Yesterday didn’t go all that well for anybody. No matter. Today’s post is finally about the Super Bowl.
My official pick, along with apparently 70% of picks in Las Vegas, is the Broncos. Now, I am fully aware that defenses typically win out in these sorts of games, when top defenses play top offenses. At least in the playoffs. I remember the Raiders-Buccaneers Super Bowl pretty well. However, those Raiders were not these Broncos. If you can’t tell the difference between Rich Gannon and Peyton Manning, then you probably need to get your eyes checked. Amongst other things.
Now let me be clear: I will not be one bit surprised if the Seahawks take this game. I expect this to be a tight one. And if things do turn snowy and windy,* then I do think Seattle wins this one. But as it stands, I think the Broncos have enough. And it does come down to the Seattle defense.
*They’re not supposed to as far as I know, which is significant.
Seattle’s defense has gotten all sorts of praise all year, and rightfully so. They are as solid a defense as the rules allow these days. My issue with them is their lack of wrinkles. They play a largely vanilla defense and don’t do a lot of funky shifting before the snap. Typically, this is exactly the kind of defense I would favor. As TMQ likes to point out, most defenses really get themselves into trouble by trying to do too much. Too many blitzes, too many funky fronts, etc. Seattle doesn’t get caught up in that game, and that’s generally a good thing. They play sensible defense, and they play it about as well as anybody has for some time.
The problem in this particular game is Peyton Manning. As has been noted throughout his career, nobody reads a defense like Peyton Manning, and nobody makes adjustments* on the fly like Peyton Manning. The book on Peyton Manning through his career has seemed to suggest that you are better off playing a lot of odd fronts and having your defenders just kind of milling around before the snap so as to better disguise what you’re doing. Those are the sorts of defenses that tend to confuse and frustrate Peyton, and those defenses that do it well, like say, in the playoffs, have been his downfall. Seattle hasn’t done that to this point, and I don’t think they would (or should) start doing that for this game. Their best chance still relies on doing what they do best. Their best could well be enough. I just think Peyton will get enough points on the board to pull this one out.
*Or feints adjustments.
The Broncos don’t have a half-bad defense themselves, either. Seattle’s offense isn’t bad, but of the four units, I do think it is the weakest link. That is another reason for this pick. That said, I like Russell Wilson quite a bit. I’ve been hearing some talk about how he’s really just an average quarterback blessed with a good defense. I could be wrong, I suppose, but that just really isn’t how I see him. Do I think Andrew Luck is better? Yes, I do. But I do think Wilson rates above Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick. And does so by a pretty good margin. He is a very good quarterback who is still blessed with a heck of a defense. I might not like Seattle’s offense very much when they get out of the Pacific Northwest, but please don’t take that as a reflection on Russell Wilson. I don’t think this will be his only trip to the Super Bowl.*
*I’m sure people thought that about Dan Marino back in 1985, too.
As another aside, I had no problem with Richard Sherman’s little outburst. Was it the friendliest thing on TV? No, not by a longshot. Do I think he’s as good as Richard Sherman thinks he is? No, not by a longshot. But he should believe that. That’s what got him to the NFL. And he also made a heck of a play to put his team in the position they’re in now. And made that play roughly a minute before having a microphone stuck in his face. You want raw emotion? You got it. I can’t fault him for that. I don’t think it makes him a “thug” by any means. It just makes him an athlete. Isn’t that what we want him to do? Quit sending mixed signals, America.
Anyway, back to the pick. It will be cold, but I think Peyton can handle that. And I think he will largely handle the Seahawks defense. Let’s say Denver wins this one, um, 27-23. That sounds about right.
Of course, if you’re gambling, consider this open season to rush the gate for Seattle. I wouldn’t blame you.
Upsets all around, but none for Purdue. How frustrating. Seriously. Penn St. upsets Ohio St. in Columbus, in overtime, no less. Wisconsin loses to Northwestern in Madison. Meanwhile, Purdue has only managed to register wins over the bottom three teams in the conference: Penn St., Nebraska, and Illinois. Only Illinois was on the road.
This is a depressing state of affairs. Illinois was starting to get a little bit of talk coming into conference play, but they’ve quickly dropped to 2-6. Penn St. does now have a nice win on their resume, but they are still clearly a flawed team at best, also at 2-6 in the conference, and a paltry 11-10 overall. Nebraska is in the same boat, only marginally better thanks to not having played as many games, sitting at 2-5 and 10-9 overall. Even with Purdue fielding such a young team, those are certainly games you would expect to win.
Where have the losses come from? They couldn’t defend home court against an increasingly mortal-looking Ohio St. team. Purdue pushed the Buckeyes fairly hard, but there isn’t a “moral victory” column in the standings. Even if there had been, given their recent woes, I’m not sure that game would even count as a moral victory now. They lost in Mackey to Wisconsin for the second or third time in history. That hurt, and that was another game the Boilers showed flashes in but couldn’t finish. They lost a game in Minnesota that, as it turned out, they probably should have won. They certainly played well enough in the second half and put themselves in a position to win it. They just dug far too big a hole to start. They also dropped a game to Northwestern with some extenuating circumstances.*
*Not that I would ever expect anything less from a school of Northwestern’s pedigree, but that was a very classy move. Also, I hate to complain about the officiating, but Purdue had a golden chance to win that game in the first overtime. They certainly should have put it away in regulation, but how the mauling of AJ Hammons at the end of the first overtime (a la Penn St. at Mackey) wasn’t whistled, I’ll never understand.
So, yes, Boilermaker fans are understandably a bit down at the moment. But, there is hope! Yes, Michigan is 7-0 right now. But does anybody think they’re world beaters? I sure don’t. And, well, did you read that first paragraph? The Big Ten is as balanced a conference as any in the nation right now. If Penn St. and Northwestern can pull off upsets this year in two of the toughest arenas in the country, never mind the conference, then why would it be so hard to imagine Purdue going up to Crisler Arena and winning? Answer: it’s not. That’s not a guarantee that it’s going to happen, but far more shocking things have happened. Hell, they happened in back to back games last night.
Look, has this team underperformed to this point? It’s arguable, but yes, I would say they have. But they’re not that bad off. They’re sitting at 3-4 in a tough conference, which is identical to Indiana, a team that somehow is generating some buzz for the tournament right now. All that buzz seems to stem from the Hoosiers being a young team that’s beating Wisconsin in Bloomington. Well, if Purdue can win tonight, they would be 4-4, tied in the conference with that same Wisconsin team, and have a win over the top team in the conference at their place. That should certainly buy some buzz. And it would firmly keep Purdue on the road map to the tournament that I laid out earlier. Be bummed right now if you want, Boiler fans. That’s perfectly all right. But don’t give up hope yet! Even if they don’t win tonight, all it takes is a good showing and some good wins down the road to keep on track. And there will be opportunities for those good wins.
