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Let’s take the NCAA Tournament up a few notches — to 351 (Fahrenheit)

Let’s take the NCAA Tournament up a few notches — to 351 (Fahrenheit)

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Let’s just take the gloves off and hash this out — right here, right now, for the greater basketball good.

The current NCAA tournament format — 68 teams, with 8 playing off/in to create a field of 64 — is the worst sort of folly, both competitively arbitrary and financially capricious. From the moment the initial “play-in” gambit was instituted, in 2001, the slope proved slippery. At first, just two small-conference champions played off for the right to get boned, on 48 hours’ rest, by a top regional seed. The 8-team, 4-game play-in we’ve endured since 2011 is merely that much more arbitrary and capricious.

I wish I could tell you this “expansion” of the tournament was done in the name of inclusiveness and equity. But honestly, “arbitrary and capricious” is more accurate, for this peculiar tack was undertaken in service of the entirely arbitrary and capricious need to preserve NCAA tourney revenue and exposure for a dozen or so would-be, at-large, major-conference also-rans, each year, at the expense small-conference champions. In other words, the Atlantic Sun Conference champion is obliged to play-in against the winner of the Summit Conference, because if they did not, there would be no room in the field of 64 for some 5th or 6th place team from the Big Ten.

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International Olympic Committee Learning the Hard Truths of PGA Tour Attendance

International Olympic Committee Learning the Hard Truths of PGA Tour Attendance

The life of an elite professional golfer is one of great privilege, born of great skill. And now the International Olympic Committee is learning what organizers of PGA Tour events have known for several years: Getting the elite to schedule your event is like trying to lure multi-millionaires to time-share presentations.

The news that Adam Scott won’t be competing in Rio broke just as the Tour’s traveling road show stops this week in Charlotte for the Wells Fargo Championship, a top-tier event not just on account of its huge purse and quality golf course (Quail Hollow GC), but for the way it has traditionally pampered competitors. This aspect of tour life is seldom discussed outside the most wonky, Tour-obsessed websites and cable channels. However, the last decade has witnessed a startling arms race of perks and incentives, all bestowed with an eye toward delivering “name” players to individual PGA Tour events.

It’s a hard trick to turn. As the IOC is now learning, elite professional golfers have no real incentive to show up anywhere outside the Majors and World Golf Championship events, as they set their own schedules and money no longer interests them. Olympic glory? Representing your country? Cementing golf as an Olympic sport after a 112-year hiatus? A familiar 72-hole stroke-play format (as opposed to the team formats first advanced by Olympic organizers)? Today, all are likely to be met with indifferent yawns.

And why wouldn’t they yawn? Top players are so well compensated, the incentive to play 25-30 events per year (thus spreading around to many events the Tour’s considerable star power) has largely been removed. The fallback position for event organizers has been the lavishing of perks and niceties on players and their families.

At The Players Championship, conducted over Pete Dye’s TPC Sawgrass course each May, a purpose-built 77,000-square-foot clubhouse sports a cavernous locker room, a separate champions locker room, and a full-on spa that, during the tournament, dispenses free services (not just massage but manicures, pedicures and hot shaves) to players and their family members. The gourmet vittles served here are also considered the best on Tour.

There was a time when tour events burnished reputations by serving really good milk shakes and providing courtesy cars. Courtesy cars are today de riguer for all players, at every tour stop, but Charlotte takes it up a notch. Each golfer is provided a silver Mercedes-Benz S-300 or S-500 for the week. They are also entitled to police escorts if they happen to encounter something unseemly, like traffic. Free valet parking at Quail Hollow? Of course — even the caddies get that!

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How MadMen Should Finale, Ultimately

How MadMen Should Finale, Ultimately

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It doesn’t matter where Matthew Weiner & Co. pick up the seventh and final season of MadMen. Some might insist on 1969, to keep the 1960s ethos in tact (though the series actually started in the late ‘50s), others 1974, to neatly bookend the Dick Nixon Era. But it doesn’t really matter because halfway through the 2-hour finale of the seventh-and-final season, the show should jump from a 1970something tableau to a recognizably modern day. In keeping with the way other MM seasons have begun, it’s not exactly clear what year it is.

What is clear is this: Sterling Cooper & Partners has survived and thrived, perhaps added a name or two, and the agency has taken up residence in chic modern offices high in a glittering Manhattan tower of glass and steel. For 50 minutes of this final hour, in the course of a normal business day, we learn what’s happened to most all the characters who matter, i.e. who remains at the firm, how the hierarchical machinations have shaken out, who’s moved over to or formed competitors, who no longer remains on this mortal coil, who has divorced and remarried whom, who’s aged well and who hasn’t… The pacing is pointedly brisk, recalling the Season 3 episode “Shut the Door. Have a Seat”, when the gang reboots the firm. This pacing is important because frankly there’s a lot of ground to cover (for the viewer, absent all these years) and we want to make clear the agency’s ongoing vitality.

