Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Worth It?

Think of your favorite basketball school. It can be a traditional power like a North Carolina or just your alma mater.

Now imagine the team has a chance to sign one of the better players in the nation. The only caveat is that the player has made it clear he will only be there for a year and that he doesn't intend to go to class. Basically, he's going to your school only because he can't go straight to the NBA.

To make things a little worse, the father of the kid, not one for badinage anyways, has pulled no punches that he wants his kids to go pro. The only reason the kid isn't going to Europe is that he doesn't think he'll get enough exposure.

So you have an undeniable talent coming to your school, but one that doesn't actually want anything to do with your school and plans only to use his year there as an NBA draft combine. And his father agrees with the decision.

This is the situation times two at Kansas where C.J. and Xavier Henry
plan to only attend KU until the second they are eligible for the NBA draft. Their father encourages this decision despite the fact that he attended Kansas and met C.J. and Xavier's mother there. He only wants his kids to be in the pros and Kansas just happens to be part of the plan.

So if you're a Kansas fan, do you want the two brothers spending a year there? They're talented for sure. They'll bring you press, might even win some games for you.

On the other hand, they may or may not have any interest in team basketball if it means any harm to draft stock. They will have no interest in school spirit and by the time the two young men fully u
nderstand Bill Self's system, they will be gone leaving two large holes to fill.

It's a constant source of debate for college basketball coaches: do I sign this talented player when I know he'll only be here for a year? If the school doesn't, the player will go somewhere else. On the other hand, it will only be a one shot deal to get through the tournament with them and you can be sure the dad will be watching their touches.

So I ask you, is it worth it?

Monday, June 29, 2009

From Heaven To Hell

Have you ever heard the sports fan who says he'd rather his team lose by 100 than by 1? You hear that a lot after heart breaking losses. I've never subscribed to that theory.

I might now though after watching the U.S. men's soccer gut wrenching loss to Brazil yesterday.

That game was like a sports adaptation of the Greek myth about Icarus. The U.S. took a 2-0 lead and thoroughly outplayed the mighty Brazilians in the first half. The U.S. went for a quick kill at the beginning of the second half, but like I
carus, the team flew too high, their soccer wings melted, and the team came crashing back to earth. (Hey, I said it was just an adaptation of Icarus.)

The point is, as wonderful as the first half was to U.S. soccer, the second half destroyed any positive effects the first half provided. It was a one goal loss on the scoreboard, but I think it did more mental damage to the U.S. team than the 3-0 loss to Brazil earlier in the tournament.

The gam
e reminded me of the back to back Super Bowl match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills in 1993-1994. The first Super Bowl was a crushing defeat for the Bills. The team turned the ball over a record nine times, they lost starting quarterback Jim Kelly, and the Cowboys cruised in a laugher 52-17.

The next year the two teams met again in the Super Bowl. This time the Bills were ready. While the Cowboys strutted into the Super Bowl assuming the game was already in the bag, Buffalo came ou
t determined to prove everyone wrong. And the Bills did....for a half. The team led the Cowboys 13-7 at halftime and the Bills could taste the upset victory.

The Cowboys then came out in the second half and rammed the ball right down Buffalo's throat. The final score was 30-13, but the event was even worse than the 52-17 Super Bowl the year before. Dallas wasn't clandestine with the play calling, they lined up and handed the ball to Emmitt Smith nearly every play. Buffalo couldn't stop them. It was as if Dallas was screwing around in the first half and now they decided to go ahead and win the game. And there was nothing Buffalo could do to stop the great Cowboys freight train.

That was the same feeling I got yesterday. Brazil kind of wanted the Confederations Cup, the U.S. ne
eded the cup. The U.S. men desperately want to be taken seriously by the traditional soccer powers of the world. A big upset win over Spain helped, but that could be chalked up to a fluke. But to win twice against the big boys would show that America was capable of doing some damage on the World Cup stage.

Instead they look like a little dog that kept yipping at the big, bad Brazil dog. The Brazilians let them get away with it for a while, and then brought the hammer down. America had zero answers for Brazil in the second half and once the game was tied, I doubt anyone in the stands wondered which team would eventually win.

On the scoreboard, the game was a hard fought one goal loss. But U.S. fans now know just how big the chasm is between American soccer and the world's best. The more things change, the more they stay the same.



Saturday, June 27, 2009

NFL Team Rankings For A Decade

Okay, I gave the great celebrity death day a look, but now that whole Michael Jackson situation has devolved into a series of tributes and a group of quidnuncs who are obsessed with finding out what killed him.

The man is dead, so unless some earth shattering news comes to the front, it's time to move back to sports.

ESPN used this week to release their version of the NFL team rankings for the past decade. Unlike most biased ESPN rankings (best players, best Super Bowl winners, etc.) this one is pretty fact based and hard to argue with. Win and rank high, lose and rank low. Pretty straight forward.

The best and worst teams on the list are no brainers. The top teams are the Patriots, Colts, Steelers, and the other perennial playoff contenders of the past ten years. The worst teams are the ones that
still suck: Bengals, Browns, Texans, and, of course, the sad sack Lions.

There we
re a few surprises in the rankings though. For instance, the Cardinals were a Santonio Holmes circus catch from winning the Super Bowl, yet rank near the very bottom for the past decade. I wonder how far the Cardinals would have moved up if the team had won the big game.

The Raiders are the biggest joke in the NFL these days, but they were one of the better NFL teams earlier this decade. Don't be surprised if the Raiders crawl out of the basement in the few years even with a walking corpse running the team.

The Dallas Cowboys are always at the forefront of greatest franchise discussions, but the t
eam has been in the bottom third of the league rankings this decade. Zero playoff wins and a string of 5-11 seasons early in the decade have tarnished the Cowboys place with the other great franchises. Jerry Jones has proven himself to be a terrible team builder, so don't expect the Cowboys to rocket up the rankings any time soon.

The Redskins keep handing out gigantic contracts to big named free-agents, but the team has generally sucked for the entire decade. They had a playoff win a few years back, but considering the money spent on players, there is very little return.

Remember
those great Kansas City Chief teams with Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson running the ball down everyone's throat? Yeah, the Chiefs still suck for the decade and are ranked behind the Raiders. That surprised me.

It's hard to remember everything that happens over the course of a decade, so this list just reminds us which team was once good and which teams are still terrible. One thing everyone learned though: never hire Matt Millen as your general manager.




Friday, June 26, 2009

Day Of The Dead

If you were born after 1980, yesterday was the biggest celebrity death of your lifetime. That's how big this was. Farrah Fawcett's untimely death after a long cancer battle was news enough, but then the day went to a whole new level.

Th
e reactions to Michael Jackson's death ranged from people offering an encomium to the pop giant, to others feeling satisfaction that a man who liked children a little too much finally moon walked his way off the stage.

No matter how you felt, the combo of it's sudden nature and celebrity makes Jackson's death the biggest since one John Lennon died. It would take the assassination of a president to eclipse it. (Note to alienated wingnuts out there: this is NOT supposed to give you any ideas.) Meanwhile, Fawcett would be front page news on any other day. Her posters went into the spank bank for an entire generation of teenage boys in the 1970's.

So now that I've established that the combo of Fawcett and Jackson makes for the biggest death day of my lifetime, let's see where it ranks in history of death day combos. Here are some other death combos of famous people:

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (July 4, 1826)- The gold standard for famous deaths. Two founders of our country died on Independence Day. More than a century later, no one can top this episode.

John F. Kennedy and C.S. Lewis (November 22, 1963)- This one is all about Kennedy. That death shook the nation and Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia) just happened to kick the bucket on the same day. It's still big though.

Orson Wells and Yul Brynner (October 11, 1985)- Big names in the acting world, but the world wide popularity was nothing compared to Jackson.

Milton Berle and Dudley Moore (March 27, 2002)- Uncle Milty ushered in the television age and made a brilliant cameo appearance in Ratt's "Round and Round" video. Moore just played a drunk who somehow fell in love with Liza Minelli. Meh.

There's no way Jackson and Fawcett are bigger than two founding fathers and despite Jackson's world wide fame, people still remember where they were when Kennedy was shot.

