Week of December 6, 2015


It’s Time to Talk About the Warriors

I have been hesitant to write about the Warriors until, you know, they actually lose a game. But it’s time. What the Warriors are doing right now, 23-0 at the time of publication, is likely the most incredible thing I’ve seen in my life as a sports fan. Most of those 23 games haven’t even been particularly close. There are not enough superlatives for this. The Dubs have the whole league feeling like Kemba Walker does here:

 Unfortunately, in the closing seconds of a win over the Pacers on Tuesday, Klay Thompson sprained his ankle. I hope it isn’t too bad, because they will need him in order to do something historical. How historical? Before their 23rd win on Tuesday, FiveThirtyEight’s projection system has them with a 44% chance of setting the all-time NBA record with 73 wins a season, surpassing the 72 wins recorded by the 1995-96 Bulls (and a 25% chance of winning an insane 75 games). In this brief article, Kyle Wagner breaks down the various projection systems’ predictions for the Warriors’ final record.

Source: It’s Time to Take the Warriors’ Chances of Going 73-9 Seriously”, Kyle Wagner, FiveThirtyEight.com (12/08/2015)

PAL: The Warriors are absurd, and oh-so-fun to watch. Solid article, but I liked the other FiveThirtyEight article, which focused on trying to contextualize Steph Curry’s shooting. How about this nugget: “Curry shoots threes about as well with a defender 2 to 4 feet away (classified as “tight” by NBA.com) as an average NBA shooter does with the nearest defender 12 feet away.”


Scott Weiland’s Letter to Charlie Weis. Wait, What?

Back in 2005, in the first year of his original deal and after very little success, Notre Dame handed head football coach Charlie Weis a massive, 10-year contract extension. They quickly lived to regret that, and ended up having to pay him a buyout of $19 million. Notre Dame made their final annual payment on that contract this month. In other news, Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland died last week at the age of 48. Weiland had struggled for years with drugs and alcohol. These two stories are seemingly unrelated. So why do I bring them up together? As it turns out, Weiland was a huge Notre Dame football fan. He grew up in the midwest and his father went to Notre Dame. Weiland was such a big Notre Dame fan that in 2007 when Weis was rumored to be considering taking the New York Giants head coaching job, Weiland wrote Weis a fervent open letter, literally begging Weis not to leave Notre Dame. A sampling:

But LEAVING NOTRE DAME, your Alma Mater, without having achieved really anything of monolithic proportions like you’ve promised us is absurd and unfair. So at this point, I will get on my knees and beg. Don’t do it Coach. Don’t do it! Stay and do what you promised; your team, your school, the fans, the legacy deserves to be taken to the Promised Land.

The whole letter is pretty amusing, as Weiland writes like a 12-year old throughout. What a weird story. -TOB

Source: Dead STP Frontman Scott Weiland’s Impassioned Letter Begging Charlie Weis to Stay at Notre Dame”, Troy Machir, Sporting News (12/04/2015)

PAL: I never would’ve guessed this. It’s strange to read the words of a rock star that come off like such a dorky Notre Dame guy – impassioned and hyperbolic with the blinders firmly affixed. Also, Jimmy Clausen was a thing.


Vicarious Abuse

In Minnesota, the “Hockey dad” is a thing, as I’m certain it’s “Football dad,” in Texas, “Tennis dad” in some faux “academy” in Florida and so forth, especially in places where a sport and location are nearly one and the same. Watching a parent lose control at youth sports game is surreal and disturbing. The lack of awareness needed in order to, say, threaten violence on an umpire, referee, or – worst of all – your kid  in a public setting at a meaningless sporting event is unsettling.

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O’Sullivan’s dad was beating him by the time this picture was taken.

Patrick O’Sullivan’s story of enduring years of physical abuse is horrible, yet familiar. We’ve heard this story before. However, his perspective on it is refreshing and needed, especially  in an era when younger and younger kids are specializing in a sports at the insistence of coaches and parents. O’Sullivan’s take on the single-mindedness of it hits home, especially for a dude that grew up in a hockey-crazed community:

“Once you get to the pro level and you witness how fast the game moves, you finally realize that no amount of running or weight lifting or private lessons is going to change one simple question: Do you understand hockey? Do you really understand the game? Do you know where that puck is going next?”

