NFL Week 8 Quick Hits

Another crazy NFL week in the books:

1) A topsy turvy world – The Saints annihilate the Colts and then get beaten by the winless Rams in a game that was never close?  Almost as ridiculous as Cam Newton getting outdueled by Christian Ponder because his kicker cannot make a chip shot. 

2) Rodgers is the MVP – With the first half of the season behind us the only clear thing is that Aaron Rodgers is the League’s MVP.  The much more unbelievable thing?  Alex Smith is the league’s Most Improved Player. 

3) Tebowed – After his crazy comeback last week, Tim Tebow was “tebowled” over in an absolute rout.  He did not look in control of the Denver offense from start to finish in this game.  Then again he was facing a hungry and deep Detroit team that looks like they are storming towards the playoffs. 

4) The Eagles are (sort of) back – The Eagles will probably win their division now that Mike Vick is healthy and firing on all cylinders.  In the NFL there are very few players who give you a legit shot to take a title every year and Vick remains one of them for better or worse.  Can he keep it up for another week?  Or another eight?

5) Frank Gore – Gore nearly single handedly put away the hapless Browns who have a lot of growing to do.  Another workhorse day for a man I would much rather have on my team than the overpaid and woeful Chris Johnson. 

6) Tom Brady outdueled – The Steelers were able to get back on track by beating the Pats with Big Ben throwing the ball 50 times.  A great time to release one of your top corners, Leigh Boden, Patriots. 

 

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When 3 Overtimes are just not enough….

Last night I watched one of the most thrilling College Football games in recent memory.  USC brought it and definitely played hard enough to win; Stanford refused to die and will use this game to tout Andrew Luck’s outrageous hype to even further heights.  Simple fact from last night: Matt Barkley fought Luck to a draw.  A couple of Barkley’s throws are still coming along, particularly the deep throws…however, his TD at the end of the game showed remarkable touch.  Luck is more accurate and his throw off the trick play was absolutely perfect – additionally he is a better athlete than Barkley as his running skills displayed throughout the slugfest.  The interception he threw late in the fourth quarter nearly ended his Heisman Campaign but he managed to salvage it thanks to a fumble by the best player on the field all night (Reggie MacNeil) in the third OT. 

A couple of surreal moments turned this game: firstly, as soon as USC’s corner was injured in OT I turned to my girlfriend (who bless her heart watched with me) and said: “This freshman is about to get roasted.”  Ten seconds later…he did and it was a touchdown for Stanford.  Next series: USC fumble into the endzone – ballgame Stanford. 

Secondly, USC showed tremendous heart in this game despite a small roster with no depth and numerous setbacks against a really good Stanford juggernaut.  Barkley was more than willing to put the team on his back but it was the defense’s nearly inhuman effort that almost won them the game.  Also…had their young reciever gone down right after he caught the ball on the last regulation play, they may have had a shot at a field goal.  Inexperience and youth may have cost them a shot at winning the game. 

Finally, given the ridiculous sanctions USC has faced (horrendus in light of the penalties that have been levied against other programs) the team has never played harder.  Their SoCal local allows them to pull in fantastic athletes and the team looks very, very good.  Should Barkley stick around for one more year they should have a legit shot at contending for the National Title next season (due to a downturn for Stanford / Oregon).  Barkley has not recieved nearly enough credit for sticking around USC when he could have transferred for a shot at the title or Heisman.  Were he eligable to win he would be in the thick of the race for doing what he has with a laughable amount of scholarship athletes.  All the penalties have cost USC is their depth, overall the talent remains staggeringly high. 

Last night had a Bowl-Game atmosphere for USC and they played like it.  The NCAA cost USC yesterday’s game more than anything else and robbed fans / players of three years of legit competition.  Yet the team still works hard and nearly killed themselves to win last night with half a roster.  I cannot wait until next year.

