High on Grass and Other Monday Morning Thoughts
Of course, the new artificial almost-grass is better than the old rock hard stuff, and it's cheaper than having to replace natural sod every season after it gets chewed up. That's why you see so many high schools and even grade schools in the GTA going for the fake stuff.
But wasn't it great watching the Giants and 49ers battle it out on the real stuff on Sunday? It was like watching a game out of the NFL archives. Then again, it had been nine years since San Francisco had made the playoffs (take heart Leaf fans).
Wet and foggy at Candlestick Park, the game got a little muddy, and footing was an issue. Most of all, it just looks, well, more real, the kind of game we'll never see again, it would appear, north of the border in the CFL.
The new technology sure looks like grass. It just doesn't have the same feel. Never will.
Other notions from the weekend:
• Both Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel have dropped out of the top five in NHL scoring, a race that is returning to normalcy with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, Marian Hossa and Henrik Sedin at or near the top. Lupul now leads Leafs in scoring, and you could make an argument he has become the team's best player.
Malkin, meanwhile, has become the early favourite to win his first Hart Trophy with the way in which, once again, he has carried the Penguins in the face of so many crippling injuries.
• Another weekend, more suspensions and hearings in the NHL. It's almost like the bans aren't acting as a deterence at all, that the idea they might be suspended simply doesn't make players behave much differently.
Boston's Andrew Ference was the latest to get dinged for three games after his vicious hit-from-behind on Ryan McDonough of the Rangers. Along with the missed games, Ference has to forfeit more than $36,000 in salary, which some would argue is the part of the penalty that hits the players hardest and is often overlooked. Given that Ference has earned about $7.5 million over the course of his career, it's a little difficult to believe that he's financially crushed by the suspension, but perhaps he is.
But want to make these suspensions sting a little more? How about if the player who commits the crime has to pay the player he victimized? So McDonough would get the $36K from Ference. It's a little out there, sure, but I haven't heard any better suggestions as the parade to the NHL suspension box continues unabated.
• It couldn't have been a surprise that 49ers kick returner Kyle Williams was the goat in the OT contest, won by the Giants. There was that silly muff in the fourth quarter. But much earlier in the game he'd successfully made a wild, diving catch on a punt. This guy was a disaster waiting to happen, no surprise given S.F.'s regular returner, Ted Ginn Jr., was out with an injury. Having him back there rather than a pair of sure, veteran hands was a coaching error by rookie coach Jim Harbaugh.
• If Eli Manning and the Giants win this Super Bowl, the debate is really going to get serious about whether Eli's actually better than his big brother, Peyton. And Peyton may never get to take another snap to pad his resume.
• It was a close, close call; drop or great defensive play? Should ex-Bills receiver Lee Evans have held on to that 14-yard pass in the end zone to win the game for Baltimore over the Patriots, or was he simply outfoxed by an outstanding defensive play by Sterling Moore, an Oakland Raiders castoff?
"There's really not a whole lot to say about it," Evans said. "It is what you saw. It was an opportunity for us to go to the Super Bowl, and I let it go."
As Evans tried to secure the ball in the corner of the end zone after seemingly catching it with his hands, Moore reached out with his right hand and jarred it loose.
"It wasn't in my mind to slap the ball out," Moore said. "It was just a split-second decision, and I'm glad it worked out. We do that drill every day in practice, but it was the first time I had to use it in a game, and I just took what I learned from practice into the game."
So dropped ball or great defensive play? A little of both, but at that moment, with all that on the line, Evans simply had to hang on. So it's a drop.
• There are those who still insist that moving the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton under the ownership would of Jim Balsillie would have been a no-brainer, a guaranteed success, and maybe that's true.
But ownership is the critical element in the NHL, as we've seen again this season, and a glance at the business pages - heck, today's front page of The Star - would tell you that even the mighty Balsillie isn't impervious to the catastrophic monsoons ripping through much of the world economy these days.
The share price of Research in Motion Inc. has declined by more than two-thirds over the past year and Balsillie, while still a major stockholder, has been forced out of a key executive role. If he'd actually been successful in heisting the Coyotes out of the desert, where the team is still owned by the NHL, it's hard to say how the team would have been effected by these business developments.
Maybe he'd have had to sell or find partners. Who knows? But the notion that he was the perfect owner, a no-brainer, simply never addressed the question of what would happen if his business empire crumbled or who would own the team if he didn't.
• It's been another difficult Grand Slam for the former tennis superpower, the United States of America. Not a single American male or female has made it into second week at Australian Open after Serena Williams crashed out in straight sets to unseeded Ekaterina Makarova.
The likes of John McEnroe have been sounding the alarm for years. It's clear there are no successors to the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, as potential female Grand Slam champions. The U.S. has six women in top 100, including Serena but not Venus, who has slipped to 101.
