Archive for February, 2010

Feb
25

The Enemy Within

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With a coach like Gerard Kemkers, who needs competition?

By now you may have heard of poor speedskater Sven Kramer of Holland, whose gold medal was torpedoed by his own coach, Kemkers.

Kemkers, who admitted later that he had been momentarily distracted, nonetheless barked out an order to his skater late in his 10K meter race to change lanes, a gaffe that caused an illegal move by Kramer and thus disqualifying the young man.

Kemkers, distraught, tried to comfort Kramer immediately after the race but the skater angrily brushed him off, making wild arm gestures and slamming his glasses to the ice.

Kemkers is lucky that Kramer didn’t blend him into Hollandaise sauce.

“I was on my way to making the right decision,” Kramer said later. “Right before the corner, I changed my decision. I changed my decision on the advice of my [coach].”


Coach Kemkers (left) tries to console the destroyed speedskater Kramer

Kemkers was distraught afterward. “My world collapsed,” he told Dutch reporters. “This is the worst moment of my career. Sven was right. I was wrong.”

The worst moment of HIS career?

Kramer won’t want to hear it, but it’s stories like this that make the Olympic Games so compelling. Every Olympiad, we are regaled with stories of triumph, tragedy, and the overcoming of personal hurdles and bad odds.

Lee Seung-Hoon of South Korea finished second to Kramer, some six seconds back. But thanks to the DQ, Lee became the gold medalist.

That makes two victims, as far as I’m concerned. There’s Kramer, of course, and there’s Lee, who surely can’t look at his gold medal without feeling like it’s tainted. Who wants to “win” that way?

Kramer, the next day, had simmered down and accepted his fate. He said that his performance might have been the best 10K he’s ever skated, but that there’s pretty much nothing that can be done now.

Nothing, except for making a voodoo doll of Kemkers and poking it on a daily basis.

That might help a little bit.

Categories : Enotes, society, sports
Comments (73)

To say that Rich Rodriguez has had a bumpy two-year start to his tenure as the football coach at the University of Michigan would put you in the Hall of Fame of Understatements.

Rodriguez has done nothing but lose football games on the gridiron, and now he’s losing traction as an upstanding coach.

The NCAA has spoken after a five-month investigation into U-M’s football program, and the results aren’t pretty.

Here it is, in a nutshell.

The NCAA alleges that Rodriguez “failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the football program,” and that the athletic department “failed to adequately monitor” the team.

Note the use of the word “failed” twice; that’s become the new “F” word in Ann Arbor when it comes to football.

The school that couldn’t even beat Toledo at home, the one that’s gone 8-16 the past two seasons, the one that sloppily handled its coaching search following the announced retirement of Lloyd Carr, that school is now on the hook for some NCAA violations that it will need to address this spring and summer.

Hail to the Victims Valiant.

Rodriguez, heading into his third year as coach, still has stench on him. There’s a lot of sheister about him. Remember his clumsy parting from West Virginia? Remember the allegations of document shredding at WVU before the school could get its mitts on pertinent papers?

Remember the scuttlebutt over the amount and lengths of practices last summer? Remember the defection of players who were disgusted by the Rodriguez Doctrine?

Then there are the losses. Oh, those losses. The Big House is now the Fun House for opposing teams. Schools who could only win in Ann Arbor in their wildest dreams have been doing it for real for two years now. In the past, if Toledo had come knocking, you’d have directed them to Pioneer High School across the street.

“I believe you’re at the wrong field,” you’d say to the Rockets.

Granted, the violations that the NCAA alleges, the list of which you can read here, aren’t necessarily in the major category of transgressions. But they’re not of the parking ticket variety, either.

Perhaps most troubling is the one citing a graduate assistant who allegedly provided willfully false information to the NCAA.

Rodriguez said Tuesday that his football program misinterpreted rules and made mistakes.

Welcome to Michigan, new Athletic Director David Brandon!

“This is a tough day for Michigan,” the new AD said in the wake of the news, which was announced Tuesday. And he doesn’t mean the state; I know some folks in East Lansing who probably can’t wipe the grins off their faces today.