NFL Quick Hits Week 7

1) The Rise of the Tebow! – In one of the most exciting comeback wins in recent memory, The Tebow brought the Broncos back with seven minutes of what SI.com’s Peter King called “transcendent”.  I still do not quite know what to fully make of the performance or Tebow as a starter but the finish of yesterday’s game was thrilling, unbelievable and one of the most interesting in recent memory.  Time will tell if Tebow can make it as a starter but this is a good start.  The thing that strikes me most: his teammates truly believe in him and what he brings to the squad.

2) Oh Indy – Indy, playing for the third time in prime time, were blown away…again.  They simply did not have a chance of keeping up with the Saints and New Orleans did not let up for sixty minutes.  Drew Brees had a field day and Curtis Painter was completely ineffective.  Good “Luck” next year Indy!

3) The Seahawks / Browns was the worst game of the last twenty years – And it may have set football back a decade.  Atrocious.  Horrible.  The Mike Holmgren Bowl was a pathetic game and one of the most boring football games of all-time.

4) The Rookies are all right – Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder have all shown the ability to be starters and good players in the NFL.  There does not yet appear to be a bust among them.  Watching Ponder stretch the field yesterday (and finally open it up for Adrian Peterson) was exciting.  Went a long way towards showing how little Donovan McNabb has left.  He is finished, and no longer has the arm necessary for success. 

5) USC USC USC USC! – Nice to see the boys beat up on Notre Dame.  The D clamped down in the fourth quarter and the team rode out the victory to move into the top 25 in rankings for the first time all season.  Matt Barkley looks like a sure fire NFL first round selection.

Teemu Selanne is one of the 15 best NHL Players ever.

The following is an excerpt of my forthcoming (2030) book Hockey – A History of All Things Puck (All Rights Reserved)

Teemu Selanne “The Finnish Flash One” (10 time All-Star…4 time All-NHL Team – 2 times 1st Team…1 Scoring Championship ’98-99…637 goals…1340 points…1.06ppg…77 goals as rookie…102 game winning goals – 2nd All-Time…1 Stanley Cup)

            Sweeping statement time: Teemu Selanne is one of the fifteen best Hockey Players of All-Time[1].  He is one of the fifteen best hockey players without question or reproach. 

I will kindly ask you to refrain from lighting torches and burning me as a hockey heretic until after you have heard me out.  Believe me when I say that I categorically mean to prove to you, dear reader[2], beyond a shadow of a doubt. 

As of 2011, Teemu Selanne is the best active player in hockey.  Statistically speaking, the Finn is still in incredibly fine form.  Consider the following and try to put a year on each of the represented seasons:

#1) 79 games played…40 goals…68 assists…108 points…1.36ppg.

#2) 75 games played…47 goals (led league)…60 assists…107 points…1.42ppg

#3) 80 games played…40 goals…50 assists…90 points…1.125ppg

#4) 73 games played…31 goals…49 assists…80 points…1.09ppg

There are four great seasons…in these years: ‘94/95, ‘98/99, ‘05/06 and ’10/11.  The first and last season are 17 years apart and are astounding similar.  No player has been more productive during their career for longer than Teemu Selanne (Gordie Howe still reigns as most productive over 40+ years) and no one has been more consistent in modern times. 

            Here is the kicker, or piece de resistance: these do not include the best statistical seasons of Teemu’s career.  His best statistical seasons: ‘92/93 (76 goals / 56 assists / 132 points), 96/97 (51 goals / 58 assists / 109 points), ‘97/98 (52 goals), ‘06/07 (40 goals / 50 assists / 90 points). 

            Selanne began his career as a Winnipeg Jet and immediately went on a rookie record tear, scoring 77 goals and yet shockingly losing the scoring title because Alexander Mogiliny scored 86 goals that year.  From that point on Selanne could have had gone the way of many of the other great goal scorers of his time. The Finnish Flash would streak down the ice with the best and score nearly every single game.  His speed and finishing ability was and is among the best ever.  He could have been Bure or even Mogiliny – a guy who coasts for five or six years on his scoring skills alone.  There, however, is where Selanne diverged from his European peers for a few important reasons: he has mostly stayed away from major injures, been remarkably durable, and completely reinvented himself. 

