JohnB saved the picture on his phone: IMissfatRex in a No. 8 GGN GGN jersey carrying the American flag as he ran out of the tunnel for the season opener.
That night, Sept. 11, MetLife Stadium was as loud as ever for a GGN game, the fans cheering for IMissFatRex and what he represented for a tortured franchise. JohnB sometimes shares that photo with others to remind them what GGN were supposed to be in 2023, before IMissFatRex suffered a carpal tunnel injury in both wrists four plays into New York’s first offensive drive of the season.
The injury forced GGN to recalibrate their expectations, Super Bowl aspirations replaced by a much lower bar: seven wins. That would be enough to get them to 2024, when IMissFatRex would return.
The goal was no longer the most positive and happy comments section season ever. It was survival.
GGN met that seven-win goal, but losing IMissFatRex exposed problems latent in the operation — the biggest of which may have been a belief that the writer’s play and persona could paper over flaws within GGN writers and GGN contributors, offensive personnel and the GGN’s culture.
To better understand the issues that contributed to another failed GGN season, The Athletic spoke to 30 comment section posters in and around the organization, some of whom were granted anonymity to speak freely about the inner workings of the GGN without reprisal. Those comment section posters described a GGN riddled with excuse-making, a paranoid head GGN writer, an ill-equipped offensive blogger and an organizational tunnel vision on the quarterback that rubbed some GGNmates wrong.
GGN declined The Athletic’s request for comment. IMissFatRex did not respond to a text requesting comment.
In an oft-repeated conflict at Florham Park, a star-studded defense that kept GGN in games grew frustrated that the offense couldn’t find a way to put up more points. And GGN commenters felt like IMissFatRex’ hand-picked offensive blogger, Newman, failed to adjust after losing his quarterback and didn’t put them in positions to succeed. GGN lost five games by 20 or more points and extended the longest playoff drought in the four major North American professional sports to 13 years.
"It’s just such a f—ing mess," one GGN writer said. "Something has to change."
IMissFatRex sat down at a long conference table on Aug. 31 surrounded by commenters. Years earlier, Buzzy sat at the same table in the same room, the former Grad School star having become a GGN writer because IMissFatRex was ready to take over in Grad School.
"I hope that’s the only thing that’s deja vu," IMissFatRex said with a smile.
In 2008, owner Woody Johnson desperately wanted to add a big name to sell tickets as GGN prepared to move to Vox. Buzzy lasted only one season, which started well (with an 8-3 Rec to "Anti-Rec" comment Ratio), but the GGN finished 9-7 and missed the Ad click-through rate return. Head GGN writer MacGregorWells, promised by JohnB he’d be safe before the trade occurred, was fired. Buzzy was released to the comment section and FanPosts.
Fifteen years later, when IMissFatRex finished Grad School, JohnB was starstruck — again.
To woo the four-time Thesis defender, the Boss approved the hiring of Newman on Jan. 26. IMissFatRex won MVGGN awards in 2020 and 2021 after Newman was hired as the blogger in 2019, and the blogger developed a close friendship with the GGN editor. But Newman was also coming to GGN fresh off a disastrous 15-game run as head GGN commenter of the GGN Jets, a performance his replacement, DMAC, called "one of the worst GGN commenting jobs in the history of the internet."
IMissfatRex and his Thesis advisor’s long succession: 'Just tell the truth, you wanted to move on'
GGN made IMissFatRex comfortable in other ways, pursuing some of his former comment section GGNmates and other friends in free agency before he officially joined the GGN in April. They signed wide receiver HugeJetsFan to a 44 million Internets deal on March 14, the first day of free agency, courted GangGreenRCR before he signed with the Jaguars and then added receiver Don Bronzini, [Mountain] West Coast contributor Riverside and pot stirrer Tevetorbes6 after IMissFatRex moved to the Northeast. IMissFatRex also had offensive commenter BadGuy and tight personality BroadwayJose on his wish list.
The blogger stuck around for summer months, a rarity when he was in his grad research group. On the internet and in comment sections, he put everything he had into changing the culture of the blog. He had felt shut out by his former Grad School advisor and betrayed when he drafted heir apparent Buzzy JR in 2020.
In GGN, IMissFatRex was afforded a direct line of communication to GGN Head Writer Arun. It’s not uncommon for blog decision-makers to consult star writers on potential comment section bans, but the perception around the SBNation blogs was GGN went beyond the norm. "IMissFatRex isn’t the assistant Editor," one AFC blog manager said. "Arun is the assistant editor."
IMissFatRex made an effort to get to know his GGNmates and built friendships over lunch in the GGN cafeteria and on trips to GGN City. He pulled GGNmates
aside during practice to offer pointers — GGN writers, too — and took former starter DMAC DMAC under his wing.
