Thursday, January 29, 2015

What if the “Tuck Call” Never Happened?

How one referee’s decision could have radically changed pro football as we know it.

“The Butterfly Effect: This effect grants the power to cause a hurricane in China to a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico. It may take a very long time, but the connection is real. If the butterfly had not flapped its wings at just the right point in space/time, the hurricane would not have happened. A more rigorous way to express this is that small changes in the initial conditions lead to drastic changes in the results.”

-- The Fractal Foundation

“Woodson, showing blitz, Woodson comes, here he is, he’s bearing down on Brady, he caused a fumble, Biekert dives on the ball … the Raiders have the ball!” 

-- Greg Papa, Jan. 19, 2002

January 19, 2002

Referee Walt Coleman returns from the video booth.

“After reviewing the play,” he says to a gasping Foxboro crowd, “the ruling on the field stands … Oakland has possession.”

A chorus of boos, accompanied shortly by a barrage of snowballs, follows. With two minutes left in the game, the Raiders utilize Charlie Garner to plow their way to a first down that effectively ends the game.

A distraught Tom Brady walks off the field, while a disgruntled Bill Belichick glares at the scoreboard, reading “OAK 13, NE 10.”

As the Raiders celebrate a hard fought road victory, Greg Gumble and Phil Simms bring up a Patriots game from earlier in the year  -- a game against the Jets in which an obscure ruling, known as “the tuck rule,” negated a New England defensive turnover.

“You know, for years, Patriots fans are going to rue this game,” Gumble says. “I don’t think fans in New England are ever going to get over this one.”

January 27, 2002

Fueled by last week’s win in the snow, the Raiders jump out to an early 14-0 lead against the top-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game. A late touchdown pass to Tim Brown puts the Raiders up 21-7 heading into halftime. The Steelers mount a small comeback, but an additional TD pass, this time to tight end Doug Jolley, ultimately proves the clincher for Oakland. The Raiders win 28-17, securing their first Super Bowl bid in almost two decades.

Over in the NFC Championship Game, the highly favored St. Louis Rams initially struggle against the underdog Philadelphia Eagles, but by halftime, “The Greatest Show on Turf” manages to get things rolling with Marshall Faulk. Capped off by three consecutive field goals from Jeff Wilkins, the Rams win 31-20.

February 3, 2002

At the Super Dome, it’s an unofficial “Battle of Los Angeles” as the former southern California squads face off for the Lombardi Trophy. Bucking tradition, the Oakland Raiders, who are 14-point underdogs, choose to be announced as a team in lieu of being formally introduced, position-by-position.

On the very first drive, Rich Gannon connects with Jerry Rice on a 40-yard TD pass. The Raiders D manages to stuff Kurt Warner and the Rams throughout the first half, jumping out to an early 13-0 lead. Eventually, the Rams do warm up, with Isaac Bruce reeling in an 8-yard pass to put St. Louis on the board. A Wilkins FG makes it a 13-10 game heading into the third quarter.

Midway through the third, Charles Woodson intercepts a pass intended for Torry Holt, returning it for a nearly 60-yard touchdown. Making matters worse for the Rams, Marshall Faulk leaves the field before the fourth quarter, apparently suffering from a high ankle injury.

The Rams do manage to score a rushing TD with Justin Watson, but it’s not enough to overcome the Silver and Black onslaught. Gannon hits Rice for another TD with four minutes to go in the final quarter, as Oakland wins Super Bowl XXXVI 30-17.

With his two touchdown receptions, Rice is named MVP. He accepts the award, while draped in a U.S. flag.

An emotional John Madden then makes a call that would soon become iconic: “after the terrible tragedy this country has witnessed, it’s only fitting that the nation -- our Raider Nation -- rises triumphant this evening.”

2002 Offseason 

While rumors run high that Jon Gruden is contemplating leaving Oakland, the Super Bowl winning-coach announces that he will remain with the Raiders for  the 2002-2003 season. Tony Dungy leaves Tampa Bay to accept the head coaching job in Washington, while the Indianapolis Colts recruit Steve Spurrier to replace Jim Mora.

The biggest position change happens just a week before the start of the regular season. Upset with Tom Brady’s preseason performance, Belichick benches the QB in favor of long-time starter Drew Bledsoe.

2002 Regular Season

The Raiders dominant the AFC, cruising their way to a league-best 14-2 record. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers tie for best record in the NFC, each garnering 12 wins a piece.

With dual injuries to Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, the St. Louis Rams incur a disappointing 7 win season, while Dungy’s Buccaneers barely hit .500. A 9-7 Bledsoe led team fail to win the AFC North, as the surprising NY Jets best them by one-game to make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts compile a 5-11 record, with the “Spurrier Experiment” deemed a massive failure.

2002-03 Playoffs

In the AFC, the Raiders and Titans receive byes. In the wildcard round, the Pittsburgh Steelers battle back against the sixth-seeded Browns to win on an overtime field goal, while the Jets mercilessly pile points atop fifth-seeded Miami, 41-7.

In the NFC, the upstart Falcons upset heated rival New Orleans, 28-14, while the San Francisco 49ers hold off the N.Y. Giants in a defensive struggle.

In the divisional round, the Raiders breeze past the Jets, while the Titans eke out an overtime victory against Pittsburgh. The Eagles decimate the Falcons, 21-6, while the Packers trounce the Niners, 28-10.

The Raiders have no problem dispatching the Titans, besting Tennessee 48-21 to earn their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance. Meanwhile, the Eagles scrap by to defeat the Packers, 28 to 21; a fourth and 26 pass with two minutes left in the fourth from Donovan McNabb to James Thrash becomes the most iconic play of the postseason.

Super Bowl XXXVII

It’s a defensive struggle in San Diego, as the Raiders and Eagles duke it out to a 14-14 tie heading into the third. With Rod Woodson picking up a defensive touchdown, Oakland quickly begins to pull away, with Rich Gannon scrambling for a 14-yard TD run early in the fourth. The Eagles manage to put another TD on the board, but it’s not enough to hold off the Raiders offense. Gannon tosses his fourth TD of the game to Tim Brown, as the Raiders win their second Super Bowl in a row, 35-21.

Rich Gannon is named MVP, as the Silver and Black pop the bubbly for the second time in 365 days.

“As good as this team has looked the last two seasons,” John Madden quips, “you’ve got to be thinking this team is going to be a dynasty -- a real force in football for the foreseeable future.”

2003 Offseason

Bill Parcells is named head coach of the Dallas Cowboys … and with him, he gets QB Tom Brady, who is traded to “America’s Team.” John Fox heads to Carolina and Jack Del Rio accepts a coaching gig in Jacksonville, while Tom Coughlin becomes the new coach of the Colts; Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, Rod Woodson and Bill Romanowski all announce their retirements.

2003 Regular Season

The Raiders dynasty comes to a halt, as Oakland can muster no better than a 7-9 season, leaving room for the surprising Kansas City Chiefs to take home the League’s best record at 13-3.

Marc Bulger is injured in the first game of the season. Unfortunately for the Rams, Warner isn’t the same player he was in 2001 -- St. Louis finishes the year with a 6-10 record, and miss the playoffs. A preseason injury to Michael Vick also decimates the Falcons chances of regular season success.

The Patriots suffer a devastating loss when Drew Bledsoe is diagnosed with a season-ending injury. They fall to 5-11 on the year, which is the same fate for the Indianapolis Colts. After two years of dismal results, rumors run wild that Peyton Manning -- now considered a draft bust -- will soon be on the trading block.

2003-04 Playoffs

In the AFC, the Chiefs and Titans receive byes. The Dolphins best the Broncos in the wildcard round, while the Ravens demolish Cincinnati.

In the NFC, the Eagles and Packers yet again earn first round passes. In the opening round, the Panthers beat the Cowboys and the Seahawks triumph over the Vikings.

The Titans finally get past the Ravens, albeit barely with a 20-17 victory in the divisional round. The Dolphins, led by Jay Fiedler, utterly embarrass the Chiefs, winning 30-3. Over in the NFC, upsets abound; Jake DelHomme because the first QB to ever defeat Brett Favre at home during the playoffs, while the Seahawks, powered by Shaun Alexander’s legs, bump off the Eagles 28-20.

After being spanked in last year’s AFC game, the Titans knock out the Dolphins 27-14, while the Panthers just barely make their way past the Seahawks, 14-9.

Super Bowl XXXVIII

In a largely defensive struggle, the Cinderella Panthers defeat the slightly favored Titans 21-14. The big hero of the game turns out to be a rather unexpected player -- none other than Rod “He Hate Me” Smart, who wins Carolina the game (and the Super Bowl MVP honors) after he kick returns the ball 86 yards with four minutes left to go in the fourth.

2004 Offseason

As expected, Peyton Manning does indeed get traded … to Washington, where he joins new head coach Tony Dungy. The Chargers select Eli Manning first overall, whom is later traded to the Giants; with the eighth pick in the draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars pick up Miami (OH) QB Ben Roethlisberger; in turn, the Steelers select WR Reggie Williams with their first round pick. Lovie Smith replaces Dan Reeves as head coach of the Falcons, while Mike Mularkey takes over the Giants. Jim Mora Jr. becomes the new coach of the Bucs.

2004 Regular Season

Two surprise teams -- the Jaguars and the Chargers -- dominate the AFC, each going 12-4. With a 13-3 record, the Philadelphia Eagles walk away with the League’s highest W-L percentage; the runner-ups in the NFC are Atlanta (12-4), and Green Bay (11-5.)

