Friday, December 21, 2007

Josh Hamilton: Texas Ranger

Spring 2001. Dan Rosendahl and I travel during spring break to Florida for a week of baseball- seven games in five days and some great stories featuring George Brett and some old Red Sox fans. A-Rod's a Ranger and autographs from Ranger greats Rusty Greer and Rafael Palmiero as well as Jonathan Johnson and Ryan Glynn.
One of the games we went to was the Minnesota Twins against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In fact, it may have been our first game. This was where Dan played the little kid to the groundskeeper's Mean Jow Green, who tossed him a ball. I got one that was hit during batting practice by the immortal BJ Garbe, the Twins first round draft pick in 1999 who still can't get out AA ball.
With that ball, I was determined to get a good autograph. When I entered the stadium during batting practice, one guy stood out from the rest: the Devil Ray's number one draft pick in the entire draft, 19 year old Josh Hamilton. There were a few old guys standing around with notebooks full baseball cards and Hamilton was signing them. I thought this is a good guy who to sign my new ball. But it was taking too long with the other guys and he had to run and hit batting practice. He looked at me and told me that he would be right back. During batting practice he was showed light pole power, crushing pitches out of the park. To his credit, when he was done hitting, he came over and signed my ball. However, about that time, I looked around and realized that was I was a 27 year old guy and I was clamoring for the autograph of a 19 year old kid. The other guys who were standing around were old balding guys who, frankly, looked like complete loser. While the rest of the week, I still got lots of autographs and have paid for a few autographs, it was the beginning of the end of my careing about baseball players autographs. Now, if it's Nolan Ryan or Troy Aikman or someone of that ilk, then I'll act a complete loser to get that.
Anyway, after that year, he fell off the face of the earth, battling injuries and drug problems. In fact, he didn't play proball from 2002-2005. Then he came back last year with an OPS of .924 and with 19 hrs and covering centerfield. Now the Rangers take a risk on a guy who can be a All-Star or end up homeless. I think it's a good call. I'll talk more later.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Steroid hypocrisy

Yesterday, I got in the car and turned on the radio and it was on ESPN radio. During the Sports Center Update, Fernando Vina was confessing his sins of using Performance Enhancing Drugs. This is by no means the only word about steroid or PEDs. Turn the dial down again and it's someone saying Roger Clemens won't make the Hall of Fame. Flip on the TV and someone is condemning the culture of drug use that has run rampant in baseball. Go to the blogs and someone else is calling the Yankee World Series victories into question.
Then wait a few minutes and there's a commercial depicting Shawne Merriman. In this commercial Merriman absolutely devastates several opposing offences in a row. This is the same Merriman who was suspended last year for PED. Of course, it's not surprising that he would be featured because despite the suspension, he was named to the Pro Bowl. As far as I know, he never has gone on TV or radio to try to justify his use of PED.
This isn't the only player who got busted for steroids, but not only got a pass, but was celebrated. Luis Castillo, a Charger defensive tackle, a confessed steroid user who used his enhanced performance to be able to wow the teams at the pre-draft combine, was drafted in the 1st round and then was the cover boy for the Madden 08 video game Spanish edition.
After baseball was called on the carpet before grandstanding congressional hearings, and was absolutely dragged through the mud, the NFL came and the congressmen just drooled all over them.
I could go on and on. For some reason, the fabric of society is threatened by the use of PEDs by baseball players. And of course, what about the children??? But football players get continue to get bigger, stronger, and faster, and more and more comes out about what is happening in football, but it's give a big, hearty "meh."
I'm not saying that PEDs are ok and that we shouldn't do anything and just let professional sports become like the Olympics and professional bike riding, but I just ask that we give a little bit of equity here.

Baby steps

Last week the highly anticipated Mitchell report was released, including the names of 86 players, past and present, who allegedly used performance enhancing drugs. Like many sports fans, I was looking forward to what the report, two years in the making, would reveal.

But when it finally hit, I found myself extremely unimpressed. Many of the players named were no surprise, and even for those, the report doesn't include any evidence that would hold up in court. I found myself asking, so what do we do with this now?

I'm not here to criticize the report as I have heard others do. One common criticism is that players not on the list now have a free pass. I don't buy that at all--as far as I know, Senator Mitchell never intended this to be an exhaustive list. I just want to know what happens from here on out. I'm not interested in striking records from the books or asterisking them. What's done is done, and it wasn't against the rules of baseball at the time anyway. And even though it is against the rules now, we don't have a test for HGH, what any ballplayer with half a brain who is willing to cheat is using. Without a test for the substance, baseball's anti-doping policy is useless.

The commissioner needs to demand the development of a test. the owners need to demand a test. Most of all, the players' union needs to demand a test. Maybe I'm being naive, but if I was a clean player, I'd be pretty ticked about dirty players, regarding both competitive balance and job security.

Senator Mitchell is on the right track with his report, but what is really needed is for all of baseball to work together to clean up the game, and for science to at least keep up with the cheaters.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Out on a limb

I'm setting myself up for heaps of ridicule, but I want to go on the record now that New England will not win the Super Bowl this year. This is something I have wanted to do all season but never got around to for one reason or another, and to be honest, some of my original reasons are losing steam. Nevertheless, I still think I am right on this and need to document it now if I want to brag about it in a couple of months.

First of all, if you give me the choice of one team or the field, I'll take the field every time. New England may have the best odds to win the Super Bowl, but they still have less of a chance than the rest of the league combined. If you were to press me on it, I'd say that Indianapolis and Dallas have the best chance to knock them off.

Next up is one of my apparently failed reasons: injuries. Earlier in the season, I really thought a major injury or two would wipe the team out. I just couldn't see them going all out the way they were and escaping the regular season healthy. Well, so far they have. That's OK, though, because I've got a few other reasons on which to hang my hat.

Another reason is karma. If there was ever a team that angered the football gods, it is New England. I'm not usually one to buy into this kind of stuff, but after Spygate and the way they have run up the score on everyone, the Patsies are going to get their due.

Which leads to my next reason: the Pats are not as dominant as their undefeated record implies. Let's not forget that Dallas has a single loss and Indy only two. Yes, both of these teams lost to the Pats, but a repeat win in the playoffs is by no means a lock for the Patriots. Forget for a moment what Brady has done this year, if ESPN and the mainstream media will let you. Everyone knows (but still manages to forget this time of year) that defense and a running game win championships. How does NE stack up? Defense is fourth (behind Indy at two, Dallas is eight), rushing is fourteenth (behind Indy at twelve and Dallas at nine). In fact, I think the Patriots and their pass-happy offense would have been better off if they had to go on the road to Indy in the AFC playoffs. New England's undefeated season is a sham anyway; remove Dallas and Indy, and the remaining Patriots opponents are 55-88.

My final reason is precedent, in the form of the 06-07 Mavericks, who went just about as close as you can get to undefeated in a 82 game NBA season. How did that work out for them again? The Mavs burned themselves out in the regular season, and Belichick is doing the same thing to the Pats in his chase for an undefeated season, or revenge for the slights his team received after Spygate, or whatever else is driving him. When the playoffs roll around and each opponent has a better record than sub-.400, the Pats will fold. I didn't think the Pats could go undefeated in the regular season, but I am now resigned to that. But I have come to embrace it; after all, it will be that much sweeter when they fall short of the championship.

Are the Pats good? Absolutely, but don't engrave the Lombardi yet.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Selling the Farm for Some Magic Beans

I'm sure you've been checking the site for what the resident Astros' expert has to say about the Tejada trade. Well, I'll just say I like it alot better when I thought it was Luke Scott, Adam Everett, and one pitching prospect a week ago. Now I find out it's OF Luke Scott, P Troy Patton (#3 on the BA prospect list), P Matt Albers, P Dennis Sarfate, and 3B Mike Coustanzo (#6 on the BA list, I like it whole lot less. And if Tejada can demand a trade after 2008, as Richard Justice of the Chron is reporting, I like it even less. And now (one day later) that I know the Miguel Tejada is on the Mitchell report (big surprise, really), I like even less.

The main weakness of the Astros over the last several years was a weak lineup. Numbers 7-9 hitters were Everett, Brad Ausmus, and the pitcher, three almost automatic outs, add to that a declining Craig Biggio, an array of spares such as Jason Lane, Chris Burke, Eric Bruntlett, Willy Tavares, and Morgan Ensberg, and with the loss to free agency, injuries, and retirement to players such as Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Kent, and Carlos Beltran the Astros had basically become Lance Berkman and the Punchless Wonders. Last year, they started to add some offense, by overpaying for Carlos Lee and the emergence of Hunter Pence. J.R. Towles should outhit Ausmus and Michael Bourne as speed and defence to centerfeild. And while you could make the argument that Everett could bat ninth after the pitcher, he is an excellent defensive shortstop. When we went down last year with a broken leg, the Astros had to go with Bruntlett and Mark Loretta, slightly better hitters, but had no where near the glove. So it goes without saying that Tejada will improve the Astros offense. I mean, optimally, they'll have one of the strongest lineups in the National League so I guess that's a good thing.

