Saturday, December 29, 2007

Meaningful Football

Tonight we got the game we were hoping for. And until it actually ended, fans nationwide couldn't have known this game would be played to the fullest.

Both teams had their playoff positioning locked in. Both teams could have rested starters. Both teams could have quite literally taken the night off. What would the fans be able to do about it? Nothing.

But instead, credit the coaches, the players and both organizations for bringing their best performance to this prime time triple-telecast event. The Giants pushed the Patriots within an onside kick of defeat but couldn't stop the first team to ever finish the regular season 16-0. New England beat NYG 38-35, but what lies behind that score is the amazing football game that didn't need to played.

But they did play it. They played it well. They played it the way it needed to be played to be the historic, meaningful football game it turned into.

Kudos to both the Giants and Pats for pushing themselves beyond their own necessary efforts. Those teams didn't need to put on a show. But as fans, let's enjoy that they did.

Now let's get ready for January!

Gumbel bumble - 1

Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilford just tried to poke the eye of Giants running back Brandon Jacobs.  Yes, it was a cheap little shot at him, but the Pats got tacked for 15 yards on the play anyway.

NFL Network announcer did refer to the eye-poke as a "Moe-Larry-Curly situation."  I'm impressed considering I've never heard the Three Stooges names recited in that order.  Gumbel then said he didn't think poking a player in the eye was a serious offense.  If it weren't for experience color-commentator Chris Collinsworth to straighten him out and correct him, we'd be in serious trouble.

NFL Network nightmare

Tonight's triple-televised attempt at history will turn into what will either lead to major change or the downfall of the NFL Network.  When the 15-0 Patriots face the Giants tonight on NBC, CBS and NFLN, the everyone will be able to watch a game that would originally be seen by only a fraction of the nation.

As a result, more people than ever before will be an NFL Network football game production.  And as a result of that, the NFL Network will be viewed as a farce rather than the quality network it really is.

I do get the NFL Network, and it puts on some great shows.  I especially loved the America's Game series that looks back at all the previous Super Bowls in the words of the athletes that played in the game.  The worst things the network televises, however, are actual NFL games.  It's horrible.

Bryant Gumbel makes me want to rip off my ears, and whoever sits in the truck seems to be paying more attention to his daily commuter crossword than the game.  Last week during the Cowboys-Panthers game, they missed the first play of the game (a fumbled snap between a sore-thumbed Tony Romo and back-up center Cory Proctor).

The Patriots' quest at perfection will be widely watched by the entire country.  Everyone will see what a horrible joke the production value of an NFL Network-produced game is.  Everyone will hear Bryant Gumbel's nails-on-a-chalkboard play-by-play.

Because these games have been hidden on a network no one gets, the general public doesn't know how bad it really is.  This game will be the highest-rated televised football game of the season, and it's going to be the most poorly covered.  As a result, expect some sort of backlash in response to the atrocious telecast.  I don't know if it will be a retooled production crew next season or perhaps - and don't get your hopes up, but we'll see - a new play-by-play man.

Something has to change, and because of the wide audience this game will draw, something will.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cowboys Pro Bowl

Yesterday I received a text message from my friend Brad who put it so much better than I ever could:

"So I guess in the pro bowl its the Cowboys against the AFC.   Geez"

And as a Cowboys fan, I'm loving it.  Granted I know there is still a much bigger, more important prize out there that one team will claim in Glendale, Ariz., but until then, the Pro Bowl represents just how talented the 2007 Cowboys are.

Last season, Dallas sent four players to the Pro Bowl.  This season, they have 11 (including seven starters).  The Cowboys have seven players on offense alone, and three of them are starting linemen (Flozell Adams, Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode).  Oh, and Roy Williams is the first alternate at strong safety, so he will be the one to go in place of the Redskins safety Shawn Taylor.  That makes a total of 12 Cowboys.

The only reason punter Mat McBriar isn't going to Honolulu is because the Cowboys offense has been too good - he hasn't had enough opportunities to prove himself.

While it is easy to get caught up rejoicing for the Pro Bowl players, the most important thing to realize is the expectations that are set when 11 players on one roster are named all-pro.  That team better find its way out of the conference and into the Super Bowl.

This puts the pressure on.

Think about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The NFC South champions represent a division that didn't have one pro bowl selection --- the ENTIRE DIVISION!  So what pressure is on them in the playoffs?

We'll find out how the 'Boys respond to last week's upset at the hands of the division rival Eagles.  Perhaps the Carolina Panthers will serve as a stepping stone to clinching home-field throughout the playoffs.

As a fan I hope the Pro Bowl selection serves the team by raising their expectations and raising their own personal bar.  For players who treat the selection as the end-point goal, those teams are the ones who get a little more time off come January. 

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Props to Pettitte

With Andy Pettitte coming forward and admitting to using HGH in 2002, I feel the urge to both praise and condemn him.

Pettitte says that he used HGH only twice in 2002 when he was on the disabled list and trying to recover from an injury as fast as possible.  If this is true, I think you have to look at Pettitte in a different light than those who were taking performance enhancers and steroids to improve their play between the lines.

At the time Pettitte used HGH, it wasn't banned by Major League Baseball.  So technically the crafty left-hander didn't break any rules.  Too bad it's MLB's responsibility to keep ahead of the users and find out what is being used and what needs to be banned.  But if HGH wasn't a banned substance in '02, you can't really fault Pettitte for wanting to get back to his team as soon as possible.

Also because he came out and owned up to what happened and what he did, I get the feeling that he will become more of a Jason Giambi than a Barry Bonds.  Giambi apologized (although never really clearing stating for what) and it seems like all was forgotten about his steroid use.  With Bonds, his vehement denials fuel the fire against him.

So as the fallout from the Mitchell Report continues, I think Andy Pettitte will be one of the best to come out of this.  Compared to what Clemens will face, Pettitte coming forward and owning up to his mistakes (even though HGH wasn't illegal - which is Baseball's fault, not his) will most likely turn history in his favor.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Reaction to the Mitchell Report

The Mitchell Report (the result of a two year investigation by former senator George Mitchell into the use of steroids and performance enhancing drugs in major league baseball) worries me.  More than 60 players are named in the over 400-page document which I just finished browsing through.  I get the feeling that everyone is on the list.  It sure seems that way.

By now you've probably heard a good number of the names, so I won't go repeating them.  Instead, I want to share with you what truly worries me the most about all this.

With the release of this report, baseball has been dragged into the spotlight as a dirty, cheater-filled game.  All 30 MLB teams have had players involved with performance enhancing drugs (maybe because Jose Canseco hopped around from team to team).

If you want to read the document: here's a PDF file of the Mitchell Report.

One radio talk show host on KTCK 1310 here in Dallas pointed out how football as a sport must be sitting back laughing at baseball being pulled through the mud today.  While it's looking as if there are not going to be any real ramification, consequences, repercussions, whatever, as a result of the Mitchell Report, it leaves a permanent scar on the sport - forever.

What will be done with the records of the last 20 years?  What will happen with the players?  What about Hall of Fame chances?  What about the future legitimacy of the sport?

Football players are huge, jacked up behemoths that we all watch each Sunday and say, "oh, I guess they all got that big by lifting."  The truth is, if football players are using performance enhancing drugs, I don't want to know.  I don't want to know if any Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s Super Bowl glory days were using.  I don't want me childhood idols tainted.  I'd truly rather be blissfully unaware.  If possible, if football is dirty, clean it up and get back to the true game, but keep it quiet.

It's too late for baseball to "keep it quiet" in regards to this.  And it's a shame that so many prominent baseball stars now have their reputations tarnished.  It's not a shame for them.  To those athletes who have done this to themselves, they have truly let down every fan of the game.

I grew up as a Texas Rangers fan, but I don't really care too much for MLB.  But as a fan of the Rangers as a little kid, it sucks to hear that Rafael Palmiero, and Juan Gonzalez didn't do it the right way.

What disturbs me even more is just how much so many of these players denied their use of performance-enhancing drugs throughout the process.  Not just Rafael Palmiero and his "I have never taken steroids.  Period." finger-pointing performance in Congress.  Not just Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwuire.  But so many more.

Put it this way: remember the backlash when Jose Canseco released his book "Juiced" and everyone said that it was all lies and that he was simply just doing the book to make money.  Canseco was labeled a liar.  As it turns out, he is the one who probably came out the best in this entire thing!

I understand some players who came into the league during this era must have had a hard time coming to grips with the reality of how the game was played.  If you're a clean player who does it right, who doesn't use performance enhancing drugs, there's a guy on the juice who is taking your spot on a pro roster.  That sucks.  So what do you do?  You juice up and get bigger, stronger, faster, healthier and you take your spot back with a larger hat size.

As a fan of sports, the Mitchell Report brings to light a disturbing, gut-wrenching feeling.  These facts now coming to the forefront brings a feeling comparable to losing a family pet.  It hurts.

And it's going to hurt for a long time.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Overwhelming underclassman

Tonight Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy and broke the barrier for all underclassman who came close but couldn't claim the award for most outstanding college football player.

Tebow had a ridiculous season.  Absolutely insane.  He both threw and ran for more than 20 touchdowns - the first player ever to do so.  But when he went up there to accept the award, I couldn't help but feel for Darren McFadden.  The Arkansas running back finished as the Heisman running up two years in a row.  This season he finished with the highest percentage of the vote ever received by a runner up.

