Stoked

Ran into a friendly acquaintance of mine at the gym. We’ve played against each other for years; he is quite a bit younger but was permitted to play in our veteran’s league because he was a professional referee or something. I was never quite clear on what the deal was, to be honest.

Anyhow, he had told me he was up for promotion to Serie A in the coming season, so when I saw him, I didn’t even say anything, I just raised an eyebrow. He smiled and pumped his fist; the league not only came through with the promotion to the top level but had him rated highest in the second league through the first half of the season. He’s smart, athletic, and multilingual, so I have absolutely no doubt he’ll be doing Champion’s League and the Euros before too long.

Competitive bastard too. I marked him for an entire game in an indoor tournament and had to throw everything plus the kitchen sink at him to keep him from scoring… and just barely managed to do that.


Inspiration for the old guys

The Greatest of All Time, Roger Federer, has won his 20th Grand Slam, beating Marin Cilic at the Australian Open 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

To be honest, I thought he was out of gas when Cilic broke him twice in the fourth set. He came back hard and went up 30-love in the first game of the fifth set, then seemed to have exhausted himself in doing so when Cilic came right back to make it 30-30. But Cilic seemed to crack under the pressure, as he put a relatively easy shot wide to give Federer the advantage, and from that point on, Federer just poured on the gas.

Once he broke Cilic and held serve again to go up 3-0, it was over. What a legend.

The BBC’s take on this cracked me up:

Federer, 36, becomes only the fourth player after Margaret Court, Serena Williams and Steffi Graf to win 20 or more major singles titles.

Yes, that’s exactly why he’s so well-regarded. Because he’s the fourth-most-accomplished tennis player in tennis history….


Now it’s getting serious

There is growing evidence that we hit Peak NFL back in 2015. This proposed law is almost certainly only the first of many that will be adopted across the country in the coming years.

Organized tackle football would be banned for Illinois children younger than 12 years old under a bill to be unveiled on Thursday. The Dave Duerson Act to Prevent CTE is named for the Chicago Bears defensive back who was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy after he killed himself at the age of 50. Duerson shot himself in the chest so his brain could be studied for signs of the disease that has been linked to concussions or repeated head trauma.

“When my father tragically took his own life, he donated his brain to science in hopes of being part of the solution,” said Tregg Duerson, who like his father played football at Notre Dame.

“Thanks to increased attention and research on brain trauma, we know that part of the solution is to guard young children’s developing brains from the risks of tackle football,” Tregg Duerson said in a statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press in advance of the announcement. “This bill honors my family’s hopes and my father’s legacy to protect future athletes and the future of football.”

State Rep. Carol Sente, a Democrat from Vernon Hills, announced the proposal at a news conference Thursday along with Chris Nowinski, the head of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Also expected to attend were former Bears players Mike Adamle and Otis Wilson — a teammate of Dave Duerson’s on the 1985 championship team — and Liz Nicholson, the wife of former Cleveland Brown Gerry Sullivan, who has sued the NFL over its handling of concussions.

While I played football for three years, from six until nine, I think this is probably a good idea. The basic skills simply are not there, and it appears that the problem with CTE involves the mild head-banging on the line more than the big shots in the open field that lead to concussions.

As to whether this will cause fewer people to follow football, who knows. But that’s really not relevant. Besides, playing flag football until high school will probably prepare the boys better for the strategic elements of the game as well as balancing the playing field a little between the early developers and the late developers.


NFL censors vets

Because the television ratings weren’t falling fast enough for the NFL Commissioner:

America’s leading veterans service group claims the NFL censored their Super Bowl commercial because it criticized the league’s kneeling protests.

The NFL originally approached AMVETS to run an ad during the most watched game of the year.

However, the league rejected the commercial because it used #PleaseStand and showed American service members saluting the flag….

NFL Vice President of Communications Brian McCarthy released a statement saying the Super Bowl has “never been a place for advertising that could be considered by some as a political statement.”

In spite of this claim, last year’s Super Bowl game featured two controversial commercials, both attacking President Trump’s immigration policies.

Has anyone considered the possibility that Roger Goodell is a Major League Baseball plant, not unlike the way NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was an NBA plant sent by David Stern?


Championship Sunday

Sacksonville vs Tom Brady’s Hand. Nick Foles, Backup QB vs The Team of Destiny. Discuss amongst yourselves. Also, SKOL!

Haven’t seen a defense hit like the Jags since the 2000 Ravens. Of course, the rules have changed since then, which could be a problem.

