Thursday, February 28, 2013

Time out from time outs

With apologies to Dick Vitale, I need a T.O. (time-out) baby -- from time-outs.

Watch an NBA game and you'll see both teams get 5 time-outs per half. That's 20 in all at their disposal, and a lot of times they use every last one of them. There's a reason why the last "two minutes" of so many games take about a half hour. Too many damn time-outs.

Near as I can tell, each team gets 3 "regular" time-outs and two 20-second time-outs each half. In theory, the regular time-outs are supposed to last one minute, but in reality, they're more like 2 or 3.

True 20-second time-outs don't exist. After one is called -- nobody seems to know for sure exactly when the 20 seconds start. Somewhere around 25-30 seconds after it's been called, the arena horn will sound, evidently signalling the time-out is over -- but coaches and players routinely ignore it to keep discussing strategy on the sidelines. It appears they won't come back on the floor until they're good and ready, regardless of the supposed 20 seconds, and worse, the officials let them get away with it. If it's supposed to be 20 seconds -- then dammit -- make it 20 seconds -- or call it something else. Like 30 seconds, 60 seconds, or "when we get around to it", whatever.

Football games are more devious with their time-outs. Yes, each team gets 3 per half, for a total of 12 for the whole game, but those sneaky devils have found another way to make games last so long. If one is in a stadium watching a game, they'll notice that at times, play is stopped for several minutes for no apparent reason. A look up at the scoreboard will reveal that neither team has been charged with a time-out, and no players are sprawled on the field with an injury. So what gives?

Enter the wonderful world of TV time-outs. Thou shalt worship the "sponsors" whether thou like it or not. All those commercials cut both ways. For the people sitting at home watching on the tube, it gives them a chance to reload their refreshments or perhaps "relieve" themselves without missing any of the action -- a good thing. And, after all, if it weren't for the advertising folks, the game wouldn't even BE on TV. But the fans in the stadium that paid big bucks to attend the game are left in a sort of purgatory. Those time-outs aren't long enough for them to dash to the refreshment stand or rest rooms, without likely missing something spectacular happening on the field (because that's the way it seems to go) but definitely long enough be annoying -- a bad thing. At any rate, they definitely prolong the games.

Baseball is different. The very nature of the game dictates at least 17 time-outs in a regular 9 inning game as the teams switch from being on the field to being at bat. Yet they're guilty in a few other ways of dragging the games out too long. Pitchers shaking off 4-5 signs from their catcher when they only know how to throw 3 different pitches, and generally taking WAY too long between pitches anyway. Confabs at the pitcher's mound that never end until the home plate umpire has to break them up. Even players on the field calling time-out, sometimes for dumb reasons. Let's say a player just "stole" second base. After that runner slides -- he usually wants time-out. And why? To dust off his uniform? Hey, the dude's making millions of bucks. A little dirt on his pants isn't going to hurt him. Play ball. Let's GO!!!

Hockey is much better. Each team only gets one time-out -- for the whole game. That's more like it.

Soccer is a whole different animal. During each half -- nothing seems to stop the clock in the game. Player substitutions come and go, but the clock keeps running. A player down on the field, perhaps with a serious injury? The clock keeps going. What's very strange about soccer is that even when the clock has expired at the end of the game -- it's not over. There's always "extra" time, at the whim of the head official on the field. Nobody in the stands or watching on TV has any idea how much time this is. It's a secret, known only to that official. Play goes on until he decides to stop it. How nuts is that?

Soccer isn't chock full of commercials like another American sports. Then again, soccer hasn't really ever caught on much in the US -- popularity-wise.

Could it be that Americans have been brain-washed into actually LIKING all the stoppages in action in their more popular sports?

Somehow it reminds yours truly of Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men".

We want these commercials. We NEED these commercials.

Scary thought.....

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The 1984 Detroit Tigers

Technically, George "Sparky" Anderson had lied. After Sparky achieved fame with the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati in the mid 70's, which basically featured a future Hall of Fame lineup, Sparky was unceremoniously fired in late 1978 by the Reds as the team had begun to go downhill.

In the meantime, a guy named Les Moss, who had proven himself in the minor leagues, had been hired as the new manager of the Detroit Tigers for the 1979 season. But the Tigers hadn't expected Sparky to be fired by the Reds. When that happened, through no fault of his own, basically Les Moss got the shaft. HE was fired early in the 1979 season to make room for Anderson. Inheriting the likes of Jack Morris, Dan Petry, Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammel, and Lou Whitaker -- all young players at the time, once again, Sparky had fallen into a rose garden of talent. Anderson was quick to proclaim that if he couldn't win a pennant within 5 years with that team -- he'd quit. Fast forward 5 years to June, 1984. Though the Tigers would not only win the pennant that year, but the World Series as well -- Sparky's self-imposed 5 year clock had run out, but nobody seemed to remember his promise of 1979, because the Tigers were doing so well. Nevertheless, technically, he lied.

And what a season 1984 was. The Tigers had begun the season 35-5 for an .875 winning percentage which was, and remains, the best start for a team in major league history. Barring the Harlem Globetrotters, nobody can maintain a .875 winning percentage forever. Nor did those Tigers. After those first 40 games, they went 69-53 for the remainder of the regular season, which equates to a still respectable .565 winning percentage, but nothing spectacular. Actually, for the last 122 games, the Toronto Blue Jays played them just about even-up, but after their incredible start, the Tigers won their division by a whopping 15 games.

Quick quiz. Name the modern era major league team that posted the most wins in a regular season. If you don't know, the answer -- below -- may surprise you. (I didn't know either. I looked it up).

The Tigers would finish that regular season with a 104-58 mark for a .642 winning percentage. Most would agree that finishing 46 games above .500 is outstanding. In fact, any team would be thrilled just to win 100, with a .617 winning percentage. But when you really stop to think about it -- just how good is that anyway? Basically, out of every 10 games played, they would have won 6 and lost 4. In that light it doesn't seem so dominant. If one game goes the other way -- they're back to a .500 club and nothing special. Then again, if over the long haul, a team's record is far better than everybody else's, it speaks for itself. It all depends on how one wishes to look at it.

It's also ironic that there are times when the best (percentage-wise) team in the league can be swept in a series by the last place team. It happens. Such is the nature of big league baseball.

Recording artist Meatloaf once had a hit song titled "Two out of three ain't bad". That doesn't sound so tough, but in major league baseball, that would equate to winning 108 games during the regular season, which would be considered stupendous.

Answer to quiz. Though in the previous three years the Seattle Mariners had lost such future superstars as Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Alex Rodriguez, and ranked merely 11th in player payroll, their 2001 team posted a record of 116-46, for a .716 winning percentage. They would go on to lose in the AL championship series to the NY Yankees. (On a related note, that was also the year Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki made his debut in the major leagues on the Mariners.)

Back to Sparky Anderson and Les Moss. Sparky would go on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He died in Thousand Oaks, California, at the age of 76, in 2010. That was media-worthy.

Les Moss would bounce around a few other clubs as a pitching coach but never got a chance to manage again. He quietly passed away in August of 2012, in Longwood, Florida, at the age of 87. Nobody seemed to notice.

With all due respect to Sparky and his legacy, somehow I still find what became of Les Moss profoundly sad. But for a quirk of fate beyond his control, he might well have gone down as one of the greatest managers in Tiger history as well with the same team Sparky inherited. Who knows how it would have turned out?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Detroit Tigers now, and then

For however much it counts (it doesn't), so far the Detroit Tigers are cruising right along down in the grapefruit league this year. Their pitching looks solid, the hitters are banging the ball around and out of the parks, and everything looks to be all-systems-go for a great 2013 campaign. Many have projected the Tigers as a serious threat to return to the World Series this year. Yet a lot of strange things can happen in baseball -- and oftentimes do.

Though all Tiger fans remember that their team made it to the World Series last year only to get swept by the SF Giants, they likely forget the Tigers barely squeaked into the post-season at all with a 88-74 regular season record. Percentage-wise, that was .543 -- not so impressive. In fact, the Tigers only had the 7th best record in the American League. In other words, a few other teams with better records in better divisions got left out of the playoffs. The Tigers were indeed fortunate to be playing in the woeful AL Central Division, else their run to the World Series never would have happened.

Whether or not the current system is fair continues to be the subject of much debate. Ever since 1969, when both the American and National leagues split into divisions, then expansion teams came along and "wild cards" were later added to the playoffs, baseball purists have continued to object. "Baseball was just fine from 1903 through 1968, when the best of each league went to the World Series and there were no playoffs", they claim.

