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Beating up on Losers…

January 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Much has been made in the week leading up to the AFC Championship game about the Patriots failure to beat any teams with winning records this season, but does that fact have any meaning? I think this is a pretty clear example of someone grabbing a stat that is factually true, but intellectually meaningless and spreading it for all to hear. Then, everyone else jumps on board, running along the watchtower shouting, sharing the proclamation, without ever stopping to actually think about what’s being said.

It is true that the Pats have not beaten a team with a winning record this season, but it’s also a misleading stat, because some of the teams that the Pats beat, would have had winning records if they’d won against New England. Brady’s boys beat San Diego, Oakland, Denver, Philadelphia, Dallas and the Jets twice. If you reverse any of those games, the Pats opponent suddenly has a winning record.

Beyond that, you can only beat the teams in front of you, which in all but three cases this season the Pats did. If you’d looked at the Pats schedule at the start of the season, you’d have felt it was a hard schedule. The Jets were coming off two straight AFC championship games, the Eagles were widely believed to be some sort of dream team, the Cowboys are the Cowboys, the Colts are the Colts, Miami was seen as an up and coming plucky team, as were the Raiders, and the Redskins are… well, no.

Yet, when the season played out, the Jets act had worn thin, the Eagles took longer to jell than expected, the Cowboys ARE the Cowboys, the Colts were a Manning away from being the Colts, Miami wasn’t so much up and coming as flaming out, and the Raiders lost their quarterback, their owner, and their minds (when they thought Carson Palmer was worth two picks, let alone a first).

Taken further, with a few exceptions, this was a season of almost universal parity: eight teams finished 8-8 (and the Pats beat six of them), three teams finished 9-7 (and the Pats lost to one of them), and two teams finished 7-9 (and the Pats beat one). That’s 13 teams hovering around the middle and the Pats played eight of them.  New England, more than any other team, was responsible for determining who passed the threshold of mediocrity to potential glory.

Yes, the Pats lost to the Steelers and they lost to the Giants (that 9-7 team), and each of those losses are tough to swallow, but lets not extrapolate that out to be something meaningful. It’s not. It’s two games, and really, since the Giants could just as easily have been one of those teams without a winning record, it’s really just one game.

I’m not saying the Pats are going to beat the Ravens – I think they will, but I’m a moron, so who the heck knows – I’m just saying that this fact that keeps getting repeated – that the Pats haven’t beaten a team with a winning record – is vapid and meaningless.

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5 Things I Could Care Less About

September 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Wait, didn’t I write a sports blog once upon a time?

Sadly, like the poor first child when the new baby comes home, Sports on the Brain has become neglected over the past three months, as my writing has been focused on baby, food, and all things Food and Fatherhood.  But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about sports!

What’s unfortunate, is that while there have been things I wanted to write about since June 16th, I don’t really feel like I’ve missed out on anything.  I mean, honestly, hasn’t this been a particularly lame Summer for sports?  The biggest stories have involved two lockouts, 684 collegiate sports scandals, and a baseball season where the closest race heading into the last month is the Angels 3.5 back of the Rangers.  The whole summer’s been so (athletically) bleak it almost makes me long for the good old days of the Brett Farve retirement, unreitrement dance.

With that said, I figure the best place to begin is with a list of the five sports stories I care the least about:

Five:

Tiger Woods.  It’s sort of sad what’s happened to Woods, but it’s even more sad how much enjoyment people are taking from his demise.  It’s strange, I’ve never seen an athlete go from beloved iconic figure to pariah faster and that includes Kobe who was accused of raping a woman.  I know Tiger’s arrogant and controlling of his image, but the unadulterated joy over his demise is a little frightening.

Four:

The NFL lockout… and return.  I told my Father months ago that there was ZERO chance that the NFL would miss games and it’s not like I’m some master prognosticator; seriously, I can’t even predict whether I’m going to have breakfast every morning, but the NFL and the players settling was so patently obvious, the whole thing just felt like an arrogant publicity stunt:

Roger Goodell – “Hey Maurice, what should we do for fun this offseason?”

