Sunday, May 31, 2015

Next stop, Hollywood

Paging Angelo Pizzo ... paging Angelo Pizzo ...

Your next movie script is ready to be written.

Surely the man who collaborated with fellow Hoosier David Anspaugh on "Hoosiers" and "Rudy" will not be able to resist "Caped Crusaders," the heartwarming tale of a humble high school football team on Cape Cod, and the big-time coach who comes to lead them to glory. Or, you know, something like that.

This upon the news that former Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman has decided to come out of retirement to coach ... a humble high school football team on Cape Cod. Yes, that's right. Sherman, who hails from just down the road and lives in West Dennis, the next burg down the Cape, will become the new football coach for Nauset High School. He's doing this, he says, because, well, he misses coaching. And the game is never more purely about coaching than it is on the high school level.

He is, of course, not the first former NFL coach who's done this. But he might be the first coach who could still get an NFL job if he wanted it who's done this. And he's surely the first guy who not only coached in the NFL but coached one of its iconic franchises.

So he goes from Aaron Rodgers to, I don't know, whoever the quarterback is at Nauset High School. That's some sea change for you, and not just because said high school is surrounded by the sea. Think of the dramatic possibilities!

COACH SHERMAN: You can do this, (Insert Quarterback Name Here)! I know you can!

INSERT QUARTERBACK NAME HERE: But, Coach, I'm not Aaron Rodgers! And I'm not ever gonna be! I'm just a kid who's trying to score some chicks and get a scholly to Southern New Hampshire!

COACH SHERMAN (sits down, throws a fatherly arm around his shoulders): You're better than that, Insert Quarterback Name Here. I see great things in you. I believe in you. And you know else believes in you? This guy.

(Cut to Aaron Rodgers walking into the room).



INSERT QUARTERBACK NAME HERE: Can you do that Discount Double Check thing?

There you go, Angelo Pizzo. You take it from here.      

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Hooray for corruption

You know how people say we get the government we deserve?

Apparently that works for soccer, too.

Apparently the people who run international soccer want more corruption and palm-greasing and out-and-out theft, because that's what they voted for yesterday. Faced with a choice between a guy (Prince Ali) who ran on a platform of reform and another guy (sitting president Sepp Blatter) presiding over the worst scandal in FIFA's 111-year history,  international soccer chose Scandal Boy.

Under Blatter, FIFA has been the most corrupt ruling body in sports, a steaming pile in which the U.S. just set off a nuclear device by indicting 14 people on charges of bribery, racketeering, fraud and money-laundering that go back 20 years. Yet the voters cheered Blatter's re-election, indicating that they enjoy being a criminal enterprise, not to say the laughing stock of everyone outside their own cloistered world.

And how did their guy address all of that?

By pronouncing himself "the president of everybody." By flicking away the widespread corruption as "some organizational problems." Oh, and by saying they need more women on the committee.

Yepper. That'll fix everything.


Friday, May 29, 2015

An outbreak of acute silliness

And now for a Blob favorite I just made up, What Were They Thinking, in which we actually get to hear what they were thinking:

1. "We've got us a coach who's won 65 percent of his games and has gotten us to the playoffs every year even though every year we've been missing key pieces. But he's kind of a pain in the ass. So we're gonna swallow the $9 million left on his contract, shove him out the door  -- Ooh, look, a bus! Bonus! -- and bring in some college guy."

2. "To heck with sudden death. We're out of air time, so we're just gonna declare two champions and go home. Half a Popsicle for everyone!"

The world is a strange place. But sometimes it's not strange enough. Sometimes the world has to take strange out, get it drunk and leave it stranded somewhere, sans pants.

That's kind of what happened yesterday, when the Chicago Bulls fired one of the NBA's best coaches, Tom Thibodeau, and the National Spelling Bee ended in a tie because they ran out of words in the final round. As the immortal gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson used to say, "Bad craziness."

Let's take Thibodeau first.

Yes, he was hard to get along with. But he also won 255 games in Chicago and made the Bulls an Eastern Conference power again. And how did the Bulls thank him for that?

Not only did they fire him, they, yes, threw him under the bus. And not only did they throw him under the bus, they put the bus in reverse and backed over him, then put the bus in drive and drove over him again. Their release announcing Thibodeau's firing was remarkable for its spite -- it essentially said he couldn't be trusted and couldn't abide disagreement -- and remarkably wooden-headed as well. What NBA coach of any merit is going to want to work for the Bulls, if it's an organization not only willing to fire you for winning 51 games a year but to be so stunningly ungrateful as to trash you on your way out the door?

The skinny to all this is, NBA teams will now be lining up to hire Thibs, because the Bulls' attempt to make him unemployable will fall on deaf ears. Do you really think any NBA team believes anything another NBA team says about anything? Silly you.

 And as for the Bulls ...

Well. They'll be lining up to sign, according to reports, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.

Thibs wins.

Speaking of winning, there was a massive outbreak of winning in the National Spelling Bee. For the second year in a row, the national championship of speling (oops, make that "spelling") ended in a tie. Sharing the title were Gokul Venkatachalam and Vanya Shivashankar, whose names could have been contest words themselves.

Instead, Gokul and Vanya both breezed through the 25-word finals list, which included bouquetière, caudillismo, thamakau, scytale, pyrrhuloxia and several other completely made-up words. So they shared the title, the second year in a row that's happened.

And which is completely ridiculous.

Look. No event that functions as a national championship should ever end in a tie. Ev-er.  Does the Super Bowl end in a tie? The World Series? The U.S. Grand Prix?

(OK, bad example. The U.S. Grand Prix actually did end in a tie one year, or at least the next thing to it: an orchestrated finish that allowed one teammate, Rubens Barrichello, to cross the finish line side-by-side with another, Michael Schumacher. But it's Formula One, and Formula One is silly, too.)

Anyway, this will not stand. Hockey teams play 10 gazillion overtimes sometimes to decide who gets to lug the Stanley Cup around and do weird things with it. Golfers will play 11 gazillion extra holes for the honor of donning an ugly green jacket. And when was the last time the Super Bowl ended this way?

HEAD OFFICIAL: Sorry, boys, it's getting dark. Time to go home.

JOE MONTANA: But we're not finished yet! The game is still tied!

JOE MONTANA'S MOM: Joe Montana! You get in here this instant! Dinner's getting cold!

That never happened in a Super Bowl, nor any other legitimate competition. But it's happened in the spelling bee two years in a row, mainly because (the Blob suspects) it's now an ESPN property, and ESPN had only so much air time allotted to it.

Too bad. There should have been a sudden-death shoot-out free-throw-shooting field-goal-kicking contest spell-off. You make them spell until someone misses, or drops. You make them correctly pronounce "Yvan Cournoyer." Something.

Because you know what they say about a tie. It's like kissing your bouquetière.*

(* -- An assortment of fresh vegetables. Allegedly.)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Perp walk

Quiz time, Blobophiles. This one comes courtesy of a former colleague, so I can't do what I usually do, which is claim credit for someone else's juicy wisecrack.

Q: Who is Sepp Blatter?

1. The president of FIFA, the ruling body of international soccer.

2. A particularly annoying Ferengi in an episode of "Star Trek."

3. Both.

The answer is 4, "a fugitive from justice," which is what the attorney general of the United States turned him into yesterday. Her name is Loretta Lynch, and she is Blatter's worst nightmare. She will brook none of his nonsense. Her palm is remarkably averse to grease. And she's coming for his ass.

It was Lynch who brought down all that long-delayed thunder on Blatter's little FIFA-dom yesterday, indicting 14 officials on charges of widespread corruption that goes back 20 years. Two of those indicted were vice-presidents; two were U.S. citizens.

The U.S. had the authority to do this because FIFA operates in the U.S, and is therefore subject to U.S. law.  Also some of the money used in its various schemes came from U.S. banks.

This was a breathtaking display of sheer will by Lynch, who went after FIFA mainly because no one else had the cherries to do so. The organization under Blatter's leadership has become a running joke, a cesspool of rampant corruption overseen by a Teflon Don whose very name, outside of the cloistered world of soccer, evokes derision and rampant outbreaks of eye-rolling.

But if Blatter remains untouchable -- he's about to get re-upped as president of FIFA in another in-name-only "election" -- his days finally may be numbered. Lynch made that abundantly clear yesterday when she said the crapstorm  she's unleashed isn't over yet. In fact, it's just begun.

