Category Archives: Sports

No We Khan’t

Always in search of the next entrepreneurial opportunity, I took note of two media trends that have dominated American television for decades. First is the remake of British TV shows for a domestic audience. Among the most notable are “American Idol,” hand carried to our shores by Simon Cowell following his success in the London-based “Pop Idol,” “The Office” modeled after Ricky Gervais’ hit of the same title, and “All in the Family,” a doppelganger of “Till Death Us Do Part.”

The second trend is the willingness to tweak a successful format as many ways as possible to make up for the lack of new ideas among the Hollywood and New York entertainment elite. Which brings me back to “American Idol” which has spawned a plethora of increasingly gimmicky and excruciating imitations. “The Voice.” “The Masked Singer.” “I Can See Your Voice.” “Sing On!” “Lip Sync Battle.” “Rhythm + Flow.” “Songland.” And the most recent “Alter Ego,” on which the performers don motion capture suits to become on-stage avatars.

Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan Opposes Trump's Immigration Ban - The New York  Times

Which brings me to my latest venture, a British version of the award-honored American series “Ted Lasso.” The creative twist? Instead of fiction, it is a pseudo-documentary in which the owner of a successful British football team buys an NFL franchise in hopes of a similar level of achievement. It stars Pakistani-born billionaire Shahid Khan who purchased the flailing Fulham Cottagers in 2013. Fulham was on the verge of relegation (demotion) from the Premier League (MLB equivalent) to the Championship League (AAA equivalent). Five years later Fulham was again promoted to the Premier League.

How did they do it? Khan hired his son Tony as Fulham’s director of operations, the NFL equivalent of general manager. He changed managers (read head coach) four times.

In 2009, Khan expresses interest in American sports and seeks the advice of Jerry Colangelo, former owner of the basketball Phoenix Suns and baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. In an interview with the New York Times, Colangelo states, “His interest was specifically football, but he may have mentioned baseball, too.” (Indecision about which sport one knows the least is never a good sign.) Two years later he makes an offer to purchase the Jacksonville Jaguars and receives approval of the sale by NFL owners in December 2011.

Confident the system he used to return Fulham to the Premier League would work in America, Khan appoints son Tony as “chief football strategy officer” (whatever that is) and brings in a new head coach Mike Mularkey (please, no Joe Biden jokes), the first of five such changes over nine years.

After five losing seasons, the 2017 campaign appeared to vindicate Khan’s ownership when the 10-6 Jaguars made it to the AFC championship game. Convinced he had conquered one more world, Khan turned to another “sports” venture, creation of All Elite Wrestling, a new professional wrestling circuit to compete with the McMahons WWE.

2017 proved to be an anomaly. Despite additions such as Urban “Khan: This time I got it right.” Meyer as head coach and overall #1 draft choice quarterback Trevor Lawrence, fans have suffered through four disappointing seasons with the last two at the very bottom of the NFL standings.

This is not the script Khan had written for his foray into western hemisphere athletics. So, at the end of season one, Khan considers pulling the Jaguars out of the NFL to establish a new league, All Elite Football modeled after AEW with stars like Trevor “Pretty Boy” Lawrence and Cam “The Enforcer” Robinson. That should produce a script Khan can relish.

If BBC does not think “No I Khan’t” communicates the premise, maybe they would prefer “Ted Losso.”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

To Phrase a Coin

What’s the most you ever lost on a coin toss?

Anton Chiguhr/No country for old men

Yesterday, for the Buffalo Bills, it was a chance to get to the pinnacle of professional football, Super Bowl LVI. And, if an overnight poll is accurate, I, like 80 percent of Americans, felt cheated and was ready to write a blog about the necessity of changing the league’s overtime rule. Letting the game end with Josh Allen sitting on the bench seemed as unsatisfactory as deciding the FIFA World Cup on penalty kicks.

However, that rush to judgement had the same value as the first draft of an angry email that is better left unsent. There had to be a reason the owners have not changed the rule even though it has been raised after other similar situations, the most memorable being the Kansas City Chiefs, last night’s beneficiaries, having been victimized in the same manner by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the 2019 AFC championship game. Surely one of the many pundits on ESPN or the NFL Network would make the case for maintaining the status quo.