Unfortunately, unless the Astros plan on Roy Oswalt being the #1, #2, #3 starter and the closer, they have no realistic shot at contending and have hamstrung themselves for the foreseeable future. The Astros had a weak farm system anyway and now they have traded away most of what they had left. They basically traded most of their tradable commodities for declineing, roided up guys who will need to be move to third base probably during the season. Could they not have thrown this together for a starting pitcher? Now they'll have to throw probably $25 mil after spares like Jason Jennings or John Leiber. They still don't have a closer as Chad Qualls inspires about as much confidence as the US Congress. Here is the rotation after Oswalt: Wandy Rodriguez, Woody Williams, Chris Sampson, and Brandon Backe. Inspired, yet? Maybe the Astros will be an offensive juggernaut. But they'll eaither be winning or losing games 10-9 all year long. I just don't understand the move.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Allas Cowboys?

Disclaimer: I didn't get to watch yesterday's game with the Lions. It was the first game I have missed this year. So this post is based on what I've read and what I heard from Brad and Babe on the radio.
Here is the premium money and draft picks that the Cowboys have spent on their defense:
DE: Marcus Spears- 2005 1st round draft pick, Chris Canty- 2005 4th, and Jason Hatcher- 2006 3rd
DT: Jason Fergeson- 2005 free agent
LB: Greg Ellis- 1998 1st, DeMarcus Ware- 2005 1st, Bradie James- 2003 4th, Akin Ayodele- 2006 free agent, Kevin Burnett- 2005 2nd, Anthony Spencer- 2007 1st, Bobby Carpenter- 2006 1st
CB- Terrence Newman- 2003 1st, Anthony Henry- 2005 free agent
S- Roy Williams- 2002 1st
Not mentioned failed high picks like Dewayne Goodrich, Ebenezer Ekuban, and Tony Dixon.
They even hired a defensive guru coach in Wade Phillips. In fact, the last three head coaches have been defensive guys.
But then against one of the worst running offenses in the league and after a week of whining about something a 2nd rate quarterback said a year ago (after he had torched a playoff bound team for 300 yards and 4 TD passes), the D was gashed for 400 yards of total offense. John Kitna was the most sacked QB in the NFL, but the Cowboys hardly touched him and caused 0 turnovers. Kevin Jones averaged 4 yards a rush and Kitna completed 35-44.

The Cowboys have a strong offense. So strong that it overcame a fumble on the 1 yard line down by a touchdown and still drove down and won the game in the end. And it looks like that offense is going to have to carry this team as far as it will go. I mean, do you feel good about this defense against the Vikings again, especially when they have Adrian Peterson and Tavaris Jackson seems to have found himself? What about the Giants or the Packers again? I'm not preaching doom and gloom yet. But this defense needs to step up if the Cowboys want to do what they said they want to do. Their goal isn't the NFC East title they clinched yesterday. It's the Super Bowl.
This win falls in the same line as the Buffalo game: A game they should have lost, but won anyway.
Glass half full? This team has guts and never says die.
Glass half empty? This defense is a sieve and will inevitably keep this team from it's goals.
Which one is it?

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Definition of Insanity, Part 2

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Earlier I talked about this concerning the Dallas Mavericks. Now I'm saying this about myself and the Texas Rangers. I keep expecting that the Rangers are going to do something smart and then contend and it never happens. Stupid trades on top of stupid free agent signings on top of bad drafts on top of key injuries on top of under performing players on top of bad leadership from the top and so on and so on. I haven't looked at all the numbers, but I'm pretty confident in saying that the Rangers are probably fighting it out with the Rays and the Royals for the worst franchises in all of baseball.

This past year has been a bit of a step backwards for the franchise: trading their best player (Mark Teixeira) for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and a bunch of minor leaguers, big free agent signings of the past couple of years (Kevin Millwood and Vincente Padilla) struggling, a slow start from the FOTF (face of the franchise- Michael Young), injuries to key players (Brandon McCarthy and Hank Blalock), and another questionable trade (McCarthy for Danks). There are a couple of things you can look back on as good things: a couple of very good trades (Kenny Lofton and Eric Gagne for Max Ramirez, Kason Gabbard, Elvis Andrus and David Murphy), a good step forward by some younger players (Ian Kinsler, C.J. Wilson, Travis Metcalf, and Edinson Volquez), and what looks like and excellent draft. For the first time in LOOOONG time outside observers are calling the Ranger farm system one of the best in baseball with a whole lot of prime pitching talent, including some that may impact the big league team this year (Eric Hurley and Matt Harrison).

So the question is about this off-season, preparing for 2008. How aggressive should the Rangers be in free agency for areas of need? What about trading some of their prime minor league talent for established major leaguers like Johan Santana or Eric Bedard?

So far the Rangers have made only very minor moves: stealing an Angels' prospect on a paperwork snafu and trading a barely usable center fielder for a recently released first baseman. Hardly front page stuff. Their stated focus of the off season, Torri Hunter, signed with the Angels and as the top flight center fielders sign elsewhere the Rangers are forced to look at spares like Corey Patterson and Juan Pierre. This hasn't exactly been an off season to get excited about Rangers baseball. When the Royals are more appearing more apt to spend money than you, you know you have problems.

I suggest, however, that the Rangers are making the right moves at this time by not making any major, earth shattering moves. There are two main reasons that I think this:
1. For the first time in years, it appears the Rangers actually have a plan and are sticking to it. That plan is building the team from within, especially in the pitching department. In the top 20 prospect list I linked earlier, 6 are pitchers that were added this last year, either through trade or the draft. They have finally realized that if you want to hold down costs you can't build a rotation through free agency. Also, when pitchers get traded, it's for top notch minor league talent, like when the Marlins traded Josh Beckett for Hanley Ramirez and more. The thing about pitching prospects is the high attrition rate. TINSTAAPP (There is no such thing as a pitching prospect). Injuries happen, guys aren't effective, they go off the deep end mentally. Any number of things can happen. How do you keep that from killing your franchise? By stock pilling as many as possible.
2. They've realized you don't get better by throwing ridiculous amounts of money at mediocre players. For example, after Torri Hunter, Andruw Jones was the best center fielder on the market. According the reports, while he signed for 2/36 with the Dodgers he wanted a long term commitment to change leagues and sign with the Rangers. Now the best center fielder on the market, Aaron Rowand wants five years. If you're operating on a budget, you can't throw good money after bad players. I'm not even sure the Torii Hunter was worth the money the Rangers would have had to pay him to et him hear.

The off season is still going on. There are plenty of time for the Rangers to make moves and screw all this up. Hopefully, they will continue to follow the blue print that they have set out for themselves. They still need to improve the outfield which with Murphy, Byrd, and Catalanotto may be the worst outfield in baseball. I don't think they need a closer or a starter right now, although if you can get rid of Vicente Padilla you gotta do it. Their offense has a chance to be terrible. But 2008 is not what we are working for. We're looking at 2009, 2010, etc.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What to think of this NHL Season - Stars Edition

So, I've been watching the NHL for a while. About 14 years pretty steady (you know, except for the years where they weren't playing). I feel like I understand and can generally pick how seasons are going to go for a franchise. In summary, I consider myself an NHL guy. So, what the heck do I make of this season? It's pretty wheels-off, that's what. Every time you think you know something, you find out you don't know it.

Let's start with the Stars. Actually, I'll just focus on them. The rest of the NHL will have to wait. Before the season, I pretty much guessed them to be a middle of the pack playoff team that was probably on it's way down. Then, when the season started and Modano looked like the pressure of the record was getting to him, I thought... uh oh, the Stars may not make the playoffs this year. Apparently Tom Hicks agreed and fired Doug Armstrong. And hired Brett Hull as interim co-general manager (seriously... what kind of title is that???) Then Mike breaks the record and realizes that he can score again and the Stars go on a winning streak. Except instead of being anchored by their franchise goalie, they are led by Mike Smith, a goalie who I thought was as generic as his name. I've been trying to figure out what to write about this team, but every time I started to write, the story changed. Now, the Stars are in first place in the Pacific Division (where I thought they might be third best), and near the top of most "Power Rankings". But will they stay there?

Um.. no, I don't think so. I hope they prove me wrong because I love this team and always want them to do well, but here are the issues:
1. Unsteady play from Turco. Turco has been the rock of this team for so long that not having him there has cause them to play over their heads for a while. I think this is a trend that won't continue.
2. Scoring. Or lack there of. They are getting more balanced scoring, but no one is charging ahead. This can be good or bad, but not knowing who to rely on scoring wise is different. (who knows, it worked for Buffalo last year).
3. Lehtinen's injury. Modano is awesome, and I really enjoy Morrow's game, but if I were going to be reincarnated as any hockey player in the world, it would be Jere Lehtinen. (No, I don't believe in reincarnation, but anyway...). His injury (a sports hernia) is not an easy one to recover from, and if I remember right, it's not his first. These things can linger, and for a player who is known for his tenacious defense and timely scoring, losing him is huge.
So, where will the Stars end up? Well, I'd love to see them end where they are now, but I think this is short-lived and would be surprised if a downturn doesn't happen.

Also, Brett... Where is the scoring? I figured the first thing Hull would do as GM-ish would be to bring some scoring in here. I'm surprised it hasn't happened yet.

