Week of December 15, 2017

Malcolm Gladwell approves.


Portrait of a Broken Down, 38-Year Old, Former NFL Star

I’ve seen, and read, profiles of aging NFL stars before. Their memory is gone, they can barely walk, their families describe them as mercurial, politely. But I’m not sure I’ve ever read one this sad. Larry Johnson was the best running back in the NFL for about a year or two. He set an NFL record for carries in a season, with over 400. His shelf life, for an elite player, was incredibly short. He only went over 1,000 yards twice (1,700+ yards rushing and over 2,000 all purpose yards in both of those years), and otherwise was a mediocre back who either split time or suffered injuries. He retired in 2011, after a combined six carries in his final two seasons.

Larry Johnson is just 38 years old. Larry Johnson is not well. He routinely has suicidal ideations, and says he has come very close to going through. His memory is so bad, he makes highlight videos of his playing career so that he can remember, and so that his 7-year old daughter will know – know he’s not a monster, know that he’s sorry when he lashes out when she can’t figure out her math homework. His memory is so bad that he doesn’t remember two full seasons from his NFL career. It’s as if they didn’t happen for him. He’s sure he has CTE, and believes he won’t know his own name by age 50. He feels a kinship with Aaron Hernandez, as frightening as that is – like Hernandez, Johnson has a history of violence, and has been arrested a number of times for domestic violence. Johnson says, “his decision to publicly describe his darkest thoughts is meant not as a way to excuse his past but rather a way to begin a conversation with other former players who Johnson suspects are experiencing many of the same symptoms.”

His daughter is his saving grace. He says she’s the only reason he hasn’t acted on his darkest, violent impulses. But it’s the scenes with his daughter that are the most heartbreaking.

They’re in the living room now, Papi and Jaylen, surrounded by walls undecorated but for the blotchy spackling compound behind them. That’s where, a few years ago, Johnson punched through the drywall.

Jaylen was there, and Johnson says he sent her upstairs before making the hole. The way he describes it, the best he can do sometimes is to shield her view.

“Did you think it was something that you did?” Johnson recalls asking Jaylen afterward, and the girl nodded. “I had to explain it: It’s never your fault.”

Or worse, the aforementioned homework scene:

Johnson has high expectations for Jaylen, and he believes the universe was making a point when it gave him a daughter. How better to punish him for shoving or choking women than to assign him a girl to shepherd through a world filled with Larry Johnsons?

“My greatest fear is my daughter falling in love with somebody who’s me,” he’ll say, and he believes if he’s honest and tough with Jaylen, she’ll never accept anyone treating her the way her father treated women.

With the sun filtering between the blinds, Johnson plays with her curly hair as she slides a finger across her sentences.

“All people,” Jaylen reads aloud, and her father interrupts.

“No,” he says. “Why would it say ‘all people?’ It . . .”

He stops, sighs and presses two fingers into his eyelids. She looks back at him, and he tells her to keep reading. He rubs his hands, massages his forehead, checks his watch. He’ll say he sometimes forgets she’s only in second grade.

They move on to her page of math problems: twenty-seven plus seven.

“How many tens?” he asks her.

“Two.”

“And how many ones?”

“Seven.”

“No,” he says, visibly frustrated until Jaylen reaches the answer. Next: fifty-seven plus seven. She stares at the page.

“So count,” he says. “Count!”

Thirteen plus eight. Again staring at the numbers. Johnson’s worst subject was math, another trait Jaylen inherited. But his empathy is sometimes drowned out by more dominant emotions.

“You start at thirteen and count eight ones,” he tells her, and in the kitchen, a watch alarm begins to beep. Jaylen counts her fingers.

“No,” her dad tells her, again rubbing his face. The beeping continues in the next room. “No!”

Abruptly, he stands and stomps out of the room without saying anything. Jaylen’s eyes follow him, eyebrows raised, and listens as her father swipes the beeping watch from a table, swings open the back door and throws it into the courtyard.

That is brutal to read (and a reminder to check my own tone when frustrated with my children). Larry Johnson is no saint. He has admittedly done some terrible things. And as the article notes, “Will she remember this, or has Johnson shielded her from something worse? Is he managing his impulses as well as he can?”  But I can’t help feel bad for him. And worse for his daughter.

In the article, Larry Johnson says, ““What would it be like for this to be the day for people to find out you’re not here?” It’s a profound thought for all of us, but coming from Johnson it is deeply sad. After reading this article I can’t help but think of him as a ticking time bomb, and this begs the question: is today the day we hear some awful story about Larry Johnson, whether it’s something he does to himself, or someone else? -TOB

Source: The Demons Are Always a Breath Away”, Kent Babb, Washington Post (12/12/2017)

PAL: As disturbing as this read is, nothing came off is shocking or new. We’ve read versions of this story quite a bit in last five years. While Johnson says sharing this story is not meant excuse his past, I can’t help but wonder if it’s an attempt to excuse what he hasn’t yet done.


Blue is Fa$ter:

When the difference between gold and no medal whatsoever can be measured in hundredths of seconds, speedskaters preparing for the 2018 Winter Games will try (or believe) anything. This year’s trend: blue is the fastest color.

It’s hard to believe – if everything else is exactly the same – that color dye could impact the time it takes to skate around a rink, but the risk in ignoring a technical advantage is greater than the risk of believing a myth. Andrew Keh examines this funny dance between faith and science playing out right now in speedskating.

“With any new piece of equipment, there is an assumption that it has been tested, tested again and tested some more. At ice rinks, laboratories and wind tunnels around the world, the top countries are engaged in a hush-hush arms race, a different sort of cold war.”

While South Korea skaters have historically worn blue, competitors from Germany (combo of black, orange and red) and Norway (red, always red) are joining the party this year, tossing aside their typical colors. The trend has competitors, coaches, and researchers talking.

  • Dai Dai Ntab, a sprint specialist for the Netherlands: “It’s been proven that blue is faster than other colors. Every Olympic season, everybody is trying to find the hidden gem. This year it’s the blue suits.”
  • Renzo Shamey, professor of color science and technology: “I have come to a point in my life that I have sufficient confidence in what I’ve done and what I know, but at the same time I’m not so arrogant to dismiss claims people make. Having said that, based on my knowledge of dye chemistry, I cannot possibly imagine how dyeing the same fabric with two dyes that have the same properties to different hues would generate differing aerodynamic responses.”
  • Mike Crowe, the coach of the Canadian team: “I look at that as the oldest trick in the book. It’s just gamesmanship, really (on the part of Norway). Make them doubt. Make them wonder.”

Likely, the reason for the blue suit is far more obvious. Give this article a read to find out. I mean – come on – when are you going to read a speed skating story if not now?- PAL

TOB: Blue is the fastest color? Someone tell that to the Cal football team.


Why the Giants Might Need to Stand Pat on a 98-Loss Team, or a Lesson in the MLB CBA

Don’t tell my wife, but I signed up for The Athletic last week, when I was devouring every detail of a possible Giants trade for Giancarlo Stanton or signing of Shohei Ohtani, or both, that I possibly could. Don’t worry. I’m sure it’s some sort of tax write-off, boo. Well, spoiler alert: the Giants whiffed on both Stanton and Ohtani. After reaching a deal with the Marlins for Stanton contingent on Stanton waiving his No Trade Clause to go to SF, Stanton refused. The kicker here is that Stanton reportedly told the Marlins before any trade talks began that he would only accept a deal to a small number of teams (rumored to be the Yankees and Dodgers), but the Marlins engaged the Giants and Cardinals, anyways, and reached agreements with both. The Marlins then went to Stanton and told him to choose the Giants or Cardinals or he’d be a Marlin for life. Stanton, knowing the new ownership group was desperate to shed his $295 million in future payroll, gave them a big f-u and said no. The Marlins predictably caved and sent him to New York for peanuts. Ohtani then shocked everyone and chose the Angels. But I digress.

Once the dust settled on that, the question for the Giants became: What now? Do they go after free agent JD Martinez? Try to trade for an available, expensive, aging star like Andrew McCutcheon or Jacoby Ellsbury? Or trade for a young star like Marcell Ozuna?

This is the part where I finally get back around to shelling out for the Athletic, which recently announced they had hired longtime Giants beat writer Andrew Baggarly. Baggarly is very smart (two-time Jeopardy champion, y’all!) and a good writer. In this article, Baggarly makes a very strong argument that the 98-loss Giants very well may, and probably should, stand pat because of the Competitive Balance Tax, or CBT. The CBT is a progressive tax for teams who go over a designated payroll threshold. The tax progresses the higher a team goes over the threshold, and also progresses for teams over the threshold in successive seasons. This year, the threshold is $197 million. Baggarly makes it simple:

A first-time payor gets taxed at a rate of 20 percent. A three-time payor gets levied at a rate of 50 percent…. On top of the base tax on the overage, you pay an additional 12 percent on every dollar that exceeds the CBT by more than $20 million. Then the league levies an additional 45 percent on every dollar that exceeds the CBT by more than $40 million….The penalties for teams that exceed the CBT include stingier draft pick compensation, too. Teams that lose a qualified free agent receive a compensation pick after the first round — unless they were into the CBT, in which case they get a pick after the fourth round. Teams that sign a qualified free agent from another club must forfeit their third-round pick as compensation — unless they were into the CBT, in which case they lose their second- and fifth-round picks, as well as $1 million from their international signing bonus pool.

