Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What price Larry

So now the question is this: Why hire Larry Brown?

Three times now he's occupied a sideline in college basketball, and three times the NCAA has banned his programs from the postseason.

Three times this happened while he was still there, and three times it happened because he either looked the other way or actively took part in the shenanigans.

The last time Larry Brown coached college basketball, in the 1980s, he led Kansas to the national championship. Then he led the Jayhawks off a cliff. So outlaw was his program at KU that the NCAA seriously considered dropping the death penalty on it. Seriously considered it.

So why did Brown's latest employer/patsy, SMU, decide to bring him aboard?

That's the question. And it doesn't really require an answer.

SMU brought him aboard because college hoops is a business, and Larry Brown is the CEO who kicks businesses into overdrive. He took Kansas to the national title. Prior to that, he took a UCLA team thick with freshmen to the national championship game (after which he got them, you guessed it, banned from postseason play). He has a basketball mind matched by few others, and that makes him a valuable commodity, because those kinds of basketball minds win March. And winning March keeps the market share fat for everyone who makes up College Hoops Inc.

And so, hiring a man who'd proved he had no place in college basketball (or at least college basketball as imagined by the NCAA) was a business decision, pure and simple. And until the NCAA dropped the hammer this week, it was a damn smart business decision.

Because Brown, of course, did what he does: Win March. He took a program going nowhere, and in two years the Mustangs were 27-10 and in the NIT. Then they went 27-7 and reached the NCAA Tournament, the fabled ATM of college buckets.

And then, alas, Brown did what he also does.

This time around it involved a guard named Keith Frazier, who apparently got some illicit help from an assistant coach and basketball administrator in order to become eligible. And by "illicit help," we mean, "Here, son, let me write that paper for you."

Brown wasn't in on the scam this time, but when he found out about it, he didn't report it for a month. Then he lied to the NCAA about it before finally coming clean.

It will come as no shock to anyone that the NCAA isn't real cool with that.

And so Brown will sit for nine games, and SMU's seniors -- among them Warsaw grad Nic Moore -- get their final season ruined before it begins. Because even if the Mustangs win, say, 28 games this year, no final fling with March Madness awaits.

The only saving grace in this is that Brown will at least be around to watch it. When he got UCLA and Kansas dinged, he had already hit the road to the NBA when the stuffstorm came down.

He hasn't done that this time, which is no guarantee he won't. But before he does, SMU ought to do itself and the rest of college basketball a favor and show him the road.

It's the only way SMU -- and, yes, the rest of college basketball -- can retain a piece of its integrity. If only a piece.

And only until, inevitably, Larry Brown's phone rings again.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 3

And now  this week's installment of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature hailed by NASA as "proof that the basic building blocks of life as we know it exist on Mars" because "nothing about this would make sense to anyone but a Martian":

1. "Hey! Lateral that thing over here! I'm open!" (Eagles helmet to Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall).

2. "Wow. The Colts are 0-3. I don't believe it." (Blue Nation with 12 minutes to play Sunday).

3. "Wow! The Colts are 1-2! I don't believe it!" (Blue Nation, 12 minutes later).

4. "Ouch! That hurts!" (Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger).

5. "Ouch! That hurts!" (Steeler Nation).

6. "Who's that playing quarterback for the Bengals?" (Normal America).

7. "That is NOT Andy Dalton. That is a cyborg dressed like Andy Dalton who's come to destroy our way of life, and also to mess with the Super Bowl by getting the Bengals in it." (Black Helicopter/Terrorist Camp/Donald Trump Is The Nation's Savior America).

8. "Cutler (bleeps)!" (Bears Nation before Cutler got hurt).

9. "Where's Cutler?" (Bears Nation after seeing Jimmy Clausen play).

And last but not least ...

10. "Ouch! That hurts!" (Chiefs Nation after Aaron Rodgers' five-touchdown night).

Monday, September 28, 2015

Example fail

And now some numbers, as we watch this again and reminisce fondly of the days when Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin used to have their marital spats, especially that one at Fenway Park that was the most famous dugout fight of all time until ... well, until yesterday.

But the numbers.

Here they are: 22 games, 23.2 innings pitched, 22 hits, 13 runs, four homers, a 3.04 ERA.

That's what Jonathan Papelbon was doing, or not doing, when he decided, after a month with the Washington Nationals, that he was the guy to call out Bryce Harper, the only National who's actually been worth a lick this lost summer.

Harper apparently didn't sufficiently run out a hopeless pop fly in a hopelessly lost game, and Papelbon took exception. So he got in the kid's face, the kid told him to stick it, and Papelbon grabbed him by the throat.

Papelbon, who hasn't done anything for the Nationals but feed gophers and blow saves as their alleged "closer."

Papelbon, All-American tool and clubhouse poison of the first order, whom the Phillies were only too eager to dump on the market because, like most people who've ever had to deal with the guy, they were heartily sick of him.

This is the guy to teach young Bryce how the game should be played?

Look. Maybe Harper's a bit brash and maybe there is something to be said for running out every play, even when your season is done and you're all just playing out the string. But Papelbon was demonstrably not the guy to call him on it.

To his credit, he acknowledged as much later on, publicly apologizing for his actions. Maybe, belatedly, he realized that leadership springs from what you do, not what you say. And Papelbon simply doesn't have the Do.

Harper, meanwhile, does. With a .336 average, 41 homers, 96 RBI and an on-base percentage of .467, he's carried the Nationals all season when no one else either could or would. Yet some Johnny-come-lately closer who can't close a screen door presumed it was his place to lecture him?

As if.

Update: The Nats have suspended Papelbon four games for going after Harper. Bullpen immediately improves.

Dissipating Smoke

This one you saw coming, if you had even one eye open. Winter became spring became summer became fall in 2015, and everything you saw from Tony Stewart told you the fun had gone out of something that used to be food to him.

He looked like a man who’d had all the joy wrung out of him. And he drove like it.

The day when Smoke became a back marker and didn’t openly rage about it was a day none of us thought we’d ever see, and it has been profoundly sad to watch. Whatever happened 14 months ago on that dark night on the dirt in upstate New York seemed to steal something essential from the man, and he’s never gotten it back.

And so no surprise this morning at reports that, later this week, Stewart will announce he’s stepping out of the race car, ending his NASCAR career after 48 wins and three Cup titles.

You could have retired on your winnings betting that, at 45, Stewart wouldn’t be close to being done, but that was before New York and Kevin Ward and everything that has come after. You kill a man with your race car, it has to change something inside you. Listening to the Ward family and others say you did it on purpose, or the next thing to it, no doubt only intensifies that change.

No one but Stewart can say for a certainty that's true, of course, but the circumstantial evidence is significant. Or maybe you thought you’d see a day when, eight months and 28 races deep in the endless NASCAR season, Tony Stewart would have led a total of 24 laps.

Even measured against his fall-off in 2013 and ’14 -- when he won once, had eight top fives and led a mere 239 laps – that is a precipitous tumble.  Some inner fire (and there has always been fire where there was Smoke) has gone cold, or at the very least seems to have. It’s been a hurtful thing to watch, considering this was a man whose idea of a vacation, deep into his decorated NASCAR career, was to jump into a midget car and tear around Memorial Coliseum with kids half or even a third his age.

The man lived to go fast. He lived for the combat.

A for-instance: When the word came down this morning that he’s going to hang ‘em up, I flashed back immediately to the late stages of the 2007 Brickyard 400, when Stewart was closing in on Kevin Harvick. Lap by lap, corner by corner, that orange Home Depot No. 20 got closer, reeling in Harvick at a place not notable for such occurrences. And at one point, Stewart’s delight in the chase spilled over onto his radio feed.

“Here, kitty, kitty,” Stewart was heard to say as he crowded Harvick’s bumper, a bit of snark that was pure unfiltered Smoke.
That’s the Tony Stewart I’ll remember this week. As should we all.

Update: Stewart announced Wednesday he would run one more season in 2016 and then step out of the car.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hoosier moment

Sunday morning, and a cool early-fall breeze is sifting through the open windows, moist earth and fading summer glory on its breath. These are the quiet hours between college football Saturday and its pale Sunday imitator, the imperial but somehow less satisfying National Football League. Time to hit the pause button, catch a breath, sift through the papers forming their usual Sunday morning drifts on the floor.

Time, for a moment, to consider this: Your Indiana football Hoosiers.

