Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I do not want to be NOLA.com's "friend" Oh and also here's some football

It only took us two weeks to reach the first crisis point of this football season. No, Drew Brees's arm hasn't fallen off, Tom Benson hasn't backed out of his contract, and as far as we can tell, Jeremy Shockey is maintaining a safe hydration level. The Saints look a little beat up in the backfield this week but all in all they seem to be doing okay. The crisis we're dealing with is actually an off-the-field issue. The new NOLA.com is screwing with our football blogging.

Over the weekend, New Orleans' most visited (and most universally reviled) website began rolling out an "upgrade" which seems bent on making an already confusing site more convoluted. NOLA.com is the online partner of the Times-Picayune which supplies it with news content and its basic reason for being. The site then takes this content and makes it as difficult as possible for users to access and navigate. Some articles are posted oddly late in the publishing cycle while others seem not to make it online at all. The search function is virtually useless.

Worse still, the site appears to be edited in such a way as to intentionally cultivate the bilious idiocy which frequently bubbles up in its much-criticized comments section. The problem isn't so much the site's poor moderation. I'm generally in favor of stupid or mean people being allowed to say stupid or mean things. But at NOLA.com the stupid and mean seem to be the target audience. I don't know what NOLA.com's actual business strategy looks like but my guess is that they're going after a niche audience similar to what most AM talk radio stations have owned for some time now. The highlighted headlines and photos tend to emphasize either sensational stories from the paper's crime reports or national political stories with a heavy red meat appeal to conservative commenters looking to tee off. It's a ready-made template for building an audience to sell to advertisers but it doesn't make for the most constructive or thoughtful online community and it certainly doesn't make it easy to access the paper's content.

Instead of addressing any of these issues, the NOLA.com "upgrade" adds a new dimension of unnecessary crap to the already impenetrable wall that exists between its readers and the news content they visit the site for in the first place. The new NOLA.com asks users to create profiles where they are encouraged to provide personal information, "recommend" stories, share photos and videos, and "follow" other users via their "dashboard".

Now you may be tempted to ask yourself, why do we need this at all if we already have Facebook? But I don't think that's quite the point. For one thing, I'd much rather ask why do we need Facebook when we already have the internet, but that's a question for another time. At the very least, though, it's worth asking why the local paper needs access to its online content unnecessarily impeded by yet another superfluous layer of "friends" "followers" and "funwalls". But above all else, the NOLA.com upgrade presented us with a crisis this week because, for 72 hours, we were unable to access and thus steal their Saints photos for use on our blog.

    Saints vs. Eagles (game photos shamelessly hotlinked directly to the crappy new NOLA.com site)

  • Right off the bat I think we need to acknowledge that the Saints were pretty lucky to win this one. Fans are talking this week about the play of the quarterback and the apparently lopsided score but the fact of the matter is this game was decided by a series of lucky breaks at the beginning of the third quarter. Ellis Hobbs' fumble of the second half kickoff set up the Saints' third touchdown of the game and gave them a comfortable lead. When Kevin Kolb turned the ball over on the Eagles' very next possession, it was obviously going to be difficult for Philly to overcome that.

    But they very well could have had a few other balls bounced their way. It's not difficult to see exactly where this whole game could have gone another direction. During the second quarter, with the score tied at 10, Jeremy Shockey jumped on a Drew Brees fumble at the Saints' 30. Had he not done so, the whole game could have gone another direction. Late in the third quarter, the Eagles had just pulled to within 14 points and could have generated some momentum had an apparent fumble by Heath Evans at the New Orleans 27 not been reversed by replay. If the ruling on the field had been upheld, the whole game could have gone another direction.

    So there you have two lucky breaks that made a huge difference for the Saints and two that could have made a huge difference for the Eagles but didn't. And therein lies your football game. Leaving the disastrous start of the third quarter aside, the Eagles played either as well as or better than the Saints for most of the day.

    Coach Soupy protests the official's ruling of Evans' fumble on the grounds that it isn't anywhere in his laminated copy of the script.

  • Just as they did in Week 1, the Saints continue to surrender game-changing big plays to the opposition. The Eagles' first touchdown came via a 71 yard pass from Kolb to DeSean Jackson. The play looked at first like a blown coverage but after watching a few replays I think the Saints just got out-schemed in a situation where they left Roman Harper responsible for both the short middle and deep corner of the field.

