Spring cleaning, Page 2-style
Ah, spring -- the season of flowers, and sunshine and young men's fancies turning to love and also the season of scrubbing out the gutters, dusting off the shutters, and purging our closets of all the cobweb-attracting junk we thought we loved last spring, only now we'd love it a lot better at the bottom of the corner dumpster.
Like, for instance, Dallas Cowboys jerseys reading "OWENS 81" on the back.
Spring is a time for cleaning house, for uprooting and discarding all the stuff we no longer want, need or have any real use for. The things we can do without. So what if the sports world had a spring cleaning of its own? What practices, people, ideas and institutions would end up kicked to the curb, sharing space with national angst over Brett Favre's football future?
Funny you should ask
Nonsensical Team Nicknames
Abolish the Utah Jazz. Not the team, the nickname. It makes absolutely, positively no sense whatsoever. No local resonance. No historical point. No mas.
(To wit: Utah Choir? Yes. Utah Rockers? No. Utah Frost? Yep. Utah Tropics? Nope.)
Look, a team moniker ought to have some sort of first cause, a fitting geographical and cultural reason for existing beyond the fact that "Wildcats" and "Cougars" have already been taken. Yet in too many cases, professional squads bear names that are either inappropriate holdovers from franchise moves (Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, Arizona Cardinals, Utah Jazz), dunderheaded rip jobs from European soccer (FC Dallas) or numbingly generic copouts (Washington Wizards, every NHL expansion team from the past 15 years).
Seriously: The Nashville Predators? Is the mascot a minigun-wielding Jesse Ventura?
The Toronto Raptors must be stopped. What we need is a grand pan-sports naming convention, where clubs can agree to either swap titles -- think Saints for Jazz -- or just come up with entirely new monikers. Extra incentive for teams on the fence: the opportunity to sell updated club merchandise, plus freshly minted throwback gear. Indeed, since nothing gets done in sports unless someone gets paid, we could even have a televised and sponsored nickname draft.
Real Salt Lake, you're on the clock.
-- Patrick Hruby
Pregame Military Flyovers
Granted, flyovers are patriotic. They're valuable marketing tools for our recruit-hungry armed services. Then again, so are those commercials with the Marine dude fighting the giant lava monster. Besides, our combat pilots are so ridiculously skilled, having them time a flyover with the end of the national anthem is like hiring Bill Belichick to coach intramural flag football.
A better idea? Give military pilots and other servicepeople tickets, put their faces on the JumboTron and let them watch the game. For free. Taxpayers, teams and soldiers all win.
-- Kurt Snibbe
Icing the Kicker Right Before the Snap
In the NFL, the tactic of calling a timeout before an opponent attempting a crucial field goal has been around for decades. But in 2006, coaches were granted the ability to call timeouts from the sideline, allowing them to stop field goal attempts a split second before the snap. Of course, players often don't hear the whistle until it's too late. So they kick the ball anyway, and everyone has to play the same down all over again.
Ack. Two more minutes of our lives we'll never get back.
Then again, don't tell that to former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who successfully invoked the kicker freeze against the Oakland Raiders in 2007. The following week, Raiders coach Lane Kiffin co-opted the strategy to help beat the Cleveland Browns. After that, it seemed every Tom, Dick and Norv was trying it.
Too bad it doesn't always work.
Buffalo tried to ice Dallas kicker Nick Folk before a 53-yard attempt in 2007, only to watch him boot the ball through the uprights twice. While attempting to freeze Buffalo kicker Rian Lindell, Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs called consecutive timeouts for Washington on Dec. 2, 2007 -- that's against the rules, kids -- and the subsequent 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty contributed to a 17-16 loss.
Shanahan himself seemed testy after a freeze backfired on Nov. 19, 2007. He called a timeout immediately before Tennessee's Rob Bironas sent a 56-yard attempt about 20 yards wide of the upright. Given a second chance, Bironas was successful.
