Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Game of the Year

Talk about a couple of transcendent performances this weekend from the NFL's two best quarterbacks. In one corner, you have Peyton Manning, every fantasy nerd's best friend, shredding the previously untouchable Broncos defense to keep the Colts undefeated at 7-0. Some writers have called it the best game of his life - not a light statement to make. In the other corner, you have Tom Brady, the consummate champion and the NFL's poster boy, toying with a pretty good Viking defense to take the ever-dangerous Patriots to 6-1. And in those two, you have the two best teams in the NFL and thank the schedule makers that we have a matchup between them to look forward to next Sunday.

(Brief interlude here - yes, I'm saying
the Colts and Patriots are better than the Bears. Yes, the Bears have been flat out dominating at times, but they also barely got by the Vikings, a team that the Patriots blew out on the road. Plus, the Bears' schedule is essentially a cakewalk to home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Colts and Patriots are both faced with superior schedules and that will make them tougher now and in the long run.)

Anyway, back to the business at hand - the game of the year at Gillette Stadium. The two best teams, basically to see who should be considered the midseason favorite, not only in the AFC but in the NFL. And it has all the makings to be a close game that lives up to its billing. And why not? Peyton Manning always has something to prove when he faces Bill Belichick's Patriots - that win in the regular season last year is a distant memory now. And what of Belichick's Patriots? Well, they don't need much to motivate them, but you don't think Tom Brady will want to show he has the upper hand over Manning, for whom the whispers of "best QB ever" are growing louder? It's like Brady's performance against the Vikings was a counterserve to Manning's brilliance. Anything you can do, I can do better.

I'm tempted to say Patriots-Colts is the best rivalry of this generation, but I don't think you can say that without some major disclaimers. Their games are likely the most anticipated for their star power and intrigue, but to call it the best may not be accurate since it hasn't been that competitive. Yes, Peyton finally won one last year, but to me, all that matters is that in the playoffs, Brady has come out on top twice. Really, I think this rivalry is more like Cowboys-49ers in the 1992 and 1993 seasons. They were the two best regular season teams, and their NFC Championship games were anticipated as much as a Super Bowl. But the Cowboys showed in both cases that they were clearly the superior team, handling San Francisco with relative ease in both showdowns.

For this to be a considered a great rivalry, we'll need to see a rematch of these two teams in the playoffs - and I'm praying to the football gods that we do - and the Colts need to win it. At least that way, it wouldn't be so one-sided. For now though, it's rare to see a matchup of the two best teams in the NFL at this point in the season, and hopefully we'll be treated to a game that's worthy of the significant hype it's receiving.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Who Will be the Next to Break the Drought?

Friday night, the Cardinals won the World Series for the first time in a generation - 24 years to be exact. That's a pretty long time, but when you compare them to the previous two champions, the White Sox and the Red Sox - each having to wait more than 80 years between titles - it's like that World Series championship against the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982 was just yesterday.

That got me thinking - what long-suffering teams are the most likely to break out of their doldrums and win it all next year? To start, I've ranked the 10 teams who have had the longest droughts:

** Denotes a team that has never won a championship in its history.

1. Chicago Cubs - 98 years
2. Cleveland Indians - 58 years
3. San Francisco/New York Giants - 52 years
4. Texas Rangers/Washington Senators - 45 years **
5. Houston Astros - 44 years **
6. (tie) San Diego Padres - 37 years **
Milwaukee Brewers - 37 years **
Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos - 37 years **
9. Seattle Mariners -29 years **
10. Pittsburgh Pirates - 27 years

And now, the chances of each of those teams to win a World Series next years, from least likely to most likely:

10. Pittsburgh: You hate to say that there's no hope for the Pirates, especially after watching the 2006 Tigers. But this year's Tigers had Jim Leyland there to get them over the hump and then some. Pirates manager Jim Tracy is no Jim Leyland.

9. Washington: The team's headed in the right direction with Ryan Zimmerman there to anchor the team and its future, but their pitching is way too thin to be considered a contender. And that doesn't even mention the possible - probable? - loss of Alfonso Soriano to free agency.

8. Seattle: Unless they're able to sign a big-time free agent pitcher like Jason Schmidt or Barry Zito, I don't see any reason why they would move out of the bottom half of the AL West.

