In case you were busy doing hilarious takes to a nonexistent camera when your friends and associates said absurd things, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
In a conclusion to a magnificently contested series that makes me wish to wax poetic, the San Antonio Spurs overcame a poor shooting night from their backcourt to oust the Golden State Warriors from the NBA playoffs with a 94-82 Game 6 win. Despite its premature end, twas a series in which all of the participants were worthy of the title warrior, even those generals who bestrode the sideline battling with their wits rather than their bodies. Sing oh muses of the ankle of Steph Curry, son of Dell, which brought countless ills first to his enemies, and then to himself! Such was the sovereign doom of a cursed team, and the will of Stern writ large: There shall be contested yet between famed warriors The Bron and Timothy Who Dunks a Finals that shall split the world in twine!
In a non-conclusion to an adequately contested series that makes me wish to speak plainly, the Knicks kept their hopes of an Eastern Conference finals showdown with Miami alive, beating a depleted Pacers team, 85-75, at Madison Square Garden. "Just taking it one day at a time," said Knicks coach Mike Woodson after the game, "because if we do more than that we'll become aware that the winner of this series gets the Heat and oh, no that's terrible! The winner of this series gets the Heat! Oh no, they have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Oh man, they also have Chris Bosh. Why did I stop taking it one day at a time? Why?"
“(The American) is always in the mood to move on ... He is devoured with a passion for movement, he cannot stay in one place; he must go and come, he must stretch his limbs and keep his muscles in play. When his feet are not in motion, his fingers must be in action ... He always has to have something to do, he is always in a terrible hurry. He is fit for all sorts of work except those which require a careful slowness. Those fill him with horror; it is his idea of hell.”
—Michel Chevalier, Society, Manners, and Politics in the United States, 1839
“Sorry, but Thierry has to go now.”
Henry springs to his feet laughing as the press officer intervenes.
“Wow. I’ve got to come here more often.”
The small group sitting at a table in a Red Bull Arena executive box have asked maybe three questions of a player who usually has to endure more. This is MLS media day — a day when key players from every MLS team are brought to New York to film preseason spots with the league, sponsors, and TV partners, and somewhere among all this, find themselves ushered through a door to meet a few members of the local and national press in quick roundtable conversations. Henry, understandably, is in demand and now he bounces to his feet and bounds cheerfully out of the room, pursued by a team carrying clipboards. Those of us left in the box reset our recorders as Chris Wondolowski edges politely in to take his place.
It wasn't just Didier Drogba. Everyone in an Ivory Coast shirt was helpless. Nigerian midfielder Sunday Mba's 78th-minute run from midfield ended with him running out of options. So he had a shot. The ball took just enough of a deflection off an Ivorian defender to leave the keeper, Boubacar Barry, with no chance.
But even if Ivory Coast's 2-1 elimination loss to Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations over the weekend was surprising as an upset, it should have been predictable as an inevitability. If not that match, then maybe the next or the next would have seen the Ivorians out. Ever since losing the 2006 final to hosts Egypt, Ivory Coast has been the heavy pre-tournament favorite for every ACoN. And each time it has failed to win.
In case you were busy setting all the clocks in your house back an hour as part of an ill-conceived "February Fools" prank, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
After missing birdie putts on the last two holes he played, Phil Mickelson finished with a 60 in the opening round of the Phoenix Open, one stroke off of the PGA record for the lowest score in a single round. "I'm not thinking about those two putts," a haggard Mickelson said 12 years from now, panhandling outside of a Piggly Wiggly's in West Memphis, Arkansas, a broken shell of his former self. "But, man, they were both so close. I bet things would be different if one of those bad boys fell. But no, I'm not thinking about them. Hey, you got some teeth I could borrow?"
It’s been a funny few weeks with Hurricanes, snowstorms, Beckhams, and playoffs in my part of the world, not to mention the three days I spent in a darkened room as I processed the concept of Gerard Butler as a Celtic legend, and the week spent on a Manhattan Beach vision quest with Landon Donovan (before he took the decisive penalty in the MLS Cup final it occurred to me that I’d seen that squat before, just before he hurled marshmallows and peyote onto our campfire).
But the bills have to be paid, and with the second draft of my rewrite on the next Lifetime made-for-TV movie due next week (I can’t say too much about it, but the title is L’étranger and the tagline is “Lindsay Lohan IS Hope Solo”), and the confetti just about settled at the Home Depot Center, it’s time to turn our thoughts to looking back on this year’s MLS campaign.
