Category: Sports

Postgame schadenfreude, Da Bears Still Suck edition

Another NFL season gives us the opportunity to return to the Presteblog tradition of examining big sports wins from the perspective of the losing side.

This tradition started with the Chicago Bears because no sports media eviscerates the home teams quite like Chicago does, as proven by the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs:

Be careful. Don’t blame Matt Nagy for sitting his frontline players throughout nearly all of the preseason for the pitiful performance by his offense.

I’m positive that is what some folks are already doing, rationalizing a terrible showing by the offense on a little rust that wasn’t knocked off in preseason. The Bears were so bad on offense that it’s not something 40 or 50 snaps in preseason games would have cured.

It’s a best-case scenario that the reason the offense was disjointed and terribly ineffective on third down and suffered from communication breakdowns because the starters were observers throughout the preseason. But it’s really difficult to imagine how the Bears — who had since April to prepare for the rival Packers — could come out and look simply awful.

Nagy was the NFL’s Coach of the Year last season, an award he deserved. He didn’t forget what he was doing since then. But there’s no other way to describe it other than to say he was completely outclassed in this game. Never before had the Bears been held to three points or less in the season opener at home and this was in front of a national television audience with a huge crowd in Grant Park watching an offensive implosion.

Credit is due to the Packers, who reshaped their defense in the offseason with some bold moves in free agency, including a $36 million, four-year contract for former Bears safety Adrian Amos. Green Bay also made moves to bolster the front seven, signing outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. But the Packers don’t have the 1985 Bears defense. Heck, they don’t have the 2019 Bears defense.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky was as bad as he was in the playoff loss to the Eagles last January. He completed 26 of 45 passes for 228 yards and was sacked five times, a couple of them avoidable losses. Amos picked him off in the end zone with 1:58 remaining to just about end the game. A good chunk of his 228 yards came on check-down throws.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson, the intended target on the interception, had a nice game with seven catches for 102 yards. But that’s about it if you’re searching for offensive highlights. I told Robinson folks will be wondering if a preseason without any action would be an explanation for a poor showing.

“They can keep wondering that,” he said. “We can’t change that. I felt very prepared to go out here and make plays and I think everyone else did the same. But we just got behind the sticks, whether it was a penalty, no matter what it was. In a crucial situation, for whatever reason, we end up getting — what — first-and-40? You know what I am saying? We were down four points at that time. First-and-40? It’s hard like that. We’ve gotta do a better job on first and second down to give ourselves a shot on third down. And we also have to do a better job on first and second down to stay out of some third downs too.”

Said Trubisky: “I know you guys are going to try to draw comparisons like that, but really it had — I wish I could have said this before, the snaps in the preseason has nothing to do with the way we execute or the sloppiness of tonight because we weren’t doing that in practice. We were smooth in practice, it was crisp getting in and out of the huddle, getting calls in and just everyone doing their job and executing our plays. So it just seemed a little scattered tonight with all our personnel (groups) and just trying to find a rhythm and trying to find our identity on offense, and we just put ourselves in bad situations and shot ourselves in the foot.

“You could maybe attribute it to that, but I think it’s kind of a stretch. It’s just we were uncharacteristic of usually who we were tonight as an offense, and I think we just need to do our job. But we just couldn’t find a rhythm, and I don’t think it’s because we didn’t play in the preseason, because we were rolling in practice, and it just didn’t translate the week of practice we had to the game. We’re going to look at the film and try to find out why and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

None of the other wide receivers distinguished themselves. Taylor Gabriel has only been over 52 yards once in the last 13 games, including the playoff loss. Cordarrelle Patterson caught one pass for three yards and Anthony Miller and Javon Wims were held without catches.

Robinson is right — the Bears were abysmal on third down, converting only 3 of 15. They failed on third-and-1 on two occasions. On one of them, Patterson lined up as the only running back and took the handoff on what was essentially a dive play. That didn’t work and it might not be the best use for Patterson. Yes, he carried the ball some for the Patriots last season, but if New England’s coaches, who are genuinely regarded as pretty sharp, can’t get a ton out of him, maybe the Bears can’t. On another failed third-and-1, the Bears ran an RPO that turned into a sack.

“Just trying to do too much with the pull,” Trubisky said. “It should have just been an easy hand and ride the wave and convert on the one I pulled. It kind of looked like I was going to have a throw with the RPO, so I know that one was on me.”

One thing the Bears wanted to improve this summer was huddle efficiency. They wanted to get in the huddle and get out of it quickly, giving Trubisky more time at the line of scrimmage to survey the defense in order to get an edge in the pre-snap process. The Bears had two delay of game penalties; that’s not managing the huddle.

What’s done is done in terms of the preseason. The Bears have a healthy roster, so maybe Nagy tweaks his approach next summer. But this was so bad in so many ways that I refuse to believe preseason is the explanation.

“It was terrible, absolutely terrible,” Nagy said. “It’s unacceptable. There’s no excuses. Every fan that showed up from Chicago today, that was a Chicago Bears fan, they should be upset, because that’s not who we are. We’re better than that. And like I said, it starts with me. Again, I told the guys that. “We didn’t have that all year last year. So, is it a preseason thing? No, it’s not a preseason thing. Our defense, they played pretty well today not playing in the preseason. But what it comes down to is just us needing to be better. If there’s one thing that I feel like is one of my strengths, it’s being able to accept this kind of stuff and then try to do everything you can to fix it. You man up, you talk to your players, you get input, you talk to your coaches, and you demand better, and that’s what we need to do.”

I wrote last season and in the offseason that Matt Nagy has appeared bored with the running game at times.

That sure seemed to be the case once again as the Bears handed the ball off five times on the first two possessions and then just seven times the rest of the game when they never trailed by more than seven points. It was a four-point game most of the way, but Mitch Trubisky dropped back to pass 53 times and there were a total of 12 handoffs.

“I think it was the flow of the game,” Nagy said. “We just couldn’t get in a rhythm. It’s as simple as that. And then you have a big play — I think we had that play to (David) Montgomery down the seam and then it happened, and then we have the miscommunication, the personnel, and then it’s just like, here we go again. We had a third-and-40 at one point. I don’t have a play call for third-and-40. You know, now you’re just trying to flip the field and do whatever you can.”

It’s hard to see what they have in the rookie Montgomery when he gets a total of six carries and only one in the second half. His 27-yard reception on a seam route was nice, but he didn’t get the ball enough, especially when the passing game was backfiring. This has to be a point of emphasis for Nagy and his coaching staff over the weekend and into next week because Trubisky isn’t good enough for the Bears to win this way consistently and the defense is good enough to carry the team to victories if they are more balanced.

“When (Montgomery) had his touches, which I think there was six of them, he did well,” Nagy said. “He had that nice catch down the sideline. It’s hard for me because I want to watch the tape and truly see, again, all three of those (running backs). That part is new to us a little bit, so we’ve got to make sure that, again, we figure out how to get that thing right. And luckily it is the first game of the year.”

Perhaps in Nagy’s evaluation he will determine that the running game needs to be a bigger factor, even if the flow of the game is choppy or worse.

“We’ve got to get the run game going a lot more,” Trubisky said. “I think when this offense is at its best, it’s a balanced attack with the run game and the pass game, and we just didn’t do a good enough job to get in a rhythm, and we had to lean more on the pass, which made it easier on the defense because they know it’s coming. When this offense is at its best, it’s balanced, it’s running, it’s passing, and we’re definitely getting the run game going.

“So I think that’s something we’ll look at. I’ve still got to watch the film and see exactly what happened. But we’ve got three great running backs. We definitely need to get them going and get the ball in their hands, and we’ve just got a bunch of playmakers, and it’s frustrating when we have all these playmakers and you just feel like you left a lot of plays out there with not getting the ball in these guys’ hands.”

Adrian Amos had a pregame lunch with outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, another free-agent signing for Green Bay— and Smith told him he was going to make a big play to help the Packers win.

Amos did just that and the irony is that if there was a consistent knock on Amos’ game during four seasons with the Bears, it’s that he didn’t make enough plays on the ball. This wasn’t a particularly difficult play. Trailing by seven, the Bears were facing third-and-10 from the Packers’ 16-yard line just before the two-minute warning. Allen Robinson ran a corner route and was fronted by cornerback Tramon Williams. Amos bracketed him on the back side and it was an easy catch for what turned into a game-sealing interception.

“I had a real feeling that play was coming and I felt right,” Amos said. “I wanted to make a big play to help us win.”

Amos figured Robinson, lined up in the slot to the left, would try a corner route as he had earlier in the possession.

“He called it,” Williams said. “He came to the sideline and said it. He came up with the play. Big play for Amos, especially here in Chicago.