7. Milwaukee: This team has some talent, and more dependable pitching than you might think with Chris Capuano as a solid #1 starter and Francisco Cordero to close games out. But after Carlos Lee was traded at midseason, they went in the tank, and still will have to make up for their only dependable power hitter.

6. San Francisco: I really like the hiring of their new manager Bruce Bochy, who's quietly regarded as one of the best in the business. But the NL West, while no murderer's row, is competitive, with all five teams with a shot to contend. It won't be easy for any team in that divison to pull away. Also, who knows what kind of distraction the team may have to deal with if Barry Bonds approaches the home run record next year.

5. Chicago: Yes, I've probably ranked them too high. But as I mentioned before, we learned this year with the Tigers that if you put a great manager in the right place at the right time, motivated to win, it can have a profound effect on the team. And Lou Piniella is a great manager who seems to have his batteries recharged after a putrid stint with the Devil Rays.

4. Clevleland: The trendy pick to represent the AL in the World Series before this year started, the Indians failed to meet expectations. But there is undeniably a lot of potential in their lineup and starting rotation - but their bullpen is still a disaster area as of now, and that needs to get shored up before they can be considered serious contenders. Not to mention their division is stacked, perhaps unlike any division has ever been since MLB went to a six division format. Tigers, Twins, and White Sox staring at you? Tough assignment there.

3. Texas: This is likely much too high. But I have a great reason to justify this ranking. The Rangers fired Buck Showalter. History shows that when a team fires Buck Showalter as their manager, they win the World Series the next year. (See 1996 Yankees, 2001 Diamondbacks)

2. San Diego: They will continue to be one of the National Leauge's better teams, and their pitching is enviable in both the starting rotation and bullpen. Their Achilles heel though, is their lack of punch in the lineup. But if they make the playoffs, don't count them out.

1. Houston: Not that surprising of a pick, given the fact that they made the World Series only a year ago. And, again this offseason, we'll have to see if Roger Clemens comes back, but this team has shown to be one that gets hot in the second half of the year, and their pitching always makes them a threat to go all the way if they make the playoffs. The Astros have two of the most dominant players in baseball in Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. And the rumor mill keeps saying that Carlos Lee is on his way to Minute Maid Park too. Now that would lift the team out of their offensive misery of this past year.

Is this a scene we'll see next October?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cardinals are Deserving Champions

Let's hear it for your World Champion, 83-win, St. Louis Cardinals! Like it or not, that seems to be the label that will be affixed to this year's champions in baseball history. They will go down as the 102nd World Series Champion, but unfortunately, there will always be an asterisk attached to them, as if they didn't really deserve what they acheived. I really hope that people look at this Series and say that the Cardinals won it instead of, the Tigers lost it and handed it to St. Louis.

For me, what the Cardinals did is more impressive than a juggernaut regular season team rolling through the playoffs and winning easily (not that that happens very much anyway). They were given 50-1 odds to win the World Series at the start of the playoffs - the biggest longshot of all eight playoff teams - and overcame a multitude of adverse situations to win the big prize. It's amazing to think of all the Cardinals overame. For example:

Major injuries - Mark Mulder, one of the co-aces of the pitching staff along with Chris Carpenter, didn't make an appearance in the playoffs. Neither did their longtime closer, Jason Isringhausen. Losing just one of those would be devestating enough, but both could have been catastrophic. In fact, I think if you asked people why the Cardinals wouldn't go far at the start of the playoffs, people would say it was due to their questionable pitching.

Tony LaRussa vs. the players - Third baseman Scott Rolen and manager LaRussa got into a would-be tiff over Rolen's benching in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Mets. They must have kissed and made up since then, because Rolen was hot at the plate ever since then, hitting .421 in the World Series, with a key home run in Game 1. And both the players and LaRussa had to overcome the perception that his managing style makes the team too tense to perform in pressure situations. Well, I think that idea is out the window now.

The Near Collapse - Ah yes, how could we forget, the Cardinals were supposed to join the 1964 Phillies as the biggest regular-season chokers of all time, nearly blowing an 8 1/2 game division lead with less than two weeks left in the season. But they didn't and that's all that matters. And to anyone who thinks that they were not worthy enough to make the playoffs, who was a better team than the Cardinals in the NL Central this season? No one in that mediocore division, meaning that as the rightful division winner, they had every right to step onto the field with the Padres, Mets, and finally, the Tigers.