McFadden just finished his junior year.  As a sophomore in 2006, he lost the Heisman to Ohio State's Troy Smith.  McFadden had a great 2006 and could have won the Heisman as a sophomore had a sophomore previously won the award.  This season he played very well again, but the numbers Tebow put up spoke volumes about that Gator's performance.

Because Tebow has now taken the award home as a sophomore, more sophomores - and even freshmen - winners will begin to show up.  No it won't happen all the time.  After all, the juniors and seniors have the extra years of experience to build on.  But when underclassmen have the sensational seasons comparable to Tebow (2007), McFadden (2006), and even Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson (as a freshman in 2004), they will get more of a chance to take home 25 pounds of bronze.

There won't be a ton of underclassmen winners.  Decades to come will still produce numerous more upperclassmen winners than youngsters, but freshmen and sophomores won't be shut out completely.

Tebow has opened the doors.  It's a shame, however, that super seasons past underclassmen put up did not get recognized with a Heisman.  But because it has now happened - a sophomore has taken the Heisman home - it will no longer take a Herculean season by an underclassman.  From now on, they will be judged based upon their performance that year instead of weighting their score based on their age.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

It's all a bunch of B(C)S

Two things are abundantly clear to me. First, I don't exactly know what I'm talking about in predicting bowl matchups. Second (and most importantly), this season proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that college football desperately needs some form of a playoff bracket.

In watching the BCS bowl selections this afternoon, each analyst (and many others since) have said many things along the lines of:
"Well, if it were the two best teams as of right now..."
"The team that looks most like a national title contender is..."

The general feeling I get with a lot of the commentary for this BCS title game between Ohio State and LSU is reluctant acceptance. Numerous experts have decreed that teams like USC and Georgia are the two top-performing teams in the country right now. Why can't they get a crack at the title? Their losses came much earlier than those suffered by LSU. What about the fact that Hawaii is the only undefeated team in the country? Don't they deserve a shot?

The bowl matchups this season, specifically the BCS match ups, feature 10 outstanding teams that all could argue they deserve a shot at the national title. Let's look at the Top 10 ranked BCS schools:


1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes hold the top spot in both human polls that factor into the BCS formula. They have lost only once - to another BCS-bound team - and won their conference. No other BCS conference champion finished the season with one loss.

2. LSU: The Tigers held the top spot in the polls for a good chunk of the season. Their only losses came in a pair of triple overtime showdowns. And, oh by the way, they won the mighty SEC while defeating seven ranked teams along the way.

3. Virginia Tech: The ACC champion Hokies finished the season with two losses, but came into last week ahead of LSU in the BCS. While LSU defeated #14 Tennessee in their conference championship game, VaTech knocked off #11 Boston College by a bigger margin. If the Hokies led LSU in the standings last week, why should they be leapfrogged this week?

4. Oklahoma: BOOMER!!! SOONER!!! BOOMER!!! SOO- Okay, enough of that. But OU does have a point. They just defeated the top-ranked team in the nation for - that's right - the second time this season to capture the Big XII title. And in doing so, they proved they can compete with anyone. Their only two losses: on the road by one possession each.

5. Georgia: The consensus seems to be that the two hottest teams in the country right now are Georgia and USC. Tough to argue with that Georgia has done in recent weeks. They've won six straight games to finish their SEC schedule, and they went into this past weekend at #4 in the BCS. Because the top two teams lost, you'd think that #3 and #4 would move up. Not so fast, however, as the Bulldogs not only failed to win their conference but their division as well.

6. Missouri: Should a team be punished for making their conference championship game? If the Big XII had the same format as the Big Ten or Pac 10, Missouri would have stayed ranked #1 and destined for the BCS championship bowl. Now they are on the outside of not just the title game but the entire system. And the team they knocked off to advance to the Big XII championship (Kansas) snuck in behind them.

7. USC: Much like the Bulldogs of Georgia, the Trojans are a team that no one wants to play right now. Then again, if Stanford can beat 'em.... (nevermind). Southern California wrapped up the Pacific-10 conference for the sixth straight year, advancing to a record sixth-consecutive BCS bowl. While the Trojans will head across town for their record 32 Rose Bowl appearance, coach Pete Carroll's words after beating UCLA made it clear he thinks the Trojans deserve at least a shot. Said Carroll, "We'll play anybody, anywhere, anytime," he said. "I know this isn't the system and we don't get to. We wish we could keep playing. If there was a way to keep playing games and see who would win and be the last team standing, we'd love to have that opportunity."

[By the way, doesn't it seem like the idea that Carroll is describing - a system where they could "keep playing games and see who would win and be the last team standing" - resembles the rough outline of a playoff? Just a thought.]

8. Kansas: Don't the Jayhawks have a better record than LSU, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Oklahoma, Missouri and USC? Well, if the Jayhawks have a better record than LSU, why not get a shot at a championship? None of those teams have a one-loss record like KU (ignore the fact that they are not conference champs and played the weakest rated schedule out of 119 Division I-Football Bowl Subdivision teams).

9. West Virginia: So what if WVU has two losses? Who doesn't! And why should the Mountaineers be punished for a loss late in the season versus a loss early? Isn't an 11-2 record the same across the board?

10. Hawaii: Hey all you on the mainland! Aloha. What's going on? The Warriors hung loose all season long just waiting for a chance to become the third non-BCS team to make a BCS bowl. But the Warriors are not just another Boise State or Utah. Hawaii is the only undefeated team in Division I-A. They have the best record. Period. It's a perfect season. It's not their fault that none of the big boys will schedule them. And Hawaii is trying. In 2003 and 2004, they played a home and home versus USC during the Trojans' two-year title run. So, it's not like they're pulling a Kansas and scheduled dogs.


Because of the system we have, unfortunately eight of these teams don't have a chance to play for the national championship. But just imagine if there was a playoff system in place. No computers, just logic. (I know, it's too simple of a solution, but bear with me.)

For a team to be eligible for a BCS bowl, they have to be ranked significantly high in the BCS standings. So if there was a playoff, let's include 12 teams. Why 12? Well, this season of college football proved the "any given Sunday" theory of the NFL translates to the college game (i.e., Stanford over USC, Pittsburg over WV, Florida State over Boston College, and pesky Appalachian State's stunner over Michigan). So to make sure we get it relatively right - and lord knows that's not happening with the current system - 12 teams will have a shot.

What would you think of these seeded match ups in the first round:

(1) Ohio State - bye

(8) Kansas vs. (9) West Virginia

(5) Georgia vs. (12) Florida

(4) Oklahoma - bye

(2) LSU - bye

(7) USC vs. (10) Hawaii

(6) Missouri vs. (11) Arizona State

(3) Virginia Tech

The higher ranked teams in the first-round match ups (in this example: Georgia, Missouri, USC and Kansas) would host those games. It's a simple solution. The remaining games will feed into the current major BCS Bowls and then some (see below).

Here's your first round:
host teams italicized
(5) Georgia vs. (12) Florida
(6) Missouri vs. (11) Arizona State
(7) USC vs. (10) Hawaii
(8) Kansas vs. (9) West Virginia

From there, let's just use the example of all favorites advancing. Now your match ups are as follows:
(1) Ohio State vs. (8) Kansas
(2) LSU vs. (7) USC
(3) Virginia Tech vs. (6) Missouri
(4) Oklahoma vs. (5) Georgia

The second round would then use a combination of second-tier bowls and major BCS bowls to hosst the contests. There are so many bowls out there, and lord knows some of the teams that are playing in these bowls don't deserve a postseason (hello, UCLA). By having 32 bowls, some of these contests are forced to feature mediocre 6-6 teams that are barely qualified to watch the postseason. By using the second-tier bowls to host some playoff games, the third- and fourth-tier bowls would be forced to take the better teams, eliminated the riff-raff of 7-5 and 6-6 squads.

There are now seven games remaining to be played. A rotation between the Outback Bowl, Capital One Bowl, Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, and the Gator Bowl would have two of these four teams each year host a second-round playoff game. The remaining games would be hosted by the four major BCS bowls (Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta) as well as the historic Cotton Bowl which will be moving to the new Dallas Cowboys stadium, which promises to be the grandest sports venue in the world. Those five major bowls (now including the Cotton Bowl with that first-tier, as it rightfully should be) would rotate years between hosting second-round playoff games, semifinals and the championship.

How is this for a second round:
Capital One Bowl
(1) Ohio State vs. (8) Kansas

AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic
(4) Oklahoma vs. (5) Georgia

Gator Bowl
(3) Virginia Tech vs. (6) Missouri

The Rose Bowl presented by Citi
(2) LSU vs. (7) USC

Assuming all favorites win to make this example easier, the semifinals would then look like this:
FedEx Orange Bowl
(1) Ohio State vs. (4) Oklahoma

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
(2) LSU vs. (3) Virginia Tech

And the championship game this year would be played in where it is scheduled to be played:
Allstate Sugar Bowl
(1) Ohio State vs. (2) LSU

The exciting thing about this system is the fact that we could in fact have a true national champion and a consensus national champion. There would never again be a split national title. In fact, that was the promise of the BCS -- until 2003, of course.

