Sunday, January 31, 2016

Lines of inquiry

So now we're exactly a week out from Super Bowl 50, and you know what that means.

No, not that it's PRO BOWL SUNDAY. Or even NHL ALL-STAR GAME SUNDAY, which it also is.

All that means is it's actually GO SEE A MOVIE SUNDAY. Or READ A GOOD BOOK SUNDAY.

Actually, one week out from Super Bowl 50 means it's time for Peyton Manning and Cam Newton to brace themselves for the Questions, of which there will be two primary ones. Neither man wants to address the Questions. Neither, presumably, will be able to avoid them, given that when you put 90 gazillion media creatures in one place with nothing to do for a week but eat, drink and obsess endlessly about what is, at bottom, just a football game, they will need to find some Big Questions to ponder.

For Cam: Why do some people hate you so much? Is it racism, or something else?

For Peyton: So tell us again about the whole HGH thing. And again. And again.

Cam will likely handle the hate questions much easier than Peyton will handle the HGH questions, simply because he's never been shy about addressing any issue head-on. The cameras love him, and he loves the cameras. So they'll ask, he'll answer, and half of America will, of course, hate his answers.

That's just part of being Cam. And while some of it clearly is because a certain segment of America isn't comfortable with loud, brash people of color -- ask yourself why some people get all huffy about his end-zone celebrations, but no one seems to take issue with Aaron Rodgers' Discount Double-Check thing -- some of it undoubtedly is because of the position he plays. Quarterbacks are not supposed to be creatures of whimsy. They're not supposed to look like they're having fun out there. But then along comes Cam dancing and smiling and wearing lampshades on his head, and people get their shorts in a twist because, by God, Bart Starr never did that.

Or Peyton Manning, for that matter.

His public image is all but spotless, and he's earned that public image with all manner of good works on and off the field. Which is why every time he's asked him about the HGH thing, he looks as if someone just stuck knitting needles in his eyeballs. To say he's uncomfortable with the subject is an understatement;  it is, after all, at such variance with that haloed image.

That image has given him a virtual pass on this HGH business so far, partly because the primary source for the Al Jazeera story recanted and partly because it was Al Jazeera, even though it's done some quality journalism. So Manning simply sneered and the media (the Blob included) sneered with him. It simply went away in a manner it likely wouldn't have had it been, say, Cam Newton the report fingered.

But the news that the NFL is launching its own investigation means it hasn't really gone away, and so I suspect it will be a very uncomfortable week for Peyton Manning. A news report is one thing; the league looking into something is quite another.

And so, the Question will resurface. And resurface, and resurface.

The Blob's position on all this is a shrug of the shoulders, because it doesn't really care if Manning used HGH to recover from his neck surgeries or not. It's a legal medical treatment, and the Blob is of the opinion that a player recovering from a surgery/injury should be allowed to employ any legal treatment he or she wishes, because it doesn't have anything to do with performance enhancement. It has to do with healing. And it is, after all, their bodies.

And, yeah, OK: HGH is a banned substance in the NFL. I get that. And, yeah, even if the story that it was wife who was using it is true, Peyton should have told the league office. But there are violations of the rules, and there are violations of the rules. The Blob just doesn't think this is much of one.

Which will not matter much on Media Day this week, or any other day this week. The Questions will come. You'd sooner stop the Earth from turning.

Next question.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Preventive medicine

In its continuing attempts to not get out of its own way, the NHL has a rule that any selected player who opts out of the league's punchline of an All-Star game gets a one-game sitdown from the commish, Gary Bettman. Which is great except that it makes no allowances, apparently, for guys who have injuries and/or illnesses.

Enter Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, who's skipping the All-Star game tomorrow because he's apparently legitimately ill.

The NHL's apparent response: Big deal. You're suspended. Next time just bring a barf bag, some Tums and a bottle of Dayquil.

That this just makes the NHL look cruel and stupid is obvious to everyone but the NHL, of course. And it gets you thinking that maybe Toews should have taken precautionary measures to inoculate himself, as it were, against such foolishness.

In other words: He should have sent Bettman a note from this guy's mom.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The toll, Part Whatever

So here again is the dark side, intruding on our national obsession at the most inopportune time possible. We are in the run-up to Super Bowl 50, the biggest event in half-a-century in the biggest entertainment vehicle in America, and yet its awful price stubbornly lurks.

Say hello to Tyler Sash.

Say hello, but don't expect an answer, because he's dead. Been dead since September, when he mixed a couple of powerful pain meds, triggering an accidental overdose that killed him. That was the given cause of death.

The unspoken cause is he was yet another young man who loved football too much.

You probably never heard of Sash, because there's no reason you should. He was a safety who played parts of only two NFL seasons, although he won a Super Bowl ring with the Giants in one of them. He played three years at Iowa prior to that, winning All-Big Ten honors his last year. Prior to that, presumably, he was a hard-hitting, head-knocking tough guy on a lot of high school Friday nights.

Now he's dead. And, once again, the doctors who look for such things have found evidence in his brain of CTE, which has been linked to repeated brain trauma leading to, among other things, early onset dementia. Doctors found levels of it in Sash's brain comparable to those they found in the brain of Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012.

The thing is, Seau was 43. Sash was only 27.

Only 27, and yet, the pattern was a familiar one: Memory lapses, difficulty focusing, unable to hold down a job because of that after the Giants cut him loose in 2013. On various medications for almost constant pain. His family growing increasingly aware that he wasn't the same person anymore. Down the rabbit hole we go again.

Look. I don't know what the NFL can do about this. I don't know what anyone can do. Players are bigger and faster and stronger than they've ever been, generating terrifying amounts of force. They are going to keep getting bigger and faster and stronger. And professional football is such an immense cultural and commercial thing in this country that no amount of bumbling by its circus-act commissioner, nor any amount of witless denial that 27-year-olds dying with the brains of old men is a problem, seems to affect its popularity.

And so the party will go on next week. Super Bowl 50 will be the grandest celebration of professional football we have ever seen. No one will mention Tyler Sash. No one will talk about the terrible toll being exacted to keep us entertained. Everything will be glitter and light, so much light the darkness will be sent fleeing.

But it will still be there.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Non-event of the year

Tonight is the Pro Bowl Draft, and what that tells us is America is way too easily amused these days,  and also that we're only four days away from the actual Pro Bowl. That means you have only 96 or so hours to make other plans, which might or might not include binge-watching your favorite classic TV shows on Netflix.

Derek Carr or multiple sightings of Burgess Meredith in "The Twilight Zone": Decisions, decisions.

Or, no decision, because, let's face it, no one cares about the Pro Bowl, not even the sad sacks who actually wind up watching it. Heck, the guys who are picked to play in it don't even care about it, which is how we wind up with the whole Derek Carr-vs.-Burgess Meredith dilemma.

Derek Carr will play because most of the quarterbacks selected to play in the Pro Bowl have fled it the way Tom Brady tried to flee the Denver pass rush, only more successfully. Russell Wilson, it turns out, is the only quarterback actually selected who's going to play. Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees: All of them said, "Nah, I'm good."

Which leaves the Pro Bowl in the hands of Carr, Eli Manning, Tyrod Taylor, Teddy Bridgewater and Jameis Winston, quarterback-wise. Bonus points if you can actually name the teams for whom all of those guys play.

This means that, if you are one of the sad sacks who actually tune in, you not only get The Greatest Spectacle In Groin-Pull Avoidance -- Look how adroitly those running backs and wide receivers tiptoe across the greensward, trying not to jeopardize their next contract extension! -- you get The Greatest Spectacle In Understudy-itis. For those old-school enough, it's kind of like tuning into the 1967 Pro Bowl and seeing Jack Concannon instead of Johnny Unitas.  Or Bill Munson subbing for Roman Gabriel.

Me, I'll take Burgess Meredith. And Rod Serling peering at me from beneath those eyebrows, cigarette burning quietly between his fingers.

Submitted for your approval ... 

Or, you know, not.        

