When these Notre Dame players tell their grandkids about their playing days, they won’t talk about their won-loss record, but the kids will know from watching grandpa what kind of a man ND helped make him.

Sportstalk radio continues to call for the head of Charlie Weis of Notre Dame, whose team is “only” 6-4 after close losses to power schools. Must be that when Weis got to South Bend, immediately he forgot how to coach. Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham, his predecessors, saw their coaching careers hit the rocks, too, upon arrival at South Bend, followed by boosters’ demands that it become 1966 again and Notre Dame roll over opponents. TMQ thinks Notre Dame alums should be proud of the football program’s recent struggles — because the reason for the struggles is that Notre Dame still requires football players to attend class. Over the past couple of decades, increasingly most top 20 football schools have discarded any pretense of education. With a 94 percent football graduation rate, Notre Dame is competing against programs with a 68 percent football graduation rate (Florida), a 55 percent graduation rate (Alabama) and a 50 percent graduation rate (Texas); other football power schools have similarly miserable grad rates. Low graduation rates at big football schools mean players cut class to concentrate on sports, being pros in all but pay. “Don’t go to Notre Dame, they make you study there, come to our college and party, party, party” has become a recruiting pitch that undercuts the Fighting Irish. It is extremely cynical of other football powers not to educate their players; Notre Dame is among the few football powers (others are Boston College, Nebraska and Stanford) to refuse to give in to such cynicism. Want the Irish to win more games? If the school stopped making football players do term papers, results would improve. That would hardly be in the best interest of the players — or of Notre Dame.

Two weeks ago, when Navy defeated Norte Dame in the closing seconds at South Bend, both teams and 80,795 people stood quietly and respectfully in the twilight as “Blue and Gold,” the Navy alma mater song, was played — only a genuine institution of learning like Notre Dame could produce such a moment. Wasn’t it worth more than a victory? Wasn’t it far more impressive than the mindless fist-shaking exhibited by some big-deal football programs after 40-point wins against cupcakes?


Progress Paradox Redux

November 4, 2009

Kellogg’s Corn Flakes has been running full page ads in the New York Times in which they reprint the front page of the Times from the current date, one hundred years before.  It’s  fascinating to read what people thought worthy of front page coverage and how they wrote it.  The language used has clearly evolved since then.

Included on the front page for November 4, 1909 was this item:


Breaks Endurance and Distance Records in 144-mile Aeroplane Flight

Paris, Nov. 3—Henry Farman broke all aeroplane records for distance and duration to-day in a flight for the Michelin Cup at Chalone Camp.  He remained in the air four hours seven-teen minutes and fifty-three seconds and covered 144 miles.

The weather today was ideal, it being gray and windless, although the cold was severe.  The aviator received an ovation when he landed.

Think about it; the world record flight was Chicago to Fort Wayne, and it took four hours to do it, and got an ovation when he was done.  Fly to Fort Wayne today and nobody even grunts at the pilot.

We’ve come so far and there’s so much further to go.  If we could get our smartest people to stop trying to figure out ways to game the financial markets with complex securities, maybe we’d have a chance to achieve it (seriously, I once worked with a brilliant physicist and real live rocket scientist who thought the highest and best use of his skill was working in the foreign exchange group at Continental Bank).

By now you’ve seen this clip from Conan’s show about how people take progress for granted.   This is of a piece with that, and Gregg Easterbrook’s 2003 work Progress Paradox:  How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse.  We’ve become so blasé about the incredible progress that we’ve achieved.  You get the sense from reading these old news pages that the people of that time knew they were in remarkable times and appreciated it.

Playoff Excitement

May 1, 2009

Having spent nearly six hours last night watching playoff games (Bulls and Blackhawks), there can be little doubt that the current excitement level generated by the NBA and the NHL playoffs proves one thing:  the supremacy of the NFL is driven by the fact that each and every NFL game is meaningful.  The longer the season, the less meaningful each game becomes, the less people are interested.  When games become meaningful, people pay up for tickets, make it “appointment television” and tune in.  (This obviously applies to baseball, too, but Chicago teams are so infrequently in the MLB playoffs that it’s a point that hardly seems worth making.)

The regular seasons of these sports border on the unwatchable–especially the NBA.  They play six months to eliminate only a few teams, then play like it really means something for three months.  Not so the NFL.  Those guys are grinding on every down. 

The reasons for this include:

  • Guaranteed contracts in non-football sports,
  • The desire to extend the excitement of NHL/NBA playoffs causes too few teams to be eliminated by the regular season–rendering the regular season ever more meaningless

I’d like to claim this insight as my own, but it has been previously made by Gregg Easterbrook in his guise as ESPN.com’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback.  I’ve been reading his columns for years (since he was on Slate.com eons ago), and it has changed for the better the way I watch football and my understanding of it.  For a football fan, I cannot give a stronger recommendation.

%d bloggers like this: