EL HOMBRE KNOWS SPORTS
Packer Rick is in heaven these days, and not just because his beloved Green Bay club is on the rise or his mighty fifth-grade lacrosse club overwhelmed all comers during the recent season.
From his command center in the nearly-legendary Pack Den, Packer Rick keeps a watchful eye on the sports world’s traditions. The Den’s walls are covered – and El Hombre means covered – with framed photographs of history’s heroes, athletic, military and political. He even has a still of Erwin Rommel, Germany’s “Desert Fox.” “He hated Hitler,” Packer Rick says, justifying the famous tank commander’s presence with the other luminaries. Of course, he also has a photo of Gen. George Patton – “He stares at Rommel, on the opposite wall, of course” – and won’t hesitate to recount the line attributed to “Old Blood and Guts” in his marvelous biopic: “Rommel, you magnificent bastard! I read your book!”
At any given time, Packer Rick could be screening some old AFL footage or a 1970s NFL playoff game. He might be holding forth on the virtues of high school football’s inherent value for building character and lifelong bonds between comrades and combatants. And, if it’s mid-December, he’s likely to be nailing up another butt of the family Christmas tree on the eave overhanging his bar. He’s up to about 17 now, and seeing them lined up is a quite a sight.
Earlier this week, Packer Rick received an unexpected gift from the NFL owners when they announced the 2014 Super Bowl would be held in the swamps of Jersey. For someone who still turns on the TV every Sunday rooting for a snowstorm or rain deluge and thinks domes are the devil’s work, a championship game played in arctic conditions with swirling snow and ice-encrusted spectators would be a gift from the football gods. Or from Vince Lombardi. He can only imagine what NFL Films would be able to do with such a canvas. Forget the game action; Packer Rick wants shots of behemoth linemen exhaling steam and icicles clinging to the goalposts.
But what excites Packer Rick even more is that the announcement paves the way for future cold-weather Super Bowls, including one in Green Bay. “It lets me put my “50th year anniversary of the Ice Bowl” 2017 Super Bowl at 1265 Lombardi Avenue petition into action,” he says, laughing. Don’t bet against him. He’ll have 10,000 signatures before you can say, “Run to Daylight.”
There has been much sturm und drang about the league’s decision to bestow its Big Game upon the New York metropolitan area. Players say how much they hate toiling in cold weather, as if anybody but Canadians embraces it. We hear horror stories about what would happen if it snowed (people would wear boots), although the biggest snowfall in NYC history on the date of this year’s Super Bowl was three inches. And we hear how horrible it will be for fans traveling to the big game who will have to endure cold temperatures as they take part in the festivities. It may not be the beach, but if you can’t find something to do in Manhattan, regardless of the weather, you are about as much fun as a Congressional hearing.
Football is the ultimate tough-guy game (although if hockey players keep losing multiple teeth and returning to action 10 minutes later, we may have to re-think that), so anyone who complains about playing in 30-degree temperatures must be a baseball player – or a wide re-diva. There have been scores of important games played during the NFL’s history in less than ideal conditions. Packer Rick’s beloved Ice Bowl is the most famous, but from the New York Giants’ 1934 NFL championship win over the Bears on the Polo Grounds’ frozen turf (Giants’ coach Steve Owen outfitted his charges in sneakers at halftime, and they pulled away after intermission) through the Steelers’ snow-speckled triumph over the Ravens in the ’09 AFC title game, the elements have played a big role in professional football. Staging a Super Bowl in a climate that could be less than ideal returns the sport to its roots and creates a great stage.
Ask anybody who played pickup football on a snow-covered field how much fun that can be. Ask anybody who has watched a snowy game on television if they enjoyed the experience, and the nearly-unanimous answer will be “Yes!” As for those fans who will have to brave the elements to watch the league’s best battle, remember this old Siberian adage: “There is no such thing as weather too cold, just inadequate clothing.” In other words, bundle up. Then bundle up some more. You’ll be fine.