The Giants have been over the CBT threshold three years running now, and so their penalties are high, but the team can reset those penalties if they get under $197 million threshold next year, heading into a monster free agent class after 2018 headlined by Manny Machado and Bryce Harper (hey, let me dream, ok?). The problem for the Giants is they are going to have a devil of a time getting under the threshold at this point. As Baggarly points out:

Well, you might not like this. They already have 11 players under guaranteed contracts that add up to just more than $150 million toward the total payroll for CBT accounting purposes. Their five arbitration-eligible players project to cost an additional $15 million. It would be another $6 million or so if they were to fill out the roster with players who have fewer than three years of service time.

That’s $171 million. More than a bit of wiggle room before you get to $197 million, right? Except payroll calculations also include a raft of expenditures not limited to but including: contributions to benefits plans, player medical costs, workers compensation premiums, spring training allowances, All-Star Game expenses, contributions to the postseason players’ pool, meal and tip allowances and even moving and travel expenses.

Baggarly estimates the total, then, to be $185 million, leaving them $12 million to work with. In other words, look forward to a lot more bad baseball at AT&T Park in 2018. Then, uh, good luck luring a marquee free agent next Winter. -TOB

Source: Why the Giants Are Motivated to Slip Under the Tax Threshold — And What That Would Leave Them to Spend”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (12/12/2017)

PAL: And if you want to understand it from the Marlins front office, check this out from Michael Baumann. “This is not a baseball trade. This is a liquidation of assets.” The investment group that bought the team this year is immediately in debt, to the tune of $400MM.


Video of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Buffalo Springfield – “Burned”




Tweets of the Week:


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In the end, the greatest snowball isn’t a snowball at all. It’s fear. Merry Christmas. 

-D. Schrute

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Week of December 8, 2017

Phil: Champ.


Woodson Wins Manning’s Heisman

There were four Heisman finalists in 1997 (there is no preset number of finalists). Three will have Hall of Fame busts in Canton, Ohio. Can you name the four without looking?

Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, Ryan Leaf, and – the winner – Charles Woodson. He remains the only (primarily) defensive player to win the award in its 80+ year history.

Let’s just take moment to truly admire Randy Moss in this pic.

Winning the Heisman obviously takes one hell of an individual performance over the course of a college football season, but it’s also about timing and moments. November heroics and incredible highlights travel better across a country (and voters) than really good stats. The former are emotive, while the latter are logic. If we’ve learned anything in the past year, it’s that people vote with their guts and not their heads.

Since seemingly the dawn of time, Peyton Manning has been everyone’s favorite, and he was the favorite to win the Heisman in 1997. Through the words of the finalists, their college coaches, and former teammates, hear how Charles Woodson took a what felt like a formality of an award from a golden quarterback in Chris Low’s oral history of perhaps the most stacked Heisman contest.

Before we get to Peyton and Woodson, I just want everyone to enjoy this college highlight from Randy Moss and his best quote from this story.

Moss, from Marshall, was not going to win the Heisman, and he knew it, despite being the most dominant player of the bunch (26 touchdowns as a wide receiver!). The dude who made news for breaking his parole and only one year of college football under him was not competing with the senior, all-everything Manning, and he wasn’t going to compete with Michigan’s hype machine behind Woodson. His take on his trip to New York, courtesy of Michigan Safety (and Woodson teammate) Marcus Rey:

Then Randy walks in and said, ‘None of us is going to win, so we might as well get through this ceremony, hang out tonight and tear it up in New York City.’ 

As if I needed another reason to love Randy Moss.

Now, back to the Manning – Woodson competition. It was Manning’s to lose from the start of the season. Manning returned for his senior season at Tennessee. He surely would have been a high first-round pick after his junior year in a draft that featured an astonishing two quarterbacks taken in the first 98 picks (Jim Druckenmilller at the 26th pick to the Niners and Jake Plummer to Arizona in the second round). I would say he would’ve been the number one pick, but the St. Louis Rams got Orlando Pace, a Hall of Fame left tackle.

The one scab on Manning’s college resume coming into his senior year victory lap was that he couldn’t beat Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators. He came up short again in ‘97, with a pick-six to boot in a 33-20 loss in September. That opened the door just a crack early in the season for Woodson.

Most remember that Woodson did it all at Michigan. Shut down defensive back with seven interceptions. Wide receiver with 3 touchdowns. Punt and kick return good for another touchdown. The Wolverines also went undefeated that year and split the National Championship (before the playoff or BCS) with Nebraska (Nebraska was number 1 in the Coaches poll, while Michigan was number 1 in the A.P. poll.

Perhaps as important as the stats and success was the fact that Woodson had not one, but two “Heisman Moments”. First, a one-handed pick in October against Michigan State that, as Lloyd Carr puts it, put Woodson “on everyone’s radar”.

Second, and an electric punt return for a touchdown against Ohio State in the last conference game of the season.

All of this leads to a lot of back-and-forth between the peanut gallery of coaches, former teammates, and broadcasters in this article. Enjoy some of the best comments below:

Keith Jackson on Woodson: The game was changing, and I think people realized his brilliance and weren’t afraid to do something out of the norm — and that’s voting for a defensive player. But he was more than just a defensive player. He was the most impactful player in college football, and that’s why I voted for him.

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer on Woodson: I thought it had maybe gone from a lock to a closer race because Woodson had a big game against Ohio State and returned a kick and caught a touchdown pass. I knew it might be close, but didn’t want to think so. But what do I know about that world?

Manning teammate Jeff Teague, on Woodson winning: We were well-stocked, food- and drink-wise [back at Tennessee]. It never crossed my mind, not for one second, that he wasn’t going to win. We were just there to watch him get it. It was a party. When it went down, it was just a stunned silence. A few guys stood up and threw something. But, really, it was just kind of quiet.

Teague on Brian Griese’s assessment that Woodson was the better player (Teague and Griese were teammates on the Broncos): Brian still can’t see through the maize and blue and be objective on that subject. Brian’s a great guy, but he’s blinded by that ugly helmet.

A fun read looking back 20 years on the eve of what most think will be am anticlimactic Heisman ceremony. Then again, they thought the 1997 ceremony would be anticlimactic, too. – PAL

Source: The Oral History of the Epic 1997 Heisman Trophy Race”, Chris Low, ESPN (12/05/2017)

TOB: I have always had a rebellious streak, and so it should be no surprise that I did not like Peyton Manning as a 15-year old kid. I have always distrusted anyone the media universally liked. I couldn’t stomach the Gameday stories about Peyton and how much film he watched, how he was the first one in and the last one out, and about how gosh darn smart he was. I’ve also always been pro-Michigan. And Charles Woodson was cool as hell. So, yeah, I was rooting hard for Woodson over the Golden Boy.

I don’t remember many Heisman ceremonies, but I remember that one. Heading into the ceremony, I was resigned to the fact that Peyton would win. I was ready to bitch and moan. I was 15, so it meant a lot more to me than it does now. It seemed important in a way that it no longer does. And the kicker is – I didn’t even get to watch. As a kid, we went to Saturday night mass, and my parents made me leave after the show had started, but before they announced the winner. I remember getting home, expecting the worst, and being shocked to hear that Chuck had won, Peyton had lost. I took great joy in that, and I took great joy in this article. Sometimes sports surprise you, and sometimes, it’s great. Peyton never winning the Heisman will always bring a smile to my face.

PAL:  You’re on the ‘Chuck’ level with Woodson?


Which Block Was Most Dope?

Last Thursday, in one NBA evening, we saw three amazing blocks. I couldn’t decide which block was dopest, so we’re putting it to a vote. The contenders:

LeBron on Dennis Schroeder

Giannis on Dame Lillard

LeBron on Taurean Prince

So, which block was dopest? Vote! -TOB


Expand the Damn Playoff

I have been on the fence on whether the NCAA four-team playoff should be expanded. I was watching the Conference Championship games last weekend, and it occurred to me that we, kinda, already have an eight-team playoff. There were 10 teams with a shot at the playoff. In the SEC, Auburn and Georgia playing in the title game, and Alabama (who did not win its division and was idle). In the Big 10, Wisconsin and Ohio St., playing each other. In the Big-12, Oklahoma, playing TCU in the title game. In the ACC, Miami and Clemson, playing each other. And USC, playing Stanford in the title game. It wasn’t a true playoff – as it was, SC and Ohio State won but were left out. Still, unless you are Alabama, you’re not making the playoffs without winning your conference championship game. So, it’s kind of a playoff.

But then I read Dan Wetzel’s proposal for an eight-team playoff and I can’t find a problem. In fact, it sounds awesome as hell. His plan:

  • Scrap the conference title games.
  • The five power conference winners (determined by each conference on its own) gets a spot.
  • Three at-large bids. If a non-power five member is ranked top 10 or 15, it gets a spot (I’d add you could limit this to the top ranked non-power five member).
  • Play the first round in early December, and go from there.

Here’s how this year’s playoff would have looked.

I love it. As Wetzel points out, in the current system Alabama lost its season finale and somehow earned an effective bye to the semifinals, while the team they lost to (Auburn) had to play Georgia, in Atlanta. Sees fair.

