Monday, November 30, 2009

Random Sports Notes

Way way back when I frequented the golf course, I recall someone older confiding to me that he found his enjoyment increased when he began playing for good shots rather than fret about his score. This was not enough to keep me out there trying to acquire a passable game. All I concluded was that great golfers may have varying personalities and approaches to the game but whatever I was doing wasn't working.

So last night I found myself absolutely enthralled with a wonderful book called The Match, in which Mark Forst, the author, tells the amazing story of a four-man match that took place at the spectacularly scenic Cypress Point golf course out on the Monterey Peninsula near the very famous Pebble Beach layout. It was the two great Texas pros--Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan--against the last two real amateurs in U.S. golf--Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward. The story makes that day on the course rank right up there with the day in 1913 when Francis Ouimet managed to best two English greats, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, and maybe Arnold Palmer's most famous last-day chase at Cherry Hills in the 1960 U.S. Open. It was the perfect foursome, the perfect day and the perfect course. And it's true that with the way sports are run and covered today, it never could occur now.

But back to the great shots, or better, great moments. I turned on the TV last night in time to see a Ravens defensive rookie, Paul Kruger, haul down an intended pass by the Steelers' sub quarterback in overtime to set up a Ravens win by a field goal. I'm also hoping that the Texas Longhorns drop their final game so with the fact that either Florida or Alabama will not remain undefeated after they clash for the Southeastern Conference title, the TCU Horned Frogs might slip into the BCS national championship game.

Yes, you love to see an underdog have its day, or even moment. And I imagine about as many fans root for the Bowl people--the BCSers--as root for baseball owners. Every time I hear that players are overpaid, I recall someone, probably Howard Cosell, who asked who ever rooted for an owner. What makes it fun to see Texas Christian back up there is that they haven't been undefeated since the days of Sammy Baugh and Davey O'Brien in the 1930s. And of course this is all happening in a year when some ask whether they still play football in South Bend. And it will be fun to see which Oregon team gets to beat Ohio State in the Rose Bowl this year.

Growing up in the Hudson Valley region, I did cheer for the Black Knights of the Hudson as a boy. That was before I experienced the Army first-hand, not at West Point, thank you, but Fort Polk, Louisiana. I've now lived in Navy territory for three decades and although I'm delighted to see them return to the success column in college football, I'm not sure I can root strongly for them, except of course when they managed to show this year that their win two years ago at South Bend was no fluke.

To quote Mark Twain, we will draw the curtain of charity over the Ivy League as a football conference. The level of play has degenerated significantly since I used to cover the sport as an undergrad, not forgetting how much it had already dropped by the time I was around to observe the proceedings. Maybe I'm just not imaginative enough: after all, I should have realized that Cornell's winning at the Yale Bowl really presaged not the extinction of the age-old jinx the Big Red encountered on that field but instead the reality that Cornell would drop all its other League games this year following that win on opening day. And no, I wasn't at Franklin Field Saturday before last. I wasn't there either a few years ago when they restored that game to its Thanksgiving Day tradition, albeit at 10 in the morning. It had snowed the night before and there were about 500 fans on each side of the 60,000 capacity stadium.

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