Sports

Indian Guidelines

The recent news about the Washington Redskins losing patent protection for their name is a long time coming — even if it does remind me of what might be the most on-point Onion article ever.  I’m happy someone’s finally trying to leverage something to get the D.C. team to change their name.

Plus, I figure it’s as good a time as ever to trot out the audio essay I wrote senior year of college about my time in the Indian Guides and as a Hart High Indian.  And by “trot out” I really mean remind me how great this art form is and convince myself to try to make another audio essay.  So stay tuned?

Anywho, here it is: Cub Scouts and Indians.

(Big thanks to the Dandy Warhols, the Village People, the Hart High Regiment, and the lovely singing voices of Winter 2011’s English 191T.)

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Billionaire Bracketology

If you haven’t heard, Quicken Loans and Yahoo! Sports (with a hefty helping of Warren Buffet) have teamed up to run a March Madness bracket where anyone who picks all 63 games correctly wins — I shit you not — ONE BILLION DOLLARS.

Or, fine, a nuclear warhead from Kerplakistan, whatever.

Or, fine, a nuclear warhead from Kerplakistan, whatever.

This is an astronomical sum of money to be bet on a sporting event — imagine going to Vegas and slamming down the GDP of the Solomon Islands on black.  To be fair, though, Warren’s hedging his bets by spreading the bet over every game in the NCAA basketball tournament.  All sixty-three games of it.

Let’s assume everyone who enters the tournament chooses the winner of each game blindly.  Quicken Loans is limiting the number of entrants to 15 million, so the chance of anyone at all winning by blind luck is a 0.5063 × 15,000,000 = 0.00000000016% chance.

Ah, but we have more information than luck!  Every team in each of the four sections of the tournament is seeded 1 through 16.  If we assume this alone gives us enough information to pick every game with at least 2/3 probability, then the chance of someone — anyone — wins the billion-dollar bucket is a whopping 0.6763 × 15,000,000 = 0.016%.

So it’s unlikely any average person wins this.  Ever.  But!  Let’s assume (for sake of argument) that I am smarter than the average person.  Well then:

The contest is free to enter, so just by filling out a bracket and picking teams by, I don’t know, jersey color and degree of mascot alliteration (i.e. randomly) I can expect to win 0.5063 × $1,000,000,000 = $0.0000000001.  If I can use the seeds of teams to increase my odds to 2/3, then I’d expect to win 0.6763 × $1,000,000,000 = $0.01!

The kicker, of course, is that as a veteran bracketologist (second place in my pool to a girl who actually did choose by color last year, what what), I can safely assume I’ll be able to pick games correctly 75% of the time.  I’m that good, obviously.  I don’t even have to watch any college basketball this season, such is my mastery of sabremetrics and theorycrafting (full disclosure: I did, once this season, listen to another man watch a North Carolina game).  And with my superior March Madness skill set, fueled by in-depth statistical analysis and this one blog I read on Grantland, I can already expect to win 0.7563 × $1,000,000,000 = $13.45, thereby offsetting (a fraction of) the beer I’ll need to sit through any of the actual tournament games themselves while I wait for college football season to roll around again.

I’ll take my check by direct deposit, please, Warren.

Sidebar: this is why it’s so hard to ever go undefeated in sports. Imagine the shortest season — college football, twelve games — and a team that’s a huge favorite in all of them. If that team is given 90% odds of winning every single game, its odds of going are undefeated are still only 0.9012 = 28%.  What I’m trying to say here is it’s okay, Nick Saban.  Even your dark magic is no match for the power of exponents.

Gridiron Rhetoric: Fiesta Bowl Edition

[Cross blogged for Leland Quarterly]

Amid all the talk of sportsmanship and integrity and athletic ability and scholarship, it’s sometimes easy to forget that at its heart, college football stands for one thing: spectacle.  Luckily, we have Bowl Season (sponsored by the Sizzler) to remind us.  We’ve already seen an Alamo Bowl (sponsored by the Texas Historical Society) to remember, witnessed the Air Force come under Rocket fire in the Military Bowl (sponsored by Cyberdyne Systems), and watched Cal go on vacation during the Holiday Bowl (sponsored by Cheese Board Pizza).  So what can the Fiesta Bowl (sponsored by T. Boone Pickens and John Arrillaga) possibly hold?

