The unsinkable power of sports and the NFL

Football: Jets-v-Eagles, Sep 2009 - 29 by Ed Yourdon, on Flickr
Photo  by  Ed Yourdon 
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License

It’s hard to put into words, eloquent words anyway, what happened last night in Seattle in the Monday nighter between the Packers and Seahawks. I don’t usually like to inject my personal allegiances into my professional work, lest others think that I’m letting my feelings get in the way of an objective and measured piece. Also, in most cases, I don’t think it’s overly relevant. In this one instance though, it’s important to note that I am a Packers fan, which makes it even more difficult to try and explain the craziness from last night, but I’m going to give it a go. If you need to catch up, here are the highlights from
What happened last night could lift the Seahawks into the playoffs. What happened last night could prevent the Packers from getting in. What happened last night could have been prevented by having the real referees in Seattle instead of the replacement ones.
The three things above are unknown. We won’t know the playoff picture for either the Seahawks or the Packers for several weeks, and the unbelievable display of officiating may have happened with the real referees as well.  There are also three things that we do know. First, the Packers and presumably the rest of the NFC West are pissed. The NFC North on the other hand couldn’t possibly be any happier. Second, the NFL knows how bad this looks. They may have had their head in the sand for the three weeks that the replacement refs have been here, but a debacle in prime time that cost a Super Bowl contender a win will surely get the NFL to at least raise their heads from the dirt. Lastly, as outraged as you or I may be, Packers fan or otherwise, we will be back.
Sports, as we all know, is a drug. The NFL is the perfect drug out there, 100% legal and it comes to you on the regular. You get a small taste every Thursday, nearly overdose three days later on Sunday and get one more hit on Monday before getting ready to start the process all over again in three days. It’s a never ending cycle of gluttony, orgasmic highs and cataclysmic lows.
Last night, casual NFL fans and supporters from other teams were in a state of utter disbelief with what they saw. I know this thanks to the power of Twitter, which is usually about as divided as Fox News and logic. After the game was over, there was one clear thought: the Packers were jobbed by the officials. That thought was later replaced with the notion that in the year 2012 with replay capability and all of the available technology at the feet of the NFL, that they needed to do something and give the win to the Packers. Obviously that’s pie in the sky thinking. The NFL, especially in a labour dispute with their real officials, would never undermine the work of any of their staff.
For those watching the game last night that weren’t Packers fans, it was a joke. As a Packers fan, I was gutted and to be completely honest, it wasn’t rage induced, nor was my frustration directed at the officials. In Week One, the Packers were hosting the 49ers, and Green Bay was pretty much as awful as I’ve seen them in a long time. With about ten minutes to go in the fourth quarter, I tweeted the following:

It figures that it would come back and bite Green Bay, but it really could have happened to any team. The frustration or anger that fans have really should be directed at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners for allowing their league to decompose to this level. As disgusted as I was with the result last night, and still am almost nine hours later, no result is going to keep me from watching the games. In actuality, this might be what disgusts me the most. I’m going to watch Browns/Ravens on Thursday. I’m going to watch the full slate on Sunday, and the Monday nighter in six days. Then I’ll get ready to start the process again. One of my colleagues tweeted this early this morning:

In some ways, he’s right. I can’t help but think though that if another major organization had spit in my face for three weeks, that I’d keep coming back for more. The power that sports has over us, the NFL in particular, is fascinating. The pull they have comes in the sixteen game schedule. For sixteen games, a period of roughly 50 total hours, you live and die with your team. That’s something that the other North American leagues, with seasons ranging from 82 to 162 games, simply can’t match.
It’s going to take Packers fans and the team itself a long time to get over this one. I know I didn’t sleep much last night, and judging by the Packers players on Twitter, many of them didn’t either. They might want to try though, as the Saints come into Green Bay in six days. Once again, it’s time to start the process.


