By DERON SNYDER
There are few sure things in life. The sun rising in the east comes to mind. So does water being wet and gravity being a one-way deal.
A new entry was added to the list this year: outrageous comments uttered during the POTUS campaign.
But the phenomena of physics and politics don’t carry over to the world of sports. There, we find that “locks” can be picked, defeated by squads that had no hope according to the vast majority of observers.
Baseball is notorious for crowning champions who weren’t the best team all season. One of the most shocking upsets in any sport happened in 1990, when the defending World Series champ Oakland Athletics – supposedly on the verge of a dynasty – were outscored 22-8 in a four-game sweep by the Cincinnati Reds.
The New England Patriots have been on both sides of a shocker. They upended the St. Louis Rams (14-point favorites) in Super Bowl 36, despite yielding 427 yards to “The Greatest Show on Turf.” The Patriots later were undefeated, 14-point favorites in Super Bowl 42, but the New York Giants scored a pair of touchdowns in the final quarter, the clincher with 35 seconds left in the game.
We don’t have to go back very far for the last jaw-dropper on hardwood. Just last summer, Golden State not only produced the NBA’s best-ever record, they jumped to a 3-1 lead in the Finals. Cleveland and LeBron James were poised for another achy breaky heart, the Cavaliers’ second consecutive against the Warriors. But they rallied.
With the NBA season tipping off on Tuesday, what are the odds that the same finalists meet for the third straight year, an unprecedented NBA trilogy?
I’m going to be conservative: Barring catastrophic injuries, World War III or pneumonic plague, there’s roughly a 99.9 percent chance of another Warriors-Cavs match-up in the Finals.
By DERON SNYDER
Maybe Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wasn’t simply a jealous hater in March 2014 when he shared his opinion about the NFL expanding its Thursday night TV package.
“Just watch,” Cuban told reporters prior to a Mavericks game. “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way. I’m just telling you, when you’ve got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That’s rule No.1 of business.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has scoffed at that philosophy. In 2010, he stated that his goal was to grow league revenue from $8.5 billion to $25 billion by the year 2027. Goodell adheres to the playbook of Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in “Wall Street.”
“Greed – for lack of a better word – is good,” Gekko said. “Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
And, quite possibly, the downward spiral of NFL viewership.
There are several reasons for the double-digit dip in TV ratings this season and some – the presidential election, technological advances and modern viewing habits – are beyond the league’s control. But Goodell’s insistence on cramming the schedule with more and more games has to be a factor. Especially when the sport’s quality seems to be eroding.
Providing excessive access to a bad product is a good way to lose customers, already bombarded with free-time options and distractions.
By DERON SNYDER
I generally agree with the sentiment that a player shouldn’t lose his job due to injury.
But there’s always room for exception when the replacement is exceptional.
Wally Pipp is history’s most famous example. He was the New York Yankees first baseman who sat out a game in 1942 due to a headache. Some guy named Lou Gehrig took his place and never left the lineup, eventually playing a then-record 2,130 consecutive games.
Thus, a new term came into being. The former first baseman was “Pipped” by Gehrig, who enjoyed a Hall of Fame career and was immortalized in “Pride of the Yankees.”
Drew Bledsoe can relate. The No.1 overall pick in 1993, Bledsoe led New England to the Super Bowl in 1996. He was in the prime of his career when he suffered a potentially life-threatening injury during a game against the New York Jets in 2001. A sixth-round draft pick named Tom Brady took his place as starting quarterback and has started ever since, collecting four Super Bowl rings and two league MVP trophies along the way.
Which brings us to Tony Romo and Dak Prescott, the Dallas Cowboys’ former and current starting quarterback, respectively.
Romo is the 36-year-old, brittle veteran who has played just four games since last season, none this year. Prescott is the 23-year-old fresh-faced rookie who has led Dallas to a 5-1 record while compiling the league’s fourth-highest completion percentage and fifth-highest passer rater.
He’s The Future and it started in Week 1.
By DERON SNYDER
LANDOVER – Forrest Gump said life is like box of chocolates because you never know what you’re going to get. But at least chocolates look different on the outside.
Coach Jay Gruden’s team has been more like a bag of powdered donuts each game. The filling is a mystery.
Cream? Vanilla or chocolate? Jelly? Grape or strawberry?
Whatever your preference, though, they’ve been hmm-hmm good lately. Washington doesn’t have the recipe down pat quite yet, but we’re seeing glimpses of what’s possible if it stays in the kitchen. Sunday’s offering was as close as the Skins have come to a finished product, a 27-20 victory against Philadelphia that should’ve been a three-touchdown margin.
