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Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010

Saturday Might, Sunday Mourning

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Saturday Might, Sunday Mourning

By Frank Clines and Art Kumbalek

Oh so high, oh so low. That was the weekend for the state's football fans. Saturday night the Wisconsin Badgers fulfilled their potential with a 31-18 smashdown of top-ranked Ohio State in Madison. About 18 hours later the injury-riddled Packers fell to 3-3 with their second straight overtime loss, 23-20 to Miami at Lambeau Field. One of the Observers had a hard landing.

Artie
: While I was suffering with the Pack I wondered what you were doing. Last week during the game you were at the symphony. Were you out antiquing this time?

Frank
: Actually, I saw the whole game.

Artie
: If you want to call it that. I felt like I was watching one long commercial interrupted occasionally by football. The worst thing was in the fourth quarter when Miami punted and CBS cut away as usual, but when the field reappeared the ref was talking to the crowd. I thought, is he announcing that we'll be back after more commercials? But it was that unbelievable penalty for someone lining up "over" the punt snapper.

Frank
: Which kept the Dolphins going toward their second touchdown. It's a new rule to protect the snapper from getting mashed. The alleged violator was Robert Francois, a reserve linebacker just up from the practice squad.

Artie
: How about protecting Aaron Rodgers from those helmet-first hits, like the one that concussed him the week before?

Frank
: Francois' presence showed how beat up the Packers are. But they might have won if they didn't go 3-for-13 in third-down conversions.

Artie
: Yeah, but the injuries were really the key. If they'd had Clay Matthews, among others, they'd have gotten some pressure on Chad Henne, who's not much of a quarterback. He had all the time in the world, ain’a?

Frank
: The Packers were out-sacked, 5-0, and Rodgers was chased out of the pocket all day.

Artie
: And one reason was that the rookie, Bryan Bulaga, was subbing at right tackle, a spot he didn't work at in training camp. Cameron Wake was leaving Bulaga in his wake, but as Dan Fouts said on the broadcast, why didn't they give Bulaga some blocking help? It was the same in Washington when Brian Orakpo was in Rodgers' grill.

Frank
: Rodgers' scrambling must have been due, in part, to a strong Miami secondary.

Artie
: But that goes to the injury thing, too. They went in without one of their top receivers in Jermichael Finley. I can't really criticize anything because they were playing with second- and third-string guys.

Frank
: A tough loss, especially since the Bears lost and the Vikings climbed to 2-3. They go to Lambeau this Sunday just a half-game behind the Pack.

Artie: I knew Vikings-Cowboys would come down to which nitwit threw the deciding interception. It was Tony Romo, who, I may have mentioned, is NOT a good quarterback. But it'll be Bunglin' Brett's turn at Lambeau!


Buckeyes Black-Eyed

Frank: On to more pleasant stuff. I was mighty impressed with the Badgers.

Artie
: Wow! This is what this team was supposed to be coming into the season. Pounding the Buckeyes with the ground game and hounding them on defense, even though UW has injury issues at linebacker. What a win!

Frank
: J.J. Watt made big plays from everywhere on the defensive line—bull-rushing from both ends and stuffing things in the middle too. And on offense, well, you and I could have run through the holes those monster linemen opened.

Artie
: You maybe, Kemo Sabe. But 184 rushing yards make your point.

Frank
: Still, in the second half Ohio State had scored 18 straight points and was only three behind. But the Badgers responded with their own long drive that clinched it.

Artie
: Especially impressive because the last couple of years they've had trouble "sealing the deal" in the second half.

Frank
: Last year against OSU and Iowa, in ’08 against Michigan and Michigan State—but this time they took the Buckeyes' punches and slugged back.

Artie
: And once it was 28-18 OSU was done because Terrelle Pryor still ain't a good thrower.

Frank
: After the Badgers lost at Michigan State I brilliantly said, "Farewell, BCS bowl shot." But now they're back in the hunt for the Big Ten title and a BCS bowl—assuming they win at Iowa this weekend. Afraid of a letdown?

Artie
: Maybe if they were playing a team like Illinois, good but not top-notch. But the Badgers know Iowa is a really, really good team. And they sure know they can play with the best!

Delay of Games

Frank: Hey, I heard a rumor that they're actually playing postseason baseball again.

Artie
: It's true. For a while I thought the playoffs had been postponed because of good weather. After all, Bud Selig's schedule pegs a World Series Game 7 for Nov. 4th—and that's if there are no rainouts or snowouts!

Frank
: The American League Championship Series began Friday with the Yankees having had five days off. The Rangers had only two days off, but if they'd swept Tampa Bay both teams would have twiddled their thumbs for five days.

Artie
: And why? Bud dances to the networks' tune because they pay the big bucks.

Frank
: I understand FOX, which has the National League finals and World Series, wanting some "Glee" and "Bones" and "House" mixed in with the baseball. But all TBS usually shows in prime time are sitcom reruns.

Artie
: The NLCS started Saturday, which meant the Giants had four days off and the Phillies five. I've gotta think the players want to play.

Frank
: And play the usual way—single days off only.

Artie
: Otherwise it messes with the starting pitchers and their usual rest.

Frank
: But no matter how short the league finals are, the World Series starts Oct. 27. Even if each LCS goes seven games, the NL winner will have two days off and the AL winner three.

Artie
: And again, the risk of bad weather just increases, especially in New York and Philly. And what about Minnesota? I'm gonna monitor the weather to see what an outdoor World Series game in Minneapolis would have been like on, say, Nov. 1.

Frank: It's no secret that when it comes to sports scheduling, the last folks they care about are those in the seats. Does FOX worry about changing a Packers home game in late December from noon to 3:15
Artie: It is to laugh.

Frank
: Bud must know this schedule is wacky because he's taken steps to keep the 2011 World Series out of November. Next season starts March 31, a Thursday, and ends Sept. 28, a Wednesday, to get the playoffs under way earlier. But at the same time Bud talked last month about possibly adding another wild-card team to each league.

Artie
: Which could add to the length of the postseason. Of course it's all about money—keeping fans in more cities buying tickets as long as possible.

Frank
: Bud noted that baseball has the fewest playoff teams of any major sport. Quite true; hell, the NBA and NHL have half their teams advance. But is that a good argument—"We're more exclusive than the NHL, so we should be more like the NHL"? Shouldn't there be a real sense of exclusivity in making the playoffs, especially after 162 games?

Artie
: Sorry, exclusivity don't fill the coffers.

Frank
: But this year having two wild cards per league would have killed the excitement of the season's final week. In the AL the Red Sox would have qualified easily for the fifth spot, and in the NL the Giants, Padres and Braves all would have known they'd qualify, making those final weekend series a lot less meaningful.

Artie
: Well then, Bud'll have to deal up as many wild cards as the owners need.

Frank
: Something else I don't get—Bud takes credit for the innovations of wild cards and interleague play, and he OK'd using replay for "boundary" calls, but he won't expand the use of replay to help umpires.

Artie
: Already in these playoffs we've had a couple of blown calls, and one led to the only run in a Giants win over Atlanta. What happens when a blown call decides the World Series?