Super United

I’ve never been a fan of the two week gap between the NFL’s conference championship games and the Super Bowl. It was two long weeks of seeing and hearing every sports journalist lionize Tom Brady (he’s the G.O.A.T., not a lion!)… and seeing Patrick Mahomes ad infinitum (a Latin term meaninng “an endless number of State Farm commercials).

Sneaker-selling season started earlier this year…

But this year, the Cincinnati Bengals are in the Super Bowl. (Spell-check just underlined the last sentence… even computers can’t believe it happened.) And I’m really digging the two-week gap. It’s an extra week for the citizens of this city to bask in the warm orange glow of a long-awaited Super Bowl appearance.

Photo credit: Personal work of Jeffrey Dean.

An extra week to hope, to dream… to believe.

An extra week to rally around a common cause, rather than dwelling on the differences that seem to divide us. There’s no red vs. blue… just orange and black. Instead of yelling at strangers on the internet, we yell “Who Dey!” together.

Of course the phrase came from beer… would you expect anything less from us?

We have more in common than we think… but sometimes it takes a sports team to help us realize that.

For the Love of the Game(s)

Not all heroes wear capes, and not all sports Trailblazers live in Portland.

WYFF News 4’s Julia Morris has been named South Carolina Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sports Media Association (NSMA). She is the first woman to win the award in the state of South Carolina.

Julia’s my niece. I’m so proud of her for winning this award. After she graduated from Boston College (following in the footsteps of her mom), she worked in the corporate world for a bit. But it wasn’t her cup of tea. So she decided to attend grad school at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University to launch her communications career. (Communications? That was the degree of her favorite uncle!)

It wasn’t easy starting over, and being older than most of her classmates. But Julia worked hard, stuck with it, graduated, and landed a weekend sports anchor gig in Myrtle Beach before moving to WYFF, the NBC affiliate in the much larger Greenville/Spartanburg/Anderson/Asheville market.

Julia’s glamorous (like her mom), but the gig isn’t. She spends her weekends hauling camera gear to high school and college football games. She has to set her work schedule around the schedule of some guy named “Dabo.”

A Yankee to the core (and a Yankees fan… perhaps her only flaw), she’s had to learn the lingo of NASCAR. But for her, the racetrack beats the corporate track any day of the week.

“Whether it’s high school sports coverage, traveling to college national championship games for both Georgia and Clemson, or covering the Carolina Panthers, Julia is up to any challenge. She’s a true asset to our newsroom and to sports fans throughout our area.”

Akili Franklin, WYFF 4 News Director.

It’s easy for the self-help gurus to say “do what you love” or “follow your passion”… but it’s a lot easier said than done. Julia didn’t win the South Carolina Sportscaster of the Year award… she earned it. And now she’s got the Palmetto State in the palm of her hand.

“I am so honored to be the first woman to be named NSMA SC Sportscaster of the Year,” said Morris. “Being in South Carolina for six years now, I have met so many amazing and talented people while covering sports. It’s a true blessing to live here and do what I love!”

You can read more here and here.

Heads I win, Tails I Kinda win

I went to my first-ever NFL playoff game yesterday. (Uh, to be clear, I was merely a spectator… although I could’ve been an All-Pro defensive back except for one minor thing: a complete and utter lack of skill.)

Las Vegas Raiders (still feels weird typing that) versus the Cincinnati Bengals. The team I’ve loved since I was six, against the team from my adopted hometown, the place I’ve lived for more than 30 years.

True story: my co-worker moonlights as the Bengals mascot, Who Dey

The “more than 30 years” is significant because the last time the Cincinnati Bengals had won a playoff game was 1991. So while I was rooting for my long-suffering Raiders — they haven’t won a playoff game in 20 years — part of me wanted the “Bungles” to end their drought.

My Raiders have had to deal with a ton of off-field issues this year. Their former coach, Jon Gruden, resigned mid-season after reports emerged of him using homophobic, racist and misogynistic language in emails from several years back, while he worked as an ESPN analyst. In early November, their 2020 first-round-draft-pick wide receiver Henry Ruggs III killed a 23-year-old woman and her dog while driving drunk and going 156 mph, and was released from the team. A week later, another 2020 first rounder, cornerback Damon Arnette, was released after posting a social media video where he was waving a gun and threatening to kill someone.

Yet somehow, some way, the Oakland… er, Los Angeles, er, Oakland, er, Las Vegas Raiders managed to eke out victories in their final four regular season games and make the playoffs. Sure, now that they were in the playoffs, I wanted them to win, but to use a term popular in their latest hometown, they were “playing with house money.”

Watching the game was a blast… and not just because my friend Whit got free tickets in the Miller Lite Who Dey party deck, although free tickets, free food and free beer never hurt.

The game was fairly close throughout, and with 30 seconds to go, the Raiders had first and goal at the Bengals 9-yard-line, needing a touchdown to tie the game and send it to OT. But on 4th down, the Bengals intercepted a pass at the goal line to seal the victory.

The fateful interception. Photo credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Cincinnati Enquirer

Watching your favorite team lose is never easy, but this was probably the easiest loss to take ever. Because watching 70,000+ Bengal fans cheering and high-fiving as their team exorcised decades’ worth of demons was pretty cool. And if you listened closely, you could hear the entire city breathe a sigh of relief.

Photo credit: Albert Cesare/The Cincinnati Enquirer

Or maybe that was just the free beer talking.

