Monday, November 29, 2010

God drops touchdown; public crucifies receiver

One of the wackier sports stories of the weekend came down late Sunday when Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson tweeted his frustrations about dropping what would have been the game-winning touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime. It was a ball that hit him in the hands, and he flat dropped it. That wasn't the controversy. Receivers drop balls all the time. They don't however then lash out at God as a result.

And, unlike most of the sports-loving public out there, I don't have any problem with his frustrations or the way he expressed them.

If you haven't seen it yet, here are the comments he posted on his twitter account:

Okay, now before you get all up in arms, let's take a breather. Calm down. Let's look at this objectively as well as somewhat spiritually.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Saintsgiving: NO 30, Dal 27

It looked like the Saints would feast on the Cowboys this Thanksgiving. Dallas had its opportunity to win fall out of the arms of Roy Williams with less than four minutes to go in the game. And while there are no moral victories in the NFL, it is safe to say that the Wade Phillips Dallas Cowboys would have had zero chance to take a lead in that game after trailing 17-0 with just over 10 minutes gone by in the first quarter.

They could have folded. They didn't. At least not until the very end after coming back from a 20-3 deficit right before the half.

The Cowboys had Thanksgiving dinner spoiled by defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans, 30-27. Roy Williams will catch plenty of flack for his role in the loss, and rightfully so, but the Cowboys also caught plenty of breaks from the Saints. It was tough to tell if New Orleans took their foot off the gas in the third quarter or if Dallas simply ramped up their efforts, or perhaps some combination of the two, but after slogging through the first 29 minutes and 17 seconds of the game, the Cowboys finally showed some signs of life.

Interim head coach Jason Garrett missed out on starting his tenure 3-0, and while his first victory can be attributed to the emotional swell of his first week on the job, and his second win can be attributed to playing the Detroit Lions, this game would have been by far the most impressive victory he could have added to his resume in his personal quest to retain the job on a permanent basis next season.

Dallas drops now to 3-8 on the 2010 season and that should stop any hallucinating talk of a massive table run into the playoffs. After the loss, Jason Garrett spoke of how there are no moral wins. Can you imagine what we would have heard from Coach Wade after something like this. Yes, there were some strong efforts to praise, but Dallas also caught a few breaks down the stretch as well.

A few thoughts on a crazy game that appeared to breathe live back into the Cowboys just as quickly as it then fumbled that life away:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What we're watching with Dirk

It sure seemed like just another ho-hum Tuesday when the night began. Back in Dallas for Thanksgiving, I headed for the American Airlines Center to take in a Mavericks game. The Pistons were in town, not exactly the team that dominated the Eastern Conference the middle of the last decade, but certainly not a slouch either.

Dallas started off hot with an 11-0 run, but an ugly second quarter resulted in Detroit working their way back to take the lead at the half, 42-38. And all the while, there was the main Mavs man, Dirk Nowitzki chipping away, bucket after bucket. Swish. Swish. Swish. His 17 first-half points weren't much to write home about for two reasons: one because mailing a letter all the way to Germany is expensive, and secondly because the Mavs were losing.

The Mavericks weren't able to cut into the deficit in the 3rd quarter either, trailing 63-56 heading into the final period. Hey, there's 82 of these games, and Mavs fans have become accustomed to ramping it up when the playoffs begin, keeping energy levels during regular season games in on the early side of New Year relatively "meh" so to speak. Dallas is trailing. Dirk is playing well. But the team just might not find the win column tonight. Most of the wine-and-cheese crowd at the "Double-A C" on Tuesday weren't going to lose a lot of sleep without a mad fourth quarter rally.

But Dirk continued to make these buckets and make it look effortless. His trademark fallaway-off-one-foot shot from near the elbow continued to fall just as it has for more than a decade in Dallas. The man who cause Dallas fans -- which were small in number and perhaps even smaller in faith -- to scratch their heads on draft day 1998 made them slowly start to believe in yet another comeback win in Big D. And row by row, with each bucket from the Big German, fans rose from their seats, believing that this could be a special night. Help from Caron Butler and Jason Terry certainly made a comeback opportunity possible, but all the while #41 continued to do what makes him so special.

