The Problem With Tom Brady

By Michael LeCompte

Tom Brady will start his record seventh Super Bowl when the Patriots take on the Falcons in Houston on Sunday and he will be looking for his record-setting fifth ring. Conventional sports wisdom and certainly the sports media have been applying “the greatest ever” tag to Brady for some time now.

There’s a big problem with that line of thinking though.

The problem with Brady is that he lacks that signature win. Sure, it could be argued that any Super Bowl win is a signature and Brady has four of them, but he fails to capture the hearts of fans and the essence of the game the way Bradshaw and Montana-the two other quarterbacks with four Super Bowl wins-ever did.

Brady is really nothing more than a cog in New England’s winning machine-he’s a system guy. The Patriots are going to spread it out and throw it quickly to several different receivers, while mixing in a consistent run game. Whoever the quarterback is in that system will thrive as long as they stay upright (as we saw this year with Jimmy Garropollo and even Jacoby Brissett under center early in the season). Brady’s biggest asset throughout his career has been his ability to stay healthy.

Bradshaw won his four Super Bowls in the 1970’s, playing in some classic playoff games and epic Super Bowl shootouts against Roger Staubach’s Cowboys. Beloved now for his goofy, grandfatherly, down-home wisdom, Bradshaw had several signature wins (the “immaculate reception” game and a brilliant 4TD performance in his fourth Super Bowl among them).

Along the way to his four Super Bowls Joe Montana had countless signature wins. He didn’t always put up the gaudy stats that Brady does, but when the pressure was on Joe Cool delivered. “The Catch” game stands out and his comeback win performance against Cincinnati is still probably the best Super Bowl ever.

These performances were in the past, though, and it’s a win now, instant-replay world that Brady lives in, but even there he doesn’t win with heart and passion. Some of Brady’s contemporaries may have less rings, but they already have several signature wins.

Aaron Rodgers still only has one ring, but he’s got enough Hail Mary bombs and clutch-performances to last two careers.

Russell Wilson is another guy who seems to make at least one play every Sunday (that usually involves escaping pressure from multiple defenders, running about 50 yards back and forth behind the line of scrimmage before deftly delivering the ball downfield) that illustrate the amount of heart he plays with.

After his first five seasons Wilson already has more signature wins than Brady-the epic 16 point comeback against the Packers in the 2015 NFC Championship chief among them.

When fans think about Brady’s four Super Bowl wins he doesn’t stand out, rather some clutch kicks by Adam Vinatieri in the early years and the Seahawks throwing the game away more recently endure.

Brady’s enduring moments were not achieved with heart and are judicial, rather than athletic. The infamous “Tuck Rule” ultimately started the Brady dynasty when an obscure rule (Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2) determined that his fumble wasn’t really a fumble. (The rule has since been discarded by the NFL).

The other enduring moment of Brady’s career has been Deflategate. Forever tarnishing his legacy and causing him to miss the first four games of this season, Brady reportedly used it as motivation to get back to the Super Bowl. This misplaced motivation should not be viewed as heart, though, rather it’s Brady getting mad at everyone else because he was caught cheating.

Brady is part of a ruthlessly efficient winning machine in New England. Unfortunately machines don’t have hearts. He may earn his fifth ring on Sunday and move past Bradshaw and Montana in the record books, but Brady will find that a fist full of rings doesn’t equal the heart of a champion.

5 Ridiculous Facts About Super Bowl 51

By Michael LeCompte

As the Super Bowl nears it’s hard for most fans to think of a matchup between two teams they could possibly care less about. This fact became evident this week when the NFL announced that ticket prices were dropping to their lowest cost levels in years for the big game in Houston. Despite the less-than-marquee matchup, though, there is still plenty of ridiculous surrounding the game.