Some may argue there’s no reason to include the non-power 5. But, I like it. Who doesn’t like rooting for an underdog? And while they might not be the 8th best team, the 8th best team rarely has a reason to argue they are the best team in the country, so who cares. Do better than 8th next time. Anyways, I’m all in. Eight is great! -TOB

Source: Here’s the Solution to College Football’s Inefficient and (Often) Meaningless Postseason”, Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports (12/03/2017)

PAL: I guess I’d care if I were on the eighth best team. What if the eighth best team is more deserving than the the top-ranked non-power 5? You’re telling me USC isn’t more deserving than UCF this year…wrong question to ask TOB. I love the automatic bid for a non power 5 conference gets at first blush, but the only problem is UCF didn’t play very good teams. And what I mean by that is they played maybe two marginally good teams all season. Here’s UCF’s schedule in this undefeated season (and the opponents CBS ranking, which goes to 130):

    • Florida International (#70)
    • Maryland (#82)
    • Memphis (#16)
    • Cincinnati (#107)
    • East Carolina (#109)
    • Navy (#56)
    • Austin Peay (not on CBS top 130)
    • SMU (#59)
    • UConn (#114)
    • Temple (#79)
    • USF (#23)
    • Memphis (#16)

I’m sorry, but that schedule in no way holds up to USC’s schedule this year (ending the regular season ranked 8th), or any a Power 5 conference schedule. I find it highly, highly unlikely UCF would have gone undefeated playing in the Pac-12, and I highly doubt they lose 2 or fewer games in the Pac-12. They played 2 teams in the top 25, and 4 teams ranked outside of the top 100! We try to make the case for the little guy, but the little guy has to play real games (I know this is hard due to scheduling being done so far in advance).

I don’t love the idea of automatic bids to power 5 conference champs (what if a 3-loss SEC team wins its championship while a 1-loss Pac-12 team loses), but it’s the better than what we have now.  With that said, the either ditch the conference championship games or make them mean something. Just don’t guarantee an at-large to anyone. Play it year-by-year.


Fear and Loathing in Carson, California

The subheadline to Kevin Clark’s story says it all:

The Los Angeles Chargers are playing in a tiny soccer stadium in a city that doesn’t seem to want them. There’s no way they’ll be able to fill a full-size arena, but they’re already on the books to be shared residents with the Rams in 2020. Somehow, the best solution might be to just stay where they are.

The Chargers left San Diego, have no fans in L.A., and can’t even fill a 30,000 seat soccer stadium. This is a great article exploring what the Chargers did wrong, the obstacles they face in setting down roots in L.A., why they should just own being the little-brother-team by staying in that soccer team, and what it’s like to attend an NFL game in a small stadium where no one gives a crap about the home team. Fantastic read. -TOB

Source: The Football Team Without a Home”, Kevin Clark, The Ringer (12/05/2017)

PAL: Comparing the Chargers in Carson City to U2 giving away albums we didn’t want on our phones in the first place such a great analogy, and Clark’s writing only gets better from there. Highly recommend this story.


Don’t Be A Jackass At Your Kid’s Game

Typically not a fan of self-help or advice columns. In appealing to the masses, they oftentimes are diluted to the lowest common axiom. With that said, there’s some interesting stuff in this guide on how to behave at your kid’s game.

First off, we’ve all heard that the chances of your kid going pro are infinitesimal. But how about some cold hard facts? Here are the probabilities of high school athletes that go on to play NCAA sports:

And here are a couple tips for all you parents out there.

  • “If you haven’t encountered game-day maniacs, well, I’ve got some bad news for you: it’s you.”
  • “If you have the means to afford a private shooting coach for your little baller, you have the means to fund a college savings account. Let the ball game be a game, and nothing more.”
  • Learn how to ref…hell, try being one  – “Once you experience the behavior of parents from the perspective of the people who are working diligently to make the games happen, you’ll behave yourself on game day.”

And if none of that persuaded you to chill the f*&^ out, how about two videos of parents losing it and looking like losers of the worst kind.

The Classic:

The Overreacting Mom:

The Worst:

Don’t be that guy, folks. -PAL

Source: How Not to Be a Raging Maniac at Your Kid’s Soccer Game”, Geoffrey Reddick, Offspring (12/6/17)

TOB: Clearly, I am, and will continue to  be, a very level-headed sports dad.

Also, one in EIGHT high school lax bros/bras plays in college? Looks like my boys are getting pinneys and lax sticks for Christmas!


Herm Edwards at ASU is Going to Be Fun (For Everyone Else)

Herm “YOU PLAY. TO WIN. THE GAME.” Edwards has not coached in ten years, He spent the last decade as a talking head, and not a particularly analytical one. He is mostly a guy they go to for discussion on player behavior. So, it was with incredible shock to the rest of college football when ASU was rumored to, and then did, hire Herm as its next head football coach. The introductory press conferece was…hilarious. First, Herm explained how he’d run his offense, and in doing so pinned our country’s problems, at least in part, on the fact that “we don’t huddle anymore in our society.” Uh, ok. Next, he got all weirdly religious when a reporter identified himself as from Devil Digest, and in the process seemed to suggest he has NO IDEA that ASU’s mascot is the Sun Devils. I’m not kidding. Check it out:

A day later, Herm was presented with a game jersey and could not believe how small it was, and thought it was a “girl’s” jersey.

Look, he’s right. Those things are crazy tight these days. But it does NOT HELP with the perception that he’s completely out of touch. As a fan of a conference opponent, I am delighted. Should be a fun 10 months (no, I don’t think he’ll be the coach for even one full season). -TOB

Source: New Arizona State Coach Herm Edwards Had A Bizarre First Press Conference”, Samer Kalaf, Deadspin (12/04/2017)

PAL: Bet. Edwards’ dog-and-pony show lasts for at least 18 college games. Even Odds. $10.


The Early Aughts Were a Weird Time

Presented without further comment:


Video of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Daniel Caesar – “Hold Me Down”




Tweet of the Week


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You all took a life today. The life of the party. 

-M. Scott

Week of December 1, 2017

Strong argument. 


College Coaches: Pass on Tennessee

Tennessee fans didn’t want Greg Schiano as the head coach, and rather than claiming his mediocre head coaching record, they used sexual abuse as their rationale. You see, it was a moral issue, but not really

Backstory: From 1991-95, Greg Schiano served as a graduate assistant, then assistant coach for Penn State football. During that time, Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing children, many times in within the Penn State football complex. We know how that story has played out. Per Joe Drape of The New York Times:

In a 2015 deposition, the former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary testified that another Penn State assistant coach, Tom Bradley, had told him that Schiano had talked to him about seeing Sandusky abusing a boy sometime in the early 1990s. Both Schiano and Bradley, most recently an assistant at U.C.L.A, have denied the allegation and said they had no knowledge of the abuse.

Since his time at Penn State, Schiano went on to coach at Miami, Chicago Bears, Rutgers, Tampa Bay, and now he’s the defensive coordinator at Ohio State. He’s had success as a coordinator, and less success as a head coach. At Rutgers he had a 68-67 record, the highlight being 2006, when the team finished 11-2. As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach, he posted a 11-21 win-loss record in two seasons. Take out the 2006 Rutgers season, and he’s been a below  average head coach if you simply look at won-loss. It could be he’s better suited as a big-time coordinator.

Which brings us to Tennessee, a football program and fan base under the delusion that they are a premier SEC program, despite having won more than 10 games in a season exactly zero times in the last decade. They’ve won a single National Title since the Johnson administration.

Since they are delusional, they actually believed (I’m laughing as I write this) that they were going to be the program to lure Jon Gruden back into coaching. When – shocker – that didn’t pan out, they offered the job to Schiano, a move that was vetted internally and approved within the program by the likes of  Peyton Manning. Word got out before it was announced, and the fans were not pleased, and they hung their argument on the allegation that Schiano knew about the Sandusky abuse and didn’t do enough. They made enough noise that the University of Tennessee caved and re-opened the coaching search, despite Athletic Director, John Currie, providing this response to Schiano’s vetting: “He received the highest recommendations for character, family values and commitment to academic achievement and student-athlete welfare from his current and former athletics directors, players, coaching colleagues and experienced media figures.”

The only time Schiano’s name ever comes up in the Sandusky scandal is in a deposition in which one coach (McQueary) said another coach (Bradley) told him Schiano saw Sandusky abusing a boy. Bradley and Schiano deny any knowledge of the abuse. That, as far as I’ve found reported, is it.

Fans didn’t like the hire – not because of sexual abuse – but because Schiano was not successful enough as a coach. It wasn’t a big name, and so they used child rape and molestation as front. I mean, my God.

No coach should take the Tennessee job (as of 12/1/17, 7:30AM PT no one has). 

Obviously, this won’t happen – they’ll pay someone a boatload of cash – but who wants to work at a place where absurd allegations from the fanbase can cause the athletic department balk?

A young hot commodity like Scott Frost will have other big-time offers within a year (the coaching carousel at big-time programs seems to constantly have openings these days. In just the last week, Jimbo Fisher seems to be on his way from Florida State to Texas A&M, UCLA hired Chip Kelly, Florida filled its position, and Nebraska’s looking for a coach).

Here’s to another decade of crap Tennessee football. They deserve it. – PAL

Source: Tennessee, Greg Schiano and Moral Outrage in College Sports”, Joe Drape, The New York Times (11/27/17)

TOB: I hesitate to so broadly paint the Tennessee fans. As Drape says:

Certainly some of the people in Tennessee who objected so swiftly and vociferously on Sunday to the Schiano news were drawing a moral line. For others, though, this is about the University of Tennessee wanting to be good at football again. They want a better coach than Schiano.”

