Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Favorite Super Bowl Commercials: #6 and #5

#6: Mountain Dew - Bohemian Rhapsody Remake - The original Queen song is sacred, and you've got to be really careful not to mess with it for commercial reasons. But this ad gets it right. It really pays homage to Queen rather than desecrating their signature song. I don't think you could have pulled off this ad with any other soda though. Mountain Dew seems to fit the occasion.

#5: McDonald's - "The Showdown" between MJ and Larry Bird - This commercial has it all - big stars, memorable lines, and that outfit that Michael Jordan is wearing - unmistakeably '90s.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Favorite Super Bowl Commercials: #8 and #7

Next couple in my top 10: a pair from Budweiser. And yes, I do like the sequel commercials with the lizard a little better than the original frogs.

#8: Budweiser frogs

#7: Louie the Lizard out for revenge on the frogs

Helton to Boston?

ESPN's Buster Olney is reporting that the Rockies and Red Sox are in talks about a potential deal that could send 1B Todd Helton to Beantown. According to Olney:

"In the current proposal, the Red Sox would send (3B Mike) Lowell, (RP Julian) Tavarez and prospects to the Rockies. But the identity of the prospects could hold up the deal: The Rockies want relief pitchers Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen, while the Red Sox do not want to give up either at this time."

To me, that would be too steep a price to pay. If the Red Sox did pull the trigger on the deal, they would have quite a powerful lineup, with Helton joining Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and JD Drew. But if they had to give up even just one of the duo of Hansen and Delcarmen, that would leave their bullpen dubiously thin heading into the season. Unless the Red Sox know something about Joel Pineiro that the rest of us don't, the back end of their pen looks shaky.

As it stands now, the Sox look to have one of the best lineups and rotations in all of baseball, the Helton deal notwithstanding. But they should take a lesson from the 2006 Indians, a team that had great talent in both the lineup and their in their starting rotation. But their nonexistant bullpen killed their chances, and they ended up as one of the biggest underacheiver in baseball.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

My 10 Favorite Super Bowl Commercials

With the Super Bowl about a week away - let the pre-game shows begin - I started thinking about that other Super Sunday staple, the commercials. And while I don't think the ads have been up to par in recent years, especially last year, there have been plenty of great ones over the past 25 years. So these that I'll count down every day for the next week aren't necessarily "the best" commercials, but are my favorites. So without further ado....

#10. Elmer Bruker - Miller Lite - The only man to play in every Super Bowl, but never played

#9. When I Grow Up... - - Wow, what a brilliant ad; cynical yet hilarious at the same time. Monster couldn't have gotten their point across any better.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Glibert Arenas Gets the All-Star Nod

Wizards point guard and mid-season MVP candidate Gilbert Arenas came from behind to pass Vince Carter and eke out a spot as an Eastern Conference All-Star Game starter.

I should be thrilled that we have a legitimate star in town for the first time since the Stone Age. (And no, I don't count Michael Jordan. He was as much a true Washington Wizard as much as I am 7 feet tall. And yes, I realize I just used the phrase "true Washington Wizard." Yuck.) But I can't help but say that I'm a little disappointed he got the starting All-Star spot. Why do you ask?

Well, a little bit because that could have been about the 359th slight, real or perceived, that he would have used as motivation to raise his game to an even higher level.

But mostly, I would have liked to have seen how he would have tried to get back at the people who left him off the starting squad in favor of Carter. What would he have done? Take on 4 Nets fans and a random Raptors fan in a pickup game to make them pay for their sin?

Maybe that could be the first game of a doubleheader. Game 2: Gilbert vs. the 2006-07 Duke Blue Devils. First to 85 points wins.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

SI Story on Jermareo Davidson

Just read a great article in Sports Illustrated by Grant Wahl on Alabama forward Jermareo Davidson, who went through the incredible tragedy of having both his older brother and his long-term girlfriend die within days of each other back in November. There's no need to rehash how mind-bogglingly sad that is - that'd be gratuitous.

It is important though, to point out Davidson's strength of character and will, not to mention the indelible impression his two deceased loved ones made on him, for the fact that he's still playing this season with the Crimson Tide. It's so easy, when racked with difficulty and/or tragedy to let yourself wallow in the sadness and allow yourself to be too incapacitated to function. It's incredibly hard to make a step forward when you're in a pit of grief so deep.

But Davidson, to his credit, has been able to draw strength from loved ones, his faith, and the memory of his brother and girlfriend and step back on the court. He didn't have to continue the season, but he got back on the court after missing only a game, because he knew that's what his brother and girlfriend would have wanted him to do. Making the decision to move forward, while always keeping the memory of his loved ones close to him is really an act of determination to be praised.

