For Bob Kraft, It’s Goodell and Owners First, Brady and Fans Last

In announcing today that his team won’t appeal the sanctions imposed by the NFL over the boondoggle known as Deflategate, Robert Kraft bowed down to Roger Goodell. Kraft may see his folding as a way to maintain dignity and preserve his image, when in reality, his actions today only did more harm in those areas, both in New England and across America.

The only way the previous sentence, and everything written below, isn’t true would be if Tom Brady and the Patriots really did break the rules, and to a greater degree than we realize (and if so, why didn’t Ted Wells, Mr. Independent, include that in his findings?).

Kraft is well known as one of the best and most successful owners in sports and one of the real power brokers in the NFL. It’s as if today’s press conference was a way to maintain the latter, while hoping that Patriots fans would forgive the pathetic performance he put on display. Kraft has always come across as a man of integrity, and today he gave in to a man with no integrity in kissing Goodell’s rear end.

The popular thought is that Goodell and Kraft made a deal that will lift Tom Brady’s suspension if Kraft agrees not to pursue an appeal against the team penalties. If true, it’s an embarrassment for Kraft and an indirect indictment of Brady, who takes a hit even if he’s reinstated by virtue of Kraft rolling over.

If Brady’s suspension is rescinded because of whatever may have gone down behind closed doors, it makes Brady look guiltier than ever and gives critics ammunition to claim that Brady, while technically sporting a clean record, probably cheated and got away because his football dad is friends with the football cop. It gives even the staunchest Brady backers doubts, because if Brady and the Patriots are truly blameless, why wouldn’t they fight?

Goodell and the league deliberately targeted their best player in an attempt to damage his character. Why that bogus story about psi that was leaked to Chris Mortensen and ignited the whole debacle? That story was false on every level and never retracted. The NFL lets it sit there for whatever reason, but it’s not a stretch to say the story lives on in an effort to damage Brady. Oh, that’s a stretch? Well, it’s no more a stretch than any conclusion reached in the Wells Report. And by backing down, Kraft allowed the assault on Brady to live on in perpetuity because while the draft picks are separate from Brady’s suspension, they belong to the same alleged wrongdoing.

Kraft-Goodell Hug

Kraft’s dead dog routine today paved the way for more Goodell madness, but hey, as long as Kraft is getting something in return—and how can he not be?—he doesn’t care. Goodell used Kraft, Brady, and the Patriots to restore his image as a hard-nosed man of integrity, which is funny because in doing so he yet again proved that he’s a man of none by pandering to 31 fan bases even though it was cowardly and barely defensible.

Kraft is delusional if he thinks the rest of the country will view him and his team in a better light than it did last week. But again, he probably doesn’t care. He’s more concerned with appeasing his fellow owners, which he did with today’s press conference. Hell, even some sheep in the media are praising Kraft for being the bigger man. Great, you’re the bigger man, Robert. You also allowed your team to be labeled cheaters and tacitly admitted it by not fighting. It’s a disgrace. Unless, of course, they’re actually guilty.

Kraft acted like he owed Goodell and the NFL something. By all accounts, it’s Goodell who owes his career to Kraft. Kraft’s paid his dues as on owner, serves on various committees, funded his own stadium, and really owes nothing to the league. From the start, Kraft has done it the right way. He’s getting older and this should have been his last battle, going out guns blazing. The league just screwed him and his best player for no other reason than they wanted to cover their own asses and look tough to the rest of the world. With Bob Kraft’s actions today, he officially let them win.

As a Patriots fan, it’s hard to find any solace in what happened. I don’t know what Kraft is getting in return, but unless it’s a full apology, retraction of all the spurious claims that have leaked since January, and the punishments dropped, it’s not enough.

Robert Kraft and the Patriots are not a mom and pop shop being pushed out by the big guy. They have the resources to fight. If they feel they’ve done nothing wrong, they have the ability to fight like hell to prove it. It may not play well with the other owners, which is why Kraft demonstrated today that he cares more about appeasing them at all costs. Maybe that’s the lesson we learned today: Kraft’s loyalty isn’t to his fans or to his players’ reputations, but rather, to the commissioner and 31 other owners, a collective that has been twisting the knife in his back for months.


Tom Brady, Tim Robbins, and the Overblown Cover Up

It’s tough not to think about Tim Robbins when I hear Deflategate commenters preach, “The cover up is worse than the crime.”

That’s been the refrain since the Wells Report came out on Wednesday. Those taking issue with Tom Brady are focusing on his behavior since the AFC Championship Game, specifically in his press conference that week. Critics feel that Brady being guilty of intentional deflation is no longer the issue, but rather, Brady allegedly lying about his involvement. The cover up, this is now the issue.

These people are wrong. The issue is, and has always been, the insanity of the story itself and the looming capital punishment for a minor crime.

For the anti-Brady zealots, the words “cover up” are buzzy and make a convenient yet out-of-context case. The cover up was necessary because the crime, which Brady very likely committed, was about to be wildly over-prosecuted.

Anyone currently claiming “Brady should have owned up to it in January” is either forgetting or ignoring that, at the time, the slightest admission of any guilt at all could have meant a suspension from the Super Bowl. For doing something that carries a $25,000 fine. We’re hearing talk of this “cover up” like there was actually a one-week grace period for Brady to come clean with minimal to no repercussion. There was not. Rather, there was rampant suspicion that Brady would be suspended for the Super Bowl if he copped to even a miniscule infraction.

Brady Presser

Let’s say you get a speeding ticket. You were nabbed going 60 in a 55, something everyone does, only the cops chose you because let’s say you’re the best looking guy in town with the best looking wife. It stinks, but you know this is a common, minor offense and you’ll get a $100 ticket.

Except, everyone you know, from lawyer to layman, opines that if you decide to plead guilty, the fine will be $100,000 and you’ll go to jail. When you thought the fine would be $100, you were planning on paying. Now? You’d fight it like hell and lie your ass off to avoid a ludicrous penalty.

There’s no perfect analogy, but I think that one’s close. If Brady covered something up, it’s because he was facing unfair prosecution. Maybe he did cover it up for the hell of it, acting with nefarious intent. Self-awareness was likely the prevailing sentiment, though. He knows who he is, how people live to hate him (yes, that’s live, not love). He knew that an admission in the form of “Everyone else does the same thing and likes the ball as underinflated as possible,” would have given the wolves the ammo they assume they got in the Wells Report.

When will the slippery slope of Brady opinions taper off? In January it was all about the crime. Now it’s all about the cover up, as if the crime was never a big deal to begin with. Soon enough, it will be about something else, and the cover up will be remembered as differently as that final week in January.

* * *

The Tim Robbins thoughts stem from another story about a corrupt investigation surrounding the Boston area: Mystic River. One of the underappreciated movies this century, it features Sean Penn’s Jimmy Markum accusing Robbins’s Dave Boyle of killing Jimmy’s daughter, when both men know deep down that Dave is innocent. Jimmy wants blood from someone, though, and tells Dave, “Admit what you did, and I’ll let you live.”

Spoiler alert: Dave, broken and out of options, gives a forced confession, hoping Jimmy will let him live. Jimmy does not.

The Jimmys of the world can bemoan the cover up all they want, but without it, Brady’s Super Bowl prospects may have been dumped in the Mystic with Dave Boyle.

Deflategate Wait Almost Over?

