Friday, October 31, 2008

Mike D'Antoni Might Be Barkin' Up the Wrong Tree

As many who read this blog know, my favorite league in all of sports is the NBA, and it's been glorious having it back with the opening week of the season. Well every part of it except the Wiz kids lackluster loss to the Nets the other night. And just to let you know, I am not in full blown panic mode just yet. Remember, this team also started out 0-5 last year and still were able to rebound even without Gilbert.

Right now, the goal is to stay .500 until Gilbert gets back and then see where you are once he returns to full health. Although, I've been having some weird dreams about the Wiz sneaking into the playoffs as the seventh seed and ending up playing a two-seed Cleveland Cavalier squad.

A team that I thought wouldn't even dream of sniffing .500, the New York Knicks, is sitting at 1-0 currently. It appears as if Mike D'Antoni's free wheeling style has them much improved. That or they finally decided to bench Isaiah's prime time pick ups like Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry.

Well, an interesting story came out of that first Knicks win. While the players on the court were busy running and gunning past the Heat, 120-115, apparently some fans in Madison Square Garden started longing for the one and only Starbury. It got an an awesome response from Mike D'Antoni:

With some in the Garden crowd surprisingly chanting "We Want Steph" with 11:10 remaining in the fourth (others booed the chant), a stewing D'Antoni was caught on MSG Network cameras Wednesday in a tirade, mouthing:

"You've got to be (bleeping) kidding me. You've got to be (bleeping) kidding me. What a bunch of (bleep) holes."

Seriously, I liked D'Antoni a lot from thanks to his classic hissy fits as coach of the Suns. But I'm not really sure how New York is going to react to this. I guess after the game, once D'Antoni realized his reaction had been caught on camera, he tried to explain himself:

"Sometimes I don't think the fans quite get it," D'Antoni said. "It's like who you draft. They're going to boo. When you make a big decision, someone's going to like it, someone's not. You'll hear from the people who don't.

"Did I look exasperated?" D'Antoni added. "I was into the game. You get so much adrenaline at that point and you react. I'm into the game, into the moment. Sometimes I can be better than that. I'll make mistakes. I'll do better."

If I'm Knicks fans, I embrace the guy. Frankly, you're lucky to even have him considering he had a real nice situation with Steve Nash in Phoenix.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ty Willingham and Tommy Amaker

So I was driving from work in Northern Virginia to the Verizon Center, where I sit typing this post at the moment. I'm here to catch the Caps first home game in awhile when they drop the puck against Nashville tonight. Speaking of which, the game isn't televised because Versus picked up the rights to the game but has subsequently decided that the Atlanta/Philadelphia game was much more interesting. How does that happen, a game not being televised (for non-blackout purposes ... for shame Detroit Lions, look at what you've done to your fan base)

But as I was driving into the city a couple hours ago, I was listening to the radio and out of nowhere I heard a DJ go "and here's a new track from Gavin Rossdale. You may remember him from the band Bush. Now I should have figured out immediately that this song would be crap considering it was being played on the hits station here, but sI was being naive thinking about past greatness like "Glycerine" and "Machine Head". But like I said, this song was garbage, I'm not even going to include the title in this post. That's how bad it was.

But it got me thinking about another used to be pretty good, but now terrible coach — the one and only Tyrone Willingham. Remember, he was pretty damn good at Stanford, racking up a 44-36-1 record and leading the Cardinal to a Rose Bowl. The 44 wins were the most by any Stanford coach since the 1960s.

We all kind of know the rest. Ty went to Notre Dame to be the first African American to coach the Golden Domers, had a mixed bag of success and mild failure, and promptly got fired once fatboy Charlie Weis became available. He then moved onto what was supposed to be a much more comfortable job up in Seattle. Eleven wins and 32 losses, it looks like we now reside in a world that won't involve Tyrone Willingham being the head coach of a major college football program.

Oh and you thought I forgot about the title of this blog post. I'm gonna have to put a little disclaimer here because I'm about to go back to the old days of this blog and rip on poor Tommy Amaker again. See, I sort of knew Tommy in an awkward once-a-week press conference kind of way back when he was making underachieving an art form as coach of the Michigan basketball team.

I say all this because the rise and fall of Ty Willingham bears a striking resemblance to that of one Thomas Amaker. Ty's coaching career began as a hotshot assistant under Dennis Green, first at Stanford and then with the Minnesota Vikings. Tommy Amaker started his coaching career as a hotshot assistant for Mike Kryzewski at Duke. Ty then moved onto his first head coaching job at a then-doormat (Stanford), raised the level of recruiting, and subsequently the level of play to the point that people thought he was an up-and-coming coach. Tommy Amaker began his head coaching years at Seton Hall where he raised the level of recruiting, and subsequently the level of play, so much so that people thought the Pirates Sweet 16 appearance in 2000 was the beginning of a some new Amaker era.

I think this answers the age old question of why no one reads Sporting News anymore. Ty had his ups with Notre Dame, but I think this is a bit much.

Then, as we all know, Ty's success led him to the promised land of Notre Dame, where he was supposed to transform the Golden Domers back into the national spotlight where they think Fighting Irish football belongs. Willingham proceeded to be up and down with one relative high (2002 Gator Bowl appearance), but mostly pure unadulterated mediocrity. Tommy Amaker was brought into Michigan in almost an identical position as Willingham's South Bend experience — a program on an undeniable downturn that felt it belonged back in the national spotlight. Amaker responded with some relative successes (2004 NIT Championship) but mostly pure unfiltered middle of the packness.

Accordingly, both mamajamas got fired from their illustrious institutions (Willingham in 2004 and Amaker in 2006). Some argued neither deserved to get fired, but both were replaced by "offensive geniuses" — at least they were at the time (That was a subtle dig at Weis because I think it's pretty obvious now his success in New England had a lot to do with Tom Brady. Get back to me about Beilein after this season).

After the disappointments of getting canned, both kind of went back to their roots. Willingham returned to the Pac10 to coach Washington, while Amaker became the head coach at Harvard went back to his "smart white kids and rich black kids make the best players" route that was so successful during his days as an assistant and player at Duke.

Look what Mark happened to dig up. The random story is Tommy Amaker went to W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, an area my newspaper company still covers. This is youngster Tommy when he decided to become a Dukie.

That brings us to today. Willingham is now done at Washington after an awful record. And ol' Tommy is well on his way to getting whacked at the Ivyest of Ivy League Schools. I say on his way because of his stellar 8-18 record in his first season with the Crimson. Oh yeah and he kicked a bunch of kids off his team after this school year began, effectively eliminating the possibility of them transferring elsewhere for this season. And the players he recruited to take their spot may or may not have been obtained illegally.

It's eerie how parallel their two careers have been. Both are African American, both aren't the most charismatic, and both have proven unequivocally that they shouldn't be head coaches in their respective sports. Except Ty Willingham went down with dignity, choosing to coach the rest of the regular season even though his contract was terminated by Washington.

So now as we sit in a new era, the sans Willingham era if you will, when will the inevitable final downfall of Amaker happen? I'm saying it's inevitable, maybe not next year, maybe not the year after that (This is Harvard we're talking about. They aren't exactly chomping at the bit to fire their only black head coach.

Doing the Unthinkable (as it relates to Philly)

Didn't that whole rainout scenario last night just seem a little bit fishy to anyone else. It all went down a bit to perfect for my liking. So for that reason, I'm going to do something I almost never do. I'm going to write something remotely sympathetic to the city of Philadelphia. And it involves the World Series and conspiracy theories.

I just finished watching the six-inning suspended game five of the World Series and couldn't help but think of a grand Bud Selig/MLB scheme to manipulate something about the World Series. What exact manipulations and who it favors is still what I'm trying to figure out.

Think about it, the rain started coming down with the Phillies up 2-1 and the umpires decided to keep the game going out of fear for the mass hysteria that might ensue within Citizens Bank Park if they called things off before five innings had passed. See, the if the Phils were leading after five, the game would officially be in the books should the league be unable to restart play due to continued rain (which was in the forecast). Basically, at this point in time, the Rays were praying to the heavens for the rain to get heavier so there would be a rainout and the team could start from scratch rather than be down 2-1. Meanwhile, the Phils were just counting down the outs until the fifth inning.

But then, once the five-inning mark passed and the Phils still led, the philosophy of both sides changed. The Rays now needed action to be prolonged, despite the rain picking up, because once the umps called the game, the Rays stood a good chance of losing the entire World Series in the process. Over in the Phils dugout, I'm sure Charlie Manuel and his aw shucks attitude were thinking "Aw Shucks, I hope this rain gets heavier so we can end this bad boy and I get showered with champagne."

As this was all going on, and Joe Buck and Tim McCarver of Fox began questioning just how reaosnable it was to keep playing, I couldn't help but think about what MLB was going to do if the weather cost the Rays a legitimate nine innings to salvage the series. Add in some egregious squeezing by home plate ump Jeff Kellogg on Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir last night and to me, you've got the makings of a full-fledged conspiracy theory.

Jeff Kellogg was horrendous behind the plate last night

Oh yeah, and what other league would allow these kinds of mistakes to be made by a crew officiating a championship series:

The Philadelphia Phillies scored in the first inning of Game 4 on Sunday night after Jimmy Rollins scampered safely back to third during a rundown. But television replays showed he was tagged on the backside by Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria and should have been called out by third base ump Tim Welke.