Certainly they have a point. Baseball WAS just fine back in those days. Actually, a very good argument could be made that most of the players we consider truly legendary came BEFORE baseball changed its format. Consider names like Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, Spahn, Musial, Mays, Mantle, DiMaggio, Clemente, Aaron, and Williams, to name just a few. Quick, taking the performance enhancing drugs era into account, name 3 players that have reached the same legendary status since 1969 as those just mentioned. See what I mean?

Of course, the purists overlook the obvious. It's about the money the playoffs did and continues to generate -- and money seems to have had a way of prevailing in most things over the last few decades in the sports world. Throw in the ridiculous player contracts that have come about and, in its simplest form, that's why the average family of four might have to skip a house/rent payment to attend a game.

But back to the 2012 Tigers. One wouldn't normally think a mediocre .543 record should have qualified a team for a chance at any post-season glory, but it happened. And it could happen to them, or another team this year. Whether or not that's "right" is for each individual to decide for themselves --  opinions likely depend on which way the chips fall at the end of the regular season for any particular fans and their team -- but it is what it is, and it's highly doubtful it will go away any time soon.

Speaking of now and then, 28 years ago, the Tigers had won the World Series, and haven't since. That's about one year for every team in the major leagues these days. Not such a good track record.

A look back at those 1984 Tigers -- with some improbable stats -- tomorrow.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Daytona 500

Likely to the surprise of few, Jimmy Johnson won the Daytona 500, with Dale Earnhart Jr. finishing 2nd and old-timer Mark Martin rounding out the top 3. Reigning Cup champ Brad Keselowski was leading in the closing laps, despite his car having front end damage, but at the end he just didn't have enough to hold off JJ and a few other guys.

Though there was a crash on the last lap, it involved cars further back in the field, hence the "big one" that many have come to expect at Daytona, never really happened, at least as far as wiping out several "contenders". Basically, it was a fairly clean race.

Far be it from yours truly to question the wisdom of various crew chiefs, but it seemed odd that with 20-some laps to go, most of the cars had to come into the pits for gas, but it appeared very few took tires. This was not just a "splash and go". They needed a decent amount of gas to get to the end of the race. In the time that required, they could have easily at least changed right side tires, so their cars would handle just a tad better through the turns. Yet, as it turned out, it didn't appear to be a factor. Shows you what I know.

In a mini-surprise, a few of the Toyoya engines were blowing up. Well, good. They shouldn't be racing at Daytona anyway. It's called the Great American Race -- is it not? Let the Toyota folks build a racetrack outside of Tokyo somewhere and have their own Great Japanese Race, where they bar Fords and Chevies. Works for me.

After starting the race from the pole position, wunderkind and all-around media darling Super Girl Danica Patrick had a decent day. She even led a lap or two. No doubt that will be trumpeted for the next few days. Another first for a woman. Big deal. Throw in Ricky Stenhouse and she's probably also the first to date another driver. (On that note, one would imagine that if, say, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart were to shack up together -- now THAT would be big news). In the name of equality, Danica herself has said she wants to be known as just a "driver", not a "female driver", so what's it going to take for the media to stop beating the gender drum?

Indeed, toward the end, Danica was running 3rd, which is a very good position to be in at the Daytona 500. It's rare that the leading car in the last couple laps wins the race. Normally, a couple cars behind the leader will hook up in a draft and pass the car out front. But something strange, or maybe not, happened to Danica, who wound up finishing 8th. On the last half of the last lap, other guys were blowing by her.

Her post-race interview appeared to be telling. When asked what happened, Danica intimated that she had "help" from a few guys during most of the race, but got a faraway look in her eyes when evidently considering the very end of the race. It appeared she knew full well what had happened, but didn't want to say so.

When push came to shove at the very end, the other guys left her high and dry. It's no big secret that cars by themselves can't compete on superspeedways. They need drafting partners, and Danica suddenly found herself without one approaching the checkered flag. Coincidence? There will likely be differences of opinion on that in the days to come.

Nevertheless, congrats to Jimmy Johnson. The wily veteran and 5-time Cup champion drove a superb race. Now all he and his crew have to do is build another car. That's because, at the Daytona 500, the winner's car is basically confiscated after the race and displayed in their museum for a year in whatever condition it was in when it took the checkered flag. That's somewhere around a $300,000 cha-ching. Expensive business, that Daytona 500.

Only 35 more races, and a whole bunch of  sheet metal, tires, engines, and racing fuel, until a champion is crowned.

On to Phoenix.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Johnny Manziel and the law

This copyright stuff is getting out of control. Johnny Manziel, nicknamed "Johnny Football", the hot-shot freshman QB from Texas A&M that won the Heiman trophy last year, is suing. Or at least his corporation is.

That's right. According to the Sporting News, after only one year of college football, the kid's got his own corporation named JMAN2 Enterprises LLC. What, exactly, other than Manziel himself, this corporation intends to market remains unclear. But it appears somehow he, likely with the assistance of a few lawyers, has copyrighted the name "Johnny Football" so no one else can use it.

Of course, in America, if there's a way to make a buck, somebody will find it. Enter Eric Vaughan, just another guy that wanted to make a few bucks selling tee shirts. Vaughan came up with the bright idea of putting "Keep calm and Johnny Football" on some shirts. Perhaps he intended to send a message to A&M (and its fans) about hoping Manziel stays at the school for another year or 3, instead of going pro.

JMAN2 cried foul. They not only want Vaughan to stop selling the shirts, but may even claim damages. All because Vaughan dared to use the term "Johnny Football" on his merchandise. This is beginning to sound like a combination of sour grapes and Scrooge McDuck, because Manziel and his minions didn't think of it first. And OMG, they're missing out on a few bucks.

The Sporting News also pointed out that, in a strange ruling, the NCAA informed A&M it was okay for Manziel (and/or his corporation), as an amateur, to keep any money recovered from a lawsuit, but not profit off his football skills until he either left school or his eligibility ran out. In other words, even though he can't sell the shirts himself, he doesn't want anybody else to either.

And let's get real. It's not like he's missing out on millions. Chances are, like most other faddish tee shirts, Vaughan might have made a few hundred, maybe even a few thousand bucks, before the fad disappeared as quickly as it arose. That's pretty much how it usually goes. To be sure, those shirts would only be popular amongst A&M students, fans, and other supporters. Outside of that small demographic -- who else would want them? It's also likely that countless millions await Manziel when he DOES go pro. This is a drop in the bucket.

But no, better to rake some poor guy over the legal coals hoping to squeeze whatever money they can out of him. Perhaps someone should tell JMAN2 that this is not exactly great public relations. Again, Manziel wouldn't be allowed to profit off such shirts ANYWAY. To boot, he's getting free publicity in a positive way.

It makes one wonder just how dumb some of our laws are. Evidently, it would  be legally acceptable to  print up paraphernalia that say, "Raise hell and Heil Hitler", or something else equally disgusting -- but "Keep Calm and Johnny Football" is off-limits. All because dear Johnny has a corporation on paper.

In the opinion of yours truly -- something is wrong with this picture.

San Antonio Spurs. A class act

Many think the Miami Heat are the team to beat for the NBA championship, and they might very well be right. They've still got the same cast of characters that won the title last year, and Lebron and Co. are steamrolling just about everybody that gets in their way these days.

There's a few other teams that are very good. The Okla City Thunder and LA Clippers get a lot of attention and TV time. Also, there's a couple others that are just excellent but seem to fly under the radar -- like the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers. They aren't nationally hyped as much as, say, the greatly improved NY Knicks, but make no mistake. Memphis and Indiana are terrific basketball teams. Check the standings.

But nobody seems to fly under the radar like the San Antonio Spurs. They've been quietly great for a long time. In the 14 seasons since 1999, the Spurs have won 4 NBA championships. And don't look now, but they currently have the best record in the entire league, including being a couple games ahead of Miami.

While other teams have more "showtime" players, the Spurs do it the old fashioned way. Supreme teamwork and execution. Sure, they have some very good players themselves, like the old guard of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, who show no signs of slowing down with age. But if you watch a Spurs game, you'll notice just about all the players contribute. It's likely that their "2nd stringers" are just as good or better than the majority of NBA teams. Every one of them can play -- and play at a high level.

No doubt, this is due to their head coach, Gregg Popovich, who many knowledgeable basketball people generally consider the best coach in the game -- by far. Coach Pop has a way of not only instilling the fundamentals of basketball upon his players, but doing so in a fashion where it becomes almost second nature to them during the course of a game. They space the floor well, and move the ball quickly so that it gets to the right guy at the right time. If there's an open man -- they'll find him. Time and again, we see one of their players pass up a wide open jumper -- sometimes in mid-shot, only to get the ball to a teammate that's cutting to the basket for a layup or dunk. They also flow to the ball very quickly on defense. If one guy gets beat, another is coming to help out. The Spurs can run up and down or play a half court game. They've got height, speed, toughness, shooters, rebounders, and most of all, smarts. Fundamentally, they're just very sound all the way around. In other words, they don't beat themselves.

