Reviews and revisits

Soupey XLIII

What Soupey XLIII proved beyond question is that ugly football is much more fun than the perfect stuff everyone allegedly hopes for in these transcendental gigs.

Some of the dumbest, messiest, dirtiest play ever to clutter championship competition was liberally sprinkled amidst all the brilliance and heroism. It was the equivalent of a seventh game of a World Series being won by the score of 15-14; breathtaking, but just a touch absurd.

What the world will only remember is the spectacular hijinks at the end. Fair enough, but don’t tell me it compares with last year’s epic. Not even close. Or perhaps you like having the officials decide these things. We can be further thankful that it did not go to overtime and thus get effectively decided by the flip of a coin. Wouldn’t that have been pretty?

So goofy is better. Soupey XLIII proves that, eh. But James Harrison’s smashing 100-yard romp with that intercepted pass will survive as a true classic. It may have been the finest individual display of pure athleticism in the history of championship sport. Or at least the most grueling. To think that when Harrison graduated from Kent State, went undrafted, and then got cut three times it was said he was too small and too slow. There’s a message there somewhere.

Maybe even more amazing than Harrison’s heroics was the fact that they were able to clear the field after Bruce Springsteen’s half-time rumble in about seven minutes. Only at the Soupey.

Say “goodbye,” football. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in just days. What a great country!

Bruins’ Tim Thomas

Moreover, it remains hockey season and remarkably the Bruins Tim Thomas may not win the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the most flawless of the goalies, but may rather win the Hart Trophy, given to the league’s most valuable player. A panel of Canadian hockey experts found him to be indisputably the MVP of the season’s first half.

Thomas is just a wonderful story. He roamed the world mastering his craft, rode the busses of the hockey backwoods from Hamilton to Helsinki for a decade. The experience seems to have made him not just a splendid performer but an athlete of uncommon depth and surpassing valor. The man exudes sheer decency. In hockey where the character of the goalie can shape a team’s spirit, Thomas is a pure gem.

Unorthodox, unprogrammed, and sometimes off the wall, it’s heresy to compare him with the net-minding geniuses of the ages; the Sawchucks, Roys, Halls, or maybe even Lord Vezina himself. But in terms of the fierceness of his will and selfless commitment to team, he is every bit as admirable. The loyalty and affection he inspires within his ranks suggests another Gerry Cheevers. It’s a vital quality. Hockey teams will reach for a higher gear out of love for their goalie. Johnny Bower is another worthy comparison. Like Bower, Thomas is stubby and scrappy and was dauntless in over-coming impossible odds, reaching his peak at age 35.

If the Bruins are to pull off a minor miracle this year it will be all about the touch of magic this unusual fellow brings to the cause. It isn’t likely, I grant you. But just in case it’s in the cards, I’d tune if I were you. It’s a special story that just may be in the making.

Clarity please...

It should not take a confab as august as Versailles or as long as the Paris peace talks, but the NFL really must gather its best and brightest to sit down and define when a fumble is a fumble and when a touchdown is a touchdown. There were about a dozen fairly major instances of such fundamental premises being mangled in the course of the playoffs alone.

After all, it isn’t nuclear science? Or is it?

Volker’s gauntlet

Paul Volker, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve and the most estimable of President Obama’s heavyweight financial advisors, must have put the fear of God and/or bankruptcy in the hearts of the baseball owners when he addressed them back at the Winter meetings in Vegas in December. Volker was asked to analyze the global panic’s potential impact on the mere kingdom of sport. The meeting was of course private but whatever he said clearly terrorized them.

At least that’s what the owners increasingly would like us to believe as they prepare excuses for the off-season’s very spare and timid free agent give and take. Save for a handful of spectacular signings, most of them by the Yankees, and you have the leanest market in the history of the process with dozens of free agents still wandering jobless only days before spring training.

Are charges of collusion inevitable? If so, watch for the owners to invoke the Volker option.

Voting in the Hall

On the second thought why was it such a no-brainer that Rickey Henderson had to get elected by a landslide the first time he was eligible for baseball’s Hall of Fame. Ricky’s talent was formidable and the records he set for scoring runs, stealing bases and drawing walks were significant. He was among the most exciting players of his time.

But he was also a more than occasionally selfish and poutish player too frequently guilty of questionable attitudes that had more to do with self-promotion than winning ballgames. None of which argues against his ultimate worthiness for a Cooperstown berth, only the fervor with which so many demanded it the first time he was eligible. Many stern articles were written by people who should know better arguing that those who didn’t vote for him should have their voting privileges revoked. That’s nonsense. Having to wait at least a year would hardly have been unfair to Henderson.

You should always keep in mind that in Joe DiMaggio’s first year on the ballot, 1953, he got rebuffed in favor of a couple of guys named Dizzy Dean and Al Simmons. Indeed, DiMaggio also got rebuffed his second year, finally making it in 1955, his third year of eligibility. I’d have been comfortable with a similar scenario for Rickey, being willing to live with the notion that good as he was he was no better than Joe D.

Boxing dead?

A word on boxing about which we talk little these days because the game -- once great -- is about dead. Maybe it’s just as well, you sometimes wonder. The notion was raised again the other day with word that Ingemar Johansson, the amiable bull of a Swede who deposed Floyd Patterson as heavyweight champ 50 summers ago, had died in Stockholm.

You’ll recall that when Ingemar, a 4:1 underdog, ambushed Patterson the world was shocked. A gregarious, witty and charming fellow who loved the nightlife, he’d not been regarded as a serious challenger. The fury of his performance was deemed even more stunning than the result. He floored Floyd seven times in the third round before Ref Ruby Goldstein, ever reluctant to stop a good fight, called a halt to the mayhem. They had two more savage encounters with Floyd winning both while paying a stiff price, which may account for why he had so little left when Sonny Liston came to call.

The Patterson brawls were Ingemar’s only losses. Indeed, he had only 30 pro fights, waltzing his way through most of his European cards, before retiring at age 30 to fully engage the good life. It had not seemed that he’d paid too heavy a price for his dalliance with fame and glory although it should now be recalled that he lay unconscious in the Polo Ground ring eight minutes after Floyd kayoed him in their second bout. By age 65, he was in the grip of Alzheimer’s and he died in a hospice in the full throes of dementia with his last dozen years having been mainly a blur. On the other hand, he did outlive poor Patterson by about a decade.

No question. Boxing is a brutal game. Maybe civilization has at last outgrown it. Maybe?