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Posted on: April 6, 2013 12:06 am
 

Tony Romo, Cowboys "It" Man?

Vince Lombardi is famous for saying “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Point in fact, it wasn’t one of his proudest moments.

For starters, the legendary Packers’ coach borrowed the line from adorable & talented child actress Sherry Jackson. She uttered the famous words sitting next to the lovely Donna Reed in the John Wayne movie “Trouble Along the Way (‘53): “Like Steve says (her Dad), winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

And then there’s the other thing. The line doesn’t exactly make sense. If victory is the “only thing,” that’s “everything” too, right? Right.

What bothered Vince was the wrong impression it gave people. It made him sound like a narrow-minded, boob-head who couldn’t appreciate the reality of sport, which is: a team can play with heart, play smart and still come-up-short. The effort oughta’ count for something and in reality Vince knew as much.

And in the ‘come-up-short’ department not many NFL’ers have a bigger office with a nicer view and supportive staff than Mr. Tony Romo.

To the surprise of few (count chatty teammate DeMarcus Ware among that tiny group (Sirius XM / 4-4)), Tone came-up-big last Friday when he signed a contract extension which might, depending on health and term triggers, keep him in Big D the rest of his playing career (6Y, $108M, $40M-Gtd (CBS / JK / “Romo“ / 3-29)).

It’s an un-godly sum of money in a sinfully rich game for a quarterback who’s led his team to but one playoff win (‘09) since taking the Cowboy reigns in ‘06, a win quickly forgotten when the following week Dallas got dismantled by the Favre Vikes, 34-3.

To say TR doesn’t deserve such a deal ignores his skill-set and the healthy state of the NFL, meaning, Jerry Jones can afford it. Romo’s put up some terrific tallies in his seven seasons as a starter and has that even-keel persona that keeps coaches & owners happy.

But there are problems.

First off, when you’re America‘s Team, the NFL’s marquee operation, anything less than on-going, title-contention should be unacceptable. It should be.

Second: Tony Romo just doesn’t have it.

And what is “it?” Well, it ain’t what Clara Bow had (‘27).

And it’s not leadership, not by itself, anyway. Romo’s a leader, no doubt on that point. With numbers that have him on pace to best HOF’er Dan Fouts, and three post-season / Pro Bowl appearances in his seven years as a starter, Tony clearly has a director’s skill.

And you don’t need a ring to have “it,” either, though, having one of what’ve become the most grotesquely over-stated pieces of symbolic jewelry on the planet will necessarily vest recipients with all the rights & privileges accorded Super Bowl stars, including “it.”

Men like Fran Tarkenton, Craig Morton, Warren Moon (5 GC), Dan Marino, Y.A. Tittle, Jim Kelly, Dan Fouts, Jake Plummer, Ken Anderson, Doug Flutie (3) and Drew Bledsoe, all came up short in the biggest games of their NFL careers but always left fans believing one more title-run was possible as long as they laced ‘em up and strode out onto that field.

All proof that how you lose, does matter.

Simply put, “it” is an athlete’s passion for winning.

And it’s that passion, a fire in the belly that somehow enables or energizes these quarterbacks in marshaling those skills they need in the big game to lead their men to the promised land.

Sound corny? Not if that’s your man under center.

The pro-Romo camp might say something like this: ‘What else was Dallas gonna’ do, cut Tony? Where would that leave the Cowboys? It’s been slim pickens for quarterback-seekers in 2013 (free-agency & draft) and Tone still gives the Boys their best chance to win.’

True enough. It’s been a seller’s market for QBs of late.

But standard-bearer clubs ought never settle for ‘good enough’ and Romo’s just not cuttin’ the mustard, or, as they say in the Lone Star State: ‘That dog won’t hunt.’

Because you can’t always draft a Troy Aikman or pick-up a known commodity like Peyton Manning, sometimes you just gotta’ roll the dice on an unknown or unproven.

Conduct yourself like a professional for nine seasons and Jerry Jones will take care of you. That’s fine. But Jones’ responsibility goes well beyond Tony Romo. He owes a duty, like every owner, to his fandom, and in his team’s case that runs coast-to-coast.

And Jerry’s coming dangerously close to breach.

It’s his $1.3B Cowboys Stadium (‘09) and its high-falutin hosting-capacity (‘14 Final 4 / ‘15 FBS?) that’s become Jones’ crowning achievement, his pride & joy while he appears content to live off past glories (’92-93, ’95). And keeping Tony on board helps keep the lid on things. Tone may not win you a title but he will keep you outta’ the pishadoo.

So what’s done is done. Romo’s gonna’ be ridin’ point in Arlington for a few more drives and as of this writing no serious plan in the works for a Cowboys' quarterback competition this summer.

If there’s one sport where a less-than-great team can grab the victor’s laurel, it’s the NFL: win your division (NFC East no biggie (NYG rates)), get a RD1 bye and you’re just three little ol’ wins away from hoisting hardware. A veritable EZ-Pass post-season highway.

And if someone can get Jerry’s attention away from stadium scheduling, just long enough to wheel & deal a tighter Dallas D and fashion a reliable run-game, Tone just might bag that Lombardi trophy. Stranger things have happened. Who besides the Ravens thought Joe Flacco was gonna’ hoist last February?

One thing Tony might keep in mind when living on the links this off-season: “Winning isn’t everything” but ring-holders always get the best tee times and that means at least two strokes off your score. Think about it, Tone.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: March 29, 2013 1:25 am
 

MLB Family Feud '13

Wherever people cluster there are bound to be skirmishes.

At the dinner table, school, the workplace, your barber shop, …any place people come together. It’s human nature: different brain-matter, different opinions and then the verbal wrangling ensues.

