Monday, February 02, 2015

Monday 2/2 Super Bowl Hangover Quickie

*The decision not to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch is the worst play call in the history of pro football.

*It's been a while since I went full-blown "instant history/hysteria," so it's nice to stretch my legs a bit. (That makes me more productive than Marshawn Lynch on the Seahawks' last offensive play of the season.)

*The justification for the "Worst. _____. Ever." siren is the combination of the stakes (Super Bowl championship), the moment (come-from-behind TD, virtually the final play of the game, coming after one of the greatest catches in NFL history) and the context (would have denied the Pats a title), the context (would have won a back-to-back title for Seattle) and the context (Lynch is the NFL's best RB).

*It's not enough to say "Worst play call in Super Bowl history" -- because it is the Super Bowl, that makes it vastly bigger than if the play call happened in, say, Week 6 (or even an earlier playoff round). It is the context that justifies the superlative.

*Looking for a reasonable/rational defense of the play call? Vox outlines a good one, but it comes with a worthwhile caveat about over-thinking it. (Let's also say that Malcolm Butler made a phenomenal play -- if that ball drops for an incompletion, it's very likely Lynch runs it in on one of the next two plays, and the history of the NFL is altered. That Butler was an undrafted rookie makes it all the more incredible.)

(Update: As always, read Bill Barnwell for a measured take on the situation.)

*All in all, it was as entertaining of a Super Bowl as you could have asked for.

*Postscript: The ads. It was basically a given that Budweiser would run away with the ad title, but improbable that Nationwide would be the ad "everyone is talking about," if only because of how grim it was. Personal favorite: Always' #LikeAGirl ad. (Notable: There were a LOT of "dad ads" -- I liked the Toyota Camry one. The Nissan one didn't speak to me at all.)

-- D.S.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday 1/13 Ohio State Champs Quickie

*First of all: I was totally wrong about Ohio State's worthiness for the college football playoff. Full stop.

*Urban Meyer is a Hall of Fame strategist and motivator. Obviously, I loved him when he was at Florida. I didn't sour on him like many Florida fans when he ended up at OSU -- I'm a long-time OSU-loather, so I disliked his location, not the coach. Also, you just knew he'd have OSU in position to win a title sooner rather than later -- ... yup. Three career titles is just a start, and there is no reason why Ohio State won't win next year, too. Prohibitive favorite, no matter who is at QB....

*But that is a fascinating question, isn't it? Cardale Jones had arguably the greatest season by a starting QB in the history of college football. He certainly had the best three-game stretch, a cannon-armed, fridge-sized load (ESPN's Tommy Tomlinson wins, for dubbing him a "vending machine"). He was the perfect QB for the past two games for Ohio State.

*And yet! JT Barrett was all-Big Ten (even better than preseason all-Big Ten QB Braxton Miller) and is arguably a better fit for Meyer's offense than Jones. Not "arguably" -- when given a choice earlier this season, Meyer picked Barrett over Jones and didn't look back.

*Returning to a favorite theme of mine: Jones should turn pro, not just because he can (which is always a pretty good reason to do it), but because he should -- he isn't getting more NFL-prepared from another season at Ohio State (and certainly not if he is subordinated to second-string). He will be a better NFL QB if he is taught by NFL QB coaches and participating in an NFL system. At the very least, he will make some money, both from his NFL contract and the inevitable endorsement deals that will come from being a favorite of LeBron James. And, oh yeah, he seems to have the biggest arm in college football -- even if no one knew it until a few weeks ago. (He won't turn pro, obviously, but it's a very interesting discussion, I think.)

*In the end, the inaugural College Football Playoff was a raging success. Just enough controversy about the selection process, which then played out epically with the controversial 4th team steamrolling the reigning SEC juggernaut, then the reigning nouveau-riche program (featuring the Heisman winner and presumptive No. 1 overall pick of the NFL Draft), which itself had steamrolled the unbeaten defending champs and its own former Heisman winner/presumptive top-ish draft pick.)

*Looking ahead to the 2015 playoff foursome, an early prediction: Ohio State, Oregon, Alabama, TCU.

-- D.S.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Friday 1/2/15 College Football Playoff Hangover Quickie

The inaugural college football playoff went better than I think anyone could have ever imagined:

*The defending (unbeaten) champ was vanquished in a fashion we haven't seen in a college football championship situation in 20 years (Tommie Frazier runs over Florida in 1995).

*The dynastic program (and conference) was vanquished by a team that many/most argued didn't even deserve to be in the field, coached by a conference ex-pat.

