Friday, July 29, 2016

Carrying the Stars & Stripes In Rio

The Rio Olympics are getting close!  They're a week away in fact.  This morning, the USOC finally unveiled the uniforms that Team USA will wear as they enter the Maracana next Friday.  (Now if NBC would just announce the day-by-day TV schedule!)  Now all that's left is finding out who'll be the flag bearer and get to wear that ridiculous blazer where the "USA" on the back lights up.

Flag bearer announcements have been trickling in from other nations for weeks now, but the United States always makes the decision later.  That's what happens when your delegation features 555 athletes in almost every sport!  They usually do a vote among the captains of each team in the Olympic Village a few days before the Opening Ceremony.  I'm expecting that to happen once again, which means we'll find out the flag bearer on probably Tuesday or Wednesday (maybe even Thursday).

It's usually someone who has a great Olympic story that gets the honor of leading Team USA into the stadium.  In 2012, it was Mariel Zagunis, who became the first American to win a gold medal in fencing in Athens, then repeated in Beijing.  That was doubly significant because London marked the first time that women outnumbered men on the U.S. team (which has happened again this year).  Meanwhile, the 2008 flag bearer was Lopez Lomong, who had only become an American citizen a year earlier after escaping the civil war in Sudan.

There are plenty of athletes who fit the bill for flag bearer duty in Rio.  Some of the obvious candidates won't be able to do it, either.  If you're thinking Michael Phelps, that's unlikely.  Although, unlike his previous Olympic appearances, he won't be swimming on the first day of competition this year, so I guess he can't be ruled out entirely.  I'd say another unlikely choice who can't be completely ruled out is Kerri Walsh Jennings.  We all know the story there, of course.  She's looking for her fourth straight gold medal, this time with new partner April Ross, and is a five-time Olympian after being on the indoor team in Sydney.

But I'm thinking it won't be either Phelps or Walsh Jennings.  One of the great things about the U.S. selection process is that it's not always who you would immediately think.  In fact, it's usually somebody who isn't from one of the high-profile sports.  It's a chance for someone else to get the Olympic moment they deserve.

With that in mind, here are some names I think will receive some heavy consideration:

  • Kim Rhode, Shooting: I don't think Kim Rhode gets anywhere near enough credit for what she's done in her Olympic career.  This is her sixth Olympics.  She's medaled at each of the previous five.  Rhode isn't just the first American to win an individual Olympic medal at five consecutive games, she'll also be the first (and one of a handful ever) to compete in an Olympics on five different continents,
  • Gwen Jorgensen, Triathlon: After being held on the opening weekend in London, they've moved the triathlon to later in the Games, which means Gwen Jorgensen will have the opportunity to march in the Opening Ceremony this time.  She a two-time World Champion and now a two-time Olympian.
  • Reid Priddy, Volleyball: Most people don't realize this, but the U.S. men's volleyball team is actually one of the best in the world.  The 39-year-old Priddy has been on the team for 12 years, and this is his fourth Olympics.  He was on the gold medal-winning squad (that beat Brazil in the final) in 2008.
  • Tony Azevedo, Water Polo: Tony Azevedo is the captain of the men's water polo team, so he'll be one of the people voting, which may take him out of the running.  Which it shouldn't.  Because he isn't just a five-time Olympian.  He's a five-time Olympian that was born in Rio.
  • Kristin Armstrong, Cycling: Another one that's probably unlikely because she'll be competing on the opening weekend of the Games.  Kristin Armstrong won gold in Beijing, retired, came back in 2011, and defended her gold medal in London, only to retire again.  Well, she's once again un-retired, and looking for her third straight Olympic title in the time trial.
  • Kanak Jha, Table Tennis: Unlike the others I've mentioned here, Jha is a first-time Olympian.  So why does he deserve the honor?  He's only 16.  The first U.S. Olympian born in the 21st century.  Other countries do the youngest on the team thing, which the U.S. usually doesn't.  But that would be a cool reason to pick him.
  • David Boudia, Diving: Remember when the USA was just as dominant in diving as China?  Yeah, I don't either.  In fact, Boudia's gold on the platform in London was the first for an American in 12 years.  He also won a bronze in synchro platform four years ago.  Boudia came out of retirement for Rio, mainly because he wants to share the Olympic experience with his wife and newborn baby.
  • Jordan Burroughs, Wrestling: Wrestling has been through a lot of crap in the last four years.  Voted out of the Olympics, then voted right back in.  Jordan Burroughs was dominating the sport the entire time.  He's the defending Olympic champion in his weight class, and he's also won two World Championships and a Pan Am Games gold medal since London.
  • Kayla Harrison, Judo: She won America's first-ever judo gold medal in London, but that's only half the story.  After the win, she revealed that she had been sexually abused by her coach, which caused her to move away from home.  She overcame that to become an Olympic champion, and goes for another title in Brazil.
  • Steven Lopez, Taekwondo: Ever since taekwondo was added to the Olympic program in 2000, the Lopez family has been synonymous with the sport in the United States.  And Steven Lopez is the most decorated member of that family.  This is his fifth appearance.  He won gold at the first two, bronze in Beijing, and lost in the first round in London on a broken leg.  This might be the final Olympic go-round for the 37-year-old, who was born in Nicaragua.
While it really could be anybody, I wouldn't be surprised to see the U.S. flag bearer be one of the 10 athletes I just mentioned.  If I had to narrow it down, I'd peg Kim Rhode and Tony Azevedo as the favorites, with my vote going to Rhode.  And remember, I nailed it when I said Todd Lodwick would get the honor in Sochi.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Worst Jerseys In History