"He's seen the replay. He knows he missed it," Mike Port, Major League Baseball's vice president for umpiring, said Monday.


There were a couple of disputed calls during the first two games at Tampa Bay, too. Maddon screamed for a balk on Cole Hamels when he picked off a runner in the opener, and Rocco Baldelli drew a key walk on a checked swing in Game 2 that the Phillies thought had been called strike three.

Now I only call this an MLB conspiracy theory because, well, everything worked out in the end. The Rays managed to score in the top of the sixth inning to tie the game, giving Bud Selig and his goons the perfect opportunity to suspend things for another day. I don't exactly know what went down in the decision making process, and it sounds like neither do a lot of the professional media who were in attendance for the game and the hastily called Selig press conference at around 11 pm last night:

Selig insisted the game would have been delayed in the middle of the sixth inning no matter what. Of course, his decision to suspend the game became incredibly easy (and wonderfully convenient) when the Rays splashed across the tying run in the top of the inning. If Carlos Pena hadn't driven in B.J. Upton with an RBI single, I wonder if Selig would have really pulled the plug on the game in the sixth.

We'll never know for sure. But we do know, according to Utley, that the field was no longer playable. And umpire Tim Tschida said the wind and rain threatened to make the game "comical." It didn't reach that point, but it was getting dangerously close.

Either way, I think both teams have reasons to gripe here. The Rays almost lost the series because Selig insisted on playing in a quasi-monsoon. And Philly was denied a chance to win a tainted series (albeit still a World Series win) because Selig was waiting for his perfect scenario to play out.

This is Bud Selig meeting with Congress. I wonder what he acts like when the bright lights are off.

Personally I think this game should have never taken place or at least called before five innings. The rain was just as bad starting in the third inning as it was in the sixth. Frankly, the game should at least been moved up to a 7 pm start time to avoid the heavier rains later in the night. I understand Selig really, really wanted to get this game in, so that if the Rays did happen to win, the two teams could get back to the domed confines of the Trop, where weather would no longer be a factor (Forecasts are calling for more yuckiness today in Philly).

But in the process, he's made me question just a little bit of the validity behind this series. Yeah, it's probably nothing, but like I said at the top, this all just worked out a little too perfectly for this perpetual skeptic. The worst part about this is the Rays had already checked out of their hotel in Philly and had to go searching for a new one in the middle of the night. Talk about providing the best for your World Series participants, Bud.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Let's Keep Score

Not sure if you are aware about the ongoing spat taking place between ESPN, Peter King, Chris Mortenson, Jay Glazer, and Brett Favre but I figured I'd enlighten. See I feel obligated to follow this stuff because I one day aspire to be in such spats.

Last weekend Glazer broke the story about Brett Favre helped out the Lions giving game secrets about his former team, the Packers. In his Monday morning quarterback said he texted Favre about this report and got a response along the lines of "That story was total bullshit."

Then, ESPN decided to shove it in Glazer's face, even though the guy has broken a ton of stories in the past year (Strahan retiring, the Joey Porter Vegas fight are the first that come to mind). This is a memo they sent out:

Under the heading “DO NOT REPORT . . . DO NOT REPORT . . . . DO NOT REPORT . . . DO NOT REPORT” (um, we get the point) appears the following:

“Yesterday, FoxSports reported that Brett Favre spent 60 to 90 minutes before the Week Two game between the Lions and the Packers educating the Detroit coaching staff regarding the Packers’ offensive strategies. WE HAVE BEEN TOLD BY RELIABLE SOURCES THIS REPORT IS NOT TRUE. We did NOT report it yesterday. Today, the NFL responded to the report, saying even if Favre did this he did not break any league rules. We are NOT reporting it today, because that would mean airing the erroneous report. DO NOT REPORT IT.”

Then Chris Mortenson of ESPN went on some radio show and went on about how there needs to be fact checkers so these types of stories don't come out even though Glazer said he stands by his story "1000 percent". What probably fumed Glazer so much was that while he responsibly breaks stories (for the most part) the man they call Mort has been dead wrong about several stories in just the past year. For fun, let's quote some from some of Mort's "scoops". These were all found in real stories:

1) "ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports that Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is unlikely to be indicted in the ongoing investigation that began when law enforcement found evidence of dog fighting on property he owns."

2) "While Norv Turner remains the leading candidate to be the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Wednesday that another candidate has emerged: Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera." So read on Feb. 1, 2007. A few days later, after Wade Phillips got the Boys post, Mort said on the air that he had always known the job would go to Phillips."

3) "After Week 1, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that Giants quarterback Eli Manning would miss a month. He stuck with the report even after the Giants denied it. Manning has started every game."

4)" Bill Parcells said Wednesday that he likely will accept the Atlanta Falcons' offer to become the team's vice president of football operations." OR SO WROTE CHRIS MORTENSON!

Because of all this, Jay Glazer came up with a novel idea.

If they want to talk about credibility, let’s keep score, starting from Week One of last year, and see who broke what, who was right and who was wrong. I don’t think they’d want that.”

And now, a blog is going ahead and doing just that. The names they've got so far are Jay Glazer of FOX, Chris Mortensen of ESPN, Adam Schefter of NFLN, Peter King of too many media outlets to list, John Clayton of ESPN, Alex Marvez of FOX, Michael Smith of ESPN, Michael Silver of Yahoo!, Jason Cole of Yahoo!, Charley Casserly of CBS.

I'm excited, I don't know about you. It's about time some of these guys had a measure of credibility considering they judge athletes on a daily basis. It's time to have some accountability for all these flying rumors going around.

Well at least he was polite

Don't know if you heard, but current Pittsburgh Steeler and former Ohio Bucknut Santonio Holmes was charged with having a small amount of the marijuana on him the other night. Apparently it was two blunts. Well, to my delight it seems the officer who picked him up may be starting to have some second thoughts about it. The officer, Sgt. James Vogel, hasgotten the realization that the czar Roger Goodell is likely to suspend Holmes for a game later this season because of all this.

Vogel said Holmes was very cooperative, respectful and wasn’t impaired. He thinks that should be taken into account when it comes to any potential action taken against him by the Steelers and the NFL.

“We wouldn't expect a steelworker to be laid off or suspended without pay,” said Vogel. “I wouldn't expect a police officer, firefighter or a member of the Steelers.”

Best Part of the World Series

Had a long day of horribleness yesterday, as I embarked on what I like to call the trifecta of terrible high school sports. It all began at 3 pm with a district cross country race. Then I moved onto a combination of "field hockey, girl's soccer, and girl's volleyball" that were all occurring at the same time on one school's campus. And I wrapped things up with another field hockey game. I got back home at around 930 pm.

I wasn't exactly in high spirits after going through an entire day of watching sports while questioning what the hell I'm doing with my life. And to my pleasant surprise I learned this about B.J. Upton and it brightened my day:

Upton, whose given name is name is Melvin Emmanuel, usually responds to the nickname "B.J." ("Bossman Junior;" his father, Manny Upton, is the original "Bossman.")

That is one of the coolest things ever. Seriously Bossman and Bossman Junior. I kind of feel bad for brother Justin, who plays for the Diamondbacks. Why the hell has he been excluded from the Bossman legacy. There's got to be room for a Big Bossman somewhere within the Upton family.

I guess this makes him the Original Big Bossman

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The SEC vs. Big 12 Debate

It has become a seasonal rite of passage in the fall, you know all the college football fans from fine states like Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama proclaiming the SEC is God's gift to the gridiron. And what do you know, we're starting to get into the nitty gritty of the college football season, and the SEC is clamoring about its dominance again. But this year it's got a twist.

See, as much as SEC fans want to talk all high and mighty about LSU or Florida or Alabama, there's no getting around that thus far there's another conference showing itself to be the alpha male of the college football world. The Big XII. Now I'm not ready to proclaim either conference the dominant one just yet, because if we've learned anything over the past couple seasons, it's that the end of the season is bound to bring us more shake up in the BCS standings.

The debate between the two conferences boils down to this, though. It's the hard hitting defenses of the SEC versus the high flying offenses of the Big XII. Nobody is really sure if the SEC defenses are dominant because of lackluster offenses or if the Big XII offenses are so effective because of medicore defense. With big names like Colt McCoy of Texas, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Graham Harrell of Texas Tech, and Chase Daniel of Missouri, I'm starting to lean more towards the Big XII side of the debate (that and I'm tired of hearing the SEC pound its chest in defiance every year).

And what do you know ... there's some statistics to back up my feelings here. According to Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated the defenses of the Big XII aren't actually worse than the big bad voodoo daddy defenses of the SEC. The myth debunking about the SEC begins now:

f you go by "yards allowed per play" rather than "total yards," Oklahoma (4.59) is basically dead even with Georgia (4.58). Oklahoma State (4.88) is barely different than LSU (4.84). If you look at the Sooners, which play at breakneck speed, they've run more plays (563) than any other team in the country through seven games but also faced more opposing plays (481) than all but two teams in the top 50.

Interesting statistical analysis, although I'm not totally sold on either conference making it to the BCS Title game. You've got Texas at No. 1 and floating on cloud nine after two straight wins over Oklahoma and Missouri, but the Longhorns still have Texas Tech in two weeks, Kansas a couple after that, and the always treacherous Thanksgiving Day weekend matchup with Texas A&M. That doesn't even include the Big XII Championship game. Maybe I'm being naive, but as impressive as Texas has looked, I don't see them getting through all that undefeated.

