Monday, December 8, 2008

Going Bowling

It seems like we have this argument every year, doesn’t it? An annual rite of passage, trashing the Bowl Championship Series, lamenting Division I-A football’s lack of a playoff system and trying to find something – anything – that would lend credence to an incredibly flawed system.

And after the public unveiling of this year’s BCS bowl games Sunday night, things appear much the same this time around. The National Championship match-up of
Florida and Oklahoma was expected, given each team won its conference title game on Saturday, but the controversy still remains with the Sooners because, lest we forget (again), they lost in October to Texas.

The same
Texas that gets … Ohio State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl?! Seriously? The Longhorns are one tackle of Michael Crabtree from an undefeated season, and they get a team from the Big Ten that doesn’t even deserve a BCS bid?

Think about it –
Ohio State was clobbered by USC this year before losing to Penn State. Okay, so maybe losing to a pair of Top 3-ranked teams isn’t the best example – but you’re seriously going to take an Ohio State team that struggled against the likes of Ohio and Troy, while banishing Boise State (12-0, dominating the WAC) to the San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl again TCU?

Tell you what, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that if you put Boise State against Ohio State on a neutral field, Boise State wipes the floor with the Buckeyes. I’m over Texas getting passed over in favor of Oklahoma (that controversy is so last week), but I can’t understand how an undefeated Boise State can get passed over in favor of a two-loss team from the Big Ten.

Then again, it is the BCS.

As for Florida-Oklahoma, it’s an intriguing match-up – certainly better than the blowouts of the last two years. Forget any talk of defense in this game, because these are two of the most dynamic and explosive offenses in all of Division I-A football (I refuse to use the FBS or FCS things – it’s I-A and I-AA).
Florida averaged 38.9 points a game this season, while Oklahoma is scoring a staggering 53.1 points per game.

I’ll give you time to read that number again.

The Sooners have scored at least 60 points in each of their last five games, and topped the 50 mark nine times.
Oklahoma’s lowest point total this season? The Sooners twice scored “just” 35 points – in that loss to Texas and a win over TCU.

Hello, offense.

’s defense has only given up 13.9 points per game this season, which might just slow down the Sooners – but don’t count on it. This is going to be an old-fashioned shootout, certainly better than the one-sided snoozefests Ohio State took part in each of the last two seasons.

That said, the bowl formula is still woefully inadequate. There are far too many bowl games, and the fact that a team can finish .500 is bowl eligible is seriously worth questioning. Seriously, does Notre Dame really deserve to go to a bowl this year? Sure, it’s the Aloha Bowl against 7-5 Hawaii, but I have a hard time believing a 6-6 team – that lost to 3-9 Syracuse – is worthy of a late December/early January contest.

Then again, if I’m Notre Dame, I take what I can get.

Easy solution: there should be no more than 20 bowl games, and in order to qualify for a bowl, a team has to win at least seven games against I-A competition. I’m tired of seeing I-A teams scheduling I-AA foes to get an easy blowout win, just as I’m tired of seeing 6-6 teams playing bowl games. Ideally, I’d like teams to at least be 8-4, but for the time being 7-5 will be acceptable.

I’d also like to see the soon-to-be President’s idea of an eight-team playoff implemented, but all of this makes far too much sense for college football to actually take it into account. So have fun waiting for Florida-Oklahoma for the next month; I’ll be watching college hoops and gearing up for Daytona.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

NFL Week 5 -- and MLB Playoffs

The fact that the Washington Redskins beat the Philadelphia Eagles 23-17 on Sunday wasn’t the surprising or impressive part – that Washington came back from being down 14-0 to do it was.

Jason Campbell wasn’t spectacular – though he was solid again, passing for 167 yards and again committing no turnovers. Clinton Portis ran all over an Eagles defense that looked gassed at the end, and Antwan Randle-El must’ve had memories of his college days when he lobbed that touchdown pass to Chris Cooley.

More impressively? A defense that held down an offense led by Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook, not to mention the fact Washington pulled this off in Philly. The Redskins have already played their three NFC East road games this year, and sit 2-1 in those contests. While it’s entirely possible for New York, Dallas and Philadelphia to walk out of FedEx Field with a win, the fact that Washington came out of the toughest stretch of its 2008 schedule with a winning record is a good sign.

Also a good sign are the next three games for Washington: home against St. Louis, home against Cleveland and at Detroit. Those three teams have combined for one win so far this season, and it’s entirely possible the Redskins could go into their Monday night contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 7-1 record.

Don’t print out the Super Bowl tickets just yet, but the Redskins won’t the doormat of the NFC East this season.

Other Random NFL Musings

-Where did Aaron Rodgers go? After lighting up the professional football world for the first two weeks, Green Bay’s new quarterback has lost three straight games – including an inexplicable home defeat on Sunday to Atlanta. Add a nagging shoulder injury to the equation, and Cheeseheads everywhere have to be wondering if Ted Thompson made the right move running Brett Favre out of town after all.

-Sure, the Colts are 2-2 right now, but they could easily be 0-4. Houston practically gave that game to the Colts in the final five minutes on Sunday, and there is definitely something wrong in Indy. The team has yet to win in its new building, the offensive line appears to be a large revolving door, and I’m not sure how much more Marvin Harrison has in the tank. Yes, Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy are still there, and Indy might still make the playoffs, but the ship’s starting to take on water.

-It was nice to see Denver finally bring a defense to the game in Sunday’s 16-13 win over Tampa Bay. If the Broncos are hoping to become a serious force in the AFC, they’ll need a defense. I’ll grant that the Buccaneers aren’t the most explosive offensive team in the world, but Bronco fans have to be pleased with the fact that their team managed to hold a team under 20 points. Jay Cutler’s got that offense going; the Broncos need stops to be a legitimate contender.

-Am I the only one noticing that the Titans are a better team without Vince Young? I almost hate to suggest it, but Tennessee is 5-0. Kerry Collins isn’t turning the ball over, Chris Johnson’s proving to be a very good running back and the defense is hitting people upside their collective heads. Even if Young’s healthy, I consider keeping him on the bench, but if I must use the No. 3 overall pick from 2006, I start using that Wildcat offense Miami seems to have mastered.

-All the credit in the world to Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli for refusing to quit on his team, in spite of the Lions’ woeful 0-4 start. While Marinelli said he wouldn’t argue if management fired him – the way it did two weeks ago with general manager Matt Millen – Marinelli said the last thing he wanted to do was quit, and that he took the suggestion as a personal insult. I love guys who pledge to stick with it in spite of tough times – any players who fall in line with Marinelli will be better for it in the long run. Former Falcons coach Bobby Petrino could learn a lot from Marinelli.

Then There Were Four

The Dodgers and Phillies will face each other in the National League Championship Series, while the American League Championship Series will have a decidedly AL East feel, with the Red Sox and Rays squaring off. While MLB executives, guys whose entire lives sometimes revolve around television ratings are probably praying for a Dodgers-Red Sox World Series – and the bevy of potential storylines therein – that’s not necessarily a given.

The Phillies haven’t been this far into October since 1993, when Mitch Williams served up the World Series to Joe Carter and the Toronto Blue Jays. But Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Co. are primed for this trip, though Manny Ramirez and the Dodgers won’t be a tough out. I have a hard time picking against any team managed by Joe Torre, but I think the Phillies have too strong a lineup and a good rotation.

Not to mention, Brad Lidge hasn’t blown a save all year.

As for Red Sox-Rays, I can easily see this going seven games. I can understand why everyone might pick Boston, really I do; the Red Sox have won two of the last four World Series, and they have all this postseason experience and pedigree. But the Rays have shown tremendous grit over the season, winning games when they absolutely had to.

Tampa Bay won the season series 10-8, and it seemed every time the Rays needed to win to hold off the Red Sox, they did. I also like the resolve Tampa Bay showed after losing Game 3 to the White Sox, bouncing back to win Game 4 and take the series. I think this is that rare team that won’t let a lack of experience bother it, so I like Tampa Bay in seven.

So sorry, guys – we won’t see Manny, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Lowe invading Fenway in Dodger uniforms. No “Manny Being Manny” as the Boston faithful rain down the boos. Phillies-Rays in the World Series, where I like Tampa Bay in six.

Is there a reason for that pick? Not really, but the Rays have been defying reason the whole season.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Did I Pick the Cubs? What, oh, What Was I Thinking?!

Is it too late to go back on my World Series pick from Wednesday? You know, the one where I said the Tampa Bay Rays would face the Chicago Cubs?

The good news is, I appear to have potentially been somewhat on the nose with the Tampa Bay pick; granted, it was only Game 1 of the ALDS against the White Sox, but the Rays looked intense and ready in a 6-4 win on Thursday. I don't think the White Sox have the pitching and offense to keep up with the Rays, who are virtually unbeateble at Tropicana Field.

But the Cubs? The best team in the National League this season? A team that won 97 games with a high-flying offense and a pitching staff that featured the likes of Rick "Can't Beat Me at Wrigley" Dempster, Carlos "Fireball" Zambrano and Rich "Hey, This is Much Better than Oakland!" Harden. Even Kerry Wood was in on the fun, giving the Cubs a reliable bullpen arm while actually managing to stay off the disabled list ... most of the time.

