5/10/10 Do Upsets Upset You?
It's playoff time in the NBA and NHL. If they are anything like March Madness in the NCAA we can expect the unexpected, meaning we can count on upsets. As you know, whenever the decided underdog beats the overwhelming favorite, David beats Goliath, they call it an upset. Ever wonder why, where the usage comes from?
One might suspect it derives from the common meanings of the word upset. As in when you upset something over you knock it over. You know, like upset the apple cart. Or perhaps it comes from the reaction of over-confident fans or players who when beaten are bitterly disappointed, angry, they're upset.
Neither of these speculations is correct. The term is actually an eponym, a word derived from a proper name. Like boycott after Charles Boycott or spoonerism from the Reverend Spooner for instance. Only in this case it doesn't come from a person but an animal. You can trace the usage of upset back to the Sport of Kings, horse racing.
One of the greatest racehorses ever was the legendary Man O' War. In his racing career he started 21 races and won 20. "Big Red" as he was sometimes called was only beaten once, in the Sanford Memorial. The horse he lost to was a 100-1 longshot, a supreme underdog by the name of... Upset.
Afterwards the name of Upset was used by sportswriters to describe when other favorites were beaten unexpectedly. As in "pulled an Upset." Eventually the name Upset became synonymous with such an event and it lost the upper case "U" transforming into a true eponym, upset.
Which meaning of the word upset the horse Upset was named for, I don't know. Though it is curious we accent different syllables depending on which meaning, 'UP-set' in the sporting sense and 'up-SET' in the other cases.
For a little color, here's Upset's jockey, Willie Knapp, describing the race: "We'd passed the quarter pole and were going to the eighth pole, I guess it was, and I heard something right behind me and I knew it was Big Red coming at me now. I looked back and there he was. Johnny Loftus was riding like a crazy man and he yelled at me, 'Move out, Willie! I'm coming through!' So I yelled back at him, 'Take off! Take off me, bum, or I'll put you through the rail!' Then I set down to riding and we won."
2/23/10 Olympic Ague
Perhaps you're a fan of the Olympic Winter Games now underway in Vancouver. Then again, perhaps not. Let's face it, winter sports don't appeal to everyone. Especially folks who live in lands where winter doesn't bring snow and ice. The summer games are just more popular for people who only ever encounter ice in their cocktails.
However there might be a way to make the winter sports appeal to denizens of warmer climes whether they drink their potables neat or on the rocks. If you think about it, NBA basketball is played in the winter. Indoors, of course, but wintertime nonetheless. Switch basketball to the winter olympics and you'll grow the audience instantaneously. After all, hockey is played indoors, too.
Sure, it's a goofy idea, but maybe some think the entire winter games are a goofy idea. Face it, some people just don't like sports in any weather come rain or shine, hell or high water.
1/31/10 SuperBowl Excelivey
The SuperBowl is the most-watched sports event on the planet. Then again, maybe the World Cup is. But the latter is only every four years. So let's say the SuperBowl is the biggest annual game in the world. And if that's not right, the SuperBowl is the biggest annual sports event in the English-speaking world. Whatever, it doesn't matter. It's just my intro for...
The Casual Sportsman's 10 Keys to SuperBowl Victory.
1. The best offense is a good defense. Let the defense play offense.
I'm sure the serious football experts would have a different list, being experts and serious and all. Though I would say nobody really cares or remembers all the various keys to the game lists anyway. I mean, when's the last heated debate you're ever heard about them? And sports fans love lists and heated debates and heated debates over lists. Especially if a list is rankings of any sort.
Heated sports debate seems almost a sport itself. Or a business, sports talk radio. I suppose you could come up with a list of the top ten most heated sports debates. Perhaps this would inspire heated debate itself. Where does it all end? Right here, for me, for now. The end, fine, full stop, period.
12/19/09 Bigger and Less and Better?
