IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

by John Walters

From Pele To Melee*

*The judges owe that hed to SportsBrain, who suggested it unsolicited yesterday. For those not in the know, SportsBrain is a former ASU student of mine.

Really, Brazil? Your national hero has only been dead 10 days and you’ve already fallen apart? Where did you conjure such a reckless idea of storming the national capitol (don’t answer that)?

We have questions: Why does Brazil’s capitol area look like some early 1970s director’s idea of a futuristic city? Couldn’t everyone just have waited until Carnevale? Is it more than just coincidental that former heads of democratic states who pushed for an authoritarian government (after losing the election) end up in Florida (that’s where Jair Bolsonaro is)? And how does Gisele figure into all of this?

Rodgers, Out—And Over?

The Green Bay Packers were eliminated from the NFL postseason at Lambeau Field for the second January in a row, except this time it happened in Week 17. The Detroit Lions, who less than an hour before kickoff learned that their playoff hopes were dashed (when Seattle won in overtime), nevertheless played with spirit and fire. You might even argue that Detroit, with nothing left to lose, played with a healthy dose of reckless abandon.

The Lions won 20-16 and you might say that more than a couple fourth-quarter plays were harbingers for Green Bay’s demise: 1) Amon-Ra St. Brown’s third-down leg catch, which kept the game-sealing drive alive, 2) Before that, Green Bay’s Quay Walker being bounced for shoving a Lions’ medical personnel staffer (of all the weeks to know better than to do that…) 3) Detroit going for it on 4th-and-1 when a field goal would’ve made it 23-16 but given Green Bay the ball back, 4) Detroit declining Green Bay’s intentional offsides, which was done so that Green Bay wouldn’t have to waste another play in what would be an inevitable Lions first down 5) Detroit’s gutsy third-down modified hook-and-lateral play, complete with Penei Sewell destruction of a Packer d-back downfield.

What does it all mean? That may have been Aaron Rodgers’ final NFL game (if so, his last pass was n interception). He turned 39 in December. Or, maybe he’ll take a clue from Brady and head south to play in his forties. After all, everywhere is south of Green Bay.

We hear the Las Vegas Raiders need a quarterback. So do the Texans. And Denver, who may install Jim Harbaugh as coach. Stay tuned to your State Farm ads for updates.

Also, Dan Campbell is in danger of turning Detroit into a relevant franchise. You have to be impressed with some of its young talent (Aiden Hutchinson, Sewell) and also with the fire with which the Lions play.

Tom And Tom Again

By far the most intriguing of next weekend’s six wildcard matchups will not occur until Monday night: the Dallas Cowboys at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here’s your index card of cheat-sheet knowledge:

  1. Tom Brady is 7-0 lifetime versus the Dallas Cowboys
  2. The Cowboys are 0-8 in road playoff games since 1992, when Brady was in high school
  3. Brady has been to the AFC championship game 14 times, more than any single quarterback. The Cowboys have been to the NFC championship game 14 times, more than any NFC team. However, Brady and the Cowboys have never met in the postseason
  4. And Dallas has not been to a conference championship game since Brady was a freshman at Michigan(Basically, the Cowboys owned the NFL before Brady arrived and he has owned it since)
  5. Both teams opened the season, on a Thursday night, against one another in the same venue: Tampa Bay won 19-3. It was one of only two wins the Bucs had this season versus playoff-bound teams.
  6. This is Brady’s first regular season with a losing record (8-9) since his rookie year of 2000 when he only attempted three passes, completing one.

Stock Bits

Not for nothing, but have stocks hit bottom? Take a look at three popular-then suddenly unpopular stocks of recent vintage:

A) META (the artist formerly known as Facebook): $88/share on Nov. 4, $131 this morning. That’s a 55% leap.

B) RIOT (crypto block chain company that may or may not be ethically compromised): $3.25 on Dec. 28, $4.91 this morning. That’s a 51% jump.

We’re not advising anything. Just pointing stuff out.

Dollar Quiz

  1. True/False: Madagascar is larger than Spain.
  2. What number did Dick Butkus wear for the Chicago Bears?
  3. Ethiopia and Malaysia: both Northern Hemisphere, both Southern Hemisphere, or one of each?
  4. Name two TV shows that deployed a 3-by-3 box setup.
  5. Two men whose faces are on U.S. currency were involved in and shot in duels. Name them.

IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

by John Walters

Is Anyone Out There Doing Their Jobs?

Allow me to save you thousands of dollars and hundreds of man-hours by distilling reporting into one sentence, a command, actually: ANSWER THE SIX QUESTIONS.

That’s the job, folks. That’s all there is to it.

Who?
What?
When?

Where?

Why?
How?

That’s it. That’s all every story, and any story, needs. The rest of it is just garnish. Alas, far too often, and particularly this week in terms of the Damar Hamlin saga, most of the meal has been garnish. And a couple of sports media reporters that I know of, people with national platforms, lapped up the garnish as if it were a meal and then walked back to the kitchen to shake the chef’s hand and exclaim, “Bravo!”

And that is sad.

Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

We must begin with ESPN for a couple of reasons: 1) The incident occurred on its airwaves and 2) ESPN proclaims itself as the “worldwide leader in sports” and this was easily the biggest sports story of our nascent year.

Three of the six questions are elementary and any of the millions of Americans who had tuned in to Monday Night Football to see the Buffalo Bills at the Cincinnati Bengals could answer them within seconds of the collision between Tee Higgins and Damar Hamlin taking place. In fact, if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that I already answered them in that previous sentence.

WHO: Bills and Bengals, specifically Hamlin and Higgins.

WHERE: Cincinnati, specifically Paycor Stadium (we miss the days before naming rights were re-awarded on a seemingly annual basis…we miss the days before naming rights, period)

WHEN: Monday Night Football, specifically the first quarter of the game.

