Dallas Cowboys 14, New York Giants 31

I don’t remember Eddie LeBaron, the Cowboys’ starting quarterback for whom Don Meredith was a backup. By the time I was able to form lasting memories, Don Meredith was quarterback. I’ve been a Cowboys fan since then.

Back up. I’ve never known much about sports. I peaked in 6th grade. The glorious touch, flag, and sandlot tackle football I knew as a late-blooming, short, skinny elementary school lad morphed into pads and helmets and tedious practice and bizarrely big guys in 7th grade. I chose the number 00 and figured I’d do it barefooted. I played four or five minutes as middle linebacker and my chosen number was prophetic (but always put me at the top of the roster). The game no longer made any sense to me. I sailed through the rest of my life, to this moment, pursuing matters other than sports (but always loving the Dallas Cowboys).

This background is important so that you understand why I say I don’t understand the fuss. My beloved Cowboys entered an appearance at the Meadowlands Sunday night, and they played exactly as I would have played.

First, let’s be clear, not everybody was happy when the league changed from 14 games to 16 games. I understand why the Cowboys would nurse this grievance. It’s cold in December. This whole playing-football thing, outside, in the cold, it’s not everybody’s thing.

Second, it would help if the season didn’t come down to the final game – and the stakes were whether we had to play more football in the cold, or not. What kind of incentive is that?

Third, and I truly do understand this, hurling a large determined man to the ground is overrated. There should be politer ways of signaling displeasure with forward progress.

Fourth, I get the Cowboys’ petulant preference for penalties. Who knows all this stuff? Better to play authentically and lose a turnover than play slavishly by the confounding rules.

Fifth, concerning turnovers, they’re really fundamentally unfair game-changers and shouldn’t be pursued lightly. And if there is an opportunity to toss a frikkin’ recovered fumble back to Eli Manning, who was smoking a cigarette in the backfield at the time, by all means…

Sixth, I personally live to see Tony Romo running for his life. I consider this the apex of the sport. I don’t believe the league adequately rewards this athletic part of the sport.

Seventh, look, it’s hard to get excited about playing the Atlanta Falcons next week. (Boring!) Especially if you don’t have to.

Eighth, 8-8… Call me a symmetry-freak. I just like it. You win some you lose some, carefully calibrating as you go. That’s a neat and tidy season.

Congratulations, I suppose, to all the disproportionately winning teams in the play-offs. Personally, I think you could do with a little Dallas Cowboys Zen, but I know lots of teams and fans are still stuck in the whole playing football well into deep winter thing.

 

What Is Tim Tebow Asking of God?

So much is interesting about Tim Tebow, or more precisely, what he exposes about our wildly conflicted culture.

For those who do not follow professional football, and do not manage to stumble into it via culture wars, I’m talking about the young Denver Broncos quarterback who prays on his knee before every game, and wears his Christianity on his sleeve.

Now there’s an image that sets fire to secular comfort. As Andrew Sullivan put it, “prayer is not supposed to be a public event, designed to display your holiness in front of the maximum number of people.” And Sullivan, to his maximum credit, followed up by posting several defenders of Mr. Tebow.

Tim Tebow, apart from being a now-winning quarterback with many now-quieter converts (irony note), is an evangelical Christian. That is, he ardently wants souls saved for Jesus. That’s his schtick. In the 2009 BCS Championship Game, he wore John 3:16 on his eye paint, and 92 million people searched “John 3:16” on Google during or shortly after the game. The NFL doesn’t allow eye paint.

Before he became a winning quarterback (and still, in some quarters), the ugliness directed at his public prayer was astounding. You’d have thought the man flashed his penis. And this is truly a marvel.

Public displays of one’s religion, orientation and sensibility are common. Muslims are defended for engaging in their requisite prayer in public, gays are defended for being themselves in public, and Occupy Wall Street has been a massive, and massively defended, public display of in-your-face politics.

So what if Tim Tebow kneels to pray? Why the hate? Is it just that easy to hate Christians — while we defend pretty much everything else people wish to express in public? At this bizarre juncture in human history, with routine public splattering of social networking strangeness, is it really fair to criticize Tim Tebow? I’ve seen Christians and Atheists do vastly more disturbing things on Facebook.

