Friday, October 20, 2017

As Luck would have it

Or, you know, not.

Not, because at this point the inhabitants of the grassy knoll enter the picture, after Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard announced they were shutting Andrew Luck down again, barely four days after he began throwing a football. Apparently there was some soreness in his surgical right shoulder, even though Luck was not, apparently, launching rockets. Word out of Indy is he was chucking it 30 or 40 yards downfield, but with nothing on it.

And so ...

And so now with the conspiracy theories.

Now the moment when the Blob was informed by an acquaintance who lives in Indy, and who has seen Luck on local TV a few times, that, beyond just the shoulder, the Colts' franchise QB looks seriously unhealthy. Pale, thin, shockingly frail. So there's that.

(Of course, when you've been virtually inactive since January, you're probably not going to look like some cartoon muscle-y superhero. So there's that, too).

Anyway ... the suspicion grows that the Colts are hiding something, fueled by the conventional wisdom that, when it comes to injuries, NFL teams tend to be less than forthright. Is there something else going on besides the shoulder? Was the shoulder itself far more extensively damaged than the Colts are letting on, necessitating a far more extensive surgical procedure than the simple labrum repair we've been led to believe?

I don't know. Maybe this really is just the Colts being super-cautious. Maybe it really is the customary recovery timeline for this sort of surgery. But ...

But it's been, what, nine months since the surgery? And yet Luck is only now beginning tentatively to throw. And  after just four days of throwing, his shoulder is hurting again. So it is reasonable to suspect that this is a lot more serious than the Colts have led us to believe, given that initially they were talking about him being ready for the start of the season.

Now we're six weeks past that, and he's no more ready than he was in August. So, yes, the grassy knoll people are starting to whisper among themselves.

Me?

I think now that his return this season is more than just problematical. And I didn't before.

So there's that, too.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Statuesque, Part Deux

So they're going to erect some statuary in Assembly Hall honoring Indiana University's rich basketball legacy, and you-know-who will not be among them.

Some people think this is classless on the part of IU, ignoring Robert Montgomery Knight like that.

Other people actually conversant with the facts know IU is simply honoring Knight's request that they not include him in the display, on account of he's still miffed at the school even though no one but Knight cares anymore.

And so one sculpture will depict Everett Dean, a member of the basketball Hall of Fame and Indiana's first All-American player and first iconic coach. Another will honor Branch McCracken and the late Bill Garrett, who broke the Big Ten color barrier.

A third will include six players from IU's undefeated 1975-76 national championship team, a fourth will feature Steve Alford, Keith Smart and the 1987 title team, and a fifth will feature Isiah Thomas, star of the 1981 IU national champs.

Knight, of course, coached those last three teams. And, frankly, I think he deserves his own sculpture whether he wants it or not -- if only so IU could return his extended middle finger with one of its own.

And so the question becomes, what signature IU basketball moment would it portray?

Knight with one granite arm extended and one eye closed, aiming a starter's pistol at reporter Russ Brown?

Knight in mid-fling, with a marble chair in bas relief?

Knight in mid-fling again, this time with a marble flower vase in bas relief?

Personally, I'd go with bookend images of Knight grabbing Jim Wisman by his limestone jersey and Knight with his hand around the late Neil Reed's limestone throat. Or maybe Knight and NCAA Tournament moderator Rance Pugmire in profile, commemorating the time Knight publicly humiliated Pugmire over a simple honest mistake.

So much stone. So many choices.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Baseball, in short

Briefest possible reaction to Yankees 6, Astros 4 and Dodgers 6, Cubs 1 last night:

1. Well, crap.

2. Well, crap.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Planet Pitino

The world Rick Pitino inhabits is not this world. That ought to be crystal to everyone by now.

No, on Planet Pitino, the head coach never sees nothin'. He's not accountable for what goes on in his program, even when it happens right under his nose. If his awful, awful assistants do something corrupt, how can their stink ever touch him?

After all (just to remind you), he didn't see nothin'. And if he didn't see nothin', how can he be fired?

This is essentially the argument his lawyers are making, as Pitino claims once more that he's blameless as a babe in the latest corruption to embroil his Louisville program. First it was hookers turning the basketball building into a bordello; now it's the shoe company that pays Pitino millions bribing his underlings.

But, hey. He's just the head coach. All he's done is pocket 98 percent of the money Adidas threw at Louisville to wear its shoes. If his assistants were taking additional bribes under the table, how's he responsible for that?

And so he's contesting his firing by Louisville, an act of chutzpah breathtaking in its scope. Never mind the fact he should have been gone after the hooker thing, when he presented the absurd argument that, nope, he didn't see nothin', even though it was happening in a building he inhabited every day. Now he's claiming, essentially, that he can't be fired for this, either, on account of he's not accountable for the actions of those who work for him.

On Planet Pitino, this makes perfect sense.

Everywhere else ...

Well, everywhere else, it's pretty much revealed truth that when you make as much money as Pitino did as coach of a premier college basketball program -- a Hall of Fame coach, by the way -- you are damn skippy responsible for everything that goes on in your program, whether you knew about it or not (and in Pitino's case, the "not" remains highly suspect). The greater your reward, the greater your accountability. Especially when you have the track record for sleaze Pitino does.

The man is slipperier than an oiled eel, and he's gotten away with it for a long time. It's not just the Adidas thing, which is the subject of a criminal investigation. It's not even just the hooker thing, or the having-sex-on-a-table-in-a-restaurant thing -- which should have gotten him fired, too, but didn't because the woman he had sex with was foolish enough to try to blackmail him.

Still, it added to his body of work, so to speak. And if it took the FBI to wake Louisville up to that body of work, then good for the FBI.

He's claiming Louisville doesn't have the right to fire him?

Wait'll the Hall of Fame tries to fire him, which ought to happen next.

That sound you hear is Pitino's head exploding.

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 6

And now this week's edition of The NFL In So Many Words, the numbingly formulaic Blob feature of which critics have said "It's a touchdown!" and the replay booth has said "No, it's not!":

1. It's a touchdown, New York Jets! (In every known universe except Alpha Replayus Examinus Every Playus At The Cellular Levelus).

2. Sorry, New York Jets, it's not! (In the aforementioned universe)

3. Can we have a replay of the replay booth? (Pretty much everyone in America who is not a New England Patriots fan)

4. Meanwhile, the Titans!

5. Kept us from saying "The Colts!" for the first time in a dozen meetings!

6. In other history news, the Bears!

7. Won a road game?

8. Sorry. Wrong punctuation. Won a road game!

9.  Sad news of the week (in Green Bay): The Vikings broke Aaron Rodgers.

10. Sadder news of the week (everywhere football is cherished): The Browns are still Brownsing.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A most American act

And now the painfully obvious reaction to Colin Kaepernick, Super Bowl quarterback, filing a grievance against the NFL owners who have kept him out of a league over-served with QB mediocrities and worse:

What took you so long, man?

Also, how ironic is it that a man blackballed for kneeling before the flag (on the advice of one of "the troops" he was accused of disrespecting, btw) is now the man standing tallest for the values that flag represents?

Good for Kaepernick.

Heck. Good for America.

Karma 1, Cubs 0

Remember last October, when everyone was talking about karma, and how it felt like it was finally on the Cubs' side this time, and that was great because karma had always been the prettiest girl in  school and the Cubs had always been the nerdiest nerd?

Well ...

Welcome back to Nerdsville, Cubbies.

Not because you're down 2-0 in the NLCS, mind you. Because of how it happened.

How it happened was a walkoff three-run homer by Justin Turner in Game 2 last night, which handed the Dodgers a 4-1 win. It was only the second walkoff postseason jack in Dodgers' history. The first, of course, was the most famous postseason walkoff in baseball history, Kirk Gibson's "I Can't Believe What I Just Saw" homer in the 1988 World Series.

Turner's blast?

Happened 29 years later to the day.

Karma.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fraud, un-frauded

Gotta say it. The world must look pretty interesting from the angle in which the NCAA views it.

You know, upside-down. Through squinty eyes. With the head cocked at a verrry precise tilt, because only at that tilt does the inexplicable look explicable, the patently false look true and what's black-and-white to the rest of us is not, you know, black-and-white at all.

For instance: Can anyone explain to me, a mere mortal, how a university can commit blatant academic fraud for almost two decades in the service of its basketball program, and not get turned into a smoking crater by the NCAA's enforcement wing?

The ruling body for collegiate athletics will hammer schools (mostly not the big revenue producers, of course) for all manner of silliness, up to and including dinging athletes for selling the bowl swag the NCAA itself says is OK for them to get. (But don't buy that kid a cheeseburger, Coach! Improper benefit!)

Yet here we have the University of North Carolina, which ran the long academic con with such breathtaking gall, getting a free pass because ... well, because why?

Because the phony courses many of its basketball players were taking were open to all students, thereby removing the "improper benefit" tag?

Because the students taking the fraudulent courses were assigned papers, did turn them and were graded according to the professor's guidelines, fraudulent though they were?

Well ... yes. Or so the NCAA Committee on Infractions said when it refused to penalize the North Carolina basketball program for its involvement in this decades-long scam.

In other words, in the NCAA's world, you can now commit academic fraud that benefits your athletic programs (because the "papers" invariably received high grades) as long as the assigned work is completed. By whom, of course, is a question the NCAA prefers you don't ask.

You want to know how insane is this?

It's so insane that the NCAA investigators who uncovered this mammoth scam wanted to throw the book at North Carolina. They were, quite properly, appalled. But they were overruled by their own COI -- even though, in its own report, it admitted that the "courses" involved classes that never met, nonexistent faculty oversight and papers that were graded by a secretary who herself admitted she sometimes didn't read all of them.