Quietly, they hung on to beat Wake Forest yesterday, 31-24, a road win for a program not noted for rampaging success on foreign soil. It wasn't Utah crushing Oregon or TCU stealing one from Texas Tech or Texas and Tennessee blowing games in spectacular fashion to Oklahoma State and Florida, but it was notable in its own way.

It lifted the Hoosiers to 4-0 on the season. And that hasn't happened since 1990.

It also marks the arrival of something even more rare in Bloomington: A home football game that actually matters, sort of, on a national scale. Next Saturday, after all, the Hoosiers get the defending national champions, Ohio State, a clash of unbeatens that might attract America's wandering eye,  
or at least its fleeting glance.

The Blob would go further than that, except for one gnawing suspicion: Ohio State seems a lot more unbeaten than Indiana at the moment.

Yes, the Hoosiers have won four straight, but they haven't, you know, won.  FCS opponent Southern Illinois raked them for 47 points in their opener, a game Indiana narrowly escaped by scoring 48. Then they beat Florida International 36-22. Then they survived Western Kentucky 38-35, and then, on Saturday, they eluded Wake Forest.

Not exactly Murderer's Row. And not exactly a case of Indiana murderin' 'em.

It's more a case of Indiana doing what Indiana always does, which is pile up a lot of points and give up a lot of points. In the Hoosiers' four wins, they're averaging 38 points while getting dinged for 32. Three of their four victories have come by a total of 11 points. And except for Western Kentucky, which is 3-1, this hasn't happened against teams that are rolling opponents of distinction themselves.

Wake, for instance, is 2-2, and the victories have come against Elon and Army. Florida International has beaten the mighty likes of Central Florida and North Carolina Central. And Southern Illinois' only victory was yesterday against Liberty.

Suddenly 4-0 doesn't look quite so shiny. Suddenly, you're looking ahead  to the clash of unbeatens, and seeing a great big reality check looming on the horizon -- even if Ohio State has pretty much gone through the motions since taking a two-by-four to Virginia Tech in its opener.

Perhaps the Buckeyes will do some more sleepwalking come Saturday. Perhaps Indiana will rise up and give them the same kind of stubborn they gave them in Columbus last year, only more of it. Perhaps the clash of unbeatens really will be a clash.

If not ... well, Indiana will always have this.

This moment. This 4-0 record. This fine Sunday morning, bright with possibility.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Falling sky

Tomorrow night we'll be treated to a super moon lunar eclipse, a confluence of celestial events that happens once in a, well, blue moon. Or at least not terribly often.

Last time it happened? 1982.

This is the Blob's way of reminding everyone that stuff eventually happens, even if it doesn't happen every day.  And that brings us, by a torturously circuitous route, to the Indianapolis Colts, who wheeze into Nashville tomorrow with large chunks of plaster falling off them and their captain and first officer fighting among themselves.

All of this has led to an 0-2 start that doesn't feel like last year's 0-2 start, because last year Andrew Luck was not dead last in QBR among the NFL's starting quarterbacks, with five interceptions and just three touchdowns. The only saving grace, everyone seems to agree, is that the Colts now enter the AFC South portion of the program, which helped them get better last year and is presumed to have the same curative effect this time around.

I'm not sure about that. Because, Super Moon Lunar Eclipse.

It doesn't happen often, but it does happen, which means the Colts (and their fans) would do well to exercise some caution before putting tomorrow in the win column. Like the SMLE, Tennessee rarely beats the Colts, either. But that doesn't mean it can't happen, even if the Titans have beaten Indy only once since October 2008.

This Colts team, after all, seems profoundly more vulnerable than previous teams. And you can lay at the feet of both GM Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano, the aforementioned feuding captain and first officer.

Grigson, for his part, has put together a horribly flawed team, and his gem, Luck, has paid the heaviest price for it. For some reason Grigson didn't draft an offensive lineman until the seventh round back in April, even though the O-line clearly was the Colts' most critical area of need. And he didn't do much in the offseason to help out a defense that couldn't stop anyone when it counted last year, either.

And so the Colts are what they are: An odd mix of young players and aging veterans, some of whom are aging more rapidly than others. The O-line is a forest fire; you could see that in the preseason game against the Bears, whose awful defensive front was still able to pressure Luck against the first-team Colts OL. Anyone who saw that could hardly have been shocked by what the Bills and Jets did to them.

That said ... Pagano hasn't held up his end, either. If he's the one who must make do with the mess he's been given, the making do has yet to commence. Against the both the Bills and Jets the Colts looked ill-prepared, sloppy and unmotivated -- the latter a shocking turn of events given that Pagano is one of the game's great motivators.

And so, on to Tennessee, which has its own issues but has a budding star in Marcus Mariota. Faced with a Colts D that has no real playmakers, he should continue his so-far encouraging progress. And that does not bode well for the Colts, whose issues on the offensive side of the football are starting to look chronic.

In other words: 0-3 looks possible. And then the bailing -- and the throwing over the side of the parties judged most guilty -- will begin in earnest.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Legal beagles

Lawyers get paid fat sums of money to advocate for their clients. Everyone understands this.

But sometimes they make you want to pull their Armani suit coats over their heads and start feeding them knuckle hoagies, kind of like Dave “The Hammer” Schultz used to do to all those poor dopes from Winnipeg and Buffalo.

Maybe you missed it, more likely you didn’t, but the other day a man named Mack Breed resigned his position as assistant football coach at John Jay High School in San Antonio, a school which may sound vaguely familiar. Mostly that’s because two of its players, Michael Moreno and Victor Rojas, starred in the most viral of videos, in which a high school official named Robert Watts was viciously attacked from behind at the snap of the ball.

 Moreno and Rojas were the perpetrators. Breed was the assistant coach  who allegedly put them up to it, although he claims now he never expressly told them to hit Watts.

If you stop right there, this is still one of the more disgusting things you’ve ever heard. But it doesn’t stop there.

Now come the lawyers, or lawyer: James Reeves, retained by Breed to make him look like good by any means necessary. And when we say “by any means necessary,” that’s exactly what we mean. Reeves’ solution was to absolve his client, the alleged grownup in this whole business, and pin the entire mess on the kids, Moreno and Rojas – particularly Moreno. In Reeves’ version the two kids (particularly Moreno) are miserable little creeps who threw his client under the bus by saying, quite
reasonably, that, hey, he’s the coach. And Coach knows best.

Reeves was having none of it.

"During his media tour, Michael Moreno resorted to the historical defense of  'I was just following orders’,” Reeves said. “However, we are all responsible for our own actions, and his defense will fail in this situation as it has failed in the past. Moreno paints himself as a saint on television while withholding the truth that shows how out of control he was in that game. Moreno fails to mention that he was not ejected after striking the referee. He stood by while an innocent black player, Trenton Hobdy, was wrongfully ejected for Moreno's hit on the referee. Moreno followed the hit on Watts by committing another flagrant foul on the very next play. The Marble Falls High School quarterback kneeled in a victory formation, the whistle was blown, and then Moreno hit the kneeling quarterback. His behavior is exactly what one would expect from a rogue player blaming a coach for the player's actions.”

In other words: This kid’s a sociopath. He’s a thug. He’s a goon. He’s a crime spree waiting to happen.

Only one thing wrong with that.

If Moreno was so out of control, why didn’t the grownup in the situation – Breed – try to calm him down instead of inciting him?

That’s what grownups are supposed to do, but Breed didn’t do it. In fact, he was apparently as out of control as the kids, shouting at Watts from the sideline, setting the tone for everything. Even if he didn’t expressly tell Moreno and Rojas to hit Watts, he certainly gave the impression he wouldn’t
have a problem with it.

Yet what happened is all on the kids, not the grownups.

In a word, nonsense. No matter how enthusiastically Reeves picks on a couple of children, they were following orders, or at least what they perceived to be the orders. And that is a legitimate defense, given the power  high school coaches wield over their charges. And so the greater responsibility falls on Breed, whose primary job as a coach is to set the proper example.

In the end, he failed at that.

Shame on his lawyer for trying to turn that around. Speaking of, you know, disgusting.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Viking funeral

Faithful followers of the Blob -- pipe down, you two -- know its position on mascots. Its position on mascots is that there can never be enough mascots, or fights between mascots, or news about mascots, even when it involves bars and the skinny hours of the morning.

