Category Archives: Good Reading

HALFTIME ADJUSTMENTS: Football is coming

There’s always another halftime coming around. Take a few minutes and check out some good writing from this week and earlier. What, you’re going to sit and watch commercials?

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Top image: Covington, Georgia, 8/8/15

See that cloud over there, darkening and moving fast? It’s the NFL season, friends, and it’s coming this way. The birds are chirping in alarm, the small woodland beasts are headed for higher ground. Bid farewell to your other beloved sports now, everybody, because if you thought the NFL offseason was a turbulent mess of overhyped drama and reheated bloviations, wait’ll we actually start playing the damn games.

I’ll be writing about the NFL all season over at Yahoo, including Friday night’s debut of Marcus Mariota in Atlanta. Keep up via  Facebook and Twitter, and hear my dulcet tones on the Grandstanding podcast. (Subscribe via iTunes or via RSS feed.)

Plugs over. Onward with some fine work I read this week…

• “Zero to Mandalay: Myanmar and the Game Nobody Wins,” Spencer Hall, SB Nation

Anything Spencer writes, I’m in. The historical sense, the attention to precise detail, the literal-laugh-out-loud humor, the ornate construction … doesn’t matter the subject, Spencer writes in a way that makes you want to throw away your laptop. Read it.

“I was going to Myanmar to watch the game of chinlone, the sort of unofficial/official national game. Mr. Maung might be there to meet me, or he might not. He might be selling jade to Chinese billionaires, funneling arms to Karin insurgents or fixing cellphone tower contracts deep in the jungles of Chin State over a table of rice wine, Johnny Walker Blue and a thousand cigarettes. He might be meeting with monks in a political strategy meeting or setting up a bed and breakfast in Katha so Orwell-philes could stare at the sagging remnants of the British colonial clubhouse there.

“If he wasn’t doing all this, someone was. They were most likely doing it by the light of a flashlight or generator. Flying in from Seoul, I can trace the blasting lights of industrial eastern China, then clearly spot Ho Chi Minh City before a stretch of deep black nothing that is Laos, and then spot the blinking lights of Thailand. It’s easy to see when you cross into Burma. Everything goes piteously, completely dark.”

• “Fox and Friends,” Rachael Maddux, Longreads

What a hell of a fun story this was, a tale of fox hunting where neither the fox nor the hunt is really the point. Filled with lush description and sly humor, this is a story that’s everything I love in sportswriting. Plus, we could all use a whiskey horse: “That’s a horse,” one hunter said, “that’ll get you home no matter how much you’ve had to drink.”

“If I was ever going to understand fox hunting, I would have to understand it as making peace with the outer edges, with always hovering just beyond or beside the center of things. The unspeakable, the uneatable, the unfathomable. I would have to know that I would never be able to get close enough to be satisfied—I have to be a hound, or the fox itself. But it has to be enough sometimes to know that somewhere out there, something is happening, happening as it always has, without having to know what or why.”

• “Bucs rookie QB Jameis Winston has the look of a football nerd,” Eric Adelson, Yahoo Sports

Look, Jameis Winston might just have the widest gap between on-field potential and off-field idiocy that we’ve seen in sports in a decade. In assessing Winston’s possibilities, my man Eric doesn’t shy away from the fact that Winston has made dumb choice atop dumb choice in his personal life, but notes the irony of the fact that Winston appears to make all the right choices when the ball’s in his hands. This guy’s going to be fascinating to watch. From a distance.

“Smart” is not the word for Winston’s overall behavior since his high school days. Yet his work ethic has never suffered noticeably, even to close friends. “I asked him, ‘How’s the playbook?’” said new Jacksonville Jaguar and former Florida State receiver Rashad Greene last week, recalling a conversation from earlier this summer. “He said, ‘That’s my baby.’ He understands it; he knows it.”

• “Star Tribune’s Amelia Rayno adds her own story to Teague scandal,” Amelia Rayno, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Here’s the most important story of the roundup: how powerful men can, and do, take advantage of women in the source-journalist relationship. Rayno’s story of how now-disgraced former Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague sleazed up their professional relationship should open some naive eyes.

“This December night was different. Teague asked me about my longtime boyfriend, as he often did. My mistake was acknowledging that we had just broken up. The switch flipped. Suddenly, in a public and crowded bar, Teague tried to throw his arm around me. He poked my side. He pinched my hip. He grabbed at me. Stunned and mortified, I swatted his advances and firmly told him to stop. He didn’t.”

• “Officer back on the streets, with a story to tell,” Gregg Doyel, Indianapolis Star

NFL training camp is generally a high-volume melange of non-stories and puffery. So Gregg Doyel, who bucked the journalistic tide by going from the Internet back to a newspaper, takes a different angle here, and it’s a damn fine one: talking to a police officer at Colts camp who’s on a prosthetic leg. This is a powerful story of heroism — the real kind, not the sports kind — and shared sacrifice. Check it out.

