Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Year End Top 20

I hate to state the obvious, but it's been an interesting year. As are most years, I suppose, but still.

This blog came into existence on March 22, born of my desire to write about something, and knowing full well that "something" probably should not be music, for my own sanity's sake. (You spend your time practicing and playing shows and writing songs and honing your craft, the last thing you want to do is write about it too.) So I went for the other obvious avenue, and zeroed in on sports. There are probably about 18,436,978 sports blogs out there on the internet; encompassing the full spectrum of excellence and mediocrity, and carrying readerships measured in single digits or in vast orders of magnitude. (There is not necessarily a direct correlation between the quality of excellence and the orders of magnitude, mind you.)

My opening forays here were almost laughable attempts at mimicry, with precious little vector or focus. A paragraph of poorly-imitated David Halberstam here, a sentence of failed Joe Posnanski humor there. Simmons, MacMullen, Schiller, Ryan, Magary, Baker, Levy, Wilbon, Carmichael, Shoals, Harper, Roth ... I had a lot of reverential influences. Unfortunately, I kept veering into their varied stylistic bents at random intervals, with no definite rudder or sense of voice. Everything on the page kept coming up as an inauthentic, disjointed train wreck. There were also periods in which I was, for a variety of reasons, not as diligent in creating content in this space as I ought to have been. But you fumble in the dark long enough, you're going to stub your toe on a lamp eventually. Or at least your eyes should adjust enough to make out some dim, purposeful shadows.

I think I'm getting there.

Thanks to all who have read (and hopefully will keep reading) while I figure this whole thing out.

Anyway, to close out my inaugural (calender) year in this whole sports blogging deal, I'm going to leave all six or so of my loyal readers with one final entry before the champagne and revelry of the 31st.

Ladies and Gents, the Top 20 Sports Moments of 2011. (Note: these are highly subjective, in no particular order, and not all choices are "Top" in the superlative meaning of the word. Some choices made the cut because they resonated personally with me, others because they resonated, for better or worse, with everyone. And some are just plain funny.)

1. Penn State. I don't want to dwell on the horrors of the accusations, the disgusting, absurd reactions of some of the students, or even the awful fact that big-time college athletics can be, in the wrong hands and with VERY wrong priorities, fertile ground for something far more shameful than a few kids milking some extra folding money out of a broken system. Suffice it to say that this was the most shocking thing that has ever happened in sports or my or, I believe, any lifetime.

For sheer revulsion, O.J. in 1994 is the only thing to ever come close. It was, perhaps, more alarming in the immediate moment, watching the car chase as garbled bits of increasingly nauseating information reached us in real time. But it was nothing on this scale in terms of deliberation and scope over years and a repeated wilfulness by those in power to ignore what was wrong.

Sadly, it would be foolish to think this is the last terrible thing we will witness in a field that is supposed to be a trivial, joyous distraction from the "real world." (Look how closely the Syracuse scandal followed it.) But we can hope. May we be more vigilant, less ignorant, and better-equipped in the future. May we never allow our love of something so unimportant to cloud our eyes from the momentous and terrible. If this can't be the end of awful moral failing and tragedy in sports, perhaps we can ensure that its limits of horror will never be approached again.

2. Brandon Roy's Last Stand. I'll spare you a recounting of the details, just click on the link. I know a performance in a first-round playoff series in which his team was ultimately eliminated doesn't necessarily jump out as "Top 20" material. But consider: Roy just announced his retirement after a career that was grossly, unfairly abridged due to his knees acting like those of a 65-year-old man. This was his last full-stop display of the transcendent abilities that made him such a joy to watch during that brief window. We will never have the opportunity to watch him on the court again, unless it's on ESPN Classic when they re-air this game. (Which they should and will.)

3. Drew Brees breaks Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record. Never mind that it came at the expense of completely humiliating my beloved Falcons on national television, watching history being made is always worthwhile. Also, Drew Brees is ridiculously good.

4. Game(s) 162 of the Major League Baseball Season. Honestly, sometimes you just gotta say "What the &#%^?" Tampa Bay's absurd comeback, the Sawx somehow collapsing against a lowly Baltimore team with nothing to play for, the Braves self-combusting against Philly, the Cards' insane surge ... traumatic as it was for those of us whose teams were thrashed in the process, there has never been a better, more improbable, more drama-filled night of regular season action in any sport. These are the moments when the actual theater outclasses anything we could possibly concoct or manufacture in our wildest, most unhinged flights of fancy. Something we'll never forget.

5. Eric LeGrand leading his Rutgers teammates out of the tunnel in a motorized wheelchair. If you didn't cry when you watched this, you may well be dead inside and I feel bad for you. After a horrific injury on the field paralyzed him, LeGrand became the voice of inspiration and optimism for the year. Not a voice, THE voice. In a sport which has seen so much go so horribly wrong this year, this was a moment that said everything about the better angels of our nature. As a matter of fact, it might have left even the angels slack-jawed with admiration and reverence. Here's a young man deprived of not only the game he loves, of speed and strength as release, but of normal, simple actions as a human being. Yet he has remained unwaveringly dedicated to the idea of surmounting his problems, and of smiling and laughing and savoring the things he can in life while he's at it. He's willing himself to constantly create joy out of awfulness, and to beat the steepest of odds getting back to a standing position. LeGrand's tweet after exiting that tunnel:

"So I left tire tracks in the snow yesterday as I led my team out next time will be footprints"

New Year's resolution we should all make: be more like Eric LeGrand.

6. Al Davis passes away. Has there ever been a death that produced a more high-profile and conflicting crop of press clippings? Davis was eulogized and derided; his innovations were praised and his faults were loudly, scornfully proclaimed. The ultimate take away was probably somewhere in the middle. This was a complex man who, for better and for worse, was tremendously important to the NFL, and without whom the landscape of football will never quite be the same.

7. UGA managed to do this. Keep your eye on the down-and-distance numbers in the bottom right, then watch the yellow line on the punt. THE EFFING PUNT doesn't even make it to the first down marker!!!!!! Hilarious.

8. The Bruins snapped a 40-year drought to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup. Which, you know, was cool.

