Monday, December 28, 2009

sports talk radio

In the epilogue to the Madness of March I refer to people who speak of sport zealots pejoratively as "get a lifers." The characterization is intended to suggest that extreme fans need to "get a life" and not dwell on the relatively insignificant world of professional or collegiate sports. I defended these folks in the epilogue arguing that to have a passion for something is important whether it is stamps, politics, square dancing, or any avocational pursuit.

This morning my defense for zealots was put to the test. I had a long drive ahead of me so when I woke up at 3:50 instead of wrestling with attempts to find zs, I just got into the car and started the drive. To pass the time and also to see who all is listening to sports talk, I turned on WFAN in New York. There from 430 to 5 I heard a host speaking passionately about what would have sounded like a major world decision had it not become apparent that the decision had to do with a football team called the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts had had a perfect record until yesterday and decided to eschew an opportunity to finish the season undefeated and protect its stars from injury during a game. The result was a loss. The Colt fans and many pundits were upset. I had seen the game myself and wondered about the wisdom of the coaching staff. Still, the focus on this decision was a bit much. In addition to examining the pros and cons of this decision, the host disparaged the New York Giants, a team that had laid an egg on Sunday in its final home game and thereby had blown its chances of playing in the postseason.

Just about when I was crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge a caller phoned in and claimed he was fired up. It was a little after 5 a.m. The caller said he was very "fired up" (the caller's term used frequently during his two -three minute rant) because he did not like how the host had berated his Giants. He knew, said the caller, that the host was a Redskins fan, and the audacity of a Redskins fan knocking the Giants--on a New York station no less--had fueled the caller's ire. He was barely able to contain himself at 5 or so in the morning. A few minutes later another caller called and thanked the host for taking his call. The caller said he had been on hold for an hour, but it was worth it because he liked the show. This caller defended the host as being dispassionate agreeing that the Giants had played lamely in the contest.

I got to thinking that if this second caller had waited for an hour, then maybe the first furious caller had also been waiting for some time. I wondered how it could be appropriately important at 4 30 a.m. to wait on hold until 5 a.m. to spew steam at a Washington fan for knocking the Giants. The host had not mentioned he was a Redskin fan while I was listening, so this irate caller must be a regular listener and aware of the carpetbagger's allegiance.

I am still reluctant to criticize people who love anything so much that they get upset about it. However, as I waited for the sun to come up and dodged trucks on I-287 and 95--and when I stopped at a rest stop that had a surprising number of customers--I did not have to wonder how the phrase "get a life" had evolved.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

a regular--following hearts

On several Sundays this Fall, I have gone to a local restaurant that has the Sunday ticket. The ticket allows taverns to broadcast all NFL games. At the Shopper's Cafe, the restaurant I've regularly frequented, there are some twenty television sets--and all games are on displayed somewhere in the restaurant.

I've described this spot before in the blog, but that was before I became a regular. I know the folks now. The couple that comes in with their Cincinnati jerseys. The diehard Detroit fan who wears a #20 Barry Sanders jersey. He comes with his wife who brings her laptop and enjoys the wifi that the restaurant offers while her husband reacts to all games, especially the 2-12 Lions. Typically there is a table of Cleveland fans. Today only one from the crew is present, but he is focussed on one game and one game only, Cleveland at 2-11 against KC 3-10. A true fan. Usually there is a woman who comes in with her Tampa Bay jersey, but I did not see her there today. But she may have had an excuse.

I wondered if anyone would be at the joint today. Over a foot of snow fell in the area last night. It took me over an hour to dig the car out and then there were the predictable two more times I had to go out after the plow had come by.

Nevertheless I made it. And I had company. The Patriots fans were out in force and the Jet haters similarly (typically the same group). When the Patriots won and the Jets lost within a few minutes of each other, there were high fives around the place and all considered it was worth the plowing to make it to the joint. After Miami went down it was just gravy for the faithful.

I would not be surprised to find out that there were some bettors in the restaurant, but the people who traipse to the restaurant that I've met are fans, who know that the owners will make sure that their beloved Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be on the tube. Last week when the Bengals lost to the Vikings, the Cincinnati couple barely could talk. Today the Bengals went behind as I passed their table on the way to the men's room. The spouse was muttering to her husband and clearly distressed as if she had just found out that the landlord had raised the rent 500 dollars.

In the madness of March I comment that it is important for people to have a passion about something. I like the people in the Shopper's Cafe. It may be strange, but there is something that they care enough about that has them shovelling snow on what otherwise could be a lazy Sunday morning.

Later today I read in the paper about an author who hails from near my neck of the woods and is my age. The fellow is from Bensonhurst and the article is about a deadline he has for the book he is working on. The deadline is his looming death. He has what is commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease, but needs to finish his book. We all have to finish our books, do those things we feel naturally we must do. People can disparage sports fanatics for wasting precious time rooting for their teams. But they're not wasting time. In the words of Rudyard Kipling, they're filling "the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run." They're following their hearts.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday wishes

At this time for relaying good cheer
I engage you to read what is here,
For in lieu of us meeting
I issue this greeting
To wish you the best for the year

Whatever your theological bent
I hope that these days are well spent
Be it candles or trees
Nazareth /Maccabees
Or something that’s quite differ—ent

No matter the route that you choose
Whether you revel in rock or like blues
May the joy of these days
All the laughter soirees
Leave a spirit we try hard not to lose.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

twisted sinews of thy heart

To this day I have trouble understanding poems. I think I read novels well, often getting what I believe are the authors' beneath-the-plot messages. Not with poems. It might take me an hour to read a short Emily Dickinson poem to get it, and even after an hour I still may not really have it.

I'll guess that most of us in high school or college had to read the William Blake poem Tyger, Tyger. The recent news about the world's most famous golfer has brought that poem up to my consciousness.

Last night while sweating off suet on an elliptical machine in a gym, I attempted to find a channel on the personal television set that was NOT discussing Tiger Woods. It took a while to find a Seinfeld rerun. Before I found it I paused for a moment and listened to some self proclaimed wizard say that what "Tiger did today" was the first step in his personal recovery. The pundit went on to talk about how "Tiger" has a series of problems. "We know he has a problem with sex" said the wizard. He went on to rant about the other problems this--on a first name basis with Tiger-- analyst had detected.

Before I switched to listening to the relatively cogent wisdom of George Costanza, I wondered what "Tiger" had done to indicate that he was on the path to recovery. I later found out that Tiger had given up golf for a while.

So, what do I think.

I think that it bothers me that so many people are putting in their two cents about this. Of course, this blog entry might make it seem as if I am a contributor, but my take is somewhat different. If Tiger Woods was a bachelor, would he have a sex problem? I really don't think so. It seems to me from watching advertisements, seeing what sells in film, and listening to conversations at parties and even in sports bars, that most people like sex. And seek it out. Doesn't seem as if Woods has a sex problem. Seems as if he has several solutions in fact. What he apparently has done is violated a pledge to be monogamous. What he has is a marital problem. To my understanding, such problems are not unique to Tiger/Elin. Since I am not a buddy, or shrink, or family member of Tiger Woods, this marital problem is none of my business--or anyone else's business except for his and his wife's. The outrage, the sanctimonious analysis, the paternal commentary from pontificating meretricious experts borders on voyeurism and is just inappropriate.

"And what shoulder, & what art,Could twist the sinews of thy heart?" is a line from Blake's Tyger, Tyger. That line I understand. And I know that the sinews of the heart are often twisted, not only by sexual infidelities. Personally I find misrepresentation, irresponsibility, personal manipulation, and inconsideration more reprehensible and in relationships of any sort, more likely to account for twisted sinews of the heart.

Tyger Tyger will burn bright again. No thanks to the hypocritical and venal wizards currently passing judgment. My two cents: Don't give up golf. You need it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

cousin Alan

On Saturday I received an e-mail telling me that my cousin Alan had only a short time to live. Alan had come to Boston a few years ago for special treatment available here. For a while thereafter he was cancer free. Then we heard he would be going to Seattle for a bone marrow transplant. There were two unsuccessful transplants and now he is home.

Alan is six years my senior and the oldest among my 11 first cousins. One of my earlier recollections is of attending his bar mitzvah and being taken by the event. There he was standing on some sort of stage speaking a language that was very alien to me. He, as always, smiled through it. I liked the hors d'oeuvres I remember, but was sobered by the stunning message that a relative relayed telling me that soon I would be doing the same thing. This dulled the taste of the appetizer as I could not imagine speaking this foreign language in front of all these people. Alan did not seem fazed by it all. Smiling throughout.

That was, in fact, how he went through life--apparently unfazed and smiling. Even when he was taking high doses of radiation in Boston, and I asked him how he was doing, he would always say, "I'm fine. I'll be fine." Always with that smile.

Alan may have only been six years older, but he seemed a dozen years ahead in terms of maturity. He went to med school three years into college, became a physician, and soon established a successful orthopedic practice in South Florida. He became, without complaints, the family member to whom family went when they needed medical help. It did not matter how long it had been between social visits, pick up a phone and give him a call and he'd give you all the time you needed. If he didn't know the answer he had a friend who would.

Alan literally saved my life. I called him once when I could not walk. I was in Florida and something just had gone wrong. His office was filled. but he called me back within the hour and told me to stop by his office after 5. I did and he checked me out. Then he called in a friend. Then I was in the hospital. A friend did the surgery and Alan checked in on me every day. One day he noticed something and told me not to do the exercises that had been prescribed. He called another physician in, and an examination revealed that I had thrown a clot during surgery. Had I exercised as prescribed a tragedy could have occurred. Instead he saved my life, by being vigilant and loving, when he was working 14 hour days in the hospital.

You could never pick up a check when you were out with my cousin unless somehow you got to the waiter and slipped a credit card out before the bill hit the table. If you were in town, he invited you to dinner, to his home, to the Miami Heat game. I have never met anyone more generous.

And now, I read an e-mail that indicates that he has only days to live.

In sport, there is always another day, another down, another game, a redo. My cousin Alan is out of downs. It is tough to find something positive from this, but all of us who have experienced death to loved ones, can only take away from such things that the time we have is precious and using that time for joy and to make a meaningful impact is our gift to ourselves and our world.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Little things, seemingly inconsequential things, can change the course of our lives--dramatically. In life and in sport. Sport is a valuable metaphor for revealing this.

Yesterday was the best day for college football fans. As opposed to the spurious bowl championship series which is a meaningless alternative to a meaningful playoff system, yesterday several conferences held championship games. In college basketball these conference championships are the vestibule to the big dance. In college football these championships beget a series of bowl games and only one of these is meaningful.Nevertheless, the championship games are exciting because they can determine which teams are invited to the lone bowl game that is meaningful.

A goat is a term used in sports to refer to someone who, as opposed to a hero, blundered in a way to cost the team the game. In an early game yesterday, Pittsburgh went ahead 44-38 on a fourth quarter touchdown. However, the holder on the extra point attempt dropped the ball and there was no extra point. Cincinnati, Pittsburgh's opponent, then scored a last minute touchdown, executed the extra point and won 45-44. The holder, in that game, is said to wear the goat horns.

However, there never ever would have been a bigger goat than the quarterback for Texas in the late game. Miraculously, he was saved from going down in Texas lore as the goat of all time. Losing 12-10, he led his team into position to make a field goal that would win the game for Texas 13-12. With seven seconds left and a timeout, the quarterback rolled out and threw a pass out of bounds to kill the clock and allow the kicker to come in. Inexplicably, though, the quarterback, took the better part of forever to throw the ball out of bounds, and when he did it seemed as if the time in the game had expired. Nebraska players were out on the field happy to have won. A replay showed that there was one second remaining despite the knucklehead play of the quarterback. With one second left, the kicker came in and won the game.

Afterwards, the quarterback was saluted for his leadership. Had the referee ruled that time had expired, today would be a sad day indeed for the young man. Instead he likely has a bounce to his step, that the holder for Pittsburgh does not. A tiny thing is making this Sunday special or miserable. Same as tiny things are making this Sunday special or miserable for all of us.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

sport, redemption, and chaos

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I watched my university, Northeastern, lose an overtime game to our cross town rival, Boston University. In the game one of our better players, a man who seems to work tirelessly and selflessly in each game, missed two consecutive free throws during regulation. He seemed to be able to put it behind him, but when the game ended in a tie after 40 minutes and then we lost in overtime, the missed foul shots had to linger and sting.

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving Northeastern was again in a tight game against Wright State University. Again the same player was at the foul line, this time with only 38 seconds left and Northeastern down by one. He had two shots and missed the first one. He made the second and tied the game, but this time as well he must have known that with another foul shot his team would have been in the lead.

The Wright State Coach put up five fingers signalling to his players that he wanted the push for the final shot to occur with five seconds remaining. This way, a missed shot would leave Northeastern no time to score and a made shot would result in victory. His player however did not do as instructed. With ten seconds left, not five, he moved to the hoop and shot. He missed. The tireless worker who had failed at the foul line got the rebound. There were only two seconds left. He took two dribbles and lofted a shot from the mid court line. When it went in he was mobbed by the bench as well as the mascot.

One of the great things about sports is that you often get a second chance, another shot to make things right.

And you have multiple chances as well to do things wrong. Little things, seemingly inconsequential things, can have significant effects. This is essentially the basis of chaos theory which I've written about in earlier blogs.

What is the big deal about going to shoot with ten seconds as opposed to five? The difference between revelling and walking away feeling like a stunned depressed loser.

What we do, even the little things, have consequences. In sport these consequences are relatively easy to detect. I'm not sure they are elsewhere. The difference between revelling and feeling depressed can be a function of apparently inconsequential behavior that is, in ways I can not figure out, somehow consequential.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Last night, feeling very well fed, I watched--drowsily--the Texas, Texas A&M annual thanksgiving day contest. Texas was favored by 21 points, but A&M did not get the memo. It was a very exciting contest that I stayed up to view despite periodically feeling as if--with all that turkey in me--I would not be able to watch in its entirety.

The final was Texas 49-A&M 39. The announcers reminded me during the contest that a tradition at A&M was for sweethearts to kiss after each A&M score. Thirty nine points can provide a good deal of smooching. At one point after an A&M touchdown a fellow went to kiss his date and she turned away. She apparently was waiting for the extra point. The camera returned to the couple after the extra point and she went to kiss him. Miffed, perhaps, at the earlier snub, the young man turned his cheek to the lips of his, perhaps erstwhile, sweetheart. Eventually they got down to business, but the scenes have remained in my head. Kissing to celebrate and the empty feeling of having a desire to engage and not being able to do so.

After a big meal my father would often say to my mother, the cook of the household, "Helen--if everyone had a meal like this, there would be no more wars." Dad was always wise, but I'll add something to the comment about the nourishment. Intimacy is important too. We'll all be gone soon enough. I figure that you want to make sure to find a way to hold the ones you love, and not turn your cheek away.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


The college basketball season has started, the college football season has a month to go, professional basketball and hockey are now in their second months of the season, and professional football is in its stretch run.

Tomorrow on Thanksgiving day many consumers of turkey will also be consuming televised sports. Three professional football games will be played sequentially beginning at noon eastern. Last night during my regular Thursday doubles match moved to Tuesday because of the holiday, a sub for one of our regular quartet commented that she does not enjoy Thanksgiving because of the incessant background of football noise that permeates her cousin's home. Another fellow in the locker room remarked that he wasn't going to his sister's this year because he can not stand fifty million kids running around his ankles and also does not like to witness the mesmerizing effects of the football games.

This notion is difficult for many who enjoy sports to get. Watching games while being with family seems like apple pie and ice cream to us/them, but it is probably a wise idea this Thanksgiving to consider the possibility that when you scream, "Will you check out that catch!" your cousin Louie might think you are a monomaniac.

Wise man, cousin Louie.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

tough call

There were some sad faces at my university yesterday when the school announced that it would be discontinuing its football program that had begun in the 1930s. The decision had not been made without thought. The athletic director, Peter Roby, explained in a very well articulated statement the rationale for the decision. Simply, the school could not afford to spend the money that would be necessary to compete with schools in its conference, the Colonial.

In my twenty eight years at the school, the football team has not been able to finish over 500 more than a few times. The reason was that our stadium was akin to a high school field. Recruiting athletes was difficult because competing schools had better facilities. James Madison University in relatively rural Harrisonburg is regularly among the leaders in the Colonial conference. Juxtapose JMU's facility with Northeastern's, imagine being a sought after recruit, and you know where you might choose to attend, all other factors being equal.

Nevertheless it is a depressing day for the many athletes who played here. Peter Roby could not have liked to make this decision, but it seems to me--given all--to be a courageous one. Students of communication might look at his statement on the web as an example of how to sensitively relay news that will not be joyfully received.

Monday, November 23, 2009

fourth and two

It would be difficult to live in these parts, and follow sport, to not know what the title of this entry refers to. Last Monday hundreds if not thousands of New Englanders were sleep deprived because the Patriots managed to squander a 17 point lead and lose 35-34 to the Indianapolis Colts, a team that is reviled in these parts for various reasons the greatest of which is that they have beaten the Patriots on a number of occasions. The sleep deprivation was based on a bewildering decision made by the coach, Bill Belichick, to go for a first down on 4th and 2 from their own 28 with a little more than two minutes to play. This decision was very much out of the box and was met by cacophonous disapproval. When asked about the decision Belichick was unrepentant, "We were trying to win the game" he said.

What is most significant about this event for those who are interested in fan subculture is that in fifteen years, there will be many people who will still remember what 4th and two means. Any time a coach makes a questionable decision like that, announcers will summon up the historical event and refer to it, like legal scholars talk about Brown vs. Board of Ed. In 2025 an announcer may analyze a comparable call by saying, "Yes, Charlie. That decision by coach Whoever has precedent in Belichick's famous 4th and 2 decision in 09." "Right Rex, It certainly, does. Who could forget that."

Interestingly, in a college game this weekend that is referred to as "The Game" in these parts, Harvard defeated Yale when Yale almost inexplicably made a similar decision on a 4th and 22. When asked about the decision, the Yale coach muttered a remarkably similarly sounding explanation, "We were trying to win the game."

Monday, November 16, 2009

the ticket

I spent two hours yesterday in a local sports tavern which I have attended on a few football Sundays this Fall. There is a long bar in one room of the establishment and a restaurant in an adjacent space. Typically I sit at the bar and watch several games displayed concurrently on the high tech screens above the bottles of spirits. Yesterday, I first sat at the bar, but then moved into the restaurant.

I found a table and saw that in this room there were some very serious fans. Many taverns like this one buy what is called "the Sunday ticket" which is a package from the NFL that allows the televising of all games on a given football Sunday. Therefore, serious fans will go to these bars in order to watch a game that otherwise would not be available to them at home. In front of me in the restaurant sat a woman with a Tampa Bay jersey that read "Barber" on the back. Barber is a defensive back for the Tampa Bay buccaneers. To her right was a table of Steeler fans facing the other way so that they could see the Pittsburgh,Cincinnati game on a screen on a wall opposite from where Tampa Bay was playing Miami. Almost comically, next to the Steeler fans were two very very serious Cincinnati fans facing in the same direction as the Tampa Bay fan rooting for the Bengals but watching it on another screen on the opposite wall. To the left of the Tampa Bay fan were two diehard Buffalo rooters periodically slapping the table in disgust as the Bills succumbed to Tennessee.

