All is Quiet on 161st and River Ave

As I was sitting around my house today, I noticed that I had DVR’d World Series tapes of the most recent 5 Yankees titles. Being me, I immediately began watching, choosing 1999. The Yankees, of course, captured baseball’s title by defeating the Atlanta Braves 4-0 in the Series. The one thing that stuck out to me, though, was the fact that Roger Clemens, perhaps the best pitcher in baseball’s long history, started Game 4. He took the hill in that game with a 3-o series lead. That means that the Yankees had one of hell of a deep pitching staff, in stark contrast to the modern Yankees, whose current pitching staff looks something like this:

1. CC Sabathia

2. ?

3. ?

4. ?

5. ?

Anyway, this got me thinking about the relatively quiet offseason that the Yankees have had and what it means going forward.

Last year, the Yankees made no major additions. Of course, they added Rafael Soriano and Pedro Feliciano, the latter of whom threw exactly zero pitches in pinstripes. The former was very, very, good after returning from injury, but was extremely expensive. Cliff Lee channeled his inner Greg Maddux and spurned the Yankees. GM Brian Cashman- who himself was opposed to the Soriano signing- decided to pick pieces out of the trash and pieced together a makeshift rotation. 97 wins later, it is safe to call Cash’s plan a success.

This year, though, the rotation HAD to be upgraded, right? Bartolo Colon is gone, and even if he wasn’t, it would be hard to count on him for 164.1 more quality innings. Freddy Garcia and all of his sweaty glory return, but he is also a question mark. He walks only a few men (2.8/9) and surrendered only 1 HR/9 in 2011, despite having a mediocre fastball and being a junkball pitcher. He knows how to pitch, and will be a solid 4-5 pitcher.

The Yankees- to my disappointment- bid less than 20 million dollars for Yu Darvish, who appeared to be the best pitcher on the market. John Danks has been locked up by Chicago. The options are slimming, although Hiroki Kuroda still lurks. What does this mean?

Perhaps the Yankees are waiting for next offseason, where Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, and Zach Greinke supposedly* lurk. Because the Yanks probably don’t expect either to attain free agent status, this seems unlikely to me.

*Does anyone actually think that Hamels and Cain will hit the market? As for Greinke, the Yanks are said to be lukewarm about him.

More likely the Yanks believe in the talent of their young pitchers, which is not a bad thing. Manny Banuelos- 20 years old-  is the 6th best prospect in the Double-A Eastern League, according to Baseball America. Dellin Betances-23- is ranked 9th. Prospects obviously do not always pan out, but the Yankees have shown a reluctance to part with these prospects in particular, much like they did with Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Joba Chamberlain in the offseason prior to 2008. Phil Hughes, too, is only 25, despite the fact that it feels like he’s been around forever.

Brian Cashman has positioned the Yankees into a situation where they can be cautious with free agents because of their farm system. The Yankees have Banuelos, Betances, Chamberlain, Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, and Hughes as young pitching options. All of them are differently talented and have different ceilings, of course. If any of those guys can build upon their MiLB/MLB successes, though, then the Yankees will have a plethora of young arms upon whom to call this season. As it stands, the Yanks will have CC, Nova, Garcia, A.J. Burnett and Hughes in their rotation. While not elite, the Yanks showed that they can win 95+ games with this rotation simply because their offense is that good. There is no reason for a Yankee fan to panic.

While it might be optimistic to assume the Yanks can repeat their success with a sub-par pitching staff, there is no reason to suggest that the offense won’t pick up the slack for everyone not named CC Sabathia. With another playoff spot added this year, it is fair to assume that the Yankees will be representing the Big Apple in baseball’s postseason next season. However, if the young arms that Cashman and Damon Oppenheimer haves stockpiled develop as well as the Yankee Front Office projects them too, then the Yankees will be a scary team for years to come.

 

A Very Sixers Christmas

I love my Sixers

By: Joe Gallagher

When New York billionaire Joshua Harris bought the Philadelphia 76ers, my excitement was probably a 10 on the Gus Johnson scale. (“OHHHHHHH!!! AS. GOOD. AS. IT. GETS!!!!!!!”)

Finally Ed Snider had sold the team. Look, I love Ed. I understand what he has done for the Flyers. Every year they are a contender to win the Stanley Cup; and that is a testament to his dedication and passion as an owner.

Snider created the Flyers. They got his unparalleled attention, his love, and most importantly, free reign of his wallet. The Flyers received Snider’s Technicolor dream coat. Quick side note: why were Joseph’s brothers SO upset about him getting a Technicolor dream coat? I understand the point of the story, but my brother definitely wouldn’t have been jealous. Instead, he probably would have punched me in the stomach if he saw me wearing that thing. Technicolor dream coat: DEFINITELY not a good look.

The Sixers were Snider’s son from another marriage. They were the son he didn’t really care about. If they were winning — great; if not — no big deal because the Flyers were.

Now the Sixers are someone’s child.

Immediately things began to change. Harris appointed an Abington high school graduate named Adam Aron as the CEO of the franchise. Aron stepped in and implemented some changes. He began by having Sixers fans email him about what they wanted to see change with the organization. Apparently many emails included these words:

“Lose Hip-Hop” – Come on, a du-rag wearing, sunglass flaunting, steroid pumping rabbit? Who decided he was a good idea to begin with? Oh, that’s right: Pat Croce. Considering all Croce did as President of the Sixers in the late 90s and early 2000s (including his placement of the “GO SIXERS, BEAT LA” sign on the top of the Walt Whitman bridge that could be seen from three states), I think he can be forgiven…

Who green lighted this guy?

