Glory Be To The Gridiron

Another season of NFL football is upon us, that time of the year when our collective consciousness shifts away from the pews and pulpits to the sanctuary of the sofa. Where the term Hail Mary has an entirely different connotation and Saints and sacks are venerated equally. Football’s popularity is truly Biblical in proportion and for many, therein lies the trepidation and concern.

In 2014 the violence on the field is still very much a part of the appeal but the handling of the violence off the field has brought the integrity of the league into question. As the most popular sport in the U.S. the NFL has a significant standard to uphold, one that should include zero tolerance for domestic violence. Roger Goodell’s handling of the Ray Rice situation damaged the trust between fans and the NFL. The Commissioner’s recent decision to apply stricter punishments moving forward to players and team personnel involved in domestic violence is a clear indication and acknowledgment of a past mistake and lapse in ethical leadership.

But has the damage already been done? Has the brutality and hubris of the NFL finally caught up to them? There were many fans this summer who threatened to swear off football if the league didn’t change its ways. For those people the ultimate tests arrives this Thursday night on NBC as the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks welcome the Green Bay Packers to town in what should be a television ratings bonanza. Will enough households not watch for the NFL and its advertisers to take notice or will The Shield weather this latest wave of criticism like it did the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin hazing situation or the ongoing concussion lawsuits?

In all likelihood, the popularity of the sport, at least on television, marches forward and while the league still needs to deal with other pressing concerns like stagnant stadium attendance and dwindling participation at youth levels, fans will continue to flock to bars and basements to watch the carnage unfold because if there’s one sport that can recover from the obtuse mishandling of the Ray Rice situation it’s the NFL, a league now so synonymous with Sunday that in many parts of the country snap counts have replaced sermons as the ultimate form of repentance.

Long ago football and the NFL figured out that their sport is as much about community as it is anything else. Friends love to gather together to cheer on their favorite teams and players. That socialization, that fraternization, cannot be easily replaced or manufactured which is why football remains king of the field, court and pitch.

So like it or not, and unless television screens across the country remain dark, football as our national pastime is here to stay.

 

 

 

The Feast Of Football

College football is here. A nation of fans rejoice. From Columbia to College Station. Boise to Berkeley.  Morgantown to Madison. People will gather, hand in hand, arm in arm, to celebrate their favorite team.

Now is the time for optimism. Last season nothing but a memory. The future is bright but uncertain for no one knows what tomorrow holds. But rest assured there will be food, and lots of it.

Mesquite or medium rare, college football has a flavor for any type of taste bud. The tailgate is open to all. No need to make reservations. All that’s required is an empty stomach and a passion for gravity defying thrills and performances.

This offseason, as the grills and smokers lay dormant, college football endured landscape altering litigation that continues to threaten the way fans and players consume the sport. Amateurs or not, to the hundreds of thousands who pack the stands each and every Saturday until January, the players on the field represent hope. Hope that their favorite team will uphold the tradition and values that bring pride to universities across the country. Hope that this is the season where the stars align, where the puzzle pieces all fit, and where each course is satisfying.

Change is on the menu however as the BCS was thrown to the dumpster like two day old bread. And in its place a playoff, a true meritocracy, where in theory the best will not be able to hind behind conference affiliation or corporate appeal. All that should matter now is winning.

Will Jameis and the Noles come back for seconds, or will the Tide roll back to their presumed place at the table? Perhaps this is finally the season that Oregon breaks through and swooshes to the top. Or maybe, just maybe, a non super conference Cinderella like Marshall plays its way into an invitation to the ball.

However it plays out, January and Arlington are far far away. Fans of college football are advised to not look too far ahead because they might miss something memorable. A Mariota scramble down the sidelines or Spartan stuff at the goal line. Precious moments that make college football so beloved by so many.

Tis the season for feast or famine. For fans hungering for football. So bring your appetite. Kickoff is here. Bon appetite. Enjoy.

Scoreboard Watching In September

September. Fall is right around the corner. As warm summer days slowly turn to cool autumn afternoons Major League Baseball is reminded that with the changing of the calendar comes the hope for tomorrow and the postseason, the eternal glory of October. The place where dreams can be fulfilled, where greatness is immortalized. Each game matters. Every inning counts.

In September, players begin staring down the scoreboard as the updates come blowing in from out of town like a gust of spine tingling wind. Producing both shivers good and bad. Projecting light and darkness, hope and despair. A glimmer of opportunity or a forecast of doom. As the days grow shorter and night starts to set in earlier and earlier so to does the incandescent glow of the scoreboard, looming over the players’ shoulders like a blinding specter. Haunting each step around the base path. You cannot hide from the bright lights. The glowing numbers and letters materializing from beyond the outfield fence creating an omnipresent shadow across the diamond.

In September, the long season feels more like a marathon than a sprint but the race for the playoffs drives on. A baseball player must be focused. A baseball player must not be easily distracted. This is not a time to throw caution to the wind. Movements must be calculated. Each pitch executed with perfect precision. Each swing mimicking the path of the baseball as it tumbles towards the plate at speeds hovering perilously close to triple digits. To focus on the scoreboard instead of the opposition is the difference between a swing and a miss. A run and an out. A win and a loss.

