Geometry, Geography, And Prep Football

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I was paying attention this past weekend to the Florida high school playoffs with a little bit more interest than I usually do. My alma mater of Largo High in Largo (where else?) has made the “lightning round” of the football season for the first time in a few years, winning its district and going 7-2 in a nine-game regular season. (A 10th game was scrapped due to Hurricane Irma in September.) On top of that, the FHSAA revamped its playoff format beginning this season, rewarding the non-district winning teams that play a tougher schedule first and foremost, regardless of what records the teams put up. Each region is made up of four districts, so it’s possible five teams could come out of a single district in its current format. Plus, you get bonus standings points for playing teams above your classification on top of that.

Schools from Pinellas County, whether they are private or public, have never won a state title in football, and Largo has never had a state championship team in a strictly team against team sport. They drew the #3 seed against Barron Collier High from Naples, the #6 seed, and Largo’s Packers came out on top, 27-24.

The outcome is somewhat significant, and I thought explaining why would make a good topic here. What happens to these local high school teams is that they are somewhat victims of their geography, and perhaps to a greater extent, geometry. Assuming the level of talent in the state is relative, what winds up happening is when a Pinellas school goes and plays a team from a smaller area, it usually winds up on the short end of the scoreboard.

Say you have two boxes of pizza, and you’re given the option of having one slice in twelve of a larger pizza or one slice in four of a slightly smaller pizza. Assuming you’re hungry, you’d eat that slice that’s 25% of the smaller pizza, right? These teams in slightly smaller markets like Sarasota and Fort Myers usually wind up with more talent and more depth if starters get hurt, and they usually wind up winning these games 80-90% of the time. Good coaching and luck play into this as well, mind you, plus these “gems” of players that wind up playing on Sundays a few years down the road.

Whats happened in the new century is that these smaller cities are beginning to get a rise in their population, so these school’s respective talent is dropping off. More high schools are needed because there are more children in these cities needing their education (much more important than football), so with time and with population booms in parts of the state, the playing field is being leveled. Twenty years ago, a Barron Collier type team would have an easy time with Largo, even though they went 5-5 and Largo went 7-2 and had home-field advantage. Now, the randomness works evenly for both areas.

I think it’s a safe bet a Pinellas team finally wins a state football title by 2030. Heck, it might even happen this season with a few teams still alive heading to the second round in a few days.

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The Return Of Chucky?

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At the start, it looked like it was going to be a good season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as they won two of their first three games. Then, as it often does in recent years, the roof of reality caved in, with the Bucs losing to the Saints 30-10 for their fifth straight loss.

(Foot note: Yes, I actually watched the NFL yesterday. I went six weeks without over the whole kneeling controversy, plus week one here in Tampa Bay got wiped out by Hurricane Irma. I think it’s impossible the league didn’t notice, so it’s time to declare victory and move on with baseball season now over and done with.)

When a team underachieves, the sports punditry begins to speculate. Will this lead to the current head coach, Dirk Koetter, being forced out? If so, who will the Bucs hire next?

Since Jon Gruden was fired after the 2008 season, the Bucs have hired four head coaches. They tried the “capable assistant coach” approach with both Koetter and Raheem Morris. They tried the “proven college head coach” approach with Greg Schiano. They tried the “former Super Bowl coach” approach with Lovie Smith, all of which failed. (Six head coaches have taken two teams to the Super Bowl, but none have won the big game with two different teams.)

With the coaching carousel never ending here in Tampa, some got to wondering if Jon Gruden, the only Bucs head coach to make and win the Super Bowl fifteen seasons ago, would take the job in 2018. Gruden’s been in the booth for ESPN calling Monday Night Football games, with the hot rumor being he’d take the job if offered.

As good as the idea sounds and looks on paper, I think it’s a terrible idea. I’ve always argued that the Bucs winning it all in 2002-2003 was with a team Tony Dungy and Rich McKay had built, not Gruden, as he was just there to close the deal. It was a stroke of luck that they played Oakland in the Super Bowl that season, the team Gruden formerly coached. For whatever reason, the Bucs couldn’t parlay that success into a dynasty, as the Patriots have the last couple of decades.

