Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sporting News

Last: I enjoyed watching the Super Bowl, not because it was the best game of the season, but because it was the last game of the season. It was a grind of a game, and the perfect spectacle for a sleepy Sunday evening, full of linebackers stunting and lunging, doing their spins and rolls. There were lots of personal fouls, and passes tended to wobble badly (Manning) or zing fifteen feet over the receiver's head (Newton).

One relatively unsung hero of the event was Jordan Norwood, who fielded a punt in heavy traffic and  returned it for 61-yards—the longest in Super Bowl history. There were so many Panther defenders around him that it was foolhardy of him not to signal, and if he'd drop the ball he would have gotten bloody hell from his coach. In fact, the Panthers seemed to think that he had signaled a fair catch, because they backed away (see photo above) as he caught the ball, giving him a crease to slip through.

And speaking of backing away—on another play, the commentators criticized Cam Newton for jumping away from a ball that had just been knocked from his hands, rather than pouncing on it. This ended up being the signature play of the game, supposedly illustrating Newton's lack of commitment to the team effort.  

It struck me that Cam was merely tired of being on the bottom of pile-ups, and who could blame him? (Answer: everybody.) It was obvious DeMarcus Ware was already scooping the ball in, and maybe Cam was just waiting to see if it would squirt loose. Not the best strategy to follow, perhaps, when there are five guys from the opposing team in the immediate vicinity. Better would have been to kick it, I think, and see where it landed.

First: Meanwhile, One of the first signs of spring is the onset of the Australian Open. Can't be long before we're in Paris,  eating croissants with marmalade outside the red clay courts of Roland Garros. Right?

It was depressing to see Raphael Nadal suffer defeat in the first round of the tourney. His decline (and frustration) continues, though he's achieved far more than anyone would have expected back in the day when he was known as a clay court specialist. Roger Federer experienced a similar phase of decline before he got a new racquet, a new coach, and renewed success on the court. Will Nadal do the same. Somehow, I doubt it.

Federer's return to form has been impressive, but he hasn't come all the way back, due largely to the presence of Novak Djokovic, who crushed Federer in the semi-finals of the Australian Open this year. In the post-match interview, Federer remarked candidly, " He can get one or two sets all of a sudden. Those sets run away very quickly." Federer lost the first two sets 6-1, 6-2.

Sports fans love greatness, of course, and Federer has won more Grand Slams than any other player, and with more "style" and artistry than anyone you could think of since the era of Australian domination in the 1960s. Greatest of all time? Such arguments were being bruited as far back as 2007.

Djokovic comes across as a less appealing player in the eyes of many. Outside of Serbia, he just doesn't get the love. In this he resembles the Czech Ivan Lendl, who still holds the record for most consecutive Grand Slam finals (eight), though he had a gloomy, if not petulant, countenance, and was never widely loved by the fans. 

Djokovic often seems brutally methodical on the court, and his beady eyes, sharp nose, and close-cropped hair don't stir the crowds. Yet he has been so hard-working, so consistently successful on the court, and so reverential of tennis tradition, that he has long since deserved to be more widely embraced. And if his demeanor doesn't inspire much affection, his play ought to: he has lost only one match since last August.

Djokovic finally won me over when I saw the video in which he and Serena Williams revived a Wimbledon tradition and danced at the championship dinner. Very sweet.

But now a wave of sub-zero weather is drifting in, and I find myself glancing at articles with such riveting headlines as "Vikings: Team seeks to take next step in offseason."

And wondering when those croissants will be coming out of the oven.

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