My friend Dave told me over pizza the other day that “some things are inherently other things.” I’m not sure I understand what he meant, or if he even did for that matter. But we’d just seen the new David Foster Wallace biopic, which meant we were both especially prone to philosophizing. I was enjoying the pizza, so I just accepted his weird utterance at face value.
But, in writing this list — whereby I completely unscientifically match every NFL team to their personified nineties song — I keep coming back to Dave’s pronouncement. There’s really no way to justify a comparison between a National Football League franchise and a song from the nineties, except to say that these NFL teams are these nineties songs, and these nineties songs are these NFL teams. They are both tangible things, and they can both be broken into their atomic elements, into their essential thingness.
Who better encapsulates the profits and pitfalls that Biggie Smalls contemplates in “Mo Money Mo Problems” than Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan? What team besides the Baltimore Ravens could better sympathize with The Smashing Pumpkins’ odd retrospective cultural backlash? How could anyone other than the Philadelphia Eagles relate to Blink 182’s machine gun fire drumming?
Some of these comparisons focus more on the song itself, some on the lyrics of the song, some on the band writing the song. It’s not a perfect formula, I know. But this list still manages to preserve the spirit of the idea — and the nineties.
San Francisco 49ers: New Radicals — “You Get What You Give”
Remember when people were comparing the New Radicals guys to Radiohead? “You Get What You Give” is a great song, yes. But the hype was premature. Zero albums later, the band broke up.
The 49ers were the next big thing. But, after reaching the NFC title game three years in a row, the team regressed last year, finishing with an 8-8 record. The result: Head coach Jim Harbaugh’s unlikely departure back to college football, the simultaneous exits of mainstays Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree, and a spate of headline-grabbing retirements. The team has been sapped of its nucleus. What remains is a cheap imitation of the San Francisco 49ers.
Fun fact: Gregg Alexander, the vocalist from the New Radicals, went on to be nominated for an Oscar for his work on the soundtrack of the not-very-good movie Begin Again. There will be no cutesy second life (a.k.a. improbable playoff berth) for the 49ers.
Seattle Seahawks: Radiohead — “Paranoid Android”
Ah, right. That’s what the real thing sounds like. Yes, Thom Yorke and Gregg Alexander do both wear dumb hats. But the similarities stop there. Radiohead is musically superior in just about every way. And don’t feel bad, New Radicals. Radiohead tops most bands.
The Seahawks will probably be very good again this year. At this point, they’re the closest football has (except for the Patriots and maybe the Packers) to a guaranteed hit. Because really, is there ever a bad Radiohead album?
St. Louis Rams: Eiffel 65 — “Blue (Da Be Dee)”
I have now listened to Eiffel 65’s “Blue” three times in a row. I still have no idea what the song is about. There’s a blue guy and he lives in a blue world, but he feels vaguely guilty about the monochromatic, seemingly monotonous order of his life. Then there’s a bunch of gibberish, more half-finished thoughts on, I don’t know, maybe suburban life or something? More gibberish; repeat the second verse verbatim; another pile of indecipherable gibberish; a verse that suspiciously resembles the first, and then more gibberish. The song is, in short, a true enigma.
In 2013, new Rams (and former Eagles) quarterback Nick Foles famously threw 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He followed that up with a lackluster season and was promptly traded to St. Louis. This team has a good defense and some young players on offense; the question is which version of Nick Foles will emerge.
Arizona Cardinals: MC Hammer — “U Can’t Touch This”
One supposedly washed-up Carson Palmer? Check. A still-productive Larry Fitzgerald? Check. Weird trick plays? Check.
The Cardinals are fun. So was MC Hammer. There you have it.
New York Giants: AC/DC — “Thunderstruck”
No, I don’t want to listen to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” Vocalist Brian Johnson rhymes “drums” with “guns,” and the guitar sounds like a washing machine on the fritz. A truly awf—wait, no, there’s a nice melody in there. Johnson’s yelp isn’t half bad either. And that guitar...it’s beautiful.
