Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A head (not) for the game

On the last snap he would ever take, Zander Diamont ran for his life, and for time. Ran backward, it seems, to move forward.

The tiny Indiana University quarterback from California, with 10 seconds showing and the Hoosiers leading Purdue 26-22 in the Old Oaken Bucket game, took the snap and raced for his own end zone, with a host of Boilermakers thundering in pursuit. He got to the end zone, dodged a couple of tacklers, then finally went down as two more closed in, having run all but one second off the clock.

Later, he confessed he was just trying not to get hit.

It's not the sort of macho thing you expect a football player to say, but it is the sort of thing you say if you still have a fully intact brain. Because Diamont does, and has a clear-eyed view of his future, he announced the Bucket game was his last, even though he has another year of eligibility in the tank.

"I think that for my safety and my future -- I'm not going to the NFL -- I need my brain," Diamont said Saturday.

I need my brain. And so he ran for his life and for time, in more ways than one.

Much has been made these past few years about the increasing risk for damaging the brain football poses. The hysterics have taken the legitimate concern over this, and the belated rule changes to alleviate it, and spun it into some paranoid fantasy that football itself is under attack. A game for men, the catechism goes, is becoming a game more suited to tea and lace hankies. And that will ruin football forever.

It will not, of course. In fact, the NFL's stubborn denial that concussions were a long-term health risk to its employees posed far greater a threat to the game than any rule changes have. Nothing chases people away from a pursuit more swiftly than the perceptiont its guardians don't care about those who choose it.

Is football different now? Yes, it is. But if it is different now than it was a decade ago, football a decade ago was different than it was 20 or 30 years before that. And it was certainly different than it was at the beginning of the last century, when an increasing number of player deaths led to wholesale rule changes, and to the President of the United States -- no less manly a figure than Teddy Roosevelt -- threatening to ban it.

I imagine if you jumped in a time machine and went back to those days, you'd hear the same sort of crabbing about the game being sissified that you hear now. And all because they'd done away with the flying wedge.

Bottom line: Football, like everything else, evolves. We'll get used to it -- just as we'll get used to  young men like Zander Diamont deciding to quit the game while they can still remember where they live.

Good for him. He made a smart and rational decision while he was still able to do so. If you're not going to play in the NFL, and Diamont surely wasn't, where's the reward vs. the risk for him? At some point every athlete has to decide when to put the ball away. Too few of them do it before they're forced to.

So Diamont gets to be the rare case. And if, in the future, more young men follow suit, and the average retirement age for football players drops to 30 or so ...

Well. Football will survive. It always has.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 12

And now this week's edition of The NFL In So Many Words, the remorseless Blob feature universally hailed by millions of illegal hailers, legitimizing a recount derided as a "scam" by the  person who then legitimized the recount by claiming there were millions of illegal hailers.

(This concludes today's lesson from Trumpian Logic 101, an entry-level course in which students learn that contradictions aren't really contradictions if you yell loud enough. And add "So there" at the end):

1.  Hey, look, it's the Packers!

2. No, I don't know where they've been. Perhaps on a sunny Caribbean cruise.

3. In other news, the Browns.

4. Are still the Browns.

5. And Tony Romo still looks magnificent holding that clipboard.

6. Scott Tolzien to the resc--

7. OK, so no.

8. Hail to the Seahawks, who scored two in the second and three in the third.

9. Alas, the Buccaneers scored 14, and their bullpen shut down Russell Wilson the rest of the way. Bucs 14, Seahawks 5.

10. This just in: The Packers say they have not been on a Caribbean cruise. They've been at Aaron Rodgers' house, eating all his snacksand watching "Law & Order" reruns. Jack McCoy, now there's a man.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Your reverse vote of confidence for today

The prepared statement hit the cyberwhatsis in the skinny hours of Sunday morning -- 3:30 a.m. -- which of course calls to mind the standard chastisement of night owls and their various calamities.

To wit: Nothing good ever happens after midnight.

Not sure if Brian Kelly's denial of a roaming eye falls into that category, but it was wee-hours curious, sort of a reverse vote of confidence in the University of Notre Dame. No, Kelly said, he's not really looking for someplace to land. He assumes he's not going to need one. Which is a completely in-character take for Kelly, who has shown himself time and again not to be underserved with self-regard.

Only Kelly, perhaps, could be so arrogant as to assume he'll be back after such a shipwreck of a season. ND's spiritless drubbing at the hands of USC the other night wrapped up a 4-8 season, the worst in South Bend since Charlie Weis schematically advantaged his way to a 3-9 campaign in 2007. Football coaches at Notre Dame don't often survive seasons like that, especially when they're coaches who are as loathe to accept responsibility for their programs as Kelly seems to be.

You can survive a losing season or two at a place like Notre Dame -- Weis lasted two more years after going 3-9 -- but it's a lot harder when you're as willing to use players, assistant coaches and, yes, former student athletic trainers as human shields to avoid responsibility when things go south. The litany of misadventures on Kelly's watch is long and sometimes disturbing, going back to a young woman's suicide after claiming to have been sexually assaulted by one of Kelly's players, and the death of a student worker when an observation tower blew over on a day Kelly's team had no earthly business practicing outdoors.

In both those cases and others, you can reasonably say Kelly's responsibility was peripheral at best, which is why Notre Dame has so frequently not held him to account. That goes for the 2014 incident in which a student trainer wrote papers for players -- an act of academic fraud that, two years later, has provoked the NCAA to wipe out Kelly's signature season, the 2012 campaign that saw the Irish go 12-1 and reach the national championship game for the first time in 23 years.

At the  news conference after the NCAA's announcement, Kelly stayed in character, saying the cheating was student-on-student and that he had "zero" culpability in it. Again, it seemed, he had plausible  deniability. And again, he hid behind it.

It was foolishness squared. You can get away with doing that if you're going 12-1 or 10-3 and taking your team to some cash-cow bowl game. It doesn't work quite as well when you're going 4-8 and blowing comfortable leads at home. And it's a bad look in either case, because it calls into question your leadership ability.

Leaders, you see, hold themselves accountable for everything that happens on their watch, even those things for which they likely aren't accountable. If you're a leader, you step up and take responsibility for it anyway. You own it, even if it's not plausibly yours to own.

Kelly is remarkably averse to that. And Notre Dame, frankly, has publicly allowed him to be averse to it. Which is why he's probably right when he says he's not going anywhere.

The only caveat to that: For now.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hail to the Fort

So, can we brag now?

Yes. We can brag now.

We can look around, at the end of a milestone holiday week, and think, dang, this place ain't bad. Like Fredo Corleone, we're smart. We can do stuff.  We can also throw a football and catch it and defend the perimeter and space the floor to a fare-thee-well, and manufacture icons for whom, at their passing, an entire world beyond ours will pause to shed tears.

We may be Indiana's Second City. But we were at the head of the line this week.

Begin, of course, with Jon Coffman's IPFW Mastodons taking down No. 3 Indiana -- who, like all big brothers, was at first condescending and then dismissive and finally, at the end, exuding the sort of oh-my-god-these-guys-can-play desperation that so often attends the big upsets. And there will not a bigger one than IPFW 71, Indiana 68 this college basketball season.

