A brief history of the Nam Le Curse

This post is dedicated to tracking all the wrong predictions I have made this year, which is now at hilariously sad levels. No, I’m not sure why I suddenly don’t know anything now, and I’ll be periodically updating this post as we go along.

1/1/2014 –

Nothing else needed.

1/4/2014 –
Other unlucky victims to start 2014: Alabama, Ohio State, Baylor. (Oklahoma State didn’t make the BCS, but I picked them too, and they…you guessed it, lost.)

1/4/2014 –

I decide to make some selections for the NFL playoffs, and fare no better. At this point, followers are beginning to notice the trend.

1/13/2014 –

Inspired by Breaking Madden, I chose not to count out Touchdown Tom. Thanks a lot, Jon Bois.

1/15/2014 –

THE CHARGERS LOOKED LIKE THEY COULDA PULLED THE UPSET OKAY

2/19/2014 –

Thought Cal basketball might continue winning after I attended the Arizona victory. They did not.

2/20/2014 –

Two minutes after this, the US Women’s Hockey team fell victim.

3/18/2014 –

Coming off of years of success in the March Madness brackets — I finished 99th percentile a few years back and regularly hit 80+ — only Florida survived. Georges Niang broke his damn foot.

Final four, I have: Iowa State, Louisville, Florida, SDSU (I may have just accidentally put the Nam Le curse on them sorry @HunterHewitt) — Nam Le (@AGuyNamedNam) March 18, 2014

6/22/2014 –
Portugal scored not more than 4 minutes after this.

7/11/2014 –

This happened an hour before the article about Cleveland came out. Welp.

7/13/2014 –

At least I knew what I was getting into this time.

7/29/2014 –

UCLA’s campus floods due to a busted pipe main, damaging Pauley Pavilion and shutting down a good portion of it overall. Twitter is quick to attribute the damage to my committing back in April.

9/24/2014 –

Sorry, Dodgers. Actually, no. Not sorry.

Capture

10/1/2014 –

I honestly believed that the Giants would not win their playoff game against the Pirates without Pagan. Pittsburgh suffered for my beliefs. I also don’t have the tweet handy, but rooted for Seattle to make it to the playoffs in Game 162, and they did not — they were immediately eliminated by an Oakland victory.

10/7/14

My followers are now well-versed in how this operates, seeing as I am immediately berated for mentioning Ryan Vogelsong’s no-hitter. The subsequent Bryce Harper home run is also blamed on me…although the Giants still manage to pull off the 3-2 win.

10/12/14

Whoops.

10/14/14

They didn’t, and the Giants took a 2-1 series lead on a walkoff bunt.

11/8/14

This came about 35 seconds before the Tigers fumbled a snap, and then the game.

Not to be outdone, the Nam Le Curse would then take LSU, too, later in the afternoon.

Some thoughts heading into the Northwestern game

Though I still don’t think we’ve completely exorcised whatever curses the football gods have sprung on Strawberry Canyon these last couple years, they have at least granted me one gift — another fresh angle for my 3rd annual “pre-season personal thinkpiece”, which I usually use to sort through some feelings on the state of the program before the opening kickoff. As always, enjoy or don’t. 

Ask any resident of Bear Territory about last August 31st, and you’ll discover plenty of lingering resentment at Northwestern’s suspiciously shall we say, convenient 2nd half cramping. Thanks to those dubious shenanigans, to this day, there remains some belief in the fan base — and even on the coaching staff — that last season would have gone quite differently, had we just gotten off on the right foot and found ourselves on the other side of 44-30. Unfortunately for our memories, the record, and the loss will stand, no matter how much outrage may remain.

Reality leaves us only with a rematch at Ryan Field; a 364 day wait made in hopes that revenge is a dish best served Chicago style.

Seeking it, though, will be a Cal team that isn’t quite who we thought they’d be. At least, not yet — a largely unique position, considering the pre-season outlooks of the 2012 and 2013 teams. Unlike those predecessors, there is no expectation of bowl-dom at this juncture, as there was in the last hurrahs of the Tedford/Keenan Allen/Zach Maynard era, nor is there any of the mystery and intrigue that marked Sonny Dykes’ debut in Berkeley.

Despite hopes that there would be a quick Jim Mora-esque turnaround under Coach Dykes, the much harder truth is the one that has set in these last 12 games — that this team isn’t, and won’t be the ones down south; that they remain amid a badly needed, but still ongoing rebuild, even with the abundance of highly rated recruits Jeff Tedford left behind. A flurry of offseason activity now behind them, these 2014 Bears still project as massive underdogs in every matchup this season, topping out at a line of 34 points against USC, and with most projections falling in the 3-4 win range, the fringe lunatics have already begun to call for Sonny Dykes’ head.

Now, there has already been progress in that rebuild. Of course there has been — we are all no doubt aware of the immense turnaround occurring on the APR front, and a new, warmer program culture emphasizing the Cal family, continues to be nursed along with each set of Dykes’ recruits. (Although it’s a small sample size and anecdotal, to be sure, my impression of the freshmen I’ve met or worked with at Summer Bridge in this 2014 class is quite positive on the academic end, especially in comparison to some of the classes I’ve encountered toward the end of the Tedford era, and I’ve been there for four years now.)

