King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

When nitpickers go bad: How could Frank Deford forget the Watson sisters in 1884? Plus: 48 words about hockey. And: LSU vs. USC? Nah!

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Confessed cheesesteak-eating Eagles fan Eric Lipton was the first of several readers who dinged me for writing Wednesday that at a crucial fourth-quarter juncture of Sunday’s playoff loss to the Eagles the Packers “chose to punt on fourth and 1 from the Eagles 41 even though the Eagles had yet to show that they could stop the Packers on short yardage.” He and others wondered if I’d forgotten the Eagles’ goal-line stand in the second quarter.

I hadn’t. I just overstated a bit. The Eagles had indeed stopped runs by Najeh Davenport on third and goal from the 2 and Ahman Green on fourth and goal from the 1 just before the two-minute warning, which was just after Ben Franklin left the stadium to work on his kite. Since then the Packers had faced third and 1 three times and third and 2 once and converted them all — with authority.

Needing a total of five yards on those four plays, they had rushed for 29. On the drive in question, Green had run for four yards on third and 1 and Davenport had gone for five on third and 2. At the time Packers coach Mike Sherman chickened out and punted, the Eagles had not come within nine feet of stopping the Packers on short yardage in two hours.

Still, that goal-line stand did happen, and I love a good nitpick as much as the next guy. And if you do too, you’ll really love a hilariously insane piece of work that appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine Sunday, in which reporter Glenn F. Bunting confronts revered sportswriter Frank Deford with every instance of overstatement or minor factual error he can find in Deford’s work, which is a lot of them.

Deford’s something of a sacred cow among sports and magazine writers, and Bunting seems to be trying to display some guts by confronting him with such crimes against humanity as calling Marion Jones the world’s fastest woman when Florence Griffith-Joyner was actually faster or writing that the Williams sisters were the first to play each other in the finals of a major tennis tournament when in fact the Watson sisters — Maud and Lilian — contested the 1884 Wimbledon final. That’s right, 1884. Maud won her semifinal in a walkover when Betty Rubble pulled a hamstring.

It’s such an amazing act of narcissism that Deford, who I think is a stuffed shirt, is actually humanized. It made me want to sit through his next sentimental musing for NPR.

In a particularly savage indictment, Bunting’s 7,000-word colossus — that’s about seven times the length of this column and 600 words shy of the U.S Constitution, amendments included — informs us that Deford called David Beckham “the most famous athlete in the world” a mere nine months after calling Michael Schumacher “the most famous athlete in the world.”

Get a rope!

For me, though, the most shocking thing in the story, other than Bunting displaying his neuroses for all to see, is the news that Sports Illustrated doesn’t print formal corrections for its Web site content. It quietly fixes any errors without comment. The S.I. poobahs apparently feel that the accepted ethics and standards of journalism don’t apply when the material is delivered on-screen rather than on paper. Now that’s a story worth a few thousand words.

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NHL preseason coming along nicely [PERMALINK]

Excellent Sporting News hockey columnist Kara Yorio begins a midseason report, “Attention football fans and baseball hot stove enthusiasts: You’ve missed half an NHL season.”

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Thanks for the update, Kara. And we’re about to miss another half. Wake us when the playoffs start and the games mean something.

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The NCAA can look bad from so many angles [PERMALINK]

How venal, how Snidely Whiplash-esque, is the NCAA? Consider this: Last week Gateway Inc., the electronics giant, offered to sponsor a football championship game between co-national champs LSU and USC. Gateway would get the broadcast rights in exchange for $20 million in scholarships and $1 million in high-tech gear to the winning school and $10 million in scholarships to the loser.

“It’s just a football game,” a Gateway spokesman told the Washington Post. “Let’s strap it up and get it on.”

The NCAA said no.

“Anyone who believes that higher education would jump at a cynical publicity stunt are mistaken and missing the point,” NCAA president Myles Brand said in a statement. “It puts all the emphasis on intercollegiate athletics as entertainment and erodes the critical concept that the welfare of the student-athlete is paramount.”

No, none of us would ever believe that intercollegiate athletics are all about entertainment or that higher education would jump at a cynical publicity stunt, something like playing football games on Tuesday nights or in Japan. Certainly not.

It’s hard to imagine there’s a single player on either side — if I worked for the NCAA I wouldn’t be able to call them “players” because that sounds like a job title, and we all know they’re not employees — who wouldn’t want to play that game. They’re scrimmaging or playing in pads half the year, so playing one more game, one that actually means something to them, would hardly endanger their welfare. The NCAA has already increased the standard schedule of major conference bowl teams from 12 games to 15 in the last few years.

If you buy into the quaint conceit that football players are at places like USC and LSU to get an education first and play football second, a game this weekend would come after one week of classes at the former and before the first day of classes at the latter.

Brand is actually right. Gateway’s offer is a cynical publicity stunt. And yet Gateway manages to come off looking like the good guy, giving the people and the kids what they want, and the NCAA, ostensibly protecting the welfare of the “student-athletes,” comes off looking like a bunch of mustache-twirlers, because clearly what’s going on is the NCAA doesn’t want a rogue computer company cutting in on its business.

The NCAA is a piece of work, boy.

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