Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Maybe they bet on the Bulldogs, plus the point spread?

The Butler Bulldogs, a No. 5 seed in the 2010 NCAA Tournament and winners of 25-straight games entering the national championship game, were anything but a “Cinderella” in this year’s March Madness. However, as a mid-major school from the Horizon League, the Bulldogs captured the hearts of Americans with their spirited effort despite losing to the Duke Blue Devils in the finals, 61-59.

It was easy for anyone to get caught up in the hype of Bulldogs-fever in Monday’s championship game from Lucas Oil Stadium, located just a few miles from the Butler University campus, especially for those in Indianapolis.

And that includes the hometown newspaper and this cute, lovable but confused Bulldogs cheerleader just seconds after Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave barely missed becoming the greatest shot in the NCAA Finals history.



And to add to the confusion there will be a celebration rally today starting at 3 p.m. at Hinkle Fieldhouse to honor the Butler Bulldogs, winners, err, runners-up in the 2010 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Poppy Don't Preach

This was the sports section cover of the Indianapolis Star from Friday morning. A day late for an April Fool’s joke, but the newspaper from Central Indiana wasn’t kidding. They actually thought that depicting Duke’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, in this manner would be a great way to stir up more interest in the Final Four weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Fair to say it stirred up something. After further review, the Indy Star pulled the artwork “when we realized it didn’t meet our standards," said their sports editor.

What standard was that guys, wrong color crayon?

The newspaper was also quick to point out that the illustration only appeared in 30,000 copies before being pulled. As if their declining circulation was the issue at stake and not their judgment call or even the ridiculous-looking artwork.

"How could a newspaper do that?” Mike Krzyzewski said on Friday. “That's like somebody doodled. Actually, I thought I looked better. But it was kind of juvenile. Not kind of. Just juvenile. And my seven grandkids didn't enjoy looking at it. 'It's not Poppy.'

No, the silly drawing over the photograph is not the way Poppy looks, as Mike Krzyzewski’s grandchildren can clearly see. But there will come a day (if it hasn’t happened already) that those same kids will learn their grandfather doesn’t always speak the same as their accustomed to hearing, either.

Ask anyone who has ever sat near a Duke Blue Devils bench during a game. They’ll tell you how Coach K isn’t shy to use four-letter words that end with the same one his last name begins with. Even more so than your typical college basketball coach. For his grandchildren who aren’t old enough to attend games and yet to have discovered YouTube, is this ‘Poppy’??

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tiger's Masterful Spin

My first knowledge came on Tuesday, a little after 10:00 a.m. (ET) in the form of a Breaking News Alert, " Tiger Woods returning to golf at The Masters on April 8th."

My first reaction, "When exactly was he gone?"

Rhetorical, sure, but it is still a legitimate question.

Tiger announced his "indefinite break" from golf on December 11, 2009. That was following a tumultuous final few days in November in which Woods was, among many other things, injured in a car accident, treated at a hospital, had rumors swirl about numerous alleged affairs before admitting to being unfaithful with a message on his web site and then, finally, receiving a $164 traffic citation from the Florida Highway Patrol for careless driving on the 30th day of November. It was March 14, 2010 when he announced his return.

So let's check his scorecard from year-to-year before signing
- PGA events Woods played from 12/11/09 to 3/14/10 = 0
- PGA events Woods played from 12/11/08 to 3/14/09 = 2

But hey, he's back!

The scandal that began as an accident, that has still not yet been fully explained, when Woods hit a fire hydrant and tree near his driveway in Orlando, Florida, on Thanksgiving night was not the first controversy for Tiger. Over the years, Woods has taken criticism for dismissing autograph seekers, allegedly being a poor tipper, swearing out loud while on national television, playing too few events and overpopulating the continent of Asia. (Okay, I made the last one up.)

Woods played in only 17 PGA tournaments in 2009, 16 in 2007 and 15 in 2006 (his 2008 was shortened due to a knee injury). By comparison Phil Mickelson averaged playing in over 20 PGA events in the last 3 seasons. Most golf fans know that all Woods really cares about is winning the majors and surpassing Jack Nicklaus in career wins. Currently Woods trails the "Golden Bear" by 4 major championships.

"I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled."
[Tiger Woods, February 19, 2010]


And he still is today.

How timely for Tiger, who feels he has now repaired the personal damage from the fallout of his scandal(s), to not miss playing in any majors. How convenient for Woods, who is now focused on his family and being a better man, to have an excuse for not playing in the Shell Houston Open, Puerto Rico Open or the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Choosing the Masters for his return was an easy putt for Woods. Like his press conference, err, prepared speech that he read at TPC Sawgrass on February 19th, Augusta National Golf Club is also a controlled environment. Therefore, Woods can most likely avoid any heckling and (as an added bonus!) won't have to deal with any of those pesky autograph seekers, either.

Golf experts would like us to believe that to win the Masters one must tune-up beforehand by playing competitively in some other tournaments. That might be true for them, but not Tiger Woods. This isn't a baseball batter getting his timing, a basketball player getting in "game shape" or football player in "hitting shape". It's golf, and for Tiger Woods that means as long as he can practice and then prepare with the same access to the course as the others, then he's able to shoot the lowest score on it after four rounds.

Just, for us, it's not as difficult as landing a 350 yard drive in the middle of the fairway to understand Tiger's intention from the beginning of this "indefinite break" or predict his strategy moving forward. Woods will play the majors and then limit himself the few events he wishes to participate. Only now the PGA, its fans and writers can't fault him because he's doing so under the guise of a "family man".

Not that it should concern professional golf, the country clubs hosting or the networks televising the tournaments (that he selects to play) because all that matters is that Tiger Woods is there. Ticket sales will spike and viewer ratings will inflate all because of Tiger Woods. Even though these two say they won't be watching.

As actor Ving Rhames in the lead role of the 1997 movie "Don King: Only in America" said, "Let me tell you something: [ Mike] Tyson will be heavyweight champ again. And this time, you'll pay twice as much to see it. Why? Because y'all part of the same hypocrisy."

While that's as far as I'll compare Mike Tyson to Tiger Woods (rape and cheating on one's wife are less similar acts than boxing is to golfing) but the point of the statement should be taken. Woods will be golf champion again and you'll be there to watch him.

I know I will.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Racing Needs Wrecks and Hockey Wants Hits
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NASCAR's Carl Edwards was placed on 3 weeks probation for intentionally wrecking Brad Keselowski's car last Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. No suspension or probation following an intentional accident, you ask? Sure, says NASCAR president, Mike Helton.

And, if it matters to anyone in or outside of auto racing, I agree with the decision.

In the world of competition, "intent" is difficult to define. Whether it's a quarterback grounding a football, a basketball player making a flagrant foul, a baseball pitcher plunking a batter or, in this case, a NASCAR driver taking out another car, it's a judgment call. In the case of Carl Edwards at AMS, there was intent and spite. The No. 99 car had earlier been into the wall by Keselowski and Edwards was trailing by 156 laps when the incident occurred. Later, Edwards admitted on his Facebook page what our eyes and common sense already told us.

But it didn't matter because NASCAR needs wrecks and now more so than ever. Television ratings have spiraled downward. This year's Daytona 500 was off 16.3% from last year and the lowest since 1991. Okay, blame that damn pothole.

The next race in Fontana at the Auto Club 500 was down 6% from 2009, in Las Vegas they plummeted 37%. Ticket sales have slumped, and sponsorship money is drying up. The racing aficionados are still watching but the sport needs more fans.

What makes NASCAR more appealing to others? Car wrecks and the ensuing drama between the drivers. That combination of collision plus confrontation jumpstarted the sport to fans in the 1979 Daytona 500. Now once again stock car racing needs to slap some interest into television viewers.

The same night after the NASCAR incident in Atlanta, the NHL was dealt a blow of their own when Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins blindsided Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins. The open-ice body check resulted in a Grade 2 concussion for Savard. Cooke had already been suspended twice before by the league since January of 2009 for hits to the head.

This week, NHL chief disciplinarian Colin Campbell decided that Matt Cooke would not receive any suspension, fine or even probation.

