Chumpservations, Vol. 41: Asterisks and capital punishment

My favorite Peanuts character was, and has always been, Linus.  Sure, Snoopy was the coolest, Schroeder landed the ladies (even though he was more interested in Beethoven), and Charlie Brown, well, he was nobody’s favorite character.  That’s the whole gist of his persona.  Linus, however, was introspective, heady and Charlie Brown’s main confidant.  That and he made thumb sucking cool.

Considering I sucked my thumb until later in life (I recently quit), Linus was always my guy.  In fact, as a child, I had a blanket just like Linus.  I named this blanket, Z.

I named the blanket Z because I felt sorry for the letter.  Always last in line, I felt the letter was underused.  Hence, I named my new best friend, my security blanket, after the ultimate, most underappreciated letter of the alphabet.

I haven’t felt the same empathy for a keyboard character in years, that was until the asterisk came along in all its exceptional glory. It has unwillingly become the most frequently used character in all of sports, but only when something is wrong.  Poor, poor asterisk.  What did it ever do to deserve all this attention?

In a recent interview, Cooper Kupp, wide receiver extraordinaire for the Los Angeles Rams, said NFL statistics this year should carry an asterisk.  This includes a record he may very well set. 

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

No wide receiver in the history of the game has ever amassed 2,000 yards in a single season.  The current record is held by Calvin Johnson, who had 1,964 receiving yards in 2012.  With one game to play, Cooper Kupp is holding steady at 1,829, 136 behind the record and 171 behind two thousand.  The Rams host the 49ers this weekend and while they’ve already clinched a playoff spot, it is uncertain how often they’ll go to Kupp and whether they’ll prioritize his getting the record.

But that’s beside the point.  The humble Kupp has asserted that statistics this season, which for the first time in NFL history consists of 17 games, should carry an asterisk.  In other words, if he breaks Calvin Johnson’s single-season record, he doesn’t think it should count.  Or he thinks it should count, sort of.

That’s what an asterisk means, right?  When we see it come right after a number, we are supposed to take that number with a grain of salt or at least consider the circumstance with which it came?  Like Barry Bonds’ home run record or before that Roger Maris needing 162 regular season games to hit his 61st home run, when it only took Babe Ruth 154 games to hit 60.  The Maris-Ruth debate is when the asterisk first reared its spiky head in relation to matters of sport.  It’s been hovering above and to the right of numbers ever since.

I’m not sure why they chose the asterisk of all characters to delineate something that doesn’t officially count.  It seems as arbitrary as any other stroke on the keyboard.  I can’t help but think the asterisk family can’t be all that happy about being tied to tainted sports records.

Records were made to be broken.  Seasons expand, post-seasons along with them.  Players get faster, stronger, better.  Baseballs get hit and thrown harder, footballs get kicked farther and the basketball court (and rim height) seem to shrink with every passing generation.

I’m not sure we’ll ever get rid of the asterisk.  On the contrary, we may end up seeing more of them in time.  We sports geeks cherish our records and insist upon viewing achievements in their proper perspective. Enter the asterisk.  As if Cooper Kupp breaking the record means he’s suddenly a better wide receiver than Calvin Johnson.  Note: he’s not, yet.

It’s not enough for us to simply say they’re both pretty, damn good.

The asterisk is not entirely a lost cause.  We’ve had good asterisks in the past.  For example, the Bill of Rights is essentially the Constitution’s subsequent series of asterisks.  That’s worked out well for us as a nation (except for that whole prohibition thing).  I’m not sure why we can’t say congrats Cooper for a season well-played.  I’m sure Calvin Johnson will be the first to commend Kupp if it happens.  Similarly, Steelers linebacker TJ Watt is one sack away (21.5) from breaking Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5.  If, or rather when, Watt breaks Strahan’s record, do you think the former Giants linebacker is going to pout about his being passed up in history or rather congratulate Watt on his accomplishment?  For years, we’ve been clamoring for the NFL to expand its season and now that we have it, we’re going to tarnish the season’s accomplishments as if they don’t count? 