“It’s on me,” Rodriguez said.

It’s all on RichRod now—the losing, the investigations, the allegations, the incredibly shrinking violet that once was U-M football.

They used to play football at Michigan, win a lot, and do it cleanly. Now they lose, and do it with odors.

This isn’t your father’s Michigan football program. It’s the Godfather’s, now.

Categories : football, Out of Bounds
Comments (23)

Someone should tell the big, bad Canadian hockey team not to mess with the Americans in the Olympics in any year that ends with a zero.

Squaw Valley, 1960. Lake Placid, 1980. And now, Vancouver, 2010?

The USA won Olympic hockey Gold in ’60 and ’80, and while they still have a long way to go to duplicate those feats, they took a big stride in that direction Sunday, snowing on the Canadians’ parade in front of a partisan crowd in Vancouver. Final: USA 5, Canada 3.

It was the Americans’ first win over Canada in Olympic play in 50 years.

So much for entitlement.

Sports don’t always follow scripts, especially the Olympic Games. You can pen it, if you’d like, and figure that you have a proper ending all worked out, but all it takes is a petulant, stubborn little player who doesn’t like the first draft to screw everything up.

This is hockey and it’s the official Canadian pastime and these are the Olympics and the Olympics are in Canada, and the Canadian team is filled with an NHL All-Star team, so let’s fast forward to the medal ceremony and drape those Golds around the necks of those guys from the Great White North.

Nuh-uh—not so fast.

The Americans are obviously not too crazy about that version of how this 2010 Olympic Mens Hockey story should play out.

Our neighbors to the north don’t hope for hockey Gold. They’re not wishing for it. They don’t think it would be nice. They don’t even demand it.

Canada—and I don’t mean the hockey team, I mean the country—positively expects the Gold medal. If coach Mike Babcock’s neck isn’t adorned with the Gold come next weekend, he won’t even need a neck because Canada will have his head.

What else do the Canadians have, really? The Blue Jays aren’t really any good. No one cares about the CFL. The Expos haven’t existed for years. The Raptors are a rumor.

The Canadians have clean cities and Donald and Kiefer Sutherland and socialized health care and beer. And hockey.

So you’ll forgive that country if there’s a spike in the sale of razor blades, and rope for nooses this morning. I heard the United Nations officially put Canada on a suicide watch.

The Canadians may have Sidney Crosby, but the Americans have…Brian Rafalski?

Yes, Rafalski—the Red Wings’ ancient defenseman—has suddenly become a scoring machine. He had two more goals and an assist yesterday, and played solidly in his own zone, too. He is, so far, the Olympics’ Conn Smythe favorite.

The Americans jumped on the Canadians 41 seconds into the game, with Rafalski pausing at the point, apparently waiting for Crosby’s stick to get in the way, then slid a shot toward it. The puck deflected dutifully, and eluded Team Canada goalie Marty Brodeur.

The Canadians kept coming, but all they could manage were a couple of ties—1-1 and 2-2. Team USA goalie Ryan Miller (MSU) was getting all Jim Craig-ish, repelling the furious Canadian onslaught at almost every turn.

Most impressive was Miller’s performance after Crosby brought Canada to within 4-3 with 3:09 remaining. For about 90 seconds, Miller flopped, slid, flailed, and kicked, and whenever he did something like that with his body, the puck hit it. The outcome wasn’t determined until the ubiquitous empty netter that normally quells hockey riots.

All is not lost for Canada, though. They can still win Gold—they just have a harder route to take now. The Americans are safely in the quarterfinals, while Canada has to dispatch Germany on Tuesday in order to get there.

Could Team USA and Canada meet again? Certainly. Could Canada, in that contest, wash the Americans’ faces with snow and snap their suspenders? Absolutely.

Will Babcock escape Vancouver with his life? Or will Brad McCrimmon have to take over the Red Wings when NHL play resumes?

Stay tuned.

Categories : Hockey, Out of Bounds
Comments (35)

In journalism, it’s called burying the lead.

