The Detroit Sports Czar’s Viewing Guide to the Coronavirus Shutdown

Folks, it’s been a while.  But we are living in bizarre times, with all sports shut down for the first time since 9/11, and the Detroit Sports Czar is here to fill the desperate sports viewer’s void.

Detroit’s had plenty of rewatchable sporting events over the last few decades, and with the leagues opening up their League Pass apps for free during the shutdowns or offering games on YouTube, now is the perfect time to catch up on some classic games to give you yours sports fix.

Without further ado, I present you with the DSC’s Viewing Guide to the Coronavirus Shutdown.

(Some of these may require you to sign up for free access to Leagues’ Game Pass websites, but otherwise these are games that you can access for free.)

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Detroit Tigers

Tigers 4, Yankees 3 (2006 ALDS Game 2)

We’re kicking things off with a couple of dark horses.  The Tigers have had plenty of rewatchable games over the years.  We could go back to 1984 and show you Game 5 of that year’s World Series.  Or Game 162 in 1987.  Or Justin Verlander’s no-hitters, the Armando Galarraga perfect game, or the Magglio Ordonez pennant-clinching home run.  You could even go with 2009’s Game 163 if you hate yourself (a truly classic game, but not exactly one that Tigers fans would be too eager to re-live).  But we’re going with a game that quite possibly changed the history of the Tigers’ franchise.

In 2006 the Tigers took the baseball world by storm, jumping out to a huge lead in the AL Central before a late-season collapse landed them the Wild Card spot and a Division Series matchup with the New York Yankees, owners of the best record in baseball (although only 2 games in front of the Tigers), spoiling some of the excitement of their first playoff birth in 19 years.  After their late season swoon and a Game 1 loss at Yankee Stadium (which followed some rain delay shenanigans on the part of the home team), most Tigers fans were hoping only to escape that season’s playoffs without getting swept.

That pessimism felt justified after a Johnny Damon home run in the 4th gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead.  But the Tigers clawed back, cutting the lead in half on a Curtis Granderson sac fly in the 5th and tying it up on a Carlos Guillen home run in the 6th.  When Granderson tripled in Marcus Thames in the 7th to give the Tigers the lead, Detroit went wild, realizing the Tigers could win the series without going back to New York.  They did just that, finishing off the victory in Game 2, kicking off a 7-game winning streak that would only be stopped by a 9-day layoff before the World Series.

If the Tigers don’t win Game 2, a sweep is not out of the question, and it’s questionable how much of that season turns out to be a fluke.  Owner Mike Ilitch was a spender in those days, so it’s likely his moves don’t change much in the ensuing offseasons, but there’s no question Game 2 helped put the Tigers back on the baseball map.

Detroit Lions

Lions 38, Browns 37 (2009)

Look, finding a rewatchable game for Lions fans isn’t easy.  Their last playoff win was 28 years ago, and that’s their only one since they finished their run as the Team of the ’50s in 1957.  Any memorable game the Lions have been involved in found them on the losing end, and we don’t want to spend our quarantine being any more miserable than we have to be.  The best bet here would be to just share a highlight reel of Barry Sanders runs, and hell, why not just to be safe.

But in 2009 they won a game that a YouTube video proclaims to be “The Greatest Game That Nobody Watched”, and having been at the game, it’s hard to disagree.  Usually I wouldn’t guide you to a game between two 1-8 teams, but it’s one worth watching.  The Browns jumped out to a 24-3 first quarter lead, only to watch the Lions tie it in the 2nd.  The Lions got the ball back down 6 with no timeouts and under two minutes to go, and rookie Matthew Stafford led the team to the Cleveland 32 with 8 seconds left.  Then things got weird.

Stafford scrambled the remaining 8 seconds (plus an additional 4, just for good measure) off the clock, threw an interception in the end zone, and absorbed a vicious blow that dislocated his non-throwing shoulder.  Game over, right?  Nope.  The Browns got flagged for pass interference in the end zone, nullifying the interception and granting the Lions an untimed down (those don’t typically turn out too well for the Lions).  Stafford had to come out of the game because of the injury, but after the Lions were (correctly) granted an injury timeout, Browns coach Eric Mangini called a timeout of his own to throw a temper tantrum, the Lions were able to put Stafford back in the game even with the injured shoulder, and he threw a touchdown pass to fellow first round rookie Brandon Pettigrew, allowing the Jason Hanson kick to win the game with no time left.

Truly a classic that hardly anyone ever talks about.  Most of the classics we talk about come in the playoffs or between contenders, but sometimes the best games come between two bad teams on a random November Sunday.

Detroit Pistons

“The Block”

The Pistons have played plenty of classics over the years, but a fair chunk of them, like the Lions, saw them coming out on the losing end.  The last 2 games of the 1988 NBA Finals were undoubtedly great, but the Pistons got the short end in both (both literally and figuratively, as the officiating was…less than top notch).  There was Isiah Thomas scoring 16 points in 94 seconds to send a clinching playoff game to OT, but again the Pistons came up short.

So we’ll go with “The Block” in Game 2 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals.  Down 1-0 to the Pacers, the Pistons clung to a 2-point lead in Indianapolis when they turned the ball over with 23 seconds left in the game.  Indiana picked up the loose ball and Jamal Tinsley found a streaking Reggie Miller racing towards the basket.  But instead of an apparent easy layup for Miller, Tayshaun Prince came out of nowhere to block the shot, with Rip Hamilton corralling the ball rather than setting up an inbounds play for the Pacers.  The Pistons would win the game, take 3 of the next 4 to win the series, then score one of the biggest upsets in NBA history when they pulled off the “5-Game Sweep” of the heavily favored Lakers.

While the shot only kept the Pacers from tying the game and there’s no guarantee they win, if the Pacers win that series they take a 2-0 lead and are heavily favored to win the series.  A win against the Lakers was not guaranteed but also not unlikely.  The Pacers were among the NBA’s contenders in the 2004-05 season, derailed only by the Malice at the Palace.  But with a possible title under their belt, it’s reasonable to think that the brawl never happens, Indiana isn’t depleted, and the Pacers and not the Pistons spend the next few seasons going to the Eastern Conference finals (if not further).

