On Pandemic Panics, Basketball Brawls, and That Impeachment Matter

At this point we’re desperate to opine to about anything other than the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, but there’s not much else in the news. A disease spreading in China might yet kill us all, and here in the Sunflower State there’s much talk about the big brawl that broke out between the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State University Wildcats in the final seconds of their men’s basketball contest, but that’s about it.
The recent outbreak of the deadly and contagious coronavirus in Wuhan, China, which is China’s sixth most populous city and more populous than any American city, is indeed a tragedy and a matter of concern. The city is a crucial part of China’s very interactive economy, which is a crucial part of a very interactive global economy, and given all the international travel that occurs these days there’s no telling how that might wind up. Even so, we don’t worry it will wind up killing us all.
By now we’ve survived the Swine Flu and the Ebola Virus and AIDS and all sorts of pandemic panics and other apocalyptic scenarios, and we like our chances with this one. The ruthless commies running China are an unsavory lot, but we have to admit they’re ruthlessly efficient at cracking down on this sort of thing. Even during the Trump administration the American government tends to be less ruthless and more lax about these things, but so far they’ve kept us alive, so we expect they’ll do so again. With all due respect and sympathy to the many fine people of Wuhan, for now it’s not a Wichita problem.
That big brawl between the KU and K-State basketball squads was something to see and a much bigger deal around here, and the footage of massive athletes brawling into the handicapped section was endlessly replayed to sports fans around the country, and although it looked awful it’s ultimately much ado about nothing. We dropped out of K-State but retain an affection for its sports program and as lifelong Wichitans are mostly fans of the Wichita State University Wheatshockers and have no affinity for the haughty KU sports programs, so we look at it from the same biased lens as we do the Trump impeachment trial, but so far as we can objectively tell the hated Jayhawks are mostly at fault.
The melee started in the closing seconds of a lopsided KU victory, which was expected because the Jayhawks are their usual championship-contending selves and the Wildcats are lately mediocre at best, and the game was being played on the hallowed hardwood of KU’s Allen Field House, where the Jayhawks rarely lose. According to the voluminous but inconclusive video evidence the K-State benchwarmers who were playing out the waning minutes just wanted the game over with, but there was a taunt or a push by a KU player, and then a taunt and a push back by a K-State player, and then both benches cleared and the brawl wound up spilling over into the laps of the spectators in the handicapped section.
One of the KU players was clearly videotaped lifting a metal folding chair above his head, pro-wrestling style, with a KU assistant coach preventing him at the last moment from bringing it down on someone’s head, and so far the National Collegiate Athletic Association is coming down harder on the Jayhawks. Both teams will suffer suspensions, but the Jayhawks will suffer more, as their suspended players are more valuable, and they’re already underdogs to the Baylor University Bears in the Big XII conference race, while K-State is just fighting for a slot in the consolatory National Invitational Tournament, where they might do well.
It will all work itself out without any real bother to ourselves, we expect, so tomorrow we’ll get back to worrying about that impeachment trial. As we follow it we’ll be well reminded that sometimes ruthlessness works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