Much of the analysis focused on the need for an overtime rather than the extra period itself. If only one of the two teams had played defense any time in the fourth quarter. Or the choice by Bills coach Sean McDermott not to put the final kick0ff in play to consume a few of the precious 13 seconds still on the clock.

When it came to the overtime rules themselves, advocates pointed to the fact there are 11 players on both sides of the ball. ESPN’s Michael Wilbon put it most distinctly, “When you lose the coin toss, go out there, play some damn defense and get the ball back for your offense.” But the more I thought about it, there are two other reasons to support the current rule which seemed to escape those who make their living parsing sporting events.

First, if the Bills had a chance to go on offense following the Chief’s opening OT touchdown, the outcome would not have changed. Both teams were scoring at will as evidenced by four lead changes and a tie in the last two minutes of regulation play. Yes, Allen most likely would have steered the Bills downfield and tied the game at 43-43. But does anyone really believe Patrick Mahomes, facing a winded Bills defense, would not have put the Chiefs in position to kick the winning field on the next series?

But the second reason may be the most important. Facing a seven point deficit, the trailing team is given an advantage counter to the dynamics of play under most other conditions. From the time their offense takes the field, they are given one additional opportunity to make each first down. The coach does not have to decide if he is going to punt or kick a field goal on fourth down. He is going to call a play whether it is fourth and one yard or fourth and 20. In contrast, the team that wins the coin toss does not have that luxury. For them, fourth down requires a decision. Can their defense hold the opponent if they punt or kick a field goal? Do they risk a fourth and short in their own territory if they doubt their defense will give them a second chance at victory? They are bound by the tactical decisions on which games are usually decided. Decisions that make Monday morning quarterbacking a sport in its own right.

Like most sports these days, football has evolved into a contest based on specializations. The days when participants play on both sides of the ball are a distant memory. Linemen are rotated depending on the situation. Teams like the New Orleans Saints have tested the concept of revolving quarterbacks. Special teams now have different punters and place kickers. For field goals, the regular center is replaced by a long snapper.

Keep the rule and let the coaches and players adapt to the situation. Maybe you develop a special OT defense with a different lineup. Just imagine the commentary this morning if McDermott had brought in his OT defense and stopped the previously unstoppable Mahomes with an innovative formation or pass coverage. No one would be calling for a rule change.

ObjectsInFilm: Object #18 - The Coin - No Country For Old Men (2007)

To do anything otherwise puts too much importance on the coin versus the players or the game. In the scene from which the opening quote is drawn, Anton Chugihr (Javier Bardem) tells a gas attendant, who is unaware Bardem’s character is a psychopathic murderer, to call the flip of a quarter. Not sure what is at stake, he chooses “HEADS” to which Chugihr looks at the coin and says, “Well done.” As he gets ready to leave the gas station, they have the following exchange.

Chugihr: Don’t put it in your pocket. It’s you lucky quarter.

Attendant: Where do you want me to put it?

Chugihr: Anywhere not in your pocket. Or it’ll get mixed in with the others and become just a coin. [Long pause.] Which it is!

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

The Oprah Bowls

If you think participation awards are only for youth sports, think again. This year there are 44 college bowl games including the playoff games. And with 125 Division-1 schools, approximately two-thirds of all college programs had their seasons extended one more month.

You know the arguments. On the negative side:

These shiny bits of plastic have been blamed for creating an entitled generation who learned to expect adulation for the unexceptional on the playing field and later in life.

Lisa Heffernan, today.com, august 2015

On the positive side:

A participation trophy can be a symbol of the effort and time a person put into an endeavor or it can serve as a reminder or memento for a sport or activity. 

 Jordon Roos and Brad Strand, physcial and health education america, October 2021

As I tuned into what seemed like a 24/7 parade of bowl contests on ESPN, I wondered, “How valuable is a memento of a 6-6 team playing another 6-6 team in a stadium with more empty seats than a Milli Vanilli reunion concert?” Or as was the case at today’s TaxSlayer Bowl (aka Gator Bowl) in Jacksonville, 10-3 Wake Forest scrimmaged with 5-7 Rutgers (aka Texas A&M), and even students and alumni from the competing schools were few and far between.

