Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The old college try

Another day, another failed adventure in taking what works on a college campus and trying to cut-and-paste it into the modern NFL.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly is gone this morning, suddenly, a game shy of three years into an experiment that seemed iffy from the jump. And the list of successful college coaches who foundered beneath the Shield grows by one more.

Welcome to the junk heap, Coach Kelly. You'll recognize a few people, we're guessing.

Yes, that is Lou Holtz over there. And Steve Spurrier. And Nick Saban. And, sure, maybe even Jim Harbaugh, who did manage to get the 49ers to the Super Bowl before all that rah-rah college intensity burned out his players and wore out his welcome with management.

Now he's back in academia at Michigan, and seems yea more comfortable there. And so it will be, too, you've got to figure, with Kelly.

There's still a chance some NFL team will take a flyer on him, intrigued by his offensive genius (which proved to be more theoretical than applied in Philly). But there are a ton of juicy college jobs dangling right now like low-hanging fruit. So if you're a betting man, you'd be better off betting he winds up in College Station or Austin or some other college town before he winds up in, say, Indianapolis.

He did win some games in Philly -- his record there was 26-21 -- but there was never the big breakthrough some predicted for him, and a lot of that was his own doing. That the Eagles put him not only on the sideline but in charge of personnel, too, was absurd on its face, because being an NFL GM is no job for an intern. And that's essentially what Kelly was.

He had zero experience at it and it showed in the moves he made, some of which were merely curious and some of which were plainly ridiculous. To run his up-tempo spread offense, he brought in Sam Bradford, a pocket passer with surgical knees who was perhaps the quarterback least suited to it. Then he got rid of every wideout capable of stretching the field. Then he shipped off LeSean McCoy and brought in DeMarco Murray, a push at best (and, actually, less than a push).

In the end, all that, plus his apparently imperious ways, lost Kelly his football team. And you could have predicted it. College coaches are used to being the absolute rulers of their particular fiefdoms. The NFL, however, is more of a partnership. It's a league whose most successful coaches don't rule by imperial decree but by getting highly paid employees to buy into a particular culture. No wonder so many big-deal college coaches fail at it -- with the possible exception of Pete Carroll, who, remember, was a pro coach before his star rose at USC.

That's why you have to chuckle when Saban's or Harbaugh's name bubbles to the surface in the speculation over who will replace the apparently outgoing Chuck Pagano in Indy. And why the news out of Philly this week seemed, except perhaps for the timing, somehow inevitable.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Two thoughts now as the San Diego Chargers, 4-11 and going nowhere but home (or, perhaps, L.A.), get ready to put a sad bow on a sad season:

1. If the Bolts had hit anyone nearly as hard as they just hit their All-Pro safety Eric Weddle, they probably wouldn't be 4-11.

2. On the other hand, given what a cheap shot it was, Weddle would likely have drawn a two-game sitdown if he'd hit anyone like that.

This upon the news that the Chargers have not only fined their best defensive player for the crime of being a Dad, they got petty about it and put him on IR even though Weddle didn't want to get put on IR. So he'll likely not even get to be on the sideline Sunday as the Bolts close out their less-than-distinguished season at Denver.

It's an amazing show of spite in light of the fact Weddle has so faithfully answered the bell for them, averaging 937 snaps a year since 2008 and racking up 961 last season. And it's perhaps the clearest indication why they're where they are right now, which is dead last in the AFC West.

So what was Weddle's crime?

Well, it seems that on Dec. 20, in the middle of a 30-13 win over the Dolphins, Weddle decided to stay on the field at halftime to watch his daughter perform a dance number sponsored by the Chargers themselves. For that, he was fined $10,000 and put on IR with a groin injury through which he's been battling.

And, yes, sure, he's a professional, so he probably should have been there for the halftime meetings. And you can certainly fault him for not asking permission first. He should have.

But the punishment, clearly, does not fit the crime here. To begin with, being a Dad trumps being around for halftime "adjustments" that obviously haven't been worth a damn. If they were,, after all, the Chargers wouldn't be 4-11.

Add to that the fact Weddle has for eight seasons been a valuable and conscientious employee. Add also the fact if his presence was all that vital at this point in a lost season, the Chargers wouldn't be leaving him behind this week just to be jerks about it.

The skinny: Weddle, an enormously popular player, has more than earned his employer's benefit of the doubt. So he didn't ask permission? Fine. You call him in, you tell him don't ever do that again, you move on.

But to fine him $10,000 and then kick him in the, well, groin by putting him on IR?

Ingratitude, thy name is Charger.    

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 16

And now this week's installment of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature of which eggnog-besotted critics have exclaimed "It's a Christmas miracle!" and "Dang, that boy can write!":

1. The mummified husk of Sammy Baugh.

2. Will soon be quarterbacking the Colts if the season doesn't hurry up and end.

3. The almost mummified husk of Peyton Manning.

4. Who, despite his various owies, is still capable of hiring lawyers. Which means Al Jazeera is going to feel the burn.

5.  Carson Palmer, Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson.

6. Are not yet in traction, under sedation, on IR, or being held together with Scotch tape and strategically placed ten-penny nails.

7. Speaking of Christmas miracles.

8. Aaron Rodgers.

9. Is not hurt either.

10. But, after Sunday, probably wishes he were.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Sweet Georgia downer

I could write about the Colts this day, winning while losing ground as their playoff hopes flicker. I could write about the meager sustenance Colts nation will take from their guys winning while the Evil Empire in New England lost, or how the Arizona Cardinals suddenly look like the smart pick to win the Super Bowl, or how the Carolina Panthers finally went down to the Falcons, igniting a flurry of popping champagne corks from the '72 Dolphins, who after 43 years still have intact and fully functional gloat genes.

But, nah. Today, the Blob would rather throw a bucket of confetti on all that.

It will do so in honor of Meadowlark Lemon, aka the Clown Prince of Basketball, aka the beating heart of the Harlem Globetrotters when the Globies were going about keeping pro basketball off the ventilator back in the 1950s and early '60s. Meadow passed yesterday at 83, an American icon and one more symbol of a time in this country that has itself passed.

We figured that out, of course, some months ago, when the Globies announced they were cutting ties with their longtime foils, the Washington Generals. Odes to the nobility of losing for the storyline's sake followed, including in this space.

But Meadow dying is far more significant, and affords the opportunity to remind a nation largely ignorant of its own history that there was a time when the NBA was not LeBron 'n' Steph Curry 'n' them.  College buckets owned the sport 60 or 65 years ago; the pro version was a sideshow played in high school gyms in quiet little towns (i.e.: Fort Wayne, Sheboygan, etc.) that in some cases (i.e.: Fort Wayne) didn't even have rail service. And it was overwhelmingly, glaringly, white.