In any argument, but especially arguments involving sports, the third party who reinforces your point is praised as a genius and elevated to demigod. The third party who disagrees, or, heaven forbid, uses facts to refute your case, is dismissed as a bunko artist who probably never played a sport in his life.

Never before has this mentality crept in so wholeheartedly as we await what will be called, if we can glean anything from last year’s bullying novella, the Report to the National Football League Concerning…Deflated Footballs in the 2014-2015 AFC Championship Game. The ellipses being an editor’s note, of course, to highlight the absurdity of this year’s Wells Report (opposed to last year’s, as it’s becoming an annual tradition for the NFL, one still more sensible than the Pro Bowl).

As Monday marked the 100-day point in the investigation, Roger Goodell recently said the report should be ready “soon”. Thanks Rog, no time like the present.

Besides the fact that it’s taken forever, the NFL has good reason to release it now. The draft is behind us, meaning picks weren’t docked and, more importantly, people can’t moan about who did or didn’t have picks docked. Until next year’s draft, at least.

Goodell Face

As a Patriots fan, I’m in the camp hoping the Colts and somehow the Ravens are guilty of conspiracy, with help from Mike Kensil and other league stooges. While a long shot, a variation of that scenario isn’t any further fetched than the alleged air-altering by the Patriots.

In regards to the opening premise…

If the Wells Report finds the Patriots innocent of wrongdoing, it’s a thorough report that was money well spent. The league will have done its due diligence and finally gotten something right. It was a witch-hunt all along, fueled by paranoia, irrational hatred, and page views. Bravo, Goodell and Wells. On the other hand…

If it finds the Patriots guilty of tampering with footballs, then the fix is in and the NFL tampered with the Wells Report. Goodell knew there was nothing on Belichick, and when the Super Bowl week leaks couldn’t shake anyone down, he told Wells to plant some evidence, fabricate some interviews—whatever it takes. The Patriots never stood a chance.

Other fan bases will feel the exact opposite. The Patriots skating equates to Goodell writing an apologetic love letter to Bob Kraft, while nailing the Patriots will validate every fan who’s ever hated Bill Belichick and Tom Brady because their teams don’t employ them.

The most fun outcome, in the sense that faux outrage would hit an all time high, is seemingly the most likely outcome. The report claims the footballs were illegally underinflated, yet there’s no hard evidence that the Patriots tampered with them. You’ll have Patriots fans accusing the league of being lazy and arriving at a generic ruling that covers up some deeper, nefarious plot against Brady and Belichick. You’ll have 31 other fan bases saying the league has evidence against New England but couldn’t use it because they won the Super Bowl and well, that wouldn’t look so hot.

Deflategate is on the short list of the most outrageous and memorable sports stories of our lifetimes, if not of all time. The timeline. The hysteria. The leaks. The national nightly news. The Super Bowl (which ended up on the short list of greatest football games ever played)

When the Wells Report finally does come down, the nation will instantly revert to the pack of wild hyenas we all morphed into for two weeks this past winter. If the end really is nigh, we’re ready to froth all over again.

Red Sox Ramblings on Opening Day 2015

It’s fitting that the first legitimately nice day of the year in New York, the kind of day with a high in the mid-60s where those without jackets won’t get funny looks, also happens to be MLB Opening Day.

We’re still waiting on MLB to nix the opening Sunday night game so we can have an honest to goodness Opening Day featuring all 30 teams. Then again, seeing overconfident Cubs fans knocked down a few pegs while being introduced to the real Jon Lester was worth the pageantry. At least Northsiders will have Kris Bryant’s extra year of service time to cling to when Lester is laboring through four inning starts in 2020.

Here in Gotham, the popular debate is, for the first time in 15 years, can the Mets register a better record than the Yankees? The irony of it all is that when the Mets did outperform the Yankees over the 2000 season…the Yankees beat them in the World Series. Pretty handily, too. It says here the Mets finish above .500 for the first time in Citi Field’s history. The Yankees are tougher to predict because while the roster ain’t what it used to be, Joe Girardi might be a miracle worker. Seriously, how can anyone confidently predict a win total for a team starting Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Rodriguez, and Stephen Drew?

Both the AL East and Central could feasibly be won by four different teams (sorry Rays and Twins). Last year nobody picked the Orioles to win the AL East outside a few pundits and probably Buck Showalter’s family, and they won 96 games and swept the heavily favored Tigers in the ALDS.

The Blue Jays should be better, an annual phrase that’s become more premonition than prediction. The Rays still have a strong rotation but won’t outslug anyone and will dearly miss their old Svengali of a manager.

David Ortiz,  Dustin Pedroia

Yes, the AL East foreplay is all leading up to the Red Sox and what the hell to make of a team that went from worst to first to worst.

Rational Red Sox thoughts don’t exist, so here go a few ramblings to break down what we’re about to go through over the next six months…

–Pace of play is a hot topic amongst MLB circles, and passed through New England’s orbit in the form of David Ortiz saying he won’t change his routines, fines and suspensions be damned. To Sox fans hoping the rules shorten games this year, keep dreaming. And I mean that somewhat literally, because this season’s games will last so long you’ll be well past REM sleep by the 7th inning.

The reasons are, simply, that the Red Sox offense will score a lot of runs and their pitching staff will yield almost as many. The offense will be dynamic, and that’s before guys like Rusney and Swihart come up. The pitching staff and bullpen will be mediocre. More runs, plus more pitching changes, equals longer games.

–Something about the Hanley and Panda signings never sat well. It’s tough to figure if it’s a dislike of both entirely, or just partial dislike that combines to make the synchronous signings blend together and become a day the Sox may have seriously stepped in it. It’s an odd pair, too. The ripped guy who looks like he’s auditioning for the next Expendables movie is somehow always hurt, though he’s dominant when healthy. The fat guy who looks like he’s auditioning for a reboot of Tommy Boy (with Sox hitting coach Chili Davis in the Brian Dennehy role) is usually healthy, but never close to dominant.

–Speaking of Sandoval, he shouldn’t be fat-shamed. However, if his numbers continue to decline, he should be OPS-shamed.

–Again, the offense will be great. But what if Hanley’s hurt? Oh, they have Village Market favorite Daniel Nava and his .380 OBP ready to go. Or Allen Craig, apparently reborn this spring. What if Victorino is hurt? Oh, they have $70 million man Rusney Castillo chomping at the bit. Infield depth isn’t as strong, but where as Brock Holt played 10 positions and over 100 games last year, he’ll be lucky to see half that action this season. 850 runs looks like a safe bet, with the outside chance to hit 900.

–Something tells me Matt Barnes could be closing by May. It’d require Koji to remain on the shelf and Mujica to implode. There’s no telling when Koji will feel better, but it isn’t hard to envision Mujica losing the job. Barnes closing games at some point this season can serve as a “bold prediction” if you really want one.

–Can’t see any way Rick Porcello isn’t the best starter on the team. Buchholz has the highest ceiling, sure. Masterson may bounce back. Kelly throws hard. And Miley, um, works quickly. Coming off his best season at age 25, Porcello’s in his prime and playing for a contract. Not so bold prediction: He has a big year (15 wins, sub 3.50, 120 ERA+) and gets a big contract from someone other than Boston. He’s young, but has been throwing 160+ innings since age 20. Durability is one thing, but the potential to flame out by age 30 is another. Sox fans will thank Porcello for a great year and then get in line for their Brian Johnson t-shirt jerseys.

