One for the Ages; Instant Classics in College Football and MLB; Warriors Extend Poole, Wiggins
Saturday was a great day to be a sports fan. One of those days where we sit back and say, “man, that was a great game.” Where we savor the masterful performances, the last-minute heroics, the come-from-behind victories, the against-all-odds upsets, and the emotions that bind us to our teams, our schools, and our fellow fans.
Those emotions were on display everywhere on Saturday, particularly in college football, where we witnessed tears of unbridled joy, tears of crushing disappointment, wild celebrations, and crowds storming the field (see Tennessee below).
Consider a sport where the No. 3 (Alabama), No. 7 (USC) and No. 8 (Oklahoma State) teams in the country lost by scores of 52-49, 43-42 and 43-40.
You could watch college football for decades and never see two better games than Tennessee-Alabama and Utah-USC. Instant classics both.
Tennessee beat Alabama for the first time since 2006, 52-49, on a last second 40-yard knuckleball field goal by Chase McGrath, who'd missed an extra point earlier, just a minute after Alabama's Will Reichard had missed a 50-yarder.
It was like a great fight between two heavyweights, as both quarterbacks played brilliantly. Tennessee's Hendon Hooker, suddenly the favorite for the Heisman Trophy, passed for 385 yards and five touchdowns (all to wideout Jalin Hyatt), and also ran for 56 yards. Alabama's Bryce Young, last year’s Heisman winner, was 35-52 for 455.
Much the same could be said about the Utah-USC clash, as both the Trojans’ Caleb Williams and the Utes' Cam Rising rose to the moment.
Rising scored the last-minute TD and two-point conversion to win it, 43-42. The emotion of the game was heightened by Utah paying tribute to fallen teammates Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe with painted images of the two men on their helmets.
Other notes from the college football weekend:
Michigan is for real. The Wolverines rushed for 418 yards against one of the best defenses in the country to throttle Penn State 41-17. Donovan Edwards rushed for 173 and Blake Corum for 166. Watch out, Ohio State.
Stanford Shines: The David Shaw haters had a bad day as Stanford, 17-point underdogs, went to South Bend and beat Notre Dame 16-14. While the message boards lit up with anti-Shaw sentiments, bemoaning the fact that a Stanford win lessened the chances of him being fired (fact check: that wasn’t going to happen anyway), his players demonstrated their commitment and resiliency.
A Stanford defense that ranked among the worst in college football and had yielded over 40 points to USC, Oregon and Washington, then 18 fourth quarter points to Oregon State a week earlier, held Notre Dame to an average of 12 yards in its first eight "drives".
Suddenly, with Arizona State this Saturday and other potentially “winnable” games against Cal, Washington State and BYU, Stanford is hoping to salvage what looked like a potential 1-11 or 2-10 season.
Pronunciation Guide: One of the unexpected treats of watching the Stanford-Notre Dame game was listening to the two announcers butcher the pronunciation of Cardinal tight end Ben Yurosek (correctly pronounced yer-AH-sick). Sitting next to each other in the booth, they came up with two different erroneous pronunciations. One announcer called him yer-AS-ick and the other went with YER-oh-sick. They did agree that he’s a helluva player.
TCU Upsets Oklahoma State: Former Cal coach Sonny Dykes has TCU at 6-0 and ranked No. 8 in the country after coming from 17 points down to upset Oklahoma State 43-40 in overtime.
Cal Humbled: Meanwhile, Cal was embarrassed by Colorado, considered by some to be the worst of the nation's 131 FBS teams, 20-13, in overtime. The Buffs had been outscored 216-67 in their first four games, but the Bears couldn’t generate much offense.
Too Many Flags: The officiating crew at USC-Utah did its best to ruin a fantastic football game. During one stretch early in the fourth quarter the zebras threw six flags in seven plays, including five penalties on the USC defense for pass interference, targeting, or roughing the passer. It was ridiculous.
Things were almost as bad in the Alabama-Tennessee game. Alabama was called for 17 penalties, which drove Nick Saban crazy.
Moving on to baseball…
The Dodgers won 111 games, fourth best in MLB history, yet they were ousted from the playoffs by the Padres, a team that finished 22 games behind them in the standings.
Saturday night the Dodgers blew a three-run lead with their best relief pitcher, Evan Phillips, sitting in the bullpen, waiting for a ninth-inning save opportunity that never came.
The best offense in the majors also disappeared in the clutch. The Padres closer, Josh Hader, did get into the game, and he struck out Dodgers’ stars Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman in the ninth to close it out.
Melvin’s Reward: It was gratifying for Bay Area fans to see Padres manager Bob Melvin, who labored for so many years without any financial support from ownership in Oakland, beat the team with an unlimited payroll.
Costas Returns: It’s been a sheer joy to listen to Bob Costas call the Yankees-Guardians series. His sense of history and ability to call up important, and sometimes obscure, stats are unmatched.
Hometown Boy: My old friend Dave Rubin, my first TA at Stanford in the late 1960s, was in hog heaven over the weekend. Dave is a Cleveland native, who grew up in University Heights and Shaker Heights. He’s been one of the Indians' (now known as the Guardians…Yuk) biggest fans for decades.
Dave later became dean of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse. The Orange beat 15th-ranked North Carolina State 24-9 to improve to 6-0, their best start since 1987.
Dave is riding high, and enjoying every minute.
(Incidentally, Costas is one of Dave’s most prominent alums. Other Syracuse alums in sports broadcasting include Mike Tirico, Marv Albert, Sean McDonough, Beth Mowins, Dick Stockton, Dave Pasch, Len Berman, Ian Eagle and the late Hank Greenwald).
The Astros eliminated the Mariners in an 18-inning classic, 1-0. Together, the teams used 18 pitchers. For once, I didn’t mind the parade of relievers…
Now on to basketball…
Draymond’s Delay: The Warriors have signed Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins to four year contracts. Poole will net $123 million, plus incentives, and Wiggins $109M. Meanwhile, Draymond Green sits in limbo, made all the more uncertain by his recent Sonny Liston impersonation with Poole.
All sides deny money had anything to do with the incident, but the team’s focus on signing Poole and Wiggins—two new arrivals who’ve played on just one championship team—had to rankle the man who’s been a part of four titles.
Green is the guy, after all, who can still recite the names of every player picked before him in the NBA draft in 2012.
Bad Idea of the Week: expanding the NCAA Basketball Tournament field. ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips, whose last great idea was voting against expanding the College Football Playoff, claims conferences are clamoring for more access. What he really means, of course, is that they're clamoring for more money.
We already have 68 teams, including lots of teams that don't deserve to be there. Expanding further will ruin the tournament. Who wants to watch a bunch of 16-16 teams play each other?