    The Eagles' second touchdown was set up by a 63 yard kick return by Ellis Hobbs. The Saints' kick coverage has been atrocious during these first two games. This is a shame because it diminishes the contribution of an emerging star in rookie punter Thomas Morstead. Morstead continues to boom most of his kickoffs into the endzone. Morstead's 60 yard kick with less than two minutes to play in the first half pinned the Eagles deep in their own territory and set the stage for the Saints'go-ahead touchdown with 43 seconds left in the half. One could argue that Morstead won the game for the Saints right there.

    Thomas Morstead (Not pictured. Dammit, NOLA.com!) 2009 Saints Most Valuable Player candidate

  • One good thing about road games is that they can be viewed from the comfort of one's own living room. It's not that we don't like going to the Superdome it's just that there are certain advantages to nursing your Sunday morning hangover on the couch as opposed to against the wall in Section 617. Key among these advantages is the ability to call people on the telephone and ask them bring you pizza. This week we opted (against our better instincts) to order our lunch from Naked Pizza.

    If you're in New Orleans and you use the Tweeter Tube at all, chances are you've already heard of this outfit. They're a prime example of this city's supposedly rising Twitterpreneurial class.* Meaning they use social networking websites like Twitter, Facebook, and, I guess, now NOLA.com to turn our personal communications and relationships into the commercial marketing vectors dystopian science-fiction always told us they could be. There really is no room for the unspoiled individual in our society anymore.

    The Twitterpreneurial business model functions through a complicated bit of alchemy which, I am given to understand, converts "friends" into "buzz" and buzz into some kind of virus, I think. But eventually it all turns into money somehow. I know it's weird but if you're interested, Tulane will soon be offering a degree in this stuff. It's what they do now instead of civil engineering.

    If you're a non-degreed layperson looking to spot Twitterrpeneurs on the street just stick to the regular hipster hangouts and listen for anyone using the words diverse, capital, mash-up, tweet, creative, investor, and innovative in any order that seems to defy the usual rules of comprehensible speech. A Twitterpreneurial business is often identified by the inordinate amount of Earth-humping faux-hippiespeak that appears in its advertising. Naked Pizza, for example, is an overtly "Green-conscious" pizza parlor as its blog (of course, there's a fucking blog) attests,
    As an industry, fast food is punctuated by a history of successes and achievement, but also plagued by paradoxes, shortcomings, and challenges that require increasing acts of marketing desperation. These desperate acts often result in short-cuts and compromises that have, and will continue to, undermine the health of the very customers the industry depends on. We are fast approaching the day when the current, dominant business model in the fast food industry of “you give me money, I give you taco” will be replaced by one of equity and the realization that the business of food is interlinked with social, cultural, environmental, political, and economic disciplines.

    Good Christ I hope not. When I am hungover in my living room and Jeremey Shockey is on my teevee, I am in no mood to ponder the interlinkage between "equity" and tacos for the sake of your "business of food". Howsabout you give me the pizza, I give you the money, and you get the fuck out of my face you phony hipster fuck.

    What was I talking about? Oh yeah the pizza. Actually it ain't bad. We ordered a "Mediterranean" style pizza which came with feta, sun dried tomato, olives, and artichokes. All of these toppings were fresh and generously portioned. The sauce had a rich, dark, garlicky spice to it which I liked a lot. The "glutten-free, multi-grain, prebiotic, probiotic" crust was unusual but not intolerable. Taste-wise it isn't a comparable analog to real pizza crust which we tend to like sweet and slightly burnt. This was noticeably more bready and grainy. Not bad just not... pizza, I guess.

  • Unusual numbers: Scott Shanle 2 Interceptions in 2 games. Heath Evans 2 Touchdown receptions in 2 games. Evans scored this week by performing a one-legged half pirouette along the sideline before plunging the ball over the goal line. It's a move we'd like to describe as graceful but we're not sure we're allowed to say that about a fullback.

    Overheard at "The Linc": That's a unicorn, right? No it's Scott Shanle with the football. No way, that's just ridiculous.

  • Mike Bell left the game during the second half with a sprained knee. Because we did not trust the Fox announcers to update his status in a timely fashion, we "turned down the sound on our TV and turned up Saints radio" as per what WWL's marketing department has chosen to label a "tradition".

