Monday, August 31, 2015


This one we couldn't lose. Right?

A half-inning in and already the team from the good old USA -- Lewisville, Pa., just 90 or so miles down the road -- was eight runs to the good on the interlopers from Japan. No one loses an eight-run lead in the championship game of the Little League World Series, right?

Not in America's Pastime. Not in, you know, that game we either stole from the British, or that Abner Doubleday didn't invent, or that was once so synonymous with this country that Japanese soldiers in some green Pacific hell used to taunt American Marines with shouts of "(Bleep) Babe Ruth!"

But that was years ago, in World War II.

Japan's one of our staunchest allies now. More to the point, their kids are better at baseball than ours are.

And so, the team from Japan blinked once yesterday, then came out swinging. By the third inning, the game was tied, 10-10. By the time the Japanese kids laid on five gilding-the-lily runs in the sixth, the title was theirs, 18-11, the fourth Japanese victory in the LLWS in six years.

That nearly matches Taiwan's record of five straight LLWS titles back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and here's what really stings: America's all-time record against an international opponent in the LLWS championship game is now 15-35.

Fifteen-and-35. Even the Cubs have a better all-time won-loss, and they haven't won the World Series in 107 years.

What this tells us is America's Pastime is merely past its time, and probably long past its time. American kids spend theirs summers playing soccer and basketball and (preparing for the real American Pastime) 7-on-7 football now. Baseball, for a lot of them, is just something they used to play.

These days, you have to leave the country to find places where it's still a consuming thing, an irony that's not all that ironic. America, after all, has always been a champion exporter. Those kids from Japan, they're just the legacy of America's post-World War II benevolence. We helped our beaten enemies to their feet, and then -- although we'd actually introduced them to the game some years before -- we handed them baseball bats.

Which, of course, they used to full effect in Williamsport, Pa., on Sunday afternoon.

If only we'd introduced them to badminton instead.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Wall-y world

These Republicans. I swear, they're more fun than kittens on Red Bull.

Right out of the box you've got the First Lord of Wackadoo-ness, Donald Trump, pumping up the nitwits by saying he's gonna run out all those dirty Mexicans and then strong-arm their government into building a wall across Texas and points west. Among other fanciful tales.

Not to be outdone, here comes Scott "The Edukashun Governor" Walker, shifting into me-too mode  by saying, you know, a wall across Canada wouldn't be a bad idea, either. Gotta keep out those hockey players and other dangerous subversives, after all.

It's such a crowd-pleasing show that now I'm thinking, why stop there? If you're gonna build a Mexican wall and a Canadian wall, why not go all the way and build a wall for every state?

Surely South Dakota must be getting fed up with all those North Dakota lowlifes crossing the state line to get away from Bismarck's winters, and also to Hoover up all the good paying jobs at WalMart and Burger King. It must get wearisome to order a Whopper and chicken fries at a Sioux Falls drive-thru, only to be confronted at the window by some doofus from Minot who can't even speak proper South Dakotan.

And what about right here in Indiana?

God knows we could use a wall to keep John Calipari on the Kentucky side of the river where he belongs. Ditto Tom Izzo and Jim Harbaugh up there north of the Michigan line. And Ohio?

 Lord. Don't even get the Blob started.

Who can count the times Urban Meyer has sneaked over here with his phony green card to steal football players? And that Thad Matta, he's just as bad. Tell me we couldn't use a wall to protect us from their kind, and also to keep out the riffraff from Van Wert and Antwerp.

You say you want to play college ball?

Fine, Be a good Hoosier, then, and do it right here at IU or Purdue. Those people in Ohio, they're nothing but trouble.

Nine out of 10 nitwits agree.


Shake down the pixels

Old school wasn't born beneath Touchdown Jesus' gaze, but it grew to manly adulthood there. So it's safe to assume there might be some consternation among Domers at this latest affront to the memory of  Rockne and Leahy and all the other icons.

In the other words: What the hell is Notre Dame thinking, installing a videoboard and (ugh) ribbon boards in the House That Rockne Built And Lou Renovated? Who are we, Purdue?

Yet the boards will come in 2017, athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced this week, and the true outrage is that Rockne likely would have approved. The man was nothing if not a PR visionary, light years ahead of his time in flacking Notre Dame as a national brand. And modernity in pursuit of that goal was something he embraced wholeheartedly.

And so the videoboards will come, and Rockne will not so much as turn a hair in his grave. And the old-schoolers will learn to deal with it.

After all, they learned to deal with the idea of Notre Dame playing in something called the Pinstripe Bowl, after decades of being above even the Cottons and Oranges in the commercial vulgarity that is bowl season. They learned to deal with apparel company logos on the Irish uniforms. They learned, in time, to deal with a more obstructed view of Touchdown Jesus if expanded seating (and expanded revenue) was the tradeoff.

And so, bring on the videoboards. And consider the possibilities.

I mean, what could be more purely Notre Dame than looking off to the south on a game day and seeing a skyscraper-sized image of Pat O'Brien outlined against the blue-gray sky, reciting the Gipper speech from "Knute Rockne, All-American?"

Tell me Knute isn't gonna love that.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A notion too far

I wouldn't know Paul Newberry of the Associated Press if he clonked me on the head with a paving brick. But I do know this photo here.

It hangs on a narrow scrap of wall above the closet in my den, and I know its dark history like I know the contours of my own flesh. It's from a certain May morning 60 years gone, a black-and-white moment frozen forever and yet not frozen, because beyond it there are terrible things waiting. And so the moment becomes what comes after it, too, an indelible double exposure that makes you want to put your hands up and say "no" and "wait" and "turn back now."

But of course they never do.

Of course the 33 race cars frozen in that moment from Memorial Day of 1955 keep going, through the long sweep of the second turn at Indianapolis and into what awaits. They're on the parade lap, in the photo; shot from behind, all you see are the rear ends of cars and the backs of helmets. Of the men wearing those helmets, there is scarcely a glimpse.

And yet amid all that blank anonymity sits a man named Bill Vukovich, who has little more than an hour to live. Somewhere else are 17 other human beings who will go on from that moment and that day to die in race cars.  The top five finishers that day will all die. Two others besides Vukovich won't survive the summer.

In response -- and in response to the unspeakable tragedy that happens at Le Mans a month later, when a car rockets into the crowd and kills 81 people -- there are widespread cries to abolish motorsports. To make them gone. To declare them too savage for the sensibilities of a world that, against all available evidence, fancies itself civilized.

The cries don't exactly fall on deaf ears. But they fail anyway.

They fail because speed is a narcotic, and it will always draw men (and women) to it. It did so in the 1950s, when violent death reached a critical mass but people kept climbing into race cars anyway.   And it's doing so now, even as IndyCar mourns the passing of a rangy, genial Englishman whose absence diminishes us all.

And who has spurred the familiar refrain that motorsports -- or at least IndyCar racing -- has become too savage to tolerate.

Which brings us back to Paul Newberry.

In the wake of Justin Wilson's death Sunday, he wrote a column this week calling for the end of IndyCar racing, saying its carnage across the last two decades was intolerable.

"Going back to 1996, eight drivers, six fans and one track official have been killed at IndyCar events, either in the current series or its predecessors, the Indy Racing League and CART-Champ Car," Newberry wrote. "One death is too many, but compared to two other major series, Formula One and NASCAR, IndyCar's mortality rate is simply unacceptable."

He has a point, particularly in regard to NASCAR and Formula One. NASCAR hasn't had a death since Dale Earnhardt was killed at Daytona in 2001. And since Ayrton Senna died in 1994, Formula One has lost just one driver -- Jules Bianchi, who died in July of head injuries suffered in last year's Japanese Grand Prix.

