Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Shaq v. Kobe Over

Shaq v. Kobe OverOn the same day we celebrated Dr Martin Luther King Day, a National Holiday where we come together, and remember a man who stood for peace, equality and love; we saw what may have been the end to the biggest soap-opera/feud in sports. Shaq v. Kobe is over (hopefully!!!) after last nights 100-92 Lakers win over the Heat and the hug heard round the sports world. It seems the quiet jedi like NBA legend Bill Russell may have had a major hand in creating the handshake that buried the hatchet. Russell who is no stranger to NBA success (9 rings) or NBA rivalries he may have been in the first great NBA rivalry with Wilt the Stilt. Russell and Shaq spoke over the past month, and when Russell was asked if he ever hated someone he played against, Russell’s answer was no, and that the feud between the young superstars needed to be put to rest. Heeding to the advice of the old wise one, Shaq ventured across the half court line during pre-game warm ups, and exchanged words of the positive nature with Kobe Bryant; there was even a hug between the two.The Shaq and Kobe saga has been brewing for the past three seasons when Shaq was “ran out of town” by Kobe’s selfishness for the ball. Since Shaq’s departure the Lakers have struggled, lost a coach, and then regained that coach, and now appear to have righted the ship. The Heat have suffered a very similar fate as the Lakers, with a playoff disappointment last season, and then experiencing a coaching change this season. During this time the biggest story has not been either team’s success or failure but rather the frosty relationship of the two stars. The “divorce” of Shaq and Kobe may have been more publicized than Jennifer and Brad.Yet, Brad and Jennifer were married and there was infidelity and all that good Hollywood gossip, and now we never forced the two of them to interact on a regular basis. Shaq and Kobe were never married, there was no infidelity. There was nothing more than a few words exchanged here and there. The rest of this feud was created by The World Wide Leader, and other sports talk outlets. Shaq did not help the situation either.After the breakup it was Shaq who went out of his way to ignore Kobe at pre-game meetings, and conveniently forgot Kobe’s name during post game interviews. We often credit Shaq with being a big kid, and laugh at how silly it is, yet in this circumstance his childlike behavior only caused the worse sports story in years. It took the voice of reason to step in and put an end to this.Thank you Bill Russell, you saved us all from endless hour’s clips of two men walking by each other and talking heads analyzing what it meant and if it was a full handshake, or simply a slap on the hand. Who cares!! Maybe now we can just watch the game for the game. And people wonder why so many fans prefer college hoops to the pros.

Parham Moves On

Parham Moves
OnEarlier this week standout linebacker Kai Parham announced he would forgo his senior season at the University of Virginia to enter April’s NFL draft. Parham will be joining fellow Virginia teammate D’Brickshaw Ferguson in the upcoming season.Kai Parham earned all ACC-honors this past season as a star linebacker, and leader of the Cavs 3-4 defensive. Parham led the team in tackles with 103 14 ½ for loss, and he led the team in sacks with 8 1/2. Due to the injuries to Jr. linebacker Ahmad Brooks, Parham was called on by the Virginia Staff to be the anchor of a defense that is known for its strength at linebacker. Kai Parham was a three year starter for Virginia, and he showed improvement with each of his seasons of play. The 2005 season was a breakout season for Parham during which he had 23 more tackles than any of his previous seasons. Part of this increase in performance was due to the lost of All-ACC star Ahmad Brooks, but a lot of his performance can be attributed to his increased athletic ability. Kai’s stock may never be higher than it is right now, especially since he will be splitting time with fellow inside linebacker Brooks next season.Kai Parham has great size to be a NFL linebacker. He stands 6’2 and is listed at 253 pounds. He has a powerful frame, and showed his strength while playing as an inside linebacker. Parham was able to take on and shake the blocks of the down-linemen. Parham also showed great speed, and agility, with his footwork allowing him to cover sideline to sideline. Virginia had great success using Kai as a defensive end in passing situations. Coach Grogh even used him as a lead blocker on certain run plays on offense. Kai Parham has the skills to be used much in the same way the Baltimore Ravens use Terrill Suggs as a stand up linebacker, and a speed rush end. Look for him to go late on the first day, or in the early rounds of the second day. The University of Virginia will miss having Parham on the field. He was a feared presence while playing. During the Music City Bowl he was able to guide the Hoo’s during their comeback against Minnesota. As a fan we will be robbed of seeing Parham and a healthy Brooks lineup side by side. The two would have made a formidable pair terrorizing ACC backfields next season. However, it was time for Kai Parham to move on. Hopefully he will go the path of other Virginia linebackers who went on to have successful NFL careers.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

And the Job Goes to McCarthy?