Btw, don't think this isn't a intended reverse jinx thing happening.. :)

The Man in the Mirror

Last night's game was really interesting. I've for years really disliked to Ravens. I don't have any real reason personally to dislike them, but I do. Perhaps it's the fact that I think Brian Billick is the most over rated coach in the NFL. He lucked into Randy Moss and Robert Smith when he was with the Vikings and became known as an offensive genius. Then he lucked into a dominant defense which carried the Genuis' pathetic offense into a Super Bowl ring. Add to that Ray Lewis getting away with murder, Jamal Lewis being busted as a drug dealer, that they were moved by a sorry owner from Cleveland and you have in my opinion a dislikeable franchise.
Last night, however, as the adversary of the Patriots on Monday Night Football, the Ravens because the carriers of all things good and righteous against the evil Hoodies. And for three and half quarters, they were what we all hoped for. And with Don Shula in the MNF broadcast booth, clearly rooting for them, I thought they had a chance. By now, you know what happened. Trailing 24-20 with 4 minutes left in the game, Tom Brady led the Patriots down the field to the winning touchdown and the Pats are now 4 games from 16-0. The Ravens would have you believe that their righteous victory was stolen from them by the evil refs in dark conspiracy perpetrated by the highest of puppet masters in the NFL offices in New York. Don't you believe it. Really, they should just look in the mirror, coaches and players. Here are a list of reasons the Ravens lost last night starting with the least egregious.

1. A still inept offense. Brian Billick has been at Baltimore for nine years and the Ravens have consistently been below average on offense. In the 4th quarter, Baltimore had three possessions while ahead and each time went three and out. Until the last desperation drive, Kyle Bolar was 2-5 for 10 yards and a pick. Willis McGahee ran 5 times for 5 yards. At the time when they needed to run the clock and pick up first downs (in that order), they completely failed.

2. Bad defensive coaching on the Patriots last drive. From what I hear the Ravens defensive coaching had as good a game plan for most of the game, bringing pressure from different places, well run disguised blitzed. Until the end that is. I wish I could go back and watch that last drive because it seemed every time Brady was able to get yardage passing was when the Ravens rushed only three. With the talented receivers that Brady has, you can't give him time to sit back there and wait for someone to come open and that's exactly what happened. Everyone wants to complain about the timeout, but the Ravens let Tom Brady run for twelve yards and a first down after the timeout. As expected the Ravens only rushed three and left the right side of the offense wide open. Brady's not Vince Young. Unless there's a wide open space, he's not gonna run. It was not a good defensive performance there.

3. Undisciplined players. The real problem with the Ravens were players who went off the deep end after the touchdown. I understand that it was an emotional game and there were a number of times when they thought they had to game won only to have that not be the case because of factors not always under their control. The fact of the matter is there has been infighting on this team for most of the year. Even as one who doesn't pay close attention living in another city, I can tell there are problems. It all culminated last night with the penalties after the touchdown and the comments after the game. When the Patriots scored the touch down there was 44 seconds left in the game. A long time? No. But there was a possibility of a long return on the kickoff or some other unforeseen circumstance. Instead, the Ravens lost 35 yards in penalties, mostly by Bart Scott's 2 unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. When the Ravens cry about loosing this game, they can only blame themselves. Not that I care about the direction of this team, but the Billick needs to go. He has presided over the deterioration of all discipline and ability to play like a team.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A real national champion: The Final Bracket

Well, this is it. The regular season is over, and my final bracket is unveiled here. Without further ado:

1) Ohio State (Big Ten)
16) Central Michigan (MAC)

8) Kansas (At large)
9) West Virginia (Big East)

4) Oklahoma (Big XII)
13) BYU (Mountain West)

5) Georgia (At large)
12) Florida (At large)

3) Virginia Tech (ACC)
14) Central Florida (Conference USA)

6) Missouri (At large)
11) Arizona State (At large)

7) USC (Pac-10)
10) Hawaii (WAC)

2) LSU (SEC)
15) Troy (Sun Belt)

Missed the cut (BCS rank):
Illinois (13)
Boston College (14)
Clemson (15)
Tennessee (16)
Wisconsin (18)

For previous weeks, see Week Seven, Week Eight, Week Nine, Week Ten, Week Twelve and Week Thirteen.

Looking back at the initial bracket, only ten teams included then (in Week Seven, mind you, not the preseason) made it to the final bracket, and that includes two teams (Oklahoma and Arizona State) who spent one week each on the outside looking in.

I have already addressed issues such as season length, game sites and the fate of the lesser bowls in the initial post. Let's focus on the overwhelming benefits of this system here.

A common knock on a playoff is that it dilutes the regular season. Look at this bracket and ask: Does the regular season matter? Ask Boston College, who were a two seed before a couple losses knocked them out of the picture. Ask Tennessee, who was an SEC Championship win away from playing their way in. Ask South Florida and Connecticut, who were both riding high in the Big East before West Virginia reasserted their dominance. I'd say the regular season still matters.

In a sixteen team playoff, undefeated Hawaii gets a shot. They may very well get blown out by USC in the first round. But there is no way to rationalize a team going undefeated and not even getting a sniff at a championship. If you want to argue that they played a weak schedule, that's fine, but you better start by getting the big boys to stop ducking Hawaii and other dangerous mid-majors like them. I'm talking to you, Michigan.

As things currently stand, two-loss LSU gets a shot at one-loss Ohio State. But what about two-loss teams such as Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Georgia, Missouri, USC, West Virginia, Arizona State, in addition to one-loss Kansas and previously mentioned undefeated Hawaii? Could they have solved their own problems during the season? Sure, but their warts are no worse than LSU's, or Ohio State's for that matter. That makes at least nine teams who have just as legitimate a claim to play for the title as LSU and OSU.

While the BCS shuts its eyes, covers its ears and screams "I can't hear you!" over and over, my playoff gives them the shot they rightfully deserve.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Notes from the Packers/Cowboys

Last night's game between the Cowboys and the Packers was very much an emotional roller coaster. I'm came really close to calling my friend Steve during the second quarter and beginning the celebration. If I had, I'm sure the Packers would have completed their comeback. I did get to watch the game (thank you, Direct TV) and I also listened it on the Cowboys network broadcast over the internet (thank you, high speed internet). I came away with several thoughts.

1. The Cowboys had to win that game. Not in a if they didn't the season was a failure or a playoff game at Lambeau Field is certain death, but considering the circumstances, they had to win the game. The game was at home. The Packers were dealing with injuries even before Favre got hurt: with the injuries to Charles Woodson and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila the Packers were hampered on the defensive end of the field. The Cowboys had to take advantage of the injuries. I think we'll see people who downplay the win because of the Packer injuries. Well, too bad. That's football. The Cowboys have been blessed with amazing health (knock on wood). I don't know if it's luck or conditioning (maybe both), but they have had an amazing run. The one major injury the Cowboys have had to face is Terry Glenn. Can you imagine what this offense would be like if Terry Glenn was playing? The sound you hear is defensive coordinators around the league shuddering.

2. If Brett Favre had played the whole, it may have been a complete blowout. I think after Favre went down, the Cowboys defense let up and let the Packers back in the game. Give the Packers credit. They didn't quit. Aaron Rogers played really well. They have some really good receivers and their running back, Ryan Grant looked really good. It proves my theory that you can find a running back just about anywhere and unless you have an Emmitt Smith, there's no reason to spend a high draft pick on a running back or sign a running back to big free agent contract. Ask the Chiefs. Are they happy about Larry Johnson and he 70 yards a game average? How about Seattle and Shaun Alexander not even getting that much?

3. Speaking of running backs, on the 4th and 2 in the third, I was all for going for it (shoot, I'm a fan. I always want to go for it). But why give the ball to Julius Jones when you have a battering ram in Marion Barber? Was there anyone who believed Jones would get those two yards? I didn't. I think Jones would have gotten those two yards and then ran over a DB picking up 4 more yards. I liked Jones when they first got him. He had burst and he made people miss, a true home run hitter. Now, he rarely gets in the open and, when he does, he can't make safeties miss him. That being said, I wouldn't be surprised if he's back here next year because I wonder if anyone else will pay him what he thinks he's worth. Barber is the horse the Cowboys ride to win. That last drive was like watching vintage Emmitt Smith. The Cowboys knew they were gonna run, the Packers knew they were gonna and, the Cowboys ran down the field for the game sealing field goal.

4. DeMarcus Ware is the man and he made the most important defensive play to this point in the season. It's 27-24 early in the 4th. The Packers had just picked off Tony Romo in the end zone on the drop by TO. The Packers had up to that point scored 14 unanswered points and had already moved the ball 20 yards to their own 40. Third down and 5 and Ware just abused Chad Clifton (the brother in law of one of my co-workers, fyi) and just swallowed Aaron Rogers. That's the kind of play that gets a guy defensive player of the year. For three years now we've been wondering about whether the Cowboys were right about Ware over Shawne Merriman. But that play and a later play when he dropped back into coverage and deflected a pass show that Ware is true all round line backer and one of the best in the NFL.

5. I don't know about that pass interference call on the Cowboys last touchdown. Looked like a tough call to me. If that had been called on the Cowboys, I would have been mad.

