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’sĀ 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 theĀ 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.

University of Kentucky Got Shafted

While the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team did not have a good season, they were better than a lot of teams that got selected ahead of them yesterday.

Obviously, they didn’t deserve a favorable seed, but I find it hard to believe that they didn’t even deserve to get a spot in one of the “play-in” games. And while they did have some embarrassing losses–to Texas A&M, Georgia, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt–they also had some quality wins (Florida, Texas A&M, Missouri).

Hopefully, the freshmen on that UK team will use this snub as a motivation to work hard and show up ready to play next season. They’ll have a strong recruiting class joining them. And if their star player–freshman Nerlins Noel–chooses to play another season rather than risk the NBA draft while recovering from a torn ACL, UK will be a top-5 team.

Still, it will be up to the team to go out and earn it.

The NFL, Jovan Belcher, and Domestic Violence

Let’s be honest here about the NFL: even in its glory years, it was never a monastery. We can point to fine players who were good citizens of high moral character, just as we can point to some unsavory folks. That same Dallas Cowboys team that gave us Tom Landry and Roger Staubach, also gave us Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson and Larry Bethea. Who can forget that 1972 Miami Dolphins team, which included Mercury Morris, who would do some time for drug trafficking? And don’t forget O.J. Oh…wait…he was acquitted…

At the same time, violent criminality in the NFL seems to be a greater problem today than in other eras. Henderson, and Morris were problematic, but they weren’t violent criminals. Morris and Henderson cleaned up their lives whereas Bethea, sadly, committed suicide after being implicated in two armed robberies.

While domestic violence is nothing new in the NFL, there is an undercurrent of murder that is happening in greater frequency. Before the Jovan Belcher disaster, we had Anthony Wayne Smith (charged in three murders), Glenn Sharpe, Rae Carruth, Hubert D. Thompson, Tommy Kane, Eric Naposki, and–from the old school–teammates Jim Dunaway and O.J. Simpson.

(I leave out Marvin Harrison, because he has not been indicted. But, depending on witness accounts and weapon identification, that could easily change.)

Even then, while it is not uncommon to read about NFL players getting into barfights and even domestic disputes, we don’t expect to pull up the news and read about an NFL player killing his girlfriend and then committing suicide. The last murder-suicide in the NFL involved former QB Steve McNair in 2009, and he was on the receiving end of the murder. The last NFL player to commit murder-suicide was a former NFL player: James Tyrer, who shot his wife before killing himself in 1980.

While we cannot minimize the severity of physical assault, one must flip the mother of all switches to pull a firearm, point it at a human being who is not an imminent threat, and pull the trigger. Jovan Belcher shot Kasandra Perkins 9 times before shooting himself in the head in front of his coach and General Manager as police moved in.

So yes, I’ll grant that Bill Briggs–contributing to NBC Sports–is correct in stating that the new NFL initiative to curb domestic violence among their ranks failed in the case of Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher. I would also submit that the problem here is not the quality of an NFL program, but rather fundamental character issues. The NFL tends to recruit thugs, and they are reaping what they are sowing.

If there is a miracle, it is that this happens as infrequently as it does among NFLers.

While every NFL owner would love it if his players were all good citizens who supported the United Way and visited orphans and hospitals regularly, NFL teams don’t draft players primarily on the basis of character. Tim Tebow is a model citizen, but he’s riding the bench right now. Most coaches would love to get the next Roger Staubach (who was squeaky clean), but they’ll settle for a Ben Roethlisberger (who came within an inch of a sexual assault charge).

Either one will get you two Super Bowl rings. And that’s all that matters if you’re an NFL coach, GM, or owner.

Until the NFL starts drafting people on account of their character–and that is not always easy to discern–I see none of that changing.

As for the latest crisis, people must be held to account for their own behavior. Murder is a character issue. As is domestic violence in general.

Can the NFL help their cause? Perhaps. Seriously, though, I doubt that anything they could have done would have headed off the Jovan Belcher disaster.

A man who is intent on committing murder will find a way to do it. Take away the firearm, he’ll use a knife. Take away the knife, he’ll use any number of household implements. This is about personal character.

And as Tolstoy illustrated so well in Anna Karenina, personal character is not so easy to ascertain.

