Category: Sports

What Sunday means

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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60 years ago today

David J. Halberstam:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NFL had arrived; breathtakingly!

Television and radio

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

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

The overtime delay

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

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

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

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

TV announcers

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

Radio announcers

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

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

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

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

At the end of regulation, Boland:

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

Later, on the game winning Ameche plunge;  McColgan:

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

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

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

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

Some things don’t change

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

Change of lingo

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

Public Address Announcer

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

The refs

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

The Giants and Yankee Stadium

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

Tidbits and facts about the greatest game

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greatest game and player salaries

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

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

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

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

Commissioners Bert Bell and Pete Rozelle

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

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

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

‘Win one for the Gipper’

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

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

Gifford and major injuries

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

More on Ameche

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

Overtime games

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

Odds

Baltimore was 3 ½ point favorites and obviously covered.

Weather

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

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

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

 

Book it! (maybe)

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

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

eddiewords_2100

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

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

This long-winded preamble introduces this from Awful Announcing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

National (NBA) Review

While we (We? Who’s we, sucker?) try to avoid politics on Fridays, David French has an amusing look at the National Basketball Association’s upcoming season tied to various politicians:

It’s a common misconception that the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” was written in reference to Christmas. Clearly not. There is no time more wonderful than late October, when the leaves turn in the South, the college football playoff picture starts to come into focus, and the greatest sport in the history of the known universe — NBA basketball — begins its glorious regular season.

And so, it is my solemn duty to serve as the NBA’s ambassador to conservative America. Yes, it’s a progressive league. Yes, its fan base is concentrated in blue cities. But talent is talent, and excellence is excellence. And it’s time for red America to embrace the greatness.

Here is the only preseason guide you need to read. Per tradition, it divides the league by familiar political categories.

The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Division. Cheerfully inept.
The Atlanta Hawks
. I thought hard about putting the Hawks all alone in the division that defines joyful incompetence. After all, what’s crazier than sending your number-three pick to the Dallas Mavericks — effectively trading away Luka Doncic, a possible rookie of the year and potentially the next Dirk Nowitzki — for Trae Young? It’s a silly thing to do, but gosh darn it, the Hawks will play with a smile on their face. They might win 19 games, but Young is going to launch jumpers from every corner of the offensive side of the court. Look for nights when he’ll go 9–20 from deep, followed by a 2–21 nightmare. Either way, it will be entertaining. Either way, the Hawks will lose.

The Sacramento Kings. Okay, maybe this is unfair. The team does have an exciting core. De’Aaron Fox is blazing fast, and they’ve drafted well (for a change). They’re less inept than they used to be, but they’re still going to lose. They’ll miss the playoffs again. But there’s something about the Kings that makes them worth watching. From the front office to the court, this is a cast of characters. There’s always drama around the Kings. Watch and enjoy.

The Brooklyn Nets. In honor of AOC herself, we had to get a New York City team in her division, and the Nets fit the bill. Years after trades that robbed the team of its future while granting it a mediocre past, the Nets are finally ready to . . . Be not terrible. As for the eccentricity, never forget that guard D’Angelo Russell literally Snapchatted his way out of L.A. (No, really, look it up.)

The Hillary Clinton Division. Losing, grimly.
The New York Knicks
. Has any franchise squandered more advantages and disappointed its fans more thoroughly than the Knicks? And yet it starts another season without hope. Kristaps Porzingis, its star of the future — a man that the departed Phil Jackson almost ran out of town — is out with a knee injury, and not even a better coach (David Fizdale) and a good draft pick (Kevin Knox) will make the Garden rock. I would say that the future looks a tiny bit bright, but this is the Knicks we’re talking about. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train.

The Orlando Magic. The less said, the better. Years of top draft picks have yielded . . . this. Unless they’re playing my favorite team, I may not watch a single second of Magic basketball this year.

The Phoenix Suns. I had hope for them last year. I really did. Devin Booker is one of the most exciting young players in the NBA, and he’s the player in the league most likely to drop 60 on any given night. But something about the team just seems off. I don’t mind seeing a bad young team if the bad young team plays with hope and joy. The Suns did not. Will they this year? I say no. I hope I’m wrong.

The Chicago Bulls. Yes, they have some good athletes. Yes, they have some young talent. But Bulls fans have to face facts. It’s a long slog — and some lucky draft picks — before the team’s relevant again.

The Cleveland Cavaliers. I hate to do this. I really do. But recent history shows us that when LeBron leaves, watching the team remains about as entertaining as watching an alcoholic struggle through recovery. LeBron’s teams are about LeBron, and when they have to go cold turkey, the results aren’t pleasant. It was a good run, Cleveland, but your future is not bright.

The Cory Booker Division. Posing as relevant.
The Detroit Pistons
. They’ve got Blake Griffin, a one-time superstar. They’ve got Andre Drummond, a rebounding machine. They’ve got Reggie Jackson, a guard who could well average 20 points and six assists. And they’ve got a good new coach, Dwayne Casey, the man who made Toronto a contender. They look great on paper, right? They’re ready for their heroic stand, right?

Wrong. Griffin and Jackson are too fragile. The mix isn’t quite right. Not every Casey can lead this team to the playoffs.