This looked like the year the Cubs might finally end the Billy Goat Curse. And the Bartman Curse. And the We're-Not-the-White-Sox Curse. After all, if Boston could exorcise its baseball demons in 2004 and the cross-town White Sox could forever banish Shoeless Joe a year later, why couldn't the Cubs finally win that elusive title 100 years after their last?

Because they're the Cubs. Losing is just a way of life for them. And I should've known better when I picked them to go to the World Series. Granted, I didn't forsee Dempster getting smacked around the ivy in Game 1, and I didn't think the Cubs' defense would implode to the tune of four errors in Game 2. But the thing with the Cubs in October is, you're probably better off betting on the unforseen. Conventional wisdom just doesn't work for this team.

So between the Dodgers' 2-0 lead heading back to Los Angeles and the way the Phillies are dispatching of the Brewers -- even knocking C.C. Sabathia out of Game 2 in the fourth inning on Thursday -- it's looking like we may be staring at a Philadelphia-Los Angeles NLCS. And if that's the case, I need to completely re-think my choice.

I find it almost impossible to pick against Joe Torre after the first two games of the Dodgers-Cubs series. This is a man who has made 13 consecutive postseason appearances as a manager, dating back to his Yankee days, and this time Torre did it without a plethora of high-priced free agents. Sure, he had Manny Ramirez tossed into his lap at the trade deadline, but the Dodgers were in NL West contention before then.

But the Phillies have Ryan Howard. And Chase Utley. And Jimmy Rollins. And Cole Hamels. And a rejuvinated Jamie Moyer. And Brad Lidge. Wait ... what was my argument for the Dodgers again?

So, Phillies-Dodgers in the NLCS. I'm gonna go with the Phils in six, mostly because of their rotation and that three-headed monster in the lineup. If Pat Burrell can get his back situated enough to be consistently effective, the Phils' chances of meeting the Rays in the playoffs look that much better.

But if I'm a Cubs fan, there is no longer any such thing as a lovable loser. If the Cubs do in fact finish this specatcular display of choking, there will only be one brand of loser on the North Side of Chicago, and it won't be very lovable. Then again, Cubs fans should take solace in three simple facts:

1) Bartman has absolutely nothing to do with this one.

2) Give it a few more days; the White Sox will likely join you in Chicago playoff futility.

3) The Bears might just give the Packers a run in the NFC North -- assuming Kyle Orton can keep from coughing up the ball. After this postseason, I think Chicago's had enough choking.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

NFL Week 4 -- and Baseball Playoffs? Already?

Pipe Down: Terrell Owens was mad after Sunday's 26-24 loss to the Washington Redskins, Dallas' first loss of the season. Apparently, T.O. didn't get the ball enough, thus explaining why the Cowboys' offense looked so stagnant.

Stagnant being his word, not mine.

But examine the facts: Tony Romo threw T.O.'s way 17 times on Sunday, 15 in the second half. Owens ended the game with seven catches for 71 yards and a touchdown -- and could've had more if not for Washington's secondary hounding him like a lost puppy. That's not even taking into account the two times Dallas gave the ball to T.O. on a sweep.

Marion Barber had eight carries against the Redskins. Owens had a quarter of that, and he's not even a running back.

T.O. had his touches, which was actually part of the problem. Romo and head coach Wade Phillips appeared so set on getting the ball to T.O., they virtually ignored their other playmakers -- specifically Barber, Felix Jones, Jason Witten and Austin Miles. If Dallas had actually bothered to balance its offense and try to keep a depleted Washington defense off-guard, Sunday's game might've been a completely different story.

That said, though, the continued progression of Jason Campbell and head coach Jim Zorn's offense is nothing short of impressive, particularly considering the season-opening egg the Redskins laid against the Giants. If Washington can beat the Eagles this week -- a potentially tall order, given Philadelphia's pass rush -- then notice will be served that the NFC East is a four-team race.

In the meantime, let's just bask in the glory that is the Redskins beating its most hated and historic rival.

Cause: Just when you think Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders couldn't get more ridiculous, Tuesday's firing of Lane Kiffin happened. Kiffin's dismissal wasn't surprising -- Davis had hinted at wanting the young coach gone as early as January -- but the press conference that ensued was nothing short of astounding.

Davis said he fired Kiffin "for cause," and refused to pay Kiffin the remainder of his deal (listen closely enough, and you can hear Kiffin's lawyers already working on fighting that). According to Davis, Kiffin spent his tenure undermining Davis' authority and lying to the media in an effort to curry favor and make the Raiders' management look bad.

Which, trust me, they don't need Kiffin's help for.

Davis even showed the assembled media a letter he said he gave to Kiffin before the start of the season, outlining Kiffin's missteps and threatening termination if it happened again. That letter, with all its misspellings and grammatical inaccuracies, was released to the media and can be found here.

Kiffin, to his credit, was even-keel when asked about things late Tuesday evening, lamenting how disappointed and embarrassed he was. One got the sense he wasn't really bummed about being fired, only that he didn't appreciate the way Davis handled things.

I won't go into how the Raiders won't amount to much of anything so long as Davis is still pulling the strings -- everyone with an internet connection and ESPN can do that -- but Kiffin was actually starting to show signs of improvement. The Raiders are averaging a full touchdown more per game on offense than they did a year ago, and a run-oriented offense designed to take the pressure off JaMarcus Russell has shown signs of working.

Not to mention, with fourth-quarter leads each of the last three weeks, Oakland could easily be 3-1 instead of 1-3.

Here's hoping Kiffin finds another NFL job soon, even if it's as a coordinator. He's a young, bright football mind, and he deserves to be with an organization -- and an owner -- that knows what it's doing.

Playoff Picks: Major League Baseball playoffs start today, and for the first time since I was in middle school, the New York Yankees are nowhere to be found. But look on the bright side, Alex Rodriguez: at least this year no one can criticize you for an October choke job -- unless you have to have the Heimlich performed on you at some point in the next 31 days.

But eight teams are in -- the Rays, Red Sox, Angels and White Sox in the American League; the Phillies, Brewers, Cubs and Dodgers in the National League. While I struggle to find a clear favorite, I'll try my best -- mostly cause I'm bored here at work with nothing to do.

In the AL, it's tempting to pick the Rays. Like, real tempting. Tampa Bay has this knack for winning when it absolutely has to, something the Rays showed repeatedly throughout September, as they battled injuries and the defending World Series champion Red Sox nipped at their heels. There is something to be said for a lack of October playing experience, but this Rays team strikes me as the sort that won't let that bother them.

The Red Sox will obviously be a factor, but the Angels have Boston's number this year -- and Josh Beckett's injury woes will cast a shadow on the Red Sox. The White Sox are a nice story, and I'm sure plenty of you out there are having dreams of an All-Chicago World Series, but given the amount of energy Chicago had to produce just to get to the playoffs might come back to bite them.

My pick? Tampa Bay and Los Angeles in the ALCS. A seven-game free-for-all between the league's two best teams. Going completely with my gut here, I'll pick Tampa Bay to keep the dream alive and go to the Fall Classic.

In the NL, the Cubs were by far the best team in the league this season, which for any other team would be an automatic ticket to the World Series. But these are the Cubs, a team that falls victim to fluke circumstances and its own ineptitude so often it's almost expected. They should make easy work, though, of the Dodgers, who despite having Manny Ramirez and Joe Torre, needed a late-season boost to win the woeful NL West.

Phillies-Brewers could be an interesting series, though Milwaukee will be in trouble. Ben Sheets is out for the playoffs with a torn muscle in his pitching elbow, which will make the Brewers' rotation C.C. Sabathia ... and a couple other guys. And since Sabathia can't pitch every day, I look for the Phils to take this one in four.

Phillies-Cubs in the NLCS. Who goes to the World Series? If for no other reason than starting pitching -- and the fact that Pat Burrell is a big question mark now because of his back -- I'll go with the Cubs.

So. Cubs-Rays in the World Series. Sign of the Apocalypse? Only if the Cubs win. I'll spare the world Armageddon for now and choose the Rays in seven.

Because I can.

Heartwarming: Tired of stories about athletes who are constantly getting in trouble with the law and thinking about "me me me" all the time? Then I direct you Dana O'Neill's piece on about Wisconsin basketball player Marcus Landry and how he balances fatherhood with academics and hoops.

It's the kind of story I'd love to see more of. You can read it here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

NFL Week 3 And Other Things

Okay, so I'm a little late this week; it's nearly Week 4 as I write this. So sue me.

Bloody Hell: Considering the amount of time Tony Romo's been given in the pocket so far this season -- he's practically had time to take a seat, read the newspaper and drink a cup of coffee before finally throwing the ball -- Washington getting a decent pass rush this weekend against the Cowboys was already going to be a difficult exercise. And now that Jason Taylor is out -- difficult probably just got upgraded to impossible.

