Saturday, November 18, 2006

Can you say 'Rematch?' Buckeyes squeak by Michigan, 42-39

1Ohio State 42, 2Michigan 39


Let the debate begin. Although there are still a few meaningful games left to be played this season, the number of teams that actually have a chance to play for the National Championship game was reduced today. That's because the team that lost this epic battle just might be the best team in the country.

The Buckeyes and Wolverines played a Game of the Century that not only lived up to the hype but actually surpassed it. One of the greatest rivalries in college sports saw the second-highest scoring game in its history from two teams that came in as a couple of the stingiest in the country. So what happened? They covered the over in the first half (28-14 OSU), sending millions of degenerate gamblers into toilet stalls, and then traded big plays throughout the thrilling second half en route to an 81 point, 900 yard blitzkrieg that left no doubt who the top two teams in the nation were.

You got the feeling from the opening drives that it was going to be one of those days. Michigan took the opening kick and drove 80 yards in just over 2:00 minutes for a confidence-boosting early touchdown by Mike Hart. The highlights of the drive though were 3 passes to electric receiver Mario Manningham, who had 3 of his 6 receptions and 57 of his 86 yards in that series.

Not to be outdone, or let Michigan get confidence, Ohio State came roaring right back, mounting a scoring drive that was dominated by QB Troy Smith (29-41, 316yds, 3TDs, 1INT) and the Buckeyes pass-orientated offense. Since Michigan came in #1 against the run Coach Tressel & his coordinators came up with a great game plan: let Troy throw to any of his 4 or 5 receiver options, spread the field, and then sprinkle in the run later. Mission accomplished from the start as Smith threw 11 passes in the 14-play drive that culminated in 2-yard TD pass to Roy Hall (who?!) for they tying score.

The teams settled down from there, each holding the other down on their next series to end the first quarter in a 7-7 tie.

The second frame got off to a quick start. OSU held the Wolverines and forced them to punt and the Buckeyes took over at their 42. Three plays later the running game was officially worked in as freshman phenom RB Chris Wells took a hand off, did a spin-o-rama at the line and then darted up the middle and into the end zone for a stunning 52 yard touchdown run. The "drive" consisted of 2 plays, took less than a minute, and gave Ohio State a 14-7 lead just 2:00 into the 2nd quarter. Things would get worse for Michigan from there. After another stalled drive Ohio State took over at their own nine. Before you could say "Maurice Clarett" Smith hit the underrated reciever Brian Robiske (7recs, 89yds, 1TD) for a 40 yard gain and got a 9 yard carry from RB Antonio Pittman. On 2nd & inches everyone in the country expected another run, but Tressel pulled one of his many great calls on the day: Smith faked the hand off, Wells leaped over the line, and then Smith unleashed the pass he was hiding in his hip pocket & found Tedd Ginn Jr.(8recs, 104YDs, 1TD) for a 39-yard touchdown to run the score to 21-7, and it looked like they were ready to run the Wolverines out of the Horseshoe.

But a funny thing happened on the way to a Buckeye Blowout. Michigan found that inner strength, that second gear, that adrenaline rush that allows great teams to stand up to adversity and fight the good fight until the very end. Michigan got the ball with a little over 5:00 left in the half and proceeded to mount a drive that probably kept them in the game until the final minutes. Hart, who had a monster game (23 carries, 142yards, 3TDs) led the way with 3 rushes for 38 yards, then after a 15-yard PI call on OSU CB Malcolm Jenkins, QB Chad Henne (21-35, 267, 2TDs) hit underrated receiver Adrian Arrington for a 37-yard score that quieted the record crowd, albeit momentarily, and pulled the Wolverines to within 7, 21-14.

So you would have thought that another score by Ohio State, an 8-yard strike from Smith to Anthony Gonzalez (4recs, 50yds, TD) with :24 left in the half that made the score 28-14 at the break, would have been the straw that broke the Wolverine's backs. Not true, because on a day when the entire Maize & Blue family was remembering their fallen leader Bo Schembechler, the boys in the Winged Helmets were about to put on a second half display that would have made the feisty old coach proud.

After holding the Buckeyes to 3 & out for the first time on the day Michigan would make their statement that although their "great" defense was being shredded like Enron documents they would not be going down quietly. Hart asserted himself and showed why he is one of the best runners in the country when he ripped off runs of 9, 32 & 17 yards before jogging in for a 2-yard score to close the gap to 28-21. Game on. This is when turnovers stared to pile up and cost the Buckeyes a chance to put the game away. Smith, who hadn't thrown an INT in 2+ Rivalry games, gave it away on a ball that was tipped by his intended receiver and recovered by Michigan at the OSU 25. A defensive stand held the Wolverines to a FG that made it 28-24, and then OSU would try to go for the knockout punch again. Pittman took a hand off on 2nd & 1 from their 44 and went on a 56-yard romp to deliver a "take that, rushing defense" score to run the count to 35-24 and give the Buckeyes some breathing room again,
momentarily, again. On their next possession Smith was the victim of a high snap by an incompetent center (he also muffed a snap later), and Michigan headed into the final frame with the ball at the Ohio State 10.

Michigan would start the 4th quarter like they did the 1st & 3rd- with a Mike Hart touchdown. Talk about keeping a team in the game. The stocky (5'9", 198) junior took it in from 1 yard out and suddenly there was nervous chatter from the 105,000+ at the Shoe; 35-31 two minutes into the 4th. (Question: why didn't Lloyd "Dumb & Ruder" Carr go for the 2 pointer here. he started to, took a timeout, then kicked the PAT to go down by 4. Curious call, as pointed out by a perplexed Herbie on ESPN on ABC.) After yet another Smith fumble due to that "idiot center", who snapped the ball sideways and directly into the ground, Ohio Sate held and got the ball again. This time Smith made sure he did what he was supposed to do, namely deliver a 13-yard strike to Robiske for the killer score, making it 42-31 with 5:00 to go. game over, right?

Wrong. This was the Game of the Century, remember, and the teams were determined to live up to that heady moniker. Michigan would summon all their strength and march down the field again, riding 10 Henne pass attempts to a 16 yard touchdown and a butt-clenching 42-39 score (this time Genius went for 2 and got it.) But all that was left was an on sides kick attempt, and when Ginn Jr. fell on the ball the epic battle was over and everyone felt as if they'd witnessed an all-time classic.

So what now. Well to many observers (Herbie, Corso, Musberger, me) Michigan proved that they were most definitely the second best team in the country, and if they played on a neutral field or at The Big House, possibly the best team in the land. The is no way that any of the 1-loss teams are better than Michigan, with the possible exception of USC. Should USC lose to Notre Dame next week the point will be almost moot, because the Wolverines waxed the Irish earlier this season. Which is why the debate will begin raging tonight as to whether a rematch should take place on the neutral field of the BCS Championship Game in Glendale Arizona 50 days from now.

But Ohio State proved that they are without a doubt the best team in America by pummelling a proficient defense both in the air (316 yards) and on the ground (187yds). It was by far the most yardage allowed by the defense all year, and like I said OSU proved that they just have too many weapons for any defense to stop, much like the USC team 2 seasons ago. Then again the Buckeyes couldn't stop the normally flaccid Wolverine offense either, which is another reason that a rematch would have appeal. maybe the next game would be a little more in the Schembechler/Hayes tradition, with a little defense thrown in.

