Without Dale, Does NASCAR Go On?

I’ve been a NASCAR fan for two decades, but was a casual watcher for a decade beyond that. I remember the good old days of Southern boys beating and banging on each others’ cars and occasionally each other. I also remember the bad old days of drivers dying in accidents. I’m so old that Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., retiring comes as a shock because those are the young guys, or so I thought.

NASCAR has grown up a lot in the past 30 years, moving away from its backwoods-racing, moonshining Southern roots to its sleek, international, highly technological form that it has today. Mary Katharine Ham writes about her history around NASCAR that began with covering the sport as a cub reporter in Rockingham, North Carolina and how it has changed over the years.

As NASCAR prepares to say goodbye to Dale Jr. at the end of this year, it is the acknowledged end of an era. Everyone is taking stock (no pun intended) and wondering where the sport—which has begun to struggle to find viewers and attendees lately—will go from here. Have attention spans shortened to the point where viewers won’t watch a whole 3-hour race?1 Is the end of the shade-tree mechanic car culture in the US a harbinger of the end of car racing fascination?
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Tom Brady’s Longevity

That Tom Brady plans to play well into his 40s is not news. Neither is the fact that he takes what some might call extreme measures to stay fit and healthy. Nevertheless, the Guardian gives a glimpse into how Tom Brady plans to play another seven years through an unusual dedication to health.

“You can’t survive in the NFL without giving lifestyle an emphasis,” says Connolly, who just completed a soon-to-be-published book on sports science titled Game Change, “and for a long career it has to be all aspects.” In that sense, Brady’s longevity is more than just luck. His all-encompassing approach to the variables that he can control has made Brady the master of his own destiny, making his desire to play into his mid-40s all the more realistic.

Very few people become professional athletes. It’s not enough to have good genes or develop some good skills to get into the big leagues. You have to work hard and train. To be an NFL player takes dedication and personal application. To be an NFL player who last more than a few years takes even more dedication and training. To be an NFL champion requires even more than that (plus some luck). To be a Pro Bowler and a Hall of Famer takes even more. But what Tom Brady is doing is unprecedented.

Most pro athletes train outside of their regular seasons, on their own. They hire training staff and even go to sports physiology training centers. But Brady has gone even further by orienting his whole life around his drive to succeed in his profession. Everything he eats, everything he drinks, every way he schedules his days, the way he works out, the way he recreates. Everything is oriented to the goal. You don’t find that sort of single-minded, uncompromising dedication very often today.

As a Patriots fan, I’m very pleased to think that Tom Brady will play for years to come. But I’m also inspired by the way he lives his life and what a role model he can be for others.

Jousting in the Olympics

There’s a movement afoot to get jousting into the 2020 Summer Olympics. Yes, jousting. Men in armor on horseback, knocking each out of their saddles with 12-foot lances.

Sewell said jousting, which requires “a huge amount of skill and involves a daily training regime”, ticked lots of Olympic boxes. “You have to be strong, not just physically but mentally, so you can sit fearlessly in your saddle, face your rival and offer yourself as a target.”

Just like dressage, it also requires an enormous amount of equestrian training. Horses must be persuaded to accept a rider dressed in 20kg of steel armour and to gallop at an opponent at speeds of up to 30mph.

Of course, if we’re bringing back medieval sports, how about making Armored Combat League an Olympic sport too? There’s already international competition among national teams so it’s even more popular than jousting.

If they make those Olympic sports, I’ll be sure to start watching again.

How One Photo Made Modern Hockey

The most famous hockey photo of all time–and perhaps the most famous sports photo in Boston–is the one of the 1970 Stanley Cup winning goal by Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins. Or rather of Orr a second after the goal as he flies horizontal through the air.

It’s the story of Ray Lussier, photographer for the Boston Record American being in the right place at the right time to snap just the right frame. Was he lucky? Working with a professional newspaper photographer with decades of experience, I’ve learned they make their luck through hard work, preparation, skill, and perseverance. It is really a great story. And a great goal.

Even more it was the moment that set the stage for the expansion of the NHL from a little regional sport to the billion-dollar major sport it is today. Thanks to a great photo.

End of the Patriots’ season, end of an era?

Well, that wasn’t a fun game yesterday. I watched the AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos (or to hear the media tell it, Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning) and it wasn’t pretty, at least for the Patriots fan.

I’m disappointed, of course, but with some time for reflection, I have to admit that the Patriots played beyond expectations this year. They have suffered losses of so many of their top performing players this year and still came within a hair’s breadth of the Super Bowl. Aaron Hernandez was lost due to his legal troubles and alleged evil deeds. Rob Gronkowski came back from a season-ending injury in 2012 and then went back out with a season-ending injury in 2013. The anchor of the defensive line, Vince Wilfork, went down early, as did Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly, and Sebastian Vollmer. That doesn’t count all the players who were injured for just part of a season, missing one more games. All of that culminated with star cornerback Aquib Talib getting eliminated from the AFC championship game with an injury for the second year in a row.

The fact is that the Pats played well above their level for about half the season, pretty much on the strength of Brady’s arm, Edelman’s acrobatic catches, and Blount’s punishing runs. That’s not to take away from anything accomplished by the Denver Broncos or the Indianapolis Colts, who played very well, but I’m just happy to have seen the Patriots play in the post-season.

I might even go so far as to say that I’m glad to see the Patriots eliminated in the league championship game rather than go to the Super Bowl and lose. That would be even more disappointing and heartbreaking. I don’t think I could bear to see another loss like that to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII at the end of the 2007 season.