Sometimes the tension runs like an undercurrent, out of public view. The conflicts that spring up can be as measured as a bow-shot at sea or as lengthy as the Thirty Years’ War (1618), as acrimonious as the ugliest divorce or low-key as a game of croquet.

And baseball’s no exception.

While MLB’s fiscal state is robust ($5B ‘12) and is set to raise the curtain on 2013 Sunday night (3-31 / ESPN) as the Rangers mosey on down to Houston to take on intra-state rival and new Junior Circuit member, the Astros, things are not all hot dogs & cerveza in America’s national pastime.

There are sore-spots that fester, some with a history, some just starting to take shape. Not likely any of these hot button topics triggers a clubhouse fisticuff but try broaching any of ’em with players & coaches and you’re likely to get an ear full.

WBC (World Baseball Classic)

Classic case of wishful thinking, as in, ‘We (MLB) wish the international format, so successful in the World Cup, can work for baseball too.’ Wish upon all the stars your “heart(s) desire” fellas, but even Jiminy Cricket won’t underwrite that dream.

Baseball’s global popularity explains why the WBC has met with worldwide applause since its debut in 2005. But state-side, the tournament barely makes a ripple in the sea of US sport news as fans are indifferent and players not exactly lining-up to participate.

Maybe if MLB went all in, making the WBC a real world series where each nation’s league champion team (‘12 Giants (MLB), Leones (LIDOM), Giants (NPB), etc.) was a participant, rather than a compilation of native players (WC), it might be better received by the American public. One thing is certain, its intrusion upon our beloved spring training traditions in Florida and Arizona, as minimal as it is, does not help the sell.

Sabermetrics (or Billy Beane baseball)

The dogfight between saber-heads & traditionalists flies under the radar but constitutes baseball’s war of philosophy.

Stats have always been a big deal in rounders, nothing new or contentious there. Just check the backs of older Topps cards: NFL versions are numeral-poor while MLBs are jam-packed with figures. Numbers were big in 1880 and they’re still big today.

But saber-heads kneel at the alter of the Holy Digit, spouting the ‘numbers never lie’ mantra while intolerant of other sporting faiths. They view baseball through the eyes of an accountant, dissing the subtle strategy, the history and humanity of the game, always favoring quantity over quality, numbers over nuance. If that reads a little harsh, go a few rounds with one of ‘em and see if it isn’t a pretty accurate assessment of the type.

Who’s winning the war? The battle of ideologies flares up whenever Cooperstown is the subject. By that measure (vote results), I’d say we’re in trench warfare.

PEDs (performance enhancing drugs)

Confused on MLB’s drug testing policy? If you answered yes, you’re not alone, if no, clue me in because I’m kinda’ lost. Thought I had it down last year when they were supposedly drawing blood from every player in spring. Then this winter they announced a new testing twist, a plan to start taking “random” samples during (?) the 2013 season.

Bottom-line: While baseball’s testing policy seems half-measured and a bit of a shell-game (See; MLBPA), they remain the one major US sport who is taking action and making progress. They’re catching some of the slugs, likely deterring others and may someday arrive at a clear, consistent and complete PED prevention policy.

The antagonists: users, pushers, enablers and faux-sport fans vs. everybody else.

Who’s winning this war? Given the persistence of drug peddlers, a cheater’s mentality that’s in vogue and a public that grows more & more dispassionate about anything that’s not TV, gizmos, food or drink, I’d say the crusaders have a long fight ahead. But they’ve drawn a line in the sand and they’re not giving up this time.

Some crusades will end. Saladin and Richard the Lionheart were warriors but also brave visionaries. They knew when to make peace (1192), even if others failed to heed their wisdom (4th Crusade). But if you really love baseball and care about the health, the well-being of children who will someday fill its ranks, this is one crusade we can’t quit on.

The DH Rule

After a period of dormancy, the designated hitter debate is heating up again. That can only mean one thing: someone’s got dollar signs ($$) in their eyes and has deployed an advance force (media) to help prepare the way.

I dislike the DH but have come to accept, even appreciate, its status as a distinguishing trait (vs DH-free National) and fixture of the American League.

Some believe an NL-DH is “inevitable” (3-5 / Jaffe / “True Grit” / SI). I’d say it’s as “inevitable” as abandonment of day-game World Series (’87), football gear in the batter’s box, dangerous maple bats and the AL-DH (’73). In a sport that used to respect its traditions and League distinctions, we fans asked for none of these changes (inter-league) supposedly needed for good of the game. Hogwash.

What fans and the game need, want, and what they get are all very different animals.

Tradition giving way to common-sense change (bat-helmets) and even some profiteering, if it also profits fans (NCAA field: 32 to 68), is a standard all of us can accept.

Just as I won’t oppose progressiveness solely on basis of tradition, I just as surely won’t ditch a tradition merely for sake of change and making change ($) for the greedy few.

In a sport where the home run derby is its biggest event and bunny-hop celebrations make most viewers cringe, the on-going debate over the designated hitter rule actually pumps life into the game, giving it a visceral edge, in opposite of what agents-of-change would have you believe when mocking what they’d call a behind-the-times National, a League who’s been easily dispatching their DH devoted AL rival in recent Series play.

If proponents get their way and force the rule on the Senior Circuit they can kiss goodbye the ‘national pastime’ moniker for that arrogant act will signify the last nail in the coffin that buries what semblance of League distinction remained, along with a good part of history with it.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Posted on: March 13, 2013 1:39 pm
 

Friendship Fleeting in NFL Flux

Losing your best friend has always been tough, whether you’re eight or ninety-eight.