So there I am perched behind all of these people. The Bills fans in a corner to my left banging on a table, the Tampa Bay fan in front of me banging on a table, The Steeler fans facing in one direction sighing in exasperation, and then the Bengal fans adorned in striped jerseys cheering in the other direction. Finally, there was a quartet of inebriates all the way to the right who did not seem to care who was playing but cheered periodically for nobody in particular.

I asked the Bucs fan how tough it was to root for the Bucs since they are 1-7. I then heard her very educated analysis of this game. I was not dealing with an amateur. When a fellow came in to root for the Dolphins he quickly went over to the Bucs fan and apologized for rooting against her team. He then confided to me, "She's here every week" which seemed to be disparaging a bit, except that he must have been there every week himself in order to be able to make the report.

When the Bucs lost on a last second field goal, Barber left sadly and could not even respond when I told her I was sorry. The Bills fans had already given up. The only people in the place that seemed happy were the Bengals fans because their team won and the inebriates who were oblivious to it all.

Just before I left I noticed that the tavern was beginning to be populated by people wearing Patriots garb. The Patriots would be playing four hours later. This game was on local television, but the bar provided a bit of a stadium atmosphere for the rooters. I thought of the place at midnight when the Patriots managed to blow a lead in the last seconds.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fair Harvard

Last weekend my brother came up for a day and we went to the Harvard Princeton game. Harvard shellacked Princeton who seemed to have only one offensive play that could work. The day threatened rain and in the beginning of the third quarter we had to put on ponchos for a few minutes to stay dry. I once took my father to a Harvard game in the rain and he insists, to this day, that sitting watching that game was the most foolish thing he has ever done. Nevertheless, Bobby and I watched the Princeton game last week and we were hardly alone. In fact, there was a reunion of some sort. The class of 79 at Harvard was reuniting. We are not alums of fair Harvard and graduated well before 1979 but were so impressed by the spread of barbecue laid out for the alums that we, sans badges, indulged lest some of the good food for the class of 1979 go to waste.

Today I went to Harvard alone to watch Harvard pummel Dartmouth. Harvard stadium is beautiful, a truly great place to watch a football game (as long as you bring a cushion--the seats are cement). Today I sat near the top of the stadium near the 40 yard line and was surrounded by alums with a fervid interest in the team. It was a joy to listen to them discuss the game knowledgeably. A fellow to my right kept commenting about the plays and provided insights I had never considered. Occasionally, he would tap me on the shoulder and say something like, "not smart to call a time out" "do you think they will take it off tackle here." In front of me a fellow with a cap reading class of 1959 turned and smiled each time Harvard pulled off a successful play. To my left a septuagenarian explained patiently to either his wife or his partner (I'm guessing the latter given the patience they both had for each other) the nuances of the game, like a seventeen year old explaining football to his teenage sweetheart.

Fans everywhere rooting for fair Harvard.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

college football championship begins

College football is the one sport that begins with playoffs and ends with an exhibition season. Professional football, for example, is completing its exhibition season tonight and tomorrow night, and then will begin a regular season, and then have playoffs.

Not in college football. The bizarre process begins tonight and then this weekend in full force. Any major team that loses this weekend, the very first weekend of the season, is virtually eliminated from championship contention. A loss before labor day can ruin, literally ruin, a championship run for Ohio State, Florida, Penn State.

Once the regular/playoff season is over in November, then teams play a series of bowl games that are essentially exhibitions. With only one game predetermined as the national championship game, these Gator, Citrus, whatever bowls are for show.

So, if you are interested in college football and care about national championships, every single week, for better or worse, is sudden death for any team who aspires to be the number one team in the nation.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Rick Pitino is a very successful college basketball coach who is being excoriated in various circles these last few days. Pitino claimed that an inamorata had attempted to extort moneys from him. Recently allegations have surfaced about the nature of the relationship and Pitino's alleged requests of his paramour.

A fellow in the locker room the other day asked me what I thought about this.

Here is what I think.

This is none of my business or anybody else's. Nobody but Pitino and his accuser know the nuances of the situation and anyone on the sideline who decides to adjudicate the matter might, I would suggest, have--or should have--better things to do.

Why this is news relates to (a) folks' insatiable desire to discuss prurient activities and (b) the fact that some people's favorite pastime is offering an opinion because it is easier to spew critically about someone else than be introspective. Newscasters are in the business of creating news that is appealing to readers and listeners, otherwise they are out of business. The notion that the news is what is newsworthy is as spurious as thinking that any business enterprise exists to satisfy inherent altruistic leanings.

If you want to be part of the solution, the next time someone asks for your opinion about someone's alleged carnal transgressions, change the subject to something more intrinsically newsworthy.

hot heat

On Sunday I went to Patriots training camp to watch a practice. It was 90 degrees, I discovered later, as I sat in the bleachers--hardly alone, some 1000 people were present--and watched the drills.

About an hour into the practice a lineman had to be carted off the field because he had cramped up. Shortly thereafter another lineman was taken from the field. At one point in a drill a player jumped offside and was compelled, apparently by rule, to run a lap around the field. There are turtles who run faster than this player. I can still see him, number 62, moving as if in slow motion. Even the fellow lugging "cold water. cold water, here" seemed to be oppressed.

Today I read in the Globe that the Patriots will practice twice and the high today is to be 97 degrees with what can only be described as thick humidity. It would be swell to be a professional athlete, methinks, but not a Patriot today.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

beer here

Last night I went to Fenway Park and saw the Red Sox pummel the Tigers 8-2. In many ways a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Fenway Park has become an expensive place to watch a game. I understand the new Yankee Stadium is now extraordinarily pricey and may have surpassed Fenway in that regard. In recent years, the cost of a "blue" grandstand ticket at Fenway was 40 dollars. This charge for the opportunity to sit in a seat built for a 1912 sized person, too narrow for many 2009 sized waists and with insufficient legroom for 2009 sized adults. Still the place is packed with people paying 40 dollars and up.

Used to this cost, I was surprised to find that my seats were only 28 dollars a piece. Then I realized why. The seats were in one of two non alcoholic sections in the park. That is, one could not drink beer and sit in our seats. This was not a problem for me, but apparently is a factor that renders these sections less desirable. In essence, one pays a 12 dollar surcharge to be able to buy 8 dollar beers at the Park.

In the Madness of March I refer to the remarkable beer consumption in Las Vegas during the course of the first four days of the tournament. I enjoy a beverage now and again myself, but the amount of beer guzzled in Las Vegas was--in both meanings of the word--staggering.

Of course the problem with beer--and with betting--occurs when one can not stop. One of my earliest recollections of going to a baseball game as a very young boy, was watching and hearing the vendors walk through the stands shouting, "Beer here. Beer here." At Fenway and at many sporting events beer is here, there, and everywhere. For all sporting events, betting opportunities are similarly omnipresent. You know that you are having a good time with sport when you can, if you'd like to, abstain.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

then you're crazy

There were many sport fans who looked forward to Sunday night August 9th because after six months of deprivation an NFL football game was broadcast. For true zealots this meaningless exhibition game provided an instant fix and, moreover, signalled the beginning of a stream of games that would help pass the time between August and February. Such fans count the months between the superbowl and preseason football like an inmate counting the days before a release from jail.

I watched only parts of the game because, at the same time on Sunday, the Boston Red Sox were on the air playing and losing to the Yankees. I thought that, perhaps, the Sox might even score a run during their game a feat that they could not manage to accomplish in fifteen innings on Friday and nine on Saturday. The Sox did muster a score in the 8th inning on Sunday, but managed to lose regardless.

I switched channels during the Red Sox disappointment to catch snippets of the football game. At one point I saw that the Titans were ahead of the Bills by a score of 21-9. The next morning I saw that the final was 21-18, a peculiar result given the 21-9 earlier score. I figured either that the Bills must have kicked three field goals to get to 18, or kicked one field goal, scored a touchdown but missed the two point conversion--this combination would also yield 18 points.

Neither was the case and what actually occurred is central to a point made in the Madness of March.

Last night just before I succumbed to slumber, I flipped the remote to the NFL channel. There a replay of the exhibition game was being broadcast. When I tuned in, there were only 40 seconds or so left on the clock and the score was 21-16. The Titans had the ball. I was almost positive that I had heard the final to be 21-18, so with 40 seconds left to go the only way the score could get to 21-18 would be if the Titans somehow were to give up two points to a safety. But the Titans were at midfield.

With only a few seconds left, the Titans faced a fourth down. The score remained 21-16. The Titans got into punt formation and I understood before it happened what would occur.

The game was a meaningless exhibition game, but even so the Titans wanted to simulate a real situation. With the score 21-16 and only a few seconds left, there was only one way the Titans could lose. If they punted and the Bills ran it back for a touchdown, or blocked the punt and ran it back for a touchdown, the Bills would win.

So what the Titans did, intelligently, was have their punter take the hike and run the "wrong way" into the end zone. This play would give up two points, but exhaust the clock. Therefore the Titans would win. The two points given up to the safety were meaningless.

They were not meaningless everywhere. Last night I heard broadcaster Al Michaels call the play and say something to the effect of "Well there might be some people who consider that safety significant, but if you do then you're crazy."

Even before he said this, I wondered if the safety would affect bettors who had wagered on the game. It had. The spread was 3 points. That safety resulted in a tie and a push.

Michaels was suggesting--and not incorrectly--that anyone who bets on an exhibition game is crazy. He is not incorrect for two reasons. The first is that exhibition games are so unpredictable. You never know what players are going to play and for how long. Second, maybe there is something a little off kilter about your hobbies if you feel you must place a bet on an exhibition game.