Many hockey purists believe there is no need for over-aggressive behavior or fights in the NHL. They even cite the success of Olympic hockey as proof. But the only buzz left over from the 2010 Winter Olympics exists north of the United States border or inside Bode Miller's head. The NHL, to most Americans, is back in hibernation.

When Major League Baseball enjoyed its resurgence during the famous "Summer of 1998" they surely knew, what we all know now, that the tape-measure home runs were enhanced by more than just extra batting practice. If they did care, it wasn't going to take precedent over the attention of McGwire's or Sosa's chase of Roger Maris. Nor did it matter as Bonds broke the record again in 2001. It's what the fans wanted and not until the backlash was too great to ignore did baseball address the issue of steroids.

The only recent exception in American professional sports of putting player safety ahead of ticket sales or television ratings has been in the NFL. Rules have been consistently changed to protect the health of their marquee athletes and more discussions will continue at the annual owners meeting this month to further investigate the effects of concussions.

But unlike NASCAR and, especially, the NHL, the popularity of NFL has been mostly immune to any downturns in fan interest.

Otherwise, we might still see quarterback sacks like this. (For the record and back in 1976, Joe "Turkey" Jones was penalized and fined $3,000 for the tackle)

For now, just like baseball needed a home run chase to revive itself over a decade ago, NASCAR racing needs wrecks and hockey needs hits to have any chance of competing with the NFL for popularity in our lifetime.

"Have at it, boys," NASCAR president Mike Helton recently said.

"I am personally placing a hundred-dollar bounty on the head of Tim McCracken," fictional hockey player/coach Reggie Dunlop famously declared.

And "Chicks still dig the long ball."

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

NFL Overtime Proposal Needs More Time

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I've heard some say that spending 10 minutes with Tim Tebow will change one's life. Mine, somehow, remains unaffected

After countless hours of reporting, waiting and even speculation, the announcement most everyone was waiting for finally happened at the 2010 NFL Combine.

"Some guy named Tebow is now at Podium C," said the crackled voice out of the main media room speaker last Friday.

Oh, that announcement.

(In defense of those present that slammed the lap tops closed, pulled out a handheld recording device and ran to the podium - almost as fast as they sprinted the sandwich line hours earlier when lunch was served - it was a welcomed pro football prospect to hear speak after being reduced to interviews mostly consisting of placekickers, punter and offensive lineman from the day prior.)

It was actually on Saturday, at the Combine, when the NFL announced something that made my ears perk. News was leaked that the league could change its overtime format for playoff games when the competition committee meets March 21 – 24 in Orlando, Florida.

As a vocal opponent to the current system, Saturday's announcement was a better potential prophecy than anything the almighty Tim Tebow might have said to me the day before (which he did answer, albeit brief, a question for a story I was working on).

According to NFL spokesperson, Greg Aiello, the proposed change to overtime in postseason games would assure that both teams get the ball at least once unless the first team scores a touchdown. If the first team scores a field goal on the overtime's initial possession, then the other team gets one turn with the football. If they tie the game with another field goal, the game continues until the very next score.

As far as fixing how NFL overtime playoff games end its, well, a start. But it's still not right.

[Have you ever been in a social situation where everyone is ready to go somewhere and trying to decide, collectively, where to go and what to do? And you know "that guy" (or worse even, "that girl") who rejects each individual suggestion without offering a better suggestion? Well today, and in this column, "that guy" would be me.]

It's been a few days since I learned of the proposal and already I have, at least, a couple problems with it. The current system places too much advantage on the team that wins the overtime coin toss and the potentially updated version would do the same (only then, teams would strategically choose to kick rather than receive the overtime kickoff).

If this overtime procedure was passed (by winning at least two thirds of the vote from the 32 teams) the disadvantage shifts from having to play defense first to having to take the initial possession. Based on good football sense, that team would play with an offensive strategy much the same as a normal situation. They would try to score and, if not, pin the opposition deep in its own territory. If able to get in scoring position they would be faced with a decision; go for a touchdown or kick the field goal.

And both present disadvantages.

By electing to kick a field goal you give the ball back to your opponent. They would have a much higher percentage for answering your field goal with a touchdown (or, at least a tying field goal) since punting would be taken out of the equation. Trailing by 3 points and with the ball in a "do or die" scenario, offenses would be using 4 downs from anywhere on the field. In other words, they'd be playing with 33% more downs to move the chains.

By skipping the field goal and going for a touchdown on the initial overtime possession, you risk not scoring at all and then giving the opponent the very same opportunity (and same high percentages that we dislike under the current format) to win by a long field goal.

"There have been various concepts that have been discussed in recent years, but this one has never been proposed," Greg Aiello said to the Associated Press about the postseason overtime format.

Maybe this one was once thought about by some league official before, but was decided against after further review.

On this proposal I'm throwing a red flag challenge, or a red-faced fit, whichever is permitted by fans like me. The NFL needs to get back to the drawing board, the film room or wherever they go and find a fairer and more complete way to handle overtime games in the playoffs.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Who Needs a Villain?

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"I wish I could hate you!"


Good vs. Evil.

The conflict between the two polar opposites has been the epicenter for, among other things, religious lessons, Hollywood drama and sports allegiances. For every "white hat" indentifying the honorable, there needs to be a "black hat" to represent the outlaws.

It's difficult to be a fan of a sports team without being a dedicated "hater" for another. The dislike that Boston Red Sox fans have for the New York Yankees (and vice-versa) has been well documented. So has the line in the sand that's been drawn between fans of the Dallas Cowboys and those of the Washington Redskins, the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes, Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels, Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons, Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadians and countless other rivals.

Most often, who represents the "good" and the "bad" is solely dependent on which side you are on. But for every hero we worship in sports, we typically have a villain to despise.

Or, so I once thought.

My original, and still my most dedicated, sports allegiance belongs to the Pittsburgh Steelers. While watching the Steelers through the 1970's (who would later be tagged the 'Team of the Decade'), there were many other rivals to despise. There were the Oakland Raiders who we thought were dirty and cheaters, the Dallas Cowboys who were flashy and arrogant as well as the Houston Oilers, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, who were nothing less than division-rivals.

Having someone to cheer against while rooting for your team makes following a sport more interesting and when your team clashes with their commonly hated opponent, the stakes for winning become even higher. (Just ask any Indiana Hoosier or Purdue Boilermaker fan.)

Recent events, however, indicate that the lure of sports intrigue may no longer need a Cain for their Abel, a Joker for their Batman or even a Rocky for their Drago. Having a likeable opponent doesn't lessen the desire to conquer in modern games. It's no longer needed when our country plays against the world or when our nation plays the biggest game in the world.

Thirty-years ago the Winter Olympics were held in Lake Placid, New York. "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!..." we'd cheer for the United States hockey team. But we might as well been chanting "F.A.Q.! F.A.Q.! F.A.Q.!..." (Or something that had a similar phonetic sound when pronounced together as one word) to the team in red wearing the letter's CCCP on their hockey jerseys.

We loved the Americans winning gold during the Miracle on Ice because of how much we hated the Russians. Since the cold war ended, we've become indifferent to the nation, and athletes, we once abhorred.

In the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, once again we cheered the American's on ice but this time our "rivals" were the team from Canada.

Since when do we hate the Canadians?

We don't, and that's just my point.

The last time I crossed the northern border I was subject to less hassle and search than I got when driving from Nevada into California. (State police said they needed to be sure I didn't have any live firearms, dead bodies, fruits or vegetables in the car. No kidding.)

Just days after the United States upset Canada in the preliminary round of the Olympic hockey tournament, how many of us Americans found ourselves rooting for Canadian skater, Joannie Rochette, after learning her mother unexpectedly died days before her scheduled routine in the women's short program?

Television ratings for the 2010 Winter Olympics have been strong, despite our lack of hatred toward other countries. And so too was the viewership of another recent sports spectacle.

When the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, it was the most watched television program, ever. An estimated 106.5 million people saw the Colts play the Saints but, to anyone not already aligned with one of the participating teams, which of those upstanding, likeable teams was playing the part of the villain?

Was it the Indianapolis Colts?

I doubt it. Unless there is now jealousy toward Indy for the success they've enjoyed in the past decade.

Was it the New Orleans Saints?

