Friday, January 29, 2010

Why the Pro Bowl Sucks

Of all the major sports all star games, the Pro Bowl has always been, by far, the worst. This has been for several reasons, not the least of which is that it fails on the basic promise of an All-Star Game.

Simply put, the whole point of an ASG is to see the best play with and against the best. That's what sells the baseball ASG - the thought of Mariano Rivera trying to nail down a win against a Murderer's Row of, say, Hanley Ramirez, Albert Pujols and Chase Utley. It's Carl Hubbell and his screwball getting swings and misses from five Hall of Famers in a row. And for all that managers these days are careful about getting lots of players in and not scragging pitchers' arms, one gets the genuine sense that the baseball being played in the ASG is fundamentally identical to the baseball played throughout the season and the playoffs.

The same goes for the NBA All-Star Game; sure, nobody plays defense, but they're playing hard. It's Dream Team vs. Dream Team out there, the Garnett-to-LeBron-to-dunking-over-Tim-Duncan moment that's literally impossible in the "real" world for all those pesky salary cap reasons. We can't see this anywhere else. It offers us a cross between fantasy sports and gladiatorial combat in way that's compelling.

The Pro Bowl, on the other hand, throws this out the window by allowing everyone and their uncle to cop out of the game with the exuse that their kitten has a hangnail. It's played at a leisurely pace with a dumbed-down playbook and guys going half speed, because nobody wants to get hurt, and it's generally played after the Super Bowl, when we've all got sort of a football hangover. If the Super Bowl is the biggest feast of the football year (the Buffalo Bills' occasional participation notwithstanding), then the Pro Bowl has traditionally been that one bit of food you work out from where it's stuck between your teeth about two hours later.

And this year, they managed to make it worse. While the idea of raising the game's profile by sticking it before the Super Bowl was at least theoretically a good one, in practice it borks the game even worse. To start with, the best players can't play. When your fantasy of the best against the best fails to feature the best players on the best teams, well, it's like one of those Peter Gabriel "Best Of" collections that didn't have "Sledgehammer" but did have room for "Moribund the Burgomeister".

Second, the timing switch doesn't help. Nobody's going to be interested in watching half-speed competition in the two weeks between the ceremonial Brett Favre Throwing Of the Interception and what's supposed to be the most hotly contested game of the year. It's overshadowed by the game it's supposed to be warming us up for - as well it should be. As Bill Simmons might put it, you don't watch Godfather III in between I and II.

And the final insult, the thing that seals the deal, is the fact that they moved it to Florida. The only watchable thing about the Pro Bowl in the past was watching to see what percentage of the stands was filled with offensive linemen who'd been bought tickets to Hawaii by their Pro Bowl-bound skill players - and the endearingly awkward interviews that went with them. With the game in Miami, that's gone. The one goofily human moment of the whole charade is removed. Sure, these guys could fly their O-lines to Miami, but hey, that's just a couple of hours. Sending your long snapper to Hawaii? That was commitment.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Big Mac and Pete Rose

I think at this point it's safe to assume that precisely no one has had their mind changed about Mark McGwire, steroids, Pete Rose, or anything else by impassioned blog posts, poorly thought out blog comments, or columns on ESPN.com. On the other hand, it certainly does seem to be generating clickthrough, which apparently is making someone happy.

That being said, I would like to propose a set of rules for the argument going forward:

1-You cannot criticize Mark McGwire unless you spell his last name properly. This holds particularly true if his name is spelled correctly in the title or body of the article/blog post/poorly thought out Gene Wojciechowski rant you are commenting upon.

2-Anyone pointing to Andy Pettite and Jason Giambi as "guys who came clean" must be able to quote the line where Giambi admitted publicly he did steroids. This may take them a while.

3-Any gratuitous asides at cranky old time Murray Chass types will be penalized two semicolons and a link to a Joe Posnanski post. There's enough to take issue with in the posts without reigniting the whole "Mainstream Media Versus Nerds In the Basement" idiocy.

4-Anyone pointing out that we don't know how much effect, if any, PEDs actually have on baseball production must perform six minutes of interpretive dance on YouTube for failing to recognize that the argument is one of perception, and the perception is that PEDs turned McGwire into Popeye. The required time is cut in half if they can name at least eight scrubeenies (team and position included) listed in the Mitchell Report as users who still couldn't crack the Top 30 at any position in the Sporting News Fantasy Baseball Guide.

5-McGwire's Hall of Fame candidacy and McGwire's current employment as hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals are two different things. Failure to recognize this is grounds for being forced to listen to a CD of Joe Morgan narrating recorded Bigfoot calls from rural Ohio.

6-Anyone claiming that since McGwire's steroid use was illegal, his Hall candidacy is forfeit must immediately make a blog post demanding the removal of Ty Cobb for his aggravated assault of Claude Lueker. However, the first commenter to note the extensive amphetamine use by baseball players in the 70s and 80s has their posting privileges revoked until the first commenter in the thread figures out exactly who Claude Lueker was.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I Don't Hate Brett Favre...

...because of the way he plays football. Indeed, being a fan of a team Favre likes to throw interceptions to during the playoffs has made me something of a Brett Favre fan.

No, I hate Brett Favre because the day after the conference championship games, one of which was decided in monumentally dramatic fashion, the lead football story on ESPN is "Will Brett Favre be back next year?"

Screw that noise. Can we have a little something about the guys still playing this year? Thanks.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Question For Charger Fans

Funny how Nate Kaeding can make Norv Turner look exactly like Marty Schottenheimer, isn't it?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Penny Lane

Alas for poor, jilted Tennessee, whose mediocre football coach has abandoned them for greener pastures, or at least ones paved in greenbacks.

I can see feeling bad for his recruits. These are young men who had every reason to think he'd stick around and be their coach, especially since it was highly unlikely that anyone was going to swoop in and steal a guy whose head coaching resume consisted of one mediocre college season and a season-and-change of utter disaster in the NFL. Considering his paycheck, the dollars thrown at his assistants, and the fact that he really hasn't indicated that he's much of a head coach, he seemed as likely to be plucked from Tennessee as I am a candidate to go on Iron Chef.

And yet, USC nabbed him, largely because of past association and desperation, not to mention the fact that with the assistants he was bringing along, he was setting up to be the new lead singer for Pete Carroll's old band. Of course, that move always works well. Ask the guys in Journey about that one.

But I somehow can't find it in my uncharitable soul to feel the slightest sympathy for the University of Tennessee. Yup, their highly paid employees abandoned them at a critical time of the year (though ESPN tells us that every single day is critical for football, right?) How dare USC steal them away.

Except, of course, that UT did roughly the same thing with former defensive coordinator (and father of Lane) Monte Kiffin, whose senior(citizen)itis in his last half-season with Tampa Bay was so obvious it was painful. Everyone knew Monte was headed for Tennessee and a big paycheck, his Buccaneer defense fell apart, and nobody cared or bitched or blogged. But the lesson is simple - if you're going to poach, don't bitch when you get poached.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Speaking As A Writer...

...I look forward to seeing baseball players express outrage over the fact that Samuel Coleridge, Hunter S. Thompson, Stephen King, and Marcel Proust, among others, used performance-enhancing drugs while writing.
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