Move Over, You Goofy-Looking Ball.
Feeling smug on Sunday evening, I worked on a project that was due. (Retirement is hell.) I came down at 10 PM and, doggone, the Super Bowl was still on. What did I miss?
Thanks to the blackout, I got to see most of the last quarter, and came to this conclusion: the officials were quite right not to call pass interference on the last desperate play
Not that any sport wants situational officiating, but interference would have to be blatant to be called on the last fling downfield – arms being yanked out of their sockets, a kung-fu kick to the ankle, stuff like that.
Of course, the receiver and defender are going to be getting physical with each other in that spot, but that was no time to over-react.
All day Sunday, I was looking forward, as I always do around the Super Bowl, to an outbreak of pitchers and catchers to make me feel warm all over. This week there is something even more immediate – the U.S.-Honduras World Cup qualifying match in San Pedro Sula on Wednesday at 4 PM, eastern time.
The match is being carried on something called BeIN which is not included by my carrier. Looks like I am going to have to find a pub that carries this BeIN.
Some friends are upset because the U.S. looked so miserable in that 0-0 draw with Canada in Houston last week. I can only say that match had nothing to do with World Cup qualifying. It was the equivalent of a baseball spring training game, when the regulars don’t quite make the bus ride. In other words, it was a scam on paying customers. Michael Bradley is in Honduras. One Keano glare
from him, and intensity will rise.
In the meantime, there are reports of hundreds of matches being influenced in recent years by a gambling ring
out of Singapore.
Soccer is a tricky sport to fix, in that scoring is so random. If you want to get to a player, try the keeper – there have been a few with a gambling jones over the years.
But the person you really want is the ref, that solitary figure running around in the midst of 22 players.
The prominent clubs in Italy were penalized after the 2006 World Cup for a long pattern of influencing matches
. Juve spent a year in Serie B. Officials from the richest clubs were able to request friendly refs for their matches. What did friendly mean? Unclear. But all it takes is one friendly call.
Talk about situational refereeing. When I first started to follow Serie A back in the late ‘80’s, lesser teams would play their hearts out for 70 or 80 minutes against Juventus or AC Milan or Inter Milan, but near the end of the match something
would happen. A Juve player would become entangled with an opponent in the penalty area. The two would go down, both writhing. The ref would come a-running, suddenly energized, point to the little disk 12 yards from the goal. Rigore!
It happened so often that I accepted it as a fact of life in Serie A. I’m looking forward to Wednesday’s match. Officiating in the Caribbean can get pretty situational, too.
Your comments always welcome. GV
Think this guy would be any worse than the jokers they are using? (see below) Photo courtesy of Wahoo Gazette
The National Football League knew it was in trouble when David Letterman mocked the officiating fiasco Tuesday night. A very bedraggled Alan Kalter trudged across the stage wearing a don’t-mess-with-me scowl and striped referee gear. He just had a bleeping day, he said.
Then there was a Top Ten List cataloging the mistakes by the ringers, with sports maven ace writer Bill Scheft from the wings explaining the N.F.L. misery.
Now we read in Judy Battista’s excellent front-page piece
in the Times that new, intransigent owners are responsible for the hard stance.
If I read between the lines, some of these new people want to solve the ills of the world right here and now – by stiffing the help.
They are willing to dilute the product for a ridiculously miniscule piece of the action – what the Times says is $3.2 million extra, out of the $9 billion in annual revenue of the N.F.L. In other words, the owners are saying, it’s not the money, it’s the principle.
They could downsize the limos at the Super Bowl and afford real refs by next Sunday.
We haven’t seen such haughtiness toward the working class since…since…since Mitt Romney talked straight from his avaricious little heart to his rich friends in that now-infamous tape.
Mitt can’t worry about poor people; the N.F.L. owners can’t worry about fans. They all have their agendas.