And if they end up in the NIT, honestly, with how this team is built, winning a few games in that tournament would not be the worst thing in the world.
No, the worst thing in the world might possibly be the CBI. I tried to polish that turd as best I could last season, but good God, looking back, I can’t scrub the stench of that showing off fast enough.
Winning a big time championship is awfully hard. Especially these days, with all the leagues stretched so thin these days. Go ahead and throw college in there, too. Championship seasons are awfully rare, even for “powerhouse” teams. They are truly something to treasure to bask in. Which is why I can’t really understand why Peyton Manning gets such a knock against him for his playoff numbers. The fact of the matter is this is his third Super Bowl, which is pretty damned impressive without looking at what he’s done over his career. Or what defenses he’s been given to do it with.
Just the fact that Peyton Manning has won one should have been enough to quiet the doubters. I mean, out of 32 NFL teams, only 18 have even won a Super Bowl. Only twelve have won more than one. Four teams have never been to a Super Bowl at all. Just to finish out the math, that means ten teams know nothing but heartbreak in the big finale. In a sport that many term “The Ultimate Team Game,” you’re going to look at those numbers and decide that Peyton Manning doesn’t add up because he could potentially go 1-2 in Super Bowls? That’s just poor analysis.
It’s not just football, either. Basketball is also bad about this. There is more of an argument for this line of thinking in basketball, though. That is one game where one player can influence the outcome more than any other. That is probably why you see teams win multiple titles more often in the NBA than other major sports. But it’s still a bit ludicrous. Sure, Michael Jordan won six titles when he was the best player in basketball. But you have to remember, his supporting cast wasn’t too bad. Scottie Pippen was a hell of a player, too. Would the Bulls have won all those championships with Pippen as the centerpiece? No. But I’ll bet they wouldn’t have won them without his help, either. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade couldn’t win a title on their own.* Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had supporting casts that teams would die for nowadays. Yes, you may need a star to win a title in the NBA, but you still have to give him enough help if you want to win the whole thing.
*Don’t forget, Wade had Shaq for that first title in Miami.
Championships just don’t happen all that often. Even the Yankees can’t win every year. Sure, they are 27-time World Champions. That is certainly impressive. But that still means there are 82 years where they did not win. That’s good for a .329 winning percentage. And that’s for the winningest team in all of North American professional sports!* It really is hard to win a title, even when there are only 30 or so teams in a league. That’s why I just can’t wrap my head around saying guys haven’t won enough championships. Winning one should be more than impressive enough.
*Possibly European, too, but I don’t have the data on that, nor do I have any desire to try to parse that out.
I’m 27 now, and I’ve been glued to sports more or less since I got out of the womb. Actually, you could probably make the argument that it was before I was born, since my mom spent most of her pregnancy with me watching the Braves. None of the teams I would claim as my own reached a finals until 2000, when the Pacers put up a better-than-you-remember fight against the Lakers. I would have turned 14 during those finals. They haven’t been back since, though they have had some awfully close calls.* The Colts, as somewhat discussed earlier, have taken me to two Super Bowls, splitting them. They beat the Bears in 2007,** and lost to the Saints three years later. I picked up the Blackhawks later in life, which has rewarded me with two Stanley Cup appearances and wins in 2010 and 2013, both six gamers over the Flyers and Bruins respectively. That means, over all four major sports leagues, my teams have made five appearances in championships and won three of them. I consider myself pretty darned lucky, even if I’m still waiting on the Cubs and Purdue to make their big move.
*I’m expecting that to change this year. Though I was expecting that last year, too.
**Or Super Bowl XLI, because the NFL just can’t help itself with the Roman numerals.
I’m as guilty as anybody about getting too invested and too emotional when it comes to sports disappointment. I’m sure it doesn’t help when I swear three of the teams I root for are absolutely cursed (Cubs, Pacers, Purdue). But, after thinking about it for a moment, a championship season is something we should all cherish. Forget about all the talk about failing in the postseason. The fact of the matter is that failure in the post-season is the default state. It gets harder at that point, which is absolutely the point. You are expected to fail when the difficulty level gets ramped up from “toughest league in the world” to “the best of the best of the toughest league in the world.” Just because somebody is crowned a champion every season is no reason to trivialize it. It may be frustrating and maddening, but the fact that any given team succeeds at all in that environment is something that should be treated with the utmost respect and wonder at the accomplishment.
I'm usually not one to bow down to "the shield," but things certainly do seem to go dead during the week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, don't they?
And before I forget, I did a bit of an overhaul on the "Sites I Like" page. You ought to check it out. In particular, there's a new link to KEPTAE. That name, which I did help come up with, is short for "Kristine E. Parrish's Travel & Eats," which just also happens to describe what it's about. Also, as you might have noticed, yes, that would be my wife. Go check it out, I promise you won't be disappointed.
Now, let's get on track. The NHL is a bit of an odd league. It's going through a new wave of popularity, but it still finds itself a distant fourth when you talk about the four major leagues. Things aren't as bad as they used to be, when hockey was included as the fourth league almost out of pity, but it still has a bit of that stepchild image. Because of that, it hasn't always been shy about trying something out of the box to get attention. This has been particularly pronounced during the All-Star games. As far as I know, they were the first to abandon the conference or league set up, instead choosing to go North America vs. The World during the late '90s and early 2000's. They also did the "captains pick the teams" thing years before the NFL tried it out this year. I can't speak for football, because I avoid the Pro Bowl like the plague, but the hockey selection show might have been the most entertaining thing about the All Star festivities.* They also are the only major league to let their players go do the Olympics during their season. It's about the best publicity the NHL could ever hope for, even if some owners are understandably nervous about it.
*I don't necessarily mean that as an insult, but it is true that the only actual All-Star game worth watching is baseball. I'm very firm on that point.
As you would expect with a league that is always desperate for attention, there have been hits and misses along the way. One of the major hits has been the Winter Classic. The games haven't always been the best hockey, and the ice surfaces haven't always held up the best. Some people are still a little iffy about letting those games count in the standings. All valid criticisms. Even so, I think you would be hard pressed for anybody to come out against the Winter Classic. Hockey comes off looking amazing outdoors, especially in already-scenic baseball stadiums.* I love the Winter Classic and definitely make time for it in my New Year's Day schedule.
*I've written on this before. Although I would like to take back saying Winter Classics "largely fail" in football stadiums. That's simply not true. But I do think baseball stadiums make better scenery than football stadiums. Feel free to disagree with me, though. I am the guy that ridiculed the thought of playing outdoor hockey in LA. At least I was right about David West.
