Monday, January 30, 2012

End The All-Star Games

Brandon Marshall set a Pro Bowl record with four touchdown catches in Honolulu. It's not something about which he should be proud.

The latest Pro Bowl, a 59-41 win by one side over the other (don't ask me which conference won, I'm still numb) should once and for all prove the need to kill off the Pro Bowl. And while you're at it, put a fork in the NHL All-Star Game too (the 12-9 final score in Sunday's game doesn't even begin to tell you how silly the whole thing was).

The problem with these games is that they don't fairly represent their exciting sports. Pro football and NHL hockey feature hard hitting and, yes, defense. You won't see any of that in the Pro Bowl or NHL All-Star Game. I do note that this year's NHL folly produced exactly one recorded hit. I'm guessing it was a mistake on someone's part.

If you love football or hockey, you'll have to agree. "But," some will argue, "it's fun to watch those great quarterbacks and receivers throw for all those yards!" Well, yeah, but when the defense isn't really playing defense, does it matter?

Once upon a time, these games looked like real football and hockey games. Players didn't earn so much money, and the bonus they got for playing made them willing to play hard. Now, no sane player wants to risk injury in a meaningless exhibition.

The baseball All-Star Game is the granddaddy of these contests and, despite the tendency in recent years of some players to skip the event, still the only one that really works. It's easy to see why: baseball players seldom get hurt in this game (I know, Ray Fosse and Dizzy Dean prove otherwise; both suffered career-altering injuries in All-Star games). The baseball All-Star Game provides a full display of the sport's magic: pitching, hitting, defense, baserunning.

The NBA puts on a scorefest every year that falls somewhere between the fairly-pure baseball event and the putrid NFL and NHL embarrassments. There's not much defense at your typical NBA All-Star Game either, but then many would argue there's not that much at a typical NBA regular-season game.

My guess is that the Pro Bowl will be gone sooner rather than later. NFL conscience John Madden tells KCBS he'll soon be making exactly that pitch to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. There's really no constituency to stick up for the Pro Bowl; even the TV networks accept it as a sort of mandatory throw-in, something they have to swallow so they can get the rest of the broadcast rights package.

The NHL situation is different. A league that remains incapable of getting rid of ritualized fighting has already shown itself to be well short of clueless. Of course, maybe there's some weird logic here: the stat sheet for the NHL All-Star Game showed zero penalty minutes...and zero fights.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Phenomenon

He's more than a quarterback, although some argue he's not really a quarterback.

Tim Tebow is actually a living, breathing, funky-throwing Rorschach test. What you see in him probably tells us more about you than it does about him.

The latest improbability, Denver's overtime defeat of the Steelers, doesn't merely add a layer to the Tebow legend. It means at least another week of national attention. It lets all those who revel in Tebow's exploits exult, and lets the bile rise further in those who just can't stand Tebow and/or all the attention he's gotten.

Let's not kid ourselves for a single moment: if it wasn't for the Christianity he wears on his sleeve, Tim Tebow would garner far less attention. He'd still be an interesting thing to watch: an exuberant kid with an unusual skill set whose play is alternately frustrating and exhilarating.

But you can't escape the religion thing. For some, it makes Tebow their guy, even if they never knew Denver had a football team. For others, there's a profound discomfort in listening to Tebow praise his Lord and talk about how lucky he is to play with so many great guys.

This "Tebow's great!" vs. "I can't stand that guy!" debate is not very much about football, but very much about our conflicted feelings regarding faith and the public display of it. What you see in Tim Tebow reflects your own beliefs.

I've had people tell me that the media created the Tebow phenomenon. Baloney. Tim Tebow is a spectacle you can't ignore (and we would have ignored it if the Broncos had gone 5-11), but what makes the thing so big is the debate.

Look at that photo again. What do you see?