Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why Sports Can Often Times Remind You Of a Punch to the Solarplexus, Exhibit A: This Weekend

There are those of us who woke up Monday (or Tuesday, if your team played on MNF, "played" being an interesting term) and all was normal. Your team had done what it's been known to do throughout its illustrious history. The Bears had used a dominating defense to bounce back from a 20-3 late 3rd deficit. The Steelers had shown that they are, as usual, the class of the AFC, or at least on their way back. The Rams may have dropped that game to the Seahawks, but surely, they are close to elite status an easy schedule to comfort them. The Patriots had the bye this week, but I'm pretty sure they won, too. Maybe Tom Brady got a free subscription to Hustler or something.

The same can be said with the NCAA. USC slipped away from another possible defeat to an inferior team from the Pac 10. Ohio State blasted someone else, as did Michigan and Texas. Florida can't even feel bad, the SEC is too tough to win all your games.

Then there's the rest of us. Lost in the ESPN frontpage headlines and NFL Films presentations are the rest of the teams.

If this sounds like a bellyache, it is. If this sounds like whining, you're right on target. The rest of us have no option. And believe me, I'd like nothing more than to not be a part of it. But in reality, I only have two choices. Express unhappiness for my plight (and those like me), or quit watching sports. Because I've started to lose faith things will turn around.

I've been a Chiefs fan since I was born. My grandfather was a Chiefs fan. My Dad was a Chiefs fan. I learned swear words from Sundays at 3PM. Tenants for existence have been established by that idenitity.

Nothing good should ever happen to the Raiders.

Mike Shanahan sold his soul to the Devil for his blocking scheme.

Len Dawson is the nicest guy since that Christ dude.

Marcus Allen is the most underrated running back in NFL history.

Rich Gannon has sex with rustly toolboxes.

I started paying attention when the Chiefs defense was fearsome. It wasn't just impressive, it was awe-inspiring. It obliterated the turnover margins of other teams. Sacks weren't a once a game occurance to jump up for, they were the expected result. You cheered to egg on a defense that was going to stop an offense from getting 5 yards into an offense that was going to lose 5 yards. They had Marcus Allen. They made the playoffs. This was surely a great team.

Loss.

Loss.

Loss.

Marty Schottenheimer couldn't losen up enough to win a playoff game. He played not to lose (as he continues to do), and never to win. He never went for the kill. And he never, ever let quarterbacks try and have memorable games, because a turnover was possible. And so our rotation as a good team passed, and Denver got good again and won two Superbowls. And then Oakland got Jon Gruden and started making the AFC Championship every year, and finally the SuperBowl, before getting crushed by the same Gruden that had brought them to the dance.

Okay, awesome. So the Chiefs have Dick Vermeil and a great offense and we'll be good again, right?

Um. Kinda.

And hey, we did make the playoffs. Once. And we scored a lot of points. Only punted once. Unfortunately, Peyton didn't have to punt at all.

And then failure after failure as the defense somehow managed to get worse. I watched the same team that I grew up watching terrify quarterbacks allow record days for them. I saw an offense that could score at will, but had to, because the other team was going to score more. I took solace in the usual things you do.

"We've got a lot of talent."

"LJ is going to be a star."

"The defense is improving."

"We always have a chance to win the game. We're always competitive."

The last one is a big one for teams that don't have a history of winning. Just being close, knowing that one day, you'll put it together and start winning those games, and keep winning.

It's important to note at this point that I'm not even looking for a Super Bowl. That's one of the things that I hate most about winning franchises. The fans come to expect Super Bowl wins. It's not enough to make it there, you have to close.

I just want to see it. I want to have a Superbowl mean something more than a big sports weekend, or a reason to have friends over in February. I just want to know what it's like to be a fan of the AFC Champions. If we lose, hey, we won two playoff games and made it to the big dance. We're competitive.

Sunday was the first time I've ever turned off a Chiefs game. I've had to miss them occasionally for whatever reason, usually because I no longer live in a place that shows them, and can't afford going to a bar to watch. But when I sit down to watch them, I watch them. I maintain that we can win. Sunday, I turned off the TV. I couldn't watch it anymore. It was like every ounce of joy had been sucked from watching sports. The Steelers completely embarrassed the Chiefs in every way possible. The offense was inept, the defense was laughable, and the special teams were mediocre. It wasn't competitive after the coin was flipped. It was absolutely no fun. There are losses that hurt because you were so close, but you know that, and it drives you. It makes you root harder, makes you want the management to sign players that much more, makes you more bonded because you share the team's disappointment.