Clues re. the time period dribble out via scene details and workaday conversations at SC&P. For example, the Justice Dept. has just announced it would no longer seek to break-up Microsoft — a fact germane to SC because the firm is courting Netscape, which is jittery because a company called Google has just been awarded US Patent 6,259,999 for the PageRank algorithm used in its search engine. The codgers at Sterling Cooper aren’t at all sure what a search engine is.

Bobby Draper has grown up to be a political operative. We see him on TV as chief of staff to Congressman Gary Condit, steadfastly defending a man who would appear to be dying a slow political death while denying an affair with 24-year-old Chandra Levy, now missing for 133 days.

All this catch-up takes place on a single day, a Monday.

The next morning, standing in his Upper East Side apartment, an appropriately aged Don Draper reads the paper in his stylish breakfast nook while a radio plays in the background: Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Afghan Northern Alliance, has been assassinated in Takhar Province. His young wife doesn’t know who that is. She’s the spitting image of Betty Draper. Or maybe it’s another brunette…

It’s a late-summer day under a bright, blue, cloudless sky. Don gets out of a cab and bumps into a colleague (Peggy? Roger? Dawn?) outside their office tower. They’ve got a conference call at 9 a.m. and running late. As they hustle inside, the camera pans back from the monolithic revolving doors and reveals, for the first time, that the Sterling Cooper offices are housed inside the World Trade Center.

Cut immediately to the Sterling Cooper offices burning out of control. Don is knocked out beside his own desk, lying amid the debris (which includes a bottle of bourbon, a tumbler and a slide carousel). The only real sounds are low-licking flames and the eerie, reedy hum of steady winds, as several ceiling-to-floor windowpanes have been shattered/knocked out by the impact and subsequent blasts of jet fuel. The whole scene is staged and blocked to recall MadMen’s seminal Korean War flashbacks.

Don ultimately comes to, and things are suddenly moving really fast again. MM characters dart in and out, to see if Don’s alive, to express ignorance or disagreement as to what has actually happened, to tell him so-and-so is dead, to inform him they can no longer stay put. Indeed, a group has decided to ignore the “stay put” advice of emergency personnel on the ground — they’re leaving, and they’re taking the stairs. Draper says he’ll be right there.

Alone now, he grabs the bourbon, pours himself a drink and downs it. As he takes one last look around the wreckage that was his office/firm/life, the episode-ending music begins (“Be My Baby”, by Ronnie Spector and the Ronnettes). Don walks past the camera toward what we assume is the door. Instead, he walks to the open window and calmly steps out.

No need to show the trag-iconic footage of that businessman falling from the World Trade Center on 9/11. It is immediately recalled — and provides new meaning to the animated version of that footage we’ve seen at the start of this and every other MadMen episode, including the final one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McShane Deserves a Bust in Rogue’s Gallery

McShane Deserves a Bust in Rogue’s Gallery

 

For reasons I’ve never quite understood, I’ve maintained an odd recollection of and attachment to the 1969 film, If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium. It was on TV when I was a kid, but no more than any other junkie films that populated the late-night film archives of local Boston affiliates. Why would I fixate this film? For a while I assumed it was the presence of a youngish, sneaky hot Suzanne Pleshette, and maybe that’s it. But maybe, just maybe, it was the fact that her love interest was played by Ian McShane.

I keep running into this guy. I just plowed through three seasons of Deadwood, in which he hit it out of the park as iconic Gem Saloon owner Al Swearengen. Now I’m onto a British mini-series production of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Fall, where McShane presides as the conniving Bishop Waleran. This son of Blackburn, Lancashire has been around forever but it wasn’t till the other day that I realized what a long screen relationship I had with him.

His big screen credits frankly leave a bit to be desired. I wouldn’t call them four thousand holes in the resume, but several decades of nothing films have been followed, of late, by a series of grey eminence roles (Coraline, The Golden Compass) and bit parts in animated features (Shrek the Third, Kung Fu Panda). This may be the only British actor who failed to land a sinecure via the Harry Potter franchise. Sexy Beast was a fine film, though his solid portrayal of Teddy Bass was overshadowed (along with everything else in this 2000 feature) by the sublimely, astonishingly evil Ben Kingsley character (yeah, he’s got range but who knew Ben had that in him?). McShane’s Blackbeard in the latest installment of Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides, was probably a nice payday but it ain’t gonna win him any Best Supporting Actor nominations.

