Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Simulated Super Bowl a sign of the times


It says a lot about where we're at culturally and technologically that the results of a video game simulation of the Super Bowl are being reported as a legitimate story in the sports media.
If you haven't heard, the Giants beat the Patriots 27-24 in the annual EA SPORTS Madden NFL Super Bowl. The outcome was of some interest to my 12 year old son, who regularly plays the Madden NFL game, but left me wondering why Strato-Matic football didn't simulate Super Bowl V between the Colts and Cowboys when I was 12. The answer to that lies partly in savvy 21st century corporate marketing, and in the fact that in 1971, we were pretending we were Roger Staubach and Johnny Unitas while actually playing football in the snow, as opposed to today's couch-bound adolescent Eli Manning and Tom Brady wannabes.
As a sign of the times, the simulated Super Bowl reminds me of Dennis Miller's joke about spending quality time with his son by playing a video game of a father and son having a catch. I'm not criticizing the kids today. It is what it is, as they themselves are wont to say. In a world where real-life death and destruction are delivered by unmanned military drones being controlled by virtual pilots thousands of miles from the front lines, there are worse things than a computer mock-up of a football game.
The good news is I took the Giants to cover the point spread in the simulated Super Bowl, meaning my bookie owes me 200 Monopoly dollars.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Half-naked Novak (and other Monday morning musings)


In the debate over who's better - Federer or Nadal - the answer is Djokovic. Novak Djokovic had already cemented his place as the world's number one tennis player with a dominant season in 2011, and picked up where he left off with his epic victory over Rafael Nadal in yesterday's Australian Open final. Meanwhile, Djokovic ripping his shirt off to celebrate his fifth Grand Slam title was a nice eye candy treat for the ladies, but where was that at the end of the women's final?...There's an almost schizophrenic element to professional hockey psychology that gets exposed every year at the NHL All Star game. The hail-good-fellow-well-met bonhommie between players from rival teams is a strikingly radical departure from the take-no-prisoners mentality that pervades regular season and playoff games. There's a disturbing moral disconnect in rationalizing the fundamental contradiction between sharing laughs over a beer with a guy Saturday and trying to run him through the boards the following Tuesday. I get that it's just business, but more mutual respect among competitors would go a long way towards making the game itself more respectable...How do you suppose Art and Mabel on the farm in Saskatchewan enjoyed the hip hop stylings of Drake during yesterday's second intermission? Someone suggested on Twitter that the Sheepdogs should have gotten the gig. I don't know if they meant the band or actual sheepdogs, but either one would have been an improvement...As much as it must have pained competitors like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees to be suiting up for the Pro Bowl yesterday instead of going over game film for the Super Bowl, a free trip to Hawaii for a game of de facto touch football isn't a bad consolation prize.

Friday, January 27, 2012

There were worse things on TV


Say what you will about NHL All Star Weekend, but the league and its broadcast partners have done a more than respectable job of making the event about something more than 60 minutes of glorified shinny.
The idea of getting back to the game's roots and choosing sides old school was a minor stroke of genius, and represents part of a steady formatic evolution from All Stars versus Stanley Cup champions to East versus West to North America against the World. Even in the absence of the NHL's two most prominent players - Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin - last night's All Star fantasy draft in Ottawa had something for everyone, including just the right amount of hockey hokum, whether it was the yahoos in the live audience booing the Leafs or a social media segment used to showcase the physical attributes and marginal broadcasting skills of Hall of Famer Igor Larionov's daughter, Alyonka. TSN host James Duthie, who got his job on merit, did a terrific job of sustaining the show's momentum and injected just the right amount of humour to keep the event fun without compromising credibility.
Steven Stamkos might have wanted to wash his hair and Scott Hartnell looked like Bernadette Peters on steroids, but there's only so much the producers can control, and overall, the fantasy draft was at least as watchable as most mid-season NHL games.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tim Thomas: patriot or poser?


(photoshopping by Josie Gold)
There's a time and a place for everything, and yesterday at the White House was neither the time nor the place for Tim Thomas to be conspicuous by his absence.
The reigning NHL playoff MVP declined to join his Boston teammates on a visit to Executive Mansion at the invitation of US President Barack Obama, who honored the Bruins for their 2011 Stanley Cup championship. Thomas released a statement saying his decision to skip the White House visit had nothing to do with politics or party, but was an individual choice by a free citizen concerned that the American federal government is out of control to the point of threatening fundamental rights and liberties.
As an avowed right wing patriot, it's disingenuous of Thomas to say that a deliberate snub of Obama, who's a Democrat, was not politically-motivated. Thomas doesn't have to respect the man, but as an American citizen, he should respect the office, because it still represents everything Thomas claims to hold dear about his country. And how does he reconcile representing the US at the Olympics but declining to visit the White House if his motives were not political?
Politics aside, yesterday was a team function, and Thomas disrespected and embarrassed his teammates on an international stage. He was selfish, immature and hypocritical in a scenario that called for common decency, decorum and solidarity.
President Obama's got bigger fish to fry. He's probably already over the snub, if it bothered him in the first place. It might linger a little longer among the Bruins, who had what should have been a happy, once-in-a-lifetime experience tainted by someone who put himself ahead of the team.

