Quiz #107. Cheater

Can you guess who I will not be rooting for in the Super Bowl? Steve's Stay-at-Home Coronavirus Quiz for Super Bowl Sunday, February 7, 2021.

Sunday, February 7, 2021. 

Super Bowl Sunday. 

I will not be rooting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the reason is simple. 

Tom Brady.

I have long disliked Brady.  Maybe it’s because I suspect he’s not so nice when he’s out of the limelight, a reminder of every high school quarterback I’ve ever known. Maybe it’s because he seems (to me) too cocky.  Maybe I’m just a contrarian. But mostly, it’s because Tom Brady is a cheater.

New England fans talk about “The Patriot Way.” Their coach Bill Belechick is rightly praised for being smarter about football than most everyone else.  He’s always found a way to create a team that executes a game plan which exploits every advantage possible.  That’s the nature of competition.  Find your opponent’s weaknesses, know the rules and work them both to your advantage.  

Of course, “The Patriot Way” extended beyond playing by the rules.  Caught for videotaping the signals of opposing teams, the Patriots’ cheating ways reached their pinnacle in 2015 with “Deflategate” when it was revealed that team workers for the Patriots had under-inflated the footballs in the 2015 playoffs to give Brady a better grip on the footballs.  The NFL investigated and three months after the game, on the day Brady met with NFL investigators, his assistant destroyed Brady’s phone and SIM card, wiping out thousands of texts that Brady had traded with team workers (and countless unknown others). The NFL’s conclusion about Brady’s handling of his phone was that it was "an affirmative effort by Mr. Brady to conceal potentially relevant evidence and to undermine the investigation."

Tom Brady cheated.  

What’s more, after being caught, he cheated about cheating. That takes cheating to another level.  From something you do to something you are.

Tom Brady is a cheater.   

And yet, it’s 2021, 6 years since Deflategate.  Brady’s now 42 years old but showing few signs of aging.  He’s not with the Patriots and led a new team to the Super Bowl, becoming a role model for what counts as success in 2021.  In the cold open of Saturday Night Live on February 1st, they did a skit based on a talk show called “What Still Works.”

After poking fun at how the government, the stock market, vaccine distribution and social media all seem hopelessly broken, Kate McKinnon brought out Brady, played by host John Krasinski.  Brady, the skit concluded, is the only example these days of something that “still works.”

The appreciation for “The Brady Way” has even hit the New York Times where columnist Frank Bruni wrote a column praising the GOAT.  Bruni mentions Deflategate--but only in passing, writing of Brady, “He’s no angel.” Bruni is rooting for Brady in these seemingly broken times.  

To get to this 10th Super Bowl, Brady had to guide the Bucs to three consecutive playoff victories on the road, a titanic challenge. He met it.

If he proceeds to lead the team to victory on Sunday, it will be a kind of miracle.

I want to believe in miracles.

And at the end of my days, I want to know and crow that I watched, in real time, an athlete of unrivaled majesty who settled that fact at a juncture when America, brought low by its weaknesses, needed a show of unimaginable strength.

I can’t tell if people are exhausted—or just waiting until the last minute because they know they’ll have time, but in 2021, sign-ups are (so far) done from the 2020 quiz.

I run a Super Bowl Pool.  It’s a 25-question quiz.  (You’re welcome to sign up.)  I run it using a Google Form and all the answers come back to a Google Sheet.  That means I see everyone’s answers as they come in.  That also means I could change my own answers to try to get an advantage over others.  When I realized this, I alerted all players in the pool that I would share the Sheet with all the people “taking” the quiz so they too can see all the answers.  Everyone can look at the Sheet--and change their answers up until the coin flip.  I’m no angel, but I am also no cheater.

"Sometimes it's like someone took a knife, baby, edgy and dull. And cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my skull…”

In Quiz #106. These Things Don’t Just Happen from Saturday, January 30th, I highlighted this acoustic cover of “I'm on Fire” after it had been recommended in the wonderful weekly newsletter from Tommy Tomlinson.  I watched that YouTube video of “I’m on Fire” countless times last weekend and then on Monday, February 2nd, I noticed a post in my social media for guitar lessons. 

Of course.

As indicated back in Quiz #84. 3 Emails, 3 Snail Mails and 1 Special Note, Sara and I watched the Netflix movie, “Social Dilemma” back in September. It’s part documentary, part drama, showing how the algorithms of social media work, tracking your every move and trying to feed you things they think you want so you will always come back for more.  Part of the movie’s brilliance is that it shows those algorithms not as some abstract computer programs but rather as a few guys in a room, tracking a teenager’s social media in real time and using every trick in their book to drag him back in.  Looked at in that way, the algorithms of social media feel more than a little creepy.  Like an evil person inside your head.  They draw you in--and once they have you figured out, companies pay them to track your every move and hit you with things they know you just might like.

I try to ignore the pull of social media and ads that target me, but when I first saw the “sponsored post” (the social media term for a targeted ad)  for a guitar lesson app, it did peak my attention.  I really thought, “Maybe I should learn how to play the guitar during this pandemic?”  It’s only after I looked at the app that I remembered that I’d been watching the acoustic guitar video—and then it hit me.  The guitar lesson post didn’t just show up. It was targeted at me because something--somebody--knew I’d been watching an acoustic version of “I’m on Fire” over and over. If I had signed up for the lessons, would the guitar lesson company be cheating? 

“I am not defined by what you see., I am also defined by what you will never see.”