Well, what did the new ownership do? They got rid of Hip Hop. THAT’S getting the job done. In his place they announced that one of three mascots would take his place: a moose, named Phil E. Moose (not exactly a step up), a dog named Franklin Dogg (uhhhh…), or my personal favorite, Big Ben, a Benjamin Franklin impersonator. It’s fair to say that voting on the new mascot should be a government-funded test to determine the criminally insane. Seriously, anyone who voted for the moose or the dog, for any reason other than having an astute sense of irony should be considered crazy. ***I do have a big qualm with the Benjamin Franklin mascot, though. What would ever make you want to reject the name “Ben Jammin” (It’s all there!!!!!!) and call him “Big Ben” instead? Don’t they realize that they’re likening him to two peaks of absurdity: Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the British?!…Kidding, I love Austin Powers.***

Crappy mascot naming aside, the ownership has definitely shown that they care. They want to get things done and they want the city to fall back in love with the franchise.

Well, the organization took an important step toward that on Tuesday, when they emailed free tickets to the senders of one thousand emails that they found most useful. The sender of one of those emails? Yours truly.

I don't really care about the new mascot to be honest. As long as it isn't the Michelin Man. He creeps me out.

Not living in Philadelphia makes the selection of games that I can redeem my tickets for a little slimmer. Here’s a rundown of all the possibilities:

Milwaukee Bucks: Other than being able to yell LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE 18 times throughout the game, why would I want to watch the Milwaukee Bucks? So I can think of that gruesome Andrew Bogut elbow injury? (The link takes you to an awful, awful injury. If you get sick thinking about 2009 Kirstie Alley on the beach, you probably have too weak of a stomach for it.) At least I can see Brandon Jennings, right? When he was a rookie, I couldn’t wait to see Jennings first hand. While he has shown flashes of his potential as an all-star caliber scorer (he put up 55 in a game his rookie year!), Jennings has largely been a disappointment. I’ve soured on him. Coming into the league, Jennings was compared to a young Allen Iverson. He shoots 38% from the field and averages 4.2 assists per game. He also averages 14 shots a game against 15 points and has shown no signs of making his teammates better. That’s like being an Allen Iverson who shoots entirely from the outside, rarely attacks the rim or gets to the foul line, disappears for large chunks of the game, and lacks the ability to regularly take over the game and make you say “holy crap, he is consistently making plays that I have never seen before. I need to keep watching to see what he will do next”. Do I want to see that much of a distortion of the AI I grew up loving? Bigger question: do I feel ashamed mentioning Jennings in the same breath as Iverson? Yes, yes I do. As for watching the Bucks? No thanks.

Toronto Raptors: Not much here; DeMar DeRozan, an Atlantic Divison matchup, and the singing of “O Canada”. Sounds soooooo appealing, right? At least it marks another homecoming for Reggie Evans. Evans was both my uncle’s and my favorite player during his time here. He was good for three or four RIDICULOUS fouls a game, where he would literally throw the opponent to the ground, get whistled for it, and then turn and look at the ref like “Me? ME? How could you EVER call that?” He’s like that kid you’ve played a pick-up game with who fouls the whole time and you progressively get more and more pissed off at until you realize that he doesn’t know any better and he’s really giving everything on the court. At that point, you begin to respect him a lot. Respect Reggie.

He's Gumby Dammit.

Washington Wizards: I just saw them play a pre-season game on Tuesday. Center Javele McGee was the one I actually most enjoyed watching. The guy is like the basketball version of Gumby, with long arms and the ability to effortlessly snatch the ball out of the air and slam it home. What, surprised I didn’t rave about John Wall? I’m not a huge John Wall fan. Athletic freak? Yes. Able to jump one rung higher on the Awesomeness scale because he has a song named after him? Yep, sure thing. Still, I just do not get the sense that he makes his teammates better. It’s not like he’s a supremely gifted player like Carmelo who can get by on his one-on-one skills alone. John Wall’s advantage is his athleticism and until he attacks the rim more, looking to kick out or get to the line, and becomes a lockdown defender (with his ability, there is no reason he isn’t), he’ll be nothing more than a very good player on a very bad team. Aside from being able to make fun of Rashard Lewis for being the second highest paid player in the NBA and snidely mention how little defense Nick Young plays, there is not a lot encouraging me to double dip on the Wizards.

Indiana Pacers: Danny Granger sounded appealing, but only if there were something else drawing my attention. Granger could be a great number 2 option for a championship team just like I think Andre Igoudala could be. As a three, they could play for dynasties. The problem is, as good as Granger is (he is better offensively than Igoudala by a long shot), he isn’t a superstar and won’t ever be a superstar. The Pacers also have Tyler Hansborough, who actually has showed flashes of being a pretty solid player in the NBA, despite what his critics said. He might be able to find a niche as a Christian Laettner-type player (What, you think that I’m making the lazy parallel between two white, ACC conference superstars whose games did not translate that well in the NBA? You’d be right. Oh well, what’re you going to do?). Anyway, Tyler Hansborough’s not what you make a special trip to see.

Detroit: The home opener includes a dollar dog night this year? Heck, I might actually buy a ticket to go to this game. Aside from Brandon Knight though, whom I actually like better than John Wall[1], there is not much else on the Pistons roster. I can see it now. Arriving at the game… “Starting for the Pistons: Greg Monroe, Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko…” I’d feel like anyone stuck in the hotel in The Shining: “GET ME OUT OF HERE! GET ME OUT OF HERE! AHHHHHH!!!!!!”

