TIME Football

6 Surreal Takeaways From the Deflategate Report

Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks
Kevin C. Cox—Getty Images Tom Brady during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on February 1, 2015.

Besides its actual existence

Give Ted Wells, the NFL-appointed attorney who produced Wednesday’s investigative report about Deflategate, a little credit. Some sections of 243-page (including appendices) document read like a real caper: hours before kickoff in the AFC championship game on Jan. 18, referees measure football air pressure in their locker room and exit to take care of some pre-game business, only to return to find that—ahhhh!—the footballs have disappeared. Where did they go? Into a Gillette Stadium bathroom, that’s where. What happened in there? We can’t say for sure, but the investigators believe it is “more probable than not” that a Patriots locker room attendant, Jim McNally, stuck a needle in 13 footballs, letting some air out of them and breaking NFL rules.

Deflategate has always been pretty ridiculous—even though it’s not cool, at all, that the Pats likely cheated. This report, and some of the reaction to it, highlights some of the insanity. A few examples:

1. That’s Not Tom Brady. It’s The Ticket Guy. The report pins Deflategate on two Pats employees: McNally and John Jastremski, the equipment assistant who’s in charge of preparing the balls that Brady uses in games. (The report says Brady was likely at least “generally aware” of the scheme.) During New England’s game against the New York Jets on Oct. 16, Brady complained that the balls were overinflated. “Tom sucks,” McNally—nicknamed “Bird” in Jastremski’s phone—texted to Jastremski. “i’m going to make that next ball a fu-king balloon.” McNally is tasked with attending to the referee’s locker room, and bringing the game balls to the field. Why would he reference anything to do with football air pressure? One minute and 23 seconds later, Jastremski replied: “Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done.” Jastremski followed with two more messages to McNally: “I told him it was. He was right though…I checked some of the balls this morn …The refs fu-ked us … a few of then were at almost 16.”

Both McNally and Jastremski claimed that “him” and “he” referenced in the second and third messages did not refer to “Tom”—indisputably Brady—but a friend of Jastremski who could help McNally sell unused Pats season tickets. That, according to the Deflategate suspects, was the source of “stress.” Not tampering with footballs. So they want you to believe that two relatively low-level Pats employees begin a text conversation referencing the team’s superstar, then suddenly start talking about a “he” that does not refer to the team’s superstar, and then end the conversation referring back to football air pressure—which was “almost 16″ pounds-per-square-inch (psi), way overinflated—and obliquely recalling the superstar’s displeasure. If this is true, that’s some of the strangest pronoun usage ever.

Wells didn’t buy it. Do you? I’m betting the odds are, hell no.

2. The NFL Knew! Or at least got a head’s up. The day before the AFC championship game, Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson sent an email to NFL operations officials. In the email was a note from the team’s equipment manager:

As far as the gameballs are concerned it is well known around the league that after the Patriots gameballs are checked by the officials and brought out for game usage the ballboys for the patriots will let out some air with a ball needle because their quarterback likes a smaller football so he can grip it better, it would be great if someone would be able to check the air in the game balls as the game goes on so that they don‟t get an illegal advantage.

Now, at the time, this probably sounded like a nutty conspiracy theory. The report notes that the Colts had no factual support to back up their suspicions. But still … shouldn’t this raise at least a little alarm? Since this was, after all, the AFC championship game, couldn’t the NFL have assigned someone—anyone—to supervise the balls prior to the game? Just don’t let them out of your sight. If such a hawkeye was on duty, no way could McNally have slipped into the bathroom with the footballs. “Excuse me, Jim,” Hawkeye (let’s just give this imaginary football surveillance pro this name) would have said, as McNally entered the restroom. “Please leave the balls out here.” To think: Deflategate was utterly preventable.

3. Robert Kraft’s Reaction. In a statement on Wednesday, New England’s owner stuck to his story: I don’t believe any of this. “To say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the AFC Championship game,” Kraft said, “would be a gross understatement.” No surprise that Kraft defended his team. But one section of Kraft’s five-paragraph missive at best, misses the point, and at worst, is nakedly disingenuous. “What is not highlighted in the text of the report is that three of the Colts’ four footballs measured by at least one official were under the required psi level,” Kraft said.

Okay, but what’s not highlighted in this statement is that two officials measured the psi of these four Colts balls at halftime. For all four balls, at least one official found that the psi was above the required 12.5 level. Secondly, the Colts’ raw measurement is irrelevant. Even New England’s convoluted physics—remember Bill Belichick’s news conference on all that?—recognize that when a ball moves from a controlled climate like a locker room into the cold of the AFC championship game, air pressure decreases. “Now, we all know that air pressure is a function of the atmospheric conditions,” Belichick said at his physics lesson.

