Thinking of Tiger Woods and other sportsdom bits and pieces

Here are some bits and pieces, flotsam and jetsam—if you will—to share while waiting for the thermostat to rise through the roof on what promises to be a Vesuvian Hot Stove Season. As juicy baseball fare goes it should exceed the regular season, at least in terms of fun. One can hardly wait. In the meantime:

It wasn’t long ago that the historical supremacy of Tiger Woods was not merely assumed but a given? That he would inevitably and quite casually shatter all the meaningful marks – topped by golf’s ultimate record for winning the most majors long held by Jack Nicklaus—was universally conceded. Now all of that has become inconceivable as Woods ends his second season in deepening eclipse as just another middle of the pack pro-duffer, struggling from event to event to make the cut.

As we approach its second anniversary the erstwhile Tiger’s catastrophic meltdown begins to look like the most spectacular and sordid that any major American athlete has experienced since the fabled middleweight boxing champ Stanley Ketchel crashed totally on the rocks more than a century ago.

Yet, what’s most stunning is the fact that there seems no remorse in the ranks of the sporting public. There’s virtually no sympathy for the man. Rather, there vaguely seems only relief that golf’s ultimate distinctions will remain the property of characters deemed much more admirable, such as Nicklaus. All of which may suggest that the tragedy of Tiger Woods is complete.

There is a lesson here somewhere.

Should they be destined to complete a spectacular regular season then follow with a quick exit in the playoffs, the Patriots will officially become the Yankees of football, to wit, a team stacked with stars constructed to excel when cruising through the sunny side of the season that fast fades when it reaches ‘nitty-gritty’ time. Such teams are properly known in sport as ‘Sunshine Patriots.’ Four years in a row of this act down in Foxborough would be tough to swallow.

But that’s what you can expect unless there’s some radical makeover in the next two months. They are, once again, going nowhere in the dead of winter unless they reincarnate a Night Train Lane or Herb Adderly for the defensive backfield in the late fall. Reviving the ghost of Albert Haynesworth to juice up the rush might help too. And if mighty Albert doesn’t snap out of his swoon. how much does that further tarnish Bill Belichick’s reputation for genius?

As for the Bruins, their struggles out of the gate were as predictable as the rising of tomorrow’s sun. Accomplishing a re-peat Cup win in the NHL might be the toughest challenge in professional sports.
What’s wrong with the Bruins? For the best answers, check the Chicago Blackhawks of last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins of the year before, or any other recent cup-winners, including Carolina, Tampa Bay, or Anaheim. All of them followed their glorious triumphs with the sort of checkered performance beginning to look like a pattern here.

Question: If the NBA lockout ends tomorrow, will anyone notice? It had long been considered axiomatic that nothing could surpass the mindless self-destruct the NHL conjured when it wiped out an entire season. But the basketball guys are mounting a heckuva effort to surpass that folly. Three cheers, says I; we’re rooting for you to do so, kids.

Let’s see if we have this right. The Big East Conference, composed of schools stretching the length of the Atlantic coastline, now yearns to have Boise State from the Great Pacific Northwest join its chummy little football cabal after having been rebuffed by T.C.U. which is, of course, located very deep in the heart of Texas. Seems to me this makes as much sense as inviting UCLA to join the Ivy League. Was there no interest on the part of the University of Hawaii?

If this bizarre notion flies, it ought to make for some fairly long road trips within the Big East, not that they would allow such considerations to affect the academic life of their student-athletes. The next question is, ‘Where does all this madness end?’ For which there is no answer.

Here’s more evidence that the inmates in the NFL may have already taken over the asylum: Earlier this month, New Orleans safety Roman Harper nailed Carolina receiver Steve Smith with a notably vicious and late hit laden with obvious intent to injure. He did it because he felt Smith was easing up and not running fast enough as he crossed the goal line and was therefore—in Harper’s opinion—showboating. Smith was injured and a nasty scrum followed; all quite embarrassing to a league that’s suddenly uptight about the needless thuggery of borderline psychopaths.

So the commissioner’s office socked the Saints’ safety with a $15,000 fine, which is fairly whopping when you consider that until they recently woke up, the people who run this league devoutly believed such behavior is what made their game great. Mr. Harper’s reaction to the penalty was a calculated mixture of outrage, derision, and insult. He spared no one, not even the commissioner, and he capped it by declaring the 15 grand was a small price to pay for the immense satisfaction the incident gives him. “I think it was good for this team; I think it was good for everything”, Mr. Harper exulted.

Of course, if the league were really determined to clean up its act, the renegade defensive back would have been whacked with another fine twice the size for his impertinence or perhaps suspended for his willful defiance of the new rules aimed at limiting injury as well as curbing the NFL’s mounting vulgarity, which the likes of Harper so brilliantly exemplify. Fat chance! Harper is right. It’s a small price for him to pay for gaining so much of the notoriety he craves for he knows it will serve him well the next time a defenseless wide receiver cruises into the path of his calculated menace.

On a not entirely unrelated matter, all of hockey holds its breath while awaiting the gimpy return of Pittsburgh’s Sid (The Kid) Crosby, the NHL poster-boy whose recuperation from a concussion is now inching its way through a ninth month. The thing of it is that Crosby’s injury seemed so routine; just another inadvertent flying elbow that glanced off his helmeted head, leaving him drifting addled in La La Land. Because he is who he is, young Crosby has raised the tricky concussion issue beyond the level of crisis.

Until Crosby not only returns but also fully regains his mighty stride, the NHL’s nightmare will continue. Indeed, it’s a dilemma for hockey at all levels and it’s shaking the game’s fundamental tenets. Take the bite out of the contact or diminish the hitting by loading it up with conditions and onerous consequences and what have you got left? Nobody knows. But at the pro level, where it’s all about the physical component, they are scared witless of the answer.

Lastly, regarding your beloved baseball team. It’s interesting to observe the rising level of disdain throughout the game for the Red Sox organization in the wake of the recent meltdown. While riding high in recent years, Owner Henry and his gang haven’t always comported themselves with as much grace and humility as might have been wise. In other words, now that the worm has turned, they aren’t commanding much sympathy.

Reports from the World Series suggest many baseball people would like to see MLB investigate all the alleged behavioral indiscretions, like the beer-swigging during the game stuff. Would Joe Torre, now in charge of deportment issues, entertain that nasty option? Sounds like he’s interested. Now wouldn’t that be amusing.

It was further dumb of the Red Sox to prolong the compensation hassle with the Cubs over departing GM Epstein, which has further irritated the commissioner, among others. Henry and his pals are saying a lot of nice things these days but it’s fairly clear, they still don’t get it.