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On the Ball and Off the Wall: Childhood Education

Since as far back as I can remember, I was a young idiot and obsessed with all sports. Little has changed, as I am still an idiot, and totally fascinated with sports from A-Z, and even more than that, if possible.

While as a child I spent hours listening on radio or watching my beloved Philadelphia Phillies, the Eagles and Warriors on TV(eventually cum Sixers, and hockey’s Flyers came later), it ended up having the side effect of teaching me math better than anything I learned at school.

There is a famous book about childhood teaching titled, “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” an indictment of public education. Fortunately, my father taught me to read early on by sitting me on his lap and reading the Sunday papers’ comics to me slowly and pointing out the words. Armed with literacy prior to first grade, the rest seemed simple, except for those damn numbers.

Then my father dropped the other shoe. Never mind the 2+2 crap. If you’re wondering why Richie Ashburn is hitting .320 and Puddin’ Head Jones is at .230, here’s how you figure it out. Same goes for why Robin Roberts has a 2.50 earned run average, while Curt Simmons is at 3.00.  (We’re not going into details here about how this works − and it’s pretty simple − but suffice it to say it involves division.)

First, all you have to do is look in the sports pages at the daily baseball box scores. Virtually the same for decades, they would baffle even a modern data wizard or a number-crunching junkie who knows nothing about the game or how it is played. Sorry boys and girls. And that code is the key to the highway.

To the sports neophyte, a box score interpretation is tougher than a Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle. But for freaks like me, it tells an entire encrypted story. And it is more than this if you want old-school numbers.

I once spent an entire Sunday with an official baseball scorebook, filling in every pitch, including the infamous K for strikeout (and registered backward for struck out looking) which is like a sports spreadsheet that would make an accountant whinny, for a New York Yankees doubleheader. Yes, I was bored to death and the earlier reference to idiot to boot. But the satisfaction was immeasurable.

Unfortunately, our new dependence on “statistical analysis” like “wins above replacement” and other obscure, over-thought sorts of non-applicable and bogus measurement crap rule the roost, it is tough to make a case for meaningful evaluations of players. How about, “He/she knows how to play the game.” A lot better than a kid’s math lesson being taken seriously.

I’ll stick to the basics. What’s your batting average or ERA? I can figure it out for you. And I never failed a math test. Thanks, Dad.




On the Ball and Off the Wall: The world according to Gronk

As the noted philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

That applies to the recent announcement by former New England Patriots star and still beloved local hero Rob Gronkowski (check the number of his replica jerseys still in vogue at Gillette Stadium) that he would be retiring from football…again.

The guy you should know as “Gronk” – and if you don’t know who he is you simply have to get out more – is possibly the greatest tight end in NFL history…with a tip of the hat to John Mackey, Kellen Winslow, Tony Gonzalez and, yes, Russ Francis. But sorry, boys, The Gronk rules supreme. He’s already been named to the NFL’s 2010 All Decade Team and the league’s 100th Anniversary All-time Team. ‘Nuf sed.

He first retired from the Patriots in 2019, beaten and bruised. And understandably. He had had nine years in the frighteningly physical mosh pit that is pro football, and to get a measure of that kind of body abuse, have one of your friends beat you head-to-toe with a rubber truncheon every week for over 450 weeks on end. Can’t take it? Sissy.

(N.b. – From this point on, anything written in the past tense should be taken as still potentially in the present tense.)

But Gronk is a New England legend. He was a Tom Brady wet dream when he was drafted from the University of Arizona. A monster at 6’6” and 260 pounds, he was a ferocious blocker. But what brought the fans out of their seats was his receiving ability. With great (and enormous) hands, and watching him run with the ball after a reception was almost in Keystone Kops territory, with him shrugging off tacklers until two or three defenders were needed to pull him down, or thankfully for them, push him out of bounds, where he would still be standing.

But the endearing part of Gronk was that he is a true wild child. He took everything with an oddball sense of humor, which led to him getting endorsements right and left, and even ending up having his personae used in TV shows like “Family Guy,” a perfect fit for him. He’s still in demand, and is one of the most recognizable stars from the NFL.