Media Relations Fail 101

There are a lot of things you wonder about the IOC and its umbrella entities, like why more of their members aren't behind bars, and when they're going to add Zumba as an Olympic sport because some Zumba lobbyist dropped a bag of cash on the right honcho's doorstep.

Mostly, though, you wonder at how utterly clueless all of them are about how media works.

They'd pretty much weathered the storm over the impending fiasco that is the Rio Olympics, particularly the part about how the sailing events are going to be held in what amounts to an open sewer. Everyone was properly appalled by that, and then they weren't, because, well, it's sailing. No one in America has cared about it since Dennis Conner left the premises.

And so no surprise that if you polled 100 people, 99.9 of them wouldn't know who Peter Sowrey is. Turns out he was the CEO of World Sailing, and it also turns out that he was as appalled as everyone else that the IOC was apparently adding dumpster diving to its list of Olympic sports. So he pushed to get the sailing venue moved to a resort a hundred or so kilometers away, rightly figuring that the spectacle of Olympic sailors steering around piles of floating garbage would not be a good look for international sailing.

 Had his bosses simply let him go on about that, none of us would have ever heard of Peter Sowrey, or of any of the above. Instead, they did the one thing that was guaranteed to bring down exactly the media scrutiny they feared.

They fired the guy. After first, according to Sowrey, telling him to "gag" himself.

Now this story is all over "Mike & Mike" -- Greenberg went on for 10 minutes about it this morning -- and #riowater is trending all over Twitter, and there are some real journalists out there prepared to ask some real questions. Which is exactly what Sowrey's bosses thought they were going to avoid by getting rid of him.

They never learn. They ... just ... never ... learn.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"F" is for "fanatic"

Cam Newton will drive you crazy, and not just because he has a laser for an arm and runs like a bull in Pamplona. He'll also drive you crazy with his unrestrained joy.

So what happens when unrestrained joy collides with unrestrained delusions of grandeur?

Well, then you get this, and a pause here while we all say, "What an idiot." Seahawks fans tend to run the gamut from everyday unbalanced to straight-up nuclear bonkers, but this guy comes with an extra helping. Or two.

Seriously, launching a petition to ban Cam from the Seahawks' stadium the next time the Panthers come to town? What th-?

How exactly this could actually happen is a question best left to those who are convinced Elvis murdered JFK, but the real laff riot here is Ban Cam Seahawks Fan's contention that Cam is the most unsportsmanlike player in the history of professional football, or some such thing. And all because he likes to have fun out there, even when it involves taking one of those ubiquitous "12" flags Seahawks fans like to wave and throwing it joyously to the ground.

If you've seen the video clip, there doesn't seem to be any malice aforethought involved. It's just Cam being Cam. And what did the dope who waved the flag directly in his face think was going to happen?

There's also the small irony of a Seahawks fan calling out a player on another team for being unsportsmanlike. Really? A Seahawks fan? Home of Marshawn "Crotch Grab" Lynch, Richard Sherman and a fan base that thinks it invented the whole 12th-man concept?

(Short pause while the good folks from Texas A&M say, "Ahem.")

Heavens, people. Get a grip already.  Get a grip.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Your wish list for today

If unicorns existed, Peyton Manning would ride one into a last glorious sunset, Lombardi Trophy under one arm and the thanks of a grateful nation under the other.

(For, you know, not subjecting us to another two weeks of Grumpy McHoodie and his grim, gray, industrially-efficient Patriots. Thanks, Peyton!)

If there were fairy godmothers, she'd make Peyton's arm 25 again, so he could ride off on that unicorn having thrown four touchdown passes and completed, oh, say, 38-of-42 for 457 yards or so.

If this were Never-Never Land, where every wish came true, Peyton would do all of the above, and the Denver Broncos' defense would be even stouter than it was yesterday, and the Broncos would beat Carolina in Super Bowl 50, confounding all the Telestrator jockeys and various other amateur experts who set the betting line in Vegas.

Alas, there are no unicorns or fairy godmothers or a Never-Never Land, which means the Panthers are probably going to win this thing. They are Vegas' early pick for a reason, the reason being they are simply the best team in professional football. This does not mean they're going to win Supe 50, but it doesn't hurt their chances any.

A good chunk of America will be rooting for those chances to shrivel, of course, because America loves its feel-good stories, and there's no better one than Peyton Manning going out a winner. He's not 25 anymore and neither is his arm; if it had been, he'd have thrown more than the two touchdowns he threw yesterday, and the game would not have come down to a desperate two-point conversion try by Tom Brady. That Manning left at least two more touchdowns on the table was visible to anyone who watched him overthrow open receivers in the end zone on at least a couple of occasions.

Three years ago, maybe even two years ago, those would have been sixes. In 2016, not so much. Manning may have reached back more than some thought possible yesterday, but he can't reach back that much.

So, in two weeks, it will be up to him to do what he did yesterday, which is wring enough points out of his ancient arm to allow the Denver defense to win it. That was hard enough against a Tom Brady who wasn't his younger self, either; it will be darn near impossible against the freak of nature who is Cam Newton. Arizona had a stout defense, too, and the Cardinals couldn't stop him. And the Panthers' D is better than the Patriots was.

So the handwriting's on the wall, apparently.  You wish it weren't, but it is.

Of course, the thing about handwriting is, no one ever writes it in indelible ink. Or not very often, anyway.

Go round up the unicorn.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Mayfly existence

NBA coaches get paid short tons of cash for a reason, and that reason is not because the care and feeding of a major corporate entity is their responsibility. They get paid short tons of cash because some of them wind up being David Blatt.

Who, in a season-and-a-half with the Cleveland Cavaliers, went 83-40.

Who, as a rookie head coach in the NBA, got his team to the NBA Finals.

Who, so far this season, has the Cavs at 30-11, the third best record in the league behind Golden State and San Antonio, who are having seasons that threaten to shatter history.

Not the sort of resume you expect would prompt a panic firing, but that's exactly what happened yesterday. The Cavs showed Blatt the door in the middle of January, the sort of move you only expect from a desperate organization in complete disarray. The Cavs are assuredly not that, yet the panic firing happened anyway.

There are lots of theories as to why, and most of them, frankly, don't amount to much. There'll be talk that the players didn't respect his knowledge, or that (more to the point) LeBron James, the only player that matters here, didn't respect his knowledge, and blah, blah, blah. Cavaliers management vehemently denied that LeBron played the role of coach-killer here, but everyone just snickered at at that. LeBron-Blatt is Magic Johnson-Paul Westhead all over again, and no amount of ferocious denial from Cavs officials, or LeBron himself, is going to make anyone think otherwise.

Which gets us back to why NBA coaches are paid so well.

They're paid so well because, as the Blatt firing demonstrates, they have absolutely zero job security. The NBA is a player-run league and if the players don't like you, whether it's for legitimate reasons or just silly ones, it doesn't matter how many games you win. Eighty-three in a year-and-a-half will not be enough, especially if management has decided you should have won 83 in one season, and won the NBA title by going through the playoffs undefeated.

Because, listen, as unrealistic as that is, something like it is surely the mindset in Cleveland now. That Golden State is simply and obviously better than the Cavs will never be acknowledged by any of them, no matter how true it is.

So Blatt is out and Tyronn Lue is in, and here we go again. It's hard to see how he's going to get much more out of the Cavs than Blatt was getting -- they were, after all, 8-2 in their last 10 games -- but, hey, whatever. If Lue can manage to lose to Golden State by single digits next time instead of 32 points (a crush-job in January that undoubtedly, if absurdly, was likely the last straw for Blatt), firing Blatt will no doubt be viewed as a great move.

Even if Golden State would have whacked anyone in the galaxy by 32 points the night they routed the Cavs, and everyone with a working porch light could see it. Sometimes the Warriors are just that good, and its delusional to think otherwise.

 In the meantime ... someone will surely pick up Blatt. If he wants it. If enough short tons of cash are involved.

I'm thinking Powerball money might do it. Might.