Roger Federer: Tennis G.O.A.T.

Ho-hum. Another day, another dominating victory by tennis god Roger Federer, blasting poor Andy Roddick in straight sets, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 in the Australian Open semifinal. I'm not usually a big tennis fan, but I have found it incredibly enjoyable the last few years watching Federer rack up major victory after major victory. It's less about the tennis than it is being in the midst of history. When authorities like Andre Agassi are saying that he may be the best player of all time, I tend to believe that.

And what a renaissance we're in now for G.O.A.T.'s (Greatest of All Time, to steal Muhammad Ali's term). We have Federer, who barring injury or abrupt retirement, will surely hold all the records there are to hold, and of course the incomparable Tiger Woods. Add in Michael Jordan, and in the last 20 years, we've seen the greatest players of all time in three different sports.

I've found that it's more fun to root for a dominating player in individual sports rather than team games. With a team game, you have a city that you identify with and unless your team is dominating, winning title after title, you're going to be resentful of any city and team that is hogging the spotlight. There's something to the civic pride that's natural to people.

But with individual sports like golf or tennis, you may root for a particular player because you like his or her personality, but there's probably not the deep attachment that you would get with your local baseball team for example. So you're more tolerant of an athlete who is preposterously head and shoulders above the rest of the competition, a la Federer. You're free to watch a feat of greatness without the cumbersome resentment of city rivalry coming into play.

In that vein, I'm not afraid to say that I'm rooting for Federer to finish the job and win his 10th major title.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I Guess This Means T.O. Is Staying

Report just coming out via AP that Bill Parcells is retiring, this time probably for good. You can say this about the man, you never really know what he's thinking. Remember how everyone said that the play of Tony Romo energized him this season? Well, didn't play out that way in the end. Romo's bobble in the playoff game against Seattle was probably the cherry on top of a maddeningly inconsistent year for Dallas, fraught with Terrell Owens-led distractions.

The really rotten thing of it all for Dallas is the fact that former Parcells assistant Sean Payton, just coming off a championship game appearance with the Saints, isn't around to fill Parcells' shoes. It'll be interesting to see who they can hire as coach this late in the game. My guess goes to Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

My Pick for Saints-Bears

Earlier in the week, I went out on a limb and picked the Colts to break their playoff hex against the Patriots and advance to the Super Bowl. And now, after a lot of time spent trying to rationalize a winner, I'll give you my NFC Championship pick.

As is the case with almost all of the games in this year's playoffs (New York-New England is the only game that stands out to me as having had a clear favorite in the Pats), these two teams are pretty evenly matched and I do see a close game shaping up.

Here are some of the key storylines going into the game, and how I see them playing out in the result:

The homefield advantage factor: Yes, the Saints play in a temperature-controlled dome, but that doesn't mean they don't know how to play in the natural elements. New Orleans actually had a better record on the road than at home this season, going 6-2, including wins at cold-weather locations in Green Bay and Cleveland in addition to a 7 point loss at Pittsburgh. And QB Drew Brees is no stranger to winter in the Midwest, having played four years in the Big Ten at Purdue. If the Saints lose, it won't be because of the weather - they're too focused and driven of a team to let that defeat them.

Good Rex vs. Bad Rex: The eternal guessing game goes on for at least another week: which Rex Grossman will show up? Early season MVP candidate Rex, or 1.3 QB rating (referring to his performance in a game against Minnesota this season), Rex? If history is any indication, I would anticipate seeing Bad Rex in this game. He seems to have his best performances when everyone is doubting him. He shuts everyone up for one week, then goes out and proves why the doubters were out in the first place. The ironic part is, for the Bears to win, they're going to need Grossman to challenge the Saints' secondary, one of New Orleans' weaknesses.

Saints Offense vs. Bears Defense: I give the edge to the Saints' offense here. Bears' opponents have scored at least 24 points in 4 of their last 5 games, including Seattle last week. An important addendum to that is the fact that Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck was playing with an injured hand, meaning the Seahawks' offense wasn't really at full strength. And rare is the occasion when New Orleans is shut down on the offensive side - they have put up at least 20 in 13 of their 17 games this year. Their offense is humming along, just as the Bears' defense has slumped.

So it probably shouldn't come as shocker that I'm picking the Saints to continue their dream season and advance to Super Bowl XLI. That being said, they need to keep the ball away from Chicago return man extraordinaire Devin Hester at all costs, and if it's a close game in the final minutes, will need to hope that they get the ball last - if the Bears do, their kicker Robbie Gould has already shown that he can kick the clutch field goal to win the game.

