Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

SPORTS >> Hardwood, harder lines in headlines

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

We’ve gotten a little wrapped up in high school basketball here lately with last week’s regionals and the state tournaments starting this week, but a lot of things have happened elsewhere in sports, so it’s time to play catch-up.

It sure was a wild and woolly Winter Olympics, complete with death, personal tragedy, personality clashes, blunders, mishaps and breathtaking performances. Sunday’s gold-medal hockey game between the U.S. and Canada, won in overtime by the Canadians on the home ice of Vancouver, was the best hockey game I’ve watched in 10 years.

It was the only hockey game I’ve watched in 10 years, but still.

And I’ll never forget Canada’s women’s hockey players celebrating their gold-medal victory, also over the U.S., by swilling beer and smoking cigars on the ice — my kind of women.

But the thing that will stick with me is the weather conditions.

Heavy rains and the warmest January on record left Cypress Mountain, the site of snowboarding and freestyle skiing events, practically barren. Snow cannons were brought to bear, and snow was also trucked in and shipped by helicopter.

To all the newly minted, global warming “experts” who saw winter snow in Arkansas and thought it meant global warming doesn’t exist, what does it mean when Canada has to truck in snow?

The up-and-down hardwood Hogs of Arkansas became the first SEC victim of LSU, which improved to 1-12 in the conference when it beat Arkansas in Baton Rogue and prompted — again — the question “How does Razorbacks coach John Pelphrey keep his job?”

I submit Pelphrey is the J. Edgar Hoover of college basketball, surviving because he has a file cabinet full of unflattering dossiers on his superiors.

Hey, speaking of LSU, notice how coach Trent Johnson’s team has struggled since the remnants of former coach John Brady’s last squad have departed? And did you notice how Brady, in his second year at Arkansas State, has improved the Red Wolves from 13-17 and 5-13 in the Sun Belt West last year to 16-13, 11-7 this year?

The Red Wolves meet rival UALR to settle their series, tied 1-1 after the regular season, in the first round of the Sun Belt Tournament in Hot Springs on Saturday.

Speaking of Arkansas State, the football team is on its second offensive coordinator since firing Doug Ruse last fall. The first, former Memphis staffer Clay Helton, came and went without coaching a down, departing for USC to join well-known program-jumper Lane Kiffin last month.

Arkansas State has replaced Helton with Hugh Freeze, who comes from household name Lambuth.

I sort of predicted this kind of thing would happen when the university oddly announced head coach Steve Roberts was staying after last year’s disappointing 4-8 finish — despite the fact Roberts is still signed through next season — but without announcing a contract extension.

It was the kind of ringing vote of no confidence that scares off potential staff hires and the kind of thing opposing recruiters can use against a program.

Arkansas State, which hides behind the press release the way the Wizard of Oz once skulked behind his curtain, rather peevishly chose not to name Helton’s new employer when it announced his departure.

I mean, come on!

That’s what columnists say when they can’t think of a better way to express outrage.

For example, I noticed on Yahoo that the NFL Combine was recently among the most frequent searches. The Combine? Didn’t the Super Bowl end, like, last week?

I mean, come on!

Baseball spring training is under way in Florida and Arizona, which means the Los Angeles Angels will soon be deciding which up-and-coming prospects and players not yet ready for the big time will comprise the roster for the Arkansas Travelers, who open play at Midland, Texas, on April 8.

Speaking of the Travelers, former Travelers pitcher and hall of famer Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) made the news recently for blocking the short-term extension of unemployment and health care benefits in the Senate. Bunning’s move also led to the furlough, without pay, of two thousand federal transportation workers.

It was not the best pitch made by a man who was 18-23 in two different seasons at Little Rock and went on to throw a perfect game during his 17-year, hall of fame career with Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.

Bunning, who at the request of his own party is not running for re-election, reportedly uttered a more profane version of “tough toenails” when asked to relent and complained he had been ambushed by Democrats who caused him to miss the
Kentucky-South Carolina basketball game.

Apparently the old pitcher has forgotten how to play ball.

I mean, come on!