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Super Bowl LV: Maybe The Weirdest Thing Ever

This is not a sci-fi movie but a slice of life during a pandemic, an attempt to use a diluted American spectacle — and Tom Brady’s superhuman quest — to create an escape for a country about to burst from anxiety.

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I’ve always mocked the concept of an apocalypse, figuring it was cinematic and never real, not realizing a catastrophe was plotting an attack. Naturally, it converges in 2021 at a Super Bowl, in the freaky-deaky state of Florida, where no killer alligators are involved, just an infectious disease not taken seriously by the governor. A long-ago movie, “Black Sunday,” depicted a terrorist group trying to blow up a Goodyear blimp during the NFL’s championship game.

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This won’t be that, I don’t think. But it might be the most bizarre thing we’ve experienced in our lives.

“I don’t know when normal will occur again or if normal will occur again,” said the league commissioner, Roger Goodell, who somehow maneuvered the coronavirus landmines to reach this new and grotesque normal amid — how many now? — 450,000 U.S. deaths.

While a rock-star epidemiologist in his 80s urges people to watch on TV in home isolation, only 25,000 fans will sit distanced in a largely barren stadium with a pirate ship as a 43-year-old quarterbacking mutant, unsatisfied with six title rings, tries to win a seventh. Tom Brady will do so in his adopted home of Tampa, with the long-sketchy Buccaneers, against a generational force young enough to be his son, Patrick Mahomes. All while the weary national media, masked and Zoom-tethered, ask if Brady is replacing Michael Jordan as the G.O.A.T. of all sporting G.O.A.T.s by performing at a higher level at a more advanced age than any athlete ever — when, in truth, Mahomes ultimately might claim the distinction someday, assuming Planet Earth still exists.

“The goal is to win as many Super Bowls as possible and to be playing in this game every single year,” said Mahomes, already perched alongside Brady and LeBron James as The Faces of American Sports. “If you look at guys like Tom, Michael, Kobe, LeBron … all these special guys, I think at the end of the day you see that their work ethic and drive to win is just different than everybody else’s. That’s what makes them special, and hopefully I can try to do whatever I can to have that same work ethic and drive in my career.”

Oh, he has it. And he’ll need it without both of his starting tackles, against Shaq Barrett and a swarm of hungry pass rushers, raising the possibility that Brady actually might pull off the most preposterous football story ever. Yes, bigger than Joe Namath successfully guaranteeing a victory, bigger than Nick Foles and the Philly Special, bigger than David Tyree’s helmet catch — bigger, really, than just about anything in sports because, again, Brady is pushing 44 and looking younger by the hour, a more curious case than Benjamin Button. By now, even suspicions that he’s swallowing age-defying cocktails from his mysterious personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, are softened by the shock and awe of it all: that Brady still is able to look good in a uniform and have the best-functioning brain cells on the field, despite 20-plus years of punishment at the most vulnerable position in team sports.

How is this happening? The answer might be simpler than psychoanalysts and biologists make it out to be. If you haven’t noticed, the athletes thriving amid a pandemic are the greatest in their craft — Brady, Mahomes, James, a redemptive Clayton Kershaw, a spiritual Naomi Osaka, a transcendent Bryson DeChambeau. Already obsessive about winning, they’ve used a global crisis to ratchet up their focus from lasered to maniacal. There is no messing around anymore, even in the slightest, which is why the Lakers won while the Clippers were losing their minds in the NBA Bubble and why I wonder if the presence of a COVID-19-infected barber — while Mahomes and numerous teammates and staffers were there for a cut — might prove regrettable for the Chiefs.

“It’ll all work out when it’s all said and done,” said coach Andy Reid, he of the floral shirts and cheeseburgers.

Image result for andy reid cheeseburger

Brady, known to cut his own hair, never would put himself in such danger so close to another holy grail. Having divorced Bill Belichick, ventured from New England to the Gulf Coast and put away Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field, he is poised to finalize what we’ve never seen before. You think he’s taking no for an answer, as 100 million watch him step effortlessly from one generation to the next, while his merchandise sales break records nationwide — including in his discarded New England? After the Bucs beat the Packers for the NFC title, Brady noticed a teammate crying in the locker room.

“What the f— you crying for? We’re not done yet,” he said, as told on a podcast this week by linebacker Lavonte David.

