Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Legend Lives On

Niki Lauda, the three-time Formula One world champion known as "The Rat", passed away last week.

Yours Truly used to be a diehard Formula One fan as a kid, always fascinated by its cars, drivers, teams and history. Despite his love for Formula One, however, Yours Truly always had to cover his eyes when he saw the still pictures (accompanied by creepy music) of drivers who had died racing, like Ronnie Peterson, Gilles Villeneuve and Riccardo Paletti, fearing that somehow they would crawl out of his shabby television set and take him to who knows where.

But what haunted him the most was the sight of the then still active Lauda, who spotted horrific facial scars courtesy of his fiery crash at Nurburgring in 1976.

Talk about someone who gave it all to the sport and lived to tell us about it.

Your Truly used to have a soft spot for the red and white McLarens sponsored by Marlboro in those years, and can still remember how happy he was when John Watson and Lauda won several races between them in 1982 and 1983. And when his all-time favourite Alain Prost arrived in place of Watson beginning from the 1984 season, Yours Truly's dream had come true as McLaren had become the dominating force he had wished for. While Prost would lose the title that year by just half a point, Yours Truly was equally joyful as it was the other McLaren driver Lauda who took the honour.

Even though Lauda bought his way into Formula One at the very beginning, his speed and results had earned him a seat at Ferrari with which he would win two world titles in 1975 and 1977. Coming back just weeks after his Nurburgring crash in 1976 was brave and gutsy, but he did show his human side when he pulled into the pits in that year's finale at Fuji during torrential rain, saying that it was simply too dangerous to keep racing (ironically, Prost would do the same in Adelaide in 1989, but that did not cost him his title). Without the injury lay-off, Lauda would have won that year's title, which went to James Hunt by a single point.

After his retirement at the end of the 1985 season he focused on his aviation business, Lauda Air, which Yours Truly's better half took during her first trip to Europe. In later years he worked with Ferrari and Mercedes, and as the Non-Executive Chairman of the latter he was instrumental in transforming Mercedes from also-rans to the very best Formula One team at the moment.

For Yours Truly, Lauda was someone he grew up with, and someone he always has high regard for. When The Rat passed away after a short illness, Yours Truly felt that a part of his memory had left him for good.

However, Lauda's legacy lives on. When Yours Truly talked to his son about Lauda's passing, he suddenly became smart and said that we cannot talk about Formula One's history without mentioning Lauda. Indeed, his world championships, bravery, sacrifices, longevity, out-spokenness and contribution are things that no one should ever forget.

You will be sorely missed, Niki.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Recapping the Wide World of Sports

Yours Truly didn't get much sleep last night.

No, it was not because something was bothering him. Instead, Yours Truly was so excited by the sporting scene around the world that he simply could not fall asleep.

In English Premiership, Liverpool beat Chelsea 2-0 to return to the top of the table. Being a fan for the Reds since childhood, Yours Truly really hopes that Liverpool can finally become the league champion for the first time since 1990. Five years ago, his dream was shattered when the Reds lost to Chelsea 0-2 late in the season, and the second goal by Demba Ba (Who?) was the result of a disastrous slip by none other than their captain, Steven Gerrard. When Yours Truly saw Andy Robertson had a similar slip last night when led to a break for the Blues, there was definitely a sense of dΓ©jΓ  vu. Fortunately, that break resulted in nothing and Yours Truly really hopes that it has finally exorcised the demon that has been plaguing the Reds for years.

In fact, demons of various breeds have been exorcised here and there. In Moto2, Thomas Luthi, a solid veteran rider Yours Truly has been rooting for, won comfortably on his third race back from a disastrous year in MotoGP. In fact, Luthi's spell in MotoGP was so bad that he was the only regular rider in the grid not to have scored a point last year. Five 16th-place finishes were the best he could muster and even Xavier Simeon managed to score ONE point more than he did. Luckily for Luthi, he managed to latch onto a solid Dynavolt team in Moto2 this year and is now second in the championship.

In MotoGP, Alex Rins finally got his first win in his third year in the series. With the ever-improving Suzuki team, he came on strong late last season and finished second in the last two races of the season. With the dominant Marc Marquez crashing out yesterday in Austin, Rins managed to out-fox Valentino Rossi for a much-deserved first victory in the premier class, and also Suzuki's first win in MotoGP since Maverick Vinales' win in Silverstone in 2016.