”We wanted to make Mitch play quarterback. We knew they had a lot of weapons. We knew they were dangerous. We knew all of those things. We knew if we could make Mitch play quarterback, we would have a chance. Plus we got some new toys up front. They did their thing today.”

The Packers did get good pressure on Trubisky and I think what Williams means is they wanted to keep the quarterback in the pocket and make him beat them that way. They brought only four rushers on a zone pressure on the interception.

“That was a frustrating one,” Trubisky said. “I wish I would have had that one back. It felt really good when it left my hand and I thought I put it in a good spot for A-Rob. Didn’t keep my eyes on the safety (Amos) long enough, and it looked like there was a little contact there, that maybe I should have went in a different spot.

“But we kind of were in our stuff rolling there, and that’s one where I’ve just got to protect the ball and try to find the completion, to allow us to stay on the field. That’s one of the tough ones that I’m just going to have to look at on film, see what actually what happened, and then see if it was what I saw on the field at the time and just make a better decision next time and come back and can’t put my team in a position like that. It’s very frustrating. You don’t want that stuff to happen.” …

The last time the Bears were held to three points in a season opener was in 2007, a 14-3 loss at San Diego.

This one ranks worse, in my opinion, for the simple reason that the Bears performed so poorly at home. They scuffled in San Diego that day and Rex Grossman was hammered by outside linebacker Shaun Phillips on one of the hardest hits I’ve ever seen a quarterback take.

There are some similarities, though, as that Bears team was coming off a Super Bowl appearance and expectations were sky high. Expectations for this Bears team are massive, but there’s a difference between laying an egg on the road and doing it at home. That Chargers team had Ron Rivera as an inside linebackers coach and he had a good idea what the Bears were doing on offense. In that regard, you better believe Broncos coach Vic Fangio has an idea of what to expect next week when the Bears travel to Denver.

“There’s humility there just for the fact that I know that our guys — we feel really good, we felt good going into it,” Matt Nagy said. “I don’t know what the exact word is for it other than that what you can’t do and what you can’t fall into the trap of is all of a sudden making this seem like it was the Super Bowl and we just lost the Super Bowl. We didn’t lose the Super Bowl, we lost the first game of the regular season. We just need to make sure that we pull back and understand, okay, we’re 0-1, we were 0-1 last year, let’s go ahead and figure out how we rally together.” …

The Packers were a runner-up in the Khalil Mack sweepstakes last September, making a strong bid to acquire him from the Raiders. The thinking is one of the reasons Oakland dealt with the Bears instead is that the Raiders figured draft picks they acquired in return would be better than those they’d potentially receive from Green Bay. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst was asked earlier this week about missing out on Mack.

“We kind of talk about, there’s deals every week, over the last week every day, that you’re talking about,” Gutekunst told Green Bay media. “I’ve always looked at it, you just keep moving forward. The one thing whether it was (former Packers GMs) Ron (Wolf) or Ted (Thompson) that I learned, there’s always opportunities coming your way so you don’t know what the next one is going to be. You can’t really worry about the ones that were behind you, you just worry about the ones that were coming.

“And so, whether it be the guys we acquired this offseason or this year’s draft or next year’s draft, you just keep moving forward looking at your team and seeing how you can make it better. For every kind of door that’s shut, there’s a window that’s open, you know what I mean? That’s kind of how I look at it. Where we are today, if we would have made a move, we might not be where we are today. And I kind of like where we are today.”

The Chicago Sun–Times:

It’s not good when the operative word of an enormously hyped football game is “boo.’’ It’s not good when the object of a crowd’s disgust is the quarterback of a team with Super Bowl aspirations and the head coach whose offensive creativity is supposed to make a team rise above.

It’s not good when boos are raining down on the Bears during and after a 10-3 loss to the hated Packers at home in the opening game of the NFL’s 100th season, which happens to be the Bears’ 100th season, too.

It’s not good when, afterward, coach Matt Nagy is talking about his “high character players’’ and the great week of practice the Bears had leading up to Thursday night’s opener.

It’s not good when the burning question of a year ago is still raging: Is Mitch Trubisky any good?

From beginning to end Thursday night, the quarterback was not good. Very not good.

“I definitely feel like I let my teammates down and the fans down with the way I played,’’ said Trubisky, who finished with 228 passing yards and a 62.1 passer rating.

If it’s hard to believe we’re still having this discussion about Mitch, you either haven’t been paying attention or you’re in denial.

“We knew if we could get Mitchell Trubisky to play quarterback, we could win,’’ Packers cornerback Tramon Williams told reporters after the game.

Very, very not good.

Nagy came up with a lot of wimpy play-calling against the Packers, but Trubisky didn’t ever look like he was capable of carrying the Bears to victory. That’s a massive red flag, even if it was the first game of the season.

“Three points is ridiculous,’’ Nagy said.

The start and the end of the game tell the story.

Before the Bears were forced to punt on their first series, Trubisky had a pass batted down, overthrew a receiver, had a run stuffed rudely by former teammate Adrian Amos and was sacked for a six-yard loss.

His last two series of the game ended in an interception in the end zone by Amos and a sack at his own 5-yard line. The interception was thrown into double coverage.

In between those ugly bookends was a lot of nothingness from the quarterback and a bizarre lack of energy from Nagy. It looked like a case of a coach trying to protect a quarterback in over his head. But that can’t be because Nagy has told us over and over again that Trubisky is on the verge of making big progress.

“I think he saw (the field) OK,’’ Nagy said after Thursday’s loss. “But I didn’t help him at all. I didn’t help him. I’ve got to help him.’’

Trubisky’s struggles in training camp were chalked up to the excellence of the Bears’ defense. The rationale for his unevenness in Bourbonnais was shouted from the rooftops by the team and by various analysts: You try being a good quarterback going against Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Jackson every day!

Thursday’s opener against the Packers was supposed to be a chance for Trubisky to finally breathe without concerning himself with the loss of any more self-esteem. Even though he didn’t throw a pass in a preseason game, the Packers defense, though improved from last season, wasn’t nearly the Bears’ defense. That was the thinking, anyway.

By the first drive of the third quarter, Bears fans were booing the offense. They booed a Trubisky pass on third-and-10 that went for a two-yard gain. If you were a veteran boo reader, you sensed a good deal of frustration was with Trubisky, who, to that point, had almost been picked off twice.

If Trubisky had been overly amped, it would have been understandable. Just before kickoff, members of the ’85 Bears, waving white towels, walked out of one of the Soldier Field tunnels. You know, in case the crowd wasn’t at full froth already.

Maybe that’s why Nagy, having seen the ugly first “drive,’’ had Trubisky hand off four straight times to start the Bears’ second drive. Trubisky then completed his first pass of the night, for one yard to Tarik Cohen, but it fell short of a first down. That was OK because it allowed rookie Eddy Pineiro to make a 38-yard field goal and Chicago to forget about Cody Parkey for a moment.

You figured 3-0 would hold up for the victory. The Bears’ defense was that good.

When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling with a 47-yard completion in the second quarter, there were shrieks of disbelief from the Soldier Field crowd, as if it had never occurred to fans that the Bears’ defense could be breached. And when Rodgers hit Jimmy Graham with an 8-yard touchdown pass on the drive, the crowd went into mourning. Black shawls. Keening. The works. It was 7-3 Packers.

Trubisky’s halftime stats – 11-for-16 for 73 yards – didn’t inspire music or literature. It wouldn’t get much better.

Rust could have been an issue. But some of his problems against the Packers looked suspiciously like some of his problems in the first two years of his Bears career. It was disconcerting.

So was the play of the offense, which managed just 46 rushing yards.

Boo.

Sean Wagner-McGough:

We spent so much time worrying about the Bears‘ kicker situation that we forgot they might have an even bigger problem at quarterback. It turns out the question isn’t, can Carli Lloyd be the unconventional solution to fix the Bears’ kicker problem? It really might be, can the U.S. women’s national soccer team legend play quarterback?

Against a revamped, hyped and young Packers defense, Trubisky went 26 for 45 (57.8 percent) for 228 yards (an ugly 5.1 yards per attempt), no touchdowns, a game-losing interception and a fitting 62.1 passer rating. It was as awful a performance as the numbers suggest.

Bears coach Matt Nagy deserves blame for his play-calling (a third-and-1 running play up the gut with Cordarrelle Patterson, to name one example), decision making (his decision to go for a fourth-and-10 instead of trying a long field goal, to name one example), and his eagerness to abandon the running game (the Bears ran the ball 12 times, not including Trubisky’s keepers). And the offensive line was overrun by the Packers’ defensive front. However, most coaches and O-lines wouldn’t have been able to win a game with that version of Trubisky.

