Patriots 28, Seahawks 24
February 1, 2015
The Patriots finally won their fourth Super Bowl, thanks to an MVP performance from Tom Brady, perhaps the best coaching performance of Bill Belichick’s career, and a stunning play from a guy America had never heard of
He came from nowhere. Malcolm Butler, New England’s rookie defensive back, was an undrafted free agent from Division II West Alabama. Nothing odd about that; the Patriots coveted unrefined diamonds. Take wide receiver Julian Edelman, whose three-yard touchdown catch gave New England a 28–24 lead over the Seattle Seahawks with just 2:02 left in Super Bowl XLIX. Edelman was a seventh-round pick from noted football factory Kent State. And the guy who threw Edelman the go-ahead TD was the most famous sixth-round draft choice in NFL history.
But for Edelman and Tom Brady the transition from nobodies to somebodies was gradual. Fifty-nine minutes into Super Bowl XLIX, Malcolm Butler was still anonymous even in New England. On media day no one chased him—not with Rob Gronkowski on one side and “Beast Mode,” Marshawn Lynch on the other. Even among the defensive backs Butler was obscure. The game featured two shutdown corners: Richard Sherman, leader of Seattle’s Legion of Boom, and New England’s Darrelle Revis.
So even as the decisive, cortisol-soaked moment unfolded—Seattle with a second-and-goal from the New England one-yard line, the clock hemorrhaging—Malcolm Butler was still under the radar. His primary assignment was pass defense in a situation that screamed for a run. With Lynch in the Seattle backfield, the big bodies up front would decide the game, not a 5’11”, 190-pound cornerback.
While most of America tensed in anticipation of a climactic goal-line scrum, Patriots coach Bill Belichick sensed something else. “We put our goal-line defense in probably around the same time they were sending in their multiple receiver group,” Belichick said later. He could have called timeout. That would not only have left the Patriots almost a full minute to counter a near-certain Seattle touchdown, but it would also have allowed Belichick to alter his defense. Instead, he let both the dice and the clock roll: “It just seemed like in the flow of the game that we were OK with where we were.”
Where they were was this: Coming right at Malcolm Butler was the Super Bowl’s first legitimate win-or-lose play in 24 years. And it summarized a backstory that ran almost as long.
Pete Carroll was the wrong head coach at the wrong time for the Patriots. That became apparent in just his third game. September 14, 1997. The “Tuna Bowl,” with a side of heavy hype. The Pats were hosting Bill Parcells and the Jets. Parcells had led the Patriots to the Super Bowl the previous season before deciding he’d rather shop for groceries in New Jersey. Jilted Pats fans anticipated not just a win but also a rout. It was a reasonable expectation; the Jets finished 1–15 the year before. But before succumbing on an Adam Vinatieri field goal, the Jets pushed the defending AFC champs to overtime. This was largely because the Jets defense stayed a step ahead of Carroll’s game plan.
The Jets defensive coordinator was Bill Belichick.
Back then, had you known that Carroll would soon get the boot, that Belichick would replace him, and that the two would subsequently face off in a Super Bowl, you would have assumed that there would be big-time media blather in the run-up.
And you would have been right. What you could not have foreseen was that the big-time blather would involve the air pressure readings of a dozen NFL-approved Wilson footballs. And that Carroll vs. Belichick would be an almost inconsequential plotline. Pumped and Jacked Pete—trumped by Deflategate.
Deflategate was a story with legs. Marshawn Lynch-like legs. And like its sister “scandal,” Spygate, it had legs in large part because of the way the NFL handled it. At least with Spygate, the Patriots were clearly in the wrong. They were caught recording Jets defensive signals in September 2007. Three days later the Pats acknowledged their wrongdoing and the NFL announced its punishment. That should have been that. But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wouldn’t let it go. He demanded that that Patriots turn over additional video recordings, from past seasons, which he subsequently destroyed without a clear explanation. That fueled speculation that the Patriots’ three Super Bowl wins were somehow tainted.
Goodell was miffed that Belichick had released a statement regarding Spygate instead of submitting to the Walk of Shame before the media. As Goodell later said, “He went out and stonewalled the press.”
Well, duh. Stonewalling the press was part of Belichick’s coaching philosophy. He felt no need to explain himself to the media. That’s why the press treated Spygate as a gift from the football gods—or at least the football gods’ corporate headquarters. When the Patriots were repeatedly frustrated in pursuit of a fourth championship, the media had a readymade storyline. The Pats were getting their karmic comeuppance. They lost a perfect season because Eli Manning completed a miraculous pass to David Tyree, who glued the ball to his helmet as Rodney Harrison delivered a WWE-style suplex. They lost Brady to injury for an entire season. Then they lost another Super Bowl when Eli Manning made another ridiculous completion, to Mario Manningham.
See! Haven’t won a title since Spygate….
Finally, Super Bowl XLIX gave the Patriots a chance at redemption. But the AFC championship celebration had barely ended when the rumors started. Again, the NFL leaked ambiguous information. And while reports of underinflated footballs didn’t prove the Patriots had cheated, they allowed the media to insinuate as much. This was Goodell’s gotcha moment. Belichick couldn’t make Deflategate go away simply by issuing a statement or declaring “On to Cincinnati” (as he had after a 41–14 loss at Kansas City in week four). Not at the Super Bowl, with its 5,500 press credentials and almost as many mandatory interviews. Deflategate was the ultimate distraction—and Belichick hated distractions above all else. So Belichick did what he always did when an opponent neutralized a strength. He adjusted. He called an “unscheduled media availability” before the Pats departed for Glendale, Arizona, site of Super Bowl XLIX. And he gave the media the last thing it expected: full disclosure. He was by turns defiant and self-deprecating. He made a My Cousin Vinny reference. This was not a no-comment. This was not a claim that the Patriots had misunderstood the rules. This was a flat-out denial. It was also a challenge, to both the NFL and the media: Put up or shut up.