All I know is that only one thing was settled today in Columbus:

Troy Smith better clear a space on his mantle for this:


Friday, November 17, 2006

College Football Week 12 Preview

It is extremely sad that on the eve of the Big Game between Michigan and Ohio State legendary Wolverine head coach Bo Schembechler passed away from heart failure. He was 77.
A fiery coach who guided Michigan from 1969- 1989, Schembechler was loved by his players and despised by other coaches. His friend & mentor , Ohio State coaching icon Woody Hayes, never really forgave Bo from going to coach "the enemy", but The Rivalry was at its best during the period from 1969-78, when Bo compiled a 5-4-1 record against his former teacher; before Bo's arrival in Ann Arbor Woody's boys had their way with the Wolverines to the tune of a 12-6 mark.

There will be heavy hearts on both sides of the field tomorrow. Schembechler was a giant in the college football world, not just at Michigan, as Ohio State coach Jim Tressel expressed in these thoughts: "This is an extraordinary loss for college football," Tressel said . "Bo Schembechler touched the lives of many people and made the game of football better in every way. He will always be both a Buckeye and a Wolverine and our thoughts are with all who grieve his loss." Amen.

So now the question on the minds of most fans has to be how does this tragic loss affect the kids at Michigan in regards to the outcome of the game? Bill Walton just brought this up on an ESPN
basketball game as I wrote it. My personal opinion: it won't matter. These kids have been so fired up for so long over this game that I really think they have the ability to block things out when they get on the field, and the loss will be in the back of their minds, but not on the field of play. Will the Wolverines play harder, tackle stronger, run faster just because a former coach has passed on? For Bo's sake that better not be the case. The kids were already prepared to give it their all, and nothing should be able to alter that focus and determination. Will they want to win a little bit extra for Coach Schembechler's sake? Possibly. Will they have a tad more adrenaline pumping, a few tears flowing, at the start of the game? Probably. But once the game is underway those two teams are prepared to leave it all out on the field. Because that is the way these teams play The Rivalry game every year. Thanks to coaches like Bo Schembechler.

On to the preview of the weeks top games. One may stand alone, but a few others matter, too (yes, I swear.) I'll start with the smaller games first, so you'll have to read on for the Big One.

17 Cal (8-2) @ 4USC (8-1) 8PM EST ABC
A mere three weeks ago this game was shaping up to be huge as well. Now, after surprising losses by both teams, it is merely big. For USC only. Cal was hoping to right their ship after a season-opening loss to Tennessee got them off track with a win over a (hopefully) undefeated Trojan squad. But those darn Men of Troy just couldn't keep up their end of the bargain as they suffered their first regular season loss in 3 years at Oregon State on Oct. 28th. That loss seemed to deflate the Bears, who in turn went out and got flattened by the Arizona Wildcats last week, rendering them spoilers in this one. Will a team that has no shot at the title for gear up to play a team which needs to win each of its final 2 games in order to have a shot at the National Championship? I say yes, because Cal still has a Rose Bowl berth to play for,which would be their first since 1959. Plus Cal believes they are better than SC- after all, they were the ones who handed the Trojans their last Pac-10 loss before the Beavers this year, and their offensive weapons measure up to USC's:
Booty(USC): 2142 yds, 20TDs
Longshore(CAL): 2393yds, 21TDs
Washington(USC): 674 yds, 8TDs
Lynch(CAL): 1090 yds, 9TDs
Smith(USC): 786 yds, 7TDs
Jackson(CAL) 811 yds, 9TDs

So you see Cal has the talent to beat USC. Marshawn Lynch is the leading rusher in the Pac-10, DeSean Jackson has the most TDs by a receiver in the conference & is an electrifying kick returner, and QB Nate Longshore leads the conference in passing efficiency, 2nd in yards and leads in TDs (by 1 over Booty.) But can they take that talent and turn in a season-making victory? Doubt it. SC is too tough, mentally & at home, to let a 2-loss Bear team ruin their shot at glory. I like a high-scoring game, with the Trojans coming away with a much-needed, revenge-tinged win.
MY PICK: USC 47, Cal 34

15 Auburn (9-2) @ Alabama (6-5) 3:30 CBS
Rankings? Throw 'em out. Home field? Doesn't matter. Past history? Trash it. When Auburn & Alabama get together for the annual hookup known as the Iron Bowl it's really true that records, titles, stats and history don't matter. All that matters is that two bitter rivals are getting together for the next installment of their Intrastate Hatefest, and everything in Alabama comes to a screeching halt until the dust settles. This game defines the fever over football in the state. From high school to their beloved collegiate squads, football is life in this state, and the Iron Bowl is the life blood of all fans. Recently Auburn has pounded their neighbors by winning 4 in a row in the series. But to be fair 'Bama has been rebuilding behind new head coach Mike Shula and Auburn has been pretty awesome these past few years, challenging for the SEC & National title while cranking out NFL players like Pez. This year has been a major disappointment for the Tigers, though, after suffering home losses to Arkansas in early October and then a humiliating 37-15 defeat to 6-4 Georgia last week. So they will be mighty hungry in this one. 'Bama meanwhile has played erratically, winning and losing quite a few close games but failing to beat any of the conference heavyweights; Arkansas, Florida, LSU & Tennessee have all beaten the Tide. So this would really be their signature win, and a career-defining victory for Coach Shula. Papa Don will be present, and it would be nice if the son could finally start living up to his father's legacy.
MY PICK: Bama 22-21

The Game of the Century, Decade, Year, Millennium, Second...
2Michigan @ 1 Ohio State 3:30 ABC at the Big Horseshoe in Columbus It's finally here. The game everyone has been looking forward to for weeks, ever since both teams cleared potential hurdles en route to this meeting of undefeated titans in Columbus, has finally arrived. Fitting that the team that has been number 1 all season long and has already played in one epic 1V2 battle this season (vs Texas on Sept.9, the first regular season 1vs2 since 1996) bookends the season with another unprecedented match. This is the first time in the history of the storied rivalry that both teams will be undefeated and ranked 1 & 2 in the country and the first time there have been two 1v2 showdowns in one season since 1945 (Army/ND, Army/Navy.)
Michigan comes into the game unbeaten on the strength of their defense, especially their proficiency at stopping the run. The unit is allowing a mere 29.9 rushing yards per game, which if that holds up (guarantee-it won't) against OSU will be the lowest per game total in 47 years. One team, Minnesota with 108, has rushed for more than 60 yards against the Wolverines, and RB Mike Hart has more carries by himself (278) than all of Michigan's opponents combined (249.) That's what you call a stout rushing defense my friends. But Ohio State has a pretty good one in the backfield-Antonio Pittman- who will put those stats to the teat. Pittman is a stocky runner who eats yards up in chunks and has totalled 1032 yards on the ground with 12 TDs. But if the Buckeyes can't run it they will be perfectly content to throw the ball, utilizing their Number 1 weapon, QB Troy Smith, along with their receiver tandem of Tedd Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. Those two have combined for 1,310 yards and 15 TDs, while Heisman lock Smith has used both his arm (2191 yards, 26TDs) and legs (221 yards, TD) to destroy opponents. Plus the Buckeye defense has been better than expected after losing 9 starters. The unit is led by punishing LB James Laurinaitis and sack-master DT Quinn Pitcock (8 sacks.) Their job will be to stop the Wolverine offense, led by QB Chad Henne, who may not be a Heisman candidate (1932 yds, 18 TDs) but is an effective & efficient leader of the team. The reason his stats aren't bigger is that he does a lot of handing off to Hart (1373yds, 11TDs), the 2nd leading leading rusher in the Big 10, and he missed speedy wideout Mario Manningham (538yds, 9TDs) for 3 games when he was out due to injury. His counterpart Steve Breaston tried to take up the slack from Manningham's loss, but the Wolverine offense is a much deadlier machine with Manningham in there.