When the Pats let Brady abscond to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it seemed only a matter of time before he would be ringing up his old pal and asked him how he would like to come play with him again. One year into self-imposed rehab, you can’t imagine Gronk saying no to his old friend. So all that happened is that the old Pats’ Pals led the Bucs to a Super Bowl win, with Gronk catching two TD passes from his partner as they gave the Kansas City Chiefs an ass-whipping. Gronk and Brady added their fourth and seventh rings, respectively, to collections that would make a New York City diamond district jeweler whinny.

Brady has already done his own about-face on his own retirement, after Giselle no doubt told him, “Get out of the house and do something, for Chrissake.” But with Gronk, you know what he says today is not necessarily what he says tomorrow, unless it’s plumping for promo products, and say hi to Brady in his Subway ads.

Some commentators have suggested that given the Bucs upcoming NFL schedule, with a bye in round 11, that may be the spot for Gronk to suddenly join the team for a run to the playoffs, which we have no doubt would be appreciated and accepted rather than viewed as an undeserved intrusion.

But we are sure that that would offend no fans from New England to Florida. Because that’s The World According to Gronk, and we will always love ya, big guy. 




On the Ball and Off the Wall: Puck off

This column is for non-sports fans who would like some enlightenment and hopefully humor without being sports fanatics.

Puck Off

The National Basketball Association and National Hockey Leagues are in their playoffs modes right now!

Wow!

Bow-wow!

The NBA and NHL are and have always been, secondary to the gods of sports, notably the NFL and major league baseball, with international soccer sneaking up on both of them.

You need only see that the NFL draft gets more airtime on ESPN, and all the premier highlights on TV are walk-off home runs. Neither the hockey nor hoops players need to guess who rules the sports roost. Even blown-dry idiots like draft predictor Mel Kipfer offer their usually incorrect guesses – but are touted as prescient geniuses by their networks − take center stage over any piddling NBA or NHL results.

The NBA has become a joke. It is all three-pointers or rim-rattling dunks. The fact that players can do such formerly sacred and prohibited things like traveling (four steps for the stars but only three for newbies), palming and carrying the ball like a waitress at a chic restaurant full of desperate “models” and horny millionaires, has diminished any semblance of playing by the rules of the game.

I refuse to watch NBA games. That will continue unless the Celtics make the finals, in which case it will be worth seeing if Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown can carry their team to an unexpected title. Hey, I’m a homer.

The best thing about pro basketball this year has been HBO’s series, “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.” Like any good Celts fan (Salaam, Cooz, Russ, Hondo, McHale and Larry Bird, and the rest of youse guys), I said I would never watch some LA ass-kissing tribute to a team I hate. But coerced into it by friends, it is a real treat, because it portrays the Lakers’ climb to prominence as full of assholes, pricks or both. Jerry West, their legendary guard (he’s the NBA’s logo, folks) and coach, makes them all come across so poorly − and he is reportedly threatening to sue HBO over his portrayal as a gold-plated dickhead − you can only exult in their professional and personal dysfunction.

But time to switch channels.

The real, true sport anyone should be watching right now is the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs. It is not just your basic hard nut, drop-the-gloves, regular-season game, that gave rise to the wonderful quote about Detroit Red Wings (et al.) player and Hall of Famer Gordie Howe. He had such respect from opposing players that he would have what they called a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick:” a goal, an assist and a fight.

Stanley Cup hockey is an entirely different animal from regular-season NHL bullshit. It is faster, more dynamic and incredibly appealing. It also does not feature the usual “Mine’s bigger than yours!” fighting that goes on regularly all season. That’s because in the Stanley Cup, if you get tossed into the penalty box for a cheap shot to show how tough you are, and the other team gets a power play and scores, you’ve just screwed your buddies. So keep your gloves on and skate away from any confrontation.

So eff the NBA, watch the Red Sox get off to their usual stumbling start, wince (and hope) at the Patriots’ genius draft choices (take a bow, N’Keal Harry), and then support the Bruins until they flame out, or blow our minds with a legitimate run at the Stanley Cup. 

