Gaelic Football’s Final Four The Same As Bloody Sunday 100 Years Ago

Bloody Sunday Ticket - Tipperary v Dublin
Bloody Sunday Ticket - Tipperary v Dublin
Image via Adams Auctions (https://www.adams.ie)

Recently, and over the next few years, there will be several centennial anniversaries related to the Irish War of Independence that took place roughly 100 years ago (1919-1921) and was led by Irish heroes like Michael Collins. A key event during that difficult time was the Bloody Sunday massacre that took place 100 years ago this past Saturday, November 21st. It was on this day where people attending a Gaelic Football game at Croke Park in Dublin were attacked by British operatives in retaliation for the death of 14 British intelligence officers earlier that day at the hands of the Irish Republican Army. Charles Piece wrote a great piece at The Defector detailing what happened:

Dublin was on edge. That morning, in a coordinated attack, guerrillas under the command of IRA leader Michael Collins fanned out of the city and systematically decapitated the British intelligence apparatus in the Irish capital. In a single operation, the IRA killed 14 people it had identified as British intelligence operatives. It was one of the most decisive episodes in the War of Independence that had begun in 1919 and it shook the British government in Ireland to its core. Suspicions arose that the gunmen may have planned to melt into the crowd at Croke Park; the GAA was born out of the same burst of Irish nationalism that eventually would lead to the Easter Rising and the birth of the IRA. (In fact, historians now believe that John McDonnell, the goalkeeper of the Dublin side, had been involved in the killing that morning of two British intelligence agents before showing up to play the match. That is one rich, full day.) The money raised at the challenge game would go to a fund that supported the families of Republican prisoners still held in British jails.

At Croke Park on the afternoon of November 21, 1920, about five minutes after the game had begun, the attention of the spectators was drawn by an airplane that circled above the stadium twice and then fired off a red flare. 

As if it were a signal, which it likely was, the police and soldiers surrounding the neighborhood stormed into Croke Park through its southwest gate and opened up on the crowd with rifles and revolvers. When the killing was done, 14 people were dead. They included three schoolboys—10-year-old Jerome O’Leary, 11-year-old William Robinson, and 14-year-old John William Scott—as well as Jane Boyle, a 26-year old who was planning to be married later that week, and Michael Hogan, a Tipperary player who was killed while crawling to cover. Somewhere between 60 and 100 people were wounded.

Charles Piece, The Defector

On that fateful Sunday 100 years ago, the final four teams that had survived the Gaelic Football playoffs were Dublin, Mayo, Tipperary and Cavan. And wouldn’t you know that fate would mess with us 100 years on.

The biggest of the planned centenary commemorations, some of which had been in the works for years, were downsized or outright canceled because of COVID-19. But the games went on, sans fans and English soldiers. And from the just-completed quarterfinal round of the GAA’s All-Ireland tournament (an annual competition that grips the nation and is played exclusively by amateur athletes representing their home counties) it appears that the Gaelic football gods remembered what happened all those years ago. The four sides that advanced over the weekend to next month’s semifinals—Dublin, Mayo, Tipperary and Cavan—are the exact same quartet that made the semis in 1920, the year of the bloodbath. 

The 2020 Gaelic Final Four semi finals will take place the weekend of December 5-6 and the Championship will be held on December 19.

Taking On A Generational Talent Like Zion Williamson

Millions of kids across the country participate in high school athletics. Invariably, those high school athletes will compare themselves, or be compared, to the other players in their conference and state. Some will think they measure up pretty well. Others know they will not do more than earn their high school varsity letter. And then, every once in a while, a generational talent will show up and re-calibrate everything.

Zion Williamson, a rookie Power Forward on the New Orleans Pelicans, is two years removed from playing high school basketball in South Carolina. Every opponent during his high school career had his game marked – “The Zion Game” – and those opponents knew that they were in for a long, humbling evening:

The Zion Games didn’t feel real most of the time, more like some kind of fever dream. Just to see a dude that massive, yet somehow more athletic than everyone else on the court by a factor of about 10, is astonishing. I still remember watching him go up for an alley-oop and seeing him float in the air like he was made of helium or something. 

Even though these kids knew that they were in for a humbling beat down from one of the great players of their age – or any age – their appreciation and respect for Zion was what was most interesting to me.

