Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Sports Year in Review

As 2010 wraps up, I decided to take a look back at the year for me personally in the world of sports. With a trip to the World Series, College World Series, MLS All-Star game and two trips to the NCAA Tournament, this was easily my best year in sports yet. I managed to cross five items off my list of 100 things to do in sports.

Here is just a quick rundown of some of the things I got to do this past year: Game 5 of the World Series, first eight games of the College World Series, MLS All-Star Game, NCAA Basketball first round, NCAA Basketball Regional, Shell Houston Open and Monday Night Football. I went to six Major League baseball games in three different ballparks, four NFL games, the Shell Houston Open and a minor league baseball game.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All-Star game blog

Once again, home field avantage in the World Series is on the line tonight, nd the National League is long overdue for a win. Also, since the Braves are four games up in the East, this game means a little something more to them tonight than it has in the past. And with five guys in Anaheim (four eligible to play) hopefully they will play a key part in the outcome. I really wish Jason Heyward was playing in this game, but I am glad he is thinking about the team first. Braves are going to need him healthy in the second half.

Friday, July 9, 2010

I quit cold turkey -- and I've never been happier

It was 12 years ago that I simply walked away.

I was as passionate of a fan as they come. It started with the Rockets being my hometown team and eventually I gravitated to a team that fit my personality – Indiana.

The Pacers had the flash that I loved with Reggie Miller, but they were also the underdog and I love an underdog. Always the team up against more history and a better story. It was first the Celtics, and then the Knicks and finally the Bulls. There was always a sexier team for the NBA to have move on in the playoffs.

From 1993 to 1998, during the playoffs I wore my Reggie Miller jersey religiously on game day. It didn’t matter where I was, if the Pacers were playing, I had that jersey on. If the Pacers lost, I was crushed. I was in high school and my friends were going out every night during the summer. I was usually there as well, unless the Pacers had lost that day – or the day before in some cases.

I even wore my jersey underneath my gown on the day of my senior baccalaureate. The Pacers and Knicks were playing Game 7 that day of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. People were wondering if I would even go. I did, but the jersey was right there with me. Afterwards, everyone went to a senior party. I went home, put in the tape and started watching.

I even opened up my speech at graduation with an update on the Rockets-Spurs Western Conference Finals. There was no doubt I was a fan.

The Pacers were always a victim of circumstance. There was always a better team for the League to play in the Finals. The NBA needed New York in 1994. They needed to have Shaq and Orlando in the finals in 1995, after all, Houston-Indiana wasn’t going to draw the ratings the league needed.

But it was 1998 that delivered the final crushing blow to me. The Pacers met the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan had already announced he was “retiring” at the end of the season, so this was his “last” run. Anyone who watched that series knows the Pacers outplayed the Bulls. But with Utah waiting in the finals, and the need for Jordan to go out on top, the Bulls were handed a ticket to a sixth title. The Pacers were the better team, but the Bulls were in the finals – again.

I woke up the morning after Game 7 and said I was done. I was interning at the Baytown Sun that summer and wrote a column writing off the NBA. No one believed me. Why would they? I was the biggest fan most people knew. I was going to get over it.

“When the Pacers are in the playoffs next year and you are on the couch jumping and screaming I am going to get this column out,” my dad said with a knowing smile.

I was simply overreacting like I did following a handful of other losses by the Cowboys, Braves, Nittany Lions and of course the Pacers. But to their surprise, and to an extent mine, I never came back. I think it helped the NBA had a lockout and cancelled a good chunk of the next season. Once again at the end of the year, the Pacers were screwed and once again, it was a move the League needed to happen. The Spurs were already in the Finals, and the League needed a story following the lockout – it needed the Knicks. I don’t remember watching any of that series. I was working in a newsroom that didn’t have a TV, and I didn’t go out of my way to watch. It ended as I expected it to.

The 2000 season was no different. The Pacers finally made the finals, but Kobe and Shaq were the story. The duo was looking to bring glory back to LA. It was pretty obvious who was going to win that one. The only game of that series I saw was the last one, in a pool hall in Baytown. I was there with a friend who talked me into playing in a darts tournament. I lost early – he went to the finals. So I had a pitcher of Shiner and the Pacers on the only TV in the bar. I watched, emotionless. The game ended, the Lakers won the title, and I truly didn’t care. I was done with the NBA.

I have watched just twice since. A year later in 2001, my wife bought us tickets to see the Pacers play in Houston. She said I would regret never seeing Reggie Miller play in person. She was right. I would have regretted it and I am glad I did it. The only other time I went to a game was when I was in San Antonio for the NCAA Regional and I got free tickets, as luck would have it, to see the Pacers. I honestly nearly fell asleep during the game. I really would have been better off staying in the hotel doing nothing.

I have moved on, and have been so much happier for it. I feel like I had my eyes opened at an early age and I am grateful for it. I hear people talking about the NBA and just wonder why they haven’t seen it yet. I see the statues on Facebook during the playoffs, and I actually feel pity for these people who still follow David Stern’s puppet show. They have not had come to the realization yet that I did in 1998.

I am sure I am not alone in this. I have friends who, over the years, have moved away from the NBA. I am sure there are people who have a specific moment that they stopped watching – the lockout, the Malice in the Palace, ect. Something turned them off.

I think the way the LeBron James decided to handle his free agency, and maybe more importantly, the way ESPN has decided to cover it, may be bringing more people to the other side. I saw an ESPN analyst during the day today say he thought this was great for the NBA. “When is the last time we were talking about the NBA this deep into the summer?” he asked. I certainly don’t have the pulse of the nation on this, and I am sure I look at it a little different than most. But I can’t imagine this fiasco will bring more fans to the table. I am sure there are some LeBron fans who will shift allegiances. The Heat will probably show a boost in ticket sales, jersey sales, ect. But when you are talking about the league as a whole, I have to think more people will walk away tonight.

I once thought that being a sports fan meant I had to be an NBA fan. Believe me when I say this, if you do decide to walk away, you will be much happier for it. There are plenty of sports out there to fill the void. Don’t worry right now about what you will do in June when the playoffs are on. Just step away, and trust me, the rest will work itself out.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The best sports day of the year -- and I didn't see any of it

A week ago Wednesday was a sports fans dream. The US pulled off a thrilling victory over Algeria to advance to the knockout round of the World Cup, Isner and Mahut played an incredible 118 games of the fifth set at Wimbledon and TCU rallied in the 8th with a grand slam to beat Florida State in an elimination game at the College World Series.

It was a day that was set up perfectly with the US game going in the morning, Isner-Mahut lasting for the better part of the afternoon, and TCU capping thing off at the end of the night. It was great day to be at home on the couch or even in the office watching on the laptop. As someone who loves sports theater, this was a day tailored for me -- a constant flow of nail-biting dramatic sports moments playing out on TV from morning to night, with very little overlap. Unfortunately, I saw none of it.

I spent that Wednesday in the car for 19 hours driving home from Omaha. The only images of the day we got to see were briefly during lunch at Eskimo Joe’s in Stillwater.

We were relegated to ESPN Radio coverage and satellite radio broadcasts of the games. People say they won’t forget watching Landon Donovan score the game-winning goal against Algeria. I have been told stories of how they reacted to the goal. The cheers you could hear in the office from everyone watching on laptops. The scenes captured on Youtube of the celebrations across the world. I was on the Kansas Turnpike.

We were going old school with this one, kind of. There wasn’t even a radio station in Kansas broadcasting the game, so we were going with the iPhone app and hoping the 3G coverage stretched the to middle of nowhere (had one little glitch in the 80th minute). Even if we wanted to stop somewhere for a quick break to catch the finish, there was no where to go. We were somewhere between Topeka and Hell and there just aren’t a lot of sports bars you can pop into on that stretch of road.

When we decided a year ago to make a trip to Rosenblatt Stadium and the College World Series, I knew I was doing it during a World Cup year. Ideally I would have picked another year to go to Omaha, but this was the final year at Rosenblatt – it was now or never. I was willing to take the risk.

We made the hotel reservations and decided we were doing the first four days at the CWS – eight games in four days, we were going to get the most bang for our buck. Shortly after booking the rooms, the World Cup draw came out. The England match was going to be no problem to watch. It was on Saturday, several days before we left. However, the last two games of the group stage were on the two driving days. I had hoped the last game wouldn’t matter. Unfortunately, it was a do or die for the Americans, and all I had to get me through it was the sounds of JP Dellecamera and Tommy Smyth.

