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Sheldon Hirsch - August 25, 2015

Tim Tebow’s recent return to NFL competition with the Philadelphia Eagles rekindled the polarized debate about his qualifications, with his passionate fans at odds with NFL analysts and executives.

Tebow’s Denver Broncos won seven out of the 11 games that he started in the 2011 season, and followed that with a playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the ensuing offseason, Denver traded Tebow to the New York Jets, where he served as a little-used backup quarterback for one season. The Jets released him, he failed to make the New England Patriots, and he dropped out of football - unwanted - for two years. Perhaps no quarterback in NFL history has been as quickly discarded after a successful season as Tebow. His many supporters find that unfathomable.

However, NFL talent evaluators interpret Tebow’s 2011 season differently from his fans. Even though Denver won games, talent evaluators saw only red flags in Tebow’s performance.

For one thing, he played terribly in Denver’s five losses (including a postseason rout by New England). As a result, Denver averaged only 14 points per game in those games and had little chance to win.

In addition, several Broncos victories required touchdowns from an interception return, a punt return, or a long touchdown run from scrimmage; also, an improbably long field goal following an inexplicable blunder by the opposition1. Tebow gets no credit for those important plays.

Tebow did perform superbly in several fourth quarters - five of the seven wins were... read more »

Sheldon Hirsch - August 17, 2015

Frank Gifford deserved all the high praise he received upon his death on Aug. 9 at 84 years old: A Hall of Fame football player, respected announcer and ambassador for the game, humble and well liked.

I saw Gifford play as a wide receiver in his last few years and knew of his previous success as a great all-around running back. He remains the New York Giants’ leading career touchdown scorer 50 years after his retirement. But I do not consider him the Giants' greatest offensive player ever, nor their greatest runner/receiver of the 1950s and 1960s. The latter would be the little-remembered wide receiver Homer Jones, who holds an even greater (and largely unknown) NFL record: A career average of 22.3 yards per catch, the best in NFL history. No one went deep better than Homer Jones.

The Giants drafted Jones in 1963 in the 20th round, the 278th overall pick, out of Texas Southern University. He had been known in college more for track and field than football, having run a 9.3 second 100-yard dash and once beating Bob Hayes, the World’s Fastest Human, in a 220-yard race. At 6 feet-2 and 220 pounds - huge for a receiver in those days - Jones presented an unprecedented package of size and speed.

At the 1967 Pro Bowl game, officials arranged a match race at half time between Jones and the Olympic gold winner Hayes (then on the Dallas Cowboys) —100 yards in full uniform, carrying a football. But Hayes backed out, admitting in his autobiography that he considered that he might lose and damage his reputation.

Jones was no Henry Carr... read more »

Sheldon Hirsch - August 07, 2015

Two fights caught sports fans’ attention this week. First, last Saturday, Ronda Rousey extended her Ultimate Fighting Championship record to 12 wins without a loss by defeating challenger Bethe Correia in 34 seconds. Rousey rushed at Correia from the bell, throwing a non-stop flurry of punches. She drove the overwhelmed Correia back to the ropes, then knocked her down and out, rendering Correia grateful that Rousey did not prolong the punishment as she had promised.

By anyone’s standards, a major beatdown.

On Aug. 4, many in the sports media noted the anniversary of Nolan Ryan’s beatdown of Robin Ventura: the most famous exception to the usual baseball “fight,” which typically involves harmless pushing, shoving, and posturing. As Deadspin wrote, reflecting standard baseball lore, “22 Years Ago Today, Nolan Ryan Beat the Shit out of Robin Ventura.”

Everyone remembers that Ventura charged the mound after Ryan hit him with a pitch, but what happened next to justify “beat the shit out of”? Did Ryan flatten him with a left-right combo? Did he leg-tackle Ventura, lift him high and pile drive him into the ground? Did he stop Ventura’s charge with a kick to the abdomen and then drop a doubled-over Ventura with a karate chop to the head? Was Ventura carried off, bloodied and stuporous? Was this anything like Rousey beating up Correia?

Surprisingly, films of the incident reveal that the answers are … no, no, no, no, and more no. In reality, the so-called fight read more »

Sheldon Hirsch - July 21, 2015

In addition to riveting competition and great play, the 2015 NBA Finals stood out through the several misconceptions it spawned among many viewers.

The most prominent misconception was that the champion Golden State Warriors provided a blueprint for how basketball ought to be played henceforth: With small-ball and rampant 3-point shooting.

For sure, they ended the Finals with 6-foot-7 Draymond Green at center and sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson launched 3s throughout. But the leap from there to broad statements about the way teams ought to play reflects fondness for simple explanations, new "truths," and overemphasis on the most recent games and series.

An earlier round against Memphis demonstrated the flimsiness of the purported paradigm shift in the NBA. The Warriors trailed Memphis two games to one and could easily have lost the series had Grizzlies star guard Mike Conley been at full health. In that event, the perceived future of the NBA would have turned completely around: A healthy Conley and a Memphis victory would have prompted the theme that you (still!) need big men and low-post offense (e.g. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph) and do not rely on the 3-point shot.

Moreover, while the Warriors did go small at times, it was not their primary strategy throughout the year. Traditional big men Andrew Bogut, Marreese Speights and Festus Ezeli averaged 24, 16 and 11 minutes per game, respectively. Throughout their dominating regular season and until Game 4 of the Finals, the Warriors mostly played a standard sized lineup.

In... read more »