In a word?  Spectacle.  (Sponsored by Andrew Luck and Brandon Wheeden.)

I’d like to think that over the last fifteen weeks, I’ve touched on a lot of the traditions and topics that make college football such a unique experience.  And this week, during the biggest desert party of the year, they’re all on display.

Okay, second biggest desert party.

Ridiculous press build up?  Yeah, the game between Stanford and Oklahoma State is being billed as the offensive half of the national championship, with the LSU-Alabama rematch being left to the defense.  Oh, and headline puns abound, of course.

Mascot match up?  The Stanford Not-So-Much-the-Indians-Anymore versus the Oklahoma State Cowboys.  Poetic western backdrop for shootout metaphors is a go.

Between “Pistol Pete” and a horse named “Bullet,” it’s a wonder no one’s died at an OSU game.

Over-the-top fight songs?  OSU’s is “Ride ’Em Cowboys.”  It really doesn’t get much more over-the-top than that.  (Oh wait.)

And as for a venue, we have the University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals and host to Super Bowl XLII, last year’s BCS Championship game, and Wrestlemania XXVI.  The stadium, located in the sprawling Phoenix metropolitan area, is the home field for the University of Phoenix, thirty-time national champions in seventeen different Division I sports.[citation needed]

The stage is, in every conceivable way, set.  It’s time for the Cardinal and the Cowboys to do what they’ve done best all season: play some damn good football.

Thanks for a great season, Stanford—and thank you for reading.  I’ll see you in Phoenix.

Finally finally, a look at some rhetoric from around the internet:

Gridiron Rhetoric: The Histrionic Historiographer on Andrew Luck

[Cross blogged for Leland Quarterly]

In the course of human history, there are individuals who, from time to time, rise above the dirt and grime of ordinary humanity and transcend our mortal lives, become immortalized as shining paragons of all that is commendable about our species.  These are the titans of their age, giants nonpareil whose names are writ in the tome of history indelibly.

As the Histrionic Historiographer, I have been silent for many weeks.  But that is because I have been waiting.  Watching.  Observing.  And now, the time for apotheosis has come.

This quarter has given us one of these aforementioned titans, one of these names that will haunt the halls of Stanford University forever, enshrined with the likes of Jordan, Branner, Elway, Tresidder, Plunkett, Hoover, even young Leland Jr. himself.  This quarter, we have seen greatness.  This quarter, we have seen Luck.

Maybe you've heard of him.

Luck was born in 1989 to Kathy and Oliver Luck, the latter a former NFL quarterback for the Houston Oilers.  The young Luck spent much of his childhood in England and Germany playing football (that sport with the black-and-white ball and the ridiculous haircuts) before returning to Texas, where he—you know what, I’m tired of dancing around it.  Let’s cut to the point:

Andrew Luck is the best fucking architect ever.

It’s not even a competition.  I mean, there have been some great architects, don’t get me wrong.  When you look at the forward motion that Frank Gehry can create or the changes that Walter Gropius brought to the game, well, those are phenomenal advances that revolutionized the industry.  But no one—no one—architects like Andrew Luck.

Luck is the full package.  He can draft, he can model, he can analyze.  He has an extensive knowledge of complex building codes and is adept at reading local planning and zoning laws to ensure he constructs the best possible building for that specific location.  And the man can build like no one I’ve ever seen.  Houses, office buildings, stadiums, dams, Russian palaces, pyramids, synagogues—you name it, Andrew Luck knows how to design, orchestrate, and execute it in the field.

