Friday, February 11, 2011

Sports News and Ancient History

Two sports stories stuck out for me yesterday, because they touched upon professional sporting events that I was present at.

I don't get to many pro sports events. Maybe this summer I'll take in a Pirate game from the outfield seats at PNC Park - that's about all I can probably afford. I continue to marvel at the cost of hockey tickets. When I was in high school, $10.00 got you round trip bus fare and a nosebleed seat for the Penguins, with spare change sufficient for a drink or popcorn. Now I doubt that you can park the car for that much.

The effort by the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL to make the Super Bowl a giant telephone booth, and try to stuff as many people into it as they could, turned into an epic fail, thanks in part to the Arlington Fire Department and their no-nonsense policy toward safety.

The NFL and the Cowboys were trying to surpass the record attendance for a Super Bowl, which was set at Super Bowl XIV at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena - the one with the Little Old Lady, not the one that used to have Gilley's. That 1980 game drew 103,985 people - this year's attempt to fill a $1 Billion sardine can in a giant freezer where North Texas should have been fell short by a mere 766.

The fans that paid premium prices for those unusable seats were peeved. Despite attempts by the NFL to mollify their grief with tickets to a future Super Bowl and other compensation, the weepy well-heeled were largely unimpressed, and with the assistance of drooling trial lawyers the lawsuits have started.

Serves the NFL and the Cowboys right. Among those 103,985 fans in Pasadena 31 years ago were myself, my brother, and my father. Some records were just meant to stand. That was the last NFL game I ever saw in person. It was fun jawing with some of the Rams fans that surrounded us, and it was a nice vantage point to see John Stallworth catch a beautifully thrown Bradshaw pass in stride for a 75-yard TD and the lead for good. Still, football is better on TV.

The last NBA game I ever saw in person was on December 9, 1988. I was in Salt Lake City for the inaugural International Conference of Emergency Medical Dispatch (now known as Navigator), and decided to spend one evening watching the Utah Jazz. I was a fan of their curmudgeonly coach, Frank Layden. The news cycle that evening was full of reports that Layden was stepping down to join the front office. His replacement, starting with that night's game, was Jerry Sloan.

Layden came out for a pre-game tribute and received a standing ovation. He remains very popular in the Salt Lake area to this day. The Jazz, whose roster included a rookie named John Stockton and some guy named Karl Malone, lost to the Dallas Mavericks that night.

Jerry Sloan remained the Head Coach of the Jazz until yesterday, completing the longest tenure of any current head coach in professional sports. He led the Jazz, with the familiar call of Stockton-to-Malone, to two NBA finals, and had the team in the playoffs the bulk of his coaching career.

He thanked the Miller family, majority owners of the Jazz, for their support and for their policy of allowing the coaches to manage the team with minimal interference. Sloan's success may not be defined by championships, but will be by the consistent, sustainable quality of his team's play over 23 years. There's something to be said about that philosophy.

Consider the Steelers, who despite Sunday's Super Bowl loss have had quite the run of quality teams over the last 40 years. This includes being a participant in 18% of all the Super Bowls ever played - 8 out of 45. Perhaps a lot of the credit for this belongs with the Rooney family's approach to hiring and supporting management, which sounds similar to the Jazz in that the Steelers, since 1969, have had exactly 3 head coaches - and all of them have won at least one Super Bowl.

Now to get back to my usual sports activities - rooting for the Pens (get well, everybody), and reading Tank McNamara - a hilarious comic strip that pokes fun at some of the hype and ridiculousness of the sports world today.

Have a good weekend.

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