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.