Sports Bar 9/2/12

Real football is finally here!

But right now that’s not the big story.

Paul Bettman is the Gate Keeper

The big story for me comes from the NHL (if there is such a thing). For the third time in two decades we’re on the doorstep of what seems to be an inevitable year off for the league. Two major thoughts come to mind: The NHL thinks it’s far more important to the general sports fan that it really is and the NHL is full of some of the greediest sports owners in the western hemisphere.

The NHL obviously still believes that it’s one of the “big four” sports leagues in America. The NFL, MLB and NBA have a firm grasp on the public but it’s apparent to me that the NHL has fallen from fourth to at least seventh (behind NCAA football, NASCAR and men’s basketball, if not also women’s basketball). Be honest: Did you even know the NHL was having a major labor dispute? My guess is no, unless you’re a hockey fan or a sports fanatic. The news isn’t covering it like they covered the NFL and NBA just a year ago. There’s no major press from sports fans to get this done.

The 1994-95 season was shortened from 82 to 48 games. The 2004-05 season was cancelled completely. Both stoppages were caused by league lockouts and the upcoming season likely will lose half of the games, if not the whole season, again. Apparently they couldn’t wait a full decade again to do this.

This is a horrible insult to the fans who have finally come back to the game. Attendance was up at nearly all the franchises last season from the previous one. In fact, six teams (most of them league forefathers) averaged 100% attendance or better over the course of the entire season and sixteen teams matched that number in home attendance. The fans love and want hockey and the league is again turning their backs on us in favor of deeper pockets.

Game On!

Finally the televisions at sports bars and homes around the nation were tuned to buffet of football. College football is back and it didn’t disappoint us. Starting with the first game of the season on Thursday (South Carolina v. Vanderbilt) and running through Labor Day’s upcoming match-up (Georgia Tech v. Virginia Tech), we’ve already seen our share of near upsets and stories.

Teams that impressed me early:

  • Vanderbilt (L 17-13) – Upset bid stopped by bad pass interference no-call. This team is young, exciting and well-coached. They could have a big upset in a very deep SEC.
  • BYU (W 30-6) – The Cougars start of with a big win over Mike Leach’s new squad. As a new independent, they looked the part: a deep team with a great coaching staff that will beat you with technique, discipline and scheme.
  • Michigan St. (W 17-13) – They need more offensive talent but might have the best defense in the Big Ten this year. Boise State is in transition at a lot of positions and will look better later in the season, but to hold a Chris Peterson-coached offense to only one touchdown is impressive.
  • Notre Dame (W 50-10) – Navy isn’t as good as in recent years but they’ll still win games. Notre Dame for the first time in too long did what they were supposed to do: dominate the trenches on both sides of the ball. They limited mistakes despite a rookie quarterback and the defense was near perfect against the triple option. That’s a very difficult thing to do.
  • Ohio (W 24-14) – Everyone was watching Penn State in their first game since the scandal and what they saw was a team that will dominate a weak schedule out of the MAC. Frank Solich may be coaching his last season for Ohio as he’ll likely be picked up by a bigger school. Solich did a fantastic job of keeping his team focused on the game and not the circus.
  • Purdue (W 48-6) – Yes, I know they played lowly Eastern Kentucky, but a team as dysfunctional as the Boilermakers were last year, it’s good that they showed their fans that the returning starters got better as a team. Next week against the Irish will be much more difficult.

Teams that underwhelmed:

  • Stanford (W 20-17) – Head Coach David Shaw is going to have to prove himself this year as the post-Luck Cardinal struggled heavily on offense against San Jose St. New quarterback Josh Nunes didn’t make any mistakes but couldn’t move a sputtering offense on any sustained drives. This team will be in for a long season in a talented Pac-12.
  • Wisconsin (W 26-21) – The starters had a good game against Northern Illinois and Monte Ball kept pace with the other top runningbacks, but the defense looked pretty average for a twelfth-ranked team. This is as top-heavy as the Big Ten as been in a long time, and hopes for a Rose Bowl birth may dwindle if the defense can’t step it up.
  • Iowa (W 18-17) – Northern Illinois is a pretty decent program in the lower levels of the FBS, but this eked-out win solidified my opinion that Iowa has fallen from the upper-half of the Big Ten. There’s just no excuse not to put away the early cupcakes if you want to compete with the best.
  • Oklahoma (W 24-7) – Many people have the Sooners as a possible participant in the BCS Championship Game. Not if they play like they did against UTEP. It was 10-7 going into the fourth quarter. Read that again. The defense gave up 207 rushing yards and that’s just not good enough before entering conference play.