Sacramento: Now here’s a winner. I mean I can see first hand how much weight Demarcus Cousins put on during the lockout as he morphs into the second coming of Eddy Curry. I can make a bevy of JJ Hickson jokes. The Cavs wouldn’t trade this guy for Amare Stoudemire? Heck, I’d trade him for ten minutes of Pau Gasol walking a runaway in a benefit for Ostrich cruelty! (See, too easy.) I could also watch the following interaction between a casual fan and his casual fan friend:

“Hey, Isiah Thomas is back in the league???”

“Nah it’s his son.”

“Oh, the one he accused of overdosing on pills when he was apparently the one rushed to the hospital a couple of years ago after being fired from the Knicks?”

“Nah, another one.”

For those who do not know,  the non-Isiah Thomas’s offspring Isaiah Thomas currently in the NBA has such an underrated story to his name. His father, a huge Lakers fan, apparently bet a friend, a huge Pistons fan, that he’d name his first-born Isaiah Thomas if the Pistons beat his Lakers in the 1989 finals. Sure enough, the Pistons swept the Lakers and the new Isaiah Thomas was born. Hey, better a second Isaiah than Dennis Rodman, right? (Knicks fans squirm uncomfortably, unsure of the answer.)

But wait, the fun doesn’t end there. I get to see John Salmons’s beard back in Philadelphia. Fresh off debuting his clothing line (clothing made entirely from his beard! Just kidding. But, hey, beard clothes. Genius. Call Louie Vuitton. GET IT DONE NOW, JOHNNY.), Salmons will be sure to have my full attention for oh, about the first two minutes of the game.

John Salmons's beard is back and I couldn't be happier!

More importantly than John Salmons’s beard, I get to see Philadelphia area product Tyreke Evans first hand. Evans has a crossover that I’m pretty excited about seeing and he can definitely fill the cup. Hopefully, I get to see Evans at his best. I could enjoy a 27 point, 8 rebound, 6 assist game. Unfortunately, he seems to operate at his best on a game-by-game basis. 50-50 shot I guess!

One thing’s for certain, I will be watching rookie Jimmer Fredette. I’m really pulling for Jimmer. I do think he will succeed offensively in the pros. He can put up points. His jumper and ability to create are too strong to fail from what I’ve seen. I’ll be really watching when he’s on the defensive end. At BYU he seemed allergic to defense at times and that makes Lou Williams a candidate for a monster game. And that’s enough of an attraction for me.

So the Kings it is! Well this has gone on long enough. Who would’ve thought I’d get 2000 words plus, mention the Kings, and not even make a joke about the Maloofs?

Oh well, maybe next time I rant about the Kings…

Merry Christmas!


[1] Knight isn’t the centerpiece that Wall is, but from what I had seen of him at Kentucky, he is a heady, hard worker who spreads the floor with his shooting, and elevates the play of his teammates through passing and effort. You might not build a champion around Knight but he can be a piece of a championship puzzle. I’m not sure the same can be said about Wall. While he might bring more people to the gate, he hasn’t exactly elevated, inspired, or carried his teammates at any point thus far. How could a player that much better than everyone else, with that much talent around him, not have taken his team to the National Championship game, or at least to the Final Four? To me, that’s a sign that he was anointed “great” too early and that he still has A LOT of work to do before reaching his potential. Like I said earlier, a player this talented should be dominating the defensive end and inspiring his teammates to work just as hard. Wall hasn’t done that yet, and if he just isn’t a leader, then it remains to be seen if his ego is such that he would be willing to take a backseat to an actual superstar. Regardless, championship players do not waste as much on D as Wall did last year. Wall still has room to grow though and he was only a rookie, so hopefully he will make strides this year and force me to eat my words.

The Anti-Pujols

Taking a Discount

By: Joe Gallagher

When Albert Pujols signed with the Angels it was just another instance of an athlete trading his status as a classic, hometown legend for some extra cash. Yawn. Let’s watch reruns of Arrested Development instead. Seriously, how did that show get taken off the air? It is much better than half the crap that the networks churn out these days and it’s offered on Hulu for FREE! (No, I do not get paid to advertise for Hulu, but I should.)

Honestly though Albert, what does 210 million look like compared to 250? I wouldn’t know, but I’m sure he could have lived without the extra 40 million that the Cardinals refused to offer.

Okay, maybe I’m being hard on the guy. Who wouldn’t take the higher offer? Obviously the Angels respected him more, and valued him higher than the Cardinals, right? The Cards wanted to rope Pujols into staying home with puppy dog eyes and a milk bone biscuit. Well, the Angels offered snausages. And as my Jack Russell terrier Cosmo knows: when given the choice, always pick snausages. They’re more expensive and, as a result, make you feel more important.

Snausages: The More Distinguished Choice

Or maybe it’s just that the Cardinals underestimated the stupidity of the Angels, or any other team for that matter. Who in their right mind is going to want to be spending 25 million or so on a 38-year-old slugger not in the steroid era? That’s like devoting a huge portion of your payroll to the last five years of Shaq’s career. Sure, maybe he will put some people in the seats, generate some buzz, and do a few things that make you say, “Man, he was the most dominating player in the league in his prime.” But let’s be clear: that’s NOT what you want from the biggest portion of your payroll. You want a guy who makes you say, “Wow, he IS so good, and I hope people appreciate this guy, because he IS in his prime.” Well that’s not what the Angels signed up for. It’d understandable if the Cardinals overpaid him. They kind of needed to. The fans wouldn’t stand it. Unfortunately for them, the Angels decided they needed him more; so they ridiculously overpaid for one to three Albert Pujols type seasons before he ages, breaks down, and inevitably goes under.

