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I don’t want to write this column. I’d rather write about LSU-Bama from Baton Rouge, reflect on the Red Sox’s fourth title in my lifetime or break down another week of Connor McDavid showing his otherworldly speed and skill against the best hockey players in the world. But in light of recent events on a campus about 20 miles on the Beltway from where I grew up, it seems impossible to talk about anything else.
In September of 1992, a young Brett Favre replaced injured fan-favorite Don “Majik Man” Majkowski and led the Green Bay Packers to a come-from-behind victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. From that point on, whether in Favre or his successor Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have had one of the three best quarterbacks in football. And yet, during that time, Green Bay has brought just two titles home to Title Town, the same number earned by the Baltimore Raven duo of Trent Dilfer and Joe Flacco. Obviously, there are more variables at work here than just one position, but the simple fact is the Packers have failed to leverage the National Football League’s steadiest quarterback situation over the past 30 years into the kind of consistent championship level success one would probably expect.
On Saturday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers slugged their way past the Milwaukee Brewers to clinch the National League Pennant and set the stage for a World Series match-up with the Red Sox, beginning on Tuesday night in Boston. For Major League Baseball, it seems hard to imagine a better match-up. You have the massive Los Angeles market going up against the Red Sox and their vast national fan base: two of the league’s most storied and wealthy franchises getting together in baseball’s biggest event.
At the tail end of a sunny fall afternoon in Eugene, the Oregon Ducks executed a seldom seen play, the old fashion double ice. As regulation waned, first-year Ducks’ coach Mario Cristobal called not one but two timeouts in an attempt to freeze University of Washington kicker Peyton Henry. Henry, in whom Washington coach Chris Peterson had just enough faith to try from 37 yards with seconds to go in a tie game, entered the game seven for 10 on the season with a long of just 31 yards. After Cristobal signaled for the first timeout and the referees whistled the play dead, Washington proceeded with the snap, hold and kick. Whether they legitimately could not hear the whistle due to the din of the Autzen Stadium crowd or just wanted a practice attempt (as any kicking unit getting “iced” ought to) is indeterminable. Henry missed his practice try at the field goal. As he lined up for his second chance, Cristobal called his final timeout. Again, Washington executed snap, hold and kick after the whistle. On his second practice attempt, Henry converted. One-for-two on dress rehearsals, Henry lined up for his third go-round, this time knowing with relative certainty that it would be the attempt of record. The kick wobbled wide right, and the game wore on into overtime.
He and his teammates line up, arms around one another’s shoulders. Fireworks erupt behind NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who begins to speak. The speech feels agonizingly long — in reality, it is a hair under a minute until he says, “Alex Ovechkin, it’s your honor.” Ovechkin disentangles himself from the row of Capitals; as he skates toward Bettman, he turns back to his teammates, pumping his arms and offering the first of many celebratory shouts. He and Bettman shake hands awkwardly; Bettman says something in Ovechkin’s ear, to which he does not respond. The moment his hands touch the Cup, Ovechkin begins to shake. He lets out another cry and finally, finally, lifts the Stanley Cup.
The opening weeks of the National Football League season have been dominated by one storyline. It isn’t blossoming young quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff, it isn’t the Browns finally winning a game and it isn’t the slow start by the greatest franchise of the salary cap era. For the early weeks of the NFL season, we have been unable to talk about anything but the suddenly rampant “roughing the passer” flags.
Sticking to Sports: What is going on in Pittsburgh?
If you were to ask college football fans across the country, “Which fan base is least realistic about the current state of its program?” I’d be willing to bet one school would come up significantly more often than any other — the University of Michigan. The Wolverines boast one of the most impressive resumes in college football: the most wins in the country, 42 Big Ten Championships, 11 National Championships and three Heisman Trophy winners. However, much of this success dates to an era long since bygone. One doesn’t have to think very hard to come up with differences between today’s game and that of 1901, when Fielding Yost led the program to a perfect season and outscored opponents 550 to zero.
