Saturday, December 16, 2017

Your non-debate for today

So this week came the news that Devin Hester, who inspired fans of opposing teams to scream "Why are you kicking to him!?" at their TV sets more than any player in NFL history, has decided to retire.

Immediately this began the debate over whether Hester, who made his bones as an NFL player almost exclusively as a kick-return specialist, should be a candidate for Canton.

To all right-thinking individuals out there, this was not much of a debate.

Two points to consider:

1. No one in NFL history returned more kicks, punts or turnovers for touchdowns than Hester, who had 20 total in 11 seasons. His 14 punt-return touchdowns are also the most ever.

2. Ray Guy is in the Hall of Fame.

Which is to say, any debate about whether or not you could put specialists in the Hall went out the window the moment the NFL inducted Guy, a punter. Also Morten Andersen and Jan Stenerud, placekickers.

Hester?

He's the greatest return man in NFL history.

He's in.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

New math fun

Paul George got the W last night in his return Indianapolis, shrugging off a steady rain of boos to lead the NBA's newest super team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, to a typically awesome 100-95 victory over the poor devalued Indiana Pacers.

And ...

And now a short pause while you all splutter "What?! Why, that's not even close to being true!"

Well ... no. No it isn't.

The real truth is, the Blob just wanted to see if you were awake this morning. And since you apparently are, let's get down to some other truth.

Which is, Paul George went 3-of-14, scored 12 points and had about as much to do with the Thunder's win as the guy on the bench handing out towels and water bottles.

Also, the Thunder are not "awesome." They're a horribly unbalanced team -- who thought it was a good idea to put three guys together (PG, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony) who all need the basketball in their hands? -- that's 13-14 and wouldn't make the playoffs if they started today.

The Pacers, on the other hand, are 16-12 even with last night's loss, and currently sit fifth in the East. The two guys they got from the Thunder for George, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, combined for 27 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and two steals last night. Oladipo is having a better season statistically than George did for the Pacers last year, and he's the linchpin for a tight, cohesive group that loves to push tempo -- and, consequently, is hugely fun to watch.

Conclusion: Sometimes there really is such a thing as addition by subtraction.

Ain't New Math a blast?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Nattering nabobs

... of negativism.

Wasn't that the old Spiro Agnew line?

Thinking of that today, listening to all the criers of doom over the fate of those poor Ball brothers, LiAngelo and LaMelo. Why, their father is messing with their futures! He's ruining their lives! He's ... why, he's ...

Circumventing the accepted process for getting to the NBA!

That, boys and girls, is what's actually behind all the Nattering from the Nabobs, and don't be fooled into thinking otherwise. LaVar Ball may or may not be rolling the dice with his kids' futures, but they're his dice to roll. And, frankly, it looks from here like signing LiAngelo and LaMelo to contracts to play pro ball in Lithuania isn't much of a dice-roll.

Because, really, what's the worst that can happen? They spend the year or two they would have spent in college basketball's waiting room (because in the era of one-and-done, that's all college buckets is) actually making money for playing basketball? As opposed to what, feigning being a "student-athlete" while not getting paid?

Look, best case, they spend some time in Europe and get drafted into the NBA, or sign as free agents. In case you haven't noticed, more than one foreign player has taken that exact route. Why wouldn't it work for two American kids, should they prove to be as good as Daddy's advertised?

Ah, but if that happens ...

Well. Then suddenly college basketball no longer is the only path to the League for an American one-and-done. And that likely has a lot of college coaches/athletic directors swallowing hard, because there goes a piece of their market share, not to say their meal tickets. And that's why so many of the Nabobs are Nattering, because not a few of them work for entities that pay large coin for college basketball broadcast rights.

Which means their market share's on the line, too.

And if it doesn't happen?

Worst case, LiAngelo and LaMelo spend some time in Europe making money playing basketball. Then they can come back and get their degrees. Or they stay in Europe and get their degrees. How is this Dad ruining their lives, again?

Please explain.   

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A brief thoughts on NFL Week 14

And now this week's edition of the holiday-spirited Blob, of which the War on Christmas foofs have said "You hate Christmas!", and also "Say Christmas! Say it!", and also "And while we're at it, those cups at Starbucks are EVIL!":

1. Jay Cutler > Tom Brady.

2. (Well, he was. For one night.)

3. Carson Wentz > Tom Brady.

4. (Well, this year. Until Sunday.)

5. Carson Wentz' knee > Carson Wentz.

6. (On Sunday.)

7. Meanwhile, the Browns!

8. Brownsed again!

9. Snow > the Colts.

10. (Also, almost everyone in the league > the Colts.)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Viewer discretion revised

And now some happy news from the world of golf, just in time for Christmas.

