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How Alexander Mattison, Austin Cutting, And Game Of Thrones Ruined Fun

In both the NFL and pop culture, has groupthink enveloped enjoyment?

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Utah State v Boise State Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

IMPORTANT NOTE: THERE ARE NO SPOILERS IN THIS ARTICLE. If you aren’t caught up on Game Of Thrones yet, reading this won’t ruin anything for you. I promise to only talk about the show in broad strokes. If you’re one of those people that feel the need to proudly declare that you have never seen an episode of Game Of Thrones every Sunday night, reading this won’t be a waste of time. I promise that there’s still plenty of football talk.

So, how’s that for an NFL offseason headline? Trust me, it’ll all make sense soon.

Well, maybe.

For the past month, the vast majority of both my Twitter timeline and multimedia consumption in general has revolved around two major events:

  1. The 2019 NFL Draft, specifically the dozen players the Minnesota Vikings drafted, along with all their undrafted free agent signings.
  2. The final season of Game Of Thrones.

To say that opinions of both events have varied greatly over the past few weeks is an understatement. Draft grades for Rick Spielman & Co. have landed all over the bell curve since the final weekend in April. Depending on whom you ask, each of the twelve choices the Vikings made ranged from absolute genius to unbridled idiocy. Even the choice of Garrett Bradbury, the seemingly ideal blend of value and team need at the 18th overall pick, has been picked apart due to the other options that were still on the board.

While most of the feedback for most of the Vikings’ draft picks seems to have fallen on the positive side of the ledger, two of the selections have been widely panned in the past two weeks: running back Alexander Mattison and long snapper Austin Cutting.

We’ll start at the end with Cutting. As the twelfth and final pick for Minnesota in the 2019 NFL Draft, the choice was largely met with incredulity by the Vikings faithful. “Really?! A long snapper?! We’re going to waste a pick on that?!” Most of the press around Cutting hasn’t been about whether he can unseat incumbent long snapper Kevin McDermott. Instead, coverage has revolved around whether he’ll be allowed to try out for the team while honoring his commitment to the Air Force. After the 2016 selection of Moritz Böhringer in the sixth round flamed out as little more than a publicity stunt, many have been dubious about selecting a position that is almost completely overlooked in the draft. It’s easy to be cynical about using draft capital on a player that appears to be more story than substance, even if it came four selections before Mr. Irrelevant.

But when you spend Day 2 draft capital on both a position and player that didn’t appear to match their relative worth, that’s when fans really get angry. After trading back again...and again...and again...and again...on Friday night of the draft, Spielman and the Vikings took Mattison with the final pick of the third round. Mattison was #202 overall on Arif Hasan’s final consensus big board, exactly 100 spots behind where he was selected and well behind many other running backs that were still available. I have seen the words “Mattison” and “reach” included in the same tweet countless times since that night. Although Mattison seems to be a talented runner that could be a good fit on the Vikings, most draftniks claim that it was a bad pick. Running backs have become so devalued and interchangeable in some analytics circles that the selection will be pooh-poohed regardless of how well Mattison plays in the coming seasons.

Draft picks aren’t the only thing that Vikings fans and analysts alike have dug in their heels about. Just look at how the blame has been doled out for last season’s 8-7-1 disappointment. The chicken/egg argument of Kirk Cousins vs. the offensive line/game plan has already raged longer with more casualties than the Battle of Winterfell. For every “Nobody could succeed when facing that kind of pressure!” argument you get from Cousins apologists, you’ll find a “We paid $84 million to someone that has made a career of putting up empty numbers and never coming through when it counts!” to counteract it. The actions are so equal and opposite that we have basically created Newton’s Third Law of Vikings Debates.

Of course, it isn’t like internal strife about the quarterback position started with Cousins. The whole “Just give him an offensive line and he’ll be a lot better than people think!” has been a thing since Sam Bradford in 2016. Five years ago today, the Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater with the 32nd overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. He hasn’t been on the team for almost a year and a half, and Vikings fans are still debating his merits and what might have been before his knee injury. The discourse surrounding the Vikings’ starting quarterback has been a lightning rod for the majority of the franchise’s history, especially in the 21st century. Bickering with fellow fans about it is practically a birthright.