Even with two Super Bowl wins since 2006, the Giants seem to constantly remain under the radar. After all, their defense is awful, Eli Manning is an astoundingly bad SNL host, and head coach Tom Coughlin looks like the Grinch reincarnated.
But wait! They’ve got a solid offense, anchored by second-year wide receiver sensation Odell Beckham Jr. And Eli Manning had that one good skit you probably forgot about. (Tom Coughlin still looks like the Grinch.)
The Giants are AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” guitar line: sort of annoying initially, but still able to impress you in the long run.
Dallas Cowboys: Kid Rock — “Cowboy”
Kid Rock fancies himself an outlaw. On this song, he sings, “Cowboy baby/I can smell a pig from a mile away.” That line works two ways: He can smell real live pigs, because he’s a real man of the mud, as they say, but he can also smell police officers, because he’s a cowboy, baby.
That line is very bad. Kid Rock — real name Robert James Ritchie — was born in Michigan, a land of not cowboys. Kid Rock is a fraud. So are the Dallas Cowboys. They’ve got a large collection of talent (Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Greg Hardy) but...it’s the Cowboys. They’re more the illusion of a good team than an actual good team, much like Kid Rock’s cowboy claims.
Washington Football Team: Limp Bizkit — “Nookie”
Yes, I refuse to call the Washington squad by their much-maligned moniker. That an organization in the nation’s biggest sports league — one that is located in the capital no less — should continue to operate under a name that sucks for a particular group of people is more than disheartening: It’s infuriating.
For that general suckiness, and because the team is also just really bad as a whole, they’ve earned Limp Bizkit distinction.
Philadelphia Eagles: Blink 182 — “What’s My Age Again?”
There’s not a faster, more explosive offense than the Eagles in the NFL. Regardless of who’s under center for Philadelphia, Chip Kelly’s system guarantees big, ballsy plays and, in the process, lots of points. The Eagles basically blew up their roster, despite a 10-6 record last season, trading away Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy — who promptly called Kelly a racist — and opting not to sign Jeremy Maclin. Now, the Eagles will feature Sam Bradford under center, reigning rushing champion DeMarco Murray taking the handoffs, and youngsters like Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor catching passes. In that system, expect to see the same speed with grown accustomed to. The Eagles are basically the football version of a Blink-182 song. If they can figure out how to patch up a defense that last year allowed the fifth-most yards per game in the league, they’ve got a good shot at making a deep playoff run.
Carolina Panthers: Backstreet Boys — “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”
By most standards, the Backstreet Boys were not a particularly innovative band. But compared to atrocities like BBMak and LFO, Nick Carter and co. are the second coming of Prince.
Last year, the Panthers won the NFC South with a sub-.500 record of 7-8-1. Carolina has enough talented players — namely Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly — to put up a fight, but really, they wouldn’t make the playoffs in a tougher division.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Enrique Iglesias — “Bailamos”
No real connection here. Just a killer song.
Atlanta Falcons: Savage Garden — “Crash and Burn”
Savage Garden reminds me of the hair salon my mother took me to when I was a kid. I don’t know if that’s because Sanderson’s Studio actually played Savage Garden, or if it’s because they just had a Savage Garden vibe. In fact, I’m not quite sure what would constitute a Savage Garden vibe.
Anyhow, it wasn’t so long ago that Atlanta was seen as a real Super Bowl contender. And yet, since going 13-3 in 2013, the Falcons have posted a combined 10-22 in the two seasons since. They have, to paraphrase S. Garden, crashed and burned. Quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones still make for a great tandem, but — in large part thanks to a horrendous pass defense — this team is on the verge of rebuilding mode.
Savage Garden once said, “When hopes and dreams are far away and/You feel like you can’t face day.” I am not sure why, but this seems appropriate, and I’ve learned to never question any impulse when writing this story.
New Orleans Saints: Puff Daddy/Faith Evans/112 — “I’ll Be Missing You”
Goodbye, Jimmy Graham. Adios, Kenny Stills. And just like that, the NFL’s one-time premier aerial offense is a big question mark. Sure, with Drew Brees behind the reins, the Saints can still put up points. And those offensive sacrifices did allow for New Orleans to finally beef up its much-maligned defense. So it’s not like the Saints don’t have a shot in this still-not-great NFC South.