On the other hand, Orson Wells and Yul Brynner can't compete with Jackson's celebrity if only because there wasn't 293 channels on the television watching their every move. Berle must feel like LeBron James with Moore as his death mate. Berle can't carry the day by himself.

I'll say Jackson and Fawcett belong on the bronze podium for death partners. Not as big as a sitting president or U.S. fathers, but more than the other celebrities that happened to die on the same day.

Boo-yah!



Thursday, June 25, 2009

Can The NBA Draft Actually Help The Non-Lottery Team?

It's time for the NBA draft! But is it really worth reading the player profiles and sorting through the soughs of trades between this team and that team?

I've never seen an American sporting event produce such a hot and cold response as the NBA Draft (well, other than NASCAR). Supporters consider it just as much of an experience as the NFL Draft in terms of building a team. Foes say the draft is just a crapshoot where teams with the top few lottery picks might get the next LeBron James/Carmelo Anthony, but any team outside of the top few picks will only be able to find a backup at best.

Can you get a great player without a top ten pick? Well, let's look at this year's All-Star roster:

EAST ALL-STARS

Allen Iverson- Top pick of the draft in 1996
Dwyane Wade- 5th pick 2003
LeBron James- 1st pick all everything ever
Kevin Garnett- 5th pick of 1995 out of high school
Dwight Howard- Top pick 2004 draft
Joe Johnson- 10th pick, 2001 draft
Jameer Nelson-20th pick 2004 draft
Ray Allen- 5th pick 1996 draft
Danny Granger- 17th pick 2005 draft
Paul Pierce- 10th pick 1998 draft
Chris Bosh-4th pick 2003 draft
Mo Williams- 47th pick 2003
Devin Harris- 5th pick 2004 draft
Rashard Lewis- 32nd pick 1998


WEST ALL-STARS

Kobe Bryant- 13th pick 1996 draft
Chris Paul- 4th pick 2005 draft
Tim Duncan- Top pick 1997 draft
Amare Stoudmire- 9th pick 2002 draft out of high school
Yao Ming- Top pick 2002 draft
Dirk Nowitzki- 9th pick 1998 draft
Shaq- Top pick, 432 B.C.
Brandon Roy- 6th pick 2006 draft
Chauncey Billups- 3rd pick 1997 draft
Pau Gasol- 3rd pick 2001 draft
David West- 18th pick 2003 draft
Tony Parker- 28th pick 2001 draft

The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between. The draft is certainly top heavy where any kind of game changing star is taken. But teams like the Spurs and Lakers surround the superstar players with good late round picks. So while the draft may not give us a truckload of late round gems, if your team happens to be the one that hits on one, a title run could be in the future.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Know It's Just Soccer Here, But DAMN

Forget for a moment that soccer ranks just above archery on the list of popular professional sports in America. Just look at what just happened with the United States men's soccer team for what it is.

A freakin sports miracle.

I know, I know. It wasn't a championship game. This isn't the World Cup and no
trophies are being given out.

But let's just take a second and give the U.S. soccer team it's due after today. This is a team that didn't have any business being in the second round of this world tournament. They slipped in because a goal differential stat. No one really cared anyways since they had just watched the U.S. get toyed with by Italy and then pasted by Brazil. They beat Egypt (wwweeeeeee!!!!!)

But Italy got beat by Egypt and Brazil, so the United States found themselves in the next round. Now they had to play the Spaniards, a team whose daedal soccer stylings had lead to a record tying 35 game unbeaten streak.


The Spaniards had breezed through the first round undefeated scoring eight goals and giving up a big donut on the scoreboard. Meanwhile the U.S. was 1-7-1 against top ranked teams in soccer. Not confidence inspiring is it
?

THAT is why this win is so huge. Spain was the top ranked team in the world and a sure-fire pick to destroy the U.S. men's team. Spain out shot the U.S. 29-9. When the U.S. scored, it was the first goal Spain had given up in 451 minutes dating back to April 1. Blah, blah, blah.


Spain lost. The U.S. won. David felled Goliath this day. The United States became the Cinderella team of the tournament for a day.

