Ratto: Here's to the Chaos of The Big Game


Ratto: Here's to the Chaos of The Big Game

Nov. 17, 2010


Ray Ratto

I would like to report to you that because the line has been moving steadily toward the underdog in Saturday's Big Game, this means that Cal will make it a memorably close game, based on the fact that Cal has dominated the betting (and subsequent paying) in this hardy perennial.

But, like the hangover over Cal's close loss last week to Oregon, the possibility that Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh may never see another Big Game, the possibilities of a Rose Bowl for Stanford and a Holiday Bowl for Cal and how the boys endured the food and conversation at the Guardsmen's Lunch, this doesn't tell you a whole lot.

What it means is, Cal has more people betting on it (the line has gone from 8 to 6 - since Sunday morning) because it has more fans and graduates, and that the Oregon game rekindled betting hope. That is all.

Like the Oregon hangover, another non-starter logic-wise. If the Cal players haven't gotten over that one yet, they deserve to be crushed Saturday.

Or the Luck and Harbaugh stories. Luck will leave because there are untold riches and challenges awaiting him, barring an NFL lockout. And Harbaugh will leave as soon as the right riches and challenges come a-beckoning. We know that, they know, their teammates know that. Nobody is stupid here.

Or the bowl possibilities. Stanford needs Auburn to lose, soon. That's it. An Auburn loss probably puts Boise State in the title game, freeing the Rose Bowl from the obligation of taking an AQ team (say, TCU) - that is, unless the Rose Bowl doesn't think Stanford will travel as well as TCU, in which case it could take the Cardinal anyway. And Cal could sneak into the Holiday Bowl as the next Pac-10 team in the pecking order after Oregon goes to the national championship, Stanford to the Rose and Arizona to the Sun.

Suits make that call, though, and the Big Game isn't the last dance on either team's schedule.

And we make no judgment on the Guardsman lunch. We weren't there. We've never been there. If the Guardsmen have anything to do with it, we never will be there. That's what guardsmen do, after all. Keep out the riff, not to mention the raff.

No, all that stuff doesn't matter in terms of figuring the game. What does, is this weather forecast.

Yeah. Rain. Lots of it. It's the one thing that will change Saturday's game, by a lot. The Memorial Stadium turf will hold up better than the traditional grass field, unfortunately, because nothing says a great rivalry game quite like the kind of mud that obscures all uniforms and obliterates footing. But it will be a bother, and so will the wind expected to accompany it.

See, we tend to see big things in small ones all the time when it comes to football, because there's so damned much time to kill between high-speed collisions between borderline insane young men. We want the psychological stuff to matter. We want to bathe in the minutiae so the majutiae (the big stuff, I guess, though my make-it-up-as-you-go-along Latin isn't as strong as it used to be) can be ignored.

But we know that Stanford is on paper the better team with more to play for. We also want the Big Game to be about the unpredictable, the zany, the downright unforeseeable, and other than injuries, the weather and the band are the best you've got.

And we're not rooting for injuries, or either band, as far as that goes.

That leaves weather, and this is not a bad forecast. It would be better if the game was at Stanford because the Cardinal play on God's own mulch, and therefore can turn it into God's own bog within a quarter. At Cal, you need puddles and high winds to get the kind of chaos we're looking for here.

And truthfully, since we don't give a damn who wins, having attended neither school, we'll root for chaos every time.

So never mind all the other stuff. Root for a nasty front to come in off the Pacific and make the game a complete silent movie comedy. We can't vouch for the result (except that in such an eventuality you should bet the under), but you'll remember it a lot longer.

And if you're attending the game and need to keep that grill working, then root that the Weather Channel, the closest thing we have to the Almighty, is wrong. I mean, never mind the game. You've got coals (and guests) to keep lit.

The neck-breaking rise and fall of daily fantasy sports


The neck-breaking rise and fall of daily fantasy sports

The apparent cratering of the Draft Kings/Fan Duel phenomenon is largely a tale of greed gone wild, with coatings of arrogance and bullying through advertising, not to mention naked avarice, raw cupidity and what the Greeks used to call “pleonexia,” which is Greek for greed, avarice and cupidity.

It is a tale of what happens when you try to game a system that’s bigger than your own without cutting the people who run the bigger system in on the goods. It’s alleged wise guys finding out that it’s easier to skirt the law when you make the law. And it’s very definitely guys who got out over their skis trying to dominate a market that was doing fine on its own.

And hey, what’s better than smart guys getting theirs?

But there is actually a greater lesson in this for all of us, and it is this: Fantasy sports leagues are best left as small, interactive tribes whose competitors see each other, talk with each other, exchange money with each other and socialize (re: drink beer) with each other. The phenomenon began as an entirely holistic and communal idea in the 1960s in Oakland surrounding the still-larval American Football League, and grew on the ground level in other sports, in bars, rec rooms, bars, office break rooms, bars, vacations, bars, taverns, and ultimately, bars.

It was a way for friends to gather and ignore the bigger issues of living (like, say, families, which are far too time consuming, expensive and always end up with the parents battling desperately for a tie in a game once it becomes clear that they cannot win).

It was not meant to be mass-produced, let alone dominated by the guy with the best algorithms. That’s not sports, that’s math, and when was the last time you said, “Honey, I’m going out. Some math teachers are getting together to raise a little hell, and I don’t want to miss it”?

So never mind the “The DraftDuelers and FanKings tried to pull a fast one” angle, even though they did. Ignore the “They got too big and too grabby too fast” narrative, even though they did that, too.