White Sox ace Chris Sale was suspended without pay by the team on Saturday for destroying the mid-70s throwback jerseys they were going to wear that night.  He claimed that they were "uncomfortable" and that the White Sox should be more concerned with winning games than selling jerseys.  They were 100 percent right to suspend him, but he did have a point about the uniforms.  They're possibly the ugliest things that were ever worn on a baseball field!

The White Sox have a long history of terrible uniforms, but those ones from the mid-70s definitely take the cake.  Untucked shirts with giant collars and shorts.  Why they've been revived I have no idea.  At least they've ditched the shorts on the throwbacks.  These are easily some of the worst uniforms not just in baseball history, but in the history of all of sports.

Who joins the White Sox on this list?  Well, the Houston Astros and their "Tequila Sunrise" motif have to be there.  Of course, a lot of people would argue that these are the classic Astros jerseys, and they lasted a while.  In fact, they're so popular that Adidas made it one of their uniform templates, and there are a number of college baseball/softball teams that have their own version of the design.

I've got to say the original Tampa Bay Devil Rays uniforms from their expansion season rank right up there among the most awful ever to grace a baseball field.  The team was just as bad as their uniforms.  Is it a coincidence that they finally get good and make the World Series the same year they drop the "Devil" from their name?  I think not.

But this is by no means baseball's exclusive domain.  Have you seen some of the uniforms the Philadelphia 76ers have trotted out there in?  The worst have to be the ones Shawn Bradley was subjected to during his career.

Another tall guy who got stuck wearing a terrible uniform was Bryant "Big Country" Reeves.  The Grizzlies have definitely improved on the uniform front since moving to Memphis, but their expansion getup in Vancouver was awful on so many levels.  From the 3D lettering to the gigantic grizzly bear on the shorts to the overuse of teal that ran rampant in the mid-90s.

These New Jersey Nets jerseys from the same era took ugly to another level, though.  Modeled by the late, great Drazen Petrovic, I can't even begin to describe what we're looking at here.  It's like somebody played with the gradient feature on Photoshop a little too long.

Hockey is by no means immune to terrible jerseys, either.  Case in point, the New York Islanders' infamous fish sticks monstrosity.  What was it about the mid-90s?  These uniforms were so terrible on so many levels that the Islanders abandoned them after just two seasons!

And if you thought the Grizzlies were alone in giving the people of Vancouver terrible uniforms to look at, you'd be wrong.  The Canucks have definitely contributed their share of fashion mistakes, as well.  I think you know which one was the worst, though.  I can't decide which was worse, so I'm putting the yellow and brown side-by-side and letting you decide.

Most people don't remember this about the LA Kings, but when they first started, they had the same purple and gold color scheme as the Lakers.  And it lasted a lot longer than it should have.  Fortunately they changed to Raiders black and silver just as Wayne Gretzky arrived.  The yellow ones have actually been revived as throwbacks in recent years, too, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them again if the Kings play in a Stadium Series/Winter Classic.

In the NFL, we get the weekly privilege of the Thursday night "color rush," which the league thinks is a good idea, but isn't.  Last season, we had the "color blind" game between the Bills and Jets, and the "ketchup vs. mustard" matchup between the Bucs and Rams.

There are plenty of full-time current NFL uniforms that are horrible, though.  In fact, with the exception of the Vikings, any uniform that's been changed in the last five years is terrible.  From the Browns looking like a college team (and often playing like one) to the Seahawks with their giant numbers and monochrome to the Bucs with their alarm-clock font.  But it's the Jaguars that take the cake as the worst of the worst in the modern NFL.  Why are the helmets two different colors?