What is relevant—and also missing from the statement—is the difference in air pressure drops between New England’s balls and Indy’s balls. And the data shows that New England’s balls dropped at a higher and statistically significant rate. Wells’ teams called on science experts to replicate conditions that could explain New England’s drop. They couldn’t do it. The most plausible explanation is human tampering.

4. Tom Brady Sr.’s Reaction. We understand, and appreciate, fatherly love. After the report’s release, Brady Sr. defended his son—as any good dad would do. But even dad can take things too far. “The league had to cover themselves,” Brady Sr. told USA Today. “The reality is they had no conclusive evidence. This was Framegate right from the beginning.” With all due repect, Mr. Brady, the NFL has no real incentive to “frame” its most marketable celebrity. It gives Roger Goodell no pleasure that the report suggests Brady knew about deflation—and did nothing to stop it. Goodell’s best buds with Kraft. He won’t create a reason to punish Kraft’s team, and maybe suspend its Hall of Fame quarterback.

5. Vigorous Rubbing. In the appendix, one section of a report from scientific consulting firm Exponent is entitled “Vigorous Rubbing.” Come on, all Deflategate stories must provide a requisite giggle. In the section, Exponent debunks Belichick’s theory that the “rubbing process” on the football could explain the illegal psi.

6. Tom Brady as Liar. The report does offer Brady some deniability—it acknowledges the lack of hard proof tying him directly to Deflategate. But Wells leaves little doubt that he thinks Brady lied to investigators. Jastremski said that Brady knew McNally; Brady said that prior to the AFC title game, “he did not know McNally’s name or anything about McNally’s game-day responsibility.” The report calls Brady’s claims here “not plausible.”

So, now on record is a 243-page report, commissioned by the NFL, which labels its all-time quarterback a liar.

Surreal, indeed.

Read next: Read 6 Text Message Conversations in the Deflategate Report

TIME

‘Deflategate’ Probe Finds Patriots Employees Likely Tampered With Balls

New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady talks to the media during a press conference to address the under inflation of footballs used in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Maddie Meyer—Getty Images Tom Brady talks during a press conference at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., on Jan. 22, 2015

And Tom Brady was probably "at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities"

New England’s Super Bowl honeymoon is over.

The “Deflategate” controversy, in which the New England Patriots were accused of releasing air pressure from footballs prior to the team’s 45-7 walloping of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game on Jan. 18, all but vanished following New England’s thrilling Super Bowl win over Seattle in early February. But on Wednesday, it came roaring back after the findings of an NFL-ordered investigation were released. Here’s a quick guide:

What did the ‘Deflategate’ report find?

According to the report from attorney Ted Wells, whom the NFL tasked with getting to the bottom of Deflategate, “it is more probable than not” that two New England Patriots employees, locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski, “participated in a deliberate plan to circumvent the rules by releasing air from Patriots game balls after the examination of the footballs by NFL game officials at the AFC Championship Game.”

Which other Patriots were implicated?

Star quarterback Tom Brady, of whom the report said it was “more probable than not” that he “was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.” Brady said in January that he “would never have someone do something that was outside the rules.”

And what about Bill Belichick?

The report lets the rest of the team, including Head Coach Bill Belichik, off the hook. “We do not believe that the evidence establishes that any other Patriots personnel participated in or had knowledge of the violation of the Playing Rules or the deliberate effort to circumvent the rules described above,” wrote Wells and his team. “In particular, we do not believe there was any wrongdoing or knowledge of wrongdoing by Patriots ownership, Head Coach Belichick or any other Patriots coach in the matters investigated.”

How did the report come to this conclusion?

It cites text messages between McNally and Jastremski — which included McNally referring to himself as the “deflator” — to support its findings. It also relies on circumstantial evidence, such as McNally “bringing the game balls into the bathroom during his walk from the Officials Locker Room to the field, locking the door and remaining inside the bathroom with the game balls for approximately one minute and forty seconds, an amount of time sufficient to deflate thirteen footballs using a needle.”

And how does it figure Brady was involved?

Texts exchanged by McNally and Jastremski that suggest Brady knew what was going on. In October 2014, for example, Jastremski wrote: “Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done … ” The “him,” the report believes, in this context refers to Brady, and “get them done” refers to the tampering. The report also cites increased text and phone communication between Brady and Jastremski — after that had not communicated electronically in six months — after the tampering allegations went public following the AFC Championship game.

