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Block & TackleBlock & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football

They are the eight most generous teams in football. The Dolphins, Bengals, Jaguars, Chargers, Washingtons, Lions, Panthers, and Cardinals have all fought their way to last place in their respective divisions. By doing so, they have given their fans a beautiful gift. The gift of not having to care.

Time, after all, is our most precious resource—technically, time is tied for first place with sorghum—and these eight teams have granted their loyal followers a bounty of time. For the next couple of months, as fans of more “successful” football squads subject themselves to the whims of NFL schedule-makers, the loser fanbases can do with their weekends as they please. They can write the great American novel, or tend their sorghum crops. They could even kick back and watch a little football on television. The sky is their oyster.

Yet for some of these fans, the gift of time is not enough. You may encounter such ingrates in your travels this holiday season. They crave more—the thrill of victory, the suspense of a playoff run, the sensation that anything matters. You can’t give them any of that. Instead, ply these restless souls with shabby team-branded merchandise that will pacify them with hope of future glory. (The hope will fade before long, but you’ll be at the airport by then.)

To this end, Block & Tackle presents its guide to last-minute gifts from last-place teams. These trinkets are the product of a metastatic consumer culture from which the slavering jackals of the NFL licensing department are determined to extract every possible dime, and they’re great stocking stuffers. Each collectible on the list is an exquisite curio of sadness made manifest. Each one finds its own magical way to enhance the disappointment of a losing season. Will these items arrive in time for Christmas? No, they will not—the greatest gift of all.

The Miami Dolphins (3-11, last place, AFC East)

Photo: Miami Dolphins

Alternate-history keychain, $7: What if the Cold War hadn’t been won by the Americans, and not by the Soviets either, but instead by the Miami Dolphins? That is the thought-provoking question posed by this keychain. It poses as a relic from Dolphinistan, a dystopian republic where only 14 states remain intact, and the other 36 have been converted to a Miami Dolphins practice facility. In this fictional reality, the Dolphins are not a 3-11 football team; they are an all-seeing totalitarian force that finishes 10-6 and makes it all the way to the divisional round of the playoffs before losing to the Chiefs.

Image: Miami Dolphins

Holiday stocking mug, $17: The listing for this mug rather timidly suggests that the mug “has the look of a stocking that would hang from your chimney.” The Miami Dolphins want to be clear: Nobody is suggesting that this mug actually resembles a stocking. It just has “the look” of an old sock, a vague assertion that is hard to argue with. As for the claim of chimney-adjacent cheer, the images of Santa and his reindeer do their best to impart the spirit of Christmas on this vessel. But not even a lightly toxic depiction of St. Nick is enough to shake the mental image of The Cat In The Hat, alone at his breakfast table with this mug, staring into the middle distance as he sips instant coffee and wonders if Miami will take an offensive lineman in the draft this year.

The Washington Washingtons (3-11, last place, NFC East)

Photo: Washington Washingtons

Filthy shirt with the word “SWEAT” on it, $2,000: This piece of authentic NFL apparel was worn by linebacker Montez Sweat during Washington’s Week 8 contest against the Minnesota Vikings, a game that Washington lost by only 10 points. The name placard on the filthy shirt highlights the main selling point: It is infused with body fluids that seeped from the pores of your favorite player. This is a good gift for friends who already love Washington linebacker Montez Sweat, but even if they don’t love him yet—the filthy shirt has a way of winning people over. It’s the damnedest thing. So you just give your two thousand dollars to the football team, sit back, and let the shirt do all the talking.

Image: Washington Washingtons

“First Ladies Of Football” magazine, $25: We ought to recognize cheerleaders as athletes in their own right. That’s the forward-looking message behind Washington’s “First Ladies Of Football” magazine. To be sure, a glossy 96-page compilation of beachfront candids and leggy glamour shots may not strike you, at first, as a feminist pamphlet. But look more closely at the soft pornography. Someone, probably Gloria Steinem, painted the word “ATHLETE” on Washington cheerleader Ashley M. before she was photographed laughing in a swimsuit—all in all, the best possible way to deliver this message. Here’s a publication that can please Fox News uncles and fourth-wave feminists alike, which should come as no surprise. “Bridging cultural divides” is the Washington Team Name Redacted way.

