Weekend Update: The debate was a ghoul show. Saturday Night Live was ecch, as we say in New York. Rather than expend more good energy, I ducked the Super Bowl. It just didn't exist. Watched political history on C-Span. Listened to classical on WQXR-FM. Read a great New Yorker piece on Chechnya. What a clean feeling to wake up Monday, like getting up early on Jan. 1 after not drinking. But the news says Trump and Cruz and El Joven are still with us. Yikes.)
Nevertheless, my household is hooked on the presidential primaries: Steve Kornacki explaining stuff on MSNBC and Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd with all their enthusiasm and Chris Matthews never letting his guests get in a word.
(What is Brian Williams, with his pomaded network stiffness, doing on cable? As the subway guy bellowed in the movie “Ghosts:” “Get off my train!”)
Plus, the primaries beat the heck out of football, which I always knew was bad for the brain, anybody’s brain.
As of Saturday morning, I was not at all sure I would watch the Super Bowl. I had already seen one NFL game this season. Yes! It happened two weekends ago, after I gloated about going a full season without seeing a single down.
Having made that boast, I went to a family gathering two Sundays ago for (a) home-grilled wings, (b) the NFL doubleheader and (c) glimpses of the grand-daughters. (The girls ate the wings and promptly vanished downstairs to watch “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”)
As a sociologist in a strange land, I did observe:
*- NFL broadcasters no longer chortle how tacklers “rang his bell.” I wonder why.
*- Deep loathing of the Patriots. One family member hates Brady because he retains a resident chef.
*- Football has not changed much since the last time I took a peek – sporadic running, passing and kicking, plus commercials.
*- My wife – not a sports fan – noticed Peyton Manning’s craggy face on the sideline: “He’s the one who sings about chicken parmesan on TV.”
*- Speaking of commercials: the ones for football are aimed at active younger people (cars and fast food) whereas the commercials for my age group push health insurance, stair lifts, vitamins for arthritis, ringing in the ears and upset stomachs, plus pills that involve couples splashing around in water.
*- With the game dragging, some of us discussed the delightful prospect of Barbara Bush going to a primary and kicking Trump in his posterior, while sneering, Not our type. Go, Granny, go.
With two minutes left, fear and trembling took over. Laura, the sports and political columnist, cautioned that Bill Belichick, master of dark arts, might still think of something. The behemoth named The Gronk plucked the ball out of the air to bring the Patriots within 2 points. The onside kick skittered harmlessly. Game over. Cheers. Civilization saved.
I came away from my annual NFL game comparing candidates and coaches:
*- Chris Christie and Rex Ryan, of course. But Rex had better lap-band surgery.
*- Jeb! and Dick Kotite. Nice guys who….
*- Trump reminds me of a fan in a goofy costume, who makes brave noise from the stands but doesn’t understand the game.
*- El Joven de Florida reminds me of boy wonders who get a job somewhere and are immediately over their heads.
*- Clinton does not conjure up a football image but I could not help thinking of baseball manager Gene Mauch, a verbal lifer who knew the game inside and out. (You know the rest.)
*- Cruz and Belichick. One delivered a chop block to Ben Carson's knees. The other has a perp list of dirty tricks.
*- Bernie Sanders and Tom Coughlin, two apparently grumpy old men who lightened up. (Coughlin won two Super Bowls. Just saying.)
I planned to watch the GOP Frolics followed by Larry David and Bernie Sanders on SNL, to clear my head.
As for the Super Bowl, MSNBC said Jeb! was planning a Hail Mary Pass: an expensive commercial starring The Old Decider. We've seen how that one works.
*- Junior Griffey emerged from the pile at home plate with a Seussian smile – winning run in an epic victory over the Yankees. (We all knew he had been chastised by Billy Martin as a kid.)
My daughter Laura Vecsey was a sports columnist in Seattle that year. Griffey had mood swings, but the way he went back on a fly ball…. My son David Vecsey also worked in Seattle those years. His first child was born in 1998. The next day at the ball park, Griffey approached David and said, “Where’s my cigar?” and David produced one, you bet.
Junior had seen a lot of disruptions as the son of a major-leaguer; his goal was to be a family man. I hope they are enjoying his deserved selection to the Hall of Fame.
When reporters brought up drugs, Griffey flexed his whippy arms and said, "I train on pizza." He knew what he was telling us. Nice Hall of Fame diet, Junior.
*- Nobody hit a ball with a sharper concussion than Mike Piazza. You could have your nose in your laptop and the crack would make you jerk your head up to follow the orbit. David Waldstein knows him much better than I do: don’t miss this in the NYT today.
There seem to be two criticisms of Piazza: that he had a poor arm for a catcher, and showed alleged symptoms of steroid use when he joined the Mets. I say, if he was that bad a catcher, some manager would have made him play first.
