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Who Are the NFL's Vic Mackeys?

By Lord Castleton | Think Pieces | November 18, 2014 |

By Lord Castleton | Think Pieces | November 18, 2014 |

We’re getting down to it, folks. As it happens every year about this time, the wheat is separating from the chaff. Winners are winning. Losers are losing. A few key players are rewriting what it means to be physically dominant, and this guy is realizing how it feels to pin your hopes to Jay Cutler.


Hahahaha. Look at that guy. Please Jay, I have so little. His hands raised in pre-celebration formation. His kegels puckered for pre-leap mode. Oh it’s too painful to watch. Hang on, I have to watch it again. Oh god it’s beautiful.

The fact is that we’re getting down to good old fashioned NFL playoff economics. The haves and have nots. Some teams never had the players/coaches/front offices to begin with. But magically, the NFL manages to sell hope to them every year.

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Back at the beginning of the season, it looked like Seattle was ready to repeat as champions. Now they’re not even in the playoffs. We’ve heard some rumblings about Russell Wilson not being “black enough” and that there’s a disconnect in the franchise, but it has to be much more than what we’re actually hearing. I’m talking Teri Hatcher Desperate Housewives bad.


Marshawn Lynch is going to be on another team next year and I’m guessing the truth will come a’ tumblin’ out. I can’t say I blame him, though. I watched a clip last week where after the Seahawks barely edged the Raiders, Russell Wilson shook hands with guys on the other team and called everyone “big dawg.” It was one of the most disingenuous things I’ve seen from an NFL player. “Good game, big dawg.” Then to another player. “Good game big dawg.” And again and again. Ugh. Just awful. What does DangeRuss have to say about that schism that he’s probably created?

At this point in the season, scripture alone just isn’t going to get it done. Teams who have the talent, and have avoided major injuries, have to dig down deep. And they have to have will. That was the one thing I noticed more than anything this weekend. Some teams had the will. Many teams have the actual ability, but you can’t beat having the will to win.

Let me give you an example (and I apologize to all of you Patriots haters out there, but this is the best example of will this weekend).

This player, Rob Gronkowski, is 6’6”, 265 lbs. He catches the ball, spins, avoids a swat, stiff arms a would-be leg tackle to his surgically repaired knee, outruns a lineman, and jumps through two more defenders into the endzone. Um, holy crap.

Now just take a moment, Raiders fans. Jets fans. Browns fans. Jaguars fans. Fans of any other team in the NFL, and put your team’s jersey on this player. And then tell me how you’d feel about this play. Because right now I can think of only one other player in the NFL who is as physically imposing as Rob Gronkowski.

That’s right. J.J. Watt. Who caught a touchdown on offense this week. Offense. A fade, of all patterns, with a defender in coverage all over him.

But I’m not going to show you that clip. I’m going to show you a play where J.J. gets flagged for roughing the punter, and then reacts to the boos of the Cleveland fans. Some people might hate this, and I’d understand that reaction for sure, but I love it.

This is one man feeding off the spite. Using it to sharpen his competitive edge. You know who used to do that? Vic Mackey on The Shield.


You think you can come at me with some boos and a few F-bombs? I’ll go Lisa Left Eye up on your whole business. Right now J.J. and Gronk are the undisputed Vic Mackeys of the NFL.

Goddamn, I miss Vic Mackey. I can’t remember liking a truly broken character that much before that show, and even relating to the “whys” of his questionable choices. I’m not sure where that public acceptance of rage sprung from, but back then The Shield was uber-graphic and it caught on like wildfire. I remember watching it with a friend when Vic burned a guy’s face on an electric stove and some way, somehow, it didn’t seem excessive. Before Vic Mackey, there were guys with regular ol’ ho-hum problems. I’ve watched cop shows for as long as I can remember, all the way back to Hill Street Blues, and the big character flaw was always booze. Remember Sipowicz? How great was that character?


