Atlanta Has Worst Meltdown in Sports History

First off, let’s be honest here: as much as I hate the New England Patriots, my disgust has nothing to do with Brady or Belichick, but just the state they represent. I hate Massachusetts, as they are a Communist country. They’re a great team, and Brady is arguably the best quarterback of all time.

But last night, he would be the runner-up but for the mother of all assists from the Atlanta Falcons.

I’ve seen some epic chokes in sports.

(a) The New York Yankees blowing a 3-0 lead to the Red Sox and losing in 7 games (the first time any team came back from an 0-3 deficit);

(b) The Houston Oilers blowing a 38-3 halftime lead against the Buffalo Bills;

(c) Jana Novotna, up 4-1 and serving at 40-30 in the 3rd set of the 1993 Wimbledon Championships;

(d) Greg Norman blowing a 6-stroke lead in the final round of the 1996 Masters.

Last night’s meltdown was worse than those.

The Atlanta Falcons, for two and a half quarters, could do no wrong. Their defense made big plays, their offense moved the ball almost at will, their QB was throwing with confidence. They were playing like the team that beat two Super Bowl champions (Green Bay and Seattle) to reach the finale against New England. They were playing like a championship team having its coming out party.

I was not surprised when Brady finally got a touchdown, closing the score to 28-9. At that point, I figured that Atlanta needed to respond: they needed at least a field goal, preferably a clock-burning drive.

Matt Ryan’s fumble didn’t help. But you have to expect your team to make at least one mistake like that in a big game. That alone wasn’t fatal.

But when the Falcons had the ball at the New England 22, I figured this was their chance to put the game away. They were in field goal range. They were up by 8. A field goal would all but put the game away, as the Pats would need a touchdown, a two-point conversion, an onside kick recovery, a quick drive, and a field goal to win.

I figured the Falcons would play conservative, run the ball or, at worst, throw to the end zone out of the shotgun, with Ryan dumping the ball out of bounds without taking a sack if things got tight.

Instead, Ryan took two long sacks. Then a holding penalty. What should have been a medium-range field goal disappeared: they had to punt.

In overtime, the Falcons had to kick to the Patriots.

At that point, I was very surprised that they did not go for the onside kick. That, honestly, was their only chance to win.

(a) Brady had been unstoppable for the entire second half (except for their opening drive); giving them the ball was conceding defeat;

(b) The defense was clearly dead tired. There was no way they were going to stop the Patriots.

The Falcons had only one chance to win: with their offense. The only way they had a chance to make that happen was an onside kick. If they kick it to the Patriots, they will not get the ball back.

They didn’t get the ball back.

—–

I hate to be a pessimist here, but I don’t think the Falcons will recover from this disaster. When you look at the worst epic chokes, only one athlete ever came back from such a meltdown.

In the women’s final of the 1993 Wimbledon Championship, Jana Novotna was up 4-1 and serving 40-30 (game point) in the third set against Steffi Graf. She was literally five points from victory. She would double-fault on game point to make it deuce; she would lose serve, and then she had nothing left: Graf would win the next 4 games to close out the title.

In the award ceremony, Novotna lost it and cried on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent. She had blown it on the biggest stage, and–in spite of her stellar doubles record–had very few chances to win singles championships in the majors.

In 1997, she also choked in the Wimbledon final against Martina Hingis. It seemed that she would never get her redemption.

But in 1998, five years after her terrible meltdown, she captured the Wimbledon championship. It would be her only Major championship outside of doubles.

Can the Falcons come back from last night’s disaster? Perhaps. But getting to the Super Bowl is extremely difficult. Just getting to the playoffs requires many things coming together. And the Super Bowl is a forum where literally anything can happen. And there’s no guarantee that your best players are going to be healthy. A key receiver or running back can sprain an ankle, someone can suffer a concussion, a QB can break a rib…that’s football.

But if they get back to the Super Bowl, they will have to face down the demons that haunt Atlanta.

And last night, they added a demon to the house.

How Many Rock Bottoms Will Tiger Woods Hit?

The fall of Tiger Woods has been a sad train wreck to watch.

At this point, I’m not sure that his demise can be attributed to the fallout from his scandals, as those are more than 7 years old. Still, his personal crises could not have come at a worse time.

He was recovering from knee surgery; he was reaching an age range where physical limitations begin to set in. This was not a good time for a personal crisis that could affect the mental aspects of his game.