Apparently, reporters noticed pimples when Piazza emerged from the shower. I was not on Zitz Watch that day. No other evidence. I go with the crack of the bat.
*- I cannot believe Peyton Manning would take illegal substances, even with a neck injury threatening his career. Not all athletes can make that judgment, particularly at those prices, but few athletes reach Manning’s level with his family history and support. (see: Jeter, Derek.) I believe Manning would know what he risked if he did something illegal -- not right from wrong but self-protective from self-destructive.
* - Back around 1970, I wrote that the football Giants were a “brown-bag team,” having followed them from one college camp to another, with family divisions and cronyism rampant. But then George Young was installed as GM, Wellington Mara and John Mara and Bill Parcells and Lawrence Taylor established order.
When Tom Coughlin arrived, he was a strange tormented dude, early on. The Giants actually staged an intervention: why so miserable, man? He’s been a self-aware grump ever since, totally acceptable.
Now, when I see John Mara – as solid a sports owner as there is, along with the Tisch family – allowing Coughlin to retire and talking about finding a place in the organization for him – and admitting that Jerry Reese’s personnel choices haven’t all worked out – it makes sense to me. The Giants are loyal. The Giants have won four Super Bowls. The Giants are not a brown-bag outfit.
Sometimes in sports, it is possible to over-think.
We saw that in the Super Bowl when the Seahawks coaches decided to “waste” a down by putting the ball in the air at the goal line. Some waste.
New Yorkers are watching an entire basketball season get wasted as the Knicks stumble around the court, consulting copies of a textbook titled “Triangle Offense.”
The flawed reasoning is clear in Harvey Araton’s fascinating luncheon interview with Phil Jackson in Wednesday’s Times – too old New York hands talking hoops.
What I take away from the candid conversation is that even very smart and successful people like Jackson can over-think. I am reminded of that in the computer age,when people belatedly employ statistical analysis to what athletes and coaches did on the field, on the fly.
The 2014 World Series ended with the tying run on third base for Kansas City. Many hours afterward, the great Nate Silver – who aced the 2012 presidential election –wrote that the runner should have been sent home as the ball was kicked around in left field. Silver came up with statistics that the tying run scores from third with two outs only 25-27 percent of the time.
Silver suggested that the Royals were not likely to get another hit off Madison Bumgarner and postulated that a collision at home plate would have favored the Royals because of rule changes since Buster Posey of the Giants had his leg broken in a collision in 2011. I found that specious over-thinking because Posey remains a tough and resourceful catcher.
Having seen the play as it happened, on television, and in many replays, I go along with the decision by the Royals’ third-base coach – Mike Jirschele, a baseball lifer – as he lined up the wayward ball, the butterfingered Giants fielders, and the hitter, Alex Gordon, as he steamed toward third.
This was a decision on the fly that journalists and numbers crunchers will never have to make.
If the coach had tried to remember the statistical probabilities of tying runs on third base, the process would have interfered with his complicated spot decision.
After a lifetime of covering sports, up close, talking to managers and coaches, I have great respect for what they know and do, in real time. Not that mistakes don’t happen. We saw one in the Super Bowl, when the very smart Pete Carroll and his offensive coordinator called a pass from half a yard outside the end zone.
A day later, I read an “analysis” in the Times that said in football, as in life itself, people have to employ a “mixed strategy” or else they become too predictable. I agree, in theory, but I say that second-and-goal, maybe 18 inches away, is not the time to get cute and put the ball in the air, where a defensive back, having the greatest moment of his career, maybe his life, can go get it.
Somewhere in the Football Handbook of Statistical Probability, there is a rule: Give the Ball to the Big Fella.
That’s not statistics, a day later. That is common sense, for playing the game in the moment.
Type in the letters P-A-T-R-I-O... and the wizard of Google completes the thought:
Just that automatically.
If Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, is doing his own searches he might be aghast to see where his team stands in the web. Kraft is in a position to win his fourth Super Bowl, but what might he have lost?
Kraft's name was already associated with a coach who spied on the Jets in 2007 and got caught. Bill Belichick paid a fine of $500,000 for that transgression -- riding-around money on the MTA.
Now the Patriots have won a lopsided conference championship game in which the footballs were deflated just enough to change their aerodynamics.
Did this help guide Tom Brady’s passes well enough to beat the Colts? Not enough to create the 45-7 score.
The NFL – in the age of concussion carnage and Ray Rice and the weekly police report – is not likely to void that victory. But with all the cameras at work in the stadium last Sunday, the NFL just might find evidence of a low-level employee named Elmo skulking around the ball bag with a one-dollar needle, deflating the balls while everybody else in the place was gaping at the obligatory NFL jet flyover.
