The Character of Chris Mortensen

Guest post from Mike Walsh.

Wondering when Roger Goodell will air the next episode in the league office’s embarrassing DeflateGate drama pales in comparison to wondering when the Chris Mortensen character will make another cameo, especially since he may have played the biggest role in this entire affair.

This stupid story has been going on for so long and has had so many aspects it might be easy to forget when it really exploded. The Pats beat the Colts on January 18th, and the first Bob Kravitz tweet was sent later that night. But it was Mortensen’s tweet on January 20th that made this thing blow up.

[Read more…]

The Worst Call in the History of History

By Dan Snapp

REPORTER: “What do you think of the execution of your team?”
JOHN MCKAY: “I’m in favor of it.”

Nobody can predict the past quite like the sports punditry.

Somehow, be it by tea leaves, phrenology or maybe even sorcery, they all have the breathtaking ability to foresee that a play that failed yesterday isn’t going to work. It’s uncanny.

Second-guessing sports decisions has long been a cottage industry. It makes up the bulk of the morning programming on ESPN, where today they battled over who can best hyperbolize Seattle’s decision to call a pass play on second down from the one.

It’s the worst play call in Super Bowl history!
No, it’s the worst play call in the history of the NFL!!
You’re all wrong. It’s the WORST PLAY CALL IN THE HISTORY OF SPORTS!!!

That’s about where I change the channel, before somebody brings Neville Chamberlain into the discussion.

Columnists added their two cents. Here’s Peter King, once again wagging his finger at participants of a sport he himself never played:

To coaches: Don’t out-think yourselves. Marshawn Lynch, even against a line led by Vince Wilfork, is your safest bet to win a yard—and have either two or three plays, probably three, in which to do it.

To players: I will quote a certain coach the players in Seattle will not want to hear from this morning, a fellow named Bill Belichick. Do your job. Pick the corner. Fight for the ball. Don’t make a throwing mistake down near the goal line.

Exactly. Did you get that, NFL coaches and players? If you make a mistake, something will probably go wrong. So don’t make mistakes. Ever.

However, we’re sad to note King’s suggestion that the Seahawks had “probably three” plays to run the ball. This is a mistake. Get your house in order, Pete!

The stat gurus entered the fray as well, with fivethirtyeight.com and others applying win probability calculators, comparative tendencies (Pats D 32nd  in power situations + Sea O 2nd in power situations = BEAST MODE!) and your requisite narrative framing to point in the direction their guts were already heading, which is that Pete Carroll’s decision probably wasn’t all that bad.

Fivethirtyeight did, however, take issue with Belichick’s decision not to call a timeout with a minute left, right after Lynch’s first-down run to the one-yard line. More on that later.

The foregone conclusion is that Lynch running the ball on second down would result in a touchdown. But what if he didn’t? What then? He was 1-for-5 from the one this season, and went 2-for-4 in “and-one” situations in that very game. And had Lynch failed to get in on second down, you already know what the collective reaction would have been: Why run it there?!!! That’s what they were EXPECTING you to do!!!

Coaches are paid to consider all outcomes and to prep their teams for as many possible scenarios as they can.  Carroll’s dilemma in this particular scenario – second-and-goal at the one-yard line, with 26 seconds left, and one timeout remaining – was time. He expressed later his goals: score the touchdown, leave the Patriots no time, and have all four downs available to him. The last one may have been his undoing.

Remember that after Lynch’s first-down run, Belichick didn’t call timeout. Fivethirtyeight.com called this a mistake:

So, when the Patriots had to decide whether to call a timeout, there were essentially three paths to victory for them:

  • Seattle turns the ball over on either second or third down. Letting the clock run slightly increases the chances of this, assuming the odds of a turnover are higher on a pass than a run (we’ll take it as about 2.5 percent combined instead of 2 percent).
  • Seattle fails to score on all three plays. Again, leaving the Seahawks a little less time probably increases the chances of this happening because it forces them to pass at least once. And we’ve seen how that worked out.
  • Seattle scores. New England gets the ball back and then goes on to win the game (most likely by kicking a field goal and then winning in overtime).

But the smaller amount of time the Patriots would have under scenario No. 3 easily dwarfs the other considerations. Belichick should have called a timeout.

That all sounds reasonable, but there’s one factor missing: Belichick’s decision to not use a timeout helped dictate Seattle’s decision-making. Had he called timeout with 62 seconds remaining, Seattle would face no time constraints, and could comfortably call a pass or a run on all three plays. By letting the clock roll, Belichick put the pressure on Carroll and his play-calling, not to mention the Seahawk players, whose confusion had already led to two wasted timeouts earlier in the drive.

Moreover, calling the timeout wouldn’t assure that the Seahawks couldn’t still run out the clock. Then Belichick loses the timeouts, the time, and the game.

If Carroll had confidence they could get a rushing touchdown in two tries, he would have run on second, and say screw fourth down. But he went the conventional route, going with the only play call that left all his options open. Basically, he wanted three bites at the apple, not two.

Carroll figured the pass would either be a score or an incompletion, and nine times out of ten, he’d be right. Then he’d have third down with 20 seconds left and a timeout, and he could do whatever he wanted on both downs.

If a Lynch run on second down failed, then Seattle takes the timeout, and it’s almost a sure thing that they pass on third down. So the only way for Carroll to preserve all downs and preserve his playcalling options would be to pass on second down.

Belichick’s decision to forego the timeout turned the game into a 60-second battle of wills and nerve. The people second-guessing him and Carroll today have the benefit of never having played such a high-stakes poker game, where a decision one way or the other determines the fate of an entire season.

