Week of November 18, 2022

Yes, Stanford Sucks; Here’s How

Cal has beaten Stanford two out of the last three years and god damnit they are winning again this weekend JUST LOOK at these uniforms.

FIRE. It is literally impossible to lose when you look that good.

And it doesn’t hurt that while Cal has had a disappointing season, Stanford REALLY sucks. It wasn’t long ago that Stanford was one of the best teams in the country, so what happened? The Chronicle’s Connor LeTourneau answers that question and buddy let me tell you I enjoyed every word. Here’s Connor on the sorry state of Stanford football:

As Stanford prepares for Saturday afternoon’s Big Game at Cal, it already has assured its third straight full season without a bowl appearance. A barrage of injuries to key players couldn’t keep Shaw from becoming the subject of recent “hot seat” chatter — a development that would have seemed unfathomable a half-decade ago.

In his first six years leading the Cardinal, he guided his alma mater to five 10-win seasons, including three Pac-12 titles and two Rose Bowl victories. But as the transfer portal, NIL deals and Air Raid offenses altered the paradigm of college football, Stanford devolved from powerhouse to punchline.

A program once revered for its toughness and smarts is flirting with its second consecutive three-win season. For the fourth year in a row, Stanford ranks among the bottom fifth of FBS teams in yards per play allowed. Its offensive line, which not long ago was an NFL pipeline and the envy of college football, is routinely bullied.

Yes, yes. More, more. 

Over the past 13½ months, Stanford has gone 1-14 in Pac-12 play. Its predictable offense and shaky defense have some opponents viewing it as an easy win. In a bigger-picture breakdown of the program published in April, the Athletic quoted an anonymous Pac-12 assistant as saying, “You used to fear playing Stanford. … Nobody fears playing them anymore.”


Instead of being asked about the rivalry with Cal, the first question he received during Tuesday’s news conference was about his job status. Shaw kept his answer brief: “Our focus is on the 125th Big Game, and that’s what our focus is. Thanks.” Later asked whether Saturday could mark his final time coaching the Big Game, he appeared visibly annoyed as he told the reporter, “I like how you asked that question with a smirk because you know I’m not going to answer it. Next question.”


A quarterback under head coach John Ralston in the mid-1960s, Cook has not attended a Stanford home game this season for the first time in more than 20 years as a form of protesting Shaw.

“By giving up our tickets, we spend our Saturdays doing something else rather than being frustrated with the team,” Cook said. “The Big Game is up at Berkeley this ye

Hahaha, hell yeah. GO BEARS! -TOB

Source: Stanford’s David Shaw Faces ‘Hot-Seat’ Chatter, Donor Frustrations as Losses Mount,” Connor LeTourneau, SF Chronicle (11/16/2022)

World Cup Goals and What They Mean

The Ringer’s Brian Phillips has been putting out a really great series in the lead up to the World Cup – long, entertaining, poetic essays on 22 of the greatest and most important goals in World Cup history. 

Like the best sportswriting, Phillip’s stories are about more than the goals, though. Like this one, about Lucien Laurent, the Frenchman who sailed across the globe to Uruguay for the very first World Cup and scored the first goal in the tournament’s history. In that article, Phillips lays out why a coffee fungus in Sri Lanka in the 19th Century led, arguably, to the modern World Cup. I learned about Thomas Lipton (as in the tea) and his role in the World Cup. I learned about steam ship trips across the Atlantic. I saw this incredible picture of the French national team on that steam ship.

Then there was this article about Johann Cruyff, the Dutch soccer great. In this one, Phillips weaves in and out of the story a funny observation about Bob Dylan and whether he can drive a car. It sounds weird, but it works. I learned about “Total Football,” I saw cool clips of a soccer legend I’ve heard of but never really seen before. For example, this is just sick:

I also loved this one which asked the question – which kind of goal do you like best: one involving incredible teamwork or one involving sparking individual effort and skill:

But the question of teamwork versus talent. Of the group versus the individual. Of the successful English boy band versus the ex-boy band member now recording as a solo artist whom everyone tries to pretend is more sophisticated than the boy band even though really, he just wears weirder pants.

These questions are central to the appreciation of soccer goals. And therefore central to this time that you and I are spending together as an excuse not to do any real work.

Here are the contenders:

Argentina’s 24-pass build up to a goal in 2006:

 Or James’ incredible volley strike in 2014:

Phillips takes James’ goal, as he explains here:

Since the systems in play have such a powerful determining influence on the game, I often find it more thrilling, more moving, when one player manages to stand out from the system. When one player rises above it or epitomizes it.

I want to watch that person do amazing things. I want to know what that person means to the game. Or means outside the game. I like stars.

Of course I would not ever say no to a 24-pass move culminating in a goal following a no-look back-heel pass. I will have that goal seven days a week, no ketchup. But if it comes down to a choice, I’ll take Diego Maradona running through the English defense over just about anything else in the game.

Well, thank goodness we don’t have to choose. Soccer gives us both these possibilities, and it gives every possibility between them. Every nuance on the continuum. It’s a surprisingly nuanced game, soccer, for a sport that once prominently featured John Terry.

