Thursday, May 21, 2015

Spotlight: David Letterman

"Letterman taught us how to watch television, how to critically engage with our culture, how to laugh at both the banal trivialities of life and the crushing weight of an often thankless and aimless existence. David Letterman changed television and how we look at the world around us. He deserves his retirement, he’s more than earned his private time with his family, but for a generation of Americans his absence will sting like the loss of a father. And somehow he did it by hosting a talk show."
When the final episode came, after weeks of accolades and tributes to his genius, David Letterman made sure he punctured the emotion of the moment with a little old-fashioned, self-deprecating sarcasm.

"We've done over 6,000 shows ... and I was here for most of them, and I can tell you a pretty high percentage of those shows just absolutely sucked," Letterman told the audience during Wednesday night's Late Show episode, his last after 33 years in late-night television. "And also, in light of all of this praise, merited or not, do me a favor: Save a little for my funeral."

Letterman was doing more than filling his role as TV's Biggest Curmudgeon — a part he has gleefully played for more than three decades now. He was doing something that ensured his last episode would move quicker and feel funnier than even the finale of his longtime mentor, Tonight Show host Johnny Carson.

Whenever it seemed the proceedings might get overly sentimental or maudlin, Letterman would crack a joke that kept it funny and kept it moving. Unlike Carson, Letterman would never tolerate a long, emotional song sung in his honor on camera; instead we got five presidents — four of them seemingly filmed especially for this broadcast — proclaiming "our long national nightmare is over" because Letterman is retiring.

To my recollection, no other late-night host has gotten almost all the country's living presidents to show up in his honor for a finale — not Carson or Letterman's longtime rival, Jay Leno. But Letterman's farewell comes at a time when media and politics have never been closer, and the evidence of Letterman's impact across the landscape of late-night television has never been clearer.

Most of today's late-night TV hosts — the Fallons, Kimmels, O'Briens and Meyers — grew up watching Letterman rewrite the rules of TV talk shows with his post-Carson program on NBC, Late Night with David Letterman. Where Carson was slick, tanned and Hollywood, Letterman was goofy, gritty and perched in the middle of 1980s New York City, recycling bits from his own heroes like Ernie Kovacs and Steve Allen for youngsters eager to see someone celebrate the silliness of TV while puncturing its self-importance.

When I asked Letterman about the finale last week, he insisted he hadn't been directly involved in much planning beyond the show's final segment. "It will be a variety of visual images, you know, in various presentation," he said then about his segment. "And then just me saying thanks and good night."

If that quote holds true, then Letterman himself planned the moment when Foo Fighters took the stage and played "Everlong" — a song that the host has said helped him through recovery after a quintuple bypass operation — while images from the entire history of the show flashed by in rapid succession.

In the end, just before the band cranked up, Letterman did say, "For the last time on a television program ... thank you and good night." But there was no emotional quaver in his voice, no hint of tears in his eye.

David Letterman went out of late-night TV the way he came in: on his own terms, guided by a subversive sense of humor that was severely allergic to sentiment or phoniness.

"The people who watch this show, there's nothing I can do to repay you," Letterman said. "Thank you for everything. You've given me everything."

The only question left now: What are fans of great late-night television going to do without him?

"After 33 years, he will go out as the longest-serving host in late-night TV — outdistancing his mentor Johnny Carson by two years — a record that will not be challenged any time soon, if ever. Try to imagine Jimmy Fallon doing "The Tonight Show" at 68, and you will fail. (Jimmy Kimmel I can see hanging on, maybe.)"

More information:
» Paste: Letterman's Top Ten Remote Segments
» Vulture: "Stories From Behind the Scenes of the Show That Changed Comedy Forever"
» Rolling Stone: "How David Letterman Reinvented TV"

Monday, May 18, 2015

Capitals Fall to Rangers in Game 7 of Conference Semifinals

"As Derek Stepan stepped toward the puck on the weak side and cranked it past Braden Holtby, the New York Rangers celebrated their second straight berth in the conference finals, still unbeaten in 10 elimination games on this rink, the longest such streak in league history. The Capitals, meanwhile, trudged off the ice to begin another early summer, another round of vacations spent picking through their three straight defeats, wondering what could have been."
Washington Post:
Coach Barry Trotz had instructed them to play relentlessly and without fear against the Presidents’ Trophy winners, and they felt they had. They had undergone so much change during Trotz’s maiden voyage, revamping their system and eclipsing the 100-point plateau, enjoying breakout seasons across the lineup and home-ice advantage in the first round.

