Monday, February 8, 2016

UConn lady hoops. Incredible

It's not often a full-sized college arena sells out for a ladies' basketball game, but it happened yesterday. Standing room only in Columbia, where #2 ranked South Carolina hosted #1 UConn.

For those that are fans of girls' college roundball -- count me among them -- this was the showdown game. If anybody was going to knock off mighty UConn, it would be South Carolina in their own building.

Idle thought: The UConners are referred to as the Lady Huskies. Beats Husky Ladies, but still doesn't sound quite right. Yet male teams from South Carolina are dubbed Gamecocks. So what do they call their female athletes? Lady Cocks? That would be awkward. Game Hens? Do they have a Cornish tradition and go well with rice? Beats me, but their hoops team is pretty good. #2 in the country speaks for itself. As did their 22-0 record entering this game.

Alas, they would be trashed in their own building by the UConn juggernaut. At times the lead was over 25 points, a whopping margin in such a sport. Thing is, UConn didn't play particularly well -- at least by their standards. But after the usual garbage time towards the end of the game, when the outcome had already long been decided, the Huskies would defeat the whatever Cocks by 12 points -- a comfortable margin.

That begs the question.... Who, pray tell, has the remotest chance of beating UConn this year? Already 23-0, their final six games of the regular season are against what could be considered "patsy" teams. Barring major injuries, it's entirely likely they'll enter the tournament 29-0.

UConn plays in a weak conference you say? Indeed they do, the American Athletic Conf. But it's not their fault. They wanted to hook on with a stronger conference but could find no takers. The powers that be in other conferences can spin it any which way they want as to why they declined, but the LAST thing they wanted to see was little UConn obliterating their Enormous State universities on their own hardcourts, much less having to go to the house of blowouts in Storrs.  Who's kidding who?

But consider who the Lady Huskies were able to schedule this year, and the results ---
#7 Ohio State. They demolished the Buckerettes by 44 points.
#3 Notre Dame. 10 points.
#6 Maryland. 10 again.
#11 Florida State. 24.
#22 South Florida. 16.
And now they just waltzed into #2 South Carolina to win by 12 in front of a packed house -- and really didn't play all that well while doing so. Uncharacteristic turnovers, missed lay-ups/free throws, bad passes and all around sloppy play by UConn standards. Yet they still rolled to an easy victory.

In a post-game interview, head coach Geno Auriemma made quite the astute observation. Having just knocked off the #2 team on the road, the mini-Italian Stallion said -- "This win bodes well for us. Come tournament time, we'll never have to face another team this good in their own building".

Truer words were never spoken.

Who is out there that is even semi-capable of knocking off UConn in the tournament indeed?

Lady Husky forward/center Breanna Stewart is on the cusp of accomplishing something that has never been done before in the history of college athletics, be it male or female, in any sport. And it looks like she might well pull it off.

More on that in a future post. When the NCAA tourney gets down to the Final Four (and who would doubt UConn will be one of the teams?) would be a good time.

But for now, the lady hoopsters in Storrs remain on an incredible run with no end in sight. Some love them, others hate them, and far more are just envious of what they have built and continue to accomplish. They play college hoops under Auriemma's guidance much like the San Antonio Spurs under Coach Pop. Both systems stress the ultimate in team play, whether on offense or defense.

The difference is -- the NBA has a salary cap, a draft, and free agency. Add those all up and it heavily tilts against a team remaining dominant for very long.

Yet in college hoops, particularly at UConn, winning breeds even more winning. Many 5-star blue-chip high school players would kill to get a scholarship at UConn to play for Geno. So as seniors graduate, incoming hot-shot freshmen take their place. And the beat goes on.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Carolina meltdown

Let me see if I have this right. The Carolina Panthers went 15-1 during the regular season and beat two very good teams (Seattle and Arizona) in the playoffs. Yet one is left to wonder -- how could a team that played so stupidly in the Super Bowl have ever accomplished those feats in the first place?

In no particular order, consider the following bonehead gaffes the Panthers were guilty of in Santa Clara......