The year’s Super Bowl teams -- the Panthers and Titans -- both finish the season with sub-.500 averages, thanks in no small part to injuries to Steve McNair and Jake Delhomme.

The Patriots finish a disappointing 5-11 in what will be Drew Bledsoe’s last season. The Cowboys and Redskins finish out 8-8, while the Eli-led Giants pull up the NFC East rear with a 6-10 record. With Kordell Stewart hampered by injury, the Steelers compile a League worst 2-14 record -- they are followed by the 49ers, who go 3-13.

2004-05 Playoffs

In the wildcard round, the Baltimore Ravens bump off the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets barely edge out a win against the 9-7 Buffalo Bills. On the NFC side of things, the Packers crush the Saints while the Seahawks have no trouble with the Vikings, who barely snuck into the postseason with an 8-8 record.

The Ravens, led by Kyle Boller, knock off the highly touted Chargers in an upset, while the Jaguars throttle the Jets, 37-10. The Eagles steamroll the Seahawks, 48-0, while Brett Favre tosses five interceptions in a 28-7 loss to Vick’s Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

Donovan McNabb’s Eagles, now with standout WR Terrell Owens, have no problem with the Falcons, besting Atlanta 43-10. And the unthinkable Jaguars run -- led by rookie QB “Big Ben” -- continues with a thrilling OT win against the Ravens, inconceivably giving the Jacksonville Jaguars home field advantage in the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl XXXIX

In a rainy, mushy evening in northern Florida, both McNabb's Eagles and Big Ben's Jags have difficulties making much headway in the first half. Scoreless heading into the second quarter, the Eagles get on the board first with Brian Westbrook reeling in a 17-yard TD. Josh Scobee kicks a field goal to make it a 7-3 game heading into half-time.

The Eagles get the ball back and immediately, McNabb connects with Owens for a 48-yard TD. Big Ben puts together a long drive all the way to Philadelphia's red zone shortly before the end of the third quarter, but Chris Fuamatu Ma'afala turns the ball over in what would've have been a TD rush for the Jags. Owens reels in one more TD in the fourth quarter, as Andy Reid's Eagles cruise to a fairly facile 28-7 victory.

2005 Offeseason

Following an injury plagued 2004 season, former Super Bowl MVP Rich Gannon announces his retirement. In the NFL Draft, the Raiders acquire QB Aaron Rodgers, while the Green Bay Packers land cornerback Fabian Washington. Bill Parcells steps down as coach of the Cowboys, who is replaced by Bill Bilichick. Nick Saban becomes coach of the New England Patriots; Alex Smith is drafted by the Miami Dolphins.

2005 Regular Season

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Saints play their home games at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio. Every single team in the NFC south finishes above 500, with last year's Super Bowl winners Philadelphia finishing last place with a 9-7 record.

The Cowboys and Seahawks finish with league best 13-3 records, while the abysmal New England Patriots, now quarterbacked by Byron Leftwich, finish with an NFL worst 1-15 record; ironically, their sole win of the year came against the eventual AFC East champion Miami Dolphins.

2005-2006 Playoffs

The NFC teams are Seattle, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Chicago, New York and Washington. In the AFC, the postseason squads are Jacksonville, Denver, Cincinnati, Miami, Pittsburgh and Oakland.

The Rodgers-led Raiders score a big upset over Cincinnati, while the Dolphins steamroll the Steelers. The Giants and Redskins both win in their wildcard match-ups. In divisional action, Jacksonville defeats Oakland while Miami bests Denver; the Cowboys defeat the Giants, while the Seahawks scrape by the Redskins. In the championship games, Jacksonville beats Miami for their second Super Bowl appearance; meanwhile, the Seahawks beat the Cowboys 17-14, when Tom Brady bumbles a snap on the last play of the game -- a field goal attempt that would've sent the game to overtime.

Super Bowl XL

With Shaun Alexander putting on a record-breaking year, the Seahawks are dealt a crushing blow when their star RB is injured early in the first quarter. With a snakebit offense, Big Ben's Jags begin a slow rout of the Tim Hasselback-lead Hawks. At halftime, the score at Ford Field is 21-0 in favor of the Jags; with five touchdown passes, Big Ben is named Super Bowl MVP, as Jacksonville crushes Seattle 42-10 to earn their franchise first Lombardi trophy.

2006 Offseason

Jay Fielder becomes the new QB of the Patriots. Warren Sapp retires, as Jon Gruden leaves Oakland for Tampa Bay. Sean Payton becomes the new coach of the Raiders, while the Saints pick up Rex Ryan. Jerome Bettis and Tiki Barber both announce their retirements.

2006 Regular Season

The Saints and Bucs duke it out for control of the NFC South, while the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys slug it out all season long for the NFC East crown. The Chicago Bears end up the only team in the NFC Central with a winning record, while every team in the NFC West finish with .500 or lower records.

The Jags once again win the AFC South, while the Raiders win the AFC West. The surprise Jets take the AFC East from the Dolphins on the last game of the season, while the resurgent Ravens win the AFC Central.

2006-2007 Playoffs

In wildcard play, the Cowboys knock off the Bears while the Bucs annihilate the 8-8 Rams. The Chargers upset highly favored Raiders in Oakland, while the Ravens easily ward off the Miami Dolphins in Maryland.

The top-seeded Saints conquer the Bucs in a thrilling double OT game, and the Cowboys run all over second-seeded New York. The Jags best the Chargers and the Ravens handily defeat the Jets. The next week, the Jaguars top the Ravens for their third consecutive AFC championship, while the Cowboys defeat the Saints at the Super Dome on a season-ending INT TD in overtime.

Super Bowl XLI

It's Tom Brady's Cowboys up against Big Ben's slightly favored Jags down in Miami. Julius Jones and Marion Barber III pick up a rushing TD a piece, as the Cowboys take a 14-3 lead heading into halftime. However, Big Ben fires back with two consecutive TD passes to make it a 17-14 game headed into the fourth. Brady connects with Terrell Owens to give the 'Boys a 21-17 lead with four minutes left in the fourth, but improbably, the Jags march down the field and light up the scoreboard with a Reggie Williams TD with just thirty seconds left in the game. A hail mary from Brady fails, as the Jags win their second Super Bowl in a row 24-21.

2007 Offseason

The Packers select their QB of the future with Jamarcus Russell, who is taken first overall in the 2007 draft. The Falcons select Georgia Tech standout Calvin Johnson second overall. The Patriots pick up Tony Romo, as Nick Saban jumps ship back to the SEC -- the Pats coaching vacancy is filled by Bobby Petrino. Wade Phillips becomes the new Steelers coach, while Mike Tomlin joins the Vikings.

Seeking to build the ultimate team, Jerry Jones brings in Randy Moss to complement the Cowboys aerial threat. Dallas winds up trading three draft picks to acquire Ladanian Tomlinson from the Chargers.

2007 Regular Season

The Cowboys go on the warpath, winning 15 out of 16 games -- their only loss coming at the hands of Peyton Manning's Redskins, who finish second in the NFC East. The Bucs dominate the NFC South, as Joey Harrington struggles to lead the Falcons, sans Mike Vick, who is arrested on drug trafficking charges before the start of week three.

The AFC is absolute bedlam, with long-time losers Buffalo, Cleveland and Indianapolis (now led by Vince Young) winning their respective divisions. The Raiders are the top seed in the AFC -- wildcard teams are Denver and Pittsburgh. Expected by many to make a run for a third consecutive league championship, the Jags finish 8-8 and miss the postseason altogether.

2007-2008 Playoffs

NFC teams are Dallas, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Seattle, Washington and Chicago. AFC teams are Oakland, Cleveland, Indy, Buffalo, Denver and Pittsburgh. In wild card play, the Steelers -- now led by Steve McNair -- knock off the heavily favored Colts while Buffalo, led by Trent Edwards, knock off the Broncos. Upsets abound in the NFC, as lower seeds Washington and Chicago knock off Minnesota and Seattle, respectively.

The Cowboys stomp Chicago, 48-0, while the Redskins upset the heavily favored Buccaneers. The Steelers shock Oakland with a 26-13 victory in the Black Hole, while Buffalo surmounts Cleveland in a snowy, sloppy divisional match-up.

In what becomes immortalized as "Upset Sunday," the surprise Steelers best the Bills in Orchard Park and the Redskins, an 18 point underdog, sneak past the Cowboys on a last second field goal.

Super Bowl XLII

Powered by running back sensation Devin Hester, the Steelers jump out to an early 14-0 lead in the desert. However, Peyton Manning connects with James Thrash and Brandon Lloyd to knot things up heading into the second half.

The Skins strike first, with Clinton Portis rushing for a four yard TD. However, Hester breaks loose on the next possession for Pittsburgh, rumbling for a 64 yard TD run. In the fourth, Manning threads the needle to Santana Moss twice, giving the Redskins an eventual 35-28 victory over Pittsburgh. With four touchdown runs, Devin Hester becomes the first Super Bowl MVP since Chuck Howley to play on a losing squad.

2008 Offseason

The Atlanta Falcons draft QB Joe Flacco, while the Baltimore Ravens pick up Matt Ryan. Kurt Warner returns to the St. Louis Rams, who are now coached by Ken Whisenhunt. Brett Favre announces his retirement in February, only to sign with the Giants in July. As a result, Eli Manning packs his bags and ends up becoming the new QB in Indy.

