The Cynical Challenge is running late this week. This entry should have been running to press at about 2am on Sunday by normal standards, but here it is, vying with the London Evening Standard for attention mid-way through Monday. This is partly because The Cynical Challenge is standing in solidarity with fans of Wigan and Bolton, whose match this evening has been postponed owing to snow.
It's also partly because I have horrendous jet-lag after a marathon trans-Atlantic flight to Florida, with a mercifully brief stopover at delightful Charlotte, North Carolina. At this point I'd like to wish the gang of 25 people from Swindon with whom I shared airspace a lovely visit to Disney World, and I hope the 7-year-old in your party gets over his vomiting fits soon.
Anyway, The Cynical Challenge is a bit of a mixed bag this week. Much of the contents of my head - like the aforementioned 7-year-old on the flight in fact - are being randomly thrown out at all angles, for others to deal with as they see fit. As always, comments and opinion are welcome.
Life begins at 40
Over here in the States breakfasters munching on their waffles, pancakes or 5-egg omelettes will this morning be reading reports from yesterday's matches in the NFL. Lead story for much of the papers was the Minnesota Vikings' shock 26-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Minnesota, who on Sunday night had been confirmed as NFC divisional winners - making them hot favourites to reach the Superbowl - gave up 20 straight points in the final quarter against a team with a 5-8 win-loss record and with little to play for besides pride.
And yet aside from that, having watched the game and read the reports, The Cynical Challenge can only marvel at one thing: the fact that Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre is still playing in the NFL, aged 40. Favre is a miracle of modern sport. His hair is as grey as that of two other famous sporting silver foxes, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Graham Kavanagh - only he has the excuse of age. And Favre is still performing well. In fact, with a tally after 14 games of 27 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions thrown, 2009 has been one of Favre's best seasons ever.
If Favre and the Vikings make it to this season's Superbowl at Miami's Dolphin Stadium it would be one of sport's great romantic stories. If they do want to go all the way, however, the Vikings defence need to protect their 40-year-old talisman from big hits, something they didn't really do last night (see 2:03).
A damp squib
Firstly, before anyone writes in to complain that it should be "a damp squid", can I refer you to this article?
Okay, on with the blog. Back in the UK, Manchester hosted the first ever Duel in the Pool this weekend, generally referred to as the "Ryder Cup of Swimming". America's swimmers, Michael Phelps et al, took on the best that Britain, Germany and Italy had to offer and promptly wiped the floor with them, winning 185-78. The Europe team only won 9 out of the 30 races, and in 6 of the races the Americans swept the board, taking the top three places. No surprises there.
The biggest surprise is that the Duel in the Pool managed to claim as much air time as it did in the sports media. Okay, Michael Phelps performed surprisingly poorly, winning only his individual 100m butterfly and the 400m freestyle relay (the latter in a world record time); Phelps was beaten in the 200m butterfly by Britain's Michael Rock, hardly a household name. But despite all the headlines that this story grabbed, it should be remembered that Phelps was racing in an all-textile suit, rather than the ultra-fast polyurethane suits which Britain's swimmers wore, and which will be banned from 1st January 2010.
The Cynical Challenge is all for encouraging coverage of more marginal sports, especially if it can break up the blanket, microscopic coverage of Premier League football. But outside of the Olympics, swimming isn't really the sport to capture the imagination. On TV all the thrashing and churning makes swimming pretty difficult to follow. Watching live is worse, an eye-wateringly boring afternoon made worse by the fact you have to sit in a disorientatingly-echoey sauna. Plus even if you know which swimmers to look out for you can't really keep track of them - all the swimming caps and goggles make the competitors look identical.
Fans of swimming - convince us.
The end of the Premier League's best rhyming pun
So Mark Hughes has been sacked. Subbers will have had their heads in their hands on Saturday evening, as the departure of "Sparky" from Manchester City deprived them of a flurry of tried-and-tested favourite headlines. Random combinations of "Hughes", "Blues", "News", "Short Fuse" and "Santa Cruz" have been doing the rounds on the back pages of most tabloids for some time now. Mark Hughes' sacking is a sad day for headline writers. Back to the drawing board lads - though great effort from Vital Football to squeeze one last corker out of the story.