Monday, November 30, 2009

To Sir, With Hate

Sports is filled with haters.  To name a few...

  • Patriots Haters.  Did you see how many people piled on to rip Bill Belichick after his failed 4th and 2 gamble vs. Indy?  It was the same crew of folks who all smiled widely (or created t-shirts) when Bernard Pollard submarined Tom Brady's 2008 season.  These include Wes Welker Haters (a growing club).
  • Cowboys Haters.  There are only four guys currently in this category - Tony Romo, Jerry Jones, Wade Phillips, and Jason Garrett.  (Cowboys Haters have great respect for Jason Witten, Marion Barber III, Felix Jones, and DeMarcus Ware.)
  • Lakers Haters.  Made up mainly of Kobe Bryant Haters and Phil Jackson Haters.
  • LeBron James Haters.
  • Sidney Crosby Haters.
  • Yankees Haters.
  • Red Sox Haters.
  • Duke Haters.

Why the hate?

Pick any of the following choices.  You may select more than one if you'd like.

1)  They're good.
2)  They're not as good as they think they are.
3)  They're arrogant, whether they're good or not.
4)  Their fans are insufferably obnoxious (and maybe bandwagoners, too).
5)  They're overhyped and over-covered by the media, specifically ESPN.

I bring all of this up because overhyped, over-covered, underachieving Notre Dame fired arrogant Charlie Weis today.  Happy Schadenfreude Monday!

My 2010 Hall of Fame Ballot

Tim Raines.
Barry Larkin.
Roberto Alomar.
Bert Blyleven.
Alan Trammell.

Feel free to try to convince me of Edgar Martinez or Fred McGriff.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Vote of Confidence for Jason Campbell

That's it.  Just wanted to put it out there because I know there are a lot of Redskins fans who are anti-Jason right now.  From what I saw today against the Eagles and from what I've seen all season, I remain a Jason Campbell fan.  He has heart, he has talent, he has moxie.

He just doesn't have an offensive line.

That's No Way to Lose a Championship

Yes, I know that everyone's talking about Tiger Woods' accident.

Forget that.

The 97th Grey Cup was held on Sunday, the Canadian Football League Championship, pitting the Montreal Alouettes against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

It was the perfect match-up of powerhouse vs. underdog.

Montreal stormed their way to a dominant 15-3 record, going undefeated in nine home games.  Quarterback Anthony Calvillo, the 2009 CFL Most Outstanding Player, completed 72% of his passes while pacing the league with 26 touchdowns and tossing only six interceptions.  Tailback Avon Coburne rushed for 1,214 yards with a league-leading led the league with 13 rushing touchdowns.  Three different Alouettes notched at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards receiving, led by Ben Cahoon's league-high 89 catches.  On the other side of the line of scrimmage, defensive end John Bowman tied for the league lead with 12 of Montreal's 42 sacks.

You get the picture.  The Alouettes were the best.  Their offense was the best.  Their defense was the best.  Their special teams unit was the best.  They won games by scores of 50-16, 25-0, 39-12, 42-8, 48-13, and 42-17.  They advanced to the Grey Cup Championship by obliterating British Columbia, 56-18.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders finished the regular season with a 10-7-1 record to nose out Calgary for the West Division title.  In the words of ESPN's Steve Berthiaume, "[T]he Roughriders are the CFL's version of the Green Bay Packers. They are one of North America's few publicly-owned sports companies, just like the Packers. They wear green, they represent a Province of very cold farmers who LOVE their team. They are Rider Nation and they're all about Rider Pride."

The Roughriders had faced the Alouettes twice during the season and were defeated in both games, 43-10 and 34-25.  They earned their third crack at the Als by knocking off Calgary, 27-17, in the CFL Playoff Finals.

There's your background.  It should be mentioned, too, that Saskatchewan was going for their second championship in three years while Montreal had gone 1-5 in the Grey Cup since 2000 (including four consecutive disappointments).  This would be the 17th Grey Cup for both franchises.