The article makes it sound as though this started when someone painted the rock you see above. I believe the person who did so was in fact making a strong moral stand, and would have done so even if Schiano had Nick Saban’s record. Yes, others piled on, many of whom would not have protested if Schiano had Saban’s record. But the thing is, schools make unpopular coaching hires all the time. Fans call into radio, or flood message boards. But I’ve never seen anything like that. And while I think there’s herd mentality going on, I do think the unique situation here (McQueary testifying that another coach told him Schiano had seen Sandusky raping a boy years before McQueary did) does fuel the flames. It’s child rape. It’s among the worst crimes that can be committed. And if there’s a chance a coach turned a blind eye to that? Well, I get the outrage. I wouldn’t want him coaching my school, either. The fact he’s been a mediocre head coach just makes the decision even easier.


The NFL…Whatever.

I am just so, so, so sick of writing about the NFL. It is such an incredibly cynical, ugly organization. But, I must. Under Roger Goodell, the NFL has tried to suppress any and all individuality among the players. They care about profits, and profits alone. So the NFL borrows a line from Michael Jordan, who once reportedly said, “Republicans buy shoes, too.” That is – stay out of politics. Keep everything vanilla. Be everything to everyone. You can imagine, then, that the NFL hates the protests to the national anthem that have gone on for the last year and change. NFL ratings are way down – due in part to anger over the protests, in part to fan concern for player safety, in part to the continuance of a gradual decrease in ratings owing to a whole host of reasons. But the protests are tangible. It is something the NFL can do something about. So first, they tried to co-opt the protest. But many players would not budge, and continued the protests. So the NFL formed a taskforce with the Players Coalition, a group of 40 or so of the more vocal players, and promised to come up with some solutions. This week, the NFL and the Players Coalition released some news. The NFL would commit $89 million dollars to various causes “important to African-American communities.” Wow! Hey! Not Bad! But the on the eve of that news, 49ers safety Eric Reid and Dolphins safety Michael Thomas publicly announced they’d left the Players Coalition as the coalition’s beliefs were “not in [their] best interests as a whole.”

Well, that’s odd. I wonder what’s…oh. Right. It’s the NFL. So here’s the real deal behind the this great-sounding deal: there are strings attached. While the agreement does not require an end to the protests, ESPN reports the NFL “hopes this effort will effectively end” the protests. On top of that, Reid said he was specifically asked if he’d stop his protest. Shocking.

Worse, the deal is not as great or generous as it sounds. For one, the $89M is to be paid over 7 years. Each owner only pays $250,000 per year, a paltry sum. The players pay the same amount. The balance, about $85M comes from the league. But even so, there’s no guarantee the NFL couldn’t simply reallocate funds already earmarked for other charity projects. And there’s no guarantee the money will actually go to charities the players, or African-American communities, care about. The agreement calls for a group of twelve people – five players, five owners, and two league staffers, to determine how the money will be spent each year. That’s right: the NFL owners and the league have a 7-5 majority, meaning the players’ voices on that committee are effectively silenced. Finally, the NFL apparently threatened that if a deal didn’t get done soon, the deal would be off the table and the NFL would take unilateral steps to ban the protests. Swell. As Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky says:

“So, let’s recap. NFL owners are pledging to spend a relatively paltry amount, not pledging that they won’t just take that money from previous charitable pledges, not promising that they won’t veto players’ preferences on where the money should be spent, setting up a voting body specifically designed to outvote those players, and expecting that this will stop players from protesting during the national anthem.”

Sigh. I can only hope Will Leitch is right, and that the end is already near for the NFL. -TOB

Source: The NFL’s $100 Million Ploy to Stop Player Protests”, Jeremy Stahl, Slate (11/30/2017)

PAL: Every week we tell you “Here are our favorite stories of the week.” This is not one of my favorite stories of the week. I’m not excited to share this with you, my friends, and talk about with over the phone or over a beer.

Is it an important story? Yeah, it is. And while we are absolutely aware that this is not a news site, and we are not journalists, in this small corner of the sports blogs, I for one want to take that moment to share what I think is worth your time.

When we look back on the year of 2017 in sports in 5, 10, 20 years from now, the NFL protests will at the top of the list of topics. That counts for something, and while I don’t like writing about it time and time again, it is a national conversation transcending sports.

To the N.F.L., it’s always about advertiser dollars and ratings. It has nothing to do with patriotism or protests. To take the money under those terms would mean nothing less than to be bought-off by N.F.L.. Good for those players.


What Does A Hero Owe His Hometown

Here’s a sports story I haven’t read before: the small town boy done good, gives time and money to his hometown, but unlikely to return.

Earl Thomas III may be small (5’10”), but the 3-time all-pro has been one the most lethal safeties in football during his eight-year career with the Seahawks. Take it from Tight End Rob Gronkowski (6’6”, 265 lbs), who said this Thomas hit was one of the hardest he’s ever taken.

Thomas grew up in the southeastern Texas town of Orange. In his profile on Thomas, ESPN’s Joel Anderson describes Orange, TX as carrying “a bedeviling legacy as one of Texas’ most palpably inhospitable regions for black people, a town where Confederacy enthusiasts recently erected a monument on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, to be seen from Interstate 10 and the 55,000 cars per day that pass by.”

For generations, the Thomas family has been a rock of the community. Thomas’ grandfather, Earl, Sr., worked at the grocery store for 43 years and built a church in the toughest part of town. His father, Earl, Jr., has been spending the weeks following Hurricane Harvey hanging drywall in the community, and his mother is an unpaid church secretary after retiring from the school district. 

While the longstanding dominance of West Orange-Stark high school football can bring the community together, it doesn’t seem to carry over beyond Friday nights.

The bitter fights over desegregating the schools that took over Orange in 1977 don’t seem that far off now, as the schools in the area are becoming more segregated by the year. While ⅓ of Orange is black, ⅔ of the student population at West Orange-Stark is black. Most white kids head north, out of Orange, for school. Add to that a recent Confederate monument erected on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, and – well – you can decide for yourself what that says about the state of life in Orange.

After Thomas starred at University of Texas for two seasons, Seattle drafted him in the first round.  Seattle is 2,410 miles away, but the distance in thinking might be even further. Thomas is still connected to his home and carries on the Thomas family legacy within the community. He still trains there in the off-season. He puts on free youth camps attended by hundreds of kids. He chartered buses for his community to watch the high school team play in the State Championship. After Hurricane Harvey, Thomas and fellow UT Alum Jamaal Charles were “this area’s Red Cross”.

No one questions his devotion to his hometown, but he got out, and unlike most everyone in Orange, Thomas’ was allowed to see the world through a lens other than Orange.

It’s so draining, and I think it’s why [Earl Sr.] passed away so early. My uncle is going through the same situation. I feel like, going forward, the older I get, the more I kind of push away. I don’t really grow as much when I’m back.

…I want my daughter to have the best schooling. I want my daughter to be around diverse people, where you don’t see the racism and stuff like that going on.

I know I’m always going to maintain a presence there, but living there? No.

This one’s worth the click-thru, folks. – PAL

Source: Earl Thomas is the favorite son of a troubled Texas town”, Joel Anderson, ESPN (11/24/17)


Hey, Everybody! Phil is Running a Marathon This Weekend!

Go get ’em, buddy!

Good luck!


Video of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Burl Ives – “Silver And Gold”




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My mom always used to say that average people are the most special people in the world. And that’s why God made so many.

-M. Scott

Week of November 24, 2017

I told them not to talk politics at Thanksgiving…


Breaking: Sports Owner Gouged Loyal Fans

I know, I know. It’s a story as old as professional sports. But this one was especially egregious, and I’d never heard it before. Really, it’s kind of amazing. Bill Wirtz was the longtime owner of the Chicago Blackhawks. Wirtz was especially cheap. We all know of the NFL’s old blackout policy – NFL games were blacked out on TVs in the home team’s home market if the game was not a sellout by a few days before the game. The thinking was this would encourage fans to go to games. (The NFL scrapped this policy a couple of years back, likely when they realized TV money is more lucrative than fans in seats). But Wirtz, for decades, took it a step further. He didn’t allow local fans to watch ANY home game on TV, even if it was a sellout. His thinking was it created some exclusivity for ticket holders – the only way to see Blackhawks games was to actually go to the game. This is an unfathomably bad business idea, but that was Wirtz.

In 1992, the Blackhawks were really good. Balfour. Roenick. Chelios. They ended up making a run to the Stanley Cup Finals. In the leadup to the playoffs, the Hawks were a hot ticket. Wirtz had a brilliant idea for the playoffs: Pay Per View. He called it HAWKVISION.

For the low, low price of $16.95 per game, Chicago fans could finally watch their team’s home games from the comfort of their own home. I looked it up, and the team played 9 home games that playoffs. To watch them all at home, you’d have to pay $152.55 – adjusted for inflation, that is $270 today. Could you imagine paying that much to watch, say, the Warriors home playoff games on TV? And if that wasn’t bad enough, he brought it back for the following season, this time charging $29.99 per month, an inflation adjusted $53 today. Per month! To watch the home games for ONE team. HawkVision did not return after the 1994 lockout, but Wirtz’ tv policy did. Chicago fans could not watch the team’s home games on TV until 2007, when Wirtz died. Needless to say, the fans hated Wirtz, and booed the team’s attempt to eulogize Wirtz.

