Quick congratulations first to both our finalists Monday night. I wish all the relevant parties well. As ever in this space, I offer no predictions but a couple of crackpot observations.
The Michigan State basketball team, bearing so much local hope, and very much in the smokestack manner of the place it represents, is a triumph of design, engineering and manufacture -- a machine much greater than the sum of its dependable and perfectly interchangeable parts. If only our Detroit car companies could build something so fast, strong and modern. Pending the outcome tonight, then, we might want to walk Tom Izzo around the corner and put him in charge of General Motors.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Travis Walton and the Spartans represent hope to economically troubled Michigan.
North Carolina, on the other hand, seems to grow up out of the red-dirt history and smoky Piedmont romance of college basketball and its old-time ghosts, and will rise or fall tonight on the fortunes of its marquee Tys, Lawson and Hansbrough.
So, depending on the mystic fates, we might have a chance to at last see Mr. Hansbrough's usual haunted look of stunned disappointment changed into something happier -- which would be a tonic to us all, I think, as most of us for one reason or another have been wearing that same pained expression these past tumultuous months.
Thus, a struggle tonight between stars and systems, individuals and institutions, despair and joy -- an apt enough American metaphor for the recent unpleasantness seen all around us.
Last week's unemployment figures, for example. There were 663,000 new jobless claims across the nation in March -- 663,001 if you add Plaxico Burress, whose late layoff from the Giants will have to be accounted for in the April figures, I guess. Having already shot himself in the leg, he and his defense team shot themselves in the foot by asking for a postponement in his trial. To plead for a better deal, presumably, and less jail time -- or at least for fewer occasions on which he'd have to answer his cellmates' question, "What are you in for?"
Instead, the delay gave the Giants the strategic opening necessary to send Mr. Burress back to the NFL hiring hall. Let fashion be your lesson here: Never wear sweatpants to a fancy night club.
Other strategic matters brought us the launch of a rocket from North Korea over the weekend. An act that, depending on whom you ask, sent either a satellite into space or a shower of bright sparks and high-tech confetti into the Pacific and the Sea of Japan. So the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, spending money it doesn't have, has produced either a dire new threat to global stability or a really big party favor. Only time will tell. In any case, it brought another memorable news release from Kim Jong Il's DPRK PR department:
Al Bello/Getty Images
Avoid sweatpants as evening wear -- regardless of economic climate.
"The satellite is transmitting the melodies of the immortal revolutionary paeans 'Song of Gen. Kim Il Sung' and 'Song of Gen. Kim Jong Il,' as well as measurement data back to Earth."
Run through the Kim Jong Il Crazy Dictator Translator, this means: "Data measurements say we have no food or electricity."
Late last week, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen sent out his own release, a launch every bit as strategic.
"I am writing this letter today because I feel compelled to give our community and our fans an explanation regarding the Jay Cutler situation," he said.
Run through the Pat Bowlen NFL Owner Translator, this means: "I am compelled to tell you we have no quarterback."
OK. Reasonable people can disagree about trading away a player. Plenty of good arguments on all sides in this case, and players know they're on the block every moment of their careers. What struck me as odd, though, was that so many regular folks had so much to say so emphatically these past few weeks about Cutler. Since everyone everywhere in America complains about their work to anyone willing to listen, the "crybaby" meme seemed harsh.
If you were going along doing pretty good work, and your new boss tried to transfer you out of town without telling you, and you found out about it and marched into his office and rightly asked, "WTF?" and your boss came back to you and said, "We don't like your work and we don't like your attitude and we don't like you, and we're thinking of getting rid of you entirely -- but we really can't talk about it, especially to you, because we haven't figured out just how to do it yet," and things devolved from there, I have to believe most working Americans would be pretty upset.
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
Did Jay Cutler actually complain about his job any more than most of us?
It is, after all, every American's birthright to complain endlessly and colorfully about his or her work and about his or her treatment at work and about his or her boss. And we do.
So how do you criticize Cutler for doing exactly what the rest of us enjoy doing so much over a $2 recession draft during happy hour?
On the upside, though, Cutler found another job right away, so he won't be a drag on the public dollar. Or the public mind. As opposed to Michael Vick, whose bankruptcy hearing went so badly this past Friday that the judge won't let him declare bankruptcy. This after Mr. Vick hired two law firms and an accountant at a cost of $3.7 million to explain to the judge that Mr. Vick has no money. Which they apparently couldn't and didn't, but which certainly explains the root of the bankruptcy. Maybe he got the legal referral from Burress.
At that same moment, more financial news arrived from The Associated Press.
- DALLAS (AP) -- The company that owns baseball's Texas Rangers and hockey's Dallas Stars has defaulted on about $525 million in loans, with owner Tom Hicks saying on Friday that he intentionally made the move to help negotiate with banks.
In my own experience, telling a bank that you are intentionally not repaying money you've borrowed from it -- in the form of, say, credit card debt or a mortgage -- is an unsound negotiating strategy and not of much "help." At least for ordinary working folks. I defer to Mr. Hicks' gazillionaire expertise in this area, however, while noting the institutional double standard. And thinking of that little guy in the top hat from the Monopoly board game.
Perhaps Vick should have hired Mr. Monopoly to help with the bankruptcy.
AP Photo/Ed Reinke
Money doesn't necessarily point us toward success.
Mr. Billy Clyde Gillispie is still expensively out and Mr. John Calipari is now expensively in at the University of Kentucky basketball factory, and no less of an authority on the wonders of the free market and the immutable beauty of the invisible hand than FoxNews wonders where all the money's coming from. For those so inclined, here's a look at the state's stimulus budget for comparative purposes -- just in case Mr. Calipari decides to build no roads, highways, clinics or job training centers.
And now Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis needs a bailout of its own, apparently. To pay for it, the price of that happy hour draft might be going up, up, up statewide.
So a hard week all around for American working stiffs everywhere.
And a hard lesson that perhaps money alone will not -- cannot -- save you. Not if you're an owner, not if you're a player, not if you're a fan.
Money won't save us. Life intrudes. As does despair.
As does joy.
The latest struggle between our stars and our systems, our individuals and our institutions, between fate and hope, tips off tonight just after 9 ET.
I wish all the relevant parties well.
Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.