The Generosity Bowl
Last month the bartender at the Squire in Chatham allowed as how she had tickets for the Browns game at Gillette today.
Last Sunday, the nice old fellow in the emergency room at Lahey Clinic in Burlington being treated for kidney stones said his son had scored six tickets for today as well.
Thus is the Cleveland Browns franchise defined. They are the birthday present and Christmas present road team. They are the opponent for whom season ticket holders decide they can afford to be expansive and let somebody else have a day of NFL fun. That it will be fun for Patriots fans is taken as a given by ticket donors and recipients alike. If it was a competitive matchup, my bartender and fellow patient would be getting sweaters for Christmas instead.
Thus too is the Patriots franchise defined. Its most loyal (financially speaking) fans are accustomed enough to victory that they've become win snobs. The Browns bore them. It's nice that the open market for tickets gains liquidity due to their boredom, but that's the real motivation here.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, either, no Patriots fan would pass up the chance to watch a game that figured to be a comfortable win. There were many seasons were there were no such games.
What You See Depends on Where You Sit -- Or Where You Lie Flat on Your Back
You see something new every day in every game. Last week, I saw the NFL with a head injury of my own.
Freezing rain is impossible to distinguish from plain old rain until you go outside and try to walk on it. One step onto the front stoop equaled one spectacular pratfall, one large cut on the back of my head and one quick trip to the Lahey Clinic emergency ward.
There was something on the CAT scan the neurologists didn't like. I was stable, mind you, but just as a precaution, I was, in words all sports fans know by heart, "held overnight for observation."
(Next time you hear that phrase, fans, spare some thoughts for the athlete being observed. The words may seem reassuring to outsiders. To patients, they're not.)
So I watched the Patriots-Texans and Broncos-Chiefs games on a small TV screen about eight inches from my nose in my hospital bed. And my sensations watching those games were different. I was about 100 times more acutely aware of the collisions, violence and possibility for injury on every play than I ordinarily am.
This didn't affect my interest in the games. On the contrary, they held even more fascination. But they did affect my enjoyment of them. It didn't lessen it, just alter it. Perhaps the best way to express that is to say my pleasure in a typical NFL Sunday was significantly less mindless than it sometimes is.
The primal facts of pro football are danger, pain and body breakage. That's been true since the Providence Steamrollers were champs. They are facts even players themselves would rather not dwell on. How could they, and still keep playing?
But it's better we all get a refresher course on the basics from time to time. I don't recommend the course I took to anyone. But then the Browns and Pats kick off this afternoon, try and have your empathy settings switched to maximum.
I was sent home Monday in due course. I feel fine. I wonder how much empathy I'll be able to generate this afternoon.
An Historic Voice From the Cheap Seats
Few human beings deserve being put on an eternal pedestal, but Nelson Mandela fills that bill if anyone ever did. Before he is memorialized (and trivialized) in the category of "hero so great we can safely ignore his life's relevance to ours," however, let me put forth a memory that Mandela was as human as could be when sports was the topic.
It was the first day of competition in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Yours truly was there, covering his first Olympics, jet-lagged and clueless. Having my first sinking encounter with the Olympic fear that wherever you are, the best story is somewhere else, I heeded the advice of veteran writers I'd talked to in the States. "Go to boxing," I was told. "Something always happens there."
So I did, and for neither the first nor last time, I thus received a professional lucky break as enormous as it was undeserved. In Barcelona's delightfully decrepit old fight arena, the first South African athlete of the first integrated South African Olympic team was going to enter the ring. And up high in the balcony, seated near an exit, as bigwigs who visit the Games often are, the better to travel to other events, was Mandela.
I and many American writers who'd actually figured out Mandela might show up were told we could interview him -- after the fight. He didn't want to miss a punch.
Not that there were so many. The bout itself may have been a geopolitical milestone, but it did the sweet science no credit. Understandably undone by the significance of the occasion, the South African boxer, a white guy, by the way, was barely able to lift his arms to defend himself, let alone hit his opponent. He was shellacked.
The scribes then hustled up to Mandela's section of the arena and the interview was duly conducted. After the obligatory round of political and social questions, someone ventured to ask former boxer Mandela what he'd thought of the fight.
Mandela made a frowny face. "He should've used his right more," he said of his countryman, making that short little punching gesture that boxing spectators always have and always will use to emphasize their advice. He then changed the subject.
Nelson Mandela. Revolutionary. Statesman. Moral Hero. And for at least one minute in a gym in Spain, 100 percent disgruntled fight fan.
Hub Fans Never Get to Bid Kid Adieu
According to the Globe, the most important development in sports this week has been that Ben Bradlee, Jr. has written a biography of Ted Williams. Way to go after those younger readers, gang! Way to forget that the most important part of the word news is the first three letters.
A three-part excerpt in the sports section was one thing. A droolingly favorable column about the book in Metro by the usually not-nuts Kevin Cullen was quite another. Such overkill deserves a response -- not a nice one, either. Such logrolling (Bradlee, Jr. was a longtime Globie who became an influential editor) is as old as newspapers, not to mention mankind, but that doesn't make it right or any less tempting a target for ridicule.
The author was a very good reporter in his day, so I'm sure the book is comprehensive and well-sourced. But I haven't read the excerpts and I won't buy the book. Not because it won't be an OK read, but because of its subject matter. There's nothing more about Ted Williams I need, want to or can know.
In life, Ted Williams got the ink as few athletes or celebrities of any kind ever have, including his own autobiography, book on fishing, and book on hitting (I have all three in my library). He was the subject of journalism running the gamut from great to godawful, and I daresay there's no one over 40 who ever held a Boston sportswriting job who didn't write at least one Ted piece. I did five, and I think that's probably average.
Nor did the Williams oeuvre end with his death. Leigh Montville, just rehired by the Globe in a very good move, had his own Williams biography (again in my library) published not so long ago. Montville is Bradlee's equal as a reporter at least and his superior as a prose stylist by a good deal (not a slam, Ben, Leigh's better than almost everybody).
In short, I believe I have all the information on Williams I need. As I think is obvious, I have MORE than I need. Even if Bradlee has documentary proof poor Ted ended his days wanting his head stored in a vat of liquid nitrogen, I don't care. Williams' declining years, some of which I witnessed, not close, but close enough to see, are not inherently interesting, as they are an inevitable part of everyone's life. It's the stuff Williams did that made his life different than everybody else's that grip the imagination and that's the part of his life most fully, even ludicrously fully, documented already.
The December publishing date on Bradlee's book is the real tipoff as to its intended destiny. It's one of those books, and many of 'em sell real well, whose marketing slogan is "here's something you kids can get Granddad for Christmas." Nothing wrong with that, but nothing worthy of the front page of any section of any newspaper, not even the book review section.
The Globe thought otherwise. As a result, I think new owner John Henry has of yet had no impact on the corporate culture of his purchase. It's still the same clubby, by-and-for-the-insiders operation it's been since I first got here in 1974.
Since Boston itself isn't quite like what it was in 1974, this doesn't bode well for Henry's investment, no matter how cheap it looked to him.
What Price Some Other Guy's Glory?
It wasn't me. If you take nothing else from the soon to be huge brouhaha over the claim by the sports/asshole's guide to life Website Deadspin that a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America sold his Hall of Fame vote to the site, promising to abide by the results of a reader poll, remember that. I didn't do it.
I didn't because doing so would've been a hideous violation of the ethics of any and all professions. Also, I wasn't asked.
But of course, like any normal baseball fan, and like all BBWAA members, I'm curious about two things. Who is the member who did this dirty deed? And how much was it worth?
Maybe the deed was only lightly soiled. Deadspin's somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards the 5Ws of journalism makes me wonder if perhaps the miscreant only gave away his vote, or had the site make a charitable donation. The former would be OK. I thought about doing it myself at the Herald by announcing a reader poll. Then I decided it was too much work. The latter would not be OK. You want to benefit some deserving charity? Reach into your own wallet or put in some sweat equity. Don't pretend selling out is for the benefit of mankind.
For now, let's assume the worst. The BBWAA member in question gave away his vote for the sport's ultimate honor in a straight cash homey transaction. That would be sad and disgusting. It would mean said person thinks a serious responsibility is just another fringe benefit of the trade Red Smith so accurately described as underpaid but overprivileged. It would mean said person basically holds what they cover or covered in deep contempt, unworthy of their own committed participation in its rituals. It would mean said person was a conniving grifter.
Last but not least, it would mean the vote seller was King of All Chumps. They sold out way too cheap, and the only justification for selling out is obtaining the absolute top dollar in the deal.
I don't know what Deadspin paid or donated to obtain this vote. But I guarantee there are demented fans of means out there who would've beaten the site's price by amounts that can only be expressed through algebra. Baseball cards go for ten of thousands. Sweaty, disgusting old uniform jerseys cost more than many Picassos. A Hall of Fame vote? Seven figures and a seat on a corporate board seems like a bid only slightly above median. There are many folks rich enough to buy entire baseball teams. Until now, none of 'em could purchase a Hall vote. Supply and demand works without regard for morality.
Sooner or later, probably sooner, the seller's identity will be revealed. I sincerely hope it is not a BBWAA member I know personally. That would be depressing. I do hope it was one of the voters who cast blank ballots last year to protest the "cheating" of performance-enhancing drug use by baseball players. That would be hilarious.
Few Stories Put Their Moral in the Middle
Football is a game of momentum and/or funny bounces, this blog has learned.
Aside from the validation of two of the three oldest and truest cliches of the sport (couldn't work "game of inches" into the lede despite my best efforts), there was no Big Picture I could see as I drifted off to sleep after last night's engrossing if quite odd 34-31 Patriots' victory over the Broncos. No new Big Picture anyway.
Pats a good team hard to beat? Knew that already. Ditto for the Broncos. Good teams winning almost all of their home games against other good teams in the 2013 NFL season? That's been a trend visible since before Columbus Day. Tom Brady, still good player? Now, THERE'S breaking news for you.
Instead, I submit that a game in which almost all the biggest plays were funny bounces, especially the biggest play of all, there are no trends, no new information to be processed. If you, dear reader, can correctly divine whether from here on in the Patriots will resemble the invincible outfit of the third quarter or the invisible one of the first half, well, you've got me beat. Also Don Shula.
OK, maybe Brady will have an edge over Peyton Manning the next time the two teams play with the hurricane flags out, but really, what are the odds there? There's a much lower chance of that than of Manning correctly deducing that by giving Knowsheon Moreno the night of his career, Manning was maybe the best defender against himself New England had on the field.
Rousing wins/horrible losses are to be enjoyed or suffered. Otherwise, what's the point of watching games at all? Pats fans should be delighted this afternoon, and Broncos fans dispirited to homicidal. May I recommend, however, that by happy hour they emulate their two squads of heroes and forget the game as completely as they can.
Cris Collinsworth made me laugh last night. Sometime early in overtime, he opined that the game would benefit both teams, as it would provide priceless psychic conditioning for the playoffs. As a former player, Cris should know better. By January, this game won't be a memory for Denver and New England. It'll be just another video overwatched by the assistant coaches. Short-term memory loss has more causes than just concussions. Hell, by Wednesday both clubs will be more or less (and it better be more) absorbed by their next opponent. In the NFL, the events of two months ago are as remote to the consciousness as the Napoleonic Wars.
Amnesia is one the most primal survival tools of professional sports. Nothing will be better for Denver's damaged souls than the next game. Nothing will be better suited for keeping the Pats from reliving their triumph, too. Doesn't mean Denver will beat the Chiefs next Sunday, nor even that the Pats will beat Houston. It just means that these men are too busy for memories right now. They will derive no lasting conclusions from last night's game, except maybe "turnovers are bad." Nor should they.
The Broncos will not see themselves as one-down to New England. Do you think the Pats regard the outcome of the Panthers game as the last word on their respective merits as teams?
Wins are better than losses, so the Pats are better off today than they were and the Broncos worse. How much better? How much worse? Nobody knows.
A whole lot of commentators, however, will spend their week not thinking of the next game, but proving just how extensive that lack of knowledge is.
Get Me the Patent Office on Line One, Stat!
A group of irritatingly demented Red Sox fans are circulating a petition to have baseball declare the 1904 Red Sox World Champions for that year, being awarded the World Series because the New York Giants refused to play them due to various personal vendettas of Giants owner Albert Brush and manager John McGraw.
Besides being stupid, this petition is morally deplorable. Where's the sportsmanship in winning a title in the hearing room? Don't you think MLB's lawyers have enough to do getting ready for battle with Alex Rodriguez? No, this dispute should be settled as gentlemen do it, on the field. The virtual field, that is.
If ever I saw a concept that needed a video game, it's the 1904 World Series. Just the computer graphics of the uniforms would be a delight. As for the competition, well, Game One starters Christy Mathewson and Cy Young might be a decent matchup for coach-bound managers. I certainly hope virtual McGraw would get ejected from at least one game.
Historical accuracy would be a must. Part of the fun this game would provide would be gamers having to adjust to a sports game where the players weren't superhuman, where the ball was dead and swinging away produced pop-ups, not homers. Sabermetricians wouldn't like it, but learning how to bunt would be no lower than lesson three in how to win.
Our country has hundreds of thousands of sick baseball fans who're also avid gamers, an almost infinite number of unemployed video game developers and more than enough professional and amateur baseball historians to do the required spadework and provide stats for the programmers. All that's lacking is the will.
How about MLB? How about it EA Sports? Put your shoulder to the wheel and you can have this baby in the stores by Opening Day 2014.
Don't forget to make Vin Scully and Roger Angell the announcers. Or, seeing as there was no radio or TV back then, hire some unemployed sportswriters to compose stories for little newspaper front pages that'll pop up on the game screen as the action progresses.
I know one who's available.
"Uncatchable" Was a Way Better Song When Nat King Cole Did It
Cheer up, Patriots fans! Losing a game on a weird, inexplicable walk-off call by an official isn't the end of the world. Why, the last team it happened to in our fair city/region never lost another game!
Oh, sorry, wasn't really listening there for a second. You say this is the SECOND time it's happened to New England this season? Forget what I said. Obviously they're completely screwed.