Saturday, April 30, 2016

Faking toughness

The Blob holds no brief for Carly Fiorina, the hapless CEO and champion job-destroyer who the other day became Ted Cruz' desperate Hail Carly. But I'm with her on one thing:

Mike Tyson is no paragon of manliness.

"Sorry, I don't consider a convicted rapist a tough guy," said Fiorina, Cruz' hilariously premature running mate.

The Game Show Host does, however, and so there was Donald J. Trump, the circus act who would be king, bloviating about Mike Tyson and what a great thing it was that Tyson was endorsing him. Because, by golly, he likes it when he gets endorsed by "the tough ones."

That he said it in Indiana, where Tyson raped Desiree Washington and did time for it, would be considered a major gaffe for anyone but the Game Show Host. After all, he'd already stood up for the rapist back in '92, when he said Tyson got "railroaded," and that what happened was Washington's fault because she went to his room. But as always, he's saved by his bewitched followers, who regard these sorts of pronouncements as evidence that the Game Show Host isn't afraid to tell it like it is.

The man apparently can't say anything ridiculous enough at this point to give the rubes even a moment's pause. And that includes this latest, which is as perfectly in character for the Game Show Host as every other ridiculous thing he's said.

Here's the deal: Touting a convicted rapist as a tough guy is no great leap of logic for Trump, a proud misogynist who plays at being a tough guy himself. As with most of his now familiar act, it's a con, a part the Game Show Host plays as smoothly as he plays someone worthy of serious consideration for the highest office in the land. Because, like Tyson, the Game Show Host is no tough guy.

Witness what happened no long ago, when Donny went swaggering over to Scotland to transform a lot of bucolic Scottish countryside into some obscene golf resort. He wound up in a legal wrangle with the Scottish government over a proposed windfarm, lost in court, and eventually went slinking back to the U.S. with his tail between his legs, just another supposed tough guy exposed as a swaggering blowhard.

In that, he shares a curious kinship with Tyson, another phony "tough one." He was presented by an enchanted media as a fearsome engine of destruction back when he was knocking over assorted tomato cans, most of whom took one look at Iron Mike and started searching for a soft place to land. That was before an unremarkable journeyman named Buster Douglas discovered a remarkable thing: If you actually fought back, Iron Mike wasn't so tough. In fact, he was kinda ... soft.

And so down went Tyson, and then off he went to prison after luring Washington, a Sunday School teacher and honor student, to his hotel room. And then down he went again when he found himself in the ring with Evander Holyfield, a genuine tough guy.


Now here he is endorsing the Game Show Host, another "tough guy" whose toughness begins and ends with his mouth.

Synergy is a wonderful thing.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Cost ineffective?

The last year I was in college my alma mater's football team won its first Mid-American Conference title.

The year was 1976 and Ball State had a nifty little quarterback named Art Yaroch, and a stud running back named Earl Taylor, and a fireplug of a fullback named George Jenkins. The defense, which crushed people that year, had guys named Maurice Harvey and Ken Kremer and Rush Brown, all of whom went on to play in the NFL. They beat everyone that year but Western Michigan, which smoked them because the Broncos had a running back named Jerome Persell the Cardinals simply couldn't tackle.

So, I love MAC football. Let's get that out there right off.

I also understand that it's not 1976 anymore, which is why I'm not alarmed, or even surprised, that faculty and students at MAC school Eastern Michigan are calling for the Eagles to leave the MAC and head for the Horizon League, and ditch Division I football altogether. Division II, or even Division III, would be preferable.

I agree. In fact, I'm tempted to agree it's the way to go for any school in comparable circumstances.

That's because football has become outrageously costly at the D-I level, and if it also generates outrageous revenue, it does so only at the highest levels of the sport. For schools on the MAC level, it's rapidly becoming financially unsustainable. Or to be more blunt: It's hurting the very university community it's supposed to be serving.

The call to drop out of D-I football at Eastern Michigan, for instance, springs from the fact that EMU students are now paying $917 in fees annually to support athletics, part of a $27 million subsidy the university provides to fund the school's $34 million athletic budget. And this is not an anomaly.

At Ball State, for instance, students now pay $610.66 per year in hidden athletic fees, according to a report in the Muncie Star Press. This works out to $11.6 million in subsidies -- up from $6.9 million in 2005.

A good chunk of that, of course, goes to prop up football, far and away the most costly sport for any D-I university. The issue for schools on the MAC level is the football investment doesn't come close to delivering an appropriate return; your Ball States and Eastern Michigans aren't going to the cash-rich BCS bowl games, if they're going to bowl games at all. The game, as they say, simply isn't worth the candle at the MAC level -- especially for students who are already burdened too often with crippling (and skyrocketing) student debt.

So what's the solution?

Right now the only solution is to do what the faculty and students at Eastern Michigan are suggesting: Drop down to D-II or even D-III. But the Blob sees something else coming down the wind: An eventual split between the Power Five football conferences and everyone else in D-I.

The Power Fives would be allowed to function as what they already are in everything but name: A corporate industry governed by rules appropriate to any corporate industry. Everyone else -- i.e., the MAC schools and others like it -- would be held to the same standards that govern athletics in the NCAA's lesser divisions.

In other words, they would be institutions of higher learning for whom athletics are truly just a component of the academic mission, and not businesses wholly separate from that mission. Scholarships and other financial aid would be available to athletes in the same way they're available to non-athletes. Football and basketball and everything else would carry no more weight within the university structure than programs in music and the arts.

And, yes, if that sounds like a deliberate devaluing of athletics, it can also be seen as a simple restoring of balance. The students would still come to the games. The athletes would still derive all the benefits college athletics provide in abundance. And the burden placed on everyone to continue running a losing financial game would be dramatically lessened.

“Culturally and geographically, EMU football will simply never succeed from an attendance and financial standpoint,” faculty member Howard Bunsis argued to EMU’s Board of Regents, according to the Detroit Free Press. “It is a losing proposition – always has been, and always will be. We hardly raise any money for football, and our attendance is the lowest in the country. Some of you believe that we are close to succeeding, if we just throw more money at the situation. This proposition is insane."


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Analysis paralysis

The NFL Draft is upon us ("Quick! Close the window!"), and this morning I am thinking about quarterbacks.

Not just any quarterbacks, mind you. One specific quarterback.

This quarterback is a trifle undersized (6-foot-2, 212 pounds), and he doesn't have that howitzer you like to see, and he thinks the Wonderlic is an ice cream cone with sprinkles. His 40 speed is average. He may or may not be able to put the ball in those tight windows (See again: No howitzer) the way a quarterback in today's NFL has to. And he didn't wow anyone on his pro day, on account of the NFL scouts all got lost on the way to the tiny Division III school in Illinois where he played his college ball.

The name of that school is Augustana College.

The name of the quarterback who played there is Ken Anderson.

Who still holds Cincinnati Bengals career records for completions, passing yards and touchdowns. Whose 2,200 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns as a quarterback are also club records. Who, when he retired, held NFL records for consecutive pass completions (20), completion percentage for a game (90.9), completion percentage for a season (70.6) and Super Bowl records for completion percentage (73.5) and completions (25).

Of those records, the one for completion percentage for a season stood for 27 years.

And yet ... if he came along today, the draft gurus would see nothing but problems with Ken Anderson. Seriously, Augustana College? Only 6-2 and 212? Who's this kid think he's, well, kidding?

"Doesn't fit the profile of the prototypical NFL quarterback," Mel Kiper Jr. would say, dismissively.

"Maybe a practice squad player. Maybe," he'd add.

And Todd McShay, the other half of ESPN's draftnik Gold Dust Twins?

"If he were a tree, what kind of tree would he be? Why, the kid didn't even answer that question!"  McShay would cry, aghast at such a horrific breach of draft etiquette.

After which he'd say something along the lines of  "Well, maybe the Montreal Alouettes could use him," while Mel nodded sagely from beneath his El Capitan hair and then moved on to his 237th mock draft, which has the Lions picking a circus acrobat in the fifth round.

This is the problem with the NFL Draft: It's analysis to the point of paralysis, and also to the point of absurdity. And it's all for nothing. Mel and Todd and the rest can talk until they're blue in the face (and will), and in the end, no one knows whether a specific player is going to wind up on the road to Canton or the road to selling insurance. Not even the teams for whom draft picks -- especially first round draft picks -- represent a major investment really know.

Despite the combine. Despite the Wonderlics. Despite the 40 times, and the shuttle times, and the pro days, and all those weird questions they ask in the interview process, some of which reveal a lot more about the people asking the questions than the people answering them.

In a sport that is itself an industry, draft analysis has become an industry itself -- and yet, at bottom, it's still just a lot of flip-a-coin guesswork. No matter what depths teams are willing to plumb to predict the future, it's still the future. Which means it's always going to be essentially unreadable, no matter how many times a guy runs the 40 or answers questions about his tree preferences.

