The Green Bay Packers and Settlers of Catan

As the Green Bay Packers take on the Seattle Seahawks in tomorrow’s NFC Championship game, I found this story interesting about how part of the team spends its time playing Settlers of Catan:

There may not be a more unusual bonding tradition in the NFL than the gang of Packers who get together regularly to play a boardgame called “Settlers of Catan.” For the past two months, it’s been the talk of the lockerroom. The number of players that have devoted a long night to the game is in the double-digits—including most of the team’s starting offensive line, among others. And don’t let the words “board game” fool you, this is not Candy Land.

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On any day in Green Bay’s locker room, you can find starting tackle David Bakhtiari, who introduced the game to the team, rounding up players for a Settlers get-together that night—and there’s no shortage of willing participants. But players may not know what they are in for. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn said he was interested in the game because it was “a nonviolent version of Risk,” referring to Parker Brothers’ notoriously lengthy game of world domination. But Flynn said the players take it so seriously that when he stopped by to play for the first time after a win last month, he was shocked by what happened when he attempted to turn on some celebratory music.

I visited Green Bay in December and it is true what they say: there isn’t much to do in the city when it gets too cold.

A Brief History of Announcers Pronouncing “GOOOOOAL”

I love watching the football highlights on Univision because of the spirit of its announcers. They call a goal with passion and personality. The jubilance that expands a commentator’s call of “goal” to fill five, six, or perhaps 10 seconds of time seems universal, but there is regional variation. Different languages play a part, but so do regional sensibilities and the spirit of individual announcers. The New York Times provides a sample in this interactive.

The related article, “A Chorus of ‘Gooooool’, The Siren Song of Soccer” is also great:

Fans scream goal; announcers swear that they sing it. Galvão Bueno, one of the best-known working sportscasters in Brazil, compared it to “a tenor’s high C,” one of the most challenging notes the tenor’s voice can carry.

“It’s your crowning achievement,” said Bueno, who is working his 10th World Cup narrating the games, mostly for Rede Globo, Brazil’s largest television network. “Or your moment of defeat.”

This is very interesting and surprising for the uninitiated:

Once an anomaly, the skill [of goooooal calling] has since become a requirement. Among sportscasters, the verdict is unanimous: There is no future in sports radio for announcers who do not know how to bellow an impressive, long and loud cry of “gol.” So they work at it daily, in much the same way that classical singers do before a big performance.

What it Takes to Air a Football Game on FOX

Writing in The Verge, David Pierce traces what it takes for FOX to air a football game on a given Sunday. FOX is the network broadcasting the Super Bowl in 2014, so every game is essentially a preparation for the team that brings us close to the action on our televisions:

It starts at 6AM on Saturday, in the cold, dark Foxboro morning, as the Fox team shows up to unload three 53-foot trucks. Stadiums don’t have much in the way of built-in A / V equipment, so Fox (and every other network) carries everything the crew will need for the weekend inside those trucks — the show has to be built and broken down every weekend. This Saturday, it has to be even faster: there’s a college football game at 4PM.

Kevin Callahan, Fox’s director of technical operations, estimates Fox credentialed between 150 and 200 people for the weekend, from Troy Aikman and director Rich Russo to runners and microphone holders. The network brings in about $25 million worth of equipment, with thousands of individual parts. (Callahan is reluctant to even guess at the number: “It depends on how small you want to get,” he says. “I mean, the production switcher alone has 1,000 buttons on it.”) Callahan and his crew have to wire the entire stadium, rig up cameras and audio, and make sure hundreds of different parts are able to connect to each other. “This is actually a very well-oiled machine,” he says. “The mobile units that we’re using here were designed in 2005 and 2006 — at the time they were eight years ahead of their time.”

In one truck, graphics and production. In another, 20 feet away in the concrete garage underneath the stands, replay and audio. Russo estimates he has 15 cameras and 13 tape machines this week, capturing and replaying angles from all over the stadium — there’s even a helicopter flying around shooting from above. The graphics team, eight or so young guys in polo shirts, is preparing more than 1,000 graphics, with every record or outcome accounted for. Rich Russo and producer Richie Zyontz talk to everyone through speakers and headsets, voicing their constant chatter to the 150-member Fox crew throughout the weekend. Colby Bourgeios, the team’s technical director, sits at his giant switcher ready to put any camera, any person, any replay on TV with the press of one of a thousand buttons. Audio consultant Fred Aldous watches and listens on his own console, making sure everything sounds as good as it looks — in stereo and 5.1-channel surround sound.

Eventually, nearly everyone says, you just learn to do it by feel.

This bit on 4K television was interesting:

Fox has been using 4K cameras for three years, but not to broadcast the game, which the crew says would be pointless given current bandwidth and TV technology. It’s all about replay. “We can do things like zoom in, look at a guy’s foot… we can see precisely a nice, solid foot, and a line right there, and know that the guy is in,” says Colby Bourgeios, Fox’s technical director. This year is about fine-tuning — finding the right camera, the right lens, the right capture and extraction devices. But even when 4K works convincingly, Callahan says, “we need it to be the first or second replay. If we were to sit there and have a 4K replay that we could show two plays later… and that would have reversed the official’s call, well, that’s awful.” He won’t add anything to the Fox broadcast that will slow it down, or impede it in any way.