But now I'm adding a new category: Negotiations involving mascots.

That's because out of the frozen wilds of Minnesota comes this, and it goes without saying the Blob is all in with the workers on this one. Or, rather, all in with the worker, who goes by the handle "Ragnar" and shows up at Minnesota Vikings games dressed as, well, a Viking, only cooler because he also charges around on an awesome purple-and-gold motorcycle.

I mean, look at the picture at the bottom of the story. You're gonna tell me that's not worth $20,000 a game?

That's what Ragnar is demanding from the Vikes, who of course aren't about to knuckle under. And so Ragnar sits at home wearing his animal skins and drinking wine out of the skulls of dead Northumbrians whose villages he has pillaged.

 Or so I like to imagine.

In any event, this is the Vikings' loss.  It's their loss, first of all, because mascots are an integral part of the whole football ethos -- which is to say, who the heck else are the Vikings gonna trot out there to get the paying customers fired up? I mean, it's not like Joe Kapp's just sitting around waiting on them to call or anything.

What's no doubt worrisome to the Vikings, and to everyone else nervously looking in on this impasse, is what happens if this becomes a trend. Imagine the chaos that would ensue, for instance, if the leprechaun were suddenly to put the arm on Notre Dame. And can you imagine the uproar should the Oregon Duck, the greatest mascot in all of sports, suddenly decide he wants a cut of all that dough Oregon spends on its 9,237 different football uniforms?

Why, you can just imagine the negotiations ...

The Duck: OK, here's the skinny. I want $6 mill guaranteed over 10 years, backloaded, or I bolt to some hockey team in the ECHL. I know a club in Fort Wayne that has an eagle mascot they'd like to pair me with.

Oregon: No way. You get the standard deal. Free tickets to all the games and all the McDonald's you can eat. That's our final offer.

 The Duck: Really? Man, I can't believe you people. Have you forgotten so soon the way I lit into the Washington State Cougar and kicked his ass? I could have been killed. OK, so not really, because, well, it was just the Washington State Cougar. But what if it had been that Trojan down at USC? Do you realize what he could do to me with that sword of his?

Oregon: Sorry. No dice.

Duck: Well, in that case ...

(Shouting, sounds of chairs overturning as the Duck leaps across the table and begins pummeling Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens).

Tragic, I tell you. Tragic.



Finally, it's over

So Yogi Berra has gone to his considerable reward, and now all the mythic lines come out to play.

"It ain't over 'til it's over. RIP, Yogi," someone says/tweets/posts on Facebook.

"It's deja vu all over again," someone else chimes in.

"No one goes there nowadays, it's too crowded," yet another someone adds.

On and on they all go, and if that is Yogi's legacy, it doesn't get him even half right. Yes, he is the man who once allegedly said "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." And, yes, he is the man who also allegedly said "You can observe a lot by watching," and "We made too many wrong mistakes" and "You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six."

But if his real and imagined malaprops will echo down the centuries, making us smile in a way few other sporting figures have ever made us smile, they obscure a greater truth: Yogi Berra was more than just a fun quote. He was, in every sense of the word, a man in full.

And so we'd do well to remember today a Navy man who was in harm's way off Omaha Beach on D-Day, and whose vessel capsized that terrible morning with him on it. We'd do well to remember him as the baseball man who caught Whitey Ford and Vic Raschi and Allie Reynolds and Don Larsen, the brains behind a Yankee operation that won 10 World Series with him behind the dish. And we'd do well to remember him as perhaps the greatest and most enduring performer in World Series history, a player who, at his death, still held club records for most World Series games played (75),  most World Series at-bats (259), most World Series hits (71) and most World Series doubles (10).

If Johnny Bench wasn't the greatest catcher ever to play the game, then Yogi was. In 19 seasons, 18 with the Yankees, he hit .300 or better three times, drove in more than 100 runs five times and finished with 358 home runs -- including 305 as a catcher, a record for the position at the time.

He went on to manage franchises in both leagues to the World Series, and before his long, decorated life was done, he even held an honorary doctorate from Montclair (N.J.) State. And so while his former manager, Casey Stengel, liked to style himself the Old Perfesser, it was Yogi who got the last laugh. Casey might have been a Perfesser, but Yogi was a Doctor.

And far, far more than just a few colorful lines on a page. Apocryphal or not.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 2

And now this week's installment of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature of which 12 of 14 Republican presidential candidates have said "War with Iran! Hells yeah!" and "Dammit, where'd all these Mexicans/Muslims come fro--"

Oops. My bad. That's the transcript from their last debate.

What they really said was "Are you gonna make fun of Johnny Manziel again?", to which the answer is, "Are you crazy? Did you see those two touchdown passes he threw?"  And so ... onward:

1. Did you see those two touchdown passes Johnny Manziel threw?

2. Why, he's almost as good as ... Marcus Mariota!

3. Not the greatest quarterback in NFL history!

4. But still pretty good!

5. Meanwhile, Tony Romo.

6. Fell down. Broke something. Cowboys sad. 

7. The Colts are 0-2. They can't run. Can't tackle. Can't block a stiff breeze, which is why Andrew Luck turns into Dr. Richard Kimble every time the ball is snapped. Stick a fork in 'em.

8. In other news, they're still in the AFC South.

9. Pull the fork back out.

And last but not least:

10. Jimmy Clausen for president!

10a. Er ... resident!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Star wars, on cue

Aaaaand let the hijinks begin.

It's playoff time in the land o' NASCAR (I know, you didn't even know they were still racing) and you know what that means: Cartoon fisticuffs. And so while Denny Hamlin was winging off to the win at Chicagoland in the first of the 10 Chase events, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson were out behind the haulers, having one of those slap-and-cuss fights that always seem so, well, lightweight for a sport allegedly fueled by heaping helpings of testosterone.

Lightweight and, shall we say, a bit contrived.

Far be it from the Blob to cast aspersions on the purity of emotion that prompted Harvick to, OK, not slap JJ, but give him a shove (with closed fists!) outside the haulers last night. I'm sure he was legitimately ticked after JJ got into Harvick's left-rear quarter panel, shoving said panel into Harvick's left-rear tire. Harvick elected to stay out after the contact, which resulted in his tire turning into kibble a few laps later, which set in motion of series of misfortunes that dropped him to what could be a Chase-killing 42nd-place finish.

Hence, Harvick's displeasure. Although it was kinda his fault for staying out until the tire went boom, and although JJ explained the whole thing by saying he got shoved down onto the apron and was only trying to work his way back onto the racing surface.

In other words: This was just another of those racin' deals.

But of course the Chase is on now, so everything gets magnified, including racin' deals. And if the post-race extracurriculars that ensue do seem cartoonish (i.e., "contrived"), it's only because every time they happen, it's hard not to get a mental image of NASCAR capo Brian France doing his happy dance in the privacy of his office. That's because the extracurriculars get media play, and media play  is good anytime, but especially in the blast radius of NFL football, which tends to crowd everything else off the national radar as soon as foot meets ball for the first time.

And so, to recap: JJ hits Harvick, Harvick finishes 42nd, Harvick shoves JJ and calls him some not very nice names. The video (because there's always video of this stuff) pops up on Deadspin and several other heavily trafficked sites, and all over America people suddenly realize that, dang, NASCAR's still happening.

And, somewhere, Brian France channels Charlie Sheen as a result.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Contagious luck

So now we know how the good Lord spent His Saturday, and it wasn't watching the live feed of the Pope's visit to Cuba and the United States.

He was perched on a stool in some celestial sports pub, eating teriyaki chicken wings and messing  with college football on behalf of His favorite team, Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish required no hand-holding, beating Georgia Tech 30-22 in a game that wasn't nearly as close as it looked. The Irish led 30-7 and absolutely throttled the fearsome Tech triple option before the visitors tacked on a couple of late touchdowns to make it look as if Brian Kelly 'n' them had to break a sweat.

That would have been a fine enough day for the Almighty, but He is nothing if not thorough in His advocacy of Notre Dame. And so He apparently switched over to the Alabama-Ole Miss game, where He couldn't resist transferring a little of that fabled Irish luck from South Bend to Tuscaloosa, the better to prank Nick Saban and all the Crimson Tide faithful.

I mean, how else do you explain this?