Taylor will miss this weekend's game -- and likely at least a few more weeks -- after getting kicked in the shin last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. Yes, you read that right ... he got kicked in the shin. In all seriousness, the injury caused blood to pool just below the skin, resulting in something called comparmental disease, which could eventually lead to such things as nerve damage, paralysis and even death.

Long and short, Taylor needed the procedure, and he needed it about an hour before he actually got it. The problem is, the Redskins go up this weekend against the NFL's most explosive offense (the Cowboys are averaging a league-best 440 yards a game), and one way to derail an explosive offense is to stuff the quarterback into the turf repeatedly.

Just ask the Patriots.

Without a pass rush -- and if the first three weeks are any indication, Dallas has a brick wall for an offensive line -- Washington will be able to do very little against that offense. And it's not like Washington can blitz every other play, because Dallas' running game -- the two-headed monster of Felix Jones and Marion Barber III -- will take advantage. The best the Redskins can hope for is to contain the running game and get to Romo before he can find the likes of Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Austin Miles.

But let's face it, that's easier said than done. Washington's offense better crack the 30 mark if it hopes to win this game.

In Limbo: You have to feel for Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin. Sure, he's partly to blame for taking that job in the first place, but the way owner Al Davis is treating him, letting him twist in the wind like a chime during a tropical storm, is doing nothing but drag the hapless Raiders even farther into the abyss.

In the offseason, Davis wanted Kiffin to resign. Kiffin refused, knowing that if he was fired, he'd at least be entitled to a huge payday. After a Week 2 win, Davis hinted he might want to fire Kiffin. Then, when Oakland came from ahead to lose to Buffalo this past Sunday, Kiffin's pink slip seemed a virtual certainty.

But he's still Oakland's head coach. Forhow long, though? And if he does get the axe before the season's out, who will take his place? Who would want to?

My guess is, the only job worse than the Raiders right now might be the Kansas City Chiefs, simply because they have two bad quarterbacks and little else in that city. Herm Edwards isn't so much playing to win the game anymore, but playing just to keep his job. Though if one thinks about it, winning games is the best way to keep your job in the NFL.

Kiffin hasn't done much winning in Oakland ... then again, no one has since the Raiders were last in the Super Bowl in 2002. I can't help but think if this situation will help Kiffin land another NFL job down the road. He's a young, bright guy -- once the offensive coordinator for collegiate powerhouse USC -- and a lot of teams might look at the situation in Oakland and say he got a raw deal.

It might not be another head coaching gig yet, but if Kiffin finally does get the axe from Davis, I can see a good NFL team letting him be a coordinator. And what better way to resurrect a coaching career than to run a successful offense for a few seasons?

Dallas might be in the market for an offensive coordinator at the end of the season, if Jason Garrett gets that expected promotion.

Just Saying: For the first time in 13 years, Joe Torre was not the manager of the New York Yankees.

For the first time in 13 years, the Yankees won't be in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Torre's new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, have clinched their first NL West title since 2004.

Coincidence? I think not.

New head man Hank Steinbrenner gave manager Joe Girardi a pass for the season, saying the injuries the team suffered left his hands tied. Basically, Mini-George said the team's failures weren't Girardi's fault.

Now, I like Girardi -- he did wonders for a young Florida Marlins team with literally no payroll -- but how can he get a free pass for failing where Torre succeeded? Torre had injuries and other obstacles during his tenure; hell, each of his last three seasons, the Yankees were out of the playoffs in June, only to rally and make it. Then again, Torre hadn't won a World Series ring since 2000, so he was washed up.

By that logic, Girardi will never amount to anything, because he's never led a team to the playoffs, let alone a World Series title. I'm glad Torre has found redemption with the Dodgers, just as I'm sure he thanks Manny Ramirez for helping out. And though Torre will never rub the Yankees' faces in it, I'll take the liberty of doing so for him.

New York made a mistake letting Torre go; sure, he hadn't won a World Series in seven years, but he still put his ball club in a position to win every year. It wasn't his fault Alex Rodriguez forgot his bat come October, nor was it his fault the pitching spent more time in the hospital than the entire cast of Scrubs.

Very good show, by the way. I've been missing out.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of the Yankees, ESPN the Magazine's Buster Olney has a really good piece over on the website about the Yankees' slow demise over the years. It basically boils down to the draft. Read it here.

Here We Go Again: After USC's 27-21 loss to Oregon State Thursday night, everyone and their grandmother wants to know: with one loss, will the Trojans still play for the BCS National Championship?

Chances are, if there are two teams at the end of the season that are undefeated, the answer will be no. At this point, USC's best hope is we end the season with no more than one undefeated team and the Trojans win out.

Which again illustrated how flawed the BCS system is.

I know the pro-BCS honks are going to tell me this is the beauty of the system, that it makes every regular-season game mean something. Lose a game in September and you'll be crying come bowl season. But see, for me, that's exactly the problem.

Are we really gonna punish a really good USC team for losing a conference game? On the road?! Anyone who knows anything about college sports (football and basketball in particular) knows how hard winning a conference game on the road can be, and lest we forget that USC has lost three of the last four times it has traveled to Oregon State.

Oddly enough, each time the Trojans bounce back, win out and still find themselves in a prestigious bowl, so is losing on the road to Oregon State really that bad? Seriously? C'mon, it's not nearly as bad as last year, when USC lost at home to Stanford.

Now that was a punishable offense.

Under a playoff system, USC's title hopes would not be automatically dashed. And at a school where it's national title or bust (I don't buy for one second the whole "Oh, at least we have the Rose Bowl" thing), the BCS system is particularly problematic. If you lose early in the season and are knocked out of national title consideration, what's left to play for the rest of the season?

Sure, there's a possible Heisman bid for someone and some guys will be looking to improve their stock before the 2009 NFL Draft, but at the end of the day, don't we play for championships? To be out of the title hunt in the first month of the season is just stupid and wrong on so many levels ... the BCS needs to go.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go see what Division I-AA games are going on this weekend.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

NFL Week 2 -- and Other Things

Huh?: Imagine if you will ... you're the manager of a Major League Baseball team. Your team is tied for the National League wild card and there are 12 games to go in the regular season. You've lost seven of your last 10 games, and some might think you're starting to choke. What do you do?

If you're the Milwaukee Brewers, you fire your manager. The Brewers did just that Monday, letting go of Ned Yost. They didn't wait until the end of the season to see if the team would pull out of it. No waiting to see if the Brewers could in fact right the ship and secure the wild card, no waiting for a possible chokejob.

Just gone. Twelve games to go and the Brewers have to get used to a new manager. And before you ask, no, Bud Selig isn't controlling the team anymore. But it does seem like something he'd do, doesn't it?

The Brewers are looking for their first playoff berth since 1982, but I think this firing could end up keeping them out of the postseason. What kind of message does Yost's firing send to the team?

"We'll let you go if we think you're about to fail!"

I don't know how the players felt about Yost, though Mike Cameron was generous when he called the firing a "surprise." I just don't see the point in firing a guy over something that might happen -- I realize the Brewers stumbled down the stretch last year and missed the playoffs, but if that was the basis for this, then I'm shocked.

GM Doug Melvin is usually a pretty loyal guy, and every indication is this wasn't his call. Ownership wanted this, from what I can tell, and the Brewers are apparently desperate to get in the playoffs and win now -- I just can't help but wonder if they'll even make it, now that the team has to get used to a new leader with less that two weeks to go in the regular season.

Offense!: Yes, that 67-yard strike from Jason Campbell to Santana Moss against the New Orleans Saints was a thing of beauty, but let's remember something: the Saints have a terrible defense, certainly not on the same level as the Super Bowl champion Giants.

Don't get me wrong: I'm glad Campbell threw for 321 yards and Clinton Portis came close to a 100-yard rushing game (he had 96 yards and two TDs). But I need to see it more often and more consistently before I believe Jim Zorn's system is truly working. A nine-point comeback is encouraging, and if the Redskins can build on it for next week against a 2-0 Arizona team, that would be great.

But let's hold off on anointing Zorn the new genius of Washington. You don't go from goat to god in one week.

Defense?: Apparently, someone forgot to tell the Philadelphia and Dallas defenses there was a game Monday night, when the Cowboys beat the Eagles 41-37. Not that I'm complaining; it was a thrilling, entertaining game, and even in the loss, I think the Eagles showed something.

Aside from defensive deficiencies. And before you bring up the three points they gave up in Week 1, it's worth remembering: that was against the St. Louis Rams.

Tony Romo finally had a good game against Philly, throwing for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those were to Terrell Owens, who is now second on the all-time touchdown receptions list behind his hero, Jerry Rice (seriously? T.O.'s caught that many?). The only thing glaring was, again, the defense, which allowed Donovan McNabb to throw for 281 yards and rookie DeSean Jackson to catch for 110.

But Jackson: dude, wait until you cross the goal line before letting go of the ball in celebration. If Brian Westbrook doesn't score on the very next play, you'd probably have gone down in Leon Lett-like infamy.

The Cowboys are the best team in the NFC, and will more than likely run roughshod over the tough and talented NFC East ... but I wanna see Romo beat people after November before I make any Super Bowl predictions.