–It’s been a long time since the Sox have been a sure thing, for better or worse. 2010 was the “bridge year” where they actually won 89 games in a loaded division, outperforming expectations. 2011 was the “best team ever” that submitted a choke job for the ages down the stretch. 2012 was about redemption for the chicken and beer boys, not to mention guys like Crawford and Gonzalez. That went to hell before Cinco de Mayo and the Sox won fewer than 70 games. Nobody bought the 2013 redemption story on the heels of Bobby V and 2012, so of course Boston went out and won 97 games, not to mention the World Series. Assumed to be the divisional favorite in 2014, they finished last.

The past five years of Red Sox results should be enough to temper all preseason thoughts. They have good hitting and bad pitching, only no one truly knows which is going to mask the other. They could win anywhere between 75 and 95 games and no one would blink. By that logic, 85 is the likeliest number, but I’m feeling optimistic, so let’s say 88.

–It’s baseball season, people. Let’s all agree to ignore low ratings and long games and try to enjoy the weird, wacky game for all it’s worth.

Bruins ’15 Season Eerily Resembles Red Sox ’14

While following the 2014-2015 Bruins season, this familiar feeling keeps gnawing at me. More than the incessant frustration and anxiety is the sense of déjà vu.

It’s becoming clearer after each game that the 2015 Bruins are morphing into…the 2014 Red Sox. Sure, the Bruins are still likely to slip into the playoffs, and like MLB, the NHL playoffs are a crapshoot where wild card teams reach the finals with some frequency. Hope for Bruins fans certainly resides in those truths, but that’s about it. With the aforementioned playoff caveat, consider the similarities…

–Both had the best record in the league the previous season

–The slightest win streak, be it even just two games, spurs a slew of “They’re starting to turn it around!” stories in the Boston media

–Both are broadcast on NESN and feature a color analyst with a thick Boston accent (if we’re scoring at home, Brickley’s accent > Remy’s accent)

–The trade deadline has become the only thing fans and media can look forward to, with both teams facing identical crises of “Do we buy and try to salvage a season that probably isn’t worth salvaging or do we sell and build for next year even though we have a core that should be competing this year?”

–Trade deadline addendum: brief, post-All Star break hot streaks quickly shifted everyone into “buy!” mode before the team quickly crashed down to earth

–Among the top three batters from the previous year (Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia) and the top line from the previous year (Jarome Iginla, David Krejci, Milan Lucic), one in each group moved on in free agency while the two remnants in each group have been the season-killing combination of injured and unproductive

Easy to smile when you make $6+ million to coast

Easy to smile when you make about $6 million to coast through the season

–Both have head coaches who appear brilliant when things are working but seem overwhelmed when things go awry

–A year after getting offensive contributions from all over the roster while leading their conference in scoring, both offenses floundered

–Youngsters brought up to replace key players haven’t worked out. Jackie Bradley Jr. couldn’t replace Ellsbury. Seth Griffith and David Pastrnak aren’t replacing Iginla. Xander Bogaerts somehow couldn’t adequately replace Stephen Drew, who was even briefly re-signed to replace himself until he proved to be worse than Bogaerts. Bobby Robins and Craig Cunningham haven’t replaced Shawn Thornton (in defense of some, Pastrnak and Cunningham are passable and have NHL futures, while Bogaerts retains much of his potential going forward)

While the Bruins won’t be conducting a fire sale like their Fenway familiars, the season is hanging on by a thread. In 2011, the northwest road trip turned the season around and sprung them on a championship run. In 2015? They opened the trip by making the Hanson Brothers look good in a 5-2 loss to the Canucks, who remain a must-see opponent for Bruins fans even though their feud of four years ago has dimmed considerably. The second game of the trip saw Boston blow a 3-0 lead and lose in overtime to Calgary. It’s the ugly truth, but what the 2015 Bruins do best is find creative and varied ways to lose.

Yet, unlike the Red Sox at this point of their season, there are still reasons to watch until the end that have nothing to do with Derek Jeter’s final game. It’s possible that players like Krejci and Lucic are going through the motions until the playoffs start. Ditto for Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, and, gulp, Tuukka Rask.

Above all, though, is the openness of the Eastern Conference. If the playoffs began today, the second wild card Bruins would draw the top-seeded Canadiens, who, to steal a line from a special adviser to the 2014 Red Sox, are the Bruins’ daddy.

Against any other potential opponent, though, I wouldn’t feel too horribly about Boston’s chances. The Bruins have, for the most part, had the Rangers’ number over the past few years. The Lightning and Islanders, while talented, are unproven. The Penguins are dangerous, as always, but would you bet your life on Marc-Andre Fleury outdueling Rask in the playoffs?

Heading into tonight’s game in Edmonton, the Bruins sit just two points ahead of Florida for the final playoff spot. The trade deadline is less than two weeks away and rumors abound that Cam Neely isn’t pleased with his team.

The Bruins, from ownership down to the players, have a fascinating two weeks ahead of themselves where they can forge ahead and make a genuine playoff push, or join their Boston brethren from last summer and wilt into irrelevance amidst a lost season that simply shouldn’t have been.

Patriots Should Step Outside

It’s the time of the NFL season to highlight what could derail each contender come January. The 10-3 Patriots have few deficiencies, but what could plague them in the playoffs is the offense’s inability to find consistency throwing to the outside and deep downfield.

I’d argue that Tom Brady has been the second best quarterback in football this year, with Aaron Rodgers leading the way by a mile. Rodgers does nearly everything better than everyone else, except for throw down the middle of the field, which Brady does at least as well as him, if not better.

Take a second and picture Brady stepping up in the pocket and firing it 20 yards down the seam to Gronk, or even 10 yards to Julian Edelman for a first down between two linebackers. Or perhaps think back to that first drive against then-undefeated Cincinnati. Yeah, Brady is still the best between the numbers.

(Disclaimer: This will not be analytical. This is the “eyeball test” based on what happens on the field each week.)

On the other hand, it’s tough to readily recall Brady succeeding on throws along the sidelines, especially those traveling 15+ yards in the air. It feels like ages since we’ve seen Brady drop a perfectly placed ball in to a receiver who’s beaten the corner on the edge, just a second before the safety comes to help.

Rodgers has perfected that throw. As has Luck. Hell, even Peyton still drops them in to Emmanuel Sanders with his signature touch. Brady, for a variety of reasons, simply doesn’t attempt that kind of throw very often.

Brady Deep Throw

Part of it is personnel. Gronk and Edelman are so prolific between the numbers that it’d be inefficient to go outside with them too often. Brandon LaFell is getting there, as we’ve seen Brady target him repeatedly with back shoulder throws near the sideline. While the duo has improved in that regard, there are still instances like Sunday night’s third quarter against San Diego, when they don’t connect and the offense stagnates.

Part of it is Brady not wanting to endanger his receivers. Remember the hit Sanders took against the Rams a few weeks ago? That’s what happens when the safety does get there in time and the receiver is still looking up. Brady has made a career out of perfectly placing his throws both to complete the pass and prevent his receivers from decapitation. The same cannot be said for Manning (Austin Collie sadly nods).