On TV, however, McShane has turned in a hall-of-fame-caliber roster of work, on both sides of the pond. God praise Wikipedia for logging it all for posterity. This guy is a mini-series maestro — Roots, Disraeli, Pillars — and has starred and/or appeared in a laundry list of fine or otherwise noteworthy series: Space 1999, Magnum P.I., Miami Vice, Dallas, The West WingDeadwood’s well earned praise, and his centrality to the show, now overshadowed what had been the jewels in his crown: eight years as the unabashedly mulletted, somewhat slimy antique dealer, Lovejoy, and a recurring role in the equally laudable (and British) series Minder.

I’m not trying to make any monumental cultural point here. Only that no one does rogues of ambiguous motivation like Ian McShane.

Postponing the Deadwood Finale, Because I Can…

Postponing the Deadwood Finale, Because I Can…

 

It is possible, Virginia, to keep oneself in suspense. When playing 7-card stud, for example, and the dealer delivers the final card, down and dirty. It’s far more fun to hide it awhile behind the two existing down cards before slowly “squeezing” the last one into view, effectively teasing oneself with visual clues: Be round, baby. Be round!

In the age of TiVo, DVDs and DVRs, it’s perhaps even an easier and more common practice. I almost never watch a sporting event live on television these days; far better to DVR that sucker, skip the ads and condense a 3.5-hour Patriots game into a single 70-minute experience. What’s that? Dinner’s ready and Tom Brady’s driving New England toward winning 4th quarter touchdown? Simply pause it and mull the possibilities over a relaxing Sunday repast.

The television series on DVD offers the opportunity to raise this dynamic to high art, and I’m purposely poised at the precipice as I write you this evening. In September, I secured all three seasons of HBO’s acclaimed series, Deadwood. I brought them home from Asia (read: I bought a pirated version for a song). There are 36 shows in all. I have watched 35 and I’m savoring the possible denouements awhile before I break down and watch the final episode.

I don’t want it to end. So, for now, I’m withholding climax.

Deadwood came to this viewer with an extraordinary amount of fawning advanced billing, even from those I would judge to be hard cases and otherwise culturally snobbish. I don’t subscribe to HBO, never have. So it was going to require a DVD purchase to get a look. I managed to put that off for a long while, or otherwise blanked when rummaging through the bins of pirated DVD material during earlier visits to the side-street vendors of Saigon, Bangkok and Beijing.

Then there was the matter of having finally purchased Deadwood as part of September’s larger, stellar haul of video fodder. I also came home with Inception, Friends with Benefits, Winter’s Bone and the entire Game of Thrones series, another HBO-produced tour de force. My son and I have dipped into that one (which the Vietnamese pirate-packager endearingly labeled Game of Thorns).

One downside to HBO programming (and there aren’t many) is the interminable opening-credit sequences. I’ve not timed them, but the intro to each episode of Game of Thrones and Deadwood, for example, must run a full minute. Doesn’t sound like much, and the opening to Game of Thrones is actually quite well done — a sweeping, 3-D, helicopter-view tour of the mythical kingdoms over which rival factions fight in this absorbing epic. But it feels interminable after the first couple viewings, and here again we just fast-forward through it now.

[Digression: I heard a Fresh Air interview with Seth McFarlane the other day. He’s the force behind Family Guy, a show that has its moments but isn’t really my cup of tea. Too scatological for its own good, though the show’s opening is a clever take on the ditty Edith and Archie sang to start each episode of All in the Family. McFarlane noted that the trend today on commercial TV runs toward much shorter show openings, enabling network philistines to pack ever more advertising into a 30- or 60-minute slot.]

Okay, back on message. Having saved the best for last, I can report that Deadwood is really, really good. I’m dreading the idea that once I desist with the self-imposed suspense and watch the finale, it’ll all be over. One doesn’t get that same sense of dread when catching up on Mad Men or other worthy series still in production, where new material’s in the offing. The whiff of disappointment at finishing the final disc is tempered by the fact that there’s more to come. But it’s far worse contemplating the close of Deadwood, which, for reasons I mean to explore once I’m finished (so as not to ruin the ending), simply pulled the plug after Season III.

I’ll write more on the series itself when I’ve taken it all in. Until then, I’ll leave you in suspense.

 

 

Whitbread Headlines Intriguing TV Saturday for US Soccer Nuts

Whitbread Headlines Intriguing TV Saturday for US Soccer Nuts

Keep your DVRs at the ready. The U.S. Men’s National Soccer campaign is done for 2011, but that doesn’t mean we can’t check on the progress and form of key individual squad members, as they toil for European clubs and, in some cases, strive to catch the eye of American coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Indeed, Saturday, Nov. 26 provides us three televised games on the trot, all featuring Yanks abroad worth watching.