DeMaurice Smith – I don’t know?  Nothing to crazy, I mean we wouldn’t want to screw up our pubic support.

Goodell – “Screw up our support?  Don’t be daft we’re more popular than Charlie Sheen, the NFL could get caught in a hotel room with a bunch of hookers and blow and the public would still love us.  Hell, I bet we’re so popular that we can have a protracted labor dispute in uneven economic times and the fans will still run up to sniff our butts when we get back.”

Smith – “You think?”

Goodell – “Hells yeah.”

Smith – “I bet I could even de-certify the union and the public would lap it up.”

Goodell – “See, now that’s the attitude!”

Three:

The NBA lockout.  Sigh.  This lockout actually seems real, but it’s still just so banal I cannot bring myself to care.  I almost always side with players in labor disputes.  It’s one of the things I find most interesting about sports, the way that fans begrudge players making the money they make, when it’s either they make the money or the billionaire owners make it.  I guess it’s an economic misunderstanding, fans think that higher salaries drive ticket prices, when in reality ticket prices are entirely driven by (fan) demand.  Anyhow, in this case, I’m not quite as lefty leaning as I normally might be. The median NBA salary last year was 5.356; this is a system that has DeSagana Diop earning 6.925 million, there’s obviously something broken here.

If the NBA season takes place this year, the Orlando Magic’s payroll will be 74 million and just look at the breakdown:

G. Arenas 19.269 million
D. Howard 17.885
H. Turkoglu 10.6
J. Nelson 7.305
J. Redick 6.500
B. Bass 4.0
C. Duhon 3.46
Q Richardson 2.446
R. Anderson 2.244
D. Orton 1.105

So, basically they have an underpaid Howard and EVERYONE else is overpaid at best, or horrendously overpaid at worst. And yes, Orlando GM Otis Smith is a moron who’s spending money like a teenage socialite with her father’s credit card, but still something needs to be done.

What bothers me though, is that the solution to these problems is always, ALWAYS a salary cap.  And frankly, I hate salary caps.  They restrict market value for players, ensure greater profits for owners, and… restrict young, potentially great teams from keeping their players.  I mean really, imagine if the Celtics of the 80s had lost McHale because the Celtics couldn’t spend above a certain amount?  Or what about the Lakers without Worthy?  The Bulls without Bill Wennington?  Bad example?  There’s just no way that with a hard cap the Oklahoma Zombie Sonics are keeping Russ Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Eric Maynor together on a team with Kevin Durant over the next seven years.  And, I like dynasties.  I know the vogue thing in sports is parity and I comepltely understand why David Stern needs to sell to each of his owners the idea that anyone can win, but parity’s boring.  Give me the Lakers of the 80s, the Bulls of the 90s, the Spurs of the 00s, the Memphis Grizzlies of the 10s.

I just want to watch greatness.

Two:

The MLB all star game.  It was a few weeks back, but remember the hullabaloo about the MLB all star game?  God, it’s just stupid isn’t it?  The first problem is that leagues want their all star games to mean something.  MLB’s the worst for this, because everybody remembers Pete Rose destroying Ray Fosse at the plate and wants that sort of intensity in the modern games.  This of course ignores three things:

  1. Not all the old allstar games were like that.  Rose was a hyper competitve arse
  2. Fosse was never the same player after that play.  People hold that up as though it were a good thing, but it wasn’t.  We should never want that play to happen again.
  3. It actually DOESN’T mean anything, so for a team to lose a good player for the rest of the season because of a collision in an all star game is actually asinine.

At this point, the all star game is so bloated, with 389 players being selected from each franchise by everyone from the fans, the players, the managers, the commissioner, my Aunt Mildred, and her pet monkey Reginald.  It’s so dumb it could have been concocted by government.  And, speaking of dumb things that baseball’s doing, what about this extra wild card?  I know that as a Jays fan, I should be in favor of this move, but… m’eh.  I hate it when sports leagues have a freak occurrence happen one time and then react like the sky is falling.  Trust me, I wish there were pennant races this year too, but this is the first time in the Wild Card era that there haven’t been any races and really it’s just a big fluke.  Get over it.  If it happens again next year and the year after that, then worry about the state of the division races, but lets not get hysterical here.  Having said that, it’s inevitable.  There’s a lot of money in playoff games and they will add another team, perhaps two, or four.  After all, what can we learn over 162 games that we can’t learn in a single elimination game?