In addition to neglecting the outside, successful deep throws, featuring Brady’s newer technique of putting extra air under the ball, have been few and far between. Unless I’m missing something, the only true deep pass the Patriots have completed this year was Brady’s bomb to Brian Tyms against Buffalo. That play required a great throw and better catch, but it’s rarely worked in recent seasons. It’s a combination of the system they run, slightly decreased confidence and accuracy on Brady’s part, and lack of a big play X receiver.

Given the choice, I’m sure the Patriots would be content with their current ability to move the ball, control the clock, wear down a defense, and generally score at will rather than being more proficient on the deep ball. After all, that is how you win in January, so I’m told. Still, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, there’s something to envy watching Andy Dalton toss one down the sidelines 40 yards to AJ Green, or Joe Flacco hitting Steve Smith on a home run ball. Now I feel dirty and need to shower. At least I feel better knowing Dalton would never hit one of those in the playoffs.

Again, we’re picking nits here, and while we are, a brief aside on another potential weakness: lack of a pass rush. It’s troubling that the Pats never seem to generate pressure with four guys, though Akeem Ayers has given them the ability to get some with five. Keep in mind we’re yet to see a front seven of Jones, Wilfork, Siliga, Ninkovich, Ayers, Hightower, Collins. If and when that group is healthy together, the pass rush should be adequate at the very least.

The Patriots have the look of a special team with a balanced offense. The best way to beat them is to get pressure with four and clog the middle of the field, forcing Brady to go deep and to the outside without having time to step up. Not all teams have the discipline and personnel for that, but the playoff loss to the Jets in the 2010 season has my guard up permanently.

The line, Sunday night aside, has been strong. The running game, when Josh McDaniels dials it up, can move the ball. And Brady is lethal over the middle. Divisional games are usually a struggle (two of three have been so far), but if the Patriots find themselves with any room to experiment during these final three contests, they’d be well served to take some aerial risks.

Fully embracing a vertical passing game isn’t realistic, or necessarily wise, at this point. However, if New England can learn even a couple new tricks outside the numbers, it could boost their chances when the games matter most.

NASCAR Chasing Itself Away From Logic

Now that the BCS is kaput and the College Football Playoff is nigh, the sporting universe has rid itself of a controversial, and much of the time, illogical playoff system.

Though as we bid adieu to the BCS and its idiosyncrasies, we’ve been given a new playoff system that makes even less sense than the outgoing college football mechanism: The revised NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup.

(Disclaimer: As long as Major League Baseball has a 162-game season come down to 1-game playoffs, its playoff structure will retain the belt for worst in North American sports, and by hefty margin).

NASCAR instituted the Chase back in 2004. It was supposed to keep fans interested for the duration of the season and increase the sport’s popularity. Until then, the driver with the most points won the championship, which seems like the most equitable way of doing things. The Chase took away that inherent fairness, but the excitement created by the newfound, so-called “NASCAR Playoff” was enough for people to get on board. Plus, the first incarnation of the Chase was heavy on points-based merit, so it wasn’t a complete departure from the old system.

Now on its fourth variation, the Chase has moved as far away from the old model as ever. Rewards for high point totals earned by extended periods of consistent driving have been replaced by fluke victories and brief lucky stretches.

Any deserving champion, by virtually any calculation, will make the Chase. It’s the recent restructuring, from a 10-race playoff to three separate three-race interval playoff series followed by one final championship race, that makes finding the true champion a crapshoot.


First and foremost, the Chase doesn’t remain true to the drivers. These are people putting their lives on the line—willingly, but still—for nine months a year and much of it has become hollow.

Why did Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson, and Paul Menard even bother racing this season? All four men registered at least five Top 5s and 13 Top 10s. Yet they were bumped from the Case in favor of AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola because the alliterative A’s each had a win…even though each had only two Top 5s and only five and seven Top 10s, respectively. The one thing that made sense about the BCS was that every game mattered towards the final ranking. Apparently NASCAR viewed its own version of that as a problem and acted by grossly devaluing the regular season.

A major part of NASCAR is the various types, lengths, and designs of the tracks. Certain drivers are better on specific tracks. If the best driver all year catches a few troublesome tracks in the first playoff series, oh well, not NASCAR’s problem. True, the best should be able to survive and advance on any track, but the point is, why hold the season? That’s like the Miami Dolphins going 14-2, gaining the top seed in the conference, and having to travel to snowy New England in the playoffs.

It is about winning. You race to win, plain and simple. But over 26 races, the tough guy rhetoric of “We want winners only!” loses its luster. The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of “Winners only” to the point where a driver can win a race, rack up 5 DNFs, only a few Top 10s, some 30th place finishes, and still sneak in, as long as he’s in the Top 30 in points to go along with his sole win. Does that sound like one of the 16 best drivers? No, but Kyle Larson, who finished the season with 17 Top 10s in 36 races and didn’t make the Chase, does. We’re trying to find the best, but one, potentially fluky, win, doesn’t mean you’re better than someone who brings it week after week.

The revised Chase rewards fans with short attention spans and marginalizes the people that follow the sport for nine months. Seeing that most NASCAR fans are diehards and few casual fans exist, it’s an even greater injustice to those loyal fans that follow from Daytona to Miami. Does NASCAR think average Americans are going to jump headfirst into the sport because they’ve devised different playoff “series”? Not likely, and now the fans that invested their time in the first 26 races are being sold “Hey! Look! A shiny new playoff and our own Super Bowl!” If your favorite driver wins a race during the first part of the season, great. On the days he doesn’t win, it’s as if he didn’t even race.

When a dominant driver is knocked out, NASCAR wants to be able to spew the “Anything can happen!” catchphrase. However, say this driver was knocked out because of freak crashes, where other drivers collided and he caught some collateral damage, causing him to DNF in two of the three races that round. These aren’t instances of “stuff happens.” These are instances of weekly “twelve-car pileups” where 5-10 drivers routinely fail to finish.

Over the course of 26 races, these things tend to even out. Over three series of three races, it’s a roll of the dice, and that’s assuming there’s no shady tactics like the 2013 collusion that inspired the 2014 changes and expanded field. Yes, there’s the omnipresent possibility of drivers from certain teams conspiring to fix the results. NASCAR finally sniffed it out last year, but the chance of it happening again, potentially in the final race, looms large.

The Chase, in its original form, even in its second and third, was splendid. Every race mattered. A bad race was covered up by a slew of good ones. A win was nice, but you couldn’t mail it in after that. And if you were among the best, you made the Chase. From there, it was a 10-race playoff, which is an adequate number of races to determine a champion. At least, it’s better than three races, followed by three races, followed by three races, followed by one race.

If someone ran away with the title after eight of ten races in the former Chase system, that, NASCAR, is “stuff happens” and it can’t all be exciting. At least the best driver won. But the powers that be couldn’t handle the idea of the championship being decided before Miami and having a meaningless final race or two.

Instead, they’ve elected to have 26 virtually meaningless races at the beginning of the year, with only one driver mattering per week. At least now we know for next year: ditch Daytona, bypass the Brickyard, and forget Fontana. Enjoy your summer Sundays and just tune in for a few hours in November.

Happy 25th, Seinfeld

Today, Saturday, July 5, marks the 25th anniversary of the Seinfeld pilot. Seinfeld is the greatest comedy ever made, and as I went back and skimmed through all the episodes, it became clearer than ever that the show will never be surpassed.

There are people out there who don’t ‘get’ Seinfeld, which never made any sense to me. To not understand the show and why its funny, one must quite literally never leave the house. It’s been called a New York show and a Jewish show, but it’s so much more. It famously depicts the inanity and hilarity of the most basic everyday situations, transcending provinciality, class, race, religion, and gender.

