Monday, January 31, 2005

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Anatomy of a punking.

Changes on the way

Fair warning to all who comment: I am switching my comments to Haloscan later today as soon as I can save all the old comments.

I have been debating whether or not to switch to Haloscan since I've been surfing other blogs. Most bloggers I saw had Haloscan, but I needed another reason to do it besides "everyone else is doing it." And with Blogger's comment feature, I could get people's comments e-mailed to me so I could respond.

So I asked around to other bloggers, and they raved about Haloscan. Here's a summary of the feedback I got:

  • "It was very easy to set up" (points)
  • "You can delete/edit posts and ban posters." (points. Not that I really need this feature, I prefer to let the world see idiot Longhorn or Aggie fans for what they are, but OK)
  • "It lets more people besides Blogger subscribers comment." (more points)
  • "It gives you trackback, so you can see who's linking your posts." (bonus points)
  • "It's free" (major bonus points since I have a job that pays squat and not much else)
  • "No spikes in spam mail." (1up!)

Word of warning, however, you won't be able to email me through the comments section anymore. While I liked getting the e-mails, as I get more hits and comments, it would have just cluttered my inbox and there's no way I could have personally responded to everyone. Sorry.

I'd like to thank Paige of "Paige Six," Steve "The Holywriter", Sporting Fool Corey, and Amy from Dallas for answering my Haloscan questions and putting up with the incessant questions of a novice blogger.

One of the greatest college pranks ever

This story comes to Cheap Seats courtesy Yoni Cohen's blog and "Doyell's Dribbles" blog. According to an independent Maryland student newspaper, Duke fans were tricked into razzing their own team last Wednesday during the Duke-Maryland game.

Duke fans are notorious for passing out cheat sheets before every home game, cheat sheets that contain all kinds of dirt on the other team. Included on this week's cheat sheet was the following item: that Maryland forward Nik Caner-Medley's girlfriend Myra had the pet name of "Piggie." So the Cameron Crazies started chanting "Pig-gie!" and making oinking noises at Caner-Medley.

Turns out "Piggie" is not Myra's nickname, but the last name of a crack dealer who once gave a "thousand-dollar handshake" to former Duke player Corey Maggette. (For those not familiar with U.S. college sports, extra benefits other than a scholarship are a no-no and can get a school in serious trouble). This tidbit was provided by a Maryland student, who managed to pass himself off as a Duke grad student on Instant Messenger.

By the way, Dookies, how did you not see this "factoid" as bogus? The fact that "Piggie" was in reference to someone's girlfriend should have raised a red flag. No guy calls his girlfriend "Piggie," "Fat," or anything sounding like "Fat" unless he wants an instant breakup. Your average SAT score is in the 1200s, surely you are smarter than that.

Maybe the cheat sheet authors were single.

It's good to see Duke fans' arrogance work against them.

Kansas 90, Texas 65

In the marquee Big XII game last weekend, Kansas beat Texas severely. As in "Texas's worst Big XII loss ever under Rick Barnes" severely. Granted 20 turnovers, a 37.4% shooing percentage and going 4-23 from 3-point range are not going to get it done against anyone, but it shows that they are sliding fast since P.J. Tucker's suspension. They need to get it together quick if they want to salvage a tournament berth.

Kansas, however, deserves a few boos for sticking the ESPN crew down in what looked like the basement of Allen Fieldhouse. Seriously, Jayhawks, put Rece, Digger, and Gottlieb on the court. It doesn't take that much to tear down a pregame show set.

More College Notes

Arenaball, it's fan-tastic.

Making its season debut this weekend was the Arena Football League. Unfortunately, the hometown Austin Wranglers were punked in front of a national television audience by the Philadelphia Soul(Jon Bon Jovi's team) in the league's season opener. Credit former Falcons' benchwarmer Tony Graziani for shredding Austin's excuse for a defense, but the offense really failed to show up.

The disturbing thing about the game, I thought, is that an unsportsmanlike conduct was called for an end zone celebration during the first quarter. I thought Arenaball was supposed to be the anti-NFL in that it didn't stifle celebration and fun the way the NFL did. I hope this isn't a new trend.

The other disturbing thing about the game: Finding out that Jon Bon Jovi is still considered a "rock star" in some circles.

Super Bowl Item of the Day

In what may be a case of trying to make one move too many on Super Bowl week, the Eagles are giving key offensive player Brian Westbrook the punt return duties on Sunday.

Tomorrow: Cheap Seats' Super Bowl Preview (Part 1) and Illinois' quest to stay undefeated against Michigan State.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Best Damn Career Move Period.

New addition to the Blogroll

I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome Sporting Fools to the Cheap Seats Blogroll. You may have met one Sporting Fool, Corey, already if you have read the comments section of some posts. Very well-written blog. Check it out.

If it wasn't the Worst Damn Sports Show before...

I tuned into the Best Damn Sports Show the other night, and was shocked to find the old couch gone, replaced by a late night talk show set more befitting Jay Leno. Even more shocking is that Chris Rose and Bryan Cox were gone, and Tom Arnold and John Salley were left trying to carry what was left of the show. I cried out, "Why, Why did Fox Sports Net ruin such a good show?" OK, maybe it wasn't that good to begin with, but without Rose as the glue holding the show together, and long without Lisa Guerrero to draw in straight males who don't really follow sports, it's fallen apart.

So I did some internet detective work and eventually came across two articles from last week, one in the St. Pete Times, and another in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, both of which stated that Chris Rose is going to be an announcer for FSN's Arena Football coverage this Spring. Both articles also stated that he's looking to move up to Fox's NFL coverage in the future. Now, I don't know if this Arena Football thing is an official tryout to move up to Fox's broadcast team, but Rose is too smart to leave a highly rated, albeit marginally entertaining, show if he didn't have a legitimate chance to be part of Fox's even more highly rated NFL coverage. Stinks for fans of the old Best Damn, as Tom Arnold now has to carry the program without Rose to feed him a straight line, but good career move for Rose if it works out.

As for Bryan Cox, Fox Sports' website indicates that he will be part of Best Damn's Super Bowl show, but I couldn't find an article stating what his status on the show was. If you care, I'll keep looking.

For those tired of hearing about T.O.'s ankle, we give you more on T.O.'s ankle.

Add Jason Whitlock and Kyle Turley to the growing list of voices telling Terrell Owens to sit the Super Bowl out. Turley made his thoughts known on SportsCenter yesterday, saying that the Eagles will "get rid of him" once he can't perform (and then took a swipe at accused flaxseed oil user Jason Giambi).
Whitlock, who normally apologizes for any bad decision by an athlete, referred to Owens' attempt to play as "self-promotion" and said that he was "overshadowing other important storylines." Wow. When Jason Whitlock can't justify your actions, you're in trouble.

Four to Watch

With this week being the bye before the Super Bowl, we're watching as much College Basketball as possible.
  • Kentucky at Arkansas (Saturday, 2:30 PM Central, CBS) - Time for Stan Heath to put up or shut up.
  • Syracuse at Pittsburgh (Saturday, 6:00 PM Central, ESPN) - A tough road game for Syracuse. Will Pitt's Chevy Troutman be "like a rock"?
  • Texas at Kansas (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN2) - Which version of the post-Tucker Longhorns will show up? Which version of Kansas will show up?
  • Portland at Gonzaga (Saturday, 10:00 PM. ESPN2) - Gonzaga will be on upset alert (for once).

Have a good weekend.

Monday: More Super Bowl
Tuesday: Cheap Seats' Super Bowl Preview

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Dookies Upset


Duke was a little short of respect. Yes, they were #2 in the college hoops polls, and getting love from the ESPN talking heads, but columnists, bloggers, and everyone else who was paying attention was wondering if they were a little overrated. After all, they had loaded up on "cupcakes" and had yet to play the teams everyone thought were the best in the ACC, Wake Forest and North Carolina.
So with a struggling Maryland team coming into Cameron Indoor Stadium and a national cable television audience tuning in, Duke had an opportunity to prove to everyone they could beat a decent team.
They didn't take advantage of it. Maryland beat Duke at Cameron 75-66. They even played tougher than Duke down the home stretch, holding them to 2 points over the last 3:30 of the ballgame. Duke also got outrebounded 43-37. Duke players and coaches after the game even said that Maryland put up a better effort. So much for proving you deserve the #2 ranking.

