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FROM MY SEAT: When Love and Hate Collide

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Few diversions in life fall into the love/hate category quite like the world of sports. (Apologies to rockers Def Leppard for borrowing their perfect title.) Be it a uniform color, a coach’s demeanor, or merely the “tradition” carried like a torch by one team or another, we tend to cheer with fervor . . . or deride with vehemence. Which brings me to this week’s topic (or topics): A few things I love in sports (and a few things I hate).

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LOVE: Offensive rebounding. It takes a special kind of greed to be a good offensive rebounder. You have to want a second shot for your team more than your five opponents want their next possession. Winning basketball games is about making shots . . . but first you have to take those shots. Every offensive rebound is one more shot taken, and one fewer for your opponent. It would be the equivalent in baseball of taking away an opponent’s at-bats, or seizing one more swing after strike three.

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HATE: Two free-throws -- all the time -- in the NBA. Enough griping about the pace of a baseball game. An NBA game grows interminable by all the free-throw shooting. And the irony is that most NBA players would be out-shot at the line by the 13-year-old star in your local rec league. Why reward a bricklaying foul-shooter (emphasis on foul) with a second shot after he clangs the first? This is an area where the college game has it right (until the double-bonus, at least): Unless you’re shooting when fouled, you must make the first, THEN you get a second.

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LOVE: Pass-catching tight-ends. Sure, that sixth bruiser on the line is nice if you’re playing for five yards at a time. But I’ll take John Mackey, over the middle, striking fear in the hearts of otherwise fearless linebackers. Because Mackey is going to (A) catch the pigskin and (B) hurt the first tackler with the temerity to try and stop his progress. Mike Ditka, Kellen Winslow, Shannon Sharpe, and today’s gold standard, Kansas City’s Tony Gonzalez. Football is a game of skill and muscle. These stars have both.

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HATE: Prevent defense. It’s become the cliche muttered by every fan who has witnessed his team’s demise when victory seemed all but certain: “The only thing a prevent defense prevents is wins.” Your team spends 55 minutes knocking its opponent silly, bull-rushing, covering receivers like Spandex, only to drop back in the “prevent” as the clock winds down in the fourth quarter. Coaches apparently will take a loss by a dozen gains of seven-to-ten yards . . . as long as they’re not beaten by anything deep.

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LOVE: A suicide squeeze. You can have a “walk-off” home run, a triple play, even a no-hitter. Give me a base-runner taking off from third, full-steam, just as a pitch is being delivered. There’s simply no moment in sports more shocking and exhilarating in so brief a span of time. And with either profound success (the batter gets the bunt down!) or humiliating failure (the baseball waiting in the catcher’s mitt like a parent awaiting a child late for dinner).

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HATE: Lead-off walks. (When my team’s in the field.) I’m not digging up the percentages, and I won’t cite particular examples for fear I might crack my keyboard, but there is no better way to blow a lead or start another team’s rally than by offering a free pass to a batter leading off an inning. When the leadoff batter reaches, a team can score a run without so much as a base hit. At least make that batter earn his first bag.

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LOVE: Olympic speed. Summer or winter, the 100-meter dash or downhill skiing, it doesn’t matter. I love Olympic racing, as it showcases the most elementary sporting challenge: Get from Point A to Point B faster than everyone else. When you factor in the potential for crashes in downhill skiing that make a NASCAR dustup look mild, these events are fist-clinching, body-English-inducing thrill shows. And consider that these races are measured in THOUSANDTHS of a second.  In other words, margin for error: zero.

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HATE: Olympic judging. I can understand the subjective quality to gymnastics or figure skating. But enough of the hairsplitting criteria that makes a “winner” impossible for the casual fan to recognize. When the 16-year-old Romanian dynamo does a cartwheel on the balance beam, but falls off, that’s not a 9.271 . . . that’s a 3. And who came up with the 6.0 scale for figure skating? Again, if Michelle Kwan can’t stay on her skates the entire routine, she gets a 2 . . . not a 5.2. Leave the decimal points to the speed events.

 

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