X Marks the Sport


This weekend, the NFL kicks off its 91st season.

(Ninety-first? Why the NFL doesn't look a day older than the latest scheme concocted by a coach who woke up this morning at 4 a.m. Sports leagues are like Dorian Gray, they grow older, but their participants look forever young.)

In honor of Kickoff Weekend, XMTS presents two pieces on the NFL's patron saint: Vince Lombardi, the man after whom the Super Bowl trophy is named.

This sharp four-minute piece from NFL Films contains the classic Lombardi clips, ("We want a seal hee-ah...," and "What the hell's goin' on out there?"), an inspiring Sam Spence-composed march (nice touch with "Greensleeves" weaved in near the end), excellent cinematography and, of course, the "voice of God," John Facenda -- whose sharp writing and impeccable delivery were one of the many reasons for NFL Films' initial success.

The vid also manages to capture Lombardi's essence without showing his most famous triumph: The Ice Bowl. But there is a clip late where the Packers run their famed sweep, Jim Taylor breaks through on the right side and left tackle Bob Skoronski escorts Taylor and clears away defenders for 85 yards. That's a left tackle, people, running with a back 85 yards to daylight. That, as much as the last drive of The Ice Bowl, shows how Lombardi's Packers teams operated.

"Lombardi ... a certain magic still lingers in the very name."

It does. So much so, there is about to be a Broadway play about him. Washington Post writer Sally Jenkins noted as much this week: "Vince Lombardi: The coach that still matters 40 years after his death." How much does he matter? Plenty.

"The living Lombardi was conflicted about his excesses, and he came to regret his association with the reductive phrase: 'Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.' He wasn't even the first to say it; he merely paraphrased another coach named Red Saunders. Still, it stuck to him like gum to his shoe, and he repented of it. 'I wished I'd never said the thing,' he said, almost desperately. 'I meant the effort. I meant having a goal. I sure didn't mean for people to crush human values and morality.'"

Which is why Lombardi is far more complex than, as Jenkins notes, the epigrams attributed to him. That Lombardi never lost sight of "human values and morality" and they are virtues on which most great coaches never compromise. It's why Lombardi, John Wooden, Bill Walsh, Greg Popovich and yes, as arrogant as he is, Phil Jackson have been wonderfully successful. As much as Jackson rubs me the wrong way, it's hard not to admire his ability to understand the talent and genius of certain players ... and to trust it.

That's what Lombardi did. At heart, he was a teacher. All coaches should be, at heart, teachers. Those who aren't, don't necessarily fail (Hello, John Calipari), but often they don't make those players they coach better than when they found them. Players are disposable and so too are the lessons. One and done, if you will.

"It was that Lombardi, a demanding and yet feeling man, who was such an incalculable loss to the coaching profession. The real Lombardi certainly did not believe that winning was everything. He understood that the scoreboard was just a facade, a small surface reflection beneath which was the real action, the tangle of relationships, the push and pull, and the cycle of work that was a form of mutual giving."

So, here's to opening weekend of the 2010 NFL season. May the best coached team win.


This, the opening post of X Marks the Sport, has been years in the procrastinating.

Yet I must offer my apologies in advance as this post won't be literature. When finished and re-read it still may be raw and not that well-written.

I have wanted to start this blog for quite some time. Having been a participant in sports and a consumer of sports media since as long as I can remember, I believe I have built up a wealth of opinion concerning these subjects. I've wanted to share those opinions regardless of whether anyone agreed with them or even paid attention to them.

At first, I planned on working XMTS anonymously (I would have signed my posts only as X) for numerous reasons, with the primary one being that at the time I thought of the name, I worked for NBA.com. Not only did I have plenty of work to keep me busy there, leaving me little time to write, but also writing outside the network was prohibited. Anything that I started would have had to have been at least pseudonymous or completely anonymous.

Hiding behind that anonymity, I had planned to slash and burn my way through the foolishness and sloppiness I detected throughout sports and sports media. Now, that I no longer work there (which is for another post some day), there's no need to hide.

The slashing and burning, however, will need to wait. Like the BP spill in the Gulf, sports blogging has gushed snark unabated for too long. I don't think the world could take another I'm ironic and cooler-than-you blog. At best, it would be redundant. At worst, annoying.

I also hope that I can figure out a way to ban anonymous comments. I know that may be unrealistic, but if I'm going to put my name on post, you can put your name on a comment.

Why? Because I believe there is room for honest assessment of sports, sports media and the culture around it (specifically the television advertising), that this blog could have plenty of fertile ground to plow through for however long we keep this going.

We? Yes, I've invited some good friends to post here as well. We began working together at AOL in '95 and '96 at Extreme Fans and hope to transfer some of that enterprising free-spiritedness to this blog. Another gent, a former grad school classmate and roommate, was integral in getting the Chicago Tribune online.

They say they're rusty. I say they'll hit their stride immediately.

The time, however, has come. I need to do this for me. I need to prove to myself that my nearly two decades as a sportswriter, the last 15 of which spent online at AOL, FoxSports.com, NBA.com and again at AOL, haven't been a waste.

The result of that need? This blog.

I spoke with someone just after my 40th birthday and asked for some advice. What am I, I wondered to him in an IM.

"When you're 65, what do you want the blank behind your name to be? Rob Peterson, _______."

I think I know.


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