Let me clarify something, I have no problem with Duke as an institution or a basketball team. They have one of the best coaches in the nation, Mike Krzyzewski, who also happens to be a Bob Knight guy. And like Bob Knight, Coach K has run a program that won national titles, recruited well without resorting to shortcuts, and graduated the majority of his players. Plus, most of the Duke players are good character guys that happen to have a lot of talent.
That said, I think they, and the ACC in general, get more attention than they deserve sometimes. This season Duke somehow got elevated to #2. Yes, they were undefeated, but they hadn't faced anyone else who was any good, even in conference.
I also don't care for Duke fan and Duke fan's arrogance, but that's a separate issue.

Karl closer to coaching Nuggets

The other buzz in Denver (besides the continuing problems with CU's athletic budget) is that
George Karl is close to being named head coach of the Nuggets. Why?
I like George Karl, he can do a lot with a mediocre team and, unlike most NBA coaches, he actually runs offensive plays that don't involve isolation. But this isn't the job that works best for him. Most post-Jordan NBA players are too pampered to listen to him. He really deserves to be in college, where his coaching style actually works and he can choose a roster of players who will actually listen to him.

Super Bowl Item of the Day: Sit down T.O.

Apparently T.O. hasn't gotten the message.
He's still trying to play, despite the minor detail that his orthopedic surgeon won't clear him. Naturally, neither the team doctors nor the training staff are standing in his way, even though they should be. I know your shots at a Super Bowl are limted, but T.O. should sit anyway. He's got more years ahead of him, and the Eagles have enough talent to make a few more Super Bowl runs in the future. In other words, he could sit this one out and easily make it back with the Eagles next year. (Heck, what secondary in the NFC has the personnel to match up with him?)

OK, Maybe one more Super Bowl item

Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press tells everyone why should just
pick the Patriots now and stick with it:

Pretty soon, up will be down and down will be up. Pretty soon, Donovan McNabb will be a more reliable quarterback than Tom Brady. Andy Reid will be a better coach than Bill Belichick. Pretty soon, Terrell Owens will go from hobbled to never hurt.

Pretty soon, everything you thought you knew will be everything you knew you thought. Pick now. I'm warning you. Once the hype seeps in, it's like driving in a blizzard. Can't see forest. Can't see trees.

I've already made my pick. I'm just waiting until the last possible moment to reveal it

Tomorrow: The disappearance of Chris Rose
Next Tuesday: Part 1 of Cheap Seats' Super Bowl Preview

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Things to do in Austin when you're under the weather

I feel really sick at the moment, I think I got the flu Monday at work. So I sat home and watched college hoops all night.

Texas 80, Texas Tech 73

Where to begin... The first half was horrible for Texas Tech. Texas ran a high percentage of zone and Texas Tech, predictably, shot 25%. Texas's twin toothpicks, Brad Buchman and Jason Klotz, were cleaning up on the boards. Daniel Gibson and Kenton Paulino got hot and stayed hot the whole game.
Second half was a little better. Tech got more aggressive on the glass and ended up out-rebounding Texas 37-33. Ronald Ross actually put the team on his back and finished with 29 points. Devonne Giles had a great game with 18 points and 13 boards. He actually found the high post holes in the zone in the second half, which I hope Knight and the coaching staff noticed. Darryl Dora continues to disappoint offensively. Martin Zeno disappeared, but still got 10 points. No contribution from the bench (1 point from the non-starters the whole game).
Overall, I think Texas deserves some credit for regrouping after the bad loss at OU. Daniel Gibson is starting to look like the second coming of T.J. Ford. Texas Tech needs to show some killer instinct when facing a team who is playing without their leading scorer and coming off a bad loss. If Giles continues to find holes in the zone and make shots it will help teams get out of the zone and let Tech run their motion offense. Although if Texas's two deathsticks got off to a good start down low, I shudder to think what OU'S Bookout and Gray are going to do in the paint.

Illinois 75, Wisconsin 65

Great job by Illinois going into a hostile environment and winning. Since I only saw the game at timeouts in the Texas-Texas Tech game, I'll just point you to people who actually saw the whole thing for their analysis.

  • Blogger "Illini Wonk": "The most impressive thing about this win is the deficit they overcame late in the game. At about the mid-point of the second half, the Illini were staring at an eight point defecit and a crazed crowd. While holding that eight-point lead, the Badgers had two offensive trips that could have extended the lead to double digits.
    But, as Dick Vitale said in the postgame on SportsCenter, 'all of a sudden you could see the look in their eye. They had the look of a champion and responded in a positive way.' The positive response by Illinois was a 13-2 run led by their bench to retake the lead. But, Wisconsin wasn't done. Two straight baskets from Mike Wilkinson and one by Alando Tucker gave the Badgers a 64-61 lead with four and a half minutes remaining in the game."
  • Tom Oates, [Madison, WI] Wisconsin State Journal: "Alas, noise can only carry a team so far. No matter how much electricity is in the air or how loud the roar that cascades from the seats, the game is still decided by the players. ...
    In a game that somehow managed to live up to the hype - no small feat given the immense national and regional buildup that preceded it - the Illini rallied to beat the Badgers 75-65. The crowd did its part, creating the most electric game-long atmosphere ever at the Kohl Center, but Illinois still put an end to UW's home streak."
  • Jay Mariotti, Chicago Sun-Times (and occasionally ESPN) : "As anticipated and incessantly hyped, the Kohl Center was playing like a medieval dungeon Tuesday, treating the top-ranked team in college basketball like a slab of cheese in an attic of rats. In the Illinois huddle, the boys weren't reacting too well to a rare dilemma: an eight-point deficit, a 17-4 Wisconsin run, a ravenous crowd smelling blood, Dickie V at courtside ready to anoint Duke as the best team in America.
    'Our guys started arguing a little,' coach Bruce Weber said. 'I looked at them and said, 'Look, what's with you guys? We've come all this way, and now you're going to start fighting?' We lost our poise. We weren't defending.'
    In the Grateful Red section, filled with students, a party was about to break out. 'Overrated! Overrated!' the kids chanted, peppering every Illini fan in sight with a choice backside-related insult."
    But in the end, it turned out only the building was overrated."
  • Dick Vitale, "In the end, it was the resiliency of Bruce Weber's team, coming back from an eight-point deficit in the second half, that got Illinois to the winner's circle. Those kids wouldn't go away after Wisconsin went on a 12-0 run to build a 56-48 lead.
    Then Illinois had a look in its eyes, and like a true champion, the Illini fought back. There was unbelievable intensity and emotion all night, and the Orange Krush prevailed 75-65. The final score didn't indicate how close this really was. It truly was a great college basketball game."

The Continuing Saga of Colorado's Basketball Budget Woes

As previously reported by this blog and the Denver Post, Ricardo Patton's CU Buffaloes are missing more class because budget cuts in the athletic department are forcing the team to cancel charter flights. Well, It's gotten worse. CU women's coach Ceal Barry has reduced the senior banquet to a backyard barbecue in order to keep her charter flights. (not that there's anything wrong with a backyard barbecue, it's just that you should do something a little nicer for your team at year's end).
Now we know where the money is going, at least in part.
According to the Associated Press, The Rocky Mountain News has obtained financial information that states that the fooball team spent $35,000 in electronic tchotchkes as rewards for it's players making the Houston Bowl. This despite the CU athletic program being $3 Million in the red because of the football scandals! So not only are they running a deficit, they are potentially running afoul of the NCAA once again, and the program in the most trouble still has a blank check to do what it wants. Just the sort of thing that would make a CU alum proud of his alma mater.

Why hasn't Bob Ley got wind of this? Or Sports Illustrated? This story deserves more attention than it is getting.