In watching games for several years now with an eye toward how bettors are affected, it almost never seems to me as if the coaches are concerned with the spread. It was a good football move to take the safety. Coach Jeff Fisher would have pleased those who bet on his team to punt the ball away, but I don't think who bet on what was a concern to him.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

red sox nation

One could not be a follower of baseball in New England and not have heard of something referred to as "Red Sox Nation." The phrase refers to the collective fandom for the Boston Red Sox who seem to be buoyed or depressed as a function of the latest Red Sox effort. Tonight, July 21, the Red Sox lost for the fourth straight time which is, no doubt, making sleep difficult for the more ardent of the fans in Red Sox Nation.

I had heard that the nation travels. That is, when the Red Sox play away games people travel to the other cities to watch the games there. A few years back I did see this in Baltimore when I went to a Red Sox--Oriole game and the nation was well represented. However, it was just this past weekend when I noticed the phenomenon in full force.

Last Thursday I set off for Toronto where the Red Sox were scheduled to resume play after the All Star break. It was amusing to me to see several cars at rest stops that were filled with passengers wearing Red Sox garb. These observations were just appetizers. The lobby of the hotel in Toronto had no fewer than a half dozen Red Sox dressed fans at any time I happened there. At a breakfast place called, Fran's, four full tables were populated with serious members of the nation who were discussing the nuances of the pitching staff and other details as they snorted their eggs. Yonge Street, a major street in downtown Toronto, looked like it was the setting for some sort of parade with Red Sox hatted and jerseyed families bouncing up the road on their way to the Roger's Center. On Friday night when Kevin Youkilis, a Boston Red Sox player, homered in his first at bat, the roar of the crowd made me think I was in Fenway not in the Blue Jays park. I was wearing a Northeastern shirt at the park and was stopped by someone who asked me if I was at the stadium for the reunion. "What reunion" I inquired. She told me that there was an alumni function that evening in Toronto for my Boston based school.

Okay, so you are a zealot--but it is close to 600 miles from Boston to Toronto. All the games in Boston are on tv. You bring your whole family to Toronto at a cost of 30-70 dollars a ticket, plus gas, plus lodging, plus restaurant eating? The clan in front of me at Fran's had six members counting a pipsqueak who could not have been more than 4 or 5. Even if the youngster gets in free, that is 250 a game, just for the tickets.

A fan myself, I am nevertheless surprised at the serious energy that is found in Red Sox nation.

Monday, July 13, 2009

tough night for sports junkies

Tonight and Wednesday night will be tough sledding for many. The days before and after the all star game are, to use the theater term, dark. Baseball is on vacation, basketball in the off season, football three weeks away from training camp, not a year for the world cup, Wimbledon is over, hockey months away from the first goal---this is murder for sports fans.

A constitutional morning step for the sports fan is to check what might be on the tube during the evening that can satisfy their fan jones. Today, such fans skimmed this listing, and took a deep breath. The only balm in the Globe consisted of a series of minor league baseball games that will be aired on small power radio stations.

Probably a good night to exercise, or see a movie, or read a book, or sleep early. Even the all star game itself, tomorrow night, does not provide much relief. It is an exhibition with the hype that the game decides home field advantage in the World Series.

Long week.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Of the various phenomena which, when I dwell on them, confound me--cigarette smoking, tattoos, and keno are high on the list.

The smoking of cigarettes, from as early as I can remember, has been a bewildering habit. They stink. They are expensive. And they kill you. Let me have a pack of Luckies. Tattoos? If you don't like your shirt you can always change it. If you put a button on your hat that reads "I am The Greatest" when you are 20, you might want to take it off when you are 40, or 21. Why would you write something on your body that can not be altered? Is the point that this message is "forever?" Perhaps so, but as we all who have been around the track more than twenty times know, many things which seem like they will be "forever" turn out not to be locks.

Cigarettes and tattoos. I don't get them. However, playing keno may be the most bewildering of the trio. Near my home there is a downtown area with storefronts which offer Chinese food, delicious breakfast fare, and really outstanding shoe repair. There is also a tavern in this section with many television sets for those who enjoy watching a game with a beverage. Adjacent to these four stores is a keno parlor. When it opened, I thought it would close in a month. It has been there for over five years. In there, people sit watching numbers on a screen for hours at a time. As I peek in through the windows, the viewers seem to be nearly always glum--sitting by themselves, sadly watching numbers pop up on a screen. Today is a gorgeous 80 degree day with no humidity in Boston. What possesses anyone to sit inside "playing" keno?

Perhaps these same keno players would find March Madness followers to be confounding. But there is a difference, I think, between spectators watching activity that involves humans and emotion, and the hopeless staring at numbers which surface randomly on a monitor.

jonathan sanchez

Last night after midnight I was watching espn's recap of the events of the day.

I wrote in the Madness of March how espn has been a godsend for sports fans. Fifty somethings tell thirty somethings about a time when sports news consisted only of five minute sound bites in the nightly newscast. Now a staple of each fan's day is viewing the highlights of that sport's day.

There is a theory in communication studies that argues that who we are in terms of our relationships, culture, families, and society is constituted by how we communicate. That is, communication is not simply something used to convey information: for example, "The Red Sox won", but a process that has as its residual effects the formation and reformation of our society and our relationships. ESPN and other dedicated sports channels have had the effect of satisfying fan's desires for information, creating some desires, extending the scope of fandom, and creating the agendas for our days.

At about 1 a.m. eastern time espn took viewers live to a ballgame being played in San Francisco. A player named Jonathan Sanchez, who had recently been demoted to the bullpen, had been given a start for the Giants because another player was injured. Going into the 8th inning, Sanchez had a perfect game. An error by a third baseman eliminated the chances for a perfect game, but the opportunity for a no-hitter still existed. In the 9th inning the first play was a ground out. The second batter hit a tremendous shot to center field that was hauled down by an excellent outfield play. The third batter was called out on a Don Larsen-esque third strike (if anyone knows what I mean by this, contact me at Sanchez embraced his catcher and then nearly everyone on the team. His father who was at the game came down from the stands to bearhug his son. The last outs were played over and over again on sportscasts. Overnight, Jonathan Sanchez and the feat, and the emotion surrounding the feat, became part of the collective consciousness and subconscious of our society.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


I was awakened this morning by the ping of an aluminum bat. At 730 the little leaguers still alive in the Nipper Maher Park July 4th tournament were practicing their cuts in anticipation of an 8 a.m. game. I tried to sleep but after an hour's worth of fitful snoozing, the bats and the chatter were victorious. I decided to make some coffee and join the crew.

By the time I had a coffee cup in hand and walked to the field it was already the bottom of the 6th, the last inning in a little league game. Just as I arrived at the diamond a player from Winchester slapped a single over third, and to the dismay of the crew from Sydney Nova Scotia, Winchester tallied a third run defeating Sydney 3-2. The group from Sydney having made the marathon seventeen hour trek to participate in the tournament, hung their shoulders as they slumped off the field and then stood classily but dejected along the first base line to receive acknowledgements from tournament officials. The jubilant squad from Winchester had survived to play another game later in the afternoon. It was the boys and girls from Sydney, however, for whom I felt compassion. Necks bowed, they had been eliminated by a walk off single after a long battle.

I returned home and set the tube up on the deck to watch what became a Federer-Roddick Wimbledon marathon match. Four hours later, Andy Roddick who had served impeccably for four straight hours, miss-hit a ground stroke at 14-15 in the fifth set allowing Roger Federer to win his 15th grand slam tournament. Federer was jubilant. Roddick who had held serve every single game until the 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14 concluding game, sat slumped in his chair as Federer tastefully accepted the applause from the crowd.

The difference between Roddick's reaction and the 12 year old kids' from Sydney. Not a thing.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4th international tournament

An international little league tournament is held each year over July 4th weekend in Nipper Maher park, a recreation facility that is only steps from my home. I can hear the sweet noise from my deck. This year ten teams are competing, seven from western suburbs near Boston, and three from Canada--two from New Brunswick and one team from Sydney, Nova Scotia--a seventeen hour journey from Nipper Maher Park.

At 8 this morning I was reading the paper when I heard the familiar sound of balls and bats, infield chatter, and parents' rooting for their children. I took my coffee cup and walked the 200 yards or so to the field. They have spruced up Nipper Maher for the tournament. A Canadian and United States flag are flying near the attractive dugouts. There is a decent little refreshment stand and a table of chatchkas for purchase. An electronic scoreboard has been erected.

In the 8 a.m. game a team from North Waltham is pitted against St. John, New Brunswick. A 12 year old girl named Amber is throwing change-ups and looks to be the winning pitcher in the 6th as the Canadian club leads 6-3. I look at the tournament bracket sheet and see that this game will be followed by a 930, 11:15, 1 oclock game. And then these are followed with games that continue until darkness. I begin to converse with a knowledgeable parent whose daughter will be hurling in a subsequent game. He points to another field in the complex which looks brand new to me. He tells me that due to the incredible rainstorms that have hit Boston over the last two weeks, that field is essentially under water. He shakes his head wondering who could have built a field with such poor drainage since the field where we are at is perfectly drained.

I walk around to the outfield and lean on a fence watching. A boy in right field makes a good catch on a line drive with the bases loaded and parents are gleeful in response.

No doubt the families represented by these children have their own aggravations and all is not blissful in their universe. But on this day it seems to me that they who are congregating here for an all day marathon of baseball are happy watching their children compete amicably. There is a seventeen hour ride back tomorrow night for the squad from Sydney. Look at a map and you will see that it is on Cape Breton Island, as far away as one can be from Boston and still be in Nova Scotia. It took me and three cronies four days to drive back here from Sydney many years ago. It will be a joy ride for these youngsters. Win, lose, or draw, their experience will be a joy ride.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

night and day//day and night

There are always surprises. Just when you think you have a finger on the pulse, your enterprise can be rocked.