What happened here was a perverse monetization of something that didn’t actually need improving or enlarging, because it was perfectly good the way it was. And perverse monetization is the path to perdition, I think we can all agree.

The fantasy industry also made a fatal error by trying to say for legal reasons that it wasn’t gambling, which it clearly was – except in one very granular way that nobody ever addresses.

Gambling, as in finding a bookie who will let you bet on games in any manner of exotic fashions, is meant to be a solitary pursuit left best for quiet brooders. If you have Seattle plus the 1½ when everyone else is bitching about the evils of a 6-6 overtime tie, you quietly accept your incredible good fortune and start to handicap Broncos-Texans, which you probably lost.

Fantasy sports, on the other hand, are meant to be shared, but only with those in your particular fantasy league as opposed to all other people, who do not give a steaming chalky damn about your made-up aggregation of athletes and actively hate you for breaching their worlds with your relentless yammering about your alternate-universe imaginings.

Put another way, people who tell you about their fantasy teams are people who need to be taken into the desert and abandoned. And people who commit these crimes should be allowed to avoid hypothermia, dehydration and coyote dinner only by making regular offerings of alcohol and foodstuffs to those whose peace and quiet they have thoughtlessly breached.

And the industrialization of fantasy sports was the last frontier of that obnoxio-hateful social development. It used commercial television to beat us all to death with something only a few of us cared about, and it reminded us that our culture loathes two things above all others – people trying to pull a fast one, and people telling us repeatedly about things we’re not remotely interested in hearing.

In other words, even if you were planning to be saddened by the collapse of the first wave of industrialized fantasy sports, don’t. They were people trying to cut themselves in on action that wasn’t theirs, and make a national phenomenon out of a social development best confined to a single room with six-to-20 people, all of whom had the good sense to bring wine and snacks.

I mean, seriously. Why would you want to screw with that setup?

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

You can almost hear the sound whistling between the 49ers’ teeth at this point, beneath the droned platitudes and vague responses to what is a fully lost season:

“Look, what do you want from us? This is who we are.”

You can almost hear it, that is. They wouldn’t dare express such rampant defeatism – I mean, if they didn’t after Sunday’s 34-17 muzzling at the hands, arms, torsos and feet of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s unlikely you would hear it at any point.

But they must surely know by now that this is a season already in the rear-view mirror. There are no secret plans, or stashed players, or untried ideas left to unearth, sign or try. The coming bye week will not clear their heads and give them new inspiration, save that of having a week off from the steady beatings. They are 1-6 on merit, and proved it again yesterday before another dispirited two-thirds-of-a-sellout crowd which is coming to realize that their hope is a mile wide and an inch deep.

[MAIOCCO: Kelly: No changes to 49ers defensive staff after loss]

Sunday, for example, Colin Kaepernick was their best running back, Shaun Draughn was their best receiver, the downed kickoff was their best special teams play, and their best strategic decision – well, they lost the coin flip so they didn’t even get a chance to defer the opening kickoff.

And their defense? It only allowed whatever Tampa Bay wanted, and only on demand. Jacquizz Rodgers became the sixth running back to gain 100 yards against them (and the first to do it in one half), which is noteworthy only because they allowed five all last year in a bad season, and nine in the four seasons before that, four of those by Marshawn Lynch.

And quarterback Jameis Winston threw the ball to wide-open receivers and into coverage with the same sense of well-placed bravado. Though his numbers didn’t exactly aurora the borealis (21-of-30, 269, 3/1, 117.2), he never emitted a sense that he couldn’t do whatever he wanted – save get the officials to give him a better spot when he snapped and cost his team a potential touchdown with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for headless-chickening.

In other words, this was not materially different than the Buffalo game, or the Seattle game, or the Carolina game. The only game that has been different is the opener against Los Angeles, when everything worked and made sense and life was happy and Jed York hummed “I Am 16 Going On 17” all through the suite all night long.

That game was 50,000 years ago. These are who the 49ers are now, and who they are going to be for awhile to come.

They speak of consistency, and yet they are the very model of it – leading the league in punts, and ranking second in three-and-outs, 27th in first downs and 31st in plays per drive. They don’t stay on the field, in other words, and when on defense, they allow 118 more yards per game than their offense gets them.

And they swear with unanimity that they are together as a team, and work hard each week to achieve the acme of their talents and learning. So this, if that is so, must be at or near the top of their game – which, as head coach for now and the future Chip Kelly (stop thinking this is just a coaching problem, please) put it, “We’re not doing what it takes to be successful right now.”

That was in response to a question about whether the 49ers were going backwards. He ducked the issue by saying, “I don’t think forwards or backwards,” which is probably a lie, but we can help anyway.

They have gone dramatically backwards since Game 1, and essentially stagnated since Game 2. It’s how they have gotten to where they are right now, and how they have become who they are right now.

It may be that stranger things have happened in the NFL than a team starting 1-6 and rallying to win eight, nine or 10 in a row, but on this team, based all the available evidence, this team won’t be that strange. They have revealed themselves for what they actually are, which is not good enough to change what they actually are.

And if that is too tough a sentence for you to swallow, well, go out and write some of your own. You can tell any tale you want, but this is the tale of the 2016 San Francisco 49ers, a team awash in unpleasant self-realization and the knowledge that there is nothing to be done but to go out each week and do it again.

Except next week, of course. Bye may be a favorite, but Bye must be played, just like all the others.