|All Points West: Deck the halls with cheers, folly|
|December 18, 2015 Frank Marquez|
A purported Chinese expression says, “may you live in interesting times,” though there was never any official source. Harry Caray, the late renowned announcer for the Chicago Cubs, would probably agree, given how the Major League baseball season turned out as the Kansas City Royals hoisted the World Series trophy in October, while the Cubs continue to be teased by the baseball gods.
At this time of year, we have officially entered into the Twilight Zone (cue Rod Serling speaking from a black-and-white TV screen). Football season has ended for high schools and most colleges, except for the handful of bowl games, if that means anything. Foster Farms barely registers on the radar of anyone except for Nebraska Cornhusker fans, and even then, the game against the UCLA Bruins on Dec. 26 will likely be background noise while kids joyfully play with their new toys in front of the TV, and families warm leftover turkey and ham for sandwiches, switching the channel to more exciting fare.
If Husker QB Tommy Armstrong throws an interception in the first half, I might be apt to close my eyes for a quick nap to dream of sugar plumb fairies and better seasons ahead. Who knows, I’ve been a good boy this year. Maybe Santa will grant this win as one of my Christmas wishes. Seems my other wishes are even less assured with the way the world is turning, peace and good will for all people.
The NFL wrapped up the 14th week of the season. For fans of the Denver Broncos, there wasn’t much to cheer in a narrow defeat to division foe Oakland Raiders. Although, backup QB Brock Osweiler performed brilliantly in the four games he has filled in for regular starter Peyton Manning, his failure to pull off some sort of magic feat, maybe put together a winning drive in the final five minutes of the game ala Manning or the great John Elway, did not materialize. The 15-12 Raider victory was an odd scoring affair. A healthy Manning would have spared little time in righting Denver’s ship in a scoreless second half. An injured Manning, on the other hand, would have fared no better than Brock, given the fact the Raiders played inspired defense.
So far, three teams, including the Broncos, New England Patriots and the Cincinnati Bengals lead the AFC with double-digit wins in their respective divisions. Only the Houston Texans, leaders in the South, sit at less than .500 at 6-7 after a 27-6 pounding by Pats QB Tom Brady and his short-handed receiving corps.
In the NFC, the 13-0 Carolina Panthers led by QB Cam Newton suddenly seem capable of running the table. The 1972 Miami Dolphins were the last team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl. The 2007 Patriots went undefeated during the regular season, winning their first two playoff games before wilting to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
The Arizona Cardinals at 11-2 aren’t that far behind. Add to the mix the resurgent Green Bay Packers. The East holds at least one surprise.
Typically struggling this time of year, the Washington Redskins sit atop the East at 6-7 in a tight race with the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. They have got to be juiced after their latest victory on the road against the Chicago Bears, and just three games in the season left. The Division is up for grabs. After its final home game next week against Buffalo, the Redskins hit the road again for final critical road tests against Philly and Dallas.
Once teams step it up in the playoffs, look for the Panthers to be tested. Sometimes, it’s better for teams to lose early, and at least once, than to take the critical fall when it counts. Like the 2007 Pats, look for Cam and company to run out of gas. However, the Panthers only need to face the Giants, the Atlanta Falcons (who they blanked 38-0 on Sunday), and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Only fools would bet against them. But the playoffs? That’s a different story.
Outside of football, basketball and wrestling are kicking up some dust before the holidays. The two-week break traditionally bites into some of the momentum for local high school teams. Wrestlers participated in several duals and tournaments, notably the one at Banner County last weekend in which several mostly Class D schools battled, while Gering and Scottsbluff grapplers traveled to Cheyenne East. The Bearcats schooled them all, bringing home the team title.
In college, the No. 4 Nebraska Husker wrestlers (7-1) lost their first dual meet to the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers, 17-16 by criteria – the Knights scored more individual points than the Huskers after the teams ended the dual in a tie. One of the toughest Husker teams in a spell will be in Evanston, Ill., for the Midlands Championships Dec. 29-30.
Local high school basketball already has one major tourney under its belt, as teams attempted to shake off the rust at the Western Conference Invite two weeks ago. The first rounds were played at Gering High School, while the champions were decided at Nebraska Western Community College in Scottsbluff. Early tilts have favored the Scottsbluff and Sidney boys, and Chadron and Sidney girls. For our hometown Gering boys, taking home the hardware for third place at the tournament shows promise. The Bulldog boys also collected wins against Mitchell and Alliance.
So far, Husker men’s basketball coach Tim Miles has his team at 7-4, losing tough home games to Cincinnati and Creighton, and may miss getting an invite to the Big Dance in March as he did his first year with the Huskers. Women’s basketball coach Connie Yori has her squad at 9-2. Though nationally unranked at the moment, the women are getting notice, as evidenced by the six votes in last week’s AP poll. The women face N. Arizona on Dec. 19, while the men play Samford at Pinnacle Arena on Dec. 20.
The Nebraska volleyball team advanced to Final Four and by the time this Gering Citizen issue hits the news and mail boxes, the Huskers will have played Kansas, as fellow Big Ten mates the Minnesota Golden Gophers will have either fallen or withstood a challenge by the Texas Longhorns. In whatever way the chips land, the Big 12 will part this season with just as much recruiting leverage.
Without fall sports, the NBA along with college hoops will take center stage. Here in Nebraska, being a fan of the Lakers means very little.
Although supposed star Kobe Bryant will retire after this season in which the lesser L.A. team (once upon a time the Clippers stunk) will likely miss the playoffs, adding further smears to the golden sheen of past teams. Magic Johnson must be privately groaning.
The Golden State Warriors, who started the season with a remarkable 24-game win streak before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks, have set the bar far out of reach of even the great LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers, the team to beat in the east.
By the time the snow officially thaws in late June, we’ll be in the midst of another snoozer of a baseball season, and the August preseason football games won’t come soon enough.
Did I say interesting times?