Sunday, November 30, 2014

A stompin' good time

So I'm scanning the web this morning and up pops a story about Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino getting into a scuffle with a Kentucky assistant before their annual rivalry game -- an incident apparently kicked off when a Kentucky player stomped on Louisville's logo at midfield.

Which opens the door to one of my favorite parlor games, When Did This Start. Also another of my favorite parlor games, Great Logo Stomps I Have Known.

The answer to the first parlor game: I have no idea.

It's probably as old as A) rivalry games, and B) painted logos on football fields, because, let's face it, a rivalry game's not a rivalry game unless one rival can do something to seriously honk off the other rival. Sometimes it's just a sign -- the best of which, ever, was hoisted one year at  Michigan Stadium prior to the Notre Dame game. It read "Rudy Was Offsides."

But stomping on the logo apparently will do it, too. Although "why" would be an interesting psychological case study of idiot fan behavior.

What I do know is it didn't start with Terrell Owens stomping on the star in Dallas a few years back, an incident that, as with all incidents involving T.O., got blown out of all proportion. I know this because I can remember, years before that, the night in Assembly Hall when a feisty Purdue guard named Todd Foster stomped on the state-of-Indiana logo at center court.

(An act that provoked howls of outrage from Hoosier Nation that have been matched only by the mere appearance, pretty much anytime, of Brian Cardinal).

Anyway ... the stomping-the-logo meme isn't a new one, nor even unusual. I happened to attend the Old Oaken Bucket game Saturday (a rather singular distinction, judging from how few others joined me) and I noticed that when Purdue Pete led the Boilermakers onto the field, he kinda-sorta stomped on the IU logo at midfield. Oddly, it met with a  kinda-sorta reaction from the Hoosier faithful -- perhaps because the act itself was so perfunctory, as if Purdue Pete were thinking "Well, if Todd Foster did it, I suppose I have to, too."

(Or it could have had something to do with the fact that it was a clash between the two worst teams in the Big Ten, and everyone was just there to close the book on the season.  As one Indiana fan hollered, after the Hoosiers fell down 13-3: "100 days until the baseball home opener!").

In any case, it lacked the sheer brass-testicled audacity of either T.O.'s stomp or Foster's. And it for sure wasn't as brazen as someone who would dare to step on the Panther logo in the middle of the Snider football locker room.

I know this because I almost did it myself once, inadvertently. I was out at Snider to chat with Russ Isaacs before a big game, and he led me back through the locker room toward his office. Suddenly he put up an arm and stopped me, then pointed down at our feet.

"Don't step on the logo, man," he said.

He was grinning. I think.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ray Rice 1, NFL 0

Another day, another loss for Roger Goodell. It's like the New England Patriots waking up one day and discovering they've become the Oakland Raiders.

This upon the news that Ray Rice won his appeal and has been reinstated to playing status, a not wholly unexpected turn of events. When you hand down a two-game suspension and then arbitrarily decide to overturn yourself simply because you caught a lot of  heat for it, these things will happen. The law tends to look down on do-overs in these matters. Especially when it's this capricious.

"Well, you see, your Honor, it was like this. We thought two games was enough, but then people started being really mean and calling us names, so we decided to pretend we hadn't already ruled on this and changed the two-game suspension to an indefinite suspension. Which we thought was OK because we're the NFL and all, and who's gonna tell the NFL it can't play games with its own disciplinary procedures?"

To which the judge obviously replied: "Ahem."

And so Rice is free, and his wife, Janay, has given an interview telling her side of the story (which basically amounts to her writing off his slugging her as a "bad day"), and now the clock is ticking on a couple of fronts:

1. Which NFL team will swallow hard, take the leap and sign the guy?

Because some team will. Running backs are a precious commodity, and Rice is, or was, a pretty good one.

Early line favorite: The Patriots. Because the Patriots don't care what you think.

(Although this guy says it's the Colts. Enjoy, Indy).

2. When will the Rices have another "bad day?"

Because the cynic (or perhaps the realist) in me says they will. Guys who slug their wives/girlfriends usually don't do it just once, no matter what Janay Rice says. Nor does it matter what she says about having slapped him. It's irrelevant.

You. Don't. Hit. Women. Ever.

But why do I think Rice will again, some day?   

Friday, November 28, 2014

Humor deficiency

Here's something we can be thankful for, on this day after Thanksgiving: You can cross at least one person off your hard-to-buy-for Christmas list.

That person is Tiger Woods -- who on Thanksgiving passed the five-year anniversary of the great Marital Discord/Fire Hydrant Ramming Incident that sent his career into its recurring spiral.

What you can put under the tree for him is not a gaudy sweater or a pair of reindeer socks with little flashing lights, but a sense of humor. 'Cause he needs one.

This after he reacted to a gentle literary poke by whining that it was a "grudge-filled piece of character assassination" and enclosing a link to a letter sent by his agent to Conde Nast, the owners of Golf Digest, where the piece appeared.

Couple of things:

`1. The story is identified in the headline as a "fake interview," it's clearly satirical, and it's clearly not meant to be taken seriously.

2. It was written by sportswriting lege Dan Jenkins, a master of far more withering satire than can  be found in this piece (See: "Semi-Tough," "Dead Solid Perfect," "Life Its Ownself," "You Gotta Play Hurt," etc., etc.). In fact, in circles where perspective is actually a thing, it's considered an honor to be lampooned by Jenkins.

That's not the kind of circle in which Woods moves, however. He's more a member of the  I'm Tiger Woods And You're Not circle, aka the Do You Know Who I Am? circle, aka the How Dare You Make Fun Of Me, I'm Tiger Woods, Damn It! circle.

I think we all know what Tiger can do with those circles. Or to put it another way: Get over yourself, dude.

And for those who want to know what the fuss is about, here's a link to Jenkins' piece. Consider it your early Christmas gift.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Buckeye Notion

I'm missing something. I've got to be missing something, right?

Right now I'm looking at the latest College Football Playoff rankings, and I see Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State up there at the top and Ohio State still stalled at No. 6.  And yet all I hear is what a great chance the Buckeyes have of getting into the playoff.

And I just can't see it.

All they've got left now is a Michigan team struggling to get to .500 and  a Big Ten title game against either Wisconsin or Minnesota, which come in at No. 14 and No. 19, respectively. Where's the juice there that propels the Buckeyes past two other teams, unless those teams lose? Is the committee going to suddenly decide in the next couple of weeks that the Big Ten is not what it is -- a second-tier league among the Big Five conferences -- when it hasn't been voting that way all along?

The only way I see Ohio State getting in is if Florida upsets Florida State, Auburn knocks off Alabama in the Iron Bowl, Mississippi State loses to plummeting Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, UCLA knocks off Oregon in the Pac-12 title game or TCU loses to either Texas or Iowa State. And while one of those might happen, not enough of them is likely to.

TCU (No. 5) has two games it should win. A battered Ole Miss team isn't likely to handle Mississippi State, nor is Auburn likely to take down Alabama. And it's not just the teams in front of Ohio State; the Buckeyes stand a real chance of being leapfrogged by Baylor (No. 7) or UCLA (No. 8) if both win out.

Baylor beat TCU and has been on a roll since losing to West Virginia, crushing its three opponents by an average score of 52.3-18.6 -- including a 48-14 whupping of Oklahoma in Norman and a 49-28 stroll past a decent Oklahoma State team. UCLA, meanwhile, just  destroyed a respectable USC team, and, if the Bruins handle Oregon, they could easily bound past everybody.