Lewis Black

Once again the run-up to bowl season was more exciting than the games themselves. Who will play whom? Where will they play? Who will get snubbed? It reminded me of Lewis Black’s 2008 comedy tour, appropriately titled, “Anticipation.” He opens as follows:

This moment, which we are sharing together right now, I promise you, is as good as it is going to get. So, I think we should quit while we’re ahead. It’s been great. Let’s leave well enough alone. There is no moment better than this moment when we are anticipating the actual moment itself.

Lewis black, Anticipation, 2008

How do you make the best moment when it comes to college bowls even better? On the Sunday following the conference championship games, have Oprah Winfrey host the televised bowl selection program. I can hear her now as she points to the coaches in the audience. “You get a bowl bid! You get a bowl bid! Everyone gets a bowl bid!”

Best wishes for a happy, HEALTHY and rewarding 2022.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

War and Peace (and Golf)

 

The America of 2021 is a constant game of tug of war between high and low expectations.  At one extreme, “Team High” is all about striving.  Which billionaire will almost make it to outer space first?  Which athlete will push the envelope to perform better?  Which company has the highest market cap regardless of fundamentals? Which students will have a longer list of extracurricular activities on their resumes?

At the other extreme, “Team Low” suggests all this striving leads to unhappiness and anxiety.  Dr. Jeremy Sherman made this point in a 2014 article in Psychology Today, presenting a counter-intuitive take on an oft-told story about optimism.

The joke goes that a child was so optimistic that, to test the extent of his optimism, his parents gave him a pile of horse manure. The kid’s eyes open wide with delight. He dives into the pile and starts digging.

“What are you doing?” his parents ask.
The kid replies, “With this much manure, I’m betting there’s a pony in here!”

Imagine his disappointment when there wasn’t.

For “Team Low,” being in the game is enough.  That participation trophy is a monument to trying, even when it does not lead to success.  Taking on a challenge is its own reward.  The journey, not the destination, is the source of the highest dividends.

As in most debates, the answer is probably somewhere between these extremes.  However, there is a bigger problem which I will call “situation expectations.”  It is not uncommon that one’s definition of success or failure will depend on the specifics of a given situation.  However, in this case, individuals occasionally adjust their position in the middle of an on-going scenario.  This is sometimes referred to as “moving the goalposts,” though it is more akin to donning an opponents’ uniform in the middle of a game.

SIK Golf's Bryson DeChambeau finishes 2nd in MexicoConsider the recent exploits of the golfer we love to hate Bryson DeChambeau as an example of how expectations can change in a matter of hours.  During the second round of the BMW Championship, after an eagle on the 16th hole, DeChambeau was in reach of a 59 with one birdie on either of the last two holes.  Missed putts of 17 feet on the 17th and six feet on the 18th resulted in “only” a course and tournament record 60, 12 strokes under par.  In the post-round interview, DeChambeau did not hesitate to voice his disappointment about misreading the putt on 18.  “I wanted to make it so bad.”

Rewind the video (I know, an anachronism) to DeChambeau standing on the first tee at the start of his second round.  Imagine if someone had asked, “Would you be satisfied if you could shoot 60 today and be tied for the lead going into Saturday’s third round?”  There is only one response.  “HELL YEAH!”  Of course, the irony is that missed six foot putt on Friday was the difference between taking home the BMW trophy and losing in a six-hole playoff on to Patrick Cantlay on Sunday.

Which brings me to the question of expectations when it comes to war and peace.  Twenty years ago, in the aftermath of 9/11, President George W. Bush rallied the international community to avenge the attack on the United States.  The goal: punish those directly responsible and disrupt potential future attacks.  Operation Enduring Freedom was initiated on September 26 when a CIA team arrived in Afghanistan to analyze the situation and identify potential anti-Taliban allies.  Soon thereafter, American and British special forces with U.S. air support pursued al-Qaeda militants in the Tora Bora region, forcing the survivors to retreat into Pakistan.  One could argue “First Tee” expectations, with the exception of capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, were met when U.S. and Afghan forces decimated the 800 remaining al-Qaeda fighters in Paktia province in March 2002.