There were missed openings that Trubisky didn’t see — just ask Allen Robinson, who was wide open on more than occasion, but didn’t always get the target his openness demanded. Below, in videos courtesy of NFL Game Pass (start your free trial today to rewatch Thursday’s game), Trubisky missed an uncovered Robinson and instead fired a late pass into traffic that very easily could’ve been picked.

There were wildly thrown passes sailing over the heads of his receivers — just like the missed passes that sailed over the heads of his receivers last year.

There were carelessly thrown passes that should’ve been intercepted. He was fortunate to finish with only one interception instead of three or four.

And there was a game-losing interception on a pass that never should’ve been thrown — into double coverage.

int.gif
NFL Game Pass

The angle from behind the play is particularly damning. You can see Trubisky lock in on his target, which allowed former Bears and current Packers safety Adrian Amos to follow his eyes, which created the double coverage. And you can see exactly how Trubisky struggles against the blitz, lofting up a softball without stepping into the throw. It was a lazy pass that deservedly resulted in an interception.

ezgif-com-video-to-gif.gif
NFL Game Pass

In fairness to Trubisky, he made a couple nice throws — mainly to Robinson, who was the lone bright spot on offense with seven catches for 102 yards. But it’s those moments of brilliance that make his inconsistencies that much more frustrating.

It felt a lot like last year, when Trubisky posted decent enough numbers, but lacked consistency on a play-to-play, game-to-game basis. Over the course of a 14-game regular season, Trubisky completed 66.6 percent of his passes, averaged 7.4 yards per attempt, threw 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and generated a 95.4 passer rating. Those numbers are fine — good even for a second-year quarterback in a brand new system. It’s how he posted those numbers that was concerning. In six starts, he posted a passer rating below 80.0. In six starts, he posted a passer rating above 100. Consistency was lacking.

The problems that plagued him a year ago were the exact same problems that plagued him Thursday night. Missing open targets with both his eyes and arm. Forcing passes into interceptable coverages. Not handling pressure with poise and composure. Making unforced errors.

Last year’s Bears managed to capture the NFC North crown with a 12-win season and would’ve been onto the divisional round of the playoffs if not for Cody Parkey‘s double-doink, which is why the Bears (and all of us) spent the offseason obsessing over their problem at kicker. But the Bears’ problem at kicker feels rather trivial after witnessing their problem at quarterback.

The problem is, if the Bears are going to take the next step, they’re going to need Trubisky to take the next step in his development and emerge as a consistently good quarterback, and based on what we saw Thursday night, Trubisky isn’t at that point — at least not yet.

Jeff Dickerson piles on:

Whatever growth the Chicago Bears expected from quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in Year 2 under coach Matt Nagy never materialized in Thursday night’s season opener against the Green Bay Packers.

Chicago’s offense, captained by Trubisky, ruined a stellar effort by the defense, losing 10-3 to Green Bay in front of a capacity Soldier Field crowd that just before kickoff believed the home team had legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Now, not so much. It’s early, but the offense — lowlighted by Trubisky — looked worse than last year when Nagy first took over. It’s not a good sign, either, that, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, no team has reached the Super Bowl after failing to score a touchdown in its season opener.

QB breakdown: Bad, bad, bad, bad. Outside of a couple of nice throws to Allen Robinson, Trubisky looked out of sync the entire game. A third-year quarterback can’t let the offense be called for two delay of game penalties on the same drive, as Trubisky allowed in the third quarter when Chicago appeared on the verge of scoring. The Bears praised Trubisky’s during preseason at every turn, but all the 25-year-old quarterback did in Week 1 was provide fodder to those who criticized the Bears’ refusal to play starters in preseason games and brought up familiar criticisms about Trubisky’s viability as a franchise quarterback. Trubisky capped off the evening by throwing an interception in the end zone into double coverage. It was a fitting end to such a lackluster game by Chicago’s starting quarterback.

Readers of this blog are familiar with Keith Olbermann (formerly of more media outlets than you can list) and his identification of “one of the NFL’s great unrecognized traditions” back in 2008 when Da Bears were about to change quarterbacks … again. “With brief interruptions of stability from the likes of Jim McMahon and Billy Wade, this job has been unsettled since Sid Luckman retired. There has always been a Rex Grossman, he has always underperformed, and they have always been about to replace him.”

I last quoted Olbermann when Trubisky was a rookie and about to replace Mike Glennon, for whom Da Bears ridiculously overpaid. Sure enough, out went Glennon and in came Trubisky. Two years later, there is not an apparent heir apparent, but when your home crowd boos you, that’s not a good harbinger of things to come.

Meanwhile, the Packers haven’t played defense like that since the 2010 season. That may be irrational exuberance, but starting 1–0 is better than starting 0–1 regardless of what kind of game it was. Offensive slow starts under new coaching staffs are not uncommon. (Recall that Mike Holmgren, Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy lost their first two games each, and McCarthy got shut out in his first game by Da Bears.)

 

Advertisements

The NFL’s voices

This is the 100th anniversary season of the National Football League, so the Associated Press decided to create a list of top NFL announcers.

I’m going to modify the AP’s list, because there are two that deserve a separate category, and this doesn’t mention an additional category that needs mention:

While fans of some sports all have their favorite local announcers, the NFL has been much more of a shared viewing experience.

With all games being shown on national networks rather than solely on local channels, the most memorable voices of football are universal.

There were the early voices of the game such as Curt Gowdy and Ray Scott; the unique combination of Howard Cosell, Don Meredith and Frank Gifford in prime time; to years of Pat Summerall’s brevity punctuated by John Madden’s boisterous interjections.

Everyone has a style they prefer, from Tony Romo’s role as Nostradamus to the exuberance of Gus Johnson and Kevin Harlan to the understated style of men such as Summerall and Scott.

Here’s a look at some of the iconic voices of the NFL:

CURT GOWDY

A versatile announcer nicknamed the Cowboy who started off as Mel Allen’s partner on Yankees radio broadcasts, Gowdy was one of the original voices of the AFL on ABC when the league started in 1960. He moved on to NBC in 1965 and was in the booth for some of the most memorable games in pro football history. He called the first Super Bowl for NBC; the “Heidi” game in 1968; Joe Namath’s guarantee in Super Bowl 3; and the Immaculate Reception. ABC wanted to hire Gowdy as the original voice of “Monday Night Football,” but NBC wouldn’t let him out of his contract. His final Super Bowl broadcast came when Pittsburgh beat Dallas for the title following the 1978 season before he was traded to CBS to create an opening for Enberg to become the lead voice of the NFL on NBC. Gowdy had few catch phrases but was known for colorful descriptions.

MERLIN OLSEN

The Hall of Fame defensive tackle went on to have a long career as the top analyst at NBC, working alongside greats Gowdy and Enberg during the 1970s and ’80s and calling five Super Bowls. A physical presence on the Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line, Olsen was more soft spoken as an announcer. He never tried to overshadow the game and was a comfortable listen throughout his career.

The former defensive tackle for the New York Giants became perhaps the most respected analyst of the early Super Bowl era. Working for years alongside Gowdy on NBC’s top team, DeRogatis was known for his ability to describe what happened even before a replay and helped millions of fans better understand the game. He worked three Super Bowls, including Joe Namath’s guarantee game in January 1969.

The first place I differ from this list is that there are two who need to be in both analyst and play-by-play roles, because they did both.

PAT SUMMERALL

Summerall transitioned from a successful playing career to the booth in the 1960s and became the voice of the NFL. He started off as an analyst and was part of the first Super Bowl broadcast. He shifted to a play-by-play role in 1974 at CBS and that’s where he really shined. With an economy of words and understated persona, he helped analysts Madden and Tom Brookshier shine. A call of a big TD for Summerall could be as simple as “Montana … Rice … Touchdown.” He announced a record 16 Super Bowls on network television and contributed to 10 on the radio as well.

FRANK GIFFORD

The Hall of Fame running back went on to have a career as one of the most versatile announcers in football history. Gifford started broadcasting following his first retirement when he was knocked out on a hit by Chuck Bednarik. He retired for good following the 1964 season and returned to CBS as a broadcaster, where he was an analyst for the Ice Bowl and the first Super Bowl, and a sideline reporter on two more Super Bowls. He then moved to ABC in 1971 where he shifted to a play-by-play role on “Monday Night Football,” often playing the straight man to Cosell and Meredith. Gifford then moved back to the analyst chair in 1986 when Michaels took over and remained in that role for more than a decade. Gifford and Summerall are the only announcers to call a Super Bowl as both play-by-play man and analyst.