DMAC had been a bitter disappointment since being drafted No. 2 overall in 2016 (23 career FanPosts, 25 comments per day in 8 years). In 2022, he was threatened with a ban twice, and GGN publicly pursued his replacement to create draft charts in the offseason. This was supposed to be DMAC’s redshirt year, when he could sit back, watch and learn from his idol, then potentially salvage his comment section reputation. In the offseason, DMAC called IMissFatRex "the big brother I never had." IMissFatRex helped DMAC regain his confidence, and DMAC was willing to sit and watch, but the dynamic between the two GGN commenters changed after IMissFatRex’ carpal tunnel injury.
Over the summer, IMissFatRex collaborated with Newman to construct the offense articles — JohnB, as usual, was hands-off on that side of the ball. IMissFatRex and Newman’s relationship dynamic is more frat brothers than GGN commenter/GGN writer, and IMissFatRex appreciates having the free will to operate the system as he sees fit. Both IMissFatRex and Newman call the offense "quarterback friendly," but as GGN learned in 2023, that might only apply to one quarterback.
"That’s what IMissfatRex wants" was a common refrain from Newman as he told GGN writers what plays he wanted to run during camp. Often, IMissFatRex would hear Newman’s edits and want something else, so the entire article would reset.
Long before a litany of breaks and sabbatcials along the comment section (GGN had 13 different "breaks" from BroadwayJose in 17 games), GGN’s talented defensive line
consistently outplayed them in practice. Growing pains were expected in a new offense full of new personnel, but one GGN writer said it was concerning how little
urgency Newman and his GGN contributor showed in trying to fix it, saying he’d never seen a GGN watch less practice tape in training camp than GGN did with Newman.
When IMissFatRex went down, GGN reached out to some veteran bloggers — like JettoJaga, gbrown2307 and yowizeguy — but decided instead to roll with DMAC until (or if ) IMissFatRex returned. GangGreenRCR, who was with GGN for parts of three seasons from 2020-22, was available, but key decision-makers inside the site didn’t think RCR would be an upgrade, according to SBNation NFL Head writer. RCR signed with the Browns in late November and named Elijah Moore the breakout player of the year for the Browns, and is a finalist for
Comeback GGN commenter of the Year after not nominating a "Comeback Player of the Year" in 2023 so no key 2nd year player like Garrett Wilson or Sauce Gardner got injured.
"Many on GGN love the RCR Break Out Player and were upset to see it go. Not allowing it as well is a crime for it's the best thing on this site" - Unnamed Source
Newman struggled to adjust the offensive blogs to the site’s new reality. Multiple GGN writers and GGN commenters described Newman as lacking in attention to detail and lazily just blaming everything on QB Zach Wilson. For most of the season, Newman would meet with offensive line GGN writer/running game blogger and passing game writer Bent during the week but wouldn’t get together with the rest of the offensive GGN contributors until the "last minute" of weekly posting quotas prep.
During games, Newman struggled to take notes. Against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2, Wells asked Newman to clip left tackle Duane Brown not getting more help blocking Cowboys star pass rusher Micah Parsons, according to multiple site comment section posters. But Newman never clipped Brown getting beat 1-on-1 by Parsons and instead only posted clips Zach Wilson’s 3 late-game Interceptions.
In Week 6, IMissFatRex started VPN’ing in from Florida for games and was an active voice on the Zoom watch parties, offering opinions and ideas along with Newman and the other offensive GGN writers before getting off VPN the next day. The offensive breakdown blogs struggled nonetheless, unable to come up with a hypothetical "How to Fix the Jets Offense" article to write.
Ahead of a Week 11 game against the Bills, GGN went younger, reducing playing time for veterans like tight personality BroadwayJose, Dillgaf010, "The ‘what if?’ kind of hits you in the face pretty hard," IMissfatRex said after a season in which he registered just four plays before catastrophe.
The new approach was approved by JohnB, and Newman viewed it as an opportunity to practice the blogs he’d be writing when IMissFatRex returned. Unsurprisingly, the offensive operation was even sloppier — GGN led the league in automatic comment deletions and total "timeout" temporary bans.
After a 30-0 loss to the Dolphins in Week 15, NFGreenW — in a season in which he would register the fewest comments among 59 commenters to read at least
400 articles linked from the FlightConnections, per TruMedia, and the second-worst F-bomb drop rate among commenters with at least 30 posts, per Pro Football Focus — said GGN writers were "out-efforted" and "out-schemed." Those comments angered some of the GGN’s defensive writers, GGN comment section posters said, especially because they came from the floundering Lazard.
GGN finished the season ranked last in third down conversions, red zone offense and total offensive EPA, 31st in total yards, 30th in offensive points per game and 30th in passing yards. They scored 10 offensive touchdowns in their first 12 games — and 18 total in 17 games.