And The Job Goes To Mike McCarthy?The Green Bay Packers have taken another step, in finding their new head coach. It is reported they have formally offered San Francisco 49’ers offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy the position of head coach of the Packers. This may turn out to be the biggest surprise hiring of the off season, as two weeks ago McCarthy was not even mentioned in a long list of potential coaches for any available openings. McCarthy has previously served as a quarterbacks coach for the Packers in 1999; it was during that period that he struck up a good friendship with Packers QB Brett Farve. The two men had a positive relationship, and it is probably the history of their positive relationship that helped Packers GM Ted Thompson in making the decision to offer McCarthy a head coaching job. Earlier in the week, Farve’s agent reported that his client would be more inclined to return to the organization if they hired former Lions coach Steve Mariucci. While the hiring of McCarthy is not exactly the same as Mariucci, the two men share many similarities most importantly a positive relationship with Brett Farve.Now that we know the new coach should be Mike McCarthy, and we think we know why the Packers the chose McCarthy;there are still two questions that need to be addressed; who is Mike McCarthy? And why did the Green Bay Packers hire him?Mike McCarthy broke into the NFL Coaching ranks in 1993 with the Kansas City Chiefs. He worked there for six seasons where he was an offensive assistant, and a quarterbacks coach. During his stint with the Chiefs McCarthy also had the opportunity to work with one of the all time greats Joe Montana, while it is still not sure who was teaching whom during that time. In 1999 McCarthy went to Green Bay, where he first hooked up with Brett Farve and company. His first tour in Green Bay was brief (maybe a fore shadowing of what is to come?) McCarthy then headed south for New Orleans where he became a member of Jim Haslet's staff and worked as an offensive coordinator and helped the Saints to their only playoff victory in franchise history. Mike McCarthy also has coaching stops in the colligate ranks at Fort Hayes State, and Pitt. During his time as an assistant Mike McCarthy had the opportunity to work with many different QB’s with varying levels of success. Perhaps his biggest success story is the one of Saints QB Aaron Brooks, who had his best career numbers under the tutelage of McCarthy. Other than that, the list of QB McCarthy is not as impressive. While there are some big name players on it, most of them either did not hit their prime till after they left a McCarthy coached staff, or they were seasoned veterans who did not need his hands on leadership (see Montana). Mike McCarthy has no head coaching experience on the college or the professional level. This hiring is looking like more of a move to placate Packers GM Ted Thompson and to keep Brett Farve around for another season. We all saw the condition of the San Francisco offense last season. Alex Smith was to be McCarthy’s newest QB project, one that if it ended today, would be a 24 million dollar failed experiment. The 49’ers offense was anything but awe inspiring last year. The New Orleans Saints have been an underachieving offense since the 2001 playoff season. All of this cannot be directly pinned on McCarthy’s coaching, but it did happen under his watch.At age 42, Mike McCarthy is still a young coach, with a lot of potential. Just do not look for it to shine through in the upcoming seasons at Green Bay. He will serve as a place keeper for the Packers, holding down the fort till they go through the last phases of the Brett Farve era. McCarthy is a players coach, and has a reputation for being able to make quick friendships with his team. Look for him and Farve to pick up their relationship where they left off at six years ago. Expect Farve to have a major say in the offense, and how it is run and in the play calling, GM Ted Thompson will handle many of the administrative coaching duties from the owner’s box. McCarthy will just be the man holding the headset and the clipboard, as he watches another great QB at the tail end of his career.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Vicks at it Again and Again pt 1 and 2

Part 1
Just because they are related does not mean you will get the same results from them. Just ask Virginia Tech in the wake of their failed Marcus Vick experiment. Marcus Vick has had sever disciplinary run INS since arriving in Blacksburg, and his actions during the Gator Bowl became the proverbial straw.

Marcus came to Blacksburg with the world as his oyster. He was riding the success of his older brother Mike, who made Virginia Tech football a household name around the nation and no just southwest Virginia. Marcus was expected to be so much like his big brother he was even red shirted his first year in school, because Mike was.

Marcus first season on the field was up and down. He played along side Bryan Randall in the pocket, and got spot duty as a receiver, RB, and a return man. There was no doubt that the same electricity that Mike Vick invoked a few seasons earlier was present when Marcus Vick took the field. Off the field however was a different story for Marcus. While Mike Vick was a star on the field he kept his nose clean and laid low off the field. Marques on the other hand enjoyed sampling the nightlife.

It was not long after his second season at Virginia Tech that Vick had his first off the field run in with authorities. Charges included corruption of a minor, and possession and a reckless driving. It was those actions that cost Vick a year long suspension from Virginia Tech. This year was to be his redemption year. On the field Marques took care of business, but again off the field he was unable to keep his nose clean. December 17 2005 he was convicted of driving with a suspended license. Then there was the Gator Bowl which is what brought us to this point.

