It’s a week for gratitude, so please start with your family, your friends, and your pets. They’re all thankful for you. But I’ll add a few sports-related items to my Thanksgiving spread, something to chew on between football games.
• I’m thankful for nine days in November: five Grizzly wins, two Tiger basketball wins, and, yes, two Tiger football wins. Bounty!
• I’m thankful for the relentlessly positive Josh Pastner. Some enjoy poking fun. But he’s teaching lessons beyond the basketball court.
• I’m thankful for the relentlessly dour Lionel Hollins. Somehow, he balances the city’s basketball emotional scale. And shows different approaches can win. (By the way, imagine if Pastner and Hollins switched seats. Would ruin two teams.)
• I’m thankful for Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown. Never thought I’d see one.
• I’m thankful for Mike Matheny. Dignity. Strength. Composure. Backbone.
• I’m thankful for fall Sundays at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex.
• I’m thankful for bike lanes. In Memphis, Tennessee!
• I’m thankful for Elliot Perry and Penny Hardaway being part of the new Grizzlies ownership group. With Larry Finch gone, these two are the faces of basketball in Memphis (college or pro).
• I’m thankful for Keith Lee at Memphis Madness.
• I’m thankful for the field-turf at Crump Stadium and Melrose High School. (And for the stadiums hosting middle-school soccer.)
• I’m thankful for Martha Woods at the FedExForum media entrance.
• I’m thankful for fourth-and-short with Justin Fuente on the sideline.
• I’m thankful for the leftfield bluff at AutoZone Park. Always.
• I’m thankful for the Pujols Seat at AutoZone Park. Still.
• I’m thankful for the Green Line. Might as well call it the Life Line.
• I’m already thankful for the 2014 NCAA South Regional at FedExForum. If there are basketball gods, John Calipari and Kentucky will play here.
• I’m thankful for the Grizzlies’ Familiar Four: Rudy, Zach, Marc, and Mike. Now playing their fourth season together. First group of teammates that will be defined by their play in Memphis.
• I’m thankful I’m not addicted to hockey.
• I’m thankful I am addicted to baseball.
• I’m thankful for Pete Kozma and unlikely heroes.
• I’m thankful for all my pals at Sports 56: Dave Woloshin, Matt Stark, Greg Gaston, Eli Savoie, and Brett Norsworthy.
• I’m thankful for clarity — however ugly it may be — in Lance Armstrong’s legacy. Wrestle with the measure of his impact on the fight against cancer (I do), but he was a cheater. And a serial liar.
• I’m thankful for the Big East. Few things really “alter the landscape” of the way we cheer local sports. Memphis being part of this league does just that.
• I’m thankful for Johnny Football. That great Aggie coach in the sky is surely proud.
• I’m already thankful for Oscar Taveras at AutoZone Park. Be patient, baseball fans. Just a little over fourth months.
• I’m thankful for Skip Schumaker. He may have played his last game as a St. Louis Cardinal. Considering his lengthy time in both Memphis (269 games) and St. Louis (810), Schumaker personifies the baseball connection between two river cities.
• I’m thankful for Sunday Night Football. Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth are the best broadcast tandem in the business. And this game is an instant cure for end-of-weekend blues.
Tuesday is Election Day. Come Wednesday morning, we should know the most powerful problem-solver in the world for the next four years. Whether his name is Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, he’ll have his share of challenges stacked high on his desk (it’s still the economy, stupid).
But for the sake of this column, let’s imagine it’s President Murtaugh inaugurated next January 20th. The sports world has its own problems worth solving. After instituting National Baseball Day (see October 22nd “Seat”), I’d turn my attention quickly to the following six issues.
• Reduce the timeout surplus in football — People often gripe about how “slow” baseball is. Hear this: No team sport on the planet is slower than American football. You can record an NFL game — a three-hour telecast at minimum — then watch the actual game action in 45 minutes. That’s more than two hours of staring at large men walking around, discussing what to do next. Or picking each other up off a pile of other large men.
With all the TV timeouts, injury timeouts, and (for the love of Pete) booth reviews, no football team should need more than two timeouts per half to execute its plan for victory. By eliminating a total of four timeouts per game, I’ll be saving you 20 minutes of idle time . . . for every football game you watch. If time is truly our most valuable possession, I think I just secured a second term. And on the subject of timeouts . . .
• Alternating timeouts in basketball — How many times have you seen a basketball team start to hum (hitting shots, connecting on passes, clamping down defensively), only to see the opposing coach call timeout? I’m of the mind a timeout should not be a tactical weapon in a coach’s arsenal. I’d pass legislation that requires opposing coaches to alternate timeouts. If the Grizzlies are pulling away from the Spurs (again), Gregg Popovich can call timeout to slow things down. But he can’t call another one until Lionel Hollins has burned one of his own.
• Missed free throw . . . stand still — Basketball players are supposed to make free throws. They are the one act on an NBA floor, though, that some people in the stands can perform better. When a free throw is missed, players will not be allowed to glad-hand the shooter. Teammates of the misfiring player will stay rooted to their spot along the lane (or behind the shooter). And if a player does get a hand-slap after missing a free throw, he loses the next shot. If I really wanted to put teeth into this legislation, I’d outlaw the glad-hand after made free throws. Might as well high-five your starting point guard for tying his shoes.
• A dandy dozen at the Derby — The scariest sports moment of the year for me is when the gate opens for the Kentucky Derby and 18, 19, or 20 thoroughbreds all break for the same spot near the rail. This is the greatest two minutes in sports, and at horse racing’s most revered track. And I hold my breath every year. Let’s reduce the chances for calamity — and raise the standard for making this prestigious field — by setting a limit of 12 horses in the Run for the Roses.
• A NASCAR sprint — Stock-car racing has lost the kick it had before Dale Earnhardt died at the 2001 Daytona 500. I’m convinced this has much to do with the races being, well, basically the same long-distance left turn. I can get fired up to watch Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart trade paint at 150 mph . . . but for 400 miles (and three hours) one Sunday after the next?
Under my administration, the Sprint Cup playoff (a 10-race series to end the season) would include three races of no more than 100 miles (it’s the Sprint Cup, people), and one race on a road course, just to make sure the most famous drivers in America can, in fact, turn right.
• Labor dispute? Fans win! — This would be instituted in the first year of my first term. For every game lost to a professional league’s collective bargaining dispute, fans will be given free admission to a game once the dispute is settled. That’s right, NBA. Next time you shave 16 games off the schedule, season-ticket holders find 16 “free ride” coupons in their mailbox. Millionaires and billionaires arguing over how to distribute the money fans and businesses spend on their product is beyond unseemly. It will not happen on my watch. And Donald Fehr, now the very face of labor dispute in two sports? He will occupy a new cabinet position: Secretary of Alley Waste Removal.