Friday, December 29, 2006

A Titanic effort

The 2006 draft had more talent than any other draft in recent memory. From top to almost the bottom (Saints WR Marques Colston, pick #252), numerous rookies have made significant contributions.

That being said, there's no question who is this season's NFL Rookie of the Year. He's directly responsible for turning around a team. He's given an entire city hope. He's saved his coach's job. And he has more raw talent than perhaps any other player on the field.

All year long - including Jan. 4 in Pasadena - he's truly been in-Vince-able.

Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Vince Young is performing a new miracle in the Music City. Forget Homerun Throwback against Buffalo in 1999. Young can scramble or throw for a homerun on any given play. He's not a "mobile quarterback" like Donovan McNabb. He's Larry Johnson with the ability to throw a 70-yard bomb.

Just look at his record since he took over at QB for the Titans.

Sure he lost his first two games, and that's all it took for him to master the NFL learning curve. After a 45-14 blowout loss to the Cowboys, Young and the Titans were one point away from defeating Peyton Manning and the Colts.

Ever since, Vince hasn't looked back. After those two losses, he has gone 8-2 as a starter. I know, I know, he got to play the Texans twice, but in the NFL two wins can be the difference between playing in January or sitting at home.

Speaking of January, the Titans have a shot of making the tournament. The Titans! They started the season 0-5. 0-5! Now they are on the verge of the postseason, and it's all because of Young.

Much like Tony Romo in Dallas, Young has pumped life into the Titans. He's lifted the spirits of his teammates and the entire city.

I could go through countless other rookies who have made a case for Rookie of the Year this season, but none have had the direct impact of Young.

Not Reggie Bush in New Orleans.

Not Jay Cutler in Denver.

Not Matt Leinart in Arizona.

Not D'Brickashaw Ferguson with the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets.

Not Laurence Maroney in New England.

Not Joseph Addai with the Colts.

Not Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville.

Oh, and definitely not overall No. 1 Mario Williams in Houston.

When the NFL Rookie of the Year is anounced, Vince Young will once again stand victorious against all odds. Just as he's done all season. Just as he did in Pasadena.

Talk about invinceable.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"Benedict Arnold" comments no shock from Shaq

I won't say "I told you so" ... eh, okay, I will.

Shaq and his former coach Phil Jackson are now in what appears to be a war of words through the media. Phil essentially said Shaq wasn't a hard worker, and the future Hall of Fame center called his nine-time champion coach Benedict Arnold.

Now, ESPN reported that Shaq didn't elaborate on his "Benedict Arnold" comments, but you don't have to be a genius to figure this out.

In April 2005, I wrote about how if Jackson returned to the Lakers, no one should be more upset than Shaq.

Why? Well think about it.

Shaq demanded a trade because: A) he couldn't get along with Kobe, and B) Phil and Jerry Buss "mutually agreed" that his coaching tenure in LA was over. A year later, Phil - who called Kobe one of the most difficult players to coach in his book "The Last Season" - returned to the Lakers to coach the superstar.

Think about how good the Lakers would still be if Shaq and Kobe could have worked things out and if Phil had never left. It wouldn't have been Miami hoisting that trophy last June; it would have been #4 for the new showtime Lakers.

Instead, Kobe and Phil must help rebuild the franchise while Shaq and his new buddy, D-Wade, start their own winning tradition in South Florida.

Good for the Big Aristotle. He got burned when Phil returned to LA and agreed to work things out with Kobe.

Who do you think can help the Lakers win more games? Kwame Brown or Shaq?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Play-by-play problems

The NFL Network. Football.24.7.

Their specialty? Yup, the National Football League. If it has to do with the gridiron, they've got it covered. They have millions of feet of historic footage, access to every team and a direct association with the league they cover.

So you'd think this NFL Network could get a decent play-by-play man to call the few games they get to broadcast. Didn't they?


Not even close.

Actually, they missed the mark by an embarrassing margin.

Bryant Gumbel teams up with long-time color man Cris Collinsworth on Thursday nights to call games on the NFL Network (and on Saturday's with Dick Vermeil). I've not watched three games called by Gumbel, and it's killing me.

I know it's a difficult thing to do. Calling a football game is by no means an easy task. Seriously. But I also know there are plenty of qualified individuals who could contribute to a quality broadcast. Instead the NFL Network went for a big name with ZERO play-by-play experience at this level.

And it's been noticeable. After Saturday's Cowboys-Falcons game, one local sports anchor went as far as to appologize for the broadcast during his Cowboys highlight.

Saturday's broadcast was wheels-off from the start. Dick Vermeil had a sore throat and was replaced at halftime. The only bright spot of that broadcast was Deion Sanders as the second half color commentator. He and Marshall Faulk carried that broadcast despite Gumbel.

Tonight's game (Green Bay/Minnesota) wasn't much better. At least Collinsworth was in the booth to hold Gumbel's hand. Coming back from one commercial, a camera was focused on a girl wearing reindeer antlers and a blinking red nose. Okay, that's cute. It's the holiday season. There's no need to dwell on it, though.

"Can you name the rest of the reindeer?" Gumbel asked Collinsworth.

