On Sports, Culture, and the Desire for Meaningful Change

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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32 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Orton sucks. They should put in Tebow.Report

  2. Avatar Chris says:

    Not to nitpick, but there are very good reasons for not running the no-huddle offense full time:
    1.) You have to have a smart, accurate quarterback who can call audibles effectively and throw the quick slants and other timing plays that the no-huddle offense requires. The Bengals, in their semi-no huddle offense, had Esiason, and the Bills had Kelly.
    2.) You have to have a good running game, or it doesn’t work. One of the biggest keys to the no huddles success is the inability of the defense to substitute. If they can play pass (or run) every time, they don’t really need to substitute. So you have to be able to run the ball well, or it doesn’t work.
    3.) It’s not easy to chart plays out the way you have to in the no-huddle. I doubt most coaches can do it.

    I’d rather see the Greatest Show on Turf offense more widely implemented, anyway.

    Also, the Triangle, while effective, has produced some of the most boring offenses ever seen in professional basketball. It’s not easy to make a team with Jordan-Pippen or Bryant-O’Neil look boring, but the Triangle did it, and did it so effectively that the Lakers were almost unwatchable. I say go back to the 80s style run-and-gun offenses of the Lakers, Celtics, and just about everyone besides the Pistons. Plus, it gave us Bernard King.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      I should add, the no huddle wears out your own defense as well, because offensive series don’t last as long, so they spend more time on the field.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        should add, the no huddle wears out your own defense as well, because offensive series don’t last as long, so they spend more time on the field.

        If both teams played NHSO or variants of it, the game would start to look a lot more like rugby (which of course is the better game). But of course americans dont like Rugby. They certainly didnt raise rebellion against england so that they could watch rugby!Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Two quick thoughts:

      First, your criticisms of NHSO are valid. (Though I might quibble that while the “you need a good running game and QB that can make good decisions in order to be successful” is certainly true for a NHSO team, I think it is for all other teams as well.) But I still don’t think, based on relative success patterns, that these are the real reason it was scrapped as quickly as it was.

      The point about BB is a good one as well, and you don’t even have to go back as far to the 80s. I think unless you were raised in LA as a Laker fan, you had to root for the Kings in the early 00s. They were fun to watch.Report

      • Avatar DarrenG says:

        “you need a good running game and QB that can make good decisions in order to be successful” is certainly true for a NHSO team, I think it is for all other teams as well.

        I give you the 2000 Ravens and 2002 Buccaneers as counter-examples.

        As a lifelong fan of the most successful franchise in Super Bowl history, I’ll also admit that neither Bradshaw or Roethlisberger are exactly known for their flawless decision-making, yet they’ve both got more rings than Kelly, Esiason, and Peyton Manning put together.Report

  3. Avatar dhex says:

    i’ve long called political uh “fans” the sports bar; it’s people arguing passionately about the values and actions of other people who not only don’t know them, but can’t even give a fig whether they live or die.Report

  4. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    There is something to be said for “muddling through.” [A semi-famous poli-sci essay by Charles Lindblom.]

    The problem with exceptionally bright systems is that they take exceptionally bright people to run them. If you have superior athletes who also think quicker than the other side, you win, hands down. But as I recall, Phil Jackson and the Triangle have won zero championships without the exceptionally talented and bright Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, perhaps the best players of their generations aside from the system they were in.

    The Triangle has been tried in other scenarios: ex-Laker coach Kurt Rambis failed miserably with it with the Timberwolves. Not smart enough? Inferior athletes? Regardless, in the end, systems have only limited power divorced from the quality of who peoples them.

    The Caine Mutiny has a scene where they describe the painfully simple engine room as “designed by geniuses to be run by idiots.” I sometimes think of the American Founding that way: somehow we’ve muddled through this far, and come to think of it, beat the Japanese Empire with thousands of ships like the Caine and the idiots who ran her.

    [Great pic, Tod. Even Mrs. TVD remembers the Ickey Shuffle, an inspired piece of nonsense of the type that makes America what she is.]Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      The Caine Mutiny has a scene where they describe the painfully simple engine room as “designed by geniuses to be run by idiots.”

      Nice quote, but recall that it’s uttered by the least sympathetic character in the entire book, an extremely bright guy whose resentment at being treated like an idiot ruins a number of live.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Fred MacMurray less sympathetic than Humphrey Bogart?

        We would like you to start coming to Libertarian Meetings. We suspect you would fit in nicely.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Exactamundo again, Mr. Schilling: Keefer is exactly who Thomas Sowell’s “The Vision of the Anointed” is about:

        “In the anointed we find a whole class of supposedly ‘thinking people’ who do remarkably little thinking about substance and a great deal of verbal expression. In order that this relatively small group of people can believe themselves wiser and nobler than the common herd, we have adopted policies which impose heavy costs on millions of other human beings, not only in taxes, but also in lost jobs, social disintegration, and a loss of personal safety. Seldom have so few cost so much to so many.