And what is it, after all, that Tim is saying to God? Too many people imagine he’s seeking to put God on his side in a football game. I don’t think so. I think he’s saying, thank you God for this blessing and this opportunity, thank you for being you and being with me, whatever happens.

I don’t share Tim’s faith. But I respect his sincerity, his humility, and not least, his goodness. The man contributed his signing bonus to his charity, works with the W15S Foundation for children with life-threatening diseases, partners with Cure International to build a hospital in the Philippines, and works with “Drive for Education” to give back in the Denver community.

It’s easy these days to get worked up about people who make a lot of money. I’d like a lot of them to be more like Tim Tebow. And I’ve got no problem with the fact that he prays in public.

Go Rangers, Dominate that Weird Game!

Look, I don’t do baseball. I find it generally boring. If I’m watching it, I want to make sure I have a book in one hand and the other hand inside a bag of chips, with the remote nearby so I can quickly switch back to Lifetime Movie Network and see women getting sweet revenge.

But this World Series, with my beloved Texas Rangers pounding their way to possibly the best in this and all parallel universes, for the first time in franchise history, has kind of hooked me.

My brother Jack and his wife Michelle at Game 5

As I watch, I have burning questions every inning. How much do they pay a first-base coach? — because I think I could actually do that. Does the umpire signaling nothing whatever mean “ball”? If computers can tell us instantly whether a pitch entered the strike zone, why do we have an umpire? Is this a labor union thing? Has there ever actually been a balk, which I ask sincerely since there appear to be 152 rules applicable to balks? Shouldn’t it be an “eminent domain” instead of a “steal”? I mean, I think we can all agree, stealing is wrong. What are we teaching our children? Is there any protocol regarding, say, 15 straight foul balls? Can we go into sudden death maybe, and move on? And by the way, “Foul ball”? Really? “Foul”? as in offensive, polluted, dirty, soiled? Shouldn’t it be “Embarrassing Ball” or “Useless Ball”? Or maybe “Tedious Ball”? Can a pitcher sneak in a quick pitch while the batter is doing that interminable practice swing thing? Why do pitchers get credits for wins (or saves) when outfielders heroically catch balls that very nearly left the ballpark? Shouldn’t the outfielder be credited with the win? Aren’t stats a wee bit distorted when the winning team doesn’t get to add to them in the bottom of the 9th?

My head is spinning, but I’m giddy about the Rangers — mindful that they travel to the frozen tundra for games 6 and 7. Dallas handed the great city of St. Louis a thorough whacking this weekend — two World Series wins, plus the Cowboys hammering the St. Louis Rams 34-7. Can the Rangers close where it’s cold? Two shots. History. Make it happen, for my Dad.

Cowboys give away season opener

My beloved Dallas Cowboys down one on the season opener against the New York Jets.

I have to hand it to the Cowboys: there is no team in history better at losing. By that I mean losing with panache, squandering a commanding lead, handing victory with stupid stupid mistakes to a team that had no chance to come back, giving its fans a comeback-win to talk about for years. That is losing with style. That is losing with an eye on losing history. How to lose. The Dallas Cowboys. Best ever.

UPDATE: The Boys redeemed themselves Sunday. This time it was the Boys behind for the entire game against the 49ers, and an injured quarterback, who came back in and rallied the team to an improbable tie, and then threw a 77-yard pass to the 1-yard line in overtime to give the Boys the field goal and the win. Emotional roller-coaster, yes it is.

Come on America, Give Christina a Break

Hod Hasharon, Israel—I missed the Super Bowl because it started at 1:30 a.m. here. But the internet menu today permitted a recreation of every moment from every angle, with special emphasis on the non-football parts. And as the Middle East convulses, America couldn’t get enough of Christina Aguilera-bashing. Ha! Just kidding.

No, actually, I’m kidding about the kidding.

Poor Christina. She left some stuff out of the Star Spangled Banner. Oh my the huffing and the puffing and the sniffing and the pissing! You’d think she left some stuff out of the Constitution (wait, the Republicans did do that), or left some stuff out of the Declaration of Independence (wait, Barack Obama did do that). Well, anyway, the national sense of violation, of travesty, of mutilation is fully ignited, and Christina is America’s favorite punching bag. Poor girl’s launching a national apology tour.

I say, Christina, you go. Sing it your way! I’ve got your back!

