My Favorite Football Game

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I became a New England Patriots fan about forty years ago when Steve Grogan began playing quarterback for them. They had some other good players too, but it took them a long time to get anywhere in the playoffs. Still, when I moved to New England myself, that kind of reinforced my being a fan.

It was 1985 when they made their first Super Bowl, and that was against the Chicago Bears team with the tremendous defense. New England got stomped. Their next time to the Superbowl was in the late 1990s. They didn’t get slaughtered that time, but still lost pretty badly.

Two things changed all that: the arrival of Bill Belichick and the arrival of Tom Brady. Belichick became one of the most successful coaches in the NFL. Brady became arguably the best quarterback in the game today, and one of the best all-time. I understand why a lot of people don’t like the team: they win an awful lot. But they didn’t used to, and I rooted for them before they became this good. That said, this year’s Super Bowl was possibly the best football game I’ve ever watched.

The Atlanta Falcons were a very good team this year, both offensively and defensively. They pretty much started the game hitting on all cylinders.

The game was scoreless when I began watching, but didn’t stay that way long. Brady was intercepted, and the Falcons quickly scored a touchdown. It didn’t take long for them to score a second one too. Meanwhile, their defense was putting pressure on Brady and covering the receivers well. Brady threw another interception, which was run all the way back for a touchdown. At that point I thought I’d never seen the Patriots play so badly in a big game, and began thinking about congratulating friends rooting for the Falcons. A field goal late in the first half didn’t seem to make much difference.

This was accentuated early in the second half when the Falcons scored another touchdown. At 28-3, a Patriot’s win seemed impossible. An article I read the next day said at that point the chance of their winning was less than 1 %. But at that point things began to change.

The Patriot’s defense began to be more effective, holding the Falcons scoreless the rest of the way. Julio Jones made a pretty amazing catch on the sideline, but the Falcons couldn’t take advantage.

As the Patriot’s defense became more effective, Atlanta’s defense became less. As Atlanta’s offense spent less time on the field, the defense became tired and less able to put pressure on Brady. In Denver’s win against the Patriots last year their ability to put pressure on Brady consistently all game was a key element. Atlanta began well, but couldn’t keep the pressure on. When Tom Brady isn’t being pressured he picks defenses apart.

The Patriots scored a touchdown in the third quarter, but missed the extra point. They then scored a field goal, which made the score 28-12. A win still seemed impossible.

But when the Patriots scored a touchdown and made a two-point conversion to cut the lead to 28-20, the momentum had definitely changed. I think it was on the next drive that Julian Edelman made possibly the greatest catch I’ve ever seen. Brady passed to him when he was surrounded by three defensive players. The pass bounced off his hands, but he was able to turn, grab it in the air, and keep it from hitting the ground as he fell. The Patriots scored again, made the two-point conversion again, and were tied. They couldn’t score again before the end of the game, so it became the first Super Bowl game to go to overtime.

But not for long. By this time it seemed pretty inevitable. The Patriots got the ball again and scored the winning touchdown. After a difficult start Brady completed some 43 passes for 466 yards. After falling so far behind, it would have been easy for him and the team to give up, but they never did.

Arguably, this was their most challenging Super Bowl. Every one they’ve been in since Belichick and Brady arrived has been close and competitive. But they never fell as far behind as in this one. This was their seventh appearance in the fifteen years Brady has been quarterback, and they’ve lost two of those seven, both very close games to the New York Giants. That means they’ve won five, a record for one quarterback.

Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers won the first two Super Bowls, which were part of five NFL championships, mostly before the Super Bowl began. The Packers lost only one championship under Starr, so they were arguably a better team than the Patriots. It’s an interesting discussion, though, since they were also arguably much more talented, probably equivalent to an all-star team at every position. There have been other teams comparably talented, but no others as successful.

The Patriots have been unique because they HAVEN’T had great talent at every position. They had Corey Dillon for a couple of years and have LeGarrett Blount now. Those have probably been their best running backs.

They had Randy Moss for one season ten years ago when they went undefeated in the regular season, but lost the Super Bowl. Julian Edelman is a fine one now, as is Rob Gronkowski (who was injured and couldn’t play in the Super Bowl). Otherwise, they were good but not great.