Just before the Cardinals won in the ninth inning, Fox announced that the World Series MVP would win a new Chevy Corvette. When I heard that, I couldn't wait to tune into the presentation of the awarding of the car, since I felt that David Eckstein was going to win it. David Eckstein has never had a new car in his life, this despite being a rich athlete. He's about as low-key an athlete as you can find, and the thought of him being given that flashy car was a little ridiculous. If I had to bet, I'd say he leaves the Corvette in his garage and keeps driving his old used car around.

Congratulations to the Cardinals, they deserve their championship, regardless of the regular season.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Curse of Bill Belichick

Athletes today are so well trained these days in the art of PR when taking questions from reporters, that we hardly ever get any interesting quotes from players any more. They know if they step outside their limiting boundaries of what they can say, they're going to have hell to pay, either from the player's own team, his opponents, or both. And it seems to have gotten worse the last few years - I blame Bill Belichick. You'd have to shoot the guy to get a quote out of him that wasn't rehearsed. And to their credit, the Patriots of course have been amazingly successful under him using that approach. But it sucks for the fan who has to watch the interviews.

TV Talking Head: Coach Belichick, you've just won the Super Bowl, how does it feel right now?
Belichick: Well, we're glad to get out of here with a win, but we're just looking forward toward next year and how we can get better.

Is that scenario really that absurd? I could see it happening.

The worst part is, this proliferation of non-statements comes at a time when the media has more access to athletes than ever before. And the reporters aren't helping either. I mean, you ask stupid questions, you get stupid answers back.

The worst is, "What was going through your mind during (insert action here)?" What do you expect them to say? Decisions during a game are made in a split second, they don't have much time to think about anything. If a hitter is facing a Roger Clemens fastball, he thinks, "Oh crap, better swing at that now, or else it's gonna pass me." Just once, I'd like to see a player being interviewed answer that question by saying something like, "You know, I was thinking about those three bills that I still need to pay, and how my deck really could use a new finish." The reporter's deer-in the headlights reaction would be priceless. Think Mike Myers during Kanye West's rant against Bush during the Hurricane Katrina fundraiser.

Yes, we'll always have some players like Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens who are more than willing to spout off at any time, but when you get a player like Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck admitting that he just changes the team name in his comments about his opponent to the media, (as he did on the Dan Patrick radio show), it's pretty much a lot more lifeless press conferences and interviews we have to look forward to.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

High Times for the NBA?

I'd like to see The Onion tackle this headline. It's a punch line waiting to happen:

Stern: Nevada pot bill won't effect '07 All-Star game

Apparently the citizens of Nevada are considering a referendum that would legalize marijuana, which if passed, would go into effect by the time of this season's All-Star game in Vegas.

The thought of the NBA All-Star Game being in Las Vegas is ridiculous enough on its own. But what if it becomes a safe haven for potheads? It'll be like Christmas morning for some players.
Forget the game, I'd want to watch a behind-the-scenes of what happened that weekend before the game. Now that would boost ratings, guaranteed.

The only thing this is missing is the Hornets' noted pothead, Chris Andersen, who's in the middle of serving a two-year suspension for violating the NBA's substance abuse policy. David Stern, can you please reinstate him just for the weekend and then make him partake in the Slam Dunk Contest again? Maybe we'd be treated to a redux of his amazingly bad performance a couple years ago.


Man, that's embarrassing - but the reactions from all the other players laughing at him make for great television. I can only imagine what Allen Iverson, who's probably as far as you can get from Andersen physically, is thinking. If only we had a mic on those guys at that time instead of on the boring officials during the game. All-Star games are just about the most irrelevant event in sports, but moments like that might get me to watch. Outside the box marketing, David Stern -there it is!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Rogers Caught Brown-Handed

The interesting thing about the smudge on Kenny Rogers' pitching hand in yesterday's World Series Game 2 is that the Cardinals aren't making a big deal out of it.


This comment by Tony LaRussa when asked about Rogers' smudge is especially enlightening: "If he didn't get rid of it, I would have challenged it. But I do think it's a little bit part of the game at times and don't go crazy."

That tells me a couple of things. One, LaRussa knows that Rogers is in a groove of historic proportions, and enhancement or not, the Cardinals got beat yesterday because of his own ability - witness the 7 innings of scoreless ball he threw even after he cleaned up. If the Cardinals lose this Series, their fans can't blame the smudge for it, because they were beat by a superior pitcher.

