It’s Always Sunny in Bismarck

The football potentates are on fire (mostly) ripping the Philadelphia Eagles for trading up in the draft presumably to take Carson Wentz.


Wentz is a big, strapping quarterback, 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds. He is also a North Dakota native who played his college football at North Dakota State, a school that plays at what used to be called the Division I-AA level, now the Football Championship Subdivision. That’s where William and Mary and James Madison play, and where Old Dominion used to play till a couple of years ago.

Therein lies the double-edged problem that has the potentates all agitated: North Dakota, and the lower level of competition. The potentates — people in general — fear the unknown. The FBS and North Dakota are frighteningly unknown, on the scale of the FBS and say, South Dakota.

To the average American, I will pontificate that the word Dakota conjures either images of the young actress Dakota Fanning or images of great acres of nothingness. Wilderness. Wild beasts roaming the foothills and whatnot. Cowboys clomping down wooden sidewalks, spurs clacking, toward the saloon for a Sarsaparilla and perhaps a random gunfight.

Nobody has been to North Dakota. Nobody knows anybody from North Dakota. North Dakota may as well be the surface of Mars. Greater Norfolk, or what potentates around here call Hampton Roads (to my constant chagrin) has roughly twice the population of North Dakota, for cryin’ out loud.

Now, North Dakota State happens to play incredible football – at the FBS level. The Bison have won five consecutive FBS national titles. That is a record. No college football team at any level had ever won five in a row.

Wentz led the last two championship runs. Then he went to the NFL Scouting Combine and, according to a league executive quoted on, “really blew us away when we met him. Talent is a big component, but these guys have to have intangibles if they are going to lead franchises and he’s got them. I don’t care where he played, he understands the game and it isn’t too big for him.”

Patience is always preached for rookie quarterbacks. But the idea of asking Iggles fans for patience on top of asking them not to fear the dark and to have faith in a front office that’s gone through huge recent upheaval is frying a lot of circuits in what they used to call the Greater Delaware Valley, where pro football buoys everybody’s miserable existence.

Me, I am going to lean to the under-populated (like North Dakota) opinion that Wentz (presumably the Iggles’ pick) will make sense for the Birds. And that potentates I came to trust over my sports-chronicling years, who rave about Wentz, are right to not let Dakota-phobia influence what their eyes and professional intuition have told them.

I shall not fear from whence the QB comes.







Splashed. Crashed. Crushed.

Photo by Associated Press

It seems like I was just here, lamenting a heart-rending loss by Virginia’s basketball team in the regional final of the NCAA tournament. A step from the Final Four, about 10 minutes of game time away, actually, the Cavaliers, known for closing big leads under coach Tony Bennett, for once could not make a big halftime edge stand up.

Jordan Spieth knows the feeling, on top of the surreal shock that tore into his chest Sunday in the final round of the Masters.

With nine holes to play, Spieth led the Masters, dominant in his defense of his 2015 championship, by five strokes. Like a machine, he had just made four birdies in a row. Standing on the 10th tee, Spieth appeared unapproachable, his lead insurmountable.

A half-hour later — more specifically, a bogey-bogey-quadruple bogey later — Spieth was behind England’s Danny Willett, destined to rally but never to catch up.

Cracks had appeared lately in Spieth’s veneer, but he had been great at patching them on the fly. He is unflinchingly honest, and he even spoke recently of coming to the practice range before a tournament’s final round unable to control the slice emanating from his swing. What? How can a top-five player suffer that kind of hacker confusion?

Who knows? All we know is it seemed as though Spieth was over his swing vexation, and then he wasn’t. It went so bad at No. 12, a par-3 over a creek. You’ve seen it; Spieth flared his tee ball high to the right, and it hit the bank and shot back into the water. Stunned, Spieth then took little time with his penalty drop and — distracted and who can blame him? — he absolutely duffed his next shot back into the creek.

Another drop, and a fifth shot over the green into a bunker. Up and down for a 7. Despite two birdies from there, it was game and quest for a second green jacket over.

That was the injury. The insult came next when Spieth had to proceed directly from the course to Butler Cabin, per Masters tradition, to slip a new green jacket across the shoulders of Danny Willett. Somehow, he sat there and listened to Willett’s winning interview with grace. He looked like a hostage, as a friend quipped to me today, but he sat and listened and congratulated Willett and then answered media questions about his unlikely, practically unbelievable, collapse so near the mountaintop.

Here is a link to that interview. Peruse it and decide if you could comport with such class at 22, with your world freshly crashed all around you on global television. It is among the reasons Jordan Spieth is s0 liked, respected and admired by golfers and golf fans.

This will pass, and he will return, and he will be back on the biggest stages poised to win again. But like U.Va.’s basketball team, scarred at the heart, Spieth’s ache will beat and pulse and inspire him, from here to whatever comes next, to whatever will be.



Champion Dinner at Augusta National Golf Club on Tuesday, April 5, 2016.
Champion Dinner at Augusta National Golf Club on Tuesday, April 5, 2016.


I don’t know. Call me sappy or caught up in the Masters week hype and history. That’s OK. I still love seeing this photo every year from the Masters champions’ dinner.

How cool it has to be for these guys to be immortalized like this.

Most are grizzled and aging and have been through everything in pro golf. But I’d be surprised if every single one of them — oldest to the youngest, Jordan Spieth, front and center — didn’t get goose bumps every single time they stood or sat for this photo.

Enjoy the Masters. I know I will.