The Tinley children are on Fall Break, so we’re spending the week vacationing on Perdido Key. I was without Internet access until yesterday, when I successfully guessed the password for a wireless router in a neighboring condo. A word of advice: If you’re in Florida and your wireless password is “sunshine,” you’re inviting anyone who can pick up your signal to use your Internet.
Anyway, here are some things we learned this week:
1. Minneapolis is the Mecca of bad football.
Major football teams that make their home in Minneapolis are a combined 1-8, and things were especially bad this weekend. The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, who already have home losses to New Mexico State and North Dakota State on their resume, lost 58-0 in Ann Arbor on Saturday. Sunday, the Vikings dropped to 0-4 after losing to the similarly hapless Chiefs.
2. States that have shores on Lakes Michigan and Superior are having a great fall.
Maybe Minnesota’s problem is that it borders only Lake Superior and not Lake Michigan. Things are much better in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Michigan is home to the Lions, who made yet another second-half comeback Sunday to remain undefeated; the Wolverines, who shut out the aforementioned Gophers 58-0 and have risen to #12 in the AP poll and #11 in the USA Today poll; and the Tigers, who are headed back to Detroit tied 1-1 with the Yankees in the American League Division Series.
Meanwhile in America’s Dairy, the Packers are a perfect 4-0, the Brewers are one game away from advancing to the National League Championship Series, and . . .
3. Wisconsin is a national championship contender
The Badgers, after a 48-17 creaming of Nebraska, are #4 according to the AP and #5 according to the coaches. Wisconsin’s toughest remaining game is either October 22 at Michigan State or November 19 at Illinois. Wisconsin should be favored in both. The Badgers have a clearer path to an undefeated season than any team other than Boise State. Don’t be surprised to see Wisconsin in New Orleans on January 9.
4. So is Clemson.
Yes, really. Clemson, currently #8 in both polls, may have a better trio of quality wins than anyone in the country. The Tigers are coming off of consecutive victories over defending national champion Auburn, preseason top-5 Florida State (albeit without starting QB EJ Manuel), and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg (by a score of 23-3). Clemson still has Georgia Tech in Atlanta, South Carolina in Columbia, and (possibly but probably) the ACC Championship Game, but the Tigers are more than capable of winning all three.
5. Brady Hoke made all my football dreams come true.
I’ve long been an advocate of 2-quarterback formations. Having 2 good quarterbacks should never be reason for controversy. Just play them both at the same time. (I’m not really an Xs-and-Os guy.)
Saturday, on the second play of Michigan’s public shaming of Minnesota, coach Brady Hoke put back-up QB Devin Gardner under center and lined up Denard Robinson as a third halfback. The Wolverines used the 2-QB set 4 times against the Gophers. I can only hope that they’ll return to this formation next week at Northwestern.
6. Alex Smith might be an NFL quarterback after all.
Smith went for a respectable 21-for-33 for 291 yards, 2 touchdowns, and zero interceptions in the 49ers’ road win over the Eagles on Sunday. I was going to make an “Alex Smith has gotten more chances than anyone not named ________” joke, but I couldn’t think of anyone in sports, entertainment, or any other walk of life who has gotten more chances, without doing anything to earn them, than Alex Smith.
At any rate, Smith is the starting quarterback on a team that is 3-1 (and was very nearly 4-0) and already has a 2-game lead in its division. He’s also 8th in the NFL in quarterback passer rating. (I know it’s a flawed stat, but still.)
7. Chris Johnson might still be an NFL running back.
In his first 3 games this season, Johnson rushed for a total of 98 yards on 48 carries. That’s barely 2 yards per attempt. Sunday against the Browns, he ran for 101 yards on 23 carries. Granted, it was one game, against the Browns. But for Titans fans and fantasy owners who had been waiting for C.J. To have a breakout game, “Johnson (101)” was a welcome sight.
8. Devin Hester is the most accomplished punt returner in NFL history.
Hester took a punt 69 yards into the end zone during the Bears’ victory Sunday over the Panthers, setting an NFL record with 11 career punt returns for touchdowns. You know who didn’t send Hester a congratulatory text? Hester’s old friend Nevin Shapiro.
9. Three NFL teams started Purdue quarterbacks this week.
Purdue football fans haven’t had much to feel good about lately. But on a weekend when the Boilers lost 38-10 to Notre Dame, 3 former Purdue quarterbacks started for pro teams (Brees, Orton, and Painter). Sure 2 of the 3 lost, but Curtis Painter (281 yards and no picks) played better than expected, and Purdue fans need something take pride in right now. Boiler up.
10. The MLB Playoffs have lived up to their opening act.
I feared that there was no way baseball’s Playoffs could be as exciting as the final night of the regular season, but so far the postseason hasn’t disappointed. Three of the 4 series were tied after 2 games, and there have been plenty of close games, lead changes, and gutty performances.
Last night the Rangers scored 4 runs in the 7th to edge out the Raymonds, and Justin Verlander pitched an 8-inning, 11-strikeout win against the Yankees. Sunday night, the Cardinals came back from down 4 to prove that Cliff Lee isn’t invincible in October. Perhaps last Wednesday was just an hors d’oeuvre.
11. Angel McCoughtry is the best professional athlete you’ve never heard of.
If you live in Minnesota and you’re depressed about the Vikings, Gophers, Twins, etc., you might want to follow the Lynx, who have a 1-0 lead in the WNBA Finals. If you do watch the remaining Finals games between the Lynx and the Atlanta Dream, pay attention to the Dream’s Angel McCoughtry, the best professional athlete you’ve never heard of.
Even people who ignore the WNBA have heard of Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker, and Maya Moore (of the Lynx). Casual fans know Cappie Pondexter and Tamika Catchings (this year’s MVP). But few know about McCoughtry who is as good as any of them. The 6-1 forward has carried the Dream through the Playoffs—along the way eliminating my Indiana Fever with a barrage of jump shots that would have won her a HORSE tournament—and Sunday night scored 33 in a losing effort. McCoughtry already holds WNBA records for points in a Conference Finals game (42) and in a Finals game (35). Don’t be surprised if she saves the Dream from elimination and leads them to a title.
12. Kobe Bryant is getting ready to return to his childhood home.
Bryant and Italian club Virtus Bologna are working on a deal to bring Bryant to the country where he spent much of his childhood. Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, Kobe’s dad, signed with an Italian basketball team when Kobe was 6. Joe retired and moved the family back to the states when Kobe was 13. Bryant has said it would be a “dream” to play in Italy, but I’m guessing that he’d have no trouble letting go of that dream if the NBA lockout were to end today (and it almost certainly won’t).
13. Disney is really counting on people taking Real Steel seriously.
For each hour of sports you watched this weekend, you saw no fewer than 7 ads for Disney’s forthcoming movie Real Steel. Apparently, Disney believes that people will flock to theaters next week to see the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots movie. Disney is probably right. As a species we can’t resist special effects.
In fairness, Real Steel wasn’t inspired by Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots but by a pretty good 1956 Richard Matheson short story (“Steel”) that was the basis for a pretty good Twilight Zone episode. Neither the story nor the Twilight Zone episode were about a kid building a fighting robot with his estranged father. Rather, both were about an aging former boxer who refused to give up on his battered, out-of-date boxing robot. In a desperate effort to win money to repair his bot, the old fighter takes the robot’s place in the ring. (It’s not as ridiculous as it sounds.)