Catching Up on the Sports World

Due to work commitments, it has been pretty hard to sit down and write a post (if only I could do this for a living…), but a lot has happened in sports over the past little while that needs to be caught up on.

The Pats deserved it – When the ball went ridiculously and improbably into Doug Baldwin’s hands, it seemed like Tom Brady simply could not catch a break.  He is in the conversation for best players of all time, and his second half performance is among the most impressive in Super Bowl history.  For the first time in some time, Brady ended up on the right side of the score.  Consider his legacy cemented.

The Cavs have turned it on…and they look strong – After an insane (completely and totally insane!) trade deadline in which the Heat appeared to vault back into contention through the pickup of Goran Dragic, the Cavs are the team who look like the top of the town.  They are moving the ball, getting the most of their role players and finally seeing their stars begin to mesh.  Does any team really want to have to play 7 games against LeBron James?  The answer is probably a strong “no”, as now that he has turned it on, it may be tough to stop him.  Take the recent contest with the Warriors – the league’s top defense – in which LeBron scored 42.  It did not matter which elite defender challenged him, he was not able to be stopped.   The unstoppable Cavs seems to be more of a reality, especially in the wake of some key injuries which will be discussed shortly.

The NBA Title is completely up for grabs – Could the Warriors or Hawks or Grizz steal one?  This seemed so far outside the realm of possibility that now that it is probable, it still seems shocking.  Even the Thunder could be serious contenders now that Russell Westbrook is playing out of his mind.  A fun year for the NBA all around in which a lot of surprises could be in store during the playoffs.

Injuries mar an otherwise great NBA season – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Bosh and, sadly, Derrick Rose have all missed significant time this season due to injuries.  For Kobe this may be the end; Bosh, is fighting now for his health; Rose may need to accept that he will never be the player we once thought he could be.  Bosh, meanwhile, has blood clots in his lungs, discovered right after the Heat retooled with Goran Dragic.  The injury is a tough break for one of the most eloquent and hilarious guys in the NBA.  Rose ends his season early again for the 4th straight year.  His knees it seems simply cannot take the pounding of his brutal style of play.  Could he reinvent himself as a 6th man on a contender?  Would that not be the most terrifying sight ever?  His next round of contract negotiations will be very intriguing with all the injuries on the board.

Chelsea still in the driver’s seat – Chelsea gave away two much needed points on the weekend, but remain firmly in the top spot.  Matic took a foolish penalty that may have cost them the game, but they still managed to emerge alright.  Now that City has slipped (thanks Liverpool!) it is going to be important for Chelsea to continue to fight through all the way to the end.  Can the team push through to the end of the season as City, United and Arsenal mount a late charge?  Another down to the wire finish could be in the offering.

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The 2014 Sporties Awards

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2014 Sporties our annual celebration of the best of Sport and the Sports world.  Let’s dive right in shall we:

Game of the Year – Last year of course featured the absolutely bonkers Auburn / Alabama game in addition to the Brady vs. Manning Bowl in which Brady staged an incredible comeback.  This year the contenders are much fewer and farther in between.  There were a couple of crazy baseball games and a couple of crazy football games.  However, the most exciting game I watched?  No question it was the bonkers World Cup match between the US vs. Portugal game which came down to the absolute wire and featured some of the top players in the world playing out of their minds.

Shocking World Cup Moment of the Year – Brazil gets tuned up by eventual champs Germany.  It was relentless, wave after wave of unstoppable strikers and you began to feel worse and worse for Brazil fans.  Simply awful.

Championship Dominations – One theme of the year was definitely beat downs in the finals: the LA Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Seattle Seahawks all cruised to victory over, in some cases, more ballyhooed opponents.  I will also not neglect to mention the Canadian hockey team and their punishing win over the US in the Olympic Finale.

Series of the Year – The best series of the year took place in hockey, and featured the LA Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks in a war that served as the real Stanley Cup final.