Their defense was pretty good all season. One way of measuring that is that they won three of the four games Brady didn’t play in, using two quarterbacks with relatively little experience. The two played well, but so did the defense. That’s why it was surprising they gave up twenty-one points in the Super Bowl. I have to give Atlanta a lot of credit there, but they weren’t able to keep the pressure on, which is at least partly a tribute to New England. Bill Belichick is a master of making adjustments, and he made them throughout this game.

It almost seemed inevitable when New England scored early in overtime to win the game. The momentum had completely shifted, and Atlanta’s defense, good as they were all season, just couldn’t stop the Patriots offense.

This sixteen year run has been pretty amazing, though not as amazing, perhaps, as the Packers run during the 1960s. One difference has been the Patriots sustaining excellence over a longer period of time. After the 1967 Super Bowl many of the Packers veterans retired (at the same time Vince Lombardi left to coach the Washington Redskins), and they weren’t very good again until the 1990s. In the case of the Patriots, the continuity is been mainly Belichick and Brady. Others have come and gone, but they’ve stayed at the top of the AFC East, and usually at or near the top of the NFL.

To say that no one saw that coming is an understatement. Hardly anyone knew anything about Brady when he was drafted. Belichick had been head coach in Cleveland, with little to show for it. He was named head coach of the New York Jets, succeeding Bill Parcells, but changed his mind after one day, and took the Patriots job. He had one losing season, then went to the Super Bowl the next year, which was when Brady became the starting quarterback. They followed that up with two more Super Bowls in the next three years, winning each one of them. They’ve been near or at the top just about every season since.

It’s not that I want New England to win every year. I grew up loving pro sports teams from Cleveland, Ohio, and would love to see the Browns get somewhere in the NFL. I was thrilled last year when the Cavaliers won the NBA title and the Indians went to the World Series.

But Brady can’t play forever, and Belichick can’t coach forever. I expect New England will fall back to mediocrity eventually, as every team does. But I’ve enjoyed this run, and especially this last game.

Basketball on Christmas

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I don’t know that much about basketball coaching, and I never became a very good player, but I do enjoy watching a good game. I got to see most of two of them on Christmas day.

The first was the Knicks against the Celtics. The Celtics seem to be pretty good, and the Knicks seem to be a lot better than they have been, but not exactly elite yet. Boston beat them, which was what I preferred, and probably has a better shot of getting to the playoffs, but that wasn’t the best game.

The best game was Cleveland against Golden State. Two recent champions going at it, and both looking extremely good. Good offense, good defense on both sides. I didn’t get to watch the whole game, as dinner intervened, but certainly enjoyed what I got to see.

For one thing, I had never seen Kevin Durant play, though I’d certainly heard of him the last few years. He looked like a good scorer, rebounder, and passer, and I look forward to seeing him play more often. LeBron James still looks fine too (aside from the occasional errant pass), and so does Kyrie Irving, who made the winning shot at the end, so that both teams I rooted for won.

I watched the first half, but then had to eat dinner, and didn’t get back until the final minutes of the game. The announcers said that Cleveland had fallen behind by fourteen points and come back. They were just behind when I turned the set on, and I got to see Kyrie Irving drive from backcourt to forecourt in the final seconds and put up the winning jump shot without any problem.

The game itself isn’t very significant in terms of the whole season, but it’s Cleveland against one of the best teams in the league, whom they might have to face again. They could easily have lost this one, but now know how to win. In the first half they missed a lot of jumpers, but never let that bother them, and just kept running their offense. They have two stars and they have role players who know what they’re doing. There wasn’t any lack of effort, and there wasn’t any confusion.

I’ll be interested to see some of the other elite teams, like San Antonio without Tim Duncan and Oklahoma City without Durant. Golden State acquiring him may insure another championship for them, but I don’t think it will be automatic. Cleveland showed they can compete in that game. There may be some other teams who can too.

World Series 2016

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It must have been at least by August I realized the Cleveland Indians had a pretty good team. Nothing was certain at that point, and they had only one starting pitcher with a very good record (one of the ways I judge), but they were leading their division. In September they went on a winning streak which locked up a place in the playoffs, but at that point they’d also lost two of their starting pitchers, so along with most commentators, I didn’t expect they’d be able to get far in the post-season.