It’s the last three questions that distinguish true reporters from hacks, and this is where ESPN failed miserably, as have those who rushed to pat them all on the back.

WHAT: Well, there was a seemingly innocuous tackle in which Hamlin brought Higgins down but Higgins helmet appeared to strike Hamlin directly in the chest. Higgins stood up after the tackle, then a moment later appeared to do a trust-fall backwards. Bills medics observing immediately noticed that something was amiss and communicated to one another that they needed to reach Hamlin immediately.

ESPN, as the rights-holder to this game, had licensed access to the footage. And yet, as if to spare our delicate, handfan-waving sensibilities, opted to not air the footage. Which is completely irresponsible.

Let me take a moment of digression here:

No person with an IQ higher than the combined score of the game at that moment (7-3) needs to be reminded by Ryan Clark or anyone else that a human life is a precious thing. Anyone reporting on the event and sticking to the six questions, and also endeavoring to answer those six questions (i.e., his or her job) is no less empathetic or humane than anyone who makes a public showing of support for the recovery of Hamlin. Or prays on air on his behalf, as Dan Orlovsky did. The fact that you are answering those six questions, or attempting to, does not make you any less sensitive. It simply makes you a professional.

In a sentence: ESPN needed to air the hit. Not on a loop. And not to be exploitative. But to inform its audience why we were at this impasse and to illustrate what had happened. Even if just airing it once per SportsCenter. So, thousands or tens of thousands rushed to Twitter or TikTok or YouTube to uncover the footage that someone in Bristol (and perhaps the league offices in NYC) didn’t want us to see. It’s the same reason Pentagon officials during Vietnam blew their tops when bodybags were shown being loaded onto planes in Saigon. It’s not the war they are against; it’s the chance that transparency might just turn public opinion against the war. That is what the Pentagon or the NFL or even ESPN is really at odds with.

HOW: The answer to this question often overlaps or gets confused with WHY. For our purposes, I like to think of HOW as “HOW DID IT HAPPEN?” and WHY as “WHY DOES THE AUDIENCE CARE ON A VIEW FROM 30,000-FEET LEVEL?” That is, what are the greater issues at play here beyond the incident itself.

So, back to HOW: My guess is that neither Scott Van Pelt nor Ryan Clark nor Lisa Salters nor any of the team-based reporters for ESPN.com (Have you noticed how they’re all so young? If you’re curious as to why, you may want to think about salaries versus experience and the potential risks ESPN exposes itself to by putting such relatively inexperienced reporters on air on a story of such magnitude, where a life literally hangs in the balance). Anyway, how a seemingly typical NFL hit led to a player not breathing is not a question for anyone but a medical professional to address. Of course, Van Pelt, a consummate professional, was above speculating as to the cause of Hamlin’s distress. That’s smart. But where his producers hung him and the rest of ESPN out to dry was by not being able to locate a single medical professional to opine on this.

America is watching. America is asking, What about that hit led to this dire predicament. HOW? And ESPN is not even pretending to bother to care to answer that question. ESPN brings on its Bills reporter, who talks about how popular Hamlin is in the locker room. That’s great, but if Hamlin were a complete ass, would she have mentioned that? Moreover, is any of it relevant in the moment? No. It’s garnish. It’s tap dancing as ESPN waits for some real news.

CNN, not a sports channel per se, was up against the same after-midnight-on-a-Monday-night constraints that ESPN was, and yet CNN was able to located two emergency room physicians who spoke directly, yet with restraint, about what the most likely medical causes of Hamlin’s cardiac arrest were. And it wasn’t wild speculation to say that Hamlin had gone into cardiac arrest. After all, Bills staffer were seen giving him CPR. This was not off-the-cuff speculation by these physicians with decades of experience. It was an educated diagnosis, and it was dispensed with the caveat that they did not know for sure. This is not irresponsible. It is informative.

WHY: This is almost always the most difficult question to tackle. But before we do, let’s address something that should be common sense but for the sake of the Twitterati, needs to be said. Every time you return from a commercial break, whether you’re Van Pelt or CNN or anyone with an FCC license, you repeat the headline (“A Buffalo Bills player appeared to suffer a life-threatening injury during MNF”) and you provide the latest update on Hamlin’s condition. You note that the hospital where he is staying will not be holding a press conference and you assure your audience that as soon as any credible source is able to provide an update, you will share it.

Then you answer the WHY? Why is this important? Well, for context, it has been more than 50 years since the one and only NFL player to die in the course of playing a game, Chuck Hughes of the Detroit Lions, did so. You note that these are two of the top three teams in the AFC and that the incompletion of this game creates a conundrum for the NFL, in terms of playoff seeding, with one week remaining in the season. Such a situation is, as far as we know, unprecedented.

Is that more important than the life of Damar Hamlin? Of course not. Does that need to be repeated to us as if we are five year-olds? I think not. Every time there’s a serious traffic accident, someone is taken to the hospital and maybe they die en route, or were dead at the scene, but the police there are still responsible for creating an avenue for traffic to continue. The motorists do not all turn off their engines, alight from their cars and form a prayer circle. And the police are not doing their jobs if they don’t put up cones and find a way for traffic to continue. They don’t pause, assess the gravity of the accident, and then decide whether or not to do their jobs. Because it’s not a policeman’s job to pray or to remind other motorists how precious life is in that moment. It’s his job to make sure the paramedics are able to access the scene, get in and out as soon as possible, and then to keep traffic moving. This is why the first call is after an accident is to police and paramedics and not your pastor.