No play call has been this criticized since Belichick’s 4th-and-2 call in 2009. After that play failed, he was excoriated in the press, where they said his “arrogance” and “hubris” prompted the unheard-of play decision.* The media also said the call proved Belichick didn’t trust his defense. Perhaps that was true. On Sunday, though, he was the one trusting his defense, while Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were suggesting maybe the Patriots should just let Lynch score to preserve time, since it seemed such a foregone conclusion.

* Oddly, similar “risky” decisions by other coaches were hailed as “brave” or “daring”. Jeff Fisher, in particular, has been lionized for throwing caution to the wind with his frequent fake punts. Then again, he’s a natural beneficiary of the Jeff Fisher Corollary.**
** The Jeff Fisher Corollary: The amount of praise you receive rises in direct proportion to the number of column inches you fill.

All of this, though, misses the larger point: the players still need to execute. No arguments, no run/pass scenarios, no statistical analysis, no timeout decisions and no play call decisions can override that reality. In the end, the players still have to make plays. Execution is the key.

Malcolm Butler described how the Patriots had worked on that very same slant play in practice, and how Jimmy Garoppolo (playing Russell Wilson) and Josh Boyce had beaten him for a touchdown, because he wasn’t in position. Belichick stopped practice and told Butler, “You’ve got to be on that.”

When Butler saw the same formation in the game, he knew what he had to do, but he still had to execute it. Brandon Browner similarly diagnosed the play and executed his role.

Belichick’s decision possibly helped dictate Carroll’s decision, which then created the scenario. But the play worked because of the hard work before – seeing the play in Seattle game films, practicing it and correcting it – and the recognition and execution after, once the scenario presented itself again.

That’s foresight.

Guest Post – Time To Move On From Rondo

This is a guest post from Sam Portman.

Time to Move On From Rondo

Boston Celtics’ general manager Danny Ainge needs to acknowledge the writing is on the wall and make a bold move to complete his team’s rebuilding process without Rajon Rondo in the picture.

Ideally, the 28-year-old Rondo was supposed to be the centerpiece of a youth movement overhaul that Ainge started in the summer of 2013. All of the experience and mentoring that Rondo soaked in from the “Big Three,” along with his undeniable talent, made him the natural piece to build around. Easier said than done. While Ainge trusted that his four-time All Star would make a steady cornerstone piece during a tumultuous rebuilding period, Rondo has fallen short of Ainge’s expectations.

Last season Rondo didn’t have the opportunity to grab the reins of the team’s vacant leadership role because he was sidelined for more than half of the season recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered in the middle of the 2012-13 campaign. As a result he only played in 30 games last season.

Even though last season’s Celtics team finished with a 25-57 record and didn’t qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2007, valuable experience was gained. In the absence of Rondo, the young team did experience growing pains but also found a silver lining with the newfound leadership from Jeff Green and Avery Bradley. Green finished with a career high 16.9 PPG and was a force at both ends of the floor. Avery stepped comfortably into Rondo’s point guard position and flourished as a starter. The fourth year player raised his 9.2 PPG in the 2012-13 season to a career best of 14.9 in 2013-14.

Even though Avery had his best season as a pro and Rondo still under contract, the Celtics interestingly decided to use their two first round draft picks this summer on guards, taking Marcus Smart from Oklahoma State with the No. 6 pick and Kentucky guard James Young at No. 17. Could this be a sign that Ainge is preparing his lineup for the departure of Rondo?

Drafting Smart, a sleeper for Rookie of the Year, seems like an obvious insurance policy in for Ainge and the Celtics. In fact it has already paid off because Rondo is starting the season on the injury list once again. This time he broke his hand falling in the shower. It was first reported that he would miss six to eight weeks but Rondo is optimistically pushing to get back in time for opening night. With Rondo on the shelf again, the door is open for the rookie Smart to benefit with starts at point guard.

Maybe worse than Rondo’s durability issues is the nonstop contract and trade rumors which have been lingering for over two years. This distraction is the last thing the young Celtics need hanging in the air. Rondo’s contract is coming to an end this season and will be asking for a max deal when he hits free agency.

Ainge needs to play his hand wisely and get something for Rondo instead of nothing. Boston will be better off in the near future by finding a trade partner that can land then more pieces to build on than one liability.

Opinion: Time For NFL Owners To Step Up

We welcome this guest editorial from Michael Walsh.

It is easy to forget that Roger Goodell is only the most powerful man in sports because the true oligarchy of power needs a public face. The inept, incompetent, and possibly unscrupulous Goodell only holds power because 32 of the richest men in America give it to him.

And now, as the disgrace of the league’s handling of Ray Rice knocking his fiancée out cold grows larger and larger with each breaking news story and subsequent denial or “admission” of failure, calls for Goodell’s resignation are growing louder and louder, and not just from fans on Twitter, but from the league’s partner, and often times enabler, ESPN, as well as the National Organization of Women.

Unfortunately, everyone has it wrong. Stop calling on Goodell to go.

Start calling on his bosses to do the right thing and make him go.

Make no mistake: Roger Goodell works for them. Those 32 insanely rich men. They have hired him to do their dirty work, protect “The Shield”, and most importantly, increase their bottom dollar.

And boy has he. Just a few of those accomplishments include a CBA that grossly favors the owners, a new Thursday night game revenue stream, and local cities falling over themselves to let the taxpayers fund their stadiums. The NFL isn’t an ATM, it is a mint. They are printing money, and their stated goal is to grow and grow the game, and by that they simply mean to increase their profits to even more obscene levels.

