Monday, February 18, 2019

No halo for Saints

I just watched a replay of the Saints/Rams game that caused such a brouhaha.

For those who need a reminder, with a little more than a minute and a half to go the Saints had the ball in field goal range.  The score was tied.  A field goal would put the Saints up by three points.  The Rams had two time outs remaining.

What happened is that on the Saints drive there was a blatant pass interference call that was not made. Had the play been called correctly, the Saints would have won the game and played in the Super bowl instead of the Rams. 

The Saints and their fans, then, and since then, have squawked about the injustice. A lawyer for season ticket holders sued the NFL and requested the game be replayed from the time of the missed call.

Any fan who is not biased knows how absurd that request is.  If it were honored, then any team could find any play during a game where a call was missed, and request that the game be replayed from that time.

But that is not the point of this blog.  I have written some and taught some about what makes a positive culture on a team and why some teams with less talent than others, prevail, while teams who are loaded with skilled players sometimes are unsuccessful.  The Saints squawking after the game is evidence of why the Saints lost, not the bad call.  It makes sense to squawk during the game, but after the game you take your lumps, especially given some particulars that I saw again, as I watched the game on tape this evening.

When the Saints had the ball with over 90 seconds left, they threw a pass that was incomplete.  It was a dumb play because it saved the Rams one of their timeouts.  Then they ran a play which went nowhere, and the Rams called a timeout. Then inexplicably they threw again. This was the play where the referee clearly made the error.

But why did they throw at all? If they ran it three times, then the Rams would have gotten the ball, behind three with 50 seconds left tops and no timeouts.  Game pretty much over. 

As it was, the Rams got the ball back with about 80 seconds left with a time out.  Then, the Saints played lousy defense allowing the Rams to get into field goal range to tie the game. In fact, had the quarterback for the Rams not gotten the heebie jeebies, the Rams would have won the game in regulation by scoring a touchdown. He got nervous and threw to the wrong guy, so the Rams had to settle for a field goal.

Okay, overtime. 

Folks, the Saints won the toss.  Just like the Patriots did in their overtime game. The Saints won the toss. The ball was in their hands. A trip to the Super bowl in their hands.What do they do?

First down, a scaredy cat pass that is knocked down at the line of scrimmage.  Then, a run that went nowhere. And then, in the mascara call of all time, the Rams are called for pass interference for contact that would have not derailed my grandmother.  A mascara call in the jargon of sports is one that is a "make up" for a prior missed one. So because of this make up call the Saints are on the Rams side of the 50.

The next play is a bizarre run that goes backwards. This is a championship team, not. Then Brees throws a pass worthy of an intramural game. It is a dying duck that is intercepted. The Rams get the ball and move the ball sufficiently to win the game on the field goal. The Rams go to the Super bowl.

Saints start to cry.

The reason a team is a loser is because they don't acknowledge their complicity in losses, but blame someone else.  Yes, that call would have given the Saints a sure thing. But how many calls were bad all game long. And the Saints still had a chance to win in regulation, took the lead, and then relinquished it. And then they threw that duck in overtime.

Suck it up Saint fans. 

When the Patriots lost to the Dolphins on a last second miracle play, I was in the stands in Miami. I could not believe how the Dolphins won that game.  I was eager to hear what the Patriots players and coaches had to say. What they said was that the Dolphins made one more play than they did.  They did not say it was a fluke, even though it was a fluke.  They took the hit for the loss.

The only way the Saints grow is to acknowledge that they, not the refs, lost the championship game with a combination of knucklehead calls by the coach, poor defense, and a lame duck interception.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Paula Sharaga

So yesterday morning I received an e-mail telling me that a classmate had been killed in a bicycle accident.

For some coincidence, Paula Sharaga and I were in many classes together in high school. Some of my best buds from high school and I never once sat in the same room.  Kenny, Gary, Elaine, John--I guess that can come with the territory when a class is over 700. But Paula and I were regularly in the same room.

She had been biking at a very difficult intersection in Boston. I lived near there for the first five years I was in Boston in two separate dwellings so I know the spot.  If you were on Brookline Avenue behind Fenway Park and drove (or biked) south, away from kenmore square, you would within a mile come to a confluence of roads where Brookline Avenue joins Boylston Street and Park Drive.  It is a mess. In order to continue onto Brookline Avenue, you actually have to make a right and go around something akin to a rotary and then make another right in order to get to the other part of Brookline.   I don't even like to drive to this area because while it is convoluted even for me a three decade veteran of the region, people who are new to the area can become confused at the intersection. I am not sure of the particulars but somewhere near that junction Paula was hit by a cement truck.  She was taken to a nearby hospital where she was pronounced dead.

About fifteen years ago we met for coffee near the library where she worked.  I'd seen her once in Boston, and she had come to our 25th high school reunion.  It was an enjoyable hour catching up on this and that.  She was a dedicated member of the community, an activist working towards various important goals.  In high school she was a very good and serious student, though someone with a good sense of humor, and she had this great distinctive laugh that I am not sure words can describe.  We said we would get together again and both meant it, but that was the last time I saw her except for facebook postings.

