Category Archives: Football

Life with the prolate spheroid

Always Play The Over

I have told my kids, half-jokingly, to always play the over in life. Most sporting events have a sports book line on the total score, with even money bets offered on the total being over or under the established line. An NHL game might have an over/under of 5.5 goals; Super Bowl LI’s over/under was 58 points (a record high); a boxing match over/under may involve the number of rounds before a knockout.

Always play the over. If wager on the under, you’re betting on something not happening. You’re hedging against faith, spirit, confidence, and good luck. Those bets may pay off sometimes, but against a large cross section of people, over time, they lose. Jodi Picoult, a favorite author, wrote that sometimes a miracle isn’t what happened but what didn’t; that case is the strong exception. The Patriots coming back from 25 points down to tie, then win the game? You don’t bet against that. A Super Bowl that had a scoreless first quarter ending in 62 total points? The only thing that was freaking out Vegas odds makers was the Super Bowl ending with a sack in the end zone for a safety, New England by 2 and only 58 total points. But that’s a bet on a miracle; a bet on motivated teams produced a favorite covering, the over covered, and somehow, another Super Bowl title for New England. Like the Voldemort lookalike on their helmets: you count them out and they come return in some weird configuration to take the day, again.

Always play the over in life. Don’t bet against yourself, your peers, your friends, your like-minded but unknown teammates. Doing so is a lack of confidence and hope, both of which are in short supply in some quarters.

Depth of Field

MKA at Holy Spirit, November 18 2011

Shot with Canon 200mm f/2 telephoto

Digital imaging is the greatest enabler for one of my favorite hobbies – sports photography. I’ve been taking pictures at football games since 1986, but historically the process was: buy high speed film, take a lot of pictures, get the prints made and $150 later, throw out half of them that included a referee’s head, were out of focus, were more motion blur than action, or didn’t show anything interesting. Enter digital cameras, and all cost or time problems are solved – I’m happy to delete more than half of the images I capture, I can adjust for film speed equivalent, lighting conditions and even selected focus point between plays, and the satisfaction (or aggravation) is mine within an hour of the final whistle.

I believe hobbies are cost-constant over long periods of time. When cost comes out in the commoditization of one aspect, it re-enters at the other end of the spectrum. Historically, technology has moved professional grade equipment into the consumer space with alarming regularity – digital cameras, cell phones, video cameras, even protective equipment. The professional grade gear just keeps getting better and more expensive. What I’ve discovered about sports photography is that those long lenses you see on the sidelines of football and baseball games aren’t just for show; you need light, focal length and depth of field control to be able to capture the moment.

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The picture above was taken with a Canon 200mm f/2 telephoto at an ISO 800 equivalent, about 18 yards from the line of scrimmage at the back of the end zone. I love the short depth of field; the left guard is in focus (that would be the Bubba) but the quarterback is coming under center out of focus. Specular reflections of the stadium lights give you the sense that it was very dark, very cold and very tiring game. The boys who played it will carry memories of a state semi-final, a record-breaking season and accomplishments that will stand for quite some time. Despite losing, freezing and feeling the strain of carrying that lens up and down the field (there were 11 touchdowns scored in the game) I’ll forever treasure that sense of the here and now, with a lot of field behind the play.

Season of Joy

It’s a fall Saturday afternoon and I’m typing rather than lugging a telephoto lens up and down the sideline of a football field. High school football season has ended for our Montclair Kimberley Academy Cougars, after a semi-final playoff loss last night. To balance the feeling that last night was the last time some of the seniors will put on footall pads, here’s an open letter to this amazing group of young men.

Your teamwork created a gold standard. From a 1-9 season two years ago, to 5-5 with a playoff bid to 9-2 with a trip to the semi-finals, the journey began with teamwork that led you, consciously or not, to call each other “brothers.” Use that yardstick of measuring contribution, mutual re-inforcement and peer leadership in every situation, and you’ll always move the ball forward.