During the New Years day Gator Bowl, Marcus stomped the leg of Louisville D-End Elvis Dumervil. It was a blatant unsportsmentlike play that was caught on national television and replayed across ESPN for hours. It was this action that finally put Va. Tech president Charles Steger over the edge. In an announcement made earlier today, he dismissed Marcus Vick from the Virginia Tech football team. This had to be a difficult move for a school that has built its sporting reputation on the Vick family name, to now turn and banish that same name from the school. However, it was a necessary move. Va. Tech is a proud school with a proud tradition on and off the field. Marcus Vick, has accumulated a laundry list marks against his name. The Vick name in terms of college was becoming more synonymous with trouble than athletic prow less.

I hope that Marcus Vick is able to go to a D-1AA school and resume his playing career, or sit out a year and play at another 1A school. He is an extremely talented young man, with the potential to be a NFL superstar. However, much like what we saw with Clarrett from OSU, all the talent in the world cannot make up for the lack of social common sense. Marcus get your head on straight, and its time to grow up. Your childish days are gone, and with the wrap sheet you are putting together, it will not be long before it catches up to you, and you won’t be able to hide behind the walls of Va. Tech.

Part 2
Marcus Vick jut cannot seem to get it straight. For the second time in three days Marcus Vick finds himself on the wrong side of a scandal. And this time Virginia Tech is not around to him. Marcus will soon find that that while transgressions on the field only result in a fifteen yard penalty, but transgressions off the field can cost you fifteen to twenty.

Marcus Vick turned himself into Suffolk Police authorities on Monday, after a warrant was issued for his arrest yesterday evening. According to the filed report, Vick was charged with three counts of brandishing a firearm during an argument in a McDonald’s parking lot in Southeast Virginia.

These charges come just a few days after Vick was dismissed from Virginia Tech, and declared himself eligible for the upcoming NFL draft in April. His draft stock was already seemingly low, and these current chargers cannot help to bolster his draft options. At the age of 21 Marcus has already compiled a hefty wrap sheet for himself. In 2004 Vick was suspended from Virginia Tech after being charged with corruption of a minor, and possession. On Dec. 17 Vick was charged with reckless driving and driving with a suspended license, and now he has these current weapons charges to add to his legal sheet. On the field, Vick has had problems getting to team meetings on time, he was suspended for an altercation with a coach, and in this years Gator Bowl he stomped on Louisville D-Ends’ Elvis Dumervil’s leg. Vick claimed to apologize for the incident, but Dumervil said he received no such apology.

It appears as though Virginia Tech wiped their hands of Marcus at the right time. As written in an earlier piece on this site, Marcus Vick is on the fast track to destruction. Over the last year he has seemingly spiraled out of control. Time and time again it seems that he is taking the wrong turn at every opportunity given to him. In the past he had his brother, and Virginia Tech to help protect him. Now his actions have spilled off the field and into his personal life. As he continues to build on this bad boy reputation it will become harder and harder for him to find ways out of these situations. Again, just ask Maurice Clarrett.

The draft is only a few months away, and Marcus Vick needs all the help he can get to improve his image both on and off the field. Marcus Vick needs someone to step him and be a positive influence on him, and help guide him. He is still young and has a chance to get himself back on the right track. He just has to be sure to act sooner than latter, because opportunity waits for no man.

Here's to Coach Smith

Here's to Coach Smith, Let me take a moment to congratulate Bears head coach Lovie Smith, not only did he lead the Bears to a division title but earlier today he earned coach the year honors amidst tight competition. Today Coach Smith you are the head of the class. Coach Smith was brought in from the Rams to resurrect what had become a dormant Bears defense. It did not take long before his 2005 Bears defense was being compared to the vaulted 1985 squad who dominated anyone who stepped on the field. Over the course of the season Chicago has a sense of pride about its football team that has not been present in many years. Even during their 2001 playoff run, the Bears did not posses the swagger they currently have. Smith is a product of the Dungy coaching system, which is quickly gaining depth among its ranks and producing many talented new coaches. Lovie Smith coached under Dungy from 1996-2000 serving as his linebackers coach in Tampa Bay, and mastering the Cover 2 defense that his team now terrorizes the league with. From there he moved to St. Louis where he brought a sense of toughness to what had been an all offense and finesse team. The Bears gave Lovie his first break as a head coach and he has run with the opportunity. Lovie Smith turned the Bears into a force to be reckoned with, as they took the NFC North by storm this season. Once starting QB Rex Grossman went out in the preseason with a broken ankle, most wrote the Bears off to another year of mediocrity. Lovie did not allow his team to fall intoobscurity; instead he rode the arm of rookie QB Kyle Orton to a second place finish in the NFC. The success of the Bears can be directly relatedback to their defense. Lovie Smith is a student of the Cover 2 scheme, and he has adapted that scheme to fit his personnel. Under his tutelage Brian Urlacher was named defensive player of the year and had a rebirth in his career. Smith’s defense gave Urlacher the ability to roam free from sideline to sideline and use his athletic ability to make plays. Lovie Smith has brought renewed sense of pride to Chicago, and the Bears are hungry to begin their playoff run. The job he has done in turning that team around was not easy. Winning coach of the year may have been even more difficult. Smith had to beat out Tony Dungy, who tookIndianapolis to a near perfect season, and Marvin Lewis who pulled whatmay have been the greatest turnaround job in the history of the NFL. Why did Smith win it over these other distinguished coaches? Lovie Smithhad the most success with the least amount of talent. Indianapolis hasbeen a Super Bowl contender for the past few years. The Bengals are a stacked team on offense with explosive firepower. With the Bears there is no name that jumps off the page at you. Yet, they have been a team that continues to find a way to win, much like there coach. Congrats Coach Smith on your award and good luck as you prepare to enter the playoffs.