And a surprising thing happened. They shut up. Deflategate didn’t disappear, but it receded to the point where the Patriots could focus on the game.
And what a game. Belichick’s Patriots and Carroll’s Seahawks were studies in contrast. Unlike Brady, who couldn’t get rid of the ball fast enough, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was a read-option specialist who was most effective when he held the ball and made the defense commit. He also threw a good deep ball, while Brady’s passes rarely traveled more than ten yards. The Seahawks were loud and brash (except Lynch, who out-Belichicked Belichick in terms of reticence). They were a reflection of Carroll. After being run out of New England, Pumped and Jacked Pete refined his extroverted coaching style at Southern Cal, where celebrities like Snoop Dogg prowled the sidelines during practice. (Snoop: “Pete understands players. He’s all about letting players be themselves.”)
And so the Super Bowl became a contest of coaching jujitsu. Against the NFL’s best pass defense, Belichick all but abandoned the run (the Pats set a Super Bowl record with just one rushing first down). Brady threw a Super Bowl-record 50 passes, with a Super Bowl-record 37 completions. Brady hit Brandon LaFell and Rob Gronkowski for second-quarter touchdowns, giving the Pats a 14–7 advantage just 36 seconds before halftime. At that point Carroll could have played it conservatively rather than risk a turnover at his own twenty. Instead, he turned his offense loose, and it devoured 80 yards in 30 seconds. The last eleven yards came on a pass from Wilson to Chris Matthews. It was Matthews’s first career touchdown and just his second career catch. The first, for 44 yards, had come five minutes earlier against Kyle Arrington, who also surrendered a big catch to Ricardo Lockette.
Matthews’s emergence forced the Patriots to make a halftime adjustment. They put the taller, more physical Brandon Browner on the 6’5” Matthews. And they substituted Malcolm Butler for Arrington.
But the Seahawks adjusted, too. They held the Patriots to just one first down in the third quarter. They picked Brady off for the second time. And, after trailing 14–7, they scored seventeen unanswered points.
Down 24–14, the Patriots remained poised and patient. They had to; this was not an offense designed to throw haymakers. They were more like Muhammad Ali, wearing the opponent down with quick jabs. And over a ten-minute span that culminated with Edelman’s go-ahead touchdown at the 2:02 mark, Brady was indeed Ali-like. He completed 13-of-15 on a pair of touchdown drives, including 8-of-8 on the last one.
But if Brady was Ali, Russell was Frazier. First-and-ten from the Patriots 38, with less than a minute and a half left. Wilson lofted a pass down the right sideline for Jermaine Kearse. Butler stayed step for step and deflected the ball. But as Kearse lay on the ground at the five-yard line, the pigskin became a pinball. It ricocheted off an assortment of body parts before Kearse corralled it.
First-and-goal at the five. The Patriots were on the brink of a third straight Super Bowl loss abetted by a fourth-quarter circus catch good for more than 30 yards. Maybe there was something to that karma talk after all. Even the receiver’s name suggested as much: Kearse.
But for all the derring-do the Seahawks displayed, they also committed a couple of derring-don’ts. They burned two timeouts while the clock was already stopped. So when Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower dragged Lynch down at the one-yard line on first-and-goal, Belichick turned the Super Bowl into a game of chicken.
A minute remained. From Seattle’s perspective—knowing Tom Brady was on the opposing sideline—that was an eternity. So, as they pondered the next play call, the Seahawks coaches fixated on bleeding the clock. Belichick helped them by not calling time. That made the plodding clock pick up its pace. Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell was bedeviled by details. “There were twenty things going through my mind that we could do,” he said later.
As the clock approached 00:30, Bevell realized that one thing he could no longer do was the one thing everyone thought he ought to: just hand the ball to Lynch—three times if necessary. With only one timeout left, that would have been too risky. If the Pats stuffed Lynch twice, the clock might run out before Seattle could get a final play off.
Carroll: “So we decided on a passing play essentially to waste a down.”
Like Belichick, Malcolm Butler was a step ahead of the Seattle coaches. He had a quick word with Browner when he saw the Seahawks stack Kearse and Lockette on the right. At the snap, Browner tied up Kearse, preventing him from setting a pick. Lockette ran a quick slant toward the middle of the field, which was open as Wilson cocked his arm. “When I threw it,” Wilson said later, “I was like, ‘Touchdown, second Super Bowl ring, here we go.’ And it didn’t happen.”
It didn’t happen because Butler beat Lockette to the spot. He charged with such abandon that he not only intercepted Wilson’s pass but also flattened Lockette, who outweighed him by fifteen pounds.
With the Super Bowl on the line, Bill Belichick made a gutsy call. Malcolm Butler made it pay off by out-booming the Legion of Boom. The play, like the player, came from nowhere.
Although Tom Brady had nothing to do with Butler’s interception, Butler’s interception had everything to do with Brady’s legacy. That one play transformed Brady from a three-time Super Bowl loser to a four-time winner and three-time MVP.
Boston College 47, Miami 45
November 23, 1984
Boston’s most memorable college game ever
As the cliché has it, no one would have dared to write a script for a scenario as implausible as this one. But the cliché is wrong. Leigh Montville did write the script. Doug Flutie just added some notes.
For years, Montville wrote an NFL column called “Pro Picks” in the Boston Globe on fall Fridays. He led each column with his prediction for that Sunday’s Patriots game. But because the Patriots had played in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day in 1984, Montville led the next day’s “Pro Picks” column with his forecast for the BC–Miami game, a Black Friday matinee in the Orange Bowl. There was keen local interest in the game, which pitted a pair of Heisman Trophy contenders at quarterback: Flutie for the No. 10 Eagles and sophomore sensation Bernie Kosar for the Hurricanes, the defending national champions.