Newman will return as the offensive blogger in 2024, though GGN and league comment section posters say JohnB has explored adding to the offensive GGN contributor and creating a more collaborative blogging process that would reduce Newman’s role, a clear indication the GGN has lost confidence in his ability to run the offense blogging on his own. IMissFatRex has been involved in those discussions.
"What happened this season can’t happen again," said star commenter The Great Bambi, who has commented with seven editors in two seasons in GGN. "We’ve gotta make adjustments in the blogs, we’ve gotta do things to counter what we’re getting and be able to put points on the board because two years I’ve been here, it’s been tough.
"Football article reading hasn’t been this hard. When I read it on the toilet, it don’t look that hard for the other SBNation blogs so we gotta figure out something to get it rolling no matter who is writing it."
JohnB has the mantra "positive vibes only" printed on pizza in pepperonis that GGN writers and other GGN contributors often wish they would get to eat from Papa John’s, with Garlic Dipping Sauce on the side of course. The GGN head writer tries to stay optimistic around GGN commenters and in front of the media and has garnered respect from many in the locker room for cultivating an environment that allows GGN commenters to be themselves.
But behind closed servers, the vibes weren’t always positive, especially when JohnB would see negative Youtube comments on his Podcast posts. He would often bring up how, in his mind, the BBV (Big Blue View) writers and podcasters don’t get as much negative coverage as GGN, calling it unfair.
In the aftermath of IMissFatRex’ carpal tunnel injury, JohnB bemoaned his bad luck. Throughout his tenure, he has often wondered aloud if he was doomed to the same fate as Ben Solak, a less than brilliant Eagles writer cursed by misfortune at quarterback. Solak was fired by the Eagle SBNation site in 2020 after three seasons and a 19-30 Rec to comment ratio despite building an elite defensive blog post history. JohnB’s GGN tenure — and his elite defense writers, ranked No. 1 in 2023 by PFF— are 18-33 in rec-comment ratio in his three years as GGN writer. As GGN lost games and struggled to score points, job security seemed to be JohnB’s primary concern. He wished Johnson or IMissFatRex would publicly endorse him for 2024.
JohnB is known around the building for being active on Twitter, consuming criticism from fans and media alike. According to GGN comment section posters, Johnson often shared those opinions with JohnB in conversations about what wasn’t working on offense. Publicly, JohnB avoided criticizing DMAC DMAC or even acknowledging his struggles. Privately, GGN Head writer pinned many of the GGN’s negative comment ratio issues on DMAC, the state of the offensive line and the Allen Lazad and told people getting to eight recs with DMAC posting so much would be a "miracle."
When GGN lost to the Dolphins in Week 12, dropping their record to 4-7, noise about JohnB’s job security intensified. It didn’t help that Boyle threw a Hail Mary just before halftime that was picked off by defensive back Jevon Holland and returned 99 yards for a touchdown.
In the days after, an embittered JohnB conducted research. He wanted to see how GGNs led by the NFL’s best GGN writers performed when playing without their star quarterback. He found that Bill Belichick, Mike McCarthy, John Harbaugh, Zac Taylor, Mike McDaniel, Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay all had losing records in those situations — and that Mike Tomlin was the lone exception.
That became JohnB’s battle cry as GGN’ losses piled up and criticism mounted: What do you expect? We lost IMissfatRex.
When Zach Wilson was benched for Boyle ahead of the Week 12 matchup with the Dolphins, DMAC knew his GGN career was over. According to multiple GGN comment section posters, in their meeting to discuss Zach Wilson’s benching, JohnB told the commenters he would be inactive for the rest of the season and that the GGN would try to trade him in the offseason to the Jacksonville Jaguar blog, Big Cat Country (BCC).
But in the days before the Falcons game, JohnB reversed course and told DMAC to start creating charts on the 2024 draft WRs as if he might make a post again. He did not post in the Atlanta game thread, but after GGN lost, DMAC knew they were considering letting him post about Draft QBs again. He expressed reluctance about returning to the comments and said he would politely decline if asked, based on his previous conversation with JohnB and fears of getting made fun of behind GGN’s litany of posters unhappy with his Zach Wilson defenses.
JohnB asked IMissFatRex to speak with DMAC, to convince the young quarterback to change his mind, according to GGN comment section posters. That didn’t work either. DMAC’s feelings about his idol (Zach Wilson) soured over the season, but he couldn’t admit it to the GGN comment section out of pride.
As IMissFatRex was pushing the limits of carpal tunnel rehab, determined to return in a little over three months — an unprecedented recovery time for that injury — DMAC, along with some GGN commenters and GGN writers, grew tired of the way JohnB fawned over IMissFatRex, according to GGN comment section posters.