If I read the tea leaves correctly, some new owners are trying to make their points against a society they just joined. In that, they remind me of the 40 or 50 new tea-party types who came to Congress in 2011, with no intention of actually belonging to it. They slept in their offices and rushed home as soon as they could, scorning the institution and, in effect, the country.
By ignoring the expertise of the referees, the nouveau hard-line owners have jeopardized the product they recently bought into. They have their own tapes proliferating – the botched calls, the yowling fans, the twittering players, and the laughter on the late-night shows -- contempt, rocketing around the world.
This league is already in trouble because generations of ignored brain damage are catching up with it. Now the owners are showing us who’s boss.
Quarterback Controversy: A Grand Old Tradition
“What do you think?”
Nice people who remember when I used to emit instant profundity three times a week for the Times have inquired about some of the sports issues of the day.
Since you asked:
1. Tebow. I cannot imagine a Jets fan, a sports fan, or just a voyeur of the human condition, who would not be fascinated by the Jets’ acquisition of Tim Tebow. Seems to me, the Jets and Mark Sanchez deteriorated last season. The charm is off the alleged leadership and ability of Sanchez and, for that matter, Rex Ryan. So what’s to lose?
Tebow, who was scheduled for a press conference in Jet-land Monday at noon, seems to be a secure athlete with a history of success. If he cannot throw well enough to be a standard N.F.L. quarterback, he certainly seems to have the skills of a scrambler, which to my point of view is great fun to watch. He gets to the end zone. Isn’t that the point?
Did he wear out defenses in the thin air of Denver? Maybe. But if he adds a dimension to the Jets, that makes them more dangerous, right?
It’s a shame that great athletes of past decades (that is to say, black quarterbacks) never got to display their gifts starting with the snap from center. That seems to be a battle that the Cunninghams and Vicks have won, and continue to win. Tebow profits from their journey.
Plus, quarterback controversies are usually fun. Coaches will blather that their chosen quarterback is doing great, but in these informed times fans have the facts and the electronic forum to ask, nay demand, a second opinion, another look.
Joe Namath thinks it's a travesty. He's Broadway Joe. He won a Super Bowl. He will always be entitled to his opinion.
From afar, Tebow strikes me as a solid adult who can handle just about anything, including marginality as a backup quarterback with other duties.
Tebow’s religion should not be an issue. He witnesses his Christian faith, and seems to be an energetic, positive member of the gang, like Mariano Rivera, whose word and behavior are gold in the Yankee clubhouse, or R.A. Dickey, who is usually in the center of the Mets’ dugout when he is not pitching.
One final thought from this soccer-centric observer: I love versatility in sports. In most of the world, soccer players are called footballers; they move around, expected to defend, tackle, run, pass, even score. I use that word for the rare American college or pro player who can handle multiple roles – running backs who can throw, receivers who can play a little defensive back, linebackers who can catch a pass as an eligible receiver. Tim Tebow is a footballer. Let the fun begin.
2. The Bounty. The suspensions handed out by N.F.L. commissioner Roger Goodell constitute his finest hour. He stood up for every fan, every player and every parent who allows a child to play this game with some underlying hope for safety and respect for the rules.
By banning New Orleans coach Sean Payton for a year, Goodell showed an awareness that the Saints violated the core of their sport – they cheated on the paramount issue of safety. What they did, in permitting cash bounties for taking quarterbacks and other key players out of the game, was worse than cheating with performance-enhancing drugs.
The rules against drugs in sports are to insure a level playing field and also to mandate long-range health for players at all levels, including youths who emulate professionals.
The cash bounties were a direct assault on the safety and future of opponents. They amounted to premeditated violence – a huge distinction under the law.
From my angle, Goodell could have banned Payton for life. Payton and his assistants allowed players to maim or possibly even kill somebody for a few thousand bucks. A year away catches everybody’s attention.
