Thursday, January 30, 2014

Even for the morally superior crowd, security trumps all in Sochi


   Imagine working your entire life to get somewhere, and feeling entirely at risk once you got there. 
   That's the conundrum facing Olympic athletes ahead of the Winter Games in Sochi, where the threat to personal safety is unlike anything in Olympic history.  The massacre in Munich in 1972 and the 1996 Atlanta bombing are bloody precedents, but those attacks took security forces completely by surprise.  The threat in Sochi is overt and palpable, especially in the immediate aftermath of two suicide bombings that killed 34 people in Volgograd, which were only the latest incidents in a long and blood-soaked Islamic jihad against the Russian federation.    
   The upside of President Vladimir Putin's iron-fisted rule is that security in Sochi will be unprecedented.  Even liberal western media pundits who decry Russian society's overwhelming support for Putin's anti-gay propaganda laws are happily placing themselves in the bosom of the same sinister security apparatus that enforces those laws.  Moral convictions can be surprisingly flexible when personal courage is put to the test. 
   The irony, for better or worse, is that Sochi will probably be the safest Olympics since the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, and we all know who was running THAT show.   Police states aren't usually nice places to visit and you definitely wouldn't want to live there, but in rare circumstances, they can provide cold comfort.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The NFL's annual acid trip

   It's Super Bowl Media Day - an annual spectacle in which hundreds of media normally unaffiliated with the NFL check their dignity at the stadium press entrance and turn what was originally designed as a day of serious sports journalism into a Fellini-esque festival of good-natured self-degradation.  The legitimate sports media still go about their business, but are inevitably upstaged by or even end up reporting on industry interlopers whose outrageousness eclipses anything actually football-related.
   The most infamous Media Day stunt dates back to 2008, when a Mexican TV reporter showed up in a wedding dress and asked New England quarterback Tom  Brady to marry her.  Other stunts have included a kid from Nickelodeon conducting interviews in full super hero regalia, a reporter in a
clown costume playing rock/paper/scissors with members of the Baltimore Ravens and a blogger covering Media Day while surreptitiously high on LSD, which probably made the entire affair seem quite normal to him.  For the most part, players and coaches tolerate the lunacy, and some even embrace it - either on their own initiative or by indulging the dozens of bizarre questions and requests thrown their way by shameless self-promoters looking for their 15 minutes of fame.
   For football and media purists, Super Bowl Media Day is anathema, but as long as it's good for a few laughs and no one gets hurt, you might as well roll with it, because it's well-entrenched as part of the week's festivities.
   Stiil, it tests the limits of credulity to imagine Vince Lombardi reacting favourably when asked to recite the Green Bay playbook in Pig Latin by a guy dressed as a taco.  

Monday, January 27, 2014

"Warriors" my white, freckly ass


When a team starts to go through the motions the way the Canadiens have mailed it in the past couple of weeks, the default analysis is to say that they quit on the coach, but there's something more unbecoming to it than that.  They're quitting on each other, and that's a whole other level of unprofessionalism compared to throwing the coach under the bus.  It's popular in hockey circles to refer to the players as "warriors".  To a man, real soldiers will tell you that in a military combat setting, you don't fight for King and country - you fight for the guy next to you, and you do whatever it takes to support and protect each other, no matter the cost.  When you stop doing that, it's called cowardice, and whether they care to admit it or not, that's where the Canadiens are at .

Aside from the guys who ended up peeing in garbage cans because there weren't enough facilities to accomodate the beer-infused crowd at the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I haven't heard a single complaint about the NHL expanding its outdoor game schedule.  Saturday's Ducks-Kings game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and the Yankee Stadium spectacle featuring the Rangers and Devils in New York Sunday were unqualified marketing successes, with the remaining three outdoor games this season holding the same promise.  As much as Gary Bettman's legacy as NHL Commissioner is tarnished by toxic labor relations and routine work stoppages, he's been instrumental in putting the league and the sport on the map and enriching the owners and players like never before.

