Monday, October 16, 2006

The best of times, the worst of times ...

The sports world, of course, is not immune to the highs and lows of human experience that we deal with on a day-to-day basis. And it's not especially uncommon for a great story and a sad or stupid story to take place in sports in the same day, even within hours of each other. Indeed, that's what most sports fans call "Saturday." And this past Saturday was no exception, though the chasm between the two events in question was especially vast this time around. On the one end of the spectrum, you had the ultimate (though not, perhaps, final) triumph of the Detroit Tigers, The Artists Formerly Known as the Doormats of the American League, as they clinched the pennant and a trip to the World Series in a form that can only be described as "cinematic." And at the other end - the dark, dank end - there was the savage and idiotic mid-game brawl between the football teams representing the University of Miami and Florida International University.

First, the brawl. Nobody who is a fan or even an occasional observer of the college football game is unfamiliar with the reputation of the University of Miami Hurricanes. Or should I say, reputations. For football - excellence, with five national championships, two Heisman Trophy winners and countless NFL players produced. For everything else - sleaze, with many arrests and convictions amongst the players over the years, in addition to scandals that have prompted NCAA investigations and penalties and overall thuggish behavior. Much of that black cloud over the program had dissipated over the years thanks to the efforts of former coach Butch Davis and his successor, current coach Larry Coker. But two things have happened this season: signs of the old times have slowly crept back into the Miami culture and - truthfully, even worse in the eyes of many a Miami booster or administration - the team lost some luster on the field, with a current record of 4-2, shaky by Hurricane standards.

That fourth win, a 35-0 pasting of the "powerhouse" Florida International (currently 0-7) squad, is where the current troubles took place. There had been the usual trash-talking between teams, and a questionable late hit by an FIU player. But the fun really began early in the third quarter. After catching a touchdown pass early in the third quarter, making the score a hardly-imposing 13-0, the Miami receiver pointed to the FIU bench and bowed to the crowd in the Orange Bowl. The very next play, the kicking of the extra point, an FIU player tackled the Miami place holder and punched him. Things quickly escalated after than, with both benches emptying and even local police unable to calm things down for several minutes. (By the way, the cops were sponsoring an event at the game that night called - I shit you not - "Join a Team, Not a Gang Day.")

The video of the fight is, unfortunately, a sight to behold. Players on both teams acting like madman, launching themselves at each other, swinging helmets like they were clubs and stomping on each other with metal cleats. It makes you proud to be a human being.

The good news is that everyone involved was wearing a big number on their chest and back, which makes the penalty phase quite easy to sort out. The bad news is that the penalties, so far, suck. Between the two programs, 31 players, including 13 from Miami, have been suspended for - one game. Yeah, that's it, one stinking game. Oh, and that game, against perennial also-ran Duke, is a virtually walk-over even for a so-so Hurricane team. The only person who seems guarantee to lose his job is Lamar Thomas, the color commentator for the Hurricane TV broadcasting team and a former Hurricane himself from the "glory" days. He sure did add color to the melee by encouraging the Miami players for defending "our house" and expressing a desire to "go down the elevator to get in that thing." (For an illuminating view of Thomas' resume, click here.) As for Coker, already under fire, he's still around, but will likely get axed - not for this, but for not measuring up to elite Hurricane standards. Meaning wins and losses, not conduct becoming student-athletes.

I'd make this simple - everyone involved with the brawl, on both sides, is out for the year. If you used your helmet or cleats as a weapon, you're gone - from the team, and from the school. And we're handing your ass to the authorities, and they can determine whether charges should be filed. And if the administrations of either Miami or FIU don't do this, then they're gone as well. 'Cause college football isn't a right, boys and girls. It's a privilege. And just like other privileges, it can be revoked.

Plain and simple, the Miami brawl was a bastardization of sports. Which makes it all the more important that fans could turn to the Detroit Tigers as if it was a cleansing shower from the filth of the violence. The three-run homer that Tiger outfielder Magglio Ordonez blasted into the Michigan sky Saturday night - his second of the game, no less - did more than send the Tigers to the World Series for the first time in 22 years, on the very day back in 1984 that Kirk Gibson hit two home runs to clinch the whole enchilada for Detroit. It did more than remove the yoke of failure from a team and a fan base that had suffered through 13 straight losing seasons, including a near-record 119 losses just three years ago. In true Ruthian fashion, Ordonez's blast also made for a very special 11th birthday for his son, Magglio Jr. Before the game, the father - who had been struggling during the playoffs - had promised the son that he would hit a home run to mark the day of his birth. Instead, he hit two. The first tied the game against the Oakland Athletics. The second propelled Motown into baseball ecstasy and made a little boy's day.

You can't make up shit like this up. And, on a day when the worst of sports was all too visible, the sight of Magglio Ordonez with the biggest smile on his face, with his beloved son stuck to his side, made even the most jaded fan remember why they liked sports in the first place.

BTW: Lamar Thomas is on ESPN Radio right now and, sadly, is not apologizing for his comments - not really, anyway. Have fun getting a new broadcasting job, sport.

UPDATE: [3:14 p.m.] Miami has extended the suspension of sophomore safety Anthony Reddick, who used his helmet as a weapon, to indefinite status, and Florida International has kicked two of its suspended players off the team and also has made the suspensions of its other 16 penalized players indefinite. That's a start.

UPDATE 2: [3:27 p.m.] Lamar Thomas has officially been relieved of his duties as the color commentator for the University of Miami's football broadcasts on TV. Must have been something he said ...

1 comment:

Beth said...

That's some good writin', my friend.
But sheesh, yeah, what the hell is the matter with people?!
Word verification: Guzuuko!