I'm sure there are plenty of flaws in this system I've created. First thing that comes to mind: when do you play all these games. From here, the NCAA would then disallow teams to schedule the extra game they get to play and/or take away the conference championship games (conference titles would be determined by record as in previous years).

Like I said, I know my suggestion isn't perfect. But hey, at least it isn't as screwed up as the BCS!

I'd love to know what you think of this system. Please post your comments along with suggestions for this can work.

BCS Bowl Predictions

This afternoon we will learn the final destination for the top football programs in the "Bowl Subdivision" of D-I (quick note: let's please change the name back to Division I-A and I-AA and lose this subdivision mumbo-jumbo). So before the real deal is revealed, I'd like to take a stab at where everyone is going. More importantly, I want to focus on who will play for the national championship.

First let's look at the Top 12 ranked teams from last week's BCS standings.
1. Missouri - LOST to Oklahoma, Big XII championship
2. West Virginia - LOST to Pittsburgh
3. Ohio State
4. Georgia
5. Kansas
6. Virginia Tech
- defeated Boston College, ACC championship
7. LSU - defeated Tennessee, SEC championship
8. USC - defeated UCLA for Pac-10 championship
9. Oklahoma - defeated #1 Missouri, Big XII championship
10. Florida
11. Boston College
- LOST to VT, ACC championship
12. Hawaii - defeated Washington

The problem with this week's results is the fact that the teams immediately behind 1 and 2 in position to move up aren't exactly ideal candidates for the championship game.  Yes, Ohio State, the Big Ten champions at 11-1, are most certainly in.  They did not have to play a conference title game and will get the opportunity to step into that No. 1 ranking.  However selecting a Georgia for a Kansas for the championship game is not the automatic solution.  

Not only did both Georgia and Kansas not win their respective conference championship, neither team won their own division within the league.  Georgia fell short of the SEC title game as Tennessee advanced from the East to take on LSU.  Kansas lost the Big XII North in the Border War versus Missouri.

While there is precedent of a team that did not win its conference playing for the national title (see Oklahoma, 2003), no team in the BCS era has failed to at least win their division.  The Sooners were Big XII South champs in '03 before falling to Kansas State in the conference title game.  Kansas and George both deserve BCS Bowl bids.  They deserve to play for something meaningful.

At the same time, Georgia is one of the hottest teams in the country.  They finished the season on a six-game winning streak, including victories over #11 Florida, #18 Auburn and #23 Kentucky.  Georgia didn't get to opportunity to play LSU this season, so we can only speculate how that game may have played out.  However, losing at home to South Carolina doesn't exactly scream "title contender."

Kansas is in a tough spot.  They finished the regular season 11-1 (7-1 Big XII).  That one loss came at the worst possible time.  Even though they crumbled against Mizzou at Arrowhead Stadium, they still have an 11-1 record.  Naysayers will argue they beat no one - a very legitimate claim.  Central Michigan, Southeast Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International don't exactly represent a difficult challenge.  

If the college football season was a ride in a car, Kansas may have been driving over those team as if they were crosswalks, not speed bumps.  They didn't exactly pose any reason for Kansas to take their foot off the gas.  The Jayhawks didn't flinch against those team.  And they can't be flawed for missing conference powers Texas, OU and Texas Tech this season.  The difference is that college football is not the NFL.  The NFL has a set schedule that mandates certain divisions play certain divisions in a give season.  It's all set.  College football allows teams to schedule whomever they want.  For that, Kansas can be faulted.  The one chance they had to prove themselves, they blew it.  11-1 is nice, but upon closer inspection, it's not nice enough for a title-game berth.

So who else might move up to take on the Buckeyes (who I'm not exactly sold on, but we'll have to go with it for now)...

Let me quickly preface the rest of this posting with this: Missouri and West Virginia lost as the most crucial time of the season, so they should not be playing for the national championship.  I know it happened with Oklahoma a few years ago, but that was the exception, not the rule.  Sorry Tigers and Mountaineers, but you had your shot.  All you had to do was hang out.  Guess you just lost your grip.

Back to who can move up and why they may or may not...

Virginia Tech was ranked ahead of LSU at #6 last week and defeated the #11 team in the country (Boston College) to clinch the ACC title.  Looking at Virginia Tech, they are a prime candidate for the BCS title game that no one is talking about.  Everyone is so caught up with LSU, they are missing one amazing season under the most unlikely of circumstances.  Considering where Virginia Tech was as a university last April, to see them play for the national championship would represent a significant resurgence for not only that program but that entire institution.  The fact that those students put together an 11-2 record is astounding enough.  If put in the championship game, who knows what they could accomplish.

Virginia Tech is the team I'd like to see play for the national title.  I don't see how they can come into this week ranked higher than LSU in the BCS (#6 versus #7) and defeat a higher ranked team than LSU (#11 versus #14) and get jumped by LSU.  It wouldn't make sense.  Because of that, I think the computers and the voters may just move up the Hokies.  I'd also like to see it because it would be the most amazing story of the entire college football season.  I know the Hokies lost to LSU early in the season, but then LSU should have been ahead of VT last week.  It didn't happen then and it shouldn't happen now.

Everyone talks about the most unlikely wins from all these unranked teams upsetting No. 2 teams and No. 1 teams falling and Appalachian State beating Michigan, but in my opinion the most unlikely win of them all is Virginia Tech putting together a championship caliber season after last April's tragedy.

As far as LSU goes, I won't be surprised to see them in the national title game.  Not only will I not be surprised, I'd be shocked if they missed it.  They've been dominant all season with their only two loses coming in college football's wacky triple overtime.  Essentially their would-be perfect record came down to a pair of two-point conversions.  They have defeated many ranked teams in the power-packed SEC and finished the season as conference champions.  I'm of the belief that you should be a conference champion to play for the BCS title, and LSU fits that mold.  My only problem with them would be how they would leapfrog Virginia Tech after being ranked behind them this week.  Virginia Tech did nothing to drop behind the Tigers, and apparently the early-season loss to LSU wasn't enough to keep the Hokies behind LSU last week.  It shouldn't affect this week's BCS standings.  

Is anyone playing better football right now than USC?  The Trojans stumbled early in the season, but after watching them finish the season so strong, it's tough to debate their talent.  'SC locked up a record sixth straight Pac-10 title ad BCS Bowl berth. (Their last five: '07 Rose Bowl, '06 Rose Bowl, '05 Orange Bowl, '04 Rose Bowl, '03 Orange Bowl.)  The reason they will be kept out of the national title game came in what can only be described as a fluke against Stanford when quarterback John David Booty injured a finger on his throwing hand.  

The Trojans' other loss came in Eugene, Oregon when the Ducks were still a powerhouse with Dennis Dixon under center (okay, in the shotgun).  Since losing Dixon, it's been duck season.  USC has been dominant through November - a month in which they've never lost a game under Pete Carroll.  Of all the top teams with two losses, USC is least likely to make the championship game because of that disaster against Stanford.  Looking back, its easy to trace where the Trojans title hopes slipped: October 6 in Los Angeles.

Oklahoma just beat the No. 1 team in the country.  They have two road losses by one possession each.  They showed just how tough a team they are on national television against Mizzou.  After being ranked No. 8 last week, their dominance in clinching the Big XII championship shows they are a Top 5 team.

Florida: You have a great young team and Tebow is a beast.  Only problem is you have three losses.  Better luck next year.

Had Boston College not lost to Virginia Tech, maybe they'd be in the discussion as a token "also ran."  Instead, they are out of it.

The final team that has national title aspirations is the one team I'd like to see have a shot:  the Warriors of Hawaii.  They are the only undefeated team in the Bowl Subdivision.  While it's easy to say "schedule some tougher teams," I understand why most top-tier teams won't travel to the islands to play them.  And it's not like it's an easy trip for the Warriors to fly across the Pacific then across the country to take on an SEC team.  Hawaii has scheduled some tough opponents in the past.  In 2003 and 2004, they played a home and home versus USC during the Trojans' two-year title run.  So, it's not like they pulled a Kansas and scheduled dogs.

Colt Brennan is a touchdown machine.  I don't know if it will translate to the NFL or if it will even get him a plane ticket to New York for the Heisman ceremony, but those are some ridiculous numbers he's put up on the season.

The biggest reason I'd like to see Hawaii play for the national title - and the biggest reason they won't - is because of what Boise State did last year to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.  That game proved the "Any Given Sunday" theory of the NFL translates to college football as the Broncos knocked off OU in one of the most exciting games I've ever witnessed.  The hook-and-ladder to get into OT only to have Sooner stand-out Adrian Peterson run 25 yards in the first play of overtime.  It seemed over at that point, but how that Statue of Liberty play fake to Ian Johnson worked... it was a thing of beauty.  But I digress.

The reason Hawaii won't make the national title - and it's silly logic, but it's a fact - is because what if they win?  Seriously, what if Hawaii wins the national title?  Well if that happens then it means the six major conferences no longer have a monopoly on championships.  Does that mean the WAC should get an automatic BCS bid for its champion?  Does that open it up for more at-large teams?  If Hawaii gets blown out by an Ohio State - a traditionally strong national power of a program - then all mid-majors everywhere have their legitimacy taken into question.  If Hawaii wins a BCS title game, it essentially opens the doors for every single one of the 119 Division I-A teams to make the national championship game.  As of right now, it's really only available to teams from the big six conferences (ACC, Big XII, Big Ten, Big East, SEC and Pac 10).  That's why Hawaii won't make it.