2008 Regular Season

The Steelers nearly run the table, going 15-1 and recording the league's best overall record. Over in the NFC, it's a slugfest all season long, particularly in the eastern division, where the Redskins, Cowboys, Eagles and Giants all finish within one game of each other. The Packers, led by Jamarcus Russell, record a league worst 1-15 record; the Detroit Lions, powered by new QB Vince Young, record their best season in ages, going 8-8 and falling a game short of making the playoffs.

2008-2009 Playoffs

Pittsburgh and Miami receive byes in the AFC, while the Redskins and Bucs receive byes in the NFC.

In the wildcard round, the Jaguars knock off the Raiders while the Colts survive a scare from Baltimore. Meanwhile, the Cowboys knock off the Bears and the Rams triumph over the Falcons.

Pittsburgh wins a wild overtime dual against Indianapolis and the Jaguars topple Miami. The Cowboys get past hated rivals the Redskins and the Rams shellshock the Bucs, 37-0. In the championship games, the Steelers just barely squeak past the Jags and the Rams, on a last second pass, upset Dallas 35-28.

Super Bowl XLIII

Once again led by Steve McNair, the Steelers got the ball moving early, scoring on their first two possessions. They manage to put another TD on the board before the first quarter is over, making the game a 21-0 early route against St. Louis.

In the second quarter, however, Kurt Warner comes alive and hits new receiver Anquan Boldin for the Rams' first points of the game. Followed by a Steven Jackson rushing TD, the Rams close the gap to 21-17 at halftime.

Following a controversial concert performance in which Bruce Springsteen briefly exposed his genitals, the Rams take the lead after Warner connects with Torry Holt on a blistering 69-yard pass. A pair of TDs to Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward, however, give Pittsburgh a 35-24 lead heading into the fourth. A late pick six for Tyrone Carter drives the dagger through the heart of the Rams, as Pittsburgh coasts to their fifth Super Bowl championship.

2009 Offseason

Kurt Warner and Steve Mcnair both announce their retirements. So does Brett Favre, who then announces he has signed with the Bears less than three weeks later.

With the first pick in the NFL Draft, the Vikings select QB Matt Stafford, while the Seahawks land Mark Sanchez. Michael Vick becomes the starter for the NY Jets. Rex Ryan is named the new head coach of the Denver Broncos, as Jim Mora  takes over the Saints.

2009 Regular Season

The Cowboys and Bears tie for the best record in the NFC, each going 12-4. The Big Ben-commandeers Jaguars and the Alex Smith-led Dolphins finish with the best records in the AFC, with the Raiders and Ravens dominating their respective decisions. Just a year removed from the Super Bowl, neither the Steelers or Rams make the playoffs; the Packers, at 2-14, yet again take home the League's worst overall record.

2009-2010 Playoffs

In the wild card round, the Falcons knock off the Lions and the Seahawks topple the Vikings. Over in the AFC, Aaron Rodgers' Raiders steamroll Cleveland and Matt Ryan's Ravens have no problem dispatching the Chargers.

Brady's Cowboys crush Flacco's Falcons in the divisional round, and Favre's Bears barely squeak by Sanchez's Seahawks. Miami defeats Oakland in double O.T., while the Jags defeat the Ravens on a last second field goal.

In a north Florida vs. south Florida showdown, the Jaguars earn yet another AFC Championship, besting the Dolphins 34-21. The Cowboys go on to defeat the Bears 34-31, with an overtime field goal on their first possession sealing the game -- and an overhaul of overtime playoff procedures the next season.

Super Bowl XLIV

In Miami Gardens, the Cowboys get off to a hot start, with Tom Brady connecting with Terrell Owens on the game's first drive. A follow-up rushing TD by Ladanian Tomlinson gives Dallas a 14-0 lead heading into the second quarter.

Big Ben hits star receiver Santonio Holmes to cut the lead to 7. A pair of rushing touchdowns from Chris Johnson puts Jacksonville ahead 21-14 heading into the third.

It's a defensive stalemate in the third, with both teams unable to move the chains. The Cowboys do manage to hit a field goal, however, to reduce the deficit to 21-17. In the fourth, Miles Austin breaks loose on a 74 TD reception to give Dallas the lead, 28-17. With four minutes to go, Big Ben tosses a costly interception, as Terence Newman takes it all the way to endzone, effectively ending the game. With a final score of 38-20, the Cowboys celebrate their sixth Super Bowl championship, as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick finally get an opportunity to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

2010 Offseason

Sensing the Jamarcus Russell experiment was a massive failure, the Packers take Sam Bradford with the first pick in the draft. Ndamaukong Suh gets picked up by the Rams, and Dez Bryant is selected by the Patriots. Tim Tebow goes to the Cardinals, while Aaron Hernandez is picked up by the 49ers. Pete Carroll becomes the new head coach of the Giants.

2010 Regular Season

The New England Patriots powered by Tony Romo's League-best passer-rating, wind up with the best record in the AFC, going 13-3. In the NFC, the Bears and Falcons duke it out for supremacy, with each squad going 12-4 -- Favre's Bears get a first round bye, based on a better in-conference record.  Even with a new QB at the helm, the Packers continue to stagnate, going 3-13. Other teams faring poorly include the 4-12 Ravens, the 5-11 Steelers, and the 6-10 Jaguars, who saw their star QB Ben Roethlisberger sit out the entire season due to neck surgery. With an 8-8 record, the Cowboys miss the playoffs altogether, just one year after winning the Super Bowl.

2010-2011 Playoffs

In the wildcard round, the Cardinals and Giants upset the third and fourth seeded Eagles and 49ers, after having both lost their previous regular season match-ups with their much-hated division rivals. In the AFC, the Raiders muscle past the Browns and the Colts gallop away from Dolphins.

In the divisional round, the Bears are eliminated by the Cardinals, with Tim Tebow chunking a Hail Mary to give Arizona a thrilling, last second 38-31 victory at Soldier Field. The Falcons are also upset, with the Giants -- once again led by Eli Manning -- decimating Atlanta, 24-10. Over in the AFC, the Patriots survive a scare from the Colts, winning 23-17, as the Cinderella Bengals -- anchored by Jake Delhomme, of all people -- beat the Raiders in O.T.

In what is largely considered the best back-to-back Championship Sunday in modern league history, both Conference title games head to O.T., with Eli's Giants outgunning Tebow's Cardinals and Romo's Pats outlasting Cincy.

Super Bowl XLV

Deep down in Dallas, the Giants get off to an early lead, putting up 14 points in their first two possessions. The Pats fire right back, ultimately jumping out to a 21-14 lead at halftime. With running back sensation Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, the Giants score a set of TDS in the third, which is all the team needs en route to a 31-21 victory.

2011 Offseason 

Peyton Manning shocks the football world by announcing his retirement just a week after his brother is named NFL MVP. Coach changes a plenty follow, with Jason Garrett taking over the Seahawks, Ji Harbaugh heading to Pittsburgh, Pat Shurmur taking over the Broncos and Jeff Fisher taking over the Browns. In the NFL draft, the Ravens select Blaine Gabbert, while the Packers pick up AJ Green. Cam Newton goes to the Bills and Andy Dalton winds up in Tennessee. J.J. Watt becomes an Oakland Raider.

2011 Regular Season

Despite fears of a lockout, the NFL season starts off as planned, with all teams competing in 16 game schedules. After disappointing seasons, the Cowboys and Jaguars both bounce back, with the two locking up the best records in their respective conferences. The Redskins also put in a surprising showing, with new QB Matt Schaub propelling the team to a wildcard berth. After losing the first four games of the season, Tebow is benched in Arizona; Favre is also replaced in Chicago after poor play, as the team immediately jumps back into the playoff race with QB Jason Campbell under center.
The Packers finish with an 8-8 record, but miss the playoffs, as do the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants, who can only muster a 7-9 record. The Jets, Bucs and 49ers all tie for worst win-loss percentage, each dropping 13 games a piece.

2011-2012 Playoffs

In the NFC, the Cowboys and Falcons lock up first round byes, while in the AFC, the Jaguars and Patriots receive byes. In wildcard play, the Redskins destroy the Seahawks, 48-0 and the Bears rout the Lions, 36-3. In the AFC, the Raiders knock off the Browns, 21-10, and the Bengals best the Colts, 13,9.

The Redskins upset the Falcons in the divisional round, and the Cowboys have no problems getting past the Bears. The Raiders defeat the Patriots in overtime, and the Jags easily trounce the Bengals, 48-14.

In a heated contest, the Cowboys manage to get past the Redskins, 24-19, to win the NFC Championship. In an incredibly emotional contest, the Raiders defeat the Jaguars, with Michael Huff returning a Roethlisberger INT 79-yards in overtime to send Oakland to their first Super Bowl since 2004. The game is played just 12 hours after the sudden death of longtime Raiders owner Al Davis.

Super Bowl XLVI

It's Aaron Rodgers against Tom Brady in a shootout in Indianapolis, with each QB racking up three touchdowns a piece in the first half. In the second half, the Raiders take it to the Cowboys, with Darren McFadden running wild for 120 yards and two touch downs in the second a half. A late Dallas TD pass in the fourth makes it close, but the Raiders manage to hold on for a 38-28 victory, and their record tying sixth Lombardi trophy.