(The NBA has opened up their League Pass site during the shutdown, but the classic games are shockingly sparse, so I had to find video of this play on YouTube.  Sorry I couldn’t do better.)

Detroit Red Wings

“The Brawl”

I tried to keep to recent history with these teams, but the Red Wings’ recent history has been…less than ideal, shall we say.  So we’re going back to the game that really started the Red Wings dynasty.

The Wings had really become contenders in the late-’80s/early-’90s after years of being known as the Dead Things in Detroit, but by 1997 they’d become the Buffalo Bills of the NHL, failing to live up to their potential in some memorable playoff flameouts.  By 1997 it was thought that their window had closed and passed on to others, with the Avalanche winning the Cup in 1996 in their first season in Denver.

Colorado – and Claude Lemieux specifically – had kicked off the rivalry when Lemieux checked Kris Draper into the dasher, breaking his jaw, nose, and cheekbone, and giving him a concussion, in Game 6 of the prior season’s Western Conference Finals.  Lemieux was ejected from the game, but the Avalanche would win the game and the series, and go on to win the Stanley Cup against the Panthers.  The hit was not forgotten, and when things got chippy in a late-season game in Detroit, all hell broke loose.

The game had seen a couple of fights, but the real fireworks started when Igor Larionov and Peter Forsberg (not exactly well-known brawlers) went at it late in the 1st period.  It wasn’t long before Darren McCarty made Lemieux answer for the Draper hit, sending him to the ice in a turtle position while throwing shots relentlessly.  Patrick Roy left the goalie crease to help his teammate, leading to a memorable collision between he and Brendan Shanahan and eventually the rare goalie brawl between Roy and Mike Vernon.  At the end of the game the teams had racked up 144 penalty minutes.

Thing is, the Avalanche had the Wings’ number, having won the all 3 games up to that point between the two teams, so the brawl meant nothing if the Wings couldn’t get the win.  Luckily, McCarty was able to play the hero in more ways than one, netting the game winner in OT.  The game propelled the Wings into the playoffs and another matchup with Colorado, with the Wings winning the conference finals in 6 games (blowing out the Avalanche 6-0 in another brawl-filled Game 4).  The Wings would sweep Philadelphia in the Stanley Cup Final, with McCarty scoring the Cup-clinching goal, ending a 42-year title drought for the Red Wg ings.

(Another video not available on YouTube, but some pretty good footage of the fights in the March 26 game.)

Michigan State Football

“Trouble with The Snap!”

Our college teams give us a much lengthier list of memorable games to choose from, and we’ll start with Michigan State football.  Do we go with “Little Giants”, with Mark Dantonio calling one of the gutsiest play fakes in history with the overtime touchdown pass by his punter?  Or the Hail Mary against Wisconsin in 2011?  Perhaps you like the Northwestern comeback in 2006?  The 2014 Rose Bowl?  Negative 48 yards rushing by the defense against Michigan in 2013?  Or the Ohio State game or Big 10 championship games in 2015?

But no, this one’s simple.  It’s the 2015 Michigan-Michigan State game.  The Spartans had won the game everywhere except where it mattered, beating the Wolverines soundly in both first (20-10) and total yards (386-230).  MSU had cut it to two with just under 9 minutes left in the game, but a late attempt to get into field goal range had failed with 1:47 left on the clock.  Michigan State had a timeout left and was able to force a punt with 10 seconds left, but all Michigan had to do was get the kick off and the game was over.

Except, they couldn’t pull it off.  Punter Blake O’Neill bobbled a low snap, the ball popped free as he was trying to get the kick off, right into the hands of Jalen Watts-Jackson, who ran it back 38 yards to win the game as time expired.  Michigan State stayed undefeated, would go on to beat Ohio State with their backup quarterback, survive a late loss at Nebraska, and win the Big 10 championship game to clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff against Alabama.

(We won’t talk about what happened there.)

Michigan State Basketball

Michigan State 68, Duke 67 (2019 NCAA Regional Final)

This was a tough one.  When you’ve got games where your school won a national title, it seems logical to go that route.  Parades are forever after all, and the 1979 championship game remains iconic.  But there’s just something about beating Duke…even if it doesn’t happen all that often.

Michigan State enters most NCAA tournaments contending for the title, and 8 Final Fours in the last 21 seasons backs up that resume (even if their Final Four results have been less than stellar).  But Duke was the favorite last season, with the top 3 in the ESPN 100 starting (plus #17 and #41 for good measure).  MSU fans groaned when they saw Duke on the top line of their bracket, but stranger things had happened.  The tables looked like they might have turned, as MSU had won their first 3 games by an average of 16, while Duke had survived their 2nd and 3rd round games by a total of 3 points.

The game was close throughout, with the Spartans managing to turn a 9-point first half deficit into a 4-point halftime lead.  The second half was a nail-biter, with the game separated by no more than 6 points.  Duke held a 1-point lead with 50 seconds left, when Kenny Goins was able to pull down the rebound on an R.J. Barrett jumper, then hit the go-ahead 3 with 34 seconds left.  Duke had their chances, with Barrett going to the line with a chance to tie with 5 seconds left.  He missed the first, then hit the second when he was trying to miss and force the rebound.  Michigan State was able to inbound, Duke didn’t have enough fouls to send MSU to the line, and the Spartans were off to Minneapolis.

(We won’t talk about what happened there either.)

Bonus: 2000 One Shining Moment

Now, my faithful readers will know that the Detroit Sports Czar is a devout Spartan, but as I said at the outset, we’re in bizarre times, and I’m not above showing solidarity with my readers who may be faithful to Michigan.  I’m not going to give you a write-up for these games, but there’s some entertainment to be had for the Wolverines out there.

Michigan Football

The Braylon Edwards Game

I know the “Trouble with the Snap” game is painful for Michigan fans, so I’ll give you one that was just as painful to us.  MSU blows a 27-10 lead, Braylon Edwards catches 3 TD, and Michigan wins the first overtime game in the rivalry’s history.

Michigan Basketball

Michigan 87, Kansas 85 in OT (2013 NCAA Regional Semifinal)

I could’ve gone with the 1989 NCAA title game, but I’m trying to keep it relatively recent.  Michigan rallies back from 14 down with 7 minutes left, then Trey Burke hits a 30-footer with 4 seconds left to send the game to overtime.  They knock off top-seeded Kansas and advance to the school’s first title game in 20 years.  Wait…make that 24.