The drive was excruciating. With every elevation in Delecambre’s voice Brian and I leaned closer to the radio as if we were going to get a look at the action. It looked like the World Cup run was going to end in the group stage for the US. The worst part was there were still 12 more hours of driving ahead. It would have been a much longer day had that game finished 0-0.When Landon Donavon scored it was pure elation. I’m really not sure how I kept the car on the road.

We listened to all the post match analysis, interviews and opinions. It wasn’t long that we started hear the first reports of what was going on at Wimbledon. Isner and Mahut were in the fifth set tied at 25. “Wait what? Did you just say 25 all in the fifth?”

It didn’t sound real. Most of the talk on the radio was about the US match. But between the brief updates as well as posts on Facebook and Twitter we were able to keep up. 30 all, 35 all, 40 all. This can’t keep going can it? 45 all. Are they going to get to 50? 55 all, 56 all, 57 all, 58 all and finally 59. Match was suspended at 59. From the time we left Omaha to the time we were stopping for lunch in Stillwater, Isner and Mahut had been on the court.

We were passing through Norman and listened to Clemson finish off Oklahoma in the College World Series. It was the conclusion of the game we were watching at Rosenblatt the night before. As we were driving through Dallas we decided to check out the TCU-Florida State game. For about 15 minutes we were able to pick up the TCU broadcast on the campus radio station and then it was gone. FSU had gone up big and we didn’t worry about it after that.

Somewhere south of Dallas, we checked the score and TCU was starting to put something together. We had the Rangers game on and that was getting out of hand, so we decided to see if there was a satellite station with the College World Series on. We found the game and 10 seconds later – PING! The Horned Frogs had just connected for a grand slam to take the lead after trailing 8-2.

We watched the first eight games of the College World Series – it was game No. 9 that produced the first dramatic come-from-behind victory of the final season at Rosenblatt. That is how our day was going.

We had been on the road for about 15 hours, listened to a dramatic World Cup match that will have non-soccer fans talking for years, listened for updates on a tennis match that was defying all reason and logic and heard Rosenblatt make a noise we didn’t hear in four days there.

The rest of the drive was left reflecting what had happened that day, and how we had seen none of it. A week or so later, I have a different look at things. The trip to Rosenblatt was a dream trip that will never happen again, and while I didn’t get to see the drama of that day unfold, I have a feeling because of the circumstances, I will never forget were I was the day the US stunned Algeria, the day Isner and Mahut played tennis all day with no result and the day TCU electrified the crowd at Rosenblatt for one of the final times.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Back Page

After seeing all the British tabloids before the World Cup, I decided the Bearkat Sports Forum needed a back page. So here is the back page following the US victory over England.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chili Dogs and Fish and Chips

We have waited 188 days for this matchup. This is US vs. England. I'll be blogging my thoughts throughout the match.

I am hoping for a good showing for the US. It is not a must win for the US, but they HAVE to play well. There is no way the US can afford to go out and play bad in this game. And I promise I will lay off of Donavan today.

I am glad Martin Tyler is calling this game. He has a great voice and his delivery is spot on.

4th Minute
The concern for the US was the back line and they just got shreaded there. Not a good start at all. Have to settle down and recover from this.

9th minute
Have to do a better job holding posession. Only getting one or two touches before losing it. We aren't going to be able to put anything together like this.

12th minute
Posession looking a little better here. Working a few corners in. We just have to do something with it. Don't panic with the ball.

17th minute
I don't think we have to have a goal here in the first half, we have to have some pressure on offense.England is winning everything at the back line right now.

19th minute.
Jozy has to get that. You are not going to get that many scoring opportunities. It should be 1-1.

21st minute
England responds. Three good lokks at goal in just a matter of minutes. They are so good at getting back and having an answer to the US.

28th minute
Game has settled in a little bit now. A few nervy moments in the box.

30th minute
Howard being down is not a good sign. If he can't go our World Cup is over. I have no faith in Guzan Heskey went in studs up on Howard. Don't like that challenge at all.

33rd minute
Don't really like that shot by Altidore. Need him to step it up. I'd love to keep as little pressure on Howard as mush as we can for the last 12 or so minutes.

35th minute
Rooney has been quiet, which is scary, because you know he is going to get loose at some point. Of course, he could get frustraded, and he is not very good when he plays frustrated.

40th minute

It was a very soft goal but we will take it. Dempsey just puts a ball on target and the US gets something out of it. I was surprised to see Green in goal and he gave us one.

44th minute
Nothing cheap here late. Let's take a draw into the half.

Halftime tied at 1-1

Very fortunate to be tied at the half, but the US needs to take advantage of this. England is shaken right now no doubt. We need to come out and try to put on on the early. It will be interesting to see if Green comes back on the field for the second half. The goal was soft, but the US has momentum right now and they need to take advantage.

Start of second half
A second replacement for England. They only have one left. I wonder if that will come back to cost them.

50th minute
We have survived the first five minutes. That was big to get through that stretch.

52nd minute
Big save by Howard. That was a very good run by Heskey. A good opportunity for England stopped.

59th minute
England is getting frustraed and nervous. I have seen a red given on that challenge by Gerard before. Studs up on the knee.

61st minute
A good opportunity for the US on the free kick. England gets back so fast though. they are attacking less than 30 seconds after a US attempt on goal.

64th minute
What a great strong run by Jozy. Would have been a spectaular goal.

70th minute
20 minutes to play. Who is going to step up and make the big play? Someone can become a hero and forever be remembered.

74th minute
Good run by Robbie Findley, but two minutes later he picks up a card. We have racked up a few yellows this match.

76th minute
Two more big saves from Howard. Rooney starting to get involved in the match. England os starting to get some good chances in the box. Have to hold on. Buddle coming on now. I like this change.

82nd minute
THe chants of USA starting to ring a little over the sounds of the vuvuzelas

Final 1-1
This was a huge victory for the United States. They are going to carry confidence into the next two matches. England is a bit shaken. We can now look at taking the group and hopefully avoid Germany in the round of 16.

Tim Howard was huge today. He is no doubt the man of the match. It was a lucky goal no doubt, but Howard kept the US in this one. A few hug saves, especially late. After seeing him on the ground for a few minutes in the first half it was great to see him bounce back and play, not just solid, he was money.

Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup is finally here

It is the opening day of the World Cup and I am pumped. I actually had a hard time getting back to sleep after waking up early this morning, for fear I might sleep through a portion of the opener.

I have always been a fan of soccer and the World Cup. I played for seven years, so I have an appreciation for the sport. World Cup has always been fun to watch, and spending a few weeks in Europe during the 1994 World Cup gave me an even greater apperception for it.

I have some very good World Cup memories, especially from 1994. I had the chance to sit and watch Cup games in Italy and Greece with people who are truly passionate about the sport. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, or have seen since.

It seems as though this year I am even more excited than I have been in the past. The main reason might be because I have really stepped up my viewing in the past two years. I have begun closely following the English Premier League, as well as keeping tabs on the other leagues around the world through Champions League. I certainly know who more players are this time around than I have ever before and I think that adds a little something to it.

Also, I think there is just a greater expectation for the US team this time around. After the success they had last summer in the Confederations Cup, people are expecting a deep run at the Cup. I am not in the camp that sees us making a final, but a trip to the quarters is possible.

The other factor that has interest so high is the opening round match against England. To a lot people in the United States, England is soccer. Just like the win over Mexico eight years ago, this is a measuring stick match. The win over Spain last year was nice, but this is England, this is Wayne Rooney, this is the World Cup.

If Mexico was looked at as our big brother, then England would be our dad. That moment you finally beat your dad in anything is always a special landmark. I think that is the thinking here, we have not arrived until we beat England.

While I don’t think this is the year for the US, I think this campaign is a huge step. With the youth on this year’s team, I think they are setting up for 2014 in Brazil. However, those plans can be derailed if the US has a poor showing over the next month. I think we took a big step back after the 2006 Cup, and we are really just starting to recover from that.

England is immensely talented and should e able to handle the US, but we saw last year against Spain, the American are capable of pulling off a shocker. As much as I would love to knock off England, I don’t think this team is capable of a magical run. If we have just one huge shocker in us, I would rather it come in the knockout round.

A draw would be something special and a big-time result. While I would love 2-2, I think we probably fall 2-1. But, don’t be surprised if we regroup and knock off Germany in the round of 16.

As for the rest of the Tournament, I think it will be fun if the African countries do well, I will be pulling for Netherlands and I think Spain wins it in the end.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Predicitions for the College World Series

After giving much thought and in some cases, not much thought at all, here are my predictions for this year’s College World Series:

Regional Rounds

Tempe Regional – Arizona State shouldn’t have much trouble getting out of this regional.