2012 Offseason

Brett Favre announces his retirement once more, but this time, he keeps his promise. In the draft, the Jets pick up Andrew Luck while the Bucs select Robert Griffin III. Nick Foles is picked up by the Chargers, with the team trading Drew Brees to the Eagles a few weeks later. Brandon Weeden is picked up by the Broncos, and the 49ers choose Ryan Tannehill. Time Tebow is traded to the Dolphins, and Colin Kapernick winds up as a back-up for the Vikings.

2012 Regular Season

The ferocious Raiders' D and potent offense propels them to a League-best 14-2 record. Over in the NFC, the Cowboys accrue a conference-best 12-4 season, with the Cinderella Buccaneers going 11-5 under rookie sensation RGIII. The Falcons, Cardinals and Texans tie for worst records, with each squad going 3-13. After years of abysmal regular season play, the Packers finally re-enter the playoffs, as do the long-suffering 49ers.

2012-2013 Playoffs

In the wildcard round, the Dolphins upset the Jags, 30-26, while the Colts fend off the Browns, 13-10. In NFC play, the Packers best the Lions while the 49ers overcome a large halftime deficit to defeat the Giants.

In the divisional round, Tim Tebow's Dolphins upset the Raiders in the Black Hole, with tight end Kyle Miller reeling in a remarkable one-handed catch with three seconds left in the fourth to give the Fins the victory. Romo's Patriots have no difficulties getting over the Colts, besting them 48-20. In the NFC, the Cowboys crush the 49ers 53-0, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just barely escape from the Packers on a last second field goal.

In the championship games, the Cowboys topple the Buccaneers 34-7, as RGIII exits the game early with a knee injury. In the AFC championship game, the so-called "Miracle Fins" outgun the heavily favored Patriots, with Tim Tebow once again engineering a late fourth quarter drive to give his team the victory.

Super Bowl XLVII

The Cowboys offensive juggernaut gets rolling early, with Tom Brady launching three touchdown passes in the first quarter. Only able to muster a set of field goals, Dallas jumps out to a dizzying 35-6 lead at halftime.

Unfortunately, the game's second half was severely delayed, with a lighting outage postponing play until almost 10 p.m, New Orleans time.

On the opening drive of the second half, running back Adrian Peterson fumbles, allowing a Miami defensive touchdown. Following a special teams fumble on the very next possession, Tebow hits Marlon Moore for a TD, thus cutting the lead down to 35-20. Unbelievably, Tom Brady follows that up with a pick 6 chunked to Bryan McCann, who gallops into the endzone to make it a 35-27 game.

The fourth quarter remains a defensive struggle, with neither team able to put any points on the board. Kicker Nate Kaeding does hit a field goal, closing the gap to 35-30, but Tebow is intercepted by Sterling Moore on 4th and goal, giving the Cowboys their record-shattering seventh Super Bowl Championship.

2013 Offseason

Tim Tebow shocks the sports world when he announces he will retire from pro football, citing his Super Bowl loss as prove that "God wanted him elsewhere." After lengthy Hall of Fame-worthy careers, both Randy Moss and Terrell Owens -- who had anchored the receiving core of the Cowboys for years -- retire. Ray Lewis also calls it quits, and Colin Kapernick's arrest on murder charges stuns the nation. With the first pick of the NFL Draft, the Houston Texans acquire QB Andrew Luck.

2013 Regular Season

A stingy 49ers defense propels them to the top of the NFC West, while the lowly Texans surge to first place in the AFC south. The Falcons, Packers and Broncos also mount comebacks, with each team winning their respective divisions. With QB Andy Dalton in the backfield, the Dolphins fall to a league worst 3-13 record, just a season after their miraculous Super Bowl run.

2013-2014 Playoffs

The 49ers and Cowboys lock up byes in the NFC, while the Patriots and Texans earn first round passes in the AFC. In the wildcard round, the Seahawks upset the Falcons, while the Packers barely get past arch rivals Chicago. Denver gets eliminated by Baltimore, while Cincinnati -- led by out-of-nowhere QB sensation Bruce Gradkowksi -- crush the Raiders.

The Niners edge past the Seahawks in low-scoring affair, while the Cowboys breeze past the Pack. Romo's Patriots defeat the Ravens, while the Cinderella Bengals knock off the heavily-favored Texans.

In the AFC Championship game, the Pats barely overcome the Bengals, winning 20-19 on a last second rushing TD. The 49ers, anchored by Alex Smith, have no problems with the Cowboys, besting their arch nemesis 24-13 in San Fran.

Super Bowl XLVIII

It's the league-best offense taking on the league-best defense, and it's an utter nightmare for the Pats. On the very first play of the game, Romo gets sacked for a safety, breaking his collarbone. Back-up QB Brandon Weeden proceeds to throw three consecutive interceptions, as the 49ers jump out to an unfathomable 30-0 lead at halftime. Things don't improve much in the second half, as the Patriots can only muster a lone rushing TD, in a dazzling 53-7 route at the hands of San Francisco

2014 Offseason

Long-time Jags QB Ben Roethlisberger is traded to the Steelers, while a distraught Tony Romo is traded to Washington -- whom, due to an executive decree from President Hilary Clinton, cannot be called "the Redskins" on national broadcasts. The Dolphins select Johnny Manziel with the first pick in the NFL Draft, with the Bills acquiring Blake Bortles. Eli Manning, Darren McFadden and Michael Vick all announce their retirements.

2014-2015 Regular Season

Controversy rears its ugly head early in the season, with reports alleging Cowboys QB Tom Brady assaulted his wife, Tyra Banks, in a hotel elevator. Despite intense scrutiny from the public, NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell allows Brady to continue playing, until TMZ leaks the raw footage, which appears to show the star quarterback Tombstone Piledriving his spouse repeatedly. Initially given a lifetime ban, the NFLPA overturns the suspension, allowing Brady to miss only three games. Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson breaks the NFL record for most rushing yards in a season, as he an defensive MVP Aaron Hernandez anchor a Cowboys squad that loses just one game all year.

2015 Playoffs

NFC qualifying teams are Dallas, Washington, San Francisco, Seattle, Carolina and Green Bay, and in the AFC, its Cincinnati, Denver, Houston, Buffalo, Baltimore and the Jets. During wildcard weekend, the Washington 'Skins upset Green Bay, while Seattle has no problems against Carolina, who make the playoffs in spite of an unfathomable 5-10-1 record.  In the AFC, the fifth and sixth seeded Ravens and Jets score victories over the higher-seeded Texans and Bills.

Dallas defeats Washington 20-16, with losing QB Tony Romo claiming, quote, "I'm telling you, those balls sure did feel funny down there." The reigning Super Bowl Champion 49ers best Seattle in double overtime, with Frank Gore going "beast mode" on a 67-yard game winning rush. In the AFC, the Ravens upset number one-seeded Cincinnati, while the heavily favored Broncos fall against the Jets.

For the second year in a row, it's the Cowboys and 49ers dueling for the NFC championship, and this year, Belichick's 'Boys exact their revenge, winning 30-14. Alex Smith, as did Tony Romo before him, also alleges oddities afoot during the game. "I swear," he tells ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, "those balls felt like they were filled with helium or something." Meanwhile, Matt Ryan's Ravens take down Mark Sanchez's Jets in the Meadowlands, with "Matty Ice" tossing four touchdowns in a 48-10 route.

Super Bowl  XLIX

In the suburbs of Phoenix, the heavily, heavily favored Cowboys jump put to an early lead, with running back Adrian Peterson chugging along for an 80-yard TD on the opening drive. However, Matt Ryan responds with three consecutive touchdown passes, as the underdog Ravens go up 21-7 at halftime. A Brady TD pass to free agency acquisition Tony Gonzalez makes it a 21-14 game, but Ravens running back Ray Rice rattles off back to back touchdown runs to give the Ravens a 35-14 lead. The Cowboys manage to net a pair of field goals, but its' too little, too late: the sixth-seeded Ravens defeat the Cowboys, 38-20, with Ray Rice -- whom, a day earlier, was given the NFL Player Association's "Man of the Year" Award -- receiving MVP honors.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

JIMBO GOES TO THE MOVIES: "Boyhood" (2014) Review

Some are calling it a modern masterpiece, but is the much celebrated indie darling anywhere near as good as the critics would have you believe?

The Reverend Al Sharpton -- who, depending on your political leanings, is either an unjustly maligned civil rights icon or a race-baiting sack of dog shit -- recently made headlines when he called for a boycott of the Academy Awards because the momentum on the post-Eric Garner cops-killing-black-kids brouhaha is dying down “Selma” didn’t get enough nominations.

At the heart of Sharpton’s argument is the overbearing, unrelenting whiteness of this year’s Best Picture nominees. Yeah, “Selma” did indeed pick up a nod (and will probably win, because Hollywood kowtows to even the slightest suggestion that its executives might be a bit on the racist side), but the remaining nominees are so flabbergasting devoid of melanin their reels would probably catch fire if exposed to sunlight.

A movie about a white sniper, directed by an old white dude who talks to invisible Obamas on live television. A movie about white jazz drummers, starring J. Jonah Jameson. A Stephen Hawking biopic, a deconstructionist comic book movie starring Michael “Vanilla Mayonnaise” Keaton, and a goddamn Wes Anderson movie … on any given year, any of the above would be the frontrunner for most Caucasoid cinematic offering of the year, but hoo boy, did we get ourselves a movie in 2014 that brings unparalleled levels of whiteness to American multiplexes.

