In case you were busy really thinking about Michael Jordan's trademark celebration; he was just sticking his tongue out, right? How did he make that cool? That's kinda just gross, yes? Yeah, anyway, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Despite being held to three second-half points, the New Orleans Saints did enough to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 17-13, to keep in pace in the race for the top seed in the NFC. "I almost wish we'd let them win that, but the damn Seahawks " Saints quarterback Drew Brees said while shaking his head. When asked why he would possibly want to lose a divisional battle in the heat of the playoff race, Brees suddenly clammed up, but the wind whispered, "Clowney," as a shudder ran down his spine.
A late 3-point barrage from guard Nate Robinson and forward Jordan Hamilton was the difference as the Denver Nuggets pulled away from the Chicago Bulls in a 97-87 home victory. "Hamilton and Nate, you say?" said Robinson after the game, as he arched an eyebrow. "That sounds like a great idea for a buddy cop drama starring me, Nate Robinson. I call it Nate and Hamilton. I'm a young bad boy, and Hamilton's a grizzled veteran. And he's all like, 'Gimme your badge, Nate,' and I'm all like, 'Gimme one more chance, Hamilton,' and he's all like, 'You're a loose cannon, Nate,' and I'm all like, 'This whole city's a loose cannon, Hamilton.'" Hamilton then piped up to ask who would play Hamilton, because it sounded like a juicy part, and he wondered if Robinson had anyone in mind. Robinson considered for a second, before pointing at Hamilton and saying, "Carl Weathers."
Lane Kiffin was fired as USC's head football coach on September 29, and by now, you've probably heard of the alleged con artist who impersonated a USC official and called Tony Dungy and Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, pretending to discuss the football team's coaching vacancy. Dungy revealed he had been contacted on a national radio show, and it led to an awkward moment when USC athletic director Pat Haden was forced to release a statement saying the calls were a hoax.
As it turns out, those incidents were just the tip of the iceberg. Grantland has received the audio of these two calls, along with several others involving prominent football personalities, and today we're running the unedited transcripts. (Ahem: Please note that these transcripts are entirely fake.) We begin with Dungy.
[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.
Time to refresh your casual knowledge of The Iliad and research Jon Gruden's rental properties in metro Los Angeles: Lane Kiffin is making another after-dark career change. At 4:28 a.m. Pacific time on Sunday, USC announced the firing of its fourth-year head football coach via Twitter and a terse announcement on the athletic department website. Athletic director Pat Haden was spotted conversing with university president Max Nikias on the sideline during the second half of the Trojans' 62-41 loss at Arizona State, and Haden dismissed Kiffin in a 3 a.m. meeting at the airport following the team charter's return to Los Angeles.
If the time of day seems curious, the time of year may seem even stranger (though not unprecedented — recall the end of John Mackovic's tenure at Arizona). The move comes five games into the 2013 season, with the Trojans still clinging to a winning record, and two months and four days after Haden proclaimed his unwavering support for his football skipper. In a Sunday afternoon press conference, Haden responded to consecutive questions by first stating, "We support our coaches 100 percent until they are no longer our coaches," and then saying seconds later that he'd been mulling firing Kiffin since Week 1. But once Haden decided to do the thing, you can't say he didn't go about it confidently, seeing as neither he nor Kiffin even made it home from Tempe to shave first.
In case you were out grilling in the rain to prove to yourself you could withstand the rigors of living in ancient times, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The San Antonio Spurs blew a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead, falling to the Phoenix Suns in overtime, 105-101, snapping an 18-game home winning streak. Spurs point guard and noted Frenchman Tony Parker, who was serenaded with MVP chants in the third quarter, said after the game, "How can one be 'most valuable' when we are all merely sacks of meat containing hearts that only continue beating out of a fear of change. Hopefully, our late collapse taught the people of San Antonio that lesson, and if it did not, que sera, for they are already dead in the eyes of our already living future selves." Parker then pulled out a pack of Gauloises, only to find it empty. "Cruel irony, if this does not serve as proof of a merciless God, which it does not, then what could?" Parker then folded the empty pack into a balloon and used it to hover slightly off the ground.