The broadcasts are not what they’ve been were it not for the pregame shows, headed by Brent Musburger when he was at CBS …

… and postgame, led by ESPN’s Chris Berman:

Canadian NFL football (and other oxymorons)

Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press:

I’d love to tell you about the fantastic football game that went down at IG Field on Thursday night, with a raucous, packed house looking on as star NFL quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Derek Carr took turns going deep to their talented crop of receivers such as Davante Adams and Antonio Brown.

Except I’d be lying. Absolutely none of that happened.

What actually played out was nothing short of a sham. A boondoggle. A complete and utter embarrassment. And anyone who shelled out their hard-earned dollars to take in the action — and I use that term loosely in this case — has a right to feel like they got completely ripped off. Because they did.

The final score shows the Oakland Raiders beat the Green Bay Packers 22-21 on a last-minute field goal in a meaningless pre-season contest. But that doesn’t even begin to tell the full story of what unfolded. I’m not kidding when I say I expect to see a string of lawsuits flowing out of this gong show, with various parties pointing fingers at each other.

Sure, the game is going to be remembered. But for all the wrong reasons.

Where to begin?

How about the fact the field, which had to be reconfigured from the CFL size of 110 yards to the NFL size of 100 yards, was reduced to 80 yards just before the game began. That’s right, each end zone was actually on the 10-yard line. Marked by a bright orange pylon. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up. All we were missing was the windmill and clown’s mouth.

Apparently there were last-minute concerns over the state of the playing surface. A gathering of players, coaches, management and NFL executives just a couple hours before kickoff led to some speculation the whole game might actually be canned. Which, in hindsight, might have been the best move rather than the farce that followed.

“The field met the mandatory practices for the maintenance of surfaces for NFL games based on an inspection (Wednesday). Concerns arose (Thursday) surrounding the area where the Blue Bombers’ goal posts were previously located. The 10-yard line will function as the goal line at this game. In lieu of kickoffs, the ball will be placed at the 15-yard line,” the Raiders, who were the “home” team, said in a statement emailed out during the first quarter.

Yes, even our football fields have potholes.

“LOL so now we have a bump in our lil end zone cause of this… we will play thru it tho! …. A sand baseball infield is way more safe in the middle of a football field for sure!” Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back and Winnipeg native Andrew Harris tweeted out Thursday night, a cheeky reference to the fact the Raiders share their home stadium with the Oakland Athletics of MLB.

Naturally, this led to all kinds of ridicule on social media from observers across North America watching the game on television, and it’s unfortunate Winnipeg (and the Bombers) will take their share of it. Because like everything associated with the event, this is entirely on the NFL and the Toronto-based promoter, On Ice Entertainment. The Blue & Gold simply rented out their facility and let the guests take over. They also have no financial stake in how it turned out, which they should be thankful for.

The absurd field flop was bad enough, but it’s just one of a number of “Lucy pulling the football out from under Charlie Brown” type whiffs.

How about the fact that, despite claims to the contrary when the game was first announced and tickets went on sale, none of the big names actually suited up. Of course, that news wasn’t communicated to anyone until moments before kickoff, with Green Bay announcing 33 healthy scratches, including Rodgers. Same goes for Carr, Brown and other prominent Raiders.

The whole sales pitch surrounding the game was that all of the stars would come out and probably play at least the first half, since it was happening during the third week of the pre-season.

Lies. All of it lies. Instead, we were treated to an assortment of NFL backups, wannabees and never-will-be’s, many of whom will likely be playing in the CFL in short order. It says something when the loudest cheers of the night came from fans applauding themselves in the fourth quarter for succesfully getting a sustained “Wave” going around the stadium.

As for the crowd, it was announced after the game that there were 21,992 fans in the stands. My best guess was somewhere in the 18,000 to 20,000 range. The bigger question is how many of those were paying customers versus giveaways meant to “paper the house” and save some face? We’ll never know, because the promoter won’t say.

Sluggish sales had been a big story leading up to the game, with approximately half of the stadium showing as available on the Ticketmaster site earlier this week, thanks to grossly overpriced tickets that were running north of $400 and represented a clear miscalculation of this market. Local sports fans were staying away in droves. But then a strange thing started happening, with many of the blue dots representing unsold seats on Ticketmaster suddenly vanishing.

The promoter previously slashed prices for about 6,000 end zone seats — after initially claiming there would be no such price reductions. And that angered many of the loyal fans who bought tickets when they first went on sale in June, only to discover they got suckered into paying about twice as much as others who were late to the party.

Despite On Ice president John Graham’s claim that the ticket agency would handle issues, I’m told many fans have been met with “Sorry, final sale, no refunds,” upon their repeated inquiries. On Ice painted themselves into a corner by charging way too much out of the gate, then made a bad situation even worse.

Speaking of Graham, he’s pretty much gone into hiding throughout this process, including not responding to several messages I’ve sent him. Other media colleagues have expressed similar concerns.

Graham did break his silence to speak with Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun on Wednesday, sort of, and went on a bizarre rant, accusing him (and other local media) of biased reporting — even asking the veteran scribe at one point if he was trying to “go to war” with him.

Friesen was later told his media credentials were being revoked for the game, leading to an hours-long behind-the-scenes battle that ended with the NFL getting involved and Friesen rightfully being allowed to cover the game. Talk about trying to shoot the messenger.

But wait, there’s more! How about Graham’s promise in June for a big festival and celebration of football surrounding the game. He even cited the Winnipeg Jets “Whiteout” street parties as something they would try to emulate.

“It’s not that we’re flying in, playing a game and getting out of town,” he claimed at the time. “We don’t do those things.”

But that’s exactly what happened here. Both teams flew into town late Wednesday, with no practices or player availability prior to the game. And then they left, just as quickly as they arrived. There was little fanfare or related activities, other than the Bombers putting on a viewing party at The Forks for those who couldn’t afford tickets to the game.

Go figure that Oakland’s punter, A.J. Cole, getting off the team plane wearing a “Winnipeg, Alberta” T-shirt he’d ordered on Amazon, was actually far down the list of embarrassing things associated with this game.

We weren’t the first choice to play host, with Edmonton and Regina rumoured to be the original destinations targeted. Given how it all played out, those cities can breathe a big sigh of relief that they avoided having this debacle in their own backyard.

As for Winnipeg, I suspect most people will be saying good riddance to what was billed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but ended up being nothing more than a Mickey Mouse production that most people saw for the greedy cash grab that it was.

See you later, NFL. Sorry it didn’t work out. It’s not us. It’s you.

Winnipeg’s tabloid newspaper had a muted response:

Edmonton would have been a better choice, even though this was a home preseason game for the Oakland/L.A./Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders. The Edmonton Eskimos, like the Packers, are a community-owned team that wears green and gold, and has a better, though older, stadium. The game also could have been played in Toronto, where the CFL Argonauts’ stadium has a hybrid grass surface similar to Lambeau Field.

McIntyre may not know the history of NFL preseason games outside the U.S. The Dallas Cowboys played a preseason game at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City in 1994 against the Houston Oilers that drew 112,376 fans. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones took one look at the turf before the game and decreed that none of his star players, including quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin, would play. Azteca was supposed to host Kansas City and the Los Angeles Rams last season, but the game was moved to L.A. due to the state of the field.

At least the game, such as it was, was played. In 2016 the Packers were supposed to play the annual Hall of Fame Game against Indianapolis in Canton, Ohio, but the game was canceled because, of all things, the paint for the NFL logos and in the end zone didn’t stick to the artificial grass. There had been rumors yesterday afternoon that the game might be canceled due to the goal post issue.

The point is that there should have been an expectation that the field be nearly perfect if you want to see anyone you’ve ever heard of, based on past experience with the NFL. And on that score, Winnipeg failed. On the other hand, the NFL also failed because, thanks to both teams’ coaches keeping their starters out of the game, the game was utterly meaningless to each team. That could be said of a lot of NFL preseason games.

The NFL makes its teams play four preseason games even though the players hate it. There have been thoughts of dropping two two preseason games but increasing to 18 regular-season games, and the players seem to not like that either. (You can gue$$ why the NFL per$i$t$ in mandating four pre$ea$on game$, which are in team$’ $ea$on-ticket package$.) There probably won’t be a preseason change in the NFL until a team plays none of its starters for the entire preseason.

 

Back on the air, everywhere

My instinct for self-promotion requires me to say that I will be returning to the airwaves 31 years after I started on the airwaves with Cuba City at Platteville in football tonight at 6:40 Central time here.

