The Whims and Foibles of Sports...
Continue reading my sporting observations on my J.W. Miller Sports Facebook page:
I warned you a few weeks ago that my last column on this website would appear shortly after the Super Bowl, and this one, No. 790, is the last. Keep in mind that I am not abandoning you. I am just changing my address. This is the last column I will write on this website as I move my platform to the J.W. Miller Sports page on Facebook, the link to which is above.
A website is critical for businesses that need a target audience to buy products, but that has never been my goal. The only products I have to sell are the books I’ve written and buyers normally buy them once, if at all. A website requires a lot more administrative work, such as coming up with photos and features and other emoluments. At this stage of my life, I just want to write.
I’ve long believed that anyone who clicks into the website does so because he or she wants to read what I’ve got to say. That’s the beauty of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. So-called “social media” has made great strides in the past ten years at creating wide audiences, and my message will be much more accessible to a greater number of readers. Another benefit might also be that my Facebook posts will probably be more frequent and a lot shorter than you have been reading here.
I know you’re busy, and I’ve appreciated your patience at staying with my extended and sometimes overdrawn elaborations of whatever subject I’m tackling. All you have to do to keep reading is call up the Facebook page on your mobile phone or computer and “like” the page. That puts you into our group and allows you to easily enter into the conversation. If you don’t have a Facebook account but want to know when I’ve written something new, then send me an e-mail at: (email@example.com) and I will keep you posted.
My subject matter will remain consistent because I write what I know. This column has never been exclusively about the Saints, although my ten years in the front office and another ten in other League entities qualified me to comment. But regular readers know I like to talk about my other interests.
My affection for University of Kentucky sports came from my membership in Big Blue Nation as a lifelong fan and graduate. I remember listening to UK games on the radio with my grandmother Connor, who would turn off the volume if the game was tight and turn it back on minutes later, hopefully to a Wildcat victory. It’s amazing that I’m doing the same thing today! She would have loved the idea of taping the game so she wouldn’t have to go through torment if the ‘Cats lost. Maybe our tolerance as fans weakens with age.
I love the inconsistencies of golf and its allure one moment and its frustration the next. I’ve written about the people I enjoyed playing with and some whose loss I mourn. My seven years as athletic director at the University of New Orleans gave me an inside perspective of college athletics that I’ve tried to convey. It still saddens me that UNO athletics was dealt a cruel hand early and little has happened over the years to change it.
My loyalty to the Boston Red Sox was nurtured by my father’s love of the team which never wavered through years of frustration. One of the best moments of my life was the phone call I made to him after the Sox finally won a World Series in 2004 and hearing the joy in his voice. Dad died two years later, I believe fully content that he lived long enough to see the Sox win a World Series.
So I will keep writing about those topics and others I believe are pertinent, just in a smoother and more accessible format. Thanks for your attention, and I hope to see you on the other side.
This column also appears on my J.W. Miller Sports Facebook page:
I never thought the Chiefs would win Sunday’s Super Bowl, despite being a narrow favorite. I just knew the 49ers would continue to make my life miserable by winning their 15th or 20th Super Bowl, whatever it would have been!
You might recall that several weeks ago, I groused about the hate-hate relationship I developed with the team while I was an executive with the Saints. We had one of the top teams in the NFL, but the very best team in football was in our division and usually took all the candy. Yes, I’m happy the 49ers lost, but I’m also glad the Chiefs won for a couple of personal reasons.
When I was a pup with the NFL Management Council in the early Eighties, our labor relations office was governed by a board consisting of six club owners. One of these men was Lamar Hunt, founder and owner of the Kansas City Chiefs. Hunt was a son of H.L. Hunt, who had made millions in the oil fields and had parlayed that success into an empire that Forbes magazine says is worth more than $13 billion today.
