Are you suffering from withdrawals from this weekend’s action? Is the room spinning? Do you need a glass of water? Then you’re in the right place. Welcome to the Sports Hangover, a Monday ritual in which we try to piece together the lost weekend before.
Stay Classy, San Diego
San Diego Chargers, you had me at fake punt. The Chargers earned their sixth seed. Down by ten points in the fourth quarter, San Diego scored on consecutive drives. And then they pull off the fake punt from their own 27 on an overtime fourth and two. Does Philippe Petit call their plays? Whereas Miami and Baltimore collapsed by losing in the last two weeks of the season, San Diego charged into the playoffs with four consecutive wins, including gutsy performances against playoff-bound Denver and Kansas City. Phillip Rivers is a competitor. The Chargers will be a live dog against Cincinnati and perhaps beyond. Fans should be thankful that San Diego saved us from an 8-8 playoff team.
The Bloodletting Begins
Shanahan? Done. Frazier? Fired. Chudzinski? History. They call it “black Monday” for a reason. The season mercifully ended for the Redskins and Browns. But Leslie Frazier’s Vikings, like Rex Ryan’s Jets, fought for their coaches. It didn’t work out for Frazier; Rex returns next season. Stay tuned for more changes.
Whither the UFC?
Mixed-martial artists pick themselves off their backs to fight on as a matter of routine. Can a corporation made wealthy on the backs of fighters do the same?
Anderson Silva’s alarming weekend exit–a Theismannesque leg break–from the octagon on a stretcher plays as an apt metaphor for the company that milked him as a cash cow (there’s another one of those metaphors). Final totals aren’t in–maybe they’ll surprise me–but the UFC’s pay-per-view buys appear down in 2013 from 2012, which were down from 2011, which were down from 2010. Notice a trend line?
The organization suffers from a lack of marketable personalities in the wake of Brock Lesnar’s retirement two years ago. With Georges St. Pierre on hiatus, and Anderson Silva in a hospital bed, prospects for UFC growth in the U.S. appear bleak. It’s not just that Dana White has failed to create new stars. The UFC has expanded too far too fast. Maybe the latter has something to do with the former.
Programming on Fox, Fox Sports 1, and an alphabet soup of obscure cable channels, all of which require a headlining bout, necessarily water down pay-per-view cards. The addition of several lighter weight divisions has generated more exciting fights but not, paradoxically, more excitement among fans. Women’s MMA, a road that White once vowed never to travel down, has arrived and with it a type of violence that leaves large swaths of the normally sanguinary male fan base squeamish. “The Ultimate Fighter,” the single most important factor in pushing the UFC from backwater sport to mainstream one, runs through seasons so frequently that whereas it once produced future champions it now produces tomato cans. Sorry, Colton Smith doesn’t equal Forrest Griffin–or even Amir Sadollah, for that matter.
Dana White predicted that UFC 168’s buy rate would exceed UFC 100’s 1.6 million. I predict it won’t do half that. In the aftermath of UFC 168, the company appears as a beat-up and broken down version of the company that we saw at UFC 100. Dana White can truly say to Anderson Silva, “I feel your pain.”
Bowl games once served to showcase the best. Now, they serve as displays of mediocrity. It makes dollars, so I guess it makes sense. The weekend’s Pinstripe Bowl, in which Rutgers ended their season with a losing record and playing in a bowl game against Notre Dame in Yankee Stadium, suggests that less might be more when it comes to fan interest in the college postseason. Ever hear of the Fight Hunger Bowl? The Belk Bowl? The AdvoCare V100 Bowl? Don’t worry. You’re not alone.
The $12 Million Man
A $12 million salary would serve as more than enough motivation for most people to perform at work. But most people aren’t seven-feet tall. Andrew Bynum’s suspension by the Cleveland Cavaliers, after racking up a yawning 8.6 points and 5.3 rebounds a game–half his average game totals for his last full season–won’t harm the 26-year-old center’s career much. The number of true big men is truly minuscule, so Bynum, strange as it sounds, remains attractive trade bait for many playoff-bound suitors. The laws of supply and demand work here. too. And as the Cavaliers announced this weekend, Bynum’s suspension has now morphed into a paid vacation. Life is good for tall people.
Can I Sign Your Cast?
At UFC 168, Miesha Tate gave Ronda Rousey all she could handle. Then, in defeat, she gave Rousey her hand, which, the Olympic judoka refused. A tone-deaf Rousey deserved every boo she got. It’s a bit like if a taunting Chris Weidman raced to the hospital to demand that Anderson Silva permit him to sign his cast instead of his appropriately subdued reaction to retaining his title against the man considered by some the greatest cage fighter ever. Sure, they’re ladies, but sportsmanship is a gender neutral concept. Rousey contends that Tate insulted her family. But her trainer isn’t her family, and even if he were, letting bygones be bygones would be in order. If your opponent can give you the fight of your life, you can give your opponent your hand.
Does the fact that Masahiro Tanaka, the import on the auction block for 30 Major League Baseball franchises, went 24-0 in Japan negate the fact that he went 24-and-bleepin-0? He played in the same league in which Ichiro, Yu Darvish, and Hideo Nomo competed, not an over-forty softball league. And what if he did? Who goes 24-0 on any level? Even in “Baseball Stars” the pitchers on the Ninja Black Sox and the American Dreams lost once every so often.
The Best Teams Won
In Chicago and Dallas, the best teams won. Did the well-travelled Kyle Orton? Nobody expected the quarterback replaced by Tim Tebow in Denver to come off the bench to throw for 358 yards. But didn’t that game-ending pick strike you as eerily Romoesque? Orton made the case for himself as a credible back up. If the Cowboys had kicked a field goal instead of thrown an interception on that last drive, a few GMs might have had thoughts about the journeyman QB competing for a starting job.
The other big winners yesterday were the fans. Nobody got cheated. No 8-8 teams weaseled in to the playoffs while an 11-5 team got kept out. In fact, the twelve best teams in the NFL made the postseason. On fields in Chicago, Dallas, and San Diego, teams punched their own tickets. Think the NFL likes how pitting divisional rivals against one another at the end has worked out?
Stay Classy, San Diego II
Why does Will Ferrell’s believe his ubiquitous presence will make us want to pay $10 to see him in a movie rather than pay him $10 to go away? His interview of Peyton Manning on SportsCenter, and appearance on the cover of ESPN the Magazine with Denver’s quarterback, raises a more interesting question: What does Champ Kind think of being nudged out of the news team’s sports beat?