Just by numbers alone, Luck stands out.  He’s designed over eighty different buildings during his time at Stanford, and built models of another seven.  This is especially remarkable when you consider that Luck’s only been an architecture major for three years—he spent his freshman year on the Farm undeclared.  In just three years, Luck has managed to break almost every architecture record the department keeps, and consistently turns in quality buildings when the pressure and odds seem insurmountable.

But it’s more than numbers.  Luck is the only architect to ever master both Trojan and Irish architectural styles—in fact, on a recent class trip to Los Angeles, Luck was able to revitalize the aging Memorial Coliseum, replacing it with a wide open thoroughfare from end to end, a radical redesign that was greeted with huge industry fanfare.  Luck not only does the final design work on each of his buildings, but is involved with the planning from the beginning, often deviating from professors’ prompts if he sees a better way to build.

Whatever firm acquires Luck next year is in for a marquee architect, one who has the potential to make a huge impact from his very first day through the door.  Luck’s talents are unique, his intelligence unrivaled, and his ability to integrate sustainable design practices while creating a building that is not only functional but also aesthetically appealing is simply incredible.  Someone should give him a trophy.

It’s really too bad he’s just not very good at this sports thing.

Finally, a look at some rhetoric from around the internet:

Gridiron Rhetoric: Week 14

[Cross-blogged for Leland Quarterly]

The end of the season means one thing: it’s time to bust out the superlatives. Superlatives are tossed around a lot in football—sometimes tossed around more than the football itself—and so it’s easy to forget that only one quarterback, one linebacker, one coach is the absolute, unquestionable, indisputable best.

And this year, two of those three belong to Stanford.

Andrew Luck, in a wildly unpredictable turn of events, has been named the Pac-12 player of the year, and our coach David Shaw (not that David Shaw) is the Pac-12 coach of the year. Add an 11-1 season, a likely shot at another BCS bowl title, and wins over Cal, USC, and Notre Dame, and it’s easy to see why the superlatives start flying.

But it’s been a rough year for some other Pac-12 schools. Stanford, on the other hand, found that it’s pretty easy to win when you have the best coach in the game. And when your quarterback also happens to be the best coach in the game, well, what do you expect to happen?

Answer: transcendence.

But: We should take a moment to pause at this, the end of our season, before we’re tossed into the chaos of college football’s bowl games, and reflect on how grateful David Shaw must have felt this Thanksgiving to still have his job, when elsewhere in the Pac-12 it was coaches (and not just turkey) on the chopping block.  The expectations for Shaw were astronomical. The stakes were colossal. And the results were monumental.

Other coaches were not so lucky. Rick Neuheisel helped his Bruins accidentally become Pac-12 South champions, despite their best effort not to do so. Arizona State’s Dennis Erickson watched his team implode slowly over the course of the last six weeks of the season. After a strong start, Washington State collapsed into its (as of recently) usual place as football doormat, and Paul Wulff got shown the door. And Arizona didn’t even wait until the end of the season to give Mike Stoops the boot.

Yes, it’s a hard job, being a NCAA football coach. And one that sometimes seems frustratingly based on how much luck (Luck?) you have on the field—or how well your predecessors managed to recruit people like Luck. But don’t feel bad for Neuheisel or Erickson or Wulff or Stoops—they have hefty severance packages and they’ll turn up again somewhere, either assistant coaching in the NFL or commentating or just realizing that making between $600,000 (Stoops) and $1,500,000 (Erickson) per year was a pretty nice gig while they had it.

The highest paid coach at a public Pac-12 school? Take a guess.

College football players may not be paid, but college football coaching is not exactly an altruistic endeavor. And like in any job that’s highly competitive and rewards talent, if you don’t perform to expectations, well, say goodbye to that bathroom.

Finally, a look at some rhetoric from around the internet:

Gridiron Rhetoric: Week 13

[Cross-blogged for Leland Quarterly]

In the beginning man created the game and the sport.
And the sport was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.  And the spirit of man moved upon the face of the football field.
And man said, LET, and there was a postseason.
And man saw the postseason, that it was good: and man divided the victorious from the defeated.
And man called the victorious Champions, and the defeated he called The Also-Playeds.  And the East against the West was the first bowl game. 