Collinsworth said no, seemingly ending the conversation. So what does Gumbel do? He tries to list as many of Santa's reindeer as possible. You've gotta be kidding me.

Then there are other screw ups, such as mixing up players. With just over three and a half minutes left in the game, Brett Favre caught the Vikings in a blitz, alerted his lineman, took the snap and lofted a perfect ball to Donald Driver, according to Gumbel. Only problem? Ruvell Martin caught the ball; not Driver.

As a fan and aspiring play-by-play man, I'd rather wait for the accurate information than just guess incorrectly and have backtrack. It's brutal.

But what's worst of all is what can only be described as a complete lack of football common sense. Now, I know he knows what a touchdown is, etc, but on one play late in the game, Gumbel asked Collinsworth a question that I'd expect from a friend's girlfriend or perhaps my sister, but not from the man calling the game.

On 1st and 10, the Vikings dropped back to pass and the Packers sacked QB Tarvaris Jackson for an eight yard loss. Officials also called Minnesota for holding on the play. The Packers declined the penalty, as football common sense would dictate.

Gumbel then proceeded to ask Collinsworth, "Are you surprised they chose to decline the holding penalty?"

"Not after the sack," he replied.

No kidding! 1st and 20 versus 2nd and 18? Two yards versus one-fourth of a team's opportunities for a first down? Gee, I wonder. That's an easy penality to decline. Had it been a four-yard sack, then maybe the question is a little tougher, but any coach will take 2nd and 18.

I know I've been hard on Gumbel in this blog. He has a difficult job to do. Like I said, calling a game - in any sport - isn't easy. But the NFL Network should have gone with proven talent instead of just trying to grab a big name.

I - along with the rest of the football-watching public - can only hope that Gumbel improves throughout the season and into the future. If not, I'll have to give the MUTE button a workout.

A city of brotherly love? Not quite

The following is in response to a blog about fans in Philadelphia.

I didn't catch ATH today, but as far as Plaschke calling Philly an "ugly city," if he's talking about your sports fans, then he's right on.

I've been to Philadelphia. It is a city rich in history and tradition. When it comes to cheering on the local pro sports teams, however, the Philly Phaithful are quick to turn on their teams.

(Let me also add, by the way, that I'm not going to try to refute what you said about LA fans, because I whole-heartedly agree. And on a side note, don't attack Dallas fans because other than the Cowboys' following, it can get pretty weak.)

If you remember back a few weeks ago, Eagles quarterback Jeff Garcia (who has been doing his best Tony Romo impression - kicking ass against all odds - since getting under center) was booed by The Linc when he got injured and didn't come out. They were letting him have it. Garcia is keeping the Eagles afloat in the race for the postseason, and fans were calling for AJ Feeley. AJ FEELEY! C'mon!

This is a town that seemed to remain silent as your only great basketball superstar since Charles Barkley was traded away. Did anyone care? Apparently not. Iverson put the 76ers on his back all the way to the NBA finals just a few years ago.

This season, the 76ers are second to last in the NBA in average attendance (only to Memphis). That's roughly 72 percent capacity for their home games (which is the lowest percentage). Ouch!

It's not much different in other sports. The Philadelphia Phillies (what is a Phillie, by the way) do rank 11th in the MLB for average attendance, but their 34,200 home average is only 78 percent of capacity.

The Flyers and Eagles can at least fill their respective arenas, but the fans in those arenas are very much - as Plaschke put it - "ugly." There's quite a long list of booing that would ostensibly be "friendly fire." Eh, not quite. The list includes Santa Clause and Donovan McNabb on draft day (any regrets about not talking Ricky Williams now?).

Philly fans also have a history of cheering when opposing players get injured. They don't cheer for an injured player getting up. They cheer for him staying down. That's wrong and you know it.

So while other fans across the nation may be fairweather-ers, bandwaggon-ers or simply uninterested, I'd rather see that than the ugly displays of "fandom" that take place in your beloved city.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Aloha America's Team

Pro Bowl selections were announced today, and while Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo is considered a big surprise by some experts, he is a legit choice.

The biggest knock against Romo is that he didn't start a game until almost half-way through the season (week 8 to be exact). But these same experts say that Romo is the catalyst for the Cowboys sudden take off. They've gone 6-2 with him at the helm (including one wacky loss in Washington - Romo's only road loss).

It seems odd that experts on ESPN and around the country are quick to point out that Romo has only started eight games this year, but no one remembers that Larry Johnson started only nine games last season and still made the Pro Bowl. (Note: Romo will have started 10 regular season games this year if he stays healthy)

No one disagreed with LJ's selection last year despite not coming in as a start until Week 10, so what is the problem with Romo's selection? There isn't one.

Since taking over, however, Romo has put up Pro Bowl numbers:

---183/276 (66%), 2440 yards, 16 TDs, 10 INTs for a QB rating of 98.4 (second best in the NFL)
Also, if you were to multiply Romo's numbers from this season to match if he had played since Week 1, he'd currently have 28 TDs (19 INTs) and 4270 yards, which would lead the league in both catagories (Peyton Manning has 26 TDs, and Drew Brees has 4240 yards).