If you don’t ‘get’ Seinfeld, then you haven’t been in any of the following situations:

Arguing with a stranger over a parking space; Switching barbers and fearing hurt feelings; Double dipping a chip; Jockeying for a dream apartment; Looking for your car in a garage; Eating diet food that’s too good to be true; And of course, waiting in vain for a table at a restaurant.

In celebration of the anniversary, I’ve put some lists together. Not the “greatest” or “most influential.” We’ve seen those lists before, and we know how great episodes like “The Contest” and “The Chinese Restaurant” and “The Pick” are.

To commemorate 25 years, let’s do five lists of five episodes/people/entities each, plucked from different, unique categories that I made up completely out of the blue. And a bonus list for the hell of it. What better way to celebrate the show about nothing than by making a bunch of lists about nothing? As Jerry once sang, on with the show, this is it:

Seinfeld Logo


  1. The Pitch: After George refuses to sacrifice his artistic integrity and blows the NBC meeting, Jerry lectures him about seeking psychiatric help, telling George, “You need a team.” Jerry is frequently berating George for childish behavior, but this speech takes the cake. George’s defeated look says it all, and his response to Jerry—that he thought the woman at NBC was cute—just piles on and makes this one of the funniest minutes in television history.
  1. The Revenge: After George has Elaine “slip a mickey” to his boss and gets fired, he’s got to decide what his next job will be. Jerry’s matter-of-factness in shooting down George’s deluded occupational fantasies is a departure from his usual animated rants towards George. The highlight is Jerry calmly telling George that sports announcer jobs go to “Ex-ballplayers and people that are, you know, in broadcasting.”
  1. The Engagement: George has happily become engaged to Susan, until he realizes he isn’t so happy. He can’t choose which movies he sees, what he watches on TV, and when he sees his friends. We can see George’s anguish as he’s forced to see a romantic sob story rather than join Jerry for an action movie. If only he’d gotten the same speech from Kramer that Jerry did.
  1. The Virgin: Three parts here. One, the introductions between Jerry, George, Marla, and Stacy. Two, the part where George realized what a cool job he has and how he could use it to meet women…if it weren’t for the fact that his current girlfriend is his employer. The conversation I’m thinking of is when Jerry delightedly illustrates the conundrum for George, who doesn’t find it fair that he can’t use his writing gig to meet women. That conversation, of course, leads to this one, where Jerry determines, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that George has a girlfriend and can’t see other women.
  1. The Switch: One of the stranger episodes, almost as if it doesn’t fit with the show. It has the film noir vibe with the relationship between Newman and Babs, and the menage escapade. As scandalous an episode as they did. Yet, despite having a different kind of feel, it left us with a classic scene about the roommate switch, complete with analyses of “big course HA’s” in a woman’s laugh and whether or not there were roommates in the Middle Ages.


  1. Bryan Cranston as Dr. Tim Whatley: The mother of all anti-heroes, Walter White himself. Cranston shined as the lewd and lascivious dentist who switched religions just for the jokes (“The Yada Yada”). Before he was Walter White, or even Hal, he was snubbing Jerry on a party invite, making Super Bowl plans with Elaine, using his office as a sex chamber, and insulting Jews, comedians, and everyone in between.
  1. Marcia Cross as Dr. Sara Sidarides: I didn’t watch Desperate Housewives, but from what I can gather, Cross’s character Bree was somewhat of an anti-hero. It seemed like Teri Hatcher (Seinfeld alum) and Felicity Huffman were good, Nicollette Sheridan was bad, and Cross and Eva Longoria were somewhere in the middle. So, Cross gets the call-up for her work in “The Slicer” as dermatologist Dr. Sidarides, who had a hard time convincing Jerry that she saved someone’s life and that she didn’t give Jerry hives.
  1. Melinda Clarke as Alex: Before she was the devious yet occasionally sympathetic Julie Cooper on The O.C., Clarke was Jerry’s flame in “The Muffin Tops.” Her love of hairless animals prompted Jerry to shave his chest, which came back to haunt Jerry when they got stuck on Kramer’s Peterman Reality Bus Tour.
  1. Courteney Cox as Meryl: This is a stretch because Monica Geller was obviously not an anti-hero. However, Cox played the scandal-seeking Lucy Spiller on the FX show Dirt from 2007-2008. Forgot about that one, didn’t you? Spiller was a tabloid queen whose survival depended on digging up—what else—dirt on celebrities. In “The Wife,” Cox’s Meryl and Jerry, who are dating, pretend to be married in order to score a dry cleaning discount. It all goes to hell when Jerry uses the discount for another woman that he meets in the store.
  1. Michael Chiklis as Steve Pocatello: Look at all that hair! In return for letting Jerry and Elaine stay at his house late when George strands them at a party (“The Stranded”), Steve is looking to have some fun with Jerry when he’s in the city. When Jerry leaves and strangely allows Steve to stay, the guest has a little too much fun. Chiklis’s Vic Mackey on The Shield is credited with being the bridge from Tony Soprano to Walter White and Don Draper in the world of cable anti-heroes.


  1. The Gum: An episode from the middle of Season 7 that feels like it’s from Season 5-6. Think about all the times you’ve rehashed a scene with a friend and someone asks, “What else happened in that episode?” and you go through the story lines of each character. So many episodes have intertwining story arcs, which made the show what it was. “The Gum,” while historically overlooked compared to other great episodes, is a quintessential “confluence of events” episode. Every scene has an impact later on, with everything snowballing from Kramer simply trying to protect Lloyd Braun’s feelings. From there, Elaine’s compromised blouse and Jerry’s pretend glasses lead to chaos for George, who’s made to look crazy on several different occasions. It’s a carefully constructed puzzle that’s as perfect a 30-minute episode of television as you’ll ever see.
  1. The Good Samaritan: One of those episodes that seems ordinary at first, but then you watch it with friends and it gets funnier each time. There’s the “God bless you” incident. There’s Jerry’s fabrication of the hit-and-run. Elaine’s fabrication of an affair she had. The angry husband’s threat. To me, there are two moments that stand out. First, George exclaiming “What!?” when told of the husband’s rage. It’s a fleeting moment, but the pitch of George’s voice and his facial expression are priceless. And of course, Jerry calling out Elaine. Elaine scolded Jerry for lying to her about the accident, and he throws it back at her when learning of her fake affair with a matador. George divulging Elaine’s fib and egging Jerry on is a nifty bit of teamwork, culminating in Jerry asking where Elaine would have possibly met “Eduardo Carroccio” while waving his dish towel in the manner of a matador. At first glance it might not be the funniest thing in the world, but watch it in a group, multiple times, and your perception is sure to change.
  1. The Junior Mint: Individual episode plots got undeniably more absurd as the seasons went on, but this is one from Season 4 with a pretty outrageous premise. Jerry not knowing the name of the woman he’s seeing, forever known as “Mulva,” was absolutely in line with the everyday mishap element of the show. However, dropping a minty, chocolatey piece of candy inside a man having surgery was not. But who cares? It doesn’t get much better than the looks on Jerry and Kramer’s faces when the Junior Mint plops down and lands inside Elaine’s ex-boyfriend. George, having bought the man’s artwork, is openly rooting for him to die after surgery. Of course, the simple fact that George bought the man’s artwork is what brightened the man’s spirits and saved his life. It’s not unusual to see George get screwed, but it is strange seeing Jerry come out on the losing end, which he does with Delores aka Mulva. The conversation between Jerry and George (Bovary? Aretha?) makes this episode a syndication must-see.
  1. The Mom and Pop Store: “Everybody’s talking at me, I can’t hear a word they’re saying…just driving ’round in Jon Voight’s car.” The Jon Voight car. The Jon Voight cameo. Jerry torturing George in the car. Jerry being kicked out, chased, and hurting his tooth culminating at Whatley’s party, which Jerry wasn’t invited to. And getting to see Mr. Pitt dance while shouting “Next Stop Pottersville!” is a treat as well. Speaking of George getting screwed, notice the shift in his demeanor first upon learning that Jon Voight did in fact on his car…only to learn that it was Jon Voight the periodontist, not the actor. It’s a shame the episode isn’t called “The Jon Voight Car,” but I think fans are well trained to have that part register when they see “The Mom and Pop Store” on the schedule.
  1. The Fusilli Jerry: To my knowledge, this is the first episode featuring Patrick Warburton as David Puddy. Great things come in twos here. Both Estelle and Frank see the doctor, she for an eye job, he for a proctology problem. Both George and Puddy try a new move in the bedroom—bestowed upon each by Jerry. Both Jerry and Kramer have car mishaps, including Kramer receiving the license plate “ASSMAN.” There are even two sex moves: Whatever the hell Jerry’s is, and Frank’s stopping short. This episode could safely be called “The Move,” because that’s what it’s really about. But the word ‘fusilli’ is just too damn funny to pass up. And of course, Jerry’s carbohydrate copy plays a role in the end, where we all get to meet the real Assman.


