Friday, December 30, 2005

Thursday Night Bowling

There were a couple of good Bowl games played this week, and two trends emerged out of these games. First, Oklahoma should not be slept on, and Second, Utah is good and very fast.

Oklahoma met 6th ranked Oregon in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl on Thursday evening, in one of the most anticipated games in the none BCS season. Oregon was the highest ranked team in the nation not to be invited to a BCS game. Thursday’s game was to give them an opportunity to prove to the BCS and the country that they were one of the countries elite squads, and make prove the BCS wrong in it picks. The Ducks found out that redemption was harder earned than previously thought. The Oklahoma Sooner's had a rough ride over the course of the season, dating all the way back to the end of last season where they were run out of the Orange Bowl by USC. This season had many difficulties for the Sooners. Dropping early games to TCU and UCLA Oklahoma went from a top 15 team to unranked and forgotten in just a few weeks. Yet, while the rest of the nation was transfixed with USC and Texas, Oklahoma was steadily rebuilding its team. Freshmen QB Rhett Bomar gained experience, and confidence while learning the position on the job. He matured into a solid QB, and is emerging as a leader of the team to aid Adrian Petterson. Most of the country never saw any of this taking place, but the Oregon Ducks met the new look Sooners on Thursday and was not ready for what they saw. Oklahoma returned to fashion with a smothering defense. They never allowed Oregon to establish the deep ball, which in turn bottled up and stifled the entire offense. The game ended up being a defensive battle with a finial score one might expect from the Barry Switzer era not the Stoops era, but defense still wins in Norman Oklahoma. The Sooners sent a message out to the country that they will soon return to their former level of prestige. Oregon also showed the country that maybe the BCS got it right again. Can you imagine having to watch OSU v. Oregon instead of OSU v. Notre Dame? Yeah, Oregon ended up where they belonged.

Out in San Francisco the Rambling Wreck of Georgia Tech met up with the Utes of Utah. Both teams came into the game with records of 7-5, but on the field there was nothing even about these two squads. Utah road a deceive home field advantage, and rolled over the Yellow Jackets. Reggie Ball and company never got on the same page to get their offense moving on Thursday. The Utes defense came out strong and put constant pressure on Ball. Forcing him to throw two costly turnovers early in the game; which in turn allowed Utah to jump out to a 20-0 lead? The speed of the Utah defensive line was impressive. They were able to get ample pressure up the middle just by rushing four. On the offensive side of the ball, Georgia Tech had no answer for the spread option offense of Utah. QB Brett Ratliff was able to have his way as he threw for a Utah bowl game record of 381 yards, and 4 TD’s. Most of those yards and all the touchdowns were racked up by WR Travis LeDendresse who had 214 yards receiving. The only thing to slow LeDendresse down was crashing into the back wall after catching his fourth TD pass. Utah dominated the point of attack. The spread offense was able to create WR on linebacker match ups that favored the Utes. The other impressive factor of the Utah team was the speed of the offensive line. The linemen for Utah are massive and strong, but deceptively mobile. Many of the Yellowjacket DB’s found themselves getting blocked 10 yards downfield by a mountain of a man. Urban Myers may be gone along with Alex Smith, but Utah is still a dangerous team as Georgia Tech found out. Without the perfect season they got lost playing out in the Mountain West. However, much like last year Utah came out to play on a national stage and delivered the goods with the swagger of a champion. The athletic ability of Utah cannot be denied. They took the field Thursday night with the confidence that they can play with any team out there. I am not saying they are a national powerhouse, but if Utah played in a major in a major conference we would hear their name called more often.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Music City Bowl

This week features the Virginia Cavilers traveling to Nashville Tennessee to take on the Minnesota Gophers in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl. This game will prove to be one of the most difficult tasks for the Cavilers of the season.

The last time we saw this Virginia squad they were being run off the field by an intense Virginia Tech team. I think the Hokies just scored another TD against the Hoo’s defense. A lot of time has passed since that chilly November afternoon in Charlottesville, and it is difficult to say weather it has been be the moves have been for the good.

Over the past month UVA has lost both coordinators to other schools where they will undertake head coaching opportunities. Offensive coordinator has moved on the Kansas State where he will be the head coach, and try to return the Jay hawks back to prominence. Defensive coordinator Al Golden has taken a job as the head coach of the down and out Temple team.

Virginia’s offense has struggled over the past few seasons, and there were even rumors in some circles, of Prince having to leave as it was. UVA’s offense has appeared stagnant on more than one occasion. While the play calling has been creative with the trick plays, often times the basic play calls have been lacking. Ron Prince is not fully to blame for this, but he has faced the brunt of the responsibility for it. Hopefully at Kansas State he will be able to establish the rushing attack he always wanted, and jump started what was a ferocious attack.

Coach Golden led what has been a tenacious defense at times over the past few years. The linebacking core for Virginia has been exceptional, as the 3-4 scheme has caused problems for many young QB’s as they have a difficult time tracking both Paraham and Brooks. His presence will be missing, and I wish him luck, as he faces what will surely be difficult days ahead at Temple.

That aside, Virginia goes heads to Nashville, to avenge what was a dismal performance in last years bowl game against Fresno State. Even more so than Fresno, Minnesota will not be a slouch team coming into the game. Minnesota had a solid season finishing 7-4, and feels snubbed even being invited to the Music City Bowl. The Gophers are sporting the NCAA’s second leading rushing attack averaging 280 yards a game. They are also in the top ten in scoring picking up 36 points a game. Proving the Gophers ground attack is high power, and efficient. This is not a typical grind it out ground game. They use a two back system that will look to rip off yards in a chunk. Minnesota wants to get out early scores some points, and then use the rushing attack to punish the Hoo’s defense.

The Cavilers are a team that has lacked a true identity all season. At times they have looked like an ACC powerhouse, with a Houdini at QB, and a stout rush defense. Other weeks, they have struggled to handle the basic task of getting a first down. It is difficult to say what Virginia team will show up on Friday. The only certainty is that whatever team shows up will need to do two things if they want to win. The first of which is button-up-strap-down on defense. This means the 3-4 defenses will need to be aggressive at plugging holes at the line of scrimmage. The defensive linemen will need to take on double teams to give the linebackers a chance to scrap off freely and play plays at the line of scrimmage. The second goal the Hoo’s need to achieve is to score points. It does not matter how they score, just need to be sure to score early and often. Preferably the Cavs need to establish a steady dose of their own running attack. This will help tame the Minnesota defense. More importantly a solid run attack will take pressure off of Hagans, and allow him some time to think in the pocket which he has not had all season.

Friday’s game may prove to be an important day in the course of Virginia football history. Al Grogh has been at the helms of this program for five seasons now, and the results have been varied. Grogh has seen success, and helped to bring prestigious recruits to the school, while elevating the program status on the national level. However, Virginia has not been able to take the needed step to become an important player in the ACC and across the nation. With the exception the Florida State game on Oct 15, Virginia has failed to play well against any opponent that has shown potential to be good. Coach Grogh has had enough time to bring in his players and to implement his system. He has even had enough time to begin farming out his assistant to other schools. It is time to see results of the Grogh era. The Music City Bowl is not a major Bowl, but Minnesota is not a bum, team. They are a formidable Big 10 team, who can contend with most teams in the nation on a given day with that powerful rushing attack. A win for Virginia could carry a long way into recruiting in the off season, and adding to the programs prestige. A lost on Friday, and its just another knock on Coach Grogh's resume, which begins to look skeptical when measuring his teams performances in the big games.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Crunch Time

Its crunch time in the NFL and teams are making their last efforts to get into the playoffs. After this weekend, it will take a nothing short of a Tiny Tim Christmas Miracle to save some teams from taking that early vacation. While others are in the drivers seat controlling their own fate, and awaiting the opportunity to unwrap the Christmas present of a trip to the 2005/06 playoffs.

The New York Football Giants are making the trip to the Nations Capital to take on a red hot Washington Redskins team. Last time these two teams met it was in the Meadowlands, and in the wake of Mr. Morrow’s death. The Giants took full advantage of riding that emotional high and trounced the Skins with a 36-nill defeat. This was the first of Tikki’s 200 plus yard rushing games. The Giants came out ready to play that afternoon to defend the honor of their team and their late owner. Washington was blown away with the first play from scrimmage, and never had a chance to recover. A lot has changed since that October 30th afternoon in the Meadowlands. The Giants have been less than invincible in their last few games. While their only lost in the last month game as a result in the failure of Jay Feely to do his job, the Giants have been less than impressive at times. Eli Manning has hit his sophomore jinx. His passer rating has dropped to 72.2 as he has thrown 7 TD’s and 7 picks in his last 5 games. At times Manning has appeared lost and flustered in the pocket as he has tried to guide his team to victory. Picking up his slack has been Virginia Alumni Tikki Barber. Tikki has been on a tear over the past month averaging 144 yards a game over his last five games, including another 200 yard performance last week in a must win game against Kansas City. Due to Tikki’s efforts the Giants have been able to succeed in spite of Manning’s performance, not because of it. On the other hand, the Skins have continued to drudge along after their blowout in New York. Clinton Portis has come alive for their offense and provided the spark he was expected to bring to the Gibbs offense. While Portis has not provided the gaudy numbers that Barber has, he has given the Redskins offense a solid rushing attack that has allowed other threats such as Chris Cooley to emerge and aid Santana Moss in the passing game. Washington is riding high after a huge emotional win over the rival Cowboys last week. The test of this week has been to refocus and channel all the excitement and playoff anticipation hopes into a productive conduet and give the Giants a good match. Joe Gibbs will have his troops ready for Saturday’s game; I guarantee it will not be a repeat of the first time these two teams met. However, in the end the results will be near the same, Giants win 23-17, clearing their way to a division title, and forcing the Redskins to find help if they want an invite to the post season.