My open (which I write out in advance so that I don’t, uh, stumble over, uh, something I am, uh, winging) indicates that this season will be unlike any football season before, because of changes to conferences in the southwestern half of Wisconsin, and will be unlike next season, due to changes to conferences statewide.

But upon further review, last year might have pegged the weirdometer in all the sports I covered. These are the things that happened In games I broadcasted over the past year:

  • A football game had to be moved from the local university, where the local high school plays, to the local high school the following afternoon because of predicted severe weather that did not materialize. The local high school had not hosted a varsity football game since the doors opened in 1967 until that day.
  • For the second consecutive year, the local high school had a weather delay during its Homecoming game. Fortunately the game was finished that night instead of the following afternoon, which happened the previous year.
  • The local high school had a winning record, but losing conference record, and therefore missed the playoffs, while a few schools had losing records and made the playoffs. (The tiebreaker was win percentage, and 4–5 is better than 3–4, which is better than 2–3.) One of those latter teams then won two road playoff games, making it one of the top eight teams in its division.
  • I announced a state semifinal game after spending three days in Missouri, where we went (blissfully missing Election Day) to pick up our military police oldest son from basic training. The radio station sports director was taken aback when he called me the night before the game and I told him I was in East St. Louis. But we got back, and I announced the game as scheduled.
  • I then announced a state championship game, a broadcast that didn’t go very well technologically. But the team we were announcing won, so no one cared.
  • The winter sports season started out fine. Then came New Year’s Day, and like a flipped switch every team’s schedule got blown apart because of weather — heavy snow, fog, freezing rain and ice storms, and bitter cold. Games were scheduled four and five times. One game was rescheduled to a Monday after school was out, giving the varsity game a youth basketball sort of vibe. For the first time in more than 30 years of doing this I got to announce “Five minutes left in the first half, and as of now we are in a winter storm warning.”
  • One of those weather postponements forced fans from one school to drive two hours on consecutive nights for a girls’ regional final and a boys’ regional quarterfinal. The schools involved should have scheduled a doubleheader, but no one did, or the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association didn’t, or doesn’t, approve something with common sense. (The drive home the second night was enlivened by freezing fog.)
  • Our radio station group had fewer boys basketball teams that survived the regional round than announcers, so I wasn’t assigned to any sectional games. But the day I thought my winter season was over, I was assigned to an Illinois “supersectional” game at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. That put me at center court announcing a game featuring the eventual Illinois Class 1A state champion, which happens to be the alma mater of Chicago trumpet player Lee Loughnane.

    It was a great experience, even though I spent the next day at home with food poisoning.

  • I also got to announce state wrestling for the first time. It was an interesting broadcast experience because the radio station sells hundreds of live-read ads (as opposed to prerecorded ads), so I got to read a lot of ads.
  • A couple months later, I got assigned to announce postseason softball and baseball during a spring that, even by Wisconsin standards, was pretty hideous. I had no weather cancellations, but the weather in most games was bad enough for me to wear the radio stations’ logo-equipped winter jackets and broadcast from a park shelter that at least kept the rain out, but focused the wind to create a wind tunnel-like effect.
  • Before one of those games, an assistant coach from the team I was covering asked where it would be online. He told me that a friend of his in Colorado, a graduate of the home team who was the son of two graduates of the road team, wanted to listen. So I mentioned the Coloradan on the air, and he said he listened.
  • Two days later, I got to announce the previous game’s winner in an 11-inning sectional final. The coach of the opponent, which had ended my team’s season the previous season, was having back problems, so I interviewed him squatting on the dugout floor while he lay on his stomach on the dugout bench. He had told friends of his, and I had told the opposing school, where the game would be, and so my game had quite a large online audience, while the opposing school’s fans sat right behind me, and I engaged them in conversation during the broadcast. That team, which won the sectional final minutes before the game probably would have been suspended due to darkness, ended up winning state.
    (While that was happening, another school we were covering was leading 1–0 in the sixth inning, though its opponent had two runners aboard. And then the rains came, and the unpires ruled the game couldn’t continue, and so the host won, making the losing team’s fans angry that insufficient effort, they thought, was made to dry out the field. The host ended up winning state.
  • Then came baseball, which started with a sectional final trip in the rain, making me wonder if the game would actually be played. It did delay the game … about five minutes, though it rained out another game. So just before my semifinal game I got a text asking if I could announce the rained-out game the next day. So in 24 hours I announced four baseball games, happily with the right teams winning, in the final case due to the opposing team’s trotting out several pitchers, none of whom could find the strike zone.
    (The technological adventure of the second pair of games included the cellphone on which we announce the games overheating because, unlike the previous day, it was sunny and hot. Fortunately there was a concession stand with a refrigerator and freezer, and so I ran to the concession stand and got ice in a bag, on which we put the phone, covered from the sun by an equipment case, so we could get on the air.)
  • Both our teams ended up playing each other in a state semifinal, guaranteeing us two days at state. Our game fortunately ended before the next division’s games were interrupted by a seven-hour-long rain delay, part of which we spent entertaining the announcer of the late game and young TV sports people in our broadcast booth. The semifinal winner ended up losing the state title, but in such a case they got to play in, and I got to announce, the last game of the season.

Not bad for a part-time guy, methinks. Have I mentioned I am really lucky to be doing this?

One reason why high school sports is so fun to cover is that you might think you know who will win, and that team may well win, but not always. You have to expect, or at least anticipate, the unexpected in sports, and that applies to sports broadcasting too.

Presty the DJ for Aug. 5

First, a non-rock anniversary: Today is the 95th anniversary of the first broadcasted baseball game, on KDKA in Pittsburgh: Harold Arlen described Pittsburgh’s 8–0 win over Philadelphia.

Speaking of Philadelphia … today in 1957, ABC-TV picked up WFIL-TV’s “American Bandstand” …

… though ABC interrupted it in the middle for “The Mickey Mouse Club.”

Today in 1966, the Beatles recorded “Yellow Submarine” …

… and “Eleanor Rigby” …

… while also releasing their “Revolver” album.

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Aug. 5”

Post-World Cup pre-Olympics new$

The U.S. national women’s soccer team managed to alienate people who should have been fans by stridently dissing conservatives on the way to their Women’s World Cup win.

One year from now, the team will compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, assuming the team doesn’t do what, if they were serious about their pay situation, it should have done — strike.

Two pieces of news cast new light on the finances of international soccer and the U.S. women’s team. First, from Brad Polumbo:

The United States has the best women’s soccer team in the world, as evidenced by our recent Women’s World Cup win. But we’re told that the women’s team still faces blatant sexism and a pay gap compared to our men’s team.

That’s what woke feminists like USWNT Captain Megan Rapinoe keep telling us. In fact, the women’s team has even filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer alleging gender-based pay discrimination. I’ve already made the argument against equal pay and explained why Rapinoe is far from a good role model, but a new open letter and fact sheet released by U.S. Soccer completely refutes the equal pay crusaders’ argument.

First, it reveals that while U.S. Soccer is the target of the USWNT’s equal pay lawsuit, they’re not even the ones paying the men and women unequally. According to U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro, they actually pay the women more than the men. He writes:

Over the past decade, U.S. Soccer has paid our Women’s National Team more than our Men’s National Team. From 2010 through 2018, U.S. Soccer paid our women $34.1 million in salaries and game bonuses and we paid our men $26.4 million—not counting the significant additional value of various benefits that our women’s players receive but which our men do not.

How’s that for sexist? Cordeiro explains that this pay gap — in favor of the women — is due to different pay structures the men and women have negotiated, as the women’s team is given an annual salary and benefits while the men are paid more sporadically, proportional to participation. This disparity is necessary because the men have more professional soccer opportunities outside of international competition, such as the leagues in Europe and Major League Soccer. National soccer is a side gig for them, not a full-time job.

Now, it is true that the men’s World Cup offers significantly higher prize money, and that when prize money is counted, the men received $41 million from 2010 to 2018 and the women received just $39.7 million despite vastly outperforming the men relative to their own competition. And more generally, the winning team in the last men’s World Cup received $38 million in prize money, while the winners of this year’s Women’s World Cup get a relatively modest $4 million.

But this is up to the International Federation of Association Football, not U.S. Soccer, which means the “equal pay” lawsuit hasn’t even been filed against the right entity. Moreover, the differential in prize money offered by FIFA is explained by differences in revenue generation and viewership, not sexism.

