Teams That Can Be Allowed To Use The Title “World Champions”

I can’t stand the term “World Champions” for Super Bowl winners. I tweeted as much after Jim Harbaugh’s petulant hissy fit the Ravens hoisted the Lombardi. The game is played by club teams playing only in America (and Toronto, if you count the Bills as an NFL franchise). Nearly all the players come from America or American territories. Dubbing the victors “World Champs” is basically a manifestation of this map.

Instead, I propose a list of teams and organizations that can be properly dubbed “World Champs,” as well as a criteria for further selection:

1) League/tournament is international (i.e, not the English Premiership – foreign players playing for the English title doesn’t count. Sorry Mr. Dempsey).

2) Team competes primarily against global opposition.

3) Cannot be named North Korea or Lance Armstrong.

So, here’s the initial list. Add more as you see fit.

FIFA World Cup Champions: Obvious inclusion is obvious

UEFA Champions League Champions: Club teams, but they’re not limited to playing their own national league. Subject to verification of match-fixing.

FIBA World Cup Champions: Apparently basketball has one too?

ICC Cricket World Cup Champions: Okay, one more rule: if your tournament is named “World Cup,” you’re probably okay.

World Baseball Classic Champions: You’re welcome, Japan.

Little League World Series Champions: Minor rant: I’ve never seen a Saudi kid on the Saudi Arabian team. Can’t they be renamed AramCo?

Olympic Medal Count Winners: Except North Korea. Because the 3,000 Gold’s, 2,175 Silver’s and 3 Bronze medals didn’t actually happen. Also wary of automatically including China, without receipt of female gymnasts birth certificates.

America: Back-to-back World War champs. Three-peat, for those of you adding the Cold War.

We’re Not Idiots, Roger.

There are any number of avenues the NFL could have taken today to salvage a shred of integrity. A formal apology to 1265 Lombardi. An immediate restart of negotiations with the locked-out officials. A change to the game’s ruling, be it a tie, a 2-team win, or stricken from the record. Instead, they chose to treat their fans like morons. Their explanation of the final play in the instantly infamous Packers-Golden Tate is A Lying Donut Thief-Seahawks game was akin to holding a drawing of a circle and insisting it has 3 sides and two 60 degree angles. That talking-down-to-your-fans won’t cost them this year, Jerry Jones will sit high and pretty with his personal glasses wiper. It won’t cost them next year, Goodell will get his overseas games and TV revenue. A so-called boycott won’t work, this league is too exciting for everybody to quit cold-turkey, and the league knows it.

But treating your fans like idiots is a dangerous precedent that if not stopped, will eventually put the NFL alongside boxing as American pastimes that alienated their followers.

The NFL is king right now in American sports, bar none. Goodell has a bit of the imperialist in him as well, constantly talking of expanding the game overseas. But why is the NFL so popular? A few reasons:

1. The pageantry. Call it what you want, there’s more pomp and circumstance for an NFL Sunday than there is for most visits from foreign heads of state.

2. The tradition. This league is rich in history and fable. It gives new fans a plethora of stories to dive into and soak up, while longtime followers can sit back and reminisce – or repress, depending on the memory. (Sidenote: It’s the seamless integration of these two points that showcased Steve Sabol’s genius. His work was integral to the league’s popularity, and he will be sorely missed).

3. The (image of) a near-flawless league and product on the field. There is no substitute for this one, and that’s what the league has set course to lose.

The NHL subjects its fans to decade annual lockouts. The NBA has only recently recovered from a post-Jordan lack of interest, just went through a shortened-season, and I believe is turning into a super-club league like English or Spanish soccer. Oh, and that whole, Tim Donaghy thing too. MLB – well, do we have to get into how badly the steroid era tarnished the *first* American pastime? A pastime is not forever, ladies and gentlemen.

By contrast, the NFL is seen as a product that is fair. A league whose contests’ are decided fairly and with integrity. Parity rules the day, though there is always room for sustained success. An organization that weathered a work stoppage, but returned before missing any games of importance. A league that treats its fans to a drama without equal. A pastime, league, sport, that is fair to it’s fans.

