Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Buzzword: Encouraging

I literally just finished watching the first game of the Jurgen Klinsmann's USA soccer career. I missed the first 20 minutes because ESPN decided to push the game to ESPNnews due to a Little League World Series game that went long. Please read that last sentence again. Little League Baseball had priority over a national team. Shows the priorities I guess...

There were some really good signs once I began watching the game, a few guys came off the bench and really impressed, the team's last half-hour was played at a break-neck pace that put the Mexican's on their heels, which was great to watch. How often have we watched the US Soccer team on their heels at the end of games, teams running at them? Ghana did it, Mexico did it last month.

Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, and Robbie Rodgers combined to create the goal. Brek Shea was dynamite on the left wing and Rodgers also broke into space later on in the second half using his pace, he was  pulled down by Torrado as he blew by him, which should have been a red card. Alas, it wasn't.

Klinsmann is an energetic personality and the stadium was packed and the game had a larger feeling than a simple friendly in August. He seems like a guy the team wants to play for, and he also seems like who isn't going to play players just because he should.

The US got into the box in the second half after only creating one shot on goal in the first half. They had two near penalty kicks, I would hope one of those calls would be made in a game that had some more meaning.

Brek Shea folks...

Looking forward to the next year of US Soccer, I am in. I am excited to watch this team. Isn't that the most important thing? We watched the World Cup (Men's and Women's) because it was exciting, because it was worth watching. The good teams in the world have friendlies that are worth watching too, like the regular season in our domestic sports. The World Cup is the playoffs, unfortunately it only comes around every four years. Hopefully the excitement that was on the field tonight will carry over into the next 12 months and catapult this US team into some unknown territory.

The buzzword tomorrow will be "encouraging." The team was encouraging, the result was encouraging, the substitutes were encouraging, and Klinsmann was encouraged.

Here's hoping this team can encourage more and more people to care about them. I know they made me care more than I ever have. Hop on the bandwagon now, it's going to fill up soon.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Evil Beard.

Is it a coincidence that the Patriots made two blockbuster trades, acquiring Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco, on the exact same day Tiger Woods announced his return to professional golf? I think not!

When talking to people about Tiger Woods I have said that he should just embrace his new persona. The first step was growing his evil goatee. Now, he has gone all out and grown his evil beard (the glasses are a nice addition too...maybe some Nike sunglass contacts?). Usually, Tiger shaves himself clean before returning to the course, he probably uses a Shick razor now (would that make him a Shick-head?). I think he should stick with the beard though.

Why is Tiger's beard so important, and how does it connect with the Patriots deals yesterday? Simple, the Patriots have finally embraced their evil persona. Haynesworth and Ocho are proof the Patriots' grew their very own Evil Beard. They grew it in one day.

For the past three years the Pats have been hated, especially after their winning ways (read: dominance) were brought into question. Now, the Pats have taken on two huge personalities, guys who are not liked by the team they are leaving.

Which Belichick will we see at the end of the season?

Haynesworth is a complete jerk, signing a massive contract then whining about the Redskins defensive schemes ( Laying down and stomping are two of his specialties). However, Haynesworth is also a super talented defensive lineman. He had a huge year in 2008, recording 8.5 sacks and 41 tackles. That outstanding season earned him the Redskins contract.

It is scary for offensive lines who have to deal with the size of Vince Wilfork, Albert Haynesworth, and Ty Warren (who missed all of last season with an injury). Those three guys are huge and will take up a lot of time and energy, hopefully allowing Jarrod Mayo and Jermaine Cunningham to run free and make plays.

Ochocinco is more harmless than Haynesworth. Ocho's personality is huge, he is the quintessential diva wide receiver. He is marrying Evelyn Lozada, formerly Antoine Walker's wife. She bailed on him when the money ran out. Evelyn is a character on Basketball Wives. She spends her days being watched while eating meals and stirring up drama. Ocho's best years are behind him, the expectations for him need to be very carefully placed on him. Will he have 1,000 yards? Probably not. Will he have 70+ catches? Probably not? Will he catch 5+ of TDs? Maybe.

I hope so Ocho... I really hope so...

Ocho's strength was as a deep threat. His age has slowed him down, which makes me wonder what the impetus for signing him was. My main theory is that the Pats are worried about the Jets signing Nnamdi Asomugha, giving them possibly the two best corners in the game on the same team. The Jets dominated the Pats passing game in the playoffs last year. No one could get open. Ocho might be a piece of the puzzle that the Pats think might challenge Rex Ryan's Jets. Deion Branch, Wes Welker, and the young tight ends were not enough last year. Can the addition of Ocho help the Pats? I hope so.

The Pats have grown their evil beard. They have added two pieces to their puzzle that could either help them immensely or they could implode the team at the first sign of adversity (just like Adalius Thomas).

Bill Belichick has a huge year in front of him. The Jets are challenging them for supremacy in the AFC East, the Dolphins seem to be slowly improving, and the Bills are still a football team... these signings could rewrite his legacy in many different ways. It could be a second wave of success (playoff success) or it could be seen as his last stand, pistol in hand firing his last rounds.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pressing the reset button.

On Wednesday it was announced that Tiger Woods and caddy Steve Williams are parting ways. This was something that surprised me somewhat, but not completely. Williams was granted permission by Woods to caddy for Adam Scott in the U.S. Open and Open Championship, so something was clearly amiss.

Tiger has made a very concerted effort to begin separating himself from his past. Williams was someone that many saw as a rock in Woods' life. They were not just business partners, but also friends. Now, one has to wonder what the friendship really meant to Woods. The timing of all of this is pretty strange, Williams even said so, admitting he regretted how this happening now is not a good thing.

Obviously it looks bad because it implies that Tiger's scandal is part of the reason for this change. Tiger is distancing himself from everyone, except his agent. Tiger stayed with Mark Steinberg even though Steinberg left sports agency mammoth IMG early this summer.

Tiger's decision is somewhat mystifying to me and it once again makes Tiger look like a jerk. He is heartless and calculating, to the point where he surprises a friend in the timing of a firing. Williams admitted he was surprised. They had been together 12 years, longer Tiger was with Elin,  and Fluff (his only other caddy on tour),  and Hank Haney. Butch Harmon (former swing coach) might be the only person that has been in Tiger's life longer.

Steve Williams might be the best caddy in the world. He managed Tiger, maybe managed his secrets (I think he knew a lot more about the scandal than he told the press). He was Tiger's most loyal soldier, and how is he finally treated?  Like crap.

They always seemed like they were on the same page...

The more and more I think about Tiger the more sad I feel for him. He is starting his entire life over. He trusts no one, and no one can trust him. Imagine being 35 and feeling that way. It really is pathetic. Sure he has his money, but his career is in shambles right now, and he cannot get it back on track.

Tiger's firing of Steve Williams once again portrays Tiger's personality. Something goes wrong, fire someone, find someone new. Tiger has been completely unaccountable to himself and his actions for much longer than I think we ever realized. He never really takes the blame.

Sadly for Tiger, this is now becoming a trend in his life. As more people realize it you have to wonder if Tiger will be more and more isolated. Does Tiger get told "no" by any future caddies? Tiger was notorious for keeping a close circle, will Tiger's circle become non-existent or will their always be people who fall for his money and fame? I guess time will tell.

Some links about the split:
Wasting years of his life.
Lost respect for Tiger

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

First is the worst, second is the best.

On Sunday the USA had three representatives with a chance at making me eat my own words. I wrote a few weeks back that the US as a country was losing its grip on sports dominance across the board. Granted some sports are still doing okay, for the most part the country is losing it.