Last night after a USTA tennis match, the cluster of very amateur players were sitting near the courts nursing beverages and discussing the nuances of what passed for tennis during the evening. Just before I left the facility I glanced at a television screen in the clubhouse and noticed that the Red Sox were beating the Orioles by a score of 10-1. Victory in hand I drove the 15 minutes back to my home all the while contemplating whether it would be pizza or some other edible that would satisfy my hunger. I stopped for some sandwiches, pulled into the driveway, put on the game, and was comfortably in my chair in the process of bite number one in time to see the last out: the Orioles had come back to defeat the Red Sox 11-10.

Today I had the day off, but the Red Sox and Orioles did not. They played a matinee to conclude their three game series. When the Sox fell behind 5-1 in the 8th I went upstairs to make a phone call and take care of some correspondence. When I completed the tasks, I checked the score of the ballgame and saw that the Sox had scored 4 runs in the 9th and another in the 11th to beat the Orioles, 6-5.

In sport and in life when you think you are really sure of something it might be wise to reconsider the apparent certainties.

Monday, June 8, 2009


The Lakers and coach Phil Jackson were heroes last night. The Magic and coach Stan Van Gundy were losers.

What makes someone a hero. In this case, what makes Jackson a hero is a missed shot and a pass that was not perfect.

With .6 of a second left in regulation and the score tied the Magic was inbounding the ball at half court. A brilliant play was set up by the Magic coaching staff. Several players came toward the ball and Magic player Hedo Turkoglu faked to each. Then a back screen was set up which allowed a Magic player to run unchecked to the basket. Turkoglu threw the pass, but it was off by inches. The Magic player caught the ball, but missed the shot. Had the pass and catch been executed, the Lakers and Kobe are goats, because they allowed themselves to be duped by misdirection.

Instead the Lakers are heroes and winners. Today they feel good about themselves. The difference, it seems to me, between heroism and failure often has a whole lot to do with external factors beyond our control. This does not relieve us from making right choices, but the fact is that had a pass been on target, Phil Jackson would be taking heat for not defending the play appropriately and Van Gundy might earn more money next year.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Phil at the Mike

After the Lakers defeated the Magic in overtime tonight, Phil Jackson the coach of the Lakers, met the press. I wonder if at President Obama's news conferences there are as many journalists. I do hope that the nature of the inquiries at the president's conferences are a bit more sophisticated.

"Phil, John Smith, West Daniels Times, can you talk a little bit about the camaraderie between Kobe and Gasol. It seemed like they had a little special something going there tonight".

"Phil, William Jones, WBVD, at the end of the first quarter the score was 15-15. That is a low scoring first quarter. What do you think was going on there."

"Coach, Pat Johnson, Sullivan Daily Record, I noticed in the overtime that Odom seemed to be laboring some and perspiring profusely. Any comment on that."

My sense is that Phil Jackson would like nothing more than to say, "Tell me you are kidding me with these questions. Kobe and Gasol are teammates they play together as teammates should. What was going on in the first quarter is that the ball was not going in the basket. Yes, Odom was perspiring, we were in an overtime game and he had played many minutes during it."

The questions reflect the relatively high level of interest in basketball and sports in general. Somehow I believe that tomorrow after the kindergartners are dismissed from grade schools throughout the country, no elementary school principal will be asked: "Dr. Harris, tell me. Missy and Davey seemed to work well today during the hokey pokey dance number. You have a comment on that?"

viva la federer

The NBC announcer commented at the end of the French Open that "viva la federer" may finally be the chant in Paris. Roger Federer, after several failed attempts in the finals--including an ignominious defeat last year when he just got shellacked--won the only Grand Slam tennis tournament that had previously eluded him.

If you don't understand the appeal of sports you are probably not reading this blog, but in case you are still curious about the attraction of march madness to sports fans, or why people spend four straight days watching basketball games--you might have gained some insight after watching the last few points and moments of the French Open.

Federer was serving for the match at 5-4 and had an easy volley at 30-30. He not only missed it, but missed it badly. Having lost four consecutive french open finals, this miss made viewers wonder if he was tight.

What could he be tight about? The guy is loaded. He is probably the best tennis player ever to play the game. He has won Wimbledon, The Australian, the USOPEN, and dozens of other tournaments. Why should he be tight? The camera swung to his mother in the stands and then his wife. Both looked apprehensive. At break point, Soderling--the opponent--miss hit a shot and brought the game back to deuce. All viewers could sense Federer's relief.

When Federer won the next point bringing the game to match point, it looked like he started to tear. The fans were cheering for him to prevail. When he did, Roger Federer--a man who has more money than anyone needs--dropped to his knees and cried. The stadium exploded with congratulations.

So, what is the appeal of sport? Why does a man who wins matches and tournaments more regularly than mail is delivered, drop to his knees when he wins another tournament. He does because sport, for players and spectators, engages our emotions. And we humans are emotional beings. Our hearts, not our heads, run the show. Despite any and all attempts to map out our lives on the basis of rational wisdom, we succumb--when we are wise--to the realization that we are driven by emotion. The lucky ones of us are smart enough to drop to our knees and tear when someone, something, or we ourselves have nourished our hearts.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Randy Smith

I heard last night and read today that Randy Smith, a former NBA basketball player, had passed suddenly while working out on a treadmill. Smith is a contemporary and whenever I read about contemporaries passing it reminds me that time is precious and limited. Smith was a favorite of mine so the loss made me think a bit longer about the good fortune of life and the potential all have to make an impact while we are here.

Randy Smith played for the Buffalo Braves when I was going to graduate school in Buffalo. He had played college basketball at Buffalo State College. Not to be confused with what is now Division I, the University of Buffalo, Buff State was a division II school before there was anything lower than division II. Smith was not heralded in college but did get drafted by the Braves in the 7th round. In college Smith was known for his outstanding soccer play more than for his basketball skills. I read today that in the late sixties and early seventies--when soccer was not on radar screens of most Americans--fans would flock to Buffalo State to watch Randy Smith play the game.

As a professional basketball player he was an outstanding streak shooter who seemed almost always to be on a streak. In 1978 he was the mvp of the NBA all star game during which he hit one shot after another from several spots on the court. After the game his coach, Jack Ramsay, remarked that Smith's performance was not a surprise to him as he saw Smith shoot brilliantly on a regular basis. That was exactly my reaction as well. My recollection is that Smith had the capacity to grab a pass in motion and then set quickly for his shot, or when he could not set on the ground, somehow find a way to get set while he was in the air and hit nothing but net on a jumper. Smith played on the great 73-74 Braves team with Bob McAdoo, Jim McMillian, Garfield Heard, and Ernie DiGregorio. McAdoo got most of the ink for good reason and McMillian and Ernie their share as well. Garfield Heard is remembered by NBA fans for the last second jump shot he hit for the Phoenix Suns pushing an NBA finals' game into triple overtime. Yet, for me, it was Randy Smith --(who for a long time held the record as the iron man of basketball not missing a game because of injuries for several seasons) who was the key to the success of the Buffalo Braves. A team player who did not seem to squawk for the ball, nor grouse about a lack of respect, he may have been the most talented athlete on a very good basketball team.

It is Kobe and the Lakers who are front and center on the consciousness of basketball fans today and likely for the next fortnight as the NBA championship series between the Lakers and Magic has begun. But for fans of sport and really all others, I'd recommend thinking about someone who never did get much press, but who made a mark, seized the day, and passed too soon.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Anxious Times

With the Lakers defeating the Nuggets last night, and the Magic/Cavaliers within one or two games of ending the conference series in the east, many sports fans are becoming anxious.

The anxiety does not stem from looming concerns about who will prevail in the finals. The anxiety is fueled by the realization that within two weeks there will be nothing but baseball to occupy the hours that are currently spent anticipating, watching, and becoming excited by the televised games.

The six week period from the end of the NBA and NHL championships until the start of the NFL exhibition season is a trying period. Like a marathon runner who hits the wall at mile 20, sports fanatics who start counting the months after the Super Bowl until the next NFL season, hit a wall in late June and July because their sports fix is tough to come by. The days before and after the major league all star game are particularly stressful because on those days there is almost nothing to watch.

Not all sports fans are so monomaniacal. They/we have other hobbies but so much of the fan's life is filled with the joy of actually or vicariously participating in sports, that the void that is formed during this time can make a fan antsy, and make the spouses of fans who may not be similarly immersed, long for the nfl season as well--if for no other reason than to avoid being victimized by quirky withdrawal behaviors. My suggestion to those anticipating these throes is to start reading and/or purchase the Madness of March, for your loved ones.

theory Y and sports

Douglas McGregor described two contrasting perspectives about human motivation at work. Theory X, he explained, was the position that workers were inherently lazy, motivated by money almost entirely, and given the choice between work and play would nearly always choose play. Workers did not, according to Theory X, naturally look for something to do. They were content not to do.

Theory Y was the opposite. Theory Y was the notion that under the right conditions work could be just as much fun as play. According to theory Y, workers desire to do something meaningful with their hours. If someone had nothing to do, that person would look for something to do.

If during your first week on a job answering the telephone, the telephone did not ring, a theory X perspective would assume you would go home and talk about what a wonderful job you had. A Theory Y perspective would assume you would go home and complain to anyone who would listen--and then actively seek another job.

Many, if not most, managers operate under the theory X assumption. And they are very wrong.

