Thursday, December 24, 2015

Check out Jude and Tatum's early Christmas present

Monday, October 21, 2013

3 Losses, 1 Space-Time Singularity

Bad weekend, CFB-wise, for my various rooting interests.
Carolina got the bad end of 2 game-changing breaks which cost them 14 points in a 4-pt loss.  But that, I understand, is why they call them 'breaks.'

USC, on the other hand, apparently can't play football very well, so even though Notre Dame can't either, USC lost by almost exactly the amount you are supposed to lose by when playing an equally crappy team on the road.

But Georgia?  Georgia got screwed.

I saw this first on Deadspin, which has the best video, btw.
What you see in the attached picture is Georgia's tackle and sack leader, Ray Drew, an instant before he gets to Vandy's QB who an instant before had thrown the ball.  That is what you can definitely see here: a guy about to hit another guy, whose right arm is following through on a just-released pass.

What you don't see is Drew - again, Georgia's #1 defensive player - run into the QB an instant later, knocking him down, clearly pulling up and leading with his shoulders and arms as he does so.  You can take my word for all that.

But, actually, I don't want you to.

In fact, I don't want to convince you of anything about this hit besides the single thing that you can say about it, empirically, from this picture: Drew hitting the QB is, at the moment of this snapshot, in the future.

But while the hit is not in the picture, something else is: the referee's penalty flag.  That's neither opinion nor conclusion - it's right there. He has already pulled it from his pocket.  In fact, it's far enough out of his pocket at this moment to be visible from this angle - from behind - even though the flag is coming out of his front pocket.  So - and this part actually *is* my opinion though as back-up I'd cite the physical laws of the universe - this picture does not capture the instant the ref *decided* to pull the flag.  That decision must have been made at least a half-second prior to this picture, at a time when the UGA guy would have been even farther away - 1 step? 2? - from the QB than he is here.

The infraction the referee calls for this hit, which has not yet occurred, is 'targeting'.

The penalty: Automatic ejection.

It cannot be determined from this picture and application of settled Newtonian physics whether or not UGA would still have lost.  But they were up 27-14 late before the defense gave up 2 late drives getting no pressure on the QB.

So nice work all the way around by the refs, UGA and the space-time continuum.

(but not SC or Carolina.  They just sucked).

Sunday, October 14, 2012

week 6 - tebow halftime

IND Passing
A. Luck9/17975.70145.5
NYJ Passing
M. Sanchez9/13624.820119.2
T. Tebow1/12323.000118.8

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An Act Common To The Game

Ironically, an "act common to the game."
In the aftermath of the Seahawks/Green Bay/referee Monday Night game, the NYT printed the NFL's own rulebook language that was in play at the time.
 I enjoyed last night’s ending because it revolved around two concepts that used to be passed down as verbal history (well, it revolved around one, but the one invokes the second): “ground can’t cause a fumble” and “tie goes to the reciever.”  Both of these verbal shorthands, which encapsulate both the word and spirit of game's rules, now have been bent to rulebook legalese that includes literally made-up words and patently fake notions of physics.  Not surprisingly, officials – real and fake – get them wrong all the time.

   One of these quipy triumphs of received lore was a good idea.  One, though catchy, was actually rather dumb.  Guess which basic idea reamains in the rulebook, though encased in a molasses of legalese, and which basic idea has been written out of existance?

-          On a simultaneous catch, the rule book still insists that a “tie goes to the receiver.” Why? Why do the “passers” (rulebook’s word) always get arbitrary possession? Doesn’t that just incentivize defensive player to do something less that optimal from a football perspective?  Or just dirty?  Doesn’t it reward the “passers” to play for a tie?  We want receptions or interceptions, not knockdowns or tomahawk chops for those needing to avoid a tie, nor bear hugs by those looking for a tie, right?  If a defender has a chance to get the ball due to some “possession/tie-breaker”, won’t he try to make a play more often than just avoiding the tie? In a bygone era, eventual possession after a scrum might have worked, but today a multi-tiered system would be fun: award the ball to the team with fewer assessed penalty yards to that point in the game, and beyond that… I don’t know.  A possession arrow would even be favorable, right?  That might be a terrible idea, but the “tie goes to the receiver” is arbitrary and dumb.

-          In the case of possession, here is the NFL definition: “Maintains control of the ball long enough…to enable him to perform an act common to the game.”  The rulebook then lists examples of “act(s) common to the game”: pitch it, pass it, advance it, avoid or ward off an opponent.  But the stated point of the rule is to define the smallest amount of time – or, more precisely, smallest amount of control – that a player can ‘possess’ a ball and still be given ‘possession’.  Why list more than one act?  They should cite the shortest act and make that the standard.  Examples only introduce uncertainty.  If they cited a single, observable act that is already common to most attempts to gain possession of the ball, they would not only reduce uncertainty, but players would then train to perform that act, making the ref’s job even easier both for successful acts (there, he did it!) and unsuccessful ones (didn’t get it that time).  So very quick, very simple, but clearly deliberate – how about: “control of the ball long enough… to move the ball into a protective position, such as cradled to the torso.”

-          Also: that definition of “possession” is incompatible with the idea of “simultaneous”.  You can’t fulfill the requirements while another person is also fulfilling them with the same ball at the same time.  Can’t happen.

-          Possession must be maintained “throughout the process of contacting the ground.”  As literature, that is magical realism: it looks and sounds like the real world, but physical rules counter to reality - i.e. magic - underpin it.  Contact is not a process.  It is a Boolean state.  You are in contact or you are not.  Touching the ground with the ball should always, instantaneously, create possession.  We can debate the definition of “instantaneous,” but only if we are particle physicists.  Otherwise, it’s a single point in time, not several, and certainly not a “process”.  Does a ball go through a “process of contacting the ground” on a dropped pass?  No – if it touches, it’s down, incomplete.  Why is there a “process” for a player?

-          Of course, this very issue was once covered by “ground can’t cause a fumble” which could only mean that someone who falls with possession is down as soon as they hit the ground, a sort of “freeze it!” moment of live play versus after-the-play – instantaneously, you might say.  If the ball comes loose because of the rarely-insignificant effects of contact with the ground, it doesn’t matter: the ground can’t cause a fumble.  It can only end a play.

-          “ground can’t cause a fumble” is not in the rulebook but “muffed” is.  Helpful.

Friday, June 08, 2012

10 Interesting Things About Euro 2012

So today starts the Euro championships in soccer, which is the toughest national-level trophy on earth to win in terms of sheer quality of opponents.

…Possibly the craziest, least pleasant but wildest of wildcards to keep an eye out for is Racism.  Racism is a very big deal in "World Football" (as they call it), which is to say, the sport is in a multi-year, institutional, top to bottom fight against it.  In the way the NFL used to hype the United Way (and now, arguably, does breast cancer), soccer has Racism, but much much more so.  In the World Cup, in every game, teams came onto the field and posed around big signs that said “stop racism” or something before playing.  I have no clue if individual players care at all about racism, anymore than NFL players care about breast cancer, but it’s a trophy topic.

