Krzyzewski Unseats Wooden With Title #5

13 Apr ........Krzyzewski.12.4.13.Glantzman.wc.1.48m

It’s an adjective that seems tailor-made for the likes of John Wooden. It fits the legendary UCLA basketball coach like a pair of well worn wing-tips: greatest.

For the man who built Bruins basketball (1948-75) into the collegiate powerhouse and standard of excellence by which all roundball programs are judged by way of 10 NCAA titles, .804 win-% and player greats like Hazzard, Walton, Goodrich, Wicks, Alcindor (Kareem) and Meyers, the superlatives never grow tiresome.

.......Krzyzewski.4.6.06.wc.WD.Moss.thmb

.......Wooden&.72.SouthrnCampus.UCLA.wc.tmb

But while it may be blasphemy to write, after Duke‘s latest NCAA triumph over gritty Final foe Wisconsin (68-63), it may be time to bump the Wizard of Westwood from his seemingly permanent place atop college b-ball’s all-time greatest coaches perch in favor of the near nonpareil that has become Mike Krzyzewski.

It’s a roost where John’s towered over a pantheon of greats that include the names Rupp, Iba, Knight, McGuire, McCracken, Smith, Pitino, Donovan, Crum, Haskins, Calhoun, Jucker, Allen and many more, including careers that pre-dated the NCAA tourney (‘39) or side-stepped it all together (early NIT (Bee)).

Here’s why Krzyzewski should now be considered college basketball’s top dog amongst high caliber coaching canines. Metaphors and alliteration rock.

While Coach K’s five (5) NCAA titles are only half as many as the Wizard’s ten (10), consider the time span they cover.

After taking the reins at Duke in 1980, the first title trophy would be had in 1991 in a legendary run that included a semi-final upset win over defending champion (‘90 v DU) and undefeated UNLV Runnin’ Rebels enroute to a final win over perennial power, Kansas. That was followed by the validating victory over the so-called Fab Five of Michigan (’92) to complete the back-to-back reign.

The third championship would come nine year later (‘01 / UA), the fourth nine years after that (‘10 / Butler) and fifth in 2015 (UW). A 25 year span. Call it the extended dynasty and it’s in vogue (See: Popovich (NBA) and Belichick (NFL)).

And Mike’s not done, not by a long shot. Though, at the rate he’s going, he’ll need another 30 years to match John’s massive mark of ten NCAAs championships.

But quantity is not always everything (See; Bonds v Ruth & Aaron).

.......Wooden&Goodrich.65.UCLA.wc.thmb

I take nothing away from the fact Wooden’s achievements occurred in an era that some might distortedly describe as a period not far removed from the peach basket days.

John topped the best programs of his time while his schemes & players would without a doubt, out maneuver most of today’s mind & muscle. I simply give high praise to Mike’s splendid span of success.

And what Krzyzewski has done in adapting to change is almost incomparable.

This ability is most recognizable in adjusting to the now common early exit of under-classman to the pro ranks (seven of John Calipari’s Wildcats declared last week for the 2015 NBA draft) which makes continuity in player appreciation (of game plan) and rapport (with co-workers) so much harder to achieve.

Because rosters in many of today’s top school’s are in a constant state of flux, a coach’s duties in recruiting and stratagem must be frequently fine-tuned with great precision. The recruiting and ‘edge’ games (as in, finding one) are played out 12 months a year. It’s just one of the many job developments Mr. Wooden might find entirely exasperating.

In short, it’s harder to be a coach today: more change, more opinions, more rules, more duties, more expectations and more competition. And John would agree.

.......Krzyzewski.wc.1.12.12.CJCoS(Cullen).thb

As to in-game strategies, if there was one guy who could prevent Wisconsin from fulfilling what looked to be a destiny with greatness in 2015 by replicating Duke’s 1991 championship run, it would be Michael Krzyzewski, the Great Exploiter.

Holding your opponent to 68 is good defense but in the Final, against b-ball’s standard-bearer school (DU), you’ve gotta’ be better than good, for the distance.

Badgers lacked the zest they displayed against the favored Kentuckians, and while Kaminsky played a blinder, Dekker was a bit short in 2H. Mike will exploit any mistake, any fade-away in game like no other college coach in history.

Did the officials tilt the contest East? Maybe, by chance, but that’s just fine whine. Teams, schools looking to break through into the upper echelon of juggernaut programs will overcome adversity (See; Duke ’91) and don’t make excuses.

And it’s why the biggest stars in today’s college hoops are coaches, not the highly-touted players who often exit not long after they arrive on campus and are just as quickly forgotten when the new high school recruits arrive to fanfare

Early departures for greener pastures are no good for gurus and fans, but if you could ask that great Marquette coach and forerunner to today’s adaptable coach, Al McGuire (‘77 NCAA title (d. ‘01)), he might say something like this: ‘More power to those kids who exit early for big bucks. Life’s short and you should ‘grab the gusto’ while you can.’

That’s in opposite of the guy who’s building his own cult of personality out West in Madison, Badgers’ coach Bo Ryan (FF ‘14 & ‘15) who’s from the ‘finish what you start’ School of Thought, i.e.,‘one & done’ be darned.

Wooden or Krzyzewski? You can’t go wrong whomever you seat upon the throne for the greatest men’s college basketball coach (Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma just claimed his 10th NCAA on the ladies side). But if you don’t tab Mike, you better find Mr. Duke a big chair to power-share with the Wizard. Swish!