All that said, Zion is genuinely one of the nicest dudes I’ve ever played against, just super positive and humble. He was a huge deal in high school, especially in South Carolina. We had an unofficial team policy that you weren’t allowed to take a picture with him after the games, just to maintain what little integrity we had. But that still didn’t stop a lot of the younger guys — and even some coaches — from doing it. To Zion’s credit, he was always willing to talk to anyone as well as always encouraging to the younger guys. Everyone should really be rooting for him to succeed. He’s a great guy, and he’s overcome a lot to get to where he’s at. 

Maybe current and future stars from across the sports spectrum can take a cue from the 20 year old rookie from New Orleans. Be humble and show respect to your opponents no matter how good your are and no matter what the outcome of the contest is.

The Excuses They Used Not To Sign Kaepernick

San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick (7) and Eric Reid (35) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, on Sunday, Sept. 18.(AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the singing of the National Anthem across the 2016 season, the NFL turned a cold shoulder and let him flap in the wind. The league has never admitted as much, yet it is so clear that is what happened as the fine folks at The Ringer have clearly articulated, down to the detail about his playing performance (which admittedly did tail off but was still better compared to other QBs signed in the past few years).

And so it took a course of inaction. The NFL never suspended Kaepernick; the quarterback simply never found his way onto a roster in 2017, 2018, or 2019. This inaction pissed just about everybody off. Kap’s supporters were convinced that he had been blackballed from the league, while President Donald Trump urged his base to stop watching NFL games and in 2017 called protesting players “sons of bitches.” Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke publicly about the importance of having “different viewpoints” while reportedly “looking for a way for the protests to end.” Last December, Goodell told media that the league had “moved on” from Kaepernick.

Fast forward four years to 2020, where a string of police brutality cases capped by the death of George Floyd led the NFL and their ‘silver spooned’ commissioner Roger Goodell to release an awkwardly crafted video that basically admitted that Kaepernick was right. Yet they didn’t have the guts to call him out by name.

There was just one error with the NFL’s approach: Kaepernick was right. The league seemed to think that it could ignore police brutality simply because it had “moved on” from Kaepernick, but police officers kept killing Black people. Hundreds of American cities have held Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and kneeling has become one of the international symbols of the movement. Public opinion has shifted. In 2016, Kaepernick was villainized for protesting during the anthem; in 2020, Drew Brees was villainized for saying he would “never agree with anybody” who protested in that way.

MLS Wallpapers Updated for 2020 Season

A touch late after the kickoff of the 2020 MLS season but I have updated all the Home/Away wallpapers to resemble the kits for the full slate of MLS teams. As always, I took a little ‘artistic license’ with some of them however you should find that they all are true to their 2020 kit designs.

Some random thoughts: Piling on with the hatred of the new Chicago Fire logo and highly bland kit designs….I think I like the Toronto FC away kits the best out of the whole league…with the Houston Dynamo’s funky orange striped ones a close second (so funky, I could not replicate it on my version of their wallpaper…will have to revisit it one day soon)…still can’t believe that the NE Revs still have that horrid 1990s faux painted logo…No surprise that Sporting FC has the most elegant, sharpest kit designs.

Here’s to a solid MLS year ahead and hope that keeps momentum for USA soccer as we look to 2022.

Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too expensive.

Money And Baseball

A warm summer day at the ballpark has always held a soft spot in the heart of sports fans in America. Maybe that is a vision from back in the innocent ‘hey days’ of Major League Baseball circa 1955 when tickets were $3 and soda cost a nickel, because when you think about going to the ballpark today, you start to see why attendance is down and baseball’s position at the top of the sports mountain is fading fast. The combination of the excruciatingly long game time (can anyone spend 5 hours watching a Red Sox – Yankees game and then tack on travel time, in this day and age?), coupled with the outrageous (ludacrous maybe? is there another word we could use here?) costs kind of takes any remnants of joy out of going to a ballgame for the average fan.

Ginny Searle at Deadspin makes a pretty compelling – damning even – arguement about the fundamental issues underlying the experience at your typical Major League Baseball stadium. Let’s start with this doozy from the Washington Nationals :

Joining in the American tradition of impeding ease of access to public spaces through feckless security theater, the Nats announced that backpacks will no longer be allowed in the stadium. “The bag policy was created for the safety of all our guests,” explained the team in a statement, ignoring the fact that there is scant evidence that such security measures actually make anyone safer….The Nationals [then] waited more than a month after announcing the ban to reveal that they had partnered with D.C-based startup Binbox to “make 500 medium- and large-sized storage lockers available” in which to store bags that won’t be allowed in the stadium.