Still though, that Brees-to-Graham connection was one of the NFL’s most invigorating; Jimmy will be missed.
Green Bay Packers: Oasis — “Don’t Look Back”
Between 1994 and 1997, Oasis was arguably the biggest rock band on the planet.
Were they really the next incarnation of the Beatles? No. But they made some catchy songs while they lasted. And hell, you could argue that peak-Oasis was indeed pop at its perfection: thoughtful yet simple, catchy yet digestible.
Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews are superstars (Randall Cobb pretty much is too). But Green Bay lost a handful of quality defensive talent this offseason, and Jordy Nelson’s season-ending injury during a preseason game is a huge blow. The Packers are a very good NFL team; the Beatles they are not.
Detroit Lions: Hootie and the Blowfish — “Only Wanna Be With You”
Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have accomplished some incredible feats together. Stafford became one of just five quarterbacks in NFL history break the 5,000 yard barrier, while Johnson set the single-season receiving record in 2012 with 1,96.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t translated into too much overall team success. Detroit still hasn’t won a playoff game since 1991, and they face a tough schedule this year. Still though, got to love that Hootie. And that bromance.
Minnesota Vikings: Mark Morrison — “Return of the Mack”
“Return of the Mack” is just one of those songs. I have no idea what Mark Morrison is actually singing about, but it doesn’t matter. The song is just so damn cool: the melismatic wail in the opening, the cheesily chipper beat, and yes, that iconic, nonsensical chorus (I still have no idea who or what Mack is).
Second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was better than expected last year, and should continue to develop this season. Returning from injury, outside linebacker Anthony Barr has pundits excited about the defense. Oh and, hey, the top running back in football returns to the lineup. This is a sneaky good team, capable of making a surprising playoff push.
Chicago Bears: Jay Z - “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”
Jay Cutler gets a bad rap. Sure, the Chicago quarterback is interception-prone. And yes, he can seem like a pompous, mopey prick on sidelines. But in reality, it’s the Bears’ second-rate defense that’s the real culprit for the organization’s precipitous downfall. I’m not being hyperbolic: Last year’s Chicago defense performed worse than any previous incarnation of the team over the last 91 years, according to USA Today.
Even for a guy who curses at ball boys, Jay Cutler doesn’t deserve this. For Cutler, it’s a hard kn—you get the idea.
Oakland Raiders: Creed — “Higher”
Much like Creed, the Scott Stapp-led post-grunge prime-trash nineties heroes, the Raiders suffer from a sense of delusion and visions of grandeur. In “Higher,” Stapp wails, “Can you take me higher? To a place where blind men see.” Similarly, the Raiders can only pray for some quasi-religious salvation from football damnation. (They've won 10 games over the past three years combined.) Also, their best shot at winning is playing blind opponents.
San Diego Chargers: OMC — “How Bizarre”
Even with five Pro Bowl appearances to his resume, Philip Rivers is one of the most underrated passers in the NFL today. He’s not alone: veteran receiver Stevie Johnson isn’t that far removed from his 1,000-plus yard days with Bills, and the defensive line is much improved. On top of that, first round draft pick Melvin Gordon looks to be the second coming of Jamaal Charles. Sure, the offensive line is worrisome, but hey, Philip Rivers always finds a way to make this team competitive.
“How Bizarre” never gets mentioned in the same breath as other nineties cheese-classics like “Semi-Charmed Life” and “All Star.” That’s a shame, because it’s got an infectiously breezy melody and some gloriously oddball lyrics.
Kansas City Chiefs: Counting Crows — “Mr. Jones”
Were people ever actually fans of the Counting Crows, those purveyors of generically mellow, lyrically over-earnest pop rock? Apparently. Now 20-plus years since the release of “Mr. Jones,” the Counting Crows have become elder statesmen of their genre, continuing to sell out spacious amphitheaters in the process.
