Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Coach Of The Decade

I've been trying real hard to come up with a synopsis of the last decade. Whether it's trying to explain how tragic it is that Radiohead seems to be the defining band of the 00's or how the internet has born an age of amateurs, nothing seems to be really important enough to collect my thoughts. But just as the decade was wrapping, and time seemed to be dwindling, Jim Caldwell came into my life.

The Colts were 14-0. Their last two games were against the Jets and the Bills; two teams prime for a beating. On the line was the title for the greatest football team there ever was, and solidifying Peyton Manning as the greatest quarterback of all time. Immortality was staring them in the eye. And their coach chose personal criticism over shooting the moon. This pisses me off.

Any trend over the last decade can be disputed and construed as personal and irrelevant. Perhaps I just don't understand Radiohead or couldn't feel the importance of Slumdog Millionare. Okay, I concede. But sports has one trend that cannot be disputed: the men that make the decisions are, in fact, affected by the media.

Let's get inside the mind of Jim Caldwell, or more accurately, our minds in Caldwell's position. We have one of two options; either play for 16-0 and football God status, or rest your starters. 16-0 sounds pretty good, right? So what's the upside of sitting Peyton Manning? That would be to save face in case you implode in the playoffs. If you lose, like Bill Belichick lost, after running the table in the regular season, your decision to rest or not rest your starters would be crux of criticism for the entire season and offseason. The debate between rest and momentum would define the year. This is, of course, a completely fake, media-based argument.

And that's alright, because that's what the media does. But a head coach of an NFL team - a 32 person fraternity - shouldn't be affected by this. In fact, he makes a lofty sum of money NOT to be affected by such things. But he obviously was. His own perception overruled his team's success. Why else would you not go for perfection?

When did the want for acceptance override the want for a win? In this decade, that's where. The 2000's is where perception became more important that anything else. Why else would a football man - a competitive man - not want to win?

Sports has become not a projection of excellence, but a mirage of calculated, over-thought analysis of what will work. Jim Caldwell is a prisoner of this new perception. He is not a football coach who made a bad decision. He is the coach of the decade.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Dark Future of College Football

If there is one common trait amongst all American people, it may be the belief that anything that has been around for thirty years or more is here to stay. Yes, we can all agree that the Backstreet Boys and Sega Genesis aren't going to stand the test of time, because they couldn't even stand the test of a decade. But the Beatles and The Godfather cannot be argued; they've been culturally relevant for thirty-plus years, so they must matter a hundred years from now. Right?

This is flawed logic and certainly a product of the 24 hour news cycle and new media. So if you try to spark debate on whether or not football can fail in this country, you are met with very hostile disdain. Football is American lifeblood. There is no possible way that the people will get fed up with it. College or professional, football is here to stay. Right?

I've felt this fear for the NFL for a while now. Up until the last decade or so, football had been seen as a violent sport amongst death-dealing Gladiators. But with new rules and new concerns over players' safety, the game has evolved into something unlike the football I grew up with. Some may argue that the NFL is doing what Major League Baseball has refused to do - evolve with the times - which is exactly why it will survive. I'll concede that point for now.

Since that is the NFL's biggest hurdle, it should be fine. However, college football has another problem that is much bigger, and in my opinion, cause for much more concern. That problem? Arrogance.

NCAA football looks fine now; good ratings, great interest, television coverage all around. But let's look at its problems, which are well documented. The BCS is the main culprit. We all know why we hate it, so to save space I won't explain. Now think of the other complaints. Lack of black head coaches (the old boys' club) and the Heisman Trophy (biased) are the two main points I always hear. What do those all have in common? Arrogance.

See, the college football world exists in a vacuum. Though 99.9% of the fans think the BCS should be scrapped, the men who run the show just turn their heads. And they get away with it. It's the same thing that hurt George W. Bush so badly; not that the love of money and power was the ruling philosophy, but that this fact was so blatantly rubbed in our faces. The BCS heads know that their system isn't very good, but they don't care. "Deal with it", they say.

It's this same mentality that allows a majority of black players to be coached by old white guys. Ironically, it is this same dichotomy that makes the NBA so watchable. But I feel the relationship between basketball players and their coaches is actually more empowering for the black players (more on this at another time). In football, it's purely an Old Boys system, just the way it is.

As far as the Heisman, this year's ballots tell all you need to know. Every single media talking head, and every single fan, had come to the same conclusion: Ndamukong Suh was the most dominant player in the country. According to, the trophy goes to an individual who deserves designation as the most outstanding college football player in the United States. Where did Suh place? Fourth.

Everybody just accepts that quarterbacks and running backs win the award. In the trophy's 75 years of existence, two wide receivers, two tight ends, and one defensive player have won. It's biased and makes absolutely no sense. Once again, we're told "deal with it".

This may have worked twenty years ago, but things have changed. In the diverse, opinionated country we live in today, people simply don't stand for these things. Imagine explaining the in and outs of college football to a non-fan. If honest, this is what you would come up with:

- The championship game is determined by a number of computers and human votes (of which are biased due to regional differences).

- In the event of more than two undefeated teams, the teams from BCS conferences are chosen for the championship. This is because BCS conferences are deemed as harder to win. If more than two BCS schools are undefeated, then somebody is left out due to no other reason than that only two teams can play the BCS championship. Those two teams, by the way, will ultimately be chosen by the biased human votes.

- College football is ruled by an older white class that is harder for a minority to break into than a country club.

- The game's most prestigious award can only be given to one of two positions. The balloting consists of former winners of those two positions and another regionally biased voting system.

- Every Saturday, a major network mandatorily shows you a game that is completely worthless because one of the teams used to be good. Of course, this is only true if NBC is still a major network in ten years, which is doubtful.

Not even Don Draper can sell that. The NCAA really needs to rethink its strategy. I'm still of the mind that the pussification of football will lead to the game's demise, but even if that's not true, than these problems surely will. College football needs to deal with it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Book You Should Read, But I Won't

I care about the NBA. I care about its growth and its future as a major American sport. I most certainly care about the integrity of the game, but I also understand that it is the most horrendously officiated sport there is. Make no mistake, while the MLB playoffs shed a light of fantastic incompetence, they can't even touch professional basketball when it comes to bad refs. I also like to read non-fiction and crave information. So Tim Donaghy's new book, Personal Foul, should be right up my alley. But I'm not going to read it.

In case you didn't know, Donaghy is the referee who the FBI found had been gambling on NBA games. Now he is trying to make his money back by promoting his new book, which tells tales of refs making bets with each other on who would call the first technical foul or even purposely extending playoff series. These are all things that I believe happen in the NBA. Unfortunately, Donaghy has no credibility with me. Like Jose Canseco before him, Donaghy just seems like someone riding the wave of newly found information for his own glory.

It's the same reason I don't watch Fox News or read the New York Times; I don't want to be tricked into believing a false reality. Those news publications have lied enough that I can no longer trust them as a news source. Sure, most of what they say or print is probably factual, but it is simply not worth the real news to ingest the "factually incorrect" information which is surely there. Donaghy is a proven liar and degenerate, so there is sure to be a lot of misinformation in whatever he's saying.

However, if you are not an NBA fan, I actually suggest reading it. Don't get caught up in all the little details, just understand the politics of the game and see how professional basketball really works. One of the reasons I never got into hockey or golf is because I don't really understand the sports. Yes, I know the rules and how the games are played, but nobody can teach you the in and outs, the game behind the game. I suspect this is what Personal Foul conveys, probably by accident.

I already know the story. But if you don't know why you've never gotten into the NBA, this might be an instructional manual. The sport is truly dirty, which is why I love it. It's the way all sports used to be. Not overprotective like the NFL or underevolved like the MLB, but just five black guys with a ball and three white guys who bet on them. It's actually kind of racist, but honest all the same.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dirty Deeds, Not Done Cheap

As I sat on my couch, smoking cigarettes and watching Killer Chimps is America (a great pregame to Oregon/Oregon State, by the way), my phone alerted me of of incoming text message. It was from a coworker of mine who also happens to be a Missouri fan. It read: "Mangino resigns."

I just stared at the message, with perhaps a blink, took another drag and continued watching what is probably the greatest episode of Monsterquest ever. I knew this was inevitable. Kansas Athletic Director Lew Perkins seemingly had it out for Mark Mangino. But then I went over to my laptop, found the article and read this:

"I have been instructed by legal counsel that we cannot release any documents related to this investigation, nor any details regarding our settlement agreement. The investigation and settlement agreement will remain part of Mark's personnel records."