Wild Card Fun

Wild Card Fun The number of Playoff teams just shrunk this past weekend. Washington, Carolina, Pittsburgh, and New England all survived the Wild Card test, and will be taking their games on the road to play in the Divisional round next weekend. While there were not many surprising results emerging from the Wild Card round, some very talented teams have emerged from it, each of them with a legitimate chance to advance through the Divisional Round. The Washington Redskins went down to Tampa Bay, and played in a grind it out slug fest that resulted in a Skins victory. This was a game that was dominated by both teams’ defenses. Looking at the stats on paper it is hard to believe that Washington was the winning team in this affair, only totaling 121 yards of offense. Both of the Skins touchdowns were set up by turnovers, one being a fumble returned by Sean Taylor, the other set up a short Clinton Portis TD run. After jumping out to a 14-3 lead in the first half, the Skins spent more time playing keep away than attacking the Bucs. This has become the M.O. of the Washington Redskins, get a lead then sit on it and protect it. Tampa Bay made a strong fourth quarter surge to tie the game, but a dropped pass in the endzone kept the Bucs from completing the game tying touchdown pass. Washington would go on to win the game 17-10, and continued their six game win streak. The Skins are carrying more momentum than any team in the playoffs right now. Next week they will be traveling across the country to take on the Seattle Seahawks. Washington was the last team to beat Seattle in a meaningful game. With the ferocity of the Skins defense they have the ability to stay in the game with any team in the league, look for them to make some noise out on the left cost next week.The Carolina Panthers took their show on the road to the Meadowlands, and were definitely not disappointed with the results. The Panthers pitched a shutout against the Giants racking up a 23-0 win. To anyone who watched the game, it became apparent that Carolina was returning to Super Bowl form; while the New York, were a team with a lot of players that were just adjusting to the playoffs. Carolina used a punishing rushing attack to pound a wounded Giants defense. DeSaun Foster ran for 151 yards, and Nick Goings tacked on another 61 yards, even Steve Smith added in a touchdown on the ground to accompany his receiving TD. The Panthers defense smothered the Giants offense, and exposed the inexperience of QB Eli Manning. Manning never had the opportunity to settle into the pocket, and look down field to make plays. When he did get time, his passes often came out sailing high, and were turned into interceptions for an eager Panthers defense. Eli was forced into throwing three picks on Sunday and only posted 113 yards, at one point he had a QB rating of 28. The Giants other weapon on offense Tiki Barber never had a chance to make his mark on the game, he was held to 41 yards rushing. The Panthers are catching their stride at the right time of the year. Next week they will travel to Chicago where they will look to extractsome revenge for an early season lost to the Bears. In another blowout game, the New England Patriots defended home field against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Saturday’s game marked the return of Bryon Leftwich to the Jacksonville lineup, and that was the only highlight from the Jacksonville offense on the day. Bill Belicheck proved once again that he can create a defensive scheme to stop any offense. Bryon Leftwich had not played in an NFL game since breaking his ankle in November. Returning to play your first game in a month in a nighttime playoff game in New England is like being thrown to the lions den. Maybe it was the layoff and the bum ankle, but it probably was the Pat’s defense that had Leftwich looking inept. Leftwich never had the opportunity to get into a rhythm in the pocket. When Jacksonville finally established some rhythm, inexperience forced them into making poor choices and making simple mistakes. Missed routes, dropped passes, and fumbles coast the Jags any opportunity they had of making a comeback. Tom Brady and company were able to cruise to an easy 28-3 win. Now the Pats will take their Super Bowl show on the road, with the first stop being Denver. On Saturday the Patriots looked as if they could return to Super Bowl promise, but they have a long road to travel to get to Detroit and it will much more difficult than the ones previously traveled.What may have been the most anticipated game of the weekend, turned out to be the biggest disappointment. The Bengals and the Steelers met for the third time this season, but this time it was a winner take all format. The Steelers came into the game riding a four game win streak, and a 3.5 point favorite despite being on the road in a hostile Cincinnati environment. The atmosphere was electric in Paul Brown Stadium as the Bengals hosted their first playoff game in fifteen years, but the mood changed with the Bengals second snap of the game, as franchise QB Carson Palmer went down with what was determined to be a torn ACL. This meant backup John Kitna was in charge of protecting the Bengals slim lead and withstanding the punishing Steelers pass rush. Kitna came in and played a good game for the Bengals. Admittedly he is not a Carson Palmer style QB, but he is a good QB. However, the intensity of the Steel Curtain was too much for him. Kitna has taken most of the blame for the lost on Sunday, but all the blame cannot be Pittsburgh pinned back their ears, and applied pressure to Kitna each time he dropped back to pass. With a new QB in the Bengals were unable to run their audibles and the play calling was crippled as Kitna only had access to a small portion of the playbook. The Bengals defense continued to look abysmal against the run, and against the pass. Jerome Bettis looked like a man rejuvenated as he attacked a Cincinnati defense that wanted no part of the human battering ram. Ben Roethlisberger was able to slice through the Cincinnati secondary with ease going 14-19 for 208 yards and 3 TD’s. The Steelers were able to have their way on offense and once they took the lead in the third quarter, it was just a matter of procedure as the Bengals had no answer for Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh must now prepare to travel to Indy and take on a Colts team that smacked them in the mouth earlier this season. For Cincinnati it was a great season that definitely ended on a low note. Hopefully Palmer’s surgery will be successful and he can return at 100% early next year. Till then, they better work on grooming a second string QB, and finding some more defensive players.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Morrison Reigns King

