Week of September 1, 2014

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Checkmate of the Month

Right now, the world’s best Chess players have converged in St. Louis, of all places, for a tournament. And the best of the bunch is a 23 year old Norwegian – Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen is the reigning world chess champion. Unlike most top Chess players, Carlsen doesn’t train with computers and has a more organic style. This gives him an advantage over the other players, because they are all trained the same way and expect a player to respond in a certain way. Carlsen doesn’t do that. And… ok, look. When we started this blog, I never thought I’d be writing about chess, either. But I’m telling you – this is a good read! It actually made me think, “It would be pretty cool if a chess champion took the world by storm like Bobby Fisher did.” Man, the 1970’s were weird. -TOB

Source: The Most Compelling Athlete In America Right Now Is Here To Play Chess“, by Dave McKenna, Deadspin (09/02/14)


Should I Stop Watching Football?

While reading this story, I couldn’t stop nodding my head in agreement, and shaking my head in shame. Over the last few years, we’ve learned a lot more about what the game of football does to the men who play, and it is not good. I used to love football. I still kind of do. I mean, I watch, but I feel guilty about it, and as I watch, I am constantly grimacing at the crushing hits. I’m not alone. Author Steve Almond just wrote a book entitled, “Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto.” Almond was a decades long football fan who this offseason decided his conscience couldn’t allow him to keep watching football. This is an interview with Mr. Almond, exploring the reasons why he “quit” football, and why he wrote the book. If you like football, and consider yourself a moral person, it is a good read. If you are interested in the subject, I’ve listed a couple related articles I enjoyed this week. -TOB

Source: Interference: One Man Questions Everything Football Has to Offer”, by Patrick Sauer, Biographile (09/03/14); Companion pieces: “People vs. The NFL“, by Matt Ufford, SB Nation (09/04/14); “The League That Never Sleeps“, by Bill Simmons, Grantland (09/04/14)


Does Defense Still Win Championships?

Offenses in college football have exploded. It seems like every offense is running a spread variation, and most are running no-huddle hurry-ups to put maximum pressure on the defense, prevent them from substituting, and eventually wear them down. And it sure seems to work. So, does the old adage still hold? Do defenses still win championships? Well, Mark Dantonio, head coach of the defending Rose Bowl Champion Michigan State Spartans, sure thinks so. There’s a bit of “chalk talk” here, but mostly it’s an interesting look at a coach who has learned to adapt to a changing game. -TOB

Source: A Defense to Match: Appreciating the Stingy Spartans in the Offensive Age“, by Chris B. Brown, Grantland (09/02/14)


Ichiro Es Muy Gracioso. Y El Mejor.

Ichiro is just the best. His career is winding down, and amusing stories keep leaking out. This is the latest – Ichiro did his best to pick up some Spanish and use it to talk trash to his opponents. Of course, the Latino players love him for it. -TOB

Source: “Ichiro Suzuki Uncensored, en Español“, by Brad LeftonWall Street Journal (08/29/14)

Note: This makes so much sense – foreign players (regardless of country) feeling a bond – and yet it’s a notion I’ve never considered. My favorite quote from the article: “I feel a bond with them…We’re all foreigners in a strange land…And besides, we don’t really have curse words in Japanese, so I like the fact that the Western languages allow me to say things that I otherwise can’t.” -PAL


He’s Just ‘Bout That Action, Boss

Marshawn Lynch was a freshman at Cal just as I was graduating. In his first career game, he did this. Against Stanford that season, he did this. A couple years later, after almost single handedly dragging an underachieving Cal team to an overtime victory against Washington, he celebrated by stealing the injury cart and mobbing all over the field. He said after the game that he wanted to ghostride it, but he was afraid he’d hurt someone. He invented the nickname “Beast Mode” – which has been stolen and completely overused by everyone else. His house in Oakland was once shot up in a drive-by – and the perpetrators later came by to pay their respects and apologize because they got the wrong house and wanted Marshawn to know they meant no harm. That is boss. Needless to say, I was a huge fan when he entered the NFL. I was annoyed when the Niners passed on him, but they did take Patrick Willis one spot before the Bills took Marshawn, so that worked out. And he had a pretty good rookie season…but then things kinda fizzled. He had a few run-ins with the law and his career seemed to be sputtering. Now, of course, he’s one of the best running backs in the NFL. But, he’s a different kind of dude, and this is an interesting look at how Marshawn has tried to balance his many sides.

