Monday Superlatives
September 30, 2019

UNC's Mack Brown made the call of the week by going for two...even if it failed

Clemson v North Carolina

Grant Halverson

With the way college football is currently constituted, it's likely that schools like no. 1 Clemson, Alabama, and even Georgia can suffer an early loss and still make the college football playoff by running the table. (Everyone else? Screwed.) Still, it's also possible that four other teams stay ahead of the curve and that early loss becomes a season-ender, in the sense that any year without making the playoffs for a team like Clemson is a year of failure. So when I was sitting in section 219 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill late on Saturday, watching the UNC Tar Heels score a touchdown to pull within one point of Clemson with just a minute left, I was dying for head coach Mack Brown to go for two.

Why? Well, first off, I wasn't very invested in the result—I'm not a fan of either team, I was only at the game to see Clemson in person, and I didn't care if the conversion failed. I just wanted that sweet, sweet drama...the ultimate selfish fan experience. But also, as you might imagine, Clemson travels extremely well, particularly when their fans only have to cross one state line. So there were large swaths of orange folk in the stands, and they looked absolutely miserable the entire game. They wanted the pitiless massacre, and instead, they got three hours of frustrating hell. I knew that if Carolina went for two, there would be long moments before the snap when they'd have to contemplate the unthinkable end of their championship ambitions. Oh, how I craved those moments!

And when Mack Brown decided to roll the dice, for a few seconds it was as good as I imagined. Up and down the aisles, nails were bitten, seats were gripped, and desperation played across faces accustomed to stress-free domination.

Now, sure, the payoff was garbage—Carolina tried to run outside on one of the fastest defenses in the country, which had failed every time they attempted it all game, and failed again when it mattered most:

So Clemson won. BUT! None of the orange brigade were crowing on the walk out of the stadium. They wore the look of people who just survived a near-death experience, and they wanted to get the hell out of the state as fast as possible. Which is why I think, strategy considerations aside, Mack Brown made the right call: You can't underestimate the sheer pleasure of putting fear into a juggernaut. Clemson fans deserve to suffer, and for a moment, they were in agony.

The Anticlimactic Milestone of the Week: Justin Verlander

I have to give props this week to Justin Verlander, who reached 3,000 strikeouts for his career and 300 strikeouts for the 2019 season. However, the 3,000th K was comically anticlimactic:

For those aren't hip to baseball's rules, a batter can advance on a dropped third strike when first base is free, but it still counts as a strikeout. And it's really not how you want to celebrate number 3,000!

All that said, it's still a historic achievement—he's the 18th man to reach 3,000—and for Yankee fans like me, Verlander is still one of the scariest men in baseball, even if he can be a little hyper-sensitive. The prospect of my team facing him in the ALCS inspires fear and dread, and that's the ultimate tip of the cap.

The "Hey, This is Actually Fun to Watch" Sport of the Week: World Cup Rugby

My hometown of Saranac Lake, NY, had an enormous rugby tournament once per year, where people from the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K, descended on our little Adirondack village to hurl themselves at one another and then get very drunk afterward. As you might imagine, the bars made a lot of money. I had to help clean up the public fields one year as part of a fundraiser, and let me tell you, that's a good way to be disgusted by humanity. Why were there condoms on the actual rugby field?

Up until this year, that was my experience with rugby—a sport whose rules I did not know, and that I associated with human decadence. This year, though, some friends have been watching the Rugby World Cup, and I've been quietly checking in now and then. To my surprise, it's a pretty fun spectator sport! This is especially true if, like me, you've grown sick of football's constant play stoppages, especially if you have the misfortune to attend a game in person. Rugby is continuous, brutal, but also very elegant and athletic at times. It's also exciting—take a minute to watch the highlights from Japan's historic win against Ireland, which might be the biggest upset in World Cup history (note: Japan's team nickname is the "Brave Blossoms"):

Now, I'm not going to pretend I totally understand the rules yet, or that I'm bound for rugby super-fandom, but just like Rugby Sevens in the last Olympics, this is fun, fast-paced, strategic stuff. Analysis: My favorite play is when they're all going one way, and then some dude streaks in the opposite way on a short pass and just smashes his way into the heart of the defense. So yes, I'll give it the official ignorant endorsement: I don't hate it.

The Predictable Result of the Weekend: Michigan-Rutgers football

Fun fact: Michigan is the winningest program in college football history, with 956 victories since their first-ever triumph over Racine College by the score of 1-0 (yes, really) in 1879. Second fun fact: Rutgers is the losingest program in college football history, with 657 losses since their first-ever failure against Princeton by the score of 8-0 in 1869.

The two teams met this past weekend, and what would you guess happened? If your answer is: The winningest college football team of all-time beating the losingest one, then...DING DING DING! You nailed it. The final score was 52-0, and considering that Michigan is a truly abysmal team by their own standards, and the Jim Harbaugh experiment is on the precipice of failure, you have to really give credit to Rutgers for living up to their history.