The league, the very shield that Goodell polishes every night with spit and a Brillo pad, threatens to trample that image with the ref lockout and insistence on using replacement officials. The zebra that made the call last night was fired from the Lingerie Football League for incompetence. Let that sink in. Sure, the officials and league are at an impasse. And you let officials not qualified to call a high school game decide the fate of a PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL GAME?!  Flat out, that is an irresponsible way to run your company. They know it, we know it.

Now, the replacement refs are in a tough spot. They are out of their league (ba-dum chishh) and need help. Alter the review rules so that there’s an added check on these guys. Let some penalties be temporarily challenged by coaches. Do something to compensate for your pathetic lack of foresight that has damaged the competitive balance of your sport.

And then, to make matters worse, don’t come out with a statement that essentially reads: “You’re all wrong. Everything is fine. Tovarisch Goodell is benign and all will be okay. You will obey.”

You won’t lose fans over this, NFL. Treat us like the paupers you think we are, but if you keep it up, you’ll find your throne can get very, very uncomfortable.

Ramadan, Religion and Culture

“You fasting?”

That’s been a common question between some of my friends and I in the past month, as we try to coordinate the ne’er-do-well nights of regular 20-somethings. College graduates or college seniors, our respective families have given us varying levels of autonomy when it comes to fasting during Ramadan. A little background: all of us are children of Pakistani parents who either had us in the U.S, or brought us here early in our childhood.

(Brief primer: Ramadan is the holy month of fasting in Islam. Each day, observant Muslims do not eat or drink from sunup to sundown, and also refrain from vice throughout the month. In some primarily Islamic countries, businesses, schools, and official offices adjust their hours to accommodate the fasts).

I am not fasting. I haven’t since high school. It’s a personal choice tied to my lack of religious beliefs, Islamic or otherwise. And while none of them are religious by any means, a few of my close friends do fast.

Now certainly, there are those who fast to submit to God’s will as they see fit. But people matching that description are lacking in my own little social circle. That got me wondering, why do otherwise non-religious people fast? For that matter – why did I ever fast? I was never religious. I attended Sunday school under protest, and only on the promise of a PlayStation upon completion. Most of my time was spent arguing with the teacher over why I couldn’t read the Qur’an in English: “I can’t understand Arabic, why do I have to make the sounds to act like I’m reading it?”

That line of reasoning carried on through college (with the requisite late-night philosophy chats with friends and roommates). I have trouble calling myself a follower of any religion. I’m invariably put in the “Muslim” category because of my name, despite my affinity for Kentucky bourbon and hoppy IPA’s. (Sidenote: Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA, brewed in Aaron Rodgers’ hometown of Chico. Frakking delicious).

When I did fast, it was never to please God, or be a good Muslim, or any other metaphysical promise. My grandparents and various aunts and uncles would opine how God watches over those who fast…and then the Packers gave up 4th-and-26, so clearly God was busy or had a dinner to attend. (It’s a joke, religious folks). Quite simply, fasting was easy. Ramadan was in the winter when I fasted. (The usage of Islam’s lunar calendar still baffles me). That meant sunup was only a bit before regular breakfast time. The day consisted of a bit of thirst and just a few hunger pangs before I could eat sometime around 5 PM. Additionally, there was the unspoken competition. You didn’t want to be the one kid not tough enough to keep the fasts. Last but not least, there was an implied promise of better gifts at Eid, the holiday following Ramadan. Money money moneeyyyyy…monneeyyyy.

I’m fortunate to have parents that never force-fed me religion. They encouraged me to fast, but also recognized the difference of fasting in the U.S versus the fasting of their childhoods in Pakistan. Their schooling basically took a month off – extra hours to sleep, fewer hours in the classroom. Even if they got exasperated that I rarely (if ever) prayed, they never forced me to fast or gave me a spiel about my eternal soul being damned to hell if I didn’t abstain from Oreos for a day.

I’m not saying that 20-somethings that fast do so out of fear of their parents; we’re a little too old to be grounded. Rather, dogma has laced into culture. Even if you smoke, drink, and enjoy pepperoni pizza, there is a cloud of community expectation that you’ll fast and put on your best “good-boy” routine in front of the community. To those that sincerely fast, to experience what the less fortunate go through daily: respect. Hunger and starvation are among the cruelest things a person can go through, and it’s embarrassing to humanity that they still exist. One the other hand, I think there’s a few traces of “Catholic guilt” inside our suburban religious culture, that fasting is a mandatory ritual even if you’re an otherwise sinning heathen. It starts with the promise of gifts and blessings at a young age, merges with community relationships in the formative years, and solidifies into a cultural have-to-do in adulthood – even if God is normally the last thing on your mind. And this type of cultural occurrence pops up beyond fasting, too. I recall the community dinner parties filled with semi-playful “How come you’re not wearing your best shalwar-kameez? It’s Ramadan, look nice” as if the month dictates vanity to be a primary point of focus.

