Sunday, January 29, 2006

Super Bowl dilemma

I'm a Browns fan. It's not by choice. I wish it were, believe me. When you're born and raised in Northeastern Ohio you have two options, root for the Browns, Cavaliers and Indians or be one of those annoying jerks who roots for the Steelers, kicks puppies and drowns kittens just to be different. Rebellion is no reason to buy a Terrible Towel. Sometimes people go too far.

That's why I hate the Steelers. Growing up I quickly realized that the lowest form of human life is the Ohio-born Pittsburgh Steelers fan...that weak-minded simpleton who hitched his loyalty to the Steelers because his daddy didn't love him and his mommy made him dress like a girl until he turned 30. You know that type. All our lives we've listened to these yahoos talk about winning one for the thumb even though logic tells us that championships won 30 years go are not part of a current streak. Deep down inside these are very troubled people who should be locked away from the rest of society. Ticking time bombs.

But now I find myself in absolute misery. I think I might be pulling for the Steelers and it's tearing my soul apart. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing I like more than seeing Steelers fans have their hopes dashed and hearts ripped out. In spite of the fact that I like Jerome Bettis, the thought of Steeler Nation seeing their playoff run destroyed on a fluke play warmed my heart.I would have laughed and laughed if the Colts would have beaten the Steelers on that fumble return. Nevertheless I enjoyed watching the Steelers destroy Shanahan's Broncos and now I think I might like to see Pittsburgh put the screws to Seattle.

You see, as much as I despise Pittsburgh fans, I like the players. I like the coach. Cowher is a guy I can relate to. He's blue collar...old school, if you will. The same is true of Roethlisberger, Ward and Bettis. Even USC's Troy Polamalu (who knew they even had DB's in the Pac-10?) has that workman-like mentality and who can't feel good about Randle-El rising above his humble college beginnings at Indiana, or as I like to call it: What's Football U.

Making it harder to root against Pittsburgh is the team they're facing. I don't like the idea of the Seahawks playing in the Superbowl before my beloved Browns get a shot, but seeing them win would really hurt. Almost as much as seeing Brad and Jennifer split up. I also can't stand the shiny happy people carrying the load for the Seahawks. Is that a football team or the 700 Club? Those guys just give me the creeps and Mike Holmgren flat out scares me. Nobody's face should be that big. Nobody's. When I see him I'm afraid he'll mistake his assistant coaches for Cheese Doodles and we'll witness unspeakable acts of cannibalism on the sidelines. And as much as I hate Steelers' fans, I really can't support a team that represents the city that brought us $10 cups of coffee and a strange new language to order that over-priced java in. And before you mention Nirvana as though that absolves Seattle of trying to destroy the world (the prolific expansion of the Starbucks empire proves this), let's remember that Courtney Love hails from the Emerald City. Kind of cancels out the music, doesn't it?

So what I'm looking for is a way out. How can I enjoy the Superbowl without destroying who I am? Should I pull for the Steelers just this once and try to ignore the impact it will have with the bandwagon fans, or should I swallow my pride and get behind the Seahawks?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Kobe's 81 is insignificant.

Mark me down as a player hater. Guilty as charged. When it comes to Kobe Bryant I will readily acknowledge that he is a remarkable talent, but I wouldn't want him on my favorite team. Kobe is a jerk. In fact I believe Kobe is Japanese for jerk.

Everybody's talking about Kobe's 81 points. La-dee-frickin-da. Sure it's impressive from a productivity standpoint, but come talk to me during the playoffs, which won't feature the Lakers. Kobe can't win meaningful games alone, but that's not important to him. Kobe prefers having all the sports writers marvel at his stat line. Give me wins.

I would be biased if I said I would rather have Lebron James. I'm a Cavaliers fan and I think Lebron is outstanding. More than outstanding. I swear I watched him walk right across Lake Erie. He needs to develop his game and improve his shooting in clutch situations, but I'm not worried about the King. He'll be just fine and he'll win his share of titles before it's all said and done. The reason he'll do well is because he understands what the game is all about and that's not scoring 81 points a night.