Before this turns into a rant about old news, let me get to the point. With the new hot stove developments this week, Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins just became the Anti-Pujols. Quick side note: does anyone know why they call it the hot stove? I have no idea, but the image of a maniacal Scott Boras roasting general managers over a large flame with the evil empire song playing in the background keeps playing in my head.

Anyway, J-Roll at 5’8, 175 was probably already the opposite of the hulking Pujols. They have very few things in common. For one, they both have won MVP. Each win was under very different circumstances though. Jimmy Rollins’s MVP is questionable and really only a result of him backing up his famed “team to beat” claim with his play on the field. Pujols, on the other hand, deserves the honor almost every year and is probably this generation’s best player. J-Roll and Pujols both handle a pretty excellent glove; only Rollins operates at the premium position of shortstop as opposed to Pujols’s first base. I mean come on, Jason Alexander could play first base.

Think George could have played First Base in the Majors? Apparently Joe Does.

Differences aside, as recently as last year, people in their respected cities would have been willing to take a bullet for these guys.

But that’s no longer the case for Albert. People in St. Louis are pretty upset that he’s not coming back. They don’t know who to be mad at – Albert himself, his agent, or the Cardinals — but you can be sure of this: they’re mad.

It’s a really odd situation they have out in St. Louis. How often is a championship team’s biggest off-season story NOT that they won the championship? Usually a championship winning team is able to lay low, avoid big moves, and market the heck out of the fact that their season ended with a parade. Not in St. Louis. People are in revolt.

Well, Jimmy Rollins apparently could have taken the Pujols route and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers for more money and more years. He didn’t. As a result, he cemented that he will forever be bullet-taking worthy here in Philadelphia.

In all likelihood, Pujols will eventually be forgiven in St. Louis. He’ll probably get his statue outside of Busch Stadium. The same goes for Jimmy Rollins had he signed elsewhere. These guys meant too much to their teams for the fans not recognize that. At the same time, Jimmy Rollins’s status as a Philadelphia legend means so much more now that he signed up for an additional 3 or 4 years. Rollins now will most likely break franchise records for hits and at bats held by Mike Schmidt.

Schmidt, to many fans, is the Phillie. General consensus holds Schmidt as the greatest third baseman, not only in Phillies history, but also in baseball history.  For Rollins to break his records means a lot to Phillies fans. This era of Phillies baseball has replaced the Schmidt era as the Golden Age and Rollins has been at the forefront of this movement.

For Rollins to take less money, he was basically saying, “Screw it. I can live with a little less money. What I can’t live with is the knowledge that I could have made myself a hometown legend. Not a legend in today’s terms. Today, people sign and switch cities so much that no one knows who to associate them with other than themselves. No, I want to be associated with the Phillies and I want people to associate the Phillies with me. By signing this deal I could make myself a true legend like Ted Williams, Mike Schmidt, or Derek Jeter. These guys never switched teams, and they were/are forever showered with love because of it. I want to be a guy who Philadelphians look back on and say ‘I saw him play his first game, his last game, and every game in between, and it was all for my team.’” THAT’s what Jimmy Rollins got.

And, as Albert Pujols will find out when he first digs in as a visitor in St. Louis and hears a spattering of boos, you can’t put a price on that.

Screwing A Professional Sports League for Dummies

By Kevin Daly:

Intrigue.  Confusion.  Frustration.  Fury.  These tend to be my typical feelings while watching a post-The Sixth Sense M. Night Shyamalan movie.  Conveniently, they also fuel the emotional roller coaster ride any sports fan has endured in the past week.  There have been happy moments – like the Knicks’ acquisition of a center who can defend, is not Jared Jeffries, and doesn’t consider eating potato chips to be a strenuous activity (Tyson Chandler, congrats on being the latest in MSG’s proud line of overpaid, injury-prone centers) and Robert Griffin III’s much-deserved Heisman Trophy win.

Side note: apart from locality, the formula for being a athlete you genuinely cheer for goes as follows: love for family/city/fans, a sense of humor, winning for a cause (resurrecting the Baylor program), the thrill factor, and the ability to regularly compel a team to victory.  Robert Griffin has ALL of these things.  Whether or not you agree with him winning the award, you can’t argue against it.  Andrew Luck didn’t have talent around him?  Well, RGIII plays for Baylor.  See?  Instant argument  winner.  I need to buy Superman socks.   

Unfortunately, the week’s top headlines have been steadily controversial, with many stories having possible long-term detrimental effects on the league.  Yeah, a lot can happen in 7 days, especially when that week follows the end to the NBA lockout.  Throw in MLB free agency, college sports, and the NFL’s home stretch, and you have the recipe for pandemonium.  The past week or so has also given me a priceless opportunity to study how exactly a pro sports league can screw itself over, often by its own devices.  After tireless hours of lab research and calculations, I think I’ve figured out the recipe for how a sports league can be sure that it doesn’t get too popular.  So let’s get started.

1. The best baseball player of our generation decides to change his feathers (no pun intended. Ok, maybe intended).

Once the Miami Marlins dropped out of the picture in the Prince Albert Sweepstakes, Pujols was going to sign back with Cardinals and fulfill his career-long marriage with the city of St. Louis.  He was meant to be one of the last of a dying breed: the superstars who stick with one team for their entire playing career.  That was the dream for the city of Saint Louis, American League pitchers, and just about anyone who wanted LeBron to stay in Cleveland.  No one realized that Albert had a different dream.  When you have made your money, become king of a city, and helped to bring to 2 championships to that city, what is there left to do?  You make more money, a lot more money and move to the big city.

