Saturday, September 23, 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 doppelganger 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 rather than fight for his country 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.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Your ND analysis for today

And now a brief, brief, very brief breakdown of Notre Dame vs. Georgia at Notre Dame Stadium  last night:

You know how all the wiser heads were saying this week that Georgia would be a better indicator of where Notre Dame is at this point than last week's pummeling of poor Temple?

Well ...

No. 16 Georgia 20, Notre Dame 19.

Consider yourselves better indicated.

The art of the payback

So, you think payback is hell, just like they always say.

("They" being the eternal mystery in these sorts of homilies. "They" are always saying something, it seems. But somehow no one ever tells you who "they" are, and why they're saying stuff. They're just saying stuff).

Anyway ...

Yes, payback is hell.

It can also be kinda fun, in "oh, no, he didn't" kind of way.

And so to the mighty 'Shoe in Columbus, Ohio, last night, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield sure did look like a Heisman frontrunner, even if it is only early September. Mayfield's 27-of-35, 386-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 31-16 upset of No. 2 Ohio State, at Ohio State, was exactly the sort of thing college football loves to bathe in legend. Mayfield may not win the Heisman, but that was the proverbial Heisman Moment if ever there was one.

Especially later, when the Sooners ebullient star grabbed the OU flag and planted it emphatically at midfield -- a bit of payback, he said later, for having to listen to the Ohio State players sing their school song on OU's field after the Buckeyes embarrassed the Sooners by three scores last year.

And so, payback. And one of the most college things ever.

Which takes us to Happy Valley, where No. 4 Penn State jackhammered Pittsburgh 33-14 in that old rivalry, avenging an upset loss to Pitt a year ago. Afterward, Penn State coach James Franklin seems to rub it in a bit, declaring that while Pitt beating Penn State last year must have felt to them like winning the Super Bowl, for Penn State beating Pitt was no special thing.

"For us, this was just like beating Akron," he said, referring to the Nittany Lions 52-0 warmup against the Zips last week.

Franklin went on to acknowledge that while this sounded like a diss, it actually wasn't because of his mantra that every game has the same level of importance. Nice try, Coach. The better move would have been to own it, because it's not often that a putdown manages to hit not one but two targets at once.

Pitt, of course, because Franklin compared the Panthers to Akron.

And Akron, because, hey, what are we, chopped liver?

Well played, Coach. Very well played.

Friday, September 8, 2017

What we know ...

... after the first game of the first week of the NFL's endless season:

1. You know the Patriots defense that shut down the Falcons for the last quarter-and-a-half of the Super Bowl?

2. It doesn't live here anymore.

3. I mean, it made Alex Smith look like Tom Brady.

4. No, not that Tom Brady.

5. The Tom-Brady-when-he-wasn't-40 Tom Brady.

6. And the other Tom Brady?

7. He gave us some new revealed wisdom..

8. Which is: Forty is the new 40.

Today's moment in gall

In which the Las Vegas police union requested  Seattle Seahawk Michael Bennett be investigated by the NFL for being slammed to the ground and cuffed simply because he was (wisely) vacating a Vegas nightclub in which shots had been fired.

Bennett complained publicly about it. Apparently you're not supposed to do that in today's America.

Apparently you're especially not supposed to do it if you're Bennett, who's been as outspoken (and articulate) as any NFL player about what he sees as racial injustice in America, and has been one of the national anthem non-standers. Hence the cops' snarky comment in its request about him disrespecting the flag and everything it stands for and blah-blah-blah, all the usual nonsense.

The NFL and the NFLPA, standing as one for once, swatted away the request with barely disguised contempt. Behind the official Release Speak, after all, the more discerning reader could detect more than a hint of rolled eyes and "Oh, gimme a break."

And so, to review: Outspoken NFL player gets handcuffed by the cops. Player complains about it. And so the cops ask the NFL to investigate him.

There is gall, and there is unmitigated gall. And then there is whatever this is.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Friday night blight

I know what part this is. This is the part where all the Purdue fans out there decide I hate Purdue.

(Which is separate from the part where all the IU fans out there decide I hate IU. I've been accused of both. It's the cross I bore as a sportswriter in Indiana for four decades, and also an endless source of amusement, considering my mom was a Purdue grad, I married a Bloomington girl and I graduated from Ball State.)