9. On the NFL's opening Sunday, Cam Newton proves every doubter wrong. After a season's worth of dazzling highlights and otherworldly rookie numbers have essentially made him a lock for Offensive ROY, it's easy to forget how loudly many of us, myself included, were laughing when Newton went #1 overall in the NFL draft this year. Personally, I thought he was going to be a novelty/Wildcat guy; Tebow 2.0. But then, nothing we saw of his lone season at Auburn or during the abbreviated preseason screamed "super-clean, super-calm pocket passer." I was on the couch with a bunch of buddies watching Red Zone when they flashed Newton's final numbers (24/37, 422 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT) and a few highlights across the lower half of the screen. No one spoke for a full minute before someone finally said what were were all thinking: "Holy &^%#!" And all this was (relatively) devoid of the overt displays of athletic freakishness he unleashed as the season continued, but it was the precursor, the warning bell: this cat is for real.

10. Pat Summit's announcement of her early-onset dementia. Forget the easy delineations of men's/women's or college/pro, this is one of the five greatest basketball coaches of all time. During her announcement, and all the press conferences and interviews that followed, never once did she bemoan her fate, ask for sympathy, or behave for an instant in a manner that did not exude dignity, class, and the competitor's will to compete in the face of all odds. It would have been only human to exhibit grief and rage at the situation; only human to tread the road of the maligned, broken, and bitter. And since she chose not to exhibit those things or walk that road, we must conclude that Pat Summit is, in that respect, superhuman. And salute her for it.

11. Vin Mazzaro's May 16 stat line. Here we have a true encapsulation of the ridiculous and the awful. Here's the cringe-worthy portion of the box score:

Vin Mazzaro, LHP, Kansas City Royals. 2 1/3 IP, 11 H, 14 ER, 3 BB, 2K, 77 Pitches. Oof.

12. Novak Djokovic, who did not so much have a defining moment in 2011 as make all of 2011 his defining moment. 10 tournament wins, 3 Grand Slam victories, a record-breaking 5 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles, more money than anyone has ever made in a tour season, and utter dominance over pretty much everyone and everything in his path. The man finished his year 70-6. 70-6!!!!!!!!! That's inconceivable. (You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.) Everyone from Sampras to Becker to Nadal declared Djokovic's 2011 the highest sustained level of tennis they've ever witnessed. Which means it was probably the greatest season of tennis that any of us have ever witnessed.

13. Peyton Manning's Neck. Has there ever been a single injury that altered the dynamics of an NFL conference so drastically? In the blink of an eye (and the repair of some vertebrae), the Colts went from Super Bowl contenders to almost surely picking first in the 2012 draft. Meanwhile, the Texans, Pats, Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals reap the benefits, while the Colts probably get to reload with Andrew Luck next season. Sheesh.

14. Kemba Walker doing this. And this. And this. I cannot wait to watch this kid in the NBA.

15. Sunday, October 23. Tim Tebow gets his first start of 2011 on the road against the Miami Dolphins. Thus begins Tebowmania, an extended period of time during which all other sports storylines become secondary to an overtly religious, very humble young man winning a few football games. With awful mechanics. And awful-er stats. And largely thanks to a fantastic Broncos defense and a clutch kicker. The degree to which it subsumed everything else was ludicrous, but at some point you just have to ride the wave out. I was as guilty as anyone of buying into the hype, because it was fun and polarizing and interesting. And I suppose I'm still buying in by puttin gthis on the list, but it was a big honking deal before the Pats and Bills deflated the budding myth, and we were all along for the ride.

(15a: The X > Tebow ESPN Invasion. Because holy crap was that funny.)

16. The NBA Finals. After all the hype surrounding talents being taken to South Beach and the incessant, high-pitched media drone around the Miami Heat all season, we finally reached a moment of unanimous public relief/catharsis. Dallas played such beautiful basketball, and so completely destroyed the team that everyone wanted to see get destroyed ... it was a breathtaking culmination to a phenomenal season. We reveled in the grand pageantry of Dwayne Wade playing like a freaking boss (and LeBon not doing so), of Dirk's transcendent(al?) rain of fall-away J's, of Jason Kidd still having that much in the tank. And also the little things, like Tyson Chandler's unbelievable defense, Shawn Marion giving LeBron all he could handle, and of course, J.J. Barea being the most compact form of pure ballin' since Spud and Mugsy. For the Mavs, it was sweet victory and revenge for 2006. For everyone else, it felt like a signifier that perhaps not everything in sports was morally bankrupt, that karma counts for something, and that the good guys still win every once in a while. Which is patently absurd, of course. But that's how it felt.

17. David Freese's staggering Game 6 in the World Series. I'd like to thank whoever put that slo-mo montage with the fantastically cheesy music out into the world. Because it's fantastic. Hometown kid saves the season and then crushes the game-winning walkoff 2 innings later? Are you kidding?!?!?! And Joe Buck managed to not be Joe Buck-ish and instead turn the simplest, most wonderful phrase possible in the moment, a replication of his father's call 20 years ago after Kirby Puckett hit a World Series, Game 6, extra-inning walkoff. Perfect. I defy you to watch highlights of this game and not get chills. Possibly my favorite moment of the year.

18. Any time a concussion or sub-concussive impact was sustained by an athlete. Actually, scratch that: any time anything at all happened that looked like it might have rattled someone's brain even a little bit. I've read enough on the causes and effects of CTE to be sufficiently terrified of it, and what it might do to many of the people we watch performing feats of athletic wonderment on our televisions or tablets or however we consume sports these days. If I have kids, I swear they are never playing football or hockey or dodgeball or riding bikes or going skiing or doing anything that might translate into repeated impacts to the cranium. Ever.

19. Women's World Cup: USA vs. Brazil. God bless Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo. And especially the dervish/spark plug/dynamo that is Megan Rapinoe. This was such a wonderfully fun team to watch. They had style and swagger in abundance and a sheer joy on the pitch that was infectious. USA! USA! USA!

20. Bama/LSU. "Remember, remember the fifth of November ..." In retrospect, there's a certain poetic symmetry to this game having occurred on Guy Fawkes day. A whole bunch of gunpowder did not, in fact, blow up, and precisely nothing was proved by its non-detonation. At least where the BCS polls were concerned. Nonetheless, the defensive battle, and particularly the play in the trenches, was undeniably fascinating and beautiful in its own right. When people talk about the SEC being bigger and faster and stronger than everyone else, games like this are what they're referring to. Which is why we're going to get Round 2 in the BCS Championship Game. And why I can't wait to watch it.