Numbah Faw, Bobby Awe, we need ya baby.




ON THE BALL AND OFF THE WALL: Loyalties and legacies

This column is for non-sports fans who would like some enlightenment and hopefully humor without being sports fanatics.

Loyalties and Legacies

“I didn’t do it for the money.”

Any time you hear that from a pro athlete when he signs for another team, just respond by saying “Bullshit.” In these days, it is invariably all about the money.

This is an unfortunately excuse accepted by the dedicated fans of teams who watch their favorite players jump ship or get dumped via trades by millionaire owners to save some of their precious bucks with eye-watering contracts elsewhere, while sales of BoSox and Pats replica jerseys carry on and we chumps have our hearts on our sleeves and loyalty be damned.

But the legacies exist.

Local icons often lose the plot about what they mean to the faithful. We can forgive the Bruins’ Bobby Orr from limping off to Chicago in his last years, because “Numbah Faw, Bobby Aw” will live in the hearts of Broons’ New England fans forever. (As well as being a signature line from Robert Mitchum before he takes a bullet in the head in “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”)

But can you imagine Carl Yastrzemski going away to be a designated hitter for the San Diego Padres? Or Ted Williams being a pinch hitter for the Cleveland Indians? How about John Havlicek coming on as the sixth man for the Detroit Pistons?

Or think of Larry Bird or Kevin McHale making up the numbers on the bench in Utah? No, these legends had a clue about what to do – and did it. They understood what legacies and loyalty really meant.

Thank all gods, Yaz, Teddy Ballgame and Hondo did the right thing, and walked off into the sunset with the love of every loyal fan.

And the most royal bend-over-for-the-bucks came when the Sox ownership shipped off former MVP Mookie Betts to the Dodgers and Andrew Benitendi to Kansas City, that was a spit in the face to Red Sox Nation. A decades-long possible premiere outfield for the BoSox of Betts, Benitendi and the now (unfortunately) shaky Jackie Bradley.

Yet the fans stay strong. But for how long?

The recent idiotic clash in Major League Baseball between the royalty and the players exposes how much the system is geared to the almighty dollar, not the loyalists in the stands. How does a guy/girl who works their ass off 24/7 for not necessarily minimum wage, but not a few thou an hour, reconcile their fandom with the obscene amounts paid to .250 hitters with an average glove who should pumping gas instead of cashing a check that is insulting to real working men and women?

On another front, there are the rare exceptions, usually among those who understand the concepts of loyalties and legacies.

Recent ones include this guy named Tom Brady, of whom you may have heard. He is the God of all that is Patriots Nation, and will be forever, even after his bullet-to-the-heart of his fans’ departure to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where of course, he won the Super Bowl first time around.

But he definitely understood the concepts of loyalty and legacy while collecting six Soopah rings hereabouts. He was never the highest-paid QB in the league, in part because he would allow the Pats management to take a portion of his salary to use to get better players. Imagine that!

Although he never said that he knew his New England legacy was assured (it is), the many rumored claims as to why he left for Florida are legion. One, supermodel wife wanted him home more often with the young imps; he hated the wonderful New England weather in the fall and winter (scream and salute “Tuck Rule” here); he now hates coach Bill Belichick; he now hates owner Bob Kraft; he wants a George Hamilton cancer tan; or he wanted to play with Gronk again (and how did that work out, Bucs fans? Yowzah!)

But he didn’t do it for the money.

There comes a time when money no longer rules, and attachment to a community – and one’s investigation of how their personal legacy will be perceived – that can change what is at the heart of pro sports. Immediate dollars or long-standing dignity?

And most importantly, respect from the loyal fans. Which should be number one.

But the real deals didn’t do it for the money. Think about it.




On the Ball and Off the Wall: Swimming with Dolphins

This column is for non-sports fans who would like some enlightenment and hopefully humor without being sports fanatics.