Source: “Dr. Marshawn and Mr. Lynch“, by Kevin Fixler, SB Nation (09/04/14)


Local Flavor: St. Paul, Minnesota

Here’s how my mornings would go back in Minnesota when I was a kid: Wake up and shuffle down stairs, find a box of cereal that had more than half a bowl’s worth of the goods, pull the sports page out of the Pioneer Press, and see if “Shooter” had an article that day. Charley Walters is a sports gossip (way ahead of his time, I suppose). As a kid, I took it as the real inside scoop, especially when one of his paragraphs started with – I shit you not – “a little birdie told me”. He plays favorites (I’m sure he has a Joe Mauer tramp stamp) and doesn’t care. Now, I love his articles for their comedic qualities, intended or otherwise. I mean, this guy is reporting on washed up basketball players from local D3 schools signing to play in some German league. I love it. I’m asking Tommy to feature a story from his hometown paper next week, and we would love suggestions from you, our 12 readers. Tweet us your favorite hometown sports stories/writers @123sportsnews. Tommy will buy a beer for everyone who’s story gets featured in our next issue. – PAL

Source: “Charley Walters: Adrian Peterson has good years ahead, Foreman says”, by Charley Walters, The Pioneer Press (8/30/14)


VIDEO OF THE WEEK


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“It was one of those nights. You know the kind. Like day, but darker.”

– Eric Matthews

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Week of June 9, 2014

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Argentina needs Messi, but do they want him?

Lionel Messi left his home in Argentina when he was 13 for pretty understandable reasons – one of the best clubs in Europe wanted him (FC Barcelona), and they would provide the medical treatments he needed (he had a growth-hormone deficiency). Yet, even as Messi is widely considered one of the best players ever, Argentineans have a surprisingly complicated relationship with their star. They don’t completely see him as one of their own. “We’ve always liked how Messi plays,” the driver, Dario Torrisi, told me, “but we don’t know who he is.” This story does a great job exploring what “home” means in the context of the world’s most popular game. -PAL

Source: “The Burden of Being Messi”; by Jeff Himmelman; The New York Times (6/5/14)

TOB: I visited Argentina about a month before the 2010 World Cup, as Messi was tearing up the Champions League. I can say that Argentina was pretty bonkers for him. The media narrative right now seems to be that Messi is not loved in Argentina (though the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine argues that, while this is true for those old enough to have lived through the 1986 World Cup, the younger generation loves Messi and finds Maradona rather abhorrent). He’s a quiet guy – he’s not bombastic. He has struggled, comparatively speaking, on the national team. He’s not Maradona. This is all true. But he’s amazing to watch, and some of his national team struggles can be pinned on a coach who had no idea how to use him (and had no business being coach *coughMaradonacough*). I think this is his time – and I think Argentina should go deep into this World Cup, with Messi leading the way.  


The Times, They Are a-Changin’

I can’t watch college football anymore without feeling a twinge of guilt, though I still do. In fact, I’m a season ticket holder.  But a tidal wave of change is preparing to hit American college sports. We might not know yet when exactly it will arrive and what it will leave in its wake, but it is coming. The debate on whether to pay college football players seems to be approaching a cultural tipping point (with Title IX implications of paying players threatening to leave college sports completely unrecognizable). The myth of amateurism has never rung so hollow. Making matters even worse is the fact that universities nationwide are facing budget reductions, as state legislatures have been cutting back on higher education funding for years (California, my home state, chief among them). And while public university budgets are being slashed, with those costs being passed on to students, universities across the country continue to subsidize their athletics programs with millions of dollars per year. So it was with some pride that I read this article, about how my alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley, has attempted to eliminate its athletic subsidy. In a few years, Cal has reduced its athletic subsidy from $12.1 million in 2010, to $3.2 million in 2013. The job is not done, but Cal has set a model that other schools should look toward. TOB

Source: “Cal Finds Little Company in Push to Cut Subsidies”; by Steve Berkowitz, Christopher Schaars, and Jodi Upton, USA Today (06/05/2014)