Then you've got somehwat surprising, but so far dominating (at least in big games) Alabama. Roll Tide has a pivotal matchup at LSU in a few weeks and a rivalry matchup with Auburn to close out the year. If they get through the Tigers (a big if) they should be good to go. Oh wait, even if they win out, Bama still has a likely matchup with Florida waiting in the SEC Title Game. Again maybe I'm underestimating Nick Saban, but I don't see his team coming out of all that unscathed.

Then there's No. 3 Penn State, which gets a huuugggee test traveling to Columbus to face No. 9 Ohio State this weekend. Unlike Texas and Bama, the Nittany Lions have some smooth sailing after this one, what with the weak Big Ten. But I don't see JoePa's guys getting out this weekend without a loss.

Go down the line in the AP top 10 and it's pretty much the same story for everyone. Right now it has got four Big XII teams (Texas at 1, Oklahoma at 4, OK St at 6, Tx Tech at 8), three SEC teams (Bama at 2, Georgia at 7, and Florida at 10), two Big Ten squads (Penn St at 3, Ohio St. at 9), and a Pac 10 sleeper (USC at 5). If you look at it all closely, the Trojans are really the only team without a major test in front of them besides the winner of the Ohio State/Penn State game this weekend.

Fucking Pete Carroll

See, while the rest of the country talks high and mighty about this SEC/Big XII dominance, my best guess right now is that neither conference is represented in the BCS Title Game. If PSU makes it out of Columbus alive this weekend, we could be staring smack dab at a USC/Penn State national title game.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Is Gilbert Arenas the next Penny Hardaway?

The fact that even mentioning this comparisan would have come as a shock just two short seasons ago, but there's no denying the similarities here. It really is eery examining the careers of Penny Hardaway and Gilbert Arenas right now?

Penny averaged more than 20 points per game in three of his first four seasons of the NBA, making the NBA Finals in 1995, while also becoming somewhat of a cultural icon due to his Lil' Penny commercials. Gilbert averaged 18, 19, 25, 29, and 28 points per contest in his first five years as a starter in the league, leading the Wizards to the second round of the playoffs in 2005, in the process becoming somewhat of a cultural icon due to his ridiculously entertaining blog.

Here's where it gets eery, though. Both had severe injuries on the same body part (left knee) at the same age (26 years old) — although to be fair to Penny here, Gilbert had a right knee injury before the age of 26, so I guess that kind of gives Penny the lead.

Seriously, look at that and tell me it doesn't scare you to death about Gilbert's career. Yeah Penny averaged slightly less points, but that was almost certainly due to playing with a certain somebody named Shaquille O'Neal. I'm usually an eternal optimist when it comes to the Wizards, but I just don't see it this year. I just don't see Gilbert coming back at full strength no matter when he returns and combined with an improved eastern conference, well let's just say I'm scared. I refuse to rule out the playoffs like every other national basketball pundit seems to doing because well, I have some faith in the Wiz kids.

And you can't help but get a little happy when you hear things like this come out of the mouth of the best young player in the NBA when talking about the Wiz's first-round draft pick JaVale McGee:

"He can fly," said Chris Paul, who finished with 10 points and eight assists. "I mean, that's plain and simple. He can fly. I think it was early the third quarter, I came and did an in-and-out move and thought -- I just knew -- that I had enough room to get my shot off and he blocked it. He's easily one of the most athletic big guys in the NBA. You can put him in that Dwight Howard category."

Seriously, though, I never thought I'd reach the stage in my Wizards fandom where I would be thinking things like "Boy, I wish we had Brendon Haywood." See, the real crux of the problem is that it has nothing to do with Haywood's improvement as a player, it's got more to do with how terrible this roster looks once you get past the names "Caron Butler" and "Antawn Jamison".

Friday, October 17, 2008

Weekend Viewing Guide

Some things you just can't predict. I didn't turn on the Rays-Sox game until the top of the 7th inning last night, and to be honest, only kept it on so I could see the coronation of the unlikely Rays. Once I saw B.J. Upton hit that double off Jonathon Papelbon to make it 7-0, I couldn't help but think this baby was all over. Then the unthinkable happened. If you want to read an emo account of what took place, feel free to read Bill Simmons essay on the comeback. I'll just include one stanza that really struck me and makes me think this was just a one-game collapse, not an entire series collapse:

More importantly, the champs decided they were going down swinging. Win or lose this weekend, that's all we wanted. Show some pride. Show some heart. Show us last season meant something. And they did.

Yes, the Sox showed some fight — more like a lot of fight — last night. But they still have to take two in Tampa, beat a pitcher that made them look like Little Leaguers a week ago (James Shields), and stop a lineup they haven't shown they can stop with an injured pitcher (Josh Beckett). All the signs point to a Rays-Phils World Series. But I guess if there's one team that's proven it can overcome all the odds, it's the Red Sox.

All I know is that it just made this weekend a lot more entertaining. I went 8-6 in picks last week, so let's see if I can improve on that. Onto the Weekend Viewing Guide:

Wake Forest at Maryland, Noon Raycom Sports
Georgia Tech at Clemson, Noon ESPN
Vanderbilt at Georgia, 12:30 ESPN360

I must say, a pretty weak early schedule on Saturday. Unless you have a vested interest in the Maryland Terrapins, there's no reason to wake up before 330. The Georgia game could be good, but who is really gonna get their ESPN 360 going that early? Now if you do follow the Terps, you'd know they play down to their competition or up to their competition, there really seems to be no middle ground. The Terps are capable of beating Wake, especially at home, but I think that people put too much into that Clemson win. Speaking of the Tigers, all signs point to a brutal beatdown courtesy of Paul Johnson's 5-1 wishbone -style offense, what with a new coach and turmoil within the ranks. Well ... ummmm ... upset pick.
Prediction: Wake Forest 31, Maryland 20; Clemson 24, Georgia Tech 20; Georgia 27, Vanderbilt 20

Ohio State at Michigan State, 3:30 pm ESPN2
Michigan at Penn State, 4:30 pm ESPN

I've got a dilemma with this Michigan game and it doesn't involve the final score. I had a ticket to the game, but as part of my job I'm being forced to cover something called Potomac Day. It's as lame as it sounds, or so I'm told. Add in the Caps only home game for the next week and a half occurring on Saturday night and you've got the perfect storm of activities that will keep me from Happy Valley. As I wrote earlier this week, I'm glass half full when it comes to Rich Rod and these Wolverines, but I don't think any amount of good mojo will result in a road win. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes go to East Lansing to face the upstart Spartans, who have quietly lost just one game thus far. Neither team is as good as advertised, but I just don't see a world where the Big Ten title comes down to Michigan State and Penn State.
Prediction: Ohio State 24, Michigan State 20; Penn State 38, Michigan 21

LSU at South Carolina, 8 pm ESPN
Missouri at Texas, 8 pm ABC
ALCS Game 6, 8 pm TBS

I put the LSU game on top because something tells me when this South Carolina season is over, we're going to see the Ol' Ball Coach hang em up. The team is 5-2 but both of those losses are in the SEC and frankly, I don't see the Gamecocks breaking through to the upper echelon of the conference any time soon. That's not what he came back to college football for. As for that Mizzou/Texas game, it should be a wildly entertaining shootout in the mold of the Red River Rivalry last week. In this topsy turvy college football season, I expect things to be thrown into more of a flux when Chase Daniel bounces back from a tough loss last week.
Prediction: LSU 34, Steve Spurrier 20; Missouri 42, Texas 35; Rays win Game 6

Chargers at Bills, 1 pm CBS
Saints at Panthers, 1 pm FOX

Nobody is really sure what to make of either the Bills or the Chargers. Can the Chargers play enough defense to be a contender, can they look as impressive as they did last weekend against the Pats? As for the Bills, the questions have to be are they actually for real and what about Trent Edwards? Can he come back from this concussion. As weird as this sounds, I'm going with Norv's gang. My preseason pick, the Panthers, rebound from a somewhat demoralizing loss to the Bucs last week. The NFC South is turning into one helluva division, though. Every team has legitimate playoff aspirations.
Prediction: Chargers 34, Bills 20; Panthers 27, Saints 24

Browns at Redskins, 4 pm CBS
Colts at Packers, 4 pm CBS

I won't actually be watching this Colts game since we're getting the Skins game here in DC. But just to go over it quickly, I think the emergence of that second Peyton knee surgery made his slow start make a lot more sense. I think this team gets on a roll now.

As for the Skins/Browns game, I'm really, really nervous about it. The Browns passing game got back on track last week against the Giants and the Skins secondary is beat up. Smoot probably won't play, safety Chris Horton is hindered by a bad ankle, and Springs is questionable with that pesky calf injury of his. Because of that, the onus falls on the Skins defensive line to get consistent pressure on Derek Anderson because he's as shaky as they come with pressure in his face. They didn't do that last week against the Rams, and it cost them on that 40-something yard pass to Donnie Avery that put the Lambs in field goal position. On that play the Skins had a safety blitz on, leaving Leigh Torrance on an island.
Prediction; Colts 35, Packers 17; Redskins 24, Browns 21

Andre Carter answers the call with a big game Sunday afternoon. You heard it here first.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Socialist NFL

I just want to take a moment to thank Troy Polamalu for finally coming out and saying something intelligent against Roger Goodell. See, we're now more than two years in the Goodell era and unlike most commentators out there, I've been extremely dissatisfied with it. Seems to me like Goodell has decided to become a footbal dictator instead of a football commissioner. Let's hear from Troy because he's one of the few NFLers out there willing to let his voice be heard against the commish:

"I think regarding the evolution of football, it's becoming more and more flag football, two-hand touch," Polamalu said. "We've really lost the essence of what real American football is about. I think it's probably all about money. They're not really concerned about safety.