While, like in the Decision, the best player in his sport has changed his allegiance, this is a completely different case.  This was money-fueled, Pujols had already delivered the championship, and (most) fans seemed to understand why he chose to leave, even if it broke their hearts.  Here’s why it sucks for baseball.  Pujols, arguably the face of the league, no matter how many more championships or MVPs he wins, will never be quite the glorified legend that he would have been had he stuck with the team who had drafted him.  Everyone wants to see the superstar choose loyalty when the gun is pointed to his head.  It was a huge story, but Pujols won’t find a LeBron-sized target on his back because what his choice came down to was money and the big city.  No one wants to admit it, but it’s a decision that everyone understands – whether they agree is a different story.

2. The league pretends not to be involved in the transactions of a team it owns, only to show the world that it actually is.

I can’t remember a transaction that created such an overwhelmingly negative reaction, confused the public with an outrageous amount of ambiguity, AND caused the public and media to question the integrity of the league’s system, as the failed Chris Paul to the Lakers trade did.  Well done, David Stern.  The pundits who are clamoring for his resignation are either overreacting or simply well-informed.  I guess getting Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, Goran Dragic, and a first-round pick clearly was not nearly enough for a point guard who, as great as he is, has a ticking time-bomb for a left knee.  Maybe he’s right, but even if he is, he’s not supposed to do anything about it!  That’s the GM’s job, not the owner’s job.

His decision to seize the opportunity to be the team’s Divine Intercessor has prevented what would have been a league-shaking move in an offseason with a lot of talk but very little action.  The dream of a Heat-Lakers superteam face-off in the NBA Finals, along with the Kobe-LeBron showdown that everyone, especially the NBA, has always wanted to see has turned into a nightmarish amount of awkwardness between Pau Gasol and the Lakers, Chris Paul and the Hornets, and Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, and the Rockets.  In other news, since then, the NBA’s unreasonable asking price of Paul has forced the Clippers to give up on their own pursuit of Chris Paul, and Lamar Odom is now on the Mavericks.  Again, well done David Stern.  At this point, the league’s integrity has reached an all-time low.  Lower than it ever reached in the Tim Donaghy days.  It’s been a comedy of errors for David Stern, failing in every way possible to capitalize on the league’s enormous momentum following last season.  One that doesn’t come close to being funny.

3. Lack of a playoff system (still) in college football.

We’ve all heard the arguments for college football’s bowl system.  It brings in higher television ratings.  More teams get a trophy and an elevation in status.  A playoff system is unfeasible and would have its own fatal flaws.  Counter argument: the bowl system is the devil.  If the playoff system works in March Madness (and it does, exceptionally!), then the playoff system will work in college football, albeit on a smaller scale.  If I had the proper technology, I would plant the idea of creating college football playoffs in the mind of NCAA president Mark Emmert without hesitation.  Until such technology exists, images of Boise State’s coach Chris Petersen crying at the news of having to play 6-6 Arizona State in the Maaco Bowl will continue to haunt my dreams (I have some pretty twisted dreams).  Here’s to the rematch of the year’s most disappointing game: LSU vs. Alabama.

While we’re on the subject, my National Championship Game prediction:  Alabama wins 13-10.  Alabama scores on 2 safeties and 3 field goals that even their kicker can’t miss, Jordan Jefferson throws 4 interceptions as the nation finally realizes that he sucks, and LSU’s only touchdown is scored on a Tyrann Mathieu punt return.  Nick Saban will get Gatorade poured on him once again, and I will die a little inside.  Can’t wait for January 9.

4. The League MVP has been (allegedly) juicing.

For so many people, Ryan Braun was a symbol for the future of Major League Baseball.  With his strong opposition to steroid use, long-term commitment to a mid-market team, and supreme five-tool talent, he would help to lead baseball from the PED era, once and for all.  Baseball’s reputation was irrevocably tarnished by the infamous Steroid Era, and the admitted use of steroids by so many of the generation’s heroes, players who were kings in the eyes of their fans and cities, left so many of the fans feeling betrayed by the players and by the league itself.

The league’s crawl back to integrity in the eyes of the public has been a slow one, and this development, if it proves to be true, will set back that process once more.  Only this time, there will be more pain in this setback than in those suffered in the recent cases of Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez.  Why?  Because Braun is one of the top players of today’s game – he’s the MVP for God’s sake!  If he, one of Selig’s poster boys for the new generation of clean, drug-free baseball, was part of the act, is there any hope left for people to have trust in baseball?  Will people ever be able to look at a guy who is good for 40 and 50 home runs a season and say, “That’s guy’s clean – always was, is now, and always will be.”  Will they ever be able to place their trust in these players or the very system in which they play?  For many people, the answer to all those questions will be No.

5. Superstars show their weakness for the big-city lights.

The NBA has not faced the folding of any team at any point in the David Stern era.  So much of that can be attributed to the dogged resilience of David Stern to find owners who can properly run franchises (…well, unless your name is James Dolan or Donald Sterling).  The roles of stars in smaller markets has also played a huge role in maintaining a team’s financial stability.  After all, it is the star players who carry their teams to respectability.  People in the Orlando area travel to the Amway Center and pay to watch Dwight Howard play, not Earl Clark and Hedo “Quasimodo” Turkoglu.  You see Howard jerseys a lot more than you see Jameer Nelson or J.J. Redick jerseys.  Suffice to say, Howard is an example of a star player who serves as a big-time breadwinner for his small-market club.  Without him, the team success and ticket and jersey sales would all suffer dramatically.