  • I don’t want to sound callous about Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse scandal and the death of Joe Paterno, but I’m really hoping we can finally move past it. I know it’s a story for the school and it’s fans, but do we really need to read an entire article dedicated to the members of the Paterno family that attended the game? It’s football season. Let’s talk about football.
  • Early thoughts on the Heisman race: Even though the media has already given the award to Matt Barkley (who did nothing to dispute this in USC’s dominant win), a few other guys stood out to me. Runningbacks Lattimore (S. Car.), Monte Ball (Wisc.) both had excellent games, and Lattimore did it when his team needed him most. Two previously unknown rushers Andre Ellington (Clemson) and Le’Veon Bell (Mich. St.) both eclipsed 200 yards and led their respective teams to wins in big games. If there’s any quarterback that can press Matt Barkley this season, it might be West Virginia’s Geno Smith. Over 300 passing yards for four touchdowns and one rushing touchdowns propelled him into spotlight in a blowout win.
  • Alabama did what we all thought they would do: expose an over-rated offense and average defense for the Michigan Wolverines. I’ve been saying it for two years now, Denard Robinson will never lead Michigan to a title. He just doesn’t have the passing skill set to get it done. He’s a talented athlete and anyone who watched this game will tell you he has heart, but that’s just not enough against the best opponents. Alabama’s defense effectively ended his Heisman campaign in week one.
  • We say it every year. Too many teams play too many FCS schools. When is NCAA going to step in and finally say “No more” to this practice. Okalahoma State won 84-0 against Savannah State. Who benefited from that? It’s not good football.
  • Once again, opening week faux-bowls were winners. The Chik-Fil-A Kickoff Game was actually two games (Tennessee v. N. Carolina St. and Clemson v. Auburn). Both were great football games with teams from the ACC battling against the SEC. The Cowboys Classic wasn’t very close, but I’m willing to bet it that Alabama’s victory over Michigan was the most watched game of the weekend. Maybe instead of 50 bowl games at the end of the year, more locations will look to start their own faux-bowls in September.
  • No more Ireland football. It’s a fun trip for the fans that go, but coaches hated the travel, you’re pulling kids out of school for no good reason and let’s be honest, it was a little embarrassing seeing all of those empty seats. It was like watching the London Olympics again. Odds are, Europeans just don’t care about college football. There’s no marquis names that they can watch live. Other than the obvious Notre Dame and Ireland connection, most of them probably don’t give a rat’s ass about a bunch of state colleges. In a time where frivolous spending is down, it just doesn’t make sense to spend that much money (as a school or fan).
  • A division III quarterback threw for 736 yards in a record-setting win yesterday. And the best part is? They didn’t run up the score. Sam Durley of Eureka led his team in a fourth quarter comeback, surprisingly with only five touchdown passes.

Retirement Procedures

Andy Roddick declared this week that he would retire after the US Open, in which he is still competing. For as disappointing a career as Roddick has had, I’ve always held the impression that “announcing retirement” was meant for the people at the top of their careers and professions. Brett Favre was so good he announced it three times. Derek Jeter will announce his retirement. So will Kobe Bryant and Brian Urlacher someday. Roddick has one major to his name and a long list of early round upset losses and injuries. I always thought players like that just…retire. They fade away. Roger Federer gets to announce his retirement, not Roddick.

Playoff Races

Baseball, despite what you thought, is still being played around the nation. I’m only writing this section to give some love to the Baltimore Orioles that are in a playoff spot currently and the Pittsburgh Pirates who are just a game and a half out of the playoffs going into September. It’s 1992 all over again.

Three Days

We’re only three days until the NFL starts and we can completely forget that baseball is still going on. 