Finally, it was my observations in the 2000’s that Gruden doesn’t mesh with his quarterbacks sometimes, seeming to micromanage them. Putting him back in as head coach with Jameis Winston as his quarterback could wind up being an absolute disaster. Winston is a capable hand who puts up good stats, but it seems to me he gets lost out there in key moments and winds up making bonehead plays. A taskmaster type coach like Gruden sounds like a good fit, but I think it’s more likely there could be a clash of personalities.

Hopefully, the Bucs get off the Gruden bandwagon, but knowing how the Glazers think, it’s possible the wagon has already left the station.

Game 7 From Another Dimension

With the help of the 18th edition of Out Of The Park Baseball, I’ve been running my own 2017 season all year long. I was the “general manager” of the Tampa Bay Rays, while the computer controlled the other 29 teams. I thought I did well getting the Rays to go 85-78 (in my sim, they beat Houston in a playoff for the last wild card spot, then lost to the Twins in the wild card play in game) with a team that went 80-82 in real life.

What I found interesting about my specific simulation was that it correctly predicted six of the ten playoff teams that made it this season. It had the Red Sox, Indians, Twins, Cubs, Nationals, and Dodgers right, while the Rangers, Rays, Mets, and Reds all made the playoffs in the sim while not making it for real.

The World Series in my sim went seven games. I type this on Tuesday afternoon, so either Houston won the world championship last night (as you see this) or the real life Series went the full seven games.

Ma And Pa Pinstripe

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It’s late on a Saturday night as I type this, and if I guess correctly what’s to come in the next few minutes, the Houston Astros will take on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series beginning on Tuesday. The Astros are the first team, thanks to realignment, to go to the World Series representing each league, while the Dodgers made their first Series since their dramatic upset of Oakland in 1988.

With the help of the Tunein premium service, I listened to about half of the playoffs on the radio. Most of that time I spent listening to the Yankees games off of their radio network, with the branding of WFAN, the top sports station of the Big Apple. I found the broadcasts hosted by John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman strangely entertaining as the young squad made a run the stopped a game short of the American League championship.

Sterling I remembered from his days with the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks of the NBA. One night in particular stands out in my mind: the night Rick Camp, a relief pitcher, hit his only career home run to extend a marathon battle between the Braves and Mets on July 4, 1985.

Waldman is the only woman currently serving as a play-by-play or color commentator in the major leagues on a day-to-day basis. It’s somewhat interesting to hear their banter, and how they interact, and sometimes get in each others way.  With Sterling nearing 80, and Waldman in her 70’s, I do wonder how long they’ll stay a team. Reviewing some Yankee fan sites, a lot of Yankee fans don’t seem to like the pairing, but I didn’t mind them.

Congrats to the Dodgers and Astros, and may the best team take it all in a few short days.

The Art Of The Score

I’ve now gone through the last four weeks without watching an NFL game. On the whole issue of the kneeling before the national anthem before an NFL game, I just happen to believe the President is right. There are other ways for these great athletes to air their grievances than to show disrespect for the country they reside in. Every week they kneel is a week I won’t watch.

That being said, I still pay attention in other forms. One Twitter feed I recently discovered is called Scorigami. This will take a bit of explaining, so get comfy.

My fascination with the uniqueness of football scores goes back to August 29, 1980. On that night, my mom and dad took me to Tampa Stadium for a preseason game between the Bucs and Redskins. The Bucs won the game 11-6, an odd score in the era before the NFL instituted the two point conversion. Prior to that night, the Bucs never scored a safety in any game in their history. That night, they scored two safeties in ONE game. If it were a regular season game, it would have been a Scorigami, but they only count regular season and postseason games.

Some of you might remember the Bucs played a 11-6 game in 2000, but were on the losing end of the NFC Championship that year to the St. Louis Rams. That officially made that particular score a Scorigami – no such score has occurred since then.

Football games often have final scores that are frequently seen. For example, a 21-14 game is a pretty common score. In fact, there are just over 1,000 different final score combinations that have ever occurred in an NFL game dating back to 1920. Keep in mind with 32 teams playing 16 games, there are 256 games presently played each year.

