, Port Arthur, Texas


June 7, 2014

West column: Big sporting events not immune to unexpected interference


    Hard to believe that in a span of 16 months two of America’s biggest sporting events — the Super Bowl and NBA finals — experienced electrical problems that produced game-changing impact. The Baltimore Ravens, you may remember, had just taken a 28-6 lead on Jacoby Jones 108-yard  kickoff return to open the second half  of Super Bowl XLVIII when a power outage at the Superdome halted the game for 34 minutes. Momentum completely changed when play resumed and the Ravens were fortunate to hang on for a 34-31 win. Meanwhile, Game 1 in the NBA Finals was up for grabs Thursday night when the withering heat from air-conditioning failure in San Antonio’s AT&T Center helped induce brutal cramping in LeBron James that sidelined the Miami Heat superstar at crunch time of a game that was up for grabs.  Miami, which was in perfect position to steal Game 1, saw its chances evaporate. It’s simply mind blowing that at the highest level of sports outside factors could twice be so instrumental in the outcome . . . So what about MLB? Does it have an equivalent off-the-field World Series nightmare? Absolutely. Those old enough to remember the 1989 World Series between San Francisco and Oakland know where this is headed. Little more than a half hour before Game 3 was to start at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, a 6.9 earthquake devastated Northern California. Bridges collapsed, 63 people were killed and thousands were injured. ABC announcers Al Michaels and Tim McCarver, who didn’t know how bad the earthquake was, were clearly shaken as Candlestick Park’s lights went out and the stadium rocked and rattled. It would be 10 days before Game 3 was played and, in light of the damage all around, the World Series became mostly an afterthought. In retrospect, an air-conditioning failure and power outage seems pretty tame.

    Most ridiculous thing to come out of Game 1 in the NBA Finals was the LeBron James haters in the media, who had been pretty well silenced the past two seasons, pouncing on his totally understandable inability to overcome near paralyzing cramping. “Unfair? LeBron wilts in NBA Finals opener, triggering new referendum on his standing among greats,” blared the headline on Dan Wetzel’s column on Several others, who just can’t seem to accept James’ ever-rising standing among the game’s all-time greats, took cheap shots. It didn’t help for ABC announcer Mark Jackson to infer that great players will their body through injuries when they are needed.  Really stupid, Mark. “Win this thing or live with that image of a shutdown body being lifted off the court as part of the never-ending debate over his place in hoops immortality,” wrote Wetzel of James. Good grief. And here I thought America’s biggest media idiots worked for Fox News  . . . Speaking of squirrely NBA happenings, next Sunday will be the 20th anniversary of the O.J. Simpson white-Bronco-saga that stole the thunder from Game 5 of the 1994 Houston Rockets-New York Knicks NBA Finals.  Late in the third quarter of a take-no-prisoners finals series than was more physical that some NFL games, NBC cut away from its telecast to a police chase in Los Angeles. Being pursued in a white Bronco was former NFL great O.J. Simpson, who’d morphed into an American celebrity of sorts through TV, movies and commercials. Simpson was wanted for questioning in the murder of his ex wife and was threatening to kill himself. While the Knicks and Rockets played on in relative anonymity, Tom Brokaw narrated the chase and talked about O.J. Occasionally, he’d give an update on the game. It was all so very maddening for fans of the Rockets and Knicks. NBC finally managed to insert the game telecast into a small box in the lower right hand corner of the Bronco chase. The Knicks wound up winning to go up 3-2, but Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets bounced to take Games 6 and 7 in The Summit to claim their first NBA title.

    Mack Brown may be out of mind as a college football coach but he won’t be out of sight. Brown, according to Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman, is headed to the same happy hunting ground — a cushy role on ESPN as a studio analyst — as so many other coaches who’ve been pushed aside. I’m guessing he’ll mostly deliver the same kind of Pollyanna dribble we’ve been hearing from Lou Holtz for too long. I’d also bet that none of Mack’s new TV buddies will point out that after playing in the 2009 national championship game he signed 19 four and five star recruits in what was ranked the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, then proceeded to go 30-21 the next four years. Nor will then mention the ultimate embarrassment of Mack’s poor coaching job was when no-name schools  like Lindenwood, Pittsburgh State, McGill and Saginaw Valley, among others, had more players taken in the 2014 NFL draft than the Longhorns. UT, of course, didn’t have a player drafted  for the first time since 1937 . . . One guy who will never criticize Brown is Alabama’s Nick Saban. Not after the raise Mack got for him. Because UT’s Big Cigars were so intent on stealing Saban away from the Crimson Tide, to try and restore the Longhorns place in the elite, he wound up with a lucrative contract extension that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise after high-profile losses to Auburn in the SEC Championship and Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Figures released last week revealed Alabama will pay Saban $55.2 million between now and Jan. 31, 2022 if he’s still the school’s head coach three months after his 70th birthday. That doesn’t factor in bonuses of $125,000 for reaching the SEC title game, $200,000 for making the semifinals in the new playoff system, $300,000 for playing in the championship game and $400,000 for winning it. Here’s the really crazy part of that new deal. Saban can reportedly still walk away from Alabama at any time without having to pay a buyout. Three years from now, if Charlie Strong hasn’t worked out, who knows.

    Luke Leonard of Monk Parrots is not giving up hope of bringing his Bum Phillips Opera to Houston but says financial limitations will likely push the project back to September of 2015. He has several irons in the fire for fundraising and anyone interested in being part of it should go to < > for information. Among the perks for those who pledge at certain levels are two tickets for the Houston premiere of the opera. One of the interesting bid items is dinner at a five-star restaurant in Houston with Bum’s favorite Luv Ya Blue quarterback, Dan Pastorini. Additional details can be found at < > and > <> . . . Now that the Astros have a product worth watching, you wonder if it will  change things any in the ongoing dispute between the team and CSN Houston. Latest news on a process that’s bogged down in court involves CSN attorneys asking for 30 more days to work out a bankruptcy reorganization plan . . . Astros rookie George Springer joined some elite company when he hammered 10 home runs in May. Last time a rookie hit that many in a month was when Mark McGwire blasted 15 back in his pre-steroid days in May of 1987. Springer also became only the fourth Astro to be named Rookie of the Month. Previous winners were Hunter Pence (May, 2007), Kirk Sarlos (July, 2002) and Roy Oswalt (August, 2001).

    Kids won’t be the only ones in for a treat when Jamaal Charles hosts his annual free football camp Friday and Saturday at Memorial. Area NFL fans will get an up close look at some stellar NFL talent. Among those Jamaal has invited to participate are West Orange-Stark’s Earl Thomas of the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, KC Chiefs teammates Dwayne Bowe, Derrick Johnson, Brandon Flowers, Knile Davis and Cyrus Gray, former Memorial teammate Danny Gorrer of Tampa Bay, former Beaumont Central star Anthony Collins of Tampa Bay and Miami Dolphins tackle Brandon Albert. That’s some pretty serious talent . . . The Astros wound up selecting southpaw pitcher Brady Aiken from Cathedral High School in San Diego with the first pick in the baseball draft, but they took a long look at flame-throwing right-hander Tyler Kolek of nearby Shepherd High School. Houston was serious enough about Kolek, who is considered the hardest throwing schoolboy pitcher since implementation of the draft in 1965, that both Nolan Ryan and manager Bo Porter made a trip to Jasper to watch him. It couldn’t have been much fun to high school kids who had to bat again Kolek, since he regularly registered 100 mph on radar guns and was clocked at a high of 102. When Houston opted for Aiken, Miami took Kolek with the No. 2 pick. It will be interesting to see which of them is the most successful . . . This should come as no surprise. Excitement surrounding the Cleveland Browns since the drafting of Johnny Manziel is such that the Browns are requiring fans to register online if they want to attend training camp practices. Cleveland’s practice facility holds 5,000 and the Browns expect demand well beyond that number. Manziel’s No. 2 jersey continues to fly off store shelves in Cleveland and the season-ticket base has grown by 4,000.

    Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at

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