*****

The true irony of the day, and it’s not something I expected ESPN to mention but perhaps some sports media writer (besides this one), should have, is what transpired earlier that day on the same network. In the fourth quarter of the Cotton Bowl between Tulane and USC, ESPN took a moment to reflect on the odyssey of former Tulane football player Devon Walker, who had been paralyzed after making a play in 2012. ESPN showed a still photo of the hit, and I think they aired footage (or maybe it was a photo, I’m not sure now) of Walker being administered CPR. Then they cut to a live shot of the wheelchair-bound Walker watching the game and spoke of how he’d gone on to earn a master’s degree. One of the ESPN announcers intoned about how life is not about what happens to us, but how we react to it. ESPN, the worldwide leader in sermons on the mount.

There’s nothing wrong with doing that story. At all. But maybe mention that Walker’s case is a blunt reminder of what a dangerous game these young men play. Not long after, a USC defensive back crashed into a Tulane wideout, helmet to helmet, after a catch. Both players fell to the turf and lay limp for a few moments. Were both players knocked out? Had one or more of them suffered a neck injury? Nobody knew in the moment.

ESPN re-aired the hit. As they needed to. It was a decisive moment in the game. It was also a far more brutal hit than the one between Hamlin and Higgins. Football is a violent sport. We all knew that, didn’t we?

(At this point I must leave… I’ll try to return and continue later)

IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

by John Walters

San Francisco Bey

In San Fran, Saddiq Bey of the Detroit Pistons splished the Splash Brothers. The 6’7″ Bey hit an off-balanced three-pointer after taking an inbounds pass with 1.0 on the clock to give the Pistons a 122-119 win at the Chase Center. Moments earlier, Klay Thompson had buried a game-tying three to knot the score at 119 apiece. The Warriors trailed almost the entire game.

Once again, the NBA is koo koo. The Warriors entered the game with the NBA’s best home record 17-2. The Pistons were 10-30. It was Golden State’s first home loss to a sub-.500 team this season (the others, to West-leading Denver in October and to Indiana last month). All of this chaos took place inside while outside San Francisco was being racked by a hurricane bomb of a storm with 55 mph winds, etc.

Sure, upsets can happen but in this NBA one seems to occur on a nightly basis. There’s no sense of urgency when an 82-game season serves only to cleave the bottom third of each conference. Teams are far more concerned with stars resting, first of all (Steph missed yet another game) and being focused when April comes. All of these winter months are pure prologue, like how Rocky Balboa suggests to Hulk Hogan that they just dance around the ring and give the folks a decent show. Remember?

Worth noting: The Dubs and the Suns are now both 20-19 but sports books still have the Suns as the favorites to win the West and the Dubs at No. 3, behind the Clippers, who are 21-18 and in 6th place.

We Need To Talk About Kevin

Just when you thought Joe McCarthy had a lock on “Worst McCarthy To Ever Serve In Congress” (I mean, they coined a term off his surname that is synonymous with gas-lighting and reckless paranoia), along comes Kevin McCarthy. The California Rep. has now lost, as of our count, four five six votes to be named Speaker of The House.

It’s the worst showing for a majority member seeking the Speaker-ship since 1856 (when Chuck Grassley was just a junior member of Congress). Speaker-ship matters for, among other reasons, this is the guy who is third in line for the Oval Office. Just imagine if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris chest-bump and simultaneously experience commotio cordis! Sure, Dan Orlovsky will say a prayer for them on-air, but if they both perish the Speaker would inherit the job. Who was drunk in the framing of the Constitution when they added that clause?

Snow Bowl

For no other reason than that Matt Cashore took yet another magical photo, we present this. Cashore, a Notre Dame alum, is also a licensed pilot. He has mad skillz.

13.5

We were a little surprised to see TCU open as 13.5-point underdogs to defending champion Georgia. The Horned Frogs are being Dangerfield’ed for the second game in a row. A reminder that TCU were the ones up 21-3 in the first half versus Michigan (and they never trailed in the second half despite the Wolverines’ many runs) and that Georgia trailed for all but the final minute versus Ohio State.

Should the defending champion Dawgs be the favorites in LA? Yes. But TCU’s lone loss this season came in overtime and they’ve demonstrated over and over that they are physical and have playmakers. Also, like Georgia, they have a QB who doesn’t wow you on photo day but seems to be able to always make plays when it matters.

We’ll be surprised if this is a double-digit game. We think the boys in the desert were expecting a lot more money to come in on Georgia. This spread, now at 12.5, could be down to 10 or 9.5 by Sunday night.

Dollar Quiz

T.J won yesterday, which gives him two wins, we think. Remember and please: If you have to Google an answer, that’s not what we’re striving for here.

  1. What day marks the first real day of Breaking Bad (there is a flash-forward scene that precedes it that we will not count)?
  2. A 6-4-3 double play involves which three fielders?
  3. Name one professional team on which Bud Grant (still living) played.
  4. In terms of latitude, order these cities from southern-most to northern-most: London, Montreal, Vancouver.
  5. In a game of blackjack, how many cards in the deck have a value of “10?”

IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

by John Walters

Giddey Up!

Aussie ‘baller Josh Giddey, whom neither of us has ever heard of, poured in a team-high 25 points at the middling Oklahoma City Thunder crushed the NBA’s best-record Boston Celtics last night, 150-117. If you needed any more proof that NBA games are a crapshoot thus far this season, this game is it.

The Thunder were minus their one true All-Star, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s averaging more than 30 points per game this year (NBA’s Most Improved Player award goes to….). The rest of the lineup is comprised of duded such as Giddey, or Isaiah Joe, true Witness Protection Plan players. Flyover ‘ballers in a flyover state. Thunder Buddies.

And yet the Thunder crashed, putting ONE FITTY on the mighty Celtics, who do have the league’s best record… even if they’ve now lost to the Thunder and the even worse Magic—twice, at home, in a three-day span in mid-December—in the past three weeks. The Celtics hadn’t lost by 16 all season; the Thunder hadn’t won by more than 16. The Thunder won last night by 33—without SGA.