(Had to.)

Bonus: 1989 One Shining Moment

Things have been bad on the Detroit sports scene in recent years.  The city’s last playoff win was five and a half years ago, our college teams have not lived up to expectations, and only the Pistons were not in last place at the time the world closed (and they were only half a game up on the Cavaliers).  But this town loves our sports, and we were just as sad to watch the games end as people in Boston, or Milwaukee, or Dayton (ok, maybe not Milwaukee or Dayton, as they’d had legit title teams shut down).  If watching these games can bring just a little happiness to your world in these dark times, I’ll consider that a win.

So Your Bracket’s Busted… (Redux)

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When I was a senior in high school, our football team went to the state finals.  The school had never been to the playoffs, let alone the finals, so this was a HUGE deal.  And because I love sports but wasn’t on the football team for a myriad of reasons, including, but not limited to, being afraid of asking anyone for a ride home after practice; not being overly enamored with the idea of pain; and generally being terrible at anything that required athletic ability, I wrote for the school newspaper about the team instead.

The West Beverly Blaze this was not.  If we put out one issue a month, it was considered productive.  But because of the unprecedented success of our football team, we somehow managed to put out a new issue after each round of the playoffs – four straight weeks.  Because high school students have ambition these days, I’m guessing that isn’t that much of an accomplishment, even at a terrible school like mine, but in our day it was an achievement.

I tell you that story because I’m coming back to you a scant 3 days after my last post for a new display of my inane ramblings.  And why?  Because of my unprecedentedly terrible picking of my desired Final Four matchups.

In my last post, I decided that I wanted to see Nevada, Texas A&M, Purdue, and Clemson to make the Final Four.  None of these teams would be considered the favorites in their respective brackets, but considering how crazy this tournament has been, I expected maybe one of them to sneak through to San Antonio.  Or hell, at least survive the Sweet 16.

Nope.  Not a one.  Somehow, all four of my teams lost on Thursday and Friday nights.  Now, I don’t know how to calculate probabilities, so I can’t tell whether the chances of this happening were 50% or 0.00001%, but I picked a couple of higher seeds in there.  I would’ve thought Purdue would’ve snuck through to take on Villanova.

Ugh.

So we’re trying this again.  If you’re looking for gambling advice, never come to me.

South Region

#9 Kansas State vs. #11 Loyola-Chicago: for some reason I don’t like Kansas State’s basketball team.  Maybe it was because they hired Bob Huggins for his 1-year “redemption tour” stint after he was fired at Cincinnati.  Maybe it’s that the group of fans I mentioned in my last post really annoyed me.  I don’t know what it is, just not a fan.

At the same time, there’s something disappointing about the fact that I know all about Sister Jean and her brackets but I couldn’t tell you the name of a single Loyola player or coach.  The human interest story has gone a little overboard.  So this one’s a coin toss.

The pick: Heads…Loyola-Chicago it is.

West Region

#9 Florida State vs. #3 Michigan: I’ve got a few thoughts over the local fan reactions to Michigan’s trouncing of Texas A&M on Thursday.  But they beat us twice, they’re a win away from the Final Four, and considering what their side of the bracket looks like, if they don’t make the final this year their season is going to be almost as disappointing as Michigan State’s.  So I’ll keep my mouth shut and avoid being called out for sour grapes.

But I’m not rooting for them.

(Also, seriously, a 5-year-old girl has a chance at winning our pool because she picked Florida State to win it all.  I mean, how cool would that be?)

The pick: Florida State

East Region

#1 Villanova vs. #3 Texas Tech: Detroit is currently in a remarkable tailspin when it comes to sports.  The Red Wings and Pistons are terrible.  The Tigers unloaded everyone except Miguel Cabrera, and that’s only because his contract is atrocious.  We are legitimately at a time where our best chance at a championship is the Lions, and the only thing more ridiculous in all of sports would be if the Browns were Cleveland’s best hope.

So I’m not going to throw my support behind a team from a town that just hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.  I know Philly has something like 14 college teams so the city’s loyalties are somewhat split, but so is Detroit’s.  It’s a good enough excuse for me.

The pick: Texas Tech

Midwest Region

#1 Kansas vs. #2 Duke: I have become resigned to the fact that the national title game this year is going to be Duke versus Michigan.  It’s just the way it has to be.  It will be my punishment for being so overly confident about a team that never really deserved it.  And because I no longer have any chance at winning any money in my bracket, I will probably find myself rooting for Michigan and being a traitor to the Spartan cause.

Serves me right.

The pick: Kansas

So there you have it…again.  My (revised) picks for the Final Four are Loyola-Chicago, Florida State, Texas Tech, and Kansas.  And amazingly, I don’t believe any of these teams will be favorites in their Elite 8 games this weekend.

Place your bets accordingly.

So Your Bracket’s Busted…

2018 final fourIt’s that time of year again, when almost everyone’s dreams of winning their bracket is over and for the vast majority of the population their teams have been eliminated from the tournament.  So naturally, every sports media organization insists on putting together a “who should you root for” article for those of us who are dealing with the dual heartbreak of your school’s season ending and your bracket being busted.

Because I’m a sheep, I’m doing the same thing.

Mind you, I don’t care who you pull for.  There are crazy people in this world who can justify wanting to see Duke cut down the nets at the end of the season.  But for some insane reason, several weeks ago I figured that my beloved Michigan State team was such a lock for the Final Four that I decided to buy tickets and go visit a buddy to watch my team win the national title in Texas.

So now I’m required to find a new set of teams to root for.  With such unlikable teams as Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, and Syracuse left in the bracket and more than a few Cinderellas with intriguing backstories, picking a new team shouldn’t be all that hard, right?

Oh, if only.  This year’s Sweet 16 seems to be populated by the unlikable blue bloods and the generic Cinderellas.  There’s not a Florida Gulf Coast or Butler left in the bunch.  So this could be a bit more challenging than it would seem at first.