I gave you fair warning that I made these all up. And since I made them up, I’m going to self-indulge with a category unique to my experiences. Seinfeld was about random observations, so that’s what you’re getting here.

I met the majority of these people working at AKA Talent Agency in LA, where they’d come in for voiceover work, meetings, or just to shoot the shit. The agency I worked for represented over 500 actors commercially, many of whom had guest spots on Seinfeld. Typically, actors don’t like being bothered. But many of these people are working actors who were excited someone recognized them in Seinfeld. I don’t have any bad things to say about any of them, but even if I did, I wouldn’t. First, some honorable mentions…

–Roger Rose as Mark, who auditions for TV George in “The Pilot.” (helped rep for hosting)

–Ben Reed as the Male Nurse who gives the sponge bath in “The Outing.” (frequently visited office)

–Drake Bell as Kenny the kid playing Frogger in “The Frogger.” (repped/accompanied to convention)

–John Patrick McCormack as Kramer’s boss in “The Bizarro Jerry.” (frequently visited office)

–Kristin Bauer as Gillian aka Man Hands in “The Bizarro Jerry.” (helped rep for conventions)

–Tony Amendola as Salbass Rushdie aka fake Salman Rushdie in “The Implant.” (frequent visitor)

Alright, now on to the real list…

  1. Richard Fancy as Elaine’s boss Mr. Lippman. For a brief time, he also plays George’s boss. Richard’s the only person on this list I didn’t meet at the agency, but rather at my fish market job. A reserved guy in person, his portrayal of Lippman, as a more subdued, by the book boss, contrasted greatly with Elaine’s future boss, Mr. Peterman. While Peterman was outlandish in his tastes and behavior, Lippman provided more subtle humor, like in “The Letter” and “The Cigar Store Indian.” Of course, they brought him back in Season 9 for “The Serenity Now” and gave him an outlandish story line.
  1. Matt McCoy as Lloyd Braun in “The Gum” and “The Serenity Now.” One night, shortly after moving to LA, I watched an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip that featured Matt in a bit part. My roommates and I remarked on Matt’s career, and how he did TV like Seinfeld, Studio 60, and The Nanny, and movies ranging from L.A. Confidential to Alley Cats Strike (yes, the Disney Channel movie). The day after discussing his eclectic career, I ran into Matt on the Santa Monica Promenade. He was more than happy to chat and take a picture, a genuinely nice guy. A few months later, I was working to help represent him. He worked his ass off on auditions, always made a point to say hello, and was the most upbeat guy I’ve ever met. Lloyd Braun may be crazy, but the guy who plays him is far from it.
  1. Richard Herd as Mr. Wilhelm. I met Richard at some schlocky convention; I don’t even know what he was signing autographs for. Wilhelm became vital to George’s story lines in Seasons 6-8, including memorable turns in “The Checks,” “The Nap,” and “The Bottle Deposit.” The highlight from meeting Richard was that he asked my name, shook my hand, and then said, “Remember Jared, it’s all downtown,” which delighted me to no end.
  1. Richard Portnow as the wheelchair salesman in “The Handicap Spot.” This is one of the funniest guest spots in the show’s history, and Richard was perfectly cast. I’d see Richard every couple weeks when he’d come in for voiceover work, and we always talked, sometimes for 15-20 minutes. We’d discuss his upcoming projects, the most exciting of which was when he was cast as the studio head in the 2012 film Hitchcock. He told me that back in 1993, shortly after this episode aired, he ran into Jerry at a restaurant in Beverly Hills. Jerry excitedly yelled out to him, “Hey Richard! We got hate mail!” Richard’s line “You’re almost glad to be handicap” is hilariously offensive, and Jerry took great pleasure in the fact that activists responded angrily after it aired. That’s what made the show so great: they were equal opportunity offenders, and the more shit they could stir up through humor, the better.
  1. Judge Reinhold as Aaron aka The Close Talker in “The Raincoats.” Another all-time guest spot and near perfect scene (the first clip especially). The close talking is perfect, especially when it’s with Jerry, who is doing his best not to crack up. The Schindler’s List takeoff is as funny as something can be that relates to an incredibly sad movie. And Judge, well, Judge is something else. We first started working with Judge for voiceover…then theatrical…then hosting…then personal appearances. Let’s just say Judge is a unique guy and it was an experience working with him for a little while.


  1. Jerry: The Cheever Letters, The Outing, The Puffy Shirt, The Rye, The Chicken Roasters.

Since The Rye aired in 1996, no fan of the show has ordered anything with the words “marble rye” involved and not laughed. The Cheever Letters is an underrated classic where Jerry is stuck in tough situations with both George and Elaine, one he fell into and one he created for himself. The Chicken Roasters offers one of his memorable scenes, where living in Kramer’s apartment engulfs his soul. The Puffy Shirt gave rise to “The Low Talker” and the “I don’t want to be a pirate” gag, used a couple more times throughout the show. And of course, The Outing gave rise to the saying, “We’re not gay…not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

  1. Elaine: The Stall, The Understudy, The Letter, The Revenge, The Soup Nazi.

The Soup Nazi is really a standout episode for all characters, but Elaine’s game of cat and mouse with the man himself is unforgettable. Her baseball-cap inspired defiance at a Yankee game, and attempt to hide it from Lippman, helps drive The Letter. Any woman who’s wondered what the Asian women in the nail salon are talking about felt vindicated when Elaine went in there with a spy. Faking to be a nudist helped George—but ultimately got him fired—in the Revenge. And of course, anyone who’s run out of toilet paper in a public restroom knows what it’s like to ask for a spare square.