You can interpret that any number of ways. But if I'm Blatter, I'm loading up on the lawyers. Clearly he's the big fish in this deal, and the arrests yesterday were just the first salvo in a well-planned effort to force him from power -- and, if all goes well, book him a nice long stay in the Graybar Hilton.

If it happens, every soccer fan in the world should celebrate (within reason, of course; no turning over cars and setting them on fire, you Brits). Because the sooner Blatter's gone, the sooner international soccer can have a ruling body worthy of the game it rules.

The game is great. It's the people who run it who shame it.

Get rid of 'em. Get rid of 'em all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Giving LeBron his due

It happened again a couple of weeks ago, and as always it made me shake my head. A TV was on mute in the background, showing Cleveland Cavaliers' highlights. Up there on the screen, LeBron James was taking some poor pilgrim to the tin or dropping a jumper or making a camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle dish for the deuce.

"Oh, I hope they don't win," someone said. "I really don't like LeBron."

It's amazing how often you hear that.

It's amazing how people cling and cling and cling to ancient history, and won't let it go. Yes, The Decision was stupendously dumb idea, and yada-yada-yada. But it's over. It's been over for years. And what has LeBron James done, before or since, to earn your disfavor?

I'll tell you what: Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Last night he hauled the Cavs back into the NBA Finals again, coming one step closer to the pledge he made when he came back to Cleveland last year. The Cavaliers were 33-49 without him last year. With him -- and with the players his presence attracted -- they're going back to the Finals.

Yes, he left Cleveland to go to Miami. But he came back to his hometown. Nobody does that. Nobody leaves Cleveland to go somewhere else and then comes back. And when he did, and fans and media swarmed his neighorhood in Cleveland, he did something else hardly anyone else does.

He bought cupcakes for all his neighbors to apologize for the inconvenience his presence had caused.

Who does that?

And yet: Oh, I hope they don't win. I really don't like LeBron

The funny thing is, nine times out of 10, the people who say that can't even tell you why. Yes, he left Cleveland to play with his buddies Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami, as was his right as a free agent. He had leverage and he used it. Odd how that never seems to bother people when it's management and not a player who does that.

Over and above that, though, what's not to like?

As a man, he's by all accounts an attentive father and husband who never shows up on police blotters or on TMZ. And as a player, he's the best of his generation, and one of the best of all time.

All that noise about him not wanting the ball at the end of games is mere twaddle, considering no one other than Michael Jordan has hit more game-winners in playoff games. And it obscures the fact that perhaps his greatest particular skill is as a distributor. He makes his teammates better. Isn't that what the great ones are supposed to do?

This is the fifth straight Finals in which LeBron will play, with two different teams. He took Cleveland there and he took the Heat there four times and now he's taken the Cavs there again.

Root against him if you like. But me?

I'll just go on shaking my head at you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Fool me twice

You can convince yourself of almost anything if you need it enough. That's your Blob homily for this morning.

And so the Chicago Bears were compelled to cut loose serial bad actor Ray McDonald Monday, a course of action they could have saved themselves if they hadn't signed him to begin with. The 49ers knew who McDonald was, which is why they cut him loose. You don't get, nor deserve, the benefit of the doubt anymore when you get collared for pounding on women in the National Football League, not after the Ray Rice debacle left the public thinking the Shield was soft on domestic abuse.

And so McDonald should have been radioactive. He also should have been radioactive because domestic abusers don't often change their spots on their own. If they'll hit a woman once, they'll hit her again.

And so no surprise that McDonald was arrested again in California on domestic violence and child endangerment charges, five months after his December arrest for sexual assault, a case that is still open and that compelled the 49ers to dump him. To his credit, Bears chairman George McCaskey initially refused to sign the guy because of that, but changed his mind.

And why?

Well, because McDonald and McDonald's parents convinced him to. But also because -- mainly because -- McDonald is a still-serviceable 3-4 defensive lineman who could have helped a Bears defense that was in desperate need of it.

And so defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who worked with McDonald out in San Francisco convinced everyone that McDonald was a basically decent guy who'd gotten a raw deal from (of course) the media. Maybe Fangio actually believed that.  Or maybe it was just because McDonald, at 31, could still play a little.

Which would be a huge upgrade over all those Bear down-seven guys who demonstrably can't.

And so, welcome to Chicago, Ray. Please don't get arrested agai--

Ah, crap.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A few day-after thoughts

A few thoughts now, a day after Juan Pablo Montoya took a big slug of milk and 250,000 wrung-out people slumped away toward the Greatest Spectacle in Waiting For Hours For Traffic
 To Move, and the clock started toward the 100th Indianapolis 500:

1. The 99th 500 was the best show since the 98th 500.

It hardly gets better than that duel for the ages between Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay last year, with all that going down to the grass to pass business and Hunter-Reay winning by the second closest margin in 500 history. But yesterday damn near topped it.

Thirteen laps to run and it was a fistfight again, this time a three-way heavyweight bout among three of the biggest names in the game. There were five lead changes in those last 13 laps, three in the last eight laps, and Montoya made the last one, proving once again that if it comes down to mano-a-mano, you take him every time.

The finish was the fourth closest in history, and if Castroneves/Hunter-Reay evoked the legendary 1960  duel between Jim Rathman and Rodger Ward,  Montoya/Power/Dixon evoked Catsroneves/Hunter-Reay. Beautiful stuff.

2. The Wright Brothers were not in evidence.

Which is to say, no one got airborne or did any Mary Lou Retton somersaults, despite a bunch of people shaking hands with the Speedway's greedy wall and spraying carbon fiber kibble all over God's little speedfreak acre.

This was good.

Sure, all that flipping and unguided flight undoubtedly ramped up national interest in the race. It is  an unfortunate truism that we are a society programmed to slow down for car wrecks, and so all those spectacular crashes were the best thing that could have happened for the 500, in the sense that, except for James Hinchcliffe, they were entirely bloodless. And so for a week, guilt-free, race organizers could bask in the rare glow of knocking NASCAR onto the back page. NASCAR? What's that?

But the truth is no one wanted to see the 500 itself turn into a horror show, and it didn't. Instead, it was what it bills itself to be and, on this day, could call itself with no hint of irony: The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Call it vindication for both the event and the much-maligned new body configurations.

"I thought the racing today was great," said Graham Rahal, who finished fifth. "Frankly, I was worried today on how it would feel. It was a tough day. Maybe I did one lap flat all day. It's definitely tricky, but I think the racing here in recent years has been phenomenal. You saw guys  become patient till the last little bit, 16 to go, everybody was going to hang it all out.

"Honestly, there were laps that went by that I don't even remember them. Pushing so hard, having oversteer moments. You just got to go for it."

That's exactly how it should be, Power maintained.

"At the end of the day, I think you should be lifting at every oval because that makes you a better over driver," he said. "It should be about the driver, not just a fast car. I liked the fact today that it was hard. One of the hardest days I've had running the track here. It was rarely flat. Rarely were you wide open. Only at the end when you were leading were you wide open.

"That's how oval racing should be."

Can't argue with the results.

3. The Chevies are heavy.

If it was a hard day for everyone, and gratifying at the same time, it continued to be a hard year for Honda.

The Chevies are clearly better right now. They just are.

This isn't a few years ago, when Lotus brought a hurriedly thrown-together program that was comically uncompetitive. But the Hondas are obviously lagging right now. The top four finishers Sunday, and nine of the top 11, were Chevies. And Rahal, again the standard-bearer for Honda, didn't sugarcoat the fact that they had nothing for the Bowties.

"We weren't going to outrun a Chevy on horsepower or speed. We needed to be as flat as we could be," he said. "The Chevy was just in a league of its own fortunately on horsepower. I was happy we were as close to Chuck (Charlie Kimball) and (Scott) Dixon at the end as we were. I thought there was no hope.

"I mean, look, I really do have the absolute most confidence in Honda and HPD. Obviously we've got to find some horsepower. On the road course, the street course, we've got to find a little more driveability. But at the end of the day, everybody's working as hard as they can."

4. Simon Pagenaud deserved better.

For much of the day, Roger Penske's fourth guy was No. 1.

