The Game of the Century…That Didn’t Matter At All

I guess it was the Game of the Century only if the right team won.” [Lou Holtz]

 

Maybe if Florida St. had a decent kicker to beat Miami, it would have been different.

Back in the early 1990s, the college football world watched with pity as folksy head coach Bobby Bowden repeatedly lost to Miami to cost them multiple national championships. 1991 was a classic example. The Seminoles were the favorite that year to win it all, played dominantly all year long and came into the Miami game 9-0 and ranked #1. Yet their kicker missed a 34-yard field goal—Wide Right you may recall if you are reading this—as time expired and Miami won, 17-16.

The next year was the same, except a missed FG—Wide Right, of course—cost them a chance to tie Miami.

Then 1993 came along. Bobby Bowden had his best team yet it seemed and dispatched of Miami—finally!—early in the year. They were boat racing the ACC, winning against recent conference champions Clemson and Georgia Tech by scores of 57-0 and 51-0. With the curse of Miami behind them, nothing could stop the pollsters from finally voting Bobby Bowden, I mean FSU, #1.

Right?

As November approached, one more huge game loomed. Notre Dame, led by fiery, witty and extremely accomplished head coach Lou Holtz, stood undefeated as well. And when the week of the game approached, the teams stood 9-0 and 10-0 and were ranked #1 and #2 in the country. It was billed, as college football games periodically were back then, the “Game of the Century”.

I don’t think many people were giving Notre Dame much of a chance, however. Even at home. Not only was FSU winning games by 50 points but they were the sentimental favorite since Bowden had come so close before and still hadn’t won it all. With an offense guided by Mark Richt and eventual Heisman winner Charlie Ward, it seemed that fate was on his side.

The environment for the game could not have been more picture perfect. Playing in Notre Dame Stadium, where the ghosts of Fighting Irish past stood to intimidate every visiting team, 59,000 raucous fans were primed. (Back then Notre Dame was the team with all the history: 11 National Championships and seven Heismans. At that point, Florida St had zero of both.) NBC had the telecast and Bob Costas and his golden voice gave a memorable introduction to the game as music from the Rudy soundtrack played behind. It was an immaculate Saturday afternoon for college football between the two top teams in the nation.

Notre Dame made it clear quickly that they would not be stampeded like the ACC and Miami were. FSU did indeed score first, and quickly, to go up 7-0. But then Notre Dame punched back and started controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides. Lee Becton gashed the FSU defense over and over again for 122 yards that felt like 172. The Irish defense swarmed Ward and mounted up sacks and turnovers. And ND reeled off the next 24 points. By late in the fourth quarter they led 31-17 and invincible Florida St. was on the ropes.

Florida State rallied, behind a lucky bounce on 4th and 20, to pull within a TD. Then after a quick Fighting Irish three and out, they had the ball for one last chance to tie the game. It was not to be, as one of the most familiar images etched in my mind to this day, Ward’s last pass in end zone was batted down. Holtz, as he had so many times with N.C. St., Arkansas, Minnesota and Notre Dame, had engineered a massive upset.

End of story, right?

Nope. It never is in college football, as champions used to be awarded based on beauty pageants and odd logic as much as on the for on-the-field results.

This year was no different. After the game, Notre Dame moved into the #1 spot in the polls. FSU dropped only to #2, ahead of undefeated teams like Nebraska, Ohio St., West Virginia and even Auburn, who was on probation and ineligible for the postseason. There was already talk of a ND-FSU rematch in the Fiesta Bowl. You could sense even at that point that the Seminoles were basically given a mulligan for the game. It was being spun, even by Florida State brass, that they played the #1 team tough on the road and so they must be the #2 team. If it played out like FSU was lobbying for, Notre Dame was going to have to beat them again.

Then something happened to spice up the pot even more. The very next week, Notre Dame was upset on a last-second field goal by #12 Boston College. The polls were a dumpster fire, as Florida St. resumed its spot at #1, ahead of all the undefeated teams still, and Notre Dame fell to 4th. Five different teams got first-place votes that week. (To be noted as well is that the following week Notre Dame didn’t play and still dropped to 5th in the polls.)

 

Bowl season loomed and it was apparent that Notre Dame was going to need a myriad of things to break right to win the National Championship. They more or less needed undefeated West Virginia to lose and for FSU to beat undefeated Nebraska in an ugly game in the Fiesta Bowl, while winning their bowl game vs. Texas A&M. And luck of the Irish, it all happened. Notre Dame beat A&M 24-21, Florida throttled WV 41-7, and Florida St. barely scraped by Nebraska 18-16 in a disjointed but thrilling contest, after the Cornhuskers missed a long FG on the last play that would have won it.

As a result it was clear that only two teams really could stake claim to the National Championship: Notre Dame and Florida State. (Auburn remained undefeated but was de facto excluded for being on probation.) Florida State took 48 of 60 first-place votes in the AP and 36 of 61 first-place votes in the Coaches poll, winning both championships. The argument that the coaches and media seemed to favor was that the two teams had the same record and that the Seminoles had the “better” loss, losing on the road to #2 instead of at home to #12. Holtz’s rejoinder was one of searing logic that, in my opinion, put all of those FSU voters to shame: They had the same record and one team beat the other. Head-to-Head is the most fundamental tie-breaker there is. Most voters ignored it.

Adding to Holtz’s ire was that in 1989 a similar scenario played out, except in reverse. Miami and ND both had one loss at the end, and the voters favored Miami because Miami won the game the two teams played. Holtz could not wrap his mind around why things all of a sudden changed four years later and was not shy about expressing it: “I really and truly felt we would win [the championship] when I went to bed,” Holtz said the Sunday after the bowl games. “Even Bobby Bowden said he felt that Nebraska outplayed them. I just felt that based on 1989 and the logic given then, and the head-to-head competition, I felt in my heart there was no way we would not win it.” As time passed he never wavered on this, later adding, “We played Florida State in the season and the game obviously didn’t mean anything. Everybody said it was the game of the century. I guess it was the game of the century if the right team won.” To this day, Holtz considers 1993 a “sort of” National Championship for Notre Dame.

Here’s what gets me as a college football fan, even 25 years later: So often in that era of college football, the two best teams did not play each other and we were left wondering who would win if they did. And typically, they split the two polls and both were given recognition as National Champions. It happened in 1990 with Colorado and Georgia Tech. It happened in 1991 with Miami and Washington. It happened in 1997 with Nebraska and Michigan. It even happened in the BCS era in 2003 with LSU and Southern Cal.

Yet in all of those splits, neither team could say of the other, “We beat them on the field where it mattered.” That is not true of 1993. Notre Dame won. And it didn’t matter. In my humble opinion, the vote in both polls was greatly impacted by how much people loved Bobby Bowden. He had never won, so they gave it to him. A similar thing happened the very next year when Nebraska and Penn St. both were undefeated and both polls gave the championship to previously ringless Tom Osborne of Nebraska.

So the Game of the Century? More like as meaningless a loss as any in the history of Florida State football. College Football has a history of injustice in determining its champions. To me, this was one of the worst. In my mind, Notre Dame won the biggest game and deserved the championship.

Then the game actually would have meant something.




The Biggest Reason LeBron Will Never Catch Jordan

“My motivation is this ghost I’m chasing. The ghost played in Chicago.”

