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.
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.