People underestimate the Chiefs. They look at their 11-5 season in 2013 and last year’s 9-7 record as aberrations. They weren’t. Running back Jamaal Charles is one of the best in the game, their defense — the one that allowed the second fewest points per game last season — remains largely intact, and quarterback Alex Smith is a solid if unspectacular quarterback.
Not everyone should aspire to be Nirvana. Sometimes it’s nice to settle for the Counting Crows. Speaking of...
Denver Broncos: Nirvana — “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
You can talk about the offseason departures of tight end Julius Thomas and guard Orlando Franklin, the still-unproven rotation of running backs, and Peyton Manning’s diminishing arm strength. The Denver Broncos are still one of the NFL’s elite. The team’s still got tons of firepower on offense, and even with a noodle arm, Peyton Manning can pick apart any secondary. Also, Denver’s defense is, once again, among the league’s best.
There’s a reason stores are still pumping out Kurt Cobain t-shirts. Nirvana is one of the all-time greats. The same can be said of Peyton Manning.
Miami Dolphins: Will Smith — “Miami”
To be honest, there just weren’t many instances of a song name aligning with an NFL team. I’ll say this: The Dolphins are decent, and might finally reach the playoffs this year.
New York Jets: Better Than Ezra — “Desperately Wanting”
“Desperately Wanting” is a song, I think, about wanting something desperately. The Jets desperately want to be relevant again. After all, they came pretty close to being a great squad in the Rex Ryan era, before, that is, the infamous Butt Fumble and the subsequent collapse of the franchise.
The Jets re-acquired the cornerback tandem of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, and now must hold out hope that Ryan Fitzpatrick/Geno Smith/whoever throws the football on this team can be at least competent. But really, there’s not much reason for optimism; this team is eight months away from another high draft pick.
Buffalo Bills: The Notorious B.I.G. — “Mo Money Mo Problems”
As a head coach, Rex Ryan has certain known characteristics: superb defensive schemes, a run-first offensive philosophy, and heavy doses of shit talking. With that shit talking comes heightened expectations. It’ll be interesting to see how Ryan — and his utterly stacked defense — holds up against the pressure. Should they fall, at least they made it a fun offseason.
New England Patriots: Third Eye Blind — “Semi-Charmed Life”
Let the haters smack talk all they want. “Semi-Charmed Life” is still the most exciting nineties song to come on the radio, the one you’ll put on full blast with the windows down. It’s okay; don’t deny it. The song’s got crisp blasts of guitar, a hook-laden chorus, and serves as a classic example of sappily over-shared nineties lyrics. It’s gloriously bombastic. It’s perfect.
Now entering his 16th season with the Patriots, head coach Bill Belichick has posted a .729 winning percentage. A large reason for that: Tom Brady, whose four Super Bowl wins ties the record for the most by a quarterback. People like to speculate on Tom Brady’s eventual decline, or dismiss the talent of New England’s receivers, or … whatever, doesn’t matter. Don’t doubt this team.
Tennessee Titans: Sugar Ray — “Fly”
Is there a single Titans fan who lives outside of Tennessee? Save for the occasional big name player — most notably Steve McNair, Albert Haynesworth, and Chris Johnson — the Titans seem to always field a dull, if sometimes decent, lineup. First round draft pick Marcus Mariota might help bring some life to this offense, and defensive end Jurrell Casey is a player worth watching, but overall, this team figures to be among the NFL’s worst.
It was tempting to demote the Titans to, say, Nickelback status, but the presence of Mariota — a glimmer of hope — makes the lovably awful Sugar Ray a better fit. Also, Mark McGrath just wants to fly, a sentiment undoubtedly felt by a Titans wide receiver unit that was flummoxed by poor quarterback play last year. They just want the ball to fly, man.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Beck — “Loser”
My friend Christian is a Jacksonville Jaguars fan. Because no one, I am convinced, has ever actually watched a Jacksonville Jaguars game, I asked him to tell me what nineties song the Jacksonville Jaguars would be. (I know what you’re thinking: “How does this guy have so many friends?!” My superb nineties knowledge doesn’t hurt; I know that for sure. ) He told me to go with “The Freshman” by The Verve Pipe.
