College Basketball Greats of the Past: T.J. Pugh

Today I begin a blog series which I’m calling “College Basketball Greats of the Past.” Its purpose is not to celebrate those still-famous players that nobody could ever forget like Paul Pierce or J.J. Redick. It’s to celebrate those players that might be forgotten, players whose contributions at the time might have seemed historically insignificant. In other words, the players that make college basketball’s world go ’round.

He’s Dr. T.J. Pugh now, I think. But at the time he was just “Puuuuuuuuuuugh.” He was one of those guys who made it sound like he was getting booed by his own fans, but not in the way that happened to J.R. Giddens.

T.J. Pugh was not a particularly good player. But he wasn’t bad, either. He was about as nondescript as a basketball player can be. He was 6-foot-8, 240 pounds, which is the most average possible size for a collegiate power forward. He was from Omaha, Nebraska, which is the most average city in the Midwest. His senior year, he averaged 4.9 points and 4.7 rebounds. He shot just under 50 percent from the field and just under 60 percent from the free-throw line. He blocked half a shot per game.

He was adequate.

This being the late 90s, he wore a baggy t-shirt under his uniform. He was not muscular, but you wouldn’t describe him as “lithe” either. I don’t think athletic training was the same then as it is now. T.J. Pugh looked kind of like he’d been spotted shuffling his feet along some broken Omaha sidewalk on the way to a Little Ceasar’s when Roy Williams drove by and asked him if he’d ever played basketball.

I don’t know how stridently Pugh had been recruited. Recruiting information is pretty scarce if you’re going back before about 2003. I’m sure Creighton offered. Probably Nebraska too. There certainly was never a sense of, “Oh man, did you hear about this kid from Omaha KU got?”

And in this way, T.J. Pugh represented everything Kansas basketball has been since at the latest 1989. You hear TV analysts say all the time that KU is just loaded up with McDonald’s All-Americans, but that has almost never been true over the last 20 years. Kansas usually has one or two, and that’s it. Sometimes more, but that’s rare. Whether the coach was Williams or Bill Self, this has been the case.

So there is always room for a T.J. Pugh not just on the roster, but in the rotation. It’s become a real legacy by now. Pugh passed the torch to Bret Ballard, who passed it to Christian Moody, who passed it to Brady Morningstar.

These are players to whom nothing was given, and from whom nothing was expected.

But here is what happens: A couple of years go by, and NBA player or two comes through the program, and suddenly you find yourself in a position where you have enough great players — shot-makers, drivers, etc. — but what you could really use out there is a guy who knows where to go and how to set a good screen and how to reverse the ball to the third side and will slide his feet on defense and doesn’t think he was born to be the hero.

And that’s when you take out C.J. Giles and put in Christian Moody, or you start Brady Morningstar instead of Josh Selby.

That was T.J. Pugh. As a senior, he was better than Lester Earl and (probably) drove a much crappier car. Was he great?

Well, not by your standard definition.

 

Assists aren’t all that, man

Last night on Twitter, people had an epileptic seizure over Flip Pressey’s assist total. The Missouri point guard had 19 assists to go with 19 points in Missouri’s loss to UCLA. It was a remarkable performance. I watched it on the DVR after the fact, and Pressey was spectacular. He might be the best point guard in the country. 

So what I’m about to say is not a reflection of my opinion of Flip Pressey, he just happens to have created the most newsworthy anecdote for this philosophical screed I am about to dump on your head.

Ready?

All you have to do in order to get an assist is throw the ball to someone else. It is the most basic possible action in basketball. It is even more basic than dribbling, in fact, because dribbling was not even allowed when basketball was first invented. At the essence of the game, an offensive player has but two options:

1) Shoot. 

2) Pass. 

Anything else done in basketball — dribbling, rebounding, etc. — is either done in service of (or reaction to) one of those two actions. 

So if your combination circumstance and skill does not allow you to score yourself, you pass it to somebody else who can. That’s pretty much the game. And it’s why the basketball assist is the most overrated sports statistic this side of the RBI. 