*It's as much -- possibly more -- about the losers (Florida State, Alabama) as it is about the winners (Oregon, Ohio State). Both games were amazing to watch.

*As many have pointed out, in the absence of the 4-team playoff, we would have gotten FSU and Alabama for the title -- this makes last night's outcomes even more amazing.

*And now we have "How Do You Stop the Ducks?" versus "Sure, Keep Doubting the Buckeyes."

*It seems like it'll be Oregon in a rout -- the inevitable conclusion to the Ducks' manifest destiny. But if Ohio State can out-muscle Alabama, there is certainly a "why not?" to the game.

*And we have the end of the mythology of the SEC -- certainly the 2006-2014 version. Critics of the SEC's haughtiness will point to New Year's Day 2015 for years.

*And we have the start of a glorious new era in college football, with a playoff system that produced drama-infused games and highly entertaining outcomes.

*I'll give the last word to Spencer Hall, who had a wonderful morning-after homily about what happened last night, concluding:

"This all happened in the same day, and let's never do this any differently, college football."

-- D.S.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

14 Great Sportswriting Reads for 2014

Back during the Quickish Era, my favorite thing was the year-end "best-of" sportswriting list -- the first one was in 2011 ("Quickish 11 for '11"), and it proved pretty popular...not to mention enjoyable to prepare.

You can't find that original list anymore, but the tradition lives on in '14. And the underlying sentiment extends into another year: Sportswriting has never been better.

To be sure: "14" is an absurd, artificial constraint; there are many more worthy entries*, as my overworked browser tabs and gut-busting Pocket account indicate.

Still, here are 14 of my favorite pieces of sportswriting this year -- listed alphabetically by author.

Katie Baker, Grantland: "The Cold Never Bothered Him Anyway" 

Chris Ballard, SI.com: "Twilight the Saga" 

Jane Coaston, EDSBS: "On Women and Sports" 

Bryan Curtis, Grantland: "Travonte's Party" 

Steven Godfrey, SB Nation: "Meet the Bag Man" 

Spencer Hall, SB Nation: "The Istanbul Derby" 

Amanda Hess, ESPN.com: "Just Cheer, Baby" 

Greg Howard, Deadspin: "The Big Book of Black Quarterbacks"

Sarah Marshall, The Believer: "Remote Control" 

Brian Phillips, Grantland: "Diamonds in the Rough" 

Paul Sonne and Anton Troianovski, Wall Street Journal: "Here's the Skinny on NBC's Olympic Latte Secret" 

Louisa Thomas, Grantland: "Together, We Make Football" 

Wright Thompson, ESPNFC.com: Sketches from the World Cup 

Don Van Natta, ESPN.com: "Jerry Football" 

* - Again, "14" is a dumb constraint and I lament the things I don't include as much as I enjoy the things I do. Here are a few under "Also Receiving Votes":

Chris Ballard, SI: "Haverford Oops"
Flinder Boyd, Newsweek: "The Birdman's Vengeful Ghost"
Flinder Boyd, FoxSports.com: "Run and Gun"
Jeremy Collins, SB Nation: "13 Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux"
Kathy Dobie, GQ: "The Undefeated Champions of Defeat City"
Jason Fagone, Grantland: "Dropped" 
David Fleming, ESPN.com: "Nothing to See Here"
Eva Holland, SB Nation: "Wilderness Women"
Jesse Katz, LA Magazine: "Escape from Cuba" 
Michael Kruse, SB Nation: "The Right Thing To Do Vs. The State of Florida"
Erik Malinowski, FoxSports.com: "Pitchman"
JR Moehringer, ESPN.com: "The Final Walk-Off"
Brian Phillips, Grantland: "Sea of Crises"
Alan Seigel, Sports On Earth: "Sabre Rattler"
Susan Shepard, SB Nation: "Double T's Last Ride"
Wright Thompson, ESPN.com: "Portrait of a Serial Winner"
Wright Thompson, ESPN.com: "Section O, Row 61"
Tommy Tomlinson, ESPN.com: "You Can't Quit Cold Turkey"
Wells Tower, GQ: "Who Wants to Shoot an Elephant?"
Seth Wickersham, ESPN.com: "30 Yards and Cloud of Dust"

And please feel free to tweet at me (@danshanoff) with any of your particular favorites. 