What does the New England Patriots say about the report?

Owner Robert Kraft released a statement challenging its findings. “To say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the AFC Championship game, would be a gross understatement,” Kraft said. “While I respect the independent process of the investigation, the time, effort and resources expended to reach this conclusion are incomprehensible to me. Knowing that there is no real recourse available, fighting the league and extending this debate would prove to be futile. We understand and greatly respect the responsibility of being one of 32 in this league and, on that basis, we will accept the findings of the report and take the appropriate actions based on those findings as well as any discipline levied by the league.”

Why does it matter if the balls were deflated anyway?

Let this video explain:

What happens next?

NFL fans will want to hear more, especially from Brady. And the Pats must face this uncomfortable question: if it’s true they cheated in the championship game, did they steal this year’s Super Bowl?

 

 

TIME Boxing

Mayweather-Pacquiao Is a $300 Million Bout Not Worth Much for Boxing

BOX-USA-MAYWEATHER-PACQUIAO
JOHN GURZINSKI—AFP/Getty Images Floyd Mayweather Jr. (L) and Manny Pacquiao pose during a news conference at the KA Theatre at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino on April 29, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

One bout, especially between fading fighters—including a convicted abuser of women—won't revive a sport's relevance

Boxing’s “Fight of the Century,” between undefeated Floyd “Money” Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, takes place in Las Vegas on Saturday night, and one thing is clear: there’s plenty to loathe about the whole event. First off, the bout should have happened six years ago, when Mayweather, now 38, and Pacquiao, 36, were in their primes. But greed, ego and obstinance got in the way. The promoters are selling payoff: this is the fight you’ve been waiting years for! Finally, the moment has arrived! Buckle up! But really, they’re pushing waste. This should be the third or fourth Fight of the Century; a series of Mayweather-Pacquiao clashes could have re-energized the sport.

Plus, Mayweather’s a pretty unctuous fellow. He’s a convicted abuser of women. He’s been found guilty or pleaded guilty to battery five times in the past 14 years. And when questioned about these incidents, Mayweather dodges, changing the subject to the bout. The message: stop nagging about domestic violence, it’s a distraction on the road to more riches.

It’s detestable. If you’d rather not fork over $100 to support Mayweather, that’s an eminently rational move. You may also not want to line the pockets of Pacquiao, and his brand of politics: as a congressman in his native Philippines, Pacquiao is against gay marriage and has called condoms “sinful.”

But millions of people will watch the fight anyway, because Americans have a history of suspending moral judgement in the name of entertainment: we may hate Mayweather, but we love uppercuts (Mike Tyson, don’t forget, still drew a crowd after being released from prison for rape). And Mayweather-Pacquiao could very well live up to the hype. They’re singular talents, the premier fighters of this generation. Come Sunday morning, we all might be breathless. It was worth the wait.

But then what? Where does boxing, a sport that makes a few fighters ludicrously rich while barely entering the cultural conversation for the rest of the year, go from here?

Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated reports that according to people close to Mayweather, the champ will fight one more time after facing Pacquiao. After that, he’ll call it quits. Pacquiao is also nearing the end. Boxing is firmly invested in the mega-fight model—drive demand to a handful of boxers, keep their bouts behind the pay-per-view wall, let these fighters and their cronies hoard the profits. Boxing is finally back on network television, as NBC and CBS are broadcasting fights from the Premier Boxing Champions promotion: NBC’s most recent telecast, the night of April 11 —a Saturday—drew 2.9 million viewers. By comparison, a Florida State-Notre Dame regular season college football game that aired on ABC on a Saturday night in October drew 13.25 million viewers.

Boxing’s jump back onto the network TV probably came too little, too late. Viewers forgot about the sweet science—and are satisfied with all of the other entertainment options that have emerged over the last two decades, including mixed martial arts. There’s no urgency to watch two unfamiliar fighters on a Saturday night.

Mayweather-Pacquiao will set all kinds of financial records; it’s projected to produce $72 million in ticket revenue, more than tripling the previous high for a prize fight. Mayweather, already the highest-paid athlete in the world, according to Forbes, will take some $180 million of the projected $300 million purse, with Pacquiao earning the rest. But these riches can’t buy any love—neither for Mayweather, nor his sport.

TIME Football

Why the NFL Suddenly Wants to Pay Taxes

Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks
Rob Carr—Getty Images Malcolm Butler #21 of the New England Patriots intercepts a pass by Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks intended for Ricardo Lockette #83 late in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.