–Bud Norman

Why Sports is Sometimes Better Than the Rest of The World

The past weekend was cold and windy and slightly snowy here in Wichita, with plenty of state and national and international and personal problems for everyone to worry about in the upcoming week, but it worked out well for the local sports fans. In the grand scheme of things it’s not very important that the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad and the Kansas City Chiefs football team both won big games, but at this time of year in this part of the world one relishes whatever good news comes along.
Our beloved ‘Shockers blew a nine-point lead in the final minute of regulation on the road against the University of Connecticut Huskies, but hung on over two hard fought overtimes to escape with an 89 to 86 win. The victory runs their season record to 15-1, one of the six best in the country and second only to the Auburn Tigers’ and San Diego State Aztecs’ thus-far unblemished records, and after a home win earlier in the week against the University of Memphis’ then-22nd-ranked Tigers the ‘Shocks are alone atop the tough American Athletic Conference’s standings and will likely be in both of the top 20 polls today.
More than 50 years of rooting for the ‘Shockers have taught us to not be too hopeful, but we can’t shake a feeling that our boys are pretty darned good this year, maybe good enough for a couple of wins in the March tournament. They’re a very young team with one senior and six freshmen and four sophomores, and most observers expected them to be pretty darned good next year, but they’re already there, which has us looking forward to next year.
Wichita’s greatest sports passion is hoops, but folks also take their football seriously around here. The only college football in town is played by the Quaker-affiliated Friends University in the most tiny-school division, so local college fans are divided between the University of Kansas’ mostly hapless program and Kansas State University’s more respectable team and the perennial powers at the equidistant University of Oklahoma, but most of the football fans root for the nearest National Football League franchise, the Kansas City Chiefs. We’ve mostly given on watching football, what with the prolonged pauses for video reviews and the wife-beating and the head injuries and all, but we’re Wichitans and can’t shake a lifelong habit of rooting for the Chiefs when we check the scores.
We’re old enough to remember when the Chiefs won the IVth Super Bowl, way back in ’70, when star quarterback Len Dawson was smoking cigarettes in the locker room at halftime, and how happy everybody seemed about that. Our parents hosted a Super Bowl party for the neighbors, which was before that became a thing, the kids scrimmaged in the backyard afterwards despite the cold, and we’ve always wanted to enjoy that feeling again. Over the subsequent years the Chiefs have some great offenses and great defenses, but rarely at the same time, and every season has ended in a heartbreaking loss. The past few years the Chiefs have been pretty darned good, though, and this year they’re one win away from a shot at another Super Bowl title.
The Chiefs embarrassed themselves in the first quarter of their game against the Houston Texans, falling behind by three touchdowns, but we missed that and didn’t tune in until the second half when they finished off a 51-to-31 romp, so they looked good to us. The Tennessee Titans also scored a big upset win against the odds-on Super Bowl favorite Baltimore Ravens, which means that Kansas City and its superstar and non-smoking quarterback will be playing in famously loud Arrowhead Stadium as the odds-on favorite. Which means one can hold out realistic hope.
Which is no big deal, as we said before, but it seems to lighten the mood and bring people together around here. For reasons we cannot explain the Chiefs have a large following among Wichita’s lesbians, and all the ones on our block in the fashionable Riverside are flying Chiefs flags cheering loudly enough for us to hear them whenever the Chiefs score. If you find yourself standing in a long line at a bank or grocery store it’s something safe to talk about, even a sort of superficial bonding, and everyone’s a little cheerier despite the massive layoffs at the big aerospace factory in the south part of town because somebody at Boeing screwed up the 737 Max airliner.
We’ve lost enough games over the years to empathize with those fans in Memphis and Baltimore and Hartford and Houston, who surely have their weather and other problems to cope with, but we hope they’re brought closer together in commiseration, as always happens here in Wichita. As silly and pointless and head-injury-inducing as it might seem, sports has socially redeeming qualities.

— Bud Norman

Happy Halloween, and All the Rest

Today is Halloween, and we have mixed feelings about the holiday. We’re in favor of kids dressing up in costumes and asking strangers for candy, and cherish our childhood memories of the strange custom, but everything else about Halloween is depressing.
Halloween means the World Series is over, so there won’t be any baseball until pitchers and catchers report to spring training in 102 long days, and even the arrival of basketball season offers only so much solace.
Around here Halloween always brings the first hard blast of winter weather, and this time around there’s even an early snow on the ground. On Sunday morning the clocks will fall back and sundown will start arriving an hour earlier, and we’re not looking forward an extra hour of darkness. These days all the advertisers skip past Thanksgiving and starting selling Christmas on the day after Halloween, and two whole months of Christmas cheer is more than we need.
This year Halloween also kicks off a rare impeachment season, which the Democrats hope to wrap up before Christmas, and that won’t do much for peace on Earth and good will toward men.
All the more reason to enjoy a happy Halloween, and keep a couple of candy bars for yourself.