"Don't anybody ever question me about those field goals and timeouts again," Shanahan said after the game. "I told you this would happen sooner or later. You live by the sword and die by the sword."
If only. The freeze isn't a mighty blade. It's a puny Ginzu knife. Chump. Lame. Namby-pamby. And often a total waste of time. With Shanahan on sabbatical this season, let's put the last-second icing back in the junk drawer, where it belongs.
-- Thomas Neumann
Damn, there goes an Eddy Curry box. It feels heavy. Lemme look inside. Oh, yeah, we removed his box last year, but he came back. Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley are the only full boxes left. Nope, there goes Randy Moss' box. His is still full, too.
Of the many things that need to be tossed out this spring, cornrows might top the list. Once a unique cultural aesthetic, now just a hairstyle. No longer a statement, but rather a sentence: Brotha got a lot of hair and don't feel like combing it. A fashion victim in the end, and also a victim of age and time: hairlines beating a slow retreat, hair itself thinning out. The movement began in the mid-1990s (often attributed to Iverson, but actually started by Dawn Staley at the 1996 Olympics) and spread like a braid-borne virus. Every player and they mama (literally) seemed to step on hallowed grounds and fields of dreams with hair treated by Ultra Sheen and Miss Jessie's. Rows reigned supreme.
And then? Dudes began to realize that too many of us were looking like Gene Anthony Ray in "Fame."
Game over. Vaya con dios, cornrows. Hold up. What's this? Another box? Let me open it. Whew, good, it's not cornrows
it's a mohawk. Pacman Jones, "Big Baby" Davis, B.J. Upton. Damn, here we go again.
-- Scoop Jackson
Admit it: When Bud Selig threw up his hands toward the end of the 2002 MLB All-Star Game, he was unwittingly expressing what you -- and lots of other fans -- already thought: all-star games, who needs 'em?
I cared a lot about all-star games (ASGs for short) when I was a kid. That's because it was a treat to watch all those great players I didn't normally get to see. There was no "SportsCenter" back then, no NFL Sunday Ticket, no Internet: none of the media-saturation devices that have now made us intimately familiar with every aspect of every athlete in the hemisphere. Even the novelty of seeing, say, Albert Pujols and David Wright on the same team doesn't mean much anymore, since today's players are always just a salary-dump trade or free-agency signing away from being teammates anyway.
And I'm not just talking about baseball. If you look at the major sports leagues' ASGs, it's a sorry lot:
• MLB All-Star Game: Most of the players don't want to be there, and I don't blame them. They work out and train much harder than the players of yesteryear, so why make them concoct a phony injury just so they can have a three-day break with their families during the heat of summer? Meanwhile, teams are campaigning for fan votes before the season even starts, there's endless griping about who is and isn't chosen, teams are terrified that their best pitchers will exceed their pitch counts, and all anyone really cares about anyway is the Home Run Derby (which is invariably blamed for ruining someone's swing during the second half of the season). From now on, just conduct the Home Run Derby via XBox, flip a coin to determine the World Series' home-field advantage and scrap the rest.
•NBA All-Star Game: Arguably the only ASG worth keeping, since it's a fairly representative reflection of the showboat-y spectacle the NBA has become. Seriously, can you imagine if the P.A. guy tried to start a "Dee-fense!" chant during the ASG? He'd be fired on the spot. Here, I'll give you a choice: Either hold the game in Las Vegas every year, so the setting can mirror the tawdry level of play, or else just skip the whole thing.
•NHL All-Star Game: No hitting, no defense, final scores like 14-12 (2001), 12-9 (2007), and 12-11 (2009) this isn't hockey. It's just Ice Capades without the sequins. As it turns out, the league won't be holding an ASG in 2010 because of the Winter Olympics, which gives them a convenient head start on quietly retiring the whole thing altogether.
•NFL Pro Bowl: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!
Granted, ASGs have been a rich source of material for my main gig, but I'm willing to sacrifice for the greater good. ASGs are a concept whose time has passed. It's time to kick them to the curb.