Are you kidding me? Are ... you ... kidding me?

The nut of all this, of course, is that by not laying a glove on North Carolina, the NCAA is finally admitting that what it oversees is purely a business. This comes as no surprise to those of us who for some time have been watching the emperor prance around naked. But now the NCAA itself has admitted its garments are nonexistent.

Its argument against paying the hired help, after all, has always been that it isn't hired help at all. Its athletes are students pursuing college degrees. That their labor generates billions in revenue for their schools is offset by a higher purpose: They're getting a free education as a tradeoff.

A grand notion. And one totally undermined when a member school is allowed to funnel its "student-athletes" into fraudulent courses without a twinge of conscience, thereby rendering that education worthless. That's what the University of North Carolina has been doing for 20 years. And the NCAA let the Tar Heels get away with it.

Can there be a more blatant betrayal of college athletics' alleged mission? Or a more stark example of just whose tail is wagging what dog?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Why baseball is great

In which the Blob will not point out that it took the Nationals and Cubs four hours and 37 minutes to decide the NLDS last night, which of course is insane on its face. But which of course was ultimately not as insane as what happened during those interminable four hours and 37 minutes.

Insane and wonderful, one might add. Yes, that, too.

What happened was the Nats choked on the big moment again, same as ever, but in the sort of wildly spectacular and head-grabbing ways only baseball in October seems to produce. They had a 4-1 lead at home! They had Max Scherzer on the hill with two out and nobody on in the fifth! The Cubs couldn't drive in a run if someone held a gun to Clark the Bear's head!

And so of course the Cubs won.

They won 9-8 even though their pitchers walked nine batters. They won, and scored nine runs, even though they were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. They won even though they stranded nine baserunners, because the Nats stranded -- are you ready for this? -- 13.

They won, in the signature inning, by scoring four two-out runs off Scherzer in the fifth.

As Jack Buck famously said when ancient, crippled-up Kirk Gibson came out of the clubhouse to hit the most famous walk-off (actually limp-off) home run in history: "I don't believe what I just saw!"

If October baseball has a better epitaph, I can't imagine what it would be.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Two brief thoughts on the baseball last night

In which the Blob hijacks its own wretched work product, The NFL In So Many Words, to encapsulate a gloomy day in playoff baseball for all those who believe in truth, justice and the Cubs Way:

1. I KNEW he wasn't sick! (Nats 5, Cubs 0, the Deathly Ill Stephen Strasburg 7 innings pitched, 3 hits, 12 strikeouts)

2. Are you kidding me, Cleveland? (Yankees 5, Indians 2 in Game 5, in Cleveland)

Wait. Did I say two brief thoughts?

Make it four:

3. Gaah! Stupid Yankees!

4. Dammit! The Yankees!

There.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Yankee go home

Trinidad and who?

Trinidad and Tobago, and there goes U.S. men's soccer, slinking right back to 1986. In case you missed it in all the furor over the NFL knuckling under to the false-flag-flying creature in the White House, the U.S. men lost to T&T in the World Cup qualifying last night, 2-1. T&T had diddly-boo to play for, and was a vastly inferior side to boot. Yet it beat a listless U.S. side that had everything to play for.

As a result, the U.S. men will not be playing in the World Cup for the first time since 1986 -- when, presumably, U.S. men's soccer was light years less advanced than it is today.

Well. Apparently not.

Despite a handful of talented up-and-comers -- including 20-year-old Christian Pulisic, who could wind up being the first Ronaldo-level American superstar --  American soccer on the male side is right back where it was 31 years ago. And that says nothing good whatsoever about its leadership from head coach Bruce Arena on down.

Too harsh?

Perhaps. But how is it men's soccer in America continues to tread water (or, in this case, drown) while women's soccer has been one of the premier sides in the world for 20-some years?

To be sure, the women have some advantages. Basketball and football don't vacuum up a lot of  their prospective talent the way they do on the men's side. And the sustained success of the U.S. women has created a culture that is itself sustaining.

Little girls in America grow up wanting to be Mia Hamm or Carly Lloyd. Little boys don't grow up wanting to be Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey -- or even Christian Pulisic.

Still ... that U.S. men's soccer would fail so spectacularly at this particular moment is especially disheartening, because it did so against the backdrop of increasing concerns about football and its long-term effects. Little boys may still grow up wanting to be Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but not as much as they once did. The NFL ignored the concussion issue for years, and now that disastrous decision is coming back to bite it at every level of the sport.

Which would seem to benefit soccer.

And which is why not making the World Cup at this precise time in history especially ruinous.

You make the World Cup, after all, and you give kids coming up whose parents want to steer them away from football something to dream of. You stoke a fire for which conditions right now are better than they've perhaps ever been. And you get to sell your game at a time when it's perhaps never been more saleable.

But now?

Now your game goes off the radar at the worst possible time. And the hell of it is, it's off the radar because you failed in a qualifying region that's so forgiving it's almost impossible to fail -- especially for a nation that pours as much money into the sport as the United States.

It's the own goal of all own goals. Or something comparable, surely.

Sick leave

This is the part, in "Welcome Back, Kotter," where Juan Epstein used to bring a note from his legendary mom.

Dear Dusty: Please excuse Stephen from pitching tonight. The air conditioning has made him sick.

(Signed)
Epstein's Mom.

Or ...

Dear Dusty: Stephen is feeling under the weather today. Tanner Roark should pitch instead. I'm sure Stephen will be ready for Game 5.

(Signed)
Epstein's Mom.

And then ...

What do you mean there might not be a Game 5?

(Signed)
Epstein's Mom.

And if you're wondering, at this point, "What is this man talking about?", well ... we're talking about mold.

Which, according to manager Dusty Baker, apparently has gotten into the air conditioning in the Washington Nationals hotel in Chicago, and caused several of them to feel icky. Including, it turns out, ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who allowed just three hits and no earned runs and struck out 10 in the NLDS opener against the Cubs, and whose ERA after the All-Star break is a barely visible 0.86.

That will do neither home nor the Nats any good in Game 4 tonight, however. Strasburg, scheduled to go on full rest after Game 4 was rained out last night, will not be going after all. Baker will go with Tanner Roark instead, saying Strasburg was feeling "under the weather."

Of course, given that this is an elimination for the Nats, perhaps he should have said "on his deathbed."

Because, listen, you'd hope that Strasburg would at the very least be gasping his last if he's going to sit this one out, because ... well, because the season's over if the Nats lose. "Under the weather" does not quite rise to the level of an acceptable absence given the circumstance. Or so one would think.

But then, the Blob is a Cranky Old-School Guy Zone, where, if your team needs you to save its season, you drag an oxygen tank out there if you have to. Hardly anything short of Strasburg's pitching arm actually falling off should keep him off the bump. And even then, there's always Scotch tape.

But, hey. Maybe he really is on his deathbed. In which case mold becomes the unlikely MVP of the series.

Or ...

Or maybe this is just a mind-trick by Dusty the Zenmaster, and Strasburg really is going to pitch.

Guess we'll see.

Update: Guess we will. Sources say Strasburg is now scheduled to start Game 4. Dusty the Zenmaster, playin' games.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Gators gone wild

And now, because the Blob is an official Hideous Uniform Shaming Zone, we present this, which is the getup Florida will be wearing at home against Texas A&M this weekend.

According to the promotional copy, they're "gator-inspired." I guess, although I've never seen a gator with a shiny silver head. I think they're "gator-inspired" in much the same way a guy wearing a charcoal-gray suit is "charcoal-inspired."

Also, it would have been nice if, somewhere in all that "swamp-green" and silver, they might have included a few touches that would remotely identify the wearers as, you know, the University of Florida football team.

Oh, wait. I guess the numbers will be orange, and there's a smidge of blue on the sleeves that you'll be able to see if you squint really hard. So I guess it's all good.

I also guess the reaction of fans in Ben Hill Stadium will include this:

"Where are the Gators?"

"Cool, it's the X-Men!"

"Hey, look, they must be filming a sequel to 'Any Given Sunday'."

"WHERE ARE THE GATORS??"

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 5

And now this week's edition of The NFL In So Many Words, the Blob feature much lauded by people who say, "Oh, wait. I thought you said much-larded":

1. It's Tuesday morning and Alex Smith, That Guy Who Isn't That Good, is 5-0 with 11 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 125.8 QBR.

2. Meanwhile, Mitch Trubisky!

3. Upooted the Sears Tower with his bare hands last night and hurled it like a javelin into Wisconsin!

4. OK, so he didn't.

5. But he was kinda good.

6. For a guy who completed less than half his passes and lost.

7. In other news, Adam Vinatieri revealed that he is "not actually 44" but "I tell people that so they'll say 'Hey, look, 44-year-old Adam Vinatieri just kicked a 51-yard game-winning field goal!'"

8. Odell Beckham, ouch. J.J. Watt, ouch squared.

9. Don't look now, but here come the Browns!

10. No, really. Don't look.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Stage play

The statue, posted like a sentry outside the north end of Lucas Oil Stadium, is every inch No. 18. David Letterman had a nice Letterman-ly schtick, punctuated by a great line about how Indianapolis now has a skyline because of No. 18. And on Sunday afternoon, No. 18 went up on the ring of honor in the house No. 18 built.

Then No. 2 decided to horn in on Peyton Manning's big weekend.

That would be Mike Pence, former governor of Indiana and architect of the Great I-69 Extension Calamity, and now the nation's No. 2 man behind our only available president. He showed up to honor Peyton, or so he said. Then he trampled all over Peyton's weekend with a cheap political stunt.

Insufferable sanctimony is the province of all political animals, and Pence is nothing if not a pure political animal. So he did what political animals do, which is stage a sanctimonious "walkout" that was pure political theater -- and not even good political theater, given that everyone with a working brain cell knew the "walkout" was entirely calculated.