— Bud Norman

Baseball, Basketball, Science, School Teachers, and Supply and Demand

Mostly we follow the political and economic news here at The Central Standard Times, being the civic-minded and clinically glum types we are, but occasionally we’ll turn a hopeful eye to the sports pages. There’s usually some dreary political and economic subplot there, however, and so it is with the case of the big deal baseball story about Bryce Harper signing with the Philadelphia Phillies
In case you’re one of those atheistic commie pinko America-hating types who don’t closely follow our national pastime, Harper is one hell of a player. There’s a strong case to be made that he’s not as good a player as the more clean-shaven Mike Trout, who is under contract to the Los Angeles Angels for the next months and then seems headed toward a big payday, but after six spectacular seasons with the Washington Nationals Harper was clearly the best player on this season’s free agent market, so the bidding war wound up at $330 million for 13 years in Philadelphia. Our faith in the ruthless and sometimes crazy laws of supply and demand tell us that even that eye-popping amount is reasonable compensation given the large number of teams seeking a player with Harper’s rare statistics, even if the atheistic commie pinko America-hating types will want to compare it to a school teacher’s pay, and we note with some regret that Harper’s bottom-line agent had to take politics into account in the negotiations.
A presumably apolitical sports writer at The Log Angeles Times reports that the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants offered Harper more money, but not enough more to compensate for the wide gulf of tax rates between California and Pennsylvania. California has the nation’s highest state income tax rate at 13.3 percent, Pennsylvania imposes a rare flat tax rate of 3.07 percent on both millionaires and minimun wage earners alike, and that makes hiring a rare talent such as Harper far more expensive in the Golden State. We imagine the same is true of those rare talents in the arguably more important science and technology and engineering and mathematics fields, not to mention school teachers, and being longtime red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalists we can’t help noticing how excessive taxation and other political interventions distort markets.
Even the almighty market forces don’t determine the ultimate outcome in sports and life, though, and neither do the futile interventions of mere humans and their petty politics. The Phillies will likely be better with Harper on the roster, but he’ll only be one of nine guys in the lineup, and he can’t guarantee a championship. The Los Angeles Angels haven’t won much with the arguably Trout in the lineup, The Los Angeles Lakers paid big buck for the arguably best-of-all-time LeBron James in its starting five and seems likely to miss the playoffs, and some guys are we’ve never heard of and don’t seem to have any impressive stats on the Denver Nuggets are going currently toe-to-toe with the almighty Golden State Warriors in the National Basketball Association’s western division. Our beloved New York Yankees are expected to contend for a championship this next baseball season, despite that state’s high tax rate and other left-wing craziness.
Somehow the the high-tax states seem to be faring to be faring well in the arguably more important science and technology and engineering and mathematic fields, and their school teachers aren’t so restive, and we can only surmise that all sorts of geographic and demographic climatic factors somehow figure in it all. Here in our part of Kansas the Wichita State University Wheatshockers are above .500 in conference and overall play even in a down season, the University of Kansas Jayhawks have ended a 14-year run as Big XII conference championships but the Kansas State University Wildcats are still in the chase, and the local economy is doing pretty good despite all the trade wars and tax cuts and tax hikes and other human interventions in the free market and the best efforts of our fellow human beings.
At this point all we have to say , about both sports and politics, is let the best team win.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, on the Mean Sports Pages