That first game showcased man’s proudest creations: the University of Michigan as Adam, made in man’s image as the archetypal eastern football team, versus our own Stanford University as Eve, cast from the rib of eastern football but startlingly unique and beautiful in its own western right.  The date was January 1, 1902, and the game was an exhibition game in Pasadena following the annual Tournament of Roses.

And Stanford lost 49-0, forfeiting in the third quarter.

But the beautiful concept of the bowl game was born!  Yet in those dark and medieval days, it wasn’t always easy to figure out which teams should play each other.  And so, in 1998, a great flood washed over the landscape of college football—and when Roy Kramer released a dove from the summit of Mount Ararat, it returned with the bylaws of the Bowl Championship Series, which have governed the postseason of college football to this day.

Thus the game and the sport were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day man ended his work which he had made and said screw it I’m watching the NFL.

BCS rankings have been used since 1998 to determine which two teams play in the National Championship game, and also somehow vaguely influence the four other so-called BCS bowls: Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, and Orange.  There is a (ahem) byzantine and confusing selection process behind this that I really don’t think I could fully decipher or explain, so I’ll just say that the Wikipedia summary takes no less than ten bullet points to fully delineate all possible selection criteria and the breakdown of each week’s rankings involves a lot of numbers:

BEHOLD THE MIGHTY AND UNQUESTIONABLE POWER OF MAXIMUM LIKELIHOOD ESTIMATION!

In an effort to stave off the eventual triumph of our future robot overlords, the current BCS system weights two human polls with a single composite computer average, ensuring the human voters still have a large say in the final rankings.  Each computer has its own unique algorithm that’s secret and proprietary and may range from sophisticated statistical techniques to monkeys throwing feces at a map of FBS teams.  No one’s really sure.

Surprisingly not how this column is (usually) written.

Like the total lack of a system before it, the BCS has some… quirks.  It seems to hate the Pac-12, for example, though given the number of completely fubar win-loss triangles in our conference this year, that may turn out to be justified (USC beats Oregon but loses to Stanford and is crushed by Arizona State?).  And then there’s the whole unbeaten-doesn’t-mean-you’re-the-best issue.  Ask Boise State or TCU about that one.

But weirdest, in my mind, is the Notre Dame clause.  Our opponent this week is an independent team, with enough of a devoted (read: rabid) fan base to succeed while not belonging to a conference like the rest of us.  But there is a specific line in the BCS rules that says Notre Dame must go to a BCS bowl game if it’s ranked in the top eight teams—which, admittedly, would probably happen anyway because no bowl in its right mind is going to turn down the hordes of Notre Dame fans coming to watch the Fighting Irish Irenicons play some football, but the fact that it’s actually codified still reeks of privileged 1%-ishness.

Notre Dame’s Irish Guard, on the other hand, just reeks of plaid—like if a hipster’s attempt at irony threw up on a Buckingham palace guard.

So: is the BCS broken?  Well, probably not.  With only twelve games per season, it does a pretty decent job of making a ranking system that makes at least a bit of sense.  But there’s perennially talk of switching to a playoff system between the top eight teams—a December Delirium to match NCAA basketball’s March Madness.  In fact, one of the biggest supporters of a playoff system is President Barack Obama.

Valid way to win votes in Texas and Idaho?  I’d say so.

Goddammit man, I voted for CHANGE, not an LSU-Alabama rematch.

Finally, a look at some rhetoric from around the internet:

Gridiron Rhetoric: Week 12

[Cross-blogged for Leland Quarterly]

This is a story about losers.

It is a story about me, primarily, but I—for a change—am not the loser.  It is a story about me, and Stanford, and primarily it is about a football team with an uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

This is a story about 2007.  (Or did you have something else in mind?)