So you can’t bring back packs into the stadium but feel free to fork over some money at an hourly rate to store it in a bin outside the stadium for the 5-6 hour, super important Nationals – Rays game. Do you hear that sucking sound because that is the sound of money leaving your pocket. Later on, she does a great job of illustrating what it would now cost a family of four to attend a typical baseball game.

Let’s imagine a family of four trying to go to a baseball game a few years from now. Opening Day, 2021: four tickets cost $132 on average in 2019, so let’s say this family paid $150 per ticket. Kids have little legs, so they will need to park close: add another $50. After struggling to bring up their e-tickets on a single phone at the gate (the team recently phased out all paper tickets), our family will be informed their backpack is a no-go, and they’ll have to spend $20 to rent a Binbox. Finally, after making it into the stadium, it’s time to buy food. Hot dogs and peanuts for four, plus beer and sodas for two each will likely crest $40, and that’s assuming the parents are okay with cans of cheap frat-party beer. (For a pour of the local microbrew, it will be more like $15 each. We’ll say the conscientious parents share one.) Our imagined family had better have their credit card, too, or else they’ll need to load their cash onto a gift card before buying anything in the stadium. Maybe they will be lucky enough to have access to the State Farm-Geico Rewards Club, which the e-ticketing app will remind them of along with directions to the team store. After meandering through the State Farm-Geico Rewards Club so as not to feel like they have missed out on any perks available to them, the parents limit their children to the choice of one $25 stunt food to split. When our family returns to their seats with their Mac and Cheese Pizza Nachos just after missing a home run, they will have already spent a small fortune. If they decide not to attend another game for the rest of the season, it’s unlikely that pace of play will be a determining factor.

From what she itemized above, that’s roughly $800. For one day. At the ballpark. Let’s say it takes 45 minutes each way to get to and from the park. Let’s say the game is 3.5 hours long (average). That’s 5 hours. If they are lucky and it does not go extra innings, or if there are not 5 pitching changes in the riveting 6th inning when the batters take 6 pitches each, or if it is not a shit show getting out of the parking lot along with 50,000 of your best friends. Curious when was the last time parents had a good time taking kids somewhere for 5+ hours that was not named Disneyworld?

I used to *love* baseball. Today, I like baseball. And there is one thing I know for damn sure when I go to a baseball park: I refuse to pay $10 for a plastic cup of 3 day old Bud Light (and $6 for a Nathans Hot Dog), when I can go to a local liquor store and buy a six pack for that same price and still have $$ left over for a hot dog.

Football’s Racial & Economic Divide

As we celebrate the American pastime of Super Bowl Sunday, a public reckoning continues to eat away at the edges of the sport of football. More than enough studies have been published stating the real, long term issues from the physical nature of the sport – blows to the head, concussions, injury, and on and on. It has gotten to the point where school systems are discontinuing football programs and parents are refusing to let their sons play the game.

Research suggests that tackle football can cause long-term brain injury, and as a result, many parents are telling their kids they can’t play. In the 2017-18 school year, 6.6 percent fewer high-school athletes participated in 11-player tackle football than in the 2008-9 school year, “according to” the National Federation of State High School Associations.

ALANA SAMUELS, THE ATLANTIC

What is more interesting is how decisions by school systems and parents against participating in the sport differs depending on the socio-economic profile of those stakeholders, as Alana Samuels profiled in a recent article in The Atlantic.

Yet not all parents are holding back their kids from tackle football at equal rates, which is creating a troubling racial divide. Kids in mostly white upper-income communities in the Northeast, Midwest, and West are leaving football for other sports such as lacrosse or baseball. But black kids in lower-income communities without a lot of other sports available are still flocking to football. In keeping with America’s general racial demographics, white boys continue to make up the majority of youth-tackle-football players, according to data from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. But proportionally, the scales appear to be shifting. A recent survey of 50,000 eighth-, tenth-, and 12th-grade students found that about 44 percent of black boys play tackle football, compared with 29 percent of white boys, as analyzed by the University of Michigan sociologist Philip Veliz. Football at the high-school level is growing in popularity in states with the highest shares of black people, while it’s declining in majority-white states.

ALANA SAMUELS, THE ATLANTIC

In essence, the children that live in areas of the country that don’t have as many economic opportunities are looking to sports like football as a vehicle out of their situation, the very real and risky long term physical and health issues be damned. This sort of storyline is nothing radically new, as you will hear more than a few famous athletes that fit this profile talk about how their sport was a vehicle and an opportunity for a better life. The issue is that the chances of making it to the professional level are so small, and the risks of playing a sport like football are so so high. The effect that this sort of scenario has on the broader socio-economic dynamics is one that likely will not close the already growing differences. Now I’m not saying that football is the root cause of the economic disparity in this country. What I am saying is that in lower income areas of the country, where there is little to no opportunity for upward mobility, the already existing economic and social headwinds are accelerated further when such a high proportion of the youth in these areas have no other options other than to ignore the real, physical risks.