Fred Couples and the endless debate of Hall of Fame candidacy

Fred Couples on 1st Tee by Bill Spruce, on Flickr
Photo  by  Bill Spruce 
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License

Fred Couples was announced on Wednesday as the first inductee for the World Golf Hall of Fame’s class of 2013, and when I heard the news, my gut reaction was that it made sense. Then, I sat and watched as my Twitter timeline filled up with golf pundits declaring that Couples didn’t deserve to get in, at least not yet.
Presumably, these guys all have a vote in the process. The WGHOF doesn’t release the names of those who do, so it’s not 100% clear to me who is and isn’t doing the voting. Now, there are three requirements that all golfers must meet before getting considered for induction on the PGA Tour side. They are as follows:

  1. They must be at least 40 years old.
  2. Must be a member of the PGA Tour for ten years.
  3. Ten career wins or two majors or two Players Championships.

Couples qualifies for all three, with fifteen wins in his career, including one major (1992 Masters) and two Players Championships in 1984 and 1996, so there’s no issue with his qualifications. So, what’s the problem?
According to several articles I’ve read over the past few days, the issue is more with the process than the final result. For induction into the Hall, you’re supposed to receive 65% of the vote, but if no one gets to that benchmark, the committee can enshrine anyone who got to at least 50%. From the reports, Couples got to 51%. Now, you can definitely argue that the process is broken. 65% is lower than most Hall of Fames, as you can see from the table below, and the idea that you can still get in without getting to that number is ridiculous. I’m assuming the only reason why Couples is getting in now is because the WGHOF didn’t want to go a year without inducting someone with PGA Tour credentials, but that’s hardly an endorsement of Couples or the Hall itself. It would have been very difficult for the WGHOF to exceed last year’s event, headlined by Phil Mickelson, Dan Jenkins and Peter Alliss, and it seems like the attempt to do something over nothing has ruffled a few feathers.

Pro Football Hall of Fame

Hockey Hall of Fame 75%
Baseball Hall of Fame 75%
Basketball Hall of Fame 75% of the honors committee
World Golf Hall of Fame 65%

Some argued that there are other players who are more deserving of the honour than Couples, such as Davis Love III, Ken Venturi or Mark O’Meara. I’m not going to argue against any of those three men, who all have substantial career resumes, but what I’ve been trying to figure out is why those with the vote are so angry with the result. Certainly the Hall of Fame debate is more rampant in other sports, baseball and hockey in particular, and I get it to some degree. It’s fun for the fans to debate the merits of all kinds of players, and the Hall of Fame gives people the opportunity to compare and contrast players across eras, which they couldn’t do while the players were playing at their peaks.
At his peak, you could make the argument that there were few in the game better than Couples, and if it weren’t for a series of nearly career ending back problems, “Boom Boom” would have an even more esteemed record than what he currently holds. Even now at 52 years old Couples can contend with the younger guys on the PGA Tour, which is something few players have ever been able to do at his age. Throughout his career, Couples has always been thought of as one of the best in the world, with the smoothest swing on the planet and a personality that made him instantly liked by anyone he came across. The game of golf has been undeniably better with Couples’ presence in it, and his resume speaks for itself. So, again, what’s the problem?
As has been the case in the past with other sports, it seems like the golf writers think that they have been entrusted with some kind of supernatural power. Their vote is so sacred and important, that they owe it to to not only the fans of the game, but to the greats already enshrined in the Hall to keep the riffraff out. Fred Couples is not riffraff, far from it actually. People have said, “Well, we’ve let Fred in, where do we draw the line?” My response to that: Who cares? Stop talking like it’s your duty to protect the sanctity of the game and the hallowed walls of the Hall. We’ve come to take every Hall of Fame far too seriously. At the induction ceremony, Couples will get on the stage, say a few words, get a plaque at the end of the night, and the next time we’ll see him is when he’s on the course. His induction means little in the long run. It’s a nice thing to see at the bottom at his list of accomplishments, but it isn’t something that’s going to fundamentally change the way we look at him as a player or person. It’s interesting how the complaints seemingly started with the process, but now Couples has been attacked as a result. He didn’t ask anyone to nominate him, and frankly, with his demeanor and attitude, I’m not even sure that he would even care if he got in or not.
Couples himself admitted that he may have gotten in based on his popularity, and that while he was never a great player, he was always a good one. For a sport that is too often exclusionary and uptight, Couples has always been cool. Even to this day, he seems to carry around that old cliche of having the “it factor”, the trait that is impossible to define, but immediately recognizable when you see it. The resumes of guys like O’Meara and Love are better, and they will both likely get in to the Hall at some point, but neither have had the cultural impact of Couples. In a time when we throw around the word icon far too often, Couples is one of the few in the game of golf that is deserving of the title. That’s why he’s going into the Hall of Fame next May.