South Region

#9 Kansas State: Not a particularly unlikable team, but they did knock out the Cinderella of all Cinderellas – the only 16th seed to ever beat a 1-seed – in UMBC in one of the most unwatchable games you’ll ever see.  Also, I once hung out with a group of Kansas State fans who insisted that ESPN hated their basketball team, when in reality Kansas State’s basketball team is rarely relevant enough for ESPN to have an opinion on.  (Now, if you want to see how ESPN truly hates a team, just look at how they’ve tried to tie MSU’s basketball team to the disgusting Larry Nassar scandal.)

#5 Kentucky: After the tournament selection show, Kentucky coach John Calipari screamed to the high heavens that his team got screwed in their seeding, and even complained that several of his players didn’t know where Boise was (hmm, seems like a problem with the education of your players).  And then, because karma exists, Kentucky could go to the Final Four this year without playing a team seeded higher than 7th (or, if the Basketball Gods have a sense of humor, no team seeded higher than 9th).  On that basis alone we should pray for an upset to knock these guys out.  Complicating matters, however, is that in my company pool I have Kentucky winning it all.  Thankfully, the prize is only a $20 gift card, and I’m not so cheap as to root for Kentucky over a matter of $20.

#11 Loyola-Chicago: Our first true Cinderella.  Loyola’s a fun team with a couple of exciting buzzer beaters to advance, a cute fan in 98-year-old team chaplain Sister Jean, and I didn’t have to suffer through sitting next to an obnoxious Loyola fan cheering every made basket at the bar as a friend of mine did this week.  But Loyola’s a Catholic school that recently responded to a comedian bringing up the Catholic church’s sex abuse scandal during his set by cutting his mic, which offends my delicate agnostic sensibilities.  Not as simple a choice as one would think.

#7 Nevada: They defeated Cincinnati – always an unlikable school – with an epic comeback and have no glaring or particularly offensive flaws.  Plus their coach dropped a ton of expletives on live TV while celebrating their first round win, and that appeals to my life-long potty mouth tendencies.

The choice: Nevada

West Region

#9 Florida State: The Seminoles are a generally unlikable school, although that can typically be attributed to their football team and their decades of recruiting morally questionable characters.  But if the Seminoles can somehow pull off a miracle and win the whole thing my pool is won by my friend’s 5-year-old daughter, which would seem oddly fitting this season.

#4 Gonzaga: Ordinarily I wouldn’t begrudge a team for screwing up my bracket, but Gonzaga cost me some cash last year with a fairly significant bed-shitting in the national championship game.  Plus Gonzaga has joined Kansas and Michigan State as schools who are going to screw up my bracket every year, no matter where I pick them to win or lose.

#3 Michigan: I just can’t.  Sure, a chunk of my friends would be happy and I don’t hate Michigan nearly as much as I should, but I just cannot maintain my Spartan credentials and pull for Michigan to win the title.  It’s already painful enough listening to the Wal-Mart Wolverines brag about how they’ve beaten us 3 straight times.  Having to watch them cut down the nets would just be unbearable.

#7 Texas A&M: Aside from their consistency in being a highly regarded team in football every year that ultimately disappoints, there’s nothing particularly offensive about this team.  Plus, they knocked out North Carolina, who offended me with their ridiculous seeding.

The choice: Texas A&M

East Region

#1 Villanova: Another team that’s not particularly offensive.  They are from Philly though, and they’ve already gotten enough this year.

#5 West Virginia: Coached by Bob Huggins.  ‘Nuff said.

#3 Texas Tech: It’s hard for me to pull for any team that once employed Bob Knight.  That said, the father-in-law of the buddy who’s going to the games with me went to Texas Tech, so I may wind up pulling for them through osmosis.

#2 Purdue: The highest remaining Big 10 team and the only team left in the field that MSU defeated this year.  This one seems easy.

The choice: Purdue

Midwest Region

#1 Kansas: An annoying program, if moderately successful.  Did you know that for all their history, legendary alums, and the fact that they literally invented the game, they only have 3 national titles?  And one of those came as a 6-seed and another came because Memphis couldn’t hit free throws?  They’re the Cincinnati Reds of NCAA basketball.

#5 Clemson: Not gonna lie, in a region with Kansas, Syracuse, and Duke, the 4th team is going to be the pick by default.

#11 Syracuse: If it weren’t for one man, Jim Boeheim would be the most annoying coach in America.  I’ve said that for years, and it has nothing to do with the fact that they used their bullshit scheme to beat my alma mater.

#2 Duke: The only coach more annoying that Boeheim.  Coach K’s Boeheim with a bag man, enough talent to actually win without resorting to gimmick schemes, and Grayson Allen.  If the fate of humanity rested on Duke winning a game, I’d say my prayers and hope the afterlife is worth it.  That said, I did hedge my bets and have a bracket with Duke winning that still has the potential to put me in the money, so if they win it all it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

The choice: Clemson

So there you have it folks.  As a miserable son of a bitch who truly believes his school’s season was derailed by bullshit accusations levied by a lazy news organization trying to stir up controversy for the sake of ratings, the only way my cold dead heart will be happy is if we get a Final Four of Nevada, Texas A&M, Purdue, and Clemson.

So let me be the first to congratulate Kentucky, Michigan, Villanova, and Duke for their regional titles.

See you in Texas!

The Final Four of Coaching Hatred

A few weeks back I posted on Facebook something that is somewhat typical for me during NCAA tournament time: I asked who looked more like a rat, Bo Ryan or Mike Krzyzewski (or, as the post said, Mike Krzyzezwzszkzi).  Coming a few weeks after I expressed my happiness with the NCAA coming down hard on Syracuse and Jim Boeheim, while calling Boeheim a dick, my dad asked me why I hated so many coaches.  It’s a fair question.  And so today I provide you with that breakdown.

It should be noted that I rank college coaches on par with pro sports owners.  I don’t particularly think they’re great people, no matter who they are.  They’re making a ridiculous amount of money largely on the backs of poor minority kids who don’t get paid for their services and have almost no choice as to where to ply their trade.  I’m not going to get too deep into my philosophical issues with the college sports system, but I don’t think any of the coaches are particularly stellar individuals.

I also think most teams cheat.  The good ones are either not stupid enough to get caught, or don’t piss off any former players to the extent that he’s willing to rat out the team.