Perhaps initial success in Afghanistan came too easy (just as it again did in Iraq).  Why stop here?  Especially when anti-Taliban Afghans from the Northern provinces, led by Hamid Karzai, were eager to take complete control of the country even though U.S. military leadership on the ground advised against supporting the broader offensive.  President Bush then moved the goal posts with the April 2002 announcement of a “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan, financial aid accompanied by an International Security Assistance Force as a counter-insurgency measure.  A lot transpired over the next 20 years, but I will leave that to historians to parse.

Which brings us to August 2021 during which expectations rose and fell faster and more frequently than the wave at a college football game.

  • Expectation #1: An equipped and trained security force of 300,000 Afghans could hold off Taliban advances long enough for an orderly evacuation of U.S. citizens and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders.
  • Expectation #2: Once Kabul fell to the Taliban, the possibility of a mass evacuation was slim and none.  On August 19, CNN foreign correspondent Clarissa Ward estimated American forces would be lucky if they got 50,000 evacuees to safety.
  • Expectation #3: Deploying 5,000 U.S. troops to secure a small geographic footprint surrounded by hostile forces (Taliban and ISIS-K) was extremely risky.
  • Expectation #4:  Sending troops to secure the evacuation would require an extension of Biden’s August 31 departure deadline.
  • Expectation #5:  Following the tragic loss of 13 service men and women, additional suicide bombings or worse, i.e. rocket attacks on departing aircraft, were likely.
  • Expectation #6: As U.S. forces began to leave, the last remaining contingent would be “sitting ducks.”

Imagine a meeting of the National Security Council in the White House situation room immediately following the fall of Kabul.  President Joe Biden asks for an honest assessment of the next 17 days.  National security advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin paint the following scenario.

For a couple of days there will be complete chaos until we can secure the perimeter of the airport with approximately 5,000 troops.  By the third day we should be able to begin a round-the-clock airlift evacuating as many as 18,000 people per day.  By the departure date August 31, we estimate we can evacuate a total of 125,000 U.S. citizens and SIV recipients.

U.S. troops will need to be within close contact of Taliban forces and potential terrorists.  We cannot guarantee there will be no casualties.  We should expect 25-50.  However, we will be able to protect the airfield and planes from incoming rockets and secure the area until the last plane takes off.

Biden suggests they have painted a far too rosy picture and asks for the worse case scenario.   It is not pretty.    Decimated runways shutting down the airlift.  A filled mess hall or barracks becomes the target of an ISIS rocket.  A downed C-17 with 600 evacuees and troops killed.  Every critic and many pundits raised these possibilities, yet said nothing when they did not happen.

Out of Bounds: How to make F-word part of golfing vernacular?Which brings me to my last point about expectations.  Americans should heed the axiom, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”  [NOTE:  The origin of this phrase is attributed to Voltaire who wrote in his Philosophical Dictionary, “The best is the enemy of the good.”]  Every PGA and LPGA tour player would love to shoot an ideal score, 16 birdies and a couple of eagles for good measure.  But they have not given up the game because it is, for all practical purposes, out of reach.  Instead, they yell, “FORE,” to acknowledge the errant shot, look for opportunities to recover and know the final tally never rests on a single stroke.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Field of Nightmares

 

Iowa has never hosted a Major League Baseball game, which is strange, because for so many people, Iowa cornfields have come to represent a place where the game can be played as it used to be, as it should be.

~Chelsea Janes/Washington Post

Much is being written about last night’s “Field of Dreams Game” between the Yankees and White Sox in Dyersville, Iowa, location for the 1989 film based on William Patrick Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe.   Major League Baseball (MLB) described it on Twitter as, “What a night!! Baseball remains the best!”  The New York Times touted the event as “packed full of nostalgia.”