For the most part, I love it when NFL teams wear throwbacks.  If only to see how uniforms that looked great with leather helmets look so stupid now.  Like that game every year when the Steelers bust out the bumblebees for all of our enjoyment.

Meanwhile, if you go way back to the inaugural season of the AFL, you've got the Broncos and their wonderfully awful brown and yellow vertically-striped socks.  Most definitely a far cry from the beautiful orange jerseys that the franchise has since become known for.

This is just a small sampling of the terrible uniforms we've seen over the years.  Some teams (San Diego Padres, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers) have repeatedly had trouble getting it right, and others just made some terrible miscalculations on redesigns (remember the Sabres' "buffaslug?"), while the NBA made all of its teams wear sleeves on Christmas a few years ago (I think LeBron James called them "pajamas").  And we'll soon get the joy of NBA jerseys with advertising patches on them, since this is apparently European soccer.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Let's Go to the Videotape

I have a problem.  I'm the first to admit it.  Not only do I still have a VCR, I still use it.  Not a lot, but I still do.  Don't judge me.  (Yes, I acknowledge that you can find pretty much any video you want online or on demand, and I have so many shows set on my DVR that I can't even count them.  That's not the point.)

Anyway, I was very saddened by the news from the other day that the last VCR ever will be produced this month.  I know most people are indifferent to this news, and frankly, I'm just as surprised as you that there still was a company making VCRs.  Now, the VCR isn't going to become completely extinct.  There are still holdouts like me, and you can get one on Amazon or eBay for like $50.  (You still need some way of watching all those movies you only have on VHS.)  But it's definitely the end of an era.

This isn't something I didn't see coming.  Like I said, I was surprised to find out that there were still VCRs in production.  Because of this, I had the foresight to get a DVD recorder a few years ago, connected it to an old TV and started transferring some of my old VHS tapes to DVD.  You may be wondering where I'm going with all of this.  Well, most of those VHS tapes that I've since converted are sporting events.  Some of these are classic games that I've since been able to watch on ESPN Classic or NFL Network or, yes, on YouTube, while others are much more obscure.

My dad got a VCR for Christmas in 1985.  I'm way too young to actually remember that, so how do I know the exact date?  Because one of the oldest VHS games I have is Super Bowl XX, which was played in January 1986.  From then on, taping the Super Bowl became an annual ritual, one I took over in 1994, when he was in the hospital for Super Bowl XXIX.  Thirty years later, I've kept that tradition going.  Super Bowl 50 in February was the 31st straight in the collection, which has also had a couple ones going further back that aired on NFL Network added.

For a while, I recorded those Super Bowl highlights on ESPN, too.  I did the marathon one year, then would add the next one every Super Bowl Sunday.  But, I've actually already started to weed myself off those (see, progress).  I haven't felt the need since those Super Bowl DVD collections, which include those exact same NFL Films highlights,  (Any word on when the XLI-50 DVD will be released, by the way?)  Now I just stick to the DVDs and the marathons, which now air on NFL Network.

It's not just football, though.  As I sit here watching "Survive and Advance," the 30 for 30 about Jim Valvano's NCAA championship team at NC State, I've got that game, too.  And the North Carolina-Georgetown classic from 1982.  I pulled those off ESPN Classic to go along with every NCAA championship game since 1996.

There's some baseball, too, although less than you might think.  I do have both Yankees perfect games, though.  This was long before the YES Network had the replay later that night and again the next morning, too.  For the David Wells game, the replay (which was on their first off day afterwards) was the first time I had ever seen it.  It was a Sunday afternoon, but I missed the game because I had my high school track championships at the same time.  When my mom came to pick me up and take me to church, she nonchalantly said, "David Wells pitched a perfect game."  I'll never forget it.  I missed the end of David Cone's the next year because there was a half-hour rain delay, which meant I had to listen to the ninth inning in the car on the way to 5:00 Mass.

All-Star Games.  Those started in 2003, when I had to work during the game.  That epic 15-inning game at Yankee Stadium in 2008 required some maneuvering.  Thanks to also DVRing the game and cutting out the commercials starting in like the sixth inning, Justin Morneau scores on Michael Young's sac fly just before the tape runs out.  Later that year, I obviously had to get the final game at the Old Yankee Stadium for sentimental reasons.

Then there are all the Olympics.  Opening and Closing Ceremonies going back to Atlanta in 1996, plus a good amount of NBC's coverage of every Games since 2000 (even some of the Canadian coverage from when I lived in Buffalo).  Assuming he actually does hang it up after Rio, I'll have every Olympic final Michael Phelps ever swam in, which is kind of impressive if you think about it.  Plenty of those Bud Greespan Olympic documentaries were taped, as well.

