'A Good Walkthrough' Explores 'Insider' Football — And Lots Of It

Download Audio

If you ever find yourself mired in a shortage of irreverent football articles, Mike Tanier, currently of Sports on Earth, has got you covered. Tanier's  A Good Walkthrough Spoiled: The Best of Mike Tanier at Football Outsiders is a collection of the writer's best work from 2004 to 2012 on Football Outsiders and provides plenty of material for the avid football fan to sink their teeth into.

Tanier joined Bill Littlefield.

Highlights From Bill's Conversation With Mike Tanier

BL: The book includes some surprising revelations. For example, in an entry from 2005, you write, "after five years as a football writer, I thought I knew everything about football." What led you to doubt that your knowledge was complete?


MT: Oh, so many things, starting with the fact that, when you start looking at things that are more “insider” level — whether it’s statistical, whether it’s strategic, whether it’s getting more opportunities to talk to these young men and these coaches — you discover levels beneath levels beneath levels in the NFL. And really when this book starts, I’m just at the beginning of that journey. I had been writing for years, but I had been writing in sort of a fantasy context where it’s like each year — I think even each month — along the way, it was like, you learn what you know and you learn what you don’t know. And each time along the way [I] was discovering new facets of the game, new depths of how the game is perceived and how the game is thought.

BL: Some of our listeners may be familiar with the Wonderlic Test, which NFL teams use to measure the intelligence of players at its annual scouting combine. Tell us about the test you think they should be using instead.

MT: I call it the "Walk-Through-Lic." I told the NFL, well, for $100,000 I will develop the entire test for you because I do have a degree in that. And it’s things like, “Here are some things in the playbook. What would you identify in this playbook as correct?” Or it might be like, “Here’s a business decision you might have to do with your money where somebody’s offering you a loan or is asking for a loan.”

Well, Wonderlic is about three or four generations ago in the world of generalized testing. It’s kind of a one-size-fits-all business-decision-making, reaction-time test that was sold to companies in the 1970s: “Hey do you want to give a quick test to management trainees,” and things [like that]. The NFL grabbed it, and they’re still buying this test, which is sort of like snake oil. It’s a little bit of reading comprehension, “find the next thing in the sequence,” and anything is better right now than the Wonderlic.

I think a lot of readers know the real crime is it’s supposed to be confidential, and every year all the scores are leaked, sometimes leaked and talked about by NFL sources. So somebody who scored an eight or 12 out of 40 gets made fun of, publicly. We don’t know if this person had a learning disability, the person was taken by surprise by the test or if it had anything to do with their intelligence or their football ability, and yet it becomes an easy thing to knock people on.

BL: Former Chicago Bears Head Coach Mike Ditka seems to be one of your favorite subjects. You write that "he is the NFL's most unpredictable quote machine." But how hard is it to achieve that distinction? Isn't most of the competition almost completely predictable?

MT: That’s a good point. So many people are predictable, and there are so few unique voices of his stature who’ll go against the party line, who’s reached the point where he doesn’t care — he’s Mike Ditka; he’s an institution unto himself. And I think I wrote that because I wrote a long thing about the players' strike in 1987, which is when they had replacement players, so-called “scab games.” Mike Ditka at that point was very instrumental in bringing in the replacements and coaching them aggressively and promoting them very aggressively, saying, “My Walter Paytons and Mike Singletarys, they are spoiled.”

And now Mike Ditka will come forward and say that he’s a huge advocate of player rights or something so outlandish that your mind will wonder whether he’s in the right place. But he’s singular, he’s unique, he can’t be questioned in terms of where he comes from — he can be questioned about his logic, but that’s what makes him so interesting, and he’s somebody you have to take notice of.

Bill's Thoughts On "A Good Walkthrough Spoiled: The Best of Mike Tanier at Football Outsiders"                                 

[sidebar title="An Excerpt From Mike Tanier's 'A Good Walkthrough Spoiled'" width="330" align="right"]Read an excerpt from Mike Tanier's "A Good Walkthrough Spoiled: The Best of Mike Tanier at Football Outsiders."[/sidebar]

This collection of Mike Tanier's "Walkthrough" posts at Football Outsiders will entertain serious fans of pro football undeterred by the fact that the copy is dated. In the introduction, Tanier himself characterizes the contents of the book as "old columns." He also says that re-reading them "elicited secret thrills and hidden shames," and perhaps his readers will feel the same way.

Elsewhere in the introduction, Mike Tanier characterizes himself as one of the few writers feeling that "the best way to enhance our passion for football was to study the sport and learn more about it." If you are a reader inclined toward that sort of "study," you may agree with Tanier that these days "the services of Football Outsiders are more important than ever," and this may be the book for you.

If you're inclined to think verbs like "study" and adjectives like "important" should be used sparingly in writing about games, "A Good Walkthrough Spoiled" may be less appealing to you.

Mike Tanier On Only A Game: 

This segment aired on August 9, 2014.


More from Only A Game

Listen Live