It’s the transgression of tucking the most important part of a story several paragraphs down, instead of in the opening, where it belongs.

Tiger Woods buried the lead.

First, Woods, the disgraced golfer, pitchman, and icon, doesn’t owe me an apology. He doesn’t owe you one, either. Or the person to your left, to your right, behind you, or in front of you.

He doesn’t.

The only people to whom he owes a big old “I’M SORRY” are his family and the companies who hired him to sponsor and promote their goods and services. That’s it.

I watched Woods slog through his scheduled statement on television on Friday, as did millions of others—also to whom Woods owes no apology, by the way—and while I found the dramatic pauses and looks into the camera and heavy sighs to be a little too rehearsed for my liking, I didn’t hear what was truly important until several minutes into the monologue.

Woods said, finally, about 10 minutes into his spiel, that he needs help, and has been getting it, by way of therapy—for some 45 days or so.

That was what he should have begun with; that was his lead, and he buried it.

I’ve never been a fan of the public apology. It’s the ultimate closing of the barn door after the horses are out.

“I’m sorry that I got caught,” is what the deliverer of such an apology is really saying. And don’t get me started on the apologies that, in reality, place the blame on those harmed.

“I’m sorry if you were offended,” is how those apologies go.

Hmmph!

But Woods, at least, admitted that he needs help for his problem, which seems to be addictive in nature. That his addiction comes in the form of something that looks like 36-24-36 doesn’t make it any less problematic, or that which shouldn’t be taken seriously.

I don’t know what else you can ask from someone, if they admit to a problem, albeit a tad late, and take steps to get help for that problem.

The apology that comes without that addendum isn’t much of an apology; it’s merely a bone tossed to the masses over which we are to fight.

Tiger Woods, I’ve written before, is the Muhammad Ali of our time.

Ali, at his peak, was the most recognizable athlete in the world. You could argue he was the most recognizable person in the world. He dominated his sport and dwarfed his competition, both in terms of ability and charisma and largesse. When he left the sport briefly—forced out because of avoiding the draft—boxing wasn’t even close to the same as when he was in it. When he returned, so did boxing.

Woods dominates golf now like no man before him. I’ve seen Nicklaus and Palmer and Norman and Watson and Miller, and none of them distanced themselves as far from the rest of the field as Woods now has from his brethren.

Woods doesn’t yap like Ali did, but that doesn’t make him any less famous or iconic. There’s Tiger Woods, and then there’s the rest of the PGA tour members. He’s the dragon they all try like mad to slay every weekend, and just about every Sunday they fail.

But no golfer, that we know of, ever did the kinds of things that Woods has now admitted—to a degree—to doing. None of them ever had to schedule TV time to look their public in the peepers and say “sorry.”

But it’s not the “sorry” that’s important here. Anyone can get their hand caught in the cookie jar and schedule a time to publicly express regret. And they have.

But it’s taking that extra step—the admission of an addiction to cookies, for example—and seeking professional help that gives the public apology some credence.

Woods said that he plans on returning to golf someday, though he readily admitted that he has no idea when that day might come. He is rightfully placing his therapy and treatment on the front burner. Golf will always be there, waiting, when Woods is ready to grip a club again.

Woods says he has a long way to go—and he probably wasn’t just referring to his treatment. He has a marriage to repair, and that may not even be possible. Golf will always be waiting, but his wife might not.

Woods has a long way to go with his public, too, though that should be of less concern to him. He doesn’t have to be popular to make more money in golf. He doesn’t have to be the sport’s darling anymore to continue to dominate it.

Tiger Woods is a man with human frailties and an obvious weakness, and he’s paid the price for that. Now he is moving to fix it. I don’t know what else anyone should want other than that.

The apology was fine, but not necessary. He didn’t cheat on me. He didn’t cheat on you. He didn’t cheat on anyone other than his lovely wife and his beautiful children. Oh, and he cheated himself, for he may have lost that lovely wife and thus broken up what, on the surface, appeared to be a happy home.

He may have lost all that truly matters. No amount of Masters wins or U.S. Open victories or contracts to hawk Gillette products can make up for that kind of loss.

