Saturday, December 18, 2021

There Should be MORE Bowl Games, Not Fewer

Keep 'em coming!

I used to be you. I used to think that there were too many bowls. Heck, I even wrote about it right here saying all bowl matchups should be decided by the CFB Playoff Committee and that every bowl game should be required to feature at least one team from the top 30 of the rankings. And heck, I STILL feel that way. But I also have a counter-argument that makes more sense.

You see, whenever somebody proposes eliminating bowls, you know who gets screwed if it actually happens? The little guy. The school that never goes to bowl games. There will always be bowl games for Alabama and Clemson and Ohio State and Notre Dame and Oklahoma and you know, the big bads of college football.

We see 42 bowl games on the schedule and think "that's too many." But this isn't like the NFL where it's the same 32 teams playing 16 games every week, or the NBA where the Lakers are on national TV three times a week even though they suck. There are 84 different division one football programs playing a bowl game this year and they each get their stand-alone moment. Boise State gets their moment, UTEP gets their moment, Eastern Michigan gets their moment, Old Dominion gets their moment. Unless they're in the playoff, even the big bads only get one bowl game each.

This is why I've changed my mind about the bowl situation. For instance, UTEP is playing in the New Mexico Bowl. It is, shall we say, not the greatest bowl game of the 42 on the schedule. But this is just UTEP's 2nd bowl since 2010. They get to play in a bowl game. When you put it like that, it sounds a lot cooler, no matter what the bowl game is. There are plenty of UTEP football players who can't say that. For a lot of these dudes it will be the apex of their college football career, even if the stands are far from full and the result may not be great for them. 

And you want to take that away? You want to take away the bowl experience of one of the directional Michigan schools? Both Eastern and Western are in bowl games this year, they are a combined 2-14 in bowls. Eastern Michigan's only bowl win was the 1987 California Bowl (Anaheim Stadium) where they beat San Jose State. Western Michigan's only bowl win was the 2015 Bahamas Bowl against Middle Tennessee. Man, these guys deserve more chances at bowl games, not fewer.

A cheesy classic

We make fun of bowl games. We make fun of the fact that they had to create a bowl game for this year because more teams finished at .500 than expected and the bowl game they created, that will only happen once, is called the Frisco Football Classic and that is the truth. We make fun of early sponsored games like the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl (it's now the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl), and we make fun of the Liberty Bowl being in Memphis and I always point out that the Liberty Bowl started in Philadelphia and moved to Memphis and kept the same name and doesn't make that more sense and as long as you're making fun of the Liberty Bowl keeping that name may I point you to the Lakers once again?

But you know that if you ever met someone who played in the Frisco Football Classic or the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl or the Liberty Bowl (sponsored by AutoZone, by the way), you'd be like "oh, that's cool, you played in a bowl game!" (I am assuming you do not know any people who played college football, FYI). Now imagine you met an alum from Eastern Michigan football and when you asked them about their college career they said "Well we only went over .500 once and didn't go to a bowl because that was the year they eliminated 10 bowls... and (big bad having a bad year) took our spot so I never played in a bowl game."

Now, don't you think that Eastern Michigan lineman deserves his bowl game? Doesn't the Ball State punter or the Middle Tennessee safety or the UTEP tight end deserve his bowl game? Of course they do.   

Besides, you know what's better than watching a traditional college football powerhouse win a bowl game? A traditional college football powerhouse stumbling its way through a season and then getting thumped if they are fortunate enough to make a bowl game, even if it's a bad one. Can you imagine the buildup if Texas or USC made a bowl game this year? 

Heck, you don't have to. This year's Florida team is a perfect example. Despite wasting a boatload of talent and firing their coach and looking like they had no business finishing anywhere close to .500, they finished 6-and-6, and so they have stumbled their way to the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa where they will get thumped by UCF. LSU might be a better example, they're so bad they're playing in the bowl that's stupid enough to be played after New Year's Day but isn't a playoff game. But I guarantee you the hype for that game- because it's LSU- will be abnormally large. 