We wonder if allowing 10 teams per conference into the playoffs has dulled the sense of urgency for players and coaches about the regular season.

Tesla, One Year Later

We realize we have a preoccupation with Tesla, but today marks an important anniversary.

One year ago today, January 4, 2022, shares of Tesla (TSLA) peaked at $402. Yesterday, just before market close, Tesla shares were selling at $104. That’s nearly a 75% loss in value in just one year. Piggyback that with the $44 billion CEO and founder Elon Musk spent to acquire Twitter and, well, no single human being has lost more money in a 365-day span. Ever.

Tesla may be an electric car, but its stock in the past three years has operated more like a rocket ship, like a Space X product. Consider this: as horribly bad as the stock has performed in the past year, it is still up 100% from where it was just before the pandemic began. Three years ago today, it was selling for $30. So it’s still up more than 200% in that time.

A Truth Bomb—At Least Half The Story

It’s worth listening to every word this gentleman has to say about Damar Hamlin’s bonus, his annual salary, the fact that he is not vested and would not receive a pension or health coverage if he were to never play another game. He does not even mention that NFL players are still paid in increments by the game, so that Hamlin would not receive any pay for Buffalo’s final game this season if the Bills were to release him… which they might have done before the age of social media and the public wrath that would follow such a move.

Near the end he says, “So it is all about money.”

No.

Duh.

It’s always all about money, and here’s the other half of this that the speaker, who refers to NFL players as “these young kids,” fails to acknowledge: no one is forcing anyone to play professional football. This man makes the naive and wrongheaded point that since the Bills owner also owns the Buffalo Sabers and is worth $6 billion that these players should be paid more. This is the kind of arguments I’d hear my grad students make last winter and in my head I felt like Rebecca DeMornay in Risky Business: “Go to school, Joel. Go learn something.”

What a company is worth or what its owner is worth has ZERO impact on how you as an employee should be paid (“Well, it should…” “And I should be 6’3″, but I’m not”). I used to preach this to my students, and I’m sure this is one of many reasons I was canceled: A company pays you the least amount of money it possibly has to in order to keep you from leaving for another job. That’s it.

I was paid $4,000 per class at Cronkite, which if you figure for 16 weeks’ work, nearly four hours of class per week, at least double that time for class prep and grading of papers, not counting answering a litany of texts and emails, preparing and grading a final, that comes out to about $20 an hour, not counting gasoline expenses (or hours wasted when your dean schedules one of your classes at 7:30 a.m. and another at 1:50 p.m.). It was a garbage salary, but nobody forced me to take it. And, just like Hamlin, I enjoyed the ego boost of this job and, also like Hamlin, I enjoyed the opportunities it gave me to hopefully improve the lives of others. There’s a self-esteem boost to being known as “professor” or NFL player, but there’s also the opportunity to use that platform to help others. For Hamlin, it was his charity. For me, it was helping young people realize their dream of being in the sports media profession. Not equating our paths, only comparing them.

I wanted to do the job and while ASU has billions in endowment money that it could afford to free up in order to pay qualified professors more, it astutely looks at the market for unemployed sports journalists, Arizona’s sublime weather, and its needs, and factors in that the brand name— Cronkite School (he never attended school there nor did he even finish college himself) will more than offset the fact that it compromises on instructor quality. What 18 year-old or his/her parents is going to know the difference between an instructor with 30 years’ experience in the field at the most prestigious outlets and a 25 year-old who posts selfies of herself at a presser teaching the same course? Not enough to force the folks in charge of Cronkite to make paying qualified profs a priority (also, journalism is one of those vocational choices where three decades’ of experience trumps anyone’s Masters degree, and most PhDs, as anyone in the field knows… but it’s not the true pros making the calls there, now is it?).

Anyone, I seem to have digressed. 🙂

But the point holds. The folks who run the NFL know that Twitter will clutch its pearls for a few days and SVP and Ryan Clark will hold hands and sing kumbaya, but they’re paying Damar Hamlin just enough (actually, much much more) to prevent him or anyone like him (talented athlete with few other truly marketable skills at this age) from saying, “Take this job and shove it.” And they know you’re going to tune in to watch the Bills play on Sunday because underneath the helmet and uniform everyone looks pretty much the same. And it’s the game you love, not the players (the players feel the same about you, by the way).

He’s risking his life to play this game, they say. And this is where I’m reminded of the sage words of Don Draper: “That’s what the money’s for!”

Dollar Quiz

  1. Who was the first president to take office without being elected as president himself (hint: “Joe Biden” is not the correct answer… nor is Gerald Ford)?
  2. Who holds the NFL record for most passing yards in a single game (we’ll accept player or franchise)?
  3. At what SEC school was Bear Bryant a head coach before Alabama?

4. Name major rivers of the world, no two located on the same continent, with four, five, six and seven letters in their names.

IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

by John Walters

The Immaculate Resuscitation

A few thoughts on the scary Damar Hamlin medical emergency, but we are pressed for time this a.m., so much of this may need to be continued later

°First, here’s hoping and/or praying that Hamlin will be okay. The fact that the Buffalo Bills put out a brief statement in the wee hours saying Hamlin, a second-year safety out of Pitt, had suffered a cardiac arrest but had been revived on the field augurs optimism. He is, after all, in peak physical condition. If he survived the first few dire minutes, you’d have to think his chances are good.

°This situation is not unprecedented. Chuck Hughes, a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, collapsed on the field versus the Chicago Bears in October of 1971. Hughes died. There is an iconic photo of Dick Butkus looking down at him wondering if he is okay.