The first opportunity was at The Open Championship, where Darren Clarke was the leader playing with Dustin Johnson in the final group (Johnson is slowly becoming the lovable loser of golf majors).

The other American in the mix was Phil Mickelson, who thrust himself into the tournament with an astounding 10 hole stretch where he only took 33 swings with his golf clubs.

Take a second and think about that.

Okay, we're back.

Mickelson eagled the 7th hole to get into a tie with Clarke, who was plugging away, backed by the fans and the unreal streak his tiny country is on right now (if you include Padraig Harrington's run of 3 majors from 2007-2008 then the entire island of Ireland has won 6 of the last 18 majors...not bad...). Mickelson's charge was very similar to Tiger's at The Masters this April. Unfortunately,  Phil turned into his old self on the last eight holes and disappeared, finishing second but really having no say in the outcome after the 13th hole.

(Note: I sent my buddy Burke a very prophetic text that I am quite proud. It said "Phil?? Can he do this? He will hit one rough patch. He has to. How he deals with it is huge." Well he didn't deal with it at all. He struggled).

Dustin Johnson was the other US hopeful as the cream rose to the top on Sunday. Dustin, for his lanky, hippy walk seems to melt under major pressure. The scary part is that he has proven to make both mental and physical mistakes. He shot 82 at Pebble Beach in the last group of the US Open last summer, and then made a HUGE mistake (go to the 2:55 mark to remind yourself...) on the 18th at Whistling Straits at the PGA Championship.

The "Everyman" ready to fill his cup with Guinness.

This time Johnson found a new way to make a mistake. He hit the ball out of bounds on the par 5 14th hole. It was a shot that was unforgivable, it was a shot that a lot of 15 handicappers would not hit. The out of bounds runs down the entire right side of the hole. Rory McIlroy also hit it out of bounds on that hole on Saturday, pretty much ending any chance he had at making a run on Sunday.

Both Americans found themselves second place to the wide smiling, heavy drinking Northern Irishman. Once again, the US came up shy of where they needed to be.

30 minutes later the world was introduced to a pluky set of American girls, the type who like to make you sit on the edge of your seat. The cardiac girls we might have called them. Some called them a "team of destiny" (which is a bullshit theory, but that's just may opinion.), ready to reignite the flame that the 1999 World Cup winning team had passed to them (did you know the 1999 team beat China on penalty kicks in the Rose Bowl that year? And Brandi Chastain took off her jersey after the winning goal. It was crazy!).

You could nearly compare how Phil Mickelson started his round to how the US Women started their game. The team came out guns blazing, creating numerous scoring chances, chances that might have left the result completely unquestioned after a half hour. However, the cardiac girls decided that it would be too easy to grab a 3-0 lead at halftime. They instead left it at 0-0. Tied, just like Mickelson.

The US Women got a great goal from a great gal, a great gal. Alex Morgan proved her validity as the next great soccer player. The heir-apparent to Abby Wombach. The team's defense, which had been in question all tournament, went sour at a bad time: when they had the lead in the World Cup Final.

Second place hardware...ugh...

In the end, the US blew their chance. The women's history against the Japanese team was an astounding 22 wins and 3 ties without a single loss. This team, like every US team in the World Cup was under the microscope. They barely qualified for the World Cup, needing to beat Italy in a play-in game. In the end, they were second fiddle, just like Mickelson and Johnson in Sandwich, England.

Sunday was just another day for the US. A day of disappointment, a day of lost opportunities, a day where we were only second best. We look at the winners and make ourselves feel better by saying Clarke is the "everyman" and Japan needed this win more. At least these days our country is used to getting trophies and credit for finishing in second place. I hope we do not get too used to it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The pressure's on, Rory.

The Open Championship begins on Thursday, bright and early if you live in the United States (ESPN coverage begins at 4:00am ET). The coverage of the tournament seems to be begging for a "hero." Someone to burst into the realm of greatness, or for someone to lock their place in history (i.e. Michelson, Els, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood).

Rory McIlroy is obviously the newest and brightest star. It was interesting watching the press conferences of some of the other players, like Donald and Westwood. They took the questions about McIlroy, just like they used to field questions about Tiger. The media, the world of golf is salivating for a new "great." People are already claiming that if Rory wins this week that he will be that next great golfer. The one to challenge Tiger and Jack. The one who might re-write the record books.

These are the pictures that might haunt Rory if he struggles with his game (golf game
that is). 
The truth about McIlroy, as cruel as it may seem, is that this week is enormous for him. He proved he could bounce back from disappointment after his horrendous final 9 holes at The Masters. He came roaring (forgive the pun) back at the US Open and crushed the field.

Now, he has not played competitive golf since that tournament. He has traveled around the world and lived in the spotlight for the past five weeks. He has heard about how great he is, he has told endless reporters how he is just a "normal guy" in his hometown of Holywood, Northern Ireland.

Why is this week so important for Rory? Because if he does not do well (not necessarily win, but compete) the new storyline will be: "Can McIlroy manage both the pressure of golf with the fame his success has created?"

One thing we have all been quick to forget is how masterfully Tiger handled all the pressure. Looking back and considering Tiger's Foundation, his winning, his public life, and his (eh-hem) transgressions, Tiger was unbelievable. He never let anything steer him away from winning. If McIlroy would like to fill the void that Tiger so selfishly left open, he is going to have to balance all of the fame and pressure. This week Rory is under a lot of pressure. Will I be rooting for him? You bet, golf needs a new star. Tiger could be the villain when he returns, Rory just might be the knight in shining armor.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Crossroads

Two weeks ago the US Men's Soccer team lost to Mexico in the final of the Gold Cup. This came as a shock to many people who watch the team from a distance; the type of fans who watch the World Cup every four years, wear their red, white, and blue, and then get surprised when the team loses.

As the team became gaining some mainstream acceptance they lost their mo-jo because, to be honest, American fans do not like to lose, especially to a country like Mexico; the country we measure ourselves against with regards to soccer. The die-hard soccer fans will tell you that the team was poorly picked, that the manager Bob Bradley did not go for a big win or try developing young talent. He walked a dangerous line, and the loss to Mexico cost them a birth in the Confederations Cup. What's that you ask? It's the tournament held a year before the World Cup, played in the host country of the upcoming World Cup, and is seen as a huge warm up for the tournament. The US beat Spain in it in 2009, remember that (Jozy Altidore was named the savior of US soccer. What has he done for you lately...)? Yeah, it was the win that many would argue catapulted the US in that World Cup.

On Sunday in Germany the Women's National team will play Brazil. A team that many have chosen as the favorite, a team that the is much more talented than the US. The US Women's team has not won a World Cup since 1999. That team is haunting this current team, the media is making this big deal about the team. Many of the players are now retired and commentating on the games.

Marta: The BEST player in the world. Six straight FIFA Players of the Year. SIX!

Now, after years of dominating the sport, the US Women's team is the underdog. The US, just like in other sports, is slipping. Women's soccer in the USA exploded after 1999. Before 1999 the US was a juggernaut, beating most who stood in their path. Scoring oodles of goals. Now? They are playing Brazil, and people expect Brazil to win. The world has caught up with the US. Germany, Brazil, France, England, and Sweden all made the quarterfinals. Looks a lot like a list of teams you might come up with if you were asked to list some strong men's teams. The countries who take pride in soccer, who have the proper foundations for building soccer players, have caught up in the women's game.