(Side note: if you scroll back far enough here, you'll see I used to do bowl previews for every game with a guest poster called "B.O.A.". We had a special category designation of bowl games that seemed like bigger cash grabs than usual. These were bowls that included teams from very close to the area and the matchup seemed like it should be happening during the regular season, not a bowl game. This year's Gasparilla Bowl most certainly qualifies as one of those cash grab bowls, as it is less than two hours from each team's campus.)

It's a Fiesta (Bowl Parade)!

Whether it's a Power Five Team or a mid-major making their first bowl appearance in years, these players get treated like kings at whatever bowl game they go to. We just see the televised portion of the bowl game. I promise you, every host committee makes sure both teams feel like royalty the week they are in town. The teams are paraded around, taken to what are considered awesome local landmarks and sites, and they are given free meals and swag. Is it always tremendous swag? Of course not. But it is swag selected especially for them by people who are glad they are in their city. Which is a lot better treatment than I've received on certain vacations that I have paid for. 

I only participated in one bowl game as a member of my school's marching band. I was in the town where the bowl was played for a week and there was a pep rally every day where the marching band was required to play. By the end of day six, did I recognize half the people at the rallies? Of course. But I noticed the rally crowds growing in anticipation of the game every time. Sure, the stands at the game may have been half empty, but there were at least five thousand alumni from each side in those stands. 

I also live in a large metro area that hosts a bowl game. Now, this bowl game has never been held in a full stadium. And I reckon that most of the locals don't know what day or time the game is. But a bowl game doesn't need all three million people to know what the hell is going on, it needs the fans of the participating teams to show up and do fan things. You get five thousand each, you're going to do just fine.  

 And remember when you're watching, you're watching a football player who gets to say they played in a bowl game. They may never play football again. They may never play football for a team this good ever again. But they did this time. Keep the bowls. All of them. Well, maybe not the Frisco Football Classic. 

but yes, the Sun Bowl stays!


Friday, November 19, 2021

Kansas Football: Still In Shock

The moment IT HAPPENED

I didn't bother doing a Kansas State review/Texas preview because why bother?

I mean, KU football couldn't score more than 10 points at home to a Kansas State squad that, let's face it, isn't that good.

What was going to happen at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, where KU had never won, ever?

Certainly not win.

And if they were to somehow win, it certainly was going to be a low-scoring affair. It certainly wasn't going to be some radical overtime shootout where KU led 35-14 at one point. It certainly wasn't going to be a game where the Jayhawks blew a two-touchdown lead in the final five minutes. It certainly wasn't going to be a game where they went for two in overtime and a walk-on who wasn't even considered a receiver that week during practice would catch the game-winning conversion.

Certainly not.

And then, after that, said walk-on certainly wouldn't take advantage of the new NCAA rules allowing players to get paid for endorsements. I mean, that would be absolutely mind-crushingly crazy.  

And yet, all of that happened. 

I saw the final few minutes of regulation and overtime. I haven't watched the highlights because I still don't believe it's real. I feel like if I do, the bubble will burst, the dam will open, the dream will end and yep, KU really lost to Texas by 40.

Yet everywhere I go, I see they won. In overtime. For the first time ever at Texas, who has now lost 5 in a row for the first time since 1956.

Let the dream continue.

photo courtesy: USA Today sports

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Kansas Football: Like Falling Off A Bicycle

Watch out for spiky plants
So, uh, I did say last time that this might happen.

I did hope that the KU football team would take that near win (close loss, whatever) to Oklahoma and be able to apply it to this week's game at Oklahoma State. But I also knew that the Cowboys had just seen their undefeated season come to an end on a controversial fourth down play, and I knew they would not come into this game complacent whatsoever. My optimistic prediction, you may recall, was that Kansas would cover the 30.5 point spread in Stillwater.

The final score was, uh, 55-3 Oklahoma State. That 30.5 point spread? Oklahoma State scored their fourth touchdown of the first half with just about 6 minutes to go to make it 31-nothing. Then, after KU went for in on 4th down from their own 34 (because at that point, whatever), the Cowboys scored again to make it 38-nothing. But after KU's 6th punt of the half, they sure stopped the Pokes! Okay, so that's because it was the end of the half, but hey, small victories. Go, clock, go!

