Mighty Teams, Coaches Falling

The Boston Celtics suffer their first defeat of the season, and a few big-time college football coaches turn in their whistles.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

Things got a little spicy in sports this weekend. As usual, a few mighty teams fell. As to the few coaches, exiting stage right. And NASCAR might have a new king, or so, that's what I heard in my house this weekend, according to my husband Bill Wolff.

ROBERT SMITH, host:

I love how it all gets filtered through him.

STEWART: It does. You know, for the rest of the world, he's the former disembodied voice from ESPN's "Around the Horn." To me, my darling husband.

Hi, Bill.

BILL WOLFF: Hello, darling wife. How are you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: I'm doing well. So I know you were just, you we're primed, you were ready for this.

WOLFF: The great sports weekend.

STEWART: Michigan-Ohio State. It was a weekend of rivalries.

WOLFF: Yes, it was.

STEWART: So you Michigan-Ohio State…

WOLFF: Yes.

STEWART: The New York Times headline says: Ohio State Heads into BCS, and Michigan into the Unknown.

WOLFF: Yeah, yeah. It's true.

STEWART: Could you explain that for us who don't follow this so closely?

WOLFF: Well, first things first, Ohio State to the BCS. The BCS is the kind of the organizing body, which decides which college football team will be the champion of all college football teams, and they rank them using computers and using human judgment - you know, polls. And if you are in the top eight, then you get to play in the one of the fabulous BCS ball games. And by beating Michigan, which Ohio State did, 14 to 3, at Michigan, Ohio State got back into the top tier of the BCS. So that's the first part of that headline. But…

STEWART: Michigan into the unknown? I thought Michigan, I mean, Michigan one of the powerhouses.

WOLFF: Well…

STEWART: I even know that.

WOLFF: Yeah, friend(ph), you know it well. But having lost to Ohio State, they have now lost six of the last seven annual meetings with Ohio State, which is just unacceptable to people in Michigan. You know, people - the University of Michigan is a very good school, but it's one of the very good schools in the country where if the football team is not the best, they'd grow very impatient.

And so now that they've lost - particularly if they lose to Ohio State - so they've lost to Ohio State now, six times out of seven, and that is going to cost this morning at 10 o'clock Eastern, 7 o'clock Pacific, their coach of 13 years - an old, excellent, crusty Midwestern guy called Lloyd Carr to step aside under pressure because - had he beat Ohio State, he might have saved his job. But at Michigan and also vice versa, at Ohio State, if you can't beat the other - that team, that rival team consistently, they got no time for you.

SMITH: So he leaves in disgrace?

WOLFF: Well, he leaves under heavy pressure. It's hard to say he leaves in disgrace because he was the coach when they won the national championship in 1997.

SMITH: Counts for something.

STEWART: That's got it.

WOLFF: Yeah, it counts for quite a bit. But it…

STEWART: That was 10 years ago.

WOLFF: Well that's it, you know. The thing about sports, which probably isn't very good, is it's a culture of media gratification, and the question is always, what have you done for me lately?

I wouldn't say leaves in disgrace, but it feels as if a majority of Michigan fans have grown impatient with Michigan's inability to not just be very good, which by the way - they're very good, they won eight games and only lost four. That's very good by most people's standards.

But at Michigan, you have to be 10 and 2, or 11 and 1, and you have to be in the race for the whole - for the national championship, and they just weren't. So I wouldn't say in disgrace, but certainly everybody has lost patience. They want excellence, and they want it now.

STEWART: The rivalry, which you watched closely.

WOLFF: Yes.

STEWART: Sat on the couch, Saturday around noon.

WOLFF: Mm-hmm.

STEWART: Harvard versus Yale.

WOLFF: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

SMITH: Sing the song, sing the song.

WOLFF: What happened? What happened? Can you tell me what happened, Alison?

STEWART: I believe Harvard won that game or so I've been…

WOLFF: Yes, they did. Yes, they did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WOLFF: You see, they…

STEWART: See? Okay, Bill went to Harvard.

WOLFF: Yes. Sorry, I apologize to all you listeners.

SMITH: Well, we could tell your voice went up three octaves.

WOLFF: Well…

STEWART: Sing the Harvard fight song, which I had to listen to.

SMITH: Come on, sing it for us.

WOLFF: (Singing) Ten thousand men of Harvard want victory today for they know that o'er old Eli…

SMITH: I shouldn't have asked. I should not have started him.

WOLFF: (Singing) Fair Harvard holds sway.

SMITH: How long will he go with this?

STEWART: On and on.

SMITH: He'll go all day long with this.

WOLFF: (Singing) And when the game ends, we'll sing…

SMITH: Can we get him to start talking again?

WOLFF: (Singing) Ten thousand men of Harvard…

(Soundbite of laughter)

WOLFF: (Singing) Gained victory today.

And we did.

STEWART: You just frightened the cat and the neighbors.

WOLFF: Sorry.

STEWART: So why was that such a big deal game?

WOLFF: Oh it wasn't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: You just like to …

WOLFF: Who really cares? I mean, it's Harvard and it's an Ivy League football, but Yale and Harvard, of course, it's a big game. It's The Game according to them. And Yale was undefeated and untied, unblemished, and they hadn't been unblemished in 46 years. So the contest was pretty Ivy - this coveted Ivy League title…

STEWART: All right.