Monday, January 23, 2012

For Evans' sake (and other Monday morning musings)


Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff joined the unfortunate Scott Norwood in the annals of catastrophic football lore yesterday, but the AFC championship game should never have come down to Cundiff's missed 32 yard field goal attempt. Ravens receiver Lee Evans couldn't hold on to what should have been the game-winning touchdown pass from Joe Flacco two plays earlier. New England defensive back Sterling Moore deserves some credit for stripping the ball but it was a perfect throw from the much-maligned Flacco, who was better than Tom Brady but came out on the short end through no fault of his own...Like Flacco in New England, San Francisco's defence deserved better than the outcome of the NFC championship game. The 49ers shut down the Giants running game and sacked Eli Manning six times, but the San Francisco offence was an atrocious 1 for 13 on third down conversions and the game turned on two turnovers by the Niners special teams...Patriots fans are touting Super Bowl 46 February 5th in Indianapolis as a revenge match, but take it from a Giants fan: nothing can erase the joy and satisfaction of ruining New England's bid for a perfect season in Super Bowl 42. The inescapable reality for the Patriots and their supporters is that that Super Bowl meant more to them than this one, and they lost it...Disgraced former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who passed away over the weekend, is being remembered as a great but flawed man. If Paterno's worst flaw was that he proceeded by the book in reporting allegations of sexual misconduct to his superiors and they didn't do anything about it, that's not a bad legacy. Paterno is a textbook example of how the only thing our celebrity-obsessed culture relishes more than building someone up is tearing them down...Anyone who mocks Mike Komisarek for turning down Travis Moen's invitation to dance during Saturday's Canadiens-Leafs game in Toronto is missing the point. If Moen can't take a clean hit and continue to play the game without assuaging his wounded pride by picking a fight, that's his problem, not Komisarek's...And why not Scott Gomez in a shootout? It's not like anything else is working.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The best defence is a good defence (and other Monday morning musings)


The hackneyed football expression about the best defence being a good offence was exposed again yesterday at Lambeau Field, where Green Bay's NFL-leading offence was smothered by a resolute New York Giants defence, while the Packers' league-worst D got lit up by Eli Manning. The Giants sacked Aaron Rodgers four times, forced four fumbles - one of which was inexplicably overruled despite conclusive video replay evidence - and executed a masterful defensive game plan that disrupted Rodgers' rhythm all day long. High-powered offensive football is fun to watch, but it's still a game of fundamentals, and the best defence is still a good defence...New Orleans and San Francisco provided by far the most riveting finish of the NFL weekend. With four minutes left in Saturday's game, I was sure the Saints were going to win. Then I was sure the 49ers would win. Then I was sure the Saints were going to win. Then the 49ers won...Unlike most social media, there's actually some redeeming value to Twitter. If you're fussy about who you follow, it can be a steady source of hilarious one-liners, and increasingly, it's become a platform for breaking news. Unfortunately, Twitter isn't restricted to professional journalists, so agenda-driven claptrap sometimes slips through the cracks and becomes mainstream news. The allegation that PK Subban of the Canadiens deliberately spit at the Rangers' Mike del Zotto last night at the Bell Center was a Twitter creation, and continues to have legs even though the evidence is shaky at best, and both del Zotto and Subban said after the game that it's news to them. In the internet age more than ever, people aren't letting facts get in the way of a good story...Hockey Night in Canada dingbat Cassie Campbell is the heir apparent to Bob Cole as English Canada's Saturday night court jester. Prior to Saturday's Senators-Canadiens game at the Bell Center, Campbell informed a national television audience that Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson would be playing in his "forty-oneth" game of the season. She also referred to Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth as "Cunningworth" and called CBC colleague Elliotte Friedman "Eric." In Campbell's defence, it was only her eleventy-twoth broadcast.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Raines robbed again


I've never been a regular at the annual How Come Tim Raines Isn't In The Baseball Hall of Fame Whine Festival, but the argument is starting to resonate - not so much because of Raines' credentials, but because of some of the other players being honored while Raines is rebuffed.
The longtime Expos left fielder is a borderline candidate for Cooperstown, but so were the overwhelming majority of inductees from the past 10 years - a list that includes Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Rich Gossage, Wade Boggs, Ryne Sandberg, Jim Rice, Dennis Eckersley, Paul Molitor and now Barry Larkin. Fine ballplayers all, but a cut below true baseball legends like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Nolan Ryan, to name but a few of the indisputable giants of the game. More to the point, there's nothing tangible - statistically or otherwise - that separates Raines from most of the 21st century Hall of Fame inductees. Raines had drug issues early in his career, but Alomar spit in an umpire's face and Boggs is a famously admitted adulterer, so apparently character is not an issue.
I'm not saying the rest of them aren't worthy of Cooperstown, but if they belong, so does Tim Raines.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Protest fizzles as Habs win