Consider this game from any view besides the scoreboard – yards, first downs, time of possession – and it was a rout. The defense recorded five sacks and didn’t allow a touchdown. The offense amassed nearly 500 yards and converted 53% of its third-down opportunities. If not for special teams yielding a 96-yard touchdown on a kickoff return – and quarterback Kirk Cousins throwing a 64-yard pick-six roughly four minutes later – Washington played its most dominant game this season.
“If you compare them to the other games, then I would say so,” Gruden said. “You still give up an interception for a touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown, that’s not good. Still, I’ve made the point many times before: Our games are going to be a grind. They’re going to be coming down to the wire in the majority of them.”
That doesn’t have to be the case when both sides of the ball click like they did against Philadelphia. Even without favorite-target Jordan Reed, Cousins registered his third-highest total in passing yardage this season (263 yards) and threw two touchdowns. On each occasion, first to Jamison Crowder and then to Vernon Davis, the recipients were wide open, a recurrent theme.
By DERON SNYDER
I don’t believe in curses, jinxes, hexes or mojo. But that’s all you’re left to talk about when your team keeps losing crucial games at the most inopportune time.
Three NL East titles in five years is a wonderful accomplishment by the Nationals, not to be taken lightly or for granted. However, what have they done for us in October? Teddy Pendergrass’ “Bad Luck” could be the unofficial theme song when the postseason rolls around.
On the flip side is whatever you make of the San Francisco Giants’ run. Those fans enjoyed a wonderfully heady streak before the Chicago Cubs snapped it Tuesday night. How do you explain a ballclub winning the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014, while missing the playoffs altogether in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015?
The Giants had the flimsiest reason to claim “this is our year!” Yet, their argument made cosmic sense until they faced baseball’s best team, which is dragging a steamer trunk crammed with 108 years of misfortune.
No one on the south side of Chicago has patience with fan bases that complain about postseason futility. But the Cubs’ sorry recent history is no salve for Washington Nationals fans, whose wounds are at risk of being re-opened Thursday night in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
The Nats are working on their own even/odd streak, except it’s a polar opposite to the Giants’ run. Washington reached the playoffs in 2012, 2014 and 2016, with also-ran campaigns sandwiched between. In 2012 and 2014, the fun ended with losses in the NLDS, first at Nationals Park, then on the road.
So Thursday’s game represents a two-fold pattern, set to happen or set to be broken.
By DERON SNYDER
Just when you think the NFL has hit rock bottom and found the absolute floor of sheer hypocrisy, the league goes deeper to demonstrate you haven’t seen anything yet.
The latest guffaw-inducing measure involves this season’s sharp spike in unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for celebrations/taunting. According to ESPN Stats and Information, taunting penalties are up by more than 200 percent over the first four weeks from the same amount of games last season, while unsportsmanlike flags have increased by 56 percent,
Of particular note is Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown. He was hit with a penalty and $12,154 fine for twerking after scoring a touchdown against Washington in Week 1. He changed his celebratory move to pelvic pumps after scoring against Kansas City in Week 4, but the refs flagged him for that, too. The league levied a $24,309 fine, upping the amount because it was his second offense.
“I don’t think excessive celebrating should cost more than hitting guys in the helmet,” Brown told reporters last week. “Twenty-four thousand dollars for a guy scoring touchdowns and having fun is more than a guy getting hit in the head, targeting with the helmet.”
Actually, $24,309 is the exact same amount players are fined for impermissible use of the helmet or hitting defenseless player. But Brown’s point is no less valid.
Concerns about players’ head trauma and debilitating injuries are rampant. The on-field product is uneven and frequently uninspiring, with too many quarterbacks who are nothing special. TV ratings are sagging and national-anthem protests are a national phenomenon, raising questions of oversaturation and alienation.
So, naturally, players shaking their booty in the end zone are a high priority.
By DERON SNYDER
BALTIMORE – Beauty is easily appreciated. Whether it’s in a bouncing baby, a majestic sunset or panoramic landscape, elements can come together to form an exceedingly pleasing visual stew.
The same is true in football. When an offense is clicking and a defense is sticking, when X’s and O’s work exactly as they’re drawn, it’s a wonderful thing. There’s a sense that nothing gets much better than that.