And Ohio State?

I think at best they wind up the odd man out in fifth. We shall see.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 12

And now this week's installment of The NFL In So Many Words, a Blob feature that's been hailed as "a sensation that's sweeping the nation" and "a plattah that mattahs" by critics who clearly have mistaken it for something else:

1. Stop it, Odell Beckham Jr. Just stop it.

2.  You skywalking, football-glomming, human-fly-son-of-a-Marvel-superhero, you.

3. Hey, look, everybody! The Seahawks are back!

4. What do you say about that, Marshawn Lynch?

5. (Silence).

6. Meanwhile, in Chicago, the Bears beat Tampa Bay.

7. (A public service for fans of Teams That Are Technically Still Playing).

8. Meanwhile, in Detroit, the final score was Bills 38, Jets 3. Or, if you're a Jets fan: Bills 38, Jets 3, Why Couldn't It Have Snowed A Little More And Buried Rex Ryan Alive, 2.5 million.

9. What do you say about that, Marshawn Lynch?

10. (Silence).

Buddy ball

I went to an IPFW basketball game last night and a house of mirrors broke out.

It was the Mastodons against Jacksonville, Tony Jasick bringing his new team home to play his old team, and it was nothing you hadn't seen. The two teams ran all the same stuff at one another, to the extent that IPFW coach Jon Coffman -- Jasick's former right-hand man -- was shouting out Jacksonville sets to his team before they actually developed. And Jasick was no doubt doing the same on his end of things.

In the end, the difference was that IPFW was simply the more advanced version, winning 89-71 in a game it could have easily won by 30 or 40 had Coffman not shown such obvious unwillingness to step on Jasick's throat. Instead, he played 13 players, 11 of them at least eight minutes.

Afterward, Jasick's speech to his team went roughly like this: Welcome to the future.

"I told our team, 'What we just played against is what we're going to look like in time'," Jasick said as he and Coffman sat side by side in the postgame.

Coffman agreed.

"I told him, 'You just beat yourself'," he said, a reference to that fact that so much of what IPFW was last night, from a personnel standpoint and otherwise, was what Jasick built.

There are differences, of course. The IPFW team on display last night tends to push the ball slightly more aggressively, and it's slightly deeper in the backcourt than last year's historic 25-win team. Mo Evans and Isaiah McCray are going to be a handful to deal with for anyone, and the Mastodons don't lose very much when Michael Calder and Max Landis enter the game.

Landis scored  nine points and had an assist in 23 minutes last night. Calder had eight points, four rebounds and four assists in 23 minutes.  Evans and McCray, meanwhile, combined for 27 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists, with McCray going for 16, 10 and four.

 Gonna be another fun year. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hold off on the coronation

OK, first things first: The Kentucky Wildcats are really good.

Scary good. Preposterously good. Maybe even transcendently good.

But ...

But it's time to interject a "but."

I say this because it's still November and still on the near side of Thanksgiving, and thus a time for pumping the brakes when it comes to college basketball. And yet everyone -- or almost everyone -- is burying the throttle when it comes to the Wildcats.

Their utter dismantling of Kansas -- the Jayhawks didn't even shoot 20 percent against the swarming, endlessly deep Kentucky "D" -- has an unsettling number of people already conceding the NCAA championship to Big Blue more than four months from Final Four weekend. Some people are even saying the Kats are going to go undefeated.

Let me be the first (and maybe the only) to say that's absurd.

Kentucky is not going to go undefeated. If I'm wrong, print this out, bring it back to me in April and I'll eat it. I won't even use salt and pepper.

The Wildcats are not going to go undefeated because, first of all, history is against them, and history is even deeper and more overwhelming on defense than the Kats. No NCAA champ has gone undefeated since 1976, when Indiana did it and Bob Knight still thought plaid sport coats were the last word in fashion. And it's more unlikely to happen now than it was in 1976.

That's because there is more talent everywhere now, which means there are going to be more nights when someone jumps up and gets you.  And the talent tends to skew younger these days, college basketball having become little more than a Stuckey's on the road to the NBA for your more advanced young'uns.

This is especially true at Kentucky, where John Calipari has perfected the one-and-done fandango to an art form. There are 10 freshmen and sophomores on UK's roster this year, pretty much the norm for a Calipari team. So, as always, they're young. And, as always, young players tend to have focus issues more than older players.

What this says to me is somewhere out there in the next four months lies a night when the Kats show up in mail-it-in mode. It's almost inevitable, given how long the season lasts. And on that night, someone else who's been itching to get at them (because everyone will be) will get them.

It's going to happen. Maybe only once, but it's going to happen.

 Does that mean the Kats still aren't frighteningly good?

No. The Kansas game showed us what they're capable of. And their 86-28 demolition of poor Montana State yesterday -- the Kats forced 21 turnovers and harassed Montana State into 20 percent shooting -- only reiterated the point.

But the Kansas team they beat came in off a so-so 10-point win over UC-Santa Barbara. And Montana State is winless at 0-4. So it might be wise to temper things a bit.

Or, you know, a lot.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Of Hoosiers, Hogs, Bruins and such

There are any number of ways to tell when it's November and the curtain is coming down on college football. Everyone's got their own specific radar for it, and one (or two or three or four) outliers that trip its signal.

For me, it's sitting somewhere watching Notre Dame play the endgame to another season in cold gray pre-Thanksgiving South Bend, and noticing that it's already full dark by halftime. Or noticing, that, hey, look, Harvard's playing Yale again. Or noticing, similarly, that UCLA and USC are having at it again in the 5 p.m. Los Angeles twilight that is Saturday night in earnest here in the Midwest.

All of that happened yesterday, and there's always a tinge of sadness to it. It's a reminder that the time for moving indoors is almost here, at least if you live in this part of the country. The crops are in, the fields are all stubble-and-beige-earth, and it's dark (or nearly so) at mid-afternoon in South Bend and West Lafayette and contiguous points of the compass.

Which is not to say stuff still isn't happening, out there on all those soon-to-be-deserted football fields. To wit:

* Speaking of Notre Dame, the Irish lost improbably again, this time to a Louisville team playing a second-string quarterback. Kyle Brindza missed a gimme field goal from the 22-yard line -- no excuses, he just flat missed -- and that was that.

Which means the Irish, if they've perfected nothing else this season, have at least perfected the Finding Ways To Lose portion of the program.

* Speaking of portions of the program, here's your That's Crazy Talk segment for this week: If Ohio State misses out on the four-team playoff, the Buckeyes might well have, yes, Indiana to thank for it. That's because the Hoosiers fought OSU just hard enough, on OSU's home ground,  to keep anyone from being particularly impressed by the Buckeyes' 42-27 win.

Indiana hurting Ohio State on a football field. Imagine that.

* November is the heart of rivalry season in college football, and so Saturday we had UCLA-USC (the Bruins rolled 38-20), Harvard-Yale (the unbeaten Crimson held off the once-beaten Bulldogs by a touchdown) and the Michigan State-Rutgers rivalry, which dates all the way back to noon  yesterday.

The Spartans won the sixth meeting between the schools easily, 45-3. And a rivalry was born.

OK, probably not. OK, definitely not.

