When fictional football imitates real life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hot dog, or something

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned – more details to come soon.”

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

The next Bucks coach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ringer adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sporting News provides this list:

Sam Cassell

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

David Fizdale

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

Tony Bennett

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

Mark Jackson

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

Monty Williams

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

Jerry Stackhouse

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

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

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

Adrian Griffin

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

Jim Boylen

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

Rex Kalamian

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

Desmond Mason

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

View image on Twitter

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

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

Postgame schadenfreude, Skål Vikings edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rana L. Cash ponders …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

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

There was the Vikings’ defense, too.

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

It wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep, soul-crushing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We were very uncharacteristic tonight,” Rudolph said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, Facebook Friend Mike Maynard blames …

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

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

At the last second

Awful Announcing has an interesting topic:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We will see you… tomorrow night!”

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

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


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

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

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

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

… including one I got to announce:

Another silenced voice

Last month my favorite sports announcer, Dick Enberg, died.

Now this, from ESPN.com:

Few telecasters have become as identified with a single sport to a national audience as Jackson with college football. The reason might be that he began in an era when every game wasn’t televised, and we had only a few channels from which to choose. It might be that he served as the play-by-play man of the top games as college football soared to new heights in American popularity.

Or it might be it was as simple as Jackson was so good on the air.

His folksy, pull-up-a-chair voice told you a story, but he also thrived in the biggest moments. Take the 1994 Colorado 27-26 victory at Michigan, when Kordell Stewart threw a 64-yard Hail Mary that Buff receiver Blake Anderson tipped to teammate Michael Westbrook for the winning touchdown.

Three wideouts at the top of the picture. Stewart, with time. Let’s it go! He’s got three people down there! The ball’s up in the air, caught! Touchdown! Caught by Westbrook for a touchdown! Incredible!

And then, 25 seconds of silence. It was never about Jackson. It was about the moment.

There is no time remaining. (Seven more seconds of silence). There are no flags on the field. Only despair for the Maize and Blue, joy and exultation for the Buffaloes of Colorado.

That’s a graduate class in broadcast journalism.

By that time, Jackson had been calling college football games for more than 40 years. Jackson called NFL games, Major League Baseball, the NBA, the Olympics and you-name-it on ABC Wide World of Sports. But he was as integral to college football as the Big House and Ralphie.

I had dinner with Jackson and his beloved wife, Turi, on the eve of the first BCS championship game, Tennessee’s 23-17 defeat of Florida State in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl. As college football entered a new era of determining a champion, Jackson decided to bow out. He had turned 70 during the ’98 season, he had been calling sports events since his junior year at Washington State, and all he wanted to do was fish and play golf with his bride.

The point of the dinner was to interview Jackson and write a first-person farewell to the game for Sports Illustrated, then my employer. We had a delightful evening. It always struck me as odd that Jackson became identified with down-homeisms such as “big uglies” and “Whoa, Nellie!” I knew him as a courtly man with a reserve that was part Southern manners — he grew up in Georgia — and part shyness. That night, even though he did me the favor of granting the interview, he wouldn’t let me pay the check. He had tolerated being feted that season, but he never took the attention to heart.

“It was a little much to hear myself being called the king of college football, since I’m someone who, like Paul Bryant, grew up riding in a two-horse wagon,” Jackson said that night. The Bear’s personal friends called him Paul.

Jackson had a code. He did things the way he thought they should be done. He took heat after the 1978 Gator Bowl because he did not make any comment when Ohio State coach Woody Hayes slugged Clemson linebacker Charlie Baumann. Jackson didn’t see it, and even when the producer in the truck told him what happened, he wouldn’t tell America what he hadn’t seen with his own eyes.

Maybe that’s why America trusted him so much. As much as Jackson mythologized men such as Bryant just by doing his job, as much as Stewart’s play lives forever on the internet, Jackson never bought into the myth. He saw the sport’s imperfections, too. He called for the players “who produce all the money” to receive a stipend, nearly two decades before the NCAA approved it.

“In and of itself, college football has no redeeming qualities,” Jackson told me that night. “It’s what you’re doing when you’re 40 that matters. You don’t have to be a damn All-America. All you have to do is test yourself and try. The game gives you that choice. If you ever played football, you learned never to give up. Give up, you’re dead.”

Jackson didn’t give up after that dinner and that Fiesta Bowl. In fact, he un-retired shortly before the 1999 season and worked another seven years, almost exclusively on the West Coast, near his homes in Los Angeles and British Columbia.

When he retired for good, his timing remained as impeccable as when he called the Stewart-to-Westbrook Hail Mary. Jackson stepped out after what many consider the greatest game of the BCS/Playoff era, Texas’ 41-38 upset of USC in the Rose Bowl in 2006.

The sport continued on. It always does. He might not have relished being viewed as the king of college football, but the public felt what it felt with good reason. Of all the coaches and players I have met in covering the game over four decades, few gave me the inner glow I felt when Keith Jackson returned a greeting and used my name.

Jackson once said he covered every sport other than hockey, which wasn’t to be found in the Deep South where he grew up. He covered sports a lot of TV watchers had never seen for ABC-TV’s “Wide World of Sports,” including lumberjacking in Hayward.

Wisconsin sports fans would remember him probably for seven things, including, if you’re old enough, NBA coverage when the Bucks were one of the NBA’s best teams …

… a huge UW football win in the win-challenged 1970s …

… Eric Heiden’s five gold medals in the 1980 Winter Olympics …

… the 1982 American League Championship Series …

… and three Rose Bowl wins:

Trouble in Patriot paradise?

Seth Wickersham:

THE PROBLEM WITH living your life under the spotlight is that the camera captures only the public eruption, not the months of silent anger. On Dec. 3, when the New England Patriots played the Buffalo Bills, Tom Brady walked to the sideline after throwing late and behind receiver Brandin Cooks on third down, ending a first-quarter drive. Brady was angrier and more irritable than usual, as has often been the case this season in the eyes of some Patriots players and staff. As he unsnapped his chinstrap, Brady passed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on the sideline.

“He was wide open,” McDaniels said to Brady, referring to Cooks.

Brady kept walking, and glaring at McDaniels, so the coach repeated: “We had him open.”

Brady snapped, pivoting to McDaniels and yelling at him, “I got it!” Everyone within earshot, including head coach Bill Belichick, turned to watch as Brady screamed. He removed his helmet, and as a Patriots staffer held him back — and with McDaniels’ father and legendary high school coach in Ohio, Thom, in the stands behind the bench — capped off the exchange by yelling, “F— you!”

