Cardale Jones annd J.T. Barrett

Who Should Ohio State Start at QB?

Last season, Ohio State did the unthinkable. They rebounded from an embarrassingly bad loss to Virginia Tech at home to run the table and reach the inaugural 4-team playoff. They were catapulted by a 59-0 blowout of a respectable Wisconsin team in the Big Ten Championship, which was enough to sway the committee into selecting them over Baylor and TCU. The Buckeyes went on to defeat Alabama and Oregon in consecutive games to win the first ever College Football Playoff.

It wasn’t just that the Buckeyes rebounded from a bad loss that made the journey so remarkable, it was the way they did it. Ohio State lost both their starting and backup quarterbacks along the way. Braxton Miller, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, was slated to be the starter, but was lost for the season just before it began. J.T. Barrett stepped in and proceeded to put up a remarkable statistical season, but was injured in the season finale versus the “Team Up North.” Insert unproven “tank” Cardale Jones. I still have a text I sent to my friend when he asked me what Cardale was like just before the Big Ten Championship. My response: “Raw talent with a big arm and body, but unpolished and don’t think he’s a great decision maker. Also think he’s slow.” Jones shocked the world (and me) by putting up three consecutive dominant performances in route to leading the Buckeyes to becoming the first ever College Football Playoff Champion.

The only downside to the excellent quarterback play from the season before was that it created quite the QB quandary for coach Urban Meyer. He had three elite playcallers to chose from. The move for Braxton Miller to H-Back made things slightly easier, but he still has the decision between Barrett and Jones. One led the team through the regular season, and the other carried them the rest of the way. Who will Myer give the edge to on Monday night? Let’s take a look at his choices.

Cardale Jones

I asked my wife who she would start in the season opener. Her response? “The one who won the last games and the national championship.” The answer was so simple, but also difficult to argue with. Jones won three consecutive games to finish out the season and led the Buckeyes to their first National Championship since 2002. In the Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon games, Jones threw for 742 and 5 touchdowns, while rushing for 90 yards and a touchdown. Jones attacked the defense vertically and had a silly 16+ yards per completion during this three game stretch. Jones also benefited from dominant run of games by Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for 696 yards and 8 touchdowns, which allowed Jones to throw on defenses stacking the box to stop the running game.

Pros: Jones has a ridiculously strong arm and can make all the throws. He loves to stretch the defense with deep throws, which allows his receivers to make plays and also opens up the running game. He is a weapon in short-yardage situations due to his surprising elusiveness and monstrous 6-5’ 250 lb frame.

Cons: His decision-making can occasionally be suspect, and often appears to lock onto his primary option and wait for them to get open. His rocket arm can be inaccurate at times, especially at short to medium distances. His running ability in short-yardage is good, but he is more of a power runner and is slow when escaping the pocket.

J.T. Barrett

Before his injury, Barrett had a record-setting season for Ohio State. He threw for 2800+ yards and 34 touchdowns while rushing for 938 yards and 11 more scores. He was in complete control of the offense, which averaged over 44 points per game in which he played. His decision-making was good as well. After the Virginia Tech Game, he threw only 6 interceptions in 270 attempts (45 attempts per INT). His on and off-field leadership was apparent as his team rallied around him after losing Miller for the season just a few weeks before the Navy game.

Pros: Has an excellent feel for the offense. Good, quick decision maker who limits his turnovers. Very accurate passer who puts receivers in positions to gain yardage after the catch. Efficient runner with underrated speed and quickness.

Cons: Lacks the pure arm strength of Jones. Doesn’t make as many “flashy” plays as Jones including a slightly more reserved approach to stretching the defense vertically. Not a power runner in short-yardage situations.

Who gets the Nod?

Clearly, Ohio State is in a great position that all teams are envious of. It’s not a stretch to say that both QBs would start for any team in the country except for a handful of exceptions. They are two proven, elite quarterbacks who can both run the offense to perfection. Personally, I think the nod should go to J.T. Barrett. He doesn’t quite contain the “wow factor” of Cardale Jones, but the Buckeyes are talented enough to not require it from their Quarterback. That’s not to say Barrett is a “game manager”, because he’s far more than that. He just runs the offense more efficiently than Jones. I have no idea what Urban Meyer will decide on Monday night, but the Buckeyes will be in good hands regardless of the QB at the helm.

Derek-Jeter

Everyone Loves Jeter, But Is He Overrated?

Derek Jeter has officially played his last game as a professional baseball player. Jeter announced that he will forego the final series vs. the Red Sox to preserve the final memories of his last game at Yankee Stadium. Jeter is being heralded as an all-time great and a once-in-a-generation player. Are these claims valid? There is no denying that Jeter will be a first-ballot hall of famer one day, but where he stands in history is up for debate. Let’s take a look at why everyone loves Jeter so much, but why he might overrated.

Part 1: Why We Love Him

One Team, One Love

As sports fans, we gravitate to players that spend their entire careers with one team. MJ and Kobe highlight the group of athletes that have remained with the team that drafted them, while Lebron shows what kind of scrutiny those that leave their team can face. The circumstances can dictate players being allowed to walk without consequence (think Favre and Manning, who were forced out the door), but most fans frown upon leaving your initial team, especially after a player has been there for several years. This is especially true when you play for an iconic franchise. Jeter has always been and will forever be known as a New York Yankee. Jeter never had a viable reason to leave, but we still love that he was with the team for 20 precious years.

No Marriage (or Steroids), No Problems

Jeter’s romantic escapades have been well-documented as demonstrated through his most impressive “accomplishments” in the form of a baseball diamond (shown below). Jeter has taken full advantage of his good looks and fame as the “King of New York” to date some of the most beautiful women in the world. Other men might have been criticized for such behavior, but Jeter rarely received any flack for his personal life. He seemed to maintain a balance between his work and personal life, so no one ever questioned him. Jeter also avoided the spotlight by staying clean and avoiding the steroid allegations that many in his time faced. Had he ever been accused or proven to take steroids, his legacy might look more like Arod’s instead of his untarnished one.

Jeter's Impressive Dating Diamond

Jeter’s Impressive Dating Diamond

 Clutch Performer

One thing cannot be questioned about Jeter, he shined in the biggest moments. This was evident during his final game at Yankee stadium, when he delivered a walk-off single to opposite field in vintage Jeter fashion. Arguably Jeter’s most famous moment came in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS series, when he saved a run by instinctively relaying the offline throw with a backhand flip (although it sure looks like he was safe. If they had replay back then, we might not remember this play so fondly). If “The Flip” was his #1 moment, then the “Mr. November” moment would be #1b. His walkoff homer run in the 2001 World Series (which was in November due to 9/11 pushing everything back) tied the series at 2-2, which they eventually went on to win. the series. His post-season numbers were almost identical or better than his regular season numbers, which is particularly impressive because of the better competition and higher-stress situations in the post-season.

