I went to a football game and a theological argument broke out

David French:

On Sunday night, the Super Bowl ended and — for about 20 minutes — a late-night church service began. From coaches to players, the Philadelphia Eagles thanked Jesus, professed their love for Jesus, and expressed how Christ had provided strength through adversity. In other words (and ironically, given their fans’ rather cruel public image), it was a normal Eagles kind of day.

The sports world is more publicly religious than the rest of pop culture. Football is more publicly religious than the rest of sports, and the Philadelphia Eagles are more publicly religious than most football teams. Writing on Super Bowl Sunday, the Washington Post’s Bob Smietana chronicled the team’s faith commitment:

The team produced a video — separate from the one being shown on Super Bowl Sunday — highlighting faith as a binding force in the team locker room.

Eagles players even held baptisms in the team’s cold tub and at a hotel pool. About 30,000 people have viewed a Bible study that features the Eagles and other NFL players. Frank Reich, the offensive coordinator for the Eagles, spent time in the ministry after his NFL career was over — serving as a pastor and seminary professor before becoming a coach.

Quarterbacks Nick Foles and Carson Wentz are outspoken about their faith. Coach Doug Pederson coached at a Christian high school. The list goes on.

The Eagles are so Christian, in fact, that as the Super Bowl ended, I braced for a backlash. After all, before America fought over patriotism and football, it battled over God and football. A quick Google search reveals an avalanche of commentary stretching back for years. Would the football holy war begin anew?

Thankfully, the answer was largely no. Yes, Twitter flared with vitriol, but that’s Twitter being Twitter. There was worse anger over the Solo teaser trailer. Perhaps event militant atheists were grateful to see the Patriots lose. Perhaps partisans were too distracted by “the memo” and the host of other controversies that rip apart our civil society. Whatever the reason, peace largely prevailed.

But still, I saw the question raised time and again, “Does God care about football?”

It’s a question worth answering in large part because it goes to the heart of our conception of God’s nature, his character, and his relationship with man. There are those who look at Christian athletes and say that their expressions of faith diminish God. They take the God of the universe and relegate him to the status of a divine football commissioner, dispensing gridiron glory for the sake of rewarding the “hard work” or “grit” of his favorite children. When the world groans under the weight of the Fall — divided by war, battered by hurricanes, afflicted with disease — the notion that God cares in the slightest about which millionaire athlete wins which sporting contest can strike a person as slightly obscene.

But it’s obscene only if one thinks of God as a limited being, with a finite amount of attention. As if he’s distracted from the crisis in Syria to make sure that a pro quarterback can offer a social-media lesson in how to triumph over adversity. He can’t sustain the suffering people of Puerto Rico because he’s micro-managing a free safety’s tackle on a game-saving play.

In reality, the notion that God is intimately involved in the lives of his children magnifies his glory. The God who created the universe has the capacity of infinite attention and care, including attention and care for the lowliest of his creatures. In Matthew, Christ talks about how God “clothes the grass of the field” and “feeds” the “birds of the air” — and we are of far more value than animals and plants.

The scriptures go on and on. “All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” All means all. “Every good and perfect gift comes from above.” Every means every. Even our own plans are meaningless compared with God’s will. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” There’s even a strong biblical example that should deter any believer from accepting praise without thanking God — just ask the worm-eaten King Herod who basked in the praise of men without giving God the glory.

Moreover, there’s something specific about football — distinct from other sports — that can concentrate a person’s faith. Yes, football is more religious in part because of its southern strongholds (the South is more religious). Yes, football is more religious in part because it’s disproportionately black (African Americans are more religious). But I’d also posit that something else is in play: keen awareness of human fragility.

While athletes can suffer gruesome injuries in virtually any sport — just ask Paul George or Gordon Hayward — few athletes risk what football players risk when they take the field. An athlete can condition himself perfectly, train his body to achieve its greatest possible strength, and one wayward hit can end a career. So the athletes who are most self-aware can also be among the humblest people alive. They recognize their lack of control over their own destiny.

Football requires physical courage. For many of us, physical courage flows from faith. The capriciousness of the game should dictate a measure of humility. For many of us, humility flows from faith. For the vast majority of athletes, that declaration of thanks to God isn’t a declaration that God is an Eagle or a Patriot but that God loves them and has given them every good thing in their lives.

So, yes, God cares about football because he cares about football players. He orders their steps. He grants them good and perfect gifts. He teaches them amid the pain of loss and adversity. I’d even go so far as to say that God cares about football because he cares about football fans. Shared joy is a powerful bonding force, as is shared pain. I love sports not just because of the thrill of competition but also because sports bond a community and even a family through the power of shared experience.

Yes, that can manifest itself in deeply unhealthy ways (just look at the reputation of Philly fans), but there are few spaces left in American life where Americans of every race, creed, and color can experience a sense of true fellowship. Is that not a “good” gift?

I know that bad theology abounds. I know that some people view victory as a formula that can be achieved through the right degree of faith. But good theology tells us that the same God who spoke the universe into existence doesn’t just love the individual people he created, he became part of his own creation, experienced our pains and temptations, and took on our suffering and sin. God doesn’t just understand or author our joy at the small things of life. He experienced it.

When Nick Foles and Doug Pederson gave glory to God after the Super Bowl, they were doing exactly what God’s people should do: Praise him as the source of their immense blessing. And for players on the other side? Their adversity serves its own purpose. In the face of triumph, humility dictates that we credit the source of our strength. In the face of loss, faith encourages us that adversity will work together for good. There is much worth seeing that reality play out on the larger public stage — even if that stage is “only” a football game.

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The ecstasy and the agony

How a Super Bowl ends from the perspective of the winner …

… and the loser:

At least the Eagles’ announcers (including play-by-play man Merrill Reese, who finally got to call a Super Bowl win after 41 seasons and two losses) could have said “Let the rioting begin!”

 

When rogue nations are easy in comparison

Purdue University president Mitch Daniels writes to Condolezza Rice:

That invitation to speak on our campus still stands, but I see that you’ll be a little too busy this spring, now that you’ve accepted yet another “service opportunity” as chair of the new commission tasked by the NCAA to help it reform college basketball. You’ve always been a sucker for a good cause; and if ever a cause qualified, this one does.

When the FBI revealed its findings about the corrupt connections among shoe companies, agents, a few big-time college programs and coaches, and the Amateur Athletic Union or AAU (the first “A” increasingly looks like a misnomer), no one near the sport was shocked. The existence of this part of the cesspool has been in plain view for years. Those in a position to stop the scandals spawned by the “one-and-done” era — in which many top-tier players were required to enroll in college for one year before bolting for the NBA — have been either powerless to do so or actively interested in perpetuating the status quo.

When it was discovered that, at what we’ve always considered an academically admirable school, championships had been won by teams loaded with players who took completely phony classes, most of us were sincerely shocked. We were stunned again when, after years of cogitation, the NCAA delivered a penalty of . . . nothing. It was a final confession of futility, confirming the necessity of this special commission, if any meaningful change is going to happen from the collegiate end.

If the NCAA is impotent to stop the abuses, the NBA is all but an unindicted co-conspirator. The current arrangement works out beautifully for the league: It gets a free minor league player development system, a massively televised showcase for its next round of stars, and one less argument with a players union that prefers to limit, through its ineligible-until-age-19 rule, the number of competitors for the few hundred NBA roster spots. The league has every incentive to keep dragging its feet, so the most promising avenue for reform is to make the college game inhospitable to NBA exploitation and the rotten collusion that the one-and-done world fosters.

As for solutions, one can start by observing that almost no change could make things worse. I don’t pretend to know the single best answer, but it’s not hard to list a number of possibilities.

We could require a “year of readiness,” meaning that freshmen could practice but not play while they became acclimated to college life. This was the NCAA rule for many decades, and it makes great sense unless a “student” really has no intention of pursuing a real education.

Or the NCAA could simply use the rule already in effect for baseball, which gives young aspirants a choice between going professional straight from high school or entering college and staying a minimum of three years. Either of these approaches separates those seriously interested in higher education from those forced by the current system to pretend they are.

Another idea would be to allow players to depart early for the NBA, but the scholarships they received would be required to remain vacant for the balance of their four-year terms. Coaches who want to chase that next championship with full-time players masquerading as students could do so, but the following few seasons might be tough with rosters filled with walk-ons.

I’m convinced the college game would be more, not less popular, if a handful of would-be pretend students, whose names fans barely get a chance to know, instead went straight from high school to some sort of professional league. Doing so would certainly bring more parity and fairness to the college game. The play would still be amazingly athletic — most of us fans would not be able to tell the difference — and schools with genuine academic and conduct standards would no longer be at such a competitive disadvantage.

It’s startling how concentrated the phenomenon is. In the past five years, 45 percent of all “five-star” recruits, and 58 percent of all one-and-dones, have gone to just five schools. Our entire 14-member Big Ten conference, by contrast, has had 9.2 percent of the first category and 6.4 percent of the latter, collectively. One could tell conferences like ours that if we don’t like today’s situation, we can just establish our own rules, but unilateral disarmament never seems like a good idea.

It troubles me to give up on my friends and neighbors at the NCAA, but when the FBI beats you to a monstrously obvious problem in your own backyard, you’re clearly never going to fix it on your own.

So thanks for serving, Condi, and best of luck. If you thought Iranian sanctions or North Korean nukes were hard problems, wait until you try this one. And take your time about that invitation. Go save us from ourselves.

Fouls

This is probably not a surprise, reported by the WIAA:

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Control voted in opposition to the most recent plan to address competitive equity and approved a number of coaches’ committee recommendations and other action items at its January meeting today.