6. I don't know for sure that the Cowboys are a shoe-in for home field advantage. They don't have an easy schedule down the stretch. There'll be favored in every game, but maybe only one is without true concern:
A. At Detroit: They have lots of talented receivers and the Cowboys lost to them last year. One good thing: The Cowboys have 10 days off before then.
B. Philadelphia at home: Who will be QB for the Eagles? Was the game they played against the Patriots a mirage or is this team together? Will they have another game like it? The Boys blew them out the Philly and this is at home.
C. At Carolina: The Panthers will trot out either Vinny Testaverde, David Carr, or Matt Moore, whom the Cowboys cut in the preseason. As they say, 'Nuff said.
D. At Washington: It doesn't matter what is happening around the rest of the season, this game is almost always close. Hopefully the Cowboys won't need it for home field and can rest a few guys. I'm just saying don't hand the Cowboys home field before the playoffs start.

All in all, great win by the Cowboys. But as they've been saying the last several weeks: It's been nice to get these wins, but it's not the final goal. For the first time since maybe 1996 the Cowboys have a team that they can legitimately say are Super Bowl contenders. It's a great place to be.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A real national champion: Week Thirteen

There was quite a shuffle in the seedings this week. After a week on the outside looking in, Oklahoma is back in. A loss this week in the Big XII championship game would again remove them from the tourney, so they are playing a must win game this week. Their opponent, Missouri, is not in must win mode, but a win would lock up their #1 seeding for the tournament, which is always desirable. Moving into the tourney field for the first time this year is USC, thanks to their win over Arizona State, who find themselves bounced after holding the four seed as recently as three weeks ago. USC and Oklahoma also combine for a very intriguing 8 v 9 first round matchup. Several other tourney tickets will be punched this weekend as the conference championships are decided. This season is begging for a playoff.

For previous weeks, see Week Seven, Week Eight, Week Nine, Week Ten and Week Twelve.

1) Missouri (Big 12)
16) Central Florida (Conference USA)

8) USC (Pac-10)
9) Oklahoma (At large)

4) Georgia (At large)
13) BYU (Mountain West)

5) Kansas (At large)
12) Hawaii (WAC)

3) Ohio State (Big Ten)
14) Troy (Sun Belt)

6) Virginia Tech (ACC)
11) Boston College (At large)

7) LSU (SEC)
10) Florida (At large)

2) West Virginia (Big East)
15) Central Michigan (MAC)

Missed the cut (BCS rank):
Arizona State (13)
Tennessee (14)
Illinois (15)
Clemson (16)
Oregon (17)

Monday, November 19, 2007

A real national champion: Week Twelve

Sorry I missed last week--I was a little busy relaxing in Hawaii. The last two weeks have been interesting. We have seen Ohio State and then Oregon fall from the top spot, and Oklahoma's loss this week was very costly, knocking them out of the field. There have been a few substitutions of conference leaders, with Virginia taking over the ACC from BC, Central Florida taking the lead in C-USA from Houston and Arizona State benefiting from Oregon's loss. It's been wild, but it isn't over yet.

For previous weeks, see Week Seven, Week Eight, Week Nine and Week Ten.

1) LSU (SEC)
16) Central Florida (Conference USA)

8) Virginia Tech (At large)
9) Oregon (At large)

4) Missouri (At large)
13) BYU (Mountain West)

5) Ohio State (Big Ten)
12) Connecticut (Big East)

3) West Virginia (At large)
14) Troy (Sun Belt)

6) Arizona State (Pac-10)
11) Virginia (ACC)

7) Georgia (At large)
10) Hawaii (WAC)

2) Kansas (Big 12)
15) Central Michigan (MAC)

Missed the cut (BCS rank):
Oklahoma (10)
USC (11)
Florida (12)
Texas (13)
Boston College (14)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Credit, Where It is Due

I was very unhappy with the Cowboys hire of Wade Phillips. Actually, I was cautiously optimistic until Chris dragged out my real feelings. I thought that he was a retread coach who had failed his previous two coaching chances with the Broncos and the Bills. I was annoyed by Jerry Jones hiring his offensive coordinator, Jason Garrett, before he even hired his head coach. I was was leery of Garrett anyway because he had one year of coaching experience, an decorated year as the QBs coach at Miami.
However, after an 8-1 start to the season in which the offense looks like a juggernaut and the defense is improving dramatically as it continues to return starters such as Greg Ellis, Terrence Newman, and Anthony Henry, I have to admit that, at this point, I was wrong. Wade Phillips has been exactly what this team needed after Bill Parcells. He has allowed the team to play looser and more confidently.
I give Jason Garrett a lot of credit for the development of Tony Romo. I love the aggressiveness that the offense shows every week. I think this team is going places.
Up until the last couple of weeks, the Cowboys had not played a tough schedule. Their biggest game was the Patriots game at home. As I look back on that game, I'm feeling better and better about their chances. They led late in the 3rd quarter and were ready to retake the lead when a penalty killed a drive and the next drive ended in a turnover. Now every single game turns on penalties and turnovers. It's often the difference between winning and losing. Case in point is last weeks Giant's game. As the Giants are ready to tie to ballgame, a holding call on Brandon Jacobs' touchdown run forces the Giants to settle for a field goal and the Cowboys never looked back. But in the Patriots game, they went toe to toe, but they lost. No one else except for the Colts have even given them a game.
The question for this team is will the avoid the late season meltdown that plagued them during the Bill Parcells years. Baring injuries, I expect the Cowboys to continue to win leading up to the big game against the Packers. That may be for home field advantage in the playoffs. Once you get to the playoffs anything can happen.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A real national champion: Week Ten

No changes in the participants this week, but the Arizona State and Boston College losses did shuffle the seedings a bit. ASU dropped to nine and handed over the Pac-10 lead to Oregon. BC still leads the ACC, but has dropped to the eighth seed.

This could be an interesting weekend, because even though there aren't any big games between those currently seeded, there are quite a few rival games that could shake things up a bit. Find out next week.

For previous weeks, see Week Seven, Week Eight and Week Nine.

1) Ohio State (Big Ten)
16) Houston (Conference USA)

8) Boston College (ACC)
9) Arizona State (At large)

4) Kansas (Big 12)
13) BYU (Mountain West)

5) Oklahoma (At large)
12) Hawaii (WAC)

3) Oregon (Pac-10)
14) Troy (Sun Belt)

6) Missouri (At large)
11) Connecticut (Big East)

7) West Virginia (At large)
10) Georgia (At large)

2) LSU (SEC)
15) Central Michigan (MAC)

Missed the cut (BCS rank):
Virginia Tech (11)
Michigan (12)
Texas (14)
Florida (15)
USC (17)

Friday, November 2, 2007

Financial Craziness...

So, building on Rus' (Chris - Is it Rus' or Rus's ?) posting about A-Rod, it has come out that he was seeking a contract from the Yankees worth approximately $350 Million. Those numbers are astounding. I can't really begin to think in terms like that, but more and more, large numbers (maybe not this large, but still) are becoming more accepted. For instance, Jason Spezza recently got a contract extension for 7 years $49 Million. If you are like 98% of the people reading this, you are wondering. Who the heck is Jason Spezza? He's a center for the Ottawa Senators. That's right. Professional hockey players are still getting contracts that get them in excess of $7 million per year. At first, I thought Ah, well the Sens have Spezza locked up until 2015. Great for them.

Then, the reality of that hit me. I see half empty buildings on game night every time I turn on a hockey game. If I can find it on TV at all. Where is this revenue coming from? Aren't the owners just going back to doing business the same way they were before the lockout?

Baseball, specifically the Yankees (yes I know.. and the Red Sox now..) can afford to do this, but for how long will it remain lucrative to sign free agents in this manner as salaries climb higher and higher? And without results (except for the Sox - go Red Sox).

I was glad to see Dallas not over-spend for a free agent who would likely under-deliver, but I wished they would have at least signed some scoring help. I wonder what the going rate is for a 30 goal scorer is anymore?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A real national champion: Week Nine

Not too much changed this week; all projected conference champs are still in place. There was some maneuvering among the at large teams, as South Florida and Virginia Tech both dropped out of the tourney. Their spots were taken by Missouri and Georgia, who came out of nowhere with a win over Florida last week.
For previous weeks, see Week Seven and Week Eight.

1) Ohio State (Big Ten)
16) Houston (Conference USA)

8) Kansas (Big 12)
9) Missouri (At large)

4) Arizona State (Pac-10)
13) BYU (Mountain West)

5) Oregon (At large)
12) Hawaii (WAC)

3) LSU (SEC)
14) Troy (Sun Belt)

6) Oklahoma (At large)
11) Connecticut (Big East)

7) West Virginia (At large)
10) Georgia (At large)

2) Boston College (ACC)
15) Central Michigan (MAC)

Missed the cut (BCS rank):
Virginia Tech (11)
Michigan (12)
Texas (15)
Auburn (16)
Alabama (17)

Monday, October 29, 2007

More A-Rod Sorriness

Alex Rodriguez is not a bad guy. He's never beaten his wife or got caught doing drugs. He's never been arrested for drunk driving or threatened to run over kids with his car. He's never been a clubhouse cancer on the level of TO in Philly. He's never sucker punched a manager or body slammed a teammate over music.

In fact, he takes great pains in being a good guy. In fact, some people will tell you that he is too scripted, too polished. It might be better for him if he would ever do those things. As it is, the worst things he's done off the field are be seen around town with a manly looking woman who was not his wife and play poker in one of the illegal underground poker games that are all over New York. Oh, and he's been completely unable to hit in the post season.