–LeBron James

 

LeBron James has, in one sense, done the impossible. He has made the GOAT discussion a national discussion. If the greatness of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, et. al., wasn’t enough to keep Jordan from being the consensus choice among knowledgeable NBA fans, I didn’t think anyone ever could. But according to what I read on sports media and Twitter, the discussion is real. It’s happening right now. REO’s very own Michael Lytle dealt with it back in June.

My take will be distinct from Mike’s, even if my conclusion is the same. Let me be absolutely clear about one thing from the outset: I am going to broach this with my opinion about how the debate is viewed nationally, NOT what my opinion is. I’ve already written about it before and it is that Larry Bird is the greatest. I do have an opinion on these two players and where they rank, but I think it will be more beneficial at this point to see it through the eyes of the nation at large and not just my own.

There is one huge reason why I think LeBron, given his age and time left to play, will almost certainly not catch Jordan in the public eye. Before I get to it, let me comment on how funny it is to observe debate when you have no horse in the race. I do not love nor hate LBJ or MJ and can see it more objectively. And this is common:

Dude 1: LeBron never lost in the 1st round.

Dude 2: Yeah, but he didn’t have to play the 86 Celtics.

(same two people later)

Dude 2: Jordan never lost in the Finals.

Dude 1: Yeah, but he never had to play the 16 Warriors.

But my main point isn’t to make these types of claims but to speak to something that absolutely matters to the USA public conscience, more than anything else when it comes to sports: What is the perception of the athlete when it comes to the Championship game or round? And in this area, Michael is so far ahead of James I don’t know if he can catch him.

Note that I am NOT saying that Jordan is better than LeBron because 6 > 3. Mike dealt with that and dismissed it completely. Neither is it the brother of that argument that Jordan was 6-0 and LeBron is 3-6 in the NBA Finals.

What I am speaking to is a bit different.

You see, Michael Jeffrey Jordan didn’t just win six championships and go 6-0 while doing it. MJ dominated those series at times and, more importantly for my point here, he left us with lasting images of how he dominated.  That, in my opinion, is the biggest reason Michael Jordan remains a ghost that cannot be caught.

What do I mean exactly? Well, for one, can you see in your mind’s eye Jordan being assisted off the court by Scottie Pippen after making a crucial shot at the end of Game 5 in the 1997 Finals? How many times have you seen the highlight of Jordan shrugging after making his 6th first half three in Game 1 vs. Portland in 1992? Or of him switching hands on a layup vs. the Lakers in 1991, complete with Marv Albert saying “A spectacular move!”?

Image result for Jordan shrug gif

Beyond these iconic images that manifested how Jordan saved his best plays for the Finals, Michael Jordan did something twice that LeBron has never done: he made a game-winning shot in the final seconds of a Finals game. Almost any NBA fan knows he made the series clincher vs. Utah in 1998, his last game ever with Chicago. But true fans know he did the same thing in Game 1 vs. Utah in 1997. The former is also an image and one that is burned in the brain of people like me, in huge part because he posed after he shot it. Though I do remember him pumping his fist after the latter shot as well, that image will never compare to one in 98.

 

Image result for Jordan switch hands gif

 

There is little doubt that for most of these moments, MJ’s image-producing highlight swings the game and possibly the series. If he doesn’t score every one of those 38 points in the Flulike Symptoms Game, Chicago likely doesn’t win. If he misses that jumper over Russell in 98, they probably have to go to Game 7. If he doesn’t demoralize Portland in Game 1 that year, maybe Chicago doesn’t win in six. But what I’m communicating is that these truths aren’t nearly as important as the images themselves. People’s memories tell them Jordan was incredible and whether or not those moments were crucial sort of takes a backseat. I mean why is the image of him switching hands more famous than the buzzer beater to win Game 1 in 97?

 

LeBron just does not have this in his arsenal. He has the block vs. Golden State in 2016 and that’s about it. Most other images people have of LeBron in the Finals are negative: the grimace and pointing at JR Smith last year, playing hot potato vs. Dallas in 2011, etc. Remember, I’m not saying this is fair. You can bring out all sorts of stats and facts and data to convince people that LeBron is more clutch than Jordan (and he has made more shots in the playoffs late in games to put his team ahead than Jordan did and has made them at a higher percentage) but for people over 30, generally speaking, it won’t matter as much as the images. That is the disease of the video age.

 

Image result for Jordan Flu game gif

 

James has a chance with this next generation who grew up with Twitter more than with highlight videos. But in my humble opinion it will be a while before he catches him, probably long after I’m dead. Unless before he retires, he produces a plethora of Finals-defining images that can compete with Jordan. Which seems doubtful.

And so the ghost remains out of reach.

 




Five Sports’ Moments We Wish We Could Experience for the First Time

Not every sporting event is an instant classic. Most have their share of good and bad moments. A few are filled with so much bad that we wish we could forever wipe them from our memories. But then there are those special games, those special moments that keep us coming back again and again. The championship won on a last shot. The huge play that completely turned the game around. These games and moments become a part of us. Those memories will always be there but every now and then, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could relive them for the first time? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could somehow go back in time and experience the excitement, tension, and overwhelming joy all over again? If we did have that ability, these are a few of the games and moments we would like to see again…for the first time.


March 28, 1992  Duke vs. Kentucky
by Steve Lytle

My most memorable basketball game, and probably the most memorable sports event for me was Duke-Kentucky, March 28, 1992.  I was traveling for the Mission (Free Will Baptist International Missions), and staying with a pastor in the mountains of Western North Carolina, probably less than 30 miles from Johnson City, Tennessee. The pastor and his wife graciously allowed me to watch the game, even as we conversed and fellowshipped. I knew my boys were watching it in Kingsport, TN where we lived that year home from Panama on stateside assignment.

Wilkipedia sums up the game like this:
The 1992 NCAA Tournament was highlighted by a game between Duke and Kentucky in the East Regional Final to determine the final spot in the Final Four. With 2.1 seconds remaining in overtime, defending national champion Duke trailed 103–102. Grant Hill threw a pass the length of the court to Christian Laettner, who faked right, dribbled once, turned, and hit a jumper as time expired for the 104–103 win. In 2004 Sports Illustrated deemed it the greatest college basketball game of all time, and ESPN included it as number 17 on its list of top 100 sports moments of the past 25 years (see ESPN25). It is ranked number one on the list of the greatest NCAA tournament games of all time compiled by USA Today in 2002.

The game had everything: drama, history (two of the most storied schools in the history of NCAA basketball), importance (the right to go to the Final Four), great coaches (Mike  Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino), and a huge television audience. I don’t think there has ever been a more dramatic ending. (NC State – Houston, 1983 when Lorenzo Charles dunked the winning basket against the highly favored Cougars comes close; I jumped up and broke a couch in Panama that day!)  My reaction in the Duke-Kentucky had to be subdued; I was a guest, they weren’t basketball fans, it was late, but I immediately went to where the landline phone was and called my boys! They had had to celebrate in silence as well; Judy was in bed with a migraine!

It had everything: an underdog KY team that played well throughout, featuring 4 players who had hung in even though the school had just come off academic probation, and future NBA star Jamal Mashburn.  Duke had outstanding point guard Bobby Hurley, the great Grant Hill, and Christian Laettner. Laettner would go on to the NBA where his game didn’t quite translate to all-star status at that level (only once in his career), but at the college level he was versatile, intelligent, talented, and dominant. In this game for all time, he scored 31 points, shooting 10-10 from the field, and 10-10 from the free throw line.

In short, one of the most entertaining games ever, and one of the most emotional, but neither my sons or I could express our emotions!

