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End Zone

Bye Week Stinks

Bye Week Stinks
Credit: Melissa Doroquez

The week between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl is host to a nonsense event known as the Pro Bowl. Though it’s literally an exhibition game in which the best players from the AFC face off against the best from the NFC, functionally it’s a football photo call. Perhaps it’s for the best: By this time in the post-season, after 20 weeks of football, sports writers’ energies are at a low ebb, their metaphorical resources exhausted. The Pro Bowl, whose outcome matters not at all, is a low-stakes opportunity to wax lazily lyrical on such dubious themes as the purity of the game, and individual players’ love for it. The elaborate war-based analogies can be kept in reserve for next week.

It’s also a break for the fans, who if they’re anything like me are suffering from playoff-related PTSD. For the next seven days, if I hear someone canonize Ray Lewis or solemnly intone the words “bitter rivals,” “championship dreams,” or “agony of defeat,” I cannot be held responsible for my actions.

The players benefit too; not only is attending the Pro Bowl an honor—allegedly; I don’t believe anyone in the NFL considers anything but a spot chance to play in the Super Bowl an honor, though I won’t deny the trip to Hawaii must be nice—but the players will be treated to a version of football marginally less likely to kill them in the long term.

None of this means we should feel compelled to watch; in fact, I recommend against it. Football without consequences may be guilt-free, but it’s also largely fun-free, morally repugnant though that logic may be.

Instead, I prefer to use this off week to revisit my favorite moments of the regular season—most of which, thankfully, have been decontexualized and made into hilarious gifs.

Butt Fumble

The Jets’ season was not looking promising going into their Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Patriots—at 4-6, it was hard to draw a plausible roadmap to the playoffs for the beleaguered New York team—but at least they had their dignity. After this this fabulously botched play, in which QB Mark Sanchez fumbled the ball away after running into his own guard’s backside, that was less true.

Brandon Moore, whose butt caused the fumble, objected to Chris Collinsworth’s analysis. Mark Sanchez admitted the obvious and called the whole affair “embarrassing.” But who remembers or cares, in the face (or butt) of such a glorious gif? It seems almost cruel to mention the final score: Patriots 49, Jets 19.

Rex Ryan’s Tattoo

Whatever self-respect Jets fans managed to salvage from that Thanksgiving Day fiasco came in handy immediately after the team’s 6-10 finish. The season over, head coach Rex Ryan escaped to the Bahamas, where the ever-vigilant New York Daily News snapped a picture of him sunbathing—a picture which revealed a bicep tattoo positioned at the nexus of “unbelievable,” “disturbing,” and “endearing.” The tattoo depicts Ryan’s wife, Michelle, wearing Sanchez’s No. 6 jersey. And nothing else.

Ryan’s devotion to his wife—expressed, at times, in unconventional ways—has been well established, and there’s something rather moving about having her likeness permanently inked on his body. The specificity of the jersey makes it weird. Two questions: was it part of Sanchez’s contract? And is this more or less embarrassing than ex-Jets head coach Eric Mangini naming his son Zach Brett Mangini in honor of then-Jets QB Brett Favre?

The Tom Brady Wriggle

Anybody who watched last weekend’s AFC Conference Championship knows that Tom Brady does not like to run or tackle or be hit or be in the vicinity of someone who might be about to hit him. To anyone who’s watched a Patriots’ game in the past three years, that should have come as no surprise. In the first quarter of the first game of the 2008 season, Brady’s left knee was seriousl injured. When he returned the next year after surgery, the physical and psychological effects were apparent. He moves with more trepidation, less grace.

And he’s not wrong to be scared. As a friend and Patriots’ fan reminded me, an increased risk of injury is the obvious reason that the running QB is still regarded as a less viable option than your more traditional adjust-within-the-pocket QB. Which makes Brady’s last-minute decision to wriggle away instead of trying to take down the 49er who intercepted his pass in Week 15 understandable, but no less hilarious.