Friday, October 31, 2014

Another one of those Cleveland deals

SportsCenter was in town, going live from the bar/restaurant district on Fourth Street. The streets were hoppin'. You couldn't walk five feet without bumping into a LeBron jersey.

The Return was some kind of on in C-Town last night.

And so, of course, being C-Town, it came with a bitter pill.

Final score in The Return, aka the Cleveland Cavaliers' home opener: Knicks  95, Cavs 90.

The Returnee's line: 17 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 8 turnovers. Five-of-15 shooting.

And so it was a totally C-Town night, great anticipation followed swiftly by the ritual Deflating of the Balloon.  LeBron was awful. The Cavs weren't much better than awful. Same song, different decade.

But you know what?

It's the NBA. It's October. Don't put the Zippo to those LeBron jerseys yet.

Six or eight or 10 years from now, when the NBA Finals finally start and the Cavs are in them, no one will remember what happened last night. It'll be archives, baby. It'll be as distant a memory as the French and Indian War, because, let's face it, the NBA season lasts longer than the French and Indian War.

Which means pretty much everything eventually becomes a distant memory.

So never fear, C-Town. Someday it will be June. The Browns will be embarking on their 43rd consecutive rebuilding year. The Indians will be in third, eight games out. And the Cavs probably will be in the NBA Finals, but then again, they might not be.

In other words: The Return will be complete. The Return to Normalcy, that is.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Bum's rush

Conventional wisdom died a pitch at a time, out there on the suddenly lonesome prairie.

Aoki flew out to left, and that was one wound.

Cain went down swinging, and that was another wound.

Someone else grounded to second or flew out to right or tapped one back to the mound, and suddenly conventional wisdom was bleeding in a dozen places, and a stadium painted every shade of blue was blue in fact.

The numbers have already been bronzed, the morning after Madison Bumgarner and the Giants hacked conventional wisdom to death: Five innings, two hits, four strikeouts, zero walks. Sixty-eight pitches. Fifty for strikes.

A mortal simply doesn't do that sort of thing, not on three days' rest. But Bumgarner hasn't been mortal for more than a month, starting that day in Pittsburgh when he silenced the raucous Pirates 8-0 and started the Giants on the road to last night, when they beat the Royals 3-2 in Kansas City in Game 7 to win their third World Series in five years.

Bumgarner was both the clear MVP and the standard bearer for the narrative, which needed Jack Buck to return from the grave and utter again his immortal line: "I can't believe what I just saw!"

Because, really, who could believe it? Five innings of impeccable relief three days after he pitched a nine-inning, four-hit shutout to give the Giants a 3-2 Series lead? The Giants themselves bucking history -- before last night, they were 0-4 in winner-take-all World Series games -- to win yet again?

Conventional wisdom was K.C.'s best bud coming in, given those numbers. Conventional wisdom said if they forced Game 7 you could stick a righteous fork in the Giants, because no way were the Royals gonna lose  the first World Series Game 7 in Kaufmann Stadium in 29 years. No way was Bumgarner gonna have anything close to his best stuff if the Giants had to call on him, because conventional wisdom had seen this movie before -- the ace being called upon on short rest -- and it hardly ever went well.

And then Bumgarner retired the Royals in the fifth. And then he did it in the sixth. And then he did it in the seventh and eighth, and suddenly it was the ninth inning, and he was still out there throwing strikes.

Five innings, two hits, four strikeouts, zero walks. Fifty strikes in 68 pitches.

We are given to hyperbole these days, especially in sports, because 24/7/365 media has killed context. And that's because the people running the 24/7/365 media have no context, believing as they do that nothing that happened more than five minutes ago has any relevance to anything.

Well. I do have that context, being a charter member of the Get-Off-My-Lawn-You-Damn-Kids brigade. And what I say is if Bumgarner's performance last night doesn't go up there on the shelf with the greatest World Series performances of all time, then nothing belongs on that shelf.

He killed conventional wisdom, in the process elevating a generally unremarkable Giants team into what passes for a dynasty in 2014.  Because three titles in five years qualifies you in these days of parity, no matter what anyone says.

Speaking, you know, of conventional wisdom.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Your playoff scenario for today, real version

Wednesday morning and I can still hear the howling, even through double-pane windows from 100 miles away.

No one in the general vicinity of Knute Rockne and the rest of the statuary can possibly be happy about the first college playoff poll, which was rolled out to great fanfare last night.

Notre Dame came in 10th.

Which means the Fighting Irish's chances of getting into the four-team playoff just went from sorta-good to damn-near-invisible.

This is because the playoff poll is not your traditional poll, in the sense that it doesn't react to the immediate. It's big picture rather than what happened yesterday -- and that's why, for instance, Ole Miss made the top four even after losing at LSU on Saturday night.

The body of work clearly is everything here, which is why Notre Dame, No. 6 in the Associated Press poll, was four rungs below that. Yes, the performance against Florida State was impressive, a mere flutter of official laundry away from a signature W. But dreary wins over the dreary likes of Purdue and North Carolina took some of the blush off that rose, and so ... 10th.

Behind, yes, Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss, the current Big Four. But also behind, say, TCU (No. 7), which likely won't sit well with the faithful.

Are the Horned Frogs better? Is Kansas State (No. 9) or Michigan State (No. 8)?

 Beats me. All I know is, the committee is going by resumes here, and Notre Dame's clearly didn't measure up for them. If the Irish have a signature win -- Florida State was more a signature loss, if there can be such a thing -- it's probably Stanford. And in that one, at home, the Irish needed a miracle in the final minute to avoid a loss.

And yet ... is that less impressive than TCU's four-point win over Oklahoma, or Kansas State's one-point win over the Sooners? Is it less impressive than Michigan State's five-point win over Nebraska in a depleted Big Ten? And if you're going big picture, outside of Rice, are you gonna find a Stephen F. Austin or UTEP on Notre Dame's schedule? Or a Jacksonville State, Eastern Michigan or Wyoming?

The former are two of Kansas State's wins. The latter are three of Michigan State's.

And yet, Notre Dame will have to climb over both to get to the playoff. Life just ain't fair -- although, at the risk of provoking more howls from South Bend, it's generally a lot more fair to the Irish than it is to most people.

So maybe this is just karma.

And maybe, just maybe, the Irish can pull it off anyway. Michigan State is a good bet right now to get home as a one-loss team, but Kansas State and TCU still have to play each other. So do Ole Miss and Mississippi State. So do Auburn and Alabama, and Auburn and Ole Miss, and 'Bama and Mississippi State.  

If the Irish run the table -- a big if -- they'll surely move up. Just how high, though, remains to be seen, especially with Michigan State and Oregon (No. 5) unlikely to lose again.

Expect Domer Nation to become Buckeye Nation when Ohio State plays Michigan State on Nov. 8.  And expect it to become Cardinal Nation when Stanford goes up to Eugene to play the Ducks on Saturday.

Otherwise ... expect more howling.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 8

And now this week's installment of the chronically overlooked Blob feature, The NFL In So Many Words:

1. It's Tuesday morning and Ben Roethlisberger just threw another touchdown pass.

2. Aaaand another.

3. Aaaand, what the heck, let's make it one more.

4. Hey, look, everyone, it's Jimmy Garaoppolo!

5. ... watching Tom Brady, clinging to the last frayed remnants of his fading career, engineer a paltry 51 points for the hopelessly obsolete Patriots, who once again failed spectacularly to lose.

6. Speaking of which, the Bears are not in disarray. Reliable sources indicate they are simply making a temporary course correction to avoid an onrushing iceber--

7. This just in: Peyton Manning 1, Scoreboard Operator 0.

8. This just in, Part Deux: Manning 1, Fun 0.

9. Hey, didn't you used to be Blaine Gabbert?

10. Oh, wait, it's Cam Newton. Our bad.  

Cougar in need

I once saw Doug Wasylk hurdle a guy like Edwin Moses.