 


2008 Summer Olympics – 4×100 Swimming Freestyle Relay
by Gowdy Cannon

The fact this was ten years ago is as good an example of any of how fast time flies because it feels like it was yesterday. The buzz around Michael Phelps potentially winning 8 golds was electric. We had seen this type of buzz in years prior with people failing to do it [1.I’m thinking of Matt Biondi in 1988, though let it be noted that he still had an incredible Olympics, and earned a mention in the book Emotional Intelligence for his grit in coming back to win 5 golds after he failed to win his first couple of events.]. And when you have events where you have to rely on others to help you win, as Phelps did for a couple of relay races that year, it makes it even more tenuous.

The one of the 8 that I will never ever forget was one of those relays, the 4×100 freestyle. Phelps swam the lead leg and did his part by setting an American record for 100 meters in the freestyle and putting the U.S. in first. But by the last leg, Jason Lezak found himself more than half a body length behind Frenchman Alain Bernard in the last half of the last lap. I remember thinking, “It’s over. He’s not going to get to 8.” I knew very little about swimming races but it seemed obvious that it was too big a deficit to overcome. I was devastated for Phelps and our country. A repeat of 1988 was unfolding before our eyes.

But then, like a superhero moment in a movie, Lezak began to catch him. Yet time and distance were running out. He couldn’t do it, could he? Swimming like they both were on fire, they rapidly approached the wall and touched it. It looked live like Lezak won by a finger tip, or maybe a fingernail. There was a second of anticipation for the official result…and he did it! He came from behind and won! I jumped around my apartment like a maniac, high-fiving and hugging people without a trace of inhibition. The official margin was .08 seconds. But Phelps earned his 2nd gold and kept the dream of 8 alive.

We love the Olympics for a million reasons and endings like this one are one of them. Phelps’ 8 golds were not won in a vacuum. They were won with the help of teammates and that makes it feel like the were won by the whole nation.

Click the image above to watch the video of the race.

 


Vince Young’s 99 yard Walk Off Drive
by Phill Lytle

2009 is not a season that most Titans’ fans remember fondly. The team finished the season 8-8. (A Jeff Fisher team finished 8-8? Whaaaaa?!?) Let’s back up a bit to understand why that 8-8 finish was so disappointing.

The Tennessee Titans were one of the best teams in the NFL in 2008, finishing with a 13-3 record. They started that season 10-0. They lost in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champs – the Baltimore Ravens. After a depressing early exit from the post-season, every Titans’ fan just knew that 2009 was going to be another chance to watch their team make a run for a championship. Things worked out a little differently.

The Titans opened the season by losing their first 6 games. They lost their sixth straight game, falling to the New England Patriots 59-0. Yes, 59 to ZERO. Starting QB Kerry Collins was benched and Vince Young replaced him. What happened after that further solidified Young’s place as one of the most enigmatic and confounding players to ever step on the field.

The Titans proceeded to reel off four straight wins. On November 29th, they faced the Matt Leinart led Arizona Cardinals. The game itself was nothing spectacular. It was two mediocre teams playing mostly mediocre football. But the final minute of the game was the stuff legends are made of.

With a little over two minutes to play and no timeouts, Vince Young led the Titans on a completely improbable 99 yard drive. (They needed a touchdown to win the game. A field goal would have done them no good.) Young ran, threw, and willed his team down the field, getting a little help by one favorable bounce, and converting multiple fourth down throws. Finally, with seconds left, on 4th down from the ten yard line, Young, scrambled around hoping to find an open receiver, spotted Kenny Britt racing across the back of the end zone. Young threw the ball to an open spot and Britt flew through the air to make the catch.

I sat there in disbelief. While Young’s professional career was never as good as people hoped, it was moments like this that proved that when the moment called for it, he seemed to come up with just the right play. To this day, it is one of the best performances I have ever seen and I would love to sit down and see it again for the first time.

 


Jadaveon Clowney’s Hit vs. Michigan in the 2013 Outback Bowl
by Gowdy Cannon

South Carolina football has fallen on mediocre times recently, right where the program was for most of my life pre-Steve Spurrier. But for several years earlier this decade, the Gamecocks were a Top 10 team. The highlight of the run was a hit that got replayed over and over on sports highlight shows and to this day still fills people with a sense of awe.

The Gamecocks were battling the Wolverines in a January 1st Bowl in Tampa, FL. Ahead 22-21 midway through the 4th quarter, Michigan faked a punt but appeared to fail to convert the first down. A measurement seemed to confirm this—they were 2-3 chain lengths short. But the officials awarded the first down to Michigan, despite screams of protests from Spurrier.

The very next play it happened. Taylor Lewan had shut the All-American Clowney down all afternoon. But somehow someone missed a block on this play and as soon as Michigan QB Devin Garnder handed the ball Vincent Smith, Clowney was right there to blow him up, knocking his helmet off and forcing a fumble which he himself recovered. It was a play that earned the Gamecocks justice but also just looked incredible as it unfolded, like this monster defensive end took matters into his own hands and would not be denied. Clowney may as well have been Chuck Norris for that moment.

I was at the game with my brothers and dad and were behind the play in the end zone. I would not trade seeing it live for anything but if I could watch it for the first time again I would love to see it from the 50 yard line or on TV because seeing it from left to right shows how visually spectacular it was.


2014 NBA Finals
by Phill Lytle

Sometimes I feel like I am more defined by which teams I hate than the teams I love. Mainly, because the teams I hate win a lot. The Chicago Bulls. The New England Patriots. 2014 provided a wonderful convergence between the team I hated the most in the NBA at that time – the Miami Heat – and my favorite basketball team of the last 15 years or so – the San Antonio Spurs. The previous year, the Heat had made an impressive (and annoying) comeback and defeated the Spurs for the NBA championship. 2014 had no time for comebacks or heroics by the Heat. The Spurs put on a clinic, winning the series 4 games to 1. Every win for the Spurs was a blowout. To the casual fan, I’m sure it was not a very interesting series. To me, it was impossible to stop smiling as I watched my favorite team completely dismantle LeBron James and his band of front-running losers. Watching Kawhi Leonard win the Finals MVP while his team celebrated was the perfect conclusion to a perfect series. There are few times in my life as a sports’ fan that have brought me more happiness. I could live in that moment again and again.

 


Those are ours. What about you? What sports’ moment do you wish you could see again for the first time? What game, play, or even series would you want to relive? Let us know in the comment section below. And please, if you enjoy this or any other of our articles, share them with your friends on social media. We are entirely dependent on word of mouth for advertising.

 

 




Five Reasons Every Titans’ Fan Should Love Marcus Mariota

If you had polled Titans’ fans prior to last season, I am convinced that an overwhelming majority of them would have been “all in” on Marcus Mariota. They would have believed he had proven that he was the franchise quarterback this team has been looking for since the Steve McNair era. Then the 2017-2018 season happened and the narrative about Mariota changed. Drastically. He went from being one of the most exciting young QB’s in the game to one of the most head-scratching. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns last season, his accuracy seemed to get worse, and he clearly did not have the same sort of electric speed and mobility of his first two professional seasons. Now, it is not uncommon to hear Titans’ fans talk about Mariota being a bust or that the team needs to draft his replacement. We live in crazy times.

I am firmly in the camp that believes that last season was an aberration. Due to a myriad (yes, I used myriad – deal with it) of factors, Mariota took a step back in his development last year. Here’s a quick recap of a few of those factors:

He had no offseason. Mariota ended his Sophomore season with a broken leg. He spent the entire offseason rehabbing. Everything from timing with receivers, comfort in the pocket, and confidence in his legs all took a significant blow due to that injury and the loss of an offseason.