Places I'd like to see a game.

ESPN Writers Andy Katz, Pat Forde, and Fran Frachilla each compiled the list of their
5 best collegiate arenas. Naturally, this has spawned a spring of Top 5s on blogs across the country.

I've only been to 4 college hoops arenas in my lifetime (Tech's United Spirit Arena, the Erwin Center here in Austin, the old Miami Arena, and the Dean Dome. I also went to NC State's RBC Center, but that was for a Hurricanes-Avalanche game), so I really can't really come up with a top 5 list of basketball arenas I've been to. I think you need to go to at least 10 arenas so you can eliminate some truly bad ones. That said, there are some places I'd like to see a game. So here's my top 5 wish list in each sport:

Top 5 College Hoops arenas I'd like to see

  1. Allen Fieldhouse (Kansas) - I've been to Lawrence, but that was over Spring Break one year and by that time, the tournament was underway.
  2. Assembly Hall (Indiana) - Just to see where Bob Knight got his start
  3. Freedom Hall (Louisville) - Because if I have to pick one arena in Kentucky, I'm picking the one where Pitino is.
  4. The Palestra (in Philly)- I've heard Philly fan loves it's basketball. I want to see it for myself.
  5. The Pit (New Mexico) - Supposedly the best arena in the Mountain West.

Also recieving votes: Maples Pavilion, Gallagher-Iba Arena, Noble Center, Hofheinz Pavilion, Rupp Arena, U. of Miami's new arena, Pauley Pavilion.

Top 5 College football stadiums I'd like to see:
(I've been to Jones Stadium (Tech), and DKR-Memorial(UT) in case you are curious)

  1. The Big House (Michigan) - Just to see if it lives up to it's rep.
  2. Florida Field (Florida) - ditto
  3. Notre Dame - Because every college football fan should make a pilgrimage here once. Besides, the College Football Hall of Fame is here.
  4. The Rose Bowl on New Years' Day - Every fan should also make it out to a Rose Bowl also
  5. Tiger Stadium (LSU) - just for the crawfish at the tailgate. I love crawfish.

Also Recieving votes: Cotton Bowl (OU-Texas Game), Owen Field(OU), Neyland Stadium(Tennesee), "The Hedges" (Georgia).

Top 5 Pro Football Stadiums i'd like to see:

  1. Texas Stadium - Yes, believe it or not, I've never been to a Cowboys home game. As soon as I publish my novel, that will change
  2. Lambeau Field - This is another stadium I want to see if it lives up to the hype
  3. Reliant Field - Because anything has to be better than the Astrodome
  4. The artist formerly known as Pro Player Stadium - but only when Miami hosts the Super Bowl
  5. Network Associates Coliseum (a.k.a. "the Black Hole") - see #2

Top 5 Hockey Arenas I'd like to see:

  1. Pepsi Center - Would like to see an Avs home game for once, I've only seen the Avs in person twice, both on the road (although one time was Game 4 of the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals)
  2. Xcel Center (St. Paul, MN)- It hasn't been open that long, but I understand it's one of the best atmospheres
  3. Wachovia Center (Philly)- Supposedly another great atmosphere
  4. FleetCenter during the Beanpot (Boston) - Just so I can say I saw a Beanpot game.
  5. Any arena in Canada. Just to meet the people who understand hockey best.

Brief NBA Item

The Chicago Bulls are now 21-19 and 1 1/2 games behind defending champs Detroit (currently 4th) in the Eastern Conference with a lineup that features former collegiate All-Americans Chris Duhon, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Ben Gordon. Think college experience doesn't matter anymore?

Super Bowl Item of the Day

ESPN's Sal Paolantionio reported on SportsCenter last night that Terrell Owens' orthopedic surgeon is not clearing him to practice or play at the moment. Looks like everything's falling right for the Patriots.

I'm going back to bed now.

Tomorrow: More hoops, More Super Bowl

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Denver Post loves the Raiders

Texas Tech gets some print love

Texas Tech basketball, who faces one of their biggest tests of the season when they face the Texas Longhorns tonight,
got a favorable write-up from the Denver Post's Chris Dempsey:

Get to know the names Ronald Ross, Jarrius Jackson, Martin Zeno, Devonne Giles and Curtis Marshall. They are the Tech starters and each average at least 10 points. The Red Raiders have smoothed over the transition from losing high- scoring guard Andre Emmett, who led the Big 12 in scoring a year ago at 20.6 points per game. The scoring from Zeno, Giles and Marshall has not only helped bridge the gap left by Emmett, but Tech is scoring nearly 10 points more per game than it did last season (73.2).

Nice to see the players actually get the attention rather than the coach/lightning rod for once.

Bedlam on Big Monday

When Texas beat Oklahoma State last Monday playing primarily zone defense, it
raised some questions about the Cowboys ability to play against a zone. Sure enough, the Cowboys go into Oklahoma's barn and lose Monday night while facing a heavy amount of zone defense. Questions answered.

Around The Horn panelist and Dallas Morning News Columnist Tim Cowlishaw, on the other hand, was more impressed by Oklahoma's play.

At least they are trying...

NHL owners and players are meeting to hammer this lockout thing out. At this point, Middle East peace looks more likely, but at least they are talking and trying to resolve it. But there's no way the "coalition of the coerced and bribed" takes any offer from the owners seriously.

Super Bowl item of the Day

Chad Lewis, Eagles backup TE and key player in the goal-line set, is
out for the game with a broken foot. Eagles could sure use him in their goal line package.

Tomorrow: Texas Tech-Texas, Illinois-Wisconsin, and more Super Bowl

Monday, January 24, 2005

Wall-to-wall sports

What a packed weekend in sports, imagine how much more I'd have to write about if hockey was playing.

Colorado in hot water. Again.

This fell under the radar, but I'm leading off with this story because it needs to be out there. The Denver Post reported Sunday that Colorado head basketball coach
Ricardo Patton is not happy that cuts in the athletic department travel budget are undermining his players' academic performance. This from a school still reeling from football scandals involving sex as a recruiting tool and sexual harrassment of a former female player. You would think they would do anything to avoid a potential academic scandal in the basketball program given the circumstances. You would be wrong, of course, but you'd think it.
Before you get cynical and tell me "Of course something like this would happen in Colorado/college sports", know this: Patton is the anti-Gary Barnett. He generally considered one of the best all-around people coaching in the Big XII, a coach who is unwilling to take shortcuts to win a few extra games, and someone who cares about his players. And while most coaches would prefer to cover up academic woes, Patton has done the right thing and made it known to administration and fans.
That said, Patton's good deed may not go unpunished. ADs usually break off the coach whenever academic trouble comes to light, whether it's the coaches' fault or not. It may be more likely in this situation since administration was criticized for not letting Barnett go after the all the football scandals. And it would send the wrong message.

Another one bites the Dust

The number of undefeated teams was reduced to three as
Villanova beat Kansas 83-62 at the Wachovia Center Saturday, a victory only 'Nova fans and ESPN's Digger Phelps saw coming. Curtis Sumpter made the most of his national TV showcase, scoring 25 points, 15 of which came from beyond the arc, and Allen Ray did his best Ray Allen impression, scoring 27. What makes this even more interesting is that Kansas never threatened after 14:30 in the first half. Blogger "RS" made the following observation in the comments secton of Yoni Cohen's College Basketball Blog (an observation I happen to agree with):

A lot of what happened has to do with Nova..Kansas was sloppy on offense but Allen Ray and [Curtis] Sumpter didnt miss and once that started happening Kansas slumped their shoulders..i will repeat that this Kansas version will not be final four bound..those close games against average to below average teams at home are not an some point it becomes the truth.