Honorable mentions:

Albert Pujols signs with the Angels. Not really a "moment", but any time the greatest player of his generation leaves his longtime franchise and inks the biggest, most absurd contract anyone has ever seen, it's certainly important. 10 years, $250,000,000 for a (supposedly) 32-year-old 1B? I know he's "The Machine" and all, but I have a hunch they're going to regret that deal in about five years.

David Stern blocks the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade, then allows a trade sending him to the Clippers to go through. I may have to retroactively bump something out and put this on the list retroactively if the Lakers manage to fall apart and the Clips wind up being legitimate contenders this season.

The Tiger Woods Hotdog Incident
. Just because.

Happy 2012, folks!!!! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Star Wars

Before we get into nuts and bolts, I'd like to start out by saying that I am profoundly grateful as a professional basketball fan. For at least the next two seasons, we will have the privilege, nay, the unadulterated, rapturous pleasure of watching Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on the same team. The best pure point in the game is going to be running pick and rolls and hucking oops to a guy who's well on his way to being the preeminent power forward in the league. That's not to mention the fun CP3 is going to have with DeAndre Jordan. Oh, they have Blake double-trapped in the corner? Ho hum. Hey, DeAndre, cut to that empty space there ... here ya go. ... Perfect!!!

I am a reeling, giddy mess just contemplating the insanity that is about to unfold. SportsCenter is essentially going to have to rechristen its Top 10 as "The CP3 and Blake Show" from Christmas through the playoffs.

And yet ...

I'm wondering if the Clippers are going to be contenders. No doubt they will contend, in the sense of existence as an upper-echelon team in the Western Conference. They will likely win a playoff berth this year, and they will be a formidable challenge for any and all opponents with that absolutely devastating high-low action. But "contenders" in the serious, capitalized context of a threat to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy this year? I just don't see it.

The NBA accomplished its stated goal of attaining sufficient compensation for New Orleans in this deal (i.e. "basketball reasons"), however shady their purported motives may have been. In doing so, they provided the Hornets a wonderful structural base from which to rebuild, and hopefully made the franchise attractive to prospective new owners. The Hornets are going to be worse for the next few years than they would have been with the initial Lakers trade, but they have younger talent, more cap flexibility, and what will be a high pick in a loaded 2012 draft class to work with now. The NBA made the right decision for, in my opinion, the wrong reasons, but in the end no one got hurt.

The primary side effect of this is: the Clippers just completely transmogrified themselves as a basketball organization. Forget the obvious observations that they're no longer a joke/laughing stock, and that having Chris Paul and Blake Griffin instantly legitimizes them as a marquee franchise. I'm not interested in the star power/recognition aspect of this trade for L.A. I'm talking about the mechanics of what it represents for the Clippers in terms of basketball philosophy.

Before this trade, L.A. was going about its business in a certain manner, and now they will have to continue in an entirely different one. They didn't merely switch gears, they took the exit ramp to a completely different road. We can identify those two roads as follows ...

Clippers pre-trade: The Oklahoma City Thunder model. (Or: What the Hornets could/will become if a smart new ownership does in fact acquire the franchise.) A youthful assemblage of talent centered around one transcendent player growing up in the league together, forging cohesive bonds and making steady but inexorable strides towards greatness, with some necessary and expected stumbling blocks along the way.

This is what the Clips were before this deal. They had a stellar young core with Griffin, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jordan, and Eric Bledsoe. Their acquisition of Chauncey Billups before the CP3 trade transpired meant that they had a veteran in place to operate an offense full of burgeoning talent, provide a good, steadying personality/influence in the locker room, and tutor Bledsoe in how best to run a system. (I suspect that Mo Williams was either getting reduced minutes or shipped out for parts. Poor guy.)

That nucleus, coupled with some smart moves over the next few seasons (admittedly a stretch given the Clippers' track record) would have allowed them to continue to grow as exciting up-and-comers and potentially dominate the Western conference along with OKC and Memphis for the next 5-10 years. They weren't going to walk away with the hardware this season, but they had the opportunity to realize their collective potential while almost every key player was still shy of qualifying for breaks on their car insurance rates. As the Lakers and Spurs faded/aged out of relevance and Denver and Utah remained burdened by incoherence and rebuilding, the opening was there for L.A.'s "other" team to assert themselves. Now, their paradigm for success has been significantly altered, and I 'm not sure it's for the better.

Clippers post-trade: The Miami Heat model. Clearly, this team was not manufactured in the same manner as Emperor Wade luring Darth LeBron and Jar Jar Bosh to South Beach, but they face a similar set of problems. Acquiring CP3 cost them depth and versatility, and as Miami just demonstrated, it's awfully difficult to win without it. Even if Paul stays healthy (iffy) and elects to stick around after 2013 (iffier), what do the Clippers really have?

Sure, the starting front court is going to be one of the best in the game. Griffin and Jordan are going to be more than a handful for any defense, especially with Paul orchestrating things. But what happens when they need a rest? The trade cost L.A. their only other semi-decent big in Chris Kaman. They better pray D-League veteran Marcus Hubbard can at least hold down the fort when he's asked to spell Jordan. Same goes for Trey Thompkins. As things stand, the rookie from UGA is going to be the go-to guy when Griffin needs a rest, and he may be called upon to fill some time at the 5 is well, either through small-lineup offensive design or necessity. That's not exactly a comforting thought for Clips fans.

I'm not crazy about the Caron Butler/Ryan Gomes/Renaldo Major rotation at small forward, but it's serviceable, and shouldn't actively cost them too many games. (Al-Farouq Aminu was their easiest and smartest give in the trade, in my opinion.)

Now, the real question, and it's a doozy: exactly who's going to be spacing the floor and providing perimeter shooting for this team? They lost a great young 2-guard in Eric Gordon which leaves them with ... uh ... a Randy Foye/Willie Warren combo at the 2? Rookie Travis Leslie? Mo Williams or Chauncey Billups playing out of position? The problem is that right now L.A. has a surffeit of point guards (five total) and no true 2's on their roster.

My personal bet for a solution: Chauncey at the "two." Mr. Big Shot may not be Ray Allen, but he's not exactly a slouch. I can see him running a tight pick-and-pop game with Paul, and a killer give'n'go as well. Paul should always be the primary handler, but if he's swarmed by the opposing D, Billups' PG acumen renders capable of either knocking down shots or finding one the the Clips' interior players as the situation dictates. Both Billups and Paul are good, savvy defenders, which should compensate at least somewhat for their relative lack of size.

