Several things! Beginning, obviously, with an appropriate farewell to your Patriots who, all things considered, put together a helluva season only to whimp out in the end it on a note of curious befuddlement. Let the second-guessing begin, and there will be plenty of it.
But not here! In the end, the Patriots’ seeming supreme hegemony – too casually presumed to be a divine right by their spoiled-rotten legions – may have been derailed by some misty sentimentality that deemed a sweet last hurrah for Peyton Manning a more worthy Soupey scenario than Tom Brady’s ultimate revenge. The Football Gods are fickle, but Brady can take this much away from the experience: No one with much of a clue deplores him anymore for “Deflategate.”
The pain of the defeat in Denver is deservedly painful. It could have so easily been otherwise had they been healthier, luckier, and graced with the home-field advantage they mysteriously squandered three weeks earlier in Miami. Consider the irony of it: The hideous Dolphins got the last laugh.
Surviving on valor, memory, and fumes, Manning was ripe for the plucking, seemingly easy to unnerve. But the shoe was on the other foot on Sunday, with both Brady and his usually near-infallible mentor, the illustrious coach, being the ones looking flat, oddly distracted, even a bit dazed. Some of the decisions Bill Belichick made in Denver will be debated until the cows come home, not that we can expect any genuine discussion, let alone answers.
But enough! All of that will be the fodder of the talk shows for the next six months and soon to become tiresome. It’s over! There will be no coronation in the erstwhile mission fields of Northern California. A bid for historical acclaim has been wasted. Thankfully, the officiating had nothing to do with it, as we were rather snidely warned to beware. Ed Hochuli’s crew was dandy. Not even the fringe wackos of Patriots’ Nation will be able to argue with a straight face that they got robbed.
They just got beaten – fair and square – because on that given day Broncos, like Von Miller, who played an utterly wonderful game, wanted it more. And maybe also because Peyton Manning was anointed. Only the Football Gods know for sure. And they are not talking.
Meanwhile, Baseball beckons on the sporting horizon. Pitchers and catchers report in three weeks. In recognition of another merry prance to Gonfolonia, may we confer the annual “‘Only Takes One Dumb Owner” prize on the Tigers’ Mike Ilitch. You’ll recall that the estimable Bill Madden, recently retired New York baseball scribe, coined the honor in recognition of the owner who most makes a fool of himself with the stupidest off-season acquisition and thus sinks his team with an onerous contract while opening the floodgates for others to follow him down the drain.
Madden minted it; the awarding of it is my own invention. Ilitch, the 86-year-old pizza mogul whose obsession with winning a championship before he meets his maker has long been loony, cops the prized citation for his ridiculous capitulation to Justin Upton, a beefy 28-year-old chronic underachiever most recently out of San Diego. Last season, Upton hit .251 with pedestrian power tallies of 26 homers and 81 ribbies to go with ordinary defense and a highly questionable attitude.
For that Ilitch deemed him worthy of a six-year deal for $132.8 million and then declared, “I’m telling them they gotta get out there and get me the best players and I don’t care about the money.” They should write that on his tombstone. Do you think maybe Dave Dombrowski, who politely left the employ of Mr. Ilitch last summer, made the right decision?
In the post-season euphoria it got shunted aside much too swiftly, which is what the NFL, in its hypocritical attitude about the acute violence it routinely features and promotes, casually expects, even cleverly arranges. But the atrocity at the end of the grisly Steelers-Bengals tilt in Playoff Round One, which essentially decided the game in Pittsburgh’s favor, should not be lightly dismissed.
If you happened to catch it, you’ll have no problem recalling Vontaze Burfict, a lunatic Cincinnati linebacker, insanely assaulting Antonio Brown, a classy Pittsburgh receiver, by ramming himself like a human missile into Brown’s spinal column where the neck meets the head. He succeeded in ending Brown’s season, if not his career, while earning a 15-yard penalty. And when Pacman Jones, his good buddy and fellow nutcake, got another 15 yard yards for protesting too vehemently, the Steelers won the game with a chip-shot field goal in its waning seconds.
Talented but manic, Burfict is a recidivist thug. In his brief career he has been flagged repeatedly for brutal excesses. Two weeks earlier he was fined $50,000 for knocking out a Ravens tight end. Just in December he had three violations in another Steelers’ tilt costing him 70 grand. He’s clearly incorrigible.
In the endless agonizing over their injury problem, NFL poohbahs decline to acknowledge that a small but nasty coterie of sociopathic clowns is a big part of that problem. The thugs need to be purged. Burfict should be banned. Instead he got socked three games. The next time he drills an opponent, the poor bugger may never get up.
All-time All-Star teams concocted by panels of alleged experts, most of whom never saw most of the nominees perform, are almost always supremely dumb. Very much in that spirit, the NBA has attempted to grade and rank the 50 greatest stars of its checkered seven-decade existence, the 10 finest at each position. As such endeavors go, it’s no exception.
In what proved only the opening salvo of the outrages, Bob Cousy – who merely invented and defined the position – was ranked a distant tenth among all-time point guards. Let me put it this way: That learned basketball men could rate Isiah Thomas, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, and Walt Frazier ahead of Cooz in terms of skills and accomplishments brilliantly affirms for me how Red Auerbach was able to beat the brains out of such silly characters when he was competing with the know-it-alls of his era.
But the greatest indignity came with the naming of the centers, ever the pivotal characters in a basketball equation and, yes, they succumbed to the ultimate idiocy, naming Bill Russell third behind Kareem Jabbar and (hold your nose) Wilt Chamberlain. The way I see it is if you can’t get this one right all the rest of your thinking is worthless.
Granted, a reasonable case can be made for Jabbar, who Russell himself might have regarded as his worthiest foe had they been contemporaries, although I’d remind you that Jabbar won only a fraction of the championships Russ compiled even as he was surrounded by deeper talent than Russ enjoyed. The joke, obviously, is the Chamberlain pick. Are they totally unaware of that era’s overriding consensus that to hell with Wilt’s awesome presence and monstrous numbers, he simply could not beat Bill Russell head-to-head, or more precisely, man-to-man. It was case closed then and still remains.
The NBA’s smart set has waited two generations to get even with Red. But here’s betting they wouldn’t have dared offer such insults as this all-star ragtime represents if Red were still around to give them a salty piece of his fine mind. Alas, they’ll not have that pleasure, at least not on this side of the Great Divide.
Lastly, a parting word on Frank Sullivan, among the most colorful characters of Red Sox history who departed this mortal coil the other day at the fine age of 86. A decent pitcher for those breezy but mediocre teams that regaled us in the ‘50s, Frank was the court jester of a loveable bunch immortally dubbed by irrepressible baseball scribe Clif Keane as the “lose a game, win a dame Red Sox.” In other words, these lads never let the agony of defeat inveigh too heavily upon their social life.
A character to the end, Frank fled to Hawaii upon retirement, where he was soon joined by his equally flaky pal and batterymate, Sammy White. There they are reputed to have whiled away the next half century, wallowing in the good life, never offending anybody. There’d be no place in Baseball for Big Frank and Smiling Sammy nowadays. More’s the pity!