More College Basketball Notes

  • Three potential bracket busters in the Missouri Valley go down: Southern Illinois (to Wichita State), Northern Iowa (to Bradley), and Creighton (to Illinois State).
  • The P.J. Tucker-less Texas Longhorns lost to Oklahoma and face the serious prospect of losing 2 in a row against Bobby Knight's Red Raiders Tuesday.
  • Speaking of Knight, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that he made a grand gesture to a 93-year old St. Louis college basketball fan, inviting him to Tech's game with Missouri, and posing for pictures with the man afterwards and signing autographs. (Also seen at the same game: St. Louis Cardinals' slugger Albert Pujols, who sat behind the Tech bench.)
  • Charlotte beat #25 Marquette at home. The 49ers are making a serious pitch for the NCAA tournament and could be a bracket buster.
  • Wake Forest also won a tough road game at Cincinnati. Hmm... North Carolina and Cincinnati in the same week. Nice trophies for the Deacs to hang on the wall.
  • Georgia Tech is fading fast without B. J. Elder. They dropped one to ACC newcomer Virginia Tech.
  • College Gameday's basketball debut Saturday at UConn was excellent. They managed to maintain the high-energy atmosphere of the show's football incarnation, and provide very good analysis. Even better: No guest appearances from Lee Corso. Sadly, the Huskies couldn't capitalize on the pre-game ESPN vibe, choking away a game to Pitt.

Conference Championships

  • Patriots 41, Steelers 20 - The Pats continue to impress with brilliant game planning. They knew Roethlisberger was struggling, and they went for the kill, choking off the one dimension of the Steelers' offense that was working. They continue to show signs of being on a mission to make history.
  • Eagles 27, Falcons 10 - How defensive coordinator Jim Johnson continues to roll out game plans that stop Michael Vick is anyone's guess, but he did it again Saturday. Not only that, he held the Falcons other rushing threat, Warrick Dunn, to 59 yards. As expected, the Falcons had no answer for former Villanova Wildcat(Been a pretty good weekend for 'Nova) Brian Westbrook, who had an excellent game with 135 combined yards.

So let the Super Bowl hype begin. Next week, I'll give my pick. (Keep watching!)

Take care, God bless, and R.I.P. Johnny Carson

Tomorrow: Okahoma-Oklahoma State on Big Monday

Friday, January 21, 2005

For entertainment purposes only...

Wake me when they have an agreement.

The NHL and it's players
met for 48 hours this week without Goodenow and Bettman, in the futile hope that a framework for an agreement could be reached without the two polarizing figures. No dice. Unfortunately, all the owners, not just Bettman, want a salary cap and the players, the new "coalition of the bribed and coerced," has been forced into supporting the belief that the NHL doesn't need one. Which means one of two things will happen. Either an impasse will be declared and players will inevitably cross picket lines or a couple of franchises will go bankrupt and the players will have to give in or face further job losses.
The NHLPA is, at this point, merely prolonging the inevitable when they make the salary cap issue a "non-starter." The Toronto Star's Damien Cox makes the point (in that
the players overrated their value in the overall North American market. Maybe they thought people in the U.S. would beat down the doors of Gary Bettman and pressure the NHL to return. Hockey fans in the U.S. are saying, "Wake me when you have an agreement."

Four To Watch - Inagural edition

Today Debuts a feature in which I pick four key contests in sports for the upcoming weekend and comment on each. During the football season, it will be a mix of college and pro football games. From Conference Championship Week until the start of the college fooball season, it will be whatever 4 games (or weekend series in the case of baseball) are of importance that particular weekend. So here's this week's Four To Watch in chronological order:
  1. #18 Cincinnati at #3 Wake Forest (Interconference game. Saturday, noon Central on ABC) - A rare late-season non-conference tilt that should be a dandy. Will Cincinnati beat a major conference team? Will the Demon Deacons continue their Carolina hangover? No and no, but it will be close.
  2. #11 Texas at #21 Oklahoma. (Big XII game. Saturday, 2:45 pm Central on CBS) - Texas's first true test of how they will respond to the loss of leading scorer and rebounder P.J. Tucker comes at the Lloyd Noble Center against Oklahoma. Time for some in Texas's stacked freshman class to step it up and prove they belong on a college floor.
  3. Atlanta Falcon at Philadelphia Eagles (NFC Championship. 2:00 pm Central on Fox) - Two talented quarterbacks, two top defenses, and a contrast in styles. It has all the makings of a classic. Even without Terrell Owens, the Eagles still have enough to get to the Super Bowl. Expect Brian Westbrook to be a factor running and recieving for the Eagles. His versatility is something Atlanta hasn't ever faced.
  4. New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC Championship, 5:30 pm Central on CBS) - The consensus among football analysts, many of whom are shell-shocked after picking Indy last week, is that New England will win the game. Considering the Patriots will have Corey Dillon, who didn't play in the Pats' Week 8 loss to the Steelers, and unfinished buisness (winning a 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years), I think this time conventional wisdom is right on.
(DISCLAIMER: Your definition of "important" may differ from mine. Feel free to suggest during the week starting next week what games you think I should preview here, and I will give it consideration. Bear in mind that if you suggest, as an example, a weekend series between the Nationals and Pirates when neither team is in contention, it may not make the cut)

(ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: I am not responsible for any money you lose picking with me, because my info is as good as any phone tipster, which is to say, it's not really based on any handicapping knowledge. If you can't stay away from the sports book, you probably need help.)

Take care, God bless, and please continue to help the tsunami victims.

Monday: Let the Super Bowl hype begin!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Oh, the possibilities...

The other day, I couldn't sleep, so I watched old Super Bowl films on They showed Super Bowls 27 and 28, the first two Super Bowls the Cowboys won in the 1990s. Being the big Cowboys fan that I am, this brought back a lot of happy memories. It was nice to see Troy, Emmitt, Michael, Moose, Alvin, Jay, and the Cowboys' top-ranked defense at their absolute peak, wreaking havoc on the hapless Bills. Seeing the Super Bowl XXVIII film, though, got me thinking a bit.

That Super Bowl film gives you a sense that the Cowboys were on their way to being a great dynasty on the level of Walsh's 49ers or the Steel Curtain Steelers. And certainly in 1993 they were. They had the best defense in the league, Emmitt Smith was the best running back, Troy Aikman was on top of his game, and he had 3 great targets in Michael Irvin, Alvin Harper, and Jay Novacek. They had talented assistants like Dave Wannstedt, Butch Davis, Norv Turner, and Dave Campo, all of whom would later get head coaching jobs. With 7 Super Bowls left before the end of the decade, they had a good chance to get 2 more and be the "Team of the Decade"

What we didn't know at the time is that the offseason after Super Bowl 28 was, despite another Super Bowl victory in 1995, the beginning of the end for the Cowboy dynasty.

People point to the departure of Jimmy Johnson as the beginning of the decline, but really it was the salary cap which caused the Cowboys descent. Slowly but surely, free agents defected for bigger paychecks, injuries forced key players into retirement, and the Cowboys frequently lacked the cap space to replace their losses. By the 2000 season, only Emmitt Smith and Darren Woodson remained from the 1993 team. Sure, they were still "Team of the 1990s" but only because no other team won more than 2 Super Bowls.

I look at this year's Patriots heading into the championship game and see a team a lot like that 1993 Cowboys' team, a team that has a lot of potential to be this decade's dynasty. But they have to beat Pittsburgh and win the Super Bowl this year to have a chance. Who knows when players from this years' team will go elsewhere because the Patriots' won't be able to afford them?

Quick Hit

Missouri's tournament hopes continue to slide.
They lost to Texas Tech, a team that has struggled on the road under Bob Knight, at Mizzou Arena. Considering all the scandal and mediocrity Mizzou has had under Quin Synder, why is he not on the hot seat?