This is not to say it is easy to accumulate a great number of assists, necessarily. Anybody who gets more than about 10 assists in a basketball game is clearly adept at getting the ball to advantageous positions on the floor. But he also almost certainly spends the vast majority of the game with the ball in his hands, which may or may not be a good thing. I bet there is a player on every Top 25 team who could average eight assists per game if for some reason his coach told him “I want you to average eight assists per game.”

You have certainly heard the story about Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt, of course, was at the time the most unstoppable force in the history of sports. But because he scored so much and his teams could never win the championship, Wilt started hearing a lot about how he wasn’t a team player. So in 1967-68, Wilt decided to lead the NBA in assists, and that’s then he did. This would change everything, Wilt thought.

Now, this says a lot about Wilt Chamberlain, mainly that in addition to be utterly unguardable he was sadly unable to understand the way public perception works. But it also proves a couple things about the assist, which are that (1) it is not necessarily a selfless act, and (2) a player with the ball in his hands a lot can easily manipulate his assist total.

Any basketball fan can recall a player who seemed to pursue assists for impure reasons. Julian Wright comes to mind for me. I think Julian was probably a good teammate, but he was constantly trying to throw passes when shooting would have been the more efficient and more certain way of scoring the points. A fair number of those passes ended up stuck in a tuba. 

Another reason the assist is a bad statistic is that it fails to account for approximately 90 percent of the reason a basket is scored. The quality of the screen set, the rotation of the defense, the effectiveness of the cut, the position of the other offensive players, and so on. 

Basketball is not a good sport for statistical analysis, because most basketball events lose their meaning when isolated from their context. And no basketball statistic means less than the assist. 

 

 

My grandpa, our hero

My grandfather carried a machine gun through the jungles in Korea and Vietnam. His call sign was “Killer66Yankee.” He wasn’t drafted.

He enlisted in the United States Army when he was just 17. You weren’t supposed to be able to do that, but he lied about his age. He wanted in.

My grandpa had grown up during the Great Depression in Hutchinson, Kansas. When he was a boy he would go around from house to house collecting eggs the hens were laying in people’s back yards, because in those days you could sell your eggs to the neighborhood grocery store.

He was an ornery rascal. There is an underground waterway in Hutchinson, and there’s a story about my grandpa, as a young boy, getting in some hot water for cruising that waterway on an innertube. When he was a teenager, he got his ear pierced. You can imagine how that went over at that time, in the middle of Kansas. He was a boxer, too, and that made sense. Boxing has always been a sport for hardscrabble kids like Arthur Lyman.

That orneriness never left him. Sometimes, at Thanksgiving or Christmas, you’d see him messing around with one of my nieces or nephews or little cousins, and you’d wonder which one the kid was.

And yet this was a man and he did man’s work. He could fix anything except a car; he hated working on cars. But he’d lick anything else. When I was 13, he and I dug a trench along the side of his house deep enough to patch a crack in the basement wall. He laid the concrete that made my grandparents’ back porch. He built a bathroom, from scratch, in the basement. He repaired other people’s lawnmowers. On the Fourth of July, he made ice cream.

Not too far from my home in Houston, he helped build The Woodlands Mall, back when The Woodlands was still kind of a small thing. I drive past The Woodlands every time I go home.

When, in his final days, some work needed to be done on the house and he was too weak to do it himself, he insisted he be wheeled out there to watch the repairmen work. He wanted to make sure it got done right.

He supposedly retired sometime in the 90s, but he never really stopped working. He was that kind of guy.

But he was also this kind of guy: My mom says that never, in her whole life, did she see him not clean his plate of whatever her mom served him, whether it was any good or not. Never heard him complain. My mom must have told me that 20 years ago, which would have been about 20 years after she moved out. It’s such a small thing, but look at the impression it’s made.

Grandpa had a Jeep I used to ride in. When he took trips he always had to have Jelly Beans. That Jeep smelled like cigarettes — Winstons, the hard stuff. He quit years ago, but they still got him. He’d been getting treatment for lung cancer. Last night it took him.

A couple of years ago on Veteran’s Day my sister and I posted a couple things on Facebook about our grandfather and our appreciation for his service. He wasn’t on Facebook, of course, but my other sister e-mailed him what we’d written.

He wrote back: “I served my country for you.”