Goodell has been such an able employee, and just as importantly, been the face to take all the cries of hypocrisy and greed sent the NFL’s way, that they rewarded him with $44 million in salary last year. All of this to a commissioner whose gaffes and missteps are well-documented. High profile columnists, players both former and active, and fans on social media are happy to point them out.

Ho hum. Print that money. Thank you Roger. You’re doing a great job.

That is the message 32 of the richest men in America keep giving Roger Goodell.

Well no more. That can no longer be the case. Not when the leader of the most powerful, richest sports league in America has so monumentally screwed up something so important.

Ray Rice spit on his fiancée, twice, then hit her in the face with violent, malicious punches, twice, before dragging her like a sack of potatoes out of the elevator. And it is all on video.

What Ray Rice did is despicable. How he has acted since then is despicable. Ray Rice may or may not be scum, but the evidence there is pretty overwhelming.

And the NFL and Roger Goodell have enabled him and every other piece of scum out there. Domestic violence cannot be trivialized, it cannot be brushed aside, it cannot be explained away. The NFL owed it to every women in this country to do right by them, and they didn’t. Whether out of unimaginable incompetence, or, more likely, willful malice in trying to protect “The Shield” (their pocketbook), the NFL took what happened to a battered woman and made it an assault on all women.

So it is time for one of the 32 richest men in America to stand up and be the first to say that the man they pay to do their bidding has to go. It is time for one of them to publicly, with his name attached and his face on camera, to say that Roger Goodell failed his biggest test, that he failed every fan of the league, every daughter, every mother, every sister, every wife and girlfriend, as well as every son, father, brother, husband and boyfriend that love and worry about those people being the next sack of potatoes on a videotape that people with power don’t care to watch.

One owner needs to take the first step that will do whatever needs to be done to salvage something good out of all of this horribleness, no matter how much money it might cost 32 of the richest men in America.

What is the price of right and wrong? Surely the job of one terrible commissioner isn’t enough, but it sure would help in making amends for the damage already done.

Step up. One of you. Step up on your own and say he needs to go. The rest will follow. Then the league will go on, and hopefully the message will be sent that not only the behavior, but the enabling and incompetence that followed is not acceptable to the National Football League, and that women are valued and the league will go to any lengths to defend them from violent animals without having to worry about what 32 of the richest men in America might do to undermine that.

Thoughts? You can email Michael Walsh at mwalsh24@gmail.com

Guest Post – A Look At How 1950’s Boston Sportswriters Addressed Racism

You may have read in many places that for years Boston sportswriters “tiptoed around” the issue of racism in the Red Sox organization. Mike Passanisi found one example that might be of interest in the Boston Globe on October 3, 1954.
Thanks to Mike for the submission.
By Mike Passanisi
The fall of 1954 was an interesting time for baseball fans. It was not because of the Red Sox, who had finished fourth, an incredible 42 games behind the Cleveland Indians. Their 69-85 record marked the third straight year of sub-.500 ball and would soon lead to the firing of manager Lou Boudreau.
But it was also the year of one of the World Series’ most shocking upsets, a four-game sweep by the New York Giants over Cleveland, who had set a season record with 111 wins. The tempo of that series was set in the first game, in which Willie Mays made his famous over-the-shoulder basket catch of Vic Wertz’s long drive. Mays’ play kept the contest tied at 2, and New York would go on to win 5-2 in 10 innings. Behind two victories from young Johnny Antonelli, the Giants easily took the next three contests. The series is today part of “Indians Curse” folklore.
As the Fall Classic ended, a curious piece by the Globe’s respected Harold Kaese on October 3rd, 1954 was entitled “No Segregation in the Big Leagues.” Kaese, a learned man with interests beyond baseball, was making the point that even before the Supreme Court’s recent Brown vs Board of Education decision calling for school desegregation, baseball had almost fully integrated.
Citing black stars like Mays, Al Smith, Hank Thompson, and Ruben Gomez, he wrote “ten years ago these men would have been unknowns to all except the comparative few who followed Negro League ball. They would not have been heard of in New England.
Kaese does not totally dodge the “elephant in the room” issue of the Red Sox being one of only four teams (the Yankees, Phillies and Tigers were the other three) which were still totally white. He does mention the “tryout” of Jackie Robinson and two other black stars at Fenway in 1945, but says only that “they heard nothing more from the Red Sox.” He also tells a story, possibly true, that some Boston players stated that they would not let a “Negro” into their clubhouse. Hy Hurwitz, another Globe icon, apparently arranged for Ted Williams to bring Joe Louis in when the team was in New York. According to Kaese, “every Sox player wanted to shake his hand.”
The most direct mention of possible racism appears around the middle of the article, speaking of the all-white teams. “None of these clubs admits to be segregatioinistic. They do not openly favor racial discrimination. What they say is ‘we are perfectly willing to employ a Negro player when we find one we think can help us.’ ‘ A very familiar racist line, as we have come to find out.
One glaring omission was made by Kaese. He expresses a hope that the Sox “can find a Willie Mays or Henry Thompson before too many World Series are played in other cities” What Kaese must have known is that the Sox could easily have had Mays. He had played for the Negro League’s Birmingham Black Barons. Boston had a minor league team in Birmingham and, by league rules, would have had first shot at signing Willie Instead, he went to the Giants in 1951 and the rest, of course, is history.
Imagine Mays patrolling center field in Fenway with Williams in left and future MVP Jackie Jensen in right ? How many more pennants would the Sox have won? Kaese’s article is common among writers for many years regarding the team’s organizational racism. Gently criticize, but don’t dig too deep.