But that was 7 years ago. And Tiger is a great competitor who knows how to win. And even if his body isn’t what it was when he was a Spring chicken, he can still be competitive.

Sadly, except for a few bright spots, Tiger Woods has been in a flat spin.

His driving distance has fallen considerably since his knee surgery. This has put greater pressure on his short game. Making matters worse, his opponents stopped fearing him.

AS a result, he has struggled to get off to good starts in tournaments. This has put greater pressure on him to have good second rounds in order to make cuts. That has forced him to take risks that are more challenging given his diminished physical health. When you’re hitting 300+ yards off the tee, a par 5 is a potential eagle.

If your driving distance falls 10 yards, you’re more likely to be putting for birdie or par where it was once eagle or birdie. If your driving accuracy starts falling, then you will be hitting out of rough–or bunkers–more often than you did before. That means your second shots are going to be coming up short. On a par 4, you might be chipping out of a bunker to get “up and down” where you would have been on the green and putting for birdie.

It’s a lot harder mentally when you have to “go up and down” to save par rather than get a birdie. If you get a bogey, it’s harder to make that up. If you get two bogeys, you’ll be struggling to stay at even par where you might have carded a -2 or a -3. If you take big risks to make up for those bogeys–and fail–you fall deeper into the hole. And due to the competitive nature of the PGA Tour, any score above par puts you in danger of missing the cut.

If you want to WIN, you have to be able to shoot -2 or better for four rounds.

Tiger Woods is having a problem doing that, as the cost of recovering from his mistakes went up at a time when his likelihood of making mistakes also went up.

Can he still win? Certainly. But for that to happen, he will need to be able to put FOUR rounds of solid golf, breaking par every time. And in the majors, he will need to do this against a competitive field that no longer fears him.

At this point, if he wins another Major, it will be the most incredible comeback in golf since Ken Venturi conquered the sweltering heat in the 1964 U.S. Open.

If he somehow finds a way to pass Nicklaus for career Major victories, it will be the most incredible comeback in the history of sports.

Not Surprised

Three years ago, then-women’s MMA great Ronda Rousey made some brags. She once said she could beat Floyd Mayweather; she also said she could beat then-male heavyweight champion Cain Velaasquez. Personally, I think she was just creating publicity. I made remarks along those lines back then.

But the former Olympic judo medalist now has two consecutive humiliating MMA defeats: last year to Holly Holm, and two days ago to Amanda Nunes. Both times, Rousey–known for her grappliing skills–took considerable pounding frp, opponents who could box and kick. Rousey was flat-footed from the opening bell, and it didn’t rise to the level of a fair fight. She looked like a 40-year-old trying to fight Sugar Ray Leonard in his prime.

The latest defeat, of course, has brought back the other discussion about women having a chance in Hell against men in fights. At Vox Day’s corner, there is a lively discussion.

Say whatever you want, call me whatever you want, but I’m going to tell it like it is: put the best women’s MMA fighter against a mediocre men’s MMA fighter in the same weight class, and it will be a disaster: barring Divine providence, the man will win. Every. Single. Time.. If she is lucky, she will “only” get knocked out.

As an avid tennis fan–who enjoys watching both men’s and women’s tennis–I remember the ascension of Martina Navratilova. She went from being the talented but overweight “great wide hope” (dubbed so by Bud Collins) to a superfit phenom who destroyed Chris Evert on a regular basis. She had an excellent serve-and-volley game, strong groundstrokes, and superior court-coverage. She was a league-and-a-half ahead of the other women.

At the time, some brought up the possibility of her playing against the top men of the day: John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander.

Vitas Gerulaitis provided a stunning, but accurate, dismissal: “[Martina] couldn’t beat the #100 man on the tour.”

Put the best women up against the top men in the same sport, and the men win. I’m not being mean or hateful; I’m just telling it straight. As I’ve often said over the years, calling me names will not change that reality, because I didn’t create it.

Some of you will raise the question, “What about Billie Jean King? She beat Bobby Riggs in the Battle of The Sexes match!”

Of course she did. He was in his 50s at the time, he was not even an active professional tennis player on the men’s circuit, and there is credible evidence that he threw that match in order to satisfy gambling debts.

Did Billie Jean King take on John Newcome or Rod Laver or Manuel Orantes? Those were the top men of that day. That would have been an apples-apples comparison.

Same goes for soccer, same goes for baseball.

