Conference championship games begin four days from now. The schedule narrows and the stakes elevate from here. But we can't leave this weekend behind. Not just yet.
The last full blast of the regular season, in all its usual home-and-home-jersey-wearing, weird-ass-trophy-presenting, mutual-offsetting-unsportsmanlike-conduct-penalties-awarding glory, is an annual reminder of why college football is the greatest show on earth. The 2013 offering, a sternum-shaking fireworks barrage of action at the highest and lowest levels of the game, offered a daylong master class in taking joy in the unexpected. Arrivistes triumphant, some entirely before their appointed times! Dynasties shearing off into the sea! Winless seasons averted! Gladiators lying prone! The end, at last, of that too-perfect power-conference logjam! Life! The Universe! Everything!
In case you were busy foolishly enjoying the company of friends and family this holiday season without a television on in the background, here's what you missed in sports over the holiday:
In one of the most stunning endings to a football game in recent memory, Auburn shocked Alabama in the Iron Bowl, winning 34-28 on a 109-yard field goal return for a touchdown as time expired. "No regrets," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said after the game when asked about his late-game management, "I thought to myself, What's the worst that could happen? And the answer was that the kick could hit a child in the head, creating a trauma that the boy would bury deep into his subconscious. This trauma would then only rear its head again when the boy had grown, fueled by his hate, to become governor of Alabama, and he would then decide by gubernatorial decree to make football illegal. But then I decided that, rightly I might add, that would be impossible; if anything could provoke a coup in the state of Alabama it would be the abolition of football. So I made the right decision, I just got a bad result."
When you were growing up, did your parents ever make your whole family go around the Thanksgiving dinner table and say what you're thankful for? Mine did, every single year. And that's what we're doing with sports today. For two reasons.
First, because Thanksgiving is the greatest holiday of the year. It's the one day we all get to live like Rick Ross. Eat five times too much, sit back and rub your stomach proudly like a king, and then go take a long nap. Plus you get to have a vacation, leftovers, and four or five full days of outrageous laziness. In exchange, the only real responsibility is to take some unspecified amount of time to be grateful for what we have in life.
This stupid sports column can be that gratitude.
Second, and more importantly, we need this. I need this. Somewhere in the middle of Monday Night Football, sports just got too depressing. Derrick Rose going out for the year, watching RG3 go from the most exciting rookie we'd ever seen to the most depressing player in football, and then Bradley Beal — I'm still not ready to talk about how badly I jinxed Beal last week. But yes. There has been a lot of sports news lately that will bum you out. The most depressing sports news makes it twice as important to remember everything that makes sports awesome. And it's the season to rejoice and give thanks, so why not?
Here are 10 reasons all sports fans should be grateful this year.
The best part about Nick Saban is how he never, ever stops being Nick Saban. For example, a reporter asked this question this week: "Coach, it seems like almost several times a year your team gets a magazine cover. A.J. [McCarron] got one today. Two questions. One, how does A.J. look as a cover boy?"
So, pretty lighthearted question right there. Nice midweek diversion for a team that's playing the Chattanooga Mocs this weekend.
A typical football coach might laugh and say something like this: "You know, after everything that A.J. has done for us over the past few years, it's great to see him get some recognition. He's a great kid, and he deserves it. And hey, he looks great in that letterman jacket!"
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.
In case you were out accidentally revealing that you named a loved one Cosmo, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
The Dodgers clinched the NL West title with a 7-6 road win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, before angering the Diamondbacks' organization by celebrating in the pool at Chase Field. "You can't have a pool party at our pool and not invite us," said disappointed Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, as he stood in a pair of bright blue bathing trunks holding two pool noodles. When asked why he had two noodles, Goldschmidt hung his head and said softly, "One for me, and one for a new best friend." Goldschmidt then exploded, saying, "His name is Yasiel, and now that's never going to happen, is it? Is it?"
Despite Kansas City's failures in clock management and third-and-short situations, the Chiefs moved to 3-0, prevailing over a sloppy Philadelphia Eagles team, 26-16, in Thursday Night Football action. Which is to say that on the binary football scale of "Andy Reid" to "Not Andy Reid" by which all football games can be judged, the game scored an "Andy Reid."
Week 3 was weird wire to wire, but not without warning. There was spectacle in College Station. There was fantasy in Tempe. The signs were there: Kicking off play with a Thursday-night contest in reliable bat country like Lubbock is just asking for it. Of course the highlight of TCU–Texas Tech was Tech's mascot scampering around the sideline trying to catch a wild fox that had wandered into the stadium. It's only natural that Saturday night wound down with a substantial officiating controversy in Wisconsin–Arizona State. And just like the almanac said, a firefight broke out in the midday showpiece game between the Crimson Tide and the Aggies, with noted gunslinger AJ McCarron flinging touchdown passes about. The almanac's words are written in what looks like blood, and its covers feel suspiciously scaly to the touch. Don’t worry about that now.
