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January 24, 2007

From Zamboni to Jabbar

My favorite new book is Eric Dregni's Zamboni: The Coolest Machines on Ice, a richly illustrated book from Voyageur Press. To this day, the Zamboni represents one of Southern California's most important contributions to sports culture. The story begins in 1940, when Frank Zamboni opened the Iceland ice-skating rink in Paramount. An electrician, mechanic and inveterate tinkerer, he saw the need for a machine to replace the laborious, time-consuming process of ice resurfacing. Dregni notes that Zamboni's first prototype – the Model A, unveiled in 1949 – used the "axles from a Dodge Army truck and other surplus parts. . . . chassis rails from an old oil rig . . . and a hydraulic cylinder from a Douglas bomber." The machine's popularity spread after Olympic gold-medalist Sonja Henie saw an early machine, commissioned one from Zamboni, and then used it on the road with her ice show. The original Model A, restored in 1998, is on display at Iceland, while the Zamboni company is still based in Paramount.

Also, Lakers Magazine reports that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has written yet another book: On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance (Simon & Schuster) is due out Jan. 30. The magazine reports that Jabbar's documentary about the Harlem Rens, the all-black basketball team that won the world title in 1939, is in the works (with Spike Lee).

January 22, 2007

'I just wanted to play hockey'

LAT photoI went down Saturday night to observe Kings Nation gather at Staples Center to honor Luc Robitaille, one of the city's most likable, if not widely known, sports stars. His #20 jersey was raised into the rafters by his sons as hockey Hall of Famers and ex-teammates applauded him on the ice. The current Kings and Phoenix Coyotes banged their sticks in the sport's traditional sign of respect. Way up in the press box, even the visiting scouts stood beaming with big grins. That's what happens when you come out of nowhere to become the highest-scoring left wing (one of the sport's five positions) in NHL history, while still playing with the infectious joy of a kid on the village pond back home in Quebec.

Of course most L.A. sports fans don't follow hockey, and even fewer of them care about the Kings, so Robitaille's story isn't well known. He was an improbable star. The Kings took him last in the draft, a kid who spoke no English and couldn't skate very well. But he burned with a desire to play and made himself better. He got to the Kings as a 20-year-old in 1986, roomed with fellow Quebecois Marcel Dionne, and began putting the rubber in the back of the net. As a rookie he scored 45 goals; for context, it has now been fourteen years since any King scored as many, and that was Robitaille's career-high 63.

The kid who couldn't skate played 19 seasons (and lost one to the NHL lockout.) The front-office twice let him go, and regretted it both times. He was the favorite of Kings fans, who filled The Forum and later Staples Center with chants of Luuuuuc! whenever he scored. No one signed as many autographs as he did or chatted so freely with fans. He owned ice and roller hockey rinks here for awhile. I've posted before about his charming tour of Los Angeles with the Stanley Cup a few years ago — since the Kings could never bring a Cup to L.A., he rented a bus, loaded in his family and friends, and did it himself. In 2004, he became an American.

LAT photoIn a nice touch, on Saturday night the team invited more than fifty season ticket holders onto the ice to form a receiving line of extended hands for Robitaille and the other NHL greats to pass through as they were introduced, one by one, to the standing-room-only crowd. Wayne Gretzky was there, the commissioner, Luc's parents and wife and sons. There were many joking allusions to the notion that the little French kid couldn't skate, and to his joyous desire to score goals. "I'm open!" were his favorite words on the ice, teammate Derek Armstrong quipped. "Every time I watched Luc Robitaille play he reminded me why I love this game so much," said Barry Melrose, the only coach to ever take the Kings to the Stanley Cup finals.

The night was a reunion of sorts for the small but loyal Kings community. Pete Demers, the longtime trainer who was not retained this season, got one of the biggest cheers when he came onto the ice. Former owner Bruce McNall, who brought Gretzky to L.A., got a nice hand. When Robitaille finally got the microphone, just about the time the night's puck was supposed to be dropped, he mentioned that he barely spoke first his first two years in town: "I was so shy." This night, he had no problem keeping the entire arena on its feet for 25 minutes.

