Friday, September 30, 2016

Kindred spirits

In this corner, America, we have the New England Patriots, the Guys Who Always Get Away With It, the Kings of the Indefinitely Suspended Sentence, the Oceans 11 crew of National Football League.

Their Hall of Fame quarterback got busted for conspiring to monkey with the footballs in an AFC championship game. He got a four-game sitdown from the NFL for it. And so, of course, his team won't suffer a jot for it, because they're about to go 4-0 while he's sitting.

 And in this corner?

Well, it's their kindred spirits, the St. Louis Cardinals, for whom things always seem to work out, just like they do for the Patriots. You could push the Cardinals out of a plane over the Mojave Desert and somehow they'd land in the only watering hole for miles. You could strand them on a life raft in the Pacific, hundred of miles from the shipping lanes, and five minutes later they'd be rescued by a cruise ship because the captain had fallen asleep at the helm and the cruise ship had drifted hundreds of miles from the shipping lanes.

And so here the Cardinals were last night, their postseason hopes dangling by a single, fraying thread. And here they were in the ninth inning, about to lose to the lowly Reds and be all but eliminated. And here was Yadier Molina swatting a double off the Missouri Lottery sign above the left-field wall, which should have been a dead ball and should have stranded baserunner Matt Carpenter at third.

Except ...

Except none of the umps saw it.

And Carpenter kept running and scored the winning run on Molina's walk-off.

And by the time Reds manager Bryan Price caught up with the umps 30 seconds or so late to file a protest, he was deemed too late and the game was declared over.

Which means the Cardinals' playoffs hopes are still alive.

Which means, of course, that they will go on to secure one of the wild cards, beat the Cubs in the playoffs, win the National League pennant and then win the World Series.

I mean, let's face it. They're the Cardinals.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ryder Cup this, Yanks

We all know golf isn't like other sports, with its polite opera claps, reverent silence on backswings and putts and the notable lack of quality trash-talking, except for the drunk guy from Poughkeepsie who somehow managed to wangle an all-weekend pass at Augusta.

It's what makes golf the genteel sport it is, and what made Arnold Palmer so transformative for taking it out of the country clubs and into real America. And now ...

Well. Now comes Pete Willett.

He's the brother of Masters champion Danny Willett, an Englishman who's getting ready to help lead Team Europe against Team USA in the Ryder Cup. It's a fierce rivalry, the Ryder Cup, if not exactly like Texas-Oklahoma or Auburn-Alabama in football. That's because, well, it's golf.

Until Pete Willet, that is.

Who, apparently, is the Willett family version of black-sheep brother Danny Rayburn from "Bloodline" (if you're not familiar with the show, the Blob apologizes for the obscure reference). At least judging by the tweets he's been sending out lately.

Pete, you see, doesn't believe in gentility. He believes in trash talk, and probably a pint or three. It is world-class trash talk, and, in honor of the Ryder Cup, he's unleashed it on Americans. A few examples, courtesy of Deadspin:

Team USA have only won five of the last 16 Ryder Cups. Four of those five victories have come on home soil. For the Americans to stand a chance of winning, they need their baying mob of imbeciles to caress their egos every step of the way ... 

 (Team Europe) need to silence the pudgy, basement-dwelling, irritants, stuffed on cookie dough and pissy beer, pausing between mouthfuls of hotdog so they can scream ‘Baba booey’ until their jelly faces turn red ...

They need to stun the angry, unwashed, Make America Great Again swarm, desperately gripping their concealed-carry compensators ...

They need to smash the obnoxious dads, with their shiny teeth, Lego man hair, medicated ex-wives, and resentful children. Squeezed into their cargo shorts and boating shoes, they’ll bellow ‘get in the hole’ whilst high-fiving all the other members of the Dentists’ Big Game Hunt Society ...

Wow. Even slipped a "whilst" in there.

Quality. Pure qualify.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The pulpit of Pop

Gregg Popovich is not just some guy whose invitation to Springfield, Mass., and the Basketball Hall of Fame, has already been engraved. He's also a man who sees beyond the proscribed dimensions of the basketball floor, who sees all the kneeling and bowing of heads going on during the National Anthem and understands why it's happening better than most.

He also understands why so many in America don't understand it, can't see beyond the mechanics of what has evolved, frankly, into a restrained and eloquent protest. And an unstoppable one. It's now spread beyond Colin Kaepernick and the NFL to high school kids and college kids -- a considerably more courageous act for them than for Kaepernick and his fellow NFL players, because high school and college kids have zero leverage over their situation.

In all cases, it's a clash that's not so much ideological as it is experiential, because those demanding the protestors be punished simply do not have the same life realities of those who are protesting.

As Popovich explained far more eloquently than I can on the San Antonio Spurs media day.

 “At this point, when somebody like Kaepernick brings attention to this, and others who have, it makes people have to face the issue because it’s too easy to let it go because it’s not their daily experience," Popovich said in a wide-ranging interview with the San Antonio Express-News. "If it's not your daily experience, you don’t understand it. I didn’t talk to my kids about how to act in front of a policeman when you get stopped. I didn’t have to do that. All of my black friends have done that. There’s something that’s wrong about that, and we all know that. What’s the solution? Nobody has figured it out. But for sure, the conversation has to stay fresh, it has to stay continuous, it has to be persistent, and we all have a responsibility to make sure that happens in our communities.”

Duly noted.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 3

And now this week's version of "The NFL In So Many Words," the too-longstanding Blob feature variously debated by our presidential candidates as "fat and ugly," "another outrageous government boondoggle" and "vital to the interests of the underserved in America":

1. Hey, look, it's Aaron Rodgers!

2. No, really, it's him this time!

3. It's Tuesday morning and Ryan "Six Interceptions Vs. The Chiefs" Fitzpatrick says he's sorry, he didn't mean it, it was just a bad day at th--

4. Dang it. Picked off again.

5. T.Y. Hilton? He went thataway.

6. Don't mention it, Chargers. Anything to help out.

7. Carson Wentz? He's that guy playing quarterback for the Eagles.

8. Don't mention it, Steelers. Anything to help out.

9. Hey, look, it's the Vikings!

10. Not losing again!  

To an athlete. Dying young.

We have all heard the news now. We have been told, by those who knew him, just who 24-year-old Jose Fernandez was, what a special talent, what a joyous individual, what a source of pride he was to the Cuban-American community in Miami, who flooded the ballpark every time he took the hill for a so-so Marlins club that has offered few other reasons to do so this season.

There is never a darkness quite like the one that follows the extinguishing of a light -- and if it is an especially bright light, it is so much the darker when it winks out. That Jose Fernandez' light winked out far too early is far too obvious; that he was a player and a man whose influence in his brief time  extended far beyond the confines of one ballpark in one American city has become obvious only in the last two days.

And so when it came time to take the field again last night, the Marlins all wore "Fernandez 16" on their backs, and gathered around a pitcher's mound with "16" spray-painted into it, and rubbed dirt on their pants the way Fernandez -- who did it because he did it as a boy back in Cuba, where there were no rosin bags -- used to do it.  There was a moment of silence. A single trumpet played "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" in mournful cadence, a baseball version of "Taps" that brought a lump to the throat of anyone with a soul.   