Ornery sumbitch. But again, it was booze. It’s the oldest character flaw in the book and it’s fucking boring to me. That’s probably why I never latched on to Mad Men (though being irritated by the Pete character in season 1 was a big part of it).

Vic Mackey paved the way for the types of bad-guy or ethically-cloudy characters Americans didn’t know they were craving. Characters like this guy:


Or this guy:


Or this guy:


Or this guy:


(Hell, anyone on Game of Thrones. You think the world would have been ready for The Hound or Cersei or Tywin or Tyrion or Arya without Vic Mackey acting as KY?)

Or how about any of these guys:


And that doesn’t even have Omar in it.

The point is that, for me, Vic Mackey was the first one through the door for a new age of television. A better age of television. And as we apply that to-


I, uh. Oh, wow, I was just kind of blasting through this article. Have to pick the kids up from school in a few minutes, and-


OH SHIT! You’re right. Jeez, I’m sorry about that. Wow. You’re totally right. Without Vic Mackey, there’s absolutely no way in hell we ever would have had this guy:



What? No, I uh, think that Walter White was probably the most powerful bad-guy character in the history of television. And his motivations were real. It wasn’t like he was just a bum with a drinking problem, born into a certain lifestyle just because he had certain blood or was related to the right people in some godawful suburb somewhere.


I’m talking about this guy.



Wait wait wait! Okay, I admit it. I was trying not to talk about you, Tony. Can I call you Tony? Or Tone? Like Big Pussy used to?


Aha. Okay, so Mr. Soprano. Yes, you’re an amazing character. It’s just that I’ve kind of made peace with losing all the other guys, you know? I was ready to see Stringer Bell go. I was okay with losing Al Swearengen. I was excited to lose Walter White, believe it or not because I felt like a strung out addict every time I waited another week for the next Breaking Bad. Hell, I was even ready to see Vic Mackey himself get deep sixed. But you, I don’t know why. I’m just still not quite ready to say goodbye. Maybe it was the last episode, where you’re just sitting there, and well, you remember it

And it’s like, David Chase is saying that we can’t stop believin’. And maybe you’re still out there. I drove by the Bing like four weeks ago and craned my head in godawful New Jersey traffic hoping to see you coming out. How stupid is that? Hell, Lady Castleton and I have had Enough Said just sitting on our DVR for more than a year. We just can’t bring ourselves to watch it. I don’t know why. But we can’t delete it either, so it sits there, taking up space that we could be using for more blackish or Tim & Eric’s Bedtime stories or even just to hatewatch State of Affairs. It’s a goddamn iron ball chained to us. You are a goddamn iron ball chained to us.


Okay. So that’s why I was kind of avoiding talking about you. I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful. Now where was I?


I’ll bet you would have. So, yeah. Vic Mackey. He was the first of a new generation of truly messed up leading men. Tainted protagonists who had brutal, but weirdly relatable, problems, and who carried shows on their backs. And that’s what I see in today’s NFL. There are some players that are truly showing the type of physical will, of physical domination that we haven’t seen before.

Because I’m not sure I actually “like” either one of these guys off the field. Gronk seems like he’s truly just a boy in a man’s body, and while his passion for the game can be infectious, and is 100% genuine, he can seem like the guy you hated in high school. Sweet but an imbecile. Why does a guy like that get ahead just because he’s big? Take this situation from the Colts game.

Now, honestly, I don’t like that purple tongue dance. It’s stupid. And I don’t love to see a guy driving another player off of the field like a cracked-out berserker, but I understand why he did it. Sergio Brown played a part in breaking Gronk’s arm two seasons ago, and spent all day chirping at Gronk during the game. While I may not actually “like” the put-upon protagonist in this episode, I get why he resorts to violence, and even admire it in some bizarre primal way. Not sure how much this will ring true to the readers of this article with mammary glands, but there are these times where it’s you and another dude and you devolve into relying on your strength. Less so than in years past, thankfully, but it’s still there, and you better be ready to back up your chatter if you’re instigating against a walking volcano.

And, at the end of the day, boys will be boys.


Much of what can be brushed off as eager boyish immaturity with Gronk cannot be said about J.J. Watt. They’re both 25 years old, but Watt seems more mature and more polished. And, I’d venture to say, smarter.

The problem is that J.J. Watt knows how good he is. And that can be annoying. For example, I’ve seen his pre-game ritual in person and it has the appearance of being very showy and self-serving. He does this thing where he does pushups on the field before the game.


That’s after he goes to midfield and spits and drags his feet (or he used to anyway — I haven’t noticed him doing this lately.) I feel like there was also something where he punches the pad around the goal post too, but that may be someone else.

Another example is when the Texans made the playoffs a couple of years ago, and he led the charge to buy “Letterman” jackets.


Then, a few days later, the Patriots came to town and kicked their dicks in the dirt. Was it a character flaw? No, it was just a young player being excited, but the beating the Texans took made the purchase seem that much more foolish. Like the Texans were happy just to be in the postseason and not as wily as the Patriots, who had their sights set on better prizes than silly jackets.

We all know the old joke about two bulls looking down at a herd of sheep. The young one says “why don’t we run down there and fuck one of those cows?” And the older bull replies “why don’t we walk down there and fuck them all?” Guess which bull was J.J. Watt.

It all feels a bit high school, and you can kind of understand the root of it. Watt wasn’t heavily recruited in college. He had to walk on to a team, and then had to fight his way through the ranks to get playing time. Both he and his family made a lot of sacrifices to put him in the position he’s in because no one gave him anything. Even when he was drafted to the NFL with the eleventh overall pick in 2011, the Texans were roundly questioned for reaching and downgraded by many pundits for selecting a future bust. So maybe J.J. Watt is just making up for all the time in the spotlight he didn’t get.

Watt isn’t perfect, and we shouldn’t expect him to be. He does grate at times, but he can also be insanely easy to like (like Gronk), both through his charity work and being a regular guy and for quotes like this (the target is fitting):

So we have two polarizing young players, both entering the prime of their careers, who are so physically dominant that putting two and sometimes even three players on them isn’t enough to control them. They’re changing the rules about what a force a single player can be. J.J. Watt is the most dominant defensive player in the league. Rob Gronkowski got healthy and turned the Patriots from a past-their-prime sideshow joke that got annihilated by the Chiefs into a possible late-season contender.

And now, the Texans, (fondly known in New England as the “Patriots South” because they have a head coach, defensive coordinator, linebackers coach, and quarterback that are all Patriot-trained), are getting their first round draft pick, Jadeveon Clowney back to full strength after a preseason injury. With newly minted quarterback Ryan Mallett at the helm, the needle seems to be pointing up.

It remains to be seen how Vic Mackey-esque these players end up being. Will they rewrite the NFL record books the way Vic Mackey rewrote the depth we expect from our leading characters? When you see how dominant players like Gronk can be you know what you’re missing when you see weaker facsimiles on other teams. Just like when you watch a character like Vic Mackey, you can’t go watch shit like NCIS. You can’t do it. Because once you know how good a character could be, you just can’t waste your time with cardboard, dumbed-down crap. In fact, most of the drivel on network TV is just a bridge too far.

One last note, for those of you who are familiar with Orwell’s Animal Farm. When I saw this Gronkowski catch a couple weeks ago:


…and then the recent one this weekend, a thought occurred to me. This player, this freak of nature is on Bill Belichick’s roster. J.J. Watt is on Bill O’Brien’s roster. Both coaches have a history of success and for being master strategists. What if, in Animal Farm, it was Snowball, rather than Napoleon, who took Jessie and Bluebell’s pups? What if the person with the ideas was the one with the private army? Man, that would really open up some amazing possibilities, and some scary ones.


And you know who the master of amazing and scary possibilities is? That’s right. Vi-


Oh, well I was going to say Vic Mackey. Kind of wrap a little ribbon around this puppy, y’know?


Oh ho ho kay! The master of amazing and scary possibilities. Tony Soprano.


See you all next week.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.