Fumble!: Before Sunday's San Diego-Denver game, who knew of this obscure rule: if a running back or wide receiver fumbles, the play goes on. If a quarterback fumbles the ball, the play is blown dead.

Before Jay Cutler fumbled the ball as he went back to pass in the fourth quarter, I didn't know the rule, either. Replays showed Cutler's arm was not moving forward before the ball came out, which meant the on-field ruling of incomplete pass was incorrect. It should've been San Diego's ball ... but referee Ed Hochuli called it a fumble after viewing the replay and said the play was dead once the ball hit the ground.

Denver kept the ball, scored the touchdown and got the game-winning two-point conversion. San Diego, a team many thought would contend for the Super Bowl, is now a heartbreaking 0-2.

Ignoring for a moment the idiotic fumble rule ... what's the point in having instant replay if you're still going to get a call wrong? Especially one as obvious as Cutler's fumble? Hochuli has a reputation as one of the best referees in the game, but he has to take a hit and be held accountable for this mistake.

Because of his mistake -- one he admits, it's worth noting -- the Chargers are 0-2, two full games behind the Broncos in the AFC West. If San Diego misses the playoffs this year, Hochuli deserves a fair bit of the blame.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

NFL Week 1 Recap

Some random thoughts and observations after the first week of the 2008 NFL season:

Offense?: What happened to Jim Zorn being such a good offensive mind? What happened to how he was supposed to help Jason Campbell develop as a young quarterback? In Thursday's 16-7 loss to the New York Giants, Zorn and his Redskins looked downright lost, and I have to admit: I don't see it getting better any time soon.

The Redskins only amassed 209 yards of offense against the defending Super Bowl champions, but the last two minutes of the game were even more distressing: down by nine, Washington showed no urgency on offense. No hurry-up, no no-huddle ... and at one point, it took Campbell 18 needless seconds to spike the ball. If this keeps up, Zorn could be looking at a 5-11 season -- and maybe a pink slip.

New Beginnings: Aaron Rodgers looked quite impressive in Monday night's 24-19 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Rodgers did not throw a pick and was never sacked, even rushing for a touchdown and doing his first Lambeau Leap. It's only the first game of the season, but between Monday night's game and last year's performance against Dallas, maybe Rodgers is more ready than the Green Bay faithful think.

Which shouldn't be that surprising; Rodgers was a first-round pick and was so good at Cal, many thought he'd be the top overall pick. He wasn't -- how's Alex Smith working out, San Francisco? -- but I think over the course of the season Rodgers and the Packers will be just fine.

AFC Least?: All those preseason predictions of the New England Patriots running away with the AFC East don't look so good now. With reigning NFL MVP Tom Brady out for the season with a knee injury (coach Bill Belichick still won't tell us what the injury is), it's up to Matt Cassell -- who hasn't started a meaningful game since high school -- to keep the ship afloat. While Brady started his career in a similar, I don't expect similar results.

Does Brady's injury suddenly make Brett Favre and the New York Jets the favorites? Hard to say; New England still has a ton of talent. But it will make the division more interesting -- particularly if Buffalo's pasting of Seattle turns out to be a pattern. If I'm New England, I start looking for another QB ... and hope Daunte Culpepper hasn't yet filed his retirement papers with the league.

Vick who?: Michael Turner rushed for 220 yards in his Atlanta Falcons debut, and rookie quarterback Matt Ryan led Atlanta past Detroit 34-21. Ignoring for the moment all the jokes regarding the Lions (Matt Millen is a joke in and of himself), Ryan deserves note.

The rookie from Boston College, whom Atlanta selected with the No. 3 overall pick in April's draft, went 9-for-13 for 161 yards and his first career touchdown pass -- which actually came on his first pass, a 62-yard strike to Michael Jenkins. It was a nice tone-setter for a Falcons team trying to move on from the debacles of Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino, and while I don't think Atlanta can challenge for a playoff spot this year, the Falcons will win a lot more than three games.

Da Bears: Matt Forte is a beast, and Kyle Orton doesn't lose football games. This much we learned Sunday night when the Chicago Bears stunned Indianapolis 29-13. While Peyton Manning looked rusty, on the field for the first time since having an infected bursa sac removed from his knee, Orton did the one thing Rex Grossman couldn't: he played mistake-free football.

The Bears have a good defense, even if the secondary is a little suspect. Orton is now 14-8 as a starter for Chicago, and though he didn't throw a touchdown pass Sunday night, he didn't throw an interception, either. And Forte, a rookie from Tulane, impressed with 23 carries for 123 yards. If he can provide the spark Cedic Benson lacks and gives the Bears a consistent running game, that'll make Orton even better and give Chicago an actual offense -- which could make the Bears a contender in the weak NFC North.

Defense, Please: If the Cleveland Browns are going to make the playoffs this season, they might want to think about picking up a defense. Dallas exposed the Browns' biggest weakness on Sunday in a 28-10 win. I realize Dallas is an offensive powerhouse, with Tony Romo, T.O. and Jason Witten, but Cleveland's defense was just pitiful.

Cleveland gave up 487 yards of offense, and even after busting open Romo's chin, the Dallas quarterback torched the Browns for 320 passing yards and a score. Witten had 96 yards receiving, while Owens had 87 yards and a touchdown. Dallas will put up the points, and after the Philadelphia Eagles put up 38 against the Rams, look for next Monday's game to be a shootout.

Defensive coordinators, begin updating your resumes.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I Wonder ...

Overrated?: How does the No. 18 team in the country lose in overtime to an unranked team with a quarterback who threw four first-half interceptions? Ask Tennessee, which lost 27-24 in OT Monday night against UCLA. Bruins quarterback Kevin Craft threw four first-half picks and still the Volunteers found a way to lose. UCLA fans will again honk that USC's monopoly is over, but here's a thought: maybe Tennessee isn't who we thought they were?

Overlooked?: You can tell we're getting close to the start of football season. When else can Major League Baseball see two cycles on the same day for the first time since 1920 and there's hardly a peep about it? Congrats to Seattle's Adrian Beltre and Arizona's Stephen Drew, who each accomplished the feat on Monday. Someone has to acknowledge this latest bit of history ...

Overprotective?: Is Shawne Merriman's decision to play with two torn knee ligaments rather than have surgery a dumb one? Absolutely, but who are we to tell him what to do with his life and career? That's the football mentality -- play through the pain. And considering the Chargers have a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl this year (never thought I'd ever type that about a Norv Turner-coached team), can you really blame Merriman for wanting to be on the field?

Over His Head?: Welcome to Michigan, Rich Rodriguez. How does that season-opening loss to Utah taste? It can't really be that much worse than last year's loss to Appalachian State, can it? And surely you're not having buyer's remorse after watching West Virginia light things up against Villlanova. Pat White -- yes, that Pat White -- threw five touchdowns. Without you, Coach-Rod.

Overhyped?: Virginia Tech lost its season opener -- and probably any hope at a BCS game -- with a loss to East Carolina. Yes, Division I-AA East Carolina. On a blocked punt. The Hokies got beat by Beamer Ball. I bet that felt real good, didn't it, you turkeys. Clemson may be the most overhyped team in the ACC after getting thumped by Alabama, but Virginia Tech isn't that far behind.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Olympics Round-up

Feeling Jipped: Turns out coaches don't receive medals at the Olympics. Which I guess I can kind of understand for the more individual sports, like track & field or swimming, but for team sports the rule isn't exactly ... well-thought out. Mike Krzyzewski deserves a fair amount of credit for Team USA winning gold in men's basketball, and he deserves his own gold medal to go along with it. The team put each of its medals around his neck, which made for a nice moment, but the fact remains: the likes of Coach K and men's volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon deserve medals for their teams' achievements.

Like Lightning: If Michael Phelps was the king of the first week in Beijing, Jamaican track star Usain Bolt was king of the second week. The only man to sweep the 100- and 200-meter dash with world record time -- and winning the 4x100-meter relay in world-record time as an oh-by-the-way -- Bolt showed a flair and exuberance not seen in track & field for some time. Say what you want about his attitude (and plenty have), but Bolt is a magnificent athlete.

Back on Track: Reports of Team USA's track & field demise were greatly exaggerated. Yes, both relay teams dropped the baton in the 4x100 and there were probably a few events with no medals where there should've been, but between a sweep of the 4x400 relays, a sweep of the podium in the men's 400 meters and Bryan Clay's gold in the decathlon, it wasn't all bad for the Red, White and Blue at the Bird's Nest.

Just a Number: Do we really expect the controversy surrounding the age of the Chinese women's gymnastics party to be resolved? As traditionally tight-lipped as China's government is, I don't see it being forthcoming with the IOC. Minimum age is 16, and five of China's six gymnasts were suspected of being below that limit. On the off chance it was proven, China would've been stripped of its medals -- including team gold. But as careful and protective of information as China is, I don't see this being resolved any time soon, if at all.

