In case you were busy learning hard lessons about hubris and foosball but mostly hubris, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Tuukka Rask had a shutout and Daniel Paille had his second goal in as many games as the Boston Bruins seized a 2-1 advantage in the Stanley Cup final with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Ageless right winger Jaromir Jagr, who was held scoreless again but had a critical assist in his team's win, said after the game, "I can't believe I'm here trying to win my first Stanley Cup in 21 years. I could have had children after my last Stanley Cup win who would be almost old enough to drink." Jagr then narrowed his eyes and said, "No, seriously, given how that night went almost 21 years ago, I could have had children after my last Stanley Cup win who would be almost old enough to drink. Let's say the Cup has a lot of volume, I was 19, and if we do win this, there are some mistakes that Lord Stanley and I will not repeat."
Max Scherzer struck out 10 and improved to 10-0 as the Detroit Tigers beat the Baltimore Orioles, 5-1. "But am I an ace?" a concerned Scherzer asked after the game. "Please tell me! Am I an ace on a staff with a pair of aces, or the best no. 2 in the game? Or am I an ace in the making who still has something to prove? Do I need to escape Justin Verlander's shadow, or do we make each other better by pitching back-to-back? Won't someone please debate these designations and render a verdict based on a meaningless quote from my manager?" Detroit manager Jim Leyland then added, "He's at the top of his game pretty much," which pretty much settled the ace question once and for all.
In case you were busy soothing your aching joints with an old-fashioned Epsom salt soak, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
The NCAA tournament Sweet 16 is set, and the biggest story thus far has been the run of Florida Gulf Coast University, who find themselves among college basketball's elite after an 81-71 win over San Diego State. Based on all my knowledge of the school from before the tournament started, "FGCU," which has probably been around for over a decade, has amassed a number of victories on their way to becoming a true school where NCAA basketball is played. The team features players, of which five play on the court at the same time, barring truly unusual circumstances, who shoot basketballs toward baskets, which is a thing those players do to get basketball points. They employ strategies regarding where they should run so that they can shoot basketballs from preferable positions, implemented by a coach with a unique backstory that I remember hearing about once but mostly forget. He might have been a baron of some sort? So mark it down in your personalized line drawing of college names: Florida Gulf Coast University is a school from Florida, probably located along the gulf coast, that plays basketball and is eligible for advancement in the NCAA basketball tournament. Up next for Florida Gulf Coast University is the University of Florida, a school that is also run by the state of Florida. Expect basketball shots, two strategic men telling basketball players what to do, and collusion.
Louisville, the tournament's no. 1 seed, advanced to the Round of 16 after dismantling Colorado State, 82-56, at the University of Kentucky's home court, Rupp Arena. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said after the game, "Man, it's nice to be back at the old stomping ground, playing out of the home locker room. Hey, has anyone heard how the Wildcats are doing? No? Yeah, no, me neither. That's really unusual. But hey, tell John, old friend of mine, 'Thanks for the hospitality.' Also, we used all of the condiments that were in the fridge here. Hope that's not a problem."
I was going to make a video of Illinois's comeback against Indiana, but then my editor Sarah Larimer sent me some of the coolest guerrilla footage of the year, from someone standing on the baseline. It starts with Brandon Paul heading to the line for two and hitting the first on a bank shot that Spike Friedman rightly called the most underrated part of the game, and continues through the end: Oladipo's turnover, Oladipo's block, and the incredible inbounds play to end it. Credit goes to Rob McColley for the greatest non-TV footage of the season. It's six minutes long, but the good stuff happens in the first three:
In case you were busy deciding who to eat first in case this whole blizzard thing gets out of hand, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors are reportedly exploring a trade that would send Carlos Boozer to Toronto in exchange for Andrea Bargnani. When Bulls general manger Gar Forman came down to practice to address the exploratory trade rumors, Boozer responded, "Oh, I didn't know we were exploring trades." Boozer then brought out a pile of furs and silks, and began to barter aggressively with reserve power forward Taj Gibson. When Gibson passed on Boozer's textiles, Boozer began hawking his wares to Kirk Hinrich, using his signature catchphrase, "Can you smell the Booze stank in the room?! Because I must be drunk to have prices this low!" Boozer wound up trading three silk scarves, a knit shawl, and a beaver pelt to Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin in exchange for a side of goat, which Boozer then roasted for his teammates as a traditional offering to show he wasn't concerned with the rumors. The Bulls, overfull with goat, then lost to the Nuggets, 128-96, in Denver.
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?"
Wednesday, January 9, will go down in infamy as the Night of Two Dunks. It started with Illinois' Brandon Paul trying his luck against Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe:
On any other night, that would easily be the top jam. It was so good that if you had to nominate 10 dunks for some kind of Dunk of the Year award, it would be an automatic entry. There's no way there will be nine better in the entire season. The idea of topping it that same night was ludicrous; at most, you might have a dunk that looked exactly the same, but it wouldn't be quite as cool because it came second.
And then San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin did this:
I'm a big believer in how brief moments can influence and often define outcomes, especially in sports. I freely admit there's probably some kind of bias at play, and the best name for that bias might be "narrative." At the same time, I hate the artificial stats/story dichotomy that's emerged over the past … 15 years? More? Advanced statistics are an incredible method for adding dimension and contour to our understanding of players and games, and they easily co-exist with the idea that human beings making extraordinary (or extraordinarily poor) choices in critical moments can reverse foggier concepts like momentum and pave their own path to victory or defeat.