It was out there among the corn and bean fields at Heritage High School, and Wasylk, the lineal descendent to Brandon Robinson and a brace of other great Heritage backs, had slalomed through the line of scrimmage and was headed in full cry, if memory serves, down the sideline. A DB came over, lowering his head for the impact.

Wasylk cleared him without even breaking stride.

I say this as a demonstration of the young man's talent, which he took with him to the University of Saint Francis, where he stuck his hard nose into the pile for Kevin Donley for four years. And I say it because there are some things in this unjust world that a hard nose and talent simply don't enable you to sail over cleanly.

The worst of those happened to Wasylk not long ago, when his wife, Elise, gave birth to the couple's first child, a boy they named Tucker Dean. Great joy was almost immediately followed by incomprehensible sorrow, however, when Elise died.

So send a few prayers the family's way, if you would. And if you're inclined to do more than that, here's a link to a website that's been set up to help relieve the family's financial burden:

Dig deep.

Your playoff scenario for today, ND version

You never want to commit Sports Land heresy and say a loss is as good as a win. So that's why I'm going to go ahead and say it.

You know that 31-27 loss Florida State and the zebras handed Notre Dame last week?

That really might turn out to be as good as a win.

That's because even in losing, the Irish proved they belong. And not just "We beat a bunch of Purdues and Rices" belong, but belong-belong.

It is, after all, undeniable that what I saw and what the country saw the night of the Florida State game was a team that can compete with the elites. Notre Dame played the defending national champions off their feet, even dominated them for long stretches. In so doing, it demonstrated that this is not 2012, when the Irish looked unbeatable until they ran up against actual athletes.

The Irish have athletes themselves now, especially at the skill positions. And what that tells me is  they have a better-than-even shot at running the table the rest of the way, and if they run the table the rest of the way, they'll be in the four-team playoff. And will deserve to be there.

I've been looking at the polls, see, and the potential for Notre Dame to crack the top four simply by default is significant. Already, Ole Miss' loss to LSU bumped the Irish from 7th to 6th in the AP poll in a week they didn't even play. And of the five teams ahead of them, three of them -- Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State -- play one another. So at least two and possibly all three stand to drop a few rungs before it's all said and done.

Which means an 11-1 Notre Dame team slides right in there.

Of course, the Irish do have to finish 11-1. But only one ranked team (Arizona State at 15) remains on their schedule.  Two more unranked opponents (Louisville and USC) will be dangerous but beatable. So this not only could happen, it's leaning perilously toward should happen.

And all because of one lost-but-not-really-lost night in Tallahassee.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Paper classes, paper deniability

This is not a story about what a man knew and when he knew it. It's about what he chose to know and when he chose to know it -- and, more to the point, what he chose not to know.

North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams claims to be "dumbfounded" by the 136 players out of his program that at one time were taking sham classes in the school's African-American Studies department. He claims to have noticed how many of his players were majoring in African-American Studies, and to have expressed his concern. But he also claims not to have known anything was fishy about it until an academic  counselor for the team, Wayne Walden, became suspicious.

Here's what I think: I think Roy Williams is no different than any other CEO coach in any of the nation's corporate college basketball or football programs.

I think their interest in their athletes' academic situations begins and ends with whether or not they're eligible and whether or not they're making progress toward some sort of "degree." Beyond that, their interest in how the academic sausage gets made is minimal. And that's precisely so they can be seen to be above the fray when an academic scandal breaks out.

As they have since time immemorial.

Let's be crystal about this: Nothing that apparently happened at North Carolina is new or unique to North Carolina. It's an old and time-honored scam that's been going on at collegiate football and basketball mills pretty much forever. Go back 30, 40, 50 years, and you'll find stud athletes being steered into Underwater Basket-Weaving 101 and Theory of the Jumpshot 205 on a regular basis.

Hell, Music Appreciation was pretty much invented as a way to keep 1,000-yard rushers eligible. And 40 years ago, I took an entry-level geology course at Ball State that went by a more common name: Rocks For Jocks.

So it's been going on forever, and so has Coach's deliberate distancing from the process. It's called plausible deniability, and these guys wear it like armor.

Not that not knowing excuses Roy Williams from culpability. The argument will be made, and it's a good one, that he should have known, because it's his program. And that if he didn't know, perhaps the program needs to find someone who's a little more ... connected.

I'm not saying that's going to happen. But given the intensity these days of 24/7/365 media scrutiny, ol' Roy might want to think about gussying up his resume. Because the heat's only begun.

Williams can claim to be as "dumbfounded" as he likes. But in the long run, that's not a defense.

It's an indictment.

A champion's gesture

So, you want to know why high school sports, if not purer than the college or professional strain, at least seem more reflective of the sort of things sports is supposed to teach?

Let me take you out to the state of Washington.

Let me take you to Marysville Pilchuck High School in suburban Seattle, where on Friday a student walked into the cafeteria with a gun and opened fire, killing one and shooting several others in the head before turning the gun on himself.

It says much about where we are as a country (barely civilized) and our obsession with firearms (pathological) that nothing in the aforementioned paragraph evokes much more than weary resignation, because we've read it so many times. What once was horrific barely qualifies as news anymore in the United States of Armament.

What is news is how a rival high school reacted.

Pilchuck, see, was scheduled to play Oak Harbor last night for the Wesco 3A North division football title. The game, of course, was canceled. But Oak Harbor went beyond that.

It decided to accept second place as a gesture of sympathy for its rival school.

Maybe it would, but I can't imagine this happening on many other levels. It goes against every instinct competitive sports hammers into us. And yet it maybe answers a deeper instinct that too often gets lost everywhere but high school sports.

Which is: More than winning, it's respecting your opponent that matters. Because you share a commonality with your opponent that no one else shares.

Or as Nicholas Alonso, a senior cornerback at Pilchuck, reportedly put it on Twitter: "Big shout out to Oak Harbor for taking 2nd Place in Wesco North. You guys are the real League Champions."


Friday, October 24, 2014

UM: Hail to the half-measures

Remember a few weeks back, when I joked about what it took to get students to march on a university president's house these days?

Well, the joke's on me. 'Cause it worked, sort of.

Breaking news from Ann Arbor, where Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon -- whose ouster was the goal of a student march on the president's house a month ago -- has gone into panic/used-car salesman mode: Michigan has decided to slash student football season ticket prices close to 40 percent in an effort to get the students to come back to the football games. 

"A nearly 40 percent reduction in ticket prices is, I think it's fair to say, unprecedented," said Brandon, channeling Ed "Wheels A-Poppin'" McCracken or Harold "Harvest O' Deals" Fernblatt or maybe even Jerry Lundegaard from "Fargo."

The 40 percent reduction takes the cost to a student of seven football games from $280 all the way down to $175. Unfortunately (and here's the joke on Brandon) all that does is show just how out of touch most ADs are at your finer corporate football schools.

A hundred and seventy five clams?

I don't know how much Brandon gets out, but most of the college students I hear about these days don't have 175 cents to rub together, let alone $175.   That's why student debt, and the inability to pay it off, has become such a huge political issue. College costs too much and not enough of those trying to avail themselves of it can afford to do so without massive amounts of assistance.

Yearly undergraduate tuition at the University of Michigan runs anywhere from $13,486 to $15,186 depending on whether you're a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior. And that's in-state tuition. If you're coming to Michigan from out of state, it's costing you anywhere from $41,906 to $44,848 -- and that doesn't include housing costs, book fees, etc., etc.

So now here comes Michigan's AD, offering seven football games for $175 like it's the deal of the century or something.

Well. Here's an idea, Dave Brandon: How about zero dollars for seven football games?