This leaves them with Williams, Warren, Foye, and PG Blake Ahearn either coming off the bench or traded off for another asset. An additional big would be nice (and frankly it's a quasi-necessity), but what the Clippers absolutely need is a bench perimeter scoring threat, either a Jamal Crawford type or a J.J. Redick-style sniper. Until they get that guy, they're just not going to be able to sustain offensive momentum while the starters get their rest.

To recap, we're looking at a starting five of Paul/Billups/Butler/Griffin/Jordan. That's more than a pretty damned good lineup, it's downright frightening. The problem is that a key bench rotation of Foye, Williams, and Thompkins ain't going to get it done. If the Clippers can't figure out a way to acquire some better assets, the CP3 trade isn't going to matter.

Right now, it's possible that the Clippers are the best basketball team in Los Angeles. However: the team they (possibly) deposed to (maybe) earn that (hypothetical) title got creamed in the playoffs last season. So even if the Clippers are better, are they good enough?

The answer is an emphatic "not yet they aren't." But they're a move or two away. For fans of this perennially haggard franchise, that knowledge ought to be sufficient to be getting on with. That knowledge, and the promise of oh so many jaw-dropping highlight reels waiting to happen.

The Los Angeles Clippers, folks! Come for the entertainment, stay for the bright, bright future!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dance Like Everyone Is Looking: An Excessive Celebration Of Excessive Celebration.

There was one hell of a grumpy-pants rant up on Grantland this morning. Normally, I enjoy Jenny Johnson's writing; she's clever and snarky and an entertaining read. But her tirade about endzone dances came off like the old guy in a bathrobe yelling "get off my lawn!" It was cranky and obstinate and a representation of exactly what people mean when they (qausi) jokingly refer to the NFL as the No Fun League.

You can click the link above if you want to read it in full, but if you're disinclined or busy or what have you, here's her essential point: scoring points and making good plays in sports is a job. A job that athletes are paid very handsomely to do. They should not engage in obnoxious, self-aggrandizing celebrations purely because they did that job well.

Here's the part that really yanked my chain, because it is condescending moralizing of the most irksome variety:

"But then there's those players who emerge from the locker room wearing a red crushed velvet suit (I actually saw this), talking loudly and trying to get anyone within an earshot's attention. They want to be noticed, they are desperate for it. But why? Why can't people quietly do their jobs? Why make a spectacle of yourself?"

Well, Jenny, allow me to answer that question for you. Athletes dance in endzones and wear outrageous outfits and legally change their names to goofy things and everything else that bugs you for a few simple reasons.

First, because reputation equals money. The bigger a "name" someone can make for themselves, the more recognition they gain among fans. Since front offices are more likely to shell out truckloads of cash to players with high name-recognition who will put more butts in the seats or in front of the TV, it is in the players' best interest to be as recognized as possible. Obviously, this doesn't hold true for crimes, morally questionable behavior, and the like, but actions that generate considerable attention while being essentially harmless are great ways to get a few extra bucks on that next contract.

If you say that's ridiculous and they don't need any more money than they make already, I suppose that's sort of a valid point, but we live in a capitalist society and it is their right to pursue every available financial gain. Also, I believe that given how much the owners make off these athletes, especially in the NFL, that many of them are considerably underpaid for their services.

The second reason is that it is human nature to seek attention and praise when we do something well. Furthermore, we want to share our pride and happiness in those accomplishments; we want to celebrate. If you ask out someone you're heavily attracted to and they say yes, don't tell me you don't skip down the sidewalk and air-high-five the whole beautiful world when that happens. Don't tell me you don't strut a little when you write a great article or produce a great segment. It's partly wanting recognition for the job, but partly just the thrill and pleasure of having done it well, right? We all do it, because as human beings, we're just plain wired that way. If you claim that's not the case, Jenny Johnson, then you're a lying liar who lies. My point is this: sure, celebrations in sports have an exhibitionist tilt to them, but they're also pure distillations of joy when something cool happens.

And here's the third and most important point I want to get to. You say that a great play is just doing the job, and there's no need to so crassly and brazenly call attention to it. You know what I say to that? I say calling attention to it is a critical part of the job.

Because the job, in reality, is to entertain us. That's what athletes do. Speed and skill and dexterity and grace, playing the game smartly and well, those are some of the mechanisms by which players provide that entertainment. Some of the others include entertaining press conferences and sound bytes, loud and/or hilarious outfits, and of course, swagger-licious celebrations.

The endzone dance, the prance after draining a huge trey, the signature ritual when crossing the plate after a homer, these things don't defile some kind of unwritten code of stoicism and dignity. They make the games more fun. Period.

Put it this way: Jimi Hendrix's job was to play guitar. (Well, some of his job. Hendrix was also a pioneering recording studio wizard and a tremendously underrated songwriter and singer, but that's for another day.) Anyway, sticking with the guitar thing, we can safely say that Jimi did his job better than anyone else on the planet did anything. Maybe ever. But the joy of experiencing his transcendent musicianship was amplified by all the other crazy things he did when he performed. The larger-than-life, campy/sensual gesticulating, playing behind his head or with his teeth, smashing his guitar, lighting his guitar on effing fire!!! None of that stuff was necessary to successfully performing his music, but it made the whole show bigger and cooler and infinitely more memorable.

Personally, and I cannot say this emphatically enough, I really, really f&%$ hate the excessive celebration penalty, and any fines that are doled out to players in a misguided attempt to regulate the "integrity of the game" or whatever the hell Roger Goodell thinks he's trying to do.

You know the Terrel Owens "getcha popcorn ready" photo at the top of this post? I love that photo. That was one of my favorite moments of the 2008 season. Same goes for the midfield--Dallas-star move, the sign-the-ball move, and everything else T.O. ever did in an endzone, because his cockiness and ingenuity in the realm of celebrations were unparalleled. Likewise for everyone else Jenny Johnson mentions as having offended her sensibilities.

Here's the paragraph:

"There are some athletes, past and present, who were/are particularly annoying to watch on/off the field, Chad Johnson (I'm writing "Johnson" instead of "Ochocinco" because I can't bring myself to call him a word that doesn't even mean 85 in Spanish), Terrell Owens, Jim McMahon, Deion Sanders, Joe Namath (remember his fur coats? WTF?) Keyshawn Johnson, Jeremy Shockey fall into this particular category."