The end of this story, this cautionary tale, hasn’t been written.

But Woods is seeking help. He’s taken the first baby step to reparations.

That’s far more important than any “I’m sorry.”

Categories : Golf, Out of Bounds
Comments (23)
Feb
19

Friday’s Favs: The Best of “Enotes”

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(Note: every Friday I’ll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from May 7, 2009

He Hart My Mug

I wonder what Bill Hart did with my coffee mug.

All this talk of Detroit politics, in the glow of the special mayoral election held on Tuesday because of Kwame Kilpatrick’s ousting, got me to thinking of other disgraced high profile types the city has known.

I sat across from Police Chief William Hart in October, 1989, and the man seemed awfully stiff, I recall.

Hart was the first African-American police chief in Detroit, and I was getting ready to interview him on a local cable TV show I hosted called Innerview. Note the play on words. Boy, I was clever back in the day!

The show was biographical, and the cameras were all trained on the guest. We did it in an artsy-fartsy way, a format I copycatted from an old A&E show, the title of which escapes me.

The viewer saw nothing but the guest for 30 minutes, in an array of dissolves and various camera angles and points of focus: hand gestures, eyes, slow pans, etc. My face only flashed on the screen during the intro and outro.

The guest list was populated with local celebs, political figures, civic leaders, etc. We couldn’t pay anyone to show up, so anyone who appeared did it from the goodness of their heart.

Or, in the chief’s case, the goodness of his Hart.

We couldn’t pay, but the chief wanted compensation, apparently. More on that in a moment.

But the interview itself was a little rough, only because Hart seemed awfully tight, as if I was interrogating him rather than chatting with him. It wasn’t until toward the end of our half hour that he began to loosen up a bit. More on THAT in a moment, too.

After the interview, one of the chief’s minions sidled up to me.

“The chief wants to know if he can have that coffee mug,” the aide said to me, pointing to a mug bearing the logo of our public access sister station, which the chief had drank water from in the Green Room.

“Sure,” I shrugged. The aide and the chief were armed, after all. I was pretty sure we had more of those mugs.

That was the chief’s compensation, then–a TV-34 coffee mug.

So Bill Hart took the mug, thanked me for the chat, and bid me farewell.

The next morning, the news broke in all the papers and all over television.

Bill Hart was in trouble. Big trouble.

At issue was a police fund set aside for fighting the drug war in Detroit.

Hart was being accused of dipping his hand in the cookie jar and extracting funds, here and there.

To the tune of over $2 million.

The money Hart embezzled was used for blatantly personal use: to fix up a cottage in Canada. To wine and dine some female lovelies–not his wife. To take some trips. Maybe to have some “walking around cash.”

Uh-oh.


Mayor Coleman Young (right) announces the appointment of William Hart as Detroit’s police chief in 1976

So THAT’S why the chief was so stiff and uncomfortable!

Or so I convinced myself.

The interview with Hart had been scheduled a few weeks in advance, so I’m sure it was simple coincidence that it happened the day before the story broke of the investigation into his actions.

But he no doubt knew something might be up.

Hart was later indicted and eventually convicted. The final tally on the dough he stole from city coffers was around $2.6 million.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, in 1992. He was released in 1999.

Chief Hart died in 2003, at age 79. To his dying day, he maintained his innocence.

Even after his conviction, Mayor Coleman Young supported his disgraced chief.

“Bill Hart was a good cop,” Young said. “People ought to remember that.”

Bill Hart may have been a good cop, but he sure screwed up.

I wonder if he used our mug to rattle against the bars in his prison cell.

Categories : Enotes, Friday's Favs, Hockey
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From the moment that Dick McAuliffe hit into that season-ending double play, the Tigers wanted spring training to start immediately, if not sooner.

If they could have waved a magic wand, those broken-hearted 1967 Detroit Tigers would have found themselves in Lakeland, ready to get on with the ’68 campaign.

There was no playoff tier in ’67. You won the league, or you didn’t. Nothing in between. No LDS, no LCS. Either in the World Series, or out.

