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Seahawks!

February 9, 2014 Leave a comment
Richard Sherman and the victorious Seahawks

Richard Sherman and the victorious Seahawks

[Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images]

I’m a week late on this one, but I shouldn’t let the moment go without comment. A week ago, the Seattle Seahawks were stomping the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, providing fans from Seattle and Washington State to Oregon, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, Alberta, Alaska, and who knows where else with the greatest moment in local sports history.

Go Hawks!

It’s more than a little strange that so much civic pride gets invested in events like these. I don’t understand the social psychology of it all. And maybe I shouldn’t try. I should simply enjoy the moment. As great as this team is, such a moment may not recur for many years.

On that I have some experience. It was an odd thing growing up in New York in the ’50s and ’60s. Through the mid-’60s anyway. It’s hard enough in one’s youth to have much perspective. But I don’t know how perspective was possible for any New Yorker of that era. We had dominant teams in baseball and football. Many hit TV shows took place there. (The Dick Van Dyke Show for one. Guy lives in the suburbs, takes the commuter train into Manhattan every day. Like my father. I had no reason to think people lived differently.)

Every year from 1949 to 1964, a New York baseball team participated in the World Series. What? Not 1959? Well, you know, if the Dodgers hadn’t moved to LA two years earlier, there would have been a New York team.

That 1959 World Series is the first one I remember watching on TV, on our new color TV. Well, I saw a snippet of a game in one of the Yankees-Braves series at the neighbor’s a year or two earlier—my first time seeing a color TV—but I didn’t know what event I was watching. I just remember the stunning green field.

In football, the New York Giants played in the championship game in 1956, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, and 1963. They lost almost all of those, but they were there.

And then things changed. New York teams became mediocre. The ones I cared about. The Mets showed up on the scene, but they weren’t my team, and by the time they shocked everyone by winning the 1969 World Series, I had just moved to Cambridge. My attention had shifted to basketball. Good thing, since the Knicks won the NBA championships of 1970 and 1973. But I wasn’t in New York then. I was living amid fans of the reviled Celtics.

In hockey, the Rangers had become competitive, but not enough so to win Stanley Cup. The equally reviled Boston Bruins did so in 1970 and 1972. I was there for that. I took no pleasure in their victories, or in Bobby Orr. Over the years, I’ve come to regret how invested I was in the Knicks and Rangers, so much so that I couldn’t appreciate the greatness of the Celtics and Bruins. Only in 1974 did I come around, becoming an all-out Boston sports fan just in time to watch the Celtics win the NBA championship and to suffer the Bruins’s Stanley Cup loss to Philadelphia’s Broad Street Bullies.

By 1975, I was a passionate Red Sox fan. We won the World Series that year, didn’t we? We should have.

The Celtics won again in 1976, highlighted by the classic game-five triple-overtime victory over Phoenix. which I’d remember better if my pal Mike hadn’t called me from Philadelphia in the first overtime. This was at a time when phones were hard-wired to the wall. My phone was in the bedroom of my one-bedroom apartment, the TV in the living room, and the fully stretched out phone cord got me just outside the bedroom door. By leaning around the wall, I could see the TV, but just barely. Mike and I stayed on the phone to the end.

And that’s that. 1976. The last year that one of the championship in one of the four major American men’s team sports was won by a team in a city I lived in. Until a week ago.

Many around here think the Seahawks were robbed by the refs eight years ago in their only other Super Bowl appearance. Maybe. That was a merely good team, not a great one. This year’s Seahawks were great, as everyone around here knew, and as became evident just minutes into the Super Bowl for those not previously paying attention. A very satisfying experience, watching greatness manifest itself.

Categories: Football, Life

Integrity in Decision Making

October 20, 2013 Leave a comment

ricefootball

[Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press]

Above we see Bill Hancock, executive director of college football’s Bowl Championship Series, announcing Condoleezza Rice’s selection last Wednesday as a member of the College Football Playoff committee. From the AP article:

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne and College Football Hall of Fame quarterback Archie Manning are among the 13 people who will be part of the College Football Playoff selection committee in 2014.

The committee members were officially unveiled Wednesday, though the names had been reported last week by The Associated Press and other media outlets. Earlier this week, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long was announced as the chairman of the first selection committee for the new postseason system that replaces the Bowl Championship Series next year.

The committee will choose four teams to play in the national semifinals and seed them. The winners of those games, played on a rotating basis at six bowl sites, will meet a week later for the national championship.