So what does all the hoopla & hype mean. It means that the top two teams are playing each other at the end of their seasons for the right to go to the Fiesta Bowl and play for the BCS National Championship. The loser will get the consolation prize of the Rose Bowl, something that was the be all & end all in this rivalry for many decades.

In my opinion Ohio State is the superior team- in all of college football- and should handle the perennially overrated Wolverines down enough to take the win. Sure Michigan has a great defense, but they have yet to test that defense against the best team in the country. Ohio State is the most balanced, dangerous and proficient offense in the NCAA, and Michigan can try to plug all the dikes as the start to leak but sooner or later that wall is gonna burst, and the Buckeyes are going to go tumbling into the end zone. Smith is too talented and athletic to be stopped all day, and his experience in big games, including two Texas matches as well as winning 2 of these rivalry games, will leave him unfazed by the surroundings.

Troy will sew up his Heisman, Ohio State will be headed to Arizona,and Tressel will solidify his OSU legacy by running his record to 5-1 against the Maize & Blue. Meanwhile Michigan will be hoping for a rematch in the Fiesta, which they might get as long as they keep it close.

MY PICK: Ohio State 27, Michigan 17


Movie Review: Casino Royale

Casino Royale
Length:144 mins.
Rated: PG- 13 for violence, language & sexual content
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Ivana Milicevic

The Ian Fleming-created spy franchise gets a makeover for the new millennium and for the most part comes out smelling like a rose.

Normally I never go to a movie on the day it's being released, a lesson I learned when I nearly got trampled and/or shot to death in the lobby of the Dedham Cinema the night of the original Batman premiere in 1989. But the wife & I both had the afternoon off so I figured we'd see what all the fuss was about concerning the new Bond before the weekend crush started tonight.

Let's just say reports of the demise of the superspy and his lucrative franchise have been greatly exaggerated. For months the chatboards & blogs have been filled with venom regarding the successor to Pierce Brosnan. Daniel Craig was a little-known Aussie actor who made a small splash with good turns in Munich & Layer Cake, but that wasn't the worst of his problems: he had the nerve to be blond & blue-eyed, 2 things that the legendary Bond certainly was not. Immediately fans called for his removal on the grounds that his fair tresses & macho-but-not-gorgeous looks would never fly for the man with a license to kill. Evidently none of those posters were of the female variety, because the words used to describe Craig by my wife included "mmmmmmm" (you know, with a leer), "yummy" and "the best Bond yet, much better than that Brosnan guy." Okay, everyone could see that Craig was buff & beefcake-ish from the trailer with him rising out of the surf in a swimsuit- the question for me was 'could he pull off the role minus the suave & debonair charm of his predecessors?'
{A quick aside: there have been debates for decades regarding who was the Best Bond Ever? Loyalists formed camps backing their guy: one group swears that the argument begins & ends with the Scottish Sean Connery; others claim the quick-witted & slick-suited Irishman Brosnan fit the role to a tee; while most baby-boomers swear by the smug Brit Roger Moore. (we won't count the mistakes known as David Niven, George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton.) My thoughts have always been that each Bond fit the mood and attitude of the era. Connery epitomized the man's man in the '60s-'70s, when males were still dominant outside of the home and women often bowed to them. Moore's swagger reflected the high-livin' '80s, more eager to down a few too many shaken martinis & bed the nearest thing that moved rather than be bothered with killing people & saving the world;all style, no substance. Brosnan took the role into the '90's with a metrosexual flair he made cool way before "Queer Eye" came along. Easy to look at for the ladies & easy to like for the guys, the former Remmington Steele smoothie took the reins from Moore and steered the troubled franchise in the right direction.}

Which leaves us where we are at now- at the beginning. This is the new millennium, where old is new again (martinis are back in vogue) and stereotypes are being turned inside-out: we've got female CSI agents, thought-filled superheroes, gay cowboys and now a blond Bond- and I say it's about damn time. The stale series needed something to give it a jolt of life, and if it took an Australian goldie locks with perfect pecs and ice-blue eyes then so be it (and no, I don't have a man-crush on him-yet.) Not to mention a former Bond director (Martin Campbell, GoldenEye) taking the helm for the re-telling of the original Bond tale.

Before a cartoonish, 60's-inspired opening we are introduced to Bond as he goes through the process of becoming a "double-O" classified agent. The process consists of committing 2 kills, and as we see James first use his bare hands to commit murder, then his silenced piece to mercilessly dispose of another, we realize that this isn't our father's 007 anymore. After the opening piece, which was a bit goofy for me (the Bond theme "You Know My Name" by Soundgarden's Chris Cornell was too wishy-washy for a Bond flick), we get thrust into a full-blown Bond chase scene. Tracking a suspected bomber in Madagascar Bond and his prey climb to dizzying heights in a wall-climbing, base-jumping high-flying chase scene straight out of District B13 or a Jackie Chan film. But a funny thing happens when the barely-winded Bond catches up to his mark; even though the man has taken refuge in the local embassy, Bond assassinates him in front of witnesses & cameras just to get what he was after. A reckless & edgy Double-O- 7? Hmmm.

The story evolves from there, (who are they kidding? every fan from Diamonds are Forever to The World is Not Enough knows that plot runs a distant 3rd or 4th on the importance scale in a Bond flick), and although it won't win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, it does the trick. A high-rolling banker known as Le Chiffre (Mikklesen) uses terrorist dollars to fund his high stakes lifestyle at poker tables around the world. Bond must enter the latest big-dollar game in order to stop the flow of cash funneling into terror cells around the globe. This job requires the assistance of an agent from the treasury department to monitor the loot James needs to use in order to keep his cover. And wouldn't you know it the agent turns out to be a hottie in librarian's clothing, the lovely Vesper Lynd (Green, best known for the French softcore porn film The Dreamers.)

The film turns a subtler cheek while Bond, Le Chiffre and Lynd play out thier hands at the $10 million tournament in Montenegro. The Texas Hold 'Em craze appears to be finally dying down, but this film is based in the world of gambling so here the setting is appropriate. The gruff-but-cocky Bond thinks he's got the creepy Chiffre read like a book, but gets tripped up by a surprise enemy forcing him to lose over $14 million of the government's money. Determined to make things right Bond tries to bleed more cash from Vesper, only to be rebuffed. But a quick save comes from a fellow agent, a CIA operative played by Jeffrey Wright who puts up the $5 mil James needs to get back in the game for the right to capture Le Chiffre. Bond finds a bit of a delay in his plan when he is poisoned by Le Chiffre's arm candy, the ultra-tanned, ultra-blond, ultra-hot Valenka (Milicivic, Love Actually) and he is barely saved from the jaws of death by a heady Vesper. But this close encounter is nothing compared to the horror he is about to go through at the hands of the guy with the leaky eye.
A fully-recovered Bond heads back to the table and then proceeds to clean Le Chiffre out of all his "borrowed" cash, a grand total of $114.5 million in winnings. Company girl Lynd is ecstatic and they head back to the hotel for a celebratory dinner. Something seems foul when Vesper gets a call to meet their contact, Mathis (Italian acting legend Giancarlo Giannini) and Bond immediately rushes outside to see her being forced into a car. James heads for his only real gadget in the film, an unbelievably gorgeous Aston Martin DBS, and he races up winding hills to rescue her. Suddenly he sees her bound body in the middle of the road and veers the supercar around her, causing it to spin& flip like BillyJoe Bob in a Busch race (why must they always destroy beasutiful cars in these films?) and next thing you know both of them are being taken prisoner by the desperate banker & his henchmen.