In other words, the firestorm over Mangino's alleged physical and verbal abuse of players is over. Put down the pitchforks, Frankenstein is gone. The big, ugly monster is no longer going to terrorize the streets of Lawrence.

But where, I ask, has all the anger gone? Because last time I checked, Mangino had done a definite wrong and needed to be punished. Is firing him and (surely) paying him off a punishment? When did this story go from protecting the victims to saving face?

There doesn't seem to be any repercussions for Mangino's alleged acts. Which leads me to believe that Perkins engineered this all along, which is a view many Jayhawk fans have. The theory goes something like this: Mangino wasn't Perkins' guy, so he had him removed to make way for a new coach that Perkins has penned as the guy to take KU football to the next level. I'm not saying the players who accused the coach were lying, but were probably encouraged. Makes me wonder how many players at other universities are gagged when the coach they accused had a healthy relationship with their A.D.

So if this is the case, whoever the new coach is will be a very interesting follow. If this power play works, then Perkins may well be a genius. It's obvious he wants more than anything to make Kansas' football program matter on a national stage. Can he do it, or will this cripple the program?

Jim Harbaugh's name has been thrown out, which is a pretty lofty goal. But if Harbaugh or some other sexy pick lands in Lawrence, and Perkins' plan works, will it be worth it? Is ruining a man's reputation for the sake of glory make any sense ethically? Probably not, but it won't matter, because if this program rises to the top under whoever the next coach is, Mangino will be nothing more than an egg that needed to be cracked to make the omelet.

I like Mangino, but I'm alright with this. Ethics doesn't really seem to matter in sports anymore. Actually, it never has, this episode was just made public. I'm glad my school is willing to do what it takes to build a winner. Admittedly, this makes me a little sad to confess, but it's the truth. It's just the way it is.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Us, Weakly

There are many reasons I love sports and follow it the way I do. For one, I am a compulsive gambler. I also have nothing better to do than own twenty different fantasy teams. But I used to think the main reason was because I love competition. Watching men in real time battle physically and mentally is like nothing else; it's pure reality. Well, unless you're watching baseball.

But this whole Tiger Woods mess is shining a different light on what I may have secretly enjoyed about athletics all along; all of the information that I want, and the kind of information I want, is dependent on me. If you follow politics or celebrities, you only get what the newsmakers want to give you. Only after sifting through piles and piles of bullshit can you actually find unbiased information. Everything is blown up, polarized and branded for mass consumption. Barely any of it is real.

That's why the Woods story isn't a sports story. Yeah, it's all over ESPN and every other sports network, but hey, it's Tiger freakin' Woods. I wrote on Friday that we were lucky that Tiger crashed his car on Thanksgiving weekend because it would turn into a non-story. That was before it came out that he was having an affair. Now it's turned into a tabloid fiasco.

And all of these "revelations" about Tiger are fed to us. We can't look up stats for his marriage or break down footage of his parenting skills. We can only learn what we've been told, with no chance of finding out the truth for ourselves. This formula is what fuels the tabloid world and networks like CNN and Fox News. We either have no way to learn how Brad and Angelina are really doing or don't take the time to really read the President's health care plan. We take everything at face value.

But sports has layers that we can dissect ourselves. Everything is out in the open in three hours of game tape. It would be like watching a Zapruder film of Woods' car crash. There would be no need for sensationalism if everyone had the same knowledge to work with.

Not to say this whole incident has no sports angle. I can talk all day about how I think this could affect his career. Will he cave mentally and no longer return to form or turn into Michael Jordan with an "Eff You" attitude where he simply doesn't care anymore? It will be interesting to watch. But every piece of "news" that breaks from here on out will be basically meaningless, because it's coming from sources that make a living out of controlling the story.

Sorry, I'm a thinker, and I like to get the information for myself, because I can trust myself. I don't need to be told what to think, keep the tabloids to yourself. Plus, there aren't any bookies that let me gamble on Jon and Kate.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lucky Stripes

Sometimes we get lucky. Like the time I accidentally put a $50 chip on 17 while playing roulette, and when that little white ball settled on my number, the dealer stood up, pointed at me, and yelled "DUDE!!!". Or the numerous times I've done karaoke and nobody had a video camera rolling. Luck happens even to the unluckiest of people.

There's a lot of luck in sports, but mostly it's in the form of tipped passes and glaring lights blinding Matt Holiday. Real luck - like Texas, Florida or Alabama losing so we can see the BCS screw over two more teams, or Andre Agassi winning that final US Open - rarely happens. But we lucked out in a huge way. This Thanksgiving weekend I give thanks to one thing: that Tiger Woods crashed his car on a Friday.

Because if the world's #1 golfer, who is as clean as John Daly is dirty, would've been in an accident on Monday, ESPN would be as unwatchable as the week following the World Series. Skip Bayless would assure you that this is a sign that Woods' head isn't in the game. Jay Mariotti would have barked that we should have seen this coming. Tony Kornheiser would have shown remorse, and Michael Wilbon, solemnly, would have said, "Yeah, Tony".

But it didn't happen that way. Tiger Woods crashed his car, and then was removed from the car by his wife after she smashed the window with a golf club, on a Friday of Thanksgiving weekend. Most sports personalities had taken their vacations. People weren't at work to be bored and sift through all the headlines. By Monday, the story will seem like a year old, and more than likely will not carry any weight. Thank God.

This is one of those unfortunate circumstances that happens to all people. It's the ugly side of life. Whether Woods was drunk or if there was some kind of domestic dispute can be left up to imagination, but what is certain is that the general public does not want a hero like Tiger Woods to have these things occurring in his life. It's the kind of blind faith that kept us from realizing Brett Favre was an egomaniac or that Michael Jordan is perhaps the meanest son of a bitch who has ever lived.

The reason Woods' car crash disturbed people at first glance was the same reason for the media uproar about Michael Phelps' pot use; we want to believe that given the same opportunities and advances that our athletic heroes have had, we would be mistake-free.

Of course, that's impossible. But ask a coworker sometime about their plans if they won the lottery. You always hear the same thing: take care of family and friends, buy a house, invest, etc. These are mature responses. You never hear someone say "I'm going to the strip club and making it rain!" or "I'm going to Vegas and gonna blow 100 Gs!" But that's what we would really do. We would celebrate and flaunt our newly given power, for no other reason that we can.

So when we hear of professional athletes making mistakes, we get angry because we feel that given the same life, we could do better. But I suggest that most of us could never be the stand-up citizen that Tiger Woods is if given his power. That makes his one mistake that much more impressive.

We all could be heroes, except for that one day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanks For Tradition

I hate to reference the same book in one week, but sometimes writing has an effect on you that cannot be shaken for at least a month. Like the first time I read The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved, or the first time your daughter read Twilight.

Some interesting points were brought up in Chuck Klosterman's Eating the Dinosaur. One of which is the parallels between football and conservatism. On face value, conservatives probably love this idea, but the point, as I recall, is that both football and the conservative movement thrive on one main perception; though their fan base thinks that their beliefs stand on solid ground, in reality, the core ideals of both movements have adapted with the times so as to keep their stranglehold on the American public.

As football fanatics still believe the game they are watching now still has the same rules and philosophies as the game of old, so do conservatives believe that their party is consistent with the men who ran on the same namesake when they were kids. And of course, as any NBA fan or liberal will tell you, those beliefs are completely misguided.

Just as right-wing government has been passing around cash like Pacman Jones and conservative leaders are throwing family values out their mistress's window, football to has not been sticking to their core beliefs. During Monday night's Texans/Titans game, a defender was charged a fifteen yard penalty for "horse-collaring" Tennessee's Chris Johnson, when all he did was tug the back of Johnson's jersey. You can't sack a quarterback anymore without being brought up on charges. The conservative game of today was the liberal game of yesterday. The NFL has yet to accept change, though their game has progressed further than any Ralph Nader supporter.

But through all of it, one thing remains the same: the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions will host games on Thanksgiving. The league has added a third rotation game to be broadcast on the NFL Network, but I (and more than likely you) do not get the NFL Network, so that doesn't count.

Debate has sprung on whether the NFL should scrap the Cowboys/Lions tradition and rotate all teams for a Thanksgiving game. A recent ESPN poll shows that every state except Texas and Michigan is in support of this idea, obviously. But would that be good for football?

