Lang’s World: Ten pearls of Whitaker’s wit and wisdom on sports and beyond 1.18.18
By Lang Whitaker
Grind City Media
There were just over three and half minutes remaining in last weekend’s NFC Semifinals matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Falcons, who trailed 15-10, were facing a key third-and-six from their own 42-yard line. Matt Ryan took the snap, dropped back and zipped a pass to the left to receiver Mohammed Sanu, who fell to the ground cradling the ball, having picked up 8 yards and a crucial first down.
Or did he? As the Falcons walked up to the line to continue the drive, the Eagles challenged the catch. And after watching a few slow motion replays, even I, a hardcore Falcons fan, was ready to concede that maybe Sanu didn’t actually catch the ball. Or maybe he did? I mean, maybe the ball touched the ground, but it also looked like his hand might have been under the ball, in which case it would count as a catch... I think?
We eventually learned that Sanu’s play was not a catch. Why not? Well, nobody really knows. And then a few minutes later, Julio Jones made a remarkably similar catch down the field. Upon further review, I felt Jones’s play was almost surely not a catch, and seemed like it was definitely less of a catch than Sanu’s play. But Jones’s play was somehow ruled a catch.
Here’s the thing: I have no idea what constitutes a catch in the NFL. The ball is allowed to touch the ground as long as the ground doesn’t help you catch it? Or something? You can dive for the end zone and break the plane and that’s a touchdown, as long as the ball doesn’t move once it touches the ground?
The NFL is wildly popular, with tens of millions of viewers each week. Catching the football is an essential part of the game, equally as important as running and tackling. And yet somehow the rules have been legislated to pieces, to the point where it is extremely difficult to understand what is and what is not a catch. And half of the time, it seems like the “rules expert” on the game telecasts, the person who is brought in explicitly to explain the rules to the viewers, has no idea which way the referees are going to land on a reception review.
Shouldn’t this be considered a problem? We’re all just going to be fine with not understanding an important rule of a popular sport?
How has this happened? How have we managed to completely mangle something that should be so simple? My best guess is instant replay. Slow motion replay may have revolutionized broadcasts for the home viewers, but in many ways it has also given us too much information. Slo-mo replay allows us to look at something in ways that it probably wasn’t intended to be seen. It allows a ruling to be scientifically correct, I suppose, but these rules weren’t written by scientists. Sports are a game, and games and technology aren’t always great friends.
The other big factor in all of this is blame, and wanting to make everyone happy all of the time. Now we know when an otherwise cleanly caught football has scraped three blades of grass, and we need to overanalyze any play that might be controversial, because we’re all looking to absolve ourselves of being wrong.
A few weeks ago, an NFL referee used a freaking index card to make a crucial measurement with a game on the line. So we can watch a replay dozens of times on a wireless tablet to figure out if something is or isn’t a catch, but was that a first down? Eh, whatever, let’s see if this piece of paper fits in this here space.
A call might technically be correct, but that doesn’t make it right. And that’s the catch.
2. Down With The King
A few weeks back, the Grizzlies hosted our annual Wrestling Night, which took place at a G-League and NBA game. The participants included several well-known, retired grapplers, headlined by Jeff Jarrett and Jerry “The King” Lawler. As the GM of Grizz Gaming, I’m always on the lookout for the chance to get some advice from people who have experienced success at the highest levels.
So I went down to Southaven to a Memphis Hustle game, where I asked The King for some tips I could use in my new role as GM of Grizz Gaming.
We made what I think is some fun and interesting content. But more than that, for me, someone who has loved wrestling my entire life, it was surreal to essentially cut a promo with one of the most important figures in the history of wrestling. And as you can see in the video, Lawler still has the magic touch.
Working on that clip also sent me down a rabbit hole of classic wrestling videos on Youtube, as I started watching old highlights of The King in his prime. Eventually, I got to the appearance Lawler made with the great Andy Kaufman on the old Letterman show. This was all retold for the sake of posterity in the great movie “Man on the Moon,” but if you haven’t seen it in a while, the original still holds up as a brilliant piece of entertainment.
Also, next Monday you can watch Lawler reunite with Jim Ross to call the action for the 25th Anniversary of WWE RAW.. This show will also feature a long list of returning superstars. (That is, if you’re not at the Sixers/Grizzlies game, of course.)
3. Mission Improbable
Late on Monday night, after coming home from the Grizzlies’ win over the Lakers, I flipped on the Clippers/Rockets game, and watched the contentious finish, as the Clippers hung on to win. As the game ended, I flipped off the TV and went to bed. The next morning, I found out I’d missed the actual main event.
