“His job is on the line,” the owner was quoted in Sunday’s editions of The Record of New Jersey. “I think we’re paying him a lot of money. He’s the highest-paid manager in baseball, so I don’t think we’d take him back if we don’t win this series.”
“The owner” would, of course, be George Steinbrenner and his threat to fire his manager, Joe Torre, should the New York Yankees fail to come back against the Cleveland Indians, was just about the only boring story in sports all weekend. Steinbrenner always threatens to fire the manager and in the old days, he’d actually do it. So often, in fact, that it almost didn’t count as news. And maybe he will do it again, if the Cleveland Indians eliminate the Yankees from the baseball playoffs. They couldn’t do it Sunday night even though they chased Roger Clemens early and were up 3-0. It was likely the last waltz for Clemens. In a better world, he would pitch forever and Steinbrenner would just fade away. After first firing himself.
Yankees fans will certainly be disappointed if their team doesn’t come back and take the next two from the Indians. But they can at least remember what it is like to make it to the World Series. Not so Cub fans. One more year will make it an even century since the Cubs made it to the ball. They did get to the playoffs this year but were swept in the first round. An outcome as predictable as Steinbrenner threatening Joe Torre’s job.
That, as they say, is baseball.
Which, good as it was, this weekend, couldn’t touch college football for excitement. Last year’s number-one team, Florida, met LSU, ranked first in a least one poll going into the weekend. They were playing the game in Baton Rouge, at night, and the blimp driver overhead not doubt had a buzz from the alcohol fumes rising from Tiger Stadium. The roar of the crowd would have been audible all the way to Shreveport.
Trailing 24-14, at one point, LSU went for it, on fourth down, five times in the second half. This is what coaches like to call a “gut check,” and every time they checked, the LSU players had guts. Five for five. Florida was strong but they couldn’t hold and LSU scored its final touchdown with less than two minutes to go. 28-24. The hangovers, in Louisiana, will last until Wednesday.
Meanwhile, there was another college team challenging LSU for that number one ranking. That would be Southern Cal and they were on creampuff patrol, playing Stanford at home. USC was favored by 40. But this was college football in the year of the upset. The bookies probably had Goliath by 40, too, but they hadn’t seen the way the Israelites’ unknown quarterback, a kid named David, could hurl the rock.
On fourth down — it was a big night for fourth down — with less than a minute left in the game, Stanford’s backup quarterback (the starter had suffered a seizure in a restaurant) completed a ten yard touchdown pass for a 24-23 Stanford win. The silence in the Los Angeles Coliseum was as profound as the roar from Baton Rouge.
The theme of this year’s college football season is the upset. Early in the season, Appalachian State had defeated Michigan which seemed, at the time, entirely improbable. As though Joe Torre had fired George Steinbrenner. It was a world turned upside down. Then, in each following week there was another remarkable upset … nay, several. But for now, Stanford over USC is the season’s masterpiece.
There was another upset in Los Angeles on Saturday. Notre Dame beat UCLA. Notre Dame was 0-5 and generally expected to lose in the Rose Bowl and then lose two more, at home. A Notre Dame team with a record of 0-8? How could that be? It seemed even less likely than the Cubs going to the World Series and winning.
But Notre Dame hasn’t been Notre Dame for a while, now; just as the Yankees have not been the Yankees. The old order passeth — temporarily, anyway. But if the season looks to be disappointing for Notre Dame and the Yankees, it was a good weekend for sports at large. And the sports world, Lord knows, needed it.
Stories about Barry Bonds (and, now, Marion Jones) on steroids, Michael Vick slaughtering dogs for fun and profit, basketball officials in tight with gamblers, Bill Bellicheck conducting illegal espionage operations on other teams … all that was almost enough to leave the Old-Fashioned Fan sufficiently disillusioned to spend the weekend reading the thrilling memoirs of that flamboyant Washington insider, Alan Greenspan, and watching the Sunday talk shows for insights into how the candidates are doing in Iowa.
But sports in America have a way of “coming up big,” as the golden throats might put it. Last weekend, sports came up big. Now if Steinbrenner would put a sock in it, things would be just about perfect.
— Geoffrey Norman is editor of www.vermonttiger.com.