Look. I get it. The political game now is always to throw red meat at your base, and Pence's phony walkout was calibrated to the inch to do exactly that. Like everyone in America, he knew the San Francisco 49ers were going to kneel with their heads bowed for the national anthem, because they always do. And so you have to figure he knew exactly what he was going to do long before he stepped foot in The Luke yesterday.

He was going to walk out. Then he was going to tweet the usual blowholing nonsense about how he, Mike Pence, was not going to frequent an event where the American flag and American soldiers were disrespected. Because he, Mike Pence -- like his boss, Our Only Available President -- are patriots, by God, who respect America and the troops and apple pie and the purple mountains' majesty.

Of course, he didn't include this little tidbit: That reporters covering Pence were told before the game by Pence's handlers that he likely would be leaving early.

And so all of this was as transparent a load of cowflop as you're ever going to step in, which is saying something. That it was done at the taxpayers' expense, and at Peyton Manning's, made it all the more crass.

So does the fact that, like a lot of the "patriots," Pence doesn't even know what he's allegedly outraged by.

That business about disrespecting our soldiers by kneeling?

Hard to imagine how that's the case, considering it was a soldier's idea that they kneel.

Here's the story: When Colin Kaepernick first begin sitting out the anthem last year, he was contacted by a veteran. A dialogue was struck, and the vet and Kaepernick eventually got together. It was then  the vet suggested that, rather than sit, they kneel -- because at a military funeral, the flag is presented to the widow by a kneeling member of the color guard.

And so they do. It's a compromise that's supposed to send the message this isn't about disrespecting those who've served. And indeed it isn't, considering so many of those kneeling come from military families, or who have relatives who currently serve in the military.

Unfortunately, that message got lost when the politicians decided to get involved. Unfortunately, largely, so has Kaepernick's original point, which is that police officers really shouldn't go around shooting unarmed black folk when they probably don't need to.

How this became a controversial position is a neat window into just how thoroughly the nation and rational thought have parted ways. As is the fact Pence and Our Only Available President decided to become self-appointed (and completely unrequested) champions of "our soldiers."

The former, after all, never served. And the latter not only never served, but actively ducked military service when it was his turn to stand up for the flag he claims to revere so much.

What a crazy country.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Requiem for a Hawk

One by one they take their quiet leave, all the names who made sports sing for me as a kid. I'm no kid myself anymore, is one dully obvious thing this tells me. Another is that underneath all my hard-won cynicism a foolish romantic clings to life, because whenever a boyhood idol passes I always say "But he wasn't that old!"

Connie Hawkins died the other day, is what I'm trying to say. And, no, he wasn't that old.

He was 75 -- which is nothing, really, especially when he'll always in my memory be the long, ramshackle coil of muscle and spring who stared from the wall in my dorm room at Ball State. That poster went up the day I moved in, if I remember right, and it stayed there: Connie Hawkins in his glory days with the Phoenix Suns, holding the basketball in his huge hands as he contemplated a free throw.

Now both poster and dorm room are gone. The poster vanished who knows when. The dorm room in Hurst Hall disappeared in a shower of rubble this summer, as Ball State demolished LaFollette Complex to make room for newer, better dorms. Hurst, naturally, was the first dorm they took down.

The Hawk, on the other hand, endures. He was my favorite basketball player when I was growing up, even if he wasn't as well known as a lot of his contemporaries. This is because the NBA banned him for most of his prime years, punishment for alleged involvement in a college point-shaving scandal. As it turns out, Hawk was innocent. He was a wronged party, and I've always been a sucker for wronged party stories.

But I also dug his game. Hawk, you see, is the guy who taught basketball how to fly.

He was 6-foot-8 with huge hands and crazy hops, a 1960s New York playground legend as famous in his own sphere as Wilt Chamberlain or Oscar Robertson were in theirs. The man was Dr. J before there was a Dr. J, Michael Jordan before there was a Michael Jordan. He was the first superstar of the fledgling ABA, led the Pittsburgh Pipers to the first ABA title, played for a time with the Globetrotters during his long and undeserved exile.

The great parlor game with Hawk was just how great he would have been had he not had to spend so much of his career in the bushes. By the time he came to the NBA, he was 27 years old, but it was an old 27. As it was, he still made the Hall of Fame.

And now he is gone. At 75.

Not that old. No, not that old at all.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Statuesque

And now, a few brief words about the appropriateness of a Peyton Manning statue, which today is unveiled in front of Lucas Oil Stadium, aka, the House That Peyton Built:

Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell outside PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Magic Johnson outside the Staples Center in L.A.

Michael Jordan outside the United Center in Chicago.

Knute Rockne, Lou Holtz, Frank Leahy and Dan Devine outside Notre Dame Stadium.

Gordie Howe inside Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

Peyton Manning outside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Which one of these is not like the others?

Correct. None of these are not like the others.

Case closed.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Sack of the year

So this was the day I was going to say all sorts of mean yet completely appropriate things about Cam Newton, Caveman of the Year, who tried to make a sexist joke at the expense of a woman sportswriter the other day and discovered that nobody thought it was funny, on account of it wasn't.

I was going to respond by saying something like "Dude, it's 2017. Maybe you heard about it."

Or, "Shut up and go make me a sandwich."

Or even,  "It's funny to hear a male athlete talk about a female sportswriter like he thinks it's 1956 or something."

But then I read this. And I figured nothing I could write would be more sublime than the headshot Sally Jenkins delivers here.

Add another concussion to Cam's collection.

Update: Apparently the sportswriter Cam ridiculed is no prize, either. The author of a number of blatantly racist tweets. Here's hoping someone picks up where Jenkins left off and takes her down a peg, too.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Slow ride

It was W.C. Fields, or so legend has it, who once said he spent a week in Philadelphia one night.

I can't say for sure, but I bet he was at a baseball game.

Comes now October baseball, the most wonderful time of year as long as you lay in the kind of provisions Lewis and Clark did when they set off to explore the western half of America. Of course, Lewis and Clark were only gone two years.  October baseball might require some extra stores of jerky and pemmican.

Yes, if you haven't guessed it already, this is the Blob's annual old-man-shouting-at-the-clouds rant at the state of baseball -- once a fast-paced National Pastime and now, especially in the playoffs, an excruciating slog resembling the Indianapolis 500 if the Indianapolis 500 were contested by snails.

In the NL wild-card playoff last night, Colorado and Arizona played a hell of a baseball game, apparently, as long as you weren't a pitcher. The teams combined for 30 hits and 19 runs in 8 1/2 innings as the home-standing Diamondbacks won, 11-8. And it didn't even take four hours to play!

No, sir. It only took 3 hours and 54 minutes.

To play a game that, because the home D-Backs were leading, didn't even go the designated nine innings.

I didn't watch it, on account of I am not genetically disposed to spend almost four hours watching anything, let alone a game where so little is happening so much of the time. My attention span, alas, never got out of A-ball. And so I would have nodded off, or changed channels, long before that exciting moment when Paul Goldschmidt or Charlie Blackmon called time to adjust their batting gloves for the 16th time, or that other exciting moment when Diamondbacks catcher Jeff Mathis trotted out to the mound for the 12th time to discuss china patterns with whoever was pitching.

But I shouldn't pick on the poor Rockies and Diamondbacks. The Yankees and Twins played a wowser the other night in the AL wild-card game, too. And that one didn't last four hours, either.

It only lasted 3 hours, 51 minutes before the Yankees won 8-4 in another slugfest.

Look. I get it. Baseball is the only game that doesn't have a time clock, and that lends it a certain charming timelessness, a boundless romp across Elysian fields that's over when it's over. And baseball has marked the time, and America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers, and blah-blah-blah, yadda-yadda-yadda.

People will come, Ray. People most definitely will come.

But they'd better pack a lunch if they do.

The aggravating thing about all this, of course, is baseball has rules in place to speed up the pace of play, but it won't enforce them. A player calling time to step out of the box and adjust his batting gloves or admire the grain of his bat does so at the discretion of the plate umpire. If ump says no, you have to stay in the box and play on.

But when is the last time you actually saw an umpire say no?

You see the problem. And because it's not a problem anyone seems to want to solve, I will predict right now who the MVP of the playoffs will be.

My DVR.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 4

And now this week's edition of The NFL In So Many Words, the unremittingly tiresome Blob feature of which people (this week) are saying "Hey, no fair! You can't do this on Wednesday!" and "What a cruel joke, making us think you were skipping it this week!":

1. Sorry, Tennessee, you will not be getting your Titans back today. We're still waiting on parts. (Signed) Andy Jackson's By The Eternal Service And Repair.

2. Who is this Jay Cutler fellow who plays for the Porpoises? Heavens, isn't he the dour one. And is that how an NFL offense is supposed to look? (Signed) Jolly Old England.

3. I don't care what you say. Alex Smith still blows. (Signed) The Society of People Who Care Too Much That Alex Smith Isn't Throwing 60-Yard Bombs, And Not Enough That He's 4-0.

4. Hey, look! We're leading! (Signed) The Tru Blu Colts Crew (halftime)

5. Uuhhh ... (Signed) The Tru Blu Colts Crew (postgame).

6. Man, do we stink. (Signed) The Bear Down Chicago Bears Fan Club, before learning Mike Glennon had been benched for Mitch Trubisky.

7. Woo-hoo! We're going to the Super Bowl! (Signed) The Bear Down Chicago Bears Fan Club, after it was announced Glennon had been benched for Trubisky.