Video of the scene went viral, with many rationalizing it as a symptom of Brady’s legendary competitiveness. Brady would later apologize to McDaniels, who dismissed the incident to reporters as “part of what makes him great.” After all, many in the Patriots’ building knew that Brady’s explosion wasn’t really about McDaniels. It wasn’t about Cooks. And it wasn’t about the Bills game. It was about the culmination of months of significant behind-the-scenes frustrations. For almost two decades, Belichick has managed to subvert the egos of his best player, his boss and himself for the good of the team, yielding historic results. This year, though, the dynamics have been different.

THE PATRIOTS ARE in uncharted territory. They haven’t just won games and titles. They’ve won at an unprecedented rate and over an unprecedented span, which makes the feelings of entitlement creeping inside Gillette Stadium unprecedented as well. The Patriots, in the only statement anyone associated with the team would make on the record for this story, responded to specific questions by saying that there are “several inaccuracies and multiple examples given that absolutely did not occur,” though they declined to go into detail. But according to interviews with more than a dozen New England staffers, executives, players and league sources with knowledge of the team’s inner workings, the three most powerful people in the franchise — Belichick, Brady and owner Robert Kraft — have had serious disagreements. They differ on Brady’s trainer, body coach and business partner Alex Guerrero; over the team’s long-term plans at quarterback; over Belichick’s bracing coaching style; and most of all, over who will be the last man standing. Those interviewed describe a palpable sense in the building that this might be the last year together for this group.

Brady, Belichick and Kraft have raised expectations and possibilities so high that virtually no other team in the Super Bowl era could truly comprehend what it’s like to be them. Brady and Belichick weren’t only pushing the boundaries of what a team could accomplish. They also were challenging basic understandings of how a group of high achievers escape the usual pulls of ego and pride. For 17 years, the Patriots have withstood everything the NFL and opponents could throw their way, knowing that if they were united, nobody could touch them. Now they’re threatening to come undone the only way possible: from within.

THE CRACKS FIRST revealed themselves in early September. The season had just started, and Guerrero was once again becoming an issue in the Patriots’ building, just weeks before the release of Brady’s first real book, “The TB12 Method.” It was more than a fitness and diet guide. For Brady, a self-described “loner” who always seemed most comfortable surrounded by family or on a football field, the book represented a move to extend his brand beyond the game — and beyond the Patriots. Until a few years ago, he seemed uninterested in ever doing so, content to be a father and husband and son and brother and transcendent quarterback, knowing there wasn’t time for much else.

Guerrero persuaded Brady to find time. The two men had worked together for years, with Guerrero having found a spot in Brady’s famously small group of advisers, eventually becoming a godfather to one of his sons. Guerrero has a history of controversial methods — in 2005, he paid a judgment to the Federal Trade Commission to settle allegations that he had claimed dietary supplements could help cure cancer — and he believed he had discovered a way to revolutionize how athletes train. In his book and in the building, Brady was offering opinions not only on training but also on lifestyle, writing that he envisioned a world populated with TB12 Sports Therapy Center franchises.

Few in the building had a problem with Brady’s method — mostly based on stretching with bands, eating lots of vegetables, drinking lots of water, getting lots of sleep and, most of all, achieving peak “pliability.” They did have a problem with what Brady and Guerrero promised the TB12 Method could do. They claimed it could absolve football of responsibility for injury: “When athletes get injured, they shouldn’t blame their sport,” Brady wrote. The method also was so consuming and unwavering in its rules and convictions that, while it helped some players, it felt “like a cult” to others, one Patriots staffer says. The way TB12 began to creep into Brady’s life worried people close to the QB, many of whom were suspicious of Guerrero. “Tom changed,” says a friend of Brady’s. “That’s where a lot of these problems started.”

Brady and Guerrero’s training beliefs introduced an unspoken pressure in the building, with players wondering where they should work out. In August, receiver Julian Edelman blew out his knee, costing him the season, and there was “hypersensitivity” among players, in the words of a Patriots coach, over who would take his place. New players felt the surest way to earn Brady’s trust was to join Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and others by seeking advice from Guerrero at his TB12 clinic — and not team doctors, which Belichick preferred. Guerrero says he wasn’t pressuring players to adopt his approach. “Players have always decided to come or not come on their own,” he says now. But according to multiple sources, players openly discussed with Patriots coaches, staff and trusted advisers whether to follow Brady or the team, leaving them trapped: Do we risk alienating the NFL’s most powerful coach or risk alienating the NFL’s most powerful quarterback?

EARLY THIS SEASON, Belichick wanted to discuss all these issues with Brady.

Guerrero had been around the team for years, mostly as an unthreatening outsider who worked with former linebacker Willie McGinest and, starting in 2004, Brady. On the author page in his 2004 book, “In Balance for Life,” Guerrero says he received a degree in traditional Chinese medicine from the now-closed Samra University of Oriental Medicine in Los Angeles, and later opened a sports injury, rehabilitation and performance-enhancement center, also in Los Angeles. In 2013, Belichick had welcomed Guerrero into the New England fold, giving him free rein in the building and, sources with direct knowledge of the situation say, access to meetings in which medical records for Patriots players were discussed (Guerrero denies ever having seen any records). The coach figured that, because Guerrero had Brady’s best interests in mind, he probably had the Patriots’ best interests in mind too, and could be trusted. But Guerrero often would blame Patriots trainers for injuries, while offering few insightful opinions of his own, and Belichick quickly realized inviting him had been a mistake. And so in 2014, he eliminated Guerrero’s access to those meetings while keeping him on as a team consultant. That was the same year Brady and Guerrero decided to market their business as revolutionary; the same year that Brady began to speak unwaveringly about playing into his mid-40s; and the same year that Belichick drafted Jimmy Garoppolo out of Eastern Illinois — the first sign that Belichick was invested in a future that did not include the quarterback who had changed his life and legacy.

It was also the same year that the Patriots would go on a run toward their fourth Super Bowl win, altering the team dynamic in fundamental ways that would come to a head this fall. During their 10-year championship drought, Brady and Belichick had come up just short together and could only dive back into the redemptive power of work, trying to slim the margins between defeat and victory. In beating the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, the two men drew strength from different touchstones. Belichick found virtue in his idea of the Patriot Way — the demanding, football-first culture with an emotionless pursuit of victory — and Brady found virtue in his Method, which he believed helped him thwart the inevitability of time, reinforcing his belief that he was still not on the downside of his career and deserving of a new contract. In 2016, Kraft and Brady’s agent, Don Yee, began negotiating a new deal; Belichick and other Patriots staff had to abruptly leave the NFL combine in Indianapolis to be part of the process. Brady’s two-year contract, with a $28 million signing bonus, was designed to set up 2018 as a key year, when the team could, in theory, look at a 41-year-old Brady and his $22 million cap hit and decide if it made sense to transition to Garoppolo.