The rebuttal, if I may. I was a little young to catch McMahon's prime years, but I'd like to exonerate the rest of that list. Every "Prime Time" dance, spike, and ham-it-up act was fantastic viewing. I loved that stuff. Same goes for Key, and their dynamic, memorable on-field personae likely have a lot to do with them being great on-air mainstays today. Chad Ocho-Johnson rode a bull earlier this year, for crying out loud. He holds up signs and proposes to cheerleaders. You can't possibly tell me that guy isn't entertaining. I think Shockey is great, and as far as Broadway Joe ... I've only got grainy photos to go on, but his coats were outstanding.

Speaking of Broadway, I wish the NFL had elaborate, musical-style choreographed celebrations for big games or rally scores. Or at least grander displays like UGA's team-wide penalty against Florida in 2007. (They still do this in the NBA, as evidenced by the Cavs' "snapshot" routine in the LeBron days.) Unfortunately, instead of limitless possibilities for entertainment, it's a minimum 15-yard penalty and possibly a fine just for doing something cool.

Are endzone celebrations egotistical? You bet. Obnoxious? Of course! But they're also an awful lot of fun. The plays themselves, the events that transpire while the game clock is running provide the drama and context and displays of jaw-dropping athleticism. They are the ebb and flow and larger pulse of the event. The celebrations, when they were aloud without repercussions, were the flip side, the over-the-top theater and spectacle and comic relief. They lent a dynamic that is sorely missed in this more staid (and less enjoyable) iteration of the league. They were exuberant declaration and non-verbal smack talk. They fired up home crowds and agitated fans on the road. I mourn their passing.

I mean all of this within the bounds of reason, obviously. I'm not blanket-condoning any and all potential celebrations. If someone makes a truly lewd or offensive gesture, then there should be consequences. The NFL is a product viewed by many youngsters who, lord knows, don't need any more awfulness or crudity in their lives than the internet and the maudlin, depressing thing known as the modern news cycle already inflict upon them.

(Stevie Johnson's faux pas is an interesting case here. Yes, it was a display of poor taste, but it was also an inspired bit of punking. He probably deserved the fine, I suppose. That said, the crashing-jet pratfall was hilarious.)

Ultimately, I believe that the league was more enjoyable when its players were allowed to ham it up. Celebrating great plays with verve and sass and creativity ought to be encouraged, or at least not condemned. Penalizing a great source of entertainment is idiotic, and it needs to stop.

And if Terrel Owens ever catches a touchdown pass in the NFL again, and I happen to be in the stadium when he does, he's more than welcome to my popcorn.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Condensed and Biased Saturday Recap.

What a day it's been. Long, long day at work today. That's what happens when you clock a no-break 8 hours on a Saturday this close to Christmas at a retail establishment. Chaos, people.

But all is well. I spent the rather protracted drive home listening to the Georgia High School Football Playoffs on the radio. If you've read/seen Friday Night Lights or Varsity Blues, just understand that everything you think you know about high school football in Texas is essentially correct. And that your knowledge is applicable to the rest of the south. HS football in GA is a high-stakes, high-tenor deal, and it is admittedly both hilarious and compelling to listen to play-by-play announcers getting as emotionally amplified and invested as they are in these games. There are worse ways to spend your time when you're stuck in traffic.

I got home in time to catch the last quarter of Army/Navy. It's not a huge matchup or anything to do with the BCS Championship or even a bowl game, but it does carry a certain, uniquely beautiful intensity. More than any other sport, football is often referred to in terms of warfare. These young men may actually be called upon to practice it someday, and watching them face off yields two important outcomes:

Firstly, it puts sports in their proper context. Sports are entertaining, complex, emotional, wonderful ... and ultimately irrelevant. Army/Navy is pure. Whenever a service academy team takes the field, they are there for the joy of the game, and the thrill of the contest. I would not presume to know their minds and hearts, but I imagine they are relishing a conflict that carries little to none of the import and danger of those they may face in the future. I'd wager they are not thinking of their stats or their positions on Mel Kiper's Big Board. This game is a rivalry without animosity, and a battle waged from which, mercifully and barring major on-field injuries, no casualties or "collateral damage" will ensue. It reminds us that for all the money and theatrics and greatness that are embroiled in these games we love, they are indeed games.

And second, on a much lighter note, Army/Navy is almost always a great viewing experience for football history/system/scheme nerds. Denied the elite athletes and skill players of other major collegiate programs, the service academies often run anachronistic, option-based offenses and idiosyncratic defenses. It's just a joy to watch, really. Today was no exception.

After the last non-bowl college game of the year, and before the Heisman presentation, I flipped over to catch Indiana/Kentucky. Honestly, I'm still reeling. This game was palpable through the television screen, full of that rare verve and energy that only comes around every once in a great while. I'm not sure a more compelling game of college hoops will be played all season, even in the Big Dance. This had it all: two storied programs, roller-coaster dynamics, a second-half comeback, decibel levels that undoubtedly damaged the hearing of everyone in attendance, and a last-second buzzer-beating trey to notch a win for the home team over the #1-ranked team in the country. And the pandemonium that followed that shot.

A little while ago, I opened a piece about college football's Rivalry Weekend with an account of the Georgia Tech/Clemson football game from earlier this year. That game ended in a jubilant field-storming celebration when Tech finished clobbering the Top-10 ranked Tigers. I was there to witness that event live, and it was a sensory onslaught. What transpired in Assembly Hall tonight resonated at a higher pitch, even through a satellite signal beamed from a few thousand miles away. In the last camera shot of the arena before they cut back to the studio, you couldn't see anything other than a mass of red in the throes of undiluted ecstasy. If not for the two backboards protruding from the ruckus, you wouldn't even have known that a basketball game had just been played. You'd have thought is was an especially exuberant political rally, or a well-lit rave, or some other mass convergence of people hellbent on joy.

Chill-inducing, it was indeed.

And then the Heisman folks got it right. Or rather, they got it right within the context that they created. RG3 was the best player on that stage tonight; the most important and critical to his team, and the man who did everything just a shade more impressively than his fellow candidates. I still maintain that it's a travesty Kellen Moore wasn't in the running for the award, but of the people that were selected as finalists, the correct name was called to hoist the trophy.

