I’m not prepared to go all doom and gloom like some people and say it’s all over for Netflix, but unless they take corrective action now, they’re likely to lose a great deal of significance in the coming years. Disney announced yesterday on its earnings call that company is accelerating its purchase plan of BAMTech, and launching a paid streaming service for the Mouse and for ESPN. ESPN’s service will launch in 2018 and Disney’s streaming will launch in 2019. Disney will then remove its content from Netflix, and I have to assume ESPN will want to reduce access or completely remove WatchESPN access to cable subscribers.
In the United States today, saying that a state of “tribalism” exists politically is an understatement. The polarization of America’s political parties (and their members) has stifled civil discourse to the extent that I don’t even attempt it in public forums. Similar to other people’s children, religion, and sex — you don’t talk about politics. Well, you didn’t back in the day – today is a completely different story.
Super Regionals are this weekend. More of us should be tuning in than will be and I think that’s because we don’t know what we’re watching. We don’t know what to be looking for. Essentially, we don’t know how to enjoy college baseball.
Taking a look at our relationship with college basketball helps to illustrate my point. Many people’s biggest beef with March Madness is that no one really knows who most of the teams are because we don’t watch the regular season. Well, baseball has many more games and much less, almost no coverage on ESPN for you to stumble upon.
Generally speaking, we have zero idea what’s going on in the college baseball world until mid-June. Then, all of a sudden, we’re supposed to care deeply about the eight teams that have made it to the College World Series?
Which is hosted in Omaha, Nebraska, by the way. Not that it’s not a nice place. I’ve never been there myself actually, but I have heard nice things. It’s just not what you’d exactly call a vacation destination. That fact, however driven by perception it may be, exists all the same and does the CWS no favors with potential casual fans.
How It Works
So what exactly are we watching? How does this tournament work? Here’s a look:
Regionals are the first round, which happened last week. 64 teams are broken into 16 groups of four. Those groups play a double elimination tournament until one team is left standing in each region.
That brings us to where we are now, the super regionals. 16 teams remain. They’re broken up into eight pairs and now it’s a best of three series, starting this Friday. Win twice and you’ve made it to Omaha and the College World Series.
Once there, the eight teams play another double elimination tournament until two are left. Those two then play a best of three championship series.
Who We’re Watching
Oregon State is the prohibitive favorite, carrying with it an astounding 52-4 record this season. Vanderbilt is the unlucky team that will face the Beavers. The Commodores beat #21 Clemson twice at its own field to win the regional last week. OSU’s lefty Luke Heimlich has a chance at being selected in the first round of this summer’s MLB draft.
The only team hosting a super regional that did not host a regional is Texas A&M. To earn that distinction, the Aggies triumphed over that Baptist School in Waco, Texas, Iowa, and the host, Houston. College Station will host because Davidson took down the number two team in the nation, North Carolina, twice last week to get here. If you’re looking for a Cinderella, you’ve find her. It’s Davidson.
#9 Long Beach State and #20 Cal State Fullerton square off to determine which school will represent the state of California in Omaha. Fullerton beat their host #8 Stanford twice to advance from regionals. The team affectionately known as the Dirtbags holds a 5-1 record in two series against Fullerton this season.
Louisville hosts Kentucky in an even bigger rivalry matchup. With #7 and #11 in the latest D1Baseball.com Top 25, this is the most intriguing series, on paper, heading into the weekend. The Cards and the Cats split a pair of separate meetings during the regular season. Louisville lefty Brendan McKay is the consensus #2 draft prospect.
Sam Houston State took the long route to the super regionals, having played five games in the previous round. With their backs against the wall, the Bearkats won three straight games in two days, including two over host Texas Tech, to earn this spot. Their reward is a shot at #16 Florida State, which rebounded from losing the first game in its regional last week.
#6 TCU really had no trouble sweeping through its regional. The Horned Frogs will play host to the #22 Bears of Missouri State, who snuck by Arkansas, winning two of three one-run games between the two sides last weekend. Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger has scouts excited about his future.
It’s an SEC affair with #17 Mississippi State traveling to #3 LSU. The Tigers won their three games by a combined 18 runs, while the Bulldogs beat their in-state rival, #10 Southern Miss, twice on Monday to advance. LSU’s Alex Lange is another top prospect to look out for.
