Monday, March 13, 2006

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

A lot’s been happening in my world, and as much as I wish I had been more diligent about reporting it as it was happening, sometimes it just doesn’t happen that way.

In a nutshell, the goodies are and have been the premiere last night of The Sopranos’ sixth – and what is rumored to be final – season, the last week or two of the NFL’s conflict over their Collective Bargaining Agreement and the death of Maureen Stapleton (aka “Ma” from “Johnny Dangerously”). Except since I had one deadline (March 1) fold right into another (March 15), my head is nowhere to be found.

The Sopranos premiere, for my money, was among the best hours of television I’ve seen in awhile. Kaia and I started pairing up TV-wise, meaning that she and I have been following the same shows, albeit in three-hour differentials. We’ve been watching “Most Haunted” on the Travel Channel and “Project Runway” on Bravo, so I am assuming “The Sopranos” will make it to our mutual list. I wish she was on the couch next to me when “the Florida guy” hung himself; I predicted he’d come to a quick end after Silvio, aka Little Steven, told him Florida was a no-go, but I thought he’d at least last another episode. On top of that, I like the triangulation between Phil (Frank Vincent, aka “Billy Batts” from “Goodfellas”), Tony and Christopher. $50 says Phil doesn’t last the season – whether or not it’s his eyebrows that ultimately dooms him, he’s going back in a hole.*

The last ten or so days has seen the NFL consider life without a salary cap; for those of you who just groaned something akin to “Aw shit, now he’s going into sports” – this has little, if anything, to do with sports. The “salary cap” – free agency, revenue sharing, Plan B, etc. – are a factor in modern sports but have nothing to do with the actual sport. Since I understand little, if any, of it, I can basically break it down thusly: in an effort to even things out (so shitty teams can compete – sort of – with good ones) the NFL devised a way for the ‘rich’ – financially and personnel-wise – to help the lesser teams and share the wealth – and the players. The problem is, you need an abacus, a roomful of calculators, pocket protectors, a protractor and an engineering degree to actually understand all the ins and outs that preclude or invite NFL Free Agent Signings. There’s Plan B, there’s the Franchise Player, there’s the roster exception, there’s the conditional pick – give me a fucking break. The game of football is complicated; the business, however, is exponentially moreso. There are 22 men playing the game on the field at any given time, and a bunch of umpires (line judges, referees, etc.). But it seems that, between agents, coaches, doctors, guys holding down signs, guys standing around on the sidelines, cheerleaders, cup-holders (guys walking around holding filled cups of Gatorade), journalists, VIP’s and the ball-holders (guys whose sole job is to provide the umpires with footballs), there are more people off the field than on. That doesn’t even take into account the other guys upstairs – more coaches, the owner and his family (don’t forget the owner’s nephew picking his nose on camera), the agents, the non-football athletes and celebrities – it’s getting out of hand. It’s been complicated for awhile, and there are no modern athletes in today’s NFL that likely understand the newly-formulated Collective Bargaining Agreement. But when you need a team of mathematicians to figure out who is on whose team, that just reeks of something being out of sorts.

I understand the NFL wants to keep all teams on a somewhat even playing field. I understand the logic behind that – and I also understand that by doing so, the NFL has made it so each player is more associated with a position than a team. When I think of Roger Staubach or Tony Dorsett, I think the Dallas Cowboys; similarly, I think of the Steelers when the names Jack Lambert and Franco Harris hit the grey matter. Jack Tatum, aka “The Assassin,” is more known for being a member of the silver and black than he was a cornerback – or was he a safety – or was he a defensive back?

The point is, parity is nice for leagues whose membership has inflated to a bloated, heaving mess. With “parity,” dynasties like the Edmonton Oilers (Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Koffey, Grant Fuhr) would have been dissolved. The New York Giants would have waved (and waived) goodbye to Lawrence Taylor, who might have wound up on the Oilers. The aforementioned Jack Lambert, who comprised a large chunk of the infamous Steel Curtain defense, would have ended up in Miami. And we’d all remember Larry Csonka as a card-carrying member of the San Francisco 49’ers.

Enough with the free agent bullshit – as much as I want the games to be fair whose outcome is always in question, I like knowing the names of the players on my team. I like knowing the Yankees have #2 at shortstop, I am happy knowing Mike Richter’s #31 was the last line of defense for the Rangers, and I am glad Lawrence Taylor’s #56 was only worn on a Giants uniform. I wonder how much interest I would have in my team if Lynn Swann had been a member of the Giants, replacing Ed McKonkey, or if Dwight Evans was a Giant instead of #89, Mark Bavaro. This isn’t a diatribe against player movement, it’s simply a suggestion that the League stop encouraging it. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a bunch of guys together for a year or two and seeing how much they can accomplish; the last time a core of players stayed together was in 1996 to 2000, when the Yankees won a few World Series. Sure, one team’s dominance – even if it’s the team closest to my heart – isn’t ideal. But it sure beats the hell out of going to a baseball game to see Derek Jeter play – for the Devil Rays when they’re 17 1/2 games out of first, and he’s the only one on the team hitting over .200. I understand there is/are extremes; I’d just hope we move toward the center, to achieve some balance – some parity, if you will – rather than watch teams whose headquarters are conspicuously adorned with revolving doors as entrances and exits.

But I digress.

Maureen Stapleton, the 80-year-old actress whose career spanned six decades, died today in Lenox, Massachusetts. Stapleton had an illustrious career and portrayed all kinds of characters in all manner of films, stage shows and television programs from the time she was 24. She was a good person and I am sad that she died, even though she had a full life and accomplished a lot. In tribute, I hereby recall that fateful line, in which she advises her newly-married daughter-in-law, “Now that we’re family, I have a confession: I go both ways.”

RIP, Ms. Stapleton.

March 15th. Tick tick tick...

* David Chase, the creater/head writer for The Sopranos, is a rabid Goodfellas fan, and so anytime an actor from the show appears on The Sopranos, it’s a good bet that he’ll have a high-profile role but burn out quickly. The exception is Michael Imperiole, aka Christopher – he played “Spider” in Goodfellas (and was dispatched by Joe Pesci), but has – thus far – managed to achieve that same fate in The Sopranos.

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