The Tigers, after second baseman McAuliffe hit into the only double play he’d hit into all season, thus ending the final game against the California Angels at Tiger Stadium, were on the outside looking in after a frenetic, legendary four-team race to the finish line.

The Boston Red Sox, who’d finished ninth in 1966, ended up as AL champs, while the Tigers, who were forced to play consecutive doubleheaders on the season’s final two days, finished a measly one game out of first place.

They arrived in Lakeland in 1968 as perhaps the angriest, most focused Tigers team that ever slipped on the creamy whites and Old English Ds.

The 1967 pennant belonged to them, they believed. They weren’t disappointed, they were pissed.

The feeling was mutual: we were the best team in the American League in 1967, and we sure as hell are the best team in 1968. So let’s get it on.

Those ’68 Tigers burst out of the gate 9-1, took over first place in early May, and were never headed off.

Ah, taking over first place in early May. We know something about that around here.

Like, nine months ago?

The 2009 Tigers will go down as one of the all-time great choke artists in modern baseball history. Nothing can change that. Nothing.

But a division championship—or at least a Wild Card berth—can accelerate the memory loss from last season’s debacle, when the Tigers frittered away a seven-game lead in early September and a three-game lead with—gulp—four games to play.

There’s only one thing better—and safer—than a three-game lead with four to play, and that’s a four-game lead with three to play. But the Tigers still managed to find themselves left out of the post-season party.

The 1968 Tigers, I will concede, suffered no significant loss in personnel from the ’67 club. They were pretty much the same group of guys. The 2010 Tigers are scrambling to find replacements for 2009’s Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco, and are trying out a new closer, Jose Valverde.

But there are enough of them who will start straggling into Lakeland over the next several days who remember the pain of blowing the ’09 division to the Minnesota Twins. And they’d be best served to do what is the opposite of what they’ll say they’re going to be doing.

We’ve forgotten about it, they’ll say. Yeah, it hurt, but this is a new season, they’ll tell the press.

Wrong!

If anyone ought not to get a case of amnesia, it’s these Tigers of 2010. The fans, the press? They can forget all they want. But these Tigers better have steel traps when it comes to memory. They’d all better turn into elephants.

True, the 1967 squad didn’t really blow anything, per se. The division was a frantic race to the end, and no team really ever took control. But the Tigers still felt like they were the best of the four, and that they let the Red Sox off the hook. So they were beside themselves when spring training ’68 began.

The Tigers, frankly, may not have been the best team in the AL Central last season, but they put themselves in a position from which they never should have relinquished. So that’s on them. And they should be mad as hell.

And they should channel that anger into making the 2010 AL Central theirs and theirs alone.

Comments (8)
Feb
17

Good Bayh, Good Riddance

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It was a scene that’s been played out over and over again: beleaguered politico surrounded by wife and family, as he delivers his news of succumbing.

It could have been a resignation in shame, a concession speech, a clumsy explanation for some sort of misdeed. Regardless, there the family is, providing support, no matter how false (in some instances).

I wonder what life lesson soon-to-be former Indiana Senator Evan Bayh has just taught his kids, who were flanking him the other day as he threw his hands up and gave up on Congress.

If the going gets tough, kids, then just quit.

Don’t have any convictions, my children—just get out of the kitchen at the first sign of warmth.

If Evan Bayh was so sick of the gridlock in Washington—and I don’t blame him for being frustrated—then he should have sucked it up and stayed and tried to be part of a solution.

Instead, he walked away and his timing was awful—not even giving any fellow Democrats much of a chance to file, since he quit the day before the signatures were due to the clerk’s office.

Now, the Dems in Indiana might not be able to hold a primary for Bayh’s seat, which is now up for grabs this November. Though the head of the party in that state vows there WILL be a candidate, somehow, some way, and not only that, the mystery candidate will be victorious nine months from now.

Analysts say the timing of Bayh’s decision comes not as a coincidence; it was his last dig at a party with which he’s clashed. Bayh happens to be one of the more conservative Democrats you’ll ever see, which isn’t terribly surprising, considering the state from which he comes.

