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Battle Red Bag Vol. 20: Subtitle Not Found

I can make you weep, mortal. Look upon Andre Johnson's first-ballot Hall of Fame chances and despair.

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A couple of months ago I watched the movie 50/50 on a whim. It was a Red Box rental on a night where (we) really didn't have much going on. I didn't really expect to be struck by any particular scene in it, but I was. I don't need to give spoilers for something that's been out like two years, right? Okay, good.

There's a really powerful montage near the end where Joseph Gordon-Levitt is going in for a crucial surgery that will either eradicate his cancer for good or leave him with zero chance of living a long-term life. It flips back and forth with him under the knife, pale and stiff, the doctors doing doctor-like things, and most importantly, his family and friends being nervous and bonding under the stress. This scene actually got a little of the old dust in my eyes, mostly because I'd been there. Anyway, the doctors all come out at the end, and he survives the successful surgery, the therapist-girl he'd been passive-aggressively courting while thinking he's going to die gives him a hug in the room. Fade to black.

My mom did not pass away on the day she had her stroke. I don't want to get technical, both because I don't think I can remember the actual details of what they were doing and because I'm not sure I actually want to remember, but they basically had one shot at about 4 p.m. to save her brain from massive clots.

We came in at about 9 a.m. that morning. It was a Friday, which I attach some meaning to at this point, because it meant that all of her work suffering on this planet would finally be over. I dropped my sister off to school and slung myself down for about a four-five hour nap. I was bi-phasic at that point because, between putting up 80% of the things on SB Nation Houston, talking to my long-distance girlfriend in California, and taking my sister to school, I didn't really have enough time to sleep seven-to-eight hours in a row. I remember my mom coming home on Thursday very weak, and woozy, and ... the real word is defeated. I had seen her go through so much in her years. Heart attacks, money problems, what she saw as family betrayal, she'd been diagnosed with bladder cancer a few weeks earlier ... but I'd never seen THAT look before. I told my girlfriend that night that I thought she might die soon. Obviously, with her having cancer and all, I asked her if she wouldn't rather play it safe and go to the hospital. Nope, she was going to be okay. But whereas in the past she said it with conviction, this time it was in a distant and drawn-out voice.

So I woke up to the sirens, tossed on the same dirty clothes I'd worn the day before, and rode down with the ambulance. The last memory I have of my mom actually being my mom takes place in a small examination room. She couldn't even see me anymore. She just knew my voice. I put her hand on my face. She told me she loved me, that she really wanted a blanket, and that she was tired. The last words I told her were that she should rest up while she still could.

(You know, whenever this kind of tragedy happens, I start to ask myself if I could have done anything different. I look back at the fact that those were my last words to her and cringe. I could have taken over and pushed her harder to go to the hospital. I could have offered so much more during the years - I was hardly a perfect son. But I guess what I really come back to is that it doesn't actually matter. That we only have so much control over people's lives when they are not ours. That sometimes the only decent thing we can do for someone is to let them own things in their own life.)

Anyway, I'll skip ahead a few hours. She slipped into a coma. I got ushered into a small side room to call family members and friends with the news that she was in serious condition. They wheeled her into ICU at about two or three in the afternoon. My sister had recently seen her grandmother (my step-father's side) go through almost the exact same thing, and she didn't want to see this again. I think, not for fear that she wouldn't survive, but for fear that she'd become someone who doesn't even know who they are anymore.

By the time we got to waiting on the results of the surgery, it was me, my two uncles, and my grandfather. What really struck me, in comparing this to what happened in 50/50, is how instead of reaching out in times of emotional stress, we fall back on whatever traditional habits we have in an attempt to try to find some normalcy. Everyone hated the hospital chairs, and none of us were ever really all that close (though I have tried to close this in the present), so we wound up in a nurse's lounge. I'm laying down on the floor, with my hands as a pillow. Watching one of those awful History Channel shows about, I believe, mining for gold in Alaska. Watching these people pour their hearts out to a camera about how they have no idea how they'll get home if they don't find some gold soon, contrasting that to my current situation, remembering how fucking stupid reality television is.