The women's game blossomed later than the men's game. This is only the sixth World Cup. The United States won the first and third, Norway the second, and Germany the last two. The next big step for the women's game could be the Asian and African countries. With Japan now in the semi-final, they may possibly become the harbinger of things to come. In 1990 Cameroon made it to the quarterfinals, shocking the world. This opened up the talk of the African countries beginning deeper runs in the World Cup. Has it happened? A little. As much as some thought? No. Why? Soccer is dominated by countries that have always dominated it.

Now the women's game is reflecting the men's game. New countries have their say (Japan) while the cream also rises to the top.

The game the US Women play tomorrow is massive, not only for themselves as a team, but for soccer as a whole in the US. The women's teams have always had a leg up on the men, with a loss tomorrow to Brazil then women will lose an edge on the men and also on the rest of the women's world of soccer. Lets hope Brazil isn't the cream that rises to the top.

Monday, June 27, 2011

America's Downward Trend?

While the title of this post may have you thinking that this is going to be about the economic mess our country is in, I can tell you this much... it isn't about that. It is about another downward trend, this trend is centered on sports, and the USA's lack of success in many of them recently. As I was reading through USA Today last week I came across an article by Christine Brennan, a writer that I honestly do not like. However, she made some interesting points in her piece and I thought it was worth delving in a little deeper to figure out if American sports are on the decline... lets go through this sport by sport...

During last week's NBA draft, 4 of the top 7 picks were foreign born players. This draft was admittedly weak. Basketball is slowly earning the privilege of being called a "world game." Soccer is the other with that title. While basketball is flourishing around the world, the players are flocking to the NBA.  Americans like calling it a world game because it is a game Americans dominate, unlike soccer. With the Dallas Mavericks snatching their first title from the hands of the Miami Heat, Dirk was the star, and has now earned himself some worldwide recognition. While basketball is still strongly in the hands of the USA, the world is slowly creeping up with players who can win titles.

 Jan Vesely and his girlfriend made quiet a splash at the NBA Draft...

Football has benefited from some global reach. Bringing in many Samoans to play the sport. Football is still as American as apple pie and will be just fine. Too many other countries prefer Rugby or Australian Rules Football.

Baseball is another game that has reached out globally. It has welcomed players with open arms from all over the world. Again, baseball has a strong hold as our national past-time. And while many say that kids are not playing the game anymore, we produce better baseball players than soccer players; and people are ALWAYS talking about the huge amounts of kids playing soccer at the grassroots level. But they all suck.

Hockey (Is that how you spell it? It is right? Ok) is a game that is dominated by Canadians, and when they don't win they riot. At least we have not reached that level of loserdom in this country...

Goofy and consistent. Just what you want as an American golf fan...

Here is where the tide begins to turn. Golf, both in the women's and men's games, is being dominated by international players. A 22 year old named Yani Tseng became the youngest male or female to win 4 major titles. She shot -19 and won the LPGA Championship by ten shots this past weekend. TEN SHOTS, that's insane! Rory McIlroy made his own 22 year old statement in the US Open last weekend, and many people are now toasting him as the next great golfer.

If you look at the world ranking for these two sports there are 3 US players in the top ten of each of the rankings. Can you name the three men ranked in the top 10 in the world right now?

Take a second and think about it...


Ok, here they are: Steve Stricker (7), Phil Mickelson (8), and Matt Kuchar (9). That's no joke folks...

Stricker and Mickelson are both in their 40s and Kuchar (mid 30's) is simply a guy who cashes in top tens and will probably never win a major. Check out the list, not a lot of hopeful Americans who will make a run for that top honor, unless you count that guy named Tiger (I still do...).

The women's rankings are just as bleak, and it is dominated by Asian born players. The LPGA has 15 events in the USA and 9 others are held abroad. The LPGA sees the writing on the wall and are cashing in on it.

You think I would miss a chance to 
put Natalie on this post? 

This is even worse than golf. The Williams sisters were both knocked out of Wimbledon on Monday (boo-hoo), and now no one cares. There is not a single American women in the top ten ranking.

Marty Fish and Andy Roddick are ranked 9 and 10 in the world currently. Guess where the next American lands on that list? The correct answer is 40. The immortal Sam Querrey.

There is no young hopeful coming up from America in either men's or women's tennis. It seems every year some new Eastern European star (click it... trust me) comes along.

Serena yelling at a line judge. She is #1 in the world for that skill...

The Future?
As we look forward into the future of sports we can see many more countries involving themselves in new sports. Training kids at younger and younger ages, the risk: burning out or creating people ill-prepared for life outside of a sport. The reward: championships and some regard for the country.

With all the crap going on in the world right now. Revolutions, recessions, and new governments, one has to wonder if nationalism in sports is coming back even stronger. Will people want to cheer for their country, will athletes want to represent their country more than in the past? Is America's weakness becoming other country's strength? I honestly do not know. It does seem like the world is getting smaller. Coaching strategies are spreading faster; the desire to be the best and win the best tournaments is growing among athletes across the world. For me I think it is a great thing, it is sad to see the US down right now. Maybe it will be back, maybe it will be soon. Maybe it will be later. Maybe it will be never. I know that I will keep watching though, rooting for the people I want to root for. Even it that might mean crossing the border to root for a non-American.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The First Sign of Spring.

The Masters is here, and who can argue that this is the first true sign of spring. There are some differences between this Masters and the last 12 Masters. 
1. Tiger Woods is not a favorite, and in some cases is being totally written off.
2. There are a slew of young players that people are predicting will contend or even win (Nick Watney, Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Jason Day, and Ricky Fowler to name a few).

Without boring you about golf too much, here are my predictions for this weekend.

Who is the darkhorse?
Ross Fisher: This guy has had some really close calls in Majors. Wouldn't be surprised to see his name on the leaderboard this weekend.

Who will be the biggest disappointment?
Sergio Garcia: This guy has been getting his game somewhat back into shape. However, his putting is horrible. This could be a week where he is around near the end and then finds a way to mess up with his putter. 

What would be an awesome story to root for this weekend?
1) Ernie Els in contention. I am stealing this from The Golf Channel. But I liked it. Ernie Els has begun working hard to raise awareness of Autism since the birth of his son. While Jim Nance would beat this story to a pulp, it would be great to see the Big Easy finally get his Green Jacket. He deserves one.

2) Ryo Ishikawa. This guy pledged his 2011 winnings to his homeland of Japan. Awesome story. I hope he gets some wins this year. 

What will Ian Poulter be wearing this week at Augusta?

Who will be the winner?
This space was usually filled with the name "Tiger Woods." It was a lock that he was the guy I would choose. However, this year I cannot narrow it down to one name. In his stead I am going to give you four names of guys I think have a good chance.

1) Phil. He is playing well, and is now becoming comfortable with his legacy and is trying to cement it even further.
2) Rory McIlroy. Really like this guy. My favorite thing about him is his calm demeanor. He never seems to get rattled.
3) Hunter Mahan. This is another pupil of Sean Foley, Tiger's coach. He is playing better than Tiger, maybe his Ryder Cup choke in September will cripple him, but we forget he hit the biggest putt in 2008's Ryder Cup on Sunday.
4) Tiger. Okay okay. I initially had three names, and I decided I have to put him down. Why? Never count out Tiger. He finished 4th last year after not playing competitive golf in 5 months and being raked through the tabloids.

Enjoy the Masters. If you haven't visited yet, you should.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Predictions lacking knowledge.

Making predictions is not my strong suit. Sometimes I get one or two right (the Texas Rangers last year and Kentucky this far).