I missed their first series, with Boston, which they swept. I began watching their second series, with Toronto, in which they lost only one game. Then came the World Series, and I was really fixated on what was happening.

Especially Corey Kluber, Cleveland’s best starting pitcher. He wasn’t being perfect in the post-season, but very nearly so. His stuff and control were dazzling the Cubs, freezing them at the plate and causing them to miss when they did swing. Kluber showed no emotion on the mound, he only pitched, and shut the Cubs down.

The problem was that the other two Cleveland starters didn’t have quite his stature. Trevor Bauer started the second game of the Series, ran into trouble, and had to be relieved pretty early. The Indians only lost 2-1, though. In the third game Josh Timlin started and pitched well for five innings, getting the win. What counter-balanced the weakness of the starting pitching was the bullpen. Andrew Miller was coming in and shutting everyone down in the middle innings the way Mariano Rivera did in the 1996 World Series to get the game to the closer, John Wetteland for the Yankees, now Cody Allen for the Indians.

Over the first four games everything went almost perfectly for the Indians. They weren’t scoring a lot of runs, but enough (with the exception of game 2). Timlin pitched well in the third game, Kluber only gave up one run the fourth, and the Indians were in a great position. With a little luck they could wrap up the Series in Chicago.

They didn’t get that luck. Bauer started the fifth game, and pitched well until the fourth, when he gave up three runs, giving up more well-hit balls than I’d seen together in the rest of the Series. But that was it. They weren’t able to put hits together again, and the Indians came up only one run short. Chicago had to pitch Aroldis Chapman  for more than two innings to save the game (only his first appearance in the Series, which shows how dominating Cleveland had been until then). I thought they’d be okay when they got to Cleveland again.

The Cubs were loaded with talent this year, having been built to win a World Series for the past several years by Theo Epstein, the general manager who had contributed to the Boston Red Sox finally winning a World Series after 86 years. They had more good hitters and a deeper pitching staff. They must have been shocked that the Indians played (and especially pitched) so much better than they did. But in the fifth game they began to adjust to the challenge.

Their pitching hadn’t been bad, just not quite as good as that of the Indians. Now they started to hit the ball well too. Bauer started well until the third, when he gave up three runs. In the next inning Cleveland pitching gave up a grand slam, and the game was effectively over.

Kluber started the seventh game, but wasn’t as untouchable as he’d been his previous two starts. It was his second start on short rest, his thirds start within nine days. He was probably tired, and the Cubs were getting familiar with him. He gave up a lead-off home run, and four runs in less than five innings. Relievers gave up two more runs, and the Indians trailed by three.

Jon Lester, the starting pitcher who had won 19 games in the regular season to lead the Cubs staff, entered the game in the fifth, and gave up two runs with the help of errors and a wild pitch. The Indians were behind, but still in the game.

Aroldis Chapman, the relief pitcher acquired from the Yankees, routinely throws at better than 100  miles an hour, then gave up three runs after relieving Lester, the two tying runs on a home run. He had pitched more than he was used to, as Cubs manager Joe Madden tried to nail the win down.

Andrew Miller, who had been untouchable in the first few games of the Series, pitched again in the middle of the game for Cleveland, and was touchable this time, like Kluber. Cody Allen, the Indians closer came in early this time, and struggled too. It somehow wasn’t surprising when the Cubs scored two runs in the top of the ninth. The Indians got one back in the last of the inning, but it wasn’t enough.

Only Indians fans could be disappointed with this Series, with their team not being quite good enough. Aside from that, it was as competitive a Series as anyone could want. Indians fans had to be thrilled with how great their team could be in stifling the Cubs in the first five games, and disappointed only that they couldn’t sustain that greatness in the last two games.

Cubs fans must have been terrified they were going to lose again, and thrilled that they didn’t, and that the Indians couldn’t quite come back all the way.

One of the fascinating things about the Series was that these were the two teams (excluding expansion teams who have never won a World Series) who had gone longest without a Series win. Long streaks of that sort have been broken early in this century: the Red Sox after a streak of 86 years, the White Sox after a streak of 88, and finally the Cubs after 108. What took them so long? One sportswriter suggested that the Red Sox hadn’t won because of lack of pitching. Very likely that’s a good explanation for the rest too: offense is important, but pitching and defense are the foundations that win championships. Both teams this year had both (though both made defensive mistakes in the Series), and for Cleveland in particular offense was secondary.