Long Time Gone: Angel Matos of Cuba might never be an Olympian again, and it's just what he deserves. After being disqualified in his bronze-medal taekwondo match, Matos deliberately kicked a referee in the face. The World Taekwondo Federation recommended Matos and his coach be banned for life, calling what he did "an insult to the Olympic vision." I happen to agree.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Random Thoughts

Aquaman: The more I watch Michael Phelps, the more I'm convinced I'm watching history. Already the most decorated Olympian in history with 11 gold medals, Phelps is only three gold medals away from breaking Mark Spitz's record of seven golds won in one Olympic Games. And after Phelps was bailed out by a late charge from Jason Lezak Monday night in the 4x100 freestyle relay, it was clear he was destined to leave China with eight gold medals around his neck.

I.D., Please?: I'm not sure which is more suspicious: how young the Chinese girls gymnastics team looked, or the amazingly high scores both Chinese squads received, even after subpar perfornances. I realize the host nation put a lot into their teams winning gold (which both the boys and the girls did), but I can't shake the feeling of ick I get when seeing it. The minimum age to compete in the Olympics is 16, and if all of China's girls are 16, then I'm faxing my resume to tomorrow.

Bronze Age: Considering the situation, the American men should be proud to come away with the team bronze in gymnastics. Before Beijing, no one on that team had any Olympic experience, and the team was without the Brothers Hamm -- Paul and Morgan. To scrap for a bronze against the superior Chinese and Japanese teams is a true testament of grit, teamwork and the embodiment of the Olympic spirit.

Redemption: I'm not on board with Team USA's quest for gold on the basketball court. The women winning the gold is as much a foregone conclusion as the softball team winning gold, and I just can't get on board with the men. It's not because it's an NBA All-Star roster, and it's not because I can't spell the coach's last name without Google; when I watch the Olympics, I want to see sports I don't normally get to see. We're barely a month and a half removed from the NBA Finals; I could stand a break from basketball.

Dear NBC: Would it kill you to show everything live on the West Coast? I'm tired of hearing people in California griping about not seeing Michael Phelps make history, when those of us on the East Coast saw it as it happened. Who cares if it's only 5 p.m. out there? Show it live.

No Hype, Please: It never fails. I can't stand the hype leading up to the Olympics, and I vow to not watch a minute of it. I even pass on the opening ceremonies, no matter how spiffy they look. But once the games actually start, I'm hooked. The drama and the competition are unlike anything else seen in sports -- I just wish I didn't have to swim through months of hype and hyperbole to get to it.

Madden Curse: After watching the Brett Favre saga drag on all summer, I'm willing to bet Electronic Arts will have a hard time finding a cover athlete for Madden NFL 2010. It's one thing for a guy to be on the cover and get hurt, or even wind up in jail on dogfighting charges; it's another entirely to show up on the cover and get traded to the New York Jets. Then again, Terrell Owens showed up in an Eagles jersey on the cover of the last NFL-licensed game not named Madden, and look how that turned out.

J-E-T-S, Brett Brett Brett!: Last thing on Brett Favre, I promise -- the New York Jets will make the playoffs this year. They won't win the AFC East -- hello, the New England Patriots still live there -- but between Favre and all the Jets' other offseason acquisitions, the Jets are shaping up nicely for a wild card spot.

No. 1 on Paper: Since being named preseason No. 1, the University of Georgia football team has been attacked by injury bugs and police blotters. Which makes me wonder ... when did the team land on the cover of Madden?

Simmer Down, Washington: While I realize sixth-round pick Colt Brennan has played well in two preseason games for the Redskins, so far, let's dial down the hype a little. His numbers were nice, and he looked sharp, but remember: he's doing this in the second half of preseason games, against guys who probably won't be in the NFL in a month. If he does this Sept. 4 against a Giants defense that won the Super Bowl last year, then I'll get excited.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The World's Biggest Flip-Flop

Anyone who thinks Barack Obama is the world's biggest flip-flop needs to look at Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers. All summer, Thompson has been steadfast in anointing Aaron Rodgers as the starting quarterback, refusing to give retired legend Brett Favre anything he wanted.

Rather than allow Favre to return and compete for the starting job, rather than trade Favre, rather than release Favre when he asked, Thompson did nothing. It was reminiscent of how our parents taught us how to deal with bullies in school: Ignore them, and eventually, they'll go away.

Only that never worked on bullies. And it didn't work on Favre.

The NFL will reinstate Favre on Monday, which is when the Packer great will return to Packers training camp. Green Bay management, which in recent weeks also had to deal with the holdout of running back Ryan Grant, did an about-face in offering Favre the chance to compete with Rodgers for the starting job.

C'mon, does anyone really think Rodgers can win this competition? Barring an injury to Favre, the starting job appears to have his name written all over it. Again.

Is this a PR move for the Packers, a chance to save some face after what has been a tumultuous and ill-handled summer? Yes, and it shows the Packers as an organization can't be trusted. Favre did force their hand, but in the future, when the Packers' front office says it's going to do something, I'll have a hard time believing them.

For the Packers, it was about Thompson's pride and ego. He wanted Rodgers -- his first draft pick as Green Bay's general manager -- to get the nod to validate himself. It didn't seem to matter which quarterback gave the Packers a better chance to win, it was all about what Thompson wanted.

As for the quarterback who gives Green Bay the best chance to win? Well, Rodgers wasn't the one who threw for over 4,100 yards in leading the Packers to a 13-3 record and within one game of the Super Bowl.

Favre made a mistake retiring when he did; even he admits that. But the best in their game reserve the right to leave on their own terms -- and that includes returning if they happen to change their minds. Favre is one of the game's best, and he deserves the chance to come back should he choose.

That the Packers did everything they could to make him stay away -- including an insulting $20 million "stay away" offer -- shows just what matters to the front office in Green Bay.

And apparently, winning football games isn't on that agenda.

Long Time Coming

Art Monk had to wait eight years to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

What was another four minutes?

When Monk was introduced Saturday night at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Canton, Ohio, the decidedly Redskins crowd gave him a four-minute standing ovation. All the years, all the controversy, were washed away as a sea of burgundy and gold showered Monk with deserved love.

That Monk joined former teammate Darrell Green in Canton enshrinement -- and the Redskins beat the Colts 30-16 Sunday night in the Hall of Fame Game -- made the weekend even more special for Washington, D.C. sports fans. The weekend was so special, in fact, the Washington Nationals swept the Cincinnati Reds to end a nine-game losing streak.

But D.C. is, and one might argue always has been, a Redskins town. And on Saturday, so was Canton. This isn't the time to argue that Monk should've been in sooner -- even though he held nearly every significant NFL receiving record before Jerry Rice -- for the argument is now pointless. Why argue Monk's worthiness when he stood next to a bust of himself, wearing a gold jersey?

That it took Monk eight years doesn't matter. That he is finally a Hall of Famer does.

Ir's almost unfair to think of Green as an afterthought, considering his emotional, 25-minute speech and the fact that he was a first-ballot selection. But Green, the Redskins' franchise leader in interceptions and once known as the Fastest Man in the NFL, had nothing on sentimental favorite Monk.

How beloved is Monk? Over the past few days, I've heard Dallas Cowboy fans praising him and saying he deserved to be enshrined sooner. And when Cowboy fans start talking nice about the Redskins -- you can guarantee no Redskin fans made nice last year when Michael Irvin was inducted -- you know the guy's special.

Monk was that guy. And Saturday was a special day for a special team and a special player.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Here it Comes

Can you believe we're just over a month away from football?

The 2008 NFL season kicks off Sept. 4, when the Washington Redskins take on the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. The preseason begins this coming Sunday (Aug. 3), when those same Redskins take on the Indianapolis Colts (sans Peyton Manning) in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.

Naturally, with the beginning of any football season and the start of training camps, the issue of quarterback competitions and controversies creeps up (even if we're not talking about a certain living legend trying to bust back into Lambeau). As ga-ga as the media and fans get over these manufactured dramas, their emotions hanging on every preseason pass, looking to dissect even the slightest movement in a 7-on-7 no-contact drill, we never stop long enough to see just how much of a farce this "preseason quarterback competition" thing really is.

Thankfully, we have's Ross Tucker to thank for that. Read his most recent column on the site, which can be found here. He makes a lot of valid points about how training camp and preseason games aren't true barometers for deciding which quarterback gives you the best chance to win.

Let's face it; if preseason play was a true indicator of a quarterback's prowess, Brady Quinn would've been the guy to possibly lead the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs last season, not Derek Anderson. But Anderson proved himself on the field in the regular season, which means the starting job is his coming into this season, unless and until he gives it up, either through poor play or injury.

I'm all for giving the guy who had the best preseason first crack at the starting job, but don't insult our intelligence by telling us his performance in training camp is going to propel him into NFL stardom and the team to the playoffs. Just tell us you think the guy you chose can give you the best chance to win, and leave it at that. If he proves himself, great. If not, you either put in the other guy or lose your job -- maybe both.

That's just how the NFL rolls.