I say no. In the Age of Information, certain things have come to light. Joe Namath wasn't very good, the worst team today (Raiders) would demolish the great teams of old. The game is different, as Klosterman pointed out. It's not the NFL you or I grew up with. Nothing is sacred. Al Davis is universally known as the worst owner, nobody outside of Kansas City knows who Lamar Hunt is.

But it didn't use to be this way. Al Davis was a genius at one time. It's true. But you wouldn't know it growing up with today's NFL. It's a completely different sport, and that's okay. Though, it would be nice to hold on to something old, something to remind us of what the league used to be like. If nothing else, that is watching the Cowboys and Lions play on Thanksgiving.

No it doesn't make sense, and it may be hurting the NFL. But just like conservatives, the idea of holding on to traditional values makes it all worth the while.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mangino Isn't The Problem

I'm not sure if there is a growing epidemic in Kansas, or if the problems I see stretch as far as the swine flu, but one thing is for sure: the wave of sensitivity in sports is absolutely pathetic. I just wrote about the crying over Chiefs coach Todd Haley's fondness for F-bombs. Now, it's Kansas Jayhawks coach Mark Mangino.

We all know by now that Mangino repeatedly yelled at, berated, and put his hands on his players. He was, for lack of a better word, abusive, both mentally and physically. Reports of Mangino giving the same treatment to campus police also paint the coach as a mean, unstable man. Unlike Jason Whitlock, I'm not going to tell you he is this way because he's fat. I don't care why he's this way, but I know he is.

What bothers me is why all of this is coming out. Could the players just not take it anymore? Was it getting to be too much? From what I've heard, there aren't any players calling for Mangino's firing. Most of the reports are coming from former players. During a five game losing streak, mind you. Nobody wants to hear how mean the coach is when you're 12-1 and hoisting up an Orange Bowl trophy. But when you are in the midst of a hugely disappointing season? All of a sudden people become very interested.

If these reports were about Urban Meyer, I can guarantee you that the response from fans would be that this is all sour grapes; complaining from weak players who couldn't handle it. Obviously it works, the success is there. Remember, Kansas football was a joke before Mangino arrived. It was his toughness and his old-school approach which got results. Only, the results aren't there, so toughness is turned into abusiveness.

When I played football as a ten year old, I had a coach who day after day would tell me I wasn't good enough, made me run laps even when I didn't do anything wrong, etc. Truth is, I was small, weak and not really committed, and that abusive coaching would have resulted in two things: either me getting the message and working through it, or complaining and deciding to quit. I chose the latter. I was a weak kid. However, I did learn the lesson. I understand now what these former players obviously have failed to grasp.

We live in a blame-first society. Nothing is ever our fault. It's the mean coach's fault the team didn't get better, the conniving coworker's fault we didn't get the promotion. It's never the weak-minded players that lose games or your fault for not working hard enough for a pay raise.

Mangino said today that "I can’t do the work of some parents, what they should have done before they got to me. There’s some things for 18 years that happened in their lives that I can’t change in four years of college. Can’t change their behaviors, can’t change their attitudes." He surely can't change their minds, either. He's to blame, and that is that.

Just remember, KU fans, that when you're wearing your Orange Bowl shirts, old-school abuse brought those results in. So if you don't like the way Mangino coaches, fine. But you need to throw those shirts and those memories away. You can't have it both ways.

Monday, November 16, 2009

More Than Words?

Monday morning in Kansas City was so very different, yet so much the same. The weather went from a sunny November to the cold, rainy winters I was used to as a kid. And just like the November Monday mornings of the 90s, the city would wake up fresh off a Chiefs win. But there were no feelings of hope, no optimism in the air. I woke up, turned on the radio, and all I heard was this:
It's embarrassing to have a head coach cursing like that on national television.

He's out of control.

I couldn't even watch the game with my children in the room.
Yes, head coach Todd Haley has an affinity for the F word. (Couldn't find good video of the game, but here's a classic Haley-to-Croyle interaction that paints a good enough picture.) This time around, Dwayne Bowe got the brunt of the punishment, and the entire city's sensibilities have been offended. The team won, which nowadays is cause for excessive celebration, but the only talk of the town is how coach Haley is immature and offensive. But the only F word these "fans" are really hurt by is this one: football.

In "Eating the Dinosaur", author Chuck Klosterman notes that in 1905, eighteen players died while playing football, and that the violence of the sport almost caused President Theodore Roosevelt to ban the sport. The game was seen as a bloody mess between neanderthals. The gladiators of modern times. This had been the reality of football from its inception, until recently, where violence is seen as the root of all evil.

In the last decade, the rise of concern for the safety of sports has been dramatic, with football on the forefront. Studies on concussions and the effects of banging heads for thirty straight years have been headlines in newspapers and topics of books. The verdict: playing football hurts, both short term and long term.

How is it then, that in the Age of Information, that we are just now learning what was deemed common sense for a century? Football is brutal. It is only for men. It's ruthless and unforgiving and will make you drool all over yourself by the time you are fifty. This isn't breakthrough science. I've known this since I was a child. During Oklahoma Drills in practice, when I was ten, we used to bash heads. And I even knew then that this was not for the timid. Hence, the writing gig.

But NFL Commissioners Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue made a fortune on selling the American public that football was a game, not the rough and tough display of violence that it really is. And they bought it like it was a Shamwow. The perception of the NFL is completely different than its reality. These superstars may make millions on have reality shows and funny Twitter accounts, but make no mistake: these are hardened men that sacrifice their lives for the short starburst of glory. And that is what sports is all about.

This brings me to Todd Haley. He curses, he yells, he screams. He drops F-bombs like a sailor. Well, guess what. He is football. He is dirty, degrading and mean, which is everything the NFL stood for. This game is not for Gen X, Tipper Gore or soccer moms. Football was designed for men with no regard for their bodies who curse, spit and routinely try to end the lives of their opponents for the chance to one day hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

As Lombardi said himself. "I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious." This isn't a game. It is war. Deal with it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The (Un)Importance of Coaching

One of the biggest frustrations in my daily life is trying to persuade my friends and family to watch the NBA. Somewhere between 99.9 and 100.00 percent of the people I know are fans of college basketball, yet have no desire to watch professional hoops. The majority of them have a valid reason: they're fans of Kansas basketball. Who wouldn't follow a team who has championship aspirations ever year? But even all the fans of K-State, Missouri, Witchita State or whoever still haven't made the jump. I used to think it's because Kansas City doesn't have a team, but we haven't had a baseball team in two decades yet they still watch the World Series. I think the problem is coaching.

No coach does less than a baseball manager. One or two pitching changes, perhaps a pinch-hitter, and that's it. Perhaps tweaking the lineup every now or then (or if you're Trey Hillman, every single day). Yet the coaching is still present. We know when Joe Girardi is over-managing, it's tangible.

In the NFL, coaching probably matters less than it does in baseball, yet the perception is that coaching is the end-all be-all of professional football. But if it matters that much, how come Bill Belichick's tenure with the Cleveland Browns was unsuccessful yet his reign in New England is nearly historical? Well, the Browns didn't have Tom Brady, for one. Neither did they have the Lennon-McCartney duo of Belichick-Pioli. I think it's safe to say that Belichick's job as part-General Manager has had more to do with the Patriots' success than his ability to coach. It's all about the players, and when The Hoodie finally got full rights to his own, it ended with three rings.

The NBA is different in this regard: not only does coaching matter very little, but its common knowledge. Sure, a coach can single-handedly kill a team (see: Karl, George). But to actually make a team better? Doc Rivers coached the Celtics to a 24-58 record in 2006-2007, second worst in the league. In 2007-2008, the Celtics were 66-16. That's 42 more wins in one year. The difference? Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The point, as always, is that talent is the most important factor in a team's success, not the coaching staff.

This is crucial because most fans want to be a coach. Fantasies of playing quarterback are just that, fantasies. We couldn't do it if given the opportunity. But every fan thinks they could coach a team. Aw, we shouldn't have tried a field goal there! I would've taken Pedro out an inning earlier, this guy is a boob! This is what you hear from Joe Sports Fan.

Coaching in the NBA is different. It's the players' game. Whereas baseball and football and all college sports are (seemingly) dictated by coaches, the NBA is dominated by LeBron, Kobe and Howard. They are the ones who make the difference. The best coaches right now (Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich) aren't known for their mastery of the Xs and Os. It's their ability to bring personalities and egos together. They excel in psychology and philosophy, whereas most of the sports arena is dominated by math and statistics. And even with that being said, all of Jackson's rings where with guys named Jordan, Pippen, Bryant and O'Neal. Philosophy means nothing if Kirk Heinrich is running the point.

