Allow me to elude the usual impartiality and proclaim my new favorite football player, Mr. Sidney Sammual "Sam" Montgomery from Greenwood High School in South Carolina, from Louisiana State and from the NFL as of April 2013.
My man Montgomery has just commented with uncommon sense and for that has caught, of course, flak. Welcome to real life, Sonic Sam. It's great to have you here.
Montgomery made reverberations at the NFL Scouting Combine with the following truth about college football: "Definitely some weeks that we didn't have to play the harder teams, there were some times that effort wasn't needed, but it was different when we had the big boys and everything coming in -- the 'Bamas or a South Carolina, and I'd grab real close to those guys and go all out for them. Of course, this is a new league, the NFL, so there are no more small teams, small-division teams. It's all Alabamas, LSUs, every week."
Some called his comment "stupid." So, some got it wrong. Happens to all.
Not only did Montgomery inspirit a lot of South Carolina fans by fulfilling their lifelong daydreams by lumping them in with the "'Bamas." No, Montgomery flung some truth into a sprawling, heaving farce we think normal because it happens all the time. He told of limited effort in games that deserve limited effort. Could someone please alert me when his NFL wall posters become available?
Each September or beyond, college football titans invite college football pit-bull puppies into their stadiums for entire days or evenings of numbing predictability. Both the titans and the puppies do this for a phalanx of cynical reasons: padding records, shoveling money to the less-moneyed, padding records, filling out the schedule, padding records, giving the townspeople something to do, padding records.
For still further cynicism, padding records has a cynical legacy: It works.
It's not all bad: tailgates, reunions, tailgates, family gatherings, tailgates, alleviation of general human boredom, tailgates, the averting of watching more TV, tailgates. Tailgates alone are so awe-inspiring that they might justify most anything, but that doesn't change that the athletic competition is a long-running farce. For every Appalachian State at Michigan or Temple at Virginia Tech, there are hundreds of American days when everyone knows the outcome upon waking, everyone knows the outcome upon kickoff, everyone knows the outcome by the third quarter, and everyone knows the outcome they've already known once the outcome has come.
It's a misuse of time that could wind up ranking somewhere in the list behind hubris among reasons for the downfall of an empire. Examples from recent years in Baton Rouge, alone: LSU 51, Louisiana-Monroe 0; LSU 49, Northwestern State 3; LSU 41, North Texas 14; LSU 63, Idaho 14; LSU 38, Towson 22. (Good job, Towson!)
Thank goodness Montgomery has alerted us to the reality that players might underplay some plays against some opponents. It would be lousy to think they fail to conserve their energy for the real deal, that they exert fully every play when that's a silly bromide in general and, on to another whole can of snakes, that they take an undue risk of injury when they're not paid market value. Sonic Sam reassures, without saying what I'd say: The people who profit from this folly -- myself included, indirectly -- don't deserve maximum effort.
We all love seeing people play hard, but we should save some love for times when guys don't, for when the cynicism is just too steep. The paramount case of this might be the NBA, which drags through an 82-game schedule roughly twice as long as it ought to be. Not only can't most people play hard at that level of physicality for 82 games across five-plus months, but there are times when they shouldn't, which is precisely why Gregg Popovich got it so right and the NBA got it so wrong when Popovich diverted his stars from Miami back to San Antonio.
If you don't want coaches and players to mobilize their resources toward a thick two-month playoff that decides matters because a drawn-out 82-game season apparently could not, then don't have a thick two-month playoff that decides matters after a drawn-out 82-game season apparently could not.
Just Sunday night, the Heat played the Cavaliers in Miami and I caught some of it on radio. The mighty Heat kept grabbing big leads and the less-mighty Cavaliers kept scratching back, often with the help of a basket guarded only loosely. The play-by-play announcer remarked fairly on the Heat's lackadaisical defensive aura while quietly, alone, at a steering wheel, I cheered the Heat's lackadaisical defensive aura. In a sprawling season that wastes time and precious electricity and tells us very little more than could a 50-game season, it's reassuring to know that players still can spot the lunacy and harness their energy.
Later, the Associated Press dispensed this glorious paragraph from the Heat's four-point win: "The Heat blew a 22-point, second-half lead, then rallied from eight down with 5:16 left."
Mere hours after that, here came my man Montgomery, heartening us all that as we sit through a lot of schlock in sports, year after year after decade after decade, at least our youth picks up quickly on the schlockiness. This instills hope for the future. I may weep.