Finally, Tiger Woods finally won his 15th majors in Augusta, a one-stroke victory over three other players. Yours Truly seldom watches golf on TV, but the likelihood of Tiger finally winning another was so appealing that Yours Truly decided to stay in front of the TV, and was duly rewarded when El Tigre two-putted the 18th for his first major win since the U.S. Open in 2008. When Woods finally let out a huge roar after his title-clinching putt, everyone in the world, including Yours Truly, could feel that the monkey is finally off his back.

And that was just another sporting Sunday around the world.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

They Do Make Good (Right) Shoes

Swoosh, we have a big problem.


(Video courtesy of ESPN)

That is none other than Duke's Zion Williamson, during the opening possession of the Blue Devils' 72-88 home loss against ACC rival North Carolina!

Perhaps a lawsuit is on the way?

There is a sense of deja vu as this is not the first time a Nike (left) shoe blows out in a major sporting event.  It happened to 400 metres runner Quincy Watts at the World Championship in 1993.



(Video courtesy of Youtube.  Detailed analysis at about the 3:20 mark.)

Coincidence?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Cautionary Tale

Yours Truly used to be impressed with Roman Fenati, last year's runner-up in Moto3.

The first thing Yours Truly noticed was his apparently huge helmet. Being predominantly white without any noticeable patterns unlike other helmets, it has created the illusion of a gigantic head.

The other thing Yours Truly noticed was his race craft in Moto3. Yours Truly has lost count on how many occasions Fenati would be engaged in a huge battle with a bunch of other riders, and somehow eventually emerge near the top.

Fenati was supposed to have a bright future, and was on the Moto3 team of Valentino Rossi, of all people, as late as early 2016 when he won in the USA and finished second in France. However, not long afterwards he was kicked off the team for what later revealed to be frequent and heated argument with Rossi's right-hand man, Uccio Salucci.

He came back with a new team in 2017 and finished a distant second to Joan Mir, one of the hottest prospects in MotoGP right now, and thus earned a promotion to Moto2 this season. However, while Mir continued to flourish in Moto2, Fenati struggled and a seventh in France was his best result.

Yours Truly always kept a close eye on him and thought what he needed was time. But then, came last Sunday race in Rimini where he inexplicably grabbed the brake lever of fellow competitor Stefano Manzi while they were both travelling at a speed of over 200 km/h. Apparently it was an act of retribution for being forced off the track by Manzi during a botched over-taking move earlier on.

It was an act of utmost stupidity and recklessness, and an act that could have seriously injured if not killed Manzi.

Fenati was promptly disqualified from the race and given a two-race ban. Subsequently, he was rightfully fired by his team and his contract signed with a new team, which ironically would have paired him up with Manzi next season, had also been voided.

It was not the first time Fenati had messed with other riders' bikes. He was involved in a spat with Nikolas Ajo in 2015 where he kicked out Ajo and pressed the kill switch on his bike while the latter was preparing for a practice start.



Yours Truly does believe that this is the end of Fenati’s once-promising top-level racing career. While Fenati could still possibly secure a ride somehow somewhere, the issue is no top team is willing to risk its reputation by hiring someone who may implode in any minute.

Yours Truly feels sorry for him, but at the same time, Yours Truly can't really feel sorry for him.

It was nothing but his own undoing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Age-Old Foes

President of the United States, Donald Trump, criticised the National Football League (NFL) and drew the ire of its players recently over his comments on players not standing for the national anthem.

His deputy, Vice-President Mike Pence, even left the game between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers early to protest against the players' kneeling during the national anthem. Some called it a publicity stunt which stole the limelight away from Peyton Manning, whose number was retired by the Colts during the half-time ceremony of that game.

Yours Truly is not going to talk politics here. He just wants to remind the readers of some major issues between Trump and the NFL in the past.

Trump was the majority owner of New Jersey Generals, a team in the United States Football League (USFL) founded in the early eighties.

Initially, the USFL wanted to fill the gaps of the NFL by playing its games in spring and summer, and in cities that did not have NFL teams.

And because the USFL did not have a hard salary cap, it managed to capture many players who would eventually be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, such as Reggie White and Jim Kelly.

Later on, however, they decided to move its schedule to autumn (allegedly at the urging of Trump) which meant their games would be in direct competition against the NFL games. Soon, they found themselves struggling to survive against the more well-established counterpart.