He led eight times for 35 laps, second only to Scott Dixon, who led 11 times for 84 laps. But he got into the back of Dixon on a restart with 30 laps to run and dinged a wing, and that dropped him to the back of the field. He managed to climb back up to 10th in the last 15 laps with a car that was the strongest outside of Dixon's most of the day.

"To be honest with you, Simon had the best car today. I couldn't believe how good he was," Montoya said later.

"I thought Simon did a terrific job. I think it would have been something if he was up there because I think he had the car to run up with Will (Power) and certainly Juan (Montoya) there at the end,"  Penske concurred.

And Penske president Tim Cindric?

"I felt terrible for him after the race," Cindric said. "I went up to him and he said 'That's the best car I ever had in my life.' You could see the fact he went all the way to the back, drove back to 10th with 15 laps to go, you don't do that here very easily."

"I think it shows how strong he was. I think it shows there's a lot more to come from him."

5. The great what-if

Almost as soon as the checkers dipped over the nose of Juan Pablo Montoya's car Sunday afternoon, the parlor game was in session.

Question: How many Indianapolis 500 victories would Montoya have right now if he hadn't been seduced (and then abandoned) by NASCAR?

My guess: He'd be the fourth four-time winner by this time, joining A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears.

He has, after all, raced in three 500s and won two of them (2000 and 2015). And he finished fifth in the other one (2014). The man is simply one of the best open-wheel racers on the planet, which reduces his bedazzlement by NASCAR's bright lights (and big-money opportunities) to one of those classic what-the-hell-was-he-thinking moments.

Or, if you're one of his competitors, to one of those thank-God-he-went-to-NASCAR moments.

"Any idea what Juan would have done with his resume if he stuck around here?" someone asked the runnersup Sunday afternoon.

 "Obviously he would have been pretty successful," Power said.

"Thankfully he didn't," Kimball chimed in.

Biggest compliment Montoya got all day.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

And the winner is ...

And now, as someone once said ... let's go to the numbers, shall we?

I've been covering the Indianapolis 500 as a professional journalist since 1977.

I've been obsessed with the 500 since, I don't know, 1965 or so. 

In all that time, half an entire damn century (and, yes, it does sound like a long time when you put it like that), I've correctly predicted the winner of the 500, um, three times.

Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989. Gil de Ferran in 2003. Scott Dixon in 2008.

That's it. Three times in 50 years. Three times since the Beatles, Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson and Muhammad Ali.

 And so let me say right here that it's an utter fool's enterprise to try to pick the winner of the 500, and it takes an even bigger fool to know that and still try to pick it every year anyway. Sometimes you've just gotta keep touching the hot stove. It's a compulsion.

But you know what makes you the biggest fool of all?

Picking an Andretti to win.

Because, listen, even casual 500 fans know that sending an Andretti to Indianapolis is like sending Barack Obama to an NRA convention. The family patriarch, Mario, might be the greatest American race driver of all time, and he won there just once in 29 starts. His son, Michael, led 431 laps there in 16 starts and never won.

Now it's Marco out there. And so far he's not making any headway, either.

In his first start he was 200 yards from the checkers when Sam Hornish Jr. came out of nowhere -- seriously, Hornish was so far behind with less than half a lap to run we were all crafting our Marco Wins ledes -- and swiped it from him a stone's throw from the yard of brick. In eight starts since, he's finished fourth or better four other times. But he's never won.

It says here it's gotta happen sometime. So, what the hell. I'm pickin' him.

There are, of course, a whole fistful of reasons not to, and most of them don't even involve the Indy-hates-the-Andrettis meme. If you're looking for portents tomorrow, for instance, here's one: Scott Dixon starts on the pole.

The only other time Dixon sat on the pole, in 2008, he won. Plus, the polesitter hasn't won the 500 since 2009, which means we're due. So there's that.

There's also the guy who sits next to him in Row 1, Will Power, who won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and has dominated everything in IndyCar except the 500. Sooner or later, you figure, it's gotta be his day.

 You might think the same thing about Simon Pagenaud on the outside of Row 1, a coming star who won the GP of Indy last year. In Row 2, there's Tony Kanaan, who finally broke through in 2013 and is never not at the front in this deal. Ditto Helio Castroneves sitting next to him, who lost that stirring duel with Ryan Hunter-Reay by the slimmest of margins last year and who might be due a favor from the racing gods because of it.

Besides, he hasn't won since 2009. So he's due, too.

If I were a saner person, I'd pick Helio. Or Dixon. The vibe feels right.

But for some bizarre reason it feels right with Marco this time, too, so I'm going with him. He goes off in the middle of Row 3 -- right around where he always starts, and a position that's produced a couple of 500 winners.

He likes the track. He always finds his way to the front on Race Day even if he hasn't been running at the front anywhere else all season. If 80 percent of success is showing up, as Woody Allen once said, Marco's got that covered.

All he needs is for something to fall into place at the end. And, yes, I'm fully aware how crazy that sounds, expecting Indy to cut an Andretti a break.

But, hey. Wouldn't be the first time someone called me crazy.


Friday, May 22, 2015

An arena too far?

Hey, what do I know. Maybe Warrant is still out there, looking for just the right venue.

Warrant. The Kingston Trio.  Chad and Jeremy. Maybe even (oh, God, here we go again) indoor football.

All I know is the city of Fort Wayne paid a lot of money to some people who think there'd be a market for a 5,000-seat downtown arena, and here we got around that rosy again. Fifteen years ago another bunch of dreamers got everyone ramped up about a downtown arena, conveniently waiting until the horse was out of the barn to do so. The state lege had already given its blessing to the Memorial Coliseum expansion, so there was no harm in stirring a pot everyone knew would never  come to boil.

Now here we are again, looking into a downtown arena. In one sense it's something we should have seen coming, because the landscape is actually much more amenable to it now than it was then. With the advent of Parkview Field and the Harrison and the new complex going up at the corner of Wayne and Harrison, downtown Fort Wayne has become the hot new address.

Cool bars and cooler restaurants have grown up in the 'View's blast radius, as predicted by the visionaries. You can go downtown now past 6 p.m. and hear something besides crickets. It's an Indy-style revival on a smaller scale, and that's a good thing.

So the notion of a downtown arena was going to float to the surface eventually. That we don't really need it, of course, is both obvious and irrelevant. In the strictest sense of the word, there's a lot of things we don't need. You can come up with infinite examples if your prevailing interest is simply to squeeze every penny of public money until it screams.

Fortunately, even in Fort Wayne, there are enough visionaries who see what the city can be if only it  puts its back into it. I've often joked that our civic motto should be "E Pluribus It's Good Enough," but these days I'm only half-joking when I say it. Stuff is happening here, and it's good stuff.

That said ... I'm trying really hard to figure out what a 5,000-seat downtown arena could add to the mix that isn't already in the mix.

There may be attractions out there that aren't already playing the Coliseum or the Embassy or Foellinger, and that aren't exactly the right fit for any of them. But if you're strictly talking sports, are the Mad Ants going to re-locate downtown? Would someone actually be deluded enough to circle the drain with indoor football again? Indoor soccer, perhaps?

In order, the answers are 1) doubtful, 2) are you crazy and 3) well ... maybe. Back in the day, the Flames did have a small but fiercely loyal fan base.  It would likely be larger now because the game is larger here -- thanks in part to all those Flames who stuck around to help nurture the grassroots, and the example the Beasleys have set for what the game can do for you, even if you come from a quiet mid-sized city in the Midwest.

Outside of that, the main benefit of a 5,000-seat arena downtown is that it might be just the right size to entice the IHSAA to bring a basketball semistate back to the city after 20 years of farming them out to smaller venues.

That was a purely economic decision by the IHSAA, which killed the golden goose of Hoosier Hysteria and suddenly found its basketball tournament revenues halved. But based on what I saw in Huntington a couple of months ago, when an overflow crowd jammed Huntington North for a couple of semistate games, a 5,000-seat arena would seem to be the perfect fit -- and it would return to the tournament a big-time feel it doesn't really have now until the state finals.

Along those lines, I suppose you could put the occasional Saint Francis, Indiana Tech or IPFW game downtown, but I doubt any of those schools would be willing to pay what it would cost to play all their home games there. IPFW moved back on campus because it couldn't fill the Coliseum with anything but echoes, and it's doubtful it would be willing to move back off-campus again -- even though it blew its shot at upgrading its on-campus digs by building an all-purpose fieldhouse instead of one specifically designed for basketball.