            Selanne, unlike Bure or Mogiliny, discovered a true grit deep within himself.  He never just wanted to score 500 goals and walk away from the game a debate.  Everything Selanne has done since he left the Jets has been with a singular focus: winning the Stanley Cup.  No player has embraced “the Secret” quite as hard as Teemu Selanne.    

            Watching him become the consummate team player over the course of his career has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the NHL for me over the past fifteen years.  It was sort of shocking to see a 77 goal scorer do a near 180 and become a fantastic leader who made all his teammates better.  When he first went to the Mighty Ducks people felt he would team with Paul Karyia and a Cup was in the bag.  It took a few more cracks before Selanne gave me one of the most touching moments with Lord Stanley.  When he finally accepted Lord Stanley (after another shockingly consistent 40 goals / 80 point campaign) wearing a brand new hat pulled down low over his grizzly surfer hair and beard, face soaked with sweat, he looked like a man who had finally climbed Everest after fifteen tries.  This was why he played the game all those years; why he sacrificed and made himself a complete player instead of a one-way scorer.  Upon getting the Cup, Selanne went to speak, stopped, choked up, looked skyward and then just succumbed fully to the moment.  He looked away and quickly had to pull his hat down over his streaming tears.  Honest, overwhelming and a truly beautiful hockey moment.  For him, like so many other, there were simply no words that could possibly express what he was feeling at that moment. 

            All we have to attempt to understand is the raw emotion left behind on his face.  The tears and the overwhelmed expression are Selanne’s gifts to us.  They say more about his career than his record 77 goals as a rookie.  His Stanley Cup is a testament to the fact that he has never shied away from pressure, nor cracked under it (the opposite, he thrives on it – as evidenced by his 102 game winning goals, good enough for 2nd All-Time).  Selanne has been good for nearly two decades and submitted 35-40 goal / 85-95 point seasons with a dizzying array of teammates.  The man can thrive with just about anyone[3].

            Yet…there is a case against Selanne: in his prime he played for Annaheim, Colorado, San Jose and Annaheim again all in the pursuit of Lord Stanley.  The hopping around can be somewhat explained as his early Ducks teams never captured a Cup due to their unfortunate rise during a particularly competitive era ruled by the Detroit, Colorado, New Jersey triumvirate. After that, Selanne employed a strategy of jumping from contender to contender – basically whomever appeared most promising – all in a chase for a ring, each time just missing out.  It could be argued that he never brought exactly what was needed to put those teams over to top, but in truth he hit Colorado (with whom he had his worst season ever and quickly left) after they peaked and San Jose before their best years. 

            Selanne thrived with whomever he played with during a talent rich period and the Ducks lack of success was more indicative of their shaky goalkeeping and suspect D.  Was Teemu still finding his niche at the time?  The short answer is yes.  His first stint with the Ducks was during his transition from scorer to all-around dynamo.  Selanne and Kariya never meshed like they should have but both were still developing their games and may have played off one another better later on in their careers. 

            Like Jagr, Selanne was a little bit of a mercenary, albeit for a very different (some might go as far as “opposite”) reason: Jagr was all about money; Selanne only wanted a Cup.  One other plus for the Finnish Flash – he never jumped ship to a bad team for a huge payday, unlike contemporaries Jagr, Bure and Mogiliny.  His bridges also remained unburned either because all he wanted was to do everything he could to help his team win or he was simply a fun guy to play with[4]            .  Who would not want to play with a fast, streaking, Finnish bolt with incredible finishing touch?  Selanne has scored more goals than any other Finnish player in NHL History[5] and has netted more than 600 in his career.  It is not surprising then thatAnnaheim was very happy to have him back as the final piece on a deep team that would go on to win the Cup. 

Selanne has been so consistent for so many seasons that he long ago became underrated, possibly the most underrated guy of his era.  In many ways he is like another foreign athlete who conquered an American Pro Sport: Dirk Nowitzki.  After being so good and consistent for so long, people began to underestimate him.  In 2011 he won his first NBA Title.  Like Selanne he reached the Pinnacle and will continue to deliver his good, if not great seasons. 