I don't want to say the Hawks were "overconfident" after last week against Oklahoma, but I do assume they acted like people tend to act when they do something successfully after trying and trying and trying to accomplish that very thing. They get too excited that they are doing that thing successfully that they immediately screw up doing that thing.

The obvious cliche is riding a bicycle. After failing countless times to ride a bicycle successfully- sometimes you fall into a spiky plant in the yard, if I am going to, uh, choose an example that definitely didn't happen to me- when you finally get everything going at once and it just works its an "oh man this is so easy and it's fantastic" exhilaration that usually results in three seconds later of coming completely unglued and getting your feet tangled in the pedals and falling in a heap, hopefully not in a spiky plant. Again. But you also know what's going to happen eventually. Eventually, you are going to get that riding a bicycle exhilaration back, and you will be riding a bicycle successfully.

Anyway, last week was KU football's moments of exhilaration of "yeah, this is how football is supposed to go!" And this week was falling off the bicycle, as they have done so many times before. 

Elvis has left the building

The question, like it has been so many times before, is what happens now? Now's another chance to get on the bike and ride it successfully again. This week is the Sunflower Showdown at Memorial Stadium. Is Kansas State beatable? Well, as much as I'd like to think that yes, Kansas State is always beatable, they have beaten the Hawks 12 straight times, the longest streak in the series. And they have a guy who for a few hours seemed to have tied an NCAA record with six sacks in one game (that'd be Felix Anudike-Uzomah) only to see two of them taken away because they apparently happened across the line of scrimmage and therefore can't be sacks. 

Well, stopping that guy is clearly a challenge for a good offensive line, never mind one that was struggling to let anybody do anything against Oklahoma State. Since the greatest stats that tell you how an offensive line did are the QB's stats, KU starting QB Jason Bean was 3 of 10 for 10 yards in the first half against the Cowboys. (FYI: NOT GOOD) No first downs until the 3rd quarter. (FYI: SOMEHOW WORSE)

So is there hope to beat the Wildcats? Well, certainly less than last week, but there is still some because this KU team has shown it can ride the bicycle! Yes, it fell into the spiky plant against Oklahoma State, but now gets another chance to get up and ride again. Get up enough speed and watch out for the spiky plants. Find that exhilarating feeling again and don't get your feet tangled in the pedals.

photos courtesy: reddit, KUAthletics,businessinsider

Yep, feels kinda like that

Monday, October 25, 2021

Kansas Football: An Early Clue To The New Direction?

 

Does she know something about KU football that we don't?
The thing is, Kansas has actually won games like this before.

And usually when Kansas wins games like this, a head coach gets fired. You laugh at this, but the Jayhawks beat Texas in the second-to-last game of the 2016 season and that got Charlie Strong fired. The wikipedia for the 2016 Longhorns season say this, and I swear to you I didn't know it actually said this until I looked it up just now

"After a second-straight 5–7 season that included the Longhorns' first loss to Kansas since 1938, the University of Texas fired Charlie Strong at a morning meeting on November 26, 2016."

So, there it is. Kansas wins a game like this and career paths change.

But they didn't win this game. No, Kansas led number 3 Oklahoma 10-nothing at the half, had a chance to win the game with about 3 and a half minutes to go and Sooners QB Caleb Williams grabbed the ball from his own running back and saved Oklahoma's season on 4th and one.


Most bad teams get up for one game a year. Like the Charlie Strong game, Kansas is usually good for one of these close losses/fluke wins every couple of seasons. They're not like Purdue, or Indiana, or Pitt, or Iowa, who are guaranteed to crush somebody like this randomly every year. (The great Shutdown Fullcast/Spencer Hall calls Pitt "the Super Weapon" by the almost insane regularity that they do this to Top 10 teams).

So ordinarily I'd chalk this up to being "one of those games" and move on. But this feels different. I don't know if it's because the first year of the Lance Leipold experience has been weirdly promising in other areas. Yes, it started really oddly due to the Les Miles firing and all that. But when Leipold was hired, the quotes felt different from other first day head coach press conferences. Usually they say things like "Kansas football is great and I'm going to make it great before you know it." Leipold came in and basically said, "Yep, the team is terrible and I'm fully aware of this. I plan on making this better but this is not going to be easy."