Once again last night the best player in college basketball put on an incredible performance, and most of America missed the game because they were sleeping, and had to get up at a reasonable hour for work. Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison has gone out night after night this season scored close to thirty points, and carried Gonzaga to a 12-3 record in what was a brutal non-conference schedule. Yet, most people still have could not pick Morrison out of a crowd despite his 70’s movie star appearance.

Last night, in a conference match-up, Adam Morrison placed Gonzaga on his back once again and used a 34 point effort to lift Gonzaga to an 81-68 victory over in conference rival Santa Clara. Last nights game marked the fifth time this season that Morrison passed the 30 point mark during a game. The finial score does not reflect how close the game really was. During the first half Morrison was the only option on offense for Gonzaga as they struggled to find points from their other starters. Morrison had the hot hand throughout the night going 12-20 from the field and adding in 6 rebounds, and 5 assist. Morrison can also add coach to his growing resume, as it was his suggestion to the coaching staff to run set plays for center J.P. Batista who had been held scoreless. Batista went on to record a double-double in the second half.

Adam Morrison has maintained his assault on opposing teams all season, and with the exception of a preseason tournament, and two Saturday games, no one on the East Coast has seen this man play. They are all too busy awaiting the next three point attempt from Duke’s J.J. Redick. Growing up in ACC country, and coming through high school in the same area and just a year ahead of J.J. Redick, I am fully aware of what he can do on the court. He is one of the best pure shooters I have ever seen, and we at Walker-Sports do not want to take that away from him. However, we do want to shed some light for all these East Coast lovers on the fact that college basketball does extend beyond the ACC and the Big East; there are actually some talented players out there if you just look.

Many people do not realize that it was Arizona’s Salim Stoudamire and not J.J. Redick who led the nation in 3-point percentage last season, but we miss that here on the East Coast because even though Arizona is a powerhouse program, it plays in the wrong time zone. This year Adam Morrison is leading the nation in scoring averaging 28 points a game. Redick is only averaging 25 points a game. Yet if you turn on Sports Center; Redick and company are the lead story. Yes Duke is undefeated and the number one ranked team in the nation, but that does not mean we can ignore the rest of the nation simply because we choose not to stay up a few extra hours at night.

Over the past seven seasons Gonzaga made its reputation being the Cinderella team that catches a few squads off guard in the tournament. Currently Gonzaga is ranked 7th in the nation, there is no way they can catch any team by surprise. There is no question that Gonzaga is led by Adam Morrison, the team has turned to him anytime they have needed a lift this season and he has almost without fail been able to provide the lift for them. It is obvious that Gonzaga is a good squad, probably the most talented team they have put together over their recent run. So the question remains, when will the old guys on the East Coast stay out of bed for a few extra hours; watch a game in real time and give this team and Morrison the respect they deserve. I stayed up till 2 A.M Eastern Standard Time last night just so I could watch Adam Morrison play. I have to admit it was worth it. He is a talented kid, who I hope will not be overshadowed because no one wants to stay up past 10.