IndyCar's record is appalling in contrast, and yet so much of it owes to mere chance. When Scott Brayton died at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1996, he died not because the car he was driving was inherently unsafe, but because he ran over a piece of debris, cut a tire and was flung into the wall at exactly the right angle for his head to make contact with the concrete. And Wilson's death was an utter, horrific fluke; had he come by a nanosecond sooner or later, or altered his line through the corner by the tiniest fraction, the piece of Sage Karam's nosecone that struck his head would have missed him.

This is not to let IndyCar off the hook. It has spent 20 years trying and largely failing to get out of its own way, with the height of folly coming in 2011, when it staged a race at Las Vegas that never should have been run. The oval there was too tight and the field (34 cars) too large, and it cost Dan Wheldon his life.

Newberry makes the case that IndyCars have become too fast and too dangerous for every oval, but the cars they're running now are not appreciably faster nor more unsafe than the cars they were running 25 or 30 years ago. And yet, prior to 1996, there wasn't the frequency of death and life-changing injury we've seen since.

The sport at least seemed safer then only because it was better run. That's simply the truth of it.

So what do you do about that?

Newberry's suggestion that you replace the Indianapolis 500 with another NASCAR race is absurd, and not just because it would be a financial disaster for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. More than two decades in, NASCAR's yearly visit to the Speedway has become a crashing failure, with the Brickyard 400 playing to half-empty houses. The prospect of another half-empty house on Memorial Day weekend -- particularly in contrast to the annual 250,000-plus the 500 currently draws -- would surely be something IMS would fight to the bitter end.

This is particularly true with the 100th anniversary coming up next May, and because all of this comes against the backdrop of the scintillating racing the 500 has produced in the last 10 years. Five of the greatest races in 500 history have happened in the last nine years; the last two 500s have produced perhaps the two greatest finishes ever.

More to the point, no one has died. No driver has died in the race proper, in fact, since 1973. That makes both NASCAR and Formula One look positively bloodthirsty by comparison.

Yet Newberry wants to abandon the 500 -- the most iconic event in motorsports -- and make it just another failed NASCAR race?

Too many powerful forces would doom that, not the least of which is the sheer weight of history. Replace the 500? You might as well replace the Super Bowl with a bowling tournament or the Kentucky Derby with a quilting bee. Certain events  cut so deeply into their historic channels that altering their courses is as much a fool's errand as altering nature itself.

And, in the case of the 500, an unnecessary one. Suggesting otherwise undercuts Newberry's entire argument, a great deal of which is not necessarily over-reactive.  Getting rid of the entire sport is -- if  for no other reason than, had IndyCar not existed last Sunday, Justin Wilson simply would have been courting fate in some other howling piece of machinery. And perhaps as likely would have found it.

That's simply the sad way of  these things. It is now, in the wake of Justin Wilson's death. And it was on a certain May morning in 1955 -- when a photographer lifted his camera to his eye and froze for all time a moment that was darkened by all that lay beyond.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Thundering bygone

The man was a throwback, and it's not everyday you can say that about a guy who went 6-11 and 275. The only individual ever likely to throw Darryl Dawkins anywhere, after all, was Darryl Dawkins.

When he died yesterday of a heart attack at 58, you remembered the handles he invented for himself (Sir Slam, Chocolate Thunder), and that he claimed to hail from the Planet Lovetron, and that he was a shatterer of worlds, or at least of backboards. Even now, you can't think of him without also hearing the tinkling of glass, and without remembering his charming habit of naming the dunks for which he became famous.

My personal fave:  The "If You Ain't Groovin' Best Get Movin', Chocolate Thunder Flyin', Robinzine Cryin', Teeth Shakin', Glass Breakin', Rump Roastin', Bun Toastin', Glass Still Flyin', Wham Bam I Am Jam."

This upon the occasion of breaking his first NBA backboard.

 But if his legacy was to introduce breakaway rims and make the NBA a sunnier place, it was also to usher in the era of the manchild. Moses Malone was the first kid to jump to pro buckets right from high school -- he went from Petersburg, Va., to the Utah Stars of the ABA in 1974 -- but Bill Willoughby and Dawkins were next, entering the NBA draft in 1975. They were the lineal of descendants of a line that stretched off toward Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, and included far more failures than successes.

To the extent that the NBA eventually instituted its 19-year-old age limit, a bit of good intention that has turned college basketball into a bus stop for high school stars who now need somewhere to pass the time for a year before turning pro. It's changed the essential nature of college hoops, and not for the good. And it's utterly unnecessary, given that one year makes no more than an incremental difference in the maturity level of kids that age, and that, in any case, if the NBA were serious about  seasoning raw young pros, it could simply stash them in the D-League for a year.

But the NBA won't do that. And so there is a whiff of nostalgia now at Chocolate Thunder's passing, the lingering scent of a bygone era. You wonder now, if he'd come along in this century instead of the last, if his career would have looked any differently. And you come to the inescapable conclusion that it wouldn't have, that delaying his entry into the NBA a year wouldn't have altered his essential nature (or his career trajectory) an iota.

Chocolate Thunder at 18 was still Chocolate Thunder at 19, after all. And at 21 and 25 and 30 and, yes, 58.

Some things a single year can never change. Most things, in fact.

Something the NBA should pause to consider, as it pauses to remember.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Just add Ws

So, by now, everyone in America knows Steve Sarkisian's shame. Outside of college football proper, they might even know who he is.

He's the latest head coach for one of the country's most storied programs, USC. And his shame is that, last Saturday night, he turned up drunk at Salute to Troy, a major event for boosters and others who want to get close to the program, and he did what drunks do: Make an ass of himself.

Spewed profanities. Said every other school in the conference sucked. Pretty much did everything a man has to do when he wants to pour gasoline on his career and burn it to the ground.

Remember Gary Moeller, the Michigan coach who got squiffed one night at a restaurant and was hastily ushered to the exit in Ann Arbor?

Of course you don't. Exactly the point.

Anyway, Sarkisian been playing catchup ever since, issuing a public apology and then calling a news conference on Tuesday to apologize again. The wonder is that he was still around to call a news conference, given how brutal the corporate environment is in 2015. Second chances are rarer than the dodo these days.

Sarkisian is apparently getting one, though, and it doesn't take a cynic to know that's precisely because the prospects for the Trojans this fall look exceptionally bright. They're finally out of the NCAA hoosegow, where Pete Carroll landed them before fleeing to the NFL. They've got another stud quarterback in Cody Kessler. And the preseason coaches' poll has them ranked 10th and favored to win the Pac-12.

So Sarkisian's path to redemption seems fairly straightforward. If the Trojans win 10 or 11 games and win the conference, no one's going to remember Salute to Troy. If they go to South Bend and whip Notre Dame and then whip everyone in the conference, Sarkisian's profanities that night will become a punchline for the faithful. This being L.A., they might even become USC's new favorite cheer.

Winning, after all, cures all ills, including overly sharp memories. And so it will be truly amazing to see how quickly 10 or 11 wins can transform "He embarrassed the university" into "That Steve, what a character."

 And if USC doesn't improve on last year's 9-4 record?

Well, Sarkisian's gone, of course. Or at least on his way to being gone. Because, you know, 9-4 isn't gonna cut it at USC -- and besides, have you heard what the guy did at Salute to Troy?


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A little help-side D, please

So now the punchline, on the occasion of what seems to have become a regular summer thing: Just call 'em the Booze-iers.

This upon the news that once again alcohol has made certain underaged college kids at Indiana University do dumb stuff, namely get caught with alcohol. Again it was two IU basketball players; this time the culprits were Emmitt Holt and blue-chip freshman Thomas Bryant, who were nabbed by excise officers trying to hide bottles of vodka while sitting in a car in a convenience story parking lot.

Holt's involvement is particularly egregious, given that this is the second time he's turned up in an alcohol-related incident in the wee hours. Bryant's involvement is particularly dismaying, given that he's Tom Crean's ticket to a better life -- i.e., he's the inside presence whose absence was the only thing that kept Indiana out of March Madness' swankier districts last spring.