What doesn’t kill you probably makes you a moron

For a long time, I have wondered why anybody ever uses the saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It is supposed to be empowering, I suppose. But there are lots of other choices when it comes to empowering little sayings, and most of them are at least kind of true.

This one isn’t even the least bit true. At the risk of being pedantic and obvious, I am going to explain why, because apparently this actually does need to be explained.

A nonexhaustive list of things that wouldn’t necessarily kill you but definitely would not make you stronger:

  • Losing a leg.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Muscular atrophy.
  • Alcoholism.
  • A donut.
  • Anxiety.
  • Cataracts.
  • Bullet in the leg.
  • Bear trap.
  • Etc.

I know this saying is supposed to be partially metaphorical. Seems that it is most commonly used by young women who are making a vague reference to a romantic relationship. I am painting with an awfully broad brush, here, but in my personal experience the people most likely to apply this saying to their love life are the people who are constantly experiencing destructive relationships. In other words, they do not seem to be getting any stronger, and certainly not any smarter. They do, however, write things with MiSplaCeD CaPiTalS (for some reason) and take self-portraits in the bathroom mirror.

These kinds of people are especially fond of this saying for two main reasons: (1) It allows them to perceive their self-destructive behaviors as a type of delayed-gratification self-improvement, a tearing down in order to build back up, like they’re lifting weights, and, (2) they’re morons.

Most people can see that this saying is inaccurate and mostly meaningless, but the people who can see that aren’t the ones who need it to be true and meaningful, because they can view their own experiences with at least a marginal degree of objectivity.

Most of us (if we find any sort of inspiration in little sayings at all), can get by on more realistic, practical sayings, like the following;

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” — Mike Tyson.

“Keep sawin’ wood.” — Mark Mangino.

And

“Remember to always be yourself, unless you suck.” — Joss Whedon.

The Ironic Athlete is coming

Sometime soon, there will be a true hipster basketball player. He will be a point guard from Brooklyn, and he’ll be one of the top 25 players in his class. His recruitment will be a national story. He will take visits to all the big schools. Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, etc. And he will take lots and lots of other visits to schools he has no interest in attending whatsoever. Miami, Seton Hall, Washington, etc.

And then, on signing day, he will have a “press conference” in the library at his high school. When it comes time to announce his decision, he will pull out a Nebraska letterman’s sweater.

Someone will ask him why he chose Nebraska.

“I just thought it would be hilarious,” he will say. “Like, me at Nebraska. It’s so funny to me.”

He will be the first player to choose a school for its ironical impact.

Athletes and irony do not (intentionally) mix well. Beginning in the latter stages of the Reagan administration, American culture started becoming ironic and hasn’t really stopped since. We are a highly ironical people.

But athletes are, generally speaking, the exception to this. It’s remarkable. Athletes and grandmas are the most earnest people in America. Just listen to how they talk. They are so serious. They are so tuned in. This thing they do is an Important Thing.

I could easily make fun of this, but I shouldn’t, because earnestness is a good quality and irony is a dead end. Irony only begets more irony. It’s a response, not a prescription. In this way, we should all be more like athletes. (Can you tell I’ve been reading David Foster Wallace?)

That said, I think that day is coming, and when it arrives I will love it.

The Tully Corcoran Dunk Corollary

What I am about to write might sound obvious to the point of being idiotic. I won’t blame you if that’s how you feel about it, because I have to admit that sometimes when I articulate the Tully Corcoran Dunk Corollary in my head, I feel the same thing.

But I believe this is one of those rare ideas that is both (1) totally obvious and (2) completely obscure, and I hope that by the time I am done, you will agree with me.

So here it is:

I need to start by telling you the context in which the Dunk Corollary was conceived. It was the 2008-09 basketball season, and I was covering Kansas. This was the year after the Jayhawks had won the national championship, and I’m sure you’ll recall that the KU team that won it all did a lot of dunking. I would say that right up until Mario Chalmers made that shot, dunking was that team’s most definitive characteristic. The power forward was Darrell Arthur, who never got excited about talking about anything, unless you asked him about dunking. Then, man, it was on. He loved it. At some point I think Brady McCollough even called his mom, who told Brady how excited Darrell had been the day he got his first dunk.