Indians fans were disappointed, of course, but they had one consolation: the Cleveland Cavaliers had broken the city’s losing streak for professional sports championships earlier this year, so the Indians getting this close was gravy. With a little luck, they may get even closer next year.

Pitching

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I watched Corey Kluber pitch for the Cleveland Indians in the World Series and thought, what an odd game baseball is, and what odd skills are necessary to it. Hitting a round ball with a round bat is difficult enough (and hardly a skill useful in other contexts); pitching, arguably, is even more difficult.

Kluber showed the equanimity that is one of a pitcher’s greatest aids. He didn’t throw all strikes by any means, but was usually able to make a great pitch when he needed to, most often a cutter on the left side of the plate that broke back over, sometimes a curve, also to the left side. Between pitches he looked absolutely unemotional. He didn’t give up a run.

The first thing a pitcher needs is to enjoy throwing. I did, when in my teens, often throwing gravel because I could do that alone. Eventually I graduated to baseballs and actual pitching in high school. I couldn’t take it very far after that, but remain fascinated with pitchers records and the process of pitching decades later. My pitching never achieved any level of sophistication: I had three pitches I tried (often unsuccessfully) to throw over the plate. I wish I still could pursue it, and try to actually apply the strategies I’ve gotten some idea of since high school.

Pitching is possibly even more difficult than hitting because the ball is lively enough that a mistake could lose a game. Until about 1921 that wasn’t the case. With the sudden stardom of Babe Ruth and the scandal about the 1919 World Series the spitball was outlawed and the ball made livelier. Suddenly there were many more home runs. Suddenly pitchers became more anxious and won fewer games. After 1920 there were only three more thirty game winners.  Bill Veeck, in his autobiography, told about Grover Alexander, one of the greats, who always put a man or two on base before really starting to pitch. Nobody does that on purpose anymore.

An announcer told us Kluber had begun with a four-seam fastball which a pitcher throws at the top of the strike zone–something that works well for a pitcher able to throw the ball past a hitter. It’s always popular to apply brute force, but it doesn’t always work very well. For pitchers who aren’t overpowering the two-seam fastball works better: depending on what it does, it’s called a cutter or sinker. Kluber was using the pitch as a cutter. It broke as much over as down, at the last moment, and befuddled both left- and right-handed batters. When a someone has that much movement on pitches and can be that precise, he’s cruising. That’s what pitchers desire, but often can’t achieve. Sometimes it’s nothing but struggle. Kluber is a past Cy Young award winner, and has been pitching like it in the post-season this year.

Pitchers have to make sure their pitches move and that they’re locating them where they want to. When their pitches don’t move they’re unlikely to fool hitters, and when they can’t locate they walk people and give up hits. Neither is attractive.

Pitchers began learning how to make pitches move quite early, even before the founding of the National League in 1876. Candy Cummings has been credited with first throwing the curve, and that may well have been before the National League. The spitball was well established by the beginning of the twentieth century, though it was outlawed later (which didn’t stop some pitchers from using it), and other pitches were invented as time went on.

An important pitch for Christy Matthewson was the fadeaway, later to be called the screwball. That pitch breaks like a curve, but the opposite direction from usual (which makes me wonder if his pitch, and some thrown by others, may not have been thrown in the same way as Kluber’s cutter). A curve thrown by a right-hander breaks to the left, and the opposite by a left-hander. Thus, a screwball breaks to the right from a right-hander, and left from a left-hander. Carl Hubbell, Warren Spahn, and Fernando Valenzuela were outstanding pitchers who used this pitch a lot.

The slider is a variant of the curve, but tends to look like a fastball and to break more suddenly, and usually smaller. Very useful if one can put it in the right places.

The knuckleball, which is thrown with the fingertips instead of the knuckles, goes entirely against what pitchers are most tempted to do: throw the ball as hard as they can. The knuckleball works because the thrower removes spin instead of imparting it. It’s even more important to make sure one is throwing the knuckler correctly because it works better when thrown slowly, which makes it very easy to hit when it doesn’t knuckle.