Or so the theory goes.

The other theory out there now is that isolated incidents have become a ruinous culture within the IU program, and Crean needs to be called to account for it. Lack of institutional control is a hammer the NCAA wields with unbecoming ease when the occasion calls for it; lack of institutional control surely has become an issue with Crean's program, and one which athletic director Fred Glass must seriously consider now that five alcohol or drug-related incidents -- involving Holt, Bryant, Devin Davis, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, Stanford Robinson, Troy Williams and Yogi Ferrell -- have stained the program in the last year-and-a-half.

Or so the theory goes.

My theory?

This isn't about Crean. Ultimately, it's about his players.

Ultimately they're the ones who must take ownership of the program, who must take to heart what basketball at Indiana means and what it should continue to mean. Those five national championship banners swaying in the air currents at one end of Assembly Hall may set the standard, but they're worthless swatches of fabric unless breathing human beings choose to maintain that standard. What they represent is merely a dead past without someone to carry it forward.

In this, there is only so much a head coach can do, and Crean has done it. Curfews have been imposed. Suspensions have been handed down. Mosquera-Perea and Davis were kicked off the team. Holt, as a two-time offender, is likely to be next. What a head coach can do, outside of babysitting 15 college-age men 24/7 or locking them in their rooms, Crean has done.

Now it's up to the players.

Now it's up to the players who aren't getting caught in parking lots with vodka bottles to call a meeting, close the door and say "This (bleep) has to stop." To point fingers. To call out who needs to be called out. To remind everyone, and not gently, what's being put at risk here.

Quinn Buckner filled that role, once upon a time. Innumerable others have across the years. That no one yet has filled it for this team -- at least not effectively -- is something for which you can blame Tom Crean. It is the one thing for which he is most indictable, because he's the one most responsible for the team he puts together.

Something vital seems missing in this one. Maybe that's an unfair assessment, but that's how it looks from outside the ropes.

Listen. College kids have been getting nicked for underage drinking forever, and college kids always will. But a different standard applies to those kids who have been hired to feed the corporate maw of big-time college athletics. And it's up to the ones who recognize that to set straight the ones who don't.

Those banners can't sustain anything by themselves. But they are useful reminders sometimes, especially in cases such as this.

And so, as the architect of three of those banners used to preach: A little help-side defense, if  you please.



Monday, August 24, 2015

The eternal issue

At last report, IndyCar driver Justin Wilson lay in a coma today in a Pennsylvania hospital, the victim of an occurrence no one ever wants to see but understands is part of the deal when you make your living by courting dying.

Every man or woman who climbs into an IndyCar and punches holes in the air at 220 mph knows what the worst-case outcome of that can be. And so yesterday at Pocono a driver named Sage Karam hit the wall and sprayed large pieces of his car into the sky, and one of them came down on Justin Wilson's head. He was airlifted out with what was described as a severe head injury, and nothing about any of it sounded very good.

It's the second head injury suffered by an IndyCar driver in 15 months -- James Hinchcliffe was hit in the head by debris at the first Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May of 2014 and suffered a concussion that knocked him out of the Indy 500 -- and another occasion to raise the issue of safety in a sport that is in most respects antithetical to it. But while you can't keep chaos out of a sport whose selling point is chaos, you can take steps to at least make it less appealing to those with a death wish.

Motorsports drivers have always been accused of having the latter, but that's a myth cultivated by the uninformed. No one in the sport ever wants to see anyone die, or wind up in critical condition in the hospital. That's especially true in this case, because Wilson, a congenial Brit out of Sheffield, England,  is by all measures an extremely popular figure in the paddock -- and one who, ironically, consistently has been one of the sport's biggest advocates on safety issues.

Which brings us to what his Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay said yesterday in a somber Victory Lane.

""Maybe in the future we can work toward something that resembles a canopy," Hunter-Reay said. "Something that can give us a little bit of protection and still keep the tradition of the sport. Just to be [an] innocent bystander like that and get hit in the head with a nose cone is a scary thought."

True. And I can hear the old-schoolers warming up already, scoffing at Hunter-Reay by pointing out that motorsports is supposed to be scary. And so enough about trying to make the sport safe, because it can never be safe. In some twisted away, after all, that is a major part of its appeal.

I'm not buying that. I've been either watching or covering motorsports for more than 50 years, and its tragedies to me have never been anything more than tragedies. Watching footage of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald burn to death at Indy in 1964 did not make me love motorsports more. Ditto watching, on ABC's Wide World of Sports, the same thing happen to Lorenzo Bandini at Monaco in 1967.

What possible boost did the sport get from Ayrton Senna dying in Italy in '94? Or Dale Earnhardt at Daytona in 2001? Or Dan Wheldon in Vegas in 2011?

If all those didn't make you halfway sick to your stomach, you're no one I want to spend any time around. And your notion that instilling measures to minimize those occurrences somehow dilutes the sport is simply ridiculous.

Motorsports is better because of the HANS device and the SAFER barrier, both of which were developed in response to tragedies. Undoubtedly, IndyCar will respond to Wilson's accident with some other new development.

I'm not sure a canopy, or a half-canopy, will be their answer. It fundamentally changes the entire nature of IndyCar racing, for one thing. And, if struck right, I could easily argue that the canopy would just create more potentially life-threatening debris.

But if it happens, it happens. I'll adjust. The sport will adjust. It will, after all, still be about punching holes in the air at 220 mph. And if the vehicles doing the punching don't look like they used to ... well, I don't see anyone out there driving the Marmon Wasp anymore. Or a front-engine Offy roadster, for that matter.

It's motorsports, after all. Change is and has always been one of its fundamentals.

Today, as Justin Wilson lies in a coma in a Pennsylvania hospital, tell me that's not a good thing.

Update: Wilson, 37, died Monday evening of his injuries. He is the first IndyCar driver to die in an on-track incident since Dan Wheldon was killed at Las Vegas in 2011, and the fourth since 2003. Tony Renna was killed in testing at Indianapolis in October 2003 and Paul Dana lost his life in a practice crash at Homestead, Fla., in March 2006.  Said ESPN's Eddie Cheever of Wilson:  "He was probably the favorite driver of all the drivers. He managed to be aggressive on the track but at the same time very fair. He leaves behind a very big legacy as to how a race car driver should act on and off the racetrack."


Sunday, August 23, 2015

The joy of ... losing

So this popped on Deadspin today, and, man, it's priceless. And timeless. And oddly affirming in a world turned ugly these days by canting demagogues and their vicious, mindless acolytes.

Mekhi Garrard's wide-eyed, laughing response to some kid blasting a grand slam off him reminds us, first of all, that kids sometimes have a better perspective on life its ownself than the adults around them. And that, sometimes, there can be sheer wonder in a thing even when you're getting your head kicked in.

Cole Wagner's mammoth blast off Garrard, after all, put Garrard's team down 18-0 in a Little League World Series game. And yet ... look at that face. Lip-read the "wow" coming out of him. Does that look like a kid who feels any grownup-infused shame because he just failed so spectacularly? Does it look like anything but someone who recognizes a "wow" moment when he sees it, and will stop to appreciate it even when it comes at his expense?

We've read and heard a lot this week about Steelers' linebacker James Harrison taking away participatory trophies from his kids because they didn't "earn" them. Because achievement, apparently, is measured not by effort but only by results. That if you don't win, effort means nothing.

It's an effective, if ultimately unsatisfying, way to succeed in the adult world.  But what a soulless thing to impose on kids who are 6 and 8, as Harrison's are. At 6 and 8, they shouldn't even be playing organized sports. They should be two houses over in an empty lot playing football, or something vaguely resembling it, with a bunch of other 6 and 8-year-olds. They should be playing baseball on some weedy diamond where if you hit it into right field it's an out, because you couldn't scare up enough players to field complete nines.