Friday, January 06, 2006

We're Talking About Playoffs

After weeks of struggle and strife, the playoffs have arrived and its time for NFL teams to win or go home. Who is in? Who has what it takes to go deep and make a solid playoff run? And who is just buying one more week of earning a paycheck before they pack it up to go home for the winter. Let’s take a look at the break down.

There will be four wildcard games to kick the 2006 playoffs offs. Are there any of these teams that can run the table and make the conference finials? As my friends to the north would say “ya sure you betcha”

Saturday starts off with the Washington Redskins traveling down to Tampa Bay to face off with the Buccaneers. These two teams met earlier in the season in a high scoring affair that ended with a controversial two-point conversion put into the endzone by Mike Alstott. The Bucs stole a win, and Skins fans have not forgotten it yet. I guarantee the Skins organization has not forgotten that game either. Washington may be the hottest team entering the playoffs, riding a five game win streak. The Skins had to fight their way into the playoffs, and put together an impressive win streak against their divisional opponents. Washington is a little banged up, but has had some time heal, and as of today only Shawn Springs did not practice, and he is listed as inactive for this weekend anyways. Mark Brunell’s knee has healed, and while still hurting he is able to plant and step into his throws. Clinton Ports has put together a rushing streak that has not been seen in D.C. since Riggans was carrying the rock. This game will not be a give-me for the Skins. Tampa Bay has a seasoned defense that knows what it takes to win a big time playoff game. John Gruden will have his team ready to play, and eager to show that the last win over Washington was not a fluke. However, it is the intangibles that Gruden cannot control that will pose the biggest problem to his team. Chris Simms is making his playoff début. He has struggled throughout his college career performing in big games. He does not have a complete regular season of football, and no playoff experience. Look for Simms to make a few rookie mistakes which is unacceptable in the playoffs. The skins will win 28-17. And watch out for the Skins getting hot and making a run deep into the playoffs.

The late game on Saturday showcases the still standing champions New England Patriots taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars. New England has overcome adversity all season, and managed to fly under the radar for most of the season, now they are ready to flex their muscles and show why they are the defending world champions. This Patriots team is not the same one that has won three of the last four Super Bowls. I don’t want to hear someone say how its, ok the Pats like being under the radar, and they are a team of no stars and all that. Cause they are not that team any more, and they showed it last week. Last week a lot of team had nothing to play for other than buying time till the playoffs come, the Pats were not one of those team. The Patriots were in contention with the Cincinnati Bengals for the third playoff spot. If New England won, they got the higher seed, which possibly could mean another home game latter in the playoffs if the proper breakdown took place, but doubtful. What it did mean for sure was a win equaled the arrival of Pittsburgh Steelers and a first round showdown. Instead, Bill Belicheck and the Patriots cowered away from the challenge and played to lose on Sunday. Tom Brady sat out most of the game against Miami, and Belicheck chose to play his third string QB, and only elected to use backup Doug Flutie to kick a drop-kick extra point. This was a blatant slap to the face of the Jacksonville Jaguars who are a very talented team. It also showed some fear in the champion’s eyes. They wanted no part of a surging Steelers team. Yet, they may have awoken a sleeping giant in Jacksonville. The Jags will have a returning Bryon Leftwich, to accompany a stout defense that will look to punish Dillon and anything else coming out of the backfield. The weather should not affect the Jags too much as they play a grind it out slow style of football anyways that is better suited for a cold sloppy track. Expect the Jags to upset the Pats in an ugly one 24-17.

The early game on Sunday has two teams, that I have proclaimed the best team in the NFC at one point or another during the season. Carolina and the New York Giants have played some of the best football in the league when they wanted to. On Sunday Carolina will make the journey to the Meadowlands and attempt to slay the Giants. The Panthers dismantled the Falcons last week, and look to be a team on a mission. DeSaun Foster is running the ball hard, and Steve Smith continues his assault on secondaries after earning comeback player of the year award. The Panthers appear to be returning to Super Bowl form, by playing hard nose defense, and making just enough big plays to keep the opposing defense off balance. Jake Delhome is a gun slinger who is not afraid to look downfield and throw the ball exactly where he wants it. You can bet on the fact, that he will not shy away from any throw he thinks may win the game. On the other side of the field, the New York Giants have been about as confusing of a team that can be found in the NFL. Tiki Barber has had an MVP caliber year, and it is a shame he did not get more reconviction from voters than he did. The Giants limped into the post season due to injuries, including missing four linebackers during last Saturday’s game against the Raiders. The Giants will need a healthy defense if they want to slow down the Carolina rushing attack. More importantly the Giants success will ride on the arm of Eli Manning who will be making his playoff début. Eli has struggled for the better part of the last half of the season. He is only completing 51% of his passes, and has had trouble avoiding throwing picks. Yet, in the last three minutes of a game, Eli becomes a late game specialist. Meaning if this is a tight game coming down the stretch, look for Eli to work some of his magic. Another thing to look out for is the health of Jeremy Shockey. I like the Panthers in this one though, look for them to return to the NFC Championship, 31-24.