.......straight_shooter.thmb

Steven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credits: Krzyzewski, 2013, Glantzman, wc; Krzyzewski, 4.6.6, WD.Moss, wc; Wooden, 72, UCLA-S.Campus, wc; Wooden, UCLA-(SC), 65, wc; Krzyzewski, wc, 1.12.12, CJCoS(Cullen); Straight.Shooter. produce.label
Posted: 4.13.15 @ 6:35pm; edit 10:37 EST

Krash Kentucky, Bucky? Think Duke-UNLV ’91

1 Apr An unhappy Bo Ryan

March Madness is crazy for upsets.

More than any other sport festival, college b-ball’s pink carnation affairs (men’s & women’s 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 & business-types lose sleep 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.

.......BuckyBadger.12.1.07.S.Cain.wc.tm

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 CFP 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 does more to unify the 50 than Selection Sunday. Excitement-wise, it’s up there with the Triple Crowns, final five in the Super Bowl, last lap at Indy.500 and atlas stones lift in World‘s Strongest Man.

It’s why President Obama’s so keen to publicize his tourney picks. Savvy man.

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

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

And talk we do, as there’s usually no shortage of top seeds (#s 1-4) who handle their votes-of-confidence as if they were hot potatoes. The shockers include Texas Western (El Paso) (v UK ‘66), NC State (v HOU ‘83), Villanova (v GTwn ‘85), Princeton (v UCLA ’96) and Mercer (v Duke ‘14). Doozies.

But this year the Pepto-Bismol® stayed in the medicine cabinet as the queasy catastrophes proved relatively rare with most #2 seeds playing fairly deep into the tourney and three #1s making it to the Showcase (Final Four).

That makes Saturday’s Wisconsin (35-3) v Kentucky (38-0) NCAA semi-final (Indianapolis @ 8:49pm EST (TBS) all the more intriguing.

.......Laettner.3.21.14.S.Buyansky.wc.thmb

For the Badgers (4-1 odds), pulling off the upset of the undefeated and favored Wildcats (2-3) will require an effort of gargantuan proportions and near flawless execution.

Wooden Award aspirant Frank Kaminsky (6-11) will need to emulate Christian Laettner (play to exhaustion) in hopes of leading his UW men to the Final on Monday where either Michigan St. (27-11) or Duke (33-4) await (@ 6:09)).

Kaminsky must score upwards of 25 (29 v UA) and dominate on the boards by exhibiting a rebounding prowess not displayed in the win over Arizona (6).

For the team’s part, a continued adherence to coach Bo Ryan’s smart play (few fouls) and cleavage away from what’s become an over-reliance on 3-pointers are keys to victory.

But most important to Wisconsin’s forward progress in NCAA 2015 is a willingness to bang inside with the Bluegrass big men. If not control of the tempo, having an equal say. A sustained presence in the paint will also open up the shooting lanes, mid-range and long (3s), not unlike establishing the run game in pro football to set up the pass.

And carving out a presence under the basket is exactly what Laettner and his Duke teammates did to stay in it against their own unblemished and defending champion opponent UNLV in the historic 1991 semi-final.

.......Krzyzewski.4.6.06.wc.WD.Moss.thmb

It was the Blue Devil’s masterful performance in toppling the Runnin’ Rebels in what could be called NCAA’s all time greatest game that is now template for any team who’s presented with what appears an insurmountable obstacle, i.e., an unbeatable foe.

Not part of that template is the fact the Blue Devils, unlike the Badgers, were quite familiar with their Vegas opponent, having suffered the worst shellacking in Final history the year prior, 103-73. That embarrassing loss fostered a summer of soul searching and a sense of revenge that found an outlet in next year’s Final as the two squared off again. It was mission time for Mike Krzyzewski & Co. and we all became converts.

An advantage Wisconsin holds that Duke did not is that they face an undefeated Kentucky team that needed a bit o’ luck of the Irish to get by a hasty Notre Dame squad last Sunday (68-66) who let a win slip from their tenuous grasp.

There are chinks in UK’s armor and it’s why UW should prevail Saturday.

There’s no revenge-factor in play for the Madisonians but not having won the NCAA since Ann Sothern and Mickey Rooney were top box office (‘41), while keeper coach Bo Ryan (.742) still looks for his first title, all might serve as sufficient motivation for the guys in red & white.

.......Ryan.1.2.12.R.Hurd.wc.thmb

But what may serve Badgers best in prepping for the balanced Kentucky attack might be a video session of Duke’s incredible 1991 win over UNLV (See; pointers).

March 30th marked the 24th anniversary of the Duke’s highly improbable victory and 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 NCAA 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.

......Johnson.10.10.09.wc.B.Horowitz.tmb

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.

......UNLV.Rebel.Girl.3.4.06.EK.Vaughn.wc.thmb

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. 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 stumbling against a confident Jets squad 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.

.......straight_shooter.thmb

Steven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credits: B.Ryan, 1.2.12, wc, R.Hurd; Bucky-Badger, 12.1.07, S.Cain, wc; C.Laettner, wc, Buyanksky, 3.21.14; M.Krzyzewski, wc, 4.6.06, WD.Moss; B.Ryan, 1.2.12, wc, R.Hurd; L.Johnson, wc, 10.10.09, B.Horowitz; UNLV-Rebel.Girl, 3.4.06, wc, EK.Vaughn; Straight.Shooter, produce.label.
Posted: 4.1.15 @ 2:28pm; edit 11:46 EST

MLB15 Chin Music: Giants Formula No Secret

26 Mar ..........Posey.wc.cca.Cbl62.4.4.11.1.2m

Three World Series titles in five seasons (2010, ‘12 & ‘14). That’s impressive stuff.