But then hockey has to do, well, hockey things. It works so well on New Year's Day, the front office thought. Why don't we have six of these games through the year? And thus, the Stadium Series was born. Should all of these stadiums* have gotten games? Sure, why not? Should all of these stadiums gotten games during the same season? Erm, maybe not. The Winter Classic is a great thing once a year. It's a great celebration of hockey. But once a year is plenty. The NHL comes off looking like a little kid who got a genuine laugh from a joke, and is now going to run that joke into the ground.
*For the record (in no particular order): Soldier Field, Dodger Stadium, Michigan Stadium (with some events at Comerica Park), BC Place, and two games in Yankee Stadium (sorry, Citi Field).
I mean, really, NHL. It's madness, and you should know better. Do you know why we only have the World Cup every four years? Because it would wear out its welcome if it happened every year. And by only coming every four years, it maintains some dignity* and excitement. You just can't maintain that sort of enthusiasm for something that happens that often. The Olympics work on the same principle. Sure, some sort of Olympics happen every other year now,** but they alternate between summer and winter, so it never feels like overload. I absolutely love watching short track speed skating every four years. Every other year? Eh, probably not.***
*The event itself. The selection process lost any shred of dignity long ago.
**I say it as if I remember the old system so well, but the last joint Olympic year was 1992. '92 doesn't sound that long ago, even to me. But, it was 22 years ago now. I only turned six that year. I don't remember any Olympics that year. I do remember the 1994 Winter Olympics pretty well, though, mostly because I was in second grade and we spent quite a bit of time in school talking about them. Maybe because of that, I will never, ever forget that those Olympics were held in Lillehammer.
***That's no joke. The hockey tournament is still what I will pay the most attention to, but I can absolutely lose an entire night to watching short track skating.
Maybe this was just a one year outpouring to make up for the strike year. That's all I can hope for. But ticket sales seem to be pretty brisk for all these events. I'm afraid that and the first time novelty of see hockey played in these new venues on TV will convince the NHL to keep doing these things. I've refused to watch any of these outdoor games* out of protest of the idea of a stadium series. Would I love to see these games in these historic venues? Yes, of course. But not like this. So I will abstain. And with any luck, the NHL will, too, in the future.
*Except for the Blackhawks. I will most likely watch that game, but just because it's my team, not because of the venue.
And, besides, how can the NHL have all these outdoor games and still not give one to Minnesota? What has that state done to hurt Gary Bettman so?
I watched most of the Grammy’s last night. It was all right. Some performances were pretty good, some were pretty average, some were pretty bad. Taylor Swift did Taylor Swift things. All in all, a pretty inoffensive show, I thought. My Facebook told me how wrong I was about that. I’m pretty baffled by that. Lots of Daft Punk hate. Seriously? I thought most people were at least okay with Daft Punk, but suddenly those “weird, French ‘robots’” are a sign of everything that’s wrong with music these days? Because dressing up different is ruining music for kids today? At least they play their own instruments. And complaining about who got awards and the like. It’s just exhausting. I thought we were all on the same page that the actual Grammy awards are pretty worthless. The only reason to watch is for the performances, which frankly were pretty “eh” for me, at least to the point I watched. Getting upset about who took home a Grammy is about like getting upset at somebody else’s order at Subway. Okay, maybe they put mustard on their sub and that’s totally something you would never do. Clearly you are a mayo-or-nothing sort. You know what? That’s fine. It really is. There is enough room in this world for mustard and mayo people to get along. There is no reason for mayo people to get upset just because some people with slightly more media clout liked mustard better. Truly, of all the “major” awards, I feel like a Grammy is the least “validating” of all of them. There are far better causes to get all self-righteous about than the Grammy’s. Or any dumb awards show, for that matter.
All right, that rant is over for now. I could go on, like about how hate is hate, no matter how you try to frame it, but I think we’re all ready for me to go back to my sports corner. And in that corner was pretty well nothing but disappointment. It really could have gone better after what last week brought. Purdue lost both of their games this week. The Pacers dropped two games this week, though both have pretty good explanations.* The Blackhawks have lost two straight. At least the Olympics start next week, right?
*Most especially the one in Denver. The fact they hung around in that game at all is a huge testament to how good this Pacer team really is.
This Purdue team is really disappointing, by the way. I still swear up and down that this team has athletes and is actually pretty talented. But that talent is so young and raw. You saw flashes of it, especially at the end of the first half against Wisconsin. But they just don’t have the ability to play like that consistently just yet. They should start showing signs of doing that more often by now, though, and it’s just not happening. Where should the blame go here?
Matt Painter has to be the first person you look at, and he surely takes some of the blame here. He did recruit these guys, and he is the coach that is supposed to be molding and developing these guys. Maybe he’s not the coach we all hoped he would be, but I just have a hard time believing that. He might have gotten awfully lucky with the Hummel-Moore-Johnson-Martin class. That is certainly a possibility. But most schools don’t come in with a class like that all at once. It certainly doesn’t happen consistently. I don’t even think Duke could claim that sort of batting average from that year.* But knowing that Painter has pulled that sort of class before, and done it in such recent memory, makes it hard for Boilermaker fans to be patient, I think. I think it also makes it hard to be patient because that class came together and matured so quickly. I find it hard to believe that Painter is the main problem here.
*Remember, Scott Martin still had a pretty darned good career at Notre Dame after transferring.
So what else is the problem here? It could be the young players themselves. Maybe they just really aren’t as good as believed. That would certainly be a simple and rational thought. But it just doesn’t feel like that. I’m not willing to believe that yet. I do think the players need to shoulder a bigger burden of the blame, though, but my thought goes more to the older players here. It’s a bit of a counterintuitive argument, though, so bear with me.
Let me preface all of this by saying that the current Boilermakers are not nearly as good as the team we are about to look at. I don’t think anybody is expecting that. But we can still draw some comparisons, I think. Now, let’s take a look back at the 2007-08 team, when Hummel and company were freshmen. First thing you’ll probably notice is there is only one senior on that team: Tarrance Crump. I do remember Crump, but you would be forgiven if you don’t. Certainly nobody was really expecting him to be a centerpiece and leader of the team. What you do see is a team packed to the gills with freshmen and sophomores. What you may remember* from that team was the atmosphere coming into that season. It was widely expected to be a rebuilding year. Purdue had just graduated Carl Landry and David Teague, two very good players who gave the eventual national champion Florida their toughest game in the NCAA tournament. There was no pressure on this group. Going in, it was known to be a young and relatively unknown team. Whatever we saw, that’s what we had to build on. Luckily, that team gelled and flourished almost right away.