They write songs about it and plenty of ’em: See; “Popcrush.com.” I’m not embarrassed to say I knew not one of PC’s top-ten “best friend” songs until the last one on the list (#1): The Jackson 5, “I’ll Be There” (’71). Funny thing is, that’s ‘bout time I lost a best friend.

I must’ve been around seven or eight.  Typical age for your first shocker?

I think it was summer and I’m walking home. I get to my 'girlfriend' Carolyn’s house (first girl I’d kissed) and she’s on her porch with another neighborhood friend, Erik. She calls me over and drops the bomb: “Steve,” she says, “Erik’s gonna’ be my boyfriend now.”

Erik was a major doofus who’d earlier stolen my baseball cards so I wasn’t too surprised he was involved, but Carolyn’s betrayal, that threw me for a loss. Backstabbers & gossips are the culprits when buddies suddenly go bust but you’ve still gotta’ earn your friends. Maybe Erik put a knife in my back or maybe I’d just been neglectful and Carolyn wanted to rattle my cage, hoping I’d protest. But I never the saw point.

The point here being, losing a friend can be a big hurt.

In the NFL it’s never as personal as my tiny tale but the consequences can be weighty.

No friendship in football carries more weight than the symbiosis between a quarterback and his favorite receiver. And the big guys in the trenches who protect their field general? They’re good friends too, but that ain’t this.

I can’t recall a time in recent memory when this many highly productive QB / top-target relationships were coming asunder or subject of serious separation speculation.

The short list:

Wes Welker (Patriots and Tom Brady): 9 yrs. (‘04); Sure-handed, high-volume possession receiver of an exceptional quarterback, recovered nicely from recent a knee bang but beginning to grow fangs (age) and expects / deserves small king’s ransom.

Victor Cruz (NY Giants and Eli Manning): 3 yrs. (‘10); Young, speedy, confident deep threat for terrific QB whose early results impress but saw average (12.7 / 18.7) & yards (1092 / 1536) drop-off considerably in ‘12. Exchange-rate (1-RD) makes Victor costly.

Greg Jennings (Packers and Aaron Rodgers): 7 yrs. (‘06); Another trophy-receiver for star QB who was building HOF resume when injury hit in ‘11 (MCL / groin). Questions remain on recovery after long rehab which temper marketability.

Percy Harvin (now Seahawks, formerly Vikings (Chris Ponder)): 4 yrs. (‘09);

Mike Wallace (now Dolphins, formerly Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger)): 4 yrs. (‘09);

Anquan Boldin (now 49ers, formerly Ravens (Joe Flacco)): 10 yrs. (‘03).

Goodbyes began in earnest Monday when talented but troubled Harvin and salary-cap cut Boldin were both sent Northwest. Vikes appear the better for their trade: 1) calmer locker-room with hot Harvin history; 2) more money available to cover (cut vet Winfield, signed OL Loadholt); 3) got better compensation and 4) Ponder was coping without Percy Electric who missed half of ‘12 (9G / 62 REC / 677 YD) while Flacco relied heavily on AB (380 YD / 4 TD) in Ravens ‘13 post-season run. But Baltimore has an established QB and their 2nd Lombardi.

From player perspective I’m happier if I’m Percy. Everyone wants to win but everyone wants to play, too. If I haul in passes for a living (or run for that matter) I’m not happy sacrificing touches & stats for a ball-hog, run-QB like Col. Kaepernick or RG3. Russ Wilson rabbits too but appears, at this stage anyway, to have a better appreciation for developing the necessary pocket presence and should distribute accordingly.

From team perspectives, much hinges on Harvin’s play-time, compromised in Minnesota due to migraines and other maladies. Stress is a major factor in headaches and pricey Percy has heaped a lotta’ pressure on himself in forcing the trade. One key will be Pete Carroll’s ability to manage emotions, something he’s been quite adept at doing in the past.

Tuesday saw prize pick-up Mike “60 Minutes” Wallace (That’s not Chris Berman IP, is it?) part company with Big Ben and land in Miami where QB Ryan Tannehill played admirably in his rookie campaign on a 7-9 team that some report (CBS (PBP) 2-11) will consider going ‘pistol / no-read-run option.’ I’m sure Ryan is thrilled at the prospect of putting his head & knees at higher-risk. Ugh. As for Mike, at least the money’s great, right?

With free agency in full-swing and draft day on the horizon, NFL wheelers & dealers are moving fast & furious in keeping, cutting loose & casting far for new talent. There will be some painful farewells, joyous exits and hopeful, high anticipation for the new arrivals.

And for those QBs suffering from separation anxiety, remember this kindergarten lesson that never grows old: lose a friend, make another, try to keep 'em happy (and always watch your back).

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: March 6, 2013 11:12 pm
 

Best Story: Blackhawks or Heat?

This was gonna’ be a piece all about the amazing Chicago Blackhawks’ and their stupendous start to abbreviated NHL ‘12-13, but then hoopsters Miami decided to turn-up the Heat on the rest of the NBA and remind everyone who’s boss. Tough call.

Every time I get the scores on these two clubs I’m muttering to myself words like “Really,” “Wow” or “Is that right?” It’s real and it’s right.

As of this writing (3/6) the Blackhawks’ record stands at a mind-boggling 21-0-3, while the Heat have fattened-up their mark to a weighty 45-14 with zero defeats in their last sixteen contests.

So who’s the better storyline, Chicago’s ice-men cometh or the Miami marvels?

Going by the media’s reaction it’s the Heat Express, hands down.

During the streak Miami is winning by an average of 12 points per contest, faring fine in team-rankings for both scoring (5) and defense (10).