If you pay attention to such things, you’ll notice that six of the 16 teams left are members of the SEC. It must mean more down there or something. That sixth SEC representative is Florida. The #4 Gators welcome in #14 Wake Forest. Florida’s 6’5” pitcher Alex Faedo has been getting a lot of mention as a potential top ten pick.
So, there’s a bit of info that will hopefully spark your interest and get you to check some of these games out. The best part is there are games on all weekend long. With start times of noon, three, six, and nine, you’ll have at least one game to watch basically all day long for three days straight. Saturday is even better, with two games in each of those four time slots. And if any of these series are tied after two games, we get even more games on Sunday and Monday.
Join me in flipping on the ESPNs this weekend as we get ready for the College World Series. Doing so will help us all with our apparent fear of college baseball.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
In light of the recent firings at ESPN, where the sports network fired nearly every respectable member of their team in favor of their “Highly Questionable” team of yellers and thoughtless pontificators, now seems as good a time as any to have a look at the way sports media works (or doesn’t work). Even though the events of a few weeks ago are a good hammer blow to the way things should be, I think we all have to admit that these changes are not drastic, and have been a long time coming. Why is that? Is it really just that ESPN was bloated with staff, and the market did not require them? Is Disney squeezing them to be a leaner outfit? Does Disney/ESPN really think that what they’ve left us with (watered down SportsCenter, First Take, Outside the Lines, and Dan Le Batard) is what the people want?
Yesterday, ESPN laid off a bunch of people you’ve heard of. For those people who lost their job, yesterday is likely the worst day in their professional lives. Nothing is worse than being let go of a job with likely great pay and benefits and the chance to work with some of the best people in your industry. The unfortunate truth is that the same could happen to any of us anytime at our place of employment.
I’ve spent time on both sides of buyouts and layoffs – involuntary separation in corporate speak – and I can tell you it isn’t fun for anyone. I’ve had people threaten me, my family and promise they’ll harm themselves or other people.
This will sound harsh, but the reality is, the day of your termination is the best day of your life.
Being let go gives you another chance at life – personally and professionally – and allows you to put everything into perspective. It reminds you that friends and family are more important than the paycheck you receive and how long you likely been living high on the hog.
A few things about losing your job, or something to think about if you haven’t lost your job: the company you work for is loyal only to its bottom line and if there’s a significant chance something will hurt that, your bosses will do whatever within reason to rectify that.
Bill O’Reilly – ever heard of him? He made hundreds of millions of dollars for FOX News; so much FOX was willing to pay out his victims of sexual assault, keep him around and extend his contract before firing him. Why’d they fire him? Because he threatened the bottom line.
ESPN laid off about 100 people that you’ve heard of yesterday, not because it wanted to, but because those people were affecting ESPN’s bottom line. Bob Igor, CEO of ESPN’s parent company Disney, basically told ESPN to shore up the books or, we’ll replace the people at the top. So, when faced with the prospect of losing one’s executive job or letting go of a bunch of probably over-paid people, what’s the obvious choice: protect yourself and let go of a bunch of people.
Remember, loyalty to the bottom line is all that counts.
Pure speculation here: ESPN probably needed to cut about 300 of its most expensive positions to help make up for the millions of cable subscribers its lost. As a mid-level manager at a company with a couple hundred thousand employees I can tell you easily how this works: attrition where people leave on their own, get fired, die, or retire. In the past year, you can probably name all the high-level ESPN on-air people who left the company through attrition. If you’re a company of any size, attrition is your best friend.
ESPN also (probably) needs to downsize another 100 current contracts this quarter to take the fiscal hit one quarter. It doesn’t matter that some of these contracts are for many years and some are likely guaranteed or have some type of buyout clause. Because when you terminate 100 people you’re not only getting rid of salary, you’re getting rid of benefits. Think insurance, retirement, etc. That shit is expensive also.
ESPN probably still needs to dump another 100 or so people and will do so through restructuring of contracts and will replace some of the highest 100 earners with kids who will do that same work for a fraction of the cost.
The next question everyone has: why not Stephen A. Smith or Dick Vitale? Because they contribute far more to the bottom line than Jayson Stark and Brett McMurphy. I wouldn’t even want to be in the same arena with the Smith or Vitale, but I’d have steak dinner with Stark and McMurphy and I hate steak.
Again, none of this is said to make anyone feel good, but think about it this way: all of this could happen to you tomorrow. Any one of us could be fired, laid off, whatever from our jobs and there’s likely nothing we can do about it.