Last weekend, Sara and I watched “In and Of Itself” on Hulu.  Watching it is a thought-provoking and emotional experience.   One critic called it “radical intimacy.” The movie’s difficult to describe, especially without giving away too much about it, but “In and of Itself” is based on a play performed by Derek DelGaudio.  The movie is directed by Frank Oz.  DelGaudio can be described as a magician, but the show is anything but “a magic show.”  In an interview with Mike Pesca for Slate, Oz and DelGaudio both bristled at calling it “a magic show.”

The publicity team says, “Don’t call it magic.” I’ve done hours and hours of research into what you do. I have this reverence for the art of what you’re doing. Why should it be an insult? …..

Oz: I think the intrigue and mystery of not knowing what it is will get more people in.

DelGaudio: I know from experience the difference between someone thinking they’re going into a “magic show” and someone going in just being told they have to see this. And the expectation of seeing a magic show is much more disappointing and confusing than not having any preconceived notions. It’s an inescapable truth. There’s nothing wrong with the craft of magic or puppeteering or the art of the interview, any of these things. But everything comes with some preconceived notion.

As with many things, it's best to know as little about “In and Of Itself” as possible.  Just know that Oz and DelGaudio are right.  You have to see this movie.  Although it is NOT a magic show, there is certainly something magical about watching this movie.  Audience members literally weep as DelGaudio reveals things about them as they join him on stage—even just standing in the audience. You’re left scratching your head,  “How was he able to figure out the seeming secrets these audience members had about themselves?” Was it magic?  Was he cheating?  Unlike Brady, does it matter if he was?  

In the end, the show is about identity and the fuzzy line between imagination and what we think on the one hand; on the other, reality and what really is.   In terms of personal identity, it’s the difference between who people think we are and who we really are.  GOAT or cheater? Take your pick.

21 inches on Monday and Tuesday with more on the way for Super Bowl Sunday.

As we head into watching Brady on Super Bowl Sunday, New Jersey is bracing for its second snow storm in a week.  On Tuesday, February 3rd, I spent Groundhog’s Day with my snowblower.  I love the machine and its efficiency.  With more than 20 inches of snow, the snowblower and I got a workout on Monday and Tuesday.  Other than the cleanup, however, it was just another day not-at-the-office.  The magic of a snow day had lost its luster. Another stay-at-home work day in these nearly 11 months of stay-at-home days.

In a column in the LA Times, Mary McNamara observed that the pandemic has been its own “Groundhog Day.” Like the Bill Murray character, we wake up each morning to the same routine.  McNamara looked at the pandemic through the spectrum of this iconic movie.

As in “Groundhog Day,” time has become ... if not moot, then certainly relative. Our orbits are not, like Phil’s, limited to a single day, but without the social events and shared rituals that previously shaped our calendars, it can feel that way.

Days blur into weeks, weeks smudge into months, and suddenly it seems a year is gone, marked not so much by our personal guideposts as by those national and international events that made enough noise to cut through the billowing miasma of brain fog. The deaths, the shutdowns, the surges, the mask wars; the BLM protests, the presidential election, more deaths, the insurrection, the vaccinations.

For McNamara, there is a lesson to “Groundhog Day”--and it’s not to take piano lessons (as Murray’s Phil did) or to learn how to play the guitar (as the Instagram algorithm wanted me to do).  

Now, in case you think this is yet another piece promoting all the cool things we should have (and still can!) accomplish during a pandemic, it’s not. Many of us faced early lockdown with grandiose visions of learning French or how to quilt, of writing that play or finally toning those upper arms. And perhaps some people did achieve those kinds of goals, and if you are one of them, please, for the love of God, keep it to yourself.

The rest of us made good starts but then, you know, both the dishwasher and the clothes dryer broke (possibly because each was being run every single day) and the people who usually fixed them were booked for months (possibly because nothing is harder on home appliances than a stay-at-home order). After three months of washing every dish by hand and hanging out everything to dry, some of us simply did not have the energy to learn how to quilt. And flabby upper arms are why sleeves were invented.

For McNamara, the lesson of “Groundhog Day” is far more simple.

No, this is about the more general theme of “Groundhog Day,” which is “whenever possible, be nicer to people.” Murray’s Phil is a jerk in the beginning of the film because he doesn’t see the point in being nice — too much effort for too small a payoff.

During the course of the film, however, he learns that being nice can change your world. But, like playing the piano, it takes practice. To really learn something, you have to do it over and over again.

To be a good person, you have to do good things.

Over and over.

Every chance you get.

No cheating.

No cheating when caught cheating.

Go Patrick Mahomes.

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What did NOT happen? 

A. On Friday night, February 5th, Sara and I were watching “Last Tango in Halifax” when Ted and Erica FaceTimed from Michigan.  Their third daughter, Alayne Ann, had just been born.  (If this is one of the things that DID happen, you will need to check the answer to find out. There might even be a picture or two.);

B. On Monday, February 2nd, I sold 10 shares of GameStop stock;

C. The day after Sara and I watched “In and of Itself, my sister Ginny recommended it on a family text chain. She and I had not discussed it before that text;

D. This week, I scanned photos from the one time I saw a pope;

E. This week, I sent an email to Tommy Tomlinson, thanking him for his newsletter.  He sent me an email back, thanking me for letting him know.

Steve, thanks for this -- I really enjoyed your newsletter, too! And yeah, that cover of "I'm On Fire" is something else.


Want the answer?

Answer #107. Cheater.

If you’re a subscriber, the answer will be sent to you as a separate email when the question is published.


Want more?

Here’s the next quiz in the series: Quiz #108. Milk First?

Here’s the previous quiz in the series: Quiz #106. These Things Don’t Just Happen.

Here’s the first quiz in the series: Quiz #1. Stella and Social Distancing, March 13, 2020

Here is an archive of all the quizzes.

The quiz is explained here: Steve’s Stay-at-Home Coronavirus Quiz.


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