A War with Heart

Every year, the men’s basketball teams from Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati square off on the court, in what’s known as the Crosstown Shootout.

There’s no love lost between the two teams… there was an ugly post-game brawl in 2011.

The fan bases can get rather rabid, too. With a bit of perspective, it seems silly for normally-sane adults to get so emotionally invested in a single basketball game between two groups of mostly teenagers. (But as a Xavier alum, I’m duty bound to mention the fact that my Musketeers have won 10 of the past 14… Let’s Go X!)

However, there’s a new XU-UC “shootout” going on right now where there are only winners: the local bar and restaurant workers. It started more than a month ago when a man and his daughter left a $1,000 tip at a venerable burger joint and finished off their note with “Go Xavier!”

Since then, fans of both schools have been engaged in a friendly game of one-upmanship, leaving monster tips at dozens of local restaurants.

This tip war isn’t a war of attrition, it’s a war of appreciation for the local restaurants and bars whose business has been crippled by coronavirus, and the workers who rely on tips to get by.

It’s good to know that folks from both schools have their heart in the right place (and apparently fat wallets too).

Running list of tips from this Cincinnati.com article

Let’s hear it for the old man

I’m not a Tom Brady fan. Far from it. As a Raiders fan, the “Tuck Rule” game that launched his legend still sticks in my craw.

But as a fellow old man, I have to admit that there was a small sense of satisfaction with seeing a 43-year-old top a 25-year-old.

It’s also worth noting that Tampa Bay’s coach, Bruce Arians, who is 68, became the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl. He didn’t get his first head coaching gig until he was 60!

Down with crass commercialism, Up with People… still!

Happy Super Bowl Sunday! Today I’m posting an “encore presentation” (don’t you dare call it a rerun) of a post that originally appeared waaaay back in February of 2016. That was a whole different decade. A more peaceful era. A time when we could congregate in large groups and see the bottom halves of people’s faces. “Gee, ain’t it funny how time slips away…” 

I’m reposting it for three reasons:

  1. So the three people who read it back then can re-read it and chuckle anew (fingers crossed!). 
  2. So I can add the accent aigu to the e in Beyoncé. That grammatical faux pas has been haunting me for five years… neither Queen Bey nor Jay-Z has spoken to me since I published the original post. (OK, they didn’t speak to me before, either, but that was coincidence, and now it’s causality. Facts!)
  3. Because my feelings about halftime extravaganzas have not changed one whit.  (Don’t take it personally, The Weeknd… or is it Mr. The Weeknd? The Weeknd Guy? Sir The Weeknd?) In fact, I’m starting a Change.org petition to bring back Up With People. And I’m counting on all three readers of this blog to sign it. 

Please silence your cell phones, sit back, relax, and enjoy today’s encore presentation:

The Super Bowl to end all Super Bowls (at least until next year) is just a day away… and already I’m sick of the hype. Not the hype for the game – I’m oblivious to that after years of Roman Numerals being shoved in my face XXIV/VII (see what I did there?). I’m sick of the hype for the halftime show. Excuse me, I meant to say “The Greatest Halftime Spectacle In The History of The Universe” or whatever they’re calling this year’s gig. They went with the Chinese Restaurant menu approach this year – one from each column – Coldplay for the aging wannabe hipsters, Beyoncé for the soul sisters, and Bruno Mars for… well, pretty much everybody else. And of course they have a corporate sponsor, because there’s a sponsor for everything. I’m surprised they don’t say “This Geico commercial is sponsored by Bud Light.”

Call me an old fuddy duddy (merely typing that phrase makes me an old fuddy duddy) but I actually miss the early Super Bowls before the greedy tentacles of the NFL and advertisers hijacked the halftime show. For many years, the “entertainment” (using that term very loosely) was Up With People – a group of overly earnest teens singing easy listening versions of the day’s top hits. Sort of like an Osmond Family clone army. Sure they were super cheesy and super lame, but who cares? It’s halftime – time to reload on food and drinks.

Now that was quality entertainment! 

The State Farm Super Bowl?

If form holds (and if the concussion protocol truly is cleared), this year’s Super Bowl (LV if you’re keeping score at home… on your papyrus scroll) could be a repeat of the teams that were in the first Super Bowl (back before Roman Numerals were a thing). The Green Bay Packers vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.

They didn’t even officially call it a “Super Bowl” back then…. it was the AFL-NFL World Championship.

I know State Farm is rooting for the Pack and the Chiefs… then the Super Bowl can finally settle once and for all whether the “Rodgers Rate” or the “Patrick Price” is better.

Jake from State Farm is wearing KC colors… could that be a clue? Call QAnon!

If the Packers aren’t your favorite team, they should be your runner-up… they are a throwback to a different era. Today, most teams are owned by billionaire businesspeople. The ownership roster is heavy skewed toward men (shocking!) who are oil tycoons, real estate magnates and scions of the original owners… and then there’s the Jacksonville Jags owner, who makes bumpers for Toyotas. You can read about how each owner made their cash here.