As opposed to Charlie Weis or Les Miles or even David Beaty, who all promised "Kansas football is a sleeping giant" in one way or another- Weis boldly and completely wrongly, Miles with his "I'm going to prove I'm smarter than anybody else" grin, and Beaty with his "We are going to run through brick walls and make this better" proclamations, which I must admit I absolutely bought into and still think he got a raw deal-  Leipold's "promise" to only find ways to be less terrible seems to be working, at least right now. He did not promise to move mountains, he promised to move many small piles of dirt over and over and over and over until, hey, look at that, the mountain is in a different place.

This is why the Oklahoma game felt different. The Jayhawks did not take the lead against Oklahoma by taking advantage of fluke turnovers and busted punt returns, but methodically holding the ball for more than 35 minutes of a 60 minute game. KU got the opening kickoff and went 80 yards in 10 minutes, running 14 plays and culminating in a one-yard td. Oklahoma ran five plays and punted. KU then went 69 yards in 6 and a half minutes and 12 plays and kicked a field goal. By that point there were four minutes gone in the second quarter, it was 10-nothing KU and Oklahoma had run five plays total.

Your Charlie Weis' and Les Miles' would've gotten impatient with these KU drives and demanded weird trickery and burned everything to the ground with a triple-reverse-throwback. Leipold's offense stayed true to itself and chugged along.

Sure, Oklahoma had five second half drives and scored a touchdown on every one of them to end the day with 35 points. But three of those drives were 75 yards each and three of them took under 90 seconds. Not many teams are going to score touchdowns on five consecutive drives when they absolutely have to. 

Those stats alone show progress for Kansas. Oklahoma had to have a perfect second half and a crazy fourth down play to win the game. How many other programs are capable of having a perfect half when they absolutely have to have one? Alabama, probably. This year Georgia and future Big 12 member Cincinnati seem pretty capable. But that's about it. (Huh, maybe those should be the four playoff teams and screw Ohio State? But I digress.) There are plenty of teams in the Big 12 who aren't capable of that.

There's an argument going around that my hope for KU football is folly because "Oklahoma played their worst game of the year." I'm not disagreeing with you there. But a bad Oklahoma game is generally better than 90% of everybody else's best game. (It does explain why they're undefeated so far.) And you can also agree that KU played a great game against Oklahoma. If KU plays that well against practically anybody else, KU wins that game. Can we agree on that? The question becomes if they can repeat playing at that level. Was this game a fluke, or was it an early clue to the new direction? (by the way, that's my favorite under-the-radar quote from "A Hard Day's Night.")

Is Kansas capable of repeating this performance this year, and therefore winning some conference games to give the diehards some hope of a bowl game next year? Well, this week they're at a very mad Oklahoma State team that just got handed their first loss thanks to an iffy 4th down spot that they didn't get, unlike Caleb Williams and Oklahoma. Now if the Hawks can keep that game close for at least a half, it'll show everybody that hey, these piles of dirt are looking more like a hill. A small hill, but a hill nevertheless. The spread for this weekend is 30.5 points. If KU covers, and covers comfortably, we should consider a small hill built. 

And the week after that? It's a home game against a Kansas State team that has not looked particularly great this season (and still refuses to admit that the Bill Snyder era was the only time they would ever be nationally relevant).

Now that would be progress. Do you realize KU hasn't beaten K-State since 2008? That's 12 straight times? (That means K-State only needs to beat KU 15 more straight games to EVEN the all-time series record. Yep, KU was 27 games up before the streak started, 64-37. the series record is now 64-49.)

This seems like it would be a good year to start a new streak. That would be a big time clue to the new direction of KU football.



Thursday, September 9, 2021

Why Don't You Buy A Ferrari? Or, Sports Hot Takes Are Stupid

He knows he sucks. You're not helping.

 I don't listen to sports talk radio very often and I figured out another reason why a couple of days ago. I was listening and a caller said he knew how to fix Cody Bellinger's swing. He said the dodgers should hire their old pitching coach from Cincinnati and then and I'm quoting here, "Sit Cody down for a week to figure it out."

