Admin Note

My writing schedule for next week will be sporadic. Family events will consume much of the time during the week.

My plan is to write on Monday morning and then see what happens after that. Sometimes plans work out; other times … not so much.

I should be back on normal schedule by the week of February 15.

Stay well, everyone.

Mythical Picks – NFL – The Super Bowl

The Mythical Picks from two weeks ago were perfecto. The record for the week of the Conference Championship games was 3-0-0 taking the season record to 133-121-5. The record for Curmudgeon Central Coin Toss games remained at 17-17-1.

The “Best Pick” from two weeks ago was taking the Panthers and laying only 3 points to the Cardinals. The Panthers led 17-0 after one quarter and it was pretty clear at that point that the Cardinals were not going to mount much of any sort of offense on that day.

Notwithstanding the perfect record from two weeks ago, no one should take anything written here and use it as the basis for making any sort of wager on the Super Bowl game this Sunday. Past performance is no assurance of future performance; moreover, I bring no inside information to this endeavor. One would have to be mightily stupid to risk one’s real money on an actual wager on the upcoming game because of something in here. How stupid?

    You probably think that “Brain Freeze” is a flavor of ice cream eaten by zombies.

General Comments:

I succeeded in making no mention of any of the Super Bowl hype for the past two weeks. I am proud to say that I did not contribute to the myriad attempts to compare and contrast the two QBs in the game nor did I allow myself to be dragged into the minutiae of the game wherein folks analyze which offensive line unit suffers from more hangnails. Here is something from Greg Cote in this morning’s Miami Herald; this sums up how I feel about coming to the end of two weeks of saturation coverage of the upcoming Super Bowl game:

“You know why America will be so excited to see Sunday’s game kick off?

“It isn’t because Panthers vs. Broncos will finally be starting.

“It’s because the two weeks of mind-numbing buildup will finally be ending.”

Messr. Cote has been “on a roll” with snarky commentary related to the Super Bowl over the past couple of weeks and I will insert some of his remarks periodically in these final Mythical Picks for the 2015 NFL season. Here is one of them:

“I saw a consumer-oriented story with the headline, ‘Where to watch the Super Bowl.’ The target demographic: Football fans who own no television, have never heard of a sports bar and have no friends.”

The NFL turned “Media Day” into “Opening Night” this year. The nonsense was not only televised; it was televised in prime time on NFL Network. As has become the custom, some of the “reporters” arrived in a variety of costumes to pose whatever stupid questions they had been working on for the last weeks and months. I do not want to give any of the “creative folks” at the NFL any ideas, but about the only twist they have not tried yet for these goat rodeos is to drive one of those circus clown cars into the venue and have 26 costumed “reporters” emerge and disperse into the throng of players and coaches who have taken up their positions.

Every year, “Media Day”/”Opening Night” produces the same stupid questions along with the same predictable minimalist answers. This year, we did ascertain that there were 7,000 people in the Bay Area whose lives are truly devoid of any interesting content. Those 7,000 Masters of Misery spent $30 each to go and sit in the stands and watch those “reporters” ask their questions and get their minimal answers. Those 7,000 souls have forever forfeited any right they may have had to proclaim that something they are doing is “boring”.

Here is one more offering from Greg Cote on the upcoming game:

“Broncos-Panthers ticket prices are falling. The cost on StubHub on Wednesday started as low as $2,950. Or, you can get a much better seat for a fraction of the cost. It’s called ‘your couch.’ ”

As I said above, I refuse to compare and contrast the two QBs in the game; there have been far too many such expositions of that type. However, I would like to suggest that Cam Newton may be a “black swan”. That is not a racial comment; a “black swan” metaphorically speaking is an unexpected event or sighting. Normally, birds with the shape of a swan swimming on a lake/pond are white; we come to expect birds of that shape and size on the water to be white; on rare occasions, swans are black and seeing one of them is shocking and surprising. Hence the term…

Back to Cam Newton here; quarterbacks in football historically are not as tall or as heavy as he is. Players who weigh 260-270 lbs. tend not be as fleet afoot as he is nor as agile. His throwing motion is not of the “classical old school”. If you just focus on him as a quarterback, he looks and plays “differently” from what we have come to expect from a quarterback.

The best analogy I can draw here is to Magic Johnson. When Magic was in college he was very unusual; there were no 6’ 9” point guards roaming the Earth back then; most fans had never even thought of a player that big even trying to play the point guard position. Why would a coach allow him to do that and keep him away from the basket? Magic was a very good college player but he was not much of an outside shooter in his early days in the NBA. But he honed his skills and significantly improved his outside shot and became a truly great player.

Cam Newton has not yet achieved in the NFL what Magic Johnson achieved in the NBA. Given Magic’s prodigious accomplishments, Newton may never attain that level of greatness. However, I think there is parallelism and comparability between the two athletes that is worth paying attention to.

I will succumb to one comment comparing Cam Newton and Peyton Manning; it comes from Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:

“How old is Peyton Manning? While Cam likes to Dab after scoring TDs, Peyton is working on his own touchdown dance — the Charleston.”

While on the subject of Super Bowl quarterbacks, do you realize that Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have been the quarterback for the AFC team in the Super Bowl for 13 of the last 15 Super Bowl games? The two “interloper AFC quarterbacks” since Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 have been Rich Gannon (Raiders in 2003) and Joe Flacco (Ravens in 2012). Over the same time span, NFC teams have had a variety of QBs on display in Super Bowl games. In fact, only Kurt Warner, Eli Manning and Russell Wilson have made repeat appearances for NFC teams.