“Boyhood” isn’t just the whitest Best Picture nominee of 2015, it’s arguably the whitest movie in film history -- it makes “Triumph of the Will” feel like a multicultural jubilee, and “Birth of a Nation” feel like a Melvin Van Peebles production. It’s a film so utterly enrapt in its own whiteness that if you poke the DVD hard enough, Radiohead starts playing.

Of course, none of this is to say that “Boyhood” ports about anything even remotely resembling prejudicial sentiments against non-whites. Rather, this is a film that doesn’t even acknowledge brown people exist, serving as something of a the film equivalent of Brendan Fraser’s character in “Blast From the Past” -- an absolute vacuum of whiteness, the living, breathing definition of Caucasoid insulation.

There’s no denying that “Boyhood” is an ambitious movie. Director Richard Linklater -- he of “Slacker” and “Dazed and Confused” fame, not to mention the mastermind behind that supremely overrated “Sunset” trilogy -- spent the better part of 12 years filming it, with the cast aging a decade throughout the production. It’s a novel cinematic hook, to be sure, but unfortunately, it appears Mr. Linklater forgot that part about, you know, crafting an actual movie around the gimmick.

The first warning sign are the opening credits, which are synched up to “Yellow” by Coldplay … arguably the most saccharine, wishy-washy, artificially nostalgic song ever recorded. From there, we jump to what is probably 2002, and meet our main character Mason when he’s about six years old. He spends most of his time watching the Majn Buu episode of “Dragon Ball Z” and vandalizing tunnels with spray paint while the Hives play in the background.

His mama, played by Patricia Arquette, gets sick of her boyfriend, so she decides to take him and his slightly older sister Samantha (played by Richard Linklater’s own daughter) to Houston so they can live with their grandmother while she takes psychology classes. Cue lots of Sheryl Crow songs while Mason plays “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” on his Game Boy Advance.

Olivia and Mason’s dad, played by Ethan Hawke, takes them bowling at one of those pastel-hued pseudo-futuristic alleys, and he gives them sage life advice about how real life doesn’t have “bumpers” preventing gutter balls. He smokes indoors, talks about the Iraq War, and his why his children should vote for John Kerry. He and Patricia have an argument, as Mason watches helplessly from his bedroom window.

From there, Patricia starts boinking one of her professors, this dude who seems really amicable upfront, which obviously means he’s a sonofabitch of almost Dwight Yokam caliber. So, Patricia and the prof get married, and Mason and Samantha move in with him and his two kids, and they play “Halo 2” a lot, and their new daddy tries to show them how to play golf and then we learn he likes to chug Sprite and vodka, and before long, he’s slapping their mama around and throwing glasses at them and drunk driving them to liquor stores to cash checks for him. Needless to say, that don’t last too long until Patricia grabs the kids, files for divorce and moves in with one of her friends, where Mason plays a lot of Wii Sports boxing.

Ethan Hawke shows up to take the kids out to a Houston Astros game so they can see Roger Clemens play, and they all dress up like Muggles for the midnight release of one of the “Harry Potter” books.

So, Mason and his biological daddy go camping and they talk about the potentiality for more “Star Wars” movies and pee out fires, and then the kids go door to door putting up “Obama/Biden ‘08” signs in the neighborhood and Ethan tells them to go yank down some McCain posters.

So, Patricia gets a job teaching pop psychiatry in Austin, and Mason starts drinking beer and punching wooden blocks and throwing saw blades at stuff. Patricia, whose boobs pretty much quadruple in girth over the course of the film, winds up marrying one of her students, an Iraq War vet, and she tells this one day laborer he’s pretty good at English and should probably go to college or something. Mason, meanwhile, starts smoking weed and making out with generic blonde girls, but his mom, surprisingly, really don’t seem to care all that much.

Ethan gives the kids a stern talking to about condoms, which is pretty appropriate, because he’s gotten remarried and has a new baby of his own. Mason gets mad at him because he sold the GTO he thought he was going to inherit, but their daddy’s new wife’s parents gives him a bible and a rifle, so that … kinda’ makes up for it, maybe? Oh, and there’s a part where they talk about the Beatles solo work for, like, ten straight minutes.

Mason’s photography teacher tells him he’s talented but lazy, so he makes him go film a football game and he just spends the entire third quarter taking pictures of a practice net. He visits his sister, now at the University of Texas, and plays pool while Gotye plays in the background. They make fun of people who talk to themselves at Denny’s and freak out Sam’s roommates, who walks in on them all naked and stuff.

So, Mason wins some pointless photography awards and his mama leaves her third husband because he has PTSD and stuff and he has an argument with her about moving away to college, and there’s a big party and his daddy has a really gross looking mustache now and then, he meets his dorm buddy, and a girl gives him psychotropic mushrooms literally one minute after arriving on campus and then they go to a canyon and yell at the sky and talk about living in the moment. And then … the credits roll.

My Score:

Two Tofu Dogs out of Four

Now folks, I am not an opponent of artsy-fartsy cinema. One of my all-time favorite directors is Bela Tarr, a dude whose filmography includes a menagerie of eight-hour long minimalist black and white movies about evil whales and people boiling potatoes. I can most certainly do avant-garde, but this “Boyhood” simply isn’t great art, by any stretch of the imagination.

If you strip away the “it took 12 years to make” hook, there’s hardly anything noteworthy about the picture at all. Thematically, it’s no different than something like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” and god knows that kind of shit ain’t worthy of an Oscar.

The acting is good, and there are portions of the film that are entertaining, but it’s oh-so overlong and, ultimately, pointless. The main character has the personality of a wet marshmallow, and the rest of the cast is so whiny and one-dimensional that you kind of want this thing to turn into “Elephant” halfway through it -- without question, this has to be the most critically acclaimed Lifetime original ever made.

This movie, no doubt, will appeal to a lot of folks -- most likely, the staggering number of high-brass child predators in the film industry and all the neo-urbanite post-hipster scum who think liking what pseudo-intellectuals like gives them some sort of relational perceptiveness or credibility.

At the end of the day, though, the big problem with “Boyhood” is that, for an event film, it’s oh-so uneventful. This isn’t just a boring movie, it’s something far worse: a white-hot boring movie, a film so steeped in upper-class Caucasian ennui that it makes “American Beauty” look like “Do the Right Thing.”

It’s clear that Linklater takes a lot of pride in his movie, and I don’t want to be that asshole that rips apart a dude’s literal life’s work, but at the end of the day, this is a GLORIOUSLY overrated motion picture. Oddly enough, the character development just isn’t there, the story itself is frustratingly devoid of anything engrossing, and there are segments that just dawdle on forever, giving you the glimmer of something significant, but ultimately, hardly anything we see in the movie leads to any kind of meaningful denouement. Like every other fucking movie made over the last forty years, it’s just another celebration of youthful suburban alienation, suggesting that the cure-all for affluenza is lowering one self into a state of inauthentic paucity. At the end of the day, “Boyhood” has nothing more profound to say than “do drugs and don’t give a shit about anything” -- an astoundingly immature narrative for a film being hailed as a master work of the matured cinematic form.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Six Best Football Games of the 128-Bit Era!

Counting down the half dozen finest virtual pigskin offerings of the PS2 years…

For me, video gaming really reached its apex with the Dreamcast. That’s not to say there weren’t a ton of great games released after the demise of Sega’s last console, it’s just that I feel as if the medium generally stopped progressing from that point onward.

The PS2/XB/GC era really hailed the end of console video gaming as we knew it. With DVD functionality and online services, the units really grew beyond gaming machines and became multimedia devices -- an evolutionary step that, in my humble opinion, has been for the worse as opposed to the better.

Contrary to what it may sound like, I was actually a big fan of the Playstation2, Gamecube and Xbox, having owned all of them at one point or another. In fact, some of my all-time favorite games -- including “Burnout 3,” “Virtua Fighter 4,” “Metal Gear Solid 3,” and “Metroid Prime” -- all came out during the epoch.

Second only to the 16-bit era, I don't think there has ever been a gaming generation filled with as many great sports game as the Dreamcast-to-Gamecube one. From outstanding footy titles like "Pro Evolution Soccer" to arcade B-ball extravaganzas like "NBA Street" to the still-relevant "Tony Hawk" series, the generation was just gummed up with outstanding virtual sports offerings, and perhaps no subgenre had as many standout, diverse selections as the arena (er, stadium?) of video american football.

Yeah, all of that came crashing down in late 2004, with EA's announcement that they had locked up the pro football licensing rights for years to come, but before that, there actually were a number of better-than-average to outstanding pigskin simulators out there for us to joyously bruise our thumbs upon -- and even a few unlicensed ones following.

With the 49th installment of the Super Bowl nigh approaching, I figured it was worth our collective whiles to take a relatively shorter stroll down memory lane than our usual nostalgic circle jerks, and reflect on the greatness of the football games of two console cycles ago. Man, it's feeling all shades of 2003 up in this muddah, and in the best way possible, too.

Blitz: The League

In the mid 2000s, it sorta’ became publicly acknowledged that a lot of NFL players had made themselves half-retarded from years of concussions and spine-rattling helmet-to-helmet collisions. As such, the National Football League decided to do a bit of a PR clean-up, and one of their first responses was forcing the makers of the popular arcade series “NFL Blitz” to tone down all of the piledrivers and clotheslines. This led to the half-hearted attempt at a “real” football sim, “Blitz Pro,” which for all intents and purposes, sucked.