So, what’s your backup plan? Do you have enough money saved to cover expenses for six to 12 months? Do you have an alternate source of income?
If you don’t, instead of worrying about highly-paid journalists who lost their job, think about what you would do if you lost your job. That’s the real lesson of this week’s layoffs.
The only person who’s loyal to you…is you.
E-mail Damien at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @damienbowman.com.
We all like to talk about diversity. I talk about diversity. I’m sure you have talked about diversity. And every media outlet in the country has talked about the importance of diversity. Great, we all talk about diversity. But what does diversity mean?
Diversity is about more than the color of someone’s skin, but that is the attribute that society commonly uses to define diversity. The more non-whites an organization hires, the more diverse the organization is considered. That is a misrepresentation of what true diversity is. True diversity is the representation of varying ideas and ESPN is the latest media outlet to learn this the hard way.
When Jim Brady, ESPN’s Public Editor, surveyed the network, he learned that the network is considered to be skewed towards left-leaning points of view. And the liberal bias that has permeated the network has influenced ESPN’s declining viewership numbers. To some of us, this comes as no surprise.
It also came as no surprise to Brady. He referenced the broadcasting model that ESPN once adhered to and that was a model that focused on sports. To Brady’s credit, he acknowledged that ESPN has shifted away from its focus on sports and has been taking political stands on more than one occasion.
There have also been concrete actions that have created a perception that ESPN has chosen a political side, such as awarding Caitlyn Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ESPYS despite her not having competed athletically for decades, the company’s decision to move a golf tournament away from a club owned by presidential candidate Donald Trump and a perceived inequity in how punishments for controversial statements were meted out.
Longtime ESPN personality Bob Ley not only agrees with Brady but also is in agreement with what I consider to be the accurate definition of diversity. While saying that ESPN is diverse, Ley also believes that ESPN doesn’t represent or support diversity-of-thought.
Many ESPN employees I talked to — including liberals and conservatives, most of whom preferred to speak on background — worry that the company’s politics have become a little too obvious, empowering those who feel as if they’re in line with the company’s position and driving underground those who don’t.
“If you’re a Republican or conservative, you feel the need to talk in whispers,” one conservative ESPN employee said. “There’s even a fear of putting Fox News on a TV [in the office].”
Brady and Ley appear to be in the outspoken minority when fighting for diversity-of-thought at ESPN. ESPN President John Skipper considers liberal politics to be the bastion of tolerance. Jemele Hill, co-host of ESPN’s “His and Hers,” takes an even more unapologetic stand when defending the network’s hard line support of liberal political views.
“I would challenge those people who say they feel suppressed,” she said. “Do you fear backlash, or do you fear right and wrong?”
Hill doesn’t consider a difference of opinion and point of view as things that should be tolerated. She was clear when she said that those people with conservative views shouldn’t feel “suppressed.” In her opinion, conservatives fear “right and wrong.” Look at that. In all of her tolerance, Hill considers everyone with conservative views to be wrong. Case closed. Is that tolerance? I hardly think so.
Brady even acknowledged the unequal treatment that ESPN has used in dealing with controversial statements made by its on-air conservative and liberal talent. There were issues with Curt Schilling, Mike Ditka and Colin Cowherd. But you know who ESPN didn’t have a problem with? Tony Kornheiser. Kornheiser was once allowed to compare the Tea Party to Isis.
And not to be out-done, Hill has had her own issues while working at ESPN. She played the Hitler card in reference to rooting for the Celtics and then gave a half-assed apology for it. ESPN did suspend her but that’s nothing compared to how the network has handled controversies surrounding conservative personalities.
Do you want more examples of Hill’s intolerance and hate while being employed by ESPN? Here you go. How about the time she suggested that Green Bay Packer fans throw batteries at Brett Favre when the quarterback returned to Lambeau Field as a visitor? Once again, she issued an apology. As for the incident itself, Awful Announcing, another left-leaning outlet, chalked the entire incident up to “…failed attempt at humor.”
ESPN has only itself to blame for its sinking ratings. The network caters to Hill and everyone else with a liberal point of view. Based on the rhetoric and actions of ESPN’s president, I’d say that the network agrees with Hill when she suggests that everyone that sees the world from a conservative perspective is just wrong. As long as that’s the case, the network will continue to lose viewers.