O’Sullivan’s dad is a pathetic failure. – PAL

Source: Black & Blue”, Patrick O’Sullivan”, The Players’ Tribune (12/09/2015), ℅ 1-2-3 reader Pat O’Brien

TOB: This was a really disturbing, but also necessary, read. It helps that O’Sullivan is a little removed from the game – he is 30 years old, but has been retired since 2012. This perspective allows O’Sullivan to note two important truths about his horrible story: (1) the worst part of it all is that O’Sullivan’s NHL success undoubtedly makes his awful father believe he did the right thing; that O’Sullivan owes his success to his dad beating the hell out of him, day after day, for over a decade; and (2) that there were people, grown adults, who saw O’Sullivan’s father abusing him after games and did absolutely nothing. O’Sullivan’s story could have been a woe is me memoir – but instead he makes an important point: parents abuse their children, and it is not acceptable. But the least acceptable thing is for other adults to witness the abuse, look the other way, and do nothing. As O’Sullivan closes his story:

“I’m writing it for the people in the parking lot. Yes, if you say something, you may ruin the relationship you have with that person. You may get embarrassed in front of the other hockey parents. You may have to go through the awkwardness of filing a police report.

I can understand why a lot of people worry, “But what if I’m wrong?”

If you are wrong, that’s the absolute best case scenario. The alternative is that child is a prisoner in his own home. What you’re seeing in the parking lot or outside the locker room — whether it’s a kid getting grabbed and screamed at, or shoved up against a car — could just be the tip of the iceberg.

It’s so ironic, because the hockey community loves to talk about toughness and courage. In that world, courage is supposed to mean standing in front of a slap shot without flinching, or taking your lumps in a fight.

But that’s easy. That’s not real courage. Anybody can do that. I guarantee you there’s hundreds of kids across North America who will get dressed for hockey this weekend with their stomach turning, thinking the same thing I did as a kid: “I better play really good there, or tonight is going to be really bad.” It just takes one person to act on their instinct and stand up for that child. That’s real courage. The kind we don’t always glorify in the hockey world.”


Video of the Week:

Wait for it…

Baseball players are so lovably dumb.


Tweet of the Week

-Former teammate of Marshawn’s at Cal, who went on to play quite a few years in the NFL.


PAL Song of the Week: A Tribe Called Quest – “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo

Check out the playlist here. Consider it your holiday bonus.


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Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?

– Clark Griswold

 

Week of December 22, 2014

 

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Now that I am married, I could do that with Christmas cards, like this high school football player does with his recruiting letters. And it makes me feel like this bear:

Merry Christmas, everybody!


 

This Is How Sports Matter

One of the best concepts for a story I’ve seen, and one of the best written sports stories I’ve read. Don’t read this on your phone – there’s a very cool interactive element that deserves a bigger screen. Gary Smith hits this piece flush, which focuses on a fascinating photograph taken by Marvin E. Newman. The picture features TCU in the locker room 15 minutes before facing off with Jim Brown and Syracuse in the 1957 Cotton Bowl. Smith walks the reader through the stories of the subjects, the place, the time, and what waits in the future for all involved. Beautiful, every part of it. If someone asks me why I loved playing sports so much, I will just send them this story from now on. Joe Williams (a player on the team) summed it up best 40 years after the photograph was taken: “More than who you’re looking at now, that guy in the picture, that’s me. That’s who I really am.” – PAL

Source: “Moment of Truth”, Gary Smith & Marvin E. Newman, Longform – SI.com (12/18/14)

TOB Note: Damn, Phil stole what I was gonna quote. But don’t worry. This story is so great, there are plenty of other options to use to induce you to read it. For example:

“That’s Frankie Hyde just behind Doc Hardt’s right shoulder…Doesn’t know that he’ll hurt his shoulder a few months from now in spring training, that he’ll never suit up for a football game again.”

This reminds me of  the time the the equipment manager, an old former player and coach, came to my JV football practice. He told us to enjoy each practice and game, because he had seen seniors crying on the sidelines at the end of the season, knowing it would be the last time they’d ever play the game. This lesson stuck with me, as a broader message: you never know when something will be the last time you do something, whether it be something you cherish or something mundane. So enjoy it. This story has stories about this thought in spades, and as Phil said it demonstrates why sports matter to us.


