Monday, December 21, 2009

Sports Round-Up, Volume 7

You Think They'd Learn: While Georgetown plays most of his home basketball games at the Verizon Center, the Hoyas play one game a year at the tiny McDonough Arena -- usually against a team Georgetown thinks it can handily defeat. In 2006, Georgetown played Old Dominion in McDonough Arena -- and the Monarchs, who admitted they took the scheduling personally, walked away with a convincing win. This past Saturday, ODU and Georgetown, the No. 11 team in the country, met in McDonough again, and again ODU came away with the victory. ODU, the preseason favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association (and, in the interest of full disclosure, my alma mater), is 3-0 all-time against Georgetown at McDonough, which makes me wonder ... when do the Hoyas stop scheduling the Monarchs there?

NFL -- No Heart League: Had Chad OchoCinco decided to wear the No. 15 in Sunday's loss at San Diego to honor his fallen friend and teammate Chris Henry, the NFL would've fined him for breaking its uniform policy. Far be it for me to be an OchoCinco apologist, but in this instance, I would've been firmly in his corner. I understand the NFL has rules, and its strict adherance to those rules plays some part in the league's success, but to fine OchoCinco for honoring his late friend? Could the NFL have really been that cold and heartless? Thankfully, we didn't have to find out. Even though the Bengals lost after a rough week, I'd like to think their collective effort honored Henry just fine.

Time to Panic?: Are the Minnesota Vikings getting bored in the lead-up to the playoffs, or are they actually regressing? After having their butts handed to them by the Arizona Cardinals three weeks back, the Vikings never got going in Sunday night's loss at Carolina. With two losses in their last three games, the Vikings don't seem to be in the running anymore for the NFC's top seed -- and if they're not careful, they might lose the No. 2 seed to the Eagles. Minnesota obviously misses E.J. Henderson -- who broke his leg against Arizona -- on defense, and there's something missing on offense. Brett Favre looks pedestrian again -- and he's fighting with coach Brad Childress -- and Adrian Peterson rushed for 19 yards against Arizona and 32 against Carolina. Panic time in Minnesota? Not sure, but Vikings fans might want to have their fingers on the panic button, just in case.

My Tiger Thought: I don't really care what Tiger Woods did or didn't do; he never really marketed himself as a stellar family guy. He marketed himself as the world's best golfer, which he was and is. The reports of his flings just bore me, and I don't need an apology from him. He doesn't need to grovel at my feet, nor those of the fans or the media. Woods has just one person to answer to -- his wife -- and she's apparently going to respond with a divorce filing. That's as far as this thing should go, but with our media the way it is these days, with the TMZs and New York Posts of the world, we take entirely too much pride in tearing down someone we put on the highest of pedestals. Guess what? Tiger's human, and he's just as capable of huge blunders and mistakes the same way we are. Please, back off ... I'd rather hear more Brett Favre retirement talk.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Redskins Musings

When Jim Zorn was stripped of his play-calling duties earlier this season, it was expected that he would be fired at the end of the season -- if not sooner. When former Vice President of Football Operations Vinny Cerrato mentioned on his radio show that Zorn would not get the axe during the season, it was pretty much assumed he'd be gone once the Redskins' campaign mercifully ended.

The only question was: who would take his place? Owner Daniel Snyder would theoretically find it hard to resist the big-name hire, and there are plenty of big names out there. Bill Cowher ... Mike Shanahan ... Mike Holmgren ... Jon Gruden ... Tony Dungy.

Reports Friday suggested Shanahan might be the guy Snyder wants, which makes sense when compared to the other names I mentioned. Cowher apparently loves his gig with CBS; Gruden likewise with Monday Night Football (so much so, he signed a contract extension last month). Holmgren is in deep talks with the Cleveland Browns, and Dungy seems to be at peace with his role as NBC analyst and mentor for troubled athletes.

But would Shanahan be the right fit in Washington? If Snyder lets him and new general manager Bruce Allen do their jobs, it just might. Don't forget, Shanahan's got a pair of Super Bowl rings -- and he won them a lot more recently than the Redskins won their last Lombardi Trophy. Allen is a well-respected figure throughout the NFL, having found success with the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

His associations with Gruden make those rumors tempting, but I'm not sure ESPN would let Gruden go that easily after getting him to ink a longer TV deal.

Allen has a reputation of building teams through the draft -- something the Redskins have done little of under the collective direction of Snyder and Cerrato. A team can't rely on free agency to win in the NFL, the way a team can in baseball or even the NBA. In the NFL, the draft is king; the teams that draft best are the ones who are always making the playoffs and contending for Super Bowls.

If Snyder understands that, and will give Allen and Shanahan free reign, then this might return Washington to NFL prominence. A franchise with the Redskins' history deserves better than the decade of mediocrity they've suffered through, and fans are rightfully excited about the potential Allen's hiring represents.

If Shanahan comes on-board too, then that excitement will only increase. But it all comes down to winning games; if the on-field results don't change, that enthusiasm will revert back to the same frustration and apathy that's permeating the Redskins culture now.

