No Ma(dnes)s

The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament starts today.

Unlike previous years, I am participating in no pools and making no picks, other than this: Wisconsin and Marquette will lose in the first round. UW has unfortunately devolved into a team that isn’t particularly fun to watch and can’t score, so if they don’t play the best defense on the planet they lose. (Shades of Dick Bennett.)

Marquette’s basketball team is as overrated as its university, and on principle I want Marquette to lose every game the Warriors — I mean Golden Eagles — play. (I feel the same about the Big 10, unless a particular result benefits UW.)

Other than that, I really have no interest in the tournament. Part of it is that I haven’t been following college basketball this year because I had more and more important things to do. (That is, announcing games instead of merely watching them.) Part of it also is that I resist doing popular things because they’re popular.

Part of it is the fact that very little of the tournament is on free TV anymore. Generally UW (of course) gets the shaft and is placed on truTV, which no one gets as part of their cable or satellite package. CBS/Turner somehow screwed up by placing Friday’s game on TBS, but it won’t matter since as I previously pointed out UW is a one-and-done. The tournament is streamed online, but Wisconsin’s rotten Internet service makes that a bad option as well.

Part of it is that I am getting tired of the corruption of the NCAA and college generally, as seen by people getting into college who don’t deserve to get into college. (Does that mean athletes who can’t cut it academically, or “students” whose parents pay others to inflate their applications? Yes, and more.) All human institutions are corrupt, of course, because all humans are flawed and cannot be redeemed.

If I watch any of the tournament besides UW’s first-round loss Friday, it will be an accident. Wake me up when it’s time for the Brewers to not go to the World Series again.

 

This makes me smile

As I wrote here last week, I have practically overdosed on high school and college sports on the radio this winter.

Last week, I announced six games. The previous week, I announced five games and then an entire day of high school wrestling.

I thought I was done with high school sports, until I was assigned to do something I have never done before — an Illinois high school boys supersectional game between East Dubuque and Chicago’s Providence–St. Mel, which you can hear yourself at 5:45 Central time on SuperHits106.com.

While doing a little research on East Dubuque’s opponent, I found a list of Providence–St. Mel’s famous alumni, which includes Lee Loughname, trumpet player for my favorite rock group, Chicago.

As you can imagine, this news does …

… and makes me think of other songs of Chicago’s that have been used as sports bumpers, or should have been:

The problem sits in the stands

Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

I sat in the stands of the soccer stadium. And I seethed.

My assignment — in 1997, as a new reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — was to cover a high school girls soccer game between Whitefish Bay and Shorewood. And I could barely concentrate on what was happening on the field because of a couple of idiots in front of me in the stands.

I couldn’t believe it. These were “adults,” presumably parents, shouting degrading insults to the opposing team’s teenage players, and screaming obscenities at the referees. They cussed and screamed, not once, not a few times, but for the entirety of the game.

It was impossible not to hear these middle-aged cretins. My blood was boiling.

As a reporter, it wasn’t my first bad run-in with people in prep sports. I would go on to deal with condescending coaches in all-star meetings and stage parents who called the paper to complain there was never enough coverage.

Parents complain there isn’t enough coverage? That has never happened to me. (Sarcasm off.)

I don’t know what the full story is with former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy or those parents caught on camera at the youth wrestling match. I just know we don’t have a new problem now; we have always had this problem. Hateful, ugly, loathsome comments coming from fans and parents in the stands toward the players and officials is an issue at every level of sports.

I’ve covered future Division I basketball players whose parents sat in the front row of their high school games, motioning to them to shoot all game, as if no other coaches or players existed.

I covered a game in Racine where the student section was so ugly to the opposing team I couldn’t help but mention it in a story, even though I knew it would make the home school angry.

I covered a game in Mukwonago where parents followed referees to their cars, complaining all the way.

Youth sports, I decided, was rife with clueless parents who, at best, didn’t understand the game they never played themselves, or, at worst, lived their uneventful lives vicariously through their children.

Then I went from observer to full immersion. I became a mom to kids who play sports.

I saw a youth coach (also a parent) re-insert a player in a game after the kid hit his head so hard he had to leave the game, dizzy. Twice. When I confronted the coach, he said he did it because the game was tied. This was fifth-grade basketball.

I’ve seen parents stalk the sidelines, calling out their kid by name, overriding the coach with their own instructions. The players who became distracted, and then confused and conflicted. Do what the coach wants and deal with parents at home? Or do what the parents want?

Every game — every game — I hear parents whine about calls, or what they perceive to be non-calls, and I sometimes yell: “You should have had that, ref! You’re making a whopping $15 a game!”

I can’t help it. I’m done with the parents; I’ve been done with them for years.

I stay as far away from them as possible when I go to my kids’ sporting events.

At all times.

In all games.

Unless I get to know them (just a few), I can’t trust them.

I avoid the middle of the stands. I sit on the edges. I walk around the perimeter. I hide in the corners and put on my headphones. Anything to tune out the endless complaining.

I even try to park my car away from everyone after I once heard a man lambaste two kids in the back seat of a car at Uihlein Soccer Park, in what only can be described as verbal abuse.

I know this has made me look anti-social, or even aloof. I don’t care.

Here’s my thinking:

If you have never officiated a game …

Or coached a kid …

If you have never played a sport …

Or if it has been decades since you put yourself on the line of competition, why are you even talking?

Other than to encourage, to be positive, to be uplifting?

I really don’t get it. That’s not just my child out there, that’s a group of kids and teenagers just trying to navigate their way to adulthood in a healthy way. Also, those kids on the other team are my kid’s future collegiate classmates, coworkers and community leaders.

Are they not, in a way, all of our kids out there? I’m rooting for all of them.

And without the refs? We have no games.

Look. I’ve messed up. I’ve failed, too. I’ve said too much on those drives home from games and practices. I’ve criticized and second-guessed. After investing thousands of dollars in my kids’ sports, and untold hours of driving them to practices and games, organizing my life around the youth sports schedule, it takes herculean restraint to hug a child or high-five a teen and just say, “good job,” win or lose. And to say, “respect your coaches and don’t talk back to officials.”

But my goodness, can we hold up a mirror to our histrionics – and see what our kids see, and listen to what our kids hear, and understand?

We need to stop.

This has gone longer than Nickel’s career, though berating officials after games was rare in the 1980s, but, based on my own observation, not unheard of.

This was a topic of discussion on Steve Scaffidi’s show on WTMJ in Milwaukee Thursday morning. One suggestion was made to ban excessively obnoxious parents from games. The problem is that while the home school can do that, since presumably high school administrators know their own school’s parents when they see them often, that’s harder for the opposing high school to recognize parents who aren’t theirs.

Scaffidi said we have become a nation of complainers. I’m not sure about that. I do think that as kids get into travel and all-year sports their parents’ sense of perspective can become warped. Youth sports does indeed cost parents “thousands of dollars in my kids’ sports, and untold hours of driving them to practices and games,: requiring parents to organize their life around practices, games and tournaments.

And to what end? According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, out of 8 million high school athetes, 480,000 of them — 6 percent — go on to play college sports. That’s one player per 15-player basketball team. Less than 2 percent of high school athletes play at an NCAA Division I school that offers scholarships.

Parents acting like two-year-olds at games creates a self-perpetuating cycle when it comes to high school officiating. There are nationwide reports of officials getting out of officiating because they’re tired of verbal abuse wherever they go. That probably results in worse officiating, which leads to more verbal abuse, which leads to officials leaving the game, which leads …

I’m not sure what you do about this. As I’ve written here before, we decided early on that we were not going to be those parents. I might complain briefly about a call, but coaches and parents don’t grasp the sport if they believe games are decided by individual officials’ calls. Kids don’t learn anything good when their parents intervene with their coaches over playing time. We wanted our kids to learn about the intangibles of sports — being on a team, having a role on a team (which may or may not the role you want), sportsmanship, etc.