To review: The snap is awful. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly has to jump to get it ... after which he's immediately got a crimson 'Bama jersey in his grill ... after which he blindly throws the football up for grabs ... after which it bounces off the helmet of 'Bama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick ... after which it ricochets into the hands of Ole Miss wideout Quincy Adeboyejo, who was just kind of standing around ... after which Adeboyejo flees to the end zone to complete a 66-yard touchdown.

That gave Ole Miss a 24-10 lead, all the breathing room the Rebels needed for a 43-37 upset of the No. 2 Tide. And if you didn't see the hand of the Almighty in that ("Hey, watch this," you can almost imagine Him saying), well ... suffice it to say He wasn't done bestowing blessings just yet.

Clearly He switched over to USC-Stanford after that, where USC quarterback Cody Kessler was having a lights-out night at home: 25-of-32, 272 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions.

So the No. 6 Trojans won easily, right?

Nah. Give this one to Stanford, 41-31, thanks to its quarterback, Kevin Hogan, who completed 18-of-23 passes for 279 yards and two scores. Former Bishop Dwenger standout Remound Wright added three touchowns on short runs for the Cardinal.

So, to review: No. 8 Notre Dame wins convincingly. No. 2 Alabama loses. No. 6 USC loses. Up the polls the Irish climb.

And the Almighty?

He can go back to the live coverage of the Pope now. His work is done here.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Marching orders

So there they were today on Good Morning America, and, once again a mental image breathed its last. Michael Moreno wore a dark jacket and a white shirt and a crisply knotted tie, and sported horn-rimmed glasses. Victor Rojas wore a blue shirt and a crisply knotted tie. All that was missing were their National Honor Society pins.

Hardly the thuggish hit men we all imagined them to be.

We have held that image of them since the video went viral, a handful of blurry, vicious seconds that said nothing good about high school football -- and perhaps even less good about high school football in Texas.

The video begins with the snap of the ball, and immediately here comes Rojas, charging headlong from his place in the defensive backfield toward the game official, whose back is turned. Down goes the official, head snapping with the impact of Rojas hitting him from behind; then, from the other side of the field, Moreno piles on, helmet-first. You can watch it 50 times and still not quite believe what you're seeing, because it's so utterly beyond the pale of what we've come to view as acceptable behavior even in so violent an environment as a football field.

No punishment would have been harsh enough: That was your reaction, my reaction, everyone's reaction in the full immediate flower of that video's first viewing.


Well, now things are not so clear-cut.

Now Moreno and Rojas show up on national TV, and they are not the monsters we imagined. They are, more disturbingly, just high school kids, and articulate ones at that. And the story they tell is one anyone who's ever been around high school football suspected immediately, which is that they didn't do what they did on their own accord.

Instead, they say, it was a coach who put them up to it on the sideline.  And so now the question becomes, who is most culpable here? The actors or the instigators?

It's a tougher question to parse than it seems, if only because everything gets muddled when race is involved, and both players claim the official in question used racial slurs within their earshot. (The official in question denies doing that). So you've got a situation fueled already by an overload of testosterone, exacerbated by dagger words either spoken or just heard, seasoned heavily by the rote imperative of a coach's absolute authority.

Easy to say, given all that, that even high school kids know right from wrong, and thus the weight of judgment is on the two players for carrying out the coach's orders. But this is expecting too much of them, frankly. It would be expecting too much from most adults, most of whom are as in thrall to authority figures as any teenager.

When Coach says jump, you say how high: It's drilled into youth athletes from the time when they first pick up a ball or wander into an athletic arena. And in this case, the two young men in question were already at a high level of agitation from what they either heard or thought they heard, which amounts to the same thing. And so Coach said jump, and they gave the appropriate answer.

This is not to say they didn't deserve whatever punishment they got. They did. But if what they say is true, the grownup in question deserves far more.

He is, after all, the grownup. At least allegedly.    

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Cover Two

And now the unveiling of a new Blob meme, What They Were (Really) Thinking, in which the Blob goes deep to expose the nefarious workings of various twisted minds.

Yes, of course we're talking about the Patriots.

In case you missed it, this week they hired back the two ball guys/patsies from Deflategate, Jim McNally and John Jastremski. It doesn't take a lifetime member of Mensa to figure out what the (real) thinking was here. And so, here, in total, is the entire transcript of What They Were (Really) Thinking, as sussed out by the finest minds the Blob could assemble -- i.e., mine:

OK, so here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna grab these shovels here and scoop up what's left of McNally and Jastremski from the middle of the road where we left 'em after we drove that bus over 'em. Then we're gonna re-hire them. See, if we do that, no one will ever again be able to ask "If you're not guilty, how come you fired those guys?", 'cause now we can come back with, 'Look, we re-hired 'em." It's the perfect cover. Why, we'll even throw in some CGI to make it look like McNally (or Jastremski, I can't remember which) has lost about 900 pounds, so we can say, "See, he really was talking about losing weight when he called himself the Deflator. So shut your cakeholes."  

Devious. So devious, these Patriots.


Crime and punishment. Sort of.

Missed out on the great Republican yahoo revue last night, so I couldn't tell you who won, who lost and who most blatantly prostrated themselves before the kill-the-monster torch-and-pitchfork mob that seems to be the party's core constituency these days.

I can pretty much tell you this, though: None of them had as good a day as Rutgers football coach Kyle Flood.

Odd thing to say, perhaps, about a man who just got suspended for three games and fined $30,000, but let's go to the tape, shall we? And make it a surveillance tape, because, you know, that's how Flood's program rolls these days.

Over here, to begin with, we have cornerback Nadir Blackwell -- or, rather, we used to have him. Blackwell and five other scholars were booted from the Scarlet Knights program recently for their involvement in a crime spree that involved arrests for everything from home invasion to assault. Rumor has it another Scarlet Knight was also involved initially, but redshirt freshman J. Dillinger was deemed not to have been sufficiently lawless enough, so the Scarlet Six cut him loose.

Barnwell, however, stuck around long enough to get his coach in trouble. Shocking as it is to believe, he was having some academic issues last spring, and so Flood went to bat for him. Of course, in keeping with the general theme of things around the program, Coach wandered out of the batter's box in doing so, making "minor changes" in a paper Blackwell submitted, inappropriately contacting a member of the faculty on Blackwell's behalf and doing it on his personal e-mail so he wouldn't be detected.

The cherry on top of all this?

Not only did Coach knowingly violate protocol on behalf of a kid he'd later dismiss from the program ... not only did he wake up one day to find himself presiding over Police Blotter On Parade ... but on top of the six players he cast into outer darkness, he was also compelled to suspend indefinitely one of his team captains, All-Big Ten wide receiver Leonte Caroo, who got nicked in a domestic violence beef.

So, to review: Kyle Flood's program is your basic forest fire. And he's the guy lugging the gas can.

And he only gets a three-game sitdown and a fine?

For all of the above, he should be looking for gainful employment today. But Rutgers chose not to fire him. And so, yes, the man had a very good day yesterday.

Better than the country, apparently. Or so I hear.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Mom knows best

Some things you just know. And you know 'em because Mom clued you in.

It was Mom who told you to put that down, you don't know where it's been.

It was Mom who told you, no, you were not born in a barn, so close the stinkin' door.

And it was Mom who told you always to wear clean underwear, just in case you have an accident in your car (which you drive much too fast, by the way) and wind up in the hospital.

Moms are eternal fonts of information like that, and thank God for it. Without them, we'd all be running around leaving doors open while wearing dirty underwear and handling things of unknown origin, after which we'd go off and lose our minds on national TV and wind up on all those awful sports talk shows Mom never listens to because, well, they're just silly.

The latter is what happened to first-year Florida football coach Jim McElwain last weekend, after one of his running backs, Kelvin Taylor, scored a touchdown and then lost his mind, doing that throat-slash thing even the NFL won't tolerate anymore. Bam. Fifteen-yard penalty.

Much arm waving and a choice selection of f-bombs ensued as McElwain positively went off on the kid on the sideline.

Old school football types said big deal, the kid was a knucklehead, and back in their day, Coach wouldn't have just yelled at him, he'd have grabbed the kid's facemask or hit him in the head with a brick or thrown the mascot at him. Less old-school types said, yeah, the kid had it coming, but this is modern times, when college football is a corporate enterprise and the head coach is the CEO, and it's bad for business for the CEO to lose his ... stuff.

I come down somewhere in the middle. Football coaches yell, football players are used to it, and so the kid'll get over it.