While their two biggest threats at this stage in San Antonio and Indiana are absent from the run (L 2/1 @ IND 89-102), the sixteen Ws do include nice wins over serious squads from each Conference including OKC, LAC, LAL, MEM, NYK, CHI and ATL.

Those susceptible to being ‘captured by the moment’ now feel compelled to put LeBron James in the ‘greatest all-time‘ discussion (Kobe shrugs). Such succotash probably puts a wry smile on the face of the savvy Mr. James who’d quickly dismiss the fawning.

Greatest or not, the “merely super-great” James (a Bing-ism) reigns supreme in ‘13 and is big reason why the Heat cook like Rachel Ray on short notice, joining leaders in PPG (27 / 4), assists (10), FG% (8) and rebounds (22), while Dwyane Wade contributes (21.7) and Chris Bosh rebounds lite (7.0). Heat hiccups: an Ass’n worst RPG (38.8) as Eastern rival IND excels (45.7) and disturbing up-tick in LeBron’s 3-pt. tries in opposite of prior trend downward.

Any aspirations Miami has of dynasty can only be realized if James works his business inside (where he’s nearly unstoppable) and passes on the tres-temptation like it was that frosted cupcake calling you for a late-night snack. Gotta’ watch the GERD!

Those residing north of the 49th parallel or folk who favor the checks & balances in the spectacle of skate will vote Blackhawks the better narrative. I concur.

Any team that stays unbeaten for as long as the ‘Hawks deserves the nod. One thing though, the word ‘unbeaten’ is a bit tricky in the NHL, given the three dimensions of play: regulation, overtime and shootout periods. The Chicagoans remain unbeaten in regulation and OT (4), having gone 3-3 in shooters.

As for the point record (24G season-start), I’ve never been a fan of streaks or streakers (bad look in the 70s). That’s especially true when a streak is subject to the whims of official scorers (Joe 56), player discretion (Cal 2632) or stapled onto a prior season (CHI 30 / 35 ‘79-80 Flyers). Pointless.

These Blackhawks impress because of their scoring differential (72 GF vs 41 GA), wealth of goal-tending (Corey Crawford & Ray Emery / 1.73 GAA), resilient, bounce-back ability (COL 3/6) and parlay probably the most talented, diverse trio on ice in Jonathan Toews (C), Patrick Kane and the wily veteran who serves as team bellwether, Marian Hossa.

Chicago’s penalty minutes are where they should be (270 / 18th) but power-play is pedestrian (19.7%). No matter, it’s an over-rated stat. This is where you work in those wise & famous words of Mr. Disraeli: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” Damn the scoring part, it’s killing the PP that matters and in that regard ‘Hawks are fine.

Some compare this Blackhawks’ squad to the 2010 Stanley Cup winners. Fair enough. Many players and coaches (Joel Quenneville) remain. But each team has its own dynamic and must forge its own identity requiring a new assessment. One asset from ’09-10 that will need duplication come playoffs is defenseman-enforcer Dustin Byfuglien, now with Winnipeg. That ‘10 Finals (PHI) was hero heavy but “Big Buff” played a key role.

A lot can change between March and May, but for now, the ‘Hawks and Heat are playing like teams with a destiny and the know-how to grab hold a’ that brass ring and hang-on tight.

Oh yeah, there’s one more thing that makes the Blackhawks’ Cup Quest II the better tale: they display the best uniforms and moniker on the sporting landscape, hands down. So please Reebok Suits & Skirts, hands off.

Steven Keys
Neutral Zone
Posted on: March 1, 2013 12:25 am
 

Mr. Smith Goes to Palookaville

“Babe Ruth is the biggest runner-up in history.”

That’s what the man said, Babe Ruth, a runner-up.

Words from the mouth of sport opinionator Stephen A. Smith last Monday co-hosting with Skip Bayless on ESPN’s hip-hoppin’ morning show “First Take.”

I don’t take-in “First Take” but rarely these days, having been a regular until producers decided the popular show needed fixing and pulled in the welcome-mat for anyone over 35. Then there’s bombastic Stephen, your morning cup of arrogance whose shtick can only be taken in small doses, otherwise PVCs, BP spike and the migraine all set in.

Don’t know if it was chance, old habit or just gluttony for punishment, but I dropped in briefly on FT and Steve was on his soapbox about Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, a man many still consider the career home run champ, now with the dark cloud of PEDs hanging heavy over Bud Selig’s official title-holder, Barry Bonds.

But calling Ruth a “runner-up” to Hank Aaron is like calling Charles Lindbergh “runner-up” to Chuck Yeager or Vincent Van Gogh “runner-up“ to Pablo Picasso. Pure goofball histrionics, or at least, putting too fine a point on Hank‘s accomplishment.

Having fewer career home runs does not a “runner-up” make, any more than Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax are “runner-up” to Bert Blyleven and Gaylord Perry.

Dead for well over 60 years, Babe Ruth’s name recognition stays strong while other stars like Thorpe, Howe, Unitas and Wilt understandably fad a little more with each passing generation. And here’s why the Babe still resonates:

Babe Ruth is holder of the best non-PED enhanced season in MLB batting history (‘21);

The man who when asked why he believed he should make more money than the President (Hoover), answered back: “Because I had a better year than he did.” I wonder how the Bambino and Rosanne would’ve gotten along?