Decibel levels climbed within the AAC, and the Mavericks chipped away at the Pistons lead until Dirk Nowitzki sank a pair of free throws as the Mavericks snuck ahead, 68-67. After a Pistons' 3-pointer, Dirk drew another trip to the line, two more free throws and things were tied up, 70-70. A quick trip down the court later, Jason Kidds slings the ball over to Dirk for the go ahead 3-pointer, and as soon as it left his hand, there was no more doubt in the building.

There were six minutes left on the clock, but by that point, it was essentially over. Detroit tried to keep it close down the stretch, but the Mavericks withstood the best efforts of their opponents. And when the dust finally settled, there was Dirk with 42 points, 12 rebounds and yet another impressive comeback win. Dallas 88, Detroit 84.

It's just another November win. It doesn't make a whole lot of difference in the overall scheme of things for this franchise, let alone for the 2010-11 season. But it's also the mark of what Dirk Nowitzki has been doing for a dozen years in Dallas that has made him the most special player in franchise history in what must be considered the makings of a hall of fame career.

The off-balance shot falling away. The flailing limbs on a take to the hoop. Heck, even the goofy videos on the jumbotron. It's all part of the quirkiness and Dirkiness that has been a staple in Dallas. People may still remember the Mavericks before Dirk. People might remember Don Carter's hat, Triple-J, Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper, and Reunion Arena. There might be some "good old day" feelings toward those early days of the Mavericks, be it fond memories of Moody Madness or the run to the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers in '87 when the Reunion Rowdies were at their finest.

But what this 7-foot phenom has done in Dallas is rewrite the franchise's history books. We don't know where this team will go after Nowitzki takes his final shot with the Mavs, whether or not that ends up being the final shot of his NBA career. Maybe this franchise, 20 years from now, will win a title without him and that will be the greatest Mavericks team ever, featuring players who are currently in kindergarden. But what can't be questioned is that this franchise is now talked about in pre-Dirk and post-Dirk terms.

Pre-Dirk, they were the little Mavericks, a team that at one point won 11 and 13 games in consecutive seasons. Yuck. Yes, they'd been to postseasons, but aside from a seven-game series against the Lakers, there weren't many highlights. Dirk changed all of that. He essentially erased those memories. At the very least he sent them to the back of the memory bank, piling ahead of those old memories countless jump shots, 3-pointers, dunks, drives and yes, even those goofy videos on the jumbotron.

Seriously, think back to what you thought of the Mavericks before Dirk arrived. More importantly, did you even think of the Mavericks? Did you look at them as a novelty, merely a way to witness Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan or Larry Bird or other superstars come through town to play our city's version of the Washington Generals? What did you think of the Mavs?

What do you think of them now?

One player changed the trajectory of this franchise. Obviously coaches, GMs, role players and a owner who appears to be equal parts fan and businessman helped the process. But it can all be traced back to #41.

There will at some point come a time when he no longer suits up for the Mavs. I hope it's not for a while, because as he displayed on Tuesday night against Detroit, he is still very much capable of dominating a game in the NBA. But when his time as a Maverick is done, with a ring or not, he will be looked back at as one of the greatest sports figures the DFW metropplex has ever seen. He'll be up there with Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, Nolan Ryan. He's one ring away from immortality status as far as the rest of the NBA is concerned, but here in Dallas, let's hope his team's fans know better than that.

He's already achieved it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Yes we McCann: Dal 35, Det 19

Channelling my inner Lou Brown from Major League, "That's called a winning streak."

The Dallas Cowboys gunned the engines in the second half and stormed away from the Detroit Lions in a battle of 2-7 teams each playing their backup quarterback. The Jason Garrett era continued to impress, and players who had underachieved throughout the first eight games of the season appeared to hustle (what a novel concept!) throughout the game. Heck, Mike Jenkins even made a hard-hitting tackle in the game.