Breakout of the Year – The biggest winners of the World Cup was the Men in Blazers who are single handedly bringing soccer to the masses of America through their insanely brilliant show.  During the biggest sports event in the world, the two men locked themselves in a small room nicknamed “Bob Ley’s panic room” where they proceeded to break down football and culture simultaneously.  When they got home it was a quick shift to NBC Sports where they continued to have the highest rated podcast and a shockingly well rated TV series.  They are stone brilliant and they are now both a must watch, and must listen.

Pod of the Year – After the praise I just gave the Men in Blazers, you would rightfully assume they have won the Pod Award…but this is actually a battle that stretched beyond the sports world!  Three of my must listen pods: the aforementioned Blazers, Hollywood Prospectus and SerialHollywood Prospectus is highly entertaining and funny, and includes the occasional deep dive into the movies of David Fincher or the music of Taylor Swift.  It is fun and light and takes pop culture analysis to a whole new level.  Serial tells the story of a 15 year old murder allegedly committed by a young man named Adnan Syed.  The podcast is hypnotic and brilliantly conceived as we wander through the murky depths of a story where we may not want to hear the outcome.  A truly powerful experience; and a very addictive one as I powered through four pods believing I was only on the first one.  Wait?  Isn’t that only three pods when I actually mentioned four?  Yes, because it is high time someone gave praise to the true return of the Starters.   Last year I was almost out on them, as their 44 minute shows were simply not enough time to properly appreciate them.  Given that their time as “The Basketball Jones” was astounding and creative, it felt a little bit as if they were being contained in a small box that stripped away all their talent.  This year I was on the edge of being out completely when I heard they were cutting down to 22 minute shows.  I was done: I tried, but all their zany antics had been stripped away simply because there was not time.  In some ways it was good because it focused their great and insightful basketball minds.  However…it was putting them in a box.  I was done.

And then I heard the news.  On Fridays, the Starters would be unleashing “the Drop” a return to their old, off the walls ways.  Welcome back boys.  Before the first pod I waited with trepidation and had not looked forward to a pod like that for some time.  When I listened, all my fears vanished.  The boys were back.  In the following weeks, they have truly returned to their off the walls roots where their crazy energy and unstoppable hilarity continues.  What a glorious return.  Another year and you might be the pod of the year: right now it is the Blazers for their consistency.

Sports Books of the Year – I read some great sports books this year, many about football (American and otherwise).  The best: League of Denial by Mark Fairinua and Steve Farinua  / Showtime by Jeff Pearlman / Michael Jordan by Roland Lazenby / The Football Business by David Conn and Against Football by Steve Almond.  Another must read is the William Hill Sports Book winner: Night Games by Anna Krien which takes the microcosm of the misdeeds of the Australian Rules Football league and expands it through the sporting world.  An interesting take on the lengths teams will go to in order to protect their players and the depths players will sink to in order to fit in.  An important achievement and must read book.

Team of the Year – The Kansas City Royals because no other team did what they did, with the expectations that team had coming into the season.  Even in defeat they are worthy.  Runners up: San Antonio Spurs, Team Canada and Seattle Seahawks.

Off Field Moment of the Year – LeBron James returns to Cleveland…as read by Frank Caliendo playing Morgan Freeman.  Runner Up: Wait, is that Vladimir Putin and Sepp Blatter?  What could they possibly be discussing?  Is it possible for all the evil in the modern world ensconced in one luxury box?  Another runner up: remember when Bob Costas got pink eye in Russia?

Sportie Man of the Year – No one and I mean no one, gives Sidney Crosby enough credit.  He deserves to be the Sportie Man of the Year because he guided one of the most dominating hockey teams through a grueling slate to the finals.  It did not look good and certain points but the best players truly shine when it matters most and the way Crosby dominated at both ends of the ice in the final was astounding to watch.  He deserves more recognition for the way he dominates his sport in an especially competitive time: remember when Ovechkin or Crosby was a serious question?  Now it is likely Crosby or Toews.  Crosby though is our Sportie Man of the Year.

Mega Sports Blast

A lot has happened in sports in the last little while, which can only mean it is past time for a mega blast with quick takes on everything that has gone on.