And yet here was the gullet-punching cruelty of the sport they had chosen, reputations and narratives staked on the lost draw of forward Eric Fehr, making his series debut, the initial shot pummeled by defenseman Dan Girardi into traffic and Stepan, all alone, charging toward the back door with Holtby sitting on his backside. Finally, here was the resolution to these skintight semifinals, when the Rangers scored 13 times and the Capitals scored 12, and all seven games were decided by one goal.

“You saw two very good teams go nose-to-nose, with just inches, an inch here, an inch there,” Trotz said. “I think everybody here probably predicted seven games, and you got it.”

There was none of the defensiveness or whining of previous years. Instead there was a mutinous refusal to give up. When Ovechkin had said after their Game 6 loss, “The character of this group, it shows a lot. We’re gonna come back and win this series,” the remark was natural — not a pose, not a brazen guarantee, just spoken out of pure conviction. It was nothing to regret.

The problem was that the Rangers simply presented too many obstacles. The Garden itself was one, all pinwheeling spotlights, heavy metal razoring from the loudspeakers, and the blue-shirted crowd that made an unbelievable wall of sound, a dense thunder that started halfway through the opening anthem and drowned out the rest of the words. And there was Lundqvist, “Hen-REEK! Hen-REEK!” they chanted. He came into the game having won five straight Game 7s, with a .973 save percentage. Then there was the sheer weight of history and the Rangers’ streak. The Caps had lost their last two Game 7s against the Rangers in 2012 and 2013. In 17 elimination games since 2012, the Rangers have won 14, including 10 in a row at home. “I know they don’t want to come back here,” Lundqvist had said after the Caps dropped Game 5. No. They didn’t.

They will think about the ways in which they squandered chances, and gave too many to the Rangers. Like those three power plays in the second period — hold the Rangers scoreless for six minutes shorthanded? It wasn’t going to happen. The Capitals had a 3-1 series lead and were 101 seconds from advancing.

“All the games were close. We fought hard and it was a great series that could easily have gone our way,” Holtby said.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Paul Pierce Drains the Three a Fraction of a Second Too Late

Washington Post:
The Washington Wizards watched their season come to an end in the most devastating of ways against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night. So instead of a Game 7 in Atlanta, they will meet as a team and address the media for the final time Monday at Verizon Center before going their separate ways for the summer.

Game 1: May 3, 2015 at Philips Arena: Wizards, 104-98
The Wizards overcame injury scares to John Wall and Bradley Beal to preserve their perfect playoff record through five games. Wall injured his left wrist near the end of the second quarter but stayed in the game but Beal was forced to watch the final seconds from the bench after spraining his ankle. The Hawks jumped out to a torrid start, posting a 37-point first quarter but managed just 35 points in the entire second half, perhaps due to fatigue after finishing their first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets just 38 hours earlier and blew a halftime at home for the first time all season.

Game 2: May 5, 2015 at Philips Arena: Hawks, 106-90
Wall had expected to play after initial X-rays didn’t reveal any structural damage in his left wrist or hand, but the swelling and pain were too severe to play. The Wizards didn’t wilt without their all-star point guard, but ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. Up seven points with under three minutes remaining, the Hawks put Washington away with an 11-2 run.

Game 3: May 9, 2015 at Verizon Center: Wizards, 103-101
The Wizards built a 21-point fourth-quarter lead without Wall, only to have the gap disappear. The Hawks stormed back with a 17-0 run with a lineup of reserves and Mike Muscala’s three-pointer with 14.1 seconds remaining tied the game to complete the comeback. But Paul Pierce came to the rescue, banking in a 20-foot jumper at the buzzer to avoid the collapse.

Game 4: May 11, 2015 at Verizon Center: Hawks, 106-101
The Wizards trailed by seven points with 1:12 remaining, but stormed back and got the ball in Pierce’s hands with a chance to tie the game. But Pierce missed an open three-pointer from a few feet beyond the arc with 6.9 seconds left and Millsap’s free throws at the other end clinched the Hawks’ win.

Game 5: May 13, 2015 at Philips Arena: Hawks, 82-81
The Wizards got a lift from Wall in his return just 10 days after sustaining his five fractures and led by nine points with 6:15 remaining in the game. But the Hawks responded with a 14-0 run to set the stage for a thrilling finish. First, Pierce drained a corner three-pointer to give the Wizards a one-point lead with 8.3 seconds on the clock, yelling “series” at the Hawks bench as he jogged back to the other end. Wall then swatted Schroder’s runner but Horford sprinted to the rebound unchecked, barreling over Nene to retrieve the offensive rebound for the game-winning lay-in.

