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Steinle on sports, 2018/02/01

Gary Bettman has now been the commissioner of the National Hockey League for 25 years. I cannot say I hate the man because I have never met him. However, I can hate the decisions he has made, which have included:

  • Robbing fans in Quebec City and Hartford of hockey and putting teams in places hockey has no business, like Tampa-St. Petersburg, South Florida, Raleigh-Durham, Arizona, Nashville and Las Vegas. He also deprived Winnipeg of the NHL for 15 years and Minnesota for seven.
  • Screwing Canada, the birthplace of ice hockey. The NHL could support 12 teams in Canada, and there should be one in every mainland province, plus at least one in Atlantic Canada. And why not expand to Anchorage? Air travel makes it possible.
  • Over-emphasizing inter-dvisional play and robbing fans of more frequent matchups of teams from opposite conferences. The worst is not allowing the Blackhawks to play any of the other Original Six teams–Maple Leafs, Red Wings, Bruins, Rangers and Canadiens–more than twice per season. That’s because the NHL needs Boston, Detroit, Montreal and Toronto to play Florida and Tampa Bay eight times per season. Really?
  • Presiding over three lockouts, the second of which wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.
  • Making a mockery of the All-Star game, first with a draft of players to make it a glorified pick-up game, then a 3-on-3 tournament.
  • The shootout. There really is no need for overtime in the regular season, but the shootout makes it a million times worse. It’s just as bad as overtime used in college and high school football.

Three great Super Bowls have been contested on February 1.

Two were won by the Patriots: XXXVIII over the Panthers, and XLIX over the Seahawks. The games were decided by a combined seven points, typical for the Patriots, keeping things close to pique fan interest, then pissing off the other 31 NFL fan bases by taking it late. The Pats beat the Panthers on an Adam Vinatieri field goal in the closing seconds, and the Seahawks choked when Russell Wilson passed from the 1-yard line and was intercepted by Malcolm Butler.

Super Bowl XXXVIII is remembered by more for the Justin Timberlake/Janet Jackson controversy. You know what it is. If you don’t. Google it. Timberlake fans are eagerly awaiting Sunday’s halftime show, where he is the headline performer. He was the NFL’s Plan B, simply because Plan A, Prince, kicked the bucket in April 2016.

The other Super Bowl played on February 1 hits home for your intrepid blogger.

Your blogger’s favorite NFL team, the Arizona Cardinals, made the Super Bowl for the first time following the 2008 season, one which saw them go 9-7, the worst record for any conference champion. The others were the 1979 Rams and the 2011 Giants. The Cardinals were embarrassed 47-7 by the Matt Cassel-led Patriots in the next to last regular season game, but somehow defeated the Falcons, Panthers and Eagles to reach their first championship game since 1948.

Arizona’s opponent was the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were aiming for their sixth Super Bowl championship and first under Mike Tomlin, who was in his second season.

The Steelers were ahead 10-7 late in the first half when Arizona drove deep into Pittsburgh territory. But instead of going for the game-tying field goal, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt opted to pass.

James Harrison intecepted Kurt Warner’s ill-advised throw, then began to rumble down the west sideline of Raymond James Stadium. Warner and wide receiver Steve Breaston, among others, had several chances to haul down the Steelers linebacker, but they didn’t. Harrison’s 100-yard return gave Pittsburgh a 10-point halftime lead, and it expanded to 13 in the third quarter.

Somehow, Arizona rallied and took a 23-20 lead in the fourth quarter on a long touchdown from Warner to Larry Fitzgerald.

Problem was, there was too much time left for Ben Roethlisberger.

I had a horrible feeling the Steelers would pull it out, and sure enough, they did, with Roethlisberger hitting Santonio Holmes in the end zone despite tight coverage from Arizona’s Ralph Brown and Aaron Francisco.

Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23. Warner’s dream of becoming the first man to lead two different teams to Super Bowl glory was dashed. Peyton Manning would become that man seven years later with the Broncos.

I’ve thought about a few things regarding Super Bowl halftime shows:

  • For Super Bowl I, the NFL should have attempted to lasso The Beatles. That would have ensured a sellout and probably would have cemented the Super Bowl right away as a major spectacle. The Beatles probably would have declined, but Pete Rozelle should have at least tried.
  • Why did Neil Diamond never get to headline a Super Bowl halftime? Too bad it’s too late.
  • The NFL needs to go hard after Elton John next year in Atlanta. Sir Elton will be in the United States on tour (he’s in Kansas City ten days after Super Bowl LIII) and he’s retiring from touring in 2021. I don’t care if he doesn’t fit the young demographic the NFL is looking for. The man set the standard for performance theatrics in the 1970s, and he could teach the young punks a thing or two.
  • How about a field goal contest between some of the best players of association football? Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and other international superstars trying to kick the oblong ball would be fascinating. Every Super Bowl halftime doesn’t have to be music!

LeBron is now saying he would “listen” to a free agent offer from the Warriors. If he signs with Golden State, we might as well hand the Warriors the Larry O’Brien Trophy and let the other 29 teams play for second place. Not that I care about the NBA.