I once watched ESPN on a daily basis. Every morning started with SportsCenter and every night ended with SportsCenter. But now, the few times I turn the channel to ESPN, I hear the same liberal talking points. It’s not that I want those opinions silenced. What I want is for ESPN to have some balance to the messages that are broadcast. As long as the conservative employees feel a need to live in the shadows, there’s no way that a balanced message will ever be supported on-air.
Like Hill said, it’s about right and wrong and the liberal point of view is right. Case closed.
E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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Back in July, it was finally announced that there would be an ACC Network. If you missed this news then I’m surprised you even clicked on my article. But by all means, keep reading and educate yourself about this exciting time for ACC football.
This new network, formed through a partnership with ESPN, will obviously generate income for all parties involved when it launches in August 2019. But to make it most profitable, ESPN is asking the athletic directors of the conference to pick one of two options for their future football schedules. Better games mean higher viewership and higher viewership means more money. You may not realize it, but football really is all about money.
Obviously, nothing worth having (the long-awaited ACC Network in this case) comes easily. In fact, the programs are currently deadlocked between their two options for schedules moving forward. It comes down to what would be best for the most competitive schools and what would be easiest for all schools.
What Are the Options?
There is the obvious option to increase the required number of conference games each season from eight to nine. Teams would then also have to schedule one Power Five opponent annually.
The other option is to leave the conference games at only eight. But, this would require all teams in the conference to schedule two Power Five opponents annually.
It should be noted that for these purposes, Notre Dame is considered a Power Five opponent.
So What’s the Holdup?
If you know anything about the way ACC football has been going lately, then you can probably take a pretty good guess at which programs are on what side of this debate. The programs that are more competitive nationally and would like a better chance to reach the College Football Playoffs are in favor of keeping only eight required conference games. On the other hand, the programs that aren’t quite as competitive would rather have an extra conference game.
Why does this even matter? Can it actually affect their schedules all that much? Why are the athletic directors so dang disagreeable?
It matters because it can cause scheduling nightmares for some programs. On each end of the spectrum, there are different problems that the schools would face if forced to implement the type of schedule they aren’t currently supporting.
Clemson, FSU, Georgia Tech, and Louisville all already have a Power Five game built into their schedule each season due to in-state non-conference rivals. If these programs were required to have nine conference games, then that means the one Power Five game they play would always be the same. Yawn Granted, who’s to say that they couldn’t step up and schedule two Power Five games anyways? The logistics of the scheduling wouldn’t be easy, and their resulting record may not be as pretty but they could just suck it up.
There are teams like NC State and Virginia that are on the other side of this argument though. NC State hasn’t played two Power Five opponents in one season since 2003. And as of right now, that rarity will only happen one more time through 2028. Having to find another Power Five team to add to their schedule every season would be much more difficult than just rotating in an extra ACC opponent. Virginia currently has the same line of thinking. Coach Bronco Mendenhall says the nine-game model is an easy way to already have another good game built into the team’s schedule.
What About Us?
For fans of the game overall, it could be a Catch-22. Games like the North Carolina-Georgia game would become much less desirable for a school to schedule if they have to devote nine weekends to conference play. But fans of the ACC itself would get to see more cross-divisional ACC matchups on a yearly basis, and some of those games are actually pretty exciting.
At the end of the day, one set of programs is going to have to compromise here. The premier programs like Clemson and FSU would be hard-pressed to give up the chance to play a more formidable Power Five opponent instead of an extra conference one. But the less successful ACC football programs would be hard-pressed to find another Power Five opponent to fit into their schedule each season if they had to.
It’s a lose-lose. But it’s also a win-win…if you really like ACC football. The 2019 season may be three years away (which will feel like 21 years away because football time goes by like dog years), but when it gets here they will finally have their own network. We can watch more ACC football games than ever before while our favorite teams make more money. Now that’s pretty sweet, regardless of the possible scheduling woes.
Email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.
Image Courtesy of Flickr user Emily Baron.
Every few years the conferences have to negotiate with the networks to decide who gets to broadcast their games. It’s usually pretty boring and no one talks about it much because come on, they’re usually boring and nothing happens. But this year we might get something different.