 

Fun with microphones

This time of year is crazy busy for sports announcers. (Which is why I’ve been posting infrequently recently.)

Consider my own recent and anticipated future schedule:

  • Feb. 11: Boys regular season game, scheduled several times due to weather.
  • Feb. 12: Girls regional quarterfinal game. (In my mother’s hometown while my parents were where I live.)
  • Feb. 13: Women’s basketball tournament game in Menomonie, four hours north. (By bus, which rolled back into town at 1 a.m.)
  • Feb. 14: Valentine’s Day? No, regular season boys finale.
  • Feb. 15: Girls regional semifinal.
  • Feb. 16: All day broadcast of the state individual wrestling tournament.
  • Feb. 18: Girls regional final game in La Crosse.
  • Feb. 19: Boys regional quarterfinal in La Crosse, same high schools. (Which should have been a doubleheader, but I’m sure some Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association rule prohibits that.
  • Tonight: Girls sectional semifinal game in Madison. (Don’t tell Paul Soglin.)
  • Tomorrow night: Boys regional semifinal game.
  • Saturday: If the local team wins tonight, a girls sectional final game in Elkhorn in the afternoon, and whether or not that game takes place, a boys regional final game somewhere.

Maybe this kind of overscheduling (which gives the lie to the phrase “part-time”) leads to bad judgment reported by Sports Illustrated:

A high school basketball announcer in Indiana has resigned after ruthlessly criticizing a player who dunked in the final seconds of a game.

The incident occurred on Friday night in a game between Fort Wayne’s Homestead High and Norwell in the small town of Ossian. The Homestead Spartans, the visitors, were well on their way to victory when senior Trent Loomis dunked in the final seconds. He hung on the rim for just a moment and was given a technical foul by an overzealous ref. That’s when the announcer went off.

“Loomis gets two, but then he gets tech-ed up for being a jackass,” the announcer said. “Stay classy, Homestead. May you lose in the first round like you always do. Typical Homestead attitude. No class whatsoever. What else is new? Congratulations, you didn’t even cover the damn spread.”

Wellscountyvoice.com, the site that broadcast the game, apologized for the outburst and said the unnamed announcer had resigned his post.

The whole thing is just so absurd. How could an adult ever think it was OK to go off on a kid like that, especially for something as mundane as hanging on the rim for half a second? Judging by the last line, maybe he had a little money on the game. Do they really have spreads on high school games in Indiana?

SPEAKING OF ANNOUNCERS BEING JERKS

A Kansas radio host is in hot water after he was seen on camera at Monday night’s Kansas-Kansas State basketball game taunting a Wildcats player by pointing to the box score.

That’s Nate Bukaty, announcer for Sporting KC and host of The Border Patrol on 810 WHB. The moment quickly became a widespread meme and his co-hosts showed him what it’s like to be on the other side.

Bukaky later tweeted that (1) he was watching the game as a fan and not a broadcaster and (2) he “thought I was having [a] bit of fun, but that’s not how it came off,” and he apologized.

The unnamed former announcer evidently figured out he’d gone too far since he resigned two hours after the game ended. It looks like a classic case of an announcer getting too wound up in the team he’s announcing. In such a case, the announcer is serving neither his listeners nor his employers (and by extension advertisers who pay money to sponsor the broadcast.)

To the southwest of Presteblog World Headquarters Iowa football and basketball announcer Gary Dolphin has had an interesting year, starting with this:

Longtime Iowa radio broadcaster Gary Dolphin has been suspended from calling the team’s next two men’s basketball contests after critical comments that were inadvertently aired during Tuesday’s Hawkeye win over Pitt.

The announcement was made by Learfield Sports Properties, which broadcasts Hawkeye sports events.

Dolphin, in his 22nd season as the Hawkeye play-by-play announcer, apologized on air after Tuesday’s game when it came to his attention that his words during a commercial break were heard by radio listeners.

Dolphin was talking with his broadcast partner, former Hawkeye player Bobby Hansen, about how well Pitt’s freshmen guards were playing in the first half.

“How do we not get anybody like that?” Dolphin said. “It’s just year after year after year. Go get a quality piece like that. Just get one! They’ve got three or four.”

Hansen, who was not suspended, seemed to agree with Dolphin, echoing: “Go get a key piece like that.”

But Dolphin compounded matters by singling out Iowa junior guard Maishe Dailey. Dailey had four points and one turnover Tuesday.

“We get Maishe Dailey,” Dolphin said in a tone of disgust. “Dribbles into a double-team with his head down. God.”

After the game, Dolphin told the Register: “We want them to win so bad, sometimes we get frustrated when they’re not playing well in certain stretches.”

Iowa rallied to beat Pitt 69-68 and remain unbeaten on the season. The No. 15 Hawkeyes open Big Ten Conference play with a 7 p.m. home game Friday against Wisconsin before traveling to Michigan State for a 5:30 p.m. game Monday. Learfield will announce Dolphin’s replacement for those games later.

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta was made aware of Dolphin’s comments during the game and had a statement ready to be issued as soon as it was over saying he would “evaluate the comments” after listening to the audio.

In a news release Wednesday, Barta said: “Gary knows we are extremely disappointed in the comment he made about Maishe Dailey and the impact his remark had on our players and staff. The two-game suspension is a result of those comments, as well as some ongoing tensions that have built up over the past couple of years. This time away from the microphone will allow a chance to work through some of these issues. I truly appreciate the time and energy Gary puts into promoting Hawkeye athletics.”

Dolphin is also the play-by-play voice of Iowa football. He hosts the weekly in-season call-in shows for Hawkeye football coach Kirk Ferentz and men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery.

“We unfortunately encountered a technical error at our network broadcast operations center that allowed off-air comments to be aired during a portion of the first-half commercial break,” Learfield Vice President-Broadcast Operations Tom Boman said in the news release. “We thoroughly reviewed the situation here at our Broadcast Ops center to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and we’ve also been communicating closely with Gary Barta and his administration, the entire broadcast team and our local Hawkeye Sports Properties staff.”

That led to the speculation that there is a feud between Dolphin and Hawkeyes men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffrey, and that that feud led to this:

Back in November, Iowa Hawkeyes’ multimedia rights holder Learfield suspended long-time Hawkeyes’ radio announcer Gary Dolphin for two games after remarks of his criticizing the team’s recruiting and the play of some specific players (guard Maishe Dailey in particular) were picked up on a hot mic. That proved controversial, though, as one Iowa booster even launched a radio ad criticizing Dolphin’s suspension. Well, Dolphin’s now been suspended again, for the remainder of the season this time, and what’s at issue is what he said about Maryland player Bruno Fernando after Tuesday’s Hawkeyes-Terrapins game, comparing him to King Kong. Here’s audio of that via Chris Hassel (the former ESPN anchor who now works for CBS Sports HQ and Stadium):

Hawkeye Sports Properties, the multimedia rights manager for University of Iowa Athletics, today announced it has suspended play-by-play announcer Gary Dolphin indefinitely through the remaining basketball season. The decision follows an inappropriate comment made by Dolphin during Tuesday’s broadcast of the Iowa men’s basketball game against Maryland.

Gary Dolphin issued the following statement: “During the broadcast, I used a comparison when trying to describe a talented Maryland basketball player. In no way did I intend to offend or disparage the player. I take full responsibility for my inappropriate word choice and offer a sincere apology to him and anyone else who was offended. I wish the Iowa Hawkeye players, coaches and fans all the very best as they head into the final stretch of the season. I will use this as an opportunity to grow as a person and learn more about unconscious bias.”

For the remainder of the basketball season, Jim Albracht and Bobby Hansen will serve as the radio announcers for Iowa’s men’s basketball games.