  You’d think this would be a) a big deal in the by-definition diverse World Cup but b) less so in the “Euros”.  But apparently, its usually euro fans who end up being the most racist, so the drumbeat is on (the tourney is in Poland and Ukraine, both apparently well known for racist tendencies – several squads have made well-publicized trips to Auschwitz).
(continue reading)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

2011 National Spelling Bee Running Diary

You're looking LIVE at the, err, Hilton?  Maybe the Sheraton?  Anyway, we're in DC, though you couldn't tell from this boring convention hall.  Why bother having this in DC if its not, ya know, at the Lincoln Memorial?  Who would object to that?  Kids come up the steps to spell words until one wins and they go Forrest Gump into the reflecting pool?

Out come the spellers - HORRIBLE decision to do away with the matching shirts.  That made it look, ya know, more fair.

Cut to the the cool collage of kids in different onscreen-boxes 'passing' letters back and forth.  I think I like the bee more than any other competitive TV event because I can't IMAGINE another possible way to put 50 10-12 year olds on screen that wouldn't be unwatchable.  Its the least telegenic age, at which you are the ugliest, least confident, least well-behaved, BY FAR the least charming or funny that you will ever be, and you still suck at whatever sport you might one day be good at.  It's the worst time of life - except for spelling.  Its the only thing that, by this age, you can have completely mastered that seems grownup.

and here's the INCREDIBLY cheesy animation of a swarm of bees - BEES!  GET IT! - swarming around the nation.

And let's meet the finalist - Veronica Penny, who has won TWO jelly bean counting constest.  hivva from Devner.  Lilly, tall blonde, from Maine- she's five years from an Ivy crew team.  No chance today.

Dakota Jones, a boy with traintrack braces, from Vegas.  Boys don't win.  Kids from Vegas don't win.  Kids named Dakota that aren't Dakota Patel never win.  I'm calling him the longest shot in the field.

Laure Newcombe, 5th place last year, Canadian.  An early favorite.
Canadian Menace

Prakash from North Carolina - every field has one kid with the pre-16 mustache, and that's him.  He looks ready.  Let's see.

Sukanya Roy from PA... uh oh.  She had that shut-in vibe.  Terrifying.

Up comes Laura Newcombe, the Canadian - she knocks down a french word.  That seems unfair.

Now come Veronica Penny, the Canuck jelly bean queen.  Her video intro is about reading self help books.  She's nervous-smart.  CIOPPINO.  She runs through the questions...  she asks for language of origin twice.  That's one of the two stall tactics kids use: asking for language of origin, and asking if it comes from a certain root word in some language.  Sometimes its a stall, sometimes its just showing off.  This one doesn't help because apparently this is some fish dish found in any italian restuarant.  Announcer says Veronica is like a slap hitter who likes to use these questions to work the count - her average answer time is 2:10, which is WAY long.
And she knocks it down.

As the announcers chatter away, its clear they've decided to make the same mistake they made last year - give us more facetime with the boring grownups and less watching kids sweat.

OK, here comes Dhivvya from Denver.  And she just outright sneezes into her elbow and keeps going!  Love her!  She's 10!  Youngest remaining speller, only finalist on stage who is in thier first Bee!  We love Dhivvya!

The willowy blonde from maine gets Cassiopeian, which is a friggin well known constellation.  that's like drawing the Sunbelt champ in the first round of the NCAAs.  if she doesn't get an extinct batecteria with two silent Us in the next round, we'll know the fix is in.

Alright here comes Dakota, who seems like a nice kid.  THey have a bunch of interviews and clips of him at home in vegas, which is REALLY funny if you watch a lot of non-traditional sports because the only other time you see 'athlete at home' clips in distinctively Vegas settings is BMX or UFC guys.
  He gets Andouille, as in the sausage.  Boom.  Dakota is through.

Nabeel, who I think i'm just gonna call Axel cuz he from Buffalo.   He gets scelidosaur, which is a dinosaur and what geeky kid doesn't know dinosaur words?  Disappointing level of difficulty so far.

Sriram from NY is in his 3rd bee - his first when he was EIGHT.  EIGHT!!!  Now he's 11, a cagey vet.  Exsufflation - he knew it as soon as the guy said it.

Here comes Arvind, the co-favorite.  And... wow.  Now I see why.  He got 'profiterole" and he and the announcer went back and forth about 4 times on the pronunciation.  He's got kind of a nasaly drone that was hurting him as he tried to say the final "role"  - so the bee lady (who rarely speaks except when there's trouble) was all, "listen to the last part" all bitchy, and the announcer goes "rul" and the kid just goes down to, like, Big Bopper range, and goel "RUUULLLL" and everyone laughs but you could tell he was pissed off about it and if you weren't sure, he let you know with the most gangsta bee move possible - he spelled it.  No 'language  or origin,' no 'part of speech' not even a repronouncing....  No stall, no hesitation, just spelled it.  He was halfway back to his seat before the crowd applauded.
  You listen to the last part, lady.  I got words to spell.

Here comes Joanna Ye who is a bit older, seems cute and funny and completely mature and is wearing a skirt and actually has a different haircut from last year, and therefore has NO SHOT TODAY.

Back for Round 2 after what was a pretty bloodless round 1.  Here comes Laura Newcombe, the Canadian veteran.  Attacca.  Shes getting a little sniffy with her pronunciation.  I think she's just vamping a bit with her last couple 'can i have it in a sentence'-ing. You know this one, sweetie.  Act like you've been here before.

Wow.  THey just did a graphic of winners by State.  Ohio has 9, Colorado, Texas, PA and Tennessee have 7.  Interesting.

Up comes the Jelly Bean, and she starts through her Miranda Warning of questions, stretching it out....   let's see.  Wait, she's home school, too.  So who was she beating in the jelly bean contests?  UPS guys?  Apparently, she and her mom take the bee so seriously, they moved last year to be in a district with a qualifying bee.  Wow, its not enough that while awful rich people will flee your town for better schools, they'll flee your town even if they are HOME SCHOOLED if you don't have a good spelling bee!  WHAT ABOUT THAT, MICHELLE RHEE!
  OK, she's through, up comes Dhivvya from Denver.  She nails a French word, which the guy says is a big deal for a 10 year old.

Lily from Maine.   Look, let's not make a big deal about it, but if for some reason it was mandatory to fill out an Is She Hot checklist, Lily is getting at least check-minus in everybox, but no "Needs Work".
  Running out of time on Phanerogram - she starts with F!  Thats a rare one, where the kids misses the first letter and you and the audience KNOW she's out even as she plows through the word.  Dad and mom greet her with not near enough love.  Just have a seat, 'good job honey' and a backrub from dad - come on, mom and dad, she just got bumped on ESPN!  Hug or something!  Are you THAT WHITE?

Dakota rolls through one with a tinfoil grin.

Up comes Detective Foley, and he seems a little stumped.  DING dockmackie got him...  he has a seat next to his dad who, I will bet you my house, is an opthamologist.

Hand Scribble.  Old School.

We're down to 10!

Here are the Hidden talents they bring to the table:
- Jake can do the RUbiks cube in 1m
- this kid can do 70 digits of pie
- this kid can do balloon animals
- a girl with a 'bad christopher walken' impression (which makes it a GREAT Christopher Walken impression)!
- this kid can - and does on tape - put his ankles behind his heads.  Could have just ended that on Walken.

Here comes Sriram, the former 8-yo qualifier.  Boom
Now comes Arvind, and you can bet she won't be telling him to listen to the last part again - and he's TAUNTING the judges now.  One thing they can do is ask 'does it have the greek root 'blah' meaing 'whatever' " and they get a yes or no answer.  From bees I've seen, if a kid asks that, they already know it, and they're basicly doing a dance over the last 10 yards to the endzone.  Arvind asks for 2 of them, then knocks it down like he's bored.