This is mind-boggling on several levels. For openers, the first guy who knows that Cody Bellinger has a swing problem is Cody Bellinger. Because he's the guy who sucks! He knows that he is not hitting the ball very well and he is using all the opportunities open to him to try and fix his swing. If you think that he is not going and looking at video of every pitch of every bat as soon as possible you are nuts. He is looking on the flight, he is looking on the team bus, he is looking while he's at dinner, he's looking while in the Uber back from dinner to the hotel, he is looking instead of watching new Ted Lasso episodes. He is staring at his swing for hours and hours a week. He is trying to not swing at that inside pitch that is his kryptonite. But he does anyway. And then he stares at the video and wonders why. He wishes he could not do that.

If you think that fixing a swing takes one week, then you have never tried to fix a swing. If you think it takes a week to overhaul a swing, buddy, I have new NFT's for you and trust me these are gonna be great! It takes months to fix a swing. It takes an entire off season. It takes discipline. It takes breaking old habits and re-establishing new ones. Saying "It'll take a week to fix it" is the equivalent of saying "You should lose 10 pounds by Friday" and I don't care if tomorrow is Friday when you read this. It's impossible. And getting the old hitting coach- Turner Ward, if you're up on former Dodger hitting coaches- is not going to change anything just because Ward was his hitting coach during his MVP year.

This is an example of the problems I have with sports hot takes, which are all along the lines of "team x or player x should do this and it'll fix everything." Teams spend more time than you ever thought possible analyzing their team and the moves they could make to get just a little better. It is their job! How many hours do you spend at your job and how many hours do you spend thinking about how to fix "your" team at every position? Because every position change you make has consequences on the entire rest of the team. And then there is a whole new list of issues you have to deal with. Salary cap, locker room, how others feel about it. Good coaches, executives and players have left teams because of one move. One. I guarantee that a team has come up with the idea that you have come up with and have decided not to do it for one reason or another.

There are lots of things that teams do not tell us about decisions that they make. It is basically the equivalent of going to work. If I went to your work and looked at your job for five minutes and said well why don't you do it this way? And why don't you fire that guy, he sucks? And why don't you give her a raise? And why doesn't she get a promotion? Why do you not work for her?

At some level you're going to say yeah, but. And you're going to have so many reasons why none of that has happened. You're either going to say how none of that can happen or you're going to not give me a straight answer on why it can't happen. Because you often can't give me the real answer on why none of that can happen. It's office politics or seniority or people you don't want to tick off or any number of things that you simply don't want me to know about. They exist in every office, and they exist on every sports team. Your answer is the equivalent of Dodgers manager Dave Roberts explaining why they don't you bench Cody Bellinger for a week.

The other thing is that any sure fire suggestion to fix any team, whether that's benching Cody Bellinger or starting Trey Lance over Jimmy Garoppolo or trading CJ McCollum for Ben Simmons- is that it's the equivalent of me going to you, assuming you are my friend and I know you reasonably well, and saying...

Why don't you buy a Ferrari?

Because the truth is right now you probably could buy a Ferrari. RIGHT NOW. 

I reckon that if you have any sort of regular income and halfway decent credit you could go get an online loan right now from somewhere and find a Ferrari dealership that is willing to let you put a deposit down on a Ferrari and become a Ferrari owner within the hour.

So why don't you?

There are a lot of reasons why you don't. They are called "the consequences." The payments are the first big issue. I imagine a Ferrari on a payment plan is about $4k a month. Do you have an extra $4k a month to keep up with the payments for your new eggplant colored Ferrari? You possibly could- if you had no other responsibilities to pay for. If there are no kids or significant other you care for.

Let's say the money isn't an issue. $4k a month is no problem. Fine. Where would you park the Ferrari? Where does it sit overnight? Do you have a garage? Are you in an apartment parking lot? Is it outdoors? Or are you parking on the street? How's your neighborhood? Because that's where your Ferrari will be parked.

no worries parking this here, right?

Then you have to drive the Ferrari. If it's your only car, you have to drive it everywhere you drive to right now. Where did you go to this week? You drive it to work. You drive it to the grocery store. You drive it to the gym. How big is your family? A Ferrari seats two. Will your significant other be okay taking their car every time you go on a family outing? Will your significant other be ok giving up their space in the garage so you can park your Ferrari there? If your Ferrari is in the garage there's still everything else in the garage. Kids bicycles. Random garage stuff. Washer. Dryer. Skis. What if one of your kids bangs their bicycle into the Ferrari? What happens then?