(No, not the return of Tiger. That remains a work in progress. Or regress. Stay tuned for further developments, or un-developments.)

In the meantime, the rulesmakers-that-be in golf have decided that the reign of the meddling couch potato is officially ended. They've passed a rule that says TV viewers will no longer be able to call in  infractions, thereby affecting the outcome of tournaments from Whoville or Keokuk or the rings of Saturn, for that matter. The PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, European PGA Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America have all given the new measure a thumbs up.

This is, needless to say, a rare triumph of common sense for OG (aka, Organized Golf), which has some of the most head-scratching rules in existence. By far the worst, however, was the notion that Joe Barcalounger could spot something on his TV set, call the golf course and get a golfer penalized (and in some cases, disqualified.)

No other sport had such a lunatic provision, on account of no other sport was crazy enough to regard the fans as anything but fans. It's simply impossible to imagine a scenario in which Chester Cheesehead in his Aaron Rodgers jersey could say "Hey, that's pass interference!", pick up his phone and get some poor Bears defensive back flagged.

Hey, look, Martha! I just got us a first down!

Absurd on its face. But not in golf, where the equivalent happened all the time.

Not anymore, though. Now the rules officials will monitor the video broadcast themselves, something they frankly should have been doing all along. (And why weren't they? Who knows. It's golf.) And if they miss an infraction?

Well, hey. Missed calls happen in every other sport. Why should golf be different?

I mean, anymore than it already is.

Glorious imperfection, Part Deux

Remember all that romantic goo the Blob spilled out yesterday about Army and Navy playing in the snow, and how it was the most awesome thing ever?

Add additional piles of snow (plus wind!) and you've got Bills-Colts, which was played in your classic Buffalo blizzard on Sunday. The stuff was ankle-deep, which meant little clouds of it swirled around players' feet as they churned ahead. Somehow Kelvin Benjamin caught a touchdown pass in the whiteout conditions, sending a huge spray of white stuff flying when he touched down. A Colts punt returner was actually tackled by the snow, fielding the punt, wading forward three or four yards and collapsing in a heap when he tried to change direction.

It was absolutely horrid football. It was also (to coin a phrase) damn glorious football -- football the way it was meant to be played before the invention of sterile climate-controlled Domeball, where the elements  became part of the strategy just like your opponents' offensive or defensive sets.

Only things missing?

Big clompy snowboots and huge-ass mittens. Oh, and those goofy earflap hats like Flick wore in "A Christmas Story."

Ah, winter.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Glorious imperfection

It looked, for all the world, like what happens in your backyard on the morning of Thanksgiving. Snow tumbled and swirled and sifted down from a leaden sky, sugaring the field of play out there in Philadelphia. They'd plowed out the hashes and yard-lines, so when you saw the gridiron in the overhead shots, it was an actual grid. And the football?

Well. It wasn't exactly Alabama-Auburn.

No, this was throwback football, leather-hats-and-a-hearty-punch-in-the-schnozz football, and it took the game back to the turn of the century. And, no, not this century.

Army and Navy took it all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt and the Wright Brothers, to Jim Thorpe 'n' them dazzling America with that newfangled invention, the off-tackle run. The two quarterbacks, Ahmad Bradshaw for Army and Malcolm Perry for Navy, kept taking direct snaps and plowing through the slush into the grunting mass at the center of the line of scrimmage. Bradshaw lugged it 21 times for 94 yards. Perry hauled it 30 times for 250 yards.

Navy attempted two passes, neither of which were thrown by Perry. Bradshaw threw one -- an end-over-end quacker straight out of 1911 that some Army receiver somehow caught 20 yards downfield.

It was ugly. It was imperfect. It was your cousin Mike throwing to your uncle Tim out in the snowy barnyard before the big chowdown. It was ... damn glorious.

As a recovering sportswriter, I faithfully make only one college football game a year appointment viewing, and it is Army-Navy. Part of that is because I love the pageantry, love watching the corps of cadets and the midshipmen march in lockstep into the stadium. And part of it is because Army-Navy is the epitome of what college football is supposed to be, and in fact used to be before the TV and apparel money turned it into the gray engine of commerce it is today.

In that world, we have grown so used to football as an exercise in technical expertise that we've all but forgotten what it looks like when played by normal human beings. Army-Navy shows us that every year, and that's why it's special. It's extraordinary  young men playing very ordinary football, because those extraordinary young men have better things to do down the road. And so, maybe more than anyone else in college football, they play in service to their institutions, not their institutions' bottom line.

For them, after all, the bottom line comes later. In a field of strife that looks nothing like a well-ordered grid, under circumstances that carry far, far more weight.