This is not to say you can't occasionally see trouble coming; witness the entirely predictable demise of Johnny Manziel. But who saw such a swift unraveling for Ryan Leaf? Who saw Jamarcus Russell not just fail to live up to expectations, but completely wash out of the league? And on the other side of the ledger, who saw Tom Brady coming? Or Jeff Saturday, an undrafted free agent who went on to play in six Pro Bowls? Or, for that matter, Ken Anderson, a third-round pick who wound up with Hall of Fame credentials despite starting out at tiny Augustana?

And yet, teams will continue to try to see the un-seeable and un-knowable, because they are all deathly afraid of making the big mistake. It's why players sink like a stone at the first hint of an unpaid parking ticket. Get caught acting like a normal college student? Wind up on a police blotter at some point? Do something, anything, that teams believe makes you a character risk?

See you in the third round. Or fourth. Or fifth.

It's a game for either madmen or neurotics, or both, and tomorrow it begins again. The Rams have the first pick. The Eagles have the second. They both like the same two guys: A pair of quarterbacks, one from Cal (Jared Goff) and one from North Dakota State (Carson Wentz).

The Mels and Todds love both of them. They say they have all the tools: Size, arm, athleticism, work ethic, smarts. They say either one could go No. 1. They say the only upside Goff has is he played big-time college ball while Wentz did not.

Kinda like, you know, Ken Anderson from Augustana College.

Let the guesswork begin. Or continue, as the case may be.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Birds of a feather

The Game Show Host and the General.

Like that isn't a sitcom waiting to happen.

In one corner you've got an egotistical blowhard who wants to be President of the United States (and who has actually conned folks into taking him seriously). In the other corner, another egotistical blowhard who was once the greatest basketball coach in history, and now is just a sad case who clings to grudges the way a drowning man clings to a life preserver.

Hijinks ensue, or something.

If nothing else it will be great theater down in Indianapolis tomorrow, when the Game Show Host (Donald "I'm Great, Just Ask Me" Trump) brings the General (Bob Knight) onstage to gin up the rubes. In that crowd, the General will probably still get a raucous welcome. But it might be the only place left he can get that.

That's because the Game Show Host is making the faulty assumption most outsiders make about Indiana, which is that we all regard Coach Knight with unabashed adoration. The truth is far more complicated. And it's especially complicated now that Coach has alienated even his staunchest backers with his latest series of stunts.

First, he snubbed Indiana's celebration of his greatest team, the undefeated 1976 national champion Hoosiers, not even bothering respond to the invitation. Then, as if that didn't get the message across, he rubbed Hoosier Nation's nose in it by pointedly turning up at a Purdue function with his old adversary Gene Keady.

That bit of gracelessness was the last straw for many of Coach's acolytes, who rightly saw it not as payback to IU but as a kick in the jewels to them.

Now he's back as that rarest of things: A sidekick who's smarter than the main attraction. You almost hope the Game Show Host decides to take it a step further and tab Coach as his running mate, or maybe his secretary of state. Why not? A basketball coach as secretary of state would fit right in with the Game Show Host's over-arching philosophy that amateurs know best. And the more amateurish, the better.

 If nothing else ... think of the script possibilities.

(Fade in. Oval Office. Morning.)

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Bob, I want you to go to Syria and straighten those people out.


TRUMP: You know. Those Syria people. Sell 'em the art of the deal.

KNIGHT: Um ... what?

TRUMP: You know. The deal. Tell 'em we'll build a wall around their country and make 'em pay for it if they don't do what we say.

KNIGHT (a tinge of red beginning to color his face): OK, but, uh, who do I tell that to? The terrorists who run the government, or the other terrorists who are trying to overthrow the government, or the other terrorists who are fighting the terrorists trying to overthrow the government?

TRUMP: Ah, you know. The ones we sold weapons to.

KNIGHT (slowly, as you would to a child): Um, you sold weapons to all of 'em.

TRUMP: I did?


(Smacks Trump in the back of the head).

TRUMP: Hey! Watch the hair!

I think we could be onto something here.


Jimmy's world

So here's what I want to know today, as Tom Brady gets smacked down by the courts and all of New England curses a world where you can't cheat anymore and then go hide out behind a judge's robes:

What's Jimmy Garoppolo doing?

My guess is celebrating -- quietly, of course, lest he disrupt the Patriots' fabled mind-meld. Maybe a discreet fist pump. Maybe the ghost of a smile. Maybe an earnest "You can count on me, boss" to the Boss, Bill Belichick, while his inner party animal lights a stogie, takes a slug from a magnum of champagne and capers about amid a shower of twinkly confetti.

Jimmy Garoppolo, see, is Tom Brady's backup out there in New England, and, with the appeals court re-instating Brady's four-game sitdown, he wouldn't be human if he didn't see this as history trying to repeat itself. Remember Drew Bledsoe? Remember the injury that elevated his own barely known backup -- a sixth-round pick and former Michigan backup named Tom Brady -- to Next Man Up status?

How'd that work out?

And sure, no one thinks Garoppolo is the next Tom Brady. But what if he comes in and, you know, plays really, really well? What if the Patriots go 4-0 with him under center? How interesting is it going to get when Brady -- who is, after all, pushing 40 years old -- discovers Garoppolo really is capable of producing audible footsteps?

Take it from Drew Bledsoe: This is not an organization over-served with sentiment. And so what happens if Garoppolo plays well, and Brady comes back, and, you know, doesn't play well?

Of course, that's not likely to happen. The Blob would even go so far as to say it won't happen. But the part of us that's a sucker for a good Irwin Allen disaster movie can't help envisioning it. Because who doesn't love a good Irwin Allen disaster movie?

This one's a long way from final production, because even though logic would dictate otherwise, the principals in Deflategate aren't likely to let this go. Brady has gone too far down the road to surrender now, and if he doesn't quit the NFL can't either. Too much blood has been spilled, or least too much ink on legal briefs. And so don't be surprised if Brady, for whom money is never a problem, takes this all the way to the Supreme Court.

Most legal analysts think that would be a fool's errand, because legal precedent is strong that federal judges are loathe to reverse an arbitrator's ruling. And at this point, it's not about whether Brady did or did not have a hand in monkeying with those footballs -- although if you still believe he didn't, you also believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. And it's also not about whether or not Roger Goodell's ruling was fair.

 No, sir. The only relevant issue here is whether or not Goodell had the authority to administer that ruling. And he does. The collective bargaining agreement gave him that authority.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo waits in the wings, his moment about to come 'round at last.

Paging Irwin Allen. Paging Irwin Allen.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Engine troubles

I don't know who's going to win the Indianapolis 500 next month (although I have an educated guess or two percolating). But I can pretty fairly say what's he going to have at his back.

That would be a Chevrolet engine.

With Simon Pagenaud's dramatic win in Alabama yesterday, Chevies have won every one of the four IndyCar races contested so far, and their dominance has become an outright embarrassment for theoretical rival Honda. Not only has the Bowtie won all four races, it's sat on the pole for all four. Three times, including yesterday, Chevies have swept the top four finishing positions. And at the season opener in St. Pete, they finished 1-2-4.

At Phoenix, seven of the first eight finishers were Chevies. At Long Beach, it was six of the first seven. On and on.

It's not like this is a first, although revisionists would have you think so. Echoes of what's going on right now extend back to 1994, when Roger Penske unveiled a Mercedes power plant that was so superior to everything else people were putting out there that Penske entries won 12 of the 16 races, finished 1-2-3 in the points and had five 1-2-3 finishes.

Which was great if you were Roger Penske. But a snoozefest if you were an IndyCar fan.

Twenty-two years later it's looking like more of the same, and it's hard to fathom why. After playing catchup with Chevy all last season, Honda had an entire offseason to tweak its package. Yet the imbalance so far this season has been as stark as it was last season. Chevy's package, miles ahead last season, remains miles ahead.

That's good for Chevy. And, as in '94, not good for the sport in general, particularly with the landmark race of all landmark races -- the 100th 500 -- a month away.

The 500: Where last year, Chevies finished 1-2-3-4, and took nine of the top 11 positions.


Hurtin' for certain

I'm no orthopedic surgeon. ("What?! I'm shocked, shocked!" you're saying). So all I can  contribute to the chatter about Steph Curry going down with a knee injury yesterday is the fall looked really, really awkward, worse-than-just-an-owie awkward, and if that means it really is worse than just an owie, the NBA playoffs just took a serious hit.

Be honest: Isn't half the reason you're watching is to see if the Warriors can close the deal on an historic season?

And if Curry's injury turns out to be more than just a sprain, doesn't that blow a hole in their chances to do that?