Perhaps the coolest thing I have in my collection is the Miracle On Ice game.  This game took place two years before I was even born (my sister who's two years older than me was still a month away from being born, in fact).  It aired on ESPN Classic for I want to say the 20th anniversary.  I didn't get ESPN Classic at the time.  But my aunt & uncle did.  And they taped the game for me.

As you can see, my attachment to my VCR is somewhat emotional.  I grew up with it, and just thinking about it brings back so many happy memories.  I feel like I'm losing a part of my childhood.  That's why I'm holding out as long as I possibly can.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Big 12 Getting Bigger

It's really no surprise that the Big 12 is talking about expansion.  I predicted this what, like two years ago?  And it makes sense.  Every other BCS conference has at least 12 teams.  The ACC has 15, and the SEC and Big Ten both have 14.  Especially with the College Football Playoff only taking four teams, they understandably want to level the playing field a little bit.  Because more often than not, it's the Big 12 that gets the short end of the stick.

I'm not surprised by the schools that they're talking to, either.  BYU is the most obvious candidate to join a major conference of any school.  And they fit into the Big 12 footprint, so adding the Cougars would be smart all the way around.  But they can't just add BYU.  So who else?  Well, it's well-known that most of the schools in the American Athletic Conference are chomping at the bit to get out of there.  And you knew that the first time any of the Power Five talked of expansion, the American would be the most likely place to look for candidates.

Colorado State has been mentioned as an option, too, and I've always thought a BYU-Colorado State expansion would be the most logical move for the Big 12.  Remember, they haven't had the Denver market since Colorado left for the Pac-12, and Colorado State would bring the Rockies back into the Big 12 footprint.  Most of the American schools, meanwhile, would expand the conference's reach, which is another important thing these leagues look for with expansion.  Among the names mentioned were Central Florida, Memphis and Cincinnati, with UConn also being talked about, but unlikely.

West Virginia in the Big 12 has never made sense.  They aren't remotely close geographically to the entire rest of the conference.  It's like when Boston College first joined the ACC and there wasn't a single conference team anywhere near them.  Eventually, the ACC made them happy by adding Syracuse and Pitt, just like part of the reason the Big Ten added Rutgers and Maryland was to give Penn State some local opponents.

For West Virginia, the preferred addition would likely be either Cincinnati or Memphis.  Cincinnati has been one of the schools more vocal in their discontent with their present situation.  They've been itching to get in the ACC for a while, so you'd have to imagine they'd jump at the chance to join the Big 12.  Although, I'm not sure the Bearcats are exactly what the Big 12 is looking for.  Keep in mind, they want a strong football program.

Which brings us to Houston, which has emerged as the favorite to join BYU in Big 12 expansion, whenever it may be.  At first glance, Houston may come off as a bit of a surprise.  But looking at it closer, Houston really does seem the perfect fit for the Big 12.  The other four Texas schools probably wouldn't be too happy to have another in-state conference member to go against for recruiting purposes.  But, with Texas A&M in the SEC, how many in-state recruits are the Texas schools losing already?  Maybe if Houston makes the jump from the American to the Big 12, which will improve their recruiting base, that keeps some of those Texas kids in the Big 12.

The Texas governor made a ridiculous demand yesterday that any Big 12 expansion "must" involve Houston, calling the issue a "non-starter" if they weren't included.  Now, I'm pretty sure the Governor of Texas has no power when it comes to making decisions for the Big 12 Conference.  But, the University of Texas sure does.  And the Longhorns support the addition of Houston, too.

And if you think about it, Houston really is the most logical option for the Big 12 for a number of reasons.  First off, it gives them back Houston.  Texas A&M isn't really in Houston (it's pretty much halfway between Houston and Austin), but having a base in the city was one of the main reasons why the SEC added Texas A&M.  Now the Big 12 will be back in Houston, and actually IN the city.  Likewise, Houston isn't an unfamiliar opponent to anybody in the Big 12.  Houston had longstanding rivalries with Texas, Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech in the days of the old Southwest Conference, and I'm sure that after 30 years in Conference USA and the American, the Cougars would love to be reunited with their in-state foes.

Bringing in Houston would also give the Big 12 an easy split for its divisions.  They'd have five Texas schools and West Virginia.  There's your "South" division, with everybody else in the "North."  Taking another school (Colorado State, for example) would make that division tougher, especially since all of the Texas schools would want to make sure they all continue to play each other.  Putting them all in the same division with the one outlier makes it incredibly easy.  It would also give the Big 12 the option of using both AT&T Stadium and Reliant Stadium for the conference championship game, which is being reinstated no matter what.