Down goes Pretash!  Carolina is OUT.  Announcer said it was a wierd word with no clues in the roots, he either would know it from study or he wouldn't and he didn't.  Down to 9!

Joanna Ye.  She hits a Dutch word... and apparently got a PERFECT score in the written round, which never happens.

Here's our Pennsylvania lurker.  Seems to be a sea change this year with almost no hand-scribblers on stage except her.  That was turning into the geeky-kid fistbump the last few years.  Glad its gone away.

She gets it, up comes Mashad, who with the one-hand grab nails his.

Top of the order for round 10 (going back to yesterday) and up comes Laura - she's enjoying the moment. Good for her.  Ingerbach - boom, she's through.

Veronica Penny gets a parasite for grapes.

And sadly, i don't know how it went, because the DVR did a hiccup, but I can tell you that Divvya from Denver then went down SWINGING, barely missing on some crazy latin word and bawling into her moms arms, the first tears of the night.  How is she only 10 and she cares more than anyone else so far?  Come back and kick its ass, Divvyah from Denver.

And with that, Dakota's braces nails gravivembalo.

YIKES!!!  Down goes our former-8yo favorite.  He's not happy and neither is his parents.

They are dropping like flies, with 3 of the last 4 out, and into the teeth of the storm, comes Arvind. Can he to stop the bleeding?!?!  DRAMA.

And the lady has the nerve to chastise his pronounciation again!  Now he's in a rage.  If this is supercalifragilisticexpalidotious, he's still not missing this.  EPIPODIALE - and he looks right in the lady's eyes as he finishes it!  Arvind will take the wrench, Spelling Bee lady! This is like McEnroe screaming at the Wimbledon umpire.  He is going to win the trophy and use it to bar the exits when he sets the building on fire.

Ye and Sunkaya come up to the microphone looking for a place to hide after the Arvind melee, spell thier words quick as they can and sprint back to their seat.

Microphone Stand Mishad is up....  he gets a Turkish word which HAS to suck cuz they only replaced their entire alphabet last century.  Samiel.  Its tricky-easy.  And apparently this kid is from near the Mexican border.  Well, as the announcer says, "when in doubt, sound it out..."
  He adds a Y and - DING - he;s out.  We're down to 5, or rather we're down to 6, which includes Arvind's Dark Passenger.

It's Laura (Canadian, 5th last year), Dakota from Vegas (upset!), Sunykaya the lurker, Ye who looks 23 and Arvind.

and up comes Laura, the last real player between Arvind, the trophy and him going Sissy Spacek. "Katchokivalo"  Its a cheese.  She got it - Oh Canada!

Dakota - he's so happy to be here.  No obvious nerves.  Zortzico.  He didn't know it but he got it, and the first obvious 'shit i had no clue'-reaction of the night.

Arvind.  Uayeb.  "WHY-eb".  He's in front of the mic all of 7 seconds.  He's in Barcelona-soccer mode, grinding now, just wearing out the other spellers' legs.

But Ye answers with capercaillie!  Ye may be here to stay.  Maybe we're ready for a winner who looks like she's at Stanford Law.

The lurker scribbles her hand through rapakivi.  no problem.

12th round - Laura starts us off....  whoa, they give her one word, then switch.  Some backroom screw up.  SUPER FISHY!  She lands Cheongsam and hits it, no worries.

Dakota - he's the only one left who doesn't seem like a possible winner.   Sarangousty...  boom.  Wow.

Arvind.  asks 1 question.  then 2.  Could he not know it?- nope.  Nailed it after 3 quetions.  Opedildoc.

Ye - Karpas, no problem.

Sukanya - lakatoi, a papua guinea word for a canoe.  surely this gets her, right?  Nope.  she got it.

10 straight winners.  here comes laura for round 13!

WOW!  Laura from Canada 'informs' the annoucner that Mexico is not in Asia after he misspeaks in answer to a question.  She and arvind are trying to make the announcer cry.  its the only explaination.

Dakota rolls on.

Arvind.  solferino - actually says, "YES!" as he turns to walk off.

Joanna Ye...  Keitloa.

THe Lurker - on a night NOT for lurkers.  She nails it and on we go.

Well, these kids aren't getting tripped by the 'hard short ones.  Let's see if the judges adjust.

Down goes Dakota but he's the only one.  The kids are on a roll.  I may have to go to bed and finish up later.
ROund 17, same 4 - Laura and ARvind are chasing each other around a table with drawn knives, with Ye and the lurker kind of jumping sideways to avoid them.  Lets see how this ends....

Scene from the melee.

ARVIND IS OUT!  Jugegenstil!  Slient J!  YOU-GUN-STEAL!  THe anncouncer actualy jokes of the pronounciation, "you gon' steal that trophy?"

"OH," he says.  "A silent letter!"

He misses the J.  Unbelievable. the entire room comes to its feet, including the three remaining.  He gets a solid 20 second ovation.

DOWN GOES YE!  She misses ALOUBET.  A kind of flute!  And she's a FLUTE PLAYER!!!


Here comes Sukanya - if she misses, its over!  Wow, the Bee always delivers!!!  Sukanya's voice catches... this moment is unbearable!

Naumkeag...  BOOM!  She nails it, and we're down to 2 (had she missed it, and Laura missed a 'clinching' word, then we would have had all 4 back up there).

So this is it - the Canadian favorite, and Sukanya.  Its easy to think this is already over, since Laura seems to have won her duel with Arvin, but Sukkanya drafted and lurked her way to the final two.  All she needs is one strong move here to win it.

Laura hits Hooroosh.  Lets see if Sukanya answers...  Ogreat.  Next round.

Canadian... "sorites"  and she guesses a SILENT P to start!!!!  WRONG!!!!  Wow!  That was so fast!  I'm delerious!

Here come Sukanya - she has to spell 2 in a row win - one to win the round, one to clinch, the win-by-2 of Spelling rules.

Drafting all day, just hanging at the periphery, she comes out around the leader and - BOOM nails the first word - SHE'S SPRINTING TO THE LINE!

"sy-motricus' - she sounds like she knows it...  she asks a few questions...

and C Y M O T R I C H O U S - GO CRAZY!!!!!!  SUKANYA!!!  FROM the back of the peliton, in the final stretch!!!!

she's shaking and she can't even hold the trophy, she's about to fall over.  So am I.

there's a strange quite in the crowd.  in fact, i'll just say its stunned silence.  Of the final 9 - definetly the strong final 4 - she was the least likely, but she reeled them all in.

THat's why its awesome every year.

Final thought:  that was one of the premier mental duels in sports history, and the proof is that of the two who fought it, neither won.

From about the cut to 9 on it was clear that Arvind and Laura were pretty content - even excited - to turn hot laps and swap the lead until everyone else fell out.  It worked as they went to 5, where even through 3 perfect rounds the others seemed rattled or timid or overwhelmed while they just knocked theirs down, having fun.

THen Dakota fell off, and they turned a few more laps with Sukyana and Ye in line behind them.