It became quickly obvious that Denver's defensive front was going to put immediate and strong pressure on Cam Newton. On any given play, they had eight men in the "box". Yet Carolina never adapted using more blockers to stave off the onslaught. Either that, or quick slants over the middle and screen passes will keep a blitzing defense honest. Did you see Carolina attempt a single screen pass? Dumb.

Newton himself missed several wide-open receivers, and when he did hit them in the "hands", they couldn't hold on. That's somewhere between dumb, incompetent, and choke city.

Newton also fumbled the ball three times. One resulted in a touchdown for Denver on the same play. Another led to a Broncos' TD a couple plays later. That's 14 points Cam handed the other guys because he was too thick-headed to realize the situations he was in. Doh.

Their running back, long prone to fumbles, chipped in another one on a routine tackle. What is any running back's first responsibility? Protect the ball. Maybe they gain yardage and maybe they don't, but under no circumstances fumble the damn ball. He did. Anybody home upstairs?

On a Carolina punt, their coverage team went brain dead (though they had the Bronco returner surrounded), and let him race 50 yards down the field. Earth to Panther coverage team -- if you don't see a fair-catch signal (there wasn't one), it's usually a good idea to tackle the speedy guy for the other guys that is catching the ball. Hello???

And oh my, all the other boneheaded plays. False starts, delays of game, unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, offsides, holding, etc. Were these the Carolina Panthers that romped through the regular season and early rounds of the playoffs -- or did they change into the Detroit Lions when they landed in the Bay area?

Their field goal kicker clanked an attempt off a goalpost from very makeable range. The coaching staff (and Cam) were clueless when it came to clock management, much less altering their strategy when Plan A was blowing up in their faces.

It's not like Denver was a superior team going in. The bookies had them as a 5.5 point underdog. True, the Broncos' defense lived up their billing as the #1 unit in the league, but also true is Peyton Manning was underwhelming. He didn't do anything special. Just the usual wounded duck passes and got sacked a few times himself. Their total team effort over the course of the game could be considered quite average.

But add it all up and what did you have? One team spent the last two weeks developing a game plan that might take the other by surprise. They were smart, and capitalized on the blunders of their opponents.

The other team remained in flat-out dumb mode throughout. Panthers somehow morphed into deer in the headlights on the biggest stage, and didn't have a clue what to do next. Consider them road-kill. Carolina couldn't get out of it's own way.

As they say, sometimes there just ain't no fixing stupid. Any team that played that dumb had no business winning a game. And so they got rightfully trounced. It will be a long flight back to Charlotte.

Maybe next year. What's ironic is Cam Newton might well get the regular season MVP award. That voting already took place and the results have been kept secret. But for his performance in the Super Bowl, he should be awarded a dunce cap and made to sit in a corner somewhere.

[On an unrelated note, here's a shout out to my bro CC. One of the most terrific people yours truly has ever had the pleasure of associating with. Hope everything works out down in Florida with your son. Also a die-hard NY Jets fan, but I won't go there. LOL]

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Super Bowl bookie math

Bet you never really did the math when it comes to certain betting "lines" on sporting contests. Even though it only involves 10th grade algebra, most people don't want to bother.

That would be combining the point spread with the over/under and solving for the final predicted score of the game -- courtesy of those lovable bookies. Trust me, the "wise guys" know a lot about math.

At last look the Carolina Panthers were favored to win Super Bowl 50 by 5.5 points over the Denver Broncos. And the over/under number (total points scored by both teams) remained steady at 44.5.

Let's say Carolina's predicted point total is X. Denver's point total is Y. According to the above .....
X = Y + 5.5  and
X + Y = 44.5.

Combine the two equations and solve for X -- and one will come up with the number 25.
Therefore, if Y = X - 5.5, simple subtraction dictates Y must be 19.5.
Add them up and you get 44.5.

So what the bookies are saying is the final score will be Carolina 25 -- Denver 19.5.

