Wild Sports Weekend: Love Trumps Politics
It was a wild and wacky weekend as our two national obsessions—football and politics—collided head on. The main sports headlines focused on Donald Trump’s attacks on NFL players who do not stand for the national anthem. That overshadowed some pretty amazing football. Lots to discuss.
We’ll start with the football, and the most obvious and important conclusion to be gained from last weekend’s games:
Bryce Love is for real.
The Stanford running back exploded for 263 yards on 30 carries and scored on a 69-yard run to propel the Cardinal to a 58-34 victory over UCLA. With his performance, Love became the nation’s leading rusher in total yards (787) and yards per game (196.7). He’s averaging 10.8 yards per carry, which, as my friend the great Stanford running back Darrin Nelson would say, is “ridiculous.”
Love’s single game total of 263 was the second best in Stanford annals, behind Christian McCaffrey’s 284. But he had a 48-yard touchdown run called back, which would’ve given him 311. Scary.
The Stanford coaches not only increased Love’s workload from last week, when he had only 13 carries against San Diego State, but also played third-string quarterback K.J. Costello, two changes advocated in this space. Costello, taking over after starter Kellar Chryst was banged up, threw for two touchdowns and ran for another. While he was off target on a few throws, he showed the decisiveness, quick release and pocket presence that has been lacking behind center at Stanford. While Chryst is an effective game manager, Costello is a playmaker, and Stanford will need a quarterback who makes plays to beat Washington, WSU, Oregon, Cal, and next week‘s opponent, Arizona State, which is coming off a surprising win against Oregon.
One of the downsides Saturday night was the crowd. There were about 10,000 people in the stands at kickoff. While more folks continued to arrive throughout the first quarter, the actual attendance was nowhere near the announced 48,042, unless 15,000 of them were disguised as empty seats. Yes, Stanford’s performance against USC and San Diego State was disappointing, but coach David Shaw has built a national powerhouse during his six-year tenure on the Farm, with three Rose Bowl appearances, and his team deserves more support.
The other negative was the length of the game…4 hours and 10 minutes. It ended just before midnight, which translates to 3:00 a.m. in New York and Boston. Not good.
Cal-USC: The Trojans defeated Cal, 30-20, Saturday afternoon on a beautiful day in Berkeley, made all the more beautiful by a 12:30 kickoff. The score at the end of three quarters was 13-13, before four Cal turnovers in the fourth quarter handed the game to USC. Once again, coach Justin Wilcox’s team showed resolve, resilience, and a toughness that has been lacking in Strawberry Canyon for the past several years. The Bears controlled the line of scrimmage for much of the game. Although quarterback Ross Bowers was rightfully criticized for six turnovers (4 INTs and two fumbles), he had several excellent throws and showed a lot of grit. He also had a sure touchdown dropped by running back Patrick Laird on the opening drive of the second half that would’ve given the Bears the lead.
Spotted in the Cal Press Box: Local boy made good, former Miami quarterback Gino Torretta. The Pinole product led the Hurricanes to a national championship and won the Heisman Trophy in 1992. One of the truly good guys in the business, Gino broadcasts top college games through his company, Touchdown Radio.
And now for the politics.
Political football: Although this isn’t a political blog we’d be remiss not to mention Friday night’s comments in Alabama from that noted athlete and sports analyst, Donald J. Trump. (Spoiler alert: we didn’t vote for him). The president, who in the past has claimed to be “the best baseball player in New York” during his youth, advised NFL owners to fire players who don’t stand for the national anthem. “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,” Trump bellowed, perhaps harking back to happier days when he was hosting Celebrity Apprentice. As you might suspect, those comments were not well received by NFL players and team owners, several of whom supported Trump in the presidential campaign. Sunday’s games featured a show of solidarity, with players (and some owners) locking arms, kneeling, and remaining in locker rooms during the anthem.
My thoughts on this issue were expressed in a blog on Colin Kaepernick last week, but Trump’s comments were not surprising given his previous participation in the “birther” controversy, post-Charlottesville remarks, and ongoing attacks on the media. Like many football coaches, the president is, shall we say, somewhat sensitive to criticism and tends to forget that one of the most important things our flag represents is freedom of speech.
Other sports-related volleys lobbed from the White House during the weekend bemoaned the lack of violence in football and took a shot at two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry, one of the most humble and popular players in professional sports. Curry apparently had the temerity to suggest that the champion Warriors might not want to visit the White House. After Trump tweeted that Curry’s “invitation is withdrawn!” Warrior coach Steve Kerr noted, “He was going to break up with us before we could break up with him.”
Unfortunately, Kerr was right. That kind of behavior happens a lot on middle school playgrounds and, nowadays, in the Oval Office.