He played in one of the most archaic offenses in the league. I’m not going to take cheap shots at Mularkey and Robiskie, but their offensive system was a bad fit for Mariota. They consistently put him in positions where he had to be perfect to make plays work, and last season, he just didn’t have what it took to be perfect that often.

He had really bad luck. According to at least one analyst, Mariota threw less “interceptable” passes than most QB’s in the NFL last season but still ended up with more interceptions than most of them. Basically, when he threw bad passes, they were picked off. It’s rare that it happens like that. Every QB throws bad passes that are not intercepted. Nearly every mistake Marcus made ended up costing the team. See below and the rest of the rankings here:

“Andy Dalton threw the ball to defenders 32 times last year, he had 12 interceptions. Derek Carr threw the ball to defenders 36 times last year, he had 13 interceptions. Mariota finished the year with 16 interceptions. He threw the ball to defenders 14 times. How is that possible? He was by far the least fortunate quarterback in the league. Of Mariota’s 14 interceptable passes, 13 were caught. 92.9 percent of the time he threw the ball to a defender the defender caught it, 27 of the 36 qualifying quarterbacks had less than half of their interceptable passes caught by defenders. Compounding Mariota’s misfortune, he also had three interceptions that were direct results of one of his teammates making an egregious error.


That’s enough of the bad stuff. Last year was a disappointment from a statistical perspective for Marcus Mariota. But not everything was bad. In fact, a lot of good stuff happened last year for Mariota and I think things are about to look even better.

 

Reason Number One: He is the perfect face of the franchise.

Marcus Mariota is sort of a boy scout. He is quiet, soft-spoken, and considerate. Read this article if you want to see the kind of guy he is behind the scenes. He is not going to embarrass the team or city with a DUI, an arrest for domestic violence, for crashing his motorcycle, for allegedly assaulting multiple women, or any number of other stupid, corrupt, and evil things. The worst thing Marcus will do is say he was “p***** off” after a game where he played poorly and then come back the next day and apologize for being angry and for saying those words – because his mother raised him to be better than that.

Reason Number Two: He is clutch.

Mariota led the NFL with 4th quarter and overtime comebacks last year during the regular season. He added another comeback for the first Tennessee Titans’ playoff win in over a decade. The Titans have a chance in most games if number 8 is under center. He is that kind of player.

 

Reason Number Three: Even with a down season, he is still putting up good career numbers.

Even factoring in a miserable statistical season last year, Mariota’s career numbers are just fine and show that he is talented and has a long career ahead of him. His numbers in key areas measure up just fine when compared to other “young” and talented QB’s in the NFL.

  • Mariota has a better career completion % than Andrew Luck, Derek Carr, and Jameis Winston.
  • Mariota has the same or better TD % than Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, and Matthew Stafford.
  • Mariota has a better career QB rating than Andrew Luck, Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, and Matthew Stafford.

Mariota can improve, sure, but the rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated.

 

Reason Number Four: He makes no excuses.

This is the area where Marcus reminds me the most of Steve McNair. McNair never took the credit for the win and always took the blame for the loss. Mariota is exactly the same way. That is what you want from your leader. You want accountability no matter what. Mariota demands perfection from himself and his teammates see that and they respond to it. The fans should respond to it. At least, those of us that have not lost our minds…

 

Reason Number Five: This. (Click the link in the video to watch it on YouTube. The NFL is weird about this stuff.)
And this.
And THIS!!! (It’s ridiculous how giddy I get watching this one.)

 

I think those plays speak for themselves. I deliberately chose plays from last season when Marcus was statistically at his worst. Even at his lowest, he did those things. He made those plays. He willed his team to win those games.

What else do you want, Titans’ fans? Get on board now because the Mariota hype train is about to leave the station.




Brees or Brady? A Gonzo Take On the Classic “Stats v. Rings” Debate

About a year ago, in an undisclosed location, the REO staff had a meeting. Present were Phill, Ben, Mike, Dave, Nathan, Mark and me. We ordered pizza and as the doorbell rang signifying its arrival, Phill rolled a die to see who would have to get it, counting off each of us seated at a round table as a number. I informed Phill that by casting the die he was then creating a world with six alternate timelines. One where each of us has to get the pizza when the die lands and seals our numerical fate.

In one of the timelines–let’s call it The Darkest Timeline–things go berserk thanks to some terrible luck, a Norwegian troll doll and an Indiana Jones diorama. People get hurt. Things catch on fire. Apocalyptic chaos ensues.   

Thankfully we don’t live in that timeline, unless you get on Twitter where apparently everybody is in a perpetual meltdown. But due to a Dreamatorium created and shared by Mike and me, Darkest Timeline Gowdy has a chance on occasion to interact with our timeline, as he did in January when he debated me about whether Severus Snape was more hero than villain. Today, I, Regular Gowdy (RG) again invite Darkest Timeline Gowdy (DTG) to Ramblingeveron.com to have a debate about which NFL quarterback is better: Tom Brady and his five rings plus exceptional stats or Drew Brees and his one ring plus assault on the NFL record book stats.

 

RG: Thank you for joining me again.

DTG: I think it’s been 9 months since I shredded your dignity in our last debate. I hope that’s enough time for you to have recovered. 

RG: I’m ignoring that. Before we begin, I assume you have read my article on why Tom Brady is the most overrated quarterback of all time.

DTG: Yes, I read it. I was particularly impressed with how the number of times Matt Cassel gyrated in the huddle in the 3rd quarter of November games in 2010 playing vs. AFC West teams totally nullifies Tom Brady’s 4 Super Bowl MVPs.

RG: I’m ignoring that as well. I mentioned it, though, because I want to make the rules for this debate clear: We are here to laud the quarterback we are defending, not trash the opponent’s quarterback.

DTG: You’re not going to insult Brady? I don’t believe it. 

RG: I’ve said all I can say on that topic.

DTG: Yes, and that’s 2500 words that made everyone who read it dumber. 

RG: Let’s just get on with the debate. Since I went first last time, I’ll give you the honors.

DTG: Fine. Tom Brady is more than just five Super Bowl rings. He’s far and away the greatest clutch football player of all time. 27 playoff wins, approaching twice as many as second place on that list. 71 Playoff TDs, over two dozen more than the #2 guy. Eight 4th quarter comebacks and 11 game-winning drives in his playoff career. The Biggest comeback by far in Super Bowl history and the second biggest ever by 4th quarter deficit. In every Super Bowl win he had lead a game-winning drive in the fourth. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

RG: Brees on the other hand is rewriting the record book. He will soon best Peyton Manning for career yards and career TDs. He’s passed for 5000 yards in a season five times, which no one else has done more than once. He’s the all time leader in completion % and has three of the top four seasons there. He’s led the league in passing yards a record six times, in completions six times, in touchdowns four times and in completion percentage four times.

DTG: But even by that criteria Brady is exceptional. He has 480 career TDs and 66,000 yards and may also pass Manning in both of those before he retires.  He has a 3:1 career TD to Int ratio and has led the league in Passing TDs four times and in yards three times, including last year at 40 years old. Besides, greatness is measured in playoff success. No one can compare to Brady. 

RG: Interesting you say that because there aren’t many passing stats that are commonly used to evaluate QBs that Brees doesn’t have higher per game averages in the playoffs than Brady. He averages more yards per game, more TDs per game, has a better completion % and better TD to Int ratio. And on and on. His problem is that he hasn’t gotten the opportunities as Brady has.

