Wednesday, August 10, 2011


This is comix week and also "anthropology of sports" so I'm giving you a piece about the various ways that sport or art by committee can be done. We'll see if it works out. Catch you after the jump.

Joan Didion has a bit in (I think) The Year of Magical Thinking about having dinner with a bunch of writers and an actress, the situation causing her to muse on the lack of complete control that one has as an actor, in comparison to the writer. Or rather maybe it was writers, directors, and the actress. To make the comparison true, as far as movies go, we have to call it the director, as a screenwriter has very little actual impact on the final piece. One of the interesting bits about comics for me is the usual collaborative process. Lately I've been reading both comic books and a bit about comic books and it's sort of sparked the memory of when this was the one thing I was really into. The most interesting part for me is not so much the accepted hierarchy (writer>penciller>inker>colorist...why, one asks?), but rather the subversion of it that appears so regularly in letters' columns: people writing in to applaud the work of the inker or the colorist... I'm left feeling as if I'm watching a symphony, since I really don't know what music is and what makes it good, other than a sort of feeling I get when I like it.

Now I have a few illustrators that I really do enjoy: Bill Sienkiewicz, Duncan Fegredo, Dave McKean basically anyone who's doing at least somewhat nontraditional comics work. One wonders if this could be the writer, though, choosing how a story progresses. So I have to say "I have a few illustrators whose art I really do enjoy" because one could argue it's not them making the choices. More traditional comics art I'm fond of comes from Michael Zulli or Mark Buckingham... The mystery of all this reminds me of the same sorts of questions that boil up and out of watching a sport I'm not horribly familiar with.

Football has been with me for so long that I can't remember, and baseball is an old friend that I've gotten quite acquainted with since 2008, but basketball is still a new thing. What interests me the most about the sport is conceptual. The hierarchy that's so standard in baseball or football (and as mentioned above, in comics), does not exist in basketball. Apparently the "point guard" is the "quarterback" of the sport, but the positions themselves are surprisingly sketchy. It seems like every big name from LeBron James to Dirk Nowitzki is somehow a bad fit for their particular position; the impact of this is not usually negative, but is perplexing. Perplexing to the extent that questions come up to what actual positions players play on a game by game basis. It's all fun for me, the way that every team might have a Derrick Rose captain-like player, but isn't dominated by the same position league-wide.

The exact opposite occurs in football where every new year is granted the supposedly new title of "the year of the quarterback." Personally, I am sick of the continuously exaggerated importance of what is the most important position in the sport. Andrew Hudgins writes in a poetry review that the worst thing you can do to a poet is to exaggerate his (or hers, but the review was about a man) talents and I think the same can be said for a sporting position and its importance. I mean, the QB is important but DeSean Jackson or Larry Fitzgerald can and should be dominant with only an average passer to get them the ball. Running backs like LaDainian Tomlinson of years past or Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson in recent years only rely on the quarterback to hand them the ball. You can even break that down further; consider the success of the wildcat in the past few years, especially that fateful day that the Dolphins stomped the Patriots with it in 2008.

As a Floridian football fan, I took interest in two trends that I saw as an alternative to the growing dominance of the quarterback--which I feel has reached the height that pundits speak of the position as if it is the only important one out there--in the past year; slowly I also watched them die.

Cadillac Williams is the BJ Upton of Tampa's football team, a player who showed immense amounts of potential and never really lived up to it, although for Williams his chances were plagued by injuries. (When BJ hopefully gets traded in the off-season, as it would be likely good for all involved, then both players will have even more in common, being formerly of a Tampa team.) Last season, however, as Josh Freeman continued his rise to greatness, I was interested to see Cadillac playing a new role in the game, not only during the plays where he was just as likely to put down some dominant blocks for his quarterback as to rush with the ball, but during play-calling, where he himself appeared to be involved in getting everyone on the same page. I was interested in this development, someone other than the quarterback functionally at least academically as the same position. Once the ball was snapped things would change, but before then he could have been Freeman it seemed. It's an arbitrary decision, ultimately, to have the quarterback be the offensive brain on the field that leads the body of organs that is the rest of the team. Consider even the defense, where (at least I think) it's all different positions team-by-team that hold the helmet with the speaker in it.

The Florida Gators also used an interesting set-up for a sport so led by the quarterback. Jordan Reed, listed as a tight end, featured perhaps the most productively as quarterback, while John Brantley, the supposed starter at the beginning of the year, was put through the ringer, trading places with Reed and another surprise fit in Trey Burton. Brantley was put in in one case on a third down play after sitting out for the whole series and he did what you'd expect him to do, he threw a pick. But I blame most of this on the abysmal job done by offensive coordinator Steve Addazio. What interested me most was the parts played by the quarterbacks whenever more than one would be on the field. In one case, Burton's job was to watch the play clock, while I believe it was Brantley was in to take the hike. This sort of mind-splitting is a potential future to the game that has been completely swept away by everyone and their brother on ESPN saying that the quarterback is simply going to become a more prominent position.

I think now of Aristotle saying that "he who is to be a good ruler must first have been ruled." I'm not sure the order is overly important but I do think work on either side of the coin is helpful, and enjoyable. Trent Reznor's comments on creating soundtracks for David Fincher go in that direction. Sure, we hate our bosses, but occasionally having someone tell you what to do can be a good thing.

So I got to thinking that what football needs is those comic book fans who write in and talk about how good the inking is, how important the job of the colorist is, how great a job the letterer is doing. Do we really need retired defensive ends bragging about how important the quarterback is now and soon will be?

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