  1. The NFL might like to advertise that ticket prices are lower this year, but the cheapest seat available at RNG Stadium on Sunday is still $2,700 and the average price is $4,744. What makes these figures ridiculous is that fans will still pay that price. What makes them even more ridiculous is the fact that the most expensive ticket for the first Super Bowl or (AFL-NFL Championship as it was originally called) was $12.
  2. Of course maybe these ticket prices aren’t so ridiculous when one considers that player’s salaries must be paid. In 1967, the year of the first Super Bowl the average player salary was $25,000. In 2016 the league minimum was 450,000 and the average player earned $2.11 million.
  3. Super Bowl LI. The roman numerals the NFL insists on sticking with for the Super Bowl are definitely ridiculous. It’s obvious the league’s product-the game of football-is here to stay, there’s no need to number the championship games anymore. MLB has the World Series every year-no numbers. The NBA has the Finals-no numbers. It’s time the NFL just held the Super Bowl every year, instead of a history and math lesson.
  4. Super Bowl hype rises exponentially every year as the NFL tries to outdo itself. This year’s attempt is 360 degree replay with a virtual camera at any position on the field to broadcast “be the player” replays.
  5. Johnny Football Takes Houston: perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of Super Bowl week was Johnny Manziel showing up to sign autographs and take selfies with fans-for a price. The former Texas A&M star was reportedly charging $50 per selfie-a claim he denied. A minor celebrity showing up to grab publicity in his home state wouldn’t be that ridiculous if Manziel weren’t attempting an NFL comeback. Perhaps posing with fans is how he is showing teams he’s serious about re-taking the field.

The NFL’s First Playoff Game

By Michael LeCompte

It’s hard to believe now amidst the hype and the NFL Networks 24/7 playoff coverage from Wild Card weekend to Super Bowl Sunday, but there wasn’t always a playoff in the NFL. Since its inception in 1920 the league champion was based on the regular season standings. The team with the best record was declared champion, simple as that, no extra games were played, no other team could challenge their record.

This system worked fine for the first twelve years of the NFL, however, in 1932 two teams ended the season with identical records. The Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans (who would later become the Detroit Lions) both finished with six wins. It was determined that a one game playoff would be held to crown a champion.

Originally set to be contested at Wrigley Field the game was ultimately moved indoors to the new Chicago Stadium on December 18, 1932, due to inclement weather. To make the game work in the arena the field was shortened to 80 yards and field goals were banned.

Playing with new rules and on a surface described as “mulch” the game, played in front of a capacity crowd of 11,198 fans, was a struggle. The Bears scored the lone touchdown that afternoon when Bronco Nagurski connected with Red Grange. Chicago would tack on a safety and won the game 9-0.

While it certainly wasn’t the most exciting game, this first, humble playoff experiment was significant for the NFL and spawned several rule changes before the 1933 season.

After Portsmouth contested the legality of Nagurski’s touchdown toss the forward pass became legal to throw from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage (previously the quarterback had to drop back beyond a minimum of 5 yards).

The league also split into two divisions before the 1933 season, with the winners of each(best record not counting ties) to meet in a one game playoff to determine the league champion.

The game was also the first major football game played indoors.

The NFL naturally expanded over the years, adding teams, divisions, and merging into a 32 team marketing juggernaut, with a 12 team, month-long “second season” playoff format.

From that “mulched” arena to the frozen tundra of Green Bay and now Jerry Jones’ “Palace in Dallas” the playoffs, like the game of football itself-have evolved.


The Origins of Athletic Eye Black

By Michael LeCompte

It has become part of the modern athletic uniform-neat black lines beneath the eyes or smeared all over the face like an ancient warrior of yesteryear-eye black. What is the reason for this athletic custom, though? Who first thought it would be a good idea to rub grease on their face before playing a game? Does the modern athlete don eye black to look cool and instill fear in their opponent, or are the supposed glare-reducing properties of eye black that significant?

Babe Ruth smeared burnt cork under his eyes before afternoon games as early as the 1920’s-reportedly to reduce irritating glare while playing hungover. However, Andy Farkas (1916-2001), a football player in the 1940’s is considered the father of athletic eye black.

andy_farkasBorn in Toledo, Ohio Farkas was such a gridiron star at St. Johns High that when the family moved to Detroit the Priests at his old school called the University of Detroit Jesuit High and made sure they had a spot on the football team for him.

After high school Farkas starred at the University of Detroit Mercy. In 1938 he was drafted by the Washington Redskins. As a halfback and wide receiver he was quick-footed and sure-handed. From 1938-1944 he amassed 2,103 rushing yards, 1,086 receiving yards, and scored 37  touchdowns.