An Average American’s Guide to Getting Into Soccer…errrr…Football

I found myself, for various reasons ranging from boredom to romantic, watching this little Euro Cup 2012 thing they have going on in (pat yourself on the back for finishing this sentence early) Europe. I don’t know why I kept watching. I could have just “followed” it without truly watching all these matches.

What I found out, is that I can actually get into international soccer. Here are some fun (but not necessarily wholesome or emotionally healthy) tips on how you can, too:

1) Root for the “motherland”

Although I’m fifty percent Belgian, I’ve always identified with the smaller Polish line in my family. Why? Maybe I like telling racist jokes about myself? Maybe Dyngus Day is just that damned fun? Who knows. The Poles are not known for their athletic prowess. Aside from a record five championships in the World’s Strongest Man competition from Mariusz Pudzianowski, Poland doesn’t get a lot of recognition in sports. In fact, the Polish athlete with the most gold medals? A race walker. That’s right. Race walker.

Anyhow, the easiest way to garner a rooting interest in international sports is to have some personal pride on the line. I was pumped up for the Poland-Russia match last week. Politically and regionally, that’s a huge match, especially with Poland being one of the two host nations of this year’s cup. And as an American that totally buys in to movies such as Red Dawn and the Olympics, it’s very easy to root against Russia. In fact this is a lovely segue into my next point:

2) Politics

Similar to hundreds of years of the Polish-Russian relationship, it’s easy to use political views for or against other teams. Like Sweden. I’m an atheist that naturally has fairly liberal ideals. Sweden is like my Valhalla, so add the Swedes to a list of teams I rooted for in the cup. (If you also followed the cup so far, you’ll realize I don’t have a very good track record of teams I rooted for making the elimination round)

Likewise, it can be fun to root against teams as easily as it is to root for them. Like England. Now I don’t hate England or the English, but for whatever reason, I like to root against them and pretend like it’s still 1776. I like to yell “Down with King George!” like I’m some revolutionary bad-ass. I’m not. I’m a dork.

3) Underdogs

Like any major sporting event when your favorite team isn’t playing, it’s natural to root for the underdogs. I liked rooting for Croatia because, let’s face it, they’ve had a rough few years recently. I pushed for Ukraine since they were the other host with Poland.

On the other hand, I also vied for the team playing against one of the big boys (Italy, Germany, Spain, etc.). Those guys always win things. Why not give Ireland something besides an American holiday upon which they can hang their little Irish flat caps?

As you can imagine, this category probably has the lowest success rate.

4) Controversy and Aneurysms 

Yesterday, Ukraine got completely jobbed on a ball that seemed to me was a clear goal, but the ref didn’t allow it alleging that the entire ball did not cross the line. I think it was a crap call. It was like the European equivalent to Armando Gallaraga’s botched perfect game call. Americans love their instant replay to go along with their instant coffee and instant porn, and this event was nothing short of controversial and potentially avoidable.

On the other end of the excitement spectrum, I don’t know why I’m such a glutton for self-punishment but I still get all sorts of worked up when I see these flops. If you’re not aware, I think the number one reason Americans don’t get into soccer more is the fact that flopping is rewarded in soccer more than any other major sport. Ease up America, if you follow the NBA, you realize that basketball is swiftly catching up (I’m looking at you, Manu Ginobli).

For whatever reason, we like to watch soccer just so we can complain about the flops and the faking of injuries. I’ll never get over the fact that a little spray can on the sideline is an instant cure to what the player obviously thought was a blown ACL.

Americans like extremes, and soccer proves them without prejudice.

Regardless of your level of affinity towards soccer, take it from a life-long football fan/player that the sport can be fun in certain circumstances. I definitely grew up hating soccer for whatever reason (although watching your football coach stab a soccer ball with a butterfly knife just because it rolled onto our practice field probably pushed me towards a certain side of the argument), but I’m starting to come around.

I’ll probably never get behind the MLS (go Chicago Fire?) and I most definitely never give a rat’s ass about the English Premier league or any of these other, far more prestigious leagues around the world. It’s just not appealing to me.

But throw in the occasional geo-political landscape and I can pretty much become a fan of any sport or activity. This method is so true, that many of us at the bar one Monday night stared at the darts equivalent to the World Cup. You heard me…darts. Why? Because it was USA vs England.

Just like 1776.