He looked over at Gretzky: "I got to play with my idol." He thanked Rogie Vachon, the team's best goalie ever, for taking care of him as a rookie — and teaching him to play golf. Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson was "the greatest guy I ever met." Robitaille told tales on clubhouse pranksters Larry Playfair and Marty McSorley, who inspired fear with his antics: "He had no limits, trust me." He had special thanks for the enforcers and muscle who protected him from hockey's goons. Jay Miller "made us feel so big on the ice." Jay Wells "took me under his wing and told the big guys to stop pushing me around." Even Bernie Nicholls, a lightweight, drew praise: "My first fight, he jumped in to save me — literally."

AP photoRobitaille gave shout outs to former teammate and general manager Dave Taylor, who was back home dealing with the passing of his father, and to ailing sportscaster Stu Nahan. With all that concluded, he addressed his gallery in the upper altitudes of Staples Center, who interrupted with shouts of "thank you" and "Luuuuc!." He told them that he heard every chant through the years, and that they were a big reason he could say "I lived my dream." The bottom line: "I just wanted to play hockey."

In a media gaggle in the Chick Hearn Press Room during the game that followed, Robitaille spoke in English and French about the thrill of being honored in this way. But, he said, he's ready to get on with the life of a retired player. He works with AEG, the Kings' parent company, and he and his wife Stacia founded Shelter for Serenity to help the displaced of New Orleans. "I'm just going to have fun living the rest of my life," he said. Typically, he also thanked the reporters: "Thank you for coming. Thanks for the last twenty years."

After the ice was cleared, the Kings and Coyotes played a game. It started an hour later than usual and a half-hour later than planned, but the Kings got off to an early lead on a dazzling short-handed goal by the fans' newest favorite, a marvelous Slovenian rookie named Anze Kopitar. (See David Davis's post about Ahn-jay below.) The Kings took a 2-1 lead into the third period on some heroics by the goalie, 39-year-old Sean Burke, playing his first game in an L.A. jersey. A veteran of many Stanley Cup playoffs, he had played only in the minors this year, but in 43 minutes Burke looked sharper than all the goofs the Kings have sent out so far this season. It looked like the making of a nice story line — then disaster.

With sixteen minutes left, Burke's legs cramped up and he had to come out. This put Japanese-born rookie Yutaka Fukufuji in only his fourth NHL game. It's hard to tell who was more excited, the Japanese media contingent in the press box or the struggling Coyotes. Phoenix players began playing with extra jump in their step, the Kings' confidence visibly sagged, and the Coyotes quickly scored twice on goals Fukufuji should have stopped. That was that.

Afterward, most of the Kings hid in the training room, leaving Fukufuji slumped in a corner of the clubhouse rubbing his eyes while reporters from Rafu Shimpo, JiJi Press, Nikkan Sports, Tokyo Shimbun and JATV pressed in and gingerly asked how he felt. (I can't understand Japanese, but by the blank stare and extremely soft whisper, I can say he didn't feel very good.) Later, Burke came out to explain he had not played in a month, had traveled across the country twice that week and had simply become dehydrated.

When Coach Marc Crawford finally met the beat reporters after 11:30 (past most of their deadlines), he emphasized that Fukufuji was not to blame. The Kings organization has low expectations of the young goalie — he's a fill-in pressed into service solely because of injuries — and Crawford made it clear the Kings lost because their scorers didn't take advantage of openings. "We obviously had a problem with our poise and our conviction to win," Crawford said, his jaw rather clenched. "You could tell our team was tense." Class move, but it probably didn't make Fukufuji feel any better.

Top photos: Christine Cotter/Los Angeles Times; online slide show

Bottom photo: Branimir Kvartuc/AP

Is Anze Kopitar the new Andre the Giant?

Kings' center Anze Kopitar, the NHL's second-leading rookie scorer and one of the last-place team's few bright spots thus far, has some serious street cred – literally. As several publications (ESPN The Magazine, Calgary Sun) have reported since December, spray-painted images of Kopitar's mug have appeared around L.A. The graffiti art resembles the famous Andre the Giant "Obey" campaign from Shepard Fairey. Check out Kopitar photos on the letsgokings website.

January 19, 2007

The Beckham deal, 2016 Olympics, sports films

Bending it: Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl offered a cogent, blow-by-blow analysis of the David Beckham deal. Wahl praises Tim Leiweke and AEG's two-year effort to chase Beckham and then consummate the deal; he seems to be one of the few reporters to note AEG's deep connections in London and in the music/entertainment business. He also points out that the $250 million figure that's been banded about is just that – a headline-grabbing number.

