A new coach, a new arena, and intrigue therein

A phrase common to professional sports, and increasingly to college sports, is that a coach is hired to be fired.

What else would explain this, from Bleacher Report?

The Toronto Raptors finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference this season. Dwane Casey was named the National Basketball Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year.

That wasn’t enough to save his job.

The Raptors fired Casey after seven seasons Friday, just four days after the Raptors were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round, according to ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Toronto went 320-238 under Casey and made five postseason appearances, but the team’s playoff struggles led to his dismissal.

“After careful consideration, I have decided this is a very difficult but necessary step the franchise must take,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in a statement, according to USA Today‘s Jeff Zillgitt. “As a team, we are constantly trying to grow and improve in order to get to the next level.”

After earning a conference finals berth in 2016 and coming within two games of reaching the first Finals in franchise history, the Raptors fell apart each of the last two seasons—thanks in large part to one LeBron Raymone James.

The Cavaliers swept the Raptors out of the second round in 2017 and 2018, the latter being the death knell to Casey’s tenure. Cleveland entered the series having just barely scraped by the Indiana Pacers in seven games, only to beat Toronto twice on their home floor before closing things out in Cleveland. The Cavs had no real set rotation and were still juggling around lineups due to their revamped roster, but it mattered not in the sweep. …

Moving on from the coach is the easiest deck-shuffling move they can make without tearing the team to its core. Casey will rightfully be billed as the unfair fall guy, but every NBA coach knows that comes as part of the job.

There are numerous examples in pro sports of somewhat successful teams making a coaching change for the purpose of getting to the “next level.” It almost never works.

In 1980, after three consecutive wild card playoff berths and two trips to the AFC championship game (because they kept running into the Pittsburgh Steelers), the Houston Oilers fired coach Bum Phillips. That stopped the run of playoff berths.

The Milwaukee Brewers have done that for decades. It’s unclear whether manager Harvey Kuenn was fired or resigned, but he was out the door one season after managing the Brewers to the 1982 World Series. Kuenn’s replacement, Rene Lachemann, was out the door after one disastrous season.

Kuenn is not really an example of this approach working. He was named manager in June 1982 after the Brewers fired manager Buck Rodgers, who was accused of overmanaging. The difference is that Kuenn was already a Brewers coach, so it’s not as if he represented a huge change, except in temperament. Kuenn told his players to have fun, and they had fun all the way to the 1982 World Series and were a contender throughout the 1983 season. Nor is Dale Sveum, who replaced Ned Yost as Brewers manager in mid-September 2008, and got the Brewers into the playoffs for the first time since 1982.

At any rate, Casey now becomes an obvious candidate for the Bucks’ vacant coaching job, along with several assistant coaches with connections to the San Antonio Spurs, who unlike most NBA teams actually play team basketball.

Maybe the most intriguing candidate from that group is Becky Hammon, a Spurs assistant since 2014 after her career in the Women’s National Basketball Association. Hammon was the coach of the Spurs’ summer-league team, which won the summer league title in 2015. Hammon interestingly was interviewed for the Bucks’ general manager position one year ago, but wasn’t hired.

Hammon gets a vote of confidence from one of her Spurs players, Pau Gasol:

That part is obvious: One, she was an accomplished player — with an elite point guard’s mind for the game. And two, she has been a successful assistant for arguably the greatest coach in the game. What more do you need? But like I said — I’m not here to make that argument. Arguing on Coach Hammon’s behalf would feel patronizing. To me, it would be strange if NBA teams were not interested in her as a head coach.

The argument that I see most often is thankfully the one that’s easiest to disprove: It’s this idea that, at the absolute highest level of basketball, a woman isn’t capable of coaching men. “Yeah, female coaches are fine coaching women’s college basketball, or the WNBA,” the argument goes. “But the NBA? The NBA is different.”