It's almost comical that more attention is given to why the LA Lakers are losing than what the Spurs get for their excellence. Yes, LA's definitely a bigger market, complete with all the glitterati, and San Antonio's mostly known for the Alamo -- but it doesn't seem right.

There's certainly no guarantee the Spurs will even make it to the finals, let alone win the championship, but don't underestimate these guys either. As mentioned above, they're 2 games ahead of Miami in the standings, and most would agree the western conference, where the Spurs play more games, offers tougher competition than the east, where Miami does the same. Having the best record two thirds of the way through the regular season is noteworthy.

What I really like about the Spurs is they don't whine, complain, and "flop" like so many players on other teams. They just go about their business and quietly get it done. You won't see Spurs players doing a bunch of TV commercials or other high profile gigs either. They've got basketball to play. Also, any locker room dissention on their team is either non-existent, or kept "in-house", where it belongs, unlike some other clubs. From the head coach on down, the San Antonio Spurs are professionals -- and they act like it.

To boot, Coach Popovich isn't above yukking it up once in a while with the media, and even with the players. That might help explain why his players pay such close attention to what he tells them. He still expects maximum effort and discipline, but he keeps it loose.

Popovich overheard on the sidelines during a time-out of a recent game --- "The next guy that misses a free throw is going to buy me a new car".

No wonder they concentrate so hard.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Oscar Pistorius. Strange goings-on

Most everyone is aware of the murder charges being sought against Oscar Pistorius in South Africa for shooting and killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.  Pistorius, a double amputee since childhood, was known as the "blade runner" for running Olympic track events on two carbon fiber prosthetic legs. He denies the charges, claims to have been in fear for his life due to what he thought was an intruder, and says it was an accident.

At this point, it would seem the only person that knows for sure what happened is Pistorius himself. Yet, some very strange goings-on are afoot in this case.

The police originally claimed to find syringes and testosterone in OP's home. Perhaps they surmised some sort of 'roid rage caused him to intentionally kill Steenkamp. Now, incredibly, they've admitted they don't know what the substance is because it hasn't even been tested yet. Pistorius, through his lawyer, is claiming it was some sort of "herbal remedy".

Other early evidence said a neighbor heard a prolonged shouting match between Oscar and Reeva not long before the shooting happened. Then the lead investigator testified the "neighbor" lived about 600 yards away. 600 YARDS? And they heard an argument from inside one house to inside another 6 football fields away? That stretches the limits of credibility a bit.

The investigator, one Hilton Botha, admits to walking through the Pistorius/Steenkamp residence without wearing protective footwear, thereby possibly contaminating the "crime" scene, and also said the police have lost track of some of the ammunition they found. Further, Botha admitted he has no evidence to contradict Pistorius' account of what happened. At that point, a reasonable person might ask -- if even the head cop himself says there's no evidence against him -- then just why, pray tell, is Pistorius sitting in jail, much less being charged with premeditated murder?

In a truly bizarre turn of events, it turns out that Botha himself is awaiting trial on 7 counts of attempted murder. The very detective investigating the Pistorius case has THAT hanging over his head, and he's on active duty out running around looking for other "criminals"? Unbelievable.

Despite these setbacks, the prosecutor keeps plowing ahead, as they are known to do sometimes. Whether or not Pistorius will ever actually go to trial is unknown at this time.

If so, the above would certainly be a lot to digest for any potential jurors, but even that seems to stray from the norm. If my information is correct, there are no juries in South Africa. Just the judge.

Never having been there, yours truly has no idea how the wheels of justice turn in South Africa. It is only hoped they eventually root out the truth, whatever it may be.

Regardless, there is no doubt this a tragedy. A beautiful young woman lost her life. But as things continue to unfold -- it keeps getting stranger and stranger.....

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Danica Patrick wins Daytona 500 pole

Congrats to Danica Patrick for winning the pole at the 2013 Daytona 500. After zooming around the track at over 196 MPH, Danica will lead the charge when the green flag is waved next Sunday. Or as Bob Uecker might say, she'll be in the "front row". Also in the front row will be second place qualifier Jeff Gordon, who ran 3 one-hundredths of a second slower than Danica. That's pretty close.

They make a nice combination. After all, how many times do we get to see an event with Wonder Boy and Wonder Girl side by side?  Or, with apologies to Dana Carvey's "Church Lady" of Saturday Night Live fame -- isn't that special?

Maybe the only thing better than that would be if both their cars were sponsored by Wonder Bread. But seeing as how Hostess, who made Wonder Bread, recently went belly-up, that was never going to happen. Too bad, because that also wiped out a couple other potential nicknames for the dynamic duo. No, this has nothing to do with Batman and Robin. Think Hostess. If there are those that consider Jeff Gordon some sort of Twinkie, then how much of a reach is it to dub Danica Patrick a cupcake? Sure, that's dopey, but I'll betcha somewhere Dale Earnhard Sr. would smile at the thought....

Given Danica's short history in NASCAR of not being very competitive, it comes as quite a surprise that she's leading the pack at their biggest race. Or could there be another reason? Evidently, Danica and lesser-known fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse have recently become an "item". Maybe that's got her motor revved up a little bit. That Go Daddy thing might have taken on a whole new meaning behind closed doors. Ya think?

Alas, they'll never make it. She drives a Chevy and Ricky drives a Ford. It's only a matter of time before the bickering starts.

Nevertheless, Danica made history by becoming the first woman to ever win the pole for a NASCAR race. That's a record that can never be broken. What's gone largely unnoticed is Danica seems to have also set a new personal record along the way. At Daytona so far, she's gone all week without wrecking a car -- hers or a bunch of other guys'. And nary a single boot-stomping hissy fit in sight. I'm not sure they keep stats on such things, but that must be SOME kind of record.

Can she actually win the Daytona 500? Sure, if things fall her way. The odds-makers have her as a 15 to 1 shot. Not bad out of a field of 43 cars. A year ago it probably would have been a million to one, so Danica's definitely heading in the right direction. It's a long race, and anything can happen and usually does, but she'll have to find a "buddy" or two on the track to hook up with along the way to be seriously competitive. With all the drafting that goes on, and the other cars push/pulling each other around the track, a car all by itself has ZERO chance of winning. It will be interesting to see who, if anybody, steps up into that role amongst some of the "good ole boys" she'll be racing against. A couple things come into play. First, it would have to be guys with cars amongst the fastest in the field to keep the pace out front. Second, would they be willing to help Danica, and hence themselves? Or would they rather leave Danica out on an island and take their chances elsewhere?  In days of yore, the answer to that would have been obvious. But times have changed and now nobody knows for sure.

Weather permitting, we'll all find out this Sunday.

Whatever happens -- Darrel Waltrip says it best. Boogety, boogety, boogety.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Michael Jordan's 50th B-day.

For anyone who just emerged from a coma or parachuted in from another planet, Michael Jordan will turn 50 in a couple days.  It's pretty hard to miss with all the hoopla that's been going on.

No doubt, Jordan was a great basketball player -- arguably the best there ever was. But this whole birthday thing seems a bit overblown. Check that, make that WAY overblown. Sure, anyone's 50th birthday is a notable occasion, and yes, it's our nature to particularly take heed when it's someone very famous, but this is getting to be a bit much.

For a sports fan, there's no getting away from it. It's on radio talk shows, and the sports talking heads on TV just can't get enough of it. Over and over, we're reminded that His Airness is closing in on 50. It's almost like counting down the minutes on New Years Eve. Sports Illustrated just devoted about half an issue to Jordan, including all 50 covers he's been featured on over the years. Whoa. With everything else that has gone on in the sports world over the years, one guy got 50 covers?

Ah well, that will all blow over in a few days once the magical day has come and gone. Nobody's going to get excited when he turns 51 -- I think.

If you think this is bad, mark down the date December 30, 2025 on your calendar. On that day something even more momentous will occur. There will likely be parades the world over. Newspapers will print an "extra". The aforementioned talking heads will get so excited, they'll spontaneously combust on the air. It could very well be an international holiday observed in every country on the planet. The masses will be so overwhelmed with absolute bliss due to the colossal event, they'll fall to their knees and begin speaking in "tongues". A little shy of 13 years from now, a truly stupendous occasion will befall us mere mortals.

Because on that day, one Eldrick "Tiger" Woods will turn 50.