However, my roommate Pat had the idea to go through and choose every division, MVP, and Cy Young winners, culminating in a playoff prediction.

The gambler in me decided to throw in the "over/under" for wins for each team. The gambler in me is what is also holding a year old slap bet over Pat, a forlorn Angles fan.

Without further adieu...


AL EAST (The Most Talent)
1) Red Sox - This kills me to do. The keys: Beckett, Papelbon, and Crawford. (Under 95.5 wins).

2) New York - Offense will have to carry pitching. Keys: Phil Hughes, Bullpen (Over 91.5 wins).

3) Baltimore Orioles - A surprise success. Keys: Vlad G., Adam Jones, pitching. (Over 76.5 wins).

4) Tampa Bay - Lost too much. The Keys: Manny, Damon, Shields (Under 84.5 wins).

5) Toronto - Just a bad team. Keys: Bautista and Ricky Romero (Under 76.5 wins).

AL CENTRAL (The up and coming division)
1) Minnesota- Mauer and Morneau need to stay healthy. Keys: Thome and Liriano (Over 85.5)

2) Detroit - Adding V. Martinez was huge. Keys: Cabrera (duh), Zumaya, Porcello (Over 84.5)

3) Chicago - Lotta Power, lotta K's? Keys: Dunn and Peavy (Under 85.5)

4) Cleveland - Yuck. Keys: Orlando Cabrera (winner), Choo, Fausto (Over 71.5)

5) Kansas City - Double Yuck. Keys: I have nothing. Poor Alex Gordon (Under 68.5)

AL WEST (The Most Mediocre)
1) Oakland - A roster of unknowns. Keys: Matsui's leadership of young talent (Over 83.5)

2) Angles - A team in limbo. Saving for Pujols? Keys: Trumbo and V. Wells ($$!) (Over 83.5)
3) Texas - A letdown year after losing some talent. Keys: Can Beltre fill in for Vlad? (Under 86.5)

4) Seattle - Triple Yuck. Keys: Can they get King Felix to pitch 81 games? 162?? (Over 70.5)

Wild Card: Yankees

AL MVP: Joe Mauer
Cy Young: CC Sabathia (again...)

(Note: I do not know enough about the NL to make any sort of reasonably knowledgeable comments. Honestly? It is pretty painful as you look at what Vegas expects from them.)

NL EAST (The Best division in the NL. Similar to being the tallest "small person" in the circus)

1) Philadelphia -  (Over 97.5)

2) Atlanta - (Over 87.5)

3) New York - (Over 77.5)

4) Florida - (Under 82.5)

5) Washington - (Over 72.5)

NL CENTRAL (The Second Best Division in the NL)

1) St. Louis - (Over 83.5)

2) Milwaukee - (Over 86.5)

3) Cincinnati - Under 85.5)

4) Chicago - (Over 81.5)

5)  Houston - (Over 72.5)

6) Pittsburgh  - (Over 66.5)

NL WEST (The Second Best division in the NL too..)

1) Giants -  (Over 87.5)

2) Dodgers - (Over 83.5)

3) Rockies - (Under 86.5)

4) San Diego - (Under 75.5)

5) Arizona - (Under 72.5)

NL MVP: Prince Fielder
Cy Young: Lincecum (Phillies Four steals votes from one another) 

Wild Card: Brewers 

World Series Matchup:
Red Sox over Phillies in 7

(O= Over and U=Under)

Red Sox (O)
Yankees (O)
Rays (U)
Orioles (U)
Blue Jays (U)

Twins (O)
White Sox (U)
Tigers (U)
Indians (O)
Royals (O)

Rangers (O)
A's (O)
Angels (U)
Mariners (U)

Phillies (U)
Braves (O)
Marlins (U)
Mets (U)
Nationals (U)

Reds (O)
Brewers (O)
Cardinals (O)
Cubs (U)
Astros (U)
Pirates (O)

Rockies (O)
Giants (U)
Dodgers (O)
Padres (U)
Diamondbacks (U)

AL MVP:  Josh Hamilton
AL CY YOUNG:  Jon Lester
NL MVP:  Joey Votto
NL CY YOUNG:  Roy Halladay

ALCS: Red Sox v. Yankees
NLCS: Phillies v. Braves
WORLD SERIES: Red Sox v. Braves
CHAMPS: Red Sox 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

 College Hoops Musings...

While watching all the college basketball this weekend I learned a lot. Here is a list of the things that stuck with me.

1) Billy Donovan lost the Butler game.
I was astounded at how the Gators finished both regular time and overtime. Billy Donovan had 30 seconds and a tie game to work with, and what does he do? He runs an isolation play for Walker, who was 1-10 shooting during the game and 1-7 from 3 point range. Walker got a pick and took a 21 foot jumpshot. Unreal. In overtime Florida came down with 10 seconds left and Walker hoisted a 23 foot three pointer with 8 seconds left.
Unquestionably, Billy Donovan is at fault for these decisions. My buddy Pat put it best, he wondered why every single team doesn't have one bread and butter play. You run it, it works, you score. If it doesn't work, at least you look like you had a prepared team.
Donovan threw his players under the bus a bit by saying that his players didn't get loose balls and missed shots. Florida should still be playing, or at least they should have had a coach who could draw up a play in a timeout rather than turning the end of the game into a pick-up game at your local YMCA.

Erving Walker cannot resist a "Hero Shot."

2) Players are hypnotized by the three point line.
College basketball games can turn on 3 point shooting. Just ask Kansas or VCU. Their game came down to the shots VCU hit from behind the arc the entire game. Jimmer Fredette at the end of the their loss to Florida just started chucking up threes. Sometimes I wonder if a lot of these players see the tournament as a huge tryout. They spend time thinking, "I can show off my range right now and shoot from 5 feet behind the line."
I think the 3 point line is great in college, it gives lesser teams a great chance at an upset and makes leads between 6 and 11 points so much smaller than they seem. However, I am shocked at how fixated a lot of players get on the line.

3) College basketball as a whole is declining.
I am no student of college basketball however when you look at the history of low seeds making deep runs it is getting more and more regular. The counter-point to my belief would be this, "college basketball has more parity, the talent is deeper. Making it possible for an 8 seed to make the Final Four."
I disagree with that. I think the game has taken a different turn. Here is my counter-point:
College basketball has two distinct levels now. One level is the "high level." This level consists of big conference teams. These teams make the money, these teams get the big recruits. These teams are coached by guys whose hair is greasy, can recruit well, and after they leave their wins will be vacated. The "low level" teams are different. They cannot go get big name recruits, they have to depend on grassroots and smart recruiting, values, and longevity (both players and coaches). They need a coach who is going to instill a program and depend on senior leadership. VCU and Butler are the poster children for those programs, Holy Cross is the anti-thesis (bitterness alert!)
How does this lead to a decline in college basketball? I think it is because players are leaving early, the top teams are not as talented, and the level of the "low level" has come up. They have a blueprint, they have patience. The "high level" teams have no patience. They need to win, they need to get players into the NBA.
Kentucky is currently playing UNC as I write this. They have three starting freshman and two sophomores. This is a year removed from a KU team blessed with three freshman who left for the NBA (John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe). There is no continuity, the "low level" teams have continuity and patience.

Overall, I have loved watching the tournament. It will be interesting to see if the potential lock-out keeps more players in college next year. Making a better overall product for a season.

Great 60 Minutes piece on Bobby Hurley's dad, the coach at St. Anthony's in Jersey City.
Nicholas Cage losing his mind... (credit to my buddy Pat).
Don't be a bully ...