Did you forget to divide by two?

A Scorigami occurs when a final score is rendered that has never taken place before. For instance, the Saints just beat the Lions last week 52-38. That was what the feed considers a Scorigami, since that was the first time that score had occurred when the game ended.

The most unique Scorigami out there would probably be some combination with a 4 in it. In American football, a team scoring two safeties, two defensive two point conversions or one of each – that’s very rare. It’s only happened once in NFL history back in 1923 when the league was still in its infancy, with the Chicago Cardinals beating the Racine Legion 10-4.

There’s a rarer bird out there, and it ever happens in my lifetime, I’ll be amazed: a team scoring 1 point in a game.

But enough of my geekery.

The Great Crepitation Contest Of 1946

There was a lot of sad news this past week, and with the current headlines striking no resemblance to good news or no end to current controversies, I thought you all could use a laugh – I know I can use one. I know this is in a bit of poor taste, but considering what passes for good taste these days, I didn’t think most of you would mind.

(This was originally referred to on here back on December 27, 2011, back in the infancy of this blog. I thought it was worth mentioning again.)

I used to hear Neil Rogers play this bit around the holidays (either Thanksgiving or Christmas), to fill some airtime. Listeners would be busy with their lives (or not – Neil used to openly fear that those who listen to him live vicariously through him) around those times, or perhaps making travel plans to visit friends and family those times of the year. He wouldn’t get too many calls, and the calls he’d get around the holidays would request to hear this bit, as it had become a staple of the “Neilies” of that time who’d listen to his midday shows on WIOD (simulcasted up here in Tampa on WSUN for a time, which is how I heard of it) and later WQAM.

This was recorded in 1946, mind you. (I thought for sure when I first heard the bit it was recorded in the 50’s, maybe even the early 60’s.) World War II had ended the year before, and radio was still the medium of choice. Televisions were around, but really wouldn’t become a common medium for up to another decade. Up in Canada, CBC sportscaster Sidney S. Brown and producer Jules Lipton recorded this up in Toronto as an in-house practical joke. But the recording somehow made the rounds, becoming a novelty party record of its era. I couldn’t imagine Joe Buck or Bob Costas having the chutzpah to pull something like this off, but it worked for Mr. Brown, I suppose.

Oh – if you haven’t figured out what crepitating is, it will become clear once the “contest” gets going.

Banana Nose

With the passing of so many in Las Vegas and the passing that has affected many in rocker Tom Petty, I wanted to make sure that Lance Russell’s passing was also mentioned.

Many of you who didn’t follow wrestling back in the day might wonder who he was if you didn’t follow that region of the country closely. I could understand that, because before the advent of cable TV took flight in the 80’s, wrestling was a regional enterprise. Before the expansion of pro sports to every little big city, if you lived in most parts of the country, you probably had wrestling cards near you every week or so.

Lance was to the Memphis area and it’s surrounding markets what Gordon Solie was if you lived in Florida and Georgia. Russell is heavily regarded as one of the best commentators of all time, and for good reason. A good wrestling commentator is a good straight man, somebody who tends to appreciate the heroes but can act a bit brusquely to the villains.

In other words, you let both “sides” play their roles and stay out of the way, keeping interjections rare but to the point when such a point needs to be made.

Lance was probably best known for his work during Jerry Lawler’s feud with TV star Andy Kaufman in the 1980’s. For many years, many fans didn’t realize that their feud was scripted, mainly because the story line had great chemistry to it. It wasn’t hard to believe that the wrestler and the actor could hate each other’s guts, and when you have that and it appears authentic, people want to pay to see it.

The best feuds sell themselves, and the best commentators make something bad good, and something good great.

In the 90s, the Memphis territory became a circuit of its own, the USWA. It was kind of a minor league to the WWF of the time, a good place to catch new stars on the way up, and bigger stars the chance to refine their skills before maybe catching another big break. The shows would air here in Tampa on Saturday afternoons on the relatively new Channel 38, a way for them to fill air time here.

RIP, Lance. You were one of the best in your field, adored by many.