Then there are games like Sunday. Sunday was the first point in my entire life where I have not wanted to be a Chiefs fan. I saw the expansion Panthers pull out another win, as that franchise continues to cement itself as elite. I saw the elite teams continue to dominate, San Diego taking their turn on the top of the AFC West wheel, while Denver continues to beat mediocre teams and stroke its ego because of it. And what's worse, I saw the Saints, historically one of the worst teams in NFL history, a joke, a disgrace, beat the Eagles in dramatic fashion. They have a great core of players and a lot of potential.

We have a coach we gave a second round draft pick for, who thus far has proved he's really good at downplaying losses. We didn't get beaten by the Steelers, we got destroyed. That's the only word for it. There was nothing positive to take away from the game. Nothing.

And this year it's like so many others. The Bears, a dynasty in their own right, are looking like the frontrunner to add to their massive trophy case. The Patriots are still leading the AFC East. St. Louis is even a factor again. Teams who's fans have enjoyed saying "We're the champs." Who have watched their teams in the biggest game. I don't think most of them understand what it's like to be on this other side. To be eternally tied to a team that breaks your heart year after year. That leaves you in February desperately looking forward to a Draft two months away and training camp in two seasons. "Wait 'till next year!" Call it Cubs disease.

In a poll Deadspin (hallowed, be thy name) led me to, the Chiefs were ranked the second best fanbase in the NFL, following only the Browns, and ahead of the Eagles. Those three teams are a combined 1-3. The Chiefs have that one win. The Browns have never seen the light of the SuperBowl. I can't even begin to imagine what that would be like. Yet, Philadelphia has been a playoff contender year after year, as recently as two years ago appearing the Super Bowl.

Yet through all that, this weekend was the first time the fear really hit me. I've lived with the "I may never see my favorite team even PLAY in a championship game my entire life" the same way you fear a suspended highway collapsing and your car being thrown to the swampy depths below. Usually, you just keep driving and aren't even aware of the fear. Sunday made me stare down, see the cracks in the foundation, see the depth markers, peer into the murky nothingness below. It was the first time I went from "My Grandfather may never see the Chiefs win another Superbowl" to "My dad may never see the Chiefs win another Superbowl" to "I may never see the Chiefs play in the Superbowl."

And as long as you keep perspective, if that's the worst thing that ever happens to me, awesome, I'll take it. Sold.

But as a sports fan, I'm left petrified, my eyes wide, shaking, muttering to myself about how last year we could have been the Steelers, and starting to realize that the sound I hear under Herm Edwards' positive attitude and Larry Johnson's fantasy stats, over Trent Green's positive doctor's report, and the defensive rankings...

is the sound of the bridge starting to fall.

So what do you do? You get back on the horse (to mix metaphors, cliche ones at that, and do it badly), and get ready to talk yourself into why they can beat the Chargers on Sunday.

After all, even if things go horribly, as badly as they could possibly go, there's still next year?

Right?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Well, that was fun: An analysis of possible responses to flak about Mizzou's loss to A&M

(Since I'll be hearing about it from the Aggies I know.) (Not "ex-Aggies," as they'll soon correct you: Once an Aggie, always an Aggie. Whatever.)

- "Well, we would've won ... if our coach wasn't an idiot." Yeah, I don't understand that fake field goal either, but a) it's one thing to criticize a coach for a whole pattern of plays, yet another to criticize him for one, b) turning on Pinkel so quickly after treating him as deity after the first six games seems a mite ridiculous, and most importantly, c) three points in that situation wouldn't have ended up making a difference anyway.

- "Well, we would've won ... if it weren't for the refs." Yeah, Temple's knee touched the ground before he fumbled, but as a general rule I hate blaming any loss on the refs. (Exception: OU had a legitimate beef in the Oregon game.) One play does not a game make. And we never give refs the credit on tough calls they make correctly.

- "Well, we would've won ... if the game had been in Columbia." That's probably true, especially given how hostile an environment Kyle Field is. But resorting to this argument is really just whining. While you're at it, why not just make everyone's record 6-6 before the season starts?