Quality NFL quarterbacks are hard to come by (right, Chicago?), so I can sort of understand everyone's impatience when it comes to finding the guy to run your offense. Like it or not, quarterback is the most important position in football. A team with a good quarterback can go far (New England, Indy, etc.), while a lackluster or unproven quarterback can keep an otherwise solid team from greatness (Ex: 2007 Minnesota Vikings). But are passing drills and preseason snaps against third-team defensive units really the way to properly evaluate your signal-callers?

Then again, if your team's in a position to have to choose a quarterback in the preseason, then your organization's already in trouble. As the old saying goes: if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dreams Dashed?

Caleb Campbell thought he was going to be reporting to Detroit Lions training camp Thursday morning. Instead, the seventh-round draft pick out of West Point will have to give the Army two years of active service, which may include serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

West Point officials reviewed the policy that allowed Campbell to serve as a recruiter and a reserve for his two years if he made the Lions' roster, eventually deciding it needed to reflect the Department of Defense's policy stating all military academy graduates had to give their two years.

This was a touchy issue even on the weekend of the NFL Draft, one in which I understood and actually agreed with both sides of the argument. I didn't feel comfortable denying Campbell his dream to play in the NFL, but at the same time felt that by enrolling and graduating from West Point, he understood what was expected of him.

Guys don't go to West Point to become professional football players; they go to serve in the Army.

Considering this country's fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, Campbell's service is probably even more vital. So I don't have an issue with the Army telling him he has to give his two years before trying to suit up in the NFL. My opinion might be different if we were in a time of peace, but as it stands, we need all the soldiers we can get.

My beef is the timing of it. Campbell was drafted in April, after Army officials told him he was free to try out -- and that he could put in his two years as a recruiter if he made the team. Here we are, four months later, on the eve of Lions training camp, and suddenly the Army changes its mind.

At best, this is a case of really bad timing. At worst, it's hypocritical.

Why did it take the Army so long to realize how flawed its policy was -- particularly when compared to that of the DoD? The Air Force and Naval Academies didn't have this issue, so what made West Point so different? Why not examine the policy before the NFL Draft and make a decision then, so Campbell and all 32 NFL teams know where they stand?

Oh, wait ... that would make sense.

All the credit in the world to Campbell for handling this the way he has. He is a testament to the kind of person places like West Point produce, and I feel good knowing people like him are out there defending our country. And, in spite of their ineptitude, I can't help but feel for the Lions -- at least Campbell was their seventh-round pick and not their first.

The Lions will hold Campbell's NFL rights until April 2009, and another team can then draft him. If that doesn't happen -- which I tend to think, since Campbell was a borderline seventh-rounder the first time around -- he'll become a free agent if he decides to try the NFL again after his two years of active service.

I hope all 32 teams offer Campbell a tryout once he's done his two years.

Again, I'm not saying the policy is bad or that Campbell should 100 percent without a doubt be in Lions camp -- I just don't like the timing of the Army's decision to change its required services policy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Turning Back the Clock

Even though the 137th Open Championship -- they just hate it when we Americans call it the British Open -- was last weekend, Greg Norman's performance still resonates.

The more short-sighted among us will point to his turning a one-shot lead into a six-shot defeat and call Norman a choker -- again. They'll invoke memories of Augusta in 1996, when Norman turned a six-shot advantage to a five-shot loss to Nick Faldo in The Masters.

But anyone who really knows golf, someone who studies and follows the game with or without a certain guy named after a cat, understands this isn't the Great Augusta Gag. No, Norman's British Open loss, while disappointing, was merely age finally catching up with The Shark.

Don't forget: Norman is 53. He only played in the Open Championship to prepare for this week's Senior British Open at Royal Troon. For The Shark, Royal Birkdale was nothing more than a tune-up, a chance for a part-time golfer to work out the kinks before teeing it up with the seniors.

Only Norman was in contention after the first round. And he hung around after Friday. After Saturday, he was actually in the lead. For all the talk coming in of how the major would hold up without Tiger Woods, Norman made sure the interest was still there. Could he make history and become the oldest player to win a major? Could Norman become the first golfer since Jack Nicklaus to win the same major three times in three different decades?

Alas, no. And it wasn't so much that Norman shot a 77 in the final round, spraying his driver left and right while his putter suddenly lost its magic. It actually had more to do with two-time champion Padraig Harrington shooting a 32 on the back nine. This wasn't a major Norman lost; it was a major Harrington won.

Let's not forget, Harrington bogeyed holes 7 through 9 on Sunday -- much like Norman opened with bogies on 1, 2 and 3. But Harrington kept himself calm, and after a birdie on 15 and an astounding eagle on 17, he held the Claret Jug for the second time in two years -- five days after telling reporters he wasn't sure if he could finish the tournament because of a bum wrist.

Norman was a great story this past weekend, and I hope he decides to play in next month's PGA Championship. Norman's also eligible for The Masters in 2009 by virtue of his tie for third at Royal Birkdale, and I'd love to see him there as well.

Well played, Shark. Well played.

Another golf note

Anyone notice how being completely healthy this season does nothing for you in the majors?

Think about it: Trevor Immelman won The Masters just four months after having a tumor removed from his abdomen. Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open with a disintegrated ACL and two stress fractures in his leg. And Padraig Harrington defended his Claret Jug with a bad wrist.

Whoever's ailing heading into the PGA next month, go ahead and make them the favorite. That just seems to be the kind of year this is.


In light of news last week that the Green Bay Packers filed tampering charges against the Minnesota Vikings as part of the never-ending Brett Favre saga, I just have to wonder: what's the big deal with tampering?

I get that it's against league rules, but what makes the situation between the Packers and Vikings so different from any other in the league? Whenever a free agent signs with a new team almost the moment the free agency period starts, who in their right mind thinks this sort of thing doesn't happen all that often?

Is it really such a crime for front office personnel for other teams contacting a player to see if he would like to go elsewhere, be it a trade or free agent deal? And say somehow the Vikings are proven to have tampered with Favre (which looks more likely, now that phone records have surfaced showing Favre used a Packers-issued phone to contact Vikings head coach Brad Childress) -- what then?

To me, tampering is a lot like Spygate: sure, the Patriots got caught, but are we seriously gonna sit here and say they're the only team doing it? No ... the reason no one from any other team in the NFL has come forward and publicly admonished Bill Belichek and his staff is because everyone else is doing it; the Patriots were just dumb enough to get caught.

Tampering's the same way. Everyone in the league does it; the Vikings just might be the ones to get caught. Same way last year when the 49ers tried to land Lance Briggs from the Chicago Bears. San Francisco might've been busted for tampering, but I guarantee you they were neither the first nor the last to do it.

But if we insist on cracking down on tampering, why not get the L.A. Clippers? Signing Elton Brand to a contract not even 24 hours after he opted out of his deal with Golden State -- do we really think they weren't talking behind the scenes before league rules allowed them to?

I'd like to think we're not that naive.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chris Berman: Why God Invented the Mute Button


While I feel somewhat sorry for Justin Morneau -- the guy who actually won the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium Monday night -- there's no denying how fantastic a story the event's runner-up, Josh Hamilton, was.

Morneau had by all rights a solid night -- 17 home runs in the first two rounds before belting five in the final. It was a night normally reserved for exclusive celebration, the night where baseball can applaud a guy who normally doesn't get much praise (which, sadly, is how it goes when one plays in Minnesota). And considering the game's biggest names passed up the chance to participate, whether it be because of injuries or selfish reasons, Morneau on most Home Run Derby nights would be king.

But Hamilton belted 28 dingers -- in the first round. That in and of itself is remarkable (and yes, a record), but what makes Hamilton's feat -- a feat that had 50,000 Yankee faithful standing and chanting his name -- so remarkable is the journey the player had to take to get to the All-Star Game.

Hamilton's journey has been well-documented, but it deserves to be repeated: the No. 1 overall pick by Tampa Bay in 1999, Hamilton was the second coming, the guy who was supposed to turn the then-Devil Rays around. But a $4 million signing bonus -- and plenty of free time due to injuries -- led Hamilton down a destructive path, one that included alcohol, cocaine and heroin.

Three years without baseball, and Hamilton returned last year to have a nice half-season with Cincinnati. But it wasn't until the Reds traded him to the Texas Rangers in the offseason that Hamilton's career really took off. A league-best 95 RBI at the break to go along with 21 homers; Hamilton is one of the reasons the Rangers are four games over .500 right now, and even though Texas has virtually no shot at the postseason, the story more than makes up for it.

What matters isn't that Hamilton drank so predigiously. Nor does it matter that he shot up on heroin and nearly destroyed his entire life, let alone his baseball career. The tattoos on his arms don't mean nearly as much as what they represent today. They're a reminder, both of where Hamilton has been and how far he's come since hitting rock-bottom.

We love the redemptive tale. The hero who makes mistakes, owns up to them and gets back on the path to righteousness. While guys like Roger Clemens duck and lie about their own drug use, Hamilton freely discussed his. And I'm sure in doing so, he gave a recovering addict or an addict's loved one the strength to keep fighting.

And that means more than any 500-foot bomb ever will.