The Cubs Break The Curse — The Hard Way

The last time the Cubs won the World Series,

  • Roosevelt–Theodore, not Franklin–was President;
  • the Industrial Revolution was just getting started;
  • Russia was still in the Czar era;
  • World War I had not yet begun;
  • there was no Federal income tax, no Federal Reserve, no universal suffrage;
  • Helen Keller was only 28 years old.

—–

Fast-forward to 2016…

The Chicago Cubs were on a mission: they wanted to shed their images as “the lovable losers”.

Throughout the season, they were unstoppable, piling up the best record in baseball.

In the National League Championship Series, they fell behind 2-1 to Los Angeles, but rebounded to win the next 3 games to close it out.

For the first time in over 70 years, the Cubs were in the World Series. Their opponents–the Cleveland Indians–were in a drought of their own, without a title in over 70 years. (They came close in 1995 and 1997, losing in six games to the Yankees and Braves, respectively.)

The Indians had one of the best pitchers in baseball in Corey Kluber, and a bullpen that could shut down any team.

The Cubs had excellent pitching, with their closer–Aroldis Chapman–having the best fastball in the game.

This was going to be a great matchup: fine pitching, fine hitting, and managers willing to take big bets to win games.

—-

Cleveland took the initiative in game 1, with Kluber and the bullpen shutting out the Cubs, 6-0.

(I figured that was not the end of the world, as the Cincinnati Reds came back in 1975 to win in 7 games, in spite of getting shut out in game 1 by the same score.)

The Cubs battled back in game 2, with Jake Arrieta shutting down the Indians.

They had gained home-field advantage, with the series heading into Chicago for games 3, 4, and 5.

Then, the bottom fell out for the Cubs: Andrew Miller combined with Cody Allen to shut out the Cubs in game 3, 1-0.

In game 4, Kluber pitched another gem to put the Indians up 3-1.

—–

Not since 1979, when Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Omar Moreno, Bill Robinson, and Tim Foli teamed up with Jim Rooker, Bert Blyleven, John Candelaria, and Kent Tekulve to lead the Pirates in an epic comeback against the Baltimore Orioles, had a team come back to win from 3-1 down with two of those games being on the road.

For the Cubs to break the curse, they would have to do exactly that, facing Corey Kluber in game 7 if they got that far.

In game 5, John Lester pitched the game of his life, with Chapman closing it for the save, sending the series back to Cleveland.

In game 6, the Cubs, silenced by the Indians’ pitching staff all series, finally regained their hitting. Aroldis Chapman closed out the game.

Going into game 7, the Cubs had a date with a pitcher they had not beat. Corey Kluber was 2-0 against them. And their main closer, Aroldis Chapman, was in a precarious position, as he was very tired from pitching two straight nights.

The Cubs would open the game up with a Dexter Fowler home run. This was an ominous sign for Kluber.

While the Indians would tie it up in the third inning, the Cubs would blow the game open, going up 5-1.

Going into the 8th inning, the Cubs led 6-3. They brought in Aroldis Chapman to set up for the close.

Chapman didn’t have it: he gave up 3 runs, but managed to retire the side with a tied game.

The Cubs had gained the lead, then lost it, then blew it open only to lose it.

Topping things off, they would see a rain delay.

But in the 10th inning, the Cubs would fight back, with some clutch hitting by Ben Zobrist, putting them up 8-6.

But could they hold court in the bottom of the inning?

—-

Carl Edwards would get two outs, but the Indians battled back to cut the lead to 8-7 with 2 outs.

In comes Mike Montgomery, who got Michael Martinez to ground out.

The baseball demons are now officially dead.

The Second Coming cannot be far behind.

One year ago today…

…a young woman in the Cincinnati area played in a college basketball game.

But not just any game.

You see, she had an inoperable brain tumor, and it was touch-and-go as to whether she’d see 2015. But thanks to her school, the planned opponent, another local school, and the NCAA, her dream came true.

And it didn’t end there. She played in three more games before her condition made it impossible for her to keep playing. This past April, she lost her battle, but not until she had raised more than $1 million for research on the cancer that would end her life. And her legacy lives on, as the two local schools have teamed up for an annual season-opening event that will bear her name.

Over the past year, I couldn’t help but contrast the story of Lauren Hill to a couple of others that made the news.

The day before Hill’s first game, Brittany Maynard, who was also suffering from a terminal brain tumor, chose to end her life, as she had announced several months earlier, with most of the MSM cheering her for her “courage”.