So who will make the BCS title game?  Here are my predictions:

There are five games: the Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl and the BCS title game.  Just some quick ground rules as set forth by the BCS: only two teams per major conference and a team must finish in the BCS top 12 for a berth.  My only concern is if Illinois somehow finishes in the BCS top 12.  If they do, the Rose Bowl may do their best to keep the Big Ten vs. Pac 10 tradition of the Granddaddy of them all and selection the Illini.  However, I doubt they will make it.  Without further adieu, here we go:

BCS Title Game:
Ohio State (Big Ten champion) vs. LSU (SEC champion)

Rose Bowl:
USC (Pac 10 champion) vs. Georgia (at large)

Fiesta Bowl:
Missouri (at large) vs. Hawaii (at large)

Sugar Bowl:
Oklahoma (Big XII champion) vs. Arizona State (at large)

Orange Bowl:
Virginia Tech (ACC champion) vs. West Virginia (Big East champion)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What channel is the game on?

Cowboys vs. Packers.  The NFC on the line.  Two teams with young talent.  Two teams with Super Bowl dreams.  Thursday night 65,000 people will cram into historic Texas Stadium for this classic.  All of Dallas-Ft. Worth and Green Bay, Wisc. will be watching.

And that's it.

Because unless you have the NFL Network - or you live in the local market - you won't be able to see the game.  The thing that worries me - especially with these two teams, is that their "local market" is really their entire state.  The Packers define Wisconsin sports.  The Cowboys are the team of Texas (don't let the Spurs fool you - football in king in the Lone Star State).

Since the creation of the NFL Network and since they began carrying games, high level figures in the NFL have been praying for a big showcase game on the NFL Network to help its case as a must-have-channel in basic cable packaging.  Well now that game is upon us.  And the only people this actually hurts are fans.

I could care less about the squabbles between the NFL and Time Warner or any other cable company for that matter.  I don't care about which one of these sides has to cave.  I don't care about which side has to concede the most to make a deal happen.  But something has to be done - and soon - to fix this problem.  If the league and cable companies continue this feud, football fans nationwide must live with not seeing their games.

Sure fans can go to a local sports bar or a friend's house, but when you think about the fact that a significant number of Americans won't be able to see the game - a big game with serious playoff implications between two of the most storied franchises in league history - it's just wrong.  Fans do not have a voice at these negotiating tables.  Fans are the ones that foot the insanely priced bills for tickets, stadium taxes, parking, $9 hot dogs and so much more.

I don't disagree with games being on the NFL Network (however, I can't stand listening to Bryant Mumble Gumbel call a game), but just find a way to bring it to the fans.  Roger Goodell is concerned about playing games in London or across the world.  How about the NFL focus on allowing everyone here in America to watch the games first.

Football has become America's game.  The only thing left is to let America watch it.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Where I've been

To my faithful readers -

I don't mean to be neglecting you. For the past few months now I've been working with the Orange County Flyers professional baseball team. It's been very exciting, but also very time-consuming. This is by no means a notice of the discontinuation of No Joshin'. This is merely to say that I'm aware I've been letting you down the past few weeks. There's been a lot to cover. Michael Vick. Barry Bonds. Venus winning at Wimbledon.

I've had so much to say and just no time to say it. So right now all I ask is that you be patient with me and continue to check in time to time. I hope to be getting back to the blogosphere on a regular basis very soon.

In the mean time to get your fill, check out or better yet come to a Flyers game. I'm the on-field MC, so you'll see plenty of me in between innings. As a reader of this blog, I'll reward you. Contact me (either by leaving a comment or emailing me) and I'll get you free tickets to a Flyers game this season.

I can't guarantee tickets for Aug. 11 (but it never hurts to ask). Any other date on our schedule will be fine.

Thanks you for being a loyal reader here at No Joshin', and I look forward to getting back to you soon. Until then, GO FLYERS!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

New arms, same result

The Flyers bullpen couldn’t preserve Alex McRobbie’s quality start for Orange County. OC dropped its sixth straight game tonight in a 6-5 loss to the Long Beach Armada at Blair Field.

New Flyers relief pitcher Daniel Arizmendi suffered a rude welcome to the GBL in his debut. The lefty gave up two runs, two hits and hit two batters, giving the Armada a come-from-behind win to drop the Flyers to 14-12 on the season. Long Beach center fielder John Kaplan hit a two-run double to turn a 4-5 deficit into the 6-5 winning score for the fleet.

McRobbie pitched 7 innings, giving up four runs (three earned) while striking out eight batters and walking only two. McRobbie provided a stable start for OC, but did not factor into the decision.

Garry Templeton II helped put the Flyers out front early, scoring runs in the first and fifth innings. GT2 finished the evening 2-for-4 with an RBI. Catcher Buddy Morales also scored two runs in the game for OC.

Templeton II, Morales and Dave Bacani all scored in the fifth to give the Flyers train a 5-3 lead. However, the offense stalled in the late innings, coming up with just four hits the rest of the game.

The Flyers will look for freedom from their six-game skid on Independence Day when they start a 3-game home series against the Armada tomorrow at Goodwin Field. Reed Dickert will take the ball for OC for the 5:05 p.m. start.

The game can be heard live on

Monday, July 02, 2007

Armada sinks OC

The Orange County Flyers offense never left the station in tonight’s 10-1 loss to Long Beach at Blair Field. OC is now 14-11, having lost their last five in a row. Armada starting pitcher Jeremy Zick shut down the Flyers in 8 innings of work, finishing with 6 SO, 2 BB while giving up just three hits.

The theme at Blair Field was “Awful Night,” but Zick defied the trend, retiring nine of the first 10 batters he faced.

Long Beach jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the first inning and were never challenged by the Flyers the rest of the way. Garry Templeton II scored Orange County’s only run thanks to two Armada errors in the fourth inning.

Robert Salini (3-1) picked up his first loss of 2007, allowing nine earned runs in 5 1/3 innings with 6 SO and 5 BB. Reed Dickert, Nick Casanova and Mark Okano came out of the bullpen to wrap up the night for OC. Okano – who has now played five different positions this season – displayed his versatility, taking the ball in the eighth inning to help the Flyers recently-renovated bullpen finish the evening.

Seven different players scored runs for the Armada, who improved to 14-10 on the season, passing the Flyers in the GBL standings less than a week after being swept by OC at Blair.

Alex McRobbie will take the ball tomorrow night in an attempt to stop this five-game skid. The Flyers face the Armada tomorrow at Blair Field before taking on the fleet in three games at Goodwin Field to close out the week. First pitch Tuesday is at 7:05 p.m. and the game can be heard live on KWRM 1370 and

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Flyers battle full moon for win

Maybe it was the full moon.

After a nearly four-hour marathon rife with confusion, shaky officiating, a schizophrenic scoreboard and a lineup card blunder, Orange County Flyers wrapped up a three-game sweep over the Long Beach Armada, 10-9, Wednesday night at Blair Field. The Flyers improved to a Golden Baseball League leading 14-6 record. They have now won their last seven games, including 11 of their last 12.

This game began to develop an eyebrow-raising theme as a full moon set in, however no credible horoscope could have predicted the ensuing confusion. In the bottom of the third with the Armada holding a 2-1 lead, Long Beach’s DH Chris Wakeland opened the inning by blasting a shot to deep left field just inches shy of clearing the wall. The ball bounced on top of the wall and came back into the field, never actually leaving the ballpark. The umpires ruled it a homerun for Wakeland, which brought Flyers manager Garry Templeton out for the first of the games many discussions.

Long Beach (10-10) scored three in the bottom of the third to open at 5-1 lead. Scott Goodman jump-started the Flyers offense to lead off the fourth inning with a solo homerun off the scoreboard in right-center field. The Flyers used a three-run fourth to get back into the game. Goodman finished the night 2-3 with 3 RBI.

With the game tied 5-5 heading into the sixth inning, David Bacani and Garry Templeton II reached on consecutive walks. Flyers DH Rich Pohle singled to score Bacani and move Templeton to second, setting up Peanut Williams for what would turn into an eventful at-bat. Williams struck out looking as both Templeton and Pohle began running for third and second, respectively. Long Beach catcher Cole Cicateli threw the ball into left field trying to catch Templeton at third.

As Templeton broke for home and Pohle for third, the focus shifted to the batter’s circle, where home plate umpire Jeff Cisneros tossed the 2006 GBL MVP Williams for arguing the called third strike, taking Cisneros’ attention away from the play. Armada manager Darrell Evans then emerged from the home dugout to argue interference on Williams.

The game settled down until the seventh inning, where the only thing more unclear than the umpires was the scoreboard, which at one point displayed a football-like score of Flyers 17, Armada 31. Aaron Davis stepped up to the plate in the top of the seventh with one out and Hector Zamora on first. Davis tapped a ball in front of the plate, and Cicateli made the routine fielder’s choice throw to second for the force out on Zamora. Davis ran down the first base line, stepped on first and veered off into foul territory before the next at bat. Armada pitcher Sean Buller then threw the ball to first base, where Jason Mooneyham tagged Davis in foul territory for the final out of the frame. The umpires ruled Davis had vacated first, however, Davis – the league’s leading hitter – never made an aggressive move toward second.