DTG: People often say that but you can’t fault a man for staying with the same franchise and leading them to the playoffs year in and year out. 

RG: I don’t deny that….

DTG: Narrator: “He did deny it. 2500 words worth.”

RG: …but Brees has missed the playoffs six times as a Saint and his defense ranked the following in points allowed per game those years: 31st, 32nd (last), 28th, 31st, 26th and 25th.

DTG: So what? Brady drug a 31st ranked defense to the Super Bowl in 2011. 

RG: That was based on yardage per game. By points, the better statistic for determining defensive success, they were 15th. In fact, Brady has never played with a defense below 17th, which happened twice (2002 and 2005) and those were the two least successful years of his career in terms of winning.

DTG: Sounds like a Brady insult and a recycled stat. That’s a warning. Next time I get to punch you.

RG: Fine.

DTG: But as far as Brees goes, even when he’s made the playoffs he’s only 7-6. 

RG: That’s because his teams have failed him in the 4th quarter over and over.

DTG: People always say that but quarterbacks make their own luck. Do you know what Brady’s stats are in his five Super Bowl wins in the 4th quarter?  56 for 76 (73.7%), 598 Yds, 4 TD, 1 Int, 108.3 rating. Also, if you look at his stats when he is behind in the 4th quarter in the Super Bowl, they are even better. His rating and QBR are astronomical. 

RG: But consider this: In four of his playoff losses with New Orleans, Brees’ offenses in the fourth quarter alone put up 17 (vs. Minnesota last year), 16 (vs. Seattle in 2010), 15 (vs. Seattle in 2013) and 18 points (vs. San Fransisco in 2012). Three different times he’s led his team on a go-ahead drive late, only to have the other team come back and score and win.

DTG: That happened to Brady vs. the Giants in 2007…

RG: In a game where New England only put up 14 points…

DTG: That’s another snide Brady insult. [Punches RG in the arm.] And it doesn’t matter. Brady has had terrible luck in the fourth quarter of Super Bowls and other playoff games. Helmet catch? Mario Manningham? Philadelphia scoring late last year? Brady passed for 500 yards and still lost. Brees isn’t anything special here. 

RG: But the thing is, Brees gets shafted before the Super Bowl. He didn’t even get to go to the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl but once in his career so far. And he was excellent. He’s lost playoff games despite scoring 32 and 36 points…

DTG: Brady lost the Super Bowl despite scoring 33!

RG: But that’s the Super Bowl! Brees’ teams aren’t good enough to even get there.

DTG: Brady lost to Indianapolis one year despite scoring 34. 

RG: But to be fair 14 of those points were from the defense.

DTG: Because Peyton Manning was a playoff turnover machine. 

RG: Don’t you have a go at Peyton Manning!

DTG: “Have a go?” Quit pretending you really talk like Harry Potter.  

RG: Getting back on topic….Brees could have made the playoffs more and had more success if he didn’t have to deal with things like bottom of the league defenses and his head coach getting suspended.

DTG: New England has dealt with controversy and Brady has still thrived. Wasn’t it great when Brady got to stand there and get the Lombardi trophy from the man who unfairly suspended him for four games to teach him a lesson?  That was so emasculating for Goodell. Just as it was for you and all the other mouseketeers in your little “I hate Brady because he’s better than my favorite quarterback” Club. 

RG: That’s like apples and mangoes, though. Brees thrived with the offense, but you can’t win with a 30th ranked defense.

DTG: We can only evaluate them on the hands they’ve been dealt. And straight up and down, my final analysis is this: Brady is the GOAT because of his playoff greatness, his Super Bowl success and especially his 4th quarter when behind Super Bowl resume. Brees is great, but behind where it matters.

RG: My final rejoinder is this: Brees is the most prolific quarterback of all-time and when he’s has had the playoff chances, he’s been as good or better than anyone, including Brady. Switch places, or just switch defenses, and he would have five rings.

DTG: Are we finished? 

RG: Yes, I’d say that was a draw.

DTG: I’d say I thrashed you again. 

RG: Whatever.

DTG: Exceptional comeback. 

RG: Wanna debate Die Hard in the future?

DTG: Yes, but that must wait for December, when it’s Christmas.   

RG: Get out.




Five Sports-Related Words and Phrases That Need to Go Away

Outside of church, there is probably no area in life that has more phrases, terminology, idioms, or figures of speech that get overused more than the world of sports. In almost every sporting event, an announcer, coach, or player will say something that we just accept even though it really makes very little sense. We need to stop accepting these things. We will begin the great purge with these five major offenders.


“In his wheelhouse.”

What is a wheelhouse? Why is it a good thing that something be in a wheelhouse? Baseball was the first sport to run with this phrase and we are all dumber for it. Originally, a wheelhouse was a boating term for the part of a boat or ship serving as a shelter for the person at the wheel. It has since become a way to show expertise in an area or something in which someone excels.

Why? Who was the first person to see an athlete performing at the top of their game and think to themselves, “Such and such skill is in his wheelhouse”? I would like to have a few words with that forward thinker.

Maybe I’m weird, but when I hear the word “wheelhouse,” I think of a house full of wheels. A house to store wheels of various sizes and purposes. I’m not sensing any real expertise here. Most people that I know that would have a house full of wheels are not experts at anything.

Or I think of a house that is a literal “wheel house.” Still not getting any expertise from this phrase.


“They ran into a buzzsaw.”

You hear this all the time from commentators when one team is completely overmatched by their opponent. “They ran into a buzzsaw.” First, that sounds unbelievably painful. Second, who is dumb enough to actually run into a buzzsaw? Finally, is this a common enough occurrence that an entire phrase has been built around it? Are there thousands of poor souls out there that have literally run into buzzsaws, thereby giving us this visually striking phrase?


 

More from REO!

Click here for more words and phrases that need to go away.

 


“We went out there and gave 110%.”

No. You didn’t. If we are being as literal as possible, you probably didn’t even give close to 100% either. Even if you are one of those athletes that go “all out”, you are most likely still holding a small amount in reserve because you would collapse in complete exhaustion if you actually gave 100% of your effort each play. Of course, there are the nerds out there that will site baselines, 800% growth in certain markets, and things like that to prove that athletes that say this know exactly what they are talking about. I guarantee that the athletes that say this are not thinking about those things at all – instead they are trying to pick a number greater than 100 to show how hard they played. I get it and I don’t hold it against them too much, but they could and should find better ways of describing their effort instead of this worn out phrase.

Below, you will see The Effort Chart. It is a comprehensive analysis that has taken years of research, time, and not ironically, effort, to put together. It is self-explanatory.

As you can see from the chart above, there is nowhere else to go after 100%. What you may not notice is the detail included in this chart. Based on the mountains of data we had to sort through to develop it, it is necessary to magnify it nearly 500% to truly appreciate the full extent of our findings. That line below the 100% Effort is not actually a line. It is an invisible barrier that cannot be crossed. It is literally impossible to give effort above 100%. As you can see below, the line is formed by those attempting to expend more than 100% effort.

 


“There is no “I” in team.”

I get it. I really do. When coaches or players use this worn out phrase, they are making a point about how important teamwork is. I just wish we had smarter ways of making that point. First, it is true that there is no “I” in the word team. Conversely, there are 21 other letters that don’t make an appearance in the word team. It’s not like the word “team” is just full of letters and the “I” got left out because it was being a jerk. There are a lot of words without the letter “I.” In fact, most words don’t have “I” in them. Why are we picking on “I” anyway? “I” is a great letter. I have two “I’s” in my name.