Writes Wahl:

"Is Beckham's contract with the Galaxy really worth the reported $250 million? No, and it's not even close. Leiweke refused to discuss the details of Beckham's deal, but league sources confirmed that Beckham's guaranteed salary will be around $50 million over the entire five-year length of the contract. That's hardly chump change, but it's still less than the salaries of a lot of U.S. sports stars.

"Nor will Beckham's salary bankrupt MLS. Per the league's new designated-player rule, MLS's owners (who otherwise share the costs for all player salaries) only have to contribute $400,000 a year for each of the league's 13 designated-player exceptions. (Right now Beckham is the only one.) The rest of Beckham's salary comes from Galaxy owner Phil Anschutz. The result: Anschutz is on the hook for around $48 million guaranteed with Beckham, while MLS owners only have to pay $2 million."

2016 Olympics: On Friday, Gov. Schwarzenegger and Mayor Villaraigosa, spoke at a press conference at the Coliseum to kick off the last-lap effort to persuade the USOC to choose Los Angeles for the 2016 Olympic bid. In the two-way race against Chicago, L.A. boasts deep connections within the U.S. and international Olympic family. L.A. also trumpets its existing facilities as a major advantage: with such new arenas as Staples Center and the Galen Center, among others, the city will only have to build one new venue (for shooting, at the Fairplex in Pomona). Chicago's bid entails building several new venues, at major expense.

The setting of the press conference, however, was a not-so-subtle reminder that the Coliseum is the fulcrum of L.A.'s bid. Face it: the Coliseum remains a conundrum. Is it an historically vital stadium that, with a re-installed track and other refurbishment, will be ready to greet the world? Is it an outmoded structure that will turn off the USOC? Or, is it both?

On Monday, the USOC will receive L.A.'s bid – including the details of its plans for the Coliseum. The verdict – Chicago or L.A. -- will come down April 14.

Sports films: Last weekend, the L.A. Times rolled out its film sneaks for 2007. The list of upcoming sports films appears to feature more comedies (intentional or not) than usual, including: Balls of Fury, about "a broke former professional pingpong player. . . recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the world of underground pingpong tournaments and take down his father's killer;" The Comebacks, a "spoof of inspirational sports movies;" The Game Plan, about a quarterback whose life "comes to a crashing halt when he discovers he is the father of a 7-year-old girl;" Blades of Glory, with Will Ferrell and Jon Heder starring as figure skaters who perform as a duo; and Eleven Men Out, in which "Iceland's star soccer player quits the pros and joins an amateur team of gay men." Call it the Nacho Libre-Talladega Nights factor.

Meanwhile, the Times' Kenneth Turan highlighted several sports docs showing at Sundance and Slamdance: Zindane: A 21st Century Portrait, which Turan calls "perhaps the most unusual sports film you'll ever see;" Chasing Ghosts, about the "early days of video gaming;" The Bad Boys of Summer, "a look at San Quentin's baseball team;" and Row Hard No Excuses, about the "men who race across the Atlantic in rowboats."

January 17, 2007

Lilly Rodriguez, RIP

The Daily News has the sad news: pioneer female boxer-kickboxer Lilly Rodriguez has passed away at age 59. She fought in the 1970s and 1980s, when few women entered the ring to fight competitively. But to Rodriguez, fighting was natural: her brothers were martial-arts legends Arnold and Benny "The Jet" Urquidez (owner of the Jet Center in Van Nuys), while her husband, Blinky, was a kick-boxer. Services are pending.

Photo: Herald Examiner Collection/LAPL

January 16, 2007

Unclaimed $$$

One of the ongoing chores for free-lance writers is accounting: we have to keep track of invoices and make sure our payments are received. A few years ago, I missed one. That's when I learned that the state of California was holding money for me – what the state controller's website calls "unclaimed property."

Now I check the site every year, just to make sure I don't miss out on some hard-earned $$$. I've made it a habit to check on family and friends – and I've "found" thousands of dollars for them. (You can also search other states' websites.)

This year, I thought I'd expand my search:

Kobe Bryant: there's an insurance check worth $482.50 waiting for you.
L.A. Dodgers: there's $10,545.15 worth of checks waiting for you.
L.A. Clippers: there's $1,163.50 worth of checks waiting for you.
L.A. Lakers: there's $944.60 worth of checks waiting for you.
L.A. Kings: there's $7,076.23 worth of checks waiting for you.
L.A. Galaxy: there's $4,809.48 worth of checks waiting for you.
Staples Center: there's $634 worth of checks waiting for you.
L.A. Raiders (yup, them): there's $2,146.13 worth of checks waiting for you.