The evening game on Sunday has division rivals colliding for the third time this season, Cincinnati Bengals, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. These teams have split their previous meetings, with the Steelers dominating a game in Cincinnati, and the Bengals taking a game in Pittsburgh. Sunday’s game will be played in Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, and the Bengals are a 3 point dog. The story of this game will be played out in the early in the first half. The team that can establish their style of play first, will emerge from this battle victorious. The Bengals want to play quick paced game, especially with a defense, although opportunistic, that has struggled at stopping the run and at tackling. Cincinnati wants to showcase the arm strength of Carson Palmer, and the talent of Chad Johnson as a deep threat, and then go underneath to T.J. Housmandzadeh. The weather will be in the 50’s and cloudy, this will play in the Bengals favor and help them to throw the deep ball. The Steelers will roll into town ready to ride the Bus on one last farewell tour. Everyone knows what Pittsburgh wants to do, and that is RUN THE BALL. Pittsburgh has been in this situation plenty of times before. Even second year QB Ben Roethlisberger has started an AFC championship game. The Steelers are seasoned playoff team, who knows how to take care of business. This is the first trip to the playoffs for many of the players on the Bengals organization. The nerves will be running high for the Bengals and look for them to take a while to calm down. That brief lapse of concentration will be enough for the Steelers to establish the run game, and take control of this game, and then let the dogs out on defense to hound Palmer. Steelers win 27-20.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Smell the Roses

One month of hype; one month of speculation; one month of who is the best, and it all came to a head on Wednesday night in Pasadena California in the granddaddy of them all the Rose Bowl. Number 1 USC and Number 2 Texas met in one of the most anticipated match-ups in college football history. The Longhorns and the Trojans met in what would go down as one of the most memorable games in collegiate history.

In an article yesterday, I wrote about how special I felt to have the opportunity to watch the Orange Bowl, and how it may have been the greatest game of all time. I went on to declare it would be impossible for the Rose Bowl to surpass that game with all the media generated hype. Well, as anyone who reads my work knows I have been known to be wrong, and I was dead wrong on my expectations for the Rose Bowl. USC, Texas, and their respected stars put on a show that was without a question one for the ages.

There was no question going into game that these were the two best teams in the nation, and although debatable it was difficult to question the fact that these teams would put on show if given the opportunity. Any field that held the talents of Leinart, Bush, White, and Young meant that something special would happen. However, it just appeared difficult for anything to live up to the standards that had been established during the course of the Bowl season. A bowl season that showcased a comeback in almost every game. The BCS season matched heavyweight headliners against each other in battles that exceeded every bit of hype that was given to them. The Rose Bowl was to be the grandest of all these spectacular bowl games, but after two consecutive late night thrillers in Atlanta, and Miami, how could it be possible for the granddaddy of them all to exceed the stage that was already set, and live up to the hype machine it had generated?

The answer to all these questions is simple; number 10 Vincent Young. A year ago Vince Young came to Pasadena, and took over, stealing the show from Michigan and putting his stamp on the upcoming 2005 season. This year he walked into the Rose Bowl with the confidence that he was the best player in the stadium and no amount of Heisman hardware could tell him otherwise. Mr. Young took the pride of Texas onto his shoulders, and willed his team victory. 30/40 for 257 passing yards, 19 carries 200 yards rushing and 3 TD’s 457 total yards offense accounted for 84% of the Longhorns offense. The last eight of those yards came on a fourth down scramble that resulted in the game winning TD with 19 seconds to play.

Vince Young put the hopes of Texas on his shoulders, and he carried the burden of all the hype of the BCS, and he ran with it all in stride. Last nights game earned a 21 share of the ratings, making it the highest rated non Super Bowl sports broadcast in ABC history. The ratings for the game surpassed those of any previous BCS football. The only other college game to come into that neighborhood of ratings was the 1984 Nebraska v. FSU Orange Bowl. Admittedly a lot of these lofty numbers can be related back to the machine that is the World Wide Leader. It has been impossible to turn on an ESPN channel in the past month without seeing part 128 of the 1000 part series that was the lead up to the Rose Bowl. But, it was Vince Young’s performance that kept people watching even when Texas was down late in the fourth, and sub coming to the USC magic.
After struggling in the first half, to get their offense clicking, Leinart and the USC offense caught fire in the second half. He completed 14/15 passes, and led USC to four straight scoring drives, and what appeared to be a cruise to a third National Title. Yet, when Texas went down by 12 in the fourth quarter, it was Vince Young playing cheerleader for the defense picking them up and letting them know he was going to give them another chance, and the viewer a reason to watch. Young engineered a 69 yard drive capped off by a 17 yrd TD run. Young’s cheerleading for the defense helped, as they stopped USC’s offense on fourth and short gave Texas one more shot. With two minutes to go there was no doubt in this writers mind that Vince Young could work some Rose Bowl magic.

