Or, How Sports Talk Radio Ruins Everything
Hello, my name is Beth, and I'm a recovering sports talk radio addict.
It used to be I never went anywhere on four wheels without WEEI, and sometimes never went anywhere at all without being plugged in to Boston's flagship AM sports station. I looked forward to the Whiner Line every day, often refusing to leave the car before it was over, even though I was idling in my driveway, finally at the end of another long commute. If I heard something particularly interesting early in the day, I'd sometimes even sneak out of work to click on the radio for interesting developments. This was especially true for the Red Sox hot stove and / or football season, i.e., this time of year.
Last year, though, something changed. Last year I began to realize there was a pattern: something that was hypothetical, theoretical speculation on Dennis and Callahan had a tendency to become solid fact that called for vengeance by the Big O Show.
There was no one moment I can point to where I switched the channel and never looked back; it happened gradually. And the more I avoided sports talk radio, the less I could stand to listen to it when I went back. I would have formulated my own opinions, from watching the game in question, or talking with people online, and by this past Red Sox season, there were times--Mannygate springs to mind--that I would find myself appalled when I even got wind of what was being talked about over on 'EEI.
I've had my talk radio sobriety for almost a year, and I've gone from an addict to a casual user to an occasional user to a teetotaller to a full-fledged member of the Ladies' Temperance Union. I wish I could go around to elementary schools and perform skits warning the pupils about the dangers of sports talk radio. It will turn your brain to mush, I would tell them. It will make you start to think 92 RBI by the All-Star Break are meaningless compared to "character issues" that are one part muckraking journalism to one part rumor-mongering to two parts pure speculation and assumption.
...or it will harp and harp and harp and harp on issues where there is but a grain of truth until an incident becomes a multi-episode drama complete with "--gate" nickname.
But Sunday night, sitting in the car out in the snowy Gillette Stadium parking lot, waiting for Tom Brady's press conference, I put the radio on WBCN. To busy ourselves before Brady's appearance, Kristen and I ate taco dip and played "Who Would You Rather Do?" with athletes. Eventually we got so swept up in our conversation that I'm pretty sure we missed the press conference, but in the course of half-listening, I wound up being inadvertently exposed to What Richard Seymour Said-gate.
See, if I'd kept my sports talk radio sobriety, I might never have known about this. Or I'd have dismissed it, seeing it on another blog (I don't read the Herald or Globe either, for pretty much the same reasons).
But hearing it on the radio...I can't un-hear it. I can't un-hear it and I can't un-think about it, so I'm very sorry to be starting my post about an otherwise lovely afternoon at the stadium by addressing What Richard Seymour Said-gate.
What Richard Seymour Said
So, here's What Richard Seymour Said (as quoted by the Herald)
Richard Seymour ripped into the quiet Gillette Stadium crowd yesterday, saying the Foxboro faithful were “spoiled” and that they made more noise for a visiting Victoria’s Secret model than the three-time Super Bowl champions.
“It’s really disappointing,” said Seymour following the Patriots’ 16-3 victory over the Jets. “The loudest they ever got was when there was a Victoria’s Secret model (Gisele Bundchen) on the scoreboard. They don’t know when to cheer. You look up and you see half of the stands empty.”
Seymour offered the remarks without being asked, indicating a level of frustration that went beyond the words. Several times during the game, the defensive lineman could be seen exhorting the crowd, only to be greeted by relative silence.
Seymour’s complaint has been echoed by other Patriots players over the last few years, as the open ends of Gillette and the close proximity of the club-level seats (where many fans opt to stay inside) have conspired to give the Pats one of the worst home-field advantages — in terms of crowd noise — in the NFL.
There was one occasion during the 2003 season when a game against Tennessee coincided with a Red Sox playoff game. That led to a weird happenstance where the crowd erupted just after a Steve McNair touchdown run (at the same moment, David Ortiz had doubled in the winning run).
“They all should have been at the baseball game then,” said Seymour, recalling the story.
“Coming from Arrowhead (Stadium in Kansas City) last week, it’s obvious how important the 12th man is,” added Seymour. “That stadium is probably the loudest in the league. So to come from that to this . . .”
When asked why the Gillette fans were so quiet, Seymour said: “They’re spoiled.”
All I can say to that is this:
Sunday morning I got up at what is, for me, the ass-crack of dawn on a weekend and drove in the snow down I-93 to Brookline to pick up Kristen. She and I then drove down 128 to Route 1 and then to the stadium, but we couldn't get in, because we were too early. The parking lots were not open. We sat and waited in the parking lot of a gas station for about an hour.
Once we got to the parking lot, we had nothing to shelter ourselves with, so we cooked all our tailgating food in the snow on a portable Hibachi. We ate in the car.
By the time we'd climbed to the tippy top of the stadium, we were soaked. It was about 24 degrees Farenheit. We sat down more than a dozen stories above the field while the snow came down, on ice-encrusted seats--ice-encrusted seats we'd paid $75 a pop for.
The entire time we sat there, our toes and fingers first stinging, then freezing solid, our only concern was what was happening on the field. We hollered, we high-fived, we swore and stomped, we peered through field glasses and, in my case, the lens of a camera to further capture the experience.