You see, there are a lot of issues when I say "Why don't you buy a Ferrari?" So remember the next time you come up with these great ideas to improve your sports team, like benching Cody Bellinger for a week so he can fix his swing, it's as about as realistic as you buying a Ferrari.

You still want to buy a Ferrari?

photos courtesy: OCRegister/AP, Blog.Dupontregistry.com, Pixy.org, GlobalNews/AP

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Crowds Will Come Back, Sooner Than You Think

"It'll be a long time before I go to an event with a big crowd again."

First of all, that's a lie. The big crowds will be back, sooner than you think. And you'll be back, sooner than you think. While Alabama is planning on full crowds at Bryant-Denny Stadium this fall, The Texas Rangers are going to have no seating restrictions and potentially a full house at their season opener in a matter of weeks.

The proof of attendance jumping quickly after a pandemic is easy to find, because it's what happened 100 years ago during the last pandemic. I could go back to the plagues in the 1500's that are described almost off-handedly in the book I'm reading about the Renaissance and that the theatre continued most places, but sports attendance is the most relatable.

More stadiums were built in the five years following the 1918 pandemic then at any other time in American Sports History. There were dozens. Lots of them are still around, and most of them are considered iconic.

Yankee Stadium, Opening Day, April 1923
Yankee Stadium, Opening Day, April 18, 1923

Three of them, just for a start: The Rose Bowl, the original Yankee Stadium, and whichever other college football stadium is your favorite. You may think I'm being flippant in that regard, but 17 college football stadiums built between 1919 and 1924 are still in use. 

Among them? Ohio Stadium, LSU's Tiger Stadium, Neyland Stadium, the L.A. Coliseum, Spartan Stadium, Stanford Stadium, and nearly anything named Memorial Stadium (Cal, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, etc.). I didn't even count Solider Field and it was built in 1924.

14 more great college stadiums still in use were built by 1930. Legion Field, Bryant-Denny, Michigan Stadium, Kinnick, Sanford. The first proper build-out of Kyle Field to make it a stadium happened in 1927 and therefore counts here since I'm making the list. 

A mere 13 total stadiums still in use were built in the entire decade of the 1930's, including Notre Dame Stadium.

As a track and field fan I would be remiss not to mention Oregon's famed Hayward Field, originally built mostly as a football venue for the Ducks, but gaining more fame in the track world- that opened in 1919, too.

More great stadiums were built in that 1919-1924 era found the wrecking ball. In addition to the Original Yankee Stadium, there's Kansas City's Mulebach Field/Municipal Stadium, opened in 1923. West Virginia's original Mountaineer Field opened in 1924. The original Memorial Stadium in Baltimore opened in 1922. Minnesota's Memorial Stadium, home to the Golden Gophers during their glory years in the 30's and 40's, opened in 1924. San Francsico's Kezar Stadium, the original home of the 49ers and Raiders, took a year to build and opened in 1925. Pitt Stadium where Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino first garnered national attention, took less than a year to build and opened in 1925.

When the Yale Bowl opened in the fall of 1914, it was the biggest stadium in America at a 70,000 capacity. Hardly a venue in America even approached 50,000 spectators at that point and the biggest stadiums were all baseball parks. Consider the now-iconic venues built between 1909-1914- Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park, Tiger Stadium, Forbes Field, Ebbets Field. None of them surpassed 40,000. Fenway was one of the biggest at 35,000, a number they are still pretty much at today and the park is considered small. 

1911 World Series at the Polo Grounds

New York's famed Polo Grounds was considered a huge ballpark at the time, and it was, size-wise, with its unique horseshoe shape resulting in a center field fence varying from 460 to 480 feet from home plate. Burnt almost completely to the ground in early 1911, it was completely rebuilt by that summer (permits? regulations? what are those?) and an "overflow crowd" was considered 38,000. The Yale Bowl blew by every stadium mentioned, in some cases double the capacity (or more than, as Comiskey Park's official capacity was about 30,000) and set the standard. The pandemic freaked people out about distancing, just like right now. Games were still played then, but attendance was smaller. The 1918 World Series didn't have one game with more than 20,000 people watching because of WWI issues and the burgeoning sickness. 25,000 were at the 1919 Rose Bowl but that was the max capacity of Tournament Park, the Rose Bowl's predecessor.