While nothing is official yet and the Big 12 is still technically "exploring its options," expansion sure seems inevitable.  It's like when the NHL was courting Las Vegas before officially awarding the franchise.  They wouldn't be talking about it if it wasn't going to happen.  And it sure looks like BYU and Houston are both on board.  The Big 12's name will be correct once again.  Soon.  Maybe as early as the 2017-18 school year.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What to Do About Russia

I finally got a chance to peruse the damning report into Russian doping by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, so I now have a slightly better understanding into the scope of this mess.  WADA immediately called for the entire Russian team to be banned from Rio, and the IOC held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation, after which they said they would "explore their legal options."

The IOC has been hearing contrasting opinions from all across the globe regarding what should be done about the Russian team.  Before the report was even released, Canada and the United States had a letter already prepared urging the IOC to issue a blanket ban.  After it came out, a number of other countries joined that chorus.  It's not that easy for the IOC, though.  The Rio Olympics are just two and a half weeks away, and they're still waiting for the Court of Arbitration for Sport to decide on the fate of Russia's track team.  And you know that the IOC and the Russian athletes would be right back in the CAS if others were banned.

It would be an unprecedented step to keep Russia out of the Games entirely, and I don't think it's a precedent the IOC wants to set.  Because it would be a dangerous one.  Nations have been barred for political reasons (most notably South Africa, which didn't compete from 1964-88 because of apartheid, and World War II losers Germany and Japan weren't invited to the 1948 Games), and of course, there were the boycotts in 1980 and 1984.  But no nation has ever been held out of Olympic competition because of doping.  Not even the East Germans, who had that state-run doping program for years.

Perhaps the biggest argument against keeping the entire Russian Olympic Team out of Rio, though, is that there are a number of international federations that they want Russia there.  In fact, the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations has publicly declared its opposition to such a move, stressing the need for "individual justice" instead.  There are also a number of sports that weren't mentioned in the McLaren report.  If there's no evidence of doping in those sports, what are your grounds for excluding that team?  Guilt by association?

As IOC President Thomas Bach, in the best quote by anyone regarding this scandal, said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "You can't punish a badminton player for rules manipulation at the Winter Games."  His obvious implication there is that if Russia was cheating during the Sochi Games, that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the summer-sport athletes who'd be in Rio.  That would be like the NCAA giving somebody a bowl ban because their women's soccer team committed a violation.

Volleyball is one sport where no Russian doping problem seems to exist.  The FIVB was the first international federation to come out in support of Russia.  The FIG (gymnastics) is another.  No Russian gymnasts were implicated.  And the dominant Russian synchronized swimming team has apparently been doing it clean.  And how about Darya Klishina, the one track & field athlete who's been given approval to go?

A valid point made by a high-ranking European sports official (I've read so many articles about this in the last two days that I've forgotten which points were in which and names are getting mixed up) is that doping isn't exclusive to Russia.  But where are the calls to ban Kenya?  While, I can't say I completely agree with the Kremlin's claims of "Western persecution," it certainly does seem like selective enforcement.  Especially since the U.S. has three athletes on its men's track & field team that have previously served doping suspensions (Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and LaShawn Merritt).

Also, and this is something I've said repeatedly throughout this ordeal, a ban of the entire Russian Olympic team seems totally unjust and completely disproportionate.  Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?  Yes, there was obvious wrongdoing.  Blood samples were changed, sometimes in the middle of the night.  But how can you say for sure that the athletes who had their samples swapped knew it?  Likewise, how can you say that every Russian who took performance-enhancing drugs was aware of it?  Or had a choice?  The East Germans didn't.

Does that excuse every athletes from blame?  Of course not.  I'm sure there were plenty of Russians who knew exactly what they were doing.  They deserve to be banned.  But there can't possibly be a person who honestly believes that every Russian athlete in every sport was doping, and doing so deliberately.  From what it sounds like, though, this was a decision made by the higher-ups, and they're the ones who deserve to be punished.

One thing in the McLaren report that I do believe is that this all started after Russia's disappointing showing at the 2010 Winter Olympics.  They were embarrassed by their performance in Vancouver and didn't want to repeat it on home soil four years later.  That's why it wasn't a surprise to see that the three main events that raised doping red flags were the 2013 World Track & Field Championships (in Moscow), the 2014 Winter Olympics (in Sochi) and the 2015 World Swimming Championships (in Kazan).  What do those three events have in common?  Maybe that's the root of the problem.

After its Executive Board teleconference earlier today, the IOC was very deliberate in its choice of words.  They stopped short of prohibiting Russia from entering any athletes in the Rio Games, aware of the legal challenge that would present.  Instead, they instituted a number of smaller reforms that are no less significant.  For example, no member of the Russian Ministry of Sport will be issued a credential for Rio, and neither will anyone named in the report.  They're also going to reanalyze the samples provided by every Russian athlete in Sochi.