First, I’ve just gotta tell you: If you’re making that argument to anyone who’s actually played any high-level basketball, you’re going to seem really ignorant. But I also have a simple response to it — which is that I’ve been in the NBA for 17 years. I’ve won two championships … I’ve played with some of the best players of this generation … and I’ve played under two of the sharpest minds in the history of sports, in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. And I’m telling you: Becky Hammon can coach. I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by. I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. I’m saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period.

I’ll tell you a quick story to illustrate my point. This year, in a practice a few months back, I was drilling the pick-and-roll with Dejounte Murray. It was a standard drill, just the two of us alone at one basket: I would set the screen and either pop out for the jumper or roll to the lane. If I popped, Dejounte would hit me with a chest pass. If I rolled, a bounce pass. Like I said, a very standard drill — we’ll do this a million times.

But what I remember about this particular drill is that, at some point during it, Coach Hammon stopped us mid-motion. Coaches Hammon, Borrego and Messina walk over, and Becky says to Dejounte, “D.J., O.K. — your bounce pass? It’s too low. You’ve got to hit Pau exactly where he needs it. Run that again.” We then talk some more as a group about how I need the ball a little more precise, with a little more zip, so I could have a better chance to finish the action at the rim. And then we repeat the drill a few times, alternating from the left and right sides of court. Of course, Dejounte being Dejounte, he figures it out fast — and pretty soon we’re flying through. But something about that moment has just always stuck with me. Just, like … the level of knowledge of the game that Becky showed, you know what I mean?

She noticed a small detail out of the corner of her eye — and then instantly located both the problem and the solution. And not only that, but we were also able to communicate with each other in such a way that we got the result that we needed. It’s a good reminder, I’d say, of the importance of communication between team members — especially at the NBA level. I don’t think I caught another stray pass the rest of the season.

Another argument that I’ve seen tossed around — maybe even sillier than the previous one — is that Becky rose to her current position because having her on staff was “good p.r.” for the Spurs.

What?

Seriously: What?

No. We’re talking about the NBA here — a business where there’s a lot of money on the line, and little patience for mediocrity. Also we’re talking about the San Antonio Spurs, one of the most successful NBA franchises of this century: a system that has produced David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginóbili, Tony Parker — and that’s just the Hall of Famers. This is a team that won 50+ games for 18-straight seasons, and five championships in the last 20 years.

Would you really expect Coach Pop to develop his staff any differently than he develops his players? Of course not.

Pop’s only standard for doing anything is whether it’ll help us in just one way … and it isn’t getting good p.r.

It’s getting W’s. And getting those W’s The Spurs Way.

Teams in need of new management do best to emulate consistently successful organizations. The Packers did that by getting Ron Wolf from the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders and Mike Holmgren from the San Francisco 49ers. UW did that by getting Barry Alvarez, who coached for Hayden Fry at Iowa and Lou Holtz at Notre Dame, to coach football.

There is an additional reason the Bucks may hire Hammon. The Bucks’ owners have a new arena that opens next season. The owners, big Democratic Party donors, are reported to be bidding for the 2020 Democratic National Convention. Having the NBA’s first female head coach might be the tipping point in their favor with the party that invented identity politics.

Which is not to say that Hammon shouldn’t get the job. She appears to know the sport, and she is part of a highly successful organization. The issue that arguably applies to every candidate is their people skills, since the skill levels of the rotations of NBA teams are probably relatively equal talent-wise, at least for teams that don’t employ LeBron James or Steph Curry.

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Underdogs

I announced a basketball game in Oregon Thursday night. It was the first time I have covered basketball at Oregon (where we once purchased a station wagon, but that’s not important right now) in 31 years.

The two games I covered in consecutive seasons were classics, and show how things have changed in high school basketball. Game number one in 1986 featured Big Eight Conference boys basketball champion Madison La Follette, one season removed from state, and Badger Conference champion Oregon, featuring future UW football player Dan Kissling. La Follette had two losses, one more than Oregon.