Race to the Top

One doesn’t believe that former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is scheming and calculating enough to bring his racism suit against the National Football League for ignoring racial equality in hiring head coaches and general managers during Black History Month, but he sure rang the right bell at the right time.

Flores’ suit is justified and drew attention to what has been an ongoing farce cum tragedy in how NFL teams have been stymying any real move toward diversity, with the league offices doing their best Three Monkeys impersonation as the problem persists.

As Motif goes to press, Flores was just hired as a senior assistant coach by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Flores’ previous interviews with the New York Giants and Denver Broncos were simply window dressing, along the lines of “Some of my best friends are Black.” But here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?

The fact that he was hired by the Steelers is poetic justice, if not precision.

The so-called “Rooney Rule” at the basis of Flores’ legal complaint demands that NFL teams must legitimately interview at least a pair of minority candidates for top-level management jobs. It was instituted by Steelers owner Dan Rooney and has since had that torch carried by generations of his family. In this case, as they always had, they put their money where their mouth was in taking on the now-controversial Flores.

But years ago they had done the same thing in hiring a little-known coach in his thirties named Mike Tomlin, a dead-ringer for actor Omar Epps, who has since won a Super Bowl and never had a losing season with the black and gold.

(Quick aside here: I always had affection for the Steelers while growing up, those hard-ass teams of Bobby Layne and John Henry Johnson, because post-1960, my beloved Philadelphia Eagles sucked almost as much as they did. And this love affair grew more recently when at Christmas, my girlfriend and I would spend the holiday with her family where she grew up in Steel City. This almost got me killed, because when I went to work out at the local gym, I had fortunately borrowed her nephew’s local color exercise clothes, having left my N.E. Patriots logo workout stuff at home, and when I got to the fitness center everyone − and I mean everyone − had on the black and gold, rather than the red, white and blue of their arch-rivals, the Pats. Saved me from getting the shit kicked out of me in the locker room by guys who could have bench-pressed my car.)

But back to the current contretemps. The NFL is a Billionaire Boys Club of aging, good ol’ white team owners, however narcissistically inept (take a bow, Jerry Jones), with Commissioner Roger Goodell their reliable lap dog. One might say that they act like plantation owners in a league whose players are 70 percent black, but one guesses such harsh judgment would be wrong. Well, fuck ‘em, because except for the Rooneys and the minority of the rich boys who run the league, that is spot on.

This is all very sad, because at the competitors’ level, sports is and always has been the racial equalizer. No matter black, white, Hispanic, Filipino, Slavic, etc., these are the guys who fight with and for you, and you’re most likely showering with them as a group almost every day, which getting naked can do to really cut through any biases you may have. And nobody is about to call someone on the other team an n-word when that Black guy in the locker next to you has just saved your ass and gotten you a win because of his dedication to the whole squad.

The NFL, a monster business enterprise with no scruples, needs to be brought to ground and reality by lawsuits such as that of Brian Flores. The NFL response will doubtless continue to be as truthless and obfuscating as a Pentagon press briefing, but hang tough and push on. 

Sooner or later the sun will shine on these deceptions and let punks like Roger Goodell and the NFL owners shrivel in the heat, like the Wicked Witch melting in water in “The Wizard of Oz.” And none too late. 

Thanks, Brian, Mike and the Rooneys.




ON THE BALL AND OFF THE WALL: One Hand Clapping

This column is for non-sports fans who would like some enlightenment and hopefully humor without being sports fanatics.

One Hand Clapping

Maybe it was the Red Sox playing in fits and starts all season long, never more so than in the American League playoffs. Or the Patriots going into the tank at season’s end, after whipping up an unexpected seven-game winning streak before wrapping up the season with some embarrassing losses. Or the Celtics looking like a G League team, while the Bruins are muddling around trying to find their skates in the NHL.

But whatever the reason, professional sports in New England have generated all the sound and fury over the past months of one hand clapping. Not fun. It is a feeling like putting on some clothes that just don’t seem to fit right.