And very satisfying too, especially for older Giants‘ fans, when you consider it took the East Coast transplants 50+ years to nab that first California-based crown after relocating (NYC) with the Boys in blue (LAD) in 1958.

..........Posey.wc.3.21.09.bryce.edwards.thmb

Ask some fans what they think of Bruce Bochy (Mgr) and GM Brian Sabean’s modern-day masterpiece in sport engineering and you’re likely to get the all too typical tight-fisted line: ‘It’s okay, but it’s not a dynasty.’

Some will dole out compliments like rare gems. Ugh.

But if you don’t toss the City of San Francisco a bouquet on this occasion, you’re not ‘baseball.’

What these Giants & Co. have accomplished is nothing short of tremendous, back-to-backs be damned. It’s in high league with the Belichick – Kraft Patriots and Popovich – Holt (Buford) Spurs: a formula for long, sustained success.

..........SFfan.6.6.14.wc.cca.thmb.S.Kelly

It’s all reminiscent of baseball dynasties of old: 40s Cardinals (1942, ‘44 & ‘46), 1910s Red Sox (1912, ‘15, ‘16 & ‘18) and San Fran’s down-state rivals, Dodgers, who started winning titles not long after hitting the LAX tarmac (1959, ‘63 & 65).

In besting their 2014 Series opponents the upstart Royals, no slouches themselves in giving the champs all they could handle (4-3), San Francisco proved to be more than that opportunistic club who just happen to get hot in a less-than-stellar playoff field.

Uh-uh. These guys have a system.

Brass Tacks

It’s no secret that it all begins with the money-bags, so to speak.

But you’ve gotta’ keep a scorecard to keep current on who exactly holds trump card for the Giants since Bob Lurie parted with ownership in January of 1993.

From what I can gather through a fairly haphazard search, Charles Bartlett Johnson appears to be Giants principal owner, having acquired controlling shares (‘11) after the death of Sue Burns (d.2009), who was the widow and heiress to the estate of her husband Harmon “Buzz” Burns who was principal investor of an assemblage that acquired Giants in 1993 and who then died in 2006. Peter Magowan was also an investor and managing partner from 1993-08, a post then assumed by later investor Bill Neukom who held it through 2011, when Larry Baer became chief money manager (CEO / MGP).

Who says rule by committee, or carousel, can’t make it all gel?

..........Sabean.wc.2010.btwashburn.thmb

The hands-on general manager is Brian Sabean who’s been wheeling & dealing in the post since 1996. It constitutes the longest running tenure of any horse-trader in MLB.

Sabean will engage in high-end free agency from time to time: Livan Hernandez (‘99-02), Kenny Lofton for a brief but useful stint (‘02) and Barry Bonds being the biggest name (’93-07). And that willingness to spend some has continued into the championship era.

In 2015, San Francisco is 4th in estimated payroll at $169.5M yearly, not far behind Boston ($178+) but well off the pricey pace of the Yankees ($211+) and largesse kings, the Dodgers (273.4) (spotrac.com/mlb/payroll).

There was Aubrey Huff (3B), signed at tail-end of a fine 13-year career (’10-12), who contributed to SF’s first WS title (‘10) in both the regular and post-seasons.

Pat Burrell (OF / 1B) was another star on decline the Giants signed up. He too contributed to the 2010 Pennant run, though, the tank ran empty by playoffs.

The Barry Zito signing is a memorable one.

The southpaw CY winner (‘02) brought a pretty penny in the 2006-07 free agent market when he exited Oakland for greener pastures. Barry averaged around $17M per in his 7 seasons with the Giants (‘07-13) but saw his ERA balloon and, excepting a bounce back in 2012 (15-8), saw his win-% take a dive.

..........Pence.wc.9.26.12.thmb.Ami221

Sabean’s faired better with free agents Hunter Pence and bridge pitcher Jean Machi.

In 2+ seasons in the Bay since coming from Philly, Pence has been steady at the plate, a regular face in Bochy’s line-up, playing a full state in both 2013 & ‘14 and played out of his cleats in Royals Series, batting .444 with 7 runs and 5 RBIs.

The 33-yr. old Machi bounced around baseball for a decade before signing with Frisco (‘11). His first foray into the post-season (‘14 / 7.94) was nothing to write home about (Venezuela), but his regular-season contribution over 2+ seasons is substantial: 126 IP, 2.71 ERA, 106-31 SO/BB.

Like the Zito (K), the Tim Lincecum deal proved another pricey – dicey outlay.

After taking consecutive Cy Youngs (‘08-09), Tiny Tim was re-signed & rewarded by the Giants with just compensation. From 2010 – 14, “The Freak” had a salary that averaged just over $16M per season. And then like Barry, Tim got the yips, going 61-62 with and a 4.09 ERA. SF has won three titles in his on-going term.

The Madison Bumgarner contract takes some sting out of the dour deals.

..........Bumgarner.wc.9.3.13.SDDirk.thmb

The big, 25-year old left-hander and 2014 World Series MVP has been notching more Ws than losses (67-49 / 3.00), limit’s the free-pass (1-to-4 BB/SO) and looks a veritable bargain, re-signing at an average of $11M yearly for the next five.

The recently departed Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval (BOS / $18M (6y)) may offer a twist on Branch Rickey’s famous line, “sometimes the best (deals) are the one’s you don’t make.”

The 3rd-bagger’s absence will be felt. Pablo was a steady presence at the hot corner, fine production and key cog in Giants ‘12 and ‘14 title machinery (.500 / .429 (WS)). But his scoring was just fair-to-good (74rbi / 62r (avg)) while the glove never spun gold, though, it’s fair to say awarding, especially for leather, can sometimes be less-than objective.