It's hard to get too excited with a 35-19 win over the lowly Lions, but sadly this was a game between two last place teams, two evenly matched teams, and that's where this Cowboys season is. Now, if they can topple the defending champion Saints on Thanksgiving, then by all means, go crazy Dallas. But the now 3-7 Cowboys are at the point where players must simply maintain the mindset of "I'm playing for my job this week" every week throughout the end of the season.

In 2008, the St. Louis Rams fired their head coach a few weeks into the season and Jim Haslett took over. The previously winless Rams under Haslett won his first two games, beating the Redskins on the road and then beating the Cowboys in St. Louis (and it wasn't pretty by any means). The Rams went on to lose their remaining 10 games, finish 2-14, and they brought in a new coach the next year, blowing up what they had in place and slogging through 2009 before getting top pick Sam Bradford out of OU to help them right the ship this season in 2010.

So this is just a cautionary tail that while the Cowboys under Garrett do have two wins, impressive in many aspects but also faulty in others, it is a weekly battle to prepare and execute and cannot be taken lightly the rest of the way. We saw this team take it lightly through the first eight games, resulting in inexcusable losses at Washington, at home to Tennessee and of course that embarrassing loss to the Jaguars. We've seen the team give up in Green Bay, resulting in Wade Phillips getting fired the next day. If they give up at this point, Garrett isn't getting fired before the end of the season, but he at least has to make the players believe that they could be cut loose or demoted if they don't give at least 100% each week.

This team has made too many strides in the last two weeks under Garrett to regress to the Wade-levels they were at. But in watching the recent success, it's only more maddening to think that had they actually played to their abilities throughout the first half of the season, the now 3-7 Cowboys might be at least 5-5 if not better and still in the hunt for a playoff spot instead of solidly filling the role of spoiler the rest of the way. (And, yes, I realize they aren't mathematically eliminated, but winning out means going 9-7, and there are already six teams in the NFC with at least 7 wins, so let's table any playoff talk until Week 15 or so when we can definitely say if it's still likely at that time.)

What Garrett's new style has done is pushing players to get the best out of them. Plain and simple. The prime example is Jon Kitna. Garrett's offense looks revived, ready to attack, and Kitna leading the way has been more than impressive. When he took over, everyone in DFW held their breath fearing Brad Johnson 2.0, which was so bad that fans were calling for (and briefly got) Brooks Bollinger into a blowout loss against the Giants. Kitna is proving he can still play in this league, and he is more than capable to be a solid backup QB behind Romo in 2011 as well.

Defensively, the Cowboys are becoming ballhawk players, creating a pair of turnovers yesterday that helped solidify the win. Rookies Sean Lee and Bryan McCann, two guys who didn't really get a chance under Wade, are starting to make sure Cowboys fans -- and more importantly for them, the Cowboys front office -- know their names. Lee provided a big forced fumble moments after McCann added another long return TD to his resume. Meanwhile Terence Newman accepted the challenge of taking on Calvin Johnson and other than Detroit's first play from scrimmage in which Newman got tripped up, taking down Johnson through incidental contact, was is no real jeopardy of surrendering the big play throughout the game.

It's a short week until the Super Bowl Saints come marching in, and they'll be looking for payback against the team that ended their undefeated run in 2009 at the Superdome. The fact that these Cowboys of 2010 are not the 2009 Division winners that stormed New Orleans (poor choice of words) won in New Orleans is of little consequence to Drew Brees and company. As Garrett likes to say, they'll be ready at 3:15 on Thursday. Only difference is that, under Jason Garrett, I'm convinced the Cowboys can be as well.

A few other thoughts on Sunday's 2-7 showdown:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gardenhire, not Washington, AL Manager of the Year

News just hit the wire that Minnesota Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire has been named American League Manager of the Year for 2010. Gardenhire certainly was more than qualified for the honor, helping to lead the Twins to the AL Central Division title, despite being bounced from the playoffs in a three-game sweep by the Yankees.