“Marty Dulworth probably should have died the night he lost some of his left leg and most of his blood in the 300 block of Water Street in Pendleton — or later in the back of a blood-red Chevy Silverado doing 115 mph on Martin Luther King Boulevard, somewhere between Pendleton and Anderson, somewhere between life and death. He’s back on the streets now, this 39-year-old public servant, and he has a story to tell.”

• “‘I Don’t Remember Him Ever Being Happy’: The Joyless Dominance of Alabama’s Nick Saban,” Michael Weinreb, VICE

What do you do when you’re the best in the world at what you do, and that’s still not enough? Alabama head coach Nick Saban once complained that winning national championships detracted from his recruiting time, which is the Platonic ideal of missing-the-forest-for-the-trees. In this brief article, Weinreb reviews both the new biography Saban and the dour existence of Saban himself, and concludes, quite rightly, that this is a curious way for a man to live.

“I want this sport to be of high quality, but I also want it to be unpredictable and exciting and fun, which is why I will continue to admire Saban’s joyless competence from afar while hoping that, as happened against Auburn a couple of years ago, the whole thing falls apart in the end.”

• “Getting beyond 63 at a major seems ‘inevitable,’” Jason Sobel,

Thursday marks the start of the PGA Championship, the final major of the golf season. Golf is unique among sports in that you’re playing on the exact same courses that have hosted tournaments for decades, even centuries. While the specifics may change, the scenery never does, and in this fine piece of reporting and statistics, Jason breaks down the way that no golfer has managed to break the near-mythical number of 63 in a major.

“Since the first Open Championship in 1860, there have been a total of 434 editions of the four annual majors as we know them today. In the modern era, starting in 1934 with the advent of the Masters Tournament, that number is 313. Add them up and (excluding the 23 years of match play at the PGA Championship through 1957) there have been 1,160 rounds. That’s 107,105 individual player rounds during this 82-year period. Twenty-six times, someone has posted a round of 63. Never has anyone fared better.”

• “How to Bayern in 11 Steps,” Bill Connelly, SB Nation

Look, I don’t know a whole lot about the intricacies of soccer; trying to navigate the byzantine arrangements of clubs and leagues in Europe for me is like asking a European futbol fan to sort through the thicket that is the SEC. But this story makes me want to learn more, much more, about the German team Bayern, if nothing else because they seem to kick copious ass and everyone loves jumping on a front-runner’s bandwagon. This is a fine breakdown of the way to build a dynasty, interwoven with the kind of regional sense of place that I really appreciate.

“Creating light from darkness is a German specialty. In this country, you are never far from something beautiful, and you are never far from a reminder of how things can go terribly wrong. This is the obvious case with Munich itself — from atop war rubble, only a few miles from the concentration camp in Dachau, you watch over gorgeous views from every angle.”

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Read This: Baseball cards, cliffside driving and hookers n’ blow

a324funnyRunning down some of the best writing of the day. Enjoy. And always wear a cup.

From “The Great Baseball Card Bubble,” Dave Jamieson, Slate:

Precious few collectors seemed to ponder the possibility that baseball cards could depreciate. As the number of card shops in the United States ballooned to 10,000, dealers filled their storage rooms with unopened cases of 1988 Donruss as if they were Treasury bills or bearer bonds. Shops were regularly burglarized, their stocks of cards taken as loot. In early 1990, a card dealer was found bludgeoned to death behind the display case in his shop in San Luis Obispo, Calif., with $10,000 worth of cards missing. A few weeks later, Bob Engel, a respected National League umpire, was arrested for allegedly stealing more than 4,180 Score baseball cards, worth $143.98, from a Target store in Bakersfield, Calif., and attempting to steal another 50 packs from a Costco.

From “How a $500 Craiglist Car beat $400K Rally Racers,” Sam Smith, Jalopnik:

Just rocked the first stage of the day. Thirty kilometers of craziness. I came through this 70-80 mph section with thousands of people lining the roads. We come around a corner and there’s a bridge that somehow got missed in the notes. But it’s a flat piece of concrete like 15 feet wide and our trajectory is right off the side. Slocum says into the mic, “We’re done,” stops reading notes, and braces for impact. The river below has boulders the size of Volkswagens. Sand and gravel in corner, almost as if spectators filled it. Can’t get to apex, four feet off, sliding way wide, exit of corner is entrance to bridge. I pitch the car and floor it. 35-45 mph. Half the car falls off the bridge. We are looking at daylight and I am full throttle hoping the left tire and diff can put the power down. We fell so far over the bridge it collapsed the inner leg of the trailing arm by an inch or two. Almost the entire right side of the car hanging in the air. Now in the queue for Stage Two, six more to go.