In the other conference, division rivals face off, as one attempts to salvage what left of a faint playoff hope, and the other just wants to earn some respect back and protect its home turf. The San Diego Super Chargers make the trip into windy Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday. Two weeks ago it appeared the winner of this game would have a playoff berth while the other got a ticket home for the winter. A lot has changed since then. Kansas City is on a two game slide losing to Dallas and the Giants. Those loses have been enough to effectively eliminate the Chiefs from playoff contention without the help of Tiny Tim. The Chargers appeared to be on the same track after dropping a game at home to the Dolphins, but they bounced back with an impressive win against League leading Indianapolis last week. The Chargers still have some playoff life to fight for. LT is a bit banged up, but expect him to come into Kansas City raring to go and to take his team on his shoulders if he hast to. San Diego is playing great football coming down the stretch. They are 4-1 in their last five scoring 30 points a game, and giving up 15. Their offense has found a solid rhythm even with the injuries to LT. They attribute their once lost over the past month because they were looking ahead to a match up with the Colts. A win on Saturday does not guarantee a trip to the playoffs, but it is another step in the right direction for the Chargers. Kansas City is out of the playoff picture. Yet, with the number of potential games that Dick Vermeil will coach dwindling, do not look for the Chiefs to roll over. They are playing for their coach’s pride, and they will want to maintain a home win streak. These Chiefs have not lost a home game in December this century. Kansas City will put up a good fight, and look for Larry Johnson to have another big day, as he has dominated defenses since taking over the starting position. This will not be enough though San Diego is a team that NEEDS to win while Kansas City simply wants to win. San Diego prevails 35-24.

Finally in the NFC South, the Tampa Bay Bucs face off against the Michael Vick led Atlanta Falcons. This is a must win game for both teams as they vie for one of the remaining wild card slots. The Falcons have been on a downward spiral including a devastating lost on Sunday night to the Chicago Bears. Mike Vick has struggled in the past few weeks. Ever since he first sounded off to the media by declaring himself a passing QB, he has gone 2-4. Throwing for 5 TD’s to 6 ints. The Vick experience has been less than impressive all season. This past week Vick hung up on a reporter during an interview after becoming disgusted with the questions at hand. Come Sunday there will be no where to hide from Derrick Brooks and company who have had the Falcons number till recently. While Atlanta camp is struggling, the Tampa Bucs are coming off an embarrassing effort last weekend in Foxboro against the Patriots. New England blanked the Bucs 28-0. Constant pressure on Simms, and a commitment to stop the run was the reason for this defeat. The Patriots went out of their way to stop Cadillac and Alstott from rushing the ball effectively. This put the game in Simms hands, and the Patriots defense was able to pin their ears back and attack the young QB. The Atlanta defense is no where as experienced, complex, or talented as the Patriots. Stopping the run has been a problem for the Falcons all year. The difference maker in this game will be Cadillac Williams. If he is able to get off to a strong start, and Tampa can establish the run, the pressure on Simms will be less effective. Atlanta has looked like a shaky team many times this season. They will not put out one of their best performances on Saturday look for them to lose 13-20.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Theres No Loyalty in Baseball

The face of the Boston Red Sox World Series winning team has defected from Red Sox nation. Turning the knife in the Red Sox back, and allowing the defection to cause even more pain, Johnny Damon left the Sox to sign a 4 year 52 million dollar deal to wear pinstripes and be a New York Yankee.

Throughout the off season Boston has had a whole sale on much of their talent pull. Shortstop Renteria has already left the scowls of the Boston to crowd for the friendly confines of Turner Field. Manny is still clamoring for a trade, so he can be Manny somewhere else. What was once a very promising off season with the signing of Becket, is quickly falling apart, and last nights trade may be the one that finally breaks the will the of Red Sox’s nation.

In the last four years center fielder has transformed himself into the face of the Boston Red Sox. He was the self proclaimed leader of the Idiots. With the long hair and the bushy beard Damon was the poster child of the anti-Yankee. Boston crowds loved his hard nosed play in the field. Damon was always willing to sacrifice his body running into a wall chasing a fly ball, being a force at the plate setting up Manny and Big Poppi to bat in more runs.

Boston will miss Damon for his on the field production. He was fourth in the league in runs scored this past year scoring 116 runs; he also batted .316 on the season. Damon was fearless while roaming the out field. While his arm strength left a lot to be desired his heat could not be questioned.

More than his on the field antics it was what Johnny Damon did off the field that help create the champion Red Sox. Damon was the leader of the self proclaimed idiots. When the team needed a lift during desperate times it was always Damon who could give a quote to the media to ease the mood in the locker room. When team moral needed to be lifted it was Johnny Damon who performed naked pull-ups to ease locker room tension. During their 2004 playoff run Johnny and the boys would do a shot of Jack Daniels before the games. The Sox locker room was a tight knit group of individuals who fed off each others energy to create one successful team. Since they won the World Series, only ten members of that roster remain. Perhaps none more important than the image and the persona that Johnny Damon brought to that team. While this is no course of the Bambino, it is still a devastating lost to the club.

On another note, and perhaps a more disturbing one; is the way that money has come to dominate sports. I understand that everyone wants to be paid, and find a way to earn more money, and for the most part I will never argue with that. If I could get paid more I would do it too. However, my concern comes when being paid more means sacrificing who you are as a person.

A few years ago Jason Giambi posed for the cover of SI magazine, long hair, goatee, tattoos showing, and the title was “The New Face of Baseball.” The article went on to talk about how Giambi represented a new breed of baseball players that were part athlete part rock star. Within two years of that article Giambi signed a massive deal to play for the Yankees. With the new dollars came a new look for Giambi, the hair went and the tattoos were covered. Besides his issues with the steroid scandal Giambi has lived a very low key private life since dawning pinstripes. While this may seem like a positive to some, Jason Giambi himself has admitted that he feels he is unable to be himself due to the player conduct restrictions the Yankees place on him. Is it so far fetched that maybe Giambi’s lacking numbers have as much to do with player morale, as they do with a lack of artificial substances. Are we not all taught in basic management courses that a happy worked means a more productive and successful working. If someone is saying they feel they cannot be themselves, does that not mean they are not completely happy with their situation?

Johnny Damon fits the mold of the new age baseball player perfectly. He has thrived in Boston based on the freedom and ability he had to develop the character that is him. Damon is a very loose and laid back player. Often times he is the last to get dressed before a game. Damon was always available to the media, including doing a segment for “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” I am pretty sure it will be difficult to sell Big George on the idea of doing a show of that nature in his free time. Or doing naked pull-ups before the boss comes into the locker room on another one of his tirades.

It is a shame that sports have come to a point where people are more willing to sacrifice who they are, in order to make some extra dollars. I just warn you money can come and go, money is not hard to come by especially in the sports industry, but it will be difficult to recreate the atmosphere and the comradely of the 2004 Red Sox. Think about that one Johnny as you listen to another Stienbreiner tirade, or are getting bombed in on the back page.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Boys are Ran Out of Town

Yet another week has passed in the NFL, and the one thing we all know for sure is I am terrible at picking games. After starting off at a blistering rate, I have dropped to 2-6 over the last two weeks. With that out of the way, let us look at the week in review and see what trends stick out.

The Boys got ran out of out of town on Sunday. The Dallas Cowboys came to the Nations capital with playoff aspirations, but left dazed confused and broken spirited. In what was the biggest Cowboys, Redskin’s game in over a decade, Joe Gibbs and the Skins came to play and took no prisoners. Not much went right for the Cowboys on Sunday. Their first possession ended in an interception, and was followed the first of three Johnson to Cooley TD passes. I doubt many people in Dallas knew who Chris Cooley was before Sunday’s game, but they having nightmare about number 47 now. Cooley played a career game, scoring three touchdowns and 70 receiving yards. His day was capped off when Cooley ran over former first rounder Terrance Newman as he rumbled his way to the endzone. Dallas seemed shelled shocked, as they looked onto the field late in the second quarter down 28-0. Tuna was as angry as he had been in years; he sat and watched his team make fundamental mistakes. A coach can give his team a game plan of platinum, but if his players fail to execute the basics of the game tackling, blocking, and running hard, then he might as well flush his playbook down the toilet. By the time the second half of the game rolled around, Coach Gibbs was able to play whatever ball control offense he wanted as he enjoyed a 28 point lead. There was no chance Dallas could come back. Greg Williams’s defense sacked Drew Bledsoe 7 times, and forced 11 knockdowns. The Cowboys offense never found their rhyme, as the Washington blitz was too much for them. Washington now controls their fate for the playoffs after an Atlanta lost. The Boys lost their pride in D.C. and lost a chance at the postseason looks like the Tuna will have to wait one more year, before making that big splash.