8. Man, do we stink. (Signed) The J-E-T-S Jets-Jets-Jets Fan, before the Jets beat the Jaguars in overtime.

9. Woo-hoo! We're going to the Super Bowl! (Signed) The J-E-T-S Jets-Jets-Jets Fan, after the Jets beat the Jaguars in overtime.

10. Sorry, Tennessee. Looks like a total rebuild of the Stopping Deshaun Watson micro-defensive fuel cell. (Signed) Andy Jackson's By The Eternal Service And Repair.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The sound of madness

Turn on your TV anytime in the last two weeks, and there they were again, kids in camo helmets with peace signs and subversive little messages ("War is hell") markered onto them. Half a century has come and gone since they were humping it through the bush, but Ken Burns and Lynn Novick took you right back there, took you back to a crazy time in America when delusion and duplicity and death in all its forms ruled.

"The Vietnam War" was a tour de force from America's master documentarian, 18 hours that made time sideslip. Suddenly it was all real, again. Occasionally it was too real, as when the kids humping it through the bush got caught in an ambush. Then there would be chaos and shouting and the morbidly cheery sound of automatic weapons fire, pop-pop-pop-pop.

It was the sound Vietnam made in 1967, '68, '69, '70.

Now it's the sound Las Vegas makes in 2017, right here in the good old USA.

I don't know what you can say about 59 dead and 500 injured the other night, except that it is madness unbound and a human tragedy of unfathomable proportions. This is not about the Second Amendment anymore, stretched all out of round these days by zealots. It is not about more background checks, or about craven politicians who offer the usual thoughts-and-prayers charade while they finger tattered copies of their NRA bullet points.

This is not even about simple murder anymore.

No, this is about hearing the same pop-pop-pop-pop in the middle of a country music concert that you heard all week watching "The Vietnam War." It's about a crazy white guy in a high place (not, ahem, a Muslim or a Syrian refugee, Mr. President) committing the terror homegrown this time. It's about chaos and shouting and, yes, the same sounds produced by the same type of small-arms fire, achieving the same results.

Fifty-nine dead and 500 injured, you see, means we have come to a place in America where gun crime figures have become full-on combat casualty figures.  The metrics of what happened on an American street on a normal American night rival the metrics of America's last combat operation in Iraq (Operation New Dawn). Fifty-nine dead and 500 injured in the former; 73 dead and 295 wounded in the latter.

And the dismaying thing about all of that is none of it should shock us anymore.

The harsh truth is what happened in Vegas has happened before -- Charlie Whitman in the Texas Tower was the first killer in a high place, 51 years ago -- and it will happen again, because this is who we have decided we want to be as a country. We vote for it. We make excuses for it. We become wild-eyed hysterics whenever someone even mildly suggests we might want to try to slow it down a bit.

Obama's comin' to take your guns. Remember?

Look. I grew up around firearms, grew up in a family of hunters and target shooters. My dad had a reproduction 1774 Charleville musket hanging over our fireplace. He had a service carbine in his bedroom closet, and several handguns. He had a pair of matching cap-and-ball Kentucky horse pistols that now rest on a shelf in my closet.

I believe in the Second Amendment.

But I also believe that at some point, and I don't know when, a certain segment of the country lost its collective mind over it. When I was growing up, the right to bear arms meant you had a hunting rifle or two and maybe a handgun, or maybe, yes, a service carbine in your closet. It didn't mean you armed yourself like the 82nd Airborne. It didn't mean you felt it necessary to sling an AK-47 on your back when you went off to buy a gallon of milk, or had military-grade small arms stashed all over a hotel in Las Vegas, the way the shooter did the other night.

And it for sure didn't mean you thought someone was coming to take your guns just because they suggested a few background checks. Background checks are about a little inconvenience, not about  depriving you of your inalienable rights as an American. Get a grip, people.

It's true a few background checks probably won't stop what happened in Vegas. On the other hand, we're never gonna hear about the shootings that didn't happen because someone couldn't pass a background check. And it's absolutely stone certain that making it easier instead of harder for the crazies to slaughter our friends and loved ones won't slow that slaughter.

There has to be some sort of balance, in other words. There has to be a way to get back to a place where exercising your Second Amendment rights means, yes, you own a hunting rifle or two, and where common sense rules instead of hysteria.

Until that time, expect more Las Vegases.

And do you know how much I hate writing that?

Monday, October 2, 2017

Fantasy land

OK, OK. Just this once. Just this once will the Blob, a resolute No Fantasy Football Posts Ever zone, comment on ... fantasy football.

That's because Richard Sherman said something about it yesterday, and he was dead-on, four-square right.

Yes, Richard, fantasy football does dehumanize NFL players. It does turn them into inanimate game pieces to be moved around the board at will by "fans" who never stop to think these are flesh-and-blood human beings with real lives and real families and people who love them.

"(We) don't care about your fantasy team," Sherman said.

Nor should they. For all the reasons stated above.

Of course ...

Of course,  that still does not stop me from being mad at Deshaun Watson for accounting for five touchdowns in a week when I decided not to play him.

Dammit, Deshaun! How could you?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Wide open

The word came down on a perfect college football Saturday, crystalline blue skies and burnished-gold sunlight and the crispness of early autumn in the air. Joe Tiller's teams would have thrown it all over the lot on such a Saturday, which is a notable observation only because Joe Tiller's teams threw it all over the lot every Saturday.

Born a year to the day after Pearl Harbor, he died yesterday at the age of 74, in Buffalo, Wyoming, his favorite place on earth. He was a football coach and a husband and a father and a grandfather, and a hell of a guy.  There will be tributes, surely, a lot of them flowing out of West Lafayette, In., where he lifted football at Purdue to its feet and made it Quarterback U. again.

But the best tribute is what you saw on your TV screens yesterday afternoon and evening, because what you saw in a great sense is what Joe Tiller wrought.

He opened up the game, Joe Tiller did. He brought the spread offense to Purdue and to the Big Ten and eventually, in an ancestral sort of way, to the entire country.

Not bad for a guy everyone scratched his head over when Purdue announced his hiring.

The Big Three in Indiana all hired new coaches that year, 1997, and, from a pure buzz standpoint, Joe Tiller was the least of these. Indiana hired Cam Cameron, who was a high school football and basketball legend in Indiana and who had a reputation as a budding young coaching genius. Notre Dame elevated Bob Davie, Lou Holtz' faithful and accomplished lieutenant, to replace Holtz in South Bend. And Purdue?

Purdue hired ... Joe Tiller.

Who had just finished six successful seasons at Wyoming. But it was Wyoming, and Tiller was in his mid-50s by then, and so the general reaction around the state was this:

Oh, yeah, Cameron. Bright young guy. Good hire, IU.

Oh, yeah, Davie. Great coordinator. Good hire, ND.

Oh, ye-- wait, who? Joe Tiller? Who the hell is Joe Tiller?!

The guy partially responsible for putting Cameron and Davie out of work, as it turns out.

Cameron and Davie both departed after the 2001 season, by which time everyone knew who Joe Tiller was. He'd just taken Purdue to the 2001 Rose Bowl, its first trip there in 34 years. He was the midst of taking the Boilermakers, who previously had been to just five bowl games in their history, to 10 bowl games in 12 years. And he'd turned the plodding Big Ten into a wide-open passing league with the spread offense he brought from Wyoming.

In his first season he took a defensive back, Billy Dicken, and turned him into an all-conference quarterback. He strung wide receivers like Christmas lights along the line of scrimmage, made the words "bubble screen" into a staple in every Purdue game story, threw the football -- and won doing it -- in a way the old-timers said would never work in the Big Ten.

Well, it worked. To the tune of 85 victories in 12 seasons, which made Joe Tiller the winningest football coach in the history of a school that had had some coaches who won a lot. And by the time he left, a lot of other coaches in the Big Ten were using the spread offense, or variations of it.

As are coaches all over the country now.

As for Tiller, his last act at Purdue was to retain the Old Oaken Bucket in 2008. The Boilers laminated Indiana 62-10 that day. By that time, Tiller had outlasted two coaches in South Bend, and the third, Charlie Weis, was on his last legs. And he'd outlasted three in Bloomington -- including, tragically, Terry Hoeppner, who seemed to have IU on the right track when his life was cut short by a brain tumor.

Now Tiller is gone, too. And you'd like to think that, somewhere up there in the great beyond, he and Hoeppner are even now planning one last celestial tussle.

Joe brings the spread to heaven. Now there's a headline for ya.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Your state of the nation update

In which Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert says he received a flood of racist voicemails after LeBron James exercised his constitutional right to call our only available president a bum.

Because, well, he was being a bum with the whole Warriors invite/disinvite thing.

"I received voicemails ... that were some of the most vile, disgusting, racist [messages]," Gilbert said Friday when he appeared as a guest on a CNBC show. "There's an element of racism that I didn't even realize existed in this country this much."

But, Dan, haven't you heard? We don't have a problem with racism in America. And those people who suggest we might, and we might want to think about doing something about it?

Why, they're just a bunch of spoiled (alternative word: "uppity") black athletes who hate America and don't appreciate the opportunity they've been given (not earned; it's always "given") to make millions of dollars playing a game. And so they should just shut up and play, because those dead African-Americans that Colin Kaepernick keeps whining about had it coming, anyway.

Or so that narrative apparently goes.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Words with teeth, today's edition

And so the festering edifice begins to crumble, now that the FBI's probe into college basketball and all its corrupt support system really begins to ramp up. NBA agent Andy Miller won't be the only collateral damage. There will be more.

Maybe even, you know, a certain football coach over in Columbus, Ohio.

No, Ohio State's Urban Meyer isn't part of any of this business, nor will either he be or his fellow high-dollar football coaches. This is strictly a hoops beef right now -- although that doesn't mean it will stay that way. As Miller, whose connection to college buckets extends only as far as representing NBA clients who used to be college players, could attest, this octopus has some long tentacles, and they stretch in some wholly unexpected directions.