Fayetteville Regional – Arkansas will get a little pressure from Washington State but I like the Razorbacks here.

Auburn Regional – I’d love to see an Auburn/Alabama Super Regional, but I like Clemson to get out here.

Atlanta Regional – Home team should take care of business here with Georgia Tech moving on.

Charlottesville Regional – Virginia and Ole Miss will battle here, but in the end I think I like Virginia to get out here.

Norman Regional – No one expects anything from the ninth-place team out of the ACC. That is why North Carolina wins this.

Columbia Regional – Virginia Tech is on a roll right now and hopefully we will get to see their sweet Astros style rainbow jerseys.

Myrtle Beach Regional – Coastal Carolina might be a dark horse national champion. I look for them to advance.

Austin Regional – Texas shouldn’t have much of a problem here.

Fort Worth Regional – TCU is the best team here with a loaded pitching staff. Might drop a game, but still see them getting through.

Norwich Regional – Uconn is the home team, Florida State is the top seed, but I think Oregon pulls off the shocker and gets through

Louisville Regional – The Cards play on an all synthetic field and will have the home field advantage as they know how to play all of the hops.

Los Angeles Regional – LSU gets shipped out west for the first time in school history. They are still the defending champs and will continue their hot play.

Fullerton Regional – Fullerton is at home and the 2-seed Stanford is not that strong. Titans shouldn’t have a problem.

Coral Gables Regional – Interesting Regional with FIU and Wittles hitting streak and the Aggies, but I think Miami still gets through.

Gainesville Regional – Another magical run for the Beavers? No, Florida wins it, but might get pushed a little.
Super Regionals

Arizona State/Arkansas – Sun Devils will make it out of this regional in two.

Clemson/Georgia Tech – Tigers go on the road for the second straight week, but Georgia Tech will win this in three.

Virginia/North Carolina – Both teams very familiar with each other, but I think the ACC Champs will put an end to UNC’s streak of four straight trips to Omaha.

Virginia Tech/Coastal Carolina – Coastal Carolina will earn its first trip to the College World Series taking this in three.

Texas/TCU – TCU has the pitching to win this, but in the end, the Longhorn will return to Omaha.

Oregon/Louisville – The Ducks’ Cinderella runs ends here.

LSU/Fullerton – LSU won’t get a chance to defend their title, falling to Fullerton.

Miami/Florida – A good rivalry game that I think Florida will end up winning.

College World Series

The Big 12 tournament was not the Texas we are going to see in the postseason. I think the Longhorns win this year, knocking off Arizona State in the championship series.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Field of Dreams - CWS style

I am going to do predictions later in the week, but since I am going to be in Omaha, I am going to first do my College World Series wish list. These are not the teams I think will make it to Omaha, but rather the teams I want to see at Rosenblatt.

There are a couple of factors involved here and a few will actually clash so I will have to make a few concessions. The main factor is program prestige. Cinderella need not apply, so UConn, I am a big fan of your basketball program, but I would like to leave it at that. Also, College of Charleston, Louisville and Florida Atlantic can stay home as well. Prestige factor will overrule every other reason for making my list.

The next major factor is whether I have seen the team play before. I am always looking to add new teams to my list, so UCLA, Baylor and Rice, I have no need for you in Omaha. Southern Miss and Ole Miss, you are out as well.

A potential good rivalry game always makes for a good story in Omaha, so I will have to see if there is the potential for a historic matchup at Rosenblatt. After seeing what happened with Alabama and Auburn at the SEC Tournament, it is a shame they are slatted to meet up in a Super Regional. Had they had a potential opening round matchup they would have been a shoe in for my fantasy CWS field.

Historical significance will play a part. Is there anything that can happen that will always be remembered and I can say, I was there for that. Most of the time you can’t plan for that, like Warren Morris hitting a walk-off to beat Miami in the 1996 final (BTW, the only other team to beat Miami that postseason was Sam Houston State). Others you can plan for, like Robin Ventura extending his hitting streak to 58 games with hits in his first two.

Finally, potential to see future pro prospects will make a team intriguing. We will already know who has been drafted by the time the World Series rolls around, but right now I am looking at prospects and who has the most.

With all that in mind, here is my CWS wish list:

Tempe/Fayetteville Regional - Arizona State is pretty much a slam dunk here. They have 21 appearances and five titles and I have never seen them play before. The Sun Devils have two top pitching prospects with Seth Blair (No. 34) and Jordan Swagerty (No. 61). Arkansas is the other intriguing team there with Zack Cox who is rated the No. 6 prospect in this year’s draft and Brett Eibner who is rated No. 23.

Auburn/Atlanta Regional – There are a couple of good teams here and it makes it a tough one to pick. No one in these two regionals has a national title and I have only seen Southern Miss play before. Alabama, Auburn and Georgia Tech all got consideration here, but I think I am going with Clemson. They have made 11 trips to Omaha, one less than the other three combined. I have never seen them play before and outfielder Kyle Parker is a potential first round pick.

Charlottesville/Norman Regional - North Carolina has made the last four College World Series and features pitcher Matt Harvey who is a potential top 20 pick. They, however, have no national titles and didn’t even make the ACC Tournament this year. Oklahoma has been nine times and claimed two titles, the last in 1994. I’ve never seen them play and even with no real prospects, the Sooners still get the nod here.

Columbia/Myrtle Beach Regional – This is tough to pick and I think I am going to have to break my rules here. South Carolina has the most history with eight trips, but no titles. Virginia Tech has never been and NC State was only there in 1968. College of Charleston would be Cinderella here and I have no interest in them. Coastal Carolina is a national seed, but no prospects or history. I’m leaning toward South Carolina because of the history, but it is kind of a toss up with Coastal.

Austin/Fort Worth RegionalTexas, enough said. They have 33 trips to the CWS and six titles. They also have six other trips to the title game. A lineup full of pro prospects headlined by pitcher Brandon Workman (No. 19). Yes, I have seen them play before, but Rider and Arizona are the only two teams here I haven’t seen play.

Norwich/Louisville Regional – This was another fairly easy pick. Florida State has made 19 trips to the CWS, but don’t have a title. Still, they have been a staple in Omaha and I’d like to hear the War Chant ring around Rosenblatt.

Los Angeles/Fullerton Regional – Wow! Tough, tough, tough. Cal State Fullerton, LSU and Stanford have a combined 47 CWS appearances and 12 titles. I have never seen any of them play and there is lots of historical significance. A potential second round match up against Texas would be a Finals rematch for both Fullerton (1984, 2004) and LSU (2009). Stanford is just not sexy enough for me, and really has no top pro prospects for this year’s draft. LSU, being the defending champs, feels like the pick here. But the potential to see them in person is better than the chance to see Cal State Fullerton in future years. Plus Christian Colon and Gary Brown both being potential top 15 picks this year ultimately gives the Titans the nod. On a side note, throw in Minnesota’s three titles from the 50’s and 60’s and these two regionals have a combined 15 championships.

Coral Gables/Gainesville Regional – I really want to say Florida International here just to see Garrett Wittles extend his amazing hitting streak. It would be in the 60s by the time he got to Omaha and already be an NCAA record. The chances of FIU getting out of the first round are slim and even more remote they get through a Super Regional. Texas A&M could give an Aggie/Longhorn rivalry game, but the Aggies don’t really excite me. I know Cody wants to see Florida, but I have to go Miami here. Like Texas, I have seen them play before (1996 loss to Sam Houston State – Eat’em Up). But 23 appearances is second-most behind Texas and they have four titles. A top catching prospect in Yasmani Grandal helps the ’Canes cause here as well. There is also the potential for a Miami/Florida State second round pairing which helps.

That gives a loaded right side of the bracket with Texas, Florida State, Cal State Fullerton and Miami battling it out for a spot in the championship series -- can’t argue with that. There is only a combined 91 CWS appearances in that grouping.

Looking forward to see how it all plays out.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The last road to Rosenblatt

Congratulations UCLA. You have been awarded a home game in the NCAA baseball tournament. Your reward – the No. 6 national seed and a brutal opening round regional. The Bruins will welcome LSU and UC Irvine to LA this week with a trip to the Super Regional on the line.

The Los Angeles regional is the toughest of the draws with the defending champs coming across the country to begin its title defense. LSU has finished the year hot and is playing its best ball at the right time. With UC Irvine in the regional as well, there is a lot of Omaha experience in LA.

