When told that the Broncos still have something to prove, or that someone's opinion of them still hasn't come around, we are often pointed to the "stretch," a series of 7 out of 8 games on the Broncos' schedule that is treated as if it were some kind of absolute truth graven into stone. 7 out of 8 games against sturdy opponents, somehow each one stronger and more terrifying, more of a "real" test than the last.
And it isn't that Dallas, or Pittsburgh or Baltimore, San Diego, New England, and the Giants aren't going to be challenges, its that somehow, for every challenge that the Broncos rise to meet, the "real" test will still be a game away, a future point where dreams and facts will finally meet.
For the personalities that view the "stretch" this way, you will find that they spend most of their time ensorceled by their own imaginations, and in fact, it is important to understand that particular dynamic, because it contains the whole truth. When a game is completed, it passes off the radar, as if it never happened, treated more like a figment of imagination, despite the fact that it happened, than prognostications of games still months away. What "is" loses all significance for them once it passes from the realm of the as-yet-unknown, the nursery of their errors and last refuge of their whims, to the realm of existence, to facts and to the ultimate rebuttal of their unfounded desires.
And we find ourselves fascinated by the phenomenon, watching it unfold perennially, but dumbfounded anew each time it happens. We struggle to understand, seeking cause and motive. Is it the fault of fantasy football? Do fans and analysts get so enmeshed in stats and individual accomplishments that they lose sight of what truly matters about football? Have you ever hung a Christmas stocking on a chimney? The bounty of the stocking does nothing to affect the the nature of the chimney, and at worst, the fire in the hearth is lowered or extinguished to accommodate it. Both can and are enjoyed separately, for what they are, depending on the person. Extinguishing the flame of knowledge and passion for the game in the name of Fantasy football is a symptom of the problem, not the cause. Is it monetary gain? Are the pundits and personalities moved so strongly by the desire to please an employer that they will say anything? This is a common fallacy in every field, where money is blamed for declining standards. But for every dollar that gets paid to a self-indulgent analyst, another dollar gets paid to an honest man for his hard work. Money represents both because it is just a symbol, and can only be up to the standards of those who earn it. Whatever a pundit chooses to say in the space allotted to him is on him, not on his employer, and not on the inanimate matter in his wallet. That someone is paid for projecting their whims as being above the status of what is real speaks again to a symptom, not a cause.
Before getting too deeply into cause and motive, lets first look at the modern phenomenon of sports "coverage," a term used to lump both the journalists and analysts together. If I had to point to one significant difference between the best sports journalism and the lowest forms of sports chatter, it would be in the ability of the writer or speaker to accurately describe something. This includes describing the look, the feel, and perhaps most importantly the meaning of events. Without exception these descriptions are at their best when they describe something that is or has already happened, not something that might be. Unless the power of physical perception is leveled on reality, accuracy will be limited.
What we see nowadays, is that writers and analysts have turned their backs on understanding the game better, of growing in their ability to process what they are seeing or of developing relationships with players and coaches, or even of working on their craft to better be able to clarify what they are thinking, and instead have turned to judging people, events and actions "instinctively," i.e. not by what they are but by how they make them feel. Accurate descriptions of what happened are glossed over with emotional outbursts, and then buried beneath unending piles of prognostications and wild guesses about the future. Sports networks consist of 6 hours of pregame coverage, talking about what hasn't happened, while postgame coverage is limited to an afterthought, barely an hour on most stations with the majority of that consisting of hoots and hollers dubbed over highlight packages. It is an industry dominated by the whims of its personalities, where the pundits imagination is granted the status of fact, and where the whims are fulfilled by shifting focuses and cherry picked scenarios, stats and highlights that support pundits all knowing "visions."
And the rest of reality?
ESPN airs 24 hours a day in multiple languages and formats, across many geographical incarnations spanning several channels. If you could spend all your time in this alternate universe they have created you will have found how consistently they can evade issues or concepts that don't feed into their conclusions. Sometimes ideas will fall through the cracks, but in general they have taken the act of ignoring something and raised it to an artform.
Why would they do that?
The answer rests in the nature of our consciousness.
A human mind develops from a primarily perceptual method of functioning in our childhood to the conceptual method of functioning in adulthood. This is aided by the hierarchical stacking of concepts in order to improve intellectual efficacy and by what could be called "cognitive experience" i.e. repeated handling of concepts and ideas that refines and clarifies their use. But above all, the process is a volitional one. It requires continuous effort and focus, personal responsibility for observing, judging and integrating the facts of reality. To proceed from childhood cognitive functioning to adult functioning is not an automatic process.
For most of us, we work our way through this process with varying degrees of aptitude and success. We are strongly influenced by those who mentor us through the process, and much of what we learn about it is at a subconscious or implicit level of understanding. Some make the transition completely, some harbor some instances of perceptually bound thinking, and some fail to make the transition at all. It is a cultural phenomenon too great to delve into here that has led to the modern (1950's to present) strangulation of this transition, that has stranded a great number of souls in a psycho-epistemologically arrested state, but suffice to say, the spectacle of a perceptually bound mentality, especially one that is inconsistently mixed with a more rational outlook, is not uncommon.