To put that in perspective of the other Pro Bowl quarterback selections in the NFC:
---Drew Brees: 4240 yards, 25 TDs, 11 INTs for a rating of 98.2
---Marc Bulger: 3665 yards, 19 TDs, 8 INTs for a rating of 89.5

As far as other potential NFC quarterback candidates, it would be difficult to make a case for any of them:
--Brett Favre: 3315 yards, 17 TDs with 15 INTs (74.8 rating)
--Donovan McNabb: 2647 yards, 18 TDs, 6 INTs and was an early MVP candidate - has the stats, but because he's injured it would be a waste of a pick because the Pro Bowl committee would have to select an alternate anyway
--Michael Vick: 2284 yards, over 1000 rushing yards, 19 TDs, 11 INTs - had Vick not lost the head-to-head match up versus Romo when the Cowboys beat the Falcons 38-28 Saturday, Vick probably would have been selected

Tony Romo is a Pro Bowl quarterback. He isn't a league MVP, a Hall of Famer or even the next superstar quarterback ... yet, but he's taken the first step this season and deserves this selection.

The other Cowboys' Pro Bowl picks included:
Roy Williams, safety - It's not the big blue star that makes receivers think twice about going over the middle at Texas Stadium. It's the fact that the now-four-time Pro Bowler can make any pass-catcher see stars with one bone-crushing hit.

DeMarcus Ware, linebacker - If you saw his interception of Michael Vick and the touchdown return that ensued, you know why Ware is going to Honolulu.

Mat McBriar, punter - When the Cowboys offense has stalled, McBriar has put opponents' backs to the wall all season. His 48.3 yards per punt is tops in the league.

Stars staying home

Some Dallas Cowboys could arguably be with their four teammates in Hawai'i on Feb. 10, but unless other selections drop out, they won't be making the trip. He's a look at some Cowboys who could have been considered:

Terrell Owens, wide receiver
I know, I know, he's a "big headache," a "distraction," "had an accidental overdose," yada yada yada. The bottom line is that TO is a game-changing receiver. Romo's success is directly related to the flamboyant flanker.

Owens has 11 touchdowns on the season, more than any other NFC Pro Bowl receiver: Torry Holt (10), Donald Driver (7), Steve Smith (6) and Anquan Boldin (4). While Owens has fewer yards than all except Boldin, he's not far behind.

NFC receiving yards leaders
Donald Driver (GB) .............. 80 rec / 1173 yards
Roy Williams (DET) ............. 70 rec / 1127 yards
Steve Smith (CAR) ............... 76 rec / 1081 yards
Torry Holt (STL) .................. 80 rec / 1044 yards
Terrell Owens (DAL) ..... 77 rec / 1040 yards
Anquan Boldin (ARI) ............ 75 rec / 1027 yards

The biggest things holding TO back are: 1. his league-high 15 drops, and 2. the fact that he's TO. Any other receiver with his numbers would be Hawai'i-bound, and if any of the four NFC receivers drop out, TO should be the first one called. There's no way around it: he's helped more than he's hurt Dallas this year.

Marion Barber III, running back
He is the NFC's leader in touchdowns with 15. Overall he's tied with Kansas City's LJ for second behind LaDainian Tomlinson (31). He may not get a lot of carries, but when there is dirty work to be done, Big Bill gives the rock to MB3.

The running backs ahead of him are having good seasons. Frank Gore leads the NFC with 1491 rushing yards, and Tiki Barder is on his tail with 1357. Steven Jackson has 1236 yards, but has managed to find the end zone 10 times this season. All three have been called upon to carry the load for their respective teams in crunch time.

Terrance Newman, cornerback
He is emerging as a shut down corner in the NFL. While is not yet at the Champ Bailey level, he has been improving ever since he came into the league. As's Mickey Spagnola pointed out, Newman got shafted this season. Look for T-New to make the trip to Hawai'i next February. The guy can play.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The need to Melo out

If you're on a team that's getting embarrassed by a superior opponent, it's not their fault you cannot make the game competitive.

The NBA announced the punishments for the particpants of this weekend's NBA brawl. At the heart of the fight was Mardy Collins hard foul on J.R. Smith. Both players were suspended, six games and 10 games, respectively. Good. There should be suspensions for those on-court actions. It was absurd.

What I don't understand are the New York Knicks sympathizers, saying that the Nuggets shouldn't have been "running up the score" so late in the contest. Some say it was wrong of Denver to have their starters in the game when it was "already decided."

Just to clarify, the foul took place with 1:15 left in the game, which ended as a 123-100 win for Denver. If Isiah Thomas felt the hard foul was necessary to send a message to opponents not to run up the score, he's officially a worse coach than team president.

If the downtrodden New York Knicks can't win a game and can't keep it competitive, it's not the Nuggets' responsibility to keep it close so as not to hurt anyone's feelings. The Nuggets as an organization should focus on winning games, and that's it.

"I'll swear on my children's life that I never thought about running up the score. I wanted to get a big win on the road," Nuggets head coach George Karl told reporters the next day.

"My team has had trouble holding leads at the end of games. I didn't want the score to get under 10 points because if it would've gotten under 10 points it would've had a negative feeling on my team."

So what's wrong with that?

If the Knicks don't want to get embarrassed, play better. Plain and simple. Maybe practice a little more. Whatever you need to do. Don't blame other teams for running up the score.