Part 2: Is Jeter Overrated?

WAR

WAR stands for Wins above replacement, which is a fancy way of saying how valuable a player is to his team. The formula accounts for both offensive and defensive production, and measures how many wins in a season the player was worth to his team compared to an average player at his position. Good players are anything above a 3.0, All-Stars above a 5.0, and elite production anything above a 6.0. So what was Jeter’s WAR over the course of his 20 seasons in the majors? 71.7. That comes out to 3.58 per season. Even if you remove the seasons in which he didn’t play more than 17 games (1995 & 2013), it still comes out to less than 4.0. That’s somewhere between a good player and an All-Star player. His 71.7 WAR ranks 88th all-time. I’m not saying the numbers are anything to scoff at, but not “all-time great” numbers.

Defense Wins Championships?

Although it doesn’t really win championships, defense is an underrated portion of baseball. Jeter is widely praised for several impressive defensive plays that he made in the postseason, but Jeter was a below-average defender throughout his career. I mentioned earlier that WAR accounting for both offensive and defensive production. Jeter’s defensive WAR was positive just three times during his 20 seasons in the majors, meaning that the average shortstop was better defensively than Jeter in 17 seasons. Although he had some epic defensive moments (the “Jump Throw” and the relay play as shown above), he cost his team more runs defensively than he saved through the years.

Awards and Accolades

If Derek Jeter is going to be remembered as one of the greatest players of all-time, then surely he was one the best player for a season multiple times during his illustrious career, right? MLB gives out two MVP awards each year, one to the best player from the National and American leagues. So it is twice as likely that a great player will win MVPs versus other sports like the NBA. Trivia question, how many times did Derek Jeter finish first in the AL MVP voting? ZERO. Ok, Jeter played with and against some elite players in his day so we will forgive him for not taking down any MVP trophies. But did he come close? Next trivia question. How many times did Jeter finish in the Top 5 in AL MVP voting? Five times. That’s not very many times for someone who played as long as Jeter. The argument is often made that some players are ignored because their team is in a small market or had losing records. The Yankees are the largest franchise in baseball history and the team never had a losing record while Jeter was there. So all the usual excuses can’t be applied here. Jeter was never voted the best player in any given season, so it’s difficult to say he’s the best of his generation.

Verdict

So where does Jeter rank all-time? Statistically speaking, he was a consistently productive, but not elite producer. He always hit for a high average, but never had tremendous power numbers. His defense was clearly below average other than some occasional spectacular plays. Where Jeter stands out is in the intangibles. His leadership ability was unquestioned. His knack for coming up big on the brightest stage was uncanny. He was a winner in all facets of the game. As far as where he ranks among Yankee greats of all-time, you almost have to put him behind Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Yogi Berra. You could argue for Mattingly or Rivera in front of him too, but we’ll give the nod to Jeter here, which places him as the 6th greatest Yankee of all-time. Clearly, he is one of the greatest players of this generation, but not a once in a generation player like some claim. Enjoy your ride into the sunset captain, you deserve it. Nothing but RE2SPECT.

kobe-soccer

If America’s Best Athletes Played Soccer: Starting XI

The United States Mens National Team just finished a memorable journey in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Although their performances were heralded as “valiant”, “gutsy”, “formidable”, etc., they ultimately fell short. There was an obvious gap in ability when playing against superior opponents such as Germany and Belgium. The U.S. is making strides in its ability, but is nowhere near the level of technical abilities of other dominant nations. We boast the most athletic people in the entire world and it’s not even close. Unfortunately, the majority of these athletes are playing football and basketball instead of soccer. What if some of our most elite athletes had grown up with a soccer ball at their feet? The list below assumes that fact, not that these guys could instantly step onto the field and be great. We are assuming that they were groomed from a young age to play soccer and only soccer. The results would be amazing. Here’s my list of US all-stars below lined up in a 4-4-2 diamond. Enjoy.

Goalie: Anthony Davis

This was arguably the toughest decision on my squad as there are countless directions you could go here. I ultimately went with absurd length, wingspan, and athletic ability. His biggest issue might be getting down to ground quick enough, but his ability to block balls heading towards the upper corners would be unmatched. We’ve never seen such a tall goalie, but I think he could make it work. I deliberated on Kawhi Leonard here as well due to his freakish athleticism and enormous wingspan too.

Left Back: Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook might be the most purely athletic player in the NBA, and yes, that includes Lebron James. His immense athleticism combined with a motor that never stops would instantly make him a world class player. The only question was where he would play on the field. You could make an argument for goalie, defensive midfield, or one of the wingers, but I think he fits best in this spot given his versatility.

Center Back: J.J. Watt

Some might argue that J.J. Watt is too big and slow to play soccer, even if he had started at a young age. To that, I would say this, have you watched J.J. Watt play before? It doesn’t even make sense how quick he is given his enormous frame. His motor never stops and would harass smaller strikers into submission.

Center Back: Mike Trout

Baseball players get a bad rap for being some of the worst athletes in professional sports. While this is largely the case, that doesn’t mean that all baseball players are bad athletes. Mike Trout is a freak and could definitely play other sports, including soccer. His physicality and speed would be a nightmare matchup for opposing strikers.

Right Back: Richard Sherman

Sherman has been locking down the top receivers in the NFL for a few years now, and he could likely shut down attacking forwards in soccer as well. His athleticism is off the charts, but his intelligence could be one of his greatest assets. Sherman might be the first to coin the phrase “lock-down fullback” for his ability to erase their best player.

Defensive Midfield: Tony Allen

Can you imagine the Grindfather playing soccer? He would absolutely be a yellow-card machine, but would make life a living hell for the other team. He never stops hustling and would be a constant menace on the field. Much like basketball, he would like struggle at times with the technical aspects, but these could easily be overlooked for the intangibles be brings.

Left Midfield: Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson will likely start to fade away in the next few years as he racks up the mileage on his body. When healthly, however, Peterson is a monster with unmatched physical traits. He would employ a more direct approach than his running-back partner on the other side (McCoy), but would definitely be a force.

Right Midfield: Lesean McCoy

McCoy has juke moves that can normally only be created in a video game. Imagine these skills if he had grown up with a soccer ball at his feet? It would be like Ronaldinho with more athleticism. His compact frame would also make him very difficult to push off the ball.

Attacking Midfield: Chris Paul

Paul’s creativity and passing ability is the best in the world. If he were a soccer player, he could play the same creative role. I’m imagining him sending exquisite through balls for his strikers to run onto or dribbling right by defenders. I envision him playing a role like Xavi for Spain or Pirlo for Italy, only a far more athletic version.

Striker: Lebron James

This striker partnership is terrifying to think about. These two athletes are freaks that physically dominate their sports like no one before them. James’ breakaway speed, strength, and quickness would make him a physically imposing specimen. His ability to win balls in the air from crosses or set pieces is fun to imagine. Imagine Jozy Altidore, but far more athletic.