But KU also started Darnell Jackson on the block, and he could really dunk too. He dunked hard, and he would beat his chest after his dunks. Off the bench came a Russian with some kind of alloy where his body fat should have been named Sasha Kaun, whose best skill was post defense, but whose passion was dunking on fools.  Deep on the bench was 6-foot-11 Cole Aldrich, who sounded like an ewok when he dunked.

There were a lot of alley oops and a lot of tip dunks in 2008. This was KU’s Sweet 16 game:

That was an exceptional game as far as dunking went, but that was that team. Those guys did that sort of thing all the time, and their ability to finish plays with dunks just seemed to solve so many problems.

So the next year all those guys were gone, and in their place was a team that played decidedly below the rim. Instead of Arthur and Jackson, it was twins Marcus and Markieff Morris. One of them once said he didn’t like dunking because it took up too much energy. It was harder for that team to score around the rim. It ended up relying very much on its perimeter game, and that worked, because that team’s point guard was Sherron Collins, and he had a great year. That team won the Big 12 championship, but that team made scoring look … harder. It took more work. You couldn’t just toss the ball up in the air to anyone. Missed shots that might have been dunked home the year before got grabbed, hauled in, brought to the ground, gathered, and taken up again.

Now, the Twins would become much better athletes over the next two years, and they were more versatile offensive players than Jackson and Arthur. KU just became a different kind of team.

But in November of that 2008-09 season, I sat there during a game and thought, “You know, one of the problems with this team is that it doesn’t have anybody that can dunk.”

You need guys who can dunk, because dunking is hard, which makes things easy.

When I say “can dunk,” I don’t mean, “Can run out there in an empty gym, take a running start, and put down a dunk.” Almost everybody on every college basketball team can do that.

I am talking about guys who can make a play by dunking. Guys who can find themselves in the midst of a play that is in doubt, and then remove all that doubt by dunking.

There is a play that illustrates this perfectly. I’m sure any KU fan will remember it. It happened during KU’s game against Purdue in the NCAA Tournament this year. It was an ugly, struggle of a game. Kansas was down the whole time. There had been no flow. It seemed every KU shot had been hotly contested. Purdue had played phenomenally on defense.

The Jayhawks were down by three with just about a minute left, and KU got a little bit of a break going off a rebound. Not a great break, though. It was really a 2-on-2 break, but Tyshawn Taylor, the point guard, got behind Purdue by just a step. And Elijah Johnson put the ball in the air.

The ability to finish that play with a dunk made all the difference. Taylor could dunk it, Johnson knew Taylor could dunk it, and dunking it was the only play Purdue wouldn’t have been able to guard in that moment.

The play was in doubt, but the dunk removed the doubt.

And if you can do that, you’ve got something. If Taylor hadn’t been a dunker, there’s a good chance Kansas loses that game, which was in the second round. Instead, Taylor sealed the game with another dunk, and KU went all the way to the national championship game, where it lost to the dunkiest team in college basketball.

So what I’m saying is, it’s really helpful if your players can dunk. And that seems obvious doesn’t it? Or does it?

The Mario Chalmers rap video is 40 percent of what I expected

I have just learned that Mario Chalmers has recently released a music video of some sort. I am overcome with emotion. On the one hand, I am surprised, because I had no idea Mario Chalmers had any musical ambitions or talent. On the other, I am not surprised this did not stop Mario Chalmers from creating a music video and releasing it to the public.

I say all this having not yet watched the video. I will here in a second, but I wanted to get my raw emotions down on the screen before I did. I assume this video is going to depict Mario as being extremely suave. I believe this is how Mario sees himself and would like to be perceived by others. This is not going to be the Allen Iverson rap posture, all hardcore and aggressive. It’s going to be a lot more like Deion Sanders is “Must be the Money.” I will be 68 percent surprised if at any point in the video we see Mario without his sunglasses on.

I am also aware Grantland has written something about this video. I consciously chose not to read that before watching it, or writing this post. I want my perceptions of this thing to be unmolested.

And away we go.

Well, Mario has stoicism down. I mean, he’s got that down pat. In the opening seconds of that video, his face looks exactly the way it looked every time he was talking to the media – like he can’t wait for this to end.