Um, certainly not. A disaster devastated their city in 2005, which was then followed by resilience and a renaissance, turned (for now) the Saints into "America's Team".

Americans love their games and still hate their enemies. We just no longer need to dislike our opponents in order to be able to support our home teams.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Let the Delays Begin!

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Leave it up to Canada to screw-up snow

"... and Shaler area schools will be delayed two hours today because of snow..."

For me at one time, hearing that on the radio or seeing it across the news ticker of my local television station was cause for excitement.

Already awake and dressed, a snow delay from school was always welcome. Before I could decide to sled down Kenneth Drive, ice skate on Pine Creek or be a derelict and bomb cars with snowballs from my secret hideout on East Pennview Street, my winter wonderland would be brought back to reality when handed a snow shovel.

Now, too old for school, I surely know what I was being taught back then. Delays are really no fun to be around.

My father used to say when I was a kid, "My son could never be a doctor because he doesn't have any patience." Perhaps a not-so-funny play on words but, still, it was very true. And it still is today.

I hate to wait on anything. Worse yet is when I'm being held up from watching a sporting event that I delegated time to view. You know that split-second when you turn on your television and can hear the audio but the screen hasn't appeared on your set? I hate it!

Last weekend I decided to give the XXI Winter Olympic Games some attention. I'm not a huge fan of certain events (especially the outfits and uniforms) but felt skipping them altogether might make me feel a little "un-American". But on Saturday (2/13) the men's downhill event had been postponed because the snow was too 'slushy'.

On Sunday, and then again on Monday, the speed skating competition was postponed because the ice needed resurfaced. On Tuesday, it was the women's downhill skiing and the men's super-combined event that both needed moved but this time because of too much snow.

Slushy snow, bad ice and too many snowflakes have interrupted the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada? Don't they call themselves the "Great White North" on that side of the border? Perhaps, it's now the "Mediocre White North".

(Not to further any frustration, but most 2010 Winter Olympic events we actually do see are already on tape-delay.)

Oh well, maybe some good old fashioned American ingenuity would fix things on Sunday, or at least I thought. Once tuned into the "Great American Race" for the Daytona 500 as NASCAR revved-up their engines to start another Sprint Cup season I was forced to sit through not just one, but two, delays. The 2 red flags were caused by a pothole that formed on turns 2 at Daytona International Speedway and the delays totaled almost 2 ½ hours.

[Note: Before we torch the track officials at DIS for the lengthy delay let me offer an insider's view at pothole repair. Throughout my college years I earn would money during the summer working for the road crew maintenance department of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. 2 hours and 24 minutes is actually a record-time for fixing a pothole, based on my experiences.

If the procedure was anything like I remember it would typically go down like this... First, the foreman would receive the assignment then wake up the rest of the crew from their morning naps. Then, the faulty pavement would be surveyed, analyzed and surveyed some more, before it's time for a coffee break. After the cup of java, the site manager would decide that extra tools are needed to properly make the repair so a truck would be sent back to the garage to pick them up. After returning, a Nimbus cloud would be spotted from miles away indicating the possibility of rain so work would be shut down to prevent breaking any of the union rules negotiated in the previous contract. More delays would ensue until someone notices that it's time for lunch break. After lunch, and only once the potential rain cloud had totally disappeared from eyesight, the summer-help would be instructed to set up orange cones around the pothole and redirect traffic for safety reasons. Following another mandatory break, work would resume (or, begin, depending on your interpretation of the word) work and the pothole would hopefully be fixed before the end of the day.]

If not, we'll try again and repeat the process tomorrow while we hope for a cloudless morning.]

There once was a time when stoppage in action meant something really cool just happened. If you were a fan at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City or the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1979 when Darryl Dawkins brought these 76ers games to a shattering stop, it might have been worth the wait to relish in what just happened.

Bad ice at an indoor coliseum, lack of snow at ski resort or potholes at our most revered racing event, those are not events to brag about having waited through delays to witness.

Friday, February 12, 2010

All Shook Up Over Handshakes

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Peyton Manning did not shake hands with our photographer either before leaving Sun Life Stadium

Following the upset loss to the New Orleans in Super Bowl XLIV, there's been a lot of talk about what Peyton Manning did. Most of the chatter has been centered around the interception that Manning threw, which was returned 74-yards for a touchdown by Saints' defensive back (and IU graduate), Tracy Porter.

That fourth quarter play, which essentially ended any hopes for the Indianapolis Colts while securing the first Super Bowl championship in New Orleans Saints franchise history, was followed by another move that has some calling Peyton Manning a 'poor sport'. After the game ended, Manning walked off the field at Sun Life Stadium without congratulating Drew Brees (or any other Saints players or coaches).

No postgame handshake, no high (or low) fives, no fist-bumps, no 'point and go's' and not even a 'bro hug double back-tap combo'. Peyton bolted for the locker room with his helmet still on.

I don't know if Peyton Manning is a sore loser or not. But I am pretty certain that, if so, he's self-aware of his public image enough to be sure not to appear in that manner. Especially on such a grand stage while knowing that most of the world is watching him.

Manning said after the game, "I certainly know how it was three years ago when we won and there's not much consolation for the guys that didn't win. There's the stage being set up, and the celebration, and it's the time for the Saints to celebrate. It's their field. They deserve the moment. But I certainly congratulate all their players and the Saints organization."

Indeed, Peyton Manning did call Drew Brees to congratulate the MVP from Super Bowl XLIV. Said Brees: "Peyton's a class guy."

Take his word for it, even if you didn't get to see for yourself.

Last May, after his Cleveland Cavaliers lost in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James walked off the court without shaking hands with Dwight Howard or any of the other members of the Orlando Magic.




Like Peyton Manning, James reached out to his victorious opponents after their initial celebration was well over. Only, James didn't make a phone call to Dwight Howard. Rather, King James sent an email to Howard congratulating him on advancing to the 2008-09 NBA Finals.

Oh, kids these days and their modern ways of communicating.

It's been almost 20 years since the "Bad Boys Pistons" lived up to their name and 9 of their 12 players (including Isiah Thomas) walked off the court with 14 seconds left in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals as they were being swept by the Chicago Bulls.

Maybe they should have sent a fax to Michael Jordan and his Bulls teammates after the Pistons recognized their mistake?

Some postgame handshakes are less honorable then had it been skipped all together. Remember Bill Belichick "congratulating" Tony Dungy after the Patriots lost to the Colts?

Bill Belichick made sure to offer Tom Coughlin a hurried handshake after the New York Giants upset the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Then, 'Darth Hoodie" disappeared from the field of the University of Phoenix Stadium with 1-second still remaining on the game clock.

And while this display of poor sportsmanship during a postgame handshaking tradition wasn't broadcast live to millions, it soon may have that many views on YouTube.com because of its shock appeal.





What's my suggestion?

I say we get hip with the times and take a lead from one of the Bud Lite campaigns that debuted during Super Bowl XLI. Skip the handshakes, hugs or even the fist-bumps with a new postgame tradition that's more fitting for true competitors.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Super Bowl Blunders

Eugene Robinson gives his head some attention before playing in Super Bowl XXXIII


Namath guarantees victory in SB III!

Montana to Taylor in SB XXIII!

Elway goes airborne in SB XXXII!

Tyree out leaps Rodney Harrison in SB XLII!

Holmes out jumps the Cardinals secondary in SB XLIII!

As we approach Sunday's big game, we'll surely hear all about those legendary players and moments that helped make the Super Bowl the super spectacular that it has become. But let's not forget some of the memories the NFL would like for us to erase. And we're not referencing any of the on-field blunders such as Yepremian's attempted pass in SB VII, Jackie Smith's drop in SB XIII or even Scott Norwood's wide right in XXV.

Perhaps it's the pressure of the big game or the (most often) extra week that exists in between the conference championships and the Super Bowl. Then again, maybe it's just a bunch of rich, spoiled athletes who already thought they were above society's laws that have made some Super Bowl preparations result in unexplainable pre-game behavior.

Remember Stanley Wilson in SB XXII? Of course not, because he never made the game. The Bengals RB missed it after nearly overdosing on cocaine in his hotel room on the eve of the kickoff. Barret Robbins didn't take his drugs the week of SB XXXVII and then was found drunk, wandering the streets of Tijuana the day before the game.