Striker: Calvin Johnson

See everything that was said about LBJ and insert here. The only difference is that Megatron wouldn’t cramp up 15 minutes into the game.

Honorable Mentions:

Kawhi Leonard – Goalie

Jadeveon Clowney – CB

Kenneth Faried – CB

Andre Iguodala – RB/LB

Troy Polamalu – RB/LB

Vernon Davis – Defensive Midfielder

Patrick Willis – Midfielder

LM/RM – Jamaal Charles

LM/RM – Andrew McCutchen

Attacking Mid – Derick Rose (when healthy)

Striker – A.J. Green

Striker – Kobe Bryant

 

Who did I leave out? There are countless elite athletes that could have been amazing soccer players. Let me know who you would include in the comments.

Brooks Header

How Will The US Line Up Vs. Portugal?

Although the USMNT won their dramatic opener vs. Ghana, it wasn’t without consequence for the Yanks. They lost their line-leading forward, Jozy Altitore. The US failed to make much of an impact going forward without Altidore and had to be bailed out with a header from substitute centerback John Brooks.  The US doesn’t have a replacement player that can match Altidore’s role, so they will have to adapt their formation and players. Let’s dive in to the potential options that Jurgen might roll out vs. Portugal.

Donovan Regrets?

Before we breakdown the options that Jurgen Klinnsman will have at his disposal, let’s talk about the question that everyone has been asking. Could Landon Donovan have helped fill the void left by Jozy’s absence? Should he have been brought for just such emergencies? The short answer is a resounding NO. Donovan would not have helped to replace Jozy up front as they play completely different roles. Donovan is a replacement for Zusi/Bedoya/etc. who have both played vital roles thus far. A bigger argument could be made for why Klinnsman didn’t include a more similar player to Altidore like Terrence Boyd or Eddie Johnson. Unfortunately, we’ll have to continue on with the players selected.

Note: These are just my personal opinions and thoughts. I obviously have no inside information and could be way off on every one of these. Take these with a grain of salt and don’t go betting your life away based on these opinions! That being said, enjoy. 

Option #1: Jozy Substitute (4-4-2 Diamond)

The first choice  is the most simple of the bunch, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be chosen. His replacement would fill his role up top with Dempsey. Although it is listed as a 4-4-2, it will likely look somewhat more like a 4-4-1-1, with Dempsey playing just behind the fill-in striker. So who will take Jozy’s place, Johannson or Wondolowski? Wondo makes a better choice for hold-up play given his larger frame. Johannson plays better with another forward joining him up front as his link-up play is excellent. Ultimately, I think Johannson gets the nod if this is the formation of choice.

Advantages:

  • No positional changes are required other than Altidore’s replacement.
  • Two forwards puts more pressure on the centerback pairing and doesn’t allow them to focus on one man.

Disadvantages:

  • Wondolowsi or Johannson will be on the pitch, neither of whom strike fear into opponents.
  • Puts pressure on Beckerman to play well as he is the only true holding midfielder in front of the back four.

Note: Zusi could also replace Bedoya after his strong showing off the bench.

Option #2: “False 9” (4-2-3-1)

This option is often called a “False 9” because it doesn’t deploy a traditional striker on the field. The “9” comes from the Number 9 that is usually associated with the primary striker, whose primarily objective is to score goals. Other teams like Spain and Germany have deployed this to great success, but it requires a talented group of attacking midfielders. If the US goes this route, Zusi would likely be the only change, coming in for the injured Altidore. He should play on the right side, likely moving Bedoya to the left. Dempsey will play the “False 9” role and will be the focal point in attack. This formation will generally change shape slightly in attack and defense, but offers plenty of options for the US team. It can easily look like the 4-5-1 option as shown in Option #3 and the primary differences are outlined there.

Advantages:

  • Allows an experienced playmaker (Zusi) to get on the pitch.
  • Could allow for some nice link-up play between Dempsey and Bradley, who excel is such situations

Disadvantages:

  • Dempsey is not used to being the lone forward and doesn’t do well with hold-up play
  • The midfield of Beckerman, Jones, and Bradley could be outnumbered when Zusi and Bedoya get forward
bestplayoffs

Who Has the Best Playoffs in Professional Sports?

The NHL Stanley Cup Final and NBA Finals are both underway, making this one of the best seasons for avid sports fans. The playoffs for these two sports are often compared because they are running simultaneously, but where do they stack up against the other US professional sports? For the purposes of this article, I am only including professional sports (sorry March Madness fans) and ones in the US (sorry global soccer fans).  Rather than just approach it from which ones are my favorites and least favorites, I tried to approach it systematically and rank them by category. Each sport will be ranked 1-4 in the categories of format, parity, intensity, viewing experience, and x-factors. The playoffs with the lowest average score will be crowned the winner.

Format

The format category consists of how the teams make the playoffs and how they are formatted once they make it. This could include the percentage of teams that make the playoffs, the number of games in each round, or things like seeding or home field/court/ice advantage.

MLB: Baseball has recently tinkered with its playoff format, changing the wildcard team to a play-in game. I view this change as a negative. While the wildcard team was previously awarded an automatic playoff bid, now two teams have to play a winner-take-all game to determine who gets in. This definitely adds to the drama, but can rob a team of a playoff birth that was superior for 162 games. I like that a limited number of teams make the playoffs in baseball as it adds to the intensity of the regular season. My biggest issue with the baseball playoffs? The All-Star game. The fact that this game determines home-field advantage might be the most ridiculous thing in all of sports.

NBA: If you need to see why the NBA playoffs format needs a makeover, look no further than this years playoffs. The West was loaded while the East had a team make the playoffs that was 6 games under .500. Too many bad teams make the playoffs and there are almost never any significant upsets. It is almost a lock that the 1 seed will beat the 8 seed every year, which takes away some of the suspense.

NFL: Only 12 teams out of 32 make the playoffs, which is about 38%. That number feels high enough to not exclude too many teams, but also doesn’t mean that the regular season means nothing. My biggest complaint is that the division winners are automatically the first four seeds, regardless of record compared to the wild card teams. I agree that each division winner should receive a birth, but seeding should be determined by the best record. Other than that, I think that the NFL’s format is well-balanced and an excellent representation of the league. The suddenness of just one game per round adds to the importance/impact and creates the ultimate do-or-die scenario every week.

NHL: Like MLB, the NHL has recently tweaked its playoff system, moving towards a system that rewards the top 3 teams in each division as well as 4 wild card berths. Like basketball, hockey has a total of 16 teams that make the playoffs. While this makes it interesting in that more than 50% of teams will earn the chance to win a Stanley Cup, it feels like too many. Also like basketball, the NHL also struggles with the length of their playoffs, which seem to go on for a long time.

Winner: NFL. The NFL’s format takes the cake here due to its limited number of playoff teams and immediacy due to one-game rounds. Rewarding the best teams with a bye also seems fair and distinguishes them from the others.