Well deserved, I say. -TOB

Source: In Unloving Memory Of HawkVision, A Low Point In Sports Owner Shamelessness”, Ed Burmila, Deadspin (11/20/2017)


When Good Promos Go Wrong

It was such a nice idea: The Bavarian Bierhaus, a Wisconsin bar, has long offered free beers to all patrons from the moment the Packers game begins until the moment the Packers first score. With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, that’s usually been pretty quick. The Packers usually score on their first or second drive. The promotion gets people in the door, and then they stay for the game. It’s a nice way for the Bierhaus to differentiate itself from other area bars. But last Sunday, it backfired. Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone a few weeks back and he’s been replaced by Brett Hundley.

Hundley is no Aaron Rodgers. Last week the team got shutout, the first time that happened since 2006, which means the Bierhaus served free beer the entire game: from kickoff to final whistle. Owner Scott Bell estimates they gave away as many as 300 beers. Bell had a good sense of humor about it – saying everyone had a good time, and were even apologizing to him for taking his beer. Amazingly, the Bierhaus will continue the tradition this weekend. Karmically speaking, the Packers will return the opening kickoff for a touchdown. -TOB

Source: Packers Fans Drink Free Beer All Game at Wisconsin Pub Because Their Team Never Scored”, Carol Off and Jeff Douglas, CBC Radio (11/21/2017)


One & Done

There are the first ballot Hall-of-Famers. There are the multiple Super Bowl champs. There are those with Hall of Fame careers as players and as coaches or front office personnel. These are exclusive clubs within pro football, but perhaps the most exclusive club of them all is that of players who appeared in exactly one NFL game. These men are, as Ben Shpigel puts it, “Football versions of Moonlight Grahams”. He profiles six members of this club for his article, and it’s a pretty fascinating read.

Some, as you could guess, played only one game because of injury. Some finally made it into the game, only to have a change in management, which doesn’t bode well for the guys right on the edge. Some made the best of their opportunity, and some live with the regret of what they did with the moment. Some hold onto excuses, while others look back to that game as proof they made it to the summit.

It’s really interesting to learn how each of the guys view that game in the context of their respective lives. 

Mark Reed has been an engineer at 3M for 30+ years. He made his one and only appearance in an NFL game as quarterback for the Baltimore Colts. He completed 6 of 10 passes for 34 yards and an interception. He likes to tell his co-workers that he had a career 60% completion rate.

The real value of his time in the NFL came to Reed when, as a young father of two, he went back to school to finish his engineering degree. He remembers his coach telling him the difference between winning and losing is infinitesimal, a lesson that proved true for his life as an engineer.  “Everything that I learned from the N.F.L. as far as hard work and intensity, I basically took that to the classroom.I was just bearing down.”

It’s not that these guys were on a team for only one game. In most cases, they spent multiple seasons on various NFL teams’ practice squads waiting for their moment. Martin Nance’s moment came on 12/31/06. He started for the Vikings, had 4 receptions, and made a good impression on the team going into the off-season. That year, the team drafted bulked up on receivers and tight ends in the draft. With new investments at Nance’s position, it came as no surprise he was cut.

He reunited with Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and waited for his next chance for over 2 years while on the practice squad. When star receiver Hines Ward was injured going into the 2009 Super Bowl, Nance was prepared to make it back onto the field on the biggest of stages. Ward ended up playing, and while Nance wears his Super Bowl ring with pride, he could see his time as a player was up.

Shortly thereafter, he went to graduate school at University of Michigan, snagged an internship at Gatorade, and has had a successful career in marketing ever since. He considers himself lucky to have left the game in relatively good health.

‘“I don’t walk around and wonder if I had a career in football; my body reminds me,” he said. “I know there are guys who are in more difficult situations than me, but I still consider myself strong and capable. I consider that a blessing.”’

Not all of the athletes featured made such a smooth transition, and you should tap the link below to read each of their stories. – PAL  

Source: One Game to Remember. Just One.Ben Shpigel, The New York Times (11/22/17)


Video of the Week

The best Georgia Dome implosion video.

Bonus Video

Mike Leach wedding advice.


PAL Song of the Week – Michael Gulezian – Watermelon


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My resolution? Meet a loose woman.

Dwight Schrute

Week of November 17, 2017

There’s never a wrong time to share Vince Wilfork hitting a softball in overalls


What About The Great Ones?

Over the past month I’ve written about a 3-part series on spread of club sports in Minnesota: its impact on the young athletes, their parents (their parents’ checkbook), high school sports, and even the health-related issues popping up at younger and younger ages as a result of repetitive use.

My question throughout the series was “What is the point of youth sports?”. After reading and writing about the series, I suggested we cannot measure the success of a youth sport system by only looking to how good the best athletes become. Youth sports has to be about more than how far the best go, it has to avoid a participation equals success mentality, and we can’t lose a sense of a community – one defined by geographical proximity – in the process. Not the easiest recipe to perfect.

During that same period of time, the U.S. Men’s National Team was struggling with its own recipe. The team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Missing out on the once-every-four-year tournament was a big failure for many reasons, and a lot of people are now trying to figure out what went wrong. The coach resigned, and a new president of U.S. Soccer is likely to be elected in February. But all of this matters less to me than having wait another four years the opportunity to see Christian Pulisic represent the U.S.A. in a World Cup.

TOB wrote a spirited summary of the loss and the cost of the U.S. not qualifying, and the the missed opportunity for us to see Pulisic. BTW, I think this might be the first time we’ve quoted the other guy’s story in a post.

The team has been graced with the Christian Pulisic, who is starting for a top tier team in the Bundesliga, and who, at age 19, pretty much no one disputes is the greatest American soccer player of all time. Pulisic has the vision, touch, and creativity that separates the great soccer players from across the world from the pretty good ones that the U.S. has produced in the past.

So I was writing about youth sports culture, and TOB wrote about the cost of the USMNT missing the World Cup, which is why I want to share this story Pulisic contributed to The Players’ Tribune. Here’s his experience of not only the failure to qualify, but also his take on youth soccer in the U.S. and his experience in the highest levels of club sports: academies.

Due to his dual citizenship (U.S.A and Croatia), Pulisic left the U.S. at 16 and was able to develop at what is regarded as the best training academy in Germany – Dortmund, which is funded by a professional team. He believes that made all the difference:

In the U.S. system, too often the best player on an under-17 team will be treated like a “star” — not having to work for the ball, being the focus of the offense at all times, etc. — at a time when they should be having to fight tooth and nail for their spot. In Europe, on the other hand, the average level of ability around you is just so much higher. It’s a pool of players where everyone has been “the best player,” and everyone is fighting for a spot — truly week in and week out. Which makes the intensity and humility that you need to bring to the field every day — both from a mental and physical perspective — just unlike anything that you can really experience in U.S. developmental soccer.

Without those experiences, there’s simply no way that I would be at anywhere close to the level that I am today.

It makes sense. For the best to reach their potential, they need to compete. They can’t always be special, and they need to learn how to respond to challenges and pressure.

I guess I want it both ways, right? I want youth sports to be the beacon of a community, but of course I want to cheer the absolute best of the best to bring home big wins, especially for the ol’ U.S.A. By all accounts, the club methodology is the right way to develop the skills of the most talented, but I don’t want to give up the quaint, neighborhood aspects of youth sports.

I think there are degrees to club sports. I understand the highest order of them – the academies and the like in the soccer world – but I wonder if a lot of the stateside club teams are profiting off of the youth academy model, rebranding them with gratifying names like “Perfect Game”, “Super Select”, and tacking on a hefty price tag.

So, yes, there should be room for both, but I wonder how broad the spectrum needs to be to account for us regulars and the Pulisics of the world.

Put in another way, a virtuoso violin player shouldn’t play with the high school symphony. A 12-year old with an exceptional math mind shouldn’t be sitting in Algebra to fulfill a sense of community. Their respective talent cannot be developed in that environment, and their contribution to community pride is to show what’s possible.

So where do I net out? Club teams are fine, but I’d be wary if they are expensive. If a check clearing plays a major role on whether or not a kid is allowed to play, then maybe investment is on the wrong side of the table. -PAL

Source: 1,834 Days”, Christian Pulisic, The Players Tribune (11/13/17)


Epic College Reunion

The 2018 Winter Olympics will not feature NHL talent for the first time since 1994. This stinks. I always want to see the best of each country, and while the ‘Miracle On Ice’ was possible in part due to no ‘professional’ players participating, the Iron Curtain created an environment where professional talent was indeed on display for the Soviets. Apples to oranges when compared with the 2018 and the NHL withholding its players from the games.

Quick tangent – don’t you think the NHL would love to put its players on an international stage? Wouldn’t the league benefit from that kind of promotion? Ditch the All-Star Game, take a 3-week break in the middle of the season, and let the studs play. I don’t know the inner-workings behind this decision, but on the surface it seems shortsighted.

All of this creates a pretty cool opportunity for some guys who’s hockey dreams were seemingly behind them, including four former college teammates at Yale – Mark Arcobello, Sean Backman, Broc Little and Brian O’Neill.