To hear the insightful commentary,
What's with the proliferation of talking heads on NFL pre-game shows? Do we really need a bar-length desk of five or more ex-jocks and retired coaches jawjacking about the games? What do they propose is gained by having so much overlapping cross-talk of big men in tight suits?
Maybe it's a sign of the modern audience's short attention span where we can't listen to one mouth more than the length of an extended sound bite. Then again, perhaps the ever increasing line-ups is simply a way of filling up the new wide-screen format of DTV.
Speaking of filling up, have you ever seen a group of men that fill out a suit like ex football players? Wonder how that sports homunculus, Bob Costas feels crammed into the veritable on-screen huddle of behemoths. Wonder if he has a special chair or sits on a phone book (or in his case a thesaurus).
Football inflation doesn't apply only to NFL pregame shows. Have you seen the size of these guys lately? Six foot five, 325 pound linemen. Can you imagine being run into by one of these gargantuans at full tilt intent on separated you from the ball and maybe your head from your shoulders while he's at it?
What gets me is the recent habit of modern players to forego the padding which seemed necessary in a previous age. Check it out, they don't wear knee pads, thigh pads or kidney pads any more. I have heard many of them don't even sport cups. Shoulder pads have gotten smaller so it appears they're wearing pads from their peewee football days. Even the uniforms have shrunk to form-fitting proportions and the sleeves of the jerseys have almost disappeared so the stripes are now on the shoulders.
On the other hand, many quarterbacks seem all puffy in the midriff. That's because they wear a type of flack jacket to protect their ribs. If I remember correctly, this was pioneered by Archie Manning playing with cracked ribs back in the day.
The human body wasn't designed to sustain so much punishment, was it? I just wonder what kind of shape these guys will be in when they reach 50 years old or so. How many will wind up on crutches, punch drunk and mumbling semi-coherently about the football wars? They can't all be sports talking heads no matter how big the pregame show sets get.
11/12/09 What Are the Odds?
It's the middle of football season and we all know what that means. Not just BCS rankings or jostling for playoff positions, but what football means to fans coast to coast — gambling. There are many ways to bet on football, the favorite seems to be the point spread. This method is basically a way to handicap a game so each team has a roughly 50-50 chance of winning. Winning against the spread that is because neither the NCAA nor the NFL actually add or subtract these points from game scores.
Another favorite bet is the parlay, picking the winners in a series of games. This gets bettors a bigger payoff than a straight point-spread, 50-50 bet. Though it is harder to win as the more games in the parlay the longer the odds get. After all, there's only one winning combination in every parlay but more and more losing combinations the more games there are.
So I ask you, if a bookmaker offered 500-1 odds for a ten game parlay against the spread so each game is a toss-up, should you take it? Or is that a sucker's bet?
In order to know that we need to know how to calculate the odds of picking ten out of ten games right.
Let's begin with a simpler calculation, a 2 game parlay. Say team A is playing team B, and C is playing D. There are four possible outcome combinations, teams A and C win, teams A and D win, teams B and C win, teams B and D win. So you have one winning combination and three losing ones. The odds are 3-1 against your picking the parlay correctly.
Of course, trying to find all the possible combinations in a ten game parlay is cumbersome at best, so it'd be easier if we could use a mathematical formula. As we saw above with 2 games there are four combinations, 2 times 2 is four. In a four game parlay there are 16 combinations, 4 times 4 is 16. So then, should we just multiply the number of games times itself to get the odds? Would a ten game parlay have 100 combinations, 10 times 10? Should the odds be 99-1? Is our bookie giving us fantastic odds with that 500-1 payoff?
Actually no, because in a three game parlay there are 8 combinations, which isn't 3 times 3. A five game parlay gets you 32 combinations not 25, as you would with 5 times 5. What gives? Why does the formula work in two cases but not all the time?
Let's look at it from another angle with another kind of two contest parlay, horse racing's daily double. In this bet you must pick the winners of the first two races. Let's say there are ten horses in each race. This means there are ten possible winners in the first race and then ten possible winners in the second race. For each ten first race winners there are ten combinations with second race winners, so the total number of combinations for both races is 100. That's 10 times 10.