- "Oh yeah? Well ... your mom." Though it might not convince the person giving you a hard time, this is always a reliable backup retort.

- "Well, we would've won ... if we hadn't fumbled on the 1 on that 70-yard pass." This is the one I'm hearing most often. Yes, seven more points would've given us the win, but it's unlikely that the rest of the game would've unfolded exactly the same. Moreover, this is pretty much the same as saying, "Well, we would've won ... if they hadn't played better than us."

Which is why I'm going with:

- "Well, we don't deserve to win when we play like that." It's true. Mizzou didn't have it all together, especially in the second half. They can do so and escape with a win sometimes, but not against a good team — and especially not on the road. And, while the "Well, but" excuses just provoke the gloaters into an argument, this response takes the wind out of their proverbial sails. (Best of all, though this makes it sound like you're agreeing with them, you're sneakily implying that your team beat itself — thus that the other team wasn't good enough to win on its own. Mwahaha!)

Oh, and I'm still predicting a win over K-State next week.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sixteen Ways to Blow It

Eight teams remain. That means there are 16 possibilities for the World Series. And, it stands to reason, there are 16 different ways Fox can not script October (cough)bullshit(cough). Don't let their commercials fool you: Fox will milk any storyline they can find, whether or not people care. There will be some stories that are unavoidable, like hometown hero Joe Mauer trying to bring the championship back to his 'hood in the Twin Cities, or A-Rod trying to prove himself to people he'll never meet. Fox had those stories shot the day every team clinched a playoff birth. The ones they'll have to scramble for are the matchup stories, the ones dependent upon what actually happens on the diamond. The following is one man's ranking of said potential matchups based on the annoyance level of Fox's coverage.

There's No Way Fox Can Make This Annoying, Is There?
Twins vs. Padres/Dodgers
No history between the two teams, no geographical proximity to create some nonexistant tension, no logical way the majority of the baseball-watching population gives a damn. My bet? They try to get Padres 3B Russ Branyan or Dodgers CF Kenny Lofton to pretend he's really pissed off about something that happened back when both played with the Indians. It's all I can think of.

Tigers vs. Mets
This matchup looked inevitable back in July. Now with Pedro out and Detroit forgetting how to win, it will take a small miracle to see these two teams duke it out for the title. That said...well, there's not a whole lot that can be said. Maybe the contrast of glitzy NYC vs. blue-collar Detroit. Yeah, that'll probably get run into the ground.

Woe Is the Team With No Money
Twins/A's vs. Mets
We get it, the Mets bought Delgado, Glavine, Lo Duca and Lichtenstein while the Twins or A's have to sleep at the stadium because they have nowhere else to go.

Really, It's Just the Timing
A's vs. Padres
NorCal vs. SoCal! Intra-state clash! Two similar, yet distinctly unique cultures on display as...the East Coast is either asleep or the West Coast is at work during the games.

Please Rise for our National Anthem, Performed by Journey
Yankees vs. Dodgers, Tigers vs. Padres, Twins vs. Cardinals, A's vs. Dodgers
All four matchups happened back in the 80s ('81, '84, '87, '88 in the order above). I'm sure we'll see hours of footage regardless of which one happens, unless it's '88. Then we'll just see the Kirk Gibson homer off Dennis Eckersley on loop until people go on hunger strikes in protest. Guilty note: I think a Yankees/Dodgers matchup would be fun just because of all the history. I'm done - back to the snark.

I've Had it with the "Genius" Tag
Tigers vs. Cardinals
Hey, weren't Tony La Russa and Jim Leyland supposed to manage against each other in the World Series 15 years ago? Where's my Bell Biv Devoe tape?

A's vs. Cardinals
La Russa can be pretty obnoxious. I don't need Fox's help as he takes on his former club. The Cardinals are lucky just to have made the playoffs and are barely over .500, so please, no need to get on your knees this time. And you know they're going to call Pujols and Rolen the "New Bash Brothers." You've been warned.

Ever Heard of that Kirk Gibson Guy?
Tigers vs. Dodgers
This is the matchup I'm personally rooting for, but I'll admit by the time it's over we will have a more intimate knowledge of Gibson than his wife. Yes, he was on both the '84 Tigers and '88 Dodgers when they won the World Series. You don't have to go to a shot of him every other pitch as if he were part of the cast of a flagging Fox drama.