There are other players I would take ahead of Kobe Bryant. Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Ray Allen. I dare say I think I like the energized version of Vince Carter more than I do the selfish Kobe Bryant.

The problem with Kobe is that he desperately needs to be the center of attention. His goal this year is to win the scoring title and possibly secure the MVP award. Playing in the shadows of Shaq destroyed his self-esteem so he needs to be pacified with an offense that goes through him and him alone. Kobe just doesn't seem to get it. Sad, considering his been in the league so long and actually got a taste of winning it all. Maybe he got bored with championships.

81 points is a lot of scoring, and Kobe did shoot effectively. It's not like he was throwing up junk. But when one player scores more than half of the team's points it says more about poor team play and weak coaching than it does one player's skills.

I didn't see Wilt's 100 point performance. I'm not qualified to speculate on what it meant or how it affected his team. I'm not going to try to get to the bottom of something that happened a long time ago. I do know that Kobe drained a few three pointers which was a luxury Wilt did not enjoy, although I suspect he wouldn't have been shooting from the perimeter anyway.

I did see David Robinson tally 71 points one night and what impressed me was the fact that it didn't seem to be a selfish endeavor. Robinson's big night was one of those games where the team just kept getting the big man a lot of open looks. He didn't demand the ball nor did he take it upon himself to score. The Spurs still played a team oriented game, but Robinson was on fire. There was a purity to his performance. Kobe's 81 was all about Kobe. It wasn't a thing of beauty. Kobe forced himself on the scoreboard like a egomaniacal celebrity forces himself on a hotel staffers.

The Lakers are an abomination of what good basketball is supposed to be. Instead of watching five guys execute a precise game plan, the Lakers are a one man act. All Kobe all the time. He'll get his 33 points per game and probably win that MVP award but until Kobe stops making sweet love to himself and shares the court with other players the Lakers won't win anything of value.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The two Jakes

Two Jakes took the field yesterday. Each was asked to lead their respective team to the Superbowl and each failed to fulfill that responsibility. One failed because he simply didn't show up, while the other failed because he did.

Jake Plummer has a reputation for being a careless gunslinger who trumps his ability to scramble out of trouble with his questionable decision making. He'll throw into tight coverage, fumble the ball and sometimes find new ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He's not a bad guy and he is a remarkable athlete, it's just Plummer lacks that ability carry a team. He wears #16 because he idolizes Joe Montana, but he plays more like Fran Tarkenton. Yes I know Frantic Fran is a hall of famer, but how many rings did he win? Like Plummer, Fran fell apart in the big games. Another QB Plummer reminds me of if Archie Manning. Three men who prove that being a great quarterback requires more than being a great athlete.

The Broncos were a great fit. Shanahan's game plan involves a powerful running game that sets up the pass. Throughout the entire season Jake Plummer was able to play within himself and count on his defense and running game to carry the team. He did a fine job passing, but that was because nobody put him in a position to have to win a game with his arm.

That changed on Sunday. The Broncos didn't run well and the defense didn't afford the offense the luxury of wearing the Steelers down up front. The Steelers jumped ahead early and the Broncos had to rely heavily on Jake Plummer. Plummer sensed the desperation and responded by trying to do too much. He threw bad passes, even a few of the passes he completed were ill-advised and dangerously close to being intercepted. It's hard to second guess a 30 yard completion, but when you step back and look at Plummer's body of work you see a comedy of errors. Even if Plummer had played a perfect game it's unlikely Denver would have prevailed. Denver made the huge mistake of underestimating Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh couldn't get much going on the ground early, so they took to the air and Big Ben looked like Dan Marino. The Steelers put on a passing clinic and The Broncos never adjusted to it. Had Denver managed to pressure the Steelers on the scoreboard you might have seen Roethlisberger double his production. Denver had no answer for him. The Steelers simply resorted to a ball control offense midway through the second quarter.

