Monthly Archives: January 2011

Predicting the Super Bowl XLV Storylines

Super Bowl XLV is less than two weeks away, so prepare for nonstop coverage of the game from every angle possible from outlets like ESPN to E! Channel. I’ll give my thoughts and prediction on the game sometime next week. For now, here are predictions of a different sort: the stories we’ll be bombarded with from now until February 6.

The Obvious Ones

  • Ben Roethlisberger – You can be sure that we’ll be hearing plenty about Big Ben, and not just because he’s the Steelers’ quarterback. Roethlisberger’s fall from grace—which included a four-game suspension—was probably the biggest story of the NFL offseason. His ability to bounce back and supposedly mature will be front and center leading up to the Super Bowl.
  • Aaron Rodgers – Rodgers has gone from the guy who took over for Brett Favre in Green Bay to being an NFC-Champion quarterback in just three years. Expect to hear a lot more about how he waited behind Favre all those years and how he’s climbed the mountain to the point where he’s playing for a title.
  • Brett Favre – This could be a Patriots-Saints Super Bowl and somehow Brett Favre would find his way into the discussion. But the fact that the Packers have made it this far just three years after Favre took them to the brink of a Super Bowl in 2008 means that old gray beard will be talked about. Cue up the old highlights of Super Bowl XXXI where Favre was running toward the sidelines, hoisting his helmet high in the air in celebration after the Packers won their last Super Bowl.

The Less Obvious Ones, But Still Likely

  • Hines Ward/Donald Driver – Ward is 34 and Driver is 35 and the similarities don’t end there. Ward had the more productive career, but both were All-Pro WRs during their prime years and are now possibly getting their last cracks at winning it all; Ward already has two rings of course. One of the networks will probably try to get Ward and Driver side by side for an interview before February 6.
  • Mike Tomlin – Tomlin will look to become the first black head coach to win multiple titles. Tony Dungy is the only other to win a Super Bowl. There are currently seven black head coaches in the NFL, and Tomlin’s success can only continue that progress.
  • James Starks – Even the most serious NFL fans had probably never heard of this guy before the playoffs. But the Packers have finally settled on a full-time running back with Starks. The rookie sixth-round pick from the University of Buffalo will no longer be a secret: As a starting running back in a Super Bowl, Starks will get plenty of attention over the next week and a half.
  • Vince Lombardi – This isn’t the first Packers Super Bowl since Lombardi passed away over 40 years ago, but the current run of the Broadway show, Lombardi, has rekindled even more memories of the legendary coach.

If They Dig Deep Enough…

  • Shaun Suisham – The Steelers kicker was out of a job this season until Pittsburgh signed him on November 16. It came as a bit of a surprise as mainstay Jeff Reed was sent packing. The fact that Suisham went from jobless to kicking in a Super Bowl could be a story.
  • Hair – Somehow this will come up at some point. Between Troy Polamalu, Clay Matthews, and A.J. Hawk there are lots of long locks of many colors and styles. The fact that these guys are really good players will draw attention anyway, but you never know which network or newspaper will decide to focus on something that has as little to do with the game as hair length.
  • Primanti Bros./Ed Rendell vs. Bratwurst/Scott Walker – You can be sure that the tradition of a governors’ bet will be taking place. More than likely Pennsylvania governor—an Eagles fan by the way—Ed Rendell will send Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, a famous Primanti Bros. sandwich if the Packers win, while Walker would send Rendell a brat if the Steelers win. Or would the winning governor send the food? I don’t know. Whatever it is, there will be food exchanged by the states’ respective govs. They’ll probably do a jersey bet too, where the losing state’s head man has to wear the winning team’s jersey.
  • Cheese Heads vs. Terrible Towels – Good chance you’ll see a comparison of the favorite accessory of each of these teams. My research shows that the Terrible Towel has been around since 1975, while the Cheese Head has been worn proudly by Packer fans since 1987. We’ll see a more in-depth history lesson over the coming days I would think.
  • Miscellaneous – I can’t predict which players, but most likely during media day we’ll find out about a special talent or strange superstition that various players have. Player A takes stuff animals on road trips, Player B can yodel, Player C plays the oboe. You get the picture.



Character Assasination of Aaron Rodgers is Downright Offensive

I heard about this story a couple of days ago and I’m surprised it’s actually gained traction. I stumbled upon a blog with a post entitled something like, “Aaron Rodgers Ignores Cancer Patient.” Of course I had to check it out, and after reading it and seeing the video clip (embedded here), the title was a prime example of tabloid drek.

