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And Another Thing

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Best of the Blob, 2013

So there's a rumor going around that 2013 is about to get the hook, which means 2014 is over there in the wings tapping its foot like a diva and eager to unfurl its own mayhem, like a second IndyCar race in May and the Seattle Seahawks possibly winning a Super Bowl.

But more on that later.

For now, as a consolation prize to '13, here's a few brief excerpts from the Blob on the year that was:

From "Indiana, The Day After," Feb. 20:

Want to know why college buckets has it all over the NBA?

It does February way, way better.

Fact is, when the biological clock says it's basketball season, the college game delivers. No, the players aren't as skilled. No, the level of execution often isn't as high. But the games are played with a passion and intensity and sense of importance the NBA simply can't match in its endless, numbing 82-game slog.

No single game matters in the NBA, simply because the season, for economic reasons that will never be resolved, is 25-30 games too long ... And so you turn on an NBA game these days, and it's the same-old, same-old: Walk it up, work a little two-man or iso, let LeBron or Kobe create the offense. There's absolutely no sense of occasion or urgency to any of it.

Give me a cold February night in Breslin any day.

From "The Joy of Second Chances," March 4:

So it's almost March now, and they're coming to Wayne Kreiger again, the digital recorders and reporter's notebooks, the cold flat stare of the minicams. They ask him how this feels, and he smiles. They ask him if he ever saw this, even in his dreams, and he smiles again.

"I feel so blessed," he says.

And, yes, that is the right word for this, exactly. A man could rummage around in the dictionary for a long time and not find a more appropriate one, not after 34 years and 544 Ws, not after walking away from that first seat on the bench thinking the glory days were done ...

Now, wonder of wonders, he's made it back. And if there's such a thing as basketball gods, no more concrete evidence of their benevolence exists, because no more peerless a coach or decent a man as Wayne Kreiger ever breathed air.

From "So Much For Rivalry Weeks," March 8:

Realignment may make Big Football even more the money machine it already is in college athletics, but it's killing everything that created that money machine: Pure, blood rivalries the like of which pro football and basketball simply can't match, and can only rarely approach.

Passion is what separates the colleges from the pros, and lifts the former above the latter in a substantive way no TV ratings can ever reflect. And that passion flows primarily from rivalries that go back decades and are the product of geographic proximity and a shared history that continually fuels shared contempt.

And so, yes, it will be a nice novelty when Maryland plays Michigan or Ohio State in football in the coming years, but that's all it will be ...

From "Indiana, A Few Last Thoughts," March 29:

I see what Jim Boeheim did there. He made a guy 7-feet tall disappear.

This was magic or some dark alchemy, what Boeheim's long, physical, active 2-3 zone did to Indiana's regal-again Hoosiers. And the real magic, the true alchemy, was this: It really wasn't magic at all.

Indiana's out of the tournament today because, frankly, it peaked in February. Everyone else still in the Madness got better, and it didn't. The hard nut of it is, they got no farther down the trail than they did a year ago, and that's because they were never the same team after beating Michigan State in East Lansing on Feb. 19.

From "A Few Thoughts On Boston," April 15:

This is why the metal detectors are there now, beeping and buzzing us into the places where we play our games. It's why we hold out our arms and unzip our jackets and spread our legs while the wand passes up one inseam and down the other, while it travels from armpit to fingertip and then (please, sir) again from the other armpit to the other fingertip.

The illusion of safety is what we're after here, and once it's ours the games can begin. And yet it is an illusion, in the end. If nothing happens to shatter that illusion, it's not because it can't, or won't. It's just that it didn't this time.

Monday in Boston we weren't so lucky.

Monday in Boston there was one explosion, then another, and then blood everywhere. Medical personnel standing by with their first aid and their IVs for dehydrated runners were suddenly treating traumatic amputations. And the Boston Marathon and the Masters post-op and Jackie Robinson Day in the majors all got chased out of the news cycle by an awful and dawning reality.

Which is: This was going to happen sooner or later. And will again, sooner or later.

From "Jason Collins: Kicking Open The Closet Door," April 29

The day when a gay person felt constrained by society to hide the very essence of who he or she was belongs to an era we are well shut of -- even if the vestiges of that era are evident in the continuing notion, in some quarters, that gay people shouldn't be equal in the eyes of the law.

Well, phooey on that. That attitude belongs to that aforementioned, and benighted, era. It belongs to the days of segregated bathrooms and lunch counters and water fountains, and the lie that was separate-but-equal. It belongs in the same dustbin of history as all those "Colored" and "White" signs we now find so sadly anachronistic.

Professional sports was pretty much the last stand for similar attitudes toward gays. Although a handful of athletes made their sexual orientation public after their careers were done (John Amaechi, the NFL's Dave Kopay, etc.), Collins is the first to publicly come out while still an active player.

For that, and for the courage it took, he deserves our respect.

From "The Shield Takes Its Lumps," June 26:

... if 28 NBA players get arrested in the offseason? If somewhere, God forbid, there's a Hernandez and Walcott waiting to happen on the roundball side?

Why, we'll never hear the end of what a "thug league" the NBA is. And I think you and I and every person with a working brain cell knows why that is.

Partly, and I know you don't want to hear this, it's because the NBA is 78 percent African-American and 83 percent non-white. Mainly, though, it's because the NFL is the Colossus bestride American sports, and thus seems to be invulnerable to the usual slings and arrows of public opinion.