Of course this score is impossible, because there's no such thing as a half point in football. And if the numbers you drew on your local office/bar betting grid were 5 and 9, your chances of winning were slim to none anyway. Those are the kind of numbers yours truly usually gets stuck with. Or maybe 2 and 2. That comes in about as often as 666 in the daily lottery. In other words -- it ain't gonna happen.

Curiously, the geniuses (and I use that term loosely) at Sports Illustrated predicted Carolina would prevail 22-19. That would seem to be an odd score. They must think a couple 2-point touchdown conversions will happen along with a safety here or there. How else could two teams arrive at a final score of 22-19? Has such a final result ever even happened before in the NFL? I'm too lazy to look that up, but let's just say the SI folks don't exactly have a sterling track record when it comes to picking winners. 22-19? Really? Couldn't they round it up to 23-20 or down to 21- 17?

Mercifully, they have replaced their former prognosticator Supreme, one Peter King, with another "expert". Thing is, PK couldn't pick his nose with a power auger over the years, but it was absolutely amazing how many scribes (hacks) came to think of him as some sort of guru to reference in their articles.

On a semi-related note, some think Peyton Manning might weep after this Super Bowl. They could well be right. If he and the Broncos win, Manning could shed tears of joy while riding off into the sunset on top as his boss John Elway once did for the Broncos almost two decades ago. If he loses, he'll always have to wonder how his even dopier younger brother Eli, who played on far less talented teams, managed to win one more Super Bowl than he did. It would be understandable if the Omaha man choked up a bit while pondering such a thing.

But no sympathy for such wimpy crying. After all, isn't Peyton Manning the same guy that made $20 million while playing only half a season this year, threw 8 TD passes compared to 17 interceptions, and raked in another $12 million in endorsements along the way? If you've seen some of his shameless commercials, they were enough to make the average viewer cry as well. Either that, or be grabbing for the remote and hitting the "mute" button, and/or clicking over to something else. Bring on the Ethiopian cooking channel, tell me why I should buy a few high-priced dolls in their frilly clothes, or even bombard me with partisan political-speak. Anything but Peyton shedding alligator tears.

Spare me. The seemingly never-ending rubish yee-haw commercials spots have been bad enough. If he wants to cry after this game -- fine. Just go away and do it in private -- OK?

Friday, February 5, 2016

The utter hypocrisy of Kareem

Lew Alcindor was once thought of as a semi-bright guy. Ridiculously tall, a string bean, and not much in the looks department. But dammit, he could play some hoops. Hey, when you're almost a foot taller than most of your opponents, especially as a kid, chances are basketball is a pretty good sport to participate in.

But just recently, the Lew turned Kareem Abdul Jabbar exhibited the height of hypocrisy in a shot he took at Dallas Maverick Dirk Novitzski.

KAJ said while DN's shot was hard to block, he remained basically a "one-trick -pony". Evidently, that was in reference to Novitzski's long range shooting skills.

Really, Lew, excuse, Kareem? Let's take a look at your history.

While at UCLA under legendary coach John Wooden, you were surrounded by mega- talent elsewhere on the court the whole time you were there.

After getting drafted by the lowly Milwaukee Bucks, you soon forced a trade so you could go back to LA-LA- land. Once there, you were again surrounded by hoop studs.

It's no great surprise the teams you played on, both in college and the pros, won some championships. While you were certainly "gifted", the talent surrounding you was also incredible. If instead of UCLA, you'd toiled away your college years at, say, Wisconsin, there wouldn't have been any NCAA championships. One guy can't get it done. The late Pistol Pete Maravich at LSU and Larry Bird at Indiana State possessed far more overall basketball skills, but they didn't have the supporting cast you did. Plus, they weren't 7 foot 2 either. So you got championships and they didn't.

Same with the NBA. If you hadn't landed on the Lakers and instead spent year after year playing for, say, Atlanta, chances are you wouldn't have all those rings. Like John Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival once sang, you were a "fortunate son" indeed.

But now you have the utter audacity to call out Dirk Novitzski as a one-trick-pony? Let's look a little deeper again.