Who didn't want to see a five-year-late video game adaptation of
"Any Given Sunday?"
After Electronic Arts snatched up the NFL license all for itself in late 2004, the programmers over at Midway decided to say “eff you” and crafted their own non-licensed football game, which appears to have been modeled after the short-lived ESPN drama “Playmakers” (which, itself, wound up getting axed because the NFL didn’t like a fictitious series alleging that all of its players were a bunch of crack smoking wife beaters. How preposterous!)

Released in 2005, “Blitz: The League” didn’t offer much in sheer gameplay -- really, it was a pretty lackluster variation of the engine used for the afore-mentioned “Blitz Pro” -- but it what it lacked in substance, it definitely made up for in style. The first sports video game I can think of with a genuine narrative, you took control of a player-made team and traversed your way through a full season just ripe with on and off the field intrigue, complete with what has to be the first ever subplot about a publicly-funded stadium deal in a video game of any variety.

Perhaps trying to cash in on the grim and gritty success of “Grand Theft Auto,” the game also had a shit ton of features you’d never see in “Madden,” including the ability to specifically target vital organs, shoot up steroids and even send hookers over to the hotel rooms of other players (a real-life tactic pioneered by legendary linebacker and unabashed paedo Lawrence Taylor, who also lends his voice and likeness to a character in the game.) As before, it’s far from being a great football video game, but just for the sheer audacity of it -- and the novel attempt at an actual narrative -- it’s probably worth playing, at least once.

ESPN NFL Football

As good as the “NFL 2K” games on the Dreamcast were, I’ve always thought the games on the PS2 and Xbox were even better. And while “NFL 2K5” remains arguably the most beloved installment in the series, I actually prefer playing its predecessor, “ESPN NFL Football.”

It even had Chris Berman and his kooky colloquialisms...unfortunately.
I logged more hours on this game than I did any other on my Xbox, save perhaps for “Forza Motorsport.” The ingenious “Cribs” feature gave you a ton of replay incentives, as accomplishing certain on-the-field feats (like holding an opponent to zero total offensive yards and throwing 15 consecutive passes in a row) netted you some really cool doodads, like bobble heads, air hockey mini-games and even a special guest player or two -- folks, I cannot tell you how awesome it is to be able to send Ryo Hazuki and Beat from “Jet Set Radio” to the Oakland Raiders mini-camp.

Structurally, the gameplay was just about pitch-perfect. The run game was much smoother than "Madden," although playing defense wasn’t as much fun. And then, there were the dropped passes; for the most part, the aerial game worked, but it just seemed that there was some sort of glitch in the code that resulted in way too many inexplicable bobbled balls.

Of course, the presentation was tremendous, with excellent commentary and really nice implementation of the ESPN brand. That said, the game’s big feature -- the much-ballyhooed “first person football” mode -- was fairly stupid, but at least you could turn it off.  That, and the game contains what is quite possibly the greatest, unintentional video football drinking game of all-time; just flip on the “every hit causes a fumble” cheat, and you too, can relive all the glory and splendor of Super Bowl XLI!

Madden NFL 2005

A lot of people consider “Madden NFL 2004” to be the zenith of the franchise, but for my money, “Madden” was never as good as it was in 2005 (which was actually released in 2004, but let’s try not to be such sticklers on that, OK?)

Ray Lewis, seen here in a rare moment not holding a butcher knife.
Simply put, this game had it all. The passing game and run game was just phenomenal, and the introduction of the “hit stick” made defense just as fun as playing offense -- probably the first time that’s ever been the case in a football video game.

The core gameplay was excellent, as to be expected, but where the game really shined was in its franchise mode, which was really deep enough to be considered a game onto itself. You KNOW you’re playing a game that takes the simulation angle seriously when you actually have the ability to jack up the prices of stadium hot dogs.

The last year the “Madden” series had any legitimate competition, interestingly enough, appears to have been its franchise high point. Next year’s follow-up, which introduced the ill-fated “QB cone” mechanic and a create-a-player mode that seemed to encourage eugenics, was a considerable step-down for the series, as was the arguably series-worst “Madden 07.” I haven’t had much experiences with the Xbox 360 and PS3 games, but if there half as good as “2005” was, well … methinks I may have to do me some pawn shop shoppin’ shortly.

NCAA Football 06

This is arguably the best college football game ever made … and since the NCAA players association won’t let anybody use their likenesses, that may very well be a statement of fact even thirty years from now, too.

To begin, the soundtrack. Ingenuously, EA decided to go with an all college-rock vibe, which means you could build your collegiate dynasty to the dulcimer tones of The Pixies and Guided by Voices -- strangely enough, a feature EA abandoned in the very next series update.

Nothing says "the college experience" quite like depressing emo-rock and
PlayStation football, no?
The core gameplay was as satisfying as you'd imagine it to be, but the career mode really put this thing over the top. Not content with just offering a create-a-player mode, this installment let you become a virtual collegiate athlete, complete with a filthy dorm, final exams and the ability to upgrade girlfriends as you performed better on the field. The only way EA could have made a more ridiculously in-depth title is if they included point-shaving and GHB-slipping mini-games.

The replay value on this sucker was off the charts. Even after completing a four-year run at BYU as a tailback, I immediately decided to start a new campaign as an outside linebacker at Toledo. And true to form, even though my squad went undefeated for an entire presidential term, we still managed to get screwed over on a BCS National Title bid every single year. Needless to say, the realism presented by Electronic Arts here is utterly astounding.

NFL Fever 2004

While “Madden” and “2K” were most certainly better series, Microsoft’s very own “Fever” franchise wasn’t too shabby either. While the first two games in the series were remorseless score fests, the third (and final) installment was actually loaded with all sorts of cool features, that sadly, portended what could have been a truly stellar next-gen series.

Pressing the white button allowed you to adjust your cup, if I remember
First off, the visuals in "NFL Fever 2004" were probably the best of any football game from the era. Unlike in "NFL 2K," the player models didn't look like Frankenstein monsters, and unlike "Madden," the running animations actually somewhat resembled human movement. That, and there were a ton of neat touches, like grass stains accumulating on jerseys and the crowds emptying the stadium during blowouts.

Gameplay-wise, yeah, there were some deficiencies, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But as a plus, the offensive selections were pretty robust (I goddamn loved the "create-a-play" feature) and the "read-and-lead" passing gimmick -- in which you chunked the ball to a spot on the field and than commandeered a receiver to said spot -- had a lot of potential. And the offseason mode beat the dogshit out of both "Madden" and "2K," and it wasn't even close.

Alas, "Fever" was short-lived, an especially cruel fate considering the series seemed to be on the verge of turning the corner from being a good football franchise to one that legitimately posed a challenge to the "big two" of pro football video gamin'. If you've never played this one, you can probably pick up a copy at Gamestop for less than a dollar ... just don't be surprised when the '72 Dolphins challenge you out of the blue after winning your first Super Bowl, though.

NFL Street

Considering the critical and financial success of the “NBA Street” series, I suppose it was only natural that EA would look heir hand at a similar NFL product, too. “NFL Street,” in a way, filled the void left behind by “NFL Blitz,” giving gamers a really out there arcade-style sports game that replaced the absurd violence with equally absurd gymnastic feats that bordered on the supernatural.

Football is always better when it look like "Katamari Damacy,"
doesn't it?
As the name implies, the fun here was all about crafting your own dream team, and then watching them do "Prince of Persia" shit in back alleys while Xzibit played in the background. There were quite a few NFL legends on the roster too, which made it all the more fun -- nothing like bringing Barry Sanders out of retirement for some "Tecmo Super Bowl"-esque ownage, no?

Probably the two biggest slights against the game were the defensive controls (man, a "hit stick" a'la "Madden 2005" would've made a world of difference here) and the "game breaker" feature, which pretty much resulted in an automatic TD, no matter what. That said, you gotta' give the game props for a seriously fun offensive game ... running sideways up brick walls and taunting linebackers for bonus points? Yeah, you know I am all about that.

Strangely enough, EA BIG was never really able to refine the core gameplay into a better series, with "NFL Street 2" (released the same calendar year as the first game, if you can believe it) suffering from a surfeit of glitches and the way-too-late follow-up "NFL Street 3" just playing like a lifeless sack of shit. Still, "NFL Street" numero uno remains a seriously fun little offering, and nothing -- I mean NOTHING -- will make you feel pangs of nostalgia for the W. years quite like staring at a cartoon-version of Ricky Williams. Absolutely freaking nothing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Autism: An Economic Time Bomb?

As spectrum youths become adults, the financial consequences could be severe. But could improving job outlooks for autistic adults be as simple as pressing an off button?

In 1989, Universal Pictures released a shameless, product-placement strewn motion picture titled “The Wizard.” Starring Fred Savage of “The Wonder Years” fame, the film was basically a 90-minute commercial for Nintendo, as the movie’s threadbare plot revolved largely around a bunch of kids in pursuit of a video game tournament championship.

In the movie, the control pad wunderkind is a young child with severe speech pattern abnormalities. He clings to an old lunch pail at all times, and has an obsessive interest in building blocks. In fact, the only time he breaks out of his dead-to-the-world demeanor is when he’s shoving quarters into “Double Dragon” arcade cabinets and marveling at the majesty of the Mattel Power Glove -- manufacturer’s suggested retail price, $74.99.

In hindsight, it’s obvious the character had a severe autism spectrum disorder, but being 1989 -- long before ASDs were fashionable -- hardly anyone who viewed the film picked up on it. Indeed, that year, the national autism rate was about 10 births per 10,000, a far, far cry from today’s astonishing rate of one-out-of-68 births.