It was vital that Goodell act because the N.F.L. is so huge in attendance, television viewership, endorsements and, yes, illegal gambling. Part of Goodell’s constituency fills out forms every week, picking winners and judging the point spreads. He cannot afford to acknowledge this, but it is true. Everybody deserves to know there is not a game within a game – cripple the quarterback, for dollars.
The suspensions were also vital because of the self-important role taken on by college and professional football. Coaches and other officials carry themselves with the smug self-assurance that the great American sport of foo’ball upholds some deep national moral and ethical code. I hope it doesn’t. But if that industry is going to assume this role then it has to be clean. Goodell was handed a grievous violation at the core of his business. And he acted. Bully for him.
3. The Knicks. Even when the Knicks went on a winning streak after the resignation of Mike D’Antoni, some Knicks fans were not charmed because they felt Carmelo Anthony would ultimately hold the team back by his talented obtuseness.
After all, the Knicks had nice teamwork going last season and a 28-26 record before owner Jim Dolan insisted on trading four players to get Anthony. The next version of the Knicks went 14-14 and lost four straight to the Celtics in the playoffs.
This year the Knicks were ragged until Jeremy Lin appeared from nowhere to get everybody playing together. Then Anthony came back from his injury and the teamwork vanished. Lin was not a superstar suddenly discovered but more likely a symptom of what happens when skilled players work together. The New York fans saw team basketball return to the Garden, but Anthony’s self-centeredness cost D’Antoni his job.
Anthony may have just enough individual skill, and Mike Woodson seems to be a professional coach, for the Knicks to slip into the playoffs, however briefly. However, the fun of watching the ball zip around the court during the Jeremy Lin era may not be possible.
Carmelo Anthony is now in the position of wrecking teamwork in a basketball-savvy city two years in a row. Is that some sort of N.B.A. record?
Anyway, that’s what I think. Thanks for asking.
Your comments are valued. GV
What an odd sport, American football. Here was a man about to score a touchdown in the final minute of the Super Bowl, yet trying to erase a lifetime of muscle memory for lugging the ball into the end zone.
Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants was trying to halt his large, mobile body at the 1-yard line but he just couldn’t get himself down. A man could blow out two knees or maybe a spinal column doing that.
That was the strategy after more than three hours of ominous commercials and hard play: the Giants wanted to kill some seconds before Tom Brady got the ball again. But Bradshaw could not put the brakes on his forward momentum, so the poor feller had to settle for a touchdown with 57 seconds left that ultimately won Super Bowl XXXXVI, 21-17, over the Patriots.
Congratulations to the Giants’ owners who showed their traditional patience with Coach Tom Coughlin during a disappointing autumn, and condolences to the Kraft family.
And the one dominating memory of this game -- in a sport that preaches going all out -- is likely to be a running back trying to plop his body down short of the goal line. Very strange.
For him, it worked
Is there a more foolish display by public officials than the mandatory Super Bowl wager between mayors or governors? Are they so craven that they need the attention?
Phil Taylor of Sports Illustrated, one of the most thoughtful voices among American sports columnists, has a great point this week.
He wishes politicians would butt out of sports, particularly those public figures who don’t know a thing about them.
Once again, Taylor has done his homework, citing ludicrous examples of politicians who were clearly pandering, out of their element. A rare example of bipartisanship: clearly, over-reaching knows no political boundary.
Yet my home town of New York has had two recent mayors who took diametrically opposite positions toward sports, and both worked, for them.
Rudy Giuliani made no secret of rooting for his Yankees, whereas Ed Koch had a visceral disinterest in anything sporty.
Giuliani wore his Yankee jacket and cap, was a frequent visitor to the Stadium, knew the players, and knew the game. He was delighted that his position as mayor could get him up close to the field. The Yankees won five pennants and four World Series during his regime.
He showed up for the sixth game in Arizona in early November of 2001. Given what he had been through back home in the two previous months, he had every right to follow his team. The next morning he was back in New York at the start of the Marathon – another statement that the city would endure, that nihilists and lunatics could not shut us down. Then he flew back to Phoenix
for the seventh game that night.