Anyway ... Purdue plays Ohio University in a game of football in Ross-Ade Stadium Friday night. And that is wrong as wrong can possibly be.

This is because Friday nights in the fall should be reserved for high school football, and college football and its network TV overlords should keep their greedy mitts off it. The colleges already hog almost every other day of the week (even, on some rare occasions, Sundays). They don't need Friday, too.

College officials would no doubt break into gales of laughter at that, because college football at the Division I level is not about propriety, it's about property. It's about a valuable commodity and how to maximize that value. Schools wouldn't be using their (ahem) "student-athletes" as billboards for their chunky apparel deals and selling their jerseys in the campus bookstore for a fat pile of coin if that weren't the primary goal.

And so HELL, YES they'll play on Friday night. It's PRIME TIME, after all. It's PREMIUM CONTENT TIME. Who cares if it horns in on the heretofore sacred turf of high school football, even if high school football is what keeps your monster so well-fed?

Well ... I care. And I imagine I'm not alone.

I care because I've spent a lot of Friday nights in a lot of rickety press boxes over the years, in all kinds of weather. I've watched games in 95-degree heat and cold pelting rain and beneath fat harvest moons. One particularly frigid night at South Adams, I stood shivering on the sideline and watched the football field turn white with frost beneath the lights.

And you know what?

There was something sacred about it. Even that night I got locked in the stadium out at Heritage High School, and had to scale an 8-foot fence to get out.

All of it was, and is, part of a uniquely American culture, one whose commonality stretches from coast to coast. Friday nights may be bigger in some places than others, but what goes on is the same everywhere. The same lights shine with the same intensity whether you're in a multi-million dollar stadium in Texas or, as I was one night, in a venue so small and humble the band didn't even play at halftime.

"Where's the band?" I asked, looking out at the empty grass.

"Ah, they didn't feel like playing tonight," someone answered.

And yet ... it was still high school football. It was still cheerleaders, and parents in the stands, and some group of other selling raffle tickets. The concession stand still sold hotdogs and popcorn. And out on the field, under those lights, there was still blockin' and tacklin' and What the heck was Coach thinking about, going for it THERE?

Just not right for the Purdues and Ohios of the world to intrude on all that. Just not appropriate. Like stealing from the collection plate in church isn't appropriate.

And, no, I don't care if all the other conferences do it, too.

That's a lame excuse. As your mom always said, if everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?

I think you know the answer to that. I sure do.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Technology is a beautiful thing

You've gotta love baseball. It's the only sport where certain practices that would normally be considered cheating are time-honored traditions -- unless of course you're talking about the NFL's New England Patriots, for whom cheating is also something of a time-honored tradition.

And so maybe we shouldn't be surprised it's another Boston team that just got caught ... well, cheating. Sort of.

It seems the Red Sox got busted for stealing signs by their ancient rival the Yankees, which is not exactly the crime of the century given that, yes, stealing signs is a time-honored baseball tradition. It's not even against the rules as set down by Major League Baseball.

Where it got ethically sticky here is that the Red Sox injected technology into the equation.

It seems one of their assistant trainers, during a recent series in Fenway Park, was using an Apple Watch to steal the Yankees' signs. This is apparently a no-no according to baseball etiquette, which is an elaborate construct that says it's OK to do stuff that might be regarded as shady, but only if you do it in a certain way.

So you can steal signs manually, because that's how it's always been done. Using technology to do it, though, is strictly prohibited.

I know. It's one of those weird baseball things.

Another of those weird baseball things is the Yankees likely wouldn't have raised a stink about this had it not worked (and also, perhaps, had it not been the Red Sox). But it did work. In that particular series, the Red Sox batted .375 with a runner on second base. After they got caught, they went 0-for-22 in the same situation in the ensuing series at Yankee Stadium.

The moral of the story: If you're gonna cheat, don't be modern about it.

I know. Weird.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hey, look, college football, Part Deux

In which the Blob repeats its oft-repeated refrain that college football is a million times more fun than the NFL.

Want to know why?

UCLA coming back from 44-10 down to beat Texas A&M 45-44 is why.

Howard University beating UNLV as a 45-point underdog is why.

Virginia Tech (in the renewal of one of those great rivalries the NFL doesn't have) trading scores all night with West Virginia, then holding off the Mountaineers' final shot as the clock ran dry. Tennessee beating Georgia Tech in two overtimes when the Yellowjackets decided to go for the win and failed (something that would never happen in the NFL).

