A GRIP ON SPORTS
What one word can be used to describe the Pac-12's bowl performance this season? Hubris. Read on.
• Yes, hubris. The Greek term for pride, ego, self-worship. Hubris, in Greek mythology, always came before the fall. And it contributed mightily to two of the three Pac-12 losses in bowl competition this season. (The other, Arizona State's dismantling by Texas Tech, we can attribute, quite possibly, to a bad bus schedule; the Sun Devils just didn't show up.) Hubris, seemingly, was behind Washington State's final-minutes meltdown against Colorado State, as coach Mike Leach fell back on the “that's-the-way-we-do-it” mantra concerning the Cougars' time management problems. And hubris seemed to be in play during the second half of yesterday's Stanford loss in the Rose Bowl. See, Michigan State figured out how to beat Stanford at its own game: power football. Play after play in the second half featured the Cardinal trying to ram the ball down the Spartans throat and running into, as some columnists called it, a brick wall. But there was no apology afterward from Stanford coach David Shaw. Nope. This is who we are, he said, and they beat us at it. Really? You are a head coach of one of the premier college football teams in America, you are making millions of dollars a year and you have no Plan B? You can't adjust? You can't take what the defense is giving you? Really? It almost seems as if the Cardinal, seeing nine Spartans in the box on nearly every play, said our six or seven blockers can still handle you, we can still overpower you. Hubris. We are Hercules, Zeus and Apollo. We are the 300. We are … no, wait. You guys are the Spartans, aren't you? We played the role of the Persians, hitting you again and again and falling back. Now, I know the history books tell us the Persians finally broke through but football games have a much tighter time frame. The Spartans in this story never broke down. Whenever Shaw called a play with a different feel, a quick pass, a reverse, a toss into the flat, the Cardinal moved the ball. But when Stanford reverted to form and tried to overpower MSU, the Spartans were stouter. But that didn't stop Shaw from trying to break through the unbreakable ramparts. Even as the Cardinal lead melted and time slipped away, he stayed firm to his principles. Even as his players looked for him for answers, he kept true to his values. Even as the Spartans were celebrating the Big Ten's second Rose Bowl win this century, Shaw stuck to his guns. That's the way we do it. And, sometimes, that's the way you lose.
• Even with all that, the Stanford defense dropped two sure interceptions and another possible one. Those drops led directly to 10 MSU points. Make those plays and the Spartan defensive stops would have been immaterial. It just goes to show you how small the margin is between winning and losing when two good teams meet in any sport. One of those drops came early in the game and led to Michigan State's first touchdown. But it wasn't hard to realize, when the ball hit the ground, the play would have a big impact on the outcome. Such is the nature of competition. And why athletes love it so. The pressure to make plays is addicting. It grows within you. Knowing the result could ride on every call, every snap, every step, elevates big games to a different status. It is why the memories, win or lose, stay with you longer. And is why it is so hard to put it behind you.
• And, yes, it is OK to have some pride in the conference's six bowl wins. To jump up and down and celebrate a little. Most of the wins were blowouts. Overall, the conference teams played well. In the nine games, only Arizona State really didn't play with intensity and only the Sun Devils were out of the game in the final minutes. It's just the losses stick in the throat a lot longer than the wins.
• WSU: Guess what starts this evening? Yep, Pac-12 basketball. The Cougars were awarded the distinction of being the first team to face No. 1-ranked Arizona, and they'll do it without leading scorer DaVonté Lacy, sidelined with an appendicitis. Jacob Thorpe is in Tucson (high today, 73 degrees; man how I miss that part of the job) and has an advance of the game along with the usual Thursday preview of the weekend. … Jacob also put his Pac-12 power rankings on the blog yesterday and a morning post today. … With the conference basketball season kicking off, there are advances and previews all over the place. Jacob picked up the Arizona ones, we add a few more from here and there.
• Gonzaga: The Zags are back in action tonight, the third of four home games to start WCC play. And the students are still on break. So is Gary Bell Jr. (hand), for sure, and Sam Dower Jr. (back), though he may be back. Also missing is St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett, on NCAA-imposed furlough. Jim Meehan has an advance along with the usual weekend preview and the lead to our notebook. … Jim also had a blog post yesterday. … There are not nearly as many WCC weekend previews but we found one.
• EWU: Big Sky play also opens tonight, with Eastern earning the same distinction as Washington State: Opening play on the road at the conference favorite. Jim Allen has an advance of tonight's game at Weber State along with a weekend preview. … We also found a couple of stories from Utah.
• Seahawks: Not a lot going on in Seattle, except a couple interviews for the coordinators. It is so quiet, in fact, there is a story on the practice squad available. Yep, the practice squad. … There are a few too many defensive players of the year candidates on Seattle's roster. … If Percy Harvin returns, just be happy. Otherwise, don't be disappointed.
• Guess what happened yesterday. I turned on the Rose Parade on ABC, checked the schedule of floats and such and sat down, waiting for the Sierra Madre float to pass by. (If you're wondering, Sierra Madre is the small town near Los Angeles where I grew up. Every year the volunteer association in the city of 12,000 puts together a float. It has done so since dinosaurs walked the earth.) But just before the float was scheduled to pass, the network went to commercial. I switched to NBC. Also at commercial. Back and forth I went. Finally, the commercials ended. The Sierra Madre float (pictured) had passed by. Another childhood memory killed by commerce I guess. Talk about a crummy way to start a year. Well, it can only get better, right? Until later …