THen it happened:  Arvind got a German word that started with a silent letter, J.  He failed to detect it and suddenly Laura was rushing into the open, free and clear with just Sukyana to shake.  It must have felt scary for Laura to suddenly be that alone, because 2 words later she got her first choppy spot - first one she didn't know - and what did she do?  She ADDED a silent letter at the start!
Arvind's final act of vengence!
He had to lose to do it, but he bluffed her into a silly mistake!

When Sukyana crossed the line it was her first view past her windshield all day.


What.  Just.  Happened?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

10 Reasons To Break Your No-TV Chastity Vow This Weekend

SATURDAY - Barcelona-Real Madrid, 3pm 2pm, some soccer channel you might not get; find a bar.  (Also ESPNDeportes!!)

5 - Barcelona's soccer team is the defending champion of both the European Champions League and La Ligue, Spain's national league which is the best league in Europe, evidence for which is that Spain won the 2010 World Cup - and close to half the players on that team play for Barcelona.  In short:  they are the best team on earth by a mile.

4 - Most of the other half of Spain's national team play for Real Madrid, Barcelona's timeless rival, and pretty much the 2nd Best Team on Earth.  They HATE each other.  How much?  The name Real comes from "Royal", as in the team's charter originally came from the Spanish monarchy, based, of course, in Madrid.  Real is the Establishment team of Spain the way the Yankees would be America's Establishment team if they just went ahead and relocated their corporate offices to the top floor of Goldman Sachs.  But Barcelona is no Red Sox, plucky outsiders embracing the underdog role.  Barcalona is the capital of Catalonia - a region which doesn't even consider itself part of Spain.  The games between them are about one echo away from an actual civil war, like if Alabama played Notre Dame in 1875.

3 - Along with all those World Champion Spaniards, Real has Christiano Reynoldo, an almost impossibly unlikable Portugese pretty boy who has won about half of the various international Best Player Alive-themed awards in the last 4 years.  He is a preening, insufferable crybaby with jello-mold hair who turns every possession into a one-way tsunami of downhill energy, like a kick-off return in football.  He finds space, outruns and outshoots everyone.  His pompous goals come like thunder claps, from distances that seem safe and on breakaways too fast to react to.  He is the PERFECT Madrid player and he makes you ask, "Where did that COME from?"

2 - Across from Reynaldo is Barcelona's Lionel Messi, who is Argentinian and has won the other half of all the Greatest Alive awards since 2008.  His game is everything Reynaldo's is not.  He does not dive, following a code of tough guy honor mostly absent in his sport.  He does not lead chaotic breakaways.  He waits in the center of your defense, alone and unafraid, then taps two, then three, then four mesmerizing passes around you and sprints through the heart of your defense like a skier flailing through chest-deep powder.  He is the perfect Barcelona player and he makes you ask "How did he get THROUGH there?"

1 - This rivalry is so good, it is called "El Classico" and this edition is the centerpiece of a 5-game series that will be the best week of sporting events for the whole year, anywhere.  Last week Barca and Real kicked off their respective Champions League semifinal series.  The Champions League is the tournament between the best 16 teams in all of Europe - imagine if the top 4 teams from all 4 of America's main sports all collided every year in some contest (ping pong?) to figure out exactly who - the Giants?  The Heat?  The Cardinals? - was really the best team in America.  THat's the Champions League - the best teams from England, Germany, Spain, France and the rest play down to a final.  THis week Real and Barcelona are in opposing semifinals, which in the Champions League are home-and-home games decided on aggregate score.  Barca has the English dons, Chelsea; Real the German dynasty, Bayern Munich.  There has been an assumption all year that we were destined for an El Classico Champions League final, with Real and Barca sure bets to meet in the final game.  Well, Chelsea and Munich both pulled off wildly unexpected upsets in the first round, not just tying but beating their Spanish visitors by a goal each.  That means Real and Barca will both need to win their rematches early next week - which means that, along with everything else, today's El Classico will be a contest to grab momentum for those games.

400 million people are going to watch this game.  Be one of them.

SUNDAY - North Carolina-Duke, 3pm, ESPNU or that online thing ESPN does that you have to use Time Warner to get.

5.  This is the rematch to a game that should have ended Carolina's season and still might have.  UndefeatedOnce beaten, Carolina came into its game with Duke in March on a high.  Duke was barely .500.  Playing in Duke's stadium, Duke chose to start the game defending the east-facing goal, giving Carolina the west facing goal, just as the sun was going down.  Staring into the sun, Carolina's goalie got shelled, and it was 9-3 at half.  But after halftime, with a new goalie and playing angry, Carolina stormed back to within 2, 11-9 with about 5 minutes left, carrying all the momentum.  And then it happened.

4. On defense, Carolina stripped the ball from Duke and one of Carolina's defensemen picked it up.  He spun away from pressure as the goalie sprinted out wide for a pass to begin a clear upfield.  Except the ball whipped out of the defenseman's stick and slowly, excrutiatingly, dribbled over the goal line.  Own goal.  12-9 Duke.  Duke's sideline exploded, Carolina collapsed.  It was worse than bad luck, it was proof that, yet again, they were somehow going to find a way to beat them.

3.  As Carolina tried to regain its balance, Duke took the ensuing face-off and scored in 12 seconds, effectively ending the game, though the Heels did get it back to within 2.

2.  Since then, Duke has shredded everyone they've played.  They stomped #1-ranked Virginia 13-5(!) in Charlottesville to clinch the ACC and beat Syrcause for the first time since 1978(!!).

1.  But back comes Carolina!  The Heels also beat the then-#1 ranked team in the country on a hostile field, John Hopkins in Baltimore, and then took apart UVA in the semifinals - at UVA, revenge for getting thrashed a week earlier in Chapel Hill - to make this final, the first ACC final for Carolina in 4 years.

Well over 400 million people won't care about this game.  Don't be one.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

14 Carolina Silver Linings/Desperate Excuses, and A Quote From Buddha

With 5 full seconds left, when Rivers and Curry ran that screen and Zeller switched onto Rivers, hand to God, three words were already pinballing around the walls of my brain: “worst loss ever.”

Watching the actual shot go in – watching Zeller stand 6 feet back for it, hands at his side – felt like I was already watching the 10,000th of the numberless replays that will be shown of Rivers' shot from now right up until the heat death of the universe.

Oh, this wasn’t a replay yet, at 11:42 in Chapel Hill? Rivers shot was still, actually, in the air? On paper, Duke was still losing and Carolina still winning?  Well, just wait.  Its going in.

And… there.  It went in.
Of course it went in.  When you need 12 straight coin flips to go your way, you are nervous.  When you hit 11 of them, you aren’t nervous. You know number 12 is coming up heads.

This was a game that Duke was going to win at the hands of Austin Rivers and that UNC was going to lose at the hands of Tyler Zeller, and not you or anybody else on or off the floor could do anything about it.

You knew Tyler Zeller was going to give Rivers those three vital points because Zeller spent the previous 90 seconds giving Duke 4 equally vital points, 2 of them literally.  If you didn’t understand the body language Destiny was throwing Duke’s way after Zeller tipped in what would have been a game-ending airball - an airball! -  then buddy, you was blind.

“You- you can pay for the drinks,” that play said.  “And you- you can meet me at the door.”

As the final seconds unfolded like a 500th rewinding of a flickering, fading VHS-tape - shouldn't Rivers shorts have been 3 sizes tighter? - I didn’t actually know how to quantify a “worst loss ever” but I knew this was about to be it.
Largest lead lost?  Biggest comeback in final 2 minutes?  Scoring-differential to end a game?  Time left on clock when winning points scored?  Decible drop in crowd?