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Madness can drive me mad!

March Madness is upon us, and I for one am stressed out. I cannot go anywhere without hearing about who the favorites are, who is this year's Cinderella, and who will be this year's flop?

The over saturation of March Madness is getting to be a little ridiculous. The only thing that is more ridiculous is seeing analysts who show up for these three weeks, throw silly upset picks against the wall, then pray that some of them will stick. I just saw some guy on SportsNation choose Oakland, Wofford, and Indiana State to beat Texas, BYU, and Syracuse respectively.

Hear is my issue with all this analyzing, you can choose upsets and claim that certain teams can shoot down a zone, or another team has a lottery pick prospect and we shouldn't ignore them.

I have not looked closely at the bracket yet. I am waiting for these four play-in games to get played before taking the leap into the abyss.

However, I would like to offer one piece of advice. Something that you should think seriously about while filling out your bracket: beware of teams who had to play their asses off to win a conference tournament. I am looking directly at UCONN right now. They played 5 games in 5 days this past week. These games, played late at night and all closely competed, can take a huge toll on a team. The Big East beats the crap out of each other, and UCONN took a big beating. Kemba Walker is great don't get me wrong. I am looking forward to watching him play, he seems to lift his game when the lights are brightest.

 Kemba is the key is UCONN's success...duh...

However, teams like PITT and Marquette (early exits in Big East Tournament) could go deep strictly because they are rested and still very talented.

Think about the logic, take it or leave it.

Good luck with your bracket, and remember, when it doubt pick the mascot who would win in a fight...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thoughts from a REAL hockey fan.

So, like I said last night, I am not a big hockey fan. My friend Pat is, and he took exception to some of what I had to say. I thought he said it well, and asked if I could share it. He said is it:

As a Boston fan and a Chara fan, I’m surprised that he wasn’t suspended. The NHL has consistently suspended people for their actions on the ice if they result in a devastaing injury (except for Matt Cooke hitting Marc Savard, but more on that later), as this clearly was. More so, this injury came on a penalty – not a penalty like Cooke boarding Fyedor Tyutin or head hunting Savard – but none the less a penalty, and if an injury occurs on a penalty then there should be a suspension of some kind. I was expecting no more than 2-3 games. That being said, I understand the NHL’s position, Chara was assessed nothing more than an interference and has no prior history of dirty play like some one like Cooke. Ray Shero, GM of the Penguins, said after Cooke’s four-game suspension for boarding Tyutin, “Cooke got 1 game for boarding, 1 game for not using his head, and 2 games for being Matt Cooke.” In the NHL your reputation precedes you, whether that’s fair or not isn’t the point. It’s just how it is.

After the game, Chara talked about how he pinched in at the same time Pacioretty jumped – as wingers are taught to do – to avoid the pinching d-man. These two combined to have disastrous and devastating results. This was only because of where those two men were on the ice at the time. Opposite side of the ice? Chara gets 2 minutes for interference and it’s over. It was a hockey play that happened at the wrong place on the ice. To try and get into what Chara was thinking as the play was happening or what motivations he had to hit Pacioretty at that time and place is both a waste of time and prose. There’s one person that knows what Chara was thinking and that’s Chara, and he’s not telling.

 In case you were wondering how many teeth Matt Cooke has...

The NHL has come to the same crossroads as the NFL. They are putting a product out for fans that is inherently dangerous. These men are being paid exorbitant sums (in both leagues) because they are being paid to be gladiators. They are paid to use up their bodies for our entertainment. Boston University just released the results of an autopsy on the brain of former enforcer Bob Probert, a 16-year NHL vet, and found that he had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy something similar too, if not the same as has been popping up in the brains of deceased NFLers, and the second case in an NHL player. (CTE is similar to Alzhiemers in that both inhibit the brain from functioning properly.) Both of these leagues need to look long and hard at the games they are playing, the equipment that they are using, and, in the NHL’s case, the arenas that they play in and how they contribute to the danger of the product that they put that they are selling.

Chara’s hit wasn’t dirty – even a friend who’s a Bruins hater agrees. Is it unfortunate? Of course, there’s not doubt that Max Pacioretty’s life will probably never be the same. Having watched Savard’s struggle over the last year, I can’t begin to imagine what lies ahead for Max Pacioretty. However, this is a league that doesn’t “act”, much like the NFL. They didn’t go out of their way to make sweeping rule changes to keep players from hitting the head until Cooke changed Savard’s hockey career, and more importantly, life for the worse. Part of the reason that Chara wasn’t suspended was due to the strict interpretation of the rules by Mike Murphy, the NHL’s Senior VP of operations. There was nothing in the rules that said Chara needed to be suspended beyond the game misconduct he already received. This is no different to the NHL and Colin Campbell deciding that Cooke’s hit on Savard last year merited no suspension. At the time there were no rule outlawing a hit to the head with one’s shoulder as the principle point of contact.  They “react” to incidents like Savard’s, like Pacioretty’s, and make changes to rules – and possibly rink design – based on what HAS happened, not what COULD happen. If the NHL was proactive and “acted” instead of “reacted” it’s possible the Marc Savard is still playing and Max Pacioretty’s head never hits that stanchion.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

My brief thoughts on Chara's hit.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a huge hockey fan. I never played it, I do not understand it. I understand how exciting it can be, however, I hate that the regular season is a tune-up for the playoffs.

Hockey has grabbed my attention in the past day due to the hit that Zdeno Chara put on Canadien Max Pacioretty. This hit intensifies the rivalry between these two franchises who are on a huge collision course in the playoffs.

A year ago Marc Savard was hit by Matt Cooke. This hit has damaged Savard forever. Not just his hockey career, but his quality of life has been severely altered. Matt Cooke is a dirty player, if you watch the hit he gets on Savard it is completely against flow of the play. It was a blatant head shot.

Chara's hit had same venom to it too. Chara is not a dirty player, and from what I have heard he is actually a guy who has not played as physical as his size would indicate. If you watch the hit, Chara finishes it. He puts his hands on Pacioretty's head and leads him into that pole.

I remember back in the days of playing NHL video games one of the big goals was to check an opponent over the boards, hit him so hard the glass breaks, or time a check so he runs into the glass just like Pacioretty did. Chara wanted to make that hit, I have no doubt about it. He knew what he was doing.

Can a "clean" hockey player make a dirty hit, yes. It seems like this Chara hit was a bit dirty. He finished the check, and if you look close enough his hands are on Pacioretty's head while it is on the post.

 Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara hits Montreal Canadiens Max Pacioretty into a glass stanchion during the second period of NHL hockey play in Montreal. According to media reports, Pacioretty suffered a broken vertebra and severe concussion on the play.

Between the game last month where there were hundreds of penalty minutes and this hit, there is no way that these two teams are not destined to meet in the playoffs.

Thats about all I can muster up for are some better links:

Canada is PISSED!
Canadians want to file charges against Chara.
Tony Mazz on the hit...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Trade Worth Making?

Trades have a funny way of effecting sports fans. Players that fans have watched, learned about, and cheered for can be ripped from our lives without warning. Sometimes trades can spark nostalgia, sometimes they create hope, and sometimes they are a sign of bad times ahead.

This week the NBA tradeline was met with more activity than I can ever imagine. The Celtics made a deal that literally came out of nowhere. The C's seemed pretty secure with their roster. They had injuries to deal with (Delonte West, Shaq, and Jermaine O'Neal), and they did not really have the depth or picks to try and make a move. Then Danny Ainge made a splash, a splash that a lot of people did not like. He dealt Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson for Nened Krstic and Jeff Green.

