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A Grip on Sports: There may not be snow nor a turning of the calendar but winter, and its best aspects, returns this week

A GRIP ON SPORTS • One of the most interesting parts of the year begins today. It’s November 1, or as it’s known in some circles, All Saints Day. In our house, however, we refer to it as the beginning of winter. And the start of basketball season.

•••••••

• The next four months are, in our humble opinion, the worst of the year. And the best. Sounds like something right out of a Dickens’ novel, doesn’t it?

The worst part is obvious. Little daylight. Lots of cold, rain and snow. Until March shows up, we are somewhat forced to hunker down and live a hermit-like life indoors.

The best part? It’s the heart of basketball season. Oh, sure, baseball is still somewhat around today. And football is the 175-pound Mastif dominating the queen-sized bed over the next 90 days or so. But these next four months have been, and will be, basketball’s time of year.

Though it is not even the sport’s best time. That’s March, with all its hyped-up madness at the high school and collegiate level. But it’s the  most-important time. The time James Naismith envisioned that cold, dreary day in Springfield, Mass., when he invented the game.

Options for exercise outdoors in winter north of the 45th Parallel are limited. There is skiing, of course. Cross country and downhill. Boarding in the snow. Running for a while. Maybe biking if the roads are clear. But all bring Mother Nature’s largesse, or lack of same, into play.

Basketball, for the most part, is played in a warm gym. Toasty warm. Almost like a great big hug. OK, we went a little overboard there for a second. But for good reason. There is nothing better on a wet, windy November afternoon, or a slushy, snowy December night, or a foggy January evening or, most importantly, February’s interminably gloomy days, than walking through a door into a gym or arena filled with people who love hoops.

It keeps us happy. And drives the blues away.

• Yes, basketball games begin this week on the collegiate level. In some parts of our area, high school hoops have even started. Youth teams are playing. But that’s still background noise for the most part. Football is still in its prime.

And is there a better story in all the NFL than what’s going on in Seattle?

It’s not just the Seahawks are 5-3. That’s happened a lot over the past couple decades. Heck, there were years, not too long ago, when 5-3 would have been a disappointment. It’s about how they have posted that record.

Look we get football, especially the NFL, is the ultimate week-by-week sport. That’s part of its charm. We overreact to every part of it, the good and the bad. The Hawks have put together a great three-week stretch. It’s lifted them from obscurity to relevance. Shone the spotlight not just on Geno Smith – the NFL’s comeback player of the year if not the half-decade – but on the rookie class, the receivers, Pete Carroll, heck, the referee and his intermingling of sports.

It could all end Sunday, however. Go into Arizona’s House of Horrors, lose and the narrative evolves. How much depends on the result, sure, but 360-degrees is possible.

Today, there are calls for Kliff Kingsbury’s head in Phoenix. The Cardinals look awful. They had Minnesota on the ropes and lost last week. Go back a year. They entered November 7-1, having just lost their first game of the year at Green Bay by three. A budding powerhouse, folks were saying. From there they went 4-5, including losing four of their final five games. Lost big in the playoff’s opening round. The narrative changed. Kingsbury went from genius to dolt in a few weeks.

The 3-5 start this season hasn’t altered the perception at all. But a win Sunday could. At least a little. And tarnish how everyone feels about the Hawks. That’s the way the league is. And always will be.

•••

WSU: We don’t want to pile on, though that’s what we do – often. This is a big week for the Cougars. Colton Clark has his first look at the Stanford matchup Saturday. You know the stakes. No need to repeat them. … Hey, get this. The Stanford tree is in trouble. Shocking. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college football, Jon Wilner has his weekly power rankings in the S-R and a look at the betting odds in the Mercury News. He also examines the Big 12’s media deal from the Pac-12’s perspective. … Washington plays Friday with a key matchup, hosting Oregon State. The game may determine who wrest the crown as the conference’s fifth-best team. The Beavers have both of their quarterbacks healthy. … When you have a head coach vacancy, there will be coaching rumor stories. There is for Arizona State. … Colorado has a coaching vacancy as well and a much-worse roster. Plus, it plays Oregon this week, though the Ducks have lost a receiver since last week’s win over California. … The way Arizona can score, Utah may need all its offensive weapons. But no one knows who will be at quarterback. … Want a laugh? Chip Kelly thinks UCLA will have fewer late-night games in the Big Ten. Why would that happen? … In basketball news, a couple brothers should help Arizona State. … A freshman most certainly will help UCLA. … The NCAA told Arizona it will be without a player for three early games. … Colorado begins games this week.

Gonzaga: Of all the Zags we’ve watched over the year, Jeremy Pargo might have been the one – what a smile – we considered headed for Hollywood. Right behind Eric Edelstein, of course. Anyway, Theo Lawson has a story on Pargo moving away from hoops and into another, bigger, movie role. … David Stockton isn’t going that direction just yet. He’s still trying to help the U.S. National Team. Jim Meehan has that story. … Andy Katz ranks his top 11 (no, not sure why he has 11) nonconference games. The Zags are part of three of them. Kentucky’s visit to the Arena is No. 1, the game on the Abraham Lincoln with Michigan State is sixth and the Baylor game in South Dakota checks in at 10. … Elsewhere in the WCC, the USF women may be on the verge of big things.

EWU and Idaho: Around the Big Sky, the conference has the same five teams ranked. Some spots have changed, however. … UC Davis is trying to put together a playoff run. … Montana State has reinforcements for its date with Northern Arizona this week. … An Idaho State player with local ties was cited for DUI recently.

Whitworth: The Pirates leading finisher at the Northwest Conference cross country championships was a woman with local ties. Madelyn Buckley’s finish highlights the S-R’s latest local briefs column.

Preps: There were district soccer matches yesterday. Dave Nichols has the results in this roundup.

Seahawks: Real? Sure. Long lasting? We will see. We’re not only referring to the Hawks but Smith as well. … Bud Grant and Pete Carroll have a lot in common. … The Seahawks are still the kings of Seattle. … Questions? We pass along answers.

Mariners: We had a deal last night. Kim would hand out candy and we would sit with the dogs in the basement, watching the World Series. The Series didn’t hold up its end of the bargain. Rain. We ended up handing out candy too.

Kraken: Ron Francis isn’t displeased with how Seattle is faring.

Sea Dragons: This is a new segment of our links package. Mainly because this is a new (old) XFL team.

•••       

• Times are hard. We have proof. As we handed out our regular-size candy bars – thanks Costco – last night we noticed something different in our visitors’ bags. We were the only one doing that. Unusual for our neighborhood. By the way, we had less than 15 visitors, so it didn’t cost us all that much. Until later …

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