It was the kind of moment for the ages that needed a voice for the ages to frame it, but, alas, two days later, Bob Chase left us. At 90, he lived a life so full to the top, and touched so many others in the living of it, he came to embody the city he adopted as his own. In the end, his voice calling a Komets rush, or a goal, or a save conjured from the very air, became the city's own voice. To the larger world, he was Fort Wayne, Indiana.

And two days after that?

Two days after that, Concordia High School showed Indiana once again that high school football in this state is not merely Indianapolis and them others. The Cadets didn't just win their first state football title ever, they wrapped it in a bearhug and ran out the door with it, crushing Lawrenceburg 56-14 in the Class 3A championship game. Quarterback Peter Morrison threw six touchdown passes, breaking a state record held by Rex Grossman of Bloomington South, who only went on to play in the Super Bowl. The Cadets had a shutout going until the middle of the fourth quarter.

It was the sort of wall-to-wall lamination that said, yes, we do play a little football in the Second City, and it's a caliber of football few other places in the state can approach. Concordia was the third different Summit Athletic Conference school to win a state championship in the last two years. If Indiana has a Power 5 of conferences, the SAC is a member in good standing.

So, too, the Fort. There are things happening in this city, great things, and Saturday night we were out among the them, attending the Festival of Trees at the Embassy and then eating dinner at a nearby restaurant. Downtown was hopping, as it tends to be these days on Saturday nights. And at our table by a window looking out on Wayne Street, my daughter looked up from her phone and announced that Concordia was ahead 35-0 at halftime.

I resisted the impulse to say "Well, of course they are."

I mean, that would have been bragging.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Stilled voice

Always there was the voice, to begin with. It came out of your radio like winter itself, the voice of a particular season and a particular city and a particular joy, a voice that slapped you on the back and grinned and said, heck, yes, it's cold out there, buddy. But ain't we havin' fun?

Bob Chase was the scrape of blades on ice and clear icebox nights and the  paused silence of a January wood, everything slumbering toward spring beneath a comforter of snow. He was as cyclical, and as eternal, as the seasons themselves. There was spring and there was summer and then here was Chase and Komet Hockey, comin' at you again from the mighty 50,000 watts of WOWO.

Turn on your radio now, and hear it still:

Aaaand here comes Terry McDougal, raggin' the puck into the zone ...

In comes Cressman, look, shoot, SCORE! ...

Look out!

He's tryin' to get around Labelle, he gets around him ... SCORE!

On and on. One decade and then two and then six, 63 winters in all, so many winters that after awhile it seemed impossible to conceive he wouldn't go on forever. Because what was that season and this city without Bob Chase -- who was, in the end, sadly mortal after all?

He passed Thanksgiving morning at the full and noble age of 90, and we will never see his like again. His very longevity, and those booming 50,000 watts, took him beyond this one small place, took him beyond all those road trips to hockey hinterlands like Flint and Port Huron and Toledo.

A newspaper columnist in Georgia, the late, great Lewis Grizzard, heard Chase's voice coming out of his car radio one night and wrote about it. Listeners as far south as North Carolina knew Fort Wayne because of Komets-with-a-K and a man named Bob Chase. And on one of those clear icebox nights, in Vermont, I turned on my own car radio and Chase's voice barreled out of it, some strange eddy in the atmosphere carrying it across hundreds of miles and the low hump of the Green Mountains as if I were home in the Fort.

By then, of course, Chase was more than just a voice to me.  He was a friend and a colleague and, if everyone in hockey knew him, you never would have guessed it. He was still the same rawboned kid from the Upper Peninsula who came to Fort Wayne in the early '50s, with a booming laugh and a vitality that made those of us decades younger shake our heads in wonder and envy.

"I hope I have that kind of energy when I'm Bob's age," I used to tell people, as Bob went scooting off at his usual brisk pace.

In his later years, belatedly, honors came to him. The NHL gave him the Lester Patrick Award for service to hockey, an extraordinary gesture for a man who'd spent his career, willingly, in the minor leagues. It was a nod not only to his longevity, but to his loyalty to his city -- and to the fact that, because of that loyalty, his fame had grown well beyond that city. Everyone, it seemed, knew Bob Chase.

There was a night, for instance, years ago, in a hotel bar in Gettysburg, Pa. I was in town to feed my Civil War nerd, an occasionally annoying creature that demands constant feeding. A few locals drifted in, and after awhile one of them, an elderly lady, asked where I was from.

"Fort Wayne, Indiana," I said.

Immediately she brightened.

"Fort Wayne! WOWO! Komet hockey! Bob Chase!" she cried.

I told her then that I knew Bob, and she brightened again, and then she veered off into this story about how, as a young girl, she danced barefoot in the moonlight on a West Virginia road to music from WOWO. The story didn't have anything to do with Komet hockey or Bob Chase, but there was a vitality to it, a joy, that I recognized.

And then one night, years later, I was making my way back to the pressbox to write after a Komets postgame presser. It was a playoff game, if I remember, and the Komets had won with a late goal. And now here came Chase the other way, grinning broadly.

"Heeey," he said. "That was something, eh?"

And off he went, a man in his 80s by then, practically skipping. And I imagine somewhere today he is skipping still.

Oh, hell. I know he is.

Night of the Mastodon

Raise a dribble glass now to the Month of What Th--?, the Month of This Can't Happen, Can It?, the month when the curse of curses died (with a curse on its lips, no doubt), and a dark, gibbering cartoon character became the leader of the free world, and an extinct mammal stomped the life out of basketball royalty.

Say these things slowly, because we are all still wrapping our heads around them:

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

Donald J. Trump -- game-show host, sexual deviant and flim-flam man out of the classic mold -- is the President-elect of the United States.

IPFW 71, Indiana 68.

Of all of them maybe it's the latter that shocks you must, and maybe it's the latter that shouldn't. What happened last night in red-swaddled Assembly Hall -- er, Memorial Coliseum, aka The Hall North -- was a testament as much to everything that makes college basketball great as it was to This Can't Possibly Happen. It was a testament to the fact that everyone has players now, and occasionally they can rise above themselves, and there are coaches out there in Division I's hinterlands you haven't heard of yet simply because you haven't heard of them yet.

And so raise a glass, too, to Jon Coffman, who put together an impeccable game plan and got his players to execute it impeccably, against an IU team that clearly didn't think this would be any kind of fight. But the Mastodons, those crafty old extinct mammals, were not intimidated by the Hoosiers' pedigree and No. 3 status in the slightest. They went right at them at both ends of the floor, blocking shots, making shots, moving the ball crisply on offense and staying between the Hoosiers and the rim on defense.

And slowly, as they led and led and led some more, you remembered a few things about them.

You remembered this was a program that has won 65 games the last three seasons, that came within three minutes of making the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago, that won 24 games and the regular-season Summit League title last winter.

You remembered they had Mo Evans, as good a shooter as there is in these parts, a veteran senior guard who's been starting games since he was a freshman.

You remembered they had Bryson Scott, a four-star Purdue recruit out of Northrop High School in Fort Wayne, a player who, before he transferred from West Lafayette, was twice the Freshman of the Week in the Big Ten.