°If you visit ESPN.com’s home page right now, there is an embedded video up top of Ryan Clark’s on-air segment with Scott Van Pelt from last night. And the good folks at ESPN have used the pull quote, “This isn’t about a football player. This is about a human.”

Respectfully, no. It’s about both.

Ryan Clark won Twitter last night and that’s fine, but it’s also misguided. Ryan Clark is an ex-NFL player and a man bursting with empathy and pathos, and that’s perfectly fine. But it shouldn’t have been the only item on the buffet spread last night.

First of all, it is about a football player because the entire reason Hamlin’s life was/is in danger last night was almost 100% because of a football play. Also, I’d wager at least 90% of America did not know the name Damar Hamlin before last night. They do this morning because he is a professional football player. Does that make his situation any less grave? No. But then report every single accident victim or fatality this way. People die in unforeseen ways daily. Almost all are not even slightly famous. Does your local news chide you for not appreciating that this isn’t about a single-engine plane crash victim, it’s about a human? Please.

°ESPN/ABC has the rights to the footage from Monday Night Football. At the top of the hour of successive broadcasts, they didn’t even show a replay of the play that most likely induced Hamlin’s cardiac arrest. Was this honestly an executive producer’s decision in Bristol? Or did someone from the NFL warn them not to air it while Hamlin’s life hung in the balance? Either way, shameful. Show it ONCE at the top of the show and move on. There was a hit late in the Cotton Bowl yesterday, three plays before the end of the game, that was far more vicious and looked to have knocked out both players at least temporarily. Football is a brutal game. This was not one of those “look away” hits. It was relatively innocuous. Shame on ESPN for not providing newsworthy footage; that’s your job. It’s not to worry about the feels.

Yes, I’m retweeting myself up. Sorry.

° Frustrated, I turned to CNN who were doing two things that ESPN was diligently avoiding: 1) talking about potential medical explanations, and not recklessly. CNN brought in two emergency room physicians who each were careful to note that while their educated opinions were only speculative, decades of experience seemed to suggest commotio cordis, which is when a blunt force to the chest interrupts the heart’s rhythm and causes cardiac arrest. In the two hours I watched SportsCenter, not a single medical expert appeared. 2) talking about the repercussions for the NFL season. Now, is that not as important as a person’s life? Of course. Is it newsworthy? Absolutely. This wasn’t any game. This was the 12-3 Bills at the 11-4 Bengals and with the way the playoffs now work, with only one team getting a first-round bye, the Bills were playing to clinch a week off when the playoffs begin. The Bengals, with a win, still would have an outside shot if Kansas City were to lose next Sunday. Moreover, when would this game be replayed? These are questions you can be sure the NFL is addressing behind closed doors and CNN had Bob Costas on air. Costas, who has a little familiarity with the NFL, discussed these matters.

Does this mean Bob Costas cares any less about the welfare of Damar Hamlin than anyone at ESPN? Hardly. It just means that he understands what his role is in this situation.

°At some point you must wonder if ESPN’s hands are tied because of its lucrative relationship with the NFL and if ESPN feels that it should never do anything to compromise or upset The Shield. If that’s the case, that’s unfortunate. If the folks at ESPN tell you that it is not the case, then they did a poor job of sports journalism last night. Less prayer circles, guys, and more useful information.

Yes, it’s about a human. But it’s also about WHY he was laying on that field, dead were it not for trained medical professionals and an automated external defibrillator (AED). And it’s about WHAT the NFL is going to do going forward.

Thanks much, ESPN, for the condescending tone of reminding me that every tragedy is a human tragedy. I lifted my head just high enough from my plate of buffalo wings to take in the suggestion. If it weren’t for you, I might’ve only worried about how this event affected my Fantasy team and moneyline bet. So, yeah, God bless you. But maybe next time, do your job.

Football is a tremendously violent sport. And maybe it scores so well with audiences, as Marvel movies do, because it comes off as cartoon violence absent of consequences. Last night was a reminder that that’s not so. The NFL is going to love Ryan Clark, as does ESPN and Twitter, for spinning a narrative about how football is some noble cause in which you fight for more than just yourself as if you’re protecting your country’s constitution. That may be what you tell yourself in the locker room.

The reality is, 1) it’s an adrenaline rush to play and 2) it gives more than a thousand men each year the chance to make a salary that it would take them at least 10 to 20 years to an entire career in almost any other job market to make. And that’s fine. More power to them. They’ve earned it. But no one is rushing the beaches of Normandy or Okinawa here.

It’s awful that Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on national television. There’s a place for the comments that Ryan Clark made. However, making it the centerpiece of your coverage as the self-appointed World Wide Leader in Sports was journalistic malpractice. And you don’t get to use the excuse that it was after midnight on a Monday night, because that didn’t seem to prevent CNN from doing its job.

IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

by John Walters

The Smart-est Timeout

Yes, New Year’s Eve’ CFB playoff semis were the best duo yet (let’s remember, it has not even been a decade of this). Just check out the scores: TCU 51, Michigan 45 and Georgia 42, Ohio State 41. The Era of Total Defense is over.

Consider, the third quarter of the Fiesta Bowl alone featured six touchdowns (two by each team) and that the Peach Bowl featured defending champs Georgia overcoming a 14-point 4th-quarter deficit.

And yet, for all of the highlight-reel plays, the pick-sixes, the 50-plus yard TD plays or pass completions, THE PLAY of Saturday night was what you see above. The Buckeyes, up 38-27 with 9:30 to play, face a 4th-and-1 at their own 38. Ryan Day sends out the punt team but they line up in an unbalanced formation. The ball is snapped to the upback, who easily converts the one yard.

First down, Buckeyes, just over nine minutes to play, with an 11-point lead. Pack your bags for Inglewood.