One:

The NCAA.  Is there anything worse than this greedy, self serving, inherently hypocritacal organization?  I could write a 1,000 words about why they’re so ridiculous; actually, I think I’m going to do just that…

A Stocking Worth of Sports Stories

December 27, 2010 1 comment

Well, the big Holiday is over and with it the little holiday as well, which makes this something of an exhale slowly moment. Between the end of the school term and preparing for the arrival of the Jolly Man in Red, it seems like a thousand sports stories have passed me by without an opportunity for me to yodel on their significance. So, I think we’ll blast through some stories, stocking style. Small sweet little packages, which include some underwear, socks and, probably, a little coal…

LeBron wants to return to the 80s:

Hopefully the league can figure out one way where it can go back to the ’80s where you had three or four All-Stars, three or four superstars, three or four Hall of Famers on the same team,” James said. “The league was great. It wasn’t as watered down as it is [now].”

So, LeBron wants to return to the 80s, why? I don’t know, maybe he’s a fan of Wham? Seriously, I love the King’s comments on returning to 1980s basketball when the league had two or three Hall of Famers on every team. There’s so many levels of absurdity on this topic, so let me just pick a couple off the top: I guess most obvious that I haven’t seen anyone else discuss, is that the notion that there were three or four all stars (let alone Hall of Famers) on the same team is ridiculous. In 1986 Boston had three all stars, as did the Lakers. Of course, last year Boston had three all stars and the Lakers had two, so… yeah, the league has really altered drastically over the last 25 years.

The Hall of Famer thing seems different, I mean we all remember those Celtics and Lakers teams. Bird, Magic, Kareem, McHale, Worthy, Parish, Dennis Johnson, Bill Walton… They were loaded, but two teams does not a league make. Most teams were not so fortunate. The 76ers of course had three Hall of Famers, but one was a 35 year old Dr. J in his second to last season and the other was a 22 year old Charles Barkley in his second season. The Milwaukee Bucks won 57 games that year. They had no Hall of Famers. The New York Knicks lost 59 games that year and they had a Hall of Famer. Granted, Patrick Ewing was a rookie, but you get my point. It’s easy to think of the Lakers and the Celtics and believe that the 80s were a time when every team had an overwhelming abundance of talent that made the NBA a richer, better league, but that’s the sort of hyperbolic nostalgia that makes people think that the 1950s were a better time for everyone.

The real difference between the so called Golden Age of the NBA and the league today isn’t the number of players, or a watered down product. The growth of the game in other countries (namely Spain and Argentina, but also Russia and Eastern Europe) has seen an influx of foreign talent that ably fills in the rosters of those seven extra teams.  No, the real difference is free agency and salary caps. The Lakers and Celtics might be able to draft and assemble a team with as much talent as their mid-eighties teams, but they’d never be able to keep them together any longer. James Worthy, picked number one in 1982, would play out his rookie contract and want to be paid as the number one pick he was, only the Lakers already in the luxury tax because they’re paying max money to Magic and Kareem would have to watch as he took the big offer from Golden State. In 1986, the NBA was only in the second year of the salary cap era and the effects had yet to be fully realized. Now, however, it looms over every basketball decision. So, perhaps instead of politicking to contract teams, LeBron should try campaigning to get rid of free agency and the salary cap…

Speaking of James, his statement is so outstanding coming from a man who dubbed himself “The King.” Like most monarchs, LeBron clearly is unconcerned with how a return to the 80s might affect the NBAs commoners. Sure, LeBron, like his princely friends Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh might love combining their principalities, but what of the peasants? NBA teams have 15 players on their roster. That means that if he went back to the 80s, when the NBA had 23 teams, 105 players would be out of work. Of course, they could probably find someone in Europe or Asia who wanted to pay them to play basketball, but players aren’t the only people employed by teams. There’s also administrative staff, coaches, trainers, scouts, communications, public relations, dancers, financial officers, and oh yeah, hundreds of arena workers.