God help us.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Odds and ends

Interesting tidbit from the Jeopardy! show -- Any child born these days has a better chance of living to be a 100, than being left-handed. No pun intended, but can that be right? If you thought quality southpaw major league pitchers were hard to come by now, in a couple decades it might get ridiculous.

Loved Charles Barkley's observation on Shaq's Buick commercial. It shows Shaq walking up to the car, then the scene changes and it shows Shaq seated in a small 4-door sedan. Sayeth the Chuckster, "I want to see how he got IN that little car. They didn't show that part. Ain't no way". Touche.

Wow. Not that long ago, we were rooting on the "blade runner", South African Oscar Pistorius, who was running Olympic track events on two prosthetic legs. Now he's been accused of murdering his girlfriend? Say it ain't so.

If there was any doubt before who the best pro basketball team in LA is, it's gone now. The Clips just blistered the Lakers by 24. Still think it's funny how when those two clubs play, "home" and "away" teams are designated. They share the same home arena (Staples Center). They each have their own home locker rooms. All they do is change the designs on the floor.

Actually, when you think about it, both teams have an advantage over all the rest of the other NBA teams. The Clips and Lakers play each other 4 times a year, 2 "home" and 2 "away" for each. But even the "away" games are 2 more home games that the other 28 teams don't get. They have to go on the road and stay/play in hostile surroundings. Somehow that doesn't seem fair.

Back to Barkley. Evidently, he's not sold on the Clips being serious contenders. According to Sir Charles, there's no way a team can be that good when their toughest guy is only 5' 10" (point guard Chris Paul). Food for thought.

The Paterno family is fighting back, still claiming the late Joe had nothing to do with the child-molesting horrors that went on at Penn State, including looking the other way or any sort of cover-up. The people that gathered the evidence accusing him of the same are standing by their story. Bottom line? In the end, we'll probably never know for sure exactly what he did or didn't do.

And the major league baseball teams are reporting to spring training camps. Just think -- only another 8 months until the World Series. Idle thought --- I can understand why northern clubs like Detroit, Boston, NY, etc., go south for spring training. The weather. But why do teams like the LA Dodgers go to Arizona? Isn't their home field just sitting idle anyway? Worse yet, why do the Arizona Diamondbacks go to a different place in their own state for the same? Regular games in Phoenix but spring training in Scottsdale? Weird.

Come to think of it, why do they call it spring training anyway? It's still winter, at least in the northern hemisphere, where major league baseball is played. Spring doesn't start for another month.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lebron vs Michael. Who's better?

Lebron James has been on a tear of late, scoring 30 or more points in six straight games, while his shooting percentage has been over a whopping 60%. Lots of guys can score thirty points in a game, but nobody shoots 60%, at least not for very long. Very impressive stuff.

For what seems like forever, Michael Jordan has been considered by many to be the best NBA player of all time. Now Lebron has entered the conversation. Could it be that he's better than MJ was? There's some similarities and also some differences between the two to consider when trying to answer what's basically an imaginary question anyway. No matter what Jordan did, or whatever Lebron has done or may ever do, there will always be disagreements on who's better. For that matter, there are those that would say even another player, such as Oscar Robinson, Kareem, etc., belong on top.

Between LJ and MJ, Lebron is bigger and stronger. He's at least 2, and maybe 3 inches taller and outweighs Michael by 40-50 pounds, all of which is muscle. Let's call "faster" a draw.

Jordan scored about 32,000 regular season points. Lebron recently topped 20,000. Even if LJ stays healthy, never a given, nobody knows how long he might play. He might or might not pass MJ. However, if he sticks around long enough, he might even pass Kareem for the all-time scoring title. In that regard Lebron had a major advantage. While Kareem was putting in his college years at UCLA, and Michael at N. Carolina, Lebron jumped straight to the NBA out of high school and started lighting up the scoreboard, so perhaps that will always be a somewhat unfair comparison.

Jordan has 6 NBA championships and James but one. Yet the Miami Heat look poised to at least seriously compete for titles for the next several years. Who knows how many he/they might win? But depending on how one looks at it, that comparison could be skewed as well.

When Michael first started in 1984, the LA Lakers and Boston Celtics were busy trading titles back and forth for several years. Then came the Bad Boys of the Detroit Pistons for a couple years. Because such other good teams were in the way, it took Jordan and the Bulls about 7 years to finally get over the hump. Then again, for the first 7 years of Lebron's NBA career, he was stuck in nowhereland with the Cleveland Cavaliers. It doesn't matter HOW good a player is, there's no way he can win a championship single-handedly. Jordan couldn't have done it without Scottie Pippen and Co., and Lebron wasn't going to get it done in Cleveland. Now he's got D-Wade and Co. in Miami, and in just their 2nd year together won a title. Sure, there's a few other teams out there like Okla City, San Antonio, the Clips, Pacers, Knicks, and even Jordan's old Bulls if Derrick Rose comes back as his old self. It's tough to bet against the "field", but would anyone seriously doubt Lebron and the Heat are the "team to beat"? If they rattle off 2,3,4 more titles, what would that do to the MJ/LJ comparison scenario?

Besides teammates and championships, perhaps another factor should be considered. Coaching. Michael had the benefit of Phil Jackson while he was winning his 6 championships. After Chicago, the Zen Master turned around and won 5 more in LA with the Lakers. Granted, Jackson had fantastic talent on both teams, and it's a "players'" game, but 11 titles are 11 titles. He must have been doing SOMETHING right. How much that figures into the overall MJ/LJ picture, if at all, is another unknown.

Offensively, Jordan and James were/are top notch. Both great shooters from the outside, including 3s, both adept at drawing fouls, and being deadly from the free throw line, both could drive to the basket, and both could certainly come up with spectacular dunks. Defensively, Jordan was tenacious, as is Lebron now.

So far it's a tough call, but there's a couple other factors I think tip the scales a bit. It's not totally size, because despite that disadvantage, Jordan could jump out of gym. Yet because of that very height/weight factor, Lebron is a better rebounder. Jordan fans might cry foul and say, wait a minute -- Michael was a guard. He didn't play under the basket as much as Lebron -- so rebounding isn't a valid stat.

But that's the thing. Lebron can do everything Michael could do -- and more. Lebron can play any of the five positions on the court at a very high level, including point guard, if need be. Perhaps not since Magic Johnson has someone his height been able to handle the ball so well.

Jordan can't lay claim to that. Despite his amazing talent, for the most part he was either a guard or a small forward. Few would think of him as being able to go up against power forwards on a regular basis, much less grinding it out with big-bodied centers near the basket.

Lebron can, and just recently has developed his "low-post" game where he's as much at ease playing center as he is point guard, with all the moves in his repertoire.

Michael set the bar awfully high as an individual player, but yours truly is of the opinion Lebron has at least equalled him, if not slightly surpassed him. And barring catastrophe, he's far from done.

Too bad we'll never get to see them both in their primes playing a game of "horse".

How much fun would that have been to watch?


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mich/MSU hoops. The word is...

Well, I don't know what the word is. The way MSU manhandled UM, describing it as just a loss or a defeat wouldn't do it justice. Nor would romp, rout, blowout, beatdown, or trip to the woodshed. Slaughter is getting a little closer. What comes after slaughter? 

Though the final score was 75-52, it looked like if MSU had really wanted to put the hammer down they could have won by at least 30. Maybe 40. Minus the blood and gore, it was like the Christians being fed to the hungry lions back in ancient Roman times.

That "little brother/little sister" thing the two schools have traded barbs over in the past was at least temporarily emphatically decided.

Many, including yours truly, thought UM had a slight edge in talent, but also had to give the nod to MSU as far as better team chemistry, coaching -- and toughness. Few would have thought it would turn into the lop-sided contest it did.

After such a high profile game against a (former) Top 5 opponent, it's likely MSU will jump a few places from their #8 spot when the new polls come out. Conversely, it's hard telling how far UM (#4) will plummet. Not long ago, UM had flirted with even being #1 in the country a couple times. No more. They'll probably drop quite a bit, and it would come as no great surprise if they fell out of the Top 10 entirely.

Saying the Wolverines got exposed would be an understatement. Had it been much worse, they may as well have been stripped naked and paraded through the streets of East Lansing by the Spartans. Two of UM's leading scorers, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III, who were averaging about 16 and 11 points per game, respectively, got what? 2 apiece?

Sure, State head coach Tom Izzo said the right things after it was over. His team had played about as well as they could, and UM had had an off-game. Maybe, but it also looked like UM had ran into a physical, tenacious team that they had no answers for.