In this game, there are no bases on balls. Pitcher's hand is in effect. And if your goofy little brother dribbles one through the infield and takes off for third base instead of first, some coach isn't going to scream at him to stop screwing around and play the game right.

There's a time and place for all that. There's a time and place for playing the game right, and for all those bromides about winning and earning and feeling bad about yourself when you lose. There's a time and place, unfortunately, where the sheer joy of games exits stage left, and the games become a job, a means of gainful employment just like any 9-to-5 gig in the belly of some corporate beast.

Sadly, that's happening earlier and earlier now. High school kids have gone from being high school kids to potential commodities for the massive enterprise that is high-dollar collegiate sports. College kids become potential commodities for the even more massive enterprise that is pro sports. And somewhere in that process, the wonder of it all often gets lost.

In the last year, a handful of NFL players have made news by quitting the game in their 20s, at a time when their careers are presumably just taking off. It's been widely and accurately reported that they've done this because they fear the long-term physical and neurological consequences of playing the game, even for fat paychecks. In other words, the game is no longer worth the candle. And that's because there is no longer enough joy in the game at that level to keep them playing it.

And so, let's celebrate Mekhi Garrard's wide-eyed wonder in the face of spectacular failure. Let's celebrate the "wow" in his defeat. Let's celebrate the wonder of it all, because the wonder of it all can be such a fleeting thing.

Yeah, the kid lost. But it sure looked like winning from here.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

He said ... he said

The morning cool carries a hint of fall this fine day, which of course gets the Blob thinking about college football, which of course gets it thinking heretical thoughts.

No, not compensating players for the use of their names and images on apparel and the like. Good lord, that would be entirely too free market-y for a sport so driven by the academic mission of the universities it serves.

(A brief pause to let the sarcasm clear).

No, the Blob's thinking this morning that college football doesn't have enough bowl games. It needs one more, and I've got the perfect name: The Uh-Huh/Nuh-Uh Bowl.

The participants would be Baylor and Washington, whose head coaches are in a splendid little You Didn't Say That/Yes I Did tiff over defensive end and bad actor Sam Ukwuachu, who just get got 180 days in jail for sexually assaulting a former Baylor soccer player in 2013. This was after Ukwuachu allegedly punched around his girlfriend while at Boise State, which got him dismissed from the program and set him on the path to Baylor in the spring of  '13.

Baylor coach Art Briles says he didn't know nuttin' about that when he welcomed Ukwuachu into his program. Chris Peterson, then the Boise State coach and now at Washington, says Briles absolutely knew what kind of time bomb Briles was getting, because Peterson thoroughly "apprised" him of the situation in a phone call.

Briles came back yesterday and, essentially, called Peterson a liar. He claims Peterson only made vague references to Ukwuachu's history, saying only that the kid had had a "rocky" time with his girlfriend.

And so, it's a classic he said/he said. And it unfortunately obscures the real story here, which is how Ukwuachu only got 180 days in jail for what seems to have been straight-up rape. He could have (and should have) gotten 12 years. Instead he gets six months, even though he had a history of violence against women,


In the meantime, there seems to be only way to resolve the Briles/Peterson feud. Pit their teams against each other. On April 15, because no one ever lies on Tax Day. In Vegas, because no ever lies there, either.

Let the man who fudges the truth least win.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Meanwhile, in Deflationland ...

This just in from the continuing mission of the U.S.S. Deflategate, aka No, Not More Deflategate, aka My Legal Brief Is Briefer Than Your Legal Brief:

There is nothing, really, that's just in.

In our latest episode, the judge whose misfortune it is to hear this mess, Richard M. Berman of the U.S. district court, has ordered Tom Brady and Roger Goodell to settle this thing, or appear in court again on Aug. 31 for (presumably) another tongue lashing. He also said he might issue a ruling by Sept. 4, but don't be surprised if he doesn't.

So, in essence, nothin's happenin', except perhaps talks between Brady's lawyers and Goodell's lawyers about how to resolve this thing without either side losing too much face. The guess now is  Brady either will squirm off the hook entirely, or get his sentence reduced to perhaps one game if he agrees to admit, at the very least, that he wasn't completely cooperative with what's now widely acknowledged as a flawed investigation.

In other words: Brady likely oversaw the monkeying around with game balls -- as I've said before, it's absurd to think otherwise -- but the NFL dropped the ball. And not because it was trying to "get" Tom Brady and the Patriots, which is also an absurd notion because it presumes Goodell would deliberately go out of his way to smear one of his league's brightest stars and its signal franchise.

No one outside New England believes that. Of course, there are a lot of things about the Patriots no one outside New England believes.

No, the NFL muffed this because muffing things is what Goodell's NFL tends to do. And now Brady's likely going to skate, because the judge in this case seems to have less patience for the league than he does with Brady's people. And he doesn't have a whole lot of patience with the latter.

In any event, Brady and the Patriots can expect to see a lot of fans wearing these on their heads this fall, and to hear long, mournful chants of "Cheeee-ter, cheeee-ter" coming out of the stands. Because no matter what the judge rules, the court of public opinion has made its ruling, and the court of public opinion always wins in these things.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Participatory sorts

James Harrison is absolutely right. Al Davis never said "Just be there, baby."

On the other hand ...

On the other hand, Woody Allen is right, too. Eighty percent of success really is just showing up.

And so we come to the crucial intersection of a debate that's been slinking around the ethersphere the last few days, a debate that in fact has been simmering for a long time. One side of it is the old school crowd, which believes achievement isn't achievement unless it's, well, achieved. On the other is the orange-slices-for-everyone faction, which believes if you keep score your kids will be forever traumatized by losing 10-3 to the Ladybugs in tee ball.

Harrison, the Pittsburgh Steelers occasionally psychotic linebacker, flamed up this debate with his Instagram post the other day, in which he said he was giving back his 8- and 6-year-old sons' "participation" trophies because they hadn't earned them. In theory, he's absolutely right. No one should be rewarded simply for showing up, because it instills a sense of entitlement that will in the long run be ruinous when a child grows up to discover that, after they show up for work, they actually have to do something.

But this was a lousy piece of parenting, and let me tell you know why.

One, the kids are 6 and 8. At 6 and 8, the nuances of Daddy's argument are going to be lost. All you know is he's taking something away from you for no apparent reason. He could have gotten his message across better without that bit of grandstanding.

Me, I wouldn't have heard a word he said. I would have just been pissed off.

Two, when Harrison says he's not about to raise two boys to be men by "making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best," he's wandering dangerously close to Baseball/Hockey/Soccer Dad From Hell country. Generations of kids (including my generation) have been raised to believe that you should always give 100 percent, because giving 100 percent is something of value in and of itself. So, yes, trying your best should entitle you to something.

Praise. An extra orange slice. Something.

Because the alternative is to suggest that effort means nothing if you don't win. That you do have something be ashamed of if you don't win. And that's going to produce kids who grow up to be every bit as screwed up as the here's-a-trophy-just-for-being-you kids.

In fairness, I don't think that's what Harrison meant. But it certainly can be construed that way. And judging from some of the online responses to his post, more than a few people did construe it that way. And approved.

God help their kids.

In the end, as with anything, it's all about balance. You don't want your kids to expect something for nothing, but you also need to let them know there's more of value to athletic competition than just winning. That if you lose but are, as the motto goes, brave in the attempt, that in itself is an achievement worth recognizing.

This whole thing, weirdly, reminds me of a scene from "Talladega Nights." One night, outside an Applebee's, Ricky Bobby confronts his no-account dad about instilling Ricky Bobby's life philosophy, "If you're not first, you're last."

"Hell, Ricky," Dad responds. "I was high when I said that. That doesn't make any sense at all."