Tomorrow we'll see if the people's choice Super Bowl of Colts-Saints comes to fruition.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Kwame Brown Steals a Cake

Yes, you read that right. I was trying to see if I could think of a clever title for this post, but I figured that just describing the run-in with the man and his cake would be ridiculous enough.

I don't know what I can add to this except that I wish I could see video of this happening live with Benny Hill's wacky theme music in the background.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Circle of Life for Sammy Sosa

Word is that Sammy Sosa is close to signing a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers, the team he started his major league career with hundreds of home runs ago way back in 1989. The good thing for the Rangers is that it's low-risk - and let's be honest, this is about as good of an offer that Sosa was going to get - but I still don't see him improving the club much.

As an Orioles fan, I saw Sosa play a lot the last season he was in the game, 2005, and his spot in the lineup was a huge weak point for the team. His skills just seemed to free fall all at once that season, and a year older and a year out of the game, there seems to be little reason to think he can regain much of his former glory. I think he's never been the same since he got hit in the head by Solomon Torres on a pitch that shattered his helmet. Now, he stands too far away from the plate and can't reach a lot of pitches.

Understandably, the prolonged slump he went through in 2005 crushed his confidence, so it'll be interesting to note his mental state when and if he comes back. If Sosa has anything working for him, it's the fact that this is a no-pressure situation for him, because not much is being expected. Just don't count on him being the kind of player he once was - he needs to find a niche on that team, like part-time DH, to be successful. But for a man with the healthy ego that he has had, that might be a tough pill to swallow.

But then again, so is the professional state he finds himself in now.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Game of the Year, Part II

What a weekend of seeming oxymorons in the AFC. On Saturday, the Colts, one of the statistically worst rush defenses in the history of the National Football League out-slugged a Baltimore Ravens team with stars all over the defensive side of the ball in an uncharacteristically ugly 15-6 win.

Then on Sunday, the New England Patriots, who if you listened to the media last week, would have you think that aside from Tom Brady, they have less talent than your local Pop Warner team, came from behind to defeat a supremely talented Chargers team that had made come-from-behind wins one of their staples this season. (And what a cruel turn for (at the moment) Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, who must feel like Charlie Brown getting the football taken out from under him by Lucy over and over again.)

And now, the two old nemeses meet again in the playoffs, for the third time in four years, for the AFC Championship, which for a lot of people, will be tantamount to the Super Bowl, given the weak state of the NFC. But this time, the Colts get the Pats on their own turf, the RCA Dome, where they were unbeatable this season. This time they won't have to deal with the extreme New England elements that helped to doom them in the 2003 and 2004 playoffs.

That's just one reason why I like Indianapolis to finally break through and reach the Super Bowl after so many years of frustration. As Tom Brady reaffirmed for everyone on Sunday, picking against him usually ensures that you will look like a fool, but I'm going to do it anyway.

Though the stakes were much lower, the Colts have shown that they are capable of beating the mighty Pats by taking the last two regular season meetings. While they still have quite a lot to prove, those two wins shouldn't be forgotten - the Colts surely won't be shaking in their boots when it's time to take the field.

Second, it seems like Indianapolis has finally learned how to play winning playoff football. They've showed the last two games that they don't need Peyton Manning to play spectacularly in order to win. Particularly in the Ravens game, they've shown that they just need him to make plays when it counts, (to be Tom Brady-like in a sense), and the suddenly stout defense and run game will bring it home. Unlike the 2003 team, an offensive juggernaut that stormed into New England for the AFC Championship with their hair on fire only to be meekly put away on a cold day, this team can win ugly, and it may take that against New England.

Lastly, and most importantly, the Colts look to have the resolve of a team that has learned from its past mistakes and the hunger to prove everyone wrong who doubted them. The late-season slump they suffered may in the end be their best friend, because it has forced them to dig down and find out what they are really made of. And right now, they've shown to be a resilient team that has the ability to go all the way.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Whisenhunt Takes Cardinals Job

It's official - the Arizona Cardinals have hired the Steelers' innovative offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt as their next head coach. Everybody speaks very highly of his offensive smarts, and having worked under Bill Cowher will no doubt aid him in his quest to finally turn that Cardinals franchise around. One caveat though - he needs to upgrade the personnel on the offensive line, or else he won't be able to execute a lot of that offensive innovation.