The moon played tricks on the Armada’s compass in the bottom of the eighth when Dan Trumble stepped in to bat for Jorge Araiza. With no one out and Armada second baseman Kirk Gross on first, Trumble popped up to shallow right field. The ball dropped, but Bacani quickly slung the ball to second for the force out. Templeton then came out to protest Trumble’s at-bat, arguing he was not on the lineup card for this game. Trumble was ruled out, prompting Evans to come out of the dugout and argue the call. The inning ended one batter later when Long Beach’s John Kaplan grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.

The Armada made a charge in the bottom of the ninth down 10-7, when Jaime Martinez crushed a two-run homerun through the thick Long Beach sky, pulling the fleet within one run before Dave Coggin retired the next two batters to secure the win.

After battling the full moon and all her mischief, the Flyers hit the road for four games against second-place Chico to wrap up the week. Orange County is 2-0 against the Outlaws on the season. Thursday’s first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

The games can be heard live on 1370 KWRM and at

Monday, June 18, 2007

OC Flyers

As many of you know, for the past month I've been working with the Orange County Flyers professional baseball team -- and what a month it's been. If you haven't heard about the Flyers, you're missing out. Big time.

I've been to different minor league baseball stadiums from Texas to California and a few places in between, and from what I've seen, no one puts on a better show than the Flyers. Sure, it's not major league baseball, but that's not why you're going to come to our games. You're going to come for the fun atmosphere and the family setting.

So if you're sitting at home at night not having any fun, we've got the cure down at Goodwin Field in Fullerton. Come to a Flyers game!

And hey, if you're not there for the baseball, you can see me get beat up by Coal Train the coyote, our crazy mascot. So check it out, and we'll see yall there.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

French Open title not needed for Federer

As I rolled out of bed this morning at the ungodly hour of 6:00 a.m. Pacific Time to watch the French Open men's singles final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (recap/results), I thought about how a win for Federer would most likely secure his place as the greatest men's singles champion of all time. Then I thought about how ridiculous of a statement that truly was.

It's not ridiculous to think winning the French Open would make him one of the all-time greats - after all, he's already got 10 grand slam titles, only four shy of tying Pete Sampras for the most all time. But it's ridiculous to think that he'd need to win a championship at Roland Garros to prove his greatness. Hasn't Roger already done enough? If you just look at what he's done in the tennis realm, you know he has.

Just think about. He's won 10 grand slams since the summer of 2003, when he captured his first of four consecutive Wimbledon titles. In a little less than a month, he'll try to make it five in a row. No one has ever won Wimbledon five straight times in the Open Era (since 1968), and it hasn't been done since Laurie Doherty did it more than 100 years ago (1902-1906).

Federer might as well be a landscaper. No one knows how to work grass better than he does. Pete Sampras may have seven titles at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, but he - much like the rest of men's singles players - is powerless to stop Federer's assault on the record books (and the field). Aside from his four titles at Wimbledon, he has three championships at both the Australian and U.S. Opens. The only non-bright spot - if you can even call it that - is the fact that he hasn't won the French Open.

Boo [expletive] hoo

Federer will continue to close in on Sampras's record of 14 slam titles until he eventually passes Pistol Pete to become to greatest champion ever in men's tennis. The fact that Rafael Nadal has beaten Federer in the last two French Open finals, preventing a career slam for Federer, has zero effect on Federer's place in history. Federer does not need a clay-court slam to be the all-time greatest.

Pete Sampras is the greatest men's singles player of all-time ... for now. A look at Sampras's numbers adding up to his 14 career Glam Slam titles:
- 7 championships at Wimbledom
- career record at Wimbledon: 63-7
- 2 championship at the Australian Open
- career record at the Australian Open: 45-9
- 5 championships at the U.S. Open
- career record at the U.S. Open: 71-9

And here's a quick look at how Sampras finished at Roland Garros each time he played there:
- 13 appearances
- 8 combined first- and second-round loses
- one semi-final appearance (1996)
- career record at the French Open: 24-13

Sampras in his prime at best sniffed the finals at the French Open. Federer has already played in two championship matches on the red clay. Those two loses came at the hands of possibly one of the best clay-court stars in the history of the sports (after all, Nadal is 34-0 now in best-of-5 matches on clay in his career with a 21-0 record at the French Open).

So while Federer may have been unable to defeat Nadal to complete his career slam, I say it's not necessary. Federer's legacy will be one of the best until the day he passes Sampras, at which point he will be regarded as the best.

Sure, Federer doesn't have much competition outside Nadal - and if you think Andy Roddick has any chance of competing with him, you either don't follow tennis or you got hit in the head by one of Federer's serves. Sampras had to go up against some great players to win his 14 championships, including Andre Agassi, Goran Ivanisevic, Boris Becker and Michael Chang. Other than Nadal, Federer's competition has about as much star-power as the Kansas City Royals.

That's not meant to take anything away from Federer. He's virtually untouchable unless your name is Rafael Nadal and you're playing on red clay. So don't think that a career lacking a title at Roland Garros isn't worthy of being known as the greatest career ever assembled. With 10 slams already conquered, it's only a matter of time before he ties and passes Sampras.

The clock will certainly continue to tick at The Championships at Wimbledon where Federer will no doubt pick up No. 11.

Nadal may own Federer on clay, but when they get to London, the Spaniard's ass ... well ... is grass.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tipping off: NBA Finals Preview

The NBA's King is in position to firmly take control of his throne. After walloping the Wizards, nipping the Nets, and posterizing the Pistons, LeBron James has the Cleveland Cavaliers in the franchises first-ever NBA Finals.

It sounds good on paper. The NBA's golden boy in the finals. The "next MJ" is about to take that step toward greatness. Winning the championship in his fourth season puts LeBron in a category by himself -- as in he's doing this virtually by himself.

There's just one problem.

The San Antonio Spurs - winners of three of the last eight NBA Finals - are back in the big show. Anchored by Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, the defenders of the Alamo are set to once again conquer the Association. Yes, I've seen that one highlight of LeBron dunking over Duncan from this season. But, please please EPSN, get over it. It's one highlight. Check it out when you're watching Sportscenter. That's the only highlight they're showing of James, because he hasn't really done much else.

Yes, he beat the Pistons with an amazing performance to secure that series in the pivotal Game 5 in Detroit. But while it seems so many people are drinking James's Kool-Aid, I'm not ready to grab a cup and fill 'er up.

One thing to keep in mind for the NBA Finals is the scheduling format. It's no longer a 2-2-1-1-1 series. The Finals are 2-3-2. Some people argue that it's very hard for the lower seed to win three consecutive home games - then Detroit and Miami dispelled that myth in 2004 and 2006, respectively. For this series, I think the Spurs defend their home court. They've done a decent job of it throughout the playoffs - not flawless, but good enough. The Cavs on the other hand haven't dominated on the road in the postseason.

If the Spurs win the first two games, the Cavs will be more than capable of bouncing back and evening the series at 2-2. But I think that fifth game is when San Antonio's experience will come into play. Unlike the Pistons - whose we'll show up when we feel like it mentality during the postseason left them at home for the Finals - the Spurs know how to rise to the occasion. The team around LeBron is too young and too inexperienced to truly compete with San Antonio.

Don't get me wrong. Cleveland is good. LeBron is borderline great. But they are going to need to wait a year before they bring home a title to Cleveland.

I know some of the stats say that the Cavs can contend. As a matter of fact, I think they'll do more than contend. They'll downright push the Spurs to the brink. But when the Spurs get pushed to the brink, more often than not they push back much harder. (And when they're not pushing back, Manu Ginobili is fouling Dirk Nowitzki to send the Mavs to the 2006 Western Conference Finals.) Point is, the Spurs don't lose all that much in the playoffs.

Look at the teams that have beaten San Antonio in the past few postseasons:
2006 - Mavericks (conference semis) - 7 games
2005 - NBA Champions
2004 - Los Angeles Lakers (conference semis) - 6 games
2003 - NBA Champions
2002 - Los Angeles Lakers (conference semis) - 5 games

Those Lakers teams were untouchable, and that Mavericks team benefitted from the Leon Lett Appreciation Moment of Ginobili's career.

Tell me exactly how the Cavs are going to put their names on that list?

They won't. Not this season.

No Joshin' prediction: Spurs in 6

Monday, June 04, 2007

You got served

Storylines like today's will help bring tennis back. There's no doubt that the sport of tennis is suffering here in the U.S. It doesn't help that only one American singles player - Serena Williams - is left in the draw.

And today the focus is on Williams's match with Justine Henin. It's not just No. 8 versus No. 1. It's not just the lone American versus the two-time defending French Open champion. This is a rematch from a three-set thriller I vividly remember watching in the summer of 2003. The 2003 semifinals at Roland Garros frustrated the hell out of me.

In my opinion it is the match that defines who Justine Henin is as a tennis player: a unsportsmanlike cheat.

In the third set, Serena Williams was serving a crucial point when Henin raised her hand signaling she wasn't ready. Serena pulled up short on her serve, serving a fault. The chair umpire called a fault, so Serena pleaded her case that Henin signaled for her to hold up. Henin didn't acknowledge the guesture. Instead, she just shrugged it off and asked to continue the match.