Update: Cavs lost to Bulls at home by 13 in first post-Blatt game, after going 8-2 in their previous 10 games. Yessir, he was surely the problem.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Loose change you can't believe in

First there was that epic fail in the Packers-Cardinals divisional playoff, when the guy flipping the coin for overtime didn't actually get the coin flipped.

Now there's Hey, Follow That Coin from the Australian Open, in which the guy flipping the coin flipped it halfway to Brisbane.

This can only mean one thing: Clearly the Earth has somehow gotten out of round. And that's bad news, because I think the same thing happened right before the dinosaurs vanished.

T-Rex (flipping coin, watching it sail crazily away into the La Brea Tarpits): What th--

(Bright flash of light. T-Rex disappears.)


Thursday, January 21, 2016

A gimmick too far

So now we're just about a month away from the Blob's preferred first sign of spring -- the Daytona 500 -- and you know what that means.

Time for NASCAR to start jacking around with its product again.

Brian France 'n' them seem to labor under the delusion that because its one-time 800-pound gorilla is down to 400 or so pounds, there must be something wrong with the product that needs fixing.  Truth is, there isn't. This is just NASCAR forgetting that the gorilla was never supposed to weigh 800 pounds to begin with; it was wildly successful before Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon 'n' them took it corporate, and it still is. The problem is, Dale and Jeff and the boys turned it into an entity so out of all relation to reality -- at one point, NASCAR legitimately believed it could be the nation's fourth major professional sport -- that it distorted the perception of what wild success looked like for a niche sport like stock car racing.

That it's now slowly come back to reality does not mean the sport is in crisis. It's simply, to use the Wall Street term, the market readjusting itself.

But NASCAR perseveres, the Chase, and all the endless tweaking thereof, being the most obvious one example. I personally like what it's evolved into; if the goal was the create a real playoff system, a real playoff system is what we've got now. And for those who somehow found it sacrilege that Kyle Busch won even though he missed 11 races because of an injury that occurred before the season even started ... well, explain how it makes the sport better for one of its stars to have simply driven around out there for 2/3 of the season to no purpose. Dumb.

Besides, it's not like they rigged the deal so he could win. Busch won five races, more than any other driver except three. No one pulled over and let him pass so he could win those races. He did it fair and square, advanced through the playoffs fair and square, did what he had to do to win. NASCAR did not slip him a set of brass knuckles to hide in his trunks or sneak up behind Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon and clock them with a folding chair, ala the WWE.

(Although, it must be said, some of those driver "fights" carry the definite whiff of a Vince McMahon production).

That said ... this new wrinkle to add a "caution clock" to the Camping World truck series is completely a WWE bit of Kabuki theater.

It's one thing to set up a playoff system, because the racing to win it is still on the level. It's entirely another to manipulate the racing itself, which is what throwing an arbitrary caution flag every 20 minutes to bunch up the field clearly does. NASCAR has always been accused of faking cautions, but now it's making it official: There will be officially designated fake cautions in the Camping World truck series. Yes, they will theoretically make the racing close. But they will also turn a legitimate competition into something as phony and scripted as that aforementioned folding chair across the back. NASCAR might as well replace the phrase "Next race" with "Next episode."

Shame on 'em. Shame on all of 'em.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Another casualty

You remember Antwaan Randle El for the Monsoon Bowl, that gloomy day against Purdue when the rain came sideways and it was full dark at 1 in the afternoon, and only Randle El shone. Indiana won the Bucket that day because only Randle El seemed immune to the weather, and Purdue struggled against the latter and couldn't corral the former.

Football simply suited the man. But now?

Now, at the end of a career that included an iconic option touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, he'd give back every day of it.

Ten years out from that Super Bowl, a player gifted with eel-like elusiveness has trouble negotiating a set of stairs, and he says he's having memory lapses, says he can't hold things in his head his wife tells him. He says he wants to be around, fully around, for his kids. And as such, if he had it to do over, he'd had have played baseball instead.

And here we go again. It is an increasingly familiar refrain, and one the NFL still struggles to master. Its stubborn denial that its game was inflicting serious and lasting brain trauma on its players not only called to mind tobacco executives denying their product caused cancer, it put in serious jeopardy the very future of the game. You can survive these things if you're aggressively proactive about it; you can't if you damage your credibility the way the NFL did.

Football will always be a perilous sport to play, but it's also a great sport if those running it exercise some wisdom. But when the leader of the industry lies so repeatedly about its dangers, who can trust anything it says or does on the matter ever again? And why should parents set their children on a path that could place them in the hands of such incredibly irresponsible people?

Ultimately, that's what this is about. Mike Webster dying lost and addled in his truck, Dave Duerson and Andre Waters and Junior Seau killing themselves to escape the torment in their heads, those are merely the symptoms of a larger problem. The problem is trust, and the betrayal of same. The problem is an Antwaan Randle El regretting he ever stepped foot on a football field, or of skilled players in their 20s quitting the game because they didn't want to end up with the same regrets.

And because they couldn't trust the people in charge of the game to keep them from winding up like Randle El, or more tragic figures.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Proportional response

The IHSAA has always had a jones for autocracy. Its guiding philosophy, or at least its perceived guiding philosophy, was best expressed by the Blob's all-time favorite IHSAA commish, Gene Cato, whose standard line when he was compelled to dispense discipline was as uncompromising as it was oddly lyrical.

"The rules are clear and the penalties severe," Gene, Gene the Punishin' Machine used to intone.

The problem with that, of course, was the rules were often as clear as mud, and as such were sometimes enforced with a tin ear for both common sense and human compassion. But I'm thinking of Gene's line again today upon the news that his lineal descendant, Bobby Cox, has arbitrarily ended the basketball seasons of two Indianapolis girls teams.

And this time it was exactly the right thing to do.

That a game between the girls of Ben Davis and the girls of Pike disintegrated into a street fight is, in a weird way, a nod to gender equality, in the sense that girls these days can apparently be as witless as boys on the field of athletic competition. As can their coaches, parents and other alleged adults charged with setting an example for them.

So kudos to Cox for not going any easier on them than he went on the brawling Griffith and Hammond boys last year, ending both of their seasons and banning them from the tournament as well. This being the litigious 21st century, of course, the schools took the IHSAA to court and got an injunction, which led to the ludicrous scenario of Griffith actually playing in the Class 3A state championship game.

To the no doubt great relief of Cox and the IHSAA, Guerin Catholic knocked off Griffith to win the title, depriving us of what surely would have been one of the more comical trophy presentations in Indiana basketball history.

Cox (gritting his teeth): Congratulations, Griffith.

Griffith coach (yanking on the trophy, which Cox seems reluctant to release): Uh ... oof ... thanks.

A similar scenario isn't likely to happen, given that both the Pike and Ben Davis administrations said publicly they would abide by the IHSAA's ruling. But who knows? It could still end up in court, the IHSAA could still lose again, and Cox could be facing the same scenario as last year, given that Ben Davis was 13-5 and Pike 14-4 the day they played.

As Gene Cato not quite said: The rules are clear. And the prospect for humiliation is severe.   

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Rivalry, Part Next

So once more it comes down to Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, and of course the dominant theme is that it's not Brady vs. Manning at all. It's Brady vs. the Broncos' defense. It's Manning vs. Bill Belichick. Whoever wins will not be winning the head-to-head at all.

This is true, from every practical standpoint. And, of course, it isn't true at all in any meaningful way.

The real truth is this always has been and always will be perceived in the public mind as Manning vs. Brady, because they are the two greatest quarterbacks of their generation, and perhaps any generation. Both have been to multiple Super Bowls. Both have won Super Bowls thanks to both their own heroics and the heroics of others. Neither, in this latest meeting, will get to another Super Bowl without further heroics from others.

And yet, it is what it is: Brady vs. Manning.

Here in career twilight -- the twilight admittedly far more advanced for Manning than Brady -- there is a different dynamic at work this time, because the full weight of the outcome does not lie equally on their shoulders. The Patriots, battered and depleted all season, are here almost entirely because of their quarterback. The Broncos are here almost entirely in spite of theirs, as it's Manning, and not his team, who's been battered and depleted all year.