The New England Patriots continue their rebuilding project as they defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28-0. This marks the second week in a row where the Patriots have blanked their opponents. This was a must win game for Tampa Bay, as they are struggling to keep alive in the wild card race, and an outside shot at the NFC South Division title. With this being the situation set for Saturdays game, the Bucs dropped the ball. New England returned to championship form, as their defense never gave Chris Simms the opportunity to settle into the pocket. Wreaking havoc all afternoon, Richard Seymour and company were everywhere on the field, shutting down Cadillac Williams rushing attack, and stifling Simms in the pocket. The Patriots started the season off and had to weather a plethora of injuries. After much of the league had left them for dead, they were able to benefit from a weak division and just maintained themselves till reinforcements arrived. Now the Calvary has come, and its name is healthy players and experience. As the season wore on and most teams wear down from injuries, New England is regaining its health. Many of the New England starters are returning to active duty in the last month. This is allowing many of the veterans of the team to come back rested and ready to play down the home stretch. Another bright spot for the Patriots has been the gelling of the new players. At midseason, New England was playing with a hodgepodge offensive line. Now that same line has become an experienced group that knows how to work together. The young reserves on the Patriots have been through the fire, and are now battle tested players, ready for the heat of the playoffs. Do not be surprised if New England is able to make some noise in the post season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers continued their quest to make the playoffs when they defeated the Minnesota Vikings at home, and ended their six game win streak. The Steelers beat the Vikings with a heavy dose of hard nose defense. Pittsburgh forced two interceptions and allowed only 143 yards passing for Brad Johnson who had been playing very controlled football. The Pittsburgh defense looked fast and efferent, as linebackers swarmed to the ball, and forced turnovers. The win gave the Steelers a 9-6 record, and put them in front in the Wild Card race. The Bengals may own the AFC North, but the Steelers are not to be forgotten. Minnesota remains a game behind the Bears in the NFC North with a huge week 17 rematch with them looming in the not so far future. Let’s see if the Vikings can bounce back from the dead one more time and finish the late season push for the playoffs.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Boys and Skins

Its week 15 and the playoff window are growing narrower for many teams across the NFL. For several teams in the NFL after Sunday, their clubs will be playing for pride, as they will be eliminated from the playoff picture. Week 15 also showcases the reemergence of the NFL’s greatest rivalry as the Cowboys and the Skins prepare to go head to head in a game with playoff implications for both teams. Up north in the Meadow lands, Kansas City will try to regroup from last weeks lost and get back into the playoff hunt by defeating the NY Giants. The Pittsburgh Steelers are making the trip cross country to meet the streaking Minnesota Vikings in what will be a hot game, and the quest for perfection remains alive as the Indianapolis Colts will host the playoff desperate Chargers in a must win game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers took a big step forward last week, by manhandling and defeating the Chicago Bears. This week, the Steelers will face another tough NFC North opponent in the Vikings. The Vikings are on a six game win streak, and laying in wait for the opportunity to pounce the Bears for first place in their division. Brad Johnson has taken his ball control style of offense and brought the Vikings back from the prink, by reeling off six victories. The Vikings have rallied together and become a formidable team. However, just as they thought they had put all their problems behind them, the S.S. Love Boat made its return. This week four Vikings were formally charged with allegations resulting from their party cruise. This may prove to be a distraction to the Vikings as they prepare to meet a team that means all business. The Steelers returned to their brand of football last week. Rushing the ball 46 times, and pounding a strong Bears defense into submission. Expect the same thing this week. On an indoor surface, Cowher likes to turn to his finesse game and use Willie Parkers speed to wreak havoc on a defense. The Steelers may try to run the ball over 50 times on Sunday. The Vikings Defense will not be hold up to the punishing ground game. Minnesota’s win streak ends at six as they drop a game to the Steelers 28-17.

The Kansas City Chiefs are making the trip east after a disappointing lost last week against the Cowboys. The Chiefs playoff hopes were not damaged too severely as the Chargers also dropped a game. However, they cannot rely on the same logic to be successful this week in New York. The Chiefs are trailing division leader Denver, and tied with San Diego. This week presents a great opportunity for them to make up some ground, as the Chargers travel to Indianapolis. The Giants are riding a two game win streak, but have looked less than impressive. Eli Manning is completing 51% of his passing, and has thrown for two interceptions in each of his last two games. Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce is also out for Sunday’s game. This means there will be a gapping hole in the middle of the Giants defense, and look for red hot running back Larry Johnson to take full advantage of that. Larry Johnson has stepped into his starting role, with effortless precision. He has rushed for over 100 yards in every game he has started this year. The Chiefs are playing inspired football, as they want to send coach Vermeil out on a high note. Look for them to ride Larry Johnson to a victory on Sunday 31-24.

The San Diego Chargers are attempting to do what no other team has been able to do all season, and that is defeat the Indianapolis Colts. The Chargers are clinging to playoff hopes, and every game is a must win for them as they come down the stretch. After blowing a game to the Dolphins last week, San Diego is looking to bounce back strong. Going to Indianapolis is not the team you want to face, when trying to right your ship, and make a playoff surge. San Diego is a tough team, who delivers a complete package, and may posses the best opportunity to defeat the Colts all season. Drew Brews has led an effective Chargers passing attack all season. His primary target is TE Antonio Gates. Gates will create a mismatch in the Colts secondary. His size makes him a TE by position, but his athletic ability is too great to leave a linebacker to cover him. Gates has the ability to run by a linebacker. His size makes him difficult for a DB to cover him; especially the Colts DB’s who are solid hitters, but not the biggest of defenders. The Ace card for the Chargers though, is number 21 LaDainian Thomason. LT is the most complete back in the game today. More importantly he has the ability to control the pace of this game. If the Chargers are able to feed the ball to LT, and have success it means they can control the clock, and keep Peyton and Company off the field. That being said, Peyton and company do not need much time to score. Let us not forget their game against Cincinnati. The Colts posses a high power passing attack, that has been forgotten over the course of the season. If the rushing attack is taken away from them due to time constrictions, Peyton Manning has plenty of options to go to in the passing game. If the Chargers want to win this game, they have to do the impossible, and that is out gun the Colts. San Diego does not have enough weapons to do this. The Colts win keeping the dream alive 38-28.

This weekend marks another installment of the NFL’s best rivalry as the Dallas Cowboys come to Washington D.C. to meet the Redskins. For the first time in 13 years a December meeting between these teams has meaning for both of them. Washington is only a game behind Dallas in a very tight NFC East race. Around the City this game have the feeling of a playoff game. The first time these two teams met, on Monday night, the Skins pulled off a thrilling comeback to defeat the Boys in Dallas. The Cowboys now make the trip east looking to avenge that lost. Both teams know a lost means almost certain death in the playoff race. Washington is facing a plethora of injuries on the defensive side of the ball. The one thing defensive coach Gary Williams could promise was they would trot out 11 players on Sunday. The Skins are especially thin in the secondary. There has been talk of calling up some practice squad players just to be able to fill out the roster. At one point this week, Washington was missing its first three DB’s. Coach Gibbs is still to prove his old school schemes still work in a new NFL. Gibbs was brought to Washington to resurrect his old glory days; so far the results have been varied. A win and a trip to the playoffs would erase a lot of the doubt circulating around the team. Washington is lucky that the Cowboys will not come out and run a spread offense; not as long as Parcels is calling the plays for Dallas. Dallas narrowly escaped with a courageous win over the Chiefs. Dallas has been pulling out all the stops as Parcels and company know they must show results this season. Much like Gibbs Parcel’s was brought to Dallas to be a savoir, and he has experienced mixed results. The Cowboys have looked sporadic throughout the season. Some weeks looking like the pride of the NFL and other times like the joke. This is going to a gritty and grimy game. It’s an old rivalry and both teams have a lot on the line. The Boys will find a way to win and make the playoffs 21-17.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Race Assassination

Today is a sad day in sports, and in possibly an even sadder day in the Black community, as its so called leaders have turned their back on their own and begun the process of cannibalizing each other. It is a sad and disgusting day, when we as a people no longer can stand together, but rather tear each other down with the same stereotypes we have worked so hard to overcome.

In an article published on November 27 in the black owned newspaper, publisher and President of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP J. Whyatt Mondesire wrote an article where it tore into Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, questioning his skills, his heart, and his blackness.

Donovan McNabb has faced adversity throughout much of his career. He was booed by Eagles fans the day he was drafted, his skills were doubted as first took over the team, deemed unworthy of his contract, accused of being a media puppet by Rush Limbaugh, and most recently called out by his former teammate T.O. Yet the remarks made by Mondesire cut much deeper than anything McNabb has faced in the past.

In the article Mondesire said McNabb did not have enough heart to be a solid team leader; claiming that McNabb was unable to control his own teammates. He went on to say that McNabb was a classic choke artist by not performing well in the clutch in the Super Bowl. Mondesire continued on to say that McNabb had sold out when he said he did not want to play like the stereotypical black quarterback, and he wanted to become a pocket passer. Mondesire accused McNabb of turning his back on the black race and all athletes who had struggled before him by making this above comment.