[They] have chased hockey careers in Finland, Germany and Switzerland. Together, they exemplified the traits of the American group that found its way to Augsburg: Those who let their N.H.L. dreams fade, who pursued the game wherever else they could, who now have an opportunity to add one spectacular highlight to their careers.

The team, for which the roster is not yet set, is off to a rough start: 0-3 so far, but these guys are thinking about the bigger picture, and put it in perfectly hockey terms.

O’Neill has been trying to manage his own expectations during the national team selection process. But he admitted he had at times imagined what it would be like to attend the opening ceremony and walk alongside the other athletes, “all dressed up in Ralph Lauren stuff.”

I’m trying to be positive about this, and when the NHL guys aren’t playing, these are the fun little stories that give you a little more umph to tune in. – PAL

Source: An Unlikely Yale Reunion on the U.S. Men’s Hockey Team”, Andrew Keh, The New York Times (11/13/17)


Video of the Week: 


PAL’s Song of the Week: Mandolin Orange – ‘Wildfire’


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There was a time when the only people who texted you were people you wanted texted you. Girls. 

-Darryl  Philbin

Week of November 10, 2017

Get it, Brian Boyle! This week, he scored his first goal since being diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia in September.


Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Counterfeit Autographs

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the draw of autographs – sports or otherwise – is lost on me. As we find ourselves in at least the second decade of the online marketplace, the hobby of collecting autographs is an even more removed experience. The signature symbolizes no interaction, no moment when the ordinary and extraordinary paths cross. There is no story, only an online bid.

While it should come as no surprise there are counterfeits out there, here’s a story that highlights a case which uncovers the how and the why behind one such counterfeit – Cliff Panezich.

Before Panezich forged the vast majority of 27,000 ebay items and sold more than $2MM worth of items on eBay, he was a baseball player looking for a shot. He was also an autograph seeker. The autographs were not for a personal collection.

2009 was his first year out of baseball. Panezich had gone undrafted after college ball, but had workouts with MLB teams and fared well enough in an independent league to earn another minor league tryout with the Phillies. His physical with the team revealed not one, not two, but three tears – two in his labrum and one in his rotator cuff. Surgery. Two years of rehab for an undrafted guy means the dream is pretty well squashed. This gave him more time for autographs. He and a friend took a road trip to Tuscaloosa to gather some signatures from Crimson Tide players.

This is what autograph investment looks like. Not exactly the kid waiting after the game for a glimpse of his hero:

//players.brightcove.net/2157889318001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5634642729001

This was a business trip, but the end did not justify the means:

Altogether it took Panezich and Bollinger nearly a week to gather the signatures they wanted, and Panezich says they shelled out more than $1,000 to players—but he figured the investment was worth it. He’d seen a team-signed Bama ball sell on eBay for roughly $800 earlier that month. Even if his own fetched just $500 apiece, “we were in pretty good shape,” he says. But once Panezich made it back to Ohio and listed the items on eBay, he says he found a marketplace newly flooded with what he believed to be forgeries—most selling for less than $150.

You can see where this is heading. Panezich embraces the forgery route, and he has a talent for copying signatures. When the feds close in on him and finally question him – they dubbed it “Operation Stolen Base” –  they wanted to see him in action.

The most surreal autograph session of Panezich’s life takes place a month later in a conference room in the FBI’s office in Boardman. He wasn’t arrested during the raid, but he’s since agreed to be interviewed under proffered protection in hopes of improving any future plea deal. The FBI and the Mahoning County prosecutor’s office have decided to pursue the case under Ohio’s version of the RICO Act—rather than bring federal charges—because of the number of potential defendants at the local level. (More than 20 other people, mostly in Ohio, are suspected of being involved in selling the forged items.) This makes Martin Desmond, a Mahoning County assistant D.A., one of the lead interviewers.

“I’m curious,” Desmond tells Panezich from across a conference table. “I want to see how good you are.”

Panezich shoots a look at his lawyer, Robert Duffrin—Is this really happening?—and is reminded that he’s under protection. He grabs a pen and a legal pad and asks Desmond to name an athlete.

“LeBron,” Desmond says, assuming Panezich will then ask to look at an example.

“Number or no number?” Panezich replies.

“Number.”

“Six or 23?”

“Do both.”

Panezich signs two variations—one the way James signed it during his first stint with the Cavs, the other the way he did it in his Heat years. One of the Ohio policemen at the table fires up his iPad and finds a real LeBron, and they all compare it with Panezich’s work.

To the investigators’ untrained eyes, it’s difficult to tell the autographs apart.

Panezich got six years for what is one of the largest eBay frauds on record. Hell, he even had his mom working for him. And while I find it hard to imagine anyone questioning his responsibility in all of this, Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn brings up an interesting point – what about eBay’s role, if any?

The most successful party—in the end—appears to be eBay, which would have earned more than $300,000 on auction and PayPal fees on $2.4 million in sales. Although eBay cooperated in the case, a company spokesman declined to answer SI’s questions about whether it had contacted potential victims or returned any of the fees.

So – yeah – I have no problem with athletes turning down adult autograph seekers (story four from our September 22 post). Honestly, I have little sympathy for folks buying autographed items on an online marketplace, too. I don’t get it, and stories like this surely don’t help. – PAL

Source: Operation Stolen Base”, Luke Winn, Sports Illustrated Longform (11/06/2017)


Man, Roy Halladay Died, and I Barely Knew Him.

A bummer out of baseball this week, as former pitcher Roy “Doc” Halladay died after he crashed his small plane into the Gulf of Mexico. He was 40, and leaves behind a wife and two kids. This story hit the baseball world hard, as Roy Halladay was not just the best pitcher in baseball for a decade, but widely known as one of the nicest and hardest working players, too. He was tall and lanky, and he was all angles when he pitched. He was incredibly difficult to hit, winning two Cy Youngs, a remarkable 7 years apart, in different leagues. He only played in two postseasons, but boy did he make it count.

In his first ever postseason game, Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS, Halladay threw a no-hitter. It was only the second ever postseason no-hitter (the first being Don Larsen’s perfect game). I remember the game distinctly, even though I didn’t watch it, which is a perfect microcosm of my experience with Halladay’s career. As I recall, it was the first game of that season’s playoffs, and it started during the day, when I was still at work. I was intently focused on the Giants’ soon to begin series against Atlanta. I even had tickets to Game 1 the next night, so I wasn’t paying attention to the score of a Phillies game while I was at work. But I remember leaving the office right around 5:00pm, and heading over to a bus stop directly in front of Irish Times, a sports bar in San Francisco’s Financial District. I peeked inside and saw the Phillies leading 4-0 in the 9th. Meh. I got on the bus, and just before it departed, I’ll never forget a HUGE roar from the crowded bar. I thought, “Geeze, it’s only Game 1 of the NLDS, and the Phillies have won a World Series and another pennant recently. Calm down, Phillies fans.” Moments later I got an alert on my phone, telling me Roy Halladay had just completed a no-hitter. I had not only missed a playoff no-hitter, but unknowingly walked out of the bar, in the 9th, as he was closing it out. UGH.

As I said, it’s a microcosm of my, and many baseball fans’, experience with Halladay. The postseason is when many fans get to watch the best players in the league, but because Halladay made just five postseason starts, I simply did not get to see him pitch much. I did see him in person that postseason – he started Game 5 of the NLCS against the Giants, beating Tim Lincecum 4-2, in a rematch of the Giants 4-3 win in Game 1. But…I don’t really remember too much about Halladay that night. And I didn’t remember that Cody Ross’ two huge home runs in Game 1 came off Halladay, either.

But this week, I read a lot about how others experienced him. Like Blue Jays and Phillies fans, who saw him pitch every five days, the best in the game at the peak of his powers. I know how fun that experience is. Phillie fan Michael Baumann summed up why we love sports, and why we are sad when athletes die too soon:

But for me, and for numerous others who had the good fortune to be Phillies fans in a certain time and place, this is different, because of the memories he created, the community his team fostered, and, above all, the ineffable feeling of being part of something special that he inspired. I never met Roy Halladay, never high-fived him as a fan or interviewed him as a reporter, but he changed my life all the same.

Deadspin rounded up many of the tweets from players who played with and against Halladay. Brandon McCarthy seemed to capture Halladay best:

And I really enjoyed this old SI article, written at the height of Halladay’s powers, about his early career struggles, and what Halladay went through to turn it around. It’s really quite a remarkable story. Rest in peace, Doc. -TOB

Source: Roy Halladay Changed My Life”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (11/07/2017); Roy Halladay Was ‘Your Favorite Player’s Favorite Player’”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (11/08/2017); What Makes Roy Run”, Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated (04/05/2010)

PAL: I enjoyed the Baumann article as well. I actually highlighted the exact same passage TOB pulled out above. And to those asking why he was flying so dangerously – implying that he deserved it in some way – just go away (I’m not going to even link to the story about it, but you can find them if you want).


Damn The Birds, Build The Stadium in Oakland

The Raiders: Vegas. Warriors: San Francisco. Sports teams are dropping Oakland like a high school boyfriend or girlfriend come second semester of college. The A’s are looking to stay in Oakland with a privately funded, 35,000 seat stadium. They want to put it right by Lake Merritt near downtown Oakland.

But what about the birds?

