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Monday, Oct. 12, 2009

Still a Good Chance to Smell the Roses

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The Observers got together by phone last week, with Frank in the East visiting family and Artie maintaining the home office. The main football topic was unbeaten Wisconsin taking on Ohio State in Columbus—although Frank had another big game on his agenda.

Frank: I was at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., to join my nephew in cheering his Leopards to a 24-21 victory over Columbia. I saw the first 1 1/2 quarters of the Badgers, and when I left it was 7-7 and UW was driving. A few hours later I heard the Lafayette stadium announcer say, "Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 13." What happened?

Artie: I don't know where to begin. Offensive plays, UW 89 to Ohio State's 40. Total yards, UW 368 to the Buckeyes' 184. The much-touted Terrelle Pryor was 5 for 13 in passing. All day long the Buckeyes were ripe for the taking, and that first-half drive you saw put UW up 10-7.

Frank: And then?

Artie: Pryor picked the end of the first half to make his one good throw, 32 yards to make it 14-10. It was like in Little League, when the worst kid on the team is out in right field and suddenly there's a fly ball and he sticks his glove up and somehow there's the ball. "Hey, Ma, look what I did!"

Frank: So it was 14-10 at halftime. Still highly winnable for Bucky Badger.

Artie: You betcha. But on the first series of the second half, Scott Tolzien threw his second interception. And like the first one, it couldn't be just an INT; it had to be a TD, too. So two long returns sandwiched around Pryor's throw and it was 21-10.

Frank: Still plenty of time, though.

Artie: And the Badgers soon kicked a field goal to make it 21-13. But then on the kickoff, the Buckeyes' Roy Small goes up the middle, almost untouched, for 96 yards and it's 28-13. It was as if everybody on the UW kickoff team sat down.

Frank: Yikes! So then the Badgers had to throw a lot, I reckon.

Artie: Indeed. And the OSU front seven on defense just controlled things. They already had stifled UW's ground game, and when Tolzien had to throw they pressured him a ton. He was 27 for 45 but got sacked six times. Sound familiar?

Frank: Shades of Aaron Rodgers against the Vikings.

Artie: Now the Badgers have a huge game this weekend against unbeaten Iowa, back home at Camp Randall. If they win, there's a good chance of finishing with only one loss. Which could mean the Rose Bowl!

Frank: Absolutely. UW's conference schedule after Iowa doesn't look tough: Purdue, at Indiana, Michigan and at Northwestern.

Artie: They don't play Penn State or Illinois, which helps. But Iowa still has to play at Michigan State and at Ohio State.

Frank: The Buckeyes, meanwhile, close the conference schedule at Penn State, home for Iowa and at Michigan. Two losses could be lurking there.

Artie: Penn State already has lost to Iowa, and they still have Ohio State and Minnesota and tough road games at Michigan and Michigan State.

Frank: While the others pummel each other, the Badgers could emerge as the only one-loss Big Ten team. Provided they rebound against Iowa.

Artie: The "ifs" are still quite manageable.

Play It Again, Bud

Frank: How sweep it is in the baseball playoffs, buddy!

Artie: Congrats on your Yankees finishing off the Twins.

Frank: Oh, well, that was nice, too. But the really great thing is the Red Sox getting swept by the Angels.

Artie: I understand completely. I feel the same way about the Cardinals' brooming by the Dodgers. The genius, Tony La Russa, can pack up his slide rule and go home.

Frank: As for the Yankees, I can't deny their sweep was aided by one of the biggest blown calls in history.

Artie: Yeah, that Game 2 whopper by umpire Phil Cuzzi was hard to swallow for all us Yankee haters.

Frank: As the left-field line ump, he was in perfect position to see Joe Mauer's 11th-inning fly land a few inches fair and bounce into the stands for a double. But he called it foul—and emphatically. Mauer later singled, but two other hits moved him only as far as third and the Twins didn't score. If he started on second, the Twins likely would have taken the lead.

Artie: Then Mark Teixeira's homer would only have tied the score, not put the Yankees two games up.

Frank: The Twins are no strangers to blown calls this year. They got jobbed by one in July that could have cost them their shot at the playoffs.

Artie: Details, please.

Frank: In Oakland on July 20, the Twins trailed, 14-13, with two out in the ninth and Michael Cuddyer on second. On a wild pitch, Cuddyer steamed around third and tried to score as the catcher threw back to the pitcher at the plate. The ump, Mike Muchlinski, called Cuddyer out, but replays showed his leg clearly got in under the tag.

Artie: If the call had been correct, the Twins might have won. Then they never would have needed to beat Detroit in that extra game last week to make the playoffs.

Frank: That July game, and the Cuzzi fiasco, got me wondering why Major League Baseball doesn't use video replays to verify such game-changing calls.

Artie: Something every other major sport does, at least a bit, ain'a?

Frank: Right, and even MLB does it in a very limited way. The commissioner, Bud Selig, opposed replay for a long time, but last year MLB began using video to decide home-run "boundary" calls—did a ball go over a designated line, did a fan interfere with an outfielder, was a ball fair or foul.

Artie: Smart move. Replay conferences can be long but, hell, lots of ballgames already drag on and on.

Frank: The Game 2 crew chief, Tim Tschida, admitted Cuzzi blew it. And how did he know? The crew looked at replays after the game. So why not look while a mistake can still be reversed?

Artie: The "purists" say calls are just part of the game. Tell that to a Baltimore fan who's still honked off about that kid "stealing" a home run for the Yankees in the 1996 playoffs.

Frank: Jeffrey Maier pulled Derek Jeter's ball into the stands and helped the Yankees win the series opener, and they went on to win the World Series. The umpire, Rich Garcia, blew the call even though he was working the right-field line. Under the current policy, the replay would have shown fan interference and maybe Baltimore would have won.

Artie: So for other crucial plays, why not be like the NFL and give managers a "challenge" or two per game? They could fling a red rosin bag while they're charging an ump, and it would take "indisputable” evidence to overturn a call.

Frank: Don't mess with judgment calls on balls and strikes. But when a call on fair/foul or a tag or a disputed catch decides a game, why not use technology to check it?

Artie: The replays are gonna be shown anyway, and if the call is wrong everyone will know it.

Frank: It's already common practice—in the NFL, the NBA for last-second shots, the NHL for goal disputes, tennis for line calls. The only big sport that doesn't use replays is soccer.

Artie: Hell, soccer needs replays just to prove that once in a blue moon someone really scores a goal.

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