Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Great Day For Hockey

You couldn't ask for more: that great Canadian anthem playing as the home team stood wearing shiny gold medals.

I suspect people will be talking about the 2010 Winter Olympic hockey competition for many years, and the gold-medal game was a classic. The gritty Team USA hung around long enough to force overtime by scoring with less than 30 seconds left in regulation. US goaltender Ryan Miller continued his superhuman play until the best player in the sport, Sidney Crosby, scored the overtime winner.

It's a cliche', but nobody lost in this one. Team USA served notice that American-born hockey players have achieved parity with the world's best. The home team gave Canada a final bit of sweetness to wrap up the Olympic fortnight. And we all got to see some pretty good hockey.

At its best, hockey is a game of awe-inspiring speed, balance, and toughness. When it degenerates into the kind of thuggishness that all too often prevails in the NHL, we might want to dust off our memories of Vancouver 2010. Hats off to the winners, and to the team that pushed Team Canada to the limit.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Miracle? Not Really

I'm reading headlines like "Miracle on Ice II" in the wake of the US Olympic hockey team's 5-3 victory over Canada.

Please. Everyone needs to take a deep breath, and maybe look at the history books.

The 1980 "Miracle on Ice" was a matchup between a bunch of American amateur and collegiate players and the powerful and experienced (and professional) Soviet national team. The Soviet roster included legendary players like Tretiak, Mikhailov, Kharlamov, Fetisov, and Makarov. The Americans? Well, only true puckheads knew any of those guys before that memorable day in Lake Placid. It was a truly epic victory, and to compare what happened in Vancouver with the Lake Placid shocker is absurd.

This 2010 game was certainly much-anticipated. And that fact alone tells you why the American victory wasn't exactly an epic shocker. Would people be paying thousands of dollars for tickets to watch a wipeout? Of course not.

Is the Canadian team better on paper? Well, of course. Crosby, Iginla, Thornton, Nash, Pronger, Boyle, Marleau, Heatley...the list goes on. The cream of the NHL crop. But the US roster is, unlike that 1980 group, all-pro as well.

That's the indisputable difference between 1980 and 2010. Then: our amateurs (real amateurs) against their "amateurs" (actually, full-time hockey players). Now: our NHL players against their NHL players.

Call it an upset. Shout "U-S-A, U-S-A" if you must. But please, don't call it a miracle. Not even close.

Friday, February 19, 2010

You Wouldn't Want To Be Him

Forget the silky swing. Ignore the endless wealth.

You don't want to be Tiger Woods.

I don't care how old you are, or how much money you have in the bank. Nobody wants to find himself standing in front of his mother while apologizing for behaving like a complete jerk.

Sincere? Scripted? I don't care one way or the other. If you're human, it has to be humbling to have to look at Mom while you tell the world you're sorry for cheating on the mother of your children, again and again and again.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

NBC = Now Broadcasting Cluelessly

Everyone likes to gripe about the tape-delayed Olympic coverage we seem to be force-fed every two years. Doesn't seem to matter whether the Games are Summer or Winter, on this continent or another, the Lords of Broadcasting persist in treating a spectacle of worldwide interest as if it's nothing more than another sitcom.

Maybe you could pull this off back when the world was less-wired than it is today. But now? When a friend at the finish line can shoot some video of the skier finishing the run and send it your way before the athlete finishes doing interviews? Absurd.

NBC's Vancouver coverage is particularly egregious because the company owns four networks (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, and USA). How much harm to its ratings would there be in showing the events live during the day and then repeating them at night? Virtually everyone either already knows the results by the time the pre-packaged prime time show comes around, or has studiously avoided media contact all day anyway.

The pathetic coverage of an event that many of us feel is the signature event of the Winter Games--the men's downhill--is a case in point. The downhill was postponed for a day because of bad weather, no doubt fouling up NBC's plans to show it on Sunday afternoon. So instead, on Monday, while Didier Defago won the closest battle in Olympic history (bronze medalist Bode Miller was only .09 second behind and 15 skiers finished within a second of the winner), NBC showed cross-country skiing. Lots of it.

If you wanted to experience the thrill of the downhill--well, you had to be alert to catch a brief chunk during the evening show. None of the drama of the actual event; just a canned replay of a couple of runs.

Meanwhile, acres of open airtime yawned on MSNBC, CNBC and USA.

Much has been made of the fact that NBC will lose money on these Winter Olympics. I have to wonder how much of that is due to the fact that the company has seen fit to pay for the rights--and then fail to show what it paid for. That's a real head-scratcher.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Take Me To The Mardi Gras...

Be honest. Unless your last name is Manning (and maybe even if it is...), or you live in Indiana, you were hoping--just a bit--that the Saints would win the Super Bowl.

We all knew it couldn't really happen. Somehow, Peyton the Magnificent would steal the show, and the Saints and their fans would hear the clock chime midnight.

But the world of sports did what it does just often enough to keep us coming back. The underdogs won. The sad/happy City of New Orleans is celebrating an impossible victory, just a few years after its impossible tragedy.

With all due respect to the amazing professionals who are the Colts, this game had to go this way. The storybook tale needed a storybook ending. The Saints may never get there again, but for as long as they're selling disgusting green drinks in weird plastic cups on Bourbon Street, this one will be the stuff of legend.

The Saints have won the Super Bowl. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Who Dat Gonna Mess With Dem Saints?

The NFL really, truly stepped in it this time.

This claim that the cry of New Orleans Saints fans ("Who dat say they gonna beat dem Saints?") is owned by the NFL is, of course, silly. But the NFL was perfectly happy to send out cease-and-desist letters to people selling "Who Dat" T-shirts in advance of the Super Bowl.

Predictably, the move triggered an uproar. Online petitions, Facebook groups, political rumblings, and so on. And now, the NFL says it didn't really mean to claim ownership of the phrase. It just wants unlicensed vendors to stop selling T-shirts that, well, have the Saints logo on them.

But that's a little tricky, too. Because the logo is the fleur-de-lis, the stylized lily that is ubiquitous in New Orleans. So if I whip up a T-shirt with a fleur-de-lis and the phrase "Who Dat", how have I infringed on any NFL trademarks?

Old-timers say the "Who Dat?" phrase has been used in New Orleans for a long time, certainly long before the Saints arrived on the scene. Same with the fleur-de-lis. Heck, if you really want to get picky, even the word "Saints" was in pretty common use in the Crescent City long before the NFL came to town.

We all get it: any big company (and the multi-billion dollar NFL is certainly a big company) has to protect its interests. Trademarks have value, and that value needs to be defended. If someone without an NFL license is selling shirts that literally rip off the Saints' name and logo and colors, the NFL has a right to go after them--whether the shirt says "Who Dat?" or not.

But to claim ownership of the fans' emotions? Dumb and short-sighted. If there's anyone in the NFL with a heart, the next press release will say the league has decided that "Who Dat?" is in the public domain, and may be used by anyone, anytime, any way.