You had the benefit of outstanding, dedicated coaches who treated you with the love normally accorded your own children. You honored their preparations and advice, you corrected as needed, and you remained focused from the heat of August until a frosty late November night. There are no better courses in leadership and development than having an amazing coach; use them as role models when you evaluate management from any angle. Not many people would equate your coaches and Steve Jobs, but they both got their teams to produce results the rest of the uninformed and uncoached world thought impossible.

You will always play to your standard of integrity. Whether it’s on the field of play, in the sphere of public opinion, or in a closed door discussion, there will consistently be influences that are below or controvert the level of self-discipline and fair play to which you’ve adhered. Bring a high level of competition with even higher senses of fair play.

You will relive the joy. After the label of “last” is applied, it’s easy to fear that you won’t know the happiness that comes from a great team again. Individual memories of well-placed blocks, game preparation that made it seem you knew plays before they developed, flashes of brilliance from all corners of the turf – those feelings will return again and again because you know how to create them, and how to find them, and how to appropriately relish them, on and off of the field. If you doubt that, ask any of your parents how we felt every single week of this season, from spring weight training until driving home last night. We have the benefit of middle age, knowing that the end of the season is merely a pause in the happiness flow.

As I packed up my camera bag one of the fathers thanked me for capturing and preserving memories of the season. I owe the thanks to the team, coaches, and other parents, as I was merely a first hand, close-up observer of what a local newspaper called “the greatest MKA team ever.” The emphasis is on “team,” and I thank each and every one of you for allowing me to join you on the sideline with humor, hard work, humility and grace.

Hot Potato and The Friends You Don’t Know Yet

Disclaimer: I consider Justin Shaffer a friend, and have gone to Yankees games with him, but we bought our own food.

Justin Shaffer, former geek in residence at MLB Advanced Media, the digital arm of the nation’s pastime, is on the cusp of tossing a new entrant into the social media game with “Hot Potato”. When Apple finally gets off its duff and approves the iPhone application, you’ll be able to experience it first hand.

There’s been some reasonable press coverage since Justin first tipped his hand at TechCrunch last week, but I think Hot Potato is more like Twitter: until you use it, you won’t get it. Put another way – Every time the Devils score a goal at a game where the Bubba and I are rockin’ our last row seats, we make sure to high-five people sitting behind us. I don’t know who they are, they wouldn’t pick me out of a crowd, but for 90 seconds they are my best friends in red and black. I’d love their thoughts and comments on the event as it unfolds. Sports fans participate by sharing their views, however loudly, and it’s more fun when you have an audience.

Despite media predictions that “location” is the next killer service, it’s not. I don’t really care what half-wasted Rangers fans think of the Devils, even if they are in the building. There were plenty of coffee-loving people at my favorite Dunkin’ Donuts this morning, but I’m not interested in connecting with them, just having them avoid double-parking so the lot doesn’t congest further. Location and intersection of interests is the killer – add in the mildly unknown, like an recommendation, or (gasp) a Facebook ad based on your preferences and recent activity, and you have the basis for digital life accentuating the real world.

Now if only we could really throw hot potatoes at Rangers fans, via our iPhones….


The Blind Side

Trailers for The Blind Side are running along with a steady stream of TV spots. I think it’s the required viewing holiday movie for this year, because Michael Lewis captured so much of what can be good in sports. To top it off, he discovered the story accidentally, while looking for something else, very Dorothy-like, making it as sincere as it is astonishing. “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game”, Lewis’ book from which the movie was adapted, deals with the good in people to the extent that “Liar’s Poker” foreshadowed the ugliness of Wall Street greed.

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Perfect Ending

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m much more of a hockey and baseball fan than a follower of the prolate spheroid. Four months ago, I went so far as to suggest that the Giants were done and that the Yankees had life. Right city, wrong sports analogies. This is great news for the Big Apple and environs (hey, the Giants play in New Jersey, in our favorite sporting swamp), and will help millions forget about public transit delays, subprime mortgage problems and even the current fate of the more proper spheroid-handling teams on both sides of the Hudson. We’re all going to be walking around with goofy grins on our faces for a few days, even though most of us did nothing more than jump around in front of our televisions tonight.