Lots of reports are surfacing that half of the conference’s available rights package is for up to $250 million per year for six years per Sports Business Daily. The interesting part is that as of right now, supposedly ESPN is going to be left out for the remaining games. That part is probably up for debate depending on the side you take. Big Ten die-hards are probably saying that people are going to watch no matter what channel the games are on and they’re probably right. Other people would likely argue that ESPN isn’t super concerned about losing them since the SEC is the premier conference in the college football world and ESPN’s got them locked up. Those people are probably right too.
But as a fan… I am terrified of Big Ten games not being on ESPN.
Technology is more or less the same as you go from network to network. Everyone’s going to have comparable cameras, microphones and graphics. Some will be styled differently but you don’t go from one network to another and think you’re watching a broadcast from the 80’s. The Big Ten Network is a little lower in picture quality but it’s not drastic.
There’s something else that can directly affect how good you think a game is. A game can go from good to instant classic with just one thing: the broadcast crew. A good broadcast crew can make a bad game into an acceptable game and a good game into a great game.
Take a listen to the call on this gut-wrenching play by ESPN’s Sean McDonough as Michigan State blocks the punt to beat Michigan. No one saw this coming and not only is McDonough on top of it but he even gets the name of the player right, someone who had probably never had his name called on TV before. That’s the kind of guy you want calling a big game like that. It’s probably the reason why ESPN is moving him to Monday Night Football this fall.
If you really want to see and hear how important an announcer can be to a game, check out NBC’s Doc Emrick who calls hockey for them. He knows every player’s name and never stumbles over the pronunciation. He gets excited and you can tell he is actually invested in what he’s watching but it doesn’t get over the top. He’ll let the crowd tell the story instead of his words if he needs to. I don’t really even like hockey but I’ll watch a game if Emrick is doing play-by-play.
Take a look at this article. It’s a few years older but you’ll notice something: at least half the people on the list are at ESPN. There’s a reason for that too. ESPN has been around and been the premier sports network for quite some time. They’ve had the time to develop their cred and everyone wants to work for them. If you’re on ESPN then you’re made.
Pop quiz: name all the announcers that you can not on ESPN.
I’ve got three. Even though they’re usually just faceless voices on your television, you remember the good ones. Their voices are imprinted in your favorite memories of defeating rivals and winning championships.
That’s not to say there’s not good announcers out there. I’m very much on the Gus Johnson bandwagon but he can only call one game a week. Who else is out there? Who else is any good? I’m going to turn off a blowout a lot faster if the announcers are terrible.
So think about this for a second there, Big Ten. Let’s not be hasty in our dealings. We’re going to watch regardless but the least you can do is try to make it a little more enjoyable for us.
E-mail Tim at or follow him on Twitter @TBach84.
Earlier this evening the University of Missouri suspended starting quarterback Maty Mauk for this week’s game against South Carolina. The team was not specific about the circumstances that lead to the suspension other than to say the suspension was for a “violation of team policies”. Back up offensive lineman Malik Cuellar was also suspended but the major news is Mauk.
Under Mauk, the Mizzou offense has been bad this season. After a solid game against Southeast Missouri to start the year, the Tigers offense has gone downhill. They put up only nine points against Connecticut two weeks ago before losing to Kentucky in their SEC opener last week. Mauk has picked a bad time to play the worst football of his career with a major prospect in true freshman Drew Lock waiting in the wings.
Lock has looked good while getting his feet wet in limited playing time this season. Considering he is only a true freshman, Lock has moved the ball well and stayed poise in the pocket. While he hasn’t been perfect, the game hasn’t looked too big or fast for him. Combine Lock’s good performances with how bad Mauk has looked this year and the screams for Lock to take over the starting job have gotten louder every week.
We don’t know what rule was broken by Mauk, but it could have ended Mauk’s run as the starting quarterback at Mizzou. I have to think if Lock plays decent and wins it would be hard for head coach Gary Pinkel to put Mauk back in the starter spot. If Lock plays well and the offense looks efficient on the way to an easy win, than there is no chance Mauk gets his job back. The only way Mauk gets his job back is if Lock looks over matched and the Mizzou offense continues its recent struggles.
One thing is for certain, Mauk’s suspension has led to the most anticipated starting debut by a Tiger since Dorial Green-Beckham. It will be a hot topic on all the local talk shows tomorrow and is sure to be a headline on ESPN College Gameday Saturday morning. Mauk could be standing on the sidelines in a t-shirt on Saturday while his era at Mizzou comes to an end and the Drew Lock era begins.
