Flock & Tingle is John Teti’s intermittent interim football column. In the lead-up to Super Bowl XXXXXIII, Flock & Tingle is looking back on the NFL postseason while looking ahead with key insights on the “big game” (the Super Bowl).
FLOCK & TINGLE LOOKS BACK: UN-FORGETTING THE UNFORGETTABLE PLAYS OF THE POSTSEASON
The 2019 playoffs have been packed with unforgettable plays. But in case you forgot, here is an account of one play that happened. Try to remember it this time, it’s kind of important.
The game: Indianapolis Colts vs. Kansas City Chiefs—January 12, 2019
The play (as rendered in the official box score): 4th & 5 at IND 33 (8:40—3rd) (Shotgun) P. Mahomes sacked at IND 38 for -5 yards (D. Autry). PENALTY on IND—D. Autry, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, 15 yards, enforced between downs.
During the Kansas City Chiefs’ affectionate but firm disassembly of the Indianapolis Colts on Wild Card Weekend, Colts defensive end Denico Autry provided his team a brief, useless spark of hope by sacking Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes on fourth down. As if to underscore the futility of the defensive stop, Autry was then flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, setting his offense back 15 yards before they could even retake the field.
Referee John Hussey announced the infraction by wandering to the middle of the field and turning himself into a giant “T.” Presumably, this motion is the signal for “unsportsmanlike conduct” because it is something a sportsman would never do. You can imagine the scandal a giant “T” would create, among the other sportsmen.
Officials often stop the game to single out unsportsmanlike acts, but they never pause to salute sportsmanlike behavior—a pernicious bias of NFL officiating. Viewers are left to wonder, what is a sportsman like, anyway? The answer is elusive. If in Jacobellis v. Ohio, Justice Potter Stewart’s squishy standard for pornography was “I know it when I see it,” then sportsmanship jurisprudence operates on the even squishier “I know it when I don’t see it.”
We can only guess at the nature of a sportsman by observing what one is not like. Luckily, in the Colts-Chiefs game, NBC provided us a slow-motion replay of the infraction that earned Autry a penalty flag. After sacking Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Autry rose to his feet, celebrated with teammates, and—here was the crucial error—seduced the referee with dance. Autry’s hips scarcely completed one rotation before Hussey was clutching for his penalty marker. Hussey knows sportsmanship, and he didn’t see it. He saw something else entirely.
What can the aspiring sportsman learn from this moment? First, note that the trouble wasn’t Autry’s dance itself—sexy post-sack gyrations are common, due to the inherently erotic nature of downing a passer behind the line of scrimmage. Instead, Autry earned rebuke for directing his mirth toward an authority figure. Thus we can reasonably conclude the following axiom: A sportsman ensures a receptive audience before beginning a performance.
FLOCK & TINGLE LOOKS AHEAD: KNOW YOUR SUPER BOWL XXXXXIII SPECIAL TEAMS PARTICIPANTS
The field goal unit. The punt squad. The kickoff guild. The fair catch alliance. These are football’s special teams. You may not know the men who serve on these teams, and come to think of it, you may not even want to know them. Well, too bad.
Joe Cardona, New England Patriots
Position: Long snapper
Nickname: “The Cal Counter”
Most plays in football begin when the center bends down, picks up the football, and hands the ball backwards between his legs to a quarterback—a process known as the “snap.” Sometimes, if the quarterback is standing back from the line, the center has to throw the ball when he snaps it, but this is still just a little toss. It’s like throwing someone their keys across the kitchen counter (and then instantly being attacked by enraged men in body armor).
On field goal attempts, the ball must be snapped over a greater distance, and frankly, your average run-of-the-mill center can’t be bothered. So teams instead call on a long snapper, a special kind of center with the freakish ability to throw a ball far, and fast, backwards, between his legs. Joe Cardona is the Patriots’ long snapper. Every time New England kicks a field goal in the Super Bowl, Cardona will set the play in motion by performing what is essentially a party trick, the kind of thing drunken frat boys attempt in the hallway after the keg has run dry.
When he’s not throwing a ball far and fast backwards between his legs, Cardona works to pass his long-snapping wisdom to the next generation. For instance, in 2016, Cardona spoke at the Patriots’ home facility with a group of local high school players. The discussion was moderated by Boston radio personality Ashlee Feldman, whose mumbled introduction made clear that she didn’t quite recall Cardona’s name.
“My favorite kind of Gatorade, it’s Cool Blue, but G2 version,” Cardona told the kids, who were not at all disappointed that Joe Cardona was the player they got to meet that day. Feldman had a puckish follow-up to the Gatorade point. “Are you counting your cals? Is that why you went with the G2?” she asked. No, Cardona replied.
Finally, after he spent a solid two minutes inspiring the youth of America, it was time for an exhausted Cardona to leave. Feldman, swelling with emotion, put words to the awe felt by everyone in the room. “You’re doing it,” she marveled. “Counting cals and playing in the NFL.” A week from Sunday, Cardona will again live his dream of counting cals on the ultimate stage, the Super Bowl. So let’s all, in the words of Ashlee Feldman, “give Joe [unintelligible] a round of applause.”