You remembered they had John Konchar, who played 45 minutes last night and had a double-double (15 and 11), and who was a first-team All-Summit League pick as a freshman last year and one of the nation's leading rebounders.

Everyone has players now. And as yawning disinterest from the Hoosier faithful morphed into vague unease and then frustrated disbelief and finally, inevitably, into these-refs-are-horrible, you came back to that essential truth.\

IPFW 71, Indiana 68.

And now a memory, from late last night, as the stunned red tide flowed back out of the Coliseum. The crowd parted, and here was an IPFW fan, wearing a blue joke T-shirt.

On the front it read "IPFW Football." And on the back, "Undefeated 50 Years And Counting."

The joke, of course, is that IPFW doesn't play football.

Basketball, however ...

Oh, yeah. That, it plays.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thankgiving

And now, in honor of Gluttony Appreciation Day, the Blob's wish that we all pause a moment to give thanks for what we have, because there are small blessings in life we all overlook every day, even on the darkest of days.

Like, you know, the greatest Thanksgiving TV moment ever.

And now, here is a joke.

Q: Why did the turkey cross the road?

A: Because the chicken said the coast was clear. Bad, chicken. Bad.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 11

And now this week's edition of The NFL In So Many Words, the irredeemable Blob feature the coming new regime in Washington would term "deplorable" if it could bring itself to call anything deplorable anymore, including stuff that's deplorable:

1. It's Tuesday morning and DeAndre Hopkins is still in bounds.

2. The Browns!

3. Are still the Browns!

4. That's OK, son. Everyone misses an extra point once in awhile.

5. (Repeat a dozen times, or once for every time an NFL placekicker missed an extra point this week)

6.  (Fire your NFL placekicker)

7. (Look around. Point at random guy walking past the facility. Say, "You there! Can you kick?")

8. Colts win! Colts win!

9. (Remove exclamation points. Repeat. Add, "... But they're still not that good")

10. It's Tuesday morning. Tony Romo is going in any second now. Really.

Your Baylor moment for today

Some things you never hear, and one of them, these days, is "Hey, let's go to Waco, Texas! I hear people are completely normal there and not, you know, crazy."

No, sir, nothing crazy going on in Waco these days, home of Baylor University and its coddlers of football players who like to prey on Baylor coeds. You'd think that would be scandal enough for any major university in America, but, no. Now, allegedly, they're also into assaulting reporters.

This upon the news that associate athletic director Heath Nielsen was arrested Nov. 5 for trying to choke James McBride of The Texas Blaze News in Keller, Texas, on the field. Apparently McBride was trying to take a postgame photo with a Baylor player when Nielsen allegedly approached him, tried to knock his phone out of his hand and then grabbed him by the throat.

Couple of things about that.

1. The Texas Blaze News is, essentially, a community calendar and newsletter. I tracked it down online, and it frankly looks a lot like my subdivision newsletter. I have no idea how its "reporter" scored a credential to Baylor football, except that it's Texas and it's football.

2. But since McBride did, apparently, score a credential, he should have been expected to behave like someone who deserved one. Which is to say, you don't use your access to take photos with players. It's unprofessional in the extreme.

3. That said ... you also don't assault reporters, even quasi-reporters. You revoke their credentials. This is how these things usually are handled by normal media relations people in normal places.

Alas, Baylor seems to have departed Normal some time ago, instead purchasing a first-class ticket on the 5:15 to Crazytown. As extreme as the football culture in Texas is, there are lines you don't cross, and one of them is looking the other way while some of your football players assault the civilians among your student body. This is what allegedly happened at Baylor, and that it happened with the complicity of at least some of Baylor's well-heeled boosters -- there was actually a movement to rehire fired head coach Art Briles, who oversaw this prison yard of a program -- indicates just how far from any recognizable moral center the university has strayed.

And now?

Well, now you've got your associate athletic director, and the liaison between local and national media, assaulting a reporter. Even worse, for the well-heeled alums, was that it happened in the aftermath of TCU ball-peening Baylor 62-22.

So not only is Baylor embarrassing itself off the field, now it's embarrassing itself on the field, too.  Heck, the Bears even lost to Texas, which just lost to Kansas, which hadn't happened since a year before Hitler invaded Poland.

That's apparently sealed Texas head coach Charlie Strong's fate in Austin. But he'll depart with a chunky severance package, and with one additional bit of comfort.

At least he's not in Waco.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The best. Ever?

What A.J. Foyt used to memorably call a "tub o' s***," that's what Jimmie Johnson had under him Sunday. His car was a pig. It was processed meat product with a shiny paint job. Legendary crew chief Chad Knaus, Robin to J.J.'s Batman, was reduced at one point to cursing loudly because nothing he tried could make the pile of junk go.

And Jimmie Johnson?

Frosty as Christmas.

He circled Homestead's mile-and-a-half oval, Knaus kept trying things, and when one thing after another didn't work, J.J. scarcely said a word. And today he's at the top of the NASCAR pyramid, right up there with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as a seven-time champion.

He had to catch a break to do it -- thanks, Carl Edwards, for squeezing Joey Logano on that restart with 10 to go and wrecking both their chances -- but when the door opened, J.J. stepped through. And that doesn't happen if he doesn't keep his cool and his focus through the long twilight and evening. That doesn't happen if he doesn't stay after it until Knaus finally found something that worked and Johnson made it pay off.

Exhibit A for why we can, or at least should, finally acknowledge that he's the greatest stock-car driver of his generation. And maybe of any generation.

That will fall as sacrilege on the ears of the acolytes of Earnhardt and Petty, and maybe even on the ears of those of us (the Blob included) who regard David Pearson as the greatest stock-car racer of all time. I don't know if J.J.'s better than the other three, but he's certainly in the team photo. And he's not standing in the back either.

The haters, of course, will hate this. They'll point out that Johnson has always had the advantage of driving for the best team in NASCAR, forgetting that, in their heyday, so did Petty and Earnhardt. They'll also point out that Knaus has a reputation for what everyone outside NASCAR would call cheating -- a failed pre-race inspection sent Johnson to the back of the field Sunday, after all -- and what everyone inside NASCAR would simply call trying to get an edge.

No one, remember, pulled more stunts trying to slick everyone else than the late, legendary Smokey Yunick. Who's now in both the International Motorsports and Motorsports of America Halls of Fame.

So enough of that noise. Raise a glass, instead, to Jimmie Johnson. His kind of greatness doesn't grace our presence very often.

If at all.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Expiring Irish

Remember last week, when the Blob surmised that, after Indiana's basketball team took down Kansas, the web domain was likely available?

That's probably not true anymore.

The word out of South Bend this morning is that Fair Catch Corby's statue came to life, claimed it and renamed it

This after the Expiring Irish wove gold into straw again, blowing yet another lead in yet another home game in a 34-31 loss to Virginia Tech. The Irish led 17-0 at one point and still led by 10 going into the fourth quarter, but the defense couldn't stop Tech when it mattered and the offense came apart like a cheap watch in the second half, scoring just seven points as quarterback DeShone Kizer completed just three passes after halftime.

