Loyola-Chicago’s groundbreaking title overlooked today (via USA Today)

online-shake-3-13-13-4_3They are the champions you might not remember, who lived the extraordinary season you might not have known. But to begin to understand the special journey of the 1963 Loyola of Chicago Ramblers, all that is needed is one picture.

The photo, taken before an NCAA tournament game 50 years ago, shows a black player from Loyola and a white player from Mississippi State shaking hands.

The Loyola player is Jerry Harkness, captain for an upstart team that had not only stormed up the rankings but also flouted the unwritten rules of 1963 by starting four African Americans.

They are the champions you might not remember, who lived the extraordinary season you might not have known. But to begin to understand the special journey of the 1963 Loyola of Chicago Ramblers, all that is needed is one picture.

The photo, taken before an NCAA tournament game 50 years ago, shows a black player from Loyola and a white player from Mississippi State shaking hands.

The Loyola player is Jerry Harkness, captain for an upstart team that had not only stormed up the rankings but also flouted the unwritten rules of 1963 by starting four African Americans. … Read More

(via USA Today)

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The only surprising part of Will Ferrell’s tour de baseball

will ferrell baseball chopper

Everybody had a good time with Will Ferrell’s Major League Baseball debut last week, and that’s no surprise. Will Ferrell is funny and good at making people laugh, and, it’s always seemed with him, the bigger the stage, the bigger the laughs. Ferrell started Thursday as an undrafted amateur free agent signee of the Oakland Athletics, and he finished the day as a San Diego Padre. In between, he appeared in games as a member of eight other teams and played every position, including designated hitter (pictured above). He even has his own Baseball-Reference page!

All of this feels like it belongs within Ferrell’s entertaining wheelhouse. Close examination of his B-R page reveals a little surprise, however:

wfb-rWho knew Cincinnati held Norm’s rights to begin with? Maybe it has something to do with the Marge Schott joke he made on Weekend Update nineteen years ago, forever “preserved” on this broken NBC.com video? Baseball, like Norm, proves to be a continually unfolding mystery of the most enjoyable variety.

Amidst the glut of Pete Rose journalism, a new, false dichotomy

IMG-20140317-00078It is not difficult to get an interview with Pete Rose. I’m sorry to pull back the curtain on one of sportswriting’s recent tricks, but it’s true. People assume that Rose, one of sports’ all-time controversial figures, must be a tough get, but the sheer volume of articles published in recent years based on one-on-one interviews with Mr. Hustle belie that assumption. I’m reasonably confident ALDLAND could secure a sit-down interview with Rose. He seemingly wants to talk to anybody and everybody– the more he’s in the news, the more likely a public clamor for MLB to reverse course and allow him to stand for a Hall of Fame vote– and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Think what you want about Rose, but Sparky Anderson made his peace with his former player before he died, so you probably should too.

The latest entry into that glut of Rose prose is a book by Sports Illustrated’s Kostya Kennedy, Pete Rose: An American Dilemma. The March 10 issue of the magazine carries an excerpt, available online here. The magazine cover teases a central– and magazine-cover-worthy– quotation: “Rose has been banished for the incalculable damage he might have done to the foundation of the game. Steroid users are reviled for the damage they actually did.”

Again, I like Rose, I think he belongs in baseball, and I think the PED-user analogy can be illustrative. Few people love an illustrative analogy more than me, probably. But here, Kennedy takes the wind out of his own quotation’s sails, and rightly so. We cannot now be sure of the precise effect Rose’s baseball gambling had on his playing and managing. Kennedy is straightforward about this, and, just paragraphs before his money line, he set out in detail how, even if Rose only bet on his Reds, his managing decisions could have been impaired by his collateral financial interest in the outcome of his team’s games. For example, Kennedy suggests that Rose might have utilized his players to achieve short-term results in a way that impaired long-term effectiveness. A baseball season, to say nothing of a baseball career, is a marathon. Kennedy points out that Rose appeared to overuse a lefty reliever, Rob Murphy, in the 1987 and 1988 seasons. Murphy fairly denied the charge to Kennedy, but the writer still put the following tag on this section, which immediately precedes the highlighted quotation above: “There’s no indication, either through game logs or player testimony, that Rose’s betting influenced how he managed. But it could have. speculation, sure. Evidence? Not yet.”