Surely that game broke whatever the previous record was in any of those categories, and if it didn’t, it doesn't matter: in a relatively unremarkable game, historically speaking, a good team (Duke) was getting beat by a slightly but tangibly better team (Carolina).  And then 4 or 5 unlikely things happened and then a couple of impossible things happened and when the moment came for the unthinkable to happen – well, it felt like it already had.

On the 5th Anniversary of the End of Everything, that was, truly, the Worst Loss Ever - which, in a way, is its own silver lining.
Top 15 Carolina Silver Linings/Desperate Excuse

1.      UNC players 86, Duke players 83.  Rivers’ cash-money moment never happens without the flukiest moment in the history of the series, Tyler Zeller leaping to grab a Duke airball, uncontested, and impossibly managing to tip the shot in.  I mean... come on...  The Rivers shot was a classic, the whole game was an epic fight, it was 40 minutes of tremendous nerves and skill, what a game....  but… COME ON!!!!

2.      It's impossible to really like Roy Williams, right?  It’s delightful when he wins because, hey, your team won!  But when they lose, it’s almost always because he got outcoached, and that's when you see the preening, tantrum-thrower beneath the surface.  Not that K is any better, but, remember these are deserate silver linings.

3.      This team is soft.  Have been since they got pushed around for the first 15 minutes on that boat.  If this hardens them up, it was worth it.  If it doesn’t, they weren’t going to win anything anyway.

4.       In the end, it was the 3s.  Nothing else – not heart, not guts, not fate, not nerves, not defense, not the tip-in.  Duke did the most Duke-thing in all the world, the thing Duke always does, the thing that everyone hates Duke for: they rained 3s and hoped they went in.  Ten – 10! – from one guy.  Six went in.  Thirty-friggin’-six(!) overall, 14(!!) of which went in.  Two successful 3s is worth three normal possessions, so Duke gave itself the equivalent of 7 more possesions than UNC.  They should have won by 14.  They won by one.

5.      Curry traveled.  Badly  (I know nobody calls traveling anymore.  But this is our list; we’re loading up.)

6.       The Plumlees weren’t even tangentially involved.  Rivers is just the best player in America who, for now, happens to play for Duke.  But the most Duke of Duke’s current players had the following night: one didn’t even play, and the two who did had, combined, 11 points and 17 rebounds – same boards and a point less than Carolina’s John Henson by himself.  In fact, the only thing a Plumlee did worth a crap was awkwardly inbound the ball to Rivers, who never in a zillion years was going to pass it back to him or his sorry brothers.  OK, fine he set the screen that switched Barnes off of Rivers to Z's containment-policy defense.  But so what.  Rivers was going to take - and make - that shot over HB, too.  No, if Rivers and Seth Curry had somehow collided at midcourt prior to the shot and broken each other’s hips, and Rivers had needed to desperately roll the ball to somebody he could trust before collapsing in career-ending agony, he would have picked, well, Zeller before a Plumlee.

7.       And the Plumlees’ night highights a truth that dare not speak its name this morning: other than Rivers, Carolina has better players.  That’s not the same as having the ‘better team’ and it’s not even the same time zone as being ‘better,’ but each of Carolina’s players, ex-Rivers, was better than their Duke counterpart.  Carolina was winning – cruising, even, despite taking Duke’s game-opening haymakers – until the Zeller-Rivers Event, and among the things that means is…

8.       …Carolina might still might (MIGHT) be able to win something worth winning, such as: the rematch at Duke, the national title… I guess that’s the whole list; and…

9.       …Duke ain’t winning it all this year.  3-ball teams eventually lose, and when they do its ugly.  That was their Tebow-v-Pittsburgh, and to the victor goes the spoils.  But that team ain’t winning the Super Bowl.

10.   Tyler Zeller has been given the greatest gift that any wandering soul in this empty universe can ever receive: he just had the Worst Day of His Life.  It’s literally all gravy from here, young man.  When the curtain finally falls, make sure you aren’t thinking about last night.

11.   It’ll never happen again, because…

12.  ...the ‘magic’ of this game will be just enough for Duke fans to talk themselves into a “Rivers will come back next year because that UNC game was SO GREAT!” scenario…

13.   …which will make it hurt that much more when he leaves.  Cuz he’s leaving.

14.   When he’s gone, the farther the moment recedes in history and climbs in Duke lore, the more it will silently tarnish the “Coach K-thing.”  The greatest moment of the late-K era will be forever linked to – in fact, defined by - his second consecutive one-and-done recruit.  Duke likes being “about things” and now they are about riding the tails of one-year mercenaries.  Weclome to the legend of Coach K-entucky.

15.  Let us rise up and be grateful.  You were witness to Awesome.  Be grateful.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Was Madonna the Most Washed-Up Super Bowl Halftimer Ever? Not even close.

How washed up is Madonna? Pretty washed up. Her last true hit was 2005's Hung Up, and even then she was well down the "Hey, didn't you used to be Madonna?!"-slope of her arc.  But though its easy and fun to make fun of Madonna, as a Super Bowl act, she was almost cutting edge.  Compared to essentially all her fellow Super Bowl highlighters, she might as well have been Adelle (#1 hit in the country this week), David Guetta (#1 hyper-DJ on earth) or Hansel (as always, so hot right now). 

I hadn't realized how bad - ie, Old - the track record was for the Super Bowl halftime until I got to wondering if Madonna was the most geriatric act they'd ever had, at least in the Modern Halftime Era (the "Modern Era", btw, started in 1991, the year after the last time the featured act was a college marching band).

But how do you measure washed-up?  We think we know it when we see it (Flavor Flav - yes; Beastie Boys - No), but do we ?  (Dave Matthews - hmmmm...)

Could a contrived statistic help?  Does it ever not?

Here's a look at the last 13 Super Bowl acts, with two vital numbers: At the time of their Super Bowl show, how many years it had been since
  • Their first hit
  • Their last hit
(Let's call a "hit" anything that hits the Billboard top 10, or an otherwise iconic song).

By that measure, Madonna - with at least one hit in the 10 years prior to going on stage last night - is wildly, scorchingly hip compared to her fellow Super Bowl Halftimers.

Important caveat: none of these acts were supposed to be Old.   Except for one, these weren't "tribute" shows or reunions.  That was the case in 1997 when James Brown took the stage (with ZZ Top and CNN-babe Catherine Crier - 2nd best halftime ever). But James was always more Historical Figure than Going Concern, even when he was a going concern.  That night was a history lesson.

Madonna, I'm sure, does not fancy herself as "history."  And, compared to her fellow headliners, she isn't.

Of course, Madonna isn't actually relevant or anything.  It's just that starting in 2000, Super Bowl halftime acts have been absolutely unbelievably, well... Old. 

First, the two exceptions: in 2001, Britney and N'Sync - hip, young, relevant - shared the stage with even-then-hilariously ancient Aerosmith, but still, that's a good show. And in 2011 the Black Eyed Peas shared the stage with, tragically, no one, but as bad as that was, they were inarguably 'current.'

Other than that, its been non-stop exhumations of acts like Sting. When Sting played the SB in 2003, 9 years after last rippling the waters with the lightly-remembered When We Dance and a full quarter-century clear of Roxanne, he was - like all of them - still putting out albums .