Sports Media Musings: Everything Glenn Ordway

Before we get to everything WEEI and Glenn Ordway, I would like to take a moment to send my thoughts and prayers to Rich Shertenlieb and his wife, Mary, who was diagnosed with leukemia.  As his co-host on the morning drive show, “Toucher and Rich,” Fred Toettcher, pointed out several times, Rich is truly a great person. Most know of his work developing the Miracle League in Massachusetts; but, in my opinion, his involvement isn’t extolled as much as it should be.

On a personal note, next to Rob Bradford, I owe much of my own success to Shertenlieb. Two years ago, shortly after I started writing at BSMW, I reached out to Rich to come on my podcast. There was no benefit to him — no exposure bucks and certainly no financial compensation — yet, without hesitation, he came on and spent an hour talking to me about work ethic, failures, triumphs and how he always tries to raise the bar in sports radio. Since then, even while working with WEEI, I’ve exchanged occasional emails and caught up with him at Celtics games. Rich, as he’s wont to do, is always gregarious toward me, and seems genuinely interested in me “making it.” A good dude in a cynical world. That’s all. And as Toettcher alluded to this morning, he feeds off his listeners; if you have a moment, shoot him an email or a tweet. It will mean a lot to him.

***

As Bruce Allen posted yesterday, Chad Finn reported on Boston.com (and Ordway confirmed on air) WEEI is replacing Glenn Ordway with Mike Salk. “Seismic” is the (appropriate) word Finn used in his report, and, as always, a move of such magnitude creates more questions than answers in the immediacy. Are you shocked at the news? But are you really surprised? How do others in the media feel about the news? How did Ordway handle the news? What was The Sports Hub’s role?

The answers to those questions are as follows: no; somewhat; mixed to lukewarm; well, but we’ll never truthfully know; bigger than Ordway gave credit for on the air.

Good? Wait, why are you shaking your head — OK fine, I’ll expound.

Are we shocked at the news?

The writing was on the wall that WEEI was going to make a move in their lineup. We can all agree conducting focus group studies after ratings continued to sag was as ominous as the word “ominous” can be. Besides Michael Holley and Lou Merloni, I wouldn’t be shocked if anyone is let go from the station (Yes, I’m using present tense. More moves are in play here.). Ordway’s salary cut a year and a half ago set the stage for something like this. A move had to be made in either the morning or afternoon time slots to create a sea of change. Frankly, WEEI waited far too long. I’ve said this numerous times, but I literally don’t know anyone under the age of 45 that listens to its programming. That’s a problem that goes beyond a crappy AM signal.

But are you really surprised?

Not buying that cursory explanation? Fair enough, let’s look further: Ordway, whether you like it or not, was a fixture in this market for 20+ years. So yes, despite all the inkling and rumblings and rightful justification, I’m shocked WEEI is parting ways with him. I guess part of this is because of Kevin Winter‘s recent shady resignation firing from the “Dennis & Callahan” show.

(On Winter: based off correspondences I’ve had, I feel pretty confidently that this was a terribly botched spin job by WEEI; probably to save face. From what I gather, Winter wanted it to work out on Guest Street. Case in point, what other personality was doing a separate podcast on the dot com side to market himself? All the sudden it got too much? Please. But hey, hiring someone then firing him in a few months bleeds transparent volatility. So, I get the chicanery … as ill conceived as it was.)

In the end, the timing of Ordway’s exodus was never going to feel right; because such matters, by nature, never feel right. He’s here, talking four hours a day; suddenly, he’s not — now what? All that said, there is typically a calm before the storm; it appears Winter’s release, meanwhile, was a friendly appetizer, like three inches of snow dropping the day before Nemo.

How do others in the media feel about the news?

The rumors of Mike Salk‘s expected insertion has spawned a ESPN 890 collective high five. The defunct station has seen its former personalities, most notably Michael Felger and Adam Jones and now Salk, commandeer the sports radio landscape in Boston. All that aside, the general take from writers and personalities on Twitter was morbid. You would have thought Ordway was on his death bed. This makes sense, of course. Ordway’s legacy to some (Steve Burton, Steve Buckley, Fred & Steve’s Taco Shack) is forged on being a king maker. He gave them exposure, an outlet, to ultimately talk over them, but that’s semantics.

While covering the Celtics game last night, I got the sense from a few younger writers that Ordway was neither caustic (e.g. he didn’t yell, “HE SUCKSSSSS, MIKE”) nor compelling enough. I fall on the latter side of the fence. We all have access to statistics, post-game quotes, and the like. These days, more than anything else, it’s about formulating and presenting an opinion in an entertaining manner. I can’t remember a time when Ordway espoused a take that made me say, “Hmm, I never thought of it that way.” And that he made so much money didn’t help matters, either.

How did Ordway handle the news?

Pretty well, all things considered. I don’t think he gave enough credit to The Sports Hub (see next question), but then again, I wouldn’t expect him to. He was (understandably) irate that news of his exile was released to Finn. To me, this is curious. Sure, not being able to announce the news himself stinks, especially to a dude who helped WEEI become what it is was. And yeah, it’s crappy whenever someone loses their job. Ordway, like you and me, has a family; for it to get out in that manner, for lack of a better term … sucks.

On the other hand, look at it this way: Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch once told me that the blogosphere exposing an ESPN personality like Chris Berman for any nefarious transgressions is fair game because, at this point, most people recognize Berman’s face more than the right guard for the Washington Redskins. In other words, in some respects, he is bigger than the game he covers (I know, ewww, right?).