World Cup Wallpapers

In honor of the World Cup, I went and created a set of computer/device wallpapers for each of the participating teams that mimic their kit design (home and away).  There were a handful of designs that I used a little “creative license” only because the designs were too complex and I was running out of time to meet the kickoff of the tournament.  As it was, I didn’t finish the Germany kits until over the weekend.  So check them out and be sure to download and decorate your device with your team of choice.

Smells Like School Spirit

It is that time of year again – March Madness, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, where your brackets will be busted by the end of the weekend and the chances that you will win the office pool will go down in flames.  But don’t let that prevent you from showing some school spirit on your computer or mobile device. 

Head on over to my NCAA desktop backgrounds page for backgrounds of all 68 teams in this year’s field!

With some schools, there are other ‘designs’ within the other tabs on the page so hunt away if the ones in the “NCAA Tournament” tab don’t float your boat.

As a Syracuse fan for the majority of my life, I have to admit that I was extremely surprised that they made it – by the skin of their teeth –  into the Field of 68 .  So Let’s Go Orange! Let’s make some noise in this year’s tournament like we did in 2016!!

Trouble In Paradise

From ESPN’s Seth Wickersham’s hit piece on the whole dynamic between Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft:

Those who know Belichick and Brady well are amazed that they’ve co-existed this long, two ruthless and proud self-made men, both secure though still unfinished in their legacies, both loved and hated, both having received stiff penalties for cheating, both motivated by ego, humility and — as much as anything — doubt. Belichick is famously secretive, creating an entire system in which knowledge flows directly to him and only he decides how to deploy and exploit it. And Brady is famously unhelpful toward his backups — or, at least, a threat like Garoppolo. The two quarterbacks were friendly, but Brady — like Joe Montana to Steve Young and Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers — didn’t see it as his role to advise Garoppolo, even on matters as trivial as footwork, as nobody had helped him during his climb. Garoppolo played well in 2016, starting in place of the suspended Brady, and Belichick began to see Garoppolo as the final piece of his legacy, to walk away in a few years with the Patriots secure at quarterback. But after Garoppolo was knocked out of his second start because of a shoulder injury, he set up a visit at TB12. As he later told Patriots staffers, when he arrived, the door was locked. He knocked; nobody was there. He called TB12 trainers but nobody answered. He couldn’t believe it, Garoppolo told the staffers, and that night ended up visiting team trainers instead. Guerrero vehemently denies ever refusing to see any player, and Garoppolo was eventually treated at TB12 — but it was two weeks after he showed up for his original appointment, and only after a high-ranking Patriots staffer called TB12 to inquire why Garoppolo hadn’t been admitted.

Several times this past October, Brady met with Kraft to discuss playing longer. That same month, he also met with Belichick, who was skeptical of a long-term contract extension but was content to start Brady as long as he was the best quarterback. Belichick understood how much Brady had meant to the franchise, and had always insisted privately that he wouldn’t move on from Brady unless he could convince the coaching staff of it. But the reality was that no quarterback has ever played at a championship level into his 40s. The meeting ended in a “little blowup,” according to a source. Complicating matters was that Garoppolo would be a free agent at the end of this season. Complicating matters more was that Brady and Garoppolo share Yee as an agent.

And complicating matters even more was that Belichick didn’t want to trade Garoppolo. He had passed on dealing him last spring, when Garoppolo was in high demand. In early September, Belichick did trade third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Colts for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. “If we trade Jimmy, we’re the Cleveland Browns, with no succession plan,” one person inside the organization said earlier in the year. The Patriots repeatedly offered Garoppolo four-year contract extensions, in the $17 million to $18 million range annually that would go higher if and when he succeeded Brady. Garoppolo and Yee rejected the offers out of hand, for reasons that remain unclear, and the Patriots knew they couldn’t make any promises to Garoppolo about the timing of a transition at quarterback without it getting back to Brady.