Bad enough that the high-dollar alums on the 50-yard line had to sit through snow showers and a razor wind express-mailed from January. At least in the Lou Holtz days they usually got a win to warm their chilled bones.

The Kelly days, on the other hand, have been unraveling slowly since 2012, when the Irish went undefeated and played for a national championship for the first time since 1989. It was exactly what the Irish brain trust brought Kelly aboard to do -- make Notre Dame football relevant again -- and it would have locked in the guy for future statuary had Alabama not crushed Kelly's top-ranked Irish 42-14 in the championship game.

Since that year, Kelly's gone 9-4, 8-5, 10-3 and, so far this year, 4-7 with a likely loss at red-hot USC to come. Across that span of 50 games, Notre Dame has beaten a top 15 team only twice. Even last year, when they semi-returned to the semi-glory of 2012, they were again revealed to be college football's version of fool's gold, losing easily to Urban Meyer and the big boys from Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

The unavoidable conclusion is that Kelly has brought ND back to a place where it can (until this year, anyway) reliably beat opponents it should be expected to beat given its advantages in resources, prestige and virtually unmatched tradition. But it remains a clear level removed from the true elites like Alabama and Ohio State.

Whether or not this is all Kelly's fault and not simply the way of things now in college football remains open for debate. What isn't open for debate is that the aforementioned resources, prestige and tradition enable Kelly to, year after year, bring in recruiting classes on par or sometimes better than those of the elites. And yet, year after year, those same recruiting classes never quite produce teams capable of beating those same elites.

How else to read that except that the coaching must not be up to snuff?

Plenty of Domeheads have almost certainly come to that conclusion, and nothing that happened yesterday is likely to change their minds. Fair Catch Corby may not actually be revving up, but more and more his signature pose looks less like Fair Catch and more like Hey, Jack Swarbrick, Over Here. I'll Coach The Boys If You Like.

Not that a coaching change seems imminent. Notre Dame remains saddled with that absurdly chunky Charlie Weis divorce settlement, and another with Kelly would cost it dearly again. For just how many ex-wives can even a school like Notre Dame afford to be on the hook?

Look. For all Kelly's drawbacks -- not the least of which is his disagreeable habit of pushing players and assistant coaches into the path of oncoming Greyhounds -- he has gotten the Irish to their only national championship appearance in 27 years. And he's taken them to five other bowl games and won three of them, after Notre Dame had lost nine times in its previous 10 bowl appearances.

So, yes, he has gotten Notre Dame football back to a certain level. And is there really anyone out there right now -- someone Notre Dame could reasonably expect to get -- who could take it to the level?

Tom Herman, the latest hot ticket, seems bound for Texas now that the Longhorns' loss to Kansas seems to have sealed Charlie Strong's fate. The irrepressible P.J. Fleck at Western Michigan might be a good fit, and Domer Nation would love him, but the sample size might be too small for some, and the MAC to ND might be deemed too big a step at this point. Other than that, who do you get for a job that is, let's face it, still a plum but not as juicy a plum as it used to be?

Think about it. In the two decades since Lou Holtz stepped down, Notre Dame has had four football coaches. None of them either were or have been the answer, or at least close enough to the answer the faithful seek. Which raises an obviously uncomfortable thought.

Maybe close enough is all you're gonna get these days.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

An idea for which there's no good time

So, remember that classic old hypothetical of  hypotheticals? What would happen if Batman fought Superman?

Well, we've got the answer to that now. They made a movie about it. It was dark and plodding and largely forgettable -- which is to say, even though it hasn't been that long since I saw it, I can't remember who won.

At any rate, we now have a real-world version of that hypothetical, and if we're all extremely lucky, it will remain a hypothetical. MMA icon/blowhard Conor McGregor says, hell, yes, he'd go a few rounds with boxing icon Floyd Mayweather, and just to be sporting he wouldn't tackle him and slap a chokehold on him or bend his limbs in ways contrary to nature.

In other words, the fight would be a straight-up boxing match.

McGregor says he'd take $100 million to do it, but given the interest in such an exhibition, I'm thinking he's shortchanging himself. I'm thinking this is the sort of thing that you could throw money at forever and it still wouldn't be enough.

I also think this is the sort of thing that absolutely, positively can't happen. Especially if you're Mayweather.

McGregor, you see, has nothing to lose here. Neither does MMA. It long since eclipsed boxing as the world's favorite form of pugilism, and if McGregor loses on Mayweather's turf, nothing's going to change that. It is, after all, Mayweather's turf.

And so, yes, it's highly likely Mayweather would win. On the other hand, McGregor can throw a little leather, too. And he is, let's face it, a few diamonds and hearts shy of a full deck. So you could definitely see him being completely willing to wade through as many Mayweather bombs as he needed to in order to get in one knockout punch.

And if that happens?

Boxing's completely done, instead of only partly done. If an unschooled ruffian like McGregor could take out one of the sport's all-time greats, what would that say about the relative merits of the two sports? MMA would become the combat sport to an even greater extent than it already is, and boxing would become just that thing people do who aren't skilled or tough enough for MMA.

The ironic thing is, in the Blob's estimation, boxing is actually the sport that requires much more technical expertise. I know MMA advocates will point out that it incorporates several disciplines as opposed to just one, but hard as I try all I see when I watch an MMA fight are two men (or women) trading a few punches and then rolling around the octagon until someone gets a submission hold. It  holds about as much fascination for me as watching two bored siblings pound on each other on the living room floor on a Saturday afternoon.

Yet it's clearly what the people want. And it's why Mayweather, for boxing's sake, should stay as far away from this idea as possible. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What's good for the goose

College is about education. As Emil Faber, the founder of America's most revered imaginary institution of higher learning, once said, "Knowledge is good."

And so I really don't get how Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops can express dismay over defensive lineman Charles Walker's decision to immediately leave the Sooners to get ready for the NFL draft.

Walker's decision was prompted by his second concussion in little more than eight months, which happened in the Sooners' Oct. 1 game against TCU. He hasn't played since, and his decision not to risk his draft status by playing anymore indicates he's indeed been well-educated about how high-dollar college athletics work, and what is their guiding principle.

Which is: You gotta look out for No. 1.

And so a big "oh, please" goes out to Stoops, who, when the news came out, told reporters that "quitting on your teammates" was hard on ol' coach's sensibilities. This despite the fact that Walker's teammates, who know how this deal works, too, probably completely understood his decision. And this also despite the fact that, in a corporate enterprise like Power 5 college football, career considerations almost always outweigh loyalty to dear old Whatsamatta U.

The Mike Stoops who lamented Walker "quitting" on his teammates to look after his own athletic future, after all, is the same Mike Stoops who left Kansas State in 1998 as associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator to assume identical positions at Oklahoma, a conference rival. And he's the same Mike Stoops who left Oklahoma in 2004 to become head coach at Arizona.

Mind you, no one's blaming him for doing that. Like anyone else, he has a perfect right to pursue what he sees as better career opportunities. But in so doing, don't forget he left behind players at both K-State and Oklahoma he undoubtedly helped recruit, and to whom he'd grown close.

In other words, he quit on them.