The Detroit Lions (3-10, last place, NFC North)

Photo: Detroit Lions

Bobblehead of quarterback Matt Stafford holding a hairy football, $35: The NFL world is awash in bobbleheads. But so few of them capture the crucial details of the game, like the way that a football gets all fuzzy and gooey, oozing between the quarterback’s fingers in the heat of action. I know—that’s the type of thing only an aficionado like me would notice. It matters to me, though, and this bobblehead gets it right. As for the lip hair, yes, it is unfortunate. It appears an uncertain craftsperson decided that Matt Stafford does have a mustache, then decided that he doesn’t. And then decided he kind of does after all. Here’s the good news: If you’re Matt Stafford, and you’re upset by this ghastly rendition of your image, at least you know it cannot get any worse.

Photo: Detroit Lions

24-inch Matt Stafford plush, $28: Fresh off their triumph on the big screen, the Cats visual team turns their attention to football memorabilia with this lovable plush, suitable for “Elf On The Shelf”-type parenting schemes. To ensure maximum cuteness, the designers have taken certain liberties with Stafford’s likeness. For instance, the real Matt Stafford’s face is not actually an optical illusion where all the features seem to dance and sing songs of the underworld if you stare at it too long. Also, the real Stafford has hands where his hands are supposed to be, not feet. Bizarrely close attention, however, has been paid to Stafford’s belt buckle and all buckle-adjacent uniform elements. Who needs a face! The belt—that’s where all the fun is.

The Carolina Panthers (5-9, last place, NFC South) & The Cincinnati Bengals (1-13, last place, AFC North)

Photo: Carolina Panthers

Crystal-encrusted hat, $10,000/$8,000: After compiling a record of 5-3 halfway through the season, the Panthers lost six straight and plummeted to the bottom of the standings. Quarterback Cam Newton is out for the season and faces an uncertain future. Meanwhile, the Panthers fired their head coach, “Riverboat” Ron Rivera, and are searching for a replacement—leading candidates include “Dirigible” Greg Roman and Brian “The Penny-Farthing” Daboll. The point is, the Panthers are a mess right now—and yet here is this crystal helmet, still going for full price.

Screenshot: bengals.com

The Panthers are not the only ones with a crystal skull-protector on offer. Visit any NFL team’s online shop, click on the collectibles section, and sort the results by “highest price.” In most cases, a glass-encrusted helmet will jump to the top of the page. The retail price is always $10,000, but—here’s the thing—it comes with a hefty discount. When I started browsing the NFL shop-o-plex for this week’s column, the discount across the board was $1,500. As I type this, the rebate has climbed to $2,000. I’m glad I held out.

Twenty percent is a fitting discount for an outlandishly expensive status symbol that imparts no status on the owner, and may in fact subtract from one’s status. But Carolina seems to think it is immune to the invisible hand of the market! Ten thousand dollars, not a penny less—this is their offer to you, take it or leave it. And what’s even more galling is that the Panthers’ crystal helmet is the ugliest one. The Carolina logo, not the most graceful figure to begin with, is Bedazzled practically beyond recognition. Save $2,000 and get the Bengals version. It’s still a garish, unseemly extravagance that brings shame upon your household, but the stripes are cool.