* Speaking of rivalry games, Arkansas-Ole Miss actually is one -- the Razorbacks and Rebels first met in 1908 and have played continuously since 1981 -- and Saturday probably intensified it, at least on the Ole Miss side. That's because the Hogs crushed the eighth-ranked Rebels 30-0.

It was Arkansas' second straight shutout and served notice that the Razorbacks will be a team to be reckoned with next fall, if they're not in fact the SEC's next great power. They're stocked with impressive young talent that needs only seasoning. Look out for 'em.


Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hoosier formula

It's early and it was only a peek. But for a few minutes down in Assembly Hall last night, the Great Red Horde got to see how their Indiana Hoosiers are going to get it done this year, if and when they do get it done.

Here's your first hint: It doesn't involve mistaking Hanner Mosquera-Perea for Wilt Chamberlain.

The Hoosiers' only real size down low went for three points and zero rebounds last night in the six-point win over No. 22 SMU, and those numbers aren't likely bloom much more. The offense, to put it mildly, is not going to run through him. And the defense is going to start a lot farther out on the floor, where Yogi Ferrell and a pair of terrific freshmen, James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson, will be both the first and last line of defense, disrupting opponents before they can take advantage of the chronic mismatches they'll be able to create with the Hoosiers inside.

That was the formula last night, when Indiana rattled 19 turnovers out of the Mustangs and dropped a dozen 3s, with Blackmon getting seven of those enroute to a 26-point night. It compelled SMU to stretch its defense to all points on the compass, which enabled Blackmon, Johnson and Ferrell to block out and crash the glass when the ball went up, combining for 18 rebounds.

Troy Williams, at a long 6-foot-7 the other crucial piece of the puzzle for Indiana, had four boards off the bench.

To sum up: The Hoosiers will live and die on the perimeter this season. With Blackmon, Johnson Nick Zeisloft and Ferrell, they've got both enough speed to beat teams down the floor in transition and to spread the defense in the halfcourt. That, theoretically, will open up the middle for Williams and Stanford Robinson to get to the rim and for Ferrell to drive and kick it out -- and when the ball goes up, it's got to be all hands on deck all the time, with all five players blocking out and crashing the glass.

If they can do that consistently -- and, at the other end, be disruptive enough at the point of attack to keep teams from swallowing them whole on the low blocks -- they've got a chance to win some games. But if they can't ...

If they can't, there are going to be some long nights in Bloomington this winter. To sum up.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The silent treatment

So, yes, as it turns out, silence is golden. At least if you're the NFL finemeisters.

They just scooped $100,000 from Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch for blowing off the media in Kansas City last Sunday, a violation of the NFL's mandated media-access rule that was not his first. Lynch, rather famously, doesn't like to talk to the media. Remember  all that artificial Super Bowl Media Day drama (because artificial drama is Media Day's preferred milieu) about whether Lynch would actually show up? And then, when he did, whether he would actually say anything?

Well ... he did show up. And, no, he didn't say anything that survives in memory.

This is pretty standard for Lynch, and that sends me veering toward a perilously heretical thought for a journalist: Why is the NFL fining guys whose thing obviously isn't talking to the media?

I say that because Lynch did make himself available on Wednesday, and it was pretty much a farce. He addressed questions specific to what happened in the Kansas City game (when he stayed on the field at halftime for treatment) by talking about his shoes and his favorite rap stars.

In other words, it was a waste of everyone's time, as pretty much every media interaction with him is.  So why make him do it? More to the point, why does the media keep going to him?

Maybe it's just me -- I have some odd notions about things, I'll admit -- but I'm a big fan of not wasting time, so if I were covering the Seahawks, I'd have written off Lynch a long time ago. I've been in enough NFL locker rooms to know there are plenty of funny, willing, engaging go-to's for quotes for just about any situation imaginable. So, unless you have a specific question only he can answer, who needs Marshawn Lynch? Especially if he's not likely to answer your specific question anyway?

This whole kerfuffle about media access always amuses me, because one of the things you quickly learn about the NFL is how media unfriendly it occasionally can be. Yes, teams make players available, but usually only at very specific times and under very specific circumstances. The rest of the time ...

Two stories.

One involves training camp. Last time I covered the Colts camp (and the Colts since have changed this policy, in fairness), media members were allowed to watch practice. But only if they stood in  one corner of one end zone. And they weren't allowed to tweet. And no cellphones were allowed on the premises. For a while, until a mass outcry forced the Colts to relent, media members weren't even allowed to take a notepad and a pen to practice, lest they, you know, do their jobs and take notes.

It was like dealing with the Kremlin. Only no complimentary vodka.

Story No. 2 comes from just this fall. I was assigned to do a feature story for the fall edition of Northwest Indiana Business Quarterly, for whom I regularly write. I decided to do something on Jay Cutler -- nothing special, just a nice feature that would, by necessity, since the publication is a quarterly, be fairly broad-based. I'd done pretty much the same thing last fall on Andrew Luck, a story with which the Colts, to their credit, had no problem.

The Bears did. In an exchange of emails with their media relations guy, I was quizzed as to what the specific nature of the story would be, and why I was doing something on Cutler, and on and on. Eventually he turned me down, saying, in so many words, that the post-practice media availability was pretty much restricted to game-related topics. He suggested I come back in training camp next summer.

I will.

If I can get past the guards, that is.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rusty Hardin is a silly man

So you know those times when you want to say something and you start it off with "I get where (Name Goes Here) is coming from"?

This is not one of those times.

The Two Mikes had Adrian Peterson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, on this a.m. to talk about the NFL's decision to suspend Peterson for the rest of the season, and more sheer idiocy you will never hear from one human being in so short a period of time. And that's acknowledging that Hardin is based in Texas, where sheer idiocy is a leading export, like oil and braggin'.

It is Hardin's considered opinion that Roger Goodell is a self-serving foof who's picking on poor Adrian because he so royally screwed up the Ray Rice thing, and therefore needs a big PR win. So here comes Peterson, a 220-pound NFL running back whose idea of disciplining a 4-year-child is taking a switch off a tree and beating him with it, and so Goodell (according to Hardin) sees his chance to turn into Roger the Hammer again and convince everyone the NFL is actually serious about domestic abuse, at least for as long as we're all paying attention.

Let me say this: I think Hardin's spot-on about that part of it.

But then he made the standard lawyerly mistake of not knowing when to shut his mouth, and that's when he went off the rails and I nearly drove my car off the road.

Hardin, see, characterizes what Peterson did as a "mistake" in "disciplining" his child, that there were "unintended consequences." It wasn't child abuse. Heck, he didn't even inflict any "lasting damage." A bruised testicle or two, what the hell, right? The kid'll heal.

Let's set aside for a moment the utter callousness of that, or the appalling notion that Hardin's apparent standard for child abuse is whether or not the victim suffers any lasting physical effects. Let's instead ask how the hell Hardin knows there'll be no lasting damage. Or does he think a kid who gets beaten won't grow up to beat his own kids?

I'd call that lasting damage. But, you know, I'm normal, and not someone who was paid by Peterson to represent him in the abuse trial.

And speaking of normal, let's clear up something else: No matter what Hardin says, most normal people would reasonably consider what Peterson did child abuse.  He's a grown-ass man who beat a 4-year-old with a stick so severely he bruised his testicles. Maybe in Hardin's world that's regarded as "discipline," but everywhere else it's straight-up abuse.

Period. End of story.