So it's the height of hypocrisy for him to criticize Walker, who, after all, is only pursuing opportunity, too. An All-Big 12 selection in 2015, he's projected to be a Day 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. But if he comes back and plays out the season -- which is almost over, anyway -- and sustains another concussion, what happens then? How far does a guy fall who's had three concussions in a year, in a league that (allegedly, anyway) has finally gotten religion about concussions?

And so kudos to Walker. He's doing what everyone in Power 5 college football does, which is act in their own best interests. If his school can make millions off him, using him as a human billboard to promote their chunky apparel deals and raking in bowl money while paying him only room-and- board, why can't Walker turn the tables on them?

Thanks, guys, it's been real. But I gotta think about me now. You know, the way y'all do.

Just so.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


So now we know how valuable preseason college basketball polls are, which is somewhere between Used Hotdog Wrapper and Two Of Hearts In A Game Of Euchre on the Fujita scale of Things That Aren't Worth A Tinker's Damn.

(I totally made that scale up, by the way. I just stuck "Fujita" on it so it would sound official).

At any rate, preseason polls are a testament, apparently, to the notion that, in November, nobody knows nuttin'. This is not to say anyone knows anything any other time of the year -- just look at how many people's brackets wind up a smoking ruin every March -- but they are especially clueelss when the leaves are still falling and no one's bricked an open three in anger yet.

Let's go to the tape, shall we?

Where, last Friday, we saw preseason No. 11 Indiana knock off No.3 Kansas.

Where, last night, Kansas, now ranked No. 7, beat No. 1 Duke 77-75.

Where, also, unranked Baylor beat No. 4 Oregon by 17, No. 22 Creighton beat No. 9 Wisconsin by 12, and No. 13 Michigan State lost to No. 2 Kentucky by 21.

True, that one held to form. But if you're ranked 13th, should you really be getting floor-waxed by 21 while scoring only 48 points?

Sound to me like the polls had the Spartans hiked a bit high. Among all the other stuff they had wrong.

Can't wait 'til next Tuesday, when unranked IPFW stuns IU.

(OK, so probably not. But this time of year, when nobody knows nuttin', who knows?)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 10

And now this week's edition of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature of which internet trolls have sneered "Here comes the wall, bleep-bleep!" and "Trump's gonna send you back where you belong, as soon as he figures out how this newfangled thing called the 'Presidency' works":

1. 5-4, 6-3, 5-4, 5-4, 6-4.

2. The respective records of the Ravens, the Texans, the Lions, the Vikings and the Falcons, all of whom either lead or are tied for the lead in their divisions.

3. In case you were wondering why those TV ratings are down.

4. In other news, the Browns!

5.  Are still the Browns!

6. Oh, and Jay Cutler is still Jay Cutler.

7. Ditto Tony Romo.

8. Who looks real nice holdin' that clipboard, dudn't he?

9. Hey, no fair! The Patriots lost!

10. And Pete Carroll won!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Meanwhile, in NASCAR ...

And, yes, "meanwhile" means exactly what you think it does. Which is that they're still racing.

Yesterday was the next-to-last race of the season in Phoenix ("What? There's still another one?" you're saying), and I have to say, after years of tinkering and wire-jiggling, NASCAR has finally gotten the Chase thing right.

It actually operates like a true playoff system, and that has energized a largely stagnant enterprise. If you watched the closing laps on Sunday and weren't riveted by the battle for the last final-four spot between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, you just don't like sports.

And then there was the finish, when Matt Kenseth, who looked as if he was going to win and secure a spot in the final four, got turned sideways by young Alex Bowman on the start of the first overtime green-white-checker. That sent Logano, who was trying to stay ahead of both Busch and a fast-closing Kevin Harvick, into the lead, with Busch second. And that's how they finished.

It was the second time in the Chase that Logano has won an elimination race to stay alive. And by finishing second, Busch will get a chance to defend his title in Homestead next week.

Fate or destiny or some other magical thinking would seem to dictate this is Logano's year, considering he's already saved his season twice. But Busch was actually the luckier man yesterday. Had Kenseth not crashed, he likely would have missed the final cut in a tiebreaker with Logano. Passing Logano wasn't going to get him in; Harvick had to get around Logano, too. And as the laps ran down, it didn't look like Harvick quite had the car to do it.

And so it's Logano, Busch, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson, who's going for his seventh title. Part me is inclined to go with J.J. Part of me, like last year, is inclined to go with Busch, because if you're betting on someone to win one particular race, Rowdy is your guy. He's simply the best wheel man out there with everything on the line.

In the end, though, I'll go with J.J. Winning at Martinsville to open the Round of 8 gave him and crew chief Chad Knaus essentially three weeks to plan for Homestead. You've gotta like their chances.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Bad craziness

Or as legendary gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson once also said "When the going gets weird, the weird say 'What th--?'".

(OK, so the quote is actually "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." But this works better.)

At any rate, yes, this was a Bad Crazy Saturday in college football, which once more reminded us why it is better and more fascinating than the pro version by a factor of gazillions. I mean, what else are you gonna say about a day that featured a kicker named Blewitt knocking off No. 2 Clemson? Besides, "Oh, come on, you're making that up"?

No, I am not. That really was Pittsburgh kicker Chris Blewitt beating Clemson with a last-second field goal. And that really was Iowa kicker Keith Duncan beating No. 3 Michigan with a last-second field goal, a week after the Hawkeyes were crushed 41-14 by Penn State. And that really was USC freshman QB Sam Darnold passing No. 4 Washington into a coma in a 26-13 win.

So three of the four teams expected to slide into the College Football Playoff go down, and now everything is at sixes and sevens. Who moves up now? Who moves down? And why is there a queasy feeling in the land that it's all just a foregone conclusion now, that defending national champion Alabama is not just a cut above everyone else but three or four or five cuts above?

The Crimson Tide and Them Others. Looks more like that now than ever.

It's the only downside to a day like Saturday, the only thing that keeps the suits at ESPN, which have the rights to the CFP, tossing and turning at night. 'Bama floor-waxing Them Others isn't exactly going to make those ratings perk up, after all.

On the other hand ...

On the other hand, the cleanout of the top four yesterday did prove this: No one's immune to Bad Crazy. If a "meh" Iowa team can knock off a Michigan team that was road-grading everyone in its path, who's to say someone can't get Alabama? Say, Auburn, perhaps, in the Iron Bowl?

Of course, Auburn, which had won six in a row, was upset yesterday by Georgia. So there's that.

Can't wait to see what happens next.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Hono-lulu

Remember last year, when Tom Crean took his Indiana Hoosiers to Hawaii, got spanked twice and was suddenly trending again?

Well. I think that domain name might be available this morning, if you're still interested.

Which you'e probably not.

Probably not, because the No. 11 Hoosiers took down No. 3 Kansas 103-99 in overtime last night in Hawaii in as impeccable a game as you're going to see considering it's November and everyone just rolled out the basketballs, like, five minutes ago. There were 17 lead changes. No one ever led by double digits. In 88 possessions,  Kansas averaged 1.13 points and Indiana 1.16.

