Happy Monday morning, sports fans! It’s a time of great transition in the sporting world. With football wrapping up its regular season for the pros and bowl season for the kids, the new year signals the heart of the NBA regular season and the start of conference play for college hoops. I’ll be at the Oregon Ducks’ non-conference finale tonight against Nevada, but before I go straight from sleep to the game to a new year’s party, let’s wrap up the five biggest sports stories of the weekend.
One: Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins pulled it out at home over Tony Romo and the Cowboys to win the NFC East and squeeze into the playoffs. This has a number of interesting side effects. First, there are now three rookie quarterbacks in the NFL playoffs, all of whom command teams that were pretty bad last year. Two of them will be playing each other next weekend when the Seahawks take their wild card to Washington in what promises to be an exciting matchup. More poignantly in the longer run , however, is that Romo’s legacy as the “guy who can always be counted on to goof up in the clutch” is pretty darn close to secure. His three picks, including one on their last drive of the game, and gaping inability to respond effectively to defensive pressure were just astounding for a supposed franchise-QB in an ultra-important game. The Redskins played well, but in my opinion, Dallas lost this game more than Washington won it.
Two: With the end of the regular season upon us, the fate of some of the NFL’s “hot seat coaches” will soon be decided. Thanks in small part to the aforementioned bumbling loss, the Cowboy’s Jason Garrett may want to track down a few cardboard boxes with which to gather his effects. Andy Reid has probably had an appointment for next week with a Philly-area moving company for sometime now, as he will almost assuredly be ending his 14-year tenure with the Eagles before your new year’s hangover has worn off. And Romeo Crennel, after going through one of the worst seasons any football coach could possibly experience, is rumored to be needing a U-Haul van in Kansas City. In all three of these, I think it’s safe to say the coach is being blamed for the players’ shortcomings not in lack of effort, something a coach can fix, but in lack of talent, which is only so resolvable by coaching. I’ll say it pretty clearly: Romo and Michael Vick are not the elite quarterbacks their organizations expected them to be, they’re not even particularly good by NFL standards. The fan outcry against Chiefs’ general manager Scott Pioli seems to indicate that there are some deeper issues at work there, but the difference between that organization and the other two is that Matt Cassel has no pretense of being an elite level QB. Still, when you go 2-14, it’s over for you.
Three: Speaking of coaches, the Brooklyn Nets are apparently not “actively searching” for a replacement for interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo. Other sources sat they want Phil Jackson, and only Phil Jackson, for the job. This is all stupid. I highly doubt that Jackson would want to come in midseason and take over a fairly unimpressive Nets squad and tarnish his legacy, unless Mikhail Prokhorov is willing to pay him an enormous amount of money, which is a distinct possibility. The Zen Master just doesn’t seem like a good fit for Brooklyn to me, and I don’t think the Triangle is a good fit for Deron “Whiny” Williams (not a fan, if you hadn’t guessed) and the Nets, or any other team trying to pick it up mid season. As for the alternative of retaining Carlesimo, is that really going to work long term? That’s not the kind of high profile coach you want. At any rate, Prokhorov’s attempt to buy NBA notoriety and a championship has turned into a right mess, and his fortunes may be better used by saving up to get Dwight Howard in free agency, paying an enormous luxury tax bill, and filling his hot tub with Dom Perignon.
Four: On the other side of the association, both geographically and in terms of success, the Clippers have won 17 straight, including going through December undefeated. There are still those who doubt the Clips’ defense, ability to beat elite teams, and ability to function in the half court game, and not all of those notions have been dispelled by their monumental run, but the achievement itself, no matter the factors surrounding it and its relevance to the playoffs, is spectacular. The last team to go through a significant roster re-working and then pull of a 15+ game winning streak was the ’08 Celtics, and they won it all. There’s a decent chance they won’t pull that off, not with the Thunder and Heat, amongst others, lurking about the league’s dark corners. But it’s delusional to think that the Clippers aren’t among the NBA’s best few teams at this point, or to think that any team in the Pacific Division stands much of a chance against them.
Five: As the nation approches the “Fiscal Cliff,” hockey fans across the country are approaching the “Hockey Cliff,” the point at which the remaining half of the NHL regular season will be called off. The NHL is the only of the “Big Four” to lose an entire season to a work stoppage, and it’s on the verge of making it two. I think everyone involved has forgotten that no one truly wins if there’s no hockey. NHL fans are some of the most loyal on the whole continent, they deserve much better than this crap. Fix the damn thing and play some hockey before the NHL is lost in a melted ice rink of legal wrangling and shattered dreams.