“You’re sick,” I said to him in the crush of the deflated clubhouse after the loss. Giuliani understands clubhouse talk. He smiled and shrugged. It was his team, and he was there, to whisper support to Mariano Rivera, to praise the winning team.
“''I appreciate the way we were treated,'' Giuliani said. ''And if you have to lose, it's better to lose to a city like this. These people sent us search-and-rescue crews.''
Giuliani would show up at Shea Stadium on opening days or other important moments, pay his respects to the Mets and their fans. But everybody understood. He was a Yankee fan. He had earned that right. Rudy Giuliani was never more appealing than when he rooted for his team.
Koch could care less, as we say in New York. He had no interest in sports. If his top aides say, Mr. Mayor, you have to go to opening day
, he would allow himself to be whisked out of Manhattan into one outer borough or another, where he would be introduced, endure the obligatory boos, and take a seat for an inning or two.
Hizzoner might have stayed longer if the ballparks had included an outpost for some Peking duck emporium
. But around the third inning, you would glance down at the box seats, and there would be a gap in the spectators.
While the teams changed sides, the mayor had bolted for the exit; the limo was taking him back to the safety and the aromas of downtown. But he never faked it, never talked manly jock talk, never pretended to know who played first base for the Yankees or Mets.
I think the estimable Phil Taylor would agree: (strictly in a sports context) if you can’t be Rudy Giuliani, then by all means be Ed Koch. And politicians: have you no dignity? Stop with the wagers.
Is it just me, or do other people think the Super Bowl has a moral obligation to take place in a warm climate?
On Sunday they will hold the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. The weather forecast
is for a high of 42 degrees, with showers predicted.
That sounds about right for February in central Indiana. When I lived in Louisville, I could always count on the temperature warming up a few degrees as I headed south on I-65.
This is no region for the Super Bowl. I know, the game is going to be held in a dome. And I have no stake in personal comfort, since I am not going.
But still, doesn’t the National Football League have a responsibility to present a warm, sunny spectacle, all week, to the millions of winter-bound fans in the United States and Europe and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere?
The N.F.L. is trying to spread the game
and the riches, but this is a grim, limited vision. They’ve got the Super Bowl coming to New Jersey in 2014. The weather has been gorgeous this winter – I was working out in shorts the other day – but a blizzard is guaranteed for 2014.
Homebound Super Bowl viewers deserve to turn on the game and see fans in comfortable outfits, outdoors, enjoying themselves. This sight warms the soul, makes us realize that spring will be arriving.
What’s the best bowl of all
– the granddaddy of them all, as Keith Jackson put it? The Rose Bowl, of course. Even if it’s chilly in Pasadena, it’s still southern California; it makes us feel good.
As it happens, I covered three of the coldest Super Bowls ever.
Super Bowl XVI in a dome in Pontiac, Mich., in 1982 was marked by Vice President George H.W. Bush choosing to arrive near game time, snarling traffic. The media bus driver had to let us off, to scramble across a frozen field to get to the dome.
Super Bowl XXVI in Minneapolis in 1992 was not terribly inconvenient, since the dome is right downtown. My vivid memory of extracurricular activity that week was watching people carve ice sculptures with power saws at a winter carnival in St. Paul.
Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta in 2000 was a farce. The roads were icy, and our friends had to cancel a house party because nobody could drive to the suburbs. We spent one day before the game sitting by the window in our hotel room, watching Southerners try to drive on ice – they would go too slow up the hill, then accelerate coming off the hill, and crash into light stanchions and fences along the interstate. This, too, is spectator sport, probably no more dangerous than the brain-bashing that goes on in the actual game.
Nasty weather at Super Bowl sites is inconvenient for the people in the Super Bowl town, and for fans who spend fortunes to attend. Who really cares about the travails of visiting sportswriters?