This was Montville’s prediction:
BOSTON COLLEGE 44, MIAMI 43—Night is arriving. The Orange Bowl lights are on. The game has gone forever with all of those passes. Flutie takes the Eagles down the field and scores with zero seconds left. The Eagles go for the two-point conversion. Flutie scores on a rollout.
The score is about right. And I love the “zero seconds left” part. But instead of rolling out for two points, how about if I throw for six? (Remember, I’m still trying to convince the doubters that I’m a “real” quarterback.) And it can’t be a short pass—there has to be a believable explanation for why the Miami defense would leave a receiver open in the end zone. So how about if I heave it farther than anybody thinks I can—say, 65 yards into the rain and wind? It will be the perfect answer to all those critics who think I’m too small and don’t have enough arm strength. (Oh, and for that “Hollywood” touch, let’s have my roomie, Gerard Phelan, catch it.)
The Miracle in Miami sealed the deal for the 1984 Heisman Trophy, with Flutie winning by a comfortable margin over Ohio State running back Keith Byars. (Kosar was a distant fourth.) Flutie then closed his brilliant college career with a 45–28 victory over Houston in the 1985 Cotton Bowl.
The NFL Players Association announced on Sunday that it would “not pursue additional appeals” in the Deflategate case. Most of America is delighted about that. And while diehard Pats fans aren’t happy with the outcome, most are suffering from sufficient levels of Deflategate fatigue that they’re ready to move on. And really, is there anything left to say about this absurd morality play?
Actually there is. In fact, all the hot takes and op-eds about the Deflategate denouement this past summer missed the most important aspect.
No, it wasn’t the Ideal Gas Law, or that Tom Brady actually did better in the second half of the 2014 AFC Championship Game than in the first, or that Roger Goodell shows no consistency in his rulings. As the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals noted in its April 2016 decision, which reinstated Brady’s suspension:
“Our obligation is limited to determining whether the arbitration proceedings met the minimum legal standards established by the Labor Management Relations Act.”
Fair enough. So let’s review the outcome through the lens of labor law. And in particular, let’s consider the court’s attitude regarding Brady’s “destroyed” cellphone:
“The Commissioner consequently drew an adverse inference that the cellphone would have contained inculpatory evidence and concluded … [that] Mr. Brady willfully obstructed the investigation by, among other things, affirmatively arranging for destruction of his cellphone knowing that it contained potentially relevant information that had been requested by the investigators.”
And: “It is well established that the law permits a trier of fact to infer that a party who deliberately destroys relevant evidence the party had an obligation to produce did so in order to conceal damaging information from the adjudicator. These principles are sufficiently settled that there is no need for any specific mention of them in a collective agreement...”
That passage shows a stunning lack of judicial foresight.
Forget the stuff about “deliberately destroys relevant evidence.” That’s a red herring. The key phrase is: “had an obligation to produce.”
My question is: Why did Tom Brady have an obligation to produce his personal cellphone? This was a civil proceeding, not a criminal one. So this isn’t the equivalent of Aaron Hernandez trying to conceal his cellphone in a murder investigation. (More on this distinction in a moment.)
Further, I take issue with the court’s breezy contention that this issue is “sufficiently settled.”
The ever-shifting boundaries that define personal privacy in the Internet age make this issue anything but settled. The court was presented with an opportunity to examine a serious labor question: With more and more people commingling personal and professional communications on their private devices, where does an individual’s right to privacy end and his employer’s right to monitor company-related correspondence begin?
Far from answering that question, the court didn’t even think to ask it. During the hearing, Judge Barrington Parker had told Brady’s lawyers that by destroying his phone, Brady had shifted the entire focus of the case “from air in a football to compromising the integrity of a proceeding that the commissioner had convened.”
Judge Parker then said this: “So why couldn’t the commissioner suspend Mr. Brady for that conduct alone?”
With all due respect to Brady’s top-notch legal team, I’d like to field that one: Because US labor law ought to protect an individual’s right to do whatever the hell he wants with his private cellphone without affecting his standing at work.
Just think about the implications of Judge Parker’s line of reasoning.
For starters, there’s this: In a 2014 case (Riley v. California), the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that it is unconstitutional for police to search the contents of a cell phone without a warrant. Which means, by Judge Parker’s line of reasoning, that Tom Brady deserves less legal protection in a civil investigation by a sports commissioner than a criminal suspect like Aaron Hernandez would have in a murder investigation.
And maybe, given the ultimately trivial nature of the Deflategate charges, you’re OK with that. Maybe you think a murder suspect should have greater legal protection than a guy accused of probably knowing that somebody who sort of worked for him might have let a little air out of a football.
But forget for a moment that we’re talking about Tom Brady and Roger Goodell. Let’s say that we’re talking about you and your boss. And let’s say that one day a colleague at a different branch within your company accuses you of an egregious breach of ethics.
You think you’ve done nothing wrong, so you’re not especially worried at first. Your boss conducts an investigation, which includes examining all emails that you sent and received using the company’s server while you were at work. You’re a little uncomfortable with that—sometimes you make jokes that don’t translate well to people who don’t know you—but you concede that the boss has the right to read all company emails.
The process is awkward and embarrassing, but after several weeks your boss can’t find any evidence to support your accuser’s charges. You figure that’s the end of it.
But no. Even though no one else—not even your original accuser—wants to pursue the matter any further, your boss persists. He seems obsessed with proving that you did something. He says that he also wants to quell the ongoing water-cooler speculation because it’s hurting the company’s morale. Never mind that he’s the one fueling all that speculation by prolonging the investigation and discussing it openly instead of handling it quickly and quietly.
You love your job and just want to go back to focusing on your work. The constant questions and requests for documents are creating a distraction and grinding you down. It feels as if the boss has gone from conducting an investigation to pursuing a vendetta against you.
Finally, after another day of lost productivity, your boss says there’s only one way to ease his mind so he can fully trust you again. He needs to examine your personal cellphone to make sure you didn’t send any incriminating text messages.