And then there was Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner, whose story has been covered ad nauseam over the last few months. Most tellingly, when it came time for ESPN to announce the 2015 recipient of its Arthur Ashe Courage Award (handed out at the ESPY Awards ceremony in July), it went with Jenner—to considerable criticism, with Bob Costas (no conservative himself) calling the announcement “a crass exploitation play.” Hill’s first game did receive the consolation prize of the “Best Moment” award at the ESPYs.

Courage? Lauren Hill, in her current state, has more courage in her little finger than Maynard or Jenner has ever had or will ever have. Unlike Maynard, she kept fighting and kept active until she couldn’t go on any longer, and she and her family left it up to God when she’d go. (I don’t know Hill’s religious affiliation, but she did go to a Catholic college.) Unlike Jenner, she didn’t seek to change the hand she’d been dealt in life, and in fact embraced it.

Call me politically incorrect, insensitive, transphobic, whatever… i don’t care. This is my opinion, and I’m sticking with it. PERIOD.

 

Note: The tagline for this post may read November 3, but it’s still November 2 where Amir and I hang our hats.

The Stupidest Play Call In Sports History

As an observer of the NFL for a very long time, I have never been a fan of short passes inside the defense’s ten yard line, or screen passes inside the offense’s ten yard line. This is because they are very high-risk. You want evidence, here it is:

(a) Dan Fouts throws a 102-yard pick-6 to Louis Breeden, propelling the Bengals past the Chargers in 1981;

(b) Already suffering a horrendous first half against the Raiders, Joe Theismann attempts a screen pass deep in his own territory on the last play of the half. Jack Squirek picks it off and scores an easy touchdown, expanding what would be a 38-9 rout;

(c) Kurt Warner, deep inside New England territory, attempts a short pass. End-result: a pick-6 that would prove to be the difference in the game, giving Tom Brady his first Super Bowl ring;

(d) Kurt Warner, with a chance to put the Steelers on the ropes, attempts a short pass. James Harrison intercepted it and took it to the house. This would also be the difference in the game, as the Steelers would get their 6th Super Bowl ring.

The only pass plays that work from that close: (1) a timing route to the corner of the end zone, or (b) a jump ball to the back of the end zone. Think Montana-to-Clark, or Bradshaw-to-Swann, or Bradshaw-to-Stallworth.

Still, when you have the ball at the 1-yard line, and you have the best smashmouth running back in the NFL, and your QB is the best running QB in the league with the possible exception of Cam Newton, and you have three plays and two timeouts, YOU PUNCH IT IN!!!

There are smart risks and there are dumb risks. Going for the TD at halftime was a smart risk. Why? A field goal would have been a win for the New England defense. Going for the TD shows that you want to WIN. As they say in the Spec-Ops world: who dares wins.

But going for a short pass at the 1-yard line, that was a dumb risk. A jump ball to the back of the end zone would have been understandable; a fade pattern would have been ok.

Still, when you have the best running attack and a QB who can scramble, you need to try to ram it down their throats at least once before attempting a pass.

Instead, New England fans will celebrate their former coach, Pete Carroll, who gift-wrapped a 4th Super Bowl ring for Tom Brady.

Tiger Woods Hits New Low

This time, in his first tournament of the year, he fired 73 in the first round, then followed with a career-worst 82 (including a 44 on the front 9).

He was dead last.

I’ve long said that I believed Tiger could still win the big tournaments. He is not what he once was physically, but he’s still pretty fit. His short game has become erratic, and his driving distance has fallen considerably, putting more pressure on his short game.

Par 5s used to be potential eagle holes for him, as his driving distance and accuracy would give him a fair shot at hitting the greens in 2 shots. His short game was once very solid, and this augmented his long game. Course designers sought to “Tiger proof” their courses.

But those days are gone now. He’s declining physically, and his opponents no longer fear him. Since the fracas that exposed his scandals, he has lost his edge mentally. While he has shown some flashes of potential, he has been unable to clear the key hurdles to put four solid rounds together in a Major.

At 39, he’s still comparatively young. But he’s not getting any younger. Physically, his best days are behind him, and he must learn to play the game in ways to which he is not accustomed.

Whereas he was once considered a shoo-in to destroy Jack Nicklaus’ record for Major championships, the Golden Bear appears to now be quite secure.

Father Time can be quite the Mother indeed.

Shocker (Not Really)

Many years ago, after pro tennis player Chris Evert married Andy Mills and had settled into motherhood, she said something to the effect that her prior life had been all about her. The way she said it led me to think she had at least one prior abortion. While she’d had an otherwise solid reputation, I also figured that no one is pristine.