Parity

Parity refers to the distribution of winners in that particular sport. Does the low seed ever have a chance of upsetting the favorite? Can it be assured that only a few teams will be in the running for a championship? These are the factors that parity addresses.

MLB: Baseball is known for the major powerhouses winning the majority of the championships and the data supports this to a certain extent. There have only been 9 unique champs in the last 15 years, with the Red Sox and Yankees both collecting 3 each and the Giants and Cardinals capturing two. The absence of a salary cap is largely to blame for the lack of parity.

NBA: Basketball is thought to be the sport of dynasties, but does the data support the notion that only a handful of teams ever win titles? The short answer is yes. The data is even more overwhelming than I would have though. Only 6 different teams have won an NBA title in the last 15 years. We are guaranteed that the eventual champ this year will not champ that too.

NFL: The NFL has has 10 different champions in the last 15 years. The Patriots, Giants, Ravens, and Steelers have all won multiple times, with only the Patriots winning 3 championships. Low seeds like the wild-card teams have also had plenty of success, which makes every game must-see due to the possibility of an upset.

NHL: The NHL has had an impressive 11 different champs in the last 15 years. This is remarkable, especially when you consider the reputation of the dominant markets like Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and others. The Blackhawks and Devils have won twice and the Red Wings have taken home Lord Stanley’s Cup 3 times. Success by lower seeds and first-round upsets happen every year, which makes all rounds of the playoffs important.

Winner: NHL. Recent small market champions like the Hurricanes and Lightning highlight the parity in the NHL. Only one team has won 3 in the last 15, and they were all several years apart. Upsets can and do happen frequently, which means even the favorites must bring their A-game each round.

Intensity

Not much explanation is needed here, but intensity refers to…how intense the games are. Are you on the edge of your seat for large portions of the game? Do you find yourself sweating during the most heated moments?

MLB: Baseball has some intense moments in late-game situations in October. Unfortunately, these moments are the exception and not the rule. During a 3-hour baseball game, there will likely be 5-10 minutes worth of intense moments when the bases are loaded with 2 outs. There are plenty of ho-hum 1-2-3 innings that can seem to be lacking intensity, even if the players are going it their all. Baseball suffers from the lack of physical contact between opposing sides. Pitcher vs. batter duels are intriguing, but aren’t as excited as two people physically going after one another.

NBA: People give the NBA a hard time about no one playing defense, and for the regular season, that is probably the case. During the playoffs, however, the intensity is ratcheted up on both ends of the floor. It is a treat to watch some of the greatest athletes in the world go at it with 100% effort. The late game moments and last second shots are some of the most intense in all of sports. Hockey fans will point out the injuries that sideline NBA players pale in comparison to hockey, but it is hard to doubt the effort level of these warriors.

NFL: The NFL might be the most violent sport during the regular season, and the playoffs bring a new level of intensity. The fact that every game means elimination adds an additional element of immediacy. One play could mean the end of the season. Even the kickers get in on the action, as last second field goals can be some of the most dramatic in all of sports.

NHL: Even hockey haters have a hard time knocking the intensity of the NHL playoffs. Stories of players playing through absurd injuries are commonplace, with new players becoming legends each passing year. The most recent heroics involve Patrice Bergeron playing with a broken rib, torn cartilage, and a separated shoulder in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. True sudden-death overtime (and no shootouts) is must-see TV as the game could end on any shot. These guys give it their all every night and deserve to be rewarded for it.

Winner: NHL. Not much explanation is needed here. These guys are nuts and have an unmatched passion for the game.

Viewing Experience

How enjoyable is the viewing experience for those taking in the game at home? Is the broadcast quality top-notch or does it leave something to be desired? Do replays, statistical overlays, and other on-screen affects add to the experience? Does the game translate well to the big screen or is it far better in person?

MLB: Baseball on TV is a mixed bag. The problem with baseball is that every ball in play features a dramatic shift in direction, which requires a jarring switch in camera angles. The initial camera is from behind the pitcher and is shifted to an overhead view of the infield or outfield when the ball is put in play. Baseball fans are used to this by now, but it is definitely a different viewing experience. The game’s slow pace is often unbearable at home, where there are plenty of other distractions to go around.  The strikezone on-screen display is helpful at times, but can also be inaccurate or distracting.

NBA: Basketball has always translated well to viewing from home. The tangible sight of the ball going through the hoop is eye candy that can easily be captured on TV. Advanced slow-motion technology has helped with video replays as well as cameras from every angle (including at the rim). The commentators are generally knowledgeable and lighthearted, trying to captivate all audiences ranging from casual viewers to the most passionate basketball fans.

NFL: The NFL is a cash-cow and has dumped plenty of money into making sure that the viewing experience from home is top-notch. This has paid dividends as NFL broadcasts in the playoffs always have a top-notch production quality about them. The line of scrimmage and first down lines that are digitally imposed on the field help immensely and the replays are generally excellent, offering views from every angle imaginable. The speed of the game also translates well on TV, especially when bone-shattering hits take place.

NHL: High definition has saved hockey’s view experience. Before HD, it was unbearable to watch hockey on TV because it was nearly impossible to follow the puck. It is now easier to follow the puck, but the game doesn’t quite capture the full extent of the game of hockey. The drive of the players, the speed of the game, and the passion of the fans don’t always translate well to viewing the game from home.

Winner: NFL. Money talks here. The most viewers unsurprisingly means the best experience for those viewers.

X-Factors

These are some of the factors that can’t really be captured elsewhere. I’ll admit that there is a significant amount of subjectivity here, but I did my best to capture the most relevant factors.

MLB: Nostalgia. Baseball is known as America’s pastime for a reason. The game has been around for a long time and has developed a great deal of history. Some people view this as a positive, while others see this as a sign that the game is old and outdated.

NBA: Star power and global impact. No other sport has the name recognition that basketball carries with it. Love them or hate them, you know who Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Brant are. Due to this star power and the presence of international players, the NBA has become a global game. During my honeymoon in Antigua, all the staff there wanted to talk about was the NBA playoffs. This is a huge deal for the NBA’s growth.

NFL: Lack of fantasy football and weather. My primary x-factor for the NFL is unfortunate because they are a victim of their own success. So many people care about the regular season for fantasy football. During the actual playoffs, fantasy football season is over. The NFL loses millions of casual viewers who care more about their virtual team than any real-life ones. The weather is another unpredictable element that can wreak havoc on games. Although both teams obviously play on the same field, adverse conditions can drastically impact one team’s performance more than the other depending on their strengths and weaknesses.

NHL: Beards, handshakes, and the Stanley Cup. NHL playoff beards are awesome. Other sports have attempted to emulate them, but no one pulls them off like hockey players. The post-series handshakes after each side has beaten the others’ brains out is always a must-see. The other sport has such an iconic trophy. I’m not sure if it’s the size of the trophy, the fact that the playoffs is named after it, or something else, but this trophy trumps all others.