With all those potential tools, pitchers still have a difficult job. A game can change with one swing of the bat, so pitching requires a lot of concentration. A pitcher like Kluber probably enters something resembling a meditative state, but can’t stay there forever. That’s why bullpens and rests between starts are necessary.

And even the greatest pitchers get bombed sometimes. It happened to Sandy Koufax when he was winning twenty-six and twenty-seven games in his last two seasons. His team several times took him off the hook by coming back to tie or win. Seasons like the one Bob Gibson had in 1967, when he won twenty-two games (thirteen as shutouts),  are rare because home runs are easily hit, it’s easy for a pitcher to lose the movement on the pitches he throws, or the control to throw them where he wants. Such seasons can still happen, but few pitchers can achieve them often.

But winning championships requires good pitching in combination with hitting and fielding, but maybe pitching above all. As I write this, the World Series is tied at three, and the Cubs have the momentum, after being down three to one. One thing can keep them from winning, and that’s great pitching. We’ll see if Corey Kluber can do it again.

 

NBA Championship

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Please forgive me while I gloat a little while. Last season the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors met to decide the NBA title. The Warriors eventually prevailed, but I said at the time I thought they were lucky. Kevin Love, one of the Cavaliers’ better players had been hurt in a previous series and couldn’t play. Kyrie Irving, their other star, was hurt in the first game against the Warriors, and was unable to retur Cleveland played well enough to win the first game of the series (but didn’t), then won the next two. At that point though, the Warriors’ superior depth began wearing the Cavaliers down, and they won the final three games pretty easily. But this season was different.
Yes, the Warriors set a record by winning 73 out of 82 regular season games, mostly with the greatest of ease, but the playoffs were different. Before meeting Cleveland the Oklahoma City Thunder gave them a lot of trouble, jumping out to a 3-1 lead. Golden State came back and won, but they were probably tired entering the Cleveland series. It didn’t show though in the first four games, of which the Warriors won three. I began watching with the fifth game, which is where the series began turning around.
It’s not unusual for teammates to score twenty or more points apiece. Thirty apiece is less common, but by no means unheard of. But forty points apiece IS virtually unheard of. That’s what James and Irving did to Golden State in the fifth game, which was at Golden State. One observer said he thought that Golden State expected to win that game easily, and weren’t able to adjust when they didn’t.
In the sixth game Irving played well, but not as well as the previous game. James was the transcendent star of the game, scoring some time during the second half eighteen straight points when no one else was scoring for Cleveland. Apparently no one could stop him. He also rebounded, fed teammates for baskets, and blocked shots. The block he made in the seventh game may have been more dramatic because the score was tied at 89 and the game was almost over, but I doubt it was any more skillful than several blocks in game six.
I watched the first half of game seven, then had to go to work, so didn’t get to see much of the second half. It wasn’t like previous games, in which the Cavaliers got off to a big lead and won. The game apparently was close just about all the way to the end. Kyrie Irving hit a three to give Cleveland the lead, and that was when LeBron made the block so many people are talking about to preserve the lead. James ended by leading both teams in scoring, rebounds, assists, blocks, and maybe steals. Not many players have dominated the way he did in this series.
He had led Cleveland to the finals once before, but they simply didn’t have the talent then to compete. He then decided to go to Miami, a decision I didn’t care for, but could understand. He knew what kind of level he was playing on, and wanted to win championships. He won two out of four times there, and evidently learned what it takes for a team to win on the NBA level, seeing both what succeeded and what failed. His return to Cleveland took me by surprise, though.
Some commentators pointed out that his return gave him a lot of power, which is unusual for any athlete, even a professional, to have. That was true, but I think he actually wanted to bring a championship to Cleveland, since he had grown up in that part of Ohio. When he got there Irving was already there (and was probably one of the reasons that persuaded James to return), but there wasn’t a great deal of other talent. More was obtained his first year back, as Cleveland traded its first round pick to get Kevin Love, and management went out and got several role players who contributed. The first season they ran into bad luck, but this year they succeeded.
I remember the last time a Cleveland sports team won a championship. It was in 1964 and I was fifteen. There have been several agonizing near misses since then. At least once the Browns almost won a playoff game, but John Elway took the Denver Bronchoes on a long drive to win. The Cavaliers came close to beating the Chicago Bulls, but Michael Jordan kept that from happening with a basket as time ran out. And the Cleveland Indians went to the World Series twice and lost twice, the second time in extra innings. Their drought wasn’t as long as the Boston Red Sox before 2004 or that of the Chicago Cubs. The difference is that NO Cleveland team won for 52 years. In Boston the Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots all won. In Chicago the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, and White Sox all won. The current edition of the Cleveland Browns has never won (the previous team went to Baltimore and became the Ravens), the Indians haven’t won since 1948, and the Cavaliers had never won before this season. Up until the 1960s Cleveland was a pretty important city, but it has become less important since the steel mills left. So having a championship team is a nice thing for the city. It may not contribute anything of economic substance, but it definitely makes Clevelanders (including those of us who are transplants) feel better.
Will the Cavaliers or any other Cleveland team win another championship any time soon? Probably not immediately, but it’s not impossible. The Indians are currently leading their division, but that doesn’t mean they’re a real contender yet. The Browns seem to be lost, so I wouldn’t expect much from them. But while it’s unusual for any team to repeat, I wouldn’t necessarily count the Cavaliers out of the running the next few years. LeBron James is still at his magesterial best, and probably will be for a few more years. He may decide not to stay with the Cavaliers, but I hope he decides that Cleveland is home. He’s now won three championships (although in seven tries), and I’m sure would like to win at least one or two more. Cleveland may not be his best bet for doing that, but it’s not impossible that they’ll stay good for several more seasons. At least I hope so.