The Cavs cannot win simply playing hero ball – Watching Cleveland play against Denver was an interesting exercise in seeing a stagnant offense both inhibited and freed by the wealth of players on the court.  LeBron could not be stopped when he drove on three consecutive plays to the basket after a series of dribbles and high picks by Kevin Love.  There are too many shooters on the floor for any kind of double teams to take place.  Still the ball movement was completely stagnant and LeBron seemed oddly detached for a guy who was completely dominant.  Love seems to be a bit lost right now finding his place and Kyrie Irving needs to understand what it means to win instead of simply ensuring he gets to score his twenty-two points per game.  Against the Pelicans they were way better, LeBron recording an astounding triple double (including 32 points) and both Love and Irving playing well.  To succeed this team may need the ball in LeBron’s hands – something he was hoping to avoid in coming to Cleveland – in order to facilitate movement.  These things take time and patience, but with the prime and legacy of the best player in the world at stake, time and patience may be something Cleveland finds in very short supply.

Chelsea are unbeaten, at the right time – As their main rivals for the Premier League title continue to play like shells of their former selves (Man City) and other teams are falling off bit by bit (Arsenal, Liverpool), Chelsea continues to rise.  They are a frighteningly consistent team, who are not afraid to play from behind and are not afraid to go into the last few minutes with their backs against the wall.  Their mid-field depth is astounding: Matic, Willian, Hazard, Oscar, Cesc and Schurrle are all fighting for playing time when any of them would be the top choice for any other squad in the premiership.  The depth has been astounding but what has been more impressive is how Chelsea have used their signings to make the team more complete; not simply to make a splash.  Obviously both Fabregas and Diego Costa have played wonderfully, but they have also served to make other Blues players more dangerous (Eden Hazard has been playing some of the best football of his career).  Additionally, it is more than past time that right back Ivanovic properly takes his place as the best right back in football; seriously, who else would take over him?  Even more impressively, Chelsea’s back line of Ivanovic, Cahill, Azpeliqueta and Terry have been consistent and strong.  There has been no major injuries and they have had time to develop a deep bond.  Could they run the table?   No, but a runaway league title is not out of the question at this point.

The Canucks are bad…and should admit they should be worse – Band aiding your team for several years is not the way to get better.  The Canucks have had some strong signings (Vrbata) but otherwise look like the same 8 or 9th best team in the West which continues to be the worst place to be in the league.  You have no chance of winning the Stanley Cup and you have no chance of getting better through the draft.  Had the Canucks hung on to one of their starting goalies perhaps they could have moved up…especially in this draft with the next Sidney Crosby potentially coming down the pipe (Connor McDavid).  Look at how the Avalanche or Chicago got better: by building through the draft and giving players an opportunity to develop the right way, not by scrapping with Minnesota to sneak into the playoffs and then getting run over by a California team.  The time to be bad is now and the Canucks are probably years from realizing it.

JJ Watt is the best player in the NFL…by far – JJ Watt is an incredible talent and his impact on the football field is far beyond that of any other defensive player and is on the same level that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have.  Seeing what he has done on the field this year is amazing and it is unfortunate he will not be up, rightly, for MVP consideration.  Please appreciate him, and what he does.

Will the NFL’s best team please stand up? – Is Arizona the best team in the NFL or is it New England?  Or is it Indy?  Or is it…(insert 3 loss team here).  We do not know, because it seems as if parity is more and more prevalent.  Anyone could win the title this year and that is an awesome thing.

Are the days of talent ending? – Cam Newton, RGIII, Mike Vick…all are players who get by on their natural abilities.  Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Tom Brady…all are players who seek to get better each and every day at what they do.  The best quarterbacks in the league seem to be those who strive to better themselves each day and work, intelligently, at learning their craft.  Tom Brady throws the ball to where it needs to be, avoids contact and makes plays when it matters most.  Cam Newton relies on his skills and does not seem to be interested in learning the intricasies of the game because he can run fast and throw the ball far.  Mike Vick played the same way each but has become better over time, learning to make two or three reads (one of the reasons he played so well against Philly) and becoming a stronger player.  Colin Kaepernick (one of the smartest players in the league) will be similar to Brady I think with how he uses his brain to get better.  Or at least I hope he will…

Ray Rice and the Enabling of Athletes

By now most people have seen the video of Ray Rice sucker punching his wife and then dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator.  It is horrible, and terrible to think that someone could do something like that to someone they love.  The NFL had previously suspended Rice for 2 games, which led to a change in domestic abuse policies within the league, and in the wake of the new video suspended Rice indefinitely.  Seeing no other choice the Ravens cut Rice, a move which seemed to stagger coaches and teammates who spoke with nothing but high praise for a man we had just seen throw a haymaker at a defenseless woman. 