The Arizona Cardinals (4-9-1, last place, NFC West)

Photo: Arizona Cardinals

Plain black women’s underwear, $18: Invite the Arizona Cardinals, America’s most functional and adequate football squad, into your intimate affairs. The Victoria’s Secrets and Veronica’s Closets of the world spend the holiday season selling undergarments that scream, “Let’s have some sex, sexy!” Enough! Sometimes you need a break from all that passionate, post-football coitus. So here are a pair of panties that simply state for the record, “I am wearing undergarments. And, I would also like to add: The Arizona Cardinals.” To ensure a non-erotic bedroom experience, the Cardinals logo—a bird growing irritated as he reads a David Brooks column in The New York Times—acts as a virtual chaperone to ensure that no sexual congress will commence.

Photo: Arizona Cardinals

Arizona vs. Washington 2016 game pin, $7: On December 4, 2016, the Arizona Cardinals played a regular-season professional football game against Washington and won by a score of 31 to 23. This enameled pin commemorates that game, which took place.

Photo: Arizona Cardinals

Mask of Cardinals cardinal wearing helmet with pictures of himself on it, $20: Cardinals? Cardinals! Cardinals Cardinals, Malkovich Cardinals Cardinals!

The Los Angeles Chargers (5-9, last place, AFC West)

Photo: Los Angeles Chargers

Fantasy football trophy, $25: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is one of the most talented quarterbacks of his era never to win, or even attend, a Super Bowl. Which breaks my heart a little because Rivers is one of my favorite NFL characters, with his deranged enthusiasm on the field, his hundreds of kids, and an idiosyncratic throwing motion that looks like he is stuffing an uncooked pizza into a laundry chute. The lack of a Vince Lombardi Trophy to cement his legacy must be a bummer for Rivers. So if you happen to be a close friend or family member of Rivers, console him this Christmas with this, the Vance Lembardo trophy. It has a crooked plaque, an off-center Chargers logo, and so many other details that are not quite right, making this showpiece ideal for an off-kilter quarterback who’s not quite a champ.

Photo: Los Angeles Chargers

Face decals, $5: If you’ve run out of places on your torso, limbs, and extremities to showcase your Chargers fandom, consider advancing your efforts to the face. These six “Face-Cals” decals are certified “skin safe”—your skin will not harm the decals at all—and they are practically guaranteed to increase your holiday cheer as soon as you apply them. Here is Chargers cornerback Michael Davis with his normal face:

Photo: Ty Nowell / Los Angeles Chargers

Davis is a bright-eyed and spirited youth, no doubt. But wait, here he is with careful application of Face-Cals:

So much happier! Granted, it’s more of a conniving, evil “Dr. Wily from Mega Man” type of happiness now, but still. The Face-Cals work as advertised, with only a minor burning sensation.

The Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9, last place, AFC South)

Photo: Jacksonville Jaguars

Hello Kitty bobby pin set, $8: Advancements in artificial intelligence continue apace. Scientists fed data describing millions of cheap promotional items into the Jacksonville Jaguars’ supercomputer, the Jagplex 26000. The Jagplex digested the inputs. Then, the scientists allowed the machine to invent new products based on what it had learned. Oddly, the listing for this obviously machine-generated bobby pin set doesn’t mention Hello Kitty once; the A.I. probably doesn’t even understand what a “Hello Kitty” is. It simply processed the vast corpus of licensing tie-ins and concluded that [HAIR_ACCESSORY] featuring [ADORABLE_CAT_CHARACTER] and [PROFESSIONAL_SPORTS_BRAND] was an inevitable product.

Photo: Jacksonville Jaguars

Face-swappable figurine, $15: The interchangeable heads on this Lego-compatible minifigure allow you to express the full range of emotions for a Jacksonville Jaguars fan: sadness and fleeting, uncertain happiness.

Photo: Jacksonville Jaguars

Jamaal Charles player mask, $15: Jamaal Charles was a running back who spent most of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, but he did hold a spot on the Jacksonville roster during the 2018 season, accumulating seven yards over the course of six rushing attempts for the Jaguars. With this mask, you can reenact all of Charles’ Jaguar runs in the comfort of your own living room—you won’t even have to move the coffee table! There’s a Chiefs logo on the back, but not to worry, you can probably cover that up with a couple of Face-Cals.