As a 32-year-old, 5-foot-6 Jewish guy from Philadelphia who has been rocking a buzzcut for the entire 21st century, I think it goes without saying that I relate to Kentucky’s flat-topped phenom Nerlens Noel in a multitude of ways. The most pertinent being that sometime around Valentine’s Day during our respective freshman years of college, we both ended up writhing on a hardwood floor, wondering whether we were going to die or whether our futures were just totally screwed.
There are minor differences, obviously: Noel was well on his way to becoming the no. 1 pick in the NBA draft before tearing his ACL and being shelved for the season. His road to recovery will involve brutal, demoralizing physical rehab and doubts about whether he can ever regain confidence in his body. Mine was likely some horrifying incident with Goldschläger as a fraternity pledge, and my salvation mostly entailed copious amounts of Gatorade and switching to alcohol that didn’t have floating pieces of metal as a selling point.
It's Rivalry slash Thanksgiving Week, when teams who have historically aggravated one another by virtue of shared geography, but who may not even be in the same conference in 2012, meet up for an annual gathering of bad feelings. This is the week for Florida–Florida State, Georgia Tech–Georgia, South Carolina–Clemson, and more. But before we get to the top 10 games, let's take a quick look at the perfect scenario for the final few weeks of college football, and let's do it in stream-of-consciousness form. For the ultimate comedic and poetic payoff, here's what has to happen:
Oregon loses to Oregon State, Georgia loses to Georgia Tech, Florida loses to Florida State, Alabama loses to Georgia in SEC title game, Georgia Tech beats Florida State in ACC title game, Kansas State loses to Texas, Stanford beats UCLA then loses to UCLA in Pac-12 title game, Louisville beats Rutgers but loses in a bowl game, Wisconsin beats Nebraska in Big Ten title game, Notre Dame loses to USC, Oklahoma wins out, Kent State and Northern Illinois both lose in bowls.
First, none of those outcomes are unlikely. All of them put together? Highly unlikely. But humor me for a second, because these are the teams that would earn automatic BCS berths if that scenario plays out: Georgia Tech, Georgia, Louisville, Wisconsin, UCLA, and Oklahoma. And the national title game would probably be Notre Dame vs. Georgia. Now, let's say Notre Dame, at 11-1, loses to 11-2 Georgia. Also, Ohio State beats Michigan this week.
The result? Zero bowl-eligible teams with even a one-loss record, and a BCS champion in Georgia that lost 35-7 to South Carolina, and suffered a hypothetical loss to Georgia Tech. The whole college landscape is a dusty wasteland. And then, rising amid the destruction, like a glorious phoenix, is Urban Meyer with his 12-0 Ohio State team. So riddle me this — could the AP poll, which is independent of the BCS, really put the Buckeyes anywhere but no. 1? I say no, and that means Ohio State would win a split national championship. The same Ohio State that's banned from postseason play because some kid got a free tattoo, and the same Ohio State that barely beat Cal at home, escaped from Indiana, and needed a miracle to beat Purdue in overtime.
And when all that happens, I'm going to phone up the BCS and just start laughing in their faces. A dude can dream.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Andrew Luck threw for 227 yards and ran for two touchdowns as the Colts beat the Jaguars 27-10 for their fourth straight win. Based on the strange waddling run of at least two players on the Jaguars defense, along with embarrassed tears and the telltale stains, it was clear that the infamous "accident epidemic" is still alive and well in Jacksonville.
EJ Manuel hit Rashad Greene for the go-ahead touchdown pass with 40 seconds left, and no. 10 Florida State held on to beat Virginia Tech 28-22. After the game, at the midfield handshake, Frank Beamer and Jimbo Fisher found themselves unable to resist a spontaneous do-si-do.
While watching Arkansas’s John L. Smith flick his tongue in and out of his mouth during his win over Auburn on Saturday — victory is more savory than bankruptcy — I had a thought. It inevitably falls into the contrarian/trollish category, so forgive me. Here’s the thought: Why can’t Arkansas and Bobby Petrino get back together? Why exactly is that marriage unsalvageable?
