— Age. It happens to all of us.
But when it rears its ugly gray head as the baseball season comes to a close and teams are jockeying for playoff berths, it can stand out like a black-rimmed pair of bifocals on a string.
Mariano Rivera, the Yankees’ sure Hall of Fame closer, is slowing down at age 40. He isn’t finished by any means. But when he blows his third save in the last six chances, as he did Sunday against the Red Sox at home for the first time since April of 2005, it suggests that perhaps he is weakening. And so are the Yankees.
If you add Andy Pettitte to that dynamic, there’s room for worry among the Yankee faithful. The lefthander can still be sharp and clutch, but when measured against, say, what the Phillies might present in a World Series with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, the defending champs seem to lack a certain momentum and swagger.
The changing of the guard has to happen to every team at a certain point, even to a club like the Yankees with unlimited resources to replenish its talent pool when needed. But guys like Rivera and Pettitte, who have had such a strong hand in the success of the franchise, aren’t so easily replaced.
There’s plenty of time left for them and the rest of the Yankees to defy the aging process and prevail in the postseason once again. But alas, there is also time for them to deteriorate further.
Can Cardinal make statement vs. Ducks?
Statement games in college football come and go. Statement games usually aren’t worth the paper that they’re not written on, simply because whatever statement you make in one game on a particular Saturday, the opposite statement might be made against the next opponent.
Follow so far?
So it is with some trepidation that I declare this Saturday’s game at No. 4 Oregon to be a statement game for No. 9 Stanford. The Cardinal is 4-0 for the first time since 1986 after its victory at unranked Notre Dame. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s crew is playing efficient and physical football, led by quarterback Andrew Luck and linebacker-fullback Owen Marecic.
Beating the Irish didn’t make much of a statement. Nice win, but Notre Dame is still in the midst of its 20-year plan to recapture its old glory -- and it isn’t going well.
But Oregon is the reigning power in the Pac-10. USC is in the midst of football rehab -- taking it one day at a time after the sanctions -- so knocking off the Ducks would be a crowning achievement for Stanford at a relatively early juncture in the season.
Oregon and Stanford are ranked 1 and 2 in scoring offense in the conference. Oregon is tied for first (with Arizona) in scoring defense, and Stanford is ranked third in that category. Clearly, they are the class of the league.
But Stanford has to go to Eugene, which is one of the toughest places to play in the country. With apologies to New York, New York: If the Cardinal can make it there, it can make it anywhere.
Stanford is for real. Exactly how real will be revealed after it makes whatever statement it makes on Saturday.
Boise St.'s good; its schedule isn't
It’s somewhat amazing how many people miss the point about Boise State.
In just about every debate about the Broncos and their potential worthiness to play in the BCS title game, a variation on this comment will arise: “They’re good enough to beat anyone in the country.”
Of course they are. But how good they are is not the issue. How good they are is almost irrelevant.
The point of contention is the obstacle course they will traverse in order to get to a bowl game.
An example: If you watched the Alabama-Arkansas game on Saturday, you will probably agree that it was a doozy. The Tide showed great resilience and fortitude in storming back to win in a hostile environment.
This Saturday? Alabama plays host to Florida.
The Tide’s obstacle course is fraught with peril. Boise State’s is strewn with New Mexico State, Toledo, San Jose State, Louisiana Tech, Hawaii and Idaho.
I applaud Boise State. I haven’t watched the Broncos in the past couple of years without coming away impressed. They’re an exceptionally well-coached team.
But they need to go independent, or hook on with a stronger conference. Because just being as good as anyone in the country is not enough of an argument.
Be kind to McNabb, Philly fans
Philadelphia fans often are condemned for that one time years ago when they booed Santa Claus, but maybe Santa deserved it. Maybe they didn’t get what they wanted from Santa, and it was just their way of saying, “I don’t like your ugly face, and if I see it in my neighborhood again I’m gonna crush your windpipe with the front tire of my Monte Carlo.”
Well, Philly fans also didn’t get what they wanted from Donovan McNabb -- namely, a Super Bowl title -- but I hope he gets a warmer welcome on Sunday when he comes to visit than Santa did.
McNabb brings his new team, the Washington Redskins, to Philadelphia to play his old team, the Eagles. The news likely will focus on the wisdom of letting McNabb get away; his prospects in leading the Redskins farther than he led the Eagles; the Michael Vick-Kevin Kolb debate (far less heated today after Vick’s performance on Sunday); and what Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt think of McNabb, Vick and Kolb.
But the treatment that McNabb gets when he returns to his old home will say a lot about Philadelphia fans. Are they really the uncouth hordes that abused a jolly, white-bearded old man whose only purpose in life is to bring toys to children and make them happy? Or will they shower McNabb with the appreciation he deserves for doing his best for years with limited personnel in a toxic sports climate?
If Philadelphia fans greet McNabb with a standing ovation and hold up signs that say things like, “We Love You, Donovan!” and “Good Luck, McNabb!” it will not only be the first step in image rehabilitation for Philadelphia fans, it might also mean that all is forgiven with Santa, and he can now fly into the city without worrying about anti-aircraft fire.