Blessed with uncommon equilibrium, Brady is forever the 199th pick in the draft and the flabby kid in the combine photo, the collegian who cleaned toilets during a summer construction job, the competition freak who still loses sleep after every loss while still trying to quiet the few critics who remain. He has taken charge of the age-old sports argument: Was Brady or Belichick more responsible for the Patriots dynasty? He has quieted loudmouths like me who said he should have retired on top after winning two years ago. He has turned haters into worshippers, such as his favorite receiver, Mike Evans, who said, “You know, when I was a kid, I grew up not liking Tom Brady because I was a Peyton Manning fan. Now, I’m the biggest Tom Brady fan.” Even Goodell, who hammered Brady with a four-game Deflategate suspension, has nothing but glowing praise more than five years after prosecuting him for doctoring balls.

“Tom Brady has shown that he’s probably the greatest player to ever play this game,” Goodell said Thursday. “His leadership, his ability to rise to the big occasion and make everybody rise around him. That’s what’s absolutely incredible to me, everyone just plays better when they’re with him. I’ve known him for probably 15 years and he’s an extraordinary guy. He’s real, he cares about this game deeply, he cares about people involved with the game. So, for me I wish him well. I think he’s gonna continue to be a great performer. I’m glad to hear he’s going to play a few more years.”

So, what’s left for Brady to conquer?

Himself.

At some point, Brady will have to pack away his boundless ambitions and realize that his wife, the supermodel Gisele Bundchen, and their children would like him to stop playing football. Maybe he wins Sunday night and finally gets it — the perfect ending, the glorious act of retiring on top, something Jordan didn’t do and an ailing Tiger Woods cannot do. Was Brady hinting at that as a possibility in an expansive answer this week?

“I could never have imagined it would be like this. I don’t think anybody could have,” Brady said. “(I’ve) tried to go play my ass off every week. I’m still trying to do it. This work for me has never been about — I would have thought that success is passing yards or touchdowns or Super Bowls — it was always maximizing my potential, being the best I could be.

“When I showed up as a freshman in high school, I didn’t know how to put pads in my pants. I was just hoping to play high school football because I wanted to be like Joe Montana and Steve Young. And then when I got a chance in college, I just wanted to play at Michigan. When I got drafted by the Patriots, I just wanted to play, I just wanted to start. It’s just been a series of steps like that of trying to be a little better every year, trying to learn a little more every year, trying to grow and evolve in different areas.

“My life has taken certainly a lot of different directions. I’m obviously older now. I’ve got a family. A lot of incredible blessings in my life. Fast-forward 21 years, sitting in Tampa and trying to win a Super Bowl in our own home stadium would be pretty sweet.”

Image result for tom brady maga

So sweet, in fact, that he should follow the Florida sun into his professional dusk if he wins. Even then, it wouldn’t be an easy decision for Brady, not when he uses persistent noise as motivation. Abandoning journalism for what seems strained activism, USA Today sports columnist Nancy Armour asserted that “white privilege” has given Brady an “undeserved pass” for keeping a MAGA cap in his locker years ago. I can’t remember the last time Brady spoke about Donald Trump, with whom he once was friendly. That didn’t stop Armour from ripping Brady for “moral cowardice.” Also weighing in against Brady was FS1 host Shannon Sharpe, who said a Black athlete never would have evaded criticism in such a political circumstance.

Asked about Sharpe’s remarks, Brady said, “I’m not sure how to respond to hypothetical questions. I hope everyone can — we’re in this position, like I am, to try to be the best I can be everyday as an athlete, as a player, as a person in my community for my team and so forth. So … yeah. Not sure what else.”

His reflex, of course, is to not let anyone tell him what to do or how to live his life. So he keeps playing. That’s his revenge.

And I’m sure, the nanosecond the game finishes, there will be betting lines on whether Brady returns or retires, even though he says he’ll consider playing beyond age 45. With the shells removed from the gambling bombs and legal betting now the national rage, this will be the most insane and gross day of wagering in our country’s history. The absence of spectators in stadiums and arenas has been replaced by the grimy thrill of money action, with states realizing they can reap staggering revenues even during a pandemic. If — when — all 50 states allow sports gambling, collective annual revenues exceeding $19 billion will be commonplace, reports the New York Times. So consider Super Bowl LV to be the inaugural showcase for the new explosion.