UPDATE: 24-7 at the half. About all I can say is that if you can’t stop the Foles-to-Ertz connection, you have no business trying to stop Brady-to-Gronkowski. So far, this game has all the flavor of a Denny Green playoff classic, where the coaching staff simply gets outprepared and outcoached by the opponent’s coaches. It would be nice to see some serious adjustments demonstrating otherwise.

UPDATE: 38-7. Game isn’t over, but it’s over. Outplayed, outcoached, there is simply nothing to complain about. I have the feeling that the defensive backs were told not to worry about double moves because Foles wouldn’t be throwing deep. Coach Zim is going to have to up his game if he is going to succeed at this point in the season; my earlier impression of a Denny Green playoff classic would appear to have been correct. I am very impressed with the Philadelphia coaches, as they clearly had their team very well-prepared for this game.

About the only silver linings to be found are that a) it will be cheaper to keep Case next year and b) the NFL ratings for the conference championships are promise to be abysmal.


The costs of convergence

The NFL has gone from bleeding viewers to outright gushing them.

Every single game was down, no matter how good the games were. And, remember, three of these games were highly competitive in the divisional round this year. Whereas last year only two of the games were competitive. Hell, three of the four windows even feature one of the same teams from last year. And yes, I know, the Cowboys and the Packers played last year and those are the two biggest fan base draws in the NFL, but even if you pull that game out the numbers for the other three games also declined double digits.

Adding all these numbers up 120.8 million viewers watched the NFL divisional round playoffs in 2018 vs. 144.1 million who watched in 2017, a decline of 23.3 million total viewers.

That’s an overall viewership decline of over 16{97fd97520de31cde0b26d0c2f59922f7376b6ca8a53cb12ed2e4a6df0b8f3453}, even steeper than last week’s 13{97fd97520de31cde0b26d0c2f59922f7376b6ca8a53cb12ed2e4a6df0b8f3453} playoff decline.

What a pity it doesn’t occur to corporate executives to consult with the kind of experts who could tell them how to avoid these sorts of self-mutilations.

Clearly the NFL needs a New England vs Minnesota Super Bowl. Desperately. Is that… is that THE NARRATIVE’S music?


Good sports

Your feel-good story of the day. It probably doesn’t hurt that he has what is very nearly a proper Minnesota name:

It all started after the last play of Sunday’s game, following the touchdown that thrilled Vikings fans and broke the Saints’ hearts. By NFL rule, an point-after touchdown attempt must be played after a touchdown, even if it comes with no time left and with no chance of that attempt affecting the outcome of the game. So after the Saints had already gone to the locker room and the Vikings had already taken the field to celebrate, the officials went into the tunnel and informed the Saints that the game wasn’t over and they had to put 11 players on the field for the point after.

Morstead, a punter, isn’t used to lining up on defense, but he was the first guy to volunteer to jog back onto the field. He wasn’t happy about it, but he had a job to do and he was going to do it. That impressed Vikings fans.

So Vikings fans, appreciating Morstead’s professionalism, took to social media and encouraged donations to What You Give Will Grow, Morstead’s charity for kids battling cancer. When Morstead heard about that he said that if donations topped $100,000, the charity would use the money for programs at Children’s Minnesota hospital, and that he’d personally go to Minnesota to deliver the check. As of Wednesday night, the $100,000 goal had been reached.

“Alright, Minnesota, you guys are officially ridiculous — $100,000 raised for the child life program at the children’s hospital in Minneapolis. I am totally blown away,” Morstead said in a Twitter video.

Of course, the proper spelling is Morstad…. In any event, it is a good cause and a great hospital. I was more impressed that he kept punting so well despite being observably injured.

It would have been funny, though, if Bill Belichick had been the coach. It wouldn’t have mattered to him that the game was over. If he saw an injured punter playing goal line defense, you know he’s going for two.


Mailvox: the NFL is not pro wrestling

But it is not pure sport for the pure of heart either:

Didn’t we agree this was pro wrestling two weeks ago?

No. Pro wrestling is actually scripted. They know who is going to win ahead of time. The NFL, on the other hand, relies upon a “thumb on the scale” approach to gently favor its preferred narrative as well as to protect the betting lines and prevent the blowouts.

Football is too unpredictable, and has too many injuries, to successfully script a game, let alone a playoffs or a season. But you can usually know which team is going to get the marginal calls in the playoffs on a week-to-week basis, such as the Saints in 2009, the Chiefs last weekend, and the Vikings this weekend.

The thumb on the scale only matters if the game is very close. For example there is absolutely NO WAY the league wanted Jacksonville to beat Pittsburgh since the narrative all season was set up for Pittsburgh to seek revenge against New England in the AFC Championship. That’s why the league spins multiple narratives, gently supports them all, and hopes one or more of them will play out. They are particularly intent on doing this now in order to try to carve back some of their lost ratings before the Super Bowl.

