by Keith Aksel
From the moment the postgame confetti fell on Texas’ triumphant Vince Young after the 2006 Rose Bowl Game, commentators nationwide proclaimed the Texas-USC matchup as the greatest game of all time. Without a doubt, the 2006 Rose Bowl had enormous weight riding on its outcome. The Trojans entered the game as two-time defending national champions with a 34-game winning streak. Texas was also undefeated, attempting to win their first national championship since the early 1970s. The game itself was competitive and entertaining. Six lead changes, electrifying offensive plays, and an abundance of star power on both sidelines made for a game that was nothing if not unforgettable. Vince Young, Reggie Bush, and Matt Leinart are a few of the greatest college players of all-time, and all shared the same field that night.
Even so, retrospective analysis of the game suggests that the significance of the 2006 Rose Bowl may not be exactly what we thought at the time. The notion of an all-time great game requires more than just flash and star power, which is primarily what talking heads base their knee-jerk claims on. You also need defense and discipline. Games with a million yards of offense and plenty of turnovers are usually just the result of anemic defenses and sloppy play. As we saw in the USC-Texas game, offense was clearly the dominant side for both teams. In an era before the weekly 200-yard rushing games of today, the fact that both teams managed over 550 yards of offense was an affront to what football is all about. Great football requires give and take from both sides of the ball. Defenses need to be able to impose their will just as often as offenses, producing balanced matchups at more points on the field.
by Leslie Miller
For any readers who haven’t seen the film “Moneyball,” one of its opening scenes portrays a 2001 meeting between Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane and his team of scouts and talent evaluators. An increasingly exasperated Beane tries to get these stodgy geezers to look for new approaches to the perennially cash strapped Athletics’ problem: finding good baseball players on the cheap. His appeals fall on deaf ears (literally in the case of one of the scouts). The point of this scene is to drive home one of the movie’s main themes - that baseball’s old guard relied on completely subjective methods for finding promising prospects and assessing the value of current players.
Supposedly reliable methods such as the “smell test” or using gut feelings were considered standard methods of assembling a roster in the multi billion-dollar business of pro baseball. The film spares no effort to make Beane’s group of scouts look like ridiculous old dinosaurs with no real clue of how the game of baseball actually works, relying on such silly scouting tools as “how the ball sounds off a player’s bat” or the attractiveness of a player’s girlfriend. Obviously this is a fictionalized Hollywood version of what actually took place, but the point is clear; the film goes on to show how the Athletics overhauled this system by incorporating computer models and less conventional baseball statistics (sabermetrics) to objectively analyze players, thus finding talent that the rest of the league undervalued. While most teams were seeking players with high batting averages and lots of RBIs, Beane’s Athletics sought out players with high numbers in other categories. But did the film (and the book on which the film is based, for that matter) give unfair treatment to the concept of “good old-fashioned baseball wisdom?”
by Alex Langer
With the recent end of baseball, and the Seattle Mariners’ hilariously sad descent back to mediocrity, my mind has been on why I love baseball so much. For much of my life, my favorite team has been bad. Sometimes bad in a way that allows me to accept it, letting me enjoy new and innovative ways to lose, and sometimes bad in a way that eats at the pit of your soul. It makes you question why you love a sport, especially when you haven't been excited about your favorite team since you were eleven.
The question gnawed at me, until I remembered one of my favorite movies. I watched The Sandlot often growing up. I probably watched that movie six times over the course of every baseball season growing up. I had an Alex Rodriguez jersey, and every time I went outside to play catch with my dad, or wiffle ball with my friends, I could never decide if I wanted to be A-Rod (before he left Seattle for Texas and $250 million), or Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez. I can still quote that movie liberally.