Long and BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock, who will assume the same position in the new postseason format, announced the committee members at a news conference at the College Football Playoff offices in Irving, Texas. The panel is made up of current athletic directors, former players and coaches and college administrators, and a former member of the media.

“Our work will be difficult, but rewarding at the same time,” Long said. “We have important judgments to make during that process. We realize we represent all of college football.”

Word spread days earlier that Rice would be on the committee, prompting both criticism and praise—criticism that she isn’t a football expert, praise that, well, beats me. There’s this, from Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg, intent on fighting back against the sexism of the criticism. But he never does say what her virtues are.

And then there’s this glorifying piece by Greg Bishop to appear in tomorrow’s NYT. It reaches its low point near the end.

Larry Scott, the commissioner of the Pacific-12 Conference, first broached to Rice the idea of her fit on the selection committee. “Why me?” was her initial reaction. He told her that the conference commissioners wanted a variety of backgrounds, integrity in decision making, not just insiders but also others who understood the game.

“I thought it would be amazing to get someone of that caliber that is a really serious sports fan involved,” Scott said last week in an interview. “It takes the caliber of the committee to a whole different level.”

Rice plans to draw on her diplomatic background. She is, after all, familiar with the collaborative process: seek data, refine data, question data, argue data, come to some sort of consensus. She is pleased that strength of schedule will be heavily considered. Her father would have liked that.

So if you want integrity in decision making, you choose Condoleezza Rice? What am I missing here?

Let’s review. We can start with the report on torture released last April, about which NYT reporter. Scott Shane writes:

A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.

The sweeping, 600-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.”

I do believe Ms. Rice was our country’s National Security Advisor at the time, a high official and top advisor. That’s all the review I need.

Why does she continue to be the subject of admiration and recipient of honors. She’s a simple war criminal.

Categories: Football, Torture

Still a Patriots Fan

January 17, 2011 2 comments

Steve Grogan

Gail wasn’t too happy about this, but I discovered yesterday that I’m still a Patriots fan after all these years. I couldn’t bear to watch them lose to the Jets. What Gail wasn’t happy about was that I seemed more upset about their loss than I was earlier in the day about the Seahawks’ loss to the Bears.

How to explain? Well, there’s the fact that the Seahawks fell out of the game quickly and were beaten a team that was clearly better. Plus, the Seahawks had already done far better than anyone had expected in getting to the second round of the playoffs, or than they even deserved, what with their 7-9 regular season record. But ultimately, I haven’t let go of my attachment to the Patriots.

That I even have an attachment is something of a surprise. Back in 1974, I made the big conversion, from Knick fan to Celtic fan and from Ranger fan to Bruin fan. It took another year before I had become a member of what’s now called Red Sox Nation, leaving the Yankees behind forever. But football was different. For one thing, at the time I didn’t much care for it. I followed what was going on, but it was by far my least favorite of the four team sports, and if not for a certain running back in Buffalo whom I kind of liked, and whose name I can’t even bring myself to say anymore, I might have lost interest altogether.

Then came Steve Grogan, in 1975, and the surprise benching of Jim Plunkett in favor of Grogan midway through the season, during which they finished with a 3-11 record. It must have been 1976 when I became a full-fledged Patriot fan. With Grogan at the helm, they finished 11-3. What I always remember is their playoff loss to the Raiders that year and the fact that they were robbed by the officials. The Raiders would go on to win the Super Bowl, but the Patriots were the better team. Or so I like to remember it.

And so I became a Patriot fan. My childhood love of the Giants was no consolation when they won the Super Bowl so improbably over the Patriots three years ago. Growing up with the Jets provided no consolation for yesterday’s loss either. Bill Belichick is a genius. Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of our era. I would like them to be AFC champions and play in the Super Bowl every year.

What if their Super Bowl opponent happens to be the Seahawks? Who would I root for? Oh come now. That’s easy. I don’t want to be kicked out of the house.

Categories: Football

Big Ten Silliness

December 13, 2010 Leave a comment

The Big Ten conference announced names for its new divisions, two of the most meaningless names one can imagine. But maybe I should back up. The Big Ten is the oldest and, I suppose, most famous university sporting conference in the country, dating back to 1896. It became the Big Ten only in 1917, with Ohio State joining in 1916 and Michigan re-joining in 1917 after an absence, the other eight being founding members Chicago, Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, and Wisconsin (along with Michigan), plus Indiana and Iowa, who joined in 1899. The arithmetic got a little complicated when Chicago left after 1946, but Michigan State joined in 1950, restoring order. When Penn State joined in 1990, there was no changing the name, as will be the case after Nebraska joins next year. The Big Ten is a brand now, not a count.