The most interesting game, the one I’ll be watching closest, is the 10 a.m. EST tilt featuring Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers on Fox Soccer Channel. Not the most compelling or glamorous match on its face, but it’s hoped here that City’s Zak Whitbread, the central defender and Houston native, will earn a start in the Canary back four. Whitbread is not a household name. He’s bounced around England’s lower divisions for some time. He’s no spring chicken, either: 27 years old, meaning he’d be 30 by the time Brazil 2014 rolls around and, so, hardly a more youthful alternative to either Carlos Bocanegra and Clarence Goodson. Klinsmann’s current top choices at center defense have not wowed anyone with their pace nor their ability to play the ball confidently and creatively out of the back. I’ve no idea whether Whitbread is a serious alternative to either one, but how may other Americans are playing central defense for EPL teams nowadays. Who is this guy? Whitbread spent most of his life in England and Singapore (his father, Barry Whitbread, was the coach of the Singapore national football team in the late 1990s). He matriculated via Liverpool’s respected youth academy but never caught on with the senior club. He played at Millwall and now he’s at Norwich. I can’t say that I have any real familiarity with this guy’s game. I’ll be looking to change that  Saturday.

Equally enticing is the 2:30 p.m. EST Serie A match on Fox Soccer Channel pitting Chievo against AC Milan. Michael Bradley showed everyone he deserves a place in the U.S. team with a fine performance in Slovenia last week. I think the hubbub re. whether Klinsi was somehow dissing Bradley in wake of his father being ousted as U.S. coach, in August, was way overplayed. All this fall, Bradley the Younger had been fighting for a place with his new Italian club, and Klinsi would have done him no favors by pulling him out of training for a friendly v. Honduras. Again, we don’t get to see a lot of Chievo on American television, and so we’ll see for ourselves Saturday what sort of place Bradley has fashioned for himself — against top-flight competition in Milan.

I think we know all we need to know about Clint Dempsey at this stage. He’s America’s top talent, can play anywhere in any attacking formation, and does so for both the USMNT and his EPL club, Fulham. Sandwiched between the two games noted above, The Cottagers travel to Arsenal in a 12:30 p.m. EST start on FSC. The Gunners have found their form of late, while plucky Fulham have exhibited difficulty scoring home and away. Here’s hoping FFC scores first in this London Derby, on a Dempsey goal, thereby averting what I fear could be a route.

Larry Sanders: I Never Knew Ye… Until Now

Larry Sanders: I Never Knew Ye… Until Now

 

I’ve never subscribed to HBO. There may have been a month or two when it was provided to us here in New Gloucester, by mistake, or as part of some promotion, but when the cable monolith inevitably attempted to charge us, we balked. The movie-watching we missed as a result of this cultural diminishment we don’t see as relevant.

However, many is the time I wish I had actually seen all those episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Larry Sanders Show.

Last year, from some Bangkok street vendor, I procured up first four seasons of Curb, for a ridiculously small sum. It was good; I had seen the odd show here and there. But I had trouble watching them en masse, to be frank. After 5-6 episodes, not even a full season, I found myself worn out but the sameness of each plot: No, Larry. No, don’t do that. Oh geez…

IFC started rebroadcasting The Larry Sanders Show in January and with a deft flick of my DVR settings, I have proceeded to record each episode, in order, from the very beginning of the show’s run in 1992. It’s hard to keep up. My family rolls its eyes when they glimpse the list of recorded shows and spy the sea of Larry. And I’ll admit that what I believe were the first two seasons were only slightly better than average and something of a letdown when contrasted with the glowing tributes this series routinely garners from

TV cognoscenti. The episodes didn’t suffer from a sameness, a la Curb, but I did find myself wondering why it was I was supposed to care about any of the main characters.

Well, I can report that in season four the show officially hits its stride. It’s not merely easy for me to sit down and watch 2-3 episodes in a sitting; I make time for it. Indeed, I recently watched the fictitious talk show’s 8th anniversary special, and it struck me that a number of things have come together, revealing the show’s genius and explaining all the accolades I’d read and listened to over the years.

First and foremost, the cast has turned over a bit and now, in the fourth season, a glut of young comic talent (well, they were young in the ‘90s, when the show ran) has been assembled and appears regularly. Phil the writer and Larry’s assistant Beverly have been joined by:

• Janeane Garafolo plays Paula the alt talent booker (in one recent episode, she’s obliged to appear on the show and, though ambivalent about the exercise, takes heart that it might be seen by members of Pavement);

• Sarah Silverman has just come aboard as the new writer;

• Scott Thompson of Kids in the Hall fame has taken over as sidekick Hank Kingsley’s personal assistant, replacing the shapely but boring Darlene; and

• Bob Odenkirk, alum of both Mr. Show and The Ben Stiller Show, “guests” recurringly as Larry’s prick agent.