Recently, I wrote about NFL franchises that have been out of contention for quite a while now despite the league efforts to induce parity into the system. On the other side of the coin one needs to look at the 16 teams in the AFC. Five of those teams – about one-third of the conference – have represented the AFC in 18 of the last 20 Super Bowl games; 31% of the teams make up 90% of the Super Bowl representatives. Going back to Super Bowl XXX where the Cowboys beat the Steelers (January 1996), the Broncos, Colts, Patriots, Ravens and Steelers have been the AFC representative every year except:

    Super Bowl XXXIV (Jan 2000): The Tennessee Titans lost to the St. Louis Rams.

    Super Bowl XXXVII (Jan 2003): The Oakland Raiders lost to the Tampa Bay Bucs.

One more time from Greg Cote:

“OK we have officially run out of things to talk about and write and need the game to start. Evidence? This headline (I swear) on ‘Super bowl history of missed extra points.’ ”

Lest you think he is making that up, here is the link to that exposition…

Super Bowl parties are as ubiquitous as New Year’s Eve celebrations. The American Snack Food Association – of course there is one – says that Super Bowl Sunday is the “biggest snacking day of the year.” Using data from 2013, here is what they mean by “snacking”:

    1.23 billion wings will be consumed – not counting those eaten at Wing Bowl in Philly the Friday before the Super Bowl Game.

    15 million pizzas will be consumed. Sadly, many of these pizzas will be culinary concoctions that only resemble pizza. For example, Domino’s estimates that they will produce 1.3 million pies this year…

    158 million avocados will be consumed – most in the form of guacamole.

Let me convert those numbers to measures you might relate to more easily:

    1.23 billion chicken wings: Of course they come from a bit more than 600 million chickens. The US Census Bureau says the population of Santa Clara, CA – site of this year’s game – is 120,245 as of 2013. That means that every man, woman and child in Santa Clara could have just over 102 wings apiece if you could get them all to the city at one time.

    15 million pizzas: At 8 slices per pizza, that comes to 120 million slices. That is almost enough to provide one slice of pizza to every man woman and child in Japan.

    158 million avocados: Each avocado produces about 8 ounces of edible stuff so this equates to 79 million pounds of avocados. The ancillary ingredients that turn an avocado into guacamole do not weigh much so in round numbers I can estimate that 80 million pounds of guacamole are available for “snacking”. That would be 1 pound of guacamole for every man woman and child in Germany.

Oh, and please do not ignore the pretzels, chips and beer that will be consumed on Sunday. Those will not be consumed in trivial amounts…

Before we get to the Mythical Pick for the game, let me go to Greg Cote one more time:

“Pats-Seahawks last year was seen by 114.4 million viewers, the most-watched broadcast in the history of U.S. television. They say Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 could break that record despite the halftime performer being Coldplay.”

The Game:

Carolina – 5.5 vs. Denver (44.5): The spread opened at 4 points and went as high as 6 points in many places in the past two weeks. It has settled in here at this level at most of the Internet sportsbooks. Reports say that there is a heavy preponderance of “Panthers money” in Las Vegas and that the sportsbooks there are “exposed”. We will know if those reports are correct soon after the game when the Nevada Gaming Commission releases the statement of earnings or losses reported by the sportsbooks in the State. The Panthers were the highest scoring team during the regular season putting 500 points on the scoreboard (31.2 points per game); in their 2 playoff games, the Panthers have scored 80 points (40 points per game). Flip the coin here and you will see that during the regular season, the Broncos only allowed 18.5 points per game (fourth stingiest in the NFL) and in two playoff games, they have allowed 34 points (17 points per game). Therein is the focus of the game. If the Panthers get off to a big early lead as they have often done this year, I do not think the Broncos’ offense can “catch up”. However, I am not confident that the Panthers can do that to the Broncos’ defense. I like the game to stay UNDER. I think there could be a final score along the lines of 20-17.

Finally, one last good word from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“Finally, at Palm Beach Kennel Club, a greyhound representing Carolina beat a dog representing Denver. Track officials denied speculation the race might have been a publicity stunt.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

At The Intersection Of Sports And Politics…

I want to start today with something that happened at a Donald Trump rally in Iowa about a week ago. Fear not; this is not going to be a political rant regarding any candidate or party. This will actually circle back to sports pretty quickly.

In the audience at the rally were some members of the Iowa football team; and according to reports, Trump called them up to the stage to be with him. The players gave him an Iowa team jersey with the name “Trump” on the back. Now there are reports that the Iowa football program might – let me emphasize MIGHT – be in trouble with the NCAA because there is an NCAA rule that prohibits student-athletes from endorsing political candidates.

I am not surprised that such a rule exists; after all, if the NCAA has to have a rule book that is 500 pages long, they have to come up with lots of arcane things to regulate. [Hmmm… I wonder if there is a set of rules in there somewhere that defines exactly what the team proctologist may and may not do with his/her spare time?] I may not be surprised that there is such a rule but I surely do not understand why the NCAA mavens thought it was important to write it in the first place.

I continue to believe that the NCAA rules on eligibility and proper recruiting practices and allowable benefits for athletes are there for this purpose only:

    To create a level playing field – to minimize any on-field advantage that Team A might gain over Team B.

The NCAA – given the fact of its existence – has to care about intercollegiate athletic contests and if they care about them in such a way that the NCAA can make money for itself and for its member schools and conferences, then they have a vested and legitimate interest in creating and enforcing rules that seek competitive balance. What that has to do with which political candidate some or all of the players on a particular team might support/endorse in any election is not so clear to me.

As a former US Government employee, I am very familiar with the idea that I could not endorse any political candidate or party. The Hatch Act restricts Federal employees from such activities and it is a condition of continued employment that Federal employees comply with the provisions of the Hatch Act – and all other Federal laws as well. Some folks argue that the Hatch Act restricts the freedom of expression of Federal employees and I am sure that sort of thing makes for spirited debates in law school classes. Nonetheless, that restriction – if it really exists – is in force.

