In case you were out getting a terrifying vote of confidence from an eccentric Russian oligarch, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
A rough day for the Manning family saw the Dallas Cowboys all but eliminate the Giants' scant playoff hopes with a 24-21 win at the Meadowlands. "The bad news is, we're probably headed home in December," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said after the game as he stroked his weird red mustache. "The good news is, Cooper said I can finally go to Space Camp this offseason. So it's all good news, because Space Camp is gonna be so worth it!"
A punt misplayed by Denver's Tony Carter in overtime proved to be the difference, as the New England Patriots beat the Denver Broncos, 34-31, in an instant classic. "At least I'm not that guy. At least I'm not Tony Carter," said world's saddest man Gary Pittson while watching the game's highlights from a motel room in West Memphis, Arkansas. The Ultimate Clarity: A Life-Changing Life System information session he had attended at the Memphis Airport Marriott had been a bit of a bust, if Pittson was being honest with himself. Sure, the day's speaker, former Denver Broncos offensive lineman Tony Jones, was possessed of Ultimate Clarity, but he couldn't see how the principles of confidence and serenity that Jones was espousing could apply to his life. Jones was a millionaire, and he was famous, and he was a Super Bowl champion. Pittson was a nobody. Also, the session was expensive, so much so that after paying for his flight and the fees and the books, Pittson certainly couldn't afford to stay at the Marriott, but being so far away made it hard to participate in the more social aspects of the information session. Pittson shook his head, looked back up at his TV, and took a deep breath as the highlight repeated itself. "At least I'm not that guy," Pittson said to no one. "At least I'm not Tony Carter."
In case you were busy demanding a recount of People’s Sexiest Man Alive voting, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Rodney Stuckey scored 21 points off the bench as the Detroit Pistons heaped more woe onto the New York Knicks with a 92-86 win. Meanwhile, in Bayside, Queens, a father and his son watched the game together. "I hope the Knicks win!" the boy exclaimed, long after it was clear the Knicks were certainly not going to win. "Remember, son," the father said as the clock wound down. "Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane." The father then grabbed his boy by the shoulders. "That's why we watch the Knicks. Not to win. We never win. But to remember not to hope. Never hope, my boy. Promise me you'll never hope."
In front of a star-studded audience in Stillwater, including Kevin Durant, sophomore Marcus Smart put up 39 points as Oklahoma State throttled Memphis 101-80. "Man, there are so many kids out there this year," the 19-year-old Smart said after the game. "Think they know what's up. They don't." Smart, who is 12 months older than Jabari Parker, then added, "I get it, I was that age once." Smart shook his head, age having worn his face visibly, and added, "But now I know about the real world. About hard work, discipline. I've been in college for a whole year, man. I've traveled all over Big 12 country. I took Art History 104. Shit. The things I know, I could write a 1,500-word paper on them. These kids? They'd be lucky to pump out 800 words. Lucky."
I sat in the bullpen of Tony Gwynn Stadium, home of the San Diego State Aztecs, cleaning my cleats in case I got the call to get hot. Next to me were seven other relief pitchers, all of us watching our starter struggle through the second inning of a game against Oklahoma State. San Diego State was not known for its academics (my father referred to it as “Harvard without all the smart people”), but it was a major Division I college baseball program, and when I graduated from high school in 1998, it seemed like a good stepping stone to becoming a major league baseball player. That was my dream. It was also the dream of everyone sitting next to me. Like lefty sophomore Royce, built like Tony Soprano and sporting a windup that looked like a butcher throwing a 60-pound side of beef onto a table, but who boasted a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and a nasty slider that darted down and in to right-handed batters.
He had big plans for his future.
“When I sign I’m gonna buy a fuckin’ Hummer, with fuckin’ four DVD players in it. Every seat’ll have its own DVD player AND its own screen,” Royce said, leaning back in his chair.
“What happens if everyone wants to watch the same movie?” I asked.
“Then I’ll buy four fuckin’ copies of the movie,” he snapped back.
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.
I want to make a bold statement today, but first, let's have some fun and check out the highlights from what I'm calling "Seth Curry's Wonder-Half." In the first 20 minutes against North Carolina on Saturday night, he went 8-for-10 from the field, scored 18 points, and propelled the Blue Devils to a 42-24 halftime lead that became a blowout 69-53 win over North Carolina.
Confession time: I have a bad relationship with GIFs. I'm 100 percent alone on this one, I know, especially among young Internet sports types. But to me, GIFs are like "Harlem Shake" videos — hilarious visual gag at first, until you become so inundated that you go numb and begin to hate the person who bought you your first computer and sent you on this horrible, soul-killing journey into the heart of the Internet. (Important note: This is for comedy GIFs only it doesn't go for the ones that are just meant to show a sweet dunk, a great goal, or any of the other sincere uses of the form.)
Watching a GIF, I get the weird sense that I'm being manipulated, as though I'm laughing begrudgingly at a stand-up comedian whose only bit is to hit himself in the face with a baking pan. The endless repetition is supposed to be what gives the image its humor, but something about it drives me crazy. It's like we're making snark-commodities out of human moments. (Actually, pretend I just said something along the same lines, but less pretentious.)
This is my only soapbox. I only care about destroying the GIF culture. But after all that big talk, I have to admit that I still laugh at the really good ones that transcend the medium, like Ben McLemore dancing. And the reason I'm mentioning it now is that I violated my own principles and yeah, made a GIF. I couldn't help it:
I know I should have stuck to my guns, but the way the cameraman went into soft focus on Kelly and readjusted to the fan doing the White Raven arms — it's like he was begging me to make a GIF. He was my serpent, and his comic shot was the forbidden apple. I hope this isn't the start of a slippery slope, but in three months you'll probably find me lying face down in a dark Internet cafe, dead from a GIF overdose.
The football rivalry between Oregon and Oregon State, nicknamed the "Civil War,” has always had something of an image problem. Take the name, for starters: Though quite common, it’s not as deliciously ironic as the BYU-Utah “Holy War,” or as geographically appropriate as the West Virginia–Pittsburgh “Backyard Brawl.” But for decades, that name was all they had. Neither school was even remotely on the national radar before the mid-'90s. And if they were, it was because of their Disneyfied color schemes and innocuous mascots.
But now, the “Civil War” sounds entirely quaint seeing as how the Beavers have taken after the Ducks’ Decepticon rebranding and the two schools will appear to be reenacting Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen this December, right in time for Christmas. By this point, I don’t think I have to preface you on why it’s major news when Oregon State’s Nike-sponsored gear is dropping jaws. My lord, have you seen these new Oregon State unis? Being that Phil Knight is a UO alum, I’m unsure if OSU has much pull in Beaverton (oddly enough), but it appears as if the school took a gander at Nike’s Pro Combat line and said, “We’re trying to win football games, not look like we’re going to church.” Those Neopolitan face masks!
The lesson was important: The Beavers already had one of the most recognizable color schemes and logos in college football, but as coach Mike Riley tweeted, it’s all about luring 18-year-old kids who might base the next four years of their lives on the possibility of wearing socks that are inscribed with “hip hop hooray.” Oregon State can serve as an example for many other second bananas across the college football landscape that are seeking to gain ground on their more respected rivals through some kind of radical and ridiculous rebranding. Sure, it looks a little desperate and they might always be no. 2 compared to their wealthier, more successful elders, but there’s nothing wrong with being Solange these days. Here are some more glaring opportunities:
In case you were out learning that what you thought was Oscar Fever is actually just an untreated strep infection, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
In their first game since the death of longtime team owner Jerry Buss, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics, 113-99, at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant, who led a ceremony in Buss's honor before the game, was somber afterward, saying, "He's not gone, man. You can't just get rid of a guy like him. He's still here, with us, in this locker room. In fact, he's in my locker right now, waiting to scare me, like I'm a fool. But I'm not a fool. He's the fool, and he's way out of line." Dwight Howard then emerged sheepishly from Bryant's locker holding a blonde wig and a Jerry Buss mask.
James Harden had a career night against his former team, scoring 46 points as the Houston Rockets edged the Oklahoma City Thunder, 122-119. After the game, Kevin Durant was distraught in the locker room, telling coach Scott Brooks, "He was my best friend. Now he moves away, and he acts like he doesn't even know me. This is your fault! We never should've let him move! It's not fair!" Brooks nodded gently, before saying, "Do I feel guilty, Kevin? A little. Honestly, I do. I didn't want you two to have to be apart. But sometimes decisions are made, and while they hurt, they're right decisions in the long run. Plus, you like hanging out with Kevin [Martin], don't you?" Durant shook his head, fighting back the tears. "I hate Kevin! I hate everyone!" Brooks scowled at his forward, "You don't mean that, Kevin. Tell Kevin you're sorry." Durant looked at his teammate, as his lower lip started to quiver. "I'm sorry, Kevin. I like you. It's another Kevin that I don't like right now: me." Martin patted his teammate on the back, "I get it, man. The trade wasn't easy for me either. And, hey, [Thunder Assistant Coach] Mo Cheeks is gonna take me out for ice cream later. You wanna come?" Durant couldn't help but let himself smile. "Ice cream with Mo? Yeah, man. I'll be there."