The political and economic and cultural news is full of scary developments lately, and the weather around here is damned cold, but on Monday we took a day off from all that to find some warmth in a good news story from the sports pages. The University of Oklahoma Sooners’ quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy for college football’s most outstanding player on Saturday, which we are obliged by family tradition to be happy about, and we were further gladdened to see that the young man is hanging up his football helmet and will instead pursue a career in professional baseball.
This was the second consecutive year that a Sooner won college football’s most prestigious individual honor, the first such back-to-back for any school since the 1945 and ’46 seasons, if you don’t count the Heisman that was taken back for reasons of corrupt rule-breaking from the first of two consecutive University of Southern California players in the 2005 and ’06 seasons, and it’s OU’s sixth Heisman overall, which is second only to those damned Fightin’ Irish of Notre Dame. The Sooners have also won seven national championships, 41 championships in the high-level Big Six and Big Eight and Big XII conferences, and Murray’s Heisman further burnishes the Sooners’ reputation as one of America’s greatest sporting enterprises. God help us, we can’t help but be glad about that.
We grew up in Kansas and like to think ourselves true-blue Bleeding Kansas sorts of Kansans, but all our forbears were Okies from the territorial days and thus we grew up on Sooner football. Our beloved Pop attended OU back during the Bud Wilkinson days, when they set a still-standing win streak record on their way to three national championships during his four years of matriculation, and although he’s a very reserved and cerebral sort of fellow who takes only the usual red-blooded American male’s interest in most of the sporting scene he’s always been somewhat fanatical about Sooner football. In our youth the University of Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas State University Wildcats and Wichita State University Wheatshockers were all infamously bad at football, and although each had some serious bragging rights about basketball we always went with the extended family’s winner through the pigskin season. Along the way we witnessed some memorably extraordinary athletic feats and rousing victories and heart-breaking losses by the Sooners, and we’re grateful for such family traditions.
Even so, we’re glad to see this young Murray fellow is hanging up his football helmet and pursuing a career in baseball. For the past few football seasons we’ve followed the fortunes of the Sooners and the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs, both of which are championship contenders this seasons, but we haven’t been able watch a single down of it. Football’s such a violent game that it leaves an alarming number of its players with debilitating and life-shortening injuries, too many of its players are violent sorts of people such as the fellow that the Chiefs recently kicked off the team for pushing down and kicking a woman, and that takes a lot of fun out of the game for us.
This young Murray fellow is apparently one of those rarely gifted athletes with both the God-given athletic ability and hard-earned-on-his-own talents to play at least two games at the highest level of competition, and although our slow and awkward and wheezy selves can only imagine what that’s like we’re pretty sure he’s right to choose baseball. To its most gifted players baseball offers a longer and more lucrative career than football, and although it entails certain persistent aches and pains they’re far less likely to be debilitating or life-shortening than those from several other sports. Baseball’s a more cerebral and beautiful sport than football, too, and offers such a talented athlete as this Murray fellow at least as much glory on the baseball diamond as he might find on any football gridiron.
The previous Sooner Heisman trophy winner was Baker Mayfield, an arguably even better quarterback who is currently a contender for the National Football League’s rookie of the year award. As the top pick to the last place team in the NFL draft, Baker and his Cleveland Browns have a mediocre record of five wins and seven losses and a tie, but that’s four more wins than the franchise had in the previous three years, and with the NFL’s weird play-off system they’re still in the hunt for a very long-shot championship, so that’s more bragging rights for the Sooners. We wish this Mayfield fellow the best, by which mean we mean hope he has a long career and somehow enjoys his millions without a brain injury.
The season of Kansas’ beautiful game of basketball is well under way, with the Wildcats looking mediocre and the ‘Shockers looking worse and those snooty Jayhawks looking like championship contenders, although we happily note our beloved Wichita Heights High School Falcons are currently leading the City League. Come spring we won’t have any baseball pro baseball around here, as those stupid city father have torn down the venerable old Lawrence-Dumont stadium and won’t have a new up the net summer when they promise a shiny new affiliated Triple-A club to replace lovable Wichita Wingnuts, and until then we won’t mach to cheer about.. Meanwhile the political and economic and cultural news seems unpleasant, and we’ll take our vicarious victories wherever we can, so godspeed to this young Kyler Murray fellow.