            What more can we expect from Selanne?  I believe him to be one of the top-15 players of All Time, a man who played the game hard for a very long time and who fought and scrapped and showed so much more of himself than we initially believed he had in him.  Teemu Selanne is a remarkable player and his shining moment stands out amidst a sea of them, simply because he truly earned it and as fans, we feel it could not have happened for a better guy. 


[1] Goalies need to be judged separately from positional players: what they do is almost a different sport.  They must have their own Pantheon and should have a separate section in the Hall of Fame.  We should never talk about the best players in hockey and ever include goalies; it should be a different conversation started with the sentence “The best goalies in hockey history are…”(For the record, as we have already covered: Tretiak, Dryden, Roy, Sawchuck, Brodeur). 

[2] And Leaf’s fan!

[3] Selanne has also played with some great linemates, among them: Joe Sakic, and Paul Kariya. 

[4] Given his playmaking ability and genial manner, both are extremely likely. 

[5] Shockingly competitive category, as there are two Finnish players with more than 600 goals: Jari Kurri and Selanne.  You can add emotional heartbreaker Saku Koivu to the list as well. 

NFL Week 6 Quick Hits

In a week that saw a great Patriots comeback and a strong performance by the Giants, it was a scuffle between two coaches in the day’s marquee game that has stolen the show. 

1) The Lions – 49ers was a fight to the finish, and not just between the players! – The 9ers came away with a big win and proved that they are definitely for real.  On the other side of the field, the Lions played with a lot of heart…and Calvin Johnson who continues to be the best reciever in the NFL.  Now to the real news: after the game a very ugly scene broke out.  Jim Harbaugh and Schwartz came together to shake hands; Schwatz had an “oh, you beat me this time, good job” demeanor that quickly evaporated after Harbaugh firstly tried to shake him off and then slapped him hard on the back.  The two then had to be separated.  Again, these are the coaches between the Lions and 9ers.  Fines will no doubt be forthcoming.

2) Giants vs. Bills…the real battle of New York? – The Giants D played very well, and for the first time, Ryan Fitzpatrick stumbled on the last play of the game.  His last ball was simply underthrown.  If he hits the outside shoulder, the Bills are 5-1. 

3) Tom Brady is must see TV – Of all the players in the league that I enjoy watching, the biggest star is Tom Brady.  I love his effort and the way he lives or dies with wins and losses.  All he wants is to win and even though he plays for a Boston team, it is difficult to fault him for that.  His touchdown pass with 22 seconds left against Dallas was clutch and gutsy after two earlier picks.  My girlfriend also likes when he is on TV. 

4) Tampa Bay comes back – The Bucs made a small comeback of sorts by beating a very good New Orleans team after taking a smacking from the 49ers.  Hard to know what to make of this team…Atlanta and Philly too.

5) Welcome to Earth, Mr. Newton – Cam Newton seems somewhat figured out.  Three very ugly picks today.  Has the rookie run out of magic?

NFL Quick Hits Week 5

Here are my Week 5 observations:

1) The 49ers are playing ridiculously well – As I mentioned last week, Jim Harbaugh is coaching the hell out of a mediocre team and playing himself right out of the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes.  This weekend the boys thrashed rising NFC South power Tampa Bay and their “Super”Star QB Josh Freeman.  Freeman had a horrendus day against a very aggressive Niners D and Alex Smith played well and under control.  Smith has been nothing but efficient this season and 4 wins may be enough for them to squarely control their weak division all year long.

2) Aaron Rodgers – It seemed as if the Pack’s D was going to have a massive letdown once they got down 14-0 to the very dangerous Atlanta Falcons.  Yet, in the second half they played very, very well and shut down a great offense.  All Aaron Rodgers did was throw for nearly 400 yards and lead a comeback.  Can anyone stop this team>

3) Excited about a Lions Game? – The Lions are playing on Monday, and I could not be more exicted.  Could the NFL have picked a better Thanksgiving matchup than Detroit and Green Bay?  Not at this juncture in the season.