This is not the position taken by McElwain's 94-year-old mother, however.

This week McElwain said he "got an earful" from Mom for what he did, and it doesn't take much imagination to guess what that earful involved. Something about how you were raised better, and where did you learn that sort of language, and if I hear you talk like that again, young man, I'll come down there and wash your mouth out with soap.

"Now you go apologize to that poor boy," is how I imagine Mom wrapping things up.

I don't know if McElwain did that. But he did appear appropriately chastened the other day. So I wouldn't bet the farm against it. 


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 1

And now the triumphant return of the chronically disregarded Blob feature, The NFL In So Many Words (presented with the expressed written consent of the National Football League. Or, OK, not):

1. Marcus Mariota!

2. Is the greatest quarterback in NFL history!

3. This week!

4. It's 9:06 Tuesday morning and the Giants are still (helpfully) stopping the clock.

5. Still 9:06.

6. Still 9:06.

7. Timeout, Giants.

8. Hey, I know. Let's put Johnny Manziel in this flaming orange-and-brown getup and see how he does.

9. Hmm. OK, that didn't work.

And last but not least:

10. Timeout. Giants.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The weekend, revisited

And now a few thoughts from an over­stuffed weekend, in which the words “Buster Douglas” were heard again in the land, and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame got a break from God but found out He was still miffed at them, and it was once again verified that fans are insane, especially if they’re Colts

* Speaking of Colts fans ... we need to talk.

We need to talk you off the ledge. We need to get you to stop running around squawking that the sky is falling. We need to haul off and slap you, because I swear if you don’t stop your nonsense that’s what the Blob is inclined to do.

Let’s start with this: What happened in Buffalo yesterday was not the end of world, nor was it particularly surprising.

I don’t know where Colts fans have been holing up all offseason, but clearly it’s someplace soundproof, because they obviously were shocked, shocked to find out that the Bills defense is some kind of nasty. This despite the fact that everyone in the known universe has been telling us for months, and very loudly, that THE BILLS DEFENSE IS GOING TO BE SOME KIND OF NASTY.

Sorry for the capital letters. But, really, people.

Are you really that surprised the Bills handled your O­-line the way they did, when even the lowly Bears were getting to Andrew Luck when the 1s were on the field in their preseason game? And are you serious with this stuff about abandoning the run too soon, when it was pretty clear they weren’t
going to run on the Bills down seven with any degree of success?

Let’s Send Our Running Backs Into That Brick Wall Some More is not an intelligent offensive strategy, people. The Colts RBs ran the football 17 times Sunday. They averaged 3.8 yards per attempt. This is not how you get the other guys to respect the run. What, you thought if they averaged 3.8 yards another 17 times, the Bills might suddenly start putting eight in the box?


Look. Could the Colts have played better? Sure. But was this any kind of upset? Of course not. Because you know what else everybody was saying, very loudly, all offseason?

That if the Bills got any kind of quarterback play at all, they’d be a legitimate Super Bowl threat. And Sunday, Tyrod Taylor gave them that quarterback play, throwing for 195 yards and a touchdown and running for 41 more yards against a Colts defense that wasn’t impressive last year and didn’t really
figure to be this year – especially without Anthony Jones up front.

In short, the Colts are exactly who we thought they were: A bonafide, if flawed, Super Bowl contender in a flawed conference. And the Bills, on Sunday, were exactly who we thought they could be if all the pieces fell right: The same thing.

And so ... chill, people. It’s gonna be OK.

* Still struggling to put what happened to Serena Williams in some kind of historical context, not to mention struggling to realize that it happened at all.

Twenty-­four hours later, I still half­-expected to turn on the women’s final Saturday and see her cracking bombs off both sides.

Instead, it was Roberta Vinci who went off like a bomb on Serena, and don’t feel bad if you never heard of Roberta Vinci. Hardly anyone had ever heard of her. She’s 32 years old and had never come within sniffing distance of a Grand Slam final before. She was unseeded. Vegas had her at 300-­to-­1 to beat Serena when they stepped onto the court Friday afternoon.

But this is the great thing about sports: Human beings are fully involved. And so the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team beat a Soviet juggernaut that had crushed it 10­-3 less than two weeks prior. And Buster Douglas (those two words!), the rankest of journeymen, knocked out one of the scariest men ever to step in the ring, Mike Tyson. And Roberta Vinci, after losing the first set, just kept hitting the ball back and running and hitting the ball back some more, and suddenly the greatest women’s tennis player in history was extending her hand at the net.

What that reminds us of is that even the immortals are blood­-pumping humans with human failings, and occasionally, if the stars line up and the circumstances are just right, those failings can take them down. Friday was like that: Vinci played the greatest match of an undistinguished career on the
same day Serena finally succumbed (or seemed to) to the pressure of the calendar Grand Slam and the weight of history behind it. And a very different sort of history ensued.

Given the context, biggest upset since the Miracle On Ice.

* Somewhere this week, no doubt, Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly is pulling the petals off a flower one by one, muttering “He loves me ... He loves me not ... He loves me ... He loves me not.”

“He” being the Almighty, of course.

And this after Kelly’s Fighting Irish pulled a rabbit (or some other woodland creature) out of a hat the other night, beating Virginia 34­-27 on a 40-­yard prayer to Will Fuller with 12 seconds left.

It was one of those luck­-of­- the-­Irish deals that forces you to believe what Domers have always believed, which is that, yes, Notre Dame is indeed God’s favorite football team. (Although it’s suspected He cheats on them occasionally with Boston College). And that would be valid, if it hadn’t been for this nugget: The guy who threw the pass was the backup quarterback, DeShone Kizer.

That’s because the starter, Malik Zaire, went down with a broken ankle earlier in the game. He’s gone for the season now, removing the expected engine of the offense from the picture. He’ll join Taurean Folston, the presumed engine of the running game, on the sidelines, Folston having gone
down for the duration against Texas.

So after two weeks the Irish are 2-­0, but they’ve have also lost their front­line quarterback and their front­line running back for the season. Which in turn forces you to wonder if God still loves His Irish but is really annoyed at them right now for some reason.

I’m thinking it’s those losses to Navy a few years back. Or maybe it’s that proposed new videoboard, the good Lord being nothing if not old school to the core.

Guess we’ll find out.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The vanishing, continued

Little by little it vanishes, the world I grew up with. Time does this, if enough of it spins past you in the cosmic whirl. Not even Einstein could find a detour around that inevitability.

And so I open a news feed one day, and Chocolate Thunder, aka Darryl Dawkins, is gone. And I open another today, not even a month later, and another of the NBA's seminal man-children -- the seminal manchild, to be precise -- is gone, too.

Tears this day for Moses Malone, a man my age (60), now just another name in the Basketball Hall of Fame that has no touchable attachment. His death Sunday makes him just a cherished memory for those of us of a certain age, and drives home again the truism that if the icons of our youth remain forever young, they are in fact as mortal as the rest of us.


And so today I'll acknowledge that duh-ness by raising a glass to Moses just as I did to Chocolate Thunder, if for no other reason than they belong to an era whose echoes persist today.  If Darryl Dawkins was one the first to turn pro straight out of high school, Moses Malone was the first, going from Petersburg, Va., to the Utah Stars in 1974.

In so doing he broke a trail the NBA wrestles with to this day, mainly because Malone showed what was possible but not, in the end, probable. Many have followed the precedent he set; hardly any have done so with  his blinding success.

By the time Malone was finished he'd played 19 seasons, was an All-Star in 12 of them, and averaged a double-double for his pro career (20.6 ppg, 12.2 rpg). Two decades after he left the stage, his numbers continue to hold up: His 27,409 career points remain eighth on the alltime NBA scoring list. and his 16, 212 rebounds are still fifth on the alltime list.

Would so many of the high school kids who jumped too soon have done so if Malone hadn't accomplished all that? Would they have understand how capricious it could all be had Malone, instead of going from Petersburg to Utah to the Hall of Fame, gone from Petersburg to Utah to obscurity?

Hard to say. All I know is, another of my contemporaries -- a man who was exactly one week younger than I am -- is no more. And another piece of that wondrous, golden, imperfect world in which I came of age is no more as well.


Friday, September 11, 2015

That day

So I just looked up at the clock, here in this quiet office, and it reads 9:08 a.m. Outside the windows, the sky is a long swatch of gray flannel. There is one clear drop of water on the glass, two, three, a dozen now. It's starting to rain out there on this morning thick with ache and meaning and endless remembrance.