The concept of a superteam is attractive in the way that it allows the average fan to realize the possibility of seeing a few of the world’s best basketball players on the same team outside of the Olympics or World Championships.  It attracts new groups of viewers who are otherwise marginally interested in basketball and, as a result, a new audience appears and viewership increases.  But while it increases the talent of a few select teams, usually in big-city markets, the talent spread throughout the league suffers and, as a result, so many teams are out of the championship picture before the season starts.

If you’re a basketball fan, don’t you want the league to be open, with chances of huge upsets and thrilling playoff series lingering around every corner?  Maybe the NBA started changing more than we ever could have realized when LeBron decided to take his talents to South Beach.  After all, it was in that moment that the possibility for star athletes to do what they wanted reached an unprecedented level.  I just hope that they realize what getting what they want has its limits.  So often, what they want conflicts with what their teams and cities need, and what the league needs.

All in on the Broncos?

By: Joe Gallagher

Are you a believer? Joe is.

During the final minutes of the Broncos-Vikings game on Fox, I thought that my phone was going to spontaneously combust.

Tim Tebow was at work and the text messages poured in.

First from my dad (who, keep in mind, has only ever text messaged me twice, BOTH times regarding Tebow), saying two words: “once again.”

Then from my sister, who, by the way, demanded that I give her a shout out in my next article. Well here you are sis, you inspired me to stop being lazy and write another article. The six people reading this can thank you for wasting their time! Oh, and I am supposed to mention something about how brilliant your NFL picks are. They are so brilliant that I will soon be unveiling the 2011-2012 Joe’s Sister’s Extraordinary Picks of the Week…JUST in time for the playoffs! Keep your eyes peeled for those in the coming weeks.

Anyway, my sister included in her text, “What size jersey do you wear?”

I wonder what I’m getting for Christmas. (Seriously though, I completely support that gift.)

A third came from my friend Brian that read: “Is your boy gonna do it again?”

Yes, it’s safe to say that people associate me with Tim Tebow like they associate Howard Dean with “BYAH!”

In that case, take this with as many grains of salt as you wish:

The Denver Broncos have what it takes to win Super Bowl XLVI.

WHAT?!? How could you say that Joe? That is ridiculous. The Broncos are not good. They play in the AFC West for heaven’s sake. Picking between teams in the AFC West is like spending your Saturday night picking between watching Bucky Larson, Troll 2, Gigli, and Kazaam. While all of them may provide entertainment in some way, they all stink. Besides Joe, you’re the same person who not only thinks that the Eagles should have traded Michael Vick for Tim Tebow but also that they would be making a mistake by firing the magical offensive line coach turned defensive coordinator Juan Castillo!

***Seriously though, with the installation of a fresh system, how could you ever judge a new coach’s performance without the benefit of a training camp in this lock-out shortened off-season? Unless Steve Spagnuolo gets fired by the Rams and is willing to belatedly take over as Jim Johnson’s heir, I think you give Castillo one more year.***

First let’s take a step back and look at the Broncos. Forget about what you think about Tim Tebow and look at the facts.

The Broncos run the ball exceptionally well. Behind a big offensive line, they control the clock and wear down their opponents. They have a tremendous defense, led by star rookie Von Miller, that not only keeps them close, but actually wins them games. They have a quarterback, known for his leadership, who does not turn the ball over and is capable of making game changing plays with his improvisational skills.  They have a veteran coach, who has coached big games in this league before and understands the components of a championship winning team (though John Fox is the same guy who had the ingenious idea to give his young quarterback the confidence he needed by saying that he would be ‘screwed’ in a regular offense, but hey, according to Shaun King, John Gruden was ‘inherently dishonest‘. At least Fox can plead ignorance.).

Now look at that formula and point out the conceptual differences between this year’s Denver Broncos and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers.

There are not too many.

Sure, simply by looking at the statistics, you might say that the Broncos defense does not hold a candle to those other three. Well, I encourage you to look at the work that the Broncos’ D put in over the past 6 weeks. After all, a team’s play from weeks 1 to 6 has no effect on how they perform in playoffs; just ask the 2007 New York Giants.

And no one in their right mind can argue that Tebow has not done a remarkable job of holding onto the football and making good decisions. He has not turned the ball over and he has proven time and time again that he is capable of pulling off late game magic. If anything, Tebow is better than Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer. He is very similar to where Ben Roethlisberger was when he won his first Super Bowl. The team handles him cautiously, but he takes care of the football, excels at improvising, makes huge plays when the chips are down, and for whatever unexplainable reason has that ‘it’ factor that allows his team to believe in him.

The Broncos have rallied around Tebow. There is something special about certain people that gives everyone around them life. It’s like that one person you know who comes into a boring room and immediately lights it up. You know the type, everyone sits around and mopes about having a crappy day and another person comes in and changes that. All of a sudden everyone is smiling and having a good time.

Well that person is Tim Tebow. The Broncos were dead and now they are alive. He just brings something extra to the equation. Since stepping in at quarterback, Tebow has brought energy; but most importantly, he has brought hope. If you have ever played sports or been a part of any team for that manner you understand this. You want to work with someone who cares as much and works as hard as Tebow. He never puts a teammate down, always keeps a positive attitude, always plays incredibly hard, and ALWAYS holds himself accountable for the team’s result. He takes losses personal. That’s the kind of guy people want to go to battle with. His attitude is infectious. The once hapless 2011 Denver Broncos suddenly have a reason to believe.