Enter the Globies, who not only gave employment to black players the NBA was reluctant to hire, but gave the early NBA an attendance bump every time it played a league city. And they did that a lot. It's not much of a stretch to say without them -- and without the point-shaving scandals that severely wounded the college game in the '50s -- the league might never have survived.

Likely pro hoops would have been reborn anyway. But its path would have definitely been a different one -- and certainly, Meadow and Co. played a role in keeping that from happening.

If their act was just that, an act, it was also a window into a style of basketball the pro game would eventually come to embrace, to its great good fortune. The 3-point shot and other showbiz touches introduced by the ABA -- and later adopted by the stodgy old NBA -- had their spiritual antecedents in Meadow and his guys.  If Meadow's sleight-of-hand dishes out of the post didn't directly beget the no-look wizardry of Pistol Pete Maravich, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, you could at least see their ghostly outlines in the latters' work.

And so, let's honor those outlines today. Raise a glass. Wad up a piece of paper in the office and throw it behind your back. And raise a fervent hope that, as Meadow goes to his rest, he'll do so beneath a blizzard of confetti, flung from buckets held by his friends and family.

It is, after all, the only fitting tribute.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Kicked while down

Well, this is a fine and charitable thing. Like Peyton Manning hasn't taken enough shots to various body parts this season.

Now its his reputation that's being blindsided.

Now comes the news, or not, that Manning used HGH on the sly in 2011 while recovering from his various neck surgeries, the drugs coming to him in his wife Ashley's name. If true, it continues a dark endgame to a sparkling career, as the NFL's most prolific passer limps to the finish line like the 2015 version of Willie Mays, blundering around in pursuit of fly balls he would have caught in his sleep in his Say Hey Kid heyday.

Bad enough Peyton similarly has been unmasked as mortal. Now he's a cheater, too?

Well ... probably not.

The only saving grace in the news that Manning might have been using HGH the year the NFL banned it is that the "news" might not be news at all. To start with, the guy who ratted him out in the Al Jazeera doc has recanted his story, saying he was only throwing around Manning's name (and several other big-deal names) to misdirect the reporter who was interviewing him, on account of he didn't trust the guy. So there's that.

There's also this, from the Blob's angle of sight: If Manning was, in fact, using HGH to facilitate his recovery, who besides the NFL cares?

Look. I get the argument about PEDs. If used as PEDs, they skew the playing field, because, even if you made them legal, there would always be a strata of athlete who had access to the best and newest stuff. And that's an affront to on-the-level competition.

But using HGH (or any steroids, for that matter) to promote the healing process after a serious injury?

I'm trying very hard to understand why that's such an appalling thing. And I'm coming up empty.

Frankly I have no problem with a professional athlete using any pharmaceutical means at his disposal to recover from an injury, because such use has nothing to do with enhancing performance. He (or she) is merely trying to get back on the field, which hardly seems like the crime of the century. What am I missing here?

And all of this is probably moot anyway. When your key source says he was just testing you, your story's pretty much dead on arrival. All you've got is a bunch of unsubstantiated rumors from a possibly conned reporter.

Conclusion: This hit Peyton might just shake off. Or so the romantic in us hopes.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

And to all a good night

Christmas Eve now, and one thing more before the Blob departs for a couple of days of rampant festive-ing.

("And one thing more." See what I did there?)

In honor of the season, I'll turn things over to Charles Dickens, and a passage from "A Christmas Carol" I post every year somewhere because it seems to me the appropriate thing to do:

"Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea -- on, on -- until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any shore, they lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations; but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered those he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted to remember him."

Merry Christmas, to those who celebrate. And the happiest of holidays to those who don't.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Famous last words

Bumped into Santa Claus the other day out at the mall, which was good because there'd been something I'd been meaning to ask him, and I didn't know if I was going to get the chance before he started his yearly spree of breaking-and-entering.

"Why do you want to do the people of Alabama like that?" I said.

Unaccustomed dismay appeared on his cheery bewhiskered countenance.

"What do you mean?" he said. "Why, I just gave the people of Alabama the greatest gift they could ever ask for."

Both of us, it turns out, were referring to the same thing: Nick Saban's pronouncement the other today that he could never see himself anywhere else but the University of Alabama, where he has become almost revered as Bear Bryant himself, lacking only a colorful and appropriate nickname.

(I vote for "Fisheye." Nick "Fisheye" Saban, for his renowned ability to give impertinent reporters the ol' fisheye.  Not that there is an actual vote, or ever will be)

Anyway ... Santa seemed to think ol' Fisheye telling the people of Alabama he was never going to leave them was the sweetest gift ever, much better than the year I woke up and discovered he'd left me a Ferrari.

(OK, so it was Matchbox Ferrari. But, still)

I looked at the Big Fella and slowly began to shake my head.

"Are you kidding?" I said. "Hate to break it to you, but you just left a big shovelful of coal in their stockings. You don't ever, ever want your big-deal coach pledging his fidelity to you. You might as well start backing up the moving van the second the words come out of his mouth.

"I mean, think about it. Remember right before Saban came to Alabama when he said there was no way he was leaving the Miami Dolphins for Alabama? Remember when Rick Pitino looked a certain reporter -- OK, it was me -- straight in the eye and said he couldn't see himself ever leaving Kentucky, the day before leaving Kentucky for the Boston Celtics?

"Listen, Santa. I know your heart's in the right place. I know you represent all that is good and kind and charitable in the world. But take it from me, the world's a mean old place. Especially when it comes to coaches who pledge their troth forever to dear old State U."

But now Santa just smiled at me.

"Ah, son," he said. "I know all that. But sooner or later, one of these guys is actually going to be telling the truth when he says that.  It's a matter of faith, my boy. And faith -- and the hope and promise that come along with it -- is what the season is all about, isn't it?"

A sudden rumbling laugh; a cheerful little wink.

"Merry Christmas, son. Now go home. Something's waiting for you."

I gave him a sidelong glance.

"It's not another Matchbox car, is it?" I said.

But Santa only winked again.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 15

And now this week's installment of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature Steve Harvey  identified as "the Green Bay Packers" before correcting himself and saying "Sorry, I meant 'the Dallas Cowboys.' Wait, did I say 'the Dallas Cowboys'? I meant 'the Oakland Raiders.' No, that isn't right ...":

1. It's Tuesday morning and Carolina defensive back Josh Norman just rang Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.'s doorbell and ran away snickering.

2. It's Tuesday morning and an enraged Beckham just came running out of his house and chased Norman down the street, shouting "You damn kids, you better hope I don't catch you! I'll give you a helmet-to-helmet hit you won't forget!"