(Hat tip: Adam Jacobi)

From “Russia’s amazing drugs and hookers scandal,” Michael Idov, The Daily Beast:

“Let me get this straight,” wrote Ilya Krasilschik, the editor of Afisha magazine, commenting on a Facebook status update after the scandal broke and summing up much of the popular sentiment. “You fight the regime, and in exchange the regime brings you free chicks and blow? Duly noted.”

Hey, if you’ve seen something particularly good (or particularly bad), drop me a line at, won’t you?

Read This: Tiger, Talladega & November Rain

0323funnyRunning down some of the best writing of the day. Enjoy. Oh, and the cat? I have no idea.

From “The Amateur: Six Laps at Talladega Kicks Off Mustache Weekend,” Spencer Hall, SB Nation:

“Sound is obliterated by your surroundings, sight is limited to a tiny window in front of you, and all focus is directed to staying on track and following the line in front of you. A good comparison would be scuba diving at depth going 170 miles per hour. A better one would be going scuba diving at 170 miles per hour in a car full of roaring bees.  How drivers do anything but avoid other drivers is beyond understanding, since at even higher speeds with more on the line they are prisoners of mechanical circumstance, half-blind conductors of forty bullet trains all running on the same track. I will never wonder why drivers wreck in NASCAR ever again. Instead, I will wonder why they don’t wreck on the first lap at speed every race.”

From “The Stakes at the Masters,” Will Leitch, New York:

“But Tiger will turn 35 this December: He’s running out of time. Nicklaus, perhaps the best late-in-life golfer of all time, won only six of his eighteen after his 34th birthday and never faced anything close to what Tiger is going through. His off-fairway life has already slowed down the way he plays golf, the activity he was put on this Earth to do. If Woods shocks everyone at Augusta, he’ll be well on his way to beating Nicklaus and proving himself the greatest golfer ever. But you can’t help but wonder if Nicklaus, who has always revered his record, secretly wonders if he might have dodged a bullet.

From “In which we learn that all Dominican baseball players are gay,” Drew Magary, Deadspin:

“Any time I’m driving behind an empty car carrier, I have the manic urge to see if I can drive ONTO the truck itself. The ramp is so tantalizingly close to the ground. I always see myself having to speed up to get onto the ramp, then immediately having to brake to keep from driving 80 while on the truck itself. Then I get out of the car, climb to the top level of the carrier, take out a guitar, and fucking blast the solo from “November Rain.” And I don’t even LIKE that song.”

Hey, if you’ve seen something particularly good (or particularly bad), drop me a line at, won’t you?

Jesus Lives, And He’s Serving You Fries

Just finished The DaVinci Code today, mainly to see what all the fuss was about–and boy, can I see it. It’s undeniably entrancing, sure, but it’s so damn obvious in doing so. If this book was a movie, it’d be one of those old outer-space flicks where you can see the wires holding up the spaceship as it flies in front of a spraypainted bedsheet. (Yes, I know it’s going to be a big-budget Ron Howard movie; I’m talking more in metaphoric than cinematic terms here.) But there are lessons to be learned here, friends.

First off, the plot, if you’re not already aware. We’ve got The Church, here represented sort of as the Legion of Doom in purty robes. (They’ve even got their own Solomon Grundy-like lunatic albino.) And we’ve got the Priory of Sion, this super-secret society that’s tasked with protecting The Greatest Secret In All Human History. When Solomon Grundy knocks off a Louvre curator with connections to the Priory of Sion (I’ll preserve suspense for the three of you who haven’t yet read it), all hell breaks loose, and a resourceful (of course), ruggedly handsome (of course) Harvard symbologist (wha…?) and an attractive (of course) French codebreaker chick (ooookay) find themselves in pursuit of the Holy Grail itself, while themselves being pursued by the French police and The Church, who are both in this book a lot more resourceful than you’d think. The symbologist and the French hottie are forced to jump through all kinds of logical hoops and riddles left by the dead curator, most of which are either 1. completely obvious or 2. of the CSI variety, where they just happen to stumble onto exactly the right answer.

Anyway, I’m going on way too long here, but here’s the upshot. Dan Brown can write him a cliffhanger. I HAD to keep reading this book to figure out what was going on. The cliffhangers in this book are like pizza or sex; even though they’re weak and obvious, they’re still pretty good. (Also like bad sex, I felt a little used and dirty after reading this–like I could’ve spent the five or six hours in MUCH better ways.)