The Big Ten Road Trip, with all its local comforts, is over, and now it's time to plunge back into the chaos of the national scene. A huge part of college basketball analysis is projecting what will happen in the postseason. It makes sense, because the sport is defined by a few crazy days in March, but I always get a fleeting sense of regret around this time of year. I wish conference tournaments meant more, and I especially wish regular-season conference championships meant more.
I love March Madness as much as anyone, but the truth is it's one of the worst postseasons in terms of crowning the actual best team. That's why it's great; you have to win on a given day, and the small sample size allows for the upsets and anomalies that give the tournament its character. In fact, of the six major American professional and college sports, I'd argue that college hoops is at the bottom of the postseason reliability spectrum. Here are my rankings, from most to least reliable:
In case you were busy watching the test signal on the NFL RedZone channel and holding back the tears, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Notre Dame outlasted Louisville, 104-101, in a five-overtime thriller in South Bend. Now, I just looked at the box score for this game, and I saw something a bit suspicious. The score was the same at the end of regulation, the first overtime, the second overtime, the third overtime, and the fourth overtime? Isn't that a little fishy? A little too fishy? See, both teams had 60 points at the end of regulation. Then they both scored eight points in the first overtime. Then seven in the second. OK, that's weird enough, but get this: In the third overtime, they both scored eight again. Too much, right? But it gets worse. In the fourth overtime, they both score 10. Perfect 10. Then, just to throw me off the trail, Louisville scores eight again, but Notre Dame, the Irish, I kid you not, scores 11. Lucky number 11. Now I don't want to accuse the good people of Notre Dame of any misconduct without proof, but it seems as if they were trying to get the same score at the end of every period, doesn't it? Until, quite naturally, they scored two different numbers. Very clever, guys. A little too clever. I'm keeping my eye on you, Notre Dame.
Wisconsin upset Michigan, 65-62, in overtime, after Badgers junior Ben Brust made an improbable half-court shot to tie the game at the end of regulation. "That's the sort of shot that needs to be immortalized with a song parody," overexcited Wisconsin junior Walker Nelson said after the game. "How does Brustified sound? Like, Justin Timberlake? But like, with Brust. We could do a whole suite of parody songs, like, 'Bringing Devin Back' in reference to [former Badgers point guard] Devin Harris. I'm totally going to get on this right away." Nelson then went back to his fraternity house, where he watched his ill-conceived ’N Sync parody from freshman year, "J.J. Watt You Back," and thought long and hard about his life choices.
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.
A last-minute drive came up short when no. 3 Georgia opted not to spike the football inside the 10 and instead mistakenly completed a pass to the 5-yard line, allowing the clock to run out and giving no. 2 Alabama a 32-28 win in the SEC championship game and a spot in the BCS title game opposite Notre Dame. Georgia coach Mark Richt insisted that he kept trying to yell at his team to spike the ball, but that his vocal cords felt painfully constricted, while video footage of the Alabama sideline shows Nick Saban reaching across the field with one hand at that exact moment.
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.
The most interesting part of the Puerto Rico Tipoff championship game, which ended with a 76-56 Oklahoma State upset over no. 6 NC State, was always going to be the point guard duel: Wolfpack junior Lorenzo Brown vs. Cowboy freshman Marcus Smart. Brown emerged as one of the most exciting point guards at the end of last season, and was a first-team All-ACC preseason pick. Smart has earned some recognition as one of the top freshmen in his class, but has routinely been overshadowed by players at high-profile programs like Nerlens Noel and Shabazz Muhammad. But after Sunday's game, when Smart spent 40 minutes embarrassing one of the best point guards in the country on his way to earning a tournament MVP, that should no longer be a problem.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
No. 13 Stanford stymied no. 2 Oregon's vaunted offense and all but ended the Ducks' national title hopes with a 17-14 overtime upset. In what can only be called a copycat crime, an enraged Oregon fan used pesticide in an attempt to poison the famous Stanford tree, and was undeterred when the tree kept yelling "I'm a person! I'm a mascot!"