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Football PlayerDespite the looming playoff games fraught with supreme import and chances, though long, that this year’s Super Bowl won’t be a snoozer by halftime, this has been a wretched year for professional American football.

League officials were thrown for a big loss after they mistakenly believed that domestic violence among its role model employees is of trifling consequence compared to other moral and legal lapses like smoking marijuana. I do wonder how the League is dealing the fact that two of its stronger post-season teams, the Seahawks and Broncos, play in states where smoking marijuana is now legal.

Then there was the ongoing stupidity of the hapless Washington, D.C., team and its offensive nickname, which many saw as a major karmic factor for the team’s execrable season.

I have a theory that the Newts — my preferred nickname for the D.C. team in homage to the former House Speaker who now inhabits cable news green rooms 24 hours a day living on a diet of pure Obama loathing — would do better if Congressional Republicans hadn’t blocked the marijuana-legalization vote by residents of the District of Columbia.

Check out the Seahawks and Broncos, Mr. Snyder. Really, dude.

Meanwhile, the inherent physical danger of football to players’ brains played a greater role in games during 2014, which were more and more often interrupted to show sideline shots of dazed players being given initial concussion screenings by diminutive members of teams’ training staffs. There were so many of these — love the super-slo camera work on players’ eyes spinning in two directions — that I expected screeners to arrive at my couch to administer exams to determine if I, too, was suffering brain damage.

What day is it?

Sunday, or maybe Monday, or one of those other days they show football, you know, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and other days of the week ending in Y.

What year is it?

Damn these throw-back jerseys. I don’t know. 1954?

What game are you watching?

Don’t remember, been sitting so long my feet and legs have fallen asleep. I think there are too many Rob Lowes out there, though.

Then there were the hideous seasons put together by Northern California’s two American football teams, whose names I withhold to protect the inept

It’s truly the pits when the only news about your local teams after the first playoff round is who is being interviewed for head coach jobs. Thrilling!

The best thing I can say about the Bay Area unmentionables is no one was fatally beaten, knifed or shot before, during or after one of their games. At least I think 2014 was fatality-free, but some stats fanatic or court docket could prove me wrong.

But the capper for a crapper season was the wildcard game between the snake-bit Detroit Lions — why not the Washington Snakes? — and America’s Team, which coincidentally plays in the foreign country of Dallas, Texas.

Not only were the Lions victimized by two egregious calls by the referees — who must have had shock electrodes affixed to their bodies controlled in the league office — that gave the game to America’s Team, but millions of viewers were forced to witness one of the most uncomfortable scenes of male bonding since the days when Richard Nixon and Bebe Rebozo were a hot item on South Beach.

A jubilant America’s Team owner, Jerry Jones, jumped out of his chair, hugged a taller man to his right while, to his left, a jubilant New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie put his hands high above his head in an unrequited effort for what — a high ten? Looked like was trying to play air patty-cake.

Then Christie put his hands on Jones’ shoulders and, with tenderness, leaned his head into the super-rich team owner’s’ back. To make the scene even more shocking, Christie was wearing a sweater than no living man should ever wear, of a color variously described as gutted salmon red, poisonous coral and past-expiration Pepto-Bismol pink.

Within hours, Christie was under fire for rooting for America’s team rather than teams in and around New Jersey, for accepting tickets and private jet rides from Jones to attend America’s Team games, and for steering lucrative New Jersey contracts to one of the businesses in Jones’ America’s Company.

The governor’s brother defended Christie rooting for America’s Team on Facebook because, you know, the local teams suck. And Christie went on a sports talk radio show to try to calm the waters with his usual mix of poetry and calm.

Meanwhile, Jeb Bush formed an exploratory committee to issue a possible sigh of relief the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars are not in the playoffs. And he most likely threw out that flamingo-pink sweater vest he had in his closet.

All in all, it was probably the worst year for the league since the early ’70s when then-president Richard Nixon personally advised the coach of the Washington (Bandits, Burglars, Plumbers?) on sure-fire plays to confuse the opposition. Gerald Ford ended up as the new head coach.


Americanization could fix soccer’s fatal flaws


The great thing about watching soccer on TV is that if you miss something, you don’t miss anything.

I know, I know. Everyone else in the world can’t be wrong, so I have been watching the World Cup games on the tube and have found them somewhat interesting. In fact, they have reminded me of some of my favorite memories. Like the time I went for a walk with my brother and we walked and walked for quite a long time and didn’t get home until very late. Or the time we were going to visit friends for the weekend but they got called away for a family emergency at the last minute and we couldn’t go, so we stayed home and played Canasta.

Others undoubtedly have made suggestions about how to make soccer more American and, therefore, more interesting to Americans. Some ideas of my own occurred to me while watching the Costa Rica/Netherlands contest, in which the most interesting thing was trying to figure out if there is a rule that required the Netherlands goalkeeper to wear that hideous green outfit or if the idea is just to make the goalie wear colors that clash horribly with those of his teammates.

I thought I was beginning to understand how long soccer games last but not only does the clock go the wrong way but additional time apparently is added arbitrarily in order to avoid making the players tense.

The most obvious good idea regarding soccer would be to make the goal bigger. Sure, low-scoring games can be intense, but no-scoring games, not so much. It was cool when Timmy Lincecum threw a no-hitter last week, but what if the Padres pitcher had thrown one as well? I would have asked for my money back.

More fights would be great. Wrong and absolutely inappropriate, of course, but great. Come to think of it, I’ve watched the equivalent of three World Cup games, lasting approximately five months or so, and I don’t think there have been any fights. How tough would those Belgians have been if Tim Howard had started swinging? Huh? And with the fights would come more ejections. My favorite obscure game is water polo, in which most of the scoring comes while one of the players treads water out of bounds. Toss a Brazilian soccer fellow or two in the penalty box and watch a real game break out on the field.

I won’t recommend cheerleaders. Should have been banned from American sports years ago. But how about some pep bands. They could play the whole time because they certainly wouldn’t be interrupting anything. In fact, FIFA should put a basketball court next to the soccer field so there would be something to watch.

Clearly the game would be improved if the players could use their hands. Whoever thought of the no-hands rule must have been joking. Or teach someone a lesson. If using hands is too much of a change for the foreigners who like foreign food and things the way they are, how about using a much harder ball so the players would really have to put some thought into letting it bounce off their heads. Everyone, athletes included, need to learn that choices come with consequences.

You’ve seen those penalty shots, where the defensive team lines up some players who have to jump to try to block shots. How about if they get to stand on another guy’s shoulders like acrobats? More opportunities for athletes of a different sort.

The only other idea that comes to me is the goalie throwdown. Allow one person on each team to tackle the goalie whenever the ball if within, say, 10 meters. The defending team could have someone blocking for the goalie, like a fullback, which would take a defender out of the action and open the net.

There are other possibilities, of course, like trap doors in key spots or using an invisible ball. They say it is hard to find qualified soccer officials. Well, how about no officials at all? What do they really add to the game?

I could go on and on but at some point some of my ideas might begin to seem a little forced.  Also, I’ve got to get back to the tube. I hear that some of  yesterday’s games are about to wrap up.


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