Even if they get beat by Brazil 15-0 (possible), the U.S. put their stamp on the tournament. I don't care if you aren't a soccer fan, just enjoy the moment.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Aluminum Ain't That Bad Anymore

I was watching Texas play LSU in the college World Series last night and as per usual, the discussion of the evening was the aluminum bats versus wooden bats debate. What I learned during this debate, besides the fact that my new puppy's puling can stop down any conversation, was that baseball fans love them some wooden bats.

Everyone I talked to support the wooden bat over the aluminum one. I understand that the wooden bat is more natural and it takes some of the crazy science out of bat performance and determines success more by a batter's skill level. I think it would be wonderful to have wooden bats again in college baseball.

It's not going to happen.

Wooden bats have the unfortunate habit of breaking and not all
schools can afford a gigantic bat budget. Aluminum bats just make more financial sense.

The problem was that at one point, science was changing the way baseball games were played. Super bats were helping teams drive baseballs out of the park at alarming rates. After a ridiculous 1998 final where fans saw Southern Cal beat Arizona State 21-14, restrictions were placed on aluminum bats.

Since then, I don't see a huge problem with the aluminum bats. Last
night's game featured lead changes and extra innings until LSU finally pulled out an 8-7 win. There's nothing wrong with that.

Sure, the use of aluminum bats make the pitchers duel less likely, but I'll take a tense, entertaining game any day of the week. Just enjoy the sport. And Erin Andrews.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Day Sports Just Sort Of Stopped

The site is called SportsPants, I know. But I say it's sports talk, sort of because there are so many other things to talk about than only sports. Seriously, if sports is all you can think about, you need to re-evaluate your life. I'm happy I feel this way because my sports life had to take a backseat this weekend.

I'm sure you've seen this happen before: Some friend gets a dog and it's cute as hell and licks your face and makes funny sounds etc, etc, etc. And your friend decides you need to know every last detail of the dog's cute little puppy tricks. You listen because you know he/she loves their new little friend, but inside you're wondering how delusional this person must be to actually think you need to see 147 pictures of the new puppy. It's a dog, I get it.


Folks, I am now t
hat friend.

I can do nothing but think about my three month old pup
py, Noodle, who we got this past Saturday. And it's probably good that I can do nothing else, but because the little thing doesn't allow me much time for anything.

Some highlights when you first get a puppy (fellow owners can add anything I forget):

-The amount of pee and poop in this animal is astounding. Noodle just lets fly wh
en she wakes up, after she eats, when she's playing, after one of her 26 midday naps, if she sees you going to the bathroom, and generally every half hour in between.

-Whatever toy you have for her, she doesn't want. You can go out and buy her a dozen little toys that crinkle, spin, hold treats and taste like steak. The puppy will still want to chew on the lamp cord.

-She's learning my tricks at an alarming rate. My girlfriend and I have our little methods to get Noodle to do our bidding. Hiding medicine in peanut butter, getting really mock excit
ed about a toy we want her to play with, grabbing her attention away from the chair leg she's gnawing on etc. This dog has only been with us two days and she's already adjusted on the fly. The stuff that worked on Saturday night doesn't even phase her now. I'm going to have to think about this stuff a lot more than I thought.

-The dog wants to go exactly where you don't want her to. Whether it's the street, behind the refrigerator, out by a copse behind your place, the puppy will eventually beeline for the off-limits place.

-Puppies have some crazy ass dreams. At least mine doe
s. She twitches, moves in fits, and her eyes REM at a rate I can't even fathom.

-The puppy will be the only creature in your household dreaming when you first get it. I'm averaging about five hours of sleep since I got her. We keep her in a crate in another room, but she can make that much noise. I'm told this will taper off in a few weeks. I can only pray.

-You significant other will refer to you as "daddy". I don't mind it since there's not much else that jumps in my head. It just sounds weird.

That being said, a puppy changes your life. Not like an actual kid, at least I hope not, but you will find yourself thinking of the puppy when you shouldn't and you will catch yourself telling people you hardly know all about how you were out at this rescue center looking at a bunch of random dogs for a possible future adoption when this little ball of wonder comes running right up to you and jumps into your lap and licks your face. It was at this point you knew the ball game was over. You were going to take her home.

I didn't plan it this way, it just sort of happens. Sports are great, but puppies rule.

