Rest In Peace, Frank Deford

Frank Deford died on Sunday.  A long time ago, I would grab my issue of Sports Illustrated from the mail pile at home and turn to the Table of Contents to see if he had a byline in that issue; when he did, that is where I turned first.  There was no Google or Wikipedia in those dark days; I ascribed inordinate levels of wisdom and insight into Frank Deford; I did that because I assumed that he was so much older than I am.  In reality, he was only 5 years older than I.  Whether he was writing a novel or a long-form sports feature or the story of the sickness and death of his daughter, Frank Deford was – simply – outstanding.

I have another bond with Frank Deford.  For years he did a weekly commentary on NPR Radio; reportedly, he did 1656 of those commentaries.  About twice a year, he would adopt the persona of “The Sports Curmudgeon” for one of his weekly columns; whenever he did that, I would get a flurry of e-mails and/or comments on the website asking for a transcript of “your radio column”.  I answered every one of those requests telling the listener that I was not Frank Deford and could never hope to be Frank Deford but that the listener could probably get the transcript he/she sought by contacting the local NPR station in their area.

Rest in peace, Frank Deford…

Since I mentioned one of my favorite writers from my youth, let me take a short paragraph here to recommend a book to you.  I just finished reading Dan Jenkins’ latest novel, Stick A Fork In Me; Dan Jenkins was my other “favorite writer” from the halcyon days of Sports Illustrated  This is a fictional “memoir” of a collegiate Athletic Director who is looking to find a comfortable retirement package from his school – Western Ohio.  If you even enjoy Dan Jenkins’ writing a little bit, I think this is a book you should read.  I read it cover to cover in about 3 hours; this is not War and Peace.

The NFL has loosened the reins a bit regarding endzone celebrations by players after a TD.  Ignore the details here and think about the “big picture” here for a moment:

  • To a large extent, the NFL is a TV show.  So long as people can bet on the games – legally or illegally – and watch them on TV, the NFL has a license to print money.
  • Do “over-the-top/choreographed” endzone celebrations cause fans to turn off the games?  If so, that hurts ratings and those celebrations need not be curtailed, they need to be banned completely.
  • Do “over-the-top/choreographed” endzone celebrations attract any fans?  Do you know anyone who tunes into an NFL game primarily to see endzone celebrations?  If those folks are out there, the NFL should never have a limit on what players might do.

As I said, NFL telecasts are a TV show and the TV industry likes its shows – to the greatest extent possible – to fit into carefully carved out time slots.  Lots of scoring along with lots of extended celebrating MIGHT cause time overruns and that is an imperfect solution.  So here is what the NFL Competition Committee should have done:

  1. After a TD is scored, the referee should immediately call for a “kicking ball” and place it at the 15-yardline and start the play clock.  Failure of the scoring team to get a try off in the allotted time would forfeit that team’s right to make an extra point try.
  2. This ruling would get the coaches on the side of the league and its “TV partners” and keep things rolling along.

The 2016/2017 NBA season started on October 25, 2016; the Finals will begin on June 1, 2017; if I have counted correctly that is a span of 219 days.  Here is the problem; we pretty much knew for certain which teams would be in the NBA Finals in the days leading up to October 25, 2016.  Both the Warriors and the Cavaliers were going to make the playoffs even if they had two starters show up on Quaaludes every fourth game; the teams did not care about regular season games; the con offered up by the NBA was that once the playoffs began the competition and the intensity would be ratcheted up.  Horse hockey!  To date, the totality of the NBA Playoffs has produced less than a half-dozen games that you would honestly call “interesting”.

These finals had better deliver some kind of game drama that makes the fan/viewer fixated on the game until the end; if either team wins this final series by 4-0 in 4 blowouts, the NBA will have some “ ‘splaining to do”…  [/Desi Arnaz]  The NBA is not the Harlem Globetrotters; you know who is going to win Globetrotters’ games but you go to be entertained by other antics on the court.  That is NOT the competition model or the fan interest model the NBA seeks.

I tried to get into the NBA this year once January showed up on the calendar and then February and then March.  I could not get myself to care even more than the slightest bit because all of this was obviously pre-destined.  The only – and I mean only – thing that I found interesting about the NBA regular season was the snarky – but on-the-mark – commentary from Charles Barkley about things that are imperfect with the NBA game as it exists today.

  • Memo to Adam Silver:  I am a basketball fan and have been since the mid-1950s.  I could not get myself interested in your NBA product this year even though I tried.  If that happens again in the next season or two, you will lose a lifetime fan – and at my age you may never get me back.
  • Memo to the NBPA:  You folks need to work with the league on this problem; this will affect both sides of the negotiating table.  Your product is less interesting than it used to be and you need to find ways to reverse that trend tout de suite.

Greg Cote summarized the situation at hand for the NBA and its fans like this in the Miami Herald:

“Finally, it’s on! The inevitable Warriors-Cavs Finals begins: It’s the Golden State-Cleveland trilogy, LeBron-Steph III, and the rubber-match series begins Thursday night. Now all it has to be is the greatest Finals ever ending in a triple-overtime Game 7 to live up to expectations.”

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Two players at the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships who used a cart to take a bathroom break were given two-stroke penalties.

“So who’s running the show there, Roger Goodell?”

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