NFL Free Agent Frenzy

The NFL is back and in the past week we have seen some shocking player moves.  Usually this sort of movement would take place over several months, but due to the lockout it is all happening right now within the span of a week.  It is sort of like a binge of free agency, and it has inspired some crazy moves.   

Some of the biggest:

1) Kevin Kolb to the Cards – Sort of like this move but Kolb has started 7 games so most of his potential is still speculative.  At the very least Larry Fitzgerald has someone that seems to be able to throw him the ball. 

2) The Jets go wild – No one has made more of a “win now” splash like the Jets.  They are putting it all on the line and going after both the top offensive (Santonio Holmes: signed) and defensive (Nnamdi Asomugha: potentially signing?) free agents.  No one is making more of a move to jump to the top.  If they can line up Asomugha and Revis at the corners?  Unbeatable as long as everyone stays healthy.  Small caveat…everything still rides on Mark Sanchez…but if they can score 7 points, they can hold anyone with their defense.  Sure the games will be boring but they will win every low-scoring affair. 

3) The Pats jump in on another head case and another… – Dropping Randy Moss was surprising; picking up Albert Haynesworth could be a game changer.  If Haynesworth goes into “eff you” mode and plays like he can, the Pats will again be near the top of the league.  The AFC East is prepping for battle and could be where the SuperBowl is decided.  Then again, Bill Belichek just picked up Chad OchoCinco…  From my buddy A-Dub: “Does Belichek make him change his name back?”   

4) Reggie Bush to the Dolphins – Reggie gets another chance at stardom and hopefully he can make the most of it.  The Fins may still be a QB away from really contending.  Hope Reggie can make it happen, he still remains one of the best players I have ever seen live when I watched him put on a show against Arkansas during his Heisman winning season. 

5) Seriously?  Another Alex Smith Year?  – Is there no one better for the 9ers to put at QB?  Could they not have gone all in on Hasselback?  Or even Tavaris Jackson for gods sake?  They have a good core (VD, Crabs) but refuse to get over the hump due to their terrible QB play.  So disappointed. 

6) McNabb / Favre, sad for the legends – Two legends of the game, reduced to a couple of teams that they can no longer carry.  If Favre backs up Mike Vick, that will end up being a terrible situation for him.  There is no way he sits on the bench, and Vick will not be playing himself out of his starting spot.  Favre could be a cancer on that team and continues to tarnish his legacy.  Can he not just stay retired?  For McNabb, he should probably have moved to a backup role somewhere but has not realized yet that he is past his prime.  With the Vikes, as long as he plays mistake free he can be okay.  Looks like AP will be getting a lot of carries.   

Free Agency craziness will definitely continue, get ready because it will only get better.


Excerpt – Ten “Totally Biased” Moments in Hockey History

The following is excerpted from the upcoming book Hockey?! naturally with all rights reserved to the author.  The book is due sometime in 2030. 

Hockey has a long and storied history, especially in Canada where it falls somewhere on the life scale between “total immersion” and “near total immersion”.  Hockey is religon for Canadians and if you do not believe me skip ahead toChapter 9: How Much Hockey Matters to Canadians – A History of Brutal Riots (Now updated throught 2011!). 

Hockey is taken very seriously by Canadians and so is the storied history of our games; franchises and Stanley Cups.  For example: any Canadian can tell you not only the last year their team made the Stanley Cup Finals but who they played and how they were robbed / cheated / outright assaulted by their thieving / cheating  / baby stealing opponents.  We can also provide a frightening amount of details on the last Canadian team to actually raise the Cup – 1993 Montral Canadians.  Led by a young Patrick Roy they took down the presumptive champs and Hockey’s GOAT Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings. 

What has followed for Canadian fans has been a legacy of disappointment, pain, anger and the aforementioned thievery by various American teams and “Satan-as-he-walks-on-Earth (aka Gary Bettman). 

Yet, we are not here to discuss the anguish and misery Canadian hockey fans have felt for more than a generation; rather this chapter will be an opportunity to look back at the glorious history and beauty of the game – from the very beginning.  Why are Canadians (and other smaller market Hockey fans American Fans) so enthralled by this beautiful game?  I present a brief completely biased history of the game. 

1) 1970 – The Vancouver Canucks, the last “original six” team joins the league.  NHL Hockey officially begins.

