Thursday, February 18, 2010

With Regard to the Olympics

There is a tendency for those who denigrate the Olympics to talk about how the athletes are unknown, so why should they care?

Who do they know?  Apolo Ohno.  Shaun White.  Lindsey Jacobellis.  Lindsey Vonn.  Johnny Weir.

Why do they know those names?  They're familiar from past Olympics.

Fine.  No reason to know athletes you've never seen compete yet, but that shouldn't stop a fan of a sport from watching.  A fan of a sport cares because of her or his love for that sport, especially when performed at a high level.  The Olympics doesn't showcase stars as much as it creates stars.

There also seems a feeling that an Olympics fan is different from an NFL fan, who is different from an NBA fan, who is different from a NASCAR fan.

I say, show a fan, a sports fan, a true competitive moment at its most climactic moment, at its pinnacle, and that sports fan will take five minutes and watch.

It's the reason sports fans all pay attention to the Kentucky Derby, regardless of whether they care a thing about horseracing for the rest of the year.  It's about sport at its most meaningful and dramatic.

That's compelling television.

So is a short track speedskating final.

Trust me, if it's good, I'll learn the names I need to know.

Feel it?

Baseball's back.

There's snow on the ground throughout the nation, amidst a winter that has seen the white stuff fall in each and every state.  The groundhog in Pennsylvania saw his shadow.

But baseball, that yearly bringer of hope and warm weather, is back.

Pitchers and catchers have reported to training camp, position players shortly to follow.

It's a wonderful thing.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Big Deal

Yes, I know.  A "huge" sports weekend.

Dayton 500.  Olympics.  NBA All-Star Weekend.  Pebble Beach Pro-Am.  College Hoops.

This wasn't a great sports weekend.  It wasn't even close.

The highlight of Daytona:  A pothole.

The highlight of the NBA weekend:  108,000 fans.  Certainly not anything that took place on the court.

I didn't watch golf or college hoops (not including a disastrous Maryland loss at Duke).

The Olympics is another matter.  After a dud torch-lighting ceremony, the Olympics rocked this opening weekend.  Rocked it.

Top 3 moments already:

1)  Apolo Ohno and 19-year-old J.R. Celski medal after a wild finish on the final lap of the 1500 speedskating.  Korea was set to sweep the medals before a wild passing attempt by Lee Ho-Suk wiped out both himself and Sung Si-Bak and lifted the Americans to the silver and bronze.

2)  Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau seizes his country's first home gold medal in three Olympics in men's moguls, upsetting arrogant defending champ (and Canadian-turned-Australian) Dale Begg-Smith.

3)  20-year-old German Felix Hoch, son of the national team coach, rocks luge with a dominant gold medal performance, blowing away the favorites.

Awesomeness.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Alex Ovechkin "is an Android"

Yes, the Caps had their winning streak stopped.

It doesn't matter.  Not when Alex Ovechkin is doing things like this.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Overcoming the Football Hangover

The Super Bowl, against the better wishes of the football-mad members of the population, officially concludes pigskin season until next Autumn.  April does provide a brief revival in the form of the NFL Draft, but that's it.

This is the time of year, therefore, when sports fans brush off the tortilla chips from their laps, get up from their couches, stretch their legs, and then collapse right back down onto the couch to catch up with what's been happening in all of the other sports.

Here's a brief summary:

The Winter Olympics starts on Friday in Vancouver with a geography lesson doubling as a fashion show.

Danica Patrick is now driving in both indy cars and NASCAR.  The Daytona 500 is coming up, thereby climaxing the NASCAR season good and early.

There is only one good team in Women's College Basketball, the Connecticut Huskies.

There are only two good teams in Men's College Basketball, the Kentucky Wildcats and Kansas Jayhawks.  The rest of the contenders are entirely from the Big East and the Big Ten; the ACC and Pac-10 decided not to field teams this year.  Even so, the NCAA is increasing its National Tournament to 96 teams, possibly by allowing every single Big East team to enter.

Major League Baseball is still two months away.  Hopefully it stops snowing by then.

Rectifying last year's uninteresting unfixed Finals, the NBA has figured things out for this year so that LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are on the best teams in the league.

To the NHL's horror, the Maple Leafs, Rangers, Red Wings, and Oilers all stink while teams in San Jose, Washington, and New Jersey reign supreme.  On the bright side, Sidney Crosby is on NBC every Sunday.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The First Classic Game on Sunday

As good as the Super Bowl was -- and it really was an excellent game -- it paled in tension, drama, and atmosphere to the battle between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins from Verizon Center in snow-besieged D.C.

To extend their team-record winning streak to 14 games, the Caps shrugged off two goals by Sidney Crosby in the first ten minutes, erased a 5-on-3 power play to open the third period, wiped out a 4-1 lead, killed a power play in the last few minutes of regulation, and rode Alex Ovechkin's hat trick and overtime assist to a 5-4 sudden-death triumph.

