The Brazilian star's shadow still looms over the MLS
On October 1, 1977, more than 75,000 fans, including Muhammad Ali, packed into Giants Stadium and millions more tuned into ABC's "Wide World of Sports" to watch the final professional soccer match played by Edison Arantes do Nascimento. The 37-year-old Brazilian, known to the world as Pelé, spent the first 45 minutes in a Cosmos uniform—scoring a free kick minutes before the referee blew his whistle—and the second half wearing the jersey of the only other club he ever played for, São Paulo's Santos. READ MORE >>
Soccer's fixing epidemic is a symptom of a much bigger problem.
Even those who don’t follow or understand soccer (and that includes most Americans even now) should have found something moving about the final of the latest Africa Cup of Nations in Johannesburg. As expected, Nigeria won, though only by 1-0. But the heroes of the tournament were surely the team they beat, Burkina Faso. READ MORE >>
"The Decision" was the right move after all—and the fulfillment of the American Dream
LeBron James, who will make his ninth consecutive All-Star Game start on Sunday, is just 28 years old, which is all the more remarkable considering how many titles—not the National Basketball Association variety—he's held. READ MORE >>
For proof, look no further than Carlin Isles, the sport's fastest man
About half an hour into Saturday’s opening match of the Six Nations rugby championship, with Ireland beating Wales by 20 points to nil, the Welsh backs finally got the ball. READ MORE >>
I decided to bet on the sport I love. I lost, even when I won.
About a month ago, on a Saturday night, I sat alone in my apartment watching the inconsequential final minutes of a playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers. The Packers led 24-10 with fewer than four minutes left, and that score—reflecting a fluky touchdown by the Vikings on the prior possession—didn’t represent how clearly the Packers had dominated the game, and how certain they were to win. So why was I, a Washington Redskins fan, still watching? READ MORE >>
How advanced statistics could transform the NFL
The sabermetrics revolution in baseball has been around long enough to warrant a bestselling book and a Hollywood film with several Oscar nominations. Advanced statistics in football, however, haven’t even come close to a Moneyball moment. They haven’t overturned the conventional wisdom or precipitated a titanic struggle with management over how to evaluate players. It’s possible they never will. But football statistics might still be nearing a tipping point, and they’d have very different consequences than sabermetrics. READ MORE >>
Welcome to One Man Focus Group, where obsessive critic Paul Lukas evaluates tomorrow's cultural detritus today. The call to the bullpen is one of baseball's time-honored rituals, right up there with spitting tobacco juice and arguing with the ump. And for the past 80 years or so, that call has always been made on a traditional, hard-wired land line. READ MORE >>
Kobe Bryant is suffering a midseason crisis. Back in October, with 16 years and five championships under his belt with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant had looked to his new super-team—stocked with the aging, future Hall of Fame guard Steve Nash and the veteran big men Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol—as his last, best chance to match or even surpass the six titles won by Michael Jordan, his idol and the rarely disputed Greatest of All Time. READ MORE >>
Tonight, when #1 Notre Dame plays #2 Alabama for the BCS National Championship at Miami's Sun Life Stadium, Alabama head coach Nick Saban will be on familiar turf: He called the field home during the 2005 and 2006 NFL seasons, when he was head coach of the Miami Dolphins. His presence in the title game makes him a serious candidate for Greatest College Football Coach of All Time. In the past decade, which includes his two years with the Dolphins, he has won three college national championships. In 2010, he joined Pop Warner as the only head coach to win a national championship for two different schools. Including bowl games, Saban’s record at Alabama is 67-13, and overall as a college head coach, he is 158-55-1. In his two seasons with the Dolphins, however, as he struggled to adjust to the pro game (or, at least, struggled to revive a franchise that had gone 4-12 the previous season), Saban went 15-17, including his only losing season as a head coach at any level. And nothing in his tenure became him like the leaving it. Near the end of the 2006 season, with rumors swirling, Saban told reporters, “I guess I have to say it. I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.” Fewer than two weeks later, he was the Alabama coach. Many called him a liar and a traitor; a few noted, more forgivingly, that it would have been inappropriate for Saban to announce he was leaving before the Dolphins’ season ended. But the most revealing aspect of Saban’s exit, which gets to the heart of what has made him the most efficient and accomplished coach of the BCS era, is that it was clearly the correct one. Simply put, Saban is better at coaching college kids than professional adults.When Saban was offered the Alabama job, he had all the leverage. Arguably the winningest program in history, Alabama had won only one national championship and three Southeastern Conference titles since the legendary Bear Bryant retired in 1982. Previous coach Mike Shula—ironically, the son of longtime Dolphins coach Don—had managed only one winning season in his four years. Meanwhile, Urban Meyer’s program at rival Florida looked unstoppable. Only a few years earlier with Louisiana State, Saban had proved he could build a national champion in the SEC—and was rewarded with a huge, five-year contract with the Dolphins. To lure him, Alabama had to give him everything he wanted, which they did.The contract Saban signed in early 2007 promised $32 million over eight years, the highest among college coaches at the time and comparable to those of top NFL coaches, with perks that make his more like a $5 million annual salary. But the money was only part of the appeal. In Miami, Saban was given final say over personnel decisions—itself unusual for an NFL coach—but was still subject, theoretically, to a meddling owner. At Alabama, he was given control over, well, everything, with an athletic director and university president with far less stature than he. “There are coaches at other universities who have similar salaries,” Forbes reported in 2008. “But no coach, including those in the professional leagues, can match Saban’s combination of money, control, and influence.” The magazine chose its words carefully when it put him on its cover with the words, “The Most Powerful Coach in Sports.” READ MORE >>