After a slow start to the season, it appears MSU is gaining momentum. How devastating such a loss to UM will be is unknown. Maybe they'll be able to shake it off and regroup. Maybe they won't. Hard to say. Worse yet for the Wolverines, they now find themselves 2 full games behind the Spartans in the Big 10 conference standings, including losing 3 of their last 4 games. That's a long way from being #1 in the country.

For the next couple weeks, the schedule works in UM's favor to heal up some. They've got home and away dates with lowly Penn State sandwiched around a home game with Illinois, whom they've already defeated on the road.

But then MSU comes to town for a rematch. No doubt, that game will be super-hyped as well. There's also no doubt Michigan and their fans will be geeked up to the max and want to exact a serious measure of revenge.

We'll see if they get it on March 2. Unless two very "different" teams show up from what happened in the first contest -- I wouldn't bet on it.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Rajon Rondo. An enigma

Something very strange is going on with the Boston Celtics. It's no big secret that their "old-guard", players like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, are getting a little long in the tooth by NBA standards. The other long-standing member of the "3 Amigos", wily old veteran Ray Allen, bailed to the Miami Heat last year, and BTW, won a championship.

But Rajon Rondo was different. Rondo was only in his 6th year and few would doubt he's amongst the most skilled point guards in the entire league. He could handle the ball with the best of them. I refer to this in past tense because of the major knee injury Rondo suffered a few weeks back which ended his 2012-2013 season. There's little doubt Rondo could have jumped right into the starting lineup of a LOT of NBA teams over the last few years.

Before Rondo went down, the Celtics were struggling mightily to even get to .500. The way they were going, it was certainly no given they would even make the playoffs, let alone go deep into them.

But that's where things get a little strange. Since Rondo's injury, Boston has reeled off 7 wins in a row to climb right back into the thick of the playoff race. Could it possibly be that the Celtics are a better team without Rondo -- then with him? It would seem to defy logic. However, there is a theory being floated as to why this is happening. It's because Rondo was too unselfish. Sounds weird, right? Maybe not, if one looks at the whole picture.

Over the years, there's been no shortage of NBA players that like to shoot a lot. We don't hear the term "ball hog" much anymore, but they're still out there. They'd rather find a way to take a low percentage shot rather than passing the ball to a teammate that's "wide open".

Rondo seemed to be the opposite. Sure, point guards are supposed to distribute the ball, but it was almost like Rondo looked for a way NOT to shoot. Some knowledgeable basketball people have surmised he was more interested in padding his "assists" statistics. And it's not like Rondo wasn't a pretty good shooter himself. He was.

It seems bass-ackwards that a point guard looking to keep his fellow players on the floor involved could be detrimental to his team. But when it comes to the only stat that really matters in the NBA -- wins and losses, the Celtics' record with/without Rondo speaks for itself.

Perhaps that's because Rondo going out forced Doc Rivers and his troops to reconfigure their game. Instead of one guy doing most of the creating, the whole team has become more involved in moving the ball around.

Then again, maybe the Celtics have just been on a freakish little hot streak with the guys pumped up trying to compensate for the loss of Rondo. As the weeks roll on, it's entirely possible that hole in their roster could catch up to them and eventually drag them back down. Who knows?

But for now, it's pretty strange what's going on in Beantown.....

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Wolverines, and a bonehead play

Yours truly is certainly no expert on wolverines. The only place I've seen the critters was in a zoo. Yet, I'm pretty sure I know a couple things about them. Pound for pound, they might very well be the most fearsome creatures on the planet. Tangling with a wolverine in the wild is a bad, repeat BAD, idea. Lore has it that people have turned loose a pack of hounds to chase one down and, by the end of the day, when that varmint occasionally turned to fight, those same people were left with a trail littered with dead dogs. Wolverines are only about 3 feet long, 18 inches high, and normally weigh in around 40-50 pounds. Besides smaller prey like squirrels, rabbits, and porcupines (anything that can chomp down on a porcupine has got my respect), wolverines have been known to take down deer, elk, and moose for food. They won't even back down from a hungry bear feeding on a carcass, even though the bear might weigh 10 times what they do. With their teeth, claws, and blazing speed, wolverines are ferocious animals indeed. One would certainly never expect such an animal to put his/her head in the sand when the going got tough.

But that seems to be exactly what the University of Michigan men's basketball team just did against the Wisconsin Badgers. Now don't get me wrong. Badgers are pretty rough characters themselves in the wild, but in a cage match with a wolverine, I suspect a badger would be tapping out in a hurry. But despite the Wolverines supposedly being the superior animals, the Wisconsin basketball Badgers refused to do that. They kept hanging around and wouldn't let the game get away from them.

In the waning moments, it looked as if Michigan had finally prevailed. Sharp-shooting Tim Hardaway drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put the Wolverines ahead by 3 with only two and a half seconds remaining. The Badgers would need to in-bounds the ball, bring it up court, and hope for a miracle shot of their own to merely tie it. All Michigan had to do was foul the Badger player with the ball, without letting him get off a shot. Let the guy have his two free throws. Even if he makes them both, Michigan still wins by 1 point. Game over.

But unlike a real wolverine, Michigan put it's head in the sand. They let a Badger player dribble to about half-court and get off a shot as regulation time expired. Sure, the odds of that shot going in are maybe 10 to 1 against -- but it did. Overtime ensued and the Badgers eventually prevailed. It never should have came to that. It was a bonehead play by Michigan. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

After yet another shake-up at the top of the men's college basketball rankings, with the likes of Indiana, Florida, and Kansas going down, the Wolverines were primed to become #1 again. All they had to do was act like the animals they're named after. Be tenacious and fight to the end. Like Yogi said, it ain't over til it's over.

So now Michigan will fall back a few spots, and they're looking at visiting their arch-rival Michigan State in a few days.

No, I never saw a for-real Spartan in the wild, or even at a zoo. Not sure, but history seems to suggest they disappeared a couple thousand years ago. I dunno. That's all Greek to me.

Nevertheless, yours truly strongly suspects MSU head coach Tom Izzo will have his modern day version of the Spartans ready to fight tooth and nail to the end with those feisty members of the weasel family that will come-a-calling shortly. The Sparties are always a formidable opponent as well, and it ain't exactly the Peloponnesian Wars, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see them send the Wolverines back to Ann Arbor licking their wounds to regroup.

It should be quite a game.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Newsflash. And college hoops

This just in. Given the blizzard that's pounding the northeast US, a certain governor has declared anyone caught driving on the streets in his state can be thrown in prison for a year. What kind of tyranny is going on out there? Doesn't he realize people like me still need to be medicated, pregnant women can't exactly "hold it" when it comes to going into labor, and guys will run out of beer? This is getting out of control, but enough about that. On to the hoops.

What a weird merry-go-round it's been in college basketball so far this season. It seems like every time a team gets to be #1 -- POW -- they get knocked off.  And it's not just the top dogs. Highly ranked teams have been upset right and left by other teams they were favored to beat easily. Kansas was cruising right along until they got beat at home by Okla St., then followed it up by getting trashed at TCU. The Horned Frogs were 0-8 in conference play going into that game against the mighty Jayhawks. They beat Kansas? Really?  Guess it makes about as much sense as then #1 Duke getting throttled to the tune of 27 points by Miami (Fla), or #2 Florida getting thumped by Arkansas, or even Indiana earlier being upended by their pesky little in-state rival Butler. Indy managed to scrape their way back to the top, only to lose again at mediocre Illinois. Current #1 Michigan is the only team out there right now that hasn't crashed and burned in a game they were easily supposed to win. Yes, they were narrowly defeated at Ohio State and Indiana, but losing to two very high quality in-conference teams on the road is nothing to be ashamed of. Then again, their true test by fire will likely come in a few days when they visit their own in-state arch rival Michigan State. Should the Spartans knock off the Wolverines -- very possible -- the national ratings will shuffle yet again.

Of course, most of this doesn't really matter anyway. Once the NCAA tournament starts in another month or so, all the good teams will be there, and everything gets reset. Win a game and move on. Lose and you're out.

At that, stop and consider how college basketball has changed, or maybe not, over the years. In days of yore, there were certain teams that were perennial contenders. UCLA and North Carolina were always lurking. They seem to have fallen by the wayside of late. Though they certainly have a storied history and are the defending champs, Kentucky's "one and done" with so many players appears to have finally caught up to them. Few would consider the Wildcats to be a serious threat this year. It's risky business to underestimate Coach K at Duke and his Blue Devils, given their track history. The man didn't get to be the ongoing winningest coach of all time by accident. His teams are always good, but how many currently think of Duke as potential champions? Not me.

In the past, there have been "small" schools that put together a team to be reckoned with. Marquette had it's day, as did DePaul, for a couple examples. Bradley made some noise not long ago.