Nowhere is the wisdom of theory Y more apparent than in the world of sports. Tonight I watched Kobe Bryant dismantle the Denver Nuggets by his intelligent and energetic play. Kobe Bryant makes millions of dollars each year. His team will earn an increased playoff share if they win a championship, but this bonus is relatively meaningless to a millionaire like Bryant. Yet during the game he was excited, enthusiastically encouraged his teammates, exulted when he scored a basket, and when he was victorious bearhugged a teammate.

Why does Kobe Bryant and the other millionaires who play professional sports jump like little leaguers when they are victorious? Why do teammates mob a player who has hit a game winning shot at the buzzer? It is not for theory X reasons. Basketball players earning millions of dollars do not earn more on the basis of the length of time they play during a game. Yet, if coaches do not give players "minutes" (i.e. playing time) players pout and spew their grievances to the scribes. If theory X was correct, why would players care about whether the coach put them in a game or sat them down?

Under the right conditions, people love coming to work. People want to work. And as is the case in so many ways, sports provides the context for understanding phenomena that exist beyond the world of sport.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

nba playoffs

They begin at 830 pm eastern at the earliest and do not end until past 11, but the NBA conference finals have drawn and maintained the attention of many fans who otherwise have not been awake at 11 pm more than five times in 2009.

LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, among others, have entertained anyone who appreciates basketball these last ten days. Conversations at work, in club locker rooms, at cafeterias often begin with, "did you see the shot LeBron made" and continue with moments of head shaking.

Even last night's relatively lopsided score with a 19 point differential was exciting. Gasol made a shot that was truly--as the announcers suggested--Erving-esque. The birdman often looked as if he was in flight. Kobe made a three with a defender inside Bryant's uniform.

In the Madness of March I make the point that true fans do not need gambling to make the game exciting. Sure, when in Las Vegas the gambling aspect adds a dimension to the spectacle, but those who go to Las Vegas in March are primarily fans who get excited by last second shots, acrobatic blocks, and alley-oop passes and catches that startle spectators--regardless of the spread.

Tonight there are people who are rescheduling their evenings because Orlando and Cleveland will be playing. Memorial day picnics and barbecues were scheduled around the games this past weekend.

Friday, May 15, 2009

sport fan wisdom

Last night during waterbreaks in our regular Thursday night tennis game, each of us took turns darting into the club lobby to check on the scores of the Bruin and Celtic games. It turned out to be a disappointing night. When we finished playing we walked into the lobby and were greeted by a number of glum looking members pointing their thumbs down. As I proceeded toward the locker room, an acquaintance without so much as an initial hello said, "I think we'll win on Sunday."

Familiarity with fan subculture can explain how relative strangers can approach you in the locker room and ask "Who got the loss?" and immediately you know that the inquiry pertains to the Red Sox game and the need to know which pitcher had been identified officially as "the losing pitcher."

Before my tennis match yesterday, I overheard a man in a suit speaking with unmistakable irritation to another similarly attired club member. "So Ortiz is up AGAIN with men in scoring position in the 11th and what does he do--squat. Squat. He does squat. Tell me something. Just tell me something. What is he doing batting third?"

On the court during our match one of our foursome commented that the prior Sunday and Tuesday when one Boston team had won, all of the others had been victorious on the same day. He opined--not entirely in jest--that since the Red Sox had lost in the afternoon--the Bruins and Celtics would also fall. When as it turned out the Bruins and Celtics did eventually lose, the blame for all three games was attributed to the batting slump of David Ortiz.

Monday, May 4, 2009

7th game

I began watching the Celtics-Bulls 7th game at a tavern on 8th avenue and 50th street. To my left was a fellow from Greece and to his left a colleague of his from Italy. To my right was a rabid Chicago Bulls fan who assured me that it was cool that I was cheering for the Celtics.

I discover that the men from Greece and Italy have just completed their MBA degrees at Columbia. They look relaxed and are enjoying these last few weeks in New York before going home to their respective countries. In front of us were two screens, one showing the Red Sox Tampa Bay baseball game, the other showing the Celtics. These students are as friendly as can be. They ask me some questions about the games. The Italian knows more about baseball and the Greek more about basketball, but still they are newcomers to the games. They ask interested questions: "How many points do you get when you hit a home run" I answer and then when there is a dispute about a close play at third I explain the rules pertaining to the need to tag a runner out who advances when the player is not forced.

The interest in the basketball game is serious particularly for the man from Greece who played some in high school. He is impressed with the leaping ability of some players and the shooting prowess of others. I ask them who they are rooting for. They say they just want to see a good game.

Later at another tavern on 79th street I watch the second half packed like a sardine with a hundred zealots who also want to see a good game, but are rooting for the Bulls and Celtics with unrestrained enthusiasm. Again I am standing next to a fellow who roots for Chicago and with whom I exchange complimentary remarks about our teams. To my left is a fellow from Seattle who is rooting for the Celtics because Ray Allen, a Celtic, used to play for the Seattle Supersonics.

After the Celtics preserved the victory, I walk across the street for the post game show. Not much enthusiasm at this Irish pub for much of anything. The brogues in here are so thick that I have trouble making out what people are saying. I ask the young man to my left if he is a fan. "No fan" he says, but I have to ask him three times because it sounds like he says "No fun". Even if he had said the latter and meant it, he would have been the only person I met that night who was not having any.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I find myself in a restaurant on 2nd avenue in New York between 49th and 50th street watching the final period in a triple overtime basketball game. It is sometime close to 11 eastern time. The Boston Celtics are playing the Chicago Bulls in a series that some have already called one of the greatest playoff series ever. This is now the fourth game of six that have been played to go into at least one overtime. A player for the Celtics named Ray Allen eventually will score 51 points in this contest. A fellow who is shouting for the Celtics at every shoutable opportunity gives me a high five when the Boston team takes the lead deep into overtime.

Paul Pierce--a star if there ever was one for the Celtics-has the ball when a second year player named Noah, the son of the tennis great Yannick Noah steals the ball from Pierce races the length of the court and slams a dunk as Pierce commits a 6th and disqualifying foul. The bartender who had spoken in nothing other than a thick brogue from the moment we arrived, sees the play and says sans brogue, "where the hell did he go to college." Another patron to my left is shaking his head while stringing a profanity laden sentence together commenting in general on the vicissitudes of sport.

I could have walked into any restaurant on second avenue at that time and observed/been an actor in a very similar scene. The Bulls won the game because of Noah's outstanding play (which has now been replayed on highlight shows nothing short of 100 times since the Thursday game). Tonight is the 7th game. I will find another restaurant at which to watch it and be part of a scene that will be almost as interesting (no credit to my abilities) as the events on the screen.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

How bout them Bruins

I am in the vestibule to the post office reviewing the mail that has arrived in my post office box. A man whisks past me positively beaming. The woman at the counter greets him with similar enthusiasm.

"How 'bout those Bruins?" she says to him.
"How 'bout those Bruins," he shakes his head and responds not as a question, but as if to say, "Can you beat that?"

Last night the Boston Bruins swept the Montreal Canadiens in their best of seven hockey playoff series. Superficial acquaintances and strangers have bonded in Boston over this news. They are enjoying the day partly because the Canadiens and the Bruins are rivals, and partly because it is a relief to have cleared the initial hurdle in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. My dear friend Barry Poppel who is referred to in the epilogue to March Madness: Bonding and Betting with the Boys is similarly, but not completely, relieved. His Rangers are up 3-1 in their series with the Washington Capitals. They need one more victory and their fans are sufficiently knowledgeable to be aware that the series is not over before the rotund lady is crooning. But still, 3-1, is better than 1-3 and how 'bout them Rangers.

Throughout Boston, New York, and other cities the hockey and playoff fever is co-mingling with the beginnings of baseball season. Last night I heard a distressed sports talk show host worrying about--of all things--whether the prospects of a rainout would throw the Red Sox pitching rotation into disarray. The season is only fifteen games old. On ESPN a fellow who seems to hibernate from May until March, has been omnipresent predicting who will be selected in this year's NFL football draft. The draft will be held on Saturday in New York and this event is a reflection if there ever was one of fan culture. People stand in line for hours to attend the draft. The draft is televised annually and it consists of nothing more than teams identifying the players from the college ranks that they have chosen to hire to play for their respective teams. Imagine a national network televising Xerox, Toyota, Dow-Chemical, and thirty other executives sitting around and picking the best college graduates for their companies--and there being a crazed audience waiting to hear the selections identified.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Boston/Patriots Day/fans

My friend Kenny annually travels from his home in Hyde Park, New York to Boston for Patriots Day. Even for those from Boston, the day is almost always refreshingly exciting, but for those outside of the area it is difficult to describe the energy in the city--and how it reflects the pervasive interest in sport in contemporary society.

We drove to Fenway Park for the 11 a.m. Red Sox game via a circuitous route because the normal route to the ball park is blocked off. The normal route was blocked off because at the same time the Red Sox play their annual Patriots Day morning game, thousands of marathon runners begin the 26.2 mile journey from Hopkinton to Boston. We arrived at the game and were up in what are called "the monster seats"--seats apparently built into the left field wall at the park. There, despite the 40 degree weather--Red Sox zealots discussed the plight of the team, the slump of David Ortiz, the injuries to "Dice-K" and all sorts of other travails as the Red Sox pummelled the Orioles 12-1. Down from the stands we wanted to stop into a restaurant for lunch. The lines to get into the several establishments near the park were enormous with potential patrons shivering in an array of Red Sox jackets, caps, knit hats, sweatshirts, and all sorts of fandom paraphernalia. We discovered a place about a mile away with no waiting, but soon were crammed in with Red Sox fans discussing the victory. Outside, less than a hundred yards away, the marathoners are streaming down Boylston street finishing the last half mile of the journey. Inside the restaurant is a woman draped in an aluminum blanket. She is with her clan and tells us that she finished the race in 2 hours and 38 minutes--an outstanding time--and now is in the tavern to, as she put it, "hydrate".