But wait. The play was called dead a heartbeat before the snap. Kirby Smart, from the sideline, noticed the unbalanced formation. Or, more likely, an alert assistant upstairs did and relayed that info to Kirby, who did not hesitate. You trail by two scores with under 10 minutes to play, you figure you’re going to want to save all three timeouts. But Kirby made the decisive call and it turned out to be the right one. And that, as much as any play by Stetson Bennett or any other Dawg, is how come Georgia is off to California as -600 favorites to defend their national championship.

A Twitter follower called this the best timeout in the history of college football. I’m anti-recency bias, but I cannot conjure another timeout that even comes close. Can you?

Charlie Wisdom

Here’s Warren Buffett’s business partner, Charlie Munger, dropping a truth bomb. A couple things: 1) You could have learned this 30 years ago listening to Hannibal Lector mentor Clarice Starling (“What does he do, Clarice?” “He abducts women.” “No. He covets.”) 2) This may be true, but it’s easy for Munger to say he does not envy anyone; he could not spend his fortune if he lived another decade, which he will not.

Barbara Walters

Texted my genius former student, SportsBrain, on New Year’s Eve to say, “Now everyone’s favorite Walters has died” and he replied, “Is this from your mom?” Funny kid.

Anyway, Barbara Walters left us on NYE at the age of 93 (if you had her and/or Pope Benedict in your 2022 dead pool, props to you) and if you only know her from The View, that’s too bad. Walters really was a television trailblazer. In the 1970s and 1980s the “Barbara Walters Special”, semi-regular hour-long shows on ABC in which she interviewed three renowned people, that was must-see television.

Fortunately, Walters left a plethora of clips for younger broadcasters and journalists to learn how it’s done. Walters was never there to concur with her guest; nor was she there simply to antagonize him or her. Walters’ job, and she did it with uncanny aplomb, was to induce the guest to reveal himself. She did so by asking pointed and direct questions, by listening to a response and taking that as her cue, and by having done her homework and then some beforehand. Nobody, man or woman, did it better. One or two (e.g., Mike Wallace) were just as deft but no one was better.

This interview with Donald Trump should be shown in every journalism class there is (although why are you taking a journalism class? Were all the sections of Latin and horse-and-buggy maintenance filled up?).

New Year, Old GOATs

Not surprisingly, the 7-8 Green Bay Packers walloped the 12-3 Minnesota Vikings (the score was 41-3 before the Vikes posted two garbage-time TDs) at Lambeau yesterday. And Tom Brady led the Tampa Bay Bucs to victory after trailing 14-0. New year, old GOATs.

The playoffs began for the Green Bay Packers in early December, after a 40-33 at Philadelphia left them 4-8 and presumably with a DNR tag. Ohh, but this is Aaron Rodgers, people. The Pack have won four straight since then, and suddenly that wild 4th-quarter comeback versus the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau in November—Green Bay trailed 28-14 in the 4th—doesn’t seem so innocuous.

Since the defeat at Philly—the NFL’s top team at the time—every game for the Packers has been win-or-go-home and they’ve won. Next Sunday they host Detroit in what is a virtual wildcard game for both teams. Green Bay is in with a win, while Detroit is in if they win and Seattle loses (unlikely, as the Seahawks host the disappointing LA Rams… defending Super Bowl champs, you may recall).

What people will be mentioning if Green Bay wins is that the two playoff teams in the NFC with the worst records will be Green Bay (9-8) and Tampa Bay (9-8 or 8-9). But those two “pretenders” possess two o the, what, five best quarterbacks ever to take an NFL snap: Rodgers and Tom Brady. And quarterbacks matter, especially in the fourth quarter of playoff games. By the way, the last three Buc wins have featured comebacks from deficits of at least 10 points versus teams that will not be headed to the postseason, for what that’s worth.

Rodgers. Brady. The playoffs. Prepare for Nielsen numbers to explode.

Dollar Quiz

1-6, Match the actress with the Hitchcock film:

A) Tippi Hedren 1) Psycho

B) Ingrid Bergman 2) Rear Window

C) Kim Novak 3) North By Northwest

D) Grace Kelly 4) Vertigo

E) Janet Leigh 5) Notorious

F) Eva Marie Saint 6) Marnie

7. How many clubs play in the Premier League each year?

8. What was unique, arguably a first, when Aaron Judge (Yankees) faced Adam Ottavino (Mets) last season?

9. What individual country suffered the most deaths in World War II?

10. In what city was the first NBA (it was known as the BAA, Basketball Association of America at the time) game played?

Current Standings: Dan Henry, Micah Sage and TJ Miles all have ONE win.

IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

by John Walters

Pele

There are very few one-named legends: Prince, Madonna, Banksy, Snoopy, Secretariat, Cleopatra, Jesus (debatable… as you can go with “H. Christ” or “Of Nazareth”). And then there’s Pele, who passed yesterday at the age of 82.

More than just the greatest ever in his sport (that status may be more debatable following the last month), the Brazilian soccer god was a global ambassador. Not unlike, say, Wayne Gretzky, he introduced his sport to the masses on all six populated continents.

Pele was only 17 years old when he led Brazil to the World Cup title in 1958. The youngest player ever to compete in the World Cup, Pele scored a hat trick in the semi final versus France (Brazil trailed 2-1 when his scoring binge began), the put in two goals versus host Sweden in the final. He’d go on to be a part of Brazilian World Cup championship squads in 1962 and 1970.

This tweet sent out by man currently on pace to shatter Premier League’s single-season scoring record in his rookie year

In the Seventies Pele played a principal role in soccer becoming a U.S. phenomenon as he became the centerpiece of a true global All-Star squad, the New York Cosmos of the NASL. The Cosmos featured fading stars who happened to be the top players their respective nations had ever produced, legends such as himself, Giorgia Chinaglia (Italy) and Franz Beckenbauer (Germany). We were lucky enough to attend two Cosmos games in person along with 77,000 of our closest immigrant or first-generation American friends. We did not appreciate what we were seeing (but then, you can apply that sentiment to most everything, no?).

