An Obligatory Super Bowl XLV Pick

As promised last week, here is my prediction for the Super Bowl. Rather than pretend to know what I’m talking about as far as things like blitz pickups, eight-man fronts, snap counts, and pass protection go—I do some of that on the weekly radio show—here is a simple prediction based mostly on what I’ve seen from the two teams and also what my gut feeling is:

Packers 27, Steelers 21

This might be the first time in a while where I have basically zero confidence in a Super Bowl pick. I really don’t see much of a talent differential in these two teams. I think the Packers might be slightly better based on what I’ve watched in the playoffs, but then again you can’t underestimate the fact that the Steelers have been here twice before within the last six years while the Packers are new to the party.

So I’m going with the eye test a bit for this pick. This is probably poor reasoning because it isn’t necessarily the Steelers’ style to obliterate teams. They win ugly, but more often than not they win. The Packers have been playing nearly perfect football since Week 16 of the regular season and while they haven’t blown every team out since then, I never really felt they were ever seriously challenged in any of the last five games. Throw in the fact that Vegas likes them—a little bit anyway (2.5-point favorites in most books)—and that’s good enough for me.

I usually have actual football reasons for picking Super Bowl winners. I felt pretty confident in picking the Saints last year. Even though they were underdogs I actually thought they were a superior team to the Colts. It’s much too close to call this time around. I have a sneaking feeling that something out of the ordinary will decide this game; maybe a blocked punt, a safety, a bad call and the coach is out of challenges.

After all the analysis before last year’s Super Bowl, the two biggest plays were an onside kick following halftime and a rare Peyton Manning interception that turned into a touchdown. No one could have predicted those events, and in a game that on paper appears to be an even match, it might take something just as strange to decide this Super Bowl.

And though I have no particular reason to be confident in my pick, I was 53-36-1 in picks against the spread that we did on the show this season (including playoffs). Entertainment purposes only of course.

As much as I’d like to be right, I’m just hoping this game is as good as advertised. The Super Bowl has been on a pretty good run in the last decade, and this one may need to tide us over for two years if there is no 2011 season.


FullCountPitch Has Relaunched

Courtesy of FullCountPitch, LLC

I’m proud to say that FullCountPitch Magazine relaunched this morning after taking a four-month hiatus.

I had the privilege of writing for the site in the final month of its previous incarnation. I am once again part of the staff of writers for the current version.

The e-magazine is the brainchild of Gary Armida, the company’s president. The FullCountPitch of today includes a staff of 10 writers. The group comes from a variety of backgrounds: some have written professionally; some have broadcasting experience; some are stat geeks. The common thread, of course, is our collective love for baseball. Individually, we all offer something unique, and hopefully our readers will feel they’ve learned something new when they’re finished with our articles. As a whole, FullCountPitch.com will be a place where baseball fans can get insights, opinions, and well-researched articles that they cannot otherwise find.

While I certainly enjoy doing my own thing when it comes to writing—this site is a case in point—I am thrilled to be part of a talented, diverse group of guys.

My first article comes out on Thursday, but two stories have already hit the site as part of today’s relaunch.


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