These characters, along with Gary Shandling’s Larry Sanders, Jeffrey Tambor’s Ed McMahon homage, Kingsley, and Rip Torn’s Artie the Producer, form the comic core of the show. As an ensemble, this small group is superb. Kingsley is one of the more hilariously execrable characters ever created for television, a vain, callow, greedy, ultimately obtuse prick who, as we learned in a recent episode involving a sex tape he made, happens to be hung like Affirmed. Shandling and Torn are priceless. It just works.

And this isn’t really the half of it, because what truly makes the show is the constant stream of talk show guests who come on and parody themselves, show business, and their particular shows/films with startling honesty, irony and profanity. Four seasons in, many of these celebrities have appeared often enough, or been pilloried by other cast members frequently enough, that they come off as minor show characters in their own right.

The 8th anniversary show drove much of this home for me. The fictitious show writers have concocted a sketch whereby guests Noah Wylie (from the ‘90s hit hospital series “ER”) and Mandy Patkinkin (from its contemporaneously rival hospital drama “Chicago Hope”) are to participate in a mock shit-slinging match, on camera, on the couch, sending up a contrived rivalry between the two shows and their respective casts. When they are briefed on all this in the Green Room, backstage, Patinkin refuses and ends up shitting all over “ER” for real: calling it superficial and a day camp for beautiful actors and actresses. What’s a put-on in this show within a show, this green room within a green room, and what’s not is difficult to discern, which is a scream. Meanwhile, another guest, CBS sportscaster Pat O’Brien, is across the green room trying to watch the show on a monitor and keeps yelling, “Would you two shut the fuck up?!” Another guest, Rosie O’Donnell sashays about, pissed off that her limo never came, obliging her to drive herself to the taping and park her own car.

KD Lang is a guest, too, and apparently she’s Hank’s neighbor in Malibu or something. They hate each other, because squirrels living in a tree on her property are dropping acorn shells into Hank’s pool — and he has responded by downing the entire overhanging branch with a chainsaw. They bump into each other backstage, getting coffee, and she dresses him down, salty as can be — adding that she wishes he’d stop vacuuming his pool in the nude. The casual profanity combined with the audience’s knowledge of Lang’s bisexuality (real), not to mention Hank’s giant schlong (?), is hysterical.

Linking all these disparate bits in a 30-minutes episode is the fact that Larry is so keyed up for the show, he forgets his ritualistic pre-show whiz. So he keeps trying to slip out between guests, or when Lang is performing, only to be foiled each time. During one break, he runs into Fred Corcoran, legendary producer of the Tonight Show and the model for Artie’s character. Larry tries to pull away, cuz he HAS to go, but Corcoran offers, offhandedly, that “Johnny says hello.” Larry’s supreme vanity trumps any discomfort, preventing him from leaving. “Johnny says hello? Really? Does he watch the show? If you could arrange a lunch sometime…”

20 seconds, Larry!

Another attempt is scotched right at the bathroom door when Farrah Fawcett shows up. She has apparently hit Rosie’s car in the parking lot and is trying to find her. She’s quite flirty with Larry, and this doesn’t help when Ryan O’Neal emerges from the bathroom — still angry with Larry for bumping him from an earlier show (the subplot of an earlier episode). This is just the sort of celeb character history that continually loops through the series. (In this same anniversary episode, George Segal stands around in a tux shamelessly hoping to fill in, in case a guest no-shows). The whole Ryan/Farrah vignette takes all of 45 seconds, and you gotta love the fact that these two would agree to show up, if only to send themselves up, for less than a minute of face time on The Larry Sanders Show. Even so, it takes long enough to foil Larry’s plan to piss.

15 seconds, Larry!

For fans of the show, none of this is news. Indeed, it’s more than a decade late. However, I’m telling you, it’s all very well done and to those who’ve been similarly remiss, I can heartily recommend a DVD purchase or perhaps the IFC/DVR route. Another sanguinary aspect? The show is set in the 90s, when some of us were still young, OJ was still on trial, ER still ruled the Thursday time slot, Boris Yeltsin jokes were still current, and Farrah still lived. It’s an entertaining window on the Clinton Era and, with season four behind me (wherein Larry slept with Ellen Degeneres and fends off the sexual advances of the X-Files’ David Duchovny), I’ve got a feeling the best may yet be to come.

 

 

 

 

 

Sorta Live Chat: Bruins Victory Dissected via Text
The Spirit of '72 is once again loose in the land.