Ain't No Ceiling, Only Blue
• No. 1 Alabama 49, no. 6 Texas A&M 42. If you're not feeling sort of smugly blessed, a little overfull from rich visuals, and needing an emotional belt-loosening, here's a courteous suggestion: Go rewatch Tide-Aggies. You cannot have consumed deeply enough from this cornucopia, a profusion of football happenings crafted to satisfy the vast majority of palates. CBS microphones captured Nick Saban telling Kevin Sumlin during their postgame handshake "You took 10 years off my life." Despite suspicions that time as we experience it has no meaning to Saban, such a sacrifice must be ardently cherished given how grumpy he can get about having to take time off from recruiting to do things like coach in the national title game.
In the clash between Johnny Fuckin' Football's mad magic and Alabama's rules of order, natural law reasserted itself, but not before the Tide got good and eroded. Johnny Manziel set a school record for passing yards (464), and did so against a Saban defense. Manziel’s 562 yards of total offense trails only his 2012 bombardment of Louisiana Tech for most offensive production by a single player in a single game in SEC history. Manziel's favored target, sophomore receiver Mike Evans, set a school record of his own with a 279-yard outing. A&M's 628 yards of offense are the most allowed in Tide history.
Johnny Football is playing football this weekend in one of the biggest games of the season, so now feels like a good time to talk about this: Should we be rooting for Johnny Manziel? I've been torn. There are good arguments on both sides. But over the past few weeks I've stopped fighting it. Johnny Football is great.
He is the best, he is the worst, he is the best at being the worst.
In case you were busy getting bad news from Dr. James Andrews, because that guy has never once given good news in his life, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Miami starter Jose Fernandez dominated with his arm and bat, throwing seven stellar innings and blasting his first career home run, as the Marlins beat the division-leading Braves, 5-2. Fernandez's outing was not without controversy, however, as both benches cleared after Fernandez indulged himself by watching his home run. "I'm disappointed. He's a great kid, but he let this whole city down," said Marlins manager Mike Redmond after the game. "I mean, this is Miami. You can't just stand around in Miami to check out something because it looks good. This is a city all about hard work and discipline, not about showing off and preening."
New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter has been shut down for the remainder of the season, leaving new acquisition and defensive whiz Brendan Ryan as the Yankees presumptive starting shortstop for their playoff push. "Darn," said Yankees starter Andy Pettitte as he high-fived fellow starter Hiroki Kuroda. "Man, that's tough for Derek. I'm gutted. Just totally gutted. For him." Pettitte then did a giddy shuffle and mimed a shortstop going confidently to his left for CC Sabathia's benefit, before adding, "Don't know how we'll get by without the captain."
We didn't expect much out of college football's first weekend of games. We got so much more than we asked for, however, and so much more than we deserved. Today, we sift through the cornucopia and plot data points for the course ahead.
We Went There
First: Six thoughts from the Georgia Dome, including a necessary recipe detour.
1. "We have to create an identity as a team," Nick Saban begins, settling into his seat in the underground media chamber of the Georgia Dome. He could be echoing any other coach in a Week 1 postgame press conference: "I don't know that we did that in all phases of the game today."
He goes on from there, in an almost singsong recitation, checking off all the August football coachspeak boxes: There were good and bad things happening on the football field Saturday night; there were players who needed to improve and players who performed well. And then Saban starts talking about showing his Alabama team footage of Michael Jordan's final championship:
"The guy makes every play in the game. Makes a shot. Steals the ball. Makes the next shot to win the game. And what did he have to prove? That was his sixth championship. The [second] time they'd won three in a row. And this guy's playing at 35 years old like there's no tomorrow. And you know, it was interesting — for a guy that had nothing to prove? He was out there playing like he had everything to prove."
While we're pleading with the universe for things like Larry Fedora in Juggalo makeup, let's discuss the highly regarded 2014 prospect saying Alabama's getting a waterfall in its locker room. "It's Alabama" is the answer to so many recruiting whys, but defensive end Davon Godchaux tacked on a splashy new twist in a Sunday conversation with Rivals, saying: "Honestly, Alabama just has the best of everything. It's Alabama. They are about to have a waterfall in their locker room. It's spectacular."
In case you were busy listening to Steve Winwood, wondering when you would be back in the high life again, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Despite being denied a late winner in regulation because of a delayed concurrent penalty call, Brent Seabrook's overtime goal gave the Chicago Blackhawks a 2-1 Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings. The Blackhawks advance to the Western Conference finals, where they will face the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. If they beat the Kings they will advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they will be forced to forfeit after being held by the Kingsguard for attempting to usurp the throne. Justice will come quickly, as the Stanley Cup monarchy does not wait for due process or jury trials, and punishment will be severe. The Kings' public enemies are few at this point, and while many may support the Blackhawks, when the guillotine falls those supporters will stay silent, lest a similar fate befall them. Hope is a forgotten word in the NHL, but, futile as such wishes may be, best of luck to all four conference finalists!
While recovering from his fourth wrist surgery of the offseason, sources are reporting that Rob Gronkowski will undergo back surgery that will put his participation in the New England Patriots' training camp in doubt. While many are concerned about Gronkowski's long-term ability to contribute in the NFL with his continued injury issues, personally, I am concerned that Gronkowski is abusing his deductible. We get it Rob, you blew past your annual maximum on arm surgery no. 3. You don't need to rub your ability to receive quality medical care in our faces.