We get to about 10:30 p.m. They pull us in for that moment where they're supposed to tell us that everything is going to be fine. Except that they don't. The next few days become a blur. Hospital visits. Decisions about how long we can leave her on a respirator. Her neck shrunken as her abnormally large head crushed her own bones. Everyone dealing with it in their own interpretation of normalcy mixed with how she would have wanted it. They pulled the plug on Sunday, my uncle drove me home, and I went to Subway and watched football and knew that things would never be the same again.

She would have wanted all of her friends and family to mingle together in that sort of montage. To become closer. It was a desire that she could never really express, but it was in implicit in everything that she's ever done.

Before my mom died, I was unable and unwilling to come out of my shell for even the people I count as my closest friends today. I guess you could say that part of my way of honoring her is to try to join her charisma to my natural personality, which shells off a lot and needs a lot of down time. And that it's a slow process. And that I know she's proud of me even though I am probably still missing plenty of opportunities.

And that when the next person close to me dies or experiences a close death, that I reach out and help the way that so many did for me. They know who they are. They are the people who kept me from ruining my life when I had so many reasons to do so.

And I never would have been that close to them had she not passed away.

T-Moar writes:

I am a student in college. My roommate keeps leaving various foods on his desk for lengthy periods. Last week it was Asiago Cheese Bread, and the week before, it was a banana. But these foods disappear every weekend, and for some reason, these habits bother me. How should I confront him about this?

I asked T-Moar for clarification on this question, and he said that he was more bothered by the food being there for lengthy periods than the fact that they disappear every weekend. But that both bothered him.

I think, in the grand scheme of things, this is a roommate complaint that isn't that bad. I lucked out in not having a roommate in college, but having lived with someone else for just about the whole of my 27 years on this planet, there are much bigger issues you could find with a roomie. Believe me. (Passive-aggressive swipe at a person who will never read this.)

Anyway, I don't think this needs some dramatic build up or, really, any build up at all. Ask it cold. Express your concern for the man's ability to keep a sanitary side. However, before you do so, I think you should probably come up with a better reason for why it bothers you than "for some reason it bothers me." For some reason, sour cream bothers me. But that's not going to lead me to gag when I'm out with someone who orders it on their potato, you know? You need to get to the real root of why it bothers you enough that you are compelled to bring it up. Keeping Asiago Cheese Bread out for a week might rankle me, but bananas are typically out anyway, you know?

This is probably the least satisfying answer I've given yet in my reign over the bag. Develop why this bugs you more, and I might be able to help beyond the obvious.

SlatonShuffle writes:

Hey Rivers,

My question is, while obviously understanding that hindsight is 20/20, do you think the decision to trade DeMeco Ryans was a mistake by the Texans? Was it a case of perhaps overvaluing assets we have, undervaluing Ryans, or simply betting too much on Cushing's health for this year? I've been especially wondering about it given the absolute affront to tackle play being put forth by Shaun Cody. Since our middle is so weak, don't you think the MLB position jumps in value as compared to a usual 3-4?

I think the Texans got excellent value for DeMeco Ryans at the time. A fourth-round pick for a middle linebacker with a huge contract coming off an Achilles injury is a trade that you almost have to make when you need to manipulate the salary cap like Houston does. So, no, I don't think it was a mistake despite Brian Cushing's injury and the fact that Bradie James can't really cover anybody.

I think the Texans are just facing a problem that comes naturally in the NFL these days: in a passing league with a salary cap, it's hard to devote enough cap space to cover every issue you might have in the running game. Let me turn this question around a bit: with Cushing, Ryans, and Daryl Sharpton, didn't the Texans come into last year with a great core at middle linebacker? It's not as if they hadn't focused on accumulating depth at the position. It's just that when you've lost your top two players at a position to injury, and one of them is a superstar, there's not much to be done about it but throw up your hands and try to cover for it. That is today's NFL.