The air has quickly gone out of the local balloons, due in part to the Covid pandemic, which has jitterbugged through the stands and team rosters, abetted by the various mediocre performances.  And it seems that the electricity has gone out of the public, perhaps because fans aren’t wild about sitting next to unvaccinated and unmasked folks in the stands, so they give in-person attendance a miss. Or because the local sports bars are also lurking as possible super spreader sites.

In my limited, extremely casual research on this matter, there are a goodly number of diehard Sox/Pats/Celts/Broons fans taking in most games at home on TV by themselves in self-imposed exile and agony. And one wonders how comfortable that situation becomes if the partner you are living with would rather be streaming or binge-watching something on Netflix – “Christ, why don’t you get your lazy ass off the couch, get out of the effing house, and go down to the pub and watch the game with your friends!?! And put a coaster under that beer can, you slob!” Love springs eternal.

But methinks someone is riding to the rescue, that will put energetic and vocal fans back in the stands, and prompt office chitchat about the Sweaty Sciences. And that is college basketball.

Round these here parts, Providence College hoopsters have gotten out of the blocks fast and furious, holding down a vacillating place in the national Top 25 rankings, and packing the stands at The Dunk. While it is harder to question the parentage or sexual proclivities of referees and opponents when screaming through a mask, the support for PC is palpable. And URI also still draws enough students, alums and plain old b-ball fans down in South County to the Ryan Center to not have to augment their masks with bags of shame over their heads.

In a state like Little Rhody, where people describe PC as our own professional team, that kind of backing and respect matters. And it will blossom if coach Ed Cooley and his boys can bite, spit and kick their way into the NCAA tournament in March.

One might believe that the Super Bowl will recover the NFL’s season of up-and-down teams killing people in their betting pools (yes, my hand is raised). But since there is no real home team playing in the game – last year’s Buccaneers’ win in Tampa Bay’s stadium was an aberration – the seats are filled with some season ticket holders from the two teams involved who could afford to fly in, but generally the NFL shares its wealth with connected people from sponsors and anyone else with a vested (read $$) interest in the game. These big biz poseurs are likely just trying to find the best bars, restaurants, hookers, or all of the above, in town. You can bet those execs won’t give a damn about some hip-hop halftime show with a phony audience of ‘utes who look like they did lines of crystal meth to honor their promise to jump up and down and scream if they can just get into the stadium. Meanwhile, most everyone else in America will be thanking all gods that for once it’s east, west, home’s best, and break out the beer and chili in the TV room.

Here’s when collegiate basketball’s March Madness will ride to the rescue and put energy, raging team spirit, and a sense that they actually are ready to live and die with their homies back into play, and show that being there is half the fun. College fans travel, and the audience is always wired, even if their team is long gone, because then they will almost always side with the underdog, looking for an historic upset.

The buzz the NCAAs create is felt in your gut inside the arena, and boosted by the hordes of fans wandering the streets outside, occasionally taking over bars they then designate as their unofficial headquarters between games, with occasional chants breaking out glorifying their team.

Meanwhile, all across the country folks are clutching their tournament betting pool picks and either gloating about their basketball genius, or swearing like rappers over their favorites taking the pipe and claim they lost just to torment them personally.

In both cases, it’s a hell of a lot louder than one hand clapping. There’s still hope, sports fans.




On the Ball and Off the Wall: Losses at home and abroad

This column is for non-sports fans who would like some enlightenment and hopefully humor without being sports fanatics.

War and Piste

The Winter Olympics in China are set to start February 4, and the sporting aspects of this global event will likely be overshadowed by all the ancillary issues (read: fuck-ups).

Yes, we all want to see downhill racers wipe out at 60+ mph. And we cringe and exult at those crash landings in the ski jump that look like the flier has been thrown off the top of a 20-story high-rise by mobsters. Kinda like watching NASCAR with humans instead of cars. You go, Eddie Eagle!

For China and its emperor, oops, “President,” Xi Jinping, this is an ambitious public relations chance to get worldwide approval for his hideous dictatorship via the Chinese People’s Party. He is an authoritarian who makes the likes of Donald Trump whinny in envy. Bet there won’t be many Uighurs in the stands, just playing a hunch.