I will pass on providing a primer on the economics of college football and the motivation for conferences to have 12 teams. The short version — and remember, this is about football only, not other sports that conference teams participate in — is that once a conference has 12 teams, it is allowed to split into two 6-team divisions and conclude the regular season with a conference championship game between the two division champions. This means big money. Millions. Many millions. And it’s why both the Big 10 and the Pac 10 chose earlier this year to expand. Losing out in this is the Big 12, which will lose not just Nebraska to the Big 10, but also Colorado to the Pac 10. (Yes, that’s right, this means the Big 10 will have 12 teams and the Big 12 will have 10. Get used to it.)

The Big 10 expansion and concomitant addition of a conference championship game necessitate a split into divisions. Those conferences that already split divisionally generally did it geographically. The SEC (Southeast Conference), the model for this, has east and west divisions. The east is perhaps more east and north, but the west is a geographically compact region, one that makes sense, and so the divisional alignment as a whole makes sense as well. The west schools (going roughly from west to east) are LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Alabama, and Auburn. The east schools (going from south or southeast to northwest) are Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky.

The Pac 10 has a plan for post-expansion divisions that has some logic as well. To the north are Washington and Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State, Cal and Stanford. The six in the other division come in handy pairs as well: USC and UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State, and the two newcomers, Colorado and Utah.

Take a moment now to think about how you would split the twelve Big 10 teams into two divisions. Remember, they are Penn State, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, Northwestern, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska.

Seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it? In fact, I’ve just done it, and handy pairs are staring you in the face. In the east we put Penn State and Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue. In the west we put Illinois and Northwestern, Wisconsin and Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. Done, with natural rivalries built in, rivalries that may not respect past history but are ready made for new history.

The problem is that past history, with the mother of all rivalries, Ohio State and Michigan, the primacy of which has to be preserved somehow. And then, well, let’s see what the Big Ten had to say in its announcement a few months ago:

The Big Ten football division alignments will include a division featuring Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin, and a division featuring Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern. Each school will play the other five schools within its division and will also face three teams from the other division, including one cross-division matchup guaranteed on an annual basis. The guaranteed cross-division matchups are Illinois-Northwestern, Indiana-Michigan State, Ohio State-Michigan, Penn State-Nebraska, Purdue-Iowa and Wisconsin-Minnesota. Names for each Big Ten football division will be announced at a later date.

This isn’t how I would have done it. In particular, there’s no geographical logic to it at all.

But about those division names, which were announced today along with the logo pictured at the top, they are: Leaders and Legends. League commissioner Jim Delany explained to the AP that “The Legends, not too hard in that we have 215 College Football Hall of Fame members, we have 15 Heisman Trophy winners. We thought it made perfect sense to recognize the iconic and the legendary through the naming of the division in that regard. … We’ve had plenty of leaders in the conference, that’s for sure, but the emphasis here is to recognize the mission of using intercollegiate athletics and higher education to build future leaders.”

I think he lost me. And which is which? The division with Ohio State is the Leaders; the division with Michigan is the Legends.

Sigh.

Categories: Football, Language, Stupidity

The Game, II

November 22, 2009 Leave a comment

[Bob Child, Associated Press, from NYT website]

In late September and early October, I had posts (here and here) with the theme that I wasn’t ready for football. Baseball was still being played; couldn’t we wait a little longer before the onslaught of football coverage on TV and across print and web media? And why must coverage of baseball games be pushed around in favor of football? By the time we headed off in late October on our 23-day trip, my commitment to baseball was already wavering, and the idea of World Series games in November was more than I could bear. Now that we’re back, baseball is forgotten, I’ve accepted (even as the college regular season winds down) that it’s football season, and now I’m wondering why college basketball is already upon us.

Even as I was rueing the saturation coverage of football, and largely not watching it, I was paying attention to who was winning and losing. And then I remembered in mid October to follow the Ivy League race. From Europe, I would look up the weekly results, and it soon became clear that the league championship was likely to come down to last week’s Harvard-Penn meeting in Cambridge. Both were undefeated in league play (each of the eight teams plays the other seven over the course of the season), while everyone else had two or more losses. By the time they met, this remained the case: both were 5-0 in Ivy play, Brown was 3-2, and everyone else had a worse league record. With two games left, their head-to-head meeting and yesterday’s season-enders, the winner of their game last week would at least tie for Ivy champion.