The NBA has a shot clock, which means that at some point during a possesion the Nuggets would have had to shoot the ball. If that's a layup, jumper or hook shot, that doesn't matter, but they have to shoot or else it's a turnover.

Also, the Nuggets have a responsibility to their fan base: to entertain them. If that means leaving the starters in to attempt 360-dunks and alley-oops during the final minutes of a blowout, then so be it. Nuggets fans probably wanted to see a big win. Karl said he wanted a big win. The Knicks' shortcomings aren't reason enough to give up on that goal.

I didn't see anyone in the United States complaining about the original Dream Team "running up the score" when they won all their games by an average of 44 points during the 1992 Olympics. Why? Because we wanted to see our team crush all the rest. Just like fans in Denver probably wanted to see their team crush the Knicks. Just like when a team I root for plays, I want to see them crush their opponent.

Close games can be fun to look back on, but in the moment they can be cause for a heart attack (just ask the Steelers fan who had one when Bettis fumbled on the goalline back in January).

The suspensions are fair, but any complaints against the Nuggets are not. You don't want them to run up the score: then take your bench players off the court and put your starters back in to match up against theirs.

Thomas can't just send goons to commit hard fouls when his team can't stop anyone. If he really wants to prevent those types of final scores, perhaps the Knicks should find more capable players - or better front office personnel.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Welcome back

Welcome back to the post-season, Dallas. It's been a while - since 2003 - but it's good to have you back. The playoffs just aren't the same without you.

Dallas Cowboys, you really do make the NFL playoffs a better viewing experience for everyone. Whether someone is a Cowboys fan or if they're anti-America's Team, viewers all across the country don't miss a playoff game when you are involved.

You are a premier NFL franchise. No one has as many Super Bowl appearances (eight) or Super Bowl MVPs (seven) as the Dallas Cowboys. Facing Dallas in the post-season is akin to facing the New York Yankees in October: you know you're in trouble. And you know it's a bigger game because it's the Yankees.

Well, when teams play the Cowboys, especially in January, it's trouble. This season looks to be no different. So just remember, Dallas, that while it may have felt like an eternity since your last playoff berth, it's felt even longer for everyone around the nation.

As you advance in the playoffs, the more hype the playoffs generate. Whether someone wants to see you win or lose, the playoffs are better off with you in than with you out. Can that be said about any other franchise in the league?

No. No, it can't.

Does anyone outside of Minnesota notice if the Vikings are in the playoffs in a given year? No. But fans remember when their team had to play the Cowboys in the playoffs. That's where all those "we came so close, until we had to play Dallas" stories come from.

January should be a interesting month, especially with you back. How 'bout them Cowboys!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Time to Cowboy up

The following was written as a comment to another blog posting, but will still make sense standing alone. The post I'm responding to is about

The fall of Romo? Not likely. Perhaps the stumble of Romo. Maybe the misstep of Romo. But the "fall" of Romo? No.

This was a crushing loss for the Cowboys, no doubt about it. Instead of a two-game division lead and the inside track to a bye, they are left with a one-game lead and lots of wounds to lick.

More importantly, the Cowboys - if they do lock up the division - will most likely play a division foe in the first round (either NYG or PHI), depending who which, if not both, make the dance.

It's true, there's a lot of hype on ESPN, where a quarterback can go from ontop of the world and dating Jessica Simpson to getting crushed by the Saints at home and being shot at in South Dallas. Tony Romo is no exception. He is definitely in the dog house this week. But so is the entire organization.

That's one of the worst home losses the Cowboys have had in recent memory, but it also provides something - if anything - to bounce back from.

You brought up a great point, that Romo had not yet been tested by a tough defense. Well, now he has. Now he knows what to expect. Now he can be better prepared the next time around.
The Cowboys schedule the rest of the way (@ATL, PHI, DET) should allow them to take two out of three at least, giving them a 10-6 record at a playoff berth. If they win all three, it's a division title.

If they rebound next week against a shakey Falcons team, they'll be in prime position to finish the season strong and head to the playoffs with a lot of momentum.

The last time the Cowboys won the Super Bowl (1995), they dropped two games in December (home vs. WAS, and @PHI), but still finished the season with consecutive wins and went unchallenged through the NFC playoffs. I'm not saying they could go unchallenged in this year's NFC playoff picture, but they have the talent to do it.

The "analysts" do create a lot of hype, but they do have some foundation for an argument. Romo has had the numbers. The Cowboys have had the defense. The biggest test will be seeing their ability to bounce back, shake off this loss, and refocus on the schedule that lies ahead.

If they do that, then I'll have only four words for you:


This is a Brees


What can you say about Sunday night? The "Debacle in Dallas." the "Implosion in Irving," or the "Fall of Romo" as some have termed it. Whatever it was, one thing was for certain:

The Saints could go marchin' in, all the way to the Super Bowl.

Last night was nothing short of a good old fashion beat-down. The Saints' 42-17 Cowboy-killing gave them an inside track to a bye and - Rex Grossman pending - a shot at home field throughout the playoffs.
As for the Cowboys, no, they are not done. They still lead the Giants and Eagles by one game in the NFC East, with a semi-forgiving schedule left (@Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit). They should, should, win two out of three, getting them in the playoffs. If one of those wins is against Philly, that should be enough to lock up the division crown.