You decide that enough is enough. You don’t want your boss having access to private messages that you sent to your wife or your parents or your friends or your broker or your doctor. That would be far too invasive, especially given the ham-handed, adversarial way your boss has conducted the investigation so far.
So you refuse to give him your phone.
He fires you on the spot. His McCarthyesque logic is that you must have done what you’ve been accused of doing, otherwise you would have seized every opportunity to prove your innocence.
You sue for wrongful termination, figuring you have a slam-dunk case.
But you lose.
Why? Legal precedent. Just read the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in NFL v. Brady, April 2016.
Boston's 100 Greatest Games, No. 35
Bruins 5, Maple Leafs 4, OT
May 13, 2013
In the opening round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Bruins pulled off the greatest Game 7 comeback in hockey history
Could the Bruins win a tight playoff series with Tuukka Rask in goal instead of 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas? That was a major question heading into the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After their first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs it essentially remained unanswered, even though the Bruins had executed the most electrifying Game 7 win in hockey history. Because for most of the crucial sequence, a 31-second span late in the third period, the Bruins had no goaltender at all.
Funny thing was, it was almost predictable—both that they found themselves in such a predicament and that they escaped from it. The 2013 Bruins were as difficult to read as Finnegans Wake (powerplay, still anemic, passing from curve of blade to bend of board, brings us by recirculation of blackish discus back to point of nevercoming triggerpull). This was due, in part, to the lockout-shortened season, which limited the sample size to 48 games. The Bruins began by winning eight of ten. They ended by losing six of eight, squandering an opportunity to win the Northeast Division. Even so, there seemed little reason to fear the Maple Leafs, Canada’s answer to the Chicago Cubs. After Game 4, which David Krejci won by completing the hat trick in overtime to put the Bruins up 3–1, the series seemed as good as done. Then the Leafs ground out consecutive 2–1 decisions to even the series at three each. Still the Bruins rated a significant edge, based on experience alone. This was Boston’s fifth Game 7 in little more than two years. It was Toronto’s first Game 7 since 2004. And the Leafs hadn’t won a seventh game on the road in twenty years.
Yes, the Bruins were banged up. They started Game 7 minus a pair of defensemen, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden, and lost Dennis Seidenberg after just 37 seconds. But when Matt Bartkowski stepped in and scored his first career goal just 5:39 into the first period, the Bruins appeared ready to break out of their offensive funk.
Instead, it was Toronto that found a rhythm. With Zdeno Chara off for high sticking, Cody Franson tied the game halfway through the first period. Franson scored again at 5:48 of the second. Phil Kessel made it 3–1 early in the third. And when Nazem Kadri stuck in a rebound 3½ minutes later, he also appeared to have stuck a fork in the Bruins. NESN play-by-play man Jack Edwards, noted for his outpourings of black-and-gold bombast, offered a clear-eyed appraisal: “The Toronto Maple Leafs, unless they suffer a colossal collapse, are going to eliminate the Boston Bruins.”
One colossal collapse, coming up.
The first cracks in the Toronto facade formed at 9:18 of the third period, when Milan Lucic fed Nathan Horton from behind the Leafs net. Horton buried it. It was 4–2.
According to a mildewed hockey adage, a two-goal lead is the most difficult to protect. That sounds absurd; obviously a one-goal lead is more difficult to protect. (PuckScene.com actually went to the trouble of analyzing an entire season’s worth of NHL games to confirm this.) But safeguarding a two-goal lead can present a psychological challenge, depending on how much time remains. A team that goes up two goals in the first minute of the game won’t try to sit on the lead for the rest of the night. A team that’s up two goals in the last minute of the game will.
But what should a team that’s up by two goals with 10:42 remaining in Game 7 of a playoff series do—in particular, a young team playing on the road, which has just allowed a confident team and a hostile crowd to come to life? It would be foolish to try to sit on a one-goal lead for that long—but a two-goal lead? That might be doable.
Consciously or otherwise, the Leafs started playing like an NFL team in a prevent defense. (Toronto forward Matt Frattin did manage a breakaway with about 3½ minutes left, but Rask denied him.) And although they maintained that two-goal lead for more than nine minutes, they did so knowing that the worst stress was yet to come. That was because of a stratagem unique to hockey: the extra skater. By the time Bruins coach Claude Julien called Rask to the bench, with two minutes left, the Leafs were wilting. The Bruins, on the other hand, had their sense of urgency reinforced by that extra attacker. And hockey players, perhaps more than any other athletes, are adrenalin-driven.
For the Bruins, this was the ultimate high-wire rush. They were working without a net—or at least without anybody to guard it. After a Toronto dump-in, the goalmouth gaped as Chara gathered the puck in his own end with just 1:45 on the clock. All the Leafs had to do was execute a simple poke check, and they could have iced the game with an empty-netter. But by then Toronto had become so tentative—not risking any penalties or turnovers—that they were having difficulty even getting a blade on the puck. They looked like stand-ins, just occupying space while the Bruins ran a drill designed to overcome a two-goal deficit with less than 90 seconds left.
Once he reached the offensive zone, Chara camped out at the right point. He lurked unguarded, stick cocked, as Patrice Bergeron fed him the puck from across the ice. No Leaf was within twenty feet of Chara as he one-timed a shot. Toronto goalie James Reimer stopped the puck but couldn’t contain it. Lucic pounced on the rebound and flicked it in with 1:22 left.
Toronto no longer had to worry about protecting a two-goal lead.
Boston now completely controlled the flow. Bergeron won the ensuing faceoff, which allowed Rask to immediately retreat to the bench again. The Bruins carried the puck into the offensive zone with no resistance. With just under a minute left, Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk had a shot at a loose puck along the boards, but he pulled up and Lucic beat him to it. Moments later, with Chara providing a screen the size of a drive-in theater, Bergeron drilled the puck just under the crossbar from just inside the blue line to tie the game.