We travel downtown by subway and see two women in the car wearing Celtics jerseys. They are going to the Boston Garden to watch the Celtics play in their first round playoff game against the Chicago Bulls. A rider gets on and discusses the nuances of the series with the women. He gets off one stop later and wishes the fans well. At another stop, a gentleman wearing a Bruins jacket hops on the train. I asked if the Bruins are playing tonight. He tells me that they are. They're up in Montreal he tells me. And then proceeds as he holds onto the strap above my head to explain how a Bruins player has been suspended for the contest. He shakes his head and makes a face to say, "Tough to win when your star is out." He is worried. I wish him well and he says, earnestly, "thanks" like someone grateful for the good wishes toward a speedy recovery of some illness.

We walk into a tavern called The Black Rose. There we meet a runner who claims to have completed his twentieth consecutive marathon today. I congratulate him on this feat and then he offers as modestly as one can about such a thing, that one year he ran the marathon twice in one day. In response to my astonishment he tells me that on the eventful day he began in the early morning at the finish line, ran out to the starting line, and then returned back with the thousands during the race. He explains that he is an "ultra marathoner".

Later on, we have dinner in a place called the Union Oyster House. We sit at the bar for our meal. To our right is a family from Chicago who has come to root on a son who finished the race in the top twenty. The kid looks fresh as a daisy, the parents are beaming. At the same time they discuss the son's race they are looking at the tv screen watching the Celtics/Chicago Bulls playoff game that the subway riders had been off to. On another screen members of the family are watching the Bruins hockey game. During our dinner several marathoners come and go telling us their tales of the race. The last of the group is a trio--two from Minneapolis one from Washington State. The three met in college in California. One of the three--the woman, a teacher from Washington, has just completed the race and the other two--now wed--have come to root her on. The runner is all smiles and looks like she could run another mile or two. All three talk of the sports energy in the city.

When the Celtics beat the Bulls on a last second shot the Union Oyster House explodes.

Red Sox win. Celtics win. Bruins win despite the suspension. Marathon runners are beaming.

A baseball game, marathon race, hockey and basketball game--the city shut down one day for the joy of sport.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

interview with Mike Schikman

One of the perks of writing The Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys in Las Vegas, is that I have gotten to meet and speak with sports talk hosts in various parts of the country. Last night I was on the air on WSVA 550 a.m. with Mike Schikman on his program Speaking Of. Mike is the voice of the James Madison University Dukes and had read an advance copy of the book when it first came out as an advance copy in January. He had contacted the University of Nebraska Press and we arranged to meet. I had an opportunity to see Mike face to face at the Colonial Athletic Association tournament in Richmond last month. Not only do we share a common interest in sports, but we discovered in another example of "it's a small world" and only "six degrees of separation" that Mike went to high school with one of my first cousins.

Mike, as has been the case with nearly all the radio folks with whom I have spoken, was well prepared for the interview asking questions reflecting his familiarity with the book, insights on sports culture, and an awareness of his listeners' interests. I am not surprised that he has been successful on the air for thirty years.

One question that recurs in these interviews pertains to the pervasiveness of betting and the potential for insidious consequences because of betting. My comment during the interviews is the same as the one I make in the book. The people who travel to Las Vegas for the first weekend of the tournament are first and foremost, fans--not bettors. Yes, they wager on the games, but what draws them to las vegas is the desire to be with like minded zealots for four days watching games that they love to watch. Moreover, I believe that while there have been some negative consequences because of betting--and there are some people who bet too much--the idea that betting should be eliminated is not a well thought out one. It is analogous to prohibiting the consumption of alcoholic beverages because some people abuse alcohol or do destructive things because of drinking excessively.

Mike Schikman and nearly all the other radio hosts have been gracious and very supportive of the book. Mike even mentioned last night that the book would be a great father's day gift. I am sure that the people at the University of Nebraska press would join me in endorsing this recommendation.

Friday, April 17, 2009

fan culture

When Bill Rasmussen, the pioneer for ESPN, first had the idea of a 24 hour sports network, he thought the idea was brilliant. He knew there were many zealots like himself who could not get enough watching and listening about games. Rasmussen presented his idea to executives and they all ridiculed the notion. Now ESPN is a staple of television viewing with ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN-News, ESPN360, as well as similar networks dedicated to all sports all the time.

Tomorrow, Saturday April 16th there will be four consecutive NBA playoff games broadcast. The same full slate with four different games will be televised on Sunday. The NHL playoffs is in full swing and baseball games are omnipresent on tv and radio as well.

As a kid my brother and I eagerly waited for the five minutes of radio sports news that came on at 445 and 545 on WOR in New York. 645-7 was a bonanza with 15 minutes of sports news.

The extent of appetite for broadcast news and play by play for games has been and will continue to be nearly insatiable.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

season change

Sports fans are aware of what summer and spring refer to but identify seasons in terms of the sports that are played during periods of time. College basketball season just ended with the Connecticut women's team making you wonder how they would do in the men's Patriot League as they pummeled everyone in their way en route to a championship.

We are now approaching the NHL/NBA playoff season and have begun baseball season.

For true football fans, this is not baseball, basketball, or hockey season--but the off season. Football zealots tolerate the other sports as a sort of anesthetic or, at best, a way to pass the time until football season begins. Football fans, during the off season, count months before the first preseason game. For them, we are now 2.5 months into the ordeal and they must yet endure the remaining 3.5 months before training camp. Baseball and the playoffs will make the wait somewhat tolerable. The day before and after the AllStar game in July looms as the most difficult days ahead for the true sports fan.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

north carolina

Michigan State gave it up on Saturday night and just had nothing left to match the excellence of UNC last night. Had they faced an inferior team or one that was not coached as well, Michigan State might have been able to use the energy from their supporters and whatever reserves they had to mount a victory. But against Ty Lawson who is one of the better players I have seen play in some time, and the rest of the rarely missing UNC team, Michigan State just seemed spent most of the night.

For sports fans tonight's CT game against Louisville marks the end of the college basketball season. The next season will not be spring, but baseball season with professional basketball and hockey playoffs providing the cherries on top.

Monday, April 6, 2009

new york post

When I was a boy my dad brought home the New York Post each day when he returned from work. This was when New York had the Post, News, Mirror, Herald Tribune, New York Times, and Daily American. The Post at the time was in the top tier of prestigious papers then and only below the Times and the Tribune in terms of intellectual news content.

For me, however, the Post was the sports section. It was terrific with several articles each day on the major sports teams. There was one part of the Post, however, that I did not understand. It was a regular article written by someone who was suggesting wagers on games. Each day he would report in language that was not decipherable--at least by a ten year old--the results of his last night's effort, how much he was up for the season, and how much he attempted to plunk down that night on whoever. I could not follow it even after making serious attempts.

Now, I get it. I still do not understand the allure, and wonder if betting on games can reduce the excitement of a contest as much as enhance it. But I understand it.

And I understand how following your bets can become something of a contest with or without money. Betting can be something like a daily suduku ritual, bet on the game, follow the 2009 version of the Post article to which I refer, and see how you are doing for the year.

I will try to recall the language of the Post column with what I write below about this weekend's attempt at predicting the unpredictable.

"Good weekend for Z what with Connecticut women winning on the money line as projected and Louisville not only getting within 4 1/2 but taking the game altogether, also as forecast. And, anomaly of anomalies, another two for two correctly forecast on Saturday night with Michigan State taking the men from Storrs, and North Carolina waving goodbye to Philadelphia's V-men. Someone send a tweet to Ripley's to record this atypical wisdom. Tonight Z will try to make you forget the Hurricane. Place the tokens on the under. Don't like betting the under but 153 1/2? I don't think so. Word to the wise: the last time Z picked five in a row was during the early days of the Ford administration."

Something like that.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Louisville Connecticut

Tonight's women's basketball game between Stanford and Connecticut will be as exciting as any contest a fan is likely to see. It will be difficult to top last night's game between Michigan State and the men from Connecticut, but the women from Connecticut will do just that.

Connecticut will prevail over Stanford, but the 10 1/2 points of lumber is too much. I say take Connecticut on the money line. Louisville will get within the 4 1/2 point spread in their game against Oklahoma. Even the state of Oklahoma will have 64,000 reasons to root for Louisville since the star of the Sooner team has vowed to give back her scholarship money if her team is unsuccessful.

If I sound like I know what I am talking about, it is an illusion. I do know that anyone who doubts the athleticism of women basketball players will be disabused of that notion when watching the Connecticut women this evening. Nearly every man I met in Las Vegas would lose to the last woman on the Connecticut bench 15-0 in a game of one on one (this is before the beer).

I did notice this year a greater percentage of women at the sports books and that percentage is likely to increase as respect for women's sports continues to get the media coverage it has earned.

Emotion in Detroit

In the post game show last night, Coach Jim Calhoun of Connecticut commented that the team they played was not the same Michigan State team he observed when reviewing tapes prior to the contest. I have not studied or even seen those tapes, but it was obvious last night that Michigan State was playing with an intensity and energy that is rarely seen. I have not seen such intensity since John Wooden's last game as coach when a fellow named Andre McCarter zoomed around the court as if he was motorized in an attempt to ensure that Wooden would leave the game a champion (and he did).Coach Tom Izzo in his post game conference said that maybe what his team did last night might provide some joy to a region that has been ravaged during these economic times.

Emotion is such a large part of sports and life. It often trumps logic and can be a stimulus for exceeding what would appear to be logical capabilities. On paper Michigan State should lose to Connecticut. The game was played in Detroit however, not far from the Michigan State campus. Emotion does not always have such positive effects as it can trump logic in a way that can be unhealthy, but in sports emotion coupled with preparation can produce a Michigan State team that plays inspirationally and explains why there is factor in sports called, "home court advantage".