Also, is it possible that LaRussa isn't making a big fuss out of this because his own players have a few tricks up their sleeve? Entirely possible, and I would in fact say it's probable. This shouldn't be a shocking statement where the difference between cheating and opportunism is often blurred. A pitcher getting an unfair advantage with his sweaty palms on a hot summer day? Well, nothing to be done about the forces of nature, the pitcher says. Runner on second stealing signs from the catcher? That base runner is praised for having his head in the game and being "observant." Cheating is a part of baseball (and sports in general for that matter) that can never be wiped away. In its more benign forms, I would even say it's a little bit entertaining - some of baseball's most memorable moments have come in the aftermath of cheating episodes.

Probably the best known is the famous Pine Tar game when George Brett of the Royals stormed out of the dugout like a maniac after his home run was waved off after it was ruled there was too much pine tar covering his bat:


One of my favorites is from just a year ago in a game between the Nationals and Angels when Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly was thrown out of the game (and subsequently suspended for 10 games) for having a foreign substance in his glove. The result of that was the respective managers, Frank Robinson and Mike Scioscia nearly coming to blows as a result.

Anyway, for the Cardinals, "Smudgegate" as it's being called is not all that big a deal, and the Series likely has not had its turning point as of yet. One thing is for sure, if we get to a Game 6 and Kenny Rogers is pitching, you can bet we'll see squeaky clean palms when he goes up to the mound.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Cardinals Turn (Tigers') Heads

I guess the “Tigers in three” prediction isn’t going to come to fruition. The Cardinals won Game 1 of the World Series tonight, and in convincing fashion too. I don’t know if you can blame this on the week of rest they had, but Tigers looked out of sorts tonight. And the Cardinals looked very much like a team coming in with a full head of steam after their momentous NLCS upset of the Mets.

Seemingly all the experts are picking the Tigers to win the Series and not waste much time doing it. The way the Tigers rolled through the first two rounds, in addition to the general mediocrity of the National League are contributing a great deal to that argument. But to say that the Cardinals have no chance or not even be competitive is going overboard. I even heard Keith Olberman on ESPN Radio say that if the Cardinals won the championship, that it would rank as the biggest World Series upset of all time. That’s a bit ridiculous. I know there was a significant gap between the Tigers and the Cardinals during this regular season, but people are forgetting too easily how capable the Cardinals are.

First of all, this Cardinals team was considered by many to be the best in the National League at the start of this season. And they have difference makers who have experience in the playoffs. Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols are established stars and Chris Carpenter is the reigning Cy Young winner, with a possibility of another this year. But what really makes me think they have a chance to win this series is that they seem hungry to win.

I think St. Louis feels that this might be their best opportunity to win a championship with the group of players they have now. In what is becoming an increasingly parity-ridden sport (this year’s Series winner will be the seventh consecutive non-repeat winner), returning to the championship series is no sure thing. And players still around from the team that was swept by the 2004 Red Sox have a bad taste in their mouth from that drubbing, especially their MVP, Pujols, who showed a new surly side in the NLCS. And I find it hard to believe that they’re not being motivated by the underdog label that’s been affixed to them.

In tonight’s game, the Cardinals seemed more poised, crisp, and aggressive in the right situations. Unheralded Anthony Reyes, St. Louis’s Game 1 starter was efficient with his pitches and really settled down after looking rattled to start the game. By contrast, the Tigers’ Justin Verlander, the likely AL Rookie of the Year, had his moments, but wasn’t careful enough with pitches to Rolen and Pujols who made him pay with home runs.

I’m not going to go ahead and say that this is the Cardinals’ series to lose now, but they’ve certainly changed some perceptions with their convincing performance tonight, and hopefully, this means we’re in for a long series.