And then?

And then, here came the opponents, the New York Mets, sealing the reality that this was, indeed, a loss felt far beyond Miami. They came out of their dugout unprompted, hugging every Marlin they could find. For this was, indeed, bigger than a single inconsequential game. If it was Miami's loss, it was also baseball's loss. It was a loss for the human being in all of us -- not because Jose Fernandez  was an athlete, but because youthful promise lost is always a loss for all of us.

As, I believe, this guy famously said.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Long live the King

Golf and celebrity have never really shared the same orbit. There is too much interior life to the game for that, too much that by necessity must be closed and purposeful and separate from the world -- a distance both physically and metaphorically represented by the rope that keeps the galleries away at PGA Tour events.

On this side of the rope, humanity. On the other side, golf. Or, Golf.

Arnold Palmer is the man who took down the rope.

The King went to his reward yesterday at 87, and no more impactful presence in any sport ever breathed air. Tiger Woods might have been a transcendent talent, moving the needle the way no other golfer of his time can. But Arnie changed the very relationship of the game to the larger world.

He was not, first of all, a child of privilege. The son of a groundskeeper, he grew up in the steel mill town of Latrobe, Pa., on the wrong side of that rope.  Arnie was the guy who came out of the larger world to pierce Golf's bubble, a working-class stiff who violated all of the bubble's protocols. He chain-smoked. His shirttail was an incorrigible delinquent, refusing to stay tucked in. And he attacked the golf ball with a smoldering rage and a swing that, at the top, made him look like George Armstrong Custer twirling a cavalry sword around his head as he led a charge.

No wonder his fans became known as Arnie's Army.

He opened the door and they came pouring through, and golf had never seen the like of them. That decorous rope could not contain their joy, their working-class insistence that golf was a sport, dammit, not opera or the symphony or some prim cotillion. And so they brought a football fan's yahoo mentality to it all, bursting that Golf-ish bubble for good.

Those lucky enough to chronicle Palmer's good years will tell you to this day there has never been anything like the roar Arnie's Army unleashed when their man ran in one of those knock-kneed road maps. You could be on the other side of the course, they all say, and know instantly that it was Arnie  who had just done something big.

His flair for the dramatic charge, and his connection to the masses -- he would reach across that rope and sign autographs forever, it seemed -- made him golf's first true celebrity. And, maybe, frankly, its only one. That he came along at roughly the same time television came along sealed that deal; because of what he did in front of those cameras and how he did it, he became the sort of star often produced outside of golf, but rarely within it.

Turn on your TV, and there was Arnie, selling cars or motor oil or life insurance or Xarelto. Turn it on later, and there he was with Bob Hope or Johnny Carson or even the President of the United States.

HIs celebrity was a product of his game and the uniquely raw joy with which he played it, but it was also a product of his willingness to give so much of himself to so many.  Tiger Woods, a more traditional adherent to the separateness of Golf, became a draw simply because of the bloodless efficiency of his game. Arnie was a celebrity because of who he was. One inspired merely awe; the other, love.

Maybe one day we'll see another like him. But if you've got a comfy chair at hand, you might want to use it. The wait could be a long one.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Your Stop Digging moment for today

... comes from Ken Starr, erstwhile president of Baylor University and the proud owner, apparently, of a fatally crippled judgment gene.

Not just because he oversaw his university's tacit facilitation of sexual assault by members of the Baylor football team. It's because he just doesn't know when to cut his losses.

Seems he still doesn't think Baylor had a systemic problem, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And he said so in public. He also said he thinks Baylor did football Art Briles dirty by ousting him, on account of it really wasn't his fault he wasn't accountable for what went on his program.

Or, you know, something like that.

Look. If I were Starr, or anyone else from Baylor, I wouldn't be defending Briles, and I for sure wouldn't be trying to cast him as the victim here. He's not. The young women assaulted by his players, those are the victims. He's the de facto perpetrator -- or, at the very least, a passive accomplice for looking the other way.

Trying to paint him as the victim is not just inaccurate. It's appallingly tone-deaf, not to say appallingly witless.

You know what, Ken?

If I were you -- if I were anyone involved in this sordid business -- I not only wouldn't be defending Art Briles. I wouldn't be saying anything. I'd be keeping my head down and my mouth shut.

You folks in Waco have dug yourself a deep enough hole as it is. No sense making it any deeper.

Skyfall in South Bend. Or not.

So now we come to the Blob's favorite portion of the program, Holy Crap, Duke?, aka, I Suppose Next We'll Lose To Army, aka The Spirit Of Charlie Weis Just Took The Spirit Of Knute Rockne Two Falls Out Of Three.

In other words, it's the season of angst again in the land of Touchdown Jesus.

Losing at home to a basketball school will do that, not to mention losing to Texas, not to mention getting ball-peened by Michigan State, which itself got ball-peened at home by Wisconsin yesterday. So, the Irish are 1-3 (Thanks, Nevada!). So, they are not a top-ten team after all. So, get your tickets to the St. Petersburg Bowl now, or perhaps the Quick Lane Bowl.

Meanwhile, pop a little corn and settle in for the wailing and gnashing of teeth, which is always entertaining.

Here are the basic themes this morning:

1. The defense is terrible.

2. The defensive coordinator, Brian VanGorder, is terrible.

3. The head coach, Brian Kelly, is terrible.

4. Bring back Charlie Weis.

OK, so nobody's saying No. 4, at least not yet. But the rest is pretty much the gist.

It is also your basic South Bend overreaction, and largely to be expected. Overreaction is a chronic condition at Notre Dame, because it's Notre Dame and expectation chronically exceeds reality. That's because the Irish are chronically overrated, some years more than others. This year that's especially true, because to look at this team and see a top-ten outfit was especially fanciful.

No, the Irish defense isn't very good. Yes, they're getting dominated more than occasionally up front. And, yes, the coaching could be better, particularly from the defensive coordinator position. But the VanGorder defense wasn't exactly the '85 Bears last year, giving up 24 points and 372 yards per game. But the Irish had Sheldon Day and Jaylon Smith dazzling people every Saturday, and they went 10-3  and were in the mix for the four-team playoff until losing by two points at Stanford in their last regular season game. So the grumbling about the defense was not nearly so loud.


Deafening. And there are even calls for the head of Kelly, the only Notre Dame coach in the last 27 years to get Notre Dame to a national championship game.

So ... yeah. The Irish aren't as good as people thought. But look on the bright side.

Army's still on the schedule.

Update: Notre Dame fired VanGorder this afternoon.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Dial a W

These are depressing times in the NFL, at least for that part of the NFL that doesn't live in New England. Every year we embark with high hopes that this will finally be the year when Bill Belichick -- good old Darth Hoodie; good old Mumbles McGrumbles -- goes away, no longer to plague us with all that monotonous and infuriating winning. Every year he wins again and makes the rest of the league go away.