Hurricane would have been proud of me last night. I picked the over on the 133 Ct game, and that North Carolina would beat the spread. Both were winners. Unlike Hurricane, however, I know these successes were aberrations.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Predictions 143

I commented in an earlier post that a fellow named Hurricane called in on a talk show and announced that he was a prognosticator. I had said--and maintain--that betting on college basketball games is like betting on the flip of a coin. He contended that someone with wisdom might be able to predict well. He was not convincing to me. The appeal of las vegas during sporting events is less due to the prospects of a large payday, but more because of the ride of being with like minded cheering individuals during contests.

It was with great embarrassment that I listened to my podcast with Howard Schwartz recorded on the Wednesday before the tournament. The podcast was,for the most part, great and Howard Schwartz and his bookshop is nothing short of a jewel for any sports fan--regardless of your enthusiasm for betting. Howard is not only an extraordinary raconteur who is a joy to listen to and be with, but his store is a gold mine for the sports enthusiast. Nevertheless, I listened to my response to Howard's inquiry about my predictions and rationale for them. I made three predictions because--of course--I knew that you can't predict them all. I explained why I made these predictions. Hurricane will be delighted to read that I was wrong on all three counts.

Despite this--and despite my claim that you can not win betting on college basketball--I continue to be asked by those who know I wrote this book about my predictions. So, with all the preceding as a caveat, for those who may be interested: Bet the over on the Connecticut game. It is at 133. It will come in at 143. I like that number. Also, take North Carolina and give the points against Villanova and run.

tournament and media

Al McGuire the late Marquette coach once called the semi finals of the NCAA tournament the most exciting day in college basketball. His comment resonated with me then probably because that is precisely the way I felt. I can remember setting aside this day and making sure I had no plans for the five or six hours when the games would be played.

Now, I feel differently and I don't believe I am an aberration. The excitement of the tournament for me now is not the end of it, but the beginning. At this point each year the teams that have survived are from a group that everyone expected to survive. With the rare exception of George Mason University a few years ago, the final four matchups create enthusiasm mostly in Chapel Hill, Connecticut, East Lansing, and Philadelphia--sites of the survivors who had been among the pretournament elite.

The change in fandom significance of the final four is based on a number of factors. A major factor is the tournament exposure on television. When Al McGuire made his comment, few games from the preliminary rounds were broadcast. It was not until the late 1970s when then espn decided to televise all the tournament games. Now, CBS owns the rights to do so and, while not to the same extent that ESPN did, broadcasts nearly all of the games. (ESPN did not take dinner breaks and you could turn on the tube at 2 a.m. and see the replay of a game played between eastern kentucky and say northern iowa in case you missed a minute earlier when you were watching Miami of Ohio play against say Long Beach State).

By this time in 2009, fans could have watched 60 games so the last five are of relatively little import to someone outside of the regions where the contests are played. Sure there is interest, but it is not like it was in the 1970s. Someone who previously would never consider a movie and dinner on the night of the final four, may figure they will catch the highlights on espn when they return from the restaurant since they have already watched forty to sixty games in the tournament.

To be sure, televising games has done much more to enhance the visibility of the tournament than it has in eroding fandom. Seth Davis's book that, alas, is selling better than mine, makes the claim that what made march madness was the Bird-Johnson game in 1979. He is incorrect. That game was great (partly because Bird's Indiana State was such a sleeper and underdog). However, what made march madness was not any championship game, but the decision (and available technology) to telecast the first 48 games. The access to sports created fans and excited existing fans.

Friday, April 3, 2009


I had a radio interview with a fellow from NPR in Las Vegas yesterday. In the course of the conversation he told me that Ballys would be temporarily closing its sports book for a few months. Later I went on line and saw a story about the closing. The reason given was that business was down due to the turbulence with the economy.

There was no evidence of any downturn at Ballys when I was in Las Vegas in mid March for the first few days of the tournament. Ballys, always a popular venue, was packed very early on Thursday morning and nearly every time I went to view the games there during the weekend.

Along with the Venetian, the Imperial Palace, Paris, and Caesars, Ballys was a regular stop for me in 2007 while I watched the games and the people for the Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys in Las Vegas. I bonded and betted with many of the boys in Ballys as readers may remember.

Bettors, no doubt, are shaking their heads sadly at this news. The odds are very good that Ballys will be back. The prediction is that it will reopen in the Fall. I think it is wise, in this instance, to take the under.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


I have been asked a number of times on radio shows and once when speaking about the book at my university library if I think that the games are influenced by point shaving.

My regular answer is that they are not and yesterday provided some more evidence to support it.

Shaving, for those readers unaware of it, refers to a practice of deliberately reducing a differential in a game's outcome. A criminal might suggest to a player that instead of the team winning by 7 why not win by just 5. A win is a win. If a spread is 6, the criminal and any conspirator might rationalize that to shave would be harmless. The team would win and a bettor would win. The team would win by 5 and the bettor would win because the 6 point spread would render the bettor, better by one point. This logic is convenient, irrational, worthy of ridicule, and reprehensible.

Nevertheless, there certainly have been instances when shaving has occurred with scandals in the 50s, 60s, 80s, and recently in the nba when an official was accused of and admitted to shaving points by making strange officiating decisions to influence a score.

I have been curious to see how the ends of tournament games might be affected by strange behavior. I have not detected any strange behavior. The players and coaches seem to be unaware of the spread entirely.

Yesterday, for example, the end of the Connecticut game with Missouri was a classic case when the game was won on the court, but people in Las Vegas suffered infarctions. The spread in the game was 5 1/2 points, Connecticut was up by 7, and Missouri had the ball with a few seconds left. The game was over. A Missouri player dribbled the ball and with less than anything approaching enthusiasm drove aimlessly to the basket. He was unimpeded as he should have been. The last thing CT would want to do in that scenario was foul. As he drove to the basket people in Las Vegas held their collective breath as the Missouri player flipped a shot up without much in the way of concern regarding the success of the effort. As it turned out, the ball rolled around the rim and out. No big deal was made of this on the court, by the players, by the coaches, or by the announcers. If shaving was prevalent, someone, somewhere, other than las vegas, would have reacted to this event. That ball rolling around cost some people hundreds if not thousands of dollars and made others hundred if not thousands richer. The ball goes in, the differential is 5 and someone with 5 1/2 is a winner. The ball bounces out, the 5 1/2 is one and half points short. There was no reaction on the court. If you listened carefully you might have heard the groans from Nevada, but not on the court where the games was played.

This could be naive, but I dont think I am wrong. I doubt that anyone on that court knew of the spread or was concerned with it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

limited wisdom

This morning, after the initial games of the sweet sixteen were played last night, I visited a website to find out what the over was on each of the games and to see if the pundits had got it right. I happened on one site which not only gave the spread, but also provided commentary on how the bets had been coming in prior to game time. One feature of the site indicated what the wise bets were. Of the five wise bets identified on the site, three turned out to be correct.

I then scrolled down to read comments made on the site. The most amusing comment was posted by a visitor who scoffed at Villanova's chances against Duke. The remark was unequivocal "If anyone in their right mind thinks that the defensively deficient Villanova Wildcats are going to beat Duke tonight they're absolutely CRAZY!" The final score was Villanova 77, Duke 54. The defensively challenged Wildcats held mighty Duke to the lowest score among the 8 participants last night.

While I was amused as I read this comment, it also reminded me of a humbling moment. I do not pretend to be an expert. Actually, in the book I make the comment that my only wisdom in this arena is the wisdom to know that I am not wise, and that few who bet regularly could be sufficiently wise to come out regular winners. However, when interviewed about the book, almost invariably, the host asks me "who I like." I listened to the podcast with Howard Schwartz the other night, heard Howard ask me for my picks, and heard my response. As it turned out, I was three for three. Certain that Ohio State would beat Siena, Butler would beat LSU, and VCU would prevail, I cringed as I heard each utterance as all three teams lost their games. (But VCU did cover. Maybe Butler too. Don't talk to me about Siena).

The Madness of March: Bonding and Betting with the Boys is not about betting wisdom. It is about the subculture of fans who travel to las vegas and bet. Within the subculture are those that fancy themselves to be knowledgeable--even though they really consider the excursion an amusement park ride as opposed to a money making expedition. This illogical assumption--that you can outsmart the sports books--is part of the amusement at the sports book. The logical assumption is this: If there were many genuine pundits, there would be no Las Vegas.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


One of the perks of writing a book like this is that occasionally someone will contact me and want to do a media interview. This gives me an opportunity to speak again about the project and I enjoy doing so. On Monday I was on a radio talk show program and not only conversed with the host, but also had a chance to speak with a caller who phoned the program while I was on the air.

I had just mentioned that it is difficult to win regularly betting on basketball in Las Vegas. The phone rang and soon thereafter I was involved in an exchange with a man who identified himself as hurricane.

Hurricane took issue with the claim that it is difficult to win in las vegas. He said he was a prognosticator and had been successful. Then in a way that would seem to make sense if I did not know better, he began to explain a method that he uses to win with his basketball betting. It was a complicated formula which I might have worked at trying to understand if I did not know that it could not possibly be effective over the long haul. Interested readers might want to look at Chad Millman's book, The Odds, which traces three professional gamblers' attempts at picking basketball games as their primary job. No matter how wise you are, you can not predict unpredictable last second changes that affect the spread. For those contemplating doing so for anything other than an avocational adventure, I suggest you reconsider.

Or you can call hurricane and fly with him out to Las Vegas. I am sure the casinos have already sent a private plane for him because he has a system.