Perfect Weather in a Time of Storms

We had to return a borrowed chainsaw to an old friend and nearby neighbor on Sunday afternoon, and because we were delinquent in doing so we also brought along an apologetic six pack of Coors’ “Banquet Beer.” The weather was as close to perfect as Kansas ever gets, some very pretty women were walking their dogs along the sidewalks of the picturesque Riverside neighborhood, and an excellent front porch conversation naturally ensued.
Our friend is even older than ourselves, so of course there was some mutual old man grousing about the current sporting scene, mostly about how all those three-pointers the pro basketball players launch these days have taken the game out of the paint where giants of our childhood imaginations used to roam, but also about whatever the hell became of boxing. We reminisced about several mutual friends who are now dead, and shared a couple of dirty jokes. Eventually the talk got around to the news of the day, and there was some delightfully cathartic grousing about that.
Our friend is a lifelong liberal and Democrat, and for much of his interesting life he was even a bartender living a rent-controlled apartment in New York City, but he admitted to us that he didn’t vote for President Barack Obama in the the second go-round and only voted for the admittedly horrible Hillary Clinton because she was running against now-Presisdent Donald Trump, and that he no longer has a rooting interest in politics. He’s never minded that we’re old-fashioned Kansas Republicans from the William Allen White and Dwight D. Eisenhower mold, and he respects that we didn’t vote for Trump and quite understands why we didn’t vote for Clinton, and well understands why we feel similarly disaffected from any party or movement at the moment.
A few blocks away our internet thingamajig was filled with bad news about America’s brewing trade war with our closest allies and our tenuous negotiations with a nutcase nuclear-armed dictator and the president’s lawyer going on the Sunday show to say the president can legally end the “Russia thing” any time he wants but probably won’t do so because it would be political suicide. Our friend and we agreed that it’s a sorry state of affairs, no matter which way you look at it, but we also agreed that it was a lovely day, and a very lovely woman who was walking her dog on the sidewalk across the street from hi front porch, and we admitted that it is amazing how the kids these days can hit those three pointers like even Larry Bird never could.
The forecast for today predicts more nearly perfect weather around here, and most of Wichita will be on its way to work by early morning, and the River Festival has started with a parade and fireworks and traffic jams, and although our New York Yankees might lose and the afternoon’s political news will surely be infuriating we’ll try to keep a proper perspective here in the picturesque Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas.

— Bud Norman

Overtimes and Sex Scandals in Prime Time

The “60 Minutes” program’s much-hyped and long-delayed interview with a pornographic video performer named Stormy Daniels was delayed another half-hour or so on Palm Sunday by the University of Kansas Jayhawks’ overtime victory in a barnburner of a game with Duke University’s Blue Demons in the college basketball tournament, but the compelling lead-in probably boosted the ratings.
Although the interview proved somewhat less salacious than some reality show fans might have hoped for, and got bogged down in a bunch of blah-blah-blah about apparent campaign finance violations and other legal matters and less prurient issues, it still made for must-see-TV. The pornographic video performer was dishing the dirt about her alleged decade-old sexual relationship with then fading reality-show star and now President Donald Trump, which allegedly happened not long after Trump’s third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and it takes a pretty stiff Republican neck to turn away from that.
Daniels said that she spanked the future president with a rolled up a copy of a Forbes magazine that had his picture on the cover, as she had done in a long-suppressed but recently published interview with the “In Touch” tabloid, but insisted that it was more jokey than kinky. She explained that on their intimate evening together in a bungalow at the Hollywood Hills Hotel he had tried to impress her with the magazine cover, she responded that she wasn’t impressed and was tempted to spank him with it, that he obliged by pulling down his pants but not his briefs, and after a couple of smacks they both had a good laugh about it. She says he treated her differently afterwards, though, and then goes on to tell a prime-time-in-these-tawdry–times tale of a pornographic video performer’s unprotected sexual encounter with a future president.
All that blah-blah-blah about campaign finance laws and other less prurient matters seems to back it up. Trump’s longtime “fixer” of a lawyer has publicly admitted that just after the “Access Hollywood” tape and just before the election he paid Daniels $130,000 not to talk about such things, and insists he did so out of the kindness of the heart and without the knowledge of his client. So far as we can tell that’s either a laughable lie and dis-barrable offense or an apparent violation of campaign law and probably something to do with the tax code, or Trump was paying a porn performer not to talk about something he insists never happened, which is perfectly legal so far as we can tell but doesn’t look at all good.
Daniels recalls times she took Trump’s phone calls on her speaker phone in front of her incredulous porn industry friends, who could presumably recall that to some to noisome deposition-taking attorneys, intimates that she has corroborating e-mails and text messages, and her own rather ferocious and seemingly far more competent attorney has recently “tweeted” a picture of a digital video disc in a safe deposit box as a warning not to doubt her account. There’s also the interview that “60 Minutes” correspondent Anderson Cooper had conducted for his more full-time gig with the Cable News Network with a former Playboy “playmate of the year” who alleged a similarly convincing but more saccharine account of her affair with the future president around the same time, and both the porn star and the playmate come across not only better-spoken than the president but also more believable.
In both cases we thought Cooper did a well enough job at the old journalistic fair-and-balanced shtick. He confronted both women with their past statements and all the legal blah-blah-blah, rightly noting that the porn performer had made previous denials of any affair, but he also let the fully clothed and seemingly wised-up women provide their plausible answers, and we don’t blame Cooper if they came off more convincing than the president. By now such tawdry details as that jokey and only-slightly-kinky spanking with a rolled up copy of Forbes with Trump on the cover rings all too true, as much as we hate to admit it or even contemplate it, we can’t imagine how it might help Trump.
On the other hand, it might not hurt Trump much. Back in the days of President Bill Clinton the left used to make excuses for such tawdry behavior, by the time Trump was running against his harridan of of wife the right was just as lenient about its guy, and by now almost anyone who is appalled by the present prime-time network fare stands credibly accused of hypocrisy.

