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M.S. Charness

Splitting the Uprights 3: rivalry week

The concept of rivalry is one that gets an absurd amount of coverage in the sports press. From Red Sox-Yankees in baseball, to Canadiens-Leafs in hockey, to Lakers-Celtics in the league formally known as the NBA, pitting two marquee opponents with a long history against one another is a surefire way to boost ratings.In the NFL “rivalry” takes on a much different tone. Due to a miniscule 16-game schedule, there is not nearly as much time in the regular season for teams to meet, especially as the NFL continues to follow a convoluted “formula” to determine which teams come together in which geographic location.Whether by pure chance, convenience, or necessity, rivalries in the NFL fall mostly along divisional lines. With AFC and NFC teams each split into four divisions of four teams, all 32 squads are assured of playing the other three teams in their divisions twice – for a total of six games.While this does create two entertaining matchups a year in divisions with more then one successful team, such as the AFC and NFC East, it also gives us biannual Cardinals-Seahawks matchups. The sudden-death nature of the NFL’s playoff format has none of the tension that goes with the long playoff series of the NBA, NHL and MLB.Although there are instances when divisional foes meet in the playoffs for the third time in a season, as Pittsburgh and Baltimore did last year, the NFL is not preoccupied with the concept rivalry like other leagues are – and that might be why any regular-season matchup can be so damn exciting.However, the NFL Network has been marketing this week’s slate as “rivalry week,” just like the NCAA would at the end of November. Since the NCAA pays its players almost as much as the NFL (ha!), maybe this rivalry week… Read More

Splitting the Uprights 4: remembering Al Davis

In the NFL’s long history, there has been a number of men who have shaped the way the game is played and the way the product is marketed off the field – men from the past like Lamar Hunt, a longtime owner of the Kansas City Chiefs who invented the term Super Bowl after a toy his daughter played with at home; men in the modern-day NFL like Jerry Jones, who somehow does better with groupies than his players. Good ownership keeps the league afloat.When word trickled out that Allen “Al” Davis passed away last week at the age of 82, the NFL community came together to mourn the loss of a man behind numerous contributions to football. He was a notoriously tough boss who generated controversy throughout his tenure in in the NFL. The NFL's front office, who had nice words to say after his passing, were probably not such great fans of his while he sat high on his throne in the Oakland Coliseum.The NFL needed Al Davis to change into the beloved and profitable game that it is today. He popularized the vertical passing offense that has made Peyton Manning and Tom Brady household names, and his obsession with wide receivers who could run fast and do little else on the field has made football more exciting. He was also a catalyst for changing the racial makeup of the league in the late 1960s as racial issues reshaped the game. Regardless of the Super Bowl drought in Oakland, no one who watches football can deny that there is a ferocious charisma tied with the Raiders and their fans. They got that swagger from the man who famously said, “Just win, baby” – a man who proudly rocked the Black and Silver into his ninth decade on this earth.… Read More

Splitting the Uprights 5: man up!

Few would argue that masculinity is a defining trait of football. Any one of us who has played on or followed a team has heard “man up!” in order to bring about a big stop or to play through the pain of a nagging injury. With all due respect to any female readers (hi Mom!), masculine pride is omnipresent in the NFL. Never was this more apparent than the post-confrontation of ‘average Jims’ after last week’s Lions-49ers game. After a 4th-quarter comeback by San Francisco, both coaches met at midfield for the traditional post-game handshake. Words were exchanged; the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh’s enthusiasm came across as a shake-and-slap combo. The Lions’ Jim Schwartz took exception, and was not shy about chasing the other Jim down. Without intervention, this could have escalated into a prizefight, which might have been the greatest thing in the history of handshakes. The problem I had with this whole saga is not that two coaches acted out after a hard-fought game, but the onslaught of media coverage that followed.I’m obviously a humongous hypocrite as I sit here writing, but it’s my column, and I can cry if I want to. The confrontation took on a life of its own, overshadowing the Niners’ victory – and it's not like this was the first time this happened.Todd Haley, soon-to-be-former coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, refused to shake Denver Broncos’ then-skipper Josh McDaniels’s hand after Denver won in a blow-out last season.It seems like Bill Belichick has more eyes now on his handshakes than on his ball games. Cameras make such a big deal of the salutations he shares with his former prodigies that, after a Jets-Pats game, a Boston Globe photographer got thrown to the turf. The handshake is a great tradition, rooted in sportsmanship and class… Read More

Splitting the Uprights 6: NFL expansion?

One of the major differences between the NFL and other professional sports leagues is that its teams are restricted to the United States. While the NHL, MLB, and the league formally known as the NBA all have a presence in our lovely country, the NFL has yet to head north to join our Commonwealth on a permanent basis. This may be in part due to potential direct competition with the CFL, or it may just be because the NFL has been so wildly successful in the US-of-A that there is no reason to push the boundaries elsewhere. But as we saw last week in a rather mundane affair in London’s Wembly Stadium, there is a rabid market for ‘American’ football in markets that are not, per se, America. Luckily, this weekend, that travelling road-show comes to Toronto, where the Buffalo Bills play proverbial host to the Washington Redskins. The Rogers Centre will welcome thousands of fans, many of whom follow the squad from Buffalo on a day-to-day basis anyway. Most games in Buffalo average 14,000 Canadian fans, and since the Rogers Centre fits fewer fans then Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium, demand for these games is usually high. As economically feasible as it may be for the NFL to market its brand to a global market, I think the idea of football in other countries needs to be taken to a new level. If the Bills and Redskins are playing in Toronto, in a stadium home to a CFL team, then they need to play CFL rules for a game. I’m talking Ivy-League educated Ryan Fitzpatrick getting to throw to wide outs in motion at the snap. I want to see Pro-Bowl punter Brian Moorman booming punts into the end-zone for single points. And most of all I want to see… Read More

Splitting the Uprights 7: NCAA Football

So after a boring week in the NFL, it’s time to focus on a big event in football’s other professional league, the NCAA. This week, in the Southeastern Conference, there is an intense matchup between the #1 and #2 ranked teams in college football. Louisiana State and Alabama meet up in a clash of teams with stellar ground games and crushing defenses. The exciting and/or infuriating thing about this matchup is that whatever happens on Saturday night, there will be a huge debate on whether or not there should be a rematch of these two teams in the BCS Championship game in January. The idea of a computer-based system determining who meets in the deciding game of a season, instead of using a playoff system, is upsetting to many. But since there is nothing that can be done about it in this humble space, I’d rather focus on what is going to be a fantastic matchup of two great teams. Men who are rock stars in their respective states coach the teams, serving as role models to people of all ages and one accent. Les Miles- “The Mad Hatter”- is known for fake punts, stud defensive back play and a great big forehead. Nick Saban doesn’t have nearly as cool a nickname, and I think most people outside of Tuscaloosa would call him the “Snake”. He has been extremely successful at the collegiate level, but has yet to leave a situation without a great deal of animosity levied at his super-tanned face. Who do I think has the upper hand? Considering my history with predictions, frankly, I’m not sure anybody cares. But it’s a free country, and a free column (no, seriously, I do this s*!# for free), so here goes nothing. I like Alabama and running back/Heisman Trophy candidate… Read More
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