Where does this come from?  How have we come this far? 

Part of the blame has to fall with the College systems which continually enable athletes and has repeatedly covered up their transgressions behind the power of their institutions and armies of lawyers.  Take the case of Jeramy Stevens (whose wife, Hope Solo is in some hot water too) a man who committed such reprehensible acts while a Washington Husky and then Seattle Seahawk that is astounding he is not in prison (and all the more ironic his wife may be soon).  In fact his entire 2000/2001 team was the subject of an excellent book Scoreboard, Baby which is a frightening look at the power of universities to cover up horrible crimes.  Another excellent book is Jeff Benedict’s recent The System which takes an intricate look at all facets of the college game and contextualizes the corruption within brilliantly.  The bottom line: accusers come forward and the colleges do whatever it takes to get them to go away.  Money corrupts absolutely and the way these universities protect their players (who are often pro prospects) is deplorable. 

Another example: Jameis Winston – a Heisman winner whose alleged rape was covered up, made to disappear and has now reappeared due to increasing evidence.  Are all of these allegations true or anywhere close to true?  No chance, famous people always have to worry about future cash grabs, but when there is a big difference between the exception and the rule.  More often than not it seems these athletes and their behavior is covered up to keep the dollars flowing into University coffers – often at the expense of poor students who have no chance against armies of lawyers and huge offers of money to keep silent (The “Kobe Bryant” approach).  It should be noted the US Military has a similar problem of abuse and cover up. 

Where does it stop?  The NFL is the richest and most powerful of all sports leagues, and is facing a myriad of problems from concussion lawsuits through growing substance abuse problems.  There is no single straw which will break their back, the NFL is simply too powerful and popular, but a cumulative effort may force the resignation of commissioner Roger Goodell (whose leadership has been pretty bad). 

One of the greatest things about a democratic society is the right to a fair trial and the NCAA and major sports leagues have rarely given their members anything resembling “fair justice”.  Laughably even when fair trails are given, the punishments are often ludicrously light in order to keep athletes on the field even as the evidence against them is overwhelming (take Greg Hardy a classic case of he said / she said for which he missed virtually no time).  The worst case of all (aside from Kobe): Ray Lewis whom we seem content to pretend did not murder someone in cold blood.  He likely did (or knows who did) and now, more than 14 years later there has been no arrests in the crime and a case that should have become OJ for a new generation has quietly vanished.  Ray Lewis (allegedly) killed a guy, had his blood on him and was in the Superbowl a year later.  Horrible. 

Should we even be surprised by the Ray Rice situation, or should we just shrug and accept it as a “part of the game”.  The enabling needs to stop at the collegiate level in order to break the cycle that has filtered through to the pros, the athletes simply do not know better because they have always been “allowed” to get away with things normal people would be sentenced to life in prison for. 

Athletes must take responsibility for their actions and we must all speak out.  The time for change at all levels is now and we must demand reform, not simply continue to accept the status quo. 

What the NF-EL!

September and the NFL season have crept upon us very quickly – and a very interesting season is almost here. 

The most important question first:  Why is Colin Kapernick shirtless on the cover of SI when no other QB is?

Kidding – Who will be the NFL Champion?

The title winner will come from one of these teams: San Diego, San Fran, Seattle, Denver, Green Bay and New England.  Which one?  I believe the winner will either be San Fran or New England (Frisco’s time or Brady’s last hurrah). 

The best football book of the offseason is…League of Denial which details just how awful concussions are (worse than we could possibly imagine).  Read this book for a full understanding of just how horrible the legacy of the game may be. 

The MVP will be – Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning (either the young gun or the old men will take it).  My pick: Rodgers comes in strong.