I think the argument breaks down into two parts:
1. Bobby Petrino is a liar and an asshole. (We pretty much all agree on this.)
2. College football is a morally pure place that can’t accommodate liars and assholes. (Here’s where we may differ.)
While agonizing over the possibility of a second straight Alabama-LSU title game, I think I came up with the worst thing about their horrible dominance: as a neutral college football fan, you have to pick a favorite.
Well, let me qualify that. A person like me, who is incapable of watching a sporting event of any kind (including youth Frisbee) without vilifying one team and venerating the other, needs to pick a favorite. Believe me, that is a hateful, torturous task in this world of Tigers and Tide. Anyone with a semblance of love for the amateur unpredictability of college football probably despises these two programs. They are the evil empire, magnified by a power of two. While the rest of us stand by and watch, helpless, Les Miles and Nick Saban have created near-professional super-teams in a non-professional sport, slowly sucking the competitive life out of the game.
On paper, if you let your eyes blur just a little, Lane Kiffin is a genius and a boy wonder. He became the youngest head coach in NFL history with the Raiders, moved on to a plum job at Tennessee, and now heads up one of college football's most historic programs, USC, as the youngest coach of a BCS conference team. He's only 37, but his résumé to date implies someone with a virtuosic football brain, a maturity belying his years, and a precocious instinct for people and systems.
But in fact, the reality doesn't match the perception. Lane Kiffin has made a fool of himself at every career stop, shown a penchant for lying and selfishness, and rarely produced on-the-field results that would seem to justify his meteoric rise. The latest example was Saturday's 21-14 loss at Stanford, which ended USC's national title hopes and sent them plummeting from no. 2 to no. 13 in the AP poll. Before I get into why this might be happening, let's take a quick tour through Kiffin's career highlights.
The Heisman Trophy is won on the field, but that hasn’t stopped Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley from going about his campaign a bit differently. Instead of just sending out awkwardly filmed DVDs to Heisman voters, Barkley has gone the high-tech route with ploys like designing an iPhone app and answering questions on Reddit.
Along with giving USC’s director of social media something to do, the Reddit Q&A also elicited some information we might not normally get from the Heisman favorite. One intrepid Reddit user was particularly helpful when asking Barkley what his favorite play was. "Be honest," MrShift4 admonished. “None of this 'spreading the ball to my teammates' stuff." So Barkley was, replying: "Solo Personel [sic]. 'Z Mo to Trouble Right 82 Stay Sluggo Z Win.' On Two. TD."
I don’t know what it is about Lane Kiffin, but I can admit that it’s something. Maybe it’s the evasiveness that comes off as smugness. Maybe it’s the smugness that comes off as smugness. Either way, there’s an element to the way Kiffin handles himself that irks, and his latest casting as the villain is no different.
The inevitable poaching of players from a sanction-riddled Penn State program was bound to give a glimpse into the heartlessness of college football. Left in the wake of the greatest scandal in the history of college sports is a collection of 20-year-olds forced to reconcile the sacrifices they made and the identities they built at the feet of a fallen idol. And on their heels are coaches from programs around the country, all of whom see opportunity, no matter how it came about.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
With his team poised to kick a game-winning field goal, Chargers QB Philip Rivers fumbled a snap that allowed the Chiefs to recover and send the game into overtime, where they won 23-20. Both teams are now 4-3, but boast a perfect 7-0 record in terms of being vaguely depressing.
For the past two Saturday nights, football fans have lived a charmed life. Last week, we got the Hail Mary Game. This week, there was a slice of triple-overtime insanity when undefeated Stanford survived a scare from USC. Those were the best games of the year, and the Musburger-Herbstreit duo were on the scene for both. There's a lot of season left, but it's hard to imagine a better back-to-back stretch. Somewhere in the world, a prime time TV programmer is dancing a jig. And so am I, because this was the most surprising week of the season.