Leo Messi, shatterer of myths and records

"Ever looked at the rapturous reactions of people who score goals and wondered how it might feel to score just one? Well, Messi scored two on Sunday, and that made it 86 in the calendar year 2012, 74 for his Barcelona club and 12 for his Argentina homeland, surpassing the record of Gerd Müller that had held up for 40 years of mass human soccer toil. Apparently Messi has scored every 63 minutes of play, which is marvelous and ludicrous, and does not count the other years of this eight-year wonder sequence starting for Barcelona at age 17 in 2004, the first of his 197 other goals."

(Source: sportsonearth.com)

Tags: lionel messi

Race, basketball and 1970s society

"Walton’s and Kareem’s respective careers and personas, and my memories of the time, offer, I think, another important instance of how the game is more than a game, or, in other words, of what it means to play, watch, and think about the game with love. In this particular case, the instance is inflected specifically by the tones of the era in question. And the examples are instructive of that time, in which during the decline of American civilization some people were still talking about soul, desperately trying to find their way to something like an integrated existence in a rapidly transforming (not to say disintegrating) culture that was America around the time of its bicentennial, in the wake of Vietnam, and Watergate, and in the thick of the energy crisis."

(Source: goodmenproject.com)

Indonesian soccer feeling the FIFA hammer

"But you can’t get away from it, there is huge potential. India and China grab the headlines in that field, but Indonesia, with a population of a quarter of a billion - a quarter of which is under the age of 14 - has a deeper love for the game. With the right people formulating the right policy and a little patience, a powerhouse can be born.

"There is money, but given the corruption and chaos there is understandable reluctance in the private sector to invest. Billionaires from the country such as Erick Thohir, spend their cash on acquiring foreign sports teams and bringing the likes of David Beckham to Jakarta for exhibition matches. Such games are ultimately meaningless but still probably a better investment at the moment."

(Source: ESPN)

Sid Gillman’s biographer on a football novelty

"I’ve never dealt with anti-Semitism on that level in my life, so I didn’t really think about it before I started researching. But then the family tells you that he would have gotten the Ohio State job instead of Woody Hayes if Sid wasn’t Jewish and you start reading Sid’s interviews in which he talked about being black-balled from a Big Ten head coaching job because of his religion, and it dawns on you that it was a real problem for him during the 1940s and 1950s. There was a great line that owner Dan Reeves made when Sid left Cincinnati to take the L.A. Rams job in 1955. Before he officially accepted it, Sid made sure to let Reeves know that he was Jewish. And Dan said something along the lines of, ‘Hell, that might help you here.’ ”

(Source: shermanreport.com)

As The Sporting News bids a print farewell

"This morning, Twitter bloomed with people mourning the news that TSN is going all-digital for 2013. Good bye print edition. Hello future. The last edition of the print magazine went to press this week. St. Louis should take note. Though TSN has moved elsewhere, its history remains here. Having written a few times in the past for The Sporting News, this falls somewhere between the loss of the Rocky Mountain News and the changes at The Times-Picayune for me. Another treasured publication surrendering to the era. But there is something more to TSN than just a print magazine, or it’s online future, or even the preview mags that will continue to mark the true changing of seasons … There is history. So, so much history in those TSN walls."

(Source: stltoday.com)

As the Islanders embark on a change of venue

"But I — along with every Islander fan I know — just want to see them play, let them know we’re sort of okay with them going to Brooklyn, that we just want to spend some time before they go. With the prospect of a year without hockey seeming more and more likely, fans can’t even do that. It’s tough not to wonder if the team feels the same way, if they feel as aimless and adrift as the loyal fans who just want to embrace one last time before they part ways. Two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl and all that. Season after season."

(Source: theclassical.org)

The revival of the Hoosiers

"In the pregame video in Assembly Hall, Knight features prominently in the section about the 1970s. His image always gets a wild cheer from the stands but, truth be told, the cheer isn’t any wilder than the one that greets the clip of Christian Watford’s buzzer-beater that beat Kentucky last year in what is the signature triumph of Crean’s career at Indiana. But the question remains whether or not it is within Crean’s ability — or, in fact, within the ability of anyone except Knight himself — to smooth out the history and the tradition so that Knight’s part of it and Watford’s part of it are a seamless whole."

— Grantland

(Source: grantland.com)

The NFL Is Doomed, Doomed I Say

After driving across the heart of traditional American football country for The New Republic, and rambling all over the place on the state of the NFL and some of its crippled heroes, Rich Cohen eventually gets around to why he thinks professional football is a lost cause: 

"When I called a few old-time gridiron men, they spoke of football as “already gone,” their sport having evolved from the ball control game of their youth into a kind of ‘basketball on grass.’ The phrase ‘already gone’ was striking, as it seemed to suggest not just changes in the game but the death of the hardscrabble towns that gave pro football its first ethos. These men were dismissive of new rules meant to protect quarterbacks and receivers. The crack-back block, the forearm shiver, the clothesline, the head-slap that sent stars turning not unpleasantly around your helmet: getting hurt’s always been a part of it, they explained. Have the injuries gotten so much worse? No one really knows because no one bothered to examine the veterans of the ’33 Giants or ’46 Bears or ’64 Packers who became bewildered or angry in retirement, or made a spectacle of themselves at alumni dinners. They did not count them because they did not know, and they did not know because they did not care: football was just another risky job in a nation filled with them, and a better, more interesting life than that of steel mill welder (Ditka’s father) or coal deliveryman (Unitas’s father). Danger was the not unreasonable cost of playing the game. Why do you think both sidelines go ghostly when a man stays down? Because each player knows it can all be over in a moment, not just the game, nor the season, but everything. It’s one of the truths that makes football more tense than other sports: The stakes are high and the pain is real; the only true thing on a TV schedule loaded with reality shows."

