Ratto: Wolf Pack win, but hunger remains


Ratto: Wolf Pack win, but hunger remains

Jan. 9,2011RATTO ARCHIVERay RattoCSNBayArea.com

As we know from our previous experiences with bowl games in the modern era, keisters in seats are a very good way to determine whether a bowl game should be considered a success.As a result, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Sunday night kicked the hell out of the Beef OBradys Bowl. Now thats fightin hunger.The game itself was Nevadas, a 20-13 winner over Boston College despite the fact that BC linebacker Luke Kuechly looked a little bit better than Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick or wide receiverreturn man Rishard Matthews or at least thats what it said in Trent Baalkes new leather-bound 49er notebook.(We made that last part up: He was in the building trying not to be seen, but its hard to be an incognito NFL general manager, a fact he will learn soon enough, but we didnt see what he wrote).But this did not seem to be a scouts paradise, nor did the game cause people to hang on every play unless, of course, you bet the game at Nevada-minus-7 12. It was a fairly comprehensive beating by Nevada upon BC, finishing for head coach Chris Ault his best season ever and making him a national coaching figure only nine years after being voted into the National College Coaches Hall of Fame.It was a breakout game for Matthews, who broke a 72-yard punt return and caught a 27-yard pass from Kaepernick for the two Nevada scores. It was also another dominant game for Kuechly, who had 12 tackles and an interception as the heart, aorta and ventricles of the Boston College defense.They werent performances for the ages, but they were entertainment enough to cap off a weekend of pro games, coaching hires, free agency declarations, the Warriors and Kings losing on the same day, and the Sharks being shut out again.Frankly, this was pretty much the best of the lot.Truly, for a bowl game that took the space normally held by the now-defunct International Bowl, the KFHB did well enough. Almost all the available seats were filled (41,063), which if youve seen the other bowl games is a noteworthy achievement.Nevada brought the behinds that filled the seats, and the game was as close to being a home game for the Wolf Pack as you could get without trucking in snow. BC, which has been in this game three times in the last decade, did the best it could, but this was a Nevada home game, and the Pack performed accordingly as in, just good enough, just often enough, to prove that their 13-1 record was not some mutant accident but an accurate measure of their place in the national football firmament.Hey, what other FBS team beat a national champion this year? Nevada whipped Eastern Washington, which won the FCS tournament Friday night, to begin the year, which didnt seem like all that much back in September.It wasnt the season in which the meek finally inherited their piece of the action, in large part because Nevada rose up and smote Boise November 26. It was the year that the famed Non-AQs had their best postseason ever, as Boise, TCU, Central Florida and Nevada all beat BCS conference schools.No, this was one of those puppy love games you know, the kind where it doesnt matter all that much except to the puppies. The Nevada players and fans mingled on the field after the game as though it were Homecoming Week, far less frenzied than when they beat Boise.Plus in doing so, they managed to almost eradicate the vision of the streaker who took the field in the third quarter in hopes of raising awareness for the Kraft Fight Clothing Bowl, and for a kind judge when he goes to court.This was, in short, a very nice outing for the Nevada fans who will remember the overtime win over Boise State for far longer, but will say they had a better time in San Francisco than they normally might.So the bowl games worked, as well as it could anyway, entertained 41,000 people with an excuse for a trip to San Francisco, and honestly had no impact on the national fight for a playoff. It didnt prove the WAC is better than the ACC, or that hunger had been conquered, but it did the job it was capable of doing.In short, it let Nevada fans remember the best year their school has ever had, led a weary nation to the national championship game Monday night between Oregon and Auburn, and got us one day closer to the end to a long, strange and occasionally rewarding college football season.

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.