Full disclosure: I served proudly in the culture war that posed the bitter question: who’s better—Christina or Britney? I was fiercer then. Such indeed was my fearsomeness that some Britney defenders, I was informed when that war was over, had merely pretended to be Christina defenders. Now I’m a kindler, gentler compassionate conservative, who doesn’t get out much, lest I shoot my entire compassion wad in an afternoon. But the old loyalty persists.

So again I say, you go Christina. Sing it your way.

It’s a difficult song. I know. I’ve tried to sing it. Earlier today. I wanted some intimacy with the experience before purporting to write about it.

So I retired to the venue where I am well known as “the talent.” I’m talking about the shower. I belted out a splendid Star Spangled Banner.

Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming
Whose broad stripes and bright stars
Hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmm hmmmmm
And the rocket’s red glare the bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there
Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm-Hmmm-Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm-mmm-mmm-mmm-mmm Hmmmm
And the home of the brave.

America—don’t lie. You do it too.

It’s a difficult song people. Americans are not difficult or complicated. Why is our national anthem difficult and complicated? The British – they’re difficult and complicated. So difficult and complicated, their drinking songs are as difficult and complicated as our national anthem. In fact, the melody for our national anthem – this is a true fact – comes from a popular British drinking song.

Which is particularly odd because Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that became our Star Spangled Banner while held captive on a British warship during the War of 1812. So we appropriated a difficult and complicated melody from an enemy drinking song and made it our national anthem. How complexly Greek, and neither Americans nor Greeks are Greek.

So come on, Christina wasn’t disrespectful, just forgetful, with no humming option. And let’s face it. She’s advanced in years for a pop star. A little compassion people.

MSNBC Uses MLK Day to Slander Arizona

Yesterday I commented on the NLRB’s threat to sue Arizona, and wondered what it is about Arizona that seems to concentrate so many of our national political tensions. That was Martin Luther King Day, and one MSNBC commentator seized the solemn occasion to slander the State of Arizona.

Donnie Deutsch, responding to Al Sharpton’s comments on gun control and gangsta culture, said, “we’re in the year 2011, we’re coming off the horrific horrific event in Tucson, yet as we celebrate Dr. King’s Day, there’s still this very strange state, Arizona, that does not recognize it. Maybe is it time for a shift here? Should they secede from the nation? With all that’s going on, it’s just almost bizarre at this point.” (To which Al Sharpton, one of our national paragons of reconciliation, responded, “well, I think on today, I think they have seceded.”)

This is a fat fail on so many levels.

First, and most embarrassingly for Deutsch and Sharpton, they’re simply wrong. Arizona recognizes Martin Luther King Day, as a paid state holiday, and has since 1992, when voters approved a resolution enacted by the Arizona legislature in 1991. More on that history in a moment.

Second, it’s obvious from the clip that Deutsch wasn’t responding to anything Al Sharpton had just said. He simply wanted to make a frankly sleazy point as soon as he had an opportunity to make it. Call it red vegetables for liberals. He had his incendiary sound bite in his head, and that’s all that mattered to him. And that is sad. Most especially on Martin Luther King Day.

Third, “secede”? Really? You make a false and slanderous point about the State of Arizona, and then suggest the preposterous notion of secession? That’s taking hateful politics a step further. That tells me that, indeed, Arizona has acquired a metaphorical status in our political dialogue, that attacking Arizona has become, for some liberal commentators, a cheap route for self-adoring gotcha’ punditry.

Fourth, this is brazen race-baiting — that thing that isn’t supposed to exist, much less enjoy a national spotlight, in our post-racial America. I won’t speculate about whether Deutsch knew he was speaking falsely. If he didn’t, he was mind-bogglingly ignorant, and surely MSNBC can do better. If he did, he was contemptibly cynical. I won’t make that call. Either way, though, using Martin Luther King Day to attack Arizona for allegedly not recognizing Martin Luther King Day, and asking whether maybe they should secede from the union — because, presumably, they’re too backward and racist to be part of America — is just vile race-baiting, a trope with which Al Sharpton is familiar.

It’s a mystery to me where Deutsch got his incendiary false factoid, unless he just made it up. But there is a complicated history — there is always a complicated history — to Arizona’s relationship with Martin Luther King Day. Let’s break it down now.

Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) pressed for a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King for many years after Dr. King’s death. There was resistance to the creation of yet another federal holiday, for reasons of cost and vile condemnation of King. Jesse Helms strenuously objected in the Senate, citing King’s alleged Communist links and sexual dalliances. That was disgusting. But the campaign finally succeeded, and in 1983 President Reagan signed the bill establishing the third Monday of every January as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday for federal employees (Public Law 98-144).

States, enjoying a few attributes of sovereignty, are not compelled to recognize federal holidays. Some states recognized MLK Day sooner than the federal government. others later (Illinois was the first in 1973, New Hampshire was the last in 1999). Eventually, all states did so, to our national credit.

Arizona got in the act relatively early. In 1986, a bill to create a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and combine the state holidays for Washington and Lincoln into a Presidents’ Day was defeated by a single vote in the Arizona House of Representatives.

Nine days later, Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt opted for executive fiat. He signed Executive Order 86-5, designating “the third Monday of each January as a holiday honoring the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for all employees of Agencies, Boards and Commissions within the purview of the Executive Branch of the State of Arizona.”

Arizona thus was an early adopter of Martin Luther King Day.

But there was a separation of powers problem — and if that sounds familiar, it just gets better.

Two weeks later, Arizona’s Attorney General issued Opinion 86-032 (R86-071) concluding that “the Governor has no constitutional or statutory authority to declare a legal holiday that would be observed by closing state offices and giving state employees a paid day off.”

On January 12, 1987, Arizona’s in-coming Republican governor, Evan Mecham, making true on one of his campaign promises, signed Executive Order 87-3, rescinding Governor Babbitt’s Executive Order 86-5, “since authority to declare state holidays lies with the Legislature and not with the Governor.”

On June 18, 1987, Governor Mecham issued a proclamation declaring “the third Sunday in January, commencing in 1988 and every year thereafter to be Martin Luther King, Jr. – Civil Rights Day in the State of Arizona.”  In other words, the State of Arizona recognized and honored MLK Day, but not as a paid state holiday.

After several narrowly failed attempts to create an MLK Day (i.e., a paid state holiday) in the Arizona legislature, that body finally succeeded, on September 21, 1989, in creating a paid Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and eliminating Columbus Day as a paid holiday.

So, wow, Arizona created MLK Day as a paid state holiday, and eliminated Columbus Day as a paid holiday — and liberals really hate Columbus Day. What an amazing achievement for the progressive state of Arizona.

But the plot thickens in such an American way. Italian-Americans were outraged. Cancel Columbus Day? Are you kidding? Tempe architect Julian Sanders and Italian-American groups launched a successful petition to force the MLK/Columbus Day issue to a state ballot.

In November 1990, Arizona voters, perhaps weary of politicized racial politics and wishing simply that state workers work, pretty much rejected everything, by narrow margins. They said no to Proposition 301 which would have established the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King, Jr./Civil Rights Day, a paid holiday for state employees and would have made Columbus Day an unpaid observance on the second Sunday in October. And they said no to Proposition 302 which would have established the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King, Jr./Civil Rights Day, a paid holiday for state employees and retained Columbus Day as a paid holiday on the second Monday of October.

By now, the “Arizona boycott” was on. Sounding familiar? With a vengeance. The Dallas Cowboys whacked the Buffalo Bills, 52-17, in Super Bowl XXVII on January 31, 1993. They would have done so in Tempe, Arizona — the intended site of Super Bowl XXVII — but the NFL balked and opted to take Super Bowl XXVII to California because of Arizona’s MLK stance.

The Cowboys came to Super Bowl XXX in January 1996, and beat the Pittsburg Steelers 27-17 — in Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona — because Arizona had redeemed itself, and passed legislation creating Martin Luther King Day as a paid state holiday.

History is always tricky.

Personal note: there is no orator and statesman in American history that moves me more than Martin Luther King, Jr. I spent MLK Day listening to some of his speeches, and being slammed in the gut by his eloquence. He shouldn’t have had to argue what he argued so late. It should have been obvious. He spoke the self-evident truth. He dreamed so beautifully what should already have been reality. God bless Martin Luther King, Jr., and his memory.

 

Cowboys Mock the “Lock of the Century”

I don’t do sports commentary because I haven’t done sports in decades, having peaked in 6th grade.  But watching the Dallas Cowboys (1-7) beat the New York Giants (6-2), convincingly (in New York), I cannot help but commentate.