And so to last night, when the New England Patriots, on four days rest and playing Keanu Reeves at quarterback, whipped up on the Houston Texans, who, like the Patriots, were 2-0 and coached by one of the many Belichick disciples, Bill O'Brien.

(And, yes, I know the Patriots weren't playing Keanu Reeves at quarterback. They were playing Jacoby Ellsbury, who used to play for the Red Sox. OK, so it was really Jacoby Brissett, of whom approximately .5 percent of America said, "Oh, sure, Jacoby Brissett. I know him.")

The conventional wisdom was that O'Brien, the student, finally had the teacher right where he wanted him. Of course, he didn't.

Of course, the Patriots won 27-0, and of course the rookie Brissett played like he'd started 500 NFL games and was not just someone Belichick found while rummaging around at the bottom of the depth chart. And of course the rest of the country, watching all this, was plunged into deep gloom.

"Jacoby Brissett? What the hell is a Jacoby Brissett? I swear Belichick could find some geezer rocking the day away on his front porch out in Flyspeck, New Hampshire, put a uniform on him and he'd go 22-of-29 for 265 yards and three touchdowns," the rest of the country grumbled.

That this is undoubtedly true, of course, made it all the more annoying. Fifteen years ago today, after all, Belichick's quarterback, Drew Bledsoe got hurt, and out trotted some guy named Tom Brady. Naturally, he went on to become Tom Brady, and the Patriots went on to become the Patriots.

Even more annoying, they went on to become the football equivalent of a Wells Fargo banking executive, swindling the rubes while never having a glove laid on them.

That win over the Texans, for instance?

It pushed the Patriots to 3-0 while Brady sits out four games for getting caught masterminding Deflategate. Does anyone really think they won't be 4-0 when he comes back, thereby getting clean away with it once again?

 Of course they will be. Even if they really do have to play Keanu Reeves at quarterback.

Or, you know, that guy in New Hampshire.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Things I don't understand

This just in: The Blob does not have all the answers, contrary to conventional wisdom.

There are things going on out there these days I simply do not get, more things than ever, and if this is perhaps a function of advancing age it is also a function of the irrational increasingly overwhelming the rational.

I do not get how unarmed people of color keep turning up dead in what seem to be routine traffic stops, do not get why police officers are drawing their sidearms in situations I don't remember them doing five, 10, 15 years ago.

I do not get how a guy in a helicopter can assume a large black man showing his empty hands is a bad dude, other than the obvious.

I do not get how that individual gets shot to death simply because he's acting a little twitchy, while halfway across the country, on the East Coast, a terror suspect already known to be violent somehow gets taken alive.

Something is seriously out of whack here, and it's becoming harder and harder to explain away. Although a certain segment of America continues to try.

It's a segment of America that doesn't seem at all bothered by guys with their hands in the air getting shot to death, but a football player choosing to kneel during the  National Anthem (an act of reverence in all other contexts) bothers it greatly.

Colin Kaepernick is now the most hated player in the NFL, according to recent polls, because he was the seminal kneeler. That he is doing so to call attention to all of the above -- and that peaceful and largely respectful protest of this sort has almost always been vindicated by history -- doesn't seem to matter. That certain segment of America seems blind to everything but the mechanics of the protest.

I do not get that. What I do get is that it's nothing new. Peaceful protest against social and racial injustice has evoked the same disdain from the same segment of America all throughout history, from John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising gloved fists in Mexico City to Martin Luther King marching in Selma.

Here's what else I know: That the tide is running strongly against that certain segment of America, because the desire to call attention to what has become so thunderously obvious is spreading.

More than just Kaepernick are in on this now. U.S. women's soccer team star Megan Rapinoe, defying threats of official retaliation, is kneeling. An entire high school football team in Seattle knelt a week or so ago. And last night, the entire Indiana Fever WNBA team knelt and linked arms during the National Anthem.

This is not going to go away, people. Not until there are some answers that make sense.

And if there was a time when professional athletes were largely indifferent to seeking those answers, that time is past. As Seattle Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman so clearly spelled out yesterday during his media availability.

"I’m not going to answer any questions today, and it’s no offense to you guys," Sherman said. "I think the state of things in the world today is very interesting. I think you have players that are trying to take a stand and trying to be aware of social issue and try to make a stand and increase people’s awareness and put a spotlight on it, and they’re being ignored. Whether they’re taking a knee or whether they’re locking arms, they’re trying to bring people together and unite them for a cause ...  The reason these guys are kneeling, the reason we’re locking arms is to bring people together to make people aware that this is not right. It’s not right for people to get killed in the street.

"I do a lot of community service. I go out there and try to help kids and try to encourage them to be better and to aspire to more. And when you tell a kid, 'When you’re dealing with police, just put your hands up and comply with everything,' and there’s still a chance of them getting shot and no repercussions for anyone, that’s an unfortunate time to be living. It’s an unfortunate place to be in."


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Today's Norman Dale sighting

OK, so not really. I mean, Norman Dale never recruited any of those sketchy kids from Terhune, as far as we know.

Larry Brown, however, might have, as a man who has always harbored instincts both noble and self-serving. That he's always loved his players wherever he's been has never been in question; that he's also occasionally bent rules for some for both their benefit and his own has also never been in question. Nor has his penchant for bailing on those players when a situation either went sour or something better (or seemingly better) beckoned.

The grass elsewhere has always been greener for Larry Brown. But ... high school basketball?

That's a new horizon even for the only basketball coach ever to win both an NCAA title (at Kansas) and an NBA title (with the Pistons). But apparently Brown is interested, and the East Hampton High School Bonackers on Long Island are more than willing to put a Hall of Fame coach in charge.

(And, no, your first question should not be "Why would Larry Brown want to coach a bunch of white suburban kids in a resort town in the Hamptons?" Your first question should be "What the hell is a Bonacker?")

It all calls up delicious visions of kids who are not, shall we say, conversant with the East Hampton school district suddenly turning up at East Hampton High. Brown's instinct to lend a helping hand to kids who need it (especially 6-10 kids who can ball) would no doubt make for some interesting dynamics. And what if Larry won a state title? Would the big high schools come calling?

Why, you can almost see the scenario unfolding ...

"I love it here!" exclaims Larry Brown, watching his East Hampton Whatevers run a block-out drill during the noon practice, having gotten the athletic director to fill in for him as lunchroom monitor. "It's PERFECT!"

Suddenly his phone is chirping at him.

"Yes?" he says.

"Heeey, Larry," a drawling Midwestern voice answers. "Glad I got ahold ya. This is the athletic director over here at Muncie Central High School in Indiana. Got a minute to talk?"

Larry looks out at the floor. Shrugs.

"Sure," he says.

"Listen, Larry. I wanna talk to you about coachin' the Bearcats," the Muncie AD goes on. "I don't know what you know about us, but we're one of the iconic programs in Indiana. Eight state champions, buddy. And it's Indiana, Larry! Oscar Robertson! John Wooden! Jimmy freakin' Chitwood!"