Remember that period in college basketball history when the last two weeks of December were the worst of the season? When exam time and cupcake schedules made for a miserable, dormant period leading up to the excitement of conference play? That epoch lasted from 1891, when James Naismith invented basketball, to 2011, when Kansas beat Toledo A&M 145-6 on December 31.* But it all came to an end in 2012, because, holy sweet Moses, we were treated to some spectacular action in the last two weeks of 2012. (I want you all to know how hard it was for me not to swear in that sentence. Right now, looking back, I can spot nine different places where an f-bomb would've felt really good.) It started with three exciting games on Saturday the 22nd, when Temple upset Syracuse, Kansas beat Ohio State, and Missouri out-gunned Illinois, and continued all the way to New Year's Eve and Gonzaga's road win over Oklahoma State. Hardly a day passed without a great game, or at least an interesting one. Our fan cups ranneth over.**
*Some liberty is taken with historical facts.
**My fan cup has a magazine photo of Coach K steam-pressed onto the side.
It felt like I should've been there for you guys, writing something smart, but instead I just gorged on cookies and pie at my mom's house for two weeks. In the end, I think I made the right choice. (You don't know heaven until you've dipped a snickerdoodle into pumpkin pie and then poured milk all over yourself just because it's not your furniture and you've always wondered what that would be like.) But to atone for my absence during that solid stretch of hoops, I've put together a few videos of the most amusing/heartbreaking/theatrical moments of the year-end frenzy, and I'll include them along with the top 10 games of the weekend.
It's been a very, very slow week in college basketball, so I thought I'd take a break from game analysis to investigate an overlooked and under-researched part of the sport: the postgame handshake between coaches. It's been around as long as anyone can remember, but as far as I know, I'm the first sports scientist to ever study the phenomenon. Please remember that this is an exploration; you must approach the task with an open, inquisitive mind. It could be years before we have a truly definitive sociological understanding of the rules governing this ritual, but the time to start evaluating them is now. So what makes a good CoachShake? What can we do to educate coaches to improve future CoachShakes? Why do some CoachShakes fail? Those are questions I'd like to answer.
When my wife read Friday's post, she asked me why I cared who was the beefiest or bulkiest player in the country. And I have to tell you guys I didn't have a good answer. Let's move on to this week's epiphanies and observations.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
The Redskins rallied to beat the Ravens, 31-28, in overtime, and dodged a bullet when Robert Griffin III's knee injury was diagnosed a sprain, and not an ACL tear. They dodged another bullet when they discovered it wasn't a sprained knee at all, just a swollen fat face, and dodged a final bullet when they realized they were actually looking at a large photo of team owner Dan Snyder.
Before we get going, I want to announce that I'm taking nom-nom-inations for the 2012-13 All-BeefyBulky Team. I was inspired to do this after watching Nebraska's Andre Almeida do battle in a losing effort against Creighton last night. At 6-foot-11, 314 pounds, the Brazilian Almeida is a man of some size, and the eye is immediately drawn in his direction when he's on the floor. Like the elderly couple entranced by the painting of Kramer, we cannot look away.
I was going to put together my own All-BeefyBulky team, but frankly, I haven't done the legwork. The country's elite teams are stocked with perfect physical specimens of varying height at every position, and my mental Rolodex couldn't produce five worthy BeefyBulksters. And this is not something you want to rush. The BBs represent the real America, and we can't risk choosing the wrong men. So far, my All-BB team has just two members:
Let’s overlook the dearth of tremendous, season-altering upsets and what is almost certainly the least-compelling batch of Heisman candidates of the past several years. College football has seasonal affective disorder. Just something about the sun going down at damn near 5 p.m. causes a profound sadness that nothing can cure, not even the ability to buy five pounds of fun-size Clark Bars at rock-bottom, post-Halloween discounts at Ralphs. As a result, the CFMI doesn’t get out much these days, and the past two weeks has resulted in some awful hermit-like behavior. Which is why our cultural framework to discuss the most downtrodden, distraught, and depressed teams in college football is limited to the only things CFMI really can bring itself to do these days. Which is to say, snooping around 7-Eleven’s magazine rack and watch Netflix. Hey, we never said we were about uplifting the human spirit here.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Bill Parcells said he would be a "hypocrite" if he didn't consider the Saints' offer to coach for a year in Sean Payton's absence. He never really explained what he meant by "hypocrite," but most experts agree that it has something to do with his hilarious yet poignant blog IllCoachAnywhere.joomla.com.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Tim Tebow is officially a New York Jet. The Broncos traded their former quarterback to New York, along with a seventh-round pick, for two earlier picks in this April's draft. As longtime readers of this post will know, Tim Tebow and Rex Ryan are prominent figures in the About Last Night canon. The fact that they're now teamed up is just insane news for me, and I've decided to commemorate it with a spiritual sonnet called "The Glutton Tempts the Son."
The Glutton Tempts the Son
The Son has heard the Jet's seductive roar
The Glutton licks the bone and sips the wine
Of Jersey fair the Son recalls the shore
But not the Glutton's castle made of swine
"Come here my friend, it's past the chocolate oak!"
Cries the Glutton, reaching out his hand.
The Son resists — a frown — "is this a joke?
"God's heaven is the only charm'd land!"
"Philistine," the Glutton stops to mutter,
"Profane ye not my palaces of cheer.
Breaded streets proceed to lakes of butter:
Adipose Rex, I'm called, and we are here!"
"Such wonders!" cries the Son, "unhand thy fork. It truly is a castle made of pork!"
—March 22, 2012
(I don't even know, guys. I don't even know what's up right now. All I can say is that Tebow and Rex are on the same team, and one way or another a sonnet had to go down.)