This is when things got really squeamish, especially for the guys in the audience. Bond is stripped nude (prompting the "hmmmmm" from the wife) and strapped to a wicker chair with the seat cut out. You can let your imagination run wild as to what Le Chiffre has in mind for torturing Mr. Bond and you still probably couldn't come up with what fate is in store for 007. Let's just say he would probably never be able to father children, which may not be a bad thing for a man who proclaims to prefer married women. But for reasons to be uncovered later Bond & Vesper are freed by an unknown man, and James spends weeks recovering at a mountainside hospital.

While there Vesper confesses that she has fallen for James, despite the fact that she saw him kill two men with his bare hands and lose over $14 million one minute, only to win over $115 mil the next. Or maybe it was because of those things. Either way any novice Bondie knew he would get the girl- this may be the new millennium, but some things never change. All of this leads to the less-than-obvious conclusion, which contains some twists, turns, the sinking of a building in a Venice canal, and the infamous love-'em-&-leave-'em bachelor uttering the words "I love you"- definitely not daddy's Bond, more of a new-age Bond for the Oprah generation.

As for the verdict on the revamped Bond? All in all the movie lived up to the legend and planted the franchise squarely back on the map of relevance in today's pop culture. Much like the excellent, dark and brooding Batman Begins did for the Caped Crusader, the Blond Bond does for the aging superspy. By going back to his roots you can retell the story any way you want, as long as it is entertaining, sticks to the basic Bond themes, and doesn't get too schlocky, which is what the past 10 or so installments had devolved into. Let's check it out:

True to the Game:
-Beautiful locales & women? Check.
-High-speed races and thrilling chases? Check.
-A license to kill & not afraid to use it? Check.
-Appearances by a classic Aston & Dame M? Check

New to the Game:
-Blond & blue-eyed? Check.
-Soft side but ruthless? Check.
-Fewer gadgets but more hands-on approach? Check.
-Drink of choice? various (like the delicious Vesper), but when he does ask for his trademark martini we get to the true heart of the new Bond. Asked whether he would like it shaken or stirred, Bond replies "do I look like a man who gives a damn?"

No, he doesn't, and when you put it all together you have a new Bond for a new era, the Ty Pennington of the Double-O set. And we all know how popular Extreme Home Makeover is.



Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dear ESPN & NCAA...

...I am writing to request of both of you that in 2007 every Thursday night be turned into The Big East Game of the Week. No matter what happens in the Bowl season, 5 of these teams are going to be playing exciting, high-quality football for years to come, and soon enough the entire conference will be top notch. This could prove to be a terrific marketing device (something the Worldwide leader is never averse to), as well as consistently providing us fans with weekly doses of KICK-ASS COLLEGE FOOTBALL!

John Q. Fan

For the third consecutive Thursday night I was glued to my set watching an energergized crowd, hard-nosed, talented teams and more thrilling plays than you can shake a stick at. This time the heated Backyard Brawl between Pittsburgh and West Virginia took center stage. The thing I love most about this rivalry game is that both sides truly hate each other, both on the field & on the campuses, and the Nasty Neighbors did not disappoint tonight.

West Virginia 45, Pitt 27
MY PICK: WVU 31-17
So how did I know there would be absolutely no defense played on this night, although there weere plenty of hard hits? I should have expected this though, as Slaton & White were determined to put that Louisville loss in the rear view, and WVU's defense had been sieve-like recently (28.3PPG last 3 games.) Throw in the fact that Pitt needed this win to salvage their sunken season, and the handwriting was on the wall for an offensive showdown.

Like I said, if you love offense these two teams didn't disappoint; get a load of these mind-blowing numbers:

WVU: 641
PITT: 340
WVU: 446
WVU: 195
PITT: 339

WVU QB Pat White: 195 yards passing, 2TDs; 219 yards rushing, 2 TDs
WVU RB Steve Slaton: 215 yards rushing, 2 TDs; 130 yards receiving, 2 TDs
PITT QB Tyler Palko: 28-37, 339yds, 2TDs

That is not a misprint. In what resembled a slice of Arena League football the two teams combined for 72 points, 981 yards, no turnovers, and possibly the greatest play in college football this season. White totalled 414 yards & 4TDs, and Slaton combined for 345 total yards & 4 TDs. Wow. I know I got my money's worth.

It started with both teams trading scores on their opening drives. Pitt went 80 yards in just under 4:00 minutes and scored on a 23 yard TD from Palko to Nate Byham. But West Virginia came roaring right back, sparked by a 43-yard pass play from White to Slaton and capped by a 15-yard TD run by Slaton where he went through a hole so big I could have ran through it. That romp down the field covered 80 yards in just over 4:00 minutes. Touche. And so it went. Back and forth like Hagler and Hearns. The Mountaineers grabbed a 14-7 lead courtesy of an 11-yard TD pass from White to Slaton but Pitt answered right back, Palko to Oderick Turner for a TD.

On the next drive WVU hit a snag- they had to settle for a field goal after theior ground game ground to a halt-briefly- and the lead was 17-14 West Virginia. But this is when the good stuff started.

Pitt immediately tied it at 17 after a 39-yard, 3:00 drive, and then the incredible happened. First Pitt held them to a 3 & out (WVU had only 2 such series in the game) and they were attempted to punt it on the ground to deny any return. Sorry. Junior DB Darrelle Revis fielded the ball near the sideline and waited to make his move. As he turned up field he received all the help he would need: Pitt star receiver Derek Kinder laid a perfect "jacked-up" block on not 1 but 2 unsuspecting Mountaineers. The first guy was flattened like a beer can and then he tumbled into his teammate and they crumbled to the ground in a pile of arms, legs & cleats. It was at this time, as I was spilling my beverage on my lap from jumping up, that Revis gunned it up field, toeing the sideline, picking up blocks and fighting to reach the end zone. As he got close a WVU would-be-tackler attempted to knock him out of bounds near the goal line; Revis pulled a spin-o-rama on him like Michael Jackson pre-Wacko Jacko days and walked into the end zone for an exhilarating, electrifying, awesome Play of the Year nominee. It's funny because I said that as soon as I saw it, and after my son came running in to see what I was screaming about Herbie said the same exact thing (hey, what can I say? great-looking sports minds think alike.)

The score was 24-17 Pitt, West Virginia looked stunned, and it could have been a 'fold the tent" moment for the Mountaineers.

Instead they went back to bread & Butter, Slaton & White, and the Pitt defense had no answer for the dynamic duo. White masterfully ran the offense, pitching, faking, running & throwing his way around the Panther defenders. Immediately following the 43-yard return (eerily similar to the kickoff return allowed in the Louisville game), White ran twice then hit Slaton on a 67 yard TD pass & run that quieted the raucous Heinz Field crowd. Although Pitt mounted a quick drive to tack on a field goal and take the 27-24 lead into the half it would be lights out for the Panthers as soon as the second half began.
That's because White came out and put his mark on the game, officially. Just one play into the 3rd quarter White faked a pitch and ran 64 yards for a score that weakened the already ragged defense and energized the Mountaineers. Later in the quarter they played the straw that broke the Panthers back. Starting at their own 2 thanks to a penalty, they quickly moved to midfield thanks to a 35-yard run by Slaton and a 15- yard face mask call. After White rushed for 26 more he rook it in from 19 out to make the score 38-27 and the couch fires started back in Morgantown. The Mountaineers have now burned innocent sofas 4 of the last 5 years.

It was an awesome display of athletic ability and an extremely entertaining game to watch, for the third straight week. West Virginia is clearly a Top 5 team, possibly the best team in the country, when they can run their offense like that. But we though Louisville had to be incredible to beat WVU, then they lost to Rutgers, so... It will all be clearer when Rutgers comes to Morgantown on December 2nd. Depending on what the other 1-loss teams do, if the Mountaineers pound Rutgers like they did Pitt they will have a strong case as being the best 1-loss squad.