Sorta Live Chat: Bruins Victory Dissected via Text

The Spirit of ’70 and ’72 is once again loose in the land.

 

Nothing like shooting texts back and forth during a sporting event. These comments don’t rise to the level of a phone call, of course. Not in the 21st century. And the result is an interesting stream of consciousness.

After our podcast Wednesday, hockey savant David Desmith and I continued our conversation via this medium. See an annotated transcript here, and our jumping off point was Michael Ryder’s goal that made it 2-0, at 11:11 of the second period. The Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont, a keen observer of the game in my view, had this to say about that tally: “Ryder ripped off a wrister from the top of the left wing circle, right in front of a stick-checking Sami Salo, and the gargantuan [Canucks keeper Roberto] Luongo fanned at the shot with his big left catching glove. Nothing but net. And nothing but a sinking feel for the Western Conference champs. Cup-winning goalies have to make that stop.” I texted Desmith with this:

Hal Phillips: Big goal, soft goal

He didn’t respond until the Bruins had made it 3-0, on a goal from Brad Marchand two minutes later. This would not have happened if Marchand hadn’t clearly tripped Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard just prior — a fact that neither the Versus announcing team (nor Dupont) cared to comment on. Desmith, a Canadiens fan, was hardly so silent.

David Desmith: Two bad goals vs. Luongo. The third one was a gift from unconscious referees. No way should that slew foot behind the net have gone unpunished. Very bad refereeing again tonight in my opinion. Interference and goalie interference all over the place, mostly by Boston. As long as the refs let that kind of shit go on, Boston will have an advantage. Refs in the NHL are so much worse than they were 20 years ago — and there was only one ref on the ice then.

HP: Marchand got away with one, no doubt.

DD: And possibly a crucial one. There’s no excuse for a play like that not getting called. None.

HP: Fair enough but they’ve been given four penalties, the Bruins just two. What ratio would u call fair, 5:2, 6:2? I think 5:2, the Marchand trip shoulda been called; but it’s on Vancouver for doing nothing with four PPs.

DD: No argument there. But if the slew foot gets called and Vancouver scores on the PP, it’s a 2-1 game rather than 3-0. Refs never want to affect the outcome, but non-calls do affect things — just as penalties that are called affect things. Refs need to call everything. That’s the only way the game will get back to being the kind of game you and I admire.

HP: Assuming the Nucks score on a power play is a big “if”. They’ve caught some lame PP flu from [Bruins power play “specialist” turned anchor Thomas] Kaberle. They’ve had no jump, 5 v. 5 or 5 v. 4…

DD: Agreed. But they can’t score on a PP they don’t get. Vancouver is intimidated. The Garden will do that to you. V needs to score at least 2 in this period or the mo will definitely be on Boston’s side.

HP: They score one and Bruins sphincters will tighten right up

DD: Maybe. That’s why that third goal was such a huge gift.

 

The third period begins and Sedin is quickly called for a slash. Boston’s Rich Peverly puts the game out of reach with a goal at 3:27. Luongo is pulled in favor of Boston College product Corey Schneider.

HP: The Sedins are minus-11 in this series? Are u kiddin me?

DD: Euro-chokers… Another bad call. They really want the Bs to win don’t they? Luongo’s done. Two horrible games in a row. Very surprising.

HP: Why is that surprising? First time past the second round for him, he nearly threw up in his mouth vs. Chicago, Bruins shot everything at his chest in Vancouver…

DD: U could be right. I’ve just seen him play so many superb games. In the playoffs, too. But maybe he’s not a playoff guy when it counts.

HP: Remember the Olympics? He was awful. They won in spite of him.

DD: True.

HP: Don’t want to get triumphal but look how the B’s lost those two gamex away from home, and look at the way the Nucks have laid down here… I say that’s telling

DD: Could be. Objectively, I’d say Boston’s in the driver’s seat now. Personally, I hope V wins the next two.

HP: Well you’ve been consistent in your distaste for the black and gold. You’re entitled… But a lesser team drops two opening games like that and doesn’t come back and spank the “best” team in hockey, 12-1, in the next two. Boston has to feel pretty good about their chances to win 2 of the next 3.

DD: Indeed. Boston has been impressive all year. It’s why I knew they’d beat Mtl, why I knew they’d be in the Finals, and now they’re here fighting hard. I do give them credit — and there are even some Bruins I admire: Luke, Bergeron and Thomas. But it’s Neely’s team and he’s a total waste of oxygen.

DD: And, most Bruins fans are Neanderthals.

DD: I feel bad for Canucks fans. Their team has disappeared.

DD: Do you start Schneider next game? I would.