Granted, postseason play does not factor in to these regular season awards. That being said, it's still disappointing not to see Texas Rangers skipper Ron Washington take home the honor. Maybe it was the preseason news of his positive cocaine test. Maybe it was the fact that Texas is considered to play in a weaker division with fewer teams. But don't think that Washington isn't deserving of this honor.

The Twins finished 94-68, with four more wins than the Texas Rangers (90-72) in 2010. Minnesota finished six games ahead of the second-place White Sox in their division while the Rangers bested second-place Oakland by nine games. Gardenhire's Twins were certainly a strong team, but the Texas Rangers overcame much more and Washington helped mold a group that (outside of Cliff Lee) hadn't ever achieved anything.

The Rangers hadn't won the AL West since 1999, going 11 years between playoff appearances. Texas had guys who had career years, and Washington's fingerprints were all over it, putting them in positions to succeed. The Twins have won their division in six of the last nine seasons (2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010). Bottom line, this is a group of guys that have been their before. It was known that they should finish atop their division. Meanwhile the Rangers have been nothing more than a dark horse contender, a trendy up-and-coming pick for several years, but never have been a team to take seriously.

Ron Washington changed that. He took a group of guys that had a handful of All-Star appearances along with castoffs (Colby Lewis), aging veterans (Vlad Guerrero), and other parts, throwing together a division winner with some clear staying power. Bringing in a hired gun in Cliff Lee helped push the team to the division crown and through the playoffs, a move that must be credited to Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan, but when Lee wasn't on the mound, it was Washington's philosophy of how to play the game that fueled the Rangers' success.

Perhaps this is one of those things where Gardenhire's time had finally come. He had finished second a handful of times before finally breaking through and earning the honor this season. For Ron Washington, if his Rangers continue to produce at the level we saw from this season's American League Champions, he deserves to be recognized for his efforts as well.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

North American Baseball League

It looks like enough cats are getting out of bags across the country that independent baseball fans can see the handwriting on the wall of a mega-merger that would weave what's left of the Golden Baseball League, United League and Northern League into one big baseball league. While merger talk had been speculated over the last week, Ballpark Digest brought it all together in a Sunday article that detailed some of the how and why of the new league.

Low and behold, yet another cat escapes from the bag today as Ballpark Digest reports that the name being kicked around is the North American League. Either that or the North American Baseball League, according to a source close to the negotiations. While nothing is finalized and formalized just yet, it seems like things are progressing as all three leagues are not in a position to survive on their own in 2011, but combining the trio would infuse new life into all remaining markets.

While the sale of the (?ex-)Northern League Joliet JackHammers seems to be the big hang-up currently stalling any major announcement, it appears 16 teams are listed as potential cogs in the new league's big machine.

Northern League
Joliet JackHammers
Lake County Fielders
Rockford RiverHawks
Schaumburg Flyers

United League
Coastal Bend Thunder
Edinburg RoadRunners
San Angelo Colts
Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings

Golden League
Calgary Vipers
Chico Outlaws
Edmonton Capitals
Orange County Flyers
Na Koa Ikaika Maui

Three other potential teams include a Tijuana franchise, reportedly nicknamed the Ambassadors or Embajadores, as well as Omaha and Yuma.

It all sounds well and dandy, but this issue of high travel costs will still be an issue for teams in the "Canadian" or "West Coast" divisions. I can't imagine any bus trips going from Chico or Orange County to Illinois, and Texas-area teams will probably have to make their way to Houston or Dallas-Ft. Worth for the best flight options to get to Calgary or Edmonton. Obviously not every team will play each other, especially if there will only be 76 games with 24 of them being played "out of league."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Garrett gets it done: Dal 33, NYG 20

Let me begin the "Jason Garrett era" with a quick reminder from the last Cowboys era that inspired the type of confidence that I'm feeling tonight:

Put the anointing oil away.