A real study on the observance of Ramadan in different countries would be fascinating, though I admittedly haven’t looked for one. Culture alters the flavor of religion from region to region, country to country. And while I do not fast, and indeed struggle with my own religious identity, I’m confident the ideals of Ramadan might vary depending on where it’s being observed.

How To Remake The “Red Dawn” Remake

Almost 3 years ago a remake of the jingoistic classic movie “Red Dawn” was announced. MGM’s financial difficulties – and a complete change in the movie’s villains to appease the Chinese market – pushed the film’s release all the way back to Thanksgiving 2012. (Or so it stands right now. Maybe Kim Jong-un will open up the DPRK in the next 3 months, I don’t know).

Without overanalyzing the trailer, let’s hit the high (low?) points: 1) Why would you take out CENTCOM to invade the continental United States; 2) Hey Adrianne Palicki! Any word from Riggins or is he still at sea playing board games?

It’s clear MGM is just putting on it’s best Bill O’Reilly “FUCK IT!” face and banking on the film’s absurdity. But could it be more ridiculous – and by extension, better? Yes. Yes it could. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Red Dawn: The Avengers.

Hemsworth reveals himself as Thor halfway through the movie. Finding the DPRK’s forces too overwhelming to deal with singlehandedly, (shut up, just go with this) Captain America shows up. The Wolverines are heartened by the arrival of a real American hero and victory is assured, but…

SMASH-CUT TO: An advancing force of North Korean armor, augmented by multiple Iron Man suits. Tony Stark, kidnapped by Kim Jong-un’s own two hands, looks on in horror as his technology is used against his country. Also, JARVIS now speaks Korean. (We can get Paul Bettany to take language classes).

Hulk, Bourne Junior Ryan Lochte Hawkeye and Black Widow show up, determined to rescue Stark. Stark, never content to just sit around and let a movie not focus around him, is covertly creating a new, better Iron Man suit right under Kim Jong-un’s nose. In the process, the reassembled Avengers fight off the Red threat and the Wolverines go back to playing Call of Duty.

Now, that might seem convoluted and completely absurd. It is. It took about 10 minutes to write, but that’s actually double the time it took to write the actual remake. (Asian communists invade; recently returned veteran with a little brother leads young resistance; some resistance fighters are babes; victory; end).

And if this isn’t enough to whet MGM’s appetite, they could just re-boot the franchise around War Plan Red. “Red Dawn: Border Patrol. Coming July 2013 2014 2015 Straight to YouTube.”

On Bloomberg’s Soda “Ban”

With sincere apologies to Martin Niemöller….

First they came for the Red Bull,

and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t drink Red Bull.

Then they came for the Four Loko,

and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t drink Four Loko. 

Then they came for the soda,

and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t drink soda.

 Then they came for my coffee

and there was no one left to speak out for my coffee.

Horribly written sarcastic poems aside and sorry to mislead you, but we aren’t entering a nutritional police state. Relax.

Let’s start with some facts. It’s not a “ban” on soda, just a limit on the portion size to 16 ounces. No more behemoth Big Gulps. This isn’t that surprising, coming from Bloomberg. He’s the mayor that banned public smoking, crusaded against trans fats, and mandated calorie counts on restaurant menus. Looking back, these are all sensible, healthy decisions.

Compare European portion sizes to American – soda or otherwise – and it’s not hard to see why we have an obesity epidemic. A large part of me supports Bloomberg’s measure. Name a health benefit to soda. Go on, I’ll wait. The caffeine jolt, maybe, but by and large it’s processed sugar, empty calories, and/or artificial sweeteners. Our obesity and nutrition-related illness rates are staggering. Half the world starves and we literally eat ourselves to death. The amount of sugar consumed in our society is not healthy.