Bournemouth 3, Chelsea 0. At Stamford Bridge no less. The biggest win in the history of AFC Bournemouth football? Considering the Cherries did not play in the top flight of English football until 2015-16, then it probably is.

Manchester Untied lost 2-0 at Tottenham yesterday, and it could have been worse. United gave up a goal 11 seconds into the match, and an own goal later. Sir Alex Ferguson would not have stood for such buffoonery.

It doesn’t matter, though. Manchester City has all but clinched the Premier League title. The others–United, Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal–are playing for the spots in the UEFA Champions League for 2018-19. The rest are trying to finish seventh. Burnley has that spot right now, but Bournemouth may be playing better than any of the “other 14” teams in the league.

Swansea has beaten Arsenal and Liverpool at home recently. Could there be two Premier League teams in Wales in 2018-19? Cardiff City is trying its best to get back to the top flight. It was there for one season, 2013-14, then went back down to the Championship, the second tier.

Right now, it looks like the Premier League will be returning to Molineux. Wovlerhampton has a sizable lead, and there seems to be little danger of the Wolves falling out of the top two. Cardiff City, Derby County and Aston Villa are in hot pursuit of second place, which also earns automatic promotion to the top flight. The third through sixth teams enter a playoff, with the playoff champion also going up.

The bottom three of the Premier League will be relegated. Swansea still sits in the relegation zone, but the wins over Liverpool and Arsenal give the Swans real hope of avoiding the drop. Southampton, Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion are all in trouble, as re the three who were promoted last season: Newcastle United, Brighton & Hove Albion, and Huddersfield Town.

Who’s #1 in college basketball? Never mind.

Dennis menaces an official

Overshadowed by all of the news coming from the Super Bowl and college football’s national singing day was a lengthy suspension handed down by the National Hockey League.

Calgary Flames defenseman (or defeceman for those you in Canada) Dennis Wideman was suspended 20 games by Commissioner Gary Bettman for cross checking linesman Don Henderson during a January 27 game vs. the Nashville Predators. Wideman was knocked off balance along the boards, then as he was about to come off for a line change, he plowed into Henderson.

Wideman claims he was woozy from earlier hits and that he did not barrel into Henderson on purpose. He claims it was an accident, which is what Flames president Brian Burke argued to the league in hoping the suspension would not be as severe.

I saw the replay several times. Wideman is lying.

Cross checking is a penalty if it is done by one player to another. It’s lifting the stick off the ice with both hands, turning it sideways and clubbing a player, usually in the face or neck. A cross checking penalty is a minimum of two minutes, but many are ruled major penalties, leading to five minutes in the penalty box for the offender. And if the penalty is a major, the team must play short-handed for the full five minutes. On a minor penalty, the player can come back if the opponent scores on the power play.

You cannot tell me Wideman “accidentally” picked up his stick with both hands and “accidentally” jammed it into Henderson. This was an intentional act, and as far as I’m concerned, Wideman may have gotten off light with a 20-game suspension. He’ll forfeit almost $565,000 (CDN$777,250) in salary.

I’ve seen my fair share of horrible officiating in high schoool, college and professional sports. However, it does an athlete, coach or spectator the license to physically assault an official.

The Flames repeatedly have stressed Wideman had never been previously disciplined by the NHL. He has never been penalized more than 83 minutes in a given season, so the statistics back up Calgary’s boast. However, this incident was way too severe, way too ugly to overlook. It’s the same as if someone with no criminal record goes out and kills another person, whether it be drunk driving or shooting. It must be punished.

I recall in October 1983, Tom Lysiak of the Chicago Black Hawks (yes, I know it’s spelled Blackhawks, but back then, it was spelled Black Hawks; that’s another discussion for another day) intentionally tripped linesman Ron Foyt during a game vs. Hartford. Lysiak had been ejected from the faceoff circle, and after the puck was dropped, Lysiak ignored the Whalers’ Sylvain Turgeon and immediately went for Foyt, pulling his feet out from under him with his stick. Referee Dave Newell immediately handed down a 20-game suspension to Lysiak (at that time, NHL referees had the power to hand out discipline without consent of then-president John Ziegler), which was appealed by Lysiak and the Hawks, who took the case to federal court before losing.

Lysiak had not been known as a dirty player before the incident, and was a solid player for the Atlanta Flames throughout the 1970s. However, the incident could not go unpunished, even with Lysiak’s previously exemplary record.

I do not like Gary Bettman. I hate what he has done to the NHL. I despise the man for putting teams in Miami, Tampa, Atlanta and Nashville, and allowing teams to leave hockey hotbeds Quebec City, Winnipeg and Hartford, especially considering the Jets moved to Arizona and the Whalers to Raliegh-Durham. Hockey does not belong anywhere south of Interstate 70, except for ONE team in Los Angeles. Canada could support 15 teams if need be.

I understand Denver getting a team, but I would have preferred it not be the Nordiques, the team I rooted for most when I started watching the NHL over 30 years ago.

In this case, Bettman showed backbone, backbone which has been seriously lacking from his office. Now, Gary, just bring back hockey to Quebec City and some may be forgiven.