The Dog Days of January
A few quick thoughts and observations to ring in 2015 . . .
• August has long been known as “the dog days” of baseball season, too late for teams to feel fresh, but too early for any playoff buzz. In basketball terms, January is the most doggish of months. NBA teams seem to be in full flight, yet the season hasn’t reached its midpoint. College teams start conference play, but remain a month away from true jockeying for NCAA tournament seeds.
Last Saturday felt like new-year trauma if you call yourself a Memphis basketball fan. First the Tigers were outscored 17-4 over the last five minutes of their (home) game with Tulane (not exactly an American Athletic Conference titan). Then the Grizzlies took the floor in Denver and got walloped by 29 points. Playing their second road game in as many days without Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies’ loss felt like an anomaly, but the fearsome Western Conference puts a premium on accumulating wins. Here’s hoping Z-Bo’s balky knee heals (completely) soon.
As for the Tigers, one can hope Nick King was the difference against the Green Wave. The Tigers’ top reserve sat out a second game with an ankle injury, a primary reason Tulane’s bench outscored the Tiger bench 18-9. But those last five minutes were troubling to witness. No Memphis player was able to rise to the occasion in the team’s first close game of the season. Who will make the big shot (or shots) for this team? The dog days are here and Tiger fans still don’t know.
• This has not been a season of happy headlines for the National Football League. But however ugly the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson stories are, they’ve been nice distractions from what remains a terribly flawed playoff format, one based on the premise that geography and winning a four-team division are proper variables in punching tickets to the postseason. The Philadelphia Eagles finished the 2014 campaign with a record of 10-6 and can now be found on golf courses nationwide, fine-tuning their iron games. Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers finished 7-8-1 (having lost to the Eagles in November, 45-21) and are two wins from the Super Bowl.
The Panthers “won” the NFC South, of course, a division sagging with other losers: New Orleans, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay. The Eagles were cursed by having to play in the NFC East, where they finished behind Dallas, a team that plays west of St. Louis, a team you can find in the NFC West. It’s as clear as a Roger Goodell press conference.
A commissioner with an interest in making the NFL better for its fans — imagine that — would divide each conference into two eight-team divisions. The division champions would earn first-round byes, and you’d eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) the chances of a losing team entering the playoffs while a winner stays home. Get it done, Rog.
• It’s hard to imagine college football’s first playoff semifinals going any better. The New Year’s Day doubleheader had the feel of my favorite football day of the year: the NFL’s conference-championship Sunday. Back-to-back games that mean . . . everything. Worst game for a team to lose, one win shy of playing for a title. And the settings were perfect, the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl as natural to open a year as a hangover-curing mimosa. My only gripe: The 8:30 (eastern time) kickoff for the Sugar Bowl. With the game ending well after midnight, a lot of kids missed the rare sight of Alabama coach Nick Saban walking off the field a loser. My pick for the title game next Monday: Oregon 41, Ohio State 30.
• The Baseball Hall of Fame will gain at least two power arms Tuesday when Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez should be elected in their first year of eligibility. The two combined to win eight Cy Young Awards and were key components when the 2001 Diamondbacks and 2004 Red Sox, respectively, won the World Series. It will be interesting to see if former Brave great John Smoltz gets enough votes (a player needs 75 percent of the total votes cast for election). Smoltz will get his plaque, but I’m not sure it will happen on his first ballot. Former Astro Craig Biggio fell just shy of election last year and will likely join Johnson and Martinez in Cooperstown this summer. I don’t expect the sport’s alleged steroid villains — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and the like — will need any help drafting an induction speech.