That's the way it used to be back in the days when athletic departments regarded students as students and not as an exploitable revenue stream. And that's the way it should be again. Because if I'm paying as much as $44,848 a year for tuition, the University of Michigan is already getting enough of my money.

So stop with the gouging already. Just stop.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

O solidarity

We all like to give Canada the business down here in the United States of Self-Absorption.  I mean, we once made an entire movie ("Canadian Bacon") that was a goof on our neighbors to the north -- and, really, who can forget the McKenzie Brothers and their back bacon?

(That's not to say Canadians can't give as good as they get, of course.  I still remember the time I made an offhand comment about an Alberta Clipper weather system, and one of the Komets laughed at me  and said, "You Americans, you always blame us for your weather." The bemusement that went with the comment I'd come to see as standard-issue with Canadian hockey players in Fort Wayne; most of them loved the States but thought we were, you know, kind of weird sometimes).

(On the other hand, they gave the world Justin Bieber. So call it a draw in the weirdness department).

At any rate, the jokes and the digs have, historically, almost always been in the vein of big-brother-tormenting-little-but-physically-bigger-brother. That's because, like brothers, we have each other's backs when it gets down to cases, because physical geography and common geopolitics demand as much.

And so it was with no little surprise, but a great deal of class, that the Pittsburgh Penguins decided to open their home game last night with not only the Star-Spangled Banner, but also O Canada. It was their way of acknowledging the 27 Canadians on both the Penguins and Flyers hockey teams  at the end of a scary day up north in which gunmen killed a Canadian soldier and gunfire erupted inside Parliament in Ottawa.

You can watch the video here. And if your throat doesn't get a little narrow, you've got no soul.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hey, look, it's the Colts, everybody

And now an earth-shattering event, coming in at 8.5 on the What-He-Never-Says-That scale:

I was wrong.

("What? He never says that," you're saying).

 I was wrong about the Indianapolis Colts.

I was wrong to think they probably wouldn't be as good as they were a year ago, even if they might have a better record against  a weaker schedule.

I was wrong to think Andrew Luck couldn't get any better, couldn't carry more of the load.

I was wrong to think the defense would actually take a step back, given its losses in the secondary and the fact Robert Mathis would have to sit out the first four games.

Well. That sure worked out.

I say this having watched the Colts' D strangle a better-than-average Bengals offense Sunday, shutting out the Who Deys 27-0. It was the Horsies' fifth straight win, and never mind that a couple of those were against the Jaguars and Titans. No matter. For the first time, I looked at the Colts and  saw ... OK, not a Super Bowl team, exactly, but a team that could wind up there without making your eyes bug out in astonishment.

I'm starting to look around the NFL, see, and it's become fairly obvious that viral parity has broken out. There aren't any Lombardi Packers or Shula Dolphins running around out there, nor are the Chuck Noll Steelers putting in an appearance. Mostly it's a lot of pretty-good and hey-they're-not-bad -- except for the Cowboys, who, by virtue of being the Cowboys, are of course a Total Awe-Inspiring Juggernaut simply because they've gone 5-1 against a lot of other pretty-goods and not-bads.

 Which brings us back to the Colts.

If you want to rank 'em, they're one of the pretty-goods. They lead the league in total offense by almost 50 yards per game. They're eighth in total defense and third in points given up per game. And Luck leads the NFL in both passing yards (2,331) and touchdowns (19).

Shoot. They're even ninth in rushing. And who saw that coming?

Not the Blob, surely -- even if it remains a tad skeptical about how well the Colts would fare against some of the other pretty-goods in the league.

More and more, I'm thinking they'd fare OK. I mean, right now. outside of  Denver, who's clearly better in the AFC? And just how clearly better are the Broncos, given that no one in the NFL really seems that much better than anyone else at the moment?

So all hail the Colts. Until they run up against the Total Awe-Inspiring Juggernaut Cowboys, they're as good as anybody.

And in this season's NFL, that's as good as a team can get.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 7

And now this week's installment of the eagerly disdained Blob feature, The NFL In So Many Words ...

1. Hey, look, Peyton Manning just threw another touchdown pass.

2. And another. And another. And, like, 507 more.

3. The Dallas Cowboys!

4. Are now being mentioned in the same breath as the Lombardi Packers, the Chuck Noll Steelers and the Bill Walsh 49ers!

5. 'Cause, you know, they're the Cowboys!

6. It's Tuesday morning and the Bengals still haven't scored.

7. Meanwhile, Tom Brady, completely finished as an NFL quarterback, once again failed to lose.

8. The Rams?

9. The Rams.

And last but not least:

10. It's all Soldier Field's fault.

Your fearless World Series prediction

Look, I know all about destiny. She had a child once who  turned into a darn fine musical act.

Other than that, four decades as a sportswriter have wrung all the romance out of me, and so now, when I see an alleged "team of destiny," all I see is a team that sooner or later is gonna break somebody's heart. Sometimes, yeah, they win, but it's almost always because they were the better team, anyway. Mostly they're a team of destiny until they run up against a Team That's Better, and then they lose.

All of which is a windy explanation for why I'm picking the Giants in the World Series.

There are a few reasons for this, not all of which are the product of hardheaded analysis.

1. Bruce Bochy is the best playoff manager in baseball. Ned Yost is not.

2. The Giants have better pitching.

3. The Giants, once they get to the World Series, don't tend to lose it.

And last and surely least:

4. It's an even year.

Which means, of course, that the Giants won in 2010 and 2012, so it's their turn again. That's admittedly no more pragmatic than sensing destiny in the Royals, but, hey, I've never claimed that  consistency of thought was a thing with me.

And don't get me wrong: I want to pick the Royals. I want the Royals to win. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if they did, considering they have the home-field advantage, they're the hot team -- 8-0 in the playoffs so far -- and they've already knocked out two teams, and possibly three, that were better on paper.

But I'm going to resist all of that. I'll take the Giants in six.

I can hear destiny laughing at me from here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Today's conspiracy theory

I'm not a grassy knoll kind of guy, generally speaking. When the conspiracy theorists start on how the end of the Florida State-Notre Dame game was a plot by athletic director Jack Swarbrick to launch a new T-shirt line ("Touchdown Jesus Hates Laundry"), I tend to just roll my eyes and chuckle.

That even applies to NASCAR, which is occasionally indicted by Cooter 'n' them as being more contrived than the WWE.  If Jeff Gordon won a particular race, why, that's nothn' but Hulk Hogan vs. the Iron Sheik, only with more horses under the hood.

I don't buy that, either, although the post-race rasslin' last week between Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth was just a folding-chair-across-the-back shy of Monday Night Raw.  There are vaudeville elements to the sport sometimes, and there's simply no denying it.

That doesn't mean those elements are scripted, however. And neither was what happened at Talladega yesterday, tempting as it is to see it that way.

What happened was Keselowski, unmasked as a restaurant-quality punk last week, won the latest Chase elimination race to, well, avoid elimination. And got an assist from Kenseth to do it.

The conspiracy theorist version of that is, well, sure, NASCAR wanted Keselowski to stay alive because Kes is the sport's alpha bad boy right now, and NASCAR loves its bad boys. So it's better for the sport, from a drama standpoint, if it can keep Kes in the mix a little longer.

The fact that Kenseth, his sparring partner from a week ago, had a hand in making it happen only lends credence to the theory.

Well, I'm not going there. No, sir. I'm just gonna say NASCAR sure tends to have lucky stuff fall in its lap a lot, and let it go at that.

Go ahead, Cooter. Roll your eyes at me.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Why college football beats the NFL, Vol. 2,356

Faithful followers of the Blob -- hi, you two -- know by now its position on college football vs. the pro version: College football wins, and it ain't close. And there any number of reasons why.

Here's one: Florida State 31, Notre Dame 27.