And they're ALL like that, as you can see after the jump.

Click to continue

Saturday, December 17, 2011

JaMarcus and Brady Quinn, or: The Case For Tebow (pre-draft)

A slightly-expanded for 2011 (weekend prior to Tebow-v-Brady, possibly the zenith of Tebow-time) email I sent to friends prior to the 2010 draft, when dissing Tebow was a full time thing.

Screw the draft and the NFL, etc.  maybe i shouldn't be even looking at it.

But something is bothering me:  someone is going to fail to take Tim Tebow.  Probably the whole league is going to fail to put Tebow on thier team before someone does with a later pick.  Only...  how the HELL do you NOT take Tebow?  If Carson Palmer or Payton Manning was up there, maybe you'd not take Tebow, but then again maybe not.

If you even barely accidently stumble across any draft talk, here are the Big 3 QBs who "translate" to the NFL:

(click for rest of post)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Go 49ers!, or Your Tax Dollars At Work

Carolina won the NCAA men's soccer title today, beating in the final UNC-Charlotte ("go 49ers?" I'm going from memory here... let me look. OK its... 49ers! Nice! Just like Long Beach State, which will matter as we go along here).

Its a nice win, after things going so disastrously wrong for the more-famous women's team, who lost at home to UVA this year*, lost three games in a row at one point* and in the 2nd round (of 6) of the NCAAs.
   (*=First evers)

Nice work by the Heels, who were ranked number one and were in their fifth straight Final Four without a title.  In the semifinals, they dominated UCLA while avoiding the dangers of One-Of-Those-Games - despite much greater possession, more aggression and more shots on goal, UNC trailed 1-0 and 2-1 before foricng overtime and winning on penalty kicks. Against Charlotte, it was essentially the reverse: UNC scored the only goal with a long, slightly flukie shot and then somehow hung on against an enraged Charlotte's 14 shots on goal (!), particularly in the last 10 minutes, which included a 30 second span of four point-blank shots (check 1:20 into the vid below for the barrage).

Go Heels!

Anyhow, following on the heels of the Nate Silver-inspired post below, it got me wondering: at the Division I-level you just don't see national titles played between same-system state schools (and here's the part where we decide that such meetings need an arbitrary name - in honor of Charlotte's near miss, let's call them "49er Games"). Same state, sure. But inevitably when its two schools from the same state playing for a title, one of those schools is Stanford or Duke or Miami or Hopkins or Notre Dame or Rice or even lousy Pepperdine. (OK, its never Rice)

Afterall, even when Rutgers and Princeton invented college football in 1643 (I might be off on the date), Trenton only picked up half the bill.

Its not hard to, explain, of course: most states aren't interested in funding one dominant, say. men's volleyball team, let alone two, and even where two state schools crack the top 20, that's still 18 other schools they need to get through before arriving at a showdown.
   As rare as a 49er Game is, there have been a series of close calls:
  • Arizona and Arizona State collectively won three straight College World Series, for example, but have never met in the finals (though technically at the CWS, there's no 'final' just a winner and runner-up. UA and ASU never did that, either).
  • In the Big Sports, UNC and NCstate won back to back titles in basketball in the 80s, and Alabama and Auburn just did it in FB (UPDATE: and Alabama again!!!)
  • Four state-school teams from Michigan won five hockey titles between 1986 and 1996, and three of them won three in row in the 1960s - but in all eight of those championship games they never faced each other.
Not a 49er Game in the lot.

In fact, I revisted most of the sports I listed in the Lucky 13 article to see how often you might see a 49er Game, with one set of tax payers on both sides of a national title game.

6: 49ers Games since 1991, in nationally-popular sports - three times in soccer, including today, once each in men's and women's volleyball and once - with an asterick - in football. And that's it. The asterick, of course, is that it was the BCS and not some real form of competition that forced Florida State to play Florida in the 1997 Sugar Bowl for the second time that year. They'd beat Florida earlier, of course, but lost the rematch in the "National Championship" Game. Here are the others:
  • Men's Soccer: 2011 - UNC over UNC-C, 2006 - UCLA over UCSB
  • Women's Soccer: 1993 - UNC over NC St.
  • Women's Volleyball: 1991 - UCLA over Long Beach State (hey! They're the 49ers! What a serendipitous nickname!).
  • Men's Volleyball: 1993 - UCLA over CSUN (I like to think of that not so much as a victory for UCLA, but crass Bruin exploitation of the Northridge earthquake, catching CSUN in shock).
And that's it for the last 20 years (interestingly, UCLA is 3-0 in those games, and 49ers are 0-2. Remember that on your next Vegas trip).

  • M Volleyball: 1970-1975 - entirely UCLA over UCSB, SDSU and our 49ers of the LBC, with a loss to SDSU in there)
  • Mens Tennis: 1953- UCLA over Cal
  • Hockey: 1956 - Michigan over Michigan Tech(still a real school today!!)
And now: water polo. Start with this promising set of stats:
  • No team from outside of California has ever won the NCAA WP title.
  • No team from outside of California has ever lOST the NCAA WP title.
Only ten teams have ever played for the national title: UCLA, UCSB, Cal, Long Beach State, UC-Irvine and (just once each, but still on the list!) UC San Diego and San Jose State - all California public schools - and Stanford, USC and (again, with a single appearance) Pepperdine. So, leaving out the three one-hit wonders, that's seven teams rotating through finalist positions for a sport that goes back 42 years - all told, 84 spot in the Finals. Each team should, on average, have won 5 or 6 titles, with an equal number of runner-up trophies. That should have led to - at the very least - bi-annual 49er Games, continuining to this day

(The Math: 42 national titles split between 7 teams (throwing out the 1-hitters, which is statistically a wash) - that's 12 trips to the finals each (6 titles, 6 RUs), which means that, if all the teams were about equal, Stanford and USC would likely appear no more than 22 times combined even if they never played each other in the Final. To follow the math to the end, they should have met twice in the finals (games which, all things being evenly distributed, they would have split), meaning either or both team would be in 20 finals - just under half of the 42 contested)

Yet astoundingly, the last 49er Game in the Water Polo finals - which is to say, the last time neither Stanford nor USC was in it - was 2000, when UCLA beat UCSD. Prior to that, 1991, when Cal beat UCLA. So in twenty years, when it should have happened 10 or 11 times, it happened twice. Of course, as the next post tracks, water polo is one of the least equitable sports in all of the NCAA.

Go '9ers!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Lucky Number 13

Nate Silver managed to drop an astounding stat into a column recently, which he often does, but then did not comment on it, which was even more bizarre because he so rarely lets one sail by.

His point was that one symptom of the NBA's labor problem - evidence that it has a real problem as opposed to just everyone wanting more money - is the clear, rigid Have/Have Not order in place.

He notes, almost in passing, that only 8 teams have won the NBA title in the last 20 years while 13 teams have won each the NFL, MLB and NHL titles.

And that was all he had to say about that.

Really? 13 EACH. That seems remarkably... meaningful. I mean, despite the wild differences between those games and leagues and their rules and incentives, they end up with exactly the same number of champs?

I looked up about a dozen other major sports, and the results are below. But what does this apparent triskadecaphobia of Major Sports tell us about these leagues?

At first glance, it seems to say that "repeating" a championship - even just within 20 years - is much harder than winning one, which seems counter-intuitive. Once you know how to win, you're more likely to repeat it, right?

