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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 coachs 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 weeks topic (or topics): A few things I love in sports
(and a few things I hate).
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 opponents at-bats, or seizing one more swing
after strike three.
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
youre shooting when fouled, you must make the first, THEN you get a second.
Pass-catching tight-ends. Sure, that sixth bruiser on the line is nice if youre
playing for five yards at a time. But Ill 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
todays gold standard, Kansas Citys Tony Gonzalez. Football is a game of skill
and muscle. These stars have both.
Prevent defense. Its become the cliche muttered by every fan who has witnessed
his teams 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 theyre not
beaten by anything deep.
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. Theres 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
catchers mitt like a parent awaiting a child late for dinner).
Lead-off walks. (When my teams in the field.) Im not digging up the
percentages, and I wont cite particular examples for fear I might crack my
keyboard, but there is no better way to blow a lead or start another teams
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.
Olympic speed. Summer or winter, the 100-meter dash or downhill skiing, it
doesnt 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.
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, thats not a 9.271 . . .
thats a 3. And who came up with the 6.0 scale for figure skating? Again, if
Michelle Kwan cant 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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