*Or may not, since we’re looking back in hindsight.
This year’s team is young, but it’s not that young. Yes, of the guys that get real playing time, seven are either freshmen or sophomores. But there are four seniors who also get real playing time. And, well, that’s part of the problem, I think. Normally you feel pretty good about a team with that many seniors playing, but this is where context is important. Two of those seniors, Errick Peck and Sterling Carter, are senior transfers. That brings you instant experience, but it does not bring you instant experience in Purdue’s system and style. It’s just like trading for a guy in the pros, or signing them late in the offseason. There just isn’t enough time to really integrate yourself into the system. You have to find your place on the fly. Doing that as freshmen or even sophomores, it’s a bit easier. You’re expected to be doing that. As a senior, you’ve had experience and have already gone through adapting to a system. It’s tough. Was it a worthwhile risk for Painter to take? Certainly. But I think, at this point, we can say it was a swing and a miss.* The other two seniors, frankly, aren’t the leader type. Travis Carroll is well past the time to be considered a bust. Which is a shame, he seems like a good guy. It just turned out he wasn’t as good as basketball as it looked like he was at Danville. Terone Johnson is a good athlete, and clutch as hell, but I sure don’t see him as a real leader out there. He also runs into the problem that DJ Byrd ran into last year. He’s a great complimentary player, but you don’t want to depend on him. He’s like a good spare tire. Unfortunately, Purdue has had to rely on him, and that’s not something you necessarily want for the first 35 minutes of a game.
*This isn’t to say they haven’t helped. Peck in particular is a very good player and has given Purdue good minutes. But, in the long run, I think taking on these two guys has done more harm than good at this point.
About the only thing worse than no leadership is bad leadership, and I think that’s where the makeup of this senior class comes into play. You’ve got two guys who also just got here, so they’re not going to lead the way. Caroll and T. Johnson just simply aren’t good enough to really lead the way. But they all get enough time (and possession) during the game that it clouds the way for many of the younger guys to truly assert themselves. I think this has been getting better as of late, but a quarter into the Big Ten season is not the time to start doing this. With the 2007-08 team, there was no choice but to let the young guys figure it out on the fly and develop their games and roles with each other during those early out-of-conference games. And that’s okay. Better to do that against the Lipscombs and Texas Southern’s* of the world than against top ten conference teams.
*Also something to point out: that year’s out-of-conference slate looks pretty damn good. It seems like that should be the sort of schedule every school should try to draw up, striking the perfect balance between lower competition, as described above, and top-tier schools like Louisville and Missouri. This year’s schedule seemed a little light to me. There was Oklahoma St. in Orlando, but the rest of the tournament was pretty “blah.” Washington St. hasn’t been good for some time, and Butler was already on the schedule. West Virginia was unfortunate, as they are also down this year, but it’s hard for me to fault that, as that has been a good pick up for Purdue the past few seasons. Boston College was a disappointing matchup for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, too. Frankly, they (at least this year) were more on par with UMES or Rider than, say, a Clemson or Virginia Tech (to pick some recent matchups) would be.
The other thing working against this young class: atmosphere. Purdue missed the tournament last year. Even missed the NIT. And, frankly, the CBI was a pretty big disappointment. Both in the sense that they were in that field and that they didn’t win it, or even make the championship rounds. After the sustained success of the Hummel years that followed the Landry-Teague years, which were successful, if not on the level of what was about to come, the Purdue fanbase is becoming a bit restless. Purdue may be downright cursed once it gets to the NCAA tournament, but by God, we are a school that gets to the tournament. Between having to play in the lowly CBI and the housecleaning that went on after last season, there is certainly pressure on this Boiler squad to perform that simply wasn’t there for the “Baby Boilers.” At least, not at that point in their careers.
And, well, now, here we are. If Purdue went on a tear and won the rest of their games, they would be sitting at 24-7. They have the raw talent to make that happen, but let’s be honest, it’s not going to happen. Under Matt Painter, they’ve lost twelve games and still made the tournament. That was the last Hummel season, when he was clearly the star. I don’t think this year’s team would get in with that many losses, they don’t have anybody that demands the kind of respect Robbie Hummel did. Honestly, I don’t think this team even gets talked about if they finish 19-12. If they do want to make it a hard decision, they have to win the rest of their home games. That would be five more wins, putting them at 18 wins with where they are right now. That leaves six games on the road, against Michigan, Penn St., Ohio St., Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Let’s say they win half of them. That puts the team at 21-10. That feels like a team that could very well make the tournament. Failing that, it should be a good spot in the NIT. At this point, I would feel like that’s a pretty darned successful season.
Do I think that’s going to happen? Honestly, it could. They put themselves in a position to win at Minnesota, you would like to think they could win that one at home. I still haven’t seen any reason why Purdue can’t beat Indiana at home. The Michigan schools will be tough at home, but not impossible. Especially if Michigan St. keeps losing players to injury. On the road, you would certainly hope Purdue can handle Penn St. and Nebraska, so that just leaves one upset, which they were going to need for the tournament resume anyway.
I’m avoiding the question. I know. Do I think it will happen? In my heart of hearts, I don’t think so. They’ve wasted all their wiggle room already. I think this will be an NIT team, though, which is a step up from last year. And I hear that next year’s class is supposed to be awfully strong again, so maybe that will the final piece that puts Purdue back on the level they typically live. That said, it’s definitely not impossible for this team to pull all that off. They show flashes of what this group is capable of. At some point they will put it together and start drawing some attention. I just know it.
Fair warning: I don’t really know where this is headed. Bear with me, though, because I think there might be something here. Let’s start mining.
I have been thinking a lot about death lately. This is not necessarily a bad thing. A couple of years ago, it would have been. I think I spent my entire 25th year absolutely terrified of death and what might (or worse, might not) come after. The whole idea entirely consumed me, and it wasn’t the first bit healthy. It made an already unhappy job absolutely unbearable. When your every thought is about how fleeting life is, it sure doesn’t make sitting in a cubicle answering inane phone calls all day seem like a worthwhile endeavor. It wasn’t that I had never spent any time pondering my own mortality. That wasn’t it. But something did change during that year. In a single moment, for some unknown reason, the questions suddenly weren’t academic any more. Sure, it was a nice thought experiment before. But now it was real. This is something that is going to happen to me someday.
I did not know how to handle it.