People did not like this trade for a number of reasons.

1) Fans genuinely liked "Perk." He was a guy who worked hard and seemingly made the most out of the talent he had. He was a big lumbering center who did the little things in order to help the Celtics become the success they are.

2) Game 7 last year made Perkins a massive commodity. Celtics fans believe that with Perk the C's would have closed out the Lakers in game 7. This conjecture is a big reason people did not like seeing Perkins shipped out. What I believe is that if the Celtics lost game 7 with a healthy Perk people would be less upset. Perkins' value went UP when his team lost without him.

3) Celtics fans know how close this team is. They seem to really like each other. The Association on ESPN has given fans a backstage look at the Celtics, and Perkins is a big reason the team is so close.

4) Fans reacted to the Celtics player's reaction to the trade. KG, Doc, and others were vocal about the loss of Perk to the Thunder. I guess nostalgia effects the players too.

Jeff Green in 2007. Danny saw something in him then too.

There were players in the Thunder locker room who were sad to see Jeff Green go. That team is renowned for its chemistry and college-like atmosphere. No one in Boston seems to really care, they want Perk back.

I was honestly happy about this trade. The first thought that went through my head was, wow, we get Jeff Green. He is good! Jeff Green is a really solid addition to this team. Nenad Krstic is a guy I know nothing about, I knew he was a center who could both rebound and play better offense than Perk.

Let's be honest about Perk for a moment...he was a big center without much offensive ability outside of 5 feet. Are you thinking, but he can play defense, really good defense! That is something we have to wait and see about. Frankly, I wonder how much Perk's defensive prowess is tied to the great defense that the Celtics play. People used to KILL Paul Pierce for his defense. He was a below-average defender, then in 2007 he is all of a sudden a guy who can guard Kobe in the Finals. Huh? Does that make sense? KG is the guy on defense who changes everything. Perk won't have KG anymore.

Will Perk be the defensive stopper that all the Celtics fans loved in Oklahoma City? Only time will tell. 

In the case of the Celtics, this trade and the other ones they made, were made with the belief that the NBA is changing a little bit. The Celtics lost to a "big and tall" Lakers team last year. They went and got Shaq and Jermaine to get bigger in the middle. Now as they look at the NBA landscape they see some different teams rising to the top. The Heat, Bulls, and Thunder are all a little smaller and a little quicker. Making trades to play against one team is foolish, making trades to compete with an entire league is smarter. 

This trade the Celtics made comes with improvements for both big teams and quick teams. The Celtics still have size Krstic, The O'Neals, KG, and Glenn Davis while they also added a piece that gives them some quickness to battle those teams that could "go small" against them in the playoffs.

Hopefully the C's have others who will mix it up with Noah and others.

That leaves the question. Will the O'Neals be healthy? That will be the key I think to this entire trade. Another thing to think about is if Perk is healthy. He is already sitting out 3 weeks with a sprained MCL. This is not the knee that was not injured last June. Perk's knees may have been a bigger issue than the Celtics had let on.

Watch Kendrick Perkins run up and down the floor, his knees are bound to give way at some point. He is 26 with knee problems. Krstic is a year older than Perk, and may offset the "big and tall" opponents by stretching the defense out.

Overall, I think this trade is something that is going to add to the Celtics for the right now and for the future. In my mind they added more talent, and in time both guys will fit into the Celtics. The C's cannot afford to bitch and moan too long, they have a Championship window that is closing quickly. Maybe this trade opened a new window, the post-Pierce, Allen, KG window.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

 Is Boredom Tiger's Biggest Downfall?

Have you ever been bored? I think we have all been bored at some point in our life. We can get bored with friends, our job, a TV show, a movie, a book, our family. When we get bored we usually do something about it. We change something that we are doing to kill our boredom. Some of these things may be more extreme than others. If I am sitting on my couch bored I can get up and go outside, I can change the channel, I can grab a magazine, I can go eat.

Bored effects us all. We all solve it differently.  I have thought more about Tiger Woods these past few weeks amidst his return to a regular golf schedule. I saw Sean Foley on The Golf Channel this winter and I had a spark of a thought. Does Tiger just simply get bored? With everything?

Tiger Woods
Tiger was fined for spitting in Dubai this past weekend...jokes anyone?

Look at his life and the trends we have seen. Tiger turns pro in 1996. He wins his first professional major, The Masters, by 12 shots. He is the "it" kid. Big smile, bigger talent, squeaky clean. He decided a hugely successful first season was not enough. He wanted to change his swing (something he would do twice more in the next decade). Tiger claims he changes his swing to get better. I think he gets bored and needs a new challenge.

After winning a handful of majors and tons of tournaments Tiger next decided to change his swing coach. Maybe he was sick of hearing Butch Harmon say the same thing over and over again (was that Elin's downfall?). He moved onto Hank Haney and won some more majors, dominating again after changing his swing. Now he is on his third coach and his fourth swing since he said, "hello world" 14 years ago.

Now lets look at Tiger's personal life. He was bored. Bored with married life. Bored with his gorgeous wife. He went out and found some women who could fix his boredom (isn't that what we do when we are bored? Fix it?). Tiger thought that this was an okay thing to do. I will believe nothing else, he thought it was okay because he was so cavalier about it.

Could Tiger have had the perfect life? Absolutely, he had the game, the money, the wife, the kids, the houses, the boats, and anything else he wanted. Which might have been the problem. He could get anything he wanted. And he did. He changed his swing, and he won. He changed his coach, and he won. He cheated on his wife, and he got away with it hundreds of times (hundreds!).

Boredom can be a dangerous thing. For Tiger it has set back his career 3 years, and judging by the way he is playing right now, he may have a longer way back than any of us really think. Time will tell I guess.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Big Ben thoughts and Super Bowl predicition.

Its Super Bowl time! I have avoided a lot of Super Bowl talk the past two weeks, mainly because I find the media somewhat insufferable during Super Bowl week. They throw out superlatives before anything has even been decided. Big Ben is now a hero, Aaron Rodgers is the Holy Son of Green Bay, blah, blah, blah.

This game has one massive storyline that I think has been completely ignored. Big Ben is not a year removed from a 6 games suspension for sexual assault. Now he has reached a point where he is a "redemption story." I wrote about Vick and Tiger and their silly redemption stories. Big Ben has admitted no wrong-doing. The only thing he has admitted to is that he has rediscovered his spirituality (by spirituality does he mean "penis?").

I think it is pathetic that Peter King has written an article about the Patriots Spygate this week. Picking a scab that is three years old. Do I value investigative journalism? Yes. Why write that article this week? Media members are pretty sackless sometimes. An article ripping Big Ben apart is a bad investment, because you may never get an interview or soundbite again. Ripping the Pats? Ripping Bill Bellichick is easy because he stonewalls everyone in the media anyway.

Big Ben is a sexual predator that can play football. He plays football very well. However, he is not being held to task for choices he made. Frankly, I think that is too bad. If the Steelers pull out this Super Bowl he will be forgiven for all his mistakes, he will do the Letterman, Leno, Conan circuit. Hell maybe he will shave his beard for charity again. What a guy.

Will Big Ben play like a champion on Sunday? Probably...ugh..

Anyway, on to the game...

It seems like the majority of people are taking the Packers. They like the way their offense matches up with the Steelers defense. People are comparing it to the Patriots offense that spread out the Steelers defense and picked them apart with short passing. This would neutralize the dynamic Pittsburgh linebackers if the Packers spread the field with a lot of receivers.