2) 1982 – A Sub-.500 Canucks team, led by NHL Legend Stan “the Man” Smyl makes the playoffs.  They proceed on one of the most unlikely runs to the Stanley Cup in the “brief” history of the NHL (*remember the league only started in 1970) before running smack into the New York Islanders dynasty.  If only this was the only time  a New York team had ended the Cup run of the greatest team in NHL history…

3) 1983-1990 – The presumptive “Canucks Dynasty” does not gain enough momentum and is pushed aside by another rising Canadian team: The Edmonton Oilers.  For the rest of the 1980’s (and 1990) they are the most stacked team in hockey.  Through some form of scorcery or chicanary or  hijinkary, the Oilers somehow stockpile 5 of the top 20 players in NHL History for more than six years – Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr.  Despite valient Canuck efforts the Oilers win 5 cups (one of them in 1990 despite trading the GOAT Wayne Gretzky.  That is how stacked they were – they traded the “Michael Jordan” of Hockey and still won another Cup.  You could try and chalk it up to their Hall of Fame Goaltender Grant Fuhr…except he was not playing.  The Oilers backup, Bill Ranford, backstopped them to the ’90 Cup.  For crying out loud!)

4) 1988 – 1989 – In successive drafts, two gifts from the Hockey Gods arrive in Vancouver.  One was a stoic, hard-working young player destined to become the greatest Captain in NHL History.  The other descended on a lightening bolt from Zeus and was blessed with once in a generation talent.  Unfortunately, he was Russian – so for our purposes here we will describe him as “semi-Canadian”.  The two players – Trevor Linden and Pavel Bure – would become the core of the Canucks resurrection from Edmonton-related purgatory.

5) 1994 – The Canucks, led by Captain Trevor Linden, scoring machine Pavel Bure and goaltender “Captain” Kirk McLean make a compelling run to the Stanley Cup Finals.  Through a series of heroics that deserve their own book and cannot possibly be described in a few wretched sentences, the team seemed fated to take their first title.  Standing in their way?  The best New York Rangers team ever produced (I know you what you are thinking and yes…f–king New York again).  Despite being overmatched and outmanned the Canucks take the series to 7 games where, had the net been 2 inches wider would have seen the Canucks pulling off one of the biggest upsets over a Mark Messier led team.  Additionally there would have been a statue of Trevor Linden outside of the Pacific Coliseum GM Place Rogers Arena.  Instead the city rioted (I told you earlier, we do not take losses well see Chapter 9) and we are left with a statue of a man named Roger Nielsen outside our Arena.  Nielsen is famous for literally waving a white flag.  Which, ironically, Canucks fans took on to inspire their team to victory in future seasons (We really, really, really need a Stanley Cup). 

6) 2001 – 2005 – The “West Coast Express Line” (Markus Nasland, Todd Bertuzzi and Brenden Morrison) comes to Vancouver and fails to deliever on their tantalizing playoff potential year after year because their goaltender, Dan Cloutier, has an affinity for letting in 250 ft shots. 

7) March 8, 2004 – In one of the worst moments in NHL History, Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore is grabbed and punched in the back of the head by bruising traitor Todd Bertuzzi.  It was like watching a wrestling moment where someone randomly decides to become the king of the bad guys.  Bertuzzi was suspended, a promising Cup contender was dismantled and the Canucks were dead for the next five years.  Thank you, mediocre at best Steve Moore!

8) 2006 – The Canucks trade with Florida for rising star goaltender Roberto Luongo (Dan Cloutier entered the Witness Protection program in LA).  The only problem?  Luongo’s wife does not want to leave South Florida.  Following protracted contract negotiations with Gina Luongo, she eventually relents and moves in to an estimated $11 million dollar penthouse in downtown Vancouver. 

9) 2010 – At the Vancouver Olympics, Canadian hero Sidney Crosby scores the greatest goal in Canadian Hockey history.  The overtime winner shatters Team USA and prevents a riot in downtown Vancouver!  Everybody wins!  Except for the US – which makes it even better!

10) 2011 – The Vancouver Canucks, a gritty and talented team led by Superstar Twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin; American Ryan Kesler and Luongo make the first run to the Cup for Vancouver in 17 years.  In a series characterized by the Boston Bruins outscoring the Canucks by a wide-ish margin (27-8) it runs the gamut to seven games.  Despite blatent Referee bias, Tim Thomas having some kind of magic power and every single Canuck being injured – they lose a heartbreaker 4-0.  Vancouver riots. 

All Rights Reserved.  Copywrite 2011. 

Epic Final

Japan defeated the US to win the 2011 World Cup and one of the most thrilling soccer games I have ever watched. 

Why was the game so thrilling?  Firstly, it went the distance.  Start to finish this was a game period.  Unlike the men, there was no diving or prima-don”a”ing along the way.  There were there to play an epic soccer game and that is exactly what they accomplished. 