Not for Hardin, though. He thinks it was just a parent making a disciplining mistake with "unintended consequences." Really? So what did Peterson think was going to happen when he consciously took a switch to a 4-year-old? If he didn't know that was going to hurt the kid, then he's a damn fool on top of everything else.

Pretty much like his lawyer.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


We'd all like to be Giancarlo Stanton.

I mean, who wouldn't want to be a guy who plays for the Miami Marlins, and whose name isn't Babe Ruth or Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio or Roberto Clemente (or Ty Cobb or Willie Mays or ... well, you get the idea)?

Giancarlo Stanton isn't any of those guys. He's just Giancarlo Stanton.

And yet, because he is, he'll now be making  $325 million over the next 13 years, according to the contract he just signed. And how much is $325 million, exactly?

Well. For perspective's sake (and just to make you curse and throw things and wonder who the hell Giancarlo Stanton thinks he is), the Blob will break it down -- with a huge assist from my friend and former colleague Steve Warden, who calculated most of these:

* Stanton will be making $154,568 per game, and, based on four plate appearances per game, $38,642 per plate appearance.

* Every time he goes down swinging on three pitches in one of those plate appearances, he'll make $13,000 per swing and miss.

* If he's a generous guy by nature, he could give away $10 per minute for the next 61 years, 304 days before running out of dough.

* And, finally, for you geography fans: If Stanton took all $325 million in ones and then laid them end-to-end, they'd cover 31,115 miles. That's enough to circle the Earth at the equator and still have enough left over to stretch from Las Vegas to Rome.

Or Rome to Las Vegas, if you'd like to drop a few bucks at the blackjack table. Or a lot of bucks.  





A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 11

And now this week's installment of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature the Times of London called "a crashing, awful bore" and "bloody colonial nonsense":

1. It's Tuesday morning, and Eli Manning just completed another pass to the 49e--

2. (The Blob apologizes for the interception of the previous sent--)

3. (Dammi--)

4. (OK, enough about Eli Ma--)

5.  Meanwhile, in New England, Tom Brady and the doomed Patriots continued their sad downward spiral, failing to lose for the sixth straight week and, for an 11th straight week, failing to lock up a Super Bowl berth.

6. Meanwhile, in Washington, RG III has been downgraded to RG II, prompting speculation as to when he would be replaced by either Kirk Cousins I or Colt McCoy I.

7.  Hey, look, everybody! It's the St. Louis Rams!

8. (Alternate punctuation: "Hey, look, everybody! It's the St. Louis ... Rams?")

9. The Cardinals have the best record in football.

10. No, really.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Chase worth the name

So after 10 years and more shade-tree mechanic work than Cletus used on his '65 Buick ... we finally got a Chase.

Kevin Harvick fled and Ryan Newman Chased. That's how it all went down last night in the last race of the NASCAR season.

Harvick won the Sprint Cup, and the race, by beating Newman on a restart with three laps left in the season, and if that wasn't NASCAR's perfect scenario, it's hard to imagine a better one. The new format -- in which the 16-team Chase field was cut down four at a time in three-race increments -- gave NASCAR exactly the endgame it wanted.

The four remaining Chasers were running 3-4-5-6 in the last 25 laps. There was strategy drama (Would Denny Hamlin staying out on a caution with 19 laps to run be the gamble that won him the Cup?), and pit drama (Joey Logano's chances die when his car falls off the jack during a late stop), and, down at the end, the ultimate on-track shootout drama.

 Harvick and Newman running 1-2. Three laps to go. Whoever wins the restart wins the title.

It was Harvick, and time out for the Blob to pat itself on the back for getting that one right. It happens so seldom, after all.

It was Harvick, and those last three laps were absolute gold for both him and NASCAR: All those camera shots of Delana Harvick freaking out as the field came to the green for the last time, then dissolving in tears as her husband closed in on the double checkers.

It surely didn't chase the NFL off America's TV screen, even if the competing NFL game featured Green Bay blowing the Eagles into Lake Michigan. But this time you couldn't fault the system for that happening.

No, sir.  This time, the Chase caught exactly what it was looking for.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

This year's one that got away

So it's the morning after the Great Wildcat Heist, and where do you start? What's the opening line here?

I think I know.

Outlined against a darkening November sky, the Dot.Com/Chicken Sandwich/Lawn Implement Bowl rode again ...


Outlined against a darkening November sky, Mathematics 101 rode again ...


Outlined against a darkening November sky, Touchdown Jesus covered his eyes, shook his head and said, "For cryin' out loud, Kelly, just kick the extra point!"

This is the "L" that shouldn't have been for Notre Dame, a meme that's become as much a lock in South Bend as sneak-attack snowstorms. Every year -- you can make book on it -- the Irish are going to lose one  they shouldn't. The fun parlor game is trying to identify which one it is.

This year's entry is Northwestern, which was down 11 and looked finished when Notre Dame blocked a field goal with 8:43 to play.

But the Irish, whose charity this season has been legendary, kept generously giving the Wildcats chances, turning it over four times including twice inside the 5-yard line. Head coach Brian Kelly, whose college major must not have been math, helped things along by unaccountably attempting a failed 2-point conversion on Notre Dame's last score when a PAT would have been sufficient. And Northwestern scored 11 points in the last five minutes to send it to overtime, then won it on a field goal.

And so the Irish go from playoff contender to an aforementioned DotCom/Chicken Sandwich/Lawn Implement berth. And with a trip to USC still ahead, they're suddenly looking squarely at an 8-4 season, which is what so many predicted for them (at best) back in August.

A month ago, they looked like a football team that could play with anyone in the country. Now, even with a win at USC, they'll finish 9-3 with a resume whose signature moment was a loss at Florida State. And it'll back to the drawing board again for Kelly and his staff.

Presumably, the first thing they write on it will be "2 + 2 = 4."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hoops invasion

Odd thoughts while watching the football field slowly turn white with frost down in Berne, and slowly losing all feeling in my extremities ...

* So I see the Indiana basketball team hung 116 points on Mississippi Valley State last night, suggesting that, mostly by necessity, the Hoosiers are bringing back the Hurryin' Hoosiers of lore and memory.

*  And I see Purdue won, too, beating Samford and, presumably, also Son.

*   And I see Notre Dame bounced Binghamton, which made the state's Big Three 3-for-3 on Friday night.

Maybe it's just the cold.  But something about the "Friday night" part of that is a trifle off-putting.

I know it's November and I know that's the great intersection of football and basketball, but, on a night when football regionals took center stage on the high school level in Indiana, couldn't college hoops have waited decently in the wings for one more night? Really? Purdue, IU and Notre Dame all had to open on a Friday night -- traditionally high school sports night in Indiana and elsewhere?

Sure, I get that high school football is down to a handful of teams, and that IU, Purdue and Notre Dame playing hoops on the same night didn't hurt anyone's gate as a consequence. But it just looks bad. And it seems so unnecessary, given that both Purdue and IU football are on the road today and Notre Dame playing Northwestern at 3:30 p.m. could have segued neatly into a football-basketball doubleheader.

Instead, they decided to Friday Night Lights the deal. Likely not an intentional or actual slap in the face, but a symbolic slap in the face nonetheless.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The smart bet

I am not a betting man. Let's get that out there from the jump.