A year later, after another Super Bowl win — the Brady-led, historic comeback from 28-3 to defeat the Atlanta Falcons — Brady’s stature in the organization had grown to the point that he was considered management. New players often address him as “sir.” As Brady gained power, so did Guerrero, who became an even more divisive force in the building. One player visited TB12 under what he perceived as pressure, and declined to allow Guerrero to massage his injured legs. Instead he asked to keep treatment limited to only his arm, out of fear that one of Guerrero’s famous deep-force muscle treatments would set back his recovery. The Boston Sports Journal would report on another player who was told by Patriots trainers to do squats but later instructed by Guerrero to not do them. Brady would tell teammates, “Bill’s answer to everything is to lift more weights” — a claim that many staffers and players felt was unfair, given the team’s dedication to soft-tissue science and a healthy diet.

And so after several such incidents, Belichick explained to Brady in early September that many younger players felt pressured to train at TB12 rather than with the team, and asked the quarterback what was going on. Brady said he didn’t know anything about any such pressure, according to people briefed on the exchange, and the two men left the meeting without any resolution.

Belichick felt the need to permanently clarify Guerrero’s role, drawing sharp boundaries. After the brief discussion with Brady, Belichick emailed Guerrero to let him know that while he was welcome to work with any players who sought out TB12, he was no longer permitted access to the sideline or all of the team headquarters because he wasn’t an employee of the Patriots (a point that Belichick would resoundingly make clear when reporters asked about Guerrero).

An email designed to solve problems only created more of them. Guerrero texted some of the Patriots players who were clients and specified, he says now, “that I would need to treat them at the TB12 Sports Therapy Center.” But several players told staffers and coaches that Guerrero gave them the impression that Belichick would no longer allow them to work with him. In the view of many Patriots, it was an example of Guerrero trying to split the organization by turning players against Belichick. All of this happened as Brady, serving as TB12’s test case, continued to reiterate publicly and privately his goal of playing into his mid-40s. In October, he again explained to Kraft and Belichick his plans to play a few more years. The question was whether Brady had earned long-term security from the Patriots, or if he would finish his career somewhere else.

BELICHICK HAS FAMOUSLY staked his entire career on the idea that long-term security doesn’t exist in the NFL. Fear, paranoia, the irrelevance of yesterday and tomorrow, and acceptance of Belichick as the ultimate authority are as much a part of the Patriot Way as selflessness and sacrifice. For years, Brady stood as the perfect model for Belichick’s system, a future Hall of Famer who could withstand tough and biting coaching. Brady always knew the hits were coming during Monday morning film sessions — “The quarterback at Foxborough High could make that throw,” Belichick often would say after replaying a Brady misfire — but he could take it, secure not only in the knowledge of his singular impact on Belichick’s career but also in the theater of it all, that the coach was doing it in part to send a message that nobody was above criticism. “Tommy is fine with it,” his father, Tom Brady Sr., said years ago over dinner in San Mateo, California. “He’s the perfect foil for it.”

Brady is less fine with it this year. People close to him believe that it started after last year’s playoff win over the Houston Texans, in which Brady completed only 18 of 38 passes and threw two interceptions. Belichick lit into him in front of the entire team in a way nobody had ever seen, ripping Brady for carelessness with the ball. “This will get us beat,” he told the team after replaying a Brady interception. “We were lucky to get away with a win.”

The criticism has continued this year, as Brady has been hit a lot and battled various injuries. Atypically, he has missed a lot of practices and, in the team’s private evaluations, is showing the slippage of a 40-year-old quarterback even as he is contending for MVP and is as deadly as ever with the game on the line. Injuries to his shoulder and Achilles have done more than undermine claims that the TB12 Method can help you play football virtually pain-free. Subtle changes have at times hampered the offense and affected the depth chart. On a fourth-quarter play against the Los Angeles Chargers, for instance, Brady had a clean pocket and a first read open deep, possibly for a touchdown. But Brady got rid of the ball quickly over the middle to receiver Chris Hogan, who had nowhere to run and was hit hard, injuring his shoulder. He missed all but one game of the rest of the season. “Tom was trying to get it out quick,” a Patriots staffer says. “As fragility has increased, nervousness has also increased.”

At the same time, as his age has increased, Brady has become an advocate of positive thinking. Belichick’s negativity and cynicism have gotten old, Brady has told other Patriots players and staff. He feels he has accomplished enough that he shouldn’t have to endure so much grief. Patriots staffers have noticed that, this year more than ever, he seems to volley between unwavering confidence and driving insecurity. Brady has noted to staff a few times this year that, no matter how many game-changing throws he makes, Belichick hasn’t awarded him Patriot of the Week all year.

Those who know Belichick and Brady well are amazed that they’ve co-existed this long, two ruthless and proud self-made men, both secure though still unfinished in their legacies, both loved and hated, both having received stiff penalties for cheating, both motivated by ego, humility and — as much as anything — doubt. Belichick is famously secretive, creating an entire system in which knowledge flows directly to him and only he decides how to deploy and exploit it. And Brady is famously unhelpful toward his backups — or, at least, a threat like Garoppolo. The two quarterbacks were friendly, but Brady — like Joe Montana to Steve Young and Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers — didn’t see it as his role to advise Garoppolo, even on matters as trivial as footwork, as nobody had helped him during his climb. Garoppolo played well in 2016, starting in place of the suspended Brady, and Belichick began to see Garoppolo as the final piece of his legacy, to walk away in a few years with the Patriots secure at quarterback. But after Garoppolo was knocked out of his second start because of a shoulder injury, he set up a visit at TB12. As he later told Patriots staffers, when he arrived, the door was locked. He knocked; nobody was there. He called TB12 trainers but nobody answered. He couldn’t believe it, Garoppolo told the staffers, and that night ended up visiting team trainers instead. Guerrero vehemently denies ever refusing to see any player, and Garoppolo was eventually treated at TB12 — but it was two weeks after he showed up for his original appointment, and only after a high-ranking Patriots staffer called TB12 to inquire why Garoppolo hadn’t been admitted.

Several times this past October, Brady met with Kraft to discuss playing longer. That same month, he also met with Belichick, who was skeptical of a long-term contract extension but was content to start Brady as long as he was the best quarterback. Belichick understood how much Brady had meant to the franchise, and had always insisted privately that he wouldn’t move on from Brady unless he could convince the coaching staff of it. But the reality was that no quarterback has ever played at a championship level into his 40s. The meeting ended in a “little blowup,” according to a source. Complicating matters was that Garoppolo would be a free agent at the end of this season. Complicating matters more was that Brady and Garoppolo share Yee as an agent.