Rask, having joined the TD Garden’s 17,565 spectators for that historic two-goal flurry, did his part less than two minutes into overtime by stoning Joffrey Lupul twice in five seconds. Meanwhile his Toronto counterpart, Reimer, couldn’t contain the puck—he could only hope to stop it. Add his teammates’ sudden inability to outskate the Bruins to loose pucks, and you had a terminal combination. Six minutes into overtime, Bergeron collected yet another puck that squirted out of the crease and drilled it past Reimer to complete the most dramatic Game 7 comeback ever.
After advancing to the Stanley Cup Final and taking a two-games-to-one lead over the Chicago Blackhawks, the Bruins dropped three straight, culminating in a Game 6 loss in which a 2–1 lead with 1:17 left became a 3–2 deficit a mere eighteen seconds later. Despite this dispiriting end, the 2013 Bruins will undoubtedly be remembered as one of Boston’s all-time favorite teams. In addition to the Game 7 miracle against the Leafs, there was also the inspiring image of Gregory Campbell finishing a shift against the Pittsburgh Penguins on a broken leg in the Eastern Conference Final, and the revelations that Patrice Bergeron had played Game 6 against Chicago with multiple injuries that should have kept him in the hospital, including a collapsed lung.
Excerpted from Boston's 100 Greatest Games, available on Amazon.
The insidious side effects of technology creep (candlepin bowling edition)
In 1880 a man named Justin White of Worcester, Massachusetts invented candlepin bowling. White bought a combination tenpin alley and billiard parlor and essentially blended elements of each game into a new one.
In candlepin, the felled pins are playable. Players get up to three rolls per frame instead of two. The pins are straighter and skinnier than tenpins (which explains the name). The balls (which have no holes) are about the size of softballs.
When it began, candlepin bowling was not dependent on technology in any way. The only things that moved were the balls, the pins, and the bowlers. All the work was done manually. Candlepin houses employed pinboys who reset the pins by hand and returned the balls on a track that operated by simple gravity. The balls rolled down a ramp at one end and up a ramp at the other end.
The game remained unchanged for almost 70 years.
The automatic pinsetter arrived in 1949. Now the bowler could reset the pins with the push of a button. The machines were much faster and more consistent than pinboys. Also, the proprietor didn’t have to worry about whether an automatic pinsetter would show up for work.
For anyone who has tried candlepin bowling since the 1950s, the automatic pinsetter has been part of the experience. But it’s not an intrinsic part of the game.
By the time I discovered candlepin bowling, in 1985, it already seemed retro. The pinsetters—antiquated, Rube Goldberg contraptions consisting of various belts, pulleys, chains, and electric motors—broke down frequently. Bowlers kept score using No. 2 pencils and sheets of paper or, in league matches, grease pencils and overhead projectors.
The next innovation, automatic scoring, arrived with the new millennium. Computerization made it not only easier to keep score, but also to keep track of league standings, bowlers’ averages, and so on.
After a couple of years I noticed that the increased convenience had a downside in my weekly league. People paid less attention. It turned out that keeping score was also a good way to keep your head in the game. Absent that responsibility, many bowlers checked their phones or wandered away and weren’t ready when it was their turn. Also, when the computer made a scoring error, only a few tech-savvy people knew how to correct it. Candlepin bowling, never much of an action sport to begin with, became even more passive.
One night as my league began, the scoring computer wouldn’t boot up on one pair of lanes. Because the computer was synched with the pinsetters, the pinsetters wouldn’t power up, either. After about fifteen minutes, the two teams scheduled to bowl on those lanes were ready to give up and go home.
I proposed a work-around. Having once worked at a bowling alley, I knew that the pinsetters were equipped with override switches that the mechanics used when servicing them. I suggested to a league officer that she ask the mechanic to activate the pinsetters manually. The computer would still be down, but the teams on that pair of lanes could keep score with a pencil and paper.
The league officer gave me a blank look. I might as well have suggested that she ask the mechanic to invent a time machine to transport us all back to the 1940s.
A game that had originated in the nineteenth century, and which at first involved no technology, had evolved to the point where people could no longer imagine playing it without the aid of a computer.
Boston's 100 Greatest Games: No. 68
Red Sox 3, Mariners 1
April 29, 1986
With one record-setting outing from Roger Clemens,
the Red Sox were suddenly relevant again
It was early. Early in the evening. Early in the season. Early in the bloated melodrama that was the career of Roger Clemens. But the potential for something special was already evident.
Clemens had just struck out Jim Presley, the Seattle Mariners number-five hitter, on three pitches. Now he had two quick swinging strikes on Ivan Calderon, the Seattle right fielder. It was only the top of the second inning, in a matchup of the 9–8 Red Sox and 7–12 Mariners, on a Tuesday night in April. Just 13,414 people were at Fenway Park. (This was roughly 1,400 fewer than were jammed into Boston Garden that night for Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Celtics and Hawks.) But when the count reached 0–2 on Calderon, the noise level spiked among the small but savvy Fenway crowd. As play-by-play man Ned Martin noted on the NESN broadcast, “Fans are starting to get excited early.”
Calderon took the next pitch. Home plate umpire Vic Voltaggio rang him up. The crowd erupted. Clemens had five strikeouts in two innings. This was an irresistible force versus an eminently moveable object.
Clemens had missed the last two months of the ’85 season with a torn labrum. Following surgery, he had gradually regained the velocity and the confidence he had shown as a 22-year-old call-up in 1984, when he had fanned fifteen Kansas City Royals on an August night at Fenway. He was 3–0 in three starts so far in the 1986 season. His strikeout totals had climbed steadily, from two to seven to ten. Moreover, he was working on a full week’s rest, thanks to a Sunday rainout and an off day on Monday.