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Cheaters prosper

There are places where you expect people to do underhanded things in pursuit of ill-gotten gain, like Foxborough, Mass., and Washington, D.C. But there are other places where you can be pretty well assured the world is on the level, and if you play by the rules you can be assured that everyone else is doing the same.

Little League used to be one of those places.


Well, suffice it to say the next time they throw a parade at the Little League World Series,  Bill Belichick and Tom Brady would be right at home as grand marshals, waving to the crowd while thinking up new ways to Gumby the rules.

This just in from the Little League Softball World Series: Apparently a team from Snohomish, Wash., in order to avoid playing a team from Iowa it barely beat the first time they played, threw its game against a North Carolina team because, by doing so, it would knock the team from Iowa out of the tournament,

According to WHO out of Des Moines and other sources, the Snohomishes -- try saying that 10 times really fast -- sat its starters and ordered each batter to swing at pitches in the dirt and bunt with two strikes. The result was an 8-0 no-hitter for the North Carolina team, a result that enabled the team from Carolina to eliminate Iowa on a tiebreaker.

 According to Deadspin, Snohomish had won its previous two games by a combined score of 21-0 but had only beaten the Iowa team 4-3. Which suggests the Snohomishes laid down to avoid a rematch with the Iowans.

You'd like to say this was a new low for the Little League World Series, softball or baseball. But of course it isn't.

It's merely the yearly scandal for an event that seems to require one, whether it involves creative math on birth certificates or (in the case of the Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago last year),  creative geography.  This is always a shame, because there's so much good and right and hopeful coming out of Williamsport, Pa., every year, which is why it now gets the full ESPN treatment from the regional level on.

And perhaps why there is always a scandal every year. Because who wouldn't do almost anything to get the full ESPN treatment?

The Blob has long been ambivalent about the Worldwide Leader turning 12-year-olds into TV stars, because nothing is more corrupting than the all-seeing eye of TV. Simply by its very presence, it changes every dynamic of the events it covers. People simply behave differently when the cameras go on, and a lot of times not in a good way.

That's because everyone wants to be in that bright circle of light -- wants to be, well, a star. And to behave the way they think stars should behave.

It takes a coach with world-class perspective to keep his kids' feet on the ground in that situation, and even to keep his own feet on the ground. TV is the ultimate tempter, and sometimes even good people succumb to it.
Case in point: The coaches and kids from Snohomish.

Among its many virtues, Little League, done right, is an invaluable compass for the developing value systems of young people. I can't conceive what kind of warped compass reading the kids from Snohomish were getting in that game against North Carolina. Giving 100 percent all the time is, after all, the default position for every responsible youth coach everywhere. How confusing must it have been for the Snohomish kids to suddenly hear the polar opposite from their coaches?

 Accounts didn't go into detail, so I can't say if this happened or not. But I would have given almost anything to see at least one Snohomish kid, and perhaps several, absorb what their coaches were telling them, say, "Screw that," and swing away with two strikes. And pass on pitches in the dirt. And keep trying their damnedest to win.

Those are the kids I would want on my team. Because those are the kids who really get what it should all be about.

TV and the grownups around them be hanged.



Monday, August 17, 2015


Forget for a moment Andrew Luck's sharpness in a fleeting appearance yesterday, or the Colts going down 36-10 to the Eagles in a preseason result that meant about as much as preseason results always mean, which is not nothing but lives right next door to it.

No, the highlight of the day was ... the Return of The Tebow!

America's favorite fourth-string quarterback entered the game in Philly midway through the third quarter, and got a standing ovation from the home crowd. Given that Eagles fans are the biggest jerkwater fans in football (outside, perhaps, of the occasional Patriots home crowd), this was a not insignificant achievement in its own right.

Playing with and against mostly third-stringers, he led the Eagles to two field goals, completed 6-of-12 passes for 69 yards, and scored a touchdown on a scramble. He was also sacked twice to end a couple of fourth-quarter possessions.

But all-in-all, not a bad outing. It's highly unlikely he makes the team (at least as a QB), considering he was the third QB in (behind even Matt Barkley), and the Eagles presumptive starter, Sam Bradford, didn't even play. But it was a moment, and it was a nice one.

And somewhat refreshing, in that, for as long as he's with the Eagles, he's not likely to wind up on anyone's police blotter. After a couple of years of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald et al, that's a welcome thought.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Requiem for a loser

You know that guy (whoever he was) who said "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing"?

He was wrong.

Winning isn't the only thing. There's also losing.

There's losing with style, with grace, with dignity. There's losing epically, outrageously, heartbreaking-ly.

You know that other saying, "Can't win for losing"? Well, no one would have ever said it if it weren't for the ones who did the losing.

Which brings us to the most magnificent losers of all time, the Washington Generals. In 63 years as the willing foils for the Harlem Globetrotters, they lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 16,000 games. They won three -- beating the Taiwanese National Team (how bad were they?), a Russian Army team and, yes, the Globetrotters one fabled night in 1971.

Red Klotz, the ancient set-shot artist whose family still runs the Generals, hit the winning shot that night. He said later it was "like shooting Santa Claus."

Red had that backward. What happened recently to his Generals was like shooting Santa Claus.

What happened was the Globetrotters called and said that, after six decades, they were dropping the Generals as their principal opponent.  No more losses. No more sneaking up behind Red Klotz and yanking down his trunks, or the trunks of Red Klotz' spiritual descendants. No more buckets of confetti, no more Curly Neal dribbling around Generals as if they were traffic cones, no more Meadowlark Lemon running his zany sets down on the low blocks, making the Generals' post player look like, well, a post.

"All great rivalries come to an end," said Globetrotters' legend Sweet Lou Dunbar.

Although that great hammer-vs.-nail rivalry still seems to be going strong.

Not so Generals-vs.-Globies, the closest analogy to the aforementioned. The Gens have lost their last game, and it's their greatest loss ever. And so raise a glass, ladies and gents, to the end of era. Raise a glass to losing like no one ever lost. Raise a glass to losing in the grand style, and to the nobility that attends it.

Raise a glass.

Just make sure, you know, the glass has a hole in it.  

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Green meanies

So here they are, Domers, the unis your Fighting Irish will wear in the Nov. 21 Shamrock Series game against Boston College in Fenway Park.

First reactions:

1. Baylor wants its uniforms back.

2. Lantern icon on front instead of script "Irish" would be much scarier.

3. Although the Green Lantern likely would get all pissy about it.

4. Leprechaun on side of helmet beats shamrock on side of helmet every time.

5. 'Cause every time the Irish have worn the shamrock (See: late 1950s, early 1960s), they've been mediocre to sucky.

6. But, hey. At least they won't glow in the dark like Oregon's new unis.

7. 'Cause, really, unless the lights go out, what possible purpose do glow-in-the-dark unis serve?

8. Did we mention Baylor?

Meanwhile, in L.A. ...

And now, while Roger Goodell's phalanx of attorneys square off against Tom Brady's phalanx of attorneys in front of a judge who all but rolled his eyes at both sides yesterday ... we return you to our regularly scheduled NFL programming.

No, not "All In The (Jets) Family," in which Meathead (IK Enemkpali) punches Archie (Geno Smith) and breaks his jaw, and then, through a series of zany escapades, winds up with a family (the Bills) just as dysfunctional as the Jets.

And, no, not "Dude, Where's My Car?" in which 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick supposedly gets into a training camp fight with troubled defensive end Aldon Smith over a car, or a woman, or doesn't get into a fight at all.

 No, this one involves the NFL's ongoing pursuit of another franchise in Los Angeles, which got ratcheted up this week when a bunch of owners met in Chicago to discuss, well, another franchise in Los Angeles. The owners of the St, Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders are all currently holding guns to their respective cities' heads, threatening to move to L.A. if their demands are not met.