But the Packers a unicorn. They’re the only publicly-owned, not-for-profit pro team in the U.S. They are owned by 360,760 fan/shareholders. And there’s a limit on how many shares you can own, to prevent any one person from having too much power. It’s the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland “hey kids, let’s put on a show” of sports franchises, based in a decidedly non-glitzy city of 100,000… on the frozen tundra of upper Wisconsin. How can you NOT love them?

But first, Green Bay has to beat Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship. I think we can all agree that the last thing we need is Tom Brady in another Super Bowl. Yes, he’s the G.O.A.T. and all that, but he already has so many Super Bowl rings that at this point he’d probably just give a new ring to his personal hairdresser. (And don’t act like he doesn’t have a stylist… I’m pretty sure s/he is allowed on the sidelines to adjust his ‘do every time TB takes off his helmet, so he’s ready for the 10,000 gratuitous close-ups from the TV cameras.)

The NFL equivalent of Greg Marmalard and Doug Niedermeyer from Animal House.

Kansas City’s QB, Patrick Mahomes, is rapidly approaching that “yes, we know he’s great but we’re tired of hearing about how great he is 24/7” threshold that Tom Brady crossed decades ago.

So what I’m really saying is “Go Pack Go!”

Cheaters never prosper

A lot of baseball fans were upset that the Houston Astros players who participated in a sign-stealing scandal in 2017 and 2018 were never punished. But one fan took matters — and a megaphone — into his own hands.

Photo credit: New York Times

Dude’s name is Tim Kanter. He’s a White Sox fan (obvi, from the photo above) but he lives in San Diego. Due to the pandemic, the baseball playoffs are being played at neutral site stadiums in warm weather locales. The American League Championship Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and the aforementioned Cheatin’ Astros was hosted at Petco Park in San Diego. Tim works at a software company whose offices overlook the stadium. So he and his buddies pooled $200 to buy a mega-powered megaphone. And during Game 4, Tim spoke for most fans:

Hear, hear! Attaboy Tim! Thanks for giving voice to the feelings of so many fans.

(The quotes above are from this New York Times article. It’s well worth the read. Tim Kanter seems like an interesting person.)

If you cheat, you should pay a price. The Chicago White Sox players who “threw” the 1919 World Series were banned for life. Pete Rose broke the rules by betting on his team and was banned for life. The Astros clearly cheated, and while the manager and GM were suspended for a year (and wound up losing their jobs), and the club was fined $5 million and lost draft picks for a couple of years, the players involved never had to miss a game.

Last night was Game 7 of the ALCS. Tampa Bay beat Houston. Fair and square.

Sports is life

Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Bob Gibson passed away Friday night, after battling pancreatic cancer. He was 84. As fate would have it, the book I’ve been reading over the past week is a collection of essays by the great sportswriter Roger Kahn.

And I was smack dab in the middle of the Bob Gibson essay when I heard that he passed away. The best years of Gibson’s playing career were mostly before my time (hard to believe when I’m so old), but I remember my dad telling stories about his baseball prowess. What I didn’t know until I read the Roger Kahn profile was his backstory. He grew up in a four-room shack in Omaha, Nebraska, the youngest of seven kids. His dad died three months before he was born. His mom worked at a laundry. One night during his childhood, a rat bit him on the ear while he was sleeping.

He loved basketball, and his dream was to play college hoops for Indiana University, but they rejected him because they had already met their “quota” of Black players. Instead he starred in basketball and baseball for Creighton University in his hometown. And when he graduated, he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals AND the Harlem Globetrotters, playing sports year-round to earn the princely sum of $8,000.

Most of the obits mention Bob Gibson’s competitive nature, and how it manifested itself on the mound – how he’d hit batters to keep them from digging in against him. You’d probably have a bit of an edge too, if you grew up poor and fatherless, and were denied opportunities due to the color of your skin.

We think we’ve come so far in race relations since the 1960s, but when you read the excerpt below from Bob Gibson’s 1968 book, it’s easy to see similarities in the way he was perceived back then, and the backlash that Colin Kaepernick received in 2016, or the “shut up and dribble” comments directed toward LeBron James earlier this year:

“In a world filled with hate, prejudice and protest, I find that I too am filled with hate, prejudice and protest. I hate phonies. I am prejudiced against all those who have contempt for me because my face is black and all those who accept me only because of my ability to throw a baseball.”

From Gibson’s book From Ghetto to Glory

In another essay from The Roger Kahn Reader, written during the Watergate era, Roger Kahn sums up “sports is life” nicely… and his words still ring true half a century later:

“Sports tells anyone who watches intelligently about the times in which we live: about managed news and corporate politics, about race and terror and what the process of aging does to strong men. If that sounds grim, there is courage and high humor, too… I find sport to be a better area than most to look for truth.”

The truth is Bob Gibson is a Hall of Famer. The other truth is that his path there was a lot rockier due to his circumstances. And the saddest truth of all is that a fatherless child from the ghetto is probably no better off today than Bob Gibson was when he was born in 1935.

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