He can still summon the magic once in awhile, but he's a mere phantom of himself these days. He missed two full months of the season, and when he did play, he put up numbers unseen since his early, struggling days in Indianapolis. What he is now was embodied in one play Sunday: After slipping and falling untouched like a doddering ancient as he backpedaled, he rose and threw a strike to Emmanuel Sanders for 34 yards, his longest completion of the year.

But that was only a flicker. The rest of Sunday was about the Broncos' defense holding off Ben Roethlisberger, and the running game producing just enough to keep the offense from being shut down entirely by the Steelers' defense. And that's what it will likely come to against the Patriots.

Brady will be Brady, seemingly ageless and indestructible. Manning will try to stay a step ahead of his crumbling body one more time. Whoever wins will not be winning the head-to-head -- or settling their shared legacy, an argument Brady won a long time ago. Manning, after all, has beaten him only once in their four previous playoff meetings.

And yet, again, it is what it is.

Manning. Brady. One more time.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Timeout for nonsense

There are lines in life. The trick is knowing when you've crossed them.

The trick is also knowing when you've not only not crossed them, but are at least six counties away from them.

And so we come to the good folks who run high school athletics in Wisconsin, where the spirit of friendly rivalry in athletic competition has now been deemed a Line That Shall Not Be Crossed. According to these muttonheads, the mournful, time-honored chant "Airball ... airball"  is "unsporting." Ditto other time-honored chants such as "Scooooreboard," "You can't do that" and "Season's o-ver" for those occasions when one team eliminates another from the state tournament.

At the risk of offending anyone in Wisconsin, I would say the muttonheads (Violation!) just shot an "Airball ... airball." (Second violation! Report to the principals' office immediately!)

Seriously, now. How much more fun can the Fun Nazis bleed out of what's supposed to be an enjoyable pastime? (Fun Nazis?! Third violation! You're out! Finished at Faber!)

Look. To reiterate, we all know where the lines are in life. You don't target individual kids for verbal abuse in games. You don't hurl personal, individualized insults. These are, truly, unsportsmanlike, not to say sociopathic. Anyone caught doing so should be immediately escorted from the premises.

But, seriously. "Airball ... airball"?

I can't conceive how that could ever damage anyone's self-esteem, even the kid who hoisted the airball. Five will get you 10 he's probably chanted it himself. Five will get you 10 he's chanted things a lot meaner.

So I hardly think the kid's life will be ruined by it, or even the next 10 seconds of the kid's life. And the consequence of thinking otherwise is that our games (at least in Wisky) will devolve into beige displays with all the emotional intensity of a John Stuart Mill reading.

One of the great enjoyments of covering high school sports over the years was listening to the inventive ways the student sections used to get after their rivals. I still remember the sectional game in which an overmatched Hamilton team hung with the Luke Recker-led DeKalb Barons early, prompting the Hamilton student section to chant "Over-rated!" The DeKalb kids instantly came back with the kicker: "Never rated!"

Quality stuff. And as far as I know, no one on either team was unduly traumatized.

Which makes me happy I won't be attending any games in Wisconsin, where airballs will now presumably be met with chants of "Vaaa-liant tryyy-y." And, instead of "You can't do that" when an opponent commits a foul, gyms in Wisconsin ring to stirring cries of "We believe a violation of the rules has occurred! We believe a violation of the rules has occurred!"


(If that's not too unsporting).

Update: So, apparently students at a recent Wisconsin HS basketball game mocked the athletic association with a sarcastic chant of "Let's go BOTH TEAMS!" Awesome.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Black Knight Bowl

So now comes the time to look at this weekend's NFL divisional playoff games, a welcome respite after looking all week at the Shield's shivving of fan bases in three cities no longer deemed worthy of the Great Empire. And three of those games -- in order, Seahawks-Panthers, Cardinals-Packers and Patriots-Chiefs -- the Blob can dispense with in three zippy headlines:

1. Cam-nation!

2. Rodgers, Packers Vanish In Desert Storm

3. Patriots Deflate Chiefs

As for the fourth divisional playoff ...

Well. That's the one that intrigues me, though not for the reasons you think.

It intrigues me because of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The Blob confesses up front that it's a Blob favorite, and thus the Blob will always find any excuse to reference it. So when I look at the Broncos and I look at the Steelers, all I see are two broken quarterbacks hobbling around in 35-degree weather (a particular issue for Peyton Manning, who's 0-5 in playoff games below 40 degrees) and being as witlessly brave as the armless, legless Black Knight.

Ben Roethlisberger (as his passing arm lies on the ground, detached at the shoulder): 'Tis but a scratch.

Broncos Defense: A scratch? Your arm's off!

Roethlisberger: No, it isn't ... Come on, ya pansies!

You get the idea.

As for Peyton ... well, he'll be in no better shape. With his body breaking down at an alarming rate, and having not started a game in two months, it will be fun for the whole family to see how many of Manning's body parts they can count strewn about on the cold turf in Denver.

Little Billy: I see a finger!

Little Tommy: A rib! A rib!

Little Jimmy: I see ... what's that, Dad?

Dad: I believe that's a kidney, son.

OK, so I'm being silly, and also a little gruesome. But you do have one quarterback with a barely functional throwing arm, and another who's barely played in two months and whose body really is going to pieces like an '82  Pinto. So this will become a battle to see who falls apart the slowest, and subsequently which backup has to face the fire last.

Landry Jones of the Steelers or Brock Osweiler of the Broncos? Who'll we see first, America?

I say we see Jones first. Broncos win, Broncos win.

Friday, January 15, 2016

A question

So apparently it's common knowledge (and common practice) that Ben Roethlisberger could receive a pain-deadening injection in his injured throwing shoulder this weekend in order to get back on the field and be effective there.

Meanwhile, a sketchy Al Jazeera report alleges Peyton Manning was prescribed HGH after his neck surgery in 2011 in order to, well, get back on the field and be effective there.

HGH was banned by the NFL in 1991, but at the time of Manning's alleged use it had no testing protocols for it. In any case, if it's true (which remains extremely debatable), Manning was using HGH for the exact same reason Roethlisberger, if he chooses to do so, will use painkilling injections this weekend.

So why is the former regarded by the NFL as a performance-enhancing drug, but not the latter?

Just askin'.

Timeout for grace

Sometimes the sporting life just makes you feel cheap and dirty. OK, a lot of the time.

For instance: Who didn't want to take a decades-long shower after watching the Shawshank Bowl between the Bengals and Steelers, two lawless mobs of punks who gave us a new appreciation for America's incarcerated? Who wasn't nauseated by the NFL's shameless whoring for historically disinterested L.A., which involved a shiv to the ribs of one American city (St. Louis) and the slow torture of two others (Oakland and San Diego, one of whose franchises the league has made clear will be moving to the City of Angels ... well, sometime soon)?

Watching that orgy of unbridled greed made you want to laugh and vomit at the same time, mainly because the market the NFL so lusts after has been a black hole for its product since the Chargers first bailed on it more than 50 years ago. But, by golly, we're re-sending them the Rams, one of the sorriest franchises in the league. That'll work!

No wonder St. Louis' mayor, in the only display of honor in this whole sorry business, got up and basically said, (bleep) on the NFL. We've got the Blues, we've got the Cardinals, we're good.

Made the Blob feel all warm inside. And then it stumbled across this item from back in December, and it was reminded again why our games, done right, mean so much to us and yield so much of value.

God bless that young man. God bless his incredible gesture of respect for a fallen opponent. Everyone else, take note.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cashing their Chip

I don't know what the San Francisco 49ers saw in Chip Kelly, but apparently it was enough. Booted after making a mess of things in Philly, Kelly was today announced as the Niners next head coach.

And to that you can only say, good luck to all.

The Blob remains skeptical of the Chipster, if only because he seems to be re-writing an oft-written theme: Imperial college coach who couldn't adjust to the NFL dynamic. Lou Holtz couldn't and Steve Spurrier couldn't and Nick Saban couldn't, among others. And, when Kelly was shown the road in Philly, it appeared the pattern had held.