 

And if we are being really specific here, a team is made up of a bunch of individual players. So, technically, there are a bunch of “I’s” on any given team. “I’s” that are hopefully working together for a common goal. Without those “I’s” there is no team. Stew on that!


“G.O.A.T.”

I’ve saved the worst for last. Discussions about the greatest athlete of all time are ubiquitous. We’ve had a few of those ourselves at REO. I have no issue with the conversation or even the title, “Greatest of All Time.” But can we promise to each other, swear in the most sacred words we can summon, to never again use the term “G.O.A.T.”? The best at anything should not be associated with goats.

This is a goat.

 

This is another goat.

 

This is not a goat. It’s a rabbit. And Michael Jordan.

To make matters worse, we used to use the term “goat” to describe someone that blew the game for his team – someone that failed. When did we decide that it was okay to change that? Did I miss the vote on this because I am not okay with it at all. Michael Jordan might be the greatest of all time. Tom Brady might be the greatest of all time. Neither is the G.O.A.T. because that sounds dumb. Let’s stop being dumb.


So there they are. These might not be the worst phrases out there. There are probably many others that I could have written about. I picked these five because they annoy me the most. I would love to hear what some of your least favorite sports-related phrases are. Tell us about them in the comment section below.

 




Jurrell Casey Has the Right to Protest and Tennessee Titans’ Fans Have the Right to Make Fools of Themselves

During an interview in London, at an NFL sponsored event, Tennessee Titans’ defensive lineman, Jurrell Casey, made some controversial statements regarding the new NFL anthem protest policy. “I’m going to take a fine this year, why not? I’m going to protest during the flag. That’s what I’m going to say now.” He further commented that he will continue to protest just as he has for the last few seasons – by standing for the anthem and then raising his fist as the anthem ends. He chose this protest because he did not want to disrespect the flag, anthem, or military.

Evidently, that is not enough for a certain segment of the Tennessee Titans’ fan-base. Social media blew up last night in Titans’ land. Some fans want him cut from the team. Some fans are announcing that if he goes through with this they will no longer support the team.

Conservative talk radio in Nashville has been just as over-the-top in its response. Popular radio Host Phil Valentine tweeted out that if Casey, or “bozo” as he decided to label him, carries out this protest, then he is done with the team. On Nashville Morning News with Brian Wilson, caller after caller lambasted Casey for his disrespect to the flag, anthem, and everything we hold dear.

The problem with all of this should be obvious to anyone paying any attention at all. Granted, paying attention is difficult for some. Nearly every person that I heard call in the radio show this morning was angry that Casey was going to kneel for the anthem. He is not. He stands for the anthem. He stands because he “wanted to be respectful.” He stands and when the anthem ends, he raises one fist in the air. He will continue doing just that. Clearly, that part of his statement and his track record has escaped many Titans’ fans (and radio personalities).

Even worse, many of the callers took cheap shots at the way Casey spoke, with not-so-subtle shades of bigotry and even racism. Look, I am loathe to accuse anyone of being a racist. I think that accusation is hurled about way too often in our society. Sadly, what I heard today reinforced in my mind that it plays a role in this debate. Casey did not choose his words perfectly. It was clearly off-the-cuff and not a prepared statement, and when one speaks that way, there is a tendency to say things less clearly than intended. I won’t say he misspoke, but his message was not delivered as concisely and effectively as it could have been. I am willing to give him a pass on this due to everything he has done in his career and the man he has shown himself to be. Casey’s actions in the past, his off-the field actions, and his overall track-record of integrity should inform everyone of what his intentions truly are.

There were also the cries from fans about how Casey is making nearly $15 million a season to play a game and he should be grateful for that and just shut up, stand up, and play football. It’s amazing to me that those who are ostensibly the most pro-capitalism people in the world would begrudge athletes for making millions in what is one of the most capitalist ventures in the world. Mocking NFL players because they make a lot of money is about the most self-defeating argument available to the conservative capitalist. Playing a sport for a living does not mean you lose your rights to speak your mind.

I have gone on record on my feelings about the anthem protests. You can read those here. To sum up my views: while I agree that players have the right to protest, choosing to do so during the anthem is not productive. It paints them as villains and unpatriotic to too many people. Coupled with the fact that Colin Kaepernick, the player who started all this anthem protest discussion, made incredibly negative comments about the flag after his early protests and from that point on, many fans were going to view any anthem protests in the same light. This remains an incredibly complex and difficult topic. Unfortunately, the loudest voices seem to be doing their best to reduce it to the level where you are forced to pick one of two sides – and both sides are flawed and their arguments are problematic. Frankly, that is irrelevant to this Casey/Tennessee Titans situation. Casey is not disrespecting the flag or anthem. He stands and shows respect during the anthem. His protest is the best possible version of any of these protests because he is still able to express his opinion but he is doing it in a way that cannot be perceived as a slight to the country, the military, the flag, or the anthem. Well, it can be perceived that way, but only by people that are either ignorant or willfully deceptive. Neither of those options are good.

Titans’ fans, be smart. Look at Casey’s career. He has been a model citizen, on and off the field. He has been involved in the community. He has done nothing to deserve mockery or attacks. These types of responses make the fan-base look stupid. They drive a further wedge between players that feel that there are injustices in the country that need to be addressed and the fans that cheer on the team who feel the matter is overblown. As fans, we need to be better than this.




Warriors Set To Sign Thor, Incredible Hulk to Maintain Their Gigantic Advantage Over Rest of NBA

Oakland, CA–Sources are reporting that the Golden State Warriors, in response to LeBron James signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, and just hours after signing highly coveted free agent DeMarcus Cousins, have also reached agreements with several Marvel Superheroes to guarantee they keep their enormous talent advantage over the rest of the NBA for the third year in a row.

So far Thor and The Incredible Hulk have signed 1-year, cap-friendly deals and the team has also reached out to Iron Man and Ant-Man, though the team would have to petition the NBA to be more flexible regarding uniforms to ensure the suits would be part of the deal.

“Things got tense there for a second,” comment Kevin Durant. “I came here to make sure I would have a cakewalk to the championship every year and if the Lakers add Kawhi then my plan would have been legit in danger. Having Hulk in the low post and the God of Thunder flying all over the court, literally, is going to keep us on cruise control all season long.”

“Yeah, it’s all cool,” Commented Warriors’ guard and two time NBA MVP Steph Curry, with his typical boyish charm. “Warriors Assemble! And all that.”

Thor, explaining his decision, added, “I do not know this game of baskets and balls, but upon my honor, I shall endeavor to vanquish all our enemies. I fought for millennia alongside the Warriors Three (Odin rest their souls) and shall now wage glorious battle with the Warriors of the Golden State.”

Hulk had no comment.

In a completely unprecedented move, sources also say Bugs Bunny and Wayne Knight have reached out to the Warriors, hoping their contributions in vanquishing the MonStars 22 years ago will make them attractive potential free agents as well.

Check back here for the latest on this quickly developing story.




The Great Debate: Jordan vs. LeBron

James or Jordan? LeBron or Michael? LBJ or MJ? This topic has been debated to death on talk radio, on podcasts, and in print. Michal Jordan is considered by many to be the best basketball player of all time. LeBron is the one current player who some think could challenge MJ for G.O.A.T. status. I believe the debate itself is a bit short-sighted since it completely dismisses other all-time greats like Kareem, Bird, Magic, Russell, and Chamberlain. Each of the guys mentioned in the last sentence, as well as MJ and LeBron, could lay claim to best-ever status. They all have countless great moments and statistical accomplishments that would bolster their case. They also have minor flaws that we could point out if we wanted to get nitpicky.

