A few things I care about . . .
⋅ There are more than enough metrics to measure the success of a sports career, which is why even though Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl, he is still considered one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.
So the fact that Aaron Rodgers has a Lombardi Trophy to his name already puts him in an elite group, that Super Bowl XLV win 11 years ago adding heft to a statistical resumé as good as anyone in the game. But there is no changing the fact that Rodgers should have had more.
And with the career light most definitely flickering, and perhaps a move to some other NFL city looking for a short-term, late-career rental coming, who knows if he’ll ever get another chance to get that elusive second title. The failure will be as much a part of his resumé as the 55,360 career passing yards.
As Rodgers flamed out of yet another postseason in Saturday night’s 13-10 home loss to the 49ers, as the offense he directed to such high-scoring exploits in the regular season struggled just to hit double digits, as his eyes zeroed in on favorite receiver Davante Adams to the detriment of the overall game plan, it was an abrupt and unexpected end to one of the strangest seasons in his long and winding career.
From the offseason drama of whether he would even come back to a team he felt had disrespected him; to the midseason ridiculousness when he was outed for dishonesty over his vaccination status; to late-season declarations against governmental leadership, direction and so-called cancel culture, Rodgers hadn’t let any of it slow him down on the field. Headed toward a fourth MVP award and comfortably ready to stay home all the way to the Super Bowl, he couldn’t even get past the divisional round.
And that, more than anything he’s said off the field, will haunt him.
Think about it: Tom Brady won one title in his first season with Tampa Bay — on top of the six (!) he won in New England. Rodgers couldn’t even get a second in 17 seasons with the Packers, 14 as the starter.
Not that Rodgers has to be Brady, the greatest winner of all time. But with the skill set he has, with the arm he possesses, with the accuracy, drive and talent in his right arm, and with all the playoff chances he’s had — he’s lost four NFC Championship games, including a season ago to Brady’s Bucs — he should have had more.
▪ Heavy is the head that wears the crown. True for Shakespeare and true for the NFL, at least for teams not accustomed to being the hunted rather than the hunter. In yet another reminder of how well the Patriots handled their business across two decades of Bill Belichick/Brady dominance, neither the Titans nor the Packers could handle the pressure of being the No. 1 seed in their conference, unable to cash in on the benefit of a bye week or home-field advantage.
▪ Sending all positive vibes to Dick Vitale, the voice of college basketball and one of the truly nice guys in all of sports. Vitale, 82, is in treatment for cancer and hasn’t been on the air. But he remains active on Twitter, rooting for his beloved Bucs, keeping up with the hoops scene, and even posting his patented motivation tips, which he recorded before doctors advised him to rest his vocal cords during treatment.
On Sunday morning, Vitale tweeted about an upcoming visit to Boston, with, as he put it, “renowned Massachusetts General Hospital throat specialist, Dr. Steven Zeitels.” Vitale called this “a major week to recover from my vocal cords problems as I visit Dr. Zeitels rated the best vocal cord specialist,” and added that on Wednesday, he returns to Florida to continue lymphoma treatment at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Vitale deserves all the love, and plenty of good karma as a passionate supporter of the V Foundation, named in memory of his coaching friend and cancer victim Jim Valvano.
▪ What a bounceback for the Bruins Thursday night against the rival Caps, a 4-3 win that came on the heels of that 7-1 debacle against Carolina. Washington tried whatever it could to keep the Bruins down, but like the first-round playoff series a year ago when a Game 1 overtime win led to a five-game series ouster, the Bruins proved resilient.
Neither Tom Wilson’s clean-but-hard hit that injured Anton Blidh nor Garnet Hathaway’s penalized hit that injured Brad Marchand could stop some inspired play by Boston, which got a goal and assist from embattled forward Jake DeBrusk, the latter on the final-minute game-winner by usual clutch suspect Charlie McAvoy. Including Saturday’s win over Winnipeg, the Bruins have quietly won 10 of 12 since Jan. 1, with Marchand returning after what looked at first to be a serious injury.
▪ On the heels of my colleague Dan Shaughnessy pointing out in his RIP for Meat Loaf that the rock star originally named Michael Lee Aday was once a high school softball coach, here’s another sports connection beyond the famous Phil Rizzuto double entendre play-by-play featured in “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” While Meat Loaf’s voice was the perfect vehicle for the dramatic songs on “Bat Out of Hell,” the album was written by Jim Steinman. Steinman’s brother, Bill, was the longtime sports information director at Columbia University in New York.
▪ UConn has some repair work to do after losing big in its case to not pay former men’s hoops coach Kevin Ollie the remaining $11 million of his contract. Ollie, a former UConn star and 13-year NBA vet, led the Huskies to the national title in 2014. When he got dinged for some minor NCAA infractions four years later, the school fired him and tried to use the infractions as cause for not paying him. But similar mistakes by his longtime predecessor Jim Calhoun and Hall of Fame women’s coach Geno Auriemma never cost them their jobs, and the court’s decision cited that double standard in ruling for Ollie.
The real double standard is easier to spot: Those coaches kept winning, whereas Ollie fell hard and fast, posting back-to-back losing seasons (which hadn’t happened in 30 years) before getting axed.
Coaches around the country noticed. As former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy put it on Twitter: “Maybe the biggest win of Kevin Ollie’s career.”
▪ Gotta love Joe Burrow. In only his second year, the QB is taking the Bengals to the conference title game for the first time since 1988. But how about this stat? For the first time ever the Bengals won a playoff game on the road. That’s the way to stamp yourself a franchise quarterback, especially after getting sacked nine times and still getting up. And don’t forget, his rookie season ended with a torn ACL.
The future in Cincy is bright. And his postgame line Saturday was the best of the weekend: “I’m tired of the underdog narrative. We are here to make noise.”
▪ Wonder if there’s outrage in Australia over its women’s soccer team beating Indonesia, 18-0, in the first round of the Asian Cup?
▪ Stat of the week: Patrick Cantlay’s 72 on Saturday at the American Express golf tournament ended a streak of 21 consecutive rounds in the 60s, dating back more than five months. It’s the longest such streak in PGA Tour records, which go back 40 years.