(Just to get this on the record, I have no problem with the Texans treating nose tackle as a position that they don't need to waste actual resources on. If they have determined that this is a waste of time to find an impact talent at that position as compared to a few others, that is perfectly fine. My problem with that is that if you are dealing with replacement-level talent, there needs to be a lot more turnover than what we're getting. And no, creating a mildly funny webisode a week does not make Shaun Cody irreplaceable.)

Austin Bob_Ford writes:


Love your writing. Thanks for all the laughs/tears (ok really no tears) over the last 2 years I've been reading BRB. A couple of questions:

1. You're in an elevator waiting for it to take you up 25 stories to an appointment you have in downtown Houston. Right before the doors close a hand reaches through and prys them open. It's Gary Kubiak. He gets in and sees that you're both going to the same floor. Knowing you'll have about 30 sec- 1 minute of one-on-one time with him, what would say/ask about the Texans or anything else?

2. What does Battle Red taste like?

3. Why do people always circle around the parking lot at the gym looking for the best space? I mean, you could warm up by just parking further out and walking it.

I'm taking the fact that I haven't yet made you cry as a personal challenge. Actually, I'm writing this before I write the intro, so I'm going to hope that it just already happened. Because, as I said, I took it as a challenge.

1) You know, one of the weird things about being an Internet Writer Of Limited Fame is that I recognize now that everybody who is "famous" is just dealing with the same shit you are on a different scale. For instance, I was off-the-charts poopless to work for Aaron Schatz when I realized that it was about to happen. I mean, I'd been reading his stuff since I was in high school. This is a guy I totally look up to. You know what? His life isn't that much different than yours or mine. (That's not to say that he's not awesome.)

So with Gary Kubiak, I mean, it's just a different scale of fame. I'm sure every random fan who sees him asks him all sorts of dumb shit about the Texans. So what I would do is shake his hand, tell him that I am a Texans fan and thank him for his work for trying to get us to the top, and make small talk that he's not used to. Maybe I'd ask him about Rhonda and how she is dealing with the fallout from Travis Johnson. (Oh, I can't link to that anymore? You suck, MDC.)

Then I would slip this book into his back pocket. And on one of the jacket pages, I would write "Screw Marciano" over and over again.

2) Battle Red is made the same way that you make a red velvet cake. Except instead of whipping the batter, you play it a continuous loop of "We battled," "This kid is a battler," "Can't ask for anything more than the battle these kids showed," and other battle-related quotes from past Gary Kubiak press conferences.

Unfortunately, since it doesn't really get whipped by those, it's kind of shitty. Tastes mostly of raw eggs and powdered sugar.

3) Because some people derive a small measure of self-worth by where their car is parked. I personally can't really relate to it, as I am the kind of guy who just takes the first decent parking spot he sees, but if it works for those people, I am happy for them.

Besides, most people don't really go to the gym to work out. That is not the primary aim of the gym. The real goal is to feel like you're doing what you can to work out. Even when "what you can" is not really related to an actual goal of fitness.

BricAM writes:

Who, if anybody, would you say would be the first Texan in the Hall of Fame?

If you got to hang out with one fictional character who would it be?

Know of any aspiring writers who would want to work with me on a novel?

1) Discussing the Hall of Fame for any Texan player not named Andre Johnson right now is just ludicrous. J.J. Watt is way too young, and outside of Arian Foster, I have a hard time thinking of any of other Houston player as a transcendent talent that would get voted to the Hall of Fame despite the lack of wins and rings (to this point) that the team has accumulated. Both Foster and Watt have a long way to go, but if I had to guess right now, I think Watt has the better chance of making it. Way too many national writers have written off Foster as a one-cut Kubiak system back, and while he has an engaging and enjoyable personality, he isn't exactly someone who stays in the news. I'll get into Andre Johnson's candidacy in a second, when I answer a question by a different person about that exact issue.

