Friday, January 11, 2013

The Hippodrome: They Stopped Pucking Around

Posted By on Fri, Jan 11, 2013 at 8:44 AM

This Week In The 'Drome: Hockey's back, Jordan's back, polka dots are back, back acne and more ...

The Negotiation Cardigan
  • The Negotiation Cardigan

Opening Face-off

Expediency vs. Irrelevancy : In the wee small hours of Sunday morning, the news came down.

The lockout was over. Baby, they'd come back.

Well, eventually. The owners had to ratify the deal (which they did in a predictably unanimous manner Wednesday) and the players have to do the same (which they are expected to do Saturday).

But after some 113 days, NHL hockey will be returning in a shortened 48-game version, which, as noted in this week's dead-tree, is bound to be a three-month crapshoot.

In the days after Sunday's 4 a.m. announcement to the media, die-hards, insomniacs and, yes, people awake feeding a baby, the league and its owners have made apology after apology. Predators general manager David Poile did the duties locally and Commissioner Gary Bettman offered his own Wednesday.

Sure, apologizing for a foreseeable, avoidable consequence of your own action rings hollow, but what are the owners (or, in Poile's case, their proxies) to do?

Had they not apologized, the frenzied crowd would wonder why. When they do apologize, the same crowd calls them disingenuous. And as is almost always the case, actions speak louder than words.

While the on-ice product presented by teams that are now an amalgam of new faces, guys who stayed sharp overseas, players who practiced among themselves at home — and, to be sure, the out-of-shape — is a crapshoot, what happens in the seats is an unknown quantity too.

Did the fans find other uses for their disposable income? Will the once-enthusiastic protest the mindless stupidity of this work stoppage by staying away? Or will they return — and will they return in a carousing cavalcade of enthusiasm, or more of a slow trickle?

We'll know soon enough — the season is all but certain to start Jan. 19. For the Predators, it will be a home date, more than likely against hapless foe Columbus.

Prognostication? It's all about the hockey now. Teams that play well will recover quickly. Teams that handle the short training camp and long layoff poorly will suffer at the gate.

But know this: People are ready. On Tuesday, a plea went on 102.5 for callers about hockey. For an hour between 6 and 7, the lines were chockablock. And only one or two callers expressed any sort of disdain, any sort of protest.

That's a self-selecting, non-scientific poll, of course. But people are ready.

Are the Predators?

The Week Behind

Lets hope this Jordans encore is better
  • Let's hope this Jordan's encore is better

I'm Only Going Over Jordan, I'm Only Going Over Home : Coming off a year full of good news, Vanderbilt fans capped the season with another tidbit: wide receiver Jordan Matthews is returning.

This story contains many surprising elements:

• Vanderbilt has a receiver good enough to leave early for the NFL.

• Vanderbilt has a receiver good enough to warrant a press conference announcing his intentions.

• And get this: Vanderbilt might have one of the best receiving duos in the country next season.

Frankly, this is heady stuff. And is if that weren't enough material for the surprising history file: Vandy finished the season ranked 23rd, their first post-season AP ranking since the 1940s.

Far out.

Violatin' Vandy owns a Grand Am; Kentucky leases a Lex.

John Calipari's garden of annuals came to Memorial Gym and for the first two-thirds of the game or so, the Young Wildcats made it look easy against Kevin Stallings' team — and that's what this vintage of Vanderbilt is: Stallings' team, a collection of parts, rather than the stars-and-satellites he'd had in the years before.

But Stallings made a savvy switch to a zone defense and Vandy fought back and the last four minutes were entertaining if not aesthetically pleasing basketball. An inexperienced team playing a not-very-talented one can make for riveting theater, but it doesn't make for good art.

In any case, this little drama was marred in the way the worst dramas are: by the hackery of the deus ex machina. The shot by Nerlens Noel — he of the high-top fade and the name to match — which put the 'Cats up for good came clearly after the shot-clock struck zero. Kevin Stallings beat the top of his head so hard in mimic of the signal of that particular misdemeanor, one wonders if he was trying to get his 'do to go full Kojak.

But, alas, shot clock violations are not reviewable so the call stood, bad as it was (and this from a guy who nearly never blames officials, considering them part of the whimsy of sport, like a bad bounce or sudden gust of wind). The legendary Bob Knight, calling the game for ESPN, couldn't muster any analysis on the horror show of the call (and cracking on officials is where he made his fame) because he was so baffled by the dual shot/game clock at Memorial Gym, he thought the big red zero was for God-knows-what and the 17.3 seconds above was the shot clock. Maybe he threw a chair at himself before the game.

Vandy got a bit of justice late as Kentucky was incapable of inbounding the ball, giving the 'Dores one last chance. Alas, the famous final scene devolved into farce. Kentucky 60, Vandy 58.

Strap an asterisk hard to that score.

Three & Out : This week, the Titans fired running backs coach Jim Skipper (in a resurgent year for Chris Johnson), linebackers coach Frank Bush (in a year where young LBs Akeem Ayers and Zack Brown made noticeable progress) and tight ends coach John Zernhelt (who I'm certain is not responsible for coaching how to cover tight ends).

This isn't rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Oh no. This is looking at the deck chairs, finding which ones have minimal damage, chucking them overboard, and anchoring yourself to the moldiest, most decrepit deck chairs you can find.

At this point, don't be surprised if Bud Adams urges his staff to clone Greta Garbo and take her with the No. 10 pick in April, as it's becoming apparent the only things he's qualified to make judgements on are prune juices, the new Denny's menu and the best episodes of Matlock.