But is beer healthy? How about bourbon? The limit on buying those is how friendly you get with the bartender. But we also have a self-imposed limit: “too much of anything will kill you.” For some reason, too many Americans don’t know or have forgotten that this applies to soda as well. It might not kill you by blood alcohol content, but drink enough and your health will suffer.

Now, I don’t believe this is some plunge into food fascism. Bloomberg isn’t going to wake up and ban Fruit Stripe Gum because it’s neither fruity nor passable as “gum.” It’s a well-meaning measure that misses the mark and will be (somewhat rightfully) lampooned by the public. It comes off as Big Brotherish, Big Government-ish, and very “daddy said I can’t have soda at night because I get hyper.”

Instead, there should be a stronger effort from public health groups to highlight sugar’s health effects. Give Bloomberg credit for giving a jolt to the public’s “sugar awareness,” so to speak. But don’t limit public choice with such an impotent measure; educate the public on what too much sugar means. Diabetes and obesity, for starters. This isn’t just soda, it’s the ridiculous amounts of processed sugar in too many of our foods. And when I say “impotent measure”, I mean it. Can’t buy a 32 oz soda anymore? Watch this Mr. Mayor…TWO 16 OUNCE BOTTLES BOUGHT AT THE SAME TIME. UP NEXT I INVENT THE WHEEL. The impulse-buy soda drinkers aren’t going to drink less soda because you made it harder to buy. I have a hard time believing a limit on the size of the soda bought at public venues will do anything substantial for public health.

Put another way – I can still buy a carton of cigarettes, heavily taxed and (rightfully) laced with warning labels, but I can’t buy a big soda to sip mindlessley while I watch superheroes slug it out at the movies?

Good effort, Bloomberg. But try again.

15 Favorite Packers From The Past 15 Years

As of this writing, there are 96 days till Kickoff. Not that I’m itching for football or anything. In the meantime, why not look back at some Green and Gold favorites? In no particular order…

1) Aaron Rodgers, QB – His rise to prominence is well-known. But he makes this list for his friendly mutton chops and affinity for Civil War uniforms.

2) Donald Driver, Dance Master WR - The Packer’s Packer and perennial fan favorite, DD was already a dancing star before bringing home the Mirror Ball Trophy.

3) Charles Woodson, Defender - He’s not limited by a position. He’s a cover corner. He’s a safety. He’s a blitzing linebacker covering a tight end punching the ball out of a receiver’s hands. He’s a captain. He’s a philanthropist. He’s a man of wine. He is the most interesting defender in the world.

4) Kabeer Gbaja-BiamilaDE - It’s with no small amount of pride that I can say I know how to spell KGB’s name without Googling. Why? Because his name was seemingly called at least 3 sacks a game, that’s why.

5) LeRoy Butler, SS - The man who made #36, there’s no leap without LeRoy. Must be something about the name “LeRoy” that makes you want to just jump in headfirst. #LeeerroyyyJeeenkiiiins

6) Ahman Green, RB - Batman was an absolute arm-sleeve clad speedy beast. Throw in his recent comments on gay and lesbian issues in sports, and he’s a shoo-in for the list.

7) Aaron Kampman, DE - The quintessential high-motor/high-effort/over-achiever/obligatory-white-defensive-end-stereotype on the field. And by all accounts, a phenomenal human being off it. In case you forgot, he’s been in Jacksonville the last few years. And in case you forgot, Jacksonville, you have a football team.

8) Mike McKenzie, CB - Laid the foundation for droves of successful, dredlocked defensive backs in Green Bay. (Did Joey Thomas have dreds? Did Ahmad Carroll? I rest my case).

9) Al Harris, CB - He “came out the womb bumpin and running.” He turned Matt Hasselbeck into a prophet. Wouldn’t you love to plug in-his-prime Harris into the current defense?

10) William Henderson, FB - With apologies to his few successors, maybe the last pure Packer fullback I’ll remember. I still get confused seeing #33 (now Brandon Saine) carry the rock.

11) Nick Collins, S - I’m only starting to get over my depression that Collins’ Packer career – if not career in general – is over far too soon. That said, very grateful he is able to walk away from the game. Keyword, walk.

12) Chad Clifton, T - I’m the only one that thinks this: he looks like Louie Anderson. I’m sure Cliffy disagrees.

