Week of November 28, 2020

Me and the boys at our last game of pickup before COVID hit, roughly 120 years ago.

RIP: Diego Maradona Diego Maradona died this week. Maradona was, in my opinion, one of the two greatest soccer players ever (along with his countryman, Leonel Messi). But in ways Messi has not and never will approach, Maradona captured the attention of soccer fans all over the world. His career mostly preceded my sports awareness (he peaked in the mid-to-late 1980s, when I was no older than 7). Still, I’ve seen clips. I’ve seen highlights. I watched the HBO documentary last year. The reason he was so beloved is not just his play. It’s his panache. His gravity. His Fuck You attitude. Just watch him warm up before the 1989 UEFA Semi-Finals. 

A master, at the top of his game, unbothered by anything else.  I will always love watching the way this very small man (around 5’5”) always seemed like the biggest person on the field. The Ringer’s Brian Phillips really captured it this week:

Many athletes bring joy to people, of course, and many athletes lead chaotic lives, and many athletes die too early, because many people do. But Diego was something else. I don’t know why anyone cares what a person can do with a ball; I only know that Maradona was able to do things with one that, when you saw them, made you feel like the universe was telling you a secret. The sight of him with the ball at his feet, this little guy with his hair streaming back, all chest and thighs and churning elbows, had a power that is given to very few people in any generation, the power to make a large part of the world hold its breath.

Every sports fan knows about The Hand of God goal in the 1986 World Cup. It is probably in the first paragraph of many of his obituaries.  He punched that thing in for the first goal of the game. It’s so blatant. It’s in the open. This tiny guy got up so high, extended his arm, and punched in a goal. And he got away with it. That’s pretty wild. But my favorite part? That incredible nickname, the Hand of God, was coined by Maradona himself, right after the game. He was asked if it was a handball and he said it was, “a little with my head, and a little with the hand of God”. I mean, that’s so funny. And it takes some brass ones. And there are levels to it – he kinda calls himself God there, doesn’t he? And, well, in Argentina at least, he was. Because minutes after the Hand of God, he sealed the World Cup victory with what was later called the Goal of the Century (and is certainly accompanied by the broadcasting call of the century!).

That goal is incredible – the skill, the poise, the creativity. The stakes. And those stakes cannot be overstated. This was no ordinary World Cup Quarterfinal. This was Argentina vs. England, just four years after the two countries engaged in a bitter if short war over the Falkland Islands, a small group of islands off Argentina’s southern Atlantic Coast. Nearly 40 years later, Argentina is still very angry about that war – you can imagine what that game meant to the Argentine people a mere four years after:  So when you hear that announcer lose control of his emotions, all that history is in there. An entire country of 30 million people screaming in catharsis. In 1986, and again this week. -TOB

PAL: I remarked about his passing to Natalie. She had no idea who Maradona was. I tried to explain, but then I just showed her The Goal of The Century instead. She was captivated. For someone who had no idea who he was or how much that goal meant, she got the draw of him in one clip. All the words we try to describe the greats, they fall short of whatever is transferred in the experience of seeing them be great. 