But while Xi has been out tooting his horn about how successful this Olympics will be, he can be blindsided from many directions. 

He went to war with the U.S. decision to head a “diplomatic boycott” of the Games, joined by other democratic governments. Small cheese to you and I, but on the international stage, Xi took an embarrassing Mike Tyson-level slap in the face.

Then we have Omicron. Welcome to the funhouse.

We are already talking about 2,000 athletes coming together in close quarters in a country that has almost no control over their recent outbreaks. The top U.S. skier, Mikaela Shiffrin, who rules the skiing world, has already once tested positive for Covid in the US. China continues to be overrun by the virus, their vaccine exposed as a joke. The National Hockey League has forbidden its players to participate, which is a shame, and has drawn criticism from such names as Boston’s Canadian star Brad Marchand and Washington and Russia’s main man Alex Ovechkin.

And wait until the details of the disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai after she accused a high-ranking member of Chinese People’s Party elite of sexual assault are exposed, after she did what was essentially a hostage tape saying she was fine and dandy, and then did what the Brits call a “reverse ferret,” saying she was “misunderstood” to be further examined while Games go on.

The warring and obdurate Xi Jinping and his totalitarian buddies are on a slippery piste. And ready to go off the edge.

John Madden

While I hate “I, I, me, me” items, here goes – I had the chance on two occasions to interview the incredible former NFL coach (and Super Bowl winner as head honcho with the Oakland Raiders), Hall of Famer and hugely popular broadcaster John Madden, who sadly popped his clogs just before the new year.

The first, and most fun, was at a Brown football game ages ago. I saw him sitting alone in a corner of the Brown stands, (as his son was on the football team,) wearing an all-white tracksuit that made him look like a giant snowball. Since I had a cameraman with me to tape my sports spot on Channel 6, I walked up to his perch and asked if he would do an interview with me at halftime for that evening’s news. He growled a bit, but agreed. But when the camera started rolling, he lit up and gave a spirited and upbeat discourse on football you couldn’t have paid for.

The second time was via phone for an article on video games for TV Guide, and his red-hot “John Madden Football” (now “John Madden NFL”). I reminded him of our encounter at the Brown game, and that was the key to him taking off on a roll about the video game, but graciously giving the bulk of the credit for its success and constant upgrading to his two sons. He also laughingly explained that he got calls after every new edition came out from NFL players complaining that they hadn’t been given high enough rankings.

Having Madden act and speak like a happy, generous human being was delightful, vis-à-vis some of my other interviewees (see: Knight, Bobby) was a joy. What you saw was what you got, so many thanks in absentia, good sir.

Vocabulary corner – A “piste” (pronounced “peest”) is a ski run or ski trail, anything from a Black Diamond to the bunny slope. You’re welcome.




On the Ball and Off the Wall: Dumb Jock

The newest celeb to join the Coronavirus Denier/Abuser Hall of Fame is star quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers.  (Aw shucks, lost to Vikings Sunday? So sad.)

He’s a surefire future member of a different Hall of Fame, that of the National Football League. But the NFL doesn’t base their selections on intelligence. Thank all gods for that.

Rodgers used a dodge of NFL protocols – which, to their credit, are fairly strict ­– to say he was “immunized,” when asked if he was vaccinated – essentially a lie a defense attorney could not have done better with on “Law and Order.” He further threw it in the face of the intent of the guidelines by not wearing a mask on the sidelines, when doing media appearances, or in practice.

Aaron knows best. Right. Here are some pills. Swallow them. And huddle up, boys, I want to breathe on you.

Hypocrisy has always been at the top of the list for people with brains who have not been vaccinated but act as though the law doesn’t apply to them. Despite his claims about how well his totally discredited homeopathic cure was working. (Take that, “California Psychics”!)