And, in fact, that turns out to be true, but barely and for less obvious reasons. Baseball and the NHL have 30 teams. So under our Rule of 13, in 20 years, 13 of them - 43% - will win a championship. Of those 13 one-time winners, as many as 7 - 53% - might win a second in the same time frame. The numbers for the NFL's 32 teams are 40% and 53%.

(Yeah, yeah, I know, for all you Monty Hall Puzzle-breakers - it might come out totally opposite, with, say, 12 one-time winners and one eight-time winner. That still hits the Rule of 13, but it makes repeating not just much harder than your one-time odds, but impossible for all but that one dominant team. Make of it all what you will).

But in leagues of current size and with no totally dominant teams, the Rule of 13 confirms - rather than disproves, as it appears - that winners tend to win again, at least compared to losers, but just barely. If you can get out of the loser pool, you are slightly more likely to stay out.

What about other elite leagues? How about college football and college basketball?

  • 13: Individual champions in last 20 years of NCAA I-A football. (encompassing 22 'champs', including co-champs)
  • 14: Individual champions in last 20 years of NCAA Division I basketball.
  • 12: Individual champions in prior 20 years of NCAA Division I basketball ('91 to '72).


So four of the US's six major sports have produced 13, 13, 13 and 13 champions in 20 years, and a fifth - Men's D-I college basketball - has produced an average of 13 winners over its last two 20-year periods. Only the NBA is off the mark (wildly, too).

But wait a second? What does that mean? Have we discovered an inalterable Law of sports with the power to dictate events? Were the Butler Shot, the Vince Young/LenDale White 4th Downs, the Red Sox* comeback, the horrible calls against the Seahawks - all crucial to this stat parade - somehow, ya know, pre-ordained?

'Course not. But its definetly a pretty remarkable argument for the 'it all comes out in the wash'-school of forecasting.

*If the Sox hadn't won in '03, what are they odds they'd have won in '07? Just sayin'.

So where else do we find this Rule of 13? Does it apply to ALL sports leagues?

Turns out: no, but for very interesting reasons.

I dug into the next best organized (and easiest to check) leagues I could find, the lesser NCAA Division I sports. And a remarkable pattern comes out: among sports played everywhere, with the most open and mature talent collection systems, that are either for big money or that can lead to big money, you get 13 champs every 20 years.

But for every grade of specialty or exclusion, you lose champs. Its almost uncanny.

Champions in last 20 years
  • 13: NCAA DI Baseball
  • 12: I-AA Football, the highly-organized, full-scholarship but somewhat more regionalized level below I-A.
  • 12: Men's Hockey (13 in the last 21 years)

Still on or just slightly off the Rule of 13 - but, of course, those are 'feeder' leagues for established pro teams, just like D-I basketball. Even if the players at these levels are less likely to make the pros, well, a) they may be in denial about that until the end of their careers and b) their coaches can still make it to pro-level paydays in the Hard 13 Leagues.
In other words, the incentives at play on their practice and recruiting fields are very similiar to those at the higher levels, so no surprise we see the Rule of 13.

Now, two sports that are wildly popular across the country, but lead to far fewer and far less lucrative pro opportunities:

  • 10: Women's Basketball
  • 10: Men's Volleyball*
  • 10: Men's Soccer

You can, if you are truly an elite player or coach, make an upper-middle class living in those sports. But not very often and not much more. (*my count of 10 includes not one but two teams stripped of their titles, which is always great fun).

Then come the prep school sports, which are played by almost no one and have no pro prospects, but instead lead to - and, at the youth league level, are financed by - Wall Street money:

  • 8: Women's Tennis
  • 7: Men's Tennis
  • 7: Women's Vball
  • 6: M Lacrosse
  • 6: W Field Hockey - 8 champions ever, dating to the 80s.
  • 6: W Soccer
  • 5: W Lacrosse - 11 champions ever, dating to the 80s.

Yip - rich kids and beach kids and not much else. Something about that pool tends to breed far less diversity. Imagine.

What's with women's soccer? It's wildly popular across the nation in neighborhoods of every economic level, but sits at the bottom of our list, with just 6 champions. But the flaw in that stat is both obvious and, lately, rapidly correcting: Carolina won every single title for essentially the sports' first two decades, which includes over half of our 20-year sample. But 4 of soccer's 6 champions have won their first title in the last 7 years, so, as the Quants, say, a 'reversion to the mean' is underway.

So now we get to my favorite part, The Sweeping Statement: the bigger the riches and fame at stake - now or in the future - the more champions get produced. It's an almost perfect match, other than women's soccer (which is coming back to the pack) and the NBA, whose punishment for ignoring our Rule of 13 is the current Death spiral it is caught in.

And now here comes the Nelson "Ha ha!" part.

Let's look at "The World Game".

We are lectured to, as Americans, that our sports leagues can't hold a flame to the passion, intensity, athleticism and general love of the game than Europeans have for soccer.

Before they can fully walk, we are told, the toddlers of Dresden, Cape Town and Rio and everywhere in between are mercilessly trained and selected, cast aside or pushed on into soccer's great meritocracy. And for organizations that can't compete on the World Stage, down they go in the delightful practice of Relegation.

EVERYONE, we are told, plays soccer and they play it EVERYWHERE. It's the WORLD'S GAME, doncha know!

Surely, no sport embodies the Human Will To Compete like soccer, eh?

Here is the championship distribution of The Big 4 Leagues over the last 20 years

  • Germany's Bundesleague: 6
  • Spain's La Liga: 5
  • Italy's Serie A: 5
  • England's Premier League 4

Wow. Men's lacrosse, that citadel of American exclusionism, is as or more open and competitive than the four great leagues of Europe. NONE have figured out how to let new blood circulate, even as well as our most tightly-held college sports.

Or even as well as the sickly NBA.


CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Ah! Here was the problem - if the NBA eludes the Rule of 13 because it is prone to anti-competitive forces built into its structure, then surely this is true for the European soccer leagues as well - a theory that gains traction when we look at the Champions League. There, above the orbits of the monopolies held by teams at the national level, we have seen 12 champs in its last 20 years, 13 in the last 21.

MLS BONUS: Where the MLS fits on our scale is up for debate - its certainly professional, but not exactly a way to get rich or famous. Still, let's have a look: in its 15 years of play, the MLS has had 7 champs, below the 13-champ trendline but perfectly in line with the Men's NCAA soccer trendline of 10 in 20.
Included in that list is the franchise that began life as the San Jose Earthquakes, won the title in 01 and 03, promptly shutdown and moved to Houston, then won it again in 07 and 09 (*years are from memory and might be off a little, but the chronology is right).
Which leaves us a nice trivia question to go out on: Has any other franchise in any sport dominated a decade, with a move in the middle? I can't think of one.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Best Terrible Football Game You Ever Saw

I once did a long hiking/skiing trip across a glacier with a big group. It was 15 miles and 5 days long. One of the people on the trip knew nothing of trekking, so they thought it would be a good idea to bring a Jumbo-sized jar of peanut butter. It probably weighed 10 lbs. Of course, it got vetoed, but then somebody thought it would be funny to stick that 10lbs of peanut butter into the bottom of somebody's bag. After the first day of trekking, that person found it and they of course tried to stick it in somebody else's bag for the next day.
Which meant that each day, the real challenge of packing up and moving was not waking up or making breakfast on a glacier or putting on skis. the real challenge was making sure you didn't have the peanut butter.

that was Les Miles and Houston Nutt this weekend. Over the last few minutes, as Ole Miss tried to give away an 8 point lead like it was a 10lbs jar of peanut butter, LSU kept digging it out of thier bag and hiding it back in Nutt's sleeping bag.