From there a jeering crowd began to get to the then-unbeatable Williams. Henin went on to win the third set and began a downward spiral for Williams's career. Everyone watching that match could see numerous replays of Henin clearly raising a hand to stop Williams from serving. And then everyone also saw her fail to live up to a code of sportsmanship expected in a game like tennis. When asked about it after the match, all she had to say was that in the heat of competition, she wasn't sure what Serena was arguing, so she just stayed out of it.


Ever since I've had Henin pegged as a liar and a cheat. It was one serve, and she clearly put her hand up to stall Williams. Live up to it. Admit it. Come clean with it. And yet, she didn't.

So when Williams takes the court to face off against the women's draw's top seed, I want to see Williams completely dismantle the Belgian. I've wanted to see Williams win to see the advancement of Americans (or really the only American) in Grand Slam tournaments. But for tomorrow's match, I just want Henin to get a taste of the bitter medicine she served Serena four years ago.

A win tomorrow by Serena Williams is not only a win for the United States. It's a win for sportsmanship.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Hockey sighting

Tonight the Stanley Cup Finals made its triumphant 2007 network television debut, and the sport didn't disappoint.

The Ducks and Senators put on a high-energy, high-scoring game 3 that proved capable of capturing the attention of any half-hearted sports fan who may be channel-surfing on by (which is how I ended up watching the second and third periods). I thought I'd be focused on the Pistons-Cavs Game 6 tonight; I like watching basketball more than hockey. Instead, I watched the NBA Eastern Conference Finals during commercials and intermissions, going back to the Cup Finals as my primary channel.

It was great.

I really enjoyed watching the hockey game - a privilege I was denied for the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals because it was only televised on the Versus (whatthefuck?) network. Thanks to NBC, the county was able to at least have the opportunity to watch hockey tonight. I don't know how many people tuned it, but if the NHL plays more games like that one, the league will have no problem gaining fans.

Ottawa came to life for the first time in this series to win, 5-3. The crowd in Ottawa represented a hockey-loving nation yearning for a championship, but also represented the passion this sport can generate. As a casual hockey fan, I can appreciate the energy and excitement tonight's game stirred up.

The NHL better hope that remaining games of these Stanley Cup Finals are just as competitve. They need the ratings. They need to gain back the fans. More importantly, they need a reason to keep their games on networks that people have heard of.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Trade troubles

Is Kobe leaving Los Angeles? Is his relationship with the Lakers front office heading down the same path as Ben's relationship with J-Lo? Did the Lakers intentionally decive Bryant to resign with the club with no plans to contend as soon as possible? Does he actually want to be traded or is he just bluffing? And why is he flip-flopping on this issue moreso than John Kerry?

Let me quickly answer those to the best of my ability: I don't know, but nothing other than the first questions is important.

Kobe talked about wanting West to come back. He's apparently doing the LA sports radio circuit now, or has been for the past few days. This soap opera, which could only happen here LA, is dominating the headlines all across the country (check out LA Times columnist JA Adande's final column about Bryant). And at this point, no one - probably not even Kobe himself - knows what the Lakers' superstar wants. He's talked about wanting out but also wanting to finish his career as a Laker. So which is it?

The Lakers should know by now that nothing good ever comes from trading away a top-tier player, let alone a superstar capable of dropping 50 points in a given night. If they think they can trade Kobe and come out ahead, they need to remember back to the 2004 summer when they traded that guy named Shaq. Turns out, he was just fine and the Lakers have won four playoff games in three seasons since.

Kobe may be upset, but whatever the situation, the Lakers front office needs to find a way to make Kobe happy. They can't trade him. He's the only marketable player on the team. Fans in LA won't pay top dollar to see crappy basketball. If they want to watch that, the Staples Center also features Clippers games -- and at a lower price to match the quality of the product on the court.

He's a great player. He's been part of three championship teams, but for whatever reason he hasn't been able to gel with Lamar Odom, Luke Walton and the rest of the new-look Lakers. A lot of people say it's Kobe's responsibility to make those around him better. I think the front office has some responsibility to try to get more talent around him. I don't know how to make those deals; I'm not a GM. But something's gotta give in LA.

Right now it seems Kobe vs. the Lakers front office is the most popular match up in the NBA right now - including the conference finals. And why wouldn't everyone else across the county be watching the situation here in LA? Fans are on the edge of their seats wondering how this situation will resolve itself. Which city could be the next Miami, the beneficiary of the last volatile situation in LA?

The Cold War going on within the Lakers must stop or this franchise will go into a tailspin. If Lakers fans think the past few years have been bad, those will seem like championship-years compared to a life without Bryant.

And, as Kobe said two days ago, the Lakers are no where near contending for a title right now.

Trading Kobe only takes them farther from that goal.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Double Fault at the French

This past January, I - along with probably a healthy number of other American tennis fans - prepared for a great year. An unseeded Serena Williams opened the flood-gates and swept away Maria Sharapova to win the Australian Open. It was the first title for any American - male or female - in any Grand Slam in two years.

But that match would only be the beginning. Heck, even Andy Roddick advanced all the way to the semifinals of the Aussi before running into the speed bump - er, the brick wall - known as Roger Federer. It looked like 2007 was shaping up to be a great year for American tennis.

To kick off the French Open, Serena Williams fought off a rain delay and a sluggish start to advance in a come-from-behind win. A day later, Venus moved on to the second round. The Williams Sisters are key for American tennis to comeback into the limelight. It's not going to be easy, especially after the retirement of fan favorite Andre Agassi, to get the county on the edge of their seats over tennis, but it's possible.

If it's going to happen, then the Williams Sisters need to lead the charge. But they can't do it alone. They need help from the men's draw.

And with Andy Roddick seeded No. 3 and fellow American James Blake not far behind at No. 8, this year's French Open will featu- wait, what? Hold on, I'm in the middle of telling the world how great American tennis will be this year. Uh huh. Uh huh. Oh I see. Hmmm.

*cough* *cough* Uh, about that...

During the FIRST ROUND of the French Open, No. 3 Roddick lost to unseeded Russian Igor Andreev 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. The eighth-seeded Blake found himself up-ended by unseeded Croatian Ivo Karlovic. The two best American men got embarrassed in the first round. Not so much embarrassed by the score; both matches featured a total of eight very close sets. But they were more embarrassed because of the disappointment the two loses mean to American tennis fans.

It's true clay isn't the favored surface for either Roddick or Blake. It's also true that no one outside of a completely in-the-zone Federer will knock off Rafael Nadal on his surface he loves more than fish love water.

To start the French Open, the American men went 0-8 (only one American man is left in the draw). There are no American men left to cheer for. There will be no American men advancing to even mediocrity in this tournament.

And until Roddick or Blake or a new up-and-coming American tennis star break through Federer's strangle-hold and win a title (or, hell, just make it to Slam quarter-finals consistently), there will be nothing to truly captivate the nation when it comes to tennis.

I can only hope Venus and Serena take care of business in their draw. After all, that duo held the tennis world hostage for years. If American tennis is going to make any sort of a comeback, then it all falls on the two sisters - the only two Americans - capable of putting the sport on their back and bringing it back into the spotlight.

NOTE: As of this morning (last night in France, the final American man in the draw was eliminated, leaving the US men 0-9 in this year's French Open.

The Lockout vs. Gary Bettman: who killed hockey?

I don't know a lot about the NHL, but as an avid sports fan, I planned on watching the Stanley Cup Finals. Sure my Stars couldn't get out of the first round, but it's the finals of a major sports league, so I should at least tune in to catch some of the action.

Last night at 5:05pm here in Los Angeles, I received a text message from my friend Brad - an Orange County native - who wanted to know what time his Anaheim Ducks would take the ice against Ottawa down at the Honda Center. I got online and checked. 8pm ET.

Oh crap! It's starting now. I sent him a text message back: "Now. Like now."

But that wasn't good enough. Moments later my phone rang. The caller ID prominently displayed "BRAD" across my cell phone.

"Hey man."

"Hey, uh, what channel is the game on?"

"Hmm," I said. "Let me check." I got back online, found the information and replied. "Versus."

"Okay. Uh, do you get Versus?" he asked.


Brad told me he had a friend who would probably have the Versus network, and if he didn't have it, then no one would have it. We ended our call, and I went to check the local stations for the game.

CBS 2 --- no
NBC 4 --- no
KTLA 5 --- no
ABC 7 --- no
KCAL 9 --- no
FOX 11 --- no
FSN West --- no
FSN Prime Ticket --- no

Wait, so no local station is going to televise the game? I'm in Los Angeles. This is the home market, isn't it? (Sure, there's the LA Kings, but they have been to hockey what the Texas Rangers have been to baseball over the last four seasons.)

Okay, well I guess I won't be watching hockey, but that's no big deal. At least the people who are big fans of their team - people like Brad - aren't missing it.

Then the phone rang. Brad dialed me up to tell me his buddy didn't have the Versus network either. He wasn't going to see his Ducks tonight. So we did the next best thing.

We turned on ESPN and watched the Spurs and the Jazz play Game 4 of the NBA's Western Conference Finals.

When that game ended, what did ESPN lead Sportscenter with? The first game in the championship round of one of the four major sports leagues in the nation? Ha! Riiiiiiiiiight. They didn't shove it to the backburner, but they did put it in the microwave to keep it warm. The lead? Obviously: the Western Conference Finals - Game 4.