Garbage Time : Congratulations to David Price, who is the cover man for MLB 2K13. ... Congratulations to Michael Griffin who led the NFL in missed tackles. ... Congratulations to Jim Wyatt (state sportswriter of the year), Pete Weber and Mike Keith (state sportscasters of the year) and Joe Biddle (Tennessee sportswriting hall of fame inductee).

Halftime Entertainment

Bob Stoops is interested!
  • Bob Stoops is interested!

Hello! : College sports recruiting is a big deal (and a big business), and for high school kids on the margins of notoriety or who play in a far-flung location, YouTube is often the best and most effective way to get highlights packages to coaches.

Recruiting is also something else: absurd. Far too much attention and tea-leaf reading are dedicated to the decision-making process of 17-year-old boys. Having once been a 17-year-old boy, let me assure you their decision-making process should put them on a fast track to the Tennessee General Assembly.

So let us heap praise on MBA's Ryan Potter, who put together the most entertaining video of the form since, perhaps, baseball sensation Yoenis Cespedes made his film debut.

Potter, who appears to play only on special teams and has the gift of being frequently held or blocked in the back, set his (ahem) highlights to the typical thumpity-thump of a hip-hop song with which I am not familiar. It's four minutes of routine plays, interrupted only by missed tackles. On the few occasions Potter makes a play, the telestrator circles another player.

Please, someone. Give this kid a scholarship on general principle.

Another Cool High School Thing : Last weekend, some Nashville high schools donned the old throwback jerseys and, yes, Hunters Lane and Hume-Fogg both pulled on facsimiles of the famous polka-dot Madison jerseys designed by Nashville coaching legend Bill Brimm (who is still alive!).

Uni Watch has the story and links.

It's The Shoes : The shoes adorned with the names of the Newtown shooting victims, which Chris Johnson used to run for a team record rushing touchdown went to auction and raised a heap of cash for Sandy Hook.

The Week Ahead

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back
  • Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back

It's Really Happening : Once all the jots and tittles get jotted and tittled, the Predators will hit the ice Sunday for start of a very short training camp.

They'll be playing under a new collective-bargaining agreement, the details of which (beyond belief) haven't totally trickled out yet. But here's the more or less of it.

As I suspected back when this nonsense started, David Poile positioned the Predators well. They've got space and money, which comes in especially handy at the trade deadline (whenever that is) and will be really wonderful after the season, when a number of teams will have to slough off money to get under the new salary cap.

We're still awaiting details on some factors of the CBA which are of importance to Nashville (the team)— notably a revised revenue sharing mechanism — but we do know Nashville (the city) does get a bit of the league's largesse.

The much-maligned jock tax, which imposes a $2,500 per game payment (up to $7,500 annually) on players in hockey and basketball (but not football, because the NFL's lobby is stronger even than the liquor stores') will now be paid by the league.

Tennessee's jock tax is hated by players because, unlike in other states, it is classified as a professional privilege tax, rather than a payroll tax (a nod to the state's constitutional prohibition against income taxes). Thus it can't be deducted from the players' home state taxes. They just had to eat it. Now the league pays it. The money generated by the tax goes into a fund controlled by the sports authority for reimbursement of costs associated with securing non-hockey events at the arena.

Anyway. That's the last of the business stuff for awhile, because come Sunday, Barry Trotz will throw out the pucks — and finally, hockey can be about hockey.

Does Anyone Want To Be Good? : Vandy has a couple of conference games this week: a trip to Arkansas tomorrow and then a Tuesday homer against Ole Miss.

Arkansas been pretty good at home in the non-conference, and Ole Miss just whupped Tennessee (hanging 90 on the defensively stout Vols).

But ultimately no one knows how good any of these teams are. Because they are all pretty bad.


Boy, Id never think Id find Juice Newton in a baseball jersey, but here we are
  • Boy, I'd never think I'd find Juice Newton in a baseball jersey, but here we are

Juice/Newton : For the first time since 1996, the baseball writers threw a big ole goose egg. No one was voted in the Hall of Fame.

This is largely seen as an indictment of the Steroid Era of Major League Baseball (though it is also an indictment of the career of Aaron Sele), the writers pushing back, protesting, keeping out the juicers at all costs.

Certainly, it's their right. But they're wrong.

For one thing, their self-righteousness is grating. These men — like the rest of us — ignored the pervasive explosions (physical and statistical) that happened in the late ’90s. They were the gatekeepers, and they dutifully plopped out hackish pap praising Barry Bonds' workout routine and Sammy Sosa's work ethic and so on and so forth. Blind either willfully or stupidly, they had a hand in perpetuating the fraud.

But baseball is a game of eras, and anyone who drones about the immutable stasis of the grand ole game is likely to be a person who drones about the writers' sacred duty to protect the legacy of the hall of fame, as if Cooperstown housed the treasures of the Vatican.

The game is different now then it was in 2002 and '82 and '62 and back and back in eternal regression. The Steroid Era is as much a part of the lore of the game as the Dead Ball Era or The Year With No Offense (when, by the way, Bob Gibson put up a sterling ERA on a mound taller than what we have today — see, the game does change).

Players in The Steroid Era used substances that, yes, were on a banned list. But baseball — bristling from Don Fehr's strike — turned its back on enforcement.

Certainly, I respect the opinion of guys like Willy Daunic, who never made it and never juiced, though they could have. They are to be commended for doing the right thing when it was easy — even encouraged, if only tacitly — to do the wrong thing.

But the Hall of Fame isn't a church, it's a museum. The plaques aren't the lids on a reliquary, they're plaques.

Whitewashing an era of baseball because the writers, once complicit, are suddenly preaching righteousness with enough volume to quiet the guilt in their own brains is a disservice.

Drop me a line: jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. Turn on your radio: 102.5 6-7 PM Tuesdays.

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