Upon arriving at the airport following the Packers’ 48-21 Wild Card-round win at Atlanta, Rodgers apparently walked by Jan Cavanaugh, a breast cancer survivor. Cavanaugh, clad in pink, with pen and paper in hand, didn’t get the autograph from Rodgers that she came for. Nor did Rodgers even seem to acknowledge her. Television station WBAY was there with cameras to document her endeavors.

Mike Florio, editor at ProFootballtalk.com—the site recently became an affiliate of NBC and Florio appeared during Sunday Night Football telecasts—jumped on the opportunity to blast Rodgers for his utter disregard for the people that help pay his salary; specifically a passionate longtime Packers fan who has survived cancer. Although the title of Florio’s article wasn’t quite as trashy as the one I referenced above, I can’t say the same about the content of the piece.

While Florio must believe he has video evidence of Rodgers snubbing Cavanaugh, in reality the video gives us about three seconds of footage of Rodgers walking by the woman, but doesn’t tell us for sure whether he purposely ignored her or was simply oblivious.

Maybe Rodgers did see her and pretended not to. Maybe he was on the phone (as the earpiece might suggest) and didn’t notice. I have no idea. And while I’ll admit Rodgers doesn’t exactly come off looking good here, for Florio to insinuate that Rodgers doesn’t care about a fan who has gone through a great struggle in her life is a dangerous assumption.

Whether Florio intended it or not, some people will read his article and come to the conclusion that Rodgers is a soulless piece of shit. And in this age where word travels tweets to millions at the click of a mouse, an unnecessary firestorm is created.

I realize players have been cast in a negative light in the media for years, but if you want to judge Rodgers as someone who doesn’t care about a fan who has survived cancer I’ll need to see more than a few seconds of video of Rodgers strolling past this woman.

Florio’s article has been blasted by bloggers everywhere from Yahoo! to yours truly. And as if that’s not enough, Cavanaugh herself said, “I am very unhappy with people making so much out of this, because this really isn’t that big of a deal. It’s up to the players to decide who they want to give an autograph to, and that’s their prerogative.”

This is certainly not the first time an autograph seeker has been snubbed. And I’d even venture to say that it’s not the first time a cancer survivor has been snubbed, as harsh as that may be. I feel badly for Cavanaugh; she deserved better. But for Mike Florio to get atop his soapbox and take this opportunity to stir the pot with Aaron Rodgers is unfortunate.

If every article was written based on three seconds of video, we’d have even less truth in the media than we do now. For a guy whom I’ve seen reporting “news” on NBC’s Sunday Night Football coverage all season, I assumed Florio was better than this. My mistake.


Some Friday Links

Nothing specific to write about today, so why not point you in the direction of some sites of friends and colleagues?

The Talkin’ Sports with Balls Midday Show – My weekly sports talk radio show, cohosted by Mike Orzechowski and Scott Boutcher of The Sports Network. You can find podcasts and blog posts, most recently with our NFL playoff predictions and Power Rankings.

Baseball Assistance Team – My good friend, Erik Nilsen, is the Senior Coordinator of B.A.T. They do great work, helping former MLB players get through financial, physical, and emotional struggles. Erik has visited team clubhouses during spring training and during past All-Star game festivities spreading B.A.T.’s message.

FCP Baseball Report – Gary Armida’s FCP (Full Count Pitch) Baseball Report is a free subscription-based newsletter site where you can sign up to receive his articles (typically at least one per week) by email, in addition to being able to view them on the site itself. Being a fan and also having established friendships with baseball insiders, Gary brings multiple viewpoints to the table; from breaking-news analysis and stat-based articles to heart-felt opinion pieces.

Breaking In… – No, this isn’t a site teaching people how to be a burglar; it’s another project from Gary Armida. This blog details his journey as a baseball writer and the ups and downs that go along with it.

If you feel left out, I apologize. But feel free to post links to your sites in the comments section.

And now, since it’s Friday, here is what I’ll be watching this weekend:

  • NFL Playoffs
  • College Basketball
  • Worst Cooks in America
  • My weight, after eating way too much during my birthday yesterday

Unfortunately, Arizona Shooting May Not Have Taught Us Much

Entering Arizona on our cross-country move back in November of '09; a beautiful state currently going through a dark time.