In 1974, when Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert had their romance, I was in first grade. I knew little to nothing about tennis–although I would become an avid player and fan in my teen years–but I remember Chris Evert becoming a household name. Jimmy Connors, who won three of the four majors that year, wasn’t bad in his own right.

They had been engaged, but broke off that engagement quite abruptly. Most had chalked that up to some combination of Connors’ playboy lifestyle–he would eventually marry a Playboy playmate–and their youth, as well as the logistics of two top-ranked tennis players being under the same roof.

Well, last year, Connors, in his autobiography, provided more insight into the breakup. During their youthful bliss, Chris Evert became pregnant, and, well, that couldn’t get in the way of her career. In Connors’ own words, he didn’t really consent, but didn’t really fight it either. At any rate, after that, the relationship ended.

Connors and Evert would go their separate ways: Evert would become one of the greatest women tennis players of all time. Her winning percentage–over 90%–is the best ever, and Martina Navratilova probably accounts for most of that 10% of her defeats. Connors would enjoy his share of success: he would win five U.S. Opens and two Wimbledons, and a mother lode of other tournaments. Their personal lives were not without issues: Connors would marry, have children, and persevere despite his own infidelities; Evert would marry, have an affair, reconcile, divorce, remarry, have kids, have a midlife crisis, divorce, remarry, divorce, then really lose it.

Evert, by her own admission, described her attitude as one of entitlement.

The media raked Connors over the coals for talking about the abortion, with at least one outlet saying, “That isn’t his story to tell.” On that front, I disagree; the child was no less his than hers. While I understand Evert’s outrage at Connors’ outing her–no one likes having a skeleton in their closet put on full display–it is fair game.

Yes, Connors is a douchebag–and to a certain extent would probably wear the label–but it’s not like he doesn’t have the prerogative to discuss the impact of her decision on his life.

And yet we must all take in the warning here. Make no mistake: your character will eventually catch up with you. It may not always become a public matter, but–at some point–you are going to come face-to-face with the reality of your decisions.

Julius “Dr. J” Erving was an outspoken Christian in addition to being one of the most celebrated athletes in his day; with a reputation as a charitable gentleman, he often received cheers from opposing fans. Trouble is, he–for lack of better words–got around. An affair with a reporter would produce a child.

Doc would take responsibility: he provided for her financially, including her education. But he tried to keep everything hush-hush.

In 1999, an up-and-coming tennis player–Alexandra Stevenson–would make a splash of her own: she reached the semifinals at the 1999 Wimbledon. Some reporters did some digging into her background, and noticed that the father listed on her birth certificate was none other than Julius Winfield Erving. This would begin the public unraveling of Doc’s otherwise sterling reputation, as his infidelities would lead to the breakup of his marriage.

I say none of this to pile onto Doc or Chrissy. Truth be told, they are probably far from the worst offenders in their respective sports.

Still, the lesson here is poignant.

My $0.02 on Michael Sam

For those paying little or no attention, Michael Sam is an All-American defensive end for the Missouri Tigers, who outed himself as a homosexual just before the NFL draft. He was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the 7th round of the NFL draft.

Quite frankly, I am not surprised that he was not selected until the 7th round. He barely runs the 40-yard dash in under 5 seconds (clocking at 4.91), which tells me he has marginal speed. This is not good, considering his size–6-foot-2 and 261 pounds–puts him behind the curve coming out of the gate. Someone who lacks size should make it up in speed and agility. Can Sam overcome these shortcomings? Perhaps. That will, however, be up to him. Still, I can’t blame teams for passing on him until later in the draft.

As for his sexual orientation, that is totally his business. If he records lots of sacks and tackles, his stock value goes up. Otherwise, the Rams will have wasted a late-round draft pick.

Still, it is quite telling that Jake Plummer–who expressed a desire for outspoken Christian Tim Tebow to “just shut up”–received no sanction from either his team or the NFL whereas Miami Dolphins defensive back Don Jones was fined, suspended, and ordered to a re-education camptake “educational training” before being allowed back on the team.

Will Sam be a problem in the locker room? Doubtful. While there are likely other homosexuals in the NFL–Sam is only the first non-retiree to come out of the closet–the league is overwhelmingly straight. He won’t cause any trouble, and I doubt that his teammates will bother him. If anything, the crackdown on Don Jones could very well lead to the opposite problem: other NFL players will have a marginal incentive to not even associate with him.