Whether that’s true or not—Bayh’s ulterior motive—it doesn’t change the fact that he clearly lacks the fortitude and the gumption to be a difference maker, so good riddance to him.

You think he’s the first and only member of Congress who doesn’t like Congress?

“I love serving the people of Indiana,” Bayh said as his wife stood nearby and had that Stepford look about her. “But I don’t love Congress.”

Yeah, that’s a good way to change things: run away.

If Bayh truly loved serving his people, he would have stayed a Senator—he was almost sure to win re-election this year—and fought to change that with which he’s frustrated. He’s only served two six-year terms, and not all that long with his party in the majority.

But now he’s getting out, fed up with the machinations of our Legislative branch of government. On the surface that may seem admirable and taking the high road; but if you scratch a bit, you’ll see that it’s simply another act of the meek, the milk toast.

Maybe Bayh has something else lined up, not that he HAS to work right away. Maybe this is it for him in politics. He used to be governor, so maybe he’ll return to the state level.

Regardless, at the moment he’s simply a quitter; a man who lacks the temerity and the perseverance to fix something that someone of his talents could certainly help fix. He’s a waste—an unrealized asset.

Bayh doesn’t like the way the sausage is made and so he’s fleeing the factory.

He may love serving the people of Indiana, as he said, but clearly not as much as he loves serving himself.

Categories : Enotes, Politics
Comments (50)

The Minnesota Timberwolves have been in the NBA since 1989, and they come to town once a year, thanks to the league’s unbalanced schedule. So by my count, I’d say this Tuesday will mark the first time in 21 trips to The Palace that we’re going to pay any attention to any of the T-Wolves’ assistant coaches—ever.

That’s because Bill Laimbeer now sits on an NBA sideline again—this time in Armani.

Laimbeer abruptly quit as head coach of the WNBA’s now-defunct Detroit Shock last summer because, well, because Bill Laimbeer pretty much has done whatever he’s wanted, whenever he’s wanted.

He abruptly quit as a player, too, retiring in November 1993 because he lost his competitive fire on the court. He was 36 and fed up with the NBA. That was then.

Today, he’s 52 and is serving as an apprentice under T-Wolves head coach Kurt Rambis, positively smitten with the league once again.

“That’s my stated goal of why I got back into the NBA and the assistant coaching ranks,” Laimbeer recently told Pioneer Press columnist Bob Sansevere. “To learn and prepare to be a head coach.”

Laimbeer made no bones about that when he quit the Shock, although he truthfully said that, at the time of his self-ziggy, he had no NBA coals on the fire. But the NBA was his unquestioned desired destination.

And he’ll continue his on-the-job training when the T-Wolves visit the Pistons Tuesday night.

The Timberwolves, like the Pistons, aren’t any good, either. They’re 13-40, 4-22 on the road. It’s a far cry from Laimbeer’s days as a player and as coach of the Shock, when winning was a constant.

There are still those around town who’d like to see Laimbeer end up with the Pistons—as a head coach, not an assistant. But when President Joe Dumars went on his bi-annual search for a new coach last summer, Laimbeer wasn’t seriously considered.

It was quite evident that Laimbeer wasn’t going to make the leap from the WNBA to the NBA as a head coach in one fell swoop, so he was all ears when Rambis, an old on-court rival with the Lakers, called.

Laimbeer (left) jumped at the chance to work for old on-court rival Rambis (right)

“I’m excited to add someone with Bill’s experience to the staff,” Rambis said when he made the mildly surprising hire in late-August. “We can’t wait to get with our players in training camp.”

Now, Rambis, Laimbeer et al probably can’t wait for the season to be over with.

Laimbeer’s stock as a blue chip coaching prospect has its skeptics, to be sure. Those types will tell you that he’s too bombastic, too sassy to work effectively with today’s NBA players. But those traits are the same ones that have the pro-Laimbeer people convinced he’d be a terrific NBA head coach, so there you have it.