Flipping between it and the brilliant work of Oregon/Arizona, I ended up sticking with this game because it was just so damn awful.

I think there were no less than 9 plays down the stretch that were absolute abomination of coaching/heads-uppedness, each so bad that it was enough to lose the game if it ended right there, each negating the previous horrific play as they went. In fact, though the final moment was simply astonishing in a vacuum, in context it looks more inevitable: with a single second left, trailing by 2 on the Ole Miss 6 yd line, LSU simply could not lose if they did ANYTHING right so they did the only thing that would allow them to lose from such a postion - nothing. They simply stood there and did nothing, which is to say they put exactly as much effort into a hand-delivered game-winning moment on the field as they would have if they had never left Baton Rouge.

So despite doing everything they could to stick the game in Ole Miss' backpack, LSU went home with the peanut butter.

To recap the Roddick-Federer Wimbledon Endless Tie-Breaker of Worst Coaching Ever:

1 - Ole Miss 25-LSU 17. Up by 8 in the final minutes, and perhaps after enjoying last week's WWII IN HD on Discovery, Ole Miss' Nutt continues a game-long commitment to banzai-charge blitzes, leaving screens and isolated receivers wide open, play after play, which LSU finally picks up on, allowing them to trip their way downfield for a TD.

2 - Ole Miss 25-LSU 23, Take 1. On the 2pt conversion to tie the game, LSU throws a fade to the corner (terrible call, see pt 3) which doesn't work but draws a PI in the endzone, forcing a replay of the down from 'half the distance', ie the 1.5 yd line. Sort of a Fail-push - the play didn't work, but the corner was crappy enough that his only option after getting smoked at the line of scrimmage was to commit the PI.

3 - Ole Miss 25-LSU 23, Take 2. ON the replay, LSU was now on the 1.5 yd line, essentially just a decent - not great, decent - push from the Oline from the endzone on a sneak, a dive, an off-tackle, a Tebow-jump-pass or whatever. Also, play-action is pretty much always lethal in this situation. AND THEY RUN THE SAME PLAY!! A fade to the corner!
   Let's do a thought experiment: How often could LSU's excellent-receiver/below-average-QB make that play without any defense on the field? Helmets and shorts, at gamespeed? Less than 75 percent, I bet. I know, I know: its 'almost impossible to defend' - right, because its almost impossible to complete. The angles, speed and timing of the play have to be the hardest way in football to make 2 or 5 or 10 yards. The receiver can't get jammed even a little, can't slip, has to nail the route and the throw is at least 15 yards to a tire-swing of a target, just over the corner but just short of the sideline and the guy has to haul it in, usually while falling and upside down, and have possession/one in bounds. A double reverse-halfback-pass-lerooski wouldn't work more often? Can we just blame Desmond Howard for the prevalence of that play? We'll just add it to his list.
So going for the same high-difficulty play twice in a row - the second time needing only 1.5 yards with a superior OLine - the second is an overthrow and no catch, and now LSU has probably lost the game.
Now LSU has to onsides it...

4 - And here is the part where Ole Miss' Dexter McCluster should be investigated: LSU's kicker attempts an onsides by skipping the ball DIRECTLY toward him.  Here, with a chance to seal away the game, McCluster (Ole Miss' best offensive player) ie either a) in on a fix or b) has a moment of panic and suddenly the words "10 yards!" explode in his brain and he somehow thinks that the RECEIVING team has to wait 10 yards on an onside kick.  So he freezes.
  Rather than fall on a ball kicked directly to him, winning the game, he matadors out of the way at the last second.
  And then McCluster turns out to be not just stupid but unlucky when the ball bounces directly to LSU's Brandon Lafell running in full stride, an onsides-recovery so perfect that it looked like a tape of Lafell throwing the ball to the ground played in reverse.
  Here's the lesson here: this was NOT a good onside kick.  LSU didn't "earn" this one. They needed a) Ole Miss' best player to inexplicably brain freeze and b) a 1-in-10,000 perfect bounce to recover it.

PEANUT BUTTER HIDDEN IN POCKET OF: NUTT (yeah, that was so bad it goes right past Duece, and now LSU can't possibly lose this game, right?)

5 - Now LSU miraculously has the ball with a short field and all the momentum that Houston Nutt could give them, and quickly marches down to the red zone in one of those, 'no way we're losing'-drives. Whereupon Les Miles promptly calls two drop-back passes, one of which draws a sack for a loss of 9, then on 3rd-and-19, an East-West screenplay that gets blown up for a loss of 7. 4th-and-26, with 26-seconds left.
  So again: Les Miles' terrible playcalls turned a first down in the redzone into a 4th-and-26 near the 40.
   At this moment, LSU has one timeout.

6 - As Douglas Adams put it, "and then time began to seriously pass."

7 - LSU calls timeout. 4th-and-26, 9 seconds left.
You read that right: Les Miles let three downs worth of time - 26 seconds down to 9 - tick off before calling timeout.
But Miles DID get the timeout, the team comes over to plan the next play and now we can expect LSU to retake the field with a brilliantly crafted game-winning mix of discipline, trickery and preperation.

8 - LSU does something 100% chaotic, graceful, athletic and unrehearsed and then shits on the dinner table.
Let's look at at it slowly:
 - On the 4th-down, LSU throws a long bomb (creative!), the Ole Miss guys are in perfect position to knock it down/pick it off and the LSU guy - tall, fast, insanely good at football generally - just flat outjumps them. I'll entertain arguments that Ole Miss should have jammed LSU's recievers at the line or whatever, but really it was a play that was decided entirely by recruiting and immune to coaching and that's that.
 - In fact, the only coaching in evidence was this: LSU's QB - preposterously - threw the ball SHORT of the endzone, ie none of LSU's coaches screamed in his facemask "THROW IT IN THE FUCKING ENDZONE".  THat's the extent of 'coaching' that could be deduced from that play.

9 - the dinner table: the LSU catch was made at the 6 and the clock stops for the first-down at 1 second (that was a best-case for LSU, by the way, since if the guy had caught it and landed on his feet rather than his butt, that second would have ticked off).

Now with the clock stopped for the first down, coming out of a timeout no less, of course LSU has its FG team ready to run out, get set and kick the chip-shot game winner.

Except they don't do that at all, and the regular offense lines up, with no sign of a kicker to be seen.

But OK, maybe they are going to run the Patented CashMoney Fade to the corner, or maybe they run a QB keeper at an unsettled Ole Miss D, or maybe they snap it and the QB drops back and runs in circles for 15 seconds waiting for one of his antelopes-in-pads to get open which they surely will against Ole Miss' undersized, burned-twice-just-in-this-blog-post corners.

And here is what happens: LSU's QB snaps it and spikes it, for a "stop the clock" kind of play, and up in the pressbox, the grizzled, white-haired, seersucker-suited Ole Miss' country-gentleman of a timekeeper grins just a little as he flips the switch to run the clock one second. They don't call it "One-Mississippi" for nothin'.


Les Miles, enjoy that Peanut butter.