This means that current Steelers assistant Russ Grimm and Georgia Tech head coach and former Steelers offensive coordinator Chan Gailey appear to be the front-runners for the Pittsburgh job. They should have a decision made by next week.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Great story here that was on about Appalachian State basketball head coach Houston Fancher. He persevered through some incredibly tough times professionally, and it's refreshing to see a coach who appreciates what he has. Instead of having the mindset of using Appalachian State as a stepping stone, he does his program and himself justice by committing for the long-term whole-heartedly. Appalachian State is lucky to have him.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Cinderella Colts Get it Done Again

It's a team that is the first in NFL history to start consecutive seasons 9-0 and has arguably the preeminent quarterback in the game. Yet, it seems appropriate to label the suddenly tough Indianapolis Colts a bona fide Cinderella story after their 15-6 slugfest upset win over the talkative Baltimore Ravens.

The Colts shed their two biggest demons of the 2006 season with their performance in this win:

First, their struggles on the road this season, which included a couple of embarrassing losses to the Texans and the Jaguars. And they were facing a stadium full of Ravens fans out for blood, still bitter about the Colts' departure from Baltimore more than two decades ago. That's about as hostile of an environment as it gets.

And even with the D's impressive showing against Larry Johnson and the Chiefs last week, it was widely thought that the unit wouldn't be able to sustain it two weeks in a row, surely not when you give the Ravens a lot of time to prepare, which they had with the bye.

The most impressive part about it was that Peyton Manning, by anyone's standards, had a fairly mediocre game. Instead, they did what you have to do to win playoff games: they played tough defense, got great special teams play, and ran the ball to perfection, never better than in their stunning and methodical game-clinching drive to essentially run out the clock in the fourth quarter. If any game was an affirmation of their off-season moves, namely signing clutch kicker Adam Vinatieri and entrusting the running game to Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes, it was this one.

As a native of Maryland (though I'm first and foremost a Redskins fan), logic dictated that I should have been rooting for the Ravens. But to be honest, I couldn't help but smile seeing the reaction on the sidelines when Vinatieri kicked the game-clinching field goal. None was better than the jubilant yet characteristically understated expression on Tony Dungy's face. After the personal tragedy and professional failure he had to endure at the end of the 2005 playoffs, not to mention a rep as a coach that can't win the big one, it's nice to see him advancing in the playoffs with a chance to play for the Super Bowl.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Blast from the Past with the Oakland A's

With Mark McGwire officially getting shut out of the Hall of Fame yesterday, I went on YouTube to see if I could find a good McGwire video - instead, I found this clip from Reading Rainbow from 1989, where trusty and lovable host Levar Burton goes to spring training with the Oakland A's.

This clip gets even more amusing when you think of some of the players who were on that team: Jose Canseco, Dennis Eckersley, and Dave Stewart to name a few of the team's stars that you don't normally think of as kid-friendly.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Just Stop the Boorishness, Please

Tonight, instead of watching the BCS championship game, I had an offer to go watch my alma mater, Georgetown, play a home game against one of its Big East rivals in Villanova. Unfortunately, I came away feeling disappointed - yeah, a lot of it had to do with the Hoyas' close loss in a game they led rather comfortably at halftime. (And though the Florida-Ohio State romp wasn't much of a contest, I wish I could have seen at least a little bit of that history take place.)

But the biggest reason I had a sour taste in my mouth was because some of the Georgetown cheering section, believe it or not. I'm no dummy - I know that jeering the opponent is a huge part of being a fan, especially when it's a rivalry game like this one is. But there have to be some restraint involved, or else you come away looking like an idiot, which some of our fans did.

My pet peeve among the moronic insults is screaming "Bullshit!" at the top of your lungs to any call that goes against the home team. Hey, believe it or not, the home team does commit fouls every once in a while. Instead of priming yourself to shout that out every time the whistle blows, why not try to watch the game instead? And how does that chant of "bullshit" come off to the other fans in the stadium who aren't students? There are plenty of families attending with their children - it's just not appropriate in this venue.

And how about chanting "You suck!!"to cap off one of those jaunty little tunes that the band plays? Yeah...not so effective when you're losing the game. Gotta pick your spots for that classy insult. At least some of the fans around me noticed, and said something to the effect of, "Yeah, but we're sucking more than they are now."

I was especially shocked by what the Georgetown booster club left for the students when they arrived at their seats. On each chair was a sheet of paper that was essentially a forum for taking low-level pot shots against Villanova. On it, it called one of Villanova's freshmen a "white stiff" and coach Jay Wright "a greasy guy." That was really disappointing to me because unlike a few individuals acting like morons, this was a bunch of mean-spirited messages with the Georgetown name affixed to them. That makes the institution look bad, which is a shame because most of the students at the game probably were more interested in cheering on the Hoyas than tearing down Villanova.