Bill Laimbeer, as far as I’m concerned, has always been one of the most cerebral, attentive, sophisticated men to ever play in the NBA, though he rarely gets credit for it. Beyond the pouting and flopping and the whining to the officials has always lied a brilliant basketball mind, and a very astute businessman.

I have a hunch that if given the opportunity, Laimbeer will know when he needs to push and prod, and when he needs to just back off. Don’t forget that he likely learned a thing or two from Chuck Daly, and you can find dumber brains to pick than Daly’s, for sure.

Whether it happens in Minnesota or Detroit or Atlanta or Sacramento, Bill Laimbeer will be an NBA head coach. He’s never done things without a purpose, and he’s rarely been unsuccessful in his basketball life.

Comments (39)

They were kids, for goodness sakes. Kids with sticks and stones, going up against an army of men with howitzers and tanks.

If they had scheduled that hockey game in 1980 in anywhere but the Olympics, it wouldn’t have been sanctioned. It would have been deemed illegal—child abuse.

Would you put an adolescent Gold Gloves boxer up against Muhammad Ali? The school mini-golf champ against Tiger Woods?

30 years have passed—it’s another time where it’s my duty to point out how old we all are—since those American kids met the Russians on the pond after school and made like David against the Soviets’ Goliath.

Billy Bonds helped spoil the surprise, though.

The game was televised by ABC, but on a tape delay basis. The local affiliate, channel seven, knew the outcome but didn’t want to ruin the drama for their viewers.

Someone forgot to tell Bonds—or maybe they did, and Billy was too tipsy to remember. Anyhow, in the early evening during a newsbreak, Bonds went on the air and let the cat out of the bag: the USA hockey team had defeated the mighty Soviet Union squad in an upset of cataclysmic proportion.

Film at 11.

So it was that I knew the outcome of the game before tuning in. I was on my way to a high school basketball game that evening when my buddy Mike Lank made like Bonds and ruined my surprise.

“The United States beat Russia!” Mike said as he piled into our car. He had heard it from Billy.

It was all I could think about that evening, as the basketball game droned on below me.

Bonds took a lot of heat for scooping his own station, but maybe he brought in viewers who otherwise might not have flipped on the game. Of course, the trade-off was that those viewers, for the most part, knew how the game ended.

But it doesn’t matter with miracles, really. If I were to tell you that if you stare at the Empire State Building and in ten seconds it’s going to disappear, thus ruining the “surprise,” would that make it any less amazing when it vanishes?

The USA hockey team had no business being on the ice with those Russians in Lake Placid, New York in 1980. It was a mismatch of the highest degree. Less than two weeks earlier, in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden, the Soviets beat the American kids, 10-3.

This was Olympic hockey pre-NHL players. In those days, you played for your country, then you tried out for the NHL. The average age of that USA team was around 22 years old. The Soviets were grizzled and experienced and they played with guns at their heads, practically. A stint in Siberia awaited them if they took home anything short of the gold medal.

The USA captain was from the East Coast and talked like it. If you heard Mike Eruzione speak you’d think you were listening to a Bowery Boys flick from the 1940s. Hockey people don’t talk like that. Eruzione sounded like a punch drunk boxer, not like a hockey captain.

The Soviets had the best goalie in the world, Vladislav Tretiak, who was just slightly less imposing than the Berlin Wall, in the wall’s heyday. USA had Jim Craig, a nice young man from Massachusetts, between the pipes.

So they drop the puck and the game carries on and it’s already an upset that after five minutes the United States isn’t trailing by two or three goals, though the Soviets did score first. Buzz Schneider of Babbitt, Minnesota—don’t ask—tied it. The Soviets moved ahead, 2-1, but with one second left in the first period, Tretiak misplayed a rebound and Mark Johnson took advantage, depositing the puck behind the All-World netminder for a 2-2 tie.

Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov replaced Tretiak after the first period with backup Vladimir Myshkin, which shocked many, including his own players. Former Red Wing Slava Fetisov, who played for the Soviets, called Tretiak’s removal the turning point of the game. He may as well have called it the turning point in sports history.