Rodgers is not alone in this “I’m smarter than you are” arena when it comes to cracking the whip on Covid 19 in public while adopting an “I meant you, not me” attitude.  California Governor Gavin Newsom luckily avoided being put out on the street in a recent recall vote, in which his unmasked big-time party at a chi-chi restaurant drew deserved scorn. And in England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Rasputin, Dominic Cummings, defied the hated severe lockdown by driving his family more than 200 miles to their country estate, claiming it was to help check his eyes via driving ability.

When pressed, Rodgers admitted he had consulted with his “doctor,” the renowned immunologist and swinging medical genius Joe Rogan, the despicable radio talk show host.

But as Forrest Gump’s dear Mama told him, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

The worst part of Rodgers’ scenario was that he was so duplicitous in his defense. He was on the famed TV quiz game “Jeopardy” in its “celebrity” edition of the show as a self-styled, sweaty, sciences intellectual, and as a flaming egotist, Aaron also later served as a stand-in host for the late Alex Trebek as a possible replacement for the adored presenter.

Best result from that was this response from a fan on Internet:

Contestant: I’ll take “Vaccines” for $2,000.

Rodgers: I won’t.

So while Rodgers’ two-faced, lying, and totally unsubstantiated claims that treatments such as horse de-wormers were preventatives against COVID, despite his getting mild Coronavirus symptoms after his grand pronouncements, he faced only a one-game suspension and a fine that probably was equal to what he uses to tip the valet.

So who you gonna believe? A crazed quarterback TV game show host wannabe; a barking mad talk show radio host; actual infection jeopardizing one’s teammates and their families; or your lying eyes and ears?

If you embraced the first option, good luck. And they say jocks are dumb.




ON THE BALL AND OFF THE WALL: Pastime is Now Past Time

This column is for non-sports fans who would like some enlightenment and hopefully humor without being sports fanatics.

The French-born educator, philosopher and author Jacques Barzun once wrote of what was known as our country’s National Pastime:

Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball…

No more.

Major League Baseball’s World Series begins as Motif goes to press. But don’t look for local fans to be glued to their TVs to watch the Atlanta Braves face the Houston Astros, who knocked off the Boston Red Sox for the American League pennant.

In fact, that low howl of dismay you hear is coming from MLB’S home offices in New York City, and the boardrooms of their major sponsors. The money folk were hoping for a champagne Series between Boston and the L.A. Dodgers (who got tomahawk-chopped by the Braves in the National League pennant finale), and instead got a Thunderbird fortified wine toast in a Mayor McCheese glass. This will be watched predominantly − and nearly only − by fans in the Atlanta and Houston metro areas, instead of pumping up the ratings and revenue due to the national appeal that would have pulled in the Red Sox Nation and La-La supporters. Oops.

To be fair to Jacques Barzun, when he published that line about baseball in 1954, the sport was the most popular in the United States. It was riding the breaking of the color barrier by Jackie Robinson; the heroics of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Duke Snider; and backed up and buoyed by the emergence of rising superstars named Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron, who brought both fresh talent and flair to the game.

The only sport that was almost as popular as baseball was college football, and the four major bowl games − Cotton, Orange, Rose and Sugar − were played on New Year’s Day, and were required viewing or listening.  (Using one of those things called a “radio,” for you young social media misfits.)

Back in the transistor and tubes era, the National Football League was seen as kind of a poor man’s college game. People cared little about the fairly new National Basketball Association, which played in almost any gym that would open its doors to a game (including the old Rhode Island Auditorium for the Boston Celtics). The National Hockey League was just a bunch of Canucks dislodging each other’s teeth to an audience that was strictly from New York City north and west. And soccer? A shower of immigrants in ethnic urban neighborhoods who couldn’t even use their hands while performing, fer chrissake.

Now baseball has slowly been committing suicide with boring, three-and-a-half-hours-plus games, more strikeouts than you’ve had hot dinners, and a television schedule, particularly for the showcase World Series, that all but rules out any kid under the age of 14 seeing the final outs of a game. 

As just a quick popularity/recognition/status litmus test, how many major league players do you see doing TV commercials these days?  Compare with NFL stars, or even identifiable NBA faces, even if you count Shaquille O’Neal as only one, given his raft of sponsorship deals. 