Ordway was overpaid and enjoyed the gift of (relative) provincial fame in the hub for over 20 years. He’s not Berman, but I’m willing to bet enough people know Ordway’s likeness over, say, the 11th man on the Celtics bench. (That could be because the Celtics only have 10 players on their active roster, but you get the point) His employment is fixated on human interaction, and his removal from that equation is news. A mole in the organization is an institutional failing, I guess, but not exactly unlikely given his profile.

What was The Sports Hub’s role?

Everything. Weird to think about, but indulge me as we go “Donnie Darko” for a second: In an alternate universe, if CBS never pursues an all sports radio station, Ordway is still making a cool million a year, Jason Wolfe isn’t freaking out, Dale Arnold is complaining about Kevin Garnett‘s on-court language, and Pete Sheppard is still insufferable. Make no mistake about it, WEEI didn’t lose its audience, The Sports Hub took it.

 

The Obstructed View: Why People Root For Ray Lewis

In addition to my media notes, I’ll be swinging by Wednesday afternoons to write a weekly column dealing with How We Think About Sports (or something), entitled “The Obstructed View.” Think of it as an unfortunate tariff to my other work here. Feel free to yell at me on Twitter about it (@Hadfield__) or email me at Hadfield.Ryan@gmail.com.

Like most of America, I will watch Super Bowl XLVII. And, like most of America, a smirk will take shape on my face as I watch Ray Lewis do his pregame ritual dance. I picture most of America having this reaction, smirking in unison as Lewis performs his cathartic rain dance like a lunatic.

Meanwhile, residents of Maryland experience The Big Game Jitters. You know what I’m talking about – numbness transforms into tingly excitement which, eventually, transforms into a pit in your stomach. “It’s the Super Bowl! And we’re here, we’re really here!!!” (Even though, in reality, they are watching from their couch. You get the point.) Oh, and they’ll smirk too, of course, but out of nervousness, like meeting your girlfriend’s dad for the first time.

Shortly after, the national anthem will happen. Ray Lewis will cry or, at the very least, ooze emotion. This will undoubtedly upset the virtual world – Twitter and Facebook – and prompt reaction at whatever Super Bowl party you’re attending. This dude can’t be serious. America will collectively utter to itself.

And, together, as one nation, we stand, laughing at Lewis; while Maryland, alone, proudly stands, their faces resplendent and nervously grinning, as they struggle to put the corsage on their girlfriend’s dress in front of pops before prom.

***

There is a common theme here that is completely exclusive, but mutually shared among fans of every successful team, in every sport. Our Guys. We relent, in circumstances, that Our Guys are bad people, or Our Guys are definitely just misunderstood. Either way, we make excuses for them because, well, they’re Our Guys.

Sometimes transgressions are so innocuous that we don’t really have to make excuses at all. For instance, Our Guys sponsor Male Uggs and dress feminine; flex while a player they concussed is being helped off the field; flip off a crowd; are sore losers; have children with 13 different women; swear on the basketball court (Relax, Dale. Every kid makes it to the back of the bus to hear the “bad words” at some point or another.); and have pregame routines eerily similar to Lewis’ (except we don’t notice, because they’re Our Guys.)

Other times, the actions taken – or not taken – reflect such poor character that we can’t make excuses. It’s quite possible, for example, Our Guys may or may not have taken PEDs (but hey, so did Your Guys … we rationalize.); harbor (and fail to disclose) knowledge of sexual assault on multiple children; and can inspire hundreds of thousands of people and raise millions of dollars for cancer research – all while lying about the means they took to acquire that inspiration and platform to do so.

Strangely, in the rarest of occasions, we just don’t know what to think about Our Guys. That’s because, these days, they can be tricked into having an out-of-this-world tragedy attached to an imaginary girlfriend; which, who knows, may have not been a trick after all.

The sailient point is that these guys – Our Guys – are a means to an end to memories of championship euphoria. Years later, when it’s over, we recant our opinion to the rest of America about their shortcomings as a human. We never invited them over for dinner, to our daughter’s wedding, or to watch a movie.

But in the here and now, provincial bias and glory trumps moral high ground, leaving good people to root for bad things, I guess. That’s why, when listening to fans and media folks alike discredit Ravens fans for rooting for a murder suspect, I shake my head. And maybe – just maybe — as Ravens fans hum along to “Seven Nation Army,” in awe of their fearless leader, I’ll take a moment to smirk with them instead of at them, not because I agree, but because I understand their burden, their relationship, to Their Guy.

[UPDATE: I didn’t adequately highlight this initially, but if a team’s success wanes, then, naturally, a player’s personal issues — like, say, Mike Vick or Will Cordero (kudos to commentator, Winning), come to the forefront. You think The Hoodie gets treated unjustly now? See what happens if the Patriots on-field dominance ever falters.]

Sports Media Musings: Playing the Patriots Blame Game & Media Notes From Championship Sunday

None of the subsequent text you’re about to read matters; just as none of the endless hours of conversation breaking down the Patriots 28-13 defeat at the hands of the Ravens matters. You want storylines? There are plenty. You want culprits? There are plenty. But remember – and I can’t stress this enough – none of these narrative arcs really matter.

In the aftermath of the Patriots regular season loss to Baltimore back in September, here is what I wrote for WEEI.com.

We hear these platitudes all the time yet take them for granted. It’s a game of inches, a league of parity, and anything can happen on any given Sunday. More or less, it seems every year, the Super Bowl  is decided by a handful of 50/50 plays. Realistically, about five to seven teams can potentially win it all depending on the outcome of these moments. Maybe four of these teams reside in the AFC. The Patriots, once again, proved they are one of the select teams in The Conversation. (Seriously, did you watch the Jets and Dolphins throw up on one another for over four hours yesterday?)