There's Mark Chmura, who after the Green Bay Packers won SB XXXI, refused an invitation to the White House citing protest of President Clinton's lack of moral code. Then less than three years later was accused of sexually seducing a teenage girl (his babysitter) at an after prom party.

And my favorite screw-up before the Super Bowl, there was Eugene Robinson, who on the eve of SB XXXIII was honored with the annual "Bart Starr Award" presented by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for "high moral reproach and character". What better way to celebrate then to offer a street prostitute forty dollars for oral sex? Too bad for Eugene, it was an undercover cop.

We're less than 72 hours before the kickoff for Super Bowl XLIV and, so far, no immediate member of either the Indianapolis Colts or the New Orleans Saints have embarrassed their respective franchises. And, if there is a Super Bowl proposition for me to wager on, I bet none of the Colts or Saints will make that blunder before the Super Bowl begins. While keeping tabs on each player on an NFL team involves more watching-over than the OctoMom's babysitter, both the Colts and Saints are loaded with classy individuals throughout their 53-man roster.

Tuesday's annual Media Day was anything but controversial. While media members tried to get something, anything, from Dwight Freeney concerning his injured ankle, the other players avoided making any controversial statements. Not even a tired "Namath-like guarantee" could be pried from any of the players populating the concourse at Sun Life Stadium. These athletes don't just make their hometown fans proud, but probably do so to all of their parents as well.

Increased exposure from sleazy, celebrity web sites can't even crack the participants of this Super Bowl. As this column went to press, so far, the best TMZ could do was get a photograph of Reggie Bush walking out of a South Beach club Tuesday morning at 3:30 a.m.

Wow, how scandalous!

Super Bowl XLIV matches the two top playoff seeds from the NFC and AFC for the first time since 1993. The game should be on for the ages, but not one for the tabloids.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

NFL Overtime Changes Overdue

Peyton Manning should have a chance to play if Super Bowl XLIV would go into overtime



There's only two things I can't stand in this world. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures... and the Dutch"
[Michael Caine, aka 'Nigel Powers', from Austin Powers in Goldmember]

If the commissioner of the NFL was to ask me what two things I can't stand, the most likely answer would have been, "The preseason and the Pro Bowl." Now, I'm not so sure. (And it's not because of moving the Pro Bowl to the week before the Super Bowl, Mr. Goodell. Sorry.)

While still not a fan of the 'simulated scrimmages' before each regular season or the 'fake football' of the annual Pro Bowl, last week's NFC Championship Game reminded me of something that leaves me more frustrated than a Cowboys fan in January. The NFL rules for overtime.

I'm far from alone on this one. While some analysts (Cris Collinsworth, Phil Simms) and league executives throw their support, there may be more fans of college football's BCS than there are of today's NFL overtime rules.

The current system begins with a coin toss and the team that scores first, by any means, wins. (You already knew that, but that was just in case Donovan McNabb is reading.) These overtime rules were put in place back in 1974. Since then, the game has transformed through many rules changes and most of them have benefited the offense. During that time period, the kickers (and kicking conditions) have improved as well.

Following a 60-minute deadlock, we just aren't thrilled to watch a team win the overtime coin toss, receive the kickoff, drive 30-40-yards and make a field goal before 4th down. But, reality isn't such the case and it only feels like that happens each time. There were 13 overtime games in the 2009 regular season and in only 5 did the team that won the coin toss score without having to play defense.

But in the playoffs when better teams are competing in this, an offensive-era of the league, it becomes a bigger issue. The league's overtime rules may have just hurt the Minnesota Vikings, and their fans, more so than another win by them would have inflicted pain on the people in Green Bay. In Indianapolis, it was felt just a season ago.

In last year's AFC wild card playoffs, the San Diego Chargers won the overtime coin toss and beat the Indianapolis Colts, 23-17, without Peyton Manning ever touching the football. This year's NFC championship, same scenario, but this time the Saints won and Brett Favre never took a snap.

In January of 2009, fans were denied the history to witness the legendary Peyton Manning, for the first time in his hall of fame career, lead a postseason drive with everything on the line. Last week, we may also been robbed of seeing Brett Favre have another memorable sudden death playoff game moment.

Peyton Manning in the 2008 playoffs would have been 50 years separated from when Johnny Unitas, wearing a Colts uniform, led a drive that I've now seen on film more times than the original Pamela Anderson sex tape. In the first-ever sudden death overtime game in NFL history, Unitas and the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants for the league championship. But we weren't able to see if it would play out in the same way for Manning.

Nor did football fans get to watch Brett Favre imitate history. Just 2 years ago was his last veteran opportunity to make a 'rookie throw' on a grand stage.

Favre's underthrown ball in overtime of the 2007-08 NFC championship sent the New York Giants to Super Bowl XLII weeks before he and the Packers began their nasty breakup. One more Favre interception to finish off his Vikings in New Orleans, and the Packers management would have been celebrating more than the Saints organization did following the game.

In the National Football League, it's the quarterbacks who are stars and the placekickers who are expandable. But in an overtime situation, the little soccer dude has more impact than the prestigious field general. And neither might be more crucial than the luck of winning that 50/50 coin toss.

It's fair for the league and the union to protect their players from injury. The regular season can withstand the anticlimactic shadow their overtime system sheds on an otherwise exciting ending. But postseason should provide the ultimate drama.

Unlike MLB, who failed to address issues that could embarrass the game in its biggest events like the 2002 All-Star Game tie, the NFL needs to be proactive and fix the overtime rules for their postseason games.

The fans deserve it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

No Experience Necessary

Commuters throughout the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area have been treated to a unique outdoor advertising campaign. The billboards, however, weren't aimed at them as consumers but towards Bills owner, Ralph Wilson, who probably doesn't even drive his own vehicle to work.

"Buffalo Fans Want Bill Cowher -- Paid For By Bills Fans" read the giant signs. The bigger sign was that of the Buffalo Bills fans, who have apparently grown tired of watching sub-par professional football.

It's understandable for fans in Buffalo to feel this way. The home team hasn't made the playoffs since 1999. That's 10 years and it ties the Bills for the longest drought in the league with, you guessed it, the Detroit Lions.

But simply hiring Bill Cowher to coach the Bills doesn't guarantee anything for Buffalo. In fact, upon looking further into the numbers, it makes as much logic as using a wooden barrel to safely travel to bottom of those giant falls to which their city neighbors.

[At this point we could calculate the years (15) it took for Bill Cowher to win a (1) Super Bowl as the head coach in Pittsburgh and then compare how many different people (7) have held that position in Buffalo during that tenure. Or, reference the number of Super Bowls the Steelers had won (4) before hiring Cowher. And maybe even offer up how many years it took the Steelers to win another (2) after he retired. But, being from Pittsburgh, I don't wish to turn this into a Bill-bashing column and ruin any specials I still get on sauerkraut pierogies when I visit home.]

In 2009, 3 NFL teams were led by head coaches who had won a Super Bowl. 2 of them missed the playoffs (New York Giants with Tom Coughlin and Pittsburgh Steelers with Mike Tomlin) and the other (New England Patriots with Bill Belichick) was crushed in the opening round.

12 teams made the NFL playoffs this season. 9 of them were led by first-time head coaches. 2 of the 4 teams playing in the conference finals have rookie NFL head coaches (Rex Ryan and Jim Caldwell). The other 2 (Sean Peyton and Brad Childress) who are leading teams into this weekend had no previous head coaching experience before hired by their current owners.

Not all that different than the 2008 version of the NFL's Final Four. Last year, three of the teams playing in the conference finals were led by first-timers who had a combined 5 years of NFL experience (Baltimore Ravens with John Harbaugh, Arizona Cardinals with Ken Whisenhunt and Pittsburgh Steelers with Mike Tomlin).

Despite the success of these former assistants, the same famous names are dropped for each potential NFL opening. Now that Mike Shanahan has gone to Washington and Mike Holmgren is running things in Cleveland, it's Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden who carry this false prophecy automatic success in pro football. Currently, Cowher is still a studio on 'The NFL Today' and Gruden is under contract with ESPN's 'Monday Night Football' where he reminded us weekly "That's the kind of guy I'd like to coach!" following the name of every player mentioned.