        …always trying to impose their version of the Triangle on the American people.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Playing Devils A:

      But as I recall, Phil Jackson and the Triangle have won zero championships without the exceptionally talented and bright Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, perhaps the best players of their generations aside from the system they were in.

      True, but as I recall the level of success that anyone else was ever able to get out of those same two was significantly less. Especially Kobe and Shaq.

      The Triangle has been tried in other scenarios: ex-Laker coach Kurt Rambis failed miserably with it with the Timberwolves. Not smart enough? Inferior athletes? Regardless, in the end, systems have only limited power divorced from the quality of who peoples them.

      Also true. But a lot of other people coach poor teams (like the Wolves) to poor records (like the Wolves) using the standard strategies, and those strategies don’t get scrapped.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Tod, it’s not to say some systems aren’t better than others. Per political philosophy, it might be safer to say that systems should suit the personnel. You got a bunch of smart guys, run some no-huddle. The Eurostate might be perfect for Norway but not the US. Or Mexico.

        Per Sowell, this brings to mind the many failed coaches who were steeped in an offensive philosophy [ideology?] but never found good or smart enough athletes to people it. Nor did they adapt to the strengths and weaknesses of the talent at hand to maximize the results.

        I stipulate that all things being equal in athleticism, the smarter team mastering the more intricate system will tend to win.

        Then again, there’s good old-fashioned smashmouth football, against which the greatest genius will be run over by a bunch of idiots if they’re big enough and mean enough.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          “Per political philosophy, it might be safer to say that systems should suit the personnel. You got a bunch of smart guys, run some no-huddle.”

          Agreed. My point being that we never get to those discussions on any kind of meaningful level, because of the way we approach the game. Or maybe more specifically, the way that the machinery we have build deals with the game.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Mr. Kelly, the one constant is human nature. You construct the game of politics around that in the first place. At least this was Mr. Madison’s method. You do not construct a system a priori and hope you can find or create the people to fill it. This is the Vision of the Anointed, and its greatest flaw is that it doesn’t work.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              Why do you assume this? There are politics in the company that I work for, but we are able to make decisions based on non-tribal strategies for the good of the company. My wife and I don’t agree on everything, but we are able to assume that each comes from a place of wanting the relationship to succeed, and are able to have our marriage not be a series of He Said/She Said. Why can you and I, or you and Jesse, for example, do the same?

              In other words, is there any reason it cannot be collaborative rather than combative, at least to the point we are able to make all out other group dynamics?

              This is the question I am asking myself these days.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:

              Tom, if Madison had had that view of how to structure political structure over the long term (which I agree is ingenious), but rather than having stasis as his desired default output behavior for the system, he had instead had action in mind, how do you think the system he might have designed have been different? Or do you hold that the end of instituting a system for the long term and the end of enabling a system to produce action are mutually exclusive, or at least at opposing purposes?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Messrs. Kelly & Drew: Madison’s core premise is that human nature competes for power. Best to keep them competing—checks and balances—and resist investing it in too few hands. The division of powers between 3 branches [and the legislative split in two] is the start.

                It’s said [and I agree] that he favored a stronger central gov’t at first, but became more of a federalist after ratification. This of course would make sense, as federalism follows the decentralization principle as well. And his 1817 veto of a public works bill is on the grounds that carte blanche for any good idea ostensibly serving “the general welfare” would render the clauses enumerating and limiting the power of the central government “nugatory.”

                As for Tod’s challenge, one need only consult the Framing debates, where the Federalists give speech after speech assuring the populace that too much power is not being surrendered to the central gov’t. [The Anti-Federalists, of course were opposed for the reason as well. See also

                http://www.amazon.com/Ratification-People-Debate-Constitution-1787-1788/dp/0684868547

                where Pauline Maier declines to even use “anti-Federalist,” as pejorative and as a term written by the winners.]

                Keep in mind we shouldn’t even call it the Constitutional Convention, capital CC, because the delegates were sent only to modify the Articles of Confederation, not compose a constitution and new structure of government. When they all went home to sell it, Job One was to assure the people they hadn’t exceeded their authority [too much, because they did].

                In other words, is there any reason it cannot be collaborative rather than combative

                All successful enterprises begin collaboratively of course; the French Revolution was peachy at first, but then came the guillotine and eventually Napoleon.