Which is to say, they filled it up. And Indiana looked as good on the floor as it had looked on paper coming into this, with James Blackmon going for 26 points and Thomas Bryant posting the 19-10 double-double and OG Anunoby continuing to look like either The Next Big Thing for the Hoosiers, or at least Another Big Thing. The Hoosiers made 15 threes. They shot 48 percent from the arc. Five players scored in double figures, including freshman guard Curtis Jones, who put up 15 off the bench.

In other words, it is viral, who-needs-to-pump-the-brakes optimism season again for Hoosier Nation.

Of course, should they at some point down the road lose to someone they shouldn't, which is not only possible but likely to happen in the long season ahead ...

Well. Like I said, is probably available today. Order now while supplies last.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Day of remembrance

Every year on Veteran's Day I go back there, in my mind. It's been 11 years now since I toured the American sector of the Western Front in France, where the war that did not end all wars, but only ignited endless others, was fought out by American boys in the autumn of 1918.

November 11, the day the guns fell silent, will always be Armistice Day as much as Veteran's Day to me because of that. It ended a war that is mostly forgotten to us now, even though some 54,000 Americans died in six months there and countless others brought nightmares home from it that would last a lifetime. There are neat green cemeteries from the Argonne to Thiaucourt  there now, row upon row of white crosses arrayed in the geometry of remembrance. And, amid the fields of wheat and crumbling old pillboxes and the scars of ancient trenches, there is an immense white dome of marble few Americans ever visit.

I always wonder why that is so, when I think of that place on Veteran's Day. And I always will.

It's an old bromide that we can never thank our veterans enough for their service, and yet somehow we always fall short. If we remember what they did for us in Normandy or Fallujah or on Iwo Jima or Okinawa, we just as readily forget sometimes what they did in Belleau Wood or Frozen Chosin or the killing fields of the Ia Drang Valley. And, more shamefully, we especially forget when they return home.

I have met my share of veterans, in my four decades as a journalist. I have met Korean veterans and Vietnam veterans and, once, 20 years ago, a vet who survived both Tarawa and Okinawa in World War II. And I have met a man who, when he was 23 years old, was shooting down Nazi jets over Europe in a P-51 Mustang.

That particular gentleman's name was Chuck Yeager. Perhaps you've heard about what he did later on, something involving the sound barrier.

In all cases, they are men who've seen and done things no human being should ever see or do, and they will talk about those things only with the most extreme reluctance. It is not that they don't remember. It's that they are unfailingly polite, and don't wish to burden us with old fantastical tales. It feels too much like bragging about things no one should ever brag about.

Everyone who has ever experienced war in closeup knows that last. They leave the bragging to fools and charlatans who, when it was their turn to serve, hid under their beds. One of them, a vile, swaggering gasbag of no particular merit, famously mocked a decorated Vietnam War POW for being captured. But of course our new president-elect now has only the greatest of respect for our veterans.

I won't think about him today. I'll think instead about the no-big-deal humility of Chuck Yeager, and the quiet dignity of the Korean War vets I met 20 years ago, and of so many other men and women of so much more quality and consequence.

Thanks, all of you. Thanks for you service, and your example.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Fighting the good fight

At least some people didn't lose their minds or their moral center on November 8, so much evidence to the contrary. Some people actually either voted their own interests -- quite the concept, that -- or continued to fight the good fight in at least a peripheral sense.

(A public service announcement from the Blob: This will be the last election-related post I will make. I promise. You can trust me. Really. I'm Donald J. Trump, Training Wheels Mussolini-elect, and I approved this message).

And so the Blob, first of all, takes you out to San Diego, where, unlike a lot of other places in the country, voters didn't fall for the con. A ballot referendum that would have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars of public money toward a downtown stadium for the Chargers was soundly rejected.

The money would have come largely from a tax hike on hotel rooms, which Chargers owner Dean Spanos tried to spin with the old fable that it was only tourists who'd take the tax hit. But the people of San Diego weren't taken in -- figuring, rightly, that a tax hike on hotels would hurt tourism, which in turn would hurt them. And if the hotel tax at some point was no longer raising enough money, they'd be directly in the crosshairs after all.

So the Chargers will likely, at some point, head for L.A., where they've threatened to go before when the voters in San Diego refused to be held up at gunpoint. They'll likely be missed, but not much;  the Chargers, 4-5 right now, were 4-12 last year, have been to the playoffs only once since 2010, and haven't advanced beyond the divisional round since 2007.
Meanwhile, in Mexico ...
It seems F1 race driver Sergio Perez informed the sunglasses manufacturer Hawkers that their just-consummated sponsorship deal was quits, after Hawkers fired off a repugnant post-election tweet joking that, with the ascendancy of Training Wheels Mussolini, Mexicans would need their product to hide their tears when TWM comes to build his fabled wall.

Perez was not amused, announcing immediately that he was ending the sponsorship deal and vowing to “never let anyone make fun of my country.”

Good for him.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

This is all Bartman's fault

OK, so not really.

Actually, this is all the Cubs' fault.

I mean, if they hadn't won a World Series for the first time in 108 years, cracking open the door to the apocalypse, America (or 40-some percent of it) might not have shoved it open the rest of the way by putting a textbook sociopath in control of the nuclear launch codes.

I'm not saying one led to the other. But, you know, maybe.

Yo, Donny. I only have one request this morning. Whatever you do, just don't blow up the world, dumbass.

And now a few appropriate words from the appropriate film.

Take it away, Col. Kurtz. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 9

And now a special Election Day edition of The NFL In So Many Words, the stubborn grease stain of  Blob features of which the makers of Oxyclean have said "Oh, HELL, no, we're not touchin' that one" and "Hey, we never said we could get everything out":

1. Derek Carr for President!

2. Dak Prescott for President!

3. Matthew Stafford for President!

4. Tom Brady for Presi--

5. OK. That'll be enough of that.

6.  In other news, the Colts.

7. Impersonated an actual football team for 60 minutes.

8. In a related story, the Green Bay Packers are now 85 percent sure the guy wearing No. 12 for them is a clever duplicate of Aaron Rodgers and not the actual Aaron Rodgers.

9. John Quincy Adams for President!

10. Because dead men tell no lies, unlike those other people.

Monday, November 7, 2016

No kneel-jerk reaction

They are doing it everywhere now, in football stadiums and on soccer pitches, between the endlines of gleaming basketball floors and on high school and college playing fields from one end of the country to another.

Kneeling quietly for the National Anthem is not just a thing, like so much is these days in a social media-driven world. It is a small, elegant cry of "enough" in the face of injustice, a form of peaceful protest as American as the Constitution itself. And, despite the backlash from the witless, it is far more respectful than not.

Running around, screaming, mooning the flag during the anthem, those would be disrespectful. Kneeling silently is the polar opposite. Certainly it's more respectful than demanding some form of forced "patriotic" behavior that disrespects America far worse than those kneeling ever could,

Especially when it becomes obvious that there is more to the kneeling than simple symbolism.

And so we come to Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, who has knelt for the anthem through the first half of the season, and yesterday did not. He did not, he said, because he has seen progress in community-police relations, an understanding that either wasn't there before or wasn't there in any meaningful sense. And Marshall has been a catalyst for that progress, meeting with local police officials and devoting his time and resources to local community organizations.