Another September 11, come 'round again.

Another September 11, and I am standing in our kitchen, looking across the family room. The television is on. The room is flooded with brilliant sunlight. It's 14 years and five minutes ago, and an airliner has just hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. An ugly bloom of black smoke and orange flame blossoms around the building's upper reaches, and there is the twinkle of shattered glass and metal in the clear sunlit air.

"What th--?" I say, my wife says, the refrigerator repairman working on our cranky icemaker says.

We all say.

We all know, in that moment, that this is no accident, that America is under attack in a manner more intimate than any since Pearl Harbor 60 years before. That everything we were and are and will be has just been neatly demarked in flame and smoke and the blood of innocents.

 From now on, there will be what America was before 9:03 a.m. on 9/11/01, and there will be what America will become afterward. And one will resemble the other only in the most rudimentary sense.

What I remember of that moment, of that day, I have written about before in this space. As we stood in our kitchen watching the towers burn, the phone rang. It was the editor of the Journal Gazette, Craig Klugman. He wanted me to do the local reaction story. I hung up, got dressed, got in my car and started to drive, winding up in Auburn, and then at Glenbrook, and then at IPFW, and finally at Trinity English Lutheran Church downtown.

Somehow I got a story out of it. Somehow I put the enormity of it all in a box and sealed the lid and didn't let it out until two days later, when I sat at the kitchen table looking at the photo that since has become known as the Falling Man, and then got up and turned off the TV.

Enough was enough. Enough had become too much.

So much has happened since then, and so much of it does no credit to us as a nation. What pulled us together in the immediate aftermath of 9:03 a.m. on 9/11/01 has pulled us apart in ways we couldn't have imagined at the time. A nation that once feared nothing fears everything now, for reasons that elude rational thought. Fourteen years down the road from that sun-washed September morning, there are still real terrorists and real threats out there. But we have so conflated them with imaginary threats that we see terrorists everywhere now, even in the White House. And we too often say and do things in response that shame everything for which we stand.

Fourteen years along, on this side of that great 9:03 a.m. divide, political figures openly sew distrust and xenophobia and suspicion of some imaginary Other in ways they never would have dreamed on the other side of that divide. And they are applauded for it by a frightened, deluded populace that used to recognize demagogues when it saw them, and that overwhelmingly rejected them.

Now they embrace them. Now they cheer their xenophobia and outright bigotry, and disdain common decency as "political correctness."  The louder the mouth, the less coherent the message, the more a significant portion of America seems to love it these days.

Hardly the image we projected as a nation in the wake of 9:03 a.m. 9/11/01. Hardly the image we should ever want to project.

It was a popular meme, in those early days after this day 14 years ago, that if we went into a shell -- if we stopped doing what Americans do every day of their American lives -- then, well, the terrorists win. Because what they hated most about us is what we do do every day of our American lives.

That wasn't entirely accurate. But it was accurate enough.

And now?

Now look at us: Fearful, hateful, unable to accept that we are all part of a greater whole, and that we are all driven by the same basic human impulses. The determination to do anything -- anything -- to keep our families safe from harm and deprivation. The yearning to be accorded basic rights without someone claiming, falsely, that doing so somehow abridges theirs. The desire to be treated fairly without being called names or told to just suck it up and get over it.

I hear all this every day when I turn on my TV, or check the news feed on my laptop. And I think about how different it was in those minutes and hours and days after 9:03 a.m. 9/11/01. Then I think about that old half-truism, the one that says if we stop doing what Americans do (or should be doing), the terrorists win.

Well. Look around. Tell me they're not winning now.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Odds are

Saw a story today about Vegas gambling odds for the upcoming NFL season, and you’ll be happy to know you could make some large coin betting on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Right now they’re 300-­to-­1 to reach the Super Bowl.

That seems a trifle high to me. I had ’em at 298­-to-­1.

The Indianapolis Colts, on the other hand, are a somewhat better bet, coming in at 8-­to-­1. That, in turn, seems a trifle low to me, if only because I don’t entirely trust the Colts’ depth or the ability of their offensive line to keep Andrew Luck from running for his life back there like Dr. Richard  Kimble.

But then I look at their schedule, and at who else is out there in the AFC, and I ... well, reassess.

The schedule, first of all, is softer than Charmin. The competition in the AFC South is, shall we say, not notably testy. The rest of it includes the up­-and-coming Bills, the possibly resurgent Steelers and Dolphins and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots.

Aside from that, who’s there for them? The regressing Saints and a Drew Brees stripped of all his weapons? The equally regressing Broncos and a Peyton Manning who seems finally to be showing signs of taking a step backward? The all­-D­-no-­O Jets?


And so, OK, yes, in retrospect, maybe 8-­to-­1 seems about right after all. It ties the Horsies with the Patriots and the Eagles, behind only the Seahawks (the top odds at 9­-to-­2) and the Packers (6-­to-­1). That suggests that once again the NFC is the better conference, and it’s pretty hard to argue otherwise.

After all, in the AFC, who do the Colts have to worry about outside of the Patriots?

The Steelers?'

Yeah, maybe.

The Ravens?


Who else?

The Bills, who seem a quarterback shy of real contender status? The perpetually underachieving Bengals? The Broncos? The Chiefs? The Jets or Dolphins?

Just not seeing much there. And so, yeah, I’ll go along with Vegas on this one.

Colts vs. Seahawks. Super Bowl Fi’ty. Be there or be square.


Lots of sibling­esque chatter this week about Venus and Serena Williams, in
the aftermath of Serena beating her sister in three sets in the quarterfinals of
the U.S. Open.

Most of it revolved around whether or not any pair of athletic siblings have
ever approached their combined excellence, and the consensus was, no, not
really. A combined 28 grand slam singles titles and 13 grand slam doubles
titles pretty much silences all dissent, except for people who just want to be
silly about it.

What was notably missing in the discussion, however, was any mention of
the only siblings who really come closest to the Williamses.

That would be the Unsers, Bobby and Al.

Look. We can argue all day the legitimacy of race drivers as actual athletes,
although I will win because I’ve heard all the arguments to the contrary, and
they don’t amount to spit in a hurricane. All I can say is, having driven a late-
model stocker myself some 30 years ago, it’s far more physically and
athletically demanding than it looks.

I was 28 when I drove in a 10­lap charity event – a charity event, not even an
out­for­blood deal – and I was an avid runner and playground hoops player
at the time. Yet those 10 laps reduced everything else to a Sunday school
picnic. I could barely crawl out of the car when I was done, having finished
dead last.

So don’t try to tell me the Unsers weren’t athletes. And that as such, they’re
the only siblings who approach the Williams sisters’ dominance.

Between them, they won seven Indianapolis 500s and 74 IndyCar races in
total. The Manning brothers’ three Super Bowls pale in comparison. So do
the numbers of every other pair of siblings.

Except, of course, for Venus and Serena. Who rule all.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Exposed at last

So apparently there really is a Patriots Way. And a Goodell Way. And they’re the same Way, in the sense that they’re both the Getting Away With It Way, whose sub­-Way is (in Goodell’s case) the Looking The Other Way Way.

That’s a lot of Ways, and means, too. It is, in fact, a tangled web of Ways, because if we thought Goodell’s relationship with the Patriots (and their owner, Robert Kraft) couldn’t get any more tangled, or soap­-operish, the latest grenade going off in all their laps would drive a psychiatrist to his own couch.

According to a four-month investigation by ESPN, the Patriots are slimier than even the maddest of conspiracy theorists could imagine. They may have out-­juked Deflategate, but Spygate has come back to catch them from behind – and Roger Goodell, the most hated man in New England these days, is up to his fabled Hammer in it.

According to the Outside The Lines report, the Patriots getting caught red-­handed secretly
videotaping Jets practices was only the tip of a very large iceberg. Interviews with as many as 90 people maintain that Bill Belichick knowingly directed a complex spy network for at least eight years, a system of covert ops that went beyond secret videotaping to stealing visiting teams’ play sheets in pregame warmups and routinely jamming their coach­-to-­quarterback radio links.

“It occurred so often,” the OTL piece reported, “that one team asked a league official to sit in the coaches’ box during the game and wait for it to happen. Sure enough, on a key third down, the headset went out.”