Which brings me to Byron Scott, who today was fired by the New Orleans Hornets after a 3-6 start. On a poll on, 36,040 people voted nearly 3-1 in disapproval of Scott's firing. The reason being that injuries and bad personnel decisions were to blame, not Scott. Which is true. But then what, I ask, is the point of a coach? If he can't make the team better when things go wrong, then what is his purpose? That, I suspect, is to hold things together when things are going right. To not make mistakes is the only way to do anything right.

Pat Williams once said coaching in the NBA is like a nervous breakdown with a paycheck. Now, who wants that job? I feel this is why I can't seem to convince my fellow KU fans to jump to the NBA. Unless you're a basketball junkie (Kansas fans are mostly winning junkies if anything), there's really nothing in it for you. There simply is nothing to fantasize about. With the growing popularity of fantasy sports, I do believe that the element of being involved is the #1 reason to watch sports anymore. Luckily, there are enough true basketball fans to keep the NBA alive and well. It's just not that none of them seem to live in Kansas City.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Good, The Badass, & The Ugly

There are two circumstances where sports crosses over into life. The first is when a tragedy occurs. Think of George W. Bush's first pitch after 9/11, the first game Virginia Tech played after the massacre, etc. The second is when the troubles the rest of us have reaches our beloved superstars. Not in a Mike Vick/Plaxico Burress sort of way either. I mean, how many of us have murdered dogs or shot ourselves in a night club?

The Good

San Francisco Giants ace pitcher Tim Lincecum. The Cy Young winner who resembles Mitch Kramer from Dazed and Confused was charged with possession of 3.3 grams of marijuana after being pulled over for speeding. No doubt he was driving to his dealer's house to reload.

The Badass

Raiders coach Tom Cable, who we have recently learned not only beats up on assistant coaches, but smacks around women as well. The National Organization for Women thinks Cable should be suspended. Which seems funny, because the cumulative man--err--woman hours that organization has spent watching football is somewhere around 0.0-0.02.

The Ugly

Andre Agassi. According to his new book, Agassi smoked meth, tanked games, took speed at an early age, never liked Brooke Shields and was a pyromaniac. Or as it's known in tennis circles, "Pulling a McEnroe".

The reason I bring these three up is because they have done what sports commissioners and sports writers spend a lifetime trying to hide: athletes are exactly the same as us.

Granted, Tom Cable is not an athlete nor a superstar. But he has come to embody everything that the Oakland Raiders used to stand for: blue collar football thuggery. I say "used to" because the reality of sports in the 21st century has led us to believe this kind of behavior doesn't exist anymore. Like it or not, the Raiders conduct themselves like athletes of yesteryear, which everyone seems to agree was a better time for sports. They do not hide their shortcomings. Everyone who puts on the black and silver is an extension of Al Davis. And while that rarely translates to wins, it does translate into truth.

Lincecum and Agassi's stories are a little different. They are superstars. And while Agassi's life may be lazily construed as a warning against forcing children into professional athletics, I see it more as another story of another American person. No, we haven't all had the same problems, but we know somebody who does. I know a guy who used to do meth, a guy who for some reason did not love a beautiful woman, and a guy who thought he should abuse matches like Beavis (OK, that last one was me). Agassi is all of us, just wrapped into one.

The same goes with Lincecum. He smokes weed. We all have. If you haven't, then I have no idea why you would read anything on this website.

We've learned that Troy Aikman almost crushed his brain into mush because of his pride, Brett Favre is selfish, Pete Rose wanted to win too much, Isiah Thomas has a little bit of homophobia, and so on. In the 60s, 70s and 80s, being like everyone else and having flaws was the reason athletes became heroes. Mickey Mantle drank like your father. Hell, even JFK lusted like you do. It was alright, because there was no illusion.

Make no mistake, this is a good thing. We need it. It's why Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are pariahs but Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte are champions; the latter pair apologized. They admitted their flaws, which we can identify with. I say the more pot possessions, wife beatings and meth smoking the better. It's healthy to become comfortably numb to demons of reality. It's what makes the accomplishments of those who have risen above them that much more heroic.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No Time For Losers

Losing, in fact, has never been a good thing. Well, unless you're discussing virginity. But I'm talking about sports, and losing in sports is the worst thing you can possibly do. You can cheat, lie, murder dogs, whatever. Just don't lose. Especially now.

As a Chiefs fan, I know my team will not win a championship this year. That's fine, it happens. But I find myself growing more disinterested in the teams that still have hope. I watch the Saints and Colts remain undefeated, however I remained bored. I see the NFC East as a battleground towards the playoffs, but I still stare blankly. The internet is to blame.

I do not feel that I am alone in the sentiment that information is not coming fast enough. That's weird to say in an age where you can get just about anything as fast as you can think it. But it's true. Sports remains one of the few frontiers where we still have to wait for information. Sadly enough, I am having trouble waiting. I can't be the only one.

For most of my life, I could get over my own team's woes by enjoying the league itself. It used to be fascinating just to watch things unfold. The Giants look great one week, then implode for three straight losses. The Dolphins might be changing the way the game is played before our very eyes, but it's not enough. I want to know. I want to know if Tony Romo and Brett Favre can keep it going. I want to know if Matt Cassel can earn his check. I want to know now.

This is a potential problem for all sports. Fans here in Kansas City are turning off the Chiefs and Royals sooner every year, and I don't think they are replacing that viewership with the Colts and Yankees. We simply are watching less.

This is possibly why college football refuses to change the BCS. For everything that is wrong with the system (and there is a lot), it does achieve one thing: instantaneous knowledge. When USC lost to Oregon, we knew right then and there that they would not play for a national title. Even though we pretend like the future is uncertain for teams like TCU and Boise State, in reality, we know they can't play for a title either.

The problem with a playoff system is that it keeps us guessing. If the Saints and Colts are the two best teams, through the eye test and their records, it ensures nothing other than a first round bye. The Patriots can go 18-0, but nothing is certain until the final whistle of Game #19. This used to be the beauty of it, but in the Internet Age, it may not hold.

Yes, this is sad commentary on our technological world, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored. Extremely odd things are happening in the dynamics of sports. The thirst for information is starting to ruin things. This is no time for your teams to be losing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Two Books of Alex Rodriguez

If there is one big secret amongst writers, this is it: we don't like to work. We wanted to be writers so we didn't have to get a real job. So naturally, your common sports writer will take the easiest road possible, not the one less traveled. We claim our predictions before research, trying to find stats that backup our words. We write books before the ending is clear.

This is basically what Alex Rodriguez's public career has become. If you were to write his biography now, it would be summed up like this: great regular season, horrible postseason. Writers who feel they are clever would say the "A" in A-Rod stands for April.

But the 2009 postseason has changed things. Rodriguez has been Jeter-esque in his clutchness. He has carried the Yankees to the World Series. And this does not sit well with the sports media.

You see, these lazy sports writers have already written the book. It's a very nice strategy. Usually, what you see is what you get, and there is no need to imagine that things might change. But things have changed for A-Rod. He is no longer the wannabe Derek Jeter who can't perform in the clutch. He has rewritten his career. He has caused change.

Writers hate this.

Believe me, every non-Yankees fan will want the Phillies to win, not just because they loathe the Bronx Bombers, either. They also want A-Rod to fail, to fulfill the destiny they themselves have already written about. Because if Rodriguez were to carry the Yanks to the title, maybe even win World Series MVP, they would have to admit to being wrong. The book of A-Rod would have to be rewritten. That does not set well with writers.

To quote Mark Twain: "The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say". Most writers have already finished what has not really begun. Let's wait and see, shall we? Perhaps A-Rod can write the another book, or at least another chapter. It will probably be more interesting than what you read in the papers.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Free Speech For The Dumb

Damn it all. I'm going to talk about Rush Limbaugh again.

As we all know by now, Rush has been cut by Dave Checketts' group bidding to buy the St. Louis Rams. Hey, it was bound to happen. Joining this news in the "completely obvious" department was the inevitable Limbaugh quotes that followed.

You know, that this was "Obama's America on full display". What does that even mean? To me, it means one thing: that Obama is all about that free market, baby.

Which should make Rush happy. I mean, is there anybody who is more pro-free market than Rush Limbaugh? Because that is what happened here. Checketts & Co. decided that for them to make money, they would have to drop from their bid what consumers had deemed undesirable. It may not be right, it may not be the smart move. Rush could have a genius football mind, for all we know. But the market dictated the move.

