GELFAND: Humility, or a Lack Thereof, and Week 16 Picks

Please Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It has come to my attention that humility doesn’t seem to be in fashion these days. Which is bad enough, except that humility — a quality that is generally considered to be a foundation of most religions — has been replaced by a loudly proclaimed piety.

Like a cuckolded spouse, humility leaves through the front door and then grandiosity sneaks in the back door. Unlike money, this scourge typically seems to trickle-down from the top. Its latest manifestation is an outbreak among those who have lately been comparing our president — favorably, I should add — to Jesus himself.

Maybe you agreed with Energy Secretary Rick Perry the other day when he said that Donald Trump has been anointed by God to lead our country. Perhaps you were nodding in approval during the impeachment debates when suddenly there was an outburst of House members comparing Trump to Jesus. Favorably.

In fact, just the other day, Trump declared, “I am the chosen one.”

I probably should have warned you about a possible trigger before I wrote that sentence. For this, I apologize. Someone has to.

I’m not going to argue with either side. These are just observations. Some might say that if the chosen one is in our midst, he would be the last one to call himself the chosen one. Others might say that things have changed in the past 2,100 or so years — or at least since Nixon was impeached — and that we should, too. Worth considering. No opinion here. I am an empty vessel.

Now, I realize I’m taking the long way home, but when I look back at this desultory football season, I see a lack of humility oozing from every pore.

Although there are plenty of examples, let’s start with the most absurd one. This story is about Laremy Tunsil, the gifted offensive lineman from Ole Miss who was expected to be one of the top three players taken in the 2017 draft. That didn’t happen, because just before the draft commenced, someone started to post two-year-old videos of Tunsil sucking up some weed as he was wearing a gas mask attached to a bong which, in turn, was attached to a helmet. Nice football theme.

So Tunsil is a sympathetic character. Whoever did him like that was a jerk and should apologize. Of course, no one has and no one will.

But now, as Tunsil toils for the Texans, we can look back at the event as a harbinger of a troubled career. After being drafted 13th in 2016, Tunsil went to work for the Miami Dolphins — his bad luck getting even worse — and then finally got a break this year when he was traded to Houston.

But things really went sour this year, and going into Saturday’s game with Tampa Bay, he has been whistled for 16 penalties this year — and 13 of those were for false starts.

It’s not easy to jump the whistle that many times. These days, most teams seem to mess around with play calls and blocking assignments until the ball is snapped just as the play clock is about to expire. Here I digress, but think about how stupid this is: in effect, quarterbacks are telling opponents exactly when the ball will be snapped. The result being that offensive lineman need never launch their massive bodies too soon.

Most pot smokers I know — and I know many — are so mellow that they habitually arrive late. So Tunsil is definitely an outlier. Two weeks ago, Tunsil outdid himself — and everyone else in the NFL — by getting whistled for jumping the gun three times in Denver. I’ve hit some unlikely trifectas in my time, but nothing like that.

After the game, Tunsil was approached by some timorous reporters. The question being something like, er, what’s going on with all those false starts?

laremy tunsil 2
Sep 15, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (78) injures himself during the second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. Please Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Given the premise of this column, you will not be surprised by the fact that he was not apologetic. In fact, he said, he asked an official the same question. We don’t know what the official said, but, as a Houston newspaper reported, Tunsil was not mollified by the ref’s explanation. Per the Houston Chronicle:

“I just got a target on my back, I just got to fix it, (expletive) calls,” Tunsil said. “Just trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. He said I was leaving early. Target on my back, like I said. Keep it simple like that.”

But now for the Number One non-apologetic — and gaslighting, and dishonest — football star of the year. And, yes, we have a local angle here because the protagonist is not a player but a coach. I give you…P.J. Fleck.

While there were many predictors of Fleck’s worst moment yet, things bubbled to the surface in mid-November, as the Gophers were in the process of losing to Iowa, 23-19. Mr. Flack, as some call him, was thinking national championship when, late in the third quarter, Minnesota’s world-class receiver Tyler Johnson was the victim of a late hit. Johnson is a very large man, so the sideline ambulance didn’t fire up when he fell to the ground. After which he bounced back up.

But that’s not the way Fleck told the story. According to Fleck, it was a career-threatening injury, so the very wealthy coach, as is his trademark, sprinted onto the field, in this case to tend to his fallen warrior.

Fleck, as he reminded the media, is like nothing so much as a zephyr as he rushes onto the field. He did not, however, outrun the penalty flag that fell as he was grandstanding for the alumni. At the time, it seemed he might have cost the Gophers a victory.

He didn’t. He only cost himself what would have been a moment of humility had he been a mere mortal.

But was he embarrassed? Was he humble? Did he apologize?

pj fleck
Nov 30, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck watches game action during the first half against the Wisconsin Badgers at TCF Bank Stadium. Please Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Ha! That arrow is not in Mr. Flack’s bag. Instead, having tried to gaslight us into believing that Johnson had lost consciousness, he came up with the zinger of the non-humble year.

“I’m going to make sure I’m the first one (players) see when they open their eyes…” he intoned.

It should come as no surprise that Fleck’s self-aggrandizing stunt came four days after he signed the largest coaching contract in U of M history. The seven-year deal is worth $33 million and change, but the Gophers have a better chance of winning the national title than Fleck has of being in our midst in 2026.

Flack is a made man now, and coaching superstars, like politicians, start their next campaign the day they win an election (or a lavish contract). You and I can dream, but the giants of the earth can live their dreams, and it’s a safe bet that when and if the manic mentor ever slips into a little REM, his visions are of South Bend or Columbus; perhaps he is signing a $100 million contract as he does his best to portray humility while saying that no one can replace Bill Belichick but he will try to live up to the Patriots’ legacy.

You will notice that there is no mention here of the ugliest moment of the football season, that being the helmet-on-head assault perpetrated by Cleveland’s Myles Garrett at the expense of the exposed head of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph.

Garrett — or someone — released a written statement that served as an apology. I can’t say he wasn’t contrite. Being indefinitely suspended can take a man and his wallet down a notch. And at least Garrett didn’t lie or gaslight, which is why he’s only a footnote to this story.

I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t observe that NFL helmets are better used as one-hitters rather than skull-hitters.

I will neither lie nor gaslight you but instead just state the facts: the bankroll, which begins each season at $1,000, fell to $1,149 last week and the reason was a couple of bad bets. That’s bets; not beats.

This week? No clue. Even for competent handicappers, the final two weeks of the regular season tend to produce not just losing results but bizarre ones. My response is to just take the first two games of the week — both on Saturday — and make small wagers.

Houston at Tampa Bay

Jameis Winston is missing his top two receivers, but that didn’t stop him from putting up 38 points last week (OK, vs. Detroit), and both teams have struggled all year against elite passing attacks. The Bucs, in fact, have gone over in 11 of their most recent 12 games.

The pick: Texans 34, Bucs 28 — Over 49 1/2 for $40

Buffalo at New England

Julian Edelman had been the Patriots’ only reliable receiver all year, but he’s bruised and battered and he caught just two passes for nine yards last week against Cincinnati. Things won’t get easier on Saturday vs. a Bills team that has gone under in 11 of 14 games this season.

The pick: Bills 17, Patriots 13 — Under 37 for $40

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