And now, I'm enjoying a stellar ESPN "30 For 30" doc on Todd Marinovich. And a simultaneous NFL Network program on touchdown dances celebrates the Dirty Bird.


Rough start, great ending. Happy Saturday!!!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Tainted Love

I love the NBA. Unabashedly, wholeheartedly, and unconditionally. But you may have noticed that not a peep has been uttered here at Arena Apothecary about its upcoming resumption. When news came down the pipeline that we were going to have an NBA season after all, two words stopped me from an exuberant hallelujah rant in this space: "in principle." As in, "the NBA Players Association and the owners have agreed to the new CBA in principle."

I wasn't going to put anything up until every last detail had been hashed out and ratified, and the ink from the signatures of all parties concerned was nice and dry. I was paranoid that some seemingly mundane or insignificant bargaining point was going to derail the whole thing, and I didn't want to spike the ball on the 2-yard line instead of in the endzone, so to speak.

Yesterday, with the finalized agreement due to be signed, I started planning out a massive "woohoo lookit the basketball!" column. I was all cued up and ready to roll out a joyful posting celebrating the madcap time-compressed free agency period, the positively delightful slate of opening games on Christmas day, some predictions about the upcoming season, some grousing about my beloved Hawks signing Tracy friggin' McGrady ... and a few paragraphs about that eminent blockbuster three-team trade that was sending Chris Paul to the Lakers. Now, my first NBA post of the new season is one fueled by outrage and disgust. Because, of course, that trade did not happen. It was agreed upon in principle, but it got shot to hell because some of the owners who collectively control the New Orleans Hornets as well as their own franchises pitched a fit over the deal.

To a degree, I understand those owners' sentiments. They just spent the past five months slugging things out with the players partly because the recent rash of player-engineered "superteam" amalgamations has dealt a fairly severe blow to the NBA's already tenuous grasp on parity. The new CBA was supposed to alleviate at least some of the problems for the small market teams, and here, mere minutes after its ratification, was yet another star player abandoning a smaller, weaker franchise to go play with Kobe Bryant on one of the richest teams in the league.

It makes perfect sense that this would generate some frustration. Frustration that was expressed with scathing vehemence by (surprise!) Dan Gilbert. Captain Comic Sans dumped a boatload of vitriol into the email in boxes of the other owners, who then opened fire on David Stern. Since the league owns the Hornets, it is technically within the rules for them to veto the trade, but the implications are disturbing at best and nefarious at worst.

The list of who got hosed here:

A. Dell Demps. The Hornets' GM spent a great deal of time and effort getting the machinations of this trade sussed out, the goal being to maximize the returns of dealing CP3 instead of losing him for nothing in free agency next year. Now, he has to wonder if he has any authority to actually run his team at all.

B. The Hornets and Rockets. As I just noted, NOLA is going to lose Chris Paul one way or another, and no later than free agency this summer. At least this way they were getting some very quality pieces in return. Now? They have to hope they can manufacture another trade that's somewhere close to beneficial. Houston painstakingly set themselves up for this situation, and would have gotten a premier asset in Pau Gasol while also clearing a good chunk of cap space to play with. Now all that careful planning is meaningless and they have to mollify the guys they were discarding.

C. The Lakers (ish). Lamar Odom is distraught and Pau Gasol probably will have to be appeased in some way, so they likely lost some locker room cohesiveness, but I'm not sure they were going to be improved by this deal. They would have lost their frontcourt depth and placed the immediate future of the franchise on Kobe, Paul, and Andrew Bynum. That's three stars with four or five bad wheels between them. Asking those limbs to all remain healthy during the brutally compressed 2012 season would be a gamble, and if it had gone south it would have been a disaster. Then again, if it had worked, that would have been a phenomenal team to watch.

D. Chris Paul, whom the league has chosen to make an example of, apparently. "You can't force your way to a big market and create another superteam! How dare you! Don't you understand why you were locked out? We will not stand for this!"

E. The owners. At least, the owners who complained about the trade. They hosed themselves with this, and they're too myopic to even realize it. They think they "won" in this scenario because they bitched enough that Stern stepped in. They think they made some sort of grand point. The backlash is coming. It's coming from the players. It's coming from the owners who would like to conduct their business without interference, thank you. And above everything else, it's coming from the fans.

If the danger of the lockout was losing the goodwill and buzz the league built with casual/new fans last season, the danger here is how the diehards are going to react. You think the Donaghy scandal was bad? That was one isolated guy (so far as we know). This was the league itself manipulating things in a misguided attempt to "protect" something it never really had. Speaking for myself and most NBA junkies I know, my forbearance with the owners was worn paper thin during the lockout. This despicable stunt eroded what was left. It's time for the pitchforks and torches.

What the small market owners don't seem to grasp is that they can only exist in the light of their big brothers. The NBA runs on the historical gravitas of the Lakers, Celtics, and Knicks, and on the condensed star power of Miami. Without the juggernauts, things become far less compelling, less people are in the stands, less people are watching on TV, and everyone is worse off. Parity, in a pure form, would be horrible for professional basketball.

And speaking of people who hosed themselves ...

F. The Commish. For years, David Stern could do no wrong. Under his watch, the league has generally flourished. He was ahead of the curve on the internet/social media revolution, innovative in growing basketball's global brand, and by all accounts ran a tight and well-steered ship. Even when the Donaghy scandal exploded in his lap, Stern handled the situation with swift and unerring authority. No one dared to cross or defy him. Even if seventy percent of the stories about his legendarily fearsome tirades were apocryphal, and there's no reason to think that they are, the remaining thirty percent would be sufficient evidence of how forcefully he ruled the league. Until recently.

One of the underlying themes that the lockout brought into stark relief was the revelation that Stern's iron fist is rusted through. The owners want more, more, more, and if Stern can't give it to them, they're not going to listen to him anymore. Three years ago, if owners had carped about a trade like they did Thursday night, Stern would have told them to cowboy up and deal with it. Now he's bending pathetically to their will and mumbling hollow platitudes about "basketball reasons" to the media.

Which exactly zero sane people believe to be even partly truthful. The Hornets were going to make out like bandits in this deal, to the extent that you can while losing a superstar player. For the league to claim that they squelched the trade to protect New Orleans' best interests is an outright travesty.