NFL referee bungling starts at the top

The blame, according to the new Man, Economy and Sport blog, is that the rulebook is too dadgum complicated to be enforced well: 

"The NFL isn’t standing firm because of money, but rather bureaucracy. The league fundamentally views ‘integrity’ differently than fans and media. It’s been especially clear since the ascent of Roger Goodell to the commissioner’s chair that the NFL defines integrity as the ‘unquestioned obedience to all league mandates, even those mandates that contradict one another.’ Going back to last year’s player lockout, Goodell has been fighting for the principle of bureaucratic supremacy over all aspects of the NFL’s business."

In case you can’t tell, MES has a decided libertarian perspctive.

Tags: nfl referees

The late, great Jock magazine

Alex Belth, one of this blog’s favorites, is now a contributor for USA Today's new Grantland competitor, Sports on Earth.

And like his work for Deadspin, SI.com and his own Bronx Banter blog (where he has a vertical devoted to sports books), Belth is continuing his sports-and-culture explorations, here concerning the long-departed Jock magazine. A monthly covered the New York sports scene, it debuted in 1969, as the Mets captured the pennant and the city embarked on its last glory age of sports. 

Belth’s Q & A with editor Mickey Herskowitz — the legendary Houston sports columnist — ruminates on the red ink and contributions from Woody Allen, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Pete Hamill, and a great sports media experiment gone quickly haywire:

"Oh, it was a heck of a magazine and a lot of intellectual people loved it, and I only regret that we never got a chance to do our best work. We didn’t have enough time, and we were under a lot of pressure in the time we did have. We had a small staff, but what we did put out we did well. Everything in it is something I can be proud of."

Belth is interviewed in this 2011 podcast by baseball author and sabermetrician Jonah Keri. It’s a great listen, and Belth’s SI.com archive is really worth digging into. 

(Source: sportsonearth.com)

Misery on the Merseyside

Aleksandar Hemon takes to the pages of The New Republic to bemoan the state of Liverpool FC.

If this is meant as a pre-emptive strike ahead of Sunday’s game against Manchester United, then perhaps this Scouser fan should accept it for the soft bigotry of low expectations that it is.

Tags: liverpool FC

60 Minutes Goes Ballgame

On the National Sports Journalism Center blog, Eric Duggans writes about Showtime’s forthcoming sports magazine being created by “60 Minutes”and that will step into direct competition with “Real Sports” on HBO.

"The history of pro football will forever be preserved on film and not by the written word a la baseball." 

— George Halas

* * * * * * 

"In a way, the NFL is today where boxing was in the 1970s. Who would have thought, with stars such as Ali, Frazier, Foreman and Leonard on the scene, that only a few decades hence boxing would exist solely on the fringes of big-time sports? Alas, as boxing’s storytellers died out—the journalists who gave the sport its context and emotional heft—boxing, at least as a major spectator sport, died along with them. Today, absent the mythmaking bards and existing only in real time on outlets such as HBO, boxing alternatively bores and horrifies the sporting public. Itself increasingly a real-time only sport as well, the NFL is headed toward the same fate."

— Mitchell Nathanson, The Classical

(Source: youtube.com)

Muhammad Ali, Space Cadet

Blank on Blank, which digs out “lost” interviews by journalists, has dusted off a 1966 classic with Muhammad Ali, taped by Michael Aisner, then a jock on a high school radio station in suburban Chicago. 

In the seven-minute clip, Ali rambles on about fighting aliens on Mars. He’s at his brashy best.

The Storyboard crew also produced a nifty video introducing the back story, including an interview with Aisner.

More back story on how the interview resurfaced via Storyboard, which curates creative Tumblr sites. 

Farewell to the Football Poet

Steve Sabol, who with his father Ed developed NFL Films into a creative, artistic-oriented vehicle for the promotion of the league, has died of brain cancer at the age of 69. Self-dubbed “The Prince of Pigskin Pageantry,” coiner of the repetitive “frozen tundra” and hirer of John Facenda, aka “The Voice of God,” the younger Sabol was a master storyteller of a sport that until the early 1960s labored in the vast shadows of baseball and other sports. NYT, Newsday, USA Today, Grantland, Bleacher Report.

The October issue of The Atlantic features a retrospective of the Sabols, "They Taught Us to Watch Football," which went to press just before Steve Sabol’s death. It references a classic 1965 Sports Illustrated profile of the younger Sabol and his mythmaking penchant as a college student. To fully appreciate his legacy, "The Fearless Tot from Possum Trot" is a must-read.”