Friday 4: A Bronze, a Brady, an inspiration, and a chain gang.

It’s Friday, so that means another installment of “Friday 4”, the four things I’m thinking about the last week and the upcoming weekend in sports and the world in general.

ONE
Congratulations go out to Holy Cross Women’s ice hockey Head Coach Katie Lachapelle for leading Team USA to the bronze medal at the Women’s U18 World Ice Hockey Championships in Sweden. Lachapelle and Team USA went 2-1 in the preliminary round, with victories over Sweden (6-3) and Finland (8-1) before losing a 3-1 to Canada to finish second in Group A. Sweden got some revenge over Team USA in the semi-finals, but USA rebounded with a 5-1 win over Finland to win bronze.

I am a huge fan of Women’s hockey, and seeing the young stars of Team USA doing so well at the younger levels is an awesome thing. Amazing as it seems, their third-place finish is actually the worst they’ve ever done. In the 15 times the IIHF has held this tournament Team USA has eight golds and four silvers to go with the season’s bronze.

Because there is no Women’s U20 tourney, this is the pinnacle of Junior Hockey for women. The next highest tournament is the IIHF World Women’s Championship, in which Team USA has never finished worse than silver, winning nine times and placing second in 12. Only Canada has done better.

I really wish the women at the pro level would get their act together and figure out how to make that work. There’s zero chance of success for the sport when the Premier Hockey Federation (PHL) and Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association can’t even agree on what the issues are, and it seems neither has realistic expectations on what it will take for a Women’s pro hockey league to be successful.

The NHL and its teams seem willing to help as it would only grow their own market but have been hesitant to get directly involved in the dispute, and instead, they just sit on the sidelines waiting for each side to come to their senses and get back to negotiating with each other.

And while the PHL and PHWPA stubbornly play their waiting game, everyone loses.

TWO
The list of superstars that didn’t know it was time to exit gracefully is very long. Guys like Brett Favre, Evander Holyfield, Jerry Rice, Michael Jordan, and Shaquille O’Neal. Awesome in their prime, but just a shadow of their greatness when they finally hung it up for good. Hopefully, we won’t add another name to that list: Tom Brady.

Now I realize that lots of pundits have been saying for a very long time that Brady is all done, and every season he makes them look foolish by continuing to be one of the top quarterbacks in the game.

You could easily argue that the 45-year-old Brady is still one of the top QBs in the league as he led the NFL in completions and attempts, and his 4,694 yards were third-best behind Patrick Mahomes (5,250) and Justin Herbert (4,739). But Brady also did something in the 2022 season he’s never done before.

He looked old.

There’s no escaping Father Time, eventually, he catches up with everyone. And this season, if he hasn’t caught Brady, he’s right on his heels. This past summer would have been a great time to retire, and Brady did. Looking at the timeline of events it’s pretty clear the only reason he came back was that his marriage to Gisele Bundchen was over, and he fell back to the only thing he knows, which is playing football.

Presuming Brady plays next season, he’ll probably be at a minimum a serviceable NFL starting quarterback, and if he can avoid Father Time for another year he might be one of the top-five QBs as he was this past season. But he’ll never be the best again, and in all likelihood will just be an “above average” player. The downside is there is a chance he won’t even be that.

And that’s when he adds his name to that ever-growing list.

THREE
There’s a pretty good chance that readers here will have no idea who Michael Castillo is. And to be honest, until last week I had no idea who he was either. But once I found out, I thought his story was worth sharing.

Castillo is the head golf pro at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course in Hawaii, where the PGA made a tour stop two weeks ago. When Castillo won the Aloha PGA Section in September, by birdieing the final hole to win by one no less, he qualified to play in last week’s Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. It was his first-ever PGA Tour event, something every pro golfer hopes to accomplish.

Oh, by the way, Castillo is 60 years old and is battling colon cancer, which he was diagnosed with about five years ago. The disease metastasized to his liver and lungs. Thanks to radiation and chemotherapy, Castillo is just a clear PET scan away from being in remission.

With his mom watching and his brother on the bag, Castillo shot 79 Thursday, the highest score recorded for the day. But his score doesn’t matter, it’s the fact that after all the obstacles life threw at him, he still got to live his dream by playing in a PGA Tour event.

Friday went better, with Castillo shooting 74 including birdieing the final hole in front of family and friends. With a two-round score of 13-over 153, Castillo finished in last by three shots.

But in every other way that counts, Castillo is a champion.

FOUR
In an article on the website Sportico, Kurt Badenhausen says the NFL set a record with $11 billion in revenue generated last season, with each team set to receive $343.75 million. Then you add what each team rakes in on its own and we’re talking about a humongous amount of cash.

So why doesn’t the league spend some money on equipment for automated first downs instead of using two guys holding sticks apart to determine one of the most important things in the game?

I’m all for tradition, but using an actual chain to determine if a player has made a first down with all the technology available that can quickly determine exactly where the ball is on the field is sheer folly. We all remember a playoff game a few years back when referee Gene Steratore, now a CBS Sports rules analyst, took an index card out of his pocket and tried to put it between the football and the yardage stick, and somehow decided a first down had been gained.

Since the 1960s there have been dozens of patented devices created just to determine first downs from the sidelines, so there’s no need for guys to clumsily run out onto the field holding those sticks. In fact, you could actually use the current system in almost the same manner by using a laser from the front stick.

Well, it turns out the issue is much more basic than just the two guys with sticks and a chain to determine what down it is. It is that officials seldom spot the ball perfectly after a tackle. It was figured that if the spot has such a wide variance, then it makes no sense to have a perfect measurement for first downs. And that’s logical, to a point at least.

But if you dig deeper, that variance is more often than not intentional. If you pay attention to when a first down is gained outside the hash marks, a second ball is thrown in from the offensive sideline to the umpire. Watch where he places that ball. Almost always it will be at the back edge of one of the hash marks even if the original spot was beyond that. Why is that? Because it’s easier to determine a first down by using the lines already painted on the field vs two guys with a chain.

It’s done to make the game go faster, with the referee being able to quickly determine if the line to gain has been passed because that line is easily discernable on the field. The only time that method can’t be used is when the tackle after a first down is made between the hash marks because the ball is spotted at that location. That’s where the chains come in.

Now imagine expensive technology being introduced that shows exactly where the ball is, and if the line to gain has been met. And how much longer would it take to use that technology as opposed to what they use now.

The next game you watch count the number of times the chain gang actually comes out onto the field. Spoiler alert: it won’t be very often.

And that’s why it’s just two guys with sticks and a chain.


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