Is credited with saving baseball after the ‘19 Black Sox and A. Rothstein nearly killed it;

Once described as “a parade all by himself (J. Cannon),“ the multi-talented George H. was fast becoming a HOF caliber pitcher with Boston when Ed Barrow and Col. Ruppert put him in pinstripes (‘20) where he single-handedly ushered in the modern era of baseball with his persona, ravenous appetite for all things tasty and his Ruthian clouts;

Head-to-head with Hank in HR-related stats: career HRs (Aaron / 755 (2) - Ruth / 714 (3)); AB per HR (A / 16.38 (38) - R / 11.76 (2)); career AB (A / 12,363 - R / 8,399); SLG% (A / .554 (23) - R / .689 (1)); BA (A / .305 (T147) - R / .342 (T9)); OB% (A / .373 (T222) - R / .473 (2));

The player who, yes Bob Costas, called his home run shot in the ‘32 Series (Cubs);

And the man whose accomplishments on the field of play, and play on the field of pop culture, gave him a such an immense stature worldwide that it’s never been surpassed and debatably been equaled only twice in persons of The Beatles and boxer Muhammad Ali.

Henry Aaron was a tremendous ball-player, arguably top-ten all-time. But had Ruth had a figure at which he could’ve taken aim and hung-on as did Hank, the Babe just might’ve put the homer, RBI and run marks beyond the reach of everyone, Aaron and Bonds included. God knows he still had pop in his bat with the show he put on at Forbes field in farewell (3 HR / ‘35). He just lost the zeal, holding most marks and nothing left to prove.

Why me so sensitive to SAS remarks? Ruth and other old-timers get kicked around pretty good these days by people claiming to be baseball fans. The pre-WW2 era was a different time (segregation), but the challenges faced by way of equipment, medicine, travel, the reserve clause, were incomparable to Barry’s and to some degree, even Hank’s easier time, though he and others (J. Robinson) bore a burden unlike any other class in breaking the color barrier.

Greats like Ruth, Aaron, Josh Gibson, “Three FingerBrown, all transcend time and serve as “runner(s)-up” to nobody. Such talk fills time on First Take but also puts a “one-way ticket to Palookaville” in hand of the speaker. That’s a place for losers in case you missed On the Waterfront (‘54).

Stephen’s a fan of Henry Aaron and has reasonable basis in ranking him greatest home run man. I too am a fan of Hank's, cheering him on as a Brewer at wide-open County Stadium in the mid-70s and feel no less so because I recognize instead Babe Ruth to be the best slugger in MLB history.

Tell me who's the greatest, okay.  Tell me who ain't and we've got a problem, Mr. Senator. 

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Posted on: February 24, 2013 2:11 am
 

Caddyshack & 199 Better Films

On that diamond of dreams we call cinema, the subject of sport is usually a spot player. Though a capable hitter with a reliable glove, even when it manages to make the cinematic line-up card the sport theme rarely hit’s a home run.

That’s not to say there aren’t some fine flicks that employed the sport-vehicle to tickle our funny bone (Tin Cup), tug at our heart strings (The Natural), expose human frailty (The Hustler) or inspire us to greater heights (Rocky). It’s just that, superb sport films come along about as often as the Cubs or White Sox make the playoffs. Not very.

Most have fallen into two categories: slapstick (Kingpin (‘96) / Slap Shot (’77) / The Great Race (‘65)) and sentimental fare (The Pride of the Yankees (’42) / Jim Thorpe: All-American (’51) / The Winning Team (’52)). Heart-felt or fun to watch and usually not worth $14.95 to add it to your DVD collection.

But in the spirit of this year’s 85th Academy Awards gala (ABC / 2-24 / 7E), I present an alphabetical list of the 200 best films this writer has seen on American TV, including that handful of terrific tales of tumultuous merriment that can hold their own against any of moviedom’s finest, from Waterloo Bridge (’40) to Dances with Wolves (’93).

Because I am, like Drew Barrymore, Laura Dern, Regis Philbin, Oprah Winfrey and Alec Baldwin, a fan of Ted Turner’s enormous film library at TCM, the majority of these movies fall into the category of classic. That means I can see a personal movie premiere once, twice, sometimes even three times a week.

So if you can think beyond sabermetrics and revel in the competition of sport, you can enjoy these films. Think of it like this: sport is action, action can be dramatic, drama goes hand-in-hand with romance which, at times, becomes comical or can turn horror-filled where you just wish Scotty would beam you up to sci-fi‘s most luxurious spaceship.

Everything’s connected.