Two weeks before the Nov. 1 trading deadline, Belichick met with Kraft to discuss the quarterback situation. According to staffers, the meeting ran long, lasting half the day and pushing back Belichick’s other meetings. The office was buzzing. The meeting ended with a clear mandate to Belichick: trade Garoppolo because he would not be in the team’s long-term plans, and then, once again, find the best quarterback in the draft and develop him. Belichick was furious and demoralized, according to friends. But in the end, he did what he asks of his players and coaches: He did his job. One morning in late October, Belichick texted San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and asked him to call. Belichick had long admired Kyle’s father, Mike, who not only had been one of the NFL’s smartest tacticians but had also personally defended Belichick to commissioner Roger Goodell during the Spygate scandal. At the combine this past February, Kyle, weeks into the 49ers job after being the offensive coordinator for the Falcons, met with Belichick for hours to learn from his team’s humiliating Super Bowl loss. Belichick believed that Garoppolo would excel under Shanahan, and when he and Shanahan connected on the phone, Belichick offered the quarterback for a second-rounder.

I’ll make no secret that I have been a life long New England Patriots fan. I have been with them through thick and thin. They humored us and made the 1986 Super Bowl, only to get embarrassed by one of the great teams in NFL history – the 1986 Chicago Bears. They also made it to the 1996 Super Bowl and were in the game until the Desmond Howard kickoff return broke their spirit.

To me, the Patriots are playing with house money at this point.  Heading into the 2001 season, the prospect of the New England Patriots ever winning one Super Bowl, much less 5 (and counting) was a pipe dream.  The prospect of winning 5 (and counting) Super Bowls with a coach that was run out of Cleveland and a 6th round draft pick who played all of one season at Michigan?  Off the charts. 

I’m not saying I fully buy into the whole tone and narrative of Wickersham’s piece – I would really have liked a LOT more on-the-record quotes – but I do think that he is hitting on a festering dynamic within the walls of Foxborough.  Eighteen years on from that first Super Bowl victory, the Patriots are now a model franchise and they have the opportunity to set things up for future success once Belichick and Brady walk away.  Belichick was moving his chess pieces to ensure that the team will be set up with both the infrastructure and the talent – centered around the backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo –  to continue its string of success for many years to come.  But Brady seems to be putting his own priorities ahead of all else.  Where I think Wickersham exposes an interesting element is around the notion that Kraft meddling in football decisions does not sit well with Belichick.

I honestly wonder if Belichick did in fact get the directive to trade Garoppolo from Kraft, that he basically said “F it, if you want me to trade Jimmy G, and leave us exposed at the most important position on the field, fine.” and then went to the 49ers and put a “Don Corleone” offer (aka – one they could not refuse) on the table. 

The next few weeks will be very interesting in terms of how history will look on at this incredible run of the Patriots.

How The USMNT Played Itself Out of the World Cup

In the span of an evening earlier this week, as I am sure you may be aware, the US Men’s National Soccer Team was eliminated from the 2018 World Cup. Just about everything that needed to go wrong for the USMNT, did. The NY Times broke down the evening, minute by excruciating minute.

It’s all over but the shouting now, and Americans are doing most of that. In a split second, a difficult feat, qualifying for the World Cup, that has become something of a birthright for a generation of United States fans has vaporized.

I’ve read several articles about this fiasco over the past few days and the POV that resonated with me was that US soccer needed something like this to happen to deliver a cold wake up call to the US National program. After so many years of progress, having a result like this should serve as a top to bottom five alarm fire that US Soccer needs to get it’s shit together.

Source: How the United States Missed the World Cup, Minute by Minute – The New York Times

Aerodynamics of the Wiffle Ball

Let nobody fool you. Wiffle Ball is deadly serious. Not a realm just for kids in a field or city streets, there are some serious adult level Wiffle Ball leagues across the country. As with the physics of how much a curveball in baseball actually curves, the dynamics of how the multitude of trick pitches work when tossing a Wiffle Ball requires equal analysis comparing how hollow, perforated Wiffle Balls curve compared to the solid baseball.

We skewered some baseballs and Wiffle balls and used a wind tunnel to measure the forces “lift, drag, and side or lateral forces” as functions of things like the airspeed and spin rate. For the Wiffle ball, we also varied the orientation of the ball with respect to the airflow, making our own version of the manufacturer’s pitching instructions.

With perforations on either side of the ball, we found that the Wiffle balls experienced a lateral force that generally acted to push the ball toward the position of the holes. Things got more complicated when the perforations were on the upstream portion of the ball. As shown in the first image below, fog traces the airflow over a ball with the holes facing the flow, with a symmetric wake pattern suggesting that if we untethered the ball it would fly straight. The second image shows the flow over a ball with its holes facing up, and a wake that is deflected upward, meaning that the ball is experiencing a downward force.