This theory still holds up. The score didn’t indicate this, but the AFC Championship game was rife with 50/50 moments. And the Ravens, by a long shot, came out the victor in each of those situations.  Each team had four red zone trips. One came away with four touchdowns; the other, only one. Michael Felger, who will be doing a victory lap this week (and forever), picked the Ravens based on his “gut.” The guy who got it right went off intuition? If that doesn’t show you the fickle and arbitrary nature of the NFL, then I don’t know what does.

So, sure, take solace in the loss and lick the wounds. If you’re the media, blame Tom Brady for not producing points in the second half, heck, even throw words like “legacy” around (which is insanely shortsighted since legacies, by nature, take time to unfold and require perspective, but if you’re feeling frisky, need page views or ratings, then by all means, go for it!); ramble about the mismanagement at the end of the first half which took away the opportunity “cost” New England four points (I get the anger,  but rather presumptuous to assume the Pats would have punched the ball into the end zone there, given how much they struggled in that area all night); forget Aqib Talib was playing lights out and his exit due to injury signified the return of Kyle Arrington and insertion of Marquice Cole into the fold; or make baseless claims about what The Drop Part Deux means to Wes Welker’s contract uncertainty. You will hear all of it. Just don’t forget about The Conversation – it’s everything in the NFL.

Touchbacks: Media Notes From Sunday’s Action

I subjected myself to ESPN’s NFL Countdown show. Maybe it was because of Ray Lewis and all the religion talk this week that made me feel the need for repentance, or something. I don’t know. Either way, I’m 95% convinced Cris Cater was either drunk or acting out a C+ Stephen A. Smith impression during a segment called, “Where You At?”

***

There was a segment where T.I., a rapper from Atlanta, interviewed Roddy White of the Falcons. This was a real thing; very reminiscent of  Lil’ Wayne‘s blog on ESPN.com. Normally, I would be all over ESPN for doing this, but T.I.’s piece was much better than Chris Berman’s segment with Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, where Boomer joked, “I swear, you guys must be brothers?” Ohhh Boomerrrrr, so youuuu. The highlight came at one point when Justin Smith awkwardly said, “You’re trying to butter me up.” I would have loved to get into Berman’s conscious at that exact moment, “Psh. I don’t need to butter YOU up. I AM AN INSTITUTION. I AM FOOTBALL.”

***

Speaking of Berman, you wouldn’t believe it, but they showed his sideline report following The Catch in the 1984 NFC Championship game. I see this clip far too often; another example of ESPN making itself part of the story, “Look at us, in our infancy, not knowing what we know today – THAT WE ARE THE WORLDWIDE LEADEERRRRRRR IN SPORTS ENTERTAINMENT!!!!!”

***

Speaking of worthless sideline reports (I’m on fire with my seagueways right now, just go with it), evidently Fox skipped their sound check with sideline reporter Pam Oliver. Twitter was up in arms about her inaudible report (due to the deafening Georgia Dome crowd) right before kickoff. Here’s the thing: If we (rightfully) mock sideline reports for being useless and adding little insight – then, why, are we raising our fists at the information being missed. I thought we decided it’s all so pointless?

***

Joe Buck has been justifiably criticized for tempering his tone and excitement in big moments. The most egregious example of this mundane style of broadcasting is the Helmet Catch. However, he had a great call on Julio Jones’ opening drive touchdown in Atlanta. Perfect cadence and pitch as the play unfolded. I get he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like Buck.

***

Much is being made of Shannon Sharpe’s diatribe directed towards Bill Belichick for skipping out on his one-on-one interview with CBS’ Steve Tasker. I’m actually with Sharpe here, but I don’t get why he is so shocked. On the peripheral, Belichick is a sore loser. It’s weird. But it’s also not new. The Hoodie has no use for the noise; he never asks for the adulation he gets, and certainly doesn’t soak in the hate, either. Remember, though, that’s on the peripheral. Internally, all you need to know about Belichick is this tidbit from Peter King this morning.

The postgame conversation on the field with Bill Belichick … Harbaugh: “I’ll treasure that conversation forever. Before the game, we talked, and he said maybe we should just skip the postgame handshake because it’s such a circus. I said I didn’t know; I thought we should do it, it’s just the right thing to do. And we did. He was so classy, so gracious. Complimentary about how we played, about our game plan, about how tough it is to play us. I told him how much we pattern our organization around theirs, how much we study them.”

***

At various times, I covered the Patriots this past year. I interviewed guys who didn’t make it to opening day like Robert Gallery and Joseph Addai; attended OTAs, minicamp, parts of training camp, the preseason games, and even the home opener as a member of the media.

Sunday night, I found myself in a bar near my Boston apartment, with a buddy, Johnny (a Patriots fan, though, I don’t think he knew who Marquice Cole was until Anquan Boldin abused him last night). It has been an interesting transition back to watching the game away from the press box. While there is no buffet line, egos are checked at the door;  a girl who gradually grew uninterested in the game played that shooter arcade game and entered her name as “STD-UTI” (which was hilarious); Johnny and I debated whether our waitress had breast implants (ultimately determining the affirmative, yet we never confirmed); listened to hammered guys claim, “I can’t put this game on Brady, I just can’t,” and after it was all over, had a random guy seriously proposition us with the following choice, “Are we going after girls tonight or looking to find a fight?”

Quirky, fun, memorable, and refreshing — sports is sports again. Even when it sucks.