But, perhaps most importantly, they won't organize or promote any sports event or meeting in Russia.  That includes the 2019 European Games, which Russia was set to host.  Beyond that, though, they don't want any winter sports held in Russia at all right now.  They've encouraged winter sports federations to pull any events already scheduled for the country and move them somewhere else, as well as not scheduling future championships there.  It's too late to do anything about next year's Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup, but you know FIFA's monitoring what's going on, too.

There's a lot more to this story, and this is still a long way from over.  I'm sure we'll spend the next two and a half weeks until the Olympics start talking about it.  And we definitely will as the Games progress, whether or not Russia's there.

Keeping them out would be a major statement.  But it would be the wrong one.  Because it wouldn't be a move "in defense of clean sport."  It would be to appease the very vocal groups that are calling for Russia's heads.  That's not "justice," and it's just as wrong.

If these allegations are proven true, then, fine, ban them from Pyeongchang and even Tokyo if you want.  But let's not rush to judgment.  And let's not take it out on the athletes.  Especially the innocent ones who just want to fulfill their Olympic dreams.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

We're Going Streaking

Today marks the 75th anniversary of one of the most iconic streaks in all of sports.  On this date 75 years ago, Joe DiMaggio didn't get a hit.  Why is that noteworthy?  Because he had in each of the preceding 56!  No one has come anywhere close to a 56-game hitting streak ever since, and it seems highly unlikely that anyone ever will.  It's right at the top of the list of "unbreakable" records.

In celebration of DiMaggio's 56, I came up with a list of some of the most impressive individual streaks across all sports.  So, you won't be seeing the '72 Dolphins or UConn women's basketball here.  This is also regular season streaks only for the team sports, so Reggie Jackson's three straight World Series home runs are also out.  (Also, after No. 1, this list is in no particular order other than the order I thought of them.)

Cal Ripken (2,632 games played): If DiMaggio's hitting streak isn't baseball's most iconic record for consecutive anything, Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak is.  It started on May 30, 1982, he broke Lou Gehrig's record on Sept. 5, 1995, then he played in 501 more before ending the streak by choice on Sept. 19, 1998.  During that span, there was also a streak of 8,243 consecutive innings from June 5, 1982-Sept. 14, 1987.

Johnny Vander Meer (back-to-back no-hitters): Chalk this one up as another of baseball's unbreakable records.  There are a handful of no-hitters every year, but it's very rare to have two by the same pitcher in the same season.  Most guys don't even throw two no-hitters in their career.  Johnny Vander Meer threw two four days apart in 1938, beating the Braves, then the Dodgers (in the first-ever night game at Ebbets Field).  He almost threw another one in his next start, too.

Martina Navratilova (74-match winning streak): Navratilova went 86-1 in 1983, losing only in the fourth round of the French Open.  That was just a warmup.  In 1984, she won 74 straight matches from January-December.  She won the first three Grand Slam tournaments that year, giving her six straight over two years (which is tied for the record with Steffi Graf and Maureen Connolly).  But Martina's quest for a calendar year Slam ended in the semifinals of the Australian Open (which was held in December then).  Oh yeah, and all this was happening while Martina was simultaneously in the middle of a 109-match doubles winning streak with Pam Shriver.

Wayne Gretzky (51 straight games with a point): Gretzky holds 61 NHL records, including 40 regular-season marks, so there were a lot to choose from.  But I'm going with his 51 consecutive games with a point from Oct. 5, 1983-Jan. 28, 1984.  That's the first 51 games of the season!  He had 61 goals in that span, to tie his record for goals in the first 50 games (the slacker only had an assist in the 51st).

Connie Mack (50 seasons as manager): It helped that Mack owned the team, which is the only way this was possible, but his 50 years as manager of the Philadelphia Athletics is another one of those marks that will never be touched.  Baseball's all-time winningest manger (also baseball's all-time losingest manager), he famously wore a suit and tie in the dugout from 1901-50.

Drew Brees (54 straight with touchdown pass): Johnny Unitas held this record for a long time, throwing a TD in 47 straight games from 1956-60.  It wasn't Brett Favre that broke this record.  Or Peyton Manning.  It was Drew Brees, who got to 48 on Oct. 7, 2012.  He threw a touchdown pass in six more games before going without one against the Falcons on Nov. 29, 2012.

Gordie Howe (25 seasons with one team): I looked thru the most consecutive seasons with one team leaders in all four major sports, and decided whoever's streak was the longest would get the nod.  That turned out to be the late "Mr. Hockey," who set too many records to count during his legendary career.  Including 25 straight seasons with the Red Wings from 1946-71.  Think about that for a second.  His streak covered almost the entire Original Six era (which started in 1942) AND the first four seasons after the 1967 expansion.