I mean, not just a hole-hole. A Sea of Tranquility-sized hole.

So if Curry's injury knocks him out (and no one with a soul, or who loves basketball played elegantly, is hoping that's the case), what are we watching from here on out? How far the Warriors can go without him? Another Spurs-Cavaliers NBA Finals? LeBron 'n' them vs. The Big Fundamental 'n' them, one more time?

Look, I get that some portion of America will still be glued to their big screens if that's what we get, because A) the Spurs, like the Warriors, play the game correctly, and therefore are fun to watch for hoops PhDs, and B) this could be LeBron's best shot at bringing that promised title home to Cleveland.

But, again, be honest: Unless you live in the Mistake by the Lake (or just loooove the Spurs to death), won't something go out of the playoffs for you if Curry can't continue?  Won't the more casual fans shrug and turn away as soon as the Warriors go down?

(And, sure, OK, maybe they still muddle through. But can anyone realistically see them getting to the Finals again without Curry? The guess here is they get farther than most people think they will, but not far enough. And not far enough is all that really matters here.)

Like it or not the NBA is Steph Curry's world now, and so without him ... what? The NBA is a player-driven league, and right now he is the player. Imagine the NBA playoffs in the '90s had Michael Jordan gone down. Imagine, in the '80s, if Bird and Magic both went on the shelf in the playoffs. That's kind of where we are right now. And it's why Steph Curry's knee just became the most important body part in America.

Love pro buckets?

Best light a candle for Sir Bombs Away, then. Because you know who's lighting a few right now?

NBA commish Adam Silver. Bet the homestead on it.      

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A brief, largely pointless reverie

So one of the followers/followed on my Twitter feed (a rather select group, alas) posited an interesting question yesterday, and the Blob (as it often does) has decided to give it more thought than it's probably worth.

The question: How would the coverage of politics be different if sportswriters did it? And wouldn't it be fun to try it for one election cycle?

Well ,.. yes, Yes, it would.

I mean, just think how sportswriters would have handicapped the Lincoln-Douglas Debates ("Mr. Douglas has no chance. Mr. Lincoln will simply post him up on the low blocks and crush him with indisputable logic. And when Douglas tries to rebut and get to the tin, Lincoln, the best rim protector in the game, will simply send it back the other way. 'Divide this house, loser'!")

And then there's the delicious notion of how they would have handled various presidential races.

And so come along with me now to those thrilling days of never-year, when sportswriters took over various election years and made them their own ...

The Republican National Convention, 1924. The Repubs are demonstrating on the convention floor,, quietly and politely, as befits the candidate they've just chosen, Calvin Coolidge.

Up in the pressbox, Grantland Rice feeds a sheaf of paper into his typewriter and hammers out this: "Outlined against a blue-gray sky, the Four Horseman rode again. OK, so just one horseman. OK, so he's not on a horse. OK, so it's Calvin Coolidge, who's kind of like a horse, in that he doesn't say a whole lot, and when he does you have to lean in close to hear him, and you immediately regret it because it really wasn't worth the effort."

Or ...

The night of the 1944 election. All around the country, the nation's sportswriters, temporarily re-assigned because all the baseball players are off fighting Hitler and Tojo, are describing to the nation FDR's fourth term.

"For a record fourth straight time, FDR has been elected President," they write. "It's a dynasty  rivaling that of the Yankees, and potentially as damaging to the election process. Is such dominance good for the game, er, nation? Why can't anyone compete with him? Is this an indictment of the weakness of American politics that the best opposing teams, er, parties can come up with is sad old uninspiring Tom Dewey? Or Alf Landon, the St. Louis Browns of presidential candidates? Where are the 1929 Athletics, er, 1904 Teddy Roosevelts? Where are the Lincolns? FDR has made of the game, er, political process, a sham. Might as well just pencil him in for '48, too."

Or ...

The night of the 1960 election. John F. Kennedy has defeated Richard Nixon by the narrowest of margins. Republican beat writers are outraged.

"We are outraged," they write. "What a horrible job by the election officials, particularly in Illinois. No election should ever be decided by an official's mistake. It cheapens the game, er, the American political system, and makes suspect the entire enterprise. Who's running this show, the 1919 Black Sox? Was that Eddie Cicotte manning the polling places in Chicago? And why can't the American political system find better officials? These guys, particularly in Illinois, belong in the minors, tallying county council races. It makes one all but mention the unmentionable: Bring on instant replay!"


Election night, 2016. The nation, losing its mind completely, has elected The Game Show Host to the highest office in the land. As President-elect Trump brags and blusters and leers at his bewitched minions, Joe Buck -- channeling his father, Jack -- puts it all in perspective.

"I don't believe what I just saw!" he cries.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Smoke returns, with fire

Some things never change, or at least never seem to change, and so it was comforting to see Tony Stewart, ahead of his return to the race car, say something that got the NASCAR poobahs all wound up.

Fined Smoke $35,000, NASCAR did, for making the simple, common sense observation that allowing race cars to roll out of the pits with only four of five lugnuts tightened was, you know, kinda stupid.

That's been the substantive effect of NASCAR loosening the scrutiny on tightened lugnuts, not one of the poobahs' better decisions. It is, in fact ... well, kinda stupid.

And so Smoke said as much, per usual. And NASCAR, per usual, got in his pocket, a nice (if tone deaf) little welcome back present. And things never change, things never change.


Except this time, the serfs revolted.

For one of the rare times in memory, the NASCAR Driver Council released a statement in support of Stewart, and pledged to pay his fine. Because, well, Stewart's right. Slacking off on the lugnuts thing imperils both drivers and fans, and should be nipped posthaste.

Plus, he's Tony Stewart, not Joe Bob Fieldfiller. His opinion should count for something -- and when asked for it, he should be allowed to be express it without NASCAR muzzling him or lifting his wallet.

"It really has nothing to do with lug nuts or no lug nuts or anything like that," driver spokesman Denny Hamlin explained. "It's more so the drivers believe that they have the right to express their opinion, especially when asked in an interview. We try to do our best to give honest answers, and sometimes those aren't always the best thing.

"We just think that there should be a little bit of leniency there for someone who knows a lot about our sport and has been in our sport for a long time. This was a way for us to send a message back to NASCAR that we believe we should have the right to speak our opinion."

He's right, of course. If NASCAR's going to put these guys in front of the media to push the product, they should be allowed to do so honestly. Does it really serve the product for them to do otherwise? To either talk around or duck questions because answering them might cost them? How does that advance NASCAR's brand, unless the brand it wants to advance includes a silhouette of the Kremlin in it?

Transparency is always a better sell than a cover-up, especially a clumsily executed cover-up. And if you're going to fine drivers for criticizing NASCAR, that's the direction you're going. And it makes zero sense, because allowing drivers to criticize their ruling body does absolutely nothing to harm the ruling body's credibility, no matter what the ruling body thinks.

 Indeed, it likely enhances its credibility, because the ruling body is then seen as open and adaptive. And how is that not a more preferable image?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Once more into the breach(ed)

Colts GM Ryan Grigson laid out his draft strategy for the media yesterday, and you'll be pleased to know that, if foolish consistency is indeed the hobgoblin of little minds, the Colts are already well-stocked for Halloween.

Which is to say, there are hobgoblins aplenty lurking about.

This after Grigson basically said his draft strategy hasn't changed, even though it's produced a deeply flawed team to date. The Colts may still need offensive linemen -- virtually any warm-blooded mammal with a pulse will do at this point -- but Grigson isn't going to go out of his way looking for any. He's still tight with that whole best-available-athlete thing.

And so, bring on another wide receiver who can't play, presumably. Or ... hey, look! A quarterback! We could use one of those, right?

Drafting for need, Grigson believes, is weak, which is why parts of Andrew Luck kept falling off last season. The Colts desperately needed O-linemen, but Grigson didn't take one until the sixth round last year. And so they wound up with the Seven Blocks of Spackling, and Luck wound up getting hit, knocked down, hit again and knocked down again. He spent more time climbing off the deck than this guy.

But at least he had Phillip Dorsett to throw to while lying on his back, right?

Dorsett, a wideout from Miami, was Grigson's first-round pick a year, and he lived up to the billing by catching 18 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown. No, not in his first game. In his first season.

That, and a quarterback starring in weekly re-enactments of a mine cave-in, was what the Colts got for Grigson's best-athlete drafting strategy. You'd think they'd have learned something from watching Luck trying to keep his kidney from falling out as he limped off the field back in November, but, no. Best available athlete it is!

You have to wonder, listening to Grigson say full speed ahead, how much more of this Luck (or his body) will be willing (or able) to stand. That he's been hit so much so early in his career bodes nothing good for the rest of it; eventually, if the Colts don't get serious about protecting their most valuable asset, their most valuable asset will no longer be valuable. Or he'll flee to a team that is serious about it.