In any case, what was on the table 15 years ago is on the table again. I don't know if it can fly. I don't even know if it can taxi. All I know is it's happening because downtown is happening.

Just like, you know, the lady said


Thursday, May 21, 2015

The kiddie police

Look, I get the beef. How many times do old people (i.e., "people in the Blob's general demographic") break out pictures of their grandchildren, even for total strangers?

Even the total strangers wind up oohing and aahing, because, really, what kind of boorish jackwagon says "I don't want to look at your damn grandkids"?

So when a handful of national media types started carping the other day about Steph Curry bringing his 2-year-old daughter Riley to the NBA Western Conference Game 1 postgame, I understood. The media types are trying to do a job. It's a professional setting. Kids might eat for free, but that doesn't mean they're allowed in the bar area.

On the other hand ... she was six kinds of cute.

And so I found it hard to feel anything for the (gentle) gripers but a profound pity, because, really, they weren't gonna win this argument and they were too dumb to know it. There's only two ways this can end when you start grumping about people's kids, after all, and neither are good.

1. You sound like Mr. Wilson.

2. You sound like just another self-absorbed media tool.

Nobody ever liked the former, and the latter is a cliche to the 10th power. So you wind up 0-for-2.

The other downside, and no one often admits this, is that rarely do the kids disrupt the Gettysburg Address. In four decades as a sportswriter I've sat in on umpteen thousand formal postgames, from the state basketball finals  to big-ticket college football to the Final Four. Very rarely do you get much more than TranscriptSpeak. Most of the good stuff you get later, in the breakouts and one-on-ones.

So I had no issues with Steph's daughter the other night, speaking as a veteran of these wars. In fact, I thought it was kind of cool. You're always looking for fresh angles in this game, and right there in front of everyone was an angle straight from the wrapper. Had I'd been there, I'd have been turning handsprings when Six Kinds of Cute admonished the NBA MVP to "Be quiet, Daddy."

Boom. Column lede.

And, thanks, kid. You can eat on my dime any day.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

One last Top Ten list. Well-Krafted.

So Robert Kraft has come out with his hands up, leaving his quarterback to shoot it out alone with the G-men (for "Goodell"). Apparently the weather changed, or something. The truth about psi, and other fanciful tales, grew too inflated to be ignored.

Or maybe Kraft and the Patriots discovered that throwing lawyers at the NFL was a pointless exercise, given the way they seem to just bounce off the Shield.

In any case, the Pats dropped their appeal of the Deflategate sentence (though Tom Brady hasn't).  And so, in honor of David Letterman's final signoff tonight, the Blob has put together a Top Ten list to commemorate both occasions.

Call it, "Top Ten Reasons The Patriots Said 'OK, You Win'."

10. Tired of trying to come up with an answer for, "If none of you did anything wrong, how come you suspended the two locker room guys?"

9.  Bill Nye the Science Guy won't stop laughing.

8. Neither will Jenny Craig.

7. Weight-loss thing wouldn't fly (see "8").

6. Brady wouldn't lower the drawbridge and let the rest of us cross the moat around his McMansion, so screw him.

5. Colts won't stop snickering.

4. Two words: Testicle jokes.

3. Two more words: Bleeping Spygate.

2. Belichick threatened to smile if we didn't drop this.

And the No. 1 reason the Patriots said "OK, you win" ...

1. Letterman's killing us.    

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Failing, the new success

So now we know the secret to financial independence, and it's not about coming up with the next Facebook.  It's about coming up with the next 6-6 football season at Notre Dame.

That was Charlie Weis' sayonara turn in South Bend in 2009, and yet the man's legend lives on there, if only on the university's books. He may be the only man in America who's made more because he lost one game than he did by winning a bunch of others.

The one game was the USC game in 2005, when Weis' Irish pushed No. 1 USC to the wall before USC Pushed back in the final seconds. The Bush Push saved the Trojans that day, but it convinced the hierarchy at Notre Dame that Charlie Weis was someone worth hanging onto. And so, spooked by the notion that a man with four Super Bowl rings might eventually be lured back to the NFL, they handed Weis a 10-year contract extension.

After which, of course, Weis turned out not to be the genius those four rings implied he was, although perhaps his genius simply lived at another address. Failed stints in South Bend and Kansas, after all, have only succeeded in making him rich.

According to Matt Fortuna of, Kansas is still on the hook to Weis for more than $5 million. And Notre Dame, thanks to that 10-year sentence, paid him north of $2 million last year, and will eventually pay him somewhere close to $19 million for almost a decade of non-service.

The $2 mill is significantly more than the $1,187,272 current football coach Brian Kelly earned last year. It's also more than athletic director Jack Swarbrick and basketball coaches Mike Brey and Muffet McGraw made.

Nice work if you can get it. Or non-work, as the case may be.    

Monday, May 18, 2015

(Going on their) head case

INDIANAPOLIS -- ... and welcome, everyone, to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, aka Hey, Look, Ma, I'm Upside Down, aka Thank God I Remembered To Bring My Helmet.

There was May rain and lush May heat and brave folks scaring themselves May-green as they flew around the place north of 232 mph. And then ...

Well. And then, they just flew.

Helio Castroneves went on his head. Josef Newgarden went on his head. Ed Carpenter went on his head. Three times in a week, IndyCars did what IndyCars rarely do -- turn greasy-side up. They did more flipping than Jeb Bush on Iraq.

It all begged the question what exactly IndyCar was doing with all that time and money it spent on the new aero kits it rolled out this spring. All those computer models, all that research and development, and they didn't know the things would turn into helicopters the first time they went racing on an oval?

"Hindsight always gives you a different perspective," Derrick Walker, president of competition and operations for IndyCar, said Sunday.

Yeah. Such as, how come there wasn't more foresight?

To the credit of IndyCar and the Speedway, they did some prodigious thinking on their feet Sunday, after Carpenter crashed in the morning and it became clear the prevailing aero and boost setups weren't tenable. You can ding them for dialing back the boost to race-day levels, thereby scrubbing five or six mph off everyone's top end for qualifying, but not to do so would have been inviting disaster.

Racing may be an inherently perilous sport -- everyone in it understands and accepts the risks involved -- but no one goes into it looking to fill a cemetery plot. There's a fine line, and a vast difference, between taking it right to the very edge and going beyond it. No one who values the health of the sport actively seeks the latter.

And so, they dialed back everyone's boost after Carpenter's crash.  It was absolutely the right move, because as negligible as that 5 mph might seem, when you're traveling 225 mph and beyond, it's anything but.

"Oh, yeah, there is a difference," Newgarden said Monday, after qualifying ninth Sunday at 225.187. "You're on such the limit of grip here at Indianapolis, so, you know, 5 mph into a corner is a huge difference. It's generally a lot harder to drive the car (at the faster speed).

"I don't want to make it sound like it was easy yesterday in qualifying, because it wasn't. We ran our race type setup for downforce, but we were as trimmed out as we could be and still on the edge as we could be. It was still tough to go and out and put four laps together."


"But it wasn't as hard as it could have been," Newgarden went on. "The boost would have made it harder. It would have made it more difficult to really lay it out there."

And potentially deadly. And if occasional death has always been a regrettable part of racing, it's never done anything but damage the sport when it happens -- particularly when the public perception is that witless negligence or callous indifference was the cause.

Thus, the cluster that was Sunday. Unavoidable in one context; completely avoidable in another.

 "This problem is solvable," said Walker, pledging that more testing is in the offing before IndyCar hits more high-speed ovals at Texas, Fontana and Pocono. "Backing up to the race here, we need to err on the side of safety, and I'm very confident we will resolve whatever issues we've got. I don't believe we'll be sitting here a year from now still scratching the head."

For the sake of his sport, he'd better hope not.  

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The stubborn immortality of legend

Michael Jordan missed something like 9,000 shots in his career.

Twenty-six times he had a game-winning shot on his racquet and missed.

A bunch of other times he didn't even take the game-winning shot, yielding instead to the likes of Steve Kerr and John Paxson.

All this is to lend some perspective to the all-pervasive Catechism O' MJ, which proceeds from the premise that memory may be imperfect but is nonetheless inviolable. And so it is immutable truth that Michael Jordan never missed a shot, never failed with the game on the line, slew dragons and leaped tall buildings with a single bound. Once, the story goes, he took on Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Dominique Wilkins all by himself and beat them 150-0.