Now, I would surely hope that the NCAA would not try to justify its prohibition on endorsing a candidate on any basis that resembles the justification for the Hatch Act. Here is the bugaboo in that argument:

    Federal employees bear their restriction(s) as a condition of employment.

    The NCAA vehemently denies that student-athletes are employees. [Aside: That is one point where I agree completely with the NCAA.]

I hope that someone in the NCAA Enforcement Mechanism – whatever it is called – steps back and recognizes that the Iowa football team gained no on-field advantage from the actions of some team members standing on a stage with Donald Trump at a political rally – unless of course someone can show that the players were paid to make that appearance. So far, I have seen no reporting that makes even a passing mention of such a thing. However, for completeness, I would agree that the players and possibly the entire program might need a sanction if indeed there were shadow payments involved in that event. Absent evidence of that nature, those players were part of a fundamental American process; if they participated because that is what they believe, that is something that relates closely to the educational goals that the NCAA continues to champion for its student-athletes.

Let us hope that sanity prevails here…

A rather standard sports bar argument challenges participants to name a sports record that is “unbreakable”. The fundamental problem with the approach to such arguments is that a human being set the current record that one asserts to be “unbreakable” which denies the possibility that another human being may come along at some time and do just that. Here are some standard examples of nominally unbreakable records:

    Hitting in 56 consecutive games. I probably will not be around to see it, but there is no reason why someone cannot possibly ever hit in 57 consecutive games.

    Being the winning pitcher in 511 games. Considering that modern pitchers who win 300 games are ushered into the Hall of Fame as soon as possible, it will likely be a long time before that record is approached; but impossible…? [By the way, Cy Young also pitched 749 complete games.]

    Scoring 100 points in an NBA game.

    Pitching 7 no-hit games. The pitcher who ranks second in no-hit games had 4 in his career; he was a pretty good pitcher named Sandy Koufax…

    Receiving 688 intentional walks. Barry Bonds did that; second on the list is Albert Pujols who has collected 296 and Henry Aaron is third on the list at 293.

    Winning 122 consecutive races over a 10-year span in track and field. Edwin Moses did that in the 400-meter hurdles.

Those and tons of other are amazing records but someday, each might be broken. However, there is one record I can think of that cannot be broken;

    Super Bowl XXV was the game between the Giants and the Bills; if that is not enough of a clue to bring the game to mind, it was the “Scott Norwood game” or the “wide right game”. The final score was Giants 20 and Bills 19.

    Not only was that the smallest margin of victory in Super Bowl history, it is the smallest POSSIBLE margin of victory in a Super Bowl game. That record may be tied in some future game but it will not – because it cannot – be broken.

If you find yourself in such an argument at a sports bar, try to get some folks to put up a few dollars on the proposition that you can give them a sports record that cannot be broken. Ask the bartender to hold the stakes and be the judge…

Finally, since I started today with something at the intersection of sports and politics, let me close with a comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News regarding another event at that intersection:

“Near the start of his speech at [University of] Nebraska-Omaha, President Obama called out, ‘Go Mavericks!’

“Which is the political equivalent of a rock star opening a concert by shouting, ‘We love you, Akron!’ ”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

National Signing Day…

Today is “National Signing Day”; this is the day when high school football players let the world know where they will go to college to continue playing football. This is a concocted “holiday”; it is a paragon of excess. ESPN has been covering/hyping the bejeepers out of this for the last month or so and it will be a relief to see it in the past. Fans of various college teams lend incredible weight to the decisions of these various high school players somehow having convinced themselves that this young man is going to be a great college football player based on the fact that he was a great high school football player. The logic there has its strengths and its weaknesses.

    Surely the odds are better that a high school player will become a great college player if indeed he stood out at the lower level of high school football.

    Nonetheless, many outstanding high school players do not become anything more than very ordinary college level players. That fact is demonstrated every three or four years when one looks back at the “career arcs” of loads of 4-Star/Blue Chip/Stone Cold Studs who signed on prior to their freshman year.

    In essence, the tension and excitement generated by National Signing Day this year is the triumph of hope over experience.

Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald had these two comments recently about the furor surrounding National Signing Day:

“National signing day is Wednesday. Groundhog Day is Tuesday. A study would reveal that Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions are 10 times more accurate than those of people who rate teenagers two to five stars.”

And …

“Signing day is when middle-aged college football fans warmly embrace the 18-year-olds they’ll be angrily tweeting at following losses in 2018.”

I am certainly not a psychologist but I wonder if the following hypothesis has ever been tested. These players who will be on national TV to reveal their signing decisions for college are players who have excelled at football for all of their lives and with that excellence came status and stature at school and in their community. Everyone recalls the BMOC at his/her high school. Now, some of these new signees will go to college and will not excel; in fact, some of them will fail; they will only make the team in order for the team to have enough bodies to provide practice regimens for the starters on the college squad.

I wonder if the social “demotion” from BMOC-status to Scrub-status hinders in any way the ability of the player to perform in other dimensions of the collegiate experience. If someone could show that to be the case, then those folks who raise up these prospects higher and higher on national pedestals might be considered to be folks who are setting up some of them for a pretty hard fall down the line. Just saying…

Thursday Night Football in the NFL is not something that the players like and for the last couple of years it has not been anything close to “must-see TV”. Particularly late in the season, many of the players’ bodies are not sufficiently recovered from last Sunday’s poundings to perform at top-shelf levels. So, what might you expect the NFL to do about that?

Right! They are going to expand the coverage of Thursday Night Football.

Next year, there will be more games on broadcast TV for everyone to see. In 2015, CBS carried the first 8 Thursday Night Football games; those 8 were simulcast on NFL Network; then NFL Network telecast the final 8 Thursday Night games. However, the contract for the TV rights to Thursday Night Football expired at the end of the 2015 season and here is what is going to happen in 2016 and 2017:

    CBS will televise 5 Thursday Night Football Games in the “first-half of the season”.