Back in the day, the only thing you had going for you was the "sky hook". Nobody could block that either. You weren't a particularly good defender, an average free throw shooter, and one is still left to wonder just who was dragging who up and down the court when it came to you and Bill Laimbeer. Let's just say neither of you were exactly known as being gazelles. Slow and slower, but I always thought Laimbeer would beat your plodding butt by a full second in the 40 yard dash.

Get you over 10-12 feet away from the basket, and you were basically useless. You weren't a particularly good passer/assist guy, couldn't ball handle/drive, and nobody -- repeat -- NOBODY feared you shooting from outside. They WANTED you to. Brick city.

Ninety percent of the points you racked up over your career came on two things. Sky hooks and dunks. You didn't even have to jump for the latter.

And YOU, of all people, are calling Dirk Novitzski a one-trick-pony? This guy can shoot the lights out from long range. He's deadly at the free throw line. He can even put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop on occasion. Dirk will "move his feet" on defense, understands the concept of switching coverages, and will run all over the floor. All you did was plop your tall butt in the "paint", wait for a lob-in pass, fake left, pivot right, and throw up another sky hook on offense. Defensively, you weren't capable of venturing more than 10 feet from the basket, or an opposing player would easily blow by you to the rim.

The hypocrisy screams. Perhaps the good Mr. Alcindor/Jabbar should go back into his meditation mode on a mountaintop somewhere. Lord knows, there are those that consider him quite the guru when he deigns to speak to the masses.

But in this particular instance, he's just made himself out to be a common day fool. Dirk is getting well deserved attention and Kareem doesn't like it.

Make that a jealous fool......

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The 1985 Chicago Bears

Recently the 4-letter network went back 30 years and pieced together a very interesting program regarding the Chicago Bears. Their 1985 version was formidable, particularly on defense. As we know, they clobbered the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super bowl XX.

As was noted by some former players, times were much different then in the NFL. Brutal hits that would incur a fine and/or suspension in today's kinder gentler version of pro football were commonplace back in those days. No call. Business as usual. Whether the "evolution" of the NFL was/is a good or bad thing is certainly open to debate.

But back in the day, Buddy Ryan's "46" defense not only confused opposing offenses, but struck fear in them. The "46" designation actually arose from the uniform number of starting safety Doug Plank. While it had many variations involving defensive linemen and linebackers' assignments on any given play, who would do what when the ball was snapped was mostly dictated by the unheralded Plank, depending on what he saw of the offensive formation -- and instinct.

And those Bears were loaded with defensive talent. Richard Dent, William (Fridge) Perry, Dan Hampton, Otis Wilson, Mike Singletary, Ron Rivera (current head coach of the Super Bowl bound Carolina Panthers), Wilber Marshall, the late Dave Duerson, Gary Fencik, Steve McMichael. etc. Virtually a very talented brute at every position.

Though others have laid claim to their own "special" defenses over the years (see Dallas' "doomsday", Pittsburgh's "steel curtain", and Miami's "no-name"), nobody ever did it quite like the 1985 Bears. Those other defenses were very effective indeed, but the 1985 Bears just flat-out beat people up.

[A bit of irony. Though the Bears were an original NFL franchise, the 1986 Super was, and remains their only championship.They really haven't come close since.]

Yet during the documentary, it was interesting to note how some players complain to this day that super-star running back Walter Payton didn't get to "shine" in that particular Super Bowl. It was "Sweetness's" crowning moment, they claimed, but #34 didn't get a lot of action. Mike Ditka himself, the head coach of that team, apologized for not being aware of it at the time. As we also know, Walter Payton would later develop a liver problem that led to his death in 1999 at the young age of 46. He had long since retired from football.

But some of his former black teammates complained that Payton got short-changed in Super Bowl XX. After all, against THOSE Patriots, they could have played them 10 times and smoked them every single game. Probably so. Walter should have got more "touches" in that Super Bowl, because we were going to beat them anyway, they asserted.