The Next Frontier in Draft Bust Avoidance

Before the 1998 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts reportedly agonized over their choice with the #1 pick – Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. Manning is possibly the greatest passer in NFL history. Leaf is widely regarded as the biggest bust in NFL history. In 2014, it’s hard to believe, but it was a real debate over the two of them. The Colts got it right. But they almost didn’t, and teams invest millions of dollars in their top picks – and they are always looking for a way to find the Peyton Mannings and avoid the Ryan Leafs. The newest tactic being employed? Facial coding experts – teams are attempting to determine the emotional makeup of a player through facial microexpressions. But does it work? Or is it junk science? -TOB

Source: Teams Turn to a Face Reader, Looking For That Winning Smile“, Kevin Randall, New York Times (12/25/14)


A Running Race We Can All Get Behind: The Beer Mile

I have done the Beer Mile. 4 laps around a track, 1 beer before every lap. There are other rules, but that’s the gist. I wouldn’t call it a good time, but it’s something everyone should try (1-2-3 Sports! Beer Mile, anyone? Get at us, and we’ll set it up). The fact that people are close to breaking the 5-minute mark on this is insane, and I love it. A great way to get a party started, as long as you can keep the beer down. I’m calling out “Mr. 5k” to do this with us, if that’s even your nickname anymore. – PAL

Source: “Chug, Run, Repeat”, Allison McCann, fivethirtyeight (12/12/14)

TOB Note: I’m in. Tell me where. Tell me when. Reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from Revenge of the Nerds – the beer chug/tricycle race. Classic.


Jim Harbaugh Is Crazier Than You Can Imagine

Harbaugh is crazy, we all know that. But this story has me utterly dumfounded:

It was 2007, his first year as Stanford’s football coach, and during what was meant to be a motivational speech, Harbaugh told his players that he wanted to play in the game alongside them. He wanted this so badly that he informed his players that he wanted their blood on him if they bled during that week’s game.

But in the game, right tackle Chris Marinelli ran off the field with the rest of his offense after a touchdown drive, his arm bloodied. He went straight to Harbaugh to show him.

Harbaugh looked at the blood and did exactly what he said he would. He took his hand and wiped it on Marinelli’s arm. The player’s blood was on the coach’s hands.

Then, Harbaugh took it a step further. He smeared Marinelli’s blood all over his own face like war paint.

What the god damn hell? -TOB

Source: “From War Paint to Shakespeare…“, Max Cohen, Michigan Daily (12/23/14)

PAL Note: These stories of Harbaugh’s insanity have gone to such an extreme that I’m beginning to question his sincerity. Wiping someone else’s blood on your face and quoting Bill Shakespeare come off like the actions of someone who wants a legend built around him, which is inherently lame.


What Would You Rather Do: Play QB For the Browns or Kite Surf?

For most of us, the answer is easy: If you had the ability to play QB in the NFL, you’d do it. But if you’re Rex Grossman? And it’s December, when it is cold as hell in Cleveland? And you’re in Florida? And you’ve been kite surfing? And you’ve made a lot of money? And the pay is “just” $53k? Well – Rex Grossman made his choice. And it’s hard to argue with it. Enjoy the swells, Sexy Rexy. -TOB

Source: “Rex Grossman Rebuffs Browns to Kite Surf With Family Over Christmas”by Eric Edholm, Yahoo! Sports (12/22/14)

PAL Note: Not mentioned in the story was the fact that Rex couldn’t get the deposit back on the house rental, and Kai – the windsurfing instructor – is booked for, like, 5 weeks!


VIDEO OF THE WEEK


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“We need to get there early if we want a seat at Christmas Mass.”