PAL: About a week ago I texted Tommy to give him crap. I’d heard the football field at Memorial Stadium (Cal’s football stadium) referred to as “Kabam Field” on the local sports radio station. Cal had struck a deal with a mobile game maker. “How lame,” I thought, as I grabbed for my phone. In fact, it’s not lame at all. Aside from the fact no one will ever, ever, ever refer to the field as “Kabam Field” in any normal conversation, Cal stands to earn $18 million over 15 years. Among other things, that money will be used to help finance the stadium renovations and student-athlete center (you can find the breakdown here). Lame? No. More like common sense.


A Million Dollars a Year on Fantasy Sports? What the Hell?

You ever win a fantasy league? I have. A few times. The gratification is short-lived, but I still feel pride in each of those wins, and aggravation for the losses. Months of work and hours pouring over stats often come down to something as stupid as 3 blocked shots in 5 minutes by a point guard who had 3 blocked shots the entire season before that, costing you the title (this actually happened to me). But what if the season didn’t take months, but occurred in the course of one night? And what if you bet money on that “season”? And what if you played thousands of “seasons” per night? You’ve just entered the world of Cory Albertson, a business school student at Notre Dame, who has turned fantasy sports into a science – and expects to make $1 million dollars this year on fantasy sports. Yes, one million. On fantasy sports. -TOB

Source: “A Fantasy Sports Wizard’s Winning Formula”; by Brad Reagan, Wall Street Journal (06/04/14)

PAL: When something  conceived as a game then becomes a business, there will be gap when it’s ripe for the taking. Fantasy sports hedge fund? I have some buddies who will no doubt contribute to this dude’s next vacation estate. Also, did you notice TOB mentioned he’s won a fantasy league a few times?


This is the perfect story if you don’t love (or “get”) hockey.

I grew up playing the sport in Minnesota. It’s a great game. Fun to play, fun to watch in person, and it features incredible athletes. Aside from a little San Jose Sharks fever once every couple of years, there aren’t a ton of hockey fans out here in California, even when two of the best teams play out here (it pains me to write that). Here’s a cool story breaking down a seemingly tiny, momentary element of the game – the faceoff. Like a jump ball in basketball, it determines possession; however, unlike in basketball, faceoffs happen dozens of times in a game where scoring is much harder to come by. What makes a player a great faceoff guy? Quick hands, researching the tendencies of the refs, and of course the willingness to headbutt your opponent. -PAL

Source: “Controlling the Faceoff is Critical to the Game of Hockey”; by David Wharton, Los Angeles Times (6/11/14)


No Respect At All.

As I write this, the Heat just lost by 21 points on their home floor in Game 4, and the Spurs have taken a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. That the Spurs are winning should not be much of a surprise to anyone who has been watching the NBA closely this year. The Heat are talented but old, and the Spurs are incredible, and have mostly torn through these playoffs. What continues to amaze me, though, is that LeBron James does not get the respect he deserves. “He’s not Jordan.” Yeah, and? No one is. “He abandoned Cleveland on national TV.” A mistake, to be sure. But why has LeBron not been forgiven? The guy has won two NBA titles and and made 5 NBA Finals. He’s the greatest player of his generation, and the ultimate team player. He works hard on defense, unlike many star players, and he shares the ball like Magic Johnson. Every bit of respect seems to be given grudgingly, and every time he does fail, people seem to relish it. Why? -TOB

Source: “LeBron James Has Earned More Respect Than He’s Given”; by Vincent Goodwill, The Detroit News (06/08/14)

PAL: I typically deplore when people play this card, but here I go: Magic and Michael didn’t play in the era of Twitter and 24-hour sports channels. Every sports story (and every news story for that matter) is reported on 10 percent of the time, then analyzed, editorialized, and debated the other 90 percent of the time. Stories are then made out of the opinions expressed about the original news story. This is why I can’t watch ESPN anymore (they aren’t the only guilty party, but definitely the most insufferable). LeBron was/is the most popular athlete when this media pivot took place. It’s not fair, but it makes sense.


Video of the Week Baseball players are the best.    

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“I saved Latin. What did you ever do?” – Max Fischer