And complicating matters even more was that Belichick didn’t want to trade Garoppolo. He had passed on dealing him last spring, when Garoppolo was in high demand. In early September, Belichick did trade third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Colts for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. “If we trade Jimmy, we’re the Cleveland Browns, with no succession plan,” one person inside the organization said earlier in the year. The Patriots repeatedly offered Garoppolo four-year contract extensions, in the $17 million to $18 million range annually that would go higher if and when he succeeded Brady. Garoppolo and Yee rejected the offers out of hand, for reasons that remain unclear, and the Patriots knew they couldn’t make any promises to Garoppolo about the timing of a transition at quarterback without it getting back to Brady.

Two weeks before the Nov. 1 trading deadline, Belichick met with Kraft to discuss the quarterback situation. According to staffers, the meeting ran long, lasting half the day and pushing back Belichick’s other meetings. The office was buzzing. The meeting ended with a clear mandate to Belichick: trade Garoppolo because he would not be in the team’s long-term plans, and then, once again, find the best quarterback in the draft and develop him. Belichick was furious and demoralized, according to friends. But in the end, he did what he asks of his players and coaches: He did his job. One morning in late October, Belichick texted San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and asked him to call. Belichick had long admired Kyle’s father, Mike, who not only had been one of the NFL’s smartest tacticians but had also personally defended Belichick to commissioner Roger Goodell during the Spygate scandal. At the combine this past February, Kyle, weeks into the 49ers job after being the offensive coordinator for the Falcons, met with Belichick for hours to learn from his team’s humiliating Super Bowl loss. Belichick believed that Garoppolo would excel under Shanahan, and when he and Shanahan connected on the phone, Belichick offered the quarterback for a second-rounder.

It was a steal, leaving Patriots staffers stunned and confused. Why would the game’s shrewdest long-term strategist trade two backup quarterbacks in a two-month span when his starter was 40 years old and banged up? And why did Belichick practically give away a quarterback whom the coaches saw as a potential top-10 player for much less than he could have gotten last spring? It made no sense. Belichick handled the trade as he always does, by not explaining it to the coaches and by burying them so deep in work that they didn’t have time to gossip. Most in the organization understood that it was an extreme case, with extreme personalities, but they felt that Belichick had earned the right to make football decisions. Belichick, having always subscribed to the philosophy that it’s time to go once an owner gets involved in football decisions, left the impression with some friends that the current dynamic was unsustainable.

Brady, though, seemed liberated. Kraft hugged Brady when he saw him that week, in full view of teammates. A few days later during practice, some players and staffers noticed that Brady seemed especially excited, hollering and cajoling. Brady was once again the team’s present and future. His new backup, Brian Hoyer, was a longtime friend and not a threat. The owner was in Brady’s corner. “He won,” a Patriots staffer says.

NOBODY IS BUDGING now. Kraft, Brady and Belichick were supposed to meet in late December to clear the air, but that never happened. It probably won’t until after the season. Those interviewed describe a lingering sadness around the team, as if coaches and staff know that the end might be near. Both McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are expected to become head coaches; other assistant coaches might leave to join their staffs or for college jobs, or even retire. The imminent exodus raises the question going forward: Is it possible that Belichick would rather walk away than try to rebuild the staff with a 41-year-old Brady and another year of Guerrero drama — all while trying to develop a new quarterback? Belichick being Belichick, those around him know nothing of his plans. He has always been a football genius, artfully letting situations play out. The looming uncertainty has taken a toll on everyone, even as the Patriots finished 13-3 and earned the top seed in the AFC playoffs. “Bill’s done a phenomenal job of holding the building together,” one Patriots official says.

Now 76 years old, Kraft ultimately will attempt to broker a solution. He has paid both Brady and Belichick tens of millions of dollars, won and lost some of the greatest games in NFL history with them, and has stood by both at their lowest moments. He apologized in front of a room of owners for Spygate. And he stood by Brady during Deflategate, even after he backed down and accepted the NFL’s penalty. Kraft did so even though many staffers in the building believed there was merit in the allegation, however absurd the case. The team quietly parted ways with both John Jastremski and Jim McNally, the equipment staffers accused of deflating footballs — they’ve never spoken publicly — and Belichick reorganized the equipment staff. Kraft has privately told associates he knew that he went too far in his attacks against the league. “I had to do it for the fans,” he has told confidants.

A fifth Super Bowl triumph healed some of those wounds, but there’s no guarantee that a sixth will fix the rest. Something has to change, that much everyone knows. Many Patriots players and staff believe that Brady is a good man who has a hard time saying no to Guerrero. They’ve noticed that he seems to be searching this year, as if reaching the pinnacle of his profession is as fleeting as it is rewarding, manifesting itself in outbursts like the one at McDaniels. Belichick seems to be grinding harder than ever, as if more than a sixth championship is at stake. Before the Patriots played the Steelers in December, he told players, “I brought you here for games like this.”

But Belichick also has taken a longer view, as though he sees pieces of his impact leaguewide. He’s preparing assistant coaches for job interviews elsewhere, which he didn’t always do in years past. He has taken pride in Garoppolo’s 5-0 record in San Francisco — and in the fact that Kraft has confessed to people in the building that trading Garoppolo might have been a mistake. He reset a toxic relationship with the Colts with the Brissett trade. He has even become good friends with Goodell. The two men had a long and private meeting during the off week after the regular season, when the commissioner visited Foxborough.

Belichick always had a vision for how, after more than four decades in the NFL, he wanted to walk away, beyond setting up the team at quarterback. He wanted his sons, Brian and Steve, both Patriots assistants, to be established in their football careers. And he wanted the winning to continue without him, to have a legacy of always having the best interests of the franchise in mind. Both Brady and Belichick have redefined how much influence a coach and quarterback can have on a team game. But this year has shown that the legacy of football’s greatest coach, like the game itself, is beyond his control.

The claim is that the letters NFL stand for “Not for Long,” although remember that Brady became the Patriots’ starting quarterback, and the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, in 2001.

How did the Patriots respond to this? Kings of Boston Sports reports:

Facebook Friend Kevin Binversie adds:

This whole thing reads like a New England Patriot version of the Favre to Rodgers transition the Packers had. Only in Green Bay, you didn’t have an owner (or in the Packers’ case a Team President) who was so invested in his future HOF QB to forego investing in the long-term plans of the franchise.

That, and Brett Favre didn’t have a cult leader / guru feeding his body avocado smoothies and giving him massages.

Seriously, when both Brady and/or Belichick are gone, it’s hard not to predict the Patriots return to mediocrity.

In opposition to ugliness

UniWatch’s Paul Lukas has a bold question:

You hear it all the time when people are talking about college football: Schools need to keep introducing flashy uniforms to appeal to top recruits. Some schools, such as Oregon and Maryland, have used their uniform programs as a key recruiting tool, and it’s increasingly taken as a given that you can’t compete without having an equipment room stacked from floor to ceiling with alternate jerseys and helmets.