– Phil’s dad

Here’s the available seating at 8:30 A.M. for the 9 o’clock mass:

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Week of December 15, 2014

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Redemption Lost

Tommy Gaines III was a high school basketball star in Georgia in the 1980’s. He never “made it”, or even came close, because he became addicted to crack. In an SAT analogy, redemption stories are to sportswriting as pratfalls are to comedy. The supply is seemingly endless, and it’s a little cheap, but it will always get the intended reaction. I’ve read (or watched) countless stories about former star athletes who lost it all (usually due to drugs), but have fought back as they’ve aged to provide a lesson to those who are now coming up. This is not one of those stories. Tommy Gaines is now in his late-40’s and is still dealing with his addiction to crack, losing the battle, trying to resurrect, and self-destructing again. Heartbreaking. -TOB

Source: The Sad Saga of Tommy Gaines”, Jordan Ritter Conn, Grantland (12/11/14)

PAL Note: I’m blaming my reaction to this story on VH1’s Behind The Music. I’ve become a bit “numb” to stories in which drugs or alcohol incite the downfall of someone with exceptional talent. Tommy’s correct – it’s a heartbreaking story that stands out for its lack of redemption, but it also stands out as heavy-handed prose on Ritter Conn’s part.


All Is Fair In Love & Twitter: Sports Reporting In The Time of “Now”

Do you care about journalistic standards when it comes to sports writing? Honestly – I don’t mean that in a pithy way. I didn’t really think about it before reading this article about NBA scoop monster Adrian Wojnarowski, but the piece is a really interesting reference point from which to consider the role reporting has in an instant news landscape, especially when it pertains to sports (as opposed to politics, world events…you know, real news).  Wojnarowski has become the go-to NBA writer when it comes to breaking news, but his methods and track record are shady at best. Writer Kevin Draper sums it up this way: “[C]ompromising your objectivity to score scoops is not great reporting. Relentlessly attacking a key subject and reporting incorrectly on him is not great journalism. Hating a rival so much it clouds your analysis of events is not great reporting. By Wojnarowski’s own standards, he is failing.” -PAL

Source: “Basketball’s Biggest Reporter Is Waging War on ESPN – And He’ll Do Anything to Win”, Kevin Draper, New Republic (12/16/14)

TOB Note: I follow Wojarnowski on Twitter and he does break a ton of news. But after reading this, I will be following with a sharper eye.


How the NFL Pissed Off a Lot of TV Execs

As you may have seen, someone hacked Sony and released e-mails (and plenty more), which the internet has found quite amusing (note: I wrote this before the controversy arose surrounding the non-release of “The Interview”. Now people don’t find this so funny. I still find it rather amusing). This story, about how the NFL’s deal to air some Thursday Night games this year on CBS really pissed off Sony executives in charge of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, is only tangentially related to sports, but is still quite interesting. -TOB

Source: How CBS and the NFL Teamed Up to Screw Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, Timothy Burke, Deadspin (12/12/14)

PAL Note: I, too, have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the Sony hack emails over the past couple of weeks. While that makes me a bad person, I’m infatuated by what a person’s email style says about them. A lot of high-level execs really don’t care about spelling or grammar, and there’s no “I hope this finds you well” opening crap that I’ve leaned on for 10 years. This one is funny because we’ve all been a part of a similar email chain – partial information from the onset leading to mass confusion coming to a head and someone being offended. And if Jamie Morganstern has taught me anything, you don’t f with someone’s Jeopardy! routine. Love this story.


Show That Watt Who’s Boss

Most kids send their heroes a letter asking for an autograph; this duder took a different approach. The only thing better than the kid sending his autographed jersey to J.J. Watt is the letter that came with it. Boss move, pipsqueak. Boss move. – PAL

Source: “Little Badass Sends Autographed Jersey To J.J. Watt”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (12/16/14)

TOB Note: I think three different people sent this to me. I must be the only person in America who didn’t find it that cool. This 7-year old sounds like a real prick.


Jordan (Still) Rules.

You may have heard that Kobe Bryant passed Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list over the weekend. Laker fans the world over rejoiced, as they see it as another feather in Kobe’s cap, and another data point in the only-in-their-heads argument about whether Kobe is better than Jordan. No non-Laker fan who saw them both play thinks this argument is close, and fivethirtyeight.com does a great job of viciously, yet succinctly, laying waste to any claim that Kobe is superior. Long live His Airness. -TOB

Source: Once and For All: Michael Jordan Was Way Better Than Kobe Bryant”, Neil Payne, fivethirtyeight.com (12/12/14)

PAL Note: Here’s my idea/challenge to our readers. Have a friend or family member who’s a Lakers fan read this article, then record the video of his or her reaction/rebuttal. We’ll all get a kick out of it, and for the first 3 people to post the video with a link to 1-2-3 blog I will arrange for a 6-pack of good beer to be in your possession no later than January 15, 2015.