After what Slaton & White did tonight, who can argue.

Although they have no defense, but they're sure fun to watch.

1.Troy Smith
2TIE. Slaton & White (they're a match set)
4. Ray Rice (sorry Ray, you fell without playing)
5.Who cares (not gonna win it anyway)


College Football Update

As we head into the biggest weekend of the season I felt I should get everyone up to speed regarding the most important matters in the sport as of today. They are as follows:

1.) The Big Game
2.)The BCS
3.)The Heisman race

Since this is not my weekend preview I will skip most of my analysis of The Big Game for that post. Let me just say that it's a good thing that my son's end-of-the-year Little League festival ends before 3:30 so I will have plenty of time to be on the couch for the epic Michigan/Ohio State grudge match Saturday. You've heard all about it by now: #1 vs. #2 for a spot in the BCS championship game, the Fiesta Bowl, on January 8th. It's the first time these two titans have been ranked 1 & 2 and both undefeated heading into the intense rivalry game. Let's just say that if the contest lives yo to even half of the hype it will be a classic.

As for the BCS there were some changes at the top this week thanks to the upset losses by Louisville, Texas and Cal. That means out with the old & in with the brand-new (Rutgers' is in the Top 10- holy s...). Here are the latest BCS standings, with AP ranking in parentheses:

1.)Ohio State(1) 11-0 next game: Michigan
2.)Michigan(2) 11-0 next game: @ Ohio State
3.)USC(4) 8-1 next game: Cal
4.)Florida(3) 9-1 next game: W. Carolina
5.)Notre Dame(6) 9-1 next game:Army
6.)Rutgers(7) 9-0 next game: @ Cincy
7.)Arkansas(5) 9-1 next game: @ Miss St.
8.)West Virginia(8) 8-1 next game: tonight @ Pitt
9.)Wisconsin(12) 10-1 next game:Buffalo
10.)Louisville(10) 8-1 next game:USF

As you can see there are a few discrepancies in the two polls, most notably USC jumping over the Gators after Florida's lackluster (& lucky) win over Spurrier's 'Cocks and the Trojan's 35-10 thumping of #21 Oregon. This move was huge because now the Gators must win out AND hope for a USC loss to even have a shot at the title. But playing lowly Western Carolina is going to annihilate their strength-of-schedule next week, especially with USC taking on #17 Cal Saturday night.
So who will be playing the MICH/OSU winner in the Fiesta? Impossible to tell. With so many big games left to be played by all the combatants involved there are literally about a half a dozen scenarios that could play out. Here's a few:

- Ohio St/USC: if both teams win out this is the likely battle, due to the fact that USC will have to beat both Cal & BCS Top 5 Notre Dame to get there.

-Ohio St./Michigan: if the game is anywhere near being a close, nail-biting, see-saw affair that has either team losing on the last play or is just so competitive that it proves both teams are superior to the rest, the rematch could go down in the desert.

-Michigan/USC: combine the upper two scenarios and you get this. If Michigan should win and USC wins out the voters may opt for this Rose Bowl-like matchup.

Ohio State/Rutgers: although it's an apparent long shot with Rutgers 6th, this scenario can happen: OSU wins, USC loses to Cal but then beats ND, Florida loses either to the Noles (don't laugh) or in the SEC title game, and Rutgers defeats West Virginia in their season finale. There is no way they could put a team with 1-2 losses ahead of an undefeated Scarlet Knight team and come away looking good.

Notice I have no Gator scenarios up there. That's because when they lose to Florida State they will be out without even having to worry about the SEC Championship.

So everything will be decided in the next 3 weeks, starting with the Michigan/OSU game and ending with the Rutgers/WVU game on Dec. 2nd.

Speaking of West Virginia, the now 8th ranked Mountaineers return to Thursday Night Big East Football on ESPN for their annual grudge match, The Backyard Brawl against Pittsburgh. It will be West Virginia's second foray into the Thursday night arena, the first resulting in their devastating loss to Louisville 2 weeks ago that ended their title hopes. The panthers are in classic Dave Wannstedt free-fall mode, losing to Rutgers, USF and a double OT 46-45 heart breaker to UCONN in succession the past three weeks. Ouch. But this game is always one of those "throw out the numbers" heated & hate-filled rivalries, as the two schools are only 70 miles apart, and couches all over the WVU campus will be seeking shelter pending the result. You see, the crazy kids in Morgantown like to burn couches on their porches following Mountaineer victories in the series.
The game should be close- for a while- before visiting West Virginia's superior firepower takes control. Led by 2 Heisman hopefuls, running QB Pat White (1979 tot yds, 22 combined TDs) and battering-ram back Steve Slaton (1363 yds, 12 TDs) the Mountaineer offense is like a locomotive barreling down the tracks. Pitt's formerly formidable offense is led by QB Tyler Palko (2223 yds, 22TDs), but they have sputtered the past lately, putting up only 22 points in the Rutgers & USF losses. After halftime the suddenly porous Pitt D will feel beat down by White & Slaton, and look for both to pad their Heisman resumes while coasting to a victory.
MY PICK: West Virginia 31, Pitt 17 (hide the couches)

My Updated Heisman Picks:
1.) Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State: the clear front- runner has done nothing to diminish his chances of winning the trophy the past two weeks. With his eye-popping season stats (2191 yds passing, 26TDs, 4INTs, 221 yds rushing, 1TD), highlight-reel plays, and huge stage this weekend the award is all his to win
2.)Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers: let me jump on this little guy's back and pray he gets an invitation to Manhattan. all he has done is carry the Scarlet Knights on his 5'9" back, amassing 1334 yards and 15 TDs (4th in NCAA) while becoming the focal point of the Rutgers attack. Plus he came up big (131 yds, 2TDs) in their win over #3 Louisville last Thursday night and still has 2 games to go.
3.)Steve Slaton, RB, WVU: this guy is a beast, even though his missing the 3rd quarter of the Louisville loss due to a bothersome funny bone could have cost him the trophy. He still put up nice numbers in that one (156yds rushing, 74yds receiving, TD) and his numbers for the season are hard to ignore: 1363 yards (5th), 12 TDs (t-7th), 7.5 YPC(5th), except for the fact that he will be cancelled out by his teammate, White, much like Manny does to Big Papi.
3.) Pat White, QB, WVU: part 2 of the Cancel-Out Crew is Slaton's fellow Mountaineer backfield mate, the mobile Pat White. He has compiled some impressive numbers for a running back (839 yards, 15TDs), let alone as a passer (1142 yards, 7TDs), but his dominance is shared with Slaton, and unfortunately they cannot share the trophy.
5.) Undecided: Not sure who is in the slot here. It will be decided in the next couple of weeks, also, as the big guys play in the big games. The list includes ND's Brady Quinn (welcome back to the party, but don't gag against SC), USC's John David Booty (ditto) Michigan QB Chad Henne or RB Mike Hart (see Salton & White), and Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson (his zero-catch game against Clemson really killed his chances.)

I will have my preview post on Friday night/Saturday morning. Gotta go watch The Brawl now, before the real brawl gets underway at 3:30 Saturday in Columbus.