-- Paul Lukas
Of all the pregame hype that surrounds any sports championship, there's only one that causes everyone to collectively groan: the useless, mundane and ridiculous mayor's bet. It's a simple formula we've all heard before: the mayor of one city agrees to send that city's signature food to the other city if the other city wins.
Wow, just writing that was boring.
Not convinced? Just take a look at the last couple of yawner bets:
• For Super Bowl XLIII, Glendale mayor Elaine Scruggs bet Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl that if the Cardinals won, they would plant an Arizona cactus around Heinz Field. But if the Steelers won, they would plant a native Pittsburgh plant around the University of Phoenix Stadium. Oh, snap! Look out, Elaine's gettin' her gangsta on!
• For the 2008 World Series, St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker couldn't even do it on his own; he needed to enlist Clearwater mayor Frank Hibbard and Tampa mayor Pam Iorio. That triumvirate of power threw down with -- I'll wait for you to sit down -- a Florida picnic! Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter countered with a similar feast from the City of Brotherly Love. Oh, wait; he threw in a replica of the Rocky statue, too. Well played, everyone. I'm sure this will get the residents of Del Boca Vista, Phase II psyched.
If these mayors want to get involved, they need to show commitment. Enough with the food and the silly displays; put your personal safety and/or dignity on the line. For Pittsburgh-Arizona, have Scruggs agree to wear the Steely McBeam costume for a week straight without washing it (or herself); have Ravenstahl counter by taking a page from his AFC Championship pledge and legally change his name to Brenda Warner.
That wouldn't make the nightly news?
Really, the only mayor who should be applauded for thinking outside the box is L.A.'s Antonio Villaraigosa. For the 2008 NBA Finals his offer was, if the Celtics win, Boston gets "the best professional football team L.A. has to offer: the Arena League's Los Angeles Avengers," and if the Lakers win L.A. gets the Patriots. Not bad. Still, I'd rather see something like this: If Boston wins, Villaraigosa has to walk through South Boston wearing a Yankees jersey while carrying a sign that says "A-Rod 4 Lyfe!" and on the other side "I hated 'Good Will Hunting;'" if the Lakers win, Boston mayor Tom Menino is forced to go to a nightclub and taunt Suge Knight and his friends while wearing all blue.
If these were the stakes, you're telling me you wouldn't pay attention?
-- Mike Philbrick
Irrational Baseball Exuberance
Can we please get rid of major leaguers celebrating each victory as if it was Game 7 of the World Series? True, it seems there's never a Game 7 in the World Series anymore, but that's no reason for the entire roster to dance onto the field carrying Gatorade and confetti to douse a baserunner who just scored on a grounder to beat the Padres 5-4 and move them from 18.5 games out of first to 18 games out of first.
I blame this overreaction on Tony La Russa, partly because I blame The Brain for everything wrong in baseball (pampered closers, multiple pitching changes in an inning, 3½-hour games). But mostly it's because, if memory serves correctly, his late-80s Athletics popularized the routine of players strolling from the dugout onto the field to congratulate their victorious teammates. I don't know why they couldn't wait until everyone got back to the dugout, but pretty soon this routine became all but mandatory MLB-wide.
Now every team also feels the need to rush en masse to home plate, as if they were college students tearing down goalposts. It's not that I'm against genuine emotion and joy; far from it. It's just that contemporary victory jamborees seem predetermined, coming without any proportion. If you react like this to a victory over the Nationals, how will you celebrate a meaningful win? Irrational baseball exuberance is so haywire, I wouldn't be surprised if the catcher leaped into the closer's arms after a 4-1 victory. Over the Rockies. In May.
Suggestion: Either calm down (unlikely, unless coffee and greenies become verboten), or make victories truly special occasions by rushing from the dugout in the opposite direction: into the stands, the better to sign autographs commemorating fans' attendance at the historic win that moved you from 11 games back in the wild card to 10½ games out.