Eric Gagne (84 consecutive saves): Even those who think the save is an overrated statistic would have a hard time arguing that Gagne's streak isn't impressive.  He went 84-for-84 in save opportunities from Aug. 28, 2002-July 5, 2004, including a perfect 55-for-55 in 2003, when he rightfully won the NL Cy Young.  Even Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in history, didn't have a two-year run of dominance like that.

Roger Federer (10 straight Grand Slam finals): Which one of Roger Federer's records is the most impressive?  He's got consecutive Grand Slam appearances (65), consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals (36; that's nine! years) and consecutive Grand Slam semifinals (23).  But there's one streak within those other three that trumps them all.  Roger made 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals from 2005 Wimbledon to the 2007 US Open.  Then, after losing in the semis of the 2008 Australian Open, he went to eight finals in a row.  That's 18 out of 19 Grand Slam finals.  Even Novak Djokovic can't say he's done that.

Floyd Mayweather/Rocky Marciano (49-0): Mayweather got to 49-0 with his win over Andre Berto last September.  He then promptly retired (whether or not he'll stay retired is a different question), meaning he's one of two boxing champions to end their career a perfect 49-0.  The other was the great heavyweight Rocky Marciano, whose record went untouched for nearly 60 years until Mayweather matched it.

Carl Lewis/Al Oerter (4 Olympic golds in same event): Michael Phelps has two chances to add his name to this list in Rio, but, as of now, only Carl Lewis and Al Oerter can say they won the same individual event at four straight Olympics.  Lewis won the long jump in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996 to join Oerter in the club.  Oerter was the discus champion in 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968 (winning Olympic gold on four different continents).  Two sailors, Denmark's Paul Elvstrom and Great Britain's Ben Ainslie, have also won individual gold in four straight Olympics, but they both won different classes during their streaks.

Armin Zoeggler (6 Olympic medals in same event): The Winter Olympic equivalent of Lewis and Oerter is probably Italian luger Armin Zoeggler.  He's competed in six Olympics--and won a medal in all of them.  After winning bronze in 1994 and silver in 1998, Zoeggler won back-to-back golds in 2002 and 2006 (the second of which came on his home track).  He followed that up with bronzes in Vancouver and Sochi.

Hubert Raudaschl (9 Olympic appearances): You're forgiven if you don't know who Hubert Raudaschl is.  He's an Austrian sailor who competed in every Summer Olympics from 1964-96.  The record for Olympic appearances is 10 by Canadian equestrian rider Ian Millar, but Canada boycotted the 1980 Games, so his are stretched over 11 Games.  Raudaschl went to nine straight, winning silver medals in 1968 and 1980.

Jared Allen (11 games with a sack): Allen played for the Panthers last season, and it was with Carolina that he finally got to the Super Bowl.  But I think most people will remember him as a Minnesota Viking.  It was with the Vikings that he set the NFL record for consecutive games with a sack.  Allen got one in the final two games of the 2010 season, then started his memorable 2011 campaign with at least obe sack in nine straight, giving him 11 in a row over the two seasons, breaking Simon Fletcher's record of 10 straight games with a sack.

Carl Hubbell (24 wins): Sabermetricians love to tell you how much wins are an overvalued statistic for pitchers.  I could go on for days about that, but that's a whole nother discussion.  And there's no arguing the value of wins from way back when, when pitchers regularly threw complete games.  Which brings me to Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell.  He didn't lose a game for nearly an entire year.  He won 24 straight from July 18, 1936-May 27, 1937 (16 straight to end 1936 and his first eight decisions of 1937).  Hubbell did lose a game to the Yankees in the 1936 World Series, but the streak only includes regular season games, so that one doesn't count.

Courtney Paris (112 straight double-doubles): Very early in her freshman year at Oklahoma, Courtney Paris didn't have a double-double.  Nobody thought anything of it at the time.  But it would be the last time she didn't until her senior year.  Paris had a double-double in 112 straight games until Pat Summitt's Tennessee Lady Vols held her to nine points on Feb. 2, 2009.  By then, Paris's streak had taken on a life of its own.  I remember one game early in that season when Oklahoma was playing in a tournament somewhere like the Bahamas.  Paris was only credited with nine rebounds in one of the games, only to have the stats revised a few days later after Oklahoma's staff looked at the video, keeping the streak in tact.