Which makes it easy for tens of millions at home to pick up a phone and bet. That is much safer than jamming into casinos and sports bars, which many COVID-iots will do anyway. “You don’t want parties with people that you haven’t had much contact with,” urges Dr. Anthony Fauci, still alive and quite visible as Trump fades away. “You just don’t know if they’re infected, so, as difficult as that is, at least this time around, just lay low and cool it.”

With America ready to burst from pandemic anxiety and vaccine lagging, I can’t say what’s going to happen Sunday or next week or the rest of our time on Earth. “I think America needs this Super Bowl,” said CBS Sports boss Sean McManus, who is required to say such things when his network is carrying the game. “I think it’s an opportunity for the country to come together. I think it’s going to be uplifting. I think it’s going to be unifying. And I think it’s coming at the right time.”

There never can be a right time for any of this. But I do know that the roman numerals are teasing us with symbolism.

 LV — as in LIVE, while you still can.

BSM Writers

Keith Moreland’s Broadcasting Fills Void Left by MLB Career

“When I got through… I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”

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Austin American-Statesman

Sports color analysts are more often than not former players. This has been a consistent norm across sports broadcasting at all levels. The analyst is there to add “color” to the play-by-play broadcaster’s metaphorical and verbal “drawing” of the game. For former MLB slugger and catcher, Keith Moreland, this was the surprise post-playing retirement career that has boosted him to a key figure in Austin media and national media alike.

Moreland played football and baseball at the University of Texas before making his way to the MLB for 12 years with key contributions to the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs in the 1980s.

Moreland reminisced on his decision to play baseball full time: “I thought I was going to be in the NFL, but Earl Campbell changed that. I had just played summer ball. We had won a championship and I missed the first few days of two-a-days. I hadn’t even had a physical yet and I’m in a scrimmage. I stepped up to this freshman running back and as he ducked his shoulder, one of his feet hit my chest and the other hit my face mask and he kept on truckin’. I got up and I thought ‘I could be a pretty good baseball player.’

So I told Coach Royal after practice I was going to focus on baseball and he asked ‘what took you so long? We were surprised you came back because we think you have a really good shot at playing professional baseball.'”

It was a good choice for Moreland. He was part of the 1973 College World Series winning Texas Longhorns baseball team. While at Texas Moreland hit .388 and became the all-time leader in hits for the College World Series. After being drafted by the Phillies in the 7th round of the 1975 draft, Moreland would go-on to play in the majors from 1978 to 1989.

“You go your whole life trying to get to play professionally. When I got through my opportunity to play in the big leagues, I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”

Broadcasting was not the original retirement plan for Moreland. He first tried his luck at coaching with his first stop being his alma mater as an assistant for the Longhorns. At the time, Bill Schoening (a Philadelphia native and Phillies fan), was the radio play-by-play broadcaster. Schoening made Moreland a go-to for a pre-game interview and convinced him to come on talk shows. Schoening even convinced Moreland to practice live broadcasting skills by taking a recorder to games and listening back to them to learn.

“Bill was the guy who brought me onboard and I still have those tapes and I really learned from them, but I don’t want anyone else to ever hear them!” Moreland adds with a chuckle on how far he has come in over 25 years of broadcasting.

Moreland has been a key part of University of Texas radio broadcasts for baseball since the 1990s and has catapulted that broadcast experience to Texas high school football, Longhorn football radio and television broadcasts, ESPN, the Little League World Series, the Chicago Cubs and more since hanging up his cleats and picking up a microphone.

While his playing days are well behind him, Moreland still takes the spirit of his professional athlete background to his broadcasting:

“If you don’t bring energy to your broadcast, somebody’s gonna turn the game on and wonder ‘what’s wrong? Are they losing the game?’”, Moreland remarks, “So you have to come prepared and with energy for the broadcasts.”

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BSM Writers

Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting

The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.

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Maryland Matters

As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.

For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.

While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements. 

While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized. 

Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.

People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.

First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.

The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues. 

None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.  

As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.

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BSM Writers

Saban v. Jimbo Is WrestleMania for College Football Fans

Ryan Brown says the Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher feud is one made for pay-per-view and we have nearly five months to hype the match.