Uh … I don’t think that’s his voice, guys. I certainly could be wrong, but that doesn’t sound like Mario Chalmers’ speaking voice at all. If I’m right about this, it means that someone other than Mario Chalmers wrote and performed a rap song about Mario Chalmers, which makes me feel … confused.

This is Mario Chalmers’ speaking voice:

The lyrics are probably not worth discussing, especially because I have my doubts Chalmers is the one rapping them and also because 99 percent of rap lyrics are meaningless regurgitations of the same old BS. That’s the really amazing thing about the genre. There are creative people within it, but for some reason nobody tries to imitate those people. Most bad rappers are imitating other bad rappers. The genre has a serious self-awareness problem.

My initial assumptions were about 40 percent correct. I overestimated the creative ambitions of this video (and my estimations were not high). I thought the video would be slightly more abstract than Mario dribbling a basketball in dress clothes, even though I do have to admit this is something I have never seen before. I have seen Mario dribble a basketball, and I have seen him in dress clothing, but never have I seen those two Marios in conjunction.

I also was wrong about the sunglasses.

The secret reason basketball is not popular in the south

Today is the beginning of college basketball season, but it does not feel like it to me. By this I don’t mean that my own personal psyche is not quite prepared for the sport to begin, or that I have lost ties with the sport emotionally. I mean that I just stepped outside to walk my dog, and now I’m sweating. By noon, I will have turned on the air conditioner.

And I wonder if this isn’t secretly the reason basketball is not popular in the south.

As you know, I live on the Gulf Coast, as a great many “southerners”* do. Relative to the weather I grew up with in Kansas, it still feels like it should be the nonconference portion of football season. It’s still, you know, muggy out there. It feels like summer is still kind of hanging around. If I were to drop the exact weather I am experiencing on Kansas right now, some people would reflexively pull the boat out of storage.

*I put that in quotes because I don’t consider myself a southerner, and even though I am technically a Texan now, the term “The South” is kind of ambiguous when it comes to the state of Texas. For purposes of discussing weather, however, Houston is TOTALLY southern. So that’s what I’ll be meaning when I use this terminology throughout this post. 

I know that, on me, this has a discombobulating effect. In part this is because it is still somewhat unfamiliar. It still feels strange that I could, without total discomfort, jump in a pool on the same day big guys jump center for the first time. But I wonder if this has something to do with the southern sports psyche altogether.

Basketball, of course, was invented by a Canadian who was living in Massachusetts and later taught in Kansas. The whole point of it was to be something that could be played indoors during the winter. And it really became part of the DNA in places where that was important. Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, etc.

I don’t mean to oversimplify this. There are hundreds of other factors that influence where certain sports become popular. Football was huge in Nebraska, basketball in Kansas. The early years of both college football and college basketball were dominated by teams in the upper midwest and northeast. I am not trying to explain American sports culture by using barometric pressure, although I’m sure there’s a sabermetrician out there who will be happy to try.

I am really just saying that in the midwest, in Kansas, you can feel basketball season coming. You can feel it with your skin.  And this adds to the anticipation of it. There is something about walking in from the dark and the gray and the cold — shoulders bunched together, face tucked down into your chest to get away from the sharp wind — and into a hot gym, where you scoot your feet across a mat to knock off the snow and it smells like popcorn and a brass band is blowing “Carry On Wayward Son” with full lungs and pattering hearts and tiny girls in short skirts are being thrown into the air and your eyes take a minute to adjust to all the light.

At the risk of coming off as maudlin, I write that it feels a little bit like coming home for Christmas. Well, that’s how coming home for Christmas feels in the Midwest anyway.

It doesn’t feel like that on the Gulf Coast. Here, it still feels like football season is just getting started. And it will feel that way until football season is over. On the Gulf Coast, the winters are not something to escape. It’s where birds hang out in November.

So basketball doesn’t seem as necessary here. But it is still in my DNA.

Should Chase Compton continue to rap? (Yes)

I assume Chase Compton has an outrageous number of haters. The reasons for this assumption are threefold. The first is that he can’t stop talking about how many haters he has. Compton just released a mixtape entitled “Elevated Preview,” the overall theme of which is his battle against doubters. The second reason is that people are predisposed to hating on rich white-boy rappers, and that’s exactly what Chase Compton is. We want to hate him before we ever hear the music.