A Cry in the Dark (‘88)
A Face in the Crowd (‘57)
A Family Thing (‘96)
A Raisin in the Sun (‘61)
Alfie (‘66)
Alien (‘79)
Aliens (‘86)
All the President’s Men (‘76)
American Graffiti (‘73)
Amores Perros (‘00)
Anatomy of a Murder (‘59)
Anne of the Thousand Days (‘69)
Annie Hall (‘77)
Apocalypse Now (‘79)
Atlantic City (‘80)
Barfly (‘87)
Ben-Hur (‘59)
Big (‘88)
Blackboard Jungle (‘55)
Body and Soul (‘47)
Bonnie and Clyde (‘67)
Boogie Nights (‘97)
Born Yesterday (‘50)
Brian’s Song (‘71)
Bringing Up Baby (‘38)
Bound for Glory (‘76)
Bride of Frankenstein (‘35)
Bull Durham (‘88)
Caddyshack (‘80)
Captains Courageous (‘37)
Charade (‘63)
Chinatown (‘74)
City Slickers (‘91)
Clash of the Titans (‘81)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (‘77)
Contact (‘97)
Cool Hand Luke (‘67)
Crime in the Streets (‘56)
Cross of Iron (‘77)
Dances with Wolves (‘90)
Das Boot (‘81)
Deliverance (‘72)
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (‘88)
Doctor Zhivago (‘65)
Dog Day Afternoon (‘75)
Dr. No (‘62)
Dr. Strangelove (‘64)
Empire of the Sun (‘87)
F/X (‘86)
Fargo (‘96)
Fat City (‘72)
Father Goose (‘64)
Forbidden Planet (‘56)
49th Parallel (‘41)
French Connection II (‘75)
Gigi (‘58)
Godzilla (‘54)
Gone with the Wind (‘39)
Good Fellas (‘90)
Green Card (‘90)
Groundhog Day (‘93)
Harold and Maude (‘71)
Hell is for Heroes (‘62)
High Noon (‘52)
Highlander (‘86)
Hobson’s Choice (‘54)
How Green Was My Valley (‘41)
Inherit the Wind (‘60)
It’s a Wonderful Life (‘46)
In the Heat of the Night (‘67)
Invasion of the Body-snatchers (‘56)
Ironweed (‘87)
Jackie Brown (‘97)
Jason and the Argonauts (‘63)
Jaws (‘75)
Jean de Florette (‘86)
Jeremiah Johnson (‘72)
JFK (‘91)
Jurassic Park (‘93)
King Kong (‘33)
King Rat (‘65)
Knife in the Water (‘62)
La Strada (‘54)
Lawrence of Arabia (‘62)
Little Big Man (‘70)
Lonely Are the Brave (‘62)
Los Lunes al Sol (‘02)
M (‘31)
Mad Max (‘79)
Marie Antoinette (‘38)
Marty (‘55)
Matewan (‘87)
Meet the Parents (‘00)
Midnight Cowboy (‘69)
Midnight Run (‘88)
Miller’s Crossing (‘90)
Monte Walsh (‘70)
Mr. 3000 (‘04)
Multiplicity (‘96)
Murder, My Sweet (‘44)
Murphy’s War (‘71)
My Brilliant Career (‘79)
National Velvet (‘44)
On the Waterfront (‘54)
One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (‘75)
Overboard (‘87)
Paper Moon (‘73)
Papillon (‘73)
Patton (‘70)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (‘87)
Planet of the Apes (‘68)
Platoon (‘86)
Raging Bull (‘80)
Ronin (‘98)
Ray (‘04)
Red River (‘48)
Sands of Iwo Jima (‘49)
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (‘60)
Shane (‘53)
Some Like It Hot (‘59)
Soylent Green (‘73)
Spartacus (‘60)
Stalag 17 (‘53)
Swing Time (‘36)
Tender Mercies (‘83)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (‘91)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (‘38)
The African Queen (‘51)
The Bad News Bears (‘76)
The Bicycle Thief (‘48)
The Big Country (‘58)
The Breaking Point (‘50)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (‘57)
The Cable Guy (‘96)
The Clock (‘45)
The Corn is Green (‘45)
The Day of the Jackal (‘73)
The Deer Hunter (‘78)
The Exorcist (‘73)
The Fly (‘58)
The Fugitive (‘93)
The Glass Key (‘42)
The Godfather (‘72)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (‘66)
The Goodbye Girl (‘77)
The Grapes of Wrath (‘39)
The Great McGinty (‘40)
The Hidden (‘87)
The Hitch-Hiker (‘53)
The L-Shaped Room (‘62)
The Last Detail (‘73)
The Last Picture Show (‘71)
The Last Round: Chuvalo vs Ali (‘03)
The Longest Day (‘62)
The Love Bug (‘69)
The Maltese Falcon (‘41)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (‘62)
The Man Who Would be King (‘75)
The Night of the Iguana (‘64)
The Naked Prey (‘66)
The Nutty Professor (‘63)
The Out of Towners (‘70)
The Party (‘68)
The Pianist (‘02)
The Pope of Greenwich Village (‘84)
The Poseidon Adventure (‘72)
The Purchase Price (‘32)
The Quiet Man (‘52)
The Red Shoes (‘48)
The Remains of the Day (‘93)
The Searchers (‘56)
The Sound of Music (‘65)
The Sporting Life (‘63)
The Station Agent (‘03)
The Terminator (‘84)
The Thing (‘82)
The Thing From Another World (‘51)
The Third Man (‘49)
The Three Faces of Eve (‘57)
The Verdict (‘82)
The Virgin Spring (‘60)
The Wizard of Oz (‘39)
The Year of Living Dangerously (‘82)
They Made Me a Fugitive (‘47)
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (‘74)
To Have and Have Not (‘44)
To Kill a Mockingbird (‘62)
To Sir, with Love (‘67)
Tootsie (‘82)
True Grit (‘69)
Twelve O’Clock High (‘49)
Viva Zapata! (‘52)
Waterloo Bridge (‘40)
When Harry Met Sally (‘89)
West Side Story (‘61)
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (‘71)
Winchester ‘73 (‘50)
Witness (‘85)
Working Girl (‘88)
Yankee Doodle Dandy (‘42)

Steven Keys
Macro Sport
Posted on: February 18, 2013 4:23 pm
 

Dousing the Olympic $pirit

Wrestlers and frogs. Don’t laugh, they’ve got more in common than you’d think.

And don’t worry, this isn’t a piece about an Ohio sports legend and his strange, dangerous liaisons with small, snapping, water-born critters.

Both grapplers and croakers are known as what zoologists term, indicator species:
 n.
    “A species whose presence, absence or relative well-being in a given environment is indicative of the health of its ecosystem as a whole (thefreedictionary.com)” or, “sensitive animals that are first to go when climate changes (Time.com / “Environment” / JK / 1-23-06).