And so of course he could whip LeBron James one-on-one. Today. At the age of 52 and carrying, to put it diplomatically, a few more pounds than he once did.

Thirty-four percent of those polled in a recent survey actually believe this, which means they are, yes, delusional, but also captives of myth. Myth, you see, is timeless, and it has no truck with reality. And so Michael will always shoot straighter, hang in the air longer, perform more impossible feats of derring-do than any player ever has or ever will. And, if so called upon, he could do it even today.

Or tomorrow. Or next year. Or when he's shuffling around with a walker some decades hence.

And LeBron James?

Someday, when he is 52 and no longer finely chiseled, 34 percent of those polled will say he could still take whoever the next MJ or LeBron will be. Because, after all, LeBron never missed a shot, never failed in the clutch, slew dragons and leaped tall buildings with a single bound.

And so it goes.

Friday, May 15, 2015

An appeal-ing tale

Gather 'round, children, for it is story time here in Blob World, and don't be intimidated by the 20,000 words of our tale for today, The New England Patriots' Rebuttal To The Wells Report.

(Popularly known as "Tom Terrific And The Magic Texts").

(Also popularly known as "Aesop's Fables Got Nothin' On Us").

In today's story, our hero, Sir Tom of  Brady (granite of chin and pure of word and deed), files an appeal (that means "lawyers up," children) of his cruel four-game suspension at the hands of the blackhearted ruler of his land, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (aka, "Roger the No-Goodnik").  Meanwhile, Brady's merry band of fellow travelers, the hijinks-loving but kindly New England Patriots, pen a brave response to the NFL's dastardly edict, demanding that Roger the No-Goodnik recognize that no king can rule without the consent of the gover--

Oh, wait. That was the Magna Carta.

No, the Patriots' solution is unique: A 20,000-word book of jokes intended to jolly Roger the No-Goodnik out of punishing them, because, after all, they are currently the fairest band in his land (that means "They won the freakin' Super Bowl"). Among the knee-slappers:

Q: Why did the alleged ball-deflator, a lowly Patriots servant named Jim McNally, refer to himself in text messages as "the deflator"?

A: Because he was trying to lose weight, not because he was illegally deflating footballs. And certainly not because Sir Tom sort of ordered him to, just as he'd been sort of ordering him to since October. That's a lie, lie, lie. Sir Tom would never do that. Granite of chin! Pure of word and deed! All that!

Q: What did another lowly Patriots servant, John Jamestrski, mean when he texted McNally "Can't wait to give you the needle this week"?

A: Why, that just meant it was McNally who delivered the balls to the officials for the pregame inspection, and the officials frequently would ask for additional needles. It's not because McNally routinely deflated the footballs, and certainly not because Sir Tom (granite of chin, etc., etc.) instructed him to, no, no, a thousand times no.

Q: Can a football really deflate on its own in 50-degree weather?

A: Yes! And we have a lacke-- er, wise wizard, here to explain how! He's a scientist! Scientists don't lie! Sure, he's wearing a Tom Brady jersey, but that's just a coincidence, like all those text messages!

Q: How long does it take a man to duck into the bathroom and deflate footballs, if in fact he was deflating footballs, which of course he wasn't?

A: A lot longer than a minute and 40 seconds, that's for sure. Why, you can't even pee and wash your hands in that time! Here, I'll prove it!

 I'm sorry. Did you say something, children?

Yes, I know these aren't very good jokes. They aren't even very good explanations. You know when you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar and you have to think up something really fast? Like, it wasn't really your hand in the cookie jar, or you were just checking to make sure the cookie jar didn't have any cracks in it, or you were just getting a cookie for your imaginary friend, Wallace?

This is sort of similar. And as for Sir Tom's appeal ...

 Well, here's the real joke, children: The person who's going to hear Sir Tom of Brady's appeal is Roger the No-Goodnik himself. Which means the real fable in all of this is that Sir Tom has a hope in hell of getting his suspension reduced or overturned entirely.

The end.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Institutional control

They get the national champions in the Cameron Indoor Zoo For Trust-Fund Babies come December, and maybe by then Tom Crean will at last have his own zoo in order.  Or so the un-nuanced narrative likely goes these days for some folks in Hoosier Nation.

Devin Davis got tagged for marijuana possession last weekend, and Hanner Mosquera-Perea was apparently on the scene, too, but didn't get charged. And so here we go again with the Crean-has-lost-control-of-his-program meme, because this is last offseason all over again -- or at the very least it's a good start.

What I think is you can indeed hang some of this on Crean, because we all saw this very sort of misbehavior as a symptom of the larger disease that was the Kelvin Sampson Error. Not to see the Crean Era at least partially through that same prism, therefore, is inconsistent at best.

On the other hand ... at some point, the players themselves are responsible for whatever culture a program presents. And right now it's increasingly not a good one.

To be sure, Crean can go draconian on this, as some have suggested. Kick anyone who's ever touched so much as an illicit beer out of the program. Institute a zero tolerance policy for alcohol and drugs. Send out a skeleton lineup next fall down at Duke, because that's what he'll likely be left with if the players themselves don't at some point take ownership of their own legacy.

Some things you just know, and here's one thing I know: Zero tolerance doesn't very often work, especially with college kids. For one thing, they can't conceive of a world where things go sideways, which means they never think they're gonna get caught. The action/consequence synapse simply isn't fully developed enough in most of them.

So Crean can turn his program into a gulag, but it's the players themselves who ultimately will determine the direction of that program. Banning alcohol and weed, after all, isn't going to stop college kids from drinking or smoking. It never has. To suggest otherwise (i.e. "This would never have happened when Coach Knight was here") is simply to be naive.

The blunt truth is, it happens. It happens everywhere and it's happened forever, on Knight's watch and on John Wooden's watch and on every icon's watch you want to name. The difference now is it's not as easy to keep it out of the public eye, given that the public eye is pretty much all-seeing anymore.

So, yes, this is on Crean, to an extent. But mostly, especially in 2015, it's on the players. They're privileged in a way few college students are privileged, and with that privilege comes a certain heightened standard of conduct. And that is a realization they must largely come to on their own.

The grownups can lay down the law. Only the kids can pick it up and make it work.

(Update: Davis and Mosquera-Perea were dismissed from the program today for “not living up to their responsibilities to the program.")


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Eternally pickin' nits

And Jim Harbaugh thought working for the 49ers made his eyes roll.

Michigan's presumptive savior (Latest in a series! Collect them all! ) was reminded this week that you can never go broke overestimating the NCAA's capacity for obsessing about the inconsequential. Michigan announced Monday it had self-reported four secondary violations, which in actual English means "stuff the NCAA won't punish you for but says is wrong anyway, because, you know, it's its job to think up stuff that's wrong."

Violation No. 1 involved an assistant coach talking about a recruit who hadn't yet signed but was about to.

Violation No. 2 had to do with an autographed helmet and jersey Harbaugh donated to an auction  to benefit suicide prevention and awareness, which ended up being used to assist a scholarship in the name of a student who had committed suicide.

Violation No. 3 was about a prospective student-athlete who was allowed to sit in premium seating at a Michigan hockey game.

Violation No. 4 was something about electronic recruiting materials that apparently had too much specific information about the football program or ... I don't know, something like that.

So, to review: Michigan felt compelled to self-report that someone talked too soon about a kid who was already signing. And that an autographed helmet and jersey legally donated to a fundraiser was used to raise funds. And that a recruit sat in the wrong seat at a hockey game. And that ... oh, hell, I don't even know what that last thing was about.

And your proper response to each of the above?

1. So what?

2. Huh?

3. Oh, for God's sake.

4. Huh? 

(Presented as a public service by the Blob. You're welcome).    

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Just desserts

A day later, the nonsense flows unabated from the camp of the New England Patriots, serial cheaters.

Owner Robert Kraft says the punishment -- Tom Brady gets a four-game sitdown and the organization gets fined $1 million and loses a first-round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2017 -- far exceeded what he expected, given that the evidence is all "circumstantial."

Brady's agent, Don Yee, called it "ridiculous" that his client would get benched for four games because there's no evidence Brady had anything to do with messing with game balls.

And so on, and so on.