(A pattern to which you'd sort of have to add Jim Harbaugh, who wore out his welcome pretty quickly after getting the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Apparently, one year of Jim Tomsula wiped clean any memory of that, because here the Niners go again, bringing in another college hotshot.)

Anyway, we shall see what we shall see. One thing you're not likely to see is Kelly making many personnel decisions, considering how badly he failed that course in Philly. Andy Reid in Kansas City (and formerly the Eagles longtime head coach) no doubt sends Kelly thank-you notes every day for sending him Jeremy Maclin and keeping the massively average Riley Cooper.

So, it's likely Chip will get to concentrate on football. And maybe that will work, because in Colin Kaepernick he at least has a quarterback whose skill set seems to jibe with Kelly's allegedly brilliant offense. Why Kelly thought the largely inert Sam Bradford was the right fit was and always will be one of life's great mysteries.

Under Kelly, Kaepernick at least has a shot at reviving his dead career. Other than that, it's hard to see any upside here unless Kelly actually did learn something in Philly about relating to NFL players, and applies that education in San Francisco.

If not, his imperiousness and inclination to view his players more as chess pieces than human beings will go over no better on the West Coast than it did on the East Coast. He may win more games than the unfortunate Tomsula, but he'll once again lose his locker room along the way.

And the pattern will hold again.

What might have been

So apparently at least three ticketholders -- one in California, one in Tennessee and one in Florida -- hit the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot last night, so you lose, buddy. That $200 you plunked down for 100 tickets down at the Handy Dandy? Might as well have gone to the Grand Canyon and thrown it over the side.

You could have financed your Super Bowl party with that dough, or, better yet, gotten the heater fixed on your '98 Malibu. You might have even put a nice chunk down on that 52-inch flat-screen you've had your eye on for said Super Bowl party.

But, no. You went for the big payday, on account of you wanted to buy the Rams and keep them in St. Louis, just to kick Stan Kroenke and Roger Goodell in their tender parts.

See, if you'd won the whole pile, you could have bought the Rams, or seven other NFL teams. Want to buy the Browns and fire Johnny Manziel? You could have done that. You could have also bought the Bengals, Lions, Titans, Bills, Jaguars and Raiders.

Although why you would want the Jaguars or Raiders is, of course, a legitimate question.

Know what else you could have done with $1.5 billion?

According to Darren Rovell of ESPN, with the $558  million you'd have had left over after taxes, you could have sponsored every race of the NASCAR season and put your face on every car and every firesuit. Or, you know, Dale Earnhardt's face. How cool would that have been, the Intimidator's smirk and mirrored sunglasses on the hood of every single car in the field as they came to the green?

You can hear almost hear Dale Sr. chuckling, can't you?

Other stuff you could have bought, according to Forbes: Any of the 30 NHL franchises, including BOTH the Capitals and Penguins. How awesome would that have been, owning both Sid the Kid and Alex Ovechkin? You could have swapped them back and forth between the two teams every other year if you wanted; owners have done crazier things, like moving a garbage NFL franchise back to a place that barely supported good NFL franchises.

Or if you're more into baseball, you could have owned any Major League Baseball franchise except the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Giants and Cubs. You could have owned the Royals, the World Series champs! Or the Mets, who played the Royals in the World Series!  Or teams with richer, longer and more iconic histories, like the Pirates or the Reds!

I mean, Marge Schott once owned the Reds. It's not like the bar's set real high.

And think how much your dog would have liked Great American Ballpark!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Your brain warp for today

So, let me get this straight ...

One former pro football resident of L.A. (the Rams) is headed back to what it previously determined was a loser market, and another former pro football resident of L.A. (the Chargers or Raiders) may be headed back to what it also previously determined was a loser market.

And then there's this: The team headed back to the loser market (the Rams) have had four winning records in the last two decades and haven't been to the playoffs in 11 years, which of course will somehow magically make a fan base that didn't care about them the first time around care about them the second time.

Altogether now: Huh?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tidal surge, Part Deux

Now this you didn't expect. Who knew there was some wild-ass lettin' it ride at the craps table underneath all that dry dust and buttoned-upness?

You never figured Nick Saban would try an onside kick in a tie game for the national title, but that's what he did last night, and that's what saved a dreary bowl season. It at once turned what was already a great game into a memorable game, and this after a whole lot of Stanford rolling Iowa, Alabama rolling Michigan State and Clemson rolling Oklahoma.

Nobody rolled anyone in Alabama 45, Clemson 40, a not-unexpected result that was gloriously unexpected in its execution. Who figured both teams would go up and down the field like lawn mowers against those two defenses? Who figured, as good as he is, that Deshaun Watson would outshine Vince Young's legendary Rose Bowl against USC, throwing for four touchdowns and piling up 478 yards against a 'Bama defense that gave Michigan State nothing?

Who figured the game would turn on a goofy gamble by Saban, who smiles in public like they hand out detention for it -- which is to say, hardly at all?

The onside pooch kick at 24-24 was a thing of beauty and a vaudeville wink at the world, and after Alabama recovered and scored, the Crimson Tide was never caught again. Clemson kept trying right up until the last minute, but the Tigers couldn't quite stop Derrick Henry or the occasional 95-yard kickoff return, and so they lost.

But magnificently.

And now the discussion begins about where the statue of Saban will go in Tuscaloosa, because with his fifth national title he's caught everyone in history but Bear Bryant, and you know Bear has a statue or two knocking about. I'm guessing it'll be smaller than Bear's, if it happens, and tucked away somewhere discreet. That would befit a man who, no matter how many titles he wins, will somehow never seem larger than life, the way Bear is. Maybe he needs to smile more and not occasionally treat media attention like it's something he stepped in. Or maybe he just needs a catchy nickname.

Nicky the Blade, perhaps. Showtime, maybe, just for the irony. Ol' Showtime Saban, boy. He sure pulled a fast one on them Clemsons, didn't he?

Boy, he sure did.

Thanks, Showtime.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Tidal surge

And now we take time out from wondering how Blair Walsh missed that kick, and how Aaron Rodgers escaped from the kidnappers to replace the guy who's been impersonating him for the last month or so, and why Donald Trump believes the NFL is soft because, you know, watching human beings destroy one another's brains playing a game is a fundamental American right, and not really sick at all if you don't think about it too much.

(Seriously, politicians, or even wanna-be politicians like The Donnie, should never talk about sports. They always come off like flaming buffoons. Thus, Donnie lamenting the way they throw flags for cheap shots to the head now, unlike in the old days when cheap shots to the head were the essence of the game, especially the cheap shots that left players flopping around like gaffed fish. And that part later on when they wound up talking to themselves and living under bridges? Now that's A'murica, by God!)

Anyway ... enough about that. We're setting that aside because Alabama is playing Clemson for the national title tonight, and the Blob has a few thoughts on that, most of which involve whether or not Nick Saban will actually smile if the Crimson Tide wins.

Which it should.

Prevailing wisdom is Clemson has the kind of team that can make trouble for 'Bama, because they have the best quarterback 'Bama has seen all year (Deshaun Watson) and he'll be able to spread the field and take shots deep, which everyone agrees is the best way to attack the Tide. I'd like to think so. In fact, I'd like to see Clemson pull it off, mainly because I like their coach -- the irrepressible and exquisitely named Dabo Swinney -- and because Clemson hasn't won a national title in 35 years. And it might not win one for another 35 years.

Alabama, on the other hand, wins the national title every other year, or so it seems. So the Tide can wait.

Not likely it will have to, however. It has the Heisman Trophy winner (running back Derrick Henry) and a quarterback who's better than you think (Jay Coker) and a soul-crushing defense, and of course it has Saban, who hardly ever loses these deals.

So, 'Bama wins, 24-17. Saban kinda-sorta smiles. The over-privileged 'Bama fan base celebrates loudly but with a sort of going-through-the-motions vibe. Yay.

