Don't know about you, but it was one hell of a football weekend for me. I started the pregame celebrating early: sub sandwiches and charcoal-grilled hot wings, a fine mix of rock-country-rap on the playlist, some fine bourbon alternating with aluminum-can beer. Not going to say I got a little sick in the grass before the game started, but not going to say I didn't, either.
And all the other parents at the kids' 8 a.m. flag football game looked at me strangely, but hell with 'em.
Tempting as it may be to blame replacement refs for all the ills of this world – war, famine, pestilence, Gangnam Style – the NFL's coaches and players do a fine job of utterly screwing themselves, their teams and their fans all by themselves. Take, for instance, Detroit-Tennessee on Sunday, which wasn't so much a football game as a live-action version of two 9-year-olds trying to figure out how to play Madden '13.
The quick-and-dirty version: Despite losing QB Matt Stafford, the Lions scored twice in a final 18 seconds that included both a recovered onsides kick and a Hail Mary. Then, in overtime, down a field goal, the Lions decided on a halfhearted QB draw that actually turned out to be a mistaken draw-the-Titans-offsides attempt. The problem? It was fourth-and-1. No first down, game over, thanks for playing, Detroit.
Of course, overtime is not kind to Lions coaches. Recall Marty Mornhinweg, who in 2002 against the Bears decided to kick rather than receive in sudden-death … and lost the game when the Bears marched straight down to kick a field goal.
Coach Jim Schwartz blamed it on a "miscommunication," which is the perfect catchall workplace excuse if your workplace isn't made up of millionaires. "Miscommunication" is putting high-test coffee in the decaf pot at a restaurant (or, at least, that's the excuse I used to use), not blowing a winnable game after a ballsy effort by your entire team. Everyone involved in this debacle ought to get their annual physical performed by replacement refs.
The college football season is like Catholicism in microcosm: commit grievous sin (lose early), repent and commit good deeds (run up the score on your remaining opponents), achieve forgiveness and play in a quality bowl game. (This scenario places the BCS in the position of the Almighty, which they probably see as a step down in prestige, but whatever.)
Anyway, this year we've already seen our share of on-field sins: losses by USC and Oklahoma, a should-count-as-a-loss narrow win by LSU, and the catastrophic Exorcist-level transgressions of three-loss Arkansas. Their only hope for salvation? It's still September, plenty of time for other teams ahead of them to get in trouble with their Maker … er, voters. (Except for Arkansas. Not even the Pope can help that friggin' defense.)
This handy little football-as-religion metaphor will vanish once we get a true playoff system. At that point, it won't be about impressing anybody and meeting arbitrary performance standards; it'll be about measurable, tangible, objective victory. Which, when you think about it, wouldn't be the worst way to determine who gets into Heaven: head-to-head matchups, one advances, one declines. My luck, I'd draw the lovable Betty White in the first round.
Let's take a moment to talk about cursed franchises. Sure, you've got your Cubs, your Bills and your Knicks, but my bid this year for the most brutally cursed franchise is the Pittsburgh Pirates. Here's a team that hasn't had a winning record in two decades, not since the Braves' Sid Bream slid past the outstretched, Hobbit-like arms of Mike Lavalliere in the 1992 National League Championship Series. (You can blame Barry Bonds for that play too, Pittsburgh fans. Look it up.)
Anyway, this year it looked like sports' most ignominious season-upon-season run of futility was about to end; Pittsburgh was 16 games above .500 in early August and, if not necessarily playoff-caliber, at least back in the black at last.
But franchise curses, like movie monsters or undercooked pork, have a way of sneaking up on you even when you think you're safe. On that August day, all Pittsburgh needed to do was win 19 of its last 52 games, a less-than-.400 winning percentage.
You can guess what happened next. Since then, the Pirates have lost 30 games while winning a mere 12. They'll have to go 7-3 over their final 10 games to break that 20-year sub-.500 run, and while they can feast on the pathetic New York Mets, they finish against the playoff-bound Cincinnati Reds and, in a case of supreme scheduling irony, the same Braves that shoved their heads below water all those years ago.
Now, granted, given the fact that both the Penguins and the Steelers have brought championships home to Pittsburgh, it's tough to feel too bad for the Yinzers. But, like that prison open to the sunlight in "The Dark Knight Rises," the cruelest torture any franchise can offer its fans is hope. Unless you're a franchise in Cleveland, in which case the cruelest thing you can offer your fans is season tickets. Zing!
Because we, as the sports media, are contractually obligated to force certain athletes down your throat, here's what the marquee names did this weekend:
Tiger Woods missed out on a desperately needed $10 million payday at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, finishing eight strokes behind winner Brandt Snedeker. Danica Patrick put in a really good quality effort, and finished almost all the laps at Kentucky Speedway. She placed 14th, which is a lot better than 15th or 16th. Robert Griffin III's debut in Washington featured three spectacular touchdowns of 48 yards or more, which would've been lovely for the hometown crowd except for the fact that the Bengals were scoring said touchdowns.
Oh, and Tim Tebow? Well, this happened:
We all know the truth: If Tebow had been throwing that pass, Tebow would've caught it.
I've got friends who are doctors and priests and heads of charitable foundations – you know, people who do actual life-changing work, as opposed to me, who spends days thinking of whether the Avengers could beat the 1992 Dream Team in basketball. (Depends on if Jordan and Pippen could shut down Hawkeye the way they did Toni Kukoc.) Let's face it: This is the toy department of adult life.
But there's a reason why we watch sports beyond just screaming for our favorite team to beat those bastards from [rival city/college/nation] into paste. Sports reveals character, and while the tantrum-throwers get the headlines, it's the men and women of true depth who deserve our esteem. Less than 24 hours after losing his brother in a motorcycle accident, Ravens WR Torrey Smith not only played, he caught two touchdown passes.
The world would understand if any of us who'd just lost a family member wanted to curl up in bed and hide under a pillow for a few days. But Smith didn't do that; he stepped up and honored his brother with grace, dignity and one hell of a fantasy football night. We should all be so lucky to get such a sendoff.
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