Tomorrow: Conference Championship preview.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The server ate my post

I think in the future I'm going to start typing my posts in Word before I post them. An "internal server error" wiped out what I was going to post today. So I leave you with a few thoughts.
  • USA Today reports that 66% of baseball fans think baseball's new steroid policy doesn't go far enough. The enforcement issues are fixed. What more do the fans want? Taking away homers from Barry Bonds? Sending Bonds and Giambi to Gitmo? Neither are gonna happen, guys.
  • Wake Forest was celebrating too much after thei big win against UNC and laid an egg against Florida State. A mere hiccup. Wake will still be a #1 seed come Tournament time.
  • Far too much ink and airtime is being spent ahead of this week's NFC championship game on the Falcons-Eagles playoff matchup 2 years ago. In today's NFL, 2 offseasons is enough time to turn over an entire roster, so it's really unfair to both the Eagles and Falcons to compare this game to a game 2 years ago.
  • If anyone in baseball deserves $22 Million next year, it's Roger Clemens. There's no one out there with his credentials.
  • Gotta love Longhorn spinmeister Kirk Bohls. He's trying to spin the hiring of Auburn's Gene Chizik, who will probably depart next season when the 'Horns finish second in the Big XII South with one loss, as a sign that the program is going in the right direction. Yeah, assistant coaching turnover is always good. Especially since it's the assistants who do the bulk of the recruiting and who the kids know the best.

Tomorrow: The end of the last NFL dynasty.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Really Big Monday for 'Horns

The Texas Longhorns basketball team was in dire straits last night with LaMarcus Aldridge out, P.J. Tucker in academic limbo, a falling national ranking, and Oklahoma State coming to town. So how do the Horns respond? By rolling over the 5th ranked Cowboys 75-61 in front of a national TV audience. Point guard Daniel Gibson had a career high 27 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and basically outplayed his opposite number, John Lucas. What is interesting is that Texas played most of the second half in a stifling zone defense that crippled the Cowboys' offense. (Nice to know someone else in the Big XII besides Texas Tech is having trouble running zone offense!). Rare was the play in the second half where OSU made an outside shot, and all of those were with a hand in the shooter's face.

Will this be a game that exposes the weaknesses of Oklahoma State? Possibly, but we need to see them play another team that plays a heavy amount of zone defense to be sure. OSU needs to regroup quickly because they have Texas A&M, who already took down Texas at home, on Wednesday.

Texas is not out of the woods either. P.J. Tucker, a key contributor in Texas's victory last night, is going to hear today whether or not his grades will let him continue this season. Aldridge will know by Wednesday whether his hip injury is season-ending. (The Austin American-Statesman's Kirk Bohls wrote
an article detailing the Horns' potential losses) We'll see if Daniel Gibson can handle the load.

Quick Hits
  • While the year for Celtics GM Danny Ainge has been less than spectacular, it's been great for his family. Son Austin Ainge is starting in the backcourt for BYU (Danny's alma mater). Nephew Erik Ainge saw significant time at quarterback for Tennessee.
  • The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Randy Galloway suggests that the only problems with Philly should be their past demons(subscription req'd). I disagree. Mike Vick is a pretty big problem for an agressive defense like theirs.
  • TSN (Canada's ESPN) and the Canadian Press are reporting that an extended NHL lockout could be the end of a career for some prominent NHL veterans.
  • In a move that may signal the end of the West Coast offense in its San Francisco home, Ravens' defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was hired to coach the 49ers.
  • The Ravens weren't done shuffling their coaching staff either, Jim Fassel was promoted from consultant to offensive coordinator and disgraced former Washington and Colorado coach Rick Neuheisel was named quarterbacks coach.
  • Interesting fact about Neuheisel: He was 3-0 as a scab quarterback for the San Diego Chargers during the NFL's 1987 players' strike.

Tomorrow: Still up in the air.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Case of the Mondays

Proof that there is still hope for hockey as a relevant sport

A packed house in Laredo, Texas of all places turned out to watch the
Central Hockey League's annual All Star Game on Friday, a game won 14-13 by the Northern Conference All-Stars in a shoot out. Laredo, Texas! For those not familiar with the geography of Texas, Laredo is south and slightly to the west of San Antonio on the Rio Grande River and a short walk across a bridge from Mexico. Put it another way: Minneapolis, a hockey hotbed, is the northern end of Interstate 35, and Laredo, about as "Sun Belt" as you can get, is the southern end of the same highway. It snows in Laredo, on average, roughly once every 30 years. If a place like this can pack an arena for a hockey all-star game, then there is still hope for hockey in the United States. It's also a testimony to how hard the marketing and promotion people work in minor-league hockey towns. Which is good, because right now minor league hockey is carrying the torch for the sport.

From the "Does it Really Matter?" department

There have been entirely too much focus last week on sports talk radio, PTI, Around The Horn, and I, Max on Serena Williams wardrobe. First the focus was on the fact that Serena made fashion critic Mr. Blackwell's Worst-Dressed List for the past year. Then, we heard that she unveiled her latest outfit at a press conference at the Australian Open. Big deal.

Why is this relevant to anyone? Very few sports fans are "fashionistas." The rest of us don't care what she wears, so long as she shows up and beats the woman across the court from her, which she hasn't done in a Grand Slam final in a while (although she did take her first step towards fixing that little problem this weekend). For the amount of time spent on her wardrobe, we could have gotten better analysis of most of the NFL divisional games, or even some bare-bones analysis on Carolina-Wake.

Speaking of Carolina-Wake...

What a statement by Wake Forest on Saturday! The former preseason #1 beat North Carolina 95-82 in their only scheduled meeting this year. They managed to slow down an up-tempo team, which isn't bad for a team whose defense had been criticized. Also, They denied Sean May, a man many thought the Deacons wouldn't be able to stop, from having a good day. May went 3-9 shooting for nine points, not good for someone who averages 15.7 points per game. Not only that, the Deacons were perfect from the line(32 shots on 32 attempts, an ACC record). What a game! 55 days to Selection Sunday and I'm already pumped.

Clean Sweep

The difference between the Wild Card and Divisional rounds of the NFL Playoffs is often like the difference between Round 1 and Round 2 of the NCAA tournament. In Round 1, a lower seed can catch a higher seed not playing at 100%, catch a few breaks, and get a win. By Round 2, the higher seeds, usually because they are on upset alert, don't lose as often. In Round 2 of this years NFL Playoffs, the top seeds had a clean sweep (4-4).
  • New England 20, Indianapolis 3 - Shannon Sharpe, who, like me, picked the Colts, summed up Indianapolis' offensive collapse this way in the post-game show, "They didn't do anything with the opportunities they had." Credit the Patriots' depleted defense with showing some character. A little credit also has to go to first-time playoff performer Corey Dillon, whose 144 yards limited the opportunities for the Colts' defense.
    What has to trouble the Patriots as they go forward is that they didn't get a touchdown at all in the first half, despite two trips to the red zone. Field goals may not be enough against the likes of Pittsburgh, Philly, or Atlanta. They have to do a better job of cashing in their red zone chances early on.
  • Pittsburgh 20, NY Jets 17 - Give the Jets credit for showing up. They played good on offense and defense. If their kicker could kick it in the right direction, we'd be talking about a playoff upset. However, the Steelers still won a game when they looked absolutely horrible, and that counts for a lot more. They showed a lot of heart getting back into the game and eventually won it, but given that they play the defending world champs next week, they can't have a repeat performance.
  • Atlanta 47, St. Louis 17 - This was a "woodshed" game, pure and simple. Atlanta came to play and ran all over the hapless Rams defense. What was interesting about the coverage of the game, and I wish more stat people did this when covering the Falcons, was the Fox stat people calculated the yardage difference Michael Vick makes for the Falcons by adding the sack yardage he would have lost (had he been sacked) to the yardage he got scrambling. They said Vick's scrambling accounted for a 100-yard swing by the end of the first half, and it probably went up from there (I can't find a final number anywhere, but when I do I will give it to you). Just goes to show you what Vick means to the Falcons.
    Lost in all the Vick-tracking: Allen Rossum had a career punt return day, including a punt return for a touchdown, and Warrick Dunn broke Jamal Anderson's franchise record for rushing yardage in a playoff game.
  • Philadephia 27, Minnesota 14 - The headline for this game should read "Minnesota beats Minnesota" because that's exactly what happened. Mike Tice summed up what killed the Vikings thusly, "Mistakes, penalties at the wrong time, taking some points off the board, stopping a drive, having a nice play called back... We didn't finish anything." Oh, and Freddie Mitchell may not be Terrell Owens, but he'll do for now. Next week, it may be Todd Pinkston or L.J. Smith who picks up the slack.