They also have, and I will begrudgingly admit this, a very good head coach. John Fox is not without flaws. All in all though, he has begun to buy into Tim Tebow. Every week, Fox seems to believe in Tebow more and more and every week Tebow seems to reward him more and more. It has always been my philosophy that once you commit to something you should commit to it 100%.

***WARNING: THIS NEXT SECTION CONTAINS A SPOILER FOR THE ADAM SANDLER MOVIE CLICK. IT CAME OUT IN 2006 AND IF YOU REALLY DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS EITHER DON’T READ THIS PARAGRAPH OR GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER AND WATCH THE MOVIE ALREADY…JEEZ***

SSB writer Kevin and I recently had a long debate over the ending of Adam Sandler’s Click. Kevin thinks the ending is perfect, given that it is an Adam Sandler movie and was thus marketed as a comedy. I think that the movie is in fact not a comedy, but a statement piece about not taking things for granted and enjoying each moment in life. Anyway, in the film, Sandler is given a remote that allows him to fast forward through the mundane parts of life. The movie comes to a climax with an older Sandler having a heart attack and realizing as he dies that he should have appreciated the simpler moments in life, because after all that is really what most of our life consists of. He missed the little things — hearing about his wife and kids’ days, attending recitals and games, walking his dog, playing with his grandchildren, talking with his co-workers, simply living a regular everyday life. It is an incredibly powerful scene, and it is a credit to Sandler for delivering a surprisingly moving performance. Heck, it would make Bill Romanowski shed a tear. But then, right after Sandler dies, he is given a second chance. To me, that works to squash the statement that the movie was trying to make. To bring Sandler back allows the audience to leave with the notion that ‘sure, we might not appreciate the mundane, but hey we’ll get another chance’ floating around in their sub conscious. To truly accomplish the statement there needs to be an absolute. It is fine to add closure, some sort of uplifting moment to end, but there was no need to bail Sandler out. That was in exact opposition to the point. There would be no bail outs if you lived that way. Click needed to go all in. It did not and because of that it was a very solid movie, but it was not a great one.

Click should have gone all in. Will John Fox?

Well that is the challenge John Fox faces in the coming weeks. Is he going to continue to embrace his quarterback or will he jump ship the first time Tebow fails to produce magic? Fox needs to go all in. He needs to believe.

Whether he does or doesn’t will be a determining factor in the Broncos’ hopes this season.

Okay, so now you have the great defense, the good running attack, the steady, occasionally spectacular quarterback, and the believer of a coach. What puts the Denver Broncos over the top?

THAT THE LANNY MCDONALD THEORY APPLIES!!!!!!!!

Let us review: The Broncos are a young team. They are on the cusp. They also have a veteran player, energized by the idea of a playoff run, channeling a younger version of himself, all the while inspiring the rest of the team to give it their all.

That player: free safety Brian Dawkins.

Brian Dawkins is one of my favorite players of all time. He enjoys what he does and he gives more than anybody can ask. He plays with his emotions on his sleeve and he inspires his teammates through both word and deed.

He has also never won a Super Bowl. This is one of his final opportunities.

And I can guarantee this: he will be all in.

The TD Celebration in the NFL

by Kevin Daly:

At halftime of last Sunday’s night game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs, Bob Costas harshly spoke out against the “devolution” of the touchdown celebration since the simple, elegant touchdown celebratory days of Homer Jones in the 1960s.  Citing Stevie Johnson’s touchdown dance – which mocked Plaxico Burress’s self-inflicted gunshot incident – as the latest example of excessive celebration, he condemned the selfishness and arrogance of the players that choose to showboat after touchdowns. Their decisions also hurt the team through penalty and tarnish the reputations of the players themselves, their teams, and the league.

The players, according to Costas, exemplify a society that “grows more stupid and graceless by the moment.”  The athletes reflect and influence the values of our society and, when they make poor decisions on and off the field, they cause society to question their ability to serve as positive role models.  Furthermore, there is a difference between good-natured simple routines and unnecessary acts of self-indulgence.  The latter is the path that too many players follow in the modern game – probably to an irreconcilable extent.

Costas asks “Where are the coaches in all of this?” and questions why they are not benching the players who burden the team with needless 15-yard penalties through their tasteless touchdown routines.  It is a fair question, to be sure, and probably one that coaches will have to answer to in the game’s immediate future.

As a fan, players like Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens brought a unique energy to the game with their taste for excess in the end zone.  Between proposing to cheerleaders, signing footballs, and donning capes on the sidelines following a recent 6-point conversion, they brought a polarizing aspect to the game.  Some fans and analysts condemned these self-gratifying displays; however, many more viewers were drawn in by their celebrations.  The games’ audience recognized that their actions offered a new dimension of entertainment – forming a link between the action of the touchdown and the ensuing kick-off.  Eventually, the players distinguished themselves as heroic or villainous characters: the audience either cheered them on, regardless of the team, in hope of seeing a new antic or it rejected them, seeing them as players purely seeking their own interests and less focused on team success.

Say goodnight to these types of celebrations

Unfortunately and undoubtedly, the touchdown celebration has taken a step back somewhere along the way.  Players like Steve Smith, DeSean Jackson, and Marion Barber (Stevie Johnson’s latest celebration was amusing and harmless – nothing more) have turned the celebration from an act of amusement and entertainment for the audience to a means of gratifying the player’s own ego.  Ochocinco and Owens showed a keen self-awareness in their celebrations – accepting the fines and, later on in their careers, team penalties as consequences for their extravagant expressionism.  This is not to call them blameless, but they celebrated with style.  Today’s practitioners of end-zone infractions display their immaturity and disregard for team penalties over self-glory.  In that sense, there has been a devolution in the art of the touchdown celebration – one that speaks for the change in the nature of the players in the game today and society itself.