The NFL has steamrolled baseball as our National Pastime. 

Pro football betting pools are now legion, and if you don’t at least know the result of the Sunday Pats game at work on Monday you are a pariah, or at least viewed as a clueless idiot. And the same goes for the residents of any city and its suburbs across the country that has an NFL team.

What draws the eye and the fan base are guys who can throw a football into a trash can forty yards away, and to a bevvy of freakishly fast, athletic and glue-fingered running backs and receivers. Add in the allure of a NASCAR pile-up, being able to see one of them − or even better, the quarterback − get blown up by some 250-lb. monster of a linebacker, safety or defensive end at least once per contest. That what we’re waiting for!

So while baseball may still have a place in our hearts, our minds have turned elsewhere. And we’ll check on the score in the World Series by flipping back and forth to it while watching some trash comedy on the tube. Sorry, Monsieur Barzun.




Half-assed Halftime: Who let the doggs in?

This column is for non-sports fans who would like some enlightenment and hopefully humor without being sports fanatics.

It is perhaps premature to start bitching about the treat we will have in the travesty that is the NFL Super Bowl’s annual halftime entertainment, but hey, let’s get out in front of the crowd.

In case you are not a brainless teenager who is already aware, this year’s extravaganza will feature Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary K. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, and (token white guy) Eminem. Be still my beating heart.

Most of the Super Bowl’s halftime showcases have been an embarrassment. When there were crowds in the stands who were treated to the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Bruce Springsteen, most in the stadium didn’t complain about big-time performers taking up 30 minutes of their lives and loved it. Hey, there’s Mick! Give us some more windmills, Pete! Go for it, Boss!

But when it came to watching such eternal superstars (honk!) as Coldplay, Maroon 5, and the unspeakable display by Beyonce and Destiny’s Child, the NFL, and its lily-white executives who make such decisions, lost everyone to the idea that People magazine’s idea of celebrities and good music rules.  

These recent displays of bad taste have featured a fake audience of today’s ‘utes trying to watch the actual football game from a tunnel (or totally ignoring it, because these kids probably couldn’t spell Tom Brady), before being unleashed – and acting like they had all done a few lines of crystal meth just before – to do a screaming, hand-waving act that would have embarrassed even early Beatles’ fans.

Meanwhile, up in the stands, most of the attendees were either in line for the bathroom, at the concession stand, or having their private bartender stir up a few more martinis in the luxury boxes.

But here’s On the Ball and Off the Wall’s suggestion to the NFL, albeit too late:  Bring back the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) marching bands for halftime. Trust us, they would considerably shorten the lines at the pissoir and hot dogs and beer stands, and perhaps get some of the ultra-rich Big Pharma and Facebook suits in the executive suites to check out the happenings on the field, even if they couldn’t understand what all those black folks were doing there in the first place.

The NFL got it right at the first Super Bowl in 1967 by having the HBCU knockout Grambling band do the halftime show along with the University of Arizona. They came back with the elite Florida A&M gang in 1969. And then Grambling again in 1975. 

(Help for the uninitiated: Watch the movie “Drum Roll,” which is regularly featured on TV. It’s as close to the college marching band sine qua non of high-stepping, polished horns-swaying, and bring-you-out-of-your-seats clapping and dancing you can ever replicate.) 

We have seen one of these HBCU bands live at a Patriots game way back when, as the drummers started their staccato whip-up underneath the stands before marching onto the field in full cry and flash, they drew a roar from the crowd that was immeasurable.

This year’s new lineup of hip-hoppers and rappers may actually draw new viewers, but just for the halftime show, which doesn’t mean the NFL has now gotten au courant. That’s called “marketing,” boys and girls.

So, not to be too harsh, good luck to Dr. Dre and Co., but let the NFL empty suits loosen up and let the proud and perfect HBCU band marchers and players show their stuff to a national audience currently oblivious to their skill, or even existence. And give me a cut of the royalties when they are finally, and deservedly, recognized. One, two, three, HIT IT!