So–do I recommend it? Aw, sure; you know already if you’ll like this. I’m a conspiracy–well, not “obsessive,” not “nut” or “freak”–let’s say “conspiracy enthusiast,” and this feeds into the suspicion that a lot of folks have that there’s Somebody Out There Pulling All The Strings. And although the theology and academic rigor is grade-school level, I do like the idea espoused here that true faith understands that the stories of the Bible are metaphoric. That’s another journal for another day, but the literature professor in me has always been at war with the faithful side; knowing how texts are created through history tends to make me look a bit askance at certain stories that I was told to, literally, take as gospel.

The Da Vinci Code ain’t gospel, not by a long shot, but if I can pull off the kind of page-turning tome that Brown has here, I’ll be mucho pleased with myself.

Recommended Reading: Faithful, Bringing Down The House

Read a couple decent nonfiction books over the holidays, but both suffered from the same problem in the end–insufficient vision to take their stories from the merely fascinating into the realm of the epic. First up–Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King’s “Faithful,” a tale of the Boston Red Sox’ memorable 2004 world championship season. Since it was published about a month after the Red Sox recorded the final out in the 2004 Series, it necessarily suffers a bit from rushed production, but it’s still a damn good recap of the marathon that is the baseball season. Don’t know how much post-Series editing the guys did on their work, but the prescient touches, like wondering how badly pitcher Derek Lowe will screw up (he didn’t, ending up winning all three playoff-clinching games) are interesting minor ironies. This is mostly a book for hardcore Sox fans, and I’ll admit to skimming through some of the dog days of August in here–everybody knows how the season’s gonna end anyway, so why not jump to the good stuff? Of the two writers, I preferred King’s analysis, which was generally more big-picture than O’Nan’s, which tended to focus on minutiae like Nomar’s ability to go to his right or Kevin Millar’s tendencies at the plate. Interesting for Sox fans, but for the rest of us–not so much. Still, I do want to read more from O’Nan. Really, the only place where the quality of the writing suffers is after the big wins over the uberchoking Yankees and the Cards–it’s as if both writers just didn’t try hard enough to capture the astonishing feel of these epic moments and just punted. Still, a good read–the literary equivalent of a ballgame on in the background on a summer evening.

Ben Mezrich’s Bringing Down the House is the absolute embodiment of the airplane book–an interesting story delivered in rapid-fire, surface-level prose. Here’s the story–a bunch of MIT kids (the cover says six, but I counted about twelve at various points) use a variant of the traditional card-counting system to win at blackjack and reap millions from casinos. It’s an interesting exercise in could-I-do-that?, but the problem is that there’s nothing really at stake here. Worst case scenario–you get caught with your system and you’re asked to leave the casino. That’s it–no “Casino”-style vises to the skull or desert burials, not even a selling-grandma’s-wedding-ring-and-turning-tricks-for-dockworkers-to-pay-off-gambling-debts scene. The characters have an amazing run, get found out, get bounced from casinos, and turn around and invest their winnings in more reputable enterprises. The author also has an annoyingly unnecessary habit of injecting himself into the story, interviewing associates and members of the gambling team to unrealized purposes. The moments when the players are sitting at tables and catch sight of pit bosses headed their way are suspenseful, but when it ends up that the bosses are only coming to ask them to take their action elsewhere–where’s the payoff? It’s an interesting plane read, but one that’ll probably be mostly forgotten after you stow your tray tables and return to the upright and locked position.

Recommended Reading: Rammer Jammer

When I told folks I was reading a book called Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, most raised an eyebrow and slowly backed away, figuring it was the kind of thing that could get everybody within a mile fined by the FCC. It’s actually a hellaciously good book by Warren St. John about the nomadic lives of RV owners who follow the University of Alabama football team across the Southeast. (The title refers to a ‘Bama cheer.) St. John’s a writer for the New York Times, but he ain’t one of them East Coast liberal elite types. Born and bred in Alabama, he’s not clouded by the kind of condescension that turns feature stories about Southerners into anthropological studies. St. John dives deep into the nature of fandom here, citing history (tailgating dates back to ancient Greece) and psychology to arrive at a comprehensive–and yet compassionate–portrait of the modern sports fan. He also fills the book with dead-on Southernisms–for instance, there’s the guy who’s promised his boss tickets to the Auburn-Alabama game without actually having the tickets; a scalper laughs that “this is a case of someone’s alligator mouth overloading his hummingbird a-hole.” And I plan to whip up a jar full of Bama Bombs–cherries soaked in grain alcohol for an entire offseason–for next year’s Steeplechase.

In an age where postmodern, ironic detachment is the hallmark of the hip aesthetic, it’s damn refreshing to see somebody proudly write what amounts to a soul-baring love letter to a football team. For any sports fan who’s ever exulted beyond reason when their team wins, or had their heart (and almost, in my case, a hand) broken when their boys lose, Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is essential reading.