As soon as people could take off a mask, developers built stadiums, perhaps almost on speculation. Those builders were rewarded handsomely as crowds poured into their new concrete bowls, ushering in an era of massive attendance at spectator sports that still exists today. A crowd of 20,000 was considered really good anywhere in the 1910's. By 1924, five years after that pandemic, it was considered quaint- and still is to this day.

Stanford Stadium was built in 5 months in 1921 and and opening day capacity was 68,000, just under the Yale Bowl for biggest stadium in America at the time. Soon, 75,000 and even 80,000 was out there. The L.A. Coliseum opened at 75,000 in 1923. Yankee Stadium opened at 58,000 and got to 82,000 max by 1927. Nobody was concerned about social distancing by then. 

Considering how many minor league baseball teams there were in America, it would be reasonable to assume that lots of smaller minor league ballparks were built in the early 1920's. In 1922, according to baseball-reference, there were 31 minor leagues in the USA. At 8 teams a league, that's 248 teams. So it's not unreasonable to assume that there were 200 small ballparks in America, and a great deal of them were built during this stadium boom. 

But it's one thing to reason that and another thing to find proof. Wikipedia is not the greatest source for finding proper building dates for anything. And if that ballpark has been turned into something besides a ballpark, it may not be listed properly. Even baseball-reference is sketchy. Sure, they have the roster for the Western Association's 1923 Springfield (Missouri) Midgets, and even the roster and some stats- even if they link to improper biographies. But a stadium? No chance. Checking the Enid (Oklahoma) Harvesters, no stadium listed there but the Wiki says they played at Association Park, built in 1920. But there's no page for Association Park, nor does it make the "defunct baseball venues in the United States" category page. How many of these hidden former parks are there? How many were built between 1919-1924? Uh, I'm going to say a lot.

Indoor stadiums are much more difficult to find and verify. Any big venue that could hold a basketball floor was used as a basketball stadium. If a big barn was built between 1919-1924, it more than likely hosted a basketball game at some point. And then, if it saw an opportunity, it probably added pipes under the floor and hosted a hockey game. Of course an ice arena was built in Minneapolis at this time (the Minneapolis Arena, opening in 1924 and holding 5,500, and a second came in 1927). One of the oldest indoor arenas still going is Waterloo, Iowa's Hippodrome- opened in 1919. The actual Hobey Baker Arena opened for Princeton hockey in January, 1923.

More incredibly, one of the most famous golf courses, Pebble Beach Golf Links, opened in February 1919, meaning it was designed and built DURING the pandemic. But not much happened in the racing world.The Indy Motor Speedway, originally built in 1909, had 80,000 people at the first 500 in 1911, but those were spread out amongst a 2-and-a-half mile track, not 100 yards of a football stadium, and that capacity was relatively unchanged until after World War II.

Conservatively I'd say at least 100 stadiums were built in those five years from 1919-1924. Lots of them don't exist any more, but at least a quarter of them do. Five years after a major pandemic, more people were crowded together watching sports than ever before in America and hardly thought anything about it.

Simply, you'll be back, really soon. And so will everybody else.

photos courtesy: Library of Congress Bain Collection, LOC Prints and Photo Collection

Rose Bowl official opening, Jan. 1, 1923, USC vs Penn State

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

McCartney III, An Album From An Artist With Nothing to Prove

Paul McCartney has nothing left to prove.

He's a musical icon, not just a rock icon, so there's no reason he has to push the edges of music any more. Which is exactly why his latest album, "McCartney III," is solid but not spectacular. I listened to it and I can't find any reason to listen to it again, not because it was bad but because it didn't move me to listen to it again.

The issue comes from the title, "McCartney III." The only thing it has in common with the first two albums is that he plays all the instruments (the first two with an assist from Linda).