Here's hoping Allen works out ... and Shanahan joins the party.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sports Round-Up, Volume 6

Dead Coach Walking?: You cannot be serious. Are the Cleveland Cavaliers really thinking of firing Mike Brown, the reigning NBA Coach of the Year? Seriously?! I mean, I guess I can see where fans would be upset over Cleveland losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to Orlando, but let's face it ... the Magic were the better team in that series. Besides, if I'm Cleveland, I ask what LeBron James thinks before I do anything. If he wants Brown to stay, and Cleveland fires him, that might just give James more incentive to leave when his contract's up.

Feel-Good Story: How great would it be if Phil Mickelson finally won the U.S. Open next weekend at Bethpage Black? Mickelson winning the tournament would be a feel-good story by itself, considering how many close calls he's had, but add in his wife Amy's battle with breast cancer and we would have probably the only U.S. Open story that could trump Tiger Woods winning in a playoff last year on one leg. To be perfectly honest, I hope it happens. I think everyone would love that story.

Looks Guilty: Is it just me, or does Tim Floyd's resignation as basketball coach at USC look like an admission of guilt? The NCAA is investigating a charge that someone affiliated with the school (maybe Floyd himself) paid O.J. Mayo to attend the school for a year before heading to the NBA. Personally, the NBA is culpable as well; without that asanine rule where high school graduates have to wait a year before declaring for the draft, we probably don't have scandals like this one and the one facing Memphis.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: The Philadelphia Eagles gave quarterback Donovan McNabb a raise on Friday, giving McNabb a raise rather than an extension. Still, the raise pretty much solidifies McNabb as the team's quarterback, and if Brian Westbrook can get healthy before the start of the season, the Eagles could be dangerous. McNabb has inexplicably never been truly embraced in Philly, and after five NFC Championship Game appearances in eight years, it's nice to see someone in Philly show this guy some love ...

Stuck in New England: So the Yankees are apparently 0-8 against the Boston Red Sox so far this season. We gonna find a way to blame A-Rod for this, too? Or are we rightfully going to point the finger at the pitching? I'm sorry, but A-Rod can't help the fact that Chin Ming-Wang's ERA is hovering around the legal drinking age. He's also not the one coming onto the mound in the late innings with a book of matches and a can of lighter fluid.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sports Round-Up, Volume 5

Set an Example: That suspended Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez is receiving votes for the All-Star Game just proves fans don't care about performance-enhancing drugs nearly as much as the media and baseball purists. Still, Ramirez actually being at the game would create a media circus and would take away from the midsummer celebration that is the All-Star Game. ManRam should, and probably will, bow out if he's selected, which would be best for everyone involved.

Cleveland Doesn't Rock: First, LeBron James and the Cavaliers are bounced from the NBA playoffs by the Orlando Magic, then the Indians and Yankees face Night of the Gnats, Part II, with a special cameo from a flock of seagulls. What is going on in that city? Oh, well, it could be worse; they could be the Natinals.

LeBron's Speech Impediment: While I think everyone's making far too big a deal over LeBron James not shaking hands or speaking to the media after Cleveland's Game 6 Eastern Conference Finals loss to Orlando, he does deserve some criticism. Poor sportsmanship does no one any favors, and really, what makes LeBron's actions so different from those of Kyle Busch when he gets out of his car and refuses to talk to the media if things don't go his way? I like LeBron, but if he keeps showing such immaturity, the NBA's Golden Child might need to come along with a pacifier.

Rose is Just a Rose: Don't blame Derrick Rose if the allegations that he had someone else take his SAT before going to Memphis are true. If it weren't for the NBA and commissioner David Stern's asanine wait-a-year-after-high-school-to-enter-the-draft rule, such a thing might've never occurred. The NBA's age-limit rule only feeds into the hypocrisy and and indignation inherent within the NCAA, and it just proves how flawed that rule is.

VY: While I have no problem with Vince Young telling a Baltimore TV station on Tuesday that he might want to look elsewhere if he can't win back his starting job with the Tennessee Titans, making such sentiments public won't help his cause. The best way to get back into the locker room's good graces is to keep your mouth shut and work your butt off; talking about trades will only make you look like a prima donna, and leave your agent to release statements the next day trying to do damage control.

Shaqtastic: Who do you think Shaquille O'Neal is rooting for in the NBA Finals? The teammate and coach in Los Angeles he can't resist taking shots at, or the coach he called "The Master of Panic" and an Orlando team O'Neal never won a ring with? Either way, I think the Big Aristotle might be getting a phone call once the series is over asking how his *** tastes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Vick's NFL Future -- Revisited

I realize on Tuesday I wrote that former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick deserved a second chance in the NFL once his prison sentence officially ended in July (he was released from prison into home confinement on Wednesday). But the more I think about Vick's situation, and the opinions on both sides of the argument, I'm not so sure.

I'm still of the mindset that everyone deserves a second chance after paying their debt to society. Whether you agree with his sentence or believe it should've been stricter, the fact remains that come July, Vick will be a free man in the eyes of America's justice system. While that means certain rights will forever be lost to him -- like the right to vote -- his right to earn a living will never go away.

So by that logic, the law cannot keep Vick out of the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell can, though, and he would be well within his rights if he decided to slap a lifetime ban on the former Virginia Tech star. The NFL is a private corporation, and Goodell issuing a lifetime ban would be no different than your boss firing you after you were convicted of a felony.