Tiger Woods: “The losses aren’t what they used to be”

Tiger Woods by Keith Allison, on Flickr
Photo  by  Keith Allison 
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License

“It hasn’t changed me in that regard, but I think it’s put a different perspective on things. Losing a parent and having the birth of two kids put things in better perspective for me. The wins are fantastic, but the losses aren’t what they used to be, because I get to talk to my kids at night. It makes things– it puts things in a proper perspective, for sure.”
That quote is from Tiger Woods’ press conference on Wednesday afternoon, a day before he tees it up at Crooked Stick for the BMW Championship. I’ve always thought Tiger’s reputation as being a non-feeling robot was a little overblown, but it’s no secret that he’s never been an open book. Tiger’s been in the national spotlight for over 30 years, and even though we feel like we know him, we really don’t. The scandal he went through publicly a few years ago is the biggest proof of that. I remember reading the reports of Tiger’s alleged infidelities, and thinking there was no way that the rumors were true. However, there are two things that we’ve always known about Tiger. He has an unrelenting drive and determination to win tournaments, and he hates losing. These two traits, along with his staggering level of talent, have made him the player and generational icon that he is, which is what makes the above quote so interesting.
He was asked if all of the stuff he’s gone through over the last couple of years, including the birth of his two children, had changed his desire to win tournaments and majors. I have no doubt that his appetite for success is still as voracious as ever. There’s no player in the sport who lives and dies in the moment, with every shot, every bit of leaderboard movement and every break, good or bad, like Tiger Woods. But there is something different about Tiger.
I’m not talking about the lack of majors this year, or his “poor” season as its been put by several members of the media, despite his three victories, which is more than anyone save for world number one Rory McIlroy, who has also won three times in 2012.
Tiger’s demeanor on the course has changed. When was the last time you saw Tiger converse with his playing partner throughout an entire round, or congratulate them on good shots? Both have happened in the last two weeks. He’s become good friends with McIlroy, the consensus best player in the world. When was the last time Tiger was friends with any of the guys who would seriously threaten his major title pursuits? The media is desperately trying and failing to turn the two men into rivals, feeling the need to compare and contrast them at every turn in a transparent attempt to bring page views and ratings. This isn’t Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh, both of whom have had serious tension with Tiger in the past. These guys legitimately like each other, and the only battles they’re going to have are going to be for tournament wins.
Let’s take a look back at this past Monday and the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship. Tiger is on the seventh hole, coming off of two birdies in three holes, cutting the lead of Louis Oosthuizen to four shots. Tiger drives his ball into the middle of the fairway, and when NBC cuts back to him, Tiger is talking to the group’s standard bearer, a young boy of no more than 14 years old. Tiger Woods, in contention in a final round, knowing he needs to post a number to catch two of the best in the world, and he’s talking to a volunteer? Never in a million years would I have expected to see that on my TV, but the weird thing is that he looked comfortable, almost like it was a practice round with no cameras. Tiger would go on to birdie the hole, moving closer to Oosthuizen and McIlroy.
Tiger is turning 37 years old this December. He’s seen more highs and lows than any of us likely ever will, and all of it has taken place out in the open for the whole world to see. He will win more tournaments, more majors. He will still be golf’s biggest drawing card. But, for the first time in his professional career, he has admitted publicly that winning a golf tournament isn’t the most important thing in his life. For a man who’s entire life has revolved around golf, it’s a stunning change in attitude.  Who knows if this is going to have a positive or negative impact on his game, but keep in mind that Tiger is in the midst of his best year since 2009. The one thing I do know is that as always with Tiger, it’s going to be fun to watch.

RacketBoy Writing: Best Nintendo 64 Racing Titles

My latest piece for RacketBoy was published this morning, and it’s a pretty long read. When you have a chance, check it out:

Is John Daly finding his way back?