I would be equally interested in learning the dynamics of how the hollow, thin Wiffle Bat impacts distance of hitting a Wiffle Ball when compared to a bat that was different in structure.

Photo Source: The Contentious Physics of Wiffle Ball

Comparing NHL All Star Uniforms

To me, the NHL and their uniform designs (or sweaters) have always struck a great balance between honoring the history of the game while still embracing the opportunities to try new and innovative visual design ideas. The All Star game has always been a great place to test out said new ideas, whether it’s a neon colored uniform or some silly puck tracking visual on the TV broadcast. And over at NHL.com, Chris Creamer took a look at past All Star uniforms going all the way back to the 1930’s.

From orange-and-black with stars all over to neon green and reflective crests, the NHL All-Star Game has always been the ideal event to experiment with new designs and give fans a visually unique uniform matchup.

This year’s black and white with neon green trim All Star uniforms are a good example of that willingness to embrace a look that will appeal to hockey fans young and old.

For my tastes, the All Star uniforms from the 2004 game (featured image above via cited NHL post) were pretty sweet.

Source: NHL.com

Memories from Wrigley

I would run outside to the small, fenced in yard behind our house in Boston and look to the right. I would see a bright glow in the sky and felt the comfort of knowing the Red Sox were home. And then, there would be this faint rumble of a roar – the crowd was happy – and that meant Dewey Evans got a hit, or Jim Ed cranked one over the Green Monster. Growing up a mere 15 minute walk from the baseball shrine that is Fenway Park can skew a baseball fan’s perspective towards a certain baseball team. So while my blind loyalty continues to be for my hometown Red Sox, it has not distorted my perspective on what I think is the best baseball experience you can ever experience – watching a game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. It is as much about the experience in the stadium as it is the atmosphere around the stadium. It is so unique, so Chicago, and so awesome!

Wrigley is tucked away on the North Side of Chicago, on a square block that is bordered by Sheffield, Addison, Clark, and Waveland. Unlike any other baseball stadium that is still standing, Wrigley looks as though it was dropped in the middle of a Chicago residential neighborhood. Fenway is somewhat similar in this regard, as it is awkwardly wedged between Lansdowne Street and Yawkey Way. But Fenway’s immediate neighborhood has, until recently, had a very industrial sort of feel to it. It had it’s charm and made the Fenway experience amazing and unique, but it has never had the coziness of Wrigleyville. But what stadium ever has, other than Wrigley?

With this year’s Cubs team making the World Series for the first time in 71 years – giving them a shot at a World Series title that has eluded their franchise since 1908 – I thought I would share a few experiences from my visits to Wrigley:

Breaking The Seal

Many moons ago, I decided to move to Chicago because I just needed a break from NYC and the East Coast. After finding an apartment on the North Side (Pine Grove Avenue), I packed up the U-Haul and took off for the midwest. I had never been to Wrigley Field at that point in my life but I knew that would change quickly. After finally arriving in Chicago with that loaded U-Haul, I happened to check the Cubs schedule and wouldn’t you know it, they were home that day. So without even bothering to unload the U-Haul that had my few worldly possessions, I went straight to Wrigley Field to catch the Cubs game. As I walked up Clark Avenue, the anticipation of going to Wrigley was high and the crowd of baseball fans started to grow. And then, as I walked past the “Cubby Bear”, the sight of the facade of Wrigley exploded in front of me…there, in the middle of the neighborhood of stores, townhouses, and city streets stood this stadium that looked like the perfect neighbor. I was hoping the pixelated marquee would read “Save Ferris”. There was a large crowd of fans mingling around the outside of the stadium and after soaking in what was in front of my eyes, I found my way to the ticket office. I bought the best ticket I could buy and with giddy excitement, passed through the gate into Wrigley. The main concourse was buzzing with fans – I was soaking it all in – and as I looked to my right, I could see the sun beating down through the stairwells to the stadium. As I ascended those stairwells to find my seat, the inside of the stadium started to come into view and all I remember was the blinding green of the Wrigley grass, the green bleachers in the distance, and the green ivy on the outfield walls. It was so green! I don’t remember who won. I do remember seeing Harry Carey sing “Take Me Out To the Ballgame” during the 7th Inning stretch. I remember stubbornly staying until the game was over because it was such a soothing, comforting baseball experience.

Beer Here!