January 15, 2007

A Letter to A.J. Smith: Keep Marty

marty.jpgDear A.J.,

You've probably been sleeping for hours by now. Or maybe not. Maybe you're still up, wondering how the team you're general manager of -- the San Diego Chargers -- just had its season ended.

Maybe you're replaying some of the freak occurrences that led San Diego to blow a game it was clearly dominating -- the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that salvaged a dead New England drive, the interception turned fumble turned game-tying Patriot touchdown.

And maybe, like the rest of the sports world, you want to blame Marty Schottenheimer for it, and fire him. Sure, he wins regular season games by the ton and pretty much everyone but you loves him, but he can't win the big one, right?

Well, the bus has arrived. All you have to do is throw him under it.

Don't do it.

Yes, he's lost six consecutive playoff games. Yes, he made some mistakes in this one that, in retrospect, could have changed the outcome. But to blame Marty for this 24-21 loss -- that's like blaming a guy in a rubber suit for being killed by lightning.

Sometimes, to paraphrase an expression, stuff happens.

Granted, it seems to happen to Marty a lot. As he said himself after the game:

"Anytime you're in the playoffs and lose, and certainly I have plenty of experience at it, there's a disappointment."

But the only reason the San Diego Chargers were in this game was Marty Schottenheimer.

If you've forgotten, just think back a few years, when San Diego was a franchise in total disarray, known more for Ryan Leaf's televised tantrums than anything else.

Then Marty came to town.

And like he has with every other team he's coached, he turned it around. Brought in players like Donnie Edwards. Made his team responsible for itself, and for striving for excellence. He even changed up Martyball, turning the Chargers into a team that has electrified the NFL for two straight seasons.

Don't believe me? Just ask your players. After one of the most devastating losses in recent memory for any team, they were imploring you to keep the coach who got them here.

"As players, we failed this organization," defensive tackle Luis Castillo said, his voice quavering. "This had nothing to do with ownership, nothing to do with coaches. They put us in position to win this game. As players, we made mistakes that you cannot make in a game like this." (L.A. Times)
Linebacker Shaun Phillips, asked about Schottenheimer's future, said, "That's up to the people upstairs. But I plan on playing for Marty the rest of my career." (AP)

If there were any glaring weaknesses in this game, A.J., it was your first-year starter at quarterback, Philip Rivers. He looked frazzled out there.

If only you'd kept that guy who threw for more than 4,000 yards this season -- you know, the one who put the New Orleans Saints into the NFC title game on Saturday? But you let him go. Time to plan for the future, right?

That didn't work out so well.

So maybe instead of jettisoning your guy at the first sign of adversity, you should hang onto him. After a failure like this, can you imagine a team with a bigger chip on its shoulder, or more of a mission for next season? LT is dying to win. Rivers wants to show he can lead this team to glory.

And that Marty guy? I think he wants to win pretty badly, too.

Your team believes in him.

Maybe you should, too.

January 11, 2007

Beckham: "I have decided to join the LA Galaxy" (* LAO video)

His arrival in Los Angeles "leads to this race to become the first MLS super club," the Galaxy GM said to BBC Sport.

Beckham to LA

ESPN reports Beckham will be paid more than $250 million. Why? Here's the reasoning from his new boss:

"David Beckham will have a greater impact on soccer in America than any athlete has ever had on a sport globally," said Timothy J. Leiweke, president & CEO of AEG, which owns the Galaxy. "David is truly the only individual that can build the bridge between soccer in America and the rest of the world."

David Davis noted the rumors Beckham was headed this way on the pages of SoCal Sports last month.

* FRIDAY UPDATE: Beckham observes Los Angeles... via satellite... or does he? I dropped in on today's press conference where Beckham introduced himself (from Spain) to the local media. We could see him, but it didn't seem like he could see us or the elaborate setup at the Ritz in Marina del Rey. My video report from the scene features Beckham on L.A., Cobi Jones on Beckham and Tom Cruise, and Pat O'Brien starring as the only guy who was allowed to talk to Beckham.

Watch the report below, or subscribe to my new LAO video podcast in iTunes.