Twenty years after “The Wizard” hit theaters, an Environmental Protection Agency report found 1988-1989 to be a “changepoint year” in global autism diagnoses. A year prior to that cohort set, the approximate worldwide autism spectrum disorder rate was 6-births-per-10,000. A year afterwards, the rate jumped up to about 24-births-per-10,000, and the number has been going up -- substantially -- every year since.

According to the EPA, the major uptick in autism prevalence could not be explained by “genetic mechanisms alone.” Rather, for an increase that sizable over such a short period of time, the authors of the report state “exogenous environmental factors” simply had to play some kind of role.

Interestingly enough, the 1988-1989 window was also a “changepoint year” for the video game industry as a whole. With global video game revenue laying low at a comparably paltry $4.5 billion in 1987, sales skyrocketed to nearly $14 billion a year afterward.

By 1993, global video game sales were approaching $30 billion annually. As fate would have it, that same year, the autism diagnosis rate in the U.S. reached 20 ASD births per 10,000 -- a doubling of diagnoses in just five years.

Autism prevalence rates hit 30-out-of-10,000 births in 1996. That coincided with the release of the Nintendo 64 and Sony Playstation, as global video game revenue surpassed $40 billion for the first time.

Looking at video game console sales figures and autism rates by year, the bar graphs become eerily similar. When the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released in 1985, the ASD diagnosis rate was locked at about one-in-2,500 births. By the time the NES successor, the Super Nintendo, hit U.S. shelves, that rate had jumped up to one-in-1,000. By the time the Playstation was on the market, the rate had leapt to one-in-500; with the release of the Playstation 2 in 2001, the rate had increased yet again, to one-in-250. When the Playstation 3 was released in 2006, the ASD rate had gone up to one-in-150.

Last year, a Neurology Now report made it clear that intensive video gaming indeed altered the wiring of young people’s brains, resulting in a surfeit of dopamine that, in the words of the author, “can almost shut prefrontal regions down.”

It’s not exactly a groundbreaking discovery, either. Going as far back as the early 1990s, researchers have concluded that video gaming overstimulates the parts of adolescent brains that govern spatial skills, resulting in the underdevelopment of regions that dictate sociability and emotional control.

Report after report finds children with ASD diagnoses tend to spend significantly more time in front of computer screens than their cohorts, with some researchers finding a direct correlation between intensive video game play and problem behaviors in youths with autism spectrum disorders. 

Demonstrating the pervasiveness of the issue, the American Psychiatric Association even vouched for “Internet Gaming Addiction” to be included as an actual mental health disorder in an addendum to the DSM-5, which is more or less the bible of clinical psychiatry.

Today, the global video game market is about $70 billion a year. That’s about ten times the amount of revenue generated by Abilify, the top-grossing pharmaceutical in the U.S., which, as fate would have it, is also one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for autistic individuals.

Despite the considerable amount of research indicating the clearly negative neurological impacts of intensive adolescent video game play, the manufacturers of the games with the highest density of ASD players have actually tried to spin things the other direction, claiming that their offerings are actually “educational” experiences. Sadly, this is a notion gaining traction with educators and parents across the nation, with the author of a Pacific Standard article, without the slightest tinge of irony, suggesting schools eschew genuine social interaction events, like dances, for "Minecraft parties.

I’m not even going to pretend that I know why ASD diagnoses have shot up so much over the last 30 years. Personally, I wouldn’t rule out anything as an explanation at this point, whether it’s additives in processed foods or stronger doses of antibiotics doled out be pediatricians. Maybe the real answer is the simplest, and the most cynical -- that more clinicians are just diagnosing kids so they can get kickbacks from the pharmaceutical companies. Not that they would ever think about exploiting children for their own financial gain or anything.

I find it inarguable, however, that electronic media producers and manufacturers have exploited the ASD demographic. Console makers and software providers specifically target the child and teen spectrum population, capitalizing on their tendencies to obsess and reward-seek. It’s a marketing strategy that’s kept Nintendo afloat for the better part of two decades, as their cash cow franchise “Pokemon” -- complete with its infantile, hyper-consumerist “Gotta’ Catch ‘Em All” mantra -- has sold more than 260 million copies since the mid 1990s. Interestingly, the creator of the series is a high-functioning autist himself, who said the franchise was heavily inspired by his compulsive childhood collecting.

So enmeshed in juvenile pop culture -- your “Star Wars” and your “My Little Pony” and the like -- one observer has noted that a growing number of adult autists can only communicate with others in “geek speak,” which is basically the context-less re-quoting of television dialogue and Internet memes. It’s Madison Avenue’s dream come true -- an entire fleet of ultra-consumers whom literally speak in a brand-dictated patois.

If you’re a software or hardware huckster, of course you’re going to go after the adult ASD crowd. Statistics indicate half of them don’t work, a majority are in-home dependents and they’re not getting married, having kids or generally interacting with society to any great degree. To video game marketers, they are the most enviable prize in the land -- eternal children, with all of the free-time in the world, with nothing to do but play, play, play, while their parents -- or other adult tax payers -- make a down payment on their next GameStop haul.

As a social issue, autism is quickly changing from a strict medical matter to cultural one, as proponents of  “neurodiversity” decry Applied Behavioral Analysis as barbaric and retroactively diagnose long-dead historical figures with the same spectrum disorders they share.

"The Holist Manifesto" -- something of a Magna Carta for the politicized ASD set -- states the political demand rather bluntly: “We are entitled to be different and learn and work differently.”

For the most part, the fledgling identity politics movements is concerned with educational access -- which, for sizable surcharges, many colleges are more than happy to provide.

Interestingly enough, there’s not a whole lot of talk within the movement about employee rights … and for good reason.

A 2013 report by the A.J. Drexel Institute found the economic outlook for young adults with autism -- this, being the cohorts born around the time of the “change point” noted by the EPA -- to be rather grim. According to their research, only one out of five ASD adults had full-time employment, with the average autistic full-timer making just $8 an hour. The same report found that more than half of autistic adults never had a job, of any variety, within eight years of exiting high school.

For all the talk we hear about the “school to prison pipeline,” it’s a bit surprising that hardly anyone ever brings up the “diploma to disability pipeline,” which is a much more ingrained -- if not wholly accepted -- aspect of the nation’s educational system.

Typing in the query “autistic adults income” in Google yields perhaps the most telling indicia for spectrumites over the age of 18 -- the entire first page is filled with tips on applying for social security benefits.

While data on the reproductive habits of autistic individuals is scarce, researcher Simon Baron-Cohen (who, to the best of my knowledge, isn’t related to Borat) believes assortative mating is likely to be a factor in the uptick in ASD diagnoses -- meaning, those with milder autistic traits tend to select partners with similar characteristics, which he believes results in offspring receiving a “double dose of autism genes and traits.”

The bulk of research, however, indicates adults with more pronounced spectrum disorders simply aren’t reproducing. A report in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders from 2011 found that ASD adults were marrying at almost unfathomably lower rates than the general public, with singles representing 99 percent of subjects in one trial.

As today’s spectrum youth fall deeper into technological absorption, passive entertainment and machine-assisted communication, the dual casualties are sociability and independence.

This New York Times op-ed, about an autistic child whose only friend is an iPad, more or less proves the depersonalized, high-tech dystopia of the 2013 film “Her” has already become a reality. Worse than a culture sans social skills, we’re probably just a generation away from an entire subculture of youths who are incapable of any sort of communication without computer assistance.

Even worse, we’ve seemingly convinced ourselves that these kids can fulfill their pie in the sky multimedia and STEM fantasies without developing adequate social skills, that they can make it by just fine in life with severe communicative deficits.

We’re literally breeding an entire generation of children destined to never grow up, to never become adults capable of handling their own finances or even holding down steady employment.

The end result, I imagine, will be similar to Japan’s fate, where so many adults have withdrawn from society that there’s actually a name for them -- hikikomori, whose unproductive ranks are so high that some analysts have listed them as a primary factor for Japan’s ongoing recession.

That’s the autism problem no one is discussing -- the economic one.

How exactly are you supposed to support a high-demand consumer market when just a tenth of said consumers make more than minimum wage? How exactly is a national economy, comprised primarily of service industry jobs, supposed to sustain itself when the workforce has been told since birth that they’re too unsociable to find employment? What sort of labor market are we creating when our educational systems eschew soft skills for technological dependency, telling kids to abandon interpersonal communication for machine-aided isolation?

The media, entertainment, technology and even education sectors aren’t encouraging autistic adults to grow up and make a living of their own. Instead, they keep telling them it’s OK to sit around playing the same games they’ve been playing since they were children, that it’s OK to be forever coddled by their parents and that ceaseless consumption is more worthwhile than actual human interaction.

Regardless of the neurological roots of autism, we can’t be doing spectrum youth any good by permitting passive screen time over real social experiences. Nor are we setting ourselves up favorably in terms of workforce development; after all, when unproductive children turn into unproductive adults, it’s not just a burden on mom and dad -- indeed, it’s one shared by all of society.

Monday, January 19, 2015

B-MOVIE REVIEW: “Duck! The Carbine High Massacre” (1999)

It’s easily the greatest slapstick comedy ever made about a school shooting!

The April 20, 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School served as a real paradigm shift for American society. While there had been school shootings before -- and before that, nearly two decades worth of workplace massacres -- the tragedy in the suburbs of Denver really came to represent the dawning of a new era in American violence. It was the birth of the modern mass shooter era, a macabre spectacle that’s been replayed before our morbidly fascinated eyes many, many, MANY times since.