Plummer might have come unglued, but the blame for the loss falls on the brilliant one, Mike Shanahan. Denver simply looked unprepared. Teams have been daring Pittsburgh to win games with the pass all year and Pittsburgh has risen to the occasion. Shanahan seemed as though he studied last year's Steelers in preparation for the AFC title game. They simply showed no respect for Pittsburgh's passing game and the offense simply didn't block. As poorly prepared as the defense was, the offensive line played as though they'd never seen the 3-4.

Shanahan should be fired. The AFC title debacle was an example of terrible coaching. It was bad on both sides of the ball. Nobody was prepared and no adjustments were made. Shanahan's supporters will point to a fine regular season campaign, but that's old news. The Bronco's have been playoff contenders virtually every year but they come apart in the post season. Shanahan simply doesn't know how to get the most out of his players when it counts. The Superbowl rings he wears had more to do with veteran leadership than coaching and Shanahan's lack of success since Elway retired speaks volumes as to his viability as a coach. It's time to start fresh.

Jake Delhomme, on the other hand, didn't show up. Carolina looked so impressive when they dismantled the Bears and Delhomme was spectacular. Deshaun Foster's injury was a liability, but Carolina seemed capable of picking up the slack with the passing game. More than capable. Seattle doesn't have the defensive pedigree that the Bears brought to the table, but yet here we are.

Unlike the Bears, Seattle didn't ignore Steve Smith. They dedicated a third of their defense to keeping Smith out of the game and the plan worked. The Panthers could only throw Smith's way a few times and when they did the all world game breaker was immediately stuffed. With so many players dedicated to stopping Smith, one would have to assume that other players were wide open. Delhomme simply didn't find them. Maybe Steve Smith's demands for the ball played a part in the poor decision making, perhaps it was yet another coaching error. Maybe the bumps and bruises Carolina endured throughout the long second half of the season took their toll and the Panthers simply ran out of gas. Who knows?

The only thing obvious on Sunday was the fact that Carolina doesn't have enough depth to win the big game. With their number one go to guy blanketed all game long, the Panthers seemed lost. That's either poor coaching or poor personnel selection. Surely somebody had to figure that a team was going to see if Carolina was able to win with somebody other than Steve Smith, why wasn't John Fox ready? A question Fox should be forced to answer this off season.

Seattle and Pittsburgh.
There's a Superbowl nobody predicted at the start of the season. A tale of two coaches. One underrated because his team hasn't won a title under his leadership, and the other overrated because he backed into a Superbowl win when Bret Favre was at his best. Very interesting.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Team USA.

I beg your pardon, but I won't be pulling for the USA in the 2006 Winter Olympics. I don't know who I'll root for, but when it comes to head to head competition I want to see the USA lose.

It's not a political statement. Some might say I'm just being antagonistic...that I'm hoping to stir up a hornets nest by openly cheering for whoever stands the best chance of keeping the good old USA off the medal stand, but the truth is that I'm pulling for the underdog and in this post cold war world with no Soviet Union investing so heavily into Olympic dominance that means that we are the bully on the block.

Our athletes enjoy the best of everything. Training, nutrition, medical care, equipment and even commercial exposure. Team USA is exactly like the old Soviet juggernaut that used to dominate the Games. The rest of the world can't match the attention we are able to provide our athletes. Yes, most of that is provided by private sponsors who trade funding for exposure, but nevertheless it is a huge advantage.

I don't have a personal problem with our athletes, but somehow I think that Olympic success means more to smaller countries than it does to us. Even if that country is a traditional power in a particular sport, such as Austria in the downhill skiing events, they usually don't enjoy overall dominance throughout the games. At the end of the Olympiad the United States is always at the top of the medal count.

Americans don't revel in the Olympics for more than a week or two after the games. Every four years we suddenly take intense interest in random sporting events and we buy into the hype surrounding whichever athlete becomes the darling of the sports media. After the closing ceremonies our attention will turn to the spectacle of the NCAA tournament and beyond that we'll get caught up in baseball and the Olympic heroes we vowed to follow after the games will vanish into the anonymity of their chosen profession. We won't even remember who won the gold in the men's Super G. We'll only remember a handful of the names that the media bombarded us with.

Perhaps the only US athlete I'll truly pull for is Bode Miller and that's only because he has struggled with life in the spotlight. We wonder why he isn't more adept at conducting himself in the public eye, but we fail to realize that for the past four years nobody has paid any attention to him. Suddenly the Olympics are near and Bode has a camera in his face 24/7. Of course he's a flake. He makes a living racing downhill on skis! What did you expect? With so many people up in arms over Bode intimating that he parties hard and skis fast, I hope he wins the gold and passes out on the medal stand. He could blow chunks for all I care. We have players like Ron Artest making a mockery of the NBA and our sports media is preoccupied with a skier behaving like, well, a skier.

Aside from Miller I'd love to see some surprises in the Olympics this year. Maybe Senegal will take home the gold in the bobsled event, perhaps North Korea can upset the favorites in ski jumping, and Argentina can shake up the world by taking home the gold in both men's and women's hockey, with Venezuela and Chile rounding out the rest of the medal stand for a South American sweep in a sport dominated by North American and Russian players. And when's the last time Poland took home a medal in figure skating?

The Olympics are more fun when you don't know what to expect. We all like to root for the underdog and when it comes to the Olympics that is usually whoever the US is competing against.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Ah, how the mighty do fall.

Nobody is playing better football than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Nobody. I figured they'd beat the Colts, but they proved that Roethlisberger is no fluke. Big Ben is a real stud who can be relied upon to make things happen when he's dared to throw the ball. Combine a genuine passing threat with a dynamic running attack and you have a team that can score quickly or grind down the clock. Their choice. Then you have one of the best all around defensive units in the game. Peyton Manning didn't get a good look at that defense because he spent so much time staring at the RCA dome ceiling, but the bumps and bruises speak volumes. The Steelers figured out how to confuse the professor in his own lab and they'll be able to charm the snake on the road as well. At least Vanderjerk won't be able to spend another off season talking about how his team let him down again. In his defense that turf was rough and kickers were slipping on it all night...wait, sorry wrong game. Indy's turf was pristine. So much so that Jerome Bettis was drilling 56 yard kicks in the pregame warm up. Ok not really, but he could have. Kimo von Oelhoffen was. Now that the Steelers have won a game without cheating , the NFL should force them to wear Bengals jerseys the rest of the way and represent Cincy.

Carolina is a lot like Pittsburgh. That is to say they cheat and their coach needs a visit from the Queer Eye crew. They also let the season get away from them for a while but they didn't quit. Now they've gotten themselves back on track and they're playing the best football in the NFC. Seattle? Somehow I think the story would be different if Seattle didn't play in such a weak division. Apparently the NFC West didn't tell Seattle that they were trying to corner the market on the top five picks in the NFL draft. Seattle's favored by virtue of playing at home, but after watching Steve Smith lead the faculty in taking Chicago's defense to school, I doubt the Seahawks are going to give the Panthers a look they haven't seen yet. Can Seattle score enough points to keep Carolina on the outside looking in? Nope. They couldn't run up the score on Washington.

Next Year?

Hey Cincy! If you like Kimo von Oelhoffen you'll love Chad Johnson's new agent! Drew Rosenhaus is coming. The one thing CJ didn't need was a business manager who talks more than he does. Don't count on improving much this year. Nobody can ruin a season quite like Drew Rosenhaus. He'll bring out the worst in Chad Johnson. Anybody with kids knows that you can go from rather precocious to reprehensible in the blink of an eye. Drew Rosenhaus makes that inevitable. Think about it...who would have thought T.O. could get any worse than he already was? Enter Drew Rosenhaus...

