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Been A Long Time Since I’ve Rambled & Rolled …

January 20, 2015

Some rambling thoughts from the long weekend on the afternoon after Dr. Martin Luther King’s Holiday …

Marshawn Lynch is the best running back in the NFL. Period. I don’t know how much tread he has left on the tires, or how many miles he has left in his engine considering how angry and physical his “Beast Mode” running style is, but Seattle has to re-sign him. Especially since they seem determined to have a mediocre wide receiver corps going forward; At least last year they had Golden Tate and Percy Harvin on the roster, but I’m curious to see how they plan to throw on the Patriots in 12 days with Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse – game-winning touchdown aside, which was more karmic fate after Russell Wilson’s four interceptions were all on passes intended for Kearse – as their top wide receiver options (and Yes, I know about Luke Willson at tight end, but he’s no Gronk) … Speaking of running backs, maybe, just MAYBE, Pittsburgh should have kept LeGarrette Blount. Now, granted, even your Grandma could run for 100 yards against the Colts defense, and I know Blount basically walked & talked his way out of Steeltown after going to the locker room before the game ended against Tennessee on November 17. To me, that’s more a failure of player management by Head Coach Mike Tomlin, allowing Blount to become so frustrated by not using him enough that he was willing to walk away from his team. Especially since anyone had to know New England would snatch him up 10 seconds after they waived him, which in retrospect significantly changed the AFC Playoffs equation, and especially since LeVeon Bell was injured and Pittsburgh had to start undrafted rookie Josh Harris (Who? Exactly.) and his 11 touches for 31 total yards in the playoff loss to Baltimore. Not to “What if?” this to death, but What if Pittsburgh has Blount against Baltimore? Do they lose?  Isn’t that game different as Blount keeps Pittsburgh in the game longer and opens up the pass more for Big Ben?  What if they win that, then beat a flailing Denver, which seems reasonable considering how feckless Peyton Manning was on his torn quad? What happens last Sunday, assuming in that scenario that New England beats Indianapolis in the Divisional Round and hosts Pittsburgh, by which time it’s possible team MVP LeVeon Bell is back from his hyperextended right knee? Releasing Blount may just have been the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings in the rainforest that caused the figurative (and literal considering the weather) tsunami we watched Sunday in New England … Super Bowl XLIX, or as I see it, Brilliant Belligerent Bill Belichick vs Pformer Pats Patriarch Pom Pom Petey Carroll (pardon the alliteration liberties taken), Harbaugh Bros aside, might be the most intriguing coaching matchup in Super Bowl history since Noll-Landry II.  It also might be the last Super Bowl we see that harkens back to the smashmouth pre-Concussion Era of professional football, as I expect a brutally physical, Rock’ Em Sock ‘Em Robots game played in the 20s, last team standing wins …

College Basketball is just starting to get interesting. One thing I think has become the residue of the One and Done Era is that even the best teams, necessarily laden with talented but immature Freshmen putting in their obligatory nine month gestation period before they pop out as professional millionaires, play to the level of their competition. How else do you explain Duke losing at home by 20 to Miami, then going to Louisville and beating the #6 team in the country by 11? How does Arizona lose to Oregon State (RPI) then six days later trounce then-#8 Utah by 18? Even Kentucky’s squad of Übermensch was taken to overtime by Ole Miss & Texas A&M and held to 56 points by Columbia(!), in the midst of beating UCLA by 39 and Missouri by 49. Understanding that a highly ranked team relying on teenagers may suffer some lapses in focus despite a seeming vast divide in capability between them and any given opponent may be more useful than putting an odd result under a microscope, or dismissing Duke’s loss to Miami for example as an “outlier”. While I believe talent has a way of winning out in the end, with the One-and-Done nature of NCAA Tournament basketball itself – not just the fact teams rely on Freshmen now, but one loss and your season is over – it would not surprise me to see someone else besides Kentucky win the National Title, even if (or especially if, you choose) they are undefeated going into March Madness. In other words, don’t count me on the “Kentucky might be one of the Greatest Teams Ever” bandwagon  … I can’t stop saying “Bro”, Bro … For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I’m actually paying attention to the National Basketball League on a daily basis. I can’t remember a time where half the league seemingly has a chance to play for the NBA Title.  Five teams could win the East – Atlanta, Washington, Toronto, Chicago and Cleveland (you know a healthy LeBron will have them in every series) – and an astonishing nine (9!) teams could win the West, all the way down to Oklahoma City, who currently sits 3.5 games out of the 8th seed, but have been winning at a playoff clip (.705, good enough for the 4th seed as of January 20) when both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been healthy – 12-5 with both in the lineup, 8-15 without both, and a difference in scoring margin of +4.4 with to -0.7 without.  I wouldn’t even begin to hazard a guess as to who will win the NBA Title right now, and that, along with the seachange from individual isolation to team spacing in current NBA offenses, is what makes the NBA so fun to watch tight now …

I know it’s January, and I know their lead is only five (5) points in the table with 16 match days to go, but I firmly believe the English Premier League is Chelsea’s to lose. The title-holders Manchester City seems to have fallen to the arrogant malaise that can afflict defending champions, while Chelsea seems less prone to the odd game or indifferent result. And as nice a story as Southampton and their “Southampton Way” is, or as noteworthy as the stuttering resurgence of Manchester United has been this season (that in all likelihood propels them back to Champions League football and true EPL contention next season), that’s the title race right now. Chelsea and Manchester City. Two teams, both of which were expensively constructed, both of which are flawed in their dependence on 1-2 fragile talents (Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero for Man City), but one that to my eyes is decidedly less erratic and better motivated, possibly supporting the maxim that’s it’s better to hunt than be the hunted …

“Foxcatcher” is bleak, intense, squeamish, depressing, heartbreaking and captivatingly brilliant, all at once. Surprised it was not given a “Best Picture” nod by the Academy Awards, and I find it hard to believe there were eight better films in 2014. Although truthfully, it might have failed the simplest of tests, being a wonderfully made film, yet not a particularly enjoyable movie – I only plan to see that movie once in my lifetime, and I’ve already seen it. As good as Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo were, I thought Channing Tatum’s performance merited award consideration as well; So did the real-life person he played, Mark Schultz.  The wrestling choreography is accurate and convincing, and the film cinematography hits a perfect note, starting grimly from Scene 1 and only getting more dire as it progresses, to the point that even sunny days look grey. Admittedly, it’s easy to treat the film as a cautionary tale about the “Two Americas”, the Haves vs. the Have-Nots, the trappings of wealth contrasted with the entrapment of poverty and what each does to men and women, or to even tune out during what is essentially a 2-hour and 14-minute train wreck in slow motion, but to do either would miss the beauty, the details and nuances of this film. Go see it, and either thank or blame me later …

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