Ask yourself: Which final would you rather have attended – 2010 Men or 2011 Women?  Obviously the men’s game is more of a worldwide spectacle but from a soccer standpoint the US – Japan game delievered much more.  Twice Japan fought back from a goal down; twice the US scored epic go-ahead goals.  Once the US scored the second goal, I figured Hope Solo (the most recognizable player on this team) would hold them. 

She could not.  Japan’s corner kick goal, scored by their captain, was a “we are not losing” type of scenario.  The US had a chance to put it away in the final minute with a free kick / scramble but could not bury the ball but a swarming Japanese defense.  Ultimately it came down to Penalty kicks. 

I thought this was what I would witness:

Because, when the US goes into shootouts, that is what we expect to happen.   The whole thing had an air of inevitability. 

Yet it did not. 

Japan won.  Their penalty shooters had a serene calm as they walked to the ball.  Despite Hope Solo’s best efforts to knock them off their game (I understand, I do it too) they could not miss.  Two of their goals were tap ins; the final one a rocket.  The US tried to blast their way through and failed.  The team that wanted it more and had played harder all tournament long won.  The only comparable situation I can think of takes me all the way back to one of the best baseball movies of all-time: A League of Their Own

At the end of the movie, the star catcher- Geena Davis – comes back to play in the Title Game against her talented, younger sister (who had earlier forced a trade).  The final play comes down to the sisters at the plate.  It is a spectacular play.  Davis’s character gets the ball and is position to tag her sister out…but she drops the ball.  The team you expect to win, given the kind of movie it is, loses.  When I first saw it, I failed to understand why the team I had cheered for and come to love over the course of the movie could lose.  How was it possible?  At first it felt cheap, the cast of characters that had been built up for the entire movie was not given their well-deserved championship.  

Then it dawned on me: Geena Davis’s sister (played by Joan Cusak) wanted it more.  She always had and she always would. 

Today in Germany, that is exactly how it played out again. 

Congrats Japan, hope this helps to heal your battered nation.

Why 3000 still matters

In the history of baseball one stat has remained a true benchmark of greatness. 

500 home runs? (Mark McGwire / Sammy Sosa / Raffi Palmero / Barry Bonds)

300 wins? (Clemens)

No, the only mark of greatness in the current era remains the 3,000 hit club.  From the steroid generation only two players are likely to join: Derek Jeter (3 hits away) and Ichiro Suzuki (650 away).  Neither player is connected with any kind of steroid scandal and both have maintained a consistent pace of production.  Ichiro has been little more than a hitting machine during his career and Jeter has without a doubt been the best Yankee of the past 30 years. 

Unlike the “tainted” 500 homerun club (though it could be argued that because most of the players during the era were using roids that those who still excelled ie. Bonds should not be punished.  At some point, one of the homerun hitters from that era has to make it to the Hall.  The entire time period cannot simply be ignored by baseball historians) the 3000 hit club still means something

3000 hits is a study in durability, consistency and detemination.  It is the marathon of exclusive baseball clubs, not the sprint.  Take some of the members: Tony Gwynn, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Paul Molitor, Hank Aaron, Pete (cough, cough) Rose, Ty Cobb.  The only crossovers with the 500 homeun club?  Rafael Palmero (took roids), Willie Mays / Hank Aaron (more a testement to the fact that both played well for a long period of time and were hitters, not just homerun hitters).  Notably not presents: Barry Bonds (he hit more homeruns than Mays or Aaron and yet could not make it to 3000?  Not legitimately anyways). 

3000 remains the benchmark of a great career, and in an era of overvalued stats still means something.  When Jeter hits for his 3000th time, he joins the vaunted pantheon of greats that went before him.  There is a strong possibility that he has been the greatest player of the past 15 years and this accomplishment will seal it. 

He is a first ballot Hall of Famer: Bonds, A-Rod and Clemens still have to wait to see if they will get the call.

NBA Locked Out! The Movie…not coming soon…

Coming in 2011: The NBA…locked out

The Tagline: What if there was a world with no jump shots?  No bounces passes?  No slam dunks?  No…Steve Nash?  Welcome to the 2011 NBA Season: LOCKED OUT!