For other great year-end lists, check out these collections from Longreads, Longform, SB Nation, FoxSports.com's Erik Malinowski and ESPN's Kevin Van Valkenburg, and subscribe to Van Natta's weekly "reads" newsletter. Also, if you're curious, here is a link to last year's "13 for '13." Finally, sincere thanks for your support of this newsletter this year. Subscribe here.

Monday, December 08, 2014

12/08 Monday Quickie

*Alabama, Oregon, FSU, Ohio State: I'm with Spencer Hall on this.

*Madison Bumgarner is SI Sportsman of the Year: No quibbles. (Only because THE event of 2014 was the World Cup, I would give runner-up to Tim Howard.)

*NFL Sunday: The Super Bowl pairing is coming from the Pats, Seahawks and Packers.

*The two college hoops wins from the past week that I'm filing away for March: Duke over Wisconsin in Madison and Arizona over Gonzaga in Tucson.

*On a personal note, I am so saddened by the death of Olivia Barker, a standout USA TODAY reporter who was my journalism "protege" (as we liked to joke) back in high school. My deepest condolences go out to her family, friends and colleagues -- and especially her husband and 5-year-old son.

-- D.S.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

12/07 Final CFB Hangover Quickie

OK, so Alabama and Oregon are obvious for the college football playoff foursome.

FSU gets my vote - as much as I'd enjoy the schadenfreude - because I can't fathom an unbeaten defending national champ not making the playoff field. That's three.

That fourth spot -- the one that's going to get decimated by Alabama -- should not be Ohio State.

The Big Ten was a farce this season, and Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech, barely a bowl team. It's the worst loss among playoff contender resumes.

So it's down to TCU and Baylor, which is nearly impossible.

TCU has a slightly better overall resume; Baylor beat TCU head to head.

Here's where I net out, and I'll admit it's simplistic: What's the point, if the tiebreaker for extremely similar resumes isn't "Well, who won when they played each other?"

I know Baylor has engaged a PR firm -- to much derision -- to help lobby their case. That was a waste of money. I think it's a very simple message: "We played a playoff game with TCU and won."

(And I know I am clearly not discounting nearly enough that Baylor beat TCU in Waco, not in Fort Worth or on a neutral field. This wasn't a true playoff between the teams, like we got with Alabama-Mizzou, Oregon-Arizona, Ohio State-Wisconsin or FSU-Georgia Tech. TCU, of course, should simply sit tight with "You're right, Committee: Resume matters.")

Foursome I'd pick:
(1) Alabama
(2) Oregon
(3) FSU
(4) Baylor

But if the committee goes with TCU over Baylor, I won't be outraged. (Personally, I'd rather see TCU play Alabama or Oregon than see Baylor play Alabama or Oregon.)

I will be slightly more outraged if the committee decides to sidestep "TCU vs. Baylor" entirely and goes with Ohio State. That's just a cop-out, because OSU's resume is so flimsy.

And if they keep TCU and take Ohio State over FSU, I will merely chuckle at the inanity of it all. Ohio State fans in 2002 sure had no problem with "close wins in games they probably should've lost."

Foursome I think WILL be picked:
(1) Alabama
(2) Oregon
(3) TCU
(4) FSU

*I think the committee will punish Baylor for its seemingly soft strength of schedule (nevermind that Ohio State's CONFERENCE schedule was a joke).

*I can't see a scenario where they drop TCU from 3 to "out" after TCU destroyed a team they needed to destroy.

*I can't see a scenario where the committee excludes an unbeaten defending national champ for a team from a mediocre conference with a really ugly loss on their resume. (But it could happen!)

A few takeaways:

*This is still way better than a "clean" two-team decision that would have left us with Alabama and Oregon and not even a nominal discussion about the others. (Except maybe regional outrage about snubbing an unbeaten defending champ.)

*The problem with the "four team" solution isn't the argument at the margin; it's the way it basically locks in at the top. Here's what I mean:

If you give Alabama and Oregon and even Urban's Ohio State (in a Big Ten year that isn't beyond mediocre) an annual mulligan for that one fluky loss -- rather than having that fluky loss seemingly derail their title chances -- that will be three of your four playoff teams almost every year, short of FSU going unbeaten and crashing the party (which is unlikely in non-Jameis years). The worry is less about "Who gets snubbed?" than creating an enduring (and boring) three-team playoff oligopoly of Alabama-Oregon-Ohio State, thanks to a system that offers a built-in mulligan.

*We're getting an 8-team playoff sooner than you think.

*As always, post-selection sound and fury will signify nothing, and we'll all settle in for the novel three-game process to determine a national champ, of whom we will all universally recognize.