Say it ain’t so, Joe

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow recently gave his city (and mine!) a backhanded compliment, by saying this:

“Fortunately, there’s not a ton to do in Cincinnati. Nobody is going out to clubs and bars and getting COVID every weekend.”

Joe Burrow, Bengals QB (not a member of the tourism board)

As someone who has lived in Cincinnati for 30+ years and loves this city, I’m slightly offended. But as someone who could gladly go the rest of his life without going to a “club,” I’m fine with his comment.

And as someone who doesn’t want to see our fair burg turn into a “destination” city that folks move to in droves, creating traffic headaches, killing the “vibe” and making home ownership unattainable for the “Average Joe” (looking at you, Austin, Texas), I’m secretly thrilled with what Joe Burrow said.

Let’s keep that “sleepy town” perception in the national media.

Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau rep

That way we Cincinnatians can enjoy all the amenities that the area has to offer — the wonderful parks system, a thriving arts scene, the pro sports teams, the great universities (Xavier is at the top of that list, of course), the extensive hike/bike trail system, the scenic rivers, the easy commutes, the unique neighborhoods, the amazing architecture, the affordable homes, the Midwestern friendliness, etc. — without a bunch of turistas getting in our way.

Thanks for keeping Cincinnati off the radar, Joe!

Alive and (not) Kicking

One week ago, Florida State played Florida in their annual college football rivalry game. With a bowl game on the line for the winner, Florida State mounted a 4th quarter comeback and was trailing by just three points, 24-21, with 49 seconds to go. They needed to try an onside kick. Here’s what happened:

Florida State kicker Parker Grothaus nearly whiffed on the ball. Very Charlie Brown. Because the ball didn’t travel 10 yards (heck, it barely traveled 10 inches), Florida took over and ran out the clock.

If anyone feels Parker Grothaus’ pain — other than the Florida State faithful — it’s me. And I’ve got the trophy to prove it.

Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear… the summer of 1972, to be specific. A bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, 8-year-old Dubbatrubba entered the Punt, Pass & Kick competition in Clarksville, Arkansas.

Because 1972 was the first year for the national Punt, Pass & Kick competition, and because Clarksville was (and is) a podunk town, there were only two contestants in my age bracket. Winner moves on to regionals. Gotta like those odds.

True to its name, the competition involved each contestant taking a turn punting the football, then throwing a pass, then kicking. In that order. The attempts were measured by distance, but also had to be in a straight line. For example, if your pass went 25 yards but landed 3 yards away from the tape, you’d get 22 for that attempt. Punt, Pass & Kick yardage was combined. High score wins. Got it? Good.

I went first in each round. My punt went considerably farther than my opponent’s. Ditto for my pass. All that stood between me and gridiron glory was a simple kick. I put the ball on the tee, lined up several yards back, got a running start… and pulled a Parker Grothaus:

There weren’t many “fans” in attendance, mostly just family members and other contestants in the higher age brackets. But as soon as I whiffed, I could hear nothing but laughter.

The loudest laughs were coming from the older brother of my opponent. He happened to be the placekicker for the local high school’s football team. And clearly his younger brother had learned a thing or two from him (nature AND nurture), as he proceeded to kick his football a country mile. Game over.

The only thing that could’ve possibly made it more humiliating would’ve been if Lucy Van Pelt were holding the football for me.

Some wags like to say that “second place is just another name for ‘first loser.'” In this case, that was completely accurate.

I was the walking, talking, non-kicking embodiment of the Ricky Bobby motto:

I still have my trophy. It’s one of the few mementos I have from my Arkansas childhood. As much as I’d love to tell you that I use it to motivate me to try harder and do better in all aspects of my life, that’d be dishonest.

The truth is I probably keep it around because it helps me realize that with time and perspective, even the biggest humiliations aren’t that big of a deal. And because a good story beats a gold trophy every time.

Besides, my opponent probably went up against some freak of nature behemoth like Andy Reid in the regionals.

What happens in Vegas… is tragic

The Las Vegas Raiders lost a road game yesterday, falling to the NY Giants, 23-16.

A 23-year-old woman lost her life this past Tuesday in Las Vegas. All because Henry Ruggs III, a 22-year-old man who used to play for the Las Vegas Raiders, rear-ended her car on a suburban street.

Ruggs was driving at 156 mph with a blood-alcohol content twice Nevada’s legal limit before his sports car slammed into the rear of a vehicle that burned, killing Las Vegas resident Tina O. Tintor, 23, and her dog, prosecutors said Wednesday.

from NFL.com

Speed is what got Henry Ruggs III to the NFL. He was drafted in the first round in 2020 after running a 4.27-second 40-yard dash in that year’s combine. But now speed (and a woeful lack of judgement) will take him to jail.

“Life is about choices. Mr. Ruggs made a choice,” district attorney Steve Wolfson told reporters after the court appearance. “And the difficulty I have is there’s so many alternatives. There’s ride-sharing. There’s a designated driver. There’s a taxi. There’s so many alternatives. But Mr. Ruggs made a choice. And he’s going to have to live with the consequences.”

From this article in The Athletic

Henry Ruggs made a horrible decision when he got behind the wheel after drinking. It cost a young woman her life. Tina Tintor was only 23. After Henry Ruggs spends years in jail, living with consequence of his actions, here’s hoping and praying that he somehow finds a way to make the next chapter of his life less tragic…

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