Monday Superlatives
The Loop

The greatest posterization pic, the scariest headline, and the most obscure rule ever invoked

Happy New Year! It may feel to some of you life on New Year's Day is like finding yourself in a new level of a video game—one with a bigger, meaner boss—with the caveat that you didn't win the last two levels, and in fact got the crap kicked out of you by the previous bosses. That's 2018, baby! But I'm here to tell you that even as our world goes up in flames, I will be here, coughing through the smoke, typing away in the ashes, bringing you the sweet, sweet superlatives you've come to crave. So let's get cracking.

Terrifying Out-of-Context Sports Headline of the Week: ESPN

I saw this on the front page of ESPN, and I shuddered:

Turns out? My horrible certainty that I woke up in a world of fighting robots who are not only capable of crushing the best human fighters around, but will almost certainly destroy or enslave mankind by the time this hellish year ends...well, it wasn't true. Cris Cyborg is, in fact, a real person, and she defeated Holly Holm to retain her UFC title. She's a Brazilian woman, and the "cyborg" thing is only a ring name. (At least that's what they want you to think.)

We've dodged a bullet...for now. But if you shared my fear, definitely don't watch this video:

Greatest Posterization Photo Ever: Jonathan Bachman, AP

The goal of any great dunk poster is two-fold: To depict a savage jam, and to capture the humiliation of the defender. When Anthony Davis posterized Ron Baker Saturday night, the AP's Jonathan Bachman was jonny-on-the-spot:

Look at that photo! Baker is actually flying. It's so great. And it's not just Baker, although Baker is, of course, the main attraction. Davis' dunk is practically classy in its old-school no-nonsense pose, and the whole glorious tableau is completed by Michael Beasley's helpless awe and Kyle O'Quinn's deep resignation. I'm a Knicks fan, and I still want to buy this poster.

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The actual video is pretty cool too:

Coolest Use of a Weird Forgotten Rule: Jay Triano, Phoenix Suns

I'm a huge fan of strange quirks in rule books, most of which seem to happen in football. When Bill Belichick let Doug Flutie convert the first drop kick extra point since 1941, it briefly humanized a man who is likely Satan's agent on earth (Belichick, not Flutie). When Jim Harbaugh pulled out the first attempted "fair catch plus unimpeded free kick" since 1976, letting his kicker try a 71-yard field goal, I became a fan for life. And last Tuesday, when Phoenix Suns coach Jay Triano made use an obscure rule that says there's no offensive goaltending on an inbounds pass—since it's not, by definition, a shot—to win at the buzzer against the Grizzlies, I was equally stoked. Check it out:

As you see, Tyson Chandler was completely within his rights to grab the ball essentially in the cylinder and stuff it down, since the passer, Dragan Bender, could not technically "shoot" the ball from his position. Per the New York Times, Triano has actually been holding on to this play for 15 years, which makes it even better. And it may be the only time it's successfully executed—it's a good bet the NBA will change its rules this offseason, since it violates the spirit of offensive goaltending, if not the actual definition. Bottom line? It pays to be a rules nerd.

The Irrelevant Sporting Events of the Week: Any CFB Bowl That Is Not the Actual CFB Playoff

Argument no. 1,468 for expanding the college football playoffs: Does anyone actually care about the rest of these bowl games? Even the "good" ones? The answer is probably yes, but an interested fan has to meet one of two criteria:

1. Is an alum of the school.

2. Has a gambling interest.

Aside from that, what's the draw? I was hanging out with friends on the 30th and kept Wisconsin-Miami and Washington-Penn State on in the background, but I just couldn't get into it, even though all four teams are in the nation's top 11. Maybe that's a backward argument for the people who worried that playoffs would ruin the other bowls, and if that's your stance, fair enough...but we're never going back. The real argument here is that we need to expand the playoffs (as I've argued before) so that we have more games to care about. Because as it stands now, "bowl season" is infinitely less interesting than any run-of-the-mill regular season Saturday. It just sort of oozes across December, like rotten maple syrup over a perfectly good pancake.

And yes, I do apologize for that simile.

Weirdest Way to End 2017: Manchester City Actually Failed to Win

Manchester City is an absolute powerhouse, and coming into Dec. 31, they had won 17 straight matches. That was one short of Bayern Munich's record of 18 (in the big five European leagues), and they faced Crystal Palace, which is an actual soccer team and not a mystical castle filled with ethereal queens in a children's book. Crystal Palace was way at the bottom of the standings, and will spend the rest of their season fighting off relegation. But on this day, they managed that most quintessential of all soccer results: a 0-0 tie. They could have won in stoppage time, too, but then this happened:

Missed penalties are simultaneously the best and most frustrating thing about this sport.

Worst Impression of a Head Coach: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots

Here's the source material, from one of Bill Belichick's electric and illuminating press conferences:

And here's Gronkowski trying to spoof it:

I mean...look, I'm glad he tried. I'm all for event a small dose of attempted humor. But Rob, you could do so much better! Belichick is ripe for parodying, but the only real good part of this clip is Gronkowski's laugh at his joke, which is classic Gronk. Next time, I want to see more dourness, more seething hatred for the media, and more condescension.

And you know what I'd also love? To see the Patriots not win the Super Bowl. Come on, 2018, throw us a damn bone.