These days, other teams like Butler and Gonzaga have assumed the roles of "Cinderellas". That is not to underestimate or disrespect them in any way, because they have indeed become college basketball powers. It doesn't matter who's seeded where. Come tournament time, even top-seeded schools don't want to play teams like them, because they are very capable of beating anyone anywhere on any given night, and the big dogs know that -- or at least their coaches do. Still, for such a team to reach the Final Four is quite an accomplishment. After that, it would certainly stun the world of college hoops if they were to go on to win a championship. It's possible, but highly unlikely.

At that, it appears the days of dynasties are over. Teams go up, and teams go down. Maybe that's a good thing. For that matter, harkon back to ladies' college hoops once upon a time. Schools like Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech ruled. When's the last time you heard of them even being competitive? Coach Pat at Tennessee had a dynasty until that pesky Geno at UConn came along with so many great players. Then Baylor happend upon a freak talent in 6' 8" Brittney Griner with her supporting cast. Oops. Notre Dame put together a formidable squad of ladies most people outside of South Bend never heard of, and Texas A&M eventually won a championship with much the same type of team. Quick, name a couple of those Lady Aggies players. How about their coach? Chances are -- you can't. It's just the way it goes.

So as the regular season merry-go round goes on in college hoops, constantly super-hyped by the media, with one team after another grabbing the brass ring, only to have it snatched away from them -- we should all enjoy the competitions that take place, while rooting for our favorite teams.

But let's not kid ourselves. When the tournaments start for the boys and girls -- whoever was ranked where last week, this week, and even the next few weeks, will have been long forgotten.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Sensitive issues and where I'm coming from

To those that have expressed concern, been offended, or perhaps even outraged by some of the sports related topics I have addressed in the past, I would like to make one thing perfectly clear.

In no way, shape, or form, was it ever my belief or intent to be "anti", much less hateful, towards any particular slice or segment of society. I fully grasp, appreciate, and agree with the concept of all men/women being created equal, despite whatever differences they may have in various ways. However, in this day and age of political correctness, many are fearful of broaching subjects that are deemed to be sensitive. I am not.

To pretend some such things don't exist by conveniently ignoring the subject does not make them any less real. They are indeed real, and while it's easy to write "puff pieces" that "go with the flow", occasionally I take it upon myself to step outside the box and take what I consider to be a totally objective, if politically incorrect view. When doing so, I play no favorites, and "sacred cows" are by necessity brushed aside.

Again, it is never my intention to be discriminatory in any way, but merely to step up and address "third rails" that so many others shy away from, as such issues occasionally intersect with the world of sports. Yes, I can be blunt at times, to the point of making some people uncomfortable, but it is not my nature to "sugar-coat" things. They are what they are, and I fail to see how discussing them frankly should be off-limits.

Each and every reader of whatever I write is certainly free to keep reading, have their own pro or con comments published at the end of any particular article, or stop reading altogether. My sports blog could be likened to TV and radio in the sense that if you like it -- stay tuned. If not, there's hundreds of other choices to choose from, so one need only change the channel, or type, point, and click to check out something else if they so desire. In the meantime, I shall stumble on trying to do the best I can.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Yo Delaware

In a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, writer Jeff Pearlman came up with what yours truly considers some very interesting sports trivia. Pearlman attended the Univ of Delaware from 1990 to 1994, so it only figures he'd have some major loyalty to the Blue Hens.

That would be the same university and football team the current MVP of the Super Bowl, one Joe Flacco, attended. Though Delaware is a rather small state geographically, it was, after all, the FIRST state.

And Delaware can boast a second quarterback to have made it to the Super Bowl. Back in 2003, former Blue Hens QB Rich Gannon got there with the Oakland Raiders. No, he didn't play so well in that game, throwing multiple interceptions, as the black and silver Raider nation watched their team get stormed by the Tampa Bay Bucs for the Lombardi trophy.

But as Pearlman pointed out -- that's 2 Delaware QBs that have played in the Super Bowl. For such a small school, that's rather impressive.

Further referring to Pearlman's article -- what get's REALLY interesting is how many big time college football powerhouses have never had a single QB make it to the Super Bowl. That includes the likes of Ohio State, Wisconsin, Texas, and even USC. They may have won some major bowl games and even national championships here and there, but no QB from any of those schools ever made it to the "big dance" in the NFL.

There have been 47 Super Bowls played. That's 94 starting QBs. Sure, many of them have been there on multiple occasions. Win or lose, the names Bradshaw, Montana, Elway, Kelly and Tarkenton come to mind. Yet nary a Buckeye, Badger, Longhorn or Trojan along the way.

And now former Delware Blue Hen Joe Flacco, or at least his agent, is making a case that Flacco should be the highest paid QB in the NFL. Outrageous, you say, given the likes of Aaron Rogers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and the Mannings? Maybe, but maybe not.

To be sure, there are those that put up gaudier statistics. The Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford falls into that category. Stafford racked up over 5000 passing yards two years ago, but has yet to win a single playoff game. Last year, he had a receiver (Calvin Johnson) break the all-time record for most receiving yards in a season. The Lions went 4-12. It seems they find a way to lose.

Conversely, Flacco seems to fly under the radar, but he finds a way to win. It's not just the Ravens' magical run to the Lombardi trophy this year -- check out Flacco's record, particularly in the playoffs, over the last several years. It's impressive.

Arguments can certainly be made about the talent Flacco had around him on the Ravens, but most would agree the QB is the leader of the team. What's more important? A QB throwing for 5000 yards while his team continues to lose, or another guy putting up more modest stats, that manages the game well, doesn't make mistakes, and keeps leading his team to big wins, particularly on the road during the crunch time of the NFL playoffs?

So here's to the state of Delaware, Flacco and the Blue Hens. But contrary to Pearlman, I still think they swiped those winged helmets from Michigan. And all those pesky credit card companies based in Wilmington can be a pain sometimes too.

Michigan/Ohio State. Maize and...more maize?

That was an odd game. Most expected #1 Michigan to bounce back  in a big way after losing in Indiana -- especially going back home to avenge their narrow defeat at Ohio State not long ago. But a blowout it most certainly was not.

The Buckeyes more than held their own, actually leading for the majority of the game, until the Wolverines finally regrouped and managed to send it into overtime. Stranger yet, during the entire overtime period, both teams only managed to score one basket apiece. Luckily for Michigan, there's was of the 3-point variety while OSU's was only a deuce. Throw in one extra made free throw by UM as time was running out, and that pretty well sums it up. Michigan managed to win by their chinny-chin-chins and will likely remain #1 for a while longer, particuarly in lieu of the fact #2 Florida crashed and burned at Arkansas earlier in the evening.

But what was REALLY weird were the uniforms. Not so much Ohio State. They wore their traditional scarlet and gray, but with a bit of a twist. Instead of the players' individual names being stitched across their shoulder blades, all their uniforms just said "Buckeyes". Nothing wrong with that. Actually, in this day and age, where so many athletes want to be show-offs, it should be applauded in the spirit of team unity. But at least we could see the "Buckeyes" thing, along with their numbers.

Not so Michigan. Their uniforms were an eye-popping bright yellow. Along with their socks, and their shoes. They looked like a flock of neon canaries flyng around out there on the hardwood. The Wolverines have always been known as the maize and blue -- so where was the blue?

Certainly not their numbers. They were yellow too, and hard to make out. Not sure, but I think they had their surnames stitched across their shoulder blades. Hi-def TV or not, it was hard to tell because they were yellow as well. So who came up with the bright idea of yellow on yellow on yellow on yellow, etc? Further, despite being annoying, what's the point? Including the Grade-A athletic shoes they no doubt wear, the only thing it accomplished was spending a few thousand unnecessary bucks for new outfits they didn't need.

It's no big secret that the reason it's so expensive to attend a pro game these days is because of the outrageous salaries that are involved with the players' contracts, but that doesn't apply to college games. However, something else might be worth considering.

Some big-time universities like UM continue to lavish their teams with different outfits for different games like it's some kind of fashion show. Yet, aren't these the same universities whose administrators keep telling us how tight money is, and therefore have to keep upping tuition for the students?

Sure, big time football, and to a lesser extent basketball, bring in big time bucks. No doubt they finance lesser sports. Some would even argue the athletic department is not connected to the "general fund" of the university. Education and athletic budgets are separate entities, they say.

That may be so to a degree, but one has to realize it's all the same university. They have assets and liabilities. Revenues and expenditures. Regardless of the paper pushers guarding their fiefdoms, it's eventually all tied into the same pot.

Overall, if they take in more than they spend, they're doing well. If the opposite, they should probably look for another job -- like running for Congress.

