At the end of the Beatles’ epic run together, they jointly acknowledged in the song “Carry That Weight” that anything they would accomplish in the future would be judged against the lofty standards they had created as a group. That’s probably one of the tougher benchmarks against which you could hold yourself to be measured, the bar there being slightly higher than it is for Bulldog Burrito in its efforts to produce a better $17 burrito than did MexiCali Grille. Either way, in a lot of cases it is impossible to judge something simply on its own merit — it can only be viewed in light of its relationship to something else.
Look at the University of Texas and a potentially embattled coach who could be on his way out despite never having won fewer than nine games during his tenure in Austin, but who has probably done just enough to alienate even the biggest Longhorn booster. Mack Brown lost plenty of supporters a few years back when he decided to bench hometown boy Major Applewhite in favor of transplant Chris Simms, but his real fatal flaw is his propensity to turn the Red River Shootout into a bloodbath with his team being massacred by Oklahoma.
Saturday, Bob Stoops for the fifth year in a row made Brown the Nelson de la Rosa to his Pedro Martinez, that is, someone he has domesticated and can carry around showing off to his buddies as a cute little object of both amusement and pity. Last year, Stoops led his team to a 52-point win. This year, he unleashed freshman back Adrian Peterson on Texas (a kid who, thanks to the path paved by Maurice Clarett, can safely avoid making a misguided charge into the NFL) and led his troops to shutting out Texas for the first time since 1980.
No matter how well Texas finishes (and going by Brown’s history you can almost guarantee a 10-2 season with no conference title and a berth in the Cotton or Holiday Bowl), the coach’s profile will again be marred by his inability to get it done in a matchup with Oklahoma — the one game on the schedule by which a Texas coach is evaluated. By definition, a “shootout” should at least suggest both sides firing a salvo of sorts — in a state not known to be shy about use of firearms, Brown has yet to give his team any ammo against the Sooners, and fans used to cheering “Hook ’em Horns” may soon be calling for Mack to get that hook himself.
Terry Francona is in a doubly difficult position this upcoming week. Like Mack, he’s leading his charges into battle with an opponent against which his success determines his ultimate fate. Moreover, Boston fans will be scrutinizing each move he either makes or doesn’t make more rigorously than Lynne Cheney scrutinizes John Kerry’s adorable and clearly natural tan, especially after the way Francona’s predecessor managed his team out of Game 7 of last year’s ALCS.
I’ll refrain from going into an all-out diatribe here, but suffice it to say that Francona has a bunch of ways (Mike Myers facing anyone not named Matsui, Doug Mientkiewicz taking away at-bats in close games from Kevin Millar, falling victim to anti-Moneyball playoff propaganda that small ball is the way to win in October, even with a team that scored 900 runs eschewing the bunt and other techniques the purists love and the sabermetricians loathe) to forever alienate his constituency. I don’t think I’m quite emotionally prepared for tonight.
The benchmark doesn’t necessarily have to be an opposing team or a predecessor — it can be a fellow criminal! Kobe Bryant’s performances on the days he flew from Colorado to Los Angeles after legal hearings (historic all season but epic in his 42-point effort in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals against Bruce Bowen and the Spurs) really set the bar high for coming through huge in the midst of courtroom wrangling, but that hasn’t stopped people from really aiming high and trying to emulate him.
Displaying tremendous heart and a valiant gamesmanship, two notables have recently refused to refrain from shooting for the stars despite impending jail sentences. Rafael Furcal, scheduled to begin a 21-day stint behind bars as soon as Atlanta’s post-season run is over, heroically rose above his second drunk-driving arrest in four years to belt a walk-off home run for the Braves in Game 2 of their Division Series with Houston. Not to be outdone, Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis ran for 116 yards Sunday night in a win over Washington despite reaching a plea on Thursday that will leave him incarcerated for six months once his season ends.
God bless the American criminal justice system for being sympathetic enough to allow these two to enhance the viewing enjoyment of the paying customer and to not ruin the carefully-constructed fantasy league rosters of scores of devoted Americans. If I worked at Parker Brothers, I’d modify “Monopoly” to include a “You Sign Multi-Million-Dollar Sports Contract — Get Out Of Jail Temporarily” card. You know, because the rich should get richer.
Somehow I feel like I should tie this back to Yale sports, but I think it’s self-evident that if The Game goes Harvard’s way again, Jack Siedlecki will have some explaining to do. Leave it to Wayne Campbell to offer the final word on the misfortune of constantly being compared to something else: “Ah yes, it’s a lot like ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ — in many ways it’s superior but will never be as recognized as the original.” Then again, that doesn’t really apply to much anything I just said. Does that look like spit to you? Ehh —