The Charlotte Hornets. They have actual playoff buzz. But how much of that is based on the roster and how much is based on the irrational exuberance that follows when you survive the “Dwightbola virus”? Dwight Howard is gone, and that’s addition by subtraction, but the subtraction isn’t enough to carry Charlotte into the top 16.

The Denver Nuggets. They almost made the playoffs last year. They’ll almost make the playoffs again.

The Portland Trailblazers. Damian Lillard can and will make an actual Spartacus stand. It won’t be enough. The West is better, again. The Blazers are not.

The Beto O’Rourke Division. Expensive busts.
The Minnesota Timberwolves
. In theory they have a Big Three. In theory. Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins bring an enormous amount of talent to the hardwood. Collectively, however, the results are bad. Very bad. Butler wants out. He had an already-famous meltdown at practice just before the regular season, and it seems like coach Tom Thibodeau has lost a step. Perhaps the NBA is passing him by. Just last year, the ’Wolves were the team of the future. Now it looks like their glory day will never come, and by the end of the season, Thibs may skateboard straight to the unemployment line.

The Los Angeles Clippers. The “expensive” in the phrase “expensive busts” applies less to the Clippers roster than to the Clippers franchise. I may be slightly off in my math, but owner Steve Ballmer dumped about eleventy billion dollars in Microsoft bucks to purchase a team on the decline. It was a nice (though short) run for the Clippers as the premiere Los Angeles NBA team. That run is now over.

The Elizabeth Warren Division. They have a 1/1024 chance to be good.
The Dallas Mavericks
. Mark Cuban does not like to lose. He’s going to. Probably. But I’m going to keep an eye on those Mavs. They committed grand larceny securing Luka Doncic in the draft, and there’s a chance that he’s good, immediately. They’ve got a promising point guard in Dennis Smith, and there’s a chance that he’s much better than last year. I’m not saying “chance” in the Dumb and Dumber one-in-a-millions sense. No, the odds here are better than 1/1024. We’ll go with Warren six generations removed. There’s a solid 1/64 chance that the Mavericks are not terrible at all.

The Washington Wizards. I’m out. I’m out on the Wizards. Mostly. It’s a team with talent — including one of the best backcourts in basketball — but the chemistry is off, and they’ve never quite broken through. Adding Dwight Howard isn’t the solution, and the rest of the conference has gotten better. But it’s premature to write them off entirely. John Wall and Bradley Beal are just too good for that. Let’s go with Warren eight generations removed. There’s a solid 1/256 chance that the Wizards will be a top-four team in the East.

The Miami Heat. They’re here only because coach Erik Spoelstra is one of the best coaches in the league, and there’s always a chance that Pat Riley can import talent. Let’s go with Warren nine generations removed. There’s a solid 1/512 chance that the Miami Heat will make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

The Rocky Balboa Division. Was Rocky conservative? Liberal? Don’t know. Don’t care. He’s the comeback king.
The Memphis Grizzlies
. Last year was a miserable year in Memphis. Mike Conley got hurt early, and a seven-season playoff streak ended with a 22-wing campaign that turned the Grindhouse into a morgue. I didn’t even have the heart to go to a game, and I live, eat, and breathe Grizzlies basketball. But it is a new day, people. I can hear the Rocky music stirring in the background. Mike Conley is back, Marc Gasol is still one of the best centers in the NBA, and Chandler Parsons might be almost healthy. Add a spectacular draft pick in Jaren Jackson Jr. and you have a recipe for a return of the Grit and Grind of Grizzly teams past. I can’t wait.

The Nikki Haley Division. The future’s so bright, they gotta wear shades.
The Utah Jazz. Donovan Mitchell is really, really good. Really good. He’s one of the most Nikki Haley players on the most Nikki Haley team. Watch the Jazz. They may be in the Western Conference finals.

The Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been working on his shot. Giannis has been in the gym, getting strong. Giannis has a new coach who’s going to space the floor, giving him room to roam. The Bucks are the Jazz of the East.

The New Orleans Pelicans. Don’t @ me, haters. Anthony Davis is an extraordinary basketball player, Julius Randle is a perfect, high-energy, bruising complement to Davis inside, and Jrue Holiday had a breakout year. Aside from the lethargic home crowd, the Pelicans are one of the most fun teams to watch in the NBA. No one knows if Davis will stay in New Orleans, but for now he’s there, and so long as he stays, the Pelicans are ready to rise.

The Indiana Pacers. They’re the Lazarus of the NBA — a resurrected franchise led by a resurrected player. The Pacers were left for dead after they traded Paul George. Victor Oladipo was left for dead after a frustrating year in Oklahoma City. Larry Bird, basketball Jesus, wept. But then Oladipo came forth, and now the Pacers are set to be good for a long time to come.

Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC had arguably the best offseason in basketball. They kept Paul George. They added the defensive pieces the team needs. They added Dennis Schröder, a scorer who can sustain the offense when one or both of OKC’s stars are on the bench. And — critically — they subtracted Carmelo Anthony. Oh, and Russell Westbrook is still the most explosive athlete in the NBA. The Thunder are one lucky break from the Western Conference finals.