A solid, hard-nosed player typical of the early NFL Farkas touched the football 774 times during his career and remarkably only fumbled once. During the 1942 season he was photographed playing while wearing eye black (this photo is believed to be the first instance of eye black being worn in the NFL). Farkas retired in 1945 after playing one season with Detroit.

Eye black has evolved with sport in America and is now ubiquitous from high school to the pros. Gone, though, are the burnt cork days of Ruth or Farkas, as today’s eye black is a beeswax and paraffin concoction. Modern athletes also have the option of applying their eye black in breathable synthetic strips.

In perhaps the greatest sign that eye black has become ingrained in sport and culture is that multiple universities have studied it. Both Yale and the University of New Hampshire have conducted studies on the real-world problem of whether eye black is effective or not.

The New Hampshire study found that eye black reduced glare the greatest in females and those subjects that did not have blue eyes. Yale found that eye black does indeed reduce glare (although to what extent is still debated).

Athletes looking for an edge or to intimidate will continue to smear on the eye black-whether it makes a difference or not. In the process the career of an early NFL great will continue to be indirectly celebrated.

A tin of Original Farkas Eye Black sells for $14.95 online.

The Curse of the Billy Goat

By Michael LeCompte

The Chicago Cubs are finally in the World Series. The franchise notably hasn’t won the Series since 1908 and hasn’t even been there since 1945. Of course the Cubbies have been close before over the past 70 years, but always came up just short, often collapsing spectacularly in the playoffs.

Fans and even some players over the years have attributed this century of futility to the curse of the billy goat.

Like any good sports legend the origin and true intent of the curse-or if it even happened at all-is shrouded in mystery.

According to legend the curse dates back to game four of the 1945 World Series when Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, was asked to leave his goat outside the gates because its smell was offending other fans. Although it is unknown what words were exchanged between Sianis and ticket-takers that day, fans supposedly heard the disgruntled fan mumble, “them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

Sianis’ own family claimed for years that he respectfully led his goat away from the stadium gates, but later sent a telegram to the Wrigley family-who owned the team. The telegram read: “You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again. You are never going to win a World Series again because you insulted my goat.” Whether that amounts to a curse, or is the rant of a discouraged fan is debatable.

The legend of the curse was born almost immediately when an account of the goat being turned away at the gate appeared in the next day’s Chicago Sun newspaper on October 7, 1945. The news story claims that the goat was refused entry to the stadium and that Sianis simply tied him to a stake in the parking lot and went in and enjoyed the game.

Whether Sianis slapped a curse on the Cubs or not, the futility and postseason collapses have been real for Chicago fans. A curse can become a convenient excuse over the years and is certainly fun to speculate about, but unfortunately the only curse the Cubs have been  under is a lack of talent-or of enough talent to win when it truly matters-October.

2016 was finally the Cubs’ year, they were good from start to finish-winning 103 games with a good mix of key veterans, several young superstars, and an unconventional, seasoned manager.

This Cubs team is reminiscent of another team that broke a famous baseball curse (the Red Sox) and that was also put together by current Chicago GM Theo Epstein. Those self described “idiots” in Boston that year certainly didn’t care about the ghost of the Babe and one gets the impression the 2016 Cubs aren’t dwelling on stories of goats.

Of course, if any fans do still believe in the curse they could point to the fact that Sianis never said that the Cubs would never go to the World Series again, just that they would never win it.

Sports legends-curses even-are fun, but the fact is there never was a curse of the Billy Goat and the Cubs are finally, legitimately good enough to prove it.

The Weird World of Extreme Ironing

By Michael LeCompte

In 1997 a London factory worker named Phil Shaw came home from work and realized the need to iron clothes for the rest of the week would prevent him from going rock climbing that evening. Not to be kept from his love of the outdoors, Shaw moved his ironing board into the backyard garden and enjoyed a pleasant evening ironing outdoors, and the extreme sport of ironing was invented.

A seemingly endless array of new sports or new twists on old games have sprung up over the past twenty years. Apparently slapping the word “extreme” on a leisure activity-or in the case of ironing-a chore, makes it more exciting and possibly even a sport. This extreme phenomenon encompasses a variety of activities from eating to jet skiing, wood-chopping, and now ironing.