What do the Packers need do to win?

1) Get an early lead and do not take your foot off the gas peddle. The Packers have been a very solid team coming out of the gate. Their three wins in the playoffs were all proof of that. The Falcons were the only team they did not let back into the game. The Eagles and Bears both had chances at the end of the game, even though the Packers led by 10+ points late in both games. Mike McCarthy's play calling will be very important in this game.

2) Use the short passing game as a replacement for running the ball a lot. The Steelers defense is awesome against the run. They only allow 62 yards a game on the ground, first in the league. The Packers believe they have to run the ball a lot in order to win most games. For their sake, I hope they change that belief for this game.

3) Let Charles Woodson, BJ Raji, and Clay Matthews create plays on defense.  These guys are the key to winning the turnover battle. B.J Raji made a great play against the Bears, scoring a huge touchdown which at the time did not see like it was a touchdown they needed. In the end, it was extremely important. With the Steelers' star center out with an injury, Raji's play could swing this game. Big Ben is tough to bring down, but Raji may be the man for the job.

BJ Raji could be the key to this game.

What do the Steelers need do to win?

1) Run the football well early to open up the game. The Packers are 5th in passing defense, but 18th against the run. The Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall killed the Jets in the AFC Championship. He ran the ball early in the game, slowing down the game. The Steelers opening drive was 10 minutes long. The Steelers will have to run the ball to keep the explosive Packers offense off the field. 

2) Keep Big Ben "local." This is my new phrase for the pocket. Big Ben's skills are the best when he gets out of his neighborhood. He runs around and makes plays outside of the pocket. Keeping him local means he has to only use his arm to beat you. Once he uses his legs you are dead as a defense. He has receivers who know how to play with him. The Packers pass defense is very good, they need to treat Big Ben more like Mike Vick and less like Peyton Manning. Contain, contain, contain.

3) Bend but don't break. The Patriots have been famous for this. Let the opponent move the ball until they really really want to. When they get into 3rd down and the red zone the Steelers have to make stops. The Packers will move the ball on them, however the Steelers defense is well versed in making those important stops and forcing turnovers. The Steelers have to keep the Packers offense in front of them. No big plays, no silly touchdowns.

Will this be the scene on Sudnay? Tomlin is looking to become the youngest coach with 2 rings.

At the start of the playoffs I made a list of quarterbacks and coaches my buddy Pat and I believe in.  Here is the list again:

The quarterbacks we believe in:

Peyton Manning
Tom Brady
Big Ben
Aaron Rodgers
Drew Brees

Guys on the fence:

Mike Vick
Matt Ryan

Coaches we believe in:

Bill Bellichik
Mike Tomlin
Sean Payton

On the fence:

Jim Harbaugh
Andy Reid
Mike McCarthy
Rex Ryan

Big Ben, Aaron Rodgers, and Mike Tomlin all made our cut. Mike McCarthy, even after three road wins is still on our fence. His game management makes me nervous.

The Steelers have the experience, they have the QB/coach combo, and they have the toughness. At the beginning of the playoffs I choose the Packers and Pats to meet in the Super Bowl with the Pats winning.

Now I am faced with a Steelers or Packers decision. The Steelers seem like they have the players who can tilt the balance and win a close game down the stretch. Their experience at quarterback and coach is a huge advantage. Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback, but he is surrounded by a team of first-timers, in the end that will end up being the different. And trust me, it kills me to say it.

Prediction (7-3 in playoffs)

Steelers 27 - Packers 21
MVP: Big Ben

Enjoy the game...


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Trouble with loudmouths... 

The world has become smaller, much smaller. Information from across the globe can find us in seconds. Bombs in Moscow, shootings in Tucson, a State of the Union in D.C. All of these things would have taken hours to reach us not even ten years ago. It would have taken days a century ago. We are now in an era where information cannot travel any faster. We are swarmed by people's opinions, facts, humor, satire, and everything in between.

As an educator this can be a challenge. Kids are wired in a lot in their down time. Taking in positive and negative information. Things happen faster. It's what they expect. Instant access, in some cases, without an hard work.

As an educator I sometimes find myself frustrated with the outside world, frustrated because what I try to do with my fourth graders everyday is so easily offset by a stupid lyric in a song on the radio, or a chain email that they receive, or a bad joke on TV that they do not understand but have no problem repeating. 

As a society we have moved towards less restrictions, or at least we have moved towards easier access. A lot of what is out there now was out there before, now it is easier to find, and kids in some cases are more savvy than their parents. Making it hard to control what goes on every hour of every day. I do not envy parents one bit in the this day and age.

Across the country we have heard about students killing themselves because they are being bullied by peers. Now that people are constantly plugged-in there is no escape, no one to run to. It is not just in school, but it is on-line. Facebook, twitter, and email are ways for tormentors to make their target's life a living hell. So much so that it drives some kids to suicide.

This past weekend in the NFC Championship game Jay Cutler called it quits, he decided his knee was in too much pain and he could not play. I am not going to waste my time judging him for that decision. That is all his, he can own it or regret it, I honestly do not care.

What I do care about is the treatment and reaction by some of Cutler's peers, especially the reactions on twitter. These reactions are out there for all to see, and also for all to spread around. These are the moments in my life where I feel like my teaching in the class is balanced out by the stupidity of people outside of the school where I teach. 

 Raheem Brock Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears is driven to the ground after throwing by Raheem Brock #98 of the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field on October 17, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Seahawks defeated the Bears 23-20.
 Raheem Brock getting to know Jay Cutler...
Raheem Brock, a guy whose team, the Seattle Seahawks, was crushed by Cutler and the Bears one week ago, decided to tweet while watching the game on Sunday afternoon. While watching the game he decided to attack Cutler. Here are the two tweets that stood out to me as I waded through the crap he has tweeted since Sunday afternoon:

"Cutler u little does it feel that ur back up's backup is the only 1that can put pts on the board!I bet cutler comes back now!"

"Cutler...wut a sissy! This is the NFC Championship game! Guaranteed if it was brett farve..he would still be in the game!"

These two tweets are calling out Cutler's manhood, calling him a sissy. Now do I understand that Raheem Brock and Jay Cutler are grown men? Yes. Does Brock realize that anyone can read what he writes? Maybe not.

Maurice Jones-Drew threw in a jab at Urban Meyer in his tweet. Urban Meyer is a guy who just retired from coaching at Florida due to medical issues. Here was Jones-Drew's thoughts when Cutler went down.

"the urban meyer rule is effect right now... When the going gets tough........QUIT."

Jones-Drew said that his comments were taken out of context (can you take a tweet out of context?). He said he was joking and did not know that Cutler was hurt. However, if you look at his tweet feed there are comments about Todd Collins being in the game before he tweeted about quitting. Then he  the next day he sent this tweet out, which in my eyes is another another dig at Cutler.

"Don't worry tweeps me and physical therapist mike ryan are hard at work and he keeps telling me don't QUIT...."

Jones-Drew missed the last two games with a knee injury. The Jaguars were in the playoff hunt. 

As athletes these two guys need to realize their effect on others, especially kids. This type of tweebuse (does that work as a word?) is reprehensible. If a student wrote something like this on someone's Facebook Wall or in an email they would have to answer to a teacher or administrator, and at some point the police. Cyber-bullying, or any kind of bullying needs to be done over the course of time. One act of unkindness does not make a bully. However, when Brock and Jones-Drew are calling Cutler names it opens it up to others, mainly kids, who think that they can do it too. 

