Friday, August 20, 2010

The World Wide Joke


If the Minnesota Vikings were to represent their true identity this season, they would change their uniforms. Instead of the iconic (although recently updated – and not for the better) purple-and-gold outfits with the white horns on their helmets, they would wear black suits, white shirts, black ties, black shoes, white socks, black hats and sunglasses.

In other words, they would look just like Joliet Jake Blues. After the time the team has spent begging this summer, such a change makes perfect sense. You remember how Jake handled things in that wet, muddy tunnel when Carrie Fisher’s character turned a submachine gun on him and Elwood, don’t you? It is a spectacular example of groveling.

“Oh, please don’t kill us! Please, please don’t kill us! You know I love you, baby. I wouldn’t leave you. It wasn’t my fault.”

That entreaty doesn’t work, much like Vikings’ coach Brad Childress’ attempt to lure Brett Favre to training camp in July was unsuccessful. Although while Mystery Girl calls Jake a “contemptible pig,” Favre just told Childress to go back to Minnesota and try to win with Sage Rosenfels and Tavaris Jackson. Childress might have wished Favre had shot at him instead.

But the Vikings, like Jake, weren’t done. They launched an even more impassioned grovel, sending Jared Allen, Ryan Longwell and Steve Hutchinson on the company plane (an offensive lineman on a Lear?) to Mississippi for the Big Beg.

“Honest, I ran out of gas. I, I had a flat tire. I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts. IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!!”

That one worked – for both Jake and the Vikings. Mystery Girl dropped the gun, and Favre ended his “retirement.” Everybody wins.

Cowboy Quarterback has returned, and that means Minnesota is heading to the Super Bowl, unless of course he makes a crushing error in a big game again. If Favre wants to play, he plays, even if he is a Drama Queen whose incessant made-for-TV waffling is more annoying than Snooki on the beach. (At least he hasn’t been arrested for it.) And if the Vikings are willing to debase themselves by kissing his posterior so blatantly, then they kiss, even though it makes them look desperate.

But there is one principal in this drama that doesn’t deserve a break, and that’s (no surprise) espn. Fresh off its despicable airing of “The Decision,” which cemented once and for all the network’s step away from responsible journalism and into hack show-biz productions, espn went customarily over the top when news “broke” a few weeks ago that Favre was “retiring.” Instead of waiting for full confirmation from the man himself, who would have gladly stepped in front of cameras to weep and talk about how much the game means to him, espn trusted “sources” and went with it as if the story were locked down tight. Rather than showing the necessary cynicism by believing nothing Favre says until it happens – in other words, he’s not retired until he’s 80 – espn went into full-fledged Hall of Fame Mode. For a disgusting day, the network fished the Favre waters until all that remained were the barnacles that clung to other barnacles. Every possible source was called in to glorify Favre. The station’s anchors and reporters did linguistic gymnastics in order to outdo each other about his greatness. Old footage was dusted off. And dusted off again.

Meanwhile, every other real story was given the same attention the WNBA gets (and deserves). It was all Favre, and espn wasn’t going to stop taking chunks out of his carcass until LeBron James spoke again.

There was only one problem: He wasn’t retired.

We learned that earlier this week, after the Three Amigos got done eating at the Hattiesburg Gulp-n-Blow and threatened to use Favre as chum on the lake until he agreed to play again. Instead of showing some restraint, or even apologizing to viewers still shell-shocked from the onslaught in the wake of the QB’s “retirement”, espn went ballistic again. Every expert had a chance to weigh in. Poor Rachel Nichols was dispatched to Minnesota to continue her stalking, er, coverage of Favre. In other words, espn acted like espn.

And that’s the problem here. This is a story, but it’s not the only NFL story out there. And espn’s beating of the Favre horse shows its continued decay. As it becomes more popular and powerful, it becomes less reliable and committed to producing programming with integrity. “The Decision” proved that. The station’s Favre coverage amplified it. Can you imagine what happens Oct. 11, when the Vikings visit the Jets on Monday Night Football, especially if Favre is playing well? espn might well eschew all programming Monday for pre-game coverage. What was once a marvel for sports fans has become a bloated, self-important caricature of its once-lively self. Worse, it has set the new standard for “synergy” and self-promotion that afflicts regional sports networks and other sports web sites.