The swing-and-miss Seattle Mariners, in the throes of a 2–9 slump, were the perfect foil. During their eleven-game funk they had hit a sickly .137 and scored just 21 runs while striking out 101 times. As the Globe’s Larry Whiteside noted in his series preview, the ’86 Mariners were on pace to shatter the single-season strikeout record set by the ’68 Mets. Now, after a cross-country flight from Oakland, they had to face an amped-up young fireballer on a cool New England night with a brisk wind in their faces.
Clemens had had trouble with his control in the top of the first—a result, no doubt, of the extra rest. Eye-level fastballs had dropped Mariners leadoff hitter Spike Owen into the dirt on successive pitches. But the high heat also delivered a not-so-subtle message: With Clemens on the Fenway mound, no visiting hitter should get too comfortable at the plate—not even an old friend like Owen, Clemens’s former University of Texas teammate.
From the second inning on Clemens had almost flawless command, to go with high velocity and wicked movement. The Fenway crowd was more energized when the visitors were up than when the Red Sox were. Any time a Seattle hitter put a ball in play, even for an easy out, fans reacted with palpable disappointment.
Another oddity: A Red Sox error turned into a cause for celebration. Don Baylor, normally a DH, was playing first base for just the second time in three years. (Bill Buckner, the starting first baseman, had taken Baylor’s spot at DH with a sore elbow.) Baylor dropped an easy foul popup on a 3–2 pitch to Mariners DH Gorman Thomas with two outs in the fourth. Clemens got Thomas looking on the next pitch. That was the third of eight straight whiffs—a Red Sox record.
To add to the drama, Clemens got no run support through the first six innings. After two more strikeouts to start the seventh, Clemens got ahead of Thomas, 1–2. But his next pitch caught too much of the plate. Thomas, an all-or-nothing swinger, got all this time, for a home run to center. Suddenly Clemens was in danger of losing the best game he had ever pitched. After getting Presley on a groundout to end the inning, he hurled his glove into the dugout in disgust. But the downer didn’t last long. Dwight Evans answered with a three-run shot in the home half, and after that the focus shifted from the scoreboard to the record book. In the eighth, Clemens got Calderon and Dave Henderson (who was destined to become a Sox hitting hero within six months) to pass Bill Monbouquette (seventeen strikeouts) for the Red Sox single-game record. Owen became victim number nineteen leading off the ninth, as Clemens equaled the major league mark. Then came the record-breaker—the most telling K of the night.
Left fielder Phil Bradley had struck out three times already, all swinging. In the first he was late on a fastball up and away. In the fourth he was late on a fastball down and in. In the seventh he was late on a letter-high fastball right over the heart of the plate.
In the ninth Bradley didn’t swing at all. He got ahead in the count, 2–0, then watched three straight strikes sail past. He looked like an overmatched Little Leaguer just praying to draw a walk. But Clemens hadn’t walked a batter all night, and he didn’t start now. Instead he rang up his twentieth strikeout. In 110 years of major league baseball, no pitcher had ever done that before in a nine-inning game.
Afterward Cooperstown came calling, soliciting mementoes for an instant shrine. Clemens, still just an impressionable 23-year-old kid, was thrilled to comply. “I’m in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “That’s something nobody can take away from me now.”
The 1986 Red Sox season took on a different character after that night. Clemens’s gem was the second game of a 12–2 streak that propelled Boston from an 8–8 team in third place to a 20–10 team in first. The Red Sox went on to make the postseason for the first time since 1975. Clemens ended up at 24–4, with a 2.48 ERA and 238 strikeouts, to win the first of his seven Cy Young Awards. As for the Hall of Fame, well….
Boston’s 100 Greatest Games: No. 39
The 1985–86 Boston Celtics finished 67–15, the second-best record in franchise history. They were 37–1 at Boston Garden, the best home record in NBA history. (They also won three “home” games in Hartford.) In the opening round of the playoffs, Boston faced a Chicago Bulls team that had finished 30–52. That was (and still is) the worst record of any playoff team since 1968.
And yet the Bulls were a tough draw. Forty-three of Chicago’s losses had happened while Michael Jordan was sidelined with a broken bone in his left foot. But Jordan had returned a month before the playoffs. He was healthy. He was hungry. And the challenge of facing the greatest Celtics team ever, on their home floor, inspired the first sustained display of his legendary competitive fire.
Chicago coach Stan Albeck’s strategy was obvious in Game 1—maybe too obvious. Isolate Jordan and let him do his thing. Jordan scored 30 first-half points and the Bulls built an early twelve-point lead. But in the second half Boston clamped down on Jordan (he still finished with 49 points) and pulled away for a 123–104 win.
In Game 2, Albeck again gave Jordan the green light—but within a more conventional offensive structure. The result was a revelation. Jordan again came out firing, scoring seventeen first-quarter points as the Bulls again built an early lead. This time, Chicago sustained that lead for most of the game. When at last the Celtics surged ahead, in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, it happened on a play that would have broken the average player’s will. With the shot clock about to expire, Larry Bird nailed a long three that put the Celtics up 93–92 and took the roof off the Garden.
Instead of wilting, Jordan got better. He collected a pair of free throws on a drive to the hoop to regain the lead. Those were the first of eighteen fourth-quarter points. Five times Jordan’s shots either tied the game or gave Chicago back the lead. Only one other Bull, Dave Corzine, hit a field goal in the fourth quarter—and that was on a feed from Jordan with three minutes left.
Almost as telling as Jordan’s point total were the Celtics foul totals, which climbed in direct proportion. Bill Walton and Dennis Johnson fouled out. Bird, Robert Parish, and Danny Ainge each had five. So it’s not as if the Celtics weren’t trying to stop Jordan. They just couldn’t do it. Said Bird, “I didn’t think anyone was capable of doing what Michael has done to us the past two games.”
The clearest sign that Jordan had already achieved a rarefied status among NBA players came at the end of regulation. With the Bulls down 116–114, Jordan attempted the last shot just before the buzzer. He didn’t take the ball into the paint to go for the tie. He pulled up for a three, going for the win. It was his first attempt from beyond the arc all day.