                Fortunately Madison forsaw that all-for-one & one-for-all cannot be assumed in the long term, esp in the venal world of politics. To preserve it from the ditch of popular sentiment, we cannot eliminate the tension, the check-and-balance, of keeping the factions competing rather than conspiring together.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                While hat is both enlightening and somewhat pedantic at the same time, I’m pretty sure you didn’t answer my question. Which is okay.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Also, it bears repeating that the Federalists, aka the Framers of Our Republic , were flat-out lying to the people about the amount of power the words they were using to constitute the new Federal Government plainly on their face grant to that Government, a fact that was plain to see and was seen and frantically pointed out at the time by the not-Anti-Federalists.

                Our Founders were some wicked, tricky, hard-ass superbastatrds is what they were.Report

  5. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    To take a different, but somehwat related example, at least in spirit, I use to cover college soccer matches for student newspaper.

    Honestly, except in a few circumstances, I’ve rarely seen any kind of soccer that matches that same level of intensity. At the professional level things die down, they become more safe and cautious, and the fun filters out a bit as teams seek to stay on strategy and remain tactically impenetrable.

    But still, because soccer is so diverse at the international level, you get countries like Brazil and Argentina who play soccer with flare and energy, taking big risks and often reaping the rewards.

    Since the world system is so much more diverse, you get a bit more openess when it comes to coaching philosophies.

    With regard to the political, I think the closed-loop feeback of election and campaign tactics fit your sports model nicely. You have a punditry class and number of mostly older campaign trail journalists that will remark with certitude that such and such a tactic just doens’t work, or the electorate will only reward such and such. And as a result you get silly discussions that lead to inadquate predictions that expose a highly unsophisticated calculus.

    Mark Halperin is a great example. Read any of his books on political campaigning, and their riddled with historical analysis that, rather than trying to put forth a theory and seeing where it measures up and where it doesn’t, just adjusts the theory at every new data point until the distilled strategy is so convoluted and contradictory that the whole thing becomes a joke.

    I don’t listen to much sports radio or read the finer analysis, but any NFL commentary demonstrates a similar lack of imagination that doesn’t allow of the possibility that maybe something just didn’t work that time, but would have 3 times our of 5 on average.Report

  6. Avatar Steve S. says:

    Regarding the no-huddle, I think you have the cart before the horse. It’s something you might want to adopt if your offensive unit has a decided edge in the talent matchup. If you don’t have that edge it’s going to be more problematic. With a healthy Peyton Manning at QB, who has been at it for over a decade, it would make sense. If you followed the Seattle Seahawks, on the other hand, you would conclude that the more time the offensive unit stayed in the huddle the better.Report

  7. Avatar DarrenG says:

    But the question I find myself asking more and more these days is do they have to be?

    “Have to be?” Probably not, but I don’t think that’s a very useful question. Instead, I propose something more like “what changes to the current incentives system would have to be made in order for them not to be?”Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      I like that question you pose a lot, and it seems a necessary one to both ask and answer. But I think the first question is important to ask as well. The first post I ever wrote here (or anywhere, actually) talked about the potential virtue of moving to a results-oriented rather than a party-driven mindset, and overwhelmingly the response was “you can’t, it has to be the way it is now.” Not because they thought it was impossible, necessarily; also because that idea was not particularly popular. Without getting enough consensus on the first question, you can’t get to the second.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        In The Damned UTD, manager Brian Close takes over a championship team, challenging them to still win championships but without their cheating and dirty play.

        Close lasted 44 days in the job. This fits in here somewheres.Report

      • Avatar DarrenG says:

        I think answering my question would imply a definitive answer to yours.

        In the case of switching from a party-oriented system to a policy-oriented one like you (and Welch and Gillespie and many others) suggest, I don’t think the best answer is “we can’t because it’s unpopular,” but rather “we can’t because representative (small-r) republican democracy has structural incentives that heavily reward party politics over policy-based politics.”

        Your more recent question of “does politics have to be dominated by interconnected networks of change-resistant good ol’ boys?” can be looked at similarly, since there are some obvious incentives for both parties to defend the status quo and resist radical change.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          To some extent, isn’t it the case that getting something tdone in politics really is about insiders getting together, working out a deal behind closed doors, and then later explaining to their respective constituencies why the deal is a reasonable compromise?

          Without the insiders — very likely to be change-resistant good ol’ boys — that doesn’t get done and instead you get crowds of people in different tribes shouting past one another, stamping their feet in rage and frustration, and calling each other names?Report

  8. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    I know almost nothing about professional sports. I’m curious about this however:

    The primary reason I remember no one using the NHSO was the line “It’s not really football,” even as his or her team was really getting shellacked by it.

    Is it not apparent that this rhetoric is an extension of the football field? That is, it too is a way of playing the game?Report