Admittedly, there is a lot I don't understand when it comes to the NFL and head coaching (like, for instance, the fact that Rich Kotite once was one) but when owners chase a legend from yesteryear instead of pursuing a talented, hungry newbie, it shows I must no little when it comes to finance as well. With a salary cap free season seemingly imminent in 2010, it would seem fiscally sound to not overspend for experience when so many are having coaching success while on their rookie contracts.

Or, maybe that's exactly what's happening in the National Football League. Before the 2009 season, there were 11 coaching changes and 9 were hired with no previous experience. But so far, going into 2010, that is not the case. The Washington Redskins (Mike Shanahan), Seattle Seahawks (Pete Carroll) and Buffalo Bills (Chan Gailey) have all made recycled choices for their head coaching hires.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tiny Needles, Little Pills & BIG Lies
If some had their way, this would be the 1990's wing at the Baseball Hall of Fame


This week Mark McGwire admitted that he took PED's while he played professional baseball including during his record-breaking 1998 season.

"I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize," McGwire said in a statement released on January 11, 2010.

Wow, you can knock me over with a small feather on that one. (Or, if it's after my next cycle with steroids then, knock me over with a large bulldozer.)

Like the time Bill Clinton confessed of an extra-marital affair, Clay Aiken announced he was homosexual or when Nick Nolte pleads 'no contest' to any alcohol-related offense, there were certain celebrity admissions that don't exactly catch the rest of us too far off guard. Nor are we blindsided to learn another modern day slugger took steroids while rapidly climbing baseball's home run list.

Was it the 500-foot bombs being launched from Popeye-like forearms that first hinted of McGwire's involvement during that decade? Didn't Big Mac put some special sauce on that speculation in 2005 wih his refusal to speak about the past when he was sitting before congress for the sole purpose to speak about the past?

Anyone who didn't suspect McGwire, or others, of using steroids wasn't paying close enough attention. And whoever needed Mark to come clean to know that he was cheating needs to just stop paying attention (to anything, come to think of it, because you're naivety might be dangerous to the vast majority).

For baseball fans, it justifies our understanding of the game when the more obvious users confess to our suspicions. But the manner in which they admit to their actions is worse because that insults our intelligence.

Alex Rodriguez got his from a cousin, Barry Bonds didn't know what it was ( Sammy Sosa, remember, couldn't speak English for one day) and McGwire's attempt to come clean was also a pile of lies.

"I have the chance to do something that I wish I was able to do five years ago" …"I wish I had never touched steroids", Mark's statement had self-righteous rhetoric and his sincerity was as enhanced as he and his fellow bash brothers were when they played ball.

McGwire spoke with the Associated Press soon after he sent his prepared release and, as he apologized, his voice cracked. While some suggest that was just a precursor to what his tendons might someday do, I think it was genuine emotion coming from McGwire.

Genuine and selfish emotions from Mark, I'd say.

[Flashback to the summer of 1985 and, with his newly earned State of Pennsylvania Driver License, Dominic Joseph Zaccagnini is sitting on his parents couch while a Shaler Township policeman explains how he just clocked my mother's Volkswagen Rabbit at double the speed limit through a 40 mph zone. As I was busted and banned from that mean machine it dawned on me that I didn't have a car of my own, or anything else, so I began to apologize. Over and over until, and I'm pretty certain, my voice cracked while I did.

The point was that I wasn't so emotional because of how sorry I was for making my mistake. But I was REALLY sorry that I was caught. It was difficult now telling the truth and scary too.]

The timing, tone and take of Mark McGwire's admission felt disingenuous.

The mistruths continued just hours following his released statement and AP interview when McGwire told Bob Costas on the MLB Network, "The only reason I took steroids was for health purposes"

It had nothing to do with his hitting all those home runs, he says. Or, the fame, money and adulation that comes with being a major league baseball home run king.

Really, Mark?

Monday, January 11, 2010



The Boston Red Sox once endured the infamous “Curse of the Bambino”. For 86 years, sports fans in Boston blamed their team’s trade of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees during the 1919-20 offseason for a championship drought.

Throughout the history of the curse, numerous documentaries were filmed, books were written and comedy skits were developed detailing its depths. Its mystique created material for comedians (Dennis Leary) nicknames for athletes (“Bucky F’n Dent”) and its ultimate reverse caused re-writes of Hollywood chick flicks (“Fever Pitch”).

Since following the 2004 ALCS, when the Red Sox overcame a 3-0 best-of-seven deficit to defeat the Yankees and go on to win a World Series title (again in 2007), the Babe no longer curses Beantown.

Well, at least not that “babe”.

Enter, Gisele Caroline Bündchen.

She’s a Brazilian model, actress, former socialite and now the (much) better half to New England Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady. Tom and Gisele were married in February of 2009. The super-couple began dating in 2006 when Tom was on top of the football world.

Like a Tom Brady-led 4th quarter drive, his relationship with Gisele could not be stopped. Not by their successful careers, the bothersome media or even a positive pregnancy test from his former and famous girlfriend, Bridget Moynahan.

When he and Gisele became a couple, Tom was only a year removed from a Super Bowl XXXIX championship (played on February 6, 2005). It was his third world title with, what seemed back then, more rings to follow. But in the 2006 postseason, his Patriots would blow an 18-point lead and lose to the eventual winners of SB XLI, the Indianapolis Patriots.

In 2007, Brady would break more passing records and lead New England to the NFL’s first ever 16-0 regular season. And everything seemed as fine as half-naked Bündchen in a bundle of bed sheets.


But, just like this photograph is to rest of us men in the world…
It was all just a big tease

After leading victories in 12 of the first 13 playoff games which he started, Brady has lost 3 of his last 5.
Tom Brady in the postseason:
First 12 games - 5 interceptions
Last 6 games - 10 interceptions

Pick up your head Tom, at least you spend the offseason with a supermodel

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Don't let the 5 wins and even fewer fans discourage you guys, go ahead and dump the coach with Gatorade in subfreezing temperatures

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When gambling, I always like to set up my later losses before making my more immediate bets. Some don't get that and warn to not "put the cart ahead of the horse", but I bet they never had money on a horse where the cart was the only thing it didn't finish behind.

I'd be more confident predicting these NFL playoffs starting with the conference championships and working backwards to the wild card games. My ever-expanding holiday gut says the eventual winner of the NFC is playing football this weekend while this year's AFC champion has a first-round bye.

Dallas, Philadelphia, Green Bay or Arizona, put me down for any of those to beat the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings next weekend. Meanwhile, Indianapolis and San Diego should use their off week to prepare for one another in the conference finals.

The hottest teams advance and the luckiest ones eventually fall.

The Cowboys and Packers are hot but the Eagles and Cardinals have the chops to start sizzling after a quality road win. The Vikings and especially the Saints will have home field but whoever they play in the divisional playoffs will have their share of advantages too.

(Speaking of hot, I sure was in Week 17. Testing my theory that teams with nothing to play for will cover against those trying to make the playoffs we salute the Chiefs, Raiders and Patriots and denounce the Bengals in the final week.)

The Colts and Chargers are the class of the AFC. The Texans and Steelers didn't deserve to make the postseason but both would have a better chance than the Jets or Bengals to win a playoff game in Indianapolis or San Diego. The Ravens can't run the table and the Patriots just don't look right.

Despite great momentum from a Week 17 winning streak, for the NFL Wild Card Playoffs I place my predictions with a confidence level at about - on a scale of Rosie O'Donnell to Megan Fox - I'd say, a Paul Poundstone chance of making me proud the next morning.


New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals
If Marvin Lewis has any strategic sense at all (and that's a big IF) then he showed the Jets absolutely nothing during last week's slaughter. And by nothing I mean NOTHING. From Sunday's game to Saturday, the defensive schemes that Mark Sanchez sees in Cincinnati should look more foreign to him than the menu at Nha Hang Pho Viet Huong in Manhattan once did to me. Bengals 27, Jets 10

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Wow, could you imagine how good either might be if they had Terrell Owens? Guess you haven't heard anyone say that.