— Bud Norman

The Madness of March

The news keeps coming at the same rapid pace, but for now the big story around here is college basketball’s annual championship tournament.
Wichita is a hoops-crazed city in a hoops-crazed state, so the tournament’s always a big deal, but especially so this year. Downtown’s shiny new Intrust Arena is hosting four first-round games and two second-round contests, the University of Kansas’ Jayhawks squad is among the competitors, and so far it’s proving quite a party. The arena is a short stroll away from the Old Town drinking-and-dining district that local tax abatements created out of abandoned warehouses, as well as four hotels that are a lot swankier than you’d expect to find in a mid-sized prairie city, so business is brisk, and if there’s one thing Wichita loves more than basketball it’s business.
The city has spruced itself up for the occasion, going so far as to at long last take some high pressure water hoses to all the pigeon droppings under the railroad bridge on Douglas Avenue, and they’ve set up giant television screens and half-courts and other family entertainment in a recently renovated park where the winos used to gather. There are “March Madness” banners flapping from every light pole, and the bars are all fully stocked. All the out-of-state fans might also find time to visit the nearby and surprisingly excellent Wichita Art Museum, or take in a movie at the very plush Warren Theater in Old Town where they bring cocktails to your recliner seat, and there’s a remote chance they’ll wind up having at beer at Kirby’s Beer Story up in the bad part of town. Television networks can show some pretty of footage of the Keeper of Plains silhouetted by a pastel prairie sunset reflected on the Arkansas River, so it’s good publicity for the ol’ hometown.
Most of the fans packing the arena are in-state or local, there to root for their Jayhawks, so they already know the city even when it’s not spruced up. KU fans can be rather snooty about their team, which has been among the sport’s blue bloods for many decades, and is once again one of the top-seeded entries in the tournament, and thus entitled a virtual home court advantage in downtown Wichita, but we suppose it’s good for business. So far they seem well behaved as they drift from bar to bar, even after a 16-point victory over the University of Pennsylvania’s Quakers squad. The victory was not unexpected, as no first seed has ever lost to a 16th seed, but the Ivy League entrant in the tournament always seems to put up a tough fight, and they Jayhawks didn’t pull away until late in the second half, so maybe they’re saving the boisterousness for the second round game.
Our more beloved Kansas State University Wildcats and most beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers are also in the tournament, but they didn’t get the blue blood stream and wound up farther from home. KSU was a national powerhouse back when future pro ball guru Cotton Fitzsimmons was coaching in the ’50s, and then again when Jack Hartman was at the helm in the ’70s, with some notable teams in between and ever since, and they’ll once again be in the hunt down in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they’ll play the Creighton University’s Bluejays. After finishing in the top half of a very tough Big XII’s standing’s the ‘Cats are an eight seed playing a nine seed, which is what the gambler’s call a pick ’em, and if they win they’ll likely be playing topmost seed University of Virginia’s Cavaliers, but hope springs eternal in March.
The ‘Shocks have their own long blue collar tradition, with powerhouse years in the ’60s and ’80s and a steady climb to their current perennial top-20 status that has included a National Invitational Tournament title and an undefeated regular season and a Final Four appearance and a sweet, sweet upset over the hated Jayhawks in the championship tournament. After years of dominating the Missouri Valley Conference our ‘Shockers wound up in second place behind a very tough University of Cincinnati Bearcats team, but that was good enough to be a four seed and heavy favorite in a first-round game against Marshall University’s Thundering Herd today in San Diego. If the ‘Shocks play as well as they did when they whipped Cincy on its home court they should go far in the tournament, as we see it, but if they play as badly down the stretch as when they lost at home to the same team it might not get far past Marshall, and even that game is yet to be played.
Whatever the results, the weather’s lately been great around here, and the city’s all spruced up, and no matter what the Federal Bureau of Investigation finds out about the National Collegiate Athletic Association the game of basketball is still great. Around here we love playing it, watching it, arguing about it, and we pride ourselves on the many City League players who have gone on to collegiate and professional glory, and we get a wee bit mad about it every March.

