Last of the Famous International Playboys
Let’s talk about soccer. Yes ‘soccer’ because although they play the same good old-fashioned association football rules over the pond, the set of financial rules they have clearly separates the MLS from the rest of avaricious footballing world. A salary cap is a simple idea, which when implemented immediately levels the financial playing field, and it was something the fledgling MLS knew it needed. Another American quirk of the MLS is the fact that the league standings are essentially pointless, forming only the ‘regular season’, essentially a season-long qualification for the ‘playoffs’. Whilst perhaps demeaning the importance of certain games throughout the year, this makes the league more of an open contest. Parity is something American sports fans expect, which is understandable really, considering the amount of money the modern day fan pays. It is probably this that has held back America from fully embracing the Premier League and La Liga, as the concept of the same teams winning every year turns them off, regardless of the quality of play. Not that they have fully embraced the MLS either, but on Sunday the league had probably its greatest moment since its inception in 1993. And it was all due to David Beckham, of course.
The MLS Cup was by no means a classic, Landon Donovan scoring the only goal of the game in the 72nd minute via excellent build-up play from his fellow superstars Beckham and Robbie Keane. But what the match lacked in quality and excitement it certainly made up for in meaning and narrative. Galaxy’s victory was the culmination of everything they had hoped for when Beckham signed his $6.5 million per year deal in July 2007, and the match signaled a happy ending to what had been a tumultuous stay for Beckham in the States. While initially hero-worshipped, the Galaxy fans and American public in general quickly turned on him following lackluster performances, frequent injuries and a seemingly overall lack of enthusiasm for the team. His sojourns in Milan were particularly reviled as they caused him to miss the start of MLS season, and his indifference was seen as indicative of the league’s standing in world football. But in the last two years Beckham has been a model of professionalism and consistency, playing some of the most savvy and adept football of his career, and both the Galaxy and the league have benefited. On Sunday the fans chanted his name throughout, whilst the world looked on. What a great day for soccer.
The Comeback Kid
On Monday 21st November, Sidney ‘the kid’ Crosby played a game of ice hockey. This shouldn’t really be newsworthy, but it was the first time in ten months that he had taken to the ice, due to a concussion. Yes, the Olympic hero responsible for Canada winning gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games was kept from playing professional sport for 320 days just because of a ‘bang on the head’, the kind of injury that even five or six years a ago would not of kept a player out of the rest of the game. But lately things have changed for the better as American sports have been forced to become far more aware of the damage inflicted upon the brain by the ever increasing size, speed and excellence of the players involved.
Whether its diet, equipment, increased professionalism or the evils of HGH, teams in America’s two contact sports, hockey and football are noticeably more physical than in the past, and a direct consequence of this has been an increase in concussion. Whilst there has yet to be a truly sickening injury on the field or rink, the effects of repetitive violence are plain to see away from the arena. This summer three NHL ‘enforcers’, players whose role in the team is directly linked to violence all died. All three were under the age of 35 and had a recent history of depression, two of them taking their own lives whilst the other died due to a lethal combination of painkillers and alcohol. The link between their profession and mental state is inextricable, and one that has befouled football this year, as well as former NFL player Dave Duerson shooting himself in the chest, asking that his brain be preserved and analysed by doctors for evidence of brain trauma caused by his career.
As the treatment of Crosby has shown though, teams are now more willing to accept concussion as a serious injury, and one that a player should not be rushed back from afterwards. Crosby attempted to make many comebacks over his extended layoff, but each time the cautious option was taken. This was ultimately the right decision in the long-run for both Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins and being allowed to fully recover seemed to immediately benefit Sid as he contributed two goals and two assists in a crushing 5-0 victory over the New York Islanders on his return.
Tim Tebow is seemingly doing the impossible. The miraculous. He is winning games in the NFL without being able to proficiently pass the ball. And he plays quarterback. In their past two contests the Denver Broncos have beaten the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets despite Tebow going 2-8 and 9-20 in passing attempts, throwing for a measly 173 yards combined. Instead of following current NFL convention, coach John Fox is using the skill set Tebow has, utilising him mainly as a runner. Thus far it has been wildly effective, but surely this cannot last, as an almost entirely rush-based offense is one-dimensional and out-dated.
Tebow is not just a throwback player though, as it’s not just his playing style that harkens back to the 1920s, it’s his personality as well. He’s well known in America for this stringent Evangelical nature, homeschooling and pro-life stance. This has obviously made him a divisive figure, a situation not helped by a baying sports media culture willing to anoint him a hero one week and crucify him the next. He has even transcended mere opinion, becoming an Internet meme twice over. All of this attention however just distracts from the fact that Tebow is ultimately not a long-term solution for the Broncos as he cannot consistently complete passes. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and now Aaron Rodgers have shown what the blueprint of an MVP, Super Bowl winning quarterback is, and it doesn’t involve a 47% completion rate…