Which is just wrong, frankly.

From "Picking On Danica Patrick," July 1:

Go back as far as you want, and you'll hear its antecedents; Danica Can't Race was once Janet Guthrie Can't Race and Lyn St. James Can't Race and Sarah Fisher Can't Race ... and, well, Insert Female Racer's Name Here.

With Danica, of course, the volume is cranked to levels that make your ears bleed, because first IndyCar and later NASCAR saw in her something to sell and sold it shamelessly, and the sponsors followed suit. Now she's a marketing force who dwarfs far more accomplished drivers -- and if that's given her a sense of undeserved entitlement that tends to rub people the wrong way (and is the primary source of all the Danica Can't Race jabber), it's also hardly her fault.

To suggest otherwise is to suggest the ridiculous, which is that, in a sponsor-driven sport, she should have been less accommodating to sponsors because she hadn't yet earned their attentions. No racer in a major series -- or even a minor series -- would even consider such an absurdity.

From "The Price of Passion," Aug. 7:

And it's fair to ask, at this juncture, if Stewart's insistence on showing up to run sprints at short tracks all over the Midwest is just a little bit selfish, given everything that hangs on him remaining in one piece. The injury is severe enough -- he's had one surgery and he's looking at another -- it could conceivably end his NASCAR Cup season. Which deprives NASCAR of one its stars, and the fans of one of their favorites, and his race team and its sponsors of an incalculably valuable commodity.

So why keep doing it?

Part of it is Stewart's fierce loyalty to the people and places and form of racing that made him what he is today, and there is much to admire in that. But part of it is also that driving sprints on a Monday night in Iowa or Canada or at his own immaculate dirt facility at Eldora is simply what he loves to do.

From "The ESPN Conundrum," Aug. 26:

The difference between then and now is that once upon a time there was editorial and there was downstairs. Now the trend is for downstairs to come upstairs; so many news organizations have hired business types to run the editorial side that the line between the two has become hopelessly blurred if not entirely eradicated.

This is especially true of broadcast entities, which pay enormous rights fees to air events. And so you've got ESPN, whose deal with the NFL is so mutually lucrative, trying to be taken seriously as a news entity and, in this case, failing. Because you can't enter into a business relationship with the people you cover without your attempts to cover them becoming hopelessly compromised.

You're either in bed with 'em or you're not. Tain't no in between.

From "Indy: A May Intrusion," Sept. 25:

I'm still old school enough to think May should belong to the 500 and the 500 only, even as I get that May isn't what May used to be. It's down to two weekends now, and there's basically only one day (Race Day) when the fans come out. And they do still come out on Race Day, in fact moreso the last two years than I've seen in two decades.

The idea here is to get more fans into the place in May, and it's a good one. But I question whether it's worth dialing down the sense of occasion. Part of the appeal of the 500, other than it's the biggest motorsports event in the world, is the buildup to the event. It's always been uinque to Indy -- and that aspect is still there, even if it's down to two weeks instead of a solid month.

But if you take the same drivers and the same cars and have them run a second race in that same time period, the uniqueness is gone.

From "NFL: A History Lesson," Nov. 20:

Three years before the Army-Carlisle game, in 1909, 33 players died playing football. As now with concussions and CTE, the reaction was a rising tide of sentiment that changes needed to be made. And so, in 1910, to quote Anderson, "a special committee made up of coaches, referees and school presidents enacted several rule changes in an attempt to make the game safer."

Sound familiar?

Then so should this: Among the rule changes enacted were the abolition of formations such as the flying wedge, the decree that at least seven players had to be on the line of scrimmage before a play began, and, yes, the opening up of the passing game. Instead of just being allowed to throw no more than five yards to the left and right, players could throw passes all over the field.

Again: Sound familiar?

From "Timeout For A JFK Moment," Nov. 22:

Where was I when I heard Kennedy had been shot?

I was 8 years old and on the bus home from Village Elementary, and all I remember for sure, 50 years along, is some kid's voice behind me saying "Hey, did you hear somebody shot Kennedy with a rifle?" Or words to that effect.

Aside from that, I can't tell you much. The curtain comes down. The years tumble and boil along. And the curtain becomes thicker and harder to penetrate with every one ...

All I remember of it, through the curtain of years, is that our TV was pretty much on all weekend. And that someone had shot the President of the United States with a rifle. And that there was no certain order to the world, no matter what a certain 8-year-old boy believed.

From "A Few Words About Ken Ullyot," Dec. 13:

... the quality of the players he summoned from Canada to some fly-speck Midwestern town is exceeded only by the qualify of the men they were; if the city's hockey life was vastly enriched by the likes of Long and Len Thornson and Lionel Repka and so many others, so, too, was its life beyond the rink.

The number of Ullyot's former players who stayed here to raise families, coach theirs and other's kids in hockey and youth baseball and -- in the case of Gerry Randall's son Dave, high school basketball -- is staggering, and likely unprecedented. They form a unique community within a community whose loyalty to both the city and each other continues to influence succeeding generations of players; long after Ullyot departed the scene, ex-Komets kept settling here, and do so to this day. And the city is a better place for it.

Of all the grand legacies Ken Ullyot leaves to us, that may be the grandest.

And last but not least ... from "A Belichick Halloween Moment," Oct. 30:

This.

'Cause, you know, 2013 wouldn't be complete without a creepy photo of Bill Belichick smiling.

Ben Smith's blog.

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