Time to Go Behind the Woodshed
Yankees vs. Padres
Kevin Brown isn't what he was back in '98. One of the most lopsided World Series in recent memory. Big market/small market. How the Yankees have changed since they were the best team since the '27 Yankees. Shoot me.

Cringing...
Yankees vs. Cardinals
Take your pick - you could either listen to Tim McCarver slobbering over Jeter's intangibles or Joe Buck rambling about his father, the late, great voice of the Cardinals and the real reason little Joey is where he is today. Granted, it would be a touching moment if the Cardinals won this matchup and Joe spontaneously said a little something for his dad, but unfortunately Joe Buck is as spontaneous as a shuttle launch.

Not If There's a God in Heaven
Yankees vs. Mets
I think we all saw this one coming.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I've been procrastinating on my prognosticating

Since Mizzou is 5-0 for the first time in my lifetime, I thought I'd actually pitch in on here for the first time as well. And now that I'm 2-for-2 in correctly predicting Esquire's Sexiest Woman Alive (Erica can vouch for this), I'll follow the directives of the omnipresent Winstar billboards and strike again while my luck is still hot. Here we go:

Scenario 1: Best, albeit unrealistic, case
Mizzou is for real — the nonconference schedule was just the right balance of cupcake self-esteem boostery and legitimate challenge, and they're primed to tear through the season. Plus, they get lucky whenever they need to.
@ Texas Tech Having studied the TCU game tapes, Mizzou's defense shuts down Tech's high-flying offense, and Chase Daniel doesn't make any mistakes. Mizzou wins by a touchdown or two.
@ Texas A&M Plain and simple: A&M sucks. Even in College Station, this isn't even a contest. Mizzou handily.
vs. Kansas State The Wildcats always give Mizzou a good game, which this might be in Manhattan. But this one's in CoMo. Mizzou in a rout.
vs. Oklahoma One of those games where everything falls Mizzou's way — a tipped ball here, a gust of wind there, maybe even a well-timed fluke injury. Home-field advantage helps too. Mizzou squeaks by on sheer luck.
@ Nebraska Sure, the Huskers romped the
Little Sisters of the Blind, but they haven't looked so powerful against respectable programs. All the same, Lincoln's never an easy place to play. Mizzou wins, but it's close.
@ Iowa State They're just not very good. Mizzou wins easily.
vs. Kansas This game can never be taken for granted, but in a miracle of miracles, Gary Pinkel makes his players forget that they have "Mizzou" on their jerseys, and they a) continue working hard despite having the division title already clinched and b) ignore the constant media attention that they're getting as an undefeated team. No one can stop their momentum.
Big 12 Championship Except Texas, that is. (Sorry, I have to make this a tad believable.)
Bowl game The four at-large BCS berths go to the Michigan/OSU loser, Notre Dame, Boise State (guaranteed by finishing with a better record than the ACC champ) ... and Mizzou. (It helps that the SEC powers all beat up on one another.) With the Pac-10 and Big 10 champs in the Championship, the Rose Bowl has two spots to fill, and they take the Michigan/OSU loser and Mizzou. Tigers put up a good fight, but they're simply outplayed.
Final record 12-2, and the stretch of Stadium Boulevard from Carrie Francke Drive to College Avenue is renamed Pinkel Parkway.

That was fun, wasn't it? But bringing it back at least into the troposphere, if not all the way down to Earth...

Scenario 2: Optimistic, but realistic
The Tigers prove that the 5-0 start was no fluke, and the could-go-either-way games go their way. But they're still not yet to that upper echelon.
@ Tech Tech is beatable, and though it's close, Mizzou beats 'em.
@ A&M Aggies make it a game, but they can't sustain the effort. Their fans are actually happy about the loss, since it's another nail for Franchione's coffin.
vs. K-State K-State's having a rebuilding year, to describe a lose-to-Baylor year nicely. Plus, Mizzou's relishing the chance to turn the annual thümpinwümpin on its head. A solid win.
vs. Oklahoma Home-field helps make it close, but Mizzou's offense isn't quite polished enough to compete with the big boys. Plus, the pressure of being 8-0 is a little much for a young team (not to mention for a program that hasn't been 8-0 since the Eisenhower Administration).
@ Nebraska Yeah, Nebraska's not the juggernaut it once was, but dang, it's hard to win in Lincoln. The letdown from the previous week's loss doesn't help either, and Mizzou loses by a touchdown.
@ Iowa State This is a nice pick-me-up. Not a blowout, but a good, convincing win.
vs. Kansas KU brings its A game, but so do the Tigers. With the North Division title within reach, they don't disappoint. (Colorado disappoints, though, failing to beat Nebraska, which wins the North in the head-to-head tiebreaker with Mizzou.)
Bowl game Texas goes to the BCS, Oklahoma to the Cotton and Nebraska to the Holiday (the Huskers have a worse overall record than Mizzou, but hordes of traveling Husker fans = bigtime revenue). Mizzou is the fourth team chosen, heading to the Alamo Bowl to face Wisconsin. Big Poppa remains loyal despite threats from kin and childhood friends, and Mizzou shows that the Badgers were more lucky than good (e.g. not having to play Ohio State or Michigan State).
Final record 11-2, and Columbia still throws Gary Pinkel a parade.