In some regard, a lifetime ban from the NFL would hold more weight, since the league is so high-profile and its athletes are often seen a role models. It's one thing if Joe the Plumber served two years for a drug charge, then came back and got a job building houses and apartment buildings. It's another thing entirely when a multimillionaire athlete goes to jail for two years, only to return to the fields and national TV broadcasts for everyone to see.

Whether people like Charles Barkley like it or not, professional athletes are role models. Children look up to athletes, quarterbacks in particular, and that would raise a serious moral dilemma should Goodell reinstate Vick. Would you want your child rooting for a convicted felon?

Then again, this would provide a wonderful opportunity for parents to step in and teach their children about consequences. Use Vick as an example of someone who committed a horrible act, broke the law and paid the price for it. If Vick returns to the league a new man, use that as a chance to tell your child about a person's quest for redemption and teach them the values relevant therein.

There are those who believe that while Vick is entitled to earn a living once he completes his sentence, he should do so out of the public eye. Vick will be working a $10-an-hour construction job during his two months in home confinement, and there are those who would like to see that become his permanent occupation once he's a free man. It's a fair argument, because they're not denying Vick his right to earn a living at all.

If I had to guess, I'd posit that Goodell might suspend Vick for the entire 2009 season (Vick's suspension is currently indefinite), while gauging Vick's words and deeds over that time. If Goodell deems Vick is remorseful and on a redemptive path, only then would be lift the suspension and make the quarterback eligible in 2010. Then the Falcons would have to release him before another team would take a chance in signing him.

And it would be a chance, one I'm guessing most teams won't be willing to take.

There's also the reality that even once Vick's legal penance is paid, he'll still be paying a price. Say Vick returns to the NFL and a team signs him; the public relations backlash won't affect just the team in question. A large portion of the venom and criticism will be directed at Vick. Every time his team goes on the road, the fans will let him hear it. PETA and other animal rights groups will continue to protest Vick everywhere he goes, and no matter what Vick does from this day forward, he will likely face the reality of his atrocities everywhere he looks.

If Vick truly does commit himself to being reformed, that will carry with it a certain amount of guilt and emotional baggage. Whether he finds solace in faith or another avenue, the reality of what he and his friends did to those dogs will live with him forever, regardless of whether or not he plays in the NFL. If Vick has any sort of conscience, he'll probably spend some sleepless nights reliving his atrocities.

If Vick winds up working outside of the NFL, his crime will stare him in the face every time he applies for a new job. Job applications ask if a prospective employee is a convicted felon, and if so, offers the applicant a chance to explain the situation. If Vick finds himself filling out job applications like a regular person, he'll face that reality over and over again.

That in itself is a hefty punishment. The law might consider Vick a free man in a few months, but he'll never be free of himself.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sports Round-Up, Volume 4

Second Chance: Though PETA and others in society would love to see Michael Vick rot in anonymity for the rest of his life, even once his debt to society has been paid, the fact remains -- he deserves a second chance. That's just how this country works; most people will be given a second chance once they've served their punishment. Once his sentence is over in July, Vick will deserve the same chance. What he did was grotesque, but as long as he doesn't screw up again, why deny the man his right to earn a living doing what he loves?

Just Wait: If you think the Brett Favre coverage over the past two years has been bad, just wait until Vick is released from prison. Then wait for when his home-confinement period is over. Then wait for commissioner Roger Goodell to reinstate him. The media circus will probably make Favre jealous -- and lead him to retire and unretire once more. God help us if Vick starts making Wrangler commercials.

Chuckie: Jon Gruden will replace Tony Kornheiser in the Monday Night Football booth this season, joining Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski. Kornheiser's departure will please fans, who almost universally hated him on MNF (despite loving him on Pardon the Interruption), but I have to wonder -- why pair Gruden, a quarterback addict, with a former signalcaller like Jaworski? Five bucks says Gruden will try to sign Jaworski to the Tampa Bay Bucs in the preseason.

All Over: Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals have been eliminated from the NHL playoffs. Feel free to go back to not caring about hockey. On a brighter note, though, both Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are still playing. And the way the NBA playoffs have been the past month or so, fans looking for fights probably won't miss much, even without hockey.

T.O. in Buffalo: Somewhere, Tim Russert is rolling over in his grave.

Yard of Bricks: Remember when the Indianapolis 500 used to mean something? Sure, it's still a month-long spectacle and a big deal in IndyCar ranks, but when was the last time the general American sports fan cared? My guess: it was before 1995, when a fued led to the split of open-wheel racing, forming IRL and CART. American open-wheel racing hasn't been the same, and nothing short of a Danica Patrick win will drum up interest. There's a reason the IRL called Versus home now.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sports Round-Up, Volume 3

Farve Away: Here we go again -- the annual story of "Will Brett Favre or Won't He?" I could really care less what he does -- to me, he will always be a Packer, like Michael Jordan was a Bull even after his stint in Washington -- but one question still bugs me: if Favre does come back, will John Madden come out of retirement, too?

No Shock: According to a report by The Los Angeles Times and on, Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez will face a 50-game suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Ramirez has escaped much of the scrutiny of the Steroid Era to this point, and has helped his team to a league-best 20-8 record so far this season. The impact on the Dodgers aside, who here's surprised? If you raised your hand, you are dangerously naive.