USC surviving Western Michigan. Illinois surviving Ball State. Louisville surviving Purdue.

Yeah. That's why.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Question for today

... is directed, on this Labor Day, to the police and paramedics unions of the city of Cleveland who have refused to hold the American flag in the Browns home opener because a significant group of Browns silently knelt in prayer during the anthem a week or so ago.

Let's repeat that: Silently knelt in prayer. 

They did not shout. The did not talk loudly and move around during the anthem. They did not moon the flag, or flip it off, or otherwise engage in the kind of behaviors one would normally associate with "disrespect."

“If anyone was wondering what was going on in that circle … we were praying over the country, praying over things that are going on and we tried to do it as respectfully as possible,” linebacker Christian Kirksey told Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal. “We respect everything that happens with people in the military, we respect all of that. We felt it was the right time to do that.”

And now?

Now, because of that -- because they were offended the Browns didn't force a group of American citizens to stand for an anthem that celebrates American freedom -- a group of police officers and paramedics are refusing to hold the American flag.

Let's repeat that: Refusing to hold the American flag.

So who's doing the disrespecting here? Hmm?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Hey, look! College football!

It's Labor Day weekend, and you know what that means. It means this is the weekend fall muscles summer's decrepit ass off center stage, rudely arriving three weeks early to hog the spotlight.

There are cooler mornings. There is swifter nightfall. And of course there is college football, the version of the game the NFL would be if it still had a soul.

And so yesterday you walked into any sports bar in America, and glories awaited. College football was on every screen wherever you looked, and it was a beautiful thing. Hey, look, Iowa's whuppin' the Wyoming Cowboys! Penn State's curb-stomping Akron! The Fighting Irish look like they're ready to fight again, and Purdue's giving ranked Louisville all it wants after Vegas picked the Cardinals to win by a thousand points!

Good stuff. And so, in the Blob tradition of avoiding in-depth analysis whenever possible, here are a few random thoughts from First Saturday:

1. That sure was a whole lotta yella Michigan dumped on Florida.

Which is to say, the Wolverines' all-yellow uniforms (OK, so Michigan insists on calling it "maize," but come on, it's yellow) made it look as if Florida were being attacked by a particularly savage jar of French's mustard. And attacked is the right word, because the Michigan defense utterly smothered the Gators, limiting them to one puny field goal.  Without two touchdowns by the Florida D, it's 33-3 and a complete blowout instead of a semi-blowout.

If this is what rebuilding looks like in Ann Arbor, everyone should want some.

2. Wait, was that Purdue?

It was, by golly.

Yes, the same bunch of lugs who slogged through a 3-9 season last year pushed ranked Louisville and its dazzling quarterback, Lamar Jackson, to the cliff's edge before going down 35-28. If this is any indication of what's to come in the Jeff Brohm era in West Lafayette, it looks like there's actually going to be a Jeff Brohm era worth talking about.

Think the Purdues got the hire right this time.

3. Oh, look. It's Alabama again.

In Saturday's marquee game, the No, 1 Crimson Tide methodically ground No. 3 Florida State to cornmeal the way they always grind everyone to cornmeal. Yawn. Nothing to see here, folks, same-old, same-old.

4. And now, your requisite Opening Weekend Hey, Notre Dame Looked Pretty Good Take.

Hey, Notre Dame looked pretty good. Especially the new quarterback, Brandon Wimbush. Temple's no slouch and they handled 'em easy.

5. And now, your requisite Opening Weekend Notre Dame Qualifier.

Of course, Temple's not Alabama, either.

And last but not least ...

6. The requisite Alma Mater Pride Observation.

In which the Blob observes that our Ball State Cardinals went on the road and gave a Big Ten school fits, losing 24-21 to Illinois when a last-second, 54-yard field goal try to tie it fell short.

Of course, it was only Illinois, which begs the question whether or not the Cards actually gave a Big Ten school fits.

(The requisite Alma Mater Qualifier)

It's gotta be the shoes

Sunday morning, and you know what the crazy part is?

The crazy part is LaVar Ball is starting to make sense to me.

OK. So that's not precisely true.