All of which would no doubt be news to Alabama and Georgia, who’ll be facing off on Jan. 8 for the College Football Playoff National Championship. The Crimson Tide has one of the most conservative visual programs in the nation, and the Bulldogs aren’t far behind. The two schools that lost in the semifinal round, Oklahoma and Clemson, also have fairly traditional uniforms. And judging from the results on the field, these schools haven’t had too much trouble attracting top-level recruits.

But is that just a one-year aberration? The CFP era is now four seasons old, so let’s take a look at the 16 teams that have qualified and rate them on a traditional-to-flashy scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing Penn State and 10 representing Oregon. Several schools have qualified multiple times for the CFP, so we’ll weight the results accordingly and come up with a basic flashiness threshold for CFP success.

Here are the schools, listed in alphabetical order. Keep in mind that the ratings are not assessments of how good the uniforms are. We’re just trying to locate these uniform programs on the spectrum of conventional to outrageous.

Alabama (four CFP appearances): Whether you consider the Crimson Tide’s uniforms to be classic or just boring, there’s no question that they’re the most traditional-looking program this side of Penn State. On a scale of 1 to 10, let’s rate them a 2.

Clemson (three appearances): The Tigers have a very straightforward look — block numbers, traditional striping, one helmet design — but they occasionally spice things up by going mono-orange and even mono-purpleRating: 3

Florida State: The Seminoles have a bit of natural flash thanks to the trim on their collars and sleeves and their custom number font. But their uniform program still features only one helmet design and two basic jersey-pants combinations — garnet over gold and white over gold (although they did go mono-garnet for the Independence Bowl last month). Rating: 4

Georgia: How traditional are the Bulldogs? They still refer to their pants as “britches” (and by any name, they’re gray, even when paired with the team’s white road jersey). True, they’ve occasionally worn black alternate jerseys, but not this season. Rating: 3

Michigan State: Less than a decade ago, the Spartans seemed firmly entrenched as a traditionalist team. But in recent years they’ve added several newfangled looks and alternate helmet options, along with modern pant striping, a custom number font and the occasional monochromatic look. Nobody would mistake them for Oregon, but they’re not your father’s Spartans either. Rating: 6

Oklahoma (two appearances): It seems safe to say the Sooners will not be wearing a blackout uniform anytime soon, although they’ve dabbled with the occasional modern alternate uni. Still a traditionalist team but not as steadfast about it as, say, Alabama. Rating: 3.5

Ohio State (two appearances): Much like Oklahoma, the Buckeyes are a traditionalist team that has shown a willingness to change things up, if only once per season. Their latest alternate design was apparently a big hit with recruits, for what that’s worth. Rating: 3

Oregon: Oregon is, well, Oregon. The quintessential flashy-uniform program. Rating: 10

Washington: Much like Michigan State, this is a school that was once firmly in the traditionalist camp but has tried to update its image in recent years. In the Huskies’ case, that has meant going with blackout and purple-out looks, and even their standard home jersey now features lots of black trim and that weird number fontRating: 6

Crunch all of these numbers and weight them for the schools that have had multiple appearances and you get an average of 3.7. In other words, the average CFP team over the past four seasons has not needed flashy uniforms — at least not more than about once per year — to attract top-level recruits. Meanwhile, Oregon has gone 11-14 in the past two seasons, and Maryland has gone 33-46 since introducing its flag-based uniform program in 2011. Just sayin’.

How does this jibe with the notion that top recruits respond to outrageous uniforms? The answer might be that it’s one thing to respond to a shiny object, but it’s another thing to base your decision-making on it. Or to put it another way, it’s not surprising that 17-year-olds would get excited by a futuristic-looking uniform, but are they really going to choose a school on that basis alone?

Back in 2013, ESPN.com’s Jeremy Crabtree wrote a piece that appeared to provide answer to that question. The headline — “Trendy uniforms a differentiator” — seemed to affirm the party line that recruits demand innovative uni designs, and the piece included quotes from several coaches and athletic directors who agreed with that position. Deeper down in the story, however, was this:

“But as any good advertiser will tell you, it doesn’t matter how shiny the package is if you can’t get somebody to buy the product. ESPN.com surveyed more than 700 high school recruits from the classes of 2014 and 2015 — including 90 who self-identified as a member of the ESPN 300 for the Classes of 2014 or 2015 — and asked them where uniforms ranked in their college decision. Uniforms were the top factor for only 3 percent of players, and uniforms ranked eighth on the list of criteria behind academics, coaching, playing time, school tradition, location, experience sending players to the NFL and television exposure.”

In other words, your average recruit might get more excited about Oregon’s uniforms than he does about Alabama’s, but on balance, he’d probably still rather play for Alabama.

Despite this, people continue to parrot the line about space-age uniforms being a recruiting necessity. How many more years’ worth of traditional-looking CFP teams will it take for everyone to come to their senses and realize that this conventional wisdom simply isn’t accurate?

Wisconsin hasn’t played in the CFP (yet), but they have played in the Big Ten championship game more than any other Big Ten team. Their new Under Armour uniform design took the radical steps of moving the sleeve numbers to the shoulders (also known as “TV numbers”), modifying the stripes to point forward for the state’s motto, and changing the number and name fonts to UW’s athletic font (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), along with the half-step of white facemasks for road games. That’s it. They don’t even wear the red pants that have made occasional appearances since the early 1990s (and they need to wear them to avoid the road Michelin Man look), and they dumped the red helmets brought in by former coach Gary Andersen.

Of course, UW arguably doesn’t count in this discussion because the Badgers don’t usually bring in the nation’s top players; they just develop the nation’s top players.

Unfortunately the related trend of illegible uniforms has trickled down to the high school ranks. One area girls basketball team has dark gray numbers (in a condensed font) on dark red uniforms with a thin white outline, the opposite of another girls team nearby (which has a thin gold outline). A local high school boys basketball team has black numbers on a royal blue jersey with a thin gold outline. A football team whose game I announced earlier this year had dark gray numbers on a dark red jersey, which was almost impossible to read from a college press box. (Fortunately the team had 10 two-way starters.)

The reason for this uniform chicanery is to prevent video scouting, so that future opponents have a more difficult time figuring out who is whom. (As if that can’t be determined by such things as headbands or wristbands, shoe color, or just plain height or weight.) National and state athletic associations need to mandate legible uniforms immediately.


Oh my

I announced a high school basketball game last night. This morning, drinking my first cup of coffee, I read this sad news from the San Diego Union–Tribune:

Legendary sports broadcaster and former Padres play-by-play announcer Dick Enberg died Thursday morning at his La Jolla home, said his wife, Barbara. He was 82.

Barbara Enberg said the family found out later in the day after Dick Enberg failed to get off a flight in Boston, where they were scheduled to meet. She said her husband appeared to be waiting for a car that was set to shuttle him to San Diego International Airport for a 6:30 a.m. flight.