Yes, I realise that it’s unfair to criticize LeBron for not thinking about the thousands of people who would be out of work if the NBA returned to the 80s, he was after all making an offhand statement, but the perception problem that LeBron created for himself with “The Decision” is only exacerbated by his voicing an opinion on contraction. LeBron is battling an image as a narcissistic, self involved, prima-donna with a king complex. I’m not saying it’s fair, I’m also not saying that it isn’t fair, I’m merely saying that talking about eliminating thousands of jobs for people who aren’t part of your principality is not going to help you sell sneakers.

Phil Doesn’t Want to Play on Christmas

It used to be two (games),” Jackson said Tuesday. “It used to be Phoenix and LA and New York and Boston, or New York and Philly or somebody on the East Coast… Now I see they’ve got like six games on Christmas. (It’s actually five, with the first at 9 a.m. PST and the last at 7:30 p.m.) It’s like Christian holidays don’t mean anything to them anymore. Just go out and play and entertain the TV. It’s really weird… But it is what it is. We’ve got to go to work and we’ll do what we have to do to make the best of it. I don’t think anyone should play on Christmas Day. Soccer teams don’t play. They take a break. No hockey. I don’t understand it.

Yes, until recently, the NBA only had two games on Christmas Day, which meant that only four teams actually had to give up their Christmas days, so this isn’t really an issue that affects most teams. I mean, Lionel Hollins and the Memphis Grizzlies don’t really have to worry about going to the arena on Christmas Day. Of course, unfortunately for Phil, he’s only coached two teams in his NBA career and they existed in the second and third largest markets; plus, in ten of those seasons he was coaching the defending champions, so yeah, I can see how he might want the occasional Christmas day off, but…

I don’t really have a lot of sympathy for Phil. He is paid a lot of money because he’s in entertainment. I’m not breaking any new ground here. Sport is entertainment and athletes are paid millions of dollars for playing games, because they play them in front of people who want to watch. And amongst all the other things people do with their families on Christmas Day, a lot of people want to watch basketball. You know what else thousands of people like to do for entertainment on Christmas Day? They like to go to the movies. Amazingly enough, those movie theaters don’t just run themselves. And I think we can be fairly certain that the people who run them aren’t being compensated quite as well as the Zen Master.

Of course, Phil is complaining on religious grounds, which seems to make his case stronger, except that something about that strikes me as disingenuous. I mean we are talking about the Zen Master. A man who named his book “Sacred Hoops” and who to this point has spent most of his career presenting himself as a spiritually enlightened Native American warrior crossed with a Buddhist monk. Even if he is a practicing Christian worried about missing out on his prayer time, this isn’t a new trend. When he was a player, Phil’s team played on Christmas Day ten times. As a coach, he’s now coached 18 Christmas Day games. So, while I can see that he might want to take a Christmas Day game off for once, his proclamating that the NBA “It’s like Christian holidays don’t mean anything to them (the NBA) anymore” is just asinine. Of course, this is Phil Jackson we’re talking about, so he probably was just trying to keep David Stern’s blood pressure from getting too stagnant.

The Pats Are Awesome:

I know this isn’t breaking any news or anything, but… God Damn is Tom Brady good. Last year I couldn’t imagine anyone playing quarterback any better than Peyton Manning. He just had so much command of the game and he was making heroes out of guys who’d basically walked off the street look like Marvin Harrison. Yet, this year (albeit with slightly more talent around him), Mr Gisele is reminding me of why he is actually the best quarterback of this generation.

Likewise, in his column this morning, Peter King posed a question to his readers about who he should choose as coach of the year. Maybe I’ve watched too many Patriots’ games over the last month, but this really was a D’uh moment for me. Sometimes I think that with coach of the year awards, we try to get too smart. Awarding the coach of a team that we expected to be bad, who finished .500 or better, instead of someone who actually is the best coach in the game. It’s why in the NBA Mike Brown, Byron Scott, Sam Mitchell, Avery Johnson, and Mike Dunleavy combine to have as many coach of the year awards as Pat Riley (3), Phil Jackson (1), Greg Popovich (1), and Jerry Sloan (0, or “WTF” as it’s also known). Unlike an MVP award, where writers generally try to award the best player (sometimes errantly, but that’s another issue), with Coach of the Year awards, they often award the best “story.” It’s why Todd Haley and Raheem Morris will get a lot of consideration for the award this year. And yes, they’ve done a phenomenal job in coaching Kansas City and Tampa to 10 and 9 win seasons job, but there truly is only one answer to this question.

