Sports Week In Review – 1/7/2012

It’s a bright, shiny new year- fresh out of the box and (so far, at least) in perfect working order. I wonder how long it’ll take us to thoroughly booger things up …

Because a new year represents a new beginning, I’m hoping that we’ll quickly figure out how to make 2013 better than 2012. I can only speak for myself, so I thought I’d burn a few brain cells reflecting on what I’ve learned so far.

I know; it’s early … but I hate repeating mistakes. If I’m going to screw up- and it’s only a matter of time- I’d much rather make some brand-new mistakes.

What have I learned over the first few days of 2013? I’m glad you asked …

Speed kills: It took all of 12 seconds for De'Anthony Thomas to give America a glimpse into the future of college football. Thomas took the Fiesta Bowl’s opening kickoff to the house virtually untouched, crossing the goal line like a sprinter breasting the tape at the finish line. Not surprisingly, Thomas IS a sprinter and a member of Oregon’s track team. His kickoff return confirmed that speed is where the future lies. An athlete can lift weights to grow larger and stronger, train to become quicker or jump higher, but speed’s innate- you either have it or you don’t. And DAT, like so many Ducks players, has it. It’s called the “blur” offense for a reason, no?

It’s still too early to tell how this sort of blinding speed translates to the NFL (see James, LaMichael), but DAT represents the direction college football is heading. As more teams mimic Oregon’s “blur” offense, speed will inevitably become an increasingly valuable quality during the recruiting process.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: How many FBS teams have you seen running various flavors of “hurry up” offenses this bowl season? No team does it better than Oregon, which is why the Ducks’ success hasn’t gone unnoticed. The days of the “I formation” or the “Wishbone” are behind us (check your history books, kids).  The future will be about three things: speed, speed, and yet more speed.

Speed wears out defenses, and if you’ve ever been an athlete, you know that fatigue makes cowards of us all. Snapping the ball every 13 seconds or so, as Oregon’s offense does, will quickly wear out your average 300+-lb. lineman. With defenses struggling to adjust to offenses run at warp speed, coaches will need to reconsider the types of athletes they recruit for their defense. The prototypical defensive player will probably look much different in a few years. Fat, immobile linemen are on their way to becoming dinosaurs (no pun intended); before long, players will live and die by their athleticism and 40-yard dash times.

As with any successful idea, teams and defenses will eventually adapt and force offenses to devise something new and different. College football will continue to evolve as athletes become faster, stronger, and more athletically gifted. We’ll see 18- to 22-year-old men do things on the field that previous generations couldn’t have dreamed of.  Fans will be left to marvel at what astonishingly gifted, highly trained young men are capable of … and this edition of the Ducks will seem plodding and immobile by comparison.

It’s easy to enjoy watching teams aspiring to reach the standard set by Chip Kelly’s Ducks. Who’d have thought 15-20 years ago that we might ever credibly use “gold standard” and “Oregon football” in the same sentence? Not so very long ago, Eugene was to college football what Novosibirsk is to Conde Nast.

EVERYBODY loves success: Despite Chip Kelly’s admirable efforts to focus on the Fiesta Bowl and tune out distractions, rumors of his departure for the NFL have been legion. Pundits (Latin for “geeks with WAY too much time on their hands”) have had him going to Buffalo … no, Cleveland … no, it’s Philadelphia … no, it’s back to Eugene- all based on rumor, innuendo, and unfounded speculation. I suspect Kelly enjoyed watching the media spinning furiously in an effort to divine his future- all while he focused on coaching his Ducks.

With the season behind him, Kelly’s openly entertained offers from downtrodden NFL teams.  No one should blame him for seriously considering the challenge coaching in the NFL represents. In his four seasons at Oregon, Kelly’s teams were 46-7 while winning three straight BCS bowl games. The only thing he hasn’t achieved is a BCS championship- not a bad resume for an ambitious coach.

Despite the teachings of Gordon Gekko, greed is NOT good: For the second time in eight years, an NHL season came distressingly close to being flushed down the toilet. Commissioner Gary Bettman’s “I’m the parent, you’re the child” negotiating style was about to wipe out the 2012-13 season. No reasonable person doubted his resolve; he did the same thing in 2004-05. Unfortunately for the NHL, few fans outside Canada seem to have noticed- or care. “The coolest game on Earth” was in the fast lane on the expressway to irrelevance.

A quick question: How many of you noticed- or even cared- that there’s been no NHL hockey? I thought as much….

