Happy Sunday, friends. Y'all remember White Boy Day, right? Of course you do; I think some of you are still mad at me about it. I have found it interesting how a middle-of-the-pack NFL RB - who tailed off late in the 2010 season due to overuse and led the league in fumbles while playing for a losing team - was voted the Madden coverboy. I have posited several times over the last few years that Hillis's wide popularity is largely due to the fact that he's very rare as a caucasian tailback. People get pissed at me for saying so, but I think all this stuff about "grit" and "blue collar" is code for "he looks like us, and we can relate to him."
I think that's fine, and that it doesn't in and of itself make anybody a racist. People of all ethnic groups tend to naturally identify with their own, and it's an instinct-driven defense mechanism. It's good that the world is consciously moving toward widespread racial tolerance, but it's a societal choice that we're making, and not something that happened naturally, in the sense of evolutionary biology.
So, I continue to believe that Hillis is massively popular because he's caucasian, and the majority of NFL fans are caucasian. I have tended to think that that popularity drove the voting victory for Hillis in appearing on the cover of Madden. It turns out that his race had little to do with his victory, at least in the final round of voting. I know some of you are thrilled, and feel vindicated by me telling you this. Last night, I learned how and why Hillis actually won, and I feel like I should share that information with you all, so that we all have the record straight.
I am a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon, which some of my longtime readers know. Just among the 50 or so guys who were members with me during my three years as an undergrad at Cleveland State University, we've had some guys do some big things in the sporting world. I've become pretty well-known among Broncos fans, which is at least a little bit interesting for a guy who has still never set foot in Colorado once in my life. My friend Kevin Bales, also a CSU TKE, was the guy on ESPN and CNN burning LeBron James' jersey last summer. It was actually shown to LeBron live on ESPN, 10 minutes after it happened at Harry Buffalo in Lakewood, Ohio. Kevin is the guy in the red and white striped shirt, and while it was his friend's jersey that burned, it was Kevin's idea to go get the camera guy and see if he wanted to film it.
Now, I learned last night that a TKE from Cleveland State got creative and ensured that Hillis beat Michael Vick in the final round of the Madden voting. The guy's name is Drew Saum, and he's a native Clevelander now living in the Phoenix area. We were out for Drew's bachelor party in Cleveland, and the story came out about how this happened.
Drew's a small business IT consultant and a skilled programmer, and he wrote a program that repeatedly voted for Hillis, which could be done under the security parameters by clearing cookies every time a vote is cast. Drew personally accounted for 25% of the roughly 722,000 votes that Hillis received. He also shared his program with other Browns fans, as they joined a Facebook group, and Drew estimated that those other fans accounted for about another 45% of Hillis's votes, bringing the total votes cast by this program to about 70% of Hillis's total.
Hillis won huge over Vick, 66% to 34%, and assuming Drew's estimate is accurate, and that there was no similar effort on Vick's behalf, Vick would have won by about 155,000 votes without the efforts of Drew, on behalf of the Browns' fan base. (It's important to note that Drew was not involved in any of the earlier rounds, just the final.) Drew said to me last night that he has skills, and that he just decided that he should employ those skills to make sure the Browns' guy won.
To be clear, I don't think this delegitimizes anything. ESPN and EA Sports put out parameters for voting, and a smart guy figured out how to make sure his team's guy won, given those parameters. Good for Drew, Browns fans, and Hillis, who got some acclaim and money for winning something that was basically for fun, anyway. It gave the morons on ESPN SportsNation - the silliest show ever devised - a chance to analyze the results. (Did it have to do with dogfighting? Can we possibly explain this without noting that Hillis is caucasian?) It gave Cleveland fans, who are long-suffering, something to be proud of, and it gave Eagles fans, who like to complain, something to complain about, and that's always good sport.
So, I was wrong that Hillis won the final round primarily because he's a caucasian tailback. Those of you who think that he won becuase he's the second coming of Paul Bunyan, imbued with the will of Christian God were wrong too, though. I think Hillis is going to disappoint this year stats-wise, because I think he'll be splitting carries with Montario Hardesty in an effort to maximize the per-play effectiveness of both players. That's how it's going in the NFL, and it's an intelligent approach - even if it angers fantasy dorks.
Hillis is a good player who has now been given a distinction that's typically been reserved for great players, excepting Vince Young. Of course, how Hillis plays and what happens will work itself out eventually. In the moment, though, before anything happens, this is a cool thing for Hillis and Browns fans, and they have my friend Drew Saum to thank for it.