Except that it went the other way this time, it was nearly a carbon copy of the Poll Bowl of 1993, when Shawn Wooden intercepted Charlie Ward in the end zone in Notre Dame Stadium to seal a win for the No. 2 Irish over the No. 1 Seminoles. This time it was No. 5 vs. No. 2, but a more fiercely competed and impeccably played game you won't see this year, Sundays (and Mondays ... and Thursdays ...) included.

The only thing that soured it was the final score really should have read Florida State 31, Notre Dame 27, Zebras 1. That a flag barged into the middle of the proceedings down at the end was a crime against drama, and also a good argument for jail time for the perpetrators.

I've watched the replay half a dozen times, and I don't know if it was offensive pass interference. The Notre Dame guy drives the Florida State guy, and maybe he's holding him and maybe he isn't. But the Florida State guy jams him at the line and appears to be holding him, too. In which case, you call it a draw and keep the laundry in your pocket -- especially with the game on the line.

In that instance, and on that huge a stage, you don't interfere in the play of the game unless it's an absolute clear-cut deal. And this was anything but clear-cut.

But the flag came out, the Notre Dame touchdown was called back, and a great ending to a great game was ruined. And the real shame was, it all but obscured everything that shouldn't have been obscured about this one.

Such as:

* Four times, Notre Dame led. Four times, Florida State responded. The analogy's a tired one, but it really was like a heavyweight fight: Punch, counter-punch. 

* Everett Golson threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns in the biggest game so far of 2014. But Jameis Winston was even better. With no running game to speak of -- Florida State rushed for just 45 yards -- and Notre Dame continually coming after him with all-out blitzes, Winston was nearly flawless in the second half, completing 15-of-16 passes and driving the Seminoles to three scores.

Under the circumstances, it was one of the best halves of football a college quarterback has ever had.

* Florida State won, but in an odd way, so did Notre Dame. By playing the defending national champions nearly dead even -- and even dominating much of the time -- it made a compelling case for one of the four playoff spots. If the Irish can play with the 'Noles, they can play with anyone in the top four.

This isn't 2012, when they were simply overmatched once they got in against Alabama. Their athletes are clearly as good as anyone's now.

And college football?

Never better.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fall of the Classic

I don't know when the National Pastime became the National Afterthought. Probably sometime back in the '60s when TV discovered the NFL, and suddenly Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus were filling up our Sunday afternoons.

At roughly the same time, Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver were turning baseball into a word that began and ended with the letter "K." It was an unfortunate confluence of events, and now, 50 years later, American sport is the NFL and everything else -- to such an extent that even the World Series, once the pinnacle event in professional sports in this country, has become an off-Broadway production.

Consider: This is just another week in the NFL. The season isn't half finished. The playoffs don't begin for another two-and-a-half months. Things don't even  really heat up for another five weeks, or right around Thanksgiving.

And yet ... the Giants and the Royals will both wait until Tuesday night to begin the World Series, even though the Royals finished off the Orioles three days ago and the Giants booted the Cardinals two days ago. Although the Series schedule likely has been set for some time, there just as likely could have been a way to move up Game 1 to Sunday. Indeed, there was a day when moving the Series opener to a weekend as opposed to a weeknight date would have simply been sound business practice.

Not anymore.

No matter what logistical or contractual issues there might have been in moving Game 1 off Tuesday, baseball wouldn't have considered it anyway. And that's because it's now sound business practice to, as much as possible, avoid going head-to-head with an NFL Sunday -- even an ordinary NFL Sunday.

The reason is baseball's suits can read numbers as well as anyone, and they know what the numbers tell them: Every time baseball, even the Fall Classic, goes head-to-head with the NFL, it gets killed in the Nielsens. It's not even close.

And that, boys and girls, is astounding. Even in the Age of Football Uber Alles.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The short of it? It's just too long

And I thought I was the only one.

I thought I was the only one who thought an NBA season that outlasted the Peloponnesian Wars was, well, overdoing it. I thought I was the only one who thought going from late October to mid-June -- going more than two months past the end of college basketball -- was plain loony. I thought I was the only one who thought that, if you had a newborn at the beginning of the season who was enrolling at Harvard by the end of it, your season was probably a tad long.

Well, I'm not the only one. Turns out Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James think 82 games is excessive, too.

Both of them spoke out on that this week -- Nowitzki lobbied for an NBA season in the mid-60-game range, an amazingly sound suggestion -- and hear, hear. It's heartening to learn that people who are actually invested in the NBA product understand that the quality of the product is being hurt by the sheer eon-like sprawl of the 82-game season.

More is not always more, we all know that, but the NBA continues to cling to the fiction that it is. An 82-game regular season that begins in late October and doesn't end until April-- and then continues with nearly two months of playoffs, in itself an absurdity -- overtaxes the American sports fan's famously abridged attention span. The NFL gets away with it because, well, it's the NFL, and it only plays three days a week. But the NBA?

Whole other deal. There are six months of games played virtually every night of the week, all to eliminate fewer than half the teams. This is completely ridiculous to anyone who doesn't live in the NBA bubble, or (like ESPN and other sports broadcast entities) draws sustenance from it. Which is why it was so breathtaking to hear Dirk and LeBron -- two dedicated bubble-dwellers -- point out what's so obvious to the rest of us.

Here's the thing: An 82-game season actually hurts the NBA in the long term, because the very number of games dilutes the importance of any single game. I can't think of a single NBA game before the end of the year that I would tune into because, you know, it might have an impact on something. Every one of those games might as well be an exhibition, because they have no bearing on anything when the scramble for playoff spots doesn't  begin for at least three months.

Now let's think about Dirk's suggestion. A 65-game season -- if it were me, I'd cut it to 60 -- lops 17 games off a schedule that could do just as well without them. Games in October and November would still be meaningless or the next thing to it, but there might actually be a few games in late December that might be impactful.

And how much better for the NBA would that be? Its traditional package of Christmas Day games might actually have some relevance, instead of simply serving as a way to while away a few empty hours on the holiday.

No NBA owner is going to see it that way, of course. All they're going to see is the lost revenue from 20-25 fewer games.

More shortsightedness, frankly. And therein lies the irony.

In a league whose season stretches through all four seasons of the year, wouldn't you think someone would take the long view?


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Royals, flush

Of course there are things that are more preposterous. I can think of five without even having to really, you know, think:

1. Nixon and Gandhi starring in a "Lethal Weapon" remake.

2. Fox News declining to blame something on Obama.

3. Bill Belichick killing it at The Comedy Store.

4. "The Kardashians" joining the new fall lineup for Masterpiece Theater.

5. A congressperson saying, "No, sorry, that would be a conflict of interest."

On second thought, maybe only Nos. 2 and 5 would be more preposterous than the Kansas City Royals, who have suddenly turned into the 2004 Red Sox. In case you've been out of the solar system, or been too caught up in which NFL zebra is going to call back Percy Harvin's next touchdown, the Royals are the World Series.

(Yes, you heard that right. The Royals ... are in ... the World Series).

They swept the Orioles in the ALCS last night, which means they're now 8-0 in the playoffs so far.

(Yes, you heard that right, too. The Royals ... are 8-0 ... in the playoffs).

This is wonderfully outlandish stuff, especially when you consider that 95 percent of the country couldn't name a current Royal on a bet. Of course, 95 percent of the country probably thinks George Brett is still playing for them. That's how long it's been since the Royals were within a light year of the national radar.

From 1985 until a month ago, after all, the Royals had played exactly zero playoff games. Just two summers ago, they finished 18 games under .500 and16 games out of first place in the AL Central. Two years before that, they were dead last in the division, finishing 28 games under .500 and 27 out of first.

Their run of mediocrity or worse is, to say the least, impressive. Between 2001 and 2012, they lost 90 or more games 10 times and 100 or more four times. And in the last 24 years, they've finished below the waterline 20 times.

