Before We Put Away the Weber…
The Fairly Detached Observers
The summer that began with high hopes for the Milwaukee Brewers has ended with Wisconsin fans moving on to great dreams for the Green Bay Packers. The Observers will have plenty to say about both teams in the coming weeks, but they took some time as autumn arrived to grill up a few leftover topics.
Frank: The most dominant individual athletes of land and water made some headlines this summer, huh?
Artie: You betcha. And the Packers could’ve used a couple, three dominant athletes on their offensive line against the Bengals. Good lord, at the rate Aaron Rodgers is getting roughed up, he’s going to find himself in a full body cast by Columbus Day, I kid you not.
Frank: Not to worry, Packer fans. The coach himself, Mike McCarthy, said after the game, “We will clean up the problems we had today.”
Artie: Sounds mighty like the “We’ll fix that” we heard all last year about the O-line, penalties and last-minute chokes, ain’a? Anyways, these dominators who made summer headlines, could you refresh my memory? I think I concussed myself late in the fourth quarter.
Frank: Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter known as “the world’s fastest human,” and Michael Phelps, the swimmer known as the closest thing to a dolphin.
Artie: Last I checked, the Summer Olympics were last year and won’t be back until 2012. So like most Americans, I’ve forgotten about track and swimming.
Frank: Amazingly, those sports don’t shut down between Olympics. They hold world championships, which unlike the World Series, Super Bowl or NBA Finals, really do produce world champions.
Artie: I guess one of them was Bolt, who took the gold in both the 100 and 200 meters at Beijing.
Frank: Good memory. At the “Worlds” in Berlin, Bolt repeated his Olympic blitz— gold in the 100, 200 and the 400-meter relay. And just like in Beijing, he set world records in his individual races.
Artie: Last year he ran the 100 in what, 9.7 seconds?
Frank: He set a record of 9.72 before the Olympics, then did a 9.69 in Beijing. And in Berlin he cut it to 9.58.
Artie: On a good day I can stand up out of my La-Z-Boy in 9.58 seconds, maybe.
Frank: Then Bolt dropped his record in the 200 from 19.30 to 19.19.
Artie: Remember when Michael Johnson did his golden-shoes 19.32 at the ‘96 Olympics? Now he’s eating Bolt’s dust.
Frank: Johnson’s shoes remind me of my favorite sports nickname, which belongs to the Buffalo Bills receiver from the 1960s, Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion. Too cool!
Artie: But you digress.
Frank: Right. All I can say about Bolt is, “Please, let him be doing this cleanly.”
Artie: There’s no evidence he has chemical help, and he must be tested plenty.
Frank: But we’ve learned that athletic cheaters always find new products to beat testing. Marion Jones never flunked a test but admitted in 2007 that she was doping when she became the darling of the 2000 Olympics.
Artie: She and her former boyfriend, Tim Montgomery, were clients of the BALCO lab that helped mess up baseball, too.
Frank: Bolt is delighting everyone with his records and his fun-loving personality. And he’s just one of several Jamaicans, men and women, who are winning sprint titles.
Artie: Maybe Jamaica has developed some super-ganja—with a kick, you might say.
Suitable for Spoofing
Frank: As for Phelps, the eight-time Golden Boy at Beijing, he won several events at the swimming Worlds in Rome, but the big news was that he lost a race.
Artie: Is that against the rules?
Frank: You might have thought so. As usual, Phelps and others were breaking records, helped by whatever high-tech 23rd-century poly-something suits they were wearing.
Artie: Maybe they’re doping with dolphin growth hormone.
Frank: Then an unknown German beat Phelps in some event he never loses. So Phelps’ coach went ballistic about what an injustice it was.
Artie: To quote Woody Allen in Bananas, it was “a travesty of a mockery of a sham,” ain’a?
Frank: And it involved the German’s suit.
Artie: What, his tech was higher than Phelps’?
Frank: Yup, as the German acknowledged. But that wasn’t fair, at least to the coach, Bob Bowman.
Artie: Why couldn’t Phelps wear what the German wore?
Frank: That suit was made by Arena, but Phelps has a contract with Speedo.
Artie: So he was being an honorable capitalist! I wonder if maybe Phelps had a little too much of the bong the night before. He knows that technology well.
Frank: FINA, which runs swimming, says the German’s suit will be banned by next year.
Artie: I say have ‘em all swim in Levi’s cutoffs. Not the women, of course.
Frank: A bigger issue is how much equipment should be allowed to enhance athletes’ performances.
Artie: Like in poker. Everyone wears sunglasses, but what if one guy shows up with novelty-shop specs with eyeballs on a Slinky? Throws everyone off.
Frank: I mean actual sports, not ESPN time-fillers. In golf and tennis, it seems like technology has run amok.
Artie: The PGA guys tee off with titanium drivers with heads as big as bowling balls.
Frank: Rod Laver played with wooden rackets; Roger Federer wields a metal job that’s lighter and with a bigger hitting surface. Federer is almost playing a different game.
Artie: To be fair, which I hate, the PGA and tennis honchos do set equipment standards.
Frank: Right, and improvements make sports more enjoyable for the average Joe and Josephine. But when people declare Federer or Tiger Woods “the greatest player ever,” I can’t help thinking the historical field isn’t level.
Artie: Maybe in the Great Beyond we’ll see Tiger vs. Bobby Jones, both in their prime and using wooden-shafted niblicks.
Frank: Or Laver vs. Federer with wooden rackets—and the same resources in training, nutrition, whatever. Athletes should only be rated within their own eras.
Artie: Wouldn’t a “throwback” golf tournament be great? Have the players use old-time equipment and wear knickers. Just the thing to save Milwaukee’s place on the PGA Tour!
Frank: No need to thank us for the idea, folks. It’s what we do.
A 2-Star Embarrassment
Frank: Bolt and Phelps victories are no surprise, and neither is this: John Calipari now has two asterisks after his name as a college basketball coach—teams that the NCAA stripped of a Final Four appearance.
Artie: Memphis ‘08 joins Massachusetts ‘96 on the “It Never Happened” list. Kentucky’s next!
Frank: Kentucky, where Calipari found a job in April that got him out of Memphis before the punishment came in August.
Artie: If Calipari gets Kentucky to the Final Four, they’d better not rush to put a banner up in their gym.
Frank: In both cases, the violation didn’t involve Calipari directly. At UMass it was money and gifts that went to Marcus Camby, and at Memphis it was an ACT test taken by someone else for a player, allegedly Derrick Rose.
Artie: But I’ll bet Calipari didn’t ask many questions about Camby’s bling or Rose’s academics.
Frank: Same with the schools. The NCAA phrase is a “lack of institutional control.” In other words, the presidents and athletic directors don’t get very inquisitive.
Artie: Memphis probably figures it made out OK; it didn’t lose any scholarships or postseason eligibility.
Frank: The NCAA wants a refund of $530,000 the school got from the tournament, but with a winning program selling tickets and merchandise, Memphis still comes out ahead.
Artie: Their fans ain’t going away. No matter what it says on paper, they know what they saw. Just keep winning, guys!
Frank: Memphis is appealing the NCAA ruling. If that fails, it’ll want Calipari to return about $300,000 in Final Four bonuses.
Artie: As if he would notice, with the $30-million-plus he stands to make at Kentucky over eight years.
Frank: In a way, it’s too bad Memphis lost to Kansas for the ‘08 title. Otherwise the NCAA would have had to decide between giving the trophy to the losers or declaring that both teams were never really there.
Photo: Dominating their sports, even when hardly anyone notices