The Colts need to put a leash on Manning. He might be able to call the shots during the regular season with some success, but his post season record is awful and this last game proves that it is on him. If the Colts got outgunned 42-38 you could point the finger at the defense and the coaches, but Manning seemed to spend 10 seconds on every play calling audibles and identifying the defensive alignment, then he'd get sacked or he'd throw a bad pass. Manning blamed the protection, but wasn't he stepping up to the line on every play pointing out the blocking assignments? Somebody get that guy a binky.

The Bears need to get a real offense. It seemed as though the defense was so focused on carrying the team that they overplayed. Had that defense known that their offense was going to show up, they might have stayed loose and kept Carolina under wraps. The Bears had better be thinking about big enhancements in the off season because their offense is every bit as bad as people think it is and the defense is grossly overrated. Here's a helpful hint, cover the other team's best receiver. Just a thought.

The Redskins won't be back. Not with the Amish offense Gibbs is so in love with. The Redskins sneaked into the playoffs and squeaked past a poorly coached Giants team. The Patriots will be back. Tom Brady proved that he is a consistent go to guy and not just a cog in a sturdy wheel. He can be the hub and he was the hub when the Patriots were staring a losing season square in the eye. He stepped up, provided regular season leadership and made plays. Brady's always been a working man's QB, simply executing the offense as directed. He took his game to the next level this year.

The NFL needs to do something about the officials. I've never seen a post season with so many blown calls. The worst was the pass inference call in Denver. It would have been bad enough to simply not call offensive pass interference, but to see offensive pass interference and throw a flag on the defense is inexcusable. That whole officiating crew should go. Actually getting fired isn't enough. NFL Europe?

Of course none of that matters because The Cleveland Browns are going to knock the rest of the NFL on its butt next year. They'll make a few moves and toughen up and Bobby Carpenter will emerge as the next great pass rushing hybrid player. Look for a 14-2 finish and a romp through the playoffs. At least until they get to the AFC title game where god has consistently proven that he does exist and he hates Cleveland.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Some Roses really do smell like pooh pooh.

This year's pity party for Pete Rose was marked with the caveat that Pete's eligibility has expired. Some claim that since Pete Rose has never been eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame it is an impossibility for his eligibility to expire, thus they seem to be setting the stage that someday they will get to honor Pete Rose with enshrinement by playing on this technicality.

Pete Rose was a great baseball player. Period. You can't argue with the number of hits he put up and even when you try to pick apart his numbers you still come away respecting what he did on the field as a pure baseball player. And that should be a compelling argument to send his bust to Cooperstown, but something happened along the way.

Pete Rose bet on baseball while he was managing the Cincinnati Reds. Some of the bets were made from his office in the team clubhouse some might have been made from the phone in the dugout. At first, Rose denied this, but recently he admitted that he did indeed bet on games. He is adamant that he never bet against the Reds but this is not important and most people who believe Rose should be inducted into the Hall of Fame won't dispute these issues. Their position is that Rose should be honored for what he did as a player.

That's a fine point and I would agree with that assessment if Rose had conducted himself with dignity and demonstrated some respect for the game after he was banned from baseball. But dignity and respect are two traits that Pete Rose doesn't possess.

You see, Rose signed off on his banishment. He sat down with Bart Giamatti and agreed to be indefinitely suspended from baseball. The reason he did this was to avoid increased exposure. Baseball's investigators had dredged up a lot of dirt on his illegal gambling activities and federal investigators were hot on the trail of his tax returns. Rose basically wanted to take cover and he hoped signing the agreement would help to insulate himself from criminal prosecution, but he was nailed on tax evasion and he went to prison.

It is the way Rose behaved after he was suspended that warrants his exclusion from the Hall of Fame. The National Baseball Hall of Fame will not consider the candidacy of anybody on baseball's ineligible list. That includes the still popular Shoeless Joe Jackson and the mighty Pete Rose. Rose is still essentially banned from baseball and will remain out of the Hall of Fame until he is reinstated by the league. Instead of being contrite and apologetic for what he did to himself, Rose belittled the league and stirred up controversy.

For 15 years Rose maintained his innocence and maligned the league. He claimed that he was tricked into signing the ban by Bart Giamatti and believed that he would be granted reinstatement. Instead of making a compelling case and arguing his position with some diplomacy Rose went to war with Baseball. He continued to remain conspicuous and used every Hall of Fame induction ceremony as his own personal soap box, diminishing the satisfaction of those being honored. Rose claimed to love the game, but his actions made it clear that it wasn't the game he cared about, it was himself.

In 2004 Rose changed his tune and admitted that he bet on baseball, but his sincerity was in doubt since the revelation came in the form of a book he was selling. After the book was written Rose went right back into his rage against baseball when he was denied reinstatement yet again. Rose is very much like a three year-old who briefly emerges from tantrums to feign a little contrition only to fly right back into the hysterics when he doesn't get his way.

It's clear that Rose believes he is bigger than the game. He doesn't see the Hall of Fame as an honor, but rather a right that is being denied him. This is why Rose bet on baseball. He didn't need the money, nor was he addicted to the thrill of betting. Rose bet on baseball because he wanted to prove to himself and everybody involved that he was bigger than the game.

The irony is that it is the way Rose has behaved since his ban was enacted that is keeping him out of the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose would have been reinstated and enshrined in the Hall of Fame 10 years ago if he had done the following three things:

1. Apologize.

Rose seems to be sorry...that he got caught. Instead of denying the painfully obvious, Rose should have admitted that he bet on baseball and simply apologized for breaking one of the game's cardinal rules.

2. Respect the game.

Rose expected everything to blow over, but it didn't The reason is because Rose chose to punish baseball for punishing him. He denied the allegations in spite of the comprehensive 235 page Dowd Report offering proof that he did bet on baseball. Rose should have kept his distance and remained contrite. He inflicted a wound on baseball and instead of giving the league and the fans time to heal he kept picking at the scab and drawing fresh blood year after year. He has some loyal supporters, but his tactics polarized the league and its fan. Instead of running around signing memorabilia, Rose should have stayed away from the game.

3. Mend the errors of his ways.

Rose had a problem and it would appear he still does. Had Rose taken the position that he had a problem, gotten help and become a positive role model the league would have had no choice but to reinstate him. In fact, if Rose had taken the initiative to show the league that he was interested in becoming a better person it's quite possible that they would have reached out to him.

But Pete Rose didn't take the prudent course of action. 16 years has come and gone and Pete Rose is shaking his fist at Major League Baseball screaming, how dare you. He seems to think that the Hall of Fame isn't complete without his big old jug headed bust collecting dust in there. It seems to me that Pete Rose needs the Hall of Fame a hell of a lot more than the Hall of Fame needs him.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Playoff Squibs...


31 points. That's how Pittsburgh beat the Bengals. 31 points. Had the Bengals played defense, Kitna would have been able to guide the Bengals to a workman-like win and use a week's worth of preparation to possibly help the Bengals figure out how to get to the AFC title game, but one time defensive guru Marvin Lewis failed to keep the Steelers under wraps and the game got away from him.

Maybe the injury to Palmer had a psychological impact, but is it not up to the coach to help his guys get past such hurdles and stay focused on the task at hand? Cincy went into the locker room with a 17-14 advantage at the break. Clearly the concern going into the tunnel wasn't Kitna being effective, but the defense giving up 14 points in the second quarter, They responded to the challenge by giving up 14 more in the third. That wasn't Kitna's fault and if you think Palmer would have done better against a Pittsburgh defense that didn't have to respect the run you're kidding yourselves. Pittsburgh was the better team. Period. Marvin is a good coach and the Bengals are a good team, but they need another year to get their heads together.