Luck, an inordinately loyal sort, won't do that willingly. But sooner or later, if things don't change, he may not have a choice. This is, after all, a business. And in this particular business, time tends to be a-wastin' like it does in few others.

In the meantime, enjoy the draft, Blue Nation. And mind those hobgoblins.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The sadness that is Johnny Football

It has always been the hardest thing to grow for those in the grip of their demons, and the saddest of all spectacles to watch them flail away at doing so.

And so again we revisit Johnny Manziel, the erstwhile Johnny Football, who continues to flail as he attempts to, yes, grow a clue.

Drew Rosenhaus became the second agent to dump him in two months the other day, saying the only way he'd retain him is if Manziel got the help Rosenhaus believes he needs. According to Ed Werder of ESPN, Manziel is the first client Rosenhaus has dumped in 27 years in the business.

It comes on the heels of Nike dumping him as a spokesperson at the end of last season, and the Browns finally throwing up their hands and cutting him loose. And of reports that Manziel, and some of his good-time buds,  trashed a rental house in yet another spasm of epic partying.

Down and down goes the spiral. On and on goes the cluelessness, Manziel releasing a statement that he is "hoping to take care of the issues in front of me right now, so I can focus on what I have to do if I want to play in 2016."

As if, you know, he just needed to get his car fixed or something. As if, you know, there's still the remotest chance he will play in 2016.

Right now that seems unlikely, with his high-end agent in the wind and his phone no longer ringing. Maybe some NFL team will take a chance on him -- although, if even goofy Jerry Jones backed away from him, it's hard to imagine what team that would be. Maybe some Canadian Football League team will snatch him up. Or maybe ...

Or maybe, finally, he listens to the silent phone and the people who have his best interests at heart, and at last gets serious about turning his life right-side up.

The Good-Time Charlie act was cute when he was a 20-year-old kid swaggering out of Texas A&M. But when it started to interfere with him doing his job -- and when it curdled into something darker when he was investigated for assaulting his girlfriend -- it ceased being cute and instead became obvious that he was no longer in control of his life.

Whatever you think of the kid, he's drowning right now. And that is never something anyone with a soul wants to watch.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Panic attack

You know how there's always that one scene in certain comedies where the heroes are faced with mortal peril, and one of the heroes always says "This is no time to panic, people"?

And you know how one of the other heroes always says "What are you talking about? This is the perfect time to panic!"?

Been thinking about that a lot the last couple days as I listen to various Komets fans/observers clutch their pearls because lowly Cincinnati snuck into town and stole two games from the division champs in their best-of-seven first-round series.

All I've heard is the Komets didn't do this and they didn't do that, that they got outworked on home ice by an inferior team, and that with the next three games happening in Cincinnati ... well, they might not be toast just yet, but they're starting to brown nicely on both sides.

Here's what I think about all that: I've got 10 fingers and 10 toes.

I've got 10 fingers and 10 toes, and not even they're enough to count all the times in my 28 years as a Fort Wayne sportswriter that the Komets have been down a well in a playoff series. And came back to win.

So, no, this is not a perfect time to panic. It's a time to take a step back, draw a deep breath and reassess.

Here's what I gleaned from watching game video and reading game accounts from people who know what they're talking about, such as my former colleague Justin Cohn: The Komets did not exactly get played off their feet last weekend. What happened was -- and what frequently happens with teams away from home -- is Cincinnati came in with a solid, conservative game plan and the Cyclones stuck to it. They played position hockey, jammed up the neutral zone and waited for the Komets to make mistakes.

Which they did, obligingly.

What they didn't do is get blown out in either game, although you wouldn't know it to hear some people talk. They lost two 3-2 games -- games in which they largely outplayed the Cyclones, outshooting the visitors 68-43. The chances were there. And the chances are going to continue to be there, because, yes, they're more talented than the Cyclones, and on the road they're likely to play a more basic style that will reward that.

So ... chill, people. These are the Komets, after all. Digging holes for themselves and climbing out of them is kind of what they do.

Spring football is weird

So Ohio State drew a record 100,189 souls to its spring football game over the weekend, which is impressive if you think about it one way, and kinda sad if you think about it another.

On the one hand, more than 100,000 people showed up on a glorious spring afternoon to watch a bunch of football players play Avoid The Groin Pull. That's impressive, because it shows you that Ohio State football fans are certifiable in that charming way all rabid college football fans are certifiable.

On the other hand, more than 100,000 people showed up on a glorious spring afternoon to watch a bunch of football players play Avoid The Groin Pull. That's kinda sad, because it shows you ... oh, I don't know. That there's nothing else to do on a glorious spring afternoon in Columbus, Ohio?

All I know is, I've covered a few spring football games, and they are impossible to cover because they're not really games and there is nothing much to cover unless a key player fails to Avoid the Groin Pull. It's why, whenever I see the words "spring game," I see the words "glorified practice."

After which, inevitably, I hear this.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Market adjustment

So I've got the TV on yesterday afternoon (Stanley Cup playoffs! Yes, please!) and I'm rummaging through the channels, and up pops the boys (and girl) from NASCAR, whom I'd sort of forgotten about since Daytona but vaguely realized were still out there driving in circles every week.

What I noticed right off was they were at Bristol, long one of NASCAR's most popular sites. And it was an absolutely gorgeous spring afternoon down in Tennessee, as it was here and pretty much everywhere.

What I also noticed was how empty the place looked.

Perfect spring afternoon at Bristol, and it looked like a qualifying session, a third or more of the seating vacant by my eyeball calculations. At Bristol. For a Sprint Cup event. On, again, a beautiful day.

The wane of NASCAR from its mighty crest has been an ongoing story now for close to a decade, but there are times it gob-smacks you more than others. To see a joint that once was one of NASCAR's most coveted destinations so empty was one of those times. And it provoked a conversation on Twitter (a civil conversation, go figure) about how NASCAR got to this place.

Some blamed the number of races, though that's remained static for a number of years. Some blamed the degree to which sponsors have taken over the sport, which was unavoidable once the sport became so outlandishly popular and sponsors started lining up to get a piece of that popularity. Others decried the circus atmosphere that has taken over the sport, the contrived WWE feel of some of the "feuds" and the overblown hype surrounding every event.

All of it gets at the central point: That a sport that was never supposed to be more than niche (and, originally, regional) suddenly blew up in the '90s into a national phenomenon, overreached in reaction to that, and then came back to reality when the economy cratered in 2008.

As a business entity, NASCAR got hit harder than most by that, because it  hit the sport's target demographic harder than most. Its working class fans, who used to hit several venues a season suddenly were hitting one, or none. The Tiregate fiasco in 2008, plus the ongoing revelation that the venue simply isn't suited to decent stock car racing, crippled one of the sport's signature events, the Brickyard 400. And it all played out against all that outrageous success in the '90s and early 2000s.

That success -- at one point there were people who seriously believed a sport whose appeal was still largely provincial had become big enough to challenge the NFL -- led to everything that came after, as NASCAR tried to sustain the unsustainable. And so we got the Chase and all its various tweaks and revisions, and the closing of beloved venues now deemed too small-time, and expansion into non-traditional markets and non-traditional revenue streams.

The height of which might have been Dale Earnhardt Jr. hawking Drakkar Noir cologne. Um, I'm sorry, what?

All of it alienated the very fan base who fueled the boom to start with. And then came the crash. And  all that unrealistic success began to work against NASCAR, creating the perception -- even with those running the sport -- that it's somehow struggling.

It's not, really. It remains the most successful motorsports series in American history, by miles and miles. If the stands at Bristol are a third empty on a perfect spring afternoon, that's still more people than Bristol drew there back in the Petty/Pearson/Yarborough days. And if the crowds at Indy have been halved or more since the salad days of the '90s ... well, what's half of 250,000? Who wouldn't have considered 80,000 or 100,000 (the eyeball estimate from last year's Brickyard) an outrageous number, back in the day?

Everyone would have been popping champagne corks over that (or popping the tops on a few Budweisers). But when you've played packed stands at Indy and Bristol and elsewhere, half-packed makes for some jarring visuals.

And so NASCAR soldiers on, chasing the uncatchable. And the rest of us wonder what went wrong, instead of acknowledging the obvious.

It went too right. That's what went wrong.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Bucks for Bob

Exciting news for all you Bob Knight acolytes out there, those of you whose avowed allegiance to IU ended the day Knight was fired back in 2000:

The General's comin' to take your money!

Yes, on May 3, at Castleton Square in Indianapolis, Coach will be on hand to sign autographs for the faithful. All it will cost the faithful is $89 a head.

Oh, and another $25 if you want the to get moved to the front of the line.