Tigers and Cardinals Don't Have Enough Bite

The World Series starts in a few hours, between the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers. I couldn't help but think with this matchup between two mid-market teams, the TV ratings will leave something to be desired in the end. With that in mind, I decided to look and see how the ratings for the past 11 World Series (all since the '94 strike) have stacked up. Thanks to Baseball Almanac, (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/ws/wstv.shtml) I have my answer:

2005: Chicago White Sox vs. Houston - 11.1
2004: Boston vs. St. Louis - 15.8
2003: New York Yankees vs. Florida - 13.9
2002: Anaheim vs. San Francisco - 11.9
2001: New York Yankees vs. Arizona - 15.7
2000: New York Yankees vs. New York Mets - 12.4
1999: New York Yankees vs. Atlanta - 16.0
1998: New York Yankees vs. San Diego - 14.1
1997: Cleveland vs. Florida - 16.8
1996: New York Yankees vs. Atlanta - 17.4
1995: Cleveland vs. Atlanta - 19.5

I thought some of these ratings were a bit surprising, especially the relatively low rating for the 2000 World Series between the Yankees and Mets, which makes me question the old adage that you need big market teams to get the big ratings. The conclusion I can draw is that a Series will get higher ratings if there's a compelling storyline that draws in the casual baseball fan. Looking at a few examples:

1995: Two mid-market teams, but the first World Series since1993 because of the strike the year before.

2001: You had a big market team in the Yankees, but it probably drew in more viewers than the previous year's Subway Series because it was only months after 9/11, and people wanted to see if the Yankees could win the championship for the city of New York.

2004: The romanticized notion of the Red Sox breaking their 86 year curse, staging the greatest comeback in playoff history, and the fact that the team had some really charismatic characters like Johnny Damon, Curt Schilling, and David Ortiz.

With that in mind, I don't think that this Series has the sexy storyline to bring in the big time ratings. For the more intent baseball fan, this has the potential to be a great series. Can the Tigers complete what would probably be the most amazing three-year turnaround in baseball history? Can the Cardinals continue their improbable run through the playoffs and win a championship with only 83 regular season victories (which would be a record)?

Unfortunately, that won't be reason enough to watch the World Series for the casual baseball fan. The only true superstar between these two teams is Albert Pujols, but even he doesn't have the personality to draw in viewers beyond those who would already be watching.

It's interesting to stack up these ratings for baseball against the Super Bowl. Last year's Super Bowl, between two decidedly smaller-market teams in Pittsburgh and Seattle was the second most-watched TV show of all time! Not just Super Bowl, but TV show - overall - ever. Of course, the Super Bowl is a one-game elimination vs. the best-of-seven World Series, not too mention the NFL's overwhelmingly greater popularity.

I wonder what Commissioner Bud Selig does when he sees the disparity in ratings between the two sports and feels helpless to do anything about it. Short of changing the fundamental structure of the baseball season and it's playoff setup, I don't see how anything will change in the future.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sometimes you read stories in the sports world and marvel not only at the injustice of it, but the stupidity that caused it. This article about New York Knicks coach Isaiah Thomas ripping into ESPN analyst (and former Knick) Greg Anthony is one of those stories.


Basically, the article describes how Thomas lashes into Anthony for being critical of his suprise pick of Renaldo Balkman in the most recent draft. There are so many things wrong with the way Thomas handled this, I'm not even sure where to start.

First off, does it appear to anyone else that Thomas is putting way too much energy into what a single reporter thinks? You would think that with the huge amount of responsibility that he currently has - that is, trying to clean up the mess he created for himself with the Knicks, one of the marquee teams in the NBA - screaming back at Anthony months after the fact would be low on the priority list. But then again, Thomas has rarely been logical in the managerial posts he has held in his post-playing career.

Speaking of illogical, the article says that Thomas singled out Anthony because he was a former Knick. So what? Does that mean he should have such an allegiance to the team (one of many that Anthony, a journeyman during his career, played for) that it prevents him from doing his job properly? Don't give me any of this, "He's not a true Knick" crap. That's a weak justification. This isn't Patrick Ewing we're talking about. This is a man who also played with the Vancouver Grizzlies and Portland TrailBlazers for significant portions of his career. He's not the first person who comes to mind when thinking of the Knicks.

In reality, Thomas probably felt stung that a former player, a basketball playing peer, (as opposed to a career journalist, whose opinions he likely doesn't value as much) had the gall to stand up and criticize him. Earth to Isaiah: it's his job to speak up and say what he feels honestly thinks. And to be honest, Anthony does a great job at it. There are some particularly nauseating analysts that cover the NBA for ESPN, (Bill Walton, Steven A. Smith come to mind), but Anthony has become a star among NBA analysts, because he brings a level of insight and professionalism that is noticably above most of his peers, especially at his young age.

My favorite part of the article is when Thomas says, "Greg Anthony should never ever be in a position to question myself on anything about basketball. I do remember the kind of player he was. I'll leave it at that."