The Obstructed View: Difficult Takes A Day; Impossible Takes A Week

In addition to my media notes, I’ll be swinging by Wednesday afternoons to write a weekly column dealing with How We Think About Sports (or something), entitled “The Obstructed View.” Think of it as an unfortunate tariff; and feel free to yell at me on Twitter about it (@Hadfield__) or email me at Hadfield.Ryan@gmail.com. 

The transitory sphere of sports commentary entertainment is alarming; probably because, alarmists are running the show.

This last weekend, for instance, saw miracles and epiphanies of the Other Kind unfold. On Saturday, The Book on Ravens quarterback, Joe Flacco, 28, changed from him being “inconsistent and frustrating” to “big when it matters most” and “dangerous;” and the signal caller in Atlanta, Matt Ryan, 27, once designated as a “fine regular season quarterback,” was reborn into a “winner” Sunday.

“It’s all happening!!!” Kate Hudson and her fellow “Band-aids” bellowed on the television screen Sunday night during my 187th viewing of “Almost Famous.”

Yes, it was. (Except it wasn’t.)

The problem with the much-talked about column written by Dan Shaughnessy (which the attention gained, as much as he denies, was exactly how he drew it up), is that he leaves no room for growth. Players are typecast, and crazy ideas like “learning about your craft” fall by the wayside (or somewhere else). Thus every player, it seems, is JaMarcus Russell or Tom Brady (unless you’re Brett Favre, in which case RIDE THE WAVE). And I think we can all agree, speaking and writing in vague, highly circumstantial terms that can’t possibly be quantitative – like adjudicating whether or not an athlete is “clutch” or a “winner” – is just obtuse. These concepts have been specious from the outset of their existence. And, mind you, their sheer existence is due to selfish fandom, writers yearning page views, and radio hosts trying to fill air time.

I can’t figure out why, however, we enable this to keep happening time and time again. Maybe it’s because, these days, we want things like ChuckStrong – the moniker placed behind the Colts’ improbable run, purportedly credited to the inspirational story of head coach Chuck Pagano, who recovered from cancer this season – to matter; instead of Andrew Luck being really good at football.

Because sports has to take a bigger form – It All Has To Mean Something, or else we start asking more pressing questions like, “What the hell are we really doing here, man?”

So, in turn, we constantly hear and read emphatic declarations of whether athletes pass or fail subjective “eye tests” based on intuition. Perception gradually coalesces into reality; only those ruling on such matters are manufacturing this perception, instead of observing what actually exists, leading to one sad fallacy: You are who you are, until, of course, you aren’t.

I was fat, then, I lost weight, and now I’m skinny – today am I a different person?

Woah, I just blacked out. Somewhere, Lance Armstrong is nodding. Suffice to say, existentialism and sports shouldn’t mix.

Still, the Shaughnessy and Michael Felger’s of the world sly wink and feign ignorance to this truth (even though they totally get it. It is, after all, staring them right in the face). Shank wrote a book about a mythical curse, which later was broken. It seems like Felger exclusively talks in generalities. For example, like most, he killed LeBron James after Paul Pierce drained a 3-pointer in Miami to give the Celtics an “insurmountable” 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.

James, everyone agreed, didn’t have stones. Months later, we all staggeringly recant, he does.

An interesting case study, really. At 18, LeBron James is a great basketball player. LeBron James, now slightly older, flees Cleveland, and thus, lacks self-awareness and is selfish. LeBron James fails to win a title in his first year on the Heat, and it’s decided he can’t will a basketball team to a championship (yes, this was a real question in 2011). Last summer, The King is crowned, after winning the NBA Championship and leading Team USA to Olympic Gold; magically, he’s transformed and (you guessed it) figured out how to be clutch!! Most recently, though, LeBron James showed regression by berating an official — consequently, he’s back to being a dick.

Everything is about this is true; yet, everything about this is false.

Contrary to popular beliefs, LeBron’s accomplishments last spring and summer didn’t alter the reality that he is a great basketball player; just like raising the Larry O’Brien trophy didn’t mark his personality traversing from puerile and nonsensical to reformed and modest. This isn’t a Hero’s Journey, just someone’s journey.

And, despite recent events, Matt Schaub still could have beaten New England last Sunday night, he just didn’t. Because … uh … because … ahhh screw it – NOTHING IS PROMISED, ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, AND THE OTHER GUYS GET PAID TO PLAY, TOO.

(Shit.)

Sports Media Musings: Return of the Jester

Happy Endings Are Stories That Haven’t Ended Yet

(Programming note: For ACTUAL media commentary, please feel free to skip the next 450 words. I won’t be offended. In fact, I encourage it. I apologize for this voluminous explanation about my respite from writing these past few months; there are just so many big things happening in my head, man. Alas, this practice in self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement is co-sponsored by Adrian Foster’s Twitter avatar … and Dan Shaughnessy’s hair ego.)

Great news, guys: I am back, and there will be blood (maybe … well no, not really). Longtime readers of Boston Sports Media Watch – which, I suppose, is a great deal of you reading this very text – know who I am, appreciate (or mock) my gimmick, and will welcome back the 2011-UNDISPUTED-CHAMPION-In-Arbitrary-Media-Musings-Related-To-Sports-Personalities-Produced-By-A-Fledgling-Writer-In-His-Parents-House, with overwhelming joy. I think.