When you see guys like Dick Butkus, the Ronnie Lotts, the Jack Tatums, these guys really went after people," Polamalu told reporters. "Now, they couldn't survive in this type of game. They wouldn't have enough money. They'd be paying fines all the time and they'd be suspended for a year after they do it two games in a row. It's kind of ridiculous."

Polamalu was referring to the ridiculous amounts of fines given to some of his Steelers teammates have incurred this season for what the league deems unnecessary roughness. Like Troy, I also understand the need for safety what with big hits becoming more and more of a regularity these days. But frankly, like Troy said, this is a contact sport. Legislating legal, big hits is way out of bounds in my book. Just like legislating non-obscene touchdown celebrations and punishing players for actions not involving a police report is out of line.

To me, what used to just be the No Fun League has turned into the "You can't do anything unless Roger Goodell deems it appropriate in his book" league. There's a reason these men are good at what they do (that being hitting people for a living) and it's not because they are public angels. Troy puts it best when he said that football's essence is being taken away with the NFL's heavy-handed penalties, saying football "just loses so much of its essence when it becomes like a pansy game."

The NFL is kind of like our economy right now. Unless Henry Paulson thinks it's right, don't plan on making any kind of financial maneuverings right now. The government, like Roger Goodell, controls everything and it's just not a natural marriage. See, the boom of capitalism is a great thing (look at how great the economy was up until a year or so ago), but sometimes you've got to take your lumps in the process. Same thing goes for the NFL. Yes, being a little more permissive gave us the Pacman Jones and Chris Henry's of the world.

But it has also produced great showmen like Deion Sanders, Palomalu, and well, the TD celebrations of Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson. Not to mention guys like Ray Lewis, Jamal Anderson (btw, have you noticed that the Falcons' version of the Wildcat formation is called "The Dirty Bird"), and Reggie Bush — all of whom are wildly entertaining in some form. And what about the Super Bowl Shuffle or the Icky Shuffle of the 1980s? Those certainly wouldn't be allowed nowadays.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't like the direction the league has taken since Goodell took over. Part of the allure of football is seeing these guy's personalities emerge on the field — whether that be as a hard-hitting safety or a prima donna wide receiver. The contrast is what makes me keep coming back for more. For some reason Goodell wants a league chock full of running backs jogging back to the sideline with an expressionless face after scoring a touchdown.

Frankly, if I wanted to go see someone unhappy, I'd go visit any Phillies fan after Game 6 of the World Series in a couple weeks.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Well, I've been reading up on my Cleveland Browns considering they face my Skins with a new lease on life after a huge win over the Giants. Little does anyone know, they pulled off that upset without the services of Kellen Winslow, whose availability could play a large role in this week's game. Apparently he's day-to-day or should I say ball-to-ball:

Kellen Winslow's mysterious "undisclosed illness" which has been rumored to be swollen balls according to Pro Football Talk, might still keep him out of this week's action against the Washington Redskins. Winslow's illness is still private, but according to Coach Romeo Crennel, he's recovering nicely after a week's worth of rest. So, it's not testicular cancer or anything like that. But what was it?

According to one source, the culprit might be an overdose of erection enhancing medication. We've all seen the warnings that advertise to call your physician if you experience some, um, prolonged discomfort in that area for a long period of time. Yet he was in the hospital for three days, which is a long time to be laid up for something like that. The other rumored problem was just your garden variety STD, which, as noted by many health websites, can lead to some infections that cause you know, swollen parts. But a few shots and some rest and he should be set to go.

A real ballbuster, if you will. Soldier on Kellen. Soldier on.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How Bout Them Cowboys?

It all happened so quickly, so magically — you know this "sky is falling" crisis mode the Cowboys are in. From this Redskins fan's perspective, it has been wildly entertaining to watch develop in seemingly a matter of minutes.

First, the franchise quarterback went down with a broken pinkie (try shaking that pretty boy persona now, Romo). then the scourge commissioner came down hard on the troubled cornerback (seriously from a journalist perspective, this four-game suspension is ridiculous). And finally, just to prove they were in full-on panic mode, the Cowboys traded three draft picks for another me first wide receiver.

I guess I'll set the record straight now about how I feel about Pacman. I agree with all those that are somewhat condoning the "fight" that has now caused this suspension. And I'm letting Clinton Portis do the talking for me:

"I really think that situation man probably was blown out of proportion, I really do....Bodyguard or no bodyguard, if you're around somebody constantly, tempers gonna flare. As men you exchange words. ...You know, I could see if it was pistol play or if he strangled him or choked him out while he was driving, but you know, if it's man-to-man and we bump chests and push each other, you know, I don't think that's an altercation worth taking football away from him. But, you know, wrong place wrong time is all I can say."

But I'll go a little further than Clinton since Roger Goodell can't fine. I really think Goodell has overstepped his boundaries in terms of how much control one man can have over a person's life. Maybe there was a provision in the deal Pacman signed that said no alcohol, but if Goodell was willing to let Pacman play again in the first place, a no alcohol requirement should have never been prerequisite for a return. I just don't think Goodell can't prevent someone from earning their livelihood.

Oh but there's more. I've been complaining for awhile about all the ridiculous amount of pro-Cowboy bullshit that comes out of the mouth of Troy Aikman, and now I've got someone championing my cause. He goes by the name of Boomer Esiason:

It is rare when we get one broadcaster calling out another broadcaster by name. Well that's what Boomer Esiason does when he throws Troy Aikman's name on front street. Boomer tells the WEEI's Dennis and Callahan Show that he "heard a legitimate bias from one Troy Aikman towards the Dallas Cowboys" and calls it rather "stunning".

I find it shocking that the Cowboys have gone from Super Bowl certainty to sideshow in a matter of two weeks. Seriously, it was only 15 days ago this team was undefeated, floating on cloud nine heading into that Redskins game. However, I will say that Roy Williams is going to make this offense even more dangerous if Tony Romo is able to make a full recovery in the month they're anticipating it will take. Jerry Jones just gave up quite a bit to get him. Three picks for one guy, that's a pretty steep price.

All that said, I'm already having visions of Roy making a leaping touchdown grab over Fred Smoot late in the third quarter of the Cowboys/Skins rematch in four weeks. Show you where my head is at concerning all this.

Monday, October 13, 2008

About This Weekend

I'm blogging live from the Verizon Center media room waiting for the arrival of one NHL commissioner, who goes by the name of Gary Bettman. Apparently his train from the palatial NHL headquarters in New York City is delayed. Tonight the Caps take on the Vancouver Canucks and it's pretty absurd to see the amount of media they have following them across the country. Seriously, it looks like the "ehs' outnumber the Americans two to one in the media room.

I brought the digital camera along for this baby, so I'll have a few shots up from behind the scenes of the Verizon Center later. But no amount of Canucks (both hockey and real live citizens of the country) can get my attention away from the embarrassment that was my two football teams of choice.

Let's put this bluntly: Michigan is terrible and the Skins decided to dog it for three quarters against the Rams. I figure I'll first turn towards the game I didn't actually watch: the Michigan-Toledo debacle. See, the worst part about all this is Toledo is the one Michigan stronghold in the state of Ohio, and of course they were the team to put that figurative nail in this season's coffin. No amount of explaining by Rich Rod can offset a loss to a 1-4 MAC team. None. I don't want to hear anything even attempting to appease this defeat.

A couple years ago, when I was travelling from Detroit to Providence for Thanksgiving I sat next to a guy who identified himself as a Toledo defensive lineman. The guy was me just a little more muscle mass since he clearly has to hit the weights in order to play D-1 football. I remember talking to him about the Big House and he was in awe of the place having grown up in Michigan. On that day, I could tell he couldn't even think of a day where Toledo beat the Wolverines. Apparently that day has arrived.

Lloyd would have never allowed this to .... oh wait App State. Seriously, though, a lot of people have taken this time to annihilate whatever mystique the Big House had left, but I look at it from another perspective. I had a pretty spirited text exchange with fan of the blog Kyle and he suggested Rich Rod is now on a short leash. I completely disagree considering the man hasn't even had a full recruiting season under his maize and blue belt. Meanwhile, many in the Michigan media are going with the "Bowl Streak, what about winning another game?" angle. I think Nate Sandals sums up the emotions of the Detroit sports writing world pretty succinctly right here:

What has to worry the fan base is a simple question: If the Wolverines can’t win at home against Toledo, then who can they possibly beat the rest of the season?

It’s not time to worry about extending the bowl appearance streak to 34 years. That ship sailed at about 3:15 on Saturday afternoon. It’s time to worry about getting a third win — for the entire season.