As much racket as the relative handful of anti-English demonstrators made before Saturday's Canadiens game (and let's not kid ourselves - they're as anti-English as they are pro-French), no one was complaining after the Canadiens beat Tampa Bay 3-1 with an English coach, an English goaltender and three English goal scorers. The sentiments of the vast majority of Bell Center fans were reflected in the garbage cans full of Quebec flags that were ditched almost as soon as they were handed out by protest organizers...It was nice testament to modern hockey's cultural diversity when 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series heroes Vladislav Tretiak, Yvan Cournoyer and Paul Henderson were honored before the opening faceoff. Three hockey legends, all from different ethnic and even political backgrounds, united by history and forever friends. Stick that dans ta pipe et fume ca...Stand by for the most over-hyped game of the season tomorrow night when Jaroslav Halak and the Blues visit the Bell Center. The jury on the Halak trade came in over a year ago, but the St. Louis game is still being built up as if Halak and Carey Price both have something to proof. If anything, the Canadiens should start Peter Budaj tomorrow and give Price another two day's rest before Thursday's game in Boston...What if God really is a sports fan and takes weekends off from war, famine and pestilence to watch football with His son and cheer for Tim Tebow and the Broncos? The Tebow haters really need to live and let live, get over their own fear of faith and just enjoy the show.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Canadian fans check their dignity at the door (again)


If you're looking for a gushing tribute to Canadian heart, grit and resolve in the wake of last night's near-miracle comeback at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Calgary, you're going to have to look someplace else. This is going to be about the darker side of the Canadian character, which almost invariably reveals itself in hockey arenas, as it did last night at the Saddledome, where a sellout crowd booed Russian captain Evgeny Kuznetsov after he was named Russia's player of the game for racking up a hat trick in a 6-5 semi-final win over Canada.
Kuznetsov's transgression, apparently, was two-fold: 1. he put his money where his mouth was by backing up his pre-game boasts about beating Canada, and 2. his celebrations crossed the line into showboating, although he was no more exuberant than Czech goaltender Peter Mrazek, whose celebratory antics in a round robin win over the US were embraced by Canadian fans and media as a wonderful demonstration of a young man's pride and passion. But Canadian hockey hubris and hypocrisy are such that pride and passion become disrespect on the part of anyone who dares show anything but the utmost deference towards the self-proclaimed greatest hockey nation in the world, which by the way hasn't won a junior championship since 2009.
To be sure, Kuznetsov wasn't a model of humility during the tournament and didn't distinguish himself last night by mocking the crowd in return, but he's 19 years old. You're 144, Canada. What's your excuse?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

McGuire the wrong man for the job


It wasn't enough for Pierre Gauthier to throw Randy Cunneyworth under the bus the first time. The Canadiens general manager was compelled to back the Greyhound over his interim coach once more for good measure yesterday, when Gauthier publicly apologized - ostensibly to Canadiens fans - for hiring a unilingual anglophone coach.
So, Gauthier's not sorry that he signed a chronically injured defenceman who has yet to play a game since getting a 17-plus million dollar contract last summer, or that he wasted a year and countless millions before re-signing Josh Gorges to a long-term deal, or that he exacerbated the Canadiens salary cap crisis by trading for Tomas Kaberle, but he feels shame that he offended a handful of insufferable zealots whose agenda has nothing to do with hockey and everything to do with politics.
Those misguided priorities should be all the proof anyone needs that Gauthier is not the right architect for year 10 of the Canadiens 5 year rebuilding plan, but anyone who's part of the groundswell of support for Pierre McGuire as Gauthier's successor should be careful what they wish for.
McGuire is bilingual and has an encyclopedic knowledge of hockey, but there's a lot more that goes into being a GM than speaking two languages and being Rain Man with names and numbers. There's a reason McGuire's career as a hockey executive has been stalled since 1996. He's an unpredictable and extremely polarizing personality. You either love him or hate him, and he either loves you or hates you. Someone who's difficult to deal with by nature isn't the best person to be negotiating contracts with player agents or trades with other general managers.
In the 15 years since he last worked for an NHL team, Pierre McGuire has forged a highly successful broadcasting career, and everyone's interests - his own included - would be best served if he remained in the media, where an unpredictable and polarizing personality is an asset rather than a liability.