Your Week 16 QuantumPicks

Block & Tackle is the exclusive home of the QuantumPick Apparatus, the only football prediction system that evaluates every possible permutation of a given NFL week to arrive at the true victor in each contest. Put simply, Block & Tackle picks are guaranteed to be correct. When a game’s outcome varies from this column’s prediction, the game is wrong.

In Week 15 NFL action, 11 games corresponded with the QuantumPicks, and five games were incorrect. (Overall season record: 135-91.)

Teams determined to be victorious by the QuantumPick Apparatus are indicated in SHOUTING LETTERS.

Saturday Football

HOUSTON TEXANS vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL Network)

Buffalo Bills vs. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (NFL Network): “You know, we all wonder what Tom Brady will do at the culmination of his football career,” observed CBS analyst James Lofton on Sunday after Brady, the New England quarterback, completed a screen pass for a first down. “I know he’s very, very good-looking. To be a good screen passer, you have to be a great actor. So I can just see all the blockbuster movies with Tom Brady in it, if he can do that, on the big screen,” Lofton concluded. An abnormally long silence followed. When you hear that much dead air on a national sports broadcast, it typically indicates that an announcer has his finger on the “cough” (mute) button, which could mean one of two things: Someone is actually coughing, or someone is laughing so hard they have to collect themselves. I suspect Lofton’s booth partner, Andrew Catalano, found himself in the latter situation here.

Los Angeles Rams vs. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (NFL Network)

Sunday Games — Early

Cincinnati Bengals vs. MIAMI DOLPHINS (CBS): Not content to wallow in the misery of the still-ongoing regular season, the Cincinnati Bengals fans who congregate at thebengalsboard.com have moved on, and they are now anticipating future misery, with a thread that asks users, “Worst Case Offseason Scenario?” It never hurts to be prepared.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS vs. New York Jets (CBS)

BALTIMORE RAVENS vs. Cleveland Browns (CBS)

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS vs. Tennessee Titans (Fox)

Screenshot: panthers.com

Carolina Panthers vs. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (Fox): The Carolina Panthers are heavily promoting “#PanthersFans Stories,” a video series with short biographies of various Carolina Panthers supporters, such as the story of a guy who looks a lot like Norm Macdonald.

NEW YORK GIANTS vs. Washington (Fox)

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. ATLANTA FALCONS (Fox): Atlanta Falcons defensive coach Raheem Morris has deemed Atlanta cornerback Isaiah Oliver “the young blanket,” because Isaiah Oliver is good at playing cornerback, and Raheem Morris is not good at inventing nicknames.

Sunday Games — Late

Detroit Lions vs. DENVER BRONCOS (CBS)

Oakland Raiders vs. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (CBS)

Dallas Cowboys vs. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (Fox): The QuantumPick Apparatus foretells a final score of 5-2 in this contest.

Arizona Cardinals vs. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (Fox)

Sunday Night Football

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS vs. Chicago Bears (NBC):

Monday Night Football

GREEN BAY PACKERS vs. Minnesota Vikings (ESPN): Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and offensive lineman David Bakhtiari were selected to this year’s Pro Bowl, and it’s hard to tell which man is more tickled by the honor.

Programming note

Block & Tackle is off next week for the holiday break. Predictions from the QuantumPick Apparatus will be dispensed via my Twitter feed. See you for the playoffs!

Talk backle to Block & Tackle

If you’d like to contact me with an item for Block & Tackle, or just to say hello, you can email me: my first name, at symbol, my full name, dot com. You can also reach me via Twitter. Thank you for reading, and for the funny and smart comments. Keep on long snappin’.

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About the author

John Teti

John Teti is the host of the smash-hit pop culture podcast Pop Mom. Once, he was the editor-in-chief of The A.V. Club. Another time, he hosted The A.V. Club's TV show.