3. Hey, look, Matt Hasselbeck is here.

4. And here ... and here ... and, oh, look over here, it's part of his clavicle ...

5. See? The Bengals are just fine with AJ McCarron.

6. See? The Broncos are just fine with Brock Osw--

7. Oops.

8. Meanwhile, the New England Patriots.

9. Have just picked up Bronko Nagurski, Red Grange and Crazylegs Hirsch from a special super-secret waiver wire that features a time portal invented by a certain Doc Brown. Bill Belichick hired him off the books months ago when it became apparent conventional means were not going to keep the Patriots functioning. Every other team in the league immediately petitioned for access to the technology, to which Belichick replied, "Tough noogies. It's mine, and you're not getting it. Wait'll I roll out Don Hutson, Walter Payton and the entire '85 Bears defense for the playoffs, bitches."

10. In other news, Grange and Hirsch suffered hamstring injuries upon arrival in 2015 and have been declared day-to-day for Sunday's game. Belichick immediately moved to pick up Jim Brown from the 1960 Cleveland Browns.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Yipes, stripes

Odell Beckham Jr. is perhaps the most scintillating player in football right now, and all you have to see to confirm that is what he did on the New York Giants' game-tying drive against the unbeaten Carolina Panthers Sunday afternoon.

First there was the brilliant catch-and-run slant that got the Giants down inside the 20.

Then there was the touchdown reception from Eli Manning -- Beckham shedding his game-long nemesis, Panthers DB Josh Norman, to complete the drive that briefly put the Panthers' perfect season in jeopardy until Cam Newton could get back on the field and take his team to Graham Gano's game-winning field goal.

That wasn't the most jaw-dropping thing Beckham did Sunday, however.

The most jaw-dropping thing was that he was still in the game at that point.

Three egregious personal fouls should have put him on the sideline long before, had the game been under the purvey of a reasonably competent NFL officiating crew. Alas, we got Terry McAulay's crew instead.

McAulay could have (and should have) banished Beckham for any one of the personal-foul penalties, and certainly should have for the second offense. But how he didn't do it after Beckham's third-quarter stealth hit on Norman is beyond rational explanation.

First he swiped at Norman's head as he ran his route. Then, after the play was over, he circled back, ran at Norman and delivered a clearly targeted head-to-head shot from behind.

Mind you, this was not the kind of accidental head-to-head contact you see on a pass rush, and which nonetheless routinely draws penalties and/or fines or suspension. But Beckham deliberately speared Norman in the head, and went out of his way to do it. How does he stay in the game after that? How can McAulay not eject him and still remain consistent with the NFL's clamp-down on even accidental head hits?

It was beyond ridiculous. But then, when hasn't the officiating in the NFL been ridiculous this season?

That the stripes have been even more awful than usual has become an article of faith, and that's not just the sentiment of disgruntled fan bases. People with no dog in any hunt have made the same observation,. That this particular instance could have resulted in the last unbeaten NFL team going down only made it worse this time; without Beckham in the game, the Giants don't tie it, and Carolina doesn't need more Cam heroics to pull it out.

And what the NFL needs to do now is crystal.

One, suspend Beckham (the fine's a given) for the rest of the season.

Two, suspend McAulay for the rest of the season, too.

They are, after all, equally culpable here. And should be equally held to account.

Update: Beckham was suspended for one game today.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

King of the hill

OK, boys and girls. We're going to do this quickly, on account of it's five days before Christmas and those gifts are not going to wrap themselves.

First, the scores:

Unranked Indiana 80, unranked Notre Dame 73. No. 17 Butler 74, No. 8 (and previously unbeaten) Purdue 68.

Now, the summation:

Butler is the premier college basketball program in the state. Hands down. Case closed. Class dismissed.

"Check your facts," Butler coach Chris Holtmann said yesterday, when asked about that very thing.

OK, we will.

Since 2010, Butler has played in the national championship game twice. Purdue, IU and Notre Dame have, well, not.

Since 2010, Butler has reached the tournament four times, reached the Final Four twice and has never lost in the first round. Notre Dame, Indiana and Purdue have combined for five first-round losses in a combined 12 appearances and only four times have advanced beyond the second round.

Hands down. Case closed. Etc., etc.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The incredible losingness of being ...

... the Philadelphia 76ers.

This morning I woke up and the 76ers, who aren't really an NBA team but play one on TV, were 1-27 and apparently headed not just for permanent residence in the NBA cellar but for the lower regions of the Earth as a whole. You could call them the worst team in NBA history, but that would be acknowledging them as an actual NBA team, which they're not.

Who they are is barely a D-League team, and not even a good D-League team. They're the Rockford Lightning from the old CBA if the Lightning had been really terrible, which they usually weren't. They're the Dallas Chaparrals of the infant ABA, who've been dead almost 43 years and thus are the perfect representation of a team that plays dead every single night.

Here's the thing, though: As bad as the 76ers are -- willfully bad, and we'll get to that in a minute -- their general manager is a genius.

His name is Sam Hinkie, and he's the architect of what he calls the Process, and it's utterly brilliant. Hinkie, you see, has made putridity a strategy. The strategy is to deliberately lose as many games as possible for several years in a row in order to compile enough lottery picks to eventually be un-putrid. It is, you see, a Process.

Most of us, of course, see the Process as being indistinguishable from just being a horridly run organization. But that's the genius of it. You can apparently be a horridly run organization if you can sell it as part of some grand over-arching plan.

Why no one thought of this before is Hinkie's triumph, of course. I mean, how many college football coaches might have clung to their jobs longer if they'd sold their yearly failures as a Process? Yeah, Fubar Tech hasn't won a game in three years, and we lost 76-0 to Ohio State again. But it's all part of the Process. 1-11, here we come!

Or, 1-81, perhaps.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Nicked in the name

Well. At least that's done.

 The students have voted and the North Side Racial Slurs will henceforth be known as the North Side Legends, which sounds exactly like what a bunch of teenagers would come up with, and begs the question what the logo and mascot will look like. A former colleague of mine, and a disgruntled North Side grad, wondered if the mascot would be Freddie Mercury.

 Me, I'd be more inclined to go with the obvious and just trot out a John Legend lookalike. Or maybe Larry Legend. Or maybe, for a logo, a giant embossed L casting a long shadow in which, discreetly, an eagle feather peeks out, just to appease the cranks who hated the idea of ditching "Redskins" on account of it was grotesquely offensive.

Which, of course, it is. Its derivation apparently goes back to the practice of early New England settlers selling Penobscot Indian scalps, which they dubbed "redskins." Trying to say that term is in any way a salute to Native Americans, therefore, only makes you sound like a blithering idiot. It's a racial slur. Period. Move on, nothing to see here.

 But we see it anyway every time a school or professional athletic entity decides to dump the Racial Slur, because nothing is so visceral as a fan's allegiance, and nothing flees logic more readily. And so the Racial Slur becomes a term of endearment. It becomes "tradition." It becomes exactly the opposite of what it actually is.

