Monday Superlatives

Time Capsule: It's 4 p.m. Sunday, I believe the Jaguars might win, and it feels great

January 22, 2018
AFC Championship - Jacksonville Jaguars v New England Patriots
Jim Rogash

Usually I write a longer introduction to the weekly superlative column, but it's 3:59 p.m. eastern right now, I just peeked at the scoreboard, and the Jacksonville Jaguars are beating the New England Embodiments of Evil 14-3. I am too scared to believe in something this good—Belichick will eat Blake Bortles' soul at halftime and force him to throw 19 second-half interceptions—but I want to record this moment in time because it is so fleeting and so good. By the time you read this, you will know what happened to the brief flare-up of optimism I'm feeling right now. (Note: It will be maimed...not just dead, but maimed in the most disturbing ways possible. I lived through last year's Super Bowl...I know how this goes.) If you're from Boston, you will laugh your loud, gawping laugh, and let loose a stream of sporting invective in which you scream about titles and fail to pronounce your postvocalic "r"s. If you're not from Boston, you will weep in sympathy.

Until then, I am the happiest boy in sports-land, because you cannot prove to me that the Jaguars will lose. I hereby vow not to check the scoreboard even once between now and the end of this column. By doing so, I ensure that a tiny piece of me that believes the Jaguars can win will be preserved in history. They can put this column in a museum alongside relics from the ancient peoples who thought a solar eclipse meant god had stolen the sun away. You can stroll past me with your family, look on in wonder, and whisper, "what must it have been like?"

On to the superlatives!

Greatest Ownage of Steph Curry: James Harden, Rockets

With a minute left in a tight game between the Rockets and Warriors—the two best teams in the NBA—James Harden did a cruel thing to Steph Curry, followed by another cruel thing:

Those moments are supposed to be when Curry shines, and instead he got destroyed by the man with the NBA's baddest beard. It was so decisive, too. Has Curry ever been owned this hard?

(Checks NBA history.)

Oh right...that whole 3-1 thing. Still, Harden takes a close second. I can't wait for the Western Conference Finals.

Best Riot Prevention Measure: Philadelphia, for Greasing Its Light Poles

No, that's not a weird euphemism for something dirty—Philadelphia workers literally greased the city's light poles ahead of the Vikings-Eagles NFC championship game to keep people from climbing them in celebration (or anger, I guess?). The workers call themselves the "Crisco Cops," and this is almost too funny and too specific for words.

I can imagine this dialogue going through the mayor's head:

"OK, things are going to get ugly no matter what. Store windows will be smashed, cars will be overturned, people are going to drink and fight, and someone's going to punch a police horse. All of this is unavoidable. Is there anything I can do to curb the excesses? (pauses for five minutes) THE LIGHT POLES! THEY ALWAYS CLIMB LIGHT POLES! That's a thing, right? Well what if we grease the damn things? This is literally the smallest problem in a riot, but what the hell, at least I can say I did something. Now where's that vodka?"

Of course, you just know the drunkest Philly fans likely saw the Crisco as a challenge. Some of them inevitably made it near the top before the grease got them, and then they fell from great heights and injured themselves. This was inevitable. Either that, or they realized the light poles were lubed up, and committed unspeakable acts. And if you think that's just my weird imagination running away with me, then you, my friend, don't know Philadelphia fans.

To wit:

Tip-of-the-Cap-Headline of the Week: ESPN

Worst Rule of the Week: No Tiebreak in Decisive Sets at Grand Slams

The U.S. Open is the only grand slam tennis tournament that resorts to a tiebreak at 6-all in the deciding set of a match—the fifth set for men, the third set for women. Every other important ATP (men's league) and WTA (women's league) tournament uses the tiebreak for a decisive third set (the men don't play best-of-five sets except at slams), but the other three slams—Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon—require a player to win by two games.

Scott Barbour

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 18: Novak Djokovic of Serbia attempts to cool down between games in his second round match against Gael Monfils of France on day four of the 2018 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 18, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

I should probably define what I'm talking about, right? Okay, so in tennis, when both players win six games in a set, a tiebreak—first to seven points, win by two—is used to decide the winner. When you see a set score of 7-6, you know it was decided by a tiebreaker. It's the only time a player can win a set by one "game"—otherwise, it's 6-4, 7-5, etc. The tiebreak was invented in 1965, but the modern version wasn't implemented at the U.S. Open until 1975, and Wimbledon didn't adopt it until 1979. Up to that point, you could have scorelines like this one, from the five hour, 12 minute 1969 Wimbledon final between Pancho Gonzalez and Charlie Passarel:

22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9.

Nuts, right? But not as nuts as the 2010 Wimbledon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. Because there's no fifth set tiebreaker, they infamously played an 11 hour, five minute match over three days in which Isner prevailed 70-68 in the final set.

Now, was this epic? Absolutely, for pure duration if nothing else.

Was it fun to watch? Helllll no. They barely even showed it on TV—they just cut back when one of them had a break chance. Who wants to sit through that?

And that's the issue—just as it wasn't a blast to live through a 22-24 first set in 1969, it was no fun to endure 70-68 in 2010. That's an extreme case, but it's also true for lesser cases, like Lauren Davis' 15-13 loss to no. 1 Simona Halep on Friday night at the Australian Open. It was an incredible, exciting match until 6-all in the third set. If it had ended 8-6, it would have probably hit the sweet spot for high drama. But because it extended to 15-13, it grew monotonous and uncertain, and it was tough to enjoy because there was no end in sight. At the tail end of a beautiful match, I found myself growing impatient and bored, and it sucked the suspense out of something awesome.

But if this match had gone to a tiebreaker at 6-all in the third set? Not only would it have saved a useless hour of play, but it would have been an intense, gut-wrenching finish worthy of the rest of the match.

The U.S. Open has it right—tiebreaks at 6-all, regardless of the situation. It's time to end the endless set.

The Someone-Please-Write-a-Long-Feature-About-This Story of the Week: The shirtless Tongan Olympian

Okay, remember this guy?

He was the flag-bearer for Tonga in the Rio Summer Olympics, and he got kinda famous because he went shirtless in the opening ceremony, had a 14-pack, and was wearing more grease than a Philadelphia light pole. His sport was taekwondo, and he lost in the first round, but he got famous anyway.

Now, though? Now the dude somehow qualified for the Winter Olympics in cross-country skiing. Yes, that's cross-country skiing. This despite never having attempted to ski on snow before 2016, and being forced to qualify on something called "roller-skis," and then driving through a blizzard in Iceland to get his final qualification time. NPR had a semi-lengthy piece before he qualified, and it included lines like this:

On roller skis, a cross-country skier needs only pavement to practice the motions necessary to actually cross-country ski. Great, right?

"These are the worst things ever made," Pita says. "I tell you: the amount of concrete that I've eaten, no one should ever go through that process."

But it was not enough—I need 8,000 words from the New Yorker, or something. This is too insane to be true, and represents everything that is both wonderful and deeply strange about the Olympics. I mean, why is this happening? What is in his head? Why is he such a hero? Move aside, Spitz, Phelps, Joyner-Kersee, Bolt, and all you Soviet gymnasts—there's a new greatest Olympian ever, and he's going to lose to some Norwegian by like 10 hours.

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