Jon Stewart. AP Photo
The Daily "Show"
One day after BARACK OBAMA became the first-ever Hawaiian-born President-elect, JON STEWART and his motley Comedy Central crew finally allowed themselves to mock the tired, media-spun narrative that The Daily Show would have trouble mining laughs "now that they don't have George W. to kick around anymore." What the MSM and its tea-bagging AM radio brethren failed to understand is that Stewart's program and its spin-off follow-up, The Colbert Report, are as much about satirizing politicos as satirizing the coverage of politicos. While the casual viewer might assume the overarching meme of those programs ping-pongs between two opposing, comedy-rich resources - "Republicans are nihilists" and "Democrats are feckless" - the truth is that the most dysfunctional group in the mix, the one that takes, and no doubt deserves, the biggest beating, is THE MEDIA. Sure, there's the occasional ANDERSON COOPER Haiti trip and the more than occasional fair and balanced exposé from rising star (and Patriots fan) RACHEL MADDOW, but newsmakers are, for the most part, wildly bad at what they do. Their reporting is often shallow, sensational-not-in-the-good-way and irresponsible to the point of being reckless. Seriously. They SUCK. They suck at their jobs. And, so, Stewart and Colbert, and their producers - many wisely poached from the editing lairs of The Onion - ream them for it, via biting satire, Monday through Thursday at 11 PM.
Obviously, the sports media sucking is a far less serious, less insidious, less destructive reality. (To be fair, the phrase "less pervasive" fits in that sentence, too, unless you're listening to the abomination that is WEEI's Dennis & Callahan show, but that's a rant for another day.) Just as Fox/MSNBC/CNN chase ratings like Meth-heads jones-ing for the latest buzz - The Balloon Boy Hoax! John Edwards' Love-Child! Minnesota Airport Bathroom Stalls! - so do the folks at NFL Network, sports talk radio and the hundreds of ESPNs that keep popping up, Starbucks-style, everywhere you turn. They veer from proclamation to declaration, armed with round tables and lists of "Best" this and "Worst" that and "All-Time" fill-in-the-blank. And why not? We like lists. We've done columns about "Top __ of the Decade!" They're fun. People like 'em. But at some point, the grown-ups need to step in and say..."WAIT!" And..."THERE'S MORE TO IT THAN THAT!" And..."For the love of God, STOP DECLARING STUFF!" Case in point...
"With a win on Sunday, PEYTON MANNING will establish himself as the Greatest Quarterback in the History of the Game." No, he won't; no, he didn't, and no, he wouldn't have, win or lose. Not yet. Down the road, he may, we wouldn't put it past him. Gun to our head, we'd say, "Best ever? Someday? Yeah, probably so." We get a lot of flack for trucking in that kind of Peyton Manning worship around here, but the fact is he's a lock Hall of Famer and the best QB in the league. Also a fact? He entered Super Bowl 44 just one game over .500 in his post-season career. He's lost in a lot of big spots, too often on his home turf and, with last week's defeat, now finds himself one aging, flu-ridden, second-half '06 Patriots defense from being his generation's DAN MARINO. (Not the worst label in the world, but not exactly what the Manning family's shooting for.)
Taking all of that into consideration - the excellent, the bad and the ugly - why was the sports media so poised to vault the guy over folks like JOE MONTANA (16-7 post-season record, 3 Super Bowl wins), TOM BRADY (14-4; 3 Super Bowl wins) and JOHN ELWAY (14-7; 2 Super Bowl wins)? For the same reason they are now shamelessly backtracking, suggesting Peyton has "blown" - or, at least, slowed down considerably - his chance at the title of best ever: They're lazy. They're sensational-not-in-the-good-way. And they're all about the here and now. Their default mode - oversimplify, under-complicate - may fit right in with our culture of "shiny object" meets "easily distracted, romping yellow lab," but it also tills the soil for groundless assumptions. Case in point...
"The Colts will win the Super Bowl because 'they have the Quarterback.'" Now, no one's saying the stats DREW BREES has put up compare historically to Peyton's astronomical numbers, but they sure as hell did this year - and favorably. 2009 saw the guy clock out with an NFL record 70.6% completion percentage and a passer rating nearly ten points higher than Manning's. The idea that the Colts QB was leagues ahead of his Who Dat counterpart was silly on its face, yet went largely unchallenged during the lead-up to the big game in Miami. Speaking of, given that the Dolphins passed on signing Brees back in 2006, 'phin fans must've been kicking themselves throughout the Super Bowl, when unbusied with cursing the names Saban and Culpepper. But back to the hacks in the world of infotainment...