Kennedy seems to miss the point with his “Rose has been banished for the . . .damage he might have done” line, the point he himself just finished making: that Rose’s gambling damaged the game, but we simply don’t yet have the evidence to show exactly how. The same is true of the PED users, for whom evidence has been perhaps the central issue. How many fewer home runs would Barry Bonds have hit had he not used PEDs? (He did use PEDs, right?) How many fewer hits for finger-waving Rafael Palmeiro? How many fewer strikeouts for Roger Clemens? Why pretend like the damage is any more or less obvious for one or the other?

I hope baseball allows Rose back into the game, to stand for election to the Hall of Fame (a privilege Kennedy notes Bonds and Clemens and their lot enjoy). While MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has hinted at some easing of Rose’s ban, this is an all-or-nothing issue. I’m not sure what, if anything, will tip the scales in Rose’s favor, but a false dichotomy like the one Kennedy presents doesn’t help anyone’s cause on this issue.

This is probably the end of probably the best weekly NFL column of the past two years

yrNo, I’m not talking about any of the various aborted (but sure to return!) attempts at weekly football columns on this site. I’m talking about Alex Pappademas’ “I Suck at Football” column, which ran on Grantland’s sports blog, The Triangle, on a weekly basis during the 2012 and 2013 NFL seasons.

I still remember reading Pappademas’ first column in the then-unnamed series. On September 24, 2012, he published the first post, entitled “Nuclear Physics, Bloody Marys, and Bengals: A First Trip to a Sports Bar.” On Monday of this week, he posted what’s likely– though unconfirmed– to be the final entry: “I Suck at Football, Week 18: The Barrel-of-Fun Room.”

The column’s basic tenets emerge in the inaugural article:

On Sunday my friend Richard Feynman took me out to drink and watch football at 10 in the morning. My friend Richard Feynman’s name isn’t really Richard Feynman, but I’ve decided to give every real person in my I Suck At Liking Football journal the name of a famous theoretical physicist, because this sport is still basically quantum mechanics to me. So on Sunday Richard Feynman’s wife took their son to choir practice and (metaphors!) Richard Feynman and I went to football-church, in a sports bar on Vermont Avenue.

Not only did Pappademas not have a favorite football team, he hardly understood the sport itself, or even how to be a fan of it (as evidenced by the originally named “I Suck At Liking Football journal”). By the end of the opening offering, he has picked a favorite team– the Cincinnati Bengals– and begun to deal with the unfamiliar challenges of existing in a sports bar, Ye Rustic, at 10:00 am on a Sunday.

“I Suck at Football” is a crude name for an elegant collection of writing. Every week offered an unpredictable mix of unanticipated portions of life and football. For you, the beauty of this is that, if you’re hearing about this column for the first time, you haven’t missed out: these articles aren’t game really recaps, and you probably didn’t watch the Bengals that week anyway.

Somewhere along the line, I can’t find where now, Pappademas appeared to suggest that this journal would be a two-season affair, and this week’s post has an air of finality to it:

I sat awake by the fire and realized my emotions didn’t really exist. They were just something my brain happened to be doing at that moment. Brain-weather. I was the one deciding to let them consume me. And I should have known that, because watching bad Bengals football taught me that lesson over and over. I felt frustration, anger, disappointment — and then I could stop feeling it, because it was just a TV show, and whether Dalton threw three interceptions or 300 changed nothing about my life outside Ye Rustic.

Thanks to the website redesign Grantland undertook sometime in the past twenty-four hours, there isn’t an easy way to view this series in one place. For now, your best bet may be to cycle through Pappademas’ full-site author archive, which contains a bunch of other stuff too. It’s worth the effort.

Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

tailALDLAND’s weekly football roundup is back following week three of college football and week two of the NFL.

College Football

Pregame:

  • I caught snippets of ESPN College Gameday and Fox Sports 1’s college football pregame shows. Gameday remains the leader of the pack, but I’d like more time to see how FS1’s show develops. In the meantime, I’ll join FS1’s Joel Klatt in sending good wishes to the folks in Colorado dealing with major flooding right now.