 Take a calm, reasoned step away, of course, and it becomes much ado about nothing. It is, after all, just a nickname. I'm a New Haven Bulldog, class of '73, and if PETA or some other pack of ninnies had the political clout to declare "Bulldogs' harmful in some way to the family pet, I wouldn't turn a hair. Call 'em the Fightin' Stumps, for all I care. It wouldn’t diminish my memories or the accomplishments of a Cory Jacquay or a V.J. Beachem an iota.

Which is not to say North Side didn’t completely miss the boat here.

The obvious nickname, if you’re gonna eighty-six the Racial Slur, is River Rats. It’s been North’s unofficial nickname forever, or at least for the 60 years I’ve been walking the earth. And you could work up a cool logo and mascot in no time – a fierce-looking rodent wearing an eyepatch and carrying a papier-mache cutlass, say.

There would be history back of it, too. Evansville once had a minor-league baseball team named the River Rats at the turn of the 20th century. Good enough for them, good enough for North Side.

Or, not. Somehow, River Rats never turned up as an entry. Legends, however, did, and also Falcons, Raptors, NightHawks, Nations, Thunder, Rockets and Mustangs. Logic tells you just about any of them are infinitely inferior to “River Rats.”

But, hey.  It’s the kids’ school. It’s their allegiance. Logic doesn’t apply.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Reality kills satire. Film at 11.

Jon Stewart used to call it Your Moment of Zen: A news item so profoundly bizarre you felt sorry for the folks at the satirical news site The Onion, because its thunder had been stolen yet again by stuff that was (no, we are not kidding) actually real.

And so to today, when this happened.

No, really. This happened.

Vladimir Putin really did say defrocked FIFA czar Sepp Blatter, the most corrupt man in sports,
 should win a Nobel Prize.

"I believe that people like Mr. Blatter, the heads of major international sports federations, deserve special attention and gratitude from public organizations," Putin said. "If anyone should be awarded Nobel Prizes, it is these people."
Bizarre as that statement is, it should not have surprised anyone. Putin has been in Blatter's corner since FIFA picked Russia to host the 2018 World Cup. He doesn't think the man is corrupt at all. Then again, we're talking about Putin, so there's a pretty high tolerance at work here. What the rest of the world calls corruption (bribery, extortion, all that good stuff) Putin simply sees as the way things get done.
Besides, did we mention FIFA picked Russia to host the 2018 World Cup? Oh, we did?
Well, I'm sure Putin's fondness for Sepp has nothing whatever to do with that.
His pounding the drums for a Nobel Prize for his bestie does, however, invite some intriguing Nobel possibilities not previously entertained.
For the Nobel Peace Prize: Whatever raving lunatic is running ISIS these days, on the grounds that no one wants a Piece of everyone else in the entire world the way he does.
For the Nobel Prize for Literature: Hiram P. Fudderman of Squirrel Droppings, North Dakota, for his Wal-Mart shopping list, hailed as a "riveting blend of pathos, wry humor and bitter loss involving the protagonist's increasingly desperate search for Archway Coconut Macaroons and Crisco Lite."
And finally ...
For the Nobel Prize for Economics, the resident of Woodland, N.C. who, in a debate over a proposed solar farm, said it wouldn't be worth the savings because he feared the solar panels would "suck up all the energy from the sun."

 And, no, I'm not making that one up, either.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The wages of sin

OK, one last time: Pete Rose is exactly where he belongs.

Which is, on the outside looking in. Which is, in baseball purgatory. Which is, serving time as the game's most visible pariah, a sad character who travels around the country hawking his signature and his image because hustlers gotta hustle, and he is more than anything else a hustler.

And, no, not for the way he used to charge down to first base.

What Charlie Hustle hustles now is a false image of victimhood, a phony narrative that after all these years his banishment from baseball is somehow the fault of shriveled souls who don't know when to stop kicking him while he's down. But that's not even remotely the truth.

The truth, the bare-wood truth, is that he is the architect of his own woes. Major League Baseball refuses to grant him eligibility to the Hall of Fame -- or access to employment within the game -- not because they're a bunch of big meanies, but because of Rose's own actions.

The man simply can't stop lying, to himself and the people he entreats. He said for years he never bet on baseball, then finally admitted he bet on baseball. But even then -- even then -- he didn't come clean, saying he bet on baseball but only while he was managing, not while he was playing.

Except he did bet on baseball while he was playing. Except he continues to bet on baseball, even while petitioning baseball to lift the ban on his employment.

That's why MLB commissioner Rob Manfred became the third commish to tell Rose no the other day. That's why the ban on his employment won't be lifted, because he's proved he can't be trusted. And that's why he shouldn't be in the Hall.

And, yes, I've heard all the counter-arguments. How racists and wife-beaters and drunks are the Hall. How all those guys who took PEDs are way worse than Rose (even though none of them are likely to gain admission, either, at least for a long time). How MLB partners with gambling entities like Draft Kings and Fan Duel, but continues to punish Rose for gambling.

Well, yes, they do.  They do it because insider gambling remains the third rail of the game. They do it because it's the one rule that has been historically inviolate since the Black Sox scandal, and that everyone knows because it's printed in 72-point type on every locker room door in organized baseball.

They do it because Rose chose to ignore the rule anyway, and then to lie about it, and then to keep lying about it.


Baseball never had a rule about them until after the fact, because Mac and Sammy hitting all those bombs saved the game in 1998, and baseball, which likely suspected they weren't doing it natural, chose to look the other way as a result. Baseball has never done that with insider gambling, at least since 1919. There's absolutely no wiggle room there. None.

So Rose has no out. That his accomplishments as a player are Hall of Fame worthy is beyond dispute. That he shouldn't be declared eligible until he stops lying, however, is equally beyond dispute, because to do so would be to reward his stubborn and ongoing deceit.

Got it?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 14

And now this week's installment of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature top educators have decried as "the reason our kids is failing" because it "boogers up their concentrationality on  them standardized whatchamajiggers":

1. No worries. Charlie Whitehurst's got this.

2. (Says no one in Indianapolis right now).

3. No worries. AJ McCarron's got this.

4. (Says no one in Cincinnati right now).


6. (Says a million or so people in Chicago right now).

7. Hey, look, the Panthers are still unbeaten! And Cam Newton's kicking butt!

8. (Brief pause so the United Cam Haters of America can grind their teeth a little more).

9. No worries. Brock Osweiler's--


Monday, December 14, 2015

Horse (in)sense(d)

It's times like these I dearly miss my old writerly invention, Mister Ted, the talking horse I conjured some years back because I figured if anyone could speak intelligently about the Kentucky Derby in something I wrote, it would be a talking horse. And particularly a smartass talking horse.

The smartass, of course, is what got him killed eventually. Wised off one too many times at the wrong human, and now he's connecting the wing to the fuselage in little Johnny's killer model of a P-51 Mustang.

Yet I can still imagine how he'd react to the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years getting beaten out by a tennis player for Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year.