That is one of 16 regionals announced today as the start of the march to Omaha begins. The UCLA bracket will be a fun one to watch; unfortunately it was not picked up by ESPN. The two featured regionals will be the Coral Gables Regional and the Fullerton Regional.

The Coral Gables Regional will have Miami against Dartmouth and Texas A&M against Florida International. The story to watch in this regional will be FIU’s Garrett Wittles. He will bring a 54 game hitting streak into the regional, just four shy of the NCAA record. I watched Chris Andres finish the season with a 26-game hitting streak. These things are not easy, and the fact that he has a 54 game streak is amazing. While his chances of advancing are remote, I hope he gets four games and a chance to at least tie Robin Ventura’s record of 58.

The other televised regional I have virtually no interest in and probably won’t watch much of it.

I will of course be looking forward to the two Texas Regionals, but I am a bit bummed they are paired up against each other in the Super Regional.

Texas cost itself a shot at the No. 1 overall seed by dropping all three games in the Big 12 tournament and will host Louisiana-Lafayette and Rider to Austin along with perennial tournament power Rice. The Owls are down this year by Rice’s standards, but are no strangers to the tournament and won’t be fazed by the Longhorn crowd.

The Fort Worth Regional features this year’s lone Southland team, Lamar. The Cards made a great run in the Southland Tournament, but will probably be out in two here. Baylor got hot late and Arizona is kind of the surprise entry here. Two former SWC rivals will hook up for a trip to the Super Regional.

There are three other regionals that will be worth watching this weekend. The Charlottesville Regional, the Norwich Regional and the Norman Regional all have interesting stories that should be fun to follow.

In Virginia, the Cavaliers will welcome last year’s Super Regional partner Ole Miss. The two teams played a great three game series last season and will battle it out to get back there this season. Add in a 40-win St. John’s team and this will make for a good regional.

In Connecticut, we have the interesting situation where UConn is the host team despite not being the No. 1 seed in the regional. Florida State won the ACC Tournament and will have to make the trip up to Connecticut as the top seed. It is the second straight year the ACC Tournament champ has been sent on the road (Virginia).

The other intriguing regional is in Oklahoma. The Sooners get to play host to the other interesting ACC story. North Carolina makes it into the field despite not qualifying for the ACC Tournament. The Tar Heels advanced to Omaha the last four years and will try to make it five as the No. 3 seed in Norman.

I am looking forward to seeing it all play out as I, along with 64 teams start making plans for Omaha.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lima Time Baby, Believe It

I was never much of an Astro fan, but in the late 90’s and early 2000, you couldn’t help but be a Jose Lima fan. He was just fun to watch. I always have had two Lima Time stories that I knew were probably not unique to me.

I couldn’t believe when I had head of his passing this past weekend. Listening to talk radio today, it seemed like everyone had a Jose Lima story. I just wanted to share my two.

The first was at the dome in 1999. We were in the mezzanine for batting practice and Lima was shagging fly balls in the outfield. There was a guy on the front row who had a ball hit his bare hands and fall to the field.

Lima started giving the guy a hard time.

“How can you come to batting practice and not bring a glove?” Lima yelled at the guy with that great Lima accent. “That is why we have gloves. If it was easy to catch barehanded, we wouldn’t use gloves. This is just embarrassing. Use my glove.” And Lima tossed his glove to the guy. About five minutes later, another ball headed to the same guy. He reached out with Lima’s glove – and dropped the ball. Lima Time really let the guy have it after that, and said he wanted his glove back before the guy cursed it.

A year later when the Astros moved into Minute Maid, we were going to a lot of games. One day in the Crawford boxes, Lima was out shagging fly balls, and had a big bag of seeds in his back pocket. I asked him if he could come off a bag. At first he just laughed and said he didn’t think so. I told him I was a poor college kid and the Astros weren’t going to miss one bag of seeds.

About 15 minutes later, Lima came back out and yelled to me “seed boy.” I looked down and he tossed me a bag of seeds. I thanked him and told him he was awesome. The best part of the story is I was back about two weeks later in the Crawford Box for batting practice. After being there for about 20 minutes, I hear “Seed boy.” I look down and Lima Time is pointing at me. I give him a point back and he tosses me a bag of seeds. He then told me I better graduate college, especially for how much time I am spending at Astros games.

I don’t think there will ever be a cooler pro athlete than Jose Lima. About every five nights I was a Houston fan. He passed away much too soon. He still had a lot to give to the sport and the fans as well. He will be missed, “Believe It.”

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A little pressbox humor

I have spent my life around baseball and have seen my fair share of rain delays. In fact I have been on just about every end of a rain delay.

I have sat countless times in a dugout as a player wondering if we were going to get the game in. I have been in charge of the grounds and been the person to decide when to tarp the field and then at what point we take it off. I have pulled more tarps on and off fields then I care to remember. Most recently, I have been in the press box just sitting around waiting on a decision to be made.

One of the best parts of rain delays is seeing what everyone does to pass the time. In the press box, the stories start coming out about rain delays past. The longer people have been in baseball, the better their stories are.

I have my own fair share of rain delay stories, but what happened last night might top the list. The Bearkats were getting ready to play the first of three against Central Arkansas with bad weather in the area.

Just as batting practice was ending, the lightning hit and the tarp came out on the field. I had about three of my student workers in the booth and I start telling some rain delay stories. Finally, one of my students who will remain unnamed looks at me with a bit of a confused face.

“So how does this work?” she said.

“We will sit here and wait. They are going to try to get this game in,” was my reply.

Still not fully grasping what was going on, she asks another question.

“So how do they see the bases with the tarp on the field?”

Everyone else in the booth turned and looked at me. I wasn’t sure what to say.

“So I’m taking it this is your first rain delay,” was about all I could get out.

We had to then go on to explain the purpose of the tarp and that they in fact do not play with it on the field.

I texted a few people after the fact, and got some pretty good responses that I wanted to share.

I got a few “No ways” and “You’re making that up.” I got a “Is she blonde?’ text as well. One of the better responses was “Tell her that is what they have base coaches for.”

But by far the best response came from Mike Coffin, who works for the Corpus Christi Hooks and has a sense of humor like no one else. Coffin hit a pair of homers last night with two separate responses. His immediate response was “Tell her to go and find a box of curveballs.” And hour later, he followed that up with “I’m looking for the keys to the batter’s box at the moment.”

There is no telling how many more rain delays I have left in my life, but I now know I will always have a good story any time the tarp is on the field.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dez, Tebow, TJ and Chucky

On the whole I like the draft on Thursday night. In the end it worked for me. I had some doubts about how it was going to go, but it went really well. There was good energy in the room both in the crowd and on the set.

First off, I think the highlight of the draft was John Gruden. He did a tremendous job all night and after Mel had his say though the first 10 picks or so, Gruden took over. He was first to talk most of the time after a pick and his analysis was very good. He left Kiper waiting to talk and I can’t remember when the last time that happened.

Kiper was his usual self-serving self early on. It is the kind of stuff I think makes everyone roll their eyes when he talks. Gruden was the one who realized it, and took over the show. Had he not, it would have been disaster for ESPN. Chris Berman was off all night. Did Steve Young add anything to the show? And then there was Tom Jackson.

What an embarrassment for ESPN. He made a total jackass of himself, even before the Tim Tebow pick. When Denver took Demaryius Thomas at No. 22, he clearly didn’t like the pick. He was agitated when Ed Werder said the Bronco brass thought he reminded them of Brandon Marshall. His posture was slumping and he clearly needed to step away for a bit.

Unfortunately for ESPN, Denver traded back up and took Tim Tebow. Jackson show his true colors at that point. He was pissed and it showed. He didn’t speak more than two words for the next hour. I have to think ESPN is going to take a hard look at his behavior tonight and think about his future with the network.

As for Tebow, I am glad he was taken in the first round. He may or may not ever be a regular quarterback in the NFL, but I think he is a hell of a football player. The guy broke Emmitt Smith’s career TD rushing record at Florida and Hershel Walker’s rushing touchdown record in the SEC. Think about that for a little bit and let it soak in. He did so much at Florida, I think those two accomplishments have gotten lost in the shuffle.

I got agitated at times when all you heard about from ESPN was Tim Tebow, but I don’t think he deserved all the criticism he has been getting leading up to the draft. I think it has been proven time and time again that nobody knows what makes a good NFL quarterback, so why have so many people been so quick to write Tebow off? There have been a lot of can’t miss guys who have failed miserably. I think he is the type of guy who will be able to step on the field right now in some capacity and help his team win.