Finally, a bit of advice for those who think cold weather will inhibit the ability to have fun in New York. Last Super Bowl weekend, El Hombre and La Mujer bivouacked at the Waldorf-Astoria. We visited the Museum of Modern Art, caught a play on Broadway, had some dynamite Mexican food, attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and had a great brunch with family from the 44th floor of an apartment building with a spectacular view. Aside from the $55 glass of whisky a flighty Scotsman made EH finance, the weekend was perfect. By the way, the temperature that weekend hovered in the 20s, with a brutal wind-chill. We hardly remember the climate, just the fun.
So, hats off to the NFL for putting the Super Bowl in New York/Jersey. Let it be a gateway to other cold-weather hosts. And should the game be played in conditions better suited for ice fishing, remember another old Russian proverb: “If it’s cold in February, summer will be pleasant.”
And should you see Packer Rick, sign his petition. We have to get the ’17 game at Lambeau.
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EL HOMBRE SEZ: Michigan has penalized itself for exceeding the number of practice and workout hours allowed by the NC2A. In addition to some future limits on field time and the firing of an employee involved in the scandal, the school has also forced all coaches and administrators to watch every minute of game action from the past two seasons, when coach Rich Ro-riguez’s (no D) teams went a combined 8-16. Talk about your draconian punishments…Good news for Sammy Sosa: The Congressional committee investigating baseball’s steroids addiction won’t investigate him. Seems it was too hard to find an interpreter to work with Sosa, who vacillates between speaking English just fine during clubhouse interviews and being unable to say a word while under oath…Speaking of illegal performance-enhancing drugs, El Hombre is certain that it’s just a coincidence that Dr. Anthony Galea, whom Eldrick Woods sought out for treatment, also worked with A-Fraud and other known juicers. Woods just went to Galea for therapeutic reasons. Right. And soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo is dating Kim Kardashian for her mind…In other soccer news, England’s Trade Union Council has requested that employers allow workers to watch games involving the national team during the upcoming World Cup. Benefits include a happier workforce and limited “sick-outs” on game days. Companies who participate are being encouraged to create “hooligan zones,” where drunken workers can destroy property and beat the tar out of other ethnic groups…It’s early. It probably won’t happen. But wouldn’t it be magical if the Celtics joined the Broons in a double Beantown choke?
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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? So, here are the Flyers, the scrappiest team in all of sports, getting ready to tangle with the mighty Blackhawks. Chicago piled up more points during the regular season. It has a deeper defense and more scorers. It plays in the stronger Western Conference. Everything points to a Blackhawks series victory – except history. While it has been 35 years since the Flyers hoisted the Cup, Chicago is in the midst of a 49-year drought. Further, by overcoming a 3-0 deficit against the Broons and smashing Montreal, a now-healthy Flyers team has gained tremendous confidence and has proven it can win anywhere. Yes, the Blackhawks have been dynamite on the road, and that Dustin Byfuglien character is a beast. If Philadelphia continues to play rugged hockey and doesn’t take a bunch of stupid penalties, and if goalie Michael Leighton keeps the magic dust on his shoulders, the Flyers can win. In fact, the Flyers will win. In six. Batten down the hatches. This will be a wild celebration.
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AND ANOTHER THING: Some time in the next few weeks, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson will sit down to discuss their respective free agent futures. Consider it the professional basketball equivalent of the Potsdam conference, which led to the redesign of Europe’s borders after WWII. Or, if you wish, you can liken it to the final scene of “Mobsters,” when Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and the boys divide up the country into crime fiefdoms. The four ballers – and anybody else they decide worthy of inclusion – will basically do the same thing with the NBA. They’ll discuss the pros and cons of various franchises, figure who should play where and try to maximize their earning potential. When the owners do this, it’s “collusion.” When star players get together to cut such deals, it’s “business.” If the meeting yields the outcome El Hombre thinks it will, the league will be officially at the mercy of its players, who will have established a new competitive balance based on their own whims and personal interests. This is an unprecedented move in professional sports history, and it demonstrates exactly why the product we are watching – and in many instances paying dearly to see – lacks the same allure and competitive drama as its predecessors did. If players are getting together with the idea of dispersing themselves or, in some cases, banding together, then pro basketball has no chance of establishing future rivalries with real teeth. Instead, it will have the feel of a cartel, in which the participants work together for greater financial aid for the whole. The superstar sit-down is a compelling concept, but it is bad for basketball. For the NBA’s sake, let’s hope the outcome doesn’t produce a disaster.