I want to hate A-Rod and blame him for the catastrophe that has been the Rangers since 2000 when they shocked the baseball world with giving A-Rod what is still the largest contract in sports history. He forced his way out, hoping to gravy train to a ring in New York. It never worked out that well in New York as he never accepted as a "real Yankee" (whatever that means). I've said over and over the people I blame for the Ranger debacle are the Rangers' management, Tom Hicks, John Hart, and Buck Showalter.

Despite all this A-Rod isn't a bad guy. But events yesterday prove that he is either really sorry or he listens to terrible advice. First of all, not showing up for a presentation of the Hank Aaron award was sorry. But that could happen anytime. But to follow it up with the announcement that he was going to opt out during what was probably going to be the last game of the World Series is the epitome of sorriness. He had ten days to make that announcement. I'm no fan of the Red Sox and I don't at all feel sorry for the Yankees. In fact, I'm glad he opted out because it saves the Rangers money over the next few years (don't even get me started on that). But did it have to be announced last night?
As I've said, I want to hate A-Rod but I can't do it. But he just comes across a total jerk way too often.

PS. Peter Gammons keeps saying that the Rangers are possible landing spot for the A-Rod. Now I thought there was a snowball's chance in hell of that happening in 2000 when they really did sign him. Now? There is no scenario I can see that actually happening. A-Rod has a better chance of signing with the Nippon Ham Fighters than of signing with the Rangers.
ADDED on October 31 at 1:24pm. Maybe I'm ahead of the curve on this A-Rod to Japan thing:
Celest (The desert): Nate nicely handicapped the A-Rod sweepstakes earlier today. Where do you see A-Rod ending up?

Jim Baker: I like the lonely-guy-by-the-fence thing I described earlier. How about Japan? Wouldn't that be a Criss Angel mindfreak?

Monday, October 22, 2007

A real national champion: Week Eight

Well, Rutgers sure shook things up, didn't they? With their upset of South Florida, Connecticut takes over as the current leader of the Big East. Yes, Connecticut. Maybe a football tourney has ramifications that I hadn't considered: put together a college tourney and UConn thinks you are talking to them. South Florida has hung on to remain in the tournament, although it is much lower than last week's number two seed. It was a good week for the Pac-10 as both Arizona and Oregon both made big leaps in the seeding. The SEC took a beating, though, as South Carolina and Kentucky each fell out of the tournament with disappointing losses to conference opponents. In other news, Houston took over the C-USA lead with East Carolina losing on the weekend.

1) Ohio State (Big Ten)
16) Houston (Conference USA)

8) Virginia Tech (At large)
9) Kansas (Big 12)

4) Arizona State (Pac-10)
13) BYU (Mountain West)

5) Oregon (At large)
12) Connecticut (Big East)

3) LSU (SEC)
14) Troy (Sun Belt)

6) Oklahoma (At large)
11) Hawaii (WAC)

7) West Virginia (At large)
10) South Florida (At large)

2) Boston College (ACC)
15) Central Michigan (MAC)

Missed the cut (BCS rank):
Florida (11)
USC (12)
Missouri (13)
Kentucky (14)
Virginia (15)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A real national champion: Week Seven

The first BCS poll was released earlier this week and Ohio State and South Florida currently hold the all-important top two spots. And while there is still a lot more football to be played, the current system is too restrictive, even allowing for the plus-one game.

That is why I am in favor of a sixteen team tournament, while most playoff proponents prefer four or eight. What makes my suggestion different from most others I have seen is that mine does not take the top sixteen ranked teams. I propose taking the eleven conference champions and five at large teams, which would be the five highest ranked teams in the BCS poll who did not win their conference. I freely admit this is a completely unoriginal idea; it is basically a scaled down version of the basketball tourney. But I have seen virtually no one else propose such a plan for football.

I believe that this plan answers most of the major concerns with a playoff. The most common complaint is that a playoff would de-emphasize the regular season. If you take the top sixteen, that would be a fair concern. But in my plan, a conference championship guarantees a playoff spot, putting more emphasis on the regular season, not less. And this week, the lowest BCS ranked team to get an at large bid was Oregon at #10. Virginia Tech, Cal, USC and Florida all would miss the cut at this point. Try telling them that the regular season doesn't matter.

The other major complaint is that the season would be too long. Beginning this season, a team playing a twelve game season, a conference championship, and BCS bowl game and a plus-one national championship would play fifteen games. I suggest going back to an eleven game regular season plus conference championships for those conferences with twelve teams. Only eight teams would play beyond the standard regular season and bowl game, and I don't think they would be complaining. And it doesn't need to extend too far into January. There is already a huge gap in between the end of the season and the BCS bowl games. This season, conference championship games will be on Saturday, December 1. The first round of the tourney could be Dec. 8, the second on Dec. 15 and the semifinals on Dec 22. That would allow the National Championship to be played on Tuesday, January 1, because as everyone knows, New Years Day is all about college football. Compare that to this season, when the National Championship is scheduled for January 7.

Yet another complaint about a playoff is that it would make all other bowl games meaningless. The way I see it, they are already meaningless. Under the current BCS system, only one game matters. All the others, even the other BCS games, are little more than exhibition games. With a playoff, fifteen games matter: win or go home. And besides, there is no reason not to play the lesser bowl games. If they can survive under the current system, they can still be played along side a playoff, NIT-style.

One of the greatest benefits of this playoff system is that it finally gives the small conference champ a shot. Boise State knocking off Oklahoma last year was nice, but in a tournament they would have had the opportunity to really prove how good they were. And imagine what a deep playoff run would have done for recruiting.

As for where the games would be played, I am open to suggestions. Personally I would like to see the first round hosted by the higher ranked team. This would further emphasize the regular season: if you finish in the top eight, you get a first round home game. From there, the four second round games could be played at the current BCS affiliates, and the semis and final could be played as repeats at three of those, just as this year's plus-one will be played in New Orleans a week after the Sugar Bowl. Another possibility is to open it up to bidding again, just as they did when the BCS first began. This time, seven bowls could bid for the second round on.

On to the seedings. Please understand that nothing is for certain yet, and the 'conference champions' listed below are based on current standings only. In the case of a tie, I have gone to overall record, then point differential. After conference champs were determined, at large teams were selected according to the top five non-conference winners in the BCS rankings. After the sixteen teams are selected, they are re-seeded according to their BCS rank. I have made my best guess to seed the teams not ranked in the BCS (East Carolina, Central Michigan, BYU and Troy in this week's poll).

I have tracked this playoff system the past three or four years, and there is quite a bit of movement at this point in the season: this week's 'conference champ' could easily be next week's 'missed the cut' and vice versa. I'll publish the newest version each week after the BCS rankings are released, so check back to see how our real national championship could have been.

1) Ohio State (Big Ten)
16) East Carolina (Conference USA)

8) Arizona State (Pac 10)
9) West Virginia (At large)

4) LSU (SEC)
13) BYU (Mountain West)

5) Oklahoma (At large)
12) Hawaii (WAC)

3) Boston College (ACC)
14) Troy (Sun Belt)

6) South Carolina (At large)
11) Kansas (Big 12)

7) Kentucky (At large)
10) Oregon (At large)

2) South Florida (Big East)
15) Central Michigan (MAC)

Missed the cut (BCS rank):
Virginia Tech (11)
California (12)
USC (14)
Florida (15)
Missouri (16)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

So, what does all this mean...?

So, when two undefeated teams meet and one demolishes the other, what exactly does that mean... especially to the person who considers them his two favorite teams? Here is what I got out of Cowboys-Patriots game on Sunday:

1. I don't care about the records of the teams they have played, the Patriots and the Colts are the best two teams in the league. (And once they play each other in a few weeks, we'll know who is the best - More in a minute). Of course this is only right now. If these two teams (Pats and Cowboys) were to meet in a game... I don't know.. sometime in late January, would the outcome be the same? Hard to say, but right now, there is not a team that is as solid as the Patriots.

2. The Cowboys, despite a couple shaky games, are still one of, if not the best team in the NFC. I'm not sure if that's the same as saying that someone has a really nice personality, but they are a good team if they are playing a team that is not so balanced in run/pass offense. And that is really the problem with them this year. The Bills ran effectly, and the passing game complemented that. The Patriots do both extremely well, and we saw that outcome. So, this Minnesota team (which can run like crazy, but doesn't pass well at all), should be an opportunity to rebound.

3. Patrick Crayton is a moron. Don't get me wrong, I think he is a very serviceable receiver, but when you just get whipped by 21 points (even if the last 7 were just rubbing it in), you cannot talk about how you are not impressed by the opposing defense. Yes, Crayton you did score a touchdown, and your 46 yards were very impressive, but when a team shuts down your top receivers (that would be Owens and Witten - just in case), you should really just be happy with your TD and shut your mouth.

4. Tony Romo had an off week against the Bills. Other than one really ill-advised throw which was picked by Seau, he responded pretty well, and even fought back to get the lead until New England steamrolled.

5. Where is the TO who would talk (and don't mistake it. Writing a note that ends with "Get your popcorn ready" is indeed talking) and then back it up? I'm still waiting for he and Romo to get on the same page and go crazy. And man... I miss having Terry Glenn on the other side. How would that have changed yesterday? SIDE NOTE: Can we stop referring to him as TO Owens? I've heard several people do this now, and it drives me up the wall. What do people think the O in TO if for?