Boston has become a city with many bicyclists.  I think it is very hazardous to be a bicyclist in the city even if you are an expert on a bike. Motorists do not see you.  In what would be humorous except for the horrific nature of events like this one, the city has painted bike lines on roadways.  It is laughable because you can paint what you want, but if there is not enough space for a vehicle and a biker on a road, then the line is meaningless. Why not paint a lane and call it an airplane landing zone.  On many streets there just is not enough room for both cars and bikes, let alone the problems of motorists not seeing the bikers.  The worst is the stretch from MIT to Harvard on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge.  A relatively narrow place for cars where they have a dedicated bike lane that bikers can't be reasonably expected to stay within, and motorists cannot be reasonably expected to stay away from.

 I have done all sorts of adventurous things in my time around the track. Taken hikes on challenging paths, climbed up mountains when it has not been the easiest thing to gain purchase.  My brother and I did a hike in Glacier National Park that, if we knew what we were getting into when we started, we would have stayed at the rest area and drank beer.  But I will not, as in never except in an absolute emergency, ride a bike in a city like Boston.  Helmet Shmelmet. You can't be safe.

Paula Sharaga was a sweet smart dear woman.  We, citizens of this here earth, have lost someone special.

Sunday, February 3, 2019


Why does it matter to me what 53 people in Atlanta do in six hours?

Yesterday morning I went to my favorite grocery store. It opens at 7 am, and I am an early riser.  It is not only my favorite store, people from several municipalities shop there. It's big and bright, always has a bunch of check out counters; has its own bakery and sandwich shops; typically one item or another of a particular ilk is on sale--coke not on sale, pepsi is on sale, peets coffee not sale, starbucks is on sale.  And they make very good jelly doughnuts, that are--predictably--freshest within a half hour of the store's opening. I have indulged on more than one occasion.

Yesterday at 7, the store was more crowded than usual.  And nearly one out of every three people was wearing some sort of New England Patriot garb.  Patriot hats, sweatshirts, sweatpants, caps.  Little babies with Patriot onesies. The store had Patriot balloons and banners at the front, it seemed to me, of every aisle.  People who looked like my grandmother, hardly a sports fan, were attired in Patriots colors.

This morning we went out for breakfast. Our regular haunt had Patriot paraphernalia all over the place. Again, the customers were wearing the colors. The tvs were blasting superbowl this and that. The chatter in the place was about the Patriots. The newspapers scattered about had Patriot stories.

Last night I found myself at the Marriott sports bar downtown. Very big place. Lots of tvs. I sat between a fellow who was eating the largest hot dog I have ever seen, and a man with a heavy brogue.  I began chatting with the fellow with the brogue. He was in town for the super bowl game. Now the game is being played in Atlanta, but he had flown in from Ireland to be with his friends in Boston who were watching the game. This man from Ireland knew more about Patriot history and this past season than I do, and I am no slouch in this department. He also was a fan of the Red Sox. This was his third flight to Boston in the last six months to watch Patriot or Red Sox games.

Why do we care?

The city is so abuzz with the New England Patriots. You might think we should be ho hum. After all the Patriot success is nothing short of remarkable. We have (note the pronoun) been to the super bowl 9 times in 18 years.  For comparison sake, the last time the New York Jets were in the super bowl Richard Nixon was president. The last time the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns were in the super bowl was never.  Never in 52 years. The Patriots have played in this game 9 times in 18 years.

Why do we care?

People who are sports fanatics are often told to "get a life."

But what is so wrong with having an enthusiasm for a team such that an entire community becomes joyously abuzz in anticipation of a season or a four hour event?  Not everyone has to be a fan of sport and one is not malnourished if they find sports a silly way to spend time. But one has to invest their emotional energy in something in the same way that sports fans invest their energy in sports.  Politics, coin collection, social causes, philately, architecture. Something.  We all need to be able to get excited about something. Folks who have no interest in, or excited enthusiasm for, anything would be wise  to get a life.

Sure, it does not matter in terms of anything tangible whether the Patriots win this game. But a lot of people will be happy tomorrow in New England if we, er they, are victorious.

Friday, February 1, 2019


The NCAA decision regarding Missouri's academic dishonesty may have merit. However, the claim that there is a distinction between the Missouri case and the UNC case is contrived. The report about the ruling includes the following paragraphs.

While the case is expected to draw comparisons to recent academic misconduct at North Carolina, the NCAA said it differed in that "UNC stood by the courses and grades it awarded student-athletes."

"In support of that position," the NCAA's report said, "UNC asserted that although courses were created and graded by an office secretary, student-athletes completed their own work. Here, by contrast, Missouri acknowledged that the tutor completed student-athletes' work and, in most instances, this conduct violated its honor code."

In the UNC case, there were no courses. Students were assigned to a bogus independent study, or enrolled in a lecture class that did not meet. Student-athletes in these non classes submitted a paper at the end of the term which could be stunningly superficial. In addition, the report on the UNC scandal suggests that students did indeed get support for even these superficial papers. If Missouri is penalized, then there can be no justification for UNC to not have been penalized.