Lamar Hunt was a founding owner of the American Football League, invested in international tennis and was the man who coined the term Super Bowl after watching one of his children playing with a bouncy toy called a super ball. Lamar Hunt also was one of the most unassuming men I’ve ever known. We bonded immediately over the fact that we were both marathon runners, but he was easy to talk to and to like. My fondest memory of Lamar (never “Mr. Hunt”) illustrates that description.
We had scheduled a meeting of the owners committee in our New York offices, and when my boss Jack Donlan was ready to start the meeting, the only owner absent was Lamar. That was the day before cellphones and instant communication, and none of the other owners had heard from Lamar. About two hours into the meeting, Lamar arrives wearing a sheepish expression. He immediately apologizes and then lets us all know why he was late.
“Well, I got to the airport, and the flight was full,” he explained. “They made an announcement that if anybody would give up their seat, they could get on the next flight.” Everyone in the room was waiting for the punchline, which Lamar quickly provided: “And they’d get a free flight in the future. I couldn’t pass that up!” Here was a guy who at the time was probably the richest man in the room delighted at saving a couple hundred bucks. You gotta love a guy like that and pull for his team!
Another reason I celebrate the Chiefs’ victory is that I well remember their last one - Super Bowl IV in 1970 - but for a unique reason. It was not because the Chiefs defeated a Vikings team that was assembled by my future boss Jim Finks. Nor was it because the game was played in old Tulane Stadium in a city that I had never visited before. No, the memorable part of the Chiefs’ victory for me was the postgame broadcast from the winning locker room.
I was in my senior year of college, and one of my best friends had obtained a press pass by virtue of his father owning a television station in Eastern Kentucky - WKYH-TV 57, an NBC affiliate. As a member of the working press, he was allowed to purchase a game ticket. The cost was $35, but he couldn’t find anybody who was interested in buying it from him, so he had to eat it.
I watched the game at the SAE house with my fraternity brothers, and we stayed with the postgame broadcast as the CBS network camera focused on the door to the Kansas City locker room. My friend was positioned with other members of the press, including Frank Gifford, who was ready with his microphone to interview Coach Hank Stram and the jubilant players. When the door opened, the reporters rushed through when suddenly a solitary young figure wearing a press badge and carrying a microphone and tape recorder wandered right in front of the network camera.
The big game had not yet become a national event, but the SAE house went nuts! Our own Billy Gorman of Hazard, Kentucky was on national TV! That was 50 years ago, and the presence of our friend still provides a fond memory when I hear a reference to Super Bowl IV.
And if I haven’t mentioned the best reason the Chiefs’ victory should be celebrated, here it is again: BECAUSE THE FORTY-FREAKIN’ NINERS LOST! Gee, that feels good!
This column also appears on my J.W. Miller Sports Facebook page:
College basketball fans who were paying attention last week received a valuable education as to the merits and the perils of the “one and done” debate. As you know, Kentucky Coach John Calipari has the reputation of profiting most from the current NBA rule that prevents promising high school players from immediately swapping their caps-and-gowns for an NBA uniform. They are required to be at least 19 years of age and spend at least one year elsewhere, either with a college program or playing overseas. After Calipari opened the door to those players, most other college programs saw that it was good and began luring the top freshmen to come-play-for-me before heading to the pros.
However, having a potential NBA star on campus for a year has not translated to instant NCAA championships. Recent winners Villanova, Virginia and Connecticut have won titles with their rosters dominated by sophomores, juniors and even the occasional senior. But this week we saw two examples of why an extra year or two of college might be the best thing for young aspirants.
Kahlil Whitney, a top-ten high school player whom Calipari signed last year, announced he is leaving Kentucky because of a lack of playing time. Indeed, Whitney started the first eight games of the season, but after he was replaced in the starting lineup, his playing time exceeded 10 minutes or more only four times over the next 10 games. Whitney’s only chance to become a true one-and-done player now is if he decides he’s good enough to declare for the 2020 NBA draft. So far, his body of work – 3.3 points, 1.7 rebounds per game – doesn’t make that likely. So he probably will transfer to another school and hope to earn his way back onto the pedestal.