Now that that’s out of the way, if anyone reads this post and doesn’t know me (ha!), it must be stated that I’m a die-hard Michigan State Spartan, so while others would undoubtedly have the great Tom Izzo on this list, it should come as no surprise that you won’t see him here.  In the interest of fairness – which is stupid since it’s my blog – I asked if a friend wanted to write something up on why he hates Izzo.  A fairly rabid Michigan fan, he said he didn’t hate Izzo, but that he was generally annoyed with all his whining, comparing Izzo to his 3-year-old.  So while I’m sure plenty of Michigan fans loathe Izzo (jealousy is so unattractive), generally speaking Izzo’s just like everyone’s 3-year-old kid.

Honorable Mention:

Bob Knight, Indiana/Texas Tech

Look, you can’t have a list detailing all the college basketball coaches you hate and not include Bob Knight.  The guy’s an arrogant asshole who had complete contempt for everyone in the media, and then he became a member of the media (sorry guys, if you get paid to talk about sports and you’re not employed by one of the teams/schools/leagues, you’re a part of the media).  While a part of the media, he was the same arrogant asshole he always was.

The thing is, as I got older, I started to realize that Knight wasn’t really all that bad.  He ran a clean program, he graduated his players and he won.  He had a hard-nosed style that didn’t jibe with today’s standards and probably wasn’t the way John Wooden coached UCLA, but the fact is that few of his players had an issue with him.  He was ousted from Indiana because he got caught on film putting his hands on a player’s throat and then reacting like, well, an arrogant asshole when a student said, “Hey Coach!” to him on campus.

Fuck Bobby Knight, but not as much as I used to think.

Bobby Hurley, Buffalo

I know almost nothing about Bobby Hurley as a coach, aside from the fact that he coached Buffalo to the NCAA tournament this year.  Still, he’s a Krzyzewski protegé and one of the most hated players in college basketball history.

Fuck Bobby Hurley on principle alone.

Bob Huggins, Cincinnati/Kansas State/West Virginia

If Mitch Albom’s book “Fab Five” is to be believed (and there’s plenty of reason it’s not), during warm ups before the 1992 NCAA semifinal between Michigan and Huggins’s Cincinnati team, during some back-and-forth trash talking between Cincinnati’s players and Michigan’s Fab Five freshman, one of the Fab Five told a couple of Cincinnati’s players that he wanted them to go write a paper about how bad they suck.  It was a classic exchange, one that had me laughing out loud when reading it.  Damn Mitch Albom could write.  Too bad he became such an embarrassing hack.

The irony is that there’s a pretty good chance the Cincinnati players wouldn’t be able to write a paper if they weren’t allowed to use crayon.

Huggins was the first guy I remember that operated a team on a culture of lawlessness and academic inferiority.  There have been many before and since, but none that were actually fired because his teams were academically inferior.  Seriously.  Cincinnati had won 10 regular season championships, gone to two Elite 8’s and a Final Four, and all of this came after the school had not been to the NCAA tournament in the 12 years prior to Huggins’s arrival.  And still Cincinnati’s president said, “I’m tired of having players getting arrested and graduating at a 30% rate, so you’re fired.”  Good for her.

Not that Michigan State is on par with the Harvards and Stanfords – or even the Michigans and North Carolinas – of the educational world, but Huggins has chosen to coach at schools where he can get away with recruiting players who will never succeed in the classroom in the hopes of winning a few more games.  Seriously, my cat could get into West Virginia, and he can barely read.

Fuck Bob Huggins, although I’d probably have to use Hooked on Phonics for his players to understand those 3 words.

Elite 8:

John Calipari, Massachusetts/Memphis/Kentucky

I should hate Calipari as much as everyone else does.  He’s taken 2 schools – Massachusetts and Memphis – to the Final Four, only to see those accomplishments wiped out of the record books because Marcus Camby took money and Derrick Rose had someone else take his SAT’s for him.  Calipari wasn’t implicated in either situation, but this falls under the classic case of where there’s smoke there’s fire.  If Kentucky were to have to vacate some or all of their accomplishments under Calipari it would surprise exactly no one.

And today everyone hates him because he’s won one title and is likely about to win another on the backs of players who have no intention of ever graduating from school.

On that last point – a point that likely extends to the Derrick Rose case – Calipari is taking advantage of a stupid rule the NBA implemented that said no one can enter the league until they’re at least 19 and have been out of high school for at least one year (we can go into the stupidity of that at another point).  Those kids are going to go to school somewhere, Calipari just decided to round up as many of them as possible.  And he’s honest about it.  He’s winning with guys who should be in the NBA if the league weren’t borderline racist trying to keep minority kids in their place.  If it comes out that he’s been cheating with these guys at Kentucky I’ll change my tune, but I’m generally ok with what he’s doing.

Don’t fuck Calipari, fuck the stupid NBA rule that he exploits.

Rick Pitino, Kentucky/Louisville

Pitino’s a lot like Calipari.  He’s smarmy, he dresses like a gangster, he brings up 9/11 almost as much as Rudy Giuliani does (his brother-in-law was killed in the attacks) and he says things that would likely get others in more trouble.  True story: earlier this season Pitino’s Louisville team blew out an inferior opponent early in the season.  In Pitino’s post-game presser, he said that he didn’t want the game to be such a blow out, proclaiming that he had four white guys and an Egyptian in the game at the end.  If that thing is flipped on its head, Pitino’s fired in a day.

Also, including Pitino on this list allows me to tell this hysterical story.  A few years back, Pitino was involved in a nasty little affair that saw him impregnating a woman during a restaurant tryst (he’s married, so I guess that serves as a decent reason not to like the guy), paying for her abortion and then watching as his assistant coach married her.  She eventually tried to extort him and was brought up on charges.  During the trial, Pitino was asked how long he and the woman had had sex.  His response?  15 seconds.  It was the first time I could imagine a judge would’ve been ok with perjury.

Fuck Rick Pitino.  It won’t take you that long.

Bill Self, Kansas

Kansas always destroys my brackets.  If I pick them in the Final Four, they lose in the first round.  If I pick them to lose in the first round, they go to the Final Four (ironically, Michigan State is in the process of assuming that “mantle”).  I hate Kansas for that reason alone.

