Lots of sports over the past few days. Some assorted thoughts.
The NFL playoffs were almost universally awful. Let’s hope the Divisional round is better.1 In Baltimore the Colts went down by a score that made sense, 24-9, but in a manner that did not. I hadn’t seen the Ravens play in over a month, so I still thought their defense was shitty. They’re not quite back to 2000 levels, but they’ve certainly improved, and were the difference in the game.
The Colts, arguably, moved the ball better than the Ravens. Until they got to the Baltimore 30, that is. Then they bogged down and had to settle for field goals. You just can not win a road playoff game when all you do is kick field goals.2 The Colts looked young. They made a few key errors, notably some dropped balls or slightly off passes late in the game. The Ravens defense found their mojo and put unrelenting pressure on Andrew Luck.
And, but, still, there the Colts were, down eight, driving as time got more and more precious in the fourth quarter. The Ravens held, Adam Vinatieri pushed a makable field goal, and the game was over.
It was a frustrating loss not because it ended the season, but because the Ravens were there for the taking. They turned the ball over. They couldn’t do much on offense other than just chuck the ball up and either hope Anquan Boldin grabbed it3 or they got a pass interference call. For as well as the defense played, the Colts were still getting scoring chances.
Next year, if the Colts return to the playoffs and win a game, the highlight film will no doubt start where the 2012 season ended: with the loss in Baltimore. This feels like a classic moment of growth for a team that is on the rise again.
I loved the Twitter snark about Ray Lewis during the game. If you missed it, there were plenty of barbs about how Lewis is beloved by the football media, by fans in Baltimore, and really by many football fans across the country despite his involvement in two murders 13 years ago. If all you went by was the sports media, you would think Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Michael Vick, and Lance Armstrong were much, much worse people than Lewis is. I’ve never forgotten Lewis’ involvement in those murders, but I’ll admit I had lost the details of how much he was involved and allowed his play and personality to determine my opinion of him. It’s a weird world we live in.
We had a social engagement after the Colts game, so I didn’t get to watch the KU-Temple game live. I did follow the game on my phone though, especially when I looked down and saw a 12-point lead had turned into a five-point deficit midway through the second half. I went back and watched the last five minutes when I got home. That was a great way to finish off a very tough opponent. For all the talk of that being like a tournament game, it’s important to remember that the crowd, which sounded phenomenal, won’t be there during a March game in Indianapolis, LA, or Atlanta.4 But more about KU in a day or two.
On to the BCS Title game.
Gee, thanks, Notre Dame, for making it interesting. I had no rooting interest at all, never having liked either team. But when Alabama went up 21-0, I began pulling hard for them. I wanted an historic beat-down, something like 66-0, one of those Nebraska-KU scores from the early 80s. When they bogged down in the second quarter I lost interest and headed to bed at halftime.
Before and during the game I thought a lot about Nick Saban. He’s worked his way into the conversation as best college coach ever, and will probably not get serious consideration only because of his age (he’s not going to coach for another 20 years) and how much he’s moved around. Had he stayed and done this at Michigan State or LSU, or gotten to Alabama earlier in his career, and put together a long, 20-25 year stretch, I think he would retire as the best ever. The dude is a witch. He does things no one else can do, between getting the best players every winter and then getting them to play better than anyone else each fall. That’s harder to do than it sounds.
But what I thought about most is how it seems like he can never be happy. He’s job-hopped his entire career, most infamously jumping from a great LSU team to the Miami Dolphins then quickly fleeing back to the college game. There are always going to be rumors about him going back to the NFL because of his past, but as strong as the whispers are this year I think that means he’s at least put feelers out to NFL teams that he would listen to offers. Which I just don’t get.
Why would you leave the best job in college, in the heart of recruiting country, where you’re on national TV every week, and will always be in the hunt for a national championship, for a shitty NFL job? For a bigger challenge? Because you think you’re not a real coach until you’ve succeeded in the pros? Because the college game is boring? I suppose there are reasons, but going to a bottom-tier NFL team doesn’t seem like the way to do it. Now if a job with a good or up-and-coming NFL team came open, say the Colts or Packers or 49ers or some other team where you had a QB and a decent roster, then it would make more sense.
It’s one thing to be driven, to demand perfection and excellence, and to always be intense. Coach K is the most obvious college coach to compare Saban to. But I think Coach K at least takes a minute to enjoy life when his teams win. He’s flirted with the NBA a few times, but I feel like he’s always been comfortable with who he is and what he’s accomplished. I get the feeling that Saban is the exact opposite. He won’t enjoy a minute of this. He’s already thinking about finishing up recruiting, spring practice, and the first team on next fall’s schedule. He’s wondering if maybe he should talk to Cleveland or Philadelphia, if perhaps those jobs might be better tests for his skills. All that is what makes him great, but it also makes him weird and a little sad.