The Gordon Bombay of U.S. Soccer

Chris Wondolowski was a late bloomer. After college, Wondo worked his way up from the lowest rungs of professional soccer all the way to playing for the U.S. this year’s World Cup. It’s a pretty remarkable if it ended there, uneventfully. And then he nearly put the U.S. through to just its third World Cup Quarterfinal ever. In the 92nd minute of the U.S.’ Round of 16 match against Belgium, he found himself free in front of the net, and the ball came to his feet. This is what Wondo had spent his life preparing for – the whole reason he was on the team was because of his knack for finishing goals like this. But then…Wondo missed. A quarter of an inch in the other direction, and he’s a national hero. But he missed. The U.S. went on to lose in extra time, and people were angry. This is a great look at how a down to Earth athlete deals with failure, and the public blowback that results because of that failure. -TOB

Source: After the Miss“, by Jordan Ritter Conn, Grantland (12/17/14)


Video of the Week


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“You’re not wrong, Walter, you’re just an asshole.”

-The Dude

Week of November 3, 2014

Who Will Play Robin Ficker In The Biopic?

Robin Ficker is a heckler. A heckler at a game has to be pretty damn clever for me to appreciate him or her. It’s never been my thing, so why the hell is a feature about this nuisance making our top picks this week? Robin Ficker’s life story reads like the slightly lesser version of Forrest Gump. Some highlights from this long but worthwhile read:

  • Ficker would hang out at Muhammad Ali’s training facility and joined Ali on his morning runs.
  • He played a somewhat significant role in Watergate.
  • He is a primary reason why local blackouts no longer exist for sporting events that sell out.
  • He’s a lawyer who played a major role in combating gender discrimination while representing Deborah Drudge (the mother of Matt Drudge).
  • He’s run for public office for the past four decades, with only 1 victory.
  • Charles Barkley flew him to Phoenix for the 1993 NBA Finals in order to taunt Jordan.

I still don’t know what to make of this guy, and that’s what made this story spin around in my head the last couple days. I’m not sure I’d like him, but – man – would I love to go on a run with him and hear some stories. – PAL

Source: “What The Most Infamous NBA Heckler Learned From His Friend Muhammad Ali”, Dave McKenna, Deadspin (11/4/14)

TOB: Last night, Phil and I got to sit courtside at a Cal basketball exhibition game against CSU San Marcos. I’ve never sat courtside before. It was awesome. It’s also sort of frightening. I didn’t talk trash at first, but toward the end (mostly because I was annoyed with CSUSM’s coach, who would scream in the Cal player’s ears and was generally an ass to his players, too) I started to lightly heckle. For example: “Shoot the J! SHOOT IT!” But it’s definitely intimidating sitting that close. So when I read this story I was sort of amazed. Ficker pissed people off so much that he was spit on by both a player and a coach. Isiah Thomas threw a shoe at him! The story about Barkley hiring him to heckle Jordan in the Finals reminds me of the heckler in Happy Gilmore. “You will not hit this putt, JACKASS.”


Rest In Peace, Oscar Taveras

A little bit lost amidst the hoopla of the World Series, was the tragic death of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras. Taveras died, along with his girlfriend, in an automobile accident in his home country of the Dominican Republic. Taveras was a top prospect – ranked the #3 prospect coming into the 2014 season – and he oozed talent. Giants fans knew him well. He was called up on May 31st and in his second career at bat, absolutely destroyed a Yusmeiro Petit pitch deep into the right field bleachers. In Game 2 of the NLCS, he homered against the Giants again. He had a sweet swing – it was a big, looping swing. He had his struggles this season, as rookies often do, but he kept flashing that potential – a potential that was not realized. You wonder – what if the Cardinals win that NLCS over the Giants – Taveras would still be alive. It’s a sad thought, but the Cardinals didn’t win and Oscar is gone. Grant Brisbee is one of my favorite writers – he’s funny, smart, and a huge Giants fan. He wrote about Oscar Taveras’ death and it really hit home with me – why the death of someone I never met had me so stunned:

“That hope is gone. You’ll never find the right amount of empathy for someone you didn’t know personally, so there’s no sense beating yourself up over it. But you’re an expert in the kind of hope that Taveras offered to his fans, to his friends, to his family and to himself. It’s gone now, and all you can do is mumble something like “Rest in peace,” even if you have no idea what that really means.”