When you have to resort to ripping the opponent rather than devoting your energy to supporting your own team, you look desperate and classless - which isn't how I usually think of Georgetown.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Will Petrino Be the Answer?

Moving swiftly to fill their head coaching position, the Atlanta Falcons lured erstwhile Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino to fill their vacancy with a contract of 5 years, $24 million. Now, the question with Petrino, as it is with any coach moving from the college ranks to the pros, is will his coaching skills translate to the unique challenges of the NFL?

Petrino does have a few things working in his favor:

1. He inherits a team that, if it ever played up to its potential, could easily back in the playoffs next year in the mediocre NFC. There's talent there on both sides of the ball, but they have to make the most of their ability and hope to avoid injuries that hurt them in 2006.

2. Regarding the big question of how he will be able to maximize one Michael Vick's talents, he does have a good deal of experience with similarly mobile quarterbacks. He was quarterbacks coach and later offensive coordinator in Jacksonville when Mark Brunell was firmly entrenched as starter. He also was at Arizona State to aid the development of Jake Plummer in his first two years. Who knows if that will mean anything in the end, but it's at least a promising start.

3. This is a job he really seems to want, meaning he's committed for the long haul. Following Nick Saban's about-face, spurning the Dolphins for Alabama, there will now be scrutiny attached to the commitment of college-turned-pro head coaches. However, this wasn't just the first NFL job he was offered. He turned down an offer from the Oakland Raiders in 2005, because it wasn't the right job. He's of course saying all the right things, calling the Falcons job, " the best job in the National Football League." So on the surface, the Falcons should be getting the best of Petrino.

Now comes the hard part, building a consistent winner for a team that has never had consecutive winning seasons in its history.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Jaw Steps Down

As has been anticipated pretty much the whole year, ever since Jerome Bettis's journalistic faux pas on opening night of the NFL season, Bill Cowher stepped down yesterday as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday. Cowher was the Steelers' coach since 1992, solidifying Pittsburgh as the probably the most stable franchise in all of sports. Whoever gets the job next, whether it be Ken Whisenhunt or Russ Grimm, should probably make plans to spend the next decade or so in Steel Town.

In contrast to the Steelers' remarkable stability, (not to mention their ability to pick out Hall of Fame caliber coaches), the rest of the NFL has been lived up to its moniker of the "Not for Long" league. In the time that Cowher has been in Pittsburgh, there have been 129 other head coaches in the league, and 131 separate coaching tenures when you count the second acts of Joe Gibbs in Washington and Art Shell in Oakland.

Here are the NFL franchises going from most turbulent to most stable:

7 Head Coaches:
Detroit Lions
New York Jets
Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
Washington Redskins

6 Head Coaches:
St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams

5 Head Coaches:
Arizona Cardinals
Atlanta Falcons
Buffalo Bills
Dallas Cowboys
Miami Dolphins
New Orleans Saints
San Diego Chargers

4 Head Coaches:
Cincinnati Bengals
(New) Cleveland Browns
Green Bay Packers
Indianapolis Colts
Kansas City Chiefs
New England Patriots
New York Giants
San Francisco 49ers

3 Head Coaches:
Baltimore Ravens/Cleveland Browns
Carolina Panthers
Chicago Bears
Denver Broncos
Minnesota Vikings
Philadelphia Eagles
Seattle Seahawks
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2 Head Coaches:
Houston Texans
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

(Of course here, you have 2 relatively recent expansion teams in Houston and Jacksonville)

1 Head Coach:
Pittsburgh Steelers

Here's Cowher at one of his most triumphant moments, after winning the 2006 AFC Championship en route to their Super Bowl XL victory.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Darrent Williams: 1982-2007

Sadly, we need to start the New Year in the NFL talking about the tragic death of 24 year old Broncos CB Darrent Williams. Williams, who was 24, was shot to death following an altercation in a Denver area nightclub.

Amazing how quickly things change - less than 24 hours ago, the Broncos were crushed by their season-ending loss to the 49ers, which kept them out of the playoffs. Now, they have to mourn one of their teammates, one of their brothers. You always hear about how a huge part of the satisfaction of playing football comes from the camaraderie that the players have. I'm sure that the Broncos would consider themselves a big family, and this is going to be tough for them to get over.

The worst part is that he was only 24. As a 23 year old, I tend to think, like most other people my age, that I'm invincible. When you hear news like this though, you realize how fragile life really is, and how you have to be grateful for every day that you have.

Rest in Peace.
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