Every year at this time, the sports world bears witness to extraordinary drama, heartbreak, controversy, exultation, and triumph playing out right in front of us.

Oh, sure it happens to the 64 teams in the NCAA Tournament (we all know play-in games don't count), but I'm talking about the millions of amateur bracketologists who experience the highs and lows in a tournament office pool.

This annual rite of early spring makes what happens on the court look like an elementary school bake sale. Here now, for the first time, that action is captured (the office pool, not the bake sale) in all of its gut-wrenching, superstitious, frustrating, devastating, and altogether stressful glory during the most intense 19 days in sports.

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While decorating my Christmas tree cookie with the colors of my favorite team as I enjoyed an egg-white nog (I'm watching my cholesterol), I was all agog to look back upon the year that was. I reviewed it, rehashed it, then I autotuned it. It sang to me! Such a dynamic compilation of excitement, athleticism, achievement, disappointment, miraculous turnarounds, scapegoats, workhorses, upstart wolverines, underdogs, overdogs, high-on-the-hogs, buzzer beaters, heave hos, dump offs, check downs, stare downs, head butts and butt heads has rarely been seen before.

And for that, the holidays are a chance to reward the well-deserving. Now, Santa's been in beast mode this past year so that he can fit down the chimney, employing a strict regimen of barre cardio, CrossFit, and intermittent juice cleansing. He's lowered his 40 time to 21.2 seconds and has been boasting to his reindeer that this year, he’s going to pull the sleigh.

And his sleigh is now streaking down the sideline, narrowing avoiding Coach Tomlin, for its end zone, the lockers and clubhouse cubicles of those in the sports world who have made his list from their escapades in 2013.

Here’s what each will be receiving as visions of championships dance in their heads whilst they sleep:

Michigan -- It was to be one gift, but then it was decided they would receive two. However, the exchange failed, so they get nothing.

Jason Kidd -- One of those helmets he can put soda cans in and sip from.

Terrell Suggs -- No one talks more about Tom Brady than him so he gets a Tom Brady doll. Enjoy playing with your doll, big fella!

Mike Shanahan -- A chance to take up a hobby. . . on his extended vacation.

Mack Brown -- A chance to make his own news before it’s announced for him.

San Francisco 49ers -- That pass interference call in the end zone they deserved.

Houston Texans -- A snow globe with their 2012 team in it to remind them what it was like to win a game.

Washington Redskins -- A name change. . . to the DC Redskins, so the confused among us don’t travel to the Pacific Northwest to see them play.

Alabama -- A field-goal kicker.

Rick Pitino -- Even Santa can’t give him back the respect and admiration of the city of Boston. So all he gets is that NCAA championship.

Boston Red Sox -- E World Series victory!.... on a Thursday... during a full moon... with unseasonably high autumn temperatures. Seriously, it’s been far too long! Haven’t they suffered enough?

Torii Hunter -- A higher fence.

Robinson Cano -- Some peace and quiet and an October off.

John Sterling -- A nickname coach to help him come up with new ones.

Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees -- Peace, love, and a mutually damaging relationship.

Joe Torre -- The title of "baseball commissioner."

Los Angeles Lakers -- A Groupon for a free head examination. They know why.

NBA - A new commissioner ... finally! (And then if they’re good and no longer naughty, perhaps they'll receive an increase in audience next year.)

Matt Flynn -- A team where he can actually play -- oh, wait, Rodgers is coming back? Never mind.

Mike Tomlin -- A dog collar that shocks him whenever he get too close to the sideline.

Peyton Manning -- The chance to lose the single-season touchdown mark to Tom Brady again.

Mariano Rivera -- A lifetime of memories from the 2001 World Series to the 2004 ALCS to the... Heh heh. Just playing with him... A well-deserved spot in Cooperstown.

Jerry Jones -- A new head coach ... and maybe a couple of new coordinators ... probably just best to get him a new general manager too ... and owner as well.

New England Patriots -- a discount on their medical bills.

Los Angeles Angels -- some bang for their buck.

Rory McIlroy -- a return to success or at least mediocrity.

Richie Incognito -- a more fitting name or some tact.

USC Athletic Director Pat Haden -- a better sense of timing.

Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants fans -- a group time out.

San Antonio Spurs -- one more defensive stand.

Aaron Hernandez -- soap on a rope. He’ll need it.

Brooklyn Nets -- something to prop up that two-year window.

And as Santa finishes carbo-loading with cookies left out for him, he can be heard yelling behind him, "Merry Christmas to all, and to Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, a good fight!"

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There's the unmistakable buzz in the air, like the droning of a stadium filled with rabid fans when the ball is placed upon the tee building to the inevitable crescendo at the opening kickoff. Such a metaphor specific to the sport of football as a whole can also be used to describe the commencement of another season in the NFL, its 94th.

In my impatience to get to that opening kickoff, this summer I read Lew Freedman's Clouds Over The Goalpost: Gambling, Assassination, & the NFL in 1963. It represents a sort of time machine, transporting us back to when the league experienced growing pains and whose allure to the public was threatened on all sides.

And as much as has transpired in the past 50 years as the league has blossomed since that adolescent phase, it's fascinating to see the similarities to that game and today's, both stylistically and culturally.

Even with 40-plus years of fermentation behind it, the NFL in 1963 was still nowhere near the juggernaut we see today. In fact, the truth is, it was well behind horse racing, boxing, the college version on the gridiron, and, of course, baseball, the national pastime, in terms of popularity.

The title of the book refers to the scandals and national tragedy a league, run by a young commissioner, had to endure to keep on track with a vision of prosperity.

The league in 1963 was in a time of transition. Pete Rozelle had only been on the job a few years and was out to protect the league's image while taking advantage of the newer medium of television and its ability to reach the masses. And he was to find himself up against a blitzing defense on fourth-and-20 every step of the way.

It was supposed to be a great season, where rivalries were hot and the games were fierce. The Green Bay Packers were two-time defending champions, led by a man who, one day, would have a championship trophy named after him, fielding players named "Ringo" and "Starr" at a time when there was a band across the pond doing the same. Their hated rivals, the Chicago Bears, similarly led by a legend, George Halas, who in September of that year, was among the inaugural class in Canton, were out to dethrone them.

Yet the champs were about to lose their best running back from their league-best offense to a charge of gambling -- running back Paul Hornung. Along with Detroit All-Pro defensive lineman Alex Karras (he of "Mongo only pawn in game of life" fame), they were suspended by the commissioner for the full season. Most players (even those relieved to see these two stars sitting on the sidelines) were repulsed by the commissioner's brazen decree. (And you thought Goodell was in a league of his own.)

As if that wasn't enough, another star, defensive tackle Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb, a behemoth of a man, was found dead less than a month later, of a heroin overdose, the needle still stuck in his right arm. The official report said a self-inflicted overdose, an impressive feat for a right-handed person that was afraid of needles.

Regardless, it ran counter to what Rozelle was trying to showcase to America in his attempt to increase ratings.

Add to that, an upstart new set of professional teams, the American Football League, was challenging for supremacy with a more fast-paced, wide-open passing game and stars named George Blanda, Jack Kemp, Geno Capelletti, Cookie Gilchrist, and Lance Alworth, a.k.a. "Bambi."

The old school NFL, meanwhile, was confident in its grind-it-out, smash-mouth style (a discrepancy still seen between many NFC and AFC teams to this day) yet still worried about their standing.

Eligible players could be drafted by both leagues. Essentially, they were free agents to be courted by either side. The NFL would babysit these picks, keeping them well-guarded in hotel rooms, in an effort to prevent contact with the enemy and the rival league's recruitment tactics.

Plus, they would bad mouth the AFL, degrading them to recruits while the newbies would speak only of their attributes, the positivity being a selling point to many rookies.

The AFL had their troubles too, of course, where the defending-champion Dallas Texans decided to relocate due to low attendance numbers, opening the season defending their crown in Kansas City as the Chiefs. The Titans changed their name to the Jets, and the Chargers were still in Los Angeles before leaving for San Diego. (Gee, Los Angeles lost a football team. Shocker.)

Then, with internal affairs and external competition providing resistance to growth, the most devastating news of all hit, reminding a nation that football was merely a game -- Friday, Nov. 22 and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Rozelle decided to play the games two days later, earning him much criticism. (Imagine Roger Goodell doing that today with 24-hour news stations and approximately 420,000 talking heads with opinions. He could only hope that Miley Cyrus does something at the same time to divert our attention.)

A few years later, the league would form a merger, as the old adage goes, "If you can't beat them, add them to your schedule and play one division in the other conference on a rotating basis." But in 1963, there was a lot of insecurity, and uneasiness about the league's future.

Clouds Over the Goalpost is an anniversary present to the fan, a snapshot providing a chance to see where it was and how far it's come, but also to see that the league has always faced and still faces challenges -- from concussions to PEDs, personal conduct issues, finding a team for Tim Tebow, etc.

There's no guessing where it's going, but one thing's for sure -- the NFL, now the most popular sport in America, is in a far better place as it has aged like a fine wine, captivating us with every sip, and promises to continue for the foreseeable future.

And now, put the ball on the tee and let the games begin!

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Dear Coachless Football Teams,

I understand your frustration in hiring a new coach to run your on-field product. The top college coaches aren't interested and you have trepidation about some of those who have done it before, the Ken Whisenhunts, and the Lovie Smiths, and the Lovey Howells of the world. Hence, I'd like to take this opportunity to throw my hat into the ring.

Hey, Norv Turner remained the head coach of the San Diego Chargers for six years! You really have nothing to lose in calling me in. Tell you what, I'll even pay for the lunch we have together. You like Thai food?

I know what you're thinking: I don't have any experience. True, but what I lack in experience, I make up for with snappy answers at my press conferences.

As for qualifications, where do I begin? I am a former Monday morning quarterback, with more than 30 years of experience chastising coaches for moves that, with the benefit of hindsight, seem incredibly stupid. I have a very good record of pointing out what should have been done after the fact.

I am a badass, but a player's coach. To wit, I run my practices like a drill sergeant, but allow my players who display exceptional effort on the practice field to earn coupons for “one free back rub and tub soak."

Each day, I am the first one to arrive and the last one to leave the facility. (Though I do require an eight-hour lunch/siesta in the middle of the day. Genius needs its rest.)

And I demand that my players will have the best endurance in the league. I'm like Michael Douglas in "Miracle." (Or was it Kurt Russell? Y'know, I shouldn't get them confused, but I do.) I don't run two-a-days, I run three-a-days. And every practice is in pads. In fact, I require my players to wear pads 24-7, even on off days. They can only take them off when they shower.

From a strategy point-of-view, I can tell you that a prevent defense doesn't prevent anything. So I won't use it. A prevent offense, however, I use almost exclusively when in the red zone. It helps to reduce turnovers close to the goal line which always sap a team of much needed momentum.

In this formation, when the ball is snapped and the offensive line drives the defense into the end zone, the quarterback hands the ball off to the running back who then scampers all the way down to the other end of the field wasting valuable time the defense would otherwise have to get the ball back and tie the game after we punched it into the end zone. I got the idea from a recent rousing game of "keep away."

Defensively, I am just as adept at confusing the opposing team. Cover-2? Yeah, too weak. I use the cover-11 and drop everyone into coverage.

I don't carry a punter. The game has four downs and I like to use them all. Punters just take up a roster spot. So I usually carry a fourth quarterback. Tim Tebow will not be one of those four quarterbacks. I see him more as a down lineman type in my scheme.

"Game management" is my middle name. When the ball is in our quarterback's hands with a minute thirty or less, that's when we're at our best. We play the entire game as if that were the case. The hurry-up offense has never been as fast. The second the center gets to the ball, he's told to snap it backwards, whether the quarterback is ready or not.

Sometimes I put all four quarterbacks on the field at the same time and get the defense to try to guess who's going to get the snap.

I'm versed in the pistol, shotgun, run-and-shoot, hit-and-run, pick-and-roll, the wildcat. I also have perfected formations known as the musket, laser, Shangri la, and the Mississippi midnight mosey. (The last one is a dance step, but I have a feeling I could integrate it into the offense seamlessly.)

I'm known for the sheer volume of times I employ the on-sides kickoff. It softens the receiving team up until they don't expect a long kickoff.

The types of players I am most fond of are tall and lanky wide receivers, that run a 9.0 80-yard dash or faster. (I don't believe that a 40-yard dash can adequately gauge a person's speed and I believe that running them 100 yards is useless as there's no purpose for that type of distance in American football.) Someone like former NBA star, at a height of 7-6 Shawn Bradley would be ideal for my pass plays.

My cornerbacks need to have loose hips and tight necks. So they can only stare at what's directly in front of them but can constantly change that point of view.

Did I mention I am a tireless workaholic? I watch film constantly. For instance, I just finished “Argo." It was breathtaking. I'm considering running a few plays like that.

I even write my own cheers for the cheerleaders. "One-two-three-four, we're not gonna pass no more." It's actually my way to call the play to our quarterback. (The one flaw is that if the other team realizes it's not a real cheer, we're in trouble.)

I grow my mustache like Andy Reid, spit when I talk like Bill Cowher, wear a fedora like Tom Landry, a sweater like Mike Ditka, and a hoodie like Bill Belichick, all at the same time. My nickname is, in fact, "Bum." According to ancestry.com, I am 1/128th Harbaugh.

On a side note, I am an amateur horticulturalist. What do I grow? I grow Bill Parcells Coaching Trees in my greenhouse.

"Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," was Coach Vince Lombardi, the man for whom football's ultimate trophy is named. "Winning is something that isn't nothing" is mine. I live it, I breathe it, I want it etched on my tombstone.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm good with soundbytes too. "If we score more points than the other team, we will win the game." "I can't have a bunch of guys peeing themselves in the middle of a playoff game." "Exhibitions are for museums!" Those were all gems I've uttered at one time or another.

I mentioned the press conferences earlier. They'll become must-see television. Great fodder for the media and we all know the fans love an engaging coach as much as they love a winning team. Look at Jacksonville, there can't be any other reason to continue watching them.

And not to step on the toes of the marketing department, but I have just four words to throw out to you -- "Fans Suit Up Day."

So, in conclusion, when you're trying to decide on a has-been using techniques that retired when Slingin' Sammy Baugh did, consider that the game is changing. It's about staying one step ahead of the curve. Getting the other head coach to lose focus for just one second as he drops his clipboard in stunned disbelief to say, "What the --?!" as my offensive line goes into a choreographed riverdance as a new twist on the fumblerooski.

My hire will generate interest, much more than any one of a slew of standard-issue coordinators-cum-head coaches, and that's what you need. We may even win a game or two. Well, as long as Cleveland is on the schedule.

If this opportunity should not pan out, I would also consider a job in concessions where I have several years of experience. The hot dogs have to be kept at a minimum of 125 degrees, otherwise, they will turn green. That doesn't make them taste bad, per se, just different.

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NFL

As we engage in a season of cold weather tailgating, roasting one Mr. Chesterfield J. Nutz over the open fire, along with brats, dogs, and wurst -- and is there anything wurst than the New York Jets' offensive ineptitude? -- we barrel toward the beloved festival known as capitalism's greatest trium -- er, Christmas!

It's that time when temperatures are low and Dwight Howard's free throw percentage is even lower, when Santa does a check down on his list, perhaps calling an audible for those last-minute developments mussing up his BCS (Big Claus Shopfest). (Santa has the sports package on his dish so he's in the know at the North Pole.)

From the usual historic moments to record-setting performances to unnaturally enhanced performances to memorable blunders and self-inflicted goofs that have left us entertained, offended, perturbed and beholden to our idiosyncratic whims, it's certainly been a year for the fan.

Thus, it is an unenviable task he has this year as the world of sports was once again flush with compelling storylines, dynamic heroes and reviled villains. Though even the vilified might receive a gift as Santa believes it is better to give than to lead the league in receiving yards.

And decked out in crimson, this Saint Nick, not to be confused with Nick Saban, will soon take to the skies to deliver to all that which was earned in the year that was. On board his sleigh this year, he has stocked these items for the following people:

"Clipper Darrell" Your rightful place back in the Staples Center to see LA's best professional hoops team.

Jeremy Lin: A TexMex-flavored reboot of Linsanity.

Jonathan Vilma: A better excuse.

Saints Bountygate: Helmet-to-helmet contact.

Jeremy Shockey: A tight end relocation program in case he was the one that ratted out the Bountygaters.

Curt Schilling: A redo in the gaming world.

Austin Collie: A desk job. It's safer.

Albert Pujols: A better start.

Junior Seau: A solid legacy and some inner peace.

Magic Johnson: All the batting practice he wants.

Los Angeles Dodgers: A thank you note from the Boston Red Sox.

Andy Reid: A fresh start.

Alex Smith: A starting job somewhere as he'd probably make a pretty decent starting quarterback.

Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel: A better year, in every conceivable way.

San Diego Chargers fans: Whoever the opposite of Norv Turner is as their next head coach.

Cole Hamels: A five-game suspension where he actually misses five starts.

Andy Pettitte: Ginkgo biloba so his memory comes back to him.

Ozzie Guillen: A job coaching Fidel's national team.

Derek Jeter: A Groupon for Jenny Craig.

Tiger Woods: A meeting with the old Tiger Woods. Maybe he can learn something about winning.

Timothy Bradley: A win in a match he clearly gets outboxed. (He got that gift early.)

The Replacement Referees: The knowledge that their horrendous pass interference calls live on.

NBA: A new slogan: "NBA Action - It's broken and we fix it."

NFL: A change to the rules stating that if you throw a challenge flag on a play that was going to be reviewed anyway, you will be not be penalized and it will still be reviewed.

Penn State University: A lot of mouthwash to wash that taste out of your mouth.

Olympic Spoiler Alerts: You'll get your gift in five hours.

Augusta's Women: Women's restrooms.

Lance Armstrong: A lifetime supply of "Livestrong" bracelets with the "v" etched out, which feels more accurate.

The eighth-place finisher in the past dozen Tour de France races: A medal. Gotta figure he was the top clean finisher.

LeBron James: A new monkey for his back.

Stephen Strasburg: Another 40 innings.

Detroit Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont: A stop sign.

Tim Tebow: Anything he wants... er, well, except a starting job, of course.

New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions: The extra win they deserve.

San Diego Chargers: Oh, what the heck, you can get another win as well since you probably only gave up 28 yards on 4th and 29. Of course, you realize how inept you were for letting it even be that close.

Shortstop Yunel Escobar: Eye black with the Spanish slur for Yunel Escobar written on it.

A-Rod: A cushion football fans use when sitting on the bench.

Shaun White: A lifetime ban from hotels.

Chipper Jones: A peaceful retirement where he can go back to his given name -- Andruw.

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Adam Greenberg: At least one more big league at-bat, this one against someone other than the knuckleballing Cy Young Award winner.

Melky Cabrera: A better excuse.

Derek Fisher: A new line of work now that flopping has been outlawed.

Mike Brown: The "death stare penalty" sentenced to Kobe Bryant in response to Kobe's "death stare" at his former head coach.

Kobe Bryant: A huge party where the other guests are NBA players and coaches he's publicly called out and ridiculed over the years. There will be clowns and a caricature artist and a piñata. (Three guesses who the piñata will be.)

Pablo Sandoval: Kung Fu MVPanda.

Felix Baumgartner: A souvenir photo of his death-defying jump, like one of those snapped on a roller coaster.

Miguel Cabrera: Three crowns.

Mike Trout: An MVP to go with his ROY.

New York City Marathon: Another chance to run the 2012 marathon in 2013.

Johnny "Football" Manziel: Three more years to play like a freshman.

New Orleans Pelicans: Nothing. This was just an attempt to get used to their name ... Nope. Can't get used to it.

Dwyane Wade and Ndomukong Suh: Soap.

Dale Sveum: A bright orange jumpsuit so Robin Yount recognizes him from the birds.

Justin Verlander: A win in an important game.

Andrew Luck:Well, he certainly doesn't need any luck so he gets just a little more seasoning.

Peyton Manning: Another Super Bowl win to put a little space between the number of titles he has and the number his brother Cooper has.

Tom Brady: Another Super Bowl win to solidify his place in history.

Jon Gruden: A coaching job so that he may bring his energy and enthusiasm out of the broadcast booth and into the locker room.

David Stern: A time machine to bring him to 2014 so that he can retire already allowing the NBA the chance to regain the legitimacy and dignity it lost spectacularly under his tenure. Heck, he can go as far into the future as he wants.

NHL: A year off. You've earned it after going so hard these last seven years.

Bud Selig: A title that has eluded him his whole career: "Best Commissioner."

Miami Marlins: A new stadium so you can start drawing fans.

And lastly, Bobby Valentine: Another job with a major league team, preferably one that requires him to repeat the words, "Peanuts here!" over and over again, something he may be able to handle without embarrassing himself. The operative word is may.

And after his task has been completed, Santa will then disappear along the horizon, these words echoing soundly behind him, "Merry Christmas to all and to all a fair fight," preferably one finally between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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By now, you've all heard the classic George Carlin routine about baseball and football. If you haven't, you haven't yet found the Internet and are not reading this now. Here's a snippet, just to get you in the mood:

"Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game. Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle."

"Baseball begins in the spring, the season of life. Football begins in the fall, when everything's dying."

He describes how one is a fun, childlike game, and one is comparable to a war. There is one other difference that has manifested itself more since the great comedian's passing -- more people tune in for football.

Yes, even with its hiccups, football wins the ratings war (defeating handily such cinematic brilliance as "Honey Boo Boo"). It is huge in the fantasy divisions, a juggernaut in merchandising, and is generally referred to as the most popular sport in America.

BUT, and make no mistake about this, baseball is still America's pastime.

This may be due to the literal definition of the word. A pastime is something you do more passively. And there's little more passive than sitting for three hours watching a baseball game. (Well, there's fishing, but that's significantly less attended than all but a Miami Marlins game. There's irony in that statement.)

Football is active and engaging. So the term pastime seems out of place.

We still have a joy in our hearts for the sport of baseball. It's an enduring classic. Attending a charity event recently for the Harold Pump Foundation, baseball legend Steve Garvey channeled his inner James Earl Jones (Terence Mann from "Field of Dreams") when, describing the allure of his sport, he told me, "The one thing that's been constant over the years with wars and famines, inflations and recessions, baseball's always been there and that's why we love it."

Former Cardinals centerfielder and base-stealing giant Vince Coleman told me, "Baseball's always exciting to me and the funnest part is that keeps it exciting is you see guys going out stealing bases obviously to excite the crowd."

And he tells me, with lightning-quick* Billy Hamilton coming through the Reds' farm system, we're gonna be seeing even more flash soon.

(* It should be noted that Hamilton has not been run against any act of nature so it remains to be seen if he is genuinely lightning-quick.)

There may indeed be a renaissance of the game. To look into the future, we inevitably look toward the past. Home runs are down, base stealing is up, and, as the great Reggie Jackson told me, "The glasses are back in style now, the aviator glasses" which he made fashionable as he patrolled the outfield several decades ago.

But what of the changes to the league, in the form of an extra wild card. Will they diminish the fondness people have for the game? All-time great and lifelong member of the All-Classy Team Joe Torre assures me, "It's gonna be great. I think the one-game playoff is gonna be a Russian roulette. I just felt in the past that the winner of the division didn't get enough of an advantage and now I think that this levels the playing field, because if you get in the wild card, you're going to have to win that extra game in order to get into the playoffs."

And the fans are not going away. This is part of who they are, their upbringing. Actor Billy Bob Thornton embodies that statement. The die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan was watching the game (as he does 162 times a year) before having to leave it early to attend the charity function. He grew up playing baseball.

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An Arkansas native, he gravitated naturally to the redbirds because, "Their Double A club, the Arkansas Travelers, were in Little Rock, so we saw all those guys come through Little Rock, and it was the closest team because we had no pro team."

A lot of the fun comes from the rivalries deeply engrained in a team's culture. Thornton explains, "We're natural-born enemies with the Cubs, but ... Chicago is one of my favorite cities in the world and I love the people there and our rivalry with the Cubs. There's actually more respect within that rivalry than you might think. I love the Cubs much more than I do the Brewers or the Reds. The Reds have done a couple of things to my Cardinals that I'm not too fond of."

Love or hate, both are emotions based in passion and the game, though slow-paced and superficially mellow, maintains a white-hot heat just beneath the surface. It's different than other sports, but that's another of baseball's unique attributes.

Garvey, who lest we forget set the National League record for consecutive games (1,207) played over seven-and-a-half seasons, sums it up by saying, "Each sport is inherently important and appealing to certain fans. Our games, it's a long season, 162 games and playoffs; around 80 games in hockey and basketball; 16 to get to the playoffs in football. So they all have their nuances. Baseball is timeless. the clock's not gonna run out."

George Carlin couldn't have said it better. It's timeless. It's our pastime. And it will always be.

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MLB, NFL

Things were getting hairy at the Balasco Theatre. It was the second annual Los Angeles Beard and Mustache Competition and before I pun again, I must say it was fascinating.

From the outside, it looks like part-Halloween, part-modern art exhibit. Case in point, not long after the doors opened did The Devil himself arrive on the red carpet, looking very devilish. This being Los Angeles, it didn’t surprise me one bit that he'd have a summer home here. "All my minions are here," he says.

But his work is not complete yet. "I need the gold first, then it's done," he says.

The "gold" refers to the top prize in his category -- styled mustache. The Devil, like many others there, are beardsmen, into what's called "bearding," fast becoming a popular pastime and a sport to be reckoned with. (Let's save the debate on whether or not it's a sport for another day. If building your body is a sport, then why not building your beard?) These gentlemen take it pretty seriously.

Phil Olsen is on hand, but not competing. He is the captain of Beard Team USA which represents the United States in the World Beard and Moustache Championships. It was in 1999 when Olsen first attended the event in Sweden and was surprised to see America was not there. "I said to myself, 'What's wrong with this picture?" Phil says.

And he's been promoting the sport in the U.S. ever since then. Now, the L.A. Beard Club is a couple of years old and there are many other local chapters throughout the country.

"Everywhere you look, people are growing beards for America," he says. "And that's our motto -- Growing Beards for America -- because look, someone has to. I mean, there are people who pole vault for America and swim the breast stroke for America, then there need to be people who grow beards and that's us."

(It won't be in London this year, but who knows about Rio de Janeiro in 2016?)

This particular competition is already growing. (OK, that pun slipped out. I do apologize.) The number of participants is up from the inaugural event the previous year.

Tim Allred (at left) is a competitor and also a member of the L.A. Beard Club. I inquired what members do in the club. Do they count the number of hairs on each other's chin to see who has the most lustrous facial forest? "We mostly drink beer. We hang out," he says.

Oh. Seems reasonable. Pretty basic, actually.

But for today, Tim has put together a special ensemble which he made himself. "I bought most all of [my outfit]," he says. "An old-timey look, like Charles Ingalls in 1880. 'Little House on the Prairie.' I'm dressed like a railroader."

On hand to help the organizers, Morgan Locke, though not the most prolific grower of facial hair, is impressed by the pageantry. "There are people that put passion into everything, especially in L.A.," he says. "It's definitely a city that has artistic passion and this is another outlet for people to express themselves, kind of the way tattoos or any kind of body art are."

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Beard, Starts

With the recent passing of Rodney King, it's prompted us, as a nation, to revisit race relations in this country. Without getting too much into that, I'd like to stride along a parallel path to point out that as civil rights have navigated peaks and valleys throughout history, there is an issue that has run consistently over time, under the radar, an unspoken ill, eschewing logic for gut feelings and emotion.

Fanism in this country (the generalized labeling of an entire group of fans with a single, specific characteristic) is still rampant. So I say, as the late Rodney King said on that fateful day in 1991, "Ow." (He also said, "Can't we all just get along?" And upon further consideration, I'd say that second quote probably resonates more with my article, so I'll go with that one instead.)

Think of those fans you hate, or those fans that drive you nuts. It's not only them as individuals per se, but everyone like them. What traits do they all have in common that bug you, that you've seen as a recurring theme among them?

We stereotype. It's human nature. When you get down to it, aren't we all a little bit fanist?

Stereotypes are a funny thing. They begin when there is a recurrent theme pertaining to a certain group, whether focusing on region, gender, Veganism, whatever. Sometimes they are exaggerated, like, for instance, not all Jews have Chinese food on Sundays and not all Amish like to polka. Sports fans are no different.

Are the stereotypes true? There are things you think of rival fans that have become engrained in your mind as fact. It may be an accurate description, or you may be manifesting something unfounded, but convenient. What do we base them on? Sociological studies? A coin flip? Some prankster with a popular blog? There isn't a think tank out there that holds a meeting and decides, "We'll start saying that Milwaukee Bucks fans are bad tippers." (Although if there was some office to manipulate these kinds of made-up labels, outcomes, and so forth, I would imagine it would be overseen by David Stern.)

Fair or not, these characterizations are stuck with fans of these teams. And sometimes, the actual portion of the fan base that resembles this may only be a very small percentage, if you will -- the one-percenters. (Except these outlier fans have a lot less money and a lot more free time to do stupid, mean things than the one-percent of guys who are too busy ruining the American financial system.) Yet it sticks to them.

Let's go around the country. What do you think when you think of certain fan bases?

Let's start in the Northeast and my ol' stomping ground (ironically, that's where the term stomping ground began as well as there's actually a stomping ground dating all the way back to revolutionary times when patriotic Colonials would come home, tired from a long day of rabble rousing just to stomp around for a while to let off steam. It was a forebear to Zumba classes.)

When you think of Boston fans, you may immediately classify them as the racist city in the sports landscape. This image has formed over decades, beginning with the fact the Red Sox were the last team to assimilate black ballplayers onto their major league squad, continuing through the 60's, even as Bill Russell won championship after championship on a predominantly white ballclub, to when former Celtics player Dee Brown was pulled over and charged with DWB ("driving while black," to those not hip to the slang), up to the present.

Last month, Bostonians seemingly sunk to new lows with racist tweets after the Bruins loss to the Capitals. A few weeks later, they were caught dumping beer on LeBron (technically on top of the screen that covers the tunnel back to the locker rooms) as LeBron passed underneath. Now fans are calling Boston fans racist and classless.

But classless doesn't stick as a label for Boston. Every fan base has classless fans. That's an unfortunate fact. (Sports are there to give the lives of such fans some worth by providing them a team of their chosen to put their energies in the hopes of that team succeeding where their lives have failed.) But in terms of classless, I think fans would call out Detroit or Philadelphia before Boston. Racist? Well, yeah, Boston fans still can't get out from the grinder on that one.

If you've been to Philadelphia, you know their fans to be among the least civil of all. They have that reputation. They've thrown ice balls at players, and Santa Claus. They boo visiting players who get injured. Philadelphia's a tough town. It comes from circumstance. They're not as big as New York and not as historic as Boston. It's cold there and everyone's internal chemistry is messed up from eating scrapple and cheesesteaks. They have an inferiority complex bigger than any other city. In fact, they are superior to other cities when it comes to feeling inferior.

But we mustn't forget New Yorkers. They are brash and confident. It comes from living in New York. If they weren't, they'd be eaten alive. But to others, it comes off as being obnoxious. Couple that with a sense of entitlement from decades of championship -- winning, even before they were born -- and it comes out to the world.

Oh, and before I leave this region of the country, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that New Yorkers also like to point out that Boston fans are whiney. Not all of them, but an inordinate number of them. It comes from having to deal with Yankees fans for decades. Strange how the successful of the Celtics has not tempered this character flaw.

Proximity contributes to these depictions, but not always. For instance, Dodgers fans are all the way on the other side of the country. And they are very knowledgeable.

They enjoy the game and seem to have an East-Coast acumen toward it, seemingly from their Brooklyn lineage. (Save for a segment of the fans with anger management issues, but there are many fan bases who have that. It could have been as a response to Frank McCourt's horrible management of the team.)

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Down the road, the (whatever city they are claiming to be a part of this week) Angels fans are nowhere near as knowledge as Dodgers fans. They wait for the Rally Monkey to tell them what to do. Truth be told, even he doesn't know what's going on.

Then there are Lakers fans who are, by and large, not knowledgeable at all. They're not really fans of the NBA, which is an odd thing to say. They love the Lakers and have a knowledge of that team (except when trying to make the case that Kobe is a better player than either Magic or Jerry West, and even Kareem), but are woefully misinformed when it comes to reality. Many continue to call their giant Spaniard Paul Gasol.

Conversations with their fans might find you listening to their claim that their team is a top-notch defensive unit in spite of statistics that would betray their argument quite uncompromisingly. They might be 11th in the league, but what do numbers matter?

Interesting that Los Angeles is known, as a city, for its non-reality. The weather is always nice, breasts are always perky, and time does not progress. So it would stand to reason that they could attempt to make a case that a mediocre defensive team is, in fact, among the best in the league.

But they are certainly passionate toward their team. Seattle is a different beast. In football, the Seahawks possess one of the loudest fan bases and home field advantages, but once the game is over, they are surprisingly calm. It's a relaxed, laid-back region. It also rains a lot, which may do some to cool emotions.

Remember the Super Bowl that Seattle won, but the officiating team presented to Pittsburgh instead? Egregious call after call went against the Seahawks until they could no longer regain momentum. In 2010, four-and-a-half years later, referee Bill Leavy admitted to blowing the game. But Seattle fans took it all in stride, with disappointment, but civility. Could Philadelphia fans have done that? Oakland fans?

How many times have you cringed when someone mentions the term "Raiders fan?" They have the reputation of being criminals which isn't fair ... since they can't defend that rap because they’re all in jail.

I kid! I kid! Or do I? Are you saying you place Raiders fans in high regard? Chargers fans certainly do not. When the two teams play each other in San Diego, Raiders fans draw very well because Chargers season ticket holders frequently give away that game because they don't want to deal with Raiders fans. Is that unfounded? An urban myth? No. It's what they’ve found out over the years.

St. Louis fans are nice, Chicago Cubs fans are resigned to failure, Cleveland fans make Cubs fans look like Yankees fans, Miami fans are Cuban, Texas Longhorn fans hook things, Duke fans are spoiled, Alabama fans are morons (if you're an Auburn fan), Auburn fans are morons (if you're an Alabama fan), the list goes on and on.

Remember, these are stereotypes. You'll be able to point to fans in each of these cities that don’t fit, but this is how a city is perceived.

I'm sure there are people reading this (or having it read to them due to the big words) who slam their fist down and scream, “Who the hell does this guy think he is?! We’re not like that at all.” Or the ones who equate my article as the lunatic rantings of a typical bitter, jealous, and whiny Boston fan who just enjoys watching his gums flap in the wind.

But that's just blatant fanism and you should be ashamed of yourself. Rodney King was right, we should just get along. But then, in sports, where's the fun in that?

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Starts

As Fenway Park celebrates its 100th birthday, a day when the Boston Americans beat the Highlanders of New York by a score of 7-6 in eleven innings while scores of other people were being unceremoniously tossed off a cruise ship in frigid waters, we see that there is still a cold war between the two rivals.

Though the past few years have been rather innocuous, New York City has sunk to a new low. (Ironic because Boston is the city that's built on landfill.)

A controversial New York subway ad tells Big Apple commuters not to give up their seats to a Red Sox fan, even if she is pregnant.

This ad, run by an all-sports radio station in New York, seems a waste of some good money, the need to recommend this behavior. You're talking about a fan base with members who, twice in the past decade, have literally killed Boston fans. Believe me, pregnant Boston fans are grateful when your greatest crime is simply not getting up on a crowded train.

In fact, we're taught to be wary any time a Yankees fan makes a sudden movement, such as standing on a crowded subway. So don't worry, the edict itself isn't what's so disturbing. It's the fact that this ad is an act of blatant fanism.

That's right, fanism! Who would've thought that in an age where we have a White Sox fan in the White House that we could still be subjected to this type of treatment. All fans should be created equal. Yes, I'm a Boston fan, but if you prick me, do I not bleed? If you feed me, do I not burp and undo my belt? If you tickle me, do I not laugh and then very quickly summon a policeman because, seriously, we're grown men, why are you tickling me?!

Where does it end? First, you don't stand for a pregnant Red Sox fan, then you don't allow Red Sox fans to use cabs, celebrate the Macy's Day parade, buy M&Ms at the giant M&M store in Times Square. (That place is like a playground for me! Please, God, no!)

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So, are you feeling good? Have you studied your spread sheets, win charts, RPI graphs; consulted with your insiders, your psychics, your "rain men;" input your numbers into the supercomputer specifically designed to come within the smallest of percentages of you ever having a girlfriend?

In other words, have you filled out your NCAA bracket yet? The Madness doesn't wait, you know. Part of the fun is processing the myriad information of matchups and potential meetings in only a few days before making what could become your greatest achievement or your most ignominious failure.

Originally meant for a fun diversion, these pools are now hugely popular and there's billions of dollars at stake here (legally, of course). So each piece of information, regardless of how trivial, may mean something in your prognostication. Though most obscure facts have found their way into papers and onto the Internet, I have found a few that you may have missed. Feel free to incorporate this knowledge into your last-second entries. For instance, did you know:

Rick Pitino actually receives royalties every time John Calipari copies his shtick.

Missouri is the "Show Me State," but be warned, they actually have a law that makes it illegal to show them.

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