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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Stories by Danny Lee:

Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax ruins a lot of trust

manti-teoSay it ain’t so… Te’o. Just when you thought it was safe to believe in a feel-good sports story involving the strength of character in the face of tragedy, you get the Manti Te’o saga that erupted on Wednesday. And I was just starting to get my head around the apostrophe in his last name. (A D’Brickashaw he is not.) Touchdown Jesus may want to lay low until the heat dies down.

A little more than a week has passed since Notre Dame lost out in its bid to become national champion for the first time since 1988. Alabama dashed those hopes, presumably the biggest damage done by a tide since Noah came floating by.

The story of how Notre Dame reached the National Championship Game was largely written on the shoulders of their burly Heisman-candidate linebacker Manti Te’o, who captured the hearts and minds of many with his story of perseverance despite the death of his grandmother and cancer-stricken girlfriend.

His now-alleged girlfriend, a supposedly former Stanford student by the name of Lennay Kekua, made the Te’o story something worthy of a Hollywood script (an appellation since diminished by the “Twilight” series). Never mind that a purely defensive player hasn’t been deemed worthy of the award since Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997, Te’o’s (too many apostrophes for one man) prodigious performances earned him national acclaim and bolstered the national titles hope of a woebegone program. The story of his lost love was picked up numerous national media.

While his acuity on the field isn’t to be diminished, the nation has come to know they were duped. No cancer-stricken girlfriend. No lost love. No final words of “I love you.” Nothing. We were painted a picture that was one part Georgia O’Keefe, two parts George O’Leary.

It was misdirection, trickery: a boy-in-the-well story meant to grab attention perhaps for a player who may have been deserving of Heisman accolades but may not have gotten them otherwise. It immediately hearkened back to 1971, when the school convinced Joe Theismann to change the pronunciation of his last name to rhyme with the award, as if his on-the-field prowess were not enough.


BCS rankings are an SEC party

It’s that magical time of year again: The one where people are talking nonstop about humans and computers as if this were “Tron” played out in real life. No, this isn’t science fiction run amok but the annual reminder that the BCS standings are here. Danger, danger Denard Robinson.

If you are not a Dixie-ophile, perhaps you should look away from the BCS polls and pick up a copy of “Mother Jones.” The SEC, winners of the last six national championships, is once again attracting as much attention as Rush Limbaugh at a Sierra Club meeting. Along with Alabama, there are three other teams from the conference occupying the top ten spots in this year’s first edition of the standings. And 6 of the top-12 hail from the league. That’s 50%! I must thank my statistician father for helping me with the math on that.

Alabama, by no surprise, tops the charts by a margin currently that stands as college football’s version of Franklin Roosevelt-Alf Landon, the Kansas governor not the furry character. The Crimson Tide has distinguished itself on a level seemingly above the rest of the nation; so much so that they could theoretically lose the national title game, provided they put the right cleats on the proper feet, some guilt-ridden writers may just give them the national championship nonetheless.

Keep in mind, last year’s national champion had four players taken in the first round of this year’s NFL draft, eight overall. That’s about as fair as the peewee football team I played on which featured 3 college dropouts and a 300-pound bald guy ironically named Harry.

Alabama has been ranked number-one the last seven weeks in the AP poll. “Sweet Home Alabama” never got higher than eighth on the US charts, though Lynyrd Skynyrd may demonstrate some largesse by donating one of their “y’s” to help ask the question “Why?” As in, why bother playing out the rest of the season?

Florida ranking second, ahead of Oregon, causes a small measure of furor. Folks are pointing the finger at Pat Buchanan or a hanging chad or three for the Ducks getting slotted in the third position in the BCS rankings despite being placed at number two by the human polls.


When does sports fan behavior go too far?

If one looks up the definition of a fan, they are most likely to find some kind of derivative of “a device capable of blowing air.” Of course, we know better: that sounds more like the definition of a politician. Exchange “blowing air” for “blowing smoke” and you’re more likely to be categorizing a number of athletes.

A fan, as those in the sports world know the term, is an ardent supporter of a team, player, or otherwise; someone willing to don a foam block of cheese on their head (or chest), a person who expresses utter disdain for hypothermia and social mores when removing their shirt in temperatures hovering around 5-below just to paint themselves an ungodly shade of red, risking life, limb, and employment in the process.