It was a good long life for a sports figure who belongs up there with Muhammad Ali, Gretzky, and Michael Jordan. Hoping they have bicycle kicks in heaven.

The Extra Topping Was Karma

We did not follow the latest social media contretemps, teen climate activist Greta Thurnberg vs retired MMA fighter/misogynist Andrew Tate, closely, but it became very interesting yesterday. That’s when Romanian police used the video Tate had posted to roast Thurnberg against him by noting that the pizzeria inscribed on a pizza box in his video, Jerry’s Pizza, is a local merchant.

That fact gave Romanian police incentive to hunt Tate down as someone residing in their country and arrest him on multiple sex-trafficking charges. Tate’s listed disciplines are kick-boxing and, believe it or not, chess (his pops was a grandmaster), but it appears Thurnberg’s is jujitsu: using your opponent’s aggression against him.

Three In :03

We’d like to think Buddy Hield informed his Indiana Pacer teammates before the opening tip, “Watch me, I’m gonna make NBA history.” And he did. The fastest three-pointer ever made in terms of how quickly after the game began. We were sorta hoping the Knicks’ Emmanuel Quickley (who scored 36 points himself in a losing effort last night) would establish this mark.

DOLLAR QUIZ

  1. How many Power 5 conferences have a school with a “Wildcat” mascot?
  2. Two iconic films that both had famous actors named Gene (one still living) in their casts. Name the Genes and the films (both Genes were in both films).
  3. In general, what is the purpose of hash marks on a football field?
  4. How many Summer Olympics have been held in the Americas?
  5. Three of the early U.S. presidents died on the Fourth of July. Name them.
  6. Which came first: Boston Marathon, World Series, or Indianapolis 500?

IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

by John Walters

Southwest Airlines Flight Tracker

I cannot take credit for this joke. Props to my old Brophy buddy Eric.

Rector, Baker, Caretaker

Occasionally I wonder how my kind-hearted, gentle, friendly Dillon Hall rector, Fr. Joseph Carey, is doing. “Cares,” as we called him, was also my boss senior year, as I was lucky enough to be an RA in Dillon (I didn’t realize then it would be the best job I’d ever have).

Anyway, Cares, 82, now lives in an apartment in Ryan Hall on campus, as this Notre Dame Magazine article shows. A ’62 alum of Notre Dame, Cares has discovered baking in his retirement and uses it as a way to welcome students and create friendships and a sense of home, and community. I’m probably missing out on a plethora of confectionary puns here (“it’s refreshing to catch a priest with his hands in a literal cookie jar”), but I’m not up to it.

For you sports fans, Cares was the rector at Dillon when Pat Walsh, creator of the “Catholics vs. Convicts” t-shirt, resided there. On the day Pat hauled in more than $35,000 in T-shirt sales from the Oct. 15, 1988 game, he stashed the money with Cares (who put it in his safe) so that he could head out to party without worrying about it. That’s what was always cool about Cares; he has never forgotten how it feels to be a student.

Future Star: Quinshon Judkins

Truth: we’ve watched less than 10 minutes of bowl action this month and we’re not afraid to say that the glut of bowls, plus the playoff, has turned us off to most of them. Particularly any before, say, December 30th. ESPN and Twitter is just an echo chamber of “All the bowls are awesome” and if you let them influence you, you may begin to question your common sense and good judgment. Just because normally sensible Matt Barrie says it’s so doesn’t mean it is. What else is he going to say? He makes good money via Mickey Mouse.

Anyway, the 10 minutes we saw was the Texas Bowl, where Texas Tech beat Ole Miss. What stuck in our noodle was the play of Mississippi frosh RB Quinshon Judkins and the graphic that only one SEC freshman running back has only rushed for more yards in a season: Herschel Walker.

Judkins finished the season with 1,568 yards rushing; Walker, 1,616.

Good company (at least as far as college rushers go), indeed.

Judkins is from Pike Road, Alabama, a suburb of Montgomery. How did Nick miss on him?

Talent Poole

This play/maneuver by Golden State guard Jordan Poole got lost in the hysteria of Luka Doncic’s 60-21-10 game two nights ago. Also, ESPN isn’t much on showing below-the-rim mastery. But it needs to be seen to be believed. Twelve year-old me would’ve been on the court the following day working on this until I had it down… which would’ve been tough since there was no Twitter or YouTube allowing me to watch it repeatedly.

$1 Quiz

This dude is not among the first answers, but we like that he took his official presidential portrait nursing a hangover

1-6 At least six U.S. presidents have had the same last name as a president who preceded them. Give the last names.

7. True-False: every retired NBA player with a 60-point game is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

8. Who was the lead singer of Mudcrutch?

9. The element with the lowest atomic number is ________________.

10. What MLB park has the furthest fence from home plate (two possible answers) (team, city or park name acceptable).

IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

by John Walters

Luka Here!

60-21-10

It’s not just that Mavs unicorn Luka Doncic just put together the most prolific triple-double in NBA history, it’s also the play he made at game’s end to send Dallas’ game versus the New York Knicks into overtime.

Top three Lukas, ranked:

3. The one who lives on the second floor

2. The one who sleeps with the fishes

1. The one who plays for the Mavs

Take note that, like Michael Jordan, Doncic was the third player chosen in his year’s draft (2018). Taken before him were Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley, each of whom had Arizona ties. If you listen closely, you can still hear me wailing, “Noooooooooooooooooo!” at the Suns’ pick.