If all this true, it confirms the prevailing notion (outside of deluded New England) that Tom Brady and the Patriots weren’t vindicated in Deflategate, they simply got away with it. And that the Patriot Way isn’t some grand operational philosophy but simply garden­-variety cheating with a slicker paint job. And that its architect, Darth Hoodie his own self, is a fraud who should be finished in Foxborough.

And Goodell should be finished with him.

If blowing Deflategate didn’t have him out the door, this should. Because the second element in all this is that, according to the report, Goodell and the NFL not only knew the extent of the Patriots’ blatant cheating, they covered it up to avoid  Congressional inquiry. In one instance, league officials, on orders from Goodell, actually shredded notes and stomped game tapes to pieces.

It made it that much easier for Goodell to undersell the whole business, claiming the Patriots only illicitly taped six games from 2000 to 2007. In actuality, they apparently taped 40.

That Goodell was fast friends with Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, and made no attempt to hide it, only adds to the surrealism. How’s this for a conspiracy theory: That Goodell went after the Pats so hard for Deflategate -- to his own detriment -- ­­ because he felt guilty for his role in the Spygate coverup.

Let the aforementioned psychiatrist sort that one out. In the meantime, only one thing seems clear in the Shakespearean psychodrama of it all.

Off with their heads.

Looks like Buckeyes. For now.

Things you never want to say:
“I think there’s something in this closet. Let me open the door and see.”

“It’s not snowing THAT hard.”

“Come on, they can’t put stuff on the internet that isn’t true.”

And the relevant choice for today?

“Just hand ‘em the trophy now.”

Which is what you might be tempted to say after watching No. 1 Ohio State
ball-­peen Virginia Tech 42-­24 last night in Blacksburg, Va., a notoriously
difficult place for opponents to ball­-peen the home team. The Buckeyes
were, well, frightening, racking up 360 rushing yards, 572 total yards and
averaging 10.2 yards per play against a Virginia Tech defense not notable
for surrendering meekly.

That the Buckeyes did it without some key pieces who’ll soon be back makes
you wonder if anyone, at any time, will come remotely close to hailing
distance of them. Available evidence certainly doesn’t suggest it.

Oh, granted, it looked briefly as if Urban Meyer’s legions might be vaguely
human, futzing around long enough in the first half for the Hokies to strap 17
straight points on ‘em and take a 17-­14 lead into halftime. But it was a mere
trick of the light; come the second half, the Buckeyes overwhelmed Tech 28­
7 and made it look like a mere leisure time activity.

And so this morning there were people saying, yes, hand Ohio State the
trophy, making the case that the hurdle the Buckeyes cleared by 18 points
might be the tallest they’ll see this season. The schedule certainly
lends itself to that opinion; the next four weeks include home­-field
calisthenics against Hawaii and two MAC schools (Northern Illinois and
Western Michigan), and then a road trip to Indiana, which just gave up 47
points to Southern Illinois.

Then it’s Maryland ... a Penn State team that just got worked by Temple ...
Rutgers ... Minnesota ... Illinois. Finally, way off in the future on Nov. 21, the
big showdown comes with Michigan State. With the possible exception of
Minnesota, does anyone see anything but sweat-­free double­-digit Ws in any
of that?

Of course, college kids are college kids, which means that sometimes
Appalachian State will beat Michigan in the Big House. Notre Dame once
lost to Navy twice in a row. Stuff happens. It’s one of the many reasons
college football is better than the NFL, which these days is pretty much just a
vehicle for the mega-­growth industry that is fantasy football.

And so, the Blob is not prepared to anoint the Buckeyes yet. ‘Cause, yeah,
stuff could happen.

Of course, that closet could be empty, too.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Time machine

This was old NASCAR, on a humid night in South Carolina that hinted even the weather gods had been sucked into the Wayback Machine. Race cars slipped. Race cars slid. Race cars bent themselves into odd shapes against the concrete of the cranky old Lady, rubbed against its walls so often another nearly-forgotten relic proudly made a reappearance.

Ladies and gentlemen ... say hello again to the Darlington Stripe.

It's the place where the paint's been scraped away on the right side of a stock car running the high line at Darlington, aka the Lady in Black. And it was a sight for sore eyes.

With the Southern 500 returning to its rightful place on Labor Day weekend, NASCAR decided to embrace everything that made its product great after long years of running away from it. That it was a resounding success might have been understating it.

According to Ryan McGee of, officials judged the grandstands were "nearly full," a refreshing look these days when waning interest and attendance reminds NASCAR every week that the glory days have passed. And that refreshing look happened because, yes, there was a throwback date and throwback paint schemes and old-timers posing in front of those paint schemes they made famous. But mostly, the look happened because NASCAR finally gave the racing back to the racers.

A low-downforce setup with softer compound tires made the cars as hard to wrestle around Darlington as they were back in the day, and both the fans and the drivers loved it. Unquestionably, the computer models and other technological hoodoo of the last 30 years have produced better machinery, but they've also produced a lot of Tournament of Roses parades. And largely that's because the engineers and crews have gotten so good at what they do that driving a Cup car these days is more about keeping the thing pointed straight than anything else.

The guys with the best engineers, crew chiefs and R&D usually prevail, in this new NASCAR. And that's not what brings out the fans. Best Laptop Wins, after all, doesn't exactly get the blood pumping.

But last night, throwback weekend included throwback racing, and, surprise, surprise, it was some of the most entertaining racing of the season. The guys who couldn't handle it crashed, same as the old days. The guys who could went to the front. And in the end, it was a guy (Carl Edwards) who had to come from two laps back who won it.

Look. NASCAR is never going back to Rockingham or North Wilkesboro or any of the other hard-scrabble places where it made its bones. It's a national brand now, and it's going to follow strategies that will keep it a national brand. That's why you won't see it ever again trotting out the Confederate flag, because you don't broaden your fan base by clinging to the discredited relics of a wanna-be nation founded on the principle of human bondage.

But there is the past, and there is the past. And here's hoping Brian France and the rest of them recognize that the part of the past that we saw on display Sunday night still works, and is the best way forward for the sport.

They gave it back to the drivers last night, and the magic came back with it. Thus endeth the lesson.  

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Meanwhile, in Bloomington ...

So the other day I'm chatting with a guy who lives and dies with what goes on down in Bloomington, and we got to talking about the Hoosiers' prospects on the gridiron this year, and I said, "Well, if they can keep Nate Sudfeld upright, they'll be OK."

And so the good news from IU yesterday: They kept Sudfeld upright, and the Indiana quarterback engineered 48 points in a win over Southern Illinois.

The bad news: The defense is just as prostrate as ever.

This after they turned a quarterback named Mark Iannotti into Mark Football, with the consequence that the Hoosiers only won 48-47. Along the way, Iannotti reduced the Indiana defense into 11 guys unsuccessfully trying to hail a cab, throwing for 411 yards and four touchdowns and running for 106 yards and another score.

Mathematicians will quickly deduce this comes out to 517 yards and five scores for Iannotti, a career for some and surely, in this case, an occasion for canonization in Carbondale. Big Ten schools have made a tradition of struggling with lesser foes in the early weeks of the season, so maybe this is not the cause for concern it appears to be. But when the particular tradition at IU is to put defenses on the field that can't stop inert matter, perhaps it is.

In any case, it's a W. And Sudfeld's still upright. And, well, that's something.

At least for now.

Irish eyesight, Part Deux

OK. So which Texas was this again?

Texas-Arlington? Texas-San Antonio? The Dillon, Texas, Panthers?

Surely these were not the burnt-orange hordes of Earl Campbell, of James Street and Steve Worster, of the Johnny Joneses, Lam and Ham. These Longhorns looked more like ham-on-rye. And the team that put them there?

Well. Let's just say a re-assessment of  Notre Dame might be in order. Might be.

Until they play a team (Georgia Tech?) that can block, tackle and run the football, we won't really know if what we saw under the lights last night in Notre Dame Stadium was a mirage or the real deal. But at least beating the wadding out of Texas-not-really-Texas 38-3 indicated the Irish are who we thought they were, which is a killer defense, a brutish offensive line and some talent at the skill position that looks more than modest.