Sports fans wear their heart on their sleeve, along with the many untold stains from Super Bowl parties past. Some brand their team’s logo on their arm, an unfortunate decision should the team ever pack up and leave or decide to follow the trend of changing logos every full moon. Others brand their team’s logo on other people’s arms, flouting convention and the law while doing so.

The most select group of sports fans are normally a Stoic bunch: Stoicism in this case gravitating from cosmic determinism to the slightly more modern topic of what have you done for my fantasy team lately? Sports fans have certain unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the ability to forestall having to see “60 Minutes” at its regularly scheduled time slot on Sundays during the fall.

Cheering and booing are the time-honored practices of fandom, along with the various noxious gases that go along with it. Ancient scrolls seem to suggest that Moses might have been booed as a result of the amount of time it took to cross the Sinai Desert. This would be the old-school equivalent of showing displeasure with a pitcher who continues to throw over to first base to keep a runner close.

Bill Buckner thought he had it bad. How well do you think Napoleon was received after his unsuccessful journey into Russia? Hannibal trying to invade with war elephants? And Phillies fans with memories like elephants still hold a grudge against Mitch Williams …


History of handshakes gone wrong in sports

I did some research on the origin of the handshake. Stop for a couple moments to absorb that statement. Perhaps you may need to lay down to fully grasp the fact that I actually did some research for once, as opposed to my usual practice of just making up facts. In all seriousness, though, modern science — or whatever you call a bunch of researchers who have nothing better to study — traces the origins of the handshake to ancient Greece, in the days before fist-bumping and Purell.

The handshake started out as a demonstration of peace and camaraderie. Keep in mind, germaphobia was still centuries off from being used as an excuse to avoid such an action. But the handshake and its derivative, the subtle nod, have been used through mankind’s modern history as a means of well-wishing, congratulating, and to categorically avoid another person. In sports, the gesture is a symbol of goodwill and sportsmanship.

For those who notice such things — and the rest of you who are still in awe over the fact that an article is being written on the subject — athletes acknowledging their counterparts on other teams is standard practice before and/or after competition begins. In basketball, athletes extend a hand before the opening tip, while hockey players, mangled and all, lineup at the conclusion of a 60-minute game spent trying to knock each into Valhalla to offer their congratulations via a single pump of the hand, especially at the conclusion of postseason games. Football players wait until after the coin flip for mandatory spinal adjustments, before which they shake on it, gnarled as their hands may be.

Think about how important a gesture this is, and how many bad first-impressions have been formed by a weak handshake or the amount of customers frightened off by the death-grip technique that squeezes all life out of one’s appendage: Certainly, this would come into play in a sporting arena, an area where athletes make money hand over foot.

Remember, last year’s Lions-49ers brouhaha?


Sports fans make the true concessions at the concessions

Various fans in Seattle on Monday went through the range of emotions in the final moments of a three-hour game: the familiar nausea, the hand-wringing, and probably a little bit of the cold sweats. This, however, had nothing to do with the team one was rooting for nor was it the product of any rules misinterpretations… at least far as the play on the field.

Watching a sporting event live often includes witnessing the surreal, the awe-inspiring, and being able to come within arm’s reach of some of the most expensive commodities on the planet. There is usually some stomach churning and thrown in a bout of anxiety. Of course, I am talking about the concession stands at your local sports venue.

If there is one area where an American sports fan can truly be labeled an expert, it is the one that encompasses sitting on the posterior while watching sports. The energy levels remain low and the calorie deficits even lower. What’s more, it is one of the pleasing aspects of sports where perspiration accompanies actual weight gain.

Anyone who has ever walked into an arena has truly been exposed to the blood (medium-rare), sweat (having to hustle before those lines get long), and tears (having to take out a second mortgage to afford ballpark link sausage) of sports fandom. A longtime fixture at sporting events is the Goodyear blimp. However, another less equally appealing fixture are the low-flying zeppelins fueled by a nearly-lethal combination of the Pacific Ocean’s worth of salt, mechanically separated food stuffs, corn syrup, and whatever the illegal drug they use in Gobstoppers.