Like many Congresspeople, some of these athletic departments seem to think they're entitled to -- well -- entitlements. All this while the average John and Jane Doe are struggling trying to merely survive in today's economy.

If everybody else is cutting corners to make ends meet, then what should be the big problem with these collegiate athletic teams doing the same? 

As far as I'm concerned basketball teams need only two sets of uniforms. One for home, and one for away games. When they wear out, get them new ones. Same with tennis shoes. Start them off with two pair. Like tires, when the tread gets a little thin, replace them. And forget the designer socks. Who cares? They don't need a whole 20 foot deep walk-in closet full of this stuff.

And for crying out loud, whether it's maize and blue, green and white, scarlet and gray -- whatever -- every school out there has 2 colors. Whatever color the uniforms are for any particular game -- the names and numbers should be the opposite. Is that asking too much?

It's like some of these prima donnas have gotten to point where they've forgotten some of life's most basic valuable lessons that their moms probably told them once upon a time.

I can remember some of those pearls of wisdom I once heard as a child. Like, "If you don't have something nice to say -- then shut up, stupid".

Or, "Just because Billy ran away from home doesn't mean you have to stay here".

And my favorite -- "You're not leaving this table until you eat your vegetables. Don't you know there's sober people in China?"

I'm telling ya -- the guys these days don't know how easy they have it.....

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Super Bowl blackout

Anybody that watched the Super Bowl, in the Super dome in New Orleans, knows it suffered a power failure of some sort that lasted about half an hour. The problem is, nobody wants to step up and take responsibility for what happened. The finger pointing has begun.

Now call me naive, if you will, but yours truly firmly believes somebody somewhere knows EXACTLY what happened. Perhaps like so many other things these days, the people that could explain this are hoping the story gradually fades away. Unless an event is totally outrageous, which this was not, people in a position of authority learned a long time ago that deflecting questions and "waiting it out" until the next big story comes along to divert the public's attention, works out more times than not. Once the heat is off, they can go back to business as usual. Certainly the politicians have mastered this art. Stall long enough, and the story goes away anyway, to be replaced with whatever captures the public's attention next.

Yet in this case, it wouldn't seem to be asking too much for somebody to explain what happened. It's not like anybody's going to be facing massive law suits looking for millions of dollars. No real harm was done, other than possibly giving New Orleans, the Superdome, the electrical company (Entergy) or even the NFL a bit of a black eye.

Therefore, that's exactly why yours truly suspects when all is said and done -- the reasons behind that pesky little blackout will boil down to a derivative of Murphy's Law.

"When more than one person is responsible for a miscalculation, ultimately no one will be at fault".

And so it goes.....

Monday, February 4, 2013

Roger Goodell. Walking a fine line

From on high, the NFL commissioner gave his "state of the league" address. Either he's terribly naive or else thinks we are.

Roger spoke of trying to eliminate "low" tackles. Well gee, flags now fly for helmet to helmet contact, "horse-collar" tackles draw a personal foul, and on occasion, it appears that just hitting a guy too hard to will result in "unnecessary roughness". So if the Commish has his way and low tackles are outlawed, just where is it that defenders are supposed to tackle a ball carrier anyway?

Maybe it will become something like major league baseball's "strike zone". Once upon a time they used to say the strike zone was from the shoulders to the knees. That was never true. Then they said it was from the armpits to the knees. It was never that either. These days, any pitched ball crossing the plate even at the waistline of a batter is usually called "high" by the home plate umpire. In actuality, the current strike zone is maybe a foot in height, that extends from roughly the lower pelvic area to the knees. Maybe that will be the only place tacklers are allowed to hit in the near future, though I'm not at all sure every tackle being mandated to happen in the groin area is such a good idea either.

Idle thought. Want to cut down on all the concussions? Cut off the top of the helmets and leave their scalps exposed. Guys will think twice before leading with their heads. Ya think?

Sure, in recent years much more attention is being paid to the safety of NFL players during games, and in theory that's a noble idea. Yet the question begins to become -- where exactly is the line to be drawn when it comes to the very nature of what the NFL has always been about and player safety?

Few would doubt that the NFL became the most popular sport in America by a wide margin because of how the game itself has developed. It features highly conditioned athletes that are willing to partake in violent bodily collisions. Over the years, they've become bigger, stronger, and certainly faster. Even with the wonders of modern medical technology, a career can end on any given play.

But that's the thing. Though most of the players are "drafted", it's not like how the US military used to draft soldiers. The future GIs were pretty much obligated to go and serve their country, whether they wanted to or not. Countless thousands of them would eventually experience unimaginable hardships, and even death, because they were conscripted to do so at the will of others.

In the NFL, it's quite the opposite. Young men dream from childhood about someday having the opportunity to play in the NFL. The competition along the way from high school, through college, has a way of culling the herd, and only the best of the best even get a chance to eventually go out there and throw their bodies around in the NFL. It could fairly be said the last guy on the practice squad of the worst team in the entire NFL is an extremely talented football player. And what does he want the most in the whole world? The chance to experience "game action". There's lot of guys few people ever hear of that play on NFL "special teams". Sometimes their job is to basically be a kamikaze running down the field and sacrifice his body to "blow up" a play. Some such high-speed collisions are unbelievably violent, yet these young men not only do it willingly, but know there's hundreds of other guys out there somewhere that would gladly take their job if only they had a chance to do the same thing.

Roger Goodell is certainly aware of that. As player safety continues to be a concern, there's probably a few things he could do about that. One would be eliminating kickoffs altogether. After one team scores, the other gets the ball on their own 20 yard line. But what's to be done about punts? The same type high speed collisions often occur there as well with the coverage team running down the field full bore trying to blast the guy that will catch the ball. I suppose it could be mandated that in lieu of punts and the bodily harm that may occur, they could just move the ball 40 yards or so and give it to the other team. That would cut down on injuries, and also eliminate the need for punters. But it would also eliminate some of the most potentially exciting plays that can oftentimes change the outcome of a game.

Let's face it. The NFL consists of gladiator type contests. It never would have risen to be the gorilla in the room of professional sports without the violence that is inherent in the game. Fans wouldn't go to see, or even tune in, to watch the games if the contests themselves became too "civilized". There's a reason why the fans can work themselves up into a frenzy, and I highly doubt it has anything to do with the precision receivers run their pass routes, the footwork of offensive linemen, or the colors of the uniforms.

So the good Mr. Goodell would appear to be faced with a dilemma. Throw in the owners of the franchises that make big bucks, the concerns of the players' union that would likely have to ratify any major changes in the game through collective bargaining, add the fans, and tweaking the game in the name of safety becomes a very volatile mix.

Further, consider the players themselves. Many have come right out and said they knew what they were getting into when they signed up for the NFL. They went into this with their eyes wide open and are fully aware of the dangers that lurk. Further yet, some players make obscene amounts of money -- upwards of $20 million a year. That's over a million a game. For that matter, even the MINIMUM salary for a rookie is $285,000. Is it any wonder the competition to make an NFL team is so great? Let's get real. Some of those guys likely couldn't pass a fairly administered high school equivalency exam. Where else would they find a job that pays so much?  It's high risk and high reward, and they damn well know it going in.

At that, many players have also come out and voiced their objections to some of the recent rule changes in the name of safety. They seem to think the game is becoming too "sissified". Sure, they might well have a whole different outlook when their playing days are done, and realize their bodies have been irreparably harmed, but in the meantime, who better to speak for the game than the players themselves? If the actual participants wish it to remain a ferocious contest, then who is anybody else to step in and start changing all the rules?

So add it all up. The players relish the challenge. The fans cheer big hits and apparently love the brutality of the sport. The owners likely don't care, as long as the TV megabucks keep flowing and their stadiums sell out. Satellite businesses from sports bars to those that sell NFL paraphernalia rely heavily on the game maintaining it's popularity. If the NFL gravitates too far towards the "No Fun League" that has been mentioned by many, it just might be they'd start to lose some of their popularity. And once it begins to slip, it's no easy task getting it back. Ask the Indy car people, and even NASCAR about that.

Roger Goodell would be well advised to proceed with caution.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A weird Super Bowl

Somewhere I suspect Dandy Don Meredith is smiling. If there was ever a time when his services were needed to sing "turn out the lights", it was at this Super Bowl.

Indeed, mysteriously the Superdome was plunged into darkness during the middle of the game. Then half the lights came back on. It wasn't until about 30 minutes later that somebody finally figured out how to turn the other half back on.