Educating kids in this time period is a give and take. We have things that the kids are going to learn from outside sources. Sources more powerful than teachers and administrators. Some of these things are very positive and some are very negative. Are all athletes role-models? No, not even close. But I think when athletes put themselves and their opinions on the internet calling people sissys and attacking them in a large public forum, well then they do become a form of role-model.

Who knows, maybe this will launch Cutler into "redemption mode." Big Ben is about to cash his redemption check... someone has to be next.



Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Final Four...

I find myself sad this week. Sad that I do not have a football team in the race anymore. Sad that other people still do. Jealous as hell that co-workers who root for the Steelers, Jets, Packers, and Bears can all settle into Sundays game with a genuine rooting interest. I don't have one, and it stings. The thing that hurts the most is I should, if the Pats showed up to play or if the Jets made one stinking mistake last weekend the Steelers would be coming to Foxboro. Ugh...

Anyway, onto the Conference Championship predictions.

NFC Championship Game 
Green Bay Packers AT Chicago Bears (+3.5)
3:00PM Eastern

The Packers are the hot favorite in this game. They demolished the best team in the NFC last weekend in Atlanta. They go on the road for a third straight week to frigid Chicago.

What do the Bears have to do to win?
The Bears have a few things that they need to do really well to win this game.

1) Get Devon Hester the ball. This means creating times on offense where he may get the ball in open spaces, however, it also means forcing the Packers to punt from spots on the field where Hester can get the ball. Hester has the ability to change a game in one play.

2) Make James Starks and the Packers running game beat you. Aaron Rodgers is on fire right now. Before the season he was one of two guys I invested in to win the MVP. The other? Tom Brady (Tooting my own horn....). If the Bears can make the Packers run the ball it could be a long day for the Packers. Who knows, the Bears might be taking a page out of the Jets playbook this week and playing a ton of coverage and hoping Peppers and the others on the front line can get to Rodgers.

3) The offense needs to remain balanced. The Bears' Matt Forte is a very good runner. He is explosive and can catch the ball out of the backfield. Him and Walter Peyton are only Bears players to ever have 500 yards receiving and 1000 yards rushing. Greg Olsen had a great game against the Seahawks, however, the Green Bay linebacking corps and secondary are much stronger than the Seahawks. They were terrible in that game. Jay Culter needs to find all his targets and of course he needs to continue taking care of the ball. He is much improved in that category the last two months of the year.

What do the Packers have to do to win?

1) Play great defense. In their week 17 battle the Packers allowed 3 points to the Bears in a 10-3 win. It was a game that was unimportant to Chicago but important to the Packers. The irony of that game is that if the Bears had won the Giants would have made it into the playoffs instead of the Packers. The Packers defense is turning the ball over and they may have the best young defender (Clay Matthews Jr.) and also the best old defender (Charles Woodson). These guys are reeking havoc. B.J. Raji is dominating the middle of the line, taking double teams and allowing Mathews and A.J. Hawk to run around and make plays. This defense is stout, and they will need to make Chicago one dimensional on Sunday. If they do that I think they win big.

2) Run, run, run. James Starks didn't need to have a big game last week. The Packers passing offense was great and the fact that they had short fields and a big lead put no pressure on him to perform. He did have 25 carries and only gained 66. A measly 2.8 yards per carry will not do it against Urlacher and company on Sunday.

Just a great picture....

3) Win the kicking game. Obviously Hester is dangerous, however, kicking field goals could be huge in this game. We saw Nick Folk miss a kick early in the Pats-Jets game last week. Early missed field goals can have a big effect on a team's momentum. Kicking to Hester is a no-no. I still don't understand why you don't kick it out of bounds. He averaged 17.1 yards per punt return. That means he turns a 45 yards punt in a 28 yard punt. Punt the ball 38 yards out of bounds. Its a no brainer.

I think overall the things the Packers have to do and also the things the Packers need to have happen are more likely.

Prediction: Green Bay 27- Chicago 22

AFC Championship Game
New York Jets AT Pittsburgh Steelers (-4)
6:00 PM Eastern

After a big win over the Pats last week full of trash-talk the Jets this week have taken a completely different tact. They are complementing the Steelers every chance they get. Talking about how much they admire Big Ben and how the Steelers are a fantastic football team. Did Roger Goodell play a Jedi mind trick on the Jets? Personally, (warning: Bitter Pats fan bubbling to the surface) I think part of the Jets sweetness this week is one last slap at the Pats. After calling Brady an asshole and ranting about how disrespectful the Pats are now they are treating the Steelers like they are God's gift to the NFL. I know this is all a game played through the media. I just think it is interesting that all of a sudden the trash-talking Jets are giving the Steelers a little reach around.

What do the Steelers have to do to win the game?

1) Protect Big Ben for the love of God! The Jets defense proved it could get to Brady through disguising coverages and dropping 7 and 8 guys into coverage. Making it hard for Brady to find players quickly. Big Ben is a MUCH better quarterback when a play runs "off-schedule." He is massive and very hard to take down. Big Ben can get rattled though, and I think the Jets are a better team than the Ravens. That Ravens team had a 14 points halftime lead. They were swarming in the first half against the Steelers. The Jets this week might do what they did to the Pats and Colts, sit back and cover as best they can. Or they might end up blitzing the hell out of them and letting Comartie and Revis play man-to-man all evening.

2) Keep the crowd in the game. The Jets are on the road for the third straight game. They have quieted two crowds. Do not let them do it a third time. Heinz Field was a morgue at halftime of the Ravens game. However, that third quarter turnaround made it impossible for the Ravens to function at all. Sanchez is slowly turning into a quarterback we can believe in. His throws great passes late in games and his ability to move in the pocket is outstanding. Having a frenzied crowd will make his job harder on Sunday.

3) Test the Jets secondary. The Pats did not do this enough on Sunday. The Steelers have Mike Wallace who can get behind a defense and stretch them out. They will need to do this to keep the Jets honest. It could be the kind of game where the Steelers come out right away and throw a deep pass. It could change the complexion of the game entirely.

What do the Jets have to do to win?

1) Get the ball to their playmakers. A lot of people talk about the Jets and mention the last minute wins they had against weak opponents this year: Lions, Browns, and Texans. However, they won all those games. They won them because Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards had huge catches. The Steelers cornerbacks are going to be overmatched with these guys on the outside. Polamalu will be busy watching Dustin Keller all afternoon.

2) Do not let Harrison, Farrior, Timmons, and Woodley effect the game. These guys are all great linebackers. They rush the passer, they can cover, and they hit people hard. When you beat the Steelers you neutralize their linebackers. Play action passing and counter running plays will slow down their reaction time.

3) Make sure to score in red zone. I do not trust Nick Folk. Heinz Field is one of the toughest places to kick in the league. This game is going to be close. The Jets need to make sure they get all the points they can. Kicking field goals will be risky business and could cost them a chance at a Super Bowl birth.

The Jets last week said the Pats game was the second most important game in franchise history, only behind the Super Bowl III. How does a team now get up for what is no doubt the second most important game of its franchise's history. The build up for that Pats game was huge. One has to wonder if they blew their load a little bit early. They were flawless last week, outstanding. Their gameplan caught the Pats off guard and it was masterful.

If Rex Ryan can pull this off with this team he deserves all the praise he will undoubtedly receive. However, I think the combination of another road game after a huge game against the Pats will end up catching up them. As Rex Ryan said, "Same old Jets." Yep Rex, same old Jets, losing before they can satisfy its fan base.

Prediction: Steelers 24 - Jets 19