It was phenomenal.

Let it be known that the Caps and Pens have had one of the best rivalries in the NHL since the 1990s when the two teams met in the playoffs in five separate seasons (1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996).  The current enmity is miles above what any of Washingtonians felt in the 1990s, and now we've got the folks in Pittsburgh (and their wonderful anti-Ovechkin hate) along for the ride.

In Washington, New Jersey, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh, there are four top teams in the Eastern Conference right now, with Ottawa certainly putting on a push to add a fifth.

If the Caps want to make the Stanley Cup Finals, it may very well be the Devils, the Sens, or the Sabres standing in the way.

But it would be all the sweeter if it was the the defending champions in Pittsburgh.

Omar Vizquel is not Luis Aparicio... or Ozzie Smith

The White Sox are unretiring Luis Aparicio's jersey (#11) and giving it to Omar Vizquel.  Both of them are shortstops.  Both are Venezuelan.  It's a terrific gesture.

But there's one thing that Aparicio is that Vizquel is not.

A Hall of Famer.

Read this article by Rich Lederer for a better understanding of why Vizquel doesn't belong in Cooperstown.  (In short, his hitting was poor and his fielding is overrated.  There are many more deserving shortstops.)

Vizquel is going to get major support, I know.  After all, he has 11 Gold Gloves.  (As Rob Neyer once wrote, "He even deserved some of them.")  It will be argued, too, that he was the Ozzie Smith of the National League, except with better stats in every category except stolen bases and walks.

Bill James had it dead-on when he first opined that specialists are overrated and guys who do most everything well are underrated.  Fans and media extol the virtues of a guy who can throw 99 mph without any other quality pitches a lot more than a guy with an 89 mph fastball and three other pitches in his repertoire.  A player who regularly cranks out home runs is given the spotlight even if he can't do anything else; a more well-round batter who hits for both a nice power and average is ignored.

This is why Barry Larkin is not in the Hall of Fame yet despite being in everybody's top ten list for all-time shortstops.  He had so many skills, you couldn't focus on just one and wax poetic about it.  Same with Alan Trammell.

Omar Vizquel, being a much more limited player, has it easier.  When his name is on the ballot, the stories of his magnificent fielding prowess will fill the air.  It's okay to listen, but not if you confuse legend with gospel.

(Hey, anyone want to put Mark Belanger in the Hall of Fame?)

The Top Four Moments of Super Bowl XLIV

#4 - The Colts stopping the Saints' Pierre Thomas on 4th and goal in the second quarter.  The only key defensive play made all night by Indianapolis.

#3 - The Saints' onside kick to open the second half, leading to a wild pileup and the first New Orleans lead of the game.  Awesome, gutsy move by Sean Payton.

#2 - Tracy Porter's interception return, clinching the victory.  I was convinced that Peyton Manning would strike for the game-tying touchdown, followed by a Drew Brees game-winning drive.  It didn't happen because of Porter, causing the only turnover of the game.

#1 - Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees holding his 18-month-old son in his arms in the midst of the riotous joy and celebration.

There were too many commercials for my taste.  With both teams putting together sizable clock-eating drives, there were more than a few moments where way too many ad breaks were taken in a row for the game to gather any momentum.  Consequently, a well-played and dramatic game did not feel like one at all.  I understand why there were so many commercials, but I don't have to like it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Super Bowl Talking Points

Whether we're talking ratings, money, casual conversation, or general popularity, Football owns America right now.  Since Sunday is the pinnacle of the sport, Super Bowl XLIV, this entire week will be spent building to the game.

But a problem has arisen:  There's nothing to talk about.

Okay, that's not exactly true.  There's 1) the New Orleans Saints making the Super Bowl several years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city; 2) Colts quarterback Peyton Manning facing the same team on which his father Archie starred as the most popular player in franchise history; and 3) the torn ligament in the ankle of Colts standout defensive end Dwight Freeney.

That's it.

With the possible exception of Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey, these appear to be two quiet and humble teams.  Classy and humble teams are boring. A lack of humility (demonstrated ably by Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, Joe Namath, and Hollywood Henderson) makes for a much more exciting time leading up to the game.

So what was everyone blathering about today?

Colin Cowherd complained about the weather.

Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo analyzed Freeney's ankle as long as they could before giving up and talking about how there was nothing to talk about.   It was just as fascinating as you'd think.

ESPN.com decided that we needed to learn 18 more things about Peyton Manning.  Trust me, don't read it.  Unless, that is, you'd be stunned to learn that Peyton Manning doesn't get sacked and "doesn't hang around riff-raff."

I know, I'm as shocked as you.

Only four more days of this to go.  How will they ever make it?