After the game Rodriguez and his players talked about taking a day to think about the loss and then moving on to Penn State. They always have that mantra, and sometimes it’s even believable, but not now, not after a loss like that.

This team has many worried simply because they are lacking in talent more so than any Michigan team I can remember. You've got McGuffie at running back, Odoms looking solid at wide receiver, and well, a bunch of defensive players who were supposed to be better than they've looked thus far. By the way, if you're looking for a look inside the brain of that McGuffie character, I highly recommend reading McLovin look a like Dan Feldman's story in the Daily about him. Seriously, the kid has got some skills (and I'm not just talkin about McGuffie).

Mr. McGuffie if you're nasty.

That's not a lot in the cupboard. That being said, Rich Rod struggled for several years at West Virginia, that is until he got the services of one Panther-growlin' fellow by the name of Patrick White. I think the Wolverines may have that quarterback in the fold in both Tate Forcier and Shavodrick Beaver, two recruits coming in next year. I think it's painfully obvious that Steve Threet, despite being just a redshirt freshman, is just not the answer in an offense completely reliant on the running decisions of its quarterback. Give the new guys (Forcier and Beaver) to get acclimated next year and I think you've got the makings of a bowl team NEXT YEAR. When those two are sophomores is the year Michigan makes it jump back to BCS level.

What I'm trying to say without saying it is that this is a lost season, which is pretty self explanatory after the debacle Saturday. Even making the Motor City Bowl (the place where grossly mediocre Big Ten teams go to die) would be a miracle slightly below the Americans defeating the Soviets in that fateful hockey game more than 28 years ago.

Let's move onto the Redskins because I don't feel like playing the "Who will Michigan beat on the remainder of its schedule?" game. It's a horrible game to play, worse than Chutes and Ladders (worst game ever, especially when you'd get to the top row and land on that fucking square that dropped you all the way to the bottom. Worst feeling ever, that is until I watched my college football team go up in flames against 1-4 Toledo).

*Also an update, Bettman arrived, I asked him how he felt about Sean Avery saying the NHL doesn't know diddly squat about marketing its players and he responded with a "We have campaigns, Sean Avery likes to talk" type of quote.

I'm a little less fumed about my Skins. Yes they did lose to the woeful Lambs, but they completely out gained them and would have won had it not been for a fat lineman (Pete Kendall to be specific) trying to turn into Clinton Portis. Seriously, we wouldn't even be having this conversation if that play doesn't happen. It was at least a 10-point swing, and probably more like 14 considering the Skins were moving the ball in large chunks on that drive. I thought this game would be close, but I never expected the the Skins to lose. It's too bad they decided to mail it in for three quarters and only turn on the jets come the fourth quarter.

This is the first and last time you'll see the picture of now-former Redskins punter Durant Brooks since he's been released after another horrid punting performance yesterday. A living, breathing example of why Vinny Cerato and Dan Snyder shouldn't even be allowed to manage your local fast food establishment. Seriously, we used a fifth-round draft pick on this guy.

Hopefully it teaches them the valuable lesson that they really aren't that talented, they've just been out executing and outworking the opposition. Also I think the whole Jon Jansen or Stephon Heyer debate needs to be put on hold after Leonard Little made Jansen look like a Pop Warner player on the pass rush. For the sake of being positive, let's just hope the loss to the Lambs guarantees the team shows up the next two weeks against the Browns and Lions.

Holy Toledo, I can't believe we lost to them (I'm talking about both teams).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Weekend Viewing Guide

Back for another edition of the Weekend Viewing Guide, this time with a new twist. A prediction for each game. Now if you've been reading this blog for an extended amount of time, take heed that I'm less than excellent at making predictions, so take all of these with a grain of salt.

I've seen this picture in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Detroit Free Press just in the past two days. I wonder who this guy is and where else this picture ran?

Before I begin, though, I thought I'd point out an interesting article in today's New York Times about possible crime increases now that people finally seem to be accepting that this country is in a full blown recession. For what it's worth:

Expert opinions differ, but the question is hardly illogical. The last time stocks on Wall Street fell hard, in 1987, crime was exploding, and the city saw historic highs in murders in the following years.

Before that, the fiscal crisis of the 1970s helped lead to the abandonment of neighborhoods, failing schools and startling crime rates: robberies built through those years to a high in 1981, when there were 107,495 of them, for an average of 294 a day. (Last year’s total reported robberies, 21,787, was the lowest figure in modern history.)

“Every recession since the late ’50s has been associated with an increase in crime and, in particular, property crime and robbery, which would be most responsive to changes in economic conditions,” said Richard Rosenfeld, a sociologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Typically, he said, “there is a year lag between the economic change and crime rates.”

Now onto the Viewing Guide:
Friday Night
NLCS Game 2, FOX 4:30 pm
ALCS Game 1, TBS 8:30 pm

Last night's 3-2 victory over the Dodgers was a must win for the Phillies considering Cole Hamels was on the mound, but I expect to see a vintage performance out of Jamie Moyer tonight as well. As much as I wanted to jump on that Dodger bandwagon in hopes of a Manny Ramirez "coronation" at Fenway in the World Series, I just can't fully embrace them. Think about the big flops they have on their bench right now, including Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones, and Nomar Garciaparra. It's just no fun to root for a team that makes a mistake and then is able to cover it up with more money.

I think this Tampa/Boston series has all the makings of a classic ... or it could be a four or five game trouncing by the Red Sox based on their pitching matchups being set up just how they like them. If the Rays can get to Daisuke tonight (in my opinion that's going to happen) then this thing could go the distance. If Daisuke pitches well and the Sox win, coupled with Beckett and Lester looming in Games 2 and 3, I don't like the Rays chances.
Prediction: Phillies, Rays win tonight

No. 5 Texas vs. No. 1 Oklahoma, Noon ABC
Toledo at Michigan, Noon Big Ten Network

Lucky me, I probably will only be able to catch the ends of both of these games (hopefully only one will be close because if they both are I might just start thinking about the good ol' days of La Lloyd) since one of the high school soccer teams I cover is on the verge of a division title and I have to cover their game Saturday at noon (Sounds exciting, right?) The National title Texas won with Vince Young covered up the disturbing fact that Mack Brown is 4-15 against the top 10 during his tenure in Austin. I fully expect that ugly pattern from before the Vince Young era, where the Red River Rivalry (a television anchor's worst nightmare, you try saying those three R's in a row) would get huge hype, only to end up in a Sooner blowout.
Prediction: Oklahoma 42 Texas 24, Michigan 31, Toledo 20

Notre Dame at No. 22 North Carolina, ABC 3:30 pm
No. 4 LSU at No. 11 Florida, CBS 8 pm
No. 6 Penn State at Wisconsin, ESPN 8 pm
No. 17 Oklahoma State at No. 3 Missouri, ESPN2 8 pm
ALCS Game 2, TBS 8 pm

Man, lots of quality choices on the menu for Saturday night viewing. The college football would be enough for me, but throw in the ALCS and you've probably got too much to handle at one point. I'm going to be at the Caps season opener, but I'll be in the press box where I'm assuming there will be plenty of televisions going. If not, there's a chance I might be across the street at Rocket Bar watching all this shit go down on a plasma.

This is where I'll be Saturday night.

I'm most anticipating this LSU-Florida matchup, especially after one of the Tiger players said and then retracted that he wanted to rip Tim Tebow's head off. Speaking of last year's Heisman winner, he's kind of flown under the radar so far this season, but I expect that to end with a huge game Saturday night. I'm thinking four touchdowns, 350+ total yards. And as much as I love Les Miles, he's going to have to lose out on one of those risky end of game play calls one of these days. Something tells me it happens in the Swamp.

Penn State and Missouri are two teams that, at least to me, look a whole lot better after I watched Illinois in person last week. Both the Nittany Lions and the Tigers handled the Illini in prior weeks and I expect both to come out of their first real challenge since unscathed. I think Chase Daniel does just enough for Missouri and Penn State wins in an eerily similar game to last week's Ohio State-Wisco game, where Terrelle Pryor drove the Bucknuts down the field late for a touchdown. Oh yeah and expect Notre Dame to show it isn't for real this week.
Predictions: North Carolina 31 Notre Dame 17, Florida 34 LSU 31, Penn State 24 Wisconsin 20, Missouri 38 Oklahoma State 21, Sox take game 2

Rams at Redskins, FOX 1 pm
Ravens at Colts, CBS 1pm

Not too many scintillating NFL matchups early this week. If you've been in DC this past week, you've probably noticed the Skins bandwagon loading up with more and more people. As much as I love the attention the team is getting, it pains me when people come up to me for one of those "How bout them Skins" talks and then show that they know next to nothing about the team other than that they're doing well now. I'm all for more fans on the bandwagon, as long as they actually know what they're talking about. That said, I expect the Skins to come out flat this week, and the Rams to give them a game. There's no way Jim Zorn (can we start calling him the Jigga Man after Jay Z) and his troops can come out sizzling after two huge road games, especially when they're facing a moribund team like the Lambs. Still, though, I expect a win.

This week I think it's Randle El's turn to break out for a 100-yard receiving game with the Lambs focusing on Portis, Cooley, and Moss.