The Donald Trump Division. Fragile powers. The title beckons, yet misery is possible.
The Philadelphia 76ers
. Can a team be young, talented, and fragile all at the same time? Welcome to the Sixers experience. If this team can stay healthy and together, we may well watch Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, and Joel Embiid dominate the league for a decade. But Simmons has already missed a full season to injury, Fultz has missed most of a season to one of the most bizarre shoulder/shooting problems in recent memory, and Embiid has not only missed two seasons, he’s yet to prove that he can make it through a single regular season without a significant injury. This team could be a dynasty. I’ll believe it when I see it.

The Toronto Raptors. I have one question and one question only. Is Kawhi Leonard still Kawhi Leonard? If he’s healthy and motivated, then the Raptors will contend with the Celtics for the Eastern Conference crown. And with no LeBron to contend with, they just might win. But Kawhi allegedly hates to be cold, and Toronto — rumor has it — is way up north. Will he have one eye on sunny L.A.? If so, look for a year of frustration for one of the best home crowds in the NBA.

The San Antonio Spurs. Because they’re the Spurs, they were able to trade a possible one-year rental of a very disgruntled Kawhi to Toronto for an all-NBA guard. DeMar DeRozan was furious at the trade, and he’s got a chip on his shoulder. That’s a recipe for a great individual season, but the Spurs are weak at point guard, some of their key pieces are old, and the team just might decline.

The Houston Rockets. How can we call a team that was one decent shooting night from dethroning the Warriors a “fragile” power? Easy. Chris Paul is a key piece of their puzzle, and he got hurt at the worst possible time. No one knows if he can stay healthy enough to endure a title run. They added chemistry-killer Carmelo Anthony. It could work. I hope it works (because the Rockets were really fun to watch last year), but they’re just fragile enough that we might look back on the last year’s thrilling Western Conference Finals as the best this team could do.

The LeBron Division. The team with the GOAT.
The Los Angeles Lakers
. LeBron has been to eight straight finals. LeBron is the best player in the history of basketball, and he’s (incredibly) still at his peak or near-peak. I refuse to believe the Lakers won’t be a very, very good basketball team.

The William F. Buckley Jr. Division. Intellectual juggernauts.
The Boston Celtics
. This team was built from the ground up by basketball geniuses to contend for a decade. It could win now. Even without all-NBA stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, it made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Jason Tatum is set to make his own leap to all-NBA greatness. Put this crew all together, keep it healthy, and you have one of the deepest teams in the league. Oh, and they’ve got one of the top three coaches in the NBA. I’m praying for a Lakers–Celtics final, but I’m afraid I won’t get it because of . . .

The Sauron Division. Only Frodo can save us now.
The Golden State Warriors
. They’ve won three titles in four years. They’ve won eight of their last nine finals games. They have Steph, KD, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. They have an outstanding coach. So, what do they do?

They add DeMarcus Cousins, one of the top two or three centers in the NBA. The Eye of Sauron is strong indeed. The forces of darkness are pouring from Minas Morgul, the walls Barad-dur are high and strong, and all hope flees the land.

The Warriors’ starting five could serve as the U.S. Olympic basketball team, and the rest of the world would tremble in terror. There is no logical, practical basketball reason why they won’t win again.

But that’s why we play the game. In the words of Al Michaels, calling the game when the underdog U.S. hockey team beat the omnipotent Soviets, “Do you believe in miracles?”

Ask me next June.

The view from the other dugout

The Los Angeles Times previews the National League Championship Series, which starts in Miller Park tonight:

The Dodgers’ celebration at Atlanta’s SunTrust Park on Monday was as much about checking off a box as it was what they had accomplished. They expected to advance to the National League Championship Series, to within four wins of another trip to the World Series, after last year’s disappointment. The path this season was rockier than anticipated, but anything less would’ve been a colossal letdown.

The party the Milwaukee Brewers had at Coors Field in Denver a day earlier had a different flavor. They weren’t projected to reach the NLCS. They play in baseball’s smallest market, an afterthought in Chicago’s shadow, and have one of the majors’ slimmest payrolls. It was their first playoff series victory since 2011, the last time they were in the playoffs. They went to the NLCS that year and lost. They haven’t won a World Series or even been to one since 1982. This is unfamiliar territory.

But the clubs will have at leastone thing in common when they arrive at Milwaukee’s Miller Park for Game 1 on Friday: They’re both playing their best baseball. The Dodgers have won seven of their last eight games, outscoring opponents 47-15 during the stretch. The Brewers have been even better, winning 11 straight games and breezing through the NL Division Series by outscoring the Colorado Rockies 13-2 in a three-game sweep.

“It’s going to be great,” Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado said. “Both ballclubs have worked hard to get to this situation. They’re both two good ballclubs facing off in the championship. And we’re just going to go out there and play baseball, be ourselves, keep doing what we’ve been doing all year, and hopefully we come out on top.

Presumptive National League MVP Christian Yelich anchors a deep Brewers lineup that features a little bit of everything. They’re traditional in that regard.

But pitching is another matter. The Brewers deploy their pitchers like most analytically driven clubs; they’d rather not let a pitcher face a lineup three times, regardless of pitch count, and they’re not afraid to shift a heavier onus on to their bullpen. But the Brewers have catapulted the revolution to another level.