Cindy Margulis, executive director of the Audubon’s Golden Gate chapter, said in an interview that a new ballpark built near the Lake Merritt Channel would devastate large numbers of bird species that nest each year at Lake Merritt, especially herons and cormorants.

The ballpark could cause a die off of birds and perhaps force them to leave the Lake Merritt area completely. And Margulis says she sees no way for the A’s to prevent what she predicts will be an ecological catastrophe.

I run around that lake a lot, and let me tell you something: The birds are out of control. I have no beef with the herons, but if they could find a way for the new stadium to kill off the seemingly millions of geese and their poop that litters every inch of grass around the lake, then I’ll personally contribute to the stadium.

Lake Merritt is a good looking lake. It’s a small lake, and it can smell a bit, but it’s a nice, downtown lake. People love to grill out and just hang on the weekends. It’s packed with folding tables, grills, and loud, bumping music. I love it, but for the geese.

Geese suck. They poop white poop everywhere, they waddle around like they own the place, and they’re jealous of the swans. Build the stadium. Damn the birds. Eagles are cool. Hawks are impressive. Owls: I’m in. The rest of them – meh. Birds are gross. Privately funded stadiums built near downtown are cool. Stadium > birds. – PAL

Source: New Ballpark Could Devastate Lake Merritt’s Birds”, Robert Gammon, East Bay Express (11/07/2017)

TOB: Good take, Andy.


Video(s) of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott – ‘Long Time Gone’


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“It’s all your fault. I took you under my wing and then you bit the underside of my wing”

-Guy Young

Week of November 3, 2017

Ben Reiter called it…3 years ago. 


Why Didn’t the Dodgers START Kershaw?

This article was written, and I read it, in advance of Wednesday’s glorious Game 7, where the Houston Astros extended the Dodgers non-World Series winning streak to 29 years. Here’s to 30, a nice round number. Now that the gloating is over, I just can’t get over how badly I think Roberts managed this, and why everyone seems to take it as a given that he didn’t. Specifically, why didn’t he start Clayton Kershaw in Game 7? In the last few seasons, managers have really begun to get creative with their bullpen use in the playoffs, especially in Game 7, and especially in Game 7 of the World Series. I don’t know if it began with Bumgarner in 2014, but it seems like his performance that night, after having dominated in Game 5, made every manager since realize you should live and die with your best. Before Game 7 this year, both managers said every starter, save perhaps the starter from Game 6, was available to pitch out of the bullpen if necessary.

But…this is what I don’t get. Kershaw is an excellent pitcher. Possibly the best of his generation. He’s struggled in the playoffs, but he was great this year at home, where the Dodgers were playing Game 7. He’s available. And not in an emergency. It was reported that Kershaw texted manager Dave Roberts and told him before Game 6 that he was available for that night’s game, after having been rocked and giving up two different 3-run leads two days prior in Game 5. Roberts replied, telling Kershaw he’d be closing out Game 7. So we know that Roberts intends to pitch Kershaw for at least the last 3 outs. This is not a break glass in case of emergency situation.

For his starter, though, Roberts went with Yu Darvish, who gave up 5 runs in 1 ⅔ innings, the same as he had in Game 3.

The Dodgers were down 5-0 when they brought in Kershaw. Yes, the pressure on him at that point is lower, but he was lights out and gave his offense a chance to come back. So why not start Kershaw? If you have the best pitcher of his generation, and you’re going to pitch him, why not start him? You can let him go until he begins to fatigue or gets into trouble. Here’s what Sam Miller says:

So, ideally, in a perfect world, you’d do the only logical thing: You’d start with your best pitcher, Kershaw. You’d let him go until you realize he’s not your best anymore. You figure out as you go how many pitches that is, and you figure out as you go how many outs that is good for. Then you bring in your second-best pitcher, Jansen. You do the same. Once he’s not your second-best pitcher anymore — which you’ll see, because you’re a baseball genius and spot these little tells that a pitcher has that he’s tiring — you look up at the scoreboard. Maybe it’s the third inning at this point. Maybe it’s the eighth inning. The difference between those two situations is massive, and you’re glad, looking at the scoreboard, that you chose to do it this way, because now you know exactly what you need to get from your third-best pitchers and beyond.

But you can’t do this, can you? Because, most likely, you’re still going to be asking a lot from Yu Darvish, and he needs to be good for this plan to work. He needs to be Yu Darvish good. And you just don’t know whether Darvish, coming out of the bullpen for the first time in his career, with all the nerves of Game 7 of the World Series affecting his preparation in the bullpen, is going to be able to handle that. If he can, he throws the final six or four or two innings and you hold the parade. If he doesn’t, you’ve just ruined the third-best pitcher you’ve got.

I just don’t buy that argument about Darvish. Later in the game, after their starter Lance McCullers also struggled, the Astros called on normally starting pitcher Charlie Morton. He slammed the door shut for 4 innings and finished out the game. Did Morton turn mentally soft because he wasn’t asked to start? No. Did Kershaw? No. If I’m managing Game 7 of the World Series, I am trusting my best pitcher, especially if he’s Clayton Freaking Kershaw, to get as many outs for me as he can. So, thank you, Dave Roberts. Thank you for starting Darvish. I had an enjoyable Wednesday evening. -TOB

Source: Managing Game 7 is the Most Difficult Job in Sports”, Sam Miller, ESPN (11/01/2017)

PAL: Why did the Dodger pick up Darvish midseason? So they don’t have to think about starting Kershaw on two days rest in a game 7. Because Kershaw can’t be the only guy if they want to make a World Series Run.

You ride or die with your generational talent. As much as I like to disagree with TOB, he’s right on this – if Kershaw’s told he’s pitching anyway, why not just start him and see how many innings you can eek out. Kershaw’s already great (3x Cy Young Winner, with a 2.36 ERA, averaging 248K per season, and his team wins almost 70% of the games he’s pitched), so you bet on him to be legendary.

Roberts (or the Dodgers front office – I wonder who was calling the shots, to be honest) completely and utterly overmanaged the world series, and they sh*t themselves, quite frankly. They wrote out a plan that made sense on paper, and then they proceeded to run their entire bullpen into the ground. The bullpen, which was perhaps the one facet of the game where they had an advantage over the Astros, ended up overworked and couldn’t deliver, which is understandable since they pitched the majority of the innings in the series.

As loaded as that team is, there is no guarantee the Dodgers will ever get back to the World Series. I think you need to keep this in mind when you manage. If this is the last World Series game this collection of Dodgers ever plays, who do you want on the mound. A fresh Yu Darvish – no scrub by any means, but did pitch awfully in game 2 – or Clayton Kershaw on ½ of a tank. I’d see how far Kershaw’s tank gets me – from the beginning of the game.

TOB: What’s wild to me is how many sportswriters (like Ben Lindbergh and Michael Baumann from The Ringer) I saw after the game saying Roberts was correct not to start Kershaw. Now, this reminds me of the scene in Swingers when Trent tells Mikey you always double down on 11, and when Mikey does and busts, Trent keeps insisting, “You always double down on 11.” Mikey says, “I lost! How could you say ‘always’?” But I do get their point. The outcome was unknown when he made the decision, so you shouldn’t take the outcome into consideration when determining if he made the right call (plus, who knows how things turn out if they do start Kershaw. Maybe he takes a liner to his head that ends his career or something). But my point is this: I thought this before the game, and I just disagree with the logic. Baumann and Lindbergh’s argument is that you don’t know what could happen, so go with Darvish because that’s why you traded for him. Sorry, if I’m a manager, I’m winning or losing on the back of a generational pitcher. If you beat him, so be it.


What is the Point of Youth Sports, Part III: Coaching High School Sports in a Club World

Let’s start the third and final chapter on youth sports with a quote that seems to pretty much sum up the current state of coaching high school sports today:

The e-mails from angry parents come faster and more often than any time in his 25 years as a high school coach, sometimes waiting for Carl Pierson by the time he arrives home from a game.

Each time it happens, the Waconia girls’ basketball coach knows a long night is about to get even longer.

After he enters statistics, uploads and edits game film and creates a scouting report for the next day’s practice, Pierson faces a choice: Take the time to carefully craft and send a response, or put it off until morning and endure a lousy night of sleep dreading the thought of hard feelings festering with a parent and their player.

The old adage says there is no ‘I’ in team, and that seems to be the problem in high school sports these days. As we’ve written about the previous two weeks, players and parents are investing a lot of time and money on personal athletic pursuits through pay-for-play club sports and 1-1 training. When a varsity high school coach – who gets about $6K stipend in Minnesota – doesn’t have little Johnny in the regular rotation – well, there’s trouble in paradise.

When expectations aren’t met, parents blame the high school coaches — whose work now extends well-beyond a season’s start and end — and even push for their ouster.

After the ouster of two high-profile boys’ hockey coaches — Jeff Pauletti at Roseville and Tony Sarsland at Elk River — Rep. Dean Urdahl authored a bill in 2013 to forbid parental complaints for being the sole reason to not renew a high school coach’s contract. The measure was passed into law, but its effects are hard to discern.

Fast-spreading complaints via social media can further stoke tension. In 2016, Tony Scheid resigned as Stillwater girls’ hockey coach, saying he and his family had been subjected to “unrelenting and vicious” verbal attacks from a group of parents.