Winner: NBA. The NHL is a close second with their combination of beards, handshakes and Stanley Cup, but can’t quite overcome the pure firepower that the NBA’s stars provide.

Overall Winner

NHL Playoffs. In a tightly contested race, the NHL playoffs squeaked by the NBA and NFL playoffs, who tied for second. Parity and intensity were the categories that swung the balance for the NHL, offsetting its poor performance for TV experience. Although the world might not be as receptive to the NHL playoffs (just look at the TV ratings), they have the best playoffs in all of sports. The NBA and NFL tied for second and could have been first on a different day. They will be just fine and have the TV and attendance numbers to back them up. Baseball finished last by scoring no better than third in any particular category. This is an indication that the game might need  to make a few changes to inject some life into a seemingly outdated game. Enjoy your victory skate NHL, you deserve it.

 MLBNBANFLNHL
Format3212
Parity3421
Intensity4231
Viewing Experience3214
X-Factors3142
Average3.22.22.22
Quicken $1 Billion Contest

Why Your Odds of a Perfect Bracket Are NOT One in 9.2 Quintillion

Original Post as of March 18, 2014. Reposted with minimal changes on March 16, 2016. Some of the references (such as the $1 billion challenge) will not apply, but the overall logic still does.  

Warren Buffet made quite the buzz when he announced that he would award $1 billion to anyone who could fill out a perfect NCAA bracket. We have all seen the number being thrown around over the last several days. “Your odds of filling out a perfect bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion, or 9,223,372,036,854,775,808.” The problem with this number is that, while technically mathematically accurate, it doesn’t really give an accurate portrayal of one’s chances. The odds are far better, but I won’t mislead you into thinking that anyone can fill out a perfect bracket. No one has ever done it so far, and no one will likely ever do so (without the help of a computer program that creates billions of entries). So how “great” are the odds then? Let’s dive into the numbers.

The 9.2 Quintillion Number

So where did the 9.2 quintillion number come from and why is it off? The number came from 2 to the 63rd  power, which is 2 times 2 a whopping 63 times. That gives us our outlandishly large number. The problem with this number is that it operates under the assumption that in every game, there is a 50/50 chance of either team winning. Anyone that knows anything about basketball, or even just March Madness, knows that this is not the case. While upsets happen, the higher seeds win the majority of the time. So clearly this number is not an accurate representation, and the odds are much higher.

The Numbers Game

We have established that a 50% chance of winning per game is wrong, but how can we accurately predict such an unknown quantity? Luckily someone far smarter than me figured out a better system. Jeff Bergen, a math professor at DePaul University, came up with a system that was very impressive and fairly accurate. His system estimated the chances that higher seeds would win out, thus giving the relative probabilities of an educated fan selecting a perfect bracket. His conclusion was that the odds were 1:128 billion. The only issue that I had with his methods is that he used some probability assumptions (albeit logical ones) instead of historical data. I am using his methodology, but plugging in historical data. All the data used was taken from Mcubed.net. A full spreadsheet showing the advanced calculations that I used can be found in this Google Spreadsheet.

Second Round

Round of 64 (Round 2)Odds of Higher Seed WinOdds (Approx)
1 vs. 16100.0%
2 vs. 1594.0%
3 vs. 1485.3%
4 vs. 1378.4%
5 vs. 1267.6%
6 vs. 1166.9%
7 vs. 1060.0%
8 vs. 951.4%
Perfect Region (To this point)8.8%1 in 11
Perfect Bracket (To this point)0.0059%1 in 17,000

For the purposes of this article, I will refer to the rounds by their official name. The play-in games are treated as the first round, so the round of 64 is technically the second round. After the second round, your chances of having a perfect bracket have already plummeted to .0059%, or about one in 17,000. With the number of brackets submitted each year, there will probably be a small handful this year that are still perfect after round two.

 Third Round

Round of 32 (Round 3)Odds of Higher Seed WinOdds (Approx)
1 vs. 881.1%
2 vs. 774.4%
3 vs. 654.3%
4 vs. 555.4%
Chance of Perfect Region1.59%1 in 63
Chance of Perfect Bracket0.000006414%
1 in 15.6 million

The gap from the second and third rounds is extreme, and almost no brackets will survive. The numbers say that the chances of remaining perfect are about 1 in 15.6 million. The good news is that you still have a better than 1% chance of having a perfect region at this point, so you’ve got that going for you.

Fourth Round

Round of 16 (Round 4)Odds of Higher Seed WinOdds (Approx)
1 vs. 467.2%
2 vs. 361.0%
Chance of Perfect Region0.652%1 in 153
Chance of Perfect Bracket0.000000181%1 in 550 million

I don’t know if anyone’s bracket has ever made it this far, but it seems quite unlikely that anyone’s has. The odds jump to 1 in 550 million, which are worse than the odds of winning the Mega Million Lottery (1 in 258.9 million).

Rounds Five, Six, and Seven

Round of 8 (Round 5)Odds of Higher Seed WinOdds (approx)
1 vs. 254.5%
Chance of Perfect Region0.3555323512286200%1 in 281
Chance of Perfect Bracket0.00000001598%1 in 6.25 billion
Round of 4 (Round 6)Odds of Higher Seed WinOdds (Approx)
1 vs. 150.0%
Chance of Perfect Bracket0.0000000040%1 in 25 billion
Championship (Round 7)Odds of Higher Seed WinOdds (Approx)
1 vs. 150.0%
Chance of Perfect Bracket0.00000000200%1 in 50 billion

It’s almost not even worth discussing the possibilities of making through these rounds, but I will summarize just to show how unlikely it is. At this point in the tournament, it is assumed that each game is almost a 50/50 chance. While this seems favorable, imagine having made it to this point unscathed, then flipping 8 coins and needing all of them to land on heads. Not likely.

Concluding Remarks

So what is the final number, adjusted for basketball knowledge and historical data? One in 50 billion. While this is still highly unlikely, it is far better than the 9.2 quintillion number, or even the 128 billion number proposed by Professor Bergen. The entry limit for the Quicken $1 Billion Contest is capped at 15 million. Even if you maxed out your entries, you would still have a 1 in 3,333 chance of winning. If that is worth it to you, then get to filling out those brackets. Enjoy the tourney and let the Madness ensue.

 

sochi

Grading the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi have come and gone, seemingly over in just a few short days. The 98 events featured almost 3,000 competing athletes from 88 countries. The host nation came away with surprising victories in both the most golds and most total medals. The United States team, considered heavy favorites before the Games began, largely disappointed and finished 4th in golds and 2nd in total medals. There were tremendous concerns about how the Sochi Games would play out. Would their facilities hold up? How would security be handled? Would protesters overrun the games? Heck, would Putin turn it into the 2014 Hunger Games? All of these concerns were quelled once the Games were underway, but how did they grade out overall?