In a move that left athletes, fans, bakers & bankers worldwide with their jaws dropping in shock, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced last week their decision to strike one of its originals, as in, ancient Greece original, the sport of wrestling from its 2020 program, citing poor TV ratings and ticket sales (AP / “IOC Votes“ / 2-12-13).

IOC spokesman Mark Adams: “It’s not a case of what’s wrong with wrestling, it is what’s right with the 25 core sports” (“IOC“). Whew! And you had me worried there, Marko. We thought maybe y’all didn’t like wrestling. I feel better now. Oh brother.

Mark’s BS reminds me of George Costanza’s standard break-up line that keeps getting co-opted in the “ball-man” episode (Seinfeld): “It’s not you, it’s me.” And it’s much better coming from Marlee Matlin.

In recent years, herpetologists, a branch of zoology (Wikipedia), have been tracking an unexplained disappearance of frogs from ecosystems around the globe. The evolving, generally accepted view is that their habitats are being altered or destroyed by way of pollutants, commercial development and overall climate change.

Now, I’m not saying ‘sensitivity’ is a commonality amongst matmen, but wrestling’s low placement on the commercial totem-pole leaves it very vulnerable to the shenanigans of today’s greedmeisters who are running amok, in the same way amphibians are highly susceptible to golf-course encroachment and the toxins that infiltrate their waterways.

That dinero dictates Olympic business is no surprise. Probably a major impetus for the inaugural modern Games of 1896. Anything that makes the Sportscenter broadcast, from the NFL (1919) to the college cash cows (men’s b-ball & football), were created for, or is today driven by, the profit motive. Money makes the world go ‘round.

But when profit-taking becomes the guiding principle by which the Olympics’ operate, its sole purpose for being, that’s when we know the Olympic spirit is dead and gone.

And you can thank the greedmeisters.

It’s the reason the Super Bowl is delayed an extra week, dulling player senses in the push to pile on profits;

It’s the reason there hasn’t been a World Series day-game in over 20 years and nearly all major sporting events, excepting the racers, have 8PM start times and end near midnite;

It’s the reason long-held, fan-identification with team colors & logos are being forced into retirement by Nike & friends in the name of freshness. I‘m rooting for the hold-outs;

It’s the reason athletes in nearly every pro sport have become walking billboards;

It’s the reason Little Leaguers (wicked metal bats) and anyone at an MLB park (maple shards) are put at greater risk, while wedge-putters and cantaloupe-sized driver heads make manufacturers wealthy and a mockery of the game;

And it’s the reason PEDs corrupts all sport, endangering the health of adults and children alike.

Removing the touchstone that is wrestling is not the first sign of trouble. In fact, it may be the final act that snuffs out what little semblance of spirit still flickered in the Olympic flame.

Not surprisingly, the new Olympic strategy began taking shape in the 1980s when Ron Reagan’s elitist agenda (taken up by Mr. Obama) ruled America and promoted, among others, the concepts of monopoly, out-sourcing and privatization. In that spirit of cha-ching, Olympic handlers acted aggressively to expand the franchise and maximize profits.

In 1984, synchronized swimming became a medal sport, followed by tennis & ping-pong (‘88), badminton (’92), mountain biking (coinciding with National Park policy of “multi-use”) & beach volleyball (’96), trampoline (’00) and BMX (’08). And the winter fare? Same deal.

Serious competitions? Yes. Olympian in style? Most will answer, ‘No.’

The watershed moment occurred in 1986 when the IOC opened its doors to professional athletes and spawned the age of sponsorship (wiki.answers (pbs.org / “IOC” / 7-96)), effectively ending all non-collegiate, amateur sporting competition among ranked, non-government subsidized competitors.

And it’s a move that may have given boost to game-fixing and PEDs.

Weaker, corruptible minds may’ve seen the IOC’s new standard as an alteration of the athletic moral code and used it as excuse to expand their definition of professionalism to include any monetary transaction connected with their sport. Simplified: sport = money.

Amateurism, while far from pure, had given the world a standard of sacrifice, something stronger, a bit more noble. When the Olympics went pro (showcasing snoozy cake-walks like the “Dream Team”), any connection to past ideals went out the window.

I must confess, wrestling has missed my gaze in some Olympiads, though, I could say the same about basketball and the 100 meter dash. Network airing decisions play a part: best time slot, best ratings. What do ya’ know, IOC? But it made me feel good just knowing that visceral events like wrestling were on the slate, making the newer fare more palatable while connecting me to the real Olympic past.

Organizers may yet decide to alter their projected course and re-instate wrestling as a medal sport for 2020, given the icy reception they’ve received since the announcement. No biggie, they’ll just wield their ax on some other supposedly ratings-poor original.

Rumor has it, golf is next in line to join the Olympic club. Yippee. Can MMA be far behind (after giving boxing the boot)? Wait, let me guess: the brutality of MMA does not comport with the Olympic ideal. Standards.

And don’t expect to see any frogs hoppin’ around those Olympic greens. Maybe promoters can fly in the BudweiserÔ toads for a cameo. Beware of the fungicide, fellas. Better yet, maybe “Mr. Gopher,” aka “Varmint Cong” (Caddyshack) can make an appearance, liven things up a bit. You best stay off the course, Carl.

Steven Keys
Macro Sport
Posted on: February 10, 2013 2:24 pm
 

Duke-UNLV '91: NCAA's Greatest

With Super Bowl and Signing Day in rear-view, we gridiron groupies can now dive into those diversions we’ve been giving the short-shrift, the neglected middle-children in our sporting family: hockey and basketball.

College hockey’s at full glide while the NHL’ers are still getting their ice-legs underneath ’em. Fans don‘t realize how hard it is to fisticuff on frozen water. It’s not just having a tireless short punch that wins the melee, the key is skate placement and that takes practice, along with the bruises & lacerations.