...and hello to these

With all that in mind, my question is: Why do players receive fines and penalties in the first place?  Their actions are completely separate from the play of the game itself.  If there is any effect of the celebration on the game, one could argue that the player’s celebration actually fires up the other team.  So why not just let it happen?  Why slap players and teams on the wrist with punishments for these petty offenses?  Is it really a measure to protect the league’s image?

In my opinion, the answer is, without a doubt, no.  The implemented fines and penalties are about the players practicing their natural rights to express themselves, whether it is classy or not.  The No Fun League takes away these rights and puts a price on them: if you want them, you have to pay – literally.  Marty Schottenheimer stated in defense of the league’s 2009 clamping down on such displays that “The game is about the team, not the individual.”  We all know that football is a team sport, but why do moments that emphasize the individual have to be abolished?  In other sports, like soccer, hockey, and even basketball, players celebrate moments of individual success, so why can’t NFL players be afforded the same, seemingly basic opportunity?

Stevie Johnson and I have the same question for the NFL

The NFL is becoming a faceless operation before our eyes.  One of the most successful corporations, it has been liked to “modern-day slavery” by Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  Now that’s a scary thought – one that few people like to imagine and an even fewer number of people want to discuss.  Yet, as we’ve seen through the past summer’s lockout, it is the owners that have the power, not the players.  The future holds further restrictions for players who plan to venture past the very fine line, into what is “excessive,” during a touchdown celebration.  As I’ve said in a past article, individualism is a dying idea in the NFL.  The declining art of the touchdown celebration is a testament to that.

Eli Manning: The Dark Knight of the NFL

By Kevin Daly:

At the end of the 2008 blockbuster, The Dark Knight, Batman tells Commissioner Gordon, “I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be.”  Despite his heroism in saving the city from the Joker and a pissed off Aaron Eckhart, he recognizes the need for a fall guy and accepts the burden (to the 5 people who have not seen the movie, sorry to be a spoiler).

Whether it be through expectation based on past success, a high payroll, or reputation (or all of the above), the stakes are higher and the standards are raised in big-city sports.  Media markets are larger and, accordingly, there are more eyes staring at a team’s every move.  A criticism of the single player does not challenge the infrastructure of the team itself.  Rather, it simplifies the problem and makes successful change much more attainable – simply a matter of a few personnel moves.  This depiction by the media places the onus on the players, especially the big names, to perform and “earn” their contracts.

Eli Manning has dealt with this pressure ever since being drafted first overall in the 2004 NFL  Draft.  The love-hate relationship that many a Giants fan has with Eli is only rivaled by Eagles fans and Donovan McNabb.  When the team loses, the first focus is often on Manning’s performance.  When the team wins,especially in big games, the media and fans alike often allude to a “corner” that Manning has finally turned in his 8th NFL season.

Eli Manning – Halloween ’09

Despite the criticism he endures from his masses of haters, what separates Eli Manning from many quarterbacks is the ever-disputable “it” factor – his ability to pull out wins for his teams at the point of certain death.  That “it” factorcompelled the Giants to victory over the previously undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII – Eli’s Joker – and to break Tom Brady’s unheard-of 31 game winning streak in the regular season at Foxboro in early November.

His stats will never compare to those of the so-called “super-elite” quarterbacks: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and now Aaron Rodgers – nor should they.  He will always be far removed from the ranks of the elite, by fans and media alike, because he doesn’t fall into the ordinary perception of being in that distinct class.  He is different: he wins by putting up middling stats and leading the all-important drive.  Afterwards, he’s condemned for what he had not done for the first 3 and a half quarters.

What makes Eli elite is that he doesn’t have the super-powered arm, high-profile receiving options, or even the precise, sleek playing style employed by all the top quarterbacks.  He has 1 Super Bowl ring – but that won’t ever be enough for New York.  This season, the Giants are in their usual late-season slump under Coughlin, at 6-5 and about to play the undefeated Green Bay Packers.  It looks grim for Big Blue nation, and the playoffs may not be in the cards yet again.

But rest assured, Giants fans, that the night is darkest just before the dawn.  Especially this season – 14 TD’s and 3 Ints. in wins, 11 TD’s and 9 Ints. in losses – the distance Manning goes will dictate the distance that the team goes.  With Donovan McNabb looking for work, Eli has taken the throne when it comes to stepping up with the chips down.  Despite losing in the dying seconds to Aaron Rodgers and the (still) undefeated Packers, Manning matched him, throw for throw, for the first 59 minutes before Rodger’s game-winning drive.

In this past Sunday’s win in Dallas, Manning delivered Gotham from defeat in the 4th quarter for the 4th time this season – tying his brother for the most touchdowns thrown in the 4th quarter in a single season in the process.

Now the Giants face the Redskins, Jets, and Cowboys for the final 3 games of the season – every game is a must-win if the team is to make the playoffs.  For any Giants fan wary of the team’s typical late season collapses, the table is set for disaster.  But as long as the target is on his back and the eyes are on him, Manning will deliver.  Unlike the White Knight of Dallas (yes, I’m going to continue with this analogy), Manning can take the burdensome expectations of a city.  People will continue to doubt Manning’s ability to carry the team to the playoffs, and that’s fine.