I've never seen the wisdom/thrill of putting money on the nose of a dog or a horse, because, let's face it, they're dogs and horses. And I think it's utter madness to risk your paycheck on a bunch of goofy college kids (because they're goofy college kids) or a bunch of professional football, basketball or baseball players (because their seasons all last forever and you never know which day or night they're gonna decide to conserve energy in deference to the long haul).

I've never really gotten poker, either. Card games bore me generally, first of all. Plus, casinos will throw you out for employing what seems to me to be poker's most measurable skill -- i.e., being able to keep track of what's been played and what's still out there. So what's the point?

Shoot. The last time I went to Vegas, I took the airport shuttle to the MGM Grand, strolled through the place, finally sat down and fed $5 worth of quarters into a slot machine. It took me about five minutes. Yawn.

All that said ... I think NBA commissioner Adam Silver is as right as sunscreen in Tahiti about this.

I think it's well past time for the 1992 law making it illegal to bet on sporting events in all but four states to go the way of the Model T and the eight-track. Because in  a very real sense, it already has.

People bet on college and professional sports all the time, everywhere. The law, as far as I can see, isn't stopping anybody. Might as well make it legal, regulate it and collect taxes on it.

Besides, the major sports leagues are all complicit in it, anyway. Until Silver spoke up ("Look, guys, the emperor's naked, anyway," is pretty much the gist), it was almost comical to hear the NFL in particular utter the standard refrain about gambling. Then it would turn around and mandate that every team issue a public injury report each week.

Who's that for if not the gamblers? Come on, people.

And so you've got a culture that consistently ignores the law, with the de facto aid of the leagues themselves and the not-at-all-de-facto aid of the media. Or maybe you thought all the newspapers around the country (including here) that routinely run betting odds were doing it simply to fill white space.

Look. No one's saying here that gambling can't be destructive. It's an addictive behavior, or can be, that has ruined hundreds of lives and destroyed hundreds of families. But making it illegal isn't going to keep that from happening -- especially when the government itself is in the gambling business in such a big way.

Or maybe you didn't hear about the guy from Pig Knuckle, Arkansas, who just won $8 million in the Ohio or Indiana or Michigan or whatever lottery.

And then, no doubt, phoned his bookie in Vegas and had him put 10 large on the Packers to cover the 2 1/2.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

No football for you!

I get where LeBron James is coming from. I do.

The best basketball player on the planet says he won't let his young sons -- ages 7 and 10 -- play football, and if that means even someone rarely spooked by anything is spooked by the notion that his kids could someday wind up not being able to remember their own names, you can't blame him. Especially when you consider that, given his kids' athletic genes, that's a far more likely scenario for LeBron than it is for the average parent of average kids.

People get hurt playing football. And the longer they play, the more they get hurt -- because the longer they play, the bigger and faster and stronger they get, and the bigger and faster and stronger they get, the more foot-pounds of force they generate. And the more foot-pounds of force they generate, the more violent the collisions in a collision sport.

Stand on an NFL sideline and you get the full weight of that, because the collisions sound like car crashes. Their violence cannot be overstated. That's why, by November, every NFL season is as much dictated by who's not playing as by who is -- or at the very least, by who's playing at less than 100 percent.

LeBron knows that as well as anyone, and so would rather see his kids' superior athletic genes be diverted elsewhere. Again, you can't blame him.

Here's the thing, though: Hardly anyone out there has to worry about kids with superior athletic genes. And if you don't, and you decide to let your kid play football because he dreams of being the next Peyton Manning or Calvin Johnson ...

Well. Let's just say no one should be questioning your parental judgment.

Maybe the day will come when the concussion issue makes football obsolete, and every football field in America will return to prairie. It's a legitimate concern, because the concussion thing is a legitimate concern. But I don't think it's going to happen.

First of all, there is value in the game, particularly at the lower levels. I saw it every Friday night for 38 years. And second of all, seeing the game up close for so long, I also saw what an adaptable creature it is.

If players are bigger and faster and stronger now, and their collisions more violent, I have little doubt that the game will change to accommodate that. It's done it before. It will do it again. And if the old-schoolers wail and gnash their teeth, saying the game is becoming sissified ... well, the old-schoolers said the same thing when they abolished the flying wedge 100 years ago. And when the facemask was introduced. And when the head slap became a crime.

On and on. Forever and ever.

But you know what?

Despite all that sissification, the game's more popular than it's ever been. And so it will survive whatever changes are coming down the wind, because it's football and changes are always coming down the wind. If football in the future will be different, football in the future has always been different -- and there will always be parents like LeBron who remain wary of it anyway.

That's fine. The game will survive that. And, it says here, should.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Of Ducks and Frogs and Noles and Dogs

Suddenly the Minnesota Golden Gophers are the Big Ten's worst enemy, if you can imagine that.

Previously both unassuming and undistinguished, at least on 100 yards of chewed turf, the Gophs are about all that stand in the way of the Big Ten's last chance to rise above its now second-tier status. That's because the Gophers get Ohio State this week, and, by virtue of a win over Michigan State last week, the Buckeyes are the conference's last best chance to crash the college football playoff.

A quantum of solace for the Gophers, who are no slouches themselves at 7-2 and 4-1 in the conference: Even if the Buckeyes get past them, it's hard to say how they get into the show.

As of this morning they sit eighth in the latest CFP poll, and, of the four times currently in the top five, three of them aren't likely to slip between now and the end of the season. You've got Oregon at No. 2 and TCU at 4, and most of their major tests are behind them. Ditto for Florida State, hanging in there at No. 3. , Only No. 1 Mississippi State, which still has to play Alabama and Ole Miss, looks like a candidate to fall -- and if it's to No. 5 Alabama, that will move the Tide into the Final Four.

So Ohio State essentially has to hope Mississippi State wins in Tuscaloosa to knock the Tide out of it, and then Ole Miss has to knock off Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, and Arizona State (No. 6) has to lose to Arizona and then beat Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. Oh, and somewhere in there, Baylor (No. 7) would have to lose, too.

A tall order. Especially with a likely run-in with Nebraska in the Big Ten title game ahead for the Buckeyes if they win out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What we owe

So now it is Veteran's Day, and time again for the Blob to shed its Sports Guy hat. And to tell a few tales.

This one goes back 19 years to the spring of 1995, when I sat in the living room of a modest home just south of Georgetown Plaza and listened to a man tell me what he did for all of us. His name was Charlie Pearson, and one morning when he was still pretty much a kid the front end of a landing craft banged down and dumped him out 1,000 yards from a tiny palm-fringed pile of coral called Betio.

Betio was one spit of Central Pacific land in the midst of another spit of Central Pacific land known as Tarawa atoll, and in 1943 it was the primary target of the U.S. military's first real sea-borne assault of the Second World War. And it was damn near an unqualified disaster.

The pre-assault bombardment didn't do much more than re-arrange the sand above the coral-and-log bunkers in which the defending Japanese force had shielded itself. A misreading of the tide tables caused the landing craft to run aground on the reef more than half-a-mile from shore. The gates banged down and the Marines stepped off into water that was well over their heads. Dozens drowned.

Pearson did not. But he did take a burst of fire that ripped out most of his teeth on the long, long slog toward shore. I can't imagine what that must have been like, pushing on toward the distant shore, all manner of ordinance raining down around you. But here's the thing: Neither Pearson nor any of his fellow Marines stopped. They kept on keeping on, and, after 1,000 American deaths, Betio fell in four days.