The Saints put up two 21-point quarters to put the country - and the AFC - on alert. New Orleans is here, and they're ready to take on anyone. This win could very well be the springboard for the Saints to finish the season on a six-game winning streak and a 12-4 record that will guarantee at least a bye, if not home field (it's highly unlikely, but we'll see about that tonight after the Bears game).

New Orleans has come out of nowhere this season. They have the inside track to a bye, and quarterback Drew Brees has a shot at breaking Dan Marino's season passing record (5,084 yards). Not since Kurt Warner in 2001 has anyone come close.

With their remaining schedule, Mardi Gras could come early for the Big Easy.

Let's break down the Saints remaining schedule:
Dec. 17, Washington Redskins (4-9)
There's no excuse not to win this game. Gibbs and Co. are reeling after a narrow loss to Philly, and New Orleans has been sensational in the Super Dome this season.

If they want, the Saints can go ahead and look at film for the New York game. Let the back ups play this one.

Dec. 24, @ New York Giants (7-6)
After a four-game, potentially-season-crushing losing streak, the Giants are once again the best team in East Rutherford, N.J. Congratulations. Their win at Carolina helped give this free-falling franchise some semblance of a parachute. The Giants will need great production from their running backs (Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs) to take the pressure off Eli Manning.

On paper, the Saints are a better all-around team, but let's wait to see just how high the G-men bounce back.

Dec. 31, Carolina Panthers (6-7)
In the Saints' closest (and first) loss of the season, Carolina pounded the ball, outgaining New Orleans on the ground, 167-63. Jake Delhomme played an efficient game (19/29, 169 yards, 2 TDs). If Delhomme is back for this game (and I don't mean back from the injury, I mean back from whatever planet he's been on for the last three weeks),
the Panthers will be a tough team to beat.

The Saints kept it close the first time, and the Panthers keep finding new ways to lose games in the fourth quarter. And what better way to celebrate a win against division-rival Carolina than with a bye week.

The Saints most likely won't earn home-field advantage throughout. Chicago is undefeated in conference play (8-0) with a cupcake schedule the rest of the way. Even with their problems at quarterback, the defensive Monsters of the Midway (and some special special teams production) should allow the Bears to lock up the top seed.

Chicago would have to loss three of its final four games (@St. Louis, Tampa Bay, @Detroit, Green Bay) to allow New Orleans the top seed. Who cares who Rex Grossman is playing with that schedule! They have two home losses in the last two years. I know it gets pretty cold in Chicago in January, but that hasn't bothered the last two playoff teams that visisted.

So enjoy last night's win, New Orleans. You marched in to Dallas and marched over the Cowboys. Keep it up and you might just march yourselves into Miami for Super Bowl XLI.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

LT not yet GOAT

If you think you know football, and you think you know great running backs, then you need to read this. If you don't know about great running backs, you're about to get educated.

In response to LaDainian Tomlinson setting a new single-season TD record (29) this afternoon, has a new poll question up:

Who is the greatest running back of all time?
Jim Brown
Walter Payton
Barry Sanders
Emmitt Smith
LaDainian Tomlinson

The scariest part of this poll: LT has captured 20% of the vote so far, and he's leaps and bounds ahead of Smith and - more astonishingly - Brown.

That's somewhat flattering to the new touchdown king, but let's just put things in perspective, shall we. On a day where Tiki Barber became the 20th back with 10,000 career rushing yards, this is a poll putting LT in the same category as the greatest backs in the history of the game. Now, I don't think Barber should be included in that group, but neither should LT - at least not yet.

If this question was "who had the best season for a running back?" or "who had the best first six years in the league at running back to start a career?" then LT would make for a fine choice.

Just because he set a new mark doesn't mean he automatically gets put in the same category, or the same realm of greatness, as those other names. Yet somehow it's happened.

Before I continue what I'm sure many would consider an LT-bashing, let me just make a case for him. He's in his sixth year, and at this pace should reach the 10,000 yard plateau at the end of the 2007 campaign. If - if - he can stay healthy, he has a legitimate chance to become the all-time rushing leader (which would be a tough task considering he's not yet halfway to Emmitt Smith's 18,355).

When historians look at back LT's career, they will see a Hall of Famer. He's helped to revitalize a struggling San Diego Chargers franchise. He's the heart pumping life through that organization and has been ever since arriving in 2001.

But before you put him in a category with Brown, Payton, Sanders and Smith, let's look at what those four did. Really quickly, here's a look at the NFL top 8 all-time leading rushers:
1. Emmitt Smith 18355
Walter Payton 16726
Barry Sanders 15269
4. Curtis Martin 14101
5. Jerome Bettis 13662
6. Eric Dickerson 13259
7. Tony Dorsett 12739
8. Jim Brown 12312

Now, numerically you can't argue with Smith, Payton and Sanders, and had Jim Brown played more than nine - yes, nine - seasons in the league, there's no doubt he would have continued to run over defenders at an alarming rate.