AL CY- Santana is so smooth, wins his 2nd

American League Cy Young:
Johan Santana, SP, Minnesota
(140 votes, all 28 1st place votes)
19-6, 2.77 ERA, 186H, 72 ER, 245Ks, 47BBs
2nd Place: Chien Ming Wang, NYY (51 votes)
3rd: Roy Halladay, Toronto (48 votes)

MY PICK: Cy-tana

Johan blew away his AL Cy competition like he blew away AL batters all season long. The man hereby known as Cy-tana dominated the league like no other pitcher in baseball this year: he tied Wang for the ML lead with 19 victories, led the majors in strikeouts (245) and ERA (2.77), and was second in fewest earned runs allowed (72.) He also had the lowest WHIP (1.00) among all regular starters in MLB.

For the novice fan a pitcher's WHIP, or Walks+Hits per Innings Pitched, is like the ERA of the new millennium. What it means is that Johan allowed 1 combined walk & hit for every inning he pitched, which would obviously equal out to 9 base runners in a 9 inning game. For comparison some of the less-than-stellar WHIP men include Jose Lima (2.02), Tubby Ponson (2.17) and bringing up the rear, former D-Ray head case and current Padre problem Dewon Brazelton, who at a 3.63 WHIP allows a staggering 32 base runners per 9 innings!

Santana had some of the pressure to be the man in Minny eased this season when rookie phenom Francisco Liriano busted out to a 12-3 start before succumbing to arm troubles down the stretch. That's when Cy took over his usual spot at the forefront of the rotation, going 7-1 in August & September and leading the Twins to the AL Central title on the final day of the season.

Things didn't go as well for Johan & the Twins in the ALDS vs. Oakland. With all the pressure on him to win Game 1 due to Lirano's absence he fell a little bit short, losing a 3-2 decision after allowing 2 monster home runs to Frank Thomas. Minny would go on to be swept in the series.

But although the senior circuit is taking some flack for tabbing unknown Diamondback hurler Brandon Webb as the recipient in the NL there will be no such griping from people inside baseball or out over this selection.

Like I said yesterday, this guy is the best pitcher in all of baseball right now, hands down.

At least until the Mighty Matsuzaka hits these shores.

, Monday Nov 20th
MY PICK: Ryan Howard, Phillies
Howard was simply a (young) man among boys this season, basically single-handedly keeping Philly in the playoff race until the final weeks while smashing a ML-leading 58 home runs. He also led the majors with 149 RBI and compiled .313 batting average. Not bad for a kid who just turned 27 and completed his first full season in the big leagues.
But those are the exact reasons he will not win the prize. The safe bet is the already-established phenom, Phat Albert Pujols, who had comparable numbers ( .331, 49, 137) but has a built-in reputation that usually leads to wins over youngsters.
Then again the NL did choose Webb over Carpenter, Oswalt and Hoffman, so maybe they will go with the new guard in this one, too.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Trickle, trickle...NL CY, Managers announced...

Baseball rally let us have it these past few days: we got the NL Cy Young winner yesterday, and BOTH Managers of the Year today (whoopie!)

NL Cy Young: Brandon Webb, SP, Arizona D-Backs (103 votes)
2nd: Trevor Hoffman, S.D.(77 votes); 3rd: Chris Carpenter, St.L (63 votes)
MY PICK: Carpenter
Somewhat of a shocker here as Carpenter was being touted as the probable winner throughout the playoffs as the Cards ran to the title. Not only did Webb win it but Trevor Hoffman, a reliever way past his prime, beat out Carpenter and at least 4 other worthy starters Huh? Whatever happened to a reliever needing to have an absolute MONSTER season in order to even be considered for the Cy?
Let's break down the numbers and see if this makes any sense:

Webb: 16-8, 235IP, 3.10 ERA, 178Ks, 50BBs, 1.13 WHIP
Hoffman: 46 saves, 2.14 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
Carpenter: 15-8, 221.2IP, 3.09 ERA, 184Ks, 43 BBs, 1.07WHIP

Basically it came down to this: the NL did not have one dominant pitcher this season (6 tied for the league lead with a pedestrian 16 wins), so it was probably the old "throw 10 names in a hat" method of deciding who was best. How else do you explain a reliever who had a somewhat decent year (Hoffman did set the all-time saves mark, but 46 for a season is no big deal nowadays) finishing ahead of a world champ (I know, the award is set before the postseason, but still) and a guy who led the league in ERA (Houston's Roy Oswalt led with a 2.98 and finished 4th)? Answer is: NL pitching is more bland than a political acceptance speech. Hence you get a relative unknown with mediocre stats beating out a broken down reliever and 4 middle-of-their-prime starters (Oswalt, Chicago's Carlos Zambrano, Atlanta's John Smoltz, and Carpenter.) Glad we waited a month and a half to hear that one.

MLB was kind enough to announce the two Manager of the Year winners today (yes, at once; interesting how the scrubby awards-Managers & Comeback Players- get announced on the same day. Talk about award discrimination), and unlike the NL Cy, these were can't miss selections.

AL Manager of the Year: Smokey Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers
In the least surprising announcement of the entire award season Leyland walked away with the award, besting Minny's Ron Gardenhire, after turning the awful Tigers franchise into American League Champions. Three years ago Detroit lost 119 games, but in their first season under the former Pirate & Marlins skipper they won 97 games, defeated the Stankees in the ALDS and then beat Oakland in a thrilling ALCS to make it to their first World Series since 1984. It was their first winning season since 1993. Word has it that Leyland celebrated by smoking two cartons of Malboroughs until he passed out from smoke inhalation. Then he woke up and smoked another pack.

NL Manager of the Year: Joe Girardi, Florida Marlins
Isn't it ironic that the winner of this award, a rookie manager who guided a team loaded with rookies to within one week of a playoff berth, is now a TV analyst with the Stankees. I'm not sure if that's ironic or just moronic, but the well-publicized spats between the fiery Girardi and stubborn team owner Jeffrey Loria led to Girardi's dismissal following the season. The hiring of the former MLB catcher and New York coach was considered a major coup last off-season- he was wanted by several teams, including the Rays. But when the Marlins surprisingly landed him it stunned everybody because there was nothing left of the 2003 Championship team thanks to Loria's latest fire sale of talent (bye bye Beckett, Sheffield, Pudge, Clement...) Still an eager and determined Girardi took the position and guided a rag-tag group of raw kids and hungry vets to a 78-84 record and into a pennant race for most of September. The feud between the clashing personalities became very public knowledge when Girardi asked Loria to stop shouting at the umps during a home game in July. The two nearly came to blows in a heated shouting match after the game, and reports had Giradi being canned the next day. Well he made it through the season, barely, and now he is collecting his paycheck from Loria while broadcasting on YES Network and choosing his next move. Brilliant!

Tomorrow's Award: AL Cy Young
MY PICK: Johan Cy-tana
Others may have close or better numbers, but this guy is THE best pitcher in all of baseball right now, so just give him his award and don't pull a Brandon Webb on us!


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sox have $51 million reasons why Matsuzaka better be great

The Boston Red Sox posted the winning bid for the right to negotiate with Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. The cost of that conversation? $51 million dollars, American.
In a mind-blowing revelation tonight by Matsuzaka's Japanese club, the Seibu Lions, the winning bid was accepted by the club and said to be $51.1 mil, not the expected $38-45 mil that had been reported last week. This bid easily blew away offers from the Mets, who bid $40 mil, and the Stanks, who came in at a paltry $33 mil (c'mon, Georgie.) The Cubs and Rangers were possible bidders as well.

Boston now has $30 days to work out a contract with the kid, and if a deal can't be worked out by December 14th he would go back to the Lions and the Sox would get their bid back. Yeah, okay, like the sides aren't going to get a deal done. Even with the notoriously irascible Scott Boras representing Matsuzaka it would be hard to fathom the Sox not already having a deal in place, or at least not being ready to offer the kid whatever he wants to come pitch in Fenway. There have been conflicting stories on what he would make in a deal: some have said he is under contract for 2 more years at $4 mil per; others have stated that he will command somewhere in the neighborhood of $7-10 mil /year for at least 3 years. At any rate Boston isn't about to let their prized chip go back to Japan after winning this elaborate human auction.