John Daly by Keith Allison, on Flickr

Over the winter, a colleague of mine suggested that we start a different kind of golf fantasy game. The idea was simple enough: Get six people together, and do a draft. Trading and dropping players would be allowed, with total money at the end of the year determining the winner. Admittedly, my team has struggled this year, led by my first round pick, Jason Day. This week the stop on the PGA Tour is the last major of the year, the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s famed Ocean Course, and I made a pair of pickups. First, I scooped Alexander Noren, who’s having a tremendous year on the European Tour, and I also grabbed former PGA Championship winner John Daly, who won the 1991 PGA at Crooked Stick as the ninth alternate when Nick Price withdrew.
Now, it’s likely a commentary on the current state of my roster that I resorted to picking up Daly this week, but he’s very quietly put together his best season in years. With his T-5 last week at the Reno-Tahoe Open, Daly picked up his fifth T-20 worldwide this season. From 2006-2011, Daly finished in the top-20 a total of four times. Making things even better for Daly is that if he can put together a couple of solid finishes in the next few weeks, he could find himself inside the top-125 of the PGA Tour Money List, which would give him his tour card for next season. He currently sits about $150,000 behind Rod Pampling for the 125th spot, which would be easily made up with a good finish at Kiawah. Compare his season to this time last year, and Daly has jumped 396 spots in the World Rankings to his current spot of 219. Considering Daly hasn’t had his card since 2006, he definitely has more to play for than the average golfer this week.
Daly is one of the most polarizing figures in sports. Loved by fans and sponsors, he’s one of the biggest draws the PGA Tour has. There are few golfers who move the needle like Daly, but his behaviour on and off the course over the years has been troubling at best and destructive at its worst. The issues with alcohol, gambling, drugs and petulant on-course conduct are well documented, but none of these things have hurt him in the popularity department. It’s this popularity that has allowed Daly to receive more second chances than just about anyone in sports. Unfortunately for him and his fans, his awful play over the last few years has meant that Daly hasn’t been seen often, which seems inconceivable with his level of talent. His combination of prolific driving distance and silky smooth short game has rarely been seen in professional golf, and even now, Daly can do those things as well as almost anyone.
It’s no secret that the PGA Tour has never been the most flexible when it comes to rules infractions. Golf in general has always been about etiquette, and that’s certainly not going to change any time soon, but when Daly was winning and playing well, the PGA Tour had to put up with his transgressions. Outside of his incident at the Australian Open last year, Daly has been on his best behavior recently, and at age 46, he probably realizes he doesn’t have a ton of time left in his golf career to win tournaments. Watching Daly in Reno last week, he did something that we haven’t seen in quite a while. He made an eagle in the third round on Saturday, and as it was dropping in the cup, Daly pumped his fist and had a look of confidence on his face that he used to have when he was golf’s most exciting player. With Kiawah set up at over 7600 yards and the soft conditions due to the rain expected in the area, the course should favor a player of Daly’s skill set. It’s amazing that we’ve gotten to the point with Daly that a win this week would be just as unlikely as his win at Crooked Stick 21 years ago. Back then, no one would have predicted the type of fall that Daly has had, but golf is an unforgiving game, a fact that Daly is well aware of.
Here we are in 2012 at Glory’s Last Shot, the PGA Championship. For everyone, Daly included, it’s their last shot at winning a major this season. But Daly has way more riding on this then anyone in the field. Twenty-one years after his biggest victory as a professional, it’s not just his last shot at winning a major this year, it could be his last shot at redemption, and as Daly is wont to do, he’s going to give that shot all he has.

The ongoing struggles of Mike Weir

Mike Weir, 2003 Masters Champion by rottinam, on Flickr
Photo  by  rottinam 
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License


That’s the current world ranking of 2003 Masters Champion Mike Weir. Of all 34 ranked Canadians, Weir sits 34th. It’s been a stunning fall from grace for the Brights Grove native who climbed golf’s highest mountain in April of 2003. Golf is known for one-hit wonders; guys who have a good week or two, win a big tournament and are never heard from again, but Weir was different. His five PGA Tour wins prior to putting on the green jacket, and the two victories after suggest that Weir was not supposed to disappear into the ether.