To have What Richard Seymour Said be the first thing you hear about directly after a day like that is, as you can imagine, a bit of a slap in the face.
Did the stadium empty out quickly? Yeah, even I noticed that. But I noticed it because I was in my seat until the clock went 0:00. Actually, we didn't leave the stadium until Tom Brady, one of the last off the field, trotted back toward the locker room. We wanted to stay and see if Tedy would visit his FULL TILT FULL TIME people (he didn't).
"Okay, then," my father said when I told him this. "He's not talking to you."
I don't know why that doesn't make me feel better. But it doesn't. I can't un-hear it, I can't un-think about it, and I can't stop revisiting Sunday's game for evidence to shore up the overwhelming, instinctual, and immediate anger I felt hearing Seymour's comments.
Tent city...a little slice of heaven
Still. It was Kristen's first NFL game, and should be honored as such. So let's at least try to move on.
Between the two of us, we had prepared a sumptuous, elaborate tailgate, and had a highly boss parking spot. However, our lack of tarp / tent gave us away as amateurs, as we poked gingerly around the furiously steaming Hibachi set up on a card table. We even went so far as to out out our chairs as if we were going to sit in them; I think, in the end, Kristen sat in one for a picture, and that was about it.
I had been hoping against hope (and the fact that I'd found a bathroom at the gas station we'd waited at before parking) that I could avoid the Handy House. I'm sure there's no one who loves port-o-potties, but every time I go in one for some reason I think of that one scene in Schindler's List...okay, I'll stop.
Anyway, I debarked the car and picked my way between the cars and trucks (mostly trucks) toward the port-o-potty, which was, as usual, an unpleasant experience, but I at least got a nice tour of the full parking lot along the way.
Picture, if you will, a camera trained on me, hovering above me as I deduce that unless I wanted to end up stepping into someone's roaring charcoal fire, the best place to walk is between the front bumpers of the various vehicles. As I weave past the Tacomas and Tahoes picture that camera zooming out, until you just see the white of my hat and the blue of my coat and the lines between the cars are clear. As I nearly trip over someone's generator, let the camera zoom way back, back and back and back...
What you'd see is an enormous tent city, looking like a gathering of post-apocalyptic refugees, blue tarps and red and black pickup trucks from horizon to horizon. Some tailgating groups even fly flags, the Irish flag, Patriots flag, American flag and Jolly Roger most popular. Here and there are bonfires that would probably be visible to a plane.
Inside that tent city every kind of grillable food is being seared, every smokable plant being smoked with vigor, every potable form of intoxicant not to be left behind, and binding the mosaic of aromas together is the sharp smell of charcoal briquettes. Soon booming over them all will be Gil Santos' deep gorgeous voice, previewing the game.
I know of two forms of sports-related heaven: Fenway Park at August twilight and Gillette Stadium on a snowy December Sunday morning. Both delight every one of my senses. Both make me feel like the true meaning of life is just snapping into focus for a sweet instant. Both make me not only tempted to believe in God, but that the scene I'm witnessing is, as has been said about beer, "proof that He loves us and wants us to be happy."
What does Richard Seymour know?
On being an insufferable know-it-all, and a brief digression on the evolution of the Brady Mystique
If there was anything better than just being there, it was that I was able to introduce Kristen to the experience. Bringing someone new into an environment like that helps you see it with new eyes. It also helps you become an insufferable know-it-all.
"It's going to be like a million degrees in there," I told her for about the 50th time as we entered the Pro Shop. "You might want to remove some layers."
I'm sure she would've done so if she'd had a full range of motion in her arms.
So we sweated and wandered through the Pro Shop, sneered at the various pink and pastel merchandise, and left. Whoopee. The Pro Shop gets old fast (quoth the insufferable know-it-all).
We went to the first-level field entrance, the one the players come out of through the big helmet to start the game, but before the helmet was inflated. We stood with a handful of other fans along a fence, gathering like birdwatchers chasing the ivory-billed woodpecker, and between silent strangers there was an unspoken shared mission: to see, to touch, to be near, to witness Tom Brady.
I've been coming to this stadium since 2002; at the time Brady was still relatively unproven, still subject to the "flash in the pan" line of criticism. I found him beauteous and studied him in minute detail through binoculars, but gruff-voiced men could still be heard growling out scoffs through their moustaches and pining for the days of Bledsoe when No. 12 took the field.
In this past, his pregame routine consisted of a Very Serious series of stretches. He would come out onto the field in a knit cap, jog, stretch, run, stretch, throw, stretch, put his helmet on, stretch...
By two seasons ago, the routine was to come out to a subtle appreciative roar of recognition from the crowd. Perhaps a wave. I forget when he started wearing the helmet at all times, but it may have been around then.
By last season, people had started to gather like birdwatchers long before pregame. Nothing overt, no new signs that said "MARRY ME TOMMY", no fainting fans...but you could feel a buzz in the stadium before HE entered, could feel eyes and binoculars and telephoto lenses searching the field. You could feel the whole stadium leaning in, gawking, craning its neck, searching for HIM to appear. When he'd appear, a great HURRAH would go up. Sometimes he'd wave, sometimes not. Sometimes he'd go through his Very Serious stretching routine, sometimes not. He began to gladhand a bit more with the other team.