The Steelers, however might be the team to beat in the AFC. That defense is tough and the offense is clicking. Cincy dared Roethlisberger to beat them with his arm and he responded with three touchdown passes. The Colts might not have an answer for Pittsburgh's running attack and Manning won't be able to run up the score on that defense. The Colts might be the favorite, but it wouldn't be that big an upset if the Steelers win 27-23

New England:

On paper the Patriots are an underdog heading to Denver, but Shanahan's brilliance in the post season seems to have had more to do with John Elway than his intellect. The Patriots, however, have a genius roaming their sidelines and he has already taken Denver's best shot. With Jake Plummer having a history of making bad decisions, the Patriots might be able to execute a game plan that forces Denver to turn the ball over time and time again. Belichick is always dangerous when facing a team the second time around. If you think Denver's a lock to win this one you haven't been paying attention to the NFL the last few years. Plummer's interception total might double his touchdown production and the Patriots could win going away 31-14.


Seattle has the talent to go all the way, but I'm not buying into Mike Holmgren. Ever sine he lost to Denver in the Superbowl a few years ago with Green Bay I have wondered if he's the real deal. I think he has a tendency to over coach.

Washignton is simply running on fumes. They limped into the playoffs thanks to a lot of weak NFC finishes and they upended a Tampa Bay team that was starting a quarterback who still has a long way to go. They might beat Seattle, but that's only because Seattle's high wire act is due for a tumble.

The real class of the NFC is in Carolina. They flew under the radar all year but they have enough fire power to outscore people and the defense is tough. Not as tough as the defense the Bears are bringing to the table, but tough enough to put the screws to anybody in the league. The fact that the Bears have an offense that is a liability makes Carolina a real threat to beat Chicago. The Giants had a potent offense going into the playoffs and Carolina forced them into turning over the ball. Chicago's offense is just ugly. This game is going to come down to which offense hurts its team the least and that's got to be Carolina.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Vince Young's big day.

So much for organizing a boycott on the Bowl Games. This year's Rosebowl matchup was one of the most watched sporting events in recent memory. Ratings were through the roof and the game lived up to all the hype. I admit that I too fell victim to the siren song of this matchup and watched the contest myself.

It was a great game and I am glad I got to see it, but I still maintain that the NCAA needs a real playoff system. Texas beat USC but as far as I'm concerned they are paper champions because they didn't survive a field of playoff contenders to win it all.

But that doesn't detract from what Vince Young was able to do. He single handedly dismantled USC's defense. Sure, there are probably some USC fans whining about that face mask that handed Texas a first down when they would have been facing a fourth and four, and Vince Young's knee was down on that pitch, but do you really think those calls mattered? USC had Texas facing a fourth down and five with the clock running out and Young walked into the endzone for the clinching touchdown. Simply amazing.

Houston has the number one pick in the draft this year and experts had them taking Reggie Bush, but after last night's performance how can you not pick the hometown favorite? It would be a public relations disaster to not pick Vince Young. It's also a can't miss pick. Fans will be livid if the Texans pass on Young, especially if he is a smashing success but they would be very forgiving if Young is an NFL bust. It's a no brainer, really.

At the start of the season Young was not regarded as a great passer, but against Ohio State he stood tall in the pocket and beat the Buckeyes with his arm. Last night, Young shredded the USC defense with pinpoint accuracy and kept drives alive with his legs. Young looked like he was in a passing drill. USC couldn't stop him in spite of knowing going into the Rosebowl that Vince Young was the heart and soul of the Texas offense.