As for the Cowboys pick, I love it. Dez Bryant is a guy I talked about in September hoping the Cowboys would have a chance to get. But at the time Bryant looked like a top 10 pick and I certainly hoped Dallas wouldn’t be drafting anywhere near that. I am not at all concerned about “off-field” issues around him. I never agreed with the suspension from the NCAA to begin with.

Bryant has the potential to be a great receiver for a long time in Dallas. Hopefully this spells the beginning of the end for Roy Williams. It just got so hard watching him drop balls left and right. Bryant can step in right now and be a great compliment to Miles Austin (not the other way around Steve Young.)

I had hoped the Cowboys would go safety, but when the opportunity was there to get Bryant, I am glad they did. The best thing is, Taylor Mays is still on the board going to round 2. Dallas picks 27th on Friday, so Mays probably won’t falls to them, but with two fourths, they might be able to make another move to go up and get him. If Dallas could pull Bryant and Mays in this draft, it wouldn’t matter what else happen, it would be a hell of a three days for Dallas.

Edit - 11:38 p.m.

One last thing on the first round. Are the Rams now kicking themselves seeing they could have Clausen to start the second round? I don't think there is a huge difference between Bradford and Clausen. They chose Bradford who I don;t think was a No. 1 pick. Looking at it now, they could have had a guy like Suh and Clausen. You have to think there is some second guessing going on tonight as they prepare for day 2.

The 2010 NFL Draft

I'll be blogging during the draft throughout the night tonight. Probably won't be going pick-by-pick, but just posting some general thoughts as the draft goes prime time for the first time.

I had mixed feelings about the first round moving to Thursday night. I really kind of like getting up and watching on Saturday and Sunday mornings. But then I remembered for the last five years I have always worked on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and can't remember the last time I was able to watch the draft. So maybe this is a pretty good deal. I'll at least get to watch the first round before having to work on Friday and Saturday.

The Rams are now on the clock:

6:40 No. 1 pick - Rams
So Sam Bradford goes No. 1 overall. No real surprise. I don't think I get why the Rams took him No. 1. I was never sold on Sam Bradford. That is a lot to put on a guy who really doesn't have a lot of experience. He seems like a good guy. Just don't know if he is THE guy.

6:43 No. 2 pick - Lions
Suh to the Lions. Congrats. We won't hear from you again until free agency in four years.

6:52 No. 3 pick - Bucs
McCoy to Tampa Bay. He looks very happy about this pick. Good to see a guy who doesn't expect everything coming his way. I think he will do good in Tampa. Can't believe the Bucs were last in the league against the run. They have fallen off hard.

Dallas had a field day against the Bucs through the air in week 1. Romo went for 353. They need some more work I guess.

6:59 No. 4 pick - Redskins
Trent Williams will have the task of pretecting McNabb (which I still think is a good trade). When are teams allowed to start drafting players from other conferences?

7:10 No. 5 pick - Chiefs
Eric Berry is good. Real good. He was a guy I wouldn't have minded the Cowboys jumping up and getting.

7:15 No. 6 pick - Seahawks
Okung from Oklahome State. Again, not a big surprise here. The Cheifs must have thought when Berry told them he played for UT, he was a Longhorn in college. Aren't we just taking Big 12 players tonight?

7:21 p.m.
Does Todd McShay need a step ladder to reach ESPN's fancy new touch screen?

7:23 No. 7 pick - Browns
Joe Haden corner from Florida. How many guys are left in the Green Room. I am ready for some suspense. Every time they cut to a guy on the phone crying, it just takes a little bit out of the commish going to the podium and making an announcement.

7:29 No. 8 pick - Raiders
Ahhh, the Raiders. Nothing like getting a curve from the Raiders in the draft. I guess this started the run on SEC players.

7:31 No. 9 pick - Bills
Spiller. Very nice pick. Bills must have been thinking, no way he falls to us. They wasted no time with that pick. I will have him high on my fantasy board since we get return yards as well.

7:37 No. 10 pick - Jaguars
Alualu to the Jags. I love how just because Mel didn't have a player high on his board, it is a huge reach and a surprising pick. Get over yourself. "Most people had him going at the end of the first." Come on Mel, who else do you listen to other than youself. Don't try to sell us on the fact the Jags were the ONLY team who liked Alualu. If they thought they could have gotten him lower, they would have. Mel is going to make this a long night. I'm begining to rethink prime time is a good deal.

7:46 No. 11 pick - 49ers
Now the draft is about to get interesting. This could be the first of several trades for the next few picks. I just wonder who on the desk at ESPN will be able to keep track of who is now drafting where.

7:57 No. 13 pick - Eagles
Brandon Graham taken to Philly. How long till a Philly fan pukes on him?

8:01 p.m.
News producer to rookie camera man. "We don't think Tim Tebow will get drafted tonight, but we are going to need you to set up across the street from his house and just see what he is doing all night. Welcome to television kid."

8:06 p.m. No. 14 pick - Seahawks
Earl Thomas. I kind of thought he might go a little higher. Another guy I was hoping the Cowboys. Does Taylor Mays fall to 27? For some reason I am locked in on a safety this year.

8:13 No. 15 pick - Giants
Pierre-Paul from South Carolina. Great, another pass rusher for the Giants. Doesn't bother me any. We have been blocking them for years.

All of these linemen are boring me. Time for some sizzle. We haven't seen what Tebow is doing lately. Can I get a cut to his house? Are there even any receivers available this year? The NFL should have waited until there were a few more playmakers before going primetime for the first time.

8:37 No. 20 pick - Houston
Jackson from Alabama. Texans need a good strong corner, this guy might be that. They need someone to stop Manning. The offense seems to be taken care of. Texans need to stop teams.

Finally the quarterback updates. What took so long??? Now I see why Clausen stayed home tonight. He gets to spend draft night with Erin Andrews. Screw New York. I'd take that as well.

8:41 No. 21 pick - Bengals
A tight end goes. The first pass catcher is Gresham, a tight end, not a receiver. When was the last time that happened? Kyle Brady in 1995?

I do have to give credit to ESPN tonight. They have managed to go three hours without mentioning Rothlisberger.

8:46 No. 22 pick - Broncos
Thomas from Georgia Tech. Finally a receiver is gone. If Bryant keeps falling, I am changing my tune on a safety to Dallas.

Is Tom Jackson a Bronco? I can't tell. His is pissed. Dude needs to step off the set for a bit, get a drink and calm down.

8:59 No. 24 pick - Cowboys
Yessssssss. I wanted Safety, but I didn't think Bryant would fall. I love this pick.

9:06 No. 25 pick - Broncos
Tebow. Glad he went in the first round. I think he is going to be a very good NFL player at whatever position he steps on the field in. He had a Bronco hat on pretty quick. I want to know how many different hats he had at his house. I am assuming the NFL game them all to him, because they were the "new draft day hat"

9:31 No. 28 pick - Dolphins
Odrick to the fins. A Penn State guy goes in the first round. Nice to see after seeing all the Penn State first round busts the other day. Hopefull Odrick doesn't fall into that.

The set is starting to get a little heated. Tom Jackson is hard to watch. They need to take him off the set. He has not been part of the show for the last hour

9:55 No. 31 pick - Colts
Hughes from TCU. And we all get reminded of those hideous helmets the Horned Frogs wore. I knew they were going to come back and huant us.

10:04 No. 32 pick - Saints
Drew Brees just plugged Madden. I wonder if the NFL knew he was just going to get free advertising for EA Sports?

First round done in 3 1/2 hours. Going to miss the rest of the draft. Glad I got to see this.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

An Opening Day to remember

I love college football. Dallas Cowboys dominate Sunday’s in the fall. There is nothing more thrilling than the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. When asked what my favorite sport is, my response is usually ‘what season is it?’

But there is just something a little extra special about Opening Day. No matter what age and what level of baseball, Opening Day always had a special feeling to it. In Little League it was the one game everyone was introduced and ran out on the baselines just like the pros. One year we had Milo Hamilton come out and speak to us on Opening Day.

High school and college baseball all get started in early February. Little League gets going sometime in March and Major League Baseball usually gets going that first week in April. Each celebrates the first day of the season.

In college I made a point to get down to the Dome on Opening Day. If the Astros weren’t home, then I went to the home opener (we also always made it out a day or two later for magnetic calendar night -- very important). The tradition was always the same. It didn’t matter where I was sitting down for the first MLB game of the year, I always had a dog. Sometimes it was a “Dome Dog,” sometimes it was a dog cooked in my kitchen and for the last five years it has been a hot dog at “Fat Boys.”

