I want to say "thank you" to walleye demon for dinner on Thursday. I got to broaden my horizons in learning about South Dakota, and he got his fix of Giordano's pizza. He gets a little loopy once he gets some Canadian bacon and sausage in him, though – after two slices apiece, we were building on his fascination with a telephone in his bathroom. Within 20 minutes, we had designed the ultimate male commode, complete with reclining seat, data port, and one-touch dialing to summon delivery people. I attempt to make this a classy report, yet this makes two consecutive weeks I've devoted at least one paragraph to the bathroom. I suppose keeping things classy is a lost cause.
My poker league finished last week until the new year, but a debate that I seem to have with someone at least once a week surfaced again with a friend of mine. The question: would you consider poker a sport? On the one hand, it's on sports networks pretty regularly. On the other hand, so are dog shows. On the one hand, it takes some mental stamina and quite a bit of energy to sit through sessions that can last upwards of 16 hours. On the other hand, it takes quite a bit of mental stamina to sit in front of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet ten hours a day without permanently implanting your head into your cubicle wall. On the one hand, it's competition that can pay out handsome rewards. On the other hand, so is picking up women at bars in Lincoln Park.
Here's my deciding vote. Just about everything that has remotely been considered a sport has been in the Olympics at one time or another. Could you imagine poker as a Summer Olympics sport in 2008? Picture this scene, if you will: the "parade of nations" is walking into the stadium for the opening ceremonies, and here come the U. S. athletes. In the back of the pack, walking in very slowly, comes the U. S. poker team. They just spent all night playing with some of China's government officials, and now they own one-third of Beijing. Greg Raymer walks in with his lizard glasses. Mike Matusow stops in the middle of the walk to give an earful to the Italian team. Phil Ivey decided not to wear the official U. S. uniform, so he's walking in with a retro Julius Erving jersey. Every time I want to consider poker a sport, I get this image in my head, and I just can't classify it as such.
I wasn't planning on having a "Sunday Night Moment of the Week" this week because I wasn't really watching the Sunday night game between the Lions and the Packers, but this is the beauty of the Sunday night game: all you have to do is watch for any five-minute period, and you can find ineptitude. When the Sunday night announcers do something dumb, it's expected. When Dick Jauron does something dumb, it's expected. When the announcers and Dick Jauron do something dumb in combination, it's pretty funny.
So let's set the scene: Detroit 13, Green Bay 13, 6:55 left in the fourth quarter. The Packers have the ball about six inches outside their goal line after a wonderful (tongue planted firmly in cheek there) fourth-down call at the goal line to have Jeff Garcia run smack into 600-pound Grady Jackson was stopped. On first down, Packer running back Samkon Gado is about to be tackled in the end zone for a safety. He flips the ball forward in what appears to be a purposeful fumble to avoid the safety. The Packers fall on the ball at the one-yard line. Flags everywhere, Detroit players jumping up and down everywhere. The officials huddle and decide there were two penalties on the play, both of them resulting in a Detroit safety. Green Bay was called for holding in the end zone, and in addition, Gado was ruled as throwing a forward pass to no eligible receiver, which was intentional grounding in the end zone. Detroit leads 15-13.
So Moe, Larry and Curly (a.k.a., Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire) in the booth are analyzing the play, and they come to the consensus of commending Gado for purposefully fumbling the ball to try and avoid the safety. Are they nuts? If the play is not ruled a forward pass and a Detroit player falls on the ball, it's 20-13 Detroit, not 15-13 Detroit. Yet this was a "heads up" play? My goodness.
Action continues, and now the officials are having a conference on the Green Bay sideline. Then they have a conference in the center of the field. After a few minutes, referee Mike Carey makes two announcements. First, because Gado was out of the tackle box when he "threw" the ball, and the ball got to at least the line of scrimmage, intentional grounding does not apply. The second announcement was that the holding on the Packers didn't actually occur in the end zone, which is a neat trick considering the player who committed the hold lined up in the end zone, and he held a player who had penetrated the gap. So Detroit has no points – it's just Green Bay ball.
So let's go back to the guys in the booth. Now they commend Mike Sherman for having a conference with the officials presumably to explain the Gado situation. Theismann says, "Great job by Mike Sherman and his knowledge of the rule book." Um, Joe? Isn't that why you're one of the color commentators? Aren't you supposed to know the rules, too… to explain this to the audience while the conference is going on, rather than waiting for the call to figure out what the heck is going on?
Now we go to Jauron. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of geometry would have been able to tell you that the holding penalty on Green Bay had to have occurred in the end zone, given the circumstances. I know Jauron is an even-keel personality, but this would seem to be the opportune time to show some sort of emotion about what was going on. Instead, Jauron did nothing. He didn't seem to be consulting with the coaches in the upstairs booth, who would have had access to a replay that showed where the hold occurred. Or maybe he had just been awakened from his customary mid-fourth quarter nap. Who knows? It was stunning that he just seemed to accept the explanation without much fight.
