Looking beyond the Stanley Cup playoffs

Have some bits and pieces from the sporting scene for you to chew on while we all gird for the garrison rush to a conclusion for the Stanley Cup playoffs. And if this glorious bash were to last until August, that would be fine with me.

Now that the America’s Cup Yachting Festival as we once fondly knew it has sailed off into the sunset, there is no better sustained sporting spectacle grinding away week after week than the epic annual battle for Lord Stanley’s battered silver mug. And if you disagree, I promise to spray you with my water bottle next chance we meet. In the NHL, it’s still a Barnum & Bailey World. You gotta love it!

On other matters from the checkered world of fun and games, mainly of lesser importance:

Another NFL draft has come and gone, mercifully, with its primary distinction as the sporting year’s most bloated, least understood, and most overstated event safely secured. Ten million people are said to have watched the first round on ESPN, reportedly driven by a desperate need to know what would become of Johnny Manziel. Is this another of those signs that Sports Illustrated likes to term as evidence of a looming apocalypse?

It has long been assumed that Bill Belichick drafts flawlessly, although the results in recent years strongly suggest otherwise. Moreover, the only exercise that’s more misguided than analyzing a draft before it happens is analyzing a draft right after it happens. Even Mel Kiper, Jr., the ESPN draft-guru who manically devotes his every living breath to the process, made seven dumb mistakes on the first round alone.

In grading a team’s draft performance, at least two years must pass before reasonable conclusions become reachable.

But this much seems clear about this batch of Pats’ picks: The Boss is back to seeking high character kids while stiff-arming the head cases, which was his MO early on before he took to cavalierly rolling the dice on “borderlines.” Early profiles of this year’s choices so far reveal no sociopaths in the mix; no DUIs, no wise guys who’ve jived with cops, no stray rap sheets. It’s a direction the entire NFL, rightfully concerned about its eroding image, is taking. In Foxborough, however, it might more precisely be seen as the legacy of the Aaron Hernandez era.

Reportedly laboring in his recovery from back surgery, Tiger Woods officially raises high the likelihood he’ll never again be a force on the tour. Who would have bet on that just a couple of years back when the game’s entire record book was being conceded to him. Will we never learn that in sports nothing can ever be assumed? Which we further assume also means we ought not write him off yet, one supposes. But I’ll take the chance.

With a month to go, important details of World Cup preparation remain awash in the confusion that sometimes passes for sophistication down merry Rio way. Logistics are askew. Stadiums are unfinished. Security soars as the major issue of concern. While denying none of this, Official Brazil remains reassuring even as the Lords of FIFA edge toward panic. The next Summer Olympics, also scheduled for Brazil, are two years off, but the IOC, wisely noting the mess engulfing the soccer gang, is getting tough with the host government. Their gig, after all, is much bigger, more expensive, and more complicated. And by all appearances, it may be in even bigger trouble.

It was no small matter when a week ago the IOC poobahs branded the preps and planning for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games to be so far the “worst” they had ever seen. This is not the way these good old boys normally operate. They rarely go public on anything. They never look for attention. It strongly suggests how angry they are and, perhaps, how scared.

Some stray hockey notes looking for a place to land:
• Here’s seconding Globe-man Kevin Paul Dupont’s suggestion that the new Bruins regime pay homage to the old one by placing a banner in the Garden rafters honoring Harry Sinden. Like many another prophet, Harry never got the full credit he deserved in his own backyard. But everywhere else in the hockey cosmos, his legend is secure.

• At the risk of seeming a ‘homer’ (perish the thought) it’s a bloody shame that Claude Julien failed to get nominated for the Jack Adams NHL Coach of the Year prize. Of the three nominees only Detroit’s Mike Babcock compared favorably with Julien in terms of performance this season and Babcock, widely regarded the best in the business, could safely be nominated every year. The ever-together Bruins coach richly deserved it and the hockey broadcasters who vote the thing bring no credit to their hockey sense in snubbing him.

• After Jumbo Joe Thornton’s latest colossal meltdown in the clutch, maybe the many critics of the deal that sent him packing from the Bruins will finally revise their thinking. In San Jose’s monumental collapse – losing four straight to the Kings – Capt. Thornton got blanked, held without so much as a measly assist. He was a flawed player here and he remains one a decade later. He never measured up to his billing. It’s amazing how few media experts have recognized that.
• Of all the ex-athletes who do broadcasting in their after-life, none is the equal of ex-Bruin Mike Milbury in his role as NBC’s star hockey analyst. Smart, bold when need be, direct, succinct, articulate, and unflinching at all times, Milbury is superb. And I’ve seen and studied them all.

Lastly, might there be any chance you’ve also been wasting your time wondering what they’ve done to boxing? Given the manly art’s inherent savagery, regarding the dodge as even faintly civilized was always something of a stretch. But there was once an unmistakable certain nobility about the ring world and the fabulous characters who made it compelling, no matter how much the brutality bothered, the crass inveighed, or the corruption mounted.

No more! You still get odd great matches every blue moon, or so. Reputedly, there was one just days ago between a couple of ferocious middleweights, one of whom is actually the highest paid athlete in the world. Big deal! An ongoing disgrace taking place in the heavyweight ranks is much more revealing about the true state of the game.

There are now (you may be amazed to learn) at least five quasi-official versions of the world’s heavyweight championship: the WBA, IBF, WBO, IBO, and WBC. Of course, having so many renders all of them meaningless while multiplying the opportunities for ripping off the system with bogus “title bouts,” which is entirely the purpose.

Vladimir Klitschko, the Russian behemoth who holds most of the alleged crowns, is seeking to consolidate the madness by taking on all the various pretenders but when he staged a press party for an upcoming bout with the

Australian terror, Alex Leapi, the party got crashed by a stripped-to-the-waste Shannon Briggs, an American thug who insists he’s also still a champ, while Vladimir’s dear brother Vitali was cavorting in the wings.

With Briggs assaulting the Russians, it was entirely chaotic, dissolving into the sort of madcap hilarity that invariably concluded old Three Stooges’ one-reelers back in the good old days although no pies were thrown, I don’t think.

This, in the end, is what boxing has been reduced to: a circus, a shambles, as bad as wrestling. No one knows who these guys are. No one cares. It’s a joke! It’s over.

For those once moved by the incomparable Joe Louis, exemplar of a generation; the one true Rocky from Brockton; even Ali, although he was more of a stretch for the old guard, the farce they’ve made of this ancient art, primal among all the games, is sad. Rotten to the core, as I might even concede.

Boxing deserved better.


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