Or, yawn. Both start with "y," so you're good either way.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

A few brief thoughts on That Game

And now an emergency installment of The NFL In So Many Words, only this version is titled How The Bengals Met The Playoffs Again, Screamed Real Loud Again And Ran Away Again In So Many Words:

1. Raise your hand if you didn't think Vontaze Burfict was eventually going to do something really stupid.

2. Raise your other hand if you didn't think Pacman Jones was eventually going to do something really stupid.

3. You have now assumed the proper posture of surrender for which the Bengals are famous when A) it's the playoffs, and B) it's the Steelers.

Class dismissed.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Cold comfort

So the word is out that it's going to be cold, really cold, for the Seahawks-Vikings NFC wild-card game tomorrow -- Zero degrees in January in Minnesota! Who knew? -- and this makes me all warm inside, on account of football was meant to be a war against the elements, and you can't make war on the elements if they don't fight back.

(This is why I hate, absolutely hate, football in domes. Football was intended to be played under God's own sky, not under something made by Tupperware. Dome football is just arena football in a suit and tie. Real men play outside.)

Anyway ... a forecast game-time temperature of zero or thereabouts, plus windchills around the minus-20 range, inevitably recall the seminal NFL weather event, the fabled Ice Bowl between the Packers and Cowboys. The conditions that day -- minus-13 actual at kickoff -- will make Sunday seem like Tampa in July, and many tales have grown up around it.

My favorite is not how many players wound up with frostbite that day, or how the frozen exhalations of thousands of spectators wreathed the stands at Lambeau Field in a smoky industrial haze. It's the fact that Vince Lombardi's fancy heating system for the field actually contributed to the playing surface turning into a skating rink; with the heating coils on and the field covered the night before the game, condensation apparently formed. And so when the field was exposed to the bitter cold the next day, it almost immediately began to ice over. You could actually see the field turning white as the game progressed.

I don't know if that will happen in Minnesota tomorrow, but, frankly, I can't wait. I can't wait to see Pete Carroll, the ultimate surfer dude coach, bundled up to his eyebrows and looking miserable. I can't wait to see everyone in gloves except the linemen, who of course will do what they always do, which is play with their bare arms hanging out (because, you know, they're tough guys).

I can't wait to see all those frosty exhales forming that icy haze again. I can't wait to see strong men battle not only each other but the elements, because, that's football, by God. (See above.)

Mostly, of course, I can't wait to see all this while crashed out on my couch in front of a cozy fire. Which gets at the real truth of why we love to watch football played in adverse conditions: Because the sadist in all of us likes to watch guys bigger, stronger and more physically gifted by the athletic gods suffer while we don't.

Deny it if you can.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Headed south

We laugh because it's funny. And also because we are callous.

We laugh because, come on, Johnny Manziel in a blonde wig? In Vegas? After sending out that ridiculous selfie of him and his dog, just hangin' out at home? How transparent, pathetic, and, yes, laughable was that attempt to cover his tracks?

We laugh because it's funny.

And also because we're callous.

Social media and its capacity for instantly holding anyone, anywhere, up to ridicule has hardened us,  has encouraged us to laugh when we know we shouldn't. Because right before our eyes, a young man is unraveling. He is throwing away a life of which children dream in their backyards every day. And he clearly, obviously, cannot help doing so.

That's the obvious lesson you draw from his latest escapade, that apparent crazy-train trip to Vegas and the disappearing act that followed. It was game day, and no one in the Cleveland Browns organization knew where the quarterback to whom the coaching staff had publicly (and seemingly finally) tied its future was AWOL. Didn't show up for his 9 a.m. concussion protocol meeting, didn't call, didn't answer when others called him.

Then came the whole Was That Johnny In A Wig In Vegas? thing, and we laughed. You couldn't help it. You also couldn't help knowing it was as clear a cry for help as you're ever going to hear.

We laugh, but there is nothing funny about watching Johnny let the air out of his Football. There is nothing funny about seeing him dismantle the dream brick by brick in real time. He'd scrambled for a club-record 108 yards against Kansas City, and the Browns staff had said he would start the team's last four games, and this was his chance, his pretty clearly last chance. And he went out of his way to dynamite it.

This is not what a young man does when he's in control of his life. Not even when he's as irresponsible and immature as Manziel is.

It's an old truism that before you can really ask for help you have to hit rock bottom, and the ugly truth here is that Manziel has a ways to fall yet. Maybe if the Browns cut loose, that process will finally reach its inevitable conclusion. Maybe it won't happen until the phone stops ringing -- and, unfortunately for Manziel, his phone will probably keep ringing for awhile. In a league that chews up quarterbacks the way a mastiff chews up a rawhide bone, any port in a storm will do.

Even one that so clearly, and helplessly, prefers the storm to the port.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Carnival of greed

I like St. Louis.

It has the Mississippi. It has great barbecue. It has a great baseball organization, and really good soccer, and, once upon a time, it had three guys named Plager playing for its hockey team, which is three more Plagers than your town has. So there.

(It also has that arch deal, which you ride to the top of in these quirky little pod things that remind me of a Mercury capsule. It's the closest I'll ever get to being John Glenn or Gordo Cooper, or even Malcolm Scott Carpenter. Given that I was a space program fanboy growing up, I find that cool as all get out).

Anyway, I like St. Louis. And I think the way the NFL is allowing the owner of the St. Louis Rams to dump all over the city on his way out of town is despicable, and makes laughable the NFL's claim that it gives a tin you-know-what about its fans.

(This is also happening in San Diego and Oakland, where the owners of the Chargers and Raiders are climbing over the bodies of their fan bases to get to the supposedly magic kingdom of Los Angeles, too. That the NFL is pitting all three against one another, and in the process torturing fans in three cities that have served it well, is beyond disgusting. It is, to quote Woody Allen in "Bananas," a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham).

But back to St. Louis.

The Rams formally filed their application to move to L.A. the other day, which was bad enough. What made it completely contemptible was the way they felt compelled to kick the city of St. Louis in the groin while they were at it.

St. Louis sucks, the Rams basically said. It's a crap town with crap long-term projections that make it not worth a crap as an NFL city, and, well, crap on it. This despite the fact the city has offered to bilk its citizens out of $350 million in public money to build the Rams a new riverfront stadium.

Ingrates to the last, the Rams all but sneered.

"Any NFL Club that signs on to this proposal,” the application said, according to Deadspin, “will be well on the road to financial ruin, and the League will be harmed.”

What makes this all the more foul -- not to say slap-your-knee hilarious -- is that it's L.A. that has the greedheads in three cities slobbering. L.A., where all three of these franchises once resided before deciding they couldn't make a go of it there. L.A., where, if you count the dear departed Express of the  dear departed USFL, pro football has ultimately failed four times.  

L.A. ... where any initial bump the return of the Shield will provide will almost certainly erode to the usual L.A. scenario of a half-empty stadium because, well, it's L.A., and the sun's shining, and USC is ranked again, and Rodeo Drive and the Staples Center are open for business. Let's go to the beach/shopping/to the Lakers game! And how 'bout those Trojans?

Meanwhile, back in St. Louis ...

Well. There's still those Mercury capsules. And a vast empty space on Roger Goodell's map that reads, presumably, Here There Be Dragons (But No Revenue). So Screw 'Em.



Conspicuous absence

They honored one of the greatest college basketball teams of all time last night, as Indiana slipped past Wisconsin 59-58. Down there beneath those five NCAA title banners, the 1975-76 Hoosiers were recognized, this being the 40th anniversary of their legendary run to the championship. No team since has ever done it undefeated, and so several players showed up, waved to the crowd, got a sweet ovation.

Which undoubtedly would have been sweeter had the architect of that team shown up. But of course he didn't.

And that, of course, was as perfectly in character for Bob Knight as his genius for putting together basketball teams, because if he's indisputably one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time -- maybe the greatest -- he's also, indisputably, one of the greatest bearers of grudges. The man coached basketball like a boss, and he holds grudges like a boss.