    NBC will televise 5 Thursday Night Football Games starting the Thursday before Thanksgiving and carrying through until just before Christmas.

    NFL Network will simulcast those 10 games from the 2 networks.

    NFL Network will also televise a package of 8 games consisting of other Thursday Night games plus “late-season games on Saturday and additional games to be determined.”

If you want to read a lot of management-speak and bloviating related to the announcement of these TV packages, here is a link that will provide the opportunity.

Other reports say that CBS and NBC paid a total of $450M for their 2-year TV rights in this deal. That is an increase for the NFL because CBS had paid only $350M for the 2-year deal that just expired. Why are the networks willing to pony up an additional $100M for Thursday Night games that have not been nail-biters in recent times? The answer is simple; despite the marginal quality of many of the games, people watch. And because people watch, the networks are able to sell ad time at premium rates. As Deep Throat advised Woodward and Bernstein, “Follow the money.”

Finally, last week’s Pro Bowl drew a TV rating of 5.0. That was the highest rated televised sporting event last weekend and that is good news for the NFL. At the same time, that is the lowest rating for the Pro Bowl in years; this year’s rating is categorized as a “massive drop” since it was down a little over 25% from last year’s 6.7 rating and that is potentially good news for football fans who would love to see the game just dry up and blow away.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Jeff Hornacek Gets The Axe

The NBA’s Phoenix Suns fired coach Jeff Hornacek this week. The Suns have not come close to meeting expectations for this year and that is the justification for the firing. However, perhaps those expectations may have been just a tad unrealistic.

Last year, the Suns were not expected to be a playoff team; as I recall, the expected win total for the Suns in the 2014/15 was in the low-to-mid 30s; the team was coming off a 39-win season and had not made any significant upgrades. What happened in 2014/15 was that the Suns won 48 games and Jeff Hornacek finished second in the balloting for NBA Coach of the Year. Then, over the summer, the team signed Tyson Chandler from the Dallas Mavericks and – despite the presence of really good teams atop the Western Conference, the folks in charge of the Suns began to think of the team as – hat tip to Marlon Brando here – “uh contenda”.

To say that has not worked out is to say that the Hindenburg had a minor problem with docking. Chandler is playing only 23.5 minutes per game; his field goal percentage looks good at 49.5% but that is the lowest his shooting percentage has been since his rookie season in 2001/02; he is only getting 8.4 rebounds per game which is significantly below his 11.5 average in 2013/14. The rest of the team has not played all that well either and as of this morning the Suns’ record stands at 14-35; they have the same record as the Timberwolves and have only 5 more wins than the Lakers.

The team should not be this “bad”; the team also should not be aiming 55 wins and a possible #3 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs either. Jeff Hornacek happened to be in the wrong beach chair when this tsunami of losing washed ashore. Isn’t amazing how the guy who was nominally the second best coach in the NBA as of May 2015 became expendable in January 2016…?

Over the weekend, I saw on ESPN – I think – some highlights of a Suns/Knicks game. Basketball highlights tend to be repetitious; lots of dunks or long three-point shots and not much else. However, there was something strange in the highlights here; the Suns were wearing black uniforms. No, it is not strange for NBA teams to wear black; lots of teams use them as “alternate uniforms” creating different lines of merchandise to sell. Nonetheless, this is what went through my head and was jotted down on my notepad by the TV set:

    When the Suns wear black uniforms, shouldn’t the TV graphics refer to them as the Eclipses?

Recent reports seem to confirm prior stories that Calvin Johnson will retire from the NFL; the latest story is that he told Lions’ coaches last year that he intended to do so. When the earlier reports surfaced, I wrote that Lions’ fans must be having flashbacks to Barry Sanders and the flashbacks cannot be “happy times”. Sanders was clearly the best running back in Lions’ history and he retired abruptly at age 31; Johnson is clearly the best WR in Lions’ history and he is retiring at age 30.

The Detroit Lions franchise is hardly a model organization in terms of positive results. In fact, it may be – over the long haul – the bottom rung of the NFL ladder. Consider:

    The Lions won the NFL Championship in 1957. Since then, they have won not much of anything. In 2008, they won nothing; their season record was 0-16.

    Since 1957, the Lions have participated in a total of 12 playoff games; they lost 11 of them.

    Since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, the Lions have had winning records 10 times.

    Since the NFL realigned in 2002 to create the NFC North, the Lions cumulative record is 76-148. That is a winning percentage of .339.

To be sure, there are some other NFL franchises that you can hang a “sad-sack tag” onto.

    Since 2003 – the year after the Raiders lost in the Super Bowl to the Bucs – the Raiders have been downright bad. They have not had a winning season over that stretch and have had 9 head coaches in that 13 -year span. However, over the history of the Raiders’ franchise, it has been far more successful than have been the Lions.

    Since 1999 – the year the Cleveland Browns were reincarnated into the NFL – they have been awful. They did make one playoff appearance in 2002; other than that… Like the Raiders, they have had 9 head coaches over the span in question. They have had 2 winning seasons but the overall record since 1999 is 87-185. That is a winning percentage of .320.

    The Bills have not been to the playoffs in 16 years.

    The Dolphins have been in one playoff game in 14 years.

    The Rams have not had a winning season in the last 12 seasons.

The NFL system is skewed to assist teams that do poorly with the idea of creating “parity” throughout the league. Poor teams get the top draft picks in every round of the draft; the salary cap prevents good teams from generating huge disparities in revenues and then spend their way into contender status – as a few teams did in the early days of NFL free agency. The salary cap also allows so-called “small market teams” such as Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, New Orleans and Indy to compete toe-to-toe with the “big market teams” in places like NY, Chicago, Houston, Philly and – once again – Los Angeles.