Young is ready for the NFL and should go. If he goes back to Texas for his senior year he'll win the Heisman and possibly another so-called title, but he could also get hurt or play his way out of the first round. After last night's game you have to figure there are quite a few NFL coaches asking their scouting directors to dig up some footage on Young. Look no further than Penn State's Paul Posluszny to see how quickly a storybook season can turn disastrous. The All-American linebacker was a few minutes away from making a choice between one more year of collegiate glory and the multi-million dollar signing bonus he would get after being drafted in the first round. Now that choice has been made for him in the shape of a brutal knee injury.

Young has done everything he can do at the collegiate level. He guided his team to a perfect record and hoisted the championship trophy after an unforgettable performance. It doesn't get any better than that.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The GURU exposed

Charlie Weis was not Notre Dame's first choice when they opted to cut Ty Willingham loose. People who didn't want to characterize Notre Dame's rash personnel decision as a racially biased move pointed to the availability of Urban Meyer as a head coach and claimed Notre Dame had to make a play for him. Meyer opted to take the job at Florida leaving a lot of people wondering what that meant for the once storied football power.

Then came news that Notre Dame had contacted New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and that the rotund assistant coach was interested in the job. A whirlwind courtship ensued and Weiss was hired.

Shortly thereafter stories began circulating that Charlie Weis was in fact a genius and that it was his brilliance that was the cornerstone of three Super Bowl titles. I found these revelations a little suspicious since I hadn't heard a whole lot about Charlie Weis before he was selected as Notre Dame's second, or even third choice for the head coaching job.

After a little poking around I was surprised to discover that Charlie Weiss was actually considered by many to be a liability for the Patriots and that they were successful in spite of him not because of him. It adds up when you think about it. When you examine New England you consider a brilliant defense that manages to make adjustments week after week. The offense was known for its ability to maintain possession and score an adequate number of points, but Weis' play calling wasn't exactly what you would call groundbreaking. New England's offense was simply persistent. Bill Walsh and Paul Brown never had to worry about Weis supplanting them as the game's greatest innovators.

Weis was never a front runner for any NFL head coaching position and he wasn't on the radar of most college programs. Notre Dame hired him because he was linked to NFL success and he was a Notre Dame alumnus.

Weis got a tremendous amount of credit for turning Tom Brady into a NFL star, but people who watched Tom Brady lead the way for Michigan couldn't fathom why the former Big 10 standout wasn't drafted in the second round. Brady doesn't look that much different in the NFL than he did in college and you'd have to believe that he would be loath to give Charlie Weis all the credit for his success.

But that didn't stop the hype. Notre Dame, NBC and even the NCAA needed to get that Notre Dame fan base riled up and promoting Weis as the savior of the program was the way to do it. Weis did open up the offense and brought a renewed sense of pride to the existing squad, but Notre Dame didn't dominate. Their biggest success was a loss to USC and that speaks volumes as to the quality of their competition. Some claim that the Notre Dame schedule was tough, but that was on paper at the beginning of the season. As the season progressed the tough teams listed on Notre Dame's schedule were revealed to be cupcakes. Tennessee and Purdue are prime examples of teams that were supposed to be a lot better than they actually were.

The bubble was burst last night in the Fiesta Bowl where Notre Dame was lucky to only lose by 14. Ohio State committed several unforced errors an sacrificed three easy scoring opportunities. Factor in a handful of defensive miscues that allowed Notre Dame a couple of scores and the Irish faithful were dangerously close to watching Weis and his overrated team suffer a humiliating blow out. Ohio State gained over 600 yards of total offense while holding Notre Dame to under 400 yards. The ballyhooed Brady Quinn spent a lot of time on his back and the deep passing attack that was supposed to keep Ohio State on its heels all night failed to get on track.

Weis was supposed to be a genius who would easily dissect OSU's defense and quite possibly make a mockery of the Buckeyes who showed a tendency to struggle against the claiming the success of the Patriots for his own.

But don't take my word for it, Notre Dame extended Weis's contract to 10 years. By the time it's all said and done, 2005 might prove to be his finest season and Notre Dame's glory days will be ancient history.