Players are instructed to focus on today because tomorrow is beyond their control. Yet the scoreboard exists to contradict the sage advice of managers and coaches. The numbers and messages that litter stadium jumbotrons pollute and poison the instincts of even the game’s most experienced. Patience will be put to the test as the results filter in from cities across the country. Los Angeles. Kansas City. Baltimore. Those scores, those numbers, that calculus can change the way you play.

Yet the temptation remains, the bright lights and numbers cascading from far off in the distance like a siren’s call. The scoreboard is calling. It wants you to look. It wants to remind you of the world that is beyond your control. For it’s only the fortunate few who control their destiny. Who do not allow the scoreboard to dictate their future.

The baseball postseason is within grasp. Seize it. Before the scoreboard consumes all hope, shining on deep into the darkness. Fading towards October.

 

 

 

 

The U.S. Open: Tennis Made In New York City

Tennis in New York City. A combination of glitz, glamour and grit. Where greatness does not shy away from the bright lights of the big city. From baseline to baseline, with flashbulbs flickering, the stars come out to watch the best compete in the final slam of the season, the year’s last chance to claim one of tennis’s most prestigious prizes.

In the City That Never Sleeps, players cannot afford to tire. This moment in the spotlight will not allow for old wounds to heal or fresh scars to mend. The U.S. Open is about persevering past the obstacles that accumulate over an exhausting season. Survival here requires not just skill but internal strength and fortitude in the face of a different kind of hardship, one unique to this proud city and its people.

This is a place where titles are overrated, and work is valued. If you’re willing to sweat. Willing to bleed willing to grind then this city will welcome you. It will adopt you as one of its own. Because if there’s one thing New York respects it’s the ability to overcome adversity. The desire to stand up and stare down a challenge. Admiration doesn’t come easy but it is a currency greater than any other commodity. It cannot be bought or sold. It must be earned.

Heads up. Feet forward fast. This city does not stop. It will not slow down. Not for past champions. Not for the future’s brightest stars. Not for the game’s all time greats. There is a pace to this place so rare to the rest of the world that it cannot be matched by Melbourne, Paris or London. One slip. One stumble. A single moment of self doubt and the city will pass you by.

Here it’s better to be brash and bold than timid and temperamental. Petulance is panned regardless of pedigree. This city cares not about what you’ve done in the past only what you’re willing to do in the present. There are no laurels to rest, no record books to regard. Win today, hero tomorrow. Until it’s time to go to work again.

Look around and you’re surrounded by history. By icons past and present. This is the city where stars are made, where fame is created. Where talent transcends. Be careful not to stare for too long because objects are closer than they appear. Success is poised for the taking for those capable of withstanding.

So embrace the moment. Soak in the scrutiny. Accept the adoration. But do not rest. Time to turn on the lights. For this is New York. The City That Never Sleeps.

Bethpage Black: Existing to Outlast

Bethpage Black #4Take your Reds and Greens and Yellows too. It’s The Black we want. Membership dues need not apply. The course is open to all. Fireman. Financiers. Teachers too. The Black cares not what you do or who you are so long as you have the courage to step foot on one of golf’s ultimate exercises in futility. Your wits will be strained. Your legs fatigued. Your soul crushed. Punishing. Unrelenting. Unyielding. The Black will make you question a lot of things. About golf, and about yourself. Is your game good enough to survive 18? Is your heart strong enough to overcome a lover’s rebuke? Is your mind disciplined enough to stay the course, to endure the undulating ups and downs? The only way to find out, the only way to know if you’re up to the test is to play.

The Black knows your frustration. The Black hears your words. You are not the first to travel cross the threshold full of high hopes and desires only to have those dreams turn to a nightmare that you cannot escape, that you cannot avoid. The clubhouse is nowhere in sight. The 19th hole an oasis on the horizon. Your playing partners will offer words of encouragement but their support, their empathy, will fall on deaf ears. It’s just you and your thoughts.

The Black will speak to you. But are you willing to listen, are you patient enough to understand? Will you lay up on a par 4? Will you take iron instead of wood? Will you accept the reality that you are nothing more than a transient here on a brief stay and that the hills and trees that block your approach will remain long after your visit has expired. Those rocks. That heather. Reminders that the sports of golf is more nature than nurture. All the lessons in Long Island won’t help you solve the eternal, evolving mystery of The Black.

If you are one of the lucky few to cross that finish line, body and spirit still intact, take a second to look back down the hill, across the fairways and bunkers that fit together like pieces of a puzzle waiting to be solved. That view, that sense of accomplishment regardless of score is one of the greatest satisfactions the game has to offer. The Black knows this, The Black has seen it all before. It knows you’ll come back again, confident that the next time will be different. But the challenge remains. The challenge will not succumb. Bethpage Black exists to outlast.