Simple Solution: Heading into this weekend's Players' Championship at the TPC at Sawgrass, I've heard the same question time and time again: "What's wrong with Tiger Woods?" Obviously referencing the fact that Woods has only won once since his return from knee surgery, and last week faded down the stretch in Charlotte, I think everyone's missing one very important fact: if you don't make putts, you won't win golf tournaments. Everybody breathe; Tiger's going to be just fine.

No-Brainer: The New Orleans Hornets are expected to keep head coach Byron Scott, despite his team getting blasted out of the first round of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks. This year's playoff showing aside, the move makes sense. Scott made the Hornets relevant again, and even though the team has one of the game's best stars in Chris Paul, it doesn't work without Scott pulling the strings. I'm glad management chose to stay the course rather than give in to a knee-jerk reaction.

Shame: It's too bad Sidney Crosby plays for an Eastern Conference team; if he were out west, how great would a potential Stanley Cup Finals match-up with Alex Ovechkin be? Gary Bettman would love that, I bet, and I'm sure a lot of people who don't necessarily follow hockey would, too. Their rivalry is what the NHL needs right now; if the league could get off Versus and onto a channel people actually get, that would be even better.

Deja Vu ... Kinda: I have to admit, Ron Artest going into the stands in the first round against Utah was pretty funny -- but not as funny as his post-game reactions. It's nice to see he's able to joke about one of his darkest moments as a player -- and indeed, one of the league's darkest moments -- even if no one if Detroit was laughing. It shows Artest has moved on, which is nice. Kobe Bryant should be a bigger concern right now anyway.

Say it Ain't So, Joe: You think Yankee fans miss Joe Torre? In 12 years with the Yankees, Torre took them to 12 straight playoff appearances and four World Series titles. Then the Steinbrenners run him out of town, and Torre winds up with Dodgers, where he had them close to the World Series last year and appears to have the best team in the National League this season (well, before ManRam's suspension). The Dodgers will likely still make the playoffs in the weak NL West, while the Yankees missed the playoffs last season and are toiling around .500 with a bad rotation and a Little League ballpark. I can't help but think the Yankees have the wrong Joe.

Priorities: What is Congress doing holding hearings about the flawed BCS system in college football? I'm as big a BCS hater as there is -- I still consider Utah the true national champion -- but don't the cronies in Washington have more important things to worry about? Like, say ... the economy? What about the budget and the banks and the automakers who are in trouble? I'm not saying the BCS should stay, but it's not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sports Round-Up, Volume 2

Consistency, Please: How can Dwight Howard be suspended a game for the elbow he landed Tuesday night against the 76ers, while Rajon Rondo's foul on Brad Miller in the Celtics-Bulls series didn't merit a similar penalty? And while I'm at it ... how can you suspend a guy who the refs didn't even toss from the game? Yet another reason I'm not an NBA fan ...

Drafty In Here: To give teams grades on the performance in last weekend's NFL Draft at this point is ludicrous. We don't know who will or won't be successful in the NFL, and probably won't for a couple years now. Do we really need Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. to tell us how each team did before we even hit rookie minicamps? Don't they need to sleep at some point?

Bailout!: How do you think all those automakers in Detroit who lost their jobs feel about No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford getting $41 million guaranteed from the Lions before he's even played a down in the NFL? In this economy, that just seems wrong -- especially in a city hit as hard as Detroit. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

Duh: According to a book coming out next month from Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts, Alex Rodriguez's steroid and HGH use extended to his high school days and when he was with the Yankees -- which contradicts Rodriguez's claim he only juiced when he played for the Texas Rangers. Am I the only one not surprised by this, or are we all numb to this performance-enhancing thing by now?

Less Expensive: The New York Yankees have lowered ticket prices on some of the more expensive seats in the new Yankee Stadium. Now, instead of the most expensive tickets going for $2,600, they're going for $1,250. So instead of paying an arm and a leg to see the Yankees play, you'll only need to bring your arm.

Huh?: The best pitcher in the bigs right now is Zack Greinke, who is 5-0 with a 0.50 ERA so far this season. That's not the part that makes my heart hurt, though; that honor goes to the fact that Greinke pitches for the Kansas City Royals. I always thought I'd realize it when Hell finally froze over; this really snuck up on me.

I Want Revenge: The horse by that name is the early-line favorite for this Saturday's running of the Kentucky Derby. What that means, I don't know, but I do know the race is over so quickly, some sports fans call the race "The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports." Wonder how many guys can last that long.

Here We Go Again: There are rumblings that Danica Patrick might consider leaving the IndyCar Series after the end of this season to head to NASCAR. Let's look at this for what it is, people; a media darling driver in the final year of her contract with Andretti-Green Racing, trying to broker the best possible deal she can for the coming years. If she has to use the threat of NASCAR to get paid, so be it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

John Madden -- Legend and Pitchman

Say what you want about John Madden, who announced his retirement after over 30 years as a broadcaster on Thursday, but he was successful at everything he did.

As a coach, he won the Super Bowl with the Raiders in 1979. As a broadcaster, Madden called NFL games on all four major networks (CBS, FOX, ABC and NBC) and won 16 Emmy awards. His videogame series in conjunction with EA Sports is among the most successful and highest-selling franchises in the industry -- has been since the early 1990s. Then there's the gluttony of personal endorsements, ranging from Outback Steakhouse to ACE Hardware to "Boom! Tough-actin' Tinactin!"