Which brings another unhappy thought: The last Super Bowl win for the Patriots was in 2004. Since then they missed the playoffs all together once, lost once in the wild card round of the playoffs, twice in the divisional round, three times in the conference championship, and once in the Super Bowl.

Okay, keeping it in perspective, that’s a record that would be the envy of many teams in the league, but the Patriots had raised such high expectations in the first half of the decade and even in the second half, there’s so much potential. In that same time period, including post-season games, their record is 119–42. That’s 3 out of 4 games!

Is the magic gone? Is the amazing Brady-Belichick era that began in 2001 fading to a close? Maybe we can’t expect to see another Super Bowl win until the inevitable next incarnation of this team.

Oh, it will be a sad time to return to the re-building era, when the team slogs through fruitless seasons as they forge young players and acquired free agents into another championship team.

On the other hand, there may be a few seasons left of great football. We can hope. And only 6 more months until the start of training camp!

Pats’ fan Moms at Mass

Patriots fan face painting

I’ve noticed a trend in the last couple of weeks of moms of school-age kids showing up to Mass in jeans and Patriots jerseys. Now, people dress down all year ’round, not just during football season, and men and children are dressed down just as frequently. So why is it that these jersey-wearing moms stand out so much?

Maybe I just expect more from your average mom than going to Mass looking like you’re heading to the sports bar for the game (and I do think the outfits are entirely appropriate in that context). I think of moms as being the ones who set the standard for our appearances in public. So when they just as slovenly and out of place, it strikes me as especially odd.

Melanie’s theory–which addresses general slovenly dress– is that many women don’t have appropriate dress clothes anymore, that dress clothes are those more appropriate for a night of clubbing than Sunday morning church. It’s possible. Certainly I found that to be true of high school girls when I was leading Confirmation preparation in a parish. We had to give exact instructions to the girls about the outfits to wear to Mass or they’d show up in low-cut, off-the-shoulder blouses and mini-skirts.

What’s especially bizarre is that these are the 15% motivated to actually come to Mass on Sunday morning.

Photo by bearklektor, on Flickr

Tom Brady gets some perspective on God’s values

Looks like Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots, is finally getting some perspective on his life after the personal and professional turmoil of the last couple of years. He tells Esquire that his value in the eyes of God is not as a quarterback.

Look at the attention I get: It’s because I throw a football. But that’s what society values. That’s not what God values,” Brady said. “He didn’t invent the game. We did. I have some eye-hand coordination, and I can throw the ball. I don’t think that matters to God.”

Incidentally, Brady’s dad is a Catholic deacon. I met him a couple of years ago when he spoke at Proud2BCatholic. Nice guy dealing firsthand with a son whose fame comes with a price.

Anyway, I hope Brady Jr. continues on his spiritual journey.


All is forgiven, Bill Buckner

Bill Buckner threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park on Opening Day and you don’t have to be Red Sox fan to know what that means. Most any baseball fan can tell you that Buckner is the first baseman who let a dribbling grounder roll through his legs and past his glove in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series and began the momentum shift in favor the New York Mets.

It was unfair, really, to blame it on Buck because the whole team lost Game 7 (not to mention the pitcher didn’t get over there to back up Buckner on that play). Unfortunately, for the hapless Sox and their fans who had been waiting since 1918 for that elusive World Series championship, Buckner became the symbol of that ignominious defeat, synonymous with goat. (A late night joke of the era: “What do Michael Jackson and Bill Buckner have in common? They both one glove for absolutely no reason.” Another one: “Did you hear Bill Buckner tried to kill himself after Game 6? Yeah, he stepped in front of a bus… but it went between his legs.”)

It wasn’t the first time Buckner had been applauded by Boston fans since that fateful day.

On Tuesday, however, Buckner was received with applause and cheers by a hometown crowd as it celebrated the second World Series win since that day of nightmares. Some cynics might say that the fans would not be so magnanimous had the Sox not won the Series yet but I would point out that it wasn’t the first time Buckner had been applauded by Boston fans since that fateful day.

I don’t remember exactly when it was but it was sometime in the 1988 or 1989 seasons, when the wounds were still fresh. A group of guys I was working with in a factory in my hometown decided to take off into town that night and get standing-room tickets to the Sox game against the Kansas City Royals. We got in well before the start of the game, while on-field warmups were still underway and we stood above the left field foul line, near the Green Monster, watching the fielders work. Bill Buckner was playing for them now and the abuse rained down on him from bitter fans as he fielded some balls. But then on one grounder hit right at him, he pretended to flub it, lifting his glove comically and with obvious intention. It was not malicious, but humorous and it was the perfect antidote. Immediately the cheers turned to laughter and then applause as the fans in the stands understood that Buckner knew. He knew where he stood in the annals of baseball history and made clear that he was willing to acknowledge the label that had been attached to him.

It couldn’t have been easy being Bill Buckner for the past 22 years, although it probably got a little easier when the pressure came off in October 2004. Perhaps now, in 2008, Buckner can finally leave that burden behind. For the fans, it’s only a game and our jeers at the TV and the ballpark get left behind when the rest of life comes around. But for a man who made baseball his life, being made the goat would be a bitter pill you’d carry with you every day.

Good on you, Bill Buckner, for showing some class, and good on you, Red Sox fans, for returning the favor with a standing ovation. Now let’s enjoy the fruits of the labor of the current crop of boys of summer and leave the past where it belongs. Play ball!


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