The Board voted 6-5 against a basketball “Rural/Urban” competitive equity plan initiated by the Board. The proposal sought to place schools in Divisions 3, 4 and 5 by enrollment and by U.S. Census data with classification codes based on proximity to urban areas.

I posted about this yesterday. If the Rural/Urban plan is dead (and that’s debatable), and irrespective of the merits of the plan, one wonders if the next step will be to simply classify private schools (and maybe charter schools) into their own class(es) for state basketball.

Meanwhile, The Post~Crescent in Appleton reports:

Coaches throughout the Fox Valley could be seen with folded white towels on their shoulders Tuesday evening.

The gesture was in clear support of basketball coach John Mielke, who resigned Sunday morning as Appleton East boys coach following a confrontation with an East parent at a local bar Friday night.

Mielke’s sudden resignation sent shock waves through the basketball communities in the Fox Valley. A groundswell of support for Mielke was evident on social media throughout Monday and Tuesday as players, coaches and fans voiced their backing of Mielke.

Mielke let his team know at a practice Sunday morning that he was stepping down as head coach.

Oshkosh North boys basketball head coach Brad Weber also showed support for Mielke on Tuesday. The Spartans defeated Appleton East 72-35 at East in the Patriots’ first game without Mielke as head coach. Assistant Steve Coenen is the acting head coach for the rest of the season.

“Shocking,” Weber said. “Because when you see the news, it hits you. But in today’s society when you think about it, probably not that shocking.” …

Appleton East graduate and former University of Wisconsin basketball player Dave Mader shared his thoughts on Twitter: “I had a chance to help out for a short time with Coach Mielke. He cared deeply about the players. He was a friend and mentor to numerous coaches. He loves the game of basketball and is an extraordinary human being. It was a privilege to work with Coach Mielke.

Mielke resigned — and you’ll notice the high school basketball season is far from over — after a group fo East parents reportedly had a confrontation with him at a bar following East’s loss to Appleton West, the P~C reports:

Mielke resigned two days after an encounter at a local bar on Friday where he was approached by a parent of an Appleton East basketball player. According to sources, the parent said he was representing the thoughts of many families and questioned Mielke’s coaching tactics, repeatedly calling the team’s play “embarrassing.”

Several other East parents were nearby but did not address Mielke, according to others in the bar.

Sources said the parent told Mielke that some of the players on the team no longer wanted to play for him and indicated that Mielke “yelled at their kids too much” during practices and games. …

Multiple people in the bar at the time confirmed the series of events to USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. And several players attending Sunday’s practice confirmed Mielke’s comments to the team.

One wonders if these parents are going to intervene for their children when they have problems in college or in the workplace too. One also wonders whether this particular interfering parent knows the definition of the word “embarrassing.”

From basketball courts to maybe different courts

Travis Wilson of the Wisconsin Sports Network analyzes today’s expected vote on high school basketball postseason divisions:

At Wednesday’s Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Control meeting in Stevens Point, the group is expected to vote on passage of the controversial Rural/Urban plan for boys and girls basketball divisional placement.

The issue of competitive equity has been a hot-button issue amongst schools, coaches, and fans for more than a decade, going back to the merger of the WIAA and the private schools that previously competed in the Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association, a joining that took place beginning in the 2000 season.

Brought to the forefront by a member petition that placed a private school Multiplier on the Annual Meeting agenda in the 2014 season, there were several proposals that ultimately failed over the course of several years.

The current Rural/Urban proposal was first brought forward by the Board of Control at its June 2017 meeting, with discussion and feedback obtained over several months and at the fall Area Meetings.

At the Board’s December meeting, the original proposal was revised to be less punitive on schools that met the Urban definition.

To view the details of the Rural/Urban Competitive Equity Plan, please click here.

WSN provided an analysis of the revised Rural/Urban Plan last month, which can be found here.

There have been considerable discussions around the revised plan amongst school leaders, but despite significant challenges and issues, I feel there is a strong chance that the proposal will pass at Wednesday’s meeting.

OBJECTIONS TO WIAA RURAL/URBAN PLAN

The revised Rural/Urban Plan has received strong objections from the schools that would stand to be impacted by the proposal. 18 of those schools co-signed a letter sent to the WIAA Board of Control earlier this month outlining their objections.

One of the most significant objections is around the lack of supporting data for the plan. The impacted schools point out, and the WIAA admits, that there was no comparative data used to examine whether schools in urban settings experience more success than those that fall under the rural classification.

In the impacted schools’ letter to the Board of Control, they highlight an exchange between WIAA Associate Director Deb Hauser and Saint Mary Catholic Athletic Director Adam Bates. Bates asked Hauser if there was any data that showed the schools being moved up under the plan would improve the perceived competitive equity imbalance.

Hauser responded that the plan addresses perceived disadvantages between rural and urban schools, involving proximity to potential students and potential training opportunities.

The letter introduced data that showed that 72% of the impacted programs have not made a state tournament appearance since the move to five divisions in 2011.

There have been 29 programs (boys and girls combined) that have won multiple state championships since the WIAA-WISAA merger in 2000, however only two of them would move up under this plan: Aquinas and Newman Catholic.

Analysis by WSN’s Mark Miller showed that over the last ten years, the boys basketball programs that would move up under the plan had a combined playoff winning percentage of 61%. Similar analysis done by the impacted schools showed the girls programs that would move up have a combined playoff winning percentage of just 57%.

Many have also questioned why the plan only moves up teams that normally fall into Division 4 and Division 5, and not those that may fall in Division 3 or Division 2.

A number of school administrators at last fall’s Area Meetings wondered whether the plan could be perceived as racist, since many of the impacted schools are in the Milwaukee area with high numbers of African-American students. Said Milwaukee Academy of Science CEO Anthony McHenry, “I fear that race is at the core of this plan. If not, why basketball, the sport which requires the least amount of resources for participation. Hopefully, I am wrong, but I have not heard an argument that indicates there is a real problem to solve.”

There is a feeling among many people who would otherwise support some kind of divisional adjustment that the plan targets the “wrong” schools. The teams that have drawn the most complaints over the years in regards to not being “fair” have been Dominican, Racine St. Catherine’s, Destiny, Assumption, Newman Catholic, Young Coggs Prep, Regis, Edgewood, Heritage Christian and Aquinas. To a lesser extent, schools such as Catholic Central, Green Bay NEW Lutheran, Wisconsin Lutheran, McDonell Central, Columbus Catholic, Xavier, Sheboygan Lutheran, Racine Lutheran, Milwaukee Academy of Science, The Prairie School, Lourdes Academy, and Kenosha St. Joseph have also drawn criticism from both school personnel and fans.

However, of that first group of ten, only Aquinas, Destiny, Regis, Newman Catholic, and Young Coggs would move up. The primary teams receiving the largest complaints, Dominican and St. Cat’s, would not be impacted at all. Of the 12 teams in the “lesser” group, several would not move at all in the plan.

Many opponents of the Rural/Urban proposal question why it is only being applied to basketball, when data has shown that private schools, who are really the ones targeted by the plan, win as much or more in other sports like soccer and volleyball. There is a feeling that this is being done to avoid a full membership vote on the plan, which would be required if it was to apply to all sports. The membership has already voted down three other competitive equity proposals: the Multiplier, Reducer, and Success Factor.

It is expected that if this plan passes, a version of it will soon make its way to other sports on a sport-by-sport basis as well.

However, there are question about whether such a move, or even applying the Rural/Urban plan to just basketball, would pass legal challenges. The idea that the proposal should be presented to the entire membership for a vote was voiced by several administrators at the fall meetings. The WIAA has even consulted its legal advisors on the subject, and it is not clear if the Association would withstand legal scrutiny on the issue. Impacted schools or students could challenge whether the proposal is needed to pass a membership vote rather than a Board of Control vote, or challenge that the WIAA is a state actor and thus in violation of equal protection laws.

PREDICTION

Despite the significant objections to the proposal, the fact it doesn’t address many of the “problem” schools, and the potential legal battles that could follow, I believe there is a very strong chance that the WIAA Board of Control will vote to implement the Rural/Urban plan at Wednesday’s meeting.

There is and has been a sense among many administrators that, “Something needs to be done.” While this plan has plenty of holes, it is something to address competitive equity, and for some, that’s enough.

Several plans have already been voted down by the membership, suggesting that perhaps other future competitive equity proposals would face difficulty getting passed by the entire membership. By making this a sport-specific plan, it only needs to gain support from a majority of the 11-person WIAA Board of Control rather than a majority of 507 schools. At the December Board of Control meeting, there seemed to be a sense from several Board members that the adjusted proposal was more palatable because it impacted less teams, was less punitive than the original, and would be seen as a “win” for the members who have loudly asked for competitive equity relief over the years.

The Board of Control could vote to approve the plan as presented, to reject it altogether, or modify it in some fashion. The group could also vote to add it to the Annual Meeting agenda for consideration by the entire membership.

While I think the most likely outcome is the board passes the plan as presented, there could be a chance that due to the possible legal challenges and uncertainty around the proposal, they may look to send the question to the entire membership instead.

My prediction is that if this does not pass, the next proposal will be to create separate tournament divisions for private schools, and perhaps charter schools as well.

When fictional football imitates real life

Almost a year ago I wrote about a few books, two of which were turned into movies, about fictional sports teams.

One of those was North Dallas Forty, a thinly veiled retelling of the 1960s Dallas Cowboys, which became one of those movies:

It turns out that ESPN.com wrote a more detailed comparison of the, uh, North Dallas Bulls and the Cowboys:

“North Dallas Forty,” the movie version of an autobiographical novel written by former Dallas Cowboy receiver Pete Gent, came to the silver screen in 1979. The book had received much attention because it was excellent and because many thought the unflattering portrait of pro football, Dallas Cowboys-style, was fairly accurate.