Friday, June 19, 2009

You're Outta Here! (Also Known As He Gone)

If you've been to any number of sporting events in the past few years, you've probably experienced the yuk monkey fan.

This is the guy who decides to make the moment about himself by screaming something during a pause in the pre-game National Anthem or during a coin
flip or at any other point where he can be the center of attention.

Sometimes it's funny, usually it's just clear that this monkey's mama didn't show him enough attention as a boy. Often the guy can't stop at just one outburst and must hog the spotlight to the point of nimiety.

A soccer
fan in the Netherlands decided he was going to push the envelope with his need for attention and decided to deliver his shtick during a moment of silence to observe a recent attack on the Dutch royal family that ended up killing six innocent bystanders.

Mistake.

We won't be seeing this man at a soccer game for the next year. Was it too harsh of a penalty for a fan that probably had a few too many and was just getting excit
ed? I don't think so.

I've been caught up in the excitement that happens when a stadium full of people get together for an event, but there has to be a line drawn at some point. Using a moment of silence for the dead as your comedy audition tape is a pretty bad choice and this guy now has a year to think about that.

Just remember, if you're going to go through with a "look at me" moment, please, please, PLEASE....make sure it's at least funny.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Study In The Rules Of Fandom

I have a friend who roots for the Detroit Red Wings. He's from the Michigan area, so that makes total sense. What irks me is that the Red Wings are the only Detroit team he roots for.

When it comes to football, he's suddenly a Steelers fan. In baseball, it's all about the pinstripes in the Bronx. He's not a basketball fan, but I can only guess he's a closet Lakers supporter.

He is unapologetic about his front-running. His philosophy is that he watches sports for entertainment and escapism, so why would he subject himsel
f to the losing nature of the Detroit Lions when the Pittsburgh Steelers win? While it's impossible to have prescience about how a baseball season is going to end, the odds favor the free spending Yankees year in and year out. There's just a greater chance for him to be happy with the teams he's chosen.

His logic makes sense in a mercenary kind of way. In the free-agency era of sports, players jump ship all the time and it's acceptable in most circumstances. Would people be all over Marian Hossa if he left a bad hockey team like the New York Islanders for the Red Wings? Most fans seem okay when a player bolts from a bad team because he wants a chance to win a ring. My friend is simply doing the same as a fan.

I could never follow suit and he knows I will never respect his fan status. To me, you have a reason to
support whatever team you support (generally location), and you stick with them. I grew up in Dallas and while everyone groans that I'm a Cowboys fan, I quickly point out that I've always supported the other less dominant teams in the area. If the Rangers ever actually make it to a World Series, I'm not going to know what to do with myself because I've sat through so much horrible baseball. I'm anything but spoiled.

However, I've been in arguments about fan philosophy with other even more hardcore fans. I've always felt that being a fan means you support your community. If you grow up in Chicago, but move to Phoenix, you should eventually become a Cardinals fan. Not right away, I know you can't just trade in your team affiliations a
t the drop of a hat, but if you've been in Phoenix for a decade and you've bought a house and had some little ones...you know reside in Phoenix. You are a Cardinals fan.

This philosophy rubs some people the wrong way. They feel that
once you declare your allegiance, that's that. My uncle lives in Houston, has for a while. He has a house, kids, a little schedule he's engulfed in, he's even survived a hurricane. He ain't moving anytime soon. Yet there in front of his house flies a hometown Pittsburgh Penguins flag. He could care less about the Texans, he is trying to teach his kids how to be proper Steelers fans.

I told hi
m that he lived in Houston now, why not be a Houston team fan? He looked at me like I had just asked him why he didn't just go live in Cuba. He has some sort of crack about me being a typical bad Dallas fan. My retort was to move the hell back to Pittsburgh if he's so entrenched.

The debate gets more confusing when you introduce the fans who live in the newer cities. If you grew up in Charlotte and had no teams to root for, you probably became a Cowboys or Dolphins, maybe a Falcons fan. Now Charlotte has it's own team. Do you just drop everything and support the Carolina Panthers? Do you stick with your Cowboys support only to get stamped with the front-runner label?