So it's not what Meyer did. It's what he said.

When asked about the FBI's investigation into college basketball yesterday, he went full nuclear zero tolerance, saying coaches who intentionally lie about committing violations should be banned from ever coaching again on the college level.

"If you intentionally lie about committing violations, your career is over," Meyer said during a call-in radio show on 97.1 The Fan in Columbus. "You're not suspended for two games (or) some of the silly penalties you have, you can't talk to a recruit for a week and a half or something like that. No. You're finished. That will clean up some things."

Which might or might not be true, of course. Coaches who have been banished to outer darkness by the NCAA, after all, always seem to wind up in cushy gigs elsewhere -- like, oh, I don't know, the NBA perhaps. What puts the teeth in the FBI's probe is not only will you be banished from college buckets for lying, you'll wind up doing a stretch in Shawshank. Which is why so many coaches and ADs are in full cringe mode right now waiting for their assistants to roll on them.

Facing prison time, the rats will talk. They will sing like canaries, to mix the animal metaphors.

Here's the thing about tough talk, though: It very often comes back to bite you.

This is not to say Meyer is going to wind up getting caught lying to the feds someday. Not at all. But his allegiance to zero tolerance in this case has a few holes in it, because he's not always been so fond of it. When some 30 players get arrested on your watch while at Florida, and several more have at OSU, whatever message you're sending about keeping your nose clean in Meyer's program would seem not to be getting through. Or at least isn't being delivered with the kind of tough zero-tolerance talk Meyer used yesterday.

Perhaps that's unfair. But it did make me sort of chuckle.

And in these crazy days, a chuckle's worth its weight.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The chickens arrive home

Welp. Looks like it's time to haul out this oldie-but-goodie again.

Because the only thing more shocking than the nuclear device the feds dropped on college basketball yesterday is that  it wasn't shocking at all. Sneaker companies all mixed up in a scheme to steer kids to certain colleges with whom they have chunky deals? Assistant coaches who then take bribes to hook up those kids with agents who line them up, when the NBA comes calling, with -- gasp! -- those same sneaker companies?

Well, pour water on me and call me Drip.

Listen, all the feds did yesterday was tear the lid off a corporate enterprise, and its attendant unholy bargains, that's been going on for 30 years at least. The Sneaker Wars, and all the slimy under-the-table deals that come with them, didn't just start yesterday. You can go all the way back to the meat-market battles for top high school talent between the Nike Five-Star Camp and Adidas' ABCD camp that began in the 1980s, and which continue to this day.

Pssst. Hey, kid. Come to Five-Star/ABCD. We'll hook you up. We'll get you seen by all the top coaches (or at least the ones we got deals with). And, oh, here's a truckload of gear. Noticed you needed some.

Truth is, this has been a long time coming, and if every Power 5 athletic director and coach is quaking in his boots this a.m. (because the FBI ominously warned its probe isn't over yet), it couldn't have happened too soon. The  whole rotten incestuous system -- from the apparel deals to the AAU cesspool to the schools using their athletes as billboards for those apparel deals -- has perverted everything college athletics, in their pure if mostly unattainable form, are supposed to be about. And for more than long enough.

There's always been money for somebody in college athletics at the top end, but the difference between then and now is it's no longer just individual coaches or ADs with an entrepreneurial bent.  Now the entire structure of college football and basketball is a corporate enterprise driven by corporate imperatives. It's instructive to note the feds didn't clue in the NCAA on their investigation until yesterday morning, mere hours before they went public with the findings. Can't say for sure, but I suspect that's because the feds see the NCAA as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

And so assistant coaches at four different programs are now in the hottest water possible -- taking bribes could land them in prison, not just on NCAA probation -- and you can rest assured there is more to come. One of the schools being investigated in this, though not by name, is Louisville. And if it's discovered Rick Pitino's program was neck-deep in the bribe-taking racket, The Teflon Man may finally be up against something he can't slick his way out of. You can only pull off the whole Sgt. Schultz I-see-nothing-nothing act for so long.

On top of that, we may see the first application of the NCAA death penalty since SMU football back in the '80s.

And, again, this isn't over. This is just beginning. Corruption this deeply embedded has a root system that spreads everywhere. Everybody, it seems, has their hands out. Which of course makes laughable all the hand-wringing about whether or not to pay players, or how you could possibly make that work.

Yeah, well. They seem to have made this work, haven't they?

Update: Both Pitino and AD Tom Jurich are reportedly out at Louisville. The dominoes have begun to fall.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 3

And now this week's edition of The NFL In So Many Words, the excruciatingly regular Blob feature of which critics have said "Quick, invoke the ten-second runoff rule!" and also, "Wait, maybe he'll explain the ten-second runoff rule, because it sure doesn't make any damn sense to us normal people":

1. Hey, look, it's the ten-second runoff rule!

2. (Alternative version: Hey, look, it's a 59-minute, 52-second football game!)

3. Sorry, Lions.

4. Yes, we know there are still eight seconds on the clock.

5. No, you can't use them.

6. In other news, the Colts!

7. Wo-- OK, so didn't lose!

8. For the last time: Tom Brady is a cyborg.

9.  Also, Case Keenum is a real boy now.

10. The Bears won. The Jaguars won. The Giants scored. The Seahawks ("Super Bowl team! You bet" -- Football analysts everywhere) continue to play like the PAL mite division Seahawks. And rivers ran backward, and the sun rose in the west, and whales quoted Shakespeare.

Monday, September 25, 2017

One final thought

And then I'll let this go.

So, kneeling with one's head bowed during the national anthem is disrespectful. But booing people kneeling with their heads bowed isn't disrespectful (because apparently the people booing didn't think so)?

Wow. Sure changes the dynamic of church on Sundays.

America the deaf, Part Deux

In which some knelt with their heads bowed in an attitude of prayer. In which at least one knelt with his hand over his heart. In which they linked arms, not just players but in some cases even owners, hypocrites though those owners may be.

This is what happens when an American president who doesn't understand America, and who is himself the rankest of hypocrites, trashes an entire group of Americans, most of them black. This is what happens when a man who wouldn't stand up for the flag when it was his turn to do so says those Americans, most of them black, should be fired for not standing up for the flag.

Even though there was nothing remotely disrespectful about what those Americans did. Even though some were bowing their heads and holding their hands over their hearts as they knelt, and not spitting on the flag or screaming obscenities or doing anything that actually would be disrespectful.

If Donald J. Trump, the American president, thought he was going to intimidate anyone by so crudely missing the point with his ugly rant against NFL players, he grossly miscalculated. If he thought he could play the bully by calling those players, mostly black, SOBs (a term he didn't even apply to white supremacists and other true haters of America), he couldn't have been more wrong.

All he did was bind players and owners and even the hypocrite of all hypocrites, Roger Goodell, as nothing else could have. All he did was strengthen their resolve about an issue -- racial injustice -- this American president doesn't recognize as legitimate for reasons that should be obvious by now.

Nice goin', Donny. That sure worked.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

America the deaf

And now yet another guy who doesn't understand America, and this guy is not just some guy on the street who thinks all those black folks should quit whining about being shot by the cops in situations where they shouldn't be getting shot by the cops.

Come on down, Mr. President!

Who, down in Alabama, took timeout from trading playground taunts with his North Korean twin to say these players need to be punished for exercising their American right to protest. Yes, it sure was a shame NFL owners didn't just run those players off the field when they "disrespected" the American flag by, you know, kneeling in prayer during the national anthem.

Yes, sir. Kneeling in prayer. Now there's some disrespect for ya, by golly.

The President went on to say the protests were ruining the game, and encouraged fans outraged by Americans exercising their American right to peacefully protest to walk out of the stadiums. And any player who dared to exercise his American right to peacefully protest should be fired.

You'd like to think an American president would understand America better than this. You'd also like to think this particular American president would think before he speaks, but by now we all know that's not going to happen. And so we end up with a situation where a man who hid behind his rich daddy when it was his turn to stand up for the flag has the gall to accuse others of disrespecting America.

You want to see disrespect, Mr. President? Look in the mirror.

And while you're at it, no, the protests are not ruining the game. Lousy play -- particularly, ahem, lousy quarterbacking -- is much more responsible for that. But then we should be used to politicians saying silly stuff when it comes sports. None of them (or hardly any of them) know spit about it.

No, politicians play to their base, and we all know who this president's base is. It's why, rather than perhaps listening to what the players are saying, he'd rather just bash them for "disrespect." Which is too bad, because what the players are saying bears listening to. And it's very much along the lines of what this president wore on that red hat of his as he stumped around the country during the campaign.

The players, see, want to Make America Great Again, too. They want to make it a country that addresses inequality and tries to do something about it, rather than attack those who point it out. They want the police to be better, and they want better community relations with law enforcement. They want the issue of mass incarceration of people of color addressed. They want someone in the White House to listen to what are, frankly, some legitimate and articulately expressed concerns.

“First of all, I want to make sure that people understand I love the military," Seattle Seahawk Michael Bennett told The Guardian last month. "My father was in the military. I love hot dogs like any other American. I love football like any other American. But I don’t love segregation. I don’t love riots. I don’t love oppression. I don’t love gender slander. And I just want to see people have equality that they deserve.”

Unfortunately, they've got the wrong president for that. Unfortunately, they have a president who, at one point in his campaign, egged on goons at one of his rallies when they roughed up a black woman protestor. And then rhapsodized about the good old days when the police could crack their skulls with impunity.

In other words, they've got Bull Connor as their president.