Maybe. Maybe not. And Ditka wimped out by offering up an apology three decades after the fact. Look at it this way ---

The head coach's (and his staff) main job was/is to put together a game plan that results in a victory against any particular opponent. If it better served the need of the TEAM to use Payton as a decoy, then so be it. Replays of that Super Bowl clearly show that on any given play, New England had at least 2 defenders, and sometimes 3-4 solely dedicated to zeroing in on Payton. They were NOT going to allow Walter to run wild.

Yet by doing so, New England left themselves thin on defense elsewhere. This allowed Bear quarterback Jim McMahon to throw deep strikes to wide receivers, notably speed demon Willie Gault.

The results spoke for themselves. Who can objectively question the game planning that led to a 46-10 Super Bowl romp?

Other players without apparently race-based agendas were more philosophical. Walter was a great player, they said. One of the best of all time. But it wasn't about padding his stats. It was about winning the game. The greater good of the team always has to come first.

And they were absolutely right. It's a sorry state of affairs when the once old-schoolish Mike Ditka caves to retroactive political correctness -- thirty years after he and his staff concocted a perfect game plan -- on both sides of the ball -- to accomplish one of the most lop-sided Super Bowl victories ever.

So Walter didn't get his yards. Who cares? The game plan worked, in a big way. He got his "ring", didn't he? Did anything else really matter?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Why Calvin Johnson should retire

Once upon a time, Calvin Johnson was referred to as the "Megatron". He was tall, fast, and made incredible catches, racking up yardage and touchdowns galore for the Detroit Lions. But that was then.

Nowadays, the Megatron name seems to have gone away. It's just Calvin Johnson. Sure, he's still a better than average receiver, but no longer considered elite among NFL gurus.

Calvin Johnson will turn 31 shortly after the 2016 football season gets underway. Not geezer-ish, but hardly a spring chicken either. And oh my, he's taken more than his fair share of beatings over the years playing for the woeful Lions.

Reports say CJ is contemplating retirement. He should, for a few reasons.

First, he's already made more than enough money (over $100 million) to tide him over forever after. And by most all accounts, Johnson is an upstanding righteous man with few if any vices. It's not like he'd go out and blow so much money on a posse, girls, gambling, or be dumb enough to let some shyster con him out of it with a "can't miss" investment. Let's just say CJ is fairly well financially set for life.

Second, there's the health issue. In recent years, Johnson has been so banged up he can barely practice between games. This has been mostly due to various leg problems. To his credit, Calvin always seems to find a way to strap it on and play in the actual games, but continuing to do so comes with its risks as well.

While his contract with the Lions runs through the 2019 season, it is highly doubtful Johnson could survive another 4 years in the NFL, particularly on that team. And even if he did, what price might be pay in later life? Would he be hobbled by arthritis or similar maladies by the time he's 40? Nobody knows. Nobody but Calvin himself knows how bad he's already hurting. And hey, let get's real. The opposing defenses don't give a rat's behind. They'll continue to pound him every chance they get. On that note, nobody knows how many concussions Johnson may have already suffered over his career, but it's likely several, considering how many helmet to helmet shots he's taken. If he sticks around, as the years tick by and the hits continue to take their inevitable toll, the former Megatron could well not only become physically disabled for life, but mentally too.

Third, the chances of him ever sniffing a Super Bowl while playing for the Lions are slim to none. Even now -- though they won't admit it -- Detroit is in a rebuild mode (aren't they always?), and few would doubt several other NFC teams are vastly superior, while still others are on the rise. Calvin Johnson may have given all he had, but he was never destined to be a champion while playing for the Honolulu blue and silver. That just wasn't in the cards.

If Calvin Johnson indeed decided to retire, he would be a border-line Hall of Fame candidate. As the Megatron, he had a few huge years. But that was the result of the Lions not having a decent complimentary running game, and continuing to throw in CJ's general direction when they needed a big play. The other teams knew what was coming. Johnson made his catches/yards/TDs, but also paid a severe price. He's also been prone to dropping a lot of passes along the way. And fumbles. And he's never won anything -- not even a single playoff game. The H of F voters would have a lot to consider when studying his entire body of work to determine if they deemed him worthy of induction. The Detroit faithful might think it a slam dunk, but more objective folks could well think otherwise several years down the road when it comes time to weigh in on such a matter.