On the field, this team returns a year older and a year more tested, many, the beneficiary of game reps they may not have been fully ready to take, but had to anyway, for one reason or another. Jared Goff is the poster child for this, but he’s one of many — throwing guys like Cameron Walker, Hardy Nickerson, and Chris Borrayo into the fire early should begin paying dividends soon enough, as they continue to be molded into the cornerstones for the future.

The only problem is that their refinement — and most of this youthful roster’s, really — remains ongoing, likely still aways from completion, making this the first season in a little while with no realistic expectation of success, no December vacation destination in sight. That is not to say that the coaching staff will roll over willingly for the fall to come, nor the players, either — it is simply to acknowledge that getting within even sniffing distance of, say, El Paso would be considered a great achievement by most.

Yes, these are the times that try the souls of fans, and though I may have written that line before, damn it, I’m writing it again. (Authorial license and such.)

So, that’s the dilemma ahead for me, one I haven’t encountered since I seriously — and literally, at times — began caping up for California. What is the correct way to feel, heading into a year with only expectations of mediocrity at best, and success at least another calendar away?

I’ve never been a drinker before games, even though that violates Commandment 0 of the college football Bible. Anger, the home that many Blue and Gold keyboard warriors have been taking shelter in as of late, is more tiring than it is constructive, and apathy would leave me with too much time on my hands each Saturday…not to mention depriving me of the chance to write for you all.

Those options, time tested by the legions of frustrated before me, are out.

No, I’ve made my peace with the upcoming year another way, finding a tiny, simple, kernal of liberation in the notion of bowlless existence.

I’ll wait through it for now, taking heart in the gains we do make, while trying to hang onto the oft-forgot axiom that progress is not linear. It will spike, slant, and slump, just as often as it soars, let alone doing it at a satisfactory rate — no different than it would be with any of my students. Many of them make clear advances after a summer, a semester, a year with me, but still, certain concepts remain hazy on occasion, essays of theirs inching closer to putting it all together. More likely than not, the team will look the same way in 2014, progressing forward bit by bit, slipping away at others.

And that’s okay.

I’ll wait for now, because I simply love the acts — of teaching, of watching college football, of writing on it — themselves anyway, and while eventual results in both areas are important, reaching them without struggle would make everything feel hollow, unearned. Those Roses, should they ever bloom, would smell much sweeter after growing from our immeasurable frustrations.

Losing forever isn’t tolerable. Neither are consistent, depressingly low expected win totals. That’s not what I mean to imply in writing all this. In the present, though, it has to be — to me, anyway — if we are to give this staff a fair chance to build toward something greater down the line, or allow them to simply be accurately evaluated on their own merits.

And should down the line — or the minimum 8 wins I’m banking on in 2015 — never come, I won’t be afraid to say that I was wrong about everything. I never have been.

There will be time for those determinations, time for that discussion.

This just isn’t it yet. One calendar turn later, maybe.

I just don’t see a point in rushing to judgement one way or another, the most unfortunate byproduct of an era of instancy and an insatiable demand for hot takes. My insistence on patience surely makes a tired refrain in contrast — especially for those who read any of my work, since I always insist on rational, measured reaction, rather than reacting simply for reaction’s sake — but I think that’s what makes it a crucial one to keep in mind.

These are notions of the young, you may say. A fancy of the foolish. That I, like all Old Blues, will have that patience and levelheadedness beat out of me soon enough.

I sure as hell hope not. I wouldn’t want to be any other way.

See you in Evanston. Go Bears.

Some Thoughts on the Niners 2014 Draft Class

They always say judge a draft class three years later, and for good reason. As easy as it is to get excited about all the new players arriving, the truth is that this is just the beginning for them — what lies ahead is even more hard work, adjustment, and maturation, all of which are necessary if they are to make the final 53 man roster, let alone pan out as prospects. Continue reading

Freaky Flashback

Next April, the San Francisco Giants will take the field somewhere, opening the 2014 season against God knows who – maybe the Cardinals, maybe the Dodgers. Given the uncertainty of his contract situation, it is more than fair to admit that Tim Lincecum may not be a part of that Opening Day roster.

But in the 60 some odd games til then, Lincecum remains an vitally part of this one; and on Saturday, he added another highlight to a spectacular – if uneven – career wearing the black and orange, hurling his first career no hitter against a hapless San Diego Padre team.

Carlos Quentin, Chase Headley – it didn’t matter.

Not on this night, when nobody could land even a dribbler against Terrific Tim, who had his entire arsenal working. The curveball and changeups that left his right hand darted wickedly, set up by a well-spotted fastball that was just fast enough. Over the last year and a half, most of Lincecum’s starts had been held back by one thing or another in that group. Batters not biting on the change, heaters not going for strikes, and more often than not, Lincecum would roll up a high pitch count that knocked him out of games early.

Not on this night.

Not on this night.

And though the return of – or continuation, considering he struck out 11 in his last start – his grade-A stuff was responsible for much of his batter baffling, Lincecum still needed a some luck on his side, too. All no-hitters do. Luckily, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval were only too happy to help – the former dove to snatch a fly ball right off the grass in the bottom of the 8th, and the latter, weight challenged as he might be, managed a strong throw after reaching backhand for a grounder, throwing out Jesus Guzman.

It was the Freak in rare form, too rarely seen post 2011.

With Lincecum throwing as well as he was, Bruce Bochy said afterwards that he never had a thought of removing his #3 starter, and, true to his word, left him in to throw an astounding 147 pitches. The All-Star Break should mitigate some of the aftereffects of that decision, but there is some legitimate room for worry. In recent years, Johan Santana and Edwin Jackson have both gone above recommended pitch limits to chase history, and in doing so, experienced sharp dropoffs the rest of the season. Certainly, Lincecum is neither Santana nor Jackson and has never seriously been injured at all, but he is not among good company in this case.

If anything, Lincecum’s health is even more crucial than usual, at a time when the Giants are fighting to remain in playoff contention. Short on capable starters of any kind, the San Francisco simply cannot afford any other pitching injuries, and Bochy risked a future one by letting Lincecum go as long as he did – even if the desired result was achieved. Madison Bumgarner has been stellar as staff ace this year, but support behind him has been iffy at best – and any successful run to the playoffs will depend on the emergence of a second starter capable of following after. With his quiet resurgence this month, it is clear that Lincecum stands the best chance of being that starter, and the Giants should be hopeful that the 147 pitches he threw Saturday has done nothing to change that.

All in all, it was only the latest chapter in Curious Case of Tim Lincecum, a tale as familiar to Giants fans by now as it is unique. No one in the history of baseball has ever accomplished what Lincecum did his first two years, in winning two Cy Young awards, but few have ever flamed out as spectacularly as he did in 2012, either. The twists and turns of his story have been fascinating, really – its highs had us gleefully celebrating his Hall of Fame potential, its lows, incredibly frustrating. Still, you would be hardpressed to find anyone in the Bay Area who stopped rooting for the hero of this tale. Even with his struggles last year, the cheers for his playoff relief appearances were the loudest ones at AT&T Park.

And as for the next chapter? Well, that is still to come, but the plot has certainly begun to thicken. Coming into the season, it would have been a near certainty that Lincecum would not return, but suddenly, the first few months of 2013 have cracked that door open a tad. Ryan Vogelsong looks done as a major league contributor. Brian Sabean will finally – finally – get Zito off the books this offseason. But between those two and Lincecum’s upcoming free agency, the Giants would have to fill as many as three open rotation spots, with few internal or immediate replacements available. For that reason, re-signing Lincecum remains a serious option – and though I’ve been a long-time advocate of letting Timmy walk in order to spend the 22 millions in savings elsewhere, even I would admit that it has to be considered, at the right price. Helping all of this is the fact that he has never outwardly expressed any desire to leave the Bay Area, where he remains the first or second most popular player on the team. 

That would certainly be the happiest possible ending, although nobody really knows what to expect from Timmy. Mystery and uncertainty has surrounded his entire career, and mystery remains after this spectacular performance against San Diego [still only his second greatest pitching performance, by the way]. We are months away from clearing up any of it.

If this year is the last of Lincecum in San Francisco, though, then the two titles he helped bring home have already cemented him as a legend, ensuring that he will never have to pay for a drink in the Bay Area again. Saturday was just a bonus, a glimpse into what he once was, and proof of what he could still be – another delightful moment in an already delightful story.

Some Long Thoughts on Sonny Dykes and Academics.

This is kind of long, but I think – and hope – that it’ll head somewhere. Bear with me.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that I write about Cal football at a couple different places, working as a reporter and eye on the scene for one, and contributing whatever I can – recruit analysis, opinions, breaking news – for the other. I’ve been very fortunate to do so, mostly because between them, BI and CGB have allowed me to regularly cover the team and program I’ve loved since childhood.

But that same love – word up to Macklemore, I guess – makes writing complicated, at times, becoming another thing to juggle in between taps at my keyboard. Still, I do my best to keep the Yale Blue shades off when I work, and remain level-headed and unemotional in my actual writing, regardless of whatever it is. [1]

Now, with all that being said, allow me, if you will, to put them back on, and write strictly as a fan, over the next…however many words it takes me to finish this. Of course, what I’m about to say will shock very few people, but with a portion of the fanbase already beginning to sour on Sonny before he has even coached a game, I do want to say again…

I believe in Coach Dykes. Continue reading

On: Jason Collins

It is rare, but there are things in life that supersede even the oldest and most passionate of college rivalries.

Jason Collins’ coming out announcement is one of them – and Stanford degree be damned, he deserves the respect and applause of every Golden Bear for it, new and old. He certainly has mine.

I’ve written in the past about gay athletes in sports, but in writing those columns, I always expected that the thing we were all waiting for – an actually open, active player – was still another few years away, that the atmosphere was surely changing, but not yet where it needed to be. Continue reading