I have no problem with someone coming forward to criticize the way a player is performing on the field. I do that every time I sit at a computer and write. Criticism comes as part of sports, it is what makes everyone a fan. We all feel we have some great idea that can make a player or a team better. However, it becomes extremely different when we cease talking about a player’s ability on the field, and call into question his racial purity.

I say to you Mr. Mondesire, it is you who has turned your back on the black community by turning your back on one of your own. Maybe your position as a chapter head of the NAACP has gone to your head, and you now think you have the ability to judge what is black and what is not. But let me remind you that you surly are the person worthy enough of handling that job. Whyatt Mondesire is nothing more than a black race-lord. Using race as shield, to create a petty soapbox to stand on and spew venom. As a young black male who grew up in the south, I find his comments more hurtful and detrimental than any comment I heard from a person of another race.

It is difficult enough to face, and deal with racism in life, when the slurs and oppression are coming from an outside force. Yet, when the accusers are one of your own, the damage becomes almost insurmountable for all parties involved. When Rush Limbaugh took what in retrospect was a substantially less aggressive attack on Donavan McNabb a few years ago, it was Mondesire and his cronies who were first inline calling for Limbaugh head. Now two years latter, Mondesire has commented one of the greatest offenses by calling McNabb an Uncle Tom because he does not fit a profile, and he sees nothing wrong with that. During the times of segregation the NAACP worked hard to unify blacks and even whites, so they could fight the daily oppression they faced. Members of the group worked together as brothers and sisters, to make each other a better person, a better race, and as a result a better world. Whyatt Mondesire’s actions have contradicted every principal the NAACP stands for. Instead he has begun the deconstruction of his fellow man. This is anything but helping in the advancement of color people.

Whyatt Mondesire comments were very similar to comments I heard as a child on the school yard. “Oh you’re not black, you speak too well” “You don’t dress like a black person.” “What you can’t run fast, jump high, freestyle rap?... Oh you can’t be black then.” These same ignorant comments spoken by uneducated children, are no being reiterated by an educated professional who is admired and respected in his community. Now someone tells me, how are we as a race supposed to advance, when we are too busy stabbing each other in the back. When we do not fit a stereotype that we swear is created by a “white media” yet when someone does not fit it, we go up in arms.

For what it is worth, I would like to extend an apology to Donavan F. McNabb, and send him with this advice. Keep your head up. This has been a difficult year, beyond anyone’s imagination. There has never been an athlete who has had to deal with the situations you have this year. You have handled them all with class and with great dignity. Keep your head high, and continue to walk that line. When the right time comes you will be able to silence all critics with your performance on the field, because it is impossible to fight ignorance with a battle of words, when those you are fighting are unable to comprehend.

In closing, I just want to say, it is comments like the ones made by Mr. Mondesire that continually blacks have to fight an upward battler. At times like this, it becomes more apparent that we miss a true leader as a race, to help right the ship we have so drastically drawn off course. Well, congratulations Mr. Mondesire, you have effectively taken a drastic step to dismantle everything that the very organization stands for, has built and created over the last century. I hope you are happy with yourself. Being a disgruntled fan, does not give you the right to stab a fellow man in the back.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Who's the Best?

Who is the best player in college basketball? That is the question that has been circulated around sports talk circles all week, after watching two of the games best players pull out stellar performances when their teams needed them the most. Coach K has been grooming J.J. Redick to be the nation’s best player for the past three years, but Gonzaga’s junior forward Adam Morrison is making a strong claim to be college basketballs most valuable player.

J.J. Redick came into Duke as a highly recruited sharp shooter, and he has lived up to the expectation every season. When Redick first arrived on campus four years ago, he was strictly a spot up shooter. Coming off screens and setting up for open threes. As the rest of the Duke team around him has changed, J.J. has adapted his game to become the leader of one the nation’s elite squads. In Saturdays game against Texas J.J. Redick scored a career high 44 points, as he provided the spark to lift the Blue Devils over the second ranked Longhorns. At times during the game Redick looked unstoppable as he was nailing his open looks. At this point of the season J.J. is averaging 24 pts, and 2 assist a game. Redick came into college as a three pint specialist. During his time in school, he has honed his ball handling skills, to become a solid point guard when needed. Redick has also learned to create his own shots, and not have to rely on screens to get him open. Finally J.J. Redick has improved his defensive skills while in college. Don’t look for him to shut someone down, but he can at least slow up the other teams guard till the help can come over. There is no question about it that Redick is a special player, and much like other great Duke players of the past, he is the heart and soul of the current Blue Devil squad and they will go as far as he will carry them.

From the West Coast, Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison has blown onto the college basketball scene with standout performances in every big game he’s played on. No one knew who Morrison was last year, but with a 43 pt performance against Michigan State down in Maui, the whole world new his name, or at least his hair. Morrison is a 6’8 forward with a feathery touch on the ball. He has been over the forty point mark twice this season already, and is averaging 28 points a game. Adam Morrison is also formidable on the glass, as he pulls down 6 boards a game. Morrison further placed his stamp on the 05’-06’ season by hitting the game winning shot against Oklahoma State on Saturday. He has created painful mismatches for every team that has faced him all year, with his large frame, desire to go down low, and ability to hit the open jump shot, its difficult for most teams to find someone who can match up with his ability.

The question left for basketball fans is which of these two athletes would you rather have on your team and why? When I look at it I think it is question, Adam Morrison is the best player in college basketball. He has stepped up to every challenge asked of him this season. Gonzanga has faced three ranked teams, including two top ten teams, and a tough OSU team at home in those games Morrison has averaged, 30 pts a game and 8 rebounds. Adam Morrison is a complete player, with his ability to go inside and outside. His size and speed, give him the ability to be a solid defender also just shy of 1 block and 2 steals a game.

J.J. Redick is a great player, but he does not have the total package. At 6’4 he does not have the ability to go down low, grab a rebound, or post up his defender. His ball handling skills have improved during his time in college; they are still not his strength. He is still more comfortable coming off a screen and catching and shooting. This means that Redick is still relying on someone else to help set him up. There are times like on Saturday when his clutch shooting can take over a game, but the question to remain is can he spring himself as free if Sheldon Williams is out.

Adam Morrison has the ability to post up down low, and to create off the dribble. The only reason he does not get the same press as J.J. Redick, is he plays in Washington when most of the East Coast writers have already gone to sleep before he takes the court. Duke has almost every game they play nationally televised, they are like the Notre Dame of college hoops. It is impossible to miss a Duke game, as they are the darlings of the media. Gonzanga had that status when they were that special Cinderella team back in 1999, but now that they have arrived it seems they have even less coverage. Adam Morrison is fighting an uphill battle for the claim of the nation’s best player. Just remember, just because you don’t see his games live, does not mean that the best player in the land doesn’t exist.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Fix Is On

Stand Van Gundy is out as coach of Miami Heat and Pat Riley is back in the coaching saddle as of 11:00 am Monday. While this is not a surprising changing of the guard, since most have been speculating when it would occur, it is the way the change came about that has caught most off guard, and is quite frankly disgusting.

In a press conference Monday morning Stan Van Gundy announced he was stepping down as coach of the Miami Heat due to personal/family reasons. The reasoning Van Gundy gave was he wanted to spend more time with his young children, and be around them as they grow. I will never speak against a man wanting to stand up and be a father, because being a good parent is more important than any NBA title he can win. Now that that is out the way, I am pretty sure there is a greater underlying reason for why Van Gundy is calling it a season, and it goes beyond his loyalty to his family.

Stan Van Gundy has been on the hot seat in Miami ever since a game 7 melt down against Detroit in the Eastern Conference finials in May. The critics came the moment the finial whistle blew, accusing Van Gundy of not getting the ball to Shaq enough in the fourth quarter. During the summer months, Van Gundy met with team President Pat Riley for three hours. At the end of the meeting Riley emerged proclaiming that Van Gundy was still the man for the job, yet still Riley did not give a stellar vote of confidence for his coach.

Stan Van Gundy’s team is one game above .500, and off to a shaky start. It has not helped that the Big Daddy went down in the second game of the season, and just returned to active duty on Sunday. And yeah… let us not forget the immense amount of pressure Van Gundy has been under since the beginning of the off season. A new revamped lineup full of talented players all of whom can be head cases when given the opportunity, have all added pressure to the already nervous Van Gundy. And let us not forget one other key component weighing down on Stan Van Gundy, Mr. Showtime himself glaring down from the owner’s box, Pat Riley. Riley made it clear during the summer of his desire to coach again in the NBA. How can anyone function when their boss, a self made guru in your profession is glaring over your shoulder, waiting to take your job.

This is where the conspiracy theory begins, it is hard to believe that Stan Van Gundy just now came to the conclusion that he wanted to step down from his job, and be with his family, when he has had countless opportunities to step away during the summer. The Heat’s record is very fixable especially with the return of Shaq. It just looks like Riley felt he was the better man to right the ship in Miami rather than Van Gundy, his susposive friend and colleague of many years.