The bunch I’m referring to may recall my departure from this very space, just a short year ago, to try my hand with the gentlemen occupying Guest Street, with great sadness and sheer despondence. But fear not, dear readers, in the year since, I have covered everything from the Celtics and Patriots to Bonnaroo Music Festival in TN (for Boston.com) to music for TIME. It was, from what I imagine, the feeling Billy Joe Armstrong wishes upon his subject in the song “Good Riddance,” mixed with a shot of the Showtime series, “House of Lies.” Sports, everyone. And writing, too. SPORTS WRITING.

And while it may not seem this way in future columns, the truth is, the gentlemen Over There were gracious, accommodating, and gave me every chance to succeed at my endeavors. You’ll scoff because, sure, my dalliance with The Mainstream Media resembled Gerald Green’s combustible NBA career more than the steadiness of Julio Franco for my liking, but in the interim, I would like to think I learned a lot about life, barriers of entry in competitive industries, and most importantly, proper etiquette while in a buffet line. And hey, as much as I would have loved to keep the Out of Bounds blog going Over There, life, sadly, has countered with rules and obligations, mostly revolving around superficial yet paramount concepts like, “bills,” “net income,” and a relationship with my new girlfriend, named Sallie Mae.

In all earnest, writing about the media, in general, is difficult. However, I can’t complain. Like I said, I was given a great opportunity. I enjoyed the people I worked with and had an incredible experience.  The writers and editors I had the pleasure of working for are, for my money, the best at what they do in this town.

“But look,” I negotiated with myself (we’re getting very, very meta now), “Going forward, if I’m going to write for a reward equivalent to your iPhone bill, I feel, it’s only fair, I should be able to write about who I want, when I want … Because PRINCIPLES, people.”

Please know, dear readers, I have returned to you now living back in Boston (breaking the blogger stereotype) as a “wiser” (Read: Jaded) writer, offering two columns a week – the aforementioned “Media Musings” notes, and a more focused column entitled, “The Obstructed View.”

Fin.

They Said It, Not Me

(This is the part where I deride statements made by Those Who Make Statements)

… Dan Shaughnessy admits that he doesn’t know football. Very tongue and cheek, because he’s ABOVE IT ALL. Don’t think for a second, after he whipped out that gem of a zinger, he didn’t strut into good ‘ole Morrissey Blvd., sporting a BIG WINK shot in the direction of Joe Sullivan; leaving the rest of staff gushing, “That’s so Dan, guys!”

But hey, way to hold and develop that authoritative voice, bud. No need to actually defend your stance with statistics and rationale. I mean, that’s OK – you’re just paid to write about it, is all. Play the Blind Squirrel because, guess what, THE NEWSPAPER INDUSTRY, EVERYONE!

… After the Celtics “upset” the Knicks Tuesday, Gary Tanguay alluded to trade rumors swirling around the team before their current winning streak took form; many of which, Alan Thick assuredly informed us, are incorrect.

Are we to believe Tanguay, who, if you recall, is the same person who confidently told us Paul Pierce was to be traded last season? Keep in mind, as of this morning, Pierce is still listed on Doc Rivers’ roster. Still, to his credit, Andy Bernard desperately – and justifiably – wanted to be believed that his sources were correct about Ray Allen’s departure being related to his salty relationship with Rajon Rondo.

Let the record show, none of this aimless conjecture supersedes Tanguay’s remarks due to an unconfirmed heat stroke he suffered this summer. The highlights, or lowlights, included his indefensible (and maniacal) castigation of Clay Buchholz for going to a pool party at Foxwoods after being released from Intensive Care, and curious proclamation that Aly Raisman was more “clutch” than Tom Brady. Yes, that really happened. Oh, and there was the time he said LeBron James wasn’t a top-5 player in the NBA before the playoffs began, because SPORTS TAKES.

But the line, it seems, between host (ostensibly Tanguay’s role) and commentator/reporter (what sets Ron Burgundy’s calves on fire) is further blurred. JOURNALISM.

… ESPN told Rob Parker, the dude who infamously questioned Robert Griffin III’s blackness (or something, rather) on “First Take,” thanks but no thanks, releasing him from his duties at the network.

Rob Parker’s contract expired at year end. Evaluating our needs and his work, including his recent RGIII comments, we decided not to renew.

So long as “First Take” – the embodiment of a Shank column – exists, extolling the four-letter network for the decision to remove Parker from the equation is like giving a standing O at a DUI hearing because the driver wore his seatbelt.

… The WorldWide Leader also apologized for Brent Musburger incessantly pointing out the obvious during the college football National Championship Game: Katherine Webb, girlfriend of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, and former Miss Alabama, is a professional smokeshow. MISOGYNISTIC ATTITUDES CURED.

This Week In Felger & Mazz Constituents

This week, Senator McCarthy took his hatred toward the BBWAA (namely Tom Verducci) to new levels, probably to avoid putting any real focus on his other enemy, the streaking Celtics. Earlier in the week, he frothed about reports of Chip Kelly coming to New England to succeed Bill Belichick, because no “Belichick Guys” ever workout. (Somewhere, Thomas Dimitroff and his hapless, top-seeded Falcons somehow feel more disrespected.)

Meanwhile, The Squeaky One Who Agrees gave insight based off a time when he, you know, gave insights; ranking PWIFS (Player’s Wives I’d Like To … well, you know). Who feels out of place on this list: Canseco, Clemens, and Hatteberg. The Squeaky One Who Agrees giggled, mostly.

Finally, when asked about his thoughts in the upcoming New England-Houston playoff game, The One We Shower With Adulation For His Seven-Yard Catch In Super Bowl XXXVI decided that if the Patriots “just do what they did last time against [the Texans], it will be a blowout.” Glad he’s here.

It was, what He & His Cohorts would call, “A Productive Day.”