Bill Parcells' words regarding a new starting quarterback named Tony Romo in 2006 are just as fitting for the Dallas Cowboys' new interim head coach midway through 2010. Jason Garrett took over the franchise after an embarrassing 1-7 start to the season and was given less than a week to change the culture of a team that lost all discernible heart and will the previous two weeks and prepare them for "4:15pm [Eastern] Sunday" as he stated all week long. And while it is just one week, one game, 1/16th of the entire season, Jason Garrett got more out of this squad -- his squad -- than we'd seen in quite some time.

Dallas Cowboys 33, New York Giants 20. (recap) (highlights)

Again, I realize this one win doesn't put the now 2-7 Cowboys into the Super Bowl (which, if you hadn't heard, is actually going to be at Cowboys Stadium in February). But seeing the way Dallas played tonight, it's also hard not to be infuriated that they hadn't been playing like this all season; playing like that they could be 7-2. One win doesn't change the first eight games. It does, however, give the Cowboys a spark that they can use to ignite the rest of their season.

Garrett, entire roster have 8 week audition

Today is the day. Offensive coordinator-turned-head-coach Jason Garrett makes his debut for the Dallas Cowboys in the wake of Wade Phillips' firing. Garrett has had what seems to be an "impressive" week -- and that's impressive based on the recently lowered bar that has been set over then last three and a half years. The fiery redhead comes across pointed and stern in his press conferences. Will that translate to wins on the football field? It's no guarantee, but it's certainly refreshing.

People are making a big deal about the Cowboys practicing in full pads on Wednesday for the first time since pre-season, and sadly this is a big deal. Don't get me wrong, I think that at times giving players a chance to practice in just shoulder pads and shorts has its benefits. It's a long season, and players will wear down. As a result, sometimes an easier paced practice can help keep guys fresh. But when a team hasn't played football the last Sundays anyway (and, no, they weren't on the bye either, *sigh*), sometimes you need to run then ragged in practice. If they show up flat on Sunday, I'd rather it be because they are exhausted from a rougher week of practice than because they just lost the heart required to compete.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

GBL: Giant Baseball League?

When the Victoria Seals announced the club was ceasing operations this week, the news -- coupled with Tucson taking a year off and three franchises being absorbed by the league during the 2010 season -- seemed to spell the end of the Golden Baseball League. But a report out of the midwest points the other direction entirely. Could we be looking at the GBL going from the brink of extinction to becoming a super-league?

The Rockford (Illinois) RiverHawks will be joining the GBL for the 2011 season, according to a report from WREX Channel 13, an NBC affiliate. Before we get into the ramifications of what it all means, here is the story from WREX:

RiverHawks join Golden League
Posted: Nov 12, 2010 8:20 PM

By: Mike Morig

ROCKFORD (WREX) - After one season in the Northern League, the Rockford RiverHawks leave for the Golden League.

An official announcement is expected next week, but team owner Dave Ciarrachi told the 13 Sports Authority Friday night that the ‘Hawks are Golden League bound and the league itself will expand.

Ciarrachi said the league's new format will feature four divisions, one on the west coast, one in Canada, one in Texas, and one in the Midwest.

The RiverHawks will play in the Midwest division along with former Northern League teams from Schaumburg, Joliet, and Lake County. A potential fifth member of the division could come from Omaha.

Ciarrachi said the Golden League rules will allow the RiverHawks to keep the players they have, no matter their age.

The league will feature 16 or 17 teams and the name of the league along with the divisions will be discussed at the owners meetings later this month.

Talk about a game-changer. When the Golden Baseball League announced on the league's twitter feed that a major announcement was on the way, my only thought was a merger. What else could it have been? No league drums up attention to announce it's folding. But while I thought there might be a "merger" that would either bring the Calgary and Edmonton franchises back into the fold of the Northern League, the idea of a mega-league didn't quite come into focus.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Goodbye Golden League?