Tiger–As We Knew Him–Is Done

Tiger Woods will never live down Ryder Cup 2012. Had he won ONE of his matches, the United States takes the Cup.

Other than his halving of his final match, his play was abysmal and uninspiring. Once the most feared golfer in PGA history, he couldn’t even put away Francesco Molinari yesterday. He stunk it up so badly on Friday that he was benched on Saturday.

While the Europeans made an excellent comeback–on the road no less–it didn’t help the Americans that Tiger Woods is on a severe decline.

Sure, the Ryder Cup is “match play” whereas PGA events are “stroke play”. Still, Tiger used to dominate match play. While his Ryder Cup record was never sterling, it was never THIS bad.

Thankfully, golf is a sport more forgiving of the aging process, unlike tennis or football. Tiger is still skilled enough to play at a strong level at PGA events. If he can put four good rounds together, he can win some more majors, and even challenge Jack Nicklaus for the record.

But has his decline continues, the odds will also continue to work against him.

Tiger–as we knew him–is done.

Lance is Finished

Well, it sure looks that way.

While the USADA is probably out on a witch hunt, keep in mind that it is probably less about Armstrong than it is about a sport that has been rife with cheating for decades.

Cleaning up the sport of cycling has been a very arduous task, and many riders have been punished, even stripped of major victories. If Armstrong had been cheating all along, it would behoove any anti-doping body to pursue the charges. To do otherwise would smack of favoritism.

That the USADA claims to have samples from his 1999 Tour that show results consistent with EPO use is no small charge. For them to make that charge–especially against the backlash they could expect for being wrong–is huge. That there are ten former teammates who were willing to testify against him is a big deal, even if some of them are probably doing it due to sour grapes issues.

Does all of this merit a lifetime ban, and a loss of all seven Tour victories? I don’t know. That seems a bit steep. I would think that, in order to strip all seven titles, one would need evidence of cheating in all seven. But the USADA didn’t ask for my opinion.

Personally, I have no axe to grind with Lance. If he was able to pass all those drug tests, then either (a) he was squeaky clean or (b) he was able to cheat better than anyone else in a sport full of cheaters at the time.

The lifetime ban is totally symbolic, as he is retired from his sport. That said, the governing U.S. body for triathlons–the USATA–has also banned him. That means no USATA-sanctioned triathlons (that includes Ironman events, both 70.3 and 140.6) for Lance.

While I would admit that Lance’s argument–that, strippage or not, everyone knows who won those Tour titles–could carry some weight, it still is a major blemish that he is no longer going to have recognition for having won any Tour championships.

The only winner in this: Greg LeMond.

Tiger is Improving

His victory at AT&T was nothing to sneeze at.

Yes, it’s true: Tiger Woods is no longer the dominator that he used to be.

His driving distance has fallen considerably since his knee surgery, and he’s not the threat off the tee that he once was. His short game is getting there, but he is no longer his old formidable self: he struggles more to get up and down than he once did. Those eagle-birdie putts are becoming birdie-par putts. If he makes a bogey, he is finding it harder to make up that stroke or two down the stretch.

Making matters worse, his competition no longer fears him like they once did.

Critics would also be correct to point out that Tiger Woods has not done well in the major tournaments.

His play was lackluster at the Masters and the U.S. Open. He has also struggled to put together four solid rounds of golf.

Still, if you can win three tournaments in a season, that is a good sign. The fields are always competitive, and he has gone out and won three times.

While three wins at smaller events are not the same as winning majors, it is also true that if one can win in a regular Tour event, one can win a major.

Tiger has been there enough times, so he knows what it takes to win. He is starting to remember what victory tastes like. His mental toughness is coming back.

He may not dominate the way he used to, but he can still go out and win a few more majors.

Will he overtake Nicklaus? That remains to be seen. While he has had his health problems, keep in mind that he is still one of the fittest players on the Tour.

He may have to adjust his strategy as his body experiences the vagaries of the aging process. But there is no reason why he can’t be a threat for a very long time.

As for the upcoming British Open, it is notorious for nasty rough, difficult winds, and tough greens.

But those will be tough on everyone.

It will take mental toughness and good strategy to win.

Tiger Woods can win this one if he keeps his head and plays respectably.