Graphic: BBC Sport

January 9, 2007

2016 Olympics update

As the L.A. Times and others have reported, the USOC has decided to submit a bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. L.A. and Chicago are the two candidate cities to represent the U.S., with an announcement of the choice due April 14.

According to the SportsBusiness Daily website (sub. required), the "selected city will join a field that currently includes Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro, and may expand to feature Rome, Madrid, Doha, Qatar and others. The IOC’s deadline for nominations is September 15. A two-year int’l campaign will follow, culminating with an IOC vote in October ‘09."

January 6, 2007

USC kicker Mario Danelo found dead

The body of 21-year-old Mario Danelo, the Trojans' starting placekicker for two seasons, was found at the bottom of a cliff near the Point Fermin lighthouse in San Pedro. He is the son of former NFL kicker Joe Danelo and played for San Pedro High before enrolling at USC. Scott Wolf's Daily News blog calls it an apparent suicide and says that Danelo had been missing for about a day. The Times' website story, however, only quotes police saying "We don't have much information at this time. He was found at the bottom of a cliff. Investigators are there now."

USC sports information director Tim Tessalone, speaking on behalf of USC head football coach Pete Carroll, relesed a statement tonight:

We're stunned to hear about this tragedy. This is a great loss. Mario was a wonderful young man of high character and he was one heck of a kicker. He was a key ingredient in our success these past few years. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Trojan Family go out to the Danelo family on this sad, sad day.

Wolf also gets to Danelo's roommate, wide receiver Chris McFoy.

LAT story
Scott Wolf blog
USC Football.com
Daily News story
Emergency response details at LAFD blog

January 5, 2007

Batteries report next month

From the 21st century American composer Jon Weisman:

Boy the way Bill Mueller played
Saenz just made the hit parade
Guys like Cruz, they had it made
Those were the Dodgers

And you knew who you were then
Drews were Drews and Kents were Kents
Mister we could use a man like Jason Repko again

Derek Lowe was in a state
Sandy Alomar pulled his weight
Gee our old Furcal ran great
Those were the Dodgers!

January 4, 2007

Definition of erratic — and popular

This graph from Compete.com charts the seasonal ups and downs of traffic to the official websites of the four major American pro sports. Unique visitors in a month is the metric. The overall trend for MLB.com and NFL.com is up, and even in the off-season baseball never dips below three million and the NFL stays above two million. I guess the NBA's audience just isn't as website-driven, perhaps because hoops fans don't obsess about stats and inside information about players in a large organization. Or maybe NBA.com just isn't as useful and entertaining. The NHL's line is just sad, what can I say.

Here's how Compete's analyst reads the data:

Both NFL.com and MLB.com have become the front runners in attracting online enthusiasts. The similarities between the two sites’ visitation trends should come as no surprise as there is a great deal of overlap in the fan base of the two sports. Spring Training begins just as Superbowl memories begin to fade, and football kicks in right around the time the playoff contenders are being decided in baseball. The fans follow the cycles accordingly.

By contrast, the NBA, marred with fights and player disobedience, has experienced a decline in online interest. In 2001 NBA.com’s peak monthly unique visitor count rivaled that of NFL.com and MLB.com. But by 2006, the NBA’s high-water mark was just over 5 million unique visitors — a fraction of the peaks of 8.5 million and 9.2 million people to NFL.com and MLB.com respectively.

Hockey is the clear bottom dweller in the category, reflecting the NHL’s difficulties as of late. As if the sport’s waning popularity in the US wasn’t enough of a disadvantage, the lockout that canceled the 2004/2005 season appears to have solidified the league’s online property’s position in the rear of the pack.

Via 6-4-2

Graphic: Compete.com

January 3, 2007

Burkle in K.C.; sports media '06

The latest news from Kansas City and its search for an NHL franchise is that the Pittsburgh Penguins' ownership group, led by Mario Lemieux, is meeting today with K.C. officials and arena representatives. The Pens are mulling a move after its plan to build a new arena in Pittsburgh has unraveled, according to the Post-Gazette.

Today's meeting has several LA-based components. AEG put up about $54 million to build K.C.'s new downtown arena, which it will manage when it opens this fall. AEG's point-person in search of an NHL team for K.C. is former Kings great Luc Robitaille. Lemieux and Robitaille, who played together in Pittsburgh, are also partners in a minor league hockey team. And, one of the lead figures in the Penguins' ownership group is none other than Ron Burkle.