Then they decided to file an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL for their monopoly.

Back in the late 1960s, there was another upstart league, the American Football League (AFL) which managed to eventually merge with the NFL. Now most of the teams in the American Football Conference (AFC) of the NFL can trace their roots to the AFL days.

Many thought that the USFL probably wanted a merger too, which was the real aim behind their lawsuit.

When the case went to court, the USFL actually won. And they also got triple the damage from the NFL under anti-trust laws.

But there was one problem: The damage awarded by the court was only US$1.

ONE UNITED STATES DOLLAR.

And under anti-trust laws, they got three times of that. It meant that the USFL was awarded US$3.

THREE UNITED STATES DOLLARS.

Yours Truly is not going into the specifics behind the judgement. Eventually, the USFL received the award (US$3.76 in cheque in 1990, adjusted due to inflation), but folded soon afterwards due to huge financial losses.

And none of the teams managed to join the NFL, unlike those in the AFL.

And you can just imagine how pissed the owners of USFL teams were, or are, with the NFL in that pyrrhic victory.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Giant-Normous Problems for New York

As a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan, Yours Truly always wishes ill on their hated rivals, especially those in the NFC East like the New York Giants and company.

Yet what transpired on Sunday made Yours Truly sick and feel for the luckless Giants.

For once, Yours Truly decided to watch a game between two winless teams, the Giants and the San Diego, oops, Los Angeles Chargers live on TV.

It was a snoozefest which clearly showed why these two teams were winless. They were just not very good. But then, fate decided to add some spice into this dreadful game.

Late in the first half, wide receivers Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall both suffered left ankle injuries ON THE SAME DRIVE and had to leave the game.

As a Cowboys homie, Yours Truly wondered if that would mean former-Cowboy Dwayne Harris would play more snaps as a wide receiver in addition to a kick-returner. Alas, just as Yours Truly went back to his seat after the halftime break, he learned that Harris had broken his left foot during the second-half kick-off.

Well, at least they still had all-world wideout Odell Beckham Jr. in the fold. But NFL does really stand for Not For Long, as OBJ's left foot was caught under a defender while trying to catch a pass from Eli Manning in the fourth quarter. When the Chargers defenders frantically called for medics on the field and when a tearful OBJ had to be carted off, it meant that the Giants had lost four of their top five receivers that very day.

(And Yours Truly is sure that you can't name the lone-surviving wideout among their top five. See answer below.)

For the Giants, the bad news was confirmed after the game in which they lost 22-27 to remain winless. OBJ, Marshall and Harris are all out for the rest of the season after season-ending surgeries. While Shepard (a player Yours Truly wanted the Cowboys to draft last year) escaped serious injuries, he would likely miss a couple of games down the road.

Before the game, critics lamented the Giants for their woeful running game. Well, at least they do have some healthy bodies like Orleans Darkwa (who ran well in the Chargers game), Paul Perkins and Wayne Gallman who may one day emerge as a competent runner.

But for wide receivers, the Giants simply don't have enough healthy bodies just to line up properly. Perhaps they will have to rely strongly on 13 personnel (1 running back and 3 tight ends) for the rest of the season.

Or they will have to lure Victor Cruz and his bad knees out of retirement?

(Answer to the trivial question: Roger Lewis.)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Trouble in Dallas?

Jason Garrett has lost his mind.

In the lopsided 17-42 defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos, he let himself fall into an old trap.

That is, abandoning the running game.

Totally.

Look, Yours Truly understands that the Cowboys were playing catch-up all day. But don't forget this: Their offensive line is arguably the best in the NFL. They have three first-round picks (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zach Martin) plus another first-round talent (La'el Collins, who should have been a first-round pick but for off-field concerns) who paved the way to the success of Ezekiel Elliott last year. They should have kept pounding the ball to keep the Broncos' defense, especially defensive linemen, on the field to tire them down.

Instead, they quickly gave up the running game which made the Broncos' linemen fresh, resulting in a couple of sacks and a 103-yard pick-six.

Two years ago, the Cowboys stumbled to a 4-12 record because they could never establish a running game and relied heavily on the passing game, which was unfortunately decimated by injuries to Tony Romo.

Two years later, there are signs that Garrett is heading for the same direction.