Credit to the Cowboys for contributing high drama to the sport.  And unpredictability.  A sport is emotionally engaging to the extent it is unpredictable.  If you know what will happen in a game, then it is less game than low-grade theater.

On Yahoo Sports “Lock of the Week,” two of the three commentators (an unusual doubling) — Jason Cole and Michael Silver — picked New York to beat Dallas easily.  Indeed, both called the game “the lock of the century.”  Pause to chuckle.  All these guys have to do is pick three games that are easy calls.  Two of them not only called New York to beat Dallas, but labeled it the easiest call for the next 90 years.  Pause to chuckle.

See, one of the things that is so satisfying about being a Dallas Cowboys fan is the upending of so many careers in sports prediction.  Unfortunately, this includes effusive predictions of greatness.  The Cowboys are exhilarating and heart-breaking, but rarely in between.

They stayed ahead of the Giants the entire game.  The Giants moment toward the end of the first half, when they were poised in the red zone to go ahead by a point, against a battered Cowboys secondary, got turned into its opposite when rookie corner Bryan McCann picked off an Eli Manning pass and returned it 101 yards for a touchdown.  Team record.  That was glorious.  Then just as the Giants were driving in the 4th quarter and poised to execute the resolute comeback the Giants do supremely well — what they did against the Cowboys in the last heartbreaking loss — Alan Ball picked off an Eli Manning pass and sealed the Cowboys victory.

Inductive reasoning tells you that a team that’s, to date, 0-14 on 3rd down conversions, won’t convert a third down deep in their own territory against the NFL’s top-ranked defense.  So Jon Kitna tosses to Felix Jones for a 71-yard touchdown in what the experts could have plausibly described as the defensive hold of the century.  Pause to chuckle.  And then came that 3rd and 22, the sort of play that sent Dallas fans into other rooms to dispatch long overlooked chores, like dusting grandma’s china, while the other team played a while.  But oh my, that 1-15 stat became 2-16.

You just never know.  That unpredictability of professional football is why commentators love recourse to mysticism.  And their chief mystical mantra is “momentum.”  The Giants won the last five games.  The Cowboys didn’t.  The Giants trailed the Cowboys in their last meeting, and pulled out a decisive win when the “momentum” shifted and the Giants scored five straight touchdowns.  So the commentators — anybody else notice this? — kept seeing the “momentum” shifting to the Giants, remarkably, even after the Giants had to punt.

But “momentum” is only something you can truly see in hindsight, and it’s therefore a phantom concept.  The Giants never managed anything even remotely approaching momentum.  Yes, they managed more yards, more first downs, and more time of possession — all mystical indicia of victory.  But (and we only know this in hindsight), it was never actually “momentum.”

And that’s because of momentum’s mystical stepchild — fortune.  Football is a game of luck.  A billion-dollar industry is devoted to obscuring the role of luck because there’s little of interest to say about a crap shoot.  The Cowboys were remarkably lucky Sunday evening, in conspicuous contrast to their last several most unlucky outings.

If I sound fatalistic about football, read on.  Football, like most of life, dances on a probability curve.  Line up the competing forces on any given play, and you can theoretically map a probability curve for the result — but only a probability curve, not a scientific prediction.  Luck determines the result, and makes the game exciting.

What is professional about professional football (and the reason why college football is more rollicking and, well, less professional) is the enormous investment in shaving the probability curve.  Coaches analyze every aspect of multiple scenarios and determine what players need to do to prevent the ravage of fortune.  Players internalize this understanding and shave the probability curve on the field.

Jon Kitna got his first NFL victory since 2007 because his offensive line gave him extra seconds — against the NFL’s top-ranked defense.  And Kitna showed what he can do, throwing for 327 yards and three touchdowns.  An offense is only as good as its offensive line.  An extra two seconds shifts the probability curve enormously.

The Cowboys were professionally lucky Sunday evening.  In a sport of plodding yards toward first downs and punts, penalties and turnovers are especially the province of (mis)fortune, and the Cowboys have been plagued.  Sunday evening, they were the beneficiaries of the Giants’ misfortunes.  Even the pass interference penalty against the Cowboys that led to a Giants touchdown seemed, in retrospect, merely a modesty reminder from Lady Fortune.

And modest, of course, is how we two-and-seven Cowboys fans feel.  Modest and giddy.