Since my hometown team is about to make a monumental deal for the club, for better or worse, I decided I'd better find out about this kid. You know, to see whether I should be mad at Theo & his henchmen or not. It's hard to find complete game footage of a guy who has played his entire career on the Pacific Rim, but thanks to the wonder that is YouTube, I was able to catch quite a bit of snipped footage from games in Japan, from the World Baseball Classic (of which he was the MVP) and the Olympics. Let me just say....goooooo Matsuzaka!!!!

-From what I can see of the kid he has got absolutley filthy stuff: a mid-to-high '90s fastball with movement; a nasty low '80s breaker that looks unhittable, and his infamous "gyroball", something that has been likened to a screwball that breaks down & away from rightys. To me it looks like a scroogie, or something really funky, but all I know is that big league hitters are going to have a hard time figuring him out. He pitches to all parts of the plate, he's not afraid to come inside or out, and he likes to paint the corners as well as come right at the hitter. Other than that he's average.-On top of his devastating array of pitches, speeds, movement and location he also has a deceptive motion to the plate, a-la that other famous Japanese import, Hideo Nomo. But Matsuzaka doesn't wind himself up like a top and then unscrew his body as he comes plateward like Nomo. He has like a hitch just as he comes set, almost like a bunny hop or a skip, then he comes to the plate. It got me looking at it so much that I wasn't paying attention to his pitches, which is what I'm sure the Sox are hoping happens to major league batters. It kind of lulls you into a false sense of security before BAM his pitch is eating you up like a tapeworm.

-He's a good athlete. Footage shows him busting down the line on a bunt, stopping a wicked comebacker & wheeling to get the man at second, and even hitting a home run in one Japanese contest. Although it looks like he has gotten a little heavier from the WBC in April to recently, he will not be called a "fat toad" like another Japanese hurler, Hideki Irabu, was by Steinbrenner.

Couple all of this with the real reason the Sox are signing him- to get a foothold in the rapidly growing Asian baseball market- and the deal makes sense from all sides. Boston fans are thrilled with a starting rotation of Schill, Beckett, Papelbon, Matsuzaka and Wakefield; Boston ownership and MLB properties are ecstatic to have millions of Asian baseball fans running all over the Far East wearing officially licensed Red Sox jerseys bearing Matsusaka's number, like Seattle enjoys with Ichiro & the Stanks with Hideki Matsui; and every member of Red Sox Nation is thrilled to have beaten the Evil Empire to the punch for what looks to be one of the best pitchers on the entire planet.

Screw you, New York-

you got the Idiot Caveman,

we got the Scroogie King of Japan.

Na na na na na!


Breaking News: What's going on today

All kinds of developing stories going on in the worlds of sports & entertainment. Let's take a look:

- Bobby Knight in the news for striking a player, againThe mercurial Texas Tech coach has done it again. He put his hands on another student-athlete, this time pushing Red Raider forward Michael Prince under the chin to direct him to look in his eyes during their victory over Gardner Webb last night. Of course the story is spreading over the Internet and talk shows like wildfire, because a coach touched a player, and because that coach was Bobby Knight. Knight has had a history of disturbing incidents- chair throwing, using a whip on a black player, kicking the chair of his son & former player, Pat, and grabbing a player by the throat in practice- which has made this story even bigger than it normally would have been had it involved another coach. For all the hoopla, though, many people including Prince, his parents, fellow athletes & coaches, an analysts like ESPN's Jay Bilas, have said that the incident was not noteworthy and that Knight was merely trying to get the attention of his player in order to give him words of encouragement. Yeah, and I got a nice piece of land down in Alligator Alley that is just prime real estate for a condo unit. Look if no one is blaming or accusing Knight of wrongdoing, then drop the story & move on. Because as long as this guy is coaching these incidents are going to happen. And as long as people keep enabling it to happen, Knight is going to oblige them.

-Noles O coordinator Jeff Bowden to step down at season's end
The web site can come to a crashing halt now- because the posters have gotten their wish. Son of Bobby is not being fired, but he is resigning at the end of the season amid all the ridicule & abuse he and his dad have taken over the sudden demise of the Seminoles offense. The months of protesting, posting & complaining culminated with last Saturday's humiliating 30-0 home loss to Wake Forest. It was the first time FSU had been shut out since 1988 and first time at home in the Bowden Era. The questions all year and going back to last year always started with Jeff and the (poor) job he has done since taking over the reigns of the offense in 2001 from now Georgia head coach Mark Richt. It was starting to take its toll on the elder Bowden and it would seem to be out of respect for his dad that the son ultimately agreed to step down. papa has always stated that he would not bow to the pressure and fire someone just 'cause the general public wanted him to. But with the program spiraling into oblivion and the offense not good enough to defeat Largo High, the timing was right to change the leadership of what was once one of the most feared offenses in the country.

-Randy Moss says lack of happiness has affected his play
In a report that should surprise absolutely no one Raiders WR and perennial malcontent Randy Moss admits that his disenchantment with the Oakland organization and the team's malaise has led to his poor performance on the field. Moss stated at a press conference yesterday "Maybe because I'm unhappy, and I'm not too much excited about what's going on, so my concentration and focus level tends to go down when I'm in a bad mood," Moss said. "So all I can say is if you put me in a good situation and make me happy, man, you get good results." Translated: this place sucks, the team sucks, I hate the coach and all my teammates, so I'm going into full blown Derek Bell Operation Shutdown mode until either A.) I get traded outta here or B.) the season ends and I can go raise my pit bulls and let my cornrows grow out really long like my idol Snoop. This guy is just a smaller version of that pain in the ass T.O.D., but without nearly the same production as Owens (33 catches, 455yds, 3TDs) he will fade into the darkness much quicker. Good riddance, Randy. Maybe you can pick up basketball again to fill the void left by Latrell Sprewell's exit from the NBA.

-While the Sox look to the future, Pats dig into the past
The Red Sox will find out at 8PM this evening weather they have won the rights to negotiate with Japanese starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. It has been reported that the Boston offer was $42 million American, the largest bid among at least 5 interested teams. Contrary to published reports the Sox did not place the ginormous bid just to prevent the Stanks from signing the 26-year-old fireballing righty but to make Matsuzaka a front-of the rotation horse to combine with Beckett & Papelbon as the backbone of the future of the starting rotation. Let's just hope so.
Meanwhile the Patriots, still reeling from their loss to former assistant Coach Eric Mangini & his Jets on Sunday, dug into the scrap heap and pulled out former Jet (and Buc) quarterback, 72-year-old Vinny Testeverde. You read that right. Vinny is going to be a veteran insurance policy should Brady miss action, since the only backup on the squad is untested youngster Matt Cassel. I've heard of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em", but not "if you can't beat 'em, sign their rusty old starting QB who was washed up 5 years ago." Interesting strategy by the Hooded Genius; couldn't he have just shaken Mangini's hand and taken him out for a Sam Adams instead?

Also the Pats plan to rip out (more like scrape off) that horrendous turf they have on the field at Gillette Stadium and replace it with shiny new FieldTurf synthetic grass before their next home game on November 26th against the Bears. Smart move. The field resembled a flooded sandbox last Sunday and was not conducive to getting the running game going, which might explain why the Genius decided to run the ball only 11 times in the second half vs. New York. No such excuses when Chicago comes to town, as the Giant Razor blade will have a brand new adjustable head for a nice, smooth game.