 

 

At this stage, the game begins to degenerate into a chaotic venomfest, similar to the third period of Game 3. Marchand starts the first fracas by taking a triple minor (!), holding, tripping and roughing Henrik Sedin in the corner at 17:33. Ballard retaliates and the Bruins Adam McQuade draws a game misconduct.

DD: Typical Boston crap. THAT is why I hate the Bruins. Mtl never resorts to such shit. It’s shameful.

HP: Pushing them to the edge. They took the bait. Now they’re pulling the goalie to score a single goal.

 

 

Another fracas at 18:09, involving Alexandre Burrows (cross-checking), Ryan Kesler (roughing) Zdeno Chara (roughing), even Bruins keeper Tim Thomas (slashing). Kesler and Chara earn game misconducts. Replay clearly shows Vancouver winger Burrows, the guy who bit Patrice Bergeron in Game 1, attempting to slash the stick out of Thomas’ hands. Thomas retaliates by slashing Burrows, seemingly unprovoked, 10 seconds later.

HP: Uh oh. More fun

DD: God I hate Boston. Animals like that should never wear Cup rings.

HP: Did u see who started it? The Biter

DD: Thomas started it with the slash. He’s gotten away with that the whole playoffs. Again, poor refereeing leads to bad hockey. And the fans love it.

HP: No, no. They showed it on replay. The Biter slashed Thomas’ stick out of his hand; that came first

DD: How could Thomas slash him if he didn’t have his stick?

HP: He slashed it out of his hands. Thomas picked it up. Where’s the mystery… Don’t you get the impression that the Nucks just don’t do this sort of thing well? The goading and intimidation? They’re out of their depth

DD: I’ll have to watch that highlight. It’s about time someone did to Thomas what’s he been doing to everyone else… They’ve gotten sucked into playing Boston’s game. The way these games are being called isn’t helping them. It’s almost like they have no choice

HP: Agreed. It’s not entirely honorable nor is it the Bruins fault the game is being called the way it is… But if Van scores a couple PP goals, isn’t Boston chastened and tone it down, out of necessity?

DD: Sure. But that doesn’t mean that refs shouldn’t call everything that’s a penalty. Why are there rules if the refs can just call only what they want? V could’ve had 10 PPs tonight.

HP: So I’m watching the highlights and NO ONE said Marchand tripped Ballard before the third goal. Why not?

DD: I’m watching the CBC feed. Knowledgeable hockey people saw it and commented on it. Still V sucked tonight and the Sedins in particular. Bad calls or no, they didn’t deserve to win.

 

That is indeed the bottom line: The Canucks are halfway to pissing away this series, and their once-vaunted power play is the reason why — that, or the Bruins’ now-vaunted penalty kill wins Game 5 Friday night in Vancouver. Should be a Dusey.

 

World Cup Nostalgia: Ultimately, it was televised

World Cup Nostalgia: Ultimately, it was televised

The inimitable Archie Gemmel, on the rampage against Holland in 1978.

Like the Olympic Games, the World Cup comes round but once every four years. Unlike the modern Olympiad, the World Cup has only recently attracted the exhaustive attention of television programmers, a fact driven home to me by my friend and colleague, Dieter Schmidt, in his debut column at halphillips.net. There was indeed no international soccer on U.S. television in the early 1970s (before Dee got a bit too stoned and spent the next 32 years frozen in a northern Manitoba trash heap). Indeed, the World Cup final — the most watched sporting event the world over — was not televised live in America until 1982, and each game of the tournament was not available on TV until ESPN undertook the task for the 1994 games, staged here in the U.S.

The United States’ thrilling last-minute victory over Algeria on Wednesday was testament to the overwhelming power of the shared televised sports experience. My fellow podcaster Tom Wadlington and I watched at DiMillo’s Bayside, a nice little sports bar in Portland, Maine. It’s not every day that two strangers leap into my arms while screaming with unbridled joy, as happened when Donovan buried the winner. It’s the latest in a series of World Cup TV Memories that I will take with me always.

I have fairly visual, broadcast-enabled memories of each World Cup starting with 1974, some more vivid and complete than others. Catching a World Cup match pre-1994, even a final, took some real doing, some planning. Here’s the first in a two-part rundown of how I managed it.

1974: West Germany

I don’t know who the chick is, but that’s Hubie, at right, just as he looked in the 1970s.