The Colts trouble me, deeply. They're 2-2 by the thinnest of margins, their offensive line is in shambles, their run defense is in shambles, and Marvin Harrison is making it look more and more like Anthony Gonzalez should be the No. 2 receiver these days. But Indy still has Peyton and the Ravens, for all the rah rah talk about Joe Flacco, still have a rookie quarterback. Close games always go to the guys who can deliver in crunch time, and that's the one thing the Colts have shown they are still adept at doing so far this season.
Prediction: Redskins 27 Rams 17, Colts 21 Ravens 17

Jaguars at Broncos, CBS 4:15
Patriots at Chargers, NBC 8 pm
NLCS Game 3, FOX 8 pm

My surprise pick from the preseason still sits at 4-1, but I have been deeply troubled by the past two weeks, which saw my Denver boys lose to an awful Kansas City team and barely escape with a 16-13 win over less than good Tampa Bay. We're going to learn a lot about Jay Cutler these next two weeks with games against the Jags and Pats. I think Denver wins one, and more specifically, I think they win this week in (this is my opinion) is a career-defining game for Cutler. I'm going out on a limb and say something ridiculous like a 350+ yard, 3 TD game against an average Jags secondary.

As for the Chargers, well I'm sticking by what i said about LT in the preseason: He'll never be the same after the knee injury from last year. And so far, the statistics hold true, he's averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and on pace for just over 1050 yards this year. Some of that has to do with the emergence of Phillip Rivers as more than just a game manager, therefore cutting down on LT's carries, but if I'm a Chargers fan, I'm worried. All that said, San Diego is 2-3 and another loss, coupled with my predicted Bronco win, would be devastating.
Prediction: Broncos 37 Jaguars 31, Chargers 35 Patriots 24, Dodgers return home and take game 3

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Haha Wall Street

A three-blog day. Yessir! This will be quick, though. This via The Gothamist:

I learned something new about Barack Obama

Now I'm not trying to mix myself too much into the whole politics thing, but I just read a Washington Post article that I couldn't resist sharing. It was a feature detailing Obama's early years as a politician at the Illinois statehouse in Springfield. Maybe I'm late arriving to the train because I just say a New York Times article from July 2007 basically about the same thing, but I had just never heard some of the stories from the early years of Barack.

For instance, some could argue he weaseled his way into office:

He had won his seat by challenging the validity of opponents' petition signatures, a tactical move that knocked a popular black incumbent named Alice Palmer off the ballot and allowed Obama to run unopposed. During his first week at the state Capitol, he scheduled a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Emil Jones (D) to request a heavy workload and coveted committee assignments. Then Obama invited a few other senators out for beers and indicated, Trotter said, "that he had higher places he wanted to be."

He played poker with fat white guys:

Obama folded frequently during the games, preferring to watch the action unfold until he could pounce with the occasional great hand. He filled the long gaps in between by seeking advice from his playing partners about balancing work and family, crafting legislation and aligning with Republicans. Even as Obama routinely took their money, the other players regarded him as naive but genuine. In various capacities, Link, Walsh and Jacobs all considered themselves Obama's mentors.

Obama was never a big drinker, but he faithfully brought along a six-pack of beer and downed a couple. He smoked and pitched in for midnight pizza. The poker game eventually migrated to Link's house and became the one social staple on Obama's schedule. The Committee Meeting, Obama called it -- and the appointment stood for eight years. His poker-mates sometimes teased him for becoming "one of the good ol' boys."

Oh yeah he got in what should be considered a career defining FIGHT with another senator:

The tension between the two men peaked on June 11, 2002, after Hendon made an impassioned speech on the Senate floor urging his colleagues to preserve funding for a child welfare facility in his district. It was, Hendon remembers, "basically the most emotional speech of my life, and I was pulling out all the stops." Every Republican still voted against him. Every Democrat voted with him -- except Obama and three other members who made up a faction known in Springfield as "liberal row."

Obama and his mentor in the Illinois state senate Emil Jones.

Incensed by those four votes, Hendon walked across the floor and confronted Obama, who explained by saying "something about fiscal responsibility," Hendon recalls. A few minutes later, after Hendon's proposal had lost, Obama stood up and asked to have his previous vote changed to a "Yes" for the record, saying he had misunderstood the legislation. His request was declined, and Hendon stood to criticize Obama for political maneuvering.

Infuriated that Hendon had embarrassed him publicly on the Senate floor, Obama walked over to his rival's seat, witnesses said.

"He leaned over, put his arm on my shoulder real nice and then threatened to kick my ass," Hendon said.

The two men walked out of the chamber into a back room and shoved each other a few times before colleagues broke them apart, Hendon and other witnesses said. Obama and Hendon never talked about the incident with each other again, but they reached an awkward understanding. Hendon stopped teasing Obama; Obama started voting with Hendon more regularly. Hendon now supports Obama for president.

Whether you're planning to vote for the guy or not, I highly recommend reading the entire article. It's a pretty fascinating look into an eight year period of time that clearly molded Obama into the man who is running for President. I found it interesting that in the beginning the article indicates that Barack declined to be interviewed for the story. I wonder what he's hiding.

Inside Caps Media Day

Coach Bruce Boudreau talking with the troops during a practice at the Verizon Center Tuesday.

Man, it has been a busy week for me. Last night was the first time all week I slept more than five hours in what seems like forever and now I'm feeling refreshed and ready to blog away. Included in my marathon of journalism the past few days was attending the Capitals media luncheon at Verizon Center on Tuesday since I'll be covering the team for the Washington Post Express this season (for non-DC folks that's the equivalent of amNY or Metro in NYC or the RedEye in Chicago). Basically, it sounds like I'll be writing one or two stories a week until the Redskins season ends, and they'll almost exclusively be feature stories since the Express' deadline is 730 pm. But I get to go to as many home Caps games as I'd like to since the team gave me a season media credential. Good times and I'll definitely be there for the home opener Saturday night.

Optimism abounds with these Capitals after they won seven straight games to close the year, winning the Southeast Division in the process. They then fell in a heartbreaking seven-game first-round series to the Flyers, but that's is justifiably getting overlooked with the team they are bringing back. Ovechvin became the darling of the league and the team has a solid core of young studs. Heading into Friday's season-opener I figured I'd give you a little glimpse into that core — don't take this as anything remotely definitive, these are just some of my observations having spent a couple days with the team so far this preseason.

Why are Russians so weird?
I know it's the cool thing to dress like Eurotrash across the pond, but it just doesn't make sense to me. The Caps have four Russians on their team this year, and three of them happen to be some of the best players on the squad. And yet for some reason, I feel the need to overlook their skills because of the way they dress. On the first day of training camp a few weeks ago I saw Alexander Ovechkin walk in with a low cut tank top that basically exposed his nipple, coupled with capri shorts that were not nearly as cool as Rafa Nadal's. Then there's Alexander Semin, who sports a mullet, there's no way around it, plus he rocks the capris with some of the most metro looking shoes I've ever seen.

At least those two are below the age of 25, so maybe they're just expressing some youthful rebellion or following the latest trend or something. But that doesn't explain me seeing 39-year-old Sergei Federov arrive at camp in pink sunglasses, pink tank top, and capris all while driving a bright red Ferrari. Now the Ferrari was a nice touch, but no 39-year-old, no matter if they dated Anna Kournikova at one point, should be wearing a pink tank top.

The Russians doing an interview with Comcast SportsNet. Pay particular attention to Semin's mullet, third from the right.

The Ovechkin Glare
Clothing aside, I think the intense media scrutiny is starting to wear on Ovechkin. Because of his star level, he's pretty much asked to do everything when it comes to media requests. I only got involved in one interview scrum with Ovechkin on Tuesday and it lasted just one minute because he wanted to get the hell out of there. I have a feeling, especially if the Caps hit a rough patch, that he's gonna go off at some point this season because of all the expectations placed on his shoulders.

But you gotta admire the guy for being so open about his public life. It sure sounds like he's having a good time with the fame:

Another part of Ovechkin's increased visibility is the desire for more knowledge about him, and specifically his personal life.

When he showed up at the NHL awards show with Igor Larionov's daughter, Alyonka, as his guest, photos of the pair immediately made the rounds on the Internet. Where and when he shows up with Victoria Lopyreva, a former Miss Russia, also has garnered plenty of interest.

"You know, everybody has fun. Especially when I am in Moscow, like I don't think about media or what people think or are talking about me," Ovechkin said. "I just want to have fun and I am just normal people. If I go out with different girls, it doesn't matter. I have a thousand girls, and then it is 'Oh, now who's my girlfriend?' If I go out with my friends and I go watch a movie with my friends' girls, then what is ... it is no situation. I think it is good. I think it is normal thing."

Local Sportscasters
Covering various Michigan sports through my college years, I got used to seeing television cameras and anchors around whatever press conference I was attending (especially when doing things for the basketball and football teams). But it wasn't really that big of a thing to me since I had no idea who these Detroit television personalities were. Plus, the people who would show up to these pressers from the Detroit television stations either didn't know anything about sports or chose to hide their knowledge by asking the hokiest and most asinine questions imaginable. Well, now that I'm back in DC, I've gotten a chance to meet some of the people I watched growing up.

Some general impressions are that everyone who works for the Post, including their former sports editor George Solomon, have been real cool and nice. But maybe that's because I work for the same company as they do. I watched FOX 5's head sports anchor, Dave Feldman, skip nearly the entire media food line by doing the whole pretending to talk with someone then casually merge in back of them, effectively cutting 3/5 of the people ahead of him. It was a tried and true tactic during my Skeeps days in Ann Arbor, but I didn't expect to see it at a media event at the Verizon Center.