The third reason is that Chase Compton is legitimately talented, and if he weren’t, nobody would bother hating on him.

I should back up a minute. Compton, if you don’t know, is the son of Lawrence, Kansas real estate mogul Doug Compton. Anybody not from Kansas reading this will laugh at that sentence, but chances are very high that if you lived in Lawrence for any significant period of time, you lived in a property owned by Doug Compton. He is one of the biggest names in the city, and one of its wealthiest citizens. He has zebras. One of his sons is a video coordinator for the Kansas basketball team. The other is Chase, who is 18 years old.

This, I imagine, has done nothing but accelerate the number of so-called “haters” in Chase’s life. There’s the basic jealousy, and on top of it a lot of people hate their landlords. Your first instinct is to go, “Oh sure, Doug Compton’s kid thinks he’s a rapper. This should be hilarious.”

And then you listen to the music and … by golly, he’s good. He’s very good.

Well, talented. He’s talented. If “Elevated Preview” is an indication of where he is as an artist, then he still hasn’t found his voice. He sounds like a rapper, his songs are well produced, his lyrics are creative and interesting and he can certainly ride a beat.

But there is a certain tone-deafness to this mixtape that’s hard to overlook. It begins on the intro track, which ends with a clip from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. The words themselves fit nicely into a rap album about dreaming, but the implication that Compton’s “struggle” is in any way analogous to MLK’s is the stuff facepalms are made of.

So that tells you where we’re headed with this mixtape.

The best song on it is “Cold War,” which includes the line, “Don’t judge me by my skin, judge me by my wins. Judge me by my nows, but never by my thens.” Thematically, the song is about the coldness of the world, and the song is genuinely good. But when you know some of the biographical information about the rapper, lines like “I got the keys to my city like a dealership” only remind you that Chase Compton literally does have access to more keys in the city of Lawrence than anybody else.

Later, Chase raps that he has “lost some homies to boozin’,” which nobody is going to believe, even if it’s true.

The tape reaches its greatest heights, as you would expect, in its moments of greatest honesty. When Chase raps, “No diploma. Poppa pissed but he won’t show it,” we all believe that. There’s another line about how he couldn’t do an office job.

In these moments, he taps into a generational sentiment. Ours is the generation that does not want to make a living by traditional means. We are the “How To Make It In America” generation. The “extended adolescence” generation. We want to start T-shirt companies or build snowboards. Anything but work for the man and buy a 3/2 with a picket fence.

Every single one of us thinks we’re special, and Compton is at his best when he’s swimming along that vein.

The rhetorical thrust of “Elevated Preview” is mainly a justification for the existence of “Elevated Preview,” and that’s actually a good thing. It is an attempt to convince the listener that this needed to happen (against all odds). This is a sentiment the Millennial Generation intuitively understands, and in that way the mixtape is a success.

Compton is only 18, so I suspect he will find his voice with more clarity in future efforts. He’s on the right path, but nobody wants to hear Martin Luther King introduce a mixtape by a rich white kid from Kansas.

And if that makes me a hater, well, I guess I’m not surprised.

How we may very well explain Brett Favre to our grandkids

Oh man, well, hahaha, Brett Favre was this guy they used to call “The Ol’ Gunslinger,’ hahahahaha, because (snort) he’d just rifle it in there no matter what. He could throw it (snort) like a thousand miles an hour, and he didn’t care if there were defenders in the way. It seemed, hahahaha, like he thought he could break off a cornerback’s hands with his passes.

Oh yeah, he threw an insane number of interceptions. I’m pretty sure the most of anybody ever. You could always tell when he was getting ready to throw one too. You’d be sitting there going, “Here it comes. The Ol’ Gunslinger’s feeling pretty heroic,’ and, boom, intercepted.

Yes, it was incredibly hilarious.

No, absolutely not. That was the weird thing. Favre was probably the most popular player of his generation. People loved this guy. And he was totally deified by the sports media of the day. You have to understand that in the 1990s people still looked at athletes as heroes. At least some of them. You had Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods was still young, Favre. People used to see these guys as something superior to normal humans, or at least as admirable.