Tomorrow: OSU-Texas on Big Monday.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Pink Floyd Edition

Shine On, You Crazy Diamond

I actually got my first letter from a fellow blogger today. Yoni Cohen, who runs a college basketball blog simply called "College Basketball"(Nice title, simple and straight to the point.) offered his compliments. I think he's got a great site as well. As soon as I figure out how to start a blogroll, I will include him. For now, I will point you to Bookmark it! It's a must-read.

Brain Damage

Despite the fact that potential first round pick junior quarterbacks who return for their senior year don't do as well (remember Ty Detmer?), Matt Leinart is staying at USC for his senior year. Why? Look, I'm the biggest proponent for people staying in college, and I think a college degree is important, but he's a top-5 pick who has the potential to play at least 10 years at the next level. What's he going to prove by staying in college? History says he's not going to win the Heisman. And the only thing you gain by staying a year too long is an injury. Besides, there are such things as summer classes and distance learning.


Everyone's talking about this weekend's UNC-Wake Forest matchup for good reason. Both teams are highly talented and highly ranked. Both could end up top seeds. However, because of ACC expansion, both teams are meeting for the only time this year.
This may not be a big deal to the rest of the nation, but I'm sure this rankles a lot of people down Tobacco Road. The charm of the ACC used to be that it was the only major conference left where every team played an old-style home-and-home series. The old saying goes, "familiarity breeds contempt." Playing your conference rivals twice a year helps fuel that contempt.
Plus, in a lot of other major conferences, there's the missing aspect of getting your league's best team every year on your floor. Believe me, as a Texas Tech fan, I'd love a shot at Kansas or Missouri in our barn every year, but because they're in the North division, we only get them at the United Spirit Arena every other year.
However, because the ACC felt like it needed a little extra football money, it grabbed Miami, Virginia Tech, and BC (who start ACC play next season), which, in addition to watering ACC basketball down, forced them to limit which teams get home-and-home series. Shame, really, that ACC commisioner John Swofford would destroy something beautiful for a quick buck.

Also, as a practical matter, what was Wake Forest going to save in terms of money by eliminating a short bus trip from Winston-Salem to Chapel Hill?

Oh, as for the game, with both teams having great backcourts, I think Sean May makes the difference. He's the one guy the Deacons don't have an answer for.

The Division Bell

I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. Teams that have home field in the NFL Playoffs' Divisional round are 45-11. Put it another way, the home teams win slightly over 80% of the time. Yeah, the bye week helps, but it's pretty clear that there's some separation in between the top 2 teams in the playoffs and the rest of the playoff qualifiers.
So why do people pick so many upsets on Divisional Playoff weekend? Well, the media tends to ignore teams that have the week off and focus on the teams that actually play (This happens during the season also), and because of the topsy-turvy nature of the NFL, some teams that get byes may not have a whole lot of playoff experience (The Falcons and this years' edition of the Steelers come to mind).
  • New York Jets at Pittsburgh (Saturday, 3:30 pm Central on CBS) - Too many exclamation points for the Jets. Not question marks, exclamation points, as in these are areas of great concern. Chad Pennington is sick, John Abraham is in worse shape than he was last week, and coach Herm Edwards is having another press conference meltdown 4 days after going ballistic with his running backs coach in the Wild Card Game. Will Edward's out-of-control emotion cause him to make a bad play call?
    Yeah, Roethlisberger is a rookie, but if he hasn't played like a rookie all year, what makes anyone think he's suddenly going to play like a rookie now? Plus, in the rare times the Steelers needed a play, he's made it. The Steelers win big here.
  • St. Louis at Atlanta (Saturday, 7:00 pm Central on Fox) - If the Seattle game revealed anything about the Rams, it's this: Mark Bulger can't escape the rush. The Falcons, of course, have one of the best pass rushes in the league, and one of the best overall defenses. In addition, Isaac Bruce is injured and may not be able to play. The Rams, on the other hand have one of the worst rushing defenses in the league and they are facing the dual rushing threat of Michael Vick and 1,000 yard rusher Warrick Dunn (and that 1,000 yards came on 4.2 yards/carry). Gotta like the Falcons in this one
  • Minnesota at Philadelphia (Sunday, noon on Fox) - Yes, Terrell Owens is out, but there are still 4 factors that haven't changed since the Eagles' Week 2 dismantling of the Vikings. First, The Eagles still have a top rated defense. Second, the Vikings still have a horrible defense, they just got a lot of help from Brett Favre last week. Third, Donovan F. McNabb is still quarterbacking the Eagles and rarely makes bad decisions. Finally, Mike Tice is still in a position to screw his own team with a bad play call. All this spells trouble for the Vikings. No contest, Philly wins big
  • Indianapolis at New England (Sunday, 3:30 pm on CBS) - As I've been hinting all week, This is the only potential upset out there this weekend. New England can do whatever it wants to the field and try to scheme it's shorthanded defense all it wants. You still need talent to run your defense last time anyone checked, and the Patriots are depleted when it comes to defensive talent. That's bad news facing a team with a great passing game and a running back averaging 4.2 yards/carry. What will make this game close, however, is that when the Patriots have the ball, they will be facing a bad defense as well. I expect this one to be a shootout, and you have to like Indianapolis in a shootout.

Take care this weekend and God bless.

Monday: Division Round Wrap, and the unhealthy focus on Serena Williams dress.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Major steps forward for 2 governing bodies

While most of the world has been focused on Randy Moss's antics and Mike Vanderjagt's trash talk(see yesterday's blog). Major League Baseball and the NCAA have taken major steps this week in cleaning up their respective organizations.

NCAA Academic Reform

The first change was on Monday, when the NCAA passes the biggest academic reform in the institution's history since Proposition 48 was passed in the mid-1980s. According to the AP, The NCAA approved a rule change that would penalize a school's scholarships if they graduate less than 50% of their players over a 5 year period, with possible postseason bans for repeat offenders It's significant for 2 reasons.

1. It's the first time the NCAA has placed the responsibility for academics on the school. The NCAA has always kepts statistics on graduation rates, but the schools were under no pressure to adhere to any minimum standard. This led to a difference in how schools punished low-performing (in the classroom) athletes. Some schools simply ignored the problem; others only punished benchwarmers. Only in rare cases were there schools who took the problem seriously enough to punish anyone who didn't make the grade. Now, it's on the school to make sure that athletes are going to class and getting the necessary grades to graduate and everyone suffers if students don't graduate.

2. It makes a fundamental change in the formula that makes it fairer to the schools. The NCAA's formula used to be based on a four year period. In other words, the percentage is based ratio of the number of athletes that graduated to the number of freshmen that entered the program four years ago. This created some problems. Academically-minded athletes (and yes, there are some out there) in 5-year bachelor/masters programs , MBA programs, and similar programs were excluded in the calculation because they took, well, 5 years to finish. Some athletes entered college through sub-standard schools and needed an extra year to catch up to their peers. "Red shirts," students who missed a year for injury or other reasons, never counted. Plus, studies show that college students on the whole are taking longer to graduate. A change to a 5 year period eliminates these loopholes and gives the school a more accurate rating.

Myles Brand, who has recieved criticism (and deservedly so) for failing to stand up to the BCS, enact tougher standards on schools who allow improper benefits, and stop the rapid pace of conference changes, deserves some praise for this, and he's not getting it. He has finally pushed forward a change that will improve the overall academic climate at major universities across the country, and actually force institutions to care about the athletes in their charge. The media response: slap it on the back page or ignore it altogether. Yes, there's more work to be done, but most of the media want to focus on the negative rather than talk solutions. Brand and the NCAA just pushed through a solution, and they should be praised.

MLB's New Steroid Policy

The next big change in sports came when baseball's two great adversaries, the Commissioner's Office and the Major League Baseball Players' Association, agreed to change the policy on steroids. Aside from the tougher penalties, which everyone expected would be part of the agreement, the league and players for the first time approved random testing for steroids. Why is this significant? Performance enhancing drugs have to be "cycled on" and "cycled off" to actually have any "benefits". If you know when you are going to be tested, you know when to cycle off so you can pass the test. If the test is random, you can't cycle off in time. This means the system actually has some teeth to it.