Now we can see the correct formula, it's not the number of races times itself, it's the number of possible winners in the first contest times the number of possible winners in the second. If you add a third contest you have to multiply the number of possible winners in the third race, too. If there were 10 horses in the third the odds of picking three straight races is 999-1. That's 10×10×10=1,000 combinations with one being a winner, so 999-1.
Calculating the odds of a parlay isn't an arithmetic progression, it's exponential. A two contest parlay is n (number of possible winners in first contest) times z (number of possible winners in second contest), or n×z. If you have the same number of contestants in each then n=z so you can replace z with n so the formula is n×n. To put that another way n squared, n to the power of 2, or n^2. Therefor, a ten contest parlay with an equal number of contestants is calculated as n×n×n×n×n×n×n×n×n×n, or n^10.
In football games there are only two possible winners in each game, so n=2. Which means a ten game parlay would calculate as 2^10, which equals 1,024. (That's 2×2×2×2×2×2×2×2×2×2 written out the long way.) Therefor the odds against winning a ten game parlay are 1,023-1.
Which means at 500-1 our bookmaker is not giving us terrific odds, but really bad odds. I've heard where sports books pay around 10-1 for a five game parlay. In such a bet the odds are not 10-1 or even 24-1 (5×5=25), but 31-1 (2^5=32). Now that's a sucker's bet.
If you think a ten game parlay is hard to hit, imagine trying to pick all 16 NFL games in a weekend right. The odds are 65,535-1. The odds of finding a bookie to take this bet are incalculable.
9/30/09 What the...?
Plays to Drive Fans, Managers, Umpires and Official Scorers Crazy
The playoffs and World Series are just around the corner. Who will take the home the glory, what can we expect? I don't know, but likely as not there will be a weird play or controversy of some kind. When the unusual happens umpires are expected to make the right call on the spot. Afterwards official scorers must determine what that means stat-wise.
One of the most famous goofy plays was the fly ball bouncing off Jose Canseco's head over the fence for a homerun. Below are two odd moments in baseball I personally remember happening to the Detroit Tigers.
Grand Slam Out?
The bases are loaded with less than two outs. Dalton Jones hits a long, high fly ball to right that looks like it might go out, or might be caught. The baserunners hold up between bases waiting to see. Jones heads to first while also ball-watching. The ball clears the fence, the first base umpire signals homerun. But in his excitement Jones running full out rounds first and passes the runner who was on first before either reach second. The second base umpire calls Jones out for passing the runner.
Questions: What's the umpire's call from here? Do the runners score or what? What's the official scorer's call? Is it a homerun or what?
Inside the Infield Homerun?
Bases empty, two outs, Earl Wilson at the plate with two strikes. Low pitch comes in, Wilson swings and misses, the catcher traps the ball. Strike three! The catcher lobs the ball towards the mound and the fielders head off the field. Wilson pauses in the batter's box for a moment and then walks towards first base. At this point only he and the umpires realize he is not out because the third strike was not caught cleanly, in which case the batter must be tagged or thrown out at first.
The ball comes to rest past the mound and the fielders are in the dugout. Wilson starts running the bases. Seeing this, the opposing team fielders realize their mistake and scramble out to make a play. It's a race to fetch the ball and throw out Wilson before he gets home. One player heads for the ball and a group go to cover the plate. If this wasn't comedic enough, it gets more absurd when Wilson falls rounding third and hurts himself. The ball has been retrieved, Wilson gets up and tries to hobble back to third, but is run down and tagged out.
Questions: For the umpire it's simple, he's the third out, inning over. Or is he? Can players come out of the dugout and make a play? What's the official scorer's call?
As I said, these two actually happened to the Tigers many years ago. I hope I remember the details correctly from listening to them on the radio. Though in scenario two there was no play-by-play as the broadcast crew also thought the inning over and went to commercials. The announcers related the events after coming back.