Going on 16 years have passed since Knight was fired as Indiana's basketball coach, a circumstance he brought on himself but which neither he nor his legion of supporters will ever admit was anything but an undeserved palace coup. A great mythology has grown up around it, that somehow IU president Myles Brand had it in for Knight from the get-go, even though, until almost the last, they were in fact close. Still, the narrative is that he was backstabbed by the university he served so well, except on those famous occasions when he didn't.

So, Knight stays away. Everyone who had a hand in what happened in 2000 is either dead (Brand) or long gone, and Tom Crean has repeatedly reached out to him. Yet even on a night when it made all kinds of sense for him to show up -- if for no other reason than to honor the players from that team who took him to the pinnacle, and who still (mostly) love him unreservedly -- he was a no-show.

And, no, I don't know for sure if he was invited. But I can't imagine someone didn't at least try.

In any case, even if Quinn Buckner said Knight was there "in spirit," how much more special would it have been had he been there in the flesh? Reconciliation may not be his thing, but the time for it is long overdue. And the occasion for it was never going to be more apt.

Does anyone think for a second they wouldn't have lifted the roof of Assembly Hall with their applause had Knight walked out onto that floor? Does anyone think, for a second, that this wouldn't have been his moment to make peace, to embrace as well as be embraced?

But making peace with his perceived enemies is not in the man, apparently. Even when they're no longer his enemies, if in fact they ever were except in his own mind.

And that's sad. That's just ... sad.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 17

And now this season's last installment of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature re-signed for another year over the objections of fans, players, self-important media people and the Blob's owner, Montgomery Burns IV, who exclaimed, "Wait, this wasn't the maintenance guy's extension? Crap!":

1. Hey, look, it's Peyton Manning!

2. Man, that guy can hand off a football.

3. Hey, look, it's Jim Caldwell!

4. No, really, it's Jim Caldwell. Still in Detroit. No, the Blob doesn't know why.

5. Hey, look, it's Ryan Grigson!

6. No, really, it's Ryan Grigson. Still in Indianapolis. No, the Blob doesn't know why.

7. Maybe Jim Irsay thought he was some other Ryan. Gosling, Seacrest, whatever.

8. In other news, Peyton Manning just handed off the football again.

9. Man, that guy can bring it.

10. Hey, look! We're done! (Wild cheering, joyous weeping, choked cries of "Thank you, Week 17! We thought you'd never come, but we always had faith that someday you'd liberate us!").


I don't know where Chip Kelly is this morning. But I do know where his eyes should have been.

That would be Indianapolis, Indiana.

Which is where the word came down late last night that Chuck Pagano, whom everyone figured was as over as Tone Loc, had instead hammered out a new four-year deal to continue coaching the Indianapolis Colts. This after an outpouring of support from his players that those around the locker room after Sunday's game regarded as both overwhelming and pointed.

It's an article of faith that the NFL is a player's league as much as it is a coach's or owner's league, something these imperial college coaches like Kelly have always  been slow to understand. It's why Kelly's pounding the bricks looking for a new job right now -- and why Chuck Pagano is not.

That Colts owner Jim Irsay was influenced by all those #chuckstay tweets coming from his workforce (and, yes, his fan base) seems an easy connecting of the dots here, as is the fact that he's currently mulling a contract extension  for the cornerstone of his franchise, Andrew Luck. Irsay hitched his wagon to Luck the moment he showed Peyton Manning the road; anything that threatened to hamstring that deal no doubt would have his complete attention.

So you know he heard his quarterback loud and clear Sunday when Luck said this: "I can say (Pagano's) given his heart and soul every day since I've been here. I feel like I've grown so much as a player and a person. Through this season which has been trying and disappointing, he's always been sort of a bastion of good coaching."

Italics mine.  But italics Irsay surely heard, too.

He faced the next thing to an insurrection if he gave Pagano the gate and hung onto GM Ryan Grigson, who is apparently as unpopular in the Colts locker room as Pagano is popular. And so Irsay did the only thing he could to stave it off  by extending both their deals, given that he's apparently as tied to Grigson as he is to Luck.

(And, yes, you have to wonder why,  given how badly Grigson's bungled his end of things. But then there always will be things about Irsay that make you wonder).

In any case, they're  both back. And I suspect the confab among the three of them yesterday included Pagano demanding Grigson stay the hell out of his airspace. With the players solidly behind him, he had some leverage at last.

All of this, of course, is pure speculation. But it's also an educated guess.

And Chip Kelly?

I'm thinking he should have been paying attention. And educating himself a little.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Questions for a Monday morning

Welcome to the rest of your 2016, and here's hoping it's as fabulous as the first three days. (Or, way better than the first three days). Now that it's January and the NFL regular season is finally behind us, here are a few questions as we move forward into the playoffs and, beyond, Super Bowl 50 -- which promises to be the usual orgy of self-congratulation and grotesque puffery it always is, if not more so:

Q: The Cleveland Browns have cleaned house, firing both their head coach and GM. What does this mean?

A: It means you have to clear out the old trash before you can start bringing in the new trash.

Q: If, as anticipated, the Colts turn loose Chuck Pagano today, how long will he remain unemployed?

A: Is this a trick question?

Q: No.

A: OK, then about, I don't know, five minutes. The man took a garbage dump of a team to an 8-8 season even though he didn't have his A-list quarterback for the last seven weeks. He won a game with Josh Freeman and that other guy, Something Lindley, who hadn't played in the NFL since the BeeGees were a thing. Only four current NFL head coaches have won more games. Yeah, five minutes sounds about right.

Q:  So are the Seahawks the team to beat now because they whipped the Cardinals yesterday?

A: No. Yesterday is meaningless. I'm sure if they meet again, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians' message will be something along the lines of: "OK, last time they sent us a message when it didn't count. Whatever. Now it counts, and now it's our turn."

Q: What will the 49ers be thinking if they respond favorably to Chip Kelly, who's reportedly reaching out to them?

A: They'll be thinking he's not Jim Tomsula. And that just because he failed so abysmally to relate to NFL players in the Eastern time zone doesn't mean he won't be able to relate wonderfully to them in the Pacific time zone. Hey, he's a West coast guy!

And, finally ...

Q:  Four of the quarterbacks who could play a significant role in the playoffs are named Brian Hoyer, Brock Osweiler, Kirk Cousins and AJ McCarron. Who saw that coming back in September?

A: Brian Hoyer, Brock Osweiler, Kirk Cousins and AJ McCarron. Maybe. OK, probably not.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Empty bowls

So bowl season is over, almost, mostly, and what we got out of it was a pile of BattleFrogs and Belks and various military themes and a whole lot of chicken (Zaxby's, Chick-fil-a, Popeyes). And on the big weekend, a saving grace named after a string of gas stations.

That would be the Valero Alamo Bowl, and thank you, TCU, for turning a snore of a weekend into, briefly, an oh-my-god-did-you-see-that fiesta (as opposed to Fiesta). All the Horned Frogs did, besides do the right thing by suspending their clueless quarterback Trevon Boykin, was spot Oregon a 31-0 lead and then roar back to win in three overtimes, 47-41.

It was at once the most memorable game of the entire bowl season, and maybe one of the most memorable games ever, anywhere. And it came Saturday night, just when we had all given up and gone back to watching "Law & Order" reruns, TV evangelist/hucksters and infomercials for the amazing Ronco combination indoor grill and wet vac.

Seriously, has there been a worse New Year's weekend, bowl-wise? Among the big bowls (the Rose, Cotton, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar) the closest game was the Fiesta, in which Ohio State nipped Notre Dame 44-28. The two national semifinal games were over by the first commercial break, with Alabama proving that, except for Ohio State and Michigan (which hammered Florida 41-7), the Big Ten is still just kibble in the SEC's bowl.

I mean, when the two teams who played in your conference championship game get floor-waxed in their respective bowls by a combined score of  83-16, it's probably not the weekend to roll out that new ad campaign crowing about how big the formerly Big Ten is.