It was no good. But referee Ed Middleton whistled Kevin McHale for a foul, on what could generously be termed a borderline call.
To review: With a playoff game on the line, an official gave a 23-year-old second-year player on a 30–52 team the benefit of a critical call over a veteran team with a 40–1 home record playing on their own floor.
Still, Jordan needed to deliver under intense pressure. At the time, a shooter was awarded just two free throws when fouled on a three-point attempt. Jordan, all alone at the foul line, with all zeroes on the clock and 14,890 Boston Garden fans trying to rattle him, needed to sink both to send the game into overtime.
The first one nearly rolled out before dropping. The second one was all net. It was Jordan’s 54th point of the game.
The game seesawed through the first overtime and into the second. With 1:12 left, Jordan again tied the game, 131–131, with a short jumper. That gave him 63 points, breaking Elgin Baylor’s playoff record of 61.
Baylor had set the record at Boston Garden 24 years earlier. The Lakers had won that game, but the Celtics won the 1962 NBA Finals (see Game No. 11). Even paired with the great Jerry West, Baylor couldn’t overcome a balanced Celtics team that featured seven future Hall of Famers.
And so it was with Michael Jordan in 1986. The Celtics had five future Hall of Famers, and it took every one of them to overcome Jordan’s singular performance. Bird had 36 points, twelve rebounds, eight assists and two blocks. McHale had 27 points and fifteen rebounds. Johnson had fifteen points and eight assists. Parish had thirteen points and nine rebounds. Walton had ten points and fifteen rebounds.
Two guys who were not destined for the Hall also came through at crunch time. Danny Ainge had 24 points, all after halftime, as Boston battled back from a double-digit deficit. And when the Celtics needed one last answer for Jordan, it came from backup guard Jerry Sichting, who hit a jumper from the top of the key to break the final tie.
Afterward Jordan professed to be unimpressed with his performance. “I wanted to win the game so badly that the points don’t even mean anything to me,” he said. “Maybe fifteen years down the line I can look back and be happy about it. But not now.”
The Celtics completed a first-round sweep of the best-of-five series with a 122–104 win at Chicago. (Jordan fouled out of that game with just nineteen points.) Boston coasted to the 1986 NBA championship with a 15–3 playoff record, including 10–0 at the Garden. No other team pushed them as hard on their home floor as Jordan’s Bulls did.
After winning the World Series three times in four years, the Red Sox finished sixth in 1919. Boston Herald columnist Bob Dunbar was sanguine: “Probably this is the best thing that could happen to the Hub. There is such a thing as a surfeit of World Series, and a year off now and then will only increase interest in the grand old game right here in the Hub. Anyway, next season’s another year.”
Boston fans know better now. That next championship could be a long time in coming. That’s why the Pats’ AFC title game loss smarts so much.
I still remember Pat Summerall’s narration on This Week in Pro Football: “Sixty-three yards to the Hall of Fame.”
In typical NFL Films style, the ball descended in slow motion, to a sweeping orchestral score. As the ball cleared the crossbar—barely—the official in the background exploded from a half crouch and actually jumped into the air as he signaled that the kick was good.
I was eleven years old. I was not a Saints fan. But something about Tom Dempsey’s record 63-yard field goal, which gave the Saints a 19–17 win over the Lions, lodged inside me and lingered. The NFL Films presentation of it gave me goose bumps.
I’m sure part if that was due to anticipation. I’d waited six days to see that kick. (Yes, back then you had wait until the following Saturday to see a wrap-up of Sunday’s games.) And some of it had to do with the inspiring notion of a bad team emerging triumphant under desperate circumstances. Down a point, with time for one more play, the Saints lined up for a field goal in their own territory. (The goalposts were on the goal line in 1970, so the spot for Dempsey’s record-breaking kick was the New Orleans 37.)
But mostly the thing that captured my imagination about that kick was the kicker.
I knew that Tom Dempsey had been born with just half a right foot and half a right arm. And I just thought, in a simplistic, kidlike way, it was cool that he had overcome those limitations to not only make it to the NFL, but to also set a record.
But during the week following Dempsey’s record-setting kick, I discovered that not everyone shared my sense of wonder. Dallas Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm, who was head of the NFL’s competition committee, declared: “I feel the record should have an asterisk by it.”
The issue was Dempsey’s kicking shoe, which had a large, flat front surface. His detractors said the shoe gave him an unfair advantage over other kickers. Supposedly his “club foot” turned his powerful right leg into an actual club—like a golfer’s driver.
There was a picture of Dempsey’s shoe in the paper. It sure didn’t look like an “advantage” to me. I thought the people who were complaining sounded like crybabies.
Scroll ahead 40 years. In 2010 I was working on a proposal for a book (never published) with the working title Further Review: An Annotated History of NFL Rules. The idea was to start with the official NFL Rulebook, in all its 295 pages of complexity, and work backward in a sort of forensic examination to determine how the modern game of pro football had evolved from its crude beginnings.
Most rule changes, I determined, were slow and incremental, a response to long-term trends. But a few could be traced to specific plays—and specific players. This was one:
Rule 5, Section 4, Article 3G
Kicking shoes must not be modified, and any shoe that is worn by a player with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking toe.
The Tom Dempsey Rule, it was called.
Turned out that Schramm got his way with the competition committee, although it took seven years to approve the change.
Why Schramm had a vendetta against Dempsey is hard to say. Maybe it was because Schramm hated the old AFL, and it bothered him that an AFL reject (Dempsey had broken in with the AFL’s Chargers) had set an NFL record. Further, it was Chargers coach Sid Gillman who had suggested Dempsey try a custom-made shoe. (Before that, Dempsey had kicked barefoot.)
But the thing that puzzled me most about the Tom Dempsey Rule was that it apparently had never applied to Tom Dempsey. I’d seen photos of Dempsey when he played for the Buffalo Bills, after the rule change, and it looked like he was using the same style shoe he always had.