Rest in peace, Oscar. Whatever that means. -TOB

Source: The Lost Hope of Oscar Taveras”, by Grant Brisbee, SB Nation (10/27/14)

PAL Note: Brisbee crystallizes something I’ve definitely felt but never identified, which is the sign of excellent writing. “It’s why this is different from the traffic accident you’ll surely pass one day, why it’s different from the news about the young friend of a friend of a friend, why it’s removed from the awfulness you have to step over every day to keep moving. Those are abstract situations. Your brain has to keep them abstract or you’ll collapse. You knew exactly how Taveras was going to make millions of strangers happy, though. You knew exactly how he was going to make himself and his family happy. You could see it. It was familiar. You had the path all plotted out in your head. He deserved that chance. Your brain can’t keep that loss abstract.”


A Statistical Push: Bowl Championship Series vs. College Football Playoff
The college football national champion will be determined by a tournament format for the first time this year, and it might not make a difference. From 1998 – 2013, the national champion contestants (2) were determined by a hybrid of algorithms and polls (a Coaches’ Poll and an Associated Press poll). This year, the tournament teams will be selected by a committee that includes Condoleezza Rice (Stanford), Archie Manning (Ole Miss), and athletic directors from USC and Wisconsin. While contingency plans are in place should the teams associated with committee members be a factor in the playoff selection, the numbers and research suggest how little a difference the playoff approach might make in determining teams that deserve to play for the title. Right or wrong, a tournament format allows for more drama and excitement than a single-game approach, which is the entire purpose of sports. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on “getting it right” in the sports landscape in recent years (instant replay, player safety, fines/suspensions/investigations), and – if I’m being honest – I don’t know if “getting it right” plays a major role in why we love them in the first place. – PAL

Source: “The BCS Wasn’t Any Worse Than A College Football Playoff Will Be”, by Neil Paine, FiveThirtyEight (10/28/14)

TOB Note: The selection process shouldn’t be too hard. The top 4 teams seem pretty obvious in most years. Nonetheless, I remain skeptical, because the members of the committee are a complete joke. The list reeks of ridiculous politics and PR. The members include Condoleeza Rice (now a Stanford professor) and a retired Air Force Lt. General. What, exactly, are their qualifications? Andrew Luck’s dad is on there (he’s the Athletic Director of West Virginia). So is Tyrone Willingham, former coach at Stanford. Gee, are we seeing a theme? If you’re keeping score  that is 3 out of 13 members with direct ties to Stanford. The Gods have righted this wrong, though, as Stanford is in serious jeopardy of not being bowl eligible this year and is certainly not in the discussion for the playoffs. Hallelujah! Forever and ever, amen!


There Can Only Be One Winner

Considering we wrote over 3,000 words last week, all of them basking in the glory of the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series, we should probably say a bit about the Kansas City Royals. This article, written by lifelong Royals fan and Grantland writer Rany Jazayerli, is excellent. Unlike Giants fans, Rany and his fellow Royals fans experienced pain and heartbreak. But does a great job illuminating why we love sports – despite the fact that sports almost always bring pain – because of the feelings of hope and community and shared experiences that are otherwise becoming tougher and tougher to experience as we as a culture otherwise continue to isolate. -TOB

Source: Pain Demands to be Felt“, by Rany Jazayerli, Grantland (10/31/14)

PAL Note: It’s awful but true – “Sports are pain, but pain is something only the living can feel.” With that said, I have to put it to our readers who are Giants fans: Is this how you felt after the Giants lost the 2002 World Series in painful fashion? Did you see the silver lining of community and relevance like Jazayerli, or did you just want to throw up for two months?


VIDEO OF THE WEEK


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“You’re not trying hard enough. Try harder.”

– Random dude at the gym