-- Jim Caple
The Heisman Trophy
The Heisman is awarded to "the most outstanding player in collegiate football." Peachy. Only there's also the Maxwell Award, given to the nation's "Outstanding Player." And don't forget the Walter Camp Award, presented to the "Player of the Year."
The redundancy doesn't stop there.
The Davey O'Brien Award serves as the "National Quarterback Award," which is different -- somehow -- from the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given to the "Outstanding Senior Quarterback." These two are distinct -- somehow -- from the NCAA QB of the Year award, doled out by the Touchdown Club of Columbus.
The positional accolade list goes on to include the Doak Walker Award (running back), the John Mackey Award (tight end), and the Lombardi Award (lineman or linebacker), just to name a few. There's even an Ethan Albright Award (long snapper).
OK, I made the last one up.
Here's the issue: If the Heisman is going to be special, it needs to be, well, special. Not diluted by 101 other grade-inflating awards. (And speaking of grade inflation: At this rate, someone from Harvard is going to take home a player of the year trophy.)
Consider Carson Palmer. In 2002, he won the Heisman and the Unitas Award, which makes sense, given that a Heisman winner ought to be the most outstanding senior QB. However, Palmer didn't take home the Maxwell Award (Larry Johnson). Nor was he named the AP College Football Player of the Year (Brad Banks). And therein lies the problem: Keep adding accolades, keep pulling the threads, and the Heisman's coat of honor begins to unravel.
So clear out the clutter. Give the Heisman space. Admire it like a special photo, matted and framed. Let it stand alone, not jammed into a box with a bunch of other snapshots. Otherwise, toss it in the trash.
-- Mary Buckheit
A prominent expert on performance-enhancing drug use in sports once told me that testing only catches the lazy and the stupid. Which is probably why Jose Canseco was fortunate to exit baseball when he did. Still, the point stands: Testing sometimes works, but mostly due to dumb luck, and hardly enough to justify the time and expense involved.
Sample A: The Carolina Panthers nearly won the Super Bowl with a coterie of linemen -- and also a punter -- who were juicing. Sample B: Marion Jones. Sample C: Barry Bonds (allegedly). Sample D: The 1998 Tour de France. The common denominator? Busts were made, cheats were caught, but only because law enforcement got involved (subpoenas, search warrants, badges, etc.), and not because someone urinated in a plastic cup.
Spend time with Victor Conte. He'll tell you 101 ways to beat the doping cops. Spend time around any sport. You'll see performances and physiques suggesting that athletes aren't just beating the doping cops, they're clubbing them like baby seals. Drug testers are hardworking and whip-smart. They mean well. But they're simply outgunned, forever a step behind. There is -- and always will be, so long as chicks dig the long ball and advertising pays the freight -- more money in cheating than in keeping things clean. Basic economics.
As such, let's stop throwing good money after not-good-enough results. End testing, and plow the saved cash into youth steroid prevention and researching the poorly understood long-term effects of PED use (we're doing all of this for athletes' health, right?) Testing as we know it is basically a half-hearted public-relations move; let's get more bang for our PR-minded bucks.
Besides, do we really want to continue a series of policies that produce countermeasures like the Whizzinator?
-- Patrick Hruby
While the first practitioner remains unknown, the now-notorious Gatorade bath, shower, or whatever you want to call it, was made famous by the 1986 Giants in their run to Super Bowl XXI. And, let's be honest, it was great. Back then. We all loved it when John Madden busted out the telestrator to break down "the play" when Harry Carson donned a yellow security windbreaker to go undercover in order to douse a suspicious coach Bill Parcells.
But now? We've all seen it a million times. And it is so, so over. It has become the players' version of storming the court, another act that has lost its luster and significance. So predictable that when a victory is imminent most coaches remove their ubiquitous headsets in order to be prepared, and apparently to remove any fear of electrocution.