The Lions have defied all of the “advantages” that present themselves to losing teams for just about all of the last 58 years. Maybe that is part of the reason behind the decision of their best RB ever to call it quits earlier in his career than one might have expected and part of the reason Calvin Johnson is thinking along a similar track.

Finally, I mentioned above that Jeff Hornacek finished second in the voting for NBA Coach of the Year last year. He lost that vote to Greg Popovich of the Spurs. Here is an item from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding “Pop”:

“There’s a move afoot in San Antonio to name a high school there in honor of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

“Students attending there, it goes without saying, will be strongly urged to pass.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

The Irrelevance Of The Pro Bowl

I am certainly not alone in my disdain for the Pro Bowl. Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald made this comment last week:

“There is a new European-made movie that shows paint drying. Good, now I have something to do during Sunday’s Pro Bowl.”

Some data would suggest that the players do not really care about the game either. Each Pro Bowl squad has 44 players meaning the game sends out 88 initial “invitations”. Obviously, some of the players on that “invite list” will be playing in the Super Bowl this week, so their absence is understandable. What is a tad unusual, is that so many other players decline the honor of participating in this game. It took 133 invitations to come up with 88 players willing to take an expense-paid trip to Hawaii and a minimum $30K check for participation. (The winning team got close to $60K.) It is as if one entire squad refused to show up and they had to go and get the next level participants.

Just look at some of the QBs on the teams. Teddy Bridgewater? Derek Carr? Jameis Winston? Tyrod Taylor? None of those even resemble “stiffs”, but are they elite QBs? Maybe next year…

One more observation from Brad Dickson on the Pro Bowl:

“I wouldn’t say people don’t take the Pro Bowl seriously, but a new rule this year allows players to text in the huddle.”

Last week, Michael Sam declared that he was going to give it one more try to make an NFL squad next season. I have two thoughts on that pronouncement:

    1. I hope he gets a fair shot at making a team and that his fate is not determined by an injury.

    2. If he is unsuccessful in this attempt to make an NFL team, then I profoundly hope that the part of his statement that refers to “one more try” is completely accurate.

If you have some spare cash lying around in your checking account, you can participate in an auction to buy a football thrown by John Unitas and caught by Raymond Berry for a touchdown in the first half of the 1958 NFL title game. That is the game that went into overtime and was called “The Greatest Game Ever Played”. The auction begins today and runs through 11 February; bidding starts at $10K. Here is a link to the report of the auction. Here is a link to the website of the auctioneer showing the status of this particular item. When I posted this rant, there had not been any bids on the item yet.

Last week, a reader, rugger9, posed a question in the comment section on one of the rants. He looked ahead to the weekend game between the Golden State Warriors and the Philly 76ers and wondered if the spread for that game might be the biggest spread ever. I do not keep track of such things but I know someone who does and who reads these rants at least once in a while. So, I posed the question to him for a query of his records. Here are the salient points in his response:

    “According to my computer records, which only go back to 2003, on 3/30/2008, Boston was at home vs. pre-LeBron Heat at a closing line of -23, (183) and won 88-62 covering the line and the Under.

    “My manual gambling records (pre-computer) show Phoenix’ closing line at home -24 over Dallas on 3/12/1993 and winning, 116-98. Dallas was 11-71 that year and Phoenix won over 60 and led NBA at 113 ppg that season.

    “Prior to 1977, I don’t have any gambling records, but going back to 1973, the lousy Philly team was getting a bundle of points on the road vs. the Celtics, Bucks, and Lakers, but I don’t think they would have hit the 20’s, and if they ever did, there’s no way it was as high as the 24 quoted above. Philly though they were lousy did average 104 ppg that season and there was no 3-pointer then.”

That message came to me about 12 hours before any spread went up on the boards I follow for the Warriors/Sixers game. Here is another note from that message with regard to what he thought the spread was going to be:

    “Using my power ratings, I would expect GS on the road to be in the -17 to -19 area. At home, they would be in the -21- to -23 area.”

The game opened at Golden State -18; it moved to 18.5 briefly and then settled in at 17.5 points. I checked it about 3 or 4 times on Saturday to see if I ever saw it outside the predicted “17-to-19 range”. I never did.

Oh by the way, the Warriors won the game by 3 points and it took a 3-point shot in the final seconds to provide the margin of victory…

Finally, I cannot resist one more snarky observation by Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald regarding the Pro Bowl game yesterday:

“Pro Bowl Sunday is to Super Bowl Sunday what National Pancake Day is to Christmas.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Wagering On This Year’s Super Bowl Game

Since Friday September 4,2015 – ignoring those Fridays when I was traveling – it has been the order of the day to write some form of Mythical Picks. Not today. This is the weekend of the Pro Bowl and I would just as soon wager on turtle racing as compared to the Pro Bowl. I will not watch the game for any longer than the time it might take to go grazing through the channels while it is on. Moreover, I seriously think that anyone who bets on the outcome of the Pro Bowl is someone who needs to find treatment for a gambling addiction.

There will be Mythical Picks next Friday before the Super Bowl game and there will be wagers galore made on that game all over the country and the world. In fact, there is an estimate out there from the AGA that the total amount of money that will be bet in the US alone on the Super Bowl this year will be $4.2B. The American Gaming Association (AGA) is a trade association to promote gaming and to lobby for legislation and regulations that favor gaming. I say that to acknowledge that the AGA could have a motive behind any of its pronouncements.

Nonetheless, their $4.2B estimate of the wagering on Super Bowl 50 comes with some other numbers.

    The amount of money this year wagered legally will be in line with the amount of money wagered legally last year on the Super Bowl. That number will be on the order of $115M.