There are plenty of other impressive individual sports streaks out there.  Did I miss some?  Probably.  But, while these may not be as famous as Joe DiMaggio's 56 consecutive games with a hit, you can't argue that they're any less remarkable.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Deflategate Finally Ends

After 18 ridiculous months, Deflategate at last is over.  I'm actually somewhat surprised that Tom Brady opted not to challenge his suspension all the way to the Supreme Court (which obviously has much better things to do).  But most legal experts agreed that he was ultimately going to have to serve the suspension at some point, so it's better to just do it at the beginning of the 2016 season and get it out of the way.  (If they did take it to the Supreme Court and it was upheld, it would've started immediately, which could've been in the middle of the playoff push.)

Robert Kraft's reaction was predictable.  So was that of all the Brady supporters who think he got screwed by the entire process.  Just like a lot of other people thought he got exactly what he deserved.  The NFLPA apparently is still going to pursue it, but their chances of success are slim.  Just like Brady's chances of having the suspension overturned were extremely unlikely.

And let's be clear about something.  What this case has taught us above all else is that the players DO NOT trust Roger Goodell.  That's obvious.  But immediately going to court any time the commissioner makes a ruling you don't like isn't the answer.  That's not going to improve the relationship in any way.  If anything, the prolonged legal battles that have played out in courtrooms across the country have done more harm than good.

There are no winners here.  There haven't been any in a long time.  Just like this ceased to be about the amount of air in footballs and what Tom Brady did or didn't know a long time ago.  This was about whether Roger Goodell had the power to suspend Brady.  And he did.  The NFLPA gave him that power.  Whether or not the process was fair is irrelevant.  He was simply acting within his collectively-bargained authority.

Ultimately, though, the union only has itself to blame for this situation.  They're the ones who gave Goodell the power to be judge, jury and executioner.  Now, I'm sure that when the CBA comes up for renewal, that will be one of the main topics of discussion.  But that's the only way they're gonna get that changed.  All of this posturing and legal maneuvering is the NFLPA's attempt to get the court of public opinion to take their side, which doesn't usually take much (I personally think Roger Goodell is an idiot, for a number of reasons not related to Deflategate).  That's not the point, though.  It doesn't change the facts.  Because as much as the players don't like it, Roger Goodell was well within his rights as commissioner to suspend Brady.

Brady, for his part, knew he was ultimately going to lose.  I think he's known all along that he'd eventually be suspended.  Even after his original successful appeal last summer, which allowed him to play all of last season uninterrupted.  But when the appellate court reversed that decision, Brady knew he was out of legal options.  He threw a Hail Mary and asked for another review by the entire court, which was denied.  And his chances of success in the Supreme Court (if it even got to that level) were probably less than that.

Why else would he have deferred most of his salary for this season?  By restructuring his contract, he saved himself nearly $2 million in lost salary.  Likewise, the Patriots' schedule probably affected his decision to give up the unwinnable fight.  After opening the season in Arizona on Sunday night, New England's next three games, two of which are in the division, are at home.  There are definitely harder September schedules than the Patriots'.  Brady's first game will be Week 5 at Cleveland, after which New England's next four opponents are Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, Seattle (after the bye week).  Now, which of those four-game stretches would you rather he miss?

This also eliminates any uncertainty the Patriots might've had entering the season.  Brady will still be around for the preseason, but Jimmy Garropolo is the Man for those first four games.  They don't have to worry about when and if he'll be thrust into action.  It's obviously not the ideal situation, but they know what they're in for going into it.  And, who are we kidding here?  This is the Patriots we're talking about.  They'll find some way to turn it into an "us against them" thing and rally behind Garropolo.  In fact, it's not hard to envision the Patriots going 3-1 or even 4-0 in September (I'm saying 2-2).  And, even with Brady missing the first four games, they're still going to be the favorites to win the AFC East.

Garropolo is finally getting his chance.  You know he's going to make the most of it.  Just like Brock Osweiler, who turned his stint as Peyton Manning's fill-in last season, into a multiyear deal as Houston's new starter (and leaving the Broncos looking for alternatives when Manning retired).

Let's not forget how the Legend of Tom Brady began, either.  In 2001, Drew Bledsoe was firmly entrenched as New England's starter.  The former No. 1 overall pick had just signed a 10-year deal that March.  Brady entered camp battling Damon Huard for the backup job.  Then Mo Lewis of the Jets almost decapitated Bledsoe in Week 2 and suddenly Brady was the starter.  We all know what happened from there.  Fifteen years later, it still stands as one of the most significant plays in Patriots history (it doesn't trump Adam Vinatieri's two Super Bowl-winning kicks).

I'm not saying that's going to happen again.  When the Patriots play the Browns in Week 5, Tom Brady will be under center.  But he'll miss the first four games and we'll all put this ridiculous saga behind us.  Finally, the focus shifts back to football.