We know what happened, David. After you preached the gospel of fairness and parity throughout the lockout, a situation materialized that, at least in the eyes of certain owners, invalidated everything you said. The bill of goods you sold them was bunk, they broke out the extra-strength venom, and you caved. Pretending otherwise is insulting to our intelligence, offensive to our sensibilities, and toxic to your legacy.

This whole thing is an unmitigated disaster. We just got the game we love back, and its ostensible caretaker has defiled it in one of the most fundamental ways imaginable. Shame on David Stern. Shame on the owners who railroaded him. Shame on anybody who isn't outraged by the situation. When Bryant Gumble made his now semi-infamous plantation analogy, I thought he was crazy. You can't possibly compare that horrible time in American history with a lucrative professional sport, right? It's in poor taste at best and truly awful at worst. And yet, the man had a point.

If the league doesn't rescind the veto and allow that trade to go through, we may as well re-lock the NBA out. The last five months were about ensuring that the new CBA was a tenable paradigm for everyone involved. If the new "business as usual" means owners can arbitrarily stand in the way of, well, usual business, what the hell was the point?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lving on Sesame Street Or In A Little Pond?

Every once in a while, baseball's winter meetings feature a scenario that subsumes and vastly outstrips the usual banter and speculation about who's ending up where and for how much. In these instances, the proverbial "hot stove" runs on napalm instead of kerosene, so to speak. We've got one such situation on our hands right now, and no mistake: Where is Albert Pujols going to be playing ball next season? For how long, and for what financial compensation?

So far, we have three known contenders for the greatest and (arguably) most important current player in the game. Of that triptych, I choose to disregard the Cubs because, by all accounts at this juncture, they are following their usual modus operandi. That is to say, they are theoretically in contention for a phenomenal prize, but are not to be taken seriously in that pursuit.

Which leaves the Cardinals and Marlins.

(The title of this post is the most horrid pun I could possibly have written, but it had to be done. Next year, Albert Pujols will either be a Big Bird or a Big Fish! Get it? ... Moving on.)

The former team is looking to retain their franchise player and, to some extent, their identity. The latter is hoping to incorporate Pujols as part of an amalgam designed to rejuvenate a fanbase that's currently on life support. And win some games too, I suppose.

Keeping in mind that Miami has set the bar with a 10-year offer, let's go over the risk/reward factors for both clubs.

In the Marlins' case, it's far more critical to acquire Pujols than it is for the Cardinals to retain him. The organization has bet its future on a rebranding experiment, and the odds of that gamble's success would be considerably increased with The Machine on board. The new stadium, the "Miami" rechristening, the Ozzie Guillen move, the Jose Reyes and Heath Bell signings; everything about their recent machinations speaks to a concerted effort to redefine this franchise as serious (read: marketable) contenders.

It's been speculated that the Guillen and Reyes moves, coupled with the club's current star in Hanley Ramirez, have been made not just for the sake of on-field improvement, but to generate badly needed interest among Miami's significant Latino population. Pujols would certainly be the crowned jewel on both counts.

There are a few problems facing the Marlins' gambit. First; the fact that Pujols rejected a lavish offer from the Cardinals before the 2011 season means that any team hoping to acquire his services needs to outbid that offer. Miami's 0rganization has shown its willingness to do so with the proposal yesterday of a 10-year deal* for an undisclosed but likely astronomical dollar amount. The issue: they don't actually have that money at present; the offer is based around speculated earnings from the new stadium and players and their projected ability to bring in fans. It remains to be seen whether Pujols (or agent Dan Lozano) will be amenable to signing a contract "on credit."

Things are further complicated by Miami's team policy against the inclusion of a no-trade clause in any player negotiations, a clause Pujols adamantly desires. Per ESPN's Jayson Stark, the Marlins "have added provisions that would position Pujols as a figurehead of their franchise after his playing career is finished" in lieu of a no-trade agreement, and have asked him to make his decision as quickly as possible so that they can address other aspects of their future.

*A brief note of personal opinion. Albert Pujols is 32 years old, which means a ten-year deal puts him over 40 at its expiration. I realize that the man is a one-in-a-generation talent, but when his inevitable decline comes, the back half of that contract is going to be a least as onerous as what the Yankees are currently suffering through with A-Rod and Jeter. You really shouldn't offer 10-year deals to anyone, but especially not to a player on the wrong side of 30 whose admittedly considerable gifts may already be slipping a notch. Unless they have insider info from a pharmaceutical or biotech company about a major breakthrough coming down the pipeline that will significantly diminish the effects of aging on athletes, the Marlins front office are insane.

The other party engaged in the bidding war for number 5 is, of course, the Saint Louis Cardinals. Given the somewhat acrimonious failure to resolve this situation before 2011 season, the Cards may have expended any good will or "hometown discount" capital already. If they want to retain Pujols, they're going to shell out the dough and years. (How Matt Forte ended up with the "Pay That Man" moniker instead of Pujols is baffling. I suppose when you already have a nickname as sweet as "The Machine", you don't need another to declare your worth to a team, but still.) The fact is that this should have been taken care of ages ago. You don't allow your cornerstone player to walk. Not when he's a dead lock for first-ballot admittance to Cooperstown, not when he's been instrumental in bringing you two World Series trophies, not when he's an All-Time Top 20(ish) talent. Not when he's Albert Pujols, in other words. You don't let that kind of player slip through your hands.

But they might.

I wrote at the top of this piece that it's more important for the Marlins to sign Pujols than it is for the Cards. The reason that's true is that St. Louis has a long, proud history as a baseball town and their fans will be there rain or shine, win or lose. Losing Pujols will cause plenty of anguish, but it won't crush the franchise. The Cards have Lance Berkman available to play at first, they're going to get ace Adam Wainwright back from Tommy John surgery next year, and the emergence (epiphany? revelation? holy %$#^ coming-out party?) of hometown kid David Freese last year means they already have a successor in the wings for the "most beloved athlete in town" title.

By contrast, the Marlins have been concocting ever more innovative ways to be lousy since their last World Series title in 2003. Even at the acme of their success, Miami's fans were less than devoted. Pujols would make the team instantly relevant, both on the field and in terms of attendance figures and jersey sales. If the Marlins are batting Ramirez, Reyes, and Pujols 2-3-4 or 3-4-5 in 2012, that's automatically the scariest trio of hitters in the NL, and maybe baseball period. Combine that with the baseball-savvy media goldmine that is Ozzie Guillen and a few moves regarding their starting rotation, and Miami is not only in the mix for the NL East again, but guaranteed to have people in the seats at that shiny new ballpark of theirs.