For 14 years, opening day was also the start of what was to be another championship season for the Atlanta Braves. From 1992 to 2006, the Braves opened the season the same way, by unveiling the championship banner from the previous season. It became old hat. You started to take it for granted.

Opening day was always a great day for the Royals, Orioles, Pirates and Cubs fans, because there was the optimism. “Maybe this is going to be the year.” Opening Day for me was always me laughing at the experts who were predicting this was going to be the year a different team won the East. I knew they were going to be wrong. That was one of the joys of Opening Day. While most people’s season was going to be over by late July, I knew I was going to be rolling strong well into October.

The last few years have been a different story. Things have changed a bit in baseball and the Braves have not been part of the postseason. As a result, Opening Day didn’t have that same luster as in the past. There was no banner being hung at Turner Field. The question being asked now has been, are the Braves going to get back to the playoffs. As good as the Phillies (and Mets to an extent) have been, it was easy to see the answer was probably "no."

Monday however was a little different. No banner was being hung at Turner Field and the Phillies are pretty much considered the best team in the National League. So why did I feel an extra sense of excitement going into Monday? The Braves have had a good spring, but they usually do. No real big free agents came in during the offseason (Billy Wagner is a nice addition, but nothing to get overly excited about). Chipper is coming off a season where his batting average had dropped 100 points from the season before.

But I was really looking forward to the game against the Cubs. It didn’t take long to figure out why I was so excited. It was the arrival of Jason Heyward. He has been the story of the spring for the Braves. The can’t miss prospect who had played just 50 games above the Class A level. While I liked everything I had read about him, it was something that happened on August 7 of last year that had me excited about this season. I was at Joe Davis Stadium in Huntsville, Ala. watching my third AA game in three nights. The Mississippi Braves were in town and we were sitting behind home plate. I had a great view of an absolute mammoth shot by Heyward. He hit a ball that I think landed sometime last week. He was just 19 at the time, but you could tell he was going to be a special player.

Heyward isn’t the reason I was watching the Monday afternoon game. I would have been watching because it was Opening Day. Heyward might be the reason I left work at 2 p.m. on Monday to be home by 3 so I could watch the game on my TV sitting on my couch.

When the lineup was announced, I was a little upset when I saw he was hitting in the seven-hole. Unless the Braves had a good first inning I was going to have to wait until the second to see him make his Major League debut. Well the Braves did have a good first inning, and Heyward got that chance to hit in the first. I think because the Braves scored three in the opening frame before his at bat, was actually good for him. He didn’t have time to think about the moment. He just stepped in the box and on the third pitch took a hack.

I had the windows open in the house and I think I could hear the Turner Field crowd roar from 800 miles away. At the very least, I know my neighbors could hear me. Replays where you could hear the fans chanting “Let’s go Heyward” just moments before connecting on a three-run bomb, gave me chills. I wrote one time about “the noise.” A moment in a game that gets the crowd and atmosphere in general to create a noise that "might swim in your ear canals and rustle your soul and electrify your skin and maybe even prolong your life." This was one of those moments.

Yes, there are still 161 more games to go, and the Braves are probably an outside shot at making the playoffs. But this season already seems to have a little more energy, a little more life. I am not going to go Cub fan on you and say that this is our year, but if the rest of the team can feed off the youthful exuberance of a 20-year old in the clubhouse who performed like a seasoned vet on opening day … maybe.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Miracle on Ice - 30 years later

It has been 30 years, but the "Miracle on Ice" is still the measuring stick for upsets in sports. Not since David cast his stone has someone overcome so much to go on to victory.

That is what we have always been told right? I mean I saw Kurt Russell himself on the big screen convincing me it is the greatest upset ever and has still not been topped. I was just three when Mike Eruzione and his plucky bunch knocked off the Soviets, so I really don’t have much to go off of other than what I see on TV.

But by all accounts, this game is the undisputed underdog story. A true David vs. Goliath, right? How could it not be? It wasn’t until I stumbled across a story in the Toronto Sun that I realized not everyone felt the way I had perceived the whole world did.

Bill Lankhof, a columnist for the Toronto Sun has a differing opinion, sort of. In his column, Hockey’s little Miracle, (the headline alone should have told me his real thoughts) Lankhof gives the impression he is making a case for that 1980 triumph in Lake Placid as the greatest upset ever.

His lead looks like it is going to set up a look back at the signature Winter Olympic moment.

There are moments in history when time, place and opportunity converge to create magic.

One of those Cinderella events unfolded Feb. 22, 1980, when 20 fuzzy-cheeked college kids pulled off the greatest upset in sports history.

He continues

It was the day that hockey came of age in the U.S. American colleges began taking hockey programs more seriously. It was the impetus that helped change the face of the National Hockey League so that today it has 216 American-born players. In 1980, it had a mere handful. It hastened the development of a sport that has allowed the NHL to put teams in non-traditional places such as Dallas, Florida, Nashville and San Jose. It fostered minor hockey programs in every state.

It is the day the sport took root in America and allowed it to grow into one where players -- like their basketball and baseball cousins -- now earn millions of dollars.

What also set The Miracle On Ice apart from ordinary upsets is that this was about much more than sports. The Cold War was still casting a chill over the globe. U.S. president Jimmy Carter was considering a boycott of the Moscow Games. The Iron Curtain divided the world, the Iran hostage crisis was unfolding and America was still binding the wounds left by the Vietnam War.

This wasn't just a game as much as it was a war of lifestyles; it was capitalism vs. communism, a clash of cultures and societies that had political implications.
Just taking these excerpts, it would appear Mr. Lankhof is on board with what the rest of the world thinks, right?

Well mixed in with the admiration and praise for what the underdog American’s did on that day is a slew of backhanded shots and anti-American sentiment.

When the United States defeated the mighty Soviet Union at Lake Placid, television commentator Al Michaels called it a miracle.

In other words, supernatural: Something incomprehensible, improbable and beyond human understanding. It is a comment meant in the noblest of fashions. But, it has also left a lingering impression that it was a victory not so much earned as one that came like a lucky roll of the dice; like a bolt of lightning from the hockey gods, perchance angered by the smugness of the almighty Soviets and Canadians.

Eruzione's goal to put the U.S. ahead came with 10 minutes to play. And, thus was born the chant of "U.S.A., U.S.A!" that has energized and nauseated (depending on your point of view) the world ever since.

Unfortunately, America didn't hear it. While the game was shown live in Canada, it was on a tape-delayed basis in the U.S. Even then, even at home, they got disrespected. Two days later the Americans beat Finland to seal their gold medal. But the U.S. had lost a chance to wave Ol' Glory in the world's face -- and when can anyone remember that ever happening?

It allows the hockey intelligentsia to smile and nod and maybe, acknowledge that, "Well, yes, that was cute!" -- then, dismissing Monday's anniversary as just a day 20 kids caught lightning in a bottle.
This article is such a conflicting piece. You can almost see the writer’s inner angst and anguish as it is written. He wants to “believe” but he just can’t. For every bit of praise he heaps on the Americans, his next sentence is there to discredit it.

Evidently the Canadian’s 1972 victory over the Soviets was a big win. I’ll have to take Lankhof’s word for it, because it is the first I have heard of it. The 40th anniversary of that great Canadian moment is coming up in two years and I will be interested to see Lankhof’s tribute to that. One thing I am pretty certain of is no one from the New York Times or Washington Post will give it any ink.

The 1980 game changed so many things in the world of sports, from the way they are covered and televised (do you think anything like that will EVER be tape delayed again?) to just the attitude of any athlete at any level who is facing a near impossible challenge.

So was the “Miracle on Ice” the greatest upset in the history of sports? I’d like to think it was. I mean here we are 30 years after USA beat the Soviet Union and a Canadian is still getting worked up about it – the game just keeps giving.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I think I am starting to dislike the Super Bowl

As I have gotten older, I think I am starting to like the Super Bowl less and less.

This was a good game this year, there is no doubt about it. You have to hand it to the Saints, they played a good game and are the champions. It was an entertaining game, but not the best this season. There were a lot of better games this year.

The main problem I have with the Super Bowl is it seems it is the one day out of the year people who are not football fans can pretend they are. They will go to parties and discuss why they know the Colts are going to win based on the extensive knowledge they learned from Tony Dungy.

I don’t need to get excited about the Super Bowl to prove I am a football fan. I think that was taken care of at some point during the last 20 Sunday’s when I was on my couch in front of my TV while 80 percent of the 106 million Super Bowl viewers were shopping, eating, jogging or whatever else it is that non-football fans do on any given Sunday.