Some of my earliest memories of going to the stadium as a little tike involved the miasma of a Weingarten that time and, perhaps the Germans, forgot along with the requisite dose of garlic that would keep Nosferatu safely entombed for the rest of eternity. Throw in a roast “beef” sandwich from the Forum, a Cool-a-Coo from Dodger Stadium, and an infarction from the Coliseum, and you have the makings of a true Murderer’s Row.


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Fantasy Football: The only non-reality programming we have left

These days, everything is seemingly centered on reality programming. You know the common encumbrances of real life: driving an eighteen-wheeler down icy roads, having a family with too much money and not enough of an hour’s worth of programming to spend it all, and other troglodytic lifeforms hell-bent on grabbing ratings for the Bravo channel.

Thus, what a relief it is to occasionally opine on the fantasy side of things. No, what I’m talking about has nothing to do with the fantasies crafted by Disney: the Bavarian villages, Tinkerbell-inspired imagery, and, unless he has a vertical leap of over three feet, anything to do with Peter Pan. The make-believe world upon which I’m referring deals with something more unlikely for the typical sports fans: facing larger-than-life individuals and athletes who run the 40 in under 4.4 hours. It’s football. Fantasy football.

For years, fantasy sports have been at the forefront of sports fandom. Heck, even the NFL replacement officials have reportedly been caught up in the hulabaloo.

What began as a niche following among diehard baseball fans who followed Rotisserie with the same aplomb as they did its edible namesake now has spread to all corners of the sports universe — perhaps even fantasy bowling — in the process becoming a rather lucrative enterprise. Heck, the furor has even pushed a certain writer back into the ranks of the rancor, fueling a degenerate football jones in the process.


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UCLA football giving fans reasons to be optimistic

It has often been said that UCLA football is like a supermodel: It may look good at first glance, but try to enter into any long-term relationship and you will end up broken-hearted. I was personally raised on the Bruins, which is to say I was largely fed a flavorless mush containing some notes of sweetness followed by a rather bitter aftertaste. Such a conclusion was drawn after one-too-many remote controls were sent hurdling toward the plaster.

This season has brought renewed expectations to Westwood; anyone following the Bruins is as ebullient as one can be two weeks into the season. A new head coach, a quarterback, and a new philosophy has perhaps harbored a sort of newfound delirium that has some — read this writer — thinking that this unbeaten start may not soon end.

It wasn’t too long ago that folks around Southern California were talking about monopolies with the gusto of Uncle Pennybags on a Marvin Gardens binge. Sheriff Rick Neuheisel came to town with guns blazing following that declaration but, following a pistol-whipping that had as much to do with the offensive system run during his tenure as it did with his red-faced tirades directed toward his starting quarterbacks, was soon ridden out of town on a rail with a handsome severance package attached.


Are you ready for some NFL replacement referees football?

On Wednesday night, a brand new NFL season will be uncorked when the opening kickoff of the Giants and Cowboys takes place. That is, if you don’t count the fact that the NFL apparently never ends, with inexorable coverage delving into the minutiae that is the offseason and a pregame analysis of the opening kickoff that begins shortly after the Super Bowl ends.

The fans will return, sporting team colors on their accessories and various appendages (no questions asked). The pageantry will once again be on display, and the players will come bursting out of the tunnels with the fervor of a “Price is Right” contestant on a Plinko-rush.

However, you will apparently not be seeing Ed Hochuli anytime soon. The NFL referees’ answer to Lou Ferrigno and his compatriots will not be on the field in the near future. Since early June, the NFL has locked out its referees, unable to come to an agreement on such issues as salary, retirement benefits, and other issues not exciting enough to merit mention in this humble prose. Suffice it to say that these men of the striped cloth are adamant about the same issues that sportswriters are, though the latter usually cave with a compromise of a gift card from Long John Silver’s.

The first time you see a flag tonight, it won’t be the mellifluent Mike Carey, the authoritative Tony Corrente, or the once-bulldozed, twice shy Jeff Triplette, but rather one of many previously anonymous referees (saying a lot) that will be working pro football games for the time being.

The topic of referees is never an easy subject on which to discourse. Even in the best of times, one team and their devoted following are none-too-pleased at the call being made. The others are spent absorbing blows from the players themselves as in the case of Triplette, who discovered what (Orlando) Brown could do TO you. An Internet search yields the definition of referee as a blind person who makes calls in a game.