2) To be honest, this question holds very little appeal to me. There seems to be a huge undercurrent of culture these days that wants to gush and fanboy/fangirl over anything they can see on television, and I just don't get it. I feel like we, as humans, should strive to make our connections be more human. Which is why, when I can, I would rather talk to someone face-to-face or on the phone than spend time texting people. (I still end up texting plenty to respect people's boundaries, but you get where I'm going with this.) Anyway, the idea of interacting with someone who doesn't actually exist doesn't really do much for me.

However, to answer the question and not be a total downer about it, I would hang out with Peter Gibbons from Office Space. I would hang out with him in the hopes that the feeling he feels everyday could be totally transferred onto me, without having to go through any of the actual mental work of creating it on my own.

3) Plenty. Some of them don't even work for Bleacher Report.

The way this read was that you were soliciting me, and not asking for general advice on the subject. But I'll address both:

- If you're asking me: pitch me your idea. Tell me what you're trying to accomplish and what you need me for. Tell me what is in it for me. Remember that to lure in a high-quality writer, you're going to have to make sacrifices. The idea needs to be fully borne out, and not vague in any way. And you're going to have to be prepared for some hefty rates.
- If you're asking in general: this is much simpler. Go to Craigslist. Put the total dollar amount you are willing to spend on this book as the first line of the subject header, then post it on the writing jobs board. Proceed to roll in thousands of responses and pick whichever grad school student or freelancer you think you can beat to death the easiest.

kurtie! writes:

1) Is Andre Johnson a first ballot Hall of Famer? I would say yes, but other wide receivers have had their issues getting into the hall. Plus, Pancakes has a vote in the matter, and you know how much he hates the Texans.

2) What video game should I get? I'm 37, have too many kids, and I rarely ever get to play. However, I recently got a giftcard to Gamestop and I was wondering what I should get. I have a PS3 and my favorite game series of all time is Hitman. The new one is not coming out until Christmas, and I'm impatient and I want to get something now. The most recent game I finished was Uncharted 3, which was great. I don't like first person shooters and I really don't have the time to play sports games. So, any suggestions?

1) Foreshadowing!

As of this moment, no, Andre Johnson is not a first ballot Hall of Famer. You could explain the fact that he hit 10,000 yards despite spending his first four seasons catching balls from David Carr to Hall of Fame voters until you were blue in the face, and it would do you no good. Andre Johnson has no championship rings, one playoff win, and two winning seasons. Most of his career has taken place in a passing-dominant era, and 10,000 yards now looks a lot like 500 homers started looking around 2008.

I would absolutely vote Andre Johnson in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He was the best receiver in the NFL for about four or five seasons, has sterling career numbers, and put them up despite never playing with a truly elite quarterback. However, our current sports media cycle has turned Tim Tebow into a recurring story based on the fact that he's a good-looking guy who won a lot of games in college (and some lucky ones in the pros) even though he can barely throw. In that realm, Andre Johnson is going to be waiting a long time.

2) Actually, the ironic thing about you not playing sports games is that the way I personally play sports games, I just use them for a couple of days and go find something else to do. Unless it's Out Of The Park. Don't buy Out Of The Park unless you like staring into the computer screen only to wake up two days later and realize your boss is wondering where the hell you went.

Anyway, I don't have a whole lot of Playstation 3 games, and the games that I do have are mostly ones that I haven't even opened yet. The only one I've really put a lot of time into is Metal Gear Solid 4, because I am Hideo Kojima's bitch. I wouldn't really recommend that one if you're trying to avoid shooters.

So I am going to take advantage of a little loophole here and say that because your PS3 is backwards compatible with PS2 and PS1 games, you should dig up a copy of Parasite Eve, which is one of my favorite games that nobody ever talks about. It's a modern RPG that works. The atmosphere and music are killer (seriously one of my favorite soundtracks), the battle system is a hybrid RPG/adventure mix that will keep you on your toes, and the story is phenomenal. Best of all, you can probably scrape through it in as little as 30 hours if you avoid the few sidequests.

