[If you're looking for words about Lane Kiffin's firing, click here.]
There's something about certain college teams that certain pro sports franchises will never be able to emulate. Maybe you were born into your allegiance and your parents were, too, or maybe you shipped off to your alma mater sight unseen and its teams just got their claws into you at a vital formative stage of your existence. However you arrived at your cheering interest, if you want to, you're practically guaranteed the ability to hold on to it for life, with the chance to pass it on to your children. The odds are astronomically against your FBS football program being disbanded; no callous owner is going to threaten to move your university to London if nebulous thresholds for ticket sales aren't met. This inextricably embeds college identities into the landscape of the communities they inhabit, and the osmosis works both ways, with deeply regional streaks of localized weirdness affecting how college programs are regarded and celebrated.
With that kind of genetic history driving fandom, it's so easy to feel 12 to 14 times a year like college football games are the end of the world or herald the dawn of a new golden age. The brevity of the season gives each contest greater urgency, and with that comes the race to hyperbole. One for the record books is quantifiable. Instant classic is not; it presumes full knowledge of what will stand the test of time and survive the changing tastes of the ages, and is applied too liberally, which only cheapens the classification.
You're going to hear Saturday's LSU-Georgia tilt called "a classic" a lot. The thing is, in this case, everybody who's saying so is absolutely correct. We promise you never to abuse the term, and we promise you now that we're using it in earnest.
In the preseason, any qualitative analysis of a game — or even a practice — will hopefully begin with one sentence: “No one got hurt.” Training camp and the month of faux games in the leadup to the regular season are useful for teams with new coaching staffs or a significant turnover in personnel, but even for them, the most important aspect of August is getting through it with the roster intact. The more significant training camp injuries began with Dennis Pitta and Jeremy Maclin, and they haven’t slowed. Nearly every team has one or more players likely to miss at least some of the regular season, and this time of year, it can get a little tough to keep track of who’s lost whom.
The first thought is one of genuine sadness, just as it has been with Derrick Rose, Danilo Gallinari, David Lee, Andrew Bynum, Rajon Rondo, Danny Granger, Kobe Bryant, and every other important player on a playoff team who has suffered a season-ending injury over the last calendar year. This is a truly unprecedented run of star injuries. But with apologies to those players, plus Baron Davis, Iman Shumpert, and so many others, the sadness here is a little bit deeper in a big-picture sense.
My personal fear about the NBA this season, and about these NBA playoffs, was that they constituted an overlong non-drama with a predictable ending. The Heat are 35-1 in the last 36 games in which LeBron James has played. That is very nearly half an NBA season, with one loss. To review: NBA rules dictate that one team must defeat another team four times in seven games in order to eliminate said team and advance to the next round. Four losses, seven games. Miami is 35-1 in the last 36 games featuring the world’s best player. The math it is not good.
People realize this is happening, right? That the Cavaliers have a real chance of finishing with the league’s worst record this season, after finishing with the second-worst record in Year 1 of the Post-LeBron Era and the third-worst record in Year 2 of the PLE?
Their chances got better today, when the team announced that Anderson Varejao would undergo surgery this week to repair a messy problem around his right knee. Varejao, Cleveland’s second-best player by about 10 miles, will miss at least six weeks, meaning his minimal recovery time would take him just past the trade deadline. He’s effectively off the market for solid playoff teams who could use an extra big man — Boston (lacking the assets, barring a continued jones in Cleveland for Jeff Green), Oklahoma City (no confirmed interest despite endless trade machine proposals), Miami (stop laughing), New York (no realistic package), Denver (always a wild card), San Antonio (what they’d send is unclear), and perhaps one or two others. Cleveland’s GM, Chris Grant, reportedly loves Varejao, and it’s unclear if he was ever seriously interested in dealing a guy who still isn’t old and could serve as a nice role model for all the young guys here.
Here’s something I saw in 1998 and was certain I’d never see again: My Giant, starring Billy Crystal and Gheorghe Muresan. And here’s something else I saw in 1998 and was certain I would never see again: Indianapolis Colts fans giving up on their team before Week 3 of the NFL season. While I’m happy to report that I still haven’t given My Giant a second chance, thanks to the absence of Peyton Manning and an 0-2 start, the midnight hour of the Indianapolis apocalypse has already arrived and Colts fans have officially completed the biggest simultaneous jumping off of a team bandwagon in sports history.
Before I go any further and dig my own grave with Colts fans, let me make one thing perfectly clear — I’m not laughing at them, but rather laughing with them. There is no bigger bandwagon Colts fan in the world than me. When I was growing up on the west side of Indianapolis in the 1990s, the Colts were feared by the rest of the NFL about as much as the Olsen twins are feared by Golden Corral owners. So I wasn’t exactly a huge fan. Sure, they had some exciting players, such as Marshall Faulk, Jim Harbaugh, Tony Siragusa, and, um, that one guy (I think he was a receiver or tight end, maybe?), but with the exception of losing a thriller in the 1995 AFC Championship to the Pittsburgh Steelers, they were pretty much irrelevant. So instead of cheering on my hometown team, I decided to instead become a fan of an NFL powerhouse with a storied history of success, which is why I obviously started rooting for the Minnesota Vikings.