7 Must-Listen Podcasts About Football
Unless your team makes it all the way, Super Bowl Sunday serves only to sate your desire to wear sweatpants in public and let cheap beer flow like wine, an annual celebration of crockpots and advertising. This year, as you prep for the big dance, we recommend overloading your ears, too.
American football has permeated the podcast world. There's a podcast dedicated to every NFL team, if not several, but sifting through them all requires an endurance test most people can't tackle. The following seven podcasts will inflate your football fandom, regardless of what Tom Brady is up to, and serve to get you in great anecdote-shape for Super Bowl 50.
ESPN fired Bill Simmons after he spoke out against commissioner Roger Goodell, so we'll have to pour one out for the tremendous, now defunct B.S. Report and Grantland NFL Podcast. His newly christened podcast, put together with his gambling buddies Cousin Sal Iacono and Joe House, checks the vitals on every NFL franchise and is structured around an addictive game where he and Cousin Sal guess the lines Vegas sets for the upcoming week -- a perfect way to ensure every game gets attention, even for those of us who aren't degenerate gamblers. Without network affiliation, The Bill Simmons Podcast can touch on all the great subplots that might not be featured on your favorite sports channel: horrible coaching and refereeing, clueless announcers, concussions, billionaire owners, PEDs, and advice on illegal wagers. Simmons, Cousin Sal, and Joe House's natural fandom makes it relatable. Listening to these guys lick their wounds after a loss will remind you that you aren't alone.
The Season's narrator and reporter Ilya Marritz never fancied himself an American football man, and he had zero intentions of ever changing that. But the story of the Columbia University Lions' football program was one that needed to be told. The Season follows the Ivy League school's 2015 battle to break a record 44-game losing streak. The show pits intellect against physicality, high-level thinkers against bad juju. It even manages to synthesize the nerds with the jocks over the course of 11 episodes. Everything football fanatics love about the sport gets coverage (tactics, stakes, even pro-football evangelism), but people who are only in it for an extra dose of Friday Night Lights won't lose interest either. The Season complicates the idea of rooting for the underdog and bolsters those who believe that winning is, in fact, everything.
The hosts of The Solid Verbal, Ty Hildenbrandt and Dan Rubenstein, met while working the college football beat at Sports Illustrated and launched their podcast back in 2008. For an indie podcast, they've racked up an impressive number of listeners, and it's obvious why: The Solid Verbal elevates the post-game conversations you have after a Saturday marathon session at your buddy's house, the kind that starts with Georgia at noon and ends with the Rainbow Warriors at midnight. Hildenbrandt and Rubenstein sound like your favorite in-the-booth announcers, freed from play-by-play and left for straight commentary. Just listen to their excellent breakdown of the Alabama-Clemson National Championship game if you need an introduction.
Caution: Dave Dameshek's podcast will make you belly laugh. A Pittsburgh native and Steelers diehard, Dameshek knows his shit. Yet no one who plays the role of football expert has more fun, keeping conversation tongue in cheek and treating the podcast space like Inside the Actor's Studio. Every Tuesday and Thursday, a group of NFL disciples, including Handsome Hank, a British football convert who classes up the joint, and Matt "Money" Smith, the co-host of another LA-based sports talk show, The Petros and Money Show, throwdown with Dameshek. Since he works for the NFL, the host is given the kind of access other shows could never muster. Once you get inside Dameshek's brilliant character -- part pro wrestler, part football sage -- he's great company for surviving the season.
"American Football" analyzes the game at a watershed moment: standing atop the pyramid of popular sports, with health risks too significant to deny. Football might be fated for a fall from grace, but Radiolab delves through history to understand why the sport means so much in America. There are stories of cultural assimilation, force recruitment, and brotherhood. Whether you're a diehard fan or a football agnostic, you'll think differently about the game after this episode.
If the game of football is just a sport, then talk radio elevates it into a culture. And, Scene on Radio host and producer John Biewen argues, that culture is about a lot more than what happens on the field. The medium has a tendency to bring out the very worst in men, underscoring the elements of football that detractors point to as sexist and violent and neanderthal. But things are slowly shifting. By tracing the gradual progression of famed sports radio host Jim Rome, Biewen makes a case for an evolving standard of what it means to be a man in American culture. Under the guise of sports talk, Rome and his colleagues have articulated a set of rules for today's men. Gone are the celebrations of homophobia and fist bumps and frat guys. In their place stands a new kind of fan: smart, thoughtful, and refined.
The Cleveland Browns gave the host of Brownscast, Max Linsky, rare access to players to create a podcast series about its 2015 season. Even though the Ohio franchise suffers through yet another losing season, the podcast never grumbles over losses (or rah-rahs over wins). Where most football podcasts obsess over stats and records, Brownscast contemplates the personalities hidden underneath the helmets. Linksy came aboard as an outsider -- he's far from a Browns fanatic. The highlights of the series include a candid talk with charismatic cornerback Joe Haden, before and after a pair of season-ending concussions, and a sit-down with with Browns' legend and NFL G.O.A.T. Jim Brown, who tells Linsky five minutes into their conversation, "What I'd prefer you to do is not to be cute," just before they launch into a discussion of race. Brownscast showcases the singular intimacy of podcast interviews. Sitting down with someone in a studio for a conversation beats a postgame podium speech every time.
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Eric McQuade, Laura Standley, and Devon Taylor run The Timbre, a site dedicated to the emerging art of podcasts. Follow the site on Twitter @timbretweet.