With time running out Vince Young crossed the goal line for what should be the last time in his colligate career, and anyone watching the game knew they had witnessed one of the great performances of all time. In a game that had probably the most star studded lineup in history, the star with the least amount of hardware shown brightest as the lone star.

The 2006 Rose Bowl will be remembered for the hype, and the glamour, but most of all we will remember the performances. The Rose Bowl was an instant classic. Anyone who saw the game must feel honored, as they saw three of the greatest in college football history, doing exactly what they are meant to do. Good luck to all of them, as the head onto their future careers on Sunday.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

When Legends Combine

Wednesday night the two most successful coaches in Division 1A history met for what will probably be the last time in their historic careers. If it is their last time, they definitely made sure to put on a show for the ages. The 2006 Orange Bowl surpassed any amount of hype that was given to it, as FSU and PSU battled into the early hours of the Miami morning in a triple overtime game.

Joe Paterno came into Wednesday game leading the Big 10 leading Penn State squad. A lot has been said about Joe Pa over the past three years. Most of it has not been positive. Despite all the negativity surrounding the program and the Coach Paterno, he brought Penn State back to their glory days with the performance his team this season. Penn State went 10 and 1 on year and was only one second away from a perfect season and at the very least a BCS controversy. Penn State was impressive as they rampaged their way through much of the Big 10 schedule showing off an offense that was not one of the Joe Pa of old. The Nittany Lions rode the legs and arm of fifth year senior QB Michael Robinson as they showcased their new look spread offense. The new look offense along with the help of some special freshmen have allowed the Nittany Lions to climb the Big 10 mountain. All of that aside, the Nittany Lions had a tremendous year and entered the Orange Bowl as a 10 point favorite, and looking unstoppable.

On the other side of the ball, the story has not been as storied for Bobby Bowden and his crew, as the have limped through much of the season. Florida State began the season with a win over instate rival Miami, but even then was less than impressive. From then FSU plodded along racking up an impressive win over ACC new comer BC in Boston. However slips ups against UVA, and then a three game losing streak to close out the regular season had many asking if Coach Bowden and his staff still had what it took to be a dominant force in the ACC. FSU backed into the ACC championship game, and was given no chance. In response to that FSU went out and stomped top ranked Va. Tech, once again proving that the riverboat gambler cannot be overlooked in the big game. Going into the Orange Bowl, Bowden’s team was not given much of a chance, and that did not matter to him, as he knew what his squad was capable of.

Wednesday game started off with both teams struggling to take control of momentum of the game. PSU was able to take the early 7 point lead in the first quarter. FSU answered with two big plays in the second quarter, after returning a punt for a TD and then taking a screen play the distance. After those initial scoring outburst, the two squads settled in for what would be one the best defensive battles one could watch. A Nittany Lion safety and a late FSU field goal to tie the game would be the only points scored in the second half.

After that both teams experience a barrage of missed field goal attempts by their kickers. Bobby Bowden must wake up at night in cold sweets dreaming about missed field goals. The Orange Bowl would come down to that as his kicker missed two very difficult 30 plus yard attempts. While Penn States freshmen kicker Kevin Kelly was finally able to put one through the uprights for the win. I will leave my feelings about kickers aside for this piece, because not even their pathetic attempts of athletes could overshadow what we all really witnessed on Wednesday; two legends combining for one hell of a show.

This game featured two of college footballs finest, in the twilights of their careers and putting on what may have been the finest performances of their careers. Coach Paterno and Bowden have both been accused of having the game pass them by in the last few years. Both men were able to regain their swagger and they won their conferences, and BCS births. For Coach Paterno it was his first, and maybe his last, for Coach Bowden it was his fifth. If neither of these men return to a BCS game, they can rest comfortably knowing they stared in what may have been the best BCS game of all time.

An exciting first half, with strong defense, but special teams, and big plays gave the game a spark and a sense of urgency. The second half showed two great defenses, as both coaches and their assistants play human chess with each other trying to crack an impregnable defense. We saw both men as the fatherly figures they have grown into, as they comforted their young kickers, and let them know, it would be ok. Finally we saw the humility of both men as they met at mid field under the Miami sky, and proclaimed they both had given it all they had they had, and then proclaimed that it would have been better if both teams could have walked away winners. Coach Paterno and Bowden are in many ways the face of college football. While their approaches to the game have been different, their effect on the game has been the same. These are two of the greatest coaches of all time; they have touched countless numbers of lives both on and off the field, and helped to mold college football into one of the best games in sports. It has been a pleasure to watch them throughout their career, and it was an honor to watch them at their best in the Orange Bowl.