The knock on Emmitt is that he had great blocking and played on a good team, so he's not the greatest. Okay, arguably Michael Jordan played on a good team. Joe Montana played on a good team. Perhaps it wasn't a good team around him as much as him making the team better. There's no denying Smith's blockers were great - perhaps none greater than his fullback Darryl "Moose" Johnston - but someone still had to gain those yards.

Walter Payton. Sweetness. For nearly two decades his 16,726 seemed like the Holy Grail of pro football. He was the wheels that kept the famed '85 Bears moving in the right direction. He ran with a combination of power and speed that hasn't been seen since he hung up his cleats.

Barry Sanders [who by the way is leading's poll by a large margin] had jukes and moves that made video games require bigger hard drives. No one has escaped from as many defenders who had the "sure tackle" as Sanders. He was elusive. More importantly, he avoided getting hit hard, allowing him to play until he decided it was time to call it a career.

The best running back of all time is Jim Brown. No one has ever dominated the way he did. He led the league in rushing all but one year he played. And no defense could stop him, only the dream of an acting career.

So before LT gets put in Canton, let's just make sure he can keep it going like those who are already there.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Thursday Night Football

Did you know there was a football game on last night? An NFL game. Really, I promise it happened.

That's the problem. Even though people across the country know the NFL Network is showing football games on Thursdays and Saturdays throughout the final month of the season, that doesn't mean they are tuning in.

First of all, some cable providers don't carry the NFL Network, and some who do still block it out. But that's not my big problem with NFL games on Thursday nights.

The thing that makes football, professional football, so much more popular than any other professional sports league in the country is not just the games, but how rare they truly are. Any night of the week, you can turn on the TV and find a basketball game or a hockey game. Any day of the summer, you know there's a baseball game on.

But football? Fans have to wait for a week, allowing the anticipation to build up. They don't get to see their teams every other day. A fan's NFL team becomes more special as a result.

That's one of the reason's I can't stand NFL Network broadcasting Thursday night games. (Oh, and by the way, I do get the NFL Network, but I haven't seen a Thursday night game since Thanksgiving).

But I have many reasons I don't like Thursday night games on the NFL Network in particular:
  1. NFL games become more commonplace as they get spread out through the week.
  2. As a fan, I like knowing that I can reserve Sunday's for football.
  3. Some fans don't - or can't - get NFL Network, so unless they live in the local market, they can't see the game. (I currently live in Los Angeles, and there is no local team, so it's NFL Network or bust in the City of Angeles).
  4. Teams don't play as well because they are not as fresh on the short week. Coaches and players don't have as much time to prepare, and the semi-bye week from Thursday until the following Sunday is hardly a reward.

    (Now there is an exception to every rule, and the exceptions to this rule are the Thanksgiving Day games. Those happen once a year, and it's for a special occasion. That has become tradition, and unless you are the Cowboys or Lions, your team doesn't have to play the extremely short week except for maybe once every eight to 10 years).

Let me make one thing clear: I don't have a problem with the games being on NFL Network. Eventually people will find a way to see those games. It wasn't a big deal about a decade ago when Sunday night games were televised on cable by ESPN. Granted more cable companies carry the "worldwide leader" but it was still a radical move at the time.

On the surface it seems like a good idea.

Hey, people like football. I like football. I would watch football if it was on TV every day of the week. *light bulb* What if we put football on TV every day of the week?! Then you can get all this football. It'll be great!

Actually, no. No it won't be. Wives who put up with their husbands gluing themselves to the couch on Sundays must now deal with Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Thurdays - all the days of the week when the NFL plays games in December this season.

How trivial have the non-prime-time games become? Hell, now watching football at 1pm and 4pm EST on a Sunday is a horrible experience. Any game that is half-decent will find a prime-time slot on Sunday, Monday, Thursday or Saturday.

The NFL is becoming almost too popular for its own good. And no one - certainly not a pathetic collection of cable companies - can stop their latest move. I wasn't a fan of Super Sunday moving to February, and I'm not a fan of this.

But I am still a fan of football. So begrudgingly, I will be watching no matter when the games are played. Go Cowboys!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Not voting defies system

I've given the issue three days, and it seems that any outrage over this situation had all but died down. That's disappointing.

Three days ago, it was reported that Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel did not cast a vote in the final polls of the season, a vote that helped to determine Ohio State's opponent in the BCS Championship Game Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.

Tressel just opened Pandora's Box. It's only a matter of time before everything escapes from it.

I understand Tressel's argument that he "didn't think it was appropriate for us to participate in something like that."

Yes, I'm sure Tressel did in fact feel somewhat uneasy about helping to choose: Michigan or Florida. But that's the problem. At what level does this end?

What if USC Head Coach Pete Carroll, sick from Saturday's surprising loss, decided that because the Trojans didn't have a chance to be in the BCS Championship Game, he didn't feel like voting. So then that's two less votes (which, by the way, is all it would take to swing a decision from a one-ballot loss to a one-ballot win).

What about Arkansas's head coach Houston Nutt? He knew USC lost to UCLA during the SEC Championship game versus Florida. He would know that his team would then have the ability to leapfrog the Trojans with a win, thus ending the season with one loss compared to USC's two.