Many months after my first visit to Wrigley, I had some friends from college visit me in Chicago for a weekend. All of us were very big fans of baseball, so inevitably, going to Wrigley was a high priority. We ended up getting some really great tickets on the lower level of the stadium along the 1st base line in short Right Field. They were amazing seats. We had already knocked down a few frosty ones before the game started and as we settled into our seats, we flagged down the nearest beer vendor. And this is why Wrigley is so awesome. The beer vendor that we found looked like he just walked in from a beach in Southern California. He had long hair, a pair of wrap around Oakley sunglasses, and was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. And he was slinging Old Style beer! He loaded us up and departed. The game moved along and we were enjoying our beverages, and like he had a stopwatch personalized to our pace of drinking, our “Surfer Beer Dude” was always there, ready with re-fills at just the right time. It was uncanny and, honestly, pretty impressive. Needless to say, we were four very happy baseball fans by the time the game was over.

It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over

Back in 2008, my wife and I went out to Chicago to visit the city and to also go to the Farnsworth House in suburban Chicago. That Friday when we arrived, we went to catch a Cubs game at Wrigley. The weather was beautiful at the start but it quickly deteriorated and some crazy rain blew through the North Side. When the rain started, the Cubs were losing by some obscene number of runs – 8 or 9 at least. The general sentiment was that the game was a lost cause. After the rain had passed and the game started up again, and my wife and I considered leaving but we decided to stick it out. And so glad that we did! The Cubs came back and won the game with a furious comeback that could only happen at Wrigley when the wind is blowing out.

Wrigley is also an important place in that it is the place where my wife and I went several times when we were first dating. It is a special place and it is a venue that every person – sports fan or not, baseball fan or not – needs to visit to just enjoy the Wrigley experience!

Smells Like Team Spirit

In honor of the impending start of the annual craziness that is the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament, I rounded out my collection of computer/device wallpapers & backgrounds by adding several teams that recently qualified for this year’s Tournament.

So head on over to my NCAA Wallpapers page and download a desktop background/wallpaper to show off your team spirit on your computer, iPad, iPhone or whatever device you use.

So if you need to show off your colors in support of the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, we have a background for you. Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs? Yup. My collection already had many of the teams that made this year’s tournament, plus many more that did not make it to “the Dance” this year.

And if College Basketball is not your thing, there are several other collections to choose from including European Soccer, English Soccer, and all the major American Sports leagues.

Keep Gettin’ Dem Checks

huell money breaking bad
huell money breaking bad

Over the past 3-6 years, the landscape of professional sports and how athletes are evaluated has gone through quite a transformation. The ability of teams and leagues to track performance and collect actionable data has transformed the landscape.

This, however, has not prevented team executives to dole out some outrageous and ill-conceived contracts. ESPN shared a list of the Top 20 Worst “Dead Money” contracts across the whole sports universe. And let’s not look past NCAA schools and school administrators, as they are very well represented in the list.

In total, $527.25 Million Dollars (that’s half a billion to you and me) down the drain across all sports because of some ill advised contracts.

Just a smattering of the lunacy:

  • Bobby Bonilla, a middle of the road outfielder who had a few solid years with the Pirates, is being paid $1.19MM a year by the NY Mets through 2035. That is more than many of those on their World Series roster including Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. The funniest part of this story is that the Mets/Wilpons thought paying Bonilla in deferred payments through 2035 was a better financial position because they thought they would make the money back from their investments with Bernie Madoff. Let’s Go Wilpons!
  • Not to be out done, the Mets then dropped a 6 Yr/$66MM contract on Jason Bay in 2009, another former Pittsburgh Pirate slugger (who also had a pit stop in Boston where he performed well for a year and change). He spent three years with the Mets and had a TOTAL of 26 HRs over that span and they then cut their losses in 2012 while still on the hook for $21MM. Let’s Go Wilpons!!
  • The Detroit Pistons flat out released Josh Smith in December 2014 while still owing him $36MM of a $54MM contract they signed him to in 2013.

I knew I should never have stopped playing baseball in high school.

Superb Owl

Not much to say other than just an incredible game and an amazing play by Malcolm Butler at the goal line in the final seconds. Everything leading up to that play was bringing back bad memories of the last two Super Bowls that the Patriots had played in and lost. The late score by the Pats to take the lead, the other team driving, the Pats having them down to a 3rd down, a circus catch (!!!). Russell Wilson and Eli Manning have very similar ‘pull horseshoes out of their butt’ tendencies to win big games and appeared to be going to a bad place we have seen before. I was just praying something would break for the Patriots and thankfully, the Seattle coaching staff over thought the situation and made an epic-ly bad decision.