“He was dressed with his bags packed at the door,” she said. “We think it was a heart attack.”

Enberg defined versatility as a broadcaster, covering 28 Wimbledon tournaments, 10 Super Bowls and eight NCAA basketball title games as the play-by-play voice of the UCLA Bruins during their dynasty-building run.

Enberg’s talented voice was paired with relentless preparation and a zest for telling the stories behind a generation’s biggest games. He cared as much about calling a water polo match as a rising star in Los Angeles as the Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, Olympics and Breeders’ Cup spotlights that followed.

His last full-time role came as the TV voice of the Padres. He retired after the 2016 season.

“We are immensely saddened by the sudden and unexpected passing of legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg,” the Padres said in a statement released late Thursday night. “Dick was an institution in the industry for 60 years and we were lucky enough to have his iconic voice behind the microphone for Padres games for nearly a decade. On behalf of our entire organization, we send our deepest condolences to his wife, Barbara, and the entire Enberg family.”

The farm kid raised in rural Armada, Mich., also gained a fierce appreciation for the small guy, the underdog and especially education — sparking the Central Michigan graduate to fund an annual scholarship.

“I’m heartbroken,” former Padres broadcast booth partner Mark Grant said Thursday night. “It’s so sad. I thought Dick was the type of guy who was going to live until he was 100, going on the circuit, talking to everybody about baseball and football and tennis.”

Enberg — known for his signature call of “Oh, my!” — channeled his passion for sports and the people behind them into a new podcast called “Sound of Success,” interviewing stars such as Billie Jean King, Bill Walton, Johnny Bench and Steve Kerr.

He told the Union-Tribune earlier this week that he hoped to lure NBA legend Magic Johnson, controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz and actor Jack Nicholson to his online world.

“At the very top of the list,” he said, “is Serena Williams.”

Enberg’s six-decade career felt unparalleled.

Former NFL partner Dan Dierdorf told the Union-Tribune for a 2016 story: “The man is a walking monument to sports television.”

In the same story, tennis great John McEnroe put Enberg’s mammoth, unmatched resume in perspective.

“If people ask me the top tennis players, when I throw out (Rod) Laver, (Pete) Sampras, Rafa (Nadal), Roger (Federer), I would put him in the same category,” McEnroe said. “He’s a Mount Rushmore guy.”

Service information is pending. Padres Chairman Ron Fowler, who has known Enberg for more than 25 years, said Thursday night that the team has offered the family use of Petco Park for a celebration of life.

The Los Angeles Times adds:

Long recognized as one of the most versatile and enthusiastic sports announcer of his era, Enberg did it all: major league baseball, college and pro football, college basketball, boxing, tennis, golf, Olympics, Rose Bowls and Super Bowls, Breeders’ Cup horse racing — earning a trophy case full of Emmys, awards from the pro football, basketball and baseball halls of fame, niches in several broadcasting halls of fame and other assorted honors.

He also was an author, a longtime fixture at Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses parade, the host of several sports-themed TV game shows and was still calling San Diego Padres baseball games into his 80s.

“Sportscasting is a kid’s dream come true, which is one of the reasons that I keep doing it,” he said in his autobiography, “Dick Enberg, Oh My!” the “Oh my!” having been his signature call. “I can’t let my dream go. I’m still in love with what I do.”

And how well did he do it? “He could orchestrate a telecast better than anyone I’ve ever worked with,” Billy Packer, former college basketball analyst and longtime Enberg broadcast partner, once told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I think anybody who worked with him would just stand in amazement at how great he was at anything he undertook.”

As a former teacher, Enberg was noted for his preparation and his knowledgeable yet eager approach to his craft.

“As a broadcaster, you have to be entertaining, you have to be well informed, you have to be excited about what you know and you have to have a sense of your audience — just like in a classroom,” he wrote in his book. “In fact, when I look into the camera, I’m looking into my classroom. When I’m calling a game, I can envision hands shooting up all over the country with questions. ‘Whoops,’ I’ll think, ‘perhaps we need to explain that concept or strategy a little better.’ ”

Even research and preparation weren’t always foolproof, though. Fans could be picky, and when Enberg began using one of his pet calls, “Touch ’em all!” for opposing teams’ home run hitters, Padres faithful rose up in protest and he quickly reserved that call for Padres’ home run hitters.

“Oh my!” was an Enberg family saying, his mother using it to express dismay, such as during the many hours young Dick spent broadcasting imaginary games. He used it to express wonder at athletic grace, but it could just as well have applied to his life.

Richard Alan Enberg was born Jan. 9, 1935, in Mount Clemens, Mich. The family moved to Southern California for several years, then back to Michigan, to a farm near the village of Armada. “We had a one-room schoolhouse and a two-hole toilet,” Enberg recalled for The Times years ago.

He quarterbacked his high school football team, then after graduation, enrolled at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, where he played college baseball. And, fortunately, took a course in debate. One of his debate classmates was the public-address announcer for the Chippewas’ football and basketball teams, and when he graduated the job was passed down to Enberg. He also applied for a job sweeping floors, at $1 an hour, at the local radio station. A station employee liked Enberg’s voice, and instead of a broom he was handed a microphone and went to work as a weekend disc jockey, still at $1 an hour. When the station’s sports director left, Enberg moved into that slot, producing a 15-minute nightly wrap-up.

All of that was fun, but Enberg had more serious things on his mind. After graduation, he enrolled in graduate health science studies at Indiana University, eventually earning both master’s and doctoral degrees. Just as he was arriving in Bloomington, though, a Hoosier radio network was being put together and Enberg was hired, at $35 a game, to broadcast football and basketball.

Four years later, doctorate in hand, he applied for a teaching job at Indiana University. He didn’t get it, but a flier on the health sciences bulletin board, offering a teaching position at San Fernando Valley State College — now Cal State Northridge — caught his eye. Recalling his early boyhood days in Canoga Park, he applied for and got the job, teaching health science and assisting the baseball coach.

The pay was small, and the now-married Enberg went looking for extra income in the other area he knew, broadcasting. He tried more than a dozen stations in the spring of 1962, getting no call-backs. Changing tactics, he began identifying himself as Dr. Enberg, finally got put through to program directors and was able to pick up part-time work.

He got his big break in 1965. KTLA, Channel 5, was looking for a sportscaster and Enberg was hired, at $18,000 a year. “I felt guilty because that was triple what I made as a teacher,” he recalled for The Times in 1987. “Then I found out I was being paid 10% under the union minimum.”

In quick succession, Enberg was calling the weekly televised boxing cards at Olympic Auditorium, became the radio announcer for the Los Angeles Rams, and began working UCLA telecasts during the Bruins’ John Wooden-Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) glory years.