America's richest sports league relinquishes its non-profit status. How much will Uncle Sam benefit?

The NFL announced Tuesday that it’s voluntarily relinquishing its tax-exempt status. Here’s what you need to know about the move.

Why in the world would the NFL volunteer to pay taxes?

Basically, the economic value of the exemption wasn’t worth the political and PR headaches that it created. In a memo to the league’s teams and members of Congress, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called the tax-exemption a “distraction,” and said it has “been mischaracterized repeatedly in recent years.”

Is there truth to this?

Yes. Political threats to revoke the tax-exemption of pro sports organizations hold populist appeal. After all, how can commercial outfits that sell expensive tickets and generate millions of dollars for owners and players be considered non-profit organizations – and thus exempt from paying taxes? The NFL is no charity.

In 2013, Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma introduced legislation that would prohibit the NFL and other pro sports organizations with over $10 million in revenue from filing as non-profits. In the wake of the Ray Rice scandal last fall, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat, proposed similar legislation – and argued that taxes on these leagues could fund domestic violence programs. Last month, Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, House Oversight Committee Chairman, told Reuters that “the National Football League should have to pay taxes like everybody else.”

Politicians, however, largely fail to explain the scope of these tax-exemptions – which are much more limited than they may appear. The NFL’s teams, who see a bulk of the league’s $11 billion in revenue, are taxable entities. So the NFL does pay taxes. The league office is tax-exempt, but it generated just $9 million in income during the 2012 tax year.

So repealing the NFL’s tax exemption wouldn’t create the windfall politicians want you to expect. If it saved the NFL a ton of money, today’s voluntary relinquishing never would have happened. Recent political posturing exaggerated its value.

Why was the NFL office tax-exempt in the first place?

The NFL has historically filed as a 501 (c)(6) non-profit, which provides tax-exemptions for “business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, boards of trade, and professional football leagues.” Er, how did football get written into the tax code?

This legislative quirk dates back to the 1966 NFL-AFL merger. “Professional football leagues” were added to the code that year to ensure that the merger could go forward “without fear of an anti-trust challenge under either the Clayton Antitrust Act or the Federal Trade Commissions Act,” and to ensure that “a professional football league’s exemption would not be jeopardized because it administered a players’ pension fund,” according to the Internal Revenue Service. In return for this favorable treatment of the merger by two Democratic lawmakers — Louisiana Senator Russell Long, chairman of the Finance Committee, and Louisiana representative Hale Boggs, House majority whip — New Orleans was awarded the NFL’s next expansion franchise.

Who’s the big winner here?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Remember him calling the exemption a distraction? Well, the largest distraction has been the required public disclosure of his enormous compensation — $44 million in 2012, and $35 million in 2013. When Goodell mishandles an issue like Ray Rice, his paycheck is inevitably thrown in his face. How can a guy making that much money screw up so badly? The commissioner’s pay is also a sore point during collective bargaining negotiations.

Without the tax exemption, the NFL is under no legal obligation to release its commissioner’s salary. Major League Baseball made a similar move in 2007, when it relinquished its tax exemption – and no longer had to disclose the pay of commissioner Bud Selig, which had exceeded $18 million.

Fundamentally, does this news change anything about the NFL?

Not really. Go ahead and return to obsessing over the draft – which starts Thursday night.

TIME Football

Ex-Players Are Ripping Into the NFL Concussion Settlement Because It Excludes a Common Brain Disease

chronic traumatic encephalopathy
Charlotte Observer—MCT via Getty Images NFL Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure talks about his recent diagnosis of a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in Charlotte, N.C., on Jan. 22, 2014.

The agreement largely excludes a disease at the center of the NFL's concussion crisis

Joe DeLamielleure is living with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease associated with head trauma in football. Junior Seau and Dave Duerson are among the former NFL players who have committed suicide, and were later diagnosed with CTE. Officially, CTE can only diagnosed posthumously. But researchers affiliated with UCLA have developed a PET scan that they say can find signs of CTE – particularly the buildup of tau protein in the brain – in living players. DeLamielleure – along with fellow NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, former All-Pro Leonard Marshall, and a dozen other retired players who had sustained at least one concussion – underwent the UCLA test. Signs was CTE were discovered in their brains.

Symptoms of CTE include memory loss, depression, and mood swings. “I’m functioning pretty good right now,” says DeLamielleure, 64, who played 13 seasons, form 1973 to 1985, as an offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns. “That doesn’t mean, three years from now, the wheels don’t fall off.”