The jury might still be out on Malik Zaire and his still-small sample size, but the sample again looked pretty appealing. Several thousand NFL fantasy players were no doubt looking for a loophole after Zaire's 19-of-22, 313-yard, three-touchdown night. Even if it came against a defense that only made faint attempts to chase him down or cover his receivers, it was the kind of performance to which they build statues at Notre Dame -- or at least they will if he can duplicate it 11 or 12 more times.

Zaire can throw and run. The offensive line can block, and they have running backs -- last night it was C.J. Prosise (20 carries, 98 yards) -- who can gain ground behind it. The receivers, led by Will Fuller (7 catches, 142 yards), provide capable targets. And the defense will not be an open road for anyone; against Texas, it was a locked door, holding the Longhorns to just 163 total yards.

So, now it's on to stiffer challenges. Several await.

But if Week 1 is any bellwether -- and remember, it hardly ever is -- upward mobility could well be in Notre Dame's future. No. 2 TCU struggled before beating unranked Minnesota by six. No. 5 Michigan State struggled to put away Western Michigan out of the MAC, finally winning 37-24. No. 6 Auburn didn't wear out any superlatives in beating unranked Louisville by a touchdown.  And Stanford, against whom the Irish close the season, lost 16-6 to Northwestern.

All of which puts us on the dangerous ground of getting the Domers' hopes up, an exercise that always requires very little effort. They're gonna be good, the Irish, until they're not. Which is exactly where we stand this morning.

 Beyond that ...

Well. Two words no fan ever wants to hear: We'll see.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Tebow! Part Deux

And so, a day later, RGIII is still in Washington (for now). Michigan’s offense
is still as crappy as it was last year (despite the mystical powers of Jim
Harbaugh). The Redskins are still gouging their non­season ticketholders
(who will not be allowed to leave tickets at will-­call).

And NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, freshly punched in the mouth by the

He will not be attending the 2015 season opener next Thursday night
featuring his nemesis, Tom Brady and the Super Bowl champion Patriots.
Apparently he has decided if he ignores them, they’ll just go away.

But enough about that.

How about that Tim Tebow?

Yes, America, it’s once again TebowTime! (a registered Blob trademark). The Eagles’ third/fourth string quarterback threw two touchdown passes last night in a preseason loss to the Jets. Overall, he was 11 of 17 for 189 yards, leaving him 21 of 36 for 286 yards, two touchdowns and one
interception for the preseason.

That compares favorably with the Eagles other third/fourth string QB, Matt
Barkley, who finished the preseason 27 of 52 for 351 yards and two picks.
So, we’ll see.

Me, I’m rooting for Tebow, because, hey, I need a third­string QB/H-
back/evangelist for my fantasy team. And besides, I miss the Tebow hype.
It’s so much more palatable than all the other hypes, like the Deflategate
hype, the Adrian­Peterson­-beating­-his­-kid hype, the various­-NFL­-players-
beat­ing-women hype, the IU­-basketball­-boozing hype.

Can-­Tim-Tebow-­be-­an-­NFL-quarterback seems refreshingly wholesome
after all that. And so ... no offense, Matt Barkley. But I hope, when it's all said and done, that you’re the guy who hears the knock on his door and the words “Coach Kelly wants to see
you. And bring your playbook.”

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Brady wins. Kind of.

Yeah, well. O.J. won, too.

Which is to say a court ruling is only a court ruling, while the rule of public
opinion lasts forever. And so a judge can overturn Tom Brady’s suspension,
but he can’t exonerate him. Nothing will ever do that.

Oh, sure, there’ll be high fives all over New England today, from
Framingham to Southie to the Back Bay. There’ll be hosannas going up to
the sky from the Berkshires to the bayou, where various Saints and ex-
Saints joined Patriot Nation in a spasm of unrestrained glee.

After all, they, too, had suffered at the hard and imperious hand of Roger
Goodell. The man stepped on Who Dat with a hobnail boot in the Bountygate
business. Now he, too, was getting stepped on. Schadenfreude, it’s a
beautiful thing.

It’s also a massive con, in this case.

It’s a con because the ruling of the court was simply that Roger the Hammer
overdid the hammer, and overreached, failing to prove legally what everyone
outside New England  knows happened in fact. Today’s ruling overturns the suspension, but it doesn’t absolve Brady of anything. Someone still willfully let the air out of those
footballs, something the Patriots acknowledged by firing the two flunkies
whose job it was to be hurled beneath the bus. That the two flunkies decided
all on their own lonesome to do what they did remains a narrative only the
Brothers Grimm could sell, or perhaps Robert Kraft and Co.

If you think Brady had nothing to do what happened – if you think all that text
noise about the Deflator really was about somebody’s weight loss – then
likely you also believe the moon is made of brie. And that Brady deciding to
destroy his cellphone (and any incriminating evidence within) right before he
was due to testify was just an amazing coincidence. And that there is
oceanfront property in Nebraska going for a song these days.

The man cheated, and then tried to cover it up. He was successful in doing
so. And so, barring another reversal on appeal, he will be on the field in
Week 1 against the Steelers.

But cries of “cheaaat­er, cheeaat­er” will dog him everywhere he goes all

And he’ll be greeted, everywhere he goes, by bedsheets emblazoned with
collapsed footballs and giant air­pump needles.

And he’ll look up, everywhere he goes, and see more of those flattened-
football hats in the stands on Sunday afternoons than Aaron Rodgers sees
cheeseheads in Green Bay.

Yes, Tom Brady is a free man today. He stands, at least in one corner of the
country, vindicated.

The poor guy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Irish eyesight

So college football is upon us again, and for Notre Dame that means Texas in three days, and for some people that means it's time to bury the throttle and predict the Irish will be far more ascendant than they will likely wind up being.

Which is to say: It's early September, and time again to overhype the Irish.

Maybe one of these days they'll actually be as good as some people always think they are this time of year, but not this year. Yes, the defense should be stout. Yes, the O-line and the running game should be robust. Yes, Malik Zaire has definite promise at quarterback.

But, no, that doesn't mean they're going to wind up in the four-team championship playoff, which some prognosticators have forecast.

To be blunt, the people who are saying that have been smoking something other than Marlboro Lights, and not just because this is the same basic group of players that went 8-5 last year. It's because the schedule includes two and probably three likely losses, even if Zaire turns out to be as good as he was in the small sample size we got at the end of last season.

Texas will be handful enough in Charlie Strong's second year, but down the road the Irish get a Georgia Tech team that returns a wealth of talent from a team that won 10 games last year and obliterated Mississippi State, a one-time No. 1, in the Orange Bowl. Then there's the road trip to Clemson, which destroyed Oklahoma 40-6 in its bowl game. Then there's USC, out of jail at last and picked to win the Pac-12. Then there's the roadie to Stanford to end the season.

Does anyone who doesn't bleed blue-and-gold seriously believe the Irish survive all that with one loss or fewer?

No, the preseason ranking of No. 11 seems far more realistic, taking everything into consideration.

Not that, you know, realistic has much to do with it when it's the Irish, and early September.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The best. Ever.

Serena Williams opened her U.S. Open quest by beating some Russian in, like, 12 minutes, or so it seemed. It was 6-0 and then 2-0 when the Russian retired, pleading an injury that we can assume was a Torn Serena's Kicking My Ass Muscle.

And so, the pursuit goes on, and that there's even a debate over whether the pursuit hasn't already ended boggles the mind. That Williams is the greatest women's tennis player of all time is not beyond question only because (A people are always gonna argue that the Greatest Ever can't be quantified, and (B she doesn't look like any of the other Greatest Evers.

Sorry. I know it's politically correct these days to deny that race has anything to do with anything, because, you know, a lot of white people don't think so. But come on. If Serena were as white as Chris Evert, would this even be a legitimate discussion?

If she wins the U.S. Open it will be her 22nd major title, tied for Steffi Graf alltime, and her fifth straight, and a calendar year Grand Slam for the first time since Graf did it 26 years ago. And if it's true she hasn't had the depth of competition Chrissie or Martina once had when they had each other, or even the depth of competition Graf had when she had Monica Seles ... have any of them done what she's done?

Remember, Serena's won eight majors since she turned 30, and she's done it after fighting back from a lacerated tendon, a pulmonary embolism and the murder of a sister. Who else has overcome that at her age?

I'll tell you: No one.

Not only has she overcome more, post-30, than any women's player in history, she  has double the number of majors any woman in history has ever won post-30. So, yes, she's the best ever.

Claiming otherwise just makes you look, I'm sorry, silly.