I happened to see this photo below of Richard Sherman and Tom Brady seconds after the game concluded. Not sure who took it but it’s an amazing shot.

NFL: Super Bowl XLIX-New England Patriots vs Seattle Seahawks

Amateur In Name Alone

Michigan Stadium – Old School

Today, the NCAA board voted to allow the ‘big five’ power conferences (SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 10) to have more autonomy to set their own rules and regulations – basically opening the door for them to allow players to be paid and covered by insurance, to set the rules on hours dedicated to the sport of choice and the number of coaches on staff. In short, the NCAA provided the most powerful conferences with even more power and competitive advantage, and have thus have left all other schools and conferences in the dust.

I’m actually OK with the college players receiving compensation above and beyond the scholarship benefits they already receive. The rules that the NCAA has in place are amazingly outdated and onerous to the point that a plain bagel is considered a snack (and thus ok for a student athlete to eat if someone gives it to them) yet adding cream cheese to that same bagel turns it into a meal, and thus would be an NCAA violation if a student athlete accepted that as a ‘gift’ from someone.

However, the bigger concern is that this ruling has basically separated the top 5 ‘power’ conferences from the rest of the universities who play intercollegiate sports. And from that perspective, this is a pretty troubling result. It is troubling because all of these schools have been seduced by the dollars that these ‘amateur’ sports drive. Bill Snyder, the long time and well respected coach of Kansas State, took it one step further by saying everyone (his school included) has ‘sold out’ to TV at the expense of education:

“It’s no longer about education,” Snyder said. “We’ve sold out to the cameras over there, and TV has made its way, and I don’t fault TV. I don’t fault whoever broadcasts games. They have to make a living and that’s what they do, but athletics — that’s it. It’s sold out.”

“Everybody is building Taj Mahals,” Snyder said, “and I think it sends the message — and young people today I think are more susceptible to the downside of that message, and that it’s not about education. We’re saying it is, but it’s really about the glitz and the glitter, and I think sometimes values get distorted that way. I hate to think a young guy would make a decision about where he’s going to get an education based on what a building looks like.”

The importance and entertainment value of intercollegiate sports is very important to a college campus/student environment. As a Syracuse alum, some of my best memories of college centered around the basketball team, the football team (Kids, ask your parents about Floyd Little, Jim Brown, Joe Morris, Larry Csonka, Don MacPherson, and Donovan McNabb), and having a venue like the Carrier Dome on campus. To this day, going to see SU’s hoops team play is a great way to re-connect with friends from college. Yet, when these few ‘power conferences’ are given the keys to the kingdom by NCAA leadership and are driving a complete upheaval with all of this conference re-alignment, we really need to take as step back and ask “What the hell is going on here?”. That is what I would have expected the NCAA ‘leadership’ to do, but instead they have given the fox the keys to the hen house.

In the ACC today, seven of the conference’s 15 teams are former Big East teams and now the Big East conference – and the great regional rivalries – has ceased to exist as we know it. How does this make any sense? Tell me how a Syracuse – Florida State game has more relevance to their respective student bodies compared to, say, a Syracuse – UConn game or a Syracuse – Boston College game? Where each of those three schools are within a 4-5 hour drive of each other? Where students at those schools are probably far more likely to directly or indirectly know an alum from the other institutions? Isn’t part of the fun (remember when playing sports was fun!) of sports is busting on your buddy when your team beat his?

College sports has been big business for a long, long time. And the value to the campus culture beyond the sporting arena is clear. I don’t think that can be argued. Yet, the path that collegiate sports has taken to get to this point is nothing short of a shame and as Bill Snyder said in the above referenced article, “we’ve lost sight of what college athletics is all about”.

The Luckiest Man

This week marks the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famous “Luckiest Man On the Face of the Earth” speech when he was honored at Yankee Stadium near the end of his legendary career.

Here is a cool video where the first basemen from all the MLB teams recite his speech and then Derek Jeter concludes it:

The full transcript is below:

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

Lou Gehrig

Speech transcript via Lou Gehrig’s website

Follow The Numbers

There has been a ton of publicity about Warren Buffet putting $1 Billion on the line for anyone who picks a perfect bracket in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Well, according to Matthew Berry of ESPN, we are only four games into this year’s NCAA Tournament and out of 11 million submitted brackets in ESPN’s Tournament Bracket Challenge, only 5.7% of them (~627,000) remain perfect.

Once again, Mr. Buffett has made a wise investment, this time in publicity, for an extremely low risk wager.

matthewberry

via Matthew Berry’s Facebook feed