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Some much-needed culture

Posted by Doug on February 19, 2007

Joe Fischer is a frequent commenter on this blog who goes by the name "Pacifist Viking." He has a a blog of the same name that I recommend highly. The Minnesota Vikings are the primary subject of his musings, but he writes about a variety of other topics, including basketball, social issues in sport, and --- believe it or not --- literature. Real, honest-to-goodness literature. Recently, he has started comparing great NBA players to famous poets, like this:

Tim Duncan is akin to Alexander Pope: fundamentally sound, technically skilled, but ultimately dull. He inspires nobody; we remember him because we have to remember him, not because we want to.

And this:

Rodman is akin to Edgar Allan Poe. Like Poe, Rodman's brilliance never hid his tormented and haunted soul; in fact, his brilliance seemed a direct result of his soul, as if it exuded directly from it, and put the eccentric individual all the more on display. Both are remembered in large part for their weirdness and creepiness, but that weirdness and creepiness led to a greatness that should be remembered on its own.

For some reason I can't quite put my finger on, I think this is top-notch schtick. I honestly haven't read a poem in nearly twenty years, so maybe I just see it as an easy way to for me to learn something about poets. As many of you know, I'm a professor at a small liberal arts college and a graduate of a similar institution. So I am constantly telling my students about the value of a well-rounded education.

And now I'm telling you. Numerical data and cold logical analysis are what this blog is usually about, but that doesn't mean we can't benefit from an occasional dose of culture from our friends in the humanities. With that in mind, I asked Fischer to cook up some player/poet comps from the NFL.

Poets and players, by Joe Fischer of Pacifist Viking

Terrell Owens: Ted Hughes
Hughes is a brilliant poet, but he’s is probably better known for his personal life, particularly as the husband of poetry legend Sylvia Plath. Hughes seemed to have a devastating effect in his relationships: both Plath and lover Assia Wevill committed suicide while in a stormy relationship with Hughes. Likewise, Owens is by any measure a terrific football player, but he is best known for his flamboyant personality, selfishness, and mean-spirited treatment of coaches and teammates. He also has a devastating effect in relationships: he helped bottom out the 49ers, he ruined the 2005 Eagles, and he may be in the process of destroying the Cowboys.

Randy Moss: William Wordsworth
Wordsworth revolutionized British poetry with Lyrical Ballads (co-written with Samuel Taylor Coleridge). Romantic poetry is considered to have begun with Wordsworth, and his early poetry inspired and influenced many future poets, changing what seemed possible to do in poetry. While he remained respectable throughout his career, something changed at some point: he grew more socially conservative (he was an early admirer of the French Revolution, which influenced his poetry), and along the way his poetry lost the flair of his early years. Likewise, Randy Moss burst onto the scene with bravado, but he seems to have lost some of the spirit of his earlier career. When future football historians look back at Moss, they’re going to look at the first part of his career, as his later career has featured little worth noting. The later Moss lacks passion and inspires nobody.

Brett Favre: William Shakespeare
Here’s something you might not know: Shakespeare wrote some lousy plays. Have you read King John? It’s not fun. Most of his comedies are formulaic. While he is brilliant and rightfully legendary, he’s also human. He’s a writer of masterpieces and a writer of mediocrity. Likewise, Favre deserves the role of gridiron legend and statesman. But he’s human. Only injury will prevent him from breaking Dan Marino’s touchdown record next season, and only injury will prevent him from breaking George Blanda’s interception record. But it’s likely we’ll remember Favre for his masterpieces, not his mistakes.

Peyton Manning: T.S. Eliot
Isn’t there something about Manning that makes you think he’s operating on a whole other level, and that he knows it? He may seem pleasant enough, but there’s something about him (and his game) that seems to be constantly aware that he’s better than everybody else. He’s a perfect match for the pretentious Eliot. In The Wasteland, Eliot was so full of himself that he included an appendix to explain all the literary allusions he tried to use. The problem is, many people had trouble understanding the appendix, too.

Rex Grossman: Emily Dickinson
This is an insult to Dickinson, but the way Grossman plays football reminds me of Dickinson’s style of poetry. She writes with hyphens, she’s elliptical, she jumps and starts and halts. Even though it’s lyrical poetry based in the form of the ballad, it’s hard to read smoothly. Sharp sounds, sharp halts, a sort of helter skelter movement that is often jarring. Isn’t that Rex? The fumbling, the interceptions, the craziness, with a few beautiful throws mixed in. Rex Grossman plays football like a Dickinson poem.

Edgerrin James: John Donne
John Donne really has two poetic careers. When he was young, he wrote clever metaphysical poetry that played with form and was often about sex. When he grew older, he wrote in a more conventional style and usually about religion. Edgerrin James looks like he’s having two NFL careers: one as a highly successful running back on a great offense, and one as an overpaid running back behind a bad offensive line.

Clinton Portis: Robert Browning
Robert Browning sort of invented a new type of poetry: the dramatic monologue. He wrote poems not from an authorial perspective, but as if he were a particular character (sometimes an historical or literary character). He played roles in his poetry. And will any of us forget Clinton Portis’s characters? Instead of speaking as a poet, Browning wrote behind a mask as another character; instead of speaking as an athlete, Clinton Portis put on masks, called himself names like “Dr. I Don’t Know” and “Sheriff Gonna Getcha” and pretended to be somebody else. Outstanding.

Tom Brady: Alfred Tennyson
As British Poet Laureate, Tennyson is one of the lucky (and fairly rare) poets to be a legend in his own time (Queen Victoria was his biggest fan). Brady, too, is treated like a legend in his own time: the winning quarterback of Super Bowls 36, 38, and 39, he was actually the official coin flipper of Super Bowl 40, an honor usually designated for legends of the past (Dan Marino flipped it for Super Bowl 41). Tom Brady: getting legend treatment mid-career.

Michael Vick: e. e. cummings
e. e. cumming’s poetry is unique and instantly recognizable: he ignores capitalization and plays wild and loose with spacing and stanzas (there’s a deliberate lack of discipline, it seems). Yet one wonders if his poetry is gimmicky and inferior. So too with Vick: unique and recognizable, but is he productive? We’re not sure.

Larry Johnson: Robert Herrick
“Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may,/ Old Time is still a-flying;” Herrick famously wrote. After being so overused by Herm Edwards (NFL record carries in 2006), we can wonder whether Larry Johnson will have many more rosebuds to gather.

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