Joe Santoro: Pack’s home games lack Power (Five)

Jay Norvell shown against New Mexico in Reno on Nov. 2. Based on his first three seasons, Norvell ranks sixth (tied with his predecessor, Brian Polian) all time among Nevada football coaches, Joe Santoro says.

Jay Norvell shown against New Mexico in Reno on Nov. 2. Based on his first three seasons, Norvell ranks sixth (tied with his predecessor, Brian Polian) all time among Nevada football coaches, Joe Santoro says.

 Pack’s home games lack power
By JOE SANTORO

Sports Fodder … We might be looking at the most tedious, monotonous and humdrum Nevada Wolf Pack home football schedule this fall since the program joined the Football Bowl Subdivision (I-A) in 1992. It is certainly in the conversation. Idaho State, New Mexico State, Hawaii, UNLV, San Jose State and Air Force. Wake me when it’s over. No Power Five opponent. UNLV didn’t win a game last year. New Mexico State didn’t play one last fall, though they did play two glorified scrimmages this past spring. Idaho State was a Pack pushover four decades ago that Pack fans used to ignore on the schedule. Watching Air Force is like watching a 1960s catcher go to the mound five times an inning to console his pitcher. Hawaii and San Jose State are traditionally the home games Pack fans skip while they wait for Boise State, Fresno State or a Power Five team to come to town. Who made this home schedule? Chris Ault in the 1970s and 1980s?
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Boring opponents, however, don’t necessarily make for boring evenings at the stadium. The Pack, after all, has had a history of making even the ugliest matchups on paper turn into nail biters on the field. See Idaho State in 2017, for example. There is also a convenient revenge factor at play this year, giving these home games an artificial meaning to make sure the players listen to head coach Jay Norvell in practice. The last time the Pack played Idaho State, Hawaii and San Jose State, after all, it lost. The last time it played UNLV at Mackay (2019), it lost. But this is a different Pack team, at least on paper. It should not come close to losing at home this season. The Pack, if offensive coordinator Matt Mumme is looking for something fancy to put on his resume, might score 100 on both Idaho State and New Mexico State. There shouldn’t be anything this season that will spoil the beer buzz you worked on so diligently in the parking lot.
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Thanks to the pandemic a year ago, when almost all customers were not allowed in Mackay Stadium, Wolf Pack fans likely could not care less whether the Pack plays Power Five or Powderpuff teams at home this year. Just play baby, and let us watch in person. It has been roughly 600 days since Pack fans (those whose son wasn’t on the team) were allowed inside Mackay. And we all remember what happened that disturbing day, a 33-30 Wolf Pack loss to UNLV that involved an ugly, program-embarrassing brawl on the field as well as the sight of the Rebels wheeling the Fremont Cannon into their locker room. It’s the bad taste that won’t go away. Well, the wait will be over Sept. 11 when unsuspecting Idaho State comes to northern Nevada to take its beating (and paycheck from the Pack athletic department).
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Playing weak opponents at home is nothing new for the Wolf Pack. Ault, after all, built his career on it. Ault knew that fickle Pack fans never appreciated seeing their silver and blue heroes lose right in front of them in living color. Pack fans, Ault understood, didn’t exactly run back to the ticket office after seeing their team lose at Mackay. It wasn’t a coincidence that the Pack started to bring Power Five teams to Reno in 1997 (Oregon) and 1999 (Oregon State) when Ault was athletic director and Jeff Tisdel was head coach. But Ault wasn’t doing anything unique. Winning the vast majority of your home games, after all, is how coaches get contract extensions. Norvell is now on his second contract at Nevada and he’s gone 15-7 at Mackay and 10-15 elsewhere. That’s not a coincidence.

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Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels made history this month when he was named to the American League All Star team as both a pitcher and a hitter. Ohtani is a true All Star as a hitter, having blasted 32 homers this year already with 69 RBI. But he’s a borderline All Star pitcher at best, with just a 4-1 record and 3.49 ERA this year. But baseball needs all of the publicity it can get so Ohtani has been designated as the first pitcher-hitter in All Star history, even though it doesn’t really mean much. Ohtani, of course, won’t be the first player to pitch and get an at bat in an All Star game. So he won’t really be doing anything historical at all unless he actually plays a position in the field other than pitcher. The last pitcher to get an All Star at bat was Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009. He, of course, struck out. The designated hitter has been used in all All Star games since 2010. It was used in All Star games in American League parks from 1989-2009. Before 1989 at least one pitcher almost always got at least one at-bat in an All Star game. Steve Carlton in 1969, for example, pitched three innings and went 1-for-2 at the plate with an RBI. Even Hank Aguirre, one of the worst hitters in baseball history (he was 8-for-152 from 1955-62), got two at bats in a 1962 All Star game and whiffed twice. Pitcher Johnny Podres got a double in the same game.
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Does anybody want to see a pitcher grab a bat and stand at the plate? Maybe that pitcher’s mom or dad would like it but that’s about it. It’s time the National League welcomes the 1970s and adopts the designated hitter. The DH didn’t ruin baseball. National League managers only bunt and make double switches because they have pitchers in the batting order. They are doing those things simply to hide a guy who has no business swinging a bat in a major league game.
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Has Ohtani started a trend in MLB? Will more players coming into the sport pitch and also be considered a viable member of the everyday batting order? Of course not. Major league organizations barely let their fragile pitchers even pitch these days, let alone pick up a bat the rest of the time. They take pitchers with no hitters out of the game in order to coddle their precious arms. It will take a special talent like Ohtani to be a full-time pitcher and full-time hitter and, well, the last guy before Ohtani to do it on a regular basis was Babe Ruth. Other pitchers certainly could have tried it, like Madison Bumgarner, Don Drysdale, Ken Brett, Wes Ferrell, Bob Gibson, Warren Spahn, Mike Hampton, Michael Lorenzen, Zack Greinke, Gary Peters, Micah Owings and many others. But it’s one thing to get two or three at bats every fifth day and get a hit now and then and it’s quite another thing to get two or three at bats everyday and justify being in the lineup.
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We’ll we ever see an increase in the number of football players in the NFL or even college football who play on both defense and offense? Of course not, though many could do it. Football is just about running away from or over guys. And it doesn’t matter if you have a ball in your hands or not. In the NFL now the announcers make a big deal out of a guy who moves from offensive tackle to guard and treat him like he is revolutionizing the sport. Can you imagine what they would do if a guy played, say, running back and strong safety in the same game? But at least the NFL is not the NBA. In the NBA it’s rare when a guy even gives the same amount of effort on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court.

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The city of Tampa has seen its Lightning win the last two Stanley Cups, its Buccaneers win the last Super Bowl and its Rays get to the last World Series. It has been suggested that Tampa Bay be renamed Champa Bay. Stop it. Never has so many great teams been wasted on such a horrible sports area. Tampa might be the worst baseball city in the league and has never supported the Rays. Do Tampa residents even know what the Stanley Cup is? Take Tom Brady off the roster and most Tampa fans couldn’t name one Buccaneer. The media also barely acknowledges anything that happens in Tampa. The Bucs’ Super Bowl was all about Brady. The media doesn’t cover hockey and the Rays were just that other team playing the Dodgers. Can you imagine the hoopla and hype that the Bucs, Rays and Lightning would have generated over the past year or so had they called New York home?

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