Oh, and another $25 if you want a personal inscription (up to FIVE, count 'em FIVE words!)

So that's $139, plus tax, to get your personal moment with Coach, who would no doubt appreciate it if you didn't wear any IU gear. After all, he's more partial to Purdue black-and-gold these days.

This after Knight came back to Indiana to schmooze the Purdue people at an event with his old nemesis Gene Keady, a bit of in-your-face screw-you to IU Nation that should have finally ended whatever misplaced affection the Knight worshippers still hold for the man. After all, the Purdue event came within a month of Knight snubbing the celebration in Assembly Hall of his greatest team, the 1976 undefeated national champion Hoosiers.

Practically everyone with a connection to that team was there, and the Hall poured out its love on them. Knight not only wasn't there to partake (and there's no reason to believe he wouldn't have received the most thunderous greeting of them all), he never even responded to Indiana's invitation.

After which he twisted the knife by hobnobbing with Boilers.

Now he's back for your cash, IU/Bobbyhead Nation.

Boiler up!

Friday, April 15, 2016

On the stump(ed)

So The Game Show Host was on the hustings in Pennsylvania the other day, talking as usual about how great he was gonna be (Yuuuuge! He's gonna be yuuuuge!). And, being in the vicinity, he brought up Joe Paterno, the legendary football coach at Penn State.

Asked how he was doing, or something to that effect.

Which was unfortunate, because Joe Paterno is dead at the present time.

He passed in 2012, his reputation stained by his lack of engagement while top assistant Jerry Sandusky was serially abusing young boys. Somehow the news never got back to The Game Show Host, seeing as how he spends so much time going bankrupt, driving entire professional football leagues into the ditch and putting his name on various things other people build for him.

Look. I don't blame Donny. He was born to privilege and, along with the sense of entitlement that too often comes with that, he wears the blinders of the born to privilege. He also wears, these days, the blinders of the politician, whose focus is solely on what all of us can do to help him get elected.

This is why it's always been the Blob's official position that politicians should never try to woo the voters by pretending to be Like Them, especially when being Like Them means talking sports. Most politicians don't know jack hooey about sports, simply because sports isn't on their radar. The only presidents in my lifetime who could intelligently talk sports were Richard Nixon (a devoted NFL fan) and Barack Obama, an ESPN junkie who can talk hoops with the best of them.

(And who, by the way, has never pandered to the voters by pretending allegiances he didn't have. He's a White Sox fan and he makes no apologies for it. And once, while in Wisconsin, he told the crowd that, yeah, the Packers were pretty good that season, but the Bears were gonna get 'em next season).

As for everyone else ... well, there are numerous examples of gruesome collisions between politicians and sports. There was the time John Kerry bellowed "How 'bout those Buckeyes?" to an audience of Michigan fans. And there was that other time (speaking of pandering) Hillary Clinton, who grew up in Chicago as a Cubs fan, pretended to be a Yankees fan while running for the Senate in New York.

She should have lost her Cubs fan card for that one. No Cubs fan worthy of being called such would ever stoop so low as to profess admiration for the (bleeping) Yankees.

Or for Joe Paterno. Especially if, you know, you're a little fuzzy on his current status.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Exit, stage astounding

And now Politically Incorrect Man rises up this glorious morning, asking indelicate questions. He simply will not stay in his box, Politically Incorrect Man. Houdini had nothing on him.

And so here he is, a few short hours after Kobe Bryant signed off on his career by dropping 60, yes, 60, on the Utah Jazz: "Was that a legit 60 or an All-Star Game 60?"

And also: "After all, he took 50 shots. Even Kobe's dad could still put up numbers if he jacked up 50 shots."

I have to admit it.: I really did think this, if only briefly. And -- be honest, now -- so did you, if only briefly.

But then I thought some more, and I came to the conclusion it doesn't matter. The man hung 60 on a legitimate NBA team in a legitimate NBA game. He outscored the entire Jazz team 23-21 in the fourth quarter. And he singlehandedly brought the Lakers back from the dead to notch the "W."

I don't care if he did take 50 shots to do all that. I don't care if the Jazz were only half-trying to stop him (although, down the stretch in a game they were leading, it's hard to imagine they weren't trying just a little). He still did it. After 20 years in the league, and with a body that has been broken irretrievably by those 20 years, he somehow reached back and gave us one last night of vintage Kobe on the last night of a vintage career.

Name me someone else, in the same situation,  who did anything remotely like it. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Truth serum here: I am not a Kobe Bryant fan. I still wonder what happened with that young woman in that hotel room in Colorado. I wonder why she backed out of testifying (although it isn't that hard to figure out, given Kobe's celebrity and her lack of same). I wonder why Kobe wound up settling with her in a civil suit if the entire encounter was completely innocent.

So, there's that. And there's the fact that putting up 50 shots in his last game was completely in character for him. And there's the fact that numerous people in a position to know think he's not particularly a prince of a guy.

But on the last night of his career, he did something legendary. As befits a legend.

So props to him. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Things remembered, or not

Two days from now all of baseball will wear 42 again, honoring the man who made it one of the game's religious artifacts. The liturgy will pour forth again, all the old stories about sacrifice and pain and the uplifting of baseball into the modern age. Bottomless reservoirs will fill with words about Jackie Robinson and his meaning, who he was and his impact on America As A Whole.

Some of those words will actually be true.

Or almost true. Or not entirely obscured in a haze of myth.

Here is what happens when a man's life has the sort of impact Robinson's did: Human nature compels us to make it even more impactful than it actually was. The man becomes a saint, and his life the life of a saint. And in a strange sort of way, it diminishes him.

Thought about this the other night while watching the second part of the two-part Ken Burns doc about Jackie, because the best part about it was it did not mythologize him. If he was the man who became a living symbol of civil rights activism, he was also a Republican who refused for too long to see that his party had no place for such activism. And if he continued, for the rest of his life, to fight for civil rights, he struggled to find his place within the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which forgot what he symbolized and sometimes ridiculed him as out of touch.

His life in its last decade had its sorrow and its failures, revealing that baseball's saint was also a flawed human being who made mistakes and sometimes miscalculated. And yet, in doing so, it somehow made his life even more a life to be celebrated.

If he was the man compelled to hold in his outrage through that long summer of 1947, he was also the man who fully released it thereafter, playing with an uncompromising fierceness and speaking against baseball's continuing racial inequities with bluntness. The latter, in retrospect, was even more courageous than the former, because Robinson was speaking to a nation not ready to hear him. In reaction, some of the same writers who championed him in '47 came to loathe him, to call him a whiner and a complainer and weary of him because he simply would not shut up.

He was, it seemed, no longer The Good Negro. What he was, instead, was what he'd always been: A man in full, imbued with a finely honed sense of justice and the courage to speak out when justice was not being served.

Not a saint. Not an icon. Not a number to be worn by all of baseball as some holy relic. A man.

But, dear lord, what a man.


Goodbye to all that

Sometimes the cosmos just lines up, despite what you may have heard.  The acolytes of chaos theory be hanged, there is order to the universe after all, a certain  neatness not often found in nature -- particularly in, say, the bedrooms of  teenagers.

And so, welcome to Los Angeles, everyone.

Where tonight Kobe Bryant plays the last game of an NBA career of rare depth and substance. And where, in another part of town, an 88-year-old man settles in behind the microphone in the first blush of his own sunset walk.

That man would be Vin Scully, and if there is a singular Voice of Baseball he is it, if not the voice of an entire American epoch. When he began calling Dodgers games 67 years ago, Jackie Robinson was still playing, Dem Bums still played in Ebbets Field and Harry Truman was president. The Korean War hadn't happened yet. Vietnam hadn't. And the current president wouldn't be born for another dozen years.

Now Ebbets Field is long gone, and Jackie is, and whatever passed for both American innocence and American civility has vanished. Buffoons and lunatics vie for Harry Truman's office now. Demagoguery is celebrated rather than hooted off the stage and back to the dark corners where it belongs. And still Vin Scully calls balls and strikes and evokes endless summer, having outlasted 11 presidents and the Soviet Union and responsible discourse in American politics -- but not, alas, racial inequality, divide-and-conquer fear-mongering and the unceasing drumbeat of war.

Here's something else Vin Scully hasn't outlasted, thankfully: The notion that for all the technological advancement in presenting the game, baseball's best medium remains radio.

It is a game the mind's eye has always seen clearest, and it is the Vin Scullys who have always been its best guides. The porch-swing rhythms of the game are perfectly paired with the porch-swing rhythms of those voices murmuring from the radio on a summer afternoon or night. They are the voices we fell asleep to, and the voices we listened to on the sly on October afternoons, transistor radios tucked away from the prying eyes of the commandant at the front of the classroom.