  1. George: The Parking Space, The Phone Message, The Opposite, The Marine Biologist, The Smelly Car

Honestly, every episode of the show is a George episode. This could be due to Larry David’s heavy involvement and George being based on Larry. It might just be that George is the strongest character. It was tough picking just five for him. The Parking Space sees him argue over, yes, a parking space for an entire episode. The Phone Message has him leaving angry messages on a woman’s machine and scheming to erase them before she hears them (an earlier episode many forget). The Opposite marks a rare change in form, one that leads to his job with the Yankees. The Marine Biologist has the single greatest monologue in the show’s history. And The Smelly Car finds him asking nuanced questions about lesbianism while justifying “side-al nudity” in a movie (“a film is what it is, actually”). For my money, George Louis Costanza is and will forever be the greatest character in comedy history.

  1. Kramer: The Merv Griffin Show, The Fire, The Bris, The Pothole, The Butter Shave.

Kramer’s plots were always the most absurd, even more so once we hit Seasons 8-9. Despite being utterly ridiculous, fashioning his apartment with the set of the Merv Griffin Show was unbelievably funny. The Butter Shave is as slapstick as it gets with Kramer. The Pothole shows him acting out yet another wacky idea, this time adopting a highway. The Fire features what I’d call the second greatest monologue in show history. And The Bris is another overlooked classic that parodies the greatest film ever made all while centered around the covenant of circumcision and of course, a pigman.

  1. Newman: The Package, The Junk Mail, The Ticket, The Millennium, The Seven.

Trivia: Newman does not have the fifth most appearances after the Big Four. That distinction is held by Ruth Cohen, who plays the cashier at Monks, Ruthie Cohen, most well known for her battles with George in “The Gum.” Still, Newman obviously gets the call up here. There’s his interrogation of Jerry for mail fraud, “Pretty hot under these lights, eh Seinfeld?” The Junk Mail, where Kramer’s mail cancellation leads to problems. The Ticket, one of his earlier episodes, which plays out like a parody of a bad southern courtroom drama. The Millennium has him competing with Kramer over who can have the cooler Y2K bash. And The Seven sees him play arbitrator between Kramer and Elaine over Elaine’s bike.


Okay, some have gotten quick mentions, but haven’t been expounded upon yet.

  1. The Lip Reader: Kramer’s job as a ball boy/man, Jerry’s relationship with the deaf lineswoman, George’s doomed relationship, and Elaine’s car service mishap come together and as usual, George comes out on the bottom. Best scene: Marlee Matlin’s “Laura The Lineswoman” at dinner with Jerry and George.
  1. The Cigar Store Indian: I can’t decide what’s better about this episode, Frank yelling at George for turning his house into “Bourbon Street!” or Kramer yelling offensively out the cab. Let’s go with the cab thing, as that involved the actual Cigar Store Indian.
  1. The Hamptons: The episode that gave us “You gotta see the baby!” and “Shrinkage.” The shrinkage part had the longest lasting effect in pop culture, but I’ll go with the Jane being topless bit—which does lead to the shrinkage—as the best scene.
  1. The Doll: A Season 7 episode that feels more like a Season 5-6 given how everything aligns perfectly. The doll, the pool, the pants, and The Maestro. The scenes with Kathy Griffin and the doll are spectacular, but the pool scenes are just too good.
  1. The Stand-In: The names of the one-off characters in this are better than any other episode. Al Neche and Phil Totola are killer names, and Phil’s, um, encounter, with Elaine, makes for one of the best incident rehashing scenes ever.


Any legitimate Seinfeld fan knows that there’s no one “greatest” episode. I’d venture a guess that most diehard fans of the show don’t even have a true favorite. There is one episode that stands out for me, though, and it’s “The Jimmy.” It’s not the most well known and certainly doesn’t have the cache of “The Contest” or “The Soup Nazi,” but that just doesn’t matter.

“The Jimmy” is as perfect an episode as there is. I know I said that earlier about “The Gum,” and that stands. But “The Jimmy” is my perfect episode, and the one that’s come to mean the most (apologies for the overly sentimental nature of this anecdote). In college, my roommate Murph and I bonded over Seinfeld, among other things (Caddyshack, sports, hip hop and beer, mostly). Before we’d go to bed, we’d usually pop in a Seinfeld DVD and just let it play with the TV on sleep timer. One day, we watched Season 6, Disc 4, which starts off with “The Jimmy.” We were hooked. For what had to be at least three or four nights a week spanning at least four semesters, we’d start with that. Sometimes, if we’d been drinking, we’d pass out during the cold open. If it was a random Wednesday night, we might make it all the way to “The Understudy,” which was at the end. But we always saw at least a little bit of “The Jimmy,” if not the whole thing. I’ve probably seen it over 200 times, and that’s being conservative.

I came to know every line of dialogue, every affectation, every mannerism, every movement. Like many greats, it’s one of those episodes where everything comes together perfectly in the end and makes you realize how truly inimitable this show was. It’s one of the few things I’m not linking to, because you should just go watch the entire episode.

It was refreshing to see “The Jimmy” chosen as one of the 25 episodes TBS ran as part of their “Seinfeld 25” marathon this week. It vindicated my love for the episode and of course, gave me a chance to record it on my DVR and save it permanently (pretty sure that DVD got swallowed up by our frat house by the end of senior year).

So, here’s to “The Jimmy,” and to the 25 year anniversary of the greatest television comedy ever made.

Landon Donovan’s Questionable Summer Job

Landon Donovan, one of the three greatest American soccer players of all time by any measure, finds himself in an awkward position. Cut by USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, Donovan was just hired by ESPN as a World Cup analyst.

Simply put, Donovan should not be working with ESPN for the World Cup.

Soccer: Friendly-USA vs Mexico

Be it during previous World Cups, their time as the Premier League carrier, or even with the MLS, ESPN’s soccer coverage has always been one of its strong suits. ESPN’s soccer coverage (along with ABC during the WC) is one of few remaining bastions of high quality studio programming, featuring fine on-air talent plucked from all over the globe.

Viewers trust Bob Ley and Mike Tirico. The potpourri of international analysts ensures that any biases will be canceled out. There’s no screaming, shouting, or pandering. It’s a professional studio crew that viewers—many of whom are not experts—can trust to enhance the telecast.

That’s not to say that Donovan will be a talking head, there solely to dumb things down, raise his voice, and create false narratives. His presence does, however, diminish the broadcast’s credibility, as viewers risk being fed the feelings of a scorned lover rather than a prepared, open-minded observer (to be clear, he won’t be in Brazil, but rather, in Los Angeles).

During ESPN’s World Cup preview show, the studio threw it to Donovan in regards to Klinsmann’s insistence that the US cannot win the whole thing. Donovan said he disagrees with Klinsmann, agrees with the American Outlaws (who’ve apparently replaced Sam’s Army as the leading soccer fanatics from America), and believes the US has a chance to win.

Only, when he said he disagreed with Klinsmann, it was something like “This is no surprise…” and with a chuckle. Not to get uptight about this, because it’s soccer and television and not life and death, but it was clear that Donovan was going to disagree with Klinsmann on principle alone. Just knowing the recent history, we’ll need to take much of what Donovan says with large grains of salt. It’s no fault of his own—he has every right to say what he feels. ESPN is the one putting him on television for the world to see. Donovan seems too classy to air any dirty laundry during such an important event, but I wouldn’t put it past him to skew his analysis in an anti-Klinsmann direction.