— Bud Norman

Warmth, Basketball and All the Bad News

Most of the news on Thursday was hard to take, what with all the tear-jerking up-close-and-personal accounts of the heroic dead from the latest mass schooling shooting, the ongoing scandal about the high-ranking wives-beater in the White House, not to mention the latest revelations about that whole “Russia thing.” On the other hand, here in Wichita the weather was unseasonably warm, the stock market was slightly up, and our Wichita State University Wheatshockers men’s basketball team toughed out a crucial win.
At the risk of sounding shallow, there’s something to be gratefully said for an unseasonably warm mid-February afternoon around here, even if we did wind up sleeping through much of it. Even if you aren’t invested in the stock markets it’s always a good thing when those green arrows point up, as it reassures that at least the broader economy isn’t in imminent danger of tanking. Unless you grew up in the local hoops-crazed basketball culture around here you won’t fully appreciate the significance of that toughed-out ‘Shocker victory, but we hope you’ll understand why it’s such a welcome distraction.
According to the subjective rankings of America’s sportswriters and college coaches the ‘Shocks are the 19th best best team in the country, but on Thursday by objective measurement they were three games behind the University of Cincinnati Bearcats in the more important American Conference race. To keep hope of a conference championship alive they had to beat a tough and championship tournament-contending Temple team at home, after suffering an embarrassing loss to them on the road. Temple jumped out to a 15 point lead in the first half, the ‘Shocks played some tough defense and crisp offense to cut it down to a three-point lead, but the Owls of Temple had it back up to double-digits by half-time, but the ‘Shocks came back with their patented bear=down defense and a case of characteristic loose-ball hustling that resulted in player-of-the game big man Shaquille Morris’ deft assist to the relatively stubby white boy Conner Frankamp,who is somehow the Wichita City League’s current all-time scorer, and the ‘Shocks won by a deceptive seven points with their usual good free throw shooting down the stretch.
Meanwhile Cincy lost to a tough and tournament-contending University of Houston team that split its home-and-home series with the Shocks, and with a home-and-home left again Cincy in the ‘Shocks last four games championship hopes remain alive, and according to all the experts there’s the relative warmth of March Madness waiting for us in any case.
Which is not to diminish our mourning for those folks in sunny south Florida, or our disdain for the White House and the wives-beaters it has embraced, or our suspicions about that whole “Russia thing,” or even a nagging anxiety about the stock market and the broader economy. It’s just to say you should find solace in whatever your local weather and sporting culture might offer.