No wonder they're kneeling in prayer.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Brain games

Show of hands, here on the morning after the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers gave America another dose of its favorite bread-and-circus (and were engaged, apparently, in an Ugly-Ass Uniform fight to the death).

Who is surprised that another dead former NFL player was found to have advanced CTE, the degenerative  brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head?

Who is shocked, shocked that the player in question was Aaron Hernandez?

The former New England Patriots tight end who was serving a life stretch for murder hung himself in his cell a few months back, and how much CTE contributed to all of it now becomes a matter of conjecture. According to Dr. Ann McKee, the director of the CTE Center at Boston University, Hernandez had stage 3 (out of 4) CTE, an astounding diagnosis given he was only his mid-20s. CTE can cause violent mood swings, depression and other cognitive disorders.

And so you also will not be shocked, shocked to learn that Hernandez' attorney is filing suit against the NFL and the Patriots for hiding the true dangers of the sport, leading to Hernandez' acquiring of CTE.

At first blush the suit wouldn't seem to have legs. Ten, even five years ago, you could reasonably argue the league and its member teams were indeed culpable in not informing its players of the long-term effects of repeated head trauma. The league was in deep denial then -- to the extent it even tried to discredit the findings of its own report on the issue. But the concussion protocols and rule changes on targeting and what-not put in place in the last five years or so would seem to make it hard to prove that the NFL was doing nothing to protect players.

And if the suit goes on to intimate that the league's negligence somehow led to the crimes that put Hernandez behind bars, it will be on even shakier ground. There is abundant evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, that Hernandez was displaying a particular sociopathy long before he got to the NFL. That the symptoms of CTE might have exacerbated that might well be true, but they didn't cause it.

In truth, Hernandez' diagnosis is yet another cautionary tale that if you decide you love football and want to follow it to the end, the end may be exactly what you wind up with. And it is one more brick in the wall that separates reality from the CTE truthers -- who continue to insist there's no definitive science behind CTE and that it is, in fact, an Evil Plot To Bring Down A Wholesome American Sport.

Which is, of course, absurd, and the very sort of hysteria the truthers accuse doctors such as McKee of displaying. Contrary to the Chicken Littles who claim the eggheads are all trying to kill football, there is not a shred of evidence that football is going away anytime soon. If participation in youth football is declining generally, it also got a mild bump in the last year documented (2015). And the teaching of new techniques and protocols designed to protect young noggins reaches down into the youth leagues now.

Football, in other words, will adjust and survive. It might not be the game you grew up with, but the game you grew up with wasn't the game your father and grandfather grew up with, either. If there's one constant about football, it's that there's never been any constants about it.

Except, of course, that it's a violent game that can hurt you badly, and from which there are serious consequences that could follow you all the rest of your life. And so proceed accordingly.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sign language

From the chair in my den, I can see the only two autographs I've ever gotten.

They're over there on a bookshelf, at opposite ends, flanking a photo of Wildcat baseball kids outside Tiger Stadium in 1966, back when Wildcat used to regularly take train trips to Detroit and Chicago. One is a signed publicity still of Ned Garver, the Ney, Ohio, boy who went on to pitching glory with the old St. Louis Browns. The other is a framed note, on Holiday Inn stationary, from legendary Tigers announcer (and quintessential southern gentleman) Ernie Harwell, thanking me for a column I'd written about him.

I never asked for either of those autographs. If you're a sportswriter, as I was for almost 40 years, asking for autographs is the third rail of unprofessional behavior. You never -- never -- do that. It'll get your credential pulled, for starters.

Which brings us (in a meandering, "Ooh, look! Squirrel!" sort of way) to Colorado Rockies reliever Pat Neshek.

Who, at the All-Star Game in July, asked fellow NL All-Star Zack Greinke of the Diamondbacks to sign some cards for him. He was apparently trying to complete a set of league pitching leaders, and had already gotten autographs from Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright.

Neshek says Greinke agreed to do so. Greinke, when Neshek approached him on Tuesday, denied he ever said anything of the kind, and refused to sign the cards. Said (according to Neshek) he would never sign for him, and "wouldn't even sign for your kid if he asked."

After which Neshek blasted Greinke on social media, calling him, among other things an "ahole" and a "turd."

Couple questions about this.

One, Neshek is apparently an avid baseball memorabilia collector. Which is fine. But those guys can be, shall we say, annoying. Is that what's behind Greinke's seemingly over-the-top reaction?

Two, even if that were the case, why would Greinke be such a, well, turd about it? Especially to a fellow player?

Look. I get it. The autographs-for-profit market has poisoned the well for what used to be the ultimate act of goodwill for a professional athlete. Nothing was better for an athlete's image, or that of his sport, than taking time to sign autographs for kids. A lot still do -- a lot, in fact, go out of their way to sign and sign and sign -- and nothing reflects better on them with the public.

The problem, of course, is that the kid with his pen and scrap of paper is more and more getting shoved aside by the grownup with the binder of cards in plastic sleeves he's planning on turning into cash money.

I don't know if Neshek's one of those guys (he seems only to collect, not sell). What I do know is those guys ruin a good thing for everyone, because they turn even players who once gladly signed jaded and sour.

So, yeah, maybe that's what Greinke's deal is.

Or, maybe, you know, he really is just a turd.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Much ado about little

Oh, the things media in Sportsball World gets all wrought up about ...

Been listening for a whole day now to the kerfuffle over Giants' coach Ben McAdoo's postgame criticism of Eli Manning. And, as usual, it's set off a spasm of eye-rolling.

(I need to watch the eye-rolling, by the way. As my mom and yours used to say, "Be careful or your face will freeze that way.")

Anyway ... all the usual stuff has been trotted out, from dismay that McAdoo "threw his quarterback under the bus" (where is this mythical bus, anyway, and why are people always being thrown under it?) to warnings that criticizing players in public, especially your quarterback, is how you lose your locker room.

Yeah, well. I suppose.

But I listened to what McAdoo said, and, I'm sorry, I can't get all that worked up about it. He was asked a specific question about a specific play. He gave a refreshingly honest answer -- something media folk always say they want right before ripping to shreds the guy who gives them one. What's the problem here?

Especially when he was absolutely right.

Listen, if you're the quarterback of an NFL team, and you can't get a snap off, that is "sloppy quarterback play," as McAdoo called it.  And that goes double when the quarterback in question has two rings and has been in the league more than 10 years.

Yet he can't get a crucial snap off before the play clock runs out, resulting in a delay of game penalty?

Sorry, but that's inexcusable for someone with Eli's resume. And, yes, he's playing behind an offensive line that can't block a mild breeze, and therefore he has zero chance on most snaps. But what's that got to do with what happens before the snap?

I'll say it: Nothing

As in, "Nothing to see here. Move along."    

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Something to build on

No doubt you missed this, what with the NFL casting its usual immense shadow over your Sunday afternoon. But IndyCar had a very good day out on the West Coast on that same Sunday afternoon.

What happened was, Josef Newgarden finished second in the season finale at Sonoma.

What that did was wrap up the 2017 IndyCar title for the 26-year-old from Tennessee.

What that also did was give IndyCar an immensely marketable champion to sell -- an American champion -- if IndyCar can somehow manage to do it.

This is going to sound xenophobic, but the best thing that could have happened to the sport was for Josef Newgarden to win the title. And, yes, part of that is because he is an American, only the third in 15 years to win the championship.

This is not to disparage Tony Kanaan or Helio Castroneves or any of the other IndyCar stars who are not American, and who have in fact done the sport great honor. Castroneves, a Brazilian, and James Hinchcliffe, the outrageously personable Canadian, even went on "Dancing With The Stars," where they represented IndyCar to the larger world in the best possible light.

But that was not the lasting opportunity Newgarden presents.

It's been a recurrent theme since the sport tore itself apart 20 years ago that IndyCar's biggest obstacle to regaining its previous footing was that it didn't have an ascendant American star. Once the Andrettis and Unsers and Foyts left the stage, it was a sport dominated by foreigners. That it's always had a significant foreign presence -- and that the Emerson Fittipaldis and Arie Luyendyks contributed much to its popularity -- didn't seem to occur to those who saw the foreign dominance as a bad thing.

And the popularity itself, at least since before the split, was always something of an illusion, too. Motorsports has always been a niche property. If it seems even more so now, it's because advances in entertainment technology, and entertainment options, have provided a lot more niches to consume.

That said, the sport has lacked a homegrown presence it could sell for awhile now. It tried to sell Danica Patrick, but it's hard to sell someone who never wins as the face of your sport (and the not-so-thinly-veiled sexism in the attempt did neither her nor the sport any favors, either.) Aside from that ... well, Marco Andretti has the name but not the effervescent personality, and Graham Rahal has both the name and the effervescent personality but hasn't quite broken through yet.

Now, however, comes Newgarden, who has the looks, the personality, the ride (Penske) and the talent. And, of course, the title.

It's easy to see IndyCar pushing him hard now as the face of its sport. It's easy to see him on "Dancing With The Stars."   It's easy to see him all over your TV in various national ad campaigns.

America doesn't really know him yet. But if IndyCar's smart, it will give America every chance to get to know him.

Whether it can pull that off, of course, remains problematical.

This is, after all, IndyCar.  The track record. so to speak, ain't good. 

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 2

And now this week's rendering of The NFL In So Many Words, the numbingly recurrent Blob feature of which Van Gogh has said, "Hey, Rembrandt, get a load of this. He's calling it a rendering now," and Rembrandt has replied "Yeah, I got his rendering right here":

1. Hey, look, it's the Colts!

2. And they're gonna wi--

3. Oh.

4. It's Tuesday morning and the Giants still can't find the end zone.

5. OK, so they did, but only by accident, and only because the Lions said, "Fine. You can score. Now quit whining."

6. Hey, look! It's the Cowboys!

7.  All crated up and ready for the trip home.

8. Wait, open it back up. We missed a piece of Ezekiel Elliott.

9. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Mike Glennon!