It's a sad day in the sports world whenever a franchise closes its doors. Seattle SuperSonics fans mourned the departure of their franchise moving to Oklahoma City. Cities that hosted Arena Football League teams saw them shut down in 2009 due to the economy (arena football has since been revived). And in the realm of independent baseball, it seems we are witnessing the inevitable demise -- or best case scenario, the incredibly drastic reshuffling -- of the Golden Baseball League.

The GBL, which played its first season in 2005 with eight teams throughout California and Arizona, finished its sixth season this September after expanding to a league-high 10 team format that stretched from Tijuana to Edmonton to Maui. Many thought the league's massive expansion, especially amid difficult economic times with dwindling crowds, would be the final nail in the coffin for the league. Yesterday, someone took a hammer to that last nail and began driving it home.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Packing it in: Dal 7, GB 45

After a third straight butt-kicking, it seems today will finally be the day embarrassed and desperate Dallas Cowboys fans get the bloodshed they have been craving since Alex Barron's holding penalty in Week 1. Jerry Jones and the team has a 4pm press conference today and the general thinking is that head coach Wade Phillips is not expected to survive the announcement.

I don't know what he could have done, being a completely impotent head man under Jones with no true authority of any kind. But it is clear that this team doesn't play hard for him. And if he's not even willing to bench people during games who aren't trying, then there is nothing left to do but to remove the head coach.

Jerry Jones said that people "will suffer" as a result of Sunday night's 45-7 loss in Green Bay. I should hope so.

At this point, the Cowboys need to wipe their personnel slate clean. Not just at the head coaching spot, but everyone on the field needs to realize that they are playing for their position on this club in the future.

Tashard Choice should be the No. 1 running back. Marion Barber is not what he used to be and Felix Jones looks lost. Other than Dez Bryant, is there anyone who isn't a starter that is clearly pushing for playing time? Don't think so.

With as bad as the offensive line is, let's just take them all out and throw the backups in. Let them try to earn their stripes. It's not like they can be any worse. The defense is terrible. Other than Demarcus Ware, not one of the other 10 starters is a lock to have a spot on this club in the future. Anthony Spencer and Mike Jenkins used to look like the future of this defense. This year, they are so bad it's embarrassing. Jenkins isn't even trying. We've seen him make "business decisions" before, but sadly he hasn't learned from that. HIT SOMEONE!

Today Wade Phillips is gone, but that in no way is going to fix the mentality of this team. Thank goodness Romo was already hurt because the last thing this organization needs is the false hope that Romo might provide under center. This season is a loss. It has been since the loss to Tennessee.

So while thing "quick fix" of firing a coach is only the first step, there are too many other steps that still need to be taken for this organization to show any sort of turnaround before the Cowboys wise up and hire a tougher head coach.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


What an amazing ride, huh?

The Texas Rangers fell short of baseball's ultimate prize, and while there are no moral victories in sports, I still come away from this postseason run, the first postseason "run" in franchise history with an overwhelming sense of team and civic pride. For the years I've lived in Southern California, I have slogged around Angel Stadium in my blue Rangers jersey whenever Texas came through, all the while knowing I sat at the bottom of the division's totem pole, merely a guest at the house of the big bad Angels.

No more.

The Rangers won the American League West. They won the American League Pennant. Hell, they even won a World Series game. And while it might not be the ultimate prize like the Angels took home in 2002, there is no longer the shame of never having tasted success. Now I have. And, at the risk of becoming greedy (as admittedly I am with the Cowboys), I want more.

I don't have time now to break down what this series has meant and why it's meant that much, but to put it briefly and bluntly: on this Tuesday, November 2, 2010, the morning after the Texas Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs in Game 5 of the World Series one thing is clear: I am more than ever before proud to be a Texas Rangers fan.

Thank you, Texas Rangers, for rewarding my loyalty and for whetting my appetite for more postseason baseball.

It might be time to put the Claw and Antlers shirts back in the closest, but I'll leave them in front of the Romo jersey for quick access when the 2011 season opens up.

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