That's what happened today when SI announced Serena Williams had beat the winner of its own online poll, American Pharoah, and needless to say the horse people were not pleased. Pretty much called it a travesty, is what they did. Even had fake horse Twitter accounts weighing in on it, which is what got me to thinking about Mister Ted.

This being 2015, Mister Ted would surely have a Twitter account, too. Something along the lines of @smarterthanthewriterguy, given the disdain with which he always treated me.

"Guessing the Writer Guy will defend the tennis player," he might have tweeted.

"Typical for a doofus who always wanted to call me 'Mister Ed'," he might also have tweeted, no doubt adding #doofus #misteredwasmyfather

He'd be wrong, of course. I actually see the horse peoples' point; I mean, something happens for the first time in almost four decades, attention must be paid. And it's not like Serena hasn't been dominant for quite awhile now, although she was extra dominant this year in winning three of the four Grand Slams and reaching the final in the fourth.

Plus, she's human. It is, after all, Sportsperson of the Year, not Sportsmammal of the Year.

This might betray a certain anti-equine bias on SI's part. But it's not like the horse people don't have their own biases, some of them more disgusting than others.

One of them, for instance, tweeted the only reason Serena won was because she's black. Although Pharoah is kind of reddish, so I don't know how that works.

Maybe SI, given the vaguely sexist way it chose to pose Serena on its cover, decided she had better legs. Although Pharoah's got twice as many of them and they're pretty photogenic, too, so there goes that theory.

I'm sure @smarterthanthewriterguy would have something smartass to say about that, too.

But he's model airplane glue now, thanks to me. Humans win again.

Sinking fast

Here's how low it goes these days for the Indianapolis Colts, plodding toward Christmas while they spread seasonal cheer for everyone but themselves:

They couldn't wait to get out of Jacksonville.

Who says that in December, especially when you're from the Midwest?

Who says it, in fact, almost anytime,  when it's not just Jacksonville but the Jaguars you're talking about? The Jaguars are to the NFL what penicillin is to pneumonia. Feeling low? Got chills and fever and whatever else comes from getting ball-peened by the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Here. Take two Jags and call me in the morning.

Except this time, the Colts -- fresh off that 45-10 head wound at the hand of the aforementioned Steelers -- took two Jags and got plunged into mourning. They led 13-3 and were feeling fine, and then, um, they weren't. The Jags -- the Jags! -- promptly outscored them 48-3 the rest of the way. They found the end zone on all five of their possessions in the second half, plus Rashard Greene's 73-yard punt return. They knocked Matt Hasselbeck onto the sideline and forced the Colts to use Charlie Whitehurst, who played like the bargain bin last resort he was: 2-of-8 passing for 8 yards, plus an interception.

And so, Jags 51, Colts 16. And so, the Colts a game below the waterline at 6-7, which would mean the playoffs were beyond reach except that they play in the AFC South, the bargain bin of NFL divisions.

Next week they get the Texans, also 6-7, for all the division marbles. Or a marble. Or whatever lump of coal comes with winning the AFC South.

It's the only ray of light in this unraveling, and it's a damn weak one. This is in no way a playoff team, even if it jacks around and manages to make the playoffs. Andrew Luck is still recovering from that lacerated kidney, and, even when he comes back, who knows how long he'll stay upright behind an offensive line that can't block sunlight. So it's the bargain bin guy and maybe a beat-up Hasselbeck and a defense that just gave up 51 points to a team that had never scored that many points in a regular season game in its history.

Plus a head coach (Chuck Pagano) who more and more looks like the lamest duck this side of AFLAC. Plus a general manager (Ryan Grigson) who handed him a mess of a roster and likely is halfway out the door himself.

It was Grigson who decided not to draft what the Colts needed most -- offensive linemen -- and brought in a bunch of senior citizens who, with the exception of running back Frank Gore, have mostly spent this season in the sunroom watching "Golden Girls" reruns. That got the toughest guy in the room, Luck, beat up not once but twice. And the odds are pretty short that he'll get beat up again when he comes back -- a frightening prospect considering he's coming back from a lacerated kidney.

No word yet if he'll even be cleared to practice this week, let alone play against the Texans. But even if he were, it would be a lunatic decision to risk him against the Texans pass rush. And if, as seems likely right now, they lose to the Texans without him next week?

Might as well shut him down for the duration. Why wouldn't you, with the season lost?

After all, it already looks like everyone else has shut it down.



Saturday, December 12, 2015

The great unmentionable

No, no, no. No. A thousand times no.

You can tie me to a chair and make me listen to Harry Caray butcher Rafael Palmeiro's name ("Rafael Paler-mo") a million times. I won't do it.

You can tie me to the outfield wall and let the ivy smother me. I refuse.

You can ply me with Old Style, set Clark the Bear on me, lock me up in the Billy Goat next to, well, the billy goat, and also the ghost of Mike Royko.

I am not going to say That Thing.

I am not going to declare that the Chicago Cubs are now the you-know-whos to do you-know-what, just because they won the offseason. Yes, they have an exciting young team that won 97 games last season with a pitching staff anchored by Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. Yes, they have the NL Manager of the Year in Joe Maddon. Yes, they've just gotten yea better by doing some frighteningly competent stuff in free agency, like pry the Cardinals' best playoff pitcher away from thenm, and pry their best young everyday player away from them, and sign an infielder who helped the Kansas City Royals win the World Series, and whom everyone wanted.

That would be Ben Zobrist, and the Cubs got him. Got John Lackey, too. And, yesterday, they landed the young Cardinals' slugger, Jason Heyward, who's only 26 and coming into his prime and who, in his first five seasons, hit 97 home runs and drove in 352.

So, to review: Not only did the Cubs whip their hated rivals in the playoffs, they whipped 'em in free agency, too. Scary.

It's so scary, in fact, that lots of people will be tempted to say That Thing.

Not me. I will not. I will not speak the words. The world can erupt in a series of cataclysmic events unseen for a certain number of years beyond 100, but you'll never hear me speak that certain number or give the game away by capitalizing those certain two words you just read in this sentence.

And don't tell me you don't know what two words. I'm not falling for that.

Even if you stake me out behind Leon Durham and fire a succession of baseballs between his famously spread wickets. Uh-uh.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Event 1, Media 0

The estimable Dan Jenkins, the sportswriter's sportswriter for a whole generation of us, wrote a novel about the trade once upon a time. The title was "You Gotta Play Hurt."

But, you know, he didn't mean it literally.

He didn't mean some poor put-upon scribe should ever wind up on the IR with a busted leg the way Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register did last night. Peterson made it through some four decades of deadlines and  oh-jesus-my-mind-just-went-blank terror only to get knocked down and trampled when Iowa State fans rushed the floor in the wake of a come-from-behind, last-second win over in-state rival Iowa. He wound up in the hospital, still wearing his press pass, with a compound fracture of the leg that will require surgery.

There but for the grace of God, and all that.