Here's something else that you shouldn't hear anyone say, "It's hard to beat a team three times in the same season," because that's about as accurate today as Nick Folk field goal attempt. Last season the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens three times and since 1999 in games where a team has a 2-0 series, they are 5-2.

Dallas is finally playing really well at the right time. Cowboys 31, Eagles 21

Baltimore at New England
I don't think much of the Patriots potential this postseason. Welker's torn knee, Brady's broken ribs, Maroney's butter fingers, there even seems to be a deeper resentment toward the press in Bill Belichick's voice.

They couldn't win on the road against mediocre competition this season and won't against a quality opponent next week, but New England might be good for one win at home. Patriots 17, Ravens 13

Green Bay at Arizona
Disclosure item #1: Before the season began I had placed a "future" wager (on a whim and not so much done for the team as much as for the potential payout) on the Arizona Cardinals to win SB XLIV.

Disclosure item #2: It might not be possible for a heterosexual sports guy to have a bigger man crush on a player than I currently have on Aaron Rodgers.

Credit the Green Bay Packers management for knowing what fantasy football have now learned too, Aaron Rodgers is a quarterbacking stud. Packers 34, Cardinals 28

Still, for reasons I disclosed in my top-listed item, I'll be rooting for Kurt and the Cardinals.

Money over honeys, I guess.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Boyzee State Broncos

Boise State University has won their second Fiesta Bowl in four years after beating TCU 17-10 on Monday night. The win concludes another undefeated season for the Broncos (14-0) who have won more games than any college football team since 2000.

How did an athletic program, located in Boise, Idaho, become such a dominant force in college football?

Could it be the college courses they offer their student-athletes?

0105_boise_state_star_fox.jpg


Or, the postgame reward the players receive for winning games?

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Don't Rush to Recognize These Records


When someone says that NFL games lack competitiveness during the final week of the regular season, they are obviously missing the point. The decimal point, that is. Whether it’s to add leverage for the free agent market or for personal performance bonuses, players had a lot to play for even if their Week 17 game didn’t have any playoff implications.

And we’re not just talking of the Tennessee Titans’ relentless use of Chris Johnson to break the all-time total yards from scrimmage record and also to become the 6th player in league history to rush for more than 2,000 in a season. The Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills game wasn’t at all being played for the final score (Buffalo won 30-7, I think), but for certain individual accomplishments. Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne got a lot of short passes thrown in their direction and each left the game following their respective catches that gave both 100 for the season. Terrell Owens caught 4 balls to surpass Tim Brown for 3rd place on the all-time receptions list. Running back Fred Jackson rambled through a defense of Colts’ reserves to reach 1,000 yards for the first time in his career.

I’m not trying to knock Jackson’s 212-yard rushing day or break my New Year’s revolution for picking on team’s that I hardly got to see (did the Bills even play in between their Week 1 Monday night loss to the Patriots and the Week 17 formality with the Colts?) but do we still even recognize a 1,000 rushing season as an actual accomplishment??

We shouldn’t.

Before 1978, when the NFL regular season was only 14 games in length, it was a heck of a deal. Before 1961, when the regular season was only 12 games, it was one helluva an accomplishment.

Let’s do some math (and, by doing so, I’m breaking a second resolution this year). In 1960, only 3 NFL players (Jim Brown, Jim Taylor and John Crow) surpassed 1,000 rushing. To reach that plateau, they needed to average 83.3 yards per game. That same weekly average for rushing output, today, would total over 1,333 yards in a season.

(And, likewise, the “water mark” for a great receiving season would now also be 1,333 yards and, by doing some more mathematics, 3,000 yard passing should now be measured by 4,000.)

Using that 83.3/game average as a measuring stick for today’s running backs and only six players (Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, Thomas Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice) accumulated enough yards on the ground to consider the 2009 season a statistical accomplishment.

So Fred Jackson, and some others, just doesn’t make the cut.

Throw that souvenir ball back to the fans, Fred. It won’t be worth much on eBay.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Even I Can Be Right... Sometimes
Look closely at this offshore sportsbook and casino and see the newly added wing which they plan to name in my honor.

They say that it's not easy always being right. Not that I'd know because often, too often, I'm wrong. And so will admit anyone who tries to predict the actions of others, that is, if they are being honest.

For those who pick sports publicly, there is no denying the inability to do so correctly with any consistently. Video evidence exists of ESPN's Chris Berman (or, "The Swami") and his consecutive, but incorrect, preseason guesses of a Buffalo Bills vs. San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nowadays thanks to the Internet (and, according to him, Al Gore) mine and others leave a paper, err, I mean, an online trail of our missteps.

How wrong we can be and how available it is for others to see.

This IHSAA football season, our very own Jeremiah Johnson was flooded with emails from fans in southern Indiana following his semi-state playoffs prediction that Cathedral would clobber Evansville Reitz (42-7). Not only did Evansville Reitz crush Cathedral (31-10) but the Panthers would go on to defeat Lowell in the Class 4A championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Despite a 56 point swing in his semi-state game prediction, Jeremiah was hardly the goat of this football-guessing year. One NFL.com analyst (Bucky Brooks) made a preseason prediction that the 2009 Indianapolis Colts would finish 8-8 and in 4th place of the AFC South. It took only 9 games for the Colts to buck Bucky's win total.

You don't have to dig very far to read how wrong I've been, either. Just last week in this very same column I addressed the potential of Indianapolis being the first NFL team ever to accomplish a 19-0 season and that, despite the team's public denial, making history was important to all of them.

Well, we all know how that one turned out. (My apologies for further infuriating those who still disagree with the team management for their personal decisions in the 2nd half of that loss to the Jets). Furthermore, back in April when the 2009 NFL schedule was officially released, I half-heartedly prognosticated an undefeated regular season for the Indianapolis Colts.

Try not to be too hard on me for that one.

(In September, I later amended my ambitious prediction with an 11-5 record and 1st place finish in the AFC South for the Colts. For that one, you can go ahead and take your open shots at me.)

I was off on some other "educated guesses" this NFL year as well. My mock draft from April, my visions of seeing Michael Vick play in the UFL from August, my pregame prediction of the Week 4 Titans/Jets game from September and, of course, my predictions and pursuit of perfection for the Indianapolis Colts.

As the 2009 National Football League regular season comes to a close this Sunday, it's only fair that I too recognize those few instances when I was actually correct. While you'll have to take my word on some of those calls (like Brett Favre not actually retiring despite another press conference announcing he was, of Aaron Rodgers being the highest-scoring quarterback for this fantasy football season, the Pittsburgh Steelers not defending their NFC North title and the Denver Broncos not winning the AFC West despite a 6-0 start), a quick Internet search will show that I wasn't too far off when it came to the Bears' trade for Jay Cutler, Indianapolis defeating Tennessee in Week 13 despite the Titans more needing the win or, at least the overwhelming public feelings toward, the Colts' pursuit of perfection.

Wow, that's not an awful lot. Is it?

Well soon enough we will know how right or wrong it was for me to dispel the fashionable notion that the Houston Texans would finally make the playoffs or of Brett Favre's value when it's time to actually play in the postseason.

Predicting NFL outcomes isn't easy. But, hey, I'm just a fan. Unlike Tom Benson, he is the owner of the New Orleans Saints. Forget him trying to guess what will occur in the future, poor Tom wasn't even able to decipher what had actually already happened as he accidentally celebrated a potential, but missed, game-winning field goal in his team's Week 16 loss to the Tamp Bay Buccaneers.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

You're a Mean One, Mr. Gundy

stan-van-gundy-redtie.jpg

The Christmas tie isn't fooling anyone, Stan


"Did you have a nice holiday?"

Unofficially, that's the most overheard question beginning Christmas Day until the New Year. (Unless you are Charlie Sheen, of course, then it would be, "Did they read you your rights?"). The rest of us (sans Charlie) will typically respond with an agreeable, positive reply while mentioning our families, the children and loved ones whose company we enjoyed.

But don't expect Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to give you the standard seasonal response. "I would rather not play on Christmas," Van Gundy said before losing to the Boston Celtics on Friday. "This is a day to spend with your family. The league has been good to all of us in terms of what we get (big money) out of these TV games, so it would sound a little disingenuous to complain too much. But if I had my way, we'd take a five-day Christmas break."