OJ Simpson

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I watched the first segment of the OJ Simpson documentary Saturday night and found much to think about. I won’t be able to watch the next episode, and quite possibly none of the others, so I will make do with what the first segment foreshadowed and what I remember about him and what eventually happened.
The background of his rise to prominence was the Watts riots just before his arrival at USC and the radicalization of famous black athletes which intimidated many whites. The basis of his fame was athletic ability, but what made it possible was the unthreatening persona he constructed. I always thought he was a nice guy, which was probably true to some extent, but it never occurred to me to look more deeply. I doubt I could have foreseen what happened, though.
The documentary points out that he was the first black athlete to make widely effective commercials, which appealed to white consumers as well as black ones. He had been in a protected place at Southern Cal, with no necessity to speak about the situation of black people, though he’d certainly experienced it growing up in San Francisco. Some black athletes, like Jim Brown, John Carlos, and Bill Russell, felt it necessary to speak out for the benefit of the black community. Simpson didn’t. His ambitions were for his own benefit.
But he did come across as a nice guy. After leaving USC he went to play for the Buffalo Bills, and endured two years of frustration, until Lou Saban became head coach and built the offense around him. Saban did so by drafting a bunch of offensive linemen, and he seems to have been the one to first suggest that Simpson could gain 2,000 yards rushing in a season, breaking Jim Brown’s single season record. I remember seeing one of those games, and being amazed at one of his runs. When he did break Brown’s record he insisted on including his offensive line in the TV interview after the game. That kind of generosity played well.
The first segment of the show (put together by ESPN) ends with his meeting Nicole Brown, white and only 18 years old when Simpson was about thirty. They liked each other immediately, he divorced his first wife, and they married. He had already begun acting, not only in commercials, but also movies. He was a success, having achieved most, if not all, of his ambitions. He didn’t want to be judged by the color of his skin, and it has been suggested that he came to not even think of himself as black. Unfortunately, others hadn’t forgotten.
In some short searches I can’t find any reference to his use of cocaine, but I certainly seem to remember hearing that he had. If that’s true, it may explain why Nicole Brown Simpson fell out of love with him. Cocaine, like other drugs, is a way to blot out uncomfortable feelings, but it doesn’t do so perfectly. It can provoke the user to violence, and parts of the first segment seem to say that Simpson abused his wife. If so, no wonder she began to fear him, and their marriage eventually ended. One of his important ambitions had thus been realized, and then surrendered.
It’s possible that Simpson was in fact innocent of the murders, but the fact remains that he had plenty of motivation to commit them, and his behavior that led to the famous televised car chase suggests that he was feeling guilty and devastated. I hoped that he was innocent, and of course he was acquitted, but many people were sure he was guilty, and a lot of them were white.
One piece about him tells how the author asked a black couple if they thought Simpson was guilty. The man said he was, but that if he were in the jury he would vote for acquittal. Why would he say that? Was it because he had some notion of Simpson’s difficulty in “passing” as an unthreatening black man (something any black man has to do in this society) and sympathized, even if he couldn’t condone his actions?
In any case, the trial ended his love affair with white society, which now saw him as threatening, not only because of the murders (of which he was not unequivocally proven guilty), but because he had gotten away with it. It’s okay for whites to get away with bad behavior, but not for blacks, especially blacks married to white women whom they may have killed.
His later armed robbery of his sports memorabilia shows that his judgment hadn’t improved in the years since the trial, and I suspect he felt bitter too. He had fallen in love twice: with his wife and with white society, and had been rejected twice. He must have been very unhappy to try to repair his situation with armed robbery, and I doubt he’s any happier now.