Manager Craig Counsell would rather not label his pitchers “starters” or “relievers.” He prefers “out-getters.” In Game 1, he ditched the traditional starter entirely, opting to begin the game with Brandon Woodruff, a reliever. Woodruff tossed three shutout innings. Traditional starters Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley started the final two games, but logged just 7 2/3 innings combine

The strategy is effective because Milwaukee’s bullpen — headlined by Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel — is one of baseball’s best, and the postseason schedule, which affords more off-days, renders the approach more viable. Jeffress, Hader and Kneble each appeared in all three NLDS wins over the Rockies. They gave up two runs and six hits and tallied 12 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings — and they’ll be fresh Friday after a four-day layoff.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers, realizing their strength lies elsewhere, are countering the sport’s current.

Hyun-Jin Ryu threw seven scoreless innings in Game 1 against the Atlanta Braves. Clayton Kershaw tossed eight in Game 2. Walker Buehler was given enough leash to push through a five-run second inning in Game 3 before settling in to log five innings, and Rich Hill was pulled in the fifth inning in Game 4 after issuing five walks. A year after riding Kenley Jansen and a deep bullpen to Game 7 of the World Series, the Dodgers’ success is dependent on their starting rotation.

“Hyun-Jin [was] unbelievable,” Kershaw said. “And Walker, after he took his lump there in that one inning, came back and threw really well. So I think that was huge for him moving forward and Richie kept us in the game .… Yeah, we’ve got some depth there, which is huge.”

Kershaw will get the first crack on Friday. He found out about the assignment from a reporter amidst the Dodgers’ postgame celebration on Monday. It wasn’t the obvious choice, not after his bosses decided to start Ryu over him in Game 1 of the NLDS. It was the first time Kershaw didn’t start a Game 1 for the Dodgers when he was available since 2009. That order has been restored.

It will be the Dodgers’ first visit to Miller Park since they opened up the second half there. The Dodgers were an unfinished product then. Machado had just arrived from the Baltimore Orioles and made his debut in the series opener. Brian Dozier was a Minnesota Twin. Ryan Madson was with the Washington Nationals. The Pittsburgh Pirates employed David Freese.

Three of the four played significant roles in Monday’s series-clinching win. Freese cracked a pinch-hit, go-ahead, two-run single. Madson escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam. Machado crushed a three-run home run. It was another display of the depth that buoyed the Dodgers’ internal expectations. Those expectations are high, and they include two more celebrations.

“We had a really good team last year,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. “We have a really good team this year. The only difference is we’re trying to win one more game.”

Leaving aside how many Brewers were acquired since the end of last season to get to this point, we’ll see if the traditional approach to winning baseball — starting pitching and buying however many players you want to get your championship — will triumph over the Brewers’ newfangled, yet small-market, approach.

Meanwhile, WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee reports:

If one former MLB official is to be believed, the Brewers won’t only be fighting the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series — they’ll be up against the league itself.

In an interview with Dan Le Batard and Stu Gotz on 790 AM’s “The Ticket,” former Miami Marlins President David Samson implied the fix is already in for the Dodgers:

“MLB is going to do anything they can to have the Dodgers beat the Brewers,” Samson said.

You can listen to the audio for yourself here. The relevant portion starts around 36:00.

Samson’s comment understandably caught Le Batard and Gotz by surprise.

“Wow. That is a shocking accusation,” Le Batard replied. “He knows he shouldn’t have said that.”

It’s worth noting that Le Batard had previously in the segment described Samson as “a former executive who doesn’t mind speaking the truth.” Oh — and he was born in Milwaukee (but raised in New York City).

Adding fuel to the fire are comments made earlier this week by Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who said his team would beat the Brewers in a 4-0 sweep. The Brewers are also underdogs in Vegas, according to VegasInsider.com.

It’s unclear how a player from a team that beat the Brewers four out of seven times in the regular season concludes a sweep is imminent. But certainly the history of disrespect of Wisconsin sports franchises, except for possibly the Packers, among major pro sports teams is legion. Do you seriously believe the National Basketball Association had nothing to do with moving Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from the Bucks to the second-largest market in the NBA? Major League Baseball must have jumped at the chance to have the Braves leave Milwaukee for Atlanta, which makes you wonder how MLB ever allowed the Seattle Pilots to move to Milwaukee. (Or how MLB ever thought the Pilots’ ownership group should have a franchise given their bankruptcy during their first season.)

MLB probably would love a seven-game series with the Dodgers winning. Watch what happens with umpire calls in this series.

 

Not like the bad old days

A few things are happening in Wisconsin sports starting today, as chronicled by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

There was some to-do Sunday about how the day marked the first time the Packers, Brewers and Bucks all played on the same day. But it’s nothing like what awaits.

The Bucks were playing a preseason game in Ames, Iowa (which they won), while the Packers lost in Detroit and the Brewers won in Colorado to sweep the National League Division Series.

Now, the Brewers know their next game will be Friday at Miller Park, with the first game of the National League Championship Series ahead against either the Dodgers or the Braves. So, starting Friday, you’ll have four days of interesting choices.