The most effective protest is always that which fuses gesture with concrete action, and Marshall's embodied that. He's also not the only one. Which is why the protest hasn't withered and died the moment the media turned its head, but spread.

Kneeling is only part of this, you see. Rising afterward to tackle the hard work of meaningful change is the rest of it.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Get Off My Lawn. Part 1,247.

I know, I know. I'm old. I'm cranky. Those damn kids won't stay off my lawn no matter how I shake my feeble old-man fist at them and splutter my feeble old-man threats.

So of course I turned on Arkansas vs. Florida yesterday afternoon, and immediately started old-man spluttering. It was me wondering aloud who the hell Florida was actually playing, because it sure didn't look like any Arkansas I remember.

That's because Arkansas came out wearing this.

Look. I get it. College football teams are all into alternative gear these days, because the kids think it's way cool and  college athletic departments are joined at the hip with the apparel companies. When Under Armour (or Nike, or adidas) says jump, Whatsamatta U. says how high.

Which is how Oregon trots out a different look every week, to the extent that Oregon doesn't even have a look anymore. Or Indiana decks out in about 16 different helmet types, including one candy-striped silver thing that looks like the love child of  Santa Claus and Yuri Gagarin.

It's silly as hell. But, again, the kids think it's the bomb.

And, frankly, I don't really have an issue with alternative gear. Some of it is actually way cool, like the uniforms Navy wore last year for the Army game that featured helmets with various naval vessels painted on them. Or the uniforms Notre Dame wore for the Shamrock Classic a couple years back, which featured helmets with the leprechaun embossed on the sides.

Those were awesome. And you could at least tell it was Notre Dame out there.

The issue I have is when the Arkansas Razorbacks come out looking like the Oakland Raiders, or Illinois comes out looking as if they misplaced their uniforms and were forced to play in plain gray sweats, with no visible sign of Illini navy and orange anywhere. You want to wear alternate uniforms, great. But shouldn't there be a stipulation that they have to at least incorporate the school colors somewhere?

(And, yes, I know Arkansas' unis had a thin red stripe in a couple places. Sorry, but that doesn't count).

I mean, if you tune in a game and you can't tell from the uniforms who one of the teams is, that doesn't strike me as great branding. Just sayin'.

Of course, I'm just Get off My Lawn Guy. What do I know?

Something in the water, or something

So by now everyone who isn't living in a cave knows about the Cubs winning the World Series, and how it had been 108 years since the last time they did it, and how that meant the Curse or the Goat or the Really Really Long Time Between Drinks From The Chalice Of Victory had finally been broken/killed/ended.

What you might not have known is how long that old Cubbie magic decided to hang around Chicago.

Several days, it appears.

That's because Saturday, in Chicago, at Soldier Field, another Curse or Goat or Really Really Long Time Between Drinks From The Chalice Of Victory went bye-bye. This time it was the Irish national rugby team beating the fabled All Blacks from New Zealand (rugby's New England Patriots, kinda-sorta) for the first time since 1905.

That's 111 years to you and me, kids. Winston Churchill was a young buck in Parliament. Louis Bleriot was four years away from becoming the first human to fly across the English Channel. And, yes, the Cubs were still three years away from winning the Series for the last time in 108 years.

Must be something in the water in Chicago. Or something in the air.

Perhaps this.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Poison Ivy

And now, the Blob's one-line take on the Harvard men's soccer team, which was 10-3-1 and headed toward the NCAA Tournament until it got its season canceled as punishment for a disgusting "tradition" of rating incoming women's soccer players sexually:

Damn. Are those Harvard boys stupid, or what?

Friday, November 4, 2016

A few last words on That Guy

All the world wishes it was in Chicago today, where there will be the parade of all parades for the triumph of all triumphs. The citizenry will take over the streets. Horseless carriages will not be allowed. President Roosevelt will send a congratulatory message, and men's bowlers will be doffed in favor of official Cubs Base-Ball caps.

Or, you know, something like that.

At any rate, somewhere in all the revelry, someone will surely hang Fox baseball announcer Joe Buck in effigy. Apparently, he is much hated in the greater Wrigleyville area. Which means it's probably just as well my wife, Julie, will not be there today, on account of she said something utterly blasphemous the other night while we were watching the game.

"Why does everybody hate Joe Buck?" she said. "I think he's pretty good."

I can hear the outraged cries from here.

I can also hear them when I add this: I think he's pretty good, too. Not the best in the history of the world, but hardly the worst, either.

As a relatively impartial observer -- I was rooting for the Cubs, but the Indians would have been a great story, too -- I've tried hard to understand the Joe Buck hate, and I've failed. I just didn't hear the alleged bias toward the Indians that Cubs Nation swears was in his every utterance. I also found it interesting that, on the other side of the fence, some of my Indians friends were equally convinced of Buck's Cubs bias.

It all reminds me, frankly, of my sports columnist days, when anything vaguely negative I wrote about IU or Purdue was immediately interpreted as bias toward whichever school I wasn't addressing. IU fans were convinced I hated IU, and especially its basketball coach, the lightning rod that is Robert Montgomery Knight. Purdue fans were equally convinced I hated Purdue, partly because the newspaper for which I worked had its own perceived pro-IU bias in the eyes of fervent Boilermakers.

I could have told both fan bases they were wrong, if I hadn't been laughing so hard. The Purdue people, for instance, didn't know I came from a Purdue family, that my mom was a Purdue grad and I grew up listening to Boilermakers football on Saturday afternoons in the fall. And the IU people didn't know I was married to a Bloomington girl whose father had once been the IU football team doctor and an integral part of the med school faculty.

Both fan bases, meanwhile, didn't know I was a Ball State grad who had no skin in the IU-Purdue game, anyway. Or at least on those occasions when the Cardinals weren't kicking the Hoosiers or Boilers around on the football field.

In other words ... your perspective all depends on whose ox you think is being gored. Which brings me back to Joe Buck.

It's true he was pretty hard on Cubs manager Joe Maddon, but Maddon left himself open to the criticism with a handful of squirrely moves that betrayed a smidgen of panic in the last two World Series games. For Buck not to have dwelled on those potentially ruinous moves would have been evidence of bias.

Other than that?

Other than that, I'd love to do what I always wanted to do with the IU and Purdue fans who were convinced I hated their respective schools. I'd love to put an Indians fan and a Cubs fan in a room together and have them discuss Joe Buck.

Shoot. I might even pop my own corn for that.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Hey, look. It's next year.

Well. And wasn't this the most Cubs thing ever.

Like ending the Curse or the Drought or the Century Plus Eight Years Of Wait 'Til Next Year was going to  be easy, was going to happen without the Cubs serving up one last portion of Cub-y anguish for its haunted believers. A 5-1 lead in the fifth? A 6-3 lead with four outs to go? What fun is that?

And so here was Joe Maddon making two more sketchy pitching changes, yanking a cruising Kyle Hendricks with a four-run lead and then not allowing Jon Lester to finish out the eighth. And here were the Indians, all but interred, getting two runs out of the first and three out of the second. And here were the Cubs, suddenly, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory again, same as they did in '84 and '03 and who knows how many other times in between.