That was, by the way, a Class A regional semifinal — the first game of the postseason featuring two conference champions, playing at the home of one of them and not a neutral site. One positive change, even if performed imperfectly at times (it turns out that conference coaches often vote for their fellow schools in seeding meetings), is seeding to prevent games like that so early in the postseason. Today that game (assuming both teams got that far and didn’t stumble on the way) would have been a sectional-semifinal game played at a neutral site, like last night’s game.

The 1986 game was a great game as expected, except that the wrong team won — Oregon by two points. It was such a great game that the Panthers had nothing left in the tank the next night and lost at home to Sun Prairie, which had had a losing regular season.

The next day, La Follette’s girls team lost its sectional final in Reedsburg to Portage. That ended the career of one of La Follette’s best girls players to that point, Anne Cooley, though their four junior starters would be back the next year from that conference champion team.

One year later, that girls team, having somewhat underperformed expectations (they ended the regular season 9–11), headed into the regional final at Oregon against Madison East. The irony was that, though East finished higher in the conference, thanks to their foreign-exchange player Anke Buchauer, La Follette had beaten them twice, in overtime, including one week earlier in their regular-season finale.

Of course, if two teams played to overtime twice already, they’re practically guaranteed to play free basketball the third time, right? And so off to overtime meeting number three went. La Follette got a steal with 56 seconds left in the three-minute overtime, ran the clock down, then had a shot blocked out of bounds (of course, by Buchauer) with two seconds left. That gave La Follette coach Terry Shermeister enough time to diagram three plays, including a wing jumper. That turned to be the play that was available, and so the pass went to guard Julie Gundlach, whose 15-foot right-wing jumper sailed through the nets as time expired. Despite Buchauer’s 31 points, La Follette won 47–45 to head to week number two of the postseason.

The Lancers’ next opponent was conference champion Madison Memorial, who had beaten La Follette twice in the regular season. But you know the cliché about beating a team three times in a season. And so La Follette ended Memorial’s season before state, sending the Lancers again to Reedsburg again to face Portage for a state berth.

That was a full day. I had to cover state boys gymnastics at Madison West in the morning, then drive up to Reedsburg on an 80-degree early March Saturday for the girls game, followed by heading back to La Follette for that night’s boys regional final.

In the first half of that game on a La Follette inbounds play, a Portage player slapped the ball as the Lancer was holding it before throwing it inbounds. One of the referees gave her a warning. Three quarters later, with the score tied, she did it again, and this time she was assessed a technical foul. La Follette’s best free throw shooter hit two free throws, La Follette got the ball back, she was fouled and hit two more free throws, giving La Follette a two-possession lead in the season before the three-point shot. Portage scored baskets and fouled, but La Follette hit all of its free throws. Final score 48–46, good for a most unexpected trip to state.

A year later I got to cover Monona Grove’s boys team in a sectional semifinal at UW–Platteville against undefeated Lancaster, trying for its first state trip since 1917. MG in those days was one of the smallest schools in the Badger Conference, but the theory was that maybe MG would take its lumps in the regular season but do better in the postseason facing schools its own size. In fact, MG’s sectional trip was its second in three seasons despite having not won its conference in any of those seasons.

Lancaster was undefeated, but the Flying Arrows weren’t exactly flying; their roster was full of the walking wounded, with one player wearing football thigh pads. Either for that reason or the fact that MG was indeed better than its record, Lancaster entered with no losses and exited with a loss, sending MG to extending its season one more game.

A year after that, having moved to Lancaster, I got to cover the Flying Arrows baseball team. (At the time they played in the vastly-preferable summer season, which feels like real baseball instead of the arctic Wisconsin spring.) Like the aforementioned La Follette girls, they ended their regular season 9–11. They also had to deal with Mother Nature, which messed up their pitching rotation by two days of rainouts that pushed the regional game to the day before the sectional. (In those days pitchers could pitch seven innings every third day. Thanks to the rainouts, the starting pitcher for Thursday’s game therefore could go only two innings the next day.)