The film reached many more people than the book, and was, in many ways, a simplified version of the novel. But did it portray the NFL accurately? In the Sept. 16, 1979, Washington Post, offensive tackle George Starke wrote, “Most of what you see is close to what happens, or at least did happen when Pete Gent played.” Others disagreed. What do you think?

In Reel Life: The movie’s title is “North Dallas Forty,” and the featured team is the North Dallas Bulls.
In Real Life: Why North Dallas? Gent, a rookie in 1964, explains in an e-mail interview: “I was shocked that in 1964 America, Dallas could have an NFL franchise and the black players could not live near the practice field in North Dallas — which was one of the reasons I titled the book ‘North Dallas Forty.’ I kept asking why the white players put up with their black teammates being forced to live in segregated south Dallas, a long drive to the practice field. The situation was not changed until Mel Renfro filed a ‘Fair Housing Suit’ in 1969.”

In Reel Life: In the opening scene, Phil Elliott (Nick Nolte) is having trouble breathing after he wakes up; his left shoulder’s in pain. He struggles to the bathtub, in obvious agony.

In Real Life: Jim Boeke, one of Gent’s Cowboy teammates (who also plays Stallings in the film), said this scene rings true. “I can’t say it happens to every player every morning after every game,” he told the Washington Post in 1979, “but the older you get, the more it happens to you.”

In Reel Life: As we see in the film, and as Elliott says near the end, he can’t sleep for more than three hours at a stretch because he’s in so much pain.
In Real Life: Elliott is, obviously, a fictional version of Gent. “When I was younger, the pain reached that level during the season and it usually took a couple months for the pain and stiffness to recede,” says Gent. “Usually by February, I was able to sleep a good eight hours. As I got older, the pain took longer and longer to recede after the season.”

In Reel Life: Mac Davis plays Seth Maxwell, the Cowboys QB and Elliott’s close friend.
In Real Life: Maxwell is a thinly disguised version of Gent’s close friend, 1960s Cowboys QB Don Meredith. According to Gent, Meredith was offered the role of Seth Maxwell. “Don was at Elaine’s one night talking with Bud Sharke, [Frank] Gifford, and several others, and Don said, ‘I just don’t want others to think that’s me.’ And Gifford said, ‘Well, it is you.’ ”

“Gent would become Meredith’s primary confidant and amateur psychologist as the Cowboys quarterback’s life would become more and more topsy-turvy as the years went on,’ writes Peter Golenbock in the oral history, “Cowboys Have Always Been My Heroes.”

In Reel Life: Throughout the film, there’s a battle of wits going on between Elliott and head coach B.A. Strothers (G.D. Spradlin).
In Real Life: B.A. bears some resemblance to Tom Landry, who coached Gent on the Cowboys. “The only way I kept up with Landry, I read a lot of psychology — abnormal psychology,” says Gent in “Heroes.”

Though sometimes confused by Landry, Gent says he admired the man: “Over the course of a high school, college and pro career, an athlete is exposed to all sorts of coaches, (including) great ones who are geniuses breaking new ground in their game. Tom Landry was like that … When you are young, you think you are going to meet men like this your whole life. You think the world is full of genius, and it isn’t until you leave the game that you found out you may have met the greatest men you will ever meet.

In Reel Life: Jo Bob Priddy (Bo Svenson) and O. W. Shaddock (John Matuszak) interrupt Elliott’s relaxing bath, entering the bathroom with rifles blazing. Along with Maxwell, off-a-hunting they go.
In Real Life: Former Cowboys Ralph Neely (a tackle) and Larry Cole (defensive end) told Washington Post reporter Jane Leavy that the trip was real. “Football players have only one day off a week and if they go hunting, they’re sure as hell going to shoot something,” Cole said in 1979. “We shot butterflies, field larks …” And, Neely added, a mailbox.

In Reel Life: Everyone’s drinking during the hunting trip, and one series of shots comes dangerously close to Elliott and Maxwell.
In Real Life: “In Texas, they all drank when they hunted,” says Gent in “Heroes.” “That story in ‘North Dallas Forty’ of being in a duck blind and getting sprayed by shot was a true story. (Don) Talbert and (Bob) Lilly, or somebody else, started shooting at us from across the lake!” …

In Reel Life: Maxwell says, “Son, you ain’t never gonna get off that bench until you stop fighting them suckers. You got to learn how to fool them. Give ’em what they want. I know. I’ve been fooling them bastards for years.”
In Real Life: Meredith never really stopped fighting “those suckers,” meaning, really, Landry. The quarterback suffered through the early years with the Cowboys and Landry, and ended up leading Dallas to within minutes of NFL championships in 1966 and 1967. Still, Landry replaced Meredith with Craig Morton during a 1968 playoff game, and that was, apparently, the last straw. Meredith retired at age 29, hoping that Landry would ask him to continue playing. Landry didn’t, saying. “Don, I think you are making the right decision.” …

In Reel Life: Elliott and Maxwell go to a table far away from the action, and share a joint. A man in a car spies on them.
In Real Life: Gent says he was followed throughout the 1967 and 1968 seasons (more about this later): “One time a neighbor told me, ‘Pete, now don’t look, but there is somebody sitting in our parking lot with binoculars,’ ” he says in “Heroes.”

In Reel Life: At the party, and throughout the movie, Maxwell moves easily between teammates and groups of players, and seems to be universally respected.
In Real Life: Meredith “was greatly respected by his teammates for his great skills and his nerve on the field during a period of time in the NFL when knocking out the quarterback was a tactic for winning,” says Gent. He “would take awful physical beatings and somehow keep getting up and taking the team to wins … He was one tough SOB.”

In Reel Life: The Cowboys are worshiped. They are, as Maxwell puts it, “genuine heroes.”
In Real Life: The Cowboys were small time during the first half of the 1960s, but when they started winning under Landry, everything changed. “In 1964, if you bought an adult ticket, you got five kids in for nothing and a free football,” says Gent in “Heroes.” “The only time we filled the stadium was when Green Bay came. By ’66, we were sold out every game. In just two years, we went from our not being able to get a seat in a restaurant in Dallas to literally being America’s guest.”

In Reel Life: Elliott meets with B.A. The coach sits down in front of a computer, scrolling through screen after screen of information. He stops and points to the monitor. “Now that’s it, that’s it,” he says. “Phil, that’s what it all boils down to, your attitude.”
In Real Life: Clint Murchison, Jr., the team’s owner, owned a computer company, and the Cowboys pioneered the use of computers in the NFL, using them as early as 1962. “The Cowboys initially used computers to do self-scouting,” writes Craig Ellenport at NFL.com. “Were they too predictable on third-and-long situations? What was the average gain when they ran that trap play last season? As the Cowboys’ organization learned more about computers, they become a greater factor in the game-plan equation. ‘It was just another weapon that we had to do the job that had to be done,’ said Landry.”

In Reel Life: Elliott, in bed with Joanne Rodney (Savannah Smith), says he’s got the best hands in the league. Elliott’s high regard of his own abilities is a continuing theme throughout the film, and there’s plenty of screen action to back up the assessment.
In Real Life: Many of Gent’s teammates have said he wasn’t nearly as good as he portrayed himself in the book and the movie. “If I had known Gent was that good, I would have thrown to him more,” said Meredith, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, after reading the book.

Gent stands by his self-assessment, and says that Landry agreed about his ability to catch the ball. “Tom actually told the press that I had the best hands in the league,” says Gent. “And I did.” Gent, who played basketball in college, adds, “Catching a football was easy compared to catching a basketball.”

Gent, who was often used as a blocker, finished his NFL career with 68 catches for 898 yards and four TDs. In his best season, 1966, he had 27 catches for 484 yards and a touchdown.

In Reel Life: During a meeting, the team watches film of the previous Sunday’s game. In the film, Elliott catches a pass on third down, and everyone cheers. Except B.A., who says, “No, Seth, you should never have thrown to Elliott with that kind of coverage. Look at Delma. He’s wide open. I don’t like this buddy buddy stuff interfering with my judgment.”
In Real Life: Landry stressed disciplined play, but sometimes punished players when, even though they followed his precise instructions, a play went awry. For example, Landry benched Meredith during the 1968 NFL divisional playoff game against the Browns. He threw “an interception that should have been credited against Landry’s disciplined system of play,” writes Gary Cartwright, who covered the Cowboys during the 1960s. “According to Landry’s gospel, the Cleveland defensive back who intercepted Meredith’s final pass should have been on the other side of the field. Unfortunately, the Cleveland defensive back was in the wrong place. It wasn’t that Landry was wrong; Cleveland just wasn’t right.”

In Reel Life: The game film shows Stallings going offside. B.A. castigates the player: “There’s no room in this business for uncertainty.” Later, Stallings is cut, his locker unceremoniously emptied.
In Real Life: This happened to Boeke, a former Cowboys lineman, who was, in a way, playing himself in the film — Gent has said he was thinking of Boeke when he wrote this scene. “We were playing in the championship game in 1967, and Jim jumped offside, something anyone could do,” Gent told Leavy in 1979. “The NFL Films showed it from six or seven angles. They had it in slo-mo, and in overheads. It literally ended his career.” In fact, Boeke played another season for the Cowboys before being traded, but he agreed that the offside call was the beginning of the end.

In Reel Life: Art Hartman (Marshall Colt) is Maxwell’s backup at QB. He’s a very religious man, a straight arrow who is the object of some scorn. Maxwell refers to Hartman as “a dedicated young Christian stud.”
In Real Life: Lots of folks have played the guessing game about who Hartman “really” is, with Roger Staubach being the most frequently mentioned candidate. But Gent denied it after the film came out. “It’s not Staubach,” he told the Washington Post in 1979. “But don’t tell him, it’ll break his heart. That character was based on any number of players who got into all that religious bull.”

For one thing, Meredith and Gent were never teammates of Staubach. Meredith and Gent left the Cowboys after the 1968 season, one year before Staubach’s rookie season.

In Reel Life: Elliott catches a pass, and is tackled hard, falling on his back. Someone breaks open an ampule of amyl nitrate to revive him. Amyl is used in other scenes in the movie.
In Real Life: Gent says the drug was so prolific that, “one training camp I was surprised nobody died from using amyl nitrate.”

“In about 1967, amyl nitrite was an over-the-counter drug for people who suffered from angina,” Gent told John Walsh in a Feb. 1984 Playboy interview. “I talked to several doctors who told me it basically didn’t do any damage; it speeded up your heart and pumped a lot of oxygen to your brain, which puts you in another level of consciousness. At camp, I explained that this drug was legal and cheap — it cost about $2 for 12 ampules of it — everybody tried it and went crazy on it.”

In Reel Life: Elliott is constantly in pain, constantly hurt.
In Real Life: Lee Roy Jordan told the Dallas Times that Gent never worked out or lifted weights, and that Gent was “soft.” But Gent says Jordan’s comments were not accurate: “I was not particularly strong but I took my beatings to catch the ball,” he says. “That is how you get a broken neck and fractures of the spine, a broken leg and dislocated ankle, and a half-dozen broken noses.” And, he adds, that’s how he “became the guy that always got the call to go across the middle on third down.”

In Reel Life: Elliott wears a T-shirt that says “No Freedom/No Football/NFLPA.”
In Real Life: The NFL Players Association adopted this slogan during its 1974 strike.

In Reel Life: Elliott and Maxwell break into the trainer’s medicine cabinet, and take all kinds of stuff, including speed and painkillers.
In Real Life: Many players said drug use in the film was exaggerated, or peculiar to Gent. “Pete’s threshold of pain was such that if he had a headache, he would have needed something to kill the pain,” Dan Reeves told the Washington Post in 1979. As for speed pills, Reeves said, “Nobody thought there was anything wrong with them. A lot of guys took those things 15 years ago, just like women took birth control pills before they knew they were bad. It’s not as true a picture as it was 10 to 15 years ago, when it was closer to the truth.”

In Reel Life: At a team meeting, B.A. scolds the team for poor play the previous Sunday. “We played far below our potential. Our punting team gave them 4.5 yards per kick, more than our reasonable goal and 9.9 yards more than outstanding …”

In Real Life: Landry rated players in a similar fashion to what’s depicted in the scene, but the system, in Gent’s opinion, wasn’t as objective as it seemed. “They literally rated you on a three-point system,” writes Gent in “Heroes.” “On any play you got no points for doing your job, you got a minus one if you didn’t do your job, you got a plus one if you did more than your job. And a good score in a game was 17 … And they would read your scores out in front of everybody else. That was another thing. Tom thought that everyone should know who was letting them down. Right away I began to notice that the guys whose scores didn’t seem to jibe with the way they were playing were the guys Tom didn’t like.”

Meredith was one of those players. “He truly did not like Don Meredith, not as a player and not as a person,” writes Golenbock.

In Reel Life: North Dallas is playing Chicago for the conference championship. The owner says, “If we win this game, you’re all invited to spend the weekend at my private island in the Caribbean.”
In Real Life: According to Gent, the Murchisons did have a private island, but the team was never invited.

In Reel Life: Phil has already told B.A. that he’ll do whatever it takes to play, and before the game he takes a shot in his knee to kill the pain.
In Real Life: Gent, like many pro athletes, would go to extreme lengths to play, even when badly injured. He even expresses some guilt over not playing in the “Ice Bowl,” the 1967 NFL Championship Game which the Cowboys lost in the final seconds, 21-17, to the Packers in Green Bay. The game-time temperature was minus-13. “I would have played the whole game for Bobby Hayes. [Hayes put his hands in his pockets when he wasn’t the intended receiver, a tipoff exploited by the Packers.] His hands had swollen and cracked by the second quarter. I was used to playing in cold weather, but I was in the hospital with a broken leg.

“I have always felt that it [the loss] was partly my fault. Go figure that out.”

In Reel Life: Delma Huddle (former pro Tommy Reamon) watches Elliott take a shot in his knee. He says, “No shots for me, man, I can’t stand needles … All those pills and shots, man, they do terrible things to your body.” Later, though, the peer pressure gets to Huddle, and he takes a shot so he can play with a pulled hamstring.
In Real Life: Neely says this sequence rings false. “I cannot remember an instance where a player was made to feel he had to do this where he was put in the position of feeling he might lose his job.”

“Maybe Ralph can’t remember,” Gent responds in his e-mail interview. “Maybe he forgot all those rows of syringes in the training room at the Cotton Bowl. They seldom tell you to take the shot or clean out your locker. They leave you to make the decision, and if you don’t do it, they will remember, and so will your teammates. But worst of all, so will you — what if the team loses and you might have made the difference?”

In Reel Life: After one play, a TV announcer says, “I wonder if the coach called that play on the sideline or if Maxwell called it in the huddle.”

In Real Life: Who called the plays was one of many disputes between Meredith and Landry. “Landry literally could forget the game plan,” says Gent in “Heroes.” “When I would run in plays for him, he would call the wrong plays. Well, in ’66 it didn’t matter because Meredith was calling the plays, even when Landry would send them in. Lots of times Landry would send in a suggestion, and Meredith would send the player back out to publicly show up Landry. The player would start out, and Meredith would wave him back.”

In Reel Life: In the last minute of the game, Delma pulls a muscle and goes down. Elliott goes over to see how he’s doing. B.A. yells, “Elliott, get back in the huddle! The doctor will look after him. Mister, you get back in the huddle right now or off the field.”
In Real Life: Landry did not respond emotionally when players were injured during a game. Cartwright contrasted Landry’s style with Lombardi’s: “When a player was down writhing in agony, the contrast was most apparent: Lombardi would be racing like an Italian fishwife, cursing and imploring the gods to get the lad back on his feet for at least one more play; Landry would be giving instructions to the unfortunate player’s substitute.”

In Reel Life: Elliott catches a TD pass with time expired, pulling North Dallas to within one point of Chicago. If they make the extra point, the game is tied and goes into overtime. But Hartman fumbles the snap, and the Bulls lose the game.
In Real Life: This is similar to what happened in the 1966 NFL Championship game. The Packers led the Cowboys 34-20 with a little more than five minutes remaining. Meredith led a quick Dallas drive for one TD, and on the last drive of the game the Cowboys got to the Packers’ 2-yard line with 28 seconds left. A TD and extra point would have sent the game into OT. But Meredith’s pass was intercepted in the end zone by Tom Brown, sealing the win for the Packers and a heartbreaking loss for Dallas.

In Reel Life: After the loss, O.W. reams out Coach Johnson: “Every time I call it a game, you say it’s a business. Every time I say it’s a business, you call it a game!”

In Real Life: That speech got Matuszak the part of O.W. “(Director) Ted Kotcheff had Tooz read the speech … and Tooz blew everybody away,” says Gent.

In Reel Life: Elliott has a meeting the day after the game with Conrad Hunter (Steve Forrest). B.A., Emmett Hunter (Dabney Coleman), and “Ray March, of the League’s internal investigation division,” are also there. A league investigator recites what he saw while following Elliott during the week, including evidence that Elliott smoked a “marijuana cigarette.”
In Real Life: Gent was investigated by the league. “In the offseason after the ’67 season and all during ’68 they followed me,” he says in “Heroes.” “They had guys on me for one whole season.” The investigation began, says Gent in his e-mail interview, “because I entertained black and white players at my house. I have always suspected Lee Roy (Jordan) as the snitch who informed the Cowboys and the league that I was ‘selling’ drugs (because), as he says so often in the press, ‘Pete Gent was a bad influence on the team.’ ”

In Reel Life: Elliott gives a speech about how management is the “team,” while players are just more pieces of equipment.
In Real Life: Gent really grew to despise Cowboys management. “I wanted out of there,” he writes in “Heroes.” “I knew I was only going to play if they needed me, and the minute they didn’t need me, I was gone. And I knew that it didn’t matter how well I did. I could call Tom an ass—- to his face, and he wasn’t going to trade me until he had somebody to play my spot, and the moment he had somebody to play my spot, I was gone. And so from then on, that was my attitude toward Tom Landry, and the rest of the organization going all the way up to Tex Schramm.”

In Reel Life: The film stresses the conflict between Elliott’s view that football players should be treated like individuals and Landry’s cold assessment and treatment of players.
In Real Life: “I’ve come to the conclusion that players want to be treated alike,” Landry told Cartwright in 1973. “They may talk about individualism, but I believe they want a single standard … If a player is contributing and performing the way he ought to, he will usually conform … We just can’t get along with a player who doesn’t conform or perform. No way.”

In Reel Life: Elliott quits after he’s told he’s suspended without pay, “pending a league hearing.”
In Real Life: This scene was fiction — Gent wasn’t suspended. But the NFL didn’t take kindly to those who participated in the making of “North Dallas Forty.” Hall of Famer Tom Fears, who advised on the movie’s football action, had a scouting contract with three NFL teams — all were canceled after the film opened, reported Leavy and Tony Kornheiser in a Sept. 6, 1979, Washington Post article. And the Raiders severed ties with Fred Biletnikoff, who coached Nolte. “Freddy was not even asked back to camp,” writes Gent. Reamon, who played Delma, was cut by the 49ers after the film came out, and said he had been “blackballed.”

NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle denied any organized blacklist, but told The Post, “I can’t say that some clubs in their own judgment (did not make) decisions based on many factors, including that they did not like the movie.”

The Raiders’ “severed ties” with Biletnikoff are somewhat hard to believe. Biletnikoff retired from the NFL after the 1978 season, his 14th with the Raiders, though he was a player/coach with the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes in 1980. Nine years after that, he was hired as the Raiders’ receivers coach, which lasted until 2006.

Given the Raiders being the NFL’s rebel franchise under owner Al Davis, the only way the Raiders would have severed ties with Biletnikoff for his role with the movie is if Davis didn’t like it. The NFL’s opinion would have meant little to Davis, who sued the NFL so he could move the Raiders to Los Angeles, moving back to Oakland in 1995.

Hot dog, or something

The Brewers made this announcement yesterday, reported by WITI-TV:

Johnsonville is the official sausage of the Milwaukee Brewers, the Brewers announced Wednesday, Jan. 24. This, after we learned the Brewers severed ties with Klement’s after the two were teamed up for more than 25 years.

According to a news release from the BrewersJohnsonville is no rookie to the Brewers, having been their official sausage for 11 seasons from 1978–1988, including during the 1982 World Series games.

“Great food is one of the most memorable parts of the baseball-fan experience, which is why we’re thrilled to bring Johnsonville back to the Brewers,” said Ryan Pociask, VP of marketing at Johnsonville in the release.

The Klement’s announcement was made via a letter sent from Klement’s CEO and President Thomas Danneker to the company’s employees. That means no more Klement’s products at Miller Park, and a new sponsor for the Famous Racing Sausages. We’ve now learned that sponsor will be Johnsonville. …

According to the frequently asked questions section of the Klement’s website, the Famous Racing Sausages are owned by Major League Baseball. Klement’s has never been an authorized dealer and able to sell any merchandise or items with the images of the racers.

“Ultimately, it’s the Brewers’ property and the Brewers are in the business of raising revenue so they can pay players,” Brian Bennett, STIR Marketing CEO said.

On Tuesday evening, the Milwaukee Brewers issued a news release with this statement:

“With the heat being turned up today as rumors simmer on the Brewers sausage category sponsorship, there has been speculation about the future of Milwaukee’s most legendary runners.

The Famous Racing Sausages are a “link” to the Brewers past and present. Rest assured, they are also central to the future of the franchise.

Stay tuned – more details to come soon.”

I interviewed Johnsonville’s owners several years ago, and the owners were donors at a previous employer. So I think this is great for Johnsonville, regardless of who owns the Racing Sausages.

The next Bucks coach

Forbes, of all sources, writes about the vacant Bucks coaching position:

There could be as many as 10 coaching openings this coming off-season in the NBA, and one of the better ones became vacant on Monday when the Milwaukee Bucks fired Jason Kidd.

Despite having one of the game’s top young players in Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are among the NBA’s biggest underachievers this season. Through 45 games Kidd’s record was a disappointing 23-22, with the Bucks clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Their dismal performances under Kidd as they lost seven of their last 11 games outweighed his once-close relationship with co-owner Marc Lasry.

According to industry sources, among the potential coaches Lasry and co-owner Wes Edens could look at to replace Kidd are former Memphis head coach Dave Fizdale; former Knicks and Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy; former New Orleans coach Monty Williams; former Louisville coach Rick Pitino; and current G-League minor-league coach Jerry Stackhouse, who is seen as a future coach in the NBA.

It might not be the plum job as advertised, even with Antetokounmpo’s potential as a future MVP candidate. All candidates will want to investigate who’s in command in terms of determining the roster, as the Bucks are known to have more than one chef in the kitchen. In addition, Lasry and Edens, who purchased the team for $550 million in April, 2014, are not always on the same page, sources told Forbes.com. Overall, the Bucks are not viewed as dysfunctional, like some other NBA franchises, but they have a reputation for not being in lock-step. It’s been apparent from their clumsy and protracted GM search of last June and the Kidd firing that they have not followed the Spurs’ model, although that’s one of professional sports’ top-run franchises, with Lasry telling me he closely studied the five-time champs’ inner workings and wanted to emulate them when running the Bucks. Whomever takes the job will likely want to know who’s calling the shots on personnel. In the meantime, Kidd’s interim replacement is his top assistant, Joe Prunty.

For his three-plus seasons coaching Milwaukee, Kidd had a major say in player moves. The Bucks made a bold trade early in the season to shore up their point guard position, acquiring Phoenix’s Eric Bledsoe after the Suns fired Earl Watson three games into the season. But even with Bledsoe they’ve been unable to compete with the top teams in either conference. Their record against Top 10 teams is 7-11, and it’s only 10-15 against teams headed for the playoffs.

This is another bad exit for Kidd. He landed in Milwaukee in 2015 after he tried and failed to unseat then-Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King by adding King’s personnel decision-making  duties to his coaching job. With long-time friend Lasry in his corner, he guided the Bucks to two playoff seasons, including last spring when the team lost to the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs.

Expectations were high for this season — several experts felt the Bucks could finish in the top four in the East after acquiring Bledsoe — but the Bucks have been plagued by poor overall defense, a suspect interior and an offense that is one of the NBA’s worst in three-point makes and three-point accuracy. While he was a Hall of Famer as a player and the ultimate coach on the court, his coaching had also come under scrutiny after some bad losses. Plus, sources say, his relationship with Lasry soured.

Even with their problems, the Bucks, who will be moving into a new $524 million arena next season, have one major asset for prospective coaches: Antetokounmpo is a immensely talented 23-year-old who stands 6-11, moves like a guard, and is averaging nearly 30 points per game. Now viewed as a Top 10 player, he’s the kind of player a franchise can build around to make a run at a title. He’s already among the team’s all-time leaders in triple-doubles. Maybe the best news for the next coach: He’s signed for the next three seasons, as part of his four-year, $100-million contract he agreed to in 2016. Unlike many brand-consumed stars, he’s a rare bird: He likes playing in one of the NBA’s outposts.

The Ringer adds:

Jason Kidd simply ran out of time. On Monday, the Bucks head coach was fired, the latest casualty of the increased expectations surrounding the franchise. Giannis Antetokounmpo is now a legitimate superstar, but the rest of the team has not kept pace. There was a massive shake-up in their front office over the summer, and they traded for Eric Bledsoe in the first month of the season after a disastrous start. Things haven’t been much better since: Milwaukee is hanging onto the no. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 23–22 record, a far cry from the leap the Bucks seemed poised to take after last season. Outside of a deadline trade that might soon come, the only other change they could make was firing their coach.

Milwaukee has been a one-man team this season. Giannis is leading the Bucks in per-game scoring (28.2), rebounds (10.1), and assists (4.6), and is second on the team in steals (1.5) and blocks (1.3). Their net rating plummets from plus-3.7 with him on the floor to minus-11.6 without him. The final straw came in a 116–94 loss to Philadelphia on Saturday, which Giannis sat out with a sore knee. The Bucks looked helpless, especially in the fourth quarter, when they were outscored by 18 points. Kidd could not come up with any answers.

It hasn’t been for lack of trying. Kidd made several changes to their starting lineup this season, and he has played 14 different players more than 100 minutes. He even dialed back the aggressive defensive schemes that have been his trademark as a head coach, both in Milwaukee and Brooklyn. Kidd loved to blitz pick-and-rolls and force offenses to execute under intense ball pressure, but there were diminishing returns to his unorthodox style. After finishing with the no. 2 defense in his first year as the Bucks head coach, they have not been ranked above no. 19 in the three years since.

Interim head coach Joe Prunty has to figure out some way to stabilize their defense. Milwaukee has the no. 25 defense in the NBA this season, and the underlying numbers suggest that something is fundamentally broken. The Bucks are no. 3 in opponent 3-point field goal percentage (38.1), no. 2 in the percentage of corner 3s (24.1) allowed, and no. 1 in the percentage of shots (32.5) at the rim allowed. Letting opposing teams take the most efficient shots on the floor is a recipe for disaster.

Milwaukee has the personnel to be at least respectable on that side of the ball. The Bucks are one of the longest and most athletic teams in the NBA, with John Henson at center, Giannis and Khris Middleton on the wings, and Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon in the backcourt. There aren’t many obvious weak spots for offenses to attack. The easiest solution might be a more conservative style of defense that discourages gambling and protects the rim and 3-point line at all costs. There’s no reason to have so many physically gifted players playing out of position when they should be able to keep their men in front of them.

Prunty has to figure out a new identity quickly. Jabari Parker is expected back from a torn ACL at some point in the next few weeks, and integrating him will require major changes. He’s an elite scorer who averaged 20.1 points on 49 percent shooting in 51 games last season, but he wasn’t much of a defensive player even before the injury. The worst-case scenario is what happened in Cleveland when Isaiah Thomas returned to the lineup. Adding a poor defender to an unstable defensive foundation can cause the whole thing to collapse.

Milwaukee might end up trading for a more traditional defensive anchor like DeAndre Jordan, as it has long been linked to the Clippers center. The problem is that that would probably mean moving future picks and promising young players like Brogdon and Thon Maker. It would be hard for a small-market franchise to give up players on cost-controlled contracts when its payroll is set to explode. Parker will be a restricted free agent this summer. Bledsoe will be a free agent after next season, and Middleton will likely waive his player option for the 2019–20 season and join him on the open market.

Bucks GM Jon Horst, who took over the job this summer, has a lot of big decisions to make. Giannis won’t be a free agent until after the 2020–21 season, but an NBA team lucky enough to have a player of his caliber is always on the clock. Keeping this group together will be incredibly expensive, and Horst needs a better idea of how good they can be before he commits. If he pays Bledsoe, Middleton, and Parker, he will not have any flexibility to build around Giannis going forward. The rest of the league will be watching what he does closely.

Few of the available head-coaching candidates will be willing to join a team midseason, so Prunty is probably safe for now. To have any chance of removing the interim tag, he would need to win at least one playoff series, if not two, which is possible considering how wide open the East is. If Prunty doesn’t keep the job, the obvious candidate is David Fizdale, who built deep relationships with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as an assistant in Miami and modernized the Memphis offense before losing a power struggle with Marc Gasol. It will be a comprehensive search, and the Bucks will have their pick of candidates. The opportunity to coach a superstar like Giannis doesn’t come around often.

Kidd was hired in 2014 to shepherd a young team along, and both Giannis and Parker blossomed under his direction. However, there is a big difference between developing individual players and maximizing a roster. Firing a coach can be the next step in the growth process of a franchise. The Bulls fired Doug Collins before they hired Phil Jackson. The Warriors fired Mark Jackson before they hired Steve Kerr. Of course, getting rid of the last guy is the easy part. Who the Bucks hire now is the most important decision the franchise has made since it drafted Giannis. Milwaukee doesn’t have much time to get this right.

The Sporting News provides this list:

Sam Cassell

Cassell has plenty of NBA experience as both a player and coach. He played for eight teams over the course of his career, including the Bucks, and he has served as an assistant coach with the Wizards and Clippers. Cassell has shown the ability to relate and connect with his players. For example, he played an instrumental role in getting Paul Pierce to sign with the Wizards during his time in Washington. Don’t be surprised if Milwaukee’s front office gives him a call.

David Fizdale

After being fired by the Grizzlies earlier this season, Fizdale is an obvious choice. He carried the “Grit’N’Grind” style of the old Grizzlies forward and helped push them toward the future with changes to their offensive style. There might be some hesitation with Fizdale given how his relationship with star center Marc Gasol went south, as the Bucks don’t want to give Giannis Antetokounmpo any reason to think about leaving down the road. But Fizdale also has plenty of big-name guys in his corner, so this could be a nice fit.

Tony Bennett

Is Bennett finally ready to make the jump from college to pro? Virginia is once again near the top of the college polls, and Bennett’s stock may never be higher with multiple NBA teams making changes this season. He also has a Wisconsin connection — Bennett played at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay for his father, Dick, who championed the pack-line defense. Let’s see if he wants to go home.

Mark Jackson

Look, joke about Jackson’s tenure with the Warriors all you want and how he seems to sneak in those little comments when he’s broadcasting a Golden State game for ESPN. But he did help establish a new winning culture for the Warriors and lay the groundwork for Steve Kerr to build upon (Kerr has given Jackson credit specifically for the strength of the defense). He might be ready to take off the headset and return to the sidelines.

Monty Williams

As the head coach in New Orleans, Williams finished 173-221 overall with the Hornets/Pelicans, making two playoff appearances, including a first-round exit in 2015 to the eventual champion Warriors. Williams then joined the Thunder staff but left the bench in the middle of the season after the tragic death of his wife, Ingrid. He has since served as the vice president of basketball operations for the Spurs, but early reports already indicate he could be a frontrunner for the Bucks job.

Jerry Stackhouse

“Stack” spent 19 seasons as a player in the NBA, and he has made a name for himself as a coach in a hurry. The 43-year-old is the head coach of the Raptors 905, the NBA G-League affiliate of the Raptors, and it’s not an opportunity he takes lightly.

“Anybody that knows me knows that I’ve got a lot of pride and I’m confident in what I do,” Stackhouse told NBA.com last year. “This is what I do. This isn’t a fluke. I’ve been working at this thing for a while. A lot of people just see it now.”

While Stackhouse is a bit behind the curve compared to other candidates, he brings undeniable energy and a desire to improve each day.

Adrian Griffin

Following nearly a decade as a player, Griffin has served as an assistant coach in Milwaukee, Chicago, Orlando and currently Oklahoma City. He has a habit of building relationships with those around him. He’s a guy who has made an impact at every stop but doesn’t need to take credit for individual or team success. Griffin is also a defensive-minded coach, having spent time under Tom Thibodeau with the Bulls, and that’s absolutely something the Bucks could use, as they own the sixth-worst defensive rating in the NBA.

Jim Boylen

Boylen has been coaching for more than three decades now, starting back in 1987 as an assistant with Michigan State and currently serving as the associate head coach for the Bulls. Boylen knows what it takes to win, having been part of title teams with both the Rockets in 1994 and 1995 and the Spurs in 2014. The young Bucks could use some championship experience.

Rex Kalamian

Another coach with plenty of years under his belt, Kalamian has been on the Raptors’ staff since 2015 under head coach Dwane Casey. Kalamian focuses primarily on Toronto’s defense, and to his credit, the Raptors hold the sixth-best defensive rating in the league. Casey has relied on Kalamian and the rest of his assistants throughout the season, and with the Raptors second in the East behind only the Celtics, Kalamian’s resume is looking pretty good.

Desmond Mason

Longshot alert! Mason enjoyed the highest-scoring season of his NBA career with the Bucks in 2004-05 (17.2 points per game) and became known for his high-flying throwdowns above the rim. The former Oklahoma State star expressed interest in coaching the Cowboys in 2016 and even created a checklist for the program. What would his master plan for the Bucks look like?

View image on Twitter

When you compare Mason to the rest of the candidates, though, he isn’t nearly as appealing. Still fun to imagine!

My own preference in such matters is to find someone from a premier organization, as when the Packers hired Mike Holmgren from the 49ers, Wisconsin hired Barry Alvarez from Notre Dame (after Iowa). The NBA’s premier organization is the San Antonio Spurs. Anyone available there?

Postgame schadenfreude, Skål Vikings edition

In the 1970s, the Minnesota Vikings were known for getting to Super Bowls (IV, VII, VIII and XI) and losing them.

For the past 20 years, the Vikings are now getting a reputation for losing the worst game to lose of a season, either in excruciating fashion …

… or playing so poorly that people question whether you should have gotten to the NFC title game in the first place.

(By the way: “Skål” is the Norwegian, Swedish and Danish spelling of “Skol,” as in “Skol Vikings.”)

And so we have Sunday’s NFC championship game, reported upon by the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling:

The Vikings marched into Philadelphia as three-point favorites, with the NFL’s top-ranked defense against a backup quarterback who hadn’t thrown for more than 300 yards in a game since 2014. One game away from becoming the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium, Minnesota had given its fans reason to believe the payoff was finally here, that Charlie Brown’s right foot would finally meet the pigskin squarely and send it soaring.

But in the end, with a crowd of Eagles fans jeering as they stood witness, Lucy pulled away the ball again.

It’s difficult, so soon after the Vikings’ 38-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, to rank their most recent defeat among their most crushing NFC Championship Game losses. But this one had to sting, both because of the opportunity lost and the manner in which it disappeared, in a game where most of what the Vikings had come to count on evaded them.

“If we would have gone out and they would have beat us at our game, you tip your hat to them and tell them good job,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “But we really dug ourselves in a hole, and that’s what’s going to make it most difficult. I felt like our fans deserve to watch us play in the Super Bowl in our stadium, and we let them down.”

A defense that had only allowed one quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards this season was filleted by Nick Foles, the Eagles quarterback who had taken over for the injured Carson Wentz just over a month ago. Foles threw strikes past just about everybody in the Vikings’ decorated secondary: past All-Pro safety Harrison Smith, past venerable corner Terence Newman, past former 11th overall pick Trae Waynes.

“We would love to play a Super Bowl if it was in China, to be honest with you,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Some of our strengths, they attacked. They got after us tonight. We weren’t used to those kinds of things.”

Case Keenum, the improbable Vikings starter who’d led them to this point after Sam Bradford’s knee injury in Week 1, had an interception returned for a touchdown for the first time this season. It would be the first of his three turnovers, followed by a fumble that set up Philadelphia’s third touchdown and a late interception after the Eagles had put the game out of reach. …

“There’s a lot of things that went wrong today, obviously,” Keenum said. “Opening up the game, with how electric that crowd was, and going down and scoring, we felt good. The turnover was a mistake that I definitely want back. These ends are so good, this front is so good, I’ve got to step up and get away from the pass rush and be smarter.”

Assuming Keenum ever has the chance again. Keenum was in the running, had the Vikings won, to be a potential answer to the trivia category of Worst Quarterbacks to Play in a Super Bowl, along with Miami’s David Woodley, New England’s Tony Eason, the Giants’ Jeff Hostetler and Kerry Collins, and the Ravens’ Trent Dilfer. My guess is Keenum will resume his role as clipboard-holder next season, whereas Foles now has a good chance to join that list.

After they built a 17-0 lead at halftime last week, the Vikings were outscored 62-19 in their final six quarters of playoff action. They will end the season with the typical round of questions prompted by these kinds of playoff defeats — about what they could have done differently, about what they will do next with Shurmur likely becoming the New York Giants’ next head coach and three quarterbacks set to hit free agency. …

But before the questions start, they will have to contend with the revulsion over what they lost.

There will be no home Super Bowl for the Vikings, in a market that is set to host the game for the first time since 1992 and might not see it again for years. Instead, a heartbroken metropolis will be asked to put on its happy face and dole out Northern hospitality for two boisterous fan bases: Patriots fans coming to watch their team play its eighth Super Bowl in 16 years and Eagles fans who spent much of the second half mocking the Vikings’ “Skol” chant, repurposing it as “Foles.”

Rana L. Cash ponders …

Is it better to have won then lost, than never to have won at all? Vikings fans must be wrestling with this notion. Had the Vikings not pulled off the Minneapolis Miracle, a moment that will be seared in sports history and Vikings lore, they never would have made it to the NFC Championship Game in the first place. So, there was sweetness in battle. But did that leave them more bitter after Sunday’s 38-7 loss to the Eagles? Perhaps. But nothing will exasperate the franchise and fanbase more than the cumulative misery of the last six NFC title game exits.

Jan. 21, 2018: They all hurt, but this one is raw, the Vikings falling 38-7 in humiliating fashion to the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Two first-half turnovers put the Vikings behind 24-7 at halftime and from there, it only got worse.

Jan. 24, 2010: Saints 31, Vikings 28 (OT): If having 12 men in the huddle wasn’t enough of a drive-killer, the Vikings’ were undone by Brett Favre’s interception with 19 seconds left. Five of the Vikings’ final seven drives ended with a turnover.

Jan. 14, 2001: Giants 41, Vikings 0: The box score looks like something out of a horror movie: Daunte Culpepper passed for 78 yards, threw three interceptions and was sacked four times. The Vikings drives ended with two fumbles, three picks and six punts. It was over from the moment the coin flipped.

Jan. 17, 1999: Falcons 30, Vikings 27 (OT): Widely regarded as the best Vikings team to have not won the Super Bowl, Minnesota’s hopes were doused when Gary Anderson, who’d not missed a field goal all season, sailed one in wide left to give the Falcons a shot to push the game into overtime. Atlanta took full advantage of that, then put Minnesota away with Morten Andersen’s field goal in the extra period.

Jan. 17, 1988: Redskins 17, Vikings 10: Only six yards separated the Vikings from the Washington end zone and it appeared a fourth-down pass to Darrin Nelson with 1:06 left would be good enough to tie the game and send it into overtime. Quarterback Wade Wilson found Nelson, but Washington cornerback Darrell Green immediately knocked the ball loose, securing the win for the Redskins.

Jan. 1, 1978: Cowboys 23, Vikings 6: NFC Championship Games had been good to the Vikings up until this point. Entering the contest without an injured Fran Tarkenton (broken leg, thumb injury), Minnesota’s offense sputtered with Bob Lee and committed four turnovers. Their only scores came on two first-half field goals.

The ugly truth is that teams that have miracle playoff finishes (the Immaculate Reception, Sea of Hands, the Epic in Miami, The Catch II, Matt Hasselbeck-to-Al-Harris and now the so-called Minneapolis Miracle, which was really execrable pass defense) usually lose the next week.

Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Sunday night, the Liberty Bell wasn’t the only thing in Philadelphia with a massive crack in it.

There was the Vikings’ defense, too.

The Philadelphia Eagles split it wide open, finding flaws and openings in a unit that carried the Vikings to a 13-3 regular-season record and a renewed hope that this season would be different than so many others.

It wasn’t.

This season ended like so many others. With failure. With hopes, dreams and expectations stomped out.

It was ugly what happened to that defense, which was top-ranked in the league in the regular season and just plain rank in a 38-7 loss to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. …

All NFC championship game losses hurt, but this one had a pain all its own. …

There will be no bringing it home. No making history as the first team to host a Super Bowl in its stadium. None of that fun stuff. Just misery in the playoffs, like always.

Of all the soul-crushing postseason losses the Vikings have suffered, and there have been plenty, this was the soul-crushingest of them all.

Just look at what the Eagles did to that defense, strafing it for 452 yards and making a mockery of the Vikings’ league-best ability to shut down offenses on third down. And on offense, the Vikings had three turnovers and, other than the first few minutes, never were a threat to dent the Eagles’ defense.

“We didn’t play like ourselves,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “We couldn’t get it going. They were the better team. They put their foot on the gas.”

In the space of one week, the Vikings went from their most impressive playoff win to their worst playoff loss. It was as if the coaches forgot how to coach and the players forgot how to play.

And now this team takes its place along other Viking fails.

The four Super Bowl losses. The end-zone pass to Anthony Carter in ‘87 that didn’t have a chance because Darrin Nelson thought it was for him. The missed field goals against Atlanta in ’98 and two years ago against Seattle. The 41-0 rout by the New York Giants in ’01. The 12 men on the field and the fumbles and Brett Favre’s interception in ’09 in New Orleans.

In none of those games did the Vikings come right out, march down the field with ease for a lead, and collapse like an anvil was dropped on their head.

Yep, soul-crushing.

The Eagles made big play after big play in the first half when they constructed a 24-7 lead. And then there were more big plays in the second half.

“We know we’re better than that,” Rudolph said. “We did exactly what we said we couldn’t do.”

Well, the Vikings did have a 7-0 lead after the opening drive.

Everything flipped on them when Case Keenum got hit under his throwing arm by defensive end Chris Long and his pass fluttered to Patrick Robinson, who returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.

The Eagles didn’t just hijack momentum from the Vikings. It was like they ripped out the Vikings’ heart, aorta and everything else that gave them life this season.

And remember, the Eagles did this without quarterback Carson Wentz, the guy who likely would have been the NFL’s Most Valuable Player if he hadn’t suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 14.

They did it with a journeyman backup, Nick Foles, who threw for more than 350 yards and three touchdowns and helped set up a Feb. 4 date at U.S. Bank Stadium against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

Of course, it helped that the Vikings picked the absolutely worst game to reveal every wart and deficiency they had.

“We were very uncharacteristic tonight,” Rudolph said.

They showed impressive mental toughness in the way they beat the New Orleans Saints in the final second last week. Maybe they used it all up. Maybe they still had a miracle hangover and couldn’t get in the proper mind-set for this game.

Whatever the reason, they did what, ultimately, they always do in the postseason. Fail.

The Pioneer Press’ John Shipley puts it all into perspective:
 And so the darkness of another long winter settles over Minnesota. It has taken longer than usual, but now the Vikings are done, and reality has swept in like a bracing slap to the face.

So close, again. As the broken bard of Minnesota once sang, “I can live without your touch, but I’ll die within your reach.”

Such has been the fate of two generations of Vikings fans now, many of whom don’t remember the last time the Vikings were in a Super Bowl. They will always remember losing the rare opportunity to play one in their own stadium. Instead, it will be the Philadelphia Eagles playing the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4.

It’s going to be a long couple of weeks.

It is now six times and counting that the Vikings have come within a victory of returning to their first Super Bowl since 1977, now six times and counting that they have failed to rise to the occasion.

Last weekend’s “Minnesota Miracle” proved that good things can, in fact, happen for the Vikings. Sunday’s 38-7 loss to the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field proved that a divisional-round playoff victory, no matter how memorably stirring — cathartic, even — is only part of what will alter the narrative of the perpetually disappointing Vikings.

If the Vikings were finally on the right side of a miracle in a 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Jan. 14, they quickly, and somewhat unfathomably, stumbled back into their old roles on Sunday. Like their forebears of 1998 and 2009, this year’s Vikings appeared to be Super Bowl-ready, road favorites against the NFC’s top playoff seed.

But the 15-game winners of Randall Cunningham and Randy Moss in 1998, and the first of two Brett Favre-led squads in 2009, lost tight overtime games, losses traced easily to self-inflicted wounds — Gary Anderson’s missed field goal at the Metrodome, a couple of red zone fumbles and a late interception at the Superdome 11 years later. …

The interminable nature of Sunday’s loss served to blunt the horror. There was no twist ending this time, no shocking mistake to steal defeat from the jaws of victory, just the numb realization that it has happened again.

Many of us thought this team was ready for a Super Bowl; that years of disappointment would be mollified by the unprecedented reward of watching the Vikings play one in their own stadium.

“I felt like our fans deserved to watch us play a Super Bowl in our stadium,” Rudolph said. “We let ’em down.”

Still riding the high from the Minneapolis Miracle one week ago today, the Minnesota Vikings showed up at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday and forgot to bring a game plan with them. Or at the very least, the one they had didn’t work…at all. …

The backup quarterback that nobody was afraid of took the opportunity to shred the league’s best defense to utter shreds all night long. Torrey Smith showed up, Alshon Jeffery showed up, Nick Foles showed up and the Minnesota Vikings defense did not.

The Vikings were out of character across the board. The all-pros were making mistakes, the rookies were screwing up, and the game plan on both offense and defense just wasn’t working…not one bit.

It appeared to be a dream too good to be true, a host city welcoming their team to play in the Super Bowl at their home stadium…when the final whistles blew, it was too good to be true.

The fact is that the concept of the Super Bowl host playing in the Super Bowl is somewhat of a canard. Super Bowl teams get 17.5 percent of the tickets each, with the host team getting 6.2 percent, one-third of the tickets going to the other 29 teams, and the NFL getting one-fourth of the seats. Had the Vikings won, they would have gotten more tickets, but not more than the Patriots, the same as Super Bowl XIV in Pasadena with the Rams and Super Bowl XIX at Stanford with the 49ers. Twin Cities-area businesses actually make out better with the Vikings not in the Super Bowl, since Patriots and Eagles fans will be descending on the Twin Cities next week.

Finally, Facebook Friend Mike Maynard blames …

I think it’s the Wisconsin-based Viqueens fans that are keeping them down. The Football Gods look at them and think, “we give them our most glorious and cherished team with the most titles, the Green Bay Packers, but no, they would rather cheer for a team that plays across state lines with no titles? For that, we •curse• the Minnesota Viqueens forever and they shall never win any titles.”

Look, I don’t blame the Viqueens fans for being Viqueens fans if they are actually from Minnesota, but the Wisconsin-based Viqueens fans are disloyal dipshits of Lombardian proportions.

