Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Football AI

So this week, QB Michael Vick is going to try, for the third straight week, to finish the game that he starts. Two weeks ago in Atlanta, it was a freak accident concussion from being pinballed around his own backfield into an offensive lineman. Last week in Philadelphia, it was a bruised non-throwing hand that was apparently misdiagnosed as a broken hand. In both cases, he left with the lead; in both cases, the Eagles soon lost it, in games where stunning breakdowns and red zone failures obliterated situations where they won the majority of snaps.

And I'm struck, as I usually am when it involves Vick, as to the comparisons that you can make between him and the passion child of this here blog, Allen Iverson.

Please excuse me for talking about Iverson in the present tense; I know he's no longer any kind of factor in any kind of league. Sigh.

Both players are, at the height of their powers, artists of deception, and unique talents. Both men seem to do what they do with a minimum amount of help from teammates, and to carry an absurd amount of value, because the nature of their gift is to make it look like they are playing one man against the world, even when they aren't. Both men, at their best, seem to be unstoppable, and provoke a feeling of awe.

This is, of course, the good side of the equation.

On the down side, neither man overwhelms you with their accuracy. Both men are injury-prone, with teams that are spectacularly ill-equipped to compete without them. Both men are genuinely difficult to assess from a statistical standpoint, with plenty of evidence for and against their worth.

Both men have had issues with the law, and enjoy remarkable affection from the African-American community... and criticism that seems to border on racism from some white commentators, who start at disregarding the intellect, move to lifestyle choices, go all the way to slurs, and finish only with dreams of incarceration or worse.

Both men have been dragged down by their inner circles, have probably used marijuana, gamble for high stakes, and could easily find themselves with a negative net worth shortly after their playing careers are over. Both play their game with little regard for their personal safety, well-being, or future earning potential. Both are fascinating interviews, prone to candid moments they will later regret, and wear their hearts on their sleeve. Both are, whether the teams and town want to admit it or not, the id of their city.

Iverson's act ran thin with lessening results and questionable effort; by the time he left town, it seemed like something of a relief. He took the team to just below the summit in 2000-01, and never really got close again.

Vick's story is still to be told, but after three games this year and the sloppy end of last, the first half of 2010 is starting to look like a mirage. His gifts are unchanged, but his durability is now a clear problem, and it says something substantial that reaction to his plans to play this week among my peer group wasn't a question as to whether he would play... but if he would play well.

The team is 1-7 in his last eight starts, with the only win coming in St. Louis on opening day.

Maybe he quiets the doubt tomorrow against the Niners; that's certainly how I'll be betting. But there's nothing he can do to make me stop seeing him as Iverson in cleats, with the undercurrents of tragic art and desperate longing.

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