And yet: The Royals are in the World Series. And 8-0 in the playoffs so far.

They're doing it with guys named  Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar and Omar Infante, and also Lorenzo Cain, the ALCS MVP. James Shields is their ace on the bump. Greg Holland, who saved all four victories in the ALCS, is their closer. Jason Vargas,  Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis make up the rest of a bullpen that once again silenced the O's bats yesterday.

Most of us wouldn't know Wade Davis from Jefferson Davis. But it doesn't matter. The Royals are going to the World Series.

The Royals ... are going ... to the World Series.

Repeat as often as necessary to make it real. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lousy journalism 101

Some days my chosen profession makes me want to change my name to something no one can pronounce unless they live in Helsinki. Better to live a lie, after all, than with the shame of being even peripherally associated with ...

Oh, I don't know. How about the two-watt bulbs on Good Morning America?

As with most non-motorsports types they only know one name these days -- Tony Stewart -- and so when the video came down from the post-race shenanigans at Charlotte last weekend, it was Stewart and Stewart alone on whom they focused. In so doing, they did in fact what the teevees are so often accused of doing in fiction: They skewed the story completely and inexcusably out of round.

By choosing to focus on Stewart backing into Brad Keselowski ("See? There's that dangerously unbalanced Stewart temper again!" might as well have been the subtext), they totally misreported what actually happened. Lost in their presentation, and its borderline libelous implications, was that Stewart wasn't at the center of all the mayhem. He was in fact an innocent bystander.

The rea l issue was between Keselowski and Denny Hamlin and Keselowski and Matt Kenseth. Keselowski wronged both, ramming Kenseth after the race was over and Kenseth had shut his car down. They ended up banging into Stewart, who just sitting there minding his own business.

So Stewart did what anyone would do: He backed into Keselowski to show his displeasure.

After which Hamlin had to be restrained from going after Keselowski, and Kenseth all but tackled Keselowski between a couple of haulers.

If you were watching GMA, however, you didn't hear much about any of that. It was all about the guy who was least involved, if in fact he was actually involved at all.

Stewart's been vocal in the past about the way the media goes about its business, and how little regard he has for it. This time that lack of regard is well warranted.

Here's hoping it's also handsomely rewarded -- with someone from ABC signing the check.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

More horrifying crimes, or not

Let's admit it: 950 autographs is a lot.

That's how many Jameis Winston autographed items are logged onto the website of James Spence Authentication -- the same outfit for which Georgia running back Todd Gurley signed stuff, and for which he has been punished as if he'd knocked over an armored car. Florida State is now launching an investigation to determine whether Winston actually knowingly signed these items for money, or signed them with the promise of payment later on, or if he even signed them at all.

He says he didn't.

I say, as with Gurley, that I don't really care if he did or not, because I don't regard this as the crime of the century as much as a young man taking advantage of a business opportunity. The only scandal here is if, by signing his name 950 times, he wore out his passing arm.

In which case, this becomes national news: The first known instance of a Heisman Trophy winner succumbing to writer's cramp.

It is however, a curious window into the mentality of college football and those who run it.

Consider: It's taken almost two years for Winston to be hauled into a university code of conduct hearing because of rape allegations that go back to December 2012. This after the shoplifting incident and the reckless destruction of property he was party to via the football team's  now documented  BB gun wars.

None of that drew much of anything but a shrug from Florida State officials.

But allegedly selling his own signature and not cutting the school in on the deal?

 Well, that's another matter entirely.

That's a money issue, see, and as we should all know by now, college football is above all else an engine of commerce built on cheap labor and barely ethical sweetheart deals. And so the school moved with oily speed when it came to light that one of their laborers might be making a little coin on the side.

Priorities, as they say.

And an action that speaks very loudly indeed. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

A few brief thoughts from NFL Week 6

And now this week's installment of the nearly played-out Blob feature, The NFL In So Many Words ...

1. It's Tuesday morning and Ted Nugent just shanked another field goal.

2. Oops, make that "Mike Nugent."

3. Although Ted Nugent probably could have made the thing.

4. Meanwhile, Tom Brady and the Patriots beat the Bills, despite being dead and all.

5. Hey, look, the Cowboys are 5-1!

6. Which means they're the most awesome team in the history of football!

7. Because, well, they're the Cowboys. And they're 5-1. And, you know, they're the Cowboys.

8. You know who's not better than RG III after all? Kirk Cousins.

9. You know who might be better than RG III? Blake Bortles.

And last but not least:

10. Hey, didn't you used to be the Pittsburgh Steelers?,  

Meanwhile, in NASCAR ...

To begin with: Yes, they're still racing.

You'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise, because NASCAR tends to vanish from the national radar just about the time the NFL revs up, never to be seen or heard from again until it's February and time to go to Daytona. But out of sight and mind or not, they're in the middle of their playoffs right now, and it's all going swimmingly.

To update: Four drivers have already been eliminated under the new Chase system, which operates more like a true playoff system and seems to finally be the solution NASCAR has been looking for since it introduced the Chase a decade ago.

I say this because four more drivers will be eliminated next week, and that led to some raw emotion Saturday night in Charlotte. Kevin Harvick, the Blob's pick to win the whole deal, won easily, but the real story was back behind him. Matt Kenseth all but tackled Brad Keselowski between a couple of haulers after Keselowski rammed him in the pits after the race was over and Kenseth had shut down his ride and unhooked himself.

While that was going on, Denny Hamlin had to be restrained from going after Keselowski, too.

Nothing came of either incident, of course -- NASCAR brawls tend to mimic baseball brawls, in that no one ever seems to land a serious blow --  but it was lost on no one that Keselowski and Kenseth are both fighting desperately to avoid elimination. And so the general impression is this is the kind of tension NASCAR hoped to create with its new format.

And that raises an interesting dilemma for NASCAR czars Brian France and Mike Helton.

Which is: How to harken back to the wild-and-woolly days that made NASCAR so hugely successful, while at the same time being confronted this summer with the awful cost all that wild-and-woolliness can extract?

Flaring tempers, after all, got a driver killed in upstate New York, and while it didn't happen in a NASCAR race, NASCAR was compelled to address it because one of its biggest commodities, Tony Stewart, is the guy who was responsible for killing Kevin Ward Jr. Afterward  there was a lot of hand-wringing among the suits about things getting out of hand on the racetracks of America, which prompted NASCAR to decree that no driver could leave his car until safety personnel showed up.

Of course, then came Saturday night, when flaring tempers briefly put NASCAR on the radar again. And so the takeaway was that, while NASCAR has said all the right things about cutting down on track mayhem, track mayhem is good for business.

It's a hell of a petard on which to be hoisted, but there's no real avoiding it. That was as clearly evident Saturday night as the fact that Keselowski is, at bottom, a restaurant-quality punk.

And, of course, a star in the NASCAR firmament because of it.  


Sunday, October 12, 2014

A sort of bold sort of prediction. Sort of.

I can see the future, a day after Notre Dame 50, North Carolina 43. And it looks a lot like 2002.

It looks a lot like an undefeated Notre Dame team going down to Tallahassee (in the very midst of Ty Willie Mania) to play a Florida State team that was ranked in the Top Ten. Finally, conventional wisdom went, the Irish were going to get theirs. And that was going to happen because, even though they were 7-0 under first-year coach Tyrone Willingham (i.e., Ty Willie), they really weren't all that good.

Lot of smoke and mirrors and tricks of the light in that 7-0 record. That was the CW on the Golden Domes.

Of course, then Notre Dame hauled off and beat the Seminoles. And Bobby Bowden spoke for most of the country when he said in the postgame he was flat-out "bumfuzzled" by the whole deal.

I think there could be more bumfuzzling ahead next week in Tallahassee.