Facilitating blackmail has been L.A.'s role since the Rams fled the city for St. Louis in the first place, and it's been damn good at it. Won't invest millions of taxpayer dollars to build me a new stadium I could easily pay for myself, and which will largely benefit only myself? Fine, I'll move to L.A. And you can use that money to fix your infrastructure or improve your schools or whatever sorry excuse you have for not handing it over to me.

Well, now it appears there really is going to be a team jumping to L.A. soon -- with the NFL's blessing, because the NFL has been trying to get back into the nation's second-largest media market since the Rams left. It'll be strictly a money grab when it happens, because the irony is L.A. itself has always been lukewarm at best about professional football.

Four franchises in three leagues have tried to make a go of it in the City of Angels, and only the Rams have ever been able to make it work for any length of time.

The Chargers, who now want to move back, were originally the Los Angeles Chargers as a charter member of the AFL, only to flee yawning L.A. after one year. The Rams hung around but were never that big a draw, even though they were very good most of the time, which is likely the only reason they stuck it out as long as they did. The Raiders moved to L.A. because Al Davis got mad at Oakland, then moved back because he got mad at L.A. for not wholeheartedly embracing him.

Then there was L.A Express, which never drew more than 32,000 fans to the cavernous Coliseum, and collapsed along with the rest of the USFL after a couple of seasons.

Truth is, any pro football franchise has to compete for the affections of L.A. with the city's true heartthrob, the USC Trojans. USC football has always ruled in Southern California, and when USC football wasn't ruling L.A., the beaches and all the other attractions of SoCal were. That's not likely to change with yet another pro football team landing on the premises.

So, we'll see.  One thing's for sure: If someone finally does relocate to L.A., every other owner in the league will take a serious hit. How will they strong-arm their cities once the threat of moving to L.A. is off the table?

Look, this isn't sustainable. I need a new stadium, with more luxury boxes and a better sound system and a chocolate fountain and a videoboard the size of the Titanic. And more lounge chairs, the kind with that vibrating lumbar thing. And a dog run for my Pomeranians, Spike and Killer. So, pay up. If you refuse, I'll move the team to ... to ... Billings. Yeah, that's right, Billings.

And all the people laughed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Man of means. And brains.

So maybe your Jaded Meter has red-lined, finally. Maybe you're tired of bad acts by professional entertainers whose stock is not the well-delivered guitar lick or line of dialogue, but the well-delivered lick on the athletic field. Maybe you're weary to death of overpaid, self-entitled athletes being subsidized by overpaid, self-entitled billionaires.

I could see why, on the morning after the Jets lost their starting quarterback in the most ridiculous manner possible: A broken jaw in a locker room fight with a teammate.

(Although, come on, what happened to Geno Smith is kind of funny, considering for whom he plays. I mean, you lose your QB in a locker room fight? How is that not the most Jets thing ever?)

 In any case ... I have exactly the antidote for your Jaded Meter's elevated state.

Consider this guy.

An NFL man of means not only living within his means, but well within his means? How cool is this?

As documented by my former JG colleague, Michael Rothstein, Ryan Broyles is that rarest of creatures, a man who didn't lose sight of his perspective when an NFL team dropped millions in his lap. Instead, he actually took to heart what they tell you at the rookie symposium, all those cautionary tales of athletes who blew through their money and then were left penniless by the time most normal career arcs are just starting to track upward financially.

He listened, when most do not. And so he drives a red Ford Focus rental in training camp. And he and his wife drive Mazdas, not Benzes. And they live, more or less, on $60,000 a year and plow the rest of Broyles' millions into investments.

This is a man who is not going to be selling insurance to make ends meet when his career ends. This is a man with, apparently, more financial discipline than 99.9 percent of the American populace.

So when your Jaded Meter soars and you're tempted to think everything and everyone in professional sports these days has been contaminated by money ... think of Ryan Broyles.

And realize there's an exception to even the most distasteful rules.     

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Because the Blob has never seen a cautionary tale it couldn't ignore, it's time to wade into the swamp delicately titled "Man vs. Woman: What Would Happen?", and somewhat less delicately titled "No, She Couldn't."

Here's what Ronda Rousey, the pre-eminent female athlete in the world whose name isn't Serena Williams, said on a Reddit chat recently, vis-a-vis a fight with Floyd Mayweather: "Floyd [Mayweather] is one of the best boxers of all time. He would definitely beat me in a boxing match. I unfortunately don't get into 'matches.' I fight for a living. In a no-rules fight, I believe I can beat anyone on this planet."

Um ... no, she couldn't.

In fact, I would go so far as to say Rousey is just this side of delusional. (No, not a crazy woman. I didn't say that. I would never say that. I may be a damn fool but I'm not the world biggest damn fool, going out of my way to deliberately inflame women everywhere with that kind of gasoline).

I would say Rousey's knocked over so many tomato cans it's given her a false sense of who she is and what she can do -- and more to the point, what she can't do. And what she can't do is come close to beating Floyd Mayweather, even in a no-rules fight.

The notion that she could beat him in such a fight, after all, seems predicated on the notion that she could get him on the ground. She couldn't. She'd have to wade through too many Mayweather punches to do that. And even one, solidly landed, likely puts her down and out.

I mean, this isn't an accountant we're talking about. It's pound-for-pound the best fistfighter on the planet. I have to think he could deliver a punch that could turn out Rousey's lights.

(One caveat: This is if Mayweather would abandon his usual never-throw-a-punch-unless-he-has-to style and just come out throwin'. Something tells me he'd just come out throwin'.)

Look. I think there have been female athletes, if the circumstances were right, who could not only compete with their male counterparts, but in some cases beat them. I just don't think this is one of those circumstances.

Sorry, ladies. You may commence flaying me.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Vanishing era

The image comes to us from the dawning of pro football's eminence, when the violence that would become both its appeal and its cross was still a raw and primitive thing. It is late November of 1960, and Chuck Bednarik of the Philadelphia Eagles stands on a chewed expanse of turf, right fist cocked above his head in an attitude of animal triumph. At his feet, stretched out and motionless, lies Frank Gifford of the Giants, the very epitome of the felled knight.

You can tell, without being told, that Gifford is out cold. And you can tell, without being told, that it was Bednarik who knocked him cold. It is one of the most iconic sports photos of all time, capturing a moment so primal you can almost taste the blood in your mouth.

And now it neither bleeds nor breathes anymore.

It stopped doing that yesterday, when word came down that Gifford, peerless star of the 1950s Giants and one of the faces of the game that has become our national obsession, had passed away. Bednarik went back in March. And now there is a curious melancholy to that photo, because it is simply bloodless history now, with no more connection to the living present than a Matthew Brady image of the dead at Gettysburg.

A whole era is vanishing, and those of us who grew up with it feel it most acutely. Last week Mel Farr died, and I reflected that one by one the pieces of my childhood Sunday afternoons were disappearing: Mel and Doug Buffone and Chuck Bednarik and Charlie Sanders. All gone this year.

And now Gifford, a wholly different piece.

With his passing, all three men who gave the NFL its primetime face are now dead. It was Frank and Howard Cosell and Dandy Don Meredith in the booth every Monday night, the first time pro football became an actual happening. It was great sport but also great theater, and you tuned in not just for the football but to see how Dandy Don was going to deflate Howard's legendary pomposity this week.

Gifford was the play-by-play man and steady tether in that booth, the hall monitor who kept the kids from taking over the classroom.  Now they are gone, all three of them, and Monday Night Football is just another night of football. What made it history is just history now, words on a page without a living witness to make sure the words get it right.

It's hard to imagine how outside the box MNF was at its inception, because now the NFL plays on Monday nights and Sunday nights and Thursday nights, and even Saturday nights late in the season. But in 1970, no one knew if it was going to fly. I was in middle school when they floated a trial balloon of sorts one Monday night (or it might have been a Sunday night). I have some extremely vague memories of that, of going to school the next day and hearing a couple of my teachers talking about it. Green Bay and St. Louis was the matchup, I seem to recall. Or maybe it wasn't.