I did the sportswriting thing for nearly as long as Peterson has, and I suppose it's only dumb luck that the only injuries I ever incurred were a few scrapes the night I had to climb an 8-foot fence to get out of the football field at Heritage High School. Someone had gone off and locked me in as I labored over my gamer in the pressbox. I remember, as I teetered atop the fence (my marginal athletic days were a distant memory by that time) that I was getting way too old for such adventures.

Although the word I used wasn't "adventures."

Peterson got it way worse than I did, injury added to the usual indignities of the gig. And to be honest, I'm surprised  this sort of thing hasn't happened more often.

If I've learned anything else over the years (the jury remains hung on that one) it's there is indeed a living, breathing entity called Crowd, and that it is mindless and heedless. And that's especially the case in college basketball, where the rushing-the-court phenomenon has gotten completely out of hand -- to such an extent that Iowa State's fans rushed the floor not because the Cyclones pulled an upset but because they avoided one.

After which Iowa State's coach actually defended them.

Something, however, has to be done about this. More responsible individuals have been saying for years that someone was going to get seriously hurt if college hoops didn't rein in this rushing-the-court business, and now someone has. And, of course, it was a sportswriter.

So how do you rein it in?

I don't know. Better security. More arrests. Real jail time for the offenders. And even then, Crowd might still win.

I was, for instance, in the press section in Assembly Hall the day Bob Knight threw the chair, and the fans reacted by throwing pennies on the floor. I remember hearing something that sounded like bees whizzing past my head -- "Pennies! They're throwing pennies!" I remember finally thinking, more amazed than afraid -- and that Gene Keady's wife, Pat, got hit in the eye with one. It was the only time in my four decades covering sports that Crowd became -- for a few moments, anyway -- Mob.

And I have no earthly idea how anyone could have kept that from happening.

I do know this, though: Randy Peterson is my newest hero.

That's because, in a filing time-stamped 10:17 p.m., he had the presence of mind to tweet this: Ouch.

Now that's a pro, baby.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Skyhook speaks

And now, a little wisdom, in a nation being duped by carny shouters, fear-mongers and The Asshat That Walks Like A Man, all of whom answer to one name: Donald Trump.

Remember the other day, when the Asshat wondered what Muslim sports heroes President Obama was referencing in his speech on ISIS and San Bernardino?

One of them, duh, is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And this is his rebuttal to the Asshat's trashing of American ideals and eager (not to say calculated) incitement of every worst impulse we have in this country.

I can't say it any better. So I won't.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Head cases

My son is 17 years old and taller than I am.

(And, no, it's not because I'm 5-foot-2. I'm a respectable 6-1. OK, maybe not respectable, but 6-1).

Anyway ... my son is 17 years old and taller than I am, and if you saw him walking the halls at his high school, you might reasonably think "Football player." He's not. He's never played any sport. Never really even liked sports (except, briefly, for auto racing), which might strike you as odd given that his father was a sportswriter for 38 years.

I have my theories about this. But that's another Blob for another time.

In any case, this is a roundabout way of saying his mother and I are not exactly heartbroken these days that he didn't fall in love with football. And we're really not heartbroken that he didn't turn out to be good at it, because then there would be decisions for him to make down the road -- like whether or not the game was going to be good enough to him to risk winding up like Mike Webster or Dave Duerson or anyone else from the burgeoning roll call of ex-football players who wound up first brain-damaged and then dead, occasionally by their own hand.

This has been a thing now for awhile in football, and mainly that's because the National Football League, as the most visible, lucrative and pervasive entity in the game, has made it one. For the better part of 20 years it stuck its head in the sand on the concussion issue, at first calling it an invention of "pack journalism" (Paul Tagliabue, 1994), then consistently downplaying and/or publicly smearing scientists whose research increasingly indicated that repeated trauma to the head led inexorably to brain damage.

It reached the height of idiocy in September 2009, when an NFL-funded study found that former players were 19 times more likely to have dementia, Alzheimer’s or other memory-related diseases -- after which the NFL denounced its own study.

The Shield has been playing catch-up ever since, clumsily more than effectively. In its stead, others have taken up the denial mantle, claiming that concerns over concussion issues is overblown and part of some fictive "war on football."

As half-baked notions go, that one's fully baked.

But it was given new life this week after an op-ed piece that appeared in the New York Times. It was written by Dr. Bennet Omalu, who first tied head injuries, particularly concussions, to the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players. Deep in its denial phase, the NFL viciously attacked his work; you can see that story on-screen later this month in the feature film "Concussion," which stars Will Smith as Omalu.

In his op-ed piece, the real-life Omalu suggested that young men (or women) shouldn't be allowed to play football or any other concussion-heavy sport until they're 18 and can make the decision for themselves as an adult. Which of course has gotten the War on Football people going.

Let me say this about that: I think Omalu's got it backward.

I understand his point about being able to make your own decisions as an adult, but I think 18 is  when a football player should start thinking about giving up the sport, not taking it up. Eighteen, or thereabouts, is when you really start worrying about serious head trauma. That's because the older (and bigger, and faster, and stronger) you get, the more foot-pounds of force you generate. And the more foot-pounds of force you generate, the more damage to your squash you do.

For 8-,  9-, 10-year-old kids -- or even older -- football's mainly about running into each other and falling down. Or just falling down. It's only later that you get big enough, fast enough and strong enough to hurt either someone else or yourself.

And that's when it's decision time.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 13

And now this week's installment of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature critics have hailed as "a delightful holiday treat" and "a glittering Christmas ball of Christmas joy that will fill your Christmas heart with glad Christmas tidings, especially when you compare it to all those cheesy Ion network Christmas movies":

1. Eagles win! Eagles win!

2. In other news, Tom Brady says "Hey, no fair! I ain't got no guys left to throw to!"

3. Bengals win! Bengals win!

4. In other news, Bengals Nation says "Ah, geez. They're 10-2. This is gonna be the biggest letdown ever."

5. Hey, look, it's the 49ers!

6. Thought Trump banned them from America weeks ago.

7. Meanwhile, the Chiefs.

8. Also the Panthers.

9. Also the Seahawks, who apparently have not been banned from America, either.

And last but not least ...

10. Introducing Charlie Whitehurst! You're gonna love him, Indianapolis!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Donny Derp

You can never go broke betting this will be the day Donald Trump will say something stupid  and/or blatantly fib-bish, because he's as regular as a Timex in that regard. But the hairdo currently masquerading as a presidential candidate -- he may not be your classic carny-shouting demagogue, but he plays one on TV -- really stepped in it last night with another incoherent tweet about the current White House occupant.

When President Obama said Muslims are our neighbors, our friends and even our sports heroes, Donny essentially wondered "What Muslim sport heroes?"

Um, I don't know, Donny, maybe Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Or Hakeem Olajuwon. Or Shaquille O'Neal. Ever heard of those guys?