From the moment TRACY PORTER high-stepped his clinching pick-six into the end zone, the ADHD-driven media has been frantically swerving into the other lane - one assumes their Aderall fell under the passenger seat - in praise of the *other * MVP. Now, like the juvenile twist-and-shouters so many of them seem to be, they're speed-skimming through their Thesauri, seeking fresh ways to declare the humble Saints QB "world's best good guy." (Our take? "Drew Brees: A real hockey player of a football player.")
Just as it is in "real" news, the sports media and their helter-skelter, exceptionalist coverage - piped over airwaves and/or through a series of tubes grandparents nationwide refer to as "the interwebs" - THIS is the true daily show. It is the near constant rush toward our inner Extremist, and away from perspective and vision, nuance and truth; it is the incessant need to be the first, or loudest, or most definitive, media member to plant Peyton's flag in the Moon dust of NFL history (and to just as quickly yank it up). It is, we guess, an understandable, if desperate, compulsion to witness history - or, rather, to seek it out - ever mindful of the pre-Nip Slip Janet Jackson song that rattles and hums in their every other soundbyte. (That goes for us, at times, and you too.) "What have you done for me lately?"
While we understand the draw of staking claim to The Next Big Thing, it brings to mind a startling, worrisome thought: That *Jersey Shore *ethic Out-Takes explored two weeks back, the one that has either infected or sprung from REX RYAN and Jets Nation...might it be contagious? Allow us to cite - one last time, we promise - Nancy Franklin's *New Yorker *review of MTV's hottest, messiest cast: "They know things for sure, then those things blow up in their faces, then they hate those things and take about three seconds to find new things to believe in." No wonder Snooki and the Gang have made such a splash with the media. They're all chillin' in the hot tub together.
~ Guess Trash-Talking TONY DUNGY gets why he used to keep his mouth shut back in the day. Between "I'll be shocked" if the Colts lose and forecasting a "ho hum" Indy victory, Peyton's old HC made like a Goodfellas MORRIE (minus the bad hairpiece) and fired up the Saints, to boot. Who knew Father Teresa would make more noise than Reggie Wayne during Super Bowl week?
~ No word yet as to whether the rights holders to the phrase "hit him in the bread basket" will be pursuing legal action against presumably soon-to-be-ex-Colt HANK "hands team" BASKETT. Meanwhile, SEAN PAYTON must've sent a gift bag thank you for saving him from the second-guessers, given that gutsy, aggressive, "we love it, but was it *actually * a good move?" onside kick.
~ In a related story, Patriots fans can now officially drop Baskett from the list of "Wide Receivers we could've drafted instead of CHAD JACKSON, dammit!" That leaves GREG JENNINGS, MARQUES COLSTON, BRANDON MARSHALL and JASON AVANT. (At least.)
~ Nice to see outgoing V.P. of Officiating MIKE PEREIRA let the rest of the world in on the worst-kept secret in the NFL: BILL POLIAN has undue influence on the Competition Committee and pushes through rules that make little sense outside of specifically helping the team who signs his paychecks. Oh, if only we'd been within ear-shot of Po-lyin' at Peyton's "Favre Moment..."
~ Cardinals QB KURT WARNER went out the right way. It's hard to believe, when you think back to what we all considered his swan song, playing second fiddle to ELI of the Meadowlands, but the last few seasons likely cemented the ex-Ram as a slam dunk for Canton. That "night-shift stock-boy in the grocery store" bit got a little stale after awhile, but the context in which it sets the legend of a someday Hall of Famer gives it a renewed sense of drama. Helluva story, huh, Chip?
~ Kudos to old friends HEATH EVANS, RANDALL GAY, DAVE THOMAS (not the Wendy's one) and, most of all, once and always Midshipman KYLE ECKEL. A couple years late, but way to bring that trophy home, fellas. If you were gonna do it for anyone else, anywhere else, we'll take the waterlogged, hardscrabble populace of the Big Easy, especially with a Navy man standing by.
As for the rest of the NFL's 32, here endeth the season, regular and post-. An ending not as good as some, but better than most, and the best since an upstart team from Foxboro kicked off a run for the ages, and for a Dynasty, amidst swirling flurries on a January night when a sunny kid from No-Cal fought his way through the snow; a descendent of Custer kicked a little more than a little ass, and a stony-faced son of Navy came through at a time when a fan-base - and a country - yearned for the triumph of Patriots.
God bless America. Bring on the draft.
John Cockrell is a screenwriter, whose other work has run the gamut from "Sesame Street Parents Magazine" to Playboy TV's "The Weekend Flash." (He figures everything else is pretty much in-between.)