The best coach in the NFL this year, last year, the year before that, or for most of the last decade was Bill Belichick.

Who is the coach of the team that is 13-2 and looking like it might be more dominant than the undefeated 2007 Patriots? Who’s the coach whose team has now gone seven games without a turnover (and have only turned it over nine times all year)? Who’s the coach whose playing two undrafted running backs, guys who by the way have rushed for nearly 1500 yards on an average of 4.79 per carry. Who’s the coach who saw trouble brewing in his locker room and decided that he didn’t need one of the five greatest receiveers to win games? Who’s the coach who got better production out of Deion Branch the rest of the season than the traveling Randy Moss show? Who’s the coach of the team that has won seven straight by an average score of 37.3 to 16.9? Oh and by the way that stretch of games included wins over the Steelers, Colts, Jets, Bears, and Packers…

The answer, the only answer, is Bill Belichick.

The NCAA Suspends Six Ohio State Players for Rules Violations… Starting Next Year.

And there it is, the coal at the bottom of the stocking. Thank you NCAA for once again wearing your greed and hypocrisy like a crushed velvet suit for all the world to see. You guys are special, and coal might actually be too good for you this year.

Ben goes Down…

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

So, after weeks of speculation, an investigation that led nowhere, but made everyone involved uneasy, and a district attorney who didn’t lay charges, but continually referred to “the victim,” Ben Roethlisberger has learned his NFL fate. Commissioner Roger Goodell continued his iron fisted ways, by giving the physical quarterback six games to figure out why using his body guards to keep everyone out of a bar bathroom while he’s inside with a 20 year girl, is perhaps a dumb idea.

At first blush, this might seem extreme for what has proven not to be a crime, or at least not a crime with enough evidence to convict, but, much like when David Stern suspended Gilbert Arenas for being a moron, Goodell is suspending Roethlisberger for putting himself in a questionable position. Look, if I want to go out to a college bar, get drunk and hit on coeds, then it would be creepy and weird, but given that none of them would come near this short, chubby, balding guy in his thirties, it would ultimately be harmless. However, when a two time Super Bowl champion quarterback with the nickname Big Ben strolls into a college bar, girls, many of whom have had some sort of alcohol, notice.

From that point, there are all sorts of scenarios that can develop, almost none of which involve Ben finding the future Mrs Roethlisberger. This is the second time in two years that Ben’s nightlife has enabled his name to be connected together with the words sexual assault. Now, I’m no math najor, but I’m pretty sure that’s at least two times too many. What Goodell is essentially telling Ben is that it would be better in the future for him to drink at home. It might also be better for him not to engage in casual sex with women he doesn’t know, but that’s just me speculating…

Of course, Goodell wouldn’t care what Ben did in bars in March, if Roethlisberger didn’t also throw a football so well. Today on PTI, the great, and bald, Michael Wilbon addressed the issue by stating simply,

I don’t like Sports Leagues trying to legislate morality.

Fundamentally I agree with Wilbon, but the problem here isn’t that the NFL is trying to legislate morality, rather it’s trying to legislate image. Ben Roethlisberger is a larger than life quarterback. He’s won two Super Bowls, he’s at the very least one of the ten most famous faces in the league. And it’s just terrible publicity for Goodell to open his morning paper and see the words: NFL, Roethlisberger, Rape. It’s just bad for business.

Wilbon’s partner, Mr Tony Kornheiser, has long maintained that even though he wasn’t charged, Big Ben would be suspended because Goodell had previously suspended Adam “Pacman” Jones for violating the NFLs conduct code without being charged for a crime. TK, who knows a little something about suspensions, felt that Goodell had to show his 80% black players that there aren’t different rules for a white quarterback and a black defensive back. I think that this may have played some small part in Goodell’s decision, but it’s important to remember that the Commissioner doesn’t work for the players, he works for the owners. As a wig wearing tennis player once said, “image is everything.”