Yet the Soviets led, 3-2, after two periods. Craig played well in the net for the Americans; the Soviets would outshoot their opponents, 39-16, for the game.

Johnson struck again for the United States 8:39 into the third period to tie the game. Barely a minute later, Eruzione fired a shot from the high slot past Myshkin, who was screened by his own player. The U.S. had its first lead of the game, which is the only lead it would need.

Craig repelled one Soviet rush after the other in the frantic final half of the third period to clinch the victory. But you know all this.

I have a bone to pick with that 1980 USA hockey team, however.

They ruined the sports upset, forever.

The New York Jets were on the top of the heap in that department for 11 years, after their unforeseen—except by Joe Namath—win over the mighty Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in January 1969. Nothing could compare to the Jets’ dismantling of the Colts, who were 18-to-20 point favorites in that game.

Nothing, until Feb. 22, 1980.

And nothing has come close to it since. Perhaps nothing will ever top it, as far as that goes. It’s lockstep with Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak when it comes to feats that will likely never be equaled, much less surpassed.

The United States didn’t win the gold medal that night, contrary to legend. They did that a few nights later, dispatching Finland, 4-2. Maybe beating the Finns was a greater test for the American kids, as they shook off the expected letdown after beating the Soviets.

USA coach Herb Brooks anticipated such a letdown in his pre-game talk.

Eruzione recalled it, “Herb said, ‘If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your bleeping graves.’ Then he turned to walk away, stopped, turned around, and said, ‘To your bleeping graves.’”

The Miracle on Ice—so dubbed thanks to ABC’s Al Michaels and his indelible “Do you believe in miracles? YES!” call as the final seconds ticked off the clock—happened 30 years ago next week.

The United States kids should have been used as the Soviets’ personal Zamboni with which to clean off the Lake Placid ice, much less win the bleeping game.

It was 30 years ago, and I still can’t believe it. I guess I need some more time.

Categories : Hockey, Out of Bounds
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Feb
12

Friday’s Favs: The Best of “Enotes”

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(Note: every Friday I’ll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from September 9, 2009

GPS = Getting Pretty Silly

Where is America going that we need so many directions?

GPS systems/devices are all the rage. Smart-as-whips gizmos that tell us when to turn left or right, how far it is to our destination, and even suggesting possible shortcuts.

It’s becoming a status symbol of the 21st century—whether or not you have one of these electronic navigators in your vehicle. I’ve seen grown men bursting at the seams about their GPS systems.

Where is everyone going, that they don’t know how to get there?

I don’t know about you, but I pretty much always know where everything is, when it comes to where I venture on a normal basis.

The Target. The mall. The grocery store. The ballpark, on occasion. My mother’s house. The movie theater.

McDonald’s. The local Thai joints. Suzy’s Party Store. CVS. The race track, on occasion.

Another mall. A friend’s house. The pharmacy for our dog’s meds. The 7-Eleven.

Yeah, I can make it to all these places—and more!!—without the computer riding shotgun.

So where is everyone going?

There’s also something called Mapquest or Google Maps or the like, if I’m going somewhere for the first time. A few mouse clicks, a little typing, then hit “PRINT” and I have my GPS on paper.

Those sites are based on something called maps, which used to be found in every car’s glove compartment.

Sometimes I don’t even need the Internet. Just give me some cross streets and I’m usually good to go.

“North of Big Beaver, west of Coolidge.”

Got it; see you there!

I know there are plenty of folks who drive as part of their job. And they drive A LOT. Understood. But seems to me that those are the people who should REALLY know their way around the tri-county area, like a cab driver.

Yet the cars being made today come equipped with dashboards that look like an array of airplane instruments—not the least of which are these GPS things.

I don’t even like it when a person barks out directions to me while I’m driving. Makes me nervous. I can’t imagine a face-less, computer-generated voice doing it.

I just don’t know where everyone is going. It’s like America is heading everywhere for the very first time.

Now, if they come out with a GPS system that can tell me whether I should use the drive-thru lane or go inside, come talk to me.

Categories : Friday's Favs
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