13) Dorsey Levens, RB - I credit Dorsey for giving me an appreciation for the ground game. It was a way to gain yards without being terrified of an interception. Looking forward to his documentary on concussions in the NFL.

14) Gilbert Brown, mass of humanity NT - The Gravedigger. And by the looks of it, the inspiration for the players in BackbreakerNote: To aid in America’s War on Obesity I will not link to the Gilbert Burger. Though I really want one.

15) Greeeeeeeeg Jeeeeniiiings, Madden character WR –  Video games aside, he’s the primary deep threat for an offense that will threaten the record books again.

There you have it, 15 from the last decade and a half-ish. Who are some of your favorites?

Legen – wait for it – meh.

Note: I waited as long as possible to write anything on that dude that wore #4 and threw touchdowns and picks (and picks for touchdowns) like his job. With any luck, it’s the last piece I’ll write on him. Also, CheeseheadTV’s Brian Carriveau wrote a far clearer piece on his thoughts regarding Favre here.

To steal Al Harris’s favorite phrase, “It is what it is.”

That’s my response to Favre. Anything Favre. From “What do you think of him now?” to “Do you think the team should retire his number?” – he is what he is, and I don’t care. This isn’t a question of mending fences or glossing over his divorce from the organization. It’s an acceptance that the man that left the Packers was not the legend I thought him to be, and no longer worthy of an emotion greater than “meh.”

It’s easy to go through the years and chart how I viewed Favre. In the 90s, he was a superstar. Our superstar. He was the infallible sports hero. I wore his jersey when we presented biographies in 4th grade, resplendent green and gold with the Starter logo under the shoulder stripes.

I’d like to say I matured as a teen and dropped the pseudo idol worship, but that’s not true. The up-and-down early 2000′s only strengthened the infallibility complex. Bad pass? Receiver’s fault. Sacked? Bad protection. Throw 6 picks in St. Louis? Bad gameplan. Conversely: throw 4 touchdown’s after his father’s death? Legend. 25 yard laser to Corey Bradford to beat Minnesota? Unbeatable. Never, ever, ever miss a game? Superhero.

It’s that can’t-do-no-wrong that made 2009 – not even the summer of 2008 – so absolutely gut-wrenching. I struggled with the summer of 2008, but in the pre-Twitter days it was easier to pick-and-choose what I saw in sports news. I rationalized his departure to the Jets as the obligatory Hall of Fame quarterback swan song: Unitas with the Chargers, Montana with the Chiefs, etc.

But the Vikings? Minnesota? Those Vikings? In a dome, which used to be his only kryptonite? The same place which he once spoke about with Dan Patrick, “When we lose in Minnesota, I cry all the way home.”

I’ll skip over describing the palpable hatred I know I shared with several other Packer fans. And please, spare me the half-Packer, half-Viking jerseys. Those belong in Dante’s Ninth Circle.

This is all without even mentioning Favre’s well-documented sexting scandal. The revelations of his personal shortcomings threw kerosene on the already raging “he’s-a-treacherous-bastard” fire. That said, there is far more to his personal life that I disregarded in earlier years – good and bad – before I recognized football players were actually people too. (#ChildhoodFootballFanProblems). More than anything, the scandal cemented my realization that I’d been blinded by adoration for so many years.

Heroes aren’t supposed to fall. Legends are supposed to be infallible. The fall of his infallibility was tougher to take than the sight of a purple #4 jersey.

So while I don’t want the team to retire his number, I don’t really care if they do. It won’t be anything I’ll protest over. Receiving an awkward, lukewarm, welcome-back standing ovation at Lambeau won’t suddenly wash away the post-Green Bay years. He was a phenomenal player, with a toughness that I believe will never be seen again. I even made peace with the litany of interceptions. There’s some truth to the live-by-the-gun-die-by-the-gun mentality – there’s no way I have a memory of Corey Bradford otherwise.

But while I can admire his on-field greatness and reminisce about what I thought was legend, I cannot disregard Favre, the vindictive Viking, Favre, the treacherous texter, or Favre, the returned retiree.

The organization can do what they like. Retire his number or expunge all record of him, 1984 style. There’s a division title to defend and Super Bowls to win. I’ll be over here putting my emotions into things that I actually care about, like the pass rush and who wins the 5th WR spot.

He is what he is, man.