Our theoretical Elmo was not acting on his own, any more than the Jets assistant was acting on his own when he, oops, edged onto the field and shivered a Dolphin ball-carrier in 2010.
This is the NFL. Nobody thinks on his own, except Coach.
The way it looks, the footballs were softened, and not by accident. Does Bob Kraft really like being associated with this stuff along with Belichick's seventh Super Bowl?
Belichick’s values are questionable and his public persona is miserable. (To be fair, I have friends who know Belichick and describe his thoughtful side.)
Bob Kraft, 73, cares what people think of him. He and his late wife Myrna were active in many charities and good causes. I wonder what she thought of Belichick, and what she would think about a sack of tampered footballs.
I don’t think the NFL is capable of a moral stand, not with its ratings and income. But if the Patriots did what it looks like they did, Bob Kraft should wait til after the Super Bowl and then give Belichick a year off, without pay. At best.
For those of you about to watch a little football over the weekend, does the "sport" induce brain damage not only to the players but also to the viewers?
After a weekend of listening to the blather on the tube, many viewers tend to believe that “college” players are really student-athletes and that NFL players can step back into society on Sunday evening after a week, after a near lifetime, of banging heads.
The Ray Rice case probably should cost Commissioner Roger Goodell his job one of these days. Hearing the report that Rice had dragged his girlfriend, now his wife, out of an elevator after “rendering her unconscious” did not arouse any curiosity in Goodell. Biff-bam-pow. It sounded like one of those phrases John Madden and the lads used to chortle on the compliant networks not so long ago.
“Got his bell rung.”
X-rays of autopsies to follow.
Just think about it while watching the “amateurs” and the “professionals:" the know-nothing impulse of Goodell and his league regarding Ray Rice and now-wife is not the first or perhaps most widespread scandal facing the NFL.
These people have been ducking the clear evidence of damaged players for generations. Men had their uniforms taken away when they could no longer compete, and soon afterward an alarming number had another clubhouse - a rest home with burly attendants to care for them.
For many years the NFL relied for brain advice on its medical advisor, Dr. Elliot Pellman, who was not an expert in neurology, and who resigned in 2007 after articles by Alan Schwarz in The New York Times and other sources.
I had already posted this article when things got worse. The front-page story in the Times by Ken Belson said the NFL is admitting that one-third of its former players are likely to have brain damage. In case you missed it:
Until recently, the NFL's position was that players did not have brain damage. Rather, they were rendered unconscious. Big difference.
What happens to players still getting hit early and often by other behemoths? Do they left-hook their companions, or strangers, and dump them halfway out of an elevator and nudge them with their feet?
At the moment that ugly video surfaced, the two NFL scandals were joined. Does football make players violent long before brain damage is confirmed -- via an autopsy?
Have a nice violent weekend.
The Farmer’s Almanac is calling for cold and snow just in time for Super Bowl XLVIII next Feb. 2.
I’m not surprised. In late December of 2010, when the National Football League wisely called off a game in Philadelphia because of a blizzard, I wrote in my column in The New York Times:
"But the league has set in motion the reward for arrogance: the impending blizzard of February 2014."
That forecast will come true because of the hubris of N.F.L. owners who think they can control everything. They do their best to ignore unfavorable medical information about brain damage from their dangerous business, and they bully network partners like ESPN into choosing between a lucrative partnership and journalistic integrity. However, tempting nature may be a step too far even for King Football.
I've got a track record for predicting storms for leagues demonstrating chutzpah. In 1986, Major League Baseball scheduled not one but two post-season games in dear dumpy old Shea Stadium within 24 hours on Yom Kippur, the most solemn Jewish holy day. I wrote:
"It is going to rain for 24 solid hours, children. The television networks and baseball officials are going to have to scurry around like lost souls in a Cecil B. DeMille epic trying to protect their cameras and their money from floating into Flushing Bay.”
Sure enough, it rained hard and long enough to push back the games by a day. Frankly, they were lucky the deities did not send a surge straight into Flushing Bay to return Shea to the marshlands.
Now the folks at the adjacent National Tennis Center are planning a weighty retractable roof mechanism over the main stadiums, built over the very same swampland. Let’s see how that works out.
But first, please feel free to contribute your own vision of the great blizzard of 2014.
My 2010 column predicting snow:
My 1986 column predicting rain. Rather, I called it a deluge.
The story about the current Farmer’s Almanac prediction:
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! Penalty kick!
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
Send in the Owners
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.
Tebow, The Bounty, The Knicks
“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
Super Day - IV
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.
Super Bowl Silliness? You Bet
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.
Super Bowl Needs a Southern Strategy
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.
There May Be a Moral to This Story
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.
Ode to the Clicker
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.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.