I don’t know that I still know how to handle it, but at least I’ve gotten to where I can make it mostly academic again. I can focus more on thoughts of legacy and more along those lines.* And, if it becomes too overwhelming, I have learned how to focus my mind elsewhere. It’s a valuable trick I wish I knew a couple years ago. So, yes, I have been thinking about death lately, but it hasn’t consumed me in quite the same way it used to. But why has it been on my mind? For one, I have finally picked up reading Vonnegut again. I finished Deadeye Dick the other day, which focuses quite a bit on life and death. As does a lot of Vonnegut’s work. I guess those are the sorts of issues you sort through when you live through something like the firebombing of Dresden and have your mother commit suicide via sleeping pills. So it goes.
*Which, by the way, I hope when I die, that somebody refers to me as a renaissance man. I truly think that is the highest compliment you can pay somebody, and I hope I can attain that in some sense of the word. I also hope somebody will remember a particular Vonnegut line. It is not the most well-known line of Slaughterhouse Five, but I feel it is the most poignant. Right there in the first chapter: “I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much of it was mine to keep.” Nelson remembered it recently on Facebook. But it is the truth for me, and I am sure the truth for a great many people. If people want to recited scripture at my funeral, that is perfectly fine. But at least that line needs to be worked in there somehow.
In Deadeye Dick, life is described as a peephole that a wisp of undifferentiated consciousness looks through for a while. I don’t know if that thought is entirely comforting, but it certainly is a thought. And that thought probably would not have gone much deeper if somebody’s peephole had not just closed Sunday night. My uncle George died Sunday, during halftime of the Seahawks-49ers game.
Kurt Vonnegut’s peephole closed on a random Wednesday in 2007 after falling down his stairs in New York, 85 years after it had opened in Indianapolis.
George had been trying to die since I was in elementary school. Or, at least, that’s when I really became aware of it. According to people who have been around much longer than I have, George had been trying to die for a long time. He was not suicidal. But his health was constantly failing. He was constantly in and out of hospitals, with at least one stint in a nursing home to rehab. Doctors were never quite sure what was wrong with him. The general line of thinking, at least as I understand it, was that it was most likely an extension of his time spent in Vietnam. I suppose the government would agree, because he did get disability benefits after a much-longer-than-necessary battle. Grudgingly, maybe, but they would agree.
To hear some tell it, George had been trying to die since that war. I didn’t know him then. I didn’t know anybody then. Nobody has ever gone into great detail during those times, but I have a hard time picturing my uncle as Lieutenant Dan.* I don’t know that George was that fatalistic. At least not then.
*Complete side note. My favorite part of Forrest Gump is a small one, but I love it every time I see it and will usually watch at least until this part if I stumble upon it on TV. It is the scene when Forrest and Lt. Dan are in the hospital together, where Lt. Dan pulls Forrest to the ground. Dan berates Forrest for saving him, because it was his destiny to die in the field like the rest of his family. Now, instead of a great war hero, he is just a damned cripple. Very pained and pointedly, Lt. Dan asked Forrest “Do you know what it’s like not to use your legs?” Forrest simply looks him in the eye and answers “Yes.” Viewers remember his past in the leg braces, but so far as we know, Lt. Dan has no idea about this. Instead of grilling Forrest about patronizing him or something, he immediately drops this line of questioning and simply accepts that Forrest indeed has intimate sympathy for a cripple.
I became aware of George’s readiness for death in elementary school, as mentioned earlier. He had a heart attack when I was quite young. One of my earliest memories of George is him laying on his couch in nothing but shorts, surgical scars prominently displayed to the world all over his chest. He asked me if I ever thought about smoking. I told him no. He said good, because this is what would happen.
And that was just the light stuff with Uncle George.
Despite is pain and inexplicable symptoms, along with the universal agreement that each trip to the hospital might be his last, George kept living. God knows how. But more than just simply waking up each day and remembering to breathe, George did find it in his spirit to actually live. He indulged in his hobbies, through the pain and through the sickness. He flew his remote control planes, he kept up his workshop as he was able. George and Connie had, until his health truly wouldn’t allow it, a little place on a lake so George could putter around on his pontoon. He was giving and gracious, always wanting and welcoming company, both in Linden and on the lake. Or his hospital room. He had no kids of his own, but he was certainly a father to many thanks to Connie’s daycare. Through whatever was ailing him, he never lost his way with kids.
Much to the children’s dismay, I’m sure. I somewhat famously (in the family, anyway) refused to have anything to do with George for months because he had flicked my hat off my head. I was certainly not the first child not to know what to do with George, though I admittedly was probably one of the more hot-headed.
George was also good at picking up fads and odd pets, though he rarely saw them through. When he suddenly embraced Christianity in a big way, I think we all assumed this was just another phase. To George’s credit, the Good Lord seemed to have gotten his hooks in him in a way no other hobby horse could. He stuck with that one to the end. And he let you know about it.
That’s another thing. There was never much mystery about what was going through George’s head. You might not necessarily understand the leaps of logic and fancy, but by God, you knew what he believed in that moment. A lot of those thoughts were not for the faint of heart. As Ian wrote on Facebook, George was a foul mouthed fucker. But he told it as he saw it, whether or not it was polite or kosher.
One of those things he had to let the world know was a conversation he had with God. He insisted that God had come to him in a dream, a la Joseph, and let him know he would die in November. Now, as you’ve probably figured out by now, that didn’t come through. But George believed it, and believed it sincerely. I don’t really know what I would have done had it happened in November. I probably would have solemnly shook my head and muttered “I’ll be damned.” It would have been a very George thing to do.
As it was, though, George died rather suddenly. A pretty surprising twist given all the time he had spent in hospitals through the years. I got a text early during the Seattle-San Francisco game from my dad letting me know that George was being rushed to the hospital in Crawfordsville and it didn’t sound good. This didn’t raise any particular alarm for me. This seemingly happened every other month with George. Then, during halftime, I got the jarring news.
George Albert’s peephole closed during the NFC championship game in 2014 when his heart finally stopped for good in Crawfordsville, 64 years after it had opened in Cincinnati.
I felt a bit cheated I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, but I know that’s silly of me. The last time I saw him, I was trying to put a new flagpole up for him along with Andrew and Dad. The new pole George bought was not the same style as the pole we were replacing, so there was a lot of jury-rigging and frustration to be had. George was, as he usually was, not in great shape. Though I will admit it was noticeably worse than usual. His speech constantly trailed off and he was starting to truly speak nonsense. Not just the usual George-speak, either. But I didn’t think that much of it. George always had peaks and valleys. This was a valley. He would climb out of it.
He did not.
I should not feel cheated. I remember in high school being certain that he would not live to see me graduate. He made it to that graduation, as well as my brother’s. He also made it to my graduation from Wabash. I don’t remember if he actually attended Andrew’s Wabash graduation, but he did live to see it happen. He made it to both my and Andrew’s weddings. I would have liked for my kids to have known him, but that was asking too much. Maybe it’s best this way. They would not have known him in his prime.