Opening and Closing Ceremonies: B+

Anticipation for the opening ceremonies is always sky-high, but this year’s was even more so given the reported $51 billion spent on the Games. London’s opening for the 2012 Summer Games was outstanding and set a high bar for Sochi to meet. The opening ceremony did an excellent job of conveying Russia’s rich history. It was aesthetically pleasing with an extravagant blend of bright colors and sometimes dark undertones as they displayed Russia’s proud history. The one technical difficulty occurred when the fifth and final ring didn’t expanded into its full form, instead looking like a snowflake next to four rings. It was a small blemish on an otherwise great performance. The closing ceremony did the unexpected by making fun of the incident (shown below)! No one would have guessed that Russia (specifically Putin) would ever make light of such an embarrassing situation. Everyone loved it. It made Russia seem so much warmer, so much more like they had real people instead of robots. After all, self-deprecating humor is the best humor. It allows everyone to laugh about it together. Russia pulled out all of the stops for their ceremonies, and it largely paid off.

Russia pokes fun of their opening ceremony gaff during the closing ceremony.

Facilities / Conditions: C-

Before the opening ceremony had even begun, the socialsphere was already exploding about the conditions in Sochi. Pictures went viral showing yellow sink water, unfinished rooms/buildings, and stray dogs in the streets. As the Games continued, the attention shifted away from the living conditions, which were probably overblown from the beginning. I’m not saying that unfinished rooms and undrinkable water is acceptable, but many of our responses showed just how spoiled we are. While the focus on living conditions slowly faded away, the emphasis on the course conditions picked up the slack. Olympians (Americans in particular) were quick to point out the miserable conditions caused by overly warm weather and time restrictions placed on the people who managed the various events. Temperatures exceeded 50 degrees at several points, which caused dangerous conditions for the athletes. While there was little that Russia could do about the warm weather, it did harm the experience and integrity of the events. My high-school football always said something to the extent of “We want the worst conditions. Bad conditions favor the team that is the most disciplined.” I don’t know if that applies here or not, but I do know that we will never know what results might have been different if the conditions had been ideal. Congratulations to all the athletes that fought through the tough conditions and earned a hard-fought medal.

Performances / Star Power: C+

Almost every Olympics, both summer and winter, have a few breakout stars that capture the hearts of millions as they make their way into Olympic history. Past winter games have seen athletes like Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn become household names, but this year seemed to be lacking in the star-power department. The 2014 games seemed to be filled with more disappointments than triumphs. Shaun White, Shani Davis, J.R. Celski, and the Men’s hockey team all failed to medal after expectations were almost certainly gold or bust. The men’s speed-skaters and women’s figure skaters (Gracie Gold & Ashley Wagner) did not live up to expectations. In fact, it was the first time since 1936 that the US hasn’t won an individual figure skating medal, and since 1984 that we haven’t won a speed-skating medal. The women’s hockey did earn silver, but wasted a “golden” opportunity by blowing a 2-0 lead to Canada.

That isn’t to say there weren’t brilliant performances by Americans. Meryl Davis and Charlie White were as dominant as advertised. Ted Ligety captured gold yet again, eight years after getting his first. Noelle Pikus-Pace came out of retirement to win her first ever medal in the Skeleton at the age of 31, after failing to win bronze by one-tenth of a second in Vancouver. If I had to project the biggest potential star exiting this year’s Games, it would have to be Mikaela Shiffrin. The 18-year old won gold in the women’s slalom and did it in dramatic fashion. After the first run, she had a commanding lead and appeared guaranteed to win gold. During her second run, she slipped and went onto one ski (causing me to audibly yell at the TV). She recovered brilliantly and finished with a comfortable lead for gold. She is young, attractive, and remarkably talented. She will likely be competitive, if not dominant, for at least two more Olympic Games barring injuries or unforeseen circumstances. The future looks bright for this rising star.

Mikaela Shiffrin wins her first gold medal at the age of 18.

Mikaela Shiffrin wins her first gold medal at the age of 18. She was one of US’ breakout stars.

Security: A+

One of the biggest concerns going into the 2014 Sochi Games was the security of the athletes and spectators. Rumors of terrorist attacks, suicide bombers, or other violent protests were concerns coming into Sochi, but were almost non-existent once the opening ceremony began. I obviously was not there to experience it firsthand, but I never heard any of the athletes complaining about feeling at-risk or unsafe. You can’t say enough about the job that the security team did in keeping all of the athletes and viewers safe.

TV Coverage: B+

This grade might be revised once the final TV ratings for the Games are released, but the coverage from NBC was excellent. They focused on the “live” performances themselves, but did a good job of mixing in side stories such as touching back-stories for many of the athletes. The broadcasters for individual events were generally knowledgeable and pleasant to hear commentate. Two “black-eyes” stick out in my mind regarding the coverage, and yes, one of those black eyes is almost a literal one. Bob Costas fought through an eye infection like a trooper, but it was quite distracting to watch. Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira did an admirable job of filling in while Bob recuperated from his eye infection. The second black-eye was obtained during an interview with Bronze medal winner Bode Miller. Miller lost his brother last year and was clearly emotional after the race. Christin Miller, who was interviewing Miller, continued to probe about how Bode was feeling about his brother after the race until he eventually broke down and had to walk away from the interview. The full transcript of the race can be found here. Bode eventually came to the defense of Miller on Twitter, but it still rubbed me the wrong way. Other than these two issues, the TV coverage was superb.

Overall: B-

My overall feeling towards these Games is a solid “Meh.” I wanted to be able to engage with it constantly, for it to captivate me for over 2 weeks and leave me wanting more. In the end, it wasn’t quite the experience I was looking for. To a large degree, this was not Sochi’s fault. Our athletes did not perform to their abilities. Not to take away from the other athletes, but USA should always win the medal count for the Winter Olympics. We have too many athletes competing in these events and too many resources dedicated to them to fall short. Sochi was a flawed, but admirable host. They kept the Games going without too many hitches. They gave the world a glimpse into their history, culture, and lives for a few weeks. The 2016 Olympics will be taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Hopefully they, and American athletes, can deliver an unforgettable performance that will leave us all wanting more.

Super-Bowl-XLVIII

Best & Worst Commercials from Super Bowl XLVIII (2014)

The Super Bowl this year was a bust. It was touted as being one of the greatest matchups ever (rightfully so), but didn’t deliver because only one team showed up to play. We all know that the game was miserable, but did the commercials save the day? My answer is a resounding “meh”. There were a few good ones, but most felt forced and unnatural. Here are my thoughts on the commercials…

Big Winner – Esurance

The biggest winner of the night didn’t even have an ad during the Super Bowl, but instead decided to air it right after the game, saving them $1.5 million dollars. In a stroke of genius, they decided to offer up these saving to one lucky winner through Twitter. Naturally, this hashtag has exploded, creating millions in “free” marketing for Esurance. Others will likely try to mimic this tactic in the future, but Esurance will be remembered as the first.

