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A Closer Game in Tampa

So long, Broncos. Welcome back, baseball.

By 2.4.14

UPI
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Sunday’s less than suspenseful head-knocker in New Jersey was not the only shot at a competitive ball game in my weekend. Good thing.

Save for members of that raucous and coffee-stained chorus wearing #12, Sunday’s bowl game was considerably less than super. From the Keystone Kops opening snap to the not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper fourth quarter ending, the favored Broncos were never in the game — not in any quarter of the game, not in any phase of the game. The technical term for the XLVII result is butt-whuppin.’ Sunday the Broncos were the armadillo. The Seahawks were the steel-belted radial. It’s a good thing Bronco players brought their dental records with them. These were of great help in post-game identification of remains and notification of next of kin.

The Seahawks have announced that they’re in town, and no one who watched Sunday’s game can be in doubt of that. The Broncos team that the Seahawks made look like amateurs was hardly a band of cream-puffs. And based on the average age of this dominating Seahawks team, we may be watching Wilson & Associates in the playoffs for years to come. They’re young. They’re good. And they’re going to be back next year. If the game wasn’t competitive, it surely told fans something worth knowing about an NFL team.

The Seahawks ran around, over, and through the Broncos for 60 minutes. Old Master Peyton Manning looked like the second-year man and Russell Wilson the savvy veteran. In the Broncos/Patriots game (barely two weeks gone but which for Broncos’ fans seems oh so long ago now) Manning was as lonely as the Maytag repair man in the pocket, and with time on his hands was able to hit his receivers almost at will. In Sunday’s laugher, Seahawk defenders were blowing their nasty breath in Peyton’s face all game. When he got to the pocket, to the extent one ever formed, there were white jerseys waiting for him there with malicious intent.

Even when Manning had time to throw, the Seahawk secondary covered Bronco pass receivers like the dew covers Dixie. So there was rarely any place for him to throw. If yesterday’s game were a fight, the ref would have awarded Seattle a TKO after Percy Harvin’s 87-yard touchdown run on the second half kick-off. But football games are 60 minutes long and all of those minutes must be endured, even if one team doesn’t show up. By the fourth quarter there was nothing for sensitive fans to do but avert their eyes while the thing was put through to its sorry but merciful end.

Young Wilson, on whom the rap was he was too short to be an NFL quarterback, was a giant Sunday, making good decisions, passing accurately, running for gains when he had to. He had remarkably little trouble, Sunday and throughout the season, seeing over his own linemen, finding passing lanes, and hitting his targets.

On the other side of the field we can’t help wondering what Peyton’s future will be. After Sunday’s comprehensive infarct, it would be difficult for Manning, or any other mortal, to come back for another year, knowing that not even the greatest of MVP seasons is any guarantee against being embarrassed again in The Big One. On the other hand, how could Manning choose to end a truly great career on such a sour note? I guess he’ll let us know in due course. It will take a bit of time to put this one into perspective.

And while we’re wondering, speculate on this. Suppose instead of cashiering the mobile Tim Tebow when they acquired the accurate but nearly stationary Manning, the Bronco’s had kept Tebow for those times when the pocket game wasn’t working. It might have been interesting to watch Tebow rolling out and either running himself or throwing on the run. The Seahawks may have shut him down as well. But who knows.

Sunday’s gridiron carnage makes me all the more glad that I was on hand Saturday to watch the University of Tampa Spartans beat the Bentley University Falcons 2-1 in these two schools’ baseball opener. As Ernie Banks would say, it was a great day to play baseball. But then the ever-sunny Banks would say that, even if it were snowing, or raining toads and locusts. I have to admit being somewhat of this persuasion. (“It’s just a shower — it will pass,” I’ve been known to plead in the face of a game-time, kick-butt deluge.) But Saturday in Tampa truly was a great day — sunny with temps in the upper seventies. This followed three days of on and off rain here, so two thumbs up for the UT grounds crew for getting the field in good shape for play.

About 200 souls gathered at the unimaginatively-named University of Tampa Baseball Field Saturday, fewer by a smidge than the congregation that turned up for services in East Rutherford Sunday evening. They enjoyed themselves, and a closer game than was expected. UT is a baseball powerhouse, having won six Division II national championships, including three in the last six years. Yesterday’s win makes them 7-1 against Bentley over the years, but the Falcons made it interesting, getting a runner to third in the last three innings, thereby threatening to push things into OT.

College baseball these days is pretty good, save for the sound of those #$%@ aluminum bats. But Bentley plays in a northern conference that uses wooden bats, and UT was accommodating by doing the same Saturday. So the baseball aesthetics were right, including the crack rather than the clang of the bat. There were some fine plays, and, defense stipulates, a few laughers. The Bentley catcher overthrew second so badly on an attempted steal that one wag was moved to observe, “Well, he stopped him from stealing center field.” But I didn’t mind. It isn’t often you get to see a center-fielder signaling for a fair catch.

Even with knee-slappers like this throw, it was great to see the Grand Old Game back. UT baseball is always the first I see every year. Saturday’s game was the first payment on the promise of yet another sure-to-be glorious spring and summer (and about half of fall, I guess we must add, now that the baseball season extends to and sometimes beyond Halloween).

This may be an election year when red-blooded Americanos will be assaulted from all points by the mendacity, stupidity, irrelevance, and general incoherence of candidates. But the land will also reverberate with, “Play ball!” So we will surely endure. We may even prevail.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.