* * *

A little late maybe, but here's my take on the year past in sports media:

Best Sports Films (feature): Nacho Libre and Talladega Nights. The endless stream of football films – Invincible, We Are Marshall, etc. – proved underwhelming, while Sly Stallone (Rocky Balboa) should have stayed away.
Best Sports Films (documentary): Heart of the Game and Freedom's Fury. I enjoyed Once in a Lifetime, about the New York Cosmos and the old NASL, but without Pele's presence, it felt incomplete.

Best Sports Books: Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports (Gotham), by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams; Sayonara Home Run: The Art of the Japanese Baseball Card (Chronicle), by John Gall and Gary Engel; and Michael Lewis' The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game (W.W. Norton).
Honorable Mention: David Maraniss' Clemente (Simon & Schuster), although it didn't match the passion of his Vince Lombardi biography, and Douglas Century's Barney Ross (Schocken).

Sports Magazine of the Year: When the New York Times introduced Play Magazine in 2006, the editors wrote that it would be "A magazine that simultaneously celebrates how sports are played today while presenting the big, rich human stories that emerge from the world of sports. It doesn't get any better than that." Whatever. The magazine's first two cover subjects – skier Bode Miller and the Brazil's World Cup team – didn't pan out, but with profiles by the likes of Michael Lewis (Willie Wood, Bill Parcells) and David Foster Wallace (Roger Federer) and with excellent media criticism from Bryan Curtis, Play began to find its voice.

Sports Websites: Deadspin (natch) and SportsBusinessDaily.com (subscription only).

Best Eulogies: In the NYTimes Sunday Magazine's annual "The Lives They Lived" issue, Michael Sokolove wrote about Steve Howe, while Jonathan Mahler remembered Mike Quarry. Two small gems about two disquieted souls. In 2005, Sokolove wrote The Ticket Out, a Boys of Summer-styled look back at the Crenshaw High baseball team that starred Darryl Strawberry. The book has been in the news because one the most prominent players on the team, former Major Leaguer Chris Brown, recently died under mysterious circumstances in Houston.

January 1, 2007

Memo to Michigan: It's Quiet Time

Ever since the end of the college football regular season, pundits have waxed on and on about how unfairly Michigan, the B.C.S.'s #3 team, was treated. Back in November, the Wolverines barely lost to the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, 42-39; surely, Michigan was better than lowly USC and then Florida, both of whom took turns leap-frogging the maize and blue as the #2 squad in the B.C.S. And after USC got dropped by UCLA, 13-9, to end the Trojans' season, you had to think that Michigan fans had a point.

Case closed.

Any questions about where Michigan should have been ranked were settled on this first day of '07. USC crushed the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl, ahead 32-11 before Michigan picked up a garbage-time touchdown. As much as I loathe USC's fans and their endlessly repeating, four-note fight song -- (do four notes truly constitute a song?) -- this victory mattered almost as much for the Pac-10 as it did the Trojans.

USC dominated on both sides of the ball, and even with a two-touchdown, fourth-quarter lead, coach Pete Carroll did not let up, choosing to let quarterback John David Booty (390 yards, four TDs) and his receivers continue to humiliate the Michigan defense like sixth-graders playing Three Flies Up with a bunch of kindergartners. (See picture here of wideout Dwayne Jarrett, pointing back at a Wolverine defender who is, strangely enough, not in the frame.) Meanwhile, Michigan's' star running back, Mike Hart, mustered 49 yards on 17 carries. That's an average of 2.8 yards per rush -- what I refer to as "grandma yardage," because any grandmother off the street could have put up close numbers.

Is the Big Ten's runner-up even a match for the Pac-10 runner-up, California? You'd think so, but then again, the Bears lost to USC 23-9, also a 14-point margin, and until the fourth quarter, that game was 12-9. Maybe it's time, as it is every year at this time, that the East Coast Media stop overrating the nation's most plodding conference, and start acknowledging the depth of its most electrifying one.

Spare me the dejection arguments, apologists -- that Michigan, passed not once but twice to play in the title game, was emotionally beaten before setting foot in Pasadena. The fact is that the Wolverines were manhandled by Ohio State; without a few uncommonly bad snaps in that game, Michigan would have been beaten handily.

So enjoy your last rays of Southern California winter sun, sing "Hail to the Victors" one more time, then shut your yaps and climb on the first plane for Detroit, Wolverines. If you finish in the nation's top five teams to end the season, you'll be lucky.