Wherever Pujols digs his feet into a batter's box for 81 games next year, he's gong to be doing it for a long time and a lot of green.** Then? We'll spend a decade finding out whether it was worth it for the team in question.

**From a personal standpoint, I'd prefer to see Pujols stay in Saint Louis. Partly because I want the Braves' pitchers facing him as little as possible, but mostly because I can't fathom the image of him in another uniform. The man has been inextricably linked to The Gateway for over a decade now, and my inner grumpy ol' traditionalist wants to see him finish his career there.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Dig The Link, Link The Diggity. (No Doubt).

My dear friend Jurz runs a blog centered around his rather remarkable ability to be circumspect and philosophically tangential about damn near any subject. Kid can muse on things like nobody's business. Anyway, we have a number of hippy-type friends who are inclined, shall we say, to view sports as establishment-y and fit for consumption only by the narrow-minded and unprogressive. Today, Jurz posted a rather thorough dissection of the many ways in which NFL football can be enjoyed even by those who are prejudiced against its perceived, uh, neanderthal-ity. It's a good read. Look for more pf his desultory thoughts on the sports world to be linked here in the future. Enjoy.

Heeeeeeere Ya Go.

(If you write about sports and think I'd enjoy your work/want me to link to it, feel free to get in touch. travis.lund@gmail.com)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Back Again, But Where We Should Be.

Sports Radio Broadcast Disorientation Syndrome. That's how I started the non-work portion of my Saturday.

I clocked out at the shop, hopped in the car, and flipped the dial to the SEC Championship Game. Unfortunately, Georgia was in the middle of a completely mundane drive, the leading cause of SRBDS nation wide. Radio is, well, a decidedly auditory experience. No visual representation of the game means no handy little score/clock/timeout box of information. What you get instead is play-by-play without any context whatsoever. You're aware of down and distance, you're receiving enough description to accurately visualize what's occurring on the field ... and getting exactly zero pertinent info regarding the two most fundamental questions: when in the game are we and what is the bloody score?

You're stuck in limbo and praying for a score or a change of possession so the announcers will give you the obligatory score/time update heading into the commercial break. It's infuriating.

I spent what felt like an eternity (actually closer to four minutes or so) listening to the game without knowing what was happening. And of course, just as I'm merging onto a busy highway with the sun in my eyes, there's finally a timeout called, and I discover that the Dawgs are up 10-0 midway through the 2nd quarter and that they've held LSU to something like 8 total yards and no first downs. Jaw, meet the floor. Floor, jaw.

I damn near crashed the car.

I got home, poured a drink, and settled in. At the half, it was 10-7 UGA, and LSU had 12 total yards and still hadn't converted a first down. The Tigers looked imminently beatable in a manner that they previously had not this season. Foolishly, I hoped it was a portent, an omen. How many crazy upsets could we cram into championship day? How many nail biters would we experience? Was the supposedly-etched-in-stone BCS Championship Game about to get its cage severely rattled?

Well, you know the rest. Precisely nothing that remotely qualified as interesting happened for the remainder of the day. LSU came out and eviscerated Georgia in the second half. Oregon destroyed UCLA. Boise State hammered New Mexico. Baylor leveled Texas.

Even the unexpected occurrences last night were pretty far south of captivating. Clemson's whupping of Virginia Tech and Houston's meltdown against Southern Miss both lacked any sort of elan, and it's safe to safe nobody other than their respective fanbases cared about WVU/USF or K-State/ISU.

The only watchable contest from start to finish was the (mostly) fantastic, back-and-forth shootout between Wisconsin and Michigan State. It was a riveting, hard-fought affair, but I refuse to call it a "good game" when the key play hinged upon a kicker's ability to execute a FIFA-esque flop.

And then there was Bedlam. Smart money said this was going to be a hell of a game. Two very good teams playing for pride and an outsider's shot at the Title Game for OSU. Shoulda been a firestorm barn burner, right? Nope. Landslide for the Pokes. They made as emphatic an argument as they could on the field for inclusion in the BCS Title Game. And it still didn't matter.

The only thing we got out of this weekend was more film and fuel for the various Heisman candidacies, and the determination of which not-as-great teams will be throwing down in which irrelevant Bowls. Otherwise, we're exactly where we were when the Game Of The Century (*cough*) was played in Tuscaloosa.

And so the complaining has begun all over again. Not quite so loud as it might be, but still prevalent enough to annoy me. Let's tackle this one point at a time.

To the SEC detractors complaining about bias and preferential treatment, who roll your eyes whenever the superiority of our defense is brought up, who are positively sickened by the 'Bama/LSU Championship rematch, I issue this simple rebuttal: if you don't like it, start beating SEC teams. If you want National Championship games that don't feature this conference, then do something about it. Wisconsin, Boise State, Clemson, Oregon, Stanford, Houston , all could have been there in place of Alabama, but they blew it. (Well, maybe not Houston)

As for Mike Gundy's whining about how Alabama had their chance already ... Alabama lost to LSU, who were then and are now the best team in the country. The Cowboys had their chance already, too. It was left for dead on the field after that pathetic choke job against Iowa State.

Gundy's argument holds a particularly miniscule amount of water not just because it reeks of sour grapes, but because it's just plain silly if you think about it. Nobody thought the Giants "didn't deserve" to take on New England in the Super Bowl just because the Pats crushed them in the regular season. Rematches happen in sports. Deal with it.

And speaking of the rematch naysayers, to all those carping about how "boring" that first Tigers/Tide game was, feel free to not watch the Championship Game. I completely understand that offensive football makes for a more enjoyable viewing experience for most people. I get that you're intrigued by the concept of the Cowboys' firepower tangling with a defense that's sending over half of its current starters to the NFL at some point. Admittedly, I'd like to see that too. The problem is that the Pokes are not the second-best team in the country.

This broken, flawed mess of a system is all we've got, but in this instance, it did its job. It's not pretty, and from certain viewpoints, it might not seem fair or just, but this season it is, at least correct. The two best teams in the country will play for the crystal football.

Until we get a playoff system, that's all we can ask for.