CTE is at the epicenter of the NFL’s head trauma crisis. Boston University researchers have examined the brains of 62 deceased NFL players: 59 of them have been diagnosed with CTE. But last week, a federal judge approved the financial settlement in the so-called concussion lawsuit between the NFL and its ex-players, and future CTE diagnoses were excluded from the agreement. Players who suffer from neurocognitive impairments, such as a decline in memory and processing speed, are eligible for awards up to $3 million. Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s victims can get $3.5 million, while ALS victims are eligible for a $5 million max award. Families of players who have died of CTE can get $4 million, but only if the player has passed away prior to the final approval date of the settlement.

To ex-players like DeLamielleure, CTE’s exclusion is unacceptable. “This does nothing for me,” says DeLamielleure “I want out.” Some 200 ex-NFL players have opted out of the suit, leaving them eligible to bring future litigation against the NFL. Dorsett and the family of Seau are among those who have opted out; DeLamielleure had originally opted out of the suit, but opted back in around Christmas.

In her ruling that approved the settlement, federal judge Anita Brody wrote that she excluded future CTE cases because neurocognitive ailments associated with CTE are eligible for awards. So, in principle, victims of CTE could receive damages while they’re still living, as long as they are diagnosed with memory loss and other neurocognitive impairments. (Robert Stern, a leading CTE researcher from Boston University, has said that many of the CTE victims he has studied did not suffer such symptoms — and thus wouldn’t have been eligible for this award under the settlement).

Brody specifically excluded some of the behavioral symptoms of CTE, such as irritability, aggression, depression and suicidal tendencies, from the settlement. Going forward, Brody wrote that the families of players diagnosed with CTE after death are ineligible for an award because she did not want such a benefit to incentivize suicide, since researchers can only diagnose CTE posthumously. The settlement does account for the possibility that a nascent CTE-detection test, like the one at UCLA, will one day become an accepted method of diagnosing CTE in living players: Brody requires that the league and the players’ attorneys sit down in good faith every ten years to possibly modify the agreement to reflect advancements in CTE research.

That might be too late for DeLamielleure. His wife, Gerri, says he’s already starting to show some of the behavioral symptoms that are associated with CTE, but excluded from the settlement. “He’ll turn on a dime,” says Gerri DeLamiellure. “He’ll be fine, and the next minute, whatever happens, it just seems like he has flares of temper.” Some of DeLamiellure’s fellow ex-players are also disappointed with the agreement. “It’s a dodge,” says former Houston Oilers linebacker Gregg Bingham, 64. “Why did we have to turn to the judicial system for the NFL to do what common sense says the league should have done on its own?” says former quarterback Dan Pastorini, 65, who spent the bulk of his 12-year career with the Oilers. Both Bingham and Pastrioni opted out of the suit.

Former defensive back Bruce Laird didn’t. But he’s unhappy with the agreement. “One thing that really upsets me is that symptoms like mood changes and depression aren’t covered,” says Laird, 64. “I just hope none of my teammates get any money, because that means they’re in trouble. Even when you win, you lose.”

TIME remembrance

The Best Sports Writing of TIME’s Richard Corliss

TIME's late movie critic also wrote, beautifully, about the games

TIME movie critic Richard Corliss, who passed away on Thursday night, was also our best sportswriter. He only dabbled in sports professionally, but truly loved the games. Corliss was especially passionate about baseball, and his beloved A’s, whom he first started following as a boy in Philadelphia, when the team played at Connie Mack Stadium before moving west.

Corliss didn’t spend much time in our midtown offices; he was too busy attending screenings and writing, so prolifically, and so beautifully, at all hours. But on occasion, he’d pop by my desk and talk baseball. The sports talk show hosts on WFAN, the New York City radio station, really got him going. I’d always exit these conversations wondering how a man who was so productive, who had encyclopedic knowledge of so much, possibly found the time to focus on Joe Benigno.

Whenever Richard did write about sports, he brought the same lyricism and breadth that were staples of his film criticism. He’s a writing hero, word-for-word one of the best, if not the best, to ever work at TIME.

I wish I could write sentences like Richard. And I wish he was still here to talk baseball. We could have a nice chat these days about my Mets. But this year, I’ll be keeping special tabs, in my heart, on Richard’s A’s.

Here’s a sampling of his work in sports.

A Beautiful Season For Baseball: The Great Times and Bad Breaks of 2012
October 14, 2012

Corliss reflects on the first round of the 2012 baseball playoffs:

Upsets galore! Perennial losers vaulting to the top! All-stars benched and no-names turned into heroes! Games so close that anxious fans bite their nails down to the knuckle! One future Hall of Famer who breaks a 45-year-old record for batting supremacy, and another who breaks his ankle and must be carried off the field! Wild melodrama that obliges sportswriters to end every sentence fragment with an exclamation point!