The most important thing that's missing on the new album is the energy that's on the first two. There's a push, a bit of "I'll show them" that's not there. It's not really a problem, it's just that with nothing to prove there's no edge. The resulting new album is completely decent, but it's missing what made McCartney great, what made The Beatles great, and even made Wings great. There's nothing as weirdly wonderful as "Temporary Secretary," there's nothing like the criminally underappreciated "Momma Miss America."

All three albums are connected spiritually because all three came about by accident. The first McCartney came about because he wondered if he could still be a successful musician without the Beatles, and he recorded a bunch of tracks in his house to see if he could. Only late in the process did he, with a big push from wife Linda, re-record some of them in a real studio, give them professional polish and release a album. The second McCartney came about because he was really intrigued by the new electronica and punk sounds of the late 70's and recorded a bunch of tracks in his house to see if he could adapt to the new sounds. Only late in the process, after being arrested in Japan for weed and the resulting dissolution of Wings, did he release an album. The third one? Stuck at home for most of 2020, just like the rest of us.

Take the first track on each album, still an important thing in order to declare the tone of where an artist is going to go musically for the next 40 to 50 minutes. The opening track of "McCartney" is "Lovely Linda," the very first thing he recorded when he bought a portable four-track recorder and began to try and make music by himself. It is like dropping in on a friend noodling with an acoustic guitar trying out chords. Linda opens the squeaky door to the room in the middle of the take and it ends with him getting the giggles. "McCartney II" opens with "Coming Up," a brisk, pop hit that started with Paul noodling around on the drum kit and building up the song bit by bit. He manipulated the hell out of his voice and every piece of instrumentation. It sounds like Paul, yet it doesn't. (John Lennon said this song, with the manipulated Paul voice, made him want to record music again, and he did.) The music video, by the way, is a big declaration that it's a solo work- it's a a band consisting of nine Paul McCartneys and two Lindas, pretty clever video work for the time. (And it starts with a spotlight on the drummer, a nod to how it began.)

The first track of "McCartney III" is "Long Tailed Winter Bird." It starts with an acoustic guitar playing a riff, and then a second acoustic guitar adds some rhythm to it. This goes on for a while, showing a sparseness. Other guitars come in and out. Then those drop out and an electric guitar does an eight bar riff before Paul comes in, repeating a vocal riff of "do you miss me." Then the drums and bass kick in, and the opening riff returns with some augmentation. It is clearly another kind of build up song for Paul, starting with a riff and a tempo and going on from there. But if you didn't know anything about how the album came about, you'd dismiss it almost immediately, for it's not incredibly memorable.   

The thing is, 50 years ago when he made the first "McCartney" it was weird for someone to make a record all by themselves. In fact, it was still a fairly new technology. Going back and adding guitars or piano or double-tracking vocals had been impossible to do for the first decades of recorded music. Adding a second track had only really been around since the late 1940's, but was not used as a regular thing until the mid-50's and was still looked down upon until The Beatles made it okay for everyone to do all the time. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"- made on an eight-track machine, meaning you could add at least seven different things, ushered in a time when people took it to the next level, and continue to increase those levels today. Heck, because of the ease of computer voice manipulation and the ability to do 256 or more tracks, some songs today, if not most, use a different take for every single word of the lyrics.

So while innovative to be completely solo in 1970 and 1980, in 2020 doing things by yourself is not only recommended during the Covid-19 pandemic but encouraged. Basically, if you are on social media you have more resources available to make music right now than Paul McCartney did as a professional musician unintentionally making his debut solo album in late 1969. So "McCartney III," technology-wise, is nothing that any amateur musician can't do by themselves. If you're still in doubt about that, watch this, which is perhaps the best stay-at-home music video of 2020, which makes it perhaps the best music video of 2020. 

"McCartney" came out of Paul wondering if he could still make music without John, George and Ringo. "McCartney II" came out of Paul experimenting with all the new sounds and showing how weird he could be. "McCartney III" came out of Paul being stuck at home in 2020. He doesn't have anything to prove except he could still make music, and in 2020 that's enough. It's not great, and you would probably have a better time listening to the first two, but it's here and that's enough.


McCartney album photos: paulmccartney.com