In its slow and painful death, the Gatorade bath hasn't just become overused, but misused as well. In 2002, with an apparent victory in hand over SEC rival LSU, Kentucky players drenched coach Guy Morriss, only to have LSU score with no time left in what has become known as the Bluegrass Miracle. To paraphrase Dean Wormer: cold, wet and a loser is no way to go through life, son.
The final blow for the Gatorade bath came on June 17, 2008, during Game 6 of the NBA Finals, when Paul Pierce soaked coach Doc Rivers. Sure, the Celtics were about to win their first title in 22 years -- that's exciting -- but someone needed to remind Pierce that: (A) there were still about 30 seconds to play; and (B) there's a small difference between dumping several gallons of liquid on a grass football field and doing the same on a hardwood floor in a confined space. Boston fans should be grateful that the next day's Boston Globe didn't lead with a headline of "Celtics' Victory Parade Canceled; Entire Team Out With Various Leg Injuries."
Athletes of the world, unite! Honor the Gatorade bath by letting it rest in peace. Just think, if you do, this will give you more time for zombie-like staring into the LCD screen of your handheld video camera. But don't get too attached to that one either, because it's going to be on next spring's list.
-- Mike Philbrick
The "Opening Round" of the NCAA tournament
In typical NCAA fashion, the first game of the Big Dance officially gets a self-important, illusory moniker.
But we all know what it actually is: a play-in game. A single, lonely wishbone branching into nowhere, blemishing an otherwise perfectly symmetrical bracket. It's played too close to Selection Sunday, so you can't even make it part of your pool. It always matches two No. 17 seeds, teams most fans know nothing about. And it pretty much hoses the loser. Thanks for coming. Party starts Thursday. Get lost.
That said, the play-in game doesn't need to be scrapped entirely. It just needs a makeover.
First off, we're not kicking out small-fry conference winners such as Alabama State and Morehead State. They've earned their way into main draw. Case closed. Instead, let two power-conference bubble squads -- the "last two in," to put it in bracketese -- start the Madness early, battling it out Wednesday night. The winner becomes a No. 12 seed in the last matchup of the first round two days later.
After all, would you rather watch Arizona vs. Wisconsin or Directional State vs. Directional Tech?
-- Thomas Neumann
Using the Term "Nation"
Red Sox Nation. Raider Nation, Cubs Nation, Laker Nation, Gator Nation, Tar Heel Nation, Longhorn Nation, UConn Nation, the D3 Mount Union Purple Nation. Can it please, please, please stop?!?
Every team with a large and loyal following does not deserve Nation status. Every team that wins a couple of Super Bowls, Lord Stanley's Cup, a few Final Fours or is in a 101-year drought of a World Series trophy is not a Nation unto itself. Ad nauseam we hear this. Every big city or small town with half a team to cheer for proclaims themselves a Nation.
No, really. Stop!
Sports "nations" passed the cliché stage so long ago, they're played out like "Men's Vogue." (Which we've never actually read. OK, maybe just once. On an airplane!) The time has come to rid ourselves of everything "nation" that has anything to do with sports. Find another term. Community. Cult. Consortium. Take your pick. Please. Because the world of sports can't handle another faux Nation created by fans convinced that their allegiance to a team is better or more special than everyone else's. Canada is a nation, not a football fan base. America is a nation, not a few thousand people who love Kentucky basketball. Zulu is a nation. Beware: If we let this mindless nation-building continue, Tiger will have a Nation. Then LeBron James. Then Manny Ramirez. Just imagine: Manny Nation.
Now you see why this has to end.
-- Scoop Jackson
Hitting For the Cycle
So you had a game with a single, a double, a triple and a home run. Great job, batter. Congratulations on getting four hits.
But why do you get a special commendation for getting one of each kind of hit? If you want extra appreciation for your four-hit game, make them all home runs next time. Or get two home runs, a double and a walk. Or really, any combination of total bases greater than 10. I don't care. But you shouldn't get to lead "SportsCenter" because you purposely stretched a double into a single in the eighth inning to earn your stupid footnote.