Fourth, as mentioned above, nobody even calls Johnson the Megatron any more. As age, injuries, and year after year of playing for the Lions has taken its toll, his stats have begun to slide. He will never be as productive as he once was. To think otherwise is folly. And if he continues, it will only get worse, on all fronts.

He made a lot of money, had a semi-long career in the NFL, and brought some joy to long-suffering Detroit Lions' fans along the way with some of his spectacular moments.

But for his own sake, Calvin (nee Megatron) Johnson needs to get out while he's still somewhat physically healthy and has his wits about him. Both could change for the worse -- much worse -- if he continues to play for the Lions.

An alternative:  Calvin tells the Lions he's willing to forfeit the roughly $100 million still left on his contract through the 2019 season. That would give the team a lot of cap room to sign talent elsewhere, which they're desperately in need of. They'd likely go for it. But Calvin wants to be a free agent to play one more year for another team with a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl. If the Lions released him from his contract, he would indeed be a free agent. If he was willing accept a little bit less money in a last quest for a championship, a couple teams would likely be interested in his services. Consider the New England Patriots. They have little speedy guys, but are in need of a big wide receiver. Methinks CJ would love the idea of playing in Bill Bellichick's system with Tom Brady spreading the ball around. How about Carolina? Already Super Bowl bound, how good would those guys be next year with Calvin added to the mix and Cam Newton pulling the trigger?

Here's hoping Calvin Johnson puts a lot of thought into what he wants to do next. Lord knows, he's paid his dues in Detroit and, other than a pile of money, has little to show for it. He should either retire outright, or give it one more shot with a team of his choice to hopefully be in the same room as the Lombardi trophy next February.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A laughable follow-up

In a recent issue of a sports magazine, the author briefly profiled who he thought were media personalities (see talking heads) that are likely to reach even greater heights of gab-fame in the near future.

Curiously, the author only initialed his work. R.D., to be exact. Could it have been Robert DeNiro or Richard Dreyfuss jumping into the sports fray with a guest article? Nobody knows for sure, except maybe the editor of the publication and the author him/herself. Ex-Chicago Bear Richard Dent? Maybe. Rodney Dangerfield? Unlikely. He's gone on to the heaven of no respect.

Nonetheless, a paragraph was devoted to one Cari Champion. If one Googles CC, they will see she was born in 1975. But on the same page, her age is listed as being 35. This is some very strange math, but I suppose it's a woman thing. After all, my own mother still claimed to be 39 when I was 42.

But RD said the good Ms. Champion had finally broken free, ala Andy Dufresne of the Shawshank Redemption. CC had shed the shackles of the "unctuous, soul-sucking" moderator of ESPN's First Take.

Granted, listening to the likes of Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless droning on with their usual pompous drivel show after show might be enough to turn the Pope into a suicide bomber, but RD asserts Cari will find her Zihuatanejo paradise much like Andy did after so many years of wrongful suffering. She has been given a regular gig as an "anchor" on the 4-letter network. We'll see how that turns out.

What was truly laughable was RD's very next paragraph. Devoted to the above-mentioned Skip Bayless, it was noted the very same "unctuous" show continues to enjoy terrific ratings and Skippie could very well use that as leverage if he jumps to a different network when his contract is up in a few months.

In that respect, RD came across as a chucklehead, or perhaps a future in politics awaits him. First the show is oily and soul-sucking, but in the very next sentence he gives it kudos for drawing so many viewers and could serve as a launching pad for it's moderator and commentators to move on to greater things? Like a typical politico, the scribe is trying to play it both ways. Add a little here, take away a little there, try to please everybody, and in the end what do you have? An article that amounted to nothing.

Even Rodney had more self-respect than that.....