Wrap your head around this: Nashville's Eric Nystrom scores four goals Friday night but coach Barry Trotz leaves Nystrom on the bench for overtime and the shootout in a 5-4 loss to Calgary.  Stuff like that flies under the radar in Nashville, but in Montreal a lynch mob would form for Michel Therrien, were a lynch mob not already forming for Michel Therrien.

Here's a remarkable graphic that came up after Carmelo Anthony scored 62 points for the New York Knicks: Wilt Chamberlain holds the NBA record for the most games with 60 or more points; he did it 32 times.  Michael Jordan is a distant second with six games of 60-plus and Lebron James has never scored 60, yet the rhetorical standard for greatness among basketball fans and media seems to boil down to a debate between Michael and Lebron, with Wilt seldom if ever even getting lip service.  Of course, Chamberlain's legacy will forever be linked to lip service of another sort, based on his infamous claim of bedding 20 thousand women - not all at once, mind you, and definitely not all at once 32 times.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Calvillo shows Richard Sherman how it's done


    On a day when Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman was still being discussed and in some cases celebrated for his obnoxious tirade on live television,  Anthony Calvillo provided a welcome contrast in professional decorum at a news conference announcing his retirement from pro football.
   A lot of tears were shed among Calvillo and the other Alouettes VIPs in attendance, but it was appropriate emotion, unlike Sherman's childish  outburst at the end of the NFC Championship game.   The notion of Sherman's trash talk being a welcome break from the usual athlete cliches doesn't hold up to scrutiny, either in the big picture or in specific comparison to Calvillo.   During a 20 year CFL career, Calvillo rarely - if ever - resorted to cliches.  He's too thoughtful and passionate to be intellectually lazy, and his strength of character precludes him from losing his composure to anger or spite.
   It's easy to be an uncouth punk.   Staying on the high road is hard work.   For honour, dignity and unfailing professionalism,  Anthony Calvillo is in the same class as Jean Beliveau, and that's an infinitely higher class than the Richard Shermans of this world.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

Noted choke-artist reaches Super Bowl. Again.


Even before he put up club-record numbers in Denver's AFC Championship game win over New England, Peyton Manning was a lock for his fifth NFL Most Valuable Player Award,  but his season will be considered a failure unless Manning and the Broncos beat Seattle in the Super Bowl.  It's unfair, but that's always been the measure of Manning's legacy.  Four MVP awards, 10 All Pro nods and 13 Pro Bowl selections are consistently overshadowed by the fact that he has "only" one Super Bowl  ring (and yeah, he was the MVP in that game, too).  Manning might be the only guy in sports with nothing left to prove who still has something to prove, apparently.

Meanwhile, it would have been a nice gesture if Manning had yelled "Topeka", "Fargo" or "Council Bluffs" during some of his snap counts, just to reassure Middle America that he knows Omaha isn't the only city in the U.S. Midwest.

Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman's obnoxious outburst on live television at the end of the Seahawks' win over San Francisco should be required viewing for P.K. Subban's detractors.  Sherman's outrageous unprofessionalism and arrogance put Subban's perceived theatrics in their proper perspective.

Cue the shopworn media outrage over Saturday's line brawl in Vancouver, and the outrage is almost invariably limited to the media, because they need something to write and talk abut.  Find me one fan who left the arena or turned off the television in disgust when the Canucks and Calgary Flames sent out their respective goon squads for the opening faceoff, with predictable results.  I'm not endorsing the mayhem.  Just spare me the faux indignation and contrived hand-wringing.

Is it just me, or does Hockey Day in Canada get cornier every year, and have we at long last reached the point where Ron MacLean is officially more unhinged than Don Cherry?  Opening a 13-and-a-half hour broadcast with a sock on your head while wearing a kitchen apron and holding a pitchfork doesn't exactly set a credible tone.  The mundane anecdotes about smalltown Canadiana came across as dull and hoaky more than they fired the imagination.  The significant exception was Elliotte Friedman's tribute piece on the late Ace Bailey, which was sentimental without being maudlin, and only the latest demonstration that Friedman's elevation to MacLean's chair is overdue.