The first crazy part is rolling out a signature basketball shoe for a 16-year-old high school junior, which is what LaVar (The Dad From Outer Space) just did for his son LaMelo. Yes, you heard right. LaMelo Ball hasn't gotten to his junior season in high school yet, and he's got his own shoe. And for the low, low price of $395, you can own a pair.

(You think I'm making this up? I'm not making this up. Four bills for a high school kid's shoe. And not even a high school senior kid. A high school junior kid.

Somewhere Jimmy Chitwood is kicking himself that he didn't roll out the Air J-Chit when he had it going good down there at Hickory.)

Pretty bonkers stuff, charging $395 for a high school kid's shoe. Even more bonkers is that there are dopes out there who will actually buy the things.

But you know what's not bonkers?

LaVar Ball saying he doesn't care if his son's shoe jeopardizes his NCAA eligibility. Because the way he figures it, college buckets needs LaMelo more than LaMelo needs college buckets.

"We'll sit out a year or two," LaVar said when asked if about the prospect of his son being declared ineligible. "Just get stronger and faster, and then go into [NBA training] camp as a free agent. He already got the narrative -- he can play, he can play. You see what he's doing at 15 and 16. Don't think that by the time he gets 17, 18 that he ain't going to be 10 times better than what he is now?"

You know what?

That doesn't sound all that crazy to me.

But I bet it just sent a shiver down the spine of every coach of every college basketball juggernaut out there.

Here's the thing: If the NCAA declares LaMelo ineligible, and he still winds up in the NBA (and if he's as all-that as his dad says he is, he will), where does that leave the NCAA? What if a kid doesn't need to hang out on campus for a year to get where he's ultimately going?

The big powers are already living off one-year rentals who play out the charade of being college students only because the NBA won't let them enter the draft right out of high school. Now here comes LaVar Ball offering a different way around that scenario. If it's successful, you think other prospective one-and-dones won't follow suit?

Maybe, ultimately, that will be a good thing for college buckets, because it will go back to being a game dominated by quasi-college students and not blatant mercenaries. Oh, they'll still be hired guns, because that's how it works in corporate college athletics. But it won't be so ... well, obvious.

Even better, it might also force the NBA's hand and make it finally eliminate its absurd rule.

In which case, we'll all have LaVar Ball to thank.

I know. Gives me indigestion, too.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The joy (or something) of hanging around

Lee Corso was back in Bloomington last night with the College GameDay boys, and that meant it was time to roll out all those great Corso stories. Some of them might actually be true.

There was the time, for instance, when he fulfilled a promise to bring a Rose Bowl team to Bloomington ... by scheduling USC. And there was that other time when his Hoosiers, miracle of miracles, scored first against Woody Hayes' mighty Ohio State legions, and Corso called timeout to get a picture of the scoreboard.

Of course, the Ohio State legions went on to win by about eleventy hundred points.

Which is kind of what happened last night.

What happened last night is Indiana led early, still led 14-13 at halftime, and was still hanging around very, very late in the third quarter, when the No. 2 Buckeyes only led 27-21. With Corso in the house, new Indiana coach Tom Allen might have felt inspired at that point to take his own picture of the scoreboard.

Of course, he didn't, being a man who's serious about turning Indiana into a school for whom football is not just something to do until basketball starts. And of course, Ohio State proceeded to run off 22 straight points to outscore IU 36-7 in the second half and win going away, 49-21.

It's basically what everyone, even diehard IU fans, knew was eventually going to happen, even when the Hoosiers were leading and then hanging around for three quarters. And it sent them out into the night with that hanging-around semi-happiness familiar to generations of Indiana football fans.

Well, at least we hung with 'em for awhile. Three quarters, almost! That was pretty good, right?

It was. And maybe it indicates IU won't be, you know, IU this year, Which means they'll win six games, maybe even seven, go to the Radial Tire Bowl O' Granola Bowl and win it, maybe.

What we learned last night, after all, is Richard Lagow is a pretty good quarterback, and Simmie Cobbs is a really good receiver, and Jordan Howard and Tevin Coleman aren't around anymore. Which is to say, Indiana rushed for 17 yards last night. Seventeen. Meanwhile, Lagow threw the football 65 times.

Doubtless that is not the sort of balanced attack Allen would like to see.

On the plus side, Ohio State scored just one touchdown against Indiana's defense in the first half. And the Hoosiers hung around until almost the fourth quarter.

That's pretty good? Right?