WOLFF: …coveted by very few, but coveted by those. And Harvard spoiled Yale's -not only the Ivy title - but they spoiled Yale's undefeated season. So, you know, it's not too important, but it's always fun to beat Yale.

Congratulate them on their superior undergraduate education, head back to Cambridge and, you know, live it up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: I know the game you've really cared about though truthfully was the Missouri-Kansas game. That was the one that you were on fire about.

WOLFF: Well, Missouri and Kansas are way up there in the rankings. This morning, Kansas is number two in the whole country in the BCS. Missouri is number four, which is like, if Kucinich was two and Gravel was four…

(Soundbite of laughter)

WOLFF: …this never happens. You would never predict this in all your life. And I grew up in St. Louis, and so I am really - actually I care much more for Missouri than for Harvard when it comes to football.

STEWART: Kansas, you mean. Oh Harvard, I guess - I get what you're saying.

WOLFF: Take it easy.

STEWART: Sorry.

WOLFF: Don't ever say that again.

STEWART: Sorry.

WOLFF: Anyway, Missouri is heading to Kansas City this Saturday to play Kansas in a game called the Border War, which first - the Missouri-Kansas rivalry date to about 1850 when some slave owners in Missouri crossed the border into Kansas and shot up some abolitionists and it was on. And now, they just play a football game instead of shooting guns.

Anyway, Missouri had to beat Kansas State in the other Manhattan - Manhattan, Kansas. And Kansas had to beat Iowa State in order to ensure that this would be such a huge game this coming Saturday and it is. Here it comes, Missouri and Kansas, for the first time ever maybe. It's - for the first time since 1850, it's a meaningful game.

STEWART: All right. So I know what you'll be doing next Saturday.

WOLFF: Loving you.

STEWART: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: NASCAR - what happened in NASCAR? I didn't watch it all. I don't even - I can't even prompt you on this. I think I went to bed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WOLFF: Well, NASCAR - the stock car races, you know, it's a season, the big races - even though there are individual races and there's a winner each week, they accumulate points. And at the end of the season, there's a champion like in any other sport. And yesterday was the last race of the NASCAR season and a guy called Jimmie Johnson, who's a very handsome guy…

STEWART: Sure, I know him.

WOLFF: …from California - very slick. He won the championship for the second straight year. So he has sort of emerged as this dominant guy. But what's interesting about it, to me, NASCAR's television ratings, which had been skyrocketing through the 1990s and into the 2000s, have now ebbed a little bit, and so everybody is wondering why is this happening.

And I think it has to do with the fact - and I love NASCAR - that NASCAR has always been a sort of the world's most excellent and achieved, you know, garage guys - grease monkeys. And that was at the peal. It's moonshine - it's roots are in moonshine running.

Well, Jimmie Johnson is like this model handsome Californian without a southern accent. And it has become a little bit sterile as a result. When you - when I used to watch NASCAR, it was a guys named Buddy, Dale, like that, and they talk like they were from North Carolina because they were. And it was kind of a - it was kind of local yokels who reap large.

And now, it's really good-looking guys who are really slick and sell lots of products and stuff. So the most interesting thing to me about the NASCAR deal is that it's kind of been taken away from its roots and become more mainstream, and I'm not sure that's to the benefit of the sport. That's what I'd say about that, Alison.

STEWART: All right, just about a minute, this story caught Robert by surprise that A-Rod…

WOLFF: Yeah.

SMITH: Love it.

STEWART: …sought Warren Buffet's advice in trying to figure out his deal with the Yankees.

SMITH: And he said, invest in Coca-Cola.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WOLFF: He's just like me and you, Robert. He's just a guy with $275 million and Warren Buffet's cell phone number. Yeah, well, the short thing is, Alex Rodriguez had a humongous contract, and he's a brilliant player who is perceived to choke in the clutch. That's the perception.

He's had a rocky run in New York. Personally, even though statistically, he's been brilliant. He opts out of his contract during the World Series in order to become a free agent. The Yankees say, well, if you're going to opt out of your contract, we're not going to be in the bidding. Good luck to you. Good night. So he was going to go try to get $30 million a year, which is…

STEWART: You have 30 seconds.

WOLFF: …which is unprecedented. Over the week, he got cold feet. I think no one wanted to give him 33. He misjudged the market.

STEWART: Yeah.

WOLFF: So over the weekend, he apparently calls Warren Buffets and says, what should I do? And Warren Buffets says, you dummy, what are you doing? The team with the most money is the Yankees. They're the ones that will re-sign you. So call them up, eat some humble pie, get somebody in there to negotiate a piece and then sign with the Yankees.

So he - a friend of Alex Rodriguez is at Goldman Sachs - you know all ballplayers are friends with guys at Goldman Sachs now - called the Yankees and said, can we broker a deal? Hat in hand, back goes A-Rod to the Yankees and the Yankees filled that hat with about $280 million for his humility. It's amazing.

STEWART: But that well form.

Bill Wolff, THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT's Monday morning quarterback. I'll talk to you later. Thank you.

WOLFF: I can't wait. Thanks, guys.

STEWART: Coming up, the authors of "Shooting War," a new graphic novel about a life in the future. Stay with us on the BPP.

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