Hey, put the rest of us down for a five day break too, Stan! And while we're synchronizing our work schedules, can ours also include a 3 to 4 month offseason as well??

The scheduling of NBA games on Christmas Day dates back to the inception of the league (late 1940s) then, starting in 1983, they were televised nationally and became a household tradition. This year the ESPN/ABC Network broadcasted 5 games on December 25th. And, unlike the NFL, the National Basketball Association strives to entertain fans with the game's biggest stars and best teams (LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers in one of those games this year).

Not only should the NBA ignore Van Gundy's scrooge-like request, but the NFL should be more particular as to how they gift-wrap games for their fans. Each year on Thanksgiving Day, fans are forced to suffer through blowouts because the NFL stubbornly sticks to the tradition of including the Detroit Lions and then scheduling a weak opponent for the Dallas Cowboys. Over the past four years of pro football on Thanksgiving Day, the Lions have lost by a combined score of 144-58 and the Cowboys have crushed their opponents (Oakland, Seattle, New York Jets and Tampa Bay) by a 130-29 margin.

Then, beginning in 2006, there is the Thanksgiving night game broadcast on the NFL Network - which is still only available in about half the homes in America. I guess is important to remind the less fortunate what they DON'T have on that day of thanks.

As for the family dilemma in the Van Gundy household... every heard of celebrating on Christmas Eve, Stan?

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Can We Be Perfectly Honest About 19-0?
peyton-manning-sideline-collar.jpg
Super Bowl ring ... check. Super Bowl MVP... check. NFL MVP... check. Multiple passing records... check. 19-0 season... Sure!

Entering Week 16 of the 2009 season, the Indianapolis Colts have won an NFL record 23 consecutive regular season games. Last week's victory in Jacksonville was the 115th for Indianapolis during this decade which is also a league record. All the while, the Colts now have 7 straight seasons with at least 12 wins. That current streak is yet another NFL milestone.

Why do we know that these accomplishments have never before been achieved? The records are documented and because they matter to us fans and everyone who is either involved with or follows the game.

We are all also well aware of 19-0. And we know that it's never been done before.

So, can we all stop pretending that it doesn't matter?

And, I mean, everyone?

Before losing to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 15, the New Orleans Saints were approaching their own perfect regular season. Unlike the home team in Indianapolis, the Saints aren't accustomed to such success. And it showed. Like someone old enough to recognize the meaning of Christmas, their players basked in the possibility of an unblemished regular season record and openly spoke about presenting the 16-0 gift to the long suffering football fans in Louisiana.

But in Indianapolis, where too many seasonal dreams have been returned shortly after Christmas, the focus is on what happens in the new year (the postseason).

Each week as the pursuit of perfection becomes closer and closer for the Indianapolis Colts, the coaches, the players and staff surrounding the franchise deflect questions about the possibility of going 19-0.

"It's a great conversation for those who love our sport. We know what the most important thing is," head coach Jim Caldwell said about the media and fan frenzy surrounding the unbeaten Colts.

Yes, we know. Going undefeated during the season without winning the ultimate prize, a Super Bowl title, devalues a 16-0 record. We've seen that before in 2007. And we're not overly enamored with that New England Patriots team for doing so.

But owning an undefeated regular season record along with a Super Bowl championship? Now, that is special. And while they can try to deny that while in pursuit, few will dismiss it when they are not involved with the possibility of achieving perfection.

"I would give it all up for one year of perfection," said three-time Super Bowl champion, Michael Irvin. "All 3 Super Bowl rings for 1 perfect season!" exclaimed the Hall of Fame wide receiver when discussing the topic on 'NFL GameDay'.

While Irvin's exclamation may be an exaggeration, it does reveal what most of us already know… that winning a championship in a way that no one else has done before would be even more super.

Do we even have to ask any living members from the 1972 Miami Dolphins how they feel? For over three decades they root against and then celebrate afterwards whenever the last remaining unbeaten NFL team is finally defeated. They know that each season somebody is going to win the Super Bowl but they hope each year that no one does so the same way that they did.

For athletes or even coaches, things are more acceptable to say and easier to admit when you are no longer actively involved. Remember John Elway during his playing days who, after a series of Super Bowl disappointments, would deny that his football career would be personally lacking if he didn't win a NFL championship? When asked again his feelings of that potential scenario following the Denver Broncos Super Bowl XXXII victory, Elway admitted, "I lied."

And so too are many of the 2009 Indianapolis Colts who act as if being the first to achieve 19-0 would not be more memorable to them. But we get it. They can't make themselves publicly vulnerable by vocally trying to make NFL history and not keeping their focus on the true prize of winning Super Bowl XLIV. At least not while during the process of pursuing it.

The reality is that teams and individuals are not just playing each season against the rest of the NFL but they are also competing against the history of the league. There have been 43 Super Bowls played so far and while only 17 NFL franchises have won them, those individual teams are more than remembered for their championship season. Inevitably, each will also be historically compared to the other Super Bowl winners.

Being the first and (so far) only Super Bowl champion to go "19-0" would be forever remembered. For the players, coaches and everyone involved with such a perfect season, it would be even more special.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

Monday, December 21, 2009

So, These Are the Experts?



The massive interest for professional football and the growth of the National Football League has been undeniable. Replacing baseball many years ago as our nation’s most popular sport, the media coverage dedicated to covering the game has exploded almost as fast as the league, itself. But so many hours of coverage also means too many cliché’s and, as a result, too much lazy analysis.

Want to know what ESPN’s Tom Jackson thinks the (insert any NFL team here) need to do to win this week? “Run the football, play good defense and avoid turnovers”.

Thanks, Tom. I’ll try to remember that next time. Unlike the thousands of times you stated that in the past.

Last week Tony Dungy said on NBC’s “Football Night in America” pregame show that the Dallas Cowboys had ‘no chance’ of beating the New Orleans Saints in Week 15.

The Cowboys won 24-17. And, according to quarterback Tony Romo, they had Tony Dungy to partially thank for it. Romo mentioned following the game that a tape of Dungy’s comments was played for the Cowboys before they left for New Orleans.

How’s that for “Uncommon”?

When Tony Dungy joined the Sunday night show many wondered if he could be opinionated enough to make it work as an analyst. No longer a concern, we must now wonder if Dungy is objective enough.

Wasn’t Tony once the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? His 1999 team made it all the way to the NFC Championship where, behind quarterback Shaun King, they had to play the “Greatest Show on Turf” in St. Louis for a chance to be in the Super Bowl. Dungy’s team was far more than a touchdown underdog (the Saints were favored by 7 ½ over the Cowboys in Week 15) in that conference title game.

So, did your team have ‘no chance’ at winning, Tony?

Surely the Indianapolis Colts teams he coached know what it’s like to win as an underdog and lose as a favorite. The San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers have beaten the heavily-favored Dungy-led Colts’ teams in the postseason while his 2006 Super Bowl champions were underdogs their road playoff road games leading up to SB XLI.

In the future Tony Dungy (and some others) can watch some tape of their own during the week to avoid such analytical errors on Sunday. I’m positive that some pregame host, somewhere, reminded us recently, “That’s why they play the game”.

Tom?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Quit Ruining My Fantasies
Excuse me ladies, would you know how many touchdowns Adrian Peterson scored for my fantasy football team this week?


Upon first glance at this article's title and one might wonder why I haven't bought a lock for my bedroom door or simply dated a less cerebral blonde, but this eligible bachelor isn't referencing females. Well, at least not today.

Like many football fans, each autumn my fantasies don't so much involve me scoring with Kate Moss, Sienna Miller or Catherine Zeta-Jones but, rather, me scoring from Randy Moss, Zach Miller or Maurice Jones-Drew. As most of you know, its playoff time for fantasy football owners.

If your team has been anything like mine than you surely know that it's not only the weather that goes cold each December. Fantasy football, not unlike gambling, seemingly only provides the participant with hard breaks and bad memories. At IndySportsNation.com, my desk is within an ear's shot of the entire FOX-59 sports department. None were happy with the results of their team this week.

Finding a fantasy football owner this time of the year who was on the right side of a missed field goal or a late touchdown is much harder than uncovering a woman willing to share an extra-marital fling with Tiger Woods. And you won't hear any gloating from me (on either subject).

