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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.

Super sites: superbly competitive

Monday marked the 40th anniversary of Super Bowl XII, the first Super Bowl to be played indoors. The Cowboys defeated the Broncos 27-10 in the Louisiana Superdome (now Mercedes-Benz Superdome). I don’t remember watching simply because I was only 15 months old, while my mother was almost eight months pregnant with my brother, who arrived February 24.

Super Bowl IX, the previous Super Bowl held in New Orleans, was supposed to be played in the Superdome. The NFL awarded New Orleans Super Bowl IX in early 1973 with the intention of playing the game indoors. However, when it became obvious in the middle of 1974 the Superdome would not be completed in time for the game (January 12, 1975), the NFL allowed New Orleans and the Saints to move the game to Tulane Stadium.

The Superdome did not open until August 3, 1975, and the first regular season game there was September 28, a 21-0 Bengals victory over the Saints. It was scheduled to be open in 1972 when the voters of Louisiana approved the bonds to build the stadium in November 1966, but construction did not begin until August 1971. Typical Louisiana.

The above narrative shows just how different selecting Super Bowl sites is today than it was in the 1970s.

The first six Super Bowls were awarded with less than one year of lead time. In fact, the site for Super Bowl I, the Los Angeles Coliseum, was not selected until the last week of November 1966, a mere seven weeks before the game was played. To be fair, the NFL and AFL did not finalize plans for the World Championship Game, as it was called then, until early November.

The next five Super Bowls saw the sites awarded at the league meetings of March. Miami won Super Bowls II, III and V, while New Orleans got IV and VI at Tulane Stadium. New Orleans bid on the first three Super Bowls, and was seriously considered as the site for the first, even though the Saints did not begin play until 1967, the season of Super Bowl II.

Joe Robbie, who bought the Dolphins from Danny Kaye in 1969, lobbied Pete Rozelle hard to permanently place the Super Bowl in Miami. John Mecom, the original owner of the Saints, lobbied very hard against it, as did Dave Dixon, who was the driving force behind the NFL coming to New Orleans, then-Louisiana Governor John McKeithen, then-New Orleans mayor Victor Schiro, and many NFL owners, especially Clint Murchison in Dallas and George Halas in Chicago.

New Orleans’ pleas carried the day in March 1969 and again in March 1971. The first Super Bowl site to be awarded more than a year in advance was Super Bowl VII, which was awarded to Los Angeles at the same time as Super Bowl VI.

Many wanted Super Bowl IX to be yanked out of New Orleans. They believed New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu lied when he said the Superdome would be open in time for the game, and that New Orleans should be punished.

In today’s NFL, that would have happened for sure. The game probably would have gone to Miami, which was already scheduled to host Super Bowl X, or possibly to the Los Angeles area, either at the Coliseum, or the Rose Bowl, which would host Super Bowl XI and four more after that.

However, Rozelle allowed the game to remain in the Big Easy. Even in the mid-1970s, it would have been a logistical nightmare to move the game on such short notice.

Today, cities have at least three years of lead time, often more, to get ready for the game.

For instance, Minneapolis, which is hosting Super Bowl LII February 4, has known about it for almost four years. Knowing the game would be yanked if U.S. Bank Stadium was not open in 2016, the construction crews in the Twin Cities worked double time to make sure it was on schedule.

Under NFL rules currently in place, a stadium cannot host the Super Bowl in its first season of operation. This is why Minnesota had to wait until this year, and Atlanta has to wait until next year, although Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosted the College Football Playoff championship game less than six months after opening.

In May 2016, the NFL awarded the sites for Super Bowls LIII, LIV and LV. Super Bowl LV was originally scheduled for the new stadium in Los Angeles (Ingelwood) in February 2021, but an exceptionally rainy winter in early 2017 pushed back the timetable for construction of the stadium. Therefore, Tampa will host LV and Los Angeles will host LVI.

Sadly, New Orleans cannot host another Super Bowl until LVII in February 2023. And even that one is a very long shot, as Las Vegas’ Stadium will be open by then, and it will be the first opportunity to hold it there.

From 1969, the season of Super Bowl IV, through 1989, the season of Super Bowl XXIV, New Orleans never went more than five seasons without hosting. The drought will be nine seasons through 2021, and likely grow to ten.

There are some who want a four-year rotation for the Super Bowl between Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles and a wild card. That will never happen. The owners in Dallas, Houston and Arizona would certainly raise holy hell, as would those in Tampa, Atlanta, Minnesota, Detroit and Indianapolis.

The owners in Tennessee and Carolina probably feel the worst. They believe their climates are far enough south to provide good weather in early February, but there is just too much risk. Look how badly Atlanta was paralyzed during an ice storm the week before Super Bowl XXXIV in January 2000. It could very well happen again next year. The NFL is really rolling the dice.

One city which won’t host again is Jacksonville. There simply were not enough hotels in 2005, and many guests either had to stay in far-away locales (Daytona Beach, Gainesville, Ocala) or on cruise ships. The Jaguars have not bid since and probably won’t, unless Shahid Kahn changes his mind.

London? There would have to be another extra week between the conference championships and Super Bowl. And how would fans in the United States get to London? I can’t see that.

I”m of the mind the Super Bowl should be offered to all NFL cities, even those in colder climates with outdoor stadiums. Why not Chicago? New England, though, would never be on my list, because Foxborough is in the middle of nowhere and the traffic getting there from Boston and Providence would be so bad I can’t imagine it. Green Bay? Not enough hotels.

Kansas City? Stadium is kind of outdoor. Great for tailgating, not for events in the days prior to the game. And there isn’t a second facility comparable to what the Chiefs have. The only options I could see is letting one team use Kauffman Stadium and the Royals’ facilities or Sporting Kansas City’s stadium in Kansas. At least New Orleans has Tulane. Baton Rouge wouldn’t be bad, since it would be away from the temptations of the French Quarter, and LSU’s facilities are far superior to Tulane’s.

I’m resigned to the fact I won’t see a Super Bowl in Kansas City, Chicago, Green Bay or many other places in my lifetime, unless something changes drastically. It’s only sports.