Friday, Oct. 12

The ALCS doesn’t start until Saturday, so the Brewers will almost certainly be playing Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday night, just as the Bucks tip off their final pre-season game at 7:30 p.m. at Fiserv Forum.

Saturday, Oct. 13

Both Major League championship series will be playing, so the Brewers could be playing in the afternoon or evening and, at the least, partially conflict with the Wisconsin Badgers huge battle at The Big House at Michigan.

Sunday, Oct. 14

Weirdly, nothing will be happening Sunday. Maybe there’s a church picnic going on?

Monday, Oct. 15

The Brewers will be back, playing on the road, in a game that will be in prime time (with the ALCS in an off day). At Lambeau Field in Green Bay, the Packers will be playing on Monday Night Football, battling the San Francisco 49ers in a 7:15 p.m. kickoff. The two events are almost certainly going to be taking place simultaneously.

Which will you choose?

Bonus: Friday, Oct. 19

Let’s say the NLCS series lasts beyond the first five games. Miller Park will again be hosting Game 6 on Oct. 19, which happens to be the same night that the Milwaukee Bucks host their first regular-season home game at brand new Fiserv Forum downtown, taking on the Indiana Pacers.

Assuming the Brewers series is still taking place, that’s going to be a memorable night in Milwaukee.

Today is also the last day of the high school football regular season, which means some teams will be playing for playoff berths and others will be playing for where they fit in the playoffs. That means next Friday will also be the first weekend of the high school football playoffs. That’s where I will be.

One of the only times a previous weekend like this comes to mind is in 1982, when Wisconsin beat Ohio State 6–0 in the rain in Columbus while the Brewers were tying the American League Championship Series in the rain in Milwaukee. One day later the Brewers completed their comeback by winning the series. The Packers … didn’t play because the NFL was on strike.

There was also 2008, when the Brewers were playing their final regular-season game needing to win and get a Mets loss to go to the playoffs while the Packers were playing. It may have been the first time in the history of WTMJ radio that the Packers, which WTMJ has carried since 1929, moved the Packers off WTMJ. (They moved to their FM, now WKTI.) Now that WTMJ and WKTI both carry the Packers, no decision needed to be made.

Speaking of radio: A colleague in my side thing pointed out that this era right now might be the zenith of Wisconsin sports broadcasting. Bob Uecker announced for ABC and NBC while announcing the Brewers …

… while Brewers TV announcer Brian Anderson is announcing the American League Championship Series for TBS …

… Wayne Larrivee, who has worked for ESPN and Westwood One, now announcing the Packers …

… and Matt Lepay, who could certainly go national if he wanted to, on the Badgers:

Albert, Costas and Buck

I didn’t watch any TV coverage of the National League Division Series, though I work only in the a.m. and p.m. on days ending in Y.

The online reaction to Fox Sports 1’s choice of Kenny Albert, former New York Mets/yankees pitcher David Cone and A.J. Pierzynski, one of the most unpopular players in Major League Baseball history, wasn’t positive, though I can’t find any reviews of their work.

Game 3 was carried by the MLB Network, which is unavailable to some people. And here’s what they missed, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Many fans were not pleased that Game 3 of the NLDS was broadcast on the MLB Network, a channel not everyone gets in their homes. But hey, at least Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Costas was going to be on the call, right?

Now, let’s get this out there: Bob Costas is a dang legend. Put him in ALL the Halls of Fame. But … uh, he and color commentator Jim Kaat had a rough time with the Brewers names and facts on Sunday.

The Brewers won, 6-0, so it’s all water under the bridge, and no NLCS games will be on MLB Network. But let’s review:

Travis Shaw has not, in fact, committed double-digit errors since picking up playing time at second base around the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. He’s committed one in 39 games. …

It’s not Jesus Aguilera, but all the jokes about Genie in a Bottle (Jesus in a Bottle) are very good.

Craig Counsell was not drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, as the broadcast said a couple times. It’s actually a cooler note that he was drafted by the other team involved in the broadcast, the Rockies.

In fact, Counsell was taken in the 11th round in 1992 — the first year the expansion franchise selected players. Counsell essentially became one of the organization’s first employees.

The broadcast had some trouble with starter Wade Miley’s biography, too. He didn’t actually start the season at Double-A (though he was on a rehab start, so you can perhaps understand the confusion?). And while he’s been on a few teams so far in his career, the Rockies haven’t been one of them.

Also, Orlando Arcia, who has had some pretty good moments in the postseason thus far (counting Game 163), was given the unusual pronunciation of “arr-SAY-uh.” It’s “ARR-see-uh.” As in “That pitch Orlando hit in the ninth over the wall Sunday was a pretty great moment; see ya later.”

I did see highlights. Costas seemed rather uninterested, I thought, which may be because the Rockies were really never in game 3 thanks to the Brewers’ pitching. I’ve always liked Jim Kaat from his days working for CBS and ABC, but highlights don’t really show off an announcer, especially in baseball.

For those who didn’t like Albert or Costas: The National League Championship Series and the World Series will be carried on Fox. Fox’s lead baseball announcer is Joe Buck. Ironically, this year is TBS’ turn to carry the American League Championship Series, which means Brewers’ announcer Brian Anderson will be announcing the other series instead of the series his weekday employer is in.