Game 6: May 15, 2015 at Verizon Center: Hawks, 94-91
Down 15 points in the third quarter and nine points with 6:39 left in the fourth period, the Wizards mustered a 9-0 run to take their first lead since the second quarter. But they blew opportunities to widen the gap over the next three possessions — Nene missed two free throws, the Wizards had a shot-clock violation, and Pierce missed a three-pointer before Millsap halted a Hawks scoring drought of nearly five minutes. The Hawks eventually took a four-point lead with 30.9 seconds remaining but the Wizards had a chance to tie it at the end. Trailing by three points, Pierce appeared to make a game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer but the shot was released a fraction of a second after the horn sounded and overturned upon further review. It was the fourth straight game in which Pierce took a go-ahead or game-tying shot with under 10 seconds remaining. He made three but the Wizards won just once.

More information:
» Washington Post: "A look into the Wizards’ losses in home elimination games"

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Brady Suspended Four Games, Patriots Lose Draft Picks

NEW YORK -- The NFL has suspended Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady without pay for the first four games of the season, fined the New England Patriots $1 million and taken away two draft picks as punishment for deflating footballs used in the AFC title game, the league said in a statement Monday.

The NFL also indefinitely suspended the two equipment staffers believed to have carried out the plan, including one who called himself "The Deflator."

Brady will miss the season's showcase kickoff game Sept. 10 against Pittsburgh, Week 2 at Buffalo, a home game against Jacksonville and a game at Dallas. He will return the week the Patriots face the Colts in Indianapolis.

The Patriots will also lose a first-round pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2017.

In a statement released Monday night, Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft criticized the investigation on which the punishment was based and said Brady had the team's "unconditional support" and that its "belief in him has not wavered."

"Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league," Kraft said. "Today's punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.

"We are humbled by the support the New England Patriots have received from our fans throughout the world," the statement said. "We recognize our fans' concerns regarding the NFL's penalties and share in their disappointment in how this one-sided investigation was handled, as well as the dismissal of the scientific evidence supported by the Ideal Gas Law in the final report."

On Tuesday morning, the Patriots changed their Twitter avatar to Brady's No. 12 jersey.

Brady's agent said Monday that he would appeal the suspension to commissioner Roger Goodell, which the quarterback has three days to do.

Brady will be replaced by Jimmy Garoppolo, a 2014 second-round selection from Eastern Illinois who won the Walter Payton award as the best player in the FCS. He has thrown 27 NFL passes, including one touchdown.

Brady's agent, Don Yee, said "the discipline is ridiculous and has no legitimate basis."

"And if the hearing officer is completely independent and neutral, I am very confident the Wells report will be exposed as an incredibly frail exercise in fact-finding and logic," Yee said in a statement.

The Patriots also postponed on Monday this week's previously scheduled media availability with their rookie draft class.

The punishment was announced five days after the release of the lengthy Wells report that found that Patriots personnel deliberately deflated footballs before the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18, 2015, and that Brady "was at least generally aware" of the violations.

"With respect to your particular involvement, the report established that there is substantial and credible evidence to conclude you were at least generally aware of the actions of the Patriots' employees involved in the deflation of the footballs and that it was unlikely that their actions were done without your knowledge," NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent wrote in a letter to Brady.

The 243-page report by league-appointed attorney Ted Wells said it was "more probable than not" that Brady was aware of plans to prepare the footballs to his liking, below the NFL-mandated minimum of 12.5 pounds per square inch.

The report identified two Patriots employees -- officials' locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski -- as the ones who executed the plan. The Patriots suspended both indefinitely last week. Neither can be reinstated without the approval of the NFL, the league said.

The Patriots' fine matches the largest the NFL has handed out, to Ed DeBartolo Jr., then the San Francisco 49ers' owner, who pleaded guilty to a felony in his role in a Louisiana gambling scandal in 1999.

Vincent told the Patriots the punishment was handed out regardless of whether the flatter footballs affected the outcome of the blowout win over the Colts. Vincent said the flattening of balls probably began much earlier.

"The activities of the Patriots' employees were thoroughly documented in the report, including through a series of text messages and telephone communications, as well as evidence of a breach in pre-game protocol," Vincent wrote in a letter to the Patriots. "In addition, the conclusions were supported by extensive scientific analysis, as detailed in the report."

It is the second time in eight years that the Patriots have been punished for violating league rules.

In 2007, the team was fined $500,000 and docked a first-round draft pick, and coach Bill Belichick was fined $250,000 for videotaping opposing coaches as a way to decipher their play signals.

Brady has repeatedly stated that he did not know about the efforts to deflate the game balls, but Wells' report found those claims "not plausible and contradicted by other evidence."