At 2am PST Sunday, Bettman announced a tentative agreement that should end the lockout and save the 2012-13 season. After a final 16-hour negotiating session, the NHL and its players are about to save their fans from the void most hadn’t noticed to begin with.

“The Kontinental Hockey League- it’s FANtastic” doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it? Given the mind-bending intransigence displayed by both sides, it looked like the KHL was about to become the best- and only- option for world-class hockey players.

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t doing cartwheels over a potential SKA St. Petersburg- Ak Bars Kazan matchup in the KHL finals. OK, so there’s the heart-warming story of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s return to form. Sixteen months after the entire team and coaching staff perished in a plane crash, Lokomotiv is not only back, they’re a playoff contender.

As wonderful as that story is, I didn’t want the KHL to be my one and only choice. I’d bet that most American hockey fans would agree with me (Is a CFL game an exciting substitute for NFL football? Exactly). If you live north of the 49th Parallel, I suspect Hockey Night in Canada coming to you from Magnitogorsk wasn’t going to rock your world. I watched a KHL game on ESPN several weeks ago and couldn’t get past the first period. ESPN stopped broadcasting KHL games almost as quickly as they started. Evidently I wasn’t the only one bored to the point of narcolepsy.

(Don’t even THINK about mentioning the American Hockey League. Regardless of how beautiful Binghamton, NY, Hershey, PA, or Portland, ME, may be this time of year, it’s still minor league hockey.)

The good news is that I don’t need to brush up on my rudimentary Russian or wait for ESPN to come up with clever ads for KHL games:

“Borscht- It’s what’s for dinner!”  Nope … still not going to sit though games played somewhere in the Gulag Archipelago.

There are several Winterhawks with legitimate NHL talent and aspirations. I suspect they’ve been wondering where (or if) they might play professionally. With both sides rushing headlong towards mutually assured destruction and about to ashcan the 2012-13 season, things looked grim. Ty Rattie and his draft-eligible teammates could have been forgiven for buying English-Russian dictionaries and trying to develop a taste for cabbage and vodka.

Bettman had set January 11th as a drop-dead date for even a truncated 48-game season to be played. Five days from employing his “nuclear option,” Bettman finally found common ground with the NHLPA and embraced something close to sanity. Yay…can’t you just feel the excitement?? How about the sarcasm??

When it comes to the NHL, “sanity” is not a word that immediately leaps to mind. The new labor agreement won’t change that. I’d bet my first-born child (if I had one) that we’ll be back here in a few years.

Pro tip: If you’re a 12-year-old with dreams of playing professional hockey, I have some advice for you: learn Russian. And learn to love cabbage.

The Trail Blazers are a crummy bet: I’ve written about this before, but it bears mentioning again. The Blazers, all youth, potential, and enthusiasm, are the very definition of inconsistency. They’re fun to watch, but they manage to regularly test the patience of their rabid fan base. No one has any idea what to expect from night to night.

The next time you’re thinking of betting on the Blazers, consider their recent road trip. Over the course of the first five days of the New Year, the Blazers

1.      Ran the Knicks out of Madison Square Garden,

2.      Were thoroughly embarrassed in Toronto just 24 hours later,

3.      Relied on tough, hard-nosed defense for a well-deserved win in Memphis, and

4.      Held off a furious Timberwolves rally to win in Minneapolis.

A 3-1 road trip is nothing to sneeze at … but they could easily lay an egg against a team like Cleveland or Washington at home. Some nights the Blazers look like a play-off caliber team capable of doing serious damage in the postseason. Then there’s the team that looks every bit as inspired as Our Lady of Perpetual Motion Junior High’s JV team. Which team will show up on a given night is anyone’s guess.

This season’s destined to be a long, strange trip. The future looks bright, the present …maybe not quite so much. For now, let’s be thankful this talented but raw Blazer team is far removed from Zach Randolph, Darius Miles, and the “Jail Blazers” era. (I do kinda miss the surprisingly creative means Isaiah Rider employed to get his minimum daily requirement of weed.)

Enjoy the ride. Celebrate the moments of over-achievement. Endure the nights when the Blazers look like the Second Coming of the Washington Generals … but remember to focus on this young team’s potential. Be optimistic; buy yourself some dark sunglasses. With any luck you’ll need them soon.

I hope that 2013 will prove to be a better year for all of us. In the meantime, keep your chin up- the Timbers first preseason game is less than three weeks away.      


About Arran Gimba