To me, 2007 was the start of something beautiful on the Farm.  It happens to coincide with the first year I found myself on Stanford’s campus, but we’ll chalk that up to correlation rather than causation.  You see, 2007 was also the year the Venerable James  Harbaugh came to campus—and the year that Stanford football began its rebound.

It was slow.  And painful.  And definitely didn’t happen in 2007.  But that was the start, the genesis, the inception of greatness.

…and the fourteenth level of the movie is a complex football metaphor.

In the first eleven games of the season, Stanford football won one home game.  Against San Jose State.  I was there for those games—and they were painful.  Stadium-meals-are-the-best-part-of-this-experience painful.

There were glimpses of greatness, though.  The biggest upset in college football history comes to mind, a stubborn refusal from the Venerable James Harbaugh to bow to any accepted powerhouse.  But ultimately, that week after Thanksgiving, Stanford was looking at a 3-8 season.

It was disappointing.  It was disheartening.  It was disempowering.  And then, the California Golden Bears came to Stanford Stadium.

Big Game, if nothing else, did wonders for morale.

Inexplicably heartwarming.

There’s something magical about a rivalry game that can make you forget the rest of the season, forget any losses or injuries or blown calls or missed tackles or some short guy with a CamelCase name running train all over your backfield.  And that was true in 2007—all of a sudden, 3-8 Stanford was 4-8 Stanford with a Big Game victory, and the season didn’t seem so bad anymore.  Sure, there was no bowl game.  But we had crushed USC’s dreams and beaten Oski to a pulp—what more could you ask for in a season?

“Beaten to a pulp” may be a mean-spirited thing to say when to begin with Oski looks more like the Hunchback of Notre Dame than the mascot of California.

Rivalry games are definitely the best part of the season.  And the best part of rivalry games?  Well, their names—and spoils of war associated with them.

  • Duel in the Desert: Arizona v. Arizona State
  • Prize: The Territorial Cup
  • First game: 1899
  • Why you should watch it: Arizona’s season is irrecoverable.  Arizona State’s is spiraling down in flames.  So lately?  I dunno, just to see if Vontaze Burfict kills a guy.

The Territorial Cup is notable for being the only trophy that can hold all of the liquid in the state of the colleges that play for it.

  • Civil War: Oregon v. Oregon State
  • Prize: The Platypus Trophy
  • First game: 1894
  • Why you should watch it: Upset?

It’s a duck stuffed in a beaver stuffed in a turkey!

  • Apple Cup: Washington v. Washington State
  • Prize: The Apple Cup
  • First game: 1900
  • Why you should watch it: Opportunity to make cougar jokes.

Wait, the cup is actually a trophy?

  • Holy War: Utah v. BYU
  • Prize: The Beehive Boot (sort of)
  • First game: 1896
  • Why you should watch it: Only rivalry game whose history involves a cheerleader fight.

Not really sure why this is sought after.

  • Crosstown Showdown: UCLA v. USC
  • Prize: The Victory Bell
  • First game: 1929
  • Why you should watch it: Vain hope that UCLA beats USC.

Note: bell has not been this color for some time.

  • Notre Dame – USC rivalry: Uhhh… Oregon State v. Colorado?
  • Prize: The Jeweled Shillelagh
  • First game: 1926
  • Why you should watch it: Learn what the hell a jeweled shillelagh is.

Pronounced shuh-LAY-lee, obviously. Turns out a shillelagh is some sort of ancient Irish war club, which makes a jeweled shillelagh about as useful as a bedazzled assault rifle.

  • Big Game: Stanford v. California
  • Prize: The Stanford Axe
  • First game: 1892
  • Why you should watch it: Assert your Stanford superiority in athletics, academics, and attractiveness.  Watch Kal weenies cry.  Channel your inner lumberjack.

Always reads 20-19 in 1982.

The moral of the story is this:  No matter how good or how bad the season, no matter how disappointing or exhilarating the games have been, there are always more games, future years, new horizons—and so a team is never a loser.

Until it loses its rivalry game.

Finally a look at some rhetoric from around the internet (and a last, resounding, BEAT CAL):