I think this Notre Dame team is again undefeated and ranked in the top five, and yet it doesn't look, feel or smell like an undefeated, top five team. Not after giving up 43 points to a North Carolina
team that had given up 70 to East Carolina, and gave up 50 to the Irish in that 50-43 loss.

That's 93 total points if you're a math major, plus 1,129 combined total yards and so many touchdowns -- 13 -- that Touchdown Jesus could barely lift his arms by the end of it.
And all that was impressive until you realized it wasn't really.

The 50 points Notre Dame scored, after all, was about what North Carolina had given up on average in the last month. And the Irish defense, so solid so far, got turned into road cheese by a quarterback, Marquise Williams, who'd up until Saturday had been sharing snaps.

All Williams did to the formerly vaunted Irish "D" was run for 132 yards and a touchdown against it, and pass for 303 yards and two more touchdowns against it. He even caught a touchdown pass.

His counterpart, Everett Golson, accounted for 71 yards rushing and 300 yards and three scores himself. That was a Heisman candidate performance if you took away his two lost fumbles and the pick six, which momentarily made him look less like a candidate for John Heisman's trophy than for a trophy named after, say, Myron Heisman.

The obvious takeaway is that both Golson and the Irish got exposed even in victory. And that if Marquise Williams can go up and down the field on them like Jeff Gordon, what's Jameis Winston gonna do?

I'll tell you: Lose.

There's no way it should happen, of course, but if this isn't a setup straight out of the Notre Dame Lore Handbook, I don't know what is. They're coming off a win that raised even more eyebrows than were already raised, which means they'll be in nobody-believes-in-us mode, a role the Irish have traditionally craved. And they're in against a No. 1-ranked Seminoles team that for a variety of reasons looks ripe to fall.

First and foremost, there's the whole ongoing flap about Winston's off-the-field string of bad acts, which has now grown to such disquieting lengths the university seems finally compelled to address it.  Stung by the growing perception that it's coddling a miscreant for the greater glory of No. 1, this week Florida State will finally hold a disciplinary hearing on What To Do About Jameis -- and even if the school doesn't sit him down, that can't help but help Notre Dame.

If Florida State finally sits Winston down, the entire landscape of next Saturday obviously changes in Notre Dame's favor. And even if Winston is deemed fit to play, there's no way the entire ordeal can't be a massive distraction for a team that's occasionally looked less than dominant as it is.

In any case, it's no way to be going in against a top five team that thinks it has something to prove, and knows it will have no bigger stage on which to do it.

And so ... welcome to 2002 Redux. Maybe.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A shrug of a violation

Good heavens. For a second there, I thought Georgia running back Todd Gurley had done something really bad.

The headline, after all, is a screamer -- a Heisman Trophy candidate, and maybe the Heisman candidate, suspended indefinitely for violating NCAA rules -- but then I see what it is he's being suspended for, and it's not exactly armed robbery. Unless, that is, you're the NCAA, where the mindset is that marketing its student-athletes is solely the right of the NCAA.

Going into business for yourself is Not Allowed. And so Georgia suspends Gurley because he allegedly autographed, for money, more than 400 items, including jerseys, mini-helmets and photos.

I wish I could say this changed my opinion of Gurley for the worse. Alas, it does not.

It does not, because in the world outside the NCAA's increasingly alien bubble, what Gurley did  simply makes him an entrepreneur, and entrepreneurs have long held a hallowed place in American society. Hell, there's nothing more American, if you think about it; a good many of our national icons, after all, did exactly what Gurley did: Recognize a market for something and satisfy it.

Sure, inside the NCAA bubble, that's a no-no unless the NCAA gets a cut (or, actually, the entire loaf). And, sure, Gurley undoubtedly knew that. So if the autographs are genuine, he knowingly violated the rules, and therefore bought himself this suspension.

No one's going to argue that. No one, at least here on the Blob, is going to say Georgia (and the  NCAA) wasn't within the rights it's accorded itself to punish the kid for making money off his image, because only Georgia and the NCAA are allowed to do that.

But don't expect me to think badly of the kid because of it.

You get down to the bare wood of it, all he did was cash in on his fame, which in football can be exceedingly fleeting. That doesn't exactly make my blood run cold. All it tells me is Todd Gurley has a pretty good head for business.

And so ... go with God, young man. No matter what your school and the NCAA thinks of you, you're gonna go far.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hornish clings to mistake

It's one of the four or five best moments I ever personally witnessed in 38 years doing the sportswriter thing: Sam Hornish Jr. coming from nowhere to clip Marco Andretti at the line to win the 2006 Indianapolis 500.

It might be the best finish in the almost 100-year history of the world's most venerated auto race, and even now, when you watch the replay, you can't quite believe what you're seeing. That Hornish made up that much ground in the north chute and main straightaway on the 200th lap looks like a trick of the light, some sort of cinematic magic that doesn't quite square with reality.

And yet, it happened. I saw it happen. And it leads me to thinking about another seeming trick of the light, which is Hornish's utter disappearance from the racing scene after winning three IndyCar titles and, yes, that iconic Indy 500.

As with a lot of drivers riding a crest, Hornish decided to give NASCAR a try, because NASCAR was then and remains, in somewhat diminished capacity, the Everest of American motorsports.  So you couldn't blame Hornish for grasping at that ring, even if some observers (me, for instance) thought he was making a mistake.

Half a decade and more later, I still think that. More than ever.

This in the wake of the news that Hornish, who vanished into the wilds of the Nationwide Series after Roger Penske demoted him at the end of the 2010 season, has finally hooked another Sprint Cup ride. Only this time, it's not with Penske, whose drivers -- Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano -- are in the thick of the Chase. It's with Richard Petty Motorsports, a decided rung or two lower in the Sprint Cup hierarchy.

Hornish will be driving the No. 9 Ford for RPM in 2015, and it's not exactly a front-row gig. He has no primary sponsor as yet, and there's no fallback; RPM has no plans so far o run him in the Nationwide Series. This might or might not have something to do with the fact that RPM's two primary sponsors, DeWalt and Stanley, are bailing at the end of this season.

 Still, there is this: Hornish came within three points of the Nationwide title last year.

Yet not even that got him any phone calls offering a Sprint Cup ride, at least until RPM gave him a ring. His struggles in NASCAR's top series, well documented, apparently preceded him.

"I haven't achieved yet what I came over here originally for," Hornish told when the deal was announced.

And the prospects that he ever will?

I wish I could say they were looking up for someone who, in addition to being a huge talent in an Indy car, is a genuinely good guy.  But I can't.  

Out on a very thick limb

There have been bigger surprises than the news that the IPFW men are the preseason pick to win the Summit League basketball title this winter. The sun popping up in the east this morning probably qualifies as one of them.

That's because this is one of those not-so-obvious predictions that becomes more obvious the longer you examine it. On the surface, sure, it's iffy: Leading scorer gone, point guard gone, new coach, higher expectations. But dig a little deeper, and you quickly discover how little all that means.

First off, the "new coach" is Jon Coffman, Tony Jasick's right-hand man and someone who, after 16 years of tutelage under a fistful of successful coaches, may be as qualified as anyone in the country for a first-time Division I gig. That he's not coming in cold from Whatsamatta U. only enhances his standing; the players all know him and respect him and know his system, which isn't terribly different from Jasick's: Push the tempo, find the open man, defend like crazy.

And speaking of the players ...

Yes, leading scorer Luis Jacobo is gone, but that's not nearly as big a blow as it might appear for a team that had eight different players lead it in scoring last year. The IPFW system -- Jasick's and also Coffman's -- put a premium on distributing the basketball, getting open looks and then hitting the shot. That isn't going to change now.

Point guard Pierre Bland's departure is more problematic, but Coffman envisions using last year's dazzling freshman, Mo Evans, in that role, because Evans was recruited as a point guard and played the position in high school. So he'll be a combo point/2 guard, with newcomer James Calder also playing some point.