 

Postgame schadenfreude, Rocky Mountain not-high edition

Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post:

The end was cold and bitter.

The Rockies waited nine long years to get back into the National League division series. They put together a late-season winning streak to get into the playoffs, notching 91 victories. They beat the Cubs, 2-1, at a rowdy Wrigley Field in a dramatic, 13-inning wild-card game.

But then they were undone by their bats, suspect all season, turning to sawdust.

The Brewers swept away the Rockies in three games in the National League division series.  The ugly finale came Sunday afternoon at misty, 46-degree Coors Field with Milwaukee winning 6-0 and the Rockies held to four hits.

Colorado was held to two runs in the series, the fewest even in the NLDS, pending the outcome of Atlanta’s series vs. the Dodgers Sunday night. The Braves were shut out in the first two games of the series.

Things got so bad that some fans booed third baseman Arenado and all-star shortstop Trevor Story when they struck out in the sixth. In the ninth, when Orlando Arcia and Keon Broxton hit back-to-back solo home runs off closer Wade Davis, the cheers of Brewers fans took over the ballpark as Rockies’ fans headed to the exits.

The Brewers move onto the National League championship series vs. the winner of the Dodgers-Braves series.  The Rockies will go into the offseason and think about what might have been had Brewers pitchers not tied them up in knots or kept them on eggshells.

In three games, the Rockies scored two runs, both coming in the ninth inning of Game 1, a game the Rockies lost 3-2 in 10 innings. Colorado hit .146 in the series with a .210 on-base percentage were shut out in the final two games after having never been blanked before in postseason play. …

The Brewers put the game on ice with a two-run sixth inning off reliever Scott Oberg, who had been one of the Rockies’ most reliable pitchers for much of the season, making it 4-0.  Oberg served up a single to Mike Moustakas, followed by a double to Erik Kratz, who lit up the Rockies all series. Then Oberg made a major goof, dropping the ball when he was on the rubber and getting called for a balk. That brought in Moustakas to score and advanced Kratz to third. When Oberg uncorked a wild pitch, Moustakas scored to make it 4-0.

Colorado’s offensive failures on Sunday began in the second inning. A leadoff single by Story and a one-out walk to Carlos Gonzalez had the makings of a mini-rally. But left-handed starter Wade Miley quickly snuffed it out, getting Ian Desmond to pop out to left and inducing Tony Wolters to ground the ball softly to second base.

In the third, DJ LeMahieu, likely playing in his final game in a Rockies uniform, doubled but Arenado grounded out to short ending the inning.

The Brewers struck quickly in the first to stake a 1-0 lead. No surprise there. The Rockies’  7.23 first-inning ERA in the regular season was the eighth-highest on record (since 1974), and by far the highest for any postseason team (the second highest was the 1999 Indians, with a 6.67 ERA).  National League MVP favorite Christian Yelich drew a walk off of Marquez, raced to third on Ryan Braun’s single to right and scored on Travis Shaw’s groundout to second.

Marquez left a meatball, first-pitch curve over the plate in the fourth and Jesus Aguilar smashed it for a solo home run and a 2-0 Milwaukee lead.

Marquez, who had a breakout season that established him as one of the game’s best young pitchers, certainly pitched well enough for Colorado to win. He yielded two runs in five innings.

And thus ends Rocktober 2018, as Rockies’ postseason berths are apparently called.

Come see what’s Brewing (because you didn’t)

First, for those who didn’t stay up, a little bit of rivalry schadenfreude from the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales:

After taking a collective shot and sharing some hugs early Wednesday morning, Cubs players reflected on their sudden elimination from the postseason in which they failed to reach the National League Division Series for the first time in four years.

Despite the team winning 95 games, breakout star Javier Baez pinpointed a flaw that seemed apparent even when the Cubs led the NL Central by five games with four weeks left in the season.

“We were never in a rhythm of winning games,” said Baez, whose two-out single scored Terrance Gore in the eighth inning for the Cubs’ lone run in a 2-1, 13-inning loss to the Rockies in the NL wild-card game. “And I think it was because were paying attention to other teams as we were going down because we lost so many people from our lineup that we were paying attention to other teams. That’s not how it works. That’s how I look at it.

“Next year we’re going to come back and fight again and make adjustments about that. I don’t want to hear nothing about other teams. We know what we’ve got.”

After pitching six innings of four-hit ball but receiving no run support, veteran left-hander Jon Lester believes the sudden elimination can serve as a learning tool.

“Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good,” said Lester, owner of three World Series rings with two years left on his contract. “Now, we’re taking the bad.

“Sometimes you need to get your (expletive) knocked in the dirt in order to appreciate where you’re at. Maybe we needed that, maybe we needed to get knocked down a peg or two to realize nothing is going to be given to us.”

Left-hander Cole Hamels hopes the Cubs will pick up his $20 million option for 2019, in part because of his positive experience after getting traded from the Rangers on July 27 and the desire to be part of a rebound.

“Hopefully this is something I can be a part of next year,” said Hamels, who threw two scoreless innings of relief in the loss. “I was very fortunate to make the postseason when I was very young (in 2007 with the Phillies). We were swept by Colorado, and that taught us what the postseason really was. And what it was to not just play to the end but play to the end of the postseason. And we won the World Series the next year. This is a tremendous experience for a lot of guys.