And, please, gentlemen, it's time to quit while you're ahead.  While the Wells Report couldn't find Brady's fingerprints on Deflategate -- these people are way too good at covering their tracks to let that happen -- to suggest he had nothing to do with this is to suggest some lowly functionary in the most rigidly top-down hierarchy in the NFL decided on his own to mess with the game balls for the AFC Championship.

Right. And there's some grand oceanfront property available in Nebraska, too, I hear.

And so Brady will get his sitdown, and the Patriots will lose some pocket change and a couple of draft picks for what the colleges call a lack of institutional control. Frankly, they got off easy, no matter what Robert Kraft says. If you can suspend Sean Payton for a year down in New Orleans for something of which he likely didn't have any knowledge, you can certainly ding the Patriots, a two-time loser who'd already been punished once for getting funny with league rules.

This was, after all, as much about Spygate as anything else.  Without Spygate in their past, Brady probably gets one game or maybe just double-secret probation. And the organization is fined --  a hangnail punishment when you're talking about an NFL franchise -- and told not to do it again.

But the NFL already told the Patriots not to do it again, and they did it again. And still the organizational punishment amounts to a slap on the wrist.

So no whining, Robert Kraft and Co. Roger Goodell got this one right, proving true once again the old adage about the blind squirrel and the acorn.

If he goes any lighter on this, 31 other teams in the NFL who already think he has too cozy a relationship with Kraft would have howled.  And Goodell's credibility, already rubber-legged, would have been down-goes-Frazier. It's his good fortune that the same Patriots for whom he's regarded to be a cheerleader also have a previous criminal record.

So now it's Jimmy Garoppolo against the world for four games. Or, to be specific, against a depleted Pittsburgh squad, a vastly improved Buffalo team, lowly Jacksonville and the always overrated Dallas Cowboys. And then Brady returns -- against the very team (the Colts) who blew the whistle on him.

Don't ever say the Shield doesn't have a finely tuned instinct for drama.

And that it can't, occasionally, get something right.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Winning ugly

So I've got the Bulls and Cavs on Sunday afternoon, and I'm thinking about what Mark Cuban said, what Geno Auriemma said, what a lot of radio yaks have been saying about college basketball and its supposed inferiority to the pro version.

I figure it's time to give pro buckets another look, if that's the case.

And so I watch for a couple minutes, and here's LeBron James crashing awkwardly into Derrick Rose. Here's Taj Gibson lowering his shoulder and trying to run through Timofey Mozgov, then flying backward on contact as if this were, I don't know, Portugal-Brazil in the World Cup or something.

Here's a rushed three-ball. Miss. Here's another rushed three-ball. Miss. Here's Joakim Noah flinging up a wild no-hope runner, and LeBron getting caught in the air and throwing up his own wild no-hope runner, and now it's the end of the third quarter and some numbers are flashing on my screen.

They tell me the Cavs scored 12 points in the quarter and went more than seven minutes without scoring. They tell me the Bulls scored 22 on 8-of-22 shooting. Yes, LeBron would go on to hit a buzzer beater to even the series at 2-2 (and for all the noise about LeBron ducking the last shot, he now has more playoff buzzer beaters than anyone in the last 15 years). But the thrilling finish couldn't disguise the fact that the Cavs shot 38 percent (29 of 75), the Bulls shot 36 percent (32 of 89) and LeBron and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs' two linchpins, were a combined 12-of-40 from the field.

To which I had the inevitable thought: Oh, yes. This is a MUCH better brand of basketball than the colleges play.    

In truth it was uglier than a bag full of skinned cats, and now I'm wondering if some of the noise about the pro game being so much more entertaining isn't just talking heads flacking for one of their employer's broadcast properties. I'm sure pro buckets has its share of dazzling moments and scintillating games; Game 7 between the Spurs and Clippers comes to mind. But if what I saw Sunday is at all representative of the pro game, I'll take college buckets any day. Or various other entertainments.

If I want to watch guys take dives, after all, there's always Portugal-Brazil.

If I want to watch guys brick reasonably open looks, I'll hang out at the Y.

And if I want to watch big people slam into each other rather than trying to outmaneuver them ... well, isn't that why the good Lord put Marshawn Lynch on this earth?

Sorry, pro buckets. Try again.

Saturday, May 9, 2015


The silence is his life sentence now. The silence and the raised eyebrows that go with it, that dogged suspicion that whatever Alex Rodriguez does on a baseball diamond, from now to forever, is as phony as Monopoly money.

In case you missed it, and you likely did, A-Rod hit his 661st career home run the other night, moving past Willie Mays into fourth on the alltime list. Think of it: In all the thunderous history of major league baseball, from the shadow of the Civil War to today, only three other players have hit more home runs. Their names are Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth.

Were it any other time or any other player, this would have been a stop-the-presses moment. ESPN would have broken into its programming for a live report. Someone would have gotten Mays and A-Rod together for a joint interview. It would have been quite the overkill deal, because overkill is what media does best now, and also because 661 home runs is, well, a hell of a lot of home runs.

Instead: Silence.

No cut-ins. No joint interviews. None of the acknowledgment, outside the immediate environs of Yankee Stadium, that we've come to expect for baseball's milestone moments.

This is the price Rodriguez pays not just for turning himself into an artificially-enhanced cartoon character, but for lying about it repeatedly and with self-preservation aforethought. A-Rod has been about A-Rod for so long, and with such blithe disregard for everything and everyone around him, that now when it should be about A-Rod, it isn't. It is only about silence and the sound of backs turning, and whatever sound the aforementioned eternal suspicion makes.

There's been much chatter, for instance, about Rodriguez' blazing start this season in his comeback with the Yankees. The restored power. The rejuvenated bat speed. The  seven home runs and 19 RBI in 28 games so far.

Why, it's as if he's discovered the fountain of youth, more than one radio yap has said.

To which I think, unavoidably: Yeah. I bet he's discovered a "fountain of youth."

This is not cynicism, mind you; it is simple deductive reasoning. If you've looked at Rodriguez so far this year and not thought he must have scored a new dealer, you've either not thought about him at all or not thought about him for very long.

And so I doubt seriously if I'm alone in my reaction. Yes, the silence is Alex Rodriguez' life sentence. But when someone inevitably gives voice to what we're all likely thinking right now, that will be his life sentence, too.

Indifference and suspicion, without possibility of parole.

Harsh. But fair. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Well, duh, Part Deux

A day later, the excuses, rationalizations and denials make for some entertaining reading.

This gem from radio blowhole and Patriots fanboy Colin Cowherd: This is no big deal because, hey, weren't you driving 56 in a 55 on your way to work this morning? Same thing.

This from Tom Brady's agent: It was a sting operation by the NFL, who employed the Colts to help pull it off.

This from Patriots owner Robert Kraft: Dammit, it was the weather, I'm telling you.

This from every Sammy-drinking mope from Maine to Rhode Island: Yeah, yeah, you're all just jealous 'cause we beat you. And besides, everybody does this. And besides, the Patriots crushed the Colts, anyway. And besides, even if Brady was involved, and he probably wasn't, prove that deflating gave him an advantage. Go on, prove it.

On and on. And all of it squirming away from the larger point, which is that if Brady was neck-deep in Deflategate (and only the most deranged Patriots fanboy could claim otherwise), he lied through his teeth to investigators and everyone else. Isn't he on tape saying he didn't even really know the two underlings who did the deflating? So how come their texts indicate he not only knew them but had pretty regular contact with them?

Come on, Tom Terrific. Throw down your BS and come out with your hands up.

In the end, see, it's never the deed that gets you, it's the lying about it. Watergate was indeed a second-rate burglary until the Nixon Administration started in with the fish stories. And so Brady is going to get his. Roger Goodell is in full kick-ass-and-take-names-mode trying to salvage whatever shreds of integrity the Shield still has in the wake of the domestic abuse plague. He can't afford to back up now, not after the Wells Report revealed that the league's Super Bowl champions likely cheated to get there, and not for the first time.

Best guess here is Brady gets anywhere from a four-to-eight-game sitdown, probably closer to the four than the eight. And never mind all the legal niceties about definitive proof. This is the NFL, not a court of law. It's acted on merely the appearance of wrongdoing before, and it'll do so again.

Wade past all the moral equivocation from the apologists, after all, and some inconvenient truths emerge. For instance: Whether or not deflating the footballs gave Brady an advantage is irrelevant if he thought it was going to give him an advantage. Likewise the unproven hypothesis that everyone does it. Even if that were true, what are you saying? That if you get caught red-handed you shouldn't be punished because someone else didn't get caught?