I grew up playing for the Wellesley United Soccer Club in suburban Boston, and club wide for many years our uniforms were, for reasons unknown to me, a fairly exact copy of the German national kit at that time: white socks, black shorts, white shirt with black piping. So, we had a kinship with the Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner, Gerd Muller teams of that period. One of my very first coaches, in fact, Mr. Krause, was a German national whose son, Dirk, would fling himself about the goalmouth during practice making saves and yelling “Sepp!”, in honor of the Mannschaft’s imperious, talented keeper, Sepp Maier. Even so, while I knew the Germans had won the 1974 World Cup, I didn’t see the final until 1977, when I attended the Puma All-Star Soccer Camp — run by another Teutonic type, one Hubert Vogelsinger, an Austrian national who, rumor had it, had been banned from his native soccer community (and emigrated to San Diego) after head-butting a referee during a match in Vienna. In any case, Hubie showed films every night after running us ragged all day long. He was understandably Germanophilic and it was there, in the Taft School cafeteria, in Watertown, Conn., seated beside my Wellesley roommate Mike Mooradian, that I finally saw the 1974 final, in its entirety: Holland with its kick-ass Orange uniforms; both teams with their amazingly long hair and mustaches; Holland’s 15 consecutive passes to start the game, culminating in a penalty and converted spot kick by Johann Cruyff to put the Dutch ahead 1-0 — before the Germans had even touched the ball (!); Breitner’s PK to tie the game; Bertie Vogts dogging a sub-par Cruyff the rest of the game; and the Germans’ ultimate 2-1 triumph, with Franz raising the trophy overhead two-handed. There was a great deal of slow-motion included in the game film, an effective motif for the game action but also for visceral reaction shots of these impossibly hirsute Germans, who very much looked the part of marauding Visigoths. Even three years late, it was impossibly exotic and heroic.

1978: Argentina

Just a year later, I returned to Hubie’s camp and, if I’m not mistaken, we saw the ’74 final again one night. But we also saw a highlight reel of the just-completed World Cup in Argentina. This made less of a lasting impression, maybe because we only saw snippets from the tournament. I remember Mario Kempes on a mazy run and scoring a goal in extra time. Was it the second goal in the 3-1 Argentina victory, or the third? Who knows? … I recall a hail of goals from Argentina in a 6-0 drubbing of Peru. Only much later did I learn that this was a match Peru and its Argentina-born keeper were accused of throwing, to put the host country in the final at Brazil’s expense (back then, teams qualified for the final directly from group play; confounding)… And then there is Archie Gemmel, the Scot who scored one of the great goals in British football history vs. the Dutch in some group game. Scotland won the game but didn’t advance out of the group, while Holland went to the final. Still, Gemmel’s goal was so sublime, it’s the highlight from 1978 I remember best — maybe because it remains so talked about and, thanks to the Internet, ubiquitous. Check it out on youtube. You won’t be sorry.

1982: Spain

This was a big deal, seeing the game live. I watched it with my high school girlfriend, Renée, at her parents’ house. There were breaks for advertisements, but I don’t recall that being controversial at the time. Not to me. I was American. I couldn’t yet conceive of a sporting event that didn’t accommodate such interruptions.

1986: Mexico

I watched this game at my house in Wellesley, and I have to admit that I don’t recall anything about the game or the event that was particularly memorable. Just graduated from college and spending the requisite jobless downtime at my parent’s place, no doubt I was stoned at the time.

1990: Italy

A few years ago, my friend Dave called and asked me a cryptic question.

“Remember that time I came over to your house in Watertown and we watched that World Cup game?”

Um, yeah…

“Well, what day was that?”

What do you mean, ‘what day’? It was June 1990; I don’t know the exact day…

“Oh. Okay…”

Dave, why do you want to know this?

“Well, we ordered cheeseburger subs from that place, and I’ve just realized that was the last time I ate meat.”

Well, thanks to the Internet, now it can be told. Dave last ate meat on June 25, 1990, the same day Romania eliminated Ireland on penalty kicks in the Round of 16. I remember quite a bit from that day, and that tournament. Not every group game was televised, on ESPN, but every knockout game was. For a soccer nut who was getting only the semi-finals and finals up to that point, this was Nirvana. At the time, I was 26 and working as city editor at a daily newspaper, which meant I didn’t go to work until 5 p.m. As Italy was 6 hours ahead I could get up and watch World Cup matches all day long before heading to the newsroom. Fabulous.

One more delicious note from 1990: “That place” was The International, a fabulous pizza and sub shop that delivered — and delivered to my address with great frequency. That same day that Dave at his parting cheeseburger sub, I was in the shower and he was in the kitchen doing something when the delivery guy, Ahmed, walked in without ringing the doorbell, as was his custom. I was a regular customer; we had an understanding. With Dave looking on, Ahmed proceeds to set the food on coffee table, sit himself down in front of the television set and take a hit off the bong that was a fixture on said coffee table in that apartment. Dave, who knew nothing of our understanding, was understandably taken aback and hid in the kitchen until I emerged from the bathroom. I’ve always loved that memory, and was only too happy to add the cheeseburger sub aspect.