I do not have a problem with the return of Pat Riley to the bench. In fact I think the Heat is a little better off with Riley at the helm. The problem comes in the way this plan was executed. It has been a long time since coup has taken place within the United States, but Stan Van Gundy has been the victim of a passive aggressive takeover headed by Pat Riley, and supported by the Big Aristotle himself.

At Mondays press Conference Pat Riley looked like a mafia Don returning to claim his territory as he announced his return. This was one of the saddest scenes in sports history. As Stan Van Gundy was left at the podium looking likes a broken man, even if he is returning to be with his family. Pat Riley and the Miami Heat have destroyed the integrity of the entire Heat organization, with their actions this week.

I hope that Pat Riley realizes what he has gotten himself into. By naming himself coach of the Heat he set the precedent that he could led the Heat to a NBA championship. Anything less than a championship has to be considered failure. If Riley misses the thrill of being on the bench so much, he will get his fill of it this year as he has to maintain an aging giant, and the egos of several aging semi-stars. Pat Riley, if you fail as the Heat’s head coach this season, all I can say is that you deserve everything that you get. You made this bed of snakes by bringing this team together. Now you must be their leader. And that burning sensation you feel in the back of your head; it is the guilt of knowing that you broke the will of a good man, and a purposive friend. Congratulations Pat Riley, you really have done it this time.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Shining the Light

Week 14 is in the books, and the playoff picture is still blurry, but a few trends have emerged that we should all take note of and remember. Dallas is not dead yet, and is poised for a mad dash to the NFC Wild Card. Don’t forget about the New England Patriots, and Pittsburgh still knows how to ride the Bus. Oh… and yeah the Colts? They’re damn good.

The Dallas Cowboys played their best game of the season on Sunday, earning a 31-28 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Dallas defense forgot to show up for this game, as they were torched for 495 yards and 28 points. Watching the first half, this game had blowout written all over. Larry Johnson was unstoppable, and with four minutes to go in the second quarter it looked as if the Chiefs were going to get one more shot at the endzone and a chance to go up 21-3, thus crippling the Dallas attacking by forcing them to play catch up. At this point in the past most Dallas teams would not be able to stand, raise up to the challenge of showing some guts and toughing it out. The turn around began with Drew Bledsoe’s flea-flicker TD pass to forgotten wide-out Terry Glen. Cutting the score to 14-10 and Dallas had a prayer. On the ensuing drive the Chiefs were at it again, as they marched the ball down to the 9 yard line. This time it was the Dallas defense that showed the guts, forcing a fumble and moving the ball 59 yards down field. One more Drew Bledsoe pass, and the Cowboys are up 17-14, and gaining control of the game as they enter the half. This game went back and forth throughout the second half, till the Boys finialy took care of business and escaped with the three point win. This is the type of victory that can carry a long way for a team that was on the verge of playoff elimination. The Cowboys showed the vigor and desperation of a team that needs to win, and wants to win. The Cowboys have righted what was a sinking ship, with three games left; the magic number for the boys is two. Two wins should be enough to give the Cowboys the Wild Card edge, with a little bit of outside help. For Kansas City, it was a painful lost, any time your offense can be that prolific and still come away with a defeat is hard, especially when every win counts.

Division rivals squared off against each other when New England and Buffalo met on a snowy afternoon in Buffalo. The Bill game into the game two games under .500, but after playing New England close just over a month ago, they felt positive going into the game. Turns out they were thinking positive, but playing negative. The Patriots came out ready to play, and stamped their seal on the AFC East. The Brady bunch looked efferent scoring a TD every quarter, and the defense tacked on one in the fourth to ensure the 35-7 victory. What stood out most in this game was the poise and execution displayed by New England. After all the injuries they suffered in the early part of the season, and setbacks against San Diego and Indianapolis, most of us had forgotten about the NFL’s current dynasty. However, for a team with the most understated, and quiet coach in the league that is exactly what they want from the rest of us. Forget about them, and let them fly under the radar just like they did in the 2001 season. While most of the world has watched the Colt rampage their way through NFL teams this season the New England Patriots have compiled a quiet 8-5 record. Bad enough to miss the playoffs in most divisions, but not in the lowly AFC East. This means the Patriots will win their division and clinch at least one home field game during the playoffs. This could spell trouble, especially for a warm weather, or a dome team coming in. New England in January is a place no one wants to play in unless they are wearing a Patriots uniform. Belicheck will be able to doctor the fields to his liking as the snow and sleet fall. The Patriots are a seasoned team in the playoffs, and will definitely know how to take care of business and defend home field. Do not be surprised to see New England pick up a first round playoff win, and that would be all they need to get those Super Bowl juices flowing. Not saying they are going to make the threepeat, but I would not want my team to face off against them in the playoffs.

The Pittsburgh Steelers returned to playoff form by dismantling NFC powerhouse Chicago. In a game that reminded you of a game that should have been on ESPN Classic, as these two traditional teams played in the snow and the mud in a battle with playoff implications written all over it. The Steelers were coming off a two game losing streak, and after dropping two games behind Division leading Cincinnati, Sunday was a must win situation if the Steelers wanted to hang on to make the Wild Card. The Bears have the leagues best defense, and were riding an eight game win streak. In the last two Steelers loses, they have gotten away from playing Pittsburgh football. The Steelers have three running backs all of whom have potential to gain 100 yards per game. At first glance, a meeting with the leagues best defense, the outlook for success for the Steelers was slim. Yet, sometimes things are not as clear as they seem. The Steelers came out and dominated the Bears defense thanks to the help of an old friend. Jerome Bettis. Once again, the Steelers climbed aboard the Busses broad shoulders and run him to 100 yards and a victory. Young running back Willie Parker added 68 yards on the ground as the Steelers played a grind it out game with stout defense that would make Chuck Noal proud. Chicago was never able to get on track Sunday. After falling behind early, it was near impossible for them to play catch up. The Bears never found the endzone, and had to settle for 9 points off of field goals in a 21-9 losing effort. The Pittsburgh Steelers seem to have regained their identity of being a hard nosed team, as they beat up the neighborhood bully Chicago Bears. Pittsburgh still has some ground to make up if they want to make the playoffs, but Sunday was a big step in the right direction. With three games left against Minnesota, Cleveland, and Detroit, the Steelers have a great opportunity to steal a Wild Card spot from the teams of the AFC West, and the Jags in the south. As long as Pittsburgh remembers to ride the Bus, he will give them a non-refundable ticket to the playoffs.

Before I head out, I am obligated to say this; the Colts are Damn Good. A decisive win over Jacksonville on Sunday brought the Colts to 13-0, and clinched home field advantage for the Colts till they make that late January trip to Detroit. Peyton Manning looked in perfect form on Sunday passing for over 300 yards and 2 TD’s while going24-36. The Colts are strong, and only have a few hurdles left between them and history. Just remember stay focused and take it one week at a time. Play hard and execute, the prize will be theirs. Oh yeah, and play your starters no matter what.

Bush Wins

Saturday night, put an end to any questions of who would win the 2005 Heisman Trophy, as USC’s Reggie Bush brought home the prize. Saturday’s award capped off what had been an amazing season filled with some of the most exciting plays seen in college football in years. Now the only race left for Bush to run is to see who will take him as the first pick in the draft.

Reggie Bush won the Heisman with an overwhelming 85% of the vote. This was the largest percentage of the vote in the 71 year history of the Heisman. Going into Saturday there was little doubt that Reggie would leave New York without the trophy in hand, but his runaway percentage of the vote was surprising to even the most avid USC fan.

Bush has been a man among boys all season, adding new plays for his highlight reel every time he touches the ball. Whenever he carries the ball, Bush posses the potential to take it the distance and make a memorable play. This is a talent that cannot be taught, but are rather instincts. The nation marveled at his 500 yard performance against Fresno State. Reggie Bush stepped up in every major game this season. People will remember Matt Lienhart’s fourth and nine conversions at Notre Dame but it was Bush’s three touchdowns, and helping hand to Lienhart at the end of the game that put USC in the position to win the game. Reggie Bush stepped up to every challenge he faced this season, and winning the Heisman was just another mountain to climb.

Now the only question left for Reggie Bush to answer is where he will be playing on Sundays. I normally do not advocate players leaving college early, but in Mr. Bush’s case he has out grown the NCAA, with a possible third National Title on the way, a Heisman under his belt; he has nothing left to prove. Normally I argue for players to remain in college in order to better hone their skills. Reggie Bush’s skills are at their collegiate peak, another year in college will only deprave a desperate NFL from the relief they need.

For many teams Sunday began the countdown to who will acquire the services of Reggie Bush in the fall. Going into Sunday the race was wide open between the New York Jets, Houston Texans, and the San Francisco 49’ers. As the day concluded the possible contenders in this race were eroded away, by their own success.

The Jets pulled out a win over the Raiders and eliminated themselves from the Bush sweepstakes by achieving a mark of 3-10. Three wins will be very difficult for some teams to earn this year. The 49’ers can thank Seattle for ensuring they are still in hot pursuit of Reggie Bush. A 41-3 lost on Sunday dropped the Niners to 2-11, with chances of new victories growing slim.