This type of mentality treats its emotions as irrefutable, irreducible and irresistible knowledge of facts, and they are almost completely at the mercy of them. They are stuck in a universe where only the immediate feelings of the moment have meaning to them, and it is these feelings they project on the past and future, both of which function as little more than disposable canvases for the imaginative wanderings of a perceptually bound mentality.
And while the process of self-stultification is very interesting (and again, far too deep of a topic to expand upon here), it is sufficient to note that the process develops almost completely during the formative years of the mind, and results in a personality that prioritizes getting around reality, rather than dealing with it. Even in the simplest or insignificant endeavors (such as a sports analyst giving his reasons why a team will be a failure) this is a fatal mistake that pits the deceiver against reality. His imagination becomes his sole source of power in the fields of reality that he chooses to ignore, whether it is film analysis or player rankings, and his imagination is ruled by emotions he doesn't understand. The result is a deceptive, manipulative exertion in an attempt to gain control of something they have long since abandoned. Success in this endeavor consists of convincing others that his uncontrollable emotional appraisals are as real, and thus as valid, to them as they are to him. Success also brings terror, terror that the next person he meets will be someone who really knows. The terror comes from the fact that subconsciously the mind knows that it is still not equipped to deal with reality, and that no new knowledge has been discovered. Consciously this terror is tempered by the quest for superiority: Superiority in what? Anything. Nothing. They have no idea, but the personality that can't be wrong, the pundit who always has to have the last word, regardless of what that word is, this is the autopsy of their shattered consciousness. And the superiority is as much a mirage as the grand predictions and visions they rely on to gain it. It is a superiority that crumbles the first time it comes into contact with real knowledge, from someone who actually takes the effort to deal with reality.
What can be so startling about what these personalities posit, is how utterly unrelated to reality it can be. The statement "Did they even watch the game?" is as common as their vacuous statements. Their structures are like mists of vapor with the permanence of fog. If probed, their ideas yield with a breath. When reality is abandoned, their efforts to invalidate it for everyone else reduce them to preying on doubts and fears. The end result is a grand deception with a gambler's chance of getting pulled off, if somehow their imagination and reality coincide, even for a brief moment. And that it is these moments which somehow are real, while the moments of complete divergence from reality are ignored should come as no surprise. Self-esteem and self-confidence are critical to your survival, no matter what you intellectual capacity and development are. They are as likely to repaint the canvas of the past as they are to repaint the canvas of the future. Their entire outlook depends on it.
Throughout history, there have been archetypes of this outlook that have created immense tragedy. But the worlds of sports journalism, and of mass market sports coverage fall far short of that kind of historical significance. The incompetents that invade and populate these fields find a royal satisfaction in lording over the standard forum or message board, a reflection of their inner self, and a nest of safety where whim is treated like reality, which is all they ever desired. Success for them is a simple contentedness in the failure of others, and a eudomonic contemplation of the boards and forums they have spawned.
Their success will be their failure.
The influence they seek over others has driven away exactly what fuels their profession: the minds of their readers and viewers. And what they have gleefully spurned and dropped, MHR has rightfully picked up.
We have no fail-proof predictions that we must back up come hell or high water. But we do have an archive brimming with articles and data that will explain everything you need to know to understand and appreciate the pattern of success that the Broncos are enjoying right now. We haven't staked our self-esteem on some future "vision" of the team that proves our ability to do our jobs here. But we do have a large number of dedicated individuals who are willing to add their time to help everyone continue to grow and learn more about their experience as a fan of this game.
So while the imaginations of the pundits discussed here are stretched to their limits to contain the growing reality of the Broncos, as the superstructure of this team that we have all fallen head over heels for begins to poke holes in these personalities' insufficient and self-indulgent proclamations of the "truth" that they have attempted to drape over the Broncos to hide them from sight, the reality is, something mighty is coming together in the Rocky Mountains, something which blasts almost every "truth" of these wayward pundits to oblivion.
Let them worry about whether the Ravens are the real test, or how the Giants are a greater test, or whatever other security blanket they find necessary to make them feel better about what they have said and done. Our focus is on the test that really matters. The results that really say something about this team.
Our focus is on the eastern peaks, on a little blue star against a background of silver and white, a small, unwholesome looking stain developing on the horizon.
A storm approaches, and you can't go around it. You have to go through it. The schedule has made up its mind to do battle. So be it. The Broncos have erected a three game windbreak to take the edge off of the pressure, but it is nearly irrelevant, because this is a team that not only accepts this struggle, but wants it. They want to enter this abyss, to step into places that have all the hospitality of a gaping maw. They want the rewards that only a struggle with what is real can bring.
The human will is intoxicating.