It’s also fair to say that assessing the soundness or deafness of a particular contract from 100,000 arm-lengths away, can be a somewhat dubious endeavor.

So what does one glean from all this?

The Giants have been willing to dole out ducats to build & sustain a winning way which, while no guarantee of championship(s) (See: LAD & LAA), can’t be dismissed through sabermetric smoke & mirrors if a significant & sustainable success is sought by the brass.

Posey Primer

Every dynasty has one: a primer. A player that ignites the charge to championship play. He serves as base material from which victory is forged and all will coalesce.

The St. Louis Cardinals have Yadier Molina.

In New England it’s been Tom Brady, while the Ravens had Ray Lewis.

Spurs primer has been Tim Duncan.

Blackhawks recent title take began with Toews, Kane and the wily, Marian Hossa.

The Joe Torre Yankees took off with Jeter & Rivera.

And for the Giants it’s been Georgia-born catcher, Buster Posey.

..........Posey.wc.Cbl62.4.4.11.1.thmb

It should be no surprise then, that the start of San Fran’s World Series run coincides with Buster’s rookie campaign when he was awarded the NL’s Rookie-of-the-Year.

The numbers are impressive but not suspiciously gaudy.

In five seasons, Posey’s averaged 68 runs, 20 dingers and 80+ RBIs per, digits which would bump up slightly had he not been taken out of action early in 2012 due to a home-plate collision with Scott Cousins (FLA). It left the 2-time All Star with a broken ankle, out for the remainder and spurred on a new base-running rule that takes Buster’s name and is designed to limit home-plate havoc.

As a back-stop, Leesburg’s finest is not quite in class yet with Johnny Bench or Yadier, not many are, but he’s skilled, commits few errors, has led the NL in Caught Stealing category (’12 (38)) and holds a not-too-shabby career-% (31.9).

And lucky is the Manager with a capable man behind home plate who can also make good contact with his bat. A career .308 hitter, Buster, who’s set to turn 28 on Friday (3.27.87), won a batting title (and MVP) in 2012 with a whopping .336.

But nothing speaks to a top-flight catcher like the one that can coax pitching staffs to win championships. And on that count, Mr. Posey is a highly decorated ace.

Vive la Bochy!

They say when you’ve got your health you’ve got everything.

Unfortunately for most of us it’s not until we suffer that serious illness or debilitating condition that that sentiment really hits home.

..........Bochy.wc.cca.4.4.11.Cb162.thumb

If he didn’t already (he’s closing in fast on 60 (4.16.55)), Giants skipper Bruce Bochy has taken that sentiment to heart, no pun intended. A whole new perspective, no doubt.

Bruce underwent an operation last month to have stents inserted after he’d felt out of sorts following his club’s annual physical exam given during spring training (“Giants Bruce“ / ESPN (AP) / 2.20.15).

It’s a very serious, highly skilled procedure but a fairly common one today as Mr. Bochy was up & around, out of the hospital and back on the diamond in fairly short order.

..........Bochy.ejectd.6.23.07.wc.dennis.thmb

Not yet amongst that inglorious hierarchy of manager ejectees the likes of Earl Weaver (94) or Paul Richards (80: 1-every-23g (Totalprosports.com)), the native of France (BB’s father served in US Army (Wikipedia)) was a catcher (1978-87) and has a full appreciation for the unhealthy art of umpire argumentation and antagonization (64 +/-).

That appreciation will have to find a new outlet of expression.

This 2015 MLB season will mark Bochy’s third decade of managing (1618 – 1604). We who love baseball, even as some of us know Hank O’Day’s (HOF ’13) 1908 “Merkle Boner” ruling to be entirely correct (Cub Power!), want to see the Giants frisky version of Walter Alston occupying the San Francisco dugout for many years to come.

...........canned corn

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo Credits: B.Posey, Cbl62, 4.4.11, wc.cca; B.Posey, B.Edwards, 3.21.09, wc; SF.Fan, S.Kelly, wc, 6.6.14; B.Sabean, wc, ptwashburn, 2010; H.Pence, 9.26.12, wc, Ami221; M.Bumgarner, wc, SD.Dirk, 9.3.13; B.Posey, wc, Cbl62, 4.4.11; B.Bochy, wc, Cbl62, 4.4.11; B.Bochy.ejected, 6.23.07, wc, dennis; canned corn.
Posted: 3.25.15 @ 9:36pm EST
Stat support provided by Baseball-reference.com

A Favorite Patrick Willis Moment

14 Mar ........Willis.Rodgers.9.9.12.wc.M.Morbeck.326k

.......Willis.8.30.12.wc.cca.thmb.S.Bowles

There are three kinds of sport fan:

1) The ‘means to an end’ers,’ i.e., gamblers, fantasy fanatics, saberheads, most brass and I suspect more than a few writers and media personalities;

2) The family fan, as in spouses, parents (drive & attend), anyone close to an athlete or sportician who gives support in friendship; and

3) The bona fide fan (BFF).

The BFF is likely indoctrinated into the faith by a parent, older sibling or a teacher at school, participating in both the organized and pick-up forms of play, attended major sporting events if Mom & Dad had the loot and watched it on the tube with regularity.

They’ll often display their passion for the games in wearable team merchandise and can be engaged easily on the sporting topic.

This scribbler falls under #3.

My dad played rounders, as most boys did in the 20th century, but hung up his glove early, the kind of mitt that had a leather string for a web.

