Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bye Bye, Bobby

Super Tuesday came and went, with results and analysis up to our necks. Did anyone notice that when it came down to crunch time and the two chief Republican competitors got ready to call each other the worst things they could think of, the epithet that came most easily was - "liberal"? To McCain and Romney, it was worse than calling someone a "traitor", a "fool", a "liar" (though Romney came close on that one) , or any other name that might get the fists flying on the playground. "Liberal" used to be a perfectly fine word - now it's as tainted as "socialist". Too bad. I hope it makes a comeback.

If anyone cares whether I, a sometime critic of the NFL, watched the Super Bowl Sunday night, the answer is a qualified "yes". I watched the fourth quarter with the sound off on the TV so as to preserve, perhaps in vain, a peaceful Sunday home atmosphere. Pretty good game.

Winters in the Midwest can be long, cold and dreary. Sometimes the correct answer to "What should I do?" is to sit down and watch Big Ten basketball. The games are frequently pretty intense, and the crowds are always big and noisy. The coaches also play a role in the broadcasts. It's the role of the half-crazy monomaniac so accustomed to getting his way in the world that almost anything can set him off on a rage Captain Ahab could admire. The most flamboyant of these coaches was Indiana's Bobby Knight, loved in the Hoosier State and despised almost everywhere else between Ohio and Iowa.
Coach Knight up and quit in the middle of the season this week, turning his Texas Tech team over to son Pat without any warning to the people in nominal authority over him. He's 67, has coached 902 wins in his 42 years as head coach, and has all the money he needs, so you could hardly blame him for deciding to hand up the whistle.
But what a spectacle the guy put on. I don't know what was more amazing - his in-your-face style with referees which seemed to guarantee at least his share of close calls when they mattered most, or the way he had of abusing his own players in front of thousands of people and the TV audience. He kicked things, he threw things, including a chair which went to the other side of the court, and he expressed nothing but contempt for the press whose job it is to cover the games. In return, the sports guys were not always kind to Knight. They loved to portray Bobby as the kind who could dish out abuse but couldn't take even halfhearted supervision. He once walked away from a hunting accident rather than talk to police. There's a warrant out for his arrest should he ever return to Puerto Rico. He once screamed at the lowly Northwestern coach because he didn't like a verbal taunt from the local crowd, as if it were all in under the poor coach's control.
But the guy had a baffling "good" side, as well. His programs were never found in violation of the NCAA's many rules governing student athletes, his players graduated at a higher rate than those of his competitors, and he was always active in charity events and efforts to help retired coaches. One year at Texas Tech (Indiana finally fired him after one too many temper tantrums) he actually gave back his salary because he didn't feel he had earned it.
Bobby Knight is probably through coaching, but that won't keep lots of "sad sack" programs from contacting him in the spring, when the annual firing/hiring takes place. The TV guys will miss him in the way that NASCAR fans miss it when a race features no spectacular collisions. I doubt I'll miss him at all, but at least I can say I saw him on TV at his best and worst.


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