Unfortunately, for me, someone who has two personal connections to the film and its location, last night was anything but a dream.  It was a nightmare akin to the “upside down” alternate universe in “Stranger Things.”

The first occasion on which “Field of Dreams” came alive for me was during a driving vacation when our family made a detour to Dyersville.  The three of us made our own version of the classic film.  We walked out of the corn into right field.  My daughter and I had “a catch.”  We did the wave on the three-tiered bench along the first base line a la Kevin Kosner, James Earl Jones, Amy Madigan and Gaby Hoffman.  And through the magic of stop action, duplicated the scene where a young “Moonlight” Graham crosses the base path and becomes Dr. Graham, except young and old Archibald Graham were played by my daughter and wife instead of Frank Whaley and Burt Lancaster, respectively.

The second occasion was an opportunity to discuss a pivotal moment in the movie with James Earl Jones.  When Ray Kinsella (Kosner) drops Terrence Mann (Jones) at his Boston apartment following a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, Mann makes a hand gesture as he says goodbye.  Always interested in the origin of these small but powerful cinematic moments, I asked Jones had he come up with the idea.  Or was it in the script?  He told me he adlibbed that little piece of business drawing on the body language used by casino croupiers to signal, “The hand is over.”

What I saw when I switched to the game was not the Field of Dreams I knew.  If MLB and Fox really wanted to pay homage to baseball as it is presented in both the movie and book, all they had to do was read the script.  For example, listen to what led a young Archibald Graham to hitchhike on a rural roadside where he is picked up by Kinsella and Mann.

Moonlight Graham - Wikipedia

I play baseball.  I’m looking for a place to play.  I heard that all through the Midwest, they have towns with teams.  And in some places, they’ll even find you a day job.

Or Mann’s climatic explanation of baseball as the national pastime.

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.  America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again.  But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game.  It’s a part of our past, Ray.  It reminds us of all that once was good…and it could be again.

“Field of Dreams” is the story of a long ago game captured by Roger Kahn in The Boys of Summer or Doris Kearns Goodwin in Wait Till Next Year or George F. Will in Boys at Work.  It is the saga of a struggling graduate student who would walk to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and pay 85 cents for a bleacher seat or who picked up a $10 ticket to game six of the 1971 World Series.

In no way did last night have any connection to those youthful memories.  The “characters” on the field have individual salaries that dwarf the total payrolls of all the teams combined when Joe Jackson took to the outfield in Comiskey Park.  And a fan needed to be equally well off as tickets ranged from $375 to $1,210 per seat retail with many being resold online for more than $4,000.

Nor was the game played on the original field.  Instead it was “staged” in a temporary 8,000 seat stadium complete with digital scoreboard, a jumbotron and advertisements projected on green screens around the ballpark.  MLB and corporate media had produced the perfect metaphor for modern day America.  Billionaire owners and multi-millionaire players entertaining rich fans who paid more for an evening of faux nostalgia than the monthly take home pay of the average household.  A far cry from Archie Graham’s “they’ll even find you a day job.”

Field of Dreams (1989) | Sherdog Forums | UFC, MMA & Boxing DiscussionInstead of a one-off regular game in a neutral location, MLB missed a golden opportunity to honor its past.  Imagine two teams, made up of current inductees in the Baseball Hall of Fame, taking the field like “ghosts” of a past era.  And fans standing or sitting on beach chairs along the baselines, sipping lemonade served from the porch of the “Kinsella home.”  On the day my family arrived at the field, there was a pick-up game.  The score did not matter.  The sights and sounds on the field let you know there was magic in the air.  When Terrence Mann tells Kinsella, “People will come, Ray.  People will definitely come,” that is what he envisioned.

One more thing. If Fox Sports really wanted to honor the underlying theme of the film, Ray Kinsella’s relationship with his father John over Joe Jackson’s role in the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal, they would have had Barry Bonds, Pete Rose and Alex Rodriguez in the broadcast booth.   That would have represented “the one true constant” associated with baseball, athletes putting themselves before team and willing to bend or break the rules to win at all costs.  Come to think of it, that would have been a perfect metaphor for America in 2021.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP