Lang’s World: Ten pearls of Whitaker’s wit and wisdom on sports and beyond 1.4.18
By Lang Whitaker
Grind City Media
I am still not sure exactly what happened. It was late in the afternoon of the first day of 2018, and I was posted up on my couch. I had evacuated the rest of my family upstairs, out of the immediate area where they might accidentally catch some crossfire via a thrown hat or accidentally loosed epithet. My phone was upside down on the armrest, and because a positive play happened just after I’d set my phone down in that way, sports viewing rules required me to not move the phone until the end of the game.
I remember thinking to myself how proud I was of this Georgia Bulldogs team that started a freshman quarterback and had only lost once all season. And I was beginning to mentally prepare myself for the loss that seemed inevitable. The same UGA defense that had been so swaggering and dominant all season suddenly seemed confused and defanged. I sighed heavily, poured a fresh glass of iced tea and mentally drafted bitter Tweets about Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield that I would not allow myself to post.
But then UGA started chipping away. A ridiculous 55-yard field goal before halftime cut it to a 14-point lead. And when the second half started, the same Oklahoma team that could do no wrong could suddenly do nothing right. The Sooners were forced to punt on four of their first five possessions to start the second half, and out of nowhere the Dawgs took a lead.
So when Oklahoma scored to make it 45-38 and got the ball with five minutes left in the game, I resigned myself to the loss that was certainly forthcoming. Great game, really fun season, but no way were we going to win this one.
Which makes what actually happened all the more ridiculous: Because we did actually win. UGA beat Oklahoma 55-48 in double overtime to win the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. Now, we play for the National Championship on Monday in Atlanta against Alabama.
Things like what happened to UGA this week are not supposed to happen to me. If what I‘ve learned over the years offers any indication, the sports teams I follow exist mostly to challenge my spirit. So when Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson ripped off a 41- yard touchdown early in the second quarter to put the Sooners up 21-7, I just figured it was all happening again.
If you watch sports your entire life, you will experience more sadness than happiness. That’s simply the way it works; as Ron Burgundy explained, “It’s science.” We know that the odds are against us on the way in, and we willingly accept that lopsided deal in the hopes that one day we will be the ones who break the chain and get to see the odds pay off in our favor, and we experience a moment of what must be absolute joy.
I say “must be” because I don’t really recall what it’s like to have that feeling. As a fan of Atlanta sports teams, the only professional championship that came our way was in 1995, when the Braves managed to beat Cleveland. Since then, nothing.
During the Rose Bowl, it occurred to me that while I have done my best to turn the page, I will probably never be able to outrun the memory of Super Bowl LI, of the way the Falcons were just about to win a title against the evil Patriots empire and then we collapsed and fell apart and lost in the most humiliating way possible. Surviving that game as a fan has permanently colored my view of other sports, and given me a baseline as far as losing goes. No matter what my teams do, I know that it probably can never be any worse than that Super Bowl loss.
The UGA/Oklahoma game felt to me like I was watching Super Bowl LI in reverse, as UGA came back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit and won in overtime. And the more I think about it, UGA vs. Alabama has some similarities to Super Bowl LI: the big, bad perennial contender (Alabama) who has been there a few times versus the plucky little team that nobody expected to make it this far (Georgia).
I know I probably shouldn’t feel this way, but I am optimistic about the National Championship game. UGA wasn’t supposed to beat Oklahoma, but we did. So why can’t we conjure some similar magic in what’s essentially a home game next week in Atlanta? Who knows Nick Saban better than UGA coach Kirby Smart, who worked for him for a decade? Alabama’s defense is fearsome, but I’m comfortable putting the ball in the hands of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
If Alabama wins, that’s probably no real surprise. Ho hum, that’s five in the last eight years. But if UGA can pull off the unexpected and somehow dethrone the Tide?
It may be unlikely, but that’s why we play the games. At least, I know it’s why I watch them.
2. Take The Red Pill
If you’re ever at a sports event and someone asks if you want to put on an inflatable suit of some sort and take your chances running into someone else, just say no. Or at least opt for the red suit, which apparently confers some super-strength magical powers.
3. Never Kick Out Of Bounds
We all understand that officiating in sports is an inexact science. Officials do their best to make sure the game is played within the boundaries of the rules, and sometimes their best might not be all that great. Which is part of the game, or at least it was at one point. By now we’ve all experienced the joy and pain of instant replay. Certainly, it’s great when technology helps us get a call correct. But sometimes it feels as though nobody wins when it takes five minutes to determine who touched a ball last before it went out of bounds.
Yet for all the advances technology has given us, there must be no part of the officiating experience that is more of a guess than when a punt goes out of bounds. One ref, standing approximately twenty yards away, then comes running down the sideline and stops at a random yard marker to declare that this is precisely where the ball went from being in bounds to being out of bounds.
When we all know the truth, which is that nobody really has any idea of where the ball actually went out of bounds while it was spinning thirty feet in the air, way up high above the field. Short of putting a sensor in the ball or a camera in low orbit, there’s no real way to know where that ball went out. Many times, the referee seems to tip his own confusion by slowing down as he nears the arbitrary spot where he will rule the ball most certainly belongs.
Just once I’d love to see the side judge come running down and then slowly turn to the camera and shrug. Maybe it’s OK to admit you don’t have all the answers. Even when it’s your job to pretend you know everything.
4. It’s Tricky (Part Deux)
Just last week I talked about my love of trick plays, linking to a video that showed the Rams pulling off a crazy fake punt return where the defense all covered the wrong guy basically because they got fooled by the way the return team ran back on coverage.
So I suppose we should thank Chicago Bears special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers, who I’m assuming must be a Grind City Media reader, because just days after my column ran the Bears ran the same trick play and got a touchdown against the Vikings.
The best part about this is they scored, which will hopefully spur other teams to try more trick plays.
5. A Hairy Situation
We’ve seen athletes represent their teams in all sorts of ways, from tattoos to sneaker colorways. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen an athlete get their hair braided into the shape of their team’s logo.
Really nice precision there.
6. Can We Kick It?
Not only did DeMar DeRozan drop 52 points earlier this week against the Milwaukee Bucks, but he did it in a pair of Nike Kobe 9 Elites, the shoes that are about the highest high tops out there. I love these shoes so much, particularly this colorway, and DeRozan paid proper tribute to the shoe’s namesake by lighting up the scoreboard while wearing them.
I wrote earlier about how rooting for a sports team can be tough, and noted how Atlanta sports teams have been bad for a while now.
But I guess I should note that it could be worse. The Cleveland Browns have been terrible for a long time, and just when you thought they were on the way up, they went and finished 0-16 this season.
And in order to properly celebrate their badness, one Browns fan has organized a parade this weekend through downtown Cleveland.
It’s actually more of a march than a parade, just one lap around the stadium with a food drive built in, but hey, might as well do something to commemorate a truly terrible season.
8. He’s The Manu
I don’t know what’s better about this play, where Manu Ginobili tries to throw a lob to LaMarcus Aldridge: That the ball accidentally goes straight into the basket, or that Michael Beasley, who if you watch clearly sees the ball go into the basket, instead pretends it was a turnover and pushes the ball the other way, setting up the Knicks in their halfcourt offense. And Beasley almost gets away with it! I hope we see more players attempt the trick of just ignoring made shots and pushing it the other way.
9. Animal Takeover
Instead of going on incessantly here about what would happen if a bulldog fought an elephant, let’s see what happens when this chihuahua went up against a dang coyote and won!
Well, to be honest, if you watch the entire video you learn that Paco the dog tangled with the coyote and then his owner came out and scared away the coyote. The lesson here? Humans win again!
10. Go Forth With Song
In honor of UGA’s appearance in the college football championship game, let’s run it back to 1977, when the great James Brown appeared at halftime of the UGA game to perform “Dooley’s Junkyard Dawgs,” a song he wrote about UGA football. Go Dawgs...
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