At the end of every season, regardless of the sport, pundits sit down and analyze the postseason, seeking to identify playoff trends that might inform the coming regular season. This process tends to lead to lots of articles in the vein of “How the Atlanta Falcons’ Super Bowl Run Changed the National Football League.” On the heels of last year’s Major League Baseball playoffs, these articles tended to focus on the Cleveland Indians’ bullpen, especially lanky left-hander Andrew Miller. If you don’t believe me, The Ringer, in its coverage of last year’s playoffs and this year’s season preview, published articles entitled “The Indians and Andrew Miller Are Reshaping How We Think About Elite Reliever Usage,” “It Might Be Miller Time at a Ballpark Near You: Searching for Every MLB Team’s Andrew Miller” and “Welcome (Maybe) to the Next Phase of Baseball’s New-Look Reliever Age.”
Yesterday, on Sunday Night Baseball, the New York Yankees retired Derek Jeter’s number two, ensuring that the legacy of its soon-to-be Hall of Fame shortstop does not soon fade — as if anyone could possibly forget that career — and that no Yankee will wear a single-digit jersey again. (One and three through nine are also retired. If you want to take a journey through the history of baseball, try to remember who wore each of those jerseys.)
Last week, I told you about the burgeoning feud between Manny Machado and the Boston Red Sox. Well this week, a four-game set at Fenway Park between the Sox and Machado’s Baltimore Orioles did little to ease the tension between the two ball clubs.
It started with a slide by Manny Machado, an ugly slide to be sure, on Friday, April 21. What followed was a war of words between the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox that crescendoed when Matt Barnes’ pitch narrowly missed Machado’s head two games later. As is the case whenever teams exact vigilante justice by throwing at an opponent, a conversation on baseball’s unwritten code of conduct ensued.
The infield shift, once reserved for elite hitters, has become ubiquitous in professional baseball. In 2016, FiveThirtyEight called the shift “this decade’s defining baseball tactic.” As teams tap deeper into the analytics well, they have taken to using spray charts — diagrams indicating where a given batter tends to hit balls — to determine hitters’ tendencies and to adjust their fielders in response.
By now, the baseball and sporting worlds are both familiar with Bryce Harper. He was introduced to the world as a 16-year-old high school student anointed by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci as “baseball’s LeBron.” He debuted in the majors in 2012 at just 19 years old. The chosen one had arrived. Now 24, Harper has piled up the accolades: National League Rookie of the Year, an NL MVP award, a Silver Slugger and four trips to the All-Star Game. In 2015, Harper became what he’d always been advertised as, a true superstar. That was his MVP season, but it came during an underachieving 83-79 season for his Washington Nationals.
0 for 4, 0 hits, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts. That is Kyle Schwarber’s stat line from the 2016 regular season. Schwarber, an Indiana University product, played just two games last season before tearing the ACL and LCL in his left knee in a collision with Dexter Fowler in left-center field. If you don’t understand why Chicago Cubs brass is so high on Schwarber, consider the following: .412, .500, .471. That is Schwarber’s slash line from the 2016 World Series, stats the Ohio native accrued after playing no pro baseball between early April and late October. When asked before Game 1 of the Fall Classic began when he thought he might be able to return to the Cubs lineup, Schwarber responded “about six days ago.”
If you need a couple reasons to be excited for the future of baseball (and, trust me, there are plenty of them), consider the shortstop position.
Bob Whalen officially entered his 28th campaign at the helm of Big Green baseball in late February when the team began its annual southern sojourn to escape the New England cold and kick off its season. During his tenure, the Big Green has taken home two Ivy titles, as well as 11 Red Rolfe Division crowns, and sent 26 players into professional baseball. This year’s team is looking to continue in that winning tradition.
As spring training signals the open of the 2017 season, Major League Baseball is once again embroiled in a controversy regarding its relationship between its past and present. Last year, Bryce Harper began his “Make Baseball Fun Again” campaign, critiquing the uptight, traditionalist baseball establishment that limited a player’s ability to express himself. Harper expressed a resentment for the “tired” nature of the game and hoped to see more players express themselves through their style of play. This season, everyone affiliated with the game is caught up in the issue of the pace of play. The consensus is that baseball games take too long and need to be streamlined to attract new and younger fans.
Well, it’s February, and, once again, the Washington Capitals are head and shoulders above the rest of the teams in the National Hockey League. In fact, the Capitals have the second most points in the league, have only lost three times in 2017 and have scored five or more goals in 11 consecutive home games. Furthermore, they are at the top of every NHL power rankings. They lead the league in Hockey-Reference.com’s “Simple Rating System,” which rates the relative strength of every team in the NHL. They are second in goals against average and rank among the best in the league on the power play and penalty kill. With this much success, how could the Capitals possibly lose?