Of course, I was then compelled to watch the remainder of the game, and the list of inept plays by the Jauron-coached Lions from this point on could fill up the remainder of the Internet. But even those who didn't watch the game can probably guess how it ended up. Final score: Green Bay 16, Detroit 13 (OT).
Commercial of the Week: Well, how could we not at least nominate the DePaul marketing department, who at least did something? I've seen two of the commercials – don't know if there are others. For those of you who may not have seen them either during the UAB or Dayton games, one commercial starts with a guy chopping wood. He gets tired, then this little stuffed animal Demon appears over his shoulder. He looks at it, and it inspires him to chop the wood. In the second commercial, a woman is struggling to open a jar. She stops, and the Demon appears. It inspires her to keep trying to open the jar. Each commercial ends with the words on the screen: "Blue means…" followed by something like "never giving up" or something (I forget). They aren't going to win any awards, but they at least show a creative pulse.
Bonus commercial of the week: I learned this week that if you're having trouble with your Christmas lights, all you need to do is enlist the Budweiser Clydesdales to walk down your street, and everything will be okay.
This Week in the Big East
Cincinnati: After suffering back-to-back home losses last week, give the Bearcats credit for going into a hostile environment at Vanderbilt and notching a nice win, 92-83 over the previously undefeated Commodores. Cincinnati is now 4-2, with home games this week versus ESPN darling Ohio and Tennessee Tech.
Connecticut: Now that Texas was dispatched relatively easily by the Dukies, the debate will rage as to whether Duke or Connecticut is the best team in the country. The Huskies haven't done anything to dissuade people that they aren't just yet. This week, they moved to 7-0 with a victory over Massachusetts 78-60. The upcoming week only holds one game, a home tilt versus New Hampshire. They should breeze into conference season undefeated.
Georgetown: Well, Georgetown went down to Champaign and had a first half they'd rather forget. When all was said and done, they dropped a 58-48 verdict. They rebounded with a win over Fairfield at home 76-52 to improve their overall record to 4-2. The Hoyas only have one game on tap, hosting Stetson.
Louisville: I promise, Louisville will play a road game eventually – this week wasn't it, though. Richmond slowed the game down and kept it close against the Cardinals; the final was 53-45. Akron didn't slow the game down and didn't keep it particularly close: 111-85. The Cardinals are now 5-0. This week, Louisville hosts Chicago State, then battles Kentucky in their interstate rivalry.
Marquette: The Golden Gold had their second consecutive week of splitting games, moving their record to 6-3 overall. First, they beat Valparaiso 69-54, then lost at Madison 77-63. Five consecutive home games now await Marquette. The homestand starts Saturday against a San Francisco team who beat Texas Tech last week.
Notre Dame: Hard to call anything a "must win" game this early in the season, but the game in Tuscaloosa earlier this week was a huge victory for the Irish. Then they pasted Florida International 81-47 to move to 4-2 overall. The Irish have most of the week off, closing out the week on Sunday playing at one of the most bizarrely named schools in Division I, Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne (or "IPFW", for short).
Providence: The 3-0 start has long since been forgotten, as Florida and Memphis both visited the Friars, and both left with victories. This marks four consecutive losses for Providence, who have fallen to 3-4. They have the week off before hosting a stretch of four winnable home games.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights breezed over Maryland-Eastern Shore 92-50, then went to Buffalo and got upended by the Bulls 62-53. Rutgers is now 6-2, with home games this week against Maine and South Carolina State upcoming.
Seton Hall: The Hall is now 6-2, with wins over a trio of (unimpressive) opponents at home: Fairleigh Dickinson (65-57), Monmouth (61-45) and Tulane (83-64). Another home game awaits this upcoming Sunday against Northwestern.
St. John's: The Red Storm finished the week 1-1 for an overall record of 5-2. They cruised past Stony Brook at home 63-45, then lost to Virginia Tech on the road 73-64. Only one game this week, at home versus Marist.
South Florida: The Bulls are now 4-3 with a predictable week. The thrashed Stetson 77-52 at Stetson – which would have been a nice road win if Stetson wasn't mired in the bottom ten of RPI ranks. Then USF traveled to Michigan and was crushed 68-47. Only one game this week, hosting Florida Atlantic.
Syracuse: The Orange mauled Colgate in their only game this week, a 58-35 victory to move to 7-2 overall. Their "murderous" non-conference schedule continues this week, hosting Davidson on Sunday.
Villanova: In a well-publicized game, the Wildcats easily took care of Bucknell on the road 79-60, then cruised over Longwood 90-79. The 6-0 Villanova squad play their next three opponents against the other members of the "Big Five" in Philadelphia, starting at Penn on Tuesday.
West Virginia: The Pittsnogles won twice this week in home games over Maryland-Baltimore County (82-53) and Duquesne (86-66). West Virginia now sits at 4-3 overall while they take the week off and scheme for a game in Oklahoma City with the Sooners.