The overwhelming front runner for the Race for Reggie Bush is the Houston Texans. A team that has not been able to get it right in their four year existence. The Texans are on their way to a one win season, which puts them first in line for Reggie Bush. The Texans need the most help of any team in the league that is without a question, but even the services of the talented Mr. Bush may not be able to save that franchise.

Reggie Bush will be the first pick in the 2006 NFL draft. His talent is unbelievable, and he should be proud of all the accomplishments he has achieved in his career. Too bad an outstanding collegiate career is rewarded with a sentence to Houston Texas.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Contenders and Pretenders

It is week 14, playoff hopes are high for some and razor thin and growing ever fainter for others. This could be the week that we finally find out who is a contender and who is a pretender. Let us take a look at this week’s key games, and try to find out who will have something to play for next week, and who will be biding time for the April draft.

The Chicago Bears are making the trip to Heinz Field to face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a must win game for the Steelers. The Steelers have lost three of their last five, and have fallen two games behind the Bengals in their division. They are part of the crowded wild card race in the AFC, and have an uphill journey to make if they want to make the playoffs. The wheels seem to have fallen off for the Steelers. What was once a powerful rushing attack has been stagnant against their last three appointments. The O-Line is coming out their stances slow, and not controlling the line of scrimmage. Chicago comes in sporting the leagues seventh best rush defense, so expect it to be difficult for Pittsburgh to reestablish their running attack. Oddly enough the difference maker in this game will come down to the QB play and which QB can make the big play. Pittsburgh has the leagues fourth ranked rush defense, so look for them to bottle up Thomas Jones and company. This may finally be the game where Kyle Orton has to make a play if the Bears want to win. Even with a possibly broken thumb, Rothesleburgher has proven he can throw the ball effectively when it is needed. Kyle Orton has yet to make that statement, and with people eagerly awaiting the return of Rex Grossman, the young Orton will be looking over his shoulder all even, causing him to have an even more difficult day. Expect the Steelers to pull out what will be an ugly game and defend their home turf with a 21-17 victory.

Kansas City travels to Dallas as both teams are still very much alive in their respected Wild Card races, and a win for either team will place the winner on the inside track to the playoffs. The Chiefs took a big step toward preserving their playoff hopes with an impressive win last week against Division leading Denver. The Chiefs are also riding a high winning four of their last five. Most of this has been done on the legs of Larry Johnson who has rushed for five straight hundred yard games. The Chiefs have looked dominant in their last few outings, and look for that trend to continue on Sunday. The Cowboys have been struggling as of late. They have lost their offensive identity. A few weeks ago it did not matter who was in the Cowboys backfield because they were able to run the ball with success. Now, the Cowboys are struggling to find any sort of success with their rushing attack. This is forcing Bledsoe to drop back and throw the ball 30+ times a game. With a shaky O-Line Bledsoe becomes a sitting target for apposing defenses, look for Kansas City to bring heavy blitz packages to disrupt Bledsoe’s passes and force early throws, this along with a heavy dose of Larry Johnson will result in a 28-17 Chiefs win, and the end of Dallas playoff hopes.

The battle for the NFC South continues as the Carolina Panthers look to put their current win streak on the line against the Tampa Bay Bucs. The Carolina defense is strong and gritty. In recent weeks, they have really bonded together, and are playing more and more like the squad who played in the Super Bowl. This accompanied with the reemergence of DeSaun Foster has made the Panthers into a formidable team to face. Tampa Bay has played well in recent weeks, but they are still susceptible to the playoff young QB Chris Simms. The Bucs defense is still a force to be reckoned with, but it is not the same defense that was feared just a few years ago. Christ Simms is still adapting to the NFL, and reading coverage’s. Look for Carolina to use their front four to put a heavy pass rush on Simms, while dropping the rest of the defense into coverage. Jake Delhome has all the tools to make the necessary passes (to Steve Smith). Carolina can see the light at the end of the NFC tunnel, look for them to press hard, and come up with a victory on Sunday 24-14.

Finally the Indianapolis Colts have the opportunity to win their division and secure home field advantage till the Super Bowl with a win of the Jaguars. The Jags are the only team to hold Indy bellows 15 points all season. Jack Del Rio will have his defense ready to play their typical brand of hard nose football. Jacksonville has had success in the past at being able to play physical coverage on the Colts receivers, knocking the timing off on their routes. They have also had great success at getting pressure up the middle on Peyton Manning and obstructing his passing lanes. The key to this game will be the front four of Jacksonville. If they can continue to hold the line of scrimmage, shut down Edgerirn James, and get pressure on Manning they will have a chance to compete in the game. Without Bryon Leftwich the Jacksonville offense is questionable. David Garrard was able to stage an impressive second half comeback against the Browns last week, but I expect Freeny and company to bring heavy pressure if the Jags are forced into another passing situation like last week. If Jacksonville could not out score the Colts with Leftwich at the helm, I doubt they will come close to being able to do it now with an Indy team that smells the blood of a perfect season. Look for the Indianapolis to roll through this game, and avenge their one previous close game. Indy wins 31-17.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Congress Stay Away From My College Football

Yet again on Wednesday we saw Congress stepping in and holding a formal hearing to investigate what they saw as questionable activity by a sporting entity. This time the target of the government was the BCS. Now if you ask Auburn or Oregon, the BCS may be public enemy number 1, but it still does not constitute the same attention from the government that our economic, and safety crisis require.

Wednesday December 7, 2005 the chairmen’s of the major athletic conferences which participate in the BCS were summoned to Washington D.C. to discuss the fairness of the BCS before the House Energy and Commerce sub committee.

This marks the third time this year that Congress has convened to talk sports matters. It all began on March 17 with the MLB steroid hearings, which progressed into a several round event, culminating with MLB establishing a strict drug policy. Congress went on to investigate all major sports and their drug testing polices, and now they have moved on to amateur athletics beginning with college football.

Steroids are a serious issue in this country. Anyone who has ever played sports starting at the high school level has dealt with the question of using some sort of an enhancement drug rather it is legal or illegal. Combine this trend, with the ever increasing size of baseball players in the late 1990’s and something needed to be done. Baseballs previous steroid policy was none existence, and the commissioner was unwilling to confront the players union, Then I applaud the Congress for stepping in, and putting a stop to the use of illegal drugs in professional baseball, if not for setting a role model standard, but because steroids are illegal in this country.

On that same note, I applaud Paul Tagliabue for standing up and defending the league that he was worked so hard to bring to its current status. Tagliabue and the NFL have had a stringent testing policy with severe consequences in effect for years, and he did the right thing by defending his policy and his players.

Steroids are illegal and need to be regulated, and if the leagues are unwilling, then yes, a higher force should be able to step in and help them along the way.

The BCS is a lot of things but illegal is not one of those things. Congress has no business stepping in, as any sort of actor and even questioning the BCS, and how it functions. While the results of the BCS do not always make sense, it is near impossible to find any evidence of corruption or rigging of the way it is set up.

The hearing basically came down to Congressional leaders complaining about the BCS, and trying to get a straight answer on why it was not possible to establish a playoff system in Div. 1A football.

While all these are valid questions, it is nothing more than I do every week as I am watching football with my friends at the bar. Does this mean I possess the talents to be a Congressman? Possibly but that is another story. If the House wants to gather and air its grievances about the BCS let the members do it on their own time. Talk about it after work, at the gym, or do what I do and write a blog. However, do not waste my taxpayer dollars so that they can talk sports while they are on the job. If the Congress is worried about it being corrupt, I can guarantee it will become corrupt if the Congress is able to wield its influence on it.

Let the BCS work itself out, after a few more 3way ties it will not exist anyways. In the meantime while we all wait for that glorious day when a playoff system is instituted, let the House do like the rest of America and sit back and enjoy the Rose Bowl.

Monday, December 05, 2005


Sunday gave us some exceptional games to watch, and began the slow process of shedding some light onto the upcoming playoff scene. What have we learned from the weekend? The Chiefs still have some fight in them, Carolina may be the best team in the NFC, the Cowboys are in need of help, the Bengals may just be for real, and oh yeah the Colts are real good.

Sunday was do or die, for the Kansas City Chiefs, as they took on the Denver Broncos. The Chiefs came into Sunday’s game undefeated at home in the month of December since 2001. They left the game with that record still intact. These two teams went back in forth in one of the best games played this year. Both teams showed off their potent rushing attack as Denver used its stable of backs to rack up 131 yards. Jake Plummer added another 257 yards passing and a TD. Yet this was not enough to slow down a revitalized Kansas City passing attack accompanied by a 140 yards on the ground from Larry Johnson. Denver kept it close, but in the end Kansas City had too much to play for, as they continue to fight in order to keep pace with the Chargers, and gain a game on Denver. Kansas City has a tough schedule ahead of them including games at Dallas, and New York. Coach Vermeil might not have been far off by saying Kansas City need to finish 11-5 to make the playoffs. The AFC is stacked with talent, and Kansas City cannot afford to lose a game especially to a division foe. Their tickets to the playoffs are not stamped yet, but Sunday’s victory is a big step in the right direction.