But lately Kansas is a team that goes out fairly routinely in the first weekend, yet they’re still treated as basketball royalty.  They’ve won 2 titles since the Wilt Chamberlain era, one of them on the backs of Danny Manning and the other because John Calipari’s Memphis team couldn’t hit free throws.  The entire program is a fraud.

Fuck Bill Self for his association with an overrated program.

Tom Crean, Marquette/Indiana

Tom Crean is the very picture of what terrifies Michigan State grads.  Unlike Dean Smith at North Carolina, who has a pretty impressive coaching tree behind him, Tom Izzo’s assistants haven’t gone on to much success as head coaches themselves.  There’s a general concern about what will happen to the program should Izzo take a better gig or retire.  Crean was seen as a worthy heir.  He took Marquette to the Final Four, making Dwyane Wade a star in the process.  He moved on to Indiana, where he was expected to bring a once-proud program back to national prominence.  Short of a buzzer-beater against a Kentucky team that would go on to win the national championship, he’s done nothing.

Plus, he looks like a serial killer.

Fuck Tom Crean.  Just try to make sure he doesn’t take your skin afterwards.

Final Four:

Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

I’ll make it clear: I don’t hate Bo Ryan (well, aside from the fact that he looks like a rodent in the mafia).  Tom Izzo’s the best coach in the Big 10 – as I said I’m biased, but if you even try to argue that you’re probably an idiot – but Ryan’s clearly the second best.  It’s not really that close.  Thad Matta at Ohio State and John Beilein at Michigan are great coaches in their own right, but Ryan’s clearly one of the best coaches in the nation.  He’s done at Wisconsin what Izzo has done at Michigan State.

No, what I hate about Bo Ryan is the myriad of Wisconsin fans who will have you believe that Bo Ryan IS the best coach in the Big 10.  They’ll trumpet his Big 10 titles – no insignificant achievement, admittedly – and his 4 national titles in Division III.  And this happened before he went to the last 2 Final Fours!  Sorry, I don’t care about conference titles and I REALLY don’t care about what anyone does in Division III.  Talk to me about national championships and Final Fours.  Ryan has no titles to Izzo’s one and 2 Final Fours to Izzo’s 7.  Sorry Wisconsin, he’s got a long way to go to be in the discussion.

Fuck Bo Ryan.  I’m sure there are plenty of people in Wisconsin who will volunteer.

Roy Williams, Kansas/North Carolina

Exhibit 1: see Bill Self

Exhibit 2: Roy Williams is riding on the coattails of Dean Smith’s legacy.  Smith built UNC into a power program whose name says it all.  Being recruited by North Carolina in basketball is like being recruited by Alabama in football.  Unlike Nick Saban though, North Carolina has never been in the shitter (no matter what you think about the Matt Doherty era) and never had to build themselves up from probation and postseason bans.  Although they should.

It’s recently come out that North Carolina engaged in one of the biggest cases of academic fraud in the history of college sports.  Academic advisers wrote papers and players were steered to no-show classes.  It’s so bad that players are suing North Carolina and the NCAA for providing an inadequate education.  When asked about the academic situation, Roy Williams said, “It’s not my job to see that my players are getting an education.  My job is to coach the basketball team.”  To be fair, the NCAA agrees; in their response to the lawsuit, they’ve indicated the NCAA has no responsibility to provide their athletes an education.  Think of that next time you year the term “student-athlete”.

But back to Williams.  We’re supposed to believe that the academic advisers to the athletic department committed massive institutional academic fraud to keep its players eligible and that the basketball coach had nothing to do with it?

Fuck Roy Williams on the bridge in Brooklyn he’s got to sell you.

Championship Game:

Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

Jim Boeheim’s a dick.  There’s not even a joke there.  He’s an epic, world-class asshole.  If he were a cop he’d be the prick who went on a tirade against an Indian Uber driver in New York this week.  Add in his college basketball dictatorship and it’s there for all to see.

In 2014 Tyler Ennis decided he was going pro after his freshman year.  Boeheim wanted Ennis to continue playing for free at Syracuse, so he said Ennis shouldn’t go pro while proclaiming that half of the first-round draft picks in the NBA are out of the league in 3 years, a blatant falsehood.  He’s already declared, he’s not coming back no matter how much shit you talk about him, so why not talk up your guy and see if he can get drafted higher?  Nope, Boeheim talked shit about how hard it would be for a point guard to transition to the NBA and negatively compared him to another Syracuse player who’d left early a few years early.

Then Syracuse gets nailed for academic misconduct, improper booster activity and failure to adhere to its own drug testing policy, and Boeheim himself was called out for a failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance.  This was after Syracuse had already voluntarily declared themselves ineligible for this year’s NCAA tournament.  Syracuse was placed on probation, lost scholarships, and Boeheim was suspended for 9 games in the 2015-16 season.  And how does this prick respond?  He holds a press conference on the morning the NCAA tournament started, acted defiant and announced he would appeal the sanctions.  Nice way to bring the attention to yourself.

Fuck Jim Boeheim.  Fuck him like a prison bitch.  That’s not even a joke.  Fuck him hard.

This was a tight championship fight.  Think of Boeheim’s press conference as Gordan Hayward’s half-court shot in the 2010 title game that would’ve upset the eventual champion.  The same champion we see here.  There’s simply no topping…

National Champion:

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke

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I hate Mike Krzyzewski.  If I were to create my Mount Rushmore of sporting hatred, it would probably consist of Roger Goodell, Krzyzewski, Matt Millen, and Patrick Roy.  God I hate Krzyzewski.

Calipari gets all the crap for his one-and-done approach.  But let me throw out a few names.  Corey Maggette.  Kyrie Irving.  Luol Deng.  Austin Rivers.  Jabari Parker.  Jahlil Okafor (trust me, he’s not staying beyond this year).  This doesn’t include William Avery (more on him in a minute), Elton Brand or Jason Williams, who didn’t go after one year, but did leave early.  And yet assistant coach Jeff Capel came out and said, “Well, we’re not recruiting an entire class of one-and-dones.”  Arrogant fucks.

Back to William Avery.  Duke had one of its best teams in the 1998-99 season, entering the tournament with one loss.  But they lost in the championship game to Connecticut.  Everyone knew Elton Brand was gone.  Maggette and Avery were more of a surprise.  How did Krzyzewski respond?  He called Avery’s mother and exclaimed that her son was ruining his team.