-- D.S.

Monday, December 01, 2014

12/01 Monday Mania Quickie

*If the college football season ended today (only one more week to say that!), my playoff foursome would be: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and TCU.

*If Baylor throttles Kansas State, I could see them jumping TCU. Have a hard time seeing Ohio State with a QB3 beating Wisconsin. The SEC has cannibalized itself.

*Absolutely on board with everyone else saying that yesterday's Pats-Packers game will end up being prelude to a Super Bowl rematch.

*I'm ready for the Johnny Manziel Era in Cleveland.

*Kobe!

*Hard not to imagine that Will Muschamp ends up as defensive coordinator at Auburn. (And probably too much to hope that Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze ends up at Florida.)

*Love Mo'Ne Davis being tabbed as SI for Kids' Sports Kid of the Year. (She's arguably worthy of Sports Person of the Year for Sports Illustrated, full stop.)

*By the way, SI For Kids is a phenomenal magazine. Not a great magazine -- a phenomenal one. If you have kids, it's a must-have.

*Great news for my friends at SB Nation and Vox Media about their big new funding round.

*This Chris Rock Q&A is as good as folks are saying.

-- D.S.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

11/27 Giving Thanks Quickie

Let's start with the usual caveat: This is a flimsy list of sports-related things I'm thankful for, specifically from this past year. (The "Big Things" I'm thankful for -- my family, my health, my friends, the life I get to lead -- go without question.) As always, this list is clearly incomplete:

*Mo'Ne Davis.
*Obsessive World Cup consumption.
*Madison Bumgarner in Game 7.
*Adam Silver's resolve.
*Becky Hammon's new gig.
*Michael Sam's moment.
*Russell Wilson.
*Richard Sherman's rant.
*Seeing UConn women's hoops in person.
*Florida's Final Four run.
*Watching Peak Spurs in June.
*Kevin Durant's MVP speech.
*Kliff Kingsbury at SXSW.
*Charlie Strong at Texas.
*Casper mattresses.
*Nuzzel (launched-in-2014 app I use most).
*Serial.
*Rooting for Paul Pierce (wait...what?)
*Northwestern beating Notre Dame.
*Two more teams for a college football playoff.
*Great sportswriting (Quickish 14 for 14 TBD).
*Watching my kids play sports.
*TinyLetter (Subscribe!)
*The Wizards' playoff run.

Most of all, thanks to you for your continued support of this blog, the newsletter and all of the other things I'm futzing around with. More than a decade after I first connected with many of you, I appreciate it more than ever.

-- D.S.

Monday, November 24, 2014

11/24 Monday Monday Quickie

*Yes, that Odell Beckham Jr. catch WAS the play of the year in the NFL and a wildly fun time on the internet last night.

*You can already see it coming: The CFB Playoff Committee will snub Mississippi State for "regional balance" -- probably Ohio State. Nevermind that the Big Ten is terrible this season.

*Look at the Red Sox: Hanley! And maybe Sandoval! (I'm not sure I'd pay Hanley that much money, but Sandoval feels like a solid pick-up.)

*My Wizards beating the Cavs on Friday night wasn't the revelation (although it was extremely fun to watch); it was my Wiz beating the Bucks the next night, a game they historically always lose.

*So intrigued by ESPN's over-the-top play with the Cricket World Cup. It'll be very successful, I'm betting. (But what does that even mean? I'm actually not so sure.)

*For those wondering why media companies have never created a successful social platform, I would ask them to remember that fantasy sports (via ESPN, Yahoo and CBS) have been pretty successful as social platforms. (If you want to quibble that ESPN's platform was built by Starwave, a hybrid media-technology company, I'll take your point - I lived it - but Starwave was closer to a media co than not.)

-- D.S.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

11/16 CFB Hangover Quickie

Four-team playoff if the season ended today:

*Alabama
*Oregon
*FSU
*TCU

It's hard for me not to give a second spot to an SEC team -- Mississippi State lost by 5 on the road at Alabama, the best team in the country. (It is crazy to think that Georgia is a confounding loss to Florida away from absolutely being in the playoff mix.)

The other contenders are flawed: FSU had trouble with Miami. TCU had trouble with Kansas, for god's sake. (Baylor beat Kansas by 46.) Oregon's best resume fodder (Arizona St) just lost to Oregon St. But if all three win out, they're in; they control their own fate.

Baylor and Ohio State are theoretically in the mix, but including them would undermine any claim that the playoff committee values "strength of schedule."