Read the entire article here

A Film Critic On the World Cup – You Call That Football?
July 10, 2010

In the great soccer debate, I’m on both sides. As a fan of “American” sports, I confess that I don’t get soccer. The spectacle of alpha males running around, falling down, pretending to be hurt and, all in all, achieving very little — um, when I was in school, that was called recess.

Read the entire article here

Cat ‘N’ The Pat
February 2, 2004

Corliss previews the Super Bowl XXXVIII coaching matchup between Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and John Fox of the Carolina Panthers:

In pro football, the real game is on the sidelines. There the head coach paces, barking orders into his headset, congratulating or chastising a player, wearing a sociopath’s stern face as he silently prays he’ll be baptized by a tub of Gatorade in the final minute of a winning game. The coach is a chess demon, planning dozens of gambits that depend on whether his quarterback throws for a big gain or gets sacked. He is a video-game whiz kid, and the playing field is his Grand Theft Auto Vice City. He is a field marshal and, sometimes, a counselor—General Patton and Dr. Phil. The quarterback may be the glamour boy, but the coach is the star. The TV camera knows this: during a game it follows Bill Parcells, head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, as avidly as if he were J. Lo with her back turned.

Read the entire article here

My Team: The Oakland A’s
October 10, 2003

Every true sports fan is a manic depressive. When our team wins, we’re in heaven; when they lose, we reach for a kitchen knife and stare meditatively at our radial artery. And there is usually more agony than ecstasy. Susan Sontag defined science fiction as “the imagination of disaster”; she might have been describing the mind of a sports fan. We try to live by the old Ukrainian proverb — “Expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed” — but for that ray of hope with which we lash ourselves each spring, then see glimmer turn to tumor as the season plods downward for six months.

Read the entire article here

The Summer Olympics: Gold Medal Grudges
September 11, 2000

A short history of the grudge match: The Hebrews invented it. Cain was the first winner, but God disqualified him on the grounds of poor sportsmanship. Abel was awarded the gold posthumously.

A longer history of the grudge match: The ancient Greeks invented games as a way of allowing men to fight one another without all that messy killing. Sport was literally a lifesaving idea: I hit you, you hit me, and an impartial observer determines who wins. (This became known as boxing.) I insult you, you trip me and the rest of the clan decides who played dirty better. (This became known as politics.)

Read the entire article here

Baseball: Dream Of Fields
August 22, 1994

Corliss imagines that the 1994 baseball strike ends quickly:

Fans packed the stadiums on the first day of the “second season.” Atlantans heralded the return of Greg Maddux by ringing the pitcher’s mound with roses; the Montreal faithful threw small packets of money (Canadian money, but still . . .) toward their low-paid, first-place stars; and a few of Philadelphia’s famously cranky spectators actually applauded their own team. In Kansas City, Vince Coleman was greeted with affectionate firecrackers; Cleveland stalwarts shied welcome-back corked bats at Albert Belle.

Read the entire article here

Going, Going, Not Quite Gone
June 13, 1994

Corliss explains baseball’s offensive explosion

This spring, baseball has been bustin’ out all over. Home runs have increased 26% over last year; runs batted in are up 11%. And a cluster of young stars threatens to smash offensive records set when George Burns was still in Little League. Seattle’s Ken Griffey Jr. is on a pace to hit 65-plus homers. So is Frank Thomas, the Chicago White Sox’s baby-faced behemoth. Thomas scored 59 runs by June 1, a record, and Toronto’s Joe Carter set an April standard for rbi’s. Even pencil-necked pipsqueaks are crushing the ball.

Read entire article here

Not Again!
November 22, 1993

Corliss writes on Notre Dame’s 31-24 win over Florida State.

If Rodney Dangerfield had 109 heads and weighed 11 tons, he would be the Florida State University football team. F.S.U. has won 10 games or more six years in a row; it is undefeated in its past 11 bowl games; it gobbles up most opponents like Homer Simpson at an all-you-can-eat restaurant. Yet for years the Seminole team had the reputation of a pigskin bridesmaid because it somehow managed to find a way to lose to those cross-state behemoths at the University of Miami. Even the F.S.U. press book repeats the phrase “can’t win the Big One,” like a mantra. It’s meant ironically but still reveals an open psychic wound.

