Ratto: Harbaugh's impending departure simply physics


Ratto: Harbaugh's impending departure simply physics


FORT LAUDERDALE, FL. -- In about a week, this will be one of Stanford footballs darkest days, for one and only one reason.Starting over stinks. Especially when the finish is this good.In about a week, Jim Harbaugh will have a new job that pays twice asmuch as Stanford has ever offered any coach, and where he goes dependsentirely upon whom you ask at any given time. Michigan? Carolina? BestSupporting Actor? Secretary of the Interior? He's been kissed by God,and other than the agony of choice, his world is as good as it willever be.Shortly thereafter, Andrew Luck will declare for the NFL Draft, becausefrankly, he has to. While his future and Harbaughs are not necessarilylinked in and of themselves, Luck cannot be helped by starting overwith a new coach who will not have Harbaughs sense of simpatico, andstarting over means less fun and lots less money.But finally, this is the Stanford Football Experience in a nutshell --brief flares of pyrotechnic glory behind a charismatic and technicallyfluent coach who doesnt hit himself in the face with a wrench everytime he gets a call from Admissions, interspersed with long stretchesof ennui, frustrations and fleeting dreams of the Sun Bowl.Now you shouldnt start getting antsy yet. You have two more days tolove the Stanford football ideal as interpreted by J.J. Harbaugh of allpeople. He did everything the school could want except fill thebuilding, and that is entirely the fault of Stanfords traditionalnotion of come-see-but-dont-stay marketing.But this was the best Harbaugh could do, and the best Stanford willever do. A big-money bowl game and a single-digit ranking against anational power, a quarterback who in two years made people think interms of Plunkett and Elway and Plunkett and Brodie and Albert inthree, or sometimes four.In all, more than anyone in their right mind could ever have thought possible, and absolutely worth a round for the house.But like we said, in a week the glass slipper becomes an iron bootagain and the carriage a push cart. It has to. There is no continuum inthe Harbaugh line, no second Harbaugh just waiting to be found. He wasan exceptional moment in this football programs history, and he stayedone year longer than anyone had a right to think he would, be itthrough success or failure.After Toby Gerhart, his name was job-hot, but he hit on 17 and caught afour. He knew Luck was sensational, and he gambled that there would bea better job than the ones being floated a year ago. He was right, andnow he is a 5-6 million man with a ticket to a program that hasnt hadan empty seat in a million skillion years. Or a pro job with theconcomitant glories that result with victory.Either way, he paid Stanford back in full and will leave not with theschools disapproval but with thanks for staying as long as he did, andpulling the keys to a new Maserati out of am envelope that looked likea Visa gift card.But its a leased Maserati, and Stanford cant afford to renew thecontract. Harbaugh outgrew Stanfords philosophical ability to pay byabout three million bucks, and thats just the way it goes. Nocomplaining, no whining. Its a law of physics.Athletic director Bob Bowlsby now must apply his unique brand ofpersonal magnetism to finding someone who is closer to Harbaugh than toWalt Harris or Buddy Teevens. We would say his career depends on it,but to be honest, were just not that invested in his future one way oranother.But we are interested to see how he reinvents the wheel. Harbaugh is,and about to be was, a charming, effervescent, self-confident, andlets be honest here, borderline smug man who could peer inside youngmens souls and make them want to do things they never dreamedthemselves capable. Thats coaching with a capital Well, Ill Be Damned.And now its about to end. Harbaugh will go to Michigan, or the NFL,and it will be far more lucrative and adrenal for him while probablynot reaching the improbable heights he and the Cardinal reached here.This is a singular moment that Stanford traditionally achieves everydecade to decade and a half, and by mid-week we suspect the Cardinalwill be entering another one of those long interregnums. Not becauseStanford cant sustain this, but because it never has before, not inthe modern era anyway.And were just playing the percentages. In the meantime, enjoy this forall its worth. You are part of the greater college football worldwithout any of that messyfathers-selling-playersplayers-cheatingcoaches-committing-feloniesstuff that often makes this sport a high-powered guilty pleasure.
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Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention


Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

Frank Deford’s death over the weekend did not mark the end of longform sportswriting as we knew it; he had long ago become part of the electronic commentariat that has reduced longform’s place in the public’s attention span.

But there is still longform writing and storytelling to be found in many places, and it is still worthwhile. It has more production value, as the TV folks like to blather, and the words have to fight for their place between the cracks left by the pictures and the mutated graphics, but longform lives, and it should, lest we all agree as one people to further desiccate that attention span like a grapefruit left in the sun.

Deford’s death, though, reminds of when longform was the zenith of the storytelling art. It could, and still can, give you access and depth and breadth that a TV crew simply could not, and cannot. Even extended TV features are by their very nature so contrived by all the equipment that nothing is natural, nothing is a surprise, and the act of writing is almost an afterthought.

Deford knew this. He more than merely dabbled in TV himself, playing the wizened old raconteur who was as much character in his pieces as storyteller. He was also a star and a starmaker with The National, a daily sports network in newspaper form that was long on talent and ideas but short on delivery and distribution. It lasted 17 months, until mid-1991, but it led to grander attempts decades later, and could if you squint your eyes hard enough be the natural parent of Grantland and The Ringer and Vice and SB Nation and dozens of others – all bigger ideas, positioned in the post-typing world. Some lasted, more didn’t, but capitalism is like that – making fuel to keep the fires burning and the engines churning.

Deford could have thrived in such a world, to be sure. He was not, in the hideous phrase, “a man of his time.” Indeed, he was a crossover figure years ago in ways that other longform writers attempt to resist even now. They want to be Deford at the height of his powers at a time when the instruments for their gift are either dying or veering away from anything that hits the 600-word mark.

But his passing did not kill the art of clever writing and incisive storytelling. There are far too many people who can do that still, even if the market for their gifts is neither as pronounced nor as eager for the product as it once was. It did remind us not only that he was a giant, but that there are still giants among us should we deign to take the time to seek them.

Thus, Deford’s death marked his passing but not the thing that made him worthy of our attention. Storytelling, longform and otherwise, remains the heart of why this is still worthwhile to a culture, and when the generation his work spawned starts to die off, I suspect we’ll still be saying the same thing then. Notebooks are smartphones, photographs are streams, but the human eye and ear and hand still remain pre-eminent.

That is, until the robots take over, at which point reading won’t be worth it.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.