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Sunday 25th Feb 2018

Enough already, I get it!  Blake Griffin can jump really high.  There is no need for you to continue to show me the same dunk over and over and over again!!!

There has always been something that has bothered me about “great plays” and that is we often judge the result more than the effort.  Of course this is the basis for using advanced statistics to better evaluate future performance, but that is a topic for another day, in a differently titled column.

So Blake Griffin is an explosive athlete that can jump really high and make a windmill motion with his arm.  I think it is fair to say that jumping in the manner he did while keeping in control as Kendrick Perkins had the unfortunate fate to be in the right place at the wrong time made the athletic feat that much more spectacular.  But what propelled the play to be put in an infinite loop on highlight reels everywhere was the fact that not only did Griffin enact a windmill motion with his arm, he was holding a basketball and propelled it downward several inches through a rim 18 inches in diameter while cameras were rolling.  That is, it was the result, two points in a professional basketball game that put the finishing touch on the play we have now seen more than Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction (second reference in two weeks, I really need to be more up on pop culture to increase my metaphorical capability).

I feel the same way when it comes to baseball highlights, web gems if you will.  One game, Austin Jackson goes back, feels the warning track, finds the fence, times his leap perfectly, extends his glove a foot behind the wall and the ball nestles into the webbing of his mitt and he makes a phenomenal snow cone catch, robbing his opponent of a home run but the next day, he does the exact same thing, but the ball is hit just a little higher and the play of the year is now a nice try by Austin Jackson.

I understand, we are a results oriented society, more interested in how many than how.

Perhaps the most blatant example of this in the past couple of weeks was Mario Manningham’s sideline grab during the New York Giants’ Super Bowl winning drive last Sunday.  Obviously, it was a phenomenal play, but it was the timing more so than the athletic nature of the catch itself that still has Cris Collinsworth gushing.  To be honest, my opinion is the throw was a superior athletic play than the catch.  Eli Manning put the ball in the only place it could have been caught in bounds by his receiver.  I would venture to say that if the same play had happened in a non-descript regular season game, it may not have even made the highlights unless it led to a game winning score or was thrown by Tim Tebow.  But because of the enormity of the moment, and rightfully so, it is going to be archived as one of the greatest catches of all time.  At least that is what Collinsworth says.

Speaking of the Super Bowl, I thought I would share my take.  Most of the talk has been about another fourth quarter comeback by Eli, the aforementioned grab, Ahmad Bradshaw’s falling backwards into the end zone after the Patriots ceded him a touchdown he did not want to score, Gisele’s calling out of the Patriots' receivers for a case of the dropsies and Rob Gronkowski’s dance moves at a post-game party thrown by the non-victorious squad.  Personally, I think the game was decided very early by two plays.

The first was New England’s initial play from scrimmage where Tom Brady faded back into the end zone, was under some but not heavy pressure and heaved the pigskin 60 yards downfield, to a spot where the referee was the closest human being to the point it hit the ground.  By rule, of course, this was a safety, giving the Giants a two point lead and the ball, not to mentioned throwing millions into a tizzy as they now were screwed out of the better squares in their football pool, or were suddenly in contention as now 2, 5 and 9 were now more likely to win.  Iroically, circumstances resulted in a conventional 21-17 final, but for awhile, those holding the less likely combinations were in the running.

The second play that I feel went a long ways towards determining the games’ final outcome was towards the end of the first quarter, on the drive ensuing the safety, the Patriots had the Giants third and three from their eleven, assured of at least a field goal.  Manning completed a pass to Victor Cruz, enough for the first down, but cornerback Sterling Moore, who was last season knocking the ball from Lee Evans, sending the Patriots into the Super Bowl, stripped Cruz of possession and subsequently recovered the loose ball.  The problem was, eleven more of Moore’s teammates were on the field at the time and the rules only permit ten, so instead of turning the Giants over in the red zone, the Pats gave Eli and friends a new life and a few surprise bucks to those hoping Brady would be shut out and Lawrence Tynes would kick three first quarter field goals, making their 9 for the Giants, 0 for the Patriots square a winner.  Two plays later, Manning found Cruz again, this time in the end zone for a touchdown.

The reason I feel these two plays were crucial was it was my opinion that the best chance the Patriots had to win was getting off to a good start, forcing the Giants to play from behind early, which would help Belichick’s defense (when they remembered how many guys were allowed on the field) neutralize some of the matchup issues.  The safety not only tacked on two points for New York, it gave them the ball again, which also kept Gronkowski on the sideline for most of the first quarter, which could not have helped his ankle.  Then when the team had the chance to still gain some early momentum by recovering the red zone fumble, it was obviously nullified by penalty.

As it turns out, my premise itself was not entirely accurate as the Patriots indeed still had a very good chance to win despite letting the Giants capture the momentum and an early lead.  Their defense played better than expected, which to me was a bit of a surprise, in fact, forcing two more fumbles with only eleven men on the field, but being unable to recover.  And Ms. Bundchen was correct, the receivers did her husband no favors.

But at the end of the day, the better team made the plays necessary to win a championship.

Congratulations to the New York Football Giants.

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