And if proper inflation of the footballs is such a minor thing, why does the league have a rule mandating it?

No, this is a big deal, not necessarily because of the act itself but because of the perception it creates. And because the team in question won the Super Bowl. And because it's been caught cheating before.

Repeat offenders always get punished more severely. And so, buckle up, Pats.

You thought Beast Mode hit you in the gut? Just wait.    

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Well, duh

And now a few other things the NFL would likely consider "probable," based on its judgment yesterday in the Deflategate probe:

1. The Earth is round and revolves around the sun.

2. The sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning and on an indeterminate number of mornings after that.

3. Subsisting entirely on bacon cheeseburgers is not the way to a heart-healthy diet.

Or to put it another way: We really didn't need the NFL to tell us the New England Patriots (Motto: Cheating Even Though We Don't Really Need To Since, Oh, About 2004, At Least As Far As You Know) were up to their usual shadiness against the Colts in the playoffs. It was always a "Well, duh" assumption that a locker-room attendant and an assistant equipment manager didn't decide to monkey with a bunch of game balls on their own hook. These are the Patriots, not the West Canaan Coyotes. The underlings weren't gonna go rogue the way Billy Bob and Jon Moxon did on Bud Kilmer.

(The Blob apologizes for this possibly obscure reference to "Varsity Blues." A cult classic resplendent in its awfulness, if you haven't seen it).

And so, duh, it looks as if Tom Brady his ownself might have had a hand in the proceedings. Which strongly suggests more than just Brady knew what was going on, because, again, it's the Patriots. It's not their Way for players to do anything without a hall pass from Darth Hoodie, or a member of Darth Hoodie's cabinet.

The problem is, the NFL can't prove any of it. There are some vaguely incriminating texts, but no smoking gun. After so much practice, the Patriots are far too skilled in the underhanded arts to do something so amateurish as leave their fingerprints unwiped.

And so, no text from Brady that says this: "Deflate those puppies, boys. I want 'em nice and squishy."

This puts the NFL in a hell of a corner. The Patriots are the reigning Super Bowl champions. How do you punish your reigning champs without definitive proof? Then again, if you don't punish them, every other league city will scream for your head, and rightfully so. So the pressure will be on for Roger Goodell and the boys to do something.

 The Blob's best guess is the league will punish them either by taking draft picks away or suspending Brady or Belichick, or both, for a prescribed number of games. This is, after all, a repeat offense. That means the league can pretty much justify any punitive action -- and if  the Patriots and their apologists howl about it, they'd do well to remember that due process isn't really a thing in Roger the Hammer's NFL.

In any case, it's another black eye for a league that's fast running out of un-blackened eyes.

Welcome to the NFL, boys and girls. Where the jury is still out on that whole "cheaters never prosper" deal.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Another fine mess

I'm changing the joke this morning, and not just because rednecks deserve some love, too. I'm changing it because if it ever fit anyone like a tailored suit, it fits New York sports mogul James Dolan.

You know the one about a redneck's last words? "Hey, y'all, watch this!"?

I think those are going to be Dolan's last words, too.

The latest in a series of men with more money than sense, he's already turned the Knicks into the NBA's most elaborate chalk outline. Now he's done it again. His latest genius move: Making Isiah Thomas president of the WNBA's New York Liberty, which unfortunately Dolan also owns.

Back up for a second and think about that.

It's ridiculous enough that Dolan has again handed the reins to a professional sports franchise to a man who has not only failed in that capacity before, he once destroyed an entire league in less than two years (the CBA, which had been around for 40 years). No, what raises the level of ridiculousness  to Hall of Fame levels is that it's the Liberty in particular he's putting at Thomas' disposal.

Yes, that's right. Isiah Thomas -- the man who once cost Dolan $11.6 million for sexually harassing a female Knicks executive -- now gets to run a women's basketball team.

Gee, how could that possibly not work?

It's so train-wreck-in-waiting absurd that on first glance I thought for sure it was a headline from the satirical publication The Onion. Why, you can almost see the fake quotes, can't you?

"Look, I'm not the sexist creep everyone says I am," Thomas said in his introductory news conference. "I love women. I do. I love everything about them. And I love the women's game. I especially love how, when they run up and down the floo--"

"Well, thanks, Isiah," Liberty owner James Dolan interrupted, nudging Thomas toward the door. "Sorry, folks, but Isiah's a busy man. He's got a million things to do, so we're gonna have to cut this short.  The chic-- um, I mean, our fine young ladies, will be reporting any day now."

Lord. Just more proof that it's true what people say these days about a nation gone mad -- a nation in which the Pentagon feels compelled to publicly reassure a bunch of Fruit Loops in Texas that Obama is not sending the Army to take over their state, and in which Isiah Thomas can be put in charge of a women's basketball team.

Satire is dead.

Reality killed it.  


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Back up the (Money) truck

Aaand the Hyperbole Alert Level officially goes to orange.

Overheard on sports yap radio yesterday: At least one caller declaring Floyd (Money) Mayweather Jr. "the greatest fighter of all time."

We'll give the man the benefit of the doubt. He is, after all, a child of 2015, the age of in-the-moment snap judgment. And maybe he hadn't gotten the word yet that Mayweather's win over Manny Pacquiao wasn't quite the signature moment he and his supporters no doubt hoped it would be.

That's because Pacquiao took on Mayweather with a torn rotator cuff.

The news that he was wounded enough to require surgery certainly takes a bit of the bloom off things for Money, because ... well, because he essentially beat a one-armed man. Kudos to Pacquiao for not only going through with the fight, but going the distance with the best fighter of his era. Perhaps we should re-evaluate Pacquiao's place in history, considering.

 Mayweather, on the other hand, is the best fighter of his era. Period. To suggest he's more than that is frankly laughable, considering every significant victory he's ever had has either been against fighters on the downslope of their primes, or, as with Pacquiao, injured and on the downslope of their primes.

This certainly wasn't true with, say, Sugar Ray Leonard, who beat Roberto Duran, beat Tommy Hearns, beat Marvin Hagler ... we could go on. And it wasn't true with Muhammad Ali, who had Joe Frazier and George Foreman to test him. Mayweather was better than either of them? Or better than, say, Sugar Ray Robinson or Joe Louis?


All we know about Mayweather is what we still don't know -- i.e, just how much the injury affected Pacquiao. He was, as has been noted, uncommonly passive Saturday night. Whether or not that was due to the shoulder or simply flawed strategy ... again, we'll never know.

What we do know is what sounded like a standard loser's excuse when Pacquiao brought it up Saturday night turned to be legit after all. And we know, boxing being boxing, that the conspiracy theories will now blossom that Pacquiao chose to go through with the fight because, if he lost, it would set the table for the inevitable loot-the-rubes rematch.

Jury's still out on that one. But on the Greatest Fighter Ever noise?

Back up the truck, people. Back it waaay up.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Shots fired

The numbers sound so bloodless, 45 years later to the day and date.

Thirteen seconds.

Sixty-one to 67 shots fired.

Thirteen casualties.

But 45 years along, Jeffrey Miller's blood still runs black on the white pavement in that iconic black-and-white photo. A 14-year-old runaway named Mary Ann Vecchio becomes an historic figure as she kneels screaming beside him. And on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio, May 4 is a day of somber remembrance, because things changed in America that day, fundamental things, hearts and minds and what it took to unlock them.

And so, today, the Blob is calling timeout. It's taking a brief detour from the sports world. My Blob, my rules.

I'll take this detour because I was 15 years old at the time, and my mind was made up. If four students died and nine were wounded on an American college campus that day, they had it coming. They shouldn't have been where they were. They shouldn't have confronted the National Guardsmen who were there to restore order after a violent weekend in which the ROTC building at Kent State burned to the ground. Law and order had to be imposed, at whatever cost.

Then I read an interview with the father of one of the victims, a rock-ribbed right wing establishment type. And when he wondered aloud what the hell these people were thinking, opening fire on a bunch of American college students as if they were some alien invader, my mind was no longer made up.

It's rare that you can pinpoint the exact moment when your social and political sensibilities reach full flower, but that moment was mine. I started calling bullshit when I saw it and I haven't stopped since.