Also the girl who took over for George Michael on NBC4, I think her name is Lindsay Czarniak, well, I don't want to sound unprofessional, so I'll just say I'm jumping on that bandwagon early just like I did with Erin Andrews. I never actually talked to Lindsay, but I need to find a way to do so in the future. I haven't watched her on TV yet, but I've heard from others she's actually pretty good. The combo of looks and talent that got Erin to the top.

Lindsay Czarniak interviewing Nicklas Backstrom. I see big things for both in the future.

Backstrom is my favorite to interview so far
Nicklas Backstrom, the Swede centermen back for his second season, is a real cool dude, let me tell you. Never mind that he hasn't even turned 21 yet, the guy just seems real laid back and comfortable with his surroundings. I'd expect big things out of him this year after he got off to a slow start last season. And he's European and dresses like a normal human being.

Honestly, aside from Ovechkin and Federov, none of this year's Capitals come off as that superstar who is too good to do an interview. And with Ovechkin I can understand his reluctance considering just how many media requests he probably receives every day. But I guess, all these players have to act this way, since besides the diehards nobody has really heard of many of them aside from Ovechkin and Federov. My early impression is that Brooks Laich and Chris Clark are the best quotes on the team.

The NHL Could Be in Financial Trouble
In fact all leagues could be with this terrible economy, but the NHL could be hit harder than the rest since they have an awful TV deal. From the Caps perspective, they are doing well right now as ticket sales are way up and excitement around the city is at an almost all-time high. And yet I couldn't help but notice when I was talking to owner Ted Leonsis Tuesday, that he still wanted to up his season ticket sales another couple thousand. Now, that's a natural stance for an owner to take, but what does that say about teams like Florida or Nashville or Atlanta that don't have nearly the amount of optimism surrounding their seasons?

Leonsis made it clear the Caps need to increase revenue by about 15 percent this season and that even last year, when the team went to the playoffs, he still didn't break even. It just makes you wonder when even the team with the best player in the league can't pull a profit. This is a big year for the NHL in general after finally taking some positive steps in terms of popularity following a couple years of post-lockout decline. They really can't afford to have a season without the premiere teams in the playoffs or at least making deep runs. I think in a dream world, the NHL would want something like Pens vs. Caps (capitalizing on the Ovie/Crosby rivalry because apparently the two aren't exactly friends) or either of those teams against the Rangers or the two big Canadian teams (Montreal or Toronto in the Eastern Conference Finals). And for God's sake, the last thing they need is a Carolina or a Calgary going far. That could be disastrous.

With the NHL on Versus until 2010-2011, I think there's a definite ceiling on the league's growth since they've done an awful job of getting the word out on when their games are actually on TV. For instance, other than Graham, did you know the NHL season opens up tonight with a doubleheader on Versus. Didn't think so. If I'm the big boys in New York running the league, I do whatever it takes to sign with a major network (cough cough ESPN) no matter the hit in TV revenue it takes.

And speaking of Leonsis, the guy is so jolly and happy with his team the talk of the town these days, that I almost forgot he tried to beat the crap out of one of his fans a couple years ago.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Return

So the subtitle of this blog being "Life and Times of the Just Graduated", I think it's only appropriate to chronicle my first weekend back at Michigan since graduating last spring. You may remember the last time I wrote something campus related, but if not, here's a refresher link.

So I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive that I would come back to campus a forgotten man, the old retread who nobody really wants to talk to but does it out of common courtesy. That didn't happen, though. If anything, it felt like I hadn't even left. Add on the fact that it was Mudbowl weekend and you've got someone who was completely distraught to leave come Sunday night. I figure I'll give a rundown of some things I noticed — obviously both good and bad — about my return trip.

The Drinking Dilemma
Alright, I have a huge qualm about something that isn't going on at the Michigan campus right now. A couple of months ago a group of 100 college Presidents came out and said America should lower the drinking age to 18. And these weren't rinky dink schools, either, considering the campaign was led by Duke University. Since I'm already over the age of 21, a possible rule change will never really affect me.

But thinking back to my days of my fake-ID wielding days, a proposal backed by this many high ranking officials would have stirred me into action. To my dismay, though, I've seen nothing more than the obligatory "Presidents, students want booze, parents strongly disagree" stories in the Daily or anywhere for that matter. Why hasn't Ann Arbor mobilized around this. They're begging you, too.

As sad as it sounds, this could be our generation's Vietnam. The only reason this thing hasn't picked up momentum is due to how strong the Mothers Against Drunk Driving are, and that state's federal highway funding is tied to their drinking age being 21. Seriously, you can go to war, nearly lose your life, and all you can drink is a fucking O'Doul's when you return. That just doesn't make any sense to me.

Still awesome and I still have issues maintaining my memory there.

The Mudbowl
Well as usual, SAE trounced the competition, this year beating Phi Psi 36-16. Things got a little dicey in the second half when the score was sliced to 24-16, but the Sig Alphs rebounded well to get the win. I'm fairly certain this was the most well attended Mudbowl I've seen, what with a later start and nicer weather. The Daily has a nice little piece on it as well.

The Football Game
All I can really say about that drubbing Illinois gave the Big Blue on Saturday is thank goodness Toledo is coming to town next week. I thought the seven fumbles against Notre Dame were a fluke and I overlooked the five fumbles against Wisconsin because of the great second-half comeback. But after I watched Michigan fumble another five times against the Illini, it's pretty clear that's just going to happen every week.

And for heaven's sake, can we please get a safety. If I have to watch Stevie Brown or Charles Stewart get burned deep again, I might just go over to the Michigan locker room with a lead pipe and take them out Tanya Harding style so we can just end this misery. The most telling part in all this is the fact those two are still starting even though it's almost guaranteed the opponent will get at least one long bomb a game courtesy of their mistakes. I seriously wonder what the backups must look like.

Kevin McKay
If you weren't in SAE, you probably don't know who this guy is. When I was in school he was merely a member of the alumni board, and more specifically, the biggest prick on the alumni board. Well, now he's the President of said alumni board, basically transforming him from amusing jerk to royal pain in the ass. There was a time a few years ago where I had to meet with him in his office, which to my shock was on campus in an art building. Little did I know, when I showed up said office was a custodian office. The man was a janitor ... or at least what called his office had lettering that straight up read JANITOR on it. And the guy is mean. I don't understand how people with menial jobs can be mean, it's like dooming yourself to failure. The double whammy, if you will.

So this year at Mudbowl, Mr. McKay decided drinking by alumni in attendance would not be allowed. This prompted an outward showing of emotion from people with beer cans/liquor (this is an understatement). And by emotion, I mean something along the lines of "Have fun trying to pry this booze from my hands, you custodial worker." But what got me about the whole situation is that over all these years of McKay being a prick to SAE, nobody thought to call the parents in as reinforcements against his tormenting I say this because the mother of an alum straight up called this man out about the no booze ridiculousness. And McKay backed down, and I don't think I saw him the rest of the day. It was quite refreshing.

Kevin McKay?

*I wanted to add more, like Klein's manifesto on texting (he needs to send it to me so I can post it on here), but going back to college made me forget a lot of things courtesy of the large intake of alcohol in such a short amount of time. Feel free to add any thoughts on the weekend to the comment section at the bottom.

Monday, October 06, 2008

My Date With Big Gheorghe

*Disclaimer:Sorry for the lack of posts. I was in Ann Arbor all weekend enjoying Mudbowl (post on that forthcoming). Oh yeah, and I decided that because I was going to the Arb that I would just delay all my work for the paper until today (Monday) and Tuesday. Just to give you some perspective, it's 630 on Monday right now and I just completed writing my 15th story of the day. And I think it's safe to assume none will win any sort of awards (well actually maybe one will, hopefully). Now that I'm done venting, back to the regularly scheduled post about, of all people, Gheorghe Muresan.

I think that picture pretty much explains it all in terms of just how surreal my Thursday was last week. Just admire that thing, I'm close to 6-foot-1 and I go up to Gheorghe Muresan's armpit. I was meaning to put this post up sooner, but I wanted to wait until my story in the paper appeared online. It's a good read (at least I hope it is) if you're into the sappy local news stories that appear in small papers all over the country.

So let me give you a little background on this whole experience. I came into the office a few weeks ago to find a message from a local writer. He was calling to promote this new fitness book that he, Gheorghe and Gheorghe's longtime trainer had teamed up to write. Specifically, it was a fitness book for kids.

My immediate reaction was how the hell can Gheorghe Muresan put his name on a fitness book when 1) I wasn't sure if he spoke English and 2)During his NBA career, and more importantly while playing for the Bullets back in the day, he was consistently the last man up and down the court and oftentimes wouldn't even make it across half court on offensive possessions. That's how slow the guy was. But even though I was skeptical, chances to interview people who are 7-feet-7 tall don't come around every day.

When I told the head honcho editor about the possibility of interviewing big Gheorghe, she came up with the novel idea of visiting him at his home since he lives in Potomac, just like me. I called the writer guy back, and since it seems they are pretty desperate for some publicity, big Gheorghe agreed to have me in his home.