The game is played before a sellout crowd of 46,020 at Calgary's McMahon Stadium, a crowd that's greatly tilted in favor of the Riders.  The men in green ride that partisan support to a surprising 17-3 lead at intermission, the least amount of first half points all season for Montreal.

The lead is 27-11 in the fourth quarter after a 16-yard touchdown run from Riders quarterback Darian Durant.  10 minutes remain in the game.

Montreal fights back.  Coburne supplies a rushing score from three yards out with the two-point conversion tacked on afterward to carve the deficit to 27-19.  A Durant interception gives the Als the ball back, and Calvillo takes advantage with a touchdown pass to Cahoon.

With 51 seconds left, the Alouettes force a Riders punt.

Louie Sakoda booms a 59-yard kick that bounces dangerously off the hands of returner Brian Bratton, but teammate Etienne Boulay recovers the ball to avert disaster.  Anthony Calvillo leads his offense out to the field, the drive starting at his own 34 yard line with 40 seconds on the clock.

Cue the drama.

On 1st down, the Als signal-caller is flushed from the pocket and heaves an incompletion down the middle of the field.  31 seconds left.  On 2nd down, Jamel Richardson comes open over the middle, taking a Calvillo delivery and sprinting to the Roughriders' 54 yard line.  24 seconds left.  Again Calvillo is forced out of the pocket by Saskatchewan; his pass to Bratton is low and ruled incomplete, the "Command Centre" (video replay booth) reviewing the play and agreeing with the call on the field.  10 seconds left.  Calvillo stays cool under pressure, finding Kerry Watkins over the middle on a 18-yard pass.

5 seconds left.

It's a no-brainer for Montreal.  The Alouettes call on the CFL's top kicker, Damon Duval, to attempt a game-winner at the horn.  But the kick isn't even close, wide right and then some.  A joyous green frenzy erupts on the sideline and the field and the stands...

Wait a moment.  Flag on the play.

Unbelievably, on the biggest play of the season, Saskatchewan is called for having too many men on the field.

Given a second chance, Duval splits the uprights perfectly.  Montreal wins the Gray Cup, 28-27.

Man oh man.

The Heisman Short List

QB Colt McCoy, Texas
RB Toby Gerhart, Stanford
DT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
WR Golden Tate, Notre Dame

Those are my guys right now, heading into the conference championship games next week.  I know no one else is talking about Golden Tate, but I haven't seen anyone cover him yet this year.  He's legitimately outstanding just like the other three men above.

Speaking of conference championships, next week's ACC Conference Championship Game will pit Clemson against Georgia Tech.  How did those schools prepare for next week?  They both lost to a second-rate SEC squad, Clemson falling to South Carolina and Georgia Tech falling to Georgia.  Way to go, ACC.  Thank goodness it's basketball season.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Parity, You Say?

The NFL's supposed to be the league with the parity, right?

Count 'em up:

There are five ridiculously awful teams in the NFL - the Detroit Lions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cleveland Browns, the St. Louis Rams, and Oakland Raiders.  There are four generally awful teams - the Washington Redskins, the Seattle Seahawks, the Buffalo Bills, and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Want to know how many are in the NHL?  Two.  The Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple Leafs.  That's it.

Just sayin'.

By the way, have you checked out what's going on in the NBA?  The New Jersey Nets are 0-16.  The Minnesota Timberwolves are 1-15, thanks to a win against New Jersey.  This could get entertaining down the road.  (In case you were wondering, there is one more game between the two teams, on December 23 in scenic New Jersey.)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Wait for it...

Last night, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 175 yards and another touchdown, helping the Longhorns outscore rival Texas A&M, 49-39.  Today, the case is being made by numerous sports pundits -- and my brother:  McCoy wrapped up the Heisman Trophy with the victory yesterday.

They may very well be right.

They shouldn't be.

This was the same Aggies team that lost 47-19 to Arkansas, 62-14 to Kansas State, and 65-10 to Oklahoma, the same Aggies team that gave up four touchdown passes to the Razorbacks' Ryan Mallett and five scores (and 392 passing yards) to the Sooners' Landry Jones.

Meanwhile, on the very same field that McCoy was seemingly padding his Heisman resume, Texas A&M signal-caller Jerrod Johnson threw for 342 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 97 yards against one of the nation's top defenses.  That's impressive.  The Longhorns had been brilliant all year defensively, allowing 14 points or less in eight of their 12 games.  Johnson carved them up with ease.  It was a star-making performance on national television.

Back to the Heisman debate:  If Mark Ingram goes out today and runs over the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl, it will have equaled McCoy's performance -- a star player carrying his team to victory over a motivated archrival.  (UPDATE:  He didn't.)  Same if Tim Tebow works over the Florida State Seminoles.  (UPDATE:  He did.)

These aren't the last games of the regular season for any of the triad.  Next week, it's the conference championship games.  If Colt McCoy continues to excel, especially compared to the other two, then hand him the Heisman Trophy.

But wait 'til the regular season's over first.

And, just for the heck of it, give Toby Gerhart some consideration, too.  (UPDATE:  205 yards against Notre Dame on national television?  Toby's in the conversation now.)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Turkey of a Tradition

The question is raised as regularly as the Vince Lombardi Trophy -- once a year, the same time every year.  Should the NFL schedule host teams other than the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving?

The problem isn't a matter of disagreeing with tradition.  The problem is the Detroit Lions.

The Lions fell to the Green Bay Packers in a 34-12 laugher on Thursday, not that their long-suffering fans were laughing any.  Detroit has now eight of its last nine Turkey Day affairs, the last six by the embarrassing combined score of 213-64 (an average defeat of 36-11).

Do whatever you want with the Cowboys.  Keep them on Thanksgiving.  Let them take a year off.  It doesn't matter.

Bench the Lions.

Watching football on Thanksgiving is only as fun as the game being watched.  You've heard the old line about pizza, that even when it's bad it's still good?  That's not the NFL.  When pro football is bad, whether because of poor play or on-field mismatch, it's not good.  It's bad.

Would Lions fans be upset about losing their Thanksgiving Day game?  It doesn't matter.  They'll get to play again on Turkey Day when they get back to being competitive.  With Jim Schwartz and Matthew Stafford, maybe those days aren't too far away.  For now?  I'd rather see good football this holiday.

Doesn't look like the Cowboys/Raiders match-up will redeem the afternoon, either.

Omir Santos?

One of the greatest things about collecting Topps baseball cards while growing up was seeing the All-Star Rookie trophy on the cards of the standout young stars from the past season.  Pretty impressive, right?  How about this one?  The trophy became a little more inconspicuous as time passed, but it was still evident to a young fan that the player pictured on the card was one to watch.

The 51st Annual Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team was announced yesterday.  Here they are:

Catcher - Omir Santos, Mets
First Base - Travis Ishikawa, Giants
Second Base - Chris Getz, White Sox
Third Base - Gordon Beckham, White Sox
Shortstop - Elvis Andrus, Rangers
Outfield - Chris Coghlan, Marlins
Outfield - Andrew McCutcheon, Pirates
Outfield - Nolan Reimold, Orioles
Right-Handed Pitcher - Tommy Hanson, Braves
Left-Handed Pitcher - J.A. Happ, Phillies

Whoa.

Where's Andrew Bailey of the Athletics?  He was the American League Rookie of the Year, right?  But, true, deciding on the pitchers was tough this year.  Brett Anderson, Randy Wells, Rick Porcello, and Jeff Niemann all have arguments.

What argument does Omir Santos have?  Orioles catcher Matt Wieters had more at-bats, more runs scored, more hits, more home runs, more RBI, a better batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.  Really now, Omir Santos?

How about Pirates outfielder Garrett Jones?  This story on the release of the All-Star Team lauds the Orioles' Reimold for pacing "AL rookies with 15 homers while adding a .279 batting average." In only 82 games, Jones batted .293, slugged 21 home runs, drove in 44 runs, and notched a .938 OPS.  Those are All-Star Rookie numbers.