But every so often, he'd forget himself in warmups, and he'd do a strange little dance to the thumping hip-hop pumped into the stadium, a dance I can still see in my mind's eye when I hear the right song. A far cry from the awkward, jerky white-boy dancing he'd done at Government Center at the end of his parades--a more fluid movement, a more organic dance, a dance that just burst out of him, uncontainable and graceful. The dance of someone at home, with no one watching. You felt like this was HIS house, and you were just being allowed to hang out in it, and you know, you were okay with that.
This year, as in 2002, there's a sour note being struck somewhere. Somewhere along the line the joyous HURRAH at Brady's appearance has given over to embarrassing hysteria. He wears his helmet at all times during warmups and, if yesterday's game was any indication, uses his erstwhile stretching time for hand-shaking and backslapping with opposing coaches and various dignitaries paraded past him on the field. Tom Brady didn't warm up this past Sunday; he held court.
It's different right now. You can still feel that energy before HE enters, can feel that searching, that anticipation, like this whole absurd castle is just waiting to let itself exhale at the sight of HIM...but there's starting to be something perverse and oppressive about it. There's a darkness to it, a darkness that suggests that maybe it's for the best if the Patriots tank this season, and Brady can fly a little under the radar for a few months, because at moments like that pregame last Sunday it feels like whatever Golum-like fixation on him as THE PRECIOUS has the potential simply to crush him, and then collapse in on itself entirely.
House party gone wrong?
And hey. Maybe the whole thing's spun just a little out of control, like a house party just before the cops show up. Maybe what was a wild good time in full swing has gotten just a little scary. Maybe everyone needs to call a cab home and sleep it off for a while, and we'll reconvene here next year, same time, same place, same channel, 14-2 and a Super Bowl, sure, but for right now, that half a bottle of Jaeger we all drank is making us a little slow on our feet, a little overindulged, a little more likely to projectile vomit.
Spoiled? Nah. More like...overserved.
That's why it was fantastic to be there with Kristen, to point things out to her, to see her eyes light up at the sight of, say, David Givens flexing milk-chocolate biceps on the field in practice or Tedy Bruschi doing high leg-kicks. At least there was someone there who wasn't incessantly comparing things to Before and mooning about the current mood on the field, unlike, say certain insufferable know-it-alls I could name.
But still. Further evidence of a house party out of control: I haven't seen behavior like what I witnessed in our section toward the end of the third quarter since the last time I crashed a kegger at Fitchburg State. First there was the throwing snow, as per tradition, but then there was the discovery that said snow could be made into rock-hard ice balls, and that exciting contests could then be held to see who could actually fling an ice ball so that it hit the field, and much fun and beanings of unsuspecting people on the levels below were had.
Until the same ice-ball flingers realized that unsuspecting Jets fans representin' in their jerseys made for much easier targets than the field.
That's about when the police got involved.
I don't know what was more irritating: the fact that the throwers were surprised that it was they, and not the throwee, who were escorted from the premises, or the fact that virtually everyone else in our section felt compelled to stand, turn their back to the field, and goggle at the spectacle, shouting encouragement or condemnation.
There were a couple of good heckles and nicely shouted one-liners--"Nice punt, douchebag!" being our favorite; it just has a nice ring to it--but by around the third quarter, all was inanity. The Patriots had just scored a touchdown after a lengthy drive to put the game in the bag, and as if on some cue, the entire Gillette audience had given itself permission to either take off, or act like burnouts at a SlipKnot concert.
Okay, so maybe Seymour had a point.
But it's not like he said. It's not spoiled-rotten people sitting back and ho-humming over another win; it's more sinister than that. It's people unused to excess demonstrating an utter inability to cope with it. It's Good Times Fatigue. It happens to the best of us.
Oh yeah, there was a football game too
Anyway, burnouts or no burnouts, the Patriots won tidily, 16-3, as it should be against the 2-9 Jets. I only heard Ty Law's name called once. Despite giving us a huge scare in the third quarter when he rolled onto his back wincing in pain and was slow to get up, Tom Brady played all 60 minutes and looked decent. Our O-line is still for shit and our secondary got picked apart a few times, but the return of Givens and Dillon bolstered the offense considerably. Kristen got to see a Patriots win and experience a weather game. Ted Johnson was honored in a lovely ceremony at halftime. Adam Vinatieri broke Gino Capilleti's scoring record as a kicker, and we listened to his South Dakota accent in his press conference while we had taco dip.
But then, right then, goddamnit, I had to go and hear What Richard Seymour Said. I had to look back on the experience and rethink the whole thing. I had to think about the fact that one of the guys I was shivering in my seat to cheer for pretty much thinks I suck, and I had to think about why. Worst of all, I had to admit that in some ways, maybe not about me individually, he's got a point...and wonder what's happened.
See how sports talk radio ruins everything?
Full photo album here.
Kristen's account here.