Dolphin may not have meant anything related to race with his comments, but comparing an Angola-born basketball player to a gorilla-like monster is obviously going to take some flak, especially considering the long and troubled history around references comparing black people to primates (something that cost Roseanne Barr her TV job last year). And while Dolphin has a lot of supporters from all his years calling Iowa athletics (he’s in his 22nd year calling the Hawkeyes’ football and basketball games), and while many of them are insisting that this couldn’t possibly be racist, someone who’s been broadcasting this long probably should know better than to bring up primates. (But, he also should have known better than to say “jigaboo” in 2011.) To Dolphin’s credit, his statement does recognize that his remark was inappropriate, and his desire to learn more about unconscious bias is positive. But that doesn’t suggest that he didn’t deserve punishment here.

Whether the rest-of-the-season suspension is appropriate can be debated a bit more, and there’s no clear guideline for just what punishment is appropriate for racially-associated remarks. Those have sometimes led to suspensions and sometimes led to job losses, but other times, an apology alone has proven enough for the employer. And something noteworthy here is that Iowa athletics director Gary Barta is again not offering much comment; Barta was criticized the last time Dolphin was suspended for referencing “ongoing tensions” in a release and then declining all further comment, and the Hawkeyes have now put out a statement attributed to no one, with Barta again declining further comment. Here’s that statement:

“The University of Iowa athletics department supports Hawkeye Sports Properties decision to indefinitely suspend radio play-by-play announcer Gary Dolphin.

The University of Iowa athletics department values diversity and is committed to creating a welcoming environment for all members of its campus community.”

… In terms of the overall cultural and broadcasting landscape at the moment, it definitely seems reasonable to suspend Dolphin for these comments, and he should have known better than to make this reference. Whether a suspension for the remainder of the year is appropriate can be debated, but there’s no clear answer there. But it is disappointing to see Barta and the Iowa athletics department again doing everything they can to avoid really commenting on this or answering questions. Yes, this decision was supposedly made by their radio partner, but it’s unrealistic to think that the athletics department wasn’t involved or at least consulted. And they should be willing to defend their position here. Instead, we just get an unattributed statement and a “No further comment,” and that’s not the best way to handle anything, much less a sensitive broadcasting situation.

The Des Moines Register then reported Wednesday:

Longtime Iowa broadcaster Gary Dolphin will return from his suspension for Iowa’s spring football practices, and will be on the mic for both football and men’s basketball games next season, Hawkeye Sports Properties announced Wednesday.

Dolphin was suspended from men’s basketball broadcasts twice this season, most recently after referring to Maryland star Bruno Fernando as “King Kong” following a Feb. 19 game. He has been replaced by Jim Albracht for the remainder of this basketball season. …

Dolphin accepted his punishment, saying in a university news release: “During the broadcast, I used a comparison when trying to describe a talented Maryland basketball player. In no way did I intend to offend or disparage the player. I take full responsibility for my inappropriate word choice and offer a sincere apology to him and anyone else who was offended. I wish the Iowa Hawkeye players, coaches and fans all the very best as they head into the final stretch of the season. I will use this as an opportunity to grow as a person and learn more about unconscious bias.”

But the decision did not sit well with a large portion of the Hawkeye fan base. Nor did Barta’s refusal to speak about the reasoning for it. That unease has remained for five days.

Dolphin was previously suspended after making disparaging comments about Iowa guard Maishe Dailey during what he assumed was a commercial break in a November game. …

“When one of our own attacks one of our players the way he did, it’s inexcusable,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said after that episode.

McCaffery has not spoken about the latest suspension. The No. 21 Hawkeyes are 21-7 after a loss at Ohio State on Tuesday, with three regular-season games remaining.

McCaffrey may have declined comment because he’s got his own issues, as the Register also reports:

Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery has been suspended for two games following his post-game tirade directed at an official.

Iowa announced the suspension on Wednesday afternoon, shortly before athletic director Gary Barta was expected to appear in a media availability. Those games include Saturday’s home finale against Rutgers and the March 7 road game at Wisconsin.

The release said the Big Ten supported Iowa’s decision and that University of Iowa would also be fined $10,000 as a result of McCaffery violating the league’s sportsmanship policy.

The Toledo Blade’s Kyle Rowland and others observed McCaffery cursing out an official following Iowa’s 90-70 defeat against Ohio State on Tuesday. McCaffery was heard repeatedly shouting expletives and calling the official a “cheating (expletive)” and a “(expletive) disgrace.”

In the prepared release, Barta said, “Following the basketball game at Ohio State, Coach McCaffery made unacceptable comments to a game official in the hallway headed to the locker room. Fran’s comments do not represent the values of the University of Iowa, Hawkeye Athletics, and our men’s basketball program.”

“Fran immediately accepted responsibility for his comments and understands the severe implications of his remarks. Fran fully understands this suspension and penalty imposed by the Big Ten Conference. Fran continues to have my full support moving forward.”

McCaffery said in the release, ““I am in total agreement with the suspension by Iowa Athletics and the fine levied by the Big Ten Conference. My comments directed toward a game official were regretful. I apologize to Big Ten Conference officials, Iowa Athletics, my players and staff, and the tremendous Hawkeye fans. This behavior is not acceptable and I take full responsibility for my inappropriate comments.”

Both events came together during the Wednesday afternoon press conference reported on by KWWL-TV:

Hawkeye Sports Properties announced today that it will reinstate play-by-play announcer Gary Dolphin beginning with coverage of football spring practice. Dolphin will also return for the 2019-2020 football and men’s basketballs seasons.

Dolphin has served as “Voice of the Hawkeyes” since 1996. Dolphin was suspended on Friday through the remainder of the men’s basketball season for an inappropriate comment during the February 19th broadcast of the Iowa men’s basketball game against Maryland.

Dolphin and University of Iowa Director of Athletics, Gary Barta, [held] a press conference at Carver-Hawkeye Arena this afternoon.

In the news conference, Gary Dolphin said (despite rumors) there hasn’t been any attempt to get rid of him as an announcer. Barta says he will remain the Hawkeyes’ announcer because “he would never intentionally hurt someone.”

Barta told those at the news conference that he apologizes for the department’s delay in talking about the suspension. He said there were many conversations over the weekend and they delayed media until today to not take away from the team’s game last night.

Barta said the program can move forward and use it as a teaching moment. He says he recognizes that Dolphin’s comment (whether intended or not) can be offensive, especially in the eyes of a black athlete.

Dolphin said he did ask for a shorter suspension and he was unhappy but he doesn’t think it’s unfair to sit out the rest of the basketball season. He said he’s focused on looking forward.

Dolphin said he has a “good” relationship with head coach Fran McCaffery. Dolphin said he apologized to McCaffery Thursday night per a phone call for “being a distraction to the program.”

Coach McCaffery apologized during the news conference saying his emotions got the best of him. He said he was defending his players and he won’t stop defending them.

 

Basketball on fast forward

The Washington Post heads to high school:

The 99th free throw of the game clanged off the rim and was rebounded by the opponent. It was then passed ahead to midcourt, where an outlet man, the team’s point guard, was waiting.

Before he could turn his eyes upcourt, he was swarmed by a pair of Lake Braddock players, jostling him with a fervent trap. Panicked, the guard threw a pass to no one, and the ball bounced into the bleachers as the home crowd groaned at the sight of another turnover.

Most eyes in the gym turned toward the scoreboard, which told the crowd that this bizarre, hellish high school basketball game was almost over. There were 8.7 seconds remaining, and Lake Braddock led West Springfield, 122-81.

After the game, Bruins Coach Brian Metress said the 122 points were a team record, the latest sign that the basketball experiment being conducted at Lake Braddock was working.

“We just said we’re going to press and run, and we’re going to press and run like nobody ever has before,” Metress said. “When you come to watch us, it’s like the circus is in town. It’s a totally different game.”

For the past two years, Metress’s team has played an up-tempo, chaotic style that has been broached only by a few bold coaches across all levels. They press constantly, make or miss. They shoot three-pointers at an unprecedented, reckless pace. They sub out four or five players at a time, every minute or two.