Of course, he could have been patient, returned for another year and developed his game, but that quality is not on the agenda of many young prospects and those who have their ears. “I was a little surprised, but it’s not my life,” Calipari said after Whitney’s announcement. “These kids are 18 and 19. I want every kid to make it, but there are times when kids think it’s not here. Sometimes, it is what it is, whether it’s people convincing him …?”
The coach’s unspoken message was likely a wish that before making his decision Whitney had looked more closely at another player on the roster who once was in a similar situation. That player is 7-foot junior center Nick Richards, who has become the Wildcats’ man of war. That’s right, a junior. Richards showed promise as a freshman starter, then regressed noticeably in his sophomore year. His playing time was cut to single digits as fellow sophomore P.J. Washington upped his game into an NBA lottery pick.
To his credit, Richards stayed in school an almost unprecedented third year, working on strength and conditioning and spending hours in the gym. Today, Richards may be the most improved player in college basketball, fueling the team’s hope for a ninth NCAA title. In Saturday’s battle royal against Texas Tech in Lubbock, Richards scored 25 points, pulled down 14 rebounds and blocked four shots, numbers that have only been surpassed in Lexington by a fellow named Anthony Davis whose 27-14-7 stat line paced a victory over Arkansas on January 17, 2012.
“Just because I go to a school that’s known for one-and-done doesn’t mean I have to be one-and-done,” Richards commented after the game. “It took me time to develop over the past three years. I’ve had the best time of my life. Meeting incredible people. Having the best coaching staff in the world training me to be the player I am right now and to be a better player for times to come.”
Richards’ message of patience and perseverance might be one that another sophomore, E.J. Montgomery, should take to heart. The lithe, 6-11 forward is averaging 6.8 points and 5 rebounds while his coach continues to publicly hint of the “monster” that lies within. Absent the monster being unleashed in the next two months, Montgomery needs to emulate Richards’ patience and return for another year. And Khalil Whitney should have done the same.
The NFL conference championship games are this weekend, and I’ll be pulling for the Packers and the underdog Titans. But let’s be honest. If another monsoon rainstorm sits over my little bungalow all day and knocks out my Direct TV again, I would not throw my hands into the air, scream at the top of my lungs or promise God that if he stops the deluge, I’ll never miss another Sunday of church.
No, if I could not watch the NFL playoffs on Sunday, and there is a high probability that I won’t, I could deal with it. Hey, it’s just the games to see which teams go to the Super Bowl. Who cares?
So, where did I, all of a sudden, develop this tolerance, this forbearance, this open-minded willingness to miss the NFL’s penultimate weekend? It hit me this past Monday at the kickoff of the College Football Playoff championship. After all the excitement of the past college football season culminated in LSU’s championship victory over Clemson at the Superdome, the NFL playoffs hold darned near zero interest for me.
I know I’m late to this party, but how could I feel otherwise after an entire season of watching LSU week after week build what many are saying was the greatest college season of all time? I became a huge Joe Burrow fan watching his flawless performances of dropping rainbows into the hands of a coterie of gifted receivers or, in the rare event nobody was open, pulling the ball down and running for the first down or more.
The latter-day Chinese Bandits defense was not as flashy as the offense, but when your offense is averaging 48 points a game, you don’t have to be. But when they needed a big play, Grant Delpit, Derek Stingley Jr. or another defender was there to make it. And above it all, I loved Coach Ed Orgeron growling “Geaux, Tigers,” before and after his team whupped up on another frustrated foe. Oh, if the Saints were still playing, that interest level would withstand LSU’s assault on the college football record books. But they aren’t, and I expended all my football energy for another year on Monday.