Lancaster won the regional game 11–6, getting two innings from a collection of pitchers who would not have been on the mound were it not for the rainout. That moved Lancaster to Onalaska and the semifinal the following afternoon. After a moon-shot two-run home run in the top of the first inning, it appeared Lancaster’s postseason end was six innings away. except that the Hilltoppers didn’t score after that, and Lancaster manufactured three runs to take a 3–2 lead into the top of the sixth inning.

Lancaster’s pitcher, Jason Schildgen, created a mess by loading the bases with one out and going to three balls and one strike on the batter, with the tying run at third base. Said batter then swung and missed at what would have been ball four, and then committed the blunder of unsuccessfully bunting on a 3–2 count, resulting in strike three. Four groundouts later, the Arrows headed to the sectional final against conference champion Platteville, which had unexpectedly won the earlier semifinal by defeating Holmen 4–2 in eight innings. The two teams with the best records in the sectional watched, instead of played, the sectional final. (And yes, Lancaster and Platteville traveled two hours each to play each other.)

Platteville got a 4–0 lead against a freshman pitcher who due to the two days of rainouts was making his first varsity appearance in a game that would send the winner to state. Lancaster started the game-tying rally in the bottom of the fifth inning with a ground ball off the third baseman’s mouth. One inning later, the Arrows got a 5–4 lead, erased in the top of the seventh inning on back-to-back ground-rule doubles.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Arrows loaded the bases with one out. On a ground ball to second, instead of trying for a double play in the infield (perhaps because it was hit too slowly or because the winning run was at third), the second baseman threw home. Big cloud at the plate, the umpire yelled “SAFE!”, and my insurance agent’s game-winning run sent Lancaster to state, to the surprise of everyone except their coach. I’ll never forget the 30 seconds of wild cheering, followed by stunned silence from half the crowd — we’re going to state? That team? — and stunned disappointed silence from the other half.

Lancaster apparently figured that since they had to go all the way to Stevens Point for state, they might as well make the trip worthwhile. And so the Arrows beat Minocqua Lakeland 8–5 Wednesday night, bombed Kewaskum 20–8 the next afternoon (said insurance agent’s son hit a grand slam, his only home run in any level of baseball according to his father), but ran out of magic and lost to Sheboygan North 5–0 in the championship game. Ironically the Arrows needed to win their first state game to guarantee a winning season, and they took home a silver trophy.

It may be that in a competition David was the first underdog, Notice who won between David and Goliath. Gen. George Patton (as portrayed by George C. Scott) might have been right when he said that Americans love a winner, but Americans also love to root for the little guy in sports, whether it’s the 1960 or 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, a double-digit seed in the NCAA basketball tournament, or the fictional Hickory Huskers in the movie “Hoosiers.”

Underdogs are generally either teams that underperformed in the regular season and finally got it together when the games really count, or physically inferior teams that nevertheless figure out how to take out the favorite. Consider the 2000 UW men’s basketball team, which beat three higher seeds to get to a Final Four no one saw coming, or Villanova, which executed its offensive game plan to perfection to beat Georgetown in the NCAA title game. In the Badgers’ case it was defense, which explained why the halftime score of their Final Four semifinal was 19–17.

Americans probably love to root for the underdog because people think they’re underdogs compared to big bad employer/other team/more handsome and rich guy, etc. As a country we’re certainly not an underdog anymore, but if Las Vegas existed in the late 1800s Vegas would have predicted a low probability of the revolution against the British succeeding.

La Follette’s first state champion team finished the 1977 regular season 10–8. It had a future college football player, UW’s Ross Anderson, but otherwise no indication the Lancers would win four consecutive playoff games to go to state, then sweep state, setting a record for field goal shooting in the process.

Even better was the 1978 Elkhorn boys team, which went 5–12 in the regular season, and needed to win state to get a winning season … and did.

Technically speaking the 1982 La Follette boys basketball team wasn’t really an underdog, but the Lancers were against an undefeated number-one-ranked team in the state championship. How did that turn out? Read here.

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.

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.