In this case, Big Ben’s image, and his superstar status, worked against him in a really expensive fashion. We’ve all had nights out where we wonder how it got so crazy, and how we spent so much money, but at over 2 million in lost salary, Ben’s night out in March has to rank up there with the worst of them, of course it’s still better than the victims’ night…

A post Super Bowl blurb…

February 11, 2010 Leave a comment

So the Super Bowl was last Sunday. I know this because there’s about eighteen pounds of meat still rolling around in my stomach. However, that has to be better than what’s rolling around in Peyton Manning’s stomach. It was all right there, as I wrote last week, Peyton was on the precipice of being considered the NFL’s greatest quarterback, but then Tracy Porter stepped in front of Manning’s fourth quarter pass and now Manning’s a great quarterback with a 9-9 playoff record.

I’ve long believed that the worst time to judge a player’s place in history is directly after a big game loss (or win for that matter), and there remain several years left for Manning to get back to that spot (after all John Elway destroyed the stigma of all those lost Super Bowls by winning back to back titles in his final two years). However, there can be no doubt that this was a crushing defeat for Peyton and his legacy.

The problem is that whatever else happened in the game, the pick will be remembered as causing the Colts defeat. While it might have been the result of a bad route run, it looks to the naked eye like a terrible throw from number 18, so the interception, and subsequently the loss, lands directly on Peyton. This is of course a simplistic view, there were many other reasons the Colts lost (I thought Pierre Garcons’ second quarter drop changed the game from an emerging rout, and the Cotls’ special teams were also particularly abhorrent), but it will cling to his legacy like Super Bowl fat to my veins…

For their part, the Saints seem a little like Cinderella at the ball. For the last three weeks of the season they couldn’t beat the bottom dwellers of the NFL, and then in successive weeks they beat Arizona, Minnesota, and Indianopolis. Or, put another way, they beat Kurt Warner, Brett Farve, and Peyton Manning. Say what you want about Greg Williams and the Saints’ defense, but they did what they needed to do to win the Super Bowl.

Of course it helps when you have Drew Brees basically throwing a perfect game, and it helps when you have Sean Peyton. While it didn’t work out, Peyton made the right call when he went for it on fourth down inside the ten; he made the right call to challenge the two point conversion ruling; and he definitely made the right call when he decided to start the second half with an onside kick. That moment, more than any other, was the moment when I thought to myself… Oh, I think the Saints are going to win this thing.

So yes, while Peyton’s interception was bad, the Saints did what they needed to do to win. They didn’t win big, and they didn’t score a ton of points, they just won. And that will definitely be enough to keep Bourbon street singing and dancing for weeks.

A Super Column about a Super Bowl…

February 7, 2010 1 comment

So, there’s this little game of football this weekend, which I think you might have heard of. Given the importance of this game, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’ve spent all week writing about hoops? Honestly? It’s mostly because all the Super Bowl hype makes me feel a little like Tiger after a quick drive with Elin (or is that from Elin…?).

I mean, for two weeks we have been inundated with articles by writers who are too busy glad handing former athletes, D-level celebrities and fame seeking women to actually write something coherent and intelligent about football. The whole thing is a deluge of drivel, with the limited pieces of intelligent analysis lost amongst the rubbish like tears in rain.

Now, an intro like that suggests that I’m about to expel some salient words of Super Bowl wisdom, but you, my four loyal readers, know better. If you want to read someone break apart the game, analyzing positional battles, debating whether New Orleans can run against the Colts D, or how Gregg Williams’ blitz schemes will affect Peyton Manning then read the excellent work of Football Outsiders. I don’t really have a lot to add to that, and I certainly don’t have any of those fancy graphs, so… instead I’ll talk about the game generally.