Whether you are still interested or not in what happens this weekend, that has nothing to do with my latest revelation: There’s just nothing that equals college football when the team you follow is in it. That might seem like a small amount of heresy, coming from an incurable Kentucky basketball fan, but it’s true. My text chain of other UK fraternity brothers even rationalizes the occasional hardwood loss by joking: “Well, good thing we’re a football school!”
I’m not going to start comparing why college football is better than college basketball, but if you know anybody who is compiling a list, you might start with officiating, which generally has far less effect on deciding a football game. I'm not saying football officials are better than basketball officials, but (excepting the Saints' infamous "No Call") the numbers can absorb some miscues. Poor officiating in basketball can change an entire game. A reminder that basketball has five starters, and if one of them gets two fouls in the first five minutes of a game, he sits for the rest of the half. And if two of the five get two fouls in the first five minutes, it could cost a championship.
No mistake about it, college football, at least for this past season, was better, and there I will end this paean to college football and plan my weekend. It will not include the lottery on which teams wind up going to the Super Bowl. I got my football Jones Monday night.
This time last year, I wrote about the three ways your favorite team can get knocked out of the playoffs: 1. They lose the game because of their own mistakes, like the 2017 loss at Minnesota that came after the Saints whiffed a tackle on a Hail Mary; 2. They can have the game taken away from them, like last year’s infamous No Call loss to the Rams; 3. Finally, you can get sent home because the other team is better and you just get beat, which perfectly describes Sunday’s 26-20 overtime loss to Minnesota.
The Vikings beat the Saints up front on both sides of the ball. The Saints’ offensive line could not stop the Vikings’ pass rush, and their secondary put a bag over Michael Thomas’ head all day. The Saints’ defensive line couldn’t stop the Vikings’ running game until it was too late, and QB Kirk Cousins always seemed to have enough time to find the open receiver. “No,” the Vikings tight end did not commit offensive pass interference on the winning touchdown pass, and “No” there isn’t a conspiracy against New Orleans. Our team has simply been the victim of unbelievably, cataclysmically BAD luck.
How else do you explain the normally flawless Wil Lutz’s missed short field goal at the end of the first half that could have provided the eventual winning margin? Or the apparent fumble that Vonn Bell picked up and carried into the end zone for the late go-ahead touchdown that was called back because Dalvin Cook’s knee was down? Or Drew Brees’ first-of-the-season fumble late in the game one play after Taysom Hill’s long run gave Who Dat Nation hope?
Don’t waste time trying to find reasons why fate has so often favored the other team. Fate is spiteful and pitiless, unforgiving and cruel. Fate can kick you in the codpiece every day of your life if she wants to. Do you think Saints fans deserved a break after the ignominy of the last two years? Fate disagrees. Welcome to sports. Or, as my old boss Jim Finks would say after a tough loss: “That’s show biz!”
The game was so frustrating that it could make you want to hang it up and retire. No, I don’t mean Brees, who I think will play another two or three years. I was talking about me.
The Saints’ season is over, and so is mine. I’ve been writing this column for ten years, and I think it’s time to give you back the opportunity to do something else with your lives other than reading the periodic ravings of a madman. Why am I putting away my keyboard? Let’s just say it’s not easy being witty and charming for 10 years running.
Jim Mora liked to say that a coach can stay in one job too long, and I believe a columnist can do the same. I believe somebody in my position has a responsibility to identify worthy topics they care about to share with readers like you. But when I sort through the issues of sports today to find interesting subjects, I often feel like I’m sifting s*** in the hopes it will turn into gold dust.
This is not an emotional decision. It comes with great thought that I will share with you in the coming weeks. I was planning on ending JWMillerSports.com after the Saints won the Super Bowl, but I guess that boat sailed. I am going to continue writing this column over the next month or so until I end at all with one final farewell. Until then, I will share your disappointment that the Saints lost their chance for another Super Bowl while Drew Brees is still around.
But, honestly, do you know what I feel worse about? The crumbling sports book ticket in my pocket that would have paid $1,100 if the Saints had won the Super Bowl.