Oh, and his distinctive voice led to the rise of comedian Frank Caliendo's career, whether Madden liked it or not. How do you think Caliendo feels today? Probably about as good as Madden felt when Brett Favre retired -- both times.

It may be true that Madden lost a bit the last couple years, when he worked with Al Michaels on Monday Night Football and again when NBC began broadcasting Sunday night games. But for so many years, the combination of Madden and play-by-play man Pat Summerall was the standard in the nidustry -- so much so, FOX gave Madden $8 million a year when they took the NFL from CBS in the mid-1990s.

Madden had a style that spoke to the masses, particularly in his prime. He broke down the game in a way that didn't seem condescending; he made football accessible for the masses, which was why everyone loved him so much. Analysts today, for all their knowledge and insight, can't match Madden's obvious love for the game and his ability to connect with the everyday person, the one who will probably never see the inside of an NFL huddle.

His act grew tired in recent years, Madden's insight giving way to statements of the obvious and cheeky sound effects. But his contributions changed the way we watch football on TV, and was a large reason he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. Cris Collinsworth might be a worthy and competent analyst who deserves to share the Sunday Night booth with Al Michaels, but the NFL this year just won't feel the same without Madden.

No analyst -- not Phil Simms, not Ron Jaworski, not Troy Aikman -- can match the knowledge and passion Madden had for the game of football. Even in his later years, that passion was evident, and Madden didn't walk away from broadcasting because he grew tired of it or didn't enjoy it anymore -- he just knew it was time.

I heard a caller on the radio yesterday describe Madden as the "Dick Vitale of the NFL." I can think of no more appropriate description, because both men have been ambassadors for their respective sports for years, and when many sports fans think of those games, they'll more than likely think of those two figures.

Did the death of legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas last week, who like Madden was 73, have anything to do with the decision? Probably. Madden's travel schedule was hectic, since he refused to fly, and he wasn't getting any younger in spite of good health. Madden even skipped a game last season due to travel reasons, and he cited on Thursday the desire to spend time with family, because his five grandchidren were getting old enough to notice when he was gone.

Regardless of any of that, Madden is one of the reasons professional football is where it is today. Whether it's his work in the booth or the fact that an entire generation knows him for a wildly popular videogame, Madden's work practically speaks for itself.

Which for a broadcaster, is all you can ever ask.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sports Round-Up

Tell it Like it Is: The University of Virginia can say men's basketball coach Dave Leitao resigned all it wants; when a resignation is forced, just call it a firing and be done with it. The Cavaliers struggled to their worst season since 1967 (10-18, 11th in the Atlantic Coast Conference), and there were apparent rumblings within the athletic department that something had to be done. But just be honest, U.Va. And while we're at it? Forget the Jeff Capel rumors ... you really think he's gonna take a step down like that? You may be in the ACC, Virginia, but you are far from an elite program.

Dancing: Did Memphis deserve a No. 1 seed instead of Connecticut? Probably, but the committee decided to put them in the same bracket and on a crash course for an Elite Eight match-up. If Memphis beats UConn and goes to the Final Four, the Tigers deserved the top seed. If not ... well let's just say the committee covered up their collective butts pretty well on this one.

Another One?!: Last year, the College Basketball Invitational joined the NCAA and NIT tournaments in the college basketball postseason landscape. This year, the Tournament enters the fray, giving us four postseason tournaments. While I appreciate another chance for good teams snubbed by the NCAA and NIT to play another game or two, at what point do we dillute the meaning of postseason basketball? Oh well, at least ODU's still playing ...

End of an Era: I guess it was bound to happen eventually, but this year? The Old Dominion women's basketball team had its streak of 17 consecutive Colonial Athletic Association tournament championships snapped over the weekend when it lost to Drexel in the semifinals. The Lady Monarchs, plagued by injuries all season, had won the CAA every year since joining the league in 1991-92, but the Dragons hoisted the trophy and won the automatic NCAA bid this year. It just won't seem right this year for ODU to not be in the tournament -- only thing worse would be if Tennessee ever missed the Big Dance.

Meh: To me, the World Baseball Classic just isn't that big a deal. Not because Team USA might not make it to the semifinals and the rest of the world seems to be excelling at America's pastime, but ... this is only the second time this tournament's ever been held. Am I really supposed to get excited and hyped for some international competition with little history and even less tradition? Maybe in another 10 years or so, but right now? Give me the Olympics.

What would Tim Russert think?: Terrell Owens is a Buffalo Bill now ... which actually makes a bit of sense. It's only a one-year deal, and T.O. has at least shown he can behave for one year. Not to mention, he gives a poor passing offense some much-needed firepower, and he just might be the final piece Buffalo needs to get over the hump and into the playoffs for the first time since 1999. As of right now, this is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Bills.

Crybaby: Someone needs to tell Jay Cutler to shut up and get over it. So the Broncos entertained the thought of trading their quarterback for Matt Cassell -- big deal! New coach Josh McDaniels loved Cassell in new England last year, where he led the Patriots to an 11-5 record and almost made the playoffs. What did Cutler do? Went 8-8 and lost his last three games as the Broncos gave the AFC West to San Diego. Memo to Cutler: this is the NFL -- this sort of thing happens all the time. Stop whining, focus on getting better, and maybe the Broncos will stop thinking of trying to get rid of you.

Write it Down: Tiger Woods will win The Masters next month. No question.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

You can't spell Dallas with T.O.