My mentors were a grandfather who followed the likes of Sisler (Browns) and Hornsby (Cards) in St. Louis’ golden age of baseball when the two were spittin’ out hits like Gatling guns, and an older brother who lived the life, whether it be baseball, b-ball, football or any form of “folly,” i.e., Tudor® Electric Football.

.......Tudor.football.johnmaxmena.wc.cca

My brother Kev coached my first football team when I was nine and we then formed our own league: Tudor® Electric Football. He painted the players himself with a great eye for detail: helmets with logos, sock’s had stripings. In today’s lingo, it was awesome.

Why the stroll down memory lane?

On Tuesday, the San Francisco 49ers announced that their 8-year, All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis is retiring from the game. It’s an event that requires a different reflection than the typical numbers-crunching and all-time ranking.

When you consider that Pat has probably played the game since he was 9, giving and getting bone-jarring hits most the way, stepping down at 30 seems A-okay.

But an 8-year career for a player the caliber of Mr. Willis, arguably the best linebacker, heck, best defender in the NFL from ‘07-10, feels a bit premature, especially since the NFL is not exactly brimming over with tackling talent in 2015.

It’s not hard to fathom why Pat decided to exit the game, considering he suffered game-altering injuries in recent years, physical changes that’ve taken toll on that proverbial step, coupled with the changes that’ve been going on in miners-land this off-season, including notable roster moves (F. Gore to Indy) and a new head coach in the promoted Jim Tomsula (’07) to replace Jim Harbaugh (UM).

......SF.Levi.wc.usbduong33.thmb.8.4.14

San Fran stalwart NaVorro Bowman, the man who was heir to Willis’ linebacking throne but who sat out all of last year’s campaign after a torn ACL suffered in the 2014 NFC title game, will be returning shortly but may not recognize his own team.

Willis has his reasons, and we’ll have our memories.

Having been a resident of the Midwest and South during Mr. Willis’ career, I didn’t catch most of his games as did NFC West fans. But I do have one special remembrance that is indelibly etched into this writer’s mind. And curiously, it involves another fairly recent retiree and star of note, Brett Favre.

It happened in Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on the afternoon of September 27, 2009.

Vikes were sporting their new signal-caller in Favre, were 2-0 and hosting the Mike Singletary coached 49ers with Shaun Hill under center (recently signed with MIN for 2015) and Willis leading the defensive charge.

With Minnesota trailing 24-20 and just 1:30 remaining in the 4th, Vikes started from their 20. Nine plays later had them on 49ers 32 with just 12 ticks left on the clock. On 3rd and 3, Favre lofted a rainbow pass into back of the end zone where receiver Greg Lewis performed one of the greatest tight-rope acts in history of the NFL to haul it in for what would prove to be the game winning score.

......Favre.thumb.M.Morbeck.10.24.10

But it is not Minnesota’s 27-24 victory, one which set them on path to play to the NFC title game (v NO) and which may be the Mississippian’s most exhilarating game-closer in his storied career, that has deposited Willis’ image in my memory bank.

Sometime midway through the second half, Patrick was involved in a play that was the epitome of sportsmanship and a display of the best that football has to offer.

Some of the details are sketchy, but the Vikes were in possession, driving, and Favre threw a run-of-the-mill short out pass to his left side, which the receiver (?) caught and ran downfield for a somewhat sizable gain, if I recall correctly.

After connecting with his receiver, Brett decided to give his new owner Zygi Wilf more of his money’s worth ($25M) by laying a downfield block. The recipient was none other than All Pro stick-man, Patrick Willis.

And what a block it was. Favre laid the linebacker out flat. It was a sight to behold.

But did Patrick jump to his feet, cry foul in wounded pride and feign anger at the wily QB for putting him on his keister? Heck no, he took it like a pro.

The defensive star clearly respected the effort, and along with the referee, helped the slightly dazed-in-disbelief QB to his feet, straightened out Brett’s disheveled shoulder pads, gave him the customary pat and sent the signal-caller on his way.

It was terrific, and it was pure football.

A simple, rather routine play that is long forgotten by 99.95% of those who watched, but beautiful in its encapsulation of the spirit that on occasion can make the sport special.

As that mythical Le Mans (’71) endurance driver “Johann Ritter (Fred Haltiner)” once said to his gorgeous, supportive wife “Anna (Louise Edlind)” when contemplating his own decision to exit the death-defying racing profession, “It’s the right time to stop.”

.......Revere.wc.cca.1947

Apparently, it’s the right time for Patrick Willis to hang up his cleats and “go onto the next thing (A. Revere)” in his life. “Mrs. Brown” would wholeheartedly approve.

Steven Keys
Macro Sport
Photo credits: Willis, Rodgers, wc.cca, M.Morbeck, 9.9.12; Tudor.football, wc.cca, johnmaxmena; Willis, 8.30.12, S.Bowles, wc.cca; Levis.Stadium, wc.cca, usbduong33, 8.4.14; Favre, wc.cca, 10.24.10, M.Morbeck; A.Revere, wc.cca, 1947, 20th-Fox.
Posted: 3.13.15 @ 11:56pm EST

Kentucky and the Myth of Perfection

7 Mar ......Calipari.1.8.13.c.malder.wc.350kb

Like the lure of the siren’s song, never what it appears to be, but who among us can resist (J.Seinfeld)?”

And so it is with the lure of a perfect season in sport.

Oh, how wonderful it would be to hoist the hardware without nary a single loss. So we fans and those in the press who cover the merriments, believe.

......Calipari.11.5.14.K.Allison.wc.MD.thmb

But ask someone who’s accomplished the feat. They’ll give you the low-down.

