February 2, 2009
The time has come, at last, to deposit the NFL in the “Dustbin of Sports” alongside the charter member NBA, steroid-abusing MLB, and the sports of cycling, boxing, tennis, and track and field. Yesterday the Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII by defeating the Arizona Cardinals in a thriller, but what I’ll most remember about the game was the omnipresence of referee Terry McAulay who got more face time than Pacman Jones at a sleazy strip club. The game was awash in penalties—18 accepted in all—and violated what used to be an understood maxim in big games…”Let ‘em play.”
But the NFL becomes more and more ludicrous with each passing season. Terry McAulay and his crew essentially took away any rhythm that might have otherwise been established. I’m not going to cry for the Cardinals…there were egregious calls on both sides of the ball, but it did seem as if the Cards got the short end of the stick. A ridiculous late hit call on Ben Roethlisberger, a no-ejection on James Harrison for a street mugging, a ticky-tack chop block call on Edgerrin James, and a critical no-call on what should have been a no-brainer when Santonio Holmes used the ball as a prop in his end-zone celebration after scoring the winning TD. And then, on the last play of the game, with everything at stake, the booth review team thought it unnecessary to have a look at Kurt Warner’s fumble—even though numerous viewings of the tape still don’t yield a definitive answer.
This is the same Terry McAulay whose crew screwed the Titans in their playoff game against the Ravens earlier in the Divisional playoffs when they missed a delay of game penalty on the Ravens on a play in which Baltimore converted a key third down and then went on to kick the winning field goal. Ed Hochuli, he of the big arms and even bigger ego, cost the Chargers a game earlier in the season against Denver, but he was rewarded with the Dolphins-Titans playoff game. Refereeing is becoming worse and worse and I believe it’s largely due to instant replay—the fix has become the problem.
The rules state video evidence must be “indisputable,” but this rule seems to be skirted when it’s convenient. The very same Santonio Holmes who scored yesterday’s game-winner, was involved in a goal-line controversy against the Ravens in the regular season and was awarded a TD after referee Walt Coleman determined the ball had crossed the goal-line even though the call on the field was no TD, and replays were inconclusive. Walt Coleman was the referee who put in his biggest fix by invoking the “Tuck Rule,” which essentially allowed the New England Patriots to win a Super Bowl they shouldn’t have even been playing in.
With the media all in a lather today about the non-review of the Kurt Warner play, NOT A ONE ever addresses the most indefensible aspect of instant replay: Why aren’t coaches allowed to challenge in the last two minutes of either half? Think about how preposterous this is…at the most critical junctures of the game, coaches have to rely on the Pooh-Bahs in the booth to seek justice. And the NFL wonders why people think the fix is in.
The NBA is already one hundred percent devoid of credibility. Referee Tim Donaghy is doing time as we speak for using “inside information” to alter the outcome of games, and commissioner David Stern would have us believe he’s a “rogue.” But the truth is no one takes the NBA seriously anymore as it is officiated by blind old men who don’t even bother with the rules anymore….traveling is so epidemic they’ve actually coined a term for a rules violation and players are lauded for their ability to “jump stop.” A typical Kobe Bryant drive to the hoop features more steps than an A.A. meeting, but this rapist is the poster boy for the league.
The inmates have always run the asylum in the NBA. All-time top-50 player Scottie Pippen once famously refused to enter a game when the last play wasn’t called for him. Toni Kukoc went on to hit the game-winner, justifying the play call, but Pippen sulked that he didn’t get the rock. And this year Stephon Marbury, who has ruined every team he’s played for, is being paid $21.9 million by the Knicks to wear street clothes and pout. He’s what passes for a superstar in this most ridiculous of all leagues.
Major League Baseball is composed of greedy, hormone-injected musclemen who whine about everything and are given outrageous long-term contracts based on “upside”, which they demand to renegotiate as soon as they’ve done something as pedestrian as hit .280 with 25 homers. Pitchers who throw a mere 200 innings are considered “workhorses” and the universally acknowledged “strongest union in sports”—the Major League Baseball Players Association—refuses to honor any other unions’ work stoppages.
Tennis players routinely tank for appearance fees, and recent gambling probes have uncovered strange “betting patterns” on several matches. The seeding system at tennis tournaments ensures that the best players don’t face any good opponents until the semi-finals or finals, and its instant replay system makes it incumbent on the player to do the umpire’s job.
Track and field doesn’t even make any pretense of being on the up-and-up anymore. Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, and countless other Olympians have been banned from the sport and/or jailed for illegal steroid use. And cycling, widely considered the dirtiest sport, was until recently dominated by Lance Armstrong, a former cancer victim and seven-time Tour de France winner who tries to tell us with a straight face that in a sport where mere seconds or even hundredths of seconds decide the outcome, he–as a clean athlete—was defeating rivals who were using.
This all brings me finally to golf. There will be the naysayers who will say golf isn’t even a “sport,” but virtually every pro athlete plays the game and is frustrated by his inability to master it. The sainted Michael Jordan is a weekend hack despite his lies to the contrary. The game requires power to drive the ball 300-plus yards, accuracy to hit the ball close (as Sam Snead once said, “We have to play our foul balls.”), and touch, tempered by nerves of steel, to put the ball in the cup. There are no teammates to pick up the slack when you have an off-day, and the only penalties called are those you call on yourself. What an outrageous concept! Fair play and integrity!!
What’s more….golfers actually have to EARN their money!!! There are no contracts, long-term, short-term, or otherwise. Each and every year, players have to perform well enough to keep their cards…those that don’t wind up grinding it out on lesser tours where the money pales next to that of the PGA Tour.
Golf courses are blissfully free of the obnoxious music and histrionics that medicate the brain-dead and attention-span challenged fans of most other sports; and save the occasional “you da man”, golf is free of the hip-hop generation of fans who think they’re entitled to inject themselves into the play on the field. Golfers are well-spoken and almost without exception (John Daly aside) don’t make the tabloids or police blotters. And if you can name the last time Tiger Woods tanked, I’ll buy you a lifetime of free dinners.
I grew up a sports freak, but with each passing year, I find myself becoming less and less interested. I gave up on the NBA years ago, baseball followed shortly thereafter, and now the NFL is an afterthought unless I have money riding. For now, and probably forever after, only golf endures.