American Sports Blog, Alex Beazley-Long on American Sport
St. Louis Grabs the Headlines
What a week to be from St Louis! It’s not often you get to utter such a statement, let alone put it in (virtual) print. The Midwestern town has been mired in sporting anonymity of late but two miracles occurred in a matter of days this week to put it firmly on the map. First of all the St Louis Cardinals capped off their dream run in the postseason by defeating the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the World Series on Saturday and then the previously winless St Louis Rams rocked the NFL by beating the previously revered New Orleans Saints 31-21 Sunday afternoon.
While AJ Feely, in the absence of 2010’s Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford, leading the Rams to their first victory of the season was unlikely enough, it pales in comparison to the achievement of the Cardinals. In September they were five games back in the wild card race with 15 games to play, essentially out of the playoffs. The likelihood of them even playing games in October was so low that the MGM Grand in Las Vegas put the odds of a 2011 World Series victory at 999/1.
But even back then a Series victory seemed more likely than on Friday night. Leading 3-2 overall and 7-5 on the night, the Texans were one pitch away from their ever first championship. But then up stepped David Freese. In one of the clutchest performances in sporting history, Freese spanked a double to deep right to send the game to extra innings before crushing a walk-off home run to win the game in the 11th inning, sending the crowd in St Louis absolutely mental. Words cannot describe the tension though, so I implore you to watch the highlights, they’ll send shivers down your spine. Unbelievable scenes. The Cardinals then went on to wrap up their second title in five years on Saturday night with a 6-2 win, but people won’t remember that game, or any of the other games, instead they will remember the heroics of one David Freese.
With the release and subsequent Oscar buzz for the Brad Pitt film Moneyball, the media attention surrounding the epic collapses of the Red Sox and Braves, and the first World Series to be tied at 3-3 since 2002, America’s once favourite sport seems to be making a comeback. This past World Series was the perfect advert for the game, a riveting back and forth contest with excellent defence and offense from both sides. However all of this did not contribute to ratings. Whilst Game 7 was the most watched World Series game since 2004, drawing in 25 million viewers, the first five games of the series struggled to bring in more than 15 million, the same amount of people that watch The Big Bang Theory every week. Yes, Baseball is less popular than The Big Bang Theory. Gutted.
The sport is evidently on an upward trend though, and somehow manages to keep a sense of parity despite the Yankees and Red Sox spending muscle. Though any series without their massive payroll and fanbases will ultimately be a ratings a dud, a fact that will remain unless the MLB makes major attempts to market the game to younger generations or alter its structure in some way. However this seems unlikely, leaving the NFL to be America’s game.
NFL roundup: Same Again?
The defending Super Bowl champions Green Bay Packers confirmed their status this week as the best team in the NFL, without even taking the field. The Packers were on their bye week and could kick back and smirk as the so-called ‘competition’ lurched around on an incompetence-ridden Sunday afternoon. The New Orleans Saints defence was once again found wanting, whilst the decision making of Drew Brees was called into question. His back-breaking interception at the end of the second quarter allowed the Rams to stretch their lead to 17-0 at the half, a deficit that ultimately proved to be insurmountable. While it is too early to write the Saints off, especially considering the inconsistent play of their divisional rivals the Bucs and Falcons, what chance do they have of winning on the road in the playoffs if they cannot beat AJ Feely in St. Louis.
The Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants were both equally unimpressive although they did manage to pull out wins. The Ravens required a historic comeback to beat the 1-6 Arizona Cardinals whilst the Giants left it late, scoring a TD with six minutes to go to beat the winless Miami Dolphins. Both teams now have five wins, but to watch the games they have played you would not believe that, and I doubt the Packers are worried about facing either of them.
The team with the second best record in the league probably aren’t giving them too many Halloween scares either, as although undoubtedly the San Francisco 49ers defence is one of, if not the best in the league, who would you bet on in a shoot-out between Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers and uh…..Alex Smith. Yeh I’d go for the former as well.
There is one team the Packers should be wary of however, as the Pittsburgh Steelers thoroughly dismantled the New England Patriots, rewriting the early season narrative that ordained Pittsburgh as too old and the Pats as unstoppable. As unlikely as it seems, the most likely Super Bowl matchup at this point is a re-match of last year’s contest.
Despite promising signs from both sides and some overwrought optimism in the media, talks between the NBA and the Players’ Union once again broke down on Friday, prompting villain of the piece League Commissioner David Stern to announce that all games through November of the upcoming season were cancelled. This is very bad news and frankly utterly nonsensical. Last year’s NBA season was its best since the Shaq-Kobe years as young players such as Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose added themselves to already gluttonous collection of superduperstars the league boasts. The playoffs were equally majestic, culminating in Dirk Nowitzki finally lifting a title and in the process defeating the evil empire of Lebron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami. To squander this popularity by having billionaires squabble with millionaires over money whilst the world is mired in a recession is frankly brainless.
Along with this the NBA is perfectly set-up for the internet age, as blocks, dunks and game-winning shots can go viral instantly, a fact the league has acknowledged by fully embracing and utilising Youtube, something the MLB and NFL sadly have not chosen to so. But with every game wiped from the schedule and protracted labour discussion that collapses, more and more casual fans will become disinterested, especially as the NFL heads towards the playoffs. The league and players need to sit down, cast aside selfish desires and formulate a plan that will get the players back on the court as soon as possible.