Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Baylor (7) Amari Jefferson scores on a catch in the end zone against Walker Valley Saturday. Eight local football teams squared off in eight different 20-minute games Saturday August 14, 2021 at Finley Stadium.

Braves and sports

Good talk yesterday, friends. Sometimes we're overtly silly; sometimes we're overly serious. Felt like Tuesday was one of those days for the latter.

But then, as dinner settled, the Braves came on my glowing electronic box of lights and sounds and it felt like a summer night in the South.

And friends, there are elderly women and rednecks from Arkansas to Apalachicola smiling from ear-to-ear because these Braves right now are playing with a purpose and a passion that makes them more poetic than professional. It's as much a bullying ballet as big league baseball.

Because this five-game winning streak — yes, those wins have come against the fading Nats and the last-place Marlins, but you gotta handle your BID-ness against inferior foes — has offered two very real conclusions. The first is surprising; the second is based on finality.

First, amid this torrid run, your Braves are — POOF — now 2.5 games clear of the pack in the NL East. Yeah, I was shocked by that too.

For a team that set an MLB record for most consecutive W-L-W-L-etc. earlier this season and could not climb above .500 for the first 100 games, a 2.5 cushion feels overly large.

Second, winning the division is paramount — downright critical — if any NL team entertains hopes of trying to advance in the playoffs rather than just getting there.

As of right now, the Dodgers have the second-best record in baseball and are four games out of first in the NL West. That's right, the World Series-favored Dodgers are currently looming as the win-or-pack-the-gear match-up in the wildcard game as the playoff bracket returns this fall to a 10-team format.

So, if you are the second wildcard team, you are staring at Walker Buehler to keep playing. Because the Dodgers play on the West Coast, maybe most are not aware of that challenge, but here are the numbers: Buehler is 12-2 this year with an NL-leading 2.09 ERA and 162 Ks in 154.2 innings. And, since June 1, he's made 14 starts, pitched 90.1 innings and allowed 17 earned runs. In 14 starts. That's a 1.69 ERA, friends.  


High school sports excellence

OK, I was planning on this being just part of the This and That, but a little digging into the final standings made my eyebrows raise.

This story on ranks the best high school sports programs in each state.

Here's how the site defines it: "The MaxPreps Cup is a formula developed to identify the top high school athletic programs in the nation using state championships and runner-up finishes to award points. Other factors affecting the point totals include popularity of sport, size of state, state enrollment divisions and the number of schools in each state enrollment division. Points are also awarded for national rankings where available."

The graphic atop the story clearly showed that Baylor School was No. 1 in Tennessee. Considering that the spring closed with the Red Raiders baseball and softball teams being nationally ranked and the year-in, year-out excellence of the Baylor programs, well, it's not a surprise.

But, did you know that the top three programs in the state are right here in Hamilton County?

Did you know that McCallie finished third with 1,102 total points in the MaxPreps scoring system? Baylor won with 1,580, but McCallie's total is pretty impressive, too, when you realize they do not have girls' sports to add into the equation. (Side note: Marist School, the renowned private school in Atlanta, had the nation's highest total at 2,196.)

As for the runner-up in Tennessee?

That would be Signal Mountain Middle High School with 1,504 points.

Who knew?


Hard look at 'Hard Knocks'

We mentioned from the beginning that we were 100% in on this "Hard Knocks," the HBO doc-series that follows training camp and preseason action of one NFL team.

This year, the producers drew the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL's Golden Ticket. (Side question: Does the "Golden Ticket" reference still work since "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" is like a billion years old now? Side question on the side question: If we had a Rushmore of the worst remakes, is that Charlie disaster with Johnny Depp on it? Second side question on the original side question? OK, you know that hovel where Charlie lives in the original? How bad does that joint smell with four grandparents all sharing one bed?)

Where were we?

Oh yes, the Cowboys being the Golden Ticket. And they are.

And beyond the logo and the designation as America's team, the story arcs are there, too.

Dak Prescott's continued injury concerns for a team poised to be as explosive as any in the league could be the most important preseason storyline.

Let's move quickly through the good and bad of Episode 2, and as always, if you are a DVR person or have not caught up, move along to the This and That.