That would include a member of the 1972-73 Super Bowl winning Miami Dolphins or Bob Knight’s undefeated, NCAA champion Indiana Hoosiers (‘75-76).

Those were heady, by-gone days.

The question & answer might go something along this line: Q: ‘What’s it like to go undefeated for an entire season? A: It’s great, but not that big a deal. It’s the championship that makes it special, the icing on the cake, so to speak.’

The Patriots almost found that perfect place in history.

They ran the table in the 2007 regular season (16-0), won their playoffs (2-0) but then lost a close one late to the Giants in the big game (14-17 (SB42)). It’s a run New England (and NYG) should be proud of but proves the point: it’s the title, not perfection along the way that gives the achievement, the journey, the memory, that extra-special aura.

As of this write the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team stands at 30-0, having pulled their fat outta’ the fire in a nip n’ tuck road win in Athens earlier this week, where the host Bulldogs gave the Wildcats all they could handle in a 72-64 visitor’s win.

Though the 2013-14 Wichita State Shockers entered last year’s NCAA as an undefeated (34-0), this John Calipari Kentucky team has a feel that’s closer to the 1990-91 defending national champion UNLV squad, coached by the recently deceased Jerry Tarkanian, also started the tournament undefeated and looked near unbeatable.

.......Rupp.arena.1.2.13.c.malder.thmbThe common ground is not in the scoring punch.

Those Runnin’ Rebels often buried opponents with scoring barrages.

But in the point parade, these Wildcats practically bring up the rear, nationally ranked 30th in PPG (75), a chilly 41st in field-goal % (.471) and top scorers Aaron Harrison (11.3) and freshman Dev Booker (11) barely averaging double-digits. Another frosh Karl-Anthony Towns is balanced best at 9.6 ppg and leads the team in rebounds at 6.5 per contest.

It’s on defense where Kentucky emulates those terribly terrific Tarkanian Vegans.

Nobody puts the clamps down on opponents like these bluegrass b-ballers. Most won’t clear the 60 mark (PAPG (#2): 53.2), due in large part to a miserly field-goals allowed % (FGAP) that would make Ebenezer Scrooge proud (#1 / .344).

Contribution, in a broadly shared responsibility, seems the watchword for UK.

The prevailing myth amongst sport fanatics is that a team with perfect record is best prepared to capture the NCAA crown. Run-the-table in the regular season slate (UK v. UF, 3-7 (2pm EST)) and sweep through the largely meaningless, money-grab, conference tourney. Seems reasonable enough.

And that’s why myths are for the movies and Harry Potter novels.

It didn’t turn out as planned for Wichita State in last year’s NCAA, nor those Runnin’ Rebels in 1991 who sought to build a dynasty in the Silver State.

“The best-laid plans of mice and men, often go awry (Burns).”

........Burns.Robert.wc.ccaBeginning 1991 NCAA tournament play as defending national champs and sporting a sparkling 30-0, UNLV must’ve salivated with anticipation in eyeing Duke as their semifinal opponent, the team they’d dismantled just a year earlier, 103-73, to claim their first title in the most lopsided championship score in tourney history.

But the Blue Devils proved prepared and pulled off one of the great upsets in history, going toe-to-toe with the titanesque Rebels and grabbing the 79-77 victory, and then going on to top perennial Kansas in the final (72-65) to claim their own first crown.

A regular season loss, or two, along the way to the NCAA are not all bad.

A well played but losing effort can stoke the mettle forge that’s needed to run the talent laden gauntlet come March Madness, pin-point weak spots and help deflate over-pumped egos (2 psi?) that grow large with perfection. Makes for a safer driving state.

I’m not saying Kentucky aught lose a game intentionally (tank) or play anything less than their best ball. Heck, no. That’s something Earvin Johnson may advocate and a topic of high-spec in NBA and NHL, but strictly bad play for those with heart and sporting soul.

It wouldn’t help anyway. Mess up the mojo. Besides, the Cats crave el perfecto.

What I am saying, is that if the Wildcats happen to suffer a loss before the big dance, it’s not the end of the world. It may in fact work to their benefit, act as a healthy dose of preventive medicine.

The sporting gods have grown stingy. We haven’t had a perfect season in quite a spell. They were always rare but have become as uncommon as Haley’s Comet. Maybe we’re due for one, or maybe they’ve decided to do away with ’em all together. One can never know these things.

Whether Kentucky has what it takes to make a perfect season, a championship run or some other team’s stars align in mid-March, whatever the fates hold, the gods will crown a winner the night of April 6th and that’s as certain as spring.
.......straight_shooter.thmb

Steven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credit: J.Calipari, wc.cca, C.Malder, 1.8.13; J.Calipari, wc.cca, 11.5.14, K.Allison, MD; Rupp.Arena, wc.cca, C.Malder, 1.8.13; R.Burns, wc.cca; Straight.Shooter.brand, citrus.fruit
Posted: 3.6.15 @ 11:28pm EST

MLB15 Chin Music: Harper Time

1 Mar .............B.Harper.3.12.11.wc.MissChatter.1.66m

I can feel it. The ice is about to break on this winter and unless you sell salt or woolen mittens for your livelihood, it can’t happen soon enough.

The thought of breaking ice takes me back to that Northern Exposure episode about cabin fever when the long winter in “Cicely (Alaska)” had libidos running high and fuses burning short. What a show. Now it’s Law & Order syndication saturation. Whoop-de friggin’ do.

Ice break also means veteran big leaguers & invitees got their gloves neatsfoot’d, set to venture to destinations South (AZ / FL) for baseball’s annual spring rites.