 A pause.

"Plus, I know those bleeps over at Anderson are after you. Just wouldn't do for us to get beat out by ol' Runnerup City. So whatta you say?"

Larry looks at the floor again. John Wooden! Oscar Robertson! High school basketball in Indiana!

"It's PERFECT!" he shouts.

Suddenly his phone beeps again. Larry checks the caller ID.

"Uhhh ... hang on a second, will you?"  he says.

"I got Terhune on the other line."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Little big town

So the not-really-new Los Angeles Rams played their not-really-inaugural home opener in their not-really-new digs Sunday, and it went about as you'd expect for a city that never really cared about pro football all that much, and probably won't again soon.

The not-really-new digs, the Coliseum, apparently were Not Really Up To The Task. On a 90-degree day, concessions ran out of food, water and beer in, like, the second quarter. (Really, water? How do you run out of water, especially on a hot day?). The wait to get in was apparently interminable. And once you got in, the line at the concession stands stretched back out the gates and jammed up the concourse.

It was not, shall we say, a quality NFL experience. Or even a single-A indoor football experience.

Which should have surprised no one. It is, after all, L.A.

Aka, A Not-Really-NFL-City.

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 2

And now this week's edition of The NFL In So Many Words, the no-bally, no-hoo Blob feature of which presidential candidate Gary Johnson has said "What is this 'NFL' and why does it require so many words?", and  "At least Jimmy Garoppolo didn't get hurt":

1. Jimmy Garoppolo!

2. Got hurt!

3. It's Tuesday morning and the Lions just got flagged for holding again.

4. By the zebra wearing the Marcus Mariota jersey.

5. No, officer, I haven't seen Andrew Luck.

6. Yes, I know there's still a guy out there wearing No. 12 for the Colts. But I swear it's not him.

7. And that's not Aaron Rodgers, either, by the way.

8. Hey, look, the Browns are going to wi--

9. OK, never mind.

And last but not least ...

10. Jay Cutler, you are no Carson Wentz.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The persistent voice

There is tone deaf, and then there is whatever that was at Penn State on Saturday, where they honored legendary football coach Joe Paterno on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his first game.

A bunch of former players and longtime supporters were on hand. Somehow I doubt any of Jerry Sandusky's many victims were among them.

They are the witnesses, no longer silent, who will always be there to do the necessary work of deconstructing mythology -- the noble, persistent voice that will interject the "Yes, but ..." that keeps blind eyes open and the ledger balanced. There is now testimony that Paterno knew about Sandusky's serial abuse of little boys for some 40 years, and looked the other way because he had a football program to run. And Sandusky was a hell of a defensive coordinator, at least when he wasn't giving defenseless children a lifetime of nightmares.

Honoring Paterno's legacy without acknowledging his virtual  acquiescence in Sandusky's crimes was not only appallingly inappropriate, it was dishonest, a stage play based on a work of fiction. They didn't honor his legacy Saturday; they papered over it. And on some level they all somehow had to know that.

However many games he won, whatever good he did or values he upheld while doing so, Paterno's legacy will always be judged by what he didn't do. He didn't step up when he needed to step up. He chose expediency over the right thing. He betrayed a generation of children not with his actions, but with his inaction.

And so they can fete JoePa's legacy all they want, out there in Happy Valley. But they aren't the ones who get to decide it.

As this man says here with inarguable and heartbreaking eloquence.

And, yes, I've already posted this on Twitter.  But it bears repeating.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A college football Saturday, condensed

And now a special college football version of that long-running Blob abomination, The NFL In So Many Words, of which critics are already saying "(Bleeping bleep), when is he going to STOP?" and "Who asked for this? I didn't ask for this. You didn't ask for this. Who asked for this??":

1. Overheard in South Bend: "Don't be silly. Of course we can still beat Army."

2. Overheard in South Bend, the sequel: "I don't know how you can call the season a failure when it could still end in a Belk Bowl berth."

3. Overheard in Iowa City: "OK, so explain it again. Why did we schedule the five-time FCS champs?"

4.Overheard in several Big Ten cities: "OK, explain it again. Why do we keep scheduling MAC schools?"

5. Speaking of MAC schools, Western Michigan is now 2-0 in the Big Ten. In other news, Purdue and Illinois have begun nervously wondering when they'll be relegated in favor of the Broncos.

6. Speaking of Purdue, the Boilermakers avoided losing in a big way, shutting out punchless Bye in front of the usual crowd at Ross-Ade Stadium. Which is to say, no one was there and they didn't make any noise.

7. T-shirt making its way around The Grove at Ole Miss: "We Beat Alabama 2 1/2 Years In A Row."

8.  T-shirt making its way around Tuscaloosa: "We Beat Ole Miss Like A Dozen Egg Whites The Other Half."

9. Georgia gave Wisconsin fits. Ohio State made it tough for Tennessee. Oh, wait. Make that Georgia State and Ohio.

10. Overheard in South Bend, the sequel to the sequel: "So what's Coach Brey got coming back this year?"

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Your halftime show moment for today

So Baylor knocked down Rice and stole its lunch money last night, laminating the Owls 38-10 in a game of college football that violated the sanctity of high school football Friday in the usual disgusting manner.

(No, I don't know why the NCAA insists on letting its D-I institutions play on Friday nights. Wait, actually I do. It's because college football can build an even bigger pile than the grotesque pile it already has if you let 'em play on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays and Fridays as well as Saturdays. And so up yours, high school football. Here's a nice charitable donation or two to soothe those ruffled feathers).

Where was I again?

Oh, yeah. Baylor, mounting Rice on the wall. Which was OK, because the Rice band got the Bears back at halftime. Got 'em good.

In the midst of their performance, see, the Owls tootlers formed an "IX" on the field, and also a star. It was a not-at-all-veiled shot at the way Baylor, and its former president Ken Starr, whizzed all over Title IX while elevating the greater good of Art Briles' football program over what should have been the greater good, which was protecting Baylor's female students from Briles' football players.

(Briles, by the way, is currently touring the country on the standard Redemption Tour, with the obvious goal of buffing up his image enough that someone might hire him again someday. It's not going well. This is mainly because Briles has not exactly been convincing in his contrition. He's apologized, but won't say for what. No doubt this is on advice of counsel, but if so, it's lousy advice. Without details, apologies tend to ring as hollow as echoes in the Grand Canyon.)

Anyway ... the Rice band hit harder than the football team.  And you know the most delicious thing about that?

Baylor's behavior in the whole affair has been so egregious, no one from the Baylor side could even hit back. The athletic director, for instance, had no comment. After all, what could he say?

And so he said nothing. Which, upon further reflection, might have been the smartest move to come out of Waco in a long time.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Cubs autumn

Well ... maybe, anyway.

(And, no, I'm not trying to be mean, or to feng any Cubs fan's well-deserved shui. I'm just a bitter old man. It's the consequence of rooting for a baseball team -- yes, the Pittsburgh Pirates, you know that -- that won 98 games last year and unaccountably haven't been able to get out of their own way this year. Last I looked, they were, like, 50 games behind the Cubs. I honestly don't know how this happened.)