The state of Arizona was poised for a big weekend of football, with its two programs in major College Football hosting conference foes from Southern California’s City of Angels, and since Los Angeles offers no chapters in the NFL, fans of the Sunday game had to settle for the Cardinals’ division rivals from the Golden State’s northern region. Saturday’s prime-time game in Tucson was so hyped, in fact, that the folks in Bristol decided to host their morning road-show at the University of Arizona, while the Trojans visit to Tempe was more of a night-cap than anything else.
Even Sunday’s game, FOX decided, was worthy of the network’s #2 broadcast team of Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, and Tony Siragusa. Ceding “A-team” status to the Chicago-Seattle game was probably more about the uncertainty of the 49ers, after a surprising Monday Night opener that may have dispelled everyone overreaction to their tumultuous off-season and the quite unsurprising egg they laid in a Week 2 loss at Pittsburgh. It was difficult to doubt the merit of the Cardinals, who appeared to be every bit as good as their 2-0 record, entering play this weekend.
A Solemn Saturday
The thing about College Football, and I preach about this all of the time, is that you almost need to see the complete body of work to truly evaluate how good, or not good, a team is. There’s a lot of fool’s gold to be offered from early season games, especially when you’re dealing with the PolyTechnics and directional state schools, which are not created equal. Numbers next to school names on the schedule make for good marketing, but they never dictate how well a team is going to play on any given Saturday. It’s a fallacy to look at the previous year, which we often do early in the season, since there’s so much turnover with graduation alone.
Coming into the year, five different people may have given you five different answers, when discussing the class of the Pac-12 South, which includes two Arizona schools, two Los Angeles schools, Utah, and Colorado. Colorado was probably the only name not given during the time to predict a division champion. Looking at Rich Rodriguez’s improvement, year over year, since arriving at Arizona suggested there was something there with the Wildcats. Todd Graham’s Arizona State team looked decent on paper coming into the year, but a Week 1 thrashing from Texas A&M, paired with underwhelming home performances against Cal-Poly and New Mexico had many dismissing the Sun Devils. However, ASU has handled themselves at home against USC, during what has obviously been a couple of down years for the Men of Troy.
Tucson got the pep rally from ESPN, they had the number by their name, and the football program had the requisite number by their name, which may or may not have made them worthy of the smack-talk towards their neighbors to the north and west. They played in the Fiesta Bowl on the last day of 2014, and remain in possession of the Territorial Cup after winning their annual clash at home last November. The Sun Devil faithful in the Phoenix-area returned the smack, because that’s how it goes out this way. At the end of the night, neither fan base had anything of substance to say to the other.
In a game that resembled a track meet early between UCLA and Arizona, quickly became a touchdown marathon for the visiting Bruins, who made a similar statement at Arizona State in late September last year. UCLA overcame the absence of 2-way star Myles Jack with the sensational and consistent play of Josh Rosen, the true freshman quarter, who was given the keys to the offense by head coach Jim Mora. There was some euphoria before the game for the home team, who had star linebacker Scooby Wright back in the fold, but when Arizona lost their third-year starter Anu Solomon at quarterback, it was curtains for Week 4’s hosts of College Gameday. Ultimately, they dropped this one 56-30, quickly reminding everyone that UCLA is a different ball of wax than that of Northern Arizona, Nevada, and Texas-San Antonio.
Arizona State fooled no one with their 2-1 start, and there’s little point in doing anything to reset their 42-14 defeat on Saturday night. USC led 35-0 at halftime, and quite frankly, it actually could have been worse. Sometimes decent teams play poorly, but this was just a case of the visiting team being better. No one like going from National Championship contender to questioning bowl eligibility, but this is the bed that Arizona State has made for itself.
There will be a National Championship played in Arizona on January 11th of next year, but it will very likely feature two teams from outside of the state, at Univeristy of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Fortunately, the locals can enjoy the building’s primary tenants on Sunday afternoons.
A Sensational Sunday
In both the real world and the virtual one, the one where everyone’s name begins with an “@”, I am privy to discussions that compare and contrast the college game and the NFL, as if everyone can only choose one. I tend to play the role of Switzerland in those conversations. I like the volume of College Football, though I must acknowledge a gap in the quality of play, and in most cases the disparity with the level of competition. I like that the staggered starts mean not every game is at the half at the same time, and over the course of 45 minutes, you can watch exciting finishes in 3 or 4 games, in their entirety. I could do without the endless halftimes, one of several contributing factors to 4-hour games.
At the same time, I appreciate the lack of volume of NFL games, the highest quality talent, and how neatly everything seems to fit three-hour windows, give or take 20 minutes. I like that Power Rankings mean nothing, and that a win is a win, regardless of the week’s opponent. I like that, if properly equipped, you can watch every game in its entirety, without the necessity of a website or mobile app. Of course, this means that you have to reset from end-of-game mode to start-of-game mode around 4pm Eastern Time.
On Sunday, during that transition from thrilling finishes in Cleveland and Cincinnati, to the beginning of the 49ers and Cardinals NFC West match up in Arizona, the Cardinals decided they had no interest in waiting for the early game audiences to take a deep breath. Despite taking the opening kickoff and getting things going early, between Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona’s first drive stalled, but it was a couple of Colin Kaepernick throws that equaled crooked numbers on the scoreboard for the home team.
The first pass thrown by the San Francisco quarterback was picked off and returned 21 yards for a touchdown by Justin Bethel. The fifth-year player from Nevada was fortunate to complete a couple of throws to his teammates, before Tyrann Mathieu stepped in front of his fourth pass of the day, running that one back 33 yards to paydirt, giving the home team a 14-0 lead without any serious aid from Palmer and the offense.
When Arizona’s offense finally got on the field, Palmer got to work, throwing to Fitzgerald a few more times and letting Chris Johnson do the rest on the ground. On the first play of the second quarter, Johnson ran one in from six yards out, and the rout was on. The Cardinals would pick off Kaepernick 4 times, sack him twice, and generally controlled the game in every way possible, on their way to a 47-7 victory, making them 3-0 in this young season. This takes me back to a conversation I had over the summer with a friend, and long-time fan of the Cardinals.
At the time, this is a guy who could have stood a break or two in life, but it’s like John McCain told Chris Berman on the eve of Election Night in 2008; hope springs eternal with the Arizona Cardinals. Those bastards went to the Super Bowl that year1They aren’t really bastards. It’s just that I’m still waiting on the Browns to accomplish that feat; 46 seasons and counting., and they came damn close to winning the thing. Back to that conversation over breakfast last summer, one of the things that kept this friend ticking was the statement that the Arizona Cardinals had a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl. This time I didn’t doubt him, and it wasn’t because I dismissed the conversation we had at a bowling alley before that miraculous 2008 season and playoff-run. The crux of our prior discussion was to put that team in a vacuum; take away the Arizona, take away the Cardinals, and really think of Ken Whisenhunt’s team as a potential playoff team that year. I wasn’t buying it, and I think it would have been foolish to believe anything of the sort, knowing the stigma of the Bidwill-owned Cardinals.
It was a different time back then, as we weren’t far removed from the forgettable Sun Devil Stadium Era Cardinals. They weren’t just forgettable, but nearly unlikable. I liked hearing stories from the season ticket holders, those who endured the days on the hot metal benches in Tempe, only because it was essentially the only evidence that the team played home games prior to 2006. I’d seen video evidence of the Cardinals playing there just three times2It would be four, if we’re counting that Monday Night Football game from Jerry MacGuire, a sympathetic lifting of the league-mandated blackout for Sunday Night Football in Week 3 of the 2001 season, a Browns game that I watched from Cleveland, and Josh McCown’s Hail Mary to Nate Poole to end the 2003 season (and the Minnesota Vikings playoff hopes).
Even on Sunday, while the Cardinals’ defense was spotting their offense 2 scores early, we were talking about how there’s an actual home-field advantage at University of Phoenix Stadium, something that was virtually never true for the Birds at Sun Devil Stadium, at least when you considered the ratio of home team-to-visiting team fans. People like me, the transplants from elsewhere, will never fully come around, but this is a team and a culture that should deter young people from choosing the Cowboys, Steelers, or Raiders. It’s okay, and probably even cool, to like the home team. Lord knows this market isn’t getting it on Saturday nights.
Bruce Arians has something special cooking for the fans in these parts. Small sample size or not, what we’re seeing from the Arizona Cardinals is no fluke.
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|1.||↑||They aren’t really bastards. It’s just that I’m still waiting on the Browns to accomplish that feat; 46 seasons and counting.|
|2.||↑||It would be four, if we’re counting that Monday Night Football game from Jerry MacGuire|