Most Overrated – Jaguar Villains

I don’t have any specific quips about this one, it just  didn’t quite do it for me. Others praised it as being the best commercial of the night. Oh well, maybe I’m not cool enough to get the appeal.

Most Disappointing – Bud Light Randomness

Bud Light had been hyping their Super Bowl commercials for weeks, which puts immense pressure on them to deliver big. They weren’t terrible, but definitely didn’t live up to the hype.

Most Controversial – Coke’s America is Beautiful

People either loved or hated Coke’s ad featuring “America the Beautiful” sung in multiple languages. My twitter timeline was filled with mixed responses ranging from “best commercial ever” to “I think I’ll buy Pepsi from now on.”

“What Could Have Been” Commercials

This category contains commercials that weren’t bad, but could have been so much more with a few tweaks.

Heinz

This one wasn’t absolutely terrible, but I feel as though they missed a big opportunity. Had they played off of the “hitting the 57” trick to get it to come out, it might have been more memorable and less meh.

Doritos Time Machine

I’m not sure exactly what this one was missing, but it was barely off. Just a few tweaks away from being really funny.

Audi Doberhauhau

Like most the commercials in this category, the idea was genius but wasn’t quite carried out to perfection. The Sarah McLachlan bit was fantastic. This one barely missed my top five.

TurboTax Love Hurts

This one isn’t really TurboTax’s fault per se, but it just felt really disjointed from the company’ product. The first 45 seconds were brilliant, but then the product pitch come along and they lost me. So close.

Bud Light Ridiculousness

The idea here was brilliant but the execution wasn’t quite as sound. They probably could have gone just a little bit more ridiculous, but I’m not really an expert. Overall an amusing but not epic series of commercials.

Worst Commercials

5) Kia Matrix

This one had me intrigued in the beginning, using the classic blue pill vs. red pill motif. It quickly went from intriguing to bizarre when he started opera singing, causing everything to explode… Missed opportunity here.

4) Bud Light Twist

Was this really the time to market a beer bottle with a resealable cap? How many people drink half a beer and think “Yea, this will be really good tomorrow!” and put it back in the fridge?

3) SodaStream

Wasn’t too bad until they tried to make it sleazy, although it wasn’t even that trashy. I’m never for ridiculous trashiness, but it would have at least made it memorable. Fail on every account.

2) Axe Make Love, Not War

I’m not going to waste valuable words talking about this commercial. It was dumb.

1) U2 & BoA Red

No one would have been upset if U2 had just been using this platform to launch their new song. Unfortunately, it had the “RED” name attached to it, and felt like a ploy more than a genuine effort to raise money for a good cause. What if they had just donated the $4 million instead of paying for the ad spot? Maybe I am being too harsh, but it rubbed me the wrong way.

Best Commercials

Honorable Mentions: Audi Doberhauhau and TurboTax Love Hurts

5) Cheerios Gracie

It might not have been laugh out loud funny or make you emotional to tears, but it was well done and sweet.

4) CarMax Slow Clap(s)

The first one (with people) was clever. They took a pretty big risk using the slow-clap because it is pretty played out. The commercial went from good to great when I saw the puppy version of it, which recreated everything from the first. Surprisingly excellent offerings from CarMax.

3) Radioshack 80’s Call

This one was so great because it was self-deprecating in a clever way. RadioShack took the negative stereotype about them and used it with the vintage joke about the 80’s calling. The music was perfect too. Radioshack’s shares were way up this morning, so clearly this one was effective in getting the message out.

2) Microsoft Technology

This one came out of nowhere and hit me like a ton of bricks. It definitely had me teary-eyed by the end. Heck, the video of the deaf woman hearing for the first time makes me cry every time. Microsoft isn’t normally too adept with marketing, but kudos for this one.

1) Budweiser A Hero’s Welcome & Puppies

We’ve come to expect greatness from Budweiser’s commercials, and they didn’t disappoint this year. I didn’t want to chose between the two, so we’ll give both of them the first place ribbon. Although some will say that it was cheesy and overblown, the raw emotion in the hero’s arrival home was chilling and beautiful. “I’m Coming Home” has become the de facto song for military arrivals, but it worked flawlessly here. What could make the already great horse commercials even better? A puppy. Cute all around. Budweiser wins yet again.

SEC-Football-logo

SEC-ular Beliefs: Why SEC Football is King in the South

The bowl season will soon be upon us, inciting heated discussions on forums and social media sites across the country. The debate will be on whether a 1-loss SEC champion should overtake Ohio State for the chance to play Florida State in the BCS National Championship game. This is obviously predicated on the fact that OSU and FSU both win their games as expected. This purpose of this article is not to argue for or against either of these choices, but to point out why the arguing is taking place.

Picture this scenario. You walk into a New York bar during this past World Series, which was featuring the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox. You sit down, order a drink, and strike up a conversation with the person next to you. “Hope the Red Sox can pull this one out for the AL East.” Those might be your last words if this hypothetical situation was indeed real. While few would argue that this would be absurd, this is what happens with SEC football. Why is this the case? Why does the love of a conference almost equal the passion for their beloved team?

Southern Pride

No one takes more pride in their culture than Southerners. What started during the Civil War has now expanded into other ideals. We love our sweet tea, front porches, church on Sunday morning, “ya’ll”, and SEC football. Heck, many even take pride in things seen as embarrassing by most (e.g. Being a redneck or getting questionable tattoos). Although NFL TV ratings will always be king (largely due to fantasy and gambling), there is little that people care about more than college football in the south. SEC football isn’t just a sport for many, it’s a way of life. It’s a chance for Southerners to stick it to “Them Yankees up north” or “Those hippies out west.” If you are in the south and you tell someone that you aren’t from there, you’ll likely get a response like “Bless your heart” or “You poor thing.” The south is the best and we take pride in it.

Everyone Loves a Winner

When I was growing up, the debate always raged on which power conference was the strongest? The battle raged back and forth between the Big 10, Big12, Pac12, ACC, and of course, the SEC. Each year, the pendulum would swing in a different direction. From 2000 to 2004, all five major conferences won a BCS title (Oklahoma, Miami, Ohio State, LSU/USC, USC). Fast forward to 2013, where the SEC has won seven straight BCS championships. With success comes an abundance of supporters. SEC fans were always passionate, but they have now reached feverish proportions. Fans of other schools have been eager to move to the SEC, hoping to get a piece of the BCS pie. Just look at the growth of Missouri and Texas A&M since they moved to the SEC. Both schools have seen immediate success, which has increased the desire for newcomers even further. It is easier to root for your team and conference when they are winning, and the SEC has done plenty of that.