Scenario 3: Cautious, a.k.a. realisticer
The Tigers' hot streak was fun, but it didn't prove a whole lot. But by all means, it's a surprisingly good season that shows lots of promise.
@ Tech Remember how Colorado moved the ball on Mizzou but got stopped in the red zone? Well, Tech's offense is better. It's the first time the Tigers face a good team, and their weaknesses (and youth) are exposed. Tech wins by 10.
@ A&M This has could-go-either-way written all over it. The lack of momentum caused by the Tech loss plus the imposing confines of Kyle Field are what tip it against the Tigers, and they blow it late.
vs. K-State Mizzou's hungry coming back to Faurot, and K-State is reeling after four straight losses. Plus, it's homecoming. The Tigers regain their beginning-of-season form.
vs. Oklahoma Mistakes don't cost Mizzou this game, which is good. Getting outplayed by OU does, which is bad, though not unexpected..
@ Nebraska It's close, but Nebraska learned from the KU scare. Someday the Tigers will win in Lincoln. Not this time.
@ Iowa State This might be the "cautious" prediction, but Mizzou's still a better team than Iowa State. Tigers by 14.
vs. Kansas Oh, how those wily Jayhawks like to throw a wrench into things. But Mizzou claws back in the second half, and Chase Daniel nearly singlehandedly wins the game. Harpo's saves him a piece o' goalpoast.
Bowl game The bowls are dealt out as above, except Tech goes to the Alamo. Mizzou heads to the Brut™ Sun Bowl, where they draw the Pac-10 No. 3. Cal is just too good for the Tigers to keep up, but at least they don't embarrass themselves.
Final record 8-5, and Gary Pinkel gets a contract extension.

Scenario 4: Skies above us are gray.
It turns out the only reason the Tigers are undefeated because they haven't played anyone good, and one thing leads to another. I hate to think this way, but I've seen too many promising Mizzou teams collapse (see: basketball at No. 2 in the country, the Brad Smith Era taken as a whole) to not have this in the back of my head. And imagine how pessimistic I'd be if I'd been around for the Fifth Down or Flea-Kicker.
@ Tech Pop! The hype is deflated. In Mizzou's first game against anyone ranked, Mike Leach and Co. have a field day in front of their home crowd.
@ A&M Lubbock was bad, but Aggie fans are downright crazy. Chase Daniel just can't get his footing or bearings or what have you, and the Tigers are behind from the beginning.
vs. K-State Some teams, when they keep losing, get in a funk. Some get really angry and motivated. In this case, Mizzou's the former, K-State's the latter. The Tigers are the better team, but turnovers kill them.
vs. Oklahoma Mizzou holds them for a little while, but OU breaks it open and runs away with it. A long way.
@ Nebraska Just ugly.
@ Iowa State A season without off-the-field problems? Yeah, right. Who knows what it is this year, but even if it's something as uncontroversial as an injury, it catches up to them. A five-game losing streak has left them with no confidence at all, and they drop a matchup they would've won had it been in Week 6.
vs. Kansas No matter how bad the Jayhawks are, they play hard against Mizzou. And this year, they're not bad. The chance for a break-even record and a berth in the former Galleryfurniture.com Bowl just can't motivate these once-starry-eyed Tigers. Remember Chase Patton? Let's just say we see him by the second quarter. The few fans that are still a) in Faurot and b) sober see him at least. ¡No más!
Final record 5-7, and Gary Pinkel joins Quin wherever he is these days.