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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A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun


A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.