The popcorn finally went stale.

According to's Michael Smith, the Dallas Cowboys released wide receiver Terrell Owens Wednesday night, ending a three-year reign in Texas that resulted in as many playoff wins as the team had the decade prior without Owens.

That would be zero, for those of you keeping score at home.

Perhaps the most surprising element in all this isn't the fact that T.O. was cut -- we see moves like this all the time: a team moving an aging veteran with declining skills in the hopes of paying a younger player much less to do the same thing.

No, the real shock in this one is what T.O.'s release says. In short, owner Jerry Jones admitted he'd made a mistake. I'll understand if you need to go back and re-read that last bit. It's a lot to take in ... I can wait, if you'd like.


Ready? Good.

Jones has never been one to admit defeat. With deep pockets and an ego to match, Jones thought he could bring the disgruntled wideout from Philadelphia, where T.O. had sucecssfully bitchslapped Donovan McNabb in several ways and whined about wanting a new long-term deal after just one year.

In came Jones to save the day. A massive three-year deal later, Jones and Owens were smiling before a tub of popcorn so large, I'm not sure Jabba the Hutt or Rush Limbaugh could've finished it.

Sure, Owens had some nice moments in Dallas, put up some good numbers. But the Cowboys missed the playoffs last season, and in the two years prior Dallas was bounced from the first round. Head coach Wade Phillips and quarterback Tony Romo perhaps deserve more of the blame for that than Owens -- Phillips is too laid-back to be a head coach, and Romo apparently forgets how to win once all the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone -- but Owens was certainly part of the problem.

Especially last season.

Make no mistake: a disgruntled wide receiver isn't exactly news in the NFL (right, Arizona?). But whereas most other receivers gripe for a few seconds before shutting their yap and ultimately doing what the team needs, T.O. made sure his discontent spread to everyone else; if Owens was unhappy, about half the team's locker room would be as well.

Owens thought Romo relied too heavily on tight end Jason Witten -- which, to an extent, he did down the stretch. Owens reportedly accused -- according to ESPN's Ed Werder, whom I trust -- Romo and Witten of having sleepovers (what is this, 5th grade?!) and devising specific plays for themselves without the rest of the team knowing.

Such discontent, though downplayed by the team publicly, undoubtedly festered in the locker room. Eventually, it probably spread to other players. The ones who didn't side with Owens were left trying to defend Phillips, Romo and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett -- three figures who were becoming scapegoats in the Saga de Owens.

Jones has claimed in recent weeks that locker room chemistry is overrated, which might be true ... if this were baseball. Chemistry is paramount in the NFL, when you've got 53 guys all trying to go after the same goal. If everyone doesn't fall in line, if there's dissention in the ranks, a promising season and all the Super Bowl-caliber talent in the world won't be able to stop the inevitable train wreck.

It was obvious Jones and Phillips went out of their way to make Owens happy, in the process undermining Romo and Garrett. Such politicking will never translate into wins, and maybe the writing was on the wall during the season when the Cowboys traded for Roy Williams from the Lions.

Problem is, Williams didn't exactly light it up in Dallas; in 10 games, he caught just 19 balls for 198 yards. Then again, with Phillips trying to appease Owens, maybe Williams' production will increase in the coming season.

I wouldn't count on it, though.

So where does Owens go from here? It's not like he's swimming in options. Don't look for anyone else in the NFC East to look at him; Philly already went through that drama, the Giants have their own wideout problems (Plaxico Burress) and the Redskins probably don't have any more money to blow in free agency.

The Raiders? Given that team's history of bringing in problem players, it's always a possibility. But Owens is a far worse case than Randy Moss, who's been a model citizen since being traded to the New England Patriots.

If I'm Al Davis, I probably want T.O. But if I'm Tom Cable, or even JaMarcus Russell? In the words of Alaska's governor ... thanks, but no thanks.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Albert Haynes-worth the Money?

NFL insiders considered defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth the biggest catch of the NFL free agency season, and the Washington Redskins reeled him in Friday morning, signing the former Tennessee Titans standout to a massive contract.

How massive? ESPN's John Clayton says the deal is for seven years and $100 million, though with incentives it could be closer to $115 million. There are reportedly about $41 million in guarantees and over the first 13 months of the deal, Haynesworth is expected to make roughly $32 million.

This after giving corner DeAngelo Hall $54 million over six years -- $22.5 million of which is guaranteed. Think the Redskins are hoping 2010 comes without a salary cap?

(NOTE: As I wrote this, the Redskins released corner Shawn Springs, saving $6 million toward the salary cap. The team also recently restructured the contracts of offensive tackle Chris Samuels and defensive lineman Cornelius Griffin -- and last week they released linebacker Marcus Washington.)

Haynesworth, who led the Titans last season with a career-high 8 1/2 sacks, also had 75 tackles, 22 quarterback pressures, seven tackles for a loss and forced four fumbles. Once known as the guy who stomped on Andre Gourad's head a few years ago, Haynesworth had developed into a dominating presence on the defensive line.

But how will he play out in Washington, a place many a free agent has gone in recent years to see their careers flounder? I'm looking at you, Adam Archuleta and Deion Sanders.