'Bama 38, Michigan State 0 in the Cotton and Stanford 45, Iowa 16 in the Rose put the kibosh on that, at least until Ohio State decides not to spend half the season napping and winds up on the big stage again. Or perhaps until Jim Harbaugh's finished remaking Michigan in his own image and winds up there, too.

The B1G or whatever it's calling itself these days may never be the Big Two and Little Eight again, partly because Mark Dantonio's in East Lansing and partly because the math doesn't work anymore. But it doesn't take a seer to see it trending that way.

In any case, the whole weekend made the growing part of America that's ditching cable feel it didn't miss much.  So, thanks for that, college football. Now it's back to Netflix.

Wait ... you're saying TCU did WHAT??

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Wrong re-dress

Ah, those wacky Indianapolis Colts. Once again they're about to trip over the footstool like Dick Van Dyke back in the day.

Not all that long ago they were regarded as one of the most competent organizations in football, and now, well, not so much. Now -- even if you put the footstool in the middle of the Mojave desert, with nothing around it but miles of big empty -- the Colts would find a way to trip over it. Dysfunction Junction is their home address these days.

Case in point: This whole Chuck Pagano-Ryan Grigson flap.

Reports out of Indy indicate Colts owner Jim Irsay has chosen his side in that little contretemps, and as usual he's chosen the wrong one. It looks more and more like Pagano is the one who's going to get the gate come Monday morning, leaving Grigson to bring in more 85-year-olds and third-string wide receivers, or whatever goofy notion strikes his fancy come draft/free agent season.

That Grigson is the guy who's driven this franchise off a cliff is obvious to everyone but the people making the decisions out on 56th Street in Indy, which of course is why Grigson will stay and Pagano will go. And, of course, Grigson will get a say in who the Colts hire to replace Pagano, which leads to the completely idiotic scenario of Grigson getting to decide his own fate in the process.

In other words, he'll opt for the guy most willing to be micromanaged the way Grigson micromanaged Pagano, because it stands to reason he's not going to give the thumbs up to any coaching hire who demands the GM stay the hell out of his locker room and/or gives him a say in personnel decisions. Which would be just about any coaching hire who'd be worth, well, hiring.

So how's that gonna work?

Look. There's no question Pagano bears some blame for this season's fall from grace, too. On the other hand, given the deeply flawed hand he was given, he doesn't bear that much blame. That the Colts could win tomorrow and finish .500 with the mess they're putting on the field right now should be regarded as a testament to their head coach, not an indictment.

Think about it: Grigson gave Pagano a football team that can't run and can't protect the passer because he didn't build an offensive line. He wasted free agency on a bunch of senior citizens who, with the exception of running back Frank Gore, have contributed nothing. With the possible exception of a couple of guys, there are no playmakers on defense. And he apparently demanded lineup changes that didn't work, either.

All that did was get Andrew Luck, the engine of the Colts offense, knocked out for the season on November 8.  Then Luck's backup got beat up. Then the backup to the backup got beat up. A bunch of other injuries ensued, as they will in the NFL, and for which the Colts didn't have the depth to sustain themselves.

Despite all that, they could still finish 8-8. And, yes, a lot of that is due to the fact the Cotls play in the AFC South, the bargain bin of NFL divisions. But, still.

Still, Pagano looks gone. And Grigson looks, well, not gone.

As Duke Tumato once sang: Lord, help our Colts.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The year that won't be

And now we bid a fond farewell to 2015, whic-- no, not that door, 2015. That door. Over there. No, that's the closet. No, that's the BATHROOM. What? NO, you can't stick around to hear what stupid thing comes out of Donald Trump's mouth next! You have to leave! Go ove-- PUT THAT DOWN FOR GOD'S SAKE!!

Sorry. Just a little logistical hiccup there. We'll get to 2016 presen-- DON'T EAT THAT! WHAT ARE YOU DOING??

Sorry. Sorry. Now where was I? Oh, yeah, Happy New Year, 2016, all that. And in the grand Blob tradition we've decided to ring it in with the semi-traditional Blob feature, Stuff That Won't Happen This Year.

In January, Notre Dame won't fail to beat Ohio State in the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl, prompting millions of Americans to ask the obvious question: "What the hell is a BattleFrog, and why is he Fiesta-ing?" Knute Rockne rolls over in his grave for the umpteenth time when he realizes the hallowed Notre Dame trophy case will now be occupied by a battalion of Heismans, a clutch of national championship trophies and a giant sculpture of a toad wearing chain mail, the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl trophy.

Also in January, Alabama won't fail to beat Clemson 65-12 for the national title and Nick Saban won't fail to be boring again and blah, blah, blah.

In February, the Indianapolis Colts won't win the Super Bowl for the 48th time in 50 tries. The Arizona Cardinals, led by former Colts coach Bruce Arians and several former Colts, win Super Bowl 50 instead. Millions of Americans ask the obvious questions, which include "Why the hell are they former Colts?" and "Wait, what happened to the Roman numeral? It can't be a Super Bowl unless the Blob makes some wisecrack about Roman numerals."

Also in February, Jeff Gordon won't win the Daytona 500, mainly because he's retired. Some guy named Busch or Earnhardt or Johnson or Harvick wins, and blah, blah, blah.

In March, Indiana won't win the national title, another championship banner does not crowd its way into the airspace above Assembly Hall, and thousands of Hoosiers do not stop asking the obvious question: "How come Bob Knight's not here anymore? Bob Knight would have won every game by a hundred gazillion points with this team."

Also in March, the Cubs fail to clinch the NL Central title by Opening Day despite their general awesomeness, plunging thousands of Cubs fans into gloom and blah, blah, blah.

In May, 250,000 people won't fail to take up every hotel room in Indianapolis and won't decide not to attend the 100th Indianapolis 500.  Thousands of other Americans ask the obvious question: "You mean EVERY room is booked? But it's the day of after Christmas and the race is five months away!"

Also in May, a bunch of people continue to insist that nobody cares about the 500 anymore. Blah. Blah, blah, blah.

In July, the Cubs continue to not clinch the NL Central, and even lose a game to the Pirates despite their general awesomeness, etc., etc. Anthony Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward fail to hit a home run in a game and Jake Arrieta fails to strike out every single batter he faces. Cubs fans are plunged into a bottomless pit of despair and self-loathing from which there will be no escape until autumn arrives and they can start hating on Jay Cutler again.

Also in July, it's kinda hot and there are fireworks and every NFL team that does not have a player blow off an extremity breathes a sigh of relief and blah-blah.

In August, hundreds of athletes from all over the world will not win a single medal at the Rio Olympics. Millions of people around the world ask the obvious question: "But did you at least score some killer antibiotics? Because, you know, Rio, the water, all that."

Also in August, the Colts go to training camp. Bruce Arians, Jerraud Powers, Dwight Freeney and Cory Redding do not show up, on account of they're still in Arizona hangin' with the Lombardi Trophy and ... well, you know the rest.

In October, Notre Dame, still trying to find an appropriate place for the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl trophy, won't take it outside the stadium and hoist it atop the statue of Fair Catch Corby, so it looks like he's bench-pressing the thing. Thousands of Notre Dame fans ask the obvious question -- "Why don't you donate it to the Snite Museum of Art?" -- until they learn the Snite Museum people took one look at it and said "Get that piece of junk out of here."

Also in October, the Cubs ... general awesomeness ... blah, blah, blah.

In November, college basketball begins, and thousands of Hoosiers won't fail to ask where Bob Knight is, and why can't we get a good coach like Bob Knight, and why can't Crean recruit great big men like Todd Jadlow and Magnus Pelkowski the way Bob Knight used to.

Also in November ... well, you know. Blah, blah, blah.

In December, Army does not beat Navy again. That makes 15 losses in a row for the Black Knights, even though Army has the greatest name in the history of college football -- Edgar Allan Poe, and, no, we're not making that up -- playing wide receiver for it. Hundreds of Americans ask the obvious question: "Who names their kid Edgar Allan Poe?"

Also in December, Santa ... gifts ... Fox News' annual War on Christmas nonsense... Jeff Gordon, still retired.

Happy New Year. Blah, blah, blah.