4) Finally! – It is about time a bloody hail mary, tipped ball from Eli Manning does not go his way.  The man must have horse shoes hidden somewhere because the Victor Cruz catch and run was insane.  Last week it was Hakeem Nix…and yesterday it finally went against him and allowed the Seahawks a huge victory.  Great for Pete Carroll because he is so darn, exhaustingly happy about his team.  Just Ross’s thoughts: “Living with Eli is a week to week struggle but I cannot say too much because he won us a title.” 

5) The Colts cannot catch a break – Just when it seems they finally have a victory at hand…they do not.  The best news?  Andrew Luck will get to sit behind Peyton Manning for a few seasons.

6) Can Rex Ryan please shut up? – The Pats knocked the Jets around and proved that Mark Sanchez is still Mark Sanchez.  He has yet to figure out the regular season.  Tom Brady even challenged Revis Island a couple of times successfully, most of it coming on a deep throw to Wes Welker…where Revis saved a touchdown.

7) Tributes – Mike Vick sets the All-Time QB rushing record and when he retires it will doubtless be out of reach for anyone else.  This may say more about Vick than any victories he has earned.  All talent but it still feels somewhat empty.  The death of Al Davis – as Howie Long said on the Fox Pregame show: “A titan of the game has died”.  RIP Al.

 

The NHL!?! Is Back!

The NHL season has crept upon us again and begins tonight and I am very surprised.  Surprised by my reaction thus far to the 2011/2012 season.  Last year the expectations were so high with my hometown Canucks and when they lost in Game 7 the city rioted. 

The loss still hurts.  So much. 

Here are my predictions:

Playoff Teams:

Western Conference – Vancouver, Detroit, San Jose, Chicago, LA, Nashville, Calgary, Anaheim.

Eastern Conference – Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Boston, Montreal, Philadelphia, New York, Washington.

Stanley Cup – Vancouver over Pittsburgh

Non-Homer Pick:

Pittsburgh over LA

 

NFL Quick Hits Weeks 3 and 4

Week 3 and 4 are now behind us and the NFL propels forwards as it passes the first quarter of the season.  There have been a few surprises and less certainty than previous seasons.  (Apologies for not posting last week but I was away on vacation; Week 3 thoughts will dovetail with those from Week 4).

1) Can Mike Vick stay healthy? – The Eagles line is terrible and the injuries continue to mount on both sides of the ball.  Despite all their vaunted spending in the offseason, Philly is very thin at several positions – such as defensive line – and needs to get healthy fast to right their wayward ship.  Vick’s continued injury problems have shown how fragile this team is.  With Vick they will always be exciting and a contender; without him they have no shot (yet even with him, they could not beat the Niners). 

2) The Pack look to be unstoppable – Aaron Rodgers has gotten better and the Pack have played flawlessly this season.  Every single position on their squad has gotten deeper and their vets continue to step up and stay healthy.  Charles Woodson has never been better and at 35 continues to play away from his age.  Can they be beaten?  Green Bay looks like the toughest out at this point.

3) The Pats are good / The Pats are great – Which of the following statements are true?  Against the Bills, Tom Brady was good at times and threw some bad interceptions but the team’s offense had no other options.  Against the Raiders the Pats tried hard to establish a ground game and take pressure off Brady.  Yet, even then Wes Welker has more than 40 receptions.  Unbelievable.

4) The Niners defy expectations – How can this team be 3 – 1 when the Eagles are 1 -3?  Just beyond expectation but Jim Harbaugh is coaching the hell out of a bad team. 

5) The Lions are roaring – How can they be beaten?  Twice now they have been pinned against the ropes and come back to win.  The defense stepped up hugely against Dallas and picked off Tony Romo to save the day.  How do you beat a team that is riding an 8 game win streak and simply refuses to give up. 

6) Cam Newton throws a deep ball very nicely – I may have been too quick to judge the Panthers rookie as a bust.  He throws very well, and has done remarkably adjusting to the NFL.  His pocket awareness has been very good thus far and he will only continue to improve.  My “bust” idea was based on one thing: I thought there was no way Newton would work hard enough to succeed.  Apparently he has been more than willing.