The Time Is Right

This article is about LeBron and Jordan though, and I think now is the right time to compare them. They both completed 15 seasons in the NBA so LeBron is at the same place in his career as Jordan was at his third and final retirement. They have each had 15 chances to win a championship, be the MVP, be an all-star, lead the league in scoring, or do whatever else great players do during the course of their career.

Let’s Keep It Real

I will do my best to lay out the case for each guy and point out any factors that I think are important in this discussion. I have been watching basketball since 1982 so I have been a witness to both of their careers in their entirety. I can’t stand hot takes so you won’t find any here. If you are looking for an article that takes an EXTREME position or ignores all facts that go against a predetermined narrative you are in the wrong place. There are plenty of “experts” on Facebook and Twitter (not to mention Fox Sports, ESPN, or sports talk radio) that can provide that for you. I will also attempt to avoid any recency bias and getting swept up with what is happening now while forgetting about the past. That is never a good thing and too many are guilty of it. At the same time, I am not a “get off my lawn” type person. We tend to idealize the past and overlook its flaws. The sport of basketball did not magically peak in 1986 and then go downhill from there. So if you are looking for someone who will say that everything and everybody was better in the 1980s you need to keep looking.

With that out of the way, let the comparison begin.


Rings Matter, But They Don’t Tell the Whole Story

The more simple-minded among us would say that Jordan won six titles and LeBron won three, therefore Jordan is better. Case closed. It should be obvious that this is a very incomplete way to judge greatness in a team sport. Bill Russell won 11 titles. He is clearly the greatest if all we are doing is counting championships. Some may argue that Russell played in a different era so it is not fair to include him in this discussion. Robert Horry (a contemporary of both James and Jordan) won seven titles. I guess that makes him the greatest player of the modern (post-merger) era. No, no it doesn’t. Titles are important and are definitely part of the equation, but they should NEVER be the single overriding factor when determining individual greatness in a team sport. This is not golf or tennis so let’s stop pretending that it is.

Others argue that the fact that MJ was 6-0 in his finals appearances while James was 3-6 should settle the argument. This group is even dumber than the “championship counters” discussed in the previous paragraph. On what planet is making the championship round of your sport and losing somehow a lesser accomplishment than not making it at all? Continuing this flawed line of thinking it is better to be swept in the first round of the playoffs (in order to preserve a perfect finals record) than to lose in game 7 of the finals! This makes absolutely no sense and I reject it out of hand.


You Play To Win the Game!

Winning does matter though, and great individual players in a sport like basketball should contribute to their team’s success. To that end and because so many people are confused by this issue I have developed a simple scoring system to help inform our thinking on these types of debates. I call it the REO Winning Scale™. Jordan and LeBron are the ideal candidates to compare because they were both undeniably great and because both played 15 seasons (to this point). They also played their entire careers with a four-round playoff format which was introduced in the 1983-1984 season. Here is how the system works:

A player is awarded points for how far his team advances in the playoffs each season. Missing the playoffs altogether is worth zero points. In the NBA where 53.3% (this % was higher when Jordan played because there were fewer teams) of teams make the playoffs it is not a great accomplishment simply to make the postseason, so for a great player to miss out altogether is something of a failure. Losing in the first round is worth 1 point. Losing in the second round is worth 2 points. Losing in the conference finals is worth 3 points. Losing in the finals is worth 4 points. Finally, winning the title is worth 6 points. Titles do matter so a bonus point is awarded for that accomplishment.

Let’s see how each player did in his career. First up is Jordan:

 

Let’s look at James now:

By this measure, LeBron has a slight edge in terms of his impact on his team winning over the years. His REO Winning Scale point totals will only go up as his career continues since he appears to not be slowing down or conceding anything to age. We must also acknowledge that Jordan retired briefly during his absolute peak and retired again at the very end of his prime. Those lost seasons would have almost certainly produced more playoff success and possibly even more titles.


Comparing Eras

Another factor to consider is that each of these players played in at least two different eras of basketball. Jordan entered the league when scoring was high and the pace of play was fast. His rookie year the average NBA team scored 110.8 points per game. That season (1984-85) every single team in the league averaged over 100 points per game. By the time he retired the game had slowed down considerably and become more physical. Scoring was way down across the league. During his final season with the Bulls league-wide scoring was at 95.6 points per game and his final season with the Wizards saw scoring drop to 95.1 per game. LeBron came into a very slow paced and physical league, but the pace of play has increased dramatically in the last decade and scoring has as well. Watching a game from LeBron’s rookie year compared to a game now is almost like watching a different sport. LeBron’s rooking year saw team scoring at a near-record low of 93.4 points per game (the second lowest total in 60 years!). There were only two teams in the entire league that averaged over 100 points per game and four teams averaged less than 90. This season scoring reached a nearly 30 year high of 106.3 points per game.

We should also note that when Jordan played hard fouls were not discouraged the way they are now so players were physically more beat up. On the other hand, Jordan never had to deal with constant switching on defense or with zone defenses which were illegal at the time. LeBron has faced legal zones and much more sophisticated analytic based defenses for his entire career. I say all that to point out that one guy did not “have it easy” while the other had to “work for everything he got.” Those who say such things are either very biased or willfully ignorant.


Competition Is Fierce, Until It Isn’t

This analysis would be incomplete if we didn’t compare the level of competition. Jordan entered a very deep and stacked league. With a 16 team playoff field in a 23 team league it was easier to make the playoffs then, but harder to advance. For this reason, MJ went 1-9 in his first 10 playoff games and lost three series before he ever won one. As his career went on and his teammates got better he started winning more. The arrival of Jordan’s prime coincided with the decline of the Lakers, Celtics, and Pistons dynasties that dominated the early part of his career. As those teams and players got older the Bulls took advantage. The league also expanded very rapidly in the late 80s and early 90s going from 23 to 29 teams. The talent pool was spread out and the league was watered down. In addition, many young players were going off the rails as the absence of a salary cap for rookies killed the incentive to get better. The mid-90s through early 2000s when Jordan did much of his winning was not a good time for the NBA in terms of style or quality of play. Jordan’s Bulls were the primary beneficiaries of these events.

LeBron never was able to take advantage of excessive expansion as only one new team has been added in the last 20 plus years. He also played during the massive influx of excellent international players that was just getting started when MJ played. These international players increased the depth and level of competition around the league. Perhaps the biggest thing working against LeBron is that he had the misfortune of playing the latter part of his prime during the Warriors dynasty. He was able to beat them once in the finals, but one team with four of the top 20 players in the league is unheard of and considerably more difficult than anything Jordan ever faced in the finals. One benefit for LeBron is that he has been aided by playing in the weaker conference for his entire career so making repeated trips to the finals has been easier for him that it was for MJ.

Another way of to look at this is that Jordan faced tougher competition on his way to the finals, while LeBron has faced tougher competition in the finals. This would help explain why one guy has more finals appearances, but the other has more finals victories.


Numbers Never Lie, But Do They Settle Anything?