Yee said last week that the report contains "significant and tragic flaws" and suggested that the NFL cooperated in a "sting operation" with the Indianapolis Colts, who had alerted the league of their suspicions of the Patriots' use of underinflated footballs.

The Patriots' odds for winning another championships dropped from 7-1 to 10-1, according to the Glantz-Culver line.

Las Vegas sports books responded by reopening the Patriots as 2-point favorites over the Steelers for the kickoff game. New England was a 6-point favorite over Pittsburgh when the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook first posted point spreads on April 22.

Las Vegas sports book operator CG Technology trimmed the line to Patriots minus-1, and William Hill went with New England minus-2.5. The over/under total dropped from 53 to 49 at most books.

New England defeated Indianapolis 45-7 in the AFC title game before beating the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl two weeks later.

Brady said last week the scandal hasn't taken away from the team's Super Bowl win -- its fourth NFL title since the 2001 season.

The NFL allows each team to provide the footballs used by its offense -- a procedure Brady played a role in creating -- but it requires them to be inflated in that range of 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch. Footballs with less pressure can be easier to grip and catch, and Brady has expressed a preference for the lower end of the range.

More information:
» Boston: "Super Bowl Win Won't Wipe Away Spy Gate"
» New York Post: "Spygate: The NFL Cover-Up That Started it All"

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Redskins Draft Recap

Washington Post:
A coach might be able to change a losing mentality, but filling the roster with winners enables the change to come from the players. It felt like that kind of draft: No one flashy, but a class whose sum contributions may be greater than any one part.

There were various takes on Scot McCloughan’s first draft, but for a team that needed an infusion, it got one, and the draft was mostly praised. If you missed any of portion of our coverage, here’s draft weekend at a glance:

● Adam Kilgore wrote that it’s too early to judge the players picked, but one weekend is enough to judge the man doing the picking:
“Whether McCloughan’s vision succeeds will be determined in the years to come. But at least we know he has a vision, a refreshing change from the recent Redskins drafts that unfolded as if Bruce Allen used a blindfold, a dartboard and old copies of Street & Smith. “
● Here’s Liz Clarke, writing about how the introduction of the first three picks in this draft class showed how McCloughan values size:
“Last season’s 4-12 Redskins were a team casting about for an identity. After a flurry of offseason moves to remake the front office, coaching staff and veteran ranks, an identity appears to be taking shape. There is a coherence to General Manager Scot McCloughan’s early moves, and the themes are size, toughness and grit.
“Getting back to old-style football, hard-nosed football, bringing back the Hogs — he talked about that,” [first-round tackle Brandon] Scherff said, recounting his dinner conversation with [offensive line coach Bill] Callahan. “That’s what we’re going to try to do this coming year.”
● In Mark Maske’s draft grades, Washington did well.
“Brandon Scherff is a good player and if he becomes a reliable starter at right tackle, all is well. But if he ends up playing guard, he might not have been worth the No. 5 overall pick. Will the Redskins regret passing up DE Leonard Williams, perhaps the draft’s top defensive player?”
Click on through to see more on Washington, plus analysis of 31 other drafts, and grades.
● Washington drafted 10 players, including three offensive linemen, two linebackers and two defensive backs. Here’s the full draft haul, and the prospect bios that come with them. Here’s an excerpt from what was written about fourth-round guard Arie Kouandjio:
“He’s strong enough to shove defenders off the line of scrimmage and has exceptional combat skills with superior hands. An outstanding run blocker, it’s in pass protection against speed rushers where Kouandijo needs improvement. He struggles to move in space and a lack of functional athleticism will be among his biggest hurdles to overcome. Though he lacks versatility, Kouandijo has all the physical tools needed to be a quality starter in the NFL and could be drafted as high as the second round.”
● Mike Jones gathered Coach Jay Gruden’s thoughts on each of the 10 picks, a class the coach seemed pretty pleased about. Gruden’s comments on one of the final choices, sixth-round wide receiver Evan Spencer, seems to say something about what the team was looking for:
“I think he’s going to be here for a while just because of his mental makeup. He’s a heck of a person and he’s going to work extremely hard. When you have a guy that’s that big and that fast and loves the competition and loves to play special teams, loves to block safeties and cornerbacks, you’ll find a spot for them on your football team.”
● Gruden, again via Mike, said something similar when he explained why he liked Washington’s Day 2 picks.
“We’re just going to try to add tough, physical players,” Coach Jay Gruden said Friday night after the completion of the third round. “That’s the whole motto here. We’re going to add guys that are tough and want to compete and the tougher the better. These two guys, and of course adding Brandon yesterday, these are three, physical guys that love to compete. The more the merrier.”