    The amount of money that will be wagered “extra-legally” will be about $4.1B.

    More than 95% of the money estimated to be “on the line” for this year’s Super Bowl will be done illegally.

Here is a statement from the CEO of the AGA:

“Just like football, sports betting has never been more popular than it is today. The casino gaming industry is leading the conversation around a new approach to sports betting that enhances consumer protections, strengthens the integrity of games and recognizes fans’ desire for greater engagement with sports.”

That is the politically correct way of saying that the AGA would love to have Federal legislation that would make more of that “illegal action” come their way in a Federally sanctioned way. I am a consistent proponent of legalizing and regulating sports betting; I do not try to hide that. I think the AGA has two significant points here that they will probably not make because it would be politically incorrect to do so.

    First, the laws on the books to forbid sports betting are a sham. If their estimate of $4.1B being wagered “illegally” is even close to correct, then you have only two conclusions to draw:

      Either it is too easy to skirt the laws on the books – or –

      The law enforcers are not competent enough to enforce those laws.

    I suspect most folks would choose the first of these alternatives over the second.

    Second, if $4.1B is on the line, there is a lot of potentially taxable revenue involved there which is slipping through the taxable income filters in times when most government entities could use some extra revenues.

For more information about how the AGA came up with these estimates, here is a link.

Whenever legalized sports betting comes up, the people who put on the games raise the bugaboo of game-fixing and point-shaving. They never seem to address the possibility that those things are ongoing under their noses currently in the absence of legalized sports betting. I do not want to get too deep into epistemology here but when they climb onto their high horses this is what I wish someone would press them on:

    Do you know that “the integrity of the game” as it stands today is absolute because if it is not absolute than it is not “integrity”?

    When they hem and haw about that and try to tell you that the integrity of the game is beyond reproach, then ask them how they know that to be the case?

Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald had this comment relative to recent suggestions and investigations of match-fixing in the world of tennis:

“There are allegations of match-fixing in professional tennis. The new Wimbledon executive director, Vince McMahon, vehemently denied the charges.”

I cite that observation here for two reasons. First I think it is very clever. Second, “vehement denials” with regard to the existence of match-fixing/point-shaving are not evidence that it is not ongoing.

Finally, let me close here with one more observation from Brad Dickson:

“Fifteen-year-old Romanian basketball sensation Robert Bobroczky stands 7-foot-6 and weighs 184 pounds. He was unable to turn pro after he blew away the night before the draft.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Money … Money … Money …

Everything associated with the Super Bowl comes with a huge price tag – or a huge revenue stream depending on whether you are the buyer or the seller in the transaction. Folks who wish to place an advertisement on the Super Bowl game itself will pay an average of $4.8M for a 30-second spot during the action this year. It was not always exactly that way; here is a summary of how the costs associated with Super Bowl advertising have grown:

    Average Cost for 30 seconds in Super Bowl 1: $40K
    Average Cost for 30 seconds in Super Bowl 50: $4.8M

    1973: First year average cost for 30 seconds reached $100K
    1985: First year average cost for 30 seconds reached $500K
    1995: First year average cost for 30 seconds reached $1M
    2000: First year average cost for 30 seconds reached $2M
    2009: First year average cost for 30 seconds reached $3M
    2013: First year average cost for 30 seconds reached $4M

      [Note: In 2015 – just 2 years since the cost climbed past $4M per 30 seconds – the average cost is poised to rise to more than $5M very soon.]

Those numbers and trends should lead you to conclude that the total revenues taken in by the networks who televise the Super Bowl games has been a significant amount of money; and you would be right is drawing that conclusion. Ad Age estimates that the total amount of money spent by advertisers on Super Bowl game ads since the start is in the range of $4.8B. This year’s revenue alone is estimated at $377M and if that is the income from the game it would be more advertising revenue than the Super Bowl games generated in all of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s combined.

As you watch the ads a week and a half from now, realize that each advertiser is spending – on average – $3.02 to get their message across to every viewer. I will be attending a Super Bowl watching event with a relatively standard roster of attendance; there will likely be 16 of us watching – or pretending to watch – the game. That means that every time an advertisement comes on, the sponsor is spending almost $50 to pitch us in that one room with regard to the virtues of his/her product. I do not know about the environment where you watch the Super Bowl, but I really think that is $50 flushed down an advertising commode…

If you want even more data on Super Bowl advertising and the history of same, here is a link.

All of us who watch the game on TV are going to pay for all that advertising in the form of prices for whatever products we buy that may have been sponsors for a portion of the game. There are immutable laws of physics; there is also an immutable law of marketing:

    The consumer pays all of the costs of getting the product to the marketplace plus a percentage of that cost that will serve as “profit” for the producer.

Greg Cote had this comment in the Miami Herald recently that seems appropriate at this point because it has to do with the number of potential viewers of the Super Bowl game on TV:

“WQAM-560 may go after and pay big for Dolphins radio rights, unaware that most folks nowadays own televisions.”

However, the viewers are not the only folks who will wind up paying a price for goods/services associated with the Super Bowl. Think about the fans who just have to find a way to go to the game and see it for themselves. In terms of a drain on their total assets, they would almost certainly be better off being robbed at gunpoint for everything they have in their pockets. Consider some of this information:

    Hotels in San Francisco – where all of the social events prior to the game itself will happen – will charge room rates 98% higher than normal for next weekend.

Yes, other cities have experienced hotel room rate increases for Super Bowl weekend but nothing near these levels:

    Phoenix (2015): Room rates up 34%
    New Jersey (2014): Room rates up 18%
    New Orleans (2013): Room rates up 15%

Now, if you think that the increases in hotel room rates are outrageous, consider the package deals offered to fans in Carolina and/or Denver who just have to go and personally see their heroes play in this game:

    $180 per person: Ticket to the team’s tailgate party for 3 hours featuring wine, beer and food plus a few former players mingling in the crowd who might or might not be willing to sign an autograph. That’s it; to see the game, you need to get yourself to a TV set somewhere…

    $6175 per person from Charlotte ($5855 per person from Denver): This gets you to the team tailgate party above plus a ticket to the game plus round trip airfare (coach) from wherever you happen to live.