I'm not going to rip NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for taking the higher bid from Versus and not signing a deal with ESPN, but only because it's been done by every other hockey nut. And a hockey nut, I am not.

I'm merely a casual fan. A casual fan that lost interest in hockey after the lockout season a few years ago. I'm a casual fan who's trying to get back into the sport. I'm a casual fan that doesn't have the Versus network. And as a casual fan, I don't plan on going out of my way to order it.

Sure the true hockey fans will find a way to watch the games. But in today's highly competitive capitalistic world of business, the NHL can't rely only on the die-hards to support their support. By not becoming accessible to the casual fan, it turns out it's the NHL that will die hard.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

West wanted out west

The Lakers now find themselves in a tough spot this offseason. Not because in they play in the Western mega-conference with so many top-tier teams and Portland and Seattle about to get a lift from Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, but because they are finding themselves on their knees, blindfolded with the game's deadliest shooter holding them hostage.

That shooter is Kobe Bryant.

The Lakers' All-Star is upset about his team. It's not that the guys around him aren't trying hard - granted it doesn't help when some of your teammates suffer injuries from freak snowboarding accidents midseason. The problem is the guys around him just aren't good enough.

Oh, they're good players. But in the mighty Western Conference, "good players" don't really do much when you stare down a schedule that includes Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, T-Mac and Yao, Carmelo and AI, a suddenly fierce Golden State team, and now the younger prodigies of Oden and Durant.

While everyone around them continues to improve, the Lakers remain still. Motionless. They did not pull the trigger at the trade-deadline this season, and limped into the playoffs as a result. The only major move general manager Mitch Kupchak has made during his time at the healm of this team involved sending the disgruntled Shaquille O'Neal to the Heat for Lamar Odom and contracts that couldn't expire fast enough.

During the past few seasons since the Big Aristotle became a member of the Heat, the Lakers can only win when Kobe plays well. There's no Plan B incase Bryant has an off-night.

Bryant had to know getting rid of Shaq would result in a setback for LAL. But the superstar was willing to take a step back if his Lakers could take two or three steps forward. Predictably, the Lakers took their step backward, a step that reached its apex when head coach Rudy Tomjanovich stepped down during the 2004-2005 season. The Lakers missed the playoffs that year, but rehired Phil Jackson to right their ship.

But since they brought back Phil, the Lakers haven't done much to be proud of. Bryant delt with season after season of hearing about how he should pass more, or shoot more, or really pass more, unless of course he should shoot more. Bryant made the right choice: shoot more.

He did the only thing he could do in trying to resurrect the once-proud franchise. Shoot, shoot and keep shooting. He led the NBA is scoring the past two seasons, and had more than half of the individual 50-point games this season. Depending on your definition of MVP, Kobe could easily have fit the bill. Even Shaq said he thought Bryant was the MVP of the 2007 season during a guest appearance on a TNT postgame show a few weeks ago.

So if they have MVP talent on the roster, why hasn't the Lakers front office done anything to build around him?

You know, that's what Bryant is wondering also.

Which is why - as much as I completely dislike the idea of a player holding a team hostage - I understand Kobe's frustration and have to agree with what he has told ESPN in a recent interview: Bring back Jerry West or trade me.

West built seven championship teams for the Lakers, including the teams that won three straight titles from 2000-2002 when Kobe and Shaq were more lethal than Batman and Robin (the only problem there: Kobe didn't want to play Robin to O'Neal's Batman anymore). He didn't have as much success with the Grizzlies the last five seasons, but then again what player would really want to go play in Memphis? West has proven he can succeed in the Southland, so why wouldn't Kobe want him back?

This is the same GM that sent Vlade Divac packing for the young Bryant. West made him a Laker. West made the team around him a contender. West made LAL better. Now that they've slipped from the summit, Kobe is asking for the only man he feels comfortable with to win a championship.

We shouldn't be surprised either. This is exactly what he did the year after Rudy-T coached the Lakers for 41 games. He thought it would be a good idea for the Zen-master to return to the bench in the Staples Center. Sure enough, the Lakers acquiesed and Phil returned. And now, once again, Kobe is asking for some changes.

But what he's really asking for is just a chance. A chance to be a champion again.

If Jerry Buss really wants to win, he should give into the hostage-taker's demands. After all, would you really want to be on the opposing end of such a deadly shooter's attack?

The Lakers have sided with Kobe each time he makes on of these franchise-changing demands. They moved Shaq. They brought back Phil. And if you're in El Segundo next fall when the Lakers get ready to start the season, don't be surprised to see the familiar face of Jerry West.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

His Airness, the King is not

With the Cavs down 0-2 to the mighty Detroit Pistons, LeBron James has faced harsh criticism after a less-than-stellar finish in games 1 and 2. After Game 1, he got ripped for passing the ball to a wide-open teammate who had a chance to drain a game-winning three. After hearing about how he should have been the one to take the final shot, he did. Game 2 finished with LeBron driving the lane, drawing a decent amount of contact (but supposedly not enough for a foul call, which I don't have a problem with), and putting up a shot that just missed.

Both games ended with LeBron driving and deciding. That's all that really matters in my mind. Is he the one making these decisions? Is the team's superstar the one with the ball in his hands to start the final play? He doesn't always have to shoot. He can pass if that's the best option.

Everyone knows Michael Jordan drained that big shot against the Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals to win it all. We always see the replays of MJ's shot over Elo to beat the Cavs in 1991. But don't think that Jordan took every single buzzer-beating shot attempt for the Bulls from the time he entered the Association until 1998. Think back to 1993 when Jordan's backcourt mate John Paxson nailed a three-pointer with just seconds left and the Bulls down by two. Paxson was the hero at the buzzer, not Jordan.

Yes, Michael Jordan was the Finals MVP and the main reason that the Bulls got as far as they did, but he didn't do it entirely alone.

And please don't misinterpret this and think I don't believe MJ was great. He defined greatness in the NBA and set a standard the likes of which might never be equalled. If anyone's silhouette will ever replace Jerry West in the NBA's logo, it could only be Jordan. He's that big to the game even now after having retired years ago.

All I'm saying is that the critics of LeBron James shouldn't get on his case for his decisions themselves at the ends of games 1 and 2. The critics really only need to focus on the fact that he isn't winning. He's putting the Cavs in position to win. He should have made that shot regardless of the contact at the end of Game 2. But it's not entirely on him. James's teammates had chances to win games 1 and 2 also. But it's not on them. It's on LeBron.

The most important thing, regardless of if the team's go-to guy passes or pulls up, is that the shot goes in and team wins. If not, that team leader needs to be ready to face the fact that they didn't win. It's on LeBron's shoulders for the Cavs to win, even if he isn't taking the final shot.

Think about Robert Horry's legacy (independent of his foul on Nash at the end of the Suns series, which no one will remember two years from now). He was just one of the key cogs in the machines that won NBA titles over the last decade. He was a Paxson for the Rockets and Lakers and now Spurs.

LeBron needs to find his Robert Horry. He needs to find his John Paxson. More importantly than any given teammate, he needs to find comfort in making a decision to differ to those around him or take the final shot himself.

Win and you're a hero. Lose and you're a goat, no matter what your decision is. All LeBron can do right now is continue to play, continue to keep his team in contention until the final minute, and - if he's really interested in getting fans and critics off his back - find a way to win a game.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New Cowboys stadium is Super

The NFL will turn its attention to Arlington, Texas the first Sunday of February, 2011. The Super Bowl is coming to North Texas. It took only 45 years and a new billion-dollar retractable-roof stadium, but the DFW area will get to host sports' biggest event.

I love that the game will be so close to home and will no doubt bring in big crowds to the metroplex, but as a native Dallasite, I can't help but cringe at the thought of this game being played in Tarrant County.

If only the Dallas City Counsel had found a way to put this new stadium in Dallas' city limits. If only they hadn't given the American Airlines Center a no-compete clause. If only members of the counsel weren't so focused on their own personal agenda's and not the long-term big-picture when it comes to the success of the city of Dallas.

Arlington will do a fantastic job of hosting the Super Bowl. The new stadium is the perfect venue for the game.

If only that perfect venue were located 30 miles east.

Monday, May 21, 2007

First half thoughts

Right now it's halftime of Game 1 of the Detroit-Cleveland playoff series. The Eastern Conference is on the line, and right now LeBron James has four points, which is why Detroit should be worried.

After one half, the Cavs are up 41-35 and LeBron hasn't even gotten going. The Pistons offense needs to get going, but more importantly they need to get ready for the King's arrival. Neither team is playing very well right now. One of these teams needs to start playing basketball in the second half.

I know that the match ups in both conference finals are two series with four solid teams, but these won't be the most entertaining match ups. It's too bad for the NBA.

And, of course, too bad for the Mavericks :-(

Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Don't worry, everyone, it's not deja vu. The Detroit Pistons is back in the Eastern Conference finals. This time they get to face up-and-coming superstar LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers.

No one should be suprised that the Pistons are back. Sure Chicago was supposed to give them a challenge, that didn't pan out. The thing that fans in Motown need to worry about is the fact that Detroit loves to take "nights off" on game nights (see games 4 and 5 of the Chicago series). But when the Pistons show up, the other team may be better off not.