The games — excitement building:

  • With a couple East Carolina fans in town, we watched the Pirates hang with Virginia Tech for about three quarters. The Hokies did all they could, including badly missing a bunch of close kicks, to hand ECU the game. Frank Beamer looked like he wanted to puke, but his team managed to hold it together in the end. Virginia Tech 15, East Carolina 10.
  • We were flipping between that game and UCLA-Nebraska. When I first checked in on this one, Nebraska had a 21-3 lead, and it looked like the best early game of the day would not materialize into a competitive affair. That turned out to be sort of true, but not in the way I expected. UCLA scored thirty-eight unanswered points to beat the now-mythological blackshirt defense in Lincoln 41-21.
  • The game of the day belonged to Alabama and Texas A&M, and it lived up to the hype. Johnny Manziel and the Aggies started very hot, jumping out to a 14-0 lead and choking the Tide’s early drives. A&M scored touchdowns on its first two drives, which averaged 71.5 yards and 2:06 off the clock. Alabama responded, though, methodically amassing thirty-five temporarily unanswered points and carried a 42-21 lead into the fourth quarter. The Aggie defense had yielded to The System, but Manziel wasn’t through, although twenty-one fourth-quarter points wouldn’t be enough to top Alabama. The Crimson Tide remain undefeated, winning 49-42, but Manziel unequivocally proved that he is must-see football every time he plays, and his cohort, receiver Mike Evans, deserves some credit too.     Continue reading

Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

tailSince “Monday Morning Quarterback” and “Tuesday Morning Quarterback” are taken and uninspired, and because I’m preempting my own exhaustion of “Monday“-themed alliterations, ALDLAND’s regular football/weekend roundup will move to Tuesday afternoons, which also permits incorporation of the Monday night NFL game. With week two of college football and week one of the NFL in the books, here goes:

College Football

Pregame:

  • Brendan and Physguy were in Ann Arbor for ESPN College Gameday, and the only evidence is a couple cryptic tweets from Brendan.

The games — No surprises:

  • I was able to find Michigan State’s game against South Florida on television in the Southeast, which may be thanks to USF’s participation in the game, but which also felt like finding a unicorn in the wild. MSU’s defense continues to outscore their offense, and that’s with three quarterbacks! Even Sparta only ever had two kings at once. Michigan State 21, South Florida 6.
  • I also found Vanderbilt-Austin Peay on TV, which is a reminder that it’s week two for the broadcasters as well. VU had no problem with its Middle Tennessee neighbors, winning 38-3.

Beale Street recap: Vandy falls to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl, 31-24

After the Red Wings fell 3-2 to the Blackhawks at the United Center, I boarded a plane from Chicago early the next morning, and touched down in the land of the Delta blues, in the middle of the pouring sunshine. It was a beautiful New Year’s Eve day in Memphis, especially by my recently recalibrated Northern standards, and I’m not sure anyone could reasonably protest the prospect of tailgating outdoors in 60 degrees and sun on December 31st. Whenever I go to Memphis, I’m always (I write this as if I go there so often) struck by the lowness of the terrain. It isn’t just flat, it’s low. (Or maybe it was the lowrider dunebuggy of a rental car we had. It’s a tossup really.)

Hearing no reasonable or unreasonable protest, tailgate we did, the site graciously hosted and organized by the VSL Braintrust. After gorging ourselves on food, drink, and conversation, we made our way into the Liberty Bowl, which presents as large and grand but operates as small and comfortable. There’s an imposing fortress-like structure at the main entrance that would be impressively and confusingly lit at the end of the game, the moat area being a concourse that certainly felt like it was in the stadium but operated as a sort of DMZ for people to finish their outside consumables and proceed into the technical, ticket-taking entryway.

Once inside, I found myself in the best seats I’ve ever had for a sporting event of consequence. It wasn’t a surprise– I knew where the seats were– but there was something pretty neat about saddling up in the second row, right behind the Vanderbilt bench and about turning around and seeing a sea of black and gold stretched from end to end of the Commodore side of the stadium.   Keep reading…

Liberty Bowl preview

After a couple weeks of silly bowl games and lamenting the defunctedness of the Baccardi Bowl, it’s come time to get into college football’s more serious postseason games. With the BCS bowls getting going on January 2 (there are no New Year’s Day bowls this year), New Year’s Eve provides a suitable appetizer, including Cincinnati and Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl, 2:30 pm Central time on ABC. Watch for me on the TV.