This wasn’t even the biggest asshole move of his career.  Early in his career, a writer for the Duke student paper wrote a column discussing how the team wasn’t living up to expectations.  Krzyzewski brought the student writer into the locker room and loudly and angrily berated him in front of the team.  Even the players thought it was over the top.

Earlier this year, Duke kicked a player off its team for the first time in history.  Rasheed Sulaimon was dismissed for unknown reasons, but more than a year prior he had been accused of sexually assaulting 2 female students.  Think that’s a problem?  It gets worse.  Duke’s athletic department was made aware of the allegations in March 2014, and they violated federal law by not reporting them.  Think that happens without Krzyzewski’s knowledge?  You probably also believe there’s nothing Joe Paterno could’ve done to help those kids.

Krzyzewski is probably the best coach in college basketball history.  You can talk about John Wooden and his 10 national titles, but the game was easier that day and I could’ve won 7 titles in a row if I had Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton on my college teams.  It doesn’t make him the saint that Dick Vitale would have you believe.  He’s also coaching for a fan base who thinks the only black people who should be on campus are the ones on the basketball team.

Fuck Mike Krzyzewski.  You and your entire racist school.

There you have it folks.  Think my reasoning is irrational?  Got any other suggestions?  That’s fine, feel free to comment below.

Why Sports?

As a lot of you (translation: my dad) have noticed, I haven’t written in a while.  There are a lot of reasons for this.  Work doesn’t like it when I spend time writing for my personal blog, I like to drink, TV has some really cool stuff going on, I like to drink and I’m also pretty damn lazy.  Also, I like to drink.  But in reality, it might come down to one damning thing.

Sports just aren’t as fun anymore.

Let’s do a little history lesson.  First off, I didn’t get “big” into sports until my dad had moved away to Illinois.  This isn’t any criticism, but there really wasn’t any history of me sitting on the couch watching my dad get pumped up about the Bears, so a lot of my loyalties have varied and the start of my histories with certain sports tie in to when local teams were good.

Now that you know that…

I got off to a good start.  My first sports memory was the 1984 Tigers winning the World Series.  I didn’t have much of a memory of that team, but I do remember the end of that final game.  From there it was on to the ’85 Bears, whom I picked up with my dad and will still argue are the best team of all time.  In ’87 Michigan State’s football team went to the Rose Bowl for the first time in over 20 years.  In ’88 the Pistons should’ve beaten the Lakers in the NBA Finals, and in ’89 they did.  That same year Michigan fired their basketball coach then won the NCAA basketball title (at that age you could switch collegiate loyalties as often as you changed underwear, so at least once a week).  In 1989 the Lions drafted the greatest running back not named Jim Brown; in 1991 they were a win away from the Super Bowl.

And those were just the local teams.  For some reason I liked Jose Canseco, so I watched the A’s win the Earthquake World Series in ’89.  That same year – as with all summers from the time I was 10 until I was 16 – I spent the summer at my dad’s place in Illinois and watched the Cubs on WGN every afternoon.  They went to the playoffs that year and I’ve been a fair weather Cubs fan ever since.  I loved Joe Montana, and I watched the 49ers win Super Bowls 23 and 24 as Montana cemented his legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.  My brother picked up hockey and the New York Rangers in 1994, so I learned the sport along with him (while wondering why Chris Osgood left the net).  And perhaps the biggest “betrayal” for any Michigan sports fan: in 1993 I discovered my dad was a Bulls fan and picked them up when the Pistons were down.  I stuck with them through the 72-win season in ’96, although the Dennis Rodman pickup helped me justify that one.

By 1997, the Red Wings had gotten off the schneid, beaten the shit out of the Colorado Avalanche, and would win 4 Cups in just over a decade.  The Pistons got over the teal era, and won one of the more unexpected titles in NBA history while going to 6 Eastern Conference Finals in a row.  The Tigers got over 13 consecutive losing seasons – including the worst year in American League history – by going to the World Series on a walkoff home run by Magglio Ordonez.  Michigan State’s basketball team capitalized on sanctions at Michigan and went to 4 straight Final Fours and won the national title in 2000 (my collegiate loyalties were locked in when I decided to go to East Lansing to study journalism for 6 weeks before I found out what journalists make).  The Spartan football team became a power and we’ve won 10+ games 4 times in 5 years, won a Rose Bowl, don’t measure our success on whether or not we beat Michigan, and talk about national titles without being called delusional.

I even gave up on the 49ers and shed my fair weather reputation when they fired Steve Mariucci and became a full-time Lions fan.  Then the Lions hired him and I completely understood what the 49ers were doing.  But while the Lions went through a stretch that would rival or even exceed the stretch the Tigers put us through, they weren’t contracted or moved, they didn’t have the Thanksgiving game taken away from them and they’ve even made the playoffs.

Things were good.

But dig deeper and it’s not hard to poke holes in the facade.  For a sporting society that lives on the idea of “Second place is the first loser”, a 4-team city (not counting the 2 Big 10 schools in the area) that hasn’t won a title since 2008 – with no teams that scream out that they’re favorites to win anytime soon – doesn’t leave a fan happy.  The average title drought for the teams in this city is over 26 years (the Lions surely don’t help that average), and within those droughts are some painful sporting legacies:

  • Tigers: David Ortiz’s grand slam in the 2013 ALCS, six total runs scored in 2012 World Series, pitchers forget how to field in 2006 World Series
  • Lions: only team to go 0-16
  • Pistons: team wide mutiny after starting 37-5 in 2006 Eastern Conference finals, destroyed by LeBron games in 2007 ECF, utter disaster of Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon deals
  • Red Wings: blew 3-2 lead to lose 2009 Stanley Cup Final

But that’s not it.

Should the Tigers have won a World Series by now?  Probably.  Should the Wings have repeated in ’09?  Possibly.  Could the Pistons have won more than 1 title in their 6-year run?  Definitely.  Should the Lions…hmm…um…

Every city’s got one of those teams.

And yes, these things start to wear on fans.  This isn’t the World Cup where a tiny country can be thrilled that not only did they qualify, but they also played a powerhouse to a scoreless draw.  Or the Olympics, where we watch a guy almost drown while simultaneously celebrate his ability to complete.  This is America.  We don’t just go to enjoy the games, we pull for our teams to win championships and we know exactly when the last time it happened for all of our states (1957, 1984, 2004, 2009).

