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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?

Top image: Talladega 5/3/15, via me

New this week:

“Out Behind The Barn,” Laura Relyea, Bitter Southerner
Yes, the Kentucky Derby has passed. Read this fascinating look at what goes on out on the other side of the track anyway, and enjoy the beautiful pictures. “There’s not a seersucker or frock to be seen in this place,” Relyea writes. “There’s not a julep to be found. The track doesn’t owe a single iota of its heart to the charades we so often associate with it.”

“Nonviolence as Compliance,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic
Powerful piece in the wake of the Baltimore riots that seeks to undercut calls for peace while at the same time not advocating violence. It’s a balancing act, yes, but every story of social unrest is a complex one with few clear rights and wrongs. “When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself,” Coates writes. “When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.”

“Snakes on the Plains: The Strange, Surprisingly Popular World of Rattlesnake Rodeos”, Holly Anderson, Grantland
Going inside a rattlesnake rodeo in Opp, Alabama taking place on the same weekend as the Masters, and drawing connections between both. “I was late to this particular party,” Holly writes, “but that didn’t diminish my smug satisfaction that right at that moment, nowhere else on earth was anybody nibbling on a fried Oreo, listening to a local singer belt out Heart’s “Alone” on the concert stage, and imagining she was singing the torch song to a 7-foot poisonous snake.” I love both on-the-scene stories and tales of Southern strangeness, so this was a must-read from the jump.

“My Kid Can Choke Out Your Kid,” Drew Magary, GQ
I enjoy Drew getting out in the world and turning his outraged-Dad eye on the strangeness of America (he was the guy to whom that Duck Dynasty dude confessed the far-right beliefs that set off that storm a year or so back). This story, about kiddie MMA fights, is more of the same: “Put “MMA,” “children,” and “Florida” together in a sentence and you’re probably picturing some kind of twisted white-trash kiddie cockfighting … Is this really something little kids should be doing? Or does it just sound worse than it actually is? Five-year-olds take karate and no one bats an eye. Is this really any different?” Drew fighting kids, and trying not to get choked out by them, is flat-out funny.

“A Conversation with Golf’s Most Interesting Man, Miguel Angel Jiménez,” Alan Shipnuck, Golf.com/SI
The comparison of MAJ, a 50-year-old golfer with an affinity for fine cigars and finer wine, to the “Most Interesting Man In The World” ad campaign is pretty hacky, but damn if it doesn’t fit. The guy lives the kind of life that everyone dreams of, and he’s a philosopher on life, mortality, art, and romance. “Beneath the famous oak tree at Augusta National he fell into the warm embrace of his sons and his wife and hugs from a dozen well-wishers. Before leaving the grounds Jiménez offered a parting thought: ‘I am here with the sun shining, I’m surrounded by friends and family, tonight I will eat good food, drink good wine, smoke a good cigar and make love to my beautiful wife. It’s a good life, no?’”

“Death, Lawrence Phillips, and the Lawless Nebraska Team No One Could Beat,” Derek Wallen, Vice
In-depth look at the criminally good Nebraska teams of the mid-90s and the coach who appeared to turn a blind eye to many of their misdeeds. “No college football team annihilated its competition like the 1995 Nebraska team … the offense ripped up every opponent it faced, averaging more than 53 points a game. Husker quarterbacks were sacked exactly zero times. The Blackshirt defense was fast, savage, and ridiculously deep: 17 of its players would eventually get snaps in the NFL. The Huskers’ season-long rampage concluded with an epic, 62-24 stomping of Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators in the Fiesta Bowl. They beat four teams that finished in the top 10, by an average score of 49-18. Osborne would retire two years later after winning a third national title. In his final five seasons, Nebraska went a preposterous 60-3.”

Back Pages, fine stories you may have missed:
“The Other Side of a Miracle,” Thomas Lake, Sports Illustrated
From November 2014: This is the story of the infamous 2013 Iron Bowl, where Auburn beat Alabama, on an insanely fortuitous runback of a missed field goal. But this isn’t a college football story; it’s a story of place and time, and the way that one single event can alter the trajectory of an entire state. “One man’s disaster can be another man’s miracle,” Lake writes. “Today the state will see many of both. Ninety people will be born. One hundred and fifty will die. Some large portion of the other 4.8 million will go to bed thinking about the final second on the scoreboard clock.” The best stories are about far more than what’s on the scoreboard, and this one is tragic and triumphant all at once. If you missed this one before, don’t miss it now.

My Stuff, because I am shameless:
• My non-spoilery Avengers review. Spoiler: there’s some fightin’.