Vin Scully was that voice then if you were a Dodgers fan, and he is still that voice. He is the bridge that spans Jackie and Yasiel Puig, the connective tissue that binds Carl Erskine to Sandy Koufax to Fernando Valenzuela to Clayton Kershaw. He is the background music that played while America went from Korea to Vietnam to the fall of the Berlin Wall to the fall of the towers on 9/11.

Vin Scully's journey spans all of that. What he has seen, from his perch high above the changeless geometry of the diamond, very few people have been privileged to see.  And when October comes and he signs off for the last time, entire eras of history will sign off with him.

The silence, needless to say, will be deafening.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A lovely day at the ballpark

So, you think you had a good day yesterday?

Bill Dugan had a better one.

The Tigers season ticketholder caught five, count 'em, five, baseballs hit into the stands in the Tigers' 7-4 loss to Pittsburgh, and he didn't have to wrestle a single one away from some little kid (a depressing baseball meme these days, it seems). In fact, Bill did just the opposite: He gave all five away to kids who were sitting around him.

Of course, he says he has 200-300 baseballs at home already. So it's not like he needed five more.

A sentiment with which his spouse (if he's married) would no doubt agree.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Bowled over

Well, this is dismaying. Or at least it is to those of us who still pine for the days of the Poulan Weed Eater Independence Bowl, the single greatest bowl game ever devised by man.

What's that you say? There isn't a those-of-us who pine for that?

Well, all the Blob has to say about that is, y'all got no soul. I mean, if the NCAA's decided 41 bowl games are enough for awhile, what reason is there for your Styrofoam Tech Fightin' Widgets to even take the field this fall for their legendary coach, Willard "5-7" Slobberknocker?

I mean, the way things were trending, Coach Slobberknocker's signature season would have gotten the Fightin' Widgets into a bowl game this year, on account of three below-.500 teams got into bowls last year. And not just any bowls, but bowls such as the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and the Sears Craftsman Rock Hammer Bowl, sponsored by Andy Dufresne and Associates, Zihuatanejo, Mexico. 

Only one of which I totally made up.

The rest are all real, which suggests maybe the NCAA finally saw beyond the dollar signs this time, a significant departure for an organization whose vision is always fogged by the bottom line. For the powers-that-be to say "enough" is groundbreaking stuff considering the prevailing opinion, which is that the NCAA not only couldn't spell "enough," it didn't even know how it was pronounced.

Best guess was "more."

But to the surprise of everyone, even the NCAA has limits when it comes to cashing in on its unpaid labor. And so there will be no return of Poulan Weed Eaters for at least three years.

No Twizzlers Artificial Coloring Added Bowl. No Velveeta Processed Cheese Product Bowl. No They're Always After Me Lucky Charms Leprechaun Bowl, whose ingenious business model -- invite Notre Dame every year -- would no doubt be squelched by Notre Dame's preference for a bowl with some real prestige.

Like, say, the Cure Frostbite Today Extremities Bowl in Minot, North Dakota.

Gonna miss that one.

Nature of the beast

We know why we watch. We watch for the same reason other people (Never us! Heavens, no!) slow down to look at car crashes.

This is the ugly truth about the Masters, which did yesterday what the Masters does so well: Torture good men's souls. The back nine on Sunday is always the most compelling nine holes in golf, because that's when things fall apart, the center does not hold and other stuff written by T.S. Eliot happens.

They don't call it Amen Corner because it's the answer to a golfer's prayers, after all. They call it Amen Corner because it's frequently where you don't have a prayer.

And so here was Jordan Spieth, sailing along, kind of, your defending Masters champion and the leader of the last seven Masters rounds played, which surely must be some species of record. He had a five-shot lead as he made the turn into the Corner. No one was really making a run. All he had to do was hold it together on the back nine and ...


Shouldn't have said the magic words: "back nine."

Because first he bogied No. 10. Then he missed a par putt and bogied No. 11. Then he went at the flag on the par-3 12th and dunked it in the water ... after which he dunked it in the water again ... after which he crawled away with a quadruple-bogey 7, never to see the lead again.


And, hello, Danny Willett, who wasn't even sure he was going to play in the Masters until a week or so ago, because his wife was about to give birth. But she gave birth on March 30, and Willett went off to the Masters, where he was pretty much a face in the crowd until the Masters decided to get all Masters-ly on the back nine.

All of a sudden there he was in Butler Cabin with Jordan Spieth, who was putting the green jacket on him that had seemed for most of the weekend to be Spieth's exclusive property.

You could say that was just the Masters being the Masters, and it was. But it was also history rising up, as it so often does at Augusta. What happened Sunday afternoon, after all?

Greg Norman happened.

Norman, who unraveled on Amen Corner in 1996, blew a six-shot lead and lost to Nick Faldo, an Englishman, who shot a 5-under 67 in the final round.

Fast forward to Sunday, when Spieth unraveled on Amen Corner, blew a five-shot lead and lost to
Willett, an Englishman who shot ... a 5-under 67.

Never let it be said that the Masters doesn't have a feel for history. And a sense of humor.

A twisted sense of humor, of course. But, still.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

And so it begins

Well, boy, howdy. Like we didn't know this was coming.

Like we didn't know, deep in our soul of souls, that heresy never goes unpunished, particularly in regards to baseball. And so the ultimate heresy -- that somehow the Cubs were, you know, good now, and competent, and making every move impeccably -- was going to get its payback at some point.

And so, a week into the season, Kyle Schwarber's on the shelf for the rest of it. No more bombs. No more hallowed launches left atop scoreboards, like footprints preserved on the moon. And, back of it all, a sudden, uneasy feeling that the baseball gods, duly affronted, might be just starting with the torment.

What's next? An outbreak of Tommy John surgery among all those glittering Cubs arms? An ill-timed case of the past-his-primes for Ben Zobrist? More ACLs getting KIA'ed?

Grim signs and evil portents have always swirled about the tenants of Wrigley Field, cruel heartache waiting just offstage for the perfect hideous moment. All that looking up for the Cubs? Why, it has to be a setup for the long fall down, doesn't it? I mean, they are the Cubs, right?

Think about it: First, Schwarber exits, stage left. And this morning, as the news hits, we rise to a suddenly counterfeit April, the ground white with snow.

Well. I guess we all know what that means, don't we, Cubs Nation?

Winter is coming.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Yips on steroids

We've all been where Ernie Els was on the first green at Augusta yesterday.

OK, so some of us have been where he was.

OK ... so hardly any of us have been where he was.

Where he was, was three measly feet away from a routine par, and then the cosmos cracked open. He missed the putt. Then he missed the comeback putt. Then he missed another putt ... another ... another, before the hole stopped dancing around and held still long enough for him to jar it.

Mark it 9, Dude. With six putts from three feet.

This was the starkest example of what golfers have always known, which is that the game is an unrepentant bastard that allows you to occasionally feel you've got it figured out before cruelly yanking the rug out from under you. What's that, Ernie Els? You're one of the most accomplished golfers in the world, and a profoundly decent human being besides? Screw you.  Instead of Ernie Els, we're gonna turn you into Ernie from accounting (on national TV, no less!), who only took up golf because he "thought it looked like fun."

Yeah, well. We got your fun right here, pal.

And so Ernie putted, and putted, and ... putted. And every golfer with a soul cringed. Because, as every golfer knows, this is what golf is. It's not "fun." It's not even a good walk spoiled. It's a test of man's (or woman's) ability to control his or her inner 3-year-old. And everyone fails it occasionally.

One day you're an actual grownup people can take out in public; the next, you shoot quintuple-bogey and wind up throwing your clubs into the nearest pond one by one, all the while shrieking, "Let's see how well you can swim, bleeping bleepers."

To Els' great credit, he didn't do that yesterday, although he said he briefly thought about walking off the course after his six-putt. Then he said a few things every golfer who's ever swung a club could relate to.

"It's hard to putt when you've got snakes in your head," is one thing he said.

"You make some stuff up in your brain, you know, it's difficult," is another thing he said.

"It's something that, what holds you back from doing your normal thing? I don't know what it is," is one more thing he said.

Yeah, well, Ernie, that's OK. None of us knows what it is sometimes.

It's that thing golfers call the "yips," although that seems a trifle understated for what happened to Els yesterday. Yips on steroids, perhaps. What yips would be if they morphed into some incurable contagion. Something.

At any rate, they did a good man dirty yesterday. And now it's on to today, where defending Masters champion Jordan Spieth will try to build on his two-stroke lead after shooting 6-under in the first round and looking as if he'd never put up a bogey again.

Somewhere, Golf just chuckled.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The world turned upside down

There's something fundamentally wrong with the world when people in Toronto soon will be watching baseball while people in Miami will still be watching hockey.

One Blob's opinion.