Of course, the cold hard facts behind the Columbine massacre have been fairly obfuscated by years and years of misinformation (a quick and dirty primer on everything the conventional narrative gets wrong can be read right here, enlightenment seekers.) Obviously, with an unparalleled event of the like -- which received nearly unprecedented around-the-clock Internet and cable news coverage -- it was only a matter of time before some filmmakers came along and decided to dramatize the incident. There’s actually a pretty large number of Columbine-inspired movies out there, ranging from the absolutely incredible (do whatever it takes to see 2003’s “Zero Day”) to the really, really good (Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” albeit with some horribly opportunistic anti-homophobia-politicking needlessly included) to the fairly forgettable (Uwe Boll’s “Heart of America” immediately springs to mind.)

The first movie to really focus on the Columbine incident, surprisingly, wasn’t “Bowling for Columbine.” Rather, it was an incredibly obscure New Jersey flick called “Duck! The Carbine High Massacre,” which -- unbelievably -- was released just months after the mass shooting in Colorado.

It seems like a film coming out so soon after the tragedy would’ve garnered more media publicity -- indeed, that had to have been the intentions of directors William Hellfire and Joey Smack (obviously, their birth names), who also played the film’s lead characters. Strangely enough though, the same media conglomerates that produced maudlin special after maudlin special on the massacre steered clear of covering the movie’s release; and if you think it’s because of taste, tact and respect for the families of the dead, clearly, you don’t know much about American media.

Then again, the mass media leviathans may have avoided the film for an altogether different reason: namely, the fact that “Duck!” absolutely annihilates the news industry for their hypocritical and exploitative take on mass killings. Although indelibly crude and unpolished, there’s no denying that there’s a real set of brains behind the film, and for all of its amateurish faults and flaws, it’s a shockingly profound and poignant movie, with an absolutely biting satirical message that, in my opinion, does a better job of explaining why Columbine happened then any of the films that followed it.

Just imagine what these kids could have gotten their hands on if they had
stuck around long enough to see the Silk Road!
Following a smart-alecky disclaimer for the easily offended, we jump to a scene in which a bunch of teenagers (played by thirty year old actors, of course) pretend to freak out while their teacher, wearing one of the worst wigs you will ever see in any movie, bleeds to death. The kids call 911, but the operator thinks they are all high and ignores their cries for help.

Yes, that’s right, folks … “Duck!” is an “Airplane!” type comedy, of the utmost brass-balled variety.

So, the dying teacher yelps “why?” and the credits -- which consists of a high number of adult film thespians -- roll. We jump to two kids, Derwin and Derrick, sitting in their cavernous basement, drinking, smoking, and looking at online weapons while wearing Nazi helmets. They look over a Chinese website that sells supposed nuclear weapons, and here comes mom and dad, who much like the REAL Klebolds and Harrises, somehow had no goddamn idea their kids had enough firepower in their possessions to overthrow a banana republic. The parents overlook their “science project” and briefly discuss a “violent English assignment” that perturbed the school administration. One of the kids asks them to scram, and dad -- who has a literally violent reaction to techno-metal a’la KMFDM -- slugs his wife across the face for no real reason.

From there, we get a look at the eclectic high school cast. There’s your bullies, your jocks, your greasers, Goths and despondent losers of all varieties -- much like a “Friday the 13th” offering though, it’s probably for the best that you don’t get attached to any of them as a viewer.

Man, is it ever reassuring to see kids take up an interest in reading, no?
In a technology class, a Christian goody-two-shoes girl tries to recruit people to come to her youth group meeting, while a special ed student gives everyone a lecture on the merits of “Dark Star.” The teacher goes on and on about how great the Web is, and the only black dude in the entire movie rebukes him by saying the Internet is only for white folks. Derrick and Derwin talk about “The Poor Man’s James Bond,” and they’re accosted by a mysterious, faceless janitor, who says some very ominous things to them (believe it or not, this could be a highly prescient criticism of Internet absorption … more on that later, readers.)

So, the two kids try to detonate their nuke, but it’s a dud. One of them kind of insinuates he’s a teen alcoholic (which was very much the real life case with Dylan Klebold, a little tidbit that somehow gets lost in the standard media narrative.) Then, one of the kids receives an absolutely savage mauling at the hands of literally everybody in school, culminating with one of the jocks carving the term “freak” on his stomach. The janitor then comes to the kid’s aid, and tells him it might finally be time to exact a little revenge on his tormentors.

At school the next day, the other kid has his copy of “Mein Kampf” ripped up by the black kid, who literally wears a shirt that says “I hate white people” on it, because the book promotes, and I quote, “hate literature.” A folksy hippy girl sings a song called “An Ode to the Internet,” and Derrick (or Derwin, not that it really matters) scribbles “How to Make An Atomic Bomb” on the chalkboard and freaks everybody out. Since his comrade is at home nursing his wounds, he can’t do the presentation, so he gets an F from his teacher.

On the universal creepy meter, this guy scores a 9 out of 10 ... or, about a
2 out of 10, if we're adjusting for the New Jersey average.
At home, the other kid watches really violent anime, takes his dad’s drugs and rubs cream he bought off the Internet to mask his wounds from the previous day’s pummeling. The two then have a conversation about how much they hate “pig cities” and “escapist bastards.” They decide to take drastic actions to send a clear message to the masses: “We owe it to society,” one of the characters creepily states, “to show these people their lives are a lie.”

At the alleged church group meeting, the evangelical girl -- who brought your stereotypical Jersey girl skank-ola with her -- Today is the Day does a performance and freaks her out. Meanwhile, Derrick and Derwin visit a black market dealer, who tries to sell them sex slaves to go along with their firearms. Then, there’s a fairly lengthy satirical segment where the dealer shows off his wares, which are held by a bunch of naked women in gas masks -- talk about the fetishization of violence, no? He concludes by dropping the best line in the entire movie: “You kids don’t get hurt while you’re killing some people.”

Derrick and Derwin chug alcohol, smoke cigs and load their arsenal. Meanwhile, the Christian girl’s parents read an all-too telling biblical passage about casting pearls before swine, while one of the jocks delivers a monologue about his love of canned meats.

And then, we get to the massacre scene. It’s pretty much what you would expect, with ample dollops of super morbid humor -- and also, we learn that black people have brains that are blue, for some reason. I’m still not sure what the message there is supposed to be, honestly.

While half the school gets riddled with bullets, a news crew shows up to bemoan the “exciting … I mean, tragic” event, with a police chief blaming the shooting on minorities. A clueless SWAT team arrive, and so does the principal, who mugs it up for the camera. Meanwhile, the news station replays footage of a kid being shot and stumbling over and over, while a pair of teens who do look suspiciously like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold watch in awe at home.

Umm ... yeah, now might be a good time to put down the Lunchables, fellas. 
Derrick and Derwin then find a broom closet, share a final smoke, and blow each others brains out. They tell one another they “love each other,” and their hands kind of touch after they commit dual suicide. Meanwhile, the principal and the police survey the cafeteria mayhem, with an innocent goth kid getting killed because, apparently, that’s something the po-po have an unfortunate tendency to do in high-tension situations. Then, a propane bomb prepped by the mysterious janitor detonates, and presumably, everybody in the building gets blown to smithereens.

The film concludes with a litany of TV interviews with oblivious parents, na├»ve teachers and even a crackpot who believes “alien influences” may have had something to do with the shooting … yet another eerily prescient observation on the future impact of fringe media on the lives of the disaffected.

The end credits roll, as more and more gifts are added to a memorial placard. The final scene in the film is a throwback to the Harris and Klebold doppelgangers, who proclaim they should “blow up our high school and be on TV.“ Intentionally or not, that is quite possibly the most revelatory moment of any film about a school shooting, before or after.

Well, not that I need to tell you this, but “Duck!” is most certainly not a film for all tastes. With its crude “shot on videotape” look, terrible acting, subpar special effects and a narrative that will probably piss off a good 95 percent of the populace, I can’t say this is a people-pleaser picture.

That said, despite the film’s obvious structural failings, I still think it’s a damned poignant movie, and one that REALLY cuts to the meat of mass murder more than most “serious” films of the type.

Rather than regurgitate what’s already been said, this film is absolutely spot-on when it comes to identifying the two likeliest culprits for all youth-instigated mass killings in the U.S. -- a longing for mass media glory, and Internet-assisted desocialization. It’s downright eerie how a film that came out so soon after the shooting was so quick to pinpoint the catalysts that took everyone else a decade and a half to figure out. This movie doesn’t even toy with the idea of a political cop-out -- it makes its point front and center, and as a collective society, we would be wise to heed what the filmmakers (who were arrested after the film was released for bringing weapons on to school grounds) are saying here.

No matter what your personal definition of "good" resembles, "Duck!" probably won't fulfill your criteria. That said, it’s a remarkable film nonetheless, with an incredibly intelligent message cloaked around 90 minutes of hokey mayhem.

It is far more in-tune with the sociology and psychology of mass shootings than  just about any film of the like that I’ve seen, and it’s a movie that -- as much as we hate to consider -- remains oh so relevant today.

Odds are, you’ll hate “Duck!” But at least you will hate it for all the right reasons -- namely, because you can’t help but agree with its core hypotheses on mass killings, no matter how badly you want to point the finger of blame on much more convenient scapegoats.