10. Sorry, Bears fans. That was cruel.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

When wrestlin' was rasslin'

Comes now the sad news that Bobby "The Brain" Heenan has died, and also "Pretty Boy" Bobby Heenan.   You have to be a uniquely singular presence to have not one but two nicknames, even in professional wrestling. But that was Pretty Boy The Brain.

He was another of those giants who cast large and indelible shadows over the Golden Age of pro wrestling, when men were men, wrestlin' was rasslin' and villains like Black Jack Lanza (whom Pretty Boy The Brain managed) and Baron von Raschke always had something illegal tucked in the waistband of their trunks.

Usually it was a set of brass knuckles, and Black Jack or the Baron would pull them out at an opportune time and commence slugging Dick the Bruiser with them. That would go on for awhile as a trickle of blood ran down between the Bruiser's eyes, and then Bruiser would blink once, blink twice and commence whaling on Black Jack/the Baron.

This was because Bruiser, as we all know, had legendary recuperative powers. And it was also because Black Jack/the Baron were cads who deserved to get whaled on by him.

Or, you know, by Wilbur Snyder. Or Pepper Gomez. Or Yukon Moose Cholak or Mitsu Arakawa or or any of the other stars of that glittering era.

It was the era before steroids, and before the cartoon characters those steroids produced. Most of the wrestlers of Bruiser's era looked like regular guys, albeit really big regular guys. If they were sculpted by anything, it was Budweiser. Or so it appeared.

Anyway ... here's to Pretty Boy The Brain Bobby Heenan, and an era long gone. May he and Bruiser hoist a few together off in the Great Beyond, just to show there's no hard feelings.

Although Heenan might try to slip Bruiser a mickey. Just, you know, for old time's sake.

Dance fever

The Blob will opine more on this week in the En Eff Ell tomorrow ("Thanks for warning us," you're all groaning), but this tidbit it couldn't let sit.

It begins with a question: You know why the Jets stink?

Because they get upset about the dumbest stuff.

And so we go out to Oakland, Calif., where the Raiders danced ev'ry dance Sunday on the Green Weenies' heads, and Marshawn Lynch really danced. With the Raiders up 35-13 in the midst of an eventual  45-20 cruise, the JumboTron broke out "I'm Really From Oakland" featuring Vell and DJ Mustard, and Lynch -- who's really from Oakland -- decided to dance to the music on the sideline.

Mind you, he didn't do it on the field. He didn't shake it in the Green Weenies' faces. He did it on the sideline, just havin' a little fun on a day when the Raiders, and their fans, had every reason to have a little fun.

This being the No Fun League, of course, some folks objected.

"It irks my ever-living nerves," Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins said on ESPN.com. "When I saw it happening, it was infuriating. ... That pissed me off. I'm an old-school guy. I don't like when things like that happen. That was embarrassing, losing like that and having Marshawn dance like that."

Oh, grow up, Alice.

Listen, if you're getting your shorts in a twist because an opponent danced on his own sideline during a big win in front of the home crowd ... well, that speaks volumes to why you're losing football games by 25 points. Obviously it's because you're paying too much attention to what's happening on the sideline, and not enough to what's happening on the field.

You don't want the guy to dance?

Do something about it.

Tackle him. Play better. Win the damn game.

Do that, and guess what?

Then you don't have to worry about him dancing.

Thus endeth today's lesson. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Your hypothetical matchup for today

Of course I checked. And I am sorry to say, it's not gonna work out.

You know that IU football game against Florida International that got cancelled because of Hurricane Irma yesterday?

It leaves Indiana short one game this season.

Which got the Blob thinking about a suitable potential matchup.

Which got it looking at the schedule of the Indianapolis Colts, who technically are not a college team but an NFL team, although there's some question about that given the Whatsamatta U. (or perhaps even Whatsamatta High School) performance it put on against the Rams last week.

Unfortunately, the Colts' bye week is the weekend of Nov. 18-19. Indiana already has a scheduled home game that week against Rutgers.

Hey. I tried.

Punched out

Things boxing can't do these days, when the best show it can offer is a carnival sideshow not much different than Muhammad Ali fighting a wrestler or the ever-popular man vs. kangaroo:

1. Chew gum and walk at the same time.

2. Get out of its own way.

Other than that ... well, we are all left to wonder, after the sport once again tripped over its shadow on the big stage last night. It was Gennady Golovkin (probably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world now) vs. Canelo Alvarez, and it was a terrific fight, and Golovkin won. Except, this being boxing, he didn't.

Nope. It ended instead in a draw, a result that confounded almost every seasoned observer. And it ended in a draw because one judge, Adalaide Byrd, unaccountably scored it 118-110 in favor of Alvarez, giving Golovkin only two rounds.

How you can account for this when Golovkin landed more punches (218-169) and landed more in 10 of the 12 rounds is a surpassing mystery -- or, this being boxing, perhaps not. But when it's so out of round a call that even the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission feels compelled to comment on it ... well, eyebrows will be hoisted.

"Unfortunately, Adalaide was a little wide," said Bob Bennett, the aforementioned executive director. "I'm not making any excuses. I think she's an outstanding judge, and in any business, sometimes you have a bad day. It happens."

Well, yes. But in boxing, it seems to happen a lot. And the hell of it is, once again it tainted the quality of the product, which once again was better than the people running it deserved.

Truth is, Alvarez-Golovkin got a huge buildup and lived up to it. Most observers agree Golovkin won. One judge scored it in his favor; a second scored it a draw. And then there was Byrd, who somehow scored it an overwhelming victory for Alvarez.

And once again our reaction is "Hmmm." Or, if you're ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas, to out-and-out call it corruption.

Who knows if it was that. But the draw did prompt both fighters to call for a rematch, which of course would be yet another chunky payday for both, which of course makes you think that was the plan all along.

And which of course unavoidably makes you wonder if Byrd got an off-the-books piece of last night's payday to set it all up.

That's a dark suspicion, admittedly. But in an age when boxing has to bring in someone from mixed martial arts to get the general public to pay attention to it, how does your mind not immediately go there?

Golovkin-Alvarez, remember, was the biggest non-carnival act boxing's seen since Mayweather-Pacquiao. So why not fix it so it can happen again?

It is boxing, after all.

And what an indictment are those five words.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Luck-less in Indianapolis

And so, to review ...

When last we left the Indianapolis Colts -- aka, the Worst Team In The Entire History Of Football, according to the Bureau of Social Media Overreaction -- they were A) being shipped back to Indy from L.A.  in Styrofoam packing peanuts; B) still either being coy or honestly having no clue who they were starting at quarterback this week, as of Thursday; and C) sending whoever the unhappy choice will be to his death behind an offensive line that is once again a chalk outline.

Which brings us to today's special feature, What Andrew Luck Is Actually Thinking, in which the Blob employs its underutilized mind-reading powers to transpose what he says with what's really going on in his soon-to-be-endangered brainpan:

CHUCK PAGANO: So, Andrew how's the wing?

WHAT ANDREW LUCK SAYS: It's coming along. I'll be ready to go before you know it, Coach.

WHAT ANDREW LUCK IS ACTUALLY THINKING: Like hell. This is going to be the longest rehab from a supposedly routine surgical procedure in history. I saw that dumpster fire in the Coliseum. You think I want any part of that? Not without a blindfold,  pal.

PAGANO: We've got quite the quandary here. Who do you think we should start against the Cardinals? Tolzien again, or Brissett?

WHAT ANDREW SAYS: Well, Scott didn't have a great outing last week. But you'd be limited with Brissett because he doesn't know the entire system yet. It's a tough call.

WHAT ANDREW IS ACTUALLY THINKING: Are you kidding me? Listen, Scott's a nice guy, but he sucks. I mean, SUUUUU-UCKS. You gotta go with Brissett. If you're lucky all the New England hasn't worn off him yet.

PAGANO: I know we were terrible on Sunday. When you come back, Andrew, I promise we'll be better. I promise the O-line will be better, even if it's kind of not now.

WHAT ANDREW SAYS: Thanks, Coach. I appreciate that. And I have faith in my teammates. We are going to get better.

WHAT ANDREW IS ACTUALLY THINKING: "Kind of not"? What is that? Listen, from what I saw of that O-line Sunday, I might as well make plans to donate another kidney to science like I did a couple years ago. They couldn't block a sunbeam. And the ones who actually might have a shot at it are hurt already. You know how I was thinking you should start Brissett? Forget that. Start Johnny Unitas. At least he's already dead so the O-line can't get him killed.

PAGANO: Well ... take it easy, Andrew. Heal up.

WHAT ANDREW SAYS: Right, Coach.

WHAT ANDREW IS ACTUALLY THINKING: Rrrrr-ight, Coach.     

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sunset for a groundbreaker

So maybe this is it, for Danica Patrick. Her primary sponsor bailed on her this summer, either breaching a contract (Stewart-Haas Racing's version) or not (the sponsor's version). SHR hasn't been able scare up another for her. And so she's out of a ride in another couple months.

What that says is her star has faded as a monster seller of product. What it also says is even monster sellers of product find racing at NASCAR's level a hard dollar these days, given the way NASCAR's own star has faded.

Racing costs money. And if sponsors are required to pony up the kind of money it costs to do it right, they want a return on the investment. They're not getting it with NASCAR anymore, at least the way they used to.

That's why the last primary sponsor for Danica Patrick, one-time monster seller of product, was Nature's Bakery, a purveyor of fig-based baked goods. It's why you'll find furniture stores and local law offices and even the Delaware Office of Traffic Safety among the sponsors these days. The title sponsor for the entire series, in fact, is an energy drink.