But no, it’s not the woulda-coulda-shoulda that takes the fun sports.  In fact, to a large extent that’s exactly what makes it fun.

But it’s not that either.

Everyone in America watched the Great Home Run Chase of 1998.  We watched as this man who seemed destined for years to break the most hallowed record in American sports fought off a personable upstart, and then hit the magical mark of 70, a mark that seemed almost as unbreakable as the 60 that Babe Ruth hit in 1927.

Then 3 years later someone else hit 73.

I, like everyone else, was blinded to the fact that Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds were chemically enhanced when they broke the record.  And as the years went on I didn’t much care, because it turned out that everyone in the game was juiced.  I care that it was clear that those chemical enhancements cheapened that magical summer, that 73 isn’t anywhere near as romantic as 60 or 61*, that there are many who still believe that 755 is the home run record.

But no, that’s not quite it either.

It’s who I’m giving my money to.

As I’ve said before, I believe sports owners to be among the most despicable people on earth.  The history of professional sports is littered with stories of owners doing whatever they could to pay the players – the people the fans are coming to see – as little as possible, to treat them as chattel, to restrict their rights, to control what they wear.  It continues to this day, with the NFL fining players $10,000 for wearing Beats headphones to mandatory post-game press conferences.  “Guys, we know Beats is the big thing now, but we’ve got a contract with Motorola which, believe it or not, is still in business.”  And yet somehow the fans paint the players as greedy whenever there’s a work stoppage.

But no, we’re still not quite there.

No, it’s the fact that these people I give so much money to – and I’ve given a ridiculous sum of money to professional sports owners over the years – not only don’t give a fuck about anyone to whom they’re responsible (fans, players, employers, families, etc.), but they think we’re stupid enough to buy their shit.

That’s it.

I started thinking about this post as I boatgated before the first game of the Lions’ season.  It was that day that the infamous video of Ray Rice knocking out his now wife went public.  The Ravens acted quickly, cutting Rice.  The NFL was in a bit of spot, because they’d already determined that watching a guy dragging his unconscious fiance out of an Atlantic City elevator was only worth a 2-game suspension.  Nevertheless, the League suspended him again, a suspension that has been reversed because it turns out that you can’t suspend a guy for the same action when the only thing that changed was that the whole world saw what you’ve already clearly known.

Over the next few weeks I watched intently as Roger Goodell insisted they hadn’t seen the tape when they clearly had.  As Vikings ownership suspended Adrian Peterson for beating the shit out of his 4-year-old son, then activated him, then suspended him again when advertisers yanked their support.  As the NFL somehow made people who had beaten their wives and children into sympathetic figures.

Sports just didn’t really feel great anymore.

That was over 3 months ago.  I sat there watching that video thinking to myself, “Do I really want to support this company anymore?”  When does the NFL become Wal-Mart, or Apple, or GM?

Including that Monday Night game, I’ve been to 4 NFL games since then.  I am the problem.

The NFL handed out painkillers and steroids like they were tic-tacs until Lyle Alzado died of a brain tumor and went public believing that the two were related.  They fought the disability claims of players who were living in their cars with dementia caused by constant helmet-to-helmet collisions.  They ignored the somewhat obvious fact that concussions could have long lasting impact (you know, beyond the 3 plays that the NFL thought they had), despite the fact that concussion issues were a plot point in Varsity Blues, which came out in 19-freaking-99 (thanks Bill Simmons…asshole).  And now they’re trying to convince us they’re concerned about domestic violence while giving a 2-game suspension to a guy who knocked out his wife and then dragged her out of an elevator.

Hell, we can’t even escape politics on the field.  When players throughout the country have expressed their Constitutionally-protected right to express their opinions (whether the venue for those opinions were appropriate is for everyone to decide on their own) about high-profile police killings they’ve gotten shot down by fans and police spokespeople.  Never mind that it was members of those police departments that led to the demonstrations in the first place.  No, it’s the young black man – and it’s always a black man – expressing his opinion who’s the problem.

And yet through this entire mess, the NFL has lost not one single viewer.  Not even me.  The only Lions games I’ve missed this year were because there were more important Tigers games taking place at the same time.  And until they start losing viewers (and, more importantly, money), what the NFL does about these public relations disasters won’t matter.

Sports have just gotten less enjoyable.  I’ll get enraged by people at the bar who have differing opinions about trades the Tigers have made.  I’ve had the text message equation of a knock-down, drag-out brawl with a friend of mine who suggested I had gone off the deep end because of how I felt about Brad Ausmus’s bullpen usage.  I was genuinely afraid he was going to have a stroke, which leads me to believe he’s got a mindset about sports not far off from mine.

Which brings me back to the whole point of this post.  Why sports?

And then I think of this picture.

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That’s what sports is.  That’s a picture taken after the Lions had beaten the Falcons in London on a last-second field goal in October.  My friend and I hadn’t been getting along all that great, mostly because I’ve got thin skin and take things personally.  But after that game, we just celebrated and chatted with foreign (wait, I guess we were the foreigners) football fans in a magnificent stadium.

It’s an excuse to travel to see  faraway friends, like the friend who moved to Germany for business.  That’s why we were in London in the first place.  Without the Lions, I don’t know if we’d make that trip.  You’d like to think that friendships survive thousands of miles, but you don’t know.  Having your teams to talk about makes it easier.

It’s complaining with your dad over text about our football teams.  It’s a bit hard to be sympathetic to his plight.  As bad as the Bears have been, they still have 1985.  While I haven’t been a full-time Lions fan since birth, geography has required me to follow them since I’ve been watching football.  We don’t talk on the phone much anymore – why bother when texting and email is so much easier – but every Sunday we text about our teams.

Talking to strangers has always been an issue for me.  I can’t talk to women.  It’s a crippling issue that has kept me single far longer than I’d like.  But I can inject myself into a random conversation about the 2002 Fiesta Bowl or whether Roger Clemens belongs in the Hall of Fame like it’s nobody’s business.  I spent a long chunk of my life feeling weird about myself, and being involved in a sports conversation makes me feel normal.

So I guess that’s why sports.