You have to remember, there was no such thing as a sports blog in 1996.

Well, it’s weird, but I almost think people liked Favre because of the interceptions. People seemed to consider it endearing that there was an NFL quarterback who was the equivalent of your idiot “hold my beer and watch this” friend. It was very easy to imagine that very thing happening on the Packers’ sideline. Favre shotgunning a Keystone Light and going “Check this out. I’m about to throw a 60-yard laser across the field off my back foot,” and some teammate going, “I’m not so sure this is such a good idea, Brett,” and Brett going, “Oh don’t be such a Nancy, it’s going to be awesome.” I think people really took to that. Plus, he was impossible to knock out of a game. One time he played with a broken thumb on his passing hand. Can you imagine that? There were all kinds of stories like that. He set a record for consecutive starts.

Well, I don’t think anybody ever suspected he was using steroids, but he did become addicted to prescription painkillers at the height of his career. We were all shocked at the time, but in retrospect that had to be one of the most obvious athlete addictions of all time. I mean, like I said, there was no injury that could keep this guy out of a game.

Uh, it was pretty much all the media, but in particular was this meathead of a color commentator named John Madden.

Well, no, he wasn’t a video game creator. When that game first came out, they decided to name it after a color commentator for some reason.

Madden was known for being extremely easy to please as a broadcaster. He would get so fired up any time a player got dirt stuck in his facemask. To John Madden, that was evidence that the player was playing exceptionally hard or playing (air quotes) smashmouth football (air quotes), whatever that means. And he’d make the most obvious comments. He’s say stuff like (in Madden voice), “If the ball crosses the plane of the goal, that’s gonna be a touchdown” and everyone would be like, “Thanks, John.” He explained football in a way that any idiot — literally any idiot — could grasp what was happening.

Anyway, Madden loved Favre so much, because Favre was the kind of guy who’d end up with dirt stuck in his facemask a lot, and he’d do this reckless, childlike stuff. He threw a behind-the-back pass once. … Actually, that might have been Jake Plummer. I can’t really remember, but it’s beside the point. Whether or not Favre ever did throw a behind-the-back pass, throwing a behind-the-back pass was totally a Favre sort of thing to do. You can take it to the bank that if it was Plummer and not Favre who did that, Plummer did it because he was 100 percent inspired by Brett Favre.

No, generally speaking, people hated Jake Plummer.

Anyway, announcers loved to say that Favre was “like a big ol’ kid out there,” and it was clear that Favre was always the guy having the most fun. Every now and then they’d put a mic on him and he’d spend the whole game making jokes with defensive linemen and things like that.

He was from this small town in Mississippi, and I really do think that helped his popularity. He had this great southern accent and he’d do commercials for Wrangler jeans. I mean, you look at some of his contemporaries … Tom Brady was practically a movie star. Drew Brees always came off like he was running for Senate. Joe Montana was the ultimate “calm, cool, collected” guy. Dan Marino had this great tan and played in Miami. Peyton Manning was kind of a successful dork. I think people saw Favre as sort of an antithetical figure to all that. He was all these things quarterbacks were not supposed to be. He had this unique way of seeming like a regular dude and a mythical creature at the same time.

Yeah, this girl who worked for the Jets said he sent her photos of his penis. Nobody ever really figured out of that was true or not, but most people seemed to believe it. There was quite a bit of cynicism about the whole thing because of who his accuser was.

Her name was Jen Sterger, and she basically became famous overnight. She showed up to a Florida State football game in a bikini top, got picked up by the cameras and became this sensation. It was totally ridiculous. She ended up working for Sports Illustrated because of that. I mean, she wasn’t out there writing 5,000-word takeouts, but still. Sports Illustrated.

(Sigh). Sports Illustrated was a magazine. For about 50 years it was The Place To Work for anybody in sports journalism.

No, they printed it on glossy paper and delivered it to your house every week.

Well sure, the information was several days old by the time you got it, but that really wasn’t a big deal at the time. I mean, I found out the Kansas City Chiefs had acquired Joe Montana by seeing it on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Oh nevermind.