But forget quotes like "The hatred that exists in this is found in the sportswriter community, it's found in the news business, it's found in the race hustler business". It doesn't really matter anyways. Rush lovers will still love Rush. Like guys who love the band Rush. They, sadly, will never change.

And more importantly, neither will the NFL. I am constantly amazed how powerful this organization is. Limbaugh would have come out victorious if this was the political world, by either gaining the bid or looking like a martyr. In the NFL? Roger Goodell got rid of this story without a chink in the NFL shield. It's impressive really.

Think about it. Football has no steroid scandals. Baseball has been ruined by it. The NBA's biggest concern is the thuggish perception of its players. The NFL has Pacman, Donte' and Vick, and still goes on without a hitch. It's not like the product is that good, either. The game itself has been in steady decline with all of the bad officiating, lack of parity, stupid rules, etc. But the league still cannot be touched.

Goodell could be a Rush supporter (and I would bet on it), but no one, and I mean no one, challenges the shield. Being an owner is a privilege, even if you're on the right.

Limbaugh may have half the country on his side, but it doesn't matter. Nobody is bigger than the NFL. So slam the league, slam the critics. You have that right. Don't plan it meaning anything, though, because at the end of the day, sports is about winning, not politics. Stats are more important than opinions. And boy, is that refreshing right now. You know, in "Obama's America".

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Big Brother, Where Art Thou?

Game Two between the Twins and Yankees had fantastic drama. A-Rod gets the monkey off his back and ties the game in the ninth. Mark Teixeira hits the game-winner in the bottom of the 11th. Baseball should be loving this, right? Unfortunately, at the top of the 11th, Joe Mauer's double that was called foul left a big black mark on the series. As have some questionable calls at first, and the strike zones which seem to have no consistency at all. The game is too big for this, too much money and passion is involved. Things needs to change.

Convincing the good ol' boys of baseball to install instant replay for home runs was like trying to convince Glenn Beck that Obama doesn't sneak out of the White House at night to eat children. Met with way too much resistance, Bud Selig and the gang made it seem nearly impossible that any other type of replay could be used. Yes, we all want it, but if getting the home run calls took that much effort, what will we have to do to get instant replay for foul balls and safe calls?

Two arguments go into the mindset of keeping the game where it is. One is that instant replay slows down the game. Well, here's a secret: people that think baseball is too slow do not watch baseball. When is the last time you heard someone say, "I love the Mets, but if these games start going an extra ten minutes longer, I'm out"? So let's put that to rest, it is a non-issue.

The second case is to protect the "human element" of the game. As if it's somewhat charming to have umpires who blow calls like Lindsey Lohan blows lines. Give me a break. Does anyone outside of the game actually care about this? I propose something different, something radical.

How about every call is booth reviewed? Every ball, every strike, every close call. If TBS can install a strike zone during its telecast, why can't the MLB? It's easy: someone upstairs watches the pitch using the boxed strike zone, hits a button that signals a remote to the home plate umpire (like where the little box used to keep track of balls and strikes would be), and then the ump signals ball or strike. There would be a one second delay for every call, which would be virtually undetectable. Hell, you could do it right now without telling anybody and not one fan could tell the difference.

With fair or foul calls, and calls at the bases, let the umps do their thing. There is ample time in between the call and the next pitch for someone in the booth the review it. If the call is wrong, they can just buzz the umpire. It would add what, one minute to each game? So be it. You know what makes games long? Managers coming out to bitch about bad calls. You think Lou Piniella would come out and argue with the ump if he wasn't the one who made the decision? There would be nobody to yell at. Nothing would be disputable.

Somebody tell me how this would not work. I'm curious. The game would change, yes, but times have changed. Baseball is no longer a past time, it is a billion dollar business. It's time to get things right.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Vote for Rush!

When I first heard that Rush Limbaugh was trying to become part owner of the St. Louis Rams, the first thing I thought was the same thing about half this country thought: hell no. First off, let me make clear that this is not really political. I don't care about left/right qualms. Limbaugh is 51% insane, 49% opportunist. This is not debatable. Anyone who listens to him for anything more than entertainment value should have their voting rights revoked, and probably should not be allowed to breed. And no, I am not a Democrat nor have I ever voted for one. This isn't about beliefs, it's about somebody who could rival Jerry Jones as the craziest owner in the league. And nothing but good could come of it.

Think about it. If you are a Rush fan, then first, bang your head against the wall one thousand times. Okay, now hear me out. Imagine an all-white, all-Christian NFL team. It works out perfectly, since the Rams will more than likely have the first pick in the draft, and yes, Tim Tebow is your man. I mean, is there any other choice? Start new. Imagine the Edward Jones Dome looking like this. You can prove to the world your superiority, trading for Kevin Curtis, Brian Urlacher, whoever. And you could get them easily by trading your best black players (see, the joke's on them; everyone knows black players are only worth 25% of the white players in a trade!). It will show the country, nay, the world, that your beliefs are right.


What will really happen. He becomes part owner. 95% of black free agents refuse to sign with the Rams, which is significant, because the Rams are awful. Possibly the first black rookie they draft pulls a Crabtree. Everything goes along as normal, until the first time Rush opens his mouth and says something blatantly racist. Players start to speak out. Advertisers gets nervous, pull out their spots, and King Goodell lowers his hand and with one fell swoop, knocks Rush back into radio. Let me ask you Limbaugh haters, or as I like to call them, the "educated": wouldn't this be the best case scenario. His dribble wouldn't just be heard by Fox News supporters and abortion clinic bombers; it would be heard by the entire NFL audience. Rush's biggest advantage is that he preaches to the choir. Now he can't choose his listeners, and we all remember the Donovan McNabb fiasco...

I know conservatives are going to read this and get pissed. Fine. Feel free to hit the tiny little X on the top right of your screen. Because there's something telling that players have come out against Rush, and none have come out for him. There's merit in the fact that SportsNation's Michelle Beadle had the most obvious look of disgust on her face with the mere mention of his name (and ESPN isn't the most liberal network on the planet). It means something when this is even an issue. Rush Limbaugh isn't even controversial anymore. He draws the line. It's a line between the sane and insane. You can't come out in a neutral setting for him without getting blasted, and there's a reason behind that.

So I welcome Rush into the NFL. I will enjoy seeing him show his true colors. Guess what color that is.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Just Say No... To The Olympics

You'll have to excuse me, because this column is more political than sports related, but the Olympics are technically sports. Well, some of it. And President Obama has been taking a lot of heat about his campaign to get the 2016 Games in Chicago. Not just from the usual suspects - Hannity, Limbaugh, etc. - but from the sports community and really, the entire country. Nobody seems to want the Games here, which is a good thing. No, a great thing.

After a failed war, a failed economy and failed health care reform, people seem to care a lot more about real issues than puffing out their patriotic chests. We don't want our politicians, let alone the President, wasting time trying to host a bunch of pseudo-sports. We're no longer interested in being the center of attention, because let's face it, we're not that attractive anymore. If America was Britney Spears, then we have moved from Schoolgirl Britney to Shaved Head White Trash Britney. We need time to grow our hair back, check into rehab and lose some weight before we thrust ourselves back into the limelight.

I understand too that the Games aren't for another seven years. We could use it as motivation, like signing up at a gym for an entire year in advance; we made the commitment, so we're now forced to make some changes. But really, do we need any more motivation? If the past decade can't bring along the changes we need, then nothing will. Not even table tennis.

So I applaud America. Somewhere along the way, the people have stopped caring so much about appearing to be #1, and started to care more about actually being #1. It is now a time to retreat, a time of reflection. Bring the troops home, maybe on their way they can swing by and pick up Obama. Let's concentrate on ourselves for once, and not what everyone else in the world thinks about us. Let this one go. Maybe when we get back on our feet, we can put in another bid, and be truly proud to show the world what we are all about. Which we don't really need, because this new American attitude says a lot more than any Olympics ever could.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Royals. I'm Not Lovin' It.

In Kansas City, as the Royals' season winds down (as it has been since May), the talk around town is how the franchise needs success not to hold onto current fans, but to insure that the younger generations grow up in baseball culture. I was born a few months after the Royals won the World Series - I have never seen good hometown baseball, and neither has anyone of my generation. I'm still a fan, as I was born into it, but many people my age just don't care. It's why every season in every sport matters so much. You need to be constantly hooking the younger fans.

It's why McDonald's advertises. Those commercials aren't for you and me, we know where to go for a burger, they're there so every kid in America will know McDonald's. You don't pay billions in advertising dollars unless it has an effect.