Yours truly has no idea how the Superdome's electrical system works, but one would think in this day and age that it just shoudn't be that difficult to turn the lights back on, especially when it was reported the power company had stated the outage appeared to be within the stadium itself. No surrounding areas were affected. Given the Super Bowl was being watched by hundreds of millions of viewers world-wide, that was an embarrassment to the NFL. Somewhere I also suspect commissioner Roger Goodell was not exactly a happy camper to see his showcase so rudely interrupted. Though we may never know, odds are pretty good somebody somewhere got fired over what happened, or at the very least has some serious 'splainin to do.

Regardless, what a game. Baltimore came out in the first half and were having their way with San Francisco. After the lights came back on in the second half, the tables turned and the 49ers got on a roll. Though at one point trailing by over 3 touchdowns, at the very end of the game San Fran had a chance to pull it out, being inside the Baltimore 10 yard line, trailing by only 5 points, with several cracks at the end zone to win it as time all but expired. But they just couldn't quite get it done. It appeared as if on San Fran's last chance one of the Baltimore cornerbacks was guilty of holding a 49er receiver, but it wasn't called, and those things happen.

So Ray Lewis indeed got to go out on top, and Baltimore will have a parade in a few days. Head coach John Harbaugh will be the toast of the town. Good for them. On the other hand, head coach Jim Harbaugh and his 49ers have to make the long trek back to San Fran and wonder what might have been. But hey, let's not forget the San Francisco Giants won the World Series last year by sweeping the Detroit Tigers, so that city has enough glory for a while. It's been a long time since Baltimore got to celebrate a championship of any sort, so why not?

Besides, the 49ers aren't exactly going to self-destruct. They're a relatively young team and could well compete for several more Super Bowls in the near future. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see them back in the big game next year.

And yeah, I went with the odds-makers and predicted the 49ers to win. I was wrong, but actually I can't remember the last time I got one right. At least I'm consistent.

On a related note -- there's no doubt that Baltimore's last offensive play of the game involved a lot of money changing hands. By that I mean all those football pools out there, where people buy "squares", and whichever numbers (scores) pop up after each quarter, plus the final score, pay out a certain amount of money, depending on how much the squares cost in the first place. For example, if 100 squares were going for $50 bucks apiece and it paid out quarterly, that would be $1250 each to 4 lucky winners. When the Baltimore punter ran out of his own end zone for a safety, rather than risk having his kick blocked, those numbers changed on all those football pools. All those people sitting on the lucky numbers before that play probably figured it was "in the bag". When the 2 points for a self-inflicted safety went up on the scoreboard, those same people watched their potential winnings go poof. Yet at the same time, an equal amount of people were likely thrilled with their last second stroke of luck.

Guess that's why they call it gambling. As they say -- Ya pays yer nickel, and ya takes yer chances.

A Super Bowl prediction

Funny thing about the Super Bowl. The odds-makers continue to insist the San Francisco 49ers are 4 point favorites over the Baltimore Ravens. Yet it seems like every sports scribe, TV talking head, or any man/woman about town, when asked their opinion, think the Ravens are going to win. Certainly, one could presume the people that handicap sporting contests for a living do a lot more in-depth analysis and number crunching than your average co-worker or person on a bar stool next to you.

Further, once it was determined these two teams would be the contestants, the opening line was 3 1/2 points. If so many people were jumping all over Baltimore while taking the 3.5, it would stand to reason the spread would shrink -- not get a little bigger. But that's what happened. Very strange.

There's likely a few reasons for public sentiment going Baltimore's way. Not long ago, their "leader", Ray Lewis, announced his retirement after this season. While that no doubt juiced his Ravens teammates to want to sent him out on top -- there can also be little doubt that opinions of Mr. Lewis amongst the public vary wildly. There are those that deem him one of the best, if not THE best linebacker of all time, and a spiritual leader, to those that think he literally got away with murder in a nightclub incident over a decade ago. Whether or not he's the best linebacker to ever play the game is highly debatable, but few can dispute he's been the face of the Ravens during his 17 year career, and will almost certainly be voted into the NFL Hall of Fame as soon as he becomes eligible.

On an ironic note, or maybe not, Lewis was going to be presented with some kind of gospel award during the Super Bowl festivities. Personally, I've never heard the man sing. Then again, maybe it has something to do with him being willing to sing like a canary on his two co-defendants way back when those murders happened in Atlanta, to save his own skin. Beats me. The only thing I know about that is the record says two guys got stabbed to death and nobody ever got convicted of doing the horrible crime. What smelled a little fishy was Lewis paying out big bucks to the families of the deceased in an "out of court" settlement. If he had nothing to do with their demise, then why would he....... Well, enough said.

Football-wise, the Ravens seem reminiscent of last year's eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. The Giants squeaked into the playoffs at the end of the season, and who thought they could go into Green Bay and defeat the Packers, then into San Francisco to dispatch the 49ers, and further defeat Tom Brady and Co. in the Super Bowl? They were underdogs in every one of those games, but somehow they won.

Much the same can be said of Baltimore this year. They weren't supposed to go into Denver and beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos, much less follow it up by clobbering the same New England Patriots in their own back yard. But they did. Much like the Giants last year, it appears the Ravens got hot at the right time and are on a roll.

Still, the "experts" aren't buying it. Neither am I.

With apologies to Neil Diamond, I predict the Ray Lewis "brother love travelling salvation show" doesn't go out in a blaze of glory in New Orleans.

Top to bottom, San Fran is too good, and after being within a whiff of the Super Bowl last year, they're on a mission of their own this time around.

Getting back to the odds-makers, they set the over/under of total points scored between both teams at 47.5. Doing a little math, while keeping the 4 point spread in mind, it seems the wise guys think San Fran is going to score 25.75 points, and Baltimore 21.75 to make everything come out perfect. Of course, those scores can't happen, but far be it from me to underestimate the wisdom of those guys in the back rooms in Vegas. I think they're pretty close.

Though both teams are known for their stout defenses, and it should be a hard-hitting affair indeed, yours truly is of the opinion that after a slow start, the offenses will eventually start clicking, particularly in the second half.

Give me the over on the 47.5, while San Fran covers the 4 point spread.

SF. 31. Baltimore 24.

Of course, as I stated in a post not long ago (see How To Pick Football Games, Jan. 28) I've been wrong on about 98.5% of all the predictions I've ever made. Like Hank Jr. once sang -- it's a family tradition.

But you never know. There's always the blind squirrel and the acorn thing -- right?

On with the game.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Michigan @ Indiana

This should be a heck of a basketball game. Michigan's #1 in the country, and Indiana used to be, but after a couple close losses, they slipped just a tad down to #3.

The Wolverines are undefeated at home, with their lone loss coming in a nail-biting loss at Ohio State. But playing at Indiana is no picnic either.

Besides obviously wanting his team to beat any other that comes along, let alone the #1 team in the country, Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean would seem to have conflicting interests when it comes to the two major college football powers in the state of Michigan. Namely Michigan, and Michigan State.

Crean spent two stints at MSU, the first being as a graduate assistant under then head-coach Judd Heathcote, at then assistant coach Tom Izzo's bequest, then years later as a top assistant to Izzo himself after he became head coach. For that matter, Izzo was an usher at Crean's wedding, so it might fairly be said Crean has an MSU connection -- the better to knock off those pesky Wolverines.

But wait a minute. The woman he married was named Joani Harbaugh. Does that name sound familiar? Yep, she's the sister of those two guys that will be head coaching in the Super Bowl on Sunday. Of course, one of them is Jim Harbaugh, who was a star QB at Michigan. Big brother John went to Miami of Ohio. So "sis" has a family tie to Michigan, another in Ohio, and is married to a guy coaching at Indiana, who just happens to have former strong ties to Michigan State. Wow, that poor girl probably doesn't know who to root for. Then again, it could be worse. I'm glad coach Crean's first name is Tom and not Chachi. On top of the rest of the loyalty merry-go-round she has to deal with, I doubt Mrs. Crean would need the aggravation that would come with a "Joani loves Chachi" scenario.

Oh yeah. The game. Right. Michigan has one of best guards in the country in Trey Burke. He can bring the ball up the court, pass, and shoot with the best of them. But Indiana has a way of playing team defense that might stifle Burke a bit, especially at home. Burke might very well be successful, but he's going to have to earn every bit of it, because Indiana will rotate their defenses to make things as difficult as possible for him. Like they say, cut off the head, and the monster dies, or something like that.

Look for these teams to get after each other all over the court -- all game long. In other words, I highly doubt it's going to be a day at the races, with the teams running up and down the court, much less a dunk-a-thon. The defenses will clamp down hard, and every possession will be highly contested. It should be a relatively low-scoring affair.

Prediction? Michigan's been #1 for a week. Everybody else that's managed to climb to the top hasn't stayed there long. Nor will the Wolverines.

Indiana by 6.