Extreme ironing is just that-ironing. Participants must iron a garment or some article of clothing while outside, usually while engaged in another activity-such as running, driving, rock climbing, or scuba diving.

According to the Extreme Ironing Bureau, “extreme ironing is the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.”

Despite a 2004 Rowenta Tour across the U.S. to promote the sport, extreme ironing has yet to really catch on in America. (Although the first formal American chapter of the Extreme Ironing Bureau was formed in 2013) A rather tongue-in-cheek debate rages among extreme ironers and novices as to whether the activity is indeed an extreme sport, or merely a performance art.

From a cynical American perspective-where we are used to the multi billion dollar enterprises of mainstream professional sports-extreme ironing may not seem the least bit real. However, the sport has a governing body, a tour series, and professionals.

Phil “Steam” Shaw came out of retirement after an eleven year absence from the sport he created in 2012 and ran a half marathon with an ironing board strapped to his chest, ironing along the way.

Extreme ironing has been the subject of a documentary and has been featured on ESPN. However, whether it is a sport/activity with staying power, or if it is ever able to crack the mainstream sports market remains to be seen.

In the meantime it is something that the average person can do, regardless of physical prowess. The next time you need to iron think about moving your pressing game from the laundry room to the great outdoors. We can’t all be Tom Brady or Mike Trout, but we can be champions of the extreme.

10-10: 50 Years Later

By Michael LeCompte

When Notre Dame and Michigan State clash on the gridiron on Saturday night it will be the latest installment in a football series that dates back to 1897. It’s a rivalry game featuring two storied football programs. Throughout the years there have been some memorable meetings between the two schools, but none have been bigger, than the 1966 edition that ended in a tie.

Fifty years later the game is considered one of the finest college football games ever and the ending is still controversial and hotly debated among two loyal fan bases.

Coming into the game Notre Dame was 8-0 and ranked #1, Michigan State was 9-0 and ranked #2. Something had to give that afternoon in East Lansing, but when the final whistle blew nothing was settled.

ABC did not have the Fighting Irish and the Spartans on their schedule that Saturday, but in the week leading up to the game some 50,000 letters-from supporters of both schools-poured into the network’s offices and led to them televising the game nationally. The game was also the first football game that was ever broadcast in Vietnam, where it was shown to American troops.

The game was a hard-fought defensive affair through all four quarters. Michigan State knocked Notre Dame starting quarterback Terry Hanratty out of the game in the first quarter and took an early 10-0 lead.

Notre Dame eventually tied the game at 10 in the second half and got the ball at it’s own 30 yard line with 1:10 to play. In an offensive series that delighted, bewildered, and has drawn speculation and conspiracy for 50 years now, Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian then ran the clock out.

Ties are wholly unsatisfying. As fans we hate them. They almost seem un-American. We need someone or some team to lose and we need clearly defined winners-it’s the American way.

The notion that Parseghian played for the tie started swirling when the game ended and hasn’t stopped since. With the tie Notre Dame went on to finish the season undefeated and capture the national title. It could be argued that the tie was essentially as good as a win for the Irish because it kept them in contention for the title, while a loss would have paved the way for Alabama to finish the season #1.

Parseghian defended his decision then and still does now. Speaking this week to the Chicago Tribune, the now 93 year old former coach says, “we didn’t go for a tie; the game ended in a tie. Christ somebody ought to wake up to that.”

While the ending of the game seems disappointing it must be put into the context of its time and of the state of football in 1966. While 1:10 seems like enough time to cover the roughly 40 yards Notre Dame needed to get into field goal range for the win, the game was different back then. Teams didn’t launch the ball downfield seemingly at will, football was still a run-first affair. Kickers also weren’t as deadly accurate from long-distance as they are today, kicking for the win was much more of a risky proposition then than it is now.

What is also overlooked when critics claim Parseghian played for the tie is that Notre Dame was down to its backup quarterback, backup running back, and second string center. Those three players are pivotal for the success of any football team’s offense. For three reserves to move a team 40-70 yards for the winning field goal or touchdown is probably impossible.

While the lack of resolution may have stung in 1966, the 10-10 tie that fall afternoon has endured, for everyone involved-players, coaches, and fans-far longer than a win in favor of either team ever would have.