Read the entire article here

The Last Shall Be First
October 28, 1991

In the American League championship, the Twins shrugged off Toronto in a five-game series that for most TV viewers was overshadowed by a sorrier sporting spectacle on Capitol Hill: the Senators vs. the dodger. Truth to tell, the AL snoozathon didn’t need the Clarence Thomas hearings to upstage it; a church social could have done the job. Here, after all, were two teams from above the timber line playing in domed stadiums of spaceship sterility on synthetic carpets that made the games look like Brobdingnagian billiards. Only one contest was close all the way. Only one rooting interest tickled fans’ fancies: seeing the Twins earn their spot in baseball’s unlikeliest finale.

Read the entire article here

Just Like In The Movies
February 26, 1990

Corliss on Buster Douglas’ upset of Mike Tyson

Two rounds later, Douglas returned the punishment, and then some, to Tyson: an uppercut followed by a sturdy combination that felled the champ. Another slow count could not save Tyson. He rose to all fours, grabbed for his mouthpiece and pathetically placed its end between his teeth, like a dazed dog with an old toy.

Read the entire article here

TIME NFL

Tim Tebow to Philly? Now Chip Kelly’s Just Messing With Minds

All State Sugar Bowl - Alabama v Ohio State
Sean Gardner—Getty Images Tim Tebow walks onto the field during the All State Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 1, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

By signing the ex-Florida star, Philadelphia's coach adds to his off-season intrigue

No one man has messed with the mind of American football fandom quite like Chip Kelly this off-season. Since the Super Bowl, everyone has been wondering what the heck this guy is doing. Kelly, the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, won a power struggle to control the team’s personnel decisions; he’s treated the job like a crazed chemistry experiment. And now Tim Tebow is in the mix.

Is Kelly trying to blow up the lab? Tebow, who hasn’t played in a regular season NFL game since 2012, is a strange infatuation. For a player with little obvious NFL talent, he draws outsized attention. Tebowing was a thing way back in 2011, when the ex-Heisman Trophy winner led the Denver Broncos to a surprise playoff berth. Denver boss John Elway seemed to act like that run happened in spite of, rather than because of, Tebow’s ability: Elway grabbed Peyton Manning on the free agent market the first chance he got. Tebow had a maddening season with the New York Jets — he barely got on the field — and after a training camp with the New England Patriots in 2013, he was out of the NFL. He spent this past season as a college football analyst for the SEC Network. He flourished in that role.

Normally, if a team signs a TV announcer as the fourth-string quarterback, that news doesn’t overshadow events like, say, the NBA Playoffs, where the some world’s most talented athletes are actually engaged in high-stakes competition. But just look and the characters involved, and consider the state of our sporting obsessions. The NFL’s power has stretched across the calendar; the draft, on April 30, has nearly become a Super Bowl onto itself. So has off-season free agency. Watching the organized violence isn’t enough. We need to stress about what uniforms the participants will wear.

So here comes Kelly, who’s traded two away one of the team’s quarterbacks (Nick Foles) and its star running back (LeSean McCoy), both of whom have reached Pro Bowls. He also watched wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, another Pro Bowler, sign with Kansas City. He signed Dallas’ DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher this season, and traded for St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, a former Heisman winner who’s been inconsistent. And now he’s bringing on Tebow, whose open broadcasting of his Christian beliefs permanently placed him on the front lines of the culture wars. That, and his throwing motion, which gave him a permanent seat at dive bar debates: can anyone win with such an ugly release?

Prepare for stories on how Tebow’s mechanics have been overhauled, how Kelly’s system can utilize Tebow’s dual-threat skills. But remember: this April signing does not mean that Tebow will make the team come September. Still, you’ve got to hand it to Chip Kelly. To make America even more neurotic about football: that’s no easy feat.

TIME Basketball

What’s Next for Duke and Coach K?

Wisconsin v Duke
Streeter Lecka—Getty Images Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski after the Blue Devils defeat the Wisconsin Badgers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on April 6, 2015

Mike Krzyzewski can't coach forever

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski won his fifth NCAA championship Monday night; only UCLA’s John Wooden, with 10, has won more titles in the men’s college game. Coach K guided the U.S. men’s team to the last two Olympic gold medals, the last two world championships and will go for another Olympic gold in 2016 in Rio. This season, he reached his 12th Final Four, tying Wooden for the most appearances ever, and also became the first men’s coach in Division 1 history to win 1,000 games. He’s 68 years old.

Over the past few weeks — and especially as Duke cut down the nets Monday night after beating Wisconsin, 68-63, in the national title game — I’ve been thinking too much about one question: Who’s going to replace Coach K?

