By early this afternoon the all the mystery will disappear and we’ll know the four teams playing in the College Football Playoff 0n New Year’s Day. Three schools finished at 13-0: Michigan and Washington are in and so should Florida State, the ugly-duckling with the perfect record who did everything asked of them. That leaves one spot and four one-loss contenders. Eliminate Ohio State a loser to Michigan. Down to three: Texas, Alabama and Georgia, all at 12-1. And while they didn’t play a round robin, only one of the three didn’t lose to one of the other two. You know I’d like to make a case for Alabama, arguably playing the best football in the country, but computer models aside, I can’t. Bama beat Georgia on Saturday while Texas beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa in September. If head to head has any significance at all it has to be Texas who gets the final spot. But that is too logical and won’t happen.
Our relationship has been going on for almost 56 years, give or take. Started circa 1967 when I was a sophomore in high school. Every Thursday we’d visit. The mailman was our matchmaker. My copy of Sports Illustrated magazine would arrive and within 48 hours I’d devour it. The writing, aspiring one day to see my byline on those pages, was a keen influence on my decision to major in journalism a few years later in college. Needless to say, it didn’t quite workout the way I envisioned but I never severed the weekly relationship until Sports Illustrated did it for me four years ago and went to a monthly. Through the years, some great writers came and went but the quality of the publication and loyalty of the reader was the envy of the industry. Then economics took its toll. Readership declined because the electronic media became the wave. Then advertisers left because the readers did. Now the monthly is skinny almost beyond recognition. As a result so did the quality of writing. Once hiring the best of the best, dollars disappeared resulting in compromising the level of journalism. It went from world class to pretty ordinary. I stayed loyal but now showing up only every four weeks I don’t have the urgency to read what no longer is topical news, features or investigations. Sports Illustrated is not what it once was nor ever will be again.
And then the news this week that their “Sportsperson of the Year,” once highly anticipated and envied, has become like the magazine, a shell of itself, almost laughable. The editorial staff has lost their minds. Pompous Deion Sanders, who completed his first year as head football coach at Colorado, according to SI was the best of the best in all of sport this year. Colorado finished dead last in the PAC-12 with one conference win and an overall record of 4-8. They ended the season with six straight losses which somehow was good enough for the SI brass to laud him. It was a huge slight to Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea who went winless in the much more competitive SEC. If I was in the “Sportsperson of the Year” selection business there was one standout in 2023 and he didn’t finish 4-8. Bruce Bochy, who came off an easy chair in retirement to manage the lightly regarded Texas Rangers and lead them to the World Series title, by far exceeded anyone in sports including the last place finisher in the PAC-12. It was Bochy’s fourth World Championship, the other three were with the Giants. This year was probably his best managing accomplishment of all. A last place narcissistic football coach vs. the epitome of professionalism. Really SI, in your waning years, this is the best you have left?
One last PAC-12 note. With 10 of the 12 teams off to other conferences next year the PAC-12 is now the PAC-2 with Washington State and Oregon State being left behind with nowhere to go. The little two announced over the weekend they will play a Mountain West Conference football schedule next year but keep their independence as the PAC-2.
You know you’re getting old when your wife, a decade younger, enrolls for social security benefits.
Major League Baseball has approved the Oakland A’s transfer to Las Vegas, still a few years away. Oakland now becomes the only city in the country to lose franchises in each of the major sports. Three of them are easy: the A’s and Raiders to Vegas and the Warriors to San Francisco. What was the fourth?
HBO’s in-season Hard Knocks has returned featuring the Miami Dolphins with new episodes every Tuesday night. Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill is not only a star on the field but clearly has found his niche in front of the camera, too.
My generation remembers singer Shirley Ellis’ popular tune, The Name Game, released exactly 59 years ago this month in 1964. Well, The Wall Street Journal reports that Tyler McCormick, a professor of statistics and sociology at the University of Washington, has created his own name game. Professor McCormick concludes the average American knows 611 people. That’s not close friends but on a much broader scale of casual acquaintances at some point in life. It still seems high especially because half of the US population say they have three or fewer close friends. Adults on Facebook have an average of 338 ‘friends.’ McCormick, along with cohorts from Princeton and Columbia, have developed a friendship formula revolving around the name Michael, which makes up about 1% of our population. Simply, the number of Michaels you know should also equal 1% of your acquaintances. So, per the math, if you know eight Michaels that translates into 800 relationships varying from very distant to close. Or as Shirley Ellis preached, ‘Michael, Michael Bo-Bikel, Bo-na-na-fanna Fo-Fikel, Fee-fi-mo-mikel. Michael.’
The California Golden Seals, an NHL expansion awarded in 1967, also vacated Oakland. Nine years later the team moved to Cleveland and became the Barons. After two disappointing seasons both on the ice and through the turnstiles, the franchise moved to Minnesota and was merged with the North Stars. Today, that team has found a permanent home in Dallas as the Stars.