Neither team had distinguished itself in non-league play. Both had lost two of three. My guess was that Harvard wasn’t as strong as its league record suggested, and even though they were playing at home, they would probably lose. Which they did. That took some of the shine off yesterdays’ re-enactment of The Game, the 126th meeting of Harvard and Yale on the gridiron.

I wrote about The Game a year ago, noting just before its start that I had discovered cable network Versus’s weekly broadcast of an Ivy League football game and anticipated watching it. I also mentioned the newly released movie — which I have yet to see — on the greatest of all Games, Harvard’s 29-29 “victory” over Yale in 1968. (You’ll recall that both were undefeated going in, at a time when Ivy football mattered. The Yale team was nationally ranked, with stars Brian Dowling — the inspiration for BD in Doonesbury — at quarterback and Calvin Hill — future Dallas Cowboy star and father of Grant Hill — at running back. They were expected to win, even at Cambridge, and win they were doing, 29-13 with 42 seconds left. For the rest of the story, see the movie.)

I arrived in Cambridge the following fall. There were great hopes for the team that year, but things fell apart quickly, starting with the hero of The Game, quarterback Frank Champi, quitting early on. Nonetheless, with the memory of 1968’s Game still fresh, I was determined to get to New Haven for the 1969 game. When Hillel, a friend in our freshman dorm, mentioned that he had a sophomore friend from his high school who had a car and was going, I accepted the invitation to ride with him, as did my roommate and Hillel’s roommate. I see now that I already wrote about this in my post on The Game a year ago, so I won’t go over old ground. I’ll just say that getting to New Haven wasn’t worth the trouble. It was cold, the game was boring, we lost, and I soon lost interest in Harvard football altogether. I only remember one game in my years there that I enjoyed, a thrilling victory over Cornell in my junior year with, as best I recall, a late winning field goal. What made the game special is that Cornell was led by the top runner in the country, Ed Marinaro. Yes, really, Ivy League football still mattered on the national scene in those days. Marinaro finished 2nd in the Heisman Tropy balloting after leading the country in rushing. In fact, he set the NCAA record for most career rushing yards, a record that looks like nothing today, since players have four years of eligibility rather than just three. He had some success with the Vikings, but perhaps became better known through his role on the TV show Hill Street Blues as Officer Joe Coffey.

So anyway, The Game was played yesterday. Just before noon I remembered that it was underway and might be on Versus. Good timing. I turned it on with about 4 1/2 minutes left and saw quite an ending. Yale, as I eventually learned, had taken a 10-0 lead at halftime, but missed a field goal in the second half. I’m not sure when, but I think in the third quarter. This opened the door for Harvard, which scored at last with 6:46 left in the game to cut the lead to 10-7. When I started watching, Yale had the ball, in position to wind down the clock. Then came the crucial play, with less than 3 minutes left. Yale was on its 25 with 4th and 22. The punter was back, but the play was a fake. The ball was hiked to someone standing just behind center, who handed off on a reverse to a player coming from right to left. He proceeded up the left side as I screamed for someone to tackle him. And someone did, 5 yards shy of a first down. Harvard recovered the ball on its 40. After a 4-yard pass and a 2-yard run, they went long for a touchdown, taking a stunning 14-10 lead with a minute and a half left. Yale had a pass intercepted, called three timeouts on Harvard’s next three plays, forcing Harvard to punt with just seconds on the clock. Yale had no time to do anything and Harvard escaped with the win.

Even though no one but alums can possibly care, the NYT is always there with coverage of The Game, presumably because it employs so many alums itself. You can read more in today’s paper.

I leave you with the lyrics to my favorite of all college fight songs, Harvardiana, written by R.G. Williams and S.B. Steel of the class of 1911:

With Crimson in triumph flashing
Mid the strains of victory,
Poor Eli’s hopes we are dashing
Into blue obscurity.
Resistless our team sweeps goal ward
With the fury of the blast;
We’ll fight for the name of Harvard
‘Till the last white line is passed
Harvard! Harvard! Harvard! (2x)

We sure dashed Eli’s hopes yesterday!

Categories: Football, Sports