6. I am dying for both the Colts and Patriots to be undefeated when they play each other November 4th. Undefeated teams playing each other is awesome. This was a great game until the fourth quarter implosion. This could easily happen with the major roadblock being the Jaguars to the Colts, and the trap game of Miami to the Pats.

So, what does this all mean to me? Well, I'm happy that the Patriots have proven themselves, and I'm happy that the Cowboys are experiencing these bumps now, rather than later this year. I still have high hopes of this team, and think they can make it far in the playoffs. I think they are still the best in the NFC, and would rather they lose this non-conference game than others in the future.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A comment on Chris's post that turned into a post

I was going to post about the Bill's but I couldn't get it right and gave up so I decided to just comment on Chris' post. Then it got so long that I decided to make it into a post. So here it is.

While I agree by and large with you that there really no reason to get down about the game. (It happens, trap game, road out of conference game, bad team playing about their heads for about 3 quarters, etc). There are a couple areas of concern.

1. Did Tony Romo simply have a bad game that every player has every once in a while or is this sign of things to come? Did the Bills "figure out" Romo and give everyone else in the NFL the key to solving him?
2. While the defense did play really well, I don't think you can say that no one played poorly. Terrell Owens dropped a number of passes, including the 2 point conversion. He's been a model citizens so far this year. But I hope that him throwing Romo under the bus about that thrown isn't a harbinger of things to come. Also, the running game never got going. While the offensive line has done a great job of keeping people off Romo in the passing game, the running game has not been gang busters.
It is a tribute to the tenacity of the team for them to win that game that seemed to desperately want to give away, but there are plenty of things to be concerned about. I'm not just talking about the Patriots. Remember last year when the Colts came into Texas Stadium undefeated and left with their first loss as the Cowboys held them to 14 points. Even if they do lose, it's just their first loss and an out of division loss as well. It really won't be that big of a deal.
However, there are areas that need work for this team to really be what we all think it can be. The NFC East looks strong, with Jason Campbell looking strong for the Redskins, the Giants having recovered from their awful start, and the Eagles are always dangerous. In the past several years, the Cowboys have started strong and then tailed off at the end. They need to be consistent this year to reach the Super Bowl. I still consider them the best team in the NFC, but there is still a long way to go.

Easy there, Cowboy

Last week I warned the Cowboy fans not to get too carried away and identified my concerns about the team. This week I feel it is my responsibility to keep you from getting too down, so I'm going to point out all the things that went right Monday night in Buffalo.

The defense played great. Despite defending a short field due to Romo's turnovers, the defense only gave up 257 yards and three points--Buffalo's TDs came off of two INTs and a kickoff return. Their offense went nowhere. The defense looked pretty bad in week 1 giving up 35 to the Giants, but they have gotten better each week since. As is, this is a Super Bowl caliber defense.

Romo's last two drives. He absolutely stunk for the majority of the game, but in the end, when the win was there to be taken, he led two scoring drives to get the job done. That answered a lot of my lingering questions about Romo. Most QBs would have folded sometime around half time, and most coaches would have pulled the plug much earlier. Kudos to both Romo and Wade Phillips for not giving up on the game.

Only one player had a bad game. Romo has gotten a lot of attention for a year now, but this game was a pleasant reminder that there is more to the Cowboys than a hot QB. The running backs can play, particularly as a tandem, if they get the carries. The receiving corps can play and the O-line is solid. They've got a kicker. And have I mentioned the defense? Romo's game was awful, but it was not typical of him, and the rest of the team was able to make up the difference.

Team attitude. When Romo was down in the second quarter, offensive players, defensive players and coaches took the time to rally him. Yes, even T.O. Do you think that would have happened last year? This is a team that believes in each other. Don't underestimate that.

Can they afford games like this out of Romo every week? Certainly not: Buffalo might be the only team in the league that might happen against. The fact that they were able to pull off that win against anybody says something. Romo won't be that bad again, and this game showed us what the rest of the team can do.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Keeping one foot on the ground

The Cowboys are 4-0.

Those few words have power: the power to send a city, and beyond, into a euphoric tizzy. The power to make millions of fans giddy with excitement. But also the power to make them a little irrational. OK, a lot.

I'm already hearing those other two words being tossed around a little too lightly: Super Bowl. Playoffs? Fine. I expect this team to make the playoffs. I've also heard people openly wonder if Tony Romo is on par with Manning and Brady. I know getting carried away with kneejerk reactions is fun but it's a little early for the Super Bowl talk. My mission, and I do choose to accept it, is to keep the Cowboys fan grounded, even if it is only by the little piggy that went 'wee, wee, wee all the way home.'

They haven't played anybody. Their opponents have a combined three wins. Three. Can we at least wait until after the New England game?

They haven't played a good defense. But what about Chicago? Quite simply, they aren't that good. They are ranked 15th in yards allowed and 21st in points allowed, and they are the best of the bunch the 'Boys have seen so far. The Cowboys offense has looked good, but how much had that had to do with their opponents?

The offense. Don't get me wrong: they have looked great. But they are using the pass to set up the run and they aren't going to be able to do that every week, and certainly not in the playoffs. When the pass is taken away from them, with they be able to consistently run the ball? Maybe, but it is not a given.

Special teams.The special teams unit is losing the field position battles, particularly on punt coverage. So far, the offense and defense has been able to handle it, but again, against a good team, they are putting themselves in a hole.

Injuries. They are starting to get some players back who were injured in the pre-season, but how much longer are they going to be able to plug guys in? The Cowboys were one of the healthiest teams in the league last year, but I fear that streak is due to end.

The schedule is favorable, and the team should finish with a great record. I predicted 13-3 when the schedule was announced last spring and I still expect that to happen. But let's hold off on the Super Bowl talk for a few more weeks. In fact, here is a rallying cry for Cowboys' fans: 'Remember the Mavericks!'

Monday, October 1, 2007

Farewell to a Legend


As is all the often the case with my baseball teams, this season ended with a whimper and no playoffs. Actually I probably shouldn't complain. At least I don't root for the long suffering Mets (who have won 2 World Series) or the poor Phillies (who also have two World Series appearances with one win in their fairly recent history). I'm sorry. As a Rangers fan, I just don't feel sorry for these fake heart broken franchises, especially considering both are in the playoffs this year. (Edit: When I was writing this, I had to go back and change the reference from the Cubs to the Mets and I left this sentence in. The Cubs have been bad for a while, although there were in the NLCS a couple of years ago. I wouldn't blame Bartman, I would blame the pitching for losing that.)

Just about the only baseball joy that I have felt over the years have come from the team down I-45, the Houston Astros. For the past ten years they have been one the most consistently good teams in baseball, reaching the post season six times and advancing to the World Series in 2005. I'll always blame the loss on Brad Lidge. If he could have closed out Game 5, Roy Oswalt would have pitched game 1, Clemens game 2, and Pettite game 3. I don't know. Probably doesn't matter. The Stros couldn't buy a clutch hit.

Anyway. Those great Astro teams were led by Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. While Bagwell was felled by bad shoulder and had to leave before he was really ready, Biggio went out the way it should be for a legend, with a home stand that sold out every game even though there was absolutely no playoff implications. Fortunately for me, it was against the Braves and I got to watch parts of each game. In heartfelt appreciation, the Houston fans gave standing ovation after standing ovation. Biggio gave them a good show as well, with 4 hits and 2 doubles, even getting behind the plate for the first time since 1991. His final game was fitting: a double and a run scored in the first inning and ground out to third in which he hustled down the line. He truly is a consummate professional and baseball is less because he has hung up the cleats.

Very few Hall of Fame caliber players get to go out on top carrying a championship trophy like John Elway. Some go out like Troy Aikman, sitting on the sideline sniffing smelling salts after a final concussion. Others try to hold on a little too long, like Emmitt Smith padding his stats for the Arizona Cardinals. Biggio received the honor due a Hall of Famer. He's in the 110 percent hall of fame and should be 5 years away from Cooperstown. I may have to make that trip.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Football v Rugby

Last spring (Northern Hemisphere for 'autumn'), I pitted Baseball against Cricket to decide once and for all which is the greatest ball and stick game. The coming of the Northern fall brings with it football, rugby and the definitive battle for supremacy among these contact sports.

But first, the ground rules. For the purposes of this comparison, I will be using the NFL, the pinnacle of American football, and Rugby Union, the more popular, and in my opinion, superior form of that game. Ten categories will be considered, worth ten points each, plus a five point bonus category. Let the best game win.

Best Team
Football (7) - Cameragate notwithstanding, the New England Patriots have been the team to beat for the past six years. However, due to free agency and the salary cap, the Pats pale in comparison to the great teams of the past.
Rugby (9) - According to the IRB World Rankings, New Zealand is the current world's best, and it isn't for a lack of opposition. They dominate on the world scene, despite the best efforts of Australia, South Africa, England and France.

Best Historical Team
Football (9) - This is always good for a debate, but I'll go with the Cowboys. They are tied for the most Super Bowl wins, and I'd put the Boys of the early 90's up against anyone.
Rugby (9) - This one is a little tougher, but I'll go with the All Blacks again. Their 1925 squad was referred to as 'The Invincibles', and that's good enough for me.