Where was I again?

Oh, yeah. Cubs autumn.

That it's been a Cubs summer is undeniable, because it's been a summer unseen in Wrigleyville since John Dillinger was getting smoked outside the Biograph. Besides clinching their first NL Central title since 2008 (which they did last night), the 2016 Cubs are on pace to post their best winning percentage since 1935 (they're on track to finish at .637). Their starters' ERA of 2.89 would be their best since 1933. And they're pace to finish with a plus-258 run differential, which would be their biggest since 1906.

When, you know, Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown and Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance were still playing.

And when, ahem, they were two years away from winning the World Series in 1908.

Which, as we all know, is the last time the Cubs won the Series, blah-blah-blah, yada-yada-yada.

So there is this inevitable sense now that This Is It. The Cubs are doing things they haven't done in 81, 83, 110 years. How could this end any other way now than with them doing something they haven't done in 108 years?

Of course, being the Cubs (and because I'm a bitter old man), this could just be their biggest setup of all time, too.

Time to cue this again ...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

No return policy

Two things we know by now about the play that enabled Central Michigan to upset Oklahoma State in Stillwater last weekend:

1. It's likely to be the play of the year in college football.

2. And it shouldn't have counted.

Yes, the officials shouldn't have allowed the Chippewas that extra, final, winning snap, a transgression for which that officiating crew has been suspended. But, yes, it was an utterly awesome play -- Come on, a Hail Mary followed by a lateral for the touch? Who's ever pulled that off before?  -- and that's probably part of why no one in a capacity to do so is going to reverse the outcome and give Oklahoma State the "W."

(The other part is, you really can't go back and change history. Or, in this case, make history. I can't think of any time, anywhere, that a game result has been reversed because of a bad call. So it would set an historical precedent to do so.)
Of course, that hasn't stopped some people from wishing it would happen.

And so we come to this editorial in the Oklahoma State student newspaper, which basically says Central Michigan is an institution of low standards and morals because it won't, you know, give back the win. A school with any integrity, the editorial editorializes, would do so.

This of course conveniently ignores the fact that, if the roles were reversed, Oklahoma State would be even more disinclined to voluntarily surrender the "W." Right, a Big 12 school with postseason bowl aspirations (or, more to the point, postseason bowl money aspirations) is going to give up a win -- especially a win over a MAC school, which is supposed to be one of those automatic Ws with which Power 5 schools like to gaudy up their won-lost records. The day that happens is the day Nick Saban coaches a game in a tutu.

So it's absurd to think Central would just surrender a win over a Big 12 school out of the goodness of its heart. It is, after all, hoping for a bowl payday, too. That's the guiding principle of college football on the corporate level. You want sentimental notions about fair play, stick to the movies.

Sorry, kids. Admire your idealism, but once again it loses.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Your "oops" moment for today

So, let's say -- and this is just supposin' understand -- you caught the running/health/masochism bug, a few months back.

(Hey, it happens. No, I don't know why. As someone who ran cross country extremely poorly back in the day, I wouldn't know why anyone would develop a jones for running long distances. It hurts, for one thing.)

Anyway ... let's say you caught the bug. And you decided, somewhere along the line, that you were Going To Run A Marathon. (Again ... why?) So you train for months and months and months, running in all sorts of mean weather, even entering a few half-marathons just to build up to it. And finally the big day comes.

And then ...

And then, this happens.

Seriously? A train?

This is quite simply the dumbest thing to happen to marathon running since Rosie Ruiz. It's like Mildred the crossing guard stepping onto the track in the middle of the Indianapolis 500 and holding up her little stop sign because the schoolkids from Millard Fillmore Elementary have to cross turn three to get there. It's like someone stopping the Kentucky Derby in the middle of the backstretch for  a bake sale. It's like ...

Oh, heck. It's like having to stop a marathon for a train.

And here I thought stuff like this only happened in New Haven.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 1

And now the triumphant return of The NFL In So Many Words, the longtime Blob staple of which critics have said "'Staple?' Is that like a stomach staple?" and "Can we just 'staple' this to the author's forehead?":

But first, this:

1. Jimmy Garoppolo is the greatest thing since sliced bread!

2. Dak Prescott is the greatest thing since sliced multigrain bread!

3. Carson Wentz is the greatest thing since that really good crusty bread they serve in Italian restaurants!

4. RG III II Point Oh is the greatest thing since ... OK, now you're just being silly.

5. Complete this sentence: The Detroit Lions went through the Colts D at the end like ...

6. That familiar sick feeling in the pit of a Browns fan's stomach as he watched RGIII II Point Oh.

7. Sherman through Georgia.

8. A samurai sword through papier mache.

9. That familiar sick feeling in the pit of a Colts' fan's stomach as he watched the Lions go through the Colts D like all of the above.

And last but not least ...

10. Don't fret, L.A. Someday you'll get a pro football team.

Monday, September 12, 2016

(Checkered) flag route

So maybe you missed it the other night, but Tennessee and Virginia Tech played a college football game, and Kyle Busch started at quarterback for the Vols. Brad Keselowski, an angular, sneaky-fast wideout, caught two touchdown passes for Virginia Tech. And bulldozing fullback Martin Truex Jr. ran for 135 yards and a couple of scores for Tennessee, which won a big one for head coach Tony "Headbutt" Stewart.

OK. So not really.

You could have been forgiven for thinking so, though, on account of Tennessee and Virginia Tech did not play in a football stadium. They played at Bristol Motor Speedway, a venue far more familiar with Busch and Keselowski 'n' them.

Yeah, it was weird. Yeah, the football field, laid out in the infield inside the track, looked like a strip of green felt in the bottom of a punchbowl. The fans sat what looked to be miles away away; from there, the Vols and Hokies playing football must have resembled an ant farm on Red Bull.

The layout, frankly, reminded me a lot of the first event staged in the old Hoosier Dome, when the 1984 U.S. Olympic basketball team played an exhibition game. They plunked the court down right in the middle of the football field. From the press box (and from the stands), it looked like an aircraft carrier cruising through the Pacific.

But, hey. They drew a huge crowd, even if the air conditioning wasn't working real well and some of the bathrooms had ... well, let's just call it "a Niagara problem."

 Bristol had no such issues, and it enabled Tennessee-Virginia Tech to set an all-time NCAA football attendance record of 156,990. It also inspired flights of fancy from those particularly disposed to such aeronautics, including the guy driving this sentence.

I mean, if they can play college football at Bristol, why couldn't they play football at the most famous motorsports facility in the world?

I'm betting people would play good money to watch the Old Oaken Bucket Game in the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- or, if you wanted to stage an actual college football game there, perhaps Notre Dame-USC. Now that would be a Shamrock Classic: You put the field where the infield parking is on race days, you turn Gasoline Alley into a premium tailgating area, and you make the media park in Crawfordsville and cover the game via closed-circuit TV in a tent in turn three (a soon-to-become new Indy tradition, I'm betting).