But the N.F.L. should think of the people back home. In the yawning time before the actual game, the TV audience deserves to see shots of warm and happy fans, strolling the streets, giving us hope that one day soon we, too, can wear shorts outdoors.
The N.F.L. needs to go back to a southern strategy – Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and California – not so much for the people attending but for the people watching.
Do you agree? Comments welcome.
The Giants are playing for their conference championship on Sunday; the Jets are not.
There are many reasons, but one of them has to do with change and self-control. The Giants know how to effect growth; the Jets do not
Let us go backwards more than four years to Tom Coughlin, who often seemed so miserable that a reporter listening to his rants might feel like putting an arm around him and leading him away from the podium, saying, “There – there – there.”
The Giants, and Coughlin’s family, could see how tortured he was, from too many years in the foul dungeons of football.
I caught up with the Giants in London in October of 2007, fresh off their flight from New York, for the league game with Miami. I expected Coughlin to be a basket case because of the enforced trans-Atlantic flight. Instead, he smiled
and said a professional had to live with circumstances.
Surely, I wrote, this is the only man in the world who thrives on jet lag. He was a somewhat modified Tom Coughlin
. And the Giants won the Super Bowl that season. Beat New England. Cause and effect? Partially.
It turned out that after the 2006 season, Pat Hanlon, one of the best team PR people in sports, had put Coughlin in a room with some sportswriters familiar with the team. (I was not one of them.) Later, Coughlin described that meeting:
“One of the things that punched me in the nose was when one columnist told me, ‘You act as if you really don’t have time for us,’ ” Coughlin said. “That really stuck in my craw. I have a coach’s ethic about hard work. I thought to myself, I can be more patient.”
I have no idea what else happened with Coughlin between seasons. I do know that the hybrid ownership of the House of Mara and the House of Tisch is back in the conference title game, partially because their coach learned to relax just a trifle.
The Jets, after two straight appearances in the conference title game, regressed this season. Part of that is directly traceable to the undisciplined behavior from the players and the head coach.
Rex Ryan sets the signals. And the management of the Jets seems blind to the negative impact Ryan ultimately has on his players. He pops off. His players pop off. When an old pro like LaDainian Tomlinson says the locker room is in chaos, this is a sure sign things are bad.
The Jets’ management needs to find a way to get through to Ryan. Talent isn’t everything. The Jets need to take a look at themselves, the way I think the Giants did. Is growth possible for this current bunch of Jets? Unclear.
Beats the heck out of TV timeouts
How did we ever live before this marvelous little device?
I was reminded of our good fortune to live in such modern times on Sunday when the cold weather propelled me into a warm corner to watch the Giants-Packers playoff.
It’s been a long time since I had three hours to commit to watching an entire American football game. Of course I could not make it.
After the ball had been in motion for 10-12 seconds within the first quarter hour, my trigger finger got itchy, and I started searching for something, anything. I found “Get Shorty,”
John Travolta doing Elmore Leonard. Had never seen it. What a wonderful alternative to the blather and commercials and sideline shots.
Working the clicker, I understood how Eli Manning felt out there in Wisconsin. He had a touch for his game. I had a touch for mine. Timeout. Click. Travolta wants to step down in class from loan-sharking to making movies. Click. Manning goes long. Click. Rene Russo grimaces at the gaucheness of an old flame. Click. Packers drop another pass. Click. Danny DeVito does shtick about acting.
And Delroy Lindo glowers as a hood bound for serious trouble. (Here’s a tip for you – go find a movie called Wondrous Oblivion
in which lithe, magnetic Lindo plays a Jamaican teaching cricket to a Jewish boy in a tense neighborhood in South London in 1960.)
Anyway, I had the hot hand, catching the ending of the movie and the credits – why, that was the late Greg Goossen
, classic Met, in a cameo role. Still more than a quarter to go in the football game. Giants upset the Packers. On to San Francisco. After the final whistle, I wanted to fall on my knees and give thanks to my clicker for getting me through another football game.