Look. I get it. Hockey's global now, infiltrating even places where it once would have fit like mukluks in Tahiti. And so this won't be the first time we'll be watching the Stanley Cup playoffs emanating from Jerryville, the Florida Gulf Coast or the country music capital of the world.

Because, yes, Dallas, Tampa Bay and Nashville have all secured playoff berths. Ditto Florida, Anaheim and Los Angeles, where the Kings have won two of the last four Stanley Cups.

Hockey's as regular a thing there now as red carpets. They even played an outdoor game there, a couple of hockey teams skating around in 70-degree weather while the fans sat and watched in shorts and Oakleys.

Mystery, Alaska, it wasn't.

Nor Edmonton, Calgary or Montreal, for that matter. Which is what makes this all seem freshly weird, all of a sudden.

See, it's not so much that they'll be playing hockey (and perhaps hoisting the Stanley Cup) well into May in Florida and California. It's that they won't be playing hockey (or hoisting the Stanley Cup) in the place where the sport is the staff of life itself.

For while Florida and Tampa Bay are in, all of the Canadian teams are out, playoff-wise. Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver: None will make the playoffs this year. So, yes, they'll be outdoors watching the Blue Jays execute the hit-and-run while people on South Beach are indoors watching the Florida Panthers execute the hit and ... hit.

And that is some strange business.

It's as if, a month hence, they decided to run the 100th Indianapolis 500 on a go-kart track in Nepal instead of at the Speedway, the most famous race course in the world. It's as if the Red Sox decided to play all their home games in Wembley Stadium instead of Fenway Park. It's as if ...

Oh, heck. I don't know. It's as if Donald Trump decided to run for President, and people actually took him seriously.

Oh. Wait.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A few brief thoughts on That Golf Tournament

I could write today about the UConn women winning their 900th straight national title or something, but only by 31points, so it's not like they're the Yankees and everyone else is Chico's Bail Bonds. More like they're the Yankees and everyone else is, um, I don't know, maybe the Pizza Hut Little League All-Stars from Piscataway, N.J.

But enough about absurd dominance. Let's talk about the polar opposite instead.

Let's talk about the Masters, the Blob's favorite golf tournament, which begins tomorrow in Augusta. According to those who keep track of such things, approximately 50 guys have a shot at winning this week, including, perhaps, some who are currently dead at the present time. What that means is this Masters is shaping up to be even more awesome than it usually is, and certainly more awesome than it was back when Tiger Woods was winning by a dozen strokes every other year or so.

Tiger won't be playing this week, so he likely won't be your winner. But Jason Day, the hottest player in the game right now, could be. So could Charl Schwartzel and Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler. So could Brooks Koepka. So could Dustin Johnson. So could Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott and Paul Casey and Brandt Snedeker, and also the defending champion, Jordan Spieth.

Spieth won so easily last year it's hard to pick against him. Then again, nobody's talking about Rory McIlroy, so he'll probably win. Or Bubba Watson will because he always plays well here. Or Phil Mickelson will because he's been known to play well here, too.

The Blob?

Well, the Blob has its own Masters favorites. Though not the kind you're thinking of, naturally.

In order, they are:

1. Azaleas.

2. Rae's Creek.

3. Butler Cabin.

4. Rory McIlroy hitting Butler Cabin with his tee shot.

5. The tinkling piano music that accompanies "A tradition unlike any other."

6. Rory McIlroy hitting Butler Cabin with his tee shot while accompanied by tinkling piano music.

7. Amen Corner.

8. Amen Corner on Sunday afternoon, with all the bodies strewn about among the azaleas.

9. Such as Rory McIlroy. Or maybe Greg Norman.

10. And speaking of Greg Norman ... Jack Nicklaus.

And, no, not because Jack Nicklaus, at the decrepit age of 46, came out of nowhere to win his sixth green jacket in 1986 after Norman blew a third-round lead. That was nothing. Much better was what happened to him yesterday.

What happened was the most fabled golfer in American history, a man who had won, remember, six green jackets, drove up to the gate at Augusta National and was asked to show his ID by a security guard who didn't recognize him.

I love this story. I love everything about it. I love it, mainly, because it says everything you need to know about Augusta National, where not even Jack freakin' Nicklaus can get in the gate without showing his ID.

That's because the security guard was probably 20 and really didn't know who he was. Or it was because getting on the premises during Masters week is like getting into the Kremlin.

I prefer the latter explanation. Just because the whole Kremlin thing is what makes the Masters so special; this is the place, remember, that once threatened to throw CBS off the broadcast because one of its commentators (I think it was Jack Whitaker, but don't hold me to it) referred to the gallery as a "mob." And not even in a nasty way, either.

I love that. I love the sheer mindless bullheadedness of it, the comically inflated sense of its own importance. I love that it's A Tradition Unlike Any Other, even though there are creeks and green grass and azaleas in other places, too.

Of course, those other places aren't the Masters. So there.

So love it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Get off his lawn

So another senior citizen has shaken his bony fist at the Golden State Warriors, and no surprise this time. This time, it's one of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls doing it -- the Bulls whose 72-10 record that season is within arm's length of the Warriors, who need to go 5-1 in their last six games to go 73-9 and break the Bulls' record.

And so, let's wheel Scottie Pippen out and see what Gramps has to say about that.

Why, we'd have swept the Warriors, is what he says.

What the Blob says about that is, um, probably not.

A lot would depend on which defensive rules you were playing by, the '90s rules or the 2016 rules. Because the '90s rules were, well, different. Or to put it another way: You could cheat.

The get-off-my-lawn crowd frequently points out that NBA teams don't play defense anymore, which is why a slip of a thing like Steph Curry can get open for all those 3s. This is the usual amnesia at work, because what the get-off-my-lawn crowd forgets is how much blatantly illegal stuff you were allowed to get away with back in the day. And that was especially true in the '90s, the Decade of I Got Your Hand Checks Right Here.

You had to see it up close to realize just how much defenders were allowed to get away with in those days, something I had the opportunity to do one night in Indianapolis. I was at a Pacers game because they were playing the Bucks, and I was there to do a column on Bucks assistant Gerald Oliver, the longtime Fury coach who finally got his shot at the big time when he was 62 years old.

Anyway, my seat was within spitting distance of the floor. And I remember being astounded at how much defenders were allowed to clutch, grab and all but water-ski behind Reggie Miller while clinging to his jersey. Miller had to literally shove defenders out of the way to create space for himself.

"Where's the whistle?" I kept thinking, until I realized this was simply the way NBA teams played defense in those days.


Now, you're compelled, mostly, to play defense the correct way -- which is to say, with your feet. It's why the Old School Joes think nobody plays defense anymore. They do. And Golden State's better than most at it.

Which is why I think it's absurd to believe the '90s Bulls would sweep the Warriors, especially playing by today's rules. Because all the talk about how Steph 'n' them would score against the Bulls obscures the fact that the Bulls would have to score against them.  And that wouldn't be easy, either.

So who would win?

Probably the Bulls, because they had Michael Jordan and Golden State doesn't. But given the '95-'96 Bulls needed six games in the finals that year to beat a Seattle team that was good but hardly great, to think they'd sweep the Warriors is ... well, not terribly realistic.

Sorry, Scottie.

Saving March. Or not.

So apparently Kris Jenkins saved the day, and that's not all. Heck, he saved March Madness!

Or so one of several narratives went, after Villanova won by 44 and North Carolina by 17 in the national semifinal games. The narrative was, March hadn't been Mad enough. It had been, ahem, boring. Two blowouts in the national semis only sealed the deal.

If only, the narrative continued, 'Nova and North Carolina could put on a show in the title game. Then, maybe, this Sominex of a March could be redeemed.

Well ...

Well, consider it redeemed. Or not.

To find a better end-of-game sequence than last night -- Marcus Paige hitting a scissor-kick three to tie it for Carolina with five seconds showing, then Jenkins winning it for 'Nova with a triple at the horn -- you have to go back to 1983, when Dereck Whittington's airball got turned into a national title for North Carolina State by Lorenzo Charles. That's still king, in the Blob's opinion, because if how purely out-of-left-field it was. But last night crowds its back bumper.

The only thing it didn't do was redeem March.

That's because March didn't really need redeeming, the narrative notwithstanding. If you watched the first weekend of the tournament -- one of the great March Madness weekends ever -- and concluded the tournament was boring, you weren't, well, watching.

I mean, you had buzzer beaters, including one from mid-court (hello Northern Iowa). You had stunning upsets (hello, Middle Tennessee State). You had heartbreaking collapses (hello, again, Northern Iowa), and an Elite Eight showdown of heavyweights masquerading as a second-round game (hello, Indiana and Kentucky).

And yet we needed Kris Jenkins to save all that? From what, precisely?