— Bud Norman

The End of Football

This was the football season when we at long last stopped caring a whit about the game, but lacking anything better to do on a cold winter Sunday night we wound up watching most of the Super Bowl. It proved an entertaining game, and we enjoyed the company at the Super Bowl party where we spent most of the first half and the dive bar where spent all of the the second half, but we’re in no hurry for another football season.
Enthusiasm for the professional game is apparently down around the country, judging the attendance at the stadia and ratings on television, and there are various explanations afloat in the sporting media. One school holds that fans are offended by some of the players’ kneeling rather than standing during the national anthem, another holds that the public is put off by all the debilitating injuries so many players suffer through the rest of their troubled lives, and a certain minority complains the game has become too sissified. The even more rough-and-tumble sport of American politics somehow has something to do with all of this, and we think also has something do with the pro game’s declining popularity.
Football always was our third favorite of the big three sports in America’s holy athletic trinity, and the only one we never played on an organized basis or with any zeal. Being mostly but not entirely left handed, and possessed of poor eyesight and an instinctive fear of fast-moving hard objects, we were entirely ill-suited to baseball but nonetheless learned to appreciate our more athletically gifted peers and the mathematically quantifiable brilliance of what they did. As slow and earthbound as we always were, we could at least drive to the left or right and fade away and hit a short jumper if the defender shut off either lane, and we developed a fade away hook shot with either hand that even the bouncy kids couldn’t block, and although we were never anywhere good enough at basketball to even try out for a high school team that had two future National Basketball Association players and a couple of other top-tier collegiate players and another guy who would have been a star if he hadn’t accepted a baseball scholarship instead, but we got good enough that we held our own in some local and even back east pick up games and learned to appreciate how very good are the truly great players of the beautiful game of basketball.
Football, on the other hand, always seemed a more primal sort of sport. Our backyard and cow pasture experiences of playing the game with neighborhood kids taught us that it mostly involved players running into one another as fast and hard as they could, and thus advantaged the bigger and faster and harder fellow to an extent that the other fellow’s wile and cunning and strength of character could not negate, and by high school we opted for the debate team rather than the football team. Our pop attended the University of Oklahoma back when Coach Bud Wilkerson was racking up national championships and a still-standing record win streak, so all those Saturday afternoon Sooner games taught us an appreciation of the game’s subtle nuances and undeniably essential-to-civilization masculinity, but it was always our third-favorite sport.
The Super Bowl party we attended is annually hosted by a couple of local folk musicians as an excuse for all their folkie friends to have a winter hootenanny, and the few regulars at the dive bar were similarly uninterested in the game playing on the television, and according to stadia attendance and television ratings the rest of country is similarly losing interest in the pro game. That probably has something to do with those players who don’t stand for the national anthem, but as far we’re concerned they’re being disrespectful jerks to a flag than stands for their right to be disrespectful jerks, and we’re more bothered by all the wife-beating and bar-brawling and firearms violation charges all the hyper-masculine players rack up every year. All the head traumas and other debilitating injuries the players experience during the spectacle also take some of the fun out of it, as do the politicians who make hay of the national anthem and decry the supposed citification of the game.
Still, it was a good game. The long-suffering Philadelphia Eagles upset the recently dynastic New England Patriots, and it involved some missed point-after kicks and a risky-but-successful trick play on a crucial fourth-and-short situation at the end of the first half, and all-time great Patriots quarterback fumbling the ball at the end of the game because the big and fast and hard guys on the Eagles defense were bigger and faster and harder than the guys on the Patriots. We had no rooting interest in the game, just as we have no rooting interest these days in the more rough-and-tumble sport of politics, but it proved a diverting spectacle.
In any case, football season is over and the remaining cold weeks of winter will be preoccupied with the most beautiful game of basketball, and although our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers have lately been slumping we hold out hope they’ll be back in championship form come the championship tournament in March, and our beloved Boston Celtics have the eastern division’s best record in the pro game. Before the basketball season ends the pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring baseball training, the first sure sign that summer’s soon to follow, with our beloved New York Yankees and Wichita Wingnuts looking good, and we’ll hold out hope the more rough-and-tumble game of politics turns out just as well.

— Bud Norman