It occurs to me that his case is very similar to that of Bill Cosby. There were a number of black comedians who became prominent in the 1960s, including Godfrey Cambridge, Dick Gregory, and Flip Wilson, but Cosby was the most popular of them all (and had the longest career), and I suggest that a lot of his success came from his ability to, like Simpson, construct a persona that was unthreatening to whites. I was shocked to hear the allegations of drugging and rape, and would have preferred not to believe them, but there were too many going back too many years to ignore. I can only believe that he is guilty, and expect that he’ll eventually spend some time in prison. His wealth will protect him from some of the punishment, but I doubt it will deflect it entirely.
How are we to understand what these two men did? Probably that both were very angry. This can hardly be surprising because of the long history of persecution of blacks in this country, which has somewhat lessened in the past fifty years, but not a great deal. Black people can hardly help being angry, though they’re expected to pretend otherwise, unless they want to be punished. Simpson and Cosby especially must have buried their anger pretty deeply. Perhaps Simpson’s was less deeply buried, so that when his anger came out, it erupted in violence. Cosby’s anger must have been more controlled. He must have had some expectation that he would never be punished for what he did, and certainly he’s gotten away with it for decades.
Many whites seem to assume that unless blacks are repressed they won’t fail to take revenge on whites who have been mistreating them for hundreds of years. It seems obvious to think that those who hate will be repaid with hatred, so that continuing to hate will only make the adjustment more violent when it comes. But few seem to want to repair the rupture between black and white. Many continue to believe that black people are inherently evil, and that what Simpson and Cosby did are examples that prove it, but the fact is that such things have occurred on the other side of the racial divide. James Hammond is one of many examples.
Hammond was one of South Carolina’s prominent politicians in the decades before the Civil War, and was one of the voices adamantly calling for secession. He also owned several large plantations with more than 300 slaves. At one point he bought a 21 year old slave woman with whom he slept until her daughter (a year old when he bought her) was 12, when he began sleeping with her instead. His wife (whom he seems to have married primarily in order to inherit the plantation from her father) discovered his behavior and confronted him, telling him to choose between her and his slave women. He chose the slave women, and was separated from his wife for five years, but she returned to him. He also was guilty of sexual behavior with four young girls related to one of the most powerful of the plantation owners in the old South. He blamed them for the behavior, and none of them ever married. He also replied to a northern critic of the South, who accused slave owners of taking advantage of the female slaves, by saying the person had a vivid imagination, although he knew better.
We know about Hammond because of his prominence. Was he an anomaly? Were slave owners generally better behaved than he? An English woman visiting in the South in the 1840s later wrote that it was obvious that the plantation owners were sleeping with the slave women, and that their wives were refusing to acknowledge the situation. Remember too how many black men got lynched after the Civil War well into the twentieth century because of suspicion that they had raped, or merely lusted after white women. As bad as Simpson and Cosby’s behavior was, they had plenty of precedent from white behavior.
It’s amazing to think how a person could have adjusted to being kidnapped from another continent, stuffed into a ship in which he or she could neither sit nor lie down nor have any sanitary way to urinate or move their bowels, be forced to stand naked at the slave market for potential owners to view, be harshly punished by people who didn’t even know their language, and forced to work for many hours each day. Many black people probably have little conscious knowledge of what their ancestors endured, but I would almost think such experiences must have been engraved on their DNA, to say nothing of being reinforced by unjust punishments since the time of slavery. For many it’s not politically correct to talk this way about race, but few of our white ancestors had as much to overcome. It’s easy for some to blame the victims.
It’s a shame that Simpson and Cosby apparently did what they’ve been accused of doing. It’s also a shame that blacks in particular have so many negative stereotypes to overcome. Both men seemed to have overcome them, but ultimately had not. Both seemed benign, but concealed depths of frustration and resentment. Others climb mountains and fall too, but to me these cases seem more excruciating. I rooted for both, and was disappointed.