If the Yankees are the McDonald's of the baseball world, then the Royals are Jack in the Box. George Brett retired in 1993, the same year JINB had their E. coli epidemic. I was seven years old at the time. Since then, there has been no reason to care about the Royals, and JINB has been known for nothing other than killing people. However, in the past few years, the restaurant chain has made a comeback, equipped with a new mascot and a new look. And it's working.

Americans under twenty don't know about the E. coli breakout, they only know the fake Jack in the Box CEO with the Barry Bonds-sized head they see on television. The chain could have done the same thing in 1994, but more than likely it wouldn't have worked. The time was ripe for change, as it is now with the Royals. They too need a face lift, but of course, replacing Slugger and spending money on ads won't do the trick. Slugger has a big enough head as it is anyways.

But they are running out of time. The reason JITB has able to resurface was because not only did the young audience not remember the controversy, but they did remember the brand. They've always been around, so it wasn't a new name. The only difference was the appearance of success. If the Royals strike now, they can keep the younger fans who at least remember George Brett, or even Mike Sweeney. But if they wait, they will only be left with a future of kids who don't trust the organization and don't expect anything but failure. And those kids will not become fans.

2010 might be the most important season of the Royals franchise. Fail now, and future success may not even matter. At the very least, they can become the Hardees of the MLB; not very good for you, but addicting and it keeps you coming back for more. And at this point, I'm fine with that.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want, Part Two

When LeBron James left the court after the end of the Eastern Conference Finals, refusing to shake hands or even saying a word to the champion Orlando Magic, the first thing that came to mind was: this reminds me of Michael Jordan. In June, I wrote, "I think it's clear that if Michael Jordan was playing in today's game, his legendary competitiveness would be chalked up to thuggery and selfishness." Well, in the aftermath of Jordan's Hall of Fame induction speech, I have to say, I was right.

ESPN's Rick Reilly, the posterboy of a dying style of sportswriting that once made the Sports Illustrated writer an icon, called Jordan's speech "tactless, egotistical and unbecoming." These also happen to be three of the qualities that made Michael Jordan the undisputed king of basketball. As Reilly points out in his own article, former Bulls assistant coach Johnny Bach has said about Jordan, "This guy is a killer. He's a cold-blooded assassin. It's not enough for him to beat you. He wants you dead."

That's what it takes sometimes to be the greatest ever. Jordan never quit trying to win. He still doesn't want to quit, which is why he seemed so upset during his induction; going into the Hall signifies the end, and for the best competitor the game has ever known, there is no end.

But nobody wants to hear it. Jordan's speech was disgusting and disrespectful. The irony, of course, is that when Jordan was a player, the most common criticism slung his way was that he was too corporate, too fake. People wanted the real Jordan. Well, be careful for what you wish for. You were given to real MJ, and you rebelled against it.

Or did you? You see, this shouldn't have caught Mr. Reilly off guard. In an SI column in June of 1993, Reilly wrote, "Whatever searing obsession is inside Jordan driving him to be the most dauntless basketball player on earth, does not suddenly leak out of his Nikes when he leaves the court." Seems as if Reilly has gotten old, as he is doing the same thing with Tiger Woods.

Don't get mad at Jordan, Woods or James for not being able to shut off the valve of competitiveness that got them where they are today. The best of the best are wired differently. It's a trait that is applauded when they are athletes but shunned in real life, as Reilly has properly demonstrated. So don't be surprised when after asking year after year for athletes to come out of their shell, you find that their real self is less than socially acceptable. It usually is for people with losing mentalities.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want, Part One

Sports fans are a fickle bunch. Tony LaRussa gets railed for swapping pitchers too much, but Grady Little was run out of Boston for leaving his pitcher in too long. Fans boo when the home team punts on fourth-and-one, but become Monday Morning Quarterbacks when their team goes for it and fails. Even when changed is called upon for decades, once the real change happens, they panic like rednecks when Obama was elected.

For as long as I can remember, fans have berated announcers for their lack of knowledge and insight. Don't get me wrong, most arguments against announcers are based in fact. John Madden couldn't tell you anything about a play that a thirteen year old couldn't point out. Same goes with Tim McCarver, Rich Gannon, and well, just about every color guy. The only purpose they serve is to explain plays to people who know nothing about the game, which is something around 3% of the viewing audience. They are, in fact, worthless.

ESPN's season opening Monday Night Football double header provided fans with a different audio experience. The network's Mike & Mike, teamed with Steve Young, gave us a new angle. No, it wasn't Dennis Miller new, but it wasn't the same old "analysis" we usually get. These guys knew and worked with each other before the pairing, and it showed. They bantered, they talked over each other. The trio sounded like any three guys watching a football game. And people hated them for it.

Immediately after the game, I tuned to two different national sports radio shows to hear the same thing: Mike & Mike & Steve sucked. The next day at the water cooler (or more aptly in the 21st century, the ashtray outside), the talk was the same; the broadcast was unprofessional, unpolished and unlistenable. Message boards around the net resonated the same. But what is it that fans want? Do they even know?

Fact is, we have been conditioned to the polished, unintruding ways of Madden and McCarver. As much as people bash them, they at the same time can;t stand anything but. Dennis Miller was chased out like Frankenstein's monster because his humor wasn't mindless and fake like the kind you see on pregame telecasts. Young and Golic's banter was deemed annoying because it wasn't scripted like Buck and McCarver's. And Greenberg's play-by-play is denounced as boring because he doesn't have an on-air orgasm after every first down like Gus Johnson.

Already the abuse is being directed towards the regular MNF crew and newbie Jon Gruden. My favorite sportswriter, Joe Posnanski, even repeatedly Tweeted during tonight's game about the awful announcing. Well, what do we want? If we can't stand more of the same, maybe we should not be so quick to overreact to a new formula. You can't bitch about everything all the time. We need a little Steve Young and Dennis Miller. Or if not, we need to stop whining about the status quo that we refuse to change.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Where Have All The Gladiators Gone? (Part Two)

There's a scene in "Gladiator" where Russell Crowe's character, Maximus, yells to the Colosseum crowd, "Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?" Then after throwing down his sword and spitting on it, the crowd chants, "SPANIARD! SPANIARD!" Maximus seems shocked by the power he holds.

It was a prominent moment of the movie, and it's also a metaphor to what the fan/player relationship has become in the NFL. As Maximus learned, so too have players learned that they have the power, that they are the ones that matter, not the fans. It wasn't always this way. Players were the gladiators, the unloved and unnamed. They put their bodies on the line for nothing more than the glory of victory. And we worshiped them for it.

Only, now the league has become too big. The lines are drawn. Chiefs fans will love Chiefs players no matter what, Giants fans will love Giant players, etc. Michael Vick, Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson have found homes. We've chalked this up to America's principle of second chances. Alright, I'll give you that. But how can you explain Brett Favre?

There's an old adage in sports: the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back. Of course, free agency and million-dollar contracts had teams swapping players like spouses at a 1970s commune. But even in this age, the beloved ones are the players who helped identify what their teams - and thus, their cities - stood for. Derek Jeter in New York, Troy Aikman in Dallas, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. Even guys who played for other teams - Joe Montana, Bruce Smith, Jerry Rice, etc. - will always be known in the jerseys that made them famous. Yes, they played the money game like everyone else, but they were still not bigger than the league.

Brett Favre believes he is bigger than the NFL. He has no notion of loyalty or history. It's business, not personal, he would say. Except, the fans have no monetary stake in this game, only emotional. Favre was Green Bay's Maximus, who turned on them once he learned of his power over them. The difference being, of course, that Favre is not a slave. The fans he betrayed didn't cheer his death, they payed his salary. Literally. The Packers are community-owned.

Favre doesn't understand the heart-strings he pulled with his constant "I don't know if I'm coming back...I, wait, I'm not" routine. Management had roles to fill, a team to build. They waited, and when Favre said he wasn't coming back, they put Aaron Rodgers in the starting spot. So when Favre said he wanted to un-retire, it was too late. Sorry, but you are not bigger than the league, the Packers moved on. We all know what happened after that.

Favre has now twisted the knife he had already stuck in every Cheesehead's stomach. "Real Packer fans would understand", he said. The man would have no clue what it meant to be a real anything. Which is sad, because he was the ultimate gladiator. Never missed a game, a true blue-collar good ol' boy from Mississippi. We want to root for this guy. But he stands for everything football fans loath; greediness, blindness and narcissism.