.............B.Harper.7.31.13.wc.Stegas4.thmbStaying in that break, or make it, vane, 2015 should prove one or the other for Washington Nationals’ outfielder star-in-the-making, Bryce Aron Max Harper, an alternate poster-boy for this upcoming campaign, if you’ve grown tired of Misters Trout, Bumgarner, Kershaw and Cabrera‘s faces gracing your mags.

Not make or break in the contractual sense, mind you.

Back in December, “Bam Bam” signed a 2-year extension ($7.5M) to the 5-year deal he inked when he was the first player chosen in the 2010 MLB draft.

But rather, make or break in the, ‘Will this guy ever live up to the hype?,’ sense.

When the 19-year old Harper finally arrived in the nation’s capital in 2012, it coincided with the National’s rise to prominence among the senior circuit’s contender class.

Old sage Davey Johnson was DC skipper that season when Harp took the NL-ROY award (.270, 98r, 22hr, 18sb), turned heads with an aggressive, sometimes cocky manner, and the Nationals nearly won 100 games (98-64) for the first time in franchise history (Expos) in capturing the Eastern crown but then fell to the Cardinals in the LDS (3-2).

In that short playoff, the Percheron-necked Harper didn’t exactly set the world on fire (.130, 2r, 2rbi, 1hr) but did put up comparable scoring stats to HOF-bound Mr. Jeter in his own rookie foray (‘95) in what would prove an annual event (ALDS: .412, 2r, 1rbi).

It is Mr. Harper’s 2014 post-season that should’ve set tongues a’ wagging.

.............Nationals.wc.SGS.lettermarkIn the 4-game series loss to eventual world champion San Francisco (1-3), Bryce batted an impressive .294 (5-17) with four extra-basers, including 3 home runs.

Clutch play is a special trait.

It resonates with teammates, fans and managers alike, but not surprisingly rides the bench in the minds of today’s sabermetrician, which may help explain, in part, why Mr. September, Clay Kershaw remains a favorite, while Misters Schilling, Morris, McGriff, Garvey and Hershiser must all still buy a ticket to enter the Hall of Fame.

Bryce has passed the clutch test which, admittedly, has been more of the ‘quiz’ variety (2 series), but a test is a test, right? Right.

If the 2-time All Star wants to keep turning heads, stay on the same page with Manager Matt Williams, help take his club deeper into the playoffs and garner one of those mid-mega-deals sometime down the road, he’ll need to meet these three goals in MLB15:

1) Stay healthy

No career-threatening injuries to this point, Harper nonetheless still incurs enough bangs and bruises, pulls and strains, to hit the disabled-list with some regularity. He’s yet to play a full major league season and has been on the decline in attendance (139, 118 and 100g (’14)) as he suffered a thumb injury in early ’14 that necessitated surgery.

You don’t want mess too much with ‘what works,’ but a little savvy in sliding technique and fielding finesse can go a long way in a longer season, too.

2) Cut down on strikeouts

I know, I know, the round-tripper is what parents hope to see when they take out a 2nd mortgage and finance their kids trip to a major league ball-park today. Ugh. But Harper’s strongest suit is not power, it’s run production. When he gets on base he often finds his way home. The nine triples his rookie campaign alone are testament to that fact.

............Nationals.9.17.13.T.Evanson.wc.thmbBut in abbreviated seasons, his strike out totals are 120 (139g), 94 (118) and 104 (100). If he doesn’t shorten-up his swing, get better command of the strike zone and cut down on his wiffs, if he doesn’t become a tougher out (OB%), his value drops and dingers turn desperate. Despite the power Bryce has displayed at times, he is a 15-20 homer guy. In the run department, he should be in the 90 to 100 range.

3) Maturation

Though seeming centered spiritually off the field (Bryce got engaged in 2014 (K.Varner)), Harper has shown a public disdain for managerial authority on more than one occasion and seems to carry a small chip on his shoulder when at the ball-park and related venues (“That‘s a clown question, bro®”). The press can be an irritant, no doubt.

Wound-up tight can come in handy when reporters deal dirty, or, if the intensity is channeled into a competitive spirit on-diamond that promotes team success.

But when it enables a divisive individualism at expense of the cooperative spirit that leads to team progress, it’s a bizarro Bozo that leaves nobody happy.

Winning Rookie of the Year is no guarantee of a long, memorable career.

When you peruse the past ROY winners list, you’re left with the feeling that it’s no better than 50-50 they‘ll leave a sizable mark on the game. That’s better than the typical rookie but then expectations are raised after you raise the trophy.

You’ll remember Rick Sutcliffe (‘79) and Ozzie Guillen (’85), but Jerome Walton (‘89) and Pat Listach (‘92) may not ring a bell to most fans outside the Midwest.

Whether Bryce Harper goes big bopper (HRs) or OB% superstar, he’s gonna’ have to make his mind up soon because that window of opportunity is gonna’ start to close fast, and open up wide elsewhere, i.e., el conexion cubano. Es verdad: el beisbol es internacional.

...........canned cornIt’s time to get healthy, make contact, fully mature and be all the ball-player you can be. It’s Harper time, crisp & clean and alcohol-free. Play ball!

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credits: B.Harper, wc.cca, MissChatter, 16m, 3.12.11; B.Harper, 7.31.13, wc.cca, Stega4; Washington.Nationals, wc.cca, SGS/T; Nationals.Park, wc.cca, 9.17.13, T.Evanson; canned.corn
Posted: 3.1.15 @ 2:31 pm EST

75 Great Films You’ll Never Watch

23 Feb .............WaterlooB.40.Japan.49.wc.cca.561k

Ever wonder if the mere act of appreciating a thing, might give you a stake in it?