But Christian was wrong. “The Freshman” is a fun, albeit cheesy, song. There is very little about the Jacksonville Jaguars that could be accurately labeled as “fun.” Since the start of the 2011 season, the Jaguars have won 14 games. They’ve got some intriguing young players, most of all quarterback Blake Bortles, but until the Jaguars can translate potential into actual wins, they remain the NFL equivalent of Beck’s “Loser.” (Still, a good song at least.)
Houston Texans: Soul Coughing — “Circles”
With the Texans, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. First, then-quarterback Matt Schaub seemingly loses all his ability overnight. Then it was franchise fixture Andre Johnson’s move to Indianapolis this offseason, followed by star running back Arian Foster’s devastating groin injury just a few weeks ago. It’s been a circle of bad luck for the Texans. And they still don’t have a good quarterback.
But there’s hope: Arian Foster, when healthy, is still a uniquely talented athlete. They’ve also got (in)arguably the best defensive player in the game with defensive end J.J. Watt. One year this team will break through. Just not yet.
Indianapolis Colts: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones — “The Impression That I Get”
Come on, how you could not like these guys?! They’ve got those upbeat horns and syncopated guitars. They were even in Clueless. If you hate The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, you are a truly bad person.
The Colts have posted an 11-5 record in each of future (/current) NFL great Andrew Luck’s three seasons with the team. With veterans Andre Johnson and Frank Gore now added into what was already one of the league’s premier offenses, the Colts should be among the league’s most entertaining — and successful — teams once again.
Pittsburgh Steelers: House of Pain — “Jump Around”
House of Pain never released anything noteworthy after “Jump Around.” And you’d be right to blame former House of Pain member Everlast’s awful 1998 folk rock monstrosity “What It’s Like.” But “Jump Around”? The song is good to get everyone from Robin Williams to the entire Wisconsin student body off their feet.
The offensive trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell was unstoppable last year; 2015 won’t be any different. And as sad as it was to see defensive stalwarts Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor retire, the truth is that the team will be better off with some younger talent. (Last year the Steelers ranked 18th in the league in yard and points allowed.)
Cleveland Browns: Baha Men — “Who Let the Dogs Out?”
I’m sorry, Cleveland fans. I didn’t want it to be you guys. You’ve stuck with this team through a 13-year playoff drought and seven straight losing seasons. But despite your bravery, facts are facts, and the Browns still haven’t earned a postseason berth since 2002. (They haven’t won a playoff game since 1994. The Chiefs, Lions, and Bengals have actually endured longer postseason spells. But al least those teams are all competitive at the moment.)
The Baha Men Award goes to you, Cleveland Browns, even if you do still have The Football Player Formerly Known as Johnny Football.
Cincinnati Bengals: Hanson — “MMMBop”
The Bengals are cute on paper. A.J. Green is a talented receiver, there’s potential for the defense to be scary (though that unit severely underperformed last year), and Jeremy Hill has proven to be a wrecking ball at running back. The only problem: Andy Dalton. The guy is insanely hot-and-cold during the season, and just plain cold come playoff time. Through four postseason appearances years, Dalton has thrown one touchdown to six interceptions.
Sure, one could argue that the Bengals have made the playoffs every year under Dalton’s leadership. But that’s missing the point. “MMMBop” is fun and all. But there’s some real pop sensibility hiding underneath all that pre-teen garbage. What if Hanson had, you know, been good?
Baltimore Ravens: The Smashing Pumpkins — “1979”
I can’t quite pinpoint the exact moment when The Smashing Pumpkins became a punchline in the zeitgeist. But it’s weird, and it’s wrong. Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness are legitimate classics. Show Billy Corgan some respect, damn it!
The Ravens won the Super Bowl just three years ago, and they finished last year with a respectable 10-6 record before narrowly losing the Patriots in AFC Divisional round. Yet, for some Billy Corgan-esque reason, the Ravens are rarely mentioned in the breath as the Patriots and the Packers. That’s weird, and it’s wrong.
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