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Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

It was the day after I turned eleven that Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre ‘The Giant’. WrestleMania III filled 90,000 seats at the Pontiac Silverdome and the living room of one of the houses in my neighborhood. Real or fake, we didn’t care. Three decades later, Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher is 100% real and it is coming to a living room near you.

I live in the capital city of SEC Country – Birmingham, Alabama. SEC football needs no additional drama here. You get a complete college football obsession at birth. That said, the October 8th Texas A&M visit to Alabama will be among the most anticipated regular season college football games both regionally and nationally.

One would think CBS will use their annual prime time date for that Saturday just as they did for last season’s Alabama at Texas A&M game, you know, when Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher were on speaking terms. Not knowing how the season will play out, it would be no surprise if ESPN’s College Gameday is in Tuscaloosa as well. While we are at it, let’s just cut to the 2024 chase and schedule a Presidential debate in Tuscaloosa that weekend, as well.

Not one person will be surprised if Alabama is undefeated and the top ranked team in the nation that week. The surprise, based on the rest of the Jimbo Fisher era, will be the Aggies being unbeaten. Their trip to Alabama comes at the end of a five game stretch that includes Appalachian State at home, Miami at home, Arkansas in Dallas and a road game at Mississippi State. Incidentally, the same Texas A&M team that was able to upset Alabama last season also managed to lose to Arkansas and Mississippi State.

Just the prospect of the two teams being unbeaten and highly ranked causes some to say this game would need no extra storylines. Shouldn’t that, and being on CBS in prime time, be enough? The Saban-Fisher Feud already has people discussing this game nationally and Lee Corso hasn’t even donned a body odor-filled mascot head yet.

I would like to project this game to deliver the largest TV audience of the regular season but I can’t, for one reason: I’m not certain it will be close. I think Alabama is that much better than Texas A&M. That’s why the build up will deliver a huge first half audience.

For perspective, in the 2021 regular season, the Alabama at Texas A&M game had the fifth largest TV audience, in a game that went down to the final play. The Ohio State at Michigan game had 15.8 million viewers on as part of FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff, almost double that of Alabama at Texas A&M on CBS in prime time.

That brings me to another misconception: big games have to be in prime time to get a big audience. Of the top ten largest college football audiences in the regular season and conference championship weekend, only half were prime time games. College football fans, and NFL fans for that matter, will find the best games no matter where they are placed.

So, back to Saban v. Fisher; why is it a bad thing? Would SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey prefer it not happen? Of course. Will it bring more attention to a game in the conference he oversees? I say, absolutely. Heck, my daily show is already selling t-shirts for the game. You may say “shameless plug”, I say paying for my kid’s college. Tomato, tomahto.

This is what made “Mean” Gene Okerlund a household name in the 1980’s. He was the far too serious host that interviewed the wrestlers who challenged other wrestlers to a grudge match in exotic places like the Macon Coliseum and the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and the Dallas Sportatorium. Why did they do that? First, it was entertaining but, primarily, it sucked the viewer into making plans to view those matches.

I mean, if Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat said he was going to rip the head off “Big” John Studd, was I going to miss that?

That was why a bunch of kids crowded into a living room in Anniston, Alabama in 1987 to watch WrestleMania III, The Main Event. I can’t tell you who was on the undercard that night. The only wrestlers we cared about were Hulk Hogan and Andre “The Giant”.

Actually, my friend’s mom thought the Ultimate Warrior was “cute and had a great body”. He wasn’t on the card and I thought it was odd she told us that but she was footing the bill for the pay-per-view and had mixed the fruit punch Kool-Aid, so who am I to judge one’s wanton desires?

Texas A&M at Alabama will be the SEC’s main event this season and, if the cards fall right, it may be college football’s main event. What happened between the two head coaches might not be the proudest moment in SEC history but it will bring more attention to that game. And, my word, we finally have a nano-second in which two prominent coaches weren’t pre-programmed robots refusing to deviate from the script.

As amazing as WrestleMania III was for my childhood, it was scripted. The Tide and the Aggies will not be. College football remains one of the greatest values in sports. I pay very little to watch unscripted game after unscripted game. Truth is, you couldn’t even script most of what we see on a college football Saturday. 

Texas A&M at Alabama is already beyond what the most creative writers could imagine and that is why this fuel to the already smoldering fire adds to this game. Now, if Nick Saban will just try to bodyslam Jimbo Fisher, we’ll have something.

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