Play One: All three runners scored and Jones got credit for a single and three RBIs, as well as an out running. (Who, if anyone, got credit for a putout, I don't know.)
Play Two: Earl Wilson was credited with a three base error on the catcher, and an out running. Players in the field can go into, then out of the dugout to make plays. The putout would be scored as usual, 1-2-?-? depending who fetched the ball and who tagged Wilson out. Had he actually made it all the way, I'm pretty sure it would have been the only four base strikeout in baseball history.
This one is invented as a fun challenge. Bases loaded, nobody out. Batter hits a screaming liner hitting the front of the pitcher's rubber, exposed by pitchers digging at the dirt. The ball bounds straight back to the catcher who fields it and tags home to force the runner from third. He then fires down to third where the ball hits the runner, who is in the basepath but has already been forced out at home. The ball bounds off the runner into the stands out of play.
Question: What's the umpire's call? Is the batter out for baserunner interference? Do the other runners advance? Or is it something else? What's the official scorer's call? Error, fielder's choice, or what?
Play three was made complicated to fool you. The ball was fielded in foul territory by the catcher after hitting the ground without touching a fielder or passing a base so it's a foul ground ball. As a foul ball, the rest of the play doesn't matter. Which makes the official scorer's decision easy, nothing happened to score. The batter keeps batting.
8/16/09 2008 Lions Recalled*
The NFL preseason is underway and the Detroit Lions are back in action. If you can call what they did last year action. As with every new season the fans of every team, except the Super Bowl champs, hope this year will be better than last. In this respect Lions' fans have a better hope than most. After all, at 0-16 in 2008 they can't do worse.
To bouy this hope the team has made changes, which is usual for every team in the league every year what with the draft. Though they have added free agents. One being Larry Foote who has the dubious distinction of going from the NFL champion Pittsburgh Steelers to the woeful Lions. Whether this all amounts to replacing last year's losers with this year's losers remains to be seen.
Another change to signify the hoped for resurrection from the ashes the Lions have changed their logo and uniforms. What difference that will make on the field is questionable at best. But it might help merchandise sales as nobody would otherwise like to be caught dead in Lions gear from the 2008 debacle.
So, as an homage to the 0-16 2008 Lions I give you my take on the close-out sale of the now out-dated gear: 2008 Detroit Lions Merchandise, Super Blow-out Sale!
* Like a lot of what came out of Detroit in 2008, the Lions should have been recalled.
1/19/09 Birds CAN fly
The Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl? What's next? The L.A. Clippers in the NBA Finals? The Chicago Cubs win the World Series? The Detroit Lions win a football game?
Will wonders never cease? Will the last be first? Will the lion lie down with the lamb? Will pigs fly? Will Hell freeze over? Actually, if you look at the weather reports it already has frozen over. Hell, Michigan, that is. (Seems a Cardinal fan had the same reaction about Hell freezing over.)
The Cardinals haven't won a championship game in 60 years, not since they were in Chicago. Since then they've migrated to St. Louis and then to Arizona with nary a championship to show for it. The Cards aren't the only NFL franchise to relocate twice. Can you name the other two? One is something of a trick answer.
The Rams started in Cleveland then moved to Los Angeles then moved to St. Louis, taking up the vacancy left by the Cardinals vacating for Arizona. The other team is the Raiders who went from Oakland down to L.A. and then returned to Oakland.
Which means L.A. has lost three different teams and now has none. The third team is the Chargers who began there in 1960 and quickly moved to San Diego. How the second largest city in the country is without an NFL franchise is rather odd, but that's the way it goes.
12/30/08 Hooray, the Curse is Over!
As every football fan knows, the Detroit Lions did what many thought impossible in a salary-cap, draft-centered, parity league. The Leos lost every game of the season and finished 0-16. Adding insult to injury this year the organization celebrated their 75th anniversary. I suppose they can hang their hat on one thing, they were undefeated in the pre-season at 4-0. Go figure.