If you have been reading this blog while it is in its infancy, you know I like to keep things light, talk about sports, and attempt to be humorous. Today, I can’t write about Saturday’s horrific shooting in Arizona with anything but a somber tone.

While anyone with a television, radio, or an Internet connection had to be gripped by this tragic story in some way, the reality is that not much will change in this country. That may sound harsh and pessimistic, but I don’t see any reason to think otherwise.

The major talking point following Saturday’s shooting is that there is too much vitriolic rhetoric coming from politicians these days. Sarah Palin’s infamous “crosshairs map” is front and center in the argument that both images and words have in some way inspired Jared Loughner’s actions.

Connecting the dots between mean-spirited political banter and Loughner may or may not be accurate. We have no idea if he has ever tuned into political talk shows (liberal, conservative, or anything in between), Fox News, MSNBC, or even the nightly news. Clearly he is mentally in another galaxy; analyzing whether the media subconsciously inspired him to go through with this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

The bottom line is that it shouldn’t take a tragedy for politicians, the media, and a lot of citizens to stop and think about how they express their disdain for government and its policies. Much in the same way it shouldn’t have taken the events of 9/11 for us to come together as a nation, put aside differences, and be more pleasant to each other in general. That wore off eventually, and I’m afraid any lesson about nasty rhetoric will fade as well.

Another discussion that started gaining traction about 24 hours after the killing is how this 22-year-old man with mental problems and a criminal record was able to purchase a gun. Arizona has some of the most lenient gun laws in the U.S. and Loughner took full advantage. It is scary to think someone with such a loose grip on reality was given the opportunity to have a tight grip on the trigger of a Glock-19. While individual states can and have made their gun laws stricter, the Second Amendment keeps events like Saturday in play.

The fact that Loughner was never apparently treated for his mental issues has come into question. Because Loughner was never declared mentally unfit by a court or committed to an mental institution he was able to legally obtain this weapon. Loughner clearly exhibited antisocial behavior in his classes as Pima County Community College, which eventually led to his dismissal from the school. But at that point it was up to him and his parents to get him the help he so desperately needed.

How do we draw that line of how nuts someone needs to be before that person is ordered to be tested for mental fitness? I have been in classes from elementary school through college with kids who were detached; talked to themselves or to inanimate object; made inappropriate comments or gestures in the classroom; or did things to harm themselves or others. I do not recall any of them being removed from school, and I know for sure that none of them ever murdered anybody.

The point is that as much as people can try to think of ways that Loughner could have been stopped before doing this, other than not letting him get his hands on a gun and all of the ammunition there is not a whole lot that could have been done. The worst crimes he had committed prior to Saturday were drug-related. The violent, crazed Jared Loughner existed in a vacuum…until Saturday anyway.

Perhaps after this the natural reaction will be that future political events, big or small, will be met with a larger degree of trepidation, by both politicians and citizens. And while that is certainly understandable, this act of violence was random. Not random in the sense that Loughner didn’t have a plan, but random in that it was a small gathering in Tucson, Arizona where a psychopath lived and stalked the local congresswoman. He could have lived in New York, Texas, or Hawaii and the same thing very well could have occurred. There is no way to know.

No one heading to this event was fearful as they made their way to that strip mall on Saturday morning. Just like none of the Virginia Tech students had any sense of fear when their day started on April 16, 2007. Just like the people at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, NY didn’t think they had anything to worry about on April 3, 2009.

The victims of these tragedies certainly fall into the “wrong place, wrong time” category. We can’t live our lives trying to guess which places and times are safe. The relative rarity of mass murders means we really shouldn’t change our day-to-day behaviors or events we choose to attend.

As much of an impact as this story has, things probably won’t change much in the long run. Politicians will still sling mud at each other, talk show hosts will still say off-the-wall things, guns will still be accessible to various degrees, and the most frightening thing is that there may be other Jared Loughners out there.

All we can do is think for ourselves, love our friends and family, and live our lives the way we plan to live them.


What I’ll Be Watching

I seemed to have abandoned the “What I’ll Be Watching this Weekend” section of the blog. And because it’s so vital to everyone’s well being, it has returned on this, the second weekend of 2011.