I haven’t spent a lot of time on individual stats because I don’t think we will find any answers there. Look at these regular season numbers and you will see what I mean:

MJ – 30.1 ppg 6.2 rpg 5.3 apg 2.3 spg 0.8 bpg .497 FG% .327 3PT% .835 FT%

 

LBJ – 27.2 ppg 7.4 rpg 7.2 apg 1.7 spg 0.7 bpg .504 FG% .344 3PT% .739 FT%

 

In most categories, both guys got better in the postseason, which is not always the case even for all-star players. Their improved playoff statistics are just another testament to their greatness. Here are those numbers:

MJ- 33.4 ppg 6.4 rpg 5.7 apg 2.1 spg 0.9 bpg .487 FG% .332 3PT% .828 FT%

 

LBJ – 28.9 ppg 8.9 rph 7.1 apg 1.8 spg 1.0 bpg .491 FG% .332 3PT% .743 FT%

 

Jordan was a better scorer. LeBron a better rebounder and passer. This is true both in the regular and postseason. As he ages, LeBron’s per game numbers will almost certainly go down (assuming he is human) while his name will climb higher on the all-time record book. After 15 seasons each though, the statistics for both the regular season and playoffs are incredibly close.


Haters Gonna Hate

As we wrap up this article I should be forthcoming and admit that I never really rooted for either guy. I was never a Jordan fan during his career. While I did root for him to finally win a title when they played the Lakers in 1991 (a lot of that was due to how much I hated the Lakers), I did not enjoy seeing him win throughout the 90s. I have never rooted for LeBron in any of his 9 trips to the finals. I don’t hate his teams nearly as much as I did Jordan’s Bulls, but I have always pulled for whoever his opponent was. I do recognize that both are all-time great players, so hopefully, my lack of fandom for either player will make me unbiased in this analysis.


Are We There Yet?

So where does this leave us? Each guy had a similar impact on their team winning as evidenced by their REO Winning Scalescores. Both guys dealt with and conquered whatever the league threw at them in terms of style of play, pace of play, defensive rules, and physicality. They were both beneficiaries of certain peculiarities that were happening in the NBA during their careers, but they also had some bad luck in running up against all-time great teams that prevented them from winning as much as they could have otherwise.

My take is that at his peak Jordan is still the slightly better player. His ability to seize the moment and his more consistent shooting touch gives him the edge. It also helps that he has no black marks on his resume like James has from the 2010 and 2011 playoffs. Even when Jordan lost in a playoff series he still played well.

LeBron doesn’t seem to be slowing down one bit though. He is now 33 years old and has been playing a full NBA schedule since he jumped straight from high school 15 years ago. Somehow he seems to be getting better as he ages. If he can continue to put up comparable numbers to what he has done so far in his career and make a couple more title runs this debate will need to be revisited.

 




Dear Central Florida, Your National Championship is Phony

Being from the Deep South, I have often heard it said that there are three sports seasons: College Football, Recruiting and Spring Football. The fact that many schools put 90,000 in the seats for their spring games, which are broadcast on ESPN, is proof that College Football is a year-round spectacle.

Despite this, I cannot think of many things that would cause me to write about College Football in May. But this is something that should have died in January and it hasn’t.

Central Florida beat Auburn and pretended they were National Champions, having a parade, rings, the whole nine yards. It was cute and similar to what other non-National Championship teams have done in the past (i.e., Auburn 2004). Usually, this sort of thing goes by the wayside in a few days. But to paraphrase a controversial slogan of the times, they persisted.

In part, I blame social media. Somehow Twitter gives the illusion that we have access to celebrities and Facebook gives us a platform to sound off on everything to an ambiguous audience of hundreds of people. And via these extremely popular sites, Central Florida has clearly taken advantage of how no one seems to be able to ignore anything they disagree with. Similar to the “I’m not dignifying that with a response” being a response that dignifies, every time someone argued against Central Florida’s real claim to a fake national championship, they gave more and more momentum to their argument.

Of course, that is what I’m doing. But only because Nick Saban of all people has now joined the fray. Nick Saban is the best college football coach, maybe ever. But he’s also a bit of a whiner. And as such he could not hold back last week on commenting on Central Florida’s National Championship claim, deriding it as only he should have. And I cannot deny that once he joined in, people like me can no longer ignore it. It’s time to weigh in.

Central Florida’s national championship is no more real than the Tooth Fairy. The arguments posited to try to disprove that simply cannot be sustained. Here are a few:

Central Florida beat Auburn, who beat Alabama and Georgia 

The A beats B beats C argument is lame. There now exists on the internet a website that will tell you (if it is possible) how to get from Team A to where they beat Team Z through a series of “they beat B who beat C, etc.” The craziest one I’ve seen? Welch College (my alma mater) beats Villanova in 2018 Men’s Basketball. That’s right, an NCCAA school with a few hundred students beats the NCAA team that dominated the Men’s tournament. Here is the proof:

Here’s the dirty little secret about Auburn 2018: They were a fantastic team, but they lost four times away from home, including to LSU (who lost to Troy at home, if you are a big fan of A beats B beats C). They beat Georgia at home but got romped at a neutral site. Central Florida needs to let this paltry argument go[1. Some UCF proponents, like SEC-hating Twitter clown Danny Kannel, try as well to point to an injury to Auburn’s prime running back as to why the results were different in the two Georgia-Auburn games last year. Blaming injuries is one step above blaming refs.].

 

Central Florida was the only undefeated team 

So was Utah in 2008. So was Boise in 2006. And they didn’t get National Championships either. Why? Because their schedules were not difficult enough. It’s great that UCF could knock off Auburn in the Peach Bowl, but when you play in the SEC and similar conferences, you get teams like Auburn several times a year.

I conceded it’s not fair that Central Florida’s players and coaches cannot control their schedule. But that’s part of sports. It’s not fair that Auburn in 2004 and Penn St. in 1994 got no championship despite running the table against a legit strength of schedule. It’s not fair that the players for Auburn in 1993 had nothing to do with the reason they were on probation and were the only undefeated team in the nation and got nothing.

Sports aren’t fair.

 

Alabama claims titles from years past that are questionable 

There is no doubt College Football has historically had the most convoluted method to naming a champion since the NCAA had never recognized one. If you look back through College Football annals, it is very hairy trying to figure out who gets credit for championships in what year because some schools claim them from non-AP poll and Coaches Poll sources (the two standard championships every year until the BCS). Additionally, teams used to be awarded championships before bowls were played. And is there anything more absurd to sports logic than having two (or more) national champions?

But now we do not have to deal with that. 2014 changed everything. We have a fairer system, and even more precisely, we have a playoff. Even if Alabama’s 1973 Championship is shady (and I’m not arguing for or against it), you cannot apply standards or laws or any similar criteria to modern circumstances. It devalues advancements we have made.

 

Now, to balance some of this out, here are two things I do acknowledge that are not anti-UCF:

  1. We need more teams in the playoff. Even if there were eight, I do not think Central Florida would have gotten in, but I have zero doubt the 8th best team in the nation most years can run through three other Top 8 teams in three weeks. I personally prefer 16. The NCAA tournament in basketball is not devalued at all despite the fact the bottom 32 teams or so have little to no chance to win it, so even if #16 has no chance to run the table, it still makes for more potentially great football.
  2. UCF is likely doing this in part to help with recruiting. I do not mind it in that sense. The problem is I have zero doubt reams of people are truly arguing that they deserve their rings, parade, etc. because they deserved a championship last year. Those people exist mostly because they are UCF fans or hate Alabama or the SEC or just love controversy, which our current political climate proves people are addicted to. The belief that UCF actually deserves a national championship is what I am arguing against.

 

Agree? Disagree? Let us know below!