Superbowl Season

Standard

I’ve been a New England Patriots fan about forty years, beginning with when they got quarterback Steve Grogan. That was the first time I’d seen them been successful since the beginning of the American Football League about 1960, when they won one of its first championships.
The success didn’t last, though. They continued to be also-rans through the remainder of the 1970s and most of the 80s. They did reach the Super Bowl in the 1980s, but were uncompetitive, getting blown out by the Chicago Bears 46-10. They reached the Super Bowl again in the 1990s, and were more competitive, but still lost.
So I was very gratified when they went Super Bowling again in 2003, and this time won in a very dramatic game. They repeated in two of the next three years, and I was ecstatic.
Meanwhile, Peyton Manning had joined the Indianapolis Colts in 1998, and had quickly become one of the premiere quarterbacks of the league. But he had two problems: he had a lot of trouble beating the Patriots, even when he had the better team, and he was less successful in the post-season than the Patriots with Tom Brady, the other dominant quarterback of the last two decades. Coach Bill Belicek of the Patriots seemed always able to devise offensive and defensive schemes to frustrate the Colts, and though Manning was usually on good teams, his career somewhat paralleled that of John Elway, as always a great quarterback with a team around him that couldn’t seem to give him enough support to win in the post-season. Of course it may have been that he didn’t always play well in the playoffs too. I haven’t seen enough of his games to say. But he has won a Super Bowl, as everyone wants to do, so he is inferior only relative to Brady and the Patriots. Until this year.
This year Denver is stronger defensively than I remember them being since the 1970s. They have a pretty good offensive cast surrounding Manning too, and he has always been a smart player. Now he’s very experienced too.
It didn’t look like this would be his year, as he was sidelined with injuries for much of it, including plantar fascitis, a problem which causes a foot to hurt agonizingly. It’s especially not good for quarterbacks, who have to put lots of stress on their feet when throwing the ball. But now he’s healthy again. He made some bad throws yesterday, but not many, and I didn’t see anything to indicate that his feet were hurting. He was the aggressor as the Broncoes (to whom he moved several years ago from the Colts) scored on their first drive, and never lost their lead.
Meanwhile, the Denver defense was making Tom Brady miserable. Brady is always the key to New England’s offense, and if you let him do what he wants, you lose. Being able to KEEP him from doing what he wants is the problem, but it was a problem Denver had the answer to yesterday. They kept constant pressure on him, intercepting him twice, hurrying him often, and often forcing him to throw the ball away. The Patriots managed to keep the game close, but that was the best they could do, which is unlike them in the playoffs.
Probably part of Denver’s success was due to New England’s offensive line not being healthy, but let’s not diminish what they accomplished. New England was in position to go to the Super Bowl, and Denver took a page out of their book to stop them, preventing them from ever getting an offensive flow. Two touchdowns and two field goals were all they could manage, and with Denver’s pressure, they did well getting those.
In the second game of the day the Carolina Panthers won with the greatest of ease, and looked overwhelming, as both Brady’s and Manning’s teams have often looked. Unsurprisingly, they have an outstanding quarterback, just getting well started on his career, and a good team around him, beating a very good team in the Arizona Cardinals and hardly seeming to work up a sweat. Will Denver be able to beat them? That would make a nice story, but it doesn’t appear likely.
I’m told that Carolina’s offensive line is one of the best parts of their team, which New England’s was not, and their quarterback is equally threatening as a passer and runner, so the challenge is much greater. They also have a good defense. So the key will be for Denver to disrupt Carolina’s offense to some extent–they can’t reasonably expect to shut them down to the extent they did New England–while having an outstanding offensive day. It seems unlikely they will be able to overwhelm Carolina’s defense, even if effective against it, and I would guess that’s what they need to do to win. But I’ve been wrong before.