I know, nice timing: we just finished a pretty great championship game, and I’m pondering Krzyzewski‘s exit, which seems at least a few years away. Duke looked done, as Wisconsin had a nine-point lead in the second half. The team’s future NBA draft picks, freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, were on the bench with foul trouble. But freshman guards Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen took over, and once Okafor got back into the game, he woke up and took over down the stretch. Duke’s defense improved, the Blue Devils got a little assistance from the refs — shocking — and, suddenly, Duke broke Wisconsin’s heart.

Fresh off this drama, why in the world am I wondering what Duke will look like three, five, maybe seven years down the road? Krzyzewski’s been winning plenty lately. He seems sharp and energized. But Duke’s post-K future is so intriguing because it doesn’t just concern the intramural college coaching carousel. No, it’s one of the higher-stakes succession stories in American business.

Like it or not, Duke is a sports dynasty that generates millions of dollars, and stirs the passions of millions of loyalists — and haters. Coach K has built a consequential enterprise. Maybe he gets too much credit for “the program.” But it’s developed in his image. Can anyone live up to him?

Following Coach K will be a rough gig. Wooden’s successors, for example, struggled in his shadow. But that doesn’t mean a crew of Krzyzewski’s former players and assistants aren’t positioning themselves for that prize. A current K assistant, Jeff Capel, already had some success coaching Blake Griffin at Oklahoma. He’s likely on his way to Arizona State: if he can win there, he’s a prime candidate. Former Duke assistant Mike Brey, whose Notre Dame team almost made this year’s Final Four, would be in the running. So would former Duke player and assistant coach Tommy Amaker, who has made four straight NCAA tournament appearances as head coach at Harvard. Amaker’s former teammate Johnny Dawkins has had mixed success at Stanford: the Cardinal just won the NIT, which is nice. But that means Stanford didn’t make the Big Dance.

Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski, another pair of former Duke players and assistants, are just getting their head-coaching careers started at Northwestern and Marquette, respectively. And what about Bobby Hurley, the all-time assists leader in Division 1 men’s hoops, and maybe Coach K’s favorite player ever. He’s a hot coaching commodity after leading Buffalo to this year’s tournament. Will he be ready for Duke in a few years?

Will Duke ever be able to cut down those nets on a Monday night, without Mike Krzyzewski on the ladder?

TIME Baseball

Baseball to Players: Hurry the Heck Up

Baseball Chart
Lon Tweeten for TIME

New rules should quicken games and capture today's short attention spans

Opening day has arrived, and baseball’s 2015 story lines are set. The Washington Nationals are the favorite to win the World Series, according to the Vegas oddsmakers, mostly because of a starting pitching rotation that was already stellar, and then added free agent Max Scherzer to the mix this off-season (for a cool $210 million). You may have heard the Chicago Cubs went on a little spending spree, too, as they nabbed respected manager Joe Maddon and ace starter Jon Lester, whom Chicago signed to a six-year, $155 million contract. (Lester lost to the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night.) Sticking with the big contracts: the Miami Marlins signed power hitter Giancarlo Stanton to the richest deal in sports history, 13 years, $325 million. And the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, who turns 40 in July but will still make $22 million, returns from his PED sabbatical.

These (ridiculously rich) players and teams are worth watching. But for fans, a more pressing issue will unfold in 2015: baseball’s efforts to finally hurry up its act. The average time of a nine-inning Major League Baseball game in 2014 was three hours and two minutes, up from 1999 (two hours and 54 minutes) and way above 1981 (two hours and 33 minutes). The increase is the result of additional pitching changes–due to the rise of specialist relievers–and hitters spending more time square dancing in and out of the batter’s box.

That languorous pace hasn’t helped America’s pastime attract younger fans–one reason that new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has made faster play a priority. As 2015 season begins, hitters will be generally required to keep one foot in the batter’s box. And a stadium clock will count down the time between innings: a two-minute, 25-second break for locally televised games, and a two-minute, 45-second break for national ones.

Playing fast has its perks: just look at those World Series favorites, the Washington Nationals, in the graphic above. In 2014, Washington fell in the “quick and painless quadrant”—the Nats played relatively quick games, and won a lot. The Los Angeles teams, on the other hand, took their time. Sure, both the Dodgers and Angeles won their divisions in 2014. But do they have to play like traffic on the 405?

At least one star player has griped about the new rules. “I call that bullsh-t,” Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said during spring training about the batter’s-box policy. No, Big Papi, that’s progress. Baseball can’t afford to bleed any more fans. Hurry up, already.

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