You have to be out of your mind to argue against the fact that Thomas was a vastly superior player to Anthony. But for him to make a blanket statement elevating himself to deity status on all issues basketball is absolutely absurd. Thomas doesn't have much to brag about in his post-playing days. It's pretty much been failure after failure for him since then, none more spectacular than his running the Knicks into the ground. Instead of rushing to jump all over Anthony, maybe Thomas should check his ego just a little bit and take a hard look in the mirror. Maybe he'll see what seems to be obvious to the rest of us, that it makes plenty of sense to question him on "anything about baskeball."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I think the shock of the Cardinals' horrific choke job against is just now starting to wear off. And to think that people were thinking that this could be a playoff team this year. That wasn't all that much of a stretch - they have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball...but oh, that woeful offensive line. It may not be glamorous, but you have to have a good foundation on the O line before anything else in my opinion - it gives the team a chance on offense. Even if there's not a whole lot of talent at the skill positions, a good O line will give the QB a precious few more seconds to find a receiver, and obviously, sets up the run. I hate to bring this up, being the avowed Cowboy hater that I am, but the Cowboys' Super Bowl teams of the mid '90s had an offense to remember in large part because their offensive line was fabulous. Now, Dallas had Hall of Fame talent at the skill positions too, but a good offensive line can lift a team with average talent at the skill positions - witness the 2001 Baltimore Ravens. Good running back in Jamal Lewis, but only one real receving threat in Shannon Sharpe, and an average QB in Trent Dilfer. But they had a great offensive line, and that was huge in helping that team win the Super Bowl.

Something else that I think got obscured by the sheer shock of the Cardinals' collapse is the question of where this leaves the Bears among the NFL elite now. I think you still have to consider them among the top 3 teams in the league, and the best team in the NFC - no team has been as impressive overall than the Bears have been to this point. But the question is, do you look at this game as a red flag for the Bears, that they're a lot more vulnerable than we thought? Or does this prove that the team can win a tough, close game, rather than just winning in blowout fashion? And if so, do they deserve the romantic "team of destiny" tag?

I think the Bears clearly are taking a good, hard look at what went wrong in the first three quarters of the game to an inferior team. However, the team needs these tests through the season. The team that never gets tested during the season is hurt for it in the playoffs, when it's going to be unlikely you will be able to dominate your opponents. Just look at last year - the Colts flirted with an undefeated season, dominating everyone who came in their path. The Steelers barely made the playoffs, and were just 7-5 after 12 games. But come the playoffs, the Steelers beat the Colts, and I have no doubt that their ability to deal with adversity played a role in getting them that win and eventually, the Super Bowl.

So the Bears are vulnerable - and key among those question marks is the startlingly bad performance of QB Rex Grossman. while he deserves a lot of credit for his overall body of work this season, this game showed he should not be crowned the next John Elway after his horrendous 6 turnover disaster of a performance. That being said, there is no dominating team out there, and the Bears are more of a sure thing these days than most any other team in the NFL.

As far as the "team of destiny" tag that people are now eager to throw at the Bears after the win, I think that's a little tricky, and I won't be among the people who will do that. I thought the Colts were destiny's team last year, and obviously, I was proven wrong. It's a little too early in the season, in my opinion, and the picture of the NFL hierarchy too muddled, to make a determination on that.

And I would be remiss in talking about this game if I didn't mention Denny Green's spectacular press conference breakdown. Wow, that thing was of Bob Knight proportions. Here's the link:


And, speaking of coaches' meltdowns, I love this clip and had to include it:


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Stephen Jackson of the Indiana Pacers was jailed today for firing shots from his gun during a fracas at a strip club last week. What ends up happening to him and how that affects the Pacers remains to be seen, but my question is, why did he have a gun with him in the first place? To me, it seems like that if you are casually carrying around a weapon, you are going to find trouble. Jackson claims self-defense in his role in the fight, and while I don't know how legitimate that claim is, the fact remains he bears responsibility for putting himself in the situation he found himself in. If Jackson thinks he can brand himself as the innocent victim in this case, he's crazy.

Doesn't it seem like anyone who carries around a gun for "self-defense" reasons always ends up getting in situations where he needs to use it? How many people are there in the world that walk around unarmed - and nothing ever happens to them? You walk around with a gun, and trouble is going to find you.