Everyone has their reasons to root for a team. Whether you have a blind loyalty to the te
am laundry no matter who's wearing it, or if you follow the most exciting team, or follow the team that drafted your favorite college player, you have your reasons. Just be prepared to argue them when another fan calls you out.

Or just hit them in the head with a beer bottle. That seems to put the fan debate on the back burner pretty quickly.*



*You may or may not end up in the emergency room with your girlfriend calling you an idiot.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Addition By Subtraction Or The Sinking Of A Franchise?

The Denver Broncos have had some trouble in the past. A defensive back was shot to death on New Year's Eve, Travis Henry attempted to impregnate every woman in America, the team became obsessed with Cleveland Browns rejects, and there has been a different running back leading the team in rushing every year.

But there has never been an off-season so gravid with controversy and change than this one. The inexplicable off-season continues for the Denver Broncos as star wide receiver Brandon Marshall wants to follow Jay Cutler out of town. Remember back when the firing of Mike Shanahan was thought to be the biggest controversy for the Broncos this year?

This nonsense has to bother Broncos owner Pat Bowlen who has consistently been one of the NFL's most solid owners. He doesn't treat his team like it's simply a part of his investment portfolio (see the current San Francisco 49ers) nor does he attempt to use his team to stroke his ego (look no further than Oakland or Dallas). Yet Bowlen is the one who fired Shanahan and hired new head coach Josh McDaniels, so I guess ye reap what ye sow.

Now a
bout head coach McDaniels. This off-season is proving one of two things: he is a man wise beyond his years, or he is too inexperienced to hold down an NFL head coaching position and the Broncos are suffering for it. I'll expand on both:

Theor
y I- Josh McDaniels is wise and he's thinking into the future:
No one
is arguing the talents of Cutler and Marshall, they have been a top QB/WR tandem in all of football the past couple of years.

But the go
al is a Lombardi Trophy, not a passing title. And teams generally don't win Super Bowls with a quarterback who cries any time someone dares consider someone else might be better than him. McDaniels may have met Cutler and realized there was no way he had the mindset to lead a team through the grinder of the NFL playoffs (after all, McDaniels had spent time with Tom Brady in New England.)

So McDaniels makes a play for Matt Cassell and loses out to K.C. Cutler throws a hissy fit and McDaniels refuses to give in to the quarterback's whining because he knows that's not going to help the team win. Everything escalates and before you know it, Cutler is out of town. McDaniels didn't expect Cutler to be gone, but he wasn't going to let Cutler act like a diva.

Meanwhile, the Broncos got a quarterback who is less talented in Kyle Orton, but one who has spent his NFL life battling for his position thereby making him mentally tough. Plus, the Broncos got several extra draft picks to help build the team around Orton.

Brandon Marshall should probably concentrate more on staying off the police short list before he starts demanding trades. The receiver is super talented, yet he possesses that crazy gene that several wideouts have.

If Marshall goes, the Broncos will get even more draft picks which the team can use to shore up various other positions. Within three years the Broncos will change from a team that has to win track meet type games because it has a high octane passing offense, but nothing else to a well-balanced machine that has a ball control offense and a precision passing game accompanied by a young talented defense. Just like McDaniels wanted.

or

Theory II- McD
aniels is in over his head and his shenanigans will cost the Broncos:
McDaniels reminds me a bit too much of Lane Kiffin. Both are young, aggressive coaches who are smart about the X's and O's in football, but have zero ability to manage people.

In his zeal to prove he belongs as a head coach in the NFL, McDaniels may be rubbing multiple Broncos the wrong way. Here is this little pup who is actually younger than several of the players and he's tossing teammates around like he's playing John Madden Football on his Playstation.

NFL coaches have a room full of egos to manage and the smart ones understand the effects brash
moves will have on a team and not just on the roster. McDaniels may have seen Bill Bellichick drop players he didn't like without blinking, but Bellichick spent a decade as one of the best defensive coordinators in football. He had some clout. McDaniels does not and he needs to understand that he has to prove himself to his team as well as vice versa.

I give McDaniels credit for making some big moves during his early stay in Denver. I just hope he has properly thought these moves through before he destroys his NFL career before it begins.