12 wins in 13 regular season weeks only to be demolished in the postseason by a Wild Card team with a 6-7 record. Such was my luck. But as the saying goes (or, if not, it should be a cliché' by now) "The only one who cares about YOUR fantasy football team is YOU!"

(Therefore, I'll spare you the details and the following NFL stars the wrath of my insults: Aaron Rodgers, DeAngelo Williams, Calvin Johnson, Donald Driver, Anquan Boldin, Tony Gonzalez and New England's defense/special teams.) But, suffice to say, the past decade has given me new found respect and a much deeper empathy for the Dan Reeves', Bud Grant's and Marv Levy's of the football world who had coached tremendous teams but could never win "the big one".

So, I digress.

With most leagues done with regular season play (a universally shortened format that can be credited to the Indianapolis Colts and traced back to the years when they would notoriously rest their stars in December), lets recognize this year's fantasy football busts from 2009.

QUARTERBACK

Jay Cutler - The only thing worse than his attitude before the season was the disposition of his fantasy owners throughout the season.

Matt Cassel - Amazing how ordinary a QB can look when his receiving core of Randy Moss and Wes Welker is replaced by Dwayne Bowe and Bobby Wade.

Matt Ryan - Call it a sophomore slump or blame his late injury but following Week 6, "Matty Ice" was pretty much cold for the remainder of the season.

(Dishonorable Mention: JaMarcus Russell, Eli Manning and anyone from Cleveland)

RUNNING BACK

Matt Forte - Before the season, fantasy owners thought he was the next Walter Payton but once the real games began he was more like the next Curtis Enis.

Brandon Jacobs - I swear there was a game this year that he was so slow hitting the hole the Giants were called for delay of game in mid-play.

Michael Turner - "Turner the Burner" or "Turner the Bust". You decide.

(Dishonorable Mention: Larry Johnson, Marion Barber, Clinton Portis, Derek Ward, Brian Westbrook, Willie Parker, LenDale White)

WIDE RECEIVER

Steve Smith - Who knew that having "The good Steve Smith" meant drafting the guy from the New York Giants?

Greg Jennings - What was supposed to be a "breakout season" took a backseat to Donald Driver's "comeback season".

T.J. Houshmandzadeh - Way to step-up and become a #1 wide receiver, T.J. And just when the novelty fans finally learned how to pronounce your last name.

(Dishonorable Mention: Antwaan Randle El, Nate Washington, Ted Ginn Jr., Terrell Owens, Roy E. Williams, Devin Hester, Santana Moss)

TIGHT END

Jason Witten- Yet, somehow Tony Romo put up decent fantasy numbers while he was his top target.

Tony Gonzalez - Not a horrible season but like his wardrobe in the PETA advertisement, we expected a lot more.

Greg Olsen - Imagine how little his numbers would have been had he NOT been Jay Cutler's favorite drinking buddy.

(Dishonorable Mention: Owen Daniels and Chris Cooley but only because of injury)

That's all since it's too painful for me to continue. I can't take these December disappointments much more and am officially retiring from fantasy football...until next year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Heisman Watch?

Sophomore running back Mark Ingram has been awarded as this year's Heisman Trophy winner. In the closest race in Heisman history, Ingram edged runner-up Toby Gerhart by a mere 28 votes to become the first member of the Alabama Crimson Tide to win the prestigious award.

Sounds pretty exciting, doesn't it?

For Ingram it certainly was. “I'm a little overwhelmed right now," he said. "I'm just so excited to bring Alabama their first Heisman winner,” as the tears flowed (and subsequently ended all jokes in Tuscaloosa poking fun at Tim Tebow for crying after the SEC Championship game).

Standing at the podium Ingram struggled to speak and was encouraged to 'take his time' by the surrounding former winners. They all knew what a great moment it was to be recognized as college football's best in a season.

Well, almost all of them.

My favorite Heisman Trophy winner of all-time is Tony Dorsett. Attending games at Pitt Stadium as a child, I marveled at the Panthers tailback for his elusive ability and exceptional speed. Dorsett would scorch the opposition and would famously tear-up the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defense for over 303 in 1975 and then (despite the efforts to grow the grass longer in effort to slow him down at South Bend) again in 1976 for a total of 290 yards. (Back then, an individual performance like such versus Notre Dame was unheard of, however, today even a white running back from an academic university can do so.)

Tony Dorsett, the 1976 Heisman winner, would hold the college rushing record for 22 years until Ricky Williams would surpass his total in 1998 (when Williams, himself, would win the award).

He was my favorite college football player then and now Tony Dorsett is my favorite former winner too. Check out Tony during Mark Ingram's speech stopping to check his BlackBerry (about 2:15 into the video).

Finally, we get to enjoy a classic moment during an acceptance speech.

Thanks "TD"!

I just hope for Tony's sake he wasn't being replied to after a late night text.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Be Smart and Quit School

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College chicks dig professional men learned Matt Leinart


Notre Dame's quarterback Jimmy Clausen announced this week that he was leaving the university to enter the 2010 NFL Draft. The move was hardly a surprise and, in fact, had Clausen chosen to stay for his final year of eligibility it would have made much bigger news.

When, back in 1983, Herschel Walker made the decision to forego his senior season at the University of Georgia it was groundbreaking. The 1982 Heisman Trophy winner left the college game to pursue a career with the USFL which was something that the NFL rules, at that time, did not allow. Since then the National Football League has amended their eligibility rules and now anybody with at least 3 years of college experience can enter the draft.

For Jimmy Clausen, to leave an institution of higher-learning and declare his eligibility for professional football, it was a no-brainer.

According to numerous (and anonymous) NFL scouts, Clausen should be the most sought after quarterback in next April's draft. Since he arrived at Notre Dame in 2007 (as one of the most highly anticipated recruits in the school's recent history, he even picked the College Football Hall of Fame as the venue for his announcement to attend Notre Dame) Clausen started 34 games for the Irish and was 16-18 in them.

Having run a pro-style offense under Charlie Weis at Notre Dame, Jimmy Clausen has the arm and the experience that NFL teams seek. This season, Clausen threw for 28 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. And, after inviting his tight end and receivers to his home in California last summer to work on the passing game (and then subsequently being chosen by his Notre Dame teammates as a captain for the 2009 squad) criticisms of his maturity issues and questions about his leadership abilities have been quieted.

In a release handed out at the press conference this week Clausen said, "Growing up as a kid, one of my lifelong dreams has been to play in the NFL and with that being said, with the support of my family and coaches I will be forgoing my senior year and entering the 2010 NFL draft."

But Clausen's choice was also the right and safe business decision. Perhaps, it was Clausen's business-savvy, and not his football skills, that was the deciding factor.

In 2004, Matt Leinart was a Heisman Trophy winner and the starting quarterback for the national champions, the Southern California Trojans. Many saw him as the logical first-overall selection for the 2005 NFL Draft, but instead (not long after routing Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl where Matt was named the game's Most Valuable Player), Leinart decided to stay in school and not turn professional before his senior season.

Instead, quarterback Alex Smith was selected as the top draft pick in 2005 by the San Francisco 49ers. Smith was signed by the 49ers to a 6-year deal worth $49.5 million with $24-million, guaranteed.

Following Leinart's senior year at USC (which was arguably better than his Heisman Trophy season as a junior), Matt fell to the 10th overall pick of the 2006 draft and was selected by the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals deal with Leinart included $14-million in guarantees.

You don't have to be a Finance Major to figure out the difference. And neither does Jimmy Clausen. (For the record, Sociology was Clausen's major at Notre Dame.)

Last season, Southern California's Mark Sanchez announced he would leave the Trojans to turn professional. His coach at USC, Pete Carroll, was vocal that he did not support Mark's decision. Now, months later, Sanchez is the starting quarterback for the New York Jets with $28-million guaranteed in his rookie contract which is the largest in the franchise's history.

Had Sanchez gone the Matt Leinart way and stayed in school, how much could he have done to improve his professional value on a noticeably weaker, Trojans football team? If so (or not), how much would his decision to have stayed in school have cost him?

Whatever the answers or the final tally, it's more than Jimmy Clausen (or anyone else) should be willing to gamble.