The liberal media's least favourite part of Hockey Day is when Cherry is unfailingly greeted by a standing ovation in whatever small or medium-sized community is hosting the event.  It's an unwelcome reminder to self-styled progressives in the big city that Cherry's old school values still carry a lot of clout in the Canadian heartland.

And in case you were wondering about how Joffrey Lupul got his name, his Dad's favourite TV show growing up was The Joffersons. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Markov Dilemma (not a Robert Ludlum novel)



Never mind the P.K. Subban negotiations. The most challenging contract scenario facing Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin involves the resurgent Andrei Markov, who's in the final season of a three year contract and reportedly wants a new five year deal at a substantial raise from his current salary of 5.75 million dollars. Markov's renaissance notwithstanding, that's a lot of money and term for a 35 year old with two reconstructive knee surgeries in his recent medical history, and creates a compelling story line ahead of the March 5th NHL trade deadline.

There's nothing like an electrifying win over the defending Stanley Cup champions to tone down an in-house controversy between the Canadiens coach and their best player...until the next time Michel Therrien benches P.K. Subban.  And there will be a next time because of the way Subban plays the game and the nature of Therrien's coaching style.  Therrien was well within his mandate to sit Subban for half the third period in Philadelphia last Wednesday, and anyone asking why you'd bench your best player with a two goal deficit also needs to ask why your best player would take a selfish, undisciplined penalty with his team down by two.  The cult of PK needs to understand and respect that just because he's a special talent doesn't make Subban unaccountable.

The Carolina Panthers and their fans can bellyache all they want about the officiating in yesterday"s NFC divisional playoff loss to San Francisco, but when you fail to punch the ball in from the one yard line on two separate possessions, you're the authors of your own misfortune. That's with all due respect to the 49ers defence, whose resiliency under duress was a reminder that while there's not much that's truly "heroic" about sports, the goal line stand is about as close as it gets.

Watching the Saints and Seahawks battle in a cold rain and biting wind in Seattle, it occurred to me that I can't recall watching a football game from CenturyLink Field when the weather wasn't inclement, if not downright appalling. I'm no climatologist, but didn't the Seahawks used to play in a domed stadium for a reason?

Whether it's his career home runs total or the length of his suspension for using performance enhancing drugs, the numbers are no longer relevant for New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez.  In any event, his reputation is ruined, and the Hall of Fame voting results for fellow PED enthusiasts Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire are proof enough that A-Rod is only going to Cooperstown as a tourist.

What an enormous relief to learn Lebron James had "King James" stitched onto the back of his Miami Heat jersey as part of the NBA's Nickname Night promotion and not as a sign of rampant egomania.  For the record, if my high school buddies had made the NBA and had their nicknames stitched onto their jerseys, the Heat's starting five would have been Zeke, Camel, Rat, Quiff and Pussy, with Crotch and Lurkey on the bench and ready to step in at a moment's notice.  I didn't have a nickname, much to the benefit of my fragile teenaged self-esteem and emotional well-being.  

I GOT A JOB: Meanwhile, in real life, I'm co-hosting the morning show at 89.9 KIC Country with James Java "Jacobs", my friend and former partner from K103.  I wasn't sure what I was getting into, but as a professional broadcaster you adjust to the format, and what an enormously pleasant surprise to discover that so much of modern country music is old school southern rock with a twang.  I've added some links to some of my favourite new songs.  If you like what you hear, give us a listen from 6-9am Monday-Friday at 89.9FM, online at http://899kic.com or at freestreams.com(search ckki).  Thanks to everyone who encouraged me between gigs.

THIS IS COUNTRY, APPARENTLY:

The South - The Cadillac Three

Ain't Much Left of Me - Blackberry Smoke

The Boys 'Round Here - Blake Shelton