And finally, I want to talk about this article about Landon Donovan’s incredible, tournament saving goal against Algeria in 2010

My god, what a moment. Phillips discusses the goal, yes. But he really discusses the history of soccer in America which is, ya know, complicated. Phillips writes this excellent paragraph about the waning moments of that game, right before Donovan’s goal:

It’s a strange thing about hope that in the long term, hope makes life easier. But in the short term, when you’re hoping from one second to the next, when you’re hoping for something right now, hope is a labor.

Hope is work.

You’re waiting for the phone to ring. You’re waiting for the flight to land. You’re waiting for the last seven to spin up on the slot machine. It’s work. American fans are exhausted from years of accumulated short-term hope.

I also really liked what he wrote about what that goal changed for American soccer:

Does the goal change soccer in the United States?

I think the answer is yes, in the following way. It gave us all a moment when we could just be in the moment. When we could be united in the moment.

What I mean by that is that American soccer has carried this structural uncertainty about its own status for so long that if you were an American fan, you were always a little bit trapped in big-picture thinking.

You were always aware of the state of the game. The development of the game. Where’s the game going? What’s your responsibility to help get it there?

It was always partly about a process. Probably even this year, heading into Qatar, we still feel some of that.

But not in that moment in Pretoria. When joy finally comes, it gives you the present. It gives you radiance with no future and no past. And it felt to me like a lot of things fell away from American men’s soccer as we all passed through that moment. A weight lifted. I don’t know how to explain it.

Men’s soccer did not get to be bigger than the NFL, but the concern over whether it would just … never seemed as pressing after that. Because of that moment. The game didn’t get bigger so much as it got freer. It got less pressured. It got more fun.

Because of that moment, I think MLS games started to seem more like a great time, less burdened by the question of where the league is going.

Because of that moment, I think Landon Donovan was more able to open up about his struggles with anxiety and burnout—hardly anyone talks about this now, but Landon was way ahead of the discourse on athletes and mental health.

Because of that moment, when a young American player goes to Europe, I no longer think the fate of the universe is riding on the outcome. I just think, for Christ’s sake, Chelsea, get him off the bench.

It’s a really good point. We never hear, “Will soccer ever make it in the U.S.?” Man, it’s made it and that goal is a big reason why. It proved that American fans love soccer and will go bananas for it. 

Anyways, great series by Phillips. It got me so pumped for World Cup. -TOB

Source: Landon Donovan, 2010, and a Breakthrough Moment for American Soccer,” Brian Phillips, The Ringer (11/16/2022)

PAL: I love the tone and tempo to Phillips’ writing in this story. It reads fast and loose – like he’s telling you this story at a bar. He’s so much more focused on the feelings and tempo of the story than a perfectly constructed sentence in its leanest, fittest form. 

Weaving a history into (or up to) a moment can read like work, but he sums up American soccer so well. Decades of details about how professional soccer couldn’t take hold leading up to an unlikely goal against Algeria. Why didn’t America embrace professional soccer, especially when all of us were playing it growing up? I loved this insight from Phillips: “When you’re the world’s most confident superpower and you’re bad at something, you can’t be bad at it just because you’re bad at it.”

While I’m not the biggest World Cup fan out there, I know exactly where I was when Donovan scored – Ireland’s 32 on Geary Blvd drinking morning Guinness in a packed bar. Phillips is right – that moment was electric – for a moment we all got a taste of the joy of a World Cup moment. 

Fun read!

TOB: Man, that must have been a dope spot to see that goal. I was at home, lol.

How Europe Decides Who Wins the World Cup

At the heart of this story, and what’s at stake in a Europe-driven globalization of the game, is best captured in one Portuguese word: ginga (pronounced jee-en-gah).

Ginga is a style of dribbling and feinting at the core of the way soccer is played in Brazil, especially in the favelas. Pelé was one of the first. And that’s where this story from Tariq Panja, Elian Peltier and Rory Smith starts: in the favelas. Every week, the kids from a premier youth soccer academy take a bus ride to the favelas and play there. It’s the only place left where their play, preparation, and approach to the game isn’t impacted by Europe. 

Per Panja, Peltier and Smith

The demands and desires of Europe have shaped not only the way almost every country will play at this World Cup, but also which teams have had the talent and resources to qualify for it and which team has the ability to win it.

In other words, all of the best players in the world end up in Europe at around 17, 18, 19. That means all of the academies around the world teach and train based on what will give its program the best chance to send more players to Europe. It’s not just happening in Brazil. The same is taking place in Western Africa 

At the same time, those choices locked out a whole region of the continent, seemingly for good. It is not that there is less talent in Kenya and the Central African Republic than in Tunisia or Senegal; it is that there is less investment, less opportunity. Which nations can hope to reach the World Cup is determined, in effect, by Europe. And so, too, is the question of which countries can win it.

It is becoming increasingly rare for national teams to feature players who play in their home country. I mean, look at this chart! 

Such an interesting read, and a bit sad, too. There’s something really cool to a country having a style of play – an identity that’s unique. Really fascinating read. – PAL

Source: “How Europe Decides Who Wins the World Cup,” Tariq Panja, Elian Peltier and Rory Smith, The New York Times (11/18/2022) 

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-George Costanza