No one said, "Aw, HELL, no." No one thought, at least at the time, that it was too hard, or sheer madness, or not worth the trouble. They kept on keeping on.

I think about that every Veteran's Day. I think about Charlie Pearson, one of the most remarkable men I ever met, because not only did he survive Tarawa, he went on to survive Okinawa, which was the full-service hell on earth of which Tarawa, in retrospect, was only a small piece.

Ten years after I talked with Charlie Pearson, my wife and I visited France, and while we were there we toured the Western Front. The day we commemorate now as Veteran's Day is also Armistice Day, the day the guns fell silent and the First World War came to an end. And as we toured that war's old ravages -- trenches still head-high in places, landscape still mogul-ed with shell holes, the occasional crumbling German pillbox standing in lush fields of wheat -- it occurred to me that remembrance is something we Americans don't always do well, or at least completely.

In the area of France south of Verdun and down toward Saint Mihiel, for instance, there are here and there American military cemeteries, large and well-kept. One is adjacent to Belleau Wood, there's an immense one in the Meuse-Argonne just north of Verdun, there's another in the village of Thiaucourt. And on an escarpment called Montsec, there is a startling rotunda of white marble, visible for miles.

It was built by the United States in 1931 to commemorate the Americans' first victory of the Great War, the reduction of the Saint Mihiel salient. On the day we were there -- a fine, sunlit summer noon -- we were its only visitors, as we were later at the Thiaucourt cemetery. Our English guide told us that's frequently the case, because Americans have largely forgotten their nation's role in the Great War, or that some 53,000 of their countrymen died here in little more than six months of combat.

And so every Veteran's Day, I remember that, too. I remember the immense plaque on the wall at Thiaucourt listing all the Americans who were never accounted for. And I remember all the ones that were accounted for, who were either buried in this quiet place under perfectly geometric rows of white crosses, or who came home to a lifetime of physical disability and memories too horrible to abide.

 It's chic and trite and altogether too neat, on this day, to say "Never forget" to all of that.  And so I offer up its corollary.

Remember. Always.

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 10

And now this week's installment of what Time magazine has called "The most insightful five minutes of your day!," and "Holy gee, look at this!", the NFL In So Many Words:

1. Hot cocoa by the fire.

2. An invigorating game of Parcheesi.

3. A "Hollywood Squares" binge-watch.

4. (Three ways Aaron Rodgers could have whiled away his down time in the second half after throwing six touchdowns in the first half and having nothing left to do against the Bears).

5.  No, son, those aren't the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Pittsburgh Steelers would never lose to anyone as pathetic as the Jets.

6. Yes, son, those are the Cleveland Browns. I know they look suspiciously competent, but, really, it's them.

7. The Seahawks are finished. No one could possibly come back from beating the Giants by only three touchdowns.

8. The Patriots continue to be finished. No one could possibly come back from such a listless effort against Bye.

9. Hey, look, it's the Lions!

10. And they're still winning!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bear-ly breathing

More on the NFL tomorrow, when the Blob rolls out the usual So Many Words. But this won't wait.

Rumor has it the Bears are moving back to Decatur, Ill., where they'll again be known as the Staleys. George Halas' rotting corpse will be the coach. They'll wear helmets made out of leather and run the single wing, because, you know, when was the last time an NFL opponent had to prepare for the single wing?

Why, they'll befuddle the bejeebers out of 'em. Or something.

This will work, see, because as much as it sounds like the ultimate Throwback Sunday, every Sunday is pretty much Throwback Sunday in Chicago these days. As in, "Throw Marc Trestman back to the Montreal Alouettes."

The Bears, to put it bluntly, are a forest fire. Jay Cutler, after a promising start under Trestman's guidance, has reverted to being the dour turnover machine America has come to know and love. And a 3-6 record and five losses in six games looks even worse when the latest loss is a 55-14 lay-down against the Packers, the Bears' presumptive ancient rival.

Yeah, right. Dog-vs.-Bone, Hammer-vs.-Nail, Packers-vs.-Bears. Great rivalries we have known, and all that.

How bad was yesterday?

Aaron Rodgers threw six touchdown passes in the first half.  It was 42-0 at halftime. Had it been a high school game, they'd have played the second half with a running clock.

This is what is supposed to happen when the Packers play Wisconsin-Whitewater, not when they play the Bears. But the Bears never showed up, and the Packers rarely fail to. Three hours of quality bloodletting ensued.

Look. It's not like Bears fans haven't seen this sort of thing before. Those of a certain age lived through the Jack Concannon Era, after all. Also the Bobby Douglass Era, the Gary Huff Era, the Bob Avellini Era and the Abe Gibron/Jim Dooley/Not That Neill Armstrong eras.

That's a lot of crummy football to endure. But losing to the Packers without even lifting a hand?

You never want to say that's as bad as it's ever been, because Bears fans have seen some epic bad. But that's as bad as it's ever been.


Your Final Four

So now Phoenix is in the rearview, and I have to say, I'm feeling vaguely cheated.

No trash-talking. No post-race brawls. No bloodied lips. It's like NASCAR wasn't even trying.

Uneventful as it was, though, we have our Final Four going to Homestead, and Ryan Newman was your money bet. You could have made some serious coin betting that a guy who hasn't won a race all season would wind up in the winner-take-all last race of the season, but there he is, hanging around like a stubborn cold.

It took a last-lap pass of Kyle Larson for 11th yesterday to get him in, ensuring this year's Heartbreak Kid would be Jeff Gordon, who ran second to Kevin Harvick and would have made the Final Four himself if Larson could have held off Newman. So Gordon's entire season literally was decided by a few yards on the track and a handful of seconds on the clock. Brutal.

Now it's down to Harvick, Newman, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. If you go strictly by the numbers, you like either Hamlin or Harvick; Hamlin has two wins at Homestead, including last year, and Harvick has 11 top 10s, five top fives and two second-place finishes in 13 starts.

Logano, meanwhile, has finished in the top ten at Homestead only once, an eighth last season. And Newman has no Ws and only four top tens in 12 starts.

Still ... the heart loves Newman, mainly because he's just quietly gone about his business and stayed under the radar throughout the season. Plus, the irony would be delicious if he winds up winning the title without winning a race.

The Chase was born, remember, because no one was happy that Matt Kenseth won a title while winning only one race. Imagine the hand-wringing if, after all the tweaking and tinkering NASCAR has done with the Chase, Newman goes Kenseth one better.

So that's the heart's pick. And the head's?

The Blob said Harvick back at the start of this. Still does.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A quick landscape survey, college football division

So here are a few things that have become fairly obvious this morning, at least until next Saturday, when a bunch of other things will become obvious:

1. Notre Dame is going to the Outback Bowl! (Or the Great Big Telecommunications Company Bowl. Or the Named After A Military Branch Bowl. Or a Credit Card/Bank/Dot Com Startup Company Bowl. Something like that).

2. Thanks, Ohio State, for pretty much taking the Big Ten out of the running for the football playoff by beating Michigan State. The Big Ten thanks you from the bottom of its second-tier heart.

3. Two locks for the four-team playoff: TCU and Oregon. The Ducks sailed over their last major hurdle, pounding a good Utah team by 24, and TCU handled fellow playoff contender Kansas State. If they win out now, and they should, there's no way they won't be there.

4. Alabama is gonna wind up in this thing, too.  The Tide eked out an overtime night win at LSU, and nobody wins night games at LSU. Now they'll get No. 1 Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa. Put your coin on the Tide in that one.

5. 'Bye Auburn. Losing to a previously comatose Texas A&M team removes the Tigers from the mix.

6. At least until the Tigers beat 'Bama in the Iron Bowl, and Ole Miss beats Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, and Nebraska upsets Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game ...

In other words: Tune in next week.     


Saturday, November 8, 2014

The San Antonio ... Raiders?

Somewhere out there, you just know Al Davis is shaking his bony fist and rasping, "Just relocate, baby!"

This upon the news that -- in a classic example of the apple never falling far from the tree -- his son is talking with officials in San Antonio about moving the Oakland Raiders there.

This would be in keeping with stalwart Black-and-Silver tradition, which holds that if you can jack around with Oakland, you do it. Remember when Al, the godfather himself, moved the Raiders to L.A. for awhile and the moved them back to Oakland?

Now Mark Davis, the current owner, is playing the same sort of game with San Antonio. Maybe he figures NFL commish Roger Goodell is too distracted by the Ray Rice kerfuffle to notice that the Riverwalk and the Bay Area aren't exactly the same thing, geographically speaking.

Roger Goodell's office. Sometime in 2015.

Rog is looking at an aerial shot from the Goodyear blimp. It's going live from the Chiefs-at-the-Raiders.

"Hey, look at this, Martha!" Rog yelps to his secretary. "Damned if they didn't move the Alamo to Oakland!"

Or something like that.

In any case, San Antonio isn't as loopy as it sounds. With a population of roughly 1.4 million, it's roughly 2 1/2 times bigger than Oakland, for one thing. And it's not like pro football hasn't been there before; aficionados of the late, great USFL surely remember the San Antonio Gunslingers, who played two seasons, drew just over 15,000 per game one season and just shy of 12,000 the next, and whose quarterback was Rick Neuheisel -- now a studio analyst for the Pac 12 Network.

So, yeah, this could work. It's football and it's Texas and, heck, maybe the Raiders could bring back Neuheisel for the coin flip of the inaugural home game. And wear throwback green-and-white Gunslingers jerseys for the opener.

The San Antonio Raiders.

It sings, I tell you. Sings. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Your Ugly Uni winner for today

And now, because the Blob is an intermittent arbiter of athletic fashion in addition to being Your Most Ignored Source for news and such ...

Here's the latest in the increasingly popular Hey, Let's Just Wear Our Practice Gear For Games collection.

Green on gray on gray. All that's missing is the "Property of the Boston Celtics Athletic Department XXL" stencil on the front.


Roger the Dissembler

It's never the act but the lie. What public figure doesn't know that one, especially in the era of Social Media Sees/Hears/Witnesses All?

OK. So one public figure doesn't know that, apparently.

Come on down, Roger Goodell!

The NFL commissioner botched the Ray Rice thing about as badly as a man can botch anything, but if it takes him down it won't be the botching that does it. It will be the lying about the botching, if that in fact is what is going on.

Watergate took two years to take down Richard Nixon, and, yes, it wasn't the act but the coverup that got him -- the coverup and the lies he told to keep the coverup breathing. And so if Goodell thinks the storm has passed, it hasn't.

That was made abundantly clear yesterday, when Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome reportedly testified under oath during Rice's reinstatement hearing that the running back told Goodell on June 16 that he'd hit his wife. This again runs counter to what Goodell has repeatedly said, which is that Rice was "ambiguous" about that during the June 16 hearing.

But Newsome was in the room, and swore under oath Thursday that he heard Rice tell Goodell.

Because of a gag order, no one knows what Goodell testified to this week. But if it again differs significantly from Newsome's testimony, one of the two men perjured himself. And it doesn't seem likely it would be Newsome.

If so, Goodell's finished. He may be finished, anyway.  These things, as Watergate proved, have a long and persistent reach.

Some things do eventually go away. This will not, and should not.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Let the show go on

So now comes the fallout for the Tussle in Texas, and it is illuminating to say the least.

In other words: There wasn't much falling out to the fallout.

NASCAR handed out penalties to a few crew members who were throwing down during the post-race scrum, both Jeff Gordon guys and Brad Keselowski guys. But the drivers themselves -- including Kevin Harvick, who really got it all going when he shoved Kes from behind -- were assessed no penalty at all.

What this says to me is NASCAR kind of liked being front-and-center in a November news cycle for once.

What it says is what a lot of us suspected, which is that NASCAR doesn't want its sport to devolve into the WWE on four huge tires -- but, damn, look at us up there on Good Morning America again. Didn't see Tom Brady or Peyton Manning there, but Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski were.

So it's a win, sort of, over the NFL beast, and on  the show will go. Phoenix is next -- the last elimination race before THE elimination race at Homestead -- and if you think the ruckus-ing is over, think again. It's only gonna get cranked up another notch with four more drivers set to be cut out of the Chase.

Harvick and Keselowski are two of them. Gordon is one point ahead of Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth for the last spot in the Final Four. Let the chaos/mayhem/hatin'-on-Keselowski begin again, with NASCAR's tacit approval.

Because, listen, they're no dummies, Brian France and Mike Helton 'n' them. They knew they had to come down on someone for the brawl in Texas, but not anyone the public cares about. And that's because they also know that what happened at Texas makes Phoenix must-see TV, and Homestead even more so.

And that's exactly what they were hoping would happen with the new elimination-style Chase.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A candy-striped unraveling

Those banners. What do they whisper, when Assembly Hall is quiet and the man who bears their weight is alone with the echoes and empty seats?

Surely Tom Crean must hear this, in the half-light: You were hired to set this right.

Surely he also hears this: Now set it right.

The man whose every waking minute has been devoted, consciously and otherwise, to chasing the ghost of Kelvin Sampson out of Assembly Hall must be dying inside a little right now. Because the ghost is back, suddenly.

Four misadventures with alcohol or other substances since February, involving almost half of Crean's Indiana basketball team, have undone much of Crean's earnest work to restore to the program honor and decency and, yes, respect for the banners. And it's amped up the temperature of the seat he occupies from cool comfort to about 500 degrees ... Kelvin.

Because, listen, how can you not see that ghost again, sitting high up in the shadows in the Hall? First one Indiana player, driving legally drunk and underage, puts another player in the hospital with a head injury. Then two more players -- one of whom (Troy Williams) started every game last year -- show red in a drug test. Throw in a couple of previous drinking-related arrests (including one involving Crean's presumptive team leader, Yogi Ferrell), and suddenly this is the Sampson years all over again, or at least a glancing proximity.

Granted, that characterization is probably unfair on some level. Crean, as far as we know, hasn't thumbed his nose at the NCAA rulebook the way Sampson did. And he landed on the latest miscreants hard, suspending Williams and Stanford Robinson, the other player who showed red, for four games. But the perception remains that his program is edging toward the same out-of-control orbit as Sampson's, and away from the orbit imposed by both Crean and those  banners hanging at one end of the Hall.

They represent both five NCAA titles and a certain standard of conduct, and nothing about that is negotiable. They were what compelled Crean to say, upon arriving in Bloomington, that the reason he came was because, "It's Indiana." They were what allowed him to do that with no further explanation, because no further explanation was necessary. And they were what compelled him to bring back the candy-striped warmups and invite back into the fold all the former players, because the former players represented a history that Crean was all too eager to embrace.