• Big video week this week, as we covered everything from Alex Rodriguez to Pacquiao-Mayweather to the Kentucky Derby. Here’s the best of the lot, me adopting my Foghorn Leghorn voice as I discuss whether there will ever be another Triple Crown winner.

• On the podcast front:
Grandstanding Episode 13: NFL Draft preview with Frank Schwab
Grandstanding Episode 14: Mayweather-Pacquiao preview with Kevin Iole
These are both a touch dated now that the events in question have passed, but I once again recommend you subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. Plenty more goodness coming soon.

Book of the Week
Cop Town, Karin Slaughter
It’s Atlanta in the 1970s — in this book, not right now — and somebody’s killing cops. Two female police officers navigate the straits of corruption and institutionalized sexism to try to solve the crime. Solid beach read.

Seen something worth adding to the mix? Hit me up. Know someone who might like this weekly rundown? Forward them this email or point ‘em to the signup page. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter, if you wish.

Thanks for reading. Get back to the game.

Avengers review (no spoilers): Life would be better with a big hammer

There’s one moment that sums up the spirit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe perfectly, and it involves puking. That’s not a negative. Hang with me here.

If you lived in the MCU, chances are you or someone you know would probably already be dead or maimed for life. That’s what comic book movies (and, to a far greater extent, the source material) don’t much delve into: how damn hard it would be to go about your day-to-day business in a world where dudes can drop cities on your head. In Avengers: Age of  Ultron alone, thousands of people on at least three different continents end up running for their lives as humans, robots and gods collide and hit each other with everything this side of an entire mountain range.

To its credit, AAU tries to sort out this particular conundrum, from the heroes’ side: the Avengers take a definite pro-saving-people stance in this one, which seems a deliberate reaction to the heedlessly destructive city-leveling antics of Superman in “Man of Steel.” You get the requisite dangles from great heights and kids in danger and lost puppies and that sort of thing. But there’s one moment that encapsulates the spirit of this movie perfectly.

Thor and Captain America — you know them, we don’t need introductions — rescue a couple people in cars from certain, highly horrible (albeit cinematic) death. And when they’re back on safe ground, do the people wave and say, “thank you, brave heroes!” Heck no. One of them does exactly what we would do: opens his car door, leans out and pukes his guts out.

Epic comic-book fantasy shot through with real-world elements: that’s the key to the MCU, and that’s why — against every single rational belief — the tales of a flag-wearing World War II icon, a Norse god, and an exxxtreme Robin Hood, among others have become our newest national mythology. Sure, it says plenty about America that our current heroes are recycled from half a dozen earlier sources, but it’s always been thus.

And hey, speaking of America: only Captain America gets the short end of the hammer in this flick. Which is fine; the guy’s coming off one of the best Marvel movies ever in Winter Soldier. Somehow every single other Avenger gets time in the spotlight, which is an impressive feat considering this movie also has FIVE large set-piece fight scenes.

The plot: Tony Stark (Iron Man, but you knew that) figures that if six Avengers are good protectors, an entire army — an iron shield, if you will — would keep the peace on Earth, protecting it from threats both human and alien.  And since army-building always ends in the establishment of lasting peace, the movie is about 14 minutes long.

Of course it’s not. This movie has single, dramatic punches that last 14 minutes. Stark accidentally creates Ultron, an artificial intelligence that seeks to enforce peace by imposing its will on humanity. A computer ruling over humans? That’d never happen, we laugh as we check our iPhones for the 50th time today.

When it comes to Avengers movies, you’ve always got to consider the matter of scale. Each movie has to amp up the threat exponentially. When Thor or the Hulk can belt pretty much anyone into orbit like an angry Albert Pujols, a single enemy just won’t do. So you’ve gotta throw hordes of enemies at them, piling on like angry, lethal five-year-olds.

In the first Avengers, our happy heroes faced down an invading alien army. This time around, they’re facing a killer robot, and you can imagine what the breadth of the scale is. (Hint: think about how you’re reading this.) We also know, from previous Marvel movies, that Thanos is coming, and bringing an entire universe with him, in Avengers: Infinity War, in 2019 and 2020. After that? Well, either the Avengers take on God, or they go the other direction entirely and start mediating middle school cafeteria spats.

Anyway, back to AAU. This isn’t a movie so much as a theme park ride, where you get yanked along through a series of scenes that range from intense (not one, but two different extended looping single-camera shots of the Avengers battling like hell) to funny (you do not have a single story in your life that would impress Thor or Iron Man) to surprisingly emotional. I mean, check out this scene between Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and James Spader’s Ultron:

Whoa! That’s searing right there. Anyway, the keys to this flick are Thor’s hammer and Iron Man’s tech, and as we all know, every so often you need to just smack the hell out of technology to make it do what you want. That, I think, is the message here. And it’s a good one.

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