Then it was on to a decade-long association with the Angels, until NBC called. There, he, McGuire and Packer formed an unforgettable NCAA tournament trio, Enberg serving as buffer between the “What will he say next?” McGuire and the almost dour, statistics-driven Packer. So taken was Enberg with the irrepressible McGuire — “My most unforgettable character, and there’s nobody in second place!” — that he later wrote a one-act play about him, “Coach: The Untold Story of College Basketball Legend Al McGuire.”

Basketball also gave Enberg, and his fans, an especially memorable experience. In a UCLA-Oregon game in 1970, Oregon went into a stall, leaving Enberg with little to talk about and air time to be filled. He began humming “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” from the big movie of the previous year, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

At the next game, UCLA’s pep band played the song and the student section called for him to sing it. He demurred, saying he didn’t know the words, but they insisted and he promised he’d learn them. Then, after the last home game of the regular season, he walked to mid-court and sang.

A few days later, he heard from a music professor, who wrote, “I’ve spent 30 years studying music and you hit two notes I’ve never heard before.”

Dan Patrick pays a nice tribute:

I’ve written here before about Enberg’s announcing the football games I played on the front lawn or the street. He was my favorite announcer, so this feels like a personal loss. It’s not as if I sound like him, but the importance of preparation he always felt, and the enthusiasm he brought to every event he did are something every announcer, full-time or part-time, needs to bring to any broadcast.

I read this this morning, and it’s excellent advice, reportedly from July 2016:

“Mr. Enberg, what is the biggest piece of advice you’ve received during your career that you now pass along to future announcers?”

“Never say No to anything you’re offered. Big city, little city, Big pay or no pay, You never say No.”

Excellent advice that I have inadvertently followed.

To quote Dave Matthews, everyone goes in the end, but it’s kind of sad to watch highlights of Enberg’s 1980s NBC games with Merlin Olsen and know that neither of them are with us anymore …

… similar to watching 1970s Monday Night Football games with Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and either Don Meredith or Alex Karras and now that none of them are around anymore.

The public–private divide

With the last fall state tournament taking place in Wisconsin, Ally Jansen writes:

High school sports play a significant role in the lives of many young individuals. Once tournament time rolls around for the sport that is currently in season, everything else fades in importance and the focus locks in on winning the next game.

Battling for the chance to play once more.

Fighting to remain as long as possible.

Every team prays that they have what it takes to make it to the final destination: the state tournament championship game. Any athlete who has a love for the game carries the dream to bring home a gold ball for their school and community.

Each year, a select number of teams will make it to the Wisconsin state tournament; and each year, these teams contain a mix of both public and private schools. The difference between the athletic teams of these two types of schools is the way the teams are created. Public schools take their pick of players from the students available at their school; smaller schools take every student they can get- sometimes it is a miracle just to have enough kids for a team. Bigger schools with more students have the chance to hold tryouts, picking the talent they want and cutting what they don’t.

But private schools are completely different. These are schools that cost almost as much as college tuition to attend, and their athletes are not just students from the area. These athletes are recruited from around the country to attend these specific schools at a reduced cost, or even for free. These schools eliminated the idea of local talent, which gives them a leg-up on their public counterparts.

The state tournament is divided into divisions; the number of divisions depends on the sport involved. Schools are divided based on their enrollment numbers, with higher divisions correlating with smaller schools. A private school may be as tiny as the smallest public school, but that does not make the competition fair. The public school has a small number of students, and an even smaller number of athletes to choose from. The chances of having multiple gifted athletes are minute; whereas the private school hand-picks student-athletes from around the country, which significantly increases their chances of having multiple gifted athletes.

Anybody should be able to see how pitting these two types of schools against each other, based only on enrollment numbers, is unfair.

Each year, in almost every sport, the state tournament will see a public school play a private school.

In many cases, the public school is not victorious.

I once saw a small school from my area lose a football state championship when the other team’s kicker made a field goal. Fair enough, right? That is, only until you consider the fact that the kicker was from Texas, and this was a Wisconsin state championship game.

Something needs to change. In the past, these two types of schools did have separate tournaments at the season’s close, and a fairer playing field was imminent. The decision to combine them was a mistake that needs to be reversed.

Sure, sports are about more than just winning. But when did high school sports become important enough to move these young kids away from their family and hometowns? If they are truly as gifted as recruiters from private schools think, I am a firm believer that they will receive recognition and success, no matter the school they play for or the state they are in.

Let’s separate private and public schools into two tournaments again. Let’s even the playing field. I am a firm supporter of “Public Power,” as the kids are calling it these days.

With three divisions of football remaining, here is the complete list of state team champions over the past year (with private schools listed in italics):
Boys swimming: Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial, Monona Grove.
Team wrestling: Kaukauna, Ellsworth, Stratford.
Girls hockey: Schofield D.C. Everest.
Boys hockey: Hudson.
Girls basketball: Appleton North, Beaver Dam, Madison Edgewood (over Greendale Martin Luther), Howards Grove (over La Crosse Aquinas), Loyal.
Boys basketball: Stevens Point, La Crosse Central, Appleton Xavier, Milwaukee Destiny (a Milwaukee Public Schools charter school), Barneveld. (Marshfield Columbus Catholic and Manitowoc Roncalli also played at state.)
Boys golf: Hartland Arrowhead (over Milwaukee Marquette), Madison Edgewood, Fond du Lac Springs.
Boys tennis: Milwaukee Marquette, Racine Prairie (over Madison Edgewood).
Girls soccer: Brookfield Central, Whitefish Bay, Waukesha Catholic Memorial, Brookfield Academy.
Girls track and field: Milwaukee King, Wittenberg–Birnamwood, Algoma, Chippewa Falls.
Boys track and field: Kimberly, Appleton Xavier, Coleman, Madison La Follette.
Spring baseball: Kimberly, West Salem, La Crosse Aquinas and Athens.
Softball: Chippewa Falls McDonell Central, Juda/Albany (over Stevens Point Pacelli), Laconia, Rice Lake, Kaukauna.
Summer baseball: West Bend West over Milwaukee Marquette.
Boys cross country: Middleton, Valders, Durand.
Girls cross country: Sun Prairie, Freedom, Dodgeland.
Girls swimming: Middleton and Madison Edgewood.
Girls golf: Hartland Arrowhead, La Crosse Aquinas.
Girls tennis: Mequon Homestead and Milwaukee University School. (Three of the four teams in Division 2 were private schools.)
Boys volleyball: Milwaukee Marquette.
Girls volleyball: Burlington, Lakeside Lutheran, Lake Country Lutheran (over Eau Claire Regis), Clayton (over Oshkosh Lourdes).
Boys soccer: Milwaukee Marquette, Whitefish Bay, Mount Horeb and Racine Prairie.
Football: Bangor over Black Hawk in Division 7, Fond du Lac Springs over Iola–Scandinavia in Division 6, Amherst over Lake Country Lutheran in Division 5, Lodi over St. Croix Central in Division 4. (No private schools are playing today.)