You can always tell who the non-football/sports fans are by the questions they ask in the days before and after the Super Bowl:

The first, who do you have winning the game? I hate when I get asked that question. They don’t care who I think is going to win, they just want me to know they are aware there is a game that society tells them they are supposed to be interested in.

Do you have any money on it? Again, another question I hate. First off, no, according to NCAA rules, I can’t have money on it. But the reason for the question is basically so they can then tell me about the great pool their cousin got them in that is paying out $1,000 per quarter plus it has these new bonuses that are unique to their pool only and last year they almost won $2,500 if it wouldn’t have been for that catch by that one guy at the end of the game.

When I tell them I really don’t have a rooting interest, (and I really got asked this question this year), do you think you would be a little more excited if the Cowboys were playing in it? Well no shit, obviously. What tipped you off, the Romo jersey I wear every Sunday or the Cowboy polo I wear to work every Monday after a Dallas victory?

Then the questions on Monday after the game:

Did you watch the game? Of course I watched the game. I always watch the game. And I am not just talking about the Super Bowl. I am talking about nearly every game that comes on TV here. I am a football fan. That is what I do.

What did you think of the game? I thought it was a good game. Not really sure what you want here.

Did you go to a party? No I watched the game. I thought we covered this already.

Can you believe they intercepted Peyton Manning and returned it for a touchdown? (substitute any big play from any Super Bowl here – can you believe that big guy ran all that way and no one tackled him; can you believe that guy caught the ball on his helmet; can you believe they kicked to Hester; can you believe Brady was drafted in the sixth round, I bet every other team feels stupid now; can you believe the Titans almost scored at the end; can you believe Elway dove like that and got spun around; can you believe they threw the ball directly to Larry Brown, twice; can you believe Lett had the ball knocked out of his hand at the goal line; can you believe that field goal went wide right; can you believe the 49ers scored on that last drive; can you believe the Fridge scored a touchdown; can you believe Swann made that catch; can you believe how cold it was at that game; can you believe they finished the year undefeated; can you believe the MVP was from the losing team; can you believe Namath guaranteed they would win and then they did; can you believe Max McGee had seven catches?) Yeah, I can.

I think the hyperbole that surrounds the Super Bowl actually takes something away from the game. The Super Bowl is becoming bigger than the sport. It is becoming its own event that is not about football anymore. Because of the hype, the media feels the need to then try to make this bigger than it should be.

The funny thing is, the players and coaches get it. On more than one occasion, a player came out and said they are going to treat this like any other game and everyone thought it was lip service. The fact is, it is just like any other game.

Yes, the stakes are higher and a championship is on the line. For that reason, there doesn’t need to be any added drama. The game is its own dramatic moment and nothing artificial needs to be built in to it. Just let it play out like we did for 99 percent of the other games played this season (Brett Favre and the Packers reunion excluded).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

This is shaping up to be a fun tournament

This March I will get to make my sixth trip to the NCAA basketball tournament when the regional is played at Reliant Stadium in Houston (and maybe a first round trip as well if things go right).

The NCAA Tournament is easily one of the best events in all of sports. I have had the privilege of going as a fan twice, a member of the media and twice working the event. I have seen the games from the nose-bleeds and five feet from the court. The best part of the tournament experience, is it doesn't matter where I have been sitting, the games are just as exciting.

The way things are going this season, the tournament is shaping up to be a very good, balanced field. There just isn't that one great team that looks like they can run away with it. Kentucky is very good, but they are young and that scares me. The rest of the contenders have all shown a tendency to take a night off. In the Dance you can't afford to let that happen.

That is why this year's field could be a really fun one to see play out. There might be 15 teams capable of winning six straight in March. It just seems this season there have been a lot of top-10 teams losing to unranked opponents. Even when a pair of top-25's hook up, the lower-ranked team has been the team pulling out the win.

There are some mid-majors that can get in the dance and make some noise this year that wouldn't be a surprise. Northern Iowa looks to be tough, as does Butler and St. Mary's. While debatable about actually being a mid-major, Gonzaga is a threat again this year.

While I expect a few mids to make some noise early, I think the surprise this year could come from the mid-ranged seeded teams. Two years ago, every No. 1 seed made it to the Final Four. I could very easily see none make it this year. And while it is unlikely, there might not be a 2-seed advance to the last weekend either.

The way things are shaping up this year, this might be the season for the teams in the 5-9 range to make some noise. That is where you will see might see Baylor, Oklahoma State, Florida State, Georgia Tech and a handful of Big East teams. All are capable of winning a few games and getting a step away from Indianapolis.

The tournament is less than two months away and there is still a lot of basketball to be played. But if the first two months are any indication, this year's bracket will be anything but chalk.

Speaking of the Big Dance...

Just looking ahead at the future NCAA Tournament sites, there are lots of opportunites within driving distance over the next few years to go watch basketball in March.

This year the NCAA Regional will be in Houston, but 2011 is the year I really have my eye on. The Regional is in San Antonio and the Final Four will be in Houston. Tulsa will be hosting as well in the first round, meaning I could cross one thing off my list if I can go watch all three weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Here are the opportunities over the next few years:

2011 Division I Men's Basketball Championship

1st and 2nd Rounds: March 18 and 20
BOK Center, Tulsa, OK
Host: University of Tulsa

Southwest Regional: March 25 and 27
Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
Host: University of Texas-San Antonio

Final Four: April 2 and 4
Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX
Hosts: University of Houston, Rice University

2012 Division I Men's Basketball Championship

Final Four: March 31 and April 2
Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, LA
Host: Tulane University

2013 Division I Men's Basketball Championship

1st and 2nd Rounds: March 22 and 24
Frank Erwin Center, Austin, TX
Host: University of Texas

South Regional: March 29 and 31
Cowboys Stadium, Arlington/Dallas/Fort Worth, TX
Host: Big 12 Conference

2014 Division I Men's Basketball Championship

Final Four: April 5 and 7
Cowboys Stadium, North Texas
Host: Big 12 Conference

2016 Division I Men's Basketball Championship

Final Four: April 2 and 4
Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX
Host: University of Houston, Rice University

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The BCS Championship game

Here is my running blog of the BCS title game. Just some random thoughts as the game goes. They might not even have anything to do with what is actually happening on the field.

11:35 p.m.
With the pending legislation in Washington right now, Alabama might be the last FBS "National Champion" for a long time as long as they don't determine it with a tournament.

11:30 p.m.
Not that it really matters, but who is No. 2, Florida or Boise? I hope it is Boise. Don't want the SEC to go 1-2.

11:25 p.m.
Blake Gideon probably cost Texas a chance at two national championships. If he intercepts the ball last season against Tech, Texas probably plays for it. This year if he doesn't intercept the ball on the fake punt, everything is then different with Texas' play calling and Colt doesn't get hurt. That has to be tough to live with.

11:10 p.m.
You have to hand it to Colt for stepping in front of a mic and take some questions right there at the end. That couldn't have been easy.

11:07 p.m.
If I am Saban, I frame that shirt, stained and all. I wouldn't let that thing hit a washing machine.

11:03 p.m.
The art of the Gatorade shower has been lost. I have seen too many bad Gatorade showers where the cooler hits the coach. You guys are too big and strong to let that happen. 37-21 Bama, Final

11:00 p.m.
Gilbert and the Texas D made this a much more interesting that it looked like it was going to be at halftime. Just too much to ask after losing McCoy. Game plan and everything had to be changed. Everyone on the offense had to do things differently.

Once again, can't believe they looked at that. Pretty clear cut and the official was right on top of the play.

You knew they would go to the Heisman winner there. As expected he punched it in. Would have been really disappointing if he didn't. Hate it when Heisman winners don't perform in the bowls. Bama 31-Texas 21 2:01 to play.

Any chance they hold them to a field goal???

10:49 p.m.
Herbie just jinxed them. Asking Gilbert to rally the troops was probably asking a little too much. It was fun for a while thinking what if.

10:47 p.m.
No matter what, Texas should have a top 3 preseason ranking next year now that there won't be as many questions about the Horn offense heading into 2010.

10:45 p.m.
Does this just have the same feeling as the last time Texas was here?

10:44 p.m.
This is a huuuge play for Texas. Need a stop on third and long

10:39 p.m.
Do we see Ingram on this drive? They need him here.

10:35 p.m.
That is why they should have gotten Shipley involved earlier in the game. The guy is a playmaker. He is just about the only one Texas has on the field right now. How is Alabama letting him get that open??? There is no one else on the field who can hurt you. 24-21 Bama, 6:15 to play

10:33 p.m.
Herbie, we have a game now 11 points with 7:30 to play. You don't have to make something of it that isn't there. just call the damn game.