    $5800 – 6100 per person: Three- night package (land only, you provide the airfare or other transit costs to and from SF) including three nights at a hotel, the tailgate party and a ticket to the game.

      If you live in Charlotte and want the three-night package plus airfare to and from the game, add $1200

      If you live in Denver and want the three-night package plus airfare to and from the game add $900.

    All of the “tickets to the game” cited above are basically “nosebleed seats”; these are the cheap seats for the game. If you want to upgrade your tickets to the game, here are the add-on costs per person:

      Upgrade to “Upper Level Premium” adds $750
      Upgrade to “Lower Level End Zone” adds $1000
      Upgrade to “Lower Level Sideline” adds $2000
      Upgrade to “Club Level Sideline” adds $3000
      Upgrade to “Club Level Premium” adds $4000.

As noted above, I will be joining friends for a traditional game-watching experience. How about you?

Finally, here is an item from Brad Rock’s column, Rock On, in the Deseret News:

“Conan O’Brien on a report claiming New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spent over $82,000 on food at NFL games: ‘Hey, both of those games went into overtime.’ ”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

The “Blake Griffin Incident”

The hot topic of conversation for most of yesterday was the “Blake Griffin Incident”. Up until late yesterday, what we knew was that Griffin and an equipment manager for the Clippers – turns out he is the assistant equipment manager – got into an “altercation” at a restaurant in Toronto. That altercation – more commonly known as a fistfight – caused the equipment manager to have facial injuries and caused Griffin to break a bone in his hand – presumably from punching the other guy. For quite a while, that was all we knew; for quite a while, that did not stop folks on sports radio and TV from dissecting the situation despite the meager understanding they had.

What we now know is not all that much more. The assistant equipment manager is named Matias Testi; he and Griffin have been friends and have taken vacations together; the situation began in a restaurant where the two men “traded insults” leading to physical action; Testi left the restaurant and Griffin followed him and hit him again outside the restaurant. Griffin underwent surgery for a spiral fracture to a bone in his hand and will be out 4-6 weeks. Basically, we do not know a whole lot more now than we did yesterday.

The Clippers have issued a statement – no surprise there – saying that this is regrettable and that this sort of thing should never happen and etc. Griffin also issued a statement – no surprise there – saying that he regrets “the way I handled myself towards someone I care about’ and that he is sorry to have created a distraction.

Recall that earlier this season Josh Smith got into a “heated altercation” with one of the Clippers’ assistant coaches. Now, the Clippers get to deal with this hot mess. So here is the question:

    Is that the kind of organization that Steve Ballmer expected to have when he paid $2B to acquire it?

Elsewhere in the NBA, the Cavaliers fired coach David Blatt and replaced him with Tyronn Lue. When Blatt got his pink slip, the Cavaliers had the best record in the Eastern Conference (30-11) and his record over a season-and-a-half was a not-shabby-at-all 83-40. By the way, his team was 14-6 in the playoffs last year without Kyrie Irving for all of those games and without Kevin Love for many of them. I guess the thinking here is that a coach with that much talent on his team ought to win at least 2 out of every 3 games which is what Blatt’s Cavaliers did.

According to various NBA insiders, Blatt did not have Lebron James’ respect and that there was unrest in other parts of the Cavaliers’ locker room. If those reports are true, it would seem to contradict the old sports adage:

    Winning cures everything.

Tyronn Lue says that he will hold Lebron James “accountable” for his actions the same as he will for everyone else on the team. James says that he will have to exert leadership to get the Cavaliers to be as good as James knows they can be. In the aftermath of a coaching change, that is pretty standard stuff. However, my guess is that there is a reality underneath the early choruses of Cumbaya:

    Lebron James is going to continue to play the way he has played all of his career and so long as the coaching from the bench comes in the tone of “suggesting” all will be fine. If Tyronn Lue thinks that he is going to change the way Lebron James plays basketball, he will be one of the shortest tenured coaches in NBA history.

    I find James’ statements about “leadership” very interesting because it certainly seems to someone on the outside looking in that common denominator for his actions is to fail to get along with any of his coaches.

The MLB free agent season is drawing to a close; pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Spring Training in about 3 weeks; most of the big-name free agents have determined where they will ply their trade next year. Nevertheless, there are still 2 free agent pitchers that have not found a home; neither would cost a team a huge annual salary nor would either demand a long-term deal. Both had disappointing-at-best seasons in 2015 but one need not have an elephant’s memory to recall a time when they were both dominant pitchers.

    Doug Fister: In 2014, his ERA was 2.41and he had a strikeout to walks ratio of 4.1. Last year, his ERA ballooned to 4.19 – the highest of his career – and his strikeout to walks ratio dropped to 2.6. He lost his starting job with the Nats in mid-season. Fister will be 32 years old next week. I cannot believe that every team in MLB who thinks they just might have a chance to “do something special” next year has 5 starting pitchers on the roster who are so solidly entrenched that Doug Fister would be an unreasonable luxury to have around.

    Tim Lincecum: In 2015, his season was cut short with hip surgery; obviously, any team interested in signing him would need a clean bill of health from their medical mavens. Lincecum has been an innings-eater for all of his career from 2008 to 2013, he started 32 or more games in each season. His career ERA is 3.61 and he will turn 32 next June. In his younger years, he was a power pitcher; now he will likely need to “reinvent himself” on the mound. Like Doug Fister, I am surprised that no team has found room for him on their Spring Training roster.

