Maybe you heard about Michael Sam's play last night? He sacked Johnny Manziel (twice!), during a preseason game. Thankfully there is video evidence.
Much like Henry Josey's shoe-less touchdown run vs the Patriots, this play reminded me of a similar play from last year. Mizzou faced off against Texas A&M.
FYI, Twitter, Michael Sam was credited with half a sack vs Manziel last year, before you'd heard of him.— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) August 24, 2014
A few minutes later, Michael Sam nearly got a full sack on Johnny Manziel, but the result of the play was actually a deep touchdown toss. Mizzou would go on to win 28 - 21.
Last night I was at a barbecue that started at 5pm. The first thing we discussed was what interesting football games were going to be on television. An acquaintance's immediate observation: "Oh - Browns vs Rams! Johnny Football vs Michael Sam. Do you get that channel?"
The answer came immediately - yes, and so we waited for the third quarter when Manziel would finally replace Brian Hoyer and lead the Brown's backups against the Ram's backups. During the excruciating first half, conversation naturally revolved around whether the Browns had mismanaged the quarter back battle and what significance, if any, there was in Michael Sam's sack of the Green Bay Packers' Matt Flynn the last week.
During this idle chatter, an idea sprang from the observation that my wife watches the drama of characters in sit-coms while I preferred to watch the drama of athletes in sports. My wife likes the shows she watches because the characters feel real and she likes seeing their stories play out with good guys getting happy endings and the bad guys getting their comeuppance. The outcome is dictated by the script and if you're paying close attention, you can usually tell what's going to happen to your favorite character. Meanwhile sports are real. There is no script that can possibly direct the movements and motives of all 22 simultaneous actors. Games are determined by the player's talent, preparation, and will to win, not some director deciding what should and shouldn't happen, implicitly making moral judgments about the way life is and should be. They are gladiators who, through natural selection, rise to the top. Narratives are built to explain why the winners are heroes and the losers had it coming. XKCD has a famous comic to this effect.
I watch football for the same reason my wife watches McLeod's Daughters, the desire to be entertained. I derive value from that entertainment because I see it as being the authentic. My wife derives value because it makes her feel happy. I find myself frustrated when she fast forwards through the sad or embarrassing parts because that remote control doesn't work on real life. She explains that she wants to escape reality, if only for a while.
We are both right.
TV shows are fictional and scripted, while sports, ostensibly, are not. You'll forgive me when I qualify that previous statement because heading into yesterday's slate of preseason games, the internet was abuzz after it noticed that Michael Sam was going to be playing versus Johnny Manziel. Two of college football's biggest stories were lining up opposite of each other in the NFL.
The story of Michael Sam's journey to become an openly gay NFL player lined up across from the legend of Johnny Football. First rounder vs Seventh rounder. Guaranteed job vs. fighting for his job. David vs. Goliath. The comparisons sprang easily to mind and transcended almost all barriers.
I shouted my joy, nearly waking a sleeping baby in the process. An ex-Mizzou guy, with everyone watching, had just hit Goliath in the eye, making the play everyone had tuned in to see. He'd done something Mizzou fandom would tell you not to expect. My phone was dying but I logged in briefly to tweet my appreciation.
perfect— #WᴇSᴏRᴀʜ (@FullbackU) August 24, 2014
Of course, Michael Sam vs. Johnny Manziel is not Good vs. Evil, no matter how they are characterized by the media or your office coworker. Michael Sam, despite being a great character in a great story, is a really just another guy applying for a job in a crowded field, facing competition that may be better qualified.
On Tuesday, August 26th, prior to 4pm ET, all NFL teams will be required to cut down their teams to 75 players. Four days later on Saturday, August 30th, before 4pm ET, teams will again need to cut down to the standard 53 man roster.
Before Mizzou finishes its first game of the 2014 season, the next episode of Michael Sam's story will begin. Burn the script Mike.