I’m torn about who I will cheer for. Like most neutral observers, I’m moved by the story of the Saints. Hardcore New Orleans’ lifers, like James “Just measure my penis and let me on the plane” Carville speak eloquently about what the Saints have meant to New Orleans as it rebuilds after Katrina. A victory for the team would bring real jubilation to a city that has had more than its share of pain and suffering. Given that the restoration of the city is far from a finished project and that the world’s attention has long passed on to other calamities, bringing the citizens a reason to celebrate and reminding outsiders of the devastation felt in New Orleans would be an important step in the city’s convalescence.

On the other hand, as you know, I am always a fan of witnessing greatness. For me, the best part of sports is watching a player or team so in command of the game that they control it the way Neo controlled fights in the Matrix films. Watching Jordan defy gravity as he flew towards the basket, using inhuman body control to contort in mid air, transfer the ball to the other hand, and gently lay it in on the opposite side of the hoop; Watching Gretzky from the back of the net, playing with some poor defender like a cat with yarn, until he finally sees something nobody else sees, and before you or the opposing goalie knows it, the pucks is in the back of the net. Watching Pujols wait on his pitch, watch him take, take, foul, foul, and then watching his eyes explode, his hands whip through the zone, the little stick he wields connect with the ball, and his extension driving it 500 feet away; Watching Tiger deftly approach a waitress in a restaurant 2,000 miles away from his wife… Masters of their craft at the top of their game.

Which brings me to the reason I may be cheering for the Colts… Peyton Manning is playing this little old game of football better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Now, obviously I never saw Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas, or Bart Starr, but I have seen Dan Marino, John Elway, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Brett Farve, Tom Brady, and, most importantly, Joe Montana. Before this year I would have said that of the guys I’ve watched play quarterback, Peyton was probably fourth (Joe, Elway, Brady, him), but the command of the game that he has shown this year is otherworldly. He is turning first year receivers into stars, he is calling all of the plays, he is figuring out ways to break down defenses in the first quarter and then destroying them the rest of the game, and he’s still convincing opposing teams that the Colts might run, when they haven’t had a 100 yard back since Moses was parting the Red Sea. We are watching greatness and with a victory in this game I believe Peyton would firmly entrench his name into the discussion of the NFLs all time best quarterback.

Don’t worry however, I’m not planning on being a sports bigamist, when the gloves drop I’ll know which force is pulling on me more. I’ve long maintained that if you’re unclear of where your loyalties lie, the fastest way to know is to watch the game. If one team scores and you instinctively cheer, well, then, you know your answer. If both teams score and you don’t cheer for either, well then you’re a neutral observer. Now, if both teams score and you cheer each time, well, then you’re just a bandwagon jumping knob.

I know what you’re saying, enough about cheering, columns like this are for picking games… which brings me to the other reason I couldn’t write this column until today. I couldn’t offer my prediction until I’d finished ironing out my Super Bowl bet with my old friend T-Bone. I couldn’t have T-Bone reading my prediction and using that to force me into better odds. But yesterday we finally finished haggling over our points (I’m giving him 3.5 to take the Saints), so it’s time for me to make a prediction. Remember if I were any good at prognosticating, I’d be living in Vegas, spending my time in an office with a guy named Vinny and eating $1.00 steaks for lunch every day. Instead I’m here flipping patties and adding pickles to your cheeseburgers, so… don’t take this to the bank or anything.

This game will either be a blowout for the Colts, or tight. I doubt New Orleans has the defensive chops to blow out the Colts and for all of the Colts dominance this year, they rarely destroyed teams, so close seems the safer route. A tight high scoring game will benefit the Saints, who have a quick strike offense that if it gets in a rhythm will be hard for the hobbled Colts defense to stop. On the other hand, if the Saints don’t score from forty yards out, then they stagnate in the red zone. And, as I noted above, I believe that Peyton has ascended to the point of greatness, where he controls a football like nobody I’ve never seen.

I think Peyton throws three touchdown passes, the Colts run for another and they kick two field goals. On the other side, I think that Drew Brees leads the Saints to three scores, but that the offence bogs down in the red zone three times and that the Saints are forced to kick three field goals. Both teams score six times, but add it all up and it spells a 34-30 Colts victory. Not a resounding victory, but enough for Peyton to have his second Super Bowl and enter into that greatest QB ever conversation, and, more importantly, just enough for me to cover and finally win a bet with T-Bone.