And now…what I’ll be watching this weekend:

  • NFL playoffs
  • Knicks-Suns tonight and Knicks-Lakers on Sunday
  • Worst Cooks in America on the Food Network on Sunday night

Bert Blyleven Gets Into Baseball Hall of Fame Despite Quiet 2010 Season

Bert Blyleven will join Ernie Banks plus 205 other former players in Cooperstown

Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven were voted in as the only two players in the 2011 National Baseball Hall of Fame class. Alomar made it in just his second year on the ballot, garnering 90 percent of the vote. Blyleven, on the other hand, had to wait until his 14th year of eligibility, picking up 79.7 percent of the vote.

I believe that both deserved the honor. If not for Alomar’s infamous spitting incident in 1996 he likely would have been a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Blyleven, who threw his final major league pitch in 1992, joins the exclusive club with just one year to spare before his name would have been wiped off the ballot.

So while there was very little debate as to Alomar’s Hall-of-Fame worthiness, Blyleven had to play the waiting game for 14 years without actually doing  anything on a Major League diamond to sway the last few writers to put a check mark next to his name. In his first year of eligibility, back in 1998, he only received 17.5 percent of the vote. Somehow, 13 years later, that percentage more than quadrupled.

This isn’t the first time a former player has waited for over a decade for his vote totals to take baby steps toward the needed 75 percent, and it won’t be the last. And I just don’t get it.

The question isn’t whether you think Blyleven deserved to get in or not, but it’s about the unnecessarily long 15-year time frame a player remains on the ballot. Other than some of the new-age sabermetric statistics that can be applied to Blyleven’s career, his body of work can be looked at today in the same way it was looked at after his final game in 1992. Did it honestly take 14 years for some of the baseball writers to think, “Hey, maybe these really are Hall-of-Fame numbers after all.”?

In reality it probably didn’t go that way. Without being one of those writers or knowing any of them, I can only speculate, but it’s likely that two things pushed Blyleven into the Hall: 1) Other than Alomar, the 2011 ballot was littered with a bunch of known or suspected steroid users, so Blyleven seemed more appealing in comparison and 2) writers talk to each other and perhaps peer pressure and politicking by pro-Blyleven writers eventually pushed some of the anti-Blyleven camp to the other side.

I would argue that a lot of writers are ignoring one of the vital aspects of voting. Taken right from the Hall of Fame’s website:

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

If the voters didn’t think Blyleven had Hall-of-Fame credentials in these areas when they voted in ’98, why do they think he had them during the 2011 vote?

If it sounds like I’m in favor of only allowing one year of eligibility, I’m not. In fact, now more than ever voters need more time. There are simply too many questions about many steroid-era players (Jeff Bagwell was hurt by this in this year’s vote) and the last thing a voter needs to do is make a split-second decision to vote for a player only to find that the player was on the juice for most of his career.

The problem is that you often hear from baseball writers and baseball people in general that the Hall of Fame is reserved for the true greats of the game, yet for someone like Bert Blyleven it apparently takes 14 years for some voters to realize his greatness. If it takes that long to decide, how great could the guy have been anyway?

Again, I’m glad Blyleven’s in. Although I didn’t watch him pitch during his prime, seeing his statistics and knowing the era he played in, I have always thought of him as a Hall-of-Famer. If someone can give me one good reason it took nearly a decade and a half for this to become a reality I would love to hear it.

Bert Blyleven wasn’t Tom Seaver. I understand that. I admit that a vote for Blyleven isn’t a no-brainer. But it’s as if the voters are creating a tier system. First-year induction has typically been reserved for the best of the best. Perhaps I’m being too simplistic, but I say that a Hall-of-Famer is a Hall-of-Famer. I’m pretty sure Rickey Henderson will be served the same dinner as Ryne Sandberg the night before the induction ceremony, even though Sandberg had to wait longer to get in. Despite the writers’ insistence on trying to divide the group into “legendary,” “great,” and “good enough,” every Hall-of-Famer has the same sized plaque and the same time allotted for his speech (as far as I know).

I heard baseball writers/Hall-of-Fame voters Jon Heyman and Tom Verducci on MLB Network yesterday talking about how Barry Larkin getting 62 percent of this year’s vote means he’s gaining momentum and he should get in within a year or two. Gaining momentum? Is this is a political campaign? Is Larkin doing more marketing for his Hall candidacy on Facebook these days? Baseball writers, you are allowed to vote in 10 players each year; if you think Larkin should be in, vote for him! Don’t worry about too many players making it in one year. Don’t categorize him as a player not good enough to get in on the first or second ballot. If you think he’s a Hall-of-Famer, give him a vote! If you truly don’t believe his career warrants his induction, don’t vote for him. But either way, stick to your guns!