“You have to go through the hardships before you get to the big moments. I know there are a lot of players here who won the World Series, but there’s also a lot who didn’t have that certain participation that you look for. That’s great for them.”

But the cold reality is that the team will not stay fully intact because of free agency, payroll considerations and the need to address shortcomings.

“There’s going to be new guys in there,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “That’s just the nature of the game. That’s unfortunate. There are guys we’ve grown close to. We wish it could be the same group to go back to battle next year, but there’s got to be changes.

“You got to keep the relationships close. Whoever ends up being here, they’ll be all in and remember this feeling going into next year and use that as motivation and march all the way to the end, hopefully.”

Next season could result in a bigger leadership role for Baez, who led the Cubs with 34 home runs and 111 RBIs and likely will take over at shortstop if Addison Russell doesn’t return.

Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters before the game that a decision on Russell, who is on administrative leave while MLB investigates his ex-wife’s allegations of domestic abuse, could come shortly.

“What hurts me is the teammates that are leaving,” Baez said. “I like to learn a lot from my teammates, even if it’s good or bad.

“We have a lot of free agents this year. One is Stropy (reliever Pedro Strop), who is one of my best friends in my whole career.”

The Cubs hold a $6.25 million option on Strop with a $500,000 buyout.

That’s the Cubs’ problem. The Brewers had a different problem this year — attendance, The team with the best record in the National League finished 10th in attendance, at 2.85 million, averaging 35,195 fans (many of whom came dressed as empty seats based on visual evidence) at 41,900-capacity Miller Park. If you measure by my preferred metric, percentage of seats sold, the Brewers tied for seventh, selling 84 percent of their tickets.

The 2018 Brewers did better than last year, when they averaged 31,589 to total 2.56 million in attendance, which still was 10th best in baseball. But between 2017 and 2018 the Brewers made two huge acquisitions, outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, and during the season made several acquisitions (as I did not predict) to improve their roster.

Perhaps this is what happens when a team appears to be a world-beater, trails off, and then suddenly picks things back up in the last month of the season, as the Brewers did. And there is another view …

… that claims the Brewers did better than everybody else when compared by market size. That, however, strikes me as coming up with a statistic to justify what you want to claim. Like it or don’t, fans who don’t show up (including those who bought tickets but don’t use them, which baffles me given how much money tickets now cost) don’t pay for parking or buy concessions or swag in the gift shop. Miller Park is built to extract as much money from fans as possible (as is the case with every ballpark built since the 1990s), so when that’s not happening management should be concerned.

Greater Milwaukee (including Green Bay) is considered the 36th biggest market of the 53 U.S. markets with at least one team of the four major professional sports leagues, and the smallest Major League Baseball market, as well as the fourth smallest National Football League market and the fourth smallest National Basketball Association market.

Baseball’s perpetually screwed up economics means that small-market teams (including but not limited to the Brewers) have to get practically every player acquisition decision right, because they lack the financial resources to go out and sign whoever they want to sign, as the Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox and Dodgers can do. Fortunately the big-market teams don’t always get those decisions right (see Darvish, Yu, Cubs). But we wouldn’t be discussing postseason baseball at Miller Park had the Brewers not acquired position players Yelich, Cain, Mike Moustakas, Jonathan Schoop and Curtis Granderson and pitchers Gio Gonzalez. Wade Miley and Joakim Soria.

What this says is you better enjoy this postseason however long it lasts, because it took a lot of work to get here, and the future is never guaranteed, especially when your two archrivals (the Cubs and St. Louis) had underwhelming seasons and therefore expect to make major changes to get better.

 

Postgame schadenfreude, You Can’t Spell Choke and Collapse Without a C Edition

The Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales:

After leading the National League Central by five games on Sept. 3, the Cubs’ season has been reduced to a win-or-go-home scenario.

The Brewers applied a blend of timely hitting and dominant pitching Monday to beat the Cubs 3-1 in the division tiebreaker before 38,450 fans at Wrigley Field.

By virtue of their victory, the Brewers earned the NL Central title and won’t play until Thursday, when they host the first of two games of the best-of-five NL Division Series.

The Cubs, whose two-year reign as NL Central champions was snapped, will play host to the loser of the NL West tiebreaker between the Rockies and Dodgers on Tuesday in the NL wild-card game.

The winner will face the Brewers.

Orlando Arcia collected the first four-hit game of his career and scored the go-ahead run during a two-run eighth.

The Cubs were held to three hits, scoring their lone run on a game-tying home run by Anthony Rizzo in the fifth. …

The Cubs’ failure to solve Orlando Arcia reached a new low when Arcia hit a curve on an 0-2 pitch off left-hander Justin Wilson for a single.

Domingo Santana followed with a double down the left field line, forcing Cubs manager Joe Maddon to pull Wilson in favor of Steve Cishek, making his 80th appearance.

But Lorenzo Cain smacked a 3-2 pitch up the middle and yelled vigorously at his teammates while running to first base as Arcia scored to give the Brewers a 2-1 lead.

