Super-conflicted

I’m torn about which team to root for in today’s Super Bowl, sponsored by JET LI.

(Wait, I’ve just been told that the “LI” in “Super Bowl LI” is actually Roman numerals… my bad. Better luck next year, Jet. And Jets.)

Normally it’d be a no-brainer because I can’t stand the New England Patriots. It starts with their GQ pretty-boy quarterback Tom Brady, who just happens to have a supermodel wife, and already has so many Super Bowl rings that he probably uses half of them as door pulls on his kitchen cabinets. And then there’s the evil Darth Vader  head coach, Bill Belichick, who is a genius with Xs and Os and player moves, but a complete jerkwad outside the lines, especially to the media. Throw in a “Gronk” (yeah, I know he’s hurt but his frat-boy specter still looms large over the entire franchise), a complete pest like Julian “Short Man’s Disease” Edelman, and a bunch of no names that come up big when it counts (looking at you, Malcolm Butler) and it’s very easy to hate the Pats, especially if you live outside of New England and like to root for the underdog. Oh yes, and as a Raiders fan I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the infamous “Tuck Rule” playoff game.

 

But I’m super-conflicted this year because one of the New England Patriots cheerleaders is the daughter of my first cousin. (Does that make her my second cousin? First cousin once removed? Cousin to the nth degree?)

   

Jamie is super-nice and very funny. She grew up in New Hampshire, she now works in Boston and she’s loved to dance since the time she could walk. So it totally makes sense that she would be a Pats cheerleader. But c’mon, this is the Evil Empire we’re talking about.

  

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady chats with Donald Trump (Photo by Donna Connor/WireImage)

I guess I’ll have to split my allegiance… I hope the Patriot cheerleaders have a flawless game, and I hope the Falcons beat the football Patsies by a gazillion points. (Even though I know that odds are the Brady mansion kitchen cabinets will have a little extra bling very soon.)

 

Walk-a-thon

Here’s the definition of traveling from the NBA Rule Book:

Section XIV-Traveling
a. A player who receives the ball while standing still may pivot, using either foot as the pivot foot.
b. A player who receives the ball while he is progressing or upon completion of a dribble, may use a two-count rhythm in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball.

But NBA officials rarely call traveling, especially on superstar players. Watch this clip below where Russell Westbrook takes about 5 steps before dribbling. What’s funny to me is how long it takes the ref to call it… seems like he only does it because the opposing team (and coach) are screaming for it… and how Westbrook gives the ref some side-eye after the call, like it was a bad call, when clearly he walked halfway across California.

 

 

Good luck charmer

This past Monday, Clemson won the college football championship, thanks in no small part to a former walk-on receiver, Hunter Renfrow, who had 10 catches for 92 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the game winner with a second to go.

One day prior to the game, the sports crew at WBTW-TV, the CBS affiliate in Myrtle Beach, SC, did a national championship preview special, and one segment featured WBTW’s Julia Morris interviewing the hometown kid, Renfrow. In an eerie bit of foreshadowing, Morris says “He has a knack for clutch plays, we’ll see if he can make a couple more tomorrow night.”

I should probably mention that Julia Morris is my niece, the eldest child of my older sister Jeanne and her husband Michael. And since Julia has been doing sports for WBTW, an underdog Coastal Carolina baseball team won the College World Series, and the underdog Clemson Tigers toppled the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide in the college football championship.

Clearly Julia not only is a fantastic sports anchor/reporter (as you can see from her interview with Hunter Renfrow and other clips like this one and the highlight reel below), but she also has the Midas touch. If any major market teams would like to win a title, they don’t need to worry about recruiting 5-star athletes, they just need to recruit Julia to do TV sports in their town.

 

We are the championzzz

Clemson beat Alabama last night to capture the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship. (The Tide got rolled.) Actually, it was this morning before the game ended. Apparently  it was “a game for the ages,” but one of those ages isn’t 52, because I was fast asleep well before the fourth quarter, which featured four lead changes, and three touchdowns in the final five minutes of play. The winning score came with a single tick left on the game clock… at about 12:25 a.m. In other words, the most exciting parts of the title game happened when most sane people who live east of the Rockies were snoozing.

The game kicked off at 8:19 Eastern time. And college football games used to take about three hours. But now, pretty much any and every play is subject to video review, which is nearly as much fun as watching paint dry. Throw in the requisite injury time-outs, a long halftime and a few extra commercial breaks (broadcast rights ain’t cheap) and you’ve got yourself a sixty-minute game that took more than four hours to conclude.

In their never-ending quest for better ratings, TV networks will pick game times that suit their needs, not the desires of the fans. But in the DVR/internet age, I think more and more fans will skip all the hoopla, catch up on their beauty sleep and catch the five-minute highlights the next day.

Shaving four hours off your total viewing time? Now that’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

This isn’t a picture of me… my skin mask has more of a lavender hue to it.

Dems da breaks

My favorite NFL team is the Oakland Raiders. Because when you spend your formative years (ages 6-17) in Arkansas, there’s no mandatory geographic alliance to any particular team. The Raiders were on TV a lot back then, because they were really good. I liked their logo and team colors (what other reason do you need when you’re six?).