Those four who died that day, for instance: Three were walking either to or from class, which means they were exactly where they were supposed to be -- i.e., where either they or their parents were paying for them to be. One was an ROTC student himself, a bit of irony lost on the haters.

The Guardsmen, conversely, were not the villains of the piece, either. They were scared kids not unlike the kids upon whom they fired, and they panicked. In the photos and video of those 13 seconds, their commanding officer can be seen beating on their helmeted heads, screaming at them to cease fire.

Kent State was a tragedy all the way around, in other words. It's what happens when those in power stop listening to those who have none, and when battle lines are drawn instead of consensus.

You'd think we'd have learned this lesson by now, but 45 years along we seem not only to have forgotten it but to have in fact gone in the opposite direction. Battle lines are not only drawn now, they're set in stone. Consensus is viewed as weakness. Those in power not only don't listen to those who have none, they turn those who have none into the enemy because the moneyed interests to whom they answer view them that way.

Give the powerless a little power themselves, and America will fall: It's the same tired lie the "I got mine, screw you, Jack" crowd has regularly trotted out throughout our history. And believing it only leads to division and turmoil and bloodshed.

I wonder, if Kent State happened today, what the reaction would be. Regrettably, I don't think it would change nearly as many minds as it did in 1970, when the nation supposedly was even more polarized than it is now. FoxNews would label those who died dirty thugs who were trying to install sharia law in America, or some such nonsense. MSNBC would label the Guardsmen who opened fire heartless automatons at worst and untrained hooligans at best. There would be those, as there were during the riots in Baltimore, who would mindlessly advocate shooting more of our citizens in the future if they didn't stay in line.

Elected officials in Indiana, meanwhile, doubtless would blame it all on gay marriage.

And what would all that teach us about America, 45 years along?

That we haven't learned a damn thing, sadly. Not a damn thing.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

And the winner is ... Chris Paul

And so, once again, boxing couldn't get out of its own way.  Biggest marquee night for the sport in two decades, and Chris Paul throws the most memorable punch of the whole deal.

That would be Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, who, four hours' drive west of where Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao were introducing America to a new sleep aid, dropped the lordly San Antonio Spurs with a straight right hand.

Straight over Tim Duncan, that is. Straight off the glass and in. Straight-up the signature moment of Big Saturday, as the Clips took out the defending NBA champions, 111-109, on Paul's banker over Duncan with a second to play.

It was a dazzling end to a scintillating Game 7, and what happened in Las Vegas suffered greatly by comparison. The big fight went exactly the way the smart guys forecast, unfortunately: Mayweather, who ducked Pacquiao for five years, ducked him for 12 rounds, running all the way to his 48th victory without a loss, the undisputed welterweight title and coronation as the greatest fighter of his era, such as it is.

It was a brilliant display of technical boxing, which is a gentle way of saying it was a full-on snoozefest. Benjamin Moore drying on a fence would have held more drama. A man seeding his lawn would have made your pulse beat faster. Forget Michael Buffer; the ring announcer should have been the Scott's "Feed Your Lawn, Feed It" guy.

If this was boxing's big chance to become a player again in American sport, it fell flat. And again, boxing was mostly to blame for that.  While 170,000-plus watched American Pharoah beat Firing Line in a stirring stretch duel in the Kentucky Derby, only 500 actual boxing fans were allowed to view Mayweather-Pacquiao in person in a 16,000-seat arena. All the other tickets were reserved for the two boxing camps and their entourages and various network suits, while the promoters charged $150 for the pay-per-view to further limit access.

And then the fight turned out to be the least compelling Big Thing of the day, by miles and miles. American Pharoah and Firing Line in Kentucky, Chris Paul in L.A. ... there was your real May Hem on this day.

And Mayweather-Pacquiao?

Just another fight America mostly missed, after all the hype.

Point for America.




Saturday, May 2, 2015

A few brief thoughts on today

It's a big day, what with the Derby, the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, the dregs of the NFL Draft for all the Sheldon Coopers living in Mom's basement and the heating up of betting on the royal baby, which is officially overdue.

Thus, the Blob has decided to go small.

To sum up the day, we're dusting off our vaguely memorable NFL feature, In So Many Words. And so here, in so many words, is today:

1. Pacquiao: Better man. Floyd Mayweather Jr.: Better fighter.

2. Fight: Boring.

3. Hats. Horses. Spires. Horses. The world's grossest mixed drink.

4. Horses.

5.  "And with the 237th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select Floyd Mayweather Jr. ..."

6. Hey, look, horses.

7.  "And with the 245th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the New York Jets select Dortmund to win, Materiality to place and International Star to show ..."

8. Man, that's a lot of horses.

9.  "And with the 247th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders select 'William faints dead away in the delivery room' ..."

10. "... while Kate screams, 'Who let all these bloody horses in here?'"


Friday, May 1, 2015

Horse sense, Part Deux

They used to send me stuff, back when I was the Horse Guy. May would loom, and suddenly the folks at Churchill Downs were deforesting the Black Forest, faxing me reams of data about the Kentucky Derby contenders that, for all the good it did me, might as well have been written in Ferengi.

"How did I become the horse guy?" I always complained.

Well. Not really.

In actuality, I knew how I had become the Horse Guy: I had written a piece on Hoosier Park when it opened, and Hoosier Park was a Churchill Downs property. That's how I ended up on their mailing/faxing/emailing list -- and, despite my whining, I was OK with that.

For one thing, I always liked the air of authority it gave me. I'd read the latest release, look around the newsroom and say, with an air of Ted Baxter imperiousness, "Hey, did you hear about It's A Horse, the Derby favorite? He walked the shedrow today. How about that?"

What I didn't say, as people fled my immediate vicinity,  was I had no idea what walking the shedrow meant. For all I knew, it meant It's A Horse was out looking for a little action. I might have been the Horse Guy, but that didn't mean I knew anything about 'em.

Truth be told, I couldn't tell you the difference between a fetlock and a padlock. Ask me how long a furlong was, and I'd say, "Pretty fur." And if you'd say "What's it mean that My Friend Flicka breezed six furlongs yesterday, Horse Guy?" ... hell, I didn't know. Was it windy yesterday?

This is not to say I don't love the Derby. I do. I love everything about it. I love the twin spires and the Colonel Sanders guys and those women who wear entire condos on top of their heads. I love that song by Dan Fogelberg. I love how artfully everyone ignores the obvious -- that mint juleps taste like Robitussin, and that "My Old Kentucky Home" is racist as hell -- and how, when they're loading the horses into the gate, there's always at least one who refuses to be loaded.

It's A Horse: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. You mean I gotta go in there

Handlers: Yes.

It's A Horse (taking a closer look): No way, man. This wasn't part of the deal.

With my luck, it's that horse I'll put my two bucks on. Which means it won't be American Pharoah or Dortmund or any of the other favorites, because one thing you learn when you're the Horse Guy is it's no fun to pick the favorites, especially if they haven't, uh, breezed the shed ... thing.

No, if  you're looking for a Horse Guy kind of horse, you're looking at a horse like Ocho Ocho Ocho, a 50-1, 50-1, 50-1 shot. You're looking at Mubtaahij, a 20-1 pick who was born in Ireland and has a South African trainer, a Belgian jockey and an owner from Dubai. You're looking at Materiality, because the last horse to win the Derby without winning as a 2-year-old was Apollo in 1882, when Chester Arthur was president. And who doesn't love a random Chester Arthur reference?

Then there's El Kabeir, going off at 30-1 but worth a look because Calvin Borel's in the irons, and watching Calvin Borel win the Derby is more fun than kittens on Red Bull. Besides, he wins so often at Churchill Downs, Churchill is thinking of filing an intellectual property suit.

 None of these, however, is my horse.

After much consideration (i.e., I flipped a coin), I'm going with Mr. Z. Mr. Z is a 50-1 shot, but that's not why I like him. I like him because he comes out of the same stable as American Pharoah, which is kind of like saying he's the kid brother American Pharoah used to pound on when they were growing up. But here's the best part: Mr. Z got his revenge.

If you look closely at American Pharoah, you'll notice his tail is a trifle short. This is Mr. Z's doing, or so everyone suspects. Apparently he chewed off American Pharoah's tail when no one was looking.

If that doesn't make him the perfect Horse Guy horse, I don't know what does.

So here ya go, Mr. OTB Guy. Two bucks on the feisty little bro.