Come to think of it, I’m not sure I ever knew him in his prime.
George will be laid to rest tomorrow at 11, after a visiting hours this evening at the funeral home in Linden. It is just his body, of course. The unique spirit that inhabited it has finally moved on to whatever is next. I do not know what awaits. I know what I believe will be there, and what I certainly hope to be there. But, unfortunately, no post card has made its way from the Great Beyond just yet. Whatever George found awaiting him, I hope it was free of pain and suffering. I hope can fly. He loved to fly in any capacity. I hope there is a nice accordion awaiting him, along with fingers that are no longer swollen and arthritic to play it with.
I would say I hope he has fun, but I don’t think I need to hope that. George never knew any other way but to amuse himself.
God bless you, Mr. Albert.
Purdue didn’t look half bad last night, though I still hold fast that they are really more of a collection of athletes than they are basketball players. But, they did (and have been since B1G play started) do something that I think every Boiler fan has been imploring them to do. They played through AJ Hammons.* Since Brad Miller left, Purdue hasn’t had a true center, at least not that I remember. They’ve gotten by on remarkable guard play, tough perimeter defense, and having just enough inside to get by. But since Hammons and Simpson have gotten to Purdue, that has changed. They now have forces to be reckoned with inside. And when this team plays through them, good things happen.
*And, to a lesser extent, Jay Simpson.
Nothing against Illinois, but Purdue has flat had their number. Thanks to Ohio St., Purdue can no longer claim to have a winning record against every other school in the conference, but they’re still up on ten of the eleven other schools. So, clearly, Purdue is going to have the historic edge on Illinois.* Which they do, now standing at 97-85. But, Purdue has now won nine out of the last ten meetings, losing only the game in Champaign last year.** To that point, last night’s game never felt, to me, anyway, nearly as close as it actually was. It felt like whenever Purdue needed a basket, they simply gave it to Hammons, or used Hammons as a decoy to get whatever shot they wanted. Illinois had to work much harder for their offense and were bailed out more than once by contested threes late in the shot clock. If Purdue had more skill players, they would have turned into a cakewalk.
*To that point, during the Michigan St.-Northwestern game, they flashed a graphic about most coaching wins in the Big Ten, because Tom Izzo is now tied with Lou Henson for fourth all time. First is, predictably, Bobby Knight. But two and three on that list are, tellingly, Purdue legends with Gene Keady and Ward “Piggy” Lambert. I also bring this up because Lambert was from Crawfordsville and played basketball and baseball at Wabash, thus he is in the Hall of Fame both at Wabash and Purdue. It might not be as well known that Lambert did also coach the Boilermaker baseball team, which is why both the former basketball arena (now indoor track) and the former baseball stadium (now swallowed up by the expanded co-rec, I believe) are named for him.
**Side point: Illinois’ basketball twitter sent out a note before they played Wisconsin to let the world know they had won in Madison more than any other team since 2005 with three wins. Purdue’s twitter quickly corrected them, pointing out wins in 2008, 2009, and 2013. That led to Illinois apologizing and correcting their tweet to “as many wins as” before everybody laughed it off. I mostly bring this up because, if memory serves, Wisconsin has only won in West Lafayette 17 times ever, or something close to that. It’s pretty amazing.
When Purdue’s athletes are connecting to supplement the Hammons/Simpson combo, they are as good a team as anybody. Kendall Stephens was hitting, so that was a huge help. If he can turn out to be as deadly a shooter as Ryne Smith developed into, Purdue is going to be awfully tough. Even if Hammons jumps to the NBA, which is very likely, Simpson can manage the post well enough to give the Boilers a very nice inside-outside threat. And with ballhandlers like Ronnie Johnson and Bryson Scott,* they have the slashers who will open up shots for either, if they don’t score themselves. As I’ve written before, the pieces are all there. You saw that last night, you saw it for most of the game against Ohio St., you saw it towards the end against Minnesota. It’s just getting them to work as they should consistently, which is going to be a struggle for a team as young as Purdue. This is the sort of team who is just as likely to beat a top five team as they are to drop a game to relatively unknown school. Frustrating as hell to watch, but it works, there is a satisfaction that just can’t be matched.
*One gripe with the announcers last night, who I thought did fine otherwise: they were really wringing their hands when Ronnie picked up a couple of fairly quick fouls last night and kept harping about how Purdue now had to rely on a freshman in Bryson Scott. To that, I could only roll my eyes. Yes, Scott is a freshman, but he was nearly Mr. Basketball in Indiana, which is a feat. And, honestly, after a little bit of a bumpy start to the year, I might trust Scott with the ball more than I do Ronnie. Both the Johnsons are great athletes who can make plays most others in the conference can’t. But they are too reliant on that and tend to get themselves into bad positions when they needlessly push the ball. I hate to call for a little restraint, because their recklessness is a big weapon at times. But it’s frustrating during games when it just isn’t working.
Purdue gets to come home this weekend in what would appear to be a bit of a breather game against Penn St. before heading off to Northwestern. Northwestern is always a tricky place to play. It’s an odd arena to play in, and Northwestern typically plays a much different style than any other conference team. They picked off Illinois last Sunday and made Michigan St. work for it last night, much more than the score would suggest. That game is one that always makes me nervous. But I think it will be telling. Both of those games could certainly be considered trap games, especially for a team this young. They’ll get to welcome Wisconsin into Mackey after that, and you know Purdue is going to want to put that in the W column after Indiana pulled out their game in Bloomington.*
*I’m certainly not one to defend the Hoosiers, but I actually didn’t have a problem with the fans rushing the court after that one. Wisconsin was ranked third, IU was (and is) unranked. IU lost most everybody they counted on last year, you certainly can’t consider it the same team. Is Wisconsin as good as Indiana on a historic level? No, of course not. But rushing the floor isn’t always, or even typically, about history. At that moment, it made sense to me. Would I have thought it weird if the rush didn’t happen? No, not at all. But I do think it was pretty similar to a game during at Mackey during the Hummel-Johnson-Moore freshman season when Purdue upset Wisconsin, giving the feel of “Yes, this team is for real” and the students stormed the court. Kristine was at that game, as she was a student at the time. I tried to get into that game, but it was sold out to the point I couldn’t even get a ticket from a scalper. I certainly tried to. So I was stuck watching that one back at Kristine apartment.
Is this a tournament team? Probably not this year. I could certainly see NIT. But would I be shocked if Purdue snuck it’s way into the tournament? No, not really. It’s going to take a very strong Big Ten showing, which is certainly not a given. But it’s not impossible. It’s just going to take a lot more games like what we saw last night to make it happen.
