Goats, Colts, A Fallen Lion, And A Very Rich Prince

Just because something is interesting doesn’t mean that it’s good.

Case in point: This last week in sports, which was loaded with games and events that many of us couldn’t look away from even if we didn’t necessarily like what we were seeing.

Let’s start with Sunday’s NFL games. By almost all standards, the two games were a pair of the most dramatic, most compelling conference championship contests in recent memory.

But what ultimately made them most memorable wasn’t the toughness of Eli Manning, the tenacity of the 49ers defense, or the surprisingly stout play of New England’s defensive front, headed by tackle Vince Wilfork.

That’s what most of us watch sports – and particularly playoff sports – to see: Contests featuring feats of athletic greatness that are decided by which player or team ultimately makes the most awe-inspiring play.

Instead what we got were goats.

To my eye, San Francisco’s Kyle Williams’s acts of ineptness were both the most sympathetic and the most egregious. He was scary bad all game, from diving for punts to the two critical turnovers that directly led to 10 Giants points, including the game-winning field goal. But in his defense, Williams was filling in for an injured player performing a task he clearly wasn’t comfortable doing.

My compassion for Williams has also increased after it’s been revealed that he has since been the recipient of death threats via social media. One wishes that the reprehensible cowards that send these despicable tweets would have opportunity to say such things to Williams in person, if only so Williams would then have the opportunity to punch said lowlifes in the throat.

Of the other goats, I sadly have to lay more blame for his team’s loss on Baltimore’s Lee Evans for letting Sterling Moore knock that touchdown pass out of his hands than I do on Billy Cundiff for missing the easy chip shot field goal at the end of regulation.

Cundiff gets a bit of a pass from me because he earlier had made two field goals and, had he made that admittedly easy 31-yarder to tie the game, it would have only forced overtime. Evans hangs on to that perfect pass from Flacco and his team flat out wins the game and heads to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis.

Speaking of Indy, the backbiting between Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay and quarterback Peyton Manning has been another fascinating storyline that has been tough to not follow this week.

But in the end, the power struggle is a sickening case of egotistical millionaires arguing with narcissistic billionaires, with Rob Lowe (who must be at least a thousand-aire) playing the meatiest supporting role he’s had since The West Wing.

Seems to me that Irsay is determined to run Manning out of town, an inconceivable goal given the disastrous impact Manning’s absence this past season had on the Colts.

In a NFL Network special that aired before Manning’s injury, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said that if you take Manning away from the Colts you have a “very below-average ball club.” What once seemed like hyperbole has proven to be instead a gross understatement.

Of course the unknown quantity here is Manning’s health: If Peyton ultimately can’t play football again, then Irsay is 100 percent right for moving on. You just wish that in doing so, he would show a little appreciation for Manning, as he is almost assured of not finding a quarterback of his class in this year’s – or maybe any year’s – NFL draft.

Any conversation about sports and money this week has to include a mention of Prince Fielder, who on Tuesday signed a nine-year contract with the Detroit Tigers worth a breathtaking $214 million.

Fielder’s expected departure from the Brewers is less a blow to Milwaukee’s team and its fans – hey, the man himself even said before the season was over that he was a goner – than it is a painful reminder that baseball, more than the other major sports, has yet to solve the glaring issue of small market vs. big market disparity.

Commissioner Bud Selig is quick to point out that baseball has had an impressively varied group of postseason participants in recent years, but that doesn’t hide the staggering salary disparity between its clubs: In 2011, the Yankees, Phillies, and Red Sox all had payrolls north of $160 million, while five teams had payrolls under $50 million.

No one can blame Fielder for taking the most money offered to him, but something is wrong when a small-market team like Milwaukee can be prepared to offer a rumored $120 million for Fielder and still not be considered a serious candidate for his services.

Given that both teams play in the same state, it’s impossible not to compare the Milwaukee Brewers situation in baseball to the Green Bay Packers situation in the NFL. Despite recent successes – which will be tough to maintain following the loss of Fielder and the likely suspension of Ryan Braun – the Brewers have, over their history, been a team of have-nots. The Packers, despite playing in the NFL’s smallest market, have a long history of being the haves.

Not that that fact provides much solace in Wisconsin this NFL postseason.

Finally, the saddest sports news from the past week was undoubtedly the passing of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

At a time when Paterno’s life and unparalleled accomplishments in college football should be celebrated, it’s impossible not to feel at the very least conflicted or even somewhat distasteful showing admiration for the man after learning of what he didn’t try harder to prevent from going on under his nose at State College.

However, even the most jaded of us have to admit that Paterno was a man who inspired and improved the lives of countless young people.

But, like Kyle Williams and Billy Cundiff, Paterno is doomed to have his name forever linked to mistakes.

Sadly, unlike Williams and Cundiff, Paterno made mistakes that were not just not good. They were tragic.


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