So 50 years of futility goes on, and on. Some blame William Clay Ford who's owned this dysfunctional disorganization for 45 years. Some say it's the curse of Bobby Layne who was traded to Pittsburgh 50 years ago and said the Lions wouldn't win another championship in... 50 years. How about that.
So, take heart, Lions' fans everywhere. Fifty years is up and so the curse is over. We have nowhere to go but up. It can't get any worse, can it? I can hardly wait until next year. For this year, some Lions jokes from The Curse of Bobby Layne.
12/4/08 One Question Pro Football Quiz
Who holds the career record for yards per carry? (Over 750 attempts, that is. No one-year wonders allowed. No players who are yet to retire.)
Before you answer, some hints. It's not who you might think likely. Not Eric Dickerson, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders or Jim Brown. Think outside the box for this one. It isn't a player from way back when, either. He played for Philadelphia, Minnesota, and Dallas. Stumped? Think of it as a trick question. He wasn't a running back.
The answer: Quarterback Randall Cunningham who had a career rushing average of 6.42 yards per carry.
I would say this is somewhat misleading. The trick in the trick question is a quarterback gets credit for rushing yards when he scrambles, but doesn't get a rushing loss when sacked. So a lot of his rushing yards weren't from rushing plays and he gets only positive yards when scrambling. This tends to inflate the average.
So then, let's rephrase our one question quiz as...
Who holds the career record for yards per carry for a running back? (Over 750 attempts, same as above.)
Again, it's not the usual suspects. This time you will have to go back a ways, though he played after World War II. He also played linebacker. Here's your last hint, he was one of the first four Black players in pro football.
The answer: Marion Motley of the Cleveland Browns who had a career rushing average of 5.7 yards per carry.
In 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Motley joined the Browns of the new All-America Football Conference as a 26-year-old rookie. At 6-1 and 232 pounds, Motley was the AAFC's all-time rushing leader and also led the NFL in his initial season in the league in 1950.
He also played linebacker and was one of the best at that position as well. His coach, the legendary Paul Brown, called him the greatest football player he ever saw. Motley was elected to the Football Hall of Fame in 1968, and named in 1994 to the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.
10/29/08 Greeks Beat Beasts
I'm talking Spartans and Wolverines. I'm talking college football. I'm talking Michigan-Michigan State. I'm talking rivalry, and not a friendly one. This year for the first time in a while Sparty got the best of Blue at the Big House in Ann Arbor. Something that hasn't happened very regularly since the days of Biggie Munn and Duffy Dougherty when MSU was top dog in the Great Lake State.
Heated rivalries are all over the country, USC-UCLA, Bama-Auburn, Harvard-Yale. Some of these rivalry games have nicknames like the Red River Shootout between Texas and Oklahoma and the Backyard Brawl between West Virginia and Pitt, for instance. Then there's The Big Game between Stanford and Cal which might strike an outsider as a bit of hubris. Sometimes teams play for a odd trophy like the Little Brown Jug, the Brass Spittoon or the Old Oaken Bucket.
UM and MSU play for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, which seems rather contrived. I don't remember Paul Bunyan being from around here. You can't even drink out of it. The game doesn't have a cool nickname like the Michigan Melee, the Great Lakes Grudge Match, the Rust Belt Rumble or the Peninsular War.
Yeah, this instalment is boring and pointless. I just wanted to draw a Spartan kicking a wolverine for what it's worth.
9/24/08 End of the Road
Bye-bye and good riddence to Matt Millen, Detroit Lions president. Pack up your trophies and go back to Pennsylvania. Wait a second... what trophies? OK, you have a few Super Bowl rings as a player. As a Lions' executive, not so many.
For anyone outside Detroit, you might not know how dreadful this guy was at his job. Here's all you need to know: The Lion's record during his time here was 31-84.
But not to worry, Matt, just like you characterized the Lions' 0-3 start, it's just a little bump in the road and you should stay the course. Happy landings.