If Arkansas had won the SEC title game, they deserved a shot to be in the title game. Their only loss would have been to a conference champion that finished No. 7 in the BCS. But they lost to Florida, 38-28, so Nutt didn't have a chance to vote for his team as second-best in the nation. Knowing that, what he decided, "Well, it's really not up to me."

That's three votes less now.

I could go on and on. As that's the point. As unlikely as it may be for someone to look at the situation and say, "that wouldn't happen," the point is it could.

And if it does, then the entire system - flawed as it may be - becomes even worse. Coaches agree to vote, and agree that their coaches poll may be used in the BCS to determine who plays for the BCS Championship.

If Jim Tressel doesn't respect the system enough to cast a ballot in the most important vote of the season, then he doesn't deserve one at all. Period.

Tressel should not have a vote in the coaches poll next season. Unlike American elections where voting is a constitutional right, in the BCS it's a privilege, and Jim Tressel just lost it.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

BCS Breakdown

Tostitos BCS National Championship
Ohio State vs. Florida

I predicted this match up just before it was announced. Ohio State will have not played in 51 days when they take the field in Glendale, Ariz. Florida will be ready, but it most likely won't be enough.

My pick: Ohio State

Florida is a great team, but the perception has been whoever received the bid to the title game would be simply looking for a claim to "second place." Ohio State and the likely Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith will be tough to beat, and I don't think it'll happen.
FedEx Orange Bowl
Wake Forest vs. Louisville

This is the game that matters only to people on the East coast. The Big Easy, *cough* I mean Big East champion Cardinals made it to their first BCS bowl after both Rutgers and West Virginia fell off toward the end of the season. Wake Forest plays in a conference that collectively has fewer national championships and Heisman Trophies than USC alone.

No one had Wake Forest in a BCS Bowl at the start of the season - and if someone tells you they did, they're lying. Wake's run was impressive, and they deserve their shot after capturing the ACC title.

My pick: Louisville

Louisville won a big game in West Virginia earlier this year, and they kept it close with Rutgers. The Cardinals seem to be on the brink of becoming a big-time program. Earlier this season, they held the No. 3 spot in the BCS.
Allstate Sugar Bowl
Louisiana State vs. Notre Dame

LSU thought they were going to the Rose Bowl - and if USC hadn't lost to UCLA (and no, I still don't want to talk about it) the Tigers would be heading to Pasadena. The Sugar Bowl isn't the worst consolation prize a team could get. The Tigers have had a remarkable season, losing only to Auburn and Florida.

The Fighting Irish were last seen getting whipped in the Coliseum. While I feel Notre Dame is perenially overhyped, there is no denying they have talent. Brady Quinn and the gang will be ready, as coach Charlie Weis will look for a strong performance to rebound from a crushing loss to the Trojans.

My pick: LSU

If the Irish thought it was tough to play the Trojans in Los Angeles, they are in for a world of hurt when it comes to taking on Louisiana State just 80 miles from campus. Whatever is in the water down in "Nawlins" that the NFL's Saints have been drinking all season might serve the LSU Tigers will. I know Notre Dame travels well, but that won't be enough to out-number the entire state of Louisiana.

I know that doesn't translate directly onto the field, but keep this in mind: LSU ain't that bad. The Tigers are the second team in the tough SEC to get a BCS bowl bid (the other being Florida). The problem: Notre Dame is ready for another let-down. After getting themselves so hyped up to play USC only to lose by 20, don't be surpised if the Irish come out flat.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
Oklahoma vs. Boise State

The Oklahoma Sooners have had an amazing season. They were essentially one blown call in Eugene, Ore., away from being in the conversation for a shot at Ohio State. They've overcome so much this season after losing would-be quarterback Rhett Bomar before the season and losing Heisman Trophy candidate Adrian Peterson half way through the season.

Boise State will be playing on behalf of every other Mid-Major in the country. They have an opportunity to legitimize any school that isn't in one of the six BCS conferences. Ian Johnson and Co. are a talented bunch, and they've done it under a first-year head coach.

My pick: Oklahoma

This match up is essentially the University of Oklahoma against Boise State, TCU, Utah, Hawaii, and every other college that doesn't play in the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Pac-10 or SEC. But if OU can overcome all that they have this season, they can overcome the Broncos. Sorry, Boise State, but they play the Fiest Bowl on a green field, not "smurf turf."

Rose Bowl presented by Citi
Southern California vs. Michigan

The Rose Bowl. The Granddaddy of them all. The most prestigious bowl game in the nation played in front of one of the largest crowds in the nation. And neither team could care less.

The Gators just barely squeeked by the Wolverines, ending any rematch hopes in Ann Arbor. Michigan will travel to Pasadena after more than six weeks since their last game.

The Trojans of USC - as my friend Jeff said leaving the Rose Bowl after Saturday's loss - "will be right the [expletive] back here!" They will go back to Pasadena for their record 31st Rose Bowl. Pete Carroll has led his squad to a fifth straight Pac-10 title - and USC is 3-1 in BCS bowls under Carroll. It's just tough to know that scoring five more points Saturday could have been the difference between their third Rose
Bowl in four years instead of a third straight shot at a BCS title.