And I also wonder what Jackson's definition of self-defense really is. We don't have any visuals or any real clear accounts of everything that transpired at the strip club, but we do have another incident to look back on - the famous brawl in the stands at the end of the Pistons-Pacers game a couple of years ago. Jackson was one of the main figures in that mess, famously (and without much hesitation) jumping in the stands with Ron Artest to fight the fans. Maybe the players would argue otherwise, but I can't believe that Jackson could claim self-defense in that situation either - that was rage coming out to fruition. I seriously doubt that any of the fans at the game that day would have posed much of a phsyical threat to Jackson, a world-class athlete.

So if his perception of what "self-defense" really is skewed, as I would argue that it is, then I think you have to say that he has an aggressive personality, a quick temper, and to be sure, questionable judgement. In any case, Jackson should be held responsible for his actions at the strip club, regardless of whether he was the instigator. Maybe that'll send some sort of messge that it's not ok to carry a weapon around with you just like you would your wallet.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I found out today that the NHL season starts tonight, which really caught me off guard. With everything else going on in the sports world - the baseball playoffs, the ever-present NFL - you could understand it being pushed a little to the backburner. But to me, the fact that I only realized on the day of that the regular season of a major sports league was starting, is the latest sign that hockey is nothing more than a niche sport in America now. Now, I consider myself to be pretty well kept up on happenings in the sports world; while I'm definitely not an avid hockey fan, I do pick up on the major headlines that are going on in the sport. And to not even know that the season is starting until the same day is pretty amazing.

This drop in the status of hockey in the hierarchy of the American sports landscape is a little bit startling to me. When I was a kid, there were the four major sports leagues- NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL. The NHL was definitely a distant fourth, but to me, it seemed like it was firmly in that group of upper echelon sports leauges in terms of importance. Now, I think it'd be hard to make an argument that it comes anywhere close to touching that top tier group of leagues.

This got me thinking about what the rankings in popularity of sports leagues are now, in the year 2006. So, in that vein, here's my very unscientific list:

1. NFL (There is no doubt about this as the number one sports league. I can say with full confidence that this is the most popular sport in the country.)
2. Major League Baseball (Probably not America's Pastime anymore, but it will always be loved by people in this country.)
3. NBA
4. NASCAR (I almost put this in a tie with the NBA for third place. I bet if I did this list again in five years, this would be the #3 sport. It's amazing how mainstream this sport is becoming. And they do know how to market themselves well.)
5. PGA Tour (As long as Tiger Woods is playing at least....)
6. NHL

And this doesn't even include the NCAA. College football and basketball are more popular too - why else would their championship games be on major networks in prime time, while the Stanley Cup Finals toil away on some second-rate cable network? Oh, and fantasy football gets more coverage in the media than the NHL does...truly unbelievable.

I think that hockey's become a niche sport for a few reasons. One, there's no compelling, larger than life figure. There's no Wayne Gretzky, there's not even a Mario Lemieux around who can lift the league. Say what you will about the beauty of the game itself being the most important factor in a sport's popularity, but every single sport has relied on a lift from a legendary figure to carry it into that to that next level. Babe Ruth in baseball, Larry Bird/Magic Johnson in basketball, Tiger Woods in golf. Also, there's really a lack of a marquee team. Arguably, the marquee teams in hockey are the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens - both Canadian. So obviously, there's less of an appeal there for Americans. And of course there was the league's lockout from a couple of years ago. Yes, other sports have dealt with labor issues and work stoppages before, but they were able to recover for the most part because they were working from a position of strength. The NHL is not on the same radar screen as the NFL and MLB in terms of popularity. So to come back from a work stoppage means losing the borderline mainstream fan that you'll probably never get back.

From the little bit I do read about hockey, it seems like if you do choose to tune in nowadays, you'll be treated to a fun viewing experience. But getting through the cluttered sports landscape is the hard part.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Another regular season in baseball has come to a close, and yet again, my team, the Baltimore Orioles came nowhere close to contention. The problem with losing so many years in a row, as the Orioles have, you start to expect it. And when as a fan, you don't expect the team to win, it breeds apathy, which is probably the worst feeling in any sort of relationship, in this case, the fan-team relationship. And it really is a relationship - the team continually gives you no reason to come back, and the relationship disintegrates. It's no wonder no one shows up to Camden Yards anymore. Not even that beautiful stadium is that much of a lure anymore. I used to get really excited to watch the Orioles play, and I would follow intently. Now, I don't see much of a point. Even if they win a game or two, what does it really matter....the organization as a whole is not putting a product on the field that's anywhere close to comparable to the Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, etc, etc.