By the way, If you're wondering why the word "benefits" is in quotation marks it's because steroids tend to have side effects that limit sexual performance, increase the chance of cartilage and ligament damage, cause developmental problems in teens, and increase the risk of certain forms of cancer. All of which should make a rational person question whether or not all that muscle or speed is worth it. (Maybe we should advertise it like they do those perscription medications where they have to have "voice-over guy" state all the side effects. Those things scare the heck out of me and make me not want to get a prescription. But I digress.)

Like the NCAA, Baseball still has a ways to go to totally clean up it's problem. Amphetamines and other drugs for attention span, for instance, are still allowed and may be more of a cheating problem than steroids, but the game is one step closer to getting everyone on a level field.

"Tilt"ing the ratings in ESPN's favor

Finally, After much promotion and hype, the new ESPN series, Tilt, which stars veteran actor Michael Madsen as a slick Las Vegas card shark, debuts tonight. I have to admit my natural reaction was to ignore all the hype and dismiss it as an attempt to cash in on the poker boom. But I think this series has a chance to succeed.
First, the writers for the poker classic Rounders are producing and writing the series, Since they've done a good enough job with this subject before and made a cult classic film, they can probably come up with decent scripts for a TV series based on poker as well.
Second, ESPN did a great job portraying the underside of pro football with Playmakers. So good in fact, that the NFL forced ESPN to pull it off the air because it hit too close to home, but the series recieved much critical acclaim.
Third, if poker's dirty little secrets come out, all the better. I've only heard stuff about the poker world, and it's enough to discourage me from trying it as a career. Maybe seeing Tilt will discourage others from trying to play it for a living as well. That's not to say I don't like poker, I just enjoy watching it rather than playing it. (I'm a gin rummy player, myself)

Tomorrow: The Divisional Playoffs

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Idiot kicker got liquored up and ran his mouth off again...

Probably what Peyton Manning is thinking right now.

In case you haven't heard by now, Mike Vanderjagt, the Colts' kicker who has a history of unfiltered comments, called the Patriots,
"ripe for the picking" and said that they, "weren't as good as last year" in an interview with WISH-TV. With the exception of Rodney Harrison, most of the Patriots seem to be blowing this off.

This comment can be taken one of two ways. Conventional wisdom suggests that it's not good to give your opponent bulletin board material before a big game. The Colts, after all, need look no further than last week's Wild Card game with the Denver Broncos for an example. John Lynch delivered a bulletin-board statement with a helmet to helmet hit the week before and the Colts responded by torching the Denver secondary in the playoff game.

But this is one time where conventional wisdom may take a back seat, and here's the reason: Vanderjagt is dead on about the Patriots' depleted defense. They are so thin at secondary that their nickelback is a wide receiver. Add to that Richard Seymour's questionable status and the Patriots defense may very well be ripe for the picking. I know people will point to Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel and say that "they will come up with something." Problem is, a scheme is only as good as the talent that's playing in it.

Vanderjagt's statement reminded me of the most famous piece of bulletin board material in football history, Joe Namath's guarantee before Super Bowl III. Namath was largely ridiculed for his comments about the then-Baltimore Colts, but even before the Jets' 16-7 victory, there were signs that he may have had a point.

First, the AFL had been snapping up the nation's premier collge talent and had been more proactive than the NFL about getting quality African-American players. So the average AFL team actually had more talent than the average NFL team. The problem is in the first two Super Bowls, the AFL challenger ran into the only NFL team that had the talent to compete with them, Lombardi's Packers, which skewed the public perception of the two leagues.

Also, Jets' coach Weeb Ewbank was previously the Colts' head coach and knew the weaknesses of their players and schemes. He also knew he had better players. And he could use knowledge of both to defeat the Colts, and he sold his game plan so well that Namath was able to make his famous guarantee and get away with it.

Now granted Vanderjagt is a kicker(who comes in a few plays at most) and Namath was a quarterback(who was very involved in the offense), but I think we could see a similar situation come Sunday. It will definitely be close

Tomorrow: NCAA's Proposed Academic Reform.

More commentary:
Bob Kravitz in the Indianapolis Star (for a conventional wisdom-based view)
Boston Globe's Patriots Notebook (for how the Patriots are taking Vanderjagt's comments)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Beltran Deal

OK, I've given myself a couble days to calm down over Beltran leaving the Astros and I still think the deal stinks on a number of levels

1) It proves that the luxury tax doesn't keep salaries down. We've had 3 offseasons of this "payroll tax" in baseball and every year there seems to be someone who signs a big contract. And the same teams pushing up the market for everyone else before 2002 (when the luxury tax was agreed to by MLB and the MLBPA) are the same after 2002. Nothing changed.
People try to bring me examples of small-payroll teams that can compete like Oakland (breaking up its starting staff), Minnesota (traded away it's potential free agents; only wins its division because the White Sox doesn't try hard enough; can't beat a high-payroll, big-market team in the playoffs), San Francisco (can't surround Bonds with decent talent because of financial issues), and Toronto (can't keep Delgado, will trade Halladay soon) and none of them wash.
2) If a player who is considering other offers while negotiating to re-sign with his current team, he should say so. In other words, just tell people you're going to take the offer with the most money. At least you're telling the truth. Don't try to tell us how you want to stay where you are when it's not a consideration. No one buys it, and it just makes things worse when you take the bigger contract.
3) Why do these idiots take huge contracts in New York when a huge portion of it goes to pay New York's ungodly state income tax? Beltran realizes he's not going to keep all that money, right?
4) Why, of all teams, the Mets? The Yankees would have made more sense in terms of being in position to win the World Series. Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times made the point on "Around the Horn" yesterday that the Mets have a lackluster bullpen, and unless Minaya has cash we don't know about, he's probably tapped out at this point and can't fix the situation. All those big signings won't do the Mets any good.
Also, when the Mets aren't competitive, it's going to be Beltran's fault. Hell, if Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez both get injured, it's going to be Beltran's fault. Believe me, "Mike and the Mad Dog" and the New York newspapers will somehow make any problem with the Mets his fault. It won't matter whether the Mets struggles are his fault or not.
I'm sure Piazza loves it though because the pressure's on someone else now.

Quck Hits
  • The dominant topic this week on the Jim Rome radio show seems to be the upcoming Pats-Colts game. Given that the winner may have to go to Pittsburgh next week to get to the Super Bowl, why all the attention on a game that may mean nothing in the long run?
  • Congrats to Peyton on the MVP. I still think Terrell Owens is the "most valuable" player because he got the Eagles believing they were getting over the hump this year before the injury, but Peyton is certainly the "most outstanding" and deserves recognition
  • ESPN has released their first projected bracket of the college basketball season. Top seeds: Illinois(Midwest), Kansas(South), Wake Forest(East), UNC(West). Big XII has 5 teams: Kansas, Oklahoma St. (#2, West) Texas (#5, Midwest), Oklahoma (#6 Midwest), and Texas A&M (#12, West). Still a lot of time for change, though. Selection Sunday is 61 days away.
  • Tom Arnold has just gotten more annoying and less funny as the Best Damn Sports Show has continued its run. I used to like his humor, but his act has gotten old.
  • This week's Greg Easterbrook column brings up 2 interesting stats to keep in mind. First, Home teams are 45-11 ( a .803 winning percentage) since 1990 in the divisional playoffs. Second, Home teams are 16-12 (.571 win %) in the conference championship round over the same span.
  • Syracuse scores a major coup by signing UT defensive coordinator Greg Robinson. Unfortunately, that Big East conference is going to be a lot tougher next year now that Louisville is joining the conference. Difficult to say if he will bring Syracuse back or not. But believe me, nothing pleases me more than to see one of Texas Tech's conference rivals have that much coachining staff turmoil. Mack Brown has lost 3 key assistants this offseason.