I expect that the league now favors a Minnesota-New England Super Bowl, as “the first Super Bowl at home” and “the last ride of the GOATs part II”. Also because they don’t want either New England or Jackonville, both of which have excellent defenses, blowing out an Eagles team starting a backup quarterback. (Of course, if Foles can somehow beat two of the top three defenses in the league this year, he will fully merit a Super Bowl ring.) But even if you suspect you might have the official wind at your back for a change, you still have to make the plays and win the games.

By the way, I’d like to point out that Sean Payton choked on the clock management as well. I watched the end of the game again and the Saints had two unnecessary, but intentional clock stoppages once they got into field goal range. And in defense of rookie safety Marcus Williams, I will note that his mistake was NOT intentionally missing the tackle of Stefon Diggs, but rather, misreading the ball and breaking on Diggs too fast and hard.

I can guarantee you that before the play, the defensive backs were reminding each other “no pass interference!” Williams appeared to think the ball was not going to hang as long as it did and broke on Diggs, then altered his path at the last moment when he realized that he was going to get there early. If he hadn’t changed his course, he would have cut out Diggs’s legs before the ball arrived.

Was Williams trying to avoid a pass interference penalty?

“I feel like I was a little early [getting to Diggs], but at that point, I’ve just got to make the tackle when he comes down.”

Williams was right. He was early. His mistake was trying to break up the play rather than letting Diggs catch the ball, then tackling him in-bounds to run out the clock. But then, given that his coaches were misplaying the sidelines on offense, it’s not a surprise that their rookie safety did too.

I liked this quote from Coach Zim quoting the Hitman.

No one thought we were going to be any good. I know you guys didn’t pick us very good going into the year. But we have a bunch of fighters in that locker room, guys that will compete. I said to Harrison Smith yesterday in practice, I said, ‘Are you afraid of these guys?’ He said, ‘I am afraid of everybody. That’s why I play good.’ That’s how our team is.”

Don’t overlook anyone, hit everyone hard, and don’t ever quit. That’s the Viking philosophy and it’s not a bad one for life.


Kwgwarblurgwokfurbla!

I think that is the exact quote from when we realized Stefon Diggs was going to not only be able to stop the clock in field goal range, but go in to score. Also, I’m pleased to discover that I am, apparently, in excellent cardio-vascular shape.

A few thoughts:

  • It’s good to have the official NFL Narrative on your side for once.
  • The new stadium is already luckier than the previous two.
  • SKOL!
  • What happened to the pass rush in the second half? Also, what happened to the pass blocking?
  • It is better to be lucky than good.
  • The second pass interference call for 34 yards was actually correct, although it could have been called defensive holding instead. The clip they kept showing was just the very end; Crawley actually held Diggs’s jersey for more than five yards to keep Diggs from blowing past him. When Aikman said that Diggs had his hand on Crawley’s hand he was right, but he didn’t realize that Diggs was trying to remove Crawley’s hand from his jersey. Remember, Diggs has the fastest on-field time recorded this season and the Saints were playing a Seahawks clutch-grab-and-pray style in order to stay with the superior Vikings receivers. Note that the Vikings actually declined almost as many penalties committed by the Saints secondary as they accepted.
  • Michael Thomas actually won his battle with Xavier Rhodes. I did not expect that.
  • I love it when Harrison Smith blitzes.
  • Why can’t any head coach except Bill Belichick understand that you have to burn the clock down to less than 20 seconds before you kick the field goal that puts you ahead by one or two points? I was going berserk when Pat Shurmur called a pass on second down, and aghast when he called another one on third down.
  • Case Keenum is a good quarterback. To become a really good one, he has to learn to avoid a) throwing the ball in the field of play when avoiding a sack and b) taking a sack on third down when in field goal range. Those two plays gave up 10 points.
  • Coach Zim is a really good coach. To become a great one, he has to learn not to wilt on the high pressure decisions. Not going for it on 4th and goal from the 2 was the first big mistake. Not calling a run on the first drive after the half was the second big mistake. Not burning the clock before kicking the go-ahead field goal was the third big mistake.
  • The punt getting blocked may have saved the game for the Vikes. With five minutes left, it prevented the Saints from being able to burn the clock while marching down the field. 
  • You HAVE to put away a good team when you have the chance. A good team, particularly one with a good quarterback, is ALWAYS going to come back on you. Even great defenses get tired. I would have felt good about going into the half up 20-0 and receiving to start the second half. I knew 17-0 was not enough, especially when they failed to score on the drive to open the second half.