Meanwhile, Game Of Thrones, HBO’s undisputed heavyweight champion of prestige television, is also getting picked apart like one of its CGI dragons snacking on a goat. Each week I read well-written reviews of the same episode that don’t even sound like the critics were watching the same show. Episodes are either revered as one of the show’s best ever or reviled as a testament to how the showrunners have completely lost their way since surpassing the timeline of the books. The show is a visual masterpiece—except when it’s too dark to see the action. It’s an epic tale of fantasy in which you can immerse yourself every Sunday night—except when the characters pull off logistic impossibilities when traveling from one place to another. It’s a show that rips at your heartstrings each time a beloved character perishes—except when not enough of them died in the latest battle. Game Of Thrones has constantly kept the internet guessing with what’s coming next—except when everyone should have seen the latest twist coming because they’re obviously just pandering to the masses instead of the hardcore fans. Thrones is easily the most beloved show on TV right now—except when it’s getting viciously panned.

Obviously, the phenomenon of coming to wildly different conclusions after watching an event is far from unique to the Vikings or Game Of Thrones. Part of the appeal of both sports and pop culture is how subjective they can be. However, how most things are talked about has seemed to undergo a seismic shift in recent years. Much like the Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan movie trilogy, Twitter and the TV talking head take-over have seemingly ruined shades of grey. Every belief must be binary. Every opinion must be tidily tucked into one of two bins. Middle ground and maybes are practically extinct. (This holds even more true in the realm of politics, but I’m not touching that wasp’s nest in this space.)

Personally, I was surprised when the Vikings chose Mattison with the 102nd overall pick; it certainly wasn’t the direction I would have gone. I fully understand and largely agree with the reasoning behind the “running backs don’t matter” movement that the Mattison pick flies in the face of. However, after watching more film and reading up on him, I’m starting to understand why the Vikings chose him. Mattison is the type of back that could be a great replacement for Latavius Murray—a physical runner with surprising agility. Mattison might be the perfect compliment for Dalvin Cook as a change-of-pace or goal line back. Or, heaven forbid, a viable bell cow should the injury bug bite Cook for a third straight season. Mattison didn’t fit my idea of what I thought the Vikings should have done with their third round pick. But that doesn’t mean I want to be proven right just so I can fire out a bunch of Stephen Colbert “I TOLD YOU SO” gifs on Twitter. If the Vikings end up cutting Cutting (see what I did there), I won’t roister around online pointing out how it was a wasted pick. More and more, I’m wondering if a lot of us just want to be on the winning side of the debate rather than getting the best possible outcome for everyone. (Again, this is exponentially more pronounced in politics. Again, I’m not going there.)

The second-guessing in football holds true for Game Of Thrones enthusiasts: every Sunday, people on their couch proclaim how they would have done it differently than the folks in charge. Instead of becoming a Monday Morning Mike Zimmer, everyone suddenly becomes a Monday Morning David Benioff & D.B. Weiss. Each part of the game plan is ridiculed, because that’s now how we would have done it. While I have found some of the decisions the Game Of Thrones showrunners have made throughout the past couple seasons puzzling, it hasn’t taken away from the entertainment value. Much like the Vikings, I’m enjoying the spectacle while hoping my favorite players prevail.

Shouldn’t that be the main focus for fans of both the NFL and water cooler television alike? Instead of drawing a line in the sand around an unmalleable take about what the “right way of doing things” is, why not give yourself space to change your mind? How about putting your preconceived draft opinions aside and trying to understand why a certain player was selected? Instead of griping about “fan service” and the logistics of how fictional characters are killing each other off, perhaps we could take time to simply enjoy what could very well be the final two weeks of “appointment television.” It’s a lot more fun than always screaming at each other from opposite sides of the fence.

Whether it comes to your enjoyment of the 2019 Vikings season or your enjoyment of Game Of Thrones, we should all try to adhere to one simple rule:

No spoilers.