And their players were an odd collection of rejects, castoffs and misfits. I could relate to that too.

The Raiders have been pretty darn horrible over the last decade and a half (and that’s putting it nicely). No winning seasons. 10 seasons with 11 or more losses.

But I’ve stuck with them through it all. Because I’m not a quitter… although I’ve certainly been tempted.

This year the Raiders turned the corner and have been good again. They’ve had some great draft choices and made a few smart free agent acquisitions over the past few years, and those moves have paid off. This year they clinched a playoff berth more than a week ago with a win over the San Diego Chargers. First trip to the playoffs since 2002.

Then this past Sunday, playing at home against the Indianapolis Colts, up 33-14 in the 4th quarter, their young team captain/MVP-candidate quarterback Derek Carr was sacked (first time he was touched by the Colts all game) and suffered a broken fibula.

http://www.nfl.com/m/share?p=%2Fvideos%2Fnfl-game-highlights%2F0ap3000000763039%2FDerek-Carr-injured-on-sack-helped-off-field

(Carr was one of three NFL players to have a broken fibula on Sunday… bad things happen in threes apparently.) Just like that, the Raiders went from dream season to nightmare, from Super Bowl contender to also-ran.

The Raiders’ defense is pretty suspect, and it’s doubtful they would’ve gone all the way this year. But the fickle finger of fate has given Raider fans the finger once again. The autumn wind is a pirate, but apparently God is a Patriots fan.

Curse words

Good news for long-suffering Cubs fans: the Billy Goat Curse is no more.

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Bad news for fans of every other MLB team: The Cubs have a great nucleus of young position players, great pitching and a fantastic manger… so the Billy Goat Curse has been replaced by a new curse: The Curse of the Obnoxious Cub Fans.

09cubs31

Mic drop

Vin Scully will call his final baseball game today, after 67 years behind the microphone for the Brooklyn/L.A. Dodgers. He is, without any doubt, the best baseball broadcaster ever, and second place isn’t even in the same universe. He did games on TV, but radio is where he really was at his most brilliant… he could paint a picture of the action and draw you into the game like no one else. Because it was never about Vin – as it often is with today’s ego-driven broadcasters – it was always about the game.

When he was on TV, he knew that the video could tell more of the story, and didn’t feel compelled to fill up the air with drivel. Probably his most famous call was Kirk Gibson’s home run in the World Series, and his line “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!” is classic. But watch and you’ll see how Vin sets up the confrontation between the MVP pitcher and the hobbled batter so brilliantly. And note that Vin is silent for a full minute after he calls the homer, allowing the magic of the moment to shine through.

Here’s a link to a nice 3-minute video profile of Mr. Scully:  http://www.cbsnews.com/live/video/vin-scully-announces-final-game-on-sunday/

vin-miss-you

He will miss us, but baseball fans – and baseball itself – will miss him more.

In college, but a lack of knowledge

Yesterday during college football games, not one, but two runners let go of the ball before they crossed the goal line. Because apparently style points count more than six points.

Here’s Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon at the end of a kickoff return:

mixon-drop

Luckily for Mixon, the play wasn’t reviewed and he got credit for a touchdown.

And here’s Cal’s Vic Enwere against Texas, late in the game with Cal up by a touchdown.

cal

He got lucky too. He didn’t get credit for a touchdown, but the ball was blown dead so the Texas player who picked it up couldn’t run it back the other way for a tying score.

Here’s another pet peeve of mine, in college and pro football: players running alongside the guy about to score, instead of turning around and blocking someone. Here you see three ‘Bama players joining a pigskin posse on a 75-yard interception return, yet none of the non-runners turned around to get in the way of the Ole Miss player, who nearly prevented the score.

Going, going… gone

I was sorry to hear about the passing of longtime ESPN sportscaster John Saunders. Not just because he seemed like a really nice guy, but also because he was one of the few “worldwide leader” ESPN personalities that didn’t have copious amounts of smugness, smarm and/or shtick.

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He was just an old school broadcaster who came across as relatable and reliable. They are few and far between these days.

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Mike Lupica has a nice tribute to John Saunders here.

 

Score one for the little guys

Villanova won the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Monday night, in dramatic fashion.

I was excited for them because my brother-in-law is a ‘nova grad and because my alma mater, Xavier, plays in the same conference as them (and was one of only 5 teams to beat them this season, btw). But I was also happy because Villanova is a small school, and they usually don’t get to wear the crown. Here’s a stat from an ESPN.com article about the game and how it was a victory for all the little guys:

Entering Monday’s game, Kentucky, Duke, Connecticut and North Carolina had won 12 of the previous 20 national championships in Division I basketball… Even the teams that sneaked into the club in the past 20 years — Syracuse, Louisville, Florida, Kansas, Michigan State, etc. — do not qualify as true underdogs.

At a time when many of the traditional powerhouses are recruiting one-and-done players, schools that keep their players all four years probably have a better chance of winning it all. So here’s hoping the little guy era has begun.