The murkiness at the top is (probably) good for the sport -- the only constant is that Alabama still rules. (And giving them a once-a-season mulligan only tilts things in their favor more.)

Next week's most consequential game: (The schedule sure doesn't look promising. Then again, you could have said the same thing about this week, except for the Alabama-MSU game.)

Two other notes:

*Northwestern shocks Notre Dame in South Bend: The Wildcats' 1995 win there was the most meaningful sports event of my lifetime. This one was not nearly as unlikely, but still -- extremely unlikely. It's a season-maker for Northwestern and an indictment of ND (and FSU?)

*Melvin Gordon: As someone who loves superlatives, being able to watch (or flip over to) a player setting the single-game rushing record was pretty awesome. What Wisconsin has done at running back over the past 20 years is remarkable.

Enjoy a high-quality NFL Sunday.

-- D.S.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

11/09 CFB Hangover Quickie

If the season ended today:

*Mississippi State
*TCU
*Alabama
*Oregon

With FSU at No. 5. (Obviously, that's an "at least for me" projection -- FSU is in the Top 4 "for real" until/unless they lose, which they aren't/won't.)

I suppose that if you wanted to expand it a bit, you'd say that the fairly clear-cut playoff foursome is:

*Mississippi State-Alabama winner next week (but MSU could still lose to Ole Miss and Alabama could still lose to Auburn).

*Florida State, presuming a win over Duke (!) and Florida (!!).

*TCU, which should roll through the rest of the season.

*Oregon, presuming a win over Arizona State in the Pac-12 title game (although that win at home over Michigan State suddenly isn't as amazing as it was last week).

And, consequently, my preseason scenario plays out:

The Playoff Committee gets the "regional balance" it so desperately wants, more than anything else.

In the process, the committee snubs the SEC by penalizing its runner-up for playing a schedule far more difficult than the one faced by other contenders.

-- D.S.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

11/02 CFB Hangover Quickie

That Ole Miss ending...just brutal.

They are as good of a 2-loss team as you will ever find, and if schedule strength really mattered to the playoff selection committee Ole Miss (lost by 7 points combined AT LSU and AT Auburn) would qualify for 5th place, which is entirely ceremonial.

If I had a playoff committee vote this week:

(1) Mississippi State
(2) Auburn
(3) Oregon
(4) Kansas State-TCU winner

Let's be real: There is no way Florida State isn't No. 2 in the next playoff seeding, and they have a clear path to an unbeaten season and a cakewalk into the playoff. Hope they enjoy it.

A quick word about Florida romping Georgia: In 13 seasons as a Florida football fan, I have never been so gobsmacked over a result.

Today's best in the NFL: Broncos-Patriots, obviously. Everything else is fantasy fodder.

-- D.S.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

10/30 Bumgarner Quickie

*Madison Bumgarner: The greatest pitcher in World Series history, full stop.

(Love this from McCovey Chronicles' Grant Brisbee.)

*Russell Westbrook: As scintillating of a solo act as we expected him to be.

*Louisville beating Florida State tonight: Well, theoretically.

*Rachel Sklar's Medium piece: "I'm 41, single, and pregnant."

*Tim Cook.

-- D.S.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

10/26 CFB Hangover Quickie

Loving the 9:30 NFL Kickoff as a novelty. Wouldn't necessarily want this as a West Coaster every weekend...

*Here's my playoff foursome:

Mississippi State
Ole Miss
Alabama
TCU

Here's why I cannot fathom including Oregon but not Ole Miss -- Ole Miss just lost on the road to a ferocious team (that is particularly ferocious at home); Oregon lost at home to a flimsy Arizona team, giving up points left and right.

Here's why I cannot fathom including Michigan State but not Alabama (or Ole Miss) -- strength of schedule. I give MSU credit for playing Oregon tough on the road (but not as tough as flimsy Arizona, apparently), but Michigan State's conference schedule is a joke.

Here's why I cannot fathom including Florida State but not TCU -- strength of schedule, again. FSU has a single marquee win, over Notre Dame (barely, and that was in Tallahassee). TCU had trouble with two of the nation's best offenses, and otherwise has seen much tougher comp.

If Oregon, Michigan State and Florida State are going to be dropped into the Playoff Foursome just because of their W-L record and gaudy numbers against flimsy opponents, can we skip any pretense that "strength of schedule" matters?

I would love the SEC to go back to my old proposal that they abandon the national college football playoff system, create their own 8-team, 3-round playoff and sell the TV rights for billions.

-- D.S.