The most overrated storyline will be: Johnny Football not being on the field.

The most underrated story will be: Josh Gordon suspended for a year for marijuana while Ray Rice skates with two games for beating his wife unconscious.  Goodell has changed the policy but way, way too late.

Surprise Team – The Bengals will surprisingly win their division and a playoff game!  The Chargers will be good!

Not a Surprise Team – The Giants will suck (sorry Just Ross) and look to draft a QB and possibly hire (gulp) a new coach.

Boldest Predictions – Philip Rivers will earn his new contract / RGIII will not last the season as the Skins QB / Tony Romo will lead Dallas to the Playoffs / Atlanta will again fall short / Joe Flacco is not that good / Tom Brady is

 

 

Colin Kaepernick Arrives – Welcome to QB Controversy Frisco

In the up and down world of the NFL, where one week you can tie a bad team (like the Rams) and the next week you can obliterate a good one (like the Bears), one game is often enough to make a judgement on a quarterback.  I most certainly have made a ruling on Colin “Steve Young Jr.” Kaepernick – hand over the keys to the franchise.

The one game rise to prominance has a lot of precedent: Matt Schaub and Matt Flynn were both backups who had limited opportunity to shine before getting big contracts (as was Charlie Whitehurst…and Tavaris Jackson; bottom line the Seahawks have made some awful QB decisions).  Kaepernick may eventually also get such an opportunity, unless of course he has stolen Alex Smith’s job right out from under him.  The reasons Kaepernick would do so are the following: he has a cannon for an arm and surprising accuracy, he can run like Steve Young and escape from pressure, his command and leadership in the huddle are evident even from a small sample size.  Midway through the third quarter of the Monday nighter, Kaepernick threw an absolute laser of a touchdown to the resurgent Michael Crabtree and I found myself genuinely liking the kid…maybe more than I have ever like Alex Smith in any one game in his entire tenure with the team.

Going forwards, both Smith and Kaepernick will struggle at some point and the calls will come for the yank.  The Niners need to ensure they do not take one game and expect the second coming of Steve Young to continue to produce at the same level.

Yet, for the first time in a long time the 49ers have a truly exciting player at the QB position – and it would be a shame to just let him languish on the bench…

NFL Quick Hits – Oct 23, 2012

With Week 7 finished on the NFL calendar, we are beginning to get a clearer picture of what parity looks like:

Hello Texans – Just when the Texans stumbled, they managed to come back and smack the Ravens brutally.  They looked bad, downright bad and Joe Flacco looked terrible.  How can he expect a huge payday when his play is night and day.  This team has lived and died with its defensive identity but giving up 43 points essentially kills that dying myth.

A-Rodg and the Pack are back – After the horrible, horrible start, the team has made a genuine comeback.  No quarterback has played better the past two weeks than Rodgers.  He has 9 touchdowns…ridiculous.  Welcome back.

Cards cool off – The red hot Zona Cards have now fallen off and a loss to the Vikes does not help.  Fantastic win though for Minnesota and the seemingly indestructible Adrian Peterson (153 yards rushing) who are atop their division.

One score games – Almost every single game this week came down to one score; two went to OT and another had a last second winner.  Incredible.  The league continues to increase the competition.

The NFL’s Best Team is…- The Texans.  Their defense is great, their offense is multi-dimensional and they play in a weak division.  The road to the Super Bowl is clear.

The Super Bowl will be…49ers v. Texans

 

 

NFL Quick Hits – October 14, 2012

Another surprising week of NFL action is almost in the books, here is what went down:

The Falcons remain undefeated – Despite Matt Ryan doing everything he could to throw the game away (3 picks) the Falcons hung on and came back to win over the Raiders.  They are the class of the NFC for better or worse given what the 49ers went and did today.

The 49ers had a shot at revenge and blew it – Everyone picked the 9ers.  Everyone.  They were the lock of the week without question and they ended up blowing it big time.  They let the Giants come out to a big lead and never got back into the game.  Overall a terrible performance by the supposed best team in the NFL.