Warner Takes the Lonely Man Walk…

January 30, 2010 Leave a comment

(Ed. Note: This post is best read if you first open a second browser, click here, press play, and read with the music in the background)

I was never a fan of Kurt Warner. There’s no obvious reason why, I just didn’t like him. It might have been how he and his wife Brenda wore their religion on their sleeve, or it might have been that I resented that he was a former grocery store clerk who was suddenly making an argument as the best quarterback in football. Or it might have been that he could pull off a goatee, while facial hair makes me look like a pug. But whatever it was, Warner just wasn’t a favorite of mine. I cheered against him during his St. Louis days, I felt some small vindication when he bottomed out with the Giants, and I shrugged indifferently when he was chosen to “tutor” Matt Leinart.

Yet, somehow over the last two years, I’ve come to respect Warner. Not enough to cheer for the Cardinals, but enough to be pleased for him when they succeed. So, yesterday’s news that he has decided to retire brought me some mixed feelings. In sports, football especially, too often it is a guy’s body or depreciating skills that tell him he’s done, whatever his heart might feel. So, Warner being able to listen to his heart, or God if you will, and decide it’s time to take the lonely man walk leaves me sorry to see him leave, but happy to see him go on his terms.

Of course, this assumes that he’s actually gone. For Warner, like that other greybeard who might be retiring this off-season, has long done the off-season “will I or wont I retire” dance. He hasn’t been as outward as Farve, and as far as I know Rachel Nichols hasn’t spent her summers camped out on his lawn, but he’s still flipped more times than NBC’s late night schedule.

I’ve long maintained that professional athletes have every right to retire, un-retire, and retire again. Actually, I have no earthly idea why people get so up in arms about this. Is it jealously? Is it because most of us don’t have the option of leaving our jobs at forty? Is it because we want them to leave while they’re still great, so we don’t have to remember them floundering like Willie Mays with the Mets? I don’t know.

All I know is that if I were able to play a sport well enough to be paid, I would want to play that game for as long as someone was willing to pay me. But, I also understand that at some point the strange hours and perpetual travel, the season long absence from your family, the lack of privacy, the general wear and tear, and pounding on your body, would be enough to make you question whether you still wanted to play. So, I can see how when you are 38 years old and you take a hit like the one Bobby McCray laid on Warner two weeks ago, well, I can understand how that makes you want to walk away…

… I can also understand how four months later, when the muscle memory of your body has forgotten the ferocity of that hit, when the travel seems like only a mild annoyance, when your family is encouraging you to return (no doubt tired of you mopping around the house), well, I can understand how over time the desire to play returns.

For most of his career Brett Farve was beloved by everyone for how much he loved football. Journalists gushed over his childlike enthusiasm on the field; that he looked like a boy out there made him real, made him like one of us. He epitomized the child in our hearts still dreaming of one day playing in the bigs. And yet, it is that same love that makes these guys want to come back, to play again. It’s what they know, it’s what they are passionate about, it’s what they’ve always done. It’s a love of the game itself, but it’s also a love of the locker room.

Tony Kornheiser was recently talking with Phil Jackson about when the Lakers’ coach plans on walking away. Phil spoke of how he’d already walked away and how it was the locker room that brought him back. The cocoon of knowing a place where you belong, where you’ve spent most of your life, where you’re comfortable. This, more than anything, might be the hardest part for guys to walk away from. So why do we crucify older players for changing their minds about whether or not they want to play?

Doesn’t every one of us miss the known when we leave it? Don’t we all have moments, often prolonged, of doubt? Don’t we have the right to make a decision, change our mind and un-make said decision? So, why can’t athletes?

Warner has decided to retire. He is, like Bruce Banner leaving town, taking the lonely man walk towards the unknown, and to him I say: congratulations on an incredible career, enjoy the rest of your life. But, if he were to change his mind in August, if he were to decide that now just wasn’t quite the right time to walk along that unknown path, well… I’d be just as quick to say, welcome back.

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