On the one hand, the deal makes a lot of sense for Washington; the Redskins need help on the offensive and defensive lines, and Haynesworth, if he produces even a fraction of what he did a year ago, would provide just that. It could also spell the end of the line for Jason Taylor, who was due to receive $8 million from the Redskins this season.

Taylor's performance suffered in 2008, though that was more because defensive coordinator Greg Blache moved him from the left end where he made a career to the right side. Adjusting to a new position, and injuries, kept Taylor from being productive and unless he restructures his deal, I think the Haynesworth signing singals the end for Taylor in D.C.

There are other issues to consider with Haynesworth. He's missed 22 of 112 career games due to injury. Some have questioned his mindset. Was Haynesworth's 2008 season a product of knowing he was about to be a free agent? Did he play out of his mind just to get a big payday, only to somewhat shut it down after signing on the dotted line?

And though Haynesworth hasn't caused problems since returning from suspension after stomping on Gourad's head, he's shown on occasion to be a bit of a hothead. Is that the sort of mindset the Redskins need? If Haynesworth can produce the way he did in 2008, and give Washington the pass rush it sorely missed last season, it might not matter.

Still, $100 million is a lot of money to commit to someone with just one dominant season. If Haynesworth had been this dominant for three or four consecutive seasons, the signing wouldn't bother me so much. But Haynesworth hasn't done that, and I can't help but wonder if this is going be yet another signing in Washington that looks great in February and March, only to look like a colossal waste come October.

I hope Haynesworth proves me wrong; really, I do. But I'll have to see it before I believe it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Deserved Hilarity

From last night's Late Show with David Letterman, the Top 10 Message's Left on Alex Rodriguez's Answering Machine:

10. Hey, it's Mark McGwire. Want to get together this week and not talk about the past?

9. Joe Torre here -- thanks for helping book sales.

8. Could you find a steroid that keeps you from choking in the playoffs?

7. Are you worried this will taint the championships you didn't win?

6. It's Bernie Madoff. Nice try, but I'm still the most hated man in New York.

5. Michael Phelps here. Got any snacks?

4. This is Sammy Sosa. Just pretend you don't speak English.

3. Michael Phelps again. Did I call you, or did you call me?

2. Hey, it's Rod Blagojevich -- I'll say you're innocent if you say I am.

1. It's Madonna. You got a phone number for Jeter?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Surprise Surprise

I'm not the least bit surprised to find out over the weekend via Sports Illustrated that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, even though he went on the record last year saying he never took any such things.

Let's face it: when it comes to the Steroid Era is baseball, no one is immune to scrutiny.
Sure, we wanted to believe A-Rod was clean, even going so far as to say he would overtake Barry Bonds' mark of 762 career home runs and return pride and glory to the game.

Instead, Rodriguez brought distrust and shame.

To be fair, A-Rod's admission to Peter Gammons in Monday's ESPN interview was a step in the right direction. Recent history had shown that guys who own up to using performance-enhancers fare better in the public eye. Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte and Brian Roberts are all perfect examples. Each guy, upon being named in a steroids or HGH probe, came out and apologized.

Do we still rail on them? No -- we save our venom for guys like Bonds ("I never knowingly took steroids"), Roger Clemens ("You misremembered"), Mark McGwire ("I'm not here to talk about the past") and Rafael Palmeiro ("I have never taken steroids -- period").

So in that regard, A-Rod deserves kudos.

Still, the revelation proves that no one should be presumed innocent anymore. Even Ken Griffey Jr., a player I've respected since youth, isn't immune to suspicion anymore. I want to believe he's clean, that he played his career and put up Hall of Fame numbers the right way, but until someone actually proves Griffey never juiced, I have my doubts.

Everyone is at fault when it comes to the Steroid Era: the players for taking the drugs; the players' union for fighting so hard against drug testing; Major League Baseball -- specifically commissioner Bud Selig -- for allowing the union to flex its collective muscle in such a manner; the owners and general managers for turning a blind eye to their own players; and the media, for not reporting their suspicions in the height of the game's resurgence.

The union is also to blame for A-Rod's positive test becoming public. Testing in 2003 was for survey purposes only -- the league was testing to see how many players were juicing and to see if a policy in 2004 would be justified. The test was supposed to be anonymous, and the list of names of those who tested positive was supposed to have been destroyed once 2003 tests were complete.

Only that list was never destroyed. Come to think of it ... why were names even on those tests to begin with? If this was supposed to be anonymous, why figure out who juiced? Wasn't the goal simply to see how many?

If I'm one of the other 103 players to test positive in 2003, I'm nervous right now, because what's to stop some intrepid reporter from unearthing their name and dragging it through the mud as well?

A-Rod deserves credit for coming forward, but he also deserves criticism for taking the banned substances in the first place -- regardless of MLB rules at the time, such drugs were still illegal without a doctor's prescription -- just as he deserves criticism for lying to Katie Couric in last year's 60 Minutes interview.

He may not ever face suspension or jail time, but A-Rod has taken a massive PR hit, and 2009 might not be that much fun for him. But by coming clean, if Rodriguez can weather the coming storm (produce on the field, don't test positive for anything else), he might be better off for it in the long run.

He might even still make the Hall of Fame one day. Which is more than McGwire can say.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

High on the Pedestal

Sometimes it’s easy to forget celebrities and athletes are as human as the rest of us. That is especially true of Michael Phelps, who because of his inhuman feats in the pool, some might think he has gills.

