Joe-Pinions: Sports

30 Dec 2010 – A Mixed Bag

Posted in Uncategorized by txtmstrjoe on 31/12/2010

So here we are, almost at the end of another calendar year.  Almost by instinct, I find myself reflecting on the year nearly done, sorting the good from the not-so-good and the outright bad and horrible.

2010 has been a difficult year, by most measures.  But since this blog’s scope is limited to my thoughts and feelings about sports, I’ll limit the discourse to just my sporting year 2010.

Don’t get me wrong; there have been a few high spots in 2010.  Chief of these is the Los Angeles Lakers‘ winning their 16th NBA Championship, which puts them just one title short of tying the hated Boston Celtics for the NBA’s all-time lead in titles won.

Perhaps the 16th title was especially sweet since it came at the expense of those very same hated Celtics.  The Lakers outlasted the men in green in a Finals series that went the full seven games; they overcame a thirteen point deficit in the second half of the final game to pull the memorable victory from the jaws of yet another collapse against the Celtics.

I’ve said to friends that I have no real interest in attending a Lakers championship parade, but the one exception that I will make is when the Lakers finally overtake the Celtics in the all-time list of championships won.  As things stand now, they are two titles away.  I hope the Celtics never become powerful enough to increase the gap again.

But the Lakers’ sixteenth title was probably the brightest spot of 2010.  Most other sporting events in 2010 left me less than happy.

For example, the Tour de France was less than satisfying to me.  Alberto Contador won his third Tour, but his conflicts with erstwhile teammate Lance Armstrong last year made him a lot more difficult to cheer for.  Andy Schleck proved to be an admirable foil, but Chain-gate and post-Tour doping scandals soured me so much on the sport.  Its grand champions have traditionally always been figures worthy of admiration, but Contador’s strong Macchiavellian streak strongly discouraged me from giving him the respect and esteem past champions have always deserved without reservation.

In Formula One, the 2010 season was spectacular, with five bona fide Drivers’ World Championship contenders.  At the end of the marathon chase for top honors, German Sebastian Vettel won his first career world title, thus becoming the sport’s youngest-ever champion.  He beat out his Red Bull Racing teammate Mark Webber (from Australia), Ferrari team leader and two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso (from Spain), and the McLaren British dual-champion lineup of Lewis Hamilton (2008 F1 Champion) and Jenson Button (2009 F1 Champion).

I’ve long been a McLaren fan (ever since the early 1980s, in fact, when John Watson and Niki Lauda were the team’s drivers), so of course I had hoped for either Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button to claim the champion’s crown at the end of the year.  But clearly the MP4-25 was not as quick as the Red Bull’s RB6; nor was it as consistently reliable as Alonso’s Ferrari F10.  To see neither Hamilton nor Button mount a strong-enough challenge left me a bit disappointed.

Amongst Vettel, Webber, and Alonso, Webber was my favorite.  I used to dislike Webber because he tended to indulge in the Ayrton Senna/Michael Schumacher-style of “defensive driving,” which frequently entailed veering towards any opponent attempting an overtake against him.  I intensely dislike this kind of driving, especially in open-wheeled racing cars; I’ve seen too many instances where drivers get hurt (or even killed — look for Jeff Krosnoff‘s devastating and lethal crash in Toronto in 1996 on YouTube, and you’ll see what I mean) when drivers indulge in such dangerous behavior.  But Webber transformed himself last year into a more mature driver, one no longer so eager to drive into his rivals when they have the momentum and the line to overtake him.

Mark Webber this year was largely a very polished and heady driver; he wasn’t as quick as Vettel, but nor was he prone to making gigantic mistakes as often as the very quick and young German.  In fact, I can recall only two big Webber errors:  His spectacular Valencia somersault after hitting Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus, and his spin and crash in Korea.  His Korean mishap took him out of the Championship lead, and he never recovered.

Alonso proved he was still a formidable contender for championship honors after a couple of years in the wilderness at Renault, but he did his reputation no favors either with his petulant behavior in Hockenheim, which plunged Formula One back into the morass of arguments regarding the legality of team orders in the sport.  This was probably the single most annoying issue in F1 for me this year, and it was a stark reminder of why 1) I now hate Ferrari so passionately, and 2) why I hate Michael Schumacher so passionately.  (If you want a little bit of perspective and background for such a passionate outburst against Ferrari and Schumacher, see here and here.)