Grounded

We’re not really up on why Southwest Airlines has had to cancel thousands of flights this week beyond the weather conditions, we only know that American travelers handle such disappointments with aplomb and good humor. So we’re sure airports have been sanctums (sancta) of peace on Earth and good will toward men this holiday travel season.

You think maybe Southwest flight attendants aren’t showing off that trademark cheeky humor this week?

The $1 Quiz*

*No Googling or on-line searching, please

Current leader board

Dan Henry…….. 1

********

  1. Name a state capital that begins and ends with a vowel—but not the same vowel.

2. From most ancient origin to most recent, put in order the four major U.S. pro sports leagues.

3. What university inspired the helmet design that Michigan uses?

4-7. Name a land-locked country on at least four different continents

8. Looking at the events of Pulp Fiction chronologically, as opposed to how it actually plays, what is the last line a character speaks?

(Grading may be delayed today… just a warning)

IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

by John Walters

Three Cheers For The Arsenal

Two of the more incredible and under-covered sports stories of the past few months: 1) the utter dominance of the Boston Bruins (in yesterday’s MH) and 2) the fabulous first half of the Premier League season turned in by Arsenal. Nick Hornby’s favorite squad (it is this London-based club, after all, that was the inspiration for Fever Pitch) are 13-1-1 through 15 matches.

The top four clubs in Premier League qualify for the following season’s Champions League, and Arsenal has not even finished in the top four since the 2015-16 season. The last time they won the Premier League was in 2003-04, when they did so without losing a single match… that squad was rightly nicknamed “The Invincibles.”

The Gunners are doing it, as most successful sides do, via teamwork. They don’t have a single player in the top 10 in scoring but have two in the top three in assists. Also, they’ve allowed just 12 goals in 15 matches. Only Newcastle United (11 goals against) has allowed fewer and the Magpies may be an even better story: they’re currently in 2nd place. Newcastle F.C. has been relegated twice in the past 15 seasons and last finished as high as 2nd in 1997.

Not referees; that’s just Newcastle’s kit

Arsenal hosts Newcastle, their first meeting of the season, a week from today.

From the Gunners’ Wikipedia page: “Arsenal was the first club from the South of England to join the Football League in 1893, and they reached the First Division in 1904. Relegated only once, in 1913, they continue the longest streak in the top division,[6] and have won the second-most top-flight matches in English football history.

Diggs’ Town

Great story here with Buffalo Bills’ wideout Stefon Diggs.

After that post, Diggs tweeted the following:

Should Will Tom Brady Retire?

J.J. Watt announced his retirement today. Watt, a defensive end every bit as revered as a person as a player, is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and can have a long and successful career in front of the camera in the years ahead. J.J. Watt who, like Tom Brady, played part of his college career in Michigan and also in the Big Ten (Central Michigan, then Wisconsin), is 33.

Tom Brady is 45 and I don’t need to introduce you to him. But the question is, do you believe he will retire? On the one hand, it’s no longer as if he feels the pressure from his wife to step aside. Let’s look at the stats for ’22, which are every bit as contradictory as the Bucs being in first place this late in the season with a losing record.

Brady is 4th in the NFL in passing yardage with 4,178. Only Pat Mahomes, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, all in their 20s and all Pro Bowl-level QBs, are having more prolific seasons through the air. Brady is No. 1 in completions, but that’s actually a damning stat because if you look below the surface it means that he has a low yards-per-completion figure. In fact, his 6.2 yards per completion rate ranks 30th in the league: only Kenny Pickett and Kyler Murray, both of whose teams are having miserable seasons, are worse.

Brady is 23rd in QBR and his 21/9 TD/INT ratio is nothing special. The Bucs are 15th in yards per game and 15th in points per game. A middling offense that has turned it on in the fourth quarter just enough this season—against bad teams, it should be noted—to remain in the playoff chase. Tampa Bay’s best win all year was in Week 1, when they shut down the Cowboys, 19-3.

Still, there’s a very short list of QBs currently playing whom you’d rather have taking snaps if you’re trailing by a touchdown or less in the fourth quarter. TB12 is certainly still among the top-third in that category.

Our prediction: Tom Brady will sign up for another year. Why not? He feels good and he still plays above the league median. And if he retires after this season? His farewell game could very well be a playoff game in the Bay Area, not far at all from the home in which he was raised.

The $5 Quiz

During my instructor days at a college in the American southwest, I’d begin each class with a “Five Dollar Quiz.” The concept is simple: I’d give the students a handout with questions, some pertaining to sports, some not. The first person to hand in the quiz with all the questions answered correctly won $5. There would be a time limit. More often than not, no one would win the $5.

Why did I do it? A few reasons: 1) Routine. Students like a certain amount of routine, 2) To calm everyone down and garner their attention at the start of class, 3) Because smart students like intellectual competition just as much as jocks like athletic competition, 4) Because we all might learn something, 5) Because I always stressed that being a journalist was one of the few occupations where there was literally nothing you could learn that could not potentially be of some use to you, so soak up all the knowledge you can.

(One student, mid-semester, decided to change his major out of journalism and thus dropped my course. He wrote me a nice note saying that his family was going to miss doing the $5 Quiz around the dinner table.)

Most of my $5 Quizzes now exist behind that school’s log in (I have been blocked) but I did save a few to my personal documents file. So I thought I’d make it a game for you. First person to answer the questions correctly (in the comments) will win $1 and we’ll keep a running tab of who’s in the lead. You game? Here goes:

1-5: Name five countries whose names are four-letter words.

6-7: Name two former New York Yankees whose names are associated with medicine.

8. What is an eagle in golf?

9. Which of these college football conferences is numerically accurate: Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12? 

10. What country claims Winston Churchill as its own?

11-14 (Connect)

Female grad                                           Alumnae

Male grad                                               Alumni

Female grads                                         Alumnus

Male grads                                             Alumna