• Tom Brady solidifies greatness with Super Bowl LI win
• Alex Rodriguez makes peace with Yankees
• Islanders may be looking for new home
TORONTO — It turns out you can’t even have a football game in Donald Trump’s America without people torching stuff — although on this night, at least, the damage was done mostly to reputations and on social media as opposed to the streets.
Except for Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who dragged his third wife from his private suite for the sidelines with 10 minutes left, chest puffed out and looking very much like the high school kid who expected to win the Grade 12 academic award only to find out it was going to the dude beside him.
Oh yes, and except for Tom Brady, of course. Brady comes out of this as the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Teams were 93-0 in the post-season with leads of 19-plus points going into the fourth quarter on Sunday night, and please spare me the drivel about choking: the Falcons had no answer for Brady and his under-appreciated group of fourth-round picks and undrafted free agents.
Yes, they picked the wrong time for their first turnover of the playoffs — Matt Ryan’s fumble — and, yes, they took penalties but Brady still needed to make plays to win the game and 43 of those were passes. For his legion of haters, this was one long, slow, descent into a burning hell …
Look, it’s not Tom Brady’s fault that Donald Trump is president. Bill Belichick? Sure, I’ll go along with blaming it on him. Doubtless there are Patriots fans who wish these two were a little more picky when it comes to their friends but, really, the National Football League, and the Super Bowl in particular, has long been America at its worst. We all know that. Still, it’s safe to say that it has never been the kind of national emotional clearing-house as it was on Sunday.
This is how weird the United States is right now: a team that plays in one of the most liberal states in the Union — the only state that didn’t have a single county vote for Trump — gets shouted out on social media by white supremacist Richard Spencer as being “the team of the alt-right” because its quarterback, head coach and owner seem to be fellow travellers of POTUS.
Meanwhile, multi-national corporations take turns trying to out-Kumbaya each other with advertisements instead of going for whizz-bang special effects or humour. Seriously, when’s the last time a building supply company brought tears to your eyes like 84 Lumber did Sunday night? And hands up if you thought Audi had a soft side.
Hell, it doesn’t even touch the cottage industry that sprung up trying to parse the deeper meaning behind what Lady Gaga was doing …
What we are left with is one seriously screwed-up country to the south of us, folks. The deeper message behind all the background noise is that in Donald Trump’s America any large public gathering is a protest waiting to happen, whether it’s hammer-you-over-the-head protest or more nuanced dissent.
Hey, the Chicago Cubs are World Series champions, so there are few certainties in the world right now, sports or otherwise. Except that Tom Brady is the greatest of all time.
At least it was interesting to finally see a championship decided without a team from Cleveland being involved, wasn’t it?
TIME FOR THE ROCKET TO LAND
This is a franchise, after all, that welcomed Reggie Jackson back despite a long-running legal feud with former owner George Steinbrenner. Jackson is a regular presence in spring training and during the season. And know this about Rodriguez: the drudgery of everyday life might overwhelm him but he is a baseball savant. Jackson’s a great storyteller; Rodriguez can tell you how to hit and will have a more practical influence.
Nobody knows for sure how it happened let alone when it happened, but at some point in the past two seasons baseball has allowed its bastard children of the Steroid Era to come back in from the cold. The faces of the time have made stunning gains in Hall of Fame balloting and it’s now a matter of when as opposed to if they’ll be elected to Cooperstown.
Barry Bonds was hired as Miami Marlins hitting coach — and fired, but that’s no big deal. The same thing happened to Mark McGwire, fired by the St. Louis Cardinals and re-hired by the Los Angeles Dodgers, which is hugely significant because it reminds me of what Felipe Alou once said about a very different matter: We’ll be able to say that Latino and minority managers have finally made it when they can be hired and fired and recycled like all the white managers. If McGwire can be hired by a franchise he had no historical ties to, the Dodgers, then anybody can be rehabilitated.
Rodriguez’s hiring by the Yankees as a spring training guest instructor is remarkable, though, because it’s comes less than a year after he finished playing. I’m fine with all of this. As I’ve said often, I made my peace with the Steroid Era a long time ago.
That’s why it’s time to put Roger Clemens on the Level of Excellence.
It will be 20 years ago this season that Clemens won the first of back-to-back Cy Young Awards in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform. I know there have been internal discussions, but Paul Beeston — who ran afoul of Major League Baseball over side agreements with Clemens and his agents — is still in the office and Roy Halladay has made noises about wanting to get back into the organization and has been a bitter critic of Clemens and his use of performance-enhancing substances. It would take some smoothing over … but it would be worth the attempt.
Smart organizations make peace with their past at some point. Same with fans.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• Andrew McCutchen could be forgiven for thinking he was going to start the most important season of his career in a new locale. He will, in a matter of speaking, but not with a new team. A mainstay of the rumour mill this off-season, McCutchen will move to right field from centre field, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced Sunday, clearing the way for Starling Marte to be the everyday centre fielder and necessitating a shift of Gregory Polanco from right field to left.
McCutchen’s defence has deteriorated in centre and while there will be questions about how his arm-strength plays in right field, the configurations of PNC Park and its spacious left field mitigated against hiding McCutchen’s deficiencies at that position. The Pirates have a club-option year for 2018 after which McCutchen will join the deepest free-agent class in baseball history — led by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado — so he needs to start rehabilitating his reputation. Hardly a vote of confidence, this …
• Strike up “Brass Bonanza”: this is an idea all of us can get behind. According to USA Today, the mayor of Hartford, Conn., Luke Bronin, and the governor of the state, Dannel Malloy, have contacted the New York Islanders about moving to the city. This after Brooklyn’s Barclays Center has decided it would rather hold concerts than NHL games after the 2018-2019 season.
The marriage between Brooklyn and the Islanders has proven to be what it appeared to be in its early phases — too good to be true — and the Islanders could do worse than moving to a place where two of the state’s highest-ranking elected officials have their back. The Whalers left Hartford in 1997 to become the Carolina Hurricanes.
• Interesting comment by retired Canadian men’s national soccer team stalwart Julian de Guzman on my show Thursday when he was asked why the number of Canadian-born players playing top-level European soccer has declined.
At one time de Guzman, Kevin McKenna, Daniel Imhof, Rob Friend and Paul Stalteri were all playing in either the Bundesliga or 2. Bundesliga, joined eventually by the likes of Olivier Ocean and Marcel de Jong, and de Guzman said he believed it was the influence of then German-born Canadian national coach Holger Osieck. Owen Hargreaves famously elected to represent England instead of Canada internationally, but he, too, found game in the Bundesliga.
De Guzman believes that the weakness of the Canadian men’s team can be shown by the fact the only Canadian-born player getting regular time at a big club is Atiba Hutchinson, who plays for Turkish giants Besiktas.
True, the success of Major League Soccer in Canada has given Canadian-born players a stay-at-home option, but there’s still something to be said for competing at the highest levels of overseas soccer. Seems like a chicken and egg question …
Further to Tom Brady: Not only did he attempt and complete the most passes in a Super Bowl, he has had 10 game-winning drives in the post-season (the most all-time) and has engineered three fourth-quarter Super Bowl comebacks.
I grew up watching Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana and, I’m sorry, the debate’s not even close. Time to give the devil his due.