If it weren’t for the steroid era, I’d be in favor of five years of eligibility. With the steroid era, I still don’t see why 10 years wouldn’t be long enough. That might help eliminate some of these issues I’ve mentioned.

I am well aware that some people will read this and think I’m being too harsh on the Hall-of-Fame voters. If that is the case for you, I ask that you please bookmark this article and read it once every year. Maybe by the 14th year you’ll come around.


Four Straight Collapses…But It Could Be Worse

AP photo

On Sunday, despite a win and a 10-6 final regular season record, the New York Giants were eliminated from playoff contention. As I discussed in a December 21st post, in Week 15 the Giants blew a 21-point lead with under eight minutes to go against the Eagles—a game that saw them go from likely division champs to being on the outside of the playoff picture. And as it turned out, that loss (along with a loss the following week at Green Bay) did enough damage to keep them out of the postseason.

The Giants 2010 collapse was complete. It was quick, but it was a collapse nonetheless. It also continued a streak of four straight years where one of my favorite teams choked away a season. More specifically, it is now four years in a row where either the Mets or Giants have fallen apart. My other two favorite pro teams, the Knicks and Rangers, have not been good enough in recent years to be in position to barf up their seasons.

The Mets got the streak going in 2007 in a major way. The details aren’t important…well, yes they are, but I just don’t want to go back to that dark, cold, lonely place right now. It was arguably the worst end-of-season collapse in Major League Baseball history; that’s all that needs to be said. Characterizing their 2008 finish as a collapse might be too harsh, but let’s just say they missed out on a golden opportunity to reach the postseason. They played a must-win game in the last one ever played at Shea Stadium on September 28th, 2008, losing to the Marlins. Shea went out on a very sour note. Since then the Mets have had two lousy seasons, leaving no chance to blow any good fortune.

The Giants grabbed the baton in 2009, starting 5-0 and finishing just 8-8 and missing the playoffs. There was a major parallel between the end of the 2008 Mets season and the end of the 2009 Giants season: The Giants lost their final game ever at Giants Stadium and were eliminated from the postseason that day. The real kick to the groin was that they were blown out 41-9 by a mediocre Carolina Panthers team.

And then we have the 2010 Giants. It might not seem fair to be critical of a 10-6 team, one that I personally thought would be lucky to even win nine games. But the fact is that once a team raises the bar to a certain level, you expect more. The Giants again raised the bar to the point where they were 6-2, and later 9-4 and in position to win the NFC East.

Of course during this four year run of frustration I experienced the jubilation of the Giants winning Super Bowl 42 against New England. Yet I still need to wipe the painful tears off the keyboard as I type up this lament. How spoiled am I?

What if I were a Cleveland fan? The Browns have never won a Super Bowl, the Indians’ last title was in 1948, and the Cavs have never won a title…not to mention LeBron James’ “Decision” over the summer.

Or I could have been a Kansas City fan. How about Buffalo? Atlanta? These cities have had some very successful teams, but very few championships recently.

Even within the city where my favorite teams play I could have chosen the futility of the Jets and Islanders over the Giants and Rangers. The Nets are in the New York metro area; imagine if I picked them over the Knicks!

When I chose the Mets instead of the Yankees at the age of four I made a horrendous decision. The Yankees have won five World Series in my lifetime. The Mets have won one. Don’t get me wrong, I will always be a Mets fan, even if they never win another championship. But let’s be honest, if I were four years old now and just getting into baseball, why the hell would I choose the Mets over the Yankees?

But the bottom line is that my teams have won a total of five championships in my lifetime, and that’s no small feat. Despite my bitterness and jealousy towards my friends, wife, and in-laws from Philadelphia, their teams have only won two championships during that time.

For most sports fans, you’re never fully satisfied unless your team wins the whole thing. And the sad truth is that nearly every year (make that every year if you’re in Cleveland) you’ll end up disappointed. In places like Cleveland and Kansas City that disappointment blurs into apathy most years. In my case, with the Mets and Giants, disappointment manifests itself in sleepless nights and shocking disbelief.

As much as these collapses by the Mets and Giants hurt, I’ll take this pain over apathy any day. At least I can usually go into seasons most years believing my teams have a chance to be successful. I can’t fathom knowing, on a yearly basis, that my teams will be among the worst in their leagues before their seasons even start.

If my teams are ever consistently so bad that it doesn’t even bother me anymore, it might be time to stop watching.