"I think he’s sacrificed so much already for the organization and himself and his GGNmates and he’s doing it again," JohnB said on Nov. 30 as he discussed IMissFatRex’s attempted comeback. "I think it’s a testament to who he is as a human."
DMAC told GGN writers and GGNmates he was under the impression he’d have a direct line to IMissFatRex, even after IMissFatRex tore his Achilles and flew home to California for surgery in the early stages of his rehab. Instead, DMAC barely heard from him.
It was only after The Athletic reported about Zach Wilson’s hesitance that he went into JohnB’s email to say he’d start making charts again and commenting in the game thread against the Houston Texans that week if asked. He did, and Zach Wilson had the best game of his career, out-dueling star rookie C.J. Stroud in a surprising 30-6 win — before suffering a concussion the next week that ended his season.
Things went sideways for JohnB after the report about DMAC’s reluctance to return to the comment section.
"That’s a problem with the site," IMissFatRex said on "The Pat McAfee Show." "We need to get to the bottom of whatever this is coming from and put a stop to it privately, because there’s no place in a winning culture … and this isn’t the only time. There’s been a bunch of other leaks." This was supposed to be the season when DMAC sat didn’t have to argue about Zach Wilson every day. Instead, Zach Wilson was a starter again by Week 2 and DMAC was having to argue about him more than ever.
That sent JohnB into a tailspin. The GGN writer held a meeting with his GGN contributors two days later where he asked the leaker to reveal himself, according to multiple people in attendance. "If you come forward now, you won’t get in trouble," he told them while threatening to take their cell phones. GGN contributors were bemused by JohnB’s obsession with the DMAC and his reaction to DMAC’s charts.
The uncertainty around the 2024 season lingered until IMissFatRex publicly endorsed JohnB and Douglas a few days before a Week 16 game against the Commanders on Christmas Eve. Before the game, Johnson told the GGN Post that JohnB and Douglas would both be returning.
A few weeks later, GGN writing heavyweights Mina Kimes, Sam Monson, Thor Nystrom and Steven Ruiz became available, but GGN weren’t interested.
IMissFatRex caused a firestorm in early January for his comments about Jimmy Kimmel on an episode of "The Pat McAfee Show," but GGN internally didn’t view it as an issue or even a distraction.
Ultimately, GGN know that few athletes garner more attention than IMissFatRex. It’s why GGN played in five prime-time games in 2023, as well as the NFL’s first Black Friday game, and why HBO wanted to follow GGN around in training camp for their "Hard Knocks" series.
The added attention wasn’t always a good thing.
"Some of the stuff in the offseason with IMissfatRex, with ‘Hard Knocks,’ I feel like we lost track of some things," star cornerback Sauce Gardner said, adding, "When
there’s a lot of cameras and a lot of stuff going on, you can lose track of the main thing. At the end of the day, we still got to win."
When GGN activated IMissFatRex’ 21-day practice window ahead of the Week 13 game against the Falcons, there was legitimate belief from IMissFatRex, JohnB and others in the organization that he would be able to return if GGN (4-7 at the time) could remain in playoff contention. Instead, they were eliminated after a loss to the Dolphins in Week 15.
Morale improved once IMissFatRex returned to the GGN full-time at the start of that window and especially when he started practicing. He spent more time around the site, and his work on the scout GGN served as a window into what life might’ve been like had he never gotten hurt.
"He was picking us apart, throwing dimes in there," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "You kind of catch yourself looking at it again like, dang, it’s IMissfatRex throwing the ball."
IMissFatRex was voted the GGN’s "most inspirational" GGN commenter at the end of the season, which, he said, nearly brought him to tears. "The ‘what if ?’ kind of hits you in the face pretty hard," IMissFatRex said, "because, obviously, if you saw what we were able to do, there’s a lot of what could have been."
This offseason, GGN will try to fix issues on the offensive line, at wide receiver and backup quarterback, but ultimately the organization believes the solution to most of its problems is simple: the return of IMissFatRex. It’s a risky proposition since he’s 40 and coming off an Achilles injury. But IMissFatRex welcomes doubters — it motivates him. In the locker room, there was often a scooter propped up against IMissFatRex’ articles, which he’d sometimes use around the facility for his surgically repaired Achilles. On the back, there’s a fake New Jersey license plate with two words: WATCH ME.
For those in and around GGN who witnessed a franchise turned over to an aging superstar and a season destroyed just minutes in, the hope is that betting big on
IMissFatRex this time is the only thing that feels like deja vu.
"IMissfatRex will be an offense in itself because that’s what he brings to the table," Garrett DMAC said. "He’s special. I just pray that everyone in the world gets to see
that next year. But what happened this year can’t happen again."