Cleveland takes the battle of Ohio – The Browns came out firing and put away Dalton and the Bengals with a big time td pass from Brandon Weeden.  Could they finally be making a move, at the right time with the Bengals and Steelers regressing?

The Steelers gave away a win – The Steelers had a chance to win the game Thursday with a 54 yard field goal and blew it.  Should they have taken another couple of shots down the field?  Probably, but they handed this one to Matt Hasselback and the Titans.

Mike Vick should have had a win – Vick played better (but still turned the ball over twice) but lost to Detroit in overtime.  Good win for the Lions who were getting increasingly desperate for a big victory.  They gutted one out and in this league, that counts for a whole lot.

The Chiefs may have more problems than just QB – Brady Quinn stepped in this week and they got absolutely smoked by Tampa Bay.  Some major work is needed.

NFL Quick Hits – Oct 8, 2012

Another week is finished in the NFL calendar and what an enlightening and record setting evening weekend it was:

Drew Brees gives Saints fans something to cheer for – In this tumultous season for Brees and the Saints, it was very important that he lead by example.  Setting a new record for consecutive games with a td pass is a nice start.  Congrats to Brees and nice for him to do so with Sean Payton there in the house.

Can the Niners beat up on another conference for awhile? – After easily dispatching the Jets, the 9ers destroyed the Bills.  Impressive, but more so when you realize the Niners ran for 300 yards and Alex Smith passed for 300.  The team is known for defense but in the past couple of weeks its offense has been on par especially with Colin Kapernick adding another dimenson out of the wildcat.

Eli Manning…again – Manning managed to pull out another one after a tough start.  Way to go Giants.  Looking forward to them getting smoked next week.

Philly almost wins another – Despite two lost fumbles, Mike Vick had the Eagles in position to win when the Steelers drove down and pulled it out.  Say what you will about Vick but he has given Philly every chance to win.

Cam Newton fails again – For the second straight week a Newton fumble dooms the Panthers.  He needs to hold on to the ball and keep the heroics to a minimum.

Quote of the Year – Jimmy Johnson on the FOX pregame show after a video of him and Terry Bradshaw dancing to “Gangam Style”: “I used to be feared.”  Then a head shake.  Priceless.

NFL Quick Hits – Sept 30, 2012

Another topsy turvy week in the NFL is finished and a lot of strange things seems to be happening.  The Cover Corner will now attempt to make sense of the ongoing bizarre season:

The Vikes lead the NFL’s toughest division – This is a genuine shocker, but Christian Ponder (one of the smartest players in the NFL) is playing well and leading a strong team through the first four games.  They have wins over the 49ers and Lions in consecutive weeks, both of which were great teams last season.  If the Vikes can maintain their pace and get to ten or eleven wins, they will easily cruise into the postseason.

The 49ers are back – After taking a week off against the Vikings, the team came back strongly and annihilated the New York Jets (a surprisingly easy task these days).  Welcome back to Super Bowl contention boys, and way to go getting it back together.  The Jets on the other hand are falling apart and a pedestrian day by Mark Sanchez (13 of 29 for 103 yards and a pick) does not help.  This is a team in deep, deep trouble especially with the loss of top wideout Santonio Holmes.

The Texans roll on – Another week, another Houston victory.  This is a team flying under the radar, but flying very high.  From top to bottom, the Texans may be the deepest team in the NFL and they are making it look easy as they rolled over the Titans.

Vintage Peyton – The elder Manning was a gunslinger today against the Raiders and managed to go 30 – 38 for 338 yards and 3 tds.  Can we ever really count this guy out?

Do not sleep on the Cards or the Pack – The Cards, as of this writing, have made a ridiculous comeback and have now tied the upstart Fins.  The Pack lead New Orleans by 1 in a game that has seen a resurgence of both Aaron Rodgers (4 tds today) and Drew Brees (who has thrown for 400 yards).  Unreal.

The Seahawks deserved to lose today – Some sort of balance for the league and the Hawks?  Their controversial win on Monday was one of the most despicable things I have ever seen.  At no point did Golden Tate have possession of the ball.  At no point did he not commit pass interference.  How the replay officials missed this is disgusting.  So, they lost today…good.