10:32 p.m.
Gilbert is getting no help around him. Too many penalties and drops.

10:28 p.m.
College football looks at waaaaay too much stuff for review. I didn't think that was even close live. If you look at any play close enough, you can probably pick it apart.

10:26 p.m.
Texas is going to need points of some sort here on this drive. It need to happen fast as well.

10:21 p.m.
Not a good call on the PI. Let's see how it affects this drive. Another 15 yards against Texas. Both weak calls.

10:20 p.m.
How different is this game right now if Texas takes a knee at the end of the half.

10:17 p.m.
Texas defense playing like we thought they would. Just like the offense was flat after McCoy was hurt, I think it took a little out of the defense as well.

10:08 p.m.
Texas pulling out all the stops. ABC has to love this. It is a game again. Well on second look, I think that was just a lucky bounce on what was just a low squib kick.

10:06 p.m.
You had to figure they were going to find Shipley eventually.

10:01 p.m.
Usually if you are the quarterback at a school like Texas, your first few games are against North Texas, UTEP and New Mexico. Not Alabama in the Rose Bowl. Can't blame Gilbert for not being ready for this. He went to LA wondering what his $500 bowl gift was going to be. He had no concern for the coverages in the Bama secondary or the blitz schemes he was going to see.

10:00 p.m.
Gilbert might be the quarterback of the future for Texas, but at what point do you worry about his confidence going forward? This could be mentally damaging for a long time.

9:54 p.m.
ESPN is showing 30 for 30. The Deuce has World's Strongest Man. Next year, the Southland needs to see if we can get in this time slot for a basketball game. Might be our best shot at a ESPN appearance.

9:48 p.m.
OK. Shipley has to make that catch. Never mind.

9:47 p.m.
Got to find more ways to get the ball in the hands of Shipley. Too good of an athlete not to be involved in the game like this.

9:46 p.m.
A Williams receiver for Texas with multiple drops in the game. Where have I seen this one before???

9:41 p.m.
On my ESPN Streak for the Cash, I decided to go with Ingram rushing for more than 53 yards in the first half. I got the win for that one. Now I need to have a touchdown of 30 yards for more in the second half to give me three wins for the day.

9:38 p.m.
A fan on the field might be the most exciting thing to happen in the second. Half. I hate when tv stations cut away to something else while they are chasing the "idiot" around. I like what ABC did just now. They went to the blimp cam so you could see what was going on, just no closeups to give the guy his moment of glory.

9:36 p.m.
Gilbert has virtually no chance of getting back into this game, but the penalties are not going to help the kid out.

9:30 p.m.
WOW. The ABC scoreboard to start the second half was 0-0. Is Fox running this production?

9:28 p.m.
The Horns need to go a different route with this offense right now. Gilbert may have a great future ahead of him, but that can only go so far. With no McCoy they rest of the way, I don't like the way this second half is going to go.

9:24 p.m.
Was Corso drunk during that halftime report? I didn't understand anything he was trying to say. Just spit it out already. It might be time to send him the way of Beano Cook.

9:20 p.m.
So does Colt pull a second half Willis Reid and try to came back in and play? I would have to think he is going to try and give it a shot. I just can't imagine a senior not going to give it a go. Even if he is just out giving handoffs, I think there might just be a little more life in this Texas team. They are dead right now and they need something to pick them up. I don't think there is any way they come back to win this, but they could at least keep it respectable.

9:11 p.m.
Texas is now down 24-6 at the half and this thing is over. I am sure at this point they are looking for Legendary Texas High School coach Bud Kilmer to give McCoy and injection so he can finish the game. The question is, does Jordan Shipley step in and do his best James Vanderbeek and stop it from happening?

9:08 p.m.
You could tell Saban isn't even excited about this game because Colt is not in there. It has even taken the edge out of him. He is not even interested in the game anymore.

9:03 p.m.

9:00 p.m.
A minor victory for the Longhorns. Crazier things have happened, but I just don't see them coming back. They can at least feel somewhat good about their chances.

8:57 p.m.
If Mark Ingram wore No. 23 instead, would people still compare him to Emmitt.

8:55 p.m.
If Texas can hold them here to at least a field goal, they can consider this still a ballgame.

8:51 p.m.
I will not recognize this victory for Bama. I put is in the same category as the Rockets two championships. Put a big * next to this one.

8:46 p.m.
This game really has lost its shine. How does ABC keep anyone around after halftime. Can't wait to hear the enlightening conversations Herbie and Musberger have.

8:41 p.m.
Well that should just about do it for this game. I don't think they can sneak VY into the game as the unknown "third stringer" 14-6 Bama 2nd quarter.

8:37 p.m.
Texas is going to have to create something on defense. I don't see the offense putting a drive together. I love how Herbie is trying to keep it interesting. "This is a young man with a great arm and he will be able to throw it around if Davis wants to open up the offense."

8:32 p.m.
Anything else good on TV tonight? 7-6 Alabama 2nd quarter.

8:27 p.m.
If Gilbert can't go, they just need to put Shipley in the shotgun and go Wildcat the rest of the way.

8:24 p.m.
Kirk Herbstreet has gotten worse the longer he has worked with Musburger.

8:20 p.m.
That is ball game. There is no way Texas comes back to win this game if Colt is not in the game.

8:11 p.m.
If Colt is going to be out the rest of the way, Texas has to come away with more than six points there on those two possessions. Even if the defense plays lights out, those two series might have cost them the title. 6-0 Texas 1st quarter.

7:40 p.m.
Wow. Can't believe Saban just called that fake punt. I thought he was going to be the difference maker in this game, but not because he was going to make decisions like that.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Boys back in postseason

Last week we knew the Cowboys were back in the playoffs for the first time in two years. Now we know the opponent and where.

With a win over the Eagles, the Cowboys win the NFC East and get a first round home game and the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. The problem is, the first round opponent for Dallas is Philadelphia.

I guess that is why I am not as excited about the playoffs as I probably should be. It is not even about the whole "you can't beat a team three times in one season." I don't buy into that theory. It only gets talked about when it doesn't happen. No one keeps track of the times someone has beaten a team three times in one season.

What makes me nervous is Philly. The recent history between the two has not been kind. Yes the Cowboys took both games this season, but you don't have to look far to find a 44-6 beating at the hand of the Eagles to keep Dallas out of the playoffs last season. Andy Reid and Donavan McNabb have been a thorn in the side of the Cowboys for a long time which is one reason why I despise them so.

Two years ago I thought it was the year. Dallas had a great season end after the first playoff game in a loss to the Giants. The aftermath of that game was not pretty and spawned the creation of this blog. But that year they went into the playoffs losers of two of their last three and couldn't turn it back on after playing so well all season long.

2006 was much the same. Dallas backed into the playoffs losing three of the last four after an 8-4 start to the season. They ended up having to go on the road for the first round of the playoffs and lost a heart-breaker to Seattle.

That is why I am hoping this year is different. Dallas has won three straight including two wins against playoff teams (New Orleans and Philly). They are peaking at the right time which is something they have not been able to do the last three years.

They started the run with a win on the road at New Orleans against an undefeated Saints squad no one thought Dallas would beat. They then knocked off Washington on the road followed by today's win against Philly.

The best part about the last two games is they have done it with a stifling defense. By blanking both Washington and Philly, the Cowboys recorded the first back-to-back shutouts in franchise history. Take a moment to let that sink in -- first time EVER. That is not just the JJ era, but Tom's boys as well. The Doomsday Defense never had consecutive games like Dallas just did.

When you look at the playoff picture, there is reason for hope. Just like the Cowboys last two trips to the playoffs, the top contenders are not going in on a high note. Top-seeded New Orleans is riding a three-game losing streak after having visions of a perfect season. Minnesota is not playing much better. Sure they thumped New York today, but it was a lame-duck Giant squad that had nothing to play for. The previous four weeks, Minnesota has just one win to show for its efforts. Even the fourth seeded Cardinals are just 2-2 in their last four.

That is why there is reason to be optimistic about a playoff run. That is also what makes Saturday's playoff game even more nerve racking. In a year when things look like they might be setting up for the Cowboys, you have the Eagles standing in the way. Today's result really means nothing as far as how the playoff game will be played. You can't expect the Cowboys to shut out the Eagles again, and you can't expect Philly to play this bad again. I never felt comfortable about the game this week and I won't ever feel comfortable about next week's game until it is over.