The League frittered away half a season dickering over money & duties but surprisingly (or not) kept PED-testing off the table. And who are they kidding? Guess I shouldn‘t be surprised. This is the ice competition that just crowned its 2nd warm, sunny California champion (LAK) in 6 years. Gary Bettman, Ladies & Gentlemen.

On the hardwood, the pros, with their own union-forged PED state, have miles & miles to go before their grueling playoff run in May. Contenders, pretenders, wake me in spring.

College hoopsters are moving closer to their showcase events: the pink-carnation affair (NCAA) and then the consolation-prize tourney (and next season primer), the NIT.

And March Madness is crazy for upsets.

Better get out the Pepto-Bismol ‘cause it looks like that upset feeling is starting early as the top-teams are handling their #1 rankings like they were hot potatoes. Off-track: Never voted for Dan Quayle and his boss but always thought he got a raw deal from the press and that god-awful Murphy Brown character. Potato just feels half-baked without an ‘e.’

More than any other sport festival, the NCAA Division I Basketball Championships seem predicated on the high probability that powerhouse schools will get unplugged by some small-college upstart on their way to being fitted for Cinderello’s glass sneaker.

Bookies and business-types lose sleep just thinking about it but fans can’t get enough.

Shockers aren’t the only defining trait of Madness. Writer Frank Deford (SI.com / “What Makes March..” / 3-9-11) believes “single-elimination” is what makes the tourney a winner.

My own diagnosis: it’s the tournament’s inclusiveness which gives it a lovable lunacy.

The NCAA holds a big dance and (nearly) everyone’s invited.

Unlike the hoity-toity cotillion which is college football’s BCS championship, the men’s and women’s parties are where new stars are found and dreams can become reality. It’s not exactly a Delta Tau Chi bash (Animal House) but more like that dorm party the first week of classes: come one, come all.

Apart from a national crisis, no event in America does more to unify all 50 than Selection Sunday. Excitement-wise, it’s up there with any of the Triple Crowns, the last five in the Super Bowl, final lap at Talladega or Indy500 and the Atlas Stones lift in World‘s Strongest Man. It’s why President Obama’s so keen to publicize his NCAA tourney picks. Savvy man.

And if you can’t find a team to root for you’re not trying.

The Selection gets our attention…the upsets keep us talking.

College roundball has its share of doozies: Texas Western (El Paso / ‘66), North Carolina State (‘83), Villanova Wildcats (‘85) and Princeton (’96) head the list.

But one upset stands out from the rest. It’s not even close.

March 30th will mark the 22nd anniversary of the Duke Blue Devils improbable 1991 NCAA Final Four Semifinal victory over the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV. It remains in this writer‘s memory the most exciting, sublime game in college basketball history. It is the gold standard by which all other NCAA contests must be measured.

Why such high praise for a college b-ball semifinal game? Simply put, this David and Goliath match-up had everything.

For starters, it was an upset of the first order. UNLV was undefeated, showcased Player of the Year Larry Johnson, were riding a 45-game win streak and faced the same school they’d easily brushed aside in the 1990 Final to win their first basketball title.

While Duke was no stranger to the Final Four (their fifth under Mike Krzyzewski, ninth overall), each appearance had ended with a loss. In losing to UNLV in the 1990 Final by a lopsided 103-73 margin, the Blue Devils’ game appeared out of step with the times.

Before tip-off it had all the signs of another massacre.

While the contrasting racial make-ups of the Texas Western / Kentucky squads gave that game serious social overtone, Duke / UNLV was not without its own psycho-drama.

It was ivy-covered halls vs. desert developers; old money vs. Sin City. More weighty was the appearance of favoritism when UNLV was given a pass by the NCAA Rules Committee and allowed into the tourney to defend their title.

Two years earlier Kansas had been denied defense of its own title by rule infractions. The normally no-nonsense NCAA and their new open-door policy for a similarly-situated UNLV smacked of some serious hypocrisy. But then, new money’s as green as the old.

On the surface the Blue Devils conveyed the student-athlete ideal. In reality & interview, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and Christian Laettner appeared no more studious or articulate than the Vegas bunch and emanated the same boyish arrogance as the coming Fab Five.

As for the sideline strategists, when separated from the claims of NCAA Rules police, Jerry Tarkanian was as likeable and skilled as his Dukian counterpart Coach K.

It was on the court where the real difference existed. Duke was ball-control and fundamentals, UNLV was run & gun and dominated inside with strength.

Though a fan of neither team I wasn’t exactly neutral either. Like many, I pulled for the underdog Duke. Besides that, the Rebels were a regional rival to my own school, the University of Arizona who was looking for their own breakthrough moment.

In the end, it was Duke’s relentlessness and ability to impose its style on much of the game-tempo, while managing to compete with the Rebels inside that gave the Blue Devils the narrow 79-77 victory.

UNLV didn’t lose the game, Duke won it. This was no mistake-prone Colts team losing to the confident Jets in 1969 (SB3). The Rebels played with skill and with heart. A more hard fought, back & forth battle I never witnessed. Maybe Duke just wanted it…needed it more.

Like the USA’s 1980 “Miracle on Ice” Olympic hockey team (USSR / Finland), Duke’s ability to summon the strength and close the deal against Final opponent Kansas (72-65) gave their Semifinal triumph a special place in history.

The Blue Devils have remained one of the nation’s premiere programs while UNLV has fallen into mediocrity. But both schools can look back with pride on that glorious night in Indianapolis when an epic battle raged and grit, not a miracle, made a champion.

Steven Keys
Macro Sport
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com