And instead of the Shamrock Classic, you change the name to something more appropriate The Gentlemen Start Your Cover Twos Classic, perhaps. Or The Ray Harroun We'll Be Back After A Word From Our Sponsors Classic, considering Harroun's time in winning the first 500 (6 hours, 42 minutes) is roughly the same length as a Notre Dame football game these days.

And after Notre Dame wins 42-39 thanks to a late splash-and-go?

Well, then, USC head coach A.J. "Ball-Peen" Foyt gets up in the postgame, scowls his best A.J. scowl, and gripes that the Trojans would have won easy if "that damn Coogan" hadn't kept jumping offsides.

Or, you know, something like that.

Stand-up guys

Some of them knelt, heads bowed, on this Sunday fraught with meaning. Some of them stood, arms linked with their teammates. At least one raised his fist as the last echoes of the National Anthem faded.

So much symbolism, on 9/11. So much to be said in so few words.

It is not just Colin Kaepernick saying it now, after all,and there are far more eloquent words to go with the far more nuanced wordless gestures. And if it's hard to say if more people are listening to the message now, they are at least not shouting so loudly over it.

 So maybe what Kaepernick first did a month ago -- fail to stand for the National Anthem -- has at least partly served its intended purpose, which is open a dialogue about the inequality of justice in America.

The argument from the start was that Kaepernick's chosen form of protest was a bad one, because, if it achieved the necessary goal of all protest -- to provoke a reaction -- it was so inflammatory that the reaction overwhelmed the message. But the message seems to be getting out there regardless.

That's because more voices than Kaepernick's are being raised now, and it's become abundantly clear that there is more going on in NFL locker rooms than poring over game plans. People, and more than a few, have been thinking seriously and soberly about these issues, and they've been doing a lot of it. And it is not because they hate America or consider themselves oppressed or have a beef with "the troops," around whom simple gratitude has morphed into an almost cultish mania.

Hard to say when it happened -- maybe 9/11 was the trigger -- but at some point honoring America became almost exclusively about honoring "the troops," which it really isn't at all. And so the players who are kneeling or linking arms are compelled to explain patiently that no disrespect to the troops is intended. Or, on 9/11, that there was no intent to dishonor the memory and the sacrifice of that transformative day.

Which gets us back to symbolism.

No day on the calendar in America is more freighted with symbolism than 9/11, nor more instructive of its impact or its ambiguity. The players kneeling during the anthem, for instance, were adopting the same pose for which Tim Tebow became famous. That's because it's an attitude of reverence and contemplation -- as it also was for the players who knelt yesterday. Only the context was different, which is why Tebow was hailed and the players are not.

Tebow, after all, was embodying a concept (religious conviction) with which America is comfortable. The players are attempting to shed light on America's inequities, a concept with which America largely is not.

But there is a note of respect in kneeling or standing with arms linked that isn't there in merely sitting. One can, in fact, reasonably ask if it's any less respectful than merely standing. And so if the message accompanying it is a thoughtful one, as it largely has been, maybe the dialogue sought is a dialogue begun.

"It's our job as professional athletes to make a positive impact on our communities and to be proactive when change is needed," read a statement released Sunday by the Chiefs on behalf of the players, who stood with arms linked during the anthem. "Together we are going to continue to have conversations, educate ourselves and others on social issues and work with local law enforcement officials and leaders to make an impact on the Kansas City community."

That, friends and neighbors, is how you make a constructive difference. And if a symbolic gesture helps get that started ...

Well. Kneel on. There is, after all, nothing more American.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The names speak

We went to where it happened on a clear morning in August, the kind that brings up an ache even 15 years after that murderous September day. It is a lush, contemplative place now, with shade trees and benches and the two reflecting pools, water spilling down the sides like silver murmuring embroidery.

Two pools, two peaceful footprints where the towers stood that day. And around them the names etched in smooth slanting steel, all those names, all those lost and blameless souls.

Pretty soon, the names are all you see.

Pretty soon, the lovely twin footprints fade. So does the triumphant rise of One World Trade Center, glittering in the sun just north of the north pool. The world narrows. You look down. And you find yourself reading off the names as you walk slowly around the pools, wondering who they were, what their lives were like, how it can be that you keep walking and walking and walking and the names never seem to end.

The names are Diaz and Bachman and Vicario, White and Miller and Lee. There are Morrises and Singhs and Benvenios, Doanys and Bonnetts and Roaches. And, yes, names like this, too: Mohammed Shajahan.

Which is to say, hate is ecumenical.

Hate killed Christians and Jews and, yes, Muslims, that day. It killed whites and blacks and Asians and Hispanics. It is a lesson we need to remember this day, a home truth to which we need to hold fast especially in this ugly, interminable election season, when unprincipled megalomaniacs use fear and loathing and blatant falsehoods to con the easily conned.

The most blatant of those falsehoods: That we can make ourselves safe from all future 9/11s by making an entire religion suspect, instead of acknowledging the harder truth that those who killed so many on 9/11 are  not adherents to any religion. They are simply barbarians whose only God is death.

And so making all Muslims suspect because the barbarians claim it as their faith is a fool's enterprise that only demeans America and what it stands for, making it safer only in the sense that it makes us less American. America is an idea to the barbarians, and there is only one way to kill an idea. That's by making its defenders diminish it themselves.

But 9/11 should have taught us the folly of that. It should have taught us that our enemies are enemies of all of us, not just Judeo-Christians. If that were not so, our enemies would not have killed so indiscriminately that day, would not even now be targeting and killing Muslims far more prolifically than they do anyone else.

The names, all those names upon names, are our witnesses to that.

Friday, September 9, 2016

As one

A banner hangs on the wall at Angola High School, and around it the place is a sea of blue. There's a red sticker on the red football helmets at Wayne, numbers 34 and 78 bracketing the plumed helmet of an armored knight. Everywhere, at soccer matches and tennis matches and volleyball matches, everyone pauses for moments of silence, and then they get on with it.

Garrett sends its love. East Noble. Eastside. Homestead. Everyone.

And so the truth stands revealed, as it often does in the wake of tragedy: We are all one. We look at small communities like Waterloo, shaken to the core by one moment of terrible geometry on a country road, and we understand that if nothing binds those communities like athletics, nothing tests and ultimately redeems that bond like the death of their young.

 Derek Padilla was 17 years old and Lucas Oberkiser was 16 last Friday afternoon when the terrible geometry happened, a hideous convergence of vector and time and pitiless chance. If their car comes through that country intersection an eyeblink sooner or later, at a slightly different angle, they are just two high school football players getting ready to play archrival East Noble tonight. Instead ...

Instead, they are gone before they ever really had a chance to be. Their numbers, 34 and 78, are painted in red-and-black on the DeKalb football field. The East Noble game has been canceled, as was the New Haven game last week. Their small community is bound together in grief.

Their small community. Which, in times such as these, becomes everyone's small community.