Farve From Over

I've tried my best to avoid the Brett Favre situation -- mostly because I couldn't really figure out where I stood on it -- but after hearing his comments Monday night during his interview with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren, I can't help myself.

"OK, you guys have a different path, fine," Favre said in the interview. "What does that mean for me? So that means either you give me my helmet, welcome (me) back, or release me, or attempt to trade me. We all know that's a possibility, but way-out-there possibility. And he says, 'Well, playing here is not an option, but we can't envision you playing with another team, you know, either.' And I thought, so basically, I'm not playing for anyone if I choose to come back."

If what Favre says is true -- and really, what's out there to convince us he's not? -- then this has become an even bigger mess than anyone anticipated. I suppose on some level I don't blame the Packers for not wanting to release Favre, only to see him sign with a Minnesota or a Chicago and come back to bite them.

But bring Favre back as a backup? Seriously?

So GM Ted Thompson is okay with Favre on the sideline, holding a clipboard while Aaron Rodgers steps onto the Frozen Tundra for the first time? Thompson is okay with the fans booing and chanting Favre's name the first time Rodgers throws a pick? Because you know that's what would happen on the off-chance Favre would accept being a backup.

I'm all for moving on as a franchise; when Favre retired, the Packers had virtually no other choice. But you have to, if you're the Packers, drop everything you're doing and give that starting job back the moment Favre says he wants back in. There is no way to tell the most beloved quarterback in Green Bay history no.

At the very least, grant the man his release. To say you won't release him because you want to protect his legacy is so beyond rediculous. Did playing those two years in Kansas City taint Joe Montana's legacy? Hardly, so why would suiting up for Baltimore or Minnesota do the same to Favre?

I realize Thompson wanted to get Rodgers on the field, see what his first draft pick with the Packers can do, and that's fine. But to outright shun the almighty Brett Favre (just a hint of sarcasm here), to run him out of town like he never did anything for the organization, just months after he was within one game of the Super Bowl?

Ted Thompson must've gone to the Peter Angelos School of Sports Management, that's the only thing I can figure.

Monday, July 14, 2008

About Time

In a move that was probably a couple years too late, CBS announced on Monday that college hoops analyst Billy Packer would leave the network, ending his streak of covering 34 consecutive Final Fours.

Studio analyst Craig Kellogg will take over as the lead game analyst, pairing with jim Nantz during the 2008-09 regular season and NCAA tournament.

Regardless of one's opinion of Packer (and I was certainly not a fan), this change was likely necessary. Packer was starting to lose his edge, evidenced most recently when he declared the Kansas-North carolina Final four contest "over" in the first half back in April. While Kansas did go on to win the game, that contest wasn't nearly the laugher Packer so assuredly pronounced it to be.

Packer was also infamous for his staunch opinions that mid-major schools did not deserve at-large bids. Anyone remember his famous rant in 2006 when he said George Mason didn't deserve an at-large, and that by looking at the five years previous, tournament history showed major conference teams fared better than mid-majors?

Never mind the selection committee was only supposed to look at the season in question, but a lot of people (myself included) took great joy in watching mason make its run. And while Nantz had the intelligence to eat crow on the air, Packer never indulged us.

If nothing else, Kellogg will be a fresh voice on what is CBS' marquee sporting event, next to The Masters. I like his energy, and I appreciate the knowledge he brings to the game. While Packer's basketball credentials can never be questioned, I think it was time for a change, and Kellogg's just the guy to do it.

Besides, anyone who can make Nantz less snooze-worthy gets an A-plus in my book.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Division Winner By Default

Mid-Season Report

Even though the All-Star Break isn’t until next week, Major League Baseball reached its statistical midway point last week. There have been a fair many surprises this season, more than I probably have the space to delve into here, but I’ll get to what I can.

-The Tampa Bay Rays are a no-brainer surprise; while many experts came into the season thinking the young Rays would be improved – possibly even a .500 club – who honestly thought Tampa Bay would be sitting with the best record in the bigs on July 9? The Rays are one of just eight teams in the majors with at least 50 wins and hold a three-game lead over the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. And all this without a starter on the All-Star Team. I’m not sure if Tampa Bay can turn this into a division title or playoff berth, but it’s fun to watch, isn’t it?

-I wrote before the start of the season how I hoped the Baltimore Orioles wouldn’t lose 100 games this season. The team’s rebuilding process is in full swing, with the team dumping both Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada in the offseason. Couple that with a roster that I couldn’t pinpoint for the most part, and things weren’t looking good in Charm City. But as of July 9, the Orioles sit at .500, 44-44. Sure, the O’s are in 4th place in the AL East, but the fact that Baltimore has been competitive for this long in the season is a positive sign. Luke Scott, who came over in the Tejada deal with Houston, has produced, as have Adam Jones and closer George Sherrill, who came over in the Bedard trade. Sherrill even made the All-Star Team this year. Baltimore is still a good two or three years away from competing for a playoff spot – particularly in that division – but things aren’t nearly as gloomy in Baltimore as I thought they were.

-I’m not sure which is more surprising: the fact that the Detroit Tigers struggled the way they have in the first half, or the fact that the White Sox are in first place. Everyone was ready to give the Tigers the World Series title after they picked up Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera in the offseason, while the only question surrounding Chicago was when Ozzie Guillen would get fired. But with the Tigers struggling offensively and Willis stuck in A-ball, the White Sox (and the Twins, who are in second) have taken advantage. Perhaps the real surprise of the division, though, is how bad Cleveland’s been – the Indians are worse than the Royals at this point in the season.

-The trade deadline is still a few weeks away, but that didn’t stop Milwaukee and the Chicago Cubs from making moves. The Brewers picked up reigning American League Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia for four prospects, two days before the Cubs responded by picking up Rich Harden from the Oakland A’s. Some might call the Cubs’ move nothing more than a response to the Brewers, but indications are the Harden deal had been in the works for weeks. Trades don’t normally go down this soon before the deadline, and I can’t honestly provide any reason for it. I guess this is the true meaning of the phrase "It is what it is."

-If the Yankees don’t make the playoffs this year, will Joe Torre laugh his butt off? Probably not publicly, but I bet behind the scenes he’d give a little chuckle. Granted, Torre’s Dodgers are below .500 (though only one game out of the division lead at 44-46), but considering Torre took the Yankees to the postseason all 12 seasons he was there, how poetic would it be for New York to miss the playoffs in its first year sans Torre? He might not laugh, but I will.

-For all the blustering about how the Mets are junk and not worth anything – before and after the haphazard firing of Willie Randolph – the team is still in the thick of it, one game behind Philadelphia in the NL East. The Mets have won four in a row, while the Phillies have lost four in a row – and I’m willing to bet New York will make the playoffs, at least as the wild card. Let’s face it, the National League just isn’t that good (need proof? The NL West-leading Diamondbacks needed a 2-0 win over the Nationals on Tuesday to get back to .500). They’ll have to deal with the Cardinals and the Brewers in the NL Central, but I’m not ready to write off the Mets yet.

There’s No Place Like … Philly?

Oh, to be the Los Angeles Clippers right now.

Last week, the Clippers signed Baron Davis to a free-agent contract, hoping to pair him with Elton Brand and make a run at the Western Conference. Brand had opted out of his deal, but said repeatedly he hoped to stay with the Clippers – and play with Davis, who opted out of the final year of his deal with Golden State.

Rather than take the $18.7 million owed to him at Golden State, Davis decided to return to his native L.A. and play with Brand. Only Brand didn’t keep his word, taking a free-agent deal with the Philadelphia 76ers.

On top of that, the Clippers lost Corey Maggette to the Warriors, as if Golden State had been looking for a Clipper to take as retribution for Davis.

Ignore for now the public hit Brand will take for allegedly backing out on his word. Every indication was he wanted to stay and play with Davis – at least, that was what all the NBA insiders reported he’d been saying. So for Brand to turn around and take $52 million from an Eastern Conference team that’s almost a playoff team by default – it’s a bit odd.

And if I’m Davis, I’m more than a little ticked. All indications were that Davis signed with Los Angeles with the express purpose of playing with Brand (and possibly Maggette, though it looked as if the Clippers were going to lose him regardless). Davis will have Chris Kaman to give the ball to, but considering he thought he’d also be teaming up with Brand?

Maybe you really can’t go back home after all.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

For the Grandparents

So Los Angeles Clippers forward Chris Kaman has been given permission to suit up for the Germany national team as it tries to qualify for this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. Despite being born in Michigan, Kaman will compete for another country should Germany qualify.

What I want to know is: where's the scorn? Everyone got their panties in a bunch when Becky Hammon announced she would be playing for Russia, so why aren't those same people throwing stones Kaman's way?

Does it have something to do with the fact that Kaman has German heritage, with his grandparents being native Germans? Are we really hanging our hat on that technicality?

I've already made my opinion regarding Hammon clear (read a little further down on this page), and I feel the same way about Kaman: if someone wants to compete in the Olympics and can't play for their native country, who am I to tell them they can't compete at all?

Hammon is no less patriotic for playing for Russia, and neither is Kaman for suting up for Germany.