Left-hander Randy Rosario struck out Christian Yelich, but Brandon Kintzler allowed an RBI single to Ryan Braun to the delight of several thousand Brewers fans.

The Brewers scored twice in the top of the eighth inning, thus allowing manager Craig Counsell to go to his strength – the back end of his bullpen.

Left-hander Josh Hader struck out Jason Heyward on a slider, induced pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr. to line out to second and whiffed Willson Contreras on a 98 mph fastball to end the eighth.

The Chicago Sun–Times’ Steve Greenberg:

The Cubs gave it a shot. The best team in the National League wasn’t having any of it.

So much for a third straight NL Central title for a Cubs team that had the best record in the league for long enough that, at times, home-field advantage in the playoffs seemed like a foregone conclusion.

The Brewers came to Wrigley Field and ripped the title away with a 3-1 victory in a Game 163 tiebreaker. And they did it with rock-solid pitching, locked-in hitting and loud, proud fans in the Wrigley Field stands — a not-so-subtle payback for all those mass migrations of Cubs fans to Miller Park.

Not a rivalry? Please. …

For the Cubs, it’s a gut-punch. Jon Lester could steady the ship Tuesday with an outing worthy of an ace, but this team, with its already compromised bullpen, wasn’t well prepared for an audible the size of this one. The Brewers simply refused to yield, however, winning seven straight — and 27 of 37 — heading into the tiebreaker.

The Brewers earned this one. The Cubs can’t be called unlucky, let alone the better team. …

The Cubs burned through six different relievers, something that should make it hard for manager Joe Maddon to get a decent night’s sleep. This was the least desirable of all potential scenarios. Jesse Chavez put in a hard day’s work. Justin Wilson could be close to spent. Steve Cishek appears to be running on fumes. Randy Rosario, Brandon Kintzler and Jaime Garcia all pitched.

How long can Lester go on Tuesday? Will he come through in the playoffs yet again? Or will a Cubs team making its fourth straight postseason appearance turn out — just like that — to be toast?

The Trib’s Steve Rosenbloom:

Jose Quintana, your patsy was ready.

The Brewers were in town, and hot or not, MVP candidate or no, they were the exact team the Cubs needed to see with Quintana ready to go on regular rest.

In fact, they were the one team for whom the Cubs would send a fleet of limos. Quintana might not be the consistent arm the Cubs had anticipated when they acquired him from the White Sox last season, but he had consistently owned the Brewers.

In six starts against them this season, Quintana posted a 2.17 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP. In 10 lifetime starts against Milwaukee, Quintana was even better — a 1.60 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. The Brewers were the only team against whom Quintana had a WHIP below 1.0. Yes, this was his patsy. This was his start. This was his chance to give the fatigued Cubs a couple days off before the NL Division Series and home-field advantage as long as they survive the league’s postseason.

But no. Didn’t happen. The Brewers won the NL Central in Wrigley Field, though you can’t blame Quintana. You can blame the Cubs offense and bullpen, and maybe the manager for going to the bullpen so early.

Quintana wasn’t dominant. He was barreled up at times. But he gave the Cubs a chance to win, as much as he was allowed to while throwing just 64 pitches, giving up one run in five-plus innings.

Then it became a bullpen game, which would set off the much-discussed weirdness that wove through the day and the game, one of two tiebreakers to decide NL division titles and wild-card combatants, the first in Wrigley the other in Dodger Stadium.

It wasn’t win-or-walk for the Cubs, Brewers, Dodgers or Rockies, but it was the next-closest thing when you consider the fear every team has of the coin flip that is the one-game wild card.

For the Cubs and Brewers, the importance was more acute because they would hold home-field advantage for as long as they stayed alive in the NL bracket.

That led to the big pregame question of whether the managers empty the bullpen only with a lead to avoid being forced to play Tuesday, knowing if they won Monday’s game, then they would have a couple days to let their arms recover.

With neither starter completing the sixth, we got an answer. The bullpen battle turned into a parade of high-leverage relievers in a game tied at 1. Tuesday didn’t appear to matter. Maddon used four relievers in the eighth inning, and unfortunately one was the Justin Wilson from 2017 that made your eyes bleed and another was this week’s Steve Cishek that made everyone tired and yet another was mid-season acquisition Brandon Kintzler who might as well have stayed in Washington.

Like that, the Brewers led 3-1 lead and their bullpen played to asphyxiating form. White Sox closer Joakim Soria fanned Javier Baez to end the sixth, then came Corey Knebel in the seventh and Josh Hader in the eighth and ninth. The Cubs still haven’t touched that bullpen and might not if you’d given them all night.

As they have done all season, the Cubs hitters proved mystifyingly inconsistent. After blowing up against the Cardinals on Sunday, the Cubs flat-lined Monday, managing just two hits other than Anthony Rizzo’s massive solo blast. That’s how you blow a great opportunity to sail into the postseason.

To think, a month ago the Cubs held a five-game lead over the Brewers and looked set to roll to their third straight division title. The Brewers caught them, and now have passed them.

Tuesday’s crapshoot game awaits. Win, and the Cubs advance to the NL Division Series on Thursday against these same Brewers. Quick, someone tell the Cubs offense that hitting in October is not optional.

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