I have nothing against Vettel, except that perhaps he is still immature and incomplete as a Grand Prix champion.  He is undoubtedly one of F1’s quickest drivers (I think only Hamilton is close), but he hasn’t learned how to temper his speed with the guile and control of the sport’s greatest champions (Hamilton has improved in this regard, though he isn’t close to reaching his potential either).  I suppose I backed Webber more because he is older (i.e., he won’t have another shot at the title, in my opinion), and his transformation into a polished, crafty, and complete Grand Prix driver (he had enough basic speed) was something I personally enjoyed.

Going back to professional basketball for a moment, though I enjoyed the Lakers winning their sixteenth championship, LeBron James’ shameless shenanigans in the height of summer was a stark reminder that there is a lot wrong in American professional sports.  LeBron and ESPN’s unholy love child, “The Decision,” was nothing more than a display and demonstration of arrogance and vanity unchecked.

I don’t care about James’ decision to leave Cleveland, as that is his right.  What disgusted me was the crass and obvious cultivation of attention in his manner of doing so, showing as it did his pathologically malnourished ego.  The methods of his madness are what I found repugnant.

As bad as James’ display of arrogance and vanity and ego deficiency was, though, it was not the worst thing about my sporting year of 2010.  By far the worst thing from 2010 was the San Francisco 49ers’ continued flight down the path of self-destruction and irrelevance.

I’ve been a 49ers fan for a couple of decades now.  For the most part, the last decade has been filled with nothing but disappointment and mediocrity.  Ever since the Niners got rid first of Steve Mariucci (the last head coach who actually knew what he was doing), then Jeff Garcia, the 49ers have been giving me nothing but heartache every year.

2010 promised to be the year that the team made their long return from the wilderness.  They went 8-8 last year in Mike Singletary’s first full season as the head coach, and the team looked ready to take further steps forward.  They teased the 49er Faithful with an undefeated preseason; pundits everywhere cited that the team finally looked to have a good-enough roster after several years with mediocre players and predicted that this combined with Singletary’s leadership was enough for the team to take the NFC West.  Admittedly, the NFC West was a weak division, with major changes affecting all the other teams (Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, and St. Louis Rams); nevertheless, someone had to win and clinch the automatic playoff berth, and this was good enough for the 49ers and their fans.

What happened instead was an alarming five consecutive losses to open the season, punctuated by very sloppy play with plenty of mental mistakes and penalties on the field, poor play by the offensive line, and internal strife.  Very quickly, the 49ers were exposed to be a paper tiger at best with absolutely no hopes at all on offense, largely because of what apparently was said to be Mike Singletary’s complete underestimation of the requirements of running a modern NFL-standard offensive attack.  Erstwhile offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was fired after the third game, but things scarcely improved under his replacement Mike Johnson.

The 49ers’ woes on offense were most clearly seen in the play of the quarterbacks.  Alex Smith, the 2005 top draft choice, caught much of the criticism; in his defense, I would venture to say that any player (but especially quarterbacks) will suffer in the NFL if he doesn’t have adequate coaching.  Whatever the case, quarterback play, once an area where the 49ers were absolutely the class in the entire football world, was in a very sorry state.

Truly, nothing has hurt me more (yes, I mean that literally; it really has hurt, emotionally) than to see my favorite football team continue down the path of mediocrity.  In 201o, the Niners just crushed my soul.

Even my dad has noticed how badly I’ve hurt this year, even telling me the other evening that perhaps the time has come for me to love another team.

I guess that’s what happens when you really love sports, and you love the teams and players that you do.

I hope 2011 will bring more joy than tears as far as sports are concerned.

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2 Responses

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  1. Tim said, on 01/01/2011 at 16:16

    Sigh. The only way is up for our 49ers, eh?

    • txtmstrjoe said, on 01/01/2011 at 20:08

      Heh, as bad as things were for us Niners fans in 2010, it’s somewhat amazing that the team didn’t end up with the worst record in the league (but we DID lose to the Panthers, so…).

      I hope the 49ers do start digging themselves out of this mess they’re in this season. I don’t know how many more years of heartache I can endure.


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