A few weeks ago, I thought that the Carolina Panthers were the best team in the NFC, and then they met the Chicago Bears. One lost, a close victory in Buffalo, and a decisive win over the Falcons and the Panthers have reclaimed their thrown as NFC elite. Caroline looked sharp from the moment they took the field Sunday. DeSaun Foster made his reemergence onto the NFL scene rushing for 141 yards, 1 TD, and catching another TD pass. Steve Smith was proficient catching 7 balls and a TD. The Panthers looked like the dominant team that went to the Super Bowl two years ago. The Falcons never had the opportunity to get going. Warrick Dunn was held under 100 yards, and the Michael Vick experience was less that spectacular. This game showed once again that Atlanta is not ready to become a league powerhouse till Vick gets a few more receivers around him, and learns how to use them. Carolina found its ticket for success by getting back to a strong running game, and allowing Steve Smith more room to roam in defenses secondary, and let us not forget what a strong defense can do when you put pressure on the quarterback..

The New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys played a slow and sloppy game that ended with the Giants coming out victorious. Yet it was not the Giants exceptional play that came though, but the lack of a Dallas offensive line that stood out. Dallas was unable to establish any rush attack, and as a result Strahan and company were able to pin their ears back and attack the statue that is Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe was rarely able to take the time to scan the field and make an accurate throw. When he was given time, he was able to complete passes, and work efficiently. The Giants offense was all but shut down by the Cowboys defense. Eli Manning was never able to establish a rhythm as he was picked off two times. From watching the game it was very obvious that the Cowboys were missing offensive tackle Flozel Adams who tore an ACL during the first Giants game six weeks ago. Unless the Cowboys can find a new tackle soon, they will continue to struggle through the rest of the season. Their schedule is brutal through the month of December. If the O-line does not get their act together, the Cowboys will find themselves looking at the playoff picture from the outside.

Back to the AFC and let me congratulate the Bengals on taking the first step to becoming a big time player in the NFL. The Bengals went into Pittsburgh and was able to knock off a Steelers team that had dominated them in an earlier game in the season. Cincinnati came out looking sharp, establishing their rush offense, and Carson Palmer continued his progression into one of the leagues top QB’s. Despite an obvious lack of the presence of Chad Johnson, Palmer was able to find Housmandzadeh for two TD’s. The Bengals are beginning to look like a contender from the AFC, but if you’re from Who-Dey nation I would not book a ticket to Detroit just yet or even a trip to Indianapolis just yet. Cincinnati has a high power offense that can compete with the best in the league. It is not the best in the league yet though, that was shown in their lost to the Colts. Marvin Lewis is doing a great job in turning a league joke into a contender. The Bengals are on the verge of becoming a great team, but let us not get ahead of ourselves yet. Yesterdays win, came against a struggling Steelers team that has a QB who is held together with duct tap. Despite this Big Ben was able to bring the Steelers within seven points of the Bengals. All of this offense from a team that is not known for an explosive offense. The Bengals must sure up their defense if they want to make that step into the upper echelon of the league. Currently the Bengals look more like the Colts of the past than the current NFL leaders. Cincinnati is good enough to make the playoffs maybe even earn the buy. However, Denver, San Diego, and Kansas City and Indianapolis all posses’ offense that can out gun the Bengals in a shout out. Cincinnati is on the verge, but not ready to climb that mountain yet. Who-Dey nation needs another off season and a bigger dose of the old Marvin Lewis before they can make that journey.

Finally, I just have to say it damn the Colts look good. Every week, they come out fired up and ready to play against whatever steps out on the field against them. They are definitely the best in the league, and have all the tools to run the table. All I can do is ask and beg Tony Dungy and company to let the starters play ball, go for the record, it will be worth it for the team, the fans and the game of football.

Bowling Season

After watching the conference championships on Saturday, the answers to several of college football's mysteries were answered. USC and Texas are the two best teams in the nation no questions about that. Bobby Bowden still has Frank Beamers number, and showed that FSU will remain among the ACC’s elite.

The Big 12 championship was held in Houston Texas, and featured a surging Texas Longhorns, and a bumbling Colorado squad. This game appeared to be a mismatch on paper, and that proved to be more than true on the field. Vince Young rebounded from a rough outing against Texas A&M with an outstanding performance against Colorado, compiling stats of 14/17 for 193 yards 3 TD’s and 8 carries for 57 yards. Texas took hold of this game from the opening whistle and by the start of the fourth quarter Vince Young and company was resting on the bench, and game planning for USC. After watching that game it is impossible to question Texas as a contender. There is no way they are under qualified to play for the National Championship.

USC also proved their dominance by destroying the UCLA Bruins. In was advertised as being a marquee match up of the season, with the undefeated Trojans facing the 9-1 Bruins. USC came out ready to play in this game, and came away with a 66-19 victory over UCLA. Matt Lienhart did not play to his normal potential, but that was not a problem for a team that posses the talent of Mr. Reggie Bush. UCLA never had a chance to establish any of their offense. USC did everything possible to keep UCLA’s Jones-Drew from getting into the game, including squib kicking to keep him from returning any kicks. USC answered any question about having a leaky secondary, as they played strong all day. USC maintained their 34 game win streak and are poised to make the short trip up the road to Pasadena.

With those two victories, the BCS managed to get it right for one year, and number 1 USC will battle 2nd ranked Texas in the game that all college football fans want to see. The Rose Bowl this year promises to be a barn burner. Texas might be an underdog according to the odds makers, and in the eyes of most of the general public. But Texas believes they can contend against any team in the country. After watching them on Saturday, I would not count them out of any game. Texas is for real, and with Vince Young at the helm they have the potential to beat any team, including the mighty Men of Troy.

The upset of the college football weekend came out of Jacksonville Florida where, Bobby Bowden reminded us all that his FSU squad is still the standard for the ACC. Coming off his first three game losing streak in over twenty years, FSU was a two touchdown dog, and was given no chance against a very stout Va. Tech team that had destroyed its last two opponents. None of those pre-game statistics mattered to FSU, as they came out and looked like an FSU team of old. The speed and the strength of the defense were scary, as they bottled up Marcus Vick from scrambling, and blanketed the Va. Tech receivers, frustrating them throughout the night. FSU also stopped the Hokies rushing attack which averaged over 200 yards per game over the past month. Virginia Techs, Frank Beamer has had trouble defeating Bobby Bowden, as he now drops to 0-11 lifetime against the ‘Noles. It may seem unfair that Va. Tech had been in the top ten all year, and now will spend the Holiday season preparing to return to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl rather than a BCS game. While the 4 lost Seminoles will be spending New Years in the Orange Bow, but those are the repercussions of having a conference championship. Consequences that I am willing to accept, if it means we will have a true ACC Champion every year. I tip my hat to Bobby, and Jeff Bowden who bounced back from what was thought to be a lost year, and immense criticism, and got their players ready for what was a heck of a ball game. Go forth and represent the ACC with the pride and respect I know the Seminoles are capable of.

So with Georgia’s win over LSU, the BCS and the rest of the bowl schedule is set for this years bowl season, and there are some great games to look forward to.

The BCS games are as follows: Sugar Bowl (in Atlanta): Georgia v. West Virginia, Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State v. Notre Dame, Orange Bowl: FSU v. Penn State, and the Rose Bowl for the National Championship: USC v. Texas.

I will hold off on making my predictions on these games till a later date, but I will note some points of interest. West Virginia has a chance to prove the Big East is still a power conference despite the lost of Miami and Va. Tech. The Fiesta Bowl may be the best bowl game of all as two tradition rich teams with great coaches face off in OSU and Notre Dame. The elder statesmen of college football Bobby Bowden, and Joe Paterno square off in what will be a meeting of legends. Finally the Rose Bowl speaks for itself and should prove to be an exciting game to watch.

Some other notable bowl games to watch this season include: Peach Bowl with LSU and Miami facing off, The Cotton bowl showcases a potent Texas Tech offense, against Alabama’s hard nose defense, The Capital One Bowl, Wisconsin v. Auburn, Gator Bowl, Va. Tech v, Louisville, and lastly the Music City Bowl, Virginia v. Minnesota.

This years bowl season should prove to be exciting, and I look forward to seeing how it unfolds as it leads up to the BCS Championship.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Key Division Match Ups

Looking ahead to this weekend, it becomes clearly apparent, that the fate of eight NFL teams may be decided depending on their play. Sunday’s games will showcase four games between division number 1&2. In the NFC East, Dallas v. NY Giants, NFC South, Atlanta v. Carolina. In the AFC key games include AFC west 1&2 Denver v. Kansas City, and AFC North rivals Pittsburgh v. Cincinnati. The winners of these games are on the fast track to a division title, the loser will have an uphill battle just to make the playoffs.