I wondered why that was. Had he been grandfathered in? Or was it a matter of semantics? Technically, Dempsey’s shoe wasn’t “modified”—it had been custom made to fit his foot, by a company called Rgp Orthopedic Appliance in San Diego. Nor did Dempsey have an “artificial limb.” He derived his impressive power from the leg he was born with.
I tracked down a phone number and called Dempsey for an explanation.
I’m happy to report that the impression I had formed of Tom Dempsey when I was eleven years old still held up in adulthood. For instance: He told me that, out of consideration for his mother, he had never bothered to research the cause of his birth defect. “I didn’t want to put that on her,” he said. “I just figured I was born that way and there was nothing I could do about it, so let’s just get on with life.”
And as for whether his custom-made shoe gave him an advantage, Dempsey said: “When I missed a field goal no one said I had a disadvantage.”
In that same spirit, Dempsey told me he was prepared to fight the NFL—in court, if necessary—if they insisted that he use a shoe with a “normal kicking toe.” His lawyer was prepared to sue the league for unlawful discrimination.
But it never came to that. Why? Because of a short, simple conversation between Dempsey and then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. Said Dempsey, “He just told me, ‘Don’t worry about it, Tom.’”
And that was that. Tom Dempsey continued to wear the same shoe he always had, and the NFL took no action.
“Pete was a good guy,” Dempsey said. “He was maybe the last commissioner that liked the players and the fans.”
This conversation took place more than five years ago, long before Deflategate. But a controversy was already brewing about the NFL’s handling of the issue of concussions and player pensions. Since then Dempsey has gone into seclusion, at the Lambeth House in New Orleans. He suffers from Alzheimer’s.
This week, as the 45th anniversary of that landmark kick approached, I reviewed the notes of my brief conversation with Tom Dempsey. I was struck by what he’d said about Pete Rozelle—and, by implication, about the commissioners who followed.
I thought, naturally, of Roger Goodell. And I thought of Deflategate.
And I saw an obvious parallel.
Some might see this as a false equivalence—maybe even an offensive one. Tom Dempsey used a nonstandard shoe because of a birth defect. Tom Brady is accused of being “generally aware” that team employees allegedly reduced the air pressure in Patriots footballs per Brady’s preference.
Still, in each instance the NFL commissioner had to make essentially the same call. Presented with a dubious case involving allegations that altered equipment provided a competitive advantage, both Pete Rozelle and Roger Goodell had to decide whether to risk millions of dollars in legal fees and a potential public-relations nightmare in order to placate a handful of team owners.
It’s clear that Pete Rozelle made the right call and Roger Goodell did not. Really, it’s that simple. Last spring, with the same five simple words that Rozelle used, Goodell could have made this whole Deflategate mess go away:
Don’t worry about it, Tom.
The respectful Fenway sendoff for Derek Jeter made me wonder: If New York and Boston fans had to collaborate on picking an all-star team from the Sox–Yanks rivalry, who would make the cut?
Before I list my roster, I’ll briefly explain the criteria I used:
• I used only players from the rivalry’s modern era, starting with the 2002 season, when the Sox’ current ownership group took over.
• I kept players in their natural positions. No using Jonathan Papelbon as a setup man or a late-in-his-career Bernie Williams in right.
• I limited my picks to players who performed at their peak while wearing either the Boston or New York uniforms, rather than fading stars who joined the rivalry late in their careers. That eliminated, among many others, Ichiro, Randy Johnson, and John Smoltz.
• Players had to have enough “standability” (to steal a phrase from Andy Rooney) to be acceptable to the opposing fan base. So: No A-Rod, who doesn’t appeal to either fan base.
Here’s the 25-man roster I came up with:
• Johnny Damon, CF
• Derek Jeter, SS
• Manny Ramirez, LF
• David Ortiz, DH
• Kevin Youkilis, 1B
• Dustin Pedroia, 2B
• Jorge Posada, C
• Mike Lowell, 3B
• Nick Swisher, RF
Starting Rotation• Pedro Martinez
• Curt Schilling
• Jon Lester
• Andy Pettitte
• Mike Mussina
• Tim Wakefield, long relief/spot starter
• Mike Timlin, middle relief
• Hideki Okajima, middle relief
• Mike Myers, lefty specialist
• David Robertson, setup man
• Mariano Rivera, closer
• Jason Varitek, C
• Jacoby Ellsbury, OF
• Mark Bellhorn, utility infielder
• Kevin Millar, right-handed pinch-hitter
• Hideki Matsui, left-handed pinch-hitter
A few explanations:
• Manny Ramirez is probably the most controversial pick. But despite his stormy departure from Boston and multiple PED violations, he remains a beloved figure among a certain segment of Red Sox fans, not to mention some Yankees fans who secretly wished Ramirez could have played in New York, where he’d gone to high school.
• The toughest call was Jorge Posada over Jason Varitek. Sox fans loved Varitek for the mitt in A-Rod’s mug (a gesture Yankees fans can appreciate retroactively) and his handling of the pitching staff, but Posada put up better numbers longer.
• Nick Swisher in right? Seriously? Yes. Every other prospective candidate had an asterisk of some kind. Shane Victorino would be the perfect “character” guy, but he just hasn’t played enough to qualify. Trot Nixon had some good years but was hurt too much. Ditto J.D. Drew. Bobby Abreu? Meh. In four full seasons in New York the-switch-hitting Swisher never played fewer than 148 games and averaged 26 homers. In this lineup, that’s all you need from your No. 9 hitter. And his frat-boy personality would make him a better fit than glowering Gary Sheffield, whose big numbers carried a Mitchell Report asterisk.
• Damon, Youkillis, Myers, Ellsbury (who edged out Curtis Granderson), and Bellhorn all got points for playing on both sides of the rivalry. So did Lowell for being a former Yankees prospect.