As I wrote before:

Almost half the world watched the men’s 2018 World Cup, with nearly 3.6 billion total viewers tuning in to watch some part of the tournament. The final match alone reached an audience of over 1.1 billion people. Subsequently, the tournament’s sponsor, FIFA, brought in a profit of over $6 billion.
The women’s team garners significant but substantially lower viewership. We don’t have data for the 2019 tournament, but during the women’s last World Cup in 2015, 764 million viewers tuned in for some portion of the tournament. This is quite good, but it still pales in comparison to the men’s tournament’s audience.Unsurprisingly, Cordeiro’s letter explains, “We look forward to the day when Americans choose to spend their time and money equally between women’s and men’s soccer.” But as the U.S. Soccer fact sheet makes clear, today is not that day, and the pay structures reflect that reality.

But Cordeiro wasn’t done. David Hookstead:

U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro hit back hard at the women’s national team over equal pay.

With the World Cup in the news after we won the whole thing, the issue of pay between the men’s and women’s national teams has once again been a hot topic for debate. A lawsuit is currently underway over the pay disparities between the two teams. The issue at the core is simple. The women are more successful, but women’s soccer doesn’t generate the same kind of cash the men do.

Now, Cordeiro is claiming they actually lose money.

According to TMZ Sports, Cordeiro released a statement on Monday saying the following in part:

From 2009 through 2019 — a timeframe that includes two Women’s World Cup championships — the Women’s National Team has earned gross revenue of $101.3 million over 238 games, for an average of $425,446 per game, and the Men’s National Team has earned gross revenue of $185.7 million over 191 games, for an average of $972,147 per game. More specifically, WNT games have generated a net profit (ticket revenues minus event expenses) in only two years (2016 and 2017). Across the entire 11-year period, WNT games generated a net loss of $27.5 million.

U.S. Women’s National Team spokesperson Molly Levinson responded in part by calling the numbers “false” and the statement from Cordeiro a “ruse.” She also said the women’s team wants to “be paid equally for equal performance.”

If the women’s national team has actually lost money since 2009, then I don’t even know why we’re having this debate. Sports leagues and teams aren’t paid simply by how much they win.

They’re paid in large part by revenue generated. It’s why the worst NBA team still makes much more money than the best team in the WNBA.

It’s called economics, and it’s really not that difficult to figure out.

If the numbers are false, then that’s a different story. Luckily, that seems like that something that would be very easy to fact check.

I have no idea how this lawsuit will end, but I find there to be next to no outcome where it turns out the women generate more revenue than the men historically.

The women should try to get as much money as possible, but they’re only ever going to get cash as it’s tied to revenue.

Anybody who doesn’t understand that fact just doesn’t understand sports.

Or business. Of course, liberals have a well-known hatred of markets.

“A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

The New York Daily News:

Ex-Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton was a 20-game winner, won two World Series games, spent 10 years in the big leagues — and made a bigger impact with a pen in his hand than a baseball.

The author of the groundbreaking hardball tell-all “Ball Four” died Wednesday following a battle with a brain disease linked to dementia, according to friends of the family. The Newark, N.J., native was in the Massachusetts home he shared with his wife Paula Kurman after weeks of hospice care. He was 80.

Bouton, who made his Major League debut in 1962, threw so hard in his early years that his cap routinely flew off his head as he released the ball. By the time he reached the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969, the sore-armed Bouton reinvented himself as a knuckleballer.

Bouton spent that season collecting quotes, notes and anecdotes about life in the big leagues for his acclaimed book “Ball Four.” Released amid a storm of controversy, the account of Bouton’s tumultuous year was the only sports book cited when the New York Public Library drew up its list of the best books of the 20th century.

In “Ball Four,” Bouton exposed in great detail the carousing of Yankees legend Mickey Mantle, the widespread use of stimulants (known as “greenies”) in Major League locket rooms, and the spectacularly foul mouth of Seattle Pilots manager Joe Schultz.

“Amphetamines improved my performance about five percent,” Bouton once observed. “Unfortunately, in my case that wasn’t enough.”

But the book caused most of his old teammates to ostracize him, and he was blackballed from Yankees events for nearly 30 years until the team in 1998 invited Bouton to the annual Old-Timers Day event.

Bouton, across his 10-year pro career, posted a mediocre lifetime record of 62-63, with an ERA of 3.57.

But for two seasons, on the last of the great 1960s Yankees teams of Mantle, Maris, Berra and Ford, Bouton emerged as a top-flight pitcher.

In 1963, he went 21-7 with six shutouts and lost a 1-0 World Series decision to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Don Drysdale. A year later, Bouton’s record was 18-13 with a 3.02 ERA and he won a pair of World Series starts against the St. Louis Cardinals.

And then he developed a sore arm in 1965 that derailed a promising career that started just three years earlier. Bouton’s career ended after the 1970 season with the Houston Astros, although he returned for a five-game cameo with the Atlanta Braves in 1978.

Post-baseball, Bouton became a local sportscaster with WABC-TV and then WCBS-TV on the evening news, enjoying ratings success at both stops.

Ball Four was a book unlike any other in baseball until it was published, but you knew that.

Megan Rapinoe’s history lesson

Joel Engel writes to U.S. women’s soccer player Megan Rapinoe:

First, let us congratulate you and your teammates on a sensational World Cup championship. You made us proud.

You know us, right? The country you’ve represented so ably on the pitch? Because—hope this doesn’t sound weird—we’ve kind of had some small role in your success. No question, you worked for what you’ve accomplished with the talents you were fortunate to be blessed with. But never forget you that had the opportunity to do so. That you’ve made the most of those opportunities delights us; it’s what we’re all about. But we do wonder why you’d discount the privilege you enjoyed of having had those opportunities that are, sad to say, deprived to most people around the world.

Correct us if we’re wrong. But our understanding is that most or all of you and your teammates came from middle-class homes (or better) and were allowed and encouraged to take up organized sports at early ages. All (or most) of you went to college and I’d be surprised if any of you paid full-tuition.

This is . . . not the norm around the world. It should be! But this is a form of privilege that’s been granted to you by dint of your birth and we kind of thought that you’d (1) be grateful for it, and (2) would recognize it for what it is and be humble about how many of the women you competed against in France did not have the same advantages.

Because let’s be honest: If you’re a female soccer player, being born in America is like winning the lottery. The U.S. women’s teams have now won four World Cup titles, four Olympic gold medals, and eight CONCACAF gold cups—that’s the kind of domination that no national team in any country in any sport, male or female, has ever achieved. Something must be going right with America and our support of women’s athletics. USA! USA!

So we were kind of confused the other day when you explained your refusal to sing the National Anthem. We’re not quite sure what upsets you. “I think for detractors,” you said, “I would have them look hard into what I’m saying and the actions that I’m doing. Maybe you don’t agree with every single way that I do it, and that can be discussed.”

Well, back atcha. Aren’t we entitled to the same benefit of the doubt?

Let’s discuss whether there’s a country that has made more progress on virtually every human rights front in little more than a generation? In fact, let’s discuss how some countries are actually going backwards. Surely you’ve noticed that France and Germany and the UK and much of the rest of the world are trying to criminalize the kind of speech rights you’re now famous for exercising.

“I know that I’m not perfect,” you said, “but I think that I stand for honesty and for truth and for wanting to have the conversation and for looking at the country honestly. I think this country was founded on a lot of great ideals, but it was also founded on slavery. And I think we just need to be really honest about that and be really open in talking about that so we can reconcile that and hopefully move forward and make this country better for everyone.”

What we hear you saying is, we should look past your imperfections and focus on your intentions. Okay, well, again, back atcha. Right there in the preamble to our Constitution it says, “in order to form a more perfect union…”

You see? “More perfect” expressly states that we’re a work in progress. And aren’t we all! And we have this Constitution—the oldest in the world—that allows for every generation to amend what was originally set down and try to make “this country better for everyone.”

There’ve been 17 Amendments added to the original 10. True, not all of them have made things better. The 16th, 17th, and 18th were giant mistakes that backfired spectacularly (though fortunately the 18th was repealed). But all were passed with the intention of making things better: for example, the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and limiting presidents to two terms.

So if we’re going to “be really honest” about slavery and “hopefully move forward,” you might acknowledge that chattel slavery ended more than 150 years ago. It was a legacy of our colonial master, England, which at the time practiced slavery in every one of its colonies and territories, and had for over a century, before the American Revolution was a glint in the Founding Fathers’ eyes.

Read the accounts of the Constitutional Convention to see how fiercely slavery was debated. Yes, it would’ve been wonderful if the antislavery voices had prevailed. But keep in mind that if slavery had been disallowed from the beginning, about half of the original 13 colonies wouldn’t have joined the “united” states. Then what? Then no United States. The fact that it was a primary topic of discussion and argumentation at a time when slavery existed on every populated continent and had since the beginning of time was a moral victory without precedent in history.