The Plot: For decades, rich owners and rich players have battled over a variety of factors: salaries, revenues, why LeBron inexplicably collapses at key times…now, all these factors have lead to the Owners invoking a last resort protocol: Lockout 2011.  As the players union, struggles to hold onto their ridiculously overpriced members (Carter, Vince; Lewis, Rashard) their leader, a wily vet (played uncannily by someone resembling Derek Fisher) struggles to hold things together.  How will the players deal with the Lockout 2011 Protocol?  How will the owners?  Most importantly as this dramatic piece sweeps onward, how will the fans? 

The NBA is locked out. 

A lockout is a terrible, terrible thing for the NBA on the heels of its most popular and successful season since someone named Michael Jordan played for a title against the Utah Mormons.  The league is poised to position itself atop the food chain of Pro leagues in the USA.  Do not believe me?  In the past twelve months we had the following:

– The best player in the world, LeBron James, inexplicably collapses against the Boston Celtics during their second round series amid rumors that one his teammates had an affair with his mother! 

– An epic 7 game Finals featuring a rubber match between the aging Celtics and aging Lakers in which Kobe Bryant had what may amount to the worst Championship series of his career and yet was still voted MVP.  Additionally, it gave us this:

– LeBron James went on television to announce where he was going to play the following season.  Given that he was making a huge deal about having an hour long television special just to announce his “decision” we all assumed he was heading to Cleveland.  Then, the biggest hero in the NBA uttered the words “Next season…I’m taking my talents to South Beach.” 

The only remaining question before the 2010/2011 season started?  How to follow up an ill-advised, ill-concieved TV special?  How could LBJ sink any lower at that point?  Well…

– The 2010 World Basketball Championships in Istanbul was an intro to the world for Kevin Durant who served notice that he was well on his way to making the leap from Superstar to Super-Duper Star when he helped the US overcome tough competition minus 99% of the NBA’s huge stars (though, with future MVP DRose, and all-stars in waiting Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love)

– The most hated team in the NBA (my team, the Miami Heat) kicks off their season to the type of vehemence never before directed at a pro sports team that is not the New York Yankees.  People hate them and cheer when the team starts off 9-8.  Of course from that point on they rip off a 22 game winning streak and begin to totally dominate. 

– Suddenly the league has a ton of amazing point guard talent: DRose, Westbrook, Rondo, John Wall, Mike Connolly, Ray “Sh-tty D-Wade” Felton…

– The most epic NBA Playoffs in recent memory kicks off with some astounding upsets: namely the fact that the Memphis Grizzlies call out the #1 seeded San Antonio Spurs and then proceed to absolutely dominate them.  Immediately followed by Rajon Rondo breaking his arm and continuing to play against the Miami Heat.  The Heat go on to destroy Boston and Chicago en route to a highly anticipated matchup with…the Dallas Mavericks (who swept the Lakers…and Kobe Bryant).

– LeBron James shames MVP DRose with ridiculous scoring, shut down D and some of the best basketball this planet has ever witnessed.  We finally feel as if LBJ is making the leap that was always possible for him…

– Miami appears to be cruising to the 2011 NBA, up by 15 points in Game 2 when LeBron the team falls apart (not the entire team as DWade and Chris Bosh do all they can to win).  In Games 4-6 LBJ disappears from the floor…completely inexplicably, leading to rumors his girlfriend, Savannah, is having an affair with (the better paid than LBJ) Rashard Lewis. 

– With some many unanswered questions for next year, incredibly talent rich and with more momentum than ever before…the NBA locks out

For some franchises, the lockout would seem to sound the death knell for their aging players.  Players who had one more run in them before time took too much of a toll for them to be viable title contenders. 

But could the lockout potentially be benefical for some players / teams? 

Absolutely it will!  The Celtics / Lakers / Spurs / Mavs all now have time to rest, get healthy and take some serious time off.  A few days ago it was announced that Kobe Bryant had surgery in Germany on his knees.  Would Kobe have had this surgery if not for the lockout?  Not a chance!  Kobe would be playing through pain and slowly becoming less and less of a factor on the court.  Now?  In early December we will see a pissed-off, well-rested, potentially healed Mamba hell bent on proving he is not past his prime and aching for a 6th title. 

For teams that have aging stars, this lockout could prove to be a very good thing.  It would give these players a real shot at resting for the first time in their careers and could rejuvinate them.  On the other hand, it could also sound the death knell because by the time the league returns these players will no longer be able to provide the superstar contributions which they are counted on to bring with them. 

In the 2011 Playoffs we saw the passing of the torch from the previous generation of NBA superstars.  This is LeBron, DRose, Durant, Wade and Randolph’s league now. 

When they return from the lockout though, will the older generation be so willing to concede their position now that they have had time to rest and reflect? 

Unfortunately we will have to wait to find out