Which is a far cry from the days when it was wireless telecommunications giants and the like.

And so Patrick is the victim of market forces that extend far beyond her, and, like so many others, she's on the outside looking in. At 35, she does not seem especially dismayed by that. She's having her worst year, points-wise, since moving to NASCAR in 2008. And she's hinted that, if the only opportunity out there is some back-marker cheesebox, she'd rather move on to other pursuits.

"I just want to do what feels right and what will give me the best chance -- if I'm racing, will give me the best chance to perform and get in the winner's circle, which is what I want to accomplish in NASCAR," she told ESPN the other day. "Or if I don't feel like that's something that will be possible, then I'm OK with that, too."

And if that happens?

You can say this about her in all fairness: She never got the hang of driving stock cars at the highest level.

You can also say this: And that makes her no better or worse than the likes of Sam Hornish Jr. or Dario Franchitti, a couple of other IndyCar refugees who never got the hang of driving stock cars, either.

That some would point out the former without also acknowledging the latter is purely sexist, of course, but it's also recognition that Patrick's drawing power as a marketing gold mine has provided her opportunities drivers with her resume don't often get. Her gender has been a double-edged sword in that regard; if it was sexism that held her to a different standard than similar male drivers (and subjected her to at times unfair criticism as a result), it was also sexism that motivated sponsors to throw money at her.

She was, after all, not just a woman in a male-dominated sport. She was an attractive woman in a male-dominated sport.

The hell of it was, all of that sometimes obscured the fact she was a damn good race driver, not to mention a pioneer who built on the work of other pioneers. She remains the only woman in history to win an IndyCar race, and the only woman in history to win a NASCAR Cup pole (for the Daytona 500, no less). Her record at the Indianapolis 500 -- six top ten finishes and five top ten starts in seven races -- is unmatched not just by any other woman in the race's history, but by many male drivers as well.

She's the first woman ever to lead both the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. The first woman to lead a Cup Series race under green. Her seven top tens and 64 laps led in Cup races are the most for any woman in history.

Maybe you can't appreciate all that unless you were there at its birth moment, the 2005 Indianapolis 500. When Patrick, a rookie that year, went to the front late -- and was still in front with 10 laps to go -- a roar went up to the sky unlike any those of us who'd been around Indy for decades had ever heard. And there was this oh-my-God buzz in the pressbox that's rarely been matched, either.

Part of it was the realization we were watching history break out right in front to us. And part of it, of course, was Holy crap, how am I going to write THIS?

In any event, Danica Mania was born that day, for better or worse. That it clearly outran its expiration date does nothing to diminish its impact.

Or hers.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Crowd noise

Here's a joke, to get things started this day. You know the one that goes "I went to a fight last night and a hockey game broke out"?

The Blob has a couple variations on that theme.

One goes like this: "I went to Notre Dame Stadium last Saturday, and Athens, Ga., broke out."

The other goes like this: "I went to the Los Angeles Coliseum last Sunday, and ... hey, how come I'm the only one who went to the Los Angeles Coliseum last Sunday?"

OK, so that's not quite true. But check this out. It's not that far off, either.

Lots of L.A. pro football fans (largely mythical creatures, like unicorns) stayed away, clearly, and let's give 'em the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps this was Dress Like An Empty Seat Day. Perhaps everyone was in the bathroom when this photo was taken. Or, perhaps, L.A. just doesn't like pro football all that much, given that it's only the second year the Rams have been back and the novelty's obviously already worn off.

Nah. That couldn't be it, could it?

I mean, it can't be, because the NFL was so desperate to return to L.A. it stole not one but two franchises and put them in the City of Angels. Here's what the NFL won't tell you, though: The league didn't do that because Los Angeles is, ever has been or ever will be a pro football town;  demonstrable proof to the contrary exists in abundance.  It's because L.A. is the No. 2 TV market in America, and TV runs every dance on the card now. And so the NFL is all in on L.A.

Even if everyone would still rather be at the USC game.

And speaking of college football, let's go to Notre Dame Stadium, where, yes, Athens, Ga., did indeed break out Saturday. Vast swaths of the House That Rockne Built were draped in Georgia red, and some folks in Domer Nation thought that was a disgrace.

It wasn't. Actually, it was just the hallowed free market at work.

Notre Dame, after all, is ground zero for college football lore, and Domer Nation can thank itself for that. It's done such a good job of selling Notre Dame as College Football Mecca that a game there has become a destination event. And so fans of visiting teams routinely gobble up tickets at outlandish prices for the chance to walk where Rockne and Leahy and Ara walked.

Fair Catch Corby, it seems, could just as easily be called I've Got Two On The 50-Yard Line Corby. And for what the good Father could get for those two, who could blame him?

So, yeah, Notre Dame Stadium's home-field advantage is routinely not much of a home-field advantage. And not just because of the ticket-selling. Part of it is also because the most raucous fans -- the students -- are stuffed in one corner of the end zone, while the midfield seating goes to old-fart alums who tend to sit on their hands.

Saturday night, that was exacerbated by all those Georgia fans. Georgia, after all, had never played at Notre Dame Stadium. So Dawg fans were willing to pay through the nose for tickets -- and Notre Dame fans were just as willing to sell.

Supply and demand. That's how the free market works.

Like it or not.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 1

And now the glaringly unanticipated return of the widely ignored Blob feature, The NFL In So Many Words, of which critics have said "Aieee!", and "THIS thing AGAIN??" and (from a recently banished member of the Society of Critics With Taste And Discernment) "Hey, I kinda like it":

1. The Rams are going to the Super Bowl!

2. The Colts are the worst team in the entire history of American football, and that includes your awful high school team that went 0-10, was outscored 457-6 and whose MVP was the kid who passed out towels in the locker room!

3. (The preceding brought to you by the Office of Week One Overreaction, a  wholly owned subsidiary of Golly Gee I Want To See CATS again, and also New Coke Is The Best Thing I've Ever Tasted).

4. (That said, the Colts really, really suck).

5. (Really).

6. In other news, Alex Smith!

7. Was kidnapped by space aliens and replaced by whatever that was who made Bill Belichick even grumpier than usual!
8. Losers of the week: The Steelers and the Falcons.

9. For only kinda beating the Browns and the Bears.

And last but not least (from, again, the Office of Week One Overreaction) ...

10. Dalvin Cook is the greatest running back in NFL history who's only played one game in the NFL!

Monday, September 11, 2017

What we've lost

Again we come to the day of days, and again there are crystalline skies and bright sunshine and, yes, fear and loathing. And the bone-deep sadness that attends that.

America is not the country it was when the planes went into the buildings on this morning 16 years ago, and that is to not to our credit. What should have made us stronger has made us weaker. What should have been an opportunity to be our best selves, as a people and as a nation, devolved after awhile into what we are now: a nation awash in hatred and paranoia, led by a gibbering con man who has traded mightily on that to get where he is.

I wish I could say that weren't so. And in some ways -- the ways we respond to a common crisis, as we have in Texas and now Florida -- we do show sometimes that we are capable of rising to an occasion rather than stooping to one. We're still capable of showing that, at our core, there remains a  good heart not even the divisive rhetoric of our alleged leaders can wholly erase.

At the very least, our intentions are mostly good. So that's something, I guess.

But for everything else this day unleashed in America 16 years ago, and which unprincipled charlatans continue to exploit, I offer this. I wrote it a year ago, after visiting the 9/11 memorial. Everything in it is as true today as it was then.

And bears thinking about just as much.

Monday's giant

Of course I'm going to write about this today. It's Monday, isn't it?

It's Monday, and that means Monday night, and so of course I am going to write about Don Ohlmeyer. For most of the last 50 years he was just a name rolling past America in the credits in the infernal TV wasteland, but he was also the man who shaped what America was across those same 50 years. And that's because he transformed an entire day of the week for my generation and my children's generation and probably my children's children's generation.

Don Ohlmeyer, see, is the producer who hooked us all on Monday Night Football.

He passed Sunday at 72 -- so much more appropriate had it been today -- but before that, he made MNF appointment viewing and turned the entire concept of Monday on its head. Before Ohlmeyer put three announcers in the booth, and the right three, the show was all on the field, and it was exclusively a Sunday afternoon, weekend thing. MNF changed that.

MNF gave you first Keith and Howard and Dandy Don, and then Frank and Howard and Dandy Don, and the very fact that we remain on a first-name basis with them almost 50 years later only hints at their status as cultural icons. All three are dead now, and Monday Night Football is just another dreary ESPN vehicle now that the NFL has encroached upon Sunday and Thursday nights, too, and sometimes Saturday nights. So it's hard to explain just how big it all was, how new, how beyond-the-pale game-changing it was.

Football? On a Monday night? Who does that?

And then, not much later: Football? On a Monday night? Can't wait to see what Howard and Dandy Don say tonight!

So it became a thing, and the three men in the booth became a thing, and today, no time capsule buried on the courthouse lawn would be complete without a clip of Dandy Don deflating Howard's pomposity with some country-boy bon mot. It might largely have been an act on everyone's part -- Don Meredith in the flesh was no more Dandy Don than Charlton Heston was Moses -- but it was damn good act, and America lapped it up.

Of course, Ohlmeyer's legacy extends beyond MNF. He was also the guiding hand behind three Olympic broadcasts, contributed mightily to ABC's iconic Wide World of Sports, and went on to shape America's prime-time viewing habits again as the president of NBC and head of its entertainment arm.

But Mondays are the landscape he changed the most. And so, on this Monday, a pause to remember.

And a word from our sponsors, before we rejoin Frank and Howard and Dandy Don.