If you haven’t watched the third season of Apple TV’s The Morning Show, watch it. Jon Hamm’s season-long guest spot teaming with Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, along with a great story line, makes it compelling.
One of those million things or so I must have forgotten: the president and vice president of the United States can’t be from the same state.
Speaking of which, maybe I’m nuts but if I can find an offshore sportsbook that offers enticing odds, I’d wager that neither Trump nor Biden are on the ticket come November.
In his 29th season as an NFL head coach the Patriots’ Bill Belichick is 28 regular season wins behind the late Don Shula’s 328 wins to become the NFL’s winningest coach. The surprise however is Belichick is only five losses away from the all-time NFL mark for losses. That stands at 165 owned by Dan Reeves and Jeff Fisher. They would be very happy to let Belichick own it.
This morning’s ticket stub from yonder dates back exactly 50 years ago today, December 3, 1973. The Pittsburgh Steelers came to Miami to play the Dolphins in the Orange Bowl for Monday Night Football, in its fourth season. My press credentials, as I was doing my internship with the Dolphins PR department, were for the lower press box just a few feet away from Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and Dandy Don Meredith, doing the game for ABC. They were rock stars. Kick-off was 9 pm which didn’t seem late to that 21-year-old; but a half century later this 71-year-old wants to know who can stay awake till that ungodly hour? The game itself was a tale of two halves: the Dolphins, 11-1 and defending Super Bowl champions, raced off to a 30-3 halftime lead behind two Dick Anderson pick-sixes off Terry Bradshaw and three Garo Yepremian field goals. The Steelers, 8-4, scored 23 unanswered second half points: two Bradshaw TD passes, and a 21-yard Franco Harris run, ultimately losing the game but covering the all-important eight point spread. Miami finished the regular season at 12-2 and defended their Super Bowl title with a 24-7 win over Minnesota. That was many moons ago.
Back in his playing days former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders was an enigma. He may have been the best to ever play the game, but his shy persona and tendency to avoid the media and spotlight never really gave him the accolades he deserved. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1988 as a junior at Oklahoma State but could never bring himself to claim the award. He was out of the country when he won it but probably wouldn’t have been in New York for the ceremony anyway. Too much limelight. It wasn’t his style. He surprisingly and abruptly retired in 1999, still the best in the game at 31, right before the season where he would have passed Walter Payton as the all-time leading rusher in NFL history. The Lions found out about his retirement the day before training camp opened in a letter he faxed to The Wichita Eagle, his hometown newspaper. Sanders then boarded a plane for London hoping nobody would find him. Now we’ve gone full circle and Sanders opens up in a 90- minute Netflix documentary called Bye Bye Barry. Sports commentator Dan Patrick, featured in the film said, “We will never see anyone like Barry Sanders again. Never.” Watch it.
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is only 65 years old. As the defending Super Bowl champs he no doubt still has what it takes. Watching an interview or standing on the sidelines he is in control. I went to the Raiders-Chiefs game last Sunday, sat behind the KC sideline and Reid, whose gait is severely hampered by a series of knee replacements, looks 20 years older when trying to amble around.
If you’re a hockey coach and you know your team is grossly overmatched, what do you do? Well, back in 1964 in a Rhode Island Interscholastic League game between North Providence High School and Cranston East, North Providence coach Dick Ernst figured the only way he could try to stop high scoring Cranston was to start with two goalies. It didn’t work. Cranston won 12-4. The NHL had prohibited the use of two goaltenders playing at the same time back in 1931. The rule book doesn’t mandate a team use a goalie, only that a team can’t play two at once. Shortly after the North Providence attempt, the use of two goaltenders was outlawed on just about all levels of the game. However, a few years ago, that didn’t stop Tenafly (NJ) High School’s coach Andy Escala from trying. With a record of 0-5-1 and playing unbeaten St. Joseph’s (6-0), Escala called his counterpart at St. Joseph’s telling him he had a freshmen and sophomore laden roster with only two seniors and wanted to cancel the game knowing they didn’t stand a chance. Escala was trying to build a program, not deflate his kids. St. Joseph’s refused, they wanted the easy W. So Escala, knowing it was against the rules, started two goalies anyway. The puck drops, and the whistle soon blows. The officials were confused, had never seen it before and didn’t know what to do. They checked the rule book, found it was a no-no, and sent one of the goalies off for a two-minute penalty and told him not to return. The bullies prevailed. St. Joseph’s won 10-0.
Finally, two weeks ago I wrote that Tommy DeVito of the New York Giants might be the worst starting quarterback ever in NFL history. Of course, he’s won his last two games as reader George Howard couldn’t wait to point out. Okay, let’s try this and see if it works: New York Jets quarterback Tim Boyle is the worst quarterback in NFL history.
Chanukah begins on Thursday night. Wishing everyone celebrating, especially our brethren in the Middle East, a joyous and peaceful holiday.