If you want to play devil's advocate, you could say there's always reason for hope - the Tigers from this year, the White Sox from last year, the Marlins that won the World Series in 2003. But in each of those situations, they had managers that helped to change the losing culutre, talented players on their way up, not down, and a passion that they played the game with. I don't see any of that with the Orioles. It might be too early to judge manager Sam Perlozzo, but it sure doesn't seem like there's any change in the clubhouse culture to me. The fact is they wound up in their familiar fourth place finish yet again, so I'm going to have to assume that not much has changed. And the Orioles don't have enough of those players that are in their primes or on the way to reaching their primes. They have a few nice young players, but every time you think of younger players like Nick Markakis or Chris Ray, who seem like they'll be pretty good, you remember that the team also has players like Kevin Millar and Melvin Mora, who are definitely on the downturn of their careers.

In my opinion, the Orioles need to seriously overhaul the roster, because the way the team is composed now, they'll forever be in limbo, always thinking they have a chance, but in reality they don't because the roster is a mismatched collection of parts. They need to gut the roster, start fresh, keep players like Markakis, Ray, and Erik Bedard, and not kid themselves that they're going to win right away. They need to be willing to let young players develop and flourish - and if you have the right players, the rebuilding process doesn't have to take that long. Just look at the Marlins from this year. That's a team that everyone thought would be the worst team in the National League to start the year, and now, it's very reasonable to think they could be a playoff team next season.

Unfortunately, Peter Angelos, the owner, will never do that because his ego gets in the way, and he thinks he knows how to construct the team better than anyone else. It's not just your team, Peter. We the fans are paying the money for the tickets, and if you keep putting the same old unacceptable product on the field, the fans won't come back, and they haven't been coming for a while now.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Redskins just beat the Jaguars in an amazing game - Santana Moss scored on a long touchdown to win the game 36-30. I noticed in this game in particular how much you really have to be lucky to win a close game like this was. The Redskins got two breaks in this game. First, at the end of the first half, they recovered a fumble that shouldn't have been ruled a fumble by Alvin Pearman of the Jags and were able to convert that into a field goal - a score they obviously needed considering the game went into overtime. Then, just the fact that they won the coin toss in overtime. Randy Cross, the CBS commentator for the game, mentioned that he thought that whoever won the coin toss would win the game given how well both offenses were playing - and he turned out to be right. Now, after getting those two breaks, the Redskins are riding an emotional high with their confidence up, having beaten a team that's been touted as a Super Bowl contender recently. The prospects for the season now seem just as bright as they were when the season opened. But just think, if they lose that coin toss and Jacksonville scores, we're staring at 1-3, which would likely be too deep a hole to dig out of.

Other thoughts about the game....for all my complaining and skepticism about Mark Brunell, he played well today against a very good team. The poor passes we saw in his horrific performance against Dallas in Week 2 were replaced for the most part by accurate and clutch throws....Speaking of clutch, Santana Moss has to be one of the highest value-per-touch receivers in the league. When he catches the ball, he always seems to make a big play. He had 4 catches today, and 3 of them were for touchdowns. It just shows how important speed is. The defense knows he has the ability to turn any play into a touchdown, and yet they still can't stop him....But the most important player on the team is without a doubt Clinton Portis. It's a thing of beauty to watch him patiently wait for holes in the line to develop and then burst through them. What sets him apart from other running backs is that he knows how to find the open space in the field. The team just has a whole different identity when he's on the field steadying the offense.

All that being said, the Redskins' defense still isn't quite where they were at the end of last year, when it was a playmaking machine that propelled the team into the playoffs. The front seven is still pressuring the quarterback well, but for that to be totally effective, they need better play from their secondary, and it's clear that they need Shawn Springs back and playing as soon as possible. They gave up some big passes down the field, especially a couple to Reggie Williams in the fourth quarter that really let the Jaguars back into the game.

So now, we're back to .500, there seems to be new life in the Redskins heading into next week's huge game against the Giants, who are coming off that awwwwful performance against the Seahawks. It'll be real interesting to see how both teams respond to two very different games.
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