Here’s the progressive historian Sean Wilentz, from his book No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding:

[A]lthough the framers agreed to compromises over slavery that blunted antislavery hopes and augmented the slaveholders’ power, they also deliberately excluded any validation of property in man.

This exclusion, insisted upon by a majority of the delegates, was of profound and fateful importance. It rendered slavery solely a creation of state laws. It thereby opened the prospect of a United States free of slavery—a prospect some delegates deeply desired and many more believed was coming to pass. Above all, it left room for the new federal government to hinder slavery’s expansion, something which, after the Constitution’s ratification, slavery’s opponents struggled to achieve.

Kind of amazing, no? Imagine the guts it took for the Founders to force this exclusion at a moment when it threatened to derail the entire creation of the country. Again: USA! USA!

About twenty years later, the importation of slaves was prohibited, and a few decades later, 2 percent of the country’s population (4 percent of men) died fighting a civil war to end slavery. No other country did that. Have there been racial issues and prejudice since then? Absolutely. There’s not a mixed-racial society on Earth that doesn’t suffer issues like that, and ours are compounded by the lingering hangover from both slavery and Jim Crow. But has there been astounding progress, in law and hearts and minds? The answer is an unqualified yes. You can want to improve things more without misunderstanding the amazing scope of progress we’ve already made together.


Frankly, we don’t really care if you sing the National Anthem or stand there like Han Solo in carbonite. Either one is your right. This isn’t North Korea, where citizens fear they’ll be tortured or killed if they stop applauding Fearless Leader. This is in itself another point in our favor. But whatever.

But we do have a question:

Did you notice how loudly and enthusiastically the French players and spectators in that jammed stadium sang their national anthem, La Marseillaise, before your quarterfinal match against France? These people adore their anthem. No matter where or when it’s played, they stand up straighter, sing at the top of their lungs, and frequently hold back tears—like that scene in Casablanca. Sometimes the French just burst into singing the anthem while waiting for a train. And French coaches don’t seem to have much problem getting a plane of French citizens to sing along.

Now for the record: We love France. We do. Without France, we might very well not be here. And, without us, neither would France. But it must be said that France is . . . not perfect, either. They have had historical problems with how they treat immigrants. And racism. There’s rising anti-Semitism. And France hasn’t exactly achieved egalité in women’s rights, either.

Compared with that, America looks pretty good, no? If you’d been French, would you have sung their national anthem? We sure hope not.


If you don’t speak French, you might hear the tune and think La Marseillaise is the best drinking song on the planet. But it’s actually the most martial of all the national anthems, and has been since it was written during a period in the bloody French Revolution when France was flinging itself into wars against other European powers—in this case, before France attacked Austria.

Take a listen:

Let’s go children of the fatherland,

The day of glory has arrived!
Against us tyranny’s
Bloody flag is raised
In the countryside, do you hear
The roaring of these fierce soldiers?
They come right to our arms
To slit the throats of our sons, our friends!

To arms, citizens!
Form your battalions!
Let’s march! Let’s march!
May impure blood
Water our fields!

Makes the “Star Spangled Banner” look pretty admirable, actually.


As you saw, several members of the French team you played against were young women of color. Their families had come from former French colonies in Africa like Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, and Cameroon. Repeat: former colonies. Meaning countries that France, competing with other European powers, fought over and occupied for centuries in order to steal their natural resources and enslave their people. We never did that.

It wasn’t all that long ago, probably during your parents’ lives, that the last of those African colonies were granted their freedom from France. Only after a war. And beaucoup de problèmes remain. In fact, many of these young women grew up in what the French call “les banlieus,” essentially suburban slums inhabited mostly by immigrants with little hope of being accepted as fully French and only slightly more hope of a better future—unless, of course, they played soccer and showed French football officials they could be useful. Yet they sang as loudly and passionately as everyone else; same with the young men on the French U-20 team, many of whom have colonial heritage.

By contrast, our national anthem was inspired by seeing a flag still flying over a fort that had been attacked by the British in 1814, soon after they’d invaded Washington and burned the White House, the Capitol, and other buildings and before attacking Fort McHenry in Baltimore. The siege lasted a full day and night, but in the morning the American soldiers who’d withstood the barrage raised a large flag—as Francis Scott Key saw with his own eyes from a boat in Baltimore Harbor. Not for nothing was the War of 1812 nicknamed “The Second American Revolution.” (By the way, the lyrics Key wrote were paired with a tune that really was a popular drinking song.)


You’re probably too young to remember a term that used to be thrown about wherever Americans traveled after World War II: “The Ugly American.” It was a pejorative that referred to, as Wikipedia puts it, “loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens.” Given that “USA” is on your jersey, we were embarrassed to hear that sentiment directed at you and the team, beginning with your 13-0 slaughter of Thailand in the first Cup game, when Team USA celebrated each goal as if it were the Cup clincher, and crescendoed when Alex Morgan mimed drinking a cup of tea after scoring against England.

“Wah-wah-wah,” you said sarcastically, insisting that men aren’t criticized for similar displays of grandiosity and unsportsmanship.

As it happens, you’re right about that. Which explains why our national pastime is baseball, not football or basketball (or, for that matter, soccer). In baseball, guys make plays that defy the laws of physics, but baseball’s culture is nonchalance, so players pretend it was no big deal; that it’s what they’re being paid for; that they’ve done it before and will do it again.

Sure, back in the dugout, their teammates will go a little crazy and maybe push them onto the field for a reluctant, and quick, curtain call if the fans demand it. But they don’t perform for the crowd because the unwritten rule is: Never show up the other team. Those who do can expect a little chin music next time they come to the plate.

In football, it seems like every sack, or tackle, or first down, or reception produces a celebration or an arms-wide “I did it” for the crowd. Same with dunks and three-pointers in basketball. Kind of like what you did after scoring the first goal in the championship game and running to the corner of the pitch.

But isn’t this . . . not good? Isn’t it the kind of behavior we should be trying to discourage in athletes? Because when you respect the other team, you respect the game.

The idea of athletics is to try to live up to our highest ideals. Not revel in living down to the debased standards of others.

Besides—not to put too fine a point on it—but it’s a really bad look given your enormous privilege. Thailand’s per capita GDP is 1/9 of America’s. They went through a military coup in 2014. When you go crazy after scoring the 8th goal against those women you maybe look like Cobra Kai. Nobody roots for Cobra Kai.

All right, Megan, we’ll let you go enjoy the fruits of your victory. You’ve earned your place in the Pantheon, and we hope you’ll use it constructively. As someone who’s been so blessed and so privileged, please encourage other young women to take advantage of their opportunities in this country that are unparalleled anywhere else in the world, and urge them to work hard for what they want, just as you did.

And as a P.S., I’d also ask you to indulge me by listening to Whitney Houston’s version of the National Anthem. It’s a game changer.

And I’m (not) proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free …

The U.S. women’s soccer team will play the Netherlands for the Women’s World Cup title today.

About them and one particular player, Jerry Newcombe writes:

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. I can’t fathom the ingratitude of American soccer star Meghan Rapinoe’s attitude toward America.

Writer Warner Todd Huston notes, “Rapinoe raised eyebrows in the 2018 season by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem even though she is playing for the U.S. Women’s National soccer team. Her taking a knee only came to an end starting in the 2019 season because the team passed a rule requiring players to stand during the anthem. But she right away said that she would never sing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ again, nor would she place her hand over her heart because she hates America.”

Sadly, she is by no means alone. There are millions of ungrateful Americans today.

I remember years ago seeing one of The Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson which showed one dog in his den showing another dog his mounted, stuffed trophies on his wall. There were a couple of stuffed cat heads and bird heads and also a human hand mounted on the wall. The host dog was saying to his guest, “And that’s the hand that fed me.”

What a fascinating contrast. Last week a man and his infant daughter tragically drowned trying to get to this country through illegal means. And yet the soccer star who was born here has nothing but contempt for the land of opportunity that has given her so many opportunities.

This reminds me of people who are ungrateful to the Lord, even though every beat of their heart is by His grace. When He says, “Enough,” it is over and then comes the judgment.

President Lincoln reminded us of our need for thankfulness to God when he called for a day of fasting and prayer during the conflict that tore this country apart.

On March 30, 1863, he wrote, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven ….But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.” [Emphasis added]

Our own prosperity as a nation has caused us to forget the Lord, said our 16th president: “Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!”

With another Fourth of July upon us, I think it is a good time to recall why we should be grateful as Americans. This country was born through the sacrifices of those who went before us.

What is the Fourth of July? It commemorates that date in 1776 when 56 men in Philadelphia, representing three million people, agreed by voice vote to adopt the final wording of our national birth certificate, the Declaration of Independence.