Elsewhere, all the major characters are back, only better: Steve Forbes, the inside presence who made the Mastodons' inside-out game work so well last season, is back, and so is Joe Reed, who'll likely slide into the power forward slot to give the Dons a hefty1-2 punch on the blocks. Streak shooter Joe Edwards is back, and so is the athletic Isaiah McCray.

All of those players led IPFW in scoring in at least one game last season. And together they make up a sturdy core for a team that won 25 games last year and came within three points of reaching the NCAA Tournament.

Is there enough there this time around to make up those three points?

March is a long way off. But the consensus here says yes.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

An inevitable marriage

Michael Franke saw this coming at least two years ago, which does not so much make him prescient as it makes him an alert reader of landscapes. One night in the Memorial Coliseum pressbox, if memory serves, he said eventually there would be one Triple A hockey league, one Double A hockey league and one Single A hockey league, if for no other reason than the economy and the market would bear no more.

Consider it done now, with the announcement that seven teams from the collapsing Central Hockey League would be joining the ECHL, just as the Komets did two years ago.

In retrospect that was probably the beginning of the road to this day, because the CHL was losing not only its defending champion but one of the most venerable and successful franchises in minor league hockey. In truth, though, this really began to happen with the collapse of the old IHL back at the turn of this millennium, because that started the reshuffling of dominos that culminated in what happened today.

That reshuffling was as inevitable as it was inexorable, from a business sense and in every other way. A minor-league system that has never had the order baseball's does now at least has an approximation; there are now virtually an equal number of teams in the NHL (30 teams), AHL (30)and ECHL (28). That will facilitate an eventual one-to-one pairing of NHL teams to affiliates, same as in baseball.

Or so that's what everyone seems to think will eventually happen.

“In the ECHL now, we’ve got 28 teams in 20 states and one Canadian province and a partridge in a pear tree,” Komets forward Mike Embach said. “This will make more sense, and it will be 30 NHL teams, 30 (AHL teams) and 30 (ECHL teams) eventually. One affiliate per team in each league, eventually, and in a close proximity, and I think they’ll try and do that in the next few years.”

It can't come too soon.

An inconvenient ... contrast

It doesn't take a lot to get a Michigan fan all up in your grill these days. Four words will do it, followed by four more that serve as a summation for the first four.

The first four: RichRod. Arizona, 5-0, 10th.

Followed by: Should have kept him.

And then stand back.

Stand back, because Michigan fans do not want to hear any of your noise about the (still) hated Rich Rodriguez, because they still maintain running him out of Ann Arbor after just three years was the right thing to do. They have a myriad of reasons for this, but essentially they boil down to four main points:

1. He was  sleazy.

2. He wasn't a Michigan Man, i.e., he didn't genuflect deeply enough to the eternal verities, like the fact that the Michigan-Ohio State game is the most important football game in human history.

3. He wasn't doing it the Michigan Way, i.e., robust power running game complemented by a traditional pro-style passing attack.

4.  He was sleazy.

Never mind the fact that, while Michigan was indeed awful his first year (3-9), the program was at least moving in the right direction, getting to 7-6 and a Gator Bowl berth in Rodriguez' third year.
But by then, Michigan had run out of its limited store of patience -- whereupon Rodriguez took his spread offense to Arizona, where he's gone 21-10 so far and the Wildcats are 5-0 and ranked 10th so far this year.

Oh, yeah: They're also averaging 39.8 points and 574 yards per game, led by quarterback Anu Solomon, who's thrown for 1,741 yards and 14 touchdowns in five games.

Michigan, meanwhile, lost three games before October for the first time in the 135-year history of the program. They're 2-4 and 0-2 in the Big Ten. Their only wins have come against an FCS school (Appalachian State) and a MAC school (Miami) -- and the program, under Rodriguez' successor, Brady Hoke, has regressed every year: From 11-2 and the Sugar Bowl his first year to 8-5 to 7-6 to 2-4.

But at least, under Hoke, they're doing it the Michigan Way.

And Rodriguez?

When last heard from, he was wondering aloud, though not unkindly, what was going on up there in Ann Arbor.

In that, he and Wolverine Nation have finally found common ground.


Not-so-prime time

Every once in awhile I dream that the world is different than it actually is. Call it a character flaw.

I dream of a world, specifically, where the television tail does not wag the college football dog. Where Chris Schenkel's fabled Saturday Afternoons In The Fall are actually Saturday afternoons in the fall. Where games in the Midwest don't start at 8 p.m. and run perilously close to midnight.

I know. I'm old. I'm out of touch. I am the metaphoric bony fist shaking itself at uncaring reality.

But you know what?

Apparently I'm not alone.

In East Lansing on Saturday, Michigan State played Nebraska in a great big important football game, or at least as great big as the diminished Big Ten provides these days. Kickoff was at 8 p.m. on a cold, wet night with temperatures hovering in the 40s.

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, it was close to 11 p.m. and Michigan State led 27-3. And so the students, quite understandably, bailed, it being hit-the-bars-and-celebrate time. And that didn't sit well with Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis and football coach Mark Dantonio.

Here's what I have to say about that: It's your own fault, gentlemen.

You want college kids to stick around for the fourth quarter, play your games at a decent hour. Don't expect the students to hang around -- especially in a game you're winning big -- if you're not kicking off until 8 p.m. and you're still playing at 11. That's simply not realistic.

Of course, neither is dictating to the teevees, instead of the other way around. It's a pleasant fantasy to imagine Hollis, or any other AD, saying, "You know what? We're playing our football game at 1 p.m. Saturday. If you want to televise it, that's when you need to show up."

I guarantee you if Notre Dame or Alabama or, yes, Michigan State said that, the teevees would show up. They might not make as much coin off a 1 p.m. start as off a prime-time start, but money's still money.

Unfortunately, those days are done. TV dictates to the schools now, not the other way around. And the schools, who like to make money, too, go along with it.

In which case, you have to take the bad with the good. And the bad is that, on a soaking 40-degree night, the students aren't gonna stick around if you're cutting into their drinking time.

That's the deal, and it's one the schools have willingly made themselves. So they need to quit bitching about it.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 5

And now this week's installment of the faintly acclaimed Blob feature, The NFL In So Many Words:

1. Tom Brady is finished!

2. ... beating up on the Bengals!

3. The Patriots will never win another game!

4.  ... after beating up on the Bengals!

5.  It's Tuesday morning and Peyton Manning is still throwing touchdown passes.

6. It's Tuesday morning and Drew Brees is still throwing pick sixes.

7. Meanwhile, in Washington, the zebras are still holding their own against the Seahawks, while the Washington Racial Slurs look on.

8. Final score: Zebras 3, Percy Harvin 0.

9. Final, final score: Russell Wilson 1, Zebras 0, Seahawks 27.

10. ... and the Racial Slurs 17.

Monday, October 6, 2014


Once upon a time there was a football team in Oxford, Miss., coached by a man named Johnny Vaught and quarterbacked by another man named Glynn Griffing, and together they went undefeated and claimed a piece of the national title.

That was in 1962.

Now it's 2014 and October and the state of Mississippi is at the epicenter of college football again, and while we can pinpoint the last time that happened specific to Ole Miss, you'll search forever trying to find the last time it also involved Mississippi State.

Yes, that's right. If the new playoff system began today (aka, the "OK, OK, Here's Your Damn" Playoff), half the four-team field would be from one state. And not even a state you really think about, football-wise, outside of Johnny Vaught and Glynn Griffing and Archie Manning, and maybe Eli Manning, too.

Ole Miss is fourth in the power rankings and Mississippi State third after the former upset No. 1 Alabama in Oxford Saturday, and the latter performed a beatdown on Texas A&M. It was the kind of Saturday that still makes college football infinitely superior to the pro version, because no one tore down any goalposts and paraded them through the streets of Foxborough, Mass., after the Patriots whipped the Bengals last night.

Ole Miss students did that in Oxford, and it was the absolute essence of the college football experience.  It's a Saturday night in October, the Rebels have just beaten the (bleeping) Crimson Tide behind a quarterback with the quintessential southern quarterback name of Bo Wallace, and no one  in an official capacity even minds that students have vandalized school property and are carting it through the Grove.

The athletic director, in fact, even tweeted to make sure the kids saved him and head coach Hugh Freeze a piece of the thing.

That's college football, people. No matter how often greedy people try to wreck it, it shines on.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Deja almost-vu in South Bend

The song commands that you wake up the echoes, and so, in that most resonant of places, they begin to stir a bit again.

Which is to say: It's starting to look, feel and smell a little like 2012 up there in the Land O' Rockne.

2012 was the year Notre Dame had Everett Golson at quarterback and a defense that allowed only intermittent slivers of daylight, and yet it seemed to impress fewer people with every victory. As the Irish climbed toward 12-0, every week was the week when America would find out just how good (or not good) the Irish really were.

And then that week would come around, Notre Dame would win again, and the next week would become the true test of its worth.

And now?

Now Everett Golson is at quarterback again. And the defense isn't letting anyone drink a drop again. And, at 5-0, the Irish are still perpetually a week away from proving how good (or not good) they really are.

That was the theme music Saturday against No. 14 Stanford, and as in 2012, the Irish danced gracefully to it. In a come-from-behind 17-14 victory, Golson threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner to Ben Koyack with a minute to play. The defense, meanwhile, planted the Stanford run game -- the Cardinal scratched out just 47 yards on 32 attempts -- and limited the Cardinal to just 14 first downs and 205 total yards.

And now, with Texas A&M and Alabama both going down Saturday, the Irish are climbing through the top ten again. They're undefeated again. And they still may or may not actually be any good.

The echoes of  2012 may not yet be fully awake. But they're coming closer to wakefulness every week.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Thinking downtown

Forty large for a feasibility study.

Obviously, the price of coffee, donuts, legal pads and (if the study group goes late enough) a couple of  sixers has gone up a tad over the years.

This is what I'm thinking as the idea for a downtown arena gets floated again, because, well, it's just something that has to happen in the Fort every couple decades or so. And so I get why the city wants to spend $40,000 for yet another feasibility study.

Their reason sits right across the street from the Grand Wayne Center.

Parkview Field is living proof that if you build it downtown, people will come, no matter how loudly  the naysayers say nay. No one was gonna come downtown to watch baseball, remember? And yet they did and continue to do so in the kind of numbers that now makes a feasibility study on a downtown arena feasible, even if -- as with Parkview Field -- a lot of us are wondering just how they'd fill it.

But six years down the road, the 'View is drawing not just baseball fans but concerts and Fort4Fitness and actual people past the traditional downtown witching hour of 6 p.m. And downtown has been, if not transformed, at least set on the path toward transformation.

And so, sure. Why not look into a 5,000-seat downtown arena?

You can be skeptical, and should be, because it's hard to fathom right now how you'd fill the place. Given the volume of entertainment traffic that runs through the Coliseum, Foellinger Theater and (right down the street from the 'View)  the Embassy, is there really a crying need for another venue? What acts are you going to attract that aren't already filling half a dozen other venues?

And as for sports ... well, maybe you could steal away some of the basketball tournaments Spiece is hosting right now, or entice IPFW, Tech or Saint Francis to play an occasional game downtown. But those are intermittent gigs at best; IPFW isn't likely to move back off campus after putting all that coin into its own athletic facilities, and it's highly unlikely the NBA's going to sign off on the Mad Ants moving from a 10,000-seat facility to one half that size, even if the Ants never come close to filling the Coliseum.

The most likely benefit of another arena downtown, at least that I see at the moment, is the possibility  the IHSAA might actually let Fort Wayne host a basketball sectional, regional or semistate again. That would eliminate the absurdity of farming everyone out to the sticks even for sectionals, and it might actually give the tournament a decent stage again for the first time since the death of Hoosier Hysteria 17 years ago.

Other than that ... I can't see another 5,000-seat venue as anything but an extravagance. But a lot of us couldn't see the 'View as anything but that either -- and no one but get-off-my-lawn cranks pining for the days of Harold Zeis thinks that now.

So study away. What's the harm?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Just win, baby

So it's the morning after and my baseball team is still dead, interred brutally and without much ceremony by Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants by the unattractive score of 8-0.

Pitching is everything in the playoffs, particularly in a one-game playoff. And so, as a Pirates fan, the only appropriate response today is to shrug and say "What are you gonna do?" -- because when it's one-and-done and the guy on the bump facing you has his good stuff, "done" is pretty much the only future you have.

And you want to know something?

I don't have a problem with that.

I don't have a problem with the one-and-done format, even if it did my Pirates wrong. That's because I tend to see it not as a playoff game, but a play-in game -- same as the play-in games in the NCAA Tournament, which the NCAA insists on calling the first round despite the fact it's not.

I don't like that the Pirates are out 72 hours after they got in, but if you see it as a play-in game, then they were never really in to start with. And it's their own fault. Had they not played like goofs for the first two-and-a-half months of the season, they'd have won the division the way they should have and wouldn't have had to beat Madison Bumgarner with his stuff working just to stay alive.

So, that's that. And now?

Now it's on to the playoffs. For real. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The unrest in Ann Arbor

So this is what it takes to get college kids to march on the president's house these days.

(OK, that was a cheap shot. An old-guy-standing-on-his-lawn-shaking-his-fist cheap shot. A back-in-our-day cheap shot. The Blob hereby apologizes. It did not get that right).

Which is, to reach the point in a maddeningly circuitous way, the theme song of all screwups these days. Roger Goodell screws up the Ray Rice thing, then vows to "get this right." The University of Michigan lets a quarterback stay in the game who can barely stand, and the school president, Mark Schlissel, acknowledges that "we did not get this right."

This in the wake of a 2,000-signature petition calling for athletic director Dave Brandon's ouster, and a protest march to the president's doorstep reiterating the same. Curiously, head football coach Brady Hoke apparently was not part of the outrage; maybe the perception is that Hoke is so far out the door already that calls for his head as well as Brandon's seemed unnecessary.

In any case, these are troubled times in the former kingdom of Bo -- who, ironically, is no doubt rolling his eyes up there next to Woody at the idea that there could be all this fuss because a kid took a little knock to the head.

But clearly Shane Morris took that clearly illegal shot to the head because he'd already been injured so badly on a previous play he could no longer protect himself. And Hoke's explanation that he wasn't aware of that exposed him as either incompetent or a liar, because if he didn't notice how badly his quarterback was hobbling, he's the only one among the 100,000-plus in the Big House who didn't.

Hoke was likely done anyway, given the embarrassing prime-time thrashing by Notre Dame and then two laminations at home at the hands of Utah and Minnesota. But the intentional or befuddled sacrifice of Morris surely was the last of many straws.

As for Brandon ... his missteps have been legion, starting with the way he's aggressively jacked up ticket prices to the point where the Big House now is sold out in name only. The students in particular are fed up with the gouging, and when you lose the students in college athletics, you might as well start calling the movers.

And so the silence that emanated from the administration after Morris' injury was, as with Hoke, perhaps mere window dressing. That Brandon employed the craven tactic of waiting until 1 o'clock in the morning to issue an official statement just made it all worse -- if only because it indicated that he was so out of touch he apparently didn't realize that the old 1-a.m.-press-release dodge is no dodge at all anymore in the era of 24/7/365 media.

So Brandon and Schlissel and the rest have some 'splainin' to do.  Expect the purge to begin shortly.