So without further ado, here are the Designated Player 2012 MLS awards:
Over in England, Surprise Scoreline has wrestled all headlines away from lesser, more predictable characters. In yet another wild weekend in the Premier League, Rafa Benitez's Chelsea fell yet again, Manchester City relinquished points to United, and Tottenham continued their crawl up the table to claim fourth. Michael Davies and Roger Bennett review all the significant developments from England in this week's Men in Blazers podcast, though it's the announcement of the royal baby that heightens the drama.
Stateside, a Brit has dominated the week's headlines as well. Sure, L.A. Galaxy beat the Houston Dynamo 3-1 in a well-deserved team effort, but it was David Beckham spraying passes across the park, being ridiculously good-looking, and generally building the almighty brand that drew the most attention. We at Men in Blazers would like to wish Becks godspeed on the next stage of his journey and thank him for all he's done for the development of soccer and men's tighty-whities here in the U.S.
What's my relationship status with MLS? It's complicated. I’d like to tell you that ever since I became a supporter of the league, when it kicked off in 1996, I’ve remained loyal to it. But I haven’t. And many American soccer fans probably have a similar story. For me, it’s been hard to stay devoted to the league when you (a) don’t have a hometown team to support (I’m from Michigan), and (b) know that a better on-the-field product exists in England, Spain, Italy, Germany, etc.
But my feelings for MLS began to change last year when I moved to Los Angeles, where there are not one but two clubs to follow: the L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA. While keeping up with the flashy and successful Galaxy and the rather feckless Goats, my love for the league has been rekindled.
Now, all meaningful relationships will have their day of reckoning. And I believe that for conflicted MLS fan like me, it has arrived: the L.A. Galaxy will play the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup this Saturday, and the match holds such potential for greatness, and whether you're an MLS monogamist or just keeping it casual, I believe we all must witness it. Here’s why:
With fortuitous timing, the announcement of David Beckham's retirement promises that all story lines for the upcoming MLS Cup final lead back to the Golden One. Regardless of the ominous brand building, Beckham will be missed on these shores. But just as one trailblazer exits the game, another prepares to enter it. The word from Britain is that Snoop Lion is considering buying a stake in Glasgow Celtic. The circle of soccer life continues.
The Blazers will welcome anything to divert their minds from a weekend of EPL football that saw three of the top four teams lose. In this week's pod, Michael Davies and Roger Bennett review the wild weekend of uprising before being joined by NBC lead play-by-play commentator Lord Arlo White. The Leicester native dishes on the growth of MLS, a commentating career that began at age 6, and what viewers should expect from NBC when the network broadcasts the English game next year.
Sunday night, the L.A. Galaxy gathered in the cold rain on a stage on Century Link Field, amid a chorus of boos from the remaining Seattle Sounders fans, waiting to receive the trophy as the MLS Western Conference champions. They had just beaten the Sounders 4-2 in aggregate goals in a two-game series and earned a spot in the MLS Cup, where they will be playing to defend their 2011 championship. The team’s captain for the night, Robbie Keane, waited atop the podium to receive the trophy from MLS executive vice president of competition Nelson Rodriguez. Beside Keane was the team’s usual captain, Landon Donovan, who missed the game with a hamstring injury. Next to Donovan stood the man who built this Galaxy team, the club’s general manager and head coach, the most successful coach in American soccer: Bruce Arena.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns as the 49ers trounced the Bears 32-7. "Not bad for an intellectual," sneered Randy Moss, just before snapping Kaepernick with a towel. Kaepernick seethed with pain and anger, but he knew from experience that it was useless to explain the difference between himself and the 16th-century Polish astronomer Copernicus.
Owing to a stupid clause inserted into the Designated Player’s MLS contract while I was busy browsing real estate listings — mainly for penthouses without views of the shacks my Grantland teammates are kept in — I apparently have to “participate in the playoffs.” This, in general, is not what I came to America for. Even worse, on further investigation it turns out that “participation” involves more than delivering the odd platitude about the standard of play in MLS, while being photographed somewhere in a darkened VIP room that also includes Tony Parker, Kelly Ripa, Russell Brand, and a minor Jonas — I actually have to play.
Knowing that this may involve contact with the former academy players who keep circulating colds among themselves, I immediately got my new agent on the phone with my list of demands — that is, if MLS wants to see the legendary “DP bounce” in attendance figures this year (I also got him to trademark DP Bounce™).
At first league management were pretty tense about the whole thing — probably remembering the play-for-chocolate-covered-jets clause I’d encouraged the mortal members of my team to ask for during the last CBA negotiations. But when I explained that I just wanted a wholesale format change for the playoffs inserted by Wednesday, they relaxed and were actually pretty cool about it all, making me wish I’d pushed for the “DP goals count double” rule I’d been toying with asking for.
So I’m delighted to present, with my full and meaningful participation, the Designated Playoffs™ ...