They knew their lives were on the line by voting for independence from England, and a handful of them paid the ultimate price for this declaration. Several of them were specifically targeted by the British.

The document declared that the rights of man come not from the king or the state, but from the Creator. It declared that when a government interferes too much with God-given rights, the government ultimately becomes illegitimate.

This declaration came years after futile attempts to work with the king to bring about an acceptable peace. But as the “men of Boston” put it, according to the great 19th century historian, George Bancroft: “While America is still on her knees, the king aims a dagger at her heart.”

We seem to forget the sacrifices of the founding fathers who bequeathed the freedoms, and subsequently, the prosperity we enjoy in this country.

A key founding father John Adams declared: “It is the will of heaven that the two countries should be sundered forever…” America would become its own nation, separate from England.

Adams adds that if we have to endure hardship because of it, God will still help see us through: “[I]t may be the will of heaven that America shall suffer calamities still more wasting and distresses yet more dreadful. If this is to be the case, the furnace of affliction produces refinement in states as well as individuals; but I submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe.”

The men who birthed America and declared independence laid everything on line, as they trusted in God.

Why should Meghan Rapinhoe be grateful? Because she was born in a country which gave her opportunity to “write her own script” as some might put it. It is hard for me to comprehend ungrateful Americans.

It’s not hard for me. When people read about this country’s past — legal slavery until the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, women’s (lack of) rights — some people assume that this country hasn’t progressed all, despite the fact that, for instance, Colin Kaepernick is not a slave, Rapinoe can legally vote and do everything else a man can do, and both have the First Amendment right to express themselves as they please, though there is nothing in the First Amendment that shields anyone from the consequences of their free expression.

Meanwhile, the team has found something else to complain about, the New York Post reports:

Megan Rapinoe considers Sunday to be the final insult.

Just a few hours after the United States and the Netherlands meet in the Women’s World Cup final in France, Brazil or Peru will celebrate winning the Copa America, South America’s men’s championship. And then at night, the United States or Mexico will win the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the men’s title of North and Central America and the Caribbean.

A TV triple of championships for some is yet another slight for others.

“It’s ridiculous, and disappointing, to be honest,” said Rapinoe, the star American midfielder.

FIFA said playing the three finals on the same day would boost attention for all.

“The scheduling of the different events has gone through a comprehensive consultancy process, which has involved all key stakeholders and taken into account different aspects of the women’s and men’s international match calendars,” the governing body said in a statement. “It is a rare and exciting occurrence.”

CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani told The New York Times, however, the decision to schedule the Gold Cup final for Sunday was not deliberate and was due to a “clerical error.”

“It’s terrible,” said former American midfielder Aly Wagner, now Fox’s lead World Cup match analyst. “It is so disturbing to me that the Women’s World Cup does not have its own day to stand on its own and have a final to highlight these tremendous athletes and their work and their accomplishment. They wouldn’t dream of doing it to the men. Why would they do it to the women?”

FIFA announced the Women’s World Cup dates at the emblem launch on Sept. 18, 2017, then revealed the full schedule the following Feb. 9.

CONCACAF did not announce the expansion of the Gold Cup from 12 teams to 16 until Feb. 26, 2018, then said last Sept. 27 that the final would be held at Chicago’s Soldier Field on July 7. South America’s governing body made the Copa America dates known since at least early 2018 and said last Dec. 18 the final would kick off at 4 p.m. EDT.

The Women’s World Cup final will start at 11 a.m. EDT on Fox, followed by the Copa America final at 4 p.m. EDT on ESPN+ and the CONCACAF final at 9:15 p.m. EDT on FS1. Telemundo, a sister network of NBC, has Women’s World Cup and Copa America Spanish-language US rights, while Univision has the Gold Cup.

“I really am a believer in the rising tide lifts all ships,” said David Neal, executive producer of Fox’s World Cup coverage. “Because of the timing of them, it’s probably not going to hurt anybody.”

Advertisers don’t seem to think the three finals will cannibalize each other.

“It doesn’t alter in any way shape or form what we plan to do. I’m not sure whether it’ll splinter viewership or not,” said Chris Curtin, chief brand and innovation marketing officer of Visa, one of six FIFA partners.

Advertisers focus on their product’s marketing and activation and pretty much ignore the other tournaments.

“The priority for Coca-Cola is the FIFA Women’s World Cup and we’re going to do everything we can to bring a lot of attention, a lot people in front of TVs, to watch the game, to watch the final,” said Ricardo Fort, head of global sponsorships at The Coca-Cola Co., another FIFA partner. “Too bad for the other finals. I’m pretty sure the Women’s World Cup final is going to be a big global event again.”

My prediction is the U.S. will win this morning, and it will have negligible impact on growing women’s soccer in this country. They are trying to plant in waters they poisoned.

 

Politics’ triumph over sports

The U.S. women’s soccer team takes on Great Britain in a Women’s World Cup semifinal at 2 p.m.

In keeping with the idea that the best way to generate support for your team is to alienate your potential supporters, Sue Bird writes:

This is my World Cup Semifinals preview. The title was supposed to be “So the President F*cking Hates My Girlfriend (and 10 Other Things I Want You to Know Before the World Cup Semifinals)” but we ran out of space. My bad. Thanks for reading. GO USWNT. …

First of all, I’ve gotta get this on the record, if it’s not already clear: I’m SO proud of Megan!!And the entire damn USWNT. That’s why I’m writing this article, mainly. So if you could do me a favor, let’s just take a second, for real, and appreciate this RUN my girl’s been on?? Like, take away all of the “extra” stuff — and just focus for a second on the soccer alone. Two goals against Spain. Two goals against France, WHILE A GUEST IN THEIR MAISON. I want to hit on a lot of other topics while I’m here, and trust me I will — but I just think it’s also really important not to forget what this is actually, first and foremost, about, you know? It’s about a world-class athlete, operating at the absolute peak of her powers, on the absolute biggest stage that there is. It’s about an athlete f*cking killing it.

It’s about Megan coming through.

(3) O.K. so now that that’s out of the way, I’ll answer The Question. The one that’s probably most on your mind. And by that I mean: What’s it like to have the literal President of the literal United States (of literal America) go Full Adolescent Boy on your girlfriend? Hmm. Well… it’s WEIRD. And I’d say I actually had a pretty standard reaction to it: which was to freak out a little.

That’s one thing that you kind of have to know about me and Megan: our politics are similar — after we won the WNBA title in Seattle last season, no way were we going to the (f*cking) White House! — but our dispositions are not. And as we’ve been talking through a lot of this “stuff,” as it’s been happening to her, you know, I’ll be honest here….. some of it scares the sh*t out of me!!

I mean, some of it is kind of funny….. but like in a REALLY? REALLY? THIS GUY??? kind of way. Like, dude — there’s nothing better demanding your attention?? It would be ridiculous to the point of laughter, if it wasn’t so gross. (And if his legislations and policies weren’t ruining the lives of so many innocent people.) And then what’s legitimately scary, I guess, is like….. how it’s not just his tweets. Because now suddenly you’ve got all these MAGA peeps getting hostile in your mentions. And you’ve got all these crazy blogs writing terrible things about this person you care so much about. And now they’re doing takedowns of Megan on Fox News, and who knows whatever else. It’s like an out-of-body experience, really — that’s how I’d describe it. That’s how it was for me.

But then Megan, man….. I’ll tell you what. You just cannot shake that girl. She’s going to do her thing, at her own damn speed, to her own damn rhythm, and she’s going to apologize to exactly NO ONE for it. So when all the Trump business started to go down last week, I mean — the fact that Megan just seemed completely unfazed? It’s strange to say, but that was probably the only normal thing about it. It’s not an act with her. It’s not a deflection. To me it’s more just like: Megan is at the boss level in the video game of knowing herself. She’s always been confident….. but that doesn’t mean she’s always been immune. She’s as sensitive as anyone — maybe more!! She’s just figured out how to harness that sensitivity.

And I think Megan’s sensitivity is what drives her to fight for others. I think it’s what drove her to take a knee. The Megan you’re seeing now? It’s the stronger version of the one who knelt in the first place. All the threats, all the criticism, all the fallout — coming out on the other side of that is what makes her seem so unfazed by the assholes of the world now.

I think in trying to help others, Megan has cemented who she is.

Whatever career Bird plans, I predict it isn’t going to be in writing. Mature people know the correct times for obscenities and the incorrect times. Bird evidently does not

I could point out, as I did Friday, that alienating your potential audience is bad business, but that would be like talking to a brick wall, because their feelings are more important than anything else. (And evidently their sexuality is more important to themselves than anything else about them.)