But this time, not just the baseball gods but even the weather gods would smile upon them.

A passing downpour halted the game for 17 minutes at the end of nine, allowing the Cubs to regroup. Today, or in years hence, you'll never be able to tell anyone in Cubbyville that was simply an accident of meteorology. It was a Sign. It was Fate. It was the anti-Goat.

Because, after all, we know what happened next. Ben Zobrist's RBI double. Miguel Montero's RBI single. Mike Montgomery channeling Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown or some other willing ghost to get the final out of a seventh game those caught up in the moment were calling the greatest ever played.

Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn't. But there will never be any doubt in the minds of all those Cubs fans whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were sitting with them in flesh or in spirit last night. There'll never be any doubt for those who looked out there, as Kris Bryant threw to first for the final out, and saw Ernie Banks smiling and Ron Santo clicking his heels and Harry and Jack Brickhouse fighting over the microphone.

"Cubs win! Cubs win!" Harry's shouting.

"Hey-hey!" Jack's yelping.

So it went, no doubt. And what it obscured, perhaps, is that last night revealed for all time that these were not the same old Cubs, that these Cubs weren't going to allow Goats or Fate or Destiny to do them dirty again.

These Cubs were not even going to blink when they went down 3-1 in the Series and looked hopelessly overmatched by the Indians pitching. These Cubs were not going to let being on the verge last night and then seeing it ripped from their grasp send them trudging down the same old path of weary resignation. These Cubs were ... are ... different.

As in, not particularly Cub-y. And not particularly inclined to consider last night just one swipe of the eraser on the historical blackboard, 1908 finally vanishing after all the long years.

You saw that, weirdly, in the closeup shots of the Cubs at the plate. Looking into their faces, you realized just how young they all are. Kids, really. And most of them are not going anywhere.

Which means this is exactly what Theo Epstein set it up to be: Not just a one-off wonder designed to end a Curse or Drought or A Century Plus Eight Years Of Wait 'Til Next Year, but sustainable excellence that will make the Cubs a power for years to come.

Which means, unavoidably, they will not be Lovable anymore.

But you know what?

Somehow I think Cubs Nation will survive.    

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Friday night rights

OK, look. I know what you're going to say. You might as well save your breath.

You might as well not remind me of all the other college conferences who are already playing football on Friday nights. You might as well not tell me that ship has sailed, and that it is, in fact, already in mid-crossing. And so the Big Ten's announcement it would begin playing select games on Friday nights next September and October is hardly newsworthy -- nor much of an occasion for outrage, either.

My response to that is something my mother used to tell me: If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?

The answer, of course, is no way, which is the appropriate answer to this, too. No way should the Big Ten be dipping its toes in this foul stream, even if a whole lot of others have chosen to do so. At some point, someone in D-I college football has to demonstrate that all the platitudes officials like to trot out there are not just empty noise.

At some point, someone has to prove that D-I college football it's not just a bunch of suits with their hands out, not just apparel deals and bowl deals and corporate bean-counters droning on about profit margins and quarterly earnings in some sterile boardroom.

Respect for the game: Where does that enter the picture? Where does simple unalloyed greed give way to the notion that some things should still be sacred, and not just the Nike swoosh on the shoulders of all that unpaid help?

Those Friday nights lights, for instance.

No one ever meant them to be for Indiana versus, say, Western Kentucky, or Purdue versus Illinois. They were meant to be the province of My High School against Your High School, My Hometown against Your Hometown. They're for parents and girlfriends and high school bands a trifle light on piccolos. They're for younger siblings throwing a ball around behind the bleachers, the next generation warming up for their shot beneath the lights.

College football horning in on all that is just plain wrong, flat wrong. And it's especially wrong in this case, because Jim Delany swore the Big Ten Network was not going to go in for this sort of thing.

Apparently, though, someone threw enough money at him -- money, of course, being the prime motivation for everything these days in the corporate enterprise that is big-time college athletics. And so once again that dark prophet of cinematic Wall Street, Gordon Gekko, is proved right.

Greed really is good. Or, at the very least, no respecter of propriety.      

Game 7. Some thoughts.

And so now Game 7, and heartache of the epic variety awaits. One of two things is going to happen, and one of two starved fan bases will be reduced to wailing and gnashing of teeth -- or at least, surely, power drinking of the epic variety.

If your Indians lose, you live with the knowledge that 1948 is further away than ever, and that you blew a 3-1 lead in the most calamitous way possible, by losing Games 6 and 7 at home.

If your Cubs lose, you realize that once again it was all a tease, and the worst ever. First your team falls down a 3-1 hole and it looks finished ... then the Cubs rise from the ashes to force a Game 7 ...  and then, with your head full of the usual come-ons about Destiny and Meant To Be, they dash your hopes by failing to close the deal.

Pain and suffering either way, frankly.

So who wins?

Beats me. The Blob has no answers at this point, only a couple of surmises.

One, if the Indians scratch out any sort of lead against Kyle Hendricks through five innings, it's over, because Terry Francona will trot out a fresh Andrew Miller, whom the Cubs ensured wouldn't pitch again last night by blowing out the Tribe 9-3. He hasn't pitched now since Saturday, which means he could go awhile if need be. If there's any upside to losing 9-3 in a World Series game, that's it.

Two, if the Cubs are ever going to solve Corey Kluber, tonight's the night. They lit up Josh Tomlin on short rest in Game 6, after Tomlin muzzled them in Game 3.  Now Kluber's going for the third time in a week, following Game 1 with Games 4 and 7.  The last guy to win Games 1, 4 and 7 in a World Series?

Bob Gibson in 1967. Forty-nine years ago.

So maybe this time, finally, the Cubs scratch a few runs and take the early lead again. They're going to have to, because, again, if Cleveland gets a lead and keeps it into the fifth, it's over. That's not necessarily true the other way around, because Joe Maddon, in one of his few missteps, needlessly sent out Aroldis Chapman with a seven-run lead in the ninth. He only threw 20 pitches, true, but he's now pitched four innings in three days. That's a ton for a closer.

So, we shall see. We shall see.

Three best words in the English language, on a night such as this. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 8

And now this week's edition of The NFL In So Many Words, the unrepentant Blob feature of which the FBI has lamented "What, no emails?", and also "Come on, there's got to be some emails vaguely connected to Hillary Clinton in here somewhere":

1. Jay Cutler is back, baby!

2. (Delivered in a tone not nearly as sarcastic as you think)

3. Tony Romo is back, baby!

4. (Delivered only for its ironic effect, because he's not. But his baseball cap and clipboard are all ready to go)

5. In other news, Tom Brady.

6. Threw for some more yards and touchdowns and stuff as the Patriots won again and zzzzzzzz.

7. "A tie? I skipped West Brom vs. Hotspur for this?"

8. (Overheard at Wembley Stadium, where the Bengals and Redskins, yes, tied in Roger Goodell's continuing mission to shove the NFL down the throats of bemused and largely indifferent Britons)

9. OK, so the Colts just suck.

10. (Delivered in a tone of resignation, as in "We were hoping they were just starting slow again, but, no, they just suck")