Weir spent 106 weeks in the top-10 of the World Rankings, peaking at number three for five weeks in 2003, behind only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Even now, despite not winning a tournament in nearly five years, Weir remains in 18th place in all-time career earnings at nearly $27 million. His lingering injury concerns, most notably a torn ligament in his right elbow that prematurely ended his 2010 season, have been a major driving force behind his struggles. He started the 2011 season on a major medical exemption, but didn’t earn enough money to retain his PGA Tour card. At this point, he’s relying mostly on sponsor invites to get into events. He’ll always be able to play in the Masters by virtue of his 2003 victory, and you’d have to think that he will always be invited to the Canadian Open, but outside of those tournaments, Weir’s going to have to earn his starts.

This week, Weir is playing in the Reno-Tahoe Open, one of the Tour’s “B” events. Most of the game’s biggest stars are of course in Akron for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a tournament Weir hasn’t been eligible to play in since 2010. Two years ago, Weir had fallen considerably in the World Rankings to 90th. Fast forward to the present day and in that two year time frame, Weir has dropped a staggering 1353 spots further. Since last playing in the WGC-Bridgestone in 2010, Weir has played 29 events. He’s made three cuts, with his best finish a T52 in Spain earlier this year. The other events? Twenty-four missed cuts and two withdrawals.

At 42 years of age, it was only natural that Weir would begin to slow down, but some of the stats paint an ugly picture for Canada’s most famous golfer. These stats are updated through the Canadian Open last week, compared to his 2003 season.

  • Zero rounds shot under 70 through eleven events this season compared to 23 rounds under 70 in 2003.
  • On measured holes, he’s lost 30 yards of distance off the tee.
  • 38% FIR vs. 63% in 2003.
  • 43% GIR vs 65% in 2003.
  • Par 3 Birdie or Better: 9.6% vs. 17.2%
  • Par 4 Birdie or Better: 10.1% vs. 17.9%
  • Par 5 Birdie or Better: 24% vs. 46.5%
  • Scoring Average: 75.96 vs. 69.89
  • Scrambling: (48%) vs. (62%)
  • Avg. Distance after going for it: 85yds vs. 25yds

Weir was never a big hitter, but the loss of thirty yards off the tee, combined with the par-5 birdie or better average are probably the most alarming stats. Most pros make their move up the leaderboard because of par-5’s, and Weir clearly has lost the ability to do that. His trademark accuracy has also left him, as he’s dropped 25% and 22% in fairways and greens hit.

In his pre-tournament presser at the Canadian Open, Weir mentioned that he’s really looking towards next year and that any quality golf played before that would just be a bonus. Is he still hurt? He claims he isn’t, and that it’s just a matter of getting more reps on the course. The track record for most golfers after the age of 40 is not good, so Weir is already fighting an uphill battle even if he has a clean bill of health. Since winning the Open in 2007, Weir has only finished in the top-10 fifteen times, and hasn’t had one of those top-10’s since the Humana in early 2010.

It’s not impossible that Weir finds it at some point, but the chances are getting slimmer by the day. I mentioned earlier that he wasn’t a one-hit wonder, and I do believe that. However, golf also has tons of stories of incredible highs and dizzying lows over an extended period of time. David Duval, Steve Stricker, John Daly, and potentially Paul Casey are just four examples of recent golfers who have succeeded and struggled with consistency.

Currently, Weir doesn’t have any tournaments listed on his site past the Reno-Tahoe Open. He may think he’s close to regaining his form, but without the tournaments, we may never find out.

Unrealistic expectations dog Tiger at Olympic

This story was posted on ScoreMobile on June 18th, 2012. It is no longer available on ScoreMobile, but similar golf features will be posted there frequently. Check out for more info.