Is the NFL Hiding Positive COVID Tests In Order to Play Games? We’ll get to the NFL – I promise. But first, as I’ve written many times here, college football is problematic – and my head knows that. But my heart loves it, and I just wish it could be made better. That was tested early this month when, after waiting months for Cal’s first game of the 2020 season, word came two days before the game that a single player had tested positive for COVID-19. As a result of players being isolated based on contract tracing, the rest of the entire defensive line was wiped out, despite testing negative numerous times. The game was canceled under the Pac-12’s policy allowing a team to cancel (and not forfeit) if they have less than 53 scholarship players, or 1 scholarship QB, or five scholarship offensive lineman, or four scholarship defensive lineman. The latter two categories are an issue of safety – you can’t run a bunch of undersized kids against an experienced offensive line, for example. But I was PISSED. One god dang positive test canceled a whole game!? And worse, it was Cal’s first positive test all camp. And worse than that, the following week’s game was in serious jeopardy because the players, who again never tested positive, had to isolate for 14 days. So, the first game was canceled. The second was in jeopardy but ultimately played, sorta. As it turned out, the 14th day was the following Sunday. However, Cal’s second opponent, ASU, suffered a large outbreak. So that game got canceled (as did ASU’s next two games after that), and Cal played a Sunday morning game against UCLA, in the Rose Bowl, on thirty six hours notice (UCLA’s original opponent, Utah, also had a COVID outbreak). EXHALE. But as this all unfolded, and college games get canceled left and right, I have been wondering: how in the heck has the NFL avoided this? I keep hearing news that NFL players test positive during the week, but it never seems to wipe out an entire position group. And the NFL hasn’t missed a single game. How? And players test positive during the week but somehow play on Sunday? And how come we seem to never read about last minute Sunday positive tests?  This had been bugging me, in light of what happened to Cal, and then I saw this interesting article from Defector’s Kelsey McKinney. Here, check this chart she put together (as she explains, the NFL began the season NOT testing on game days, but changed that policy beginning October 12, so she limits her data after that date): Uhh. You know that scene in Revenge of the Nerds when Stan wants to know why the Lambdas are selling so many pies? And then Ogre gets one of the pies, it’s just whipped cream? And then he eats it and it’s good but not great, and they wonder again why the Lambdas are selling so many damn pies? And then Ogre gets to the bottom of the pie and he sees the Lambdas have lined the pie tins with naked photos of the Pis (photos that were VERY ILLEGALLY taken, I might add), and then Ogre looks up and says – well, just watch (um, the last five seconds are NSFW):

That’s how I felt when I saw Kelsey’s chart. This why. Uh oh. But even that figure of four positive tests on Sunday is higher than the real numbers, as McKinney explains:

Two of the four players placed on the list on a Sunday were not playing that day. Dru Samia (OL) was placed on the list on Sunday, Nov. 15. The Vikings that week played on Monday. Baker Mayfield (QB) was placed on the list on Sunday, Nov. 8. The Browns were on a bye week. When I looked more closely, I only found two players in my research across all game days (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday) who were been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on a day his own team played.

I mean, wow. McKinney reached out to the NFL who claimed to have not known of this disparity, but explaining that the Monday announcements are based on tests on Sunday, because results aren’t available by game time. But as McKinney points out this means that, somehow, there have been just TWO Saturday positive tests for players playing on Sunday. Or perhaps better said, by McKinney:

Somehow, every week, players are taking COVID-19 tests on Saturday and not being placed on the list (be it for positive tests or close contact) on Sunday. By Monday, they need to be on the list. Someone with a conspiratorial mind might take that as evidence that the league is pulling some number of strings to make sure that the Saturday tests are being administered in some way so as to ensure their results won’t endanger the next day’s games. It’s perhaps more damning for the league, however, if the protocols are actually being strictly followed and everything is being reported above board. In that case, these results reveal just how little repeated testing can actually tell us about who has COVID-19 on any given day, and further demonstrate how inaccurate the NFL’s elaborate testing apparatus really is. If all these protocols are meant to prevent infected players from being around their teammates and participating in NFL games—and the numbers tell us that is clearly not happening, unless you believe all those Ravens players somehow caught the virus and tested positive for it just hours after the conclusion of Sunday’s game—then what is the point of the protocols?

The NFL sure is selling a lot of pies, though, eh?

Source: What Can The Distribution Of Positive COVID-19 Results Tell Us About The NFL’s Testing Program?Kelsey McKinney, Defector (11/24/2020)

Answering a Question Being Asked: Is It Ethical To Use A Fantasy Football Loophole To Start A Player Out Of Position? Yes. -TOB

Source: Is It Ethical To Use A Fantasy Football Loophole To Start A Player Out Of Position?Dan McQuade, Defector (11/24/2020)

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