Rather than try to duplicate the good work already done by dedicated Vanderbilt bloggers and create my own full game preview, I’ll yield to more experienced voices below, after offering my own thoughts, in bullet-point format (it’s Memphis, after all):

  • While Vanderbilt was three plays away from a 9-3 record in the regular season, they finished 6-6, which still triples their win total from last year with essentially the same roster and bests their win total from the past two seasons combined. That said, a win on Saturday would give the Commodores a winning record on the season; a loss, of course, would give them a losing record. Coach James Franklin has hit this point in his preparation this week and I think it’s an important one. A season this good, comparatively speaking, cannot end with a losing record.
  • This is just the fifth bowl appearance for Vanderbilt, but this year’s senior class is the school’s first to play in two bowl games. At a school where nobody leaves early for the NFL (not even Jay Cutler), the seniors represent a strong, experienced group of leaders. They also have played for three different coaches (Bobby Johnson, Robbie Caldwell, and Franklin) in three years, so they have been through a lot together. After a win in the Music City Bowl three years ago, followed by two down years, the seniors seem to play for themselves as much as they do for Franklin and the future of the program. I think this bodes well for their performance in their final game.
  • As much as 2008’s Music City Bowl was a coming out party for quarterback Larry Smith, the 2011 season has been a coming out party for his replacement, Jordan Rodgers. The junior starter with a famous brother has been an offensive force this year, both as a rusher and a passer. Rodgers need not have a perfect total game for Vandy to win– other offensive options and tools are available– but he needs to avoid making the kinds of mistakes he did in the overtime loss to Tennessee.
  • Cincinnati is a relative unknown to me, and probably to you, something the information below should remedy. The two things that come to my mind are 1) they aren’t that far removed from Brian Kelly, so there probably is a talent residue there; and 2) their basketball team is made up of some hard brawlers, which may or may not carry over onto the football field. I just looked up their regular season record: 9-3. But they play in the Big East.
  • I’ve been to one other bowl game, the 2007 Rose Bowl. USC embarrassed Michigan that afternoon, and I was embarrassed to be associated with the state in which the losing team was located. I very much am hoping for a different result on Saturday.

History: Sensibly, the Liberty Bowl started in Philadelphia in 1959, but by 1965, it had moved to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis to host larger crowds and establish itself as one of the oldest non-BCS bowls. The People’s history of the Liberty Bowl is here.

Continue reading

Friday Delta Jam

Today’s Friday Jam comes to you from the road, where I’m beginning my reverse reinactment of the second third of the great blues migration. I will be in Chicago tonight for the Red Wings and Blackhawks, and I’ll be in Memphis tomorrow afternoon for the Liberty Bowl, where Vanderbilt will face Cincinnati. Given the recent spate of hockey head injuries, the most recent victim of which is Nashville’s Shea Weber, featuring Warren Zevon and Mitch Albom’s “Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)” in this spot didn’t seem quite right. The other selection never was in question, however, and I was happy to find this particular clip because it was the first time I’d ever heard the tune:

I hope that happens to me exactly, minus the rain and the catfish. I’ve caught catfish. I’ve eaten catfish. Various preparations. I’ve tried. I can’t do it anymore. And the pouring rain. It always seems to rain for the Liberty Bowl, but this year is shaping up just fine.

Horrible Bosses: Bengals’ Mike Brown (via ESPN.com)

Yes, Palmer has four years left on his nine-year, $118 million deal. You signed the contract, you say. Live up to it. In fact, that’s what Brown has said. “He gave his word. … He’s going to walk away from his commitment. We aren’t going to reward him for doing it.”

But Brown is a hypocrite. He has cut hundreds of players before their contract was up and given them nothing. Why should Palmer live up to a deal that works only one way? If Palmer should suddenly go blind, would Brown still give him the money? Are you kidding? Brown is cheaper than your local Goodwill. … Read More

via ESPN.com