Finally, here is an item from Brad Rock in the Deseret News indicating that Phillies’ fans are getting themselves ready for the start of the baseball season in the City of Brotherly Love:

“National newscasters, in Philadelphia to cover Winter Storm Jonas, were pelted with snowballs.

“Residents say it was a nice change of pace from throwing beer cups and water bottles at the Phillies’ games.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Clipboard Items Today…

I am going to hop around from item to item today in an effort to clear some stuff off my clipboard. I will begin with something pointed out to me by a friend and a long-term reader of these rants. One may point one’s Internet browser to and order a casket. Oh, but it would not be just any ordinary run-of-the-mill casket. You can order one tricked out with the logo of the deceased’s favorite MLB team; if you follow this link, you will see the casket that might be the final resting place of a NY Yankees’ fan.

If you spend just a moment gazing at that page, you will see that Walmart will also ship other sorts of themed caskets and even cremation urns. I have never shopped for caskets or urns but I have to say that until the moment I saw what is on the end of that link above, I never would have thought of Walmart as a potential purveyor. I am not shocked to learn that MLB would license its logo and its teams’ logos to a casket manufacturer; after all, that is the last opportunity they will have to generate any revenue from the fan who will inhabit the product.

Since the subject of the moment is baseball, let me turn to another baseball item on my clipboard. The Toronto Blue Jays and third baseman, Josh Donaldson, are headed to arbitration as of this morning. Understand, in the world of baseball arbitration, the arbitrator cannot “split the difference”; he/she must pick one of the two numbers on the table. Often – actually I would say usually – the “team offer” and the “player asking price” are pretty far apart and the degree of separation of the two figures tends to drive the sides to an 11th hour settlement at a middle ground figure because each side recognizes that they have a lot to lose in the arbitration hearing.

Not so much in Josh Donaldson’s case. If reports are accurate, the Blue Jays have offered Donaldson a one-year deal worth $11.35M. Last year, Donaldson made just over $3M so this is a hefty raise after an outstanding season. Donaldson’s asking price is $11.8M; the difference between the two numbers is “only” $450K. I say “only” because I would love to see that amount of money show up tomorrow in my checking account; it is not a trivial amount for us ordinary folk. Nonetheless, from the Blue Jays perspective, the difference here is less than 4% more than what they offered in the first place.

The arbitration process is adversarial. The team puts itself in the position of explaining to the arbitrator why the player is not worth as much as he is asking. It is hard to imagine how that sort of proceeding leads to extended goodwill between the player and the team – and after all, the contract in question is only a one-year deal. I wish I understood what the dynamic was here that prevents either side from agreeing to a “split-the-difference” agreement at $11.575M.

I was watching the NFL Conference Championship Games this weekend with some neighbors and one asked me if I thought RG3 would be signed by another NFL team. I said I was sure he would get a shot somewhere but I did not know where. My neighbor said that it was a shame how much the Skins gave up to draft RG3 because it hurt the team. Well, that is what happens when you make a trade; usually one side of the trade makes out much better than the other side and it is often difficult to make that assessment at the time the deal is under negotiation. However, that comment got me thinking about the draft in 2012 – the year RG3 entered the NFL. At the top of that draft, there were some hits and some big misses:

    #1 Andrew Luck: He will be very good for a long time.
    #2 RG3: He had one really good year and then nothing more.
    #3 Trent Richardson: He was awful; his next stop might be the Arena League.
    #4 Matt Kalil: Very good offensive lineman
    #5 Justin Blackmon: Two drug suspensions, now under indefinite suspension.
    #6 Morris Claiborne: Underwhelming for a pick this high
    #7 Mark Barron: Traded for a 4th round and a 6th round pick.
    #8 Ryan Tannehill: Jury is still out.
    #9 Luke Kuechly: A certified star
    #10 Stephon Gilmore: Solid CB for the Bills.

Just in case you needed a reminder that the NFL Draft – or the draft in any other professional sport for that matter – is an art and not a science, just look at the career arcs for what teams thought were the ten most valuable players in the draft in that year.

Here is an item from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Hoops du jour: You’re probably on to something if you get the sense that there aren’t any really good men’s college basketball teams this season. Even the highly ranked ones are having trouble winning on the road. Now that the secret is getting out, I fully expect the game’s mouthpieces to peddle the line about ‘parity,’ the time-honored euphemism to explain mediocrity.”

I agree that there are no great teams out there this year; I would not ascribe the situation to “parity”; I would prefer to think that no coach was able to recruit and retain a roster that is good enough to dominate its opponents. Maybe the incoming freshman class this year is not a great crop of players; that happens from time to time. The reason(s) for the lack of a great team remain a mystery to me.

The question in my mind is what this lack of dominant teams does to the upcoming men’s basketball tournament. There are probably a dozen teams who might actually put together a six-game winning streak and win it all. That is far more than one might anticipate in a more typical college basketball season. Does the increase in serious contenders make the tournament more interesting/exciting than usual or not?

My preference is for there to be a few dominant teams separated geographically to the extent that they never play one another until they meet in the tournament. In those situations, I like to follow the progress of those teams throughout the final weeks of February and in early March to try to figure out which one might prevail if they play each other in the tournament. I doubt that sort of situation will obtain this year and so I will have to “spread my interest” over a wider field of candidates this year. It is not my preference, but I am sure it will turn out to be entertaining.

Finally, in this year’s Super Bowl game, the Panthers’ coach will be Ron Rivera; he got the job when he was hired to replace John Fox in Carolina. The Broncos’ coach will be Gary Kubiak; he got the job when he was hired to replace John Fox in Denver. John Fox is now the coach of the Chicago Bears. Might a coaching change there be the Bears’ path to a Super Bowl?

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………