In any case, it was revolutionary -- Football? On Monday night? -- and there were no guarantees it was going to work. But it did. More than any other single thing except the AFL-NFL merger that produced the Super Bowl, it made the Shield what it is today.

And now all of its primary witnesses are gone. And Chuck Bednarik is gone. And the primitive violence that photo of him and Gifford epitomized has become a slickly packaged TV show whose producers pretend the violence can be controlled, and that it's not still pro football's bedrock appeal.

But it is. Gifford was always a reminder of that, even as he and Howard and Dandy Don took the NFL to its future.

As legacies go, that's not a bad one.    

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Tales from training camp

Tonight is the official launch of the NFL's Consumer Ripoff Season, aka the preseason, aka "If you want to pay enormous sums for season tickets to your favorite team's games, you must also pay less-enormous-but-still-ridiculous-sums for your favorite team's preseason games."

Which is to say, the Hall of Fame Game happens in Canton, Ohio, with a bunch of rookies temporarily wearing Steelers uniforms taking on a bunch of rookies temporarily wearing Vikings uniforms.

It's the first quasi-sighting of America's viral obsession since February, and to mark such a momentous occasion, the Blob has decided to offer a couple of training camp snapshots, culled from a couple of different places on the East Coast.

* In  Richmond, Va,, the Redskins and Texans conducted a joint practice, an event carefully coordinated by both coaching staffs to ensure each team gets to work on specific areas of preparation in a businesslike atmosphere. So of course both teams, in a businesslike manner, chose to work on their brawling preparation.

* Meanwhile, at MetLife Stadium, the Jets conducted a public scrimmage last night under the lights.  A small passel of fans showed up, intent on their own preparation. And so, when quarterback Geno Smith botched a couple of plays, they heartily booed him.

Smith, to his credit, took it in stride, recognizing that it's never too early for the fans to get cracking on their hatin'. But a certain former pro basketball star no doubt would have had a different take.

Take it away, A.I.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The night that won't go away

The shadow of Kevin Ward Jr. stretches long over Tony Stewart, a year after Stewart struck and killed him during a sprint-car race on a dirt track in upstate New York.

You see it every week as NASCAR spins through its endless summer, and as Stewart struggles weekly to be competitive. Only a shrink popping the hood on his head and rummaging around could say for sure if his struggles are some lingering after-effect of that night in New York. But it is demonstrably true that he hasn't remotely been the driver he was before that night.

And now the shadow gets thicker.

Now Ward's family is filing a wrongful death suit, a not-unexpected development given the family's statements after Stewart was cleared by a grand jury. The amount of damages sought isn't yet known, but at issue is whether or not Stewart was driving in a reckless manner under caution, causing his car to get loose and the back wheel to hit Ward.

I've watched tape of the incident at least a dozen times. And I'm convinced Stewart wasn't trying to hit Ward, that when he gunned his engine to go past him he simply may have been trying to close up the gap between himself and the car in front of him.

Which is not to say the Ward family doesn't have  a case here.

See, I think you can also watch the tape and reasonably conclude Stewart may have been either trying to spook the kid or shower him with dirt. I think he's telling the absolute truth when he says he knows in his heart it was an accident, because he wasn't trying to hit Ward. But trying to mess with him is a whole other matter. If he really was trying to do that, the Ward family's going to have a decent case that Stewart was being reckless.

The burden of proof in a civil suit, after all, is yea different than it is in a criminal proceeding. Which means the outcome can be yea different as well. You can ask O.J. Simpson about that.

In any event, both sides are well lawyered up, with Stewart represented by an attorney who counts Bob Knight, another notable hothead, among his past clients. Now everything hinges on his ability to definitively prove he wasn't being Tony Stewart that night, but just another guy racing a sprint car on a Friday night in dirt track America.

Which, ironically, is all he's ever sought to be on those nights.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Here come the Cubs

So it's August now, and I suppose I could talk about NFL training camps opening up, or about Nick Saban's somewhat Soviet notions about controlling his own message, or even about the Republican debate last night -- which apparently was Donny Trump spouting his usual demagoguery to wild applause because, by God, he might not have a workable solution to anything, but we love it when he calls people names.

Instead, let's talk about this: The Cubs.

I know, it's August and the Cubs should have stopped being a relevant topic two months ago, but these are not your Cubs. These are Theo Epstein's Cubs. Which is to say, they're suddenly loaded with exciting young talent and are starting to look unnervingly like the team of the future in the National League.

One of the kids, former IU star Kyle Schwarber, clubbed a three-run homer to take down the Giants last night, and suddenly the Cubs are in the magic circle. It was their eighth win in the last 10 games, and, at 59-48, they've overtaken the Giants for the second wildcard playoff spot.

There's a long way to go yet, so it's probably the height of lunacy to say this. But my money's on the Cubs here.

Yeah, they're young, but they've got an old head (Joe Maddon) on the tiller, and if Maddon knows nothing else he knows how to get teams through a playoff chase. As ESPN writer Jesse Rogers pointed out, last night he pulled starter Jason Hammels even though Hammels had thrown only 76 pitches and was sitting on a 5-2 lead at the time. But the first two Giants in the fifth had drawn walks, and Maddon saw momentum stirring in their dugout.

So he yanked Hammels. As Rogers noted, it was an October move executed in August, and one maybe only a guy who's seen a few Octobers would have considered making.

At any rate, the Cubs hung on to win 5-4. Bet against 'em at your risk at this point.

And when's the last time you could say that?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Deathless deflation

So NFL training camps have officially opened across the land, and you know what that means, America. It means more Deflategate!

Sure, we're all heartily sick of the villainy/non-villainy that won't die, because we'd much rather get on with the important stuff, like which NFL player is next going to get into one of those WWE fights in practice. (Thanks, Dez Bryant!). But we can't let Deflategate go, because the Patriots and the NFL won't let Deflagegate go. And most of that is because Roger Goodell and the boys couldn't find their hindparts with a flashlight, two hands and trained guides.

If Goodell and the boys were in any way unlike a vaudeville act, Deflategate would have long, um, deflated. But they've so compromised their own investigation with their bumbling there is actually a segment of America out there (a thinking segment, not the segment that thinks Donald Trump, another vaudeville act, is the next Churchill) who believe Tom Brady didn't know nuttin' about them footballs.  Who think the Patriots didn't do anything wrong, even though they fired that equipment guy for not, um, doing it.  Who think it was just one of those coincidence deals that Brady chose the day before he was to testify to destroy a cellphone with possibly incriminating text traffic on it.

Lots of people are willing to gloss over that now because it's come out that the head of the investigation, Mike Wells, never told Brady he would be punished for not turning over certain information, including the contents of his cellphone. (Of course, he didn't really have to, because it's sort of a given if you're not forthcoming with an investigation, the investigators will likely hold that against you).

  Lots of people are also willing to gloss over it because it's become apparent that some league functionary deliberately fed ESPN reporter Chris Mortensen bad intel about how many footballs were deflated and by how much. Which Mortensen went on to post because the functionary was apparently a trusted league source.

So, now it looks as if the league was deliberately trying to smear Brady and the Patriots, even though A) Brady is one of its brightest stars, and B) the Patriots are the league's model franchise, except when they're running over the rulebook with a 4x4.

No one's yet come up with a rationale for why the NFL would want to do that. But rationale went out the window for a long time with Deflategate, which has driven everyone connected to it completely insane because the damn thing just won't die.