We are all one. We are sentient beings riding a galactic rock around a minor star, and there is more we have in common than not. Rivalries, athletic and otherwise, vanish like old smoke when fate steals our young. DeKalb's loss becomes everyone's loss. Its heartache is everyone's heartache. Derek Padilla and Lucas Oberkiser are your teammates and mine and Wayne's, where their uniform numbers and DeKalb's logo adorn those red helmets.

That banner hanging on the wall at Angola?

It reads "DeKalbStrong", and it is crowded with signatures and expressions of sympathy.

That sea of blue?

It's Angola students wearing blue shirts to honor Derek Padilla and Lucas Oberkiser.

In Decatur, Bellmont's football captains wore blue shirts, too, for the same reason. Garrett started the school day with a moment of silence earlier this week, and tweeted out a photo of its students holding a banner of support. East Noble Middle School donated proceeds from a bake sale to the families of the two young men. Expressions of support came from high schools all over Indiana; outside the state, NBA star Russell Westbrook tweeted his condolences.

We are all one. Truth.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Tebow Time, The Sequel

Of course I looked. The Blob would not be the full-service Blob it is if I hadn't.

Right off when the news came down this morning that the New York Mets had signed Tim Tebow to a minor-league contract, I went to the Midwest League website to check out team affiliations. Sadly, I must report that the Mets do not have a team in the league.

So you can forget about Tebow Night at Parkview Field, in which the citizens of Fort Wayne would no doubt greet the former football star with a hail of miniature TinCaps red-and-green footballs. The University of Florida Gators mascot would make a guest appearance, cavorting about the ballpark with Johnny. The Florida fight song would blare from the sound system every time he stepped to the plate.

It would have been glorious.

Instead, it will be ... well, something. No one really knows how good a baseball player Tebow is, although he apparently impressed enough people at his workout. What we do know is that, at 29, he'll be by far the oldest player in both the fall instructional league and whatever level of A ball he lands in next spring. And we know that, because of his advanced age, the likelihood of him ever coming to bat for the Mets is practically nil -- unless they decide to call him up just to bump attendance for a few nights.

Still ... more power to him. No one, in America, should ever catch a ration of grief for chasing his or her dreams. It's kind of who we are.

You wonder, though, if this would be happening had Tebow been able to see himself as anything but a quarterback on the football field. The Blob has said before, and firmly believes, that he'd still be in the NFL if he'd been less adamant about the QB thing. With his size, speed and athleticism, he could have easily found a home as some sort of Gronkowski-like hybrid tight end or H-back in some offensive sets. But a quarterback he'd always been, and a quarterback he'd always be.

And so he gave up on football as much as football gave up on him. And now ... baseball.

Love to see it happen for him. The rational mind says no way, but the heart sees him in Wrigley Field some sunlit afternoon, standing in against Jake Arrieta.

The roar would fill the world.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Colts will be OK. Unless they're not.

When last we left the Indianapolis Colts, they were getting used up by the Eagles in a preseason game, and everyone was freaking out because the O-line stunk again and Andrew Luck was getting beat up again and the defense was down to the ghost of Dwight Freeney and a handful of magic beans, and, oh, it was gonna be terrible this year, just terrible.

At which point the Blob felt compelled to point out that it almost always looks that way in the preseason, if you're the Colts. And so quit leaning so hard on the panic button.

Well, now the calendar tells me the regular season is about to begin, which means it's time to start seriously thinking about what kind of team the Horsies are going to trot out there. And I have to say, it all depends.

It all depends on whether or not the new offense, which instills a more disciplined and measured passing attack, will enable Andrew Luck to get the ball out his hand quicker and therefore keep him out of the ER.

It all depends on whether or not Luck getting the ball out his hand quicker will help the revamped offensive line keep him out of the ER.

It all depends on whether Robert Mathis, the Colts' only legit pass rusher, can still get to the quarterback at the decrepit age of 35.

It all depends on how quickly all the broken pieces of the Colts' lineup heal -- the team has basically been re-enacting Gettysburg in the preseason -- and how well they heal, and if they'll be any good once they do heal.

It all depends, mainly, if the Colts' schedule is as soft as it looks, or if the allegedly vibrant young Jaguars really are all that vibrant, and if the allegedly ascendant Raiders actually ascend, and if the Broncos really can be just as good with a kid from Northwestern at quarterback instead of Peyton Manning.

If all that happens -- and if 600 more guys go down --, the Colts might be lucky to finish on speaking terms with .500. But if the Jags keep being the Jags and the Titans keep being the Titans and the Lions and Bears are as train wreck-y as everyone says, why, the Horsies might actually make the playoffs.

In other words, 10-6 and another championship of the AFC Gone South is possible and maybe even likely.

Of course, that's if you're a glass-half-full guy. Me, I'm a chronic glass-half-empty guy.

So I think 9-7 sounds more like it. Tops.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Heads-up plays

So Notre Dame wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. is now under something that didn't used to exist -- "concussion protocol," they call it -- and that is a good thing for him and for sport in general. Safe rather than sorry is always the way to go when it comes to blows to the head, even if for a long time everyone unknowingly leaned toward the latter.

Well, they know now. A couple of decades of study have enlightened them, or at least most of them.

For the others, the rub-some-dirt-on-it crowd, "concussion protocol" will no doubt always be just another signpost on the road to a thoroughly sissified society. So be it. Let 'em glory in the days when not being able to remember your name at 50 was just the price you paid for playing games, and no  one ever seemed to question if that price seemed a trifle high.

They do now. And that's good.

It's good because if you saw the hit that laid out Hunter the other night, you really didn't want him to just jump up and get back in there. The rub-some-dirt-on-it crowd might have seen that as toughness, but the rest of us have come to understand that toughness lives right next door to stupidity, and stupidity has a bad habit of marching into toughness' house and tracking mud on the carpet.

Which is to say, again, better safe than sorry.

(A brief aside ... although no penalty flags flew on the play that laid out Hunter, it seemed a pretty obvious example of targeting. The only explanation the Blob has for why it wasn't flagged is the Texas defensive back who delivered the blow clearly wasn't aiming for Hunter's head, but was simply trying to knock the ball loose. Which he did. It was a good defensive play, and maybe the officials weren't inclined to penalize a good defensive play. Would have been interesting to see what the call would have been if the DB hadn't knocked the ball loose.)

Where were we again?

Oh, yeah. Concussion protocols. Better safe than sorry.

The worm has turned in that direction for the same reason it so often does: The expansion of knowledge. The researchers who discovered and continue to explore the causes and effects of CTE have forced even serial deniers (the NFL being chief among them) to come around on this issue. The rub-some-dirt-on-it crowd may sneer to the rooftops, but they've lost this argument. When even the son of Dale Earnhardt decides head trauma is nothing to mess around with, you know it's all over.

Dale Jr. took a shot to the head at Kentucky in July, and hasn't been back in the car since. He continues to have some vision and balance issues, and so, wisely, he announced late last week he was shutting it down for the season. Said there's no way he should be in a race car right now.

His dad, faced with the same circumstance, would no doubt have called the docs a bunch of candy-asses, bluffed his way through the protocols and climbed back in the car. But then, this is the same man who refused to wear the HANS device that protects against basilar skull fractures, and who climbed into a car with broken seatbelts at Daytona on Feb. 18, 2001.

He died that day. From what was apparently a basilar skull fracture.

Better safe than sorry never looked like a wiser choice.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The good news from Austin

The good news from Austin, Texas, this morning is Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer threw five touchdown passes last night, and that pretty much ought to end Brian Kelly's two-quarterback experiment.

(OK, maybe. Sort of. Until Kizer makes a mistake or doesn't throw five touchdown passes.)

The good news from Austin this morning is Notre Dame has an acceptable replacement for Will Fuller, and he's got the most awesome name in college football.

(Actually, Equanimeous St. Brown is probably better than Fuller already. Or at least potentially better. And his name is totally awesome. I mean, come on. A football player at Notre Dame with "Saint" in his name?)

The good news from Austin this morning is it's only Setpember 5, which means Notre Dame is not already out of the running for the national championship playoff, especially given what happened on September 3, when No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 5 LSU both lost, too.

(OK, so maybe that's good news. It could also mean Oklahoma and LSU aren't as good as everyone thought. And Texas and Wisconsin are way better. Which means they, or some other "they" we don't know about yet, could materialize to knock N.D. out of the picture down the road.)

The good news out of Austin today is even though Texas has a great freshman quarterback in Shane Buechele, Notre Dame has some decent freshmen, too, like Equanimeous and Shaun Crawford, who set up a touchdown with an interception and ran back the blocked extra point to get the Irish into overtime.

(Which means Kelly still knows how to recruit. And he's recruiting athletes, not just big lugs with a lot of consonants in their names. Which means Notre Dame has reached the level where, like all elite programs, it's merely reloading every year instead of rebuilding.)

And last but not least ...

Speaking of Equanimeous, we're never going to see this enough.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Fall rises

I know that summer is done now, because the breeze through the window screens in the morning whispers of bonfires and pumpkins and trees aflame with color, and the sky is that perfect blue to which only September and October seem to sign their names, and I turn on the TV and there is college football again.

I know it's fall now, because Michigan is beating someone 600-3 and Ohio State, which cannot let Michigan one-up it ever, is beating someone else 601-3.

I know it's fall because a Mid-American Conference school is beating a Big Ten school again (it's Western Michigan over Northwestern this time), a rite of early September that has become as much a tradition as Labor Day itself.

I know it's fall because someone just lost in one of those oh-my-god upsets (Sorry, Oklahoma! Too bad, so sad, LSU!), and because all those iconic houses (Michigan Stadium, Ohio Stadium, Kyle Field) are well populated again, and because the Old College Try still lives everywhere, but mostly, and most touchingly, at the service academies.

Which brings us to one of the best stories of the first real day of college football.

It's the story of a Naval Academy plebe named Malcolm Perry, who started his Saturday sitting in his dress whites in the stands with the Brigade of Midshipmen. Navy's fourth-string quarterback, he'd been sick all week and missed practice, so he didn't dress for the opener against Fordham.

But then starter Tago Smith injured a knee in the first half and had to go off, and that left Navy with only one quarterback because Perry was sick and the third-string quarterback was suspended. And so Perry was summoned from the stands.

Someone raced around and found his uniform, and by the fourth quarter, Malcolm Perry was playing in the game, which Navy won 52-16.

And now you know why they call them "service academies": Because even plebes sitting in the stands are occasionally called to serve.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Fantasy preview

I wasn't going to do this, on account of the Blob deals strictly with reality and not fantasy. Well, except on those occasions when it falls asleep and dreams it visited the White House and Donald Trump was sitting in the oval office, wrinkling his brow over the nuclear launch codes and saying "Now what do these do again?"


Anyway ... the Blob vowed never to write about fantasy football. But now that NFL football has essentially transformed from an actual sport to a mere game piece for fantasy players, I suppose it's time to break my vow and unveil the first Official Blob Fantasy Preview.

Being the Blob, where self-absorption goes to gaze longingly at itself in the mirror, this will not consist of a breakdown of who you should pick. The Blob doesn't care who you pick. It only cares about who the Blob picks, and what's going to happen to them.

Which is easy, if you know the Blob's luck in these matters.

See, it doesn't matter who the Blob picks. This is because, historically, whoever it picks either A) has his worst season ever, B) sustains a season-ending injury on the second play of the first game of the season, or C) turns out to be Ryan Tannehill.

I had Ryan Tannehill last year, see. Every time I played him, he Ryan Tannehill-ed the heck out of me. Which maintained a long Blob fantasy tradition of stupidity and bad hunches.

After all, didn't I once pick Dan Marino when he was working on his eighth or ninth concussion and thought he saw Don Hutson waving for the ball every time he dropped back? And how about the time I mismanaged my roster to such a spectacular degree my best running back Donald Brown?  Or all those years I wound up with Jon Kitna as my QB1?

Shoot. I'd pick him now if he was still playing.

Unless, you know, you'd like to.

The straight and narrow, revisited

So last night college football officially kicked off across the land -- the Blob is proud to say he was at Burt Field in North Manchester for Trine-Manchester, and the place was packed and rockin' -- and high school football is already entering Week 3 in these parts.

Which is to say, bring on autumn.

Which is also to say, it's still early.

Which is also to say, everyone is still working out the kinks.

Even, at least at this high school, the groundskeepers.

I don't know about you. But to me, it looks like this guy's on the job.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Your "Well, duh" moment for today

Comes now news that will not disturb your socks, not befuddle or astound, not cause newsboys to stand on street corners shouting "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"

(Not that there are any newsboys anymore. Or Extra-Extras. I just figured the Blob needed a dash of nostalgia this morning).

Anyway ... here's the news that comes now: The NFL has found no "credible evidence" that James Harrison, Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews violated the league's drug policy vis-a-vis that now-famous Al-Jazeera America report.

This should have stunned no one, given that the NFL had already discredited that report when it cleared Peyton Manning, who was also named. So why the show trial for Harrison, Peppers and Matthews? Why bully them into testifying with a little unfiltered extortion, threatening them with suspension if they didn't 'fess up to Roger Goodell and his henchmen?

It was, frankly, a scene right out of the film "Marathon Man," with Harrison, Peppers and Matthews in the Dustin Hoffman role and Goodell as the evil dentist-drill-wielding Laurence Olivier.

"Is it safe?" Goodell said, drill buzzing. "IS IT SAFE??"  ...

Something like that.

In any case, why the naked-lightbulb interrogation is the obvious question here, and it has an equally obvious answer: The league grilled the three players not because it was necessary, but because it could. It already knew the report upon which its "investigation" was based was bogus. It already knew it was going to clear the three players. Goodell and his henchmen simply wanted to use them as an object lesson -- see, this is what we have the power to do, and there's nothing you can do about it because you signed that power over to us in the last collective bargaining agreement.

Just another way for Roger the Hammer to let the workforce know who's the lead dog in this sled race, in other words.

And they'd best not forget it.