We’ll likely never know the full story but, according to various reports, one Rocket (Clint Capela) knocked on the front door of the Clippers’ locker room, while a troupe of other Rockets attempted to enter the Clippers locker room via a back entrance. Alas, the ol’ diversionary approach didn’t work, and the Clippers seem to have successfully avoided the Rockets red glares.
And now that we know the “knock on one door, enter another” tactic doesn’t work, I have an idea for the next time: The Trojan Mascot. In my plan, several players climb inside the inflatable mascot, bounce their way into the locker room, and then burst out to confront their enemies.
Or maybe we can all just leave the trash talk on the court?
4. Dr. No
I love television. More specifically, I love having cable television, a medium that is slowly becoming obsolete as more and more people cut cords and turn to media networks dedicated to particular subjects or regions (shoutout Grind City Media!) and on-demand programs.
I watch on-demand programming as much as anyone, but I find there’s nothing I like more than flipping through random cable channels late at night and discovering new shows I’ve never heard of. This is how I recently came across a weird show called “Live PD,” which is basically what would happen if “Cops” were televised like a live sporting event. (It also reminds me so much of “Running Man,” that I can’t watch. This is how I discovered half of the cooking shows I now watch regularly, and how I am hoping to learn the basic tenets of gardening, now that I have a yard. This is how I found a now-cancelled show called “Swamp Pawn,” which never became a hit but was entertaining as heck.
And this is how I found myself the other night watching a doctor excise all manner of gross stuff from desperate patients on a show called -- and I am not making this up, this is the real name of the show -- “Dr. Pimple Popper.” I am not too proud to admit having been sadly suckered in by the gross part of internet videos of people popping pimples. But now a major network is commodifying this and presenting it as a TV show.
As I mount my high horse, let me just say that on the record, I don’t approve of programming that is created to blatantly appeal to our most unsavory interests. Sure, I guess you can argue that there is actual medical value to this program: Many of the people on this program have their lives changed for the better by having these unsightly growths removed. Yet I’m pretty sure most viewers just want to see weird stuff get removed from people’s bodies.
I would really like to get all high and mighty here and argue that this show is just another example of society and morality going down the tubes and all that. But then, while writing this, I just spent like five minutes watching blackhead removal videos on Youtube.
I don’t like it. But I get it.
5. Book Club
I grew up in Atlanta, the hometown of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., where his legacy remains tangible. And now I live in Memphis, where I am constantly reminded of Dr. King’s life and work. The celebration of Dr. King’s birthday earlier this week reminded me of a book I read a few years ago, and I figured it was worth a recommendation here in case anyone wanted to learn more about Dr. King’s life and his final days, which were spent here in Memphis. “Hellhound on his Trail” was written by a native Memphian, Hampton Sides, and while it’s non-fiction, it’s paced like a movie and zips along, telling the story of Dr. King’s last days and the craziness that followed.
6. Who Lives In A Pineapple Under The Sea?
I am all for professional sports franchises taking chances with their uniforms, and the NBA G-League presents unique opportunities for teams looking to really shake things up. Look no further than the Delaware 87ers, who recently celebrated Nickelodeon Night by having their players wear special Spongebob Squarepants uniforms.
7. Soccer kids
I’ve always loved hypothetical arguments that don’t have clear answers. Who would win in a fight: one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses? (This may be why podcasts were invented, to settle these topics and give us hours of #content.) That’s why I liked this clip from a Japanese game show so much: Who would win a soccer game: three professional players or one hundred small children? I’m not even going to tell you how it turns out, other than this is just great to watch…
8. Can They Kick It?
Loved this week’s Kyrie 4 release from Nike just in time for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day games.
9. Animal Takeover
Scientists continue to discover evidence of new dinosaurs, which makes a lot of sense, right? The better technology gets, the easier it will be for archaeologists to dig deeper than previous expeditions have gone, so they can continue to uncover new bones and fossils. You can call me simple, but what I don’t understand is how they can run some of these new, old bones through a computer and tell what colors a bird’s feathers were. Like, can someone really tell me that this weird dino-bird thing had a kaleidoscope of feathers?
Or is this just smart marketing? Because that’s something I can understand. If I were a scientist who found a new dinosaur, I’d say that thing looked as crazy as possible. Because that way, I’d make sure the Langosaurus would definitely go down in history.
10. Go Forth With Song
A day or so late, but here’s one that never gets old. And neither does the sentiment. Happy Birthday, Dr. King…
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.