The Giants and the Cowboys come into Sunday’s game tied atop the NFC East. Both teams are coming off tough losses last week that could have been avoided with better kicking games. The last time these two teams met, the Cowboys stole a victory from the Giants in what turned out to be a very ugly game. The key to this game will be the Giants defensive line. If that front four can continue to get pressure up field on Bledsoe, it will destroy the Dallas offense. Bledsoe is a statue in the pocket, and is incapable of avoiding the rush. All too often he will throw a bad pass to be picked off. The Giants pass rush will probably cause Dallas to leave TE Jason Whitten in on pass protection, thus taking away one of their best receiving threats. If Dallas wants to win this game, they must establish the run early, and often. A healthy dose of Julius Jones and company will be the only way for Dallas to slow down the Giants attack. Another aspect to be aware of is Eli Manning, who is becoming a late game specialist. If the games goes down to the last three minutes, and Eli has the opportunity to make something happen, it becomes hard to vote against seeing what he has already done this season. This game will take us back to the old days in the NFC East, I like the Giants because of their defense in a 27-17 win.

The other key match up in the NFC South features Carolina and Atlanta. Both of these teams are fighting for the top spot in their division, and ward off a pesky Tampa Bay Bucs team. Atlanta was picked by many as a sheik Super Bowl contender. So far this season, they have rarely looked like that in my eyes. Last weeks win over the Lions was anything but impressive. As usually the Falcons will go as Vick allows them to go. He is without a doubt the most electrifying player in the league, and can change a game on his own. The Carolina Panthers looked like the best team in the NFC till a lost two weeks ago to the Bears, and an unconvincing win over the Bills last week. The Panthers are a physical team that will run the ball hard and play a stout defense. Also do not forget Steve Smith as a great deep threat. Mike Vick and the Falcons are 5-0 against Carolina, but that streak will come to an end this year. Atlanta does not have enough weapons to contend with Carolina. The Carolina D, can contain Warrick Dunn and Mike Vick is trying too hard to appease to critics, and will stay in the pocket too much, where he ineffective. Steve Smith will break loose over DeAngelo Hall for a TD. The Panthers will win this game 31-21.

Changing conferences, let’s take a look at the Denver v. Kansas City game. Kansas City may have the most at stake out of any team this weekend. A lost on Sunday puts them behind San Diego in the fight for second in their own division. The Chiefs have once again proven to be one of the most erratic teams in the league, looking like Super Bowl contenders one week, and division basement dwellers the next. Their defense is much improved over what is in years past (picked off Tom Brady 4 times last week). The Broncos come in off a big Thanksgiving Day win over the Cowboys, and every week they look stronger. Denver will roll into Kansas City on Sunday showing off their three pronged running attack, and a conservative Jake Plummer. This has been the recipe for success all year, and it should prove to on Sunday. Kansas City is tough to play at home, but the conditions will not bother a team that is used to playing a mile above sea level. It is too difficult to tell what Kansas City team will show up on Sunday, but the Denver team is always consistent, look for Denver to win 38-17.

The most difficult of all games to predict this weekend is without a doubt the battle in the AFC North between the Bengals and the Steelers. The Steelers are trying to keep pace with a surging Cincinnati team. The Bengals are ready to jump that last hurdle and join the leagues elite. To this point in the season, the Bengals have fallen short in their previous two tests, with loses to Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, both on their home turf. Despite those set backs the Bengals have looked amazing all season. Carson Palmer has developed into one of the leagues best quarterbacks. Chad Johnson has proven to be the most entertaining personality in sports, reminding us that it’s ok to have some good hearted jabbing at teammates and opponents to keep the game interesting. Cincinnati has steamrolled many of the opponents this season doing exactly what good teams do, and that is dismantling the weaker teams on their schedule. Pittsburgh always seems to be among the leagues elite. Their philosophy has been the same for as long as I can remember, and you know exactly what you’re going to get with the Steelers. This season has been a series of ups and downs as the Steelers have had to battle injuries at key positions including to Big Ben. Roethlisberger has returned to the lineup but is still not healthy as reports now say he is nursing a possibly broken thumb. Look for Coach Cowher to put the clamps on the Steelers passing game. If the Steelers want to win this game they must go back to winning the line of scrimmage. Cincinnati has a weakness against the run up the middle. Their DB’s will eat you alive if a QB tries to get into a contest with them. This means Pittsburgh must use all three of their backs, and get much better results than we saw on Monday night. Cincinnati looks like the favorite going into this game, but it will be anything but a cakewalk for them. Pittsburgh is wounded, after last week, and will be on their last playoff legs if they lose on Sunday. Look for them to come out ready to defend their home field with a heavy dose of what has made them great. The crowd will be rowdy especially after Chad Johnson has mocked the terrible towel all week. I think the Steelers get their act back together, and end the day tied atop the AFC North with the Bengals. Sorry Cincinnati, Steelers win this one 24-17.

Those are my key games, and picks for the week. Now sit back enjoy the games, and remember, its only football.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Coaches beware, GM's are on the Hunt

It’s week 12, and the coaching carousel has already begun in the NFL. The official hunting season for bad coaches has begun and will be open through the summer. Coaches chose your actions over the course of the next few weeks very carefully, or it makes be the last coaching decision you make.

Coach hunting season opened this week, and the first victim was Lions coach Steve Mariucci. Coach Mariucci posted a 15-28 record during his time as Lions head coach. Without a question a sub-par effort for a man who was thought to be such a coaching guru, that GM Matt Millian was willing to circumvent NFL hiring polices just to bring him now. Now there is a lot of debate of what is really wrong with the Lions organization. Trust me, there is a lot more wrong with that team than a coaching change can fix. Tom Landry himself could not save that team get them to .500 in a season. Nonetheless, Mariucci was named scapegoat to the Lions problems and was the first collar of the 2005/06 coaches hunt, but a I guarantee he wont be the last.

Let us look over a list of other coaches who lining up in the sites of their GM’s aim.

Mike Tice, might be the luckiest, or the most endangered on the of all the coaches in the league. Three weeks ago it was not a question what would be Tice’s fate at the end of the season, but a recent resurgence and a 3 game win streak may keep him off the endangered list. While, Mike Tice has bought himself sometime, he cannot rest yet. The Vikings new owner is still displeased with the recent reputation his team has earned, and it is going to take more than a 3 game win streak to protect Tice from his wrath. If Mike Tice wants assured employment as the Vikings head coach next year, he will need a 9 win season, and probably a win in the playoffs. Tice has somehow managed to stay out of the radar of the firing gun. Ziggy will not be as lenient on him. Tice’s performance as a coach has been less than average, and he should have been gone a while ago; So Coach Tice beware where you step in the upcoming weeks, because they may be your last on the Vikings sidelines.

The Houston Texans Don Capers is an obvious target in the coach hunt. Capers has been the only coach the Texans have known in their four history, a history that is very bleak outside of a debut win against the Cowboys. In the previous three years Capers has compiled 13 wins. The development of number one draft pick David Carr has been about as successful as the building of Joey Harrington. Carr has been the most sacked quarterback in the league on more than one occasion in his career. It is a wonder that Carr is still able to walk with the abuse he has taken over his short career. Capers had a grace period at the beginning of his reign as Texans head coach since it was an expansion team. Yet, after four years, the Texans have not reach .500, and they have been at the bottom of a division that is one of the best in football. There is no question that it is time to pass the reigns on to someone else down in Houston.

Perhaps, the most intriguing situation seen in sports in a while is what is occurring in St. Louis right now. Coach Mike Martz went down early in the season with a serious heart problem. Martz was hospitalized briefly due to his condition. During this time assistant coach Joe Vitt was named interim coach. The first week, that Martz was out, he attempted to call in a play for the Rams to run, but his call was intercepted and he was denied access to what had been his team just a few days earlier. Martz is still being denied access to his team, as he rest and continues his recovery. Just this week, Martz made a statement say, he felt he could come back for the last few games of the season. This once again threw the Rams organization into arms, as they are not sure how to handle the situation. It is very obvious, that the Rams are ready to move beyond their Mike Martz years. The way they are going about doing it, is strange to say the least due to the circumstances, but when it is all said and done Martz leaving the Rams in a good call for the team. Mike Martz is a great offensive coordinator, and he knows how to groom a QB. However, giving him full control of a program is not always the smartest idea. Martz took the Rams to one Super Bowl in his time as head coach, and he lost that. Martz often had problems relating and dealing with his players, and he actually had Tackle Kyle Turely try to attack him last season. I wish Coach Martz the speediest of recoveries, but I do not expect to see him as a head coach next season, he will be where he belongs running and offense, and deferring the big decisions to a true head coach.

By the time February rolls around there may be as many as seven coaching vacancies, the ones listed above are just the most prevalent ones in my eyes. Let me also name off a few other coaches who should be watched because they may soon be the target of the hunt.

Saints coach Jim Haslet, often resembles Minnesota’s Mike Tice as an underachieving coach, who cannot control his team, or properly use his talent. Normally, I would be certain that Coach Haslet was on his last legs; however, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Haslet may have bought himself one more season of survival.

Coaches on the hot seat include: Norv Turner, Brian Billick, and Mike Mularkey. These men should be very careful of how they finish their season, and do not be surprised if one them are living in new area codes come next season.

The firing of Steve Mariucci was only the beginning of the hunting season for failing head coaches. When this season is finished, there will be several NFL coaches looking for employment in new places. There is only one way to escape the hunt, and that is to win. However, sometimes that is not even enough, and there is nothing to be done.