Quantum Solace (In Defeat)

Quantum: “Something that can be counted or measured.” Solace: “Comfort or consolation in a time of distress or sadness.” The problem with such a dominant conference is that there will always be punching bags year in and year out. Instead of loathing in the fact that their team is terrible, fans have adopted the mantra of pointing to the fact that their conference is dominant. You’ll often see tweets/posts like this “I’d rather be 2-6 in the SEC than 6-2 in the other power conferences.” Really? You would rather win two games and not go to a bowl game than be in a slightly lesser conference? Once again, compare this logic to professional sports. Would you rather miss the playoffs because you were in the toughest division or sneak in because yours was terrible? Of course not. But in a strange way, SEC fans of terrible teams take solace in the fact that their conference is the best. It helps take some of the sting away.

Closing Remarks

Those who know me well can speak to the fact that I am an avid Ohio State fan who has been born and raised in the south. While I am also a big Vanderbilt fan, OSU is my first love. It’s not easy trying to root for a Non-SEC school in the heart of SEC country, but I continue to fight the helpless fight. While I loathe the success shared by the conference, I also admire it. This is the most dominant run for a conference in any sport for a long time. People ask me all the time if i wish OSU was in the SEC. Of course I do, but that is unlikely to ever happen. Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy living in the south, where SEC football is king.

Crying Alabama Fan

When is it Acceptable for Fans to Cry?

Within a matter of moments on Saturday, the unthinkable happened. Tennessee’s Michael Palardy kicked a 19-yard field goal setup by a miraculous one handed catch by Marquez North, giving the Vols a huge upset win over South Carolina. A few minutes later, Vanderbilt recovered a Brendan Douglas fumble and iced away a victory over 15th ranked Georgia. This was just the beginning of a crazy day of college football that saw eight of the Top 25 teams go down, including six in the Top 15. As the 1:00 Eastern Time starts finished up, Twitter began to light up with tweets from elated fans. Vanderbilt and Tennessee fans had lost their last 15 and 19 games versus ranked teams, respectively, and fans weren’t shy in letting the world know about their excitement. Unfortunately, some fans crossed the thin line between impressively passionate and embarrassingly sad. What could take them from socially acceptable to downright laughable in such a short span? Tears. Fans were tweeting about how they were crying tears of joy in victory. And no, these tweets were not just hyperbole, they were quite serious. So the question is: When is it ok for fans to cry about sports?

Final High School Games

It’s a cold, rainy Friday night in mid-November. You can’t feel your toes or fingers and your voice is all but gone from the 2+ hours of incessant yelling. You suck down the last bit of now freezing cold “hot” chocolate and pray for a miracle. Surely this couldn’t be the end? The final whistle blows and your exhausted, vanquished warriors fall to the ground, lifeless and defeated. Their helmets act as a water basins, catching tears as they fall from the young faces. Moms, dads, uncles, cheerleaders, girlfriends, and the student section join them in agony as the painful realization that 99% of these seniors will never play again starts to sink in. It goes deeper than just the players never playing again. It means no more 3-hour bus rides to road games with the entire student section. No more pre-game cookouts for the beaming dads who looked forward to them after a lousy work week. No more post-game margaritas for the group of players’ moms who needed to let off some steam. No more post-game makeout sessions with the proud girlfriends. No more after-parties, gameday goodie bags, or cheesy signs.  All of these things are over forever, and that is worth crying about.

First Game Following a Tragedy

Sports have the uncanny ability to allow people to tune out all of the world’s problems for a few short hours. The sting of a death in the family, a lost job, pending divorce, or citywide disaster briefly fade away while the game is being played. I’ll never forget the first Saints home game at the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina in September 2006. I fought back the tears as the iconic punt block was returned for a touchdown. You could feel the joy in stadium, as the fans finally had something to cheer about after months of pain. Fast forward to April 2013, when the city of Boston was reeling after the horrific bombing during the Boston Marathon. The Bruins were playing their first game at home since the tragedy, and the crowd was asked to join in the singing the national anthem. Cue the waterworks. Not only did I cry the first time I saw the video, I cry ever time I watch it. This was followed a few days later by Neil Diamond showing up to the Red Sox game to lead the crowd in “Sweet Caroline.” Games following the death of a teammate, classmate, or anyone else closely tied to the program would also qualify here. Clearly, these sporting events were more than just games. They are a chance for a large group of people to rally around their team and quell their pain, even if only for a few hours. Tears at these times are not only acceptable, but almost understood. If you didn’t cry during any of these moments, then you are probably a robot that hates puppies.

Season/Career Ending Injuries

The fifth-year senior has finally earned a walk-on roster spot after being rejected the four previous times. His or her parents both played collegiate ball for the same university, and it has been a lifelong endeavor for Johny or Julie to follow in their footsteps.  The team is up big against a cupcake opponent, and the “Rudy Moment” is finally here. An electricity fills the stadium as the significance of the cameo is not lost on the fans. Snap. The persistent underdog goes down with an apparent ACL tear. Or even worse, a crashing hit leaves the player motionless on the field/court/ice. Silence comes over the audience until people can be heard choking back the tears. Dreams are shattered as hundreds of hours spent running stadiums, watching film, and supporting their teammates selflessly seem wasted. They worked so hard to get to this place, and it feels like the universe has screwed them over for no reason. When a moment like this happens, cry away sports fans. You will find no judgment from me or any other reasonable person.

Overcoming Adversity

I hopped on the treadmill for a nighttime jog and flipped on the TV. I caught the final few minutes of a documentary, seemingly about an inspirational wrestler who defied all odds. After the quick workout, I searched for the video and stumbled upon “Carry On: Why I Stayed“. Twenty minutes and almost as many tissues later, I had finished the documentary. I won’t spoil it all for you here, but it and the original piece are well worth a watch. Life sucks sometimes. Heck, life sucks a lot of the time. Sports get to showcase countless incredible stories of individuals or teams who overcome immense adversity. You hear heartwarming stories almost daily about a walk-on that paid his way through school by working three jobs and raising his seven brothers and sisters after their parents abandoned them years ago. Or the manager with cerebral palsy who finally got to play in a basketball game as a senior, and made a 3-pointer which sent the crowd into frenzy. Once again, these moments are larger than just sports, they are about life. Now hand me a tissue.

Drawing the Line Somewhere

As most everyone knows, the term fan comes from the word fanatic, which means “a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal.” People are absolutely nuts for their favorite teams and players. Sports are an outlet for most of us fans, an opportunity to step away from our regular lives and into the lives of those playing the games. We even use phrases like “We, Us, and Our” to describe our teams and players, implying that we are truly a part of the experience. While I have no problem with most of this unbridled enthusiasm, there has to be a line drawn somewhere. That line for me is crying over the outcome of a game. Unless your situation falls into one of the categories above, don’t do it. Save your tears for things that actually matter like the birth of your first child or the news that cancer is in remission. Life is just too short to cry about sports.

Maybe that’s some of the reason I feel so good today. Maybe I finally realized that it’s just a game. -David Duval