Sometimes there's a man — I won't say a hero, 'cause what's a hero? — but sometimes there's a man. And I'm talkin' about the Dude here. Sometimes there's a man who, well, he's the man for his time and place, he fits right in there — and that's the Dude, in Los Angeles San Jose.
Last week, I complained in this column, correctly, and without rambling, about just why I hated international weeks. Looking back though, I have to acknowledge that even in the midst of that dire week (which was further compounded by being a derby week for my team in England — meaning I was miserable in two time zones — yay for global soccer) there was a moment of genuine, heartwarming pleasure that occurred when viewing a game. It happened in the 73rd minute of the USA’s otherwise terrible game against Antigua and Barbuda, when 30-year old San Jose Earthquakes striker Alan Gordon was subbed into the match and loped straight up the field.
I hear this phrase a few times in my interview with Nelson Rodriguez, the MLS executive vice president of competition, technical, and game operations (“anything that happens inside the white lines”) in his office at MLS headquarters in New York. Either I’m on Pulitzer form (doubtful) or it’s a fairly standard disarming tactic from someone who’s had any degree of media training, as Rodriguez surely has. Notably though, he gives the impression that a “great question” is one served up in such a way that he can volley it into the net with definitive authority. Not that Rodriguez is in any way bombastic — he is engaging and garrulous company — nor does he try to hide from any inquiry or only want to deal with soft questions, particularly around the contentious issue of the workings of the MLS disciplinary committee. His energy, though, is of the sort that suggests that rather than sitting behind his desk facing me, he’d be happier bouncing on his toes on the other side of the room, going “Great question! ... Give me another,” like the interview equivalent of that scene where Stallone is saving penalties in a WWII prisoner-of-war camp in Escape to Victory (which if by chance you haven’t seen, give your jaw a dropping treat sometime).
Rodriguez is self-described as “an incredibly passionate Latino — I like to argue with my hands and with my voice,” and he gets plenty of opportunity to argue his corner as the public face of the MLS disciplinary committee, the body he chairs, but does not vote on. We’ll get to that committee, as well as goal-line technology, and the typical MLS soccer player by 2022, shortly, but first of all, and bizarrely, we’re talking about Swindon Town. Rodriguez has invoked the provincial English club in the context of MLS being the first national league to have been founded in the digital age, with all of the consumer choices, accelerated news cycles, and implicit cultural pressures that come with it:
Sunday night, John Terry — widely regarded as one of the best center-backs of his generation — retired from playing international football for England at the relatively young age of 31. Terry is facing a disciplinary hearing by the Football Association (the governing body of the sport in England) for using racially abusive language, and the overwhelmingly likely outcome is that he’ll be hit with a lengthy suspension from club football. Unsurprisingly, the hearing and the decision to retire are linked. Terry’s statement on the matter explained that he felt compelled to retire “in advance of the hearing of the FA disciplinary charge because I feel the FA, in pursuing charges against me where I have already been cleared in a court of law, have made my position with the national team untenable.”
Now, before I get any further into this subject, I need to register an interest: I am a lifelong supporter of Chelsea FC, Terry’s club side, and can legitimately be accused of being a little bit biased. However, Terry’s been the most divisive figure in English football for most of the last decade, and pretty much everyone in England — football fan or not — is biased where Terry is concerned; you either support Chelsea, or you hate John Terry. This may seem strange considering Terry has the best record of any captain in the history of the English national team, with 12 wins, two draws, and one defeat in competitive matches (13-2-2 if you count competitive dead rubbers). To fully understand how John Terry came by his tattered reputation in his native country, it is necessary to understand not only the relationship between the England team, the England fans, the tabloid press, and the Football Association, but how the latter three groups conspire to destroy any hope that the English national team has of winning a major football tournament.
The Paralympics have begun, and that means that there will be several hundred hours of sports being streamed live on the official Paralympic website. The likelihood is that most of these events will be unfamiliar to you, and there’s no way that you can watch them all, so to help you prioritize your viewing we’ve narrowed the field down to the five sports you can’t afford to miss.
One of the surprise success stories of the able-bodied Olympics was handball, a sport that didn’t get much attention in the days before multi-channel streaming allowed us to pick and choose what we watched. It turns out that handball’s an awesome spectator sport, and the same is true of the Paralympic version, goalball, a three-a-side variant played by blind competitors. Each side alternates on offense and defense, with a striker hurling the ball as hard as possible at the opponent’s goal. It’s a simple sport, but when you see it being performed by players like China’s Chen Liangliang, you get a sense of the skill involved; his whirling-dervish approach to shooting made him a star of the 2008 Beijing games, where he fired the host nation to gold: