Friday, February 29, 2008

Outer Gardener Skips Rose Garden!

In June, 1984, several days after the Boston Celtics won the NBA Championship, President Ronald Reagan held a White House reception for the team. The scheduling was not ideal, as the event was held at noon the day after the Celts' victory parade in Boston.

Larry Bird did not attend the event. Possessing somewhat greater political and social skills than George W. Bush, Reagan made no mention of Bird's absence.

Back in Boston, yours truly was at the Phoenix, working on a piece on the Celtics' victory, when the phone rang. An earnest young man identified himself as a writer for the than-as-now earnest and excellent liberal political magazine "Washington Monthly." Did I know Bird had missed the White House reception? I did. Did I know if this was a political protest?

That was a stumper for a few seconds. Bird's political opinions, if any, were not something that ever crossed my mind as a subject for journalistic inquiry. Eventually, I allowed as how like anyone from Indiana with money, to the extent Bird had political leanings, they were Republican.

I ventured a guess that Bird had skipped this ceremony because of the afterparty for the victory parade, and was in all likelihood still in bed, nursing a hangover as large and vicious as a Boston Garden rat. In any case, Bird's motives for snooting a presidential invitation were purely personal.

The guy on the phone was very disappointed. So was I. A freelance piece entitled "Larry Bird-Closet Leftist" would have been remunerative.

This history is why I cannot believe that even the barrel-bottom scrapings of WEEI callers are able to make an issue out of Manny Ramirez not attending a similar White House ceremony for the 2007 Boston Red Sox this week. Manny's critics, both professional and amateur, cannot have it both ways. They customarily depict Ramirez as a childlike airhead who is only vaguely aware of the time-space continuum of our universe. Now, all of a sudden, Ramirez is a committed advocate of world revolution who has a portrait of Fidel Castro in his minor league baseball uniform hung atop the mantelpiece.

It doesn't wash. Nor should it. Memo from James Madison to Manny's detractors: When the President asks you to his rented home, you don't have to go. He's not the boss of us. Most people do go, because it is an honor, but it's not mandatory, and regrets can be sent for any reason-political or otherwise.

My guess is that Ramirez, unlike his would-be host, had better things to do with his time.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Credibility-Political Scandal Division

When a 30-year old woman spends an inordinate amount of time with an influential 60-year old man, and brags to her peers about how tight they are, the wicked world draws just one conclusion. John McCain, however, ferociously denies he and lobbyist Vicki Iseman were sexual partners. They were, to quote a cliche almost as old as the Senator, just good friends.

McCain expects to be taken at his word. He should wish he isn't.

Let's accept McCain's version of events. He had a non-sexual friendship with an attractive woman half his age who worked for somebody seeking favors from the government. The relationship scared his staff half to death, but no sex took place.

What does a 60-year old man get from such a relationship? Flattery, that's what. A boost to indefatiguable male sexual ego without the woman having to engage in sex with the body inside which the ego resides.

Frankly, that's just pathetic. That looks about 1000 times worse for McCain than would an actual affair. It brings to mind the late husband of the late Anna Nicole Smith.

When it comes to a potential President of the United States, I'll pick an old goat over an old fool any day.

Credibility-Football Scandal Division

Bill Belichick's constant, unvarying means of dealing with unwanted information is to refuse to acknowledge its existence, especially in public. Be it Deion Branch's 2004 injury or a $500,000 fine, the Pats coach blocks out the topic with a skill he could only wish Logan Mankins had shown in Super Bowl LXII.

Belichick doesn't prevaricate or obfuscate. He stonewalls. This can be frustrating to reporters covering him, but at least one knows what to expect.

That's why, at least to this former reporter, the most interesting thing about Belichick's on-the-record denial he authorized a secret taping of the Rams' walk-through practice the day before Super Bowl XXXVI is that he made it. It is a starting reversal of Belichick's M.O., and on an occasion where the usual tight-lipped silence would've been perfectly appropriate. Belichick was responding to a charge which so far appears to contain a peck of vague suspicion to a pinch of known fact. That is just not like the man.

And that is why I tend to believe him. When in real trouble, people tend to revert to past practice, seeking a comfort zone. Richard Nixon lied. Bill Clinton twisted words. Jerry Tarkanian took new jobs. Etc. Refusing to discuss this weird story would not only have been consistent with Belichick's past practice, it would have been perfectly appropriate. Any objective analysis must conclude there are as many or more reasons to assume there's nothing in this as to assume there is.

This leads me to believe that Belichick made his denial because he can back it up. I realize there's an alternative explanation, that is, that silence didn't really do Belichick much good in Spygate, Part I, so he's made a halftime adjustment. I merely find that a less likely scenario.

I'd say time will tell, but since is the National Football League we're discussing, it probably won't.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Legal Brief

Willie Gary, a backup player for the St. Louis Rams in 2001 whose pro football career ended when he was cut by the Scottish Claymores the next spring, has filed a $100 million lawsuit against the New England Patriots, and I assume, the NFL, for the Pats' alleged taping of the Rams' walkthrough practice the day before Super Bowl XXXVI.

This will come to nothing of course, and it shouldn't, but in one respect, that's a pity. Football historians would be very glad to get Mike Martz under oath about that game.

"Your honor, the defense calls a surprise witness, Mr. Marshall Faulk. At least he'll come as a surprise to Coach Martz."

Sports Marketing 101: A Case Study

NOTE: Auto racing fans need not read this post. You already know all this stuff.

Here's a quiz, gang. What would be the reaction of the typical baseball fan to the following scenario? He or she turns on the television to watch the home team on Opening Day, and sees a bench-clearing brawl break out when one third-base coach punches another as they're handing the umps the lineups at home plate before the National Anthem?

My guess is, said fan would have the ticket office on repeat speed dial and the home team's Web site on permanent refresh within 10 seconds as he or she attempted to get two good seats down the first base line ASAP.

This is pretty much what happened in the supposedly haplessly rural and backward world of NASCAR. Top drivers Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch, both somewhat somewhat edgy personalities, began duking it out at a drivers' meeting more than a week before the Daytona 500 opens the 2008 season. They were put on probation for six weeks, and told to avoid each other.

A sport that needs restraining orders! What's not to like?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Congress Doesn't Need Steroids, Just Cameras

As predicted by this blog, Roger Clemens dazzled the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform with his icy mastery of logic and language that made interviewing him such a unique professional experience. But then, compared to a roomful of congresspeople, even a stone-crazy rockhead like Rocket is going to look good.

What is worse about today's dark comedy on the collapse of our republic? That Congress, which quails in terror at standing up for the Constitution all its member swore to defend, thought what was injected into some ballplayer's ass was the most vital topic of the day, or that Congress found the question of what was injected into some ballplayer's ass to be a PARTISAN ISSUE?

Democrats gave Clemens a hard time. Republicans gave his accuser Brian McNamee, a hard time. No squishy moderation allowed. Do performance-enhancing drugs really poll that way? And who does the polling?

In truth, the explanation is very simple. In Congress, look for petty personal reasons, and the answer appears. George Mitchell, the author of the report to baseball that first accused Clemens of HGH and steroid use, is a former Democratic leader in the Senate. Democrats went after Clemens because if Clemens is vindicated, their man looks like a prize chump. Republicans defended Rog because they're still mad about parliamentary shit Mitchell pulled 20 years ago. Such childish behavior is appropriate to the Clemens hearing, a childish matter. Too bad the same motives prevail in Congressional debates on war and peace.

Clemens, at bottom, is just another dumb jock. His inquisitors are allegedly serious people. Any citizen who watched the hearing and didn't entertain serious thoughts of a violent revolution wasn't paying attention.

Our elected representatives should go home each night and thank God for the boundless mercy, or rather, boundless apathy, of the American people. They do not merit the dignity of one's contempt.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Super Bowl LXII, Footnote 2.

They didn't make the brand of pro football history they wanted, but the New England Patriots made history all the same.

Having won outright as a double-digit underdog in Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams, six years later, the Patriots entered Super Bowl LXII as the first double-digit favorites since that game. And they LOST outright.

When the many accomplishments of the Patriots of the first decade of the 21st century are listed at future celebrations in Canton, Ohio, one that will not, but should be mentioned is that they were the team that killed the 1o points or more point spread in the Super Bowl for the foreseeable future. It's gonna take about five straight years of 30 point blowouts before any bettors will give that many points in the title game again.

Super Bowl LXII, Footnote 1.

The bye week before the Super Bowl, large amounts of newsprint, videotape, radio waves, and pixels, some of them mine, were spent analyzing and/or commenting upon the fact Tom Brady missed two practices ten days before the game nursing a moderately sore ankle.

In the Super Bowl itself, Plaxico Burress of the Giants turned in a reasonably important play and was on the field for every offensive snap. Burress missed EVERY Giants' practice between the NFC championship and the Bowl.

The sports commentariat owes Allen Iverson an apology. Obviously, his ideas about showing up for practice aren't weird and insubordinate-they're just logical.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Springtime for Libertarians?

Super Tuesday has come and gone, and the Ron Paul presidential campaign has no reason to mark the occasion. Paul has raised over $20 million in campaign funds, but has won few votes with the money. As far as can be told, he hasn't spent much of it.

In this Super Tuesday primary state, there were no Paul ads on TV. In truth, I have only been exposed to one Paul commercial in the entire campaign. He ran radio spots on the Sirius channel that gives continuous NFL score updates on game days. This indicates Paul's strategists believe compulsive gamblers are the soccer moms of the 2008 election cycle.

Or maybe not. Perhaps there's a motive for Paul's minimalists campaign mode that's personal, not political. There are many better things on which money can be spent than television commercials. What if Ron Paul is the Max Bialystock of American politics?

Failed campaigns and Broadway flops have one thing in common-each is quickly forgotten. No one inquires into the finances of a losing presidential bid except its creditors. If Paul's keeping the money, he won't have any. No campaign promises to keep, either.

Frankly, Paul's fervent supporters are even easier to fool than the little old ladies of "The Producers." First, they are ideologues, the most readily manipulated of all humans. Second, Paul's loyal legion communicates, donates, and spends its time on the Internet, meaning they don't get out much.

Campaign finance law isn't quite like real law, since it was written by people seeking to get around it. If Paul were to pull the scheme I've outlined, it'd be perfectly legal-as long as he paid taxes on the unspent money. Paul hates taxes, but a nimble accountant could find about a thousand phony expenditures for any political candidate. Voter education projects, that's the ticket.

I cast no aspersions here. Paul is a true crank, and cranks, by and large, are frightfully honest.

On the other hand, it's possible Paul believes what he says at those Republican debates, and sees the current economic downturn as the first stage of a cataclysmic meltdown of U.S. society. If that's the case, well, $20 million would buy more than ample supplies of gold ingots, canned goods, bottled water, and ammunition.

That's a lot more than Mitt Romney's getting for HIS money.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Spy vs. Spy vs. Mike Martz

The magnificent military historian John Keegan wrote a book on the use of intelligence in warfare through the ages, and concluded that while knowledge of the enemy's intentions and capabilities was a helpful tool, there not been one battle ever fought, not one, where intelligence decided the outcome.

Keegan's deal-making case was the German invasion of the island of Crete in 1941. Thanks to the ULTRA device, British forces there had precise information on every aspect of the invasion, times, places, names of units, the whole deal. But the Germans had air superiority, and the knowledge did the Brits not enough good to change that monumental fact of the conflict.

Keegan hasn't examined the topic, as he's British, but I daresay that conclusion goes double for Super Bowls.

It was my good fortune to attend Super Bowl XXXVI, and its fundamental nature was summed up at halftime by one of the country's top football reporters, Ed Boucette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"What's happening here," Ed said as we waited in hot dog line, "is that one team is playing FOOTBALL, and the other team is playing like a bunch of sissies." (He didn't say sissies, but perhaps small children are reading this).

Just so. The Patriots came out and played defense with a rule-testing ferocity the Rams, except for Kurt Warner were unable to match. The Rams defense was completely gassed in the last minute of play, just as it had been in Super Bowl XXXIV, and the Pats took advantage and grabbed the win. Bill Belichick's game plan was a matter of trusting in the willpower and conditioning of his club, and the fact no zebra wants to throw the flag that determines a Super Bowl. It was macrocoaching, not microcoaching details of the opponents' play-calling.

This post is not an opinion on whether or not the Pats taped the Rams' final walkthrough. Since if they did so with malice aforethought, the tapes are long gone, and the issue will never settled. The issue need never be settled. It is irrelevant. It did not, and could not, determine the outcome of that game.

If I know my team is going to hit harder than their team, I'll radio every call I make to their bench, and I'll win anyway.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Obligatory Prediction Post

A 12-point spread makes for a dull Super Bowl prediction. Picking the favorite is no fun, while picking the underdog requires writing football analysis involving as many leaps of faith as x's and o's.

Faith surpasseth understanding, as I read somewhere. There have been Super Bowl upsets, and by golly, I even picked two of 'em. In print. You can look it up. I wrote pieces for the Herald calling the Broncos over the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII and the Patriots over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. In both, faith was the underlying assumption. I acknowledged the reasons why the favorite was seen as such, and offered counterarguments based on the fundamental FEELING that the underdog was plenty good enough to win if it played to its potential. In the case of the Pats, faith was about all I cited. They just had that ineffable look of a club in control of its destiny to me.

I went back this morning and read last week's post about the Giants' strengths coming into Super Bowl LXII. I stand by those assertions. But I don't feel them. Listing them was an intelllectual exercise only, a gesture towards accuracy in a sea of home town hype. Anyone who watched local Boston television this week and isn't frantically rooting for New York to win is truly a Patriots fan worth saluting.

Accuracy went under the replay hood and looked at the Giants again. Their playoff strengths, solid line play and turnover avoidance, are still there, but when added up, the result is, here are the reasons New York could win IF the game stays close and IF the Pats make some mistakes to boot.

One if is all I give any underdog. Two and I become a chalk player's chalk player. Allowing for the real possibility that New York can score over 20 points on New England, I return to the following matchup, one that spells out 19-0 for the Patriots. New England's primal asset, is, of course, Tom Brady. The Giants' most vulnerable area is their defensive backfield. I think we need go no further.

It'd be great for the purposes of historical continuity if the Patriots won by three points for their fourth straight Super Bowl tomorrow, but that would be a fluke. My best guess is a reasonably entertaining game for, oh, 40 minutes or so, followed by a fourth quarter that'll give fans plenty of time for gossip with the neighbors, flirting, more food, looking for their car keys, or however they use the down time of running out the clock on another NFL season.

P.S. This is NOT a prediction that the Pats will cover. That I have no idea. A 10-point lead in the 4th quarter can be just as untouchably dull as a 30-point margin. Remember how they ran out the clock against the Chargers?

Football, Videotape, and Treason

When the history of the fall of the United States of America is written a century or so from now, at least one chapter will be devoted to the Congress in the first decade of the 21st century. Out of the desire for political gain and cowardice, its Republicans and quite a few Democrats betrayed their oath of office and went along with the violations of the Constitution put forth on a near-daily basis by George W. Bush. One of the most prominent Quislings of the period has been Senator Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania.

So it's understandable that Spector is making an ass of himself making inquiries into NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's destruction of the videotapes in the Patriots' rule-breaking taping of opponents' sidelines. It's compensation. Spector has ppent 40 years in public life, ever since his role with the Warren Commission, covering up the truth to do the bidding of power. He's covered himself with a slimy sheen of pompous rectitude in the process, a front that only works on the terminally foolish, like Washington political reporters. How satisfying to play the crusading public official before an audience of millions.

Well, the old scumbucket has another think coming in this matter. In modern American society, the NFL commissioner outranks a minority party U.S. Senator by about the same margin that John Madden outranks me in the football commentary world. Slowly, quietly, the wheels of the NFL will turn, and bad things will begin to happen to Arlen Spector. He may not even figure out why.

I'm not a Patriots fan. I am, however, an American citizen. Me and Thomas Jefferson agree. Spector can't get his soon enough.