At the last second

Awful Announcing has an interesting topic:

Following Sunday’s incredible last-second finish between the Saints and Vikings, the internet exploded with discussions of where this play ranked among the greatest finishes in sports history. The calls from Fox’s Joe Buck and the Vikings’ radio crew of Paul Allen and Pete Bercich will be remembered for years upon years by Vikings fans.

We wanted to know what calls of last-second finishes our staff liked the most, and they didn’t disappoint, going all over the board to multiple sports. Even our resident Saints fan, still smarting from the loss on Sunday, chimed in. Needless to say, he didn’t choose Stefon Diggs’ touchdown catch.

Andrew Bucholtz: I’m going with the CFL here, as it’s produced so many amazing last-second calls over the years. Many of them have come from TSN’s lead CFL play-by-play commentator Chris Cuthbert, including this year’s Grey Cup winnerthe 2009 13th man, and Milt Stegall’s 2006 100-yard touchdown, and I’d pick him as my favorite individual announcer.

But my selection for this roundtable is actually from Cuthbert’s colleagues Rod Black and Duane Forde, for their commentary and analysis of the most bizarre ending I’ve ever seen in football at any level, the 2010 Toronto Argonauts-Montreal Alouettes kickabout:

To me, this is an excellent example of announcers being on top of a potentially confusing situation and explaining it to the audience (or at least, those parts of the audience familiar enough with the CFL’s unusual rules for single-point kicks, or rouges). Pre-play, Black initially notes the Argonauts sending punter Noel Prefontaine and two other players to the back of the end zone, Forde explains they’re planning to kick a missed field goal out if they can’t run it out, then Black further emphasizes the value of a single here if the field goal misses.

It does, and that leads to Black making a great call of the play, from Mike Bradwell knocking the ball down and kicking it out to prevent the single, Alouettes’ kicker Damon Duval kicking it back in (Forde appropriately notes that Toronto has to give him five yards as he catches it to avoid a no yards penalty, and then notes that Toronto’s Grant Shaw has to try and kick it out again), and Black giving the final play-by-play “They will kick it out, but they don’t get it out! Who has the football? It’s a touchdown, Montreal, on a bizarre way to end the football game.”

Forde then explains the no yards huddle from the officials and goes over the replay to prove that the no yards rule was followed with each received kick. This isn’t a situation that’s seen regularly, or almost ever for that matter, but the announcers nailed it, and provided a terrific game-ending call in the process.

Phillip Bupp: This may not be as recognized as one of the greatest calls of a last second finish as other calls but once you know the story behind it, you’ll know why it’s my favorite.

As the 1979 Daytona 500 was ending, Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough were battling for the win while Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip and AJ Foyt were a mile or so behind. This was the first live flag-to-flag broadcast of a 500-mile race so needless to say, this was a huge deal for NASCAR and CBS.

When Allison and Yarborough crashed on the final lap, CBS cameras were so worried about following the leaders that they had no clue where third place was and were frantically trying to find them before they crossed the line for the win and risk missing the finish. Ken Squier did a masterful job not only describing what was going on for the viewers’ benefit but also help the production truck locate the leaders and get a camera on them before it was too late. Cameras caught the three new leaders as they were exiting Turn 4 and Squier helped turn a potential disaster into a classic moment in NASCAR history as well as help vault NASCAR into more of a national, mainstream sport.

This is also a great example for networks to have commentators work on location and not off of a monitor in a studio. If a similar situation happened today and the commentators are working off a monitor, they’re at the mercy of the monitor and can’t do their job. When they’re at the event, they can go off monitors as well as see the action right in front of them and be able to call the game without skipping a beat if things technically go wrong.

Ian Casselberry: As a Detroit Tigers fan, I have deep affection for Dan Dickerson’s radio call of Magglio Ordonez’s walk-off home run to win the 2006 ALCS. I was driving home at that point and pulled into my driveway as Ordonez’s drive left the park. I should’ve run into the house to watch the aftermath on TV, but was just enjoying visualizing the scene in my mind too much. Dickerson captured the emotion of the moment for Tigers fans perfectly.

But my all-time favorite last-second or walk-off call is Jack Buck calling Kirby Puckett’s home run to win Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. The homer sent the series to a Game 7, prompting Buck to say “We’ll see you tomorrow night” before letting the moment and the noise inside the Metrodome take over.

It was a spectacular ending, but there was one more game to be played. The Twins kept the series alive and had a chance to win a championship the following night. Buck just perfectly captured the sentiment of the moment and, with one sentence, also framed the situation of that World Series. You feel the excitement in Buck’s voice, but there was no shouting. His delivery was almost matter-of-fact. Right there, Buck demonstrated how a professional broadcaster should work in a big moment.

Matt Clapp: I’ll go with one that shows off a crazy finish — and announcing call — more than any I can remember, in the Trinity football “Lateralpalooza” against Millsaps. The final play featured 15 laterals, and took 60+ seconds to complete (it’s considered probably the longest play in college football history, and it’s hard to imagine it not being so).

Trinity had the ball at their own 39-yard line, needing a touchdown on the final play of the game (these are D-III teams we’re talking about, so it’s unlikely the QB is able to get a throw far downfield). So for about the first 40 seconds of the play, the Trinity announcers (Jonny Wiener on play-by-play, Justin Thompson as the analyst) are just casually explaining what is going on: basically, here’s a lateral and there’s a lateral, etc.

But then the announcers start to see that Trinity actually, somehow has something brewing with this lateral-filled play. The play-by-play voice picks up as he’s explaining the unbelievable sequence, and then the analyst comes in, “GO! GO! RUN!”

After a few more laterals, somehow the field is wide open for Trinity’s Riley Curry, and the announcers lose their minds. This is just a great example of genuine, confused, stunned reaction and jubilation from two random announcers. It’s beautiful chaos, and you probably shouldn’t watch/listen to it with headphones on:

Joe Lucia: My choice (Sergio Aguero scoring the title-winning goal for Manchester City with the last kick of the season, and everyone proceeding to go absolutely mental) was chosen by someone else, so I deferred to something from my younger years – Skip Caray’s call of Francisco Cabrera’s walk-off, NLCS-winning single against the Pirates in 1992.

This at bat must have been sheer hell for Caray. The Braves’ season came down to a third-string catcher. If Cabrera popped up, or hit a weak fly ball, or grounded the ball to short, Atlanta’s season would be over, the Pirates would be National League champions, and who in the hell knows if the Braves’ dynasty even continues. But Cabrera didn’t pop up, fly out, or ground out. He also didn’t smash one into the gap, as Caray had just mentioned before the final pitch of the Pirates’ 1992 season. He lined a single to left field, Barry Bonds delivered a terrible throw home, Sid Bream somehow chugged his way around third and scored, and Caray abandoned all sense of neutrality after the safe call.

Cabrera’s single wasn’t just a season-changing play, it was a franchise-changing play. And while Caray didn’t know that at the time, what happened in the months and years following Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS elevated this call to another level.

Alex Putterman: Even though I’m far from a soccer guy, I’m going to pick Ian Darke’s call of Landon Donovan’s game-winner against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup. The call doesn’t have any sort of canned one-liner, just a frantic rush of words that mirrored the chaos of the play and the moment.

Darke built the excitement slowly (“There are things on here for the USA”) before exploding upon Clint Dempsey’s initial shot and Donovan’s heroic follow-up. Typically the best calls feature some level of restraint, but this moment didn’t need it. As Americans everywhere jumped and screamed, Darke provided appropriate energy, shouting “Go, go USA.” Then, like any good broadcaster, he knew when to take a step back, eventually letting us enjoy the most thrilling moment in U.S. Soccer history.

Jay Rigdon: This is a category with so many contenders. Last-second finishes produce iconic broadcasting moments, both historic (“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”) and from the more recent past (“Do you believe in miracles?”) It’s also difficult to separate fan allegiances; your favorite call is probably your favorite team’s biggest moment, as celebrated by your local broadcaster. And that’s how it should be! (Here’s one that will always have a special place for me, even though it wasn’t a championship moment.)

There aren’t really any wrong answers here, so I’ll highlight one that’s always stuck with me as the moment I started to come around on Joe Buck. Long criticized as the beneficiary of nepotism, and as a play-by-play man incapable of acknowledging the importance of a big play, Buck managed to send off one of the most memorable World Series games in recent memory in perfect fashion:

“We will see you… tomorrow night!”

It was a nod to his father Jack’s legendary call from the World Series 20 years prior, when Kirby Puckett sent the Twins to a seventh game via an 11th inning walk-off. Buck helped link what was happening to history, lending the moment an instant classic status, and he did so by acknowledging his dad, who spent his career calling St. Louis Cardinals games in addition to national assignments. It didn’t feel forced, it didn’t feel cheap. It felt perfect.

Matt Yoder: Sticking the knife in with this one!!!

AAGGGGUUUEEERROOO!!!!

That’s all you really need to say for this call by Martin Tyler. It’s just perfect. There may be calls that are more meaningful to American soccer fans (and this could easily be Ian Darke’s call of Landon Donovan’s famous strike against Algeria). There are probably calls I can think about from my own sports fandom that are more meaningful.

But when it comes to an announcing call being 100% perfect for a match or championship winning moment, this is the one that comes to mind for me. It captured everything — the craziness of the game, the stunning goal, the late drama, what it meant to Manchester City, and what a memorable moment it truly was. It’s why Tyler is one of the best.

The key to the successful last-second call is to take the advice of Rudyard Kipling’s If — if you, the announcer, can keep your head while all around you are losing theirs. Even if your team is the winner at the end, all the fundamentals, particularly setting up the situation — score, time, who’s got the ball, etc. — still apply. And as you see, letting the scene show itself, even the sound of the crowd on radio, says volumes.

As a fan, I have my own list of favorites …

… including one I got to announce:

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