And now?

Now he either embraces it again or he has to go. Now he either gets control of his program, or Indiana must, as it did when it sent Sampson packing and hired Crean, find someone who can and who will.

Because Crean was right, back there at the beginning of this. It is Indiana. And those banners are merciless in their judgment.

You were hired to set this right, they're whispering.

Now set it right.


A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 9

And now the latest installment of the charming and delightful Blob feature, The NFL In So Many Words:

1. No, Ben Roethlisberger will not start acting like a mere mortal.

2. Twelve touchdown passes in two weeks. And wait 'til he gets the other hand free.

3. Tom Brady!

4. Is finished, I tell you, finished!

5. Well, except when he plays the Broncos. And the Bengals. And the Jets, the Bills, the Bears ...

6. Boo!

7. (What Peyton Manning hears every time he steps foot in Foxborough, Mass.)

8. Meanwhile, the Greatest Football Team In The History Of The World, the Dallas Cowboys, lost to the Cardinals in a clever ruse to disguise their real identity.

9.  Hey, Eli could never beat the Colts when his brother was quarterback, either.

And last but not least, speaking of Eli's brother:

10. Boo! (Foxborough calling again, Peyton).

Monday, November 3, 2014

The old brawl game

I know how they should wrap this deal up in two weeks. And it doesn't involve guys flying around at 180 mph trying to turn one another into scrap metal.

Forget that. Forget the cars, the race track, everything we've come to love about NASCAR, except for maybe the beer.

The beer can stay.

Oh, and this prizefight ring.

Oh, and this giant metal cage to fit over it.

Oh, and a handful of folding chairs, plus a set of brass knuckles Kevin Harvick or Jeff Gordon or Matt Kenseth can pull out of their tights if Brad Keselowski gets out of line again.

WrestleMania: The NASCAR Years, that's what we're headed for here. For the second time in three weeks, a postrace brawl broke out in the pits Sunday, cutting Gordon's lip and leaving Keselowski with blood on his mouth. And now NASCAR's got to decide whether to bring down the hammer (and the curtain on WrestleMania) or let its elimination-round Chase play on out to what will inevitably be utter craziness in the last winner-take-all race at Homestead.

Here's what I think: I think NASCAR's got to send a message, but not too strident a message.

That's because it's riding a razor's edge here, and it can't afford to fall off on either side. Let the mayhem continue unabated, and two things will happen: Someone's gonna get killed, and what a big chunk of America already thinks is hillbilly vaudeville will be exposed as hillbilly vaudeville in fact. Go draconian on the punishment, and you'll lose your audience, because if the brawling has done one thing for NASCAR, it's gotten it out from under the NFL's encompassing shadow, if only briefly.

NASCAR czars Brian France and Mike Helton can't be pleased that the only time their sport shows up on the national radar is when the drivers and crews are having cuss and/or fist fights. On the other hand, at least their sport's showing up on the national radar. So it's a deft hand on the tiller that's required here, and maybe an impossibly deft hand.

As to the latest round of cuss-and-fist-throwin', it started with Gordon merely jawing at Keselowski, who shot the gap going for the lead in the final laps, got into Gordon and caused a tire to go down that took Gordon out of contention. Then Harvick appeared out of nowhere to shove Kes from behind, and after that your basic melee ensued.

And here's the thing: Gordon didn't have much of a beef.

Oh, Keselowski is still Mr. Restaurant-Quality Punk, but this time he's largely blameless. If you watch the video, all he's doing is what race drivers have done since the beginning of time: Trying to squeeze through a hole with the race on the line. He didn't quite make it, but the hole is definitely there.

And Gordon's hardly the one to call him on it. I seem to remember him making an even riskier move to win the 1999 Daytona 500, diving all the way down on the apron to go around Rusty Wallace,  nearly rear-ending Ricky Rudd in the process.

Check out that move, at the 10-second mark. Now check out Keselowski's. You tell me who was being more reckless.

And as for the Chase?

You tell me who's gonna win now. I've got no clue.

And that, on a weekend of mixed messages, definitely goes in the plus column for NASCAR.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Lovable Colluders

You know the saying. If you're a sports nerd, you've got it hanging on your wall in needlepoint.

Nice Guys Finish Last. Surrounded by little hearts and homey cottages and tiny frolicking deer.

It's relevant again because the Cubs, those Losers we've all come to Love because they're, well, Lovable, have gone over to the dark side. And that's a good thing if you're a Cubs fan who's damn sick and tired of everyone throwing That Date -- 1908 -- in your face.

1908: The last year the Cubs won a World Series, blah-blah-blah. That's 106 years ago to you and me, kids!

Since then it's been all Nice Guys and Lovable Losers and gosh, isn't it great to come out here and sit in the sunshine and drink beer, and watch the vines climb the outfield walls. And somehow that was enough. And at some point, "enough" became the dominant culture of the organization, which through active bumbling and simple inertia became an organization dedicated to the proposition that if there's a way to screw up, we'll find it. 'Cause, you know, who really cares as long as the Old Style's cold?

Well. Suddenly it looks as if someone actually does care -- and enough not to be Lovable Nice Guys about it.

Lovable Nice Guys, after all, would not have done what Theo Epstein did, which is fire an
 eminently loyal solider (Rick Renteria) because someone better (Joe Maddon) was available. And to not-so-secretly court Maddon while Renteria was still under contract to the Cubs -- and maybe while Maddon was still under contract to the Tampa Bay Rays.

In baseball parlance, that's called tampering. It's also the kind of ruthless in-your-face move a Nice Guy would never dream of pulling.

“We saw it as a unique opportunity and faced a clear dilemma: be loyal to Rick or be loyal to the organization," Epstein said while denying the Cubs tampered with Maddon, which might or might not be a bald-faced lie. "In this business of trying to win a world championship for the first time in 107 years, the organization has priority over any one individual. We decided to pursue Joe.”

That's called pragmatism, cold-eyed and stone-hearted. That's called doing whatever it takes to win. And while sleaze and expediency fairly drip  from it, the simple reality is that major-league baseball is a cutthroat business, and the only way to thrive in it is to be willing enough (and, yes, bloodthirsty enough) to cut a few throats yourself.

Somewhere, Gordon Gekko is applauding. Mourn if you wish.


The playoff scenario,ND version

So, remember a week ago, when the Blob posited that Notre Dame's loss to Florida State might actually be seen as a win?

Welcome to yesterday, when a win over Navy might actually have functioned as ... a loss.

Follow along, Blobophiles:  Yes, the Irish beat Navy, but the Middies strapped 39 points on them in a not-terribly-impressive 49-39 N.D. win. Meanwhile, Oregon was hanging a 45-16 lamination on Stanford, which made Notre Dame's win over the Cardinal -- its signature win so far -- gleam a little less.

Both No 1 Mississippi State and No. 2 Florida State won, albeit not impressively, while No. 3 Auburn beat No. 4 Ole Miss. But No. 5 Oregon's impressive win means no one beneath the Ducks is as likely to move up as the Ducks. And two of the teams in front of N.D., Kansas State and TCU, both won.

Conclusion: Notre Dame isn't likely moving out of the No. 10 spot in the playoff poll. And you might want to make plans for some sorta-big-deal-but-not-that-big-a-deal bowl if you're a Domester, 'cause that's where you're headed.