College basketball is back, and life finally makes sense again. Questions like "Where did all my money go?" and "Why am I such a disappointment?" and "How did I end up in this Dumpster?" no longer matter. Nothing matters, actually. Our salvation has arrived, and if you think I'm being overly dramatic, then you can get the HELL out of my Dumpster, pal.
As the headline on this post suggests, I recommend that you all take out the paper calendars you use to help remember when to watch sports (mine is the flip kind with autumnal photos above each month), and find a good, reliable pen, because you'll want to write this down. Below, I've listed the best possible games from each of the next seven days, along with some honorable mentions. Consider this your weeklong immersion guide. And it starts, as it should, in the mecca of the sport …
In case you were busy regretting your attempt to introduce that exchange student living in your home to the joyful simplicity of America's pastime, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
A weird weekend in the World Series left the Cardinals and Red Sox knotted at two games apiece, after Saturday's game ended on an obstruction call that handed St. Louis a 5-4 victory, and Sunday's game closed with a Koji Uehara pickoff in Boston's 4-2 win. "What a weekend!" declared MLB rules aficionado Peter Greggsman. "The only way it could have been better is if one of these stadiums had been a dome, so we could get some catwalk interference in there." Greggsman's demeanor then darkened, before he added, "The real tragedy though is that the World Series can't end on an infield fly call. No game can." Greggsman then pounded his fist on his Hardball Times Baseball Annual and cried to the heavens, "Oh founders of baseball, you've cursed us with the possibility of perfection, yet made it as impossible to witness as a local game without digital cable! Damn you apocryphal Abner Doubleday! Damn you straight to the fictional hell you belong in!"
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson amassed 329 receiving yards, the second-most in NFL history behind former Rams receiver Flipper Anderson, as Detroit came from behind late to stun the Dallas Cowboys 31-30. Meanwhile, back at his New Jersey home, Anderson cracked a bottle of champagne as the game ended. Not because his record was preserved; that would be incredibly tacky. Who would do that? No, he popped a bottle of champagne because it pairs well with the panko-crusted halibut he whipped up for his wife as a special Sunday treat.
In case you were busy bringing the ol' Rally Bear out of hibernation, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Philip Rivers and a surprisingly effective San Diego rushing attack led the Chargers to a 19-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts. "Oh, I hope Ryan Mathews is still on waivers," said world's saddest man Gary Pittson after seeing that the perpetually inconsistent Chargers running back had his first 100-yard rushing game of the year. Pittson, who was checking his fantasy league from the cab of a tow truck after his Datsun 120Y finally gave out on him halfway home from his new job as the late-night fry cook at the Hardee's in Dover, then muttered to himself, "I knew I shouldn't have cut him after one bad game." The good news for Pittson was that Mathews was still available as a free agent in his league. The bad news for Pittson was that his cell phone was about to die, and Clem the tow truck driver had no intention of stopping his truck to let Pittson retrieve his charger. The worse news for Pittson is that in the time it would take him and Clem to reach his auto repair shop in Wilmington, where they would finally notice that the Datsun was actually on fire, world-class bassist and league commissioner Teddy Jackson would both pick up Mathews and offer him to Pittson in exchange for his first pick in next year's draft.
Rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu threw seven scoreless innings and Yasiel Puig broke out of a slump with a huge RBI triple as the Los Angeles Dodgers closed the gap in the NLCS with a 3-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. "You know I'd K'd five times in a row before that triple," Puig said after the game as he hung out with his entourage at the Chateau Marmont. "That's L.A., baby," said Puig's second cousin, Terry "Tortoise" Puig. "Travolta in Pulp Fiction, Rourke in The Wrestler, NPH in Starship Troopers. This town loves a comeback." Just then, a hand reached out from the darkness and tapped Puig on the shoulder. "You boys talking comebacks?" asked a deep voice from the darkness, "because I know something about coming back." Puig turned and looked up: the distinctive red hair, the pale face, the black suit. "Holy shit, David Caruso!" exclaimed Puig. "I'm a huge fan. CSI: Miami, Jade, NYPD Blue um, CSI: Miami." Caruso smiled, nodded, and said, "I've always been a fan of the Dodgers," before putting on a pair of sunglasses and adding, "but now it seems the Dodgers are a fan of me," while walking away. "Where else does something like that happen?" asked a starstruck Puig before exclaiming, "I love this town!"
In case you were busy signing with the Vikings in order to guarantee a Super Bowl ring, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a game away from the National League Championship Series after Pedro Alvarez powered them to a 5-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. "Don't say anything," said Pittsburgh superfan Willie Langdon after the game. "Just no one say anything. This isn't happening. No one talk about this." When asked if he was excited, Langdon yelled, "Shh, shh, shh. No. Not excited. Why would I be excited?" before whispering under his breath, "You shut your damn mouth before this whole damn thing falls apart. It's built on Popsicle sticks and Silly Putty, and if you crush this dream I'll crush you."
Today's the day, Tony Romo thought to himself as he sat on the bench, helmet in his hands, feeling a feeling: pride? He was almost sure it was pride. He glanced at the scoreboard. 48-41. He looked at the field; his team's defense was outmatched. Didn't matter. Don't think about being a hero, don't think about being a hero. You become a hero by being a hero, not by thinking Be a hero. Also, maybe the defense will keep things together. Maybe. So just think about anything else. Like why do humans feel pain? Huh, that's a brain tickler. Think, Anthony, think why do humans feel pain?
You can't go very far these days without hearing a sports fan say, "I can't wait until college basketball starts." I'm not sure why they keep mispronouncing it as "football" — it must be a joke I missed, or a meme, or something — but the anticipation in the air is palpable. We're still a few months away from tip-off, though, so here are a few bits of news you may have missed during the long offseason. November's coming!
On a Scale From 1 to Johnny Manziel, P.J. Hairston's Idiot Ranking Is 8
With all his noteworthy teammates opting for the draft, P.J. Hairston was set to be North Carolina's primary star in 2013. You could argue he was last season, too, when the sophomore guard led the team with 14.6 points per game while averaging just 23 minutes, and shot nearly 40 percent from 3. Everything about his game improved from his freshman season, and he'll arguably be the best pure scorer in the ACC this year.
So let's pick up where we left off last week and spend some time combing through the more ridiculous things we found on the sports Internet. You know, other than Riley Cooper's awful and depressing rant at that Kenny Chesney concert, because that sucked.
NBA teams are going to wish they had drafted Arsalan Kazemi. Now, since some of you might be muttering "Who?" right now, that might seem hard to believe, which means it’s probably a good time to introduce the player destined to make a number of organizations across the league feel pangs of regret by this time next year.
After receiving a hardship waiver to transfer from Rice University — where the Iranian-born forward was allegedly the target of racial abuse from the school’s athletic director — Kazemi moved from a school languishing at the bottom of Conference USA to Oregon for his final season of eligibility. When he became a Duck, the country finally got a glimpse of the 6-foot-7 rebounding machine who had been hidden away in Texas the previous three seasons. Kazemi went on to lead the country in defensive rebounding percentage (in a BCS conference, no less) while being a catalyst for an Oregon team that made its first Sweet 16 since 2007. Yet despite collecting 45 rebounds in three games on college basketball’s biggest stage, Kazemi still finds himself on the NBA fringes.
Two of the most reliable mock drafts — by ESPN.com and DraftExpress — don’t even have the forward slated as a late second-round pick (through DraftExpress wisely has him ranked as its 46th overall prospect). It’s odd to think that a league that has seen Reggie Evans and Kenneth Faried start for playoff teams has no need for a player who is a nightmare to keep off the glass, especially when rebounding has proven to typically be one of the most translatable skills from the college to professional levels.
In case you were out being a real Party Time Jack, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez has been officially charged with murder and released by the Patriots. "Now that's what I call a bad day!" said Lenny Dykstra, who was named Hernandez's defense attorney by a bizarre, nonreversible computer error at the Massachusetts Department of Justice. "Does anybody have any chew? There's none in my briefcase. In fact, the briefcase is totally empty. Unless you count the moisture. I found it in a Dumpster really late last night. Where are we at on that chew?"
Roger Federer was upset in the second round at Wimbledon, losing in four sets to Sergiy Stakhovsky. Sorry guys, but it's really hard to see one of my heroes go down like this, and I can't just turn off my emotions and make a joke. I mean, what do you say when a legend falls? When perfection fails? It's heartbreaking. All you can do is ask why. WHYYYYY, AARON HERNANDEZ?! WHY DID YOU (ALLEGEDLY) MURDER SOMEONE!!?! YOU WERE THE LIGHT OF NEW ENGLAND!!!! YOU WERE THE FLAME IN MY SOUL!!!
In case you were out dressed up as Grimace to serve as a decoy for a hamburger-related heist, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The Denver Nuggets stayed hot, winning their 12th straight at home, 107-92, over the Los Angeles Clippers. Denver pulled away late, despite the mind games of Blake Griffin. Nuggets forward Andre Iguodala said after the game, "Blake kept calling me the Iguanodon, which I get, but he also kept calling [Nuggets center] Kosta Koufos the Koufosaurus. I don't even think that's a real dinosaur." When asked what he was up to, Griffin responded, "I just think dinosaurs are cool," before jutting out his mouthguard and winking.
The Pittsburgh Penguins stormed back from a three-goal deficit to beat the Flyers in Philadelphia, 5-4. I'm sorry, I mean the city formerly known as Philadelphia, which is now officially Philahellphia, as the local government has been seized by enraged Flyers fans. Martial law currently reigns in the city, with sober rationality the only official crime on the books. Fortunately, this has caused nothing to change for the citizens of Philahellphia in the aftermath of this rare American coup d'etat.
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 pretending like you've seen and have an opinion about Oscar nominee Amour, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The Cleveland Browns have filled their vacant head coaching position, hiring Rob Chudzinski away from the Carolina Panthers. It has also been reported that Chudzinski is targeting former San Diego head coach Norv Turner to be his new offensive coordinator. "I can't imagine a more Cleveland set of hirings than Chud and Norv," said longtime Browns fan Milt Johnson. When asked to try harder and really push his imagination, Johnson let out an exasperated sigh, saying, "Fine, I guess that they could have hired like Chan Gailey and an old, overweight Golden Retriever named Honey, but I don't really know how having a dog as an offensive coordinator would work."
In case you were out seeing if it was really as cold as the guy on TV said it was (it was), here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The New York Knicks snapped the San Antonio Spurs' seven-game winning streak, with a decisive 100-83 victory at Madison Square Garden. "Doesn't matter," said Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich after the game, "just a meaningless game, in a meaningless regular season, in this meaningless march to death we call life. Right, Tony?" He then looked back at his point guard, Frenchman Tony Parker, who nodded sagely at his coach before putting out a Gauloise between his fingers.
Oregon showed off its speed on both sides of the ball, beating Kansas State, 35-17, in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. In a postgame interview, ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe asked veteran Kansas State coach Bill Snyder if he felt the game had finally started to pass him by. Snyder replied, "I don't know. We ran into a good team, but I guess I did kind of feel like Tommy Lee Jones in that movie, you know, that one?" Rowe suggested, No Country for Old Men, but Snyder shook his said, saying, "No, you know that one where he's old." Rowe continued prompting Snyder with films starring an older Tommy Lee Jones, such as Men in Black II and Space Cowboys, but Snyder responded, "No, I think he's like a cop and a dad." Rowe, visibly frustrated at this point, said, "He's a cop and a dad in everything!" She then continued listing Tommy Lee Jones movies until Snyder realized he was thinking of Clint Eastwood.
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.
A few years ago Brian Britt realized he had to make a change. College football season was approaching, and he needed a new way to find out who was best equipped to lead his team. The pace of the game was speeding up, and the evidence was right in front of him. When Britt had first come to the University of Oklahoma, Mike Leach, who had helped popularize the fast-moving “Air Raid” attack, was offensive coordinator. Now Leach was winning at conference rival Texas Tech, legions of programs had adopted similarly swift styles, and the pressure was on for Britt to find a way to adjust.
College football fans in the past decade have been witness to an explosion in the number of teams who play fast. Hurry-up, Air Raid, zone read, spread — whatever name an offensive scheme answers to, the end result is the same: a headache for the opposition, who often can't get off the field quick enough to substitute. But just as the players on the field and coaches on the sideline have been forced to contend with the changing speed of the game, so, too, have the play callers in the stands. Because Britt, you see, isn't a defensive coordinator: He's the director of the Pride of Oklahoma, the Sooners' marching band.
It first occurred to me that Britt's job may have gotten more difficult over the past 10 years while watching the annual intrastate rivalry game with the Oklahoma State Cowboys that's lovingly referred to as “Bedlam.” The game was the 107th of its kind. It was also the first to go to overtime. And in the waning moments of regulation, as the Sooners hurried toward a game-tying touchdown, I first noticed something that years of watching college football had trained me to ignore: the band.
I'm one of those people who adhere to a strict famine-and-feast diet on Thanksgiving Day. I'll starve myself throughout the day, trying to not let the aromas floating in from the kitchen drive me insane, just so I can gorge myself like a crazed animal when 4 p.m. rolls around. From an informal poll of friends and family, it seems like this is a pretty common tactic. I'm ashamed to admit that I had to eat an apple to hold myself over at noon, but otherwise I held firm. And the feast was glorious. I didn't stop eating until midnight, when my wife hit me with a pan and knocked me into a deep, 18-hour slumber.
The whole Thanksgiving situation is a lot like the first two weeks of college basketball. The morning starvation is the offseason, when you want to avoid lesser temptations like recruiting updates or NCAA investigations or Tony Parker's eight-month press conference. Sometimes you need to check in on those things just to hold off the hunger, like with my apple. And then, when the season finally arrives, it's a delicious cornucopia of tournaments, amazing matchups, surprising players, and crazy upsets. I can't stop watching. I can't, and I won't! I've now binged on college basketball for two straight weeks, and from the depraved den of hoops gluttony, I bring you my 25 November epiphanies.