Could simply admiring, say, a song, a book, a good meal, a crafted table, sports team or a movie, vest the connoisseur with something beyond taste or a shown preference, maybe a smidgen of stake, or, at very least, let them share in the creator’s vision and product?

............ThisSportingLife.fair.use.tb

I’ve been pondering this fanciful notion for a time, but decided to put it to prose when I began compiling my great movies list in honor of the upcoming 87th Academy Awards to be held on February 22nd at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

Solitary admiration just didn’t seem to cut it, not for these babies.

Appreciation of someone else’s work won’t vest you with an ownership interest (IP), of course, no profit nor name in the credits, but something along the lines of spiritual stock, greater than your run-a-the-mill, self-satisfaction one takes from recognizing quality.

Kinda’ kooky, huh? Not entirely.

Take sport. Without fan investment, the games & players are just so much extra-curricular activity, just like an unadorned “Mona Lisa” is nothing more than an odd looking female in frame hanging in a French chateau somewhere.

Appreciators turn baseball into America’s national pastime (until Manfred is done with it, and what it will be then, god only knows) and make Klimt’s “The Kiss” a modern classic.

...........BringingUp.wc.DC.Geist.thmb.38

Everything’s connected: creator, the work, the audience and valuation.

This spiritual stake is not unlike the equity some Packers’ fans hold in their Green Bay football club by way of limited stock shares. An ownership interest vesting the holder collectively with certain powers & rights (select votes, etc.), but more importantly, a valuable connection in mind & purpose.

And so it is with the fine flicks listed below, where I take micro-stock in declaring their value to the world, maybe the universe, in posting by wireless transmission.

Most of these movies are either too old, or never did get the big studio sell. That doesn’t make them any less memorable, timeless and well worth viewing, as much as all of this season’s Best Picture nominees.

A Cry in the Dark (88)
A Family Thing (96)
Alfie (66)
American Graffiti (73): Soundtrack medley stars
Amores Perros (00)
Atlantic City (80): Lancaster & Sarandon are a treat
Barfly (87): Rourke & Dunaway are unforgettable
...........Sarandon.5.3.08.wc.thmb.D.ShankbeneBody and Soul (47)
Bound for Glory (76)
Bringing Up Baby (38)
Crime in the Streets (56)
Cross of Iron (77): WWII from Axis side
Das Boot (81): Submarine movie un-matched
Drugstore Cowboy (89): Good as Midnight Cowboy
Fat City (72): Keach portrays the anti-Rocky
Harold and Maude (71)
Hell Is For Heroes (62)
Hobson’s Choice (54)
I’m No Angel (33)
Ironweed (87): Nicholson & Streep
Knife in the Water (62)
King Rat (65)
...........Leigh.WaterlooB.40.wc.cca.thmbLa Strada (54)
Lonely Are the Brave (62)
Los Lunes al Sol (02)
Matewan (87)
Midnight Run (88)
Miller’s Crossing (90): Tops Good Fellas
Monte Walsh (70): A real cowboy classic
Murder My Sweet (44): Equals The Maltese Falcon
Murphy’s War (71)
My Brilliant Career (79)
Paisan (46)
Paper Moon (73)
Papillon (73)
Ruggles of Red Gap (35): Laughton’s Gettysburg recital
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (60)
Sidewalks of London (38)
The Bicycle Thief (48)
The Breaking Point (50): Hemingway’s favorite Hemingway
...........MurderMy.D.Powell.44.wc.thmbThe Clock (45)
The Corn is Green (45)
The Day of the Jackal (73)
The Hidden (87)
The Hitch-Hiker (53): Ida Lupino directs
The Incredible Shrinking Man (57)
The L-Shaped Room (62)
The Last Detail (73): Nicholson’s hidden gem
The Last Picture Show (71): An American masterpiece
The Last Round: Chuvalo vs Ali (03)
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (62)
...........McQueen.DIL.ryangrigg.wc.thmbThe Magnificent Ambersons (42)
The Man Who Would Be King (75)
The Mark (61)
The Naked Prey (66)
The Night of the Iguana (64)
The Party (68): Sellers was a genius
The Pope of Greenwich Village (84)
The Red Shoes (48): So good it could be a faith
The Search (48)
The Set-Up (49): Ryan (boxer) & Totter (wife) are superb
...........Taylor.WaterlooB.40.name.thmbThe Station Agent (03)
The Sundowners (60)
The Third Man (49): It’s own genre
The Verdict (82)
The Year of Living Dangerously (82)
They Made Me a Fugitive (47): British film noir beauty
This Sporting Life (63): Sporting cinema visceralia
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (74)
Trouble Along the Way (53): Shirley Jackson knows “winning”
Twelve O’Clock High (49): Battle speech (Peck) Patton-esque
Viva Zapata! (52)
Washington Merry-Go-Round (32)
Waterloo Bridge (40): Taylor & Leigh will break your heart
Winchester ‘73 (50): Rifle-ricochet resonates

Steven Keys
Brass Tacks
Photo credits: Waterloo.Bridge, 40.Japan, 49, wc; This.Sporting.Life, 63, R.Harris, fair-use; Bringing.Up.Baby, 38, DC.Geist, wc; S.Sarandon, 5.3.8, wc, Shankbene; Waterloo.Bridge, 40, V.Leigh, wc; Murder.My.Sweet, 44, D.Powell, wc; S.McQueen, DIL, ryan.grigg, wc; Waterloo.Bridge, 40, R.Taylor, wc.cca.
Posted: 2.22.15 @ 9:59pm; edit 2.23 @ 2:16am EST

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.