But Phelps offered up another reminder over the weekend, when a photo of him inhaling from a marijuana pipe surfaced in the British tabloid News of the World. Phelps did not argue the authenticity of the photo, which was taken at a campus party at the University of South Carolina back in November, and immediately issued an apology.

Not one of those typical, half-assed apologies we normally get from athletes. You know, the whole “I apologize to anyone who was offended” thing. No, Phelps took complete responsibility for his actions, calling what he did “regrettable” and an exercise in “bad judgment.” Say what you will about the youthful immaturity that led him to smoking marijuana in the first place – Phelps demonstrated remarkable maturity in owning up for his mistake.

I’m not condoning marijuana use – mostly because it’s illegal almost everywhere – and I think Phelps should suffer some sort of backlash from this (the Richland County Sheriff’s Office said on Wednesday they’re considering charges, pending an investigation), but in light of his apology, I’m willing to give him another chance. I realize this would be his third strike, since he was busted for DUI following the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but shouldn’t we allow young people to make mistakes and learn from them, even if they were thrust into the public eye after turning every pool in Beijing into their personal playground?

Eight gold medals landed Phelps a lot of money, but they didn’t make him infallible.

Fact is, smoking marijuana isn’t that unusual for a 23-year-old. If Phelps were a typical 23-year-old, this would barely be a blip on the proverbial radar, but given who he is and what he’s accomplished in his athletic career – not to mention the millions of dollars in endorsements he’s raking in – Phelps left typical a long time ago.

In the age of the Internet and cell phone cameras, celebrities and athletes have even less privacy than before; look no further than Arizona Cardinals backup Matt Leinart, who could be seen last offseason entertaining possibly-underage co-eds at keggers with beer bongs and the like. Though the Cardinals never said so, I’m not convinced those parties didn’t contribute to Leinart’s benching in favor of veteran Kurt Warner.

Phelps needs to realize that his fortune and sudden fame make doing most things impossible now – including smoking weed in private. There is no privacy for people like Phelps anymore, and the sooner he realizes that and straightens himself out, the better off everyone will be.

Phelps has said he hopes to compete in London in 2012, but if he doesn’t learn from this the way he promised he would (in the interest of fairness, he said almost the exact same thing after his DUI), he might not be able to compete. The World Anti-Doping Agency and the IOC can’t touch Phelps, since he never tested positive at the site of competition, but if sponsors pull the plug and the law gets a hold of him, that might be a whole different game.

Millions of people, including children, look up to Phelps. This is a chance for them to learn a lesson as well – that our heroes are often as human and mistake-prone as the rest of us, and that athletic prowess is a reason to respect someone, but not a reason to worship.

Though Charles Barkley might argue otherwise, Phelps is a role model. He needs to start acting like one.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Sunday

The Pittsburgh Steelers cemented themselves Sunday night in Tampa as the greatest NFL franchise in the league's history. Don't believe me? Count the Vince Lombardi Trophies.

The Steelers won their NFL-best sixth Sunday night, beating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII. The Cardinals scored 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, taking a brief 23-20 lead when Larry Fitzgerald scampered 64 yards into the endzone with 2:37 to play. Their toughness was impressive, and worthy of respect -- but the Steelers proved why they were the Steelers.

Ben Roethlisberger engineered the 17th fourth-quarter comeback drive of his career, marching down the field before hitting Santonio Holmes from six yards out for the winning score with 35 seconds left. Holmes caught four passes on that drive, cementing Super Bowl MVP honors when his toes slid across the red grass before momentum carried him out of bounds.

Then, befitting of the league's No. 1 defense, the Steelers forced a Kurt Warner fumble and recovered for the final play of the game.

The Cardinals, despite two turnovers, didn't lose the game; Pittsburgh just won it. James Harrison's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown at the end of the first half wasn't a mistake by Warner; Harrison made a fantastic play on the football. Fitzgerald had a wonderful game, catching seven balls for 127 yards and two scores.

If Arizona had held on for the win, he might've been MVP.

The Cardinals defense kept Pittsburgh out of the endzone twice when the Steelers had driven into the red zone -- including a stop at the 1-yard line -- forcing field goals rather than touchdowns. If the Steelers score touchdowns in those two instances, there is no Arizona comeback.

Whether the Cardinals were a bad playoff team will likely still be debated -- since they were a 9-7 champion of a bad NFC West and lost three of their last five regular-season games by three touchdowns or more. Arizona's run through Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia in the playoffs was impressive, a testament to the leadership of head coach Ken Whisenhunt and the mentality he's installed in the desert.

Simply put, these aren't your father's Arizona Cardinals. Maybe not even your big brother's.

What isn't up for debate is the greatness of head coach Mike Tomlin and this year's Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers had the league's toughest schedule, yet went 13-3 -- beating a very good Baltimore Ravens team twice to win the AFC North. Pittsburgh earned the AFC's second seed, beating San Diego and Baltimore en route to Tampa. The offense might not have been as flashy as New England's a year ago, but the running game combined with Roethlisberger more than did its part, while the defense played hard, physical football on its way to being the league's best, even invoking comparisons to the Steel Curtain.

I can't go that far, but the Super Bowl champion this season is as deserving as any other in recent memory. The best team won the championship this year, and in doing so, the Pittsburgh Steelers, as an organization, can officially call themselves the best of all-time.