Sure, the Sweet Sixteen games weren't terribly dramatic, and there were those semifinal blowouts. But there are always games in the Madness that aren't terribly dramatic, and there are always blowouts. And, like it or not, a lot of that comes after the first weekend, which is what makes Da Tournament what it is to begin with.

And so, no, Kris Jenkins didn't save the Madness. He didn't redeem anything. All he did was give this particular March it's proper ending, given everything that happened the first weekend.

That weekend deserved what happened last night. So kudos.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Opening Day(s)

They were wearing parkas in PNC Park yesterday, but it looked like spring anyway. The sun was shining. Bats were being swung. A certain agitated Pittsburgh Pirates fan (me) was begging Mark Melancon to please for God's sake close this thing out before the St. Louis Cardinals do something Cardinal-y, like erase a four-run deficit in their last at-bats.

Well, Melancon got it done, finally, and the Pirates won 4-1 on Opening Day. Which means a 162-0 run is still possible, in much the same way a reverse one-handed slam dunk is still possible for the 61-year-old who's driving this sentence.

Which is to say, it's not bloody likely. But possible.

That's the magic of Opening Day, when everyone's undefeated and the World Series is a mortal lock. Even the Cubs still have a shot -- a line that doesn't work the way it used to, considering the Cubs are probably the odds-on favorite to actually, you know, win it all this year.

In one sense, I suppose, you can look at Opening Day and see it as fool's gold, nothing but a lot of false hope destined to be crushed somewhere down the line. But that's the curmudgeon's way of looking at things. That's the way only those with curdled souls look at things, those poor glass-half-empty unfortunates who looked at all that sunshine yesterday and only felt the cold.

For the rest of us, Opening Day was ... Opening Day. Hits. Runs. Ring-ups. Fly balls being tracked down. All the familiar patterns of the warm months, all the promise, parkas or not, that it can't stay cold forever.

It can't, you know. It won't. Eventually, we'll be sweating.

Just like, eventually, Mark Melancon will retire the doggone side.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Super Nova

So now I guess we're left to root for Villanova, those of us who don't want March Madness to lapse into complete parody. And that's OK. 'Nova hasn't won a national title since Rollie Massimino, Harold Jensen 'n' them. And Jay Wright wears some sharp suits.

But always the anarchist creeps in, that bomb-throwing imp who actually wants the whole thing to go full metal farce. And for that, you'd have to root for North Carolina, Syracuse no longer being in play.

As the Blob noted just a few days ago, it would have been especially delicious had the 'Cuse won the whole loaf, because we would have been treated to the wonderful absurdity of the NCAA handing its national championship trophy to a coach it suspended for nine games not four months ago. But Jim Boeheim lost the Academic Fraud Bowl to Roy Williams and North Carolina, and so that fine moment is in the wind.

To be replaced by what could be an equally fine moment: The NCAA handing its trophy to a program it'll be sanctioning in the near future for its part in one of the most massive cases of academic fraud ever conceived.

If you've forgotten, North Carolina was the school where, a decade and more ago, an entire fake course of study was concocted. It benefited more than just the unpaid help in men's basketball and football, but it benefited them most of all. And in a totally go-big-or-go-home kind of way.

Not for North Carolina the mere mundane, which would have involved the usual tutors-writing-papers-for-athletes dodge. Oh, no. Carolina stepped it up, replacing mere fake papers with entire fake classes.

Now there's One Shining Moment for ya.

A more authentic One Shining Moment would be for Villanova to win, which is why the decent side of the Blob will be rooting for the Wildcats. They're part of the whole rotten system, too, of course, but at least they're keeping up the proper appearances. And if they put on the kind of performance they did last night -- reaching back to the ghosts of Rollie and Harold to shoot 71 percent in a jaw-dropping 44-point demolition of Oklahoma -- they'll deserve every Shining Moment they get.

So, root for Super Nova if you want to see that. Or Carolina, if you just want to be mean.

The Blob isn't in a mean mood, so Nova it is for now. But tomorrow ...

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The quiet man

The first time I saw Eugene Parker he was punking my high school.

There were eight, seven, six seconds left in this sectional basketball game at Memorial Coliseum (yes, children, they used to play sectional games in the Coliseum), and Eugene, the best basketball player in Fort Wayne that year and still one of the best ever to come out of this city, was bringing the ball up the floor.

And now the seconds were down to five, four, three, and he was still bringing the ball up the floor. And now the seconds were down to two.

Suddenly a whistle blew.

Whistle, and a foul, because if my high school, New Haven, didn't foul Eugene, he was going to score. Everyone in the Coliseum knew it. And so Eugene, who was a junior at Concordia that year,  stepped to the line. People all around me in the New Haven student section were screaming at him to miss. And I was shaking my head.

"He's not gonna miss these," I said.

And of course he didn't.

And of course Concordia beat New Haven 56-55, or maybe 56-54.

And Eugene -- I'll never forget this -- scored 36 of Concordia's 56.

"You pretty much beat us by yourself," I always told Eugene later on, when he had become the player representative who included Rod Woodson, Emmitt Smith, Deion Sanders and any number of others among his clients, and who changed the entire landscape of the NFL with some of the deals he struck for those clients.

He died Thursday night, at the age of 60, of kidney cancer. That it came as such a shock to so many of us outside his inner circle was a measure of just how private a man he was, how nothing was ever about him nor ever should be about him.

Whenever I'd bring up that sectional game, for instance, Eugene wouldn't say anything. He'd just kind of chuckle.

"I knew you weren't gonna miss those free throws," I'd sometimes also tell him.

And Eugene would chuckle again, and then he would say something that was absolutely, positively Eugene.

"Well, you were more confident than I was, then," he'd say.

There was, see, never any chest-pounding artifice to Eugene, never any self-aggrandizement or public acknowledgment of his status, which was considerable. He might have been the most influential man in Fort Wayne, given everything, but you'd never know it. His dodging of the spotlight was both reflexive and a measure of the humility that informed everything he did, and that in a great sense was the secret to his success.

He moved in a world, after all, driven by ego. And yet he sublimated his to a startling degree. Some player representatives relish being the front man for those they represent. Eugene decided it was those he represented who should be the front men. He concentrated on doing what was best for them, and being scrupulously honest about it.

It's why he ran his empire out of a little town in Indiana instead of New York or L.A. It's why even the owners with whom he negotiated so toughly respected him. And it's why he had so many high-end clients, and why one of them, Sanders, thought so much of him he had Eugene introduce him at his Hall of Fame induction.

It's also why, speaking as a media guy, he was notoriously frustrating to deal with sometimes. The man just didn't want to talk about himself, because none of this was about him. And so he didn't want to be quoted. He didn't want to be out there in the public eye. That red light on the TV camera, the tape recorder aimed in his direction: Those were his Kryptonite.

The last time I saw him might have been the night Fort Wayne honored Rod Woodson at Parkview Field for his Hall of Fame induction. Eugene was there, but you might not have known it. I didn't run into him on the field with all the other dignitaries, after all.  I ran into him up on the concourse, far from the center of attention.

Looking on, as he always did, from the shadows. Ceding the sunlit moment, literally, to those he deemed more worthy.

And yet we know the truth, today. We know the truth so many people whose lives he touched and  made better have known forever, and that stands revealed to the rest of us only now that Eugene Parker is gone.

No one was more worthy.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Cornered and kicked

So the United States Soccer Federation says it does so treat the women right, that they get health benefits and stuff, and that the U.S. women bringing a wage discrimination suit are out of line to do so, because U.S. Soccer pays the American women more than most countries' pay their women.

On the other hand, look what day it is.

April Fool's Day does seem the perfect time for all the aforementioned nonsense, because none of it gets to the very simple and essential issue behind the women's suit: If you do equal work, you should get equal pay. Especially if it's you, and not the men, who are the face of U.S. soccer.

Don't think so?

Fine. Round up 10 random people. See how many members of the U.S. women's national team they can name. Then see how many members of the U.S. men's national team they can name. Guarantee you they can name more women than men.

And granted, that's primarily because the women's side won the World Cup last summer, and because it's been one of the top national sides in the world for some 20 years. The men, on the other hand, are still trying to gain a foothold in the World Cup medal round. It's why the men generally operate in the red while the women are the moneymakers for U.S. soccer.

This was particularly true last year, when the women generated close to $20 million more in revenue than the men did for U.S. soccer. And yet they were paid roughly four times less, despite doing the same work and being much more successful in doing so.

Which, in a true meritocracy, would mean they would be getting paid more than the men, not less.

Yet USSF's response, is, "Yeah, but we still pay you more than most countries do, and you get better benefits than the men."

Sorry, folks, but that's irrelevant. Again: Equal work, equal pay. That's it. That's the only issue here. If you do the same job the men do, you should get paid the same. Period, end of story.

And no foolin'.