Given that around 15 percent of the schools in Wisconsin are private schools, the argument could be made that private schools are overrepresented at state. The issue is particularly noticeable in girls volleyball. One Division 1 team, two Division 2 teams, two Division 3 teams and two Division 4 teams, out of a total of 20 state teams, were private schools this year. In 2014, three of the four state girls volleyball champions were private schools.

You may notice a number of repeat schools italicized in the previous list — Milwaukee Marquette, Waukesha Catholic Memorial, La Crosse Aquinas, Madison Edgewood and Appleton Xavier, to name five. Fond du Lac Springs is a perennial in football. Burlington Catholic Central has been well represented at state boys tournaments.

You may also notice a number of repeat schools not italicized in that list, chiefly Hartland Arrowhead. Cuba City has been dominant in girls and boys basketball for decades. Kimberly plays today for its fifth consecutive Division 1 football title, having won 69 consecutive games. If you were a freshman at KHS in the fall of 2013, you never saw your Papermakers lose a football game, and the Class of 2018 may be able to say the same thing after this afternoon’s game. Wisconsin now has open public-school enrollment, so if a high school football player wants to play for potential state champion Kimberly, only the Kimberly School District can stop that. (School districts can set limits on how many open-enrollment students can come in, but school districts cannot prevent students from open-enrolling out of the school district.)

The issue has to do with what people consider to be legitimate reasons to not have your child enrolled in the school district where they live. Republicans favored private school choice for Milwaukee Public Schools students because of the crappy state of MPS schools. That extended to public school students statewide. If a better educational opportunity exists in another school district for a family’s child, why should that child not be able to take advantage of that opportunity? The flip side, however, is whether an athletics should be part of that “educational opportunity.”

The reason people get more upset over private-school athletic dynasties than public-school athletic dynasties is the accusation that private schools recruit, either openly or covertly,1 students who otherwise would go to public schools. Private schools have the right to set their own admissions standards and even, I suppose, give tuition discounts (up to 100 percent) to whichever students they like, including gifted athletes. Whether that is right depends on your point of view. Whether private schools, which are smaller in enrollment in the public schools within the metropolitan area from which they recruit students, should compete in the same enrollment division as small-town or rural schools is Jansen’s point.

There have been proposals to do something about that. Minnesota weights enrollment by the percentage of students who get free or reduced-price lunch. Illinois has a multiplier for private schools. Both were considered and rejected in Wisconsin. So was a so-called “success factor” that would have pushed schools that get to state, public or private, up an enrollment class.

The latest proposal from a small-town school superintendent who sits on the WIAA Board of Control is to eliminate the public or private distinctions, but instead assign schools based on the U.S. Census classification of the community they’re in, moving up schools smaller than a certain size if they fit in the City or Suburban category. That would move some, but not all, private schools upward, with the added effect of moving many public schools to smaller enrollment classes. It’s being considered for basketball, possibly as early as next year, and my guess if it’s approved and it has no big issues, it will extend to other sports in the following year.

This is not a universally loved plan. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:

Milwaukee-area athletic directors and administrators in attendance at the area meeting in Greenfield two weeks ago essentially dismissed the idea like a shot swatted into the fifth row. There was absolutely no interest in discussing it further. Zero. In every other meeting state-wide, there was a general interest in continuing the discussion.

What that means is anyone’s guess. The plan we see now doesn’t have to be the one that is voted on early next year and there is obviously no guarantee anything will pass.

What is clear is that schools in the Milwaukee area need to make sure their opinions are heard and that they contribute to the process. Otherwise, you might not like what you get.

“My hope is that through the coaches advisory, sports advisory and advisory council process that they tease out some things that make it better or make it more closer to the end product,” said board member Luke Francois, who crafted the plan.

Monday’s area meeting at Mount Horeb High School was the last of seven the WIAA held around the state. Schools in Mount Horeb’s region have been the loudest in the push for greater competitive equity in the state. Francois, the superintendent at Mineral Point, represents the area.

As the plan reads now, any urban schools with an enrollment below 600 would play in Division 3. That means you Salam (enrollment 151) and Heritage Christian (165). Ditto for Milwaukee Juneau (203) and Milwaukee Academy of Science (200). Defending Division 4 state champion Destiny (285) could handle the move up a division on the boys side, but the girls team won one game last season.

Using the most current enrollment numbers, the enrollment disparity in the division would be 588-61.

As one administrator noted Monday, “That’s not good for kids.”

When the plan was discussed at Greenfield, it was ripped for segregating schools and some wondered its passage would set the up WIAA for a lawsuit.

I don’t like the plan. If the issue of competitive equity is going to be dealt with, it should be done in a manner that doesn’t just help smaller schools in one sport. It should apply to all sports and do so in a way that doesn’t target schools because of their location.

Otherwise, you’ll get what we have now, which is many people in this part of state feeling like they’re targeted because of their success.

But that’s just me talking. I’m not a coach or an AD or a principal of students who would be affected by this. Those are the people who need to make sure they’re heard on this topic.

The WIAA plans to convene its basketball coaches advisory committee as soon as possible. At that meeting, the group can vote in favor or vote against what has been proposed or amend it and then make a vote. It will then continue to move through the committee structure and eventually back to the board of control for its January meeting. At that time a final vote is expected to be taken.

”This is where I’d look to my friends in the southeastern part of the state to help us tweak this to help us address their concerns,” Francois said.

Many of the sentiments in that Journal Sentinel opinion could be said to express the attitude that “we’ve got ours; the hell with you.” There is a line roughly from metro Green Bay to metro Madison east of which population growth, including school enrollment growth, is taking place (except in the city of Milwaukee), and west of which population growth is not taking place. Schools east of that line are able to spend more money on activities, including athletics, because they have more students and more money.

Another option would be to simply assign private schools to their own state tournament classes. The WIAA could, for instance, change from five basketball divisions to four public-school divisions and two private-school divisions and keep the state tournament at three days. (In fact, adding a division would add a session to state and thus bring in more money, something lost when the WIAA went from four divisions to five, eliminating the Division 1 quarterfinal round.) That would negate the rationale for the merger of the WIAA and the former Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association in 2000. Private schools don’t appear to want to be handicapped, but public schools the size of private schools claim they’re already being handicapped.

The even bigger issue, perhaps, is how society feels about sports. You can tell high school students and their parents that it’s much easier to earn academic scholarships in college than athletic scholarships, and the message goes in one ear and out the other. You can pass on the percentage of high school students who become professional athletes — 1 percent or less. You can point out that high schools produce more professional musicians than pro athletes. No dose of reality seems to work on high school students with unrealistic expectations, or parents forcing aspirations on their own kids that they themselves couldn’t reach.

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