Favre’s back. espn is, too.

Way back.

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EL HOMBRE SEZ: So Brigham Young wants to become the LDS version of Notre Dame, a national football program that travels around the country filling stadiums and raking in the BCS dough, does it? Good luck with that. Not even the Irish do that any more. Life as an independent ain’t easy, especially when you aren’t good. Now that’s something ND knows lately…The rule that torpedoed Dustin Johnson’s PGA Championship hopes is arcane. So is golf. Caveat emptor, Baby, especially when the course’s peculiarities are posted on the inside of the bathroom stall. To all of those crying foul, knock it off. He was warned. He messed up. It’s time for people to applaud responsibility (which Johnson showed in his post-tourney comments) and stop craving special treatment. Why, when El Hombre was a boy...In other golf news, Corey Pavin is trying to decide whether to add Eldrick Woods to the Ryder Cup squad with one of his “captain’s picks.” Rory McElroy sure hopes Woods gets the nod, because he – and apparently every other Eurogolfer – wants to play him. Woods’ sycophants say that’s is exactly what he needs to get going again. Hmmm. If four major tourneys couldn’t get him psyched, why should some trash talk? Face it, the guy’s awful right now…Memo to Tim Tebow: It’s one thing to run over a safety from Kentucky on the goal line and another to ram into a pair of the NFL’s grown men. Learn how to slide, Hoss. Soon.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? Last year’s Eagles team finished 11-5 without starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, without an NFL-caliber free safety, without a pass rush beyond Trent Cole and with an offensive line that struggled more and more each week. It stands to reason that the return of Bradley, the drafting of backliner Nate Allen, the fortification of the DE spot and the expected good health (eventually) of the line should make the Birds a better team. Add to that the ascension of Kevin Kolb to the starting quarterback spot, and the team should improve even more, since if you listen to most of the people weighing in on the subject around Philadelphia, he’s better than that smiling, inaccurate guy who’s down in D.C. So, let’s not hear any of this talk about “giving the kid a chance to settle in” and how it’s “a rebuilding year.” If Eagles fans want to be true to the identity they have crafted over the past 10 years, it’s Super Bowl victory or bust. If the Eagles have made all of these improvements on defense and upgraded the QB position, the team should be better than 11-5, don’t you think? Oh, and by the way, if the Eagles lose – for whatever reason – Kolb gets just as much of the blame as his predecessor did, even if the defense breaks down, the O-line fails to perform or locusts infest the Linc. No double standards now, folks. If the team doesn’t win the Super Bowl, the season is a failure, and it’s Kolb’s fault.

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AND ANOTHER THING: Roger Clemens probably won’t spend any time in stir, even if he is convicted of lying to Congress during his hilarious testimony several years back. It’s even unlikely he’ll be convicted, despite the Feds’ 90% success rate in cases they bring. He’s going to lawyer up like a crime lord, bob and weave, obfuscate at light speed and do everything he can to discredit his accusers. Eventually, Hall of Fame voters will pass down his sentence, and they will look at the government’s evidence and render their own decision. Clemens can’t rely on “reasonable doubt” with that crew. If voters believe the righthander was indeed using steroids and HGH, he won’t get in. Worse, by behaving arrogantly and defiantly – not to mention stupidly with words like “misremembered” – Clemens may have alienated others who would be prone to give him the benefit of the doubt due to his success before the juice era started. Nope, Clemens is in a tough spot here, and even not guilty verdicts on all counts won’t save him if voters believe testimony they’ll hear from Brian McNamee, Andy Pettitte and others. Clemens chose to fight, rather than admit that he used, and now he’s in the highest-stakes competition of his life. No matter what the legal outcome may be, he’ll probably lose in the one place he tried to win in the first place: Cooperstown.