Last I checked, being American meant you had freedoms and opportunities not available to natives of some other nations. So certain American athletes won't be donning the red, white and blue in Beijing; by following their dreams, aren't they still living the American dream?

Is there anything more American than living out one's dreams?

Hammon is still an American, and a proud one at that; how convenient everyone forgets Team USA didn't want her. Same goes for Kaman.

But if the ignorant flag-wavers insist on calling Hammon a traitor and unpatriotic, then at least give Kaman the same level of disrespect. Or better yet, just shut up altogether.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Mariotti = FAIL

Less Money, Less Problem?

Will the combination of Baron Davis and Elton Brand lead to an NBA championship for the Los Angeles Clippers? Doubtful, considering the tough Western Conference -- not to mention it's the Clippers -- but the fact that Davis was willing to go to L.A. for less than a max deal says something we don't hear too often in sports:

That it really isn't about the money. Davis, who left $18.7 million on the table when he opted out of his contract with Golden State on Monday, will reportedly make $65 million over five years with the Clippers, and he'll team up with Brand. The combination of Brand and Davis, if they stay healthy, could catapult the Clippers from the 23-win team they were this past season to a team that could contend for a playoff spot.

Apparently, guys saw what the Celtics did this season after adding Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. So rather than follow the money -- which NBA stars always did in free agency in years past -- some veterans might instead choose to follow wins and potential championships.

And I gotta say, I like the move.

The Only Thing

New Orleans signing point guard Chris Paul to a long-term contract isn't just the right thing to do: it's the only thing to do. Considering Paul took a team that was struggling to even find a home and led the Hornets to within a game of the NBA Western Conference Finals speaks volumes to his talent and worth, and New Orleans is smart to lock him up.

If nothing else, the move potentially assures this season wasn't just a flash in the pan for the Hornets, as they'll have their catalyst a few years longer. There are those (myself included) who felt Paul deserved the MVP Award this past season, and there's nothing telling me he won't one day hoist that trophy -- not to mention the NBA title.

But for a city still struggling to find its way following Hurricane Katrina, Paul's signing has to give New Orleans something to cheer about. The fans embraced the Hornets much the same way they embraced the Saints two seasons ago when they made a run at the Super Bowl, so why not reward them by keeping the stars?

Chris Paul staying in New Orleans: a win-win scenario for everyone.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hypocrisy and Bitchassness

Becky Hammon will play basketball in this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing. She just won’t do it for her native United States, instead suiting up for Russia. And Team USA coach Anne Donovan has an issue with that.

“If you play in this country, live in this country and you grow up in the heartland,” Donovan said, “and you put on a Russian uniform – you are not a patriotic person.”

Two memos for Donovan:

-The Cold War is over. Might want to get with the times.

-Last I checked, Team USA didn’t want Hammon on the roster. Hammon was not among the 20 finalists selected for the team, and she told it became clear to her she had no place on Team USA.

Why Team USA didn’t want Hammon is beyond me; Hammon was the 2007 WNBA MVP, averaging 18.8 points and 5.0 assists per game. While at Colorado State, Hammon led her team to a 33-3 record in 1998-99 and earned a Sweet 16 berth in the NCAA Tournament.

So given Hammon’s accolades, why didn’t Team USA want her? I realize names like Candace Parker and Diana Turasi took precedence, but was there really no room on the squad for a league MVP?

Ignoring the coaching staff’s roster oversight, let’s examine another important factor: Hammon has long dreamed of playing in the Olympics, and Team USA denied her that opportunity. So, realizing she also played professional ball in Russia (for much more money than she did in the WNBA) and held dual citizenship, Hammon decided to suit up for Russia.

Team USA didn’t want Hammon, so she decided to live out her Olympic dream somewhere else. Who wouldn’t have done the same thing, given the opportunity?

I realize the Olympics, ideally, are about representing your country, but Hammon’s native land made it clear it didn’t want her representation in China. So to get all hissy about her playing for another country now screams of sour grapes at best. At worst, it’s straight stupidity.

Which is stunning from someone as highly respected in women’s basketball as Donovan. If she was really that upset over Hammon playing for Russia, why did she not give Hammon a roster spot in the first place? Donovan has no business calling Hammon unpatriotic after refusing to give her a roster spot.

What was Hammon supposed to do? Shrug her shoulders and sit at home because the big, bad U.S. of A. didn't want her?

Hammon’s decision to play for Russia in the Olympics was not made out of national pride; it was made because an opportunity to live out her dream presented itself. Hammon is no more or less patriotic because of her decision; she was merely taking the opportunity presented to her, and I wish her the best.

Besides, it’s not like she’s the first Olympic athlete to play for a country other than that of their birth.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Kobe Can't Do Without Me

Some Never Learn

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your radio -- Don Imus has struck again.

The morning radio host who last year lost his job with CBS after referring to the Rutgers women's basketball team as a bunch of "nappy-headed hos" apparently hasn't learned his lesson, as on Monday he made racially insensitive remarks with regards to Dallas Cowboys cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones.

Sports announcer Warner Wolf was talking on Imus' show about Jones' desire to drop his Pacman nickname and be called Adam in an attempt to rehabilitate his image. Imus asked Wolf what color Pacman was, to which Wolf replied, "African-American."

"Well, there you go," Imus said. "Now we know."

On Tuesday's program, Imus expressed shock at the fallout, saying his comments were "a sarcastic point" about race. "What people should be outraged about," he said on-air, "is that they arrest blacks for no reason. I mean, there's no reason to arrest this kid six times. Maybe he did something once, but everyone does something once."

Imus also called the criticism of his comments "ridiculous" and pointed to the diversity of his show's staff -- specifically, a black producer and two black co-hosts.

He basically used the "some of my best friends are black" defense.

Far be it for me to give Jones the benefit of the doubt, given his past, but in this instance I'm on his side. Pacman told The Dallas Morning News that Imus' comment upset him and that "obviously, Mr. Imus has a problem with African-Americans ... I will pray for him."

WABC-AM in New York, Imus' current employer, said punishment would be unlikely, which shouldn't be surprising. It took several weeks of lost revenue before CBS fired Imus over the Rutgers comments, so why should now be any different? We've seen that as long as Imus can keep advertisers and ratings, he can pretty much say whatever he wants and get away with nothing more than a tongue-lashing from the public.

But it's painfully obvious this is a man who has not learned his lesson. Whether that's out of stupidity or a lack of concern, I'll let you be the judge.

To criticize Pacman for his troubled past is one thing; to insinuate he did the things he allegedly did simply because he's black is another thing entirely -- and completely unfair to African-American athletes who don't find themselves in trouble with the law.


Am I the only one who thinks Shaquille O'Neal's freestyle rap about Kobe Bryant in a New York club Monday night is being blown way out of proportion?

Granted, the lyrics, which included the line "Kobe can't do without me" appeared to be a low blow in light of the Lakers' six-game loss to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, where Bryant had a chance to win his first ring without O'Neal. But seriously, is the sports media this hard-up for a story that it's going to dissect Shaq's rapping skills?

Shaq told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith that it was all in good fun, that it was just what MC's do. While I buy that, I don't buy Shaq's assertion that things are completely good with Kobe. The two have sort of feuded since Shaq got run out of Los Angeles in 2004, and even though the two appeared to play nice in recent years, it's not entirely surprising to see Shaq take a shot at Kobe now that the Finals are over.

What gets me is: Shaq always seems to be the one taking a run at Bryant, not the other way around. O'Neal shows tremendous immaturity in his inability to let things go, yet the media gives him a pass -- but I guarantee if Bryant was the one rapping "Shaq can't do without me," we'd be blasting him up and down Rodeo Drive.

How is it Shaq's the one who can't let things go, when he was the one who won a title after leaving L.A.? I would've thought winning the title with the Heat in 2005 would've healed whatever wounds Shaq still felt, but apparently, he still sees fit to throw Kobe under the
proverbial bus.

And apparently we're just bored enough to give this sort of thing the time of day.

Return of the Mullet

All indications are that ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose will be named the new coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. The Lightning, which won the last Stanley Cup before the lockout, had the worst record in the NHL last season at 31-42 -- not to mention one of the worst minor-league affiliates in the Norfolk Admirals.

While this is great news for Melrose, who coached in Los Angeles during the Wayne Gretzky days, I can't help but wonder who ESPN would get to replace him. While I would never consider myself a hockey fan, I enjoyed listening to Melrose break down the game because of his knowledge, energy and obvious enthusiasm for the game.

While I could do without the greasy, grey mullet, the fact that he loved the game he talked about made it easy for me as a sports fan to follow along and care about what he was saying. I'm not sure ESPN has anyone who can match that energy and passion.

Will Melrose be a success in Tampa Bay? Hard to tell; I know next to nothing about the team, and all I know about him as a coach, I heard from Gretzky this morning on SportsCenter -- where he extolled Melrose's virtues as a guy who can coach the star while showing the same respect to the role players.

I wish Melrose the best of luck in his return to coaching, though I wish he would've stayed on TV. With ESPN in dire need of quality on-air personalities, losing Melrose is a tough one for me to take.