Or how about Muhammad Ali?

Who, you know, gave Donny an award back in 2007.


Bowled over

Sunday was one of the Blob's favorite days of the year, and not because it was the Day Half The Christmas Lights On The Tree Went Out Even Though They All Worked Before They Went On The Tree.

It's Bowl Day, America!

In which we find out who goes to which bowl games, and inevitably someone says, "Geez, there are a lot of these things. What do they do, breed?" and "Why do we need this many bowls?"

Well. There are two reasons.

1. There's a lot of people selling chicken out there and it's not gonna sell itself.

2. The Mid-American Conference needs somewhere to go for the holidays, too.

And so there is a Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl and a Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and a Popeye's Bahamas Bowl, which is where Western Michigan is going, speaking of the MAC. Also speaking of the MAC, Toledo, Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, Central Michigan, Ohio and Akron are also headed for bowl games.

That's seven MAC schools who'll be playing postseason bowls, and if you think that just proves there's too many bowls, well, phooey on you for being a wet blanket. Like you'd deprive Ohio of playing in the gloriously named Raycom Media Camellia Bowl? Or Akron from experiencing the wonders of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl?

These are once-in-a-lifetime experiences for these young men -- I bet even now there are middle-aged men who recall every detail of the late, great Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl -- and, besides, it's not like the MAC has a monopoly or anything. After all, there are 10 Big Ten schools headed to bowls. That means everyone in the conference is going bowling except for Purdue, Illinois, Rutgers and Maryland.

And Illinois, which finished 5-7, could have gone, because two 5-7 teams -- Minnesota and Nebraska -- did land bowl berths.

Indiana at least finished .500 at 6-6, which is why the Hoosiers are playing in the Pinstripe Bowl. Their opponent is Duke, which should be intriguing. OK, not that intriguing, because it's only the Pinstripe Bowl, but more intriguing than, say, Duke-Indiana basketball turned out to be.

As for me, I'll be watching every minute of the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, mainly because I want to see what an Advocare V100 trophy looks like. Ditto the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, for the same reason.

A giant crystal spud. That's what I'm guessing.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Chalk talk

First things first this morning, since it's Sunday and confession is good for the soul: Iowa is not who we thought they were.

We thought the Hawkeyes' 12-0 record was as phony as Monopoly money, that they would crumble at first contact with a Real Contender. We figured the Real Contender (Michigan State) would roll them like a drunk in an alley once it got down to cases.

But the Big Ten championship game last night turned out to be a glorious war to the end, and it took a drive out of legend for the Spartans to finally put away the Hawkeyes, 16-13. It was a knockdown, drag-out throwback Big Ten slugfest -- somewhere Bo and Woody had to be high-fiving and say, "Now THAT'S football!" -- and Michigan State's 22-play, nine-minute drive to finish it was its double-fisted signature.

Five times the Spartans converted a third down to keep the drive breathing. Once it needed Connor Cook's keeper on fourth down to do it -- which, thanks to Iowa's barbed-wire defense, he barely made. Then the Hawkeyes stuffed Sparty on the one on second down. Finally, on third down, it took a Herculean, mano-a-mano effort from running back L.J. Scott to crack the end zone for the winning score, a play that will no doubt go down in Spartan lore simply as The Run.

It was everything a conference championship game should be, and presumably it bled the last bit of drama from the College Football Playoff. Michigan State will be in, and, by virtue of easier wins in the SEC and ACC title games, so will Alabama and Clemson. Oklahoma, already in the Final Four, will likely stay there.

That leaves Ohio State out of the mix, which frankly is where the Buckeyes should be. You build your case a week at a time in this deal, and frankly the Buckeyes didn't build much of a case until the last Saturday of their season. You can't, or at least you shouldn't, bring your "A" game one week out of 12 and expect to get in, no matter how good potentially people think you are.

This doesn't, of course, mean that the committee won't do something crazy and put the Buckeyes in anyway. But the way Iowa fought Michigan State to the end would make that a hard thing to justify. As would Alabama and Clemson breezing to relatively easy wins over Florida and North Carolina in the SEC and ACC title games. A USC upset of Stanford in the Pac-12 championship might have given the Buckeyes some daylight, but that went dark when the Cardinal breezed 41-22.

So it's likely a chalk deal: Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Michigan State. The only thing left to determine, presumably, is the order.

The Blob's best guess: Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma, No. 1 through No. 4. And one last confession.

I've really got no idea.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Misery loves company

And now a new feature the Blob just thought up, Who Is More Pathetic?, in which we attempt to determine which professional sports franchise is inflicting deeper suffering on its fan base, the holiday season notwithstanding.

Your contestants are:

1. The Philadelphia 76ers.

2. The Detroit Lions.

3. The Cleveland Browns.

Let's eliminate "1" right off the jump, because the 76ers are not really a professional sports franchise anymore -- deliberately attempting to lose disqualifies them -- and their fan base already knows they're deliberately attempting to lose, so there's no real heartache involved. Plus, the fan base is down to about two guys -- one of whom wandered into the building thinking he was coming to a Flyers game, and the other of whom keeps saying "We'll be fine as soon as Doc Erving comes back from knee surgery."

So: Lions or Browns?

Ordinarily this wouldn't be such a difficult decision, given that the Browns claim to have retired the Pathetic trophy a long time ago. They haven't won a title since 1964, they actually abandoned Cleveland only to come back (sealing Cleveland's berth as a Be Careful What You Wish For finalist) and every quarterback they draft turns out to be Tim Couch or Johnny Manziel. And, of course, they lose the way nobody loses games. See: The Drive, The Fumble, and that thing that happened Monday night, when a potential game-winning field goal on the last play of the game (against the old Browns, no less) turned into a blocked kick and a game-winning touchdown for the Ravens.

It was, everyone concluded, the most Browns thing ever.

Of course, what happened last night had to be the most Lions thing ever.

What happened was the Lions crawled all over the visiting Packers for three quarters, piling up a 20-0 lead and reducing Aaron Rodgers to throwing lame shovel passes because nothing else was open. And they were still leading 23-14 with just over three minutes left.

After which a few things happened.

Rodgers scored, cutting the lead to 23-21. Then the Lions got ticketed for a sketchy facemask on Rodgers on the last snap of the game, giving the Packers one extra snap. Then Rodgers heaved an absolute prayer toward the end zone 61 yards away -- call it a Hail Mary with a few complimentary saints thrown in -- and tight end Richard Rodgers pulled in to give the Packers a 27-23 win.

It dropped the Lions to 4-8 and certified that, once again, a Super Bowl title will not be coming to Detroit this year. Like anyone thought it was anyway, because the Lions haven't won an NFL title since 1957, seven years before the Browns' last title.

