Monday, March 7, 2016

Sports et ceteras

Enough about politics. At least for a little bit. It's time to focus on something I look forward to with more optimism and less tredipation than I feel when thinking about the presidential race.

I am talking, of course, about the World Cup of Hockey, which will begin 195 days from now in Toronto. The participating teams announced their preliminary rosters last week, meaning they each announced 16 players (of a total 23) and now have have until June 1st to fill the remaining slots.

This year's World Cup is structured a little differently than the previous two, which took place in 1996 and 2004 and featured eight national teams. Though there will still be eight teams, only six of them will represent specific nations: Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States, and the Czech Republic. The other two squads are Team Europe (consisting of players from European countries who weren't invited to send their national teams) and Team North America (consisting of Canadian and American players who are 23 or younger).

I do have one problem: Why didn't Slovakia get to send its own team? It is one of hockey's powerhouse countries and its players include such present and past luminaries as Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara, Peter Bondra, and Ziggy Palffy. It seems wrong for it to not be represented under its own flag, because it's conceivable that a Team Slovakia would have just as big a chance to win this tourney as all the other national teams (actually, make that just as big a chance as all the other non-Canadian national teams, since there's no question that our northern neighbor is the biggest fish in the hockey pond).

But moving on from that complaint, I applaud the Team Europe concept, which is long overdue because it allows outstanding players from the non-powerhouse countries to participate. Players like the LA Kings' Anze Kopitar (Slovenia) and Boston Bruins' Dennis Seidenberg (Germany) and Minnesota Wild's Thomas Vanek (Austria). We are talking about high-profile, impactful, NHL'ers, not muckers and B-leaguers.

And finally, the idea of fielding a joint Canada-US squad consisting solely of youngsters strikes me as the most intriguing of the whole tourney, even if it is responsible for the exclusion of a Team Slovakia. Team North America's age limit does not prevent it from fielding big-name stars, as evidenced by the fact that its roster includes Johnny Gaudreau, Connor McDavid, and Jack Eichel. Plus, a "youngster squad" should have speed and stamina advantages and it will be fun to see how it tries to exploit them.

When it comes to sportswriters, Hubert Mizell was a titan not just in the Tampa Bay Area, but in America as a whole. We lost a good one when he passed away last Thursday.

Maybe it's a sign of my own not-retreating age that I was surprised to learn Mizell was "only" 76 when he passed. Remembering his byline photo that appeared in the 1980's next to his column in the St. Petersburg Times (recently renamed the Tampa Bay Times), I find it hard to believe that the face belonged to a man who was roughly the same age I am today. But rather than get caught up thinking about how time flies, I choose to think about the fact that Hubert Mizell's time on Earth was lived to the fullest.

Born in Dublin, GA and raised in Jacksonville, FL, he exhibited the warm manners and slow-but-eloquent speech that are the best the South has to offer. And those qualities were evident in his writing.

Mizell's first job was as a paper boy for the Florida Times-Union, and he became so attached to newspapers that he dropped out of college to take a job at the Orlando Sentinel. He moved out of state to work briefly for the AP and Golf Digest, but returned to his beloved Florida and joined the Times in 1973.

Thereafter, Mizell became a Bay Area fixture who was known nationally. Though he made his mark by observing, chronicling, and helping precipitate Tampa Bay's evolution as a sports market -- from one whose biggest draw was the University of Tampa's Division II football program to one with professional teams that have won a Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, and American League pennant -- his impact on the national scene was so large that Bob Costas emceed his retirement party.

Mizell's reputation for integrity was such that he was one of only a few writers Bobby Knight agreed to be interviewed by after his final game as Indiana's head coach. Upon hearing of Mizell's passing, Knight reflected that "Hubert was one of the very, very best would be hard to find anyone who was more knowledgeable or more accurate in his never had to be careful about talking to Hubert."

In the 1990's he hosted a radio show on Tampa's 820 AM. One of the co-hosts who served as his sidekick was a yappy young pup named Colin Cowherd -- who, as you probably know, went on to become a national personality first on ESPN and now on Fox Sports.

During Mizell's career he covered 42 bowl games, 33 Masters, ten Olympics, eight Wimbledons, and countless other major events. He was in the Lake Placid Field House for the Miracle on Ice in 1980; and was in Candlestick Park for Game Three of the World Series when the infamous 1989 earthquake struck San Francisco.

Of all the Hubert Mizell prose I read over the years, my favorite was this passage he wrote when recollecting the Miracle On Ice: "The media actually had a section in the stands where we sat. We're all schooled to be neutral observers. But David Israel, who was then a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and later a Hollywood writer and producer, stood up in his seat, put his back to the rink, faced us all in press row and said, 'Gentlemen, there will be cheering in the press box.' And there was."

Although it has been years since Mizell's musings appeared in the Times, it is sad to see him leave for good.

As in Manning. Since this post is entitled "Sports et ceteras," I feel compelled to mention his retirement, but I don't really have anything to say about it.

I have often criticized the media's overly sappy coverage of Peyton Manning. I was one of those who relished giving him a backhanded compliment by calling him "the greatest regular season quarterback of all time." However, I can honestly say that I relished it not because I disliked him, but because I disliked seeing the media fawn over him like they had just swallowed a fifth of Amortentia.

Apparently I got over it, because I found myself smiling when Denver won the Super Bowl last month. I was happy to see Manning earn a second ring to legitimize his reputation -- which means I was happy to see him shut up armchair critics such as myself.

But now I'm ready to see my fellow Auburn graduate Cam Newton win a couple rings of his own. Ditto for Jameis Winston, because he plays for the right NFL team even though he went to the wrong school.

Such is the nature of caring about sports. And that's all I have to say.

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