It’s a bit awkward, as well. We know he’s probably still good enough to make the team. We also know he didn’t put in the work and made those statements about taking a break. It’s one thing if Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt says he’s over the drama and wants to take a break, only to come back shortly before Olympic trials. It’s another for the USMNT to have a program requiring continual participation and commitment. Instead of Donovan on the field for the US, he’s in the studio, as we watch uncomfortably, wondering what he’d really like to say about Klinsmann.

Isn’t he going to feel a bit weird about things, too? Not to say he should be embarrassed to be on television rather than playing, but why subject himself to covering the team he wants to play for? Again, he seems like a classy guy who can handle it, and maybe he deserves kudos for attempting to put his feelings aside, doing the broadcasting job, and sharing his knowledge with fans. That is, if he’s able to leave feelings and grudges out of the job.

Conceptually, though, it’s not a good idea. Donovan could prove otherwise and bring a unique perspective along with intelligent points. The fear is that he’ll be an ESPN hand puppet, there to play cheerleader for the USMNT, second-guess Klinsmann, and regurgitate whatever the popular narrative is that day. The hope is that he’ll be allowed to dish on things other than American soccer and lend insight into other groups, teams, and players. Let’s watch Donovan discuss Spain’s Starting XI and who England should pair with Rooney rather than something banal like “where the US went wrong.”

He may not have a chance to prove himself on the pitch during the World Cup, but thanks to ESPN’s bold yet injudicious hire, Landon Donovan will have something to prove on television.

Roger, Tom, and Phil

“He’s running out of time, but I think he can win one more.”

There are three athletes who come to mind when I think about that quote, which is uttered almost hourly on every sports talk radio and television talking head show in America. For me, the three athletes who define that quote are Roger Federer, Tom Brady, and Phil Mickelson.

Each guy is in the news. Federer had a disappointing run at the French Open and now prepares for Wimbledon, just a month after his wife gave birth to their second set of twins. Brady has been dissected in light of a well-conceived, poorly-executed column by a rabble rousing troll who admittedly is all about numbers and completely ignores wins. And Mickelson tries yet again for his first US Open championship starting tomorrow at Pinehurst. Oh, Mickelson’s also under investigation by the FBI and SEC for his alleged role in an insider trading scheme. Let’s just say he’s stressed.

Federer, Brady, and Mickelson all have one primary rival with whom they’ve co-defined their sports over the past 15 years. For various reasons, each rival has a better shot at reaching the mountain top again before these three.

The questions are clear. Will Federer win another Grand Slam event? Will Brady capture another Super Bowl? Will Mickelson win another Major, but much more importantly, will he ever win the US Open?

The levels of wondering and hoping have reached nearly mythical heights. Let’s take a closer look at each member of the triumvirate:


He’s the one closest to a lock for “Greatest of All Time” status. Another Grand Slam win would help, as would a better head to head record with his younger rivals, but Rafael Nadal backers rely too heavily on Nadal’s French Open success. In a couple years, maybe Nadal surpasses Federer, but not yet.

Even though Federer could retire tomorrow as the greatest, he presses on. Thousands of columns have been written on the odd experience of watching Federer remain an elite, top-5 player, yet one who can’t beat the top two guys. And it is an odd experience. It’s strange watching Federer not reach Grand Slam finals anymore, but at the same time, why should a top-5 player retire? Federer shouldn’t be punished for his past greatness. Instead, fans and media should do a better job of adjusting the current reality that Federer is merely a very good player who still has a puncher’s chance to win.

For Federer to win, a lot of things have to go right. He needs a forgiving draw, one pitting Novak Djokovic against Nadal in the semifinals so Federer won’t have to face both. He’s got to beat other guys he’s struggled against, like Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych. He’s got to be well rested yet in top form. He needs to play short matches. And of course, he needs some luck.

Thankfully for the Swiss Maestro, he gets four chances a year to win another. A relatively healthy 32 (soon to be 33), he should have at least 10 more cracks at it before he declines even further, at which point he could still make a Jimmy Connors-like run in his late 30s.


The only one of these three guys who plays a team sport, Brady’s case is a bit different. Yes, he’s still an elite, top-5 quarterback capable of taking crappy teams to the conference championship. Working most strongly against Brady is simply his age, as he’ll be 37 this season. He’s famous for insisting on playing into his 40s, and maybe he will. Should he follow up on that promise, he’ll not only need to delay his decline, he’ll actually need to improve in some areas, like throwing the deep ball and reacting under pressure. Tall tasks, but Brady isn’t one to be doubted.

Brady does, however, have a couple items working in his favor. He plays in a weak division and what has been a weak conference for three years now. The Patriots may not have been one of the four best teams in the NFC, but they were, by far, the second best team in the AFC. If it weren’t for the Broncos, the Patriots would be the heavy favorite to reach the Super Bowl this year. Speaking of the Broncos, both they and the Patriots have “loaded up” this season, which helps Brady. His receiving corp still leaves much to be desired, but the commitment to improving the defense should increase New England’s chances. This year should prove Brady’s best chance at winning it all since 2011, with the enhanced defense playing a big role, and the AFC playing a major role. He’d run into an NFC buzz saw in the big game should he get there, but as most Patriots fans know, this year has got to be the year.

Phil Mickelson


Phil is the most complicated of the bunch. He’s the oldest, yet his career will last longer than the other two. He was the last to get over the hump, in 2004, and he’s also the most recent, winning the 2013 British Open, the Major his game is least suited to, with a scorching Sunday that came out of nowhere. Assuming he stays out of prison for this Wall Street snafu, Phil inspires the most confidence that he’ll win another big event.

Instead of looking at his, say, 30 or so upcoming chances to win one of the four Majors, let’s instead look at his US Open chances. Given the disparities in their sports, and the effect age has on each, Federer has about the same chances left to win any of the Grand Slams as Mickelson does to win one US Open. It’s tougher to extrapolate Brady’s chances, given he plays a team sport with only one chance per year. However, Brady should have two or three legitimate chances to win, and that’s about what the other guys have left, too. Phil has finished 2nd a whopping six times at America’s championship, and may only finish in the top two a few more times, much in the same way Federer may only reach a few more Grand Slam finals.

Despite not winning it yet, Phil Mickelson is the US Open. He has been since 1999 at Pinehurst, where he collapsed on the final few holes and lost to the late Payne Stewart. That US Open, like all others since, ended on Father’s Day. That particular Father’s Day saw Mickelson becoming a father for the first time, and left many with the memory of Stewart simultaneously consoling Mickelson on a golf level and congratulating him on a personal level.

On those Sundays when he’s coming in second, the cameras fixate on his wife and kids, and we all think back to that first US Open letdown, fatherhood, and wonder if this is the year Phil comes full circle. If the nostalgia of Father’s Day isn’t enough, Mickelson’s birthday is June 16 and usually falls during the tournament. Phil finished second in both 2002 and 2013, when the competition’s final day fell on June 16, meaning it was US Open Sunday, Father’s Day, and his birthday. If you think about what must go on in his head during those days, it’s pretty hard to blame the guy for a bogey here or there.

Is this the year? Hell, I hope so. I’m a Phil fan, and it makes for a great story. Does he have a better shot of winning a US Open than Federer and Brady do of winning a title? It’s damn close, but with the aura of Pinehurst looming large, how can you not go with Phil?