Tiger Woods by Keith Allison, on Flickr
Photo  by  Keith Allison 
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License

By Adam Sarson (Score Media)
The story felt so familiar.
Tiger Woods heading into Father’s Day weekend with a piece of the lead at the U.S. Open. The player who makes the needle move more than any other was in place to break his major drought at one of golf’s most historic venues. Many had given him the title, assuming it was a foregone conclusion that Tiger would rise to the occasion once again and defeat not only the world’s best players, but the USGA and their unforgiving terrain at Olympic Club. Those who gave him the victory, some of Tiger’s most ardent supporters, forgot about one thing, the same thing everyone keeps forgetting about: This is not the same Tiger Woods.
A few months ago, he was outside the top-50 in the Official World Golf Rankings. A win yesterday would have placed him second behind only Luke Donald. He is still one of the best players in the world, with just as many wins this season as any other golfer worldwide. He has had great rounds, good rounds, bad rounds and awful rounds. In other words, he’s a professional golfer, just as likely to fire a scintillating 64 as he is to blow up and shoot a 75 on a weekend at a major championship.
This of course would have been unthinkable ten years ago. Then again, lots of things have changed in those ten years. The purses are bigger, the courses have gotten longer and most importantly, the other players have gotten better. Ten years ago, how many players would have been pegged as potential major championship contenders? At most, the answer is likely five or six. Now? That number has at least doubled. The list still includes Tiger, but the competitive advantages that he used to have over the field are now gone. He’s no longer the heaviest hitter, the best iron player or the most consistent putter. On any given day, those attributes are still present, but week in and week out? Those days are over.
For the media, especially those who quietly want to see Tiger succeed; this is a difficult concept to grasp. Generational athletes like Tiger are put on a pedestal for their whole career, only to fall short of their own standards when their skills start to decline. Muhammad Ali, Willie Mays, Wayne Gretzky and Emmitt Smith are just a few of many who couldn’t keep playing at the highest level. But, the media, with the endless line of “Tiger’s back” or “Tiger’s done” stories, don’t seem to grasp the real issue at play.
Tiger is 36 years old. He has had four surgeries on his left knee and dealt with scandal that ruined his personal life. The list of major winners over the age of 35 is a short one, and his window to eclipse Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 majors is starting to close. He knows this better than anyone. There is no athlete on this planet that is more dogged in the pursuit of his goals than Tiger Woods. He’s not as good as he was, and never will be. The days of a superhuman Tiger Woods are not coming back, but you won’t see him fall into a pit of despair either. He still hits shots that most others can’t, and still draws crowds like no one else, but the customary consistency has started to fade.
Throughout his final two rounds on the weekend, analysts and commentators mentioned that his lackluster play over the last two days was unexpected, and something we weren’t used to seeing. If anyone has been paying attention over the last few years, this is exactly what we’ve been seeing. Flashes of greatness clouded by moments of poor shots and frustrated reactions. The fact that he had a share of the 36-hole lead in a major shouldn’t hide the fact that this inconsistency has become Tiger’s new consistency.
There will be a day when Tiger Woods wins another major, much like him winning at Bay Hill and Memorial earlier this year. How many more will he win? No one knows, but to count him out or assume that he’ll break Jack’s record are both ridiculous suggestions. It’s time that we stop looking at what Tiger Woods was, and instead focus on what he is: One of the world’s best, who still has many chapters to write in his incredible story.

RacketBoy Writing: The best sports games on the Sega Genesis

I grew up with the Sega Genesis. It was my first video game console, and while I had played games on other systems, the Genesis was really my introduction to gaming.  As a huge sports fan, the Genesis was all I ever needed to immerse myself in the events and athletes that I adored. To this day, the Genesis is widely considered the system with the greatest library of sports games available.

Name a sport, and there’s likely a game that attempts to recreate it on the Genesis. My second piece for RacketBoy explores the massive Genesis library and picks out the best games to play on Sega’s 16-bit machine.

RacketBoy Writing: Retro Selections for the Nintendo 3DS

A little while ago, I was fortunate enough to pen a piece for retro gaming site RacketBoy. Not only does the site have the absolute best in retro gaming guides for any platform, the RB community is really top-shelf.

For my first of several pieces for RacketBoy, I was able to discuss the best available retro options for Nintendo’s newest handheld, the 3DS. Obviously there’s more of a modern focus on the 3DS currently, but with the retro direction the games industry has taken in the last few years, I thought it was a good opportunity to highlight some of the lesser known titles on the system. Luckily Nick from RacketBoy agreed and gave me chance to write the article for his site and community. Check it out at the below link: