Unbelievable as it was to see, Serena Williams *did* do and say all those outrageously bad things that ended her US Open match with Kim Clijsters, and nothing about it being a terrible foot fault call or the subsequent penalty point that ended things can overcome my dismay about the situation. For someone who is almost always a rock mentally and physically to go off in as public a display as Serena did is kind of unthinkable, close to that moment that Woody Hayes belted a Clemson football player for intercepting a pass that sealed a loss for Ohio State many years ago.
That long ago event is still stuck in my memory banks, and I have a feeling Serena's abusive acts are going to stay with me quite a while too. Soooo out of character, because the Williams sisters have done an exceptional job of being quality competitors and people. While its obvious they are Afro-American ladies, that does zero to change my opinions about them as athletes, which is all about positives--they achieve the level of game that made Chris Evert or Martina or Steffi great in the minds of those who care about tennis. Whether you give their father credit for putting steel into them that allowed extreme calm or awareness so they wouldn't be overtly controversial, resulting in careers relatively free of finger pointing, they've weathered some career ups and downs. At one point it seemed they would totally dominate the sport with their speed and power, but they've always been diplomatic at all points. That Serena was obtuse and somewhat evasive during the post match press conference, I am just flat out stunned about the whole affair.
That the unranked and inspired Clijsters will be playing in the finals is a boon to all actually. You can't see her slugging away, doing those incredible full splits to get to balls impossibly deep in a corner (ask Venus Wiliams) and not think she would be a terrific champion. Coming back to the level she's attained after retiring and having children, that is an exceptional feat. Kudos to 17 year old Melanie Oudin for her run during the tournament too, you expect to see more of her in the future.
The other end of the spectrum from Serena came from Michigan's freshman QB Tate Forcier, who had a terrific game and wound up throwing the winning TD pass against Notre Dame with 11 seconds to go. When they stuck a microphone in front of him immediately after that 38-34 barnburner, he was thrilled about everything, but said he hadn't been at all nervous, even with 105,000 people hanging on every play. He even calmly assessed Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis' throwing two incomplete passes so Michigan got the ball back on a punt and allowed time for their last successful drive with, "those (two) time outs came in handy," a straight up observation that 1000 sports pundits will question Weis about for quite a while into the future.
Really people, let's admit that its muuuuch easier to hide whatever might be going on inside your helmet or guts when there are 85 other guys milling around, when you can sit on the sidelines and work things out regarding your specific role in a TEAM operation vs. being sweatily alone. Forcier was of 23-33 for 240 yards and a couple TDs, plus he ran for 70 yards, including 31 for a TD on a QB keeper after faking the jock off a Notre Dame player, but he didn't have to try covering Notre Dame's wide outs, who had a great afternoon in their own right. If you're up against the wall with someone who represents a human backboard, is taking your best shots and feeding them to you time after time, the immediacy of not knowing how the heck you do enough things 'righter' can certainly put you on edge.
If you've ever had a "friendly" game of *anything* go truly sour because your opponent pulled something noxious, perhaps having some 6'3" dipshit slam a spike into your girlfriend's face in a backyard BBQ volleyball match, maybe you can understand the difference. I would certainly have a HUGE problem with having a foot fault called at that point in a match, but I'd like to think as a professional that I could do better than lose an important match by threatening a lines judge. McEnroe might be the standard bearer for such personal pyrotechnics--I mentioned in my previous blog about seing him hold up a Seniors tour game for almost ten minutes while asking the umpire to overrule a service call--but he seemed to be able to channel that aggression remarkably well afterwards.
We cheer those youngsters (Matt Barkley of USC was similarly calm during an amazing 14-play, 84 yard, almost 6 1/2 minutes final drive against Ohio State, but with a shower of "Praise Gods!" and "It was amazings!" for the microphones afterwards) who produce in the clutch. We'll see if Forcier and Barkley are as gracious when they lose several close games and some fans question their size or mental capacity or whatever. Right now, I expect Serena will do some public apologizing for her actions; she'll look at the tapes of her press conference and admit her answers were lousy compared to the gravity of what she'd done. She didn't have any leeway for recovery from that meltdown, and while its easy to be an armchair quarterback and ask what Weis was doing throwing passes vs. running the clock out, she was 100% responsible, and I expect she'll work on fixing this blast to her reputation.