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.
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