There’s bitter and sweet in the sports world this week and we’ll touch on both.
Let’s begin with the positive.
First off, I don’t remember when the NFL has had so many teams with either a shot at a division crown or a playoff berth at this point in the season. Most teams have five games remaining, which is a lot of games, but considering the fact that usually at this point there are many teams with no hope whatsoever, you have to consider this a sparkling year. I don’t feel a two game lead is a commanding advantage at this point.
There are only two divisions which appear safe and sound for the leaders. The Packers in the NFC North, and the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in the NFC South are home free. The rest are still in a dogfight.
That also means if you’re only two losses out of the three-team wildcard derby, you’ve got a chance.
And what more can you ask in December?
Remember, a winning streak down the stretch can do wonders, even if you’re currently a game or two under the break-even point.
How amazing is Washington with a 4-game win streak playing with a backup quarterback, Taylor Heinicke, who is fun to watch and hardly playing like a reserve?
Frankly, I don’t feel the Giants or the Bears have a prayer, but I can’t count out Seattle yet. All three are 4-8.
Don’t forget, the final wild-card teams are 6-6.
How about the Miami Dolphins who have captured 5 straight, after starting 1-7.
That’s what I’m talking about.
As we went to press, as we say, the Patriots (6 wins in a row), and the Bills were colliding on Monday night, locked in a fierce fight for the AFC East lead.
And hats off to the Detroit Lions.
If you saw the reaction of the players and the fans after Jared Goff’s winning TD pass ending their 11-game winless streak, you know a victory at any time for any team, regardless of their record, is an elixir.
As the great John Madden once said, “winning is the best deodorant”.
The best part of college football was the selection of the four teams who will battle it out for the national championship.
The matchups were made after the conference title games were played Saturday.
At the conclusion of my column last week on the two superior head coaches Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, I foolishly remarked how Saban, in particular, would be ultra-proud of his Alabama team, even though they were likely to fall short to all-powerful Georgia in the SEC title game.
Not only did the Crimson Tide send the Bulldogs to their first loss, they crushed the number one team 41-24.
Going in, Georgia had allowed just under seven points a game.
So, in effect, I underestimated the team coached by the man I put on pedestal.
I am still wiping the egg off my face!
So now, Alabama has emerged as the # 1, with Michigan, Georgia, and Cincinnati in the charmed circle.
Congrats to the Wolverines and coach Jim Harbaugh, who finally got the monkey off their backs by beating Ohio State, then Iowa in the Big Ten championship.
Michigan will face Georgia, and Alabama will play Cincinnati in the national semi-finals.
Did I say Cincinnati?
In what is, to me, the high point of the selection process, the undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats wound up with a chance to play for the national title.
For years, the big criticism was that no “outsider”, no one without the big name and reputation in the sport would ever have an opportunity to be one of the Final Four.
Choosing Cincinnati ended that practice.
Baylor, Oklahoma State, Ohio State, and others will be home watching.
I think it’s refreshing.
Not refreshing is the way two prominent head college head coaches abruptly walked out on their schools for better opportunities.
They didn’t leave any notice, didn’t really care much of the players they had recruited and were now out the door, and left a bad taste in the mouth of pure decency.
Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma to become the new head coach at USC.
Brian Kelly turned his back on, of all schools, Notre Dame, to jump to LSU.
Lincoln Riley and Brian Kelly
Look, I’m not going to cast aspersions on people who see a better opportunity and want to get out of their current situation.
It’s done all the time.
But how it’s done reflects on someone’s character and integrity.
Riley was a small-town 33-year old when he came to Oklahoma, first as an assistant coach, then moved up to head coach, and remarked, ” Oh my God, I’ve got the Oklahoma job, I’m the luckiest guy in the world, I will never leave, everything I ever do is going to be about OU”.
But a private plane whisked Riley to Los Angeles, where he proclaimed USC would become the Mecca of college football.
It was as simple as that.
Same story for Brian Kelly, who tweeted his move to LSU to his players, met with them for a matter of minutes the next day, and was off for Baton Rouge.
There, Kelly was hailed and celebrated as the man who would return the Tigers to national championship contention.
What was hilarious, was Kelly’s introduction to the LSU crowd at a basketball game where he took the microphone and talked to the audience in a fake southern accent.
It was remarkable how Brian Kelly, a Massachusetts native, was able to change his dialect so quickly.
Maybe the word “fake” applies to the coach in more ways than one.
Not trying to be holier than thou here, but isn’t there a classier way for a coach to move from one job to another without showing any regard to the athletes you recruited and were in the process of urging high school prospects to play for your school?
If the college you are jumping to wants you so much, isn’t it possible to work out a cleaner way to make the transfer?
Notre Dame still has a major Bowl game to play.
Could Brian Kelly, or Lincoln Riley start getting into recruiting with their new schools, while completing their responsibilities with the one’s they’re leaving?
I guess I’m being naive. I know that’s what you readers may be thinking. But the fact is, it doesn’t smell good.
Has loyalty gone out the window?
And what Riley and Kelly say have any true meaning?
How can believe them?
They both had big-time jobs. Never won the national championship they tried to achieve.
They jumped ship for a lot more money and greener pastures, where they will go after what they didn’t get before.
Now, do you think players should be paid to play college football?
College football is really professional football on a different level.
The coaches actually make more money than those in the NFL.
Lastly, in case you haven’t heard, there is a lockdown in major league baseball.
That means the owners have closed down the game, which means all negotiations with players, and anything to do with next season.
This move was a first-shot at preventing the players from conducting a strike.
There had been labor peace in MLB since the last disruption in 1994-95.
That proved to be a horrible setback to the sport.
The Commissioner, Rob Manfred, says the lockout was called to induce both the players and owners to get down to serious negotiations for a new contract to that the season won’t be affected.
It is folly to get into labor issues, and that won’t happen here.
One, I’ve always felt that owners needed something or someone to protect themselves against each other.
If they pay too much, whose fault is that?
Also, if they collude, it is illegal.
I have no idea what will transpire, except I would suspect the two sides will eventually come to an agreement.
Two, consider how baseball, and all of sports, were affected buy the pandemic.
Now, leagues are playing a full schedule, and fans are back.
How bad is labor unrest, whether it’s a strike or a lockout, look to the public after all we’ve gone though?
No surprise, that money is the foundation for a lack of loyalty and common sense, in the case of college football coaches and Major League Baseball.
There you have it. The bitter and the sweet in one sports week.