The rest of the guys, hey, no further complaints.  They earned their spots.  Considering that Andrew Bailey's already received his trophy and Matt Wieters probably won't be lacking for trophies by the end of his career, we can now let the subject drop.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

True Warriors

The game of the night last night was in Dallas, Texas, where the Mavericks had their five-game winning streak snapped in a 111-103 loss to Monta Ellis, Anthony Morrow, Vladimir Radmanovich, Stephen Curry, Mikki Moore, and Anthony Randolph.

And... that's it.

It was the first time since 1982 that a pro hoops squad, in this case the Golden State Warriors, played only six players.

Golden State did not choose purposefully to play shorthanded against one of the top teams in the NBA.  The team found themselves short six players due to injury or illness.  Head coach Don Nelson missed the game, too; he was dealing with pneumonia.

So what did Golden State do?  They signed Chris Hunter from the D-League to give them the minimum of eight players in uniform in order to avoid a forfeit.

Then the Warriors lived up to their monicker.

Ellis (37 points, 8 assists), Morrow (27 points, 9 rebounds), and Radmanovich (14 points, 12 rebounds) all played the full 48 minutes.  The last time three teammates played the full monty?  1952.  Meanwhile, Curry, Moore, and Randolph each played at least 30 minutes.

It should be mentioned that the Southwest Division-leading Mavs were not exactly at full strength themselves, missing starters Shawn Marion, Erick Dampier, and Josh Howard due to injury and losing Quinton Ross for the entirety of the second half due to a tight lower back.  Still, not much of a comparison to what the Warriors battled through.

Golden State's next game?  Tonight, against the professional, powerful San Antonio Spurs.

This is the way of professional sports.  No sympathy, no let-up, no quarter.  What is good today may go sour tomorrow.

Still, there will forever be those brief moments when determination triumphs and inspiration takes root, available on a daily basis if you only know where to look.

Here's to You, Abe Pollin

I wonder how many Beltway outsiders, yes, and Beltway insiders too, understand just how much Abe Pollin meant to Washington, D.C.

Here are brilliant memoriams from Mike WiseMike WilbonColbert King, and John Feinstein, as well as a collection of statements in tribute to Mr. Pollin.

Yitgadal v'yitgadash sh'mei rabah...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Make the MLB MVP More Valuable

The process to determine a Heisman Trophy winner is flawed. It'd be nice if the winner need only be the very best football player in the country, but that's not the way it works.  Really, the winner needs to 1) be on one of the very best teams in the country, and 2) have a vast amount of hype at his back.

It doesn't help that the Trophy is awarded before the bowl season is played, allowing the Heisman Trophy winner to fall on his face in the biggest game of the year (see: Jason White, 2003; Troy Smith, 2006) and thus devalue the award's significance.

But it's still a more meaningful award than Major League Baseball's Most Valuable Player.  So are the NBA's Most Valuable Player award, the NFL's Most Valuable Player award and the NHL's Hart Trophy, given to the player judged to be most valuable to his team.

As a matter of fact, all of MLB's postseason awards feel trivial when compared to the other sports. Whatever MVP argument or controversy is stirred up, it is amongst the fanatics and scribes attached to the game, never amongst casual fans.

Why?

Because the awards are all split.

National League Rookie of the Year. American League ROY.
National League Cy Young. American League Cy Young.
National League MVP. American League MVP.

Want to drive up the interest in baseball once the season has ended? Make super-awards. Get people arguing about who was the better pitcher, Zack Greinke or any NL'er. Who was the better player, Joe Mauer or Albert Pujols?

Hey, you could keep separate league MVP awards for "valuable" guys (whatever your definition may be) and create an overriding Willie Mays Award for Best Player of the Season, regardless of league.

Then announce all the awards at once in a formal presentation on one of the large sports networks. Bring all the top candidates and turn it into a Heisman Trophy sort of presentation.

With a suited Mauer and Pujols sitting next to each other in the front row and, say, Cal Ripken opening up the envelope and declaring the 2009 Mays Award Winner, I know I wouldn't be the only one watching.