> I love Zeke Elliott. I know there are skeletons in that closet, but man, that's a joyous dude. Which asks the side point: We ask so little of our professional athletes, if they could just realize that we all want to experience the joy and fun and happiness of being truly elite at a skill millions upon millions have tried and ultimately failed at, and share some of that with us, be it through interviews or what have you, we would love them forever for it. Zeke has embraced that and is coming through the first episode swinging like new money.

> And the exact opposite feels true for Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, who feels like he's giving us a bad high school rendition of MacBeth from the lead actor who also happens to be the son of an over-demanding drama teacher who happens to be directing the play.

> CeeDee Lamb looks like he is poised to break out in a big way in 2021.

> Finally, if you're not pulling for Azur Kamara to make the team, well, shame on you.



This and that

— Gang, if this story does not make you smile — and maybe even tear up — then go get your ticker checked. Polish javelin thrower Maria Andrejczyk pledged to auction off her silver medal to help a young boy she does not know raise enough money to travel from Poland to Stanford to have a heart transplant. Yeah, great, right? Gets better gang. The winning bidder — a chain of convenience stores in Poland, reportedly — gave the money and refused the medal. Shut up Alejandro. I'm not crying; you're crying.

— Happy birthday Uncle Stephen. Hope it is a swell one, and somewhere Mr. Wonderful is looking down on you as we speak.

— Former Tigers great and postseason pitching legend Jack Morris apologized last night for using an Asian-sounding voice during the Tigers-Angels game as the announcers were discussing Shohei Ohtani.

— Side note: Saw this on Twitter too, and that Morris' faux pas happened on the 38th anniversary of Eddie Murphy's HBO classic "Delirious" is kind of cosmic. First, "Delirious" is the second-funniest stand-up I can ever recall, just behind Eddie Murphy's "Raw," in my book. Second, neither could be made in today's culture. So there's that.

— Side question about the side note: Want to know what else could not be made today? "Three's Company." The gist was Jack Tripper pretending to be gay so he could live with two girls, and Mr. Roper would be OK with that. Side question about the side question on the side note: Could they make the "Bend it Like Beckham" or "Just One of the Guys" movies these days or is that offensive to folks who are particular about their pronouns?

— So Chattanooga's own Keith Mitchell got into a tussle with golf's greatest showman and came up on the short end of the scorecard and the wager, which, if I had to guess, got very close to five figures. Mitchell, who Phil Mickelson called "Kevin/Keith" throughout his social media play-by-play of the match in Tuesday's Pro-Am of the Northern Trust, was paired with Henry Higgs, who had picked a Twitter fight with Mickelson earlier this season. Mickelson and Joel Dahman won 3 & 1 and with presses (adding stakes to the bet late to allow the trailing team to catch up or get even), Mickelson said his team won 1.5 times the original bet. And if there are three things that are certain about Mickelson, it's his confidence, his trash talk and his love to gamble.

— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on the lack of intel and details about the UT quarterback question.


Today's questions

Which way Wednesday starts this way: Which 1980s show other than "Three's Company" would have no chance to get the go-ahead in today's culture?

Which is your personal all-time favorite stand-up comedy routine? (Not necessarily the comedian as much as the individual routine.)

Which is more surprising, that the Braves have a 2.5-game lead in the East at 64-56 or that the Dodgers are four games back in the West at 74-46?

Which 2000s first-round QB were you most wrong about? (Mine is a tie between two Joshs — Josh Allen, who is great and I said he would be a bust; and Josh Rosen, who I thought was going to be good and has now been cut by four teams in four years.)

Answer some which-ways, ask some which-ways.

As for today, Aug. 18, let's review.

Roberto Clemente would have been 87 today.    

Wanna feel old: A member of the Wu-Tang Clan is 52, and if you are not aware of who that is, Malcolm-Jamal Warner (aka Theo Huxtable) is 51.

Also, Edward Norton is 52 today. Great actor; surprised he's not done more, you know?

Robert Redford is 85 today. That's a handsome man. Watched "The Natural" last night, too.

Rushmore of best actor/directors in Hollywood, because I think Redford is right there battling for two behind the clear far left in this category.