    While Bell was out, the Saints found their offense forced to scrimmage from their own three yard line. On three consecutive plays, Reggie Bush demonstrated his unwillingness to give up his tentative backward stutter-stepping running style even in the shadow of his own goal line. Bush hesitated and danced for 0, 1, and -2 yards. (The third down play should have been ruled a safety as Bush was tackled in the endzone but NFL officials have a strange aversion to making that call and will invent any excuse not to.) Hokie Gajan described Bush's style as "fiddle-fartin' around back there". We're grateful for Hokie's contribution of this colorful phrase because, frankly, we've grown tired trying to describe Reggie Bush's brand of non-football week after week. If you're looking for one characteristic of this year's Saints which distinguishes them from last year's it has to be Bell's determined, hard charging running style. If he misses a significant amount of time it will be a while before you see another 40 point performance from this offense.

    saints eagles
    Oh fiddle-farts, this can't happen. Hey does anyone still have Deuce McAllister's number in his cell phone?

  • It's also hard to overstate the impact Darren Sharper has made in the Saints' secondary. Late in the game, Sharper returned an interception 97 yards for a meaningless but fun touchdown. Anyone who was tuned in to the WWL broadcast at that time knows that when I say fun here I mean fun in a disturbed, embarrassed-for-someone but still fascinated sort of way. Jim Henderson's call of that play was... look just click here and listen to it yourself. Did that really happen? Should that really happen? Ever? What are the chances that it might happen again this season?

    saints eagles
    Yeah, "He gone" alright. You so crazy, Jim

  • Quote of the week: "That brace is kind of big" Pierre Thomas describing the status of his sprained knee. If Bell can't go this week, Frenchy will need to be ready to play in his stead. Frenchy sounds less than confident here. I'd like to point you to the NOLA.com article I culled this quote from but I didn't save the link when I noted it and it's nigh impossible to search for anything on freaking NOLA.com

What would Pete Rose do?
So we're looking ahead at the schedule and we see Buffalo, New York Jets, a bye, and then the New York Giants on Monday Night. (It's the Empire State trifecta) The good news here is that even if the Saints lose their next two games, 2-2 going into the bye week really isn't that bad. We thought this looked like an 8-8 or 9-7 team going in so we'd feel pretty good about 2-2. The bad news is there is no way in hell the Saints are going to win that Giants game. 2-2 isn't bad but 2-3 makes us all a little frowny so, on second thought, it might be a good idea to try and finagle a win out of one of these next two. And that's where the really bad news come in.

Despite the fact that their quarterback is a rookie from USC, the Jets look like this year's breakthrough team to me. The problem is, a "breakthrough team" can't be 2-2 after four games. The Jets are 2-0 now. This weekend they play Tennessee. Tennessee is too good to go 0-3 so the Jets are likely to play the Saints at 2-1. But the Jets can't go 2-2 ergo the Saints just aren't going to beat the Jets. So the key is the Buffalo game.

But that's also trouble. I mean, look at this Bills team. They barely lost to New England in Week 1 on a stupid fluke of a play and are fresh off of kicking the crap out of Tampa in Week 2. Some guy named Fred Jackson has 337 all-purpose yards so far (including 165 on the ground vs Tampa) and we haven't seen enough of this Saints defense for that not to be a concern. Lee Evans and Terrell Owens are still big-play threats and we have seen enough of this Saints defense for that to be a concern. Plus something about this feels like what college football fans call a "trap game." It's the key to Saints keeping their heads above water over the next three games and even that looks like a long shot.

Still if the Saints manage to win 1 out of the next 3 they're a game over .500 which puts them right on course to end up where we thought they would. So it's nothing to worry about. Here's where it gets weird. You see, while I'm (optimistically, mind you) trying to convince myself that the Saints could possibly win one of these next three games, Dambala is certain they'll get two. And so now we have a wager. Which puts me in the uncomfortable position of betting against my own team. For a minute there I was unhappy with this because I thought it made me look too much like Pete Rose. Happily, the Zomb has disabused me of this notion.
no way Pete never bet against his own team...you're much worse than Pete.

That, I think I can live with.

*The term "Twitterpreneur" is not actually of my own coinage. Unfortunately, at press time, I was unable to recall exactly where I saw it first.

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