Best Rivalry
Football (7) - The best rivalries are in college, but the Cowboys/Redskins rivalry isn't bad, followed closely by Chicago/Green Bay, Denver/Oakland, Denver/Kansas City, and Dallas/Philly.
Rugby (9) - There are some good options here, but I've got to go with New Zealand/Australia. Seems to usually come down to these two teams and they are currently the top two teams in the world.

Outcomes
Football (9) - Ties are possible but highly unlikely. Overtime rules cost it a point though--I don't like the fact that the losing team might never touch the ball.
Rugby (6) - Again, ties are possible but unlikely in league competition, although they do happen more than in the NFL. In tournaments such as the World Cup, overtime rules include two ten minute periods. Better than a tie, but sudden death would be better.

Big Play Potential
Football (10) - This is football's moment to shine. You never know when the QB is going to throw a deep pass, a RB is going to break through for a huge gain or even when a safely is going to drop a WR cutting across the middle. Good times.
Rugby (8) - You get some big plays, but no forward pass removes lots of opportunity.

Specialization
Football (3) - And this is football's weak point. You've got offensive and defensive units, linemen, skill position players, etc. All it takes is the ability to do one thing well.
Rugby (8) - Some specialization, but for the most part, every player on the pitch needs to excel as an all-round player.

Sportsmanship
Football (5) - Rules have to be written to enforce sportsmanlike behavior. Shameful.
Rugby (9) - Tana Umaga, former All Blacks captain, once abandoned a favorable play to check on the Welsh captain who had been knocked unconscious. Pure class. It's a rough game, but the players respect their opponent.

Best Trophy
Football (5) - Not really a fan of the Lombardi Trophy. Kinda boring.
Rugby (6) - The Webb Ellis Cup. What is there to say? It's a nice enough cup.

Popularity
Football (6) - A good deal of the world watches the Super Bowl, but no one else seriously plays football. The American Football World Cup could only attract ten participants, and until this year, when the US first entered the World Cup, Japan had been a two-time champion. Japan!
Rugby (7) - It's not yet soccer's equal on the world scene, but rugby enjoys fairly widespread popularity, although it has been dominated by a handful of countries for most of its history.

Toughness
Football (9) - I get questions about this all the time from rugby fans, but I still give footballers credit despite the pads. As we learned two weeks ago from Kevin Everett, injuries still happen, even with a helmet and big shoulder pads. Football's hits and collisions are too big to try this game without protection.
Rugby (10) - Some players wear padded headgear, but otherwise players play without protection. And the hits are almost on par with the NFL. High speed collisions aren't as common and tackling rules help, but this is still a violent sport.

Bonus: Best Tradition
Football (3) - I'll go with the Lambeau Leap. Nice to get the fans involved.
Rugby (5) - New Zealand's haka is both a cultural celebration and fierce intimidation. That's Tana Umaga leading the haka in the video below.


Add it all up and rugby takes down American football and it isn't even close: 86-73. Football is a great game, but give rugby a try during the World Cup, shown on Versus.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Random Football Thoughts, College and Pro

1. I talked about this in my response to Chris' previous post, but I'm concerned about Texas. Having not gone to a major college football school (I went to Hardin- Simmons in Abilene, which had a really good Division III football team) I picked Texas a few years ago as my preferred team. (Mainly because of Chris Simms and cemented by Vince Young) I think that they are clearly the second best team in the Big 12. Texas A&M was a half away from surpassing them in my mind, but they fell asleep on Fresno St. and would have lost the game if the WR from Fresno St had just gone out of bounds instead of trying to stretch over the goal line. I watched that whole debacle at the end of the A&M game and it was unconscionable missing that call.
2. There is no way Notre Dame should be as bad as they are. My sports interests has as much to do with hate as it does love. You can read my favorites in my profile, but here are my hates: Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Eagles, Redskins, Lakers, Fighting Irish, and anyone else who really good (so, the Patriots and Suns also make the list.) So I'm actually pleased that the Irish are terrible. But I think there may be some poetic justice for Tyrone Willingham. You didn't have alot of success at ND, but he teams were always competitive. I laugh at Charlie Weiss.
3. LSU is the best team I've seen in the NCAA so. They blew an over-rated Virginia Tech away. I'm picking at LSU-USC championship game. I noticed Ryan Perrilloux getting some mop up time for LSU. He de-committed from Texas after Vince Young's sophomore season because he didn't want to sit behind VY for two years. Now he's sitting behind the immortal Matt Flynn. Nice call, Ryan. On my response to Chris, LSU v. USC in the National Championship
4. There is no more exciting player in the NFL than Vince Young. Not Reggie Bush, not any running back, wide receiver, defensive player, not anyone. Because there is a chance on every single Titans offensive play that he is going to do something that will make your jaw drop. But Sunday's game was tough to watch because he was off and most of his throws were not that great. Every game he has a couple of those throws, the ball bounces in or he throws it so far behind the receiver that he gets killed or whatever. He didn't win Sunday's game, but there are going to be several games that VY wins almost by himself. He is freakin' amazing.
5. I think the Cowboys need to sit Terrance Newman and hope that after the next two and hope he can go later in the season. The real meat of their schedule starts Oct. 14 against New England. The next couple of weeks against teams that struggle throwing the ball he should sit. They need him to be better later. Without Newman, the very best they can hope for 9-7. With Newman, they can play in the Super Bowl.
6. I was sure about several things in the Cowboys game.
a. That Tony Romo was going to throw an key interception at the worst possible time.
b. That the Cowboys would start running the ball midway thru the forth quarter.
c. I was also sure that the Boys give that game away.
Only one of those things happened. I thought the aggressive play calling by Jason Garrett was awesome. Maybe it was just because he knew as everyone else watching that game that there was no way the Cowboy D was going to stop the Giants. That was an ugly defensive performance. That has to improve. The next couple of weeks should be time to work on those problems before they really start work in the schedule.
7. As tough as it was to watch the Dallas defense for this Cowboy fan, imagine being a Giant fan. Eli Manning plays his best game, and then gets hurt and you don't win? That's gotta suck. At least the Cowboys won.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Back to school

I made my NFL predictions a few days ago and I'm overdue for my NCAA picks. You can take my word: I didn't have Michigan winning the Big Ten. On to the picks.

ACC: Virginia Tech. I really didn't want to pick them because I don't think they are as good as the hype or their current ranking. But I dare you to find anyone else in the ACC worth picking.

Big 12: Oklahoma. I've got serious questions about Texas's running game and secondary. Maybe next year.

Big East: I'd like to pick Louisville, but it's got to be West Virginia.

Big Ten: Penn State fills the void with Michigan and Ohio State both down.

SEC: I think the SEC is usually overrated, but this conference is good this year. Maybe too good—LSU could easily have a loss or two before bowl season.

PAC 10: USC. I thought we weren't supposed to have dominance like this anymore.

Conference USA: Southern Miss. I won't lie: I flipped a coin and this is what I got.

Mid-American: Kent State. Ditto.

Mountain West: Watch out for TCU. They can quickly replace Hawaii and Appalachian State as the early season media darlings with an upset of the Longhorns in Austin.

Sun Belt: Arkansas State. Any team that can put a scare into Texas can win the Sun Belt, right?

WAC: Don't believe the Hawaii hype: they are not this year's Boise State. That title belongs to...Boise State.

National Champs: LSU over USC. I know this kind of contradicts what I said earlier about LSU and the SEC, but if LSU can get to the title game, they can win it. Think of last year's battle tested Florida team beating previously unchallenged Ohio State.

Heisman: He's not the best QB (that would be Louisville's Brian Brohm), but he will be the QB on the top ranked team in the country. That's enough for Heisman voters to give the award to John David Booty.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

NFL: On the record

I've waited until the last minute to make my picks for the season, but time's up, so here it is:

NFC
East: Dallas Cowboys
North: Chicago Bears
South: New Orleans Saints
West: Seattle Seahawks
Wild card: Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants

Yes, with the exception of Dallas taking the NFC East over Philly, this is exactly how the NFC turned out last year. But have you looked at the NFC? Eleven of the sixteen teams finished .500 or less last year; twelve had a negative point differential. I considered San Francisco replacing New York as a wild card, but I just don't see it. My NFC picks may not be original, but they will be correct.

AFC
East: New England Patriots
North: Cincinnati Bengals
South: Indianapolis Colts
West: San Diego Chargers
Wild card: Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars

The AFC division champs are all repeats other than Cincy, and I expect they should stay focused enough to leapfrog Baltimore. I did manage to find two new teams in the wild card, though. Denver and Jax will both thrive with their young quarterbacks and solid defenses.