Bradley: In Bradley's only game this week, the Braves lost at Butler 70-60 in what would have been a nice non-conference victory. They now stand at 3-2, hosting Western Kentucky and Delaware State this week.
Northwestern: The Wildcats had the week off in reward for their stirring victory over Delaware State (or something). This week, they host UIC, then travel to play Seton Hall.
Northern Illinois: That's right, ladies and gentlemen, according to the RPI, Duke's opponent in the national championship game will be Northern Illinois. They've held steady at #2 all week. After having the week off, the Huskies host Wright State, then travel to UIC.
Creighton: So what gives with Creighton? A 69-64 loss at Chattanooga doesn't look particularly good, then they wax Nebraska 70-44 at home on Sunday. They are probably the most inconsistent 4-2 team in the country. Next up, they host Xavier on Sunday.
Bucknell: Bucknell just didn't have the horses to keep up with Villanova, eventually falling as mentioned above to move to 5-1. The Bison only have one game this week, hosting the Cornell Big Red. (Please note: when referring to Bucknell, everyone, in plural it's still "Bison", not "Bisons". I know this is literary snobbery, but it drives me nuts when people can't get team nicknames correctly.)
UAB: After their defeat in Rosemont earlier this week, the Blazers went home and took care of business against Alcorn State, 81-59, to move to 5-2. This week, they travel to play an enigmatic Minnesota team.
Dayton: Dayton started the week by throttling Central Michigan 61-36 before losing to the Demons on Saturday. Overall, they now stand at 6-3 with no Division I games this week, just a tune-up on Saturday against Arkansas-Monticello.
Wake Forest: Wake has been hanging out all week, waiting for the Demons to visit this Tuesday. After DePaul leaves, they'll also be hosting Princeton on Saturday.
Old Dominion: It was an unusually vulnerable week for the Monarchs, who split their first two Colonial Athletic games. They squeaked by George Mason at home (54-53), then got bombed at Drexel (61-42). They have the week off until DePaul shows up on Saturday.
California: Cal started the week with a nice win over San Diego State at home (82-64). But then, the Jayhawks dispatched Cal 69-56 on Saturday relatively easily, and now they have 11 days off until DePaul visits as well. Is this a bad sign that DePaul's next three opponents will each have at least a week to prepare for them, while DePaul gets no more than four days to prepare?
Florida International: On the "MolsonBlue" watch, FIU dropped two road games, and wasn't particularly close in either. They were swatted by George Washington 70-45 on Thursday, then got rocked by Notre Dame, as mentioned above. They get a week off to lick their wounds and get ready for their next beating at East Lansing against Michigan State.
Aggregate overall D-I record: 49-23 (.681)
Other Games of Note This Week
Ed Hochuli "Power Game of the Week"
#1 Duke 97, #2 Texas 66. It's not often you get to see a #1 vs. #2 match-up at any point in the season. It's even rarer when that match-up turns into this much of a blowout. This game was like if one of the other NFL head referees (say, Bernie Kukar) challenged Ed Hochuli to a steel cage match. Hochuli would leave him bloodied and bruised, just like the Dukies left Texas. I really don't like J. J. Redick because I feel like he's a bit too arrogant for his own good, but I do have to begrudgingly admit that he's added more to his game this year than just firing away from the three-point line. He poured in 41 points to make this a non-contest.
Other games this week…
Northwestern State 68, Oklahoma State 64. Ouch. Oklahoma State would atone for this a bit later in the week by taking Gonzaga to the wire, but this loss is certainly not going to look good on an NCAA Tournament resume – at home, no less.
Indiana State 72, Indiana 67. Especially with the way the Hoosiers crushed Kentucky later in the week, it's hard to make sense of this score. Indiana State hasn't been a factor in the Missouri Valley Conference for a few years.
Northern Iowa 67, Iowa 63 (OT). Yes, Tuesday was a good day for the Valley against the Big Ten.
Fordham 62, Virginia 60. The board has already done a complete analysis on this game, but Fordham is still not a consistent enough team in the A-10 for this game not to be considered a surprise.
Davidson 82, Missouri 73. Between this result, losing at home to Sam Houston State in the pre-season NIT, and barely escaping at home to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi this week, I have no idea how Quin Snyder is going to retain his job next year.
Louisiana Tech 68, Texas Tech 53. The bad losses are starting to pile up early for the Red Raiders. What makes this one even more disturbing is that it came in Lubbock. Among the early-season struggles of Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, could there be some bids up for grabs to the Big Dance that usually go to the Big 12?
Utah Valley State 75, Arizona State 71. This week on "Outside the Lines" on ESPN, I saw them revisit the Arizona State point-shaving scandal from a few years ago which centered around Sun Devil guard Stevin Smith. I couldn't help but think about it while noticing this awful loss in Tempe to the independent Wolverines. I'm not implying anyone on the current Arizona State squad was point-shaving, but they sure played like it.
Until next week, let's go, Demons.