We need to get over ourselves.  There is nothing wrong with embracing history.  There’s nothing wrong with embracing change either.  Let’s leave the asterisk out of it.

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The time has finally come for us to rename the Washington Football Team.  The franchise’s new name will be revealed next month.

Under consistent pressure to rid themselves of the longstanding name “Redskins,” for the last two seasons, ownership has rolled with the wholly, non-descript and ironically obvious “Washington Football Team,” prompting us to a) become bored with the name and b) ridicule someone every time they blurt out “Redskins” by mistake.

Among the new names listed for the team are the Wolves, Red Wolves, Admirals and a bunch of other names that characterize the area but make little sense.  To be fair, it’s difficult trying to find something from our nation’s history that isn’t in some way discriminatory or hasn’t killed something to rise to its position of prominence.

Which is why, I’ve always felt the best name for a team based out of our nation’s capital is, and should forever be, Capital Punishment.

Years ago, I heard that the owners of the Washington Nationals once considered Capital Punishment as the team’s name, which would have been awesome.  Obviously, they went with Nationals instead, which is considerably less intimidating.  What is a national anyway?  It’s not even a damn noun.  It’s an adjective.  In the end, I guess they didn’t want people running around Washington, D.C. wearing t-shirts that openly supported the death penalty. 

On the contrary, Capital Punishment is the ideal name for a football team playing in Washington, D.C.  First, it’s unique in that it doesn’t hold the city/location in the team’s name.  It’s understood that the team hails from the nation’s capital.  Second, this is exactly what football teams do.  They inflict punishment one another.  One need look no further than the ticker tape of NFL injury reports to find this to be true. 

And while yes, not everyone in this country believes capital punishment is just, who gives a shit.  It’s biblical.  We’re just getting back to our roots.  Besides, football players aren’t killing people.  Not yet at least.  Well over half the states in our nation (34) continue to have a legal death penalty so why not name the team something truly American instead of something like the Admirals.  I get that the Admiral is the highest rank in the chain of command and the name intends to honor our great warring history, but they also wear funny hats and don’t strike nearly as much fear as an electric chair and a sponge. 

On second thought, if the Washington Bullets changed their name to the Washington Wizards, I suppose my rallying cry for Capital Punishment is a lost cause.  Perhaps I’ll give the XFL a ring.

6 thoughts on “Chumpservations, Vol. 41: Asterisks and capital punishment

  1. Why shoot the messenger? The asterisk is just the poor little messenger in the great big scheme known as the “footnote,” cousin of the elusive “caveat.” So, the asterisk is thrown out there like a red-headed stepchild, with often little definition or clarification for its presence. On a side note, you missed the best Peanuts character of all….Woodstock…who actually resembles an asterisk and is just as sassy.

  2. An extraordinary feat if accomplished. Craziness of it all., Jerry Rice , long considered the greatest wide receiver in NFL history has never come close 2000 receiving yards during a regular season. He remains the yardstick against whom everyone else should be judged.

  3. I see what you did there…

    Bu t you opened yourself to answering a question I’ve always had about Peanuts. This goes back to when I live a block from a St. Paul, Minnesota bar called O’Gara’s…”Peanuts” was born in the Schultz family apartment above that local watering hole. So, as a “Peanuts aficionado AND bartender…

    What the fuck was the deal between Peppermint Patty and her “friend” Marcie? Why was Marcie always calling her “Sir?”

    Also, I can’t be the only who realizes Snoopy…with his typewriter and his clearly psychotic episodes…would have been a great blogger.

  4. Al…

    That’s the triple truth.

    I wonder how long before we see someone sniff that record of Rice’s, or his longevity, or whether both of those are untouchable.

    Not that he’s in the same breath, yet, but how about Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans becoming the first wide receiver in NFL history to tally 1,000 yards receiving in his first eight seasons.

    That’s what I call a healthy start.

  5. Dubs…

    I’ll be honest. I had no idea that Schultz hailed from those parts.

    And I think we all know about Peppermint Patty and Marcie so I’m not falling into that trap.

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