- Emmitt or Mario? The world decides tonight. I've caught some flack from my buddies (ahem, Butchie) for reporting on Dancing With the Stars on this sports-centric site. First of all, it reads "sports & entertainment" on the header, and DWTS is most certainly entertaining. Second, Emmitt Smith is one of the greatest football players ever, a legendary Cowboy running back who hold the all-time NFL record for yardage and won 3 Super Bowls in the mid-'90s. Third, my wife and son get so hyped for this show they are saying "I can't wait til next week" the minute that weeks' show is over. So it's kind of hard to escape the mania in my house. And finally, Butch, c'mon have you actually watched an episode? it's got all the elements of sports- judges, winners & losers, fierce competitors and scantily clad women (hey, even football has cheerleaders.) Throw in some dancing, three goofy judges and contrasting hosts (Tom the Witty Cornball Bergeron & dim-witted hottie Samantha Harris) and what you got is some seriously entertaining & dramatic television.

Little Joey Lawrence got the boot last week, whittling it down to the final pair: Emmitt Smith and his exotic, bronzed partner Cheryl, who already rode Drew Lachey to victory last year and is now attempting to "ride, Emmitt, ride" into another type of championship; and Mario Saved by My Dimples Lopez, the fan favorite and clear cut leader going into the finals. His Russian beauty of a partner, Karina, has all the talent that brought him this far, and she wants to make sure these two make it all the way (too late, wink wink.)

Okay who cares, have you got a load of those dresses? They're a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen, and I aim to be watching when it does.

Go, Emmitt.


Baseball Awards Begin to Trickle Out

Look, I'm as big a baseball fan as anyone- it's my first love as far as sports goes, and I'm so amped about it that I'm one of only 47 people in the country who DOESN'T go crazy waiting for football season to start because I'm still into baseball at that time.
But the way MLB announces their season awards is so absolutely asinine that it makes even diehard fans like me sick.

I mean c'mon, what are we fourth graders:

MLB: "Kids, today we are gonna give you a little teaser called the Rookie of the Year Award. Then after you do your homework on those two players and hem & haw about it for a day, we will let you work on the Cy Young's, one at a time..."
FANS: "awwwwwwww..."
MLB: "quiet down, kiddies, you know this is how we do it every year. We don't want to give you too much to talk about at once; since we're into the 4 month off season we need to keep our sport relevant. The only way to do that is to let our major award winners leak out slower than an Avodart user. Anyway, the next day we will announce the Cy Young Awards, and if you're lucky, by Christmas break we will be all the way to Manager of the Year..."
"(grumble... mumble... this sucks...mutter...) oh-kay."

You see Selig & his cronies have got us by the shorthairs. They know that once the World Series ends, baseball expose falls off the map due to the high-powered machine that is the NFL. So how do es MLB keep the sport topical? By releasing their awards one day at at time- for about a month. First we got the Comeback Players (Nomar in the NL, Thome in the AL), all the way back on Oct. 7, like appetizers for the real awards to follow the season. Last week the Gold Glove Awards came out, on separate days for each league. Is that really necessary? This week the schedules go like this:

Today- NL Cy Young
Nov.15- Managers of the Year
Nov.16- AL Cy
Nov. 17-19- Rest (no awards)
Nov. 20- NL MVP
Nov.21- AL MVP

Is that the most ludicrous thing you have ever seen or what? From the time the Comeback Players are announced to the time the last award is handed out is a full month and half. All the award winners are known the day after the season ends! And MLB officials wonder why people hate their sport (well other than bloated salaries, pompous owners, steroids-tainted records and interminable game lengths.)

Anyway, here's my best guesstimates for the winners. I was already wrong in the Rookie dept, but unlike MLB I'm going to put them all out there at once.

Rookie of the Year:

American League
- Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers (133 votes, 26 1st place)
MY PICK: Jon Papelbon
, RP, Bosox (2nd, 63 votes) : 3rd: Francisco Liriano
Of course I knew Paps had no chance to win it because he went down with the shoulder injury and missed the last month of the season. But although Verlander pitched well (17-9, 3.63ERA, 186IP, 124Ks, 60BBs) for a playoff team, Papelbon meant much more to his team. The Tigers also had Kenny The Cheatin Cameraman Clubber, Bonderman, Robertson and a talented bullpen to ease his pressure. Paps was single-handedly keeping Boston atop the AL East by providing the only stability to a below-average bully. He beacme the first rookie pitcher to save 10 games in the month of April, went from April 5th - June 8th without blowing a save (20 straight) while compiling a 0.21 ERA with 1 earned run allowed during that time, and was named to the All Star Game, bringing his 26 saves. It is safe to say that without his contributions, the Sox wouldn't have been anywhere near the top of the East, which they were until late July, nor anywhere near the playoff race (which they were until the BM II) without his contributions. His numbers speak for themself- 4-2, 35 saves (Sox single-season record), 0.92 ERA, 68.1IP, 75Ks- but it was his value to the team that should have made him the most valuable rookie.

Verlander became the first pitcher to win the award in the AL since New York's Dave Gator Righetti in 1981.

National League- Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida (105 votes) 2. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Wash (101 votes); 3. Dan Uggla, 2B, Florida (55 votes)
MY PICK: Zimmerman
This vote was somewhat of a surprise because many had tapped the gritty & odd-named Uggla(.282, 27 HRs, 90 RBIs, great around the bag) as the winner, while Zimmerman posted more eye-popping stats (.287, 47 2Bs, 20 HRs, 110 RBIs) and provided nightly highlight-reel plays at third. Perhaps I just didn't want Ramirez, who had a phenomenal season (.292, 46 2Bs, 11 3Bs, 17 HRs, 59RBI, 119R, 51SBs) to win it because to think of him being an All Star and award winner for his career brings up painful reminders of Jeff Bagwell. The comparisons are clear: In the early 90's the Sox had drafted Bagwell and he quickly became a hot 3B prospect. Problem for Boston was they already had a guy at 3rd, named Wade Boggs. So the Boston Brass rolled the dice and traded Bagwell for 52-year-old reliever Larry Anderson, or as I like to refer to him, the idiot who used to wear sunflower seeds on his face. Long story short, Anderson gave Boston a couple of decent months and was never heard from again. Bagwell went on to have a Hall of Fame Career (449 HRs) that is just coming to an end due to injury 15 years after Boston let him go, and his name is synonomous with the Astros. And the trade is regarded as one of the worst in baseball's storied history.

Until now (possibly.) Flash forward to this past offseason, when Boston traded young SS Ramirez prospect plus pitching phenom Anibal Sanchez (remember him? he pitched a no-hitter in September and finished 11th in the voting) to the Marlins for Josh Gopher Ball Beckett and 47-year-old Mike Lowell. Yikes. Talk about a trade coming back to bite you in the ass. Beckett completely imploded the second half of the season and allowed a league high 33 home runs, while Lowell started off hot but tailed off in the second half, when Boston desperately tried to unload him and his bloated salary ($9mil.) Meanwhile Ramirez & Sanchez appear to be the cornerstones, along with Dontrelle, Miguel Cabrera & Uggla, of the next Marlins championship. Ugh (la). Ramirez will probably turn out to be the next Ozzie Smith, and Sanchez a future Pedro Martinez. Plus those guys salaries combined don't equal up to 1/2 of one year of Beckett's new 3 yr/$30 mil deal.

Today's announcement: NL Cy Young.

MY PICK: Chris Carpenter, St. Louis
Upon further review, I think I'll announce my other awards on the day of the official announcements.
I'm too sick right now to think of baseball.