Stanford must go on, knowing Oregon is better


Stanford must go on, knowing Oregon is better

Andrew Luck in the Fiesta Bowl sounds a little anticlimactic, given the fantasies of those who worked so hard to contrive scenarii by which the Stanfords could play in the BCS championship game.

But based on what Oregon did to the Cardinal in its 53-30 kneecapping, the Fiesta Bowl is just and fair and . . . well, theres nobody to complain about it, anyway.

The Ducks did what they do, the way they do it, and in doing it just that way against the Cardinal in the verdant pasturelands of Stanford Stadium Saturday night, they showed the difference between aspirations and destinations.

Thats the thing about Oregon, head coach David Shaw said with the first sick smile of his head coaching career. You beat them when you make them do things they dont want to do, and to do that, you have to get up on them early, and you cant make mistakes.

They scored early, we made some mistakes tackling them on a couple of our long runs, and then after halftime, well, Chip (Kelly) is probably the best coach in the country at making a lot of subtle little halftime adjustments, and if youre behind, it just makes that much harder.

Put in more mathematical terms, Oregon won the first half, 22-16, and the second, 31-14. In short, the Ducks did what they do they got better. Their speed exposed Stanfords comparative deficiencies on the flanks, their power rush showed itself as Stanford was forced out of its running game, and Luck was belted and bounced as his receivers flailed against Oregons coverages.

This was, put simply, last years game. Oregon trailed, 31-24, at the half, made the Kelly adjustments, and scored four unanswered scores after the bands cleared to win by a strikingly similar score, 52-31. In short, Oregon was a point better this year, and Stanford was a point worse.

The damage to Lucks Heisman Trophy candidacy can not be measured, except by people who have no idea how much damage was actually done. It isnt like the field has raced up to meet him, and his inability to beat Oregon singlehanded should not be held unduly against him. True, he had only one tackle and no pass receptions, but theres only so many positions a man can play.

And thats the lesson that arches over this game. There is only so much anyone can do when someone else is faster, does better halftimes, and never trails. You sometimes have to take your beating with a grimace and dream of that parallel universe where those things are not necessarily true.

There were slight variables between the 2010 and 2011 games, of course, but the central theme was the same. Oregon may be the best second-half team in the country, and proved it against Jim Harbaugh a year ago and again against Shaw Saturday night.

Not even Luck, who threw for three scores but also threw two picks, one for Oregons last touchdown, could do what-ifs very convincingly. Or really, much of any remarks. Even when he said, It was obviously my worst game of the year, he was speaking accurately but also taking on a level of blame that wasnt his.

Luck was not going to beat Oregon by himself; for that, he would need running back Stepfan Taylor at his very best, but after 20 carries for 87 yards in the first half, he got the ball three times in the second because the game situations removed him from relevance. In the battle of tactical wills between the two teams, the Ducks had all the best of it, because they never trailed at any point, and forced Stanford to become the one-dimensional team Shaw was trying to make the Ducks.

Of such basic calculations are games won and lost, and with two full games of evidence in the books, we can say that this would be the outcome seven of 10 times, maybe even eight. Even with full health on both sides, Oregons gifts are more comprehensive, and it isnt just Kellys brain, but the arms, legs and torsos of his players.

So Stanfords season of dreams is now over. They cannot reasonably expect to win the Pac-12 North, are not likely to make the Rose Bowl, and will have find their bliss against California next week and Notre Dame the week after. Then maybe they get to play for, with all due deference to Brent Musburger, all the Tostitos.

Well, all the kind of old, crumbly, bottom-of-the-bag Tostitos. There will be no national championship game for the Cardinal, and that is the just result. Oregon proved it is better, twice, and under eerily similar circumstances. To be the king, you have to beat the king, and Stanford is not yet ready to be the king. The Cardinal can throw a hell of a party, but they will go from here to the end of their season knowing someone else will throw a better one.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for

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.