That brings us to last Thursday. I drove to his home (about 10 minutes away from mine) with some genuine nerves. To be honest, I wasn't sure what 7-feet-7 was going to look like and I wasn't sure if I was going to get a legitimate interview since Gheorghe is Romanian. And I was quietly hoping for a Behind the Music-type moment where Gheorghe would expose how he went through some kind of drug addiction after My Giant bombed at the box office. As you'll be able to tell, I didn't actually see this.

As soon as I pulled up in his driveway, this giant Great Dane leaped into my car. I'm talking in my lap, licking my face before I had a chance to move. Once I got rid of the canine, I made my way to Gheorghe's door, which to my surprise was no bigger than your average front door.

Of course, the doorbell didn't work and since nobody was responding to my knocking, I began to peer through the side glass into the front hall. Out of nowhere, I hear this booming voice, "Who's looking in my window?" and judging from the giant shadow approaching, it was pretty obvious who the voice belonged to. Maybe when I see some of you reading this in person later, I'll admit to not being scared. But thinking back to that moment, I'll admit I definitely wasn't confident.

Gheorghe opened the door with a huge grin on his face, and almost immediately put his arm around my shoulder. I'm assuming this is a tried and true method for making others feel comfortable around him since, well, he is 7-feet-7 tall. And it worked, because it broke the tension. We sat down and started the interview from there.

One of my first questions was about the legitimacy of this fitness book, and I even cited the example of him not getting across half court. This is where I learned Gheorghe is much more than just a buffoon giant basketball player. His response was:

“You read the book and you’ll see why you should trust me. If you read the book, you’re going to see there are the right exercises in the book. I work out under the trainers, and good trainers, for 15 years. I work out with program, I don’t just go to the gym to work out. No way. For me, it was dangerous to go into the gym and just work out. All the time, when I go to work out, I have a trainer with me. I have a couple different trainers. Those trainers made me play in the NBA. My rookie year, I don’y play that much, but I worked with those trainers the most during that year. I work in the weight room, basketball court and agility and this make me to stay fit, to help with confidence in myself, and to be all the time prepared.”

As you can probably tell, Gheorghe speaks English but with a pretty thick accent. You can definitely understand him, though. And although he gets stares wherever he goes due to his height, he's a pretty normal guy. He's got two kids, a wife, he runs a basketball clinic company, and works for the Wizards as a suite ambassador (basically he schmoozes with the VIPs at Wiz home games). That's what my story in the paper is about. A normal guy in an abnormal body.

Now I didn't pass up the chance to talk a little hoops with Gheorghe. I asked him about Gilbert. He said he's just every other Wizards fan, who is anxious to see if Gil can come back fully healthy. I asked him who he thought the team to beat in the NBA was this year. He said the Houston Rockets. He made a good point about how Tracy McGrady won't have to play defense anymore because they have Artest to cover the opponent's best player now. I also made sure to ask him about that Bullets team from 1997 that made the playoffs only to lose to the Bulls in three games. His response: "Jordan was good".

I specifically mentioned Webber and Michigan in that convo, too. When I asked what he thought about CWebb taking money in college, he just shrugged and said "We all like money." I found it kind of weird that he didn't have much basketball memorabilia in his house. Or at least I didn't see any. I was hoping for some random pictures of him with someone who you totally wouldn't think of ... like Donald Trump or something. I was at least expecting something of him and Billy Crystal since they starred in My Giant together.

All in all, it was a pretty unique experience with a fairly intelligent guy. He really is just a normal Romanian immigrant trying to raise his family. He lives and breathes for his kids. There's a tree house that he claims he built for them. I asked if he needed to use a ladder to build it. He laughed and said "No way." He's even got this jumbo-sized bike (it really is the largest bike I've ever seen) so he can chase his kids around the yard. I tried to convince him to ride it so the photographer could take a picture of him doing it, but he was too smart for that. If I had convinced him, that thing would have been priceless.

But that's really it. Except he's nicer because he has to be. People like me would be scared of him if he wasn't. I guess I'll leave you with a final word from my interview:

“Right now, the life I live right now because I can see my kids do their homework and take care of the kids. I can spend more time with my wife and my kids. But I miss traveling, I miss that action with the team sometimes. I’m not crazy, I don’t cry, but I sometimes I miss this action. When I play ball, every morning I wake up 730, eat breakfast, and I go to practice. I miss that, going to practice. And what I miss the most is that energy after I have a good workout. When you are in good shape, you have a good workout, you take a shower, an hour later you have a lot of energy, this is what I miss.”

“I tell you, if I have to trade between my family and traveling, no way. Because I can go to the gym when my kids are in school and have fun with my family. Sometimes we play basketball, play a little racquetball, and then have a sauna and shower. Then we go home.

Sounds like a pretty good life to me.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

State of the Big Ten

Well, I'm getting all amped up today because tomorrow I leave for my triumphant return to the old stomping grounds: Ann Arbor. It's Mudbowl weekend and obviously, no stone went unturned to ensure I would be there. And it seems I'm arriving on campus at a near-perfect, what with Michigan football coming off a "No way they should come from behind" comeback victory over Wisconsin last weekend.

Like I said last week, I thought the Rich Rod era was going to take its first major step in this weekend's game against Ilinois since they run a spread offense that I thought the defense would be more than ready for considering they play against one every day in practice. Clearly, I was a week off in my prediction.

After a first half that saw the Wolverines offense gain 21 total yards and have another five fumbles, I don't think I was alone in shaking my head in befuddlement at just how anemic this team can be. And although Threet and company looked mighty impressive in the second half, I think it's vital that we not get ahead of ourselves here. With such a young team, it's impossible to guess what kind of offensive output you're going to get from week-to-week. As we saw against the Badgers, this squad is capable of greatness (like that awkward-looking, but still impressive Threet run in the second half) and the atrocious (cough cough 11 fumbles in the past two games) What I'm trying to say is, the Wisco win was another step in the right direction. But I'm not sold on it being that moment where everything clicked for the Rich Rod era. There are still some growing pains to go through.

All that said, it was still a win, and a comeback win that should do wonders for this team's confidence level. They now have confirmation that can compete with anyone in the Big Ten. The offense is going to come in fits and spurts, but as long as the defense can continue its bend, but not break tendency of showing up at just the right time, Michigan should be in every game it plays the rest of the way out. Don't expect 27-point halves every week, though.

So while I'm not ready to make any broad declarations about Michigan after just one win, I am ready to say the Big Ten is as wide open a conference as there is in the BCS. Anyone who tells you Penn State is the favorite is a moron. Yes, the Nittany Lions should certainly be in the conversation, but I don't think one lousy win over what I've been calling a suspect Illini team at home merits a jump to No. 6 in the country.

Penn State hasn't even touched its toughest stretch of the season, which begins after this week's game against Purdue. Not only could that game in West Lafayette be a potential upset (Joe Tiller's Last Stand anyone?), but they follow that up with a road game at Wisco, a home game against Michigan, and finally a trip to Columbus. That's the next four weeks for the Nittany Lions. If they come out of the next month with just one loss, I'll be impressed. Crowning them now seems way too premature to me. For God's sake, they haven't even played a road game yet (and no, playing one of the worst teams in Division I at a half-empty Carrier Dome doesn't count in my book). I'm saying now that the Nittany Lions will barely escape Purdue this weekend, followed by losses in their two big road games at Wisco and at the Horseshoe. All that and I almost forgot to mention they haven't beaten Michigan in more than a decade.

Wisconsin looked mighty suspect losing to Michigan, but take into consideration it was outside of MadTown, where the Badgers play particularly well. However, what shocked me is that Wisco is usually the type of team that once they get a lead, they grind you into submission with its running game. That certainly didn't happen against Michigan because Scott Shafer and the Wolverine D knew what was coming and loaded the box. Basically what I'm trying to say is they need a quarterback, or at least something resembling a human with a throwing motion. Allan Evridge, you have been put on notice because I think it's a bad thing when people are throwing around crazy phrases like "Man, I wish we had John Stocco still."

The Badgers have three of their next four at Camp Randall, though. The only catch is those three games are Ohio State, Penn State, and Illinois. I expect Wisco to lose this weekend against the Terrelle Pryor Experiment in a close one, but three losses in a row is out of the question. That's why Penn State goes down.

I guess a sleeper is Michigan State, who has started the season with just one loss, but c'mon, it's State. That team is good for at least two boneheaded losses that shouldn't have happened plus at least one more against a team like Ohio State or Penn State. Although, the Buckeyes have to go to East Lansing later this month, and I've got a weird feeling Spartan fans will rush the field at the end of that one.

That leaves us with Ohio State, who a lot of people threw to the curb after that USC debacle. And while nationally that was the right thing to do, a loss to the Trojans doesn't mean jack in terms of the Big Ten. The Bucknuts are the best team in the conference in terms of talent, it's just a question of how quickly Terrelle Pryor can become a difference maker. Right now, he's doing a good job at quarterback, but this team to take the next step Pryor must become a dynamic playmaker.

Here's the thing, though. I was going to predict Ohio State runs the table against all the top tier teams, but I just don't think it'll happen. Frankly, none of the teams in the Big ten are going to sweep through the competition. The winner of the conference is going to have at least two losses since no one is overwhelming.

What I'm trying to say is Michigan has as good a shot as any, especially if they start the conference 2-0 with a win over Illinois this weekend.