All a cycle guarantees is one run scored. Granted, it many times results in more than one run. But on some days, I'll take a guy who goes 1-for-5 with three strikeouts and a GIDP, but knocks in two runs with a single over Cycle Boy. Where's the page on MLB.com commemorating all the guys through history who have gone 1-for-5 with two RBI?
Unfortunately, I know the cycle is never going away. And that's fine. But then I want special credit for the uninteresting minutiae of my life, too.
For example, on trash day next week I'm going to put out the cycle of recycling: glass, paper, plastic and cardboard. Worship me.
-- DJ Gallo
Retired Athletes Running Teams
Over the course of my 37 years on this planet, I've gone to a lot of games and matches for all sorts of reasons.
I've gone to boo players I couldn't stand.
I've gone to see history being made.
I've even gone just to drink beer and sit outside on a beautiful day.
What I haven't done is attend a game because of who the team's president and/or general manager is. In fact, I don't know anyone who has gone to see, say, the Minnesota Timberwolves because Kevin McHale was the GM. As such, I don't understand why seemingly intelligent businessmen would hand over the keys to a multimillion dollar corporation to someone who has never been in a managerial position before. At least not dressed in slacks.
I get it; Larry Bird is from Indiana. He's an all-time great. He helped rescue the NBA. But can we please stop blaming the brawl at the Palace for the Pacers missing the playoffs the previous three seasons? Maybe Bird and McHale are simply great players, OK coaches and not very good team presidents. Just because an athlete is the greatest in franchise history doesn't mean he understands how to construct a great team.
Obviously, this isn't an indictment of every player ever named team president; Joe Dumars quickly comes to mind as a success story. On the other hand, he worked his way up to that position. When you grab a Matt Millen or a Steve Kerr straight from the TV studio and ask them to run a club, missing the postseason shouldn't come as a surprise.
-- LZ Granderson
The NCAA men's basketball tournament is the most exciting event in sports. Sixty-five teams. Sixty-four do-or-die games. Win or go home.
Conference tournaments attempt to bottle the same rush.
I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid.
Because they award automatic NCAA bids, conference tournaments mean too much. They render the regular season largely irrelevant. Think about it: Schools play a handful of non-conference games in November and December, most of them lopsided contests against opponents either vastly superior or vastly inferior to themselves. Then they embark upon their conference regular seasons -- approximately 16 games or so, over the course of roughly two and a half months -- which basically determine nothing except their conference tournament seeding.
Not to make Dickie V's blood boil or anything, but why even bother with November through February?
At the same time, conference tournaments mean too little. It happens all the time: Top teams lose early, and then pundits accentuate the "positives," saying a loss could be the best thing to happen to a squad, allowing the players some extra rest and time to refocus before the Big Dance.
To clarify: The regular season is borderline meaningless, and then it can be good to lose early in your conference tournament? Yeah, this makes a lot of sense.
At least in the Big East, teams used to have to finish in the top 12 to qualify for the conference tournament. So you couldn't totally suck. But starting this year, all 16 teams received invites -- even DePaul, which went a sparkling 0-18 in the conference regular season. Yeah, the Blue Demons really earned that trip to Madison Square Garden.
And then DePaul went out and beat Cincinnati in the first round of the Big East tournament. Oh, I know -- that's a good thing, right? The Bearcats would have been better rested in case they got an NIT invite.
Listen, I love college basketball. But can't we just do away with these conference tournaments? I want the games to mean something again. I want the conference standings to matter. I want the automatic bids to go to the regular-season champs. I want four months -- November, December, January and February -- to be more important than four days in early March.
Would the conferences and schools lose a ton of money? Of course. But we all know that's not what NCAA men's basketball is all about.
-- Kieran Darcy
Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision
Do Division I-A and Division I-AA simply make too much sense?
-- Thomas Neumann