Pistons vs. Bulls No Joshin' prediction: Pistons in 5
Pistons vs. Bulls series result: Pistons in 6

Chicago went down 0-3 to Detroit and despite winning games four and five, I don't consider those Bulls wins so much as Pistons loses. No that Detroit is back in the conference finals, I expect them to be focused in once again on returning to the NBA Finals for a chance at a second championship in four years.

The Cavs are gearing up for their first title shot in the "King James" era. LeBron has led Cleveland past a depleted Wizzards team and an elderly Nets team.

Cavs vs. Nets No Joshin' prediction: Nets in 7
Cavs vs. Nets series result: Cavs in 6

I thought the Nets could beat Cleveland because New Jersey was - in my opinion - a more complete team. I've been viewing the Cavs as a one-man show. I also didn't put much stock in James' ability to come through in the clutch. Granted my expectations of clutch may be out of whack because I'm living in LA - where Kobe Bryant wins more games with buzzer-beating shots than the Clippers win in a season.

The Cavs kept do-it-all point guard Jason Kidd in check and they continued to move the ball to get a healthy number of points of each of their starters.

James (27.3 ppg), Larry Hughes (14.9), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (11.9) and Drew Gooden (11.1) have been solid scorers, but Detroit's D is the toughest in the East. The Pistons won the regular season series over Cleveland, 3-1, and are in great position to return to the NBA Finals.

LeBron and the Cavs are still just a year or two away, and with the powerful Pistons still ruling the East, it's going to take something spectacular for Cleveland to break through.

No Joshin' prediction: Pistons in 6


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Western Conference Finals Preview

Okay, so would the three guys who picked the Jazz to make it this far please stand up and let everyone get to match a face with an insane pick that happened to pay off. Great. Please be seated.

This Booze-cruise, led by Carlos Boozer and Co. out of Salt Lake City dismantled the hot-shot Golden State Warriors to get to the conference finals, and they did it with a lot of low-post scoring and stingy defense.

Utah vs. Golden State No Joshin' pick: Warriors in 6
Utah vs. Golden State series result: Jazz in 5

Utah has talent and they have a coach who has been there and knows what it takes to get to the finals. And the only thing that ever stopped Jazz coach Jerry Sloan from capturing an NBA title with Stockton and Malone is no longer a factor (Michael Jordan is retired).

I've either been underestimated the Jazz or overestimating their opponents throughout these playoffs. I've picked against them and each time they make me look foolish by pulling out the series win, including clutch victories in a Game 7 in Houston and causing the only home loss for the Warriors in these playoffs. So perhaps the low-post domination and hustle of the Jazz will be good enough to get them to the finals.

Yeah, maybe if they got to play the Suns or the Lakers or the Nuggets. Oops, all gone. Instead the cheese - the big cheese - stands alone at the Alamo waiting for the Jazz to come to the Lone Star State for a reality check.

The Spurs have faced a bumpy road to get back to another conference finals. I know people are making a big deal about the Pistons being in their fifth straight conference finals, but if not for a snafu in the NBA's playoff seeding, the Spurs would have met the Mavs in the conference finals last season. San Antonio is the real deal. They were the only team in the Western Conference entering this postseason that had proven they have what it takes to win a championship.

Spurs vs. Suns No Joshin' pick: Spurs in 6
Spurs vs. Suns series result: Spurs in 6

In their series against the Suns, San Antonio was able to hang with the Suns and survive numerous barrages of points. San Antonio could keep up with the fast-paced Phoenix Suns, but if they get to play with a slower-paced Jazz team - hey! - all the better. You can look at the two games that the Spurs won in Phoenix and make excuses, which is what the Suns must be doing, for an unbandageable nose and a questionable double-suspension. It's safe to say the Suns/Spurs series - arguably one of the most competitive of the playoffs - turned into a huge disappointment because of those suspensions.

Even so, the Spurs were able to win twice in Phoenix, which is more than really any other team can say or the entirety of the season I suppose. Had Nash gotten patched up, and had Stoudemire and Diaw played in Game 5, I still think the Spurs were the better team and could have pulled out the series.

San Antonio always seemed like a specific type of team. They moved slower, but that's okay because they played tough D. Over the past three seasons, when they've won two playoff series against the run-and-gun Suns, they've shown they are not the slow, old geezers they are labeled as. Different players on that team are coming up big at all the right times. Horry has hit his trademark playoff clutch three-pointer (and also has picked up the moniker "cheap shot bob" for his foul on Nash). Michael Finley had a game where he sank 8-of-9 3-pointers. The regulars like Tony Parkey, Manu Ginobili and - obviously - Tim Duncan come to play each night.

The Spurs are deep. They are stacked. They are ready to return to the conference finals with the intention of getting back to another Finals showdown against the Pistons (or the Cavs if you're that naive).

The Jazz have had a great playoffs this spring. No one expected them to go this far, and when Cinderella comes to the Alamo, her glass slippers are going to get shattered by the girls who regularly attend the NBA Finals Ball.

No Joshin' pick: Spurs in 5


Friday, May 18, 2007

Appologize for steroids? Not gonna happen

According to the AP, Jason Giambi is reportedly calling for baseball to appologize to the American public for the sport's steroid problems.

With Barry Bonds only 11 home runs shy of breaking Hank Aaron's all-time home run record, I still never understand the dichotomy between Bonds and Giambi. One is booed everywhere he goes, and with each home run causes commissioner Bud Selig to sweat even more about how to handle this record-breaking performance. He reportedly testified about using to the BALCO grand jury in 2003. He is public enemy #1 in not only baseball but all sports in this nation.

The other also reportedly told the BALCO grand jury in 2003 that he took steroids. He then went on to appologize for "what he did" without actually saying anything specific. Even so, he now gets no worse treatment than any other opposing player.

Bonds is viewed as the worst human is sports. Giambi is just another ballplayer.

So when Giambi comes out and says baseball needs to appologize for the steroid scandals of the past few years, part of me is sick to my stomach that Giambi was able to essentially skate on this while Bonds takes the heat for every user out there. Giambi doesn't have to face any of the criticism because he isn't about to break the most revered record in sports. Bonds must live with that every day of his life.

It's easy for Giambi to have appologized. What were the repercussions for him? Really, what happened? Clearly nothing too serious because he's still playing and still looked at as a hated New York Yankee, not a hated steroids junkie.

Bonds on the other hand can't leave the Bay without hearing boos. And if he breaks Hank Aaron's mark of 755 when they are at any other park in the nation, the fans will treat him like T.O. returning to Philly -- it won't be pretty.

In this time of Giambi calling for baseball to appologize, let's look at what would happen if others even considered trying this. Bud Selig coming out and saying, "we messed up and should have had stricter testing and rules in the past." I don't see that being a big deal. Everyone already knows it. It's just nice to offer up that little bit of sorrow and guilt to the public eye. Hell, even if Bud Selig isn't sincere (which, by the way, Bud, here's a link to get the definition of that word) at least he's acknowledging that baseball messed up big-time. After all, it worked out pretty well for Giambi.

But if Bonds came out and issued the exact same appology word-for-word as Jason Giambi, what would be the result? Really, if he just read the exact same statement without mentioning what he was appologizing for, oh my goodness, he'd need more security than the president. Everyone would ask the same questions they asked Giambi, only with an even more unrelenting desire to finally get Bonds to admit to his alleged steroids use. He's now viewed as guilty in the public eye. A formal Bonds appology would be equivalent to a public lynching.

Even if Bonds wanted to appologzie, he won't. He can't afford to. At least not now. Much like Pete Rose couldn't admit to betting on baseball, Bonds cannot take the hit of actually coming clean (which, by the way, I think he clearly is now). Whatever Bonds was allegedly taking a few years ago, you have to think he's off it now.

Furthermore, if he was taking something, who's to say that no one else was either? Bonds has become the fall-guy for every steroid user out there. He is the martyr of this "cause" and he will be villivied for it forever.

Giambi said to the AP, "That stuff didn't help me hit home runs. I don't care what people say, nothing is going to give you that gift of hitting a baseball." He went on to add, "I was wrong for doing that stuff. What we should have done a long time ago was stand up -- players, owners, everybody -- and said, 'We made a mistake.'"

Reread that quotation again. I'll wait. Go on. Reread that.

Okay, once again Giambi is now saying, hey I used steroids. It didn't really help me, and I'm sorry. Are we cool? And somehow, someway we are cool. ARE YOU JOKING ME?!

No, Jason, we aren't cool. You cheated the game. You cheated in a time where everyone was cheating. That doesn't make it right, but you don't deserve to walk in the ballpark of public opinion while in that same ballpark Barry continues to get plunked.

Bonds will break this record in the next few weeks. Anyone who hopes or thinks otherwise is wrong. He's not going to retire when he gets to 754 and just stop swinging. Not only is that assinine, but it's unfair to his teammates who need him to be hitting the way he has been. Heck, he's the only bat in the Giants' lineup. So when 756 goes over the wall and into a mob of people looking to cash in on the million-dollar ball, don't forget that Bonds isn't the only villain here. He's just the most visible.

The other cheaters like Jason Giambi are no longer hiding under the steroids cloud. Instead they are hiding amonst the cloud cover provided by Bonds as he inches closer and closer to all-time infamy.

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