Let’s just pause for a second. We can be such wimps. Such frauds. I include all of us – whether we have kids or not – because we are parts of communities where this crap happens every day, and ‘our kids’ isn’t limited to flesh and blood. We want our kids to learn about character and competition and teamwork and perseverance, but only if that happens in a way that’s acceptable to us – only while making varsity as a sophomore, and playing regular minutes/innings/shifts. When it doesn’t go our way, we act like wimps. We post pithy complaints on social media like teenagers, and we either work to get the coach fired or acquiesce to those that do. We don’t use the most minor of setbacks – a youth sports setback – to actually have a moment to say to our kids, “This is a challenge, and I’ve got news: You will be challenged for the rest of your life. It’s actually a big part of each day. How you respond tells yourself and the world what kind of person you are. This is what the word ‘character’ means.”

Full disclosure: I absolutely failed my first sports character test.

I was a sophomore on the high school baseball team. The catcher ahead of me, a junior, was suspended for two weeks (maybe I was a junior and he was a senior…I can’t remember). He served his suspension, and was back in the lineup. I was the designated hitter for a couple weeks, I’m wouldn’t be surprised my hitting cooled off, and then I wasn’t playing. The guy in front of me was a natural athlete, but didn’t seem to care too much, and that just ate at me. I wanted to succeed with every ounce in me. I had quit hockey to spend more time on baseball. I wanted to play D-I baseball. It was my only goal, I had a plan worked out to the day, and my plan was getting off course because an upperclassmen who didn’t seem to care about anything. I wanted to know why I wasn’t playing (even when maybe deep down I knew he was more gifted than I was), and I was worried that I wouldn’t get any college looks if, you know, I wasn’t on the field.

My brother and I met with the coach in the dugout. My feelings about his coaching are beside the point here, so I’ll just leave that alone. My brother did most of the talking while I sat there.

To this day I regret that I didn’t find the guts to talk with my coach one-on-one. Ugh. This isn’t something that comes up once every few years; I think about it pretty regularly.

What is the point of youth sports? It’s all the stuff we rolled our eyes about as kids – teamwork, competition, the feeling of earned success and a camaraderie that can only be achieved by spending seasons of ups and downs together with teammates you love and teammates you learn to get along with over time. It’s all the cliches. The cliches are true. They were when I was playing as a kid, and they are true at my job today. A great day at work is due to teamwork – and everyone buying into that idea. After reading this series, it’s hard to make a case that parents and players share my feelings on this.

Individual success in sports – like any other facet of life – is not guaranteed just because there’s been an investment of time or money or desire. We all know life isn’t fair. While adults seem to understand that truism when it happens to them, the idea that their children are faced to learn that lesson destabilizes mom and dad.

High school coaches – the good ones, the bad ones (and there are bad ones), and the indifferent ones – have always had to deal with crap parents, but they had leverage. With the ubiquity of club sports, it seems that leverage has shifted.

What’s lost in all of this is the the most beautiful part of high school sports – a team made up of kids from the same neighborhood or city winning a state championship. A group of guys or girls, who grew up playing together from when they were 10 years old all the way through high school bring home a goddamn state championship to their hometown. It’s beautiful.

Pride. I fear that’s what’s lost in all of this. – PAL

Source: Crunch Time Never Ends for Coaches”, David La Vaque, Star Tribune (10/24/2017)


$100k for an Elite Basketball Recruit is a Steal

As we’ve written about here before, NCAA basketball is embroiled in a developing pay-for-play scandal that broke when a number of assistant coaches from some of the top programs around the country were simultaneously arrested a few weeks ago. One of those recruits, Brian Bowen, was preparing to start his freshman year at Louisville. It has been alleged he, or his family, were paid $100,000 by Adidas for choosing Louisville.

At first blush, that sounds like a lot. But $100,000, even for one year of basketball, is not a lot of money.

Economist Dan Rascher, an expert witness in the O’Bannon case, estimates that Division I football and men’s college basketball players only receive about 10 percent of the $10-12 billion of annual revenue that they generate. By contrast, NBA and National Football League players receive roughly 50 percent of total league revenues. Three years ago, the National College Players Association, a campus athlete advocacy group, applied that same split to athletes in Football Bowl Subdivision conferences and estimated that the average basketball player was worth $289,000 a year.

That’s the average player at the average program. Bowen of course is not average. Louisville is not average. If Louisville paid its players 50% of revenue like NBA players get, each player on the team would be paid $1.72 million per year. The tenth pick in last year’s draft, for example, is making over $3 million this year, thirty times what Bowen was allegedly paid. This well beyond stupid at this point. Maybe he doesn’t need to get paid $1.72 million, but $100,000 is a bargain, and the players should get paid a fair amount.

Source: Brian Bowen is a Bargain at $100,000”, Patrick Hruby, Deadspin (10/26/2017)

PAL: I hate the notion of paying college players, but any semblance of amateurism left big time college basketball decades ago (UCLA in the 60s, right TOB?). Wherever you stand on the issue, this article breaks it down by the numbers, and it’s a pretty logical, measured argument. Glad TOB posted it this week. We just didn’t get to it last week.


Sports Screaming Explained

It’s in every sport now, the screaming. Tennis, Football, Track & Field, and all of the others. The screaming is to a point where we don’t really notice it anymore, but there was a time – not that long ago – when this didn’t happen.

After losing the first set to Monica Seles in ‘92 Wimbledon semifinal, Martina Navratilova went to the chair umpire to make Seles stop grunting after every shot. It was so unprecedented at that time that the umpire didn’t know what to do, so he gave Seles a warning. Seles went on to win the match, and by the end of the match, the grunting had turned into screams. Seles had opened the screaming door in women’s tennis, and “[o]ver the next 20 years, Navratilova watched in horror as an entire generation of tennis players proceeded to copy Seles.”

 

Nick Zarzycki does a nice job organizing a handful of theories as to why athletes now scream.

There have been several studies, including some that contend screaming can “increase our maximum jumping distance, improve our ability to withstand pain, and increase coordination.” As Zarzycki points out, there seems to be connection to the fight or flight response.

And fear is part of the fight or flight equation.

Working with neuroscientists at Dr. David Poeppel’s lab at NYU, Arnal found that screams are different from any other kind of human vocalization because they possess a sonic attribute called “roughness,” which is particularly good at activating the brain’s fear and danger processing centers.

So perhaps there’s something to either creating or reacting to danger when it comes to today’s sports. Vikings great John Randle was a big yeller (and all around gab machine on the field). What’s fascinating is when you wonder whether or not he was yelling at the offensive line as a reaction to danger or in an effort to create fear. Maybe a bit of both.

There are less combative sports where the breakdown between creating and reacting to danger is less complex. Take, for instance, the skeleton (the luge-type winter olympic sport where one competitor sleds head first down an ice track at 75 m.p.h.

 

Why do athletes scream? Because we’re all animals! – PAL

Source: Why Do Athletes Scream”, Nick Zarzycki, Deadspin (10/31/17)


Sporting Event Proposals are Never, Ever OK

There is no scenario in which a proposal of marriage at a sporting event is acceptable. I don’t care if you just won the World Series, Carlos Correa. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Sure, he was having the best night of his life, and – to repurpose a phrase TOB uses in the Dodgers writeup, he doubled-down and proposes. Exuberance is at an all-time high, she’s a total babe. He goes for it. I get it. It’s just the wrong play.

We are conditioned to give it the ah, that’s so sweet. Resist that urge. It is not sweet. To propose at a sporting event is unoriginal, thirsty, and puts the fiance being proposed to in an impossible position.

What’s she going to do – say no? Hey, honey. I know you just won the World Series, and you’re an incredibly successful, young, good-looking, wealthy shortstop who bats cleanup for the World Series champs, but…can we talk about this? Yes, the diamond the size of small island is beautiful. It’s not that. I just don’t feel like we’ve talked about each of our visions of the future.

So – yeah – that was never going to happen. Did I mention he’s the shortstop and bats cleanup? Hell, I might have said yes. But that doesn’t make it OK. Propose on your own time, and make that day special because you got engaged on that day. Of all the moments in your life, don’t tack that one onto any other special day, and don’t do it at a baseball game.

What’s that? Yes, I am 35 and never been married. – PAL

Source: Carlos Correa Celebrates World Series Win By Proposing To Girlfriend Daniella Rodriguez”, Emma Baccellieri, Deadspin (11/01/2017)

TOB: I have mixed feelings here. First, I think everyone should do it their own  way. She looked happy as hell. He looked happy. It was a sweet moment, good for them. On the other hand, when it happened I did think, “It makes for a bit of an awkward engagement night.” I mean, now he’s gotta leave for the trophy ceremonies, then head to the locker room for the champagne celebration, and then get absolutely hammered with his teammates. Is she in the locker room? Either way, once the celebration is done, Correa is drunk and celebrating his own thing, while also trying to celebrate their thing. In the end, I go with my gut: They seemed happy, so…


Video of the Week: 

https://clips.twitch.tv/InventiveLazyYamKeyboardCat

(Sorry, can’t embed)


PAL Song of the Week: Jeffrey Foucault – ‘Lodi’ (Creedence Clearwater Revival)


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“No, don’t call me a hero. Do you know who the real heroes are? The guys who wake up every morning and go into their normal jobs, and get a distress call from the Commissioner and take off their glasses and change into capes and fly around fighting crime. Those are the real heroes.”

-D. Schrute