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Floyd Mayweather Jr. Beats Pacquiao by Unanimous Decision

"Floyd Mayweather Jr. proved a smart businessman in signing for a fight that will likely earn him $180 million or more. But the smartest thing he may have done was delay the fight five years so it would be must-see TV, even at a record price of $99.95. "Five years ago this was a $50 million fight for me," Mayweather said, "and a $20 million fight for him."
How can I watch the fight?
Well, you'll have to pay. Coverage for the fight begins at 9 p.m. ET and in order to see that coverage, you'll have to pay roughly $90 to $100 for pay-per-view, depending on if you go with standard definition or high definition.

If you're visiting Las Vegas, chances are you'll have to attend a closed-circuit viewing party. Because the MGM has exclusive rights, non MGM properties in Las Vegas can't televise the fight. So, head over to an MGM property and pay $150 if you want to watch it.

Bottom line: It'll cost you something -- unless you live in Mexico, of course.

When tickets were initially released last week, they sold out in one minute. So if you want to grab a ticket, you'll have to do so on the secondary market. And, as we've reported more than a few times, those tickets aren't going to be cheap. As of Wednesday afternoon, the least expensive ticket on StubHub can be purchased for $3,279.99. The priciest ticket can be bought for -- wait for it -- $351,005.25. According to Sports Illustrated, the average price for tickets sold on StubHub is $6,820.

Why is this fight such a big deal?
Yes, it's true -- five years ago, Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao may have been a better fight. Today, the fighters are on the back nine of their primes, but again, they're still considered the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. And besides, the buildup is a big reason why this fight is such a huge deal.

For five years, boxing fans have dreamed of a matchup like this. Mayweather is undefeated in his career, 47-0, two wins shy of Rocky Marciano's iconic 49-0 career record. A win would further his rather bold claim that he is, indeed, the greatest fighter of all time. A win for Pacquiao, on the other hand, makes its own kind of history. The Filipino superstar would forever be the man who took the zero off Floyd Mayweather's record.

What are the styles of each fighter?
Styles make fights, and this one is no different. Mayweather is the crafty, savvy boxer, a defensive wizard. During his prime years, Mayweather was only hit with 16 percent of his opponents' punches. He hasn't slowed much at all in most people's eye, but if anyone can break is going to break through the defense and land some meaningful blows on Mayweather, Pacquiao is the guy.

Pacquiao, one of the most aggressive, offensive forces of his generation, is the perfect contrast to Mayweather's conservative style. It won't be easy. You don't connect often on Mayweather so you have to be even more active. Our Jason Keidel believes Pacquiao needs to throw upwards of 800 punches to have a shot to win.

But of course, it only takes one punch to knock someone out. Even Mayweather. And many people, including Manny's trainer Freddie Roach, believe Pacquiao is the man who will finally KO Mayweather.

Even Mike Tyson says Manny's "perpetual motion" will ultimately win out.

Who is the favorite in the fight?
It's Floyd Mayweather. He's 47-0, and he's receiving 60 percent of the split while Pacquiao only gets 40 percent. According to the latest odds posted on Bovada, Mayweather is listed at -225 and Pacquiao is listed at +175.

This is Mayweather's fight to win, but don't be shocked if Pacquiao pulls off the upset. There's a reason why fans have been calling for this fight for years -- Pacquiao is Mayweather's biggest test.

After it was reported that Manny Pacquiao fought, and lost to, Floyd Mayweather Jr. this past Saturday night with a significantly torn right rotator cuff, The Associated Press is now reporting that Pacquiao could in fact face disciplinary action for not disclosing the injury on a pre-fight questionnaire.

Nevada Athletic Commission chairman Francisco Aguilar has said that the state attorney general's office will investigate why Pacquiao checked the "no" box a day before the fight on a commission questionnaire asking whether he had an injury -- which he clearly knew he did.

Pacquiao could face a fine or suspension for not answering the question accurately. The fine shouldn't be a problem. Pacquaio is believed to be in line for somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 million for the Mayweather fight -- a loss by unanimous decision -- and Forbes recently reported that the Filipino superstar's career earnings will soon move past $400 million.

The suspension wouldn't seem to be a huge deal, either, at least not in the near-term, being that the shoulder surgery Pacquiao will soon undergo will reportedly keep him out of competition for 9-12 months.

The most troubling part of all of this, if you take one glance at the reactions on Twitter, is that fight fans feel gypped. They were expecting one of the great bouts in boxing history and instead got a relatively actionless fight in which a now clearly injured Pacquiao was only able to throw roughly half the punches he normal does -- virtually none of which packed anything close to the power for which the Filipino has become famous.