Now it's headed where it's always been headed, the courts. And here's what I think: I think the NFL kinda-sorta framed a guilty man. No, I don't know why. I don't know why Goodell and the other occupants of his clown car do half the stuff they do. But I think the presiding judge is going to make hash of the NFL's case, and Brady will get his suspension overturned, and he and the Patriots will skate even though they got caught redhanded messing with the balls for the AFC title game. It's simply absurd to think otherwise.

 The lesson: Apparently you just can't beat the Patriots. Anywhere.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Requiem for a Superstar

One by one, pieces of my Sunday afternoons keep whirling off.

A few months ago it was Doug Buffone, No. 55 to Dick Butkus' 51, Robin to his Batman, twin pillars of all those flawed Chicago Bears teams that filled my autumn Sundays in the 1960s.

Then, less than a month ago, it was Charlie Sanders, the old Lions tight end, the one Bill Munson or Greg Landry threw to on those same autumn Sundays when it seemed if the Bears weren't playing the Packers or Vikings, they were playing the Lions.

And now?

Now comes word that Mel Farr is gone, and God bless him. If the Bears had Gale Sayers, the Lions had Farr and Altie Taylor, part of a cavalcade of running backs I can tick off to this day. Leroy Kelly in Cleveland. Johnny Roland in St. Louis. Tom Woodeshick in Philadelphia ... Dan Reeves and Don Perkins in Dallas ... Donny Anderson and Elijah Pitts in Green Bay ... Tom Matte in Baltimore.

And then, on the late game: Dick Bass of the Rams vs. Ken Willard of the 49ers. Because, you know, they played each other every week on the late game, or at least that's how I remember it.

Mel Farr fit as neatly into that catechism as any, and now he is gone. And with him, with all of them, go my Sunday afternoons, piece by piece.

But, hey. When Mel Farr retired, he became Mel Farr, Superstar -- a car dealer in Detroit who starred in his own TV commercials, sporting a red cape. My former colleague Justin Cohn, a Detroit homey, introduced me to them awhile back, for which I'm eternally grateful. Because now, no matter how much my Sunday afternoons recede, I'll always have this.

That's something, right?

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Rahal of hope

You probably missed this yesterday, mainly because it's IndyCar and, except for one day out of 365, IndyCar would be a good place to take it on the lam if you were on the FBI's Most Wanted list. Nobody's gonna look for you there because nobody knows it exists, except for the day of the Indianapolis 500.

(And, OK, yes, that's an exaggeration. But not a really huge one).

Anyway ... IndyCar staged a race at Mid-Ohio  yesterday, and the local guy won. Graham Rahal, a son of the Buckeye state through and through, came from the seventh row to take the checkers on Mid-Ohio fabled road course, and now there are two races left in the IndyCar season and he's just nine points back of frontrunner Juan Pablo Montoya in the title chase.

Nothing whatever against Juan Pablo, who would certainly be a worthy champion. But don't think everyone in IndyCar doesn't have their fingers and toes and perhaps other appendages crossed hoping Graham catches him and claims the title.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, would give the sport a bigger charge, because IndyCar needs an American star and Graham Rahal is that potential star. He's personable, he's funny, the cameras love him and he loves them back. The son of a racing legend (Bobby), he's engaged to the daughter of another racing legend (Courtney Force, drag racer and progeny of NHRA Funny Car icon John Force), He's even got the right sponsor (Steak and Shake). What's more American than cheeseburgers and milkshakes?

If he won, and IndyCar marketed him right (always a big if), he'd likely be the American star the sport has allegedly been missing since A.J. and Mario and Mears hung up the driving suits.

 IndyCar tried to make Danica Patrick that star, but she didn't win and frankly didn't have the personality for it. And IndyCar's other American with pedigree and star potential, Marco Andretti, doesn't have the personality for it, either. Nothing whatever against him, but the spotlight's just not his natural element. He's an introvert like his grandfather, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, his father.

So, yeah, Graham Rahal is the One. If in fact there is a One who can lift IndyCar into the public consciousness again in an era when the public consciousness has so many competing forces tugging at it.

Better a One than no one, though.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Calling all cyborgs ...

... your presence is requested at the headquarters of Stark Enterprises, where Tony Stark, aka Ironman, has been summoned to save the world from its latest threat, MMA fighter Ronda Rousey.

Whose campaign to turn the UFC into a suffocating bore is proceeding apace.

In case you missed it, and if you blinked twice you did, Rousey once again "defended" her title last night, although once more it wasn't noticeably under attack. She dispatched some Brazilian in 34 seconds, hitting her with exactly two punches that were solid but not visibly bone-crushing. The Brazilian proceeded to go down like a sack of wet mail.

 And now you have to ask yourself why anyone tunes in to watch any of Rousey's fights anymore, given that they're such a foregone conclusion.  Seriously, would you pay good money to watch an event that lasts 34 seconds and two punches? And even if you're doing so because you want to see a premier athlete at her best ... well, she's now become so dominant she's reached that counter-intuitive place where you have to question if she actually is that dominant.

By that I mean, is Rousey really this good, or is her competition simply that bad? Judging from last night she's not exactly wading through a host of Alis and Fraziers. It's more like a leisurely stroll down Tomato Can Alley.

For that very reason, I've always maintained that Mike Tyson was one of the most overrated heavyweight champions in history. Yes, he crushed everybody, or at least everybody who was looking for a place to fall down as soon as they stepped into the ring with him. The first time he fought someone who actually fought back, he got knocked out. And not by Ali or Frazier, but by a rank journeyman named Buster Douglas.

Enter Tony Stark.

I figure Ironman's the only one who can save the world from more 34-second Rousey fights. Because at this point, only a Stark-designed state-of-the-art cyborg seems capable of giving her the fight she and her fans deserve.

I mean, what the heck. It's worth a try, right?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Sad bagpipes

Even I remember Rowdy Roddy Piper, and I come from wrestling pre-history, from the primordial ooze of Dick the Bruiser and Mitsu Arakawa and Yukon Moose Cholak, and also Pepper Gomez.

I come from the days when a villain looked like Baron Von Ratschke, who always sounded as if he gargled with limestone. I come from the days of Black Jack Lanza, and black-and-white TV, and fierce debates with my middle-school buds about whether or not what we were seeing was real or just a musical revue without the music, but with tights and whatever evil weapon Lanza always had hidden in the waistband.

But even I remember Rowdy Roddy Piper, who died of a heart attack in California yesterday at 61.

He came along one generation removed from me on the wrestling timeline, when the WWF dispensed with the pretense and presented pro rasslin' as pure entertainment. The musical revue without the music actually included a musician for awhile, in the person of Cyndi Lauper. There were elaborate storylines involving a smokin' babe named Miss Elizabeth. There were outlandish cartoon characters: Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka  and the Nature Boy, Ric Flair, and of course the Iron Sheik, who lives on these days as a Twitter sensation, still playing the role for which heaven made him.

And then there was Rowdy Roddy.

He hailed from Saskatchewan but played a kilt-wearing Scot in the ring, and he was the best villain ever. Partly this was because he was, as all good wrestling villains are, a cheating, underhanded SOB. But what set him apart was his quick wit. Not even Bobby Heenan was as gifted a talker of smack, and everybody called Bobby "The Brain."

Rowdy Roddy was the real brain. Of all the villains in the history of wrestling, he was the one you most wanted to see get his ass kicked. Partly this was because you always sensed he was smarter than all the good guys lining up to kick his ass. But mainly it was because no actor in the game (ad they were, and are, actors) was as good at playing a complete and unrepentant jackhole.

 His greatest claim to fame was starring, along with perpetual foil Hulk Hogan, in the first WrestleMania, perhaps the signature event in pro wrestling history. But who could forget that time he cracked the coconut over Snuka's head? Or his battles with Captain Lou Albano and his sidekick, Lauper?

Good times. And so, in their memory, some bagpipes, please.

Play them slowly, Play them softly. Rowdy Roddy would have appreciated the irony.