No one will confuse Washington’s football team with lovely NFL counterparts in New England and Pittsburgh. But after defeating Baltimore to win its third consecutive game, Washington can’t be mistaken for a losing team, either. The Skins prevailed, 16-10 at M&T Bank Stadium, in typical non-glamorous fashion, with stretches of play that caused winces, groans and shudders.
“It’s never going to be pretty when you come here,” coach John Gruden said. “This is a tough place to play.”
His team is growing to be as tough as any venue it visits. The Skins won’t fare well in beauty pageants. But they’re grisly and brawny and unsightly enough to overcome early deficit and two turnovers in a stadium where the home team has averaged fewer than two losses since 2007.
Pointing out the capricious caroms of an oblong object sounds like excuse-making when you’re on the short end of the score. Bad breaks and losing can seem to go hand-in-hand. But there’s no denying that Washington was the recipient of some fortuitous bounces against the Ravens.
By DERON SNYDER
This court is now in session. First case on the docket is Chris Bosh vs.the Miami Heat.
Mr. Bosh, who has decided to represent himself, is charging the Heat with cruel and unusual treatment of an athlete to whom they owe $76 million, whether or not he ever plays for them again.
The team, represented by president Pat Riley, counters that it is putting Bosh’s interests ahead of its own, thereby setting a precedent in pro sports for kind and compassionate treatment of an athlete.
His last two seasons were cut short by blood clots and Mr. Bosh failed his physical prior to training camp last month, leading Mr. Riley to state recently that the 11-time All-Star’s career in Miami is probably over. Mr. Bosh says he can still play with the condition and has found a doctor to back him up.
Mr. Bosh, your opening statement, please.
BOSH: Thank you your honor. Ladies and gentlemen, I know the risks involved in playing with blood clots and playing while taking blood-thinning medication. A clot during a game could lead to a graphic, on-court incident. Physical contact while on blood thinners could lead to internal bleeding. I get it. But I’m a full-grown man willing to sign a waiver. The risk is mine and the decision should be mine, too. I ask that you agree and condemn the Heat for treating me like a child.
By DERON SNYDER
Can’t run and can’t stop the run.
That was the book on Washington, authored by general manager Scot McCloughan, entering this season. In actuality it was a sequel from last year, penned after McCloughan ignored pleas for a rewrite. His 2012 roster included no one proven to stuff runs or break runs. The Skins were poised to lag toward the bottom of the NFL in those two crucial categories.
Through one-quarter of the season, Washington is searching for a more favorable personality and making progress on Matt Jones’ side of the ball. The 6-foot-2, 232-pound halfback has lived up to his physique in the last two games, pounding Cleveland on Sunday and the Giants a week earlier.
Fifty-three of Jones’ 65 rushing yards against New York came in the second half. He was even more dominant in the late stages against the Browns, gaining 79 yards on 11 carries in the fourth quarter. Jones ripped off runs of 8, 11 and 15 yards on the drive for Washington’s go-ahead touchdown and had a 25-yard jaunt on the next possession. He scored a 1-yard touchdown on the game-clinching drive after breaking free for 16 yards on the previous play.
“I’m still learning,” the second-year back said after the game. “It’s just me learning from last week and being a decisive, decisive runner. I just want to carry that over throughout the season.”
That would help improve half of the team’s bad reputation. But when it comes to stopping guys like Jones, the defense might as well enter the witness protection program.
By DERON SNYDER
LANDOVER, Md. – Victory Mondays in the NFL are not accompanied by ifs, ands or buts. Those hypothetical conjunctions are the utterings of losers, who are left talking about what might have been instead of what actually happened.
But over the course of four quarters, when momentum swings and outcomes hang in the balance, there are imperceptible differences between winning football and plays that reek of defeat. One moment, the home team is cruising the field like a riding mower, putting its finishing touches in the end zone for a change. The next moment, it appears that the visitors won’t be stopped unless fans leave their seats to join the effort.
The final score read Washington 31, Cleveland 20, and that’s really all that matters. The Skins evened their record at the quarter-pole and avoided a dreaded 0-3 start at FedEx Field. As defensive end Ricky Jean Francois said, now the players can go home and enjoy the highlights and walk around team headquarters without having to avert their eyes.
But the Browns exposed some legitimate concerns, too, primarily the gashing they inflicted in gaining 163 yards on the ground. A non-rookie quarterback presumably would take advantage of that rushing attack better than Cody Kessler did. Cleveland also managed to slow down Washington’s offense when it seemed a blowout might be in store.
All in all, the Skins played mind games on the announced crowd of 76,249 fans.