To give themselves a chance to win, the Bruins elected to turn basketball on its head. And with the team sporting a 19-3 record heading into the start of postseason play Wednesday, it’s becoming clear that the system has worked.

Standard basketball was abandoned about two years ago when Lake Braddock began the 2016-17 campaign with a 1-4 record. Metress and his staff decided they were tired of losing games in the 40s and 50s. They thought: What if we just decided to score as many points as possible? If we’re going to lose, let’s lose in a shootout.

So the team threw out all of its strategy midway through the season, and developed the tenets of a new style before a Christmas tournament. The Bruins would pick up their opponents with a full-court press on every possession, make or miss. They would swarm the ballhandler at every opportunity, looking to force turnovers and get quick baskets. They would shoot without pause, firing three-pointers from all over the court and never waiting for the perfect look at the basket. They would sub out players constantly to keep them fresh. And they would run. A lot.

“We wanted to approach a game so that [the opponent] has never practiced or prepared for it and they’ve never been in a game like that before,” Metress said. “We just took it to the utmost extreme.”

When it works, the system is freewheeling and fun. It opens up the game so playmakers like guard Quentin James can get easy looks at the basket. The senior has flourished under this style. Last month, he became the school’s all-time scoring leader, passing former North Carolina star and NBA player Hubert Davis.

“We’ve never really had a problem with anyone buying into this system,” James said. “Because the fact that everyone has the green light, what high school are you going to go to where everyone is allowed to shoot the ball without consequences?”

But Metress and his players are the first to admit that, when the system doesn’t work, it’s ugly. In one loss last year, the team shot 6 for 68 from three-point range. Even when the Bruins do win, the up-tempo style is not always aesthetically pleasing. It produces a lot of turnovers and fouls, hence the 99 combined free throws in the win over West Springfield. Opponents and their fans often grow frustrated at the Bruins, as games run long and leads are toppled in seconds.

The system has faltered less and less this year. After mixed results the previous two seasons, the Bruins have wreaked havoc on the rest of Northern Virginia. They have topped 100 points seven times, and all of their final scores are considerably higher than the area’s average. As a rule, they never switch out of their style and they never adapt to an opponent. If a team wants to beat Lake Braddock, it must run, too.

Lake Braddock’s coaching staff wasn’t the first with such a system. Basketball teams are scattered across all levels with a similar style, frustrating opponents with a relentless press and constant threes.

In the early 1990s, David Arseneault Sr. installed a similar system at Grinnell College, a small Division III school in rural Iowa. The Pioneers had gone 25 years without a winning season, and Arseneault needed a remedy. So they started pressing constantly. They shot threes from all over the floor. They subbed more like a hockey team than a basketball team. And they have been running some form of that system since. Arseneault’s son, David Jr., now coaches the team.

“The best way to describe how we play is if you were to imagine a game in which a team is down by eight to 10 points with a minute and a half left. And then take away the intentional fouling,” Arseneault Jr. said.

The “Grinnell System,” as it’s called, has become the face of a growing movement of teams looking to speed the game up, force a lot of turnovers and score a lot of points. Arseneault Jr. said he has heard about “countless” high school teams that run something similar, and there are a few college teams that do the same. Just last month, D-III Greenville (Ill.) beat Fontbonne (Mo.), 200-146, with a similar style. The Panthers attempted 91 threes.

Did someone say Grinnell?

“I think basketball is definitely moving in that direction, from a pace standpoint and from a three-point shooting standpoint,” Arseneault Jr. said. “I don’t even think we’ve reached the tipping point yet. I would actually like to see my team taking more threes.”

Before taking the head coaching job at Grinnell, Arseneault Jr. spent time as an assistant under his dad and then served two years as coach of the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings’ G League affiliate. The Kings appreciated Arseneault’s love of analytics and had an interest in him running a modified form of the Grinnell system. For each of the two seasons Arseneault Jr. spent in Reno, the Bighorns led the G League in scoring.

While no NBA team has taken their game to the extremes of Grinnell or Lake Braddock, Metress said that the fun, fast, three-point-heavy style that has been popularized by the Golden State Warriors has made it easier to sell his vision to his players.

“When most high school coaches tell you to look at a basketball game, they say don’t watch the NBA because that’s not relevant to how we play,” James said. “But the fact that I can turn on a Warriors game or someone in the NBA and see them running the same stuff we do in our system is pretty cool to watch.”

A little more than two years after Brian Metress sat his team down and told them the Bruins would be trying something new, Langley Coach Scott Newman had a similar talk with his squad. The Saxons had started the season 2-11. After a 40-24 loss to Yorktown, Newman knew it was time for a change.

“We just couldn’t score the ball,” Newman said. “And we had kids that were athletic and could run and would benefit from going fast, playing hard and thinking less.”

So Newman quickly installed a system similar to Lake Braddock’s: a constant press, a quick trigger, a big rotation of players. Like the Bruins and Pioneers, he needed something that could help his team survive. This style of basketball, while shunned by purists, could be a potential equalizer.

“I don’t think I would have ever had the guts to do this if I felt like we had something to lose,” Newman said. “[This type of system] will take people that are willing to take a leap of faith.”

When asked about the benefits of his new style, Newman pointed to the same things that Metress and Arseneault Jr. did: It gets more players involved, and they seemed to be having more fun.

“Every once in a while you get somebody who says it’s not real basketball,” Arseneault Jr. said. “Which is fine. I understand some people have the ideal way they think the game should be played. But I think there are so many different ways to play the game. And that’s what makes the sport so special. You can have fun with it.”

The young Saxons are still adjusting to the new style, but have gone 3-5 since making the switch. Newman said he has heard from more fans and parents saying the team is fun to watch. There is optimism around the program and its future. Originally, the coach assumed they would make a return to normalcy next year, when the team would be older and more talented. But now he is having second thoughts.

“The kids are having so much fun playing this way,” he said. “It seems a little hard to believe that we’re going to go back to the way we used to play.”

As you know, I have announced several Grinnell–Ripon College games over the years. They are a blast to watch. They are … not a nightmare to announce, but those games take a lot of work, to the point where you’re saying, “Five more on the floor,” when the next wave of Pioneers comes in. Up-tempo games are more difficult to announce because everything’s faster than when a pair of half-court teams lay. It’s easier on TV, where you can get away with just saying the players’ names.

Grinnell figured out a mathematical measure for how they need to play besides the scoreboard. The senior Arsenault had a group of math students analyze their games and came up with this formula for success, which failed to produce a win only once (due to 16-percent field goal shooting, and if you’re shooting 16 percent, you’re not going to win regardless of system):

  1. Shoot at least 94 shots per game, which averages to one shot every 12 seconds.
  2. Shoot 25 more shots than Grinnell’s opponent.
  3. Shoot three-point shots on at least half of their shots.
  4. Generate at least 32 turnovers per game.
  5. Get offensive rebounds on at least one-third of Grinnell’s missed shots.

I imagine high school teams could reduce points 1, 2 and 5 by 10 to 20 percent (whether 18-minute halves, like Wisconsin, or eight-minute quarters, like other states) to come up with the correct numbers for themselves.

Irrespective of the big question of whether you have enough shooters to play this style, Wisconsin’s 18-minute halves would seem well suited for this. One reason Wisconsin went to halves was to make teams play more offense to prevent lengthy stalling attempts by teams at the ends of quarters. (See Bennett, Dick.)

Game nights

Readers know that I have covered, either in print or on the air, high school sports since I first got into journalism for pay (such as it is).

Frederick M. Hess and Amy Cummings:

In the long shadow of this week’s Super Bowl, high-school football drew some unflattering attention, including headlines such as “As the Super Bowl Approaches, Is High School Football Dying a Slow Death?” (the Guardian) and “Rams’ Run to 2019 Super Bowl Reveals Cracks in Football from High School to the NFL” (Forbes).

Such stories are hardly surprising. In recent years, high-school sports have had a tough go of it. Football’s concussion problem has spawned headlines such as CBS’s “Young Athletes Abandon Football as Concussions Rock High School Teams.” But it’s not just football. The indefensible actions of some pro athletes, especially with regards to domestic violence and sexual misconduct, have colored views of sporting culture more generally. Meanwhile, for many progressives, sports are seen as celebrating problematic notions of competition, toxic masculinity, and gender segregation.

Indeed, school sports have served as a convenient punching bag for advocates and academics who tend to regard athletics as a cultural backwater. Amanda Ripley, a senior fellow at the “social change” organization founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, has made “The Case against High-School Sports” in The Atlantic, blaming sports for mediocre U.S. performance on international tests. And Brookings Institution education scholar Mike Hansen has lamented that sports are “distracting us from our schools’ main goals.”

The manifold benefits of school sports can too readily get lost, especially the crucial role that athletics can play in supporting academic success and building character. Given all the negative attention, it might surprise you to learn that participation in high-school sports has actually risen steadily over the past four decades. The National Federation of State High School Associations reports that participation in high school athletics has risen from 40 percent of high schoolers in 1980 to 52 percent in 2015.

Given the pervasive gloom and hand-wringing, the question arises: Why is participation in sports growing? Well, for one thing, a look at some of the most widely cited scholarly studies on high school sports tells a story very different from the popular narrative of violence and misbehavior.

Despite assertions that sports distract from academics, there’s evidence that they can just as readily complement the scholastic mission of schools. A widely cited 2003 study by Oxford University’s Herbert Marsh and the University of Sydney’s Sabina Kleitman in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology reported, using nationally representative longitudinal data, that participating in high-school sports had a positive effect on academics in high school and college. Students who played high-school sports got better grades, selected more challenging courses, had higher educational and occupational aspirations, were more likely to enroll in college, and had higher levels of educational attainment. What’s more, these results held up across socioeconomic status, gender, race, and ability.

A decade ago, in the Economics of Education Review, Mathematica’s Stephen Lipscomb used a fixed-effects strategy to test whether participating in high-school sports affected academic performance. He found that sports participation associated with a 2 percent increase in math and science test scores and a 5 percent increase in bachelor’s-degree attainment expectations. Other scholarship has reported that participating in high-school sports significantly reduces a student’s likelihood of dropping out of high school and, for young women, that it is associated with higher odds of college completion.

None of this is remotely new. Three decades ago, Alyce Holland and Thomas Andre published an influential review of the research on high-school extracurricular participation in the American Educational Research Journal, reporting that participation in sports was associated with higher self-esteem and feelings of control over one’s life. In a finding that won’t surprise many who’ve participated in sports, they found that athletics participation was also correlated with improved race relations and heightened young-adult involvement in political and social activities. Educators and reformers who are seeking ways to promote values such as self-control, responsibility, and good citizenship should keep in mind that schools already house programs with a track record of doing just that.

Sports also provide the opportunity for young athletes to interact with an adult role model in a shared endeavor outside of the home. Especially given that more than a third of school-age children live in single-parent households, sports afford athletes a chance to forge relationships that they might otherwise lack. This can be especially pivotal for young men who don’t have a father or other male authority figure in the home.

The point is not to make outsize claims about the restorative powers of school sports. These studies all have methodological limitations, and we should not treat the results as gospel. Meanwhile, there are real physical risks in some sports, some of the benefits are due to self-selection, some poorly run sports programs do breed destructive behavior, and there are times and places when school sports can clash with education’s academic mission.

What Sunday means

Sage Rosenfels was a backup quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings when Brett Favre played in the 2009 NFC championship in New Orleans, about which Packer fans probably remember …

The game was a media dream. The New Orleans Saints, less than five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and region (including the Superdome, where the game was being played) were hosting the Brett Favre-led Minnesota Vikings. Both teams’ fans had been waiting decades for a Super Bowl berth; the Saints had never made it there in their then-43-year history, and the Vikings hadn’t been to the big game in more than 30 years. Favre grew up a Saints fan and lives less than an hour from New Orleans. The storylines were endless. Driving through downtown the day before the game, it was impossible not to feel the growing anticipation. The streets were crowded with Saints and Vikings fans, both groups celebrating what their teams had done already that season while also getting amped for the epic showdown to come the next day.

After our evening meetings, I popped an Ambien to ensure I’d get some solid sleep. I generally have no trouble sleeping before a game, and I usually never wake up before 7 a.m. on game day. On this day, though, I was wide awake at 4 a.m., my mind racing. The Saints’ defense didn’t have the best talent in the league, but they did have a great scheme, especially on third down. They brought a lot of really difficult blitzes and coverages that almost every team struggled with that season, and the confusion they created forced a lot of sacks and turnovers. Still, they had some weaknesses. During our film study sessions, we felt we had figured out a method to their madness, and by Friday we thought that unless they changed their scheme, we had an answer for whatever they were going to throw at us. People don’t realize how much this thought process can grind on a player. Add to that the anticipation of a 40-second play clock and 75,000 screaming fans with a Super Bowl invitation on the line, and itʼs easy to see why I woke up at 4 a.m.

On game day, as our bus made the short trip over to the Superdome, the streets were filled with Saints tailgaters and fans. The makeshift marching bands, colorful dangling beads, hurricane-sized drinks and people dancing in the streets made it feel like Mardi Gras in January. The late 6 p.m. kickoff only allowed for more time for partying and celebrating. I scanned the bus and noticed some of my teammates looking out their windows, with a variety of reactions to the scene on the streets. Most of them had serious, business-like looks on their faces, while others smiled at the hilarity before them. To the right of me, an offensive assistant was reviewing the gameplan with the wristbands that we were to use during the game, which, for the first time that season, had every offensive play in numbered order. These wristbands were created with the expectation of unprecedented crowd noise. The trainers also had custom earplugs made for every player and coach. They were specially designed by Starkey, a Minneapolis company that specializes in hearing aids and earpieces. Would they give us an edge? Time would tell.

In most regards, getting ready for this game was like most other games that year, but the locker room was noticeably more quiet and focused. During the season, even in big games, the guys had been fairly loose as they got dressed and taped. I can recall Brett holding court at his locker many times, telling hilarious stories of old coaches and players. His stories seemed to keep the players relaxed. But Brett had been subdued during the stretch run and was noticeably anxious about this game.

In the locker room, Brett was talking to me about a blitz he was really concerned about. He felt it may give our protection scheme some trouble. He asked offensive linemen Steve Hutchinson and John Sullivan about the same blitz, and we all reassured him we had the problem solved.

Brett thinks about football differently from most players and coaches, and it took me most of the first half of the season to understand how. At times I felt like I was an interpreter between Brett and our offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, despite them having worked together for almost a decade.

Football is based on the precision of the 11 guys on the field. Teams practice to perfect their footwork, timing, depth of routes, angles of blocking, reads and audible systems. It is understood that the team that has better athletes, plays with more passion and focus and executes the gameplan best usually wins. But Brett’s mind goes beyond strict execution of how plays are drawn up and techniques are designed. He realizes that slight movements by the quarterback, more than any other position on offense, can have a huge effect on the defense. Instead of going through his natural reads to find the open receiver, he sometimes gets them open by pump-faking, angling his shoulders and using his eyes to move the defense. He goes by feel and creates to get what he wants, instead of doing everything by the book and getting what the defense will give him. Most coaches cringe at what he does because it isn’t very coachable, but there’s almost always a rhyme and reason with Brett.

As we went out for warmups, the atmosphere was as I expected. We could feel the anticipation on the field and in the stands. I glanced over to our bench and saw our owner, Zygi Wilf, with a huge smile on his face. He understood how special the opportunity was for his team. As I watched the fans file into the Superdome, I could tell they were ready to unleash once the game started. I also knew that communication for our offense was going to be extremely difficult, especially for the linemen who were going to make a lot of calls to pick up the Saints’ exotic blitzes. After the game, Brett told me that on every play he had to yell at the top of his lungs in the huddle, and then scream the cadence at the line.

Everyone had a sense the game would come down to the wire. And it lived up to that, reminding me of a classic heavyweight fight that went back and forth. Every play felt like a fourth down. Brett was playing unbelievably well while taking lots of shots, legal and illegal. He kept our team together, moving the offense up and down the field while making very few mistakes. Still, the raw physical brutality was unprecedented in anything I had seen in my nine-year career. There had been rumors during the week that the Saintsʼ plan was to take Brett out of the game, and the hits started to wear on him mentally and physically. By the fourth quarter he had a badly swollen left wrist, a deep scratch on his forehead, ribs that were in pain whenever he took a breath and a badly sprained ankle which could easily have been broken.

Even though we moved the ball, we continued to turn it over at crucial times. We fumbled twice inside the red zone and Brett threw a pick when we were in field goal range. We also fumbled inside our own 10-yard-line, which set up a Saints touchdown. Despite all of this, the guys never seemed fazed or worried. There were mistakes, but the feeling I was getting was that as long as we stayed within a touchdown we were going to win. Well, with the score tied and a little over two minutes left, we got the ball deep in our territory.

As Brett limped out to the field, I thought those final minutes were going to be the most important moments of the season. We converted a key third down, and then Brett threw one of his best passes of the year on a seam route to Sidney Rice.  After that play, which brought us near the 50, it got crazy on our sideline. Everyone could taste how close we were to winning the game and going to the Super Bowl. After Sidney’s catch, I heard coaches yell “Clock! Clock! Clock!” to indicate that we should spike the ball to stop the clock, then heard Bevell relay that to Brett on the field. We had timeouts left and still a minute and a half to go, so, not wanting to waste a down, I ran up to Bevell and told him we should run a play. As everyone was lined up to spike the ball, Bevell relayed to Brett to run “Mayday,” a basic handoff to the tailback. Brett did, and with the defense exhausted and confused, we picked up another first down and were in field goal range. We took our time and ran two more safe running plays that gained very little, calling timeout with 19 seconds left. Everyone, players and coaches, was wiped.

The third-down call was to run a simple pass play that was great against blitzes. Usually, this play involves a fullback, and I’m sure we had a couple of similar plays in the gameplan that involved a fullback. But for this one, we went without the lead blocker, instead hoping for man-to-man coverage and for Bernard Berrian to be open in the flat. Coaches and players were scrambling to get on the same page. Every offensive coach was making sure his guys were going to do their job correctly. Meanwhile, the special teams coach was one step ahead, getting the field-goal team ready.

The only problem was that a couple guys heard the play call and thought it was in a personnel grouping that involved the fullback. When the players huddled on the field, one last play from a game-winning field goal try to go to the Super Bowl, we ended up having 12 men on the field. We noticed it from the sideline, but there was nothing that could be done. Ryan Longwell was one of the best kickers in the league, but he was not known for his strong leg. The penalty moved us from the 33 back to the 38, pushing the field-goal attempt just outside of Longwellʼs range, making it important to pick up some yards on the play after the penalty.

Still, we called the same play as before the penalty, hoping to get a blitz. Jonathan Vilma, their defensive leader, recognized the formation and audibled to the best possible defense. As you may remember, Brett rolled out to the edge and had a chance to run, but he saw Sidney Rice flash open and decided to try to fire it in to him instead. It was intercepted by Tracy Porter and nearly returned for a touchdown. The game was going to overtime.

Brett later told me he couldn’t get anything on the ball, thanks to a combination of exhaustion and his busted-up ankle.

I sat on the Gatorade coolers on our sideline, and Brett limped over to sit next to me. I didn’t know what to say to him; I could feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. I could tell he felt the interception cost us the game and season. I could also sense that he envisioned the story of that year—at 40 years old, he was having his best season—was going to be summed up by that one play. A play that never really should have happened in the first place. He had played almost flawless football, fighting like it was life or death to him, and this is the way it was going to end. We sat there for a few moments in silence.

The referees and team captains went out for the coin toss to start overtime, and I got up to see who won possession. Brett didn’t even bother. He didn’t have the energy, and I think he was still in shock from the interception. After the Saints won the toss, I walked back over and sat next to him. He turned to me and said “I choked.” I paused for a second and said, “Brett, you are the most amazing football player I’ve ever seen. It has been an unreal experience to watch you play this year.” I can’t really describe the look he gave me, but I can tell those words meant something to him.

We never got the ball in overtime. There were about five plays that could have gone either way; two challenges and two pass interference calls that were questionable. As the Saints lined up for what was the game-winning field goal, I still felt confident we were going to win. But we didn’t.

I walked across the field to congratulate my friend Drew Brees after the game. I was happy for him and all he had done in New Orleans. I then walked to the end zone and took a knee, watching the celebration, the confetti falling and players from both teams sobbing. The place was pandemonium, but our locker room was completely quiet when I walked in. Guys were pissed, crying, shocked. Heads hung in disbelief. Tarvaris Jackson, the other quarterback, and I sat in silence. Brett slowly took off his shoulder pads next to me, in tears. I tried to imagine what was going through his head. Front office personnel were making their way around the locker room, consoling players and shaking hands. Mr. Wilf shook every players’ hand, thanking them sincerely. Person after person walked up to Brett, his eyes still red, and told him how much of a warrior he was in that game.

60 years ago today

David J. Halberstam:

Sixty years ago today, the NFL Championship Game earned an immediate and exalted label; The Greatest game ever played. In the league’s first ever overtime, the Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants, 23-17.

Nothing since, not a great Super Bowl or a post season cliffhanger, dulled the title game’s luster or knocked it from its top all-time billing. The Yankee Stadium matchup has since been the subject of many featured articles, multiple books and even an ESPN documentary; all about this one single epochal contest.

Deservedly so, many say, because the December 28th 1958 classic launched the NFL into high gear; eventually doing the unthinkable, surpassing baseball as the national pastime. What followed were billions in both sponsorships and television contracts and millions for Super Bowl spots and executive salaries.  To appreciate the exponential growth, superstar quarterback Johnny Unitas was paid only $17,500 and most players then made no more than $10,000.

After years of half-empty stadiums, 64,185 crammed into the big ballpark in the Bronx to watch the showdown. The public had been generally indifferent toward pro football until that day. The New York Times sports columnist Arthur Dailey called the title game, “One for the books…. an unforgettable episode crammed to the gunwales.”

There is no video recording of the NBC Network telecast. ESPN’s documentary was pieced together by NFL Films which did what it could with grainy clips. Viewers on YouTube today can watch the video which is matched nicely against the only full audio that survived; the NBC Radio broadcast done by Bill McColgan and Joe Boland.

What’s particularly striking, when looking back through an historical lens, is that the game earned unrivaled distinction despite the fact that the telecast was blacked out in New York City and that the Big Apple was limited informationally in the weeks leading up to the NFL championship. A newspaper strike in New York dragged from December 12th through December 28th, the day of the game.

Times were different too. The relationship between the coaches and the media was less confrontational or distrusting as it is today.

Although the Giants suffered a killer of a loss, Giants head coach Jim Lee Howell invited the press to watch film of the game with his assistant coaches on the day following the game. And these weren’t just ordinary retinues or acolytes. The offensive and defensive coordinators were Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry respectively; two peerless football leaders who would go on to win Super Bowls in their own right.

In the New York Daily News, Joe Trimble who attended the film session, wrote, “It was almost as exciting as the game itself. Couldn’t change the 23-17 ending, though.”

The Giants were up 17-14 and had the ball in their end with a little more than two minutes remaining in regulation. On third down, Frank Gifford busted through for what he thought was a first down and an opportunity for the Giants to coast to the NFL title. But the line judge didn’t agree. As such, the Giants punted and Unitas led the Colts down field where Steve Myhra connected on a 19 yard field goal. The result was a tie game at the end of regulation.

Years earlier, the NFL had added an overtime element but it wasn’t until that late December day that the rule would be activated. Meanwhile, 45 million viewers across America were watching the game on black and white sets; sitting at the edge of their couches and living room chairs.

Both sidelines knew that a sudden death overtime would begin three minutes after the end of regulation but had no idea of what was to occur procedurally. So they milled and weaved among themselves until officials trotted over to summon the captains to the middle of the field.

Some eight minutes into the overtime, the Colts’ Alan Ameche, a Heisman winner at Wisconsin plunged into the end zone for the title.

The NFL had arrived; breathtakingly!

Television and radio

NBC paid $200,000 for the television and radio rights. Until the 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act was signed into law by Congress and President John F. Kennedy, baseball was the only sport that was legally permitted to negotiate league-wide broadcast contracts. Major League Baseball was exempt from anti-trust. The NFL didn’t have that luxury yet. For regular season games, each of the league’s 12 teams represented itself independently and most had contracts with CBS. The title game though was under the aegis of the league office and Commissioner Bert Bell had a deal with NBC.

Bell also extended timeouts that season from 60 to 90 seconds. The standard network commercial length in those years was sixty seconds, not thirty as it is today. Bell also asked the refs to add some ‘TV timeouts’ for the title game.

The overtime delay

In pre cable days, when connections to a station’s television tower were weak, viewers’ screens would jitter or fidget. When the signal was lost entirely or the connection from a remote location like a stadium was lost, the screen would produce an annoying black and white snowy picture what looked little ants flickering in place. The audio would produce an ear-piercing, sizzling sound. (Bad experiences of my youth!)Of interest and often included in stories about the telecast is what occurred in overtime. NBC lost its connection and the country saw what was called (figuratively) snow on their screens.  Those raised in the cable era who never watched a true over the air television program on a set using a portable or roof antenna probably never experienced snow on their TV screens.

Doing remotes back then wasn’t yet a perfect science. In the overtime of the Colts-Giants game, just a few plays before Ameche’s historic thrust, a critical cable snapped and NBC’s signal was lost.  The network went dark. Technicians needed a few minutes to reconnect, to get the game back on air.

Suddenly, at that point, a fan ran out onto the field and the head referee was forced to pop his head into the Colts’ huddle to inform the players that the game was being delayed. Meanwhile, three New York cops ran out to surround and nab the infiltrator who observers suspected was inebriated.

Lindsey Nelson, then both an NBC executive and on-air broadcaster writes in his book, Hello Everybody, I’m Lindsey Nelson that the man who ran on the field was actually Stan Rotkiewicz, a business manager of NBC News who doubled occasionally as a statistician at sporting events. According to Nelson, “He was an old Roanoke tackle, capable of posing as an errant fan long enough to save the day for his network’s nationwide telecast of a big football game.”

TV announcers

The announcers teamed for the title game, represented the participating teams, Chuck Thompson who called Colts games and Chris Schenkel, the television announcer for the Giants. Both had voices for which to die, that good! Thompson was beloved in Baltimore where he also did Orioles baseball for many years. Schenkel later did college football for ABC and also made his mark as the lead broadcaster for the Professional Bowlers Association.

Radio announcers

Locally in New York, Les Keiter called the game on WCBS Radio. Keiter was quite popular. No recording of his call ever surfaced. Keiter’s voice was throaty, gravelly and inimitable. He brought great excitement to his dramatic broadcasts. He would call drives into the end zone,”5,4,3,2,1 Touchdown!”

Bob Wolff did the game back to Baltimore. There were those who called him, “Howling Bob.” His Ameche call is often heard on replays.

Bill McColgan and John Boland presided over the NBC Radio broadcast. Back then, there was no distinction of a play-by-play announcer and commentator. McColgan did the first half and the overtime and Boland the second half. McColgan who called Cleveland Browns games on radio, did a year of the Indians on television and spent a couple seasons doing the New Orleans Saints.

Boland actually was a member of the Notre Dame football team in the 1920s, a member of the famed Four Horsemen. He was the longtime voice of Irish football and also called the Chicago Cardinals on radio before they moved to St. Louis. His voice was husky and somewhat gruff.

At the end of regulation, Boland:

“We’re going to see the first application ever of the new sudden death role.” 

Later, on the game winning Ameche plunge;  McColgan:

“Unitas has been sensational… Flanker to the right. Ends are tight. Unitas gives to Ameche and the ball game is over. Ameche scores and the Baltimore Colts are the champions of professional football.”

McColgan was the best of the lot. He was silky smooth, had a magical voice, spoke clearly and quickly. He was graphic and easy to follow, a solid play-by-player. He also called the 1955 and 57 NFL title games for NBC Radio. His ’57 partner was the venerable Ray Scott.

In those years, both broadcasters said little when the other was on play-by-play play. The whole production set up was clean and simple; not overbearing, a pleasant listen. Television functioned similarly. When Thompson called the game, Schenkel said little and vice-versa.

There were two sponsors on radio, that was it; Marlboro Cigarettes and Hi-Grade Meats. Related or unrelated, Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly was a Marlboro Man and appeared in lots of the brand’s advertising (but not on the game’s radio broadcast). Hi-Grade promoted its meat products for consumption during the upcoming New Year holiday.

Some things don’t change

Neither announcer used statistics much because they weren’t broken down into minutia the way they are today. That said, McColgan, at one point, said that Ameche was second in NFL rushing behind Jimmy Brown. I was way too young to remember the game so when hearing the recording, I said to myself, wow! When I looked up the numbers, the announcer was indeed accurate. But the comment needed some heft. The unstoppable Brown rushed for 1527 yards and Ameche 797.There were others also clustered close to Ameche’s total too. It wasn’t like Ameche’s numbers were just a few yards behind the immortal Brown!

Change of lingo

McColgan also generally used ‘good’ or ‘no good’ when passes were thrown instead of ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete.’

Public Address Announcer

Those with deciphering ears who monitor the NBC Radio broadcast will hear the golden voiced Bob Sheppard as the in-stadium announcer. He of course was forever the PA announcer for Yankees games too.

The refs

The referees had no mics as they do today. Media members could only work off scant hand signals on the field.

The Giants and Yankee Stadium

The team’s first season in the big ballpark in the Bronx was 1956 when they won the NFL title. Previously, they played at the smaller Polo Grounds where their broadcaster, the late Marty Glickman, told me he could count the house from his broadcast position.

Tidbits and facts about the greatest game

The controversial call of whether Gifford got the first down late in regulation had the Giants angry

After the game, Giants’ coaches, players and fans were sulking over the call involving Frank Gifford and his field nemeses, fellow Californian, defensive tackle, Gino Marchetti. The Giants, as described above, were up 17-14 with some two and a half minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. The Giants had the ball on third down in their own territory. Attaining a first down would have made it extremely difficult for the Colts to fight the Giants through another set of downs and the tyranny of the clock.

Gifford took a handoff from quarterback Conerly and drove hard to the right, straining every muscle of his robust Hollywood body. As Marchetti dragged him to the turf, a trio of stout Baltimore defenders, weighing a collective 750 pounds, leaped on top of the two to prevent Gifford from hitting the first down marker. In the process, one of them, Big Daddy Lipscomb broke Marchetti’s ankle which was twisted under the pile.

As Mark Bowden wrote in his captivating The Best Game Ever, “Marchetti stayed on the turf, holding his leg, rocking back and forth, bellowing. His parents in San Francisco, who were watching the first pro football game they had ever seen on television, looked on with alarm as their son writhed.”

Gifford thought he had the first down but the line judge ruled otherwise. This was before replay or certainly any replay rule. The matter of whether Gifford did or didn’t earn a first down has been a subject of fierce debate for more than a half century.