Super Bowl
San Diego Chargers over Dallas Cowboys

New England is the trendy pick in the AFC, but I see Norv Turner working some of the old Cowboy Triplets magic with the Chargers own triplets. Plus, they still have a great defense. Some might say Dallas is a homer pick, but I think they have the most balanced team in the NFC. Besides, this matchup has good storylines, with Turner's history in Dallas and Phillip's time in San Diego. It will be a good game, but in the end, LaDainian Tomlinson will not be denied.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I Have a Serious Question

The other day I saw that the MLB store has a sale going that you can get an authentic personalized jersey for $99. I forwarded it to my wife as a possible Christmas or birthday gift. She asked me if it should have my name on it or a player's name on it? This caused a bit of consternation in my mind. In the past, I thought that a personalized jersey with your own name on it was stupid. I mean there's no one named "Massey" on the Rangers. According the baseball-reference.com, there have three Masseys in the big leagues in history: Bill Massey played 13 games for the Cincinnati Red in 1894 (apparently the 5-11 168 lb Massey was big enough to be nicknamed "Big Bill"), Mike Massey played 31 games for the 1917 Boston Braves, and Roy "Red" Massey topped them all by playing 66 games the following year for those same Braves. In football, the only Massey I know of was a 90's Defensive back named Robert Massey. He even made the Pro-Bowl one year.
Anyway, having a Ranger's jersey with Massey on it seems the ultimate of loser-dom. However, if I get a player's name on it, what if they are traded or starts to really stink or starts fighting dogs or something like that? I mean, what if in Dec 2000 in those heady days after the Rangers stunned the world and signed A-Rod to the most ridiculous contract in history and it looked like he could be playing in Arlington for 10 years, I had run out and bought an A-Rod #3 jersey? I would be even more angry than I am now that they traded him. Perhaps a Michael Young #10 jersey would be a good idea. He signed a big contract in the off season and signed through 2013. Now we can debate the wisdom of that contract, but logic would say that he is here for the long haul right? Maybe he'll become to the Rangers what Craig Biggio is to the Astros, not quite to Hall of Fame level, but fan favorite level. But maybe not. Maybe he declines starting next year and by 2013 he's been released or traded for a spare starting pitcher with the Rangers picking up a lot of that contract. Either one could happen.
If I get a jersey with my name on it, I know I'll never get traded. I mean, honestly, if I've stayed with the Rangers this long, bad baseball isn't going to cause me to leave my fandom at the door.
So what should I do? Jersey with my own name on it, a player's name, or is there a 3rd way? I need to know what you guys think.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

This post is the greatest of all time

When Appalachian State beat Michigan this past weekend, people started immediately saying that it was the greatest upset of all time. Michigan came into the game ranked number five in the preseason polls and the Mountaineers are in the Football Championship Subdivision (or The Football Division Formerly Known as Div I-AA, iconic symbol pending), although they are two-time defending Football Championship Subdivision Championship Game Champions (no, that is not an error). When Corey Lynch blocked Michigan's field goal attempt to seal the game, history was made: for the first time ever, a Div I-AA team (I'm not going through that again) defeated a Top 25 opponent. But was it truly the greatest upset of all time?

Ever notice that we've had a lot of 'greatest of all time' moments lately? The Heat's Finals comeback over the Mavs was called the greatest ever. The 2004 Red Sox ALCS win over the Yankees after falling behind 0-3 was too. The 2006 NCAA basketball tournament was called the greatest of all time, at least until the later rounds when everyone found out that huge upsets early in the tourney means good, not great, teams in the Final Four. The 2005 USC Trojans were hailed as the greatest team of all time, then lost the Rose Bowl and the National Championship to Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns. Then that game was called the greatest of all time and Vince's performance was called the greatest individual performance of all time.

OK, I won't argue with that last one.

We've even turned it into an ironic acronym: G.O.A.T. Used to be, if someone said, "Who's the goat?" the answer was Bill Buckner. Now it's Alex Rodriguez. Come to think of it, Barry Bonds could arguably be the answer to both questions.

Why do we feel the need to attempt to validate today's sporting events, teams and athletes by naming them the greatest of all time? Is it not good enough to put on a great performance? Why do we need our teams to defeat not only their opponent, but also history? Is it because we live in a world of mass media, the internet and SportsCenter highlights? Is it our arrogance to believe that we live in the greatest era of mankind? Or is it simply a desire to feel as though we are witnessing history at every turn? Whatever the case, we have become a society of statistical outliers, the tapered ends of the bell curve, where the greats of today (and the worst--it works that way as well) will be quickly replaced by tomorrows G.O.A.T.s (or goats, as the case may be).

App State's win over Michigan was not the greatest upset of all time, but it was a great game, and that's good enough for me.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

110 Percent Pick 'em contest

Well, the Summer of Nothing (except the Michael Vick and the NBA gambling scandals) is mercifully almost over. It's been difficult to find anything worth writing about, which is why we haven't been writing. But football season is here, and with it comes more posts and a new 110 Percent contest: NFL Pick 'em.

To join, go to Yahoo! Fantasy Sports Pro Football Pick'em. Here's the details:
League name: 110 Percent
Group ID#: 52452
Password: cliche

Current standings will be kept up to date here, but we need players before we worry about that. So if we have any readers left after the Summer of Nothing, head on over, sign up and get you Week 1 picks in this week.

When we did this for the NCAA Basketball tourney, we were totally embarrassed by a reader, and before he can comment on it here, I'll go ahead and say it was my dad. Everyone knows the tourney is a crap shoot anyway. Picking football games is a different story. Let's just say we are each looking for redemption/revenge.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

So, What did I miss?

It's been over a month since I posted anything and I think I'm gonna do a Peter King style scattershooting about baseball.

5 Things I Think about baseball.
1. I think the Rangers made three excellent trades at the deadline. I'm sure that doesn't surprise anyone who reads this blog with any regularity (all three of you). Jon Daniels turned a 40 year old outfielder (Kenny Lofton) into a catcher better known as a hitter(Max Ramirez). Eric Gagne netted two solid players and another minor leaguer with big upside in 17 year old Engel Beltre. In the biggest trade, Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay brought 5 players, each of whom have upside led by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. In this trade as well, the Rangers ended up a couple of players several years away. So, including this years draft, the Rangers have added a great deal of young talent. Talents that may not arrive for a couple years, but this sets the Rangers up long term. Before this year, they had a middle of the road farm system with little big time, superstar talent. But now Elvis Andrus is compared to Jose Reyes and Beltre to Barry Bonds (seriously, I've seen this written.) Are all these guys gonna make it for the Rangers? No, injuries and trades and just flat out stinking can happen anytime, but the more good players you have, the more likely you are to have some work out.

2. I think, no, I know Mark Teixeira was not going to resign with Texas, no way, no how and it's not totally his fault (or his agent's). I watched his first game with the Braves and I had rarely seen that kind of happiness when he was with the Rangers. Then he kinda goes scorched earth throwing the Ranger organization under the bus. Ok, Mark, we get it. Your happy to be out of Texas. As a fan, it's frustrating for the one who was your best player so anxious to get out of town. Unfortunately, Texas has been mismanaged for the last 8 years or so and the blame should be laid at owner, Tom Hicks. I've said this before. Only a philosophy change can bring about winning at the Ballpark. Hopefully JD can have the leeway he needs to do it. I think he can. The moves he made over this season in the trades and the draft have set up this team for strong future. I hope he has the chance to see it through.

3. I think 30-3 is what makes baseball so darn interesting. You realize that the same team that scored 30 runs last week, got no hit earlier in the year and the two previous games had struck out 30 times and scored 2 runs. In the five games since that game, the Rangers have scored 25 runs. The craziest stat to me is that in a game where the winning team scored 30 runs, Wes Littleton came in in the 7th inning ahead 14-3 and got the SAVE. In football, you can take a knee. In basketball, you can dribble out the clock. But in baseball, you gotta get the 27th out and until you do, the game isn't over. I'll tell you this though. As fan, and I'm sure as a player, you'd rather be on this side of history instead of the other.

4. I think I'm ready for Barry Bonds to crawl under a rock and go away. I was on vacation in Florida when he broke Hank Aaron's record. I watched it on the hotel television. It was pretty cool to see it live, but I didn't feel a whole lot of emotion. Basically I'm just glad it's over. I missed the McGwire/ Sosa chase in 1998 because I was living in Kazakhstan and I wasn't really that sad. I sorta feel the same way now. Meh.

5. I think the Astros are gonna be bad for a while. They aren't great this year and their farm system makes the Ranger system look awesome and overloaded with talent. They fired their manager and GM yesterday, but I don't think it's really gonna help. It won't be long before the Astros are Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and a bunch of spares. They've had a great run with a World Series appearance, but they are in store for a bit of a dry spell.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Empty promises

Shortly after Mark Teixeira was traded to the Atlanta Braves, Tom Hicks let it leak that Teixeira had turned down an eight year, $140 million contract to remain a Ranger. Now Teixeira is under fire in Dallas, specifically from Gil LeBreton of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, for being less than honest when he said Texas ran its business like a small market club.

Why? How does the Rangers offer prove that they are not small market in the way the organization is run? Teixeira thinks he can get more elsewhere. Whether he eventually does is beside the point. In his mind, Hicks low-balled him.

But I don’t think that his specific contract is all he meant with the small market comment. I think he was really talking about expectations and excuses, as in the low expectations for success and the excuses make for it. Dallas is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, and yet the Rangers have a very modest payroll. Yeah, they bid for Matsuzaka, but they made a low offer that they knew didn’t have a chance. They have done the same with free agents. When you offer $100 for the Ferrari on the showroom floor, you aren’t really trying.

The player who has proven to be hypocritical has been Eric Gagné, who also turned down a contract, this time four years, $36 million. The difference? Gagné had said all season that he hoped to remain a Ranger. Given the chance to accept a very fair four year offer for a pitcher who still hasn’t answered all his injury concerns, however, he chose to go elsewhere. I don’t fault him for the choice—who wouldn’t rather play for the first place Boston Red Sox than the last place Rangers? I just wish he had been honest about his wishes all season, or at least kept quiet about it.