My actual paying job is getting hectic and only looking to get worse, so posting may get a little sporadic. We’ll see, though. I’m going to give it my best shot.
As you’ve probably heard by now, the Cubs are getting their first costumed mascot since this (frankly terrifying) thing back in the early 1900’s. When the story first broke, I was horrified. The Cubs have never needed a mascot before, they have Wrigley Field for that. This is just another extension of current ownership ruining everything that wasn’t already broken about the Cubs.* General sentiment certainly seems to be strongly in agreement with this train of thought. And that was before this NSFW version of Clark** was shown on TV for much longer than it needed to be.
*Which, frankly, are mostly off the field stuff. Clearly the Cubs don’t have the best track record of success, though it wasn’t that long ago they were serious contenders.
**I didn’t come up with it originally, but it’s totally true: there’s no way that name was picked without the thought of having a sister cub named Addison in the near future. The only thing that may stop it is this incredibly strong backlash. But I’ll bet that doesn’t even stop it. That’s okay, though. It will still be much less confusing than the Red’s mascot family. I’ll explain that down below the end of the article if you’re interested.
As I’ve thought about it more, though, I’ve made almost a complete turnaround the matter. Almost every professional and collegiate team has a costumed mascot, and they are generally well-received. Cardinal fans love Fredbird. Mr. Met is well-beloved. Bernie Brewer is pretty cool, though admittedly not as cool as Barrel Man. And, of course, the grand royal of them all, the Phillie Phanatic. Look beyond baseball. Nearly every team in every sport has a mascot, and they are almost all loved, at least within their communities. Even more so are the college mascots. Of course, I’m most partial to Wally Wabash and Purdue Pete. But you don’t have to look too far to think of other awfully prestigious mascots, like at Notre Dame, Florida State, and USC. Illinois used to have one, but that didn’t go over quite as well with certain groups. Still, you can still easily find a lot of love for Chief Illiniwek, even though he’s gone. Given some time, mascots become a beloved part of the game, especially for folks who grew up with those mascots as children. And that’s the key.
I am not a child, nor are the people railing against poor Clark. When you are so far outside of the target demographic, you just plainly aren’t in the position to pass judgement. Don’t like the mascot? It’s really not that hard of a thing to ignore. If you’re interested in watching the game, then just watch the game, throw back some Old Style,* and have yourself a hell of a time. Believe me, that will still be very possible with a pantomime bear or two walking around. If there is one hope that most fans (mostly male, but I’m sure female, too) have, especially with baseball, it’s passing on the game to your children and making that link in the chain. And this will help.
*For a long time, I thought that to get Old Style in Lafayette-West Lafayette, I had to get it draught from either Harry’s or DT Kirby’s. And those are definitely both great options, no doubt. But sometimes, you just want to chill at home. I did finally find it sold at the Bar Barry by Five Points, though. That day was a good day.
Baseball has been played professionally on a national stage for a long time, much longer than our other big time sports. The deep, rich history of the game is one of it’s greatest benefits. Sometimes it can be an oppressive weight, true, but usually it truly is one the great joys of the game. I’m sure my family is not unique in this, but baseball forms a chain of fanhood that other sports just can’t compete with. Their histories are simply not long or strong enough. Baseball is maybe the strongest bond that runs all the way through my dad’s side of the family. You have to stick more than one “great” in front, but there was a professional* pitcher in the family. From there, you have an unbroken chain of baseball fanaticism that runs all the way to the latest generation of Parrishes. And that chain splits off into different branches that pass it on to their own latest branches, link by precious link. I know of the greatest hopes I have for my (not very distant, fingers crossed) future children is to pass my knowledge and love for the game down to them, to make them another link in the chain, the way my dad did for me. Even if Ryne Sandberg ruined me on the Cardinal fan part of it.**
*Maybe semi-pro would be a better way to describe it.
**I really do struggle with whether I should encourage my children to be Cub fans or maybe subtly push them to be sensible Cardinal fans like the rest of the family. If you’re really there for love of the game, being a Cub fan is painful business. At the end of the day, though, I suppose I can’t really make that decision for them, just like my dad couldn’t make that decision for me. As the saying goes, the heart wants what it wants.
I know there are those that think that Clark will detract from this process. That argument, though, is just plain crazy. At the start, you’re going to want anything that draws interest into the game. If it really is the game itself, great. But it doesn’t hurt to have a good backup plan, and now the Cubs have another. If it’s not the game that initially draws them in, or if they don’t really understand why Wrigley is so important and grand, or if belting out the 7th inning stretch in a way no other stadium can do it doesn’t work, here’s another avenue. There’s a good chance you’ll have to take it in baby steps, and if the cartoon bear is that first step, you ought to be grateful for it. Sure, it’s change, and change is scary. But change is not necessarily bad. I’ve not necessarily liked all the changes that have been brought to Wrigley Field, but honestly, this one is pretty damn tame. If it makes you feel better to rip on a cartoon bear, do it. But there are far bigger problems that should bother you a whole lot more.
All right, the Reds. It all started with Mr. Redlegs. You’re probably familiar enough with him, he’s certainly one of the most famous mascots in baseball and somebody Mr. Met certainly owes a huge debt to. You also might be familiar with Rosie Red. Those two go together well enough, they make a nice couple of mascots. But then, sometime in the 70’s, Mr. Red came along. Simply Mr. Redlegs without the signature mustache? You might think so, but clearly Mr. Red also lacks the distinctive crazed eyes. Definitely a different thing altogether. He hung around until 2007, when Mr. Redlegs made his triumphant return. All’s well in the family again, right? Except that, in 2002, Gapper came along. The “young” mascot. You don’t have to stretch your imagination too far to imagine he is some sort of hideous offspring of Rosie Red (other than being fuzzy instead of baseball-headed). That part is easy enough. But who is the father? Mr. Red, as he would have been the stable partner at the time? Or was a forbidden romance rekindled with the seemingly-absent Mr. Redlegs, who finally returned to make his family legitimate? The Reds website is awfully tight-lipped about such things, though Mr. Red’s Wikipedia article mentions that there was a new Mr. Red mascot for the 2012 season (I can’t personally confirm this) that appeared alongside Rosie, Gapper, and, most importantly, Mr. Redlegs, which would seem to confirm that they are, in fact, separate entities. That clearly can’t be a comfortable family situation for any of the involved parties. It also clearly would make one hell of a soap opera or Lifetime movie. WHY DOESN’T THIS EXIST?
Well, at least the Pacers won fairly easily. The Colts? It wasn’t so pretty.