On the men's side, there's no successor to Andy Roddick, the last U.S. male to win one of the sport's four majors. The Americans place nine men, including Roddick, in the top 100, but none look like potential Grand Slam champions, unless Donald Young re-discovers all that promise.
We're talking about the driest period for U.S. tennis in, well, forever. Soon, if Milos Raonic keeps moving on up, Canada, and not the U.S., will own the finest player in North America.
Serena, the final America to exit Melbourne, wilted in the heat. The good news is that she was called for a foot fault in the second set and - remember the ugly U.S. Open scene from two years ago - this time didn't explode in anger and start threatening linesmen.
• We'll find out today if Alex Ovechkin is in trouble with the league for his hit on Zbynek Michalek of the Penguins. In the second period of Sunday's game, Ovechkin skated into Michalek, who missed 10 games with a concussion earlier this season, and jumped at the last moment to drive his shoulder into the blueliner's head.
There was no penalty call on the play. It certainly wasn't the most egregious foul of the season, but Ovechkin has been in trouble with the NHL police before.
"I have to be honest -- I have to [be aware] when I see him coming, but he cannot leave his feet like that and just go for my head," Michalek said.
Of course, Michalek didn't do his case any favours later in the game for - you guessed it - elbowing Washington's Matt Hendricks in the head. He drew a penalty for that one, and both he and Ovechkin have hearings with NHL hanging judge Brendan Shanahan today to explain their actions.
• The overwhelming problem for the Leafs? In four of the past five games, they would hav needed to score four goals to win. That's not a formula for consistent success in the NHL.
• It will be fascinating to see how Joe Paterno's life is portrayed now. Probably in different ways by different people. Six months ago there was only a light debate about whether he'd be back on the sidelines next season. Today, the man is gone, and the debate is about how he should be remembered. Probably the best guide to that is the legacy of Woody Hayes. Pretty much the third or fourth paragraph in every story of the legendary Ohio State coach talks about how and why he left the game. It just never goes away.
For Paterno, his name will be linked forever to the Jerry Sandusky story, and as that story unfolds in court, Paterno's name will be invoked time and time again. Sandusky released a statement on the weekend after Paterno's death. Perhaps keeping quiet would have been a final favour to an old friend.
Maybe Paterno would have been able to clear his name, or better explain his actions, had he lived on. Cancer knows no favourites, and that was a difficult end. But the agony of Sandusky's victims lives on, an agony Paterno might have been able to mitigate if he'd truly been a man of principle and action, not just an iconic image.
• Despite his upset loss to Lleyton Hewitt, the signs are still good for Raonic. The same can't be said right now for Rebecca Marino, who early last year seemed to be on the same upwards trajectory as Raonic, particularly after a noteworthy performance against Venus Williams at the U.S. Open.
Going back to the Rogers Cup in Toronto last summer, Marino has been bounced in the first round of eight tournaments. Her ranking has fallen slightly to No. 65 in the world. So far, she's either been unable to add to her game and improve her movement and fitness, or opponents have simply figured out her big serve, big forehand game.
• The Islanders are smoking hot going into their game with the Leafs tonight, with John Tavares leading the way. Long Island is 8-4 in its last 12 games and Tavares has points in all of those games with eight goals and 12 assists.
A must win for Ron Wilson's club? Well, with 35 games left, they're probably looking at needing to come up with at least 40 of a possible 70 points. Might as well start the charge immediately.
• It's amazing to look at the NHL standings and despite all the noise about so many other clubs in the first half, to see Detroit sitting there first overall.
No, maybe it's not so amazing. The kind of do things right in Motown.
• There were some knowing glances on the weekend when Taylor Hall of the Oilers was caught on camera clearly unhappy with head coach Tom Renney's decision to pull goalie Devan Dubnyk for an extra attacker with three minutes left in a lopsided loss to Calgary on Saturday.
“I was so frustrated by the whole sequence of events. I certainly wasn’t singling Tom out. I respect everything he does. It was embarrassing on my part. We’ve talked and we’ve moved on,” said Hall.
There's no sign that Renney, who is in the final year of his contract, is in trouble. But he better make sure the young talent loves him and all that he's doing. A worse reality for the veteran coach is that the Oilers have now lost 16 of their last 17 matches to the Flames in the now tepid Battle of Alberta.
• Jose Canseco has 397,629 followers on his Twitter account. But he really just wants one.
Canseco, now 47, still harbors dreams of returning to the majors, apparently, and wants to do it with his first team, the Oakland A's. Hard to say what's serious and what's not on Twitter, but through @JoseCanseco, Canseco is apparently lobbying A's general manager for a job.
On Sunday, he tweeted, "Billy beane call me would love to dh for you just give me a tryout that's all I ask." Later he added, "Billy beane email me Jc7264@yahoo.com."
So that's the way it's done these days.