Because 80,000 fans who tailgate in a parking lot overlooking the New Jersey Turnpike and a never-ending construction site, enduring rain, sleet, and failing escalators, never gave up confidence that the season would improve when it started 0-2 and nearly became 0-3.

Because perfection eventually ends, and when it does, we tend to remember the how and when more than we should. Perfection is one of those “none more black” states; it can’t be one-upped, only lessened. A perfect ending is one you don’t guess 19 weeks early, and it includes drama, hard work, and competitiveness.

Because this is the first championship won by a New York sports team since 2000 (yes, the Devils won the Stanley Cup in 2003, but I’m being geographically specific: that side of Lincoln Tunnel). When I was being snarky about donuts, I surmised a reversal of fortune for the Yankees, as they were the last to hoist a big pile of metal in victory. Right turn, wrong sport. But I’m not complaining.

No Red Sox-Patriots-Celtics sweep this set of seasons. 2007 is over and done; I’m thinking that the Devils and either Yankees or Mets should join the Giants in celebrating 2008. That would be a perfect ending.

With All Due Respect: Hail, Rutgers

This is a first and probably a last: I’m going to write about football. Not the kind of football that my British boss plays, but the American kind, the subject of analogies and great coaching stories and quarter-century retrospectives.

Start with New Jersey jokes. Slather on a healthy dose of random naming (Rutgers, The State University: people actually pronounce the comma to make the point that it’s the most strangely named state university). Dump on top a football program that was so bad, so horrendous, that opposing teams wished there was an NCAA mercy rule (at one point, an opponent was up by half a dozen scores at the half, put in the freshman, told them not to pass the ball, and yet they still scored touchdowns). Add the tasty dessert topping offered up by Greenie on ESPN Radio this morning: You went to nowhere, took a left, and then got to Rutgers.

For a short while, for a brief shining moment, New Jersey is in fact the center of the universe that deserves all due respect, Tony Soprano style. Rutgers 28, Louisville 25. The Empire State building was lit up in Rutgers scarlet red last night, the first time ever that New York has acknowledged that anything of interest, especially football, happens in New Jersey. I mean, the New York Giants and New York Jets play in New Jersey, but a university team lights up the Big Apple’s landmark with a King Kong sized win. Today, the entire state is cheering for Rutgers.

There are so many facets to this it’s hard to know where to begin. Maybe it was one of our assistant hockey coaches, who managed to get a last-minute ticket to the game, and sent the single most excited email I’ve ever seen from him. Or the 10,000-plus who lined up for tickets to the game as they were released. Perhaps it was the fact that I attended the last Princeton-Rutgers game, an intra-state rivalry that ended 111 years after their first – and the college game’s first – meeting, because “Rutgers was going big-time”. We came home with our Tiger tails between our legs on that day in 1980, but we were in a small minority for quite a few years.

The real reason I’m touched by the daylight celebration of the Scarlet Knights is because it reminds me of a similar day precisely 25 years ago, when Princeton faced an unbeated Yale team on a dreary day that was only slightly happier than the general mood around Palmer Stadium. Yale was on the verge of being nationally ranked, Princeton was already tanked, the highlight of the season being a tie against Harvard. After falling behind 21-0, Princeton came back, aided by a defensive pass interference call near the Yale goal line. I remember — vividly — hollering with the other fans who stayed in the stands, screaming for Princeton’s Bob Holly to pass the ball once again. But Holly tucked the ball under, and perhaps on the wind of hot air coming from the home side of the stadium, ran it in for the winning touchdown. His 501 passing yards in that game stand as a Princeton record. Princeton ended a 14-year drought against Yale, Bob Holly went on to play for the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl, and a quarter of a century later we all have great memories of that weekend.

Rutgers is not likely to play for the BCS Championship, although a Buckeye State-Garden State matchup would be a great battle of the big reds. Years from now, though, everyone will remember a Thursday night under the lights in New Jersey when the ranks of the unbeaten were thinned, and “big time” meant “our time.”