That said, I don’t feel it was as lopsided as the score would suggest. There were chances for the Colts to mount a comeback. That, though, is just papering over the holes. The offense certainly lacked some depth, but that was to be expected when you lose somebody of Reggie Wayne’s caliber. And when you lose two out of three of your top running backs, leaving you to depend on a desperate trade and a back that was nearly run out of town and known mostly as GD Donald.* There was also the unfortunate transformation of Andrew Luck returning to rookie form in the playoffs. Fourteen turnovers all season, good for fewest in the league, turned into eight over two games. True, a fair number of those interceptions can be chalked up to bad luck or plainly the receivers’ fault. Maybe even most. But Luck still had more than his fair share.
*We’ll see after the benefit of a full offseason with the team, but so far, Trent Richardson looks like quite the bust. Donald Brown, though, to his credit, made everybody remember why we all liked him so much once upon a time.
All that said, I think we can all agree the offense is the least of the team’s problems. Sure, it would be nice to have a dependable running game and use the power game that Pep Hamilton assured us was going to be this team’s identity.* And upgrading the offensive line, or at least getting them healthy, would certainly help that. But, good Lord, it doesn’t matter how many points you put on the board when your defense gives sieves a bad name.
*Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.
Read around a little bit. You won’t have to try too hard to see Indy’s secondary ridiculed, and for good reason. The Colts have not had good run defense since I’ve been paying attention.* At this point, there only players I absolutely need to see back are Robert Mathis and Jerrell Freeman.** Antoine Bethea isn’t bad, but I don’t feel like I would particularly miss him. Same for Vontae Davis, except when he clearly wasn’t playing 100% and actively hurting the team. Or, well, he would have been, if the Colts had any other viable option. News flash: they don’t.
*They pulled it together for literally four games for the 2006 season. Those games just happened to be played in 2007 for the playoffs and Super Bowl. And, hey, what do you know, the Colts won the whole thing that year. Coincidence?
**Shout out for D3!
It’s the same story every year. I thought maybe things would improve after Bill Polian left, but I’m still waiting. The Colts have not taken defense seriously, and it shows. Sure, all those points on the board are nice and sell a lot of tickets and garner a lot of interest. But even in this era of heightened concussion awareness and the rule changes that go along with it, defense still wins championships. We saw it during the Manning-era here, and we’re starting to see it with the Luck-era. You just don’t outscore people in the playoffs. It doesn’t work when you play playoff caliber teams every week, which, when you get to the playoffs, surprisingly to Colts management,* are the only teams you play. Hiring Jim Caldwell and Chuck Pagano was supposed to help this. And maybe it will. But so far, the results are just looking like the same old, same old. Even losing to the same old opponent in New England.
*This is true for some other teams, too, but we’re focusing on the Colts today.
Even so, I swear, one of these days the Colts are going to learn how to effectively stop a run for most of a season. They just have to. And when they do, they will become a truly dangerous team. We saw a flash of it for Super Bowl XLI, and what a well-timed flash it was. For now, though, I guess I’m a Bronco fan.
So, the Pacers didn’t look so hot in Atlanta. It happens. Over the course of an 82 game season, there are just going to be nights where nothing is working. That was one of those nights. I don’t tend to look too deeply into those sorts of losses. Though, to listen to callers to radio shows, this has opened a whole new referendum on Danny Granger and the value of Lance Stephenson.*
*The argument is that Lance is far more valuable than anybody realizes, even after his frankly amazing start to the season. And whether or not Danny Granger has a place on this team now that Paul George has taken that leap to top five player status (or something in that range, anyway).
To all that, I can only think of one word: relax. Chill. Or maybe two words: slow down. Cool it. Calm down. I promise, it will be okay. Lance Stephenson is a huge asset to this team, but it really made no difference if he was out there against the Hawks or not. The Pacers were just not going to win that game. It happens. I know, we were really spoiled by the first month or so, so every loss feels like a catastrophe. It’s really not, I swear. Right now, they are still well on pace for a sub-20 loss season. That, you would think would be good enough for a one seed in the East, two at worst. I think we can live with either.*
*Clearly you would like to have home court against Miami, but we came awfully close last year with a not-yet-exalted Paul George and a non-existent Danny Granger without home court, so I don’t know that I would be upset with a two in the playoffs.
So, yes, I do think that Lance has thoroughly earned his starting spot over Danny. Especially considering that Danny Granger practically missed an entire season. It is going to take time for him to truly resemble the player he was before he went down. It would take time for anybody. We’ve seen flashes, but I don’t know that we’ve seen it for an entire game yet. It will come. Then there are the naysayers that claim he can’t conform to the role the teams needs him to play, that he is strictly a volume shooter who will kill the great team that has been put together. I don’t really understand where that criticism is coming from. Sure, that’s what Danny Granger has been in the past, but that’s also what the team required him to be in the past when there were no pieces around him. He has had stretches of brilliant defensive play when the team absolutely needed him. Watching him body up and shut down Chris Bosh when Bosh was still with Toronto springs to mind. He also plays better defense on LeBron than Paul George does, in my opinion. They’re roughly the same size, George and Granger, but Danny is quite a bit stronger. That’s why I’ve written before that I would love to see Granger guarding James and George on Wade. George on James and Stephenson on Wade clearly works well enough,* but I think this team can do better if we can at least get good stretches of Granger and George together.
*With breaks of Stephenson on James to give PG a break. Stephenson isn’t really tall enough to guard him, but he is strong enough. Good enough to work as a spare tire.
So I wonder. How can you decide that Granger can’t conform to a new role? He played the role the Pacers asked him to before. I think he cares enough about winning that he can play a somewhat reduced role. Hell, he very well might embrace not having to put the entire team on his back every single night. I’m sure that gets a little old after a while. Maybe he won’t, maybe I’m wrong. But I just don’t think there’s any evidence there to say that he won’t change or conform. The Pacers are in a much different spot even from two seasons ago. Everybody’s role (except for maybe David West) has changed. Granger is a pretty smart guy. He holds a degree in civil engineering. That’s not exactly education.* I’m sure he understands how teams and players evolve.
*It’s not my decision! I swear!
The Pacers will give it another go tonight against the Wizards at home, and I have no worries about them getting back on track. Then, after they presumably take care of business, the Colts will have their turn on Saturday night. It’s setting up to be a pretty nice weekend.
Oh, and for anybody who hasn’t already heard, you probably won’t hear anything out of me the week of St. Patrick’s Day, as I’ll be visiting Nelson (who was going to write a guest column about following sports while abroad, but that never came through. . .yet) in Ireland. Pretty cool, right?