The ESPN documentary done in conjunction with NFL Films apparently indicated that the line judge made the right call. So cries of “We wuz robbed,” might not have been justified.

The Greatest game and player salaries

You might say that as a result of the game, the television networks stepped up its rights fees significantly. It resulted in an immediate trickle-down effect on player salaries. As mentioned, Johnny Unitas made $17,500 in 1958 for leading the Colts to the league title. In 1964 Joe Namath signed with the AFL’s Jets for $427,000

To appreciate today’s equivalents, $10,000 in 1958 is worth roughly $87,000 today. So by that measure players were badly underpaid then. Today of course, they make millions .

For playing in the title game, each of the Colts earned $4,718 and each Giant got $3,111. Considering the relative pittance players were paid then in salary, the winner’s and loser’s shares were fairly significant.

Incidentally, from 1958-63, the Giants lost 5 NFL title games.

Commissioners Bert Bell and Pete Rozelle

Pete Rozelle, who became commissioner of the NFL in 1960, was then the general manager of the Los Angeles Rams; a franchise that had financial issues. Rozelle couldn’t get ownership (Daniel Reeves) to pay for a trip to New York to attend the game live. So he did the next best thing, he watched the title game in his office. The commissioner’s job opened when Bert Bell passed in November, 1959 at age 64. The commish died in his boots of a heart attack while watching a Steelers-Eagles game in the end zone. He was 64.

The accomplished receiver Ray Berry says that when Bell came into the locker room following the Colts win, he cried.  He was so overwhelmed by the events of the day; the gripping overtime , the packed house and the quality of play. It was as though a dream was reached and he knew it immediately. He was NFL commissioner from 1945-59.

The league’s headquarters were in Philadelphia. All would change the following year when Rozelle took the reins.

‘Win one for the Gipper’

The Colts defensive tackle Gino Marchetti, who broke a leg stopping Frank Gifford from getting a critical first down was on a stretcher along the Colts sideline during the end of regulation and as overtime began. He was in deep pain but stoically refused to be taken back to the locker room. He was intent on watching the rest of the game from the field. He was a military veteran who served in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. It’s the war experience that Gino said hardened him to pain.

At the start of the overtime, Baltimore coach Weeb Ewbank reportedly turned to his club while pointing to the end zone where Gino was still sitting up on a stretcher, “Win it for Gino.” Marchetti was soon thereafter carried off the playing field because fans were beginning to surge in the area where he was sitting on a stretcher. According to author Bowden, a police captain ordered the Colts to move him to the visitors locker room. But in there he had no radio with which to follow the game and it wasn’t until a happy group of Colts stormed into the dressing room did Marchetti learn that his team won the championship.

Gifford and major injuries

For Gifford, his brutal intersection with hard hitting Marchetti is a reminder of what occurred a couple seasons later. On November 20, 1960, the Eagles’ Chuck Bednarik infamously blindsided Gifford fiercely. Frank was so badly concussed and hurt that he missed the entire following season.

More on Ameche

He was the son of Italian immigrants and cousins of actors Don Ameche and Jim Ameche. He was nicknamed the Iron Horse. Alan died young at 55.

Overtime games

The next title matchup to go into overtime was Super Bowl LI when the Patriots rallied to beat the Falcons.

Odds

Baltimore was 3 ½ point favorites and obviously covered.

Weather

On Christmas, three days earlier, New York was in a deep freeze, a high of 30 and a low of 15. On the day of the game, the 28th it was almost balmy.  The high was 49 degrees.

For those interested in delving deeper into the game, I would strongly suggest Mark Bowden’s book, The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL .

Bowden writes for the Atlantic and was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer for 21 years. Among other things, he covered the Eagles. Bowden has written books about a range of topics from the Iranian hostage crisis to hunting down Osama Bin Laden. He is a first cousin once removed of the legendary ex-Florida State coach, Bobby Bowden.

 

Book it! (maybe)

I have engaged in a mixed metaphor by using a term sometimes used by UW announcer Matt Lepay to describe a three-point field goal.

Lepay doesn’t announce the Bucks; legendary announcer Eddie Doucette did, with a catchprhase for nearly everything …

eddiewords_2100

… except a three (“Bango!” is for a slam dunk), perhaps because most of his time in Milwaukee came before the National Basketball Association added the three to its rules.

(I started with “Bango!,” not realizing Doucette used it for dunks and not threes, and then Mrs. Presteblog pointed out that almost no listeners even in the early 2000s would have any idea what “Bango!” was supposed to refer to, so I substituted “Bullseye!”, which has stuck.)

This long-winded preamble introduces this from Awful Announcing:

Sports Illustrated has been on the market for some time, and back in April we wrote about how Meredith was looking to sell SI for something like $150 million. Since then, there hasn’t been much movement on the sale front, although there was a fun stretch where Dan Gilbert and Tony Robbins were reportedly interested.

For a while, that lack of movement seemed to be a result of Meredith asking too much for SI. But according to a Reuters report from Carl O’Donnell and Liana B. Baker, Meredith’s patience might be paying off, as they’re apparently close to completing a deal. Not with an existing media company, but with a former NBA player.

Ulysses Lee “Junior” Bridgeman, a former U.S. basketball player who became a fast-food mogul, is in the lead to acquire Sports Illustrated magazine from U.S. media company Meredith Corp (MDP.N) for about $150 million, people familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The deal would be the result of a review that Meredith is carrying out in its portfolio, following its $1.84 billion acquisition of Time Inc last year. It has already sold off its Time and Fortune magazines and is exploring a sale of Money Magazine.

Bridgeman is in the final stages of negotiating a deal for Sports Illustrated after lining up acquisition financing, the sources added. If his effort is successful, a deal announcement could come by the end of the year, according to the sources.

Bridgeman is a former Indiana high school legend from East Chicago who went on to play at Louisville before a lengthy NBA career. After his playing days, he ended up going into an entirely different industry, becoming a restaurant franchise mogul. Bridgeman’s interest was first reported in October by the New York Post‘s Keith J. Kelly.

Considering Bridgeman is apparently willing to offer the asking price, it might be surprising that the deal hasn’t gone through yet, but as Reuters notes, it’s for a very simple reason: Bridgeman isn’t in media or publishing. That means a lack of infrastructure, which means the buyers will need a way to actually print the magazine, among other things.

One aspect of the deal still being hashed out in the negotiations is the outsourcing agreements related to printing and paper costs of the magazine, one of the sources said. These discussions are common when a buyer who does not own a media company purchases a magazine, the source added.

For example, when Marc and Lynne Benioff bought Time magazine for $190 million in cash in September, Meredith entered into a multiyear agreement with them to provide services such as subscription fulfillment, paper purchasing and printing.

If the deal goes through, it will be interesting to see how a new entrant to the world of media handles the Sports Illustrated brand going forward.

It would be great to see SI, which I have read since I was in high school (the first issue I received was the 1982 swimsuit issue) in the hands of an owner who can figure out a plausible yet profitable direction for the magazine. SI has taken its yearly swimsuit issue into its own brand (including models who don’t actually wear swimwear, or anything else), with no indication of financial success. SI.com is now covering the non-sport of “professional” wrestling and has delved into other areas that can’t really be called sports.

SI also now prints every other week instead of weekly. Perhaps that economic decision makes sense, but it tends to restrict covering events after the event, which was the ultimate downfall of Sport magazine and Inside Sports. Some of the greatest game stories have been written by SI writers over the years, but if the event took place two weeks ago, perhaps readers beyond fans of the participating teams have moved on. ESPN The Magazine also publishes every other week, but the magazine has a horrid and unreadable design, perhaps designed for people who don’t generally read. If you don’t cover news (as in what happened, as opposed to what you think is going to happen, failures in which created the infamous SI Cover Jinx), what’s the point of reading?