Good read if you’re into football and/or sports.

The Rise of the One-Day Contract in Sports

What do Donovan McNabb, Jason Elam, and Hideki Matsui have in common, besides being professional athletes? As this story explains, they’re part of a growing number of players who have signed a one-day contract, typically to close out their careers:

The one-day contract has become a rite of passage for the modern athlete — a select few, anyway — before he retreats from the spotlight. Matsui, a former outfielder who signed his one-day deal Sunday at Yankee Stadium, was treated to an pregame ceremony behind home plate. In his final capacity as a team employee, he was responsible only for throwing out the first pitch. He wore a tie beneath his jersey.

You’d think Jerry Rice would have wanted to get paid for his one day contract:

With his 1989 Super Bowl ring swinging from a chain on his neck, Rice signed a deal for $1,985,806.49, which commemorated his rookie season (1985), his uniform number (80), his retirement year (’06) and the 49ers. The sum was ceremonial, and Rice was not actually paid a cent.

Will Pujols sign a one day contract with the Cardinals? Why didn’t Michael Jordan do the same with the Chicago Bulls?

The Hard Life of an NFL Long Shot

Charles Siebert profiles the story of Pat Schiller, a Northern Illinois football player who is trying to make the NFL. The story gives an inside look of what it takes to make the NFL if your chances are low. Charles is Pat’s uncle, but don’t let that detail get in the way of superb reporting:

Being an undrafted free agent in the N.F.L. is an extended exercise in ego abnegation. You’re not only stripped of your college number; you’re exiled from the N.F.L.’s mandated numerical bracket for your given position. Linebackers on all final team rosters must bear a number in either the 50s or 90s. Pat, for now, was given 45. As for his fellow undrafted competitors, Max Gruder, a linebacker from the University of Pittsburgh, wore 46; Rico Council, a middle linebacker from Tennessee State, 43; and Jerrell Harris, an outside linebacker for last year’s champions, Alabama, 49. Some days in practice, Pat wore 40 and then was switched back to 45. Coaches and fellow players, meanwhile, were constantly confusing Pat with a third-year safety, Shann Schillinger, whose seniority naturally merited his getting dibs on the nickname “Schill,” thus saddling my nephew with — for obscure reasons — “Patty Melt.”

This story was, perhaps, more interesting to me because Pat Schiller was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, my hometown football team. I think it’s worth the read.

Saving Real Oviedo

Real Oviedo, a soccer club in Spain, has been undone by years of financial negligence and political strife. The current owner, charged with tax evasion, is missing. The club’s tax bill of 1.9 million euros is due at the end of the year. So a campaign was born to save the club by issuing shares:

Fueled by Twitter messages by a British sportswriter in Spain, fans from Britain, South America, China and elsewhere have snapped up thousands of shares. Real Oviedo alumni playing in the English Premier League bought some and urged fans to do the same. Real Madrid said it would buy 100,000 euros’ worth of shares. One fan near Portland, Ore., promised to get a Real Oviedo tattoo if others bought 100 shares. She got the tattoo.

By Wednesday, the team had raised about 1.57 million euros, mostly from people who had never been to Spain, let alone seen Real Oviedo play live. Nearly 40 percent of the more than 20,000 new shareholders are from 60 countries outside Spain. After the spasm of support, well-heeled investors from Britain, Mexico and Spain are studying the club’s books to decide whether to buy stakes.

It’s a pretty cool story. If you want to participate, here’s the link.

The NFL Joins the Olympics

American football isn’t likely to become an Olympic event anytime soon, but the WSJ wondered what would NFL players excel in if they did participate in the Olympics. Meet Tim Tebow in judo and Michael Vick in javelin throw:

Javelin: Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles.Vick’s combination of linear speed and arm strength makes him one of the NFL athletes that track and field coaches dream about. “We would always wonder how far Michael Vick would throw the Javelin if he were a track athlete,” said Rob Lasorsa of the National Throws Coaches Association. The real question is how much farther the Philadelphia quarterback could throw than NFL Hall-of-Famer Terry Bradshaw, a former high school javelin record holder.

Springboard Diving: Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens. Good divers are usually somewhere between 5-foot-5 and 5-foot-10 so Rice, a 5-foot-8 running back, fits the bill. He also makes adjustments at the line of scrimmage better than almost any other NFL running back. He excels in a role that requires explosiveness and extreme body control—all executed within the space of less than two seconds, said USA Diving’s Steve Foley.

Judo: Tim Tebow, QB, New York Jets. The most logical place one might see backup quarterback Tim Tebow strike his now-famous “Tebowing” pose is the middle of a Judo mat. Jiu Jitsu is the predecessor of Judo. This off-season, Tebow practiced a version of the sport with the famous Gracie Family, the founders of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. While Jiu Jitsu relies more on upright grappling and maneuvers than Judo, Tebow does seem to have one thing down: the mental side. “First you need to be a fighter in your mind,” said former French national judo competitor Sauveur Soriano, “and you need to be able to control yourself.”

Fun food for thought.