There's been a lot of Alex Karras and Billy Sims and Barry Sanders since then, but no hardware. That's because there's also been a lot of Bill Munson and Ulysses Norris and Jeff Komlo, too. And unlike the Browns, who at least almost reached the Super Bowl a few times, the Lions have actually been closer to the flesh-and-blood Lombardi than the trophy named after him.

Then again, at least they've never left.

Hmmm. I think that might have sealed it for the Lions.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Well, this will make Red Heaven mad as hell.

You can lose to just about anybody if you're Indiana, but when you lose to Duke, and don't appear even to be in the same galaxy as the Dukies, the denizens, as they say, will get restless. And so once again Tom Crean has some 'splainin to do, not to say a mountain of goodwill to reconstruct -- if in fact he can still do that with the more radicalized faction of the fan base, which still believes Bob Knight never lost a game while winning the national championship every other year with a bunch of puny Indiana kids.

And by God, he never lost to Krzyzewski. OK, he did, but not like last night.

To review: The defending national champions whipped Crean's Hoosiers 94-74, mainly because Indiana did hardly any defending at all. The Blue Devils shot 52 percent from the floor and 46 percent from the 3-point line. They outrebounded Indiana 38-25. Thomas Bryant, the blue-chip freshman who was supposed to give the Hoosiers an actual inside presence this year, scored six points and took zero rebounds in 26 minutes.

So much for the inside presence.

In the end, Indiana was again what Indiana was last year: A team that lives and dies on the perimeter and gets what inside presence it has from the outside. Its leading rebounder was reserve guard Robert Johnson, who snagged six boards off the bench. It challenged almost nothing at the defensive end. And Duke essentially locked it up by dropping 51 points on the Hoosiers in the first half.

That alone must have driven the Radicalized Faction the rest of the way up the wall.

The bad news for Crean is it likely made the non-Radicalized Faction crazy, too, which means the Crean Watch -- a hardy perennial these last few years -- will commence again.

No one really thought he was in any kind of trouble last season, when he got 20 wins and an NCAA Tournament bid out of a flawed team. But recruiting supposedly healed those flaws, or at least put IU on the road to healing them. Judging by last night, not so much.

And so the Crean Watch might actually be a Watch in fact instead of just a concept, the way it was last year. And it's going to take a lot more than lumping up a few Alcorn States to make it go away.

In the end, you see, Crean faces the same mandate any coach of a traditionally high-end program faces.

Beat somebody.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Set up the dominoes

So, you thought Ohio State was out of it?

Silly you.

This is the College Football Playoff, aka the CFP, which also stands for "Considering Fordham, Perhaps." Not that Fordham is even eligible for the CFP, being an FCS school, but, hey. These days, you never know.

Which brings us back to Ohio State.

Last seen losing at home to Michigan State's backup quarterback, the Buckeyes seemed firmly out of the CFP, at least if you're one of those people who think "Firmly" is what the "F" stands for. It's not, of course. And so when the Buckeyes finally played like the reigning national champs last week, whipping rival Michigan 42-14, suddenly a lot of people were saying, "Hey, they're one of the top four teams in the country!" because, you know, they played like it for one game out of 12.

So there they sit at No. 6 in the latest CFP rankings, and the scenario exists by which they could still get in. If North Carolina knocks off Clemson in the ACC title game ... or if Florida somehow beats Alabama in the SEC title game ... or if USC turns the tables on Stanford and avenges its earlier loss in the Pac-12 title game ...

Well, you know. Stuff could happen. Not Fordham, of course, but, again, you never know with these guys.

The whole scenario, curiously, gives the lie to what a lot of playoff detractors used to say, which is that a playoff would diminish the value of the college football regular season. Yet Ohio State is out of the mix right now precisely because of what happened in the regular season, or at least most of it. The Buckeyes didn't play like a top-four team when it really counted, and so now their only hope is that a whole stack of dominoes fall on Saturday.

If they don't, here we'll go again with the grumbling. Pundits will pundit that the CFP isn't really the best four teams. They'll say it's just the old BCS in a newer party dress, with flawed human beings making flawed value judgments. And they'll be right in a sense.

The only solution to this is a fairly simple one, but also one college football roundly rejected: An eight-team playoff. The champions of the Power Five conferences all get automatic bids. Three other teams -- also from the Power Five, perhaps, or from the independent ranks -- get at-large bids. That's how college hoops does it, and by and large it works.

To be sure, there'll still be arguments about the three at-large teams. But at least five slots will be beyond dispute, because they'll have proved it definitively on the field. And that's something, right?

Even if Fordham won't like it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


This is where the Curmudgeon takes the stage, ordinarily. He's been the opening act for the Blob for a long time, occasionally making brief appearances and then slinking back to his codger cave, there to sip his PBR ("If I wanted craft in my beer, I'd have taken a six-pack to summer camp") and mutter darkly about what the kale infestation is doing to good old Amur'can cuisine.

And so let me say right now that I fully expected the Curmudgeon to come muttering forth in response to this.

The Curmudgeon, see, hates the trend toward trendy generally, but specifically as it pertains to college football uniforms. He believes (rightly in most cases) that iconic football programs are iconic partly because they have a signature look. And so he grumbles, "What's that white crap Purdue's wearing?" and "If Indiana was supposed to wear chrome on its heads, it'd be a 1959 Caddy." And don't even get him started on Oregon's hey-look-what-we-threw-on-this-week array of mismatched duds, which has completely done away with the notion that the Ducks even have a signature look anymore.

The tradition these days, apparently, is not to have any tradition. And college football, by the Curmudgeon's lights, is its tradition.

So when he found out Navy was wearing seven different helmets in the Army game -- one for each position group -- his response was, "Good God, even the academies?" But then he got a look at them.

Quite simply, they're the coolest thing ever.

The basic design -- ocean-blue background with a gold stripe -- is the same across the board. But hand-painted on them are submarines, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, a different ship for each position group. And they're awesome.

Throw in the "Damn the torpedoes" lettering running down the legs of the uniform pants, and .. well, the Curmudgeon isn't grumbling anymore.

Hell. He feels like saluting.   

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 12

And now this week's edition of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature around which conservative pundits have manufactured an issue by saying it's "not Christmas-y enough" and "Where are the snowflakes and reindeer? You can't celebrate the Savior's birth without snowflakes and reindeer":

1. Brock Osweiler. Peyton Manning.

2. The greatest quarterback since Peyton Manning, and ... who?

3. Rob Gronkowski, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, a bunch of other guys.  Randy Vataha.

4.  The professional football wing of Massachusetts General Hospital, and a guy who isn't hurt but who's three days shy of 67 and last played for the Patriots in 1976.

5. Tom Brady.

6. Who would take Randy Vataha right now anyway.

7. Hey, look, it's Tony Romo! And he's leading the Cowboys to the Supe--

8. Oops. Guess not.

9. Hey, look, it's Chip Kelly! And he's found the team he los--

10. Oops. Guess not.