That's all for today...

Tomorrow: TBA

Monday, January 10, 2005

A Wild Weekend

Sorry, it's late on Monday when this is going up, I got called in today. So here's some thoughts on wild card weekend
  • Wow, what a wild weekend in the NFL! Three home teams lost and two 8-8 teams won (the first time ever an 8-8 playoff team has won a game).
  • I figured that the Colts were gonna come out fired up, but I wasn't expecting the dismantling the Colts did to the Broncos. Also, not only did the John Lynch hit have no effect on the Colts' receivers, but Dallas Clark, the man who Lynch hit, had 6 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown, and Reggie Wayne had the third-highest passing yardage game in playoff history (221 yards on 10 catches) with another 2 scores. It will definitely give the Patriots pause, more on that matchup Friday
  • Speaking of Lynch, weak move to get your lawyer involved. If you can't take care of your on-field buisness, don't get your lawyer to do it for you.
  • On second thought, Lynch's lawyer probably could have played better pass defense than Lynch did Sunday.
  • As for the other Sunday game, maybe the Vikings weren't as soft as any expert (or in my case, so-called expert) thought. They went into a hostile environment, took advantage of the Packers' lousy defense and Brett Favre's erratic arm and won.
  • Advice to everyone, ignore Randy Moss, he's just trying to be Terrell Owens
  • If you happened to flip over to the Kansas-Kentucky game at any point during the Minnesota-Green Bay game, I don't blame you one bit. That was a better game.
  • The Jets-Chargers game proved 2 things: First, Chad Pennington has a tougher arm than we thought. Second, Pennington also has thicker skin than we thought.
  • It's fashionable to rip on Marty Schottenheimer for not reaching a Super Bowl, but the guy is still a winner and deserves his job as long as he's got a playoff team.
  • Sure, the Rams-Seahawks game turned out have fewer turnovers than anyone thought, but St. Louis was picking on a horrible pass defense.

That's all. Good night and God bless.

Tomorrow: Beltran's move, (which I have *plenty* of thoughts on), Peyton's MVP, and more.

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Orange Bowl, The NHL Lockout, and Wild Card Weekend

OK, the week that was in sports.

Orange Bowl

I thought Oklahoma would go in there and blow away USC, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one. The Sooners blew out almost everyone and seemed to be on a mission to get back and win what they think they should have won last year. What happened in the game completely shocked me, and it wasn't just because I got to watch the game on my friend's new HDTV set. USC was the faster team *and* the team that wanted to win more. It wasn't that the Sooners weren't trying, though. The problem was they fell behind, which they hadn't done that early at any point this season, and panicked.

You know what happens to a playground bully when someone actually punches them? That's what Oklahoma looked like in the game. Hopefully, Bob Stoops has learned his lesson about blowing teams out, but I doubt it. He's as stubborn as his mentor, Steve

Since the halftime show is getting more run than the game, I will address it briefly. Ashlee Simpson's handlers are killing her. Their first mistake was telling her she should be a rock star rather than a pop star, because backing tracks are acceptable practice in pop music. Their next mistake was not calling it quits after the SNL incident. I guess the parents needed a new Mercedes and the Orange Bowl paycheck was too good to turn down.

NHL Labor Situation

TSN, the Canadian version of ESPN, is reporting that the owners have cancelled a meeting where they would have voted cancelled the season. It's probably delaying the inevitable, but at least it gives them a chance to maybe negotiate once more.

I'm going to talk about this situaton once, and not again until they reach a deal. I don't like either side. But the players make me more mad than the owners in this situation. They have no perspective. These pampered athletes demand millions of dollars for playing a game when many people I know are under the constant threat of losing their jobs to downsizing and outsourcing, and others can't make enough to get by. The only people who deserve to make even close to a million dollars (because they have the most important job) are school teachers. Period. End of story. Athletes don't deserve a dime and they should be happy someone is actually letting them play sports beyond college. It's a privelege to play pro sports, not a right.

What's worse though is that the Players Association suppresses the free speech of it's members. You remember free speech right? That right in the U.S. (and Canada) that allows us to say what we think? Well, NHL veteran Rob Ray got his strike pay wiped out for merely suggesting that he was going to cross the picket line and similar players who have made statements critical of the union have "revised their statements" after getting calls from the union. I don't care what contract you signed, you have the right to be critical of the people negotiating on your behalf.

But I'd rather talk about solutions, and the owners and players need look no further than the other winter sports league for a good compromise. Yes, as much as I hate the NBA, they have the only salary cap that satisfies everyone's interest, owners, players, and fans. The NBA exempts the full salary of star players and a part of the salary of veterans. They also tax the big spenders who try to load their teams with good players. The star players get what they think they deserve (which is actually more than they deserve, but there's no perfect world), the owners make money, the veterans get to play a little longer that they would under a hard cap, and the fans get to see their favorite players for years.

This could be done in the NHL (with a extra exemption for the starting goalie) if the players would just listen to a proposal that contains a salary cap. (And yes, this means the owners are going to have to give up the demand for a hard salary cap, but this would be a better solution than no cap or a luxury tax).

I know the NHL players proposed a luxury tax, but I've been following the baseball winter meetings and it's pretty clear that the luxury tax isn't a solution. The Oakland A's, which every pro-union supporter points to as an example of a competitive team in a luxury tax league, is having to trade it's best starting pitcher because they can't afford him as a free agent, and may do the same with it's other starters. Plus, baseball's luxury tax hasn't deterred the Yankees, Red Sox, or Orioles from driving up the free agent market and forcing the mid-market Astros to overpay for Carlos Beltran (Yes, I said "overpay". For what he's going to make he should be able to throw a 100 mph fastball left-handed and have a wicked curve and change-up rather than play centerfield) There's your luxury tax in action, union sympathizers.

By the way, A friend of mine on complained that I wasn't ever going to talk hockey, hmm...

Wild Card Weekend

The story line of the NFL's Wild Card Weekend seems to be rematches, which is always fun because there's an element of revenge involved that makes the game more watchable than normal...

  • St Louis at Seattle (Saturday 3:30 PM Central on ABC) - ... except when it's this matchup which pairs two underacheivers. What makes this game interesting, if you like soap operas, is that both teams are in locker room turmoil and both coaches are on the hot seat. Except that the winning coach may only delay the inevitable by a week. The last two meetings were both sloppy, mistake-prone, and won by the Rams and there's nothing that suggests this one will go any differently. Oh, and I don't like soap operas, so I'm going to mow the lawn while waiting for...
  • New York Jets at San Diego (Saturday 7:00 Central on ABC) - This matchup is a re-match of the Week 2 meeting between these two clubs, both of which have gone in different directions since. The Jets have played mediocre football, and the Chargers have played great. Both teams can run the football and play defense, which promises to keep this game close. What will win it for the Chargers, however, is Drew Brees. He's healthy and Chad Pennington isn't.
  • Denver at Indianapolis (Sunday, noon Central on CBS) - It would have been bad enough had one of the Broncos only said something to fire up Indianapolis. Unfortunately, John Lynch had to knockout Dallas Clark, and as we all know, "actions speak louder than words." That hit was worth more bulletin board material than any quote in a paper, and you know Indy's going to come out fired up. Plus, Jake Plummer will find a defender open at some point and launch the ball his way. You know it will happen. I like Indianapolis in this one.
  • Minnesota at Green Bay (Sunday, 3:00 Central on Fox) - Granted, The Frozen Tundra isn't the home field advantage it used to be and Brett Favre has reverted to his younger days where he tries to make plays himself and ends up throwing picks instead. Still, I can't see how Minnesota, which backed into the playoffs and tanked another late season game, is suddenly going to show the character needed to win this game. Green Bay wins.

Accentuate the positive

Kudos to Jermaine O'Neal, Pau Gasol, Tracy McGrady, Jalen Rose, Bob Sura, and Mike Miller, who are donating $1,000 per point scored in games last night and tonight toward to tsunami disaster relief.

Have a good weekend, and see you all Monday

Monday: Wild Card Recap