But it's not really his fault. He is a product of the system. Maximus didn't steal his power, the mob gave it to him. And so it is with Favre. We put him on this pedestal. So it's not that wrong of us to knock him off. We make these gladiators, they are ours. Forget this fight of individualism and freedom; you make more in a season than 90% of fans will make in a lifetime. Woe has no place in a millionaire's vernacular.

I say boo this man, for he deserves it. As does Ochocinco (how quickly we turned on this clown), Terrell Owens or anyone else who forgets who they are. This is football. This is our game. And when it comes down to it, your future should be decided on whether we give a thumbs up or thumbs down. Make it primal, uncivilized, politically incorrect. Suffer in the name of entertainment. Then take it to the bank.

Where Have All The Gladiators Gone? (Part One)

I am not civilized. I am an animal who craves blood, sweat and tears. I believe in the supreme nobility of warriors. I would've fit in nicely in ancient Rome, sitting in the gallery shouting at slaves killing each other in the name of entertainment. Wine would soak my lips, I'd be in heaven. It is why I became a football fan.

We hear analogies between America and Rome all the time. The Empires. They had the Colosseum, we have the Coliseum. They had gladiators, we have the NFL. And the two used to be one of the same. Both sports were built around men who left everything on the field of play, whether it be literally or metaphorical. Both had a rabid fan base. But more importantly, the driving force behind them was that the power of the fan superseded that of the performer. The glory days are over.

The sad but true reality of pro football is that of the gladiator-like treatment the players received. In the last decade, a big bright light had shone over medical records of past players. Concussions, broken bones and years of wear and tear had taken their toll. Running backs were walking around like zombies, quarterbacks acting like, well, Joe Namath. A panic spread across the NFLPA. Protection became more important than performance.

Now, we have rules in place designed to prevent injury. You can't hit above the shoulders or below the thigh. You can't lead with your helmet. If the quarterback even seems like he's going down, the whistle is blown before the damage can be inflicted. This is not football! We wonder why MMA has taken such a stranglehold on the attentions of young men? The lack of violence and reality in sports drove them to the death cages. I would join the MMA march myself if I weren't for the fact that the first death to occur in a fight (which is inevitable, by the way) will bring about rule changes much like the NFL is suffering. I don't need my hopes dashed twice. Enjoy your short run while it lasts.

This society is way too hung up on safety. It is illegal to not wear a seat belt, which affects nobody but the moron not wearing it (and according to one police officer I know, "that law is in place because we have to clean it up". In this case, it's a law in place to protect cops from seeing gruesomeness, not to keep you alive). We want to ban aluminum bats from little league. I actually heard two sports radio hosts debating whether or not pitchers should wear helmets. How about suits of armour while we're at it?

I don't want any of this nonsense. Give me two overgrown men of steel (NOT literally) bashing into each other at full speed. Give me linebackers gunning for quarterbacks' knees. If a receiver catches a pass in midfield, I want somebody sticking a helmet in his chest. Until recently, football players expected this kind of brutality. There aren't any misconceptions about getting hurt. A big hit today aches tomorrow. Take big hits your whole career, it will hurt for a decade. That's reality, and there is no way to get around it.

This is what the fans signed up for, but we're getting a watered-down corporate version of football. Media-heads actually complain that Hines Ward - a wide receiver - hits too hard. Please. This anti-violence is ruining the game. How did we get here? Well, Brett Favre is somewhat to blame.

To be continued...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Will It Be Sunnier In Philadelphia?

I was sitting on my couch Thursday night, slightly hungover and irritable, watching the Cardinals and Steelers game. Actually, I was just looking at the game. The meaninglessness of preseason added with decreased energy from the night before put me in the mindset of not wanting to do anything. So I sat there, mostly thinking about whether or not I like Jon Gruden.

Then it happened. Mike Tirico all of a sudden went to Chris Mortensen for an update. I knew what the news was. Michael Vick has found a team. The only question was which team. The Eagles? Oh, this is not going to sit well. And it didn't. Ron Jaworski (an ex-Eagles quarterback) was livid. Jon Gruden seemed more interested than either angry or happy. He wanted to think about what Andy Reid would do to get Vick on the field. He's still a coach at heart. He still thinks in terms of football. Jaworksi has been in the media game for a while. He let his emotions fly.

And so has everybody else. Commentators either asked or told you whether or not Vick to Philly was a good idea, not as far as good for the team, but good for the Vick, the city or the NFL itself. What is the social commentary - that is the angle here. How we feel about Vick's return is suppose to gauge how we feel about the crime of dogfighting altogether. Which is dumb, to say to least.

True, you can't say dogfighting without thinking of Mike Vick. He will be the face of that crime for probably the next 20 years, but more than likely be forgotten after that. Donte Stallworth is not the face of drunk driving because he's just one of many, Vick's crime was new. And animal abuse comes with one loud, wholly obnoxious group of haters - the loathsome PETA.

PETA's intentions are good, sure. But make no mistake, their job is to completely ruin the public lives of anyone who has ever eaten a cheeseburger. There is no understanding, no faith in humanity. Their undying love of animals seems to be based in their complete lack of insight into people. Animals are flawless, humans are evil, this is the PETA way.

PETA isn't rotting for Vick to change. They don't want him to turn his life around and be a champion to anti-dogfighting in the Philadelphia community. Like any loud organization, their goal is to win. If Vick's life was left in shambles - which means no football after prison, no public persona and more importantly, no money - then PETA wins. They get to flex their muscles, show the world that you don't fuck with PETA. Don't love animals because it's the right thing to do, love animals because if you don't, the mighty PETA machine will flat out destroy you.

On the flip side, the Humane Society actually gets it. In a video on the HSUS website, you hear things like "are we about writing off an individual...treating that person as a pariah forever...and trying to block his career...or are we about trying to make people better?" This is the right way to think about Vick. This is the mature way. It comes from a real love of animals, not a hate for people. It's how we should all react.

There will be protesters from PETA, naturally. But don't be one of these people who believes the ends justify the means. Be the People for the Ethical Treatment of Humans as well. Don't get mad that Vick went to a strip club after he got out of prison (I sure as hell would), or refuse to believe he actually wants to change, as this blog represents. If he does good in his life, he does good. If Vick relapses, then so be it. I much rather look at things like Jon Gruden does, purely from a football standpoint. That's what is interesting to me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

100 Down, Way Too Many To Go

UFC 100 may have been watched by millions, but I was not one of them. Loyalty to boxing may be to blame. But there seems to be a simple reason for the MMA hysteria. It starts with a number.

We are obsessed by numbers. When you're 39, you have free range at booze, drugs and loose women. But once you turn 40, apparently it's time to settle down and get old. Hey, you're over the hill, right? If a guy says he's been married for 49 years, jokes about unhappiness ensue. Married for 50? A love that cannot be touched. We build up these milestones like they have some kind of significant meaning. Well, they don't. They're just numbers.

UFC 100 is one of these milestones. It was the biggest fight in mixed martial arts. On the grandest stage, the so-called sport showed us all what it's made of. Fans and sports writers across the country proclaimed that UFC had arrived. Time to get with the program. It's boxing for the 21st century boys. Looks like I'm stuck partying like it's pre-1999.

Look, I'm a boxing fan. But not a boxing "fan". You know those people; they claim they love the sport, but explain their lack of enthusiasm due to the fact that the heavyweight division is so barren. Yes, my favorite boxer (Lennox Lewis) was a heavyweight, and yeah, when the big boys are rockin' the fans come a-knockin', but I don't need it to enjoy boxing. Good boxing is out there, and its not really that hard to find.

And that's what UFC buffs have marketed around; the fact that boxing is dead. OK, I'll give you the fair-weather fans. Let them drive your pay-per-views up. But don't think that UFC is grabbing them for good. Remember the numbers.

Like #100, which has gotten everyone up in a frenzy. You know when boxing's 100th main fight was? Well, the first heavyweight champ was John Sullivan in 1885, so it was a long freaking time ago. Most people won't recognize a fighter until Jack Dempsey, who won in 1919. If you're celebrating where you are as a sport at #100, then boy, you know nothing. You haven't even begun.

Oh, but that's point, they say. Look how big we are in such a short span. Well, what's the road from here? Do UFC fans really expect to keep expanding at this rate? It'd be bigger than the NFL in a decade. Not gonna happen. Also unlikely is plateauing at this point and averaging the millions of viewers last Saturday's fight attracted. There is no basis to this, no history. If anything, this was the peak. 100 is not a milestone, it's a pebble in the history of UFC. It means nothing.