This is a rematch of the 2003 Rose Bowl (USC won, 28-14, and captured a share of the national title). Both teams are going to their third Rose Bowl in four
years. Each lost to Texas (Michigan in 2005 at the official Vince Young coming out party, and USC in 2006 at the official Vince Young send-off to the NFL). Considering this stadium has been so unkind to both programs, are either actually looking forward to this?

My pick: a zero-zero tie, as neither team shows up because they are so distraught. As a result, student sections empty as students from both schools take the field to represent for their respective schools. Amidst all the chaos, I - in my own egotistical mind - think I should be on the field helping to represent USC. I go down to play and end up re-injuring my ankle.

Match up mayhem

With the announcement of who will play whom is the BCS bowls happening as I type these words (they just announced Boise State and OU for the Fiesta Bowl), I want to quickly give my take on USC's BCS future this season.

USC's loss to the Bruins cost them a title shot, and threw the entire system into chaos. The Trojans, however, will still play in a BCS Bowl (the Rose Bowl). Their opponent depends on who will face Ohio State in the national title game.

If Ohio State faces Michigan in a rematch, then LSU will most likely head to Pasadena to take on the Trojans in a battle of the teams that split the titles in 2003. That brings into question the idea of a rematch, but that will decided momentarily.

If Florida reaches the national title game, I would assume the Rose Bowl would want it's traditional Big-10 versus Pac-10 match up. USC would most likely take on Michigan in a rematch of the Trojans' 2004 Rose Bowl appearance where they won their share of the split national title.

If that's the case, then LSU would probably get the SEC's nod to the Sugar Bowl because the Gators would be heading to Glendale on Jan. 8.

My guess?

Florida passed Michigan in the coaches poll, and the Gators played a pretty complete game in the SEC title game against Arkansas. Florida won the SEC, arguably the toughest conference in the country. Michigan on the other hand only lost to the top-ranked team in the country. They have a legitimate argument for a title shot despite losing to the team already slated to play for the championship.

That being said, Florida will probably be the team traveling to Glendale to take on the Buckeyes of Ohio State. The Rose Bowl wouldn't be too upset about that, either, giving them their traditional match up. Michigan will be upset, but when it's up to voters and not a plus-1 playoff system, that's what happens.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Stuck in the middle

The (dirt) road to Omaha, Neb. for the women's volleyball Final Four just got a little bumpier.

Tonight at the Galen Center, the USC Women of Troy will face off against BYU in the second round of the NCAA women's volleyball tournament. The winner goes on to the regional semi-finals in Honolulu for a shot to advance to the Final Four.

I've watched the Women of Troy take the court numerous times this year, and I've seen them beat all sorts of opponents. The one thing I hadn't seen this season was what BYU pulled off last night in their first-round match.

After falling to UC Santa Barbara 30-27, 32-30 in the first two games, it seemed the Gauchos were on their way to the second round. And why not? After all, BYU hadn't come back from an 0-2 hole all season, and UCSB was undefeated after taking the first two games of a match.

And that's why they play the games.

BYU appeared possessed as the Cougars clawed back into the match with a slim three-point win in game three, followed by a convincing nine-point triumph in game four. When the deciding fifth game rolled around, BYU had the momentum and took the match.

That's why I'm worried about USC tonight. They had a - I don't want to say easy, so as not to deminish their opponent, but what other word is there? How about - middle-of-the-road Mississippi team in their first-round match. 'SC blew 'em away and by the end of the third game, head coach Mick Haley had emptied his bench onto the court.

All advantages point to USC:
  • They are playing at their home facility, the Galen Center with their band in the stands.
  • They have fresher legs, playing only three games last night compared to BYU's exhausting five-game match.
  • They survived a much tougher schedule than BYU, playing the country's toughest women's volleyball conference, the Pac-10.

The Women of Troy need to keep the pressure on BYU tonight, because any let up would allow the Cougars an opportunity to get back into this match. Even if USC gets up 2-0, they have to keep fighting until the final point is awarded. BYU is 3-0 this season after winning a five-game match the night before. USC, however, hasn't lost to a non-conference opponent this year.

I wouldn't think USC would lose this match, but BYU has consistent middle hitting. As for the Women of Troy, their offense comes from the outside, which I think favors BYU. Sure, USC has superior hitters, but consider this:

In football, offenses work to establish the run. They do this in order to free up the passing game. By establishing a strong running game, linebackers and defensive backs tend to cheat up to stop the run, allowing quarterbacks to exploit the secondary for big plays.

The same holds true for volleyball. At the beginning of a match, it's crucial to establish the middle. By doing so, the opposing middle blockers must respect an attack out of the middle. They then cannot cheat toward the outside and get an early jump on blocking a higher, slower set. Now when the setter goes to an outside or backside hitter, the opposing block is less likely to be sealed up.

Out of the middle, USC has potential to dominate opponents. Bethany Johansen, Kelli Tennant and Katelyn Bishop are extremely talented middles. They just don't get the looks that they should. Arguably it doesn't matter with big-hitters Asia Kaczor and Diane Copenhagen on the outside hitting over the blockers waiting below.

Still if USC is going to go deep in this NCAA tournament, they'll need some production out of their middles. Last night they got it from Kelli Tennant who equalled her season-high 10 kills and hit at a .389 clip. If she and her fellow middles can keep that up, USC should enjoy a lengthy postseason.

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