If you are deadset on a PS3 game (or don't want to suffer PS1 graphics), though, I'd probably try Arkham Asylum. I think that'd give you a lot of what Uncharted did.

Taco Joe writes:

1. a) If you could be a character from any video game who would you be?
b) And as that video game character if you lived in a world like Wreck'em Ralph's world what video game vixen would be your lady?

2. I am starting a campaign based on the President should be chosen by a fight to the death Winner gets the spoils (including loser's wife but not including his kids). Who would win out of the candidates?

3. If my roommate owes me a surmountable amount of money, is it appropriate to sell his tools to make up for the amount of debt?

1) Well shit, why can't I pick a female video game character? Don't put all these arbitrary limits on me.

I already ran through my spiel about how weird it is to mentally interact with the worlds of fictional characters, right? Okay, good. That goes double for this question since I'm now assuming that my video game character is going to have to worry about shagging some other video game character.

a) I will be Mega Man. b) my female companion can be Marina from Mischief Makers. That ought to produce the weirdest sex ever. Especially when you start thinking of all the add-ons.

2) This question made me take a hard look at some of the third-party candidates, because I don't really see Obama or Romney doing well in a fight to the death. Did you know that in California, you can vote a Roseanne Barr/Cindy Sheehan ticket? That's amazing. And not just because they might have the most ration(is muffled by Tim and forced to swallow sedatives).

Oh right, no politics. I'm going to go with Jill Stein. Any woman that gets arrested twice for her political beliefs in the span of three months -- especially considering the roughhouse job they did on her for trying to enter the Hofstra debate -- is going to be a tough out. If I had to pick just out of the main candidates, I'd go with Obama because he's still doing pickup basketball and I just think he'd be able to outlast Romney physically.

3) Not unless you're a dick. If you are, then by all means.

--Buck writes:

Something football related first: Lance Z was positing on his radio show that after looking at the All-22 film he was less of the opinion that Jonathan Joseph was injured and more of the opinion that J-Jo has been sitting on routes trying to pick off the QB and teams have figured this out and are challenging him down the field. Seen anything to merit LZ's take?

Now for the non-football related: If you've been asked something similar, pardon my ignorance and answer the damned question anyway. Who are your top 3 favorite writers, your top 3 books, and top 3 phrases/sentences/paragraphs in any given literary work?

To be brutally honest with you, the Texans all-22 hasn't been something that I've spent a lot of time with so far this season. I'd love to do it, but work commitments come first now. When you think back to the Jets game, where Joseph really put on his first big pants-shitting display, I thought he got worked both over the top and on slant routes. I'm not saying that's the end of the discussion, and I certainly don't want to dispute LZ's tape study with my anecdotal thoughts, but I think it's more likely that the groin injury is affecting him than a change of game plan. Occam's Razor and all.

These next lists are by no means a best-of-ever list, but just the three that come to mind fastest for now:

Three favorite writers: Kurt Vonnegut, George Saunders, and David Sedaris.
Three favorite books: The Floating Opera, Another Bullshit Night In Suck City, On Writing Well.
Three favorite quotes:

"I realized that people probably liked to look at the vast horizon of the beach and the endless sky of the night because it took them out of their daily routine and reminded them about bigger things. But I never seem to stop thinking about these bigger things." -- Things The Grandchildren Should Know

"People were always getting ready for tomorrow. I didn't believe in that. Tomorrow wasn't getting ready for them. It didn't even know they were there." -- The Road

"Cling tooth and nail to the following rule: Not to give in to adversity, never to trust prosperity, and always to take full note of fortune's habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything it is in her power to do. Whatever you have been expecting for some time comes as less of a shock." -- Letters From A Stoic