The only argument I would give UFC fans is that MMA is a representation of a change of interest in young Americans. Boxing was two men beating the hell out of each other, yes, but it was art. MMA is simply beating the hell out of each other. And on a much greater scale. It's in-your-face brutality, a concept adored by a generation raised on reality television and violence. Don't dance around, kill! Mob mentality, fill the Colosseum! How apt for a country that is starting its Roman descent.

Am I missing the boat, perhaps? But I'll be playing my boxing violin as I go down drowning, not cursing the iceberg that drug us there. It's a fad, in my book. Nothing more. Like Bender from The Breakfast Club, I too share a disdain for guys who roll around on the floor with other guys. But hey, if you want blood, you got it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Where Is My Mind?

Twittering during games, protecting your image, tabloid deaths and bashing Americans. Yeah, I got a few thoughts.

No Fun

Chad Ochocinco is getting on my nerves. You want to putt the football with a pylon? OK. Create your own Hall of Fame jacket? Fine. I don't really care. But now he wants to use Twitter during games. This has gone too far.

It's one thing to be the class clown, the joker. But is it too much to ask these millionaires to have just a tad bit of focus for three hours a week? This isn't a product of the No Fun League, it's a starve for attention. Most critics of the NFL's policies complain that the players aren't allowed to have enough fun, but isn't football itself supposed to be fun? I mean, it is a game. I get the feeling that guys like Ochocinco play football because they have the talent, not because they love the game. If they did, simply being on the field would give them the enjoyment they need. But not Chad. The game's not enough. Perhaps he should quit.

Fuhrer LeBron and S.S. Nike

Now this has rubbed people in a very wrong way. Apparently at the LeBron James Skills Academy, Xavier guard Jordan Crawford dunked on James, and shortly after Nike officials confiscated all the tapes from said dunk. To make matters worse, it seems that James was the one who ordered the search and seizure.

First off, I could see Nike orchestrating this more than Lebron. But if he did do it, is it that big of a deal? So he has some pride issues, what do you expect. He's constantly harped on for not winning a title, despite being crowned "The King" (a nickname that he was given, by the way). Oh, and he's 24 years old. Who cares if he's ashamed? I am tired of the high horse riding by sports people when it comes to LeBron James. Nobody will remember this. Hell, Kobe raped a girl and Shaq had a "tell me how my ass tastes" rap and everybody just loves them. I can't wait for James to win a title to shut these middle-aged white sports writers up. Give it a rest.

Sick News is Sick

I applaud sports fans for not wanting to hear anymore about Steve McNair. Sure, we still read the updates, but it's July - what else are we gonna do? The mood I get is that the story is too disturbing, too wrong and has nothing to do with McNair the quarterback. We understand that our heroes aren't really superhuman, we don't need to be reminded. With the gross exploitation of Michael Jackson's death, fans are disinterested to do the same with McNair. This is a good thing.

We want sports and we want it now. Not a 24-hour news investigation of McNair the man. None of our business. Chalk it up to ignoring the truth if you want, but what will learning the truth achieve? Nothing but negativity, and we surely don't need anymore of that. ESPN and the rest and continue to let us in on the latest, it's their job, but I get the feeling that nobody is all the concerned.

America, F*** Yeah!

This whole Lance Armstrong thing cracks me up. As I've written before, sports nationalism in this country is a joke. First soccer, then tennis, and now cycling. Remember, if it's foreign, it's crap. Until we put a competitor out there, then we are the greatest! We are the saddest bunch of front-runners in the world. It's alright during the Olympics, it's kind of the point. I'm rooting against Armstrong and for the French. That's right, I said it. Let's bring the trophy to a group of people who actually care about the event when they aren't dominating. What happened to our underdog spirit?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer of Morality

This past Independence Day weekend got me thinking. While most people were consumed with the Steve McNair story, I started wondering about Wimbledon. And soccer. And Phil Mickleson. And Rocky. Let me explain.

See, this weekend was a microcosm of what I call the Trophy Era, which is our current state of giving the kid who struck out four times and made two errors the same hardware as the kid who went 4-4 with five RBIs. It is the land of morals, home of the meek, and they are indeed inheriting the Earth. And it's entirely possible that the movie Rocky helped shape this new form of ideals.

Looking at the series as a whole, there are six parts. In part one, Rocky loses, but receives the biggest moral victory in the history of both fantasy and reality athletics. But in parts 2-5, Rocky wins. And our memories of Rocky are in those wins. He beat Mr. T. He knocks out Drago. It doesn't matter that the first image is of him losing, because the lasting images, which are the most important, are of the underdog champion.

When the franchise came full circle in 2006 with part six, Rocky Balboa, the underdog loses. Rocky gets beat. So the message being sent here is that while all the wins were good and made a champion out of Rocky, it's the losses, to start and end his career, which are the most important. It is the birth of the moral victory - the most disgusting term in sports.

The summer of 2009 is the result of this kind of thinking; the Summer of Morality. The lasting images of this summer will be of three events: the U.S. Open, the FIFA championship and the Wimbledon final. The dominating storylines of these three were of the underdog caliber. Mickleson had to fight for his sick wife. Team USA and Andy Roddick had to fight the foreign powerhouses. Real Hollywood stuff, you know? But in real life, we want Rocky II-V, instead we got Rocky I and VI.

Mickleson fell short. Team USA gagged. Andy Roddick was no match for history. In the way we usually look at sports, these are failures on the biggest stage. Mickleson's bogies on 15 and 17 were awful. Team USA blew a 2-0 lead at halftime. Roddick played the greatest game of his life, and found out it wasn't enough. These are the lowest of the low. Except, we live in a Rocky world, where not only does failing in the clutch not get you criticized, it gets you a medal.

I'm not saying that the Rocky movies create excuses for professional athletes. Art reflects reality, it doesn't produce it. This is a new, late 20th century American view. We changed Lombardi's quote of "winning isn't everything, the will to win is" to "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing", because that is what America has always been about.

Not now. No, Mickleson, Roddick and Team USA are champions of the heart, and that's all that matters. The compelling aspect of athletics used to be to witness what it takes to rise to the top, not what it takes to achieve noble failure. Maybe we need to stop rewarding people for just trying. Whether it's giving runner-ups journalistic praise or your clumsy kid a medal. It breeds defeat, not success.

Remember, Rocky did eventually become a champion. He had a statue erected. Phil Mickleson, Andy Roddick and Team USA lost. There is no award for second place in life, so let's not give one out in sports. I want to go back to "only the strong survive". It's what makes July 4th such a great holiday; a day to raise our foam fingers as #1. We didn't just try, we succeeded. There used to be morality in that.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Why We Are Really Saddened About Michael Jackson

I'm going to take a break from sports for a second to talk about what everyone else is talking about - the death of Michael Jackson. Only, it isn't the end of his life that has people so upset, rather, it's the death of his resurrection.
Michael Jackson, the child star and King of Pop, has been dead for a while now. In his place we were given Jacko, the freakshow plastic man who slept with underage boys. And that is the man who left us yesterday. Fans have already mourned over the beloved superstar, but the news that he was trying to jump start his career and with the hope that this was true, his death brought a sobering reality: Michael Jackson is never coming back.

He will never redeem himself. He will not return back to form, no longer write any classic songs. And apparently, this is news to people. Because why else would anyone care?

What would be the reaction to O.J. Simpson's death? I ask because the two have some distinct similarities. Both were beloved stars, both acquitted of hanus crimes that 99% of the population believes they were guilty of. Both transformed into two different people entirely. They were involved in the two most-watched trials in the last twenty years. But Simpson's death wouldn't carry the nationwide sadness that Jackson's has. Why? Because we've accepted that the old Simpson is never coming back. His trial was a two-year long funeral of the funny, lovable actor/athlete, ending with the birth of this Bizarro O.J. who has as about as many fans as George W. Bush.

But we really never let go of Jackson. The reason for it, I suppose, is because we understood him. We all know that his childhood (or lack thereof) was the reason for his transformation